DISCLAIMER: The characters of H.G. Wells, Myka Bering, Pete Lattimer, Artie Nielson and Mrs. Frederic are not mine. The ones you don't recognize probably are. I do not own, nor do I have any official association with Warehouse13, SyFy or pretty much any other profit making entity. No infringement is intended. I'm simply borrowing the characters for a bit. H.G. Wells' swagger is a trademarked product of Jaime "my flawlessness ruins lives" Murray. Myka's adorable-ness is a trademarked product of Joanne "my ridiculous combination of cute and hot is completely distracting" Kelly.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was supposed to be pointless, plotless smut. 50,000 words later, I am beginning to accept I cannot write pointless smut. (Though, in all fairness, I use the word "plot" in its loosest sense.)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Racethewind10[at]gmail.com
A Pirate's Life for Me
Whatever misgivings Myka (and likely Helena) had regarding working with thieves, the Commander had to admit, they were quite good at what they did. Even if what they did was to render the Time Machine nearly unrecognizable.
The sun rose that morning on a merchant ship out of Southern France under the rather insipid name Starry Night. The sails were now a patchwork of different colors and consistency of canvas, they flew the French flag, and there was, indeed, a horrid figurehead of a ridiculously busty mermaid now attached to the prow. Barrels of brandy and bales of straw and wool now crowded the once pristine deck. All in all, it was a rather horrifying sight.
Myka would own, however, that it was highly unlikely anyone would recognize the ship. When she saw Helena looking with disgust at the figurehead on more than one occasion, the Commander just touched the other woman on the shoulder and reminded her. It didn't seem to make much difference.
Thus it was that the Starry Night, carrying raw wool and brandy, sailed out of Olhão harbor on its way to Venice.
The journey from Olhão seemed to take far longer than the journey to the Portuguese port. With each day, Myka found herself worrying more for Pete and Artie and becoming less certain of what they would find at the end of their voyage. Despite her discussions with Helena, it had never seemed quite real to the Commander that they were possibly facing a far superior enemy. With Alfonso's revelations, however, the level of ruthlessness this person or organization was apparently willing to sink to chilled the Officer deeply.
She began to brood so much that Helena started once again challenging her to duels just to keep her occupied.
Neither woman, however, truly had their heart in it. The physical exertion was welcome, but they were still very busy being careful with each other, and the bouts lacked much of their previous ferocity. So much so that the crew grew disgusted with them and stopped watching or betting.
Once while cleaning her sabre after a particularly dull match that left both women as ill at ease as before they started, Myka caught Claudia staring at her with a resigned look.
"What?" The Commander asked, rather more sharply than she intended.
The Midshipman hesitated, then seemed to make a mental gamble. "Look, I get it ok? She's not a Warehouse agent anymore and you think that the Warehouse is everything and I'm not saying you're wrong but how often in this life do you find someone literally willing to take on an entire Spanish galleon not to mention half a dozen men personally for you?"
All of this was said without a single pause and in the time it took Myka to translate the statement from Claudia-speak, the younger woman had fled.
And because she was alone, Myka admitted, "only once."
Thus stood matters as the Starry Night rounded the tip of Sicily and sailed north to Venice.
A day from making port in the famed city, Myka entered Helena's cabin to find the Captain pouring over a map of Venice.
Helena waved the Commander to a chair and gestured to an open wine bottle all without looking up.
"Whoever they are, they would be hard pressed to pick a better place to headquarter," she muttered, almost to herself. "Along all the major trading routes, with numerous fortifications; the mainland, the East and Africa within easy reach, and a rat's nest of canals and construction layered atop each other." Helena gestured with frustration at the offending piece of parchment. "This can give me only the most basic sense of Venice itself, and with Alfonso's people gone, I am unsure of my own contacts there."
Myka pondered the situation. She had received no reply from the Warehouse and it would take a very long time, even by gull, for a message to make it to London and back now. The usual method of communication between Warehouse ships and the Warehouse itself had been destroyed with the Artifact Hunter, and truly, there was no guarantee that Commodore Frederic had even received the message Myka sent in the first place.
"I must assume that I am not the only Warehouse Agent on this hunt. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing who else the Commodore might have sent and no access to Warehouse resources. I am sailing as blind as you at the moment Captain," Myka replied ruefully, pouring herself a cup of wine.
Helena's mouth quirked. "Well if I know Warehouse Agents, they will likely show up precisely when it is most inconvenient for us, or just after we have managed to resolve whatever fray we will likely land ourselves in."
Myka couldn't help it. Helena's expression was so aggrieved that it pulled laughter from the Agent unwillingly. She had to bite her lip to stop and forced herself to focus once more on the map.
The Captain pretended to ignore her and nursed her wounded dignity, sipping her win gravely.
"So," Myka attempted after a moment of stifling a giggling fit. "What now? I would think we will need some kind of intelligence gathering."
Turning back to the task at hand, Helena nodded. "Indeed. The Ti Starry Night will dock just as any other merchant ship and I plan to send several of the crew to seek trading contracts. We should keep up that appearance as long as possible. As for the rest, it is my thought to spread the crew out through the city, have them continue the pretense of being a merchant's crew on leave. With money to buy rounds at the local taverns, it is my hope that they may hear something useful spilled from wine-sodden lips. That should take care of the commoners, but if what Alfonso says is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, our quarry may have insinuated himself into the elite of the city."
Myka raised an eyebrow. She hadn't thought of that. Enjoying watching Wells' mind at work, however, the Commander merely smiled. "And I suppose you have a plan for that too do you?"
Helena's grin was devilish. "Oh, I might, but I'm afraid you won't like it," the Captain warned.
Lieutenant-Commander Myka Bering looked at H.G. Wells, then to the, the monstrosity in Wells' hand, then back to the Captain.
"You must be joking," she stated flatly.
"Oh not in the least darling," Helena replied, trying and failing miserably to restrain her amusement at the appalled expression on Myka's face.
They had been in port for three days now. Three days where the crew of the Starry Night traded their cargo for spices and silk and spent their 'pay' up and down the waterfront. They drank and diced and plied the locals and other crews for information about 'unusual goings on'.
What they learned, however, only led to more questions. There were indeed dark rumors of a new power in the city. Thieves and rogues had turned up dead, but so had minstrels, beggars and dock hands and there seemed to be neither rhyme nor reason to it. It set the common folk on edge though and more than one of Wells' crew had been warned by a furtive-eyed dock worker or sailor to 'keep yer eyes open and don't stray far beyond yer ship.'
Yet they were no closer after three days to pinning down an exact location then they had been at the moment the ship made berth.
Which is how Myka and Helena came be standing in Helena's cabin, arguing over
"Oh come now Commander! I beg to differ. I think Mr. Jinx and Ms. Donovan have outdone themselves. 'Tis stunning and you will look the height of fashion in it," Wells was all but rubbing her hands in glee and Myka actually pouted. H.G. nearly bit through her tongue to keep from laughing.
"There is no use protesting my dear. You're the only one who can pass for gentry. I'm afraid my face might well be known by someone, and despite Katherine's upbringing and education, the continental elite would never accept an oriental," Wells' tone made it clear how much she despised that particular ridiculous, narrow-minded attitude. What the Captain didn't add is that trying to put Katherine James in a corset would result in either the Doctor or the Captain dead on the floor and it likely would not have been James.
"It has a corset." Myka was grasping at straws and they both knew it.
Tonight was the social event of the season in Venice; a kind of governor's ball that was thrown in conjunction with some local festival not, Myka thought gratefully, the great Carnival that was held in early spring. The streets would be far too packed then.
This was a smaller affair for locals, ensuring every member of the Venetian gentry really anyone with a ridiculous amount of money, Venice was a trade city after all would be in attendance. And while the rich were partying, so would their servants and the rest of the 'lower' classes. It was the perfect time to scour the warehouses and other areas they hadn't yet gained access to. Meanwhile, Myka would be escorted to the official ball by Jinx. Helena herself would be taking to the streets. Only a skeleton crew would be left on board the Starry Night, though Claudia had been seen whispering with one of the engineers and taking measurements of the gang plank so there would likely be some .unannounced security.
Helena merely raised one eyebrow.
"Oh alright! Fine. I'll wear the blasted thing, but I will not tighten that damn corset. Now get out and let me change. And send in Claudia!"
Having gotten her victory, Helena beat a hasty retreat and signaled to the young Midshipman that her temperamental officer was waiting inside. Claudia flashed the Captain a grin and then darted into the cabin, leaving Wells to go make her own preparations.
On the way to the upper deck, Wells encountered her first mate and had to smile. Dressed in a black velvet coat and hose with polished black boots, a gentleman's sword at his side and lace at his throat, the young man looked distinctly uncomfortable. He also looked very handsome, and not for the first time, Helena took a small, selfish bit of satisfaction that Stephen had no interest in women.
"Captain," he said, saluting casually. Helena smiled.
"You look positively dashing, Mr. Jinx."
He merely rolled his eyes at her, making Wells laugh.
"Don't worry sir, I'll keep her safe." The younger man's tone was quiet, but his blue eyes were intense in the dim light.
Moved, Helena found she had no reply and instead touched his arm and nodded. Jinx then turned toward her cabin and Helena took a steadying breath and went to don the doublet, hose and breeches she would be wearing under her cloak. Instead of her favorite katana, tonight she would wear a rapier with a knife in each boot. To the casual observer, with her hood up, she would be just another gentleman passing to or from the revelry.
Her weapons secured, the Captain conferred one last time with those crewmembers staying on board, then turned up her hood and walked off the ship. She would join the others who were already searching as they spread out in a loose grid.
She did not see Myka again before she left.
Myka Bering was bored. And her feet were tired. And very well, she would admit the dress wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as she thought it might be, and yes if the stares of eligible (and not-eligible) men were any indication she apparently looked rather good in it, but she did not really care for any of that right at this moment. Because at this moment, she was bored.
"Coming and going at all hours, no respect for the aesthetic of the neighborhood with that terrible ugly wall, why it's a disgrace! The only good thing you can say is that he's somehow managed to get rid of all the pigeons in the area. Filthy rats aren't they? Droppings everywhere." In front of the Commander an older, graying, boozy specimen of the insanely wealthy merchant class was holding forth on the unfortunate habits of his new neighbors and Myka was seriously considering the implications of taking the nearest wine bottle and braining him.
She and Jinx had been circulating the party for hours, and the Officer was heartily sick of it: The insipid conversation, the covetous glances at other people's partners, or jewels, or clothing, the ridiculous manners and boring music Myka would have given anything in that moment to be back about the Time Machine, seated in Helena's cabin, debating literature while sharing a mug of ale.
"How dreadful," she murmured to her companion while scanning the crowd for Jinx who had slipped away to get her a drink. To be fair, the young man's company had been the highlight of this ridiculous venture. The First Mate was quiet and gentle, with a startling wicked sense of humor and a very light touch on the dance floor. They made, Myka allowed, a striking couple: He in black velvet and she in the crimson gown with its beaded bodice and rather daring neckline (though as Myka looked around, she realized that by comparison, her gown was downright conservative. Some of the women in attendance looked ready to spill out at any moment and the thought made her bite her cheek to keep from smiling).
Before the old coot could get his third or fourth wind, however, Myka spotted Jinx heading her way and with her best simpering smile dredged from the recesses of her memory, she excused herself and moved to hook her arm in the First Mate's.
Leaning into her companion's side, Myka whispered just loud enough for him to hear. "Jinx. I have curtsied, and danced, and flounced and flattered and preened and smiled all night. And do you know what I have learned?"
"Not a blasted thing?" The young man was no more comfortable in this glittering, overfed world than Myka was.
"You are correct. Not a blasted thing. If something is going on in this city, as long as it doesn't interfere with their wine, their food, their parties "
"Or their cheating on their spouses," Jinx supplied under his breath.
"Or that. If it doesn't interfere with those things, they have no idea it exists."
Jinx sighed wearily in response. "I agree. I think this is a lost cause. And we've at least gained introduction to enough of them that should we need to question them further, we'll have an excuse to call."
"So it's agreed, we can leave now?" Myka tried to keep the eagerness out of her tone.
Decision reached, they turned and arm in arm strolled through the crowds, waving and smiling and offering a word to those people whom they had been introduced to. They were pretending to be a young married couple from England, with Jinx traveling to Venice to oversee the possibility of expanding his father's trading business and Myka donning the role of an adventurous young woman who wanted to see the world before settling down with the children. The older couples they'd met had practically fawned over them and Myka had to work very hard to fall back into the social graces and mind-set she had been raised with. The more insipid the conversation, the more she just wanted to smilingly tell the people in front of her that she was willingly consorting with the notorious female pirate H.G. Wells and, in fact, had feelings of a most impure nature toward said pirate.
Instead she smiled some more, nearly bit her cheek raw, and clung to Jinx's arm until they were out of the grand ball room. She didn't let go until they were down onto the street, collecting Claudia and two of the crew who had accompanied them as escorts.
"Oh at last," Myka sighed, moving away from the First Mate who was surreptitiously rubbing his arm where she'd gripped it.
"I sure hope the Captain has had better luck," Jinx agreed wearily, scanning the buildings across from them, checking for threats.
"We're clear," Claudia muttered, as the group began to stroll down the street. There were still a great many people about, carriages and foot traffic weaving around each other. Every tavern and ale house was crowded and music, laughter and the occasional fight spilled through open doors.
Other than avoiding a few overzealous would-be suitors for Myka, the small group encountered no trouble. They were halfway to the ship when a movement in the shadows of an alley sent all of them reaching for a weapon (Myka had managed to secret a knife up her sleeve).
A low, rich chuckle, however, stilled their movements and shattered the sudden tension of the moment.
"Really Captain?" Jinx said in an aggrieved voice as Wells stepped from an alleyway, appearing to simply form out of the shadows themselves.
"Forgive me my friend. But I commend you on your attention. Chambers, Terrell, you may continue to the ship. Tell Katherine we'll be late."
The two crewmembers looked at each briefly then saluted quickly and trotted off along the street, fading in and out of the puddles of light thrown by the streetlamps.
"You two," Wells eyed Claudia and Jinx and then shook her head. "Keep your distance and your eyes open." And then she turned to Myka and offered her arm.
"Would you do me the honor Commander?" Standing at the edge of the shadows with her cloak around her, hood removed, Helena looked as if she had been conjured from the darkness herself. Her eyes were fathomless in her pale face and Myka's heart was suddenly racing in her chest.
The little voice in her head that always warned her to be cautious was screaming at the Commander now, telling her this was a bad idea, that it would destroy the careful balance she and the Captain had reached.
But before her mind could decide, Myka's arm reached out as if of its own volition and laid her fingers atop Helena's. The Captain's skin was warm and soft, a delicate covering over the elegant sculpture of bone and muscle that was Helena's hand. Eyes glittering in the streetlight, Helena took Myka's hand and placed it in the crook of her arm and that terrified little voice in Myka's head died a very swift and much needed death.
"It would be my pleasure," she found herself whispering, unable to look away from Helena's gaze.
And with that, Helena turned and led her down the alleyway and between several buildings.
Myka had just enough time to wonder where on earth they were going and then Helena was pushing open a gate whose lock had clearly been broken recently. The Commander rolled her eyes but followed the Privateer through someone's courtyard to a set of steps built into the side of a large house. A rich someone apparently as the house was several stories tall. Up and up they climbed in the dark, the Officer's only tether the solid warmth of Helena's arm where her hand was held securely until they reached the roof and
"Oh it's beautiful," Myka breathed.
They stood at the edge of a rooftop garden surrounded by a low stone wall and illuminated here and there by candles in glass holders hidden among the flowers, tiny flames dancing like fairies among the leaves. Beyond them, the entire city stretched, glittering with the lights of the celebration. Turning around, Myka found herself looking out to sea, seeing the harbor transformed from a pedestrian port of call to an enchanted space where points of light from the docked ships danced on the ocean's surface as if reflected in a dark mirror.
"Helena " she stated, only to have her voice fail her. Turning back to her companion, Myka found that the Captain had removed her cloak and was attired as a gentleman in snowy white shirt and breeches, her boots and a black velvet doublet. The Captain's dark hair flowed free about her shoulders and the laces at her throat were undone. Absently, the Commander realized that Claudia and Jinx had vanished, but at that moment, Helena reached out her hand and asked, in a voice full of promise,
"Would you dance with me?"
And as if at the Privateer's command, the breeze carried the sound of music from a nearby square to them.
For the second time, Myka acted without thought. Her hand was reaching out to Helena before her mind managed to offer input though in truth there was none to offer. Her heart was suddenly very loud in her chest and never before had she been so aware of her breath. Then she was stepping close to the Captain and Helena's hand moved to her waist and Myka was no longer aware of anything but Helena. The dark haired woman settled her hand at Myka's waist and though the Commander knew that it was impossible, she could have sworn that her skin burned beneath the fabric of her dress. Wells' eyes seemed to hold the darkness of the entire night and yet as they swept her face, Myka felt the gaze as if a caress and it nearly made her gasp. She barely knew it when Helena took her hand and with the most subtle of pressures, began to dance.
Myka's body responded to her companion as easily as she breathed. Perhaps, given her shortness of breath at the moment, easier. Together they waltzed around the candlelit garden oblivious to anything but each other. When the music drifting on the breeze changed, they never noticed. As they traced the steps they moved closer and closer, until with a final turn, Helena pulled Myka to her, closing the last breath of distance between their bodies.
For one moment, the Commander held herself rigid with shock, but Helena's gaze was so intense and the feeling of her slender form pressed against Myka's felt so right that the last of whatever resistance she might have had faded away like a sea mist before the sun. With a last breath, Myka let herself go. And so they continued to dance around the rooftop, bodies moving as one and eyes locked. In that moment, nothing else existed for Myka. Not the mission, not the Warehouse, not her duty, her fears, her insecurities, nothing. There was only the warmth of Helena's hands and the yielding strength of her body and for a time at least, Myka willingly let herself get lost somewhere between them.
Helena had not planned to seek Myka out. Not truly. It had been her intention, in fact, not to see the Commander in the dress that Jinx and Claudia had returned to the ship with, because Wells was very much aware of what the sight of the other woman in that dress would do to her. It was bad enough imagining the rich color against the Commander's creamy skin. The dress wasn't just red, it was the crimson of blood spilled on fresh snow, and while its neckline was hardly risqué, it was only too easy for Helena's imagination to provide an image of the soft swell of Myka's breasts above the beadwork of the bodice.
So no, Wells had not intended to seek out the Commander and Jinx. Whether or not waiting in the shadows on the path they were likely to take back to the ship constituted 'intention' was a debate the Captain simply refused to have with herself.
When she saw Myka walking down the street arm in arm with Jinx, all the warnings in her head sounded.
When Helena watched Myka's face dissolve in wonder at the rooftop garden, those warnings vanished like smoke on the wind.
And then she was holding Myka in her arms and they were drifting across the paving stones and there was only the feel of Myka's hand in hers and Myka's body brushing her own. Nothing existed beyond the circle of their arms.
The Commander danced as she fought, with a natural grace that was breathtaking. Helena didn't so much guide her as simply move with her. There was no conscious thought involved as they moved to a melody that existed only in the space between their hearts.
How long they moved together neither knew, nor cared. Eventually though, they drifted to a stop. Helena could feel dawn pressing just beyond the horizon and before reason and caution could re-assert itself, she was sliding her hands into Myka's hair and bending her lips to the other woman's.
It was a gentle kiss at first, both of them shocked at Helena's audacity. But soon enough, Myka's hands were slipping around Helena's waist and she was kissing the Captain back. The Officer let out a soft moan, her mouth opening to Helena's tongue and the Privateer obligingly deepened the kiss. And oh, what a kiss. If there had been any part of the Commander able to feel anything but the sensations created by Helena's mouth, she might have been terribly galled at the way her body simply melted into the Captain's embrace.
Since no such part existed, however, there was no confusion.
Helena was not faring much better. For all her reticence, when Myka committed to something, she held nothing back and as the passion rose between them, Helena knew this time was no different. The eagerness in Myka's touch filled Helena with a want so pure it set her knees to trembling and stole her breath from her chest.
She wanted to taste Myka: All of her. She wanted to see the other woman's creamy skin laid bare before her, to know what it was like to run her hands over the elegant planes of that body, to hear the sounds Myka made when she finally let herself go, to know if she trembled Helena wanted it all.
And she could not have it.
The realization was a knife to her gut.
And yet she embraced it, for the knowledge gave Helena the strength to gentle the kiss and finally pull away. Even if it left the Captain barely able to stand.
In the middle of the candlelit garden, the two women clung to each other, breathing heavily, foreheads pressed together.
Helena's hands were on Myka's cheeks and the Commander was clinging to Helena's shoulders as if at any moment she might collapse. Then again, Helena mused darkly, if she felt anything like the Captain herself, it was a highly likely outcome.
"Myka," she started, only to have her voice fail her. What could she possibly say? 'I love you? Come away with me?' Bitterness flooded Wells' chest, constricting her heart. Swallowing, she straightened. The view of the harbor, the lights dancing on the water, the fabled city of Venice itself, Helena saw none of it. Her vision was filled only with Myka as the Commander raised her head, jeweled eyes bright with unshed tears.
"Myka " but she was stopped by a shake of the Officer's head.
"Helena," Myka made the Captain's name a plea, and it hit Wells like a physical blow. "We can't" the Officer whispered, voice nearly throbbing with anguish.
Her breath leaving her in a rush, Wells nearly laughed and had to bite back the hysterical bark that tried to force its way from her throat. "I know," she finally managed. And Helena did know. With every fiber of her being she understood, even if she hated it. "When this is all over, you shall return to the Warehouse, triumphant, and most likely with a promotion. And I will do what I do best, and disappear."
At that, Myka's breath hitched and her hands came up to rest on Helena's wrists, as if she could anchor the other woman to her.
"I can't..." the Officer trailed off. A part of her hated herself for her own cowardice, but before she could continue, Helena shook her head firmly.
"No, darling, you needn't explain. You have a life, and a commission, and a family and a future. And none of those are with me. And no matter what others might say of me, I am not so selfish to ask you to choose." And now a sad, weary smile twisted the Captain's lips.
"And so, what, you will simply let me walk away when we're done?" Myka's voice trembled and Helena swallowed hard.
"Do not insult me Myka Bering. There will be nothing simple about watching you leave." Wells punctuated her words by sliding her hands into Myka's thick mane of hair and gripping just hard enough to sting.
Instead of resisting, the Commander embraced it and held tighter to the other woman's arms.
"But yes. Whatever other traits we may or may not share my darling, we neither one of us are the fools that poets write of who would throw their lives away for the possibility of love, no matter how much we silently yearn to do just that."
At her words, Myka gave a broken laugh and reached up to cup Helena's face in her hands. In truth, the Officer could no longer quite see the other woman, as her sight had become distinctly blurry.
"So what do we do?" She asked finally, her thumb tracing the silken cheek she could barely make out.
Wells let out a long slow breath and Myka could feel the other woman stand a little straighter. The hands in her hair slipped forward to cup her cheeks, and Helena's thumb wiped away the single tear that escaped Myka's lashes. Blinking furiously, the Commander tried to focus.
"Now we return to the ship and do our best to find this faceless enemy who has kidnapped your Captain Arthur and Mr. Lattimer, and destroy him." Wells paused and let out a shuddering breath. "Now now we say our goodbyes, so that when the time comes there are no drawn out leave-takings and now I swear that by everything I hold dear, Myka Bering, I shall never forget you."
And before Myka could respond, the Captain tilted her head and pressed her lips to Myka's.
It was a chaste kiss, nothing like they shared moments ago. This was the merest brush of lips so surprising that Myka gave a tiny gasp and it was over. Helena stepped back and her hands dropped away from Myka's face and then the Captain was turning on her heel and walking away to the edge of the garden.
"I must return to the ship and see if we have gained the intelligence we need. Claudia and Jinx will escort you back Commander."
Then she was just gone and Myka was left alone, and perhaps more lonely in that moment than at any point in her entire life.
But she was an Agent of the Warehouse, and a Lieutenant -Commander in His Majesty's Navy. She had a mission to complete, and Wells was right. Myka Bering had never been the type of woman to allow herself the luxury of love.
No matter how much she truly did silently want it.
Wiping her eyes, she took a deep breath and set her jaw. She could do this. She must do this. Pete and Artie were counting on her.
Clinging to that thought, the Commander walked to the edge of the roof and descended the stairs where she found Claudia and Jinx waiting for her, trying incredibly hard not to look as though they were dying of curiosity. At any other time, the sight would have made Myka laugh.
Now she felt absolutely numb.
A/N: Dear history buffs, I am well aware that fudge probably did not exist in the 1700's (though I believe chocolate did, at least among the classes that could afford it). Guess what? I'm using it anyway.
In inexplicable juxtaposition to the numbness in her heart, Myka's physical sense seemed almost on overdrive. She was hyper-aware of her surroundings, as if her mind was desperate for something, anything to latch on to that was not the endless loop of the memory of Helena leaving. She could feel Jinx and Claudia behind her, their nearness an almost physical pressure on her nerves. Every rustle of the silk of her dress was suddenly loud and she was aware of the way it clung to her body and moved with every breath she took. The night air was balmy and soft against her exposed skin and the sound of cooing pigeons was a gentle punctuation to the noises of a city gradually going to sleep.
Later she would thank whatever power was watching over them for that awareness, for all that it nearly came too late.
Walking in front of Jinx and Claudia, lost in the tug of war between her memory and the present, she almost did not truly comprehend what her nose was trying to tell her. It took a long second before the connections formed in Myka's mind and then,
"Jinx, Claudia? Run!" Myka reached around and grabbed Claudia's sleeve and took off, Jinx an instant behind.
"Mykes what?" Claudia yelled and then her eyes widened and she put on a burst of speed. "Fudge!"
"What?" Jinx yelled, catching up to them. "Why are we "
His unfinished question was answered as the air behind them exploded. The wall of heat slammed into the three shipmates, throwing them to the pavement.
Myka acted on instinct as adrenaline coursed through her blood, her ears ringing with the aftermath of the attack. Dragging herself up, she reached for Claudia who was already struggling into a standing position and turned to Jinx who was apparently somewhat more resilient as he bounded back to his feet.
"What the hell?" He yelled. There was no time for explanations however.
"Just RUN!" Myka bellowed, hiking up her skirts and racing flat out through the twisting streets. Her friends followed just on her heels. Everything around them passed in a blur the lighted doors of taverns, street lamps, the windows of houses. The streets were emptying this close to morning but Myka wanted to avoid main thoroughfares where they could be easily tracked. Instead she dodged into alleys and down narrow ledges alongside of canals.
Around buildings, over a wall (she heard a ripping noise and cringed to think of what that sound meant for her dress) and then they were in sight of the harbor.
Pulling up sharply, Myka motioned to Jinx and Claudia and together they flattened themselves into the shadows. Struggling to control her breathing, Myka looked around frantically.
"Do you see anything? Smell anything?" she panted, watching as the First Mate and Midshipman craned their necks, looking back along their trail and finally shaking their heads.
"Alright, hopefully if there was pursuit we lost them, but we best make for the ship quick and quiet." And with that the Commander slipped from the alley, taking a circuitous route to the main dock area. Muscles tight and heart pounding, those few yards seemed an eternity and it was only when she saw the familiar silhouette of the Time Machine's masts that she took a breath. The three of them were approaching the ship when figures melted out of the darkness. For an instant Myka's heart leapt until she recognized Hawk and Sarah.
"Myka!" Sarah's voice was heavy with relief. "Thank goodness! We were afraid the explosion "
"Yes, that was us," Myka explained. Her mind and body were slowly calming from their 'flight or fight' state. Looking around as the Time Machine's crew escorted them over the gang plank, however, the Commander felt a different kind of fear creep stealthily into her heart.
"Where is " but her question died in her mouth as she heard Helena's voice raised in anger.
"I don't give a damn Katherine, I need to see if she is " the Captain trailed off as she stormed onto the deck and caught sight of Myka standing in the lantern light.
For a moment the two women froze; the tension around them a glass thread threatening to shatter at one wrong breath. It was Myka who recovered first. Swallowing hard she forced a smile. "I'm afraid we had a rather close run in with a curiosity, but the only victim was my dress." The Commander shook the rather worse for wear folds of crimson silk. "So, if you will pardon me, I think I'll change into something not quite so drafty."
Forcing herself not to look at Helena, Myka strode below decks and to her hammock. There she struggled with her dress until a gentle touch at her back signaled Claudia's arrival. The Midshipman was quiet as she helped her Officer disrobe.
By the time Myka was once again dressed in breeches and a shirt with her sabre at her hip and her hair tied severely back, she felt at least in tenuous control of herself. Turning at last to her friend she nodded. "Very well, shall we see if the crew has managed to gain any valuable intelligence?"
For a moment Claudia looked like she might speak, then thought better of it and just nodded.
Her hand on the hilt of her sword and her jaw tight, Myka made her way to the Captain's cabin, Claudia close behind.
The cabin was crowded. Lamps blazed on the walls, giving the now-familiar space a bright, almost homey atmosphere. Myka turned that thought away savagely. Helena looked up when the Commander entered and for a moment, her dark eyes blazed, but she too seemed to be struggling to rein in her emotions for she looked away. When the Captain raised her eyes again, her elegant features were set in a beautiful mask.
In attendance were Jinx, Hawk, Katherine, Sarah and Claudia and together the group crowded around the Captain's desk, sharing what they had found.
"This attack on Commander Bering changes everything," Helena stated shortly, running a hand through her hair. "We must assume that we are being watched and the risk of attack is imminent."
Something clicked into place in Myka's mind at the Captain's words. The Officer hadn't really been conscious of struggling to make it fit, but now, like a puzzle piece or a long frustrated tumbler in a lock finally letting go, she could almost feel it open the doors of her memory. Hazel eyes drifting out of focus, she let her mind loose, thinking out loud as she shook her head. "I'm not so sure. The timing of the attack has been bothering me. They waited until you were gone Helena. I believe the attack was directed at myself and perhaps Mr. Jinx."
She had everyone's attention now. Blinking, Myka looked down at the map of Venice, avoiding Helena's eyes. "Whoever our attacker was, they had plenty of time to attack the four of us, yet they did not."
Now it was Jinx's turn to pick up the thread of her thoughts. "I agree. If the target was the Time Machine or the Captain, there was ample opportunity for that. We didn't take the same route back to the ship that she did " he trailed off, bright blue eyes becoming unfocused as he struggled to remember any pertinent detail.
"So if it was us, the important question is why? If their target was not the Time Machine, then they were attempting to eliminate the people we were pretending to be, which means the connection is the ball, but what " Myka's voice failed her as her analytical mind clicked through every moment of the party, replaying faces and behavior and conversations. She could sense the answer hovering close but just out of reach, like a leaf dancing in the wind that she could see but kept slipping through her fingers. And yet nothing stood out, nothing was unusual, it was just a lot of gossip and petty jealousy and complaining and
"That's it!" And suddenly the puzzle made sense. "He was complaining about his new neighbor!" Myka's eyes lit as her mind chased the final connections and then she made a face of frustration, nearly slapping her forehead. "Oh how could I have missed it? How stupid of me! 'Odd comings and goings, a new wall and windows that were always shuttered!' And the pigeons! He said the pigeons were gone! Jinx it was the old man, that windbag you rescued me from at the end! His neighbor: That must be who we are looking for!"
Helena was right there with her, following the trail of her thoughts. The Captain turned immediately to Sarah, her voice echoing Myka's excitement.
"Sarah darling, I know tis night, but can you reach the pigeons of the city? Find out where they will not fly?"
The tiny girl's smile was wicked. "Aye!" She said brightly, and ran out of the cabin.
Helena wasted no time. Turning and addressing Hawk, her voice was quick and precise with command. "Mr. Hawk, turn out the crew, let them know our quarry is within our grasp. I do not want to give them time to break cover and run. We move tonight. Tell everyone we dress for a raid dark clothing, cover anything that shines. Katherine, we're going to need some of that damned stimulant tea."
Her crew barely waited for Wells to finish speaking before jumping to carry out her orders.
Jinx and Claudia took one look at the Captain and Commander, stammered excuses and fled together. It left Myka and Helena alone in the cabin, trying to avoid looking at each other.
This time it was Helena who charged bravely into the silence.
"I am I am quite glad you're safe dar Commander."
Looking up, Myka gave a weak smile. "And I'm glad they weren't targeting the Time Machine and her crew."
"That was good work, remembering what the 'old windbag' said." Helena's grin was devilish, but her words sent a stab of guilt and frustration through Myka.
"I should have realized it sooner. I wasn't paying attention." When Wells would have said something conciliatory, however, a sharp shake of the Officer's head cut her off. "I wasn't paying attention because .because I was too busy thinking about you." Myka's voice was small, but the admission echoed between them as clearly as if shouted to the heavens.
Helena looked away and ran her hand through her hair, finally nodding. "Well, I'm afraid I won't apologize for being on your mind, but I would never want to endanger you Myka. Never." The Captain let out a slow breath and straightened. "It hardly matters now I suppose. If all goes according to plan we should be well shot of this mysterious adversary by morning. And then the Time Machine will sail for more lucrative waters."
Myka had no reply, and anyway, her throat was suddenly so tight she would have been unable to speak even had she the words. Instead the Commander nodded once.
"I should prepare for this," Helena spoke, and the weariness in her voice was evident. "Sarah will have our destination soon I hope. Just be safe Myka."
"You too," the Officer whispered, then turned on her heel and walked out of the cabin.
It did not take a privateer's crew long to assemble. It took this crew even less time. It seemed like mere moments before Myka and Claudia dressed head to toe in dark clothing with strips of black fabric around their sword hilts were standing amongst the rest of the crew below decks. It was crowded, but no one muttered. Instead it was eerily quiet except for the occasional sound of fabric ripping or a whetstone sliding over steel. A small canister of soot was passed from person to person and those who chose not to cover their faces with some kind of cloth dipped fingers into it and smeared the clinging black stuff over exposed skin. It was followed by a pot of some strong smelling liquid and most of the crew were using the small tin dipper to take a healthy sip. By the grimaces of those who chose to do so, the Myka sniffed when it was handed to her tea was not tasty. The Commander knew that she could not afford to be tired, however, and so dared the dipper. Her face was no less disgusted when she passed it on. The hot liquid felt comforting sliding into her stomach though, and the Officer felt her heart speed up as her body began to prepare for combat.
The sound of striding footsteps signaled Helena's approach, followed by Jinx. In solid black with only their faces bare, they looked like apparitions and Myka had to suppress a shiver.
Wells took in her crew at a glance and nodded. Slinging her katana over her shoulder and holstering a pistol in her belt, the Captain addressed the assembled men and women.
"I have never been a conventional captain, and you are not a typical crew. The dangers we may face tonight are myriad and unknown. What I ask is far more than a Captain has any right to expect from any crew, therefore I will not order any of you to follow me. I would merely ask for volunteers "
She never even got to finish. Every single member of the crew stepped forward.
It was Jinx, however, putting his hand on her shoulder in a rare gesture that spoke up. "We may not know the whole of what is driving you Captain, but we know there is a greater purpose at work here. One worth fighting for. At the very least, these bastards destroyed a friendly ship and kidnapped English citizens. We're with you."
There was a soft swell of fierce agreement and then Helena, eyes suspiciously bright in the low light, signaled for their silence.
She opened her mouth to speak, but at that moment, Sarah came sliding down the steps.
"Couldn't get none o' the pigeons, found an owl, better vision, we got 'im!" The girl related in a breathless rush.
Helena didn't hesitate. "Sarah, Jinx, you're with me. The rest of you, follow us in groups of three and four. Stay silent, stay in sight range but spread out. I want our quarry to have as little warning as possible. Good luck and god speed. Come back safe my friends."
And with that the Captain and her first Officer were moving up the stairs behind Sarah and disappearing.
Grouped back among the rest of the crew, it was a few moments before Claudia and Myka made it onto the deck. From there, they waited until Hawk motioned for them to move and then they were slipping down the gangplank and across the docks.
What followed was nothing so much as a very odd game of silent, deadly tag through the streets of Venice. In small groups, staying to the shadows, the crew fanned out. There were few people awake now, the windows of the houses dark as occupants inside slept on, unaware of the men and women ghosting silently beyond their doors.
Each group moved in quick bursts, waiting for a hand signal of 'all clear' from the groups ahead before slipping to the next street or alley. In this way they followed Sarah's directions. At one point, crouching behind some barrels and scanning the darkened rooftops, straining to see any possible danger, Myka nearly jumped out of her skin when Claudia whispered in her ear.
"Hey Mykes, we need to make it to the front. I may have kinda worked something up with Sarah a while back and uh we just need to get up there ok?"
In the darkness, Myka turned to the younger woman, about to ask what, on earth, she had concocted. The image of the Spanish galleon's mast exploding chose that moment to pop into her head and the Officer decided she didn't want to know. "Very well, let's go."
It seemed an eternity and yet no time at all before Myka and Claudia were ducking behind a low, decorative wall across the street from the house she had had described to her. The Officer had to admit, the old windbag had been correct. It really did ruin the aesthetic of the neighborhood. The wall was well over a man height and all the windows that were visible on the house were, indeed, boarded up. The house itself was massive one of the old monstrosities built in past decades by merchants and continental nobles who wanted to show off how much money they had. Its only deference to the fact that Venice was a crowded city was the small courtyard, visible only through a wrought-iron gate guarded by two men with rifles and swords who were very alert for this time of night.
Moving carefully, Myka edged along until she was crouching next to Helena and Sarah. The Captain was just asking the young crewman something.
" don't want to be in the area, but we need to know if there is something actually blocking the birds from flying over the house. If they can't, we may be dealing with a shield of some kind. And if that's the case " The Captain and Myka shared a quick glance and Myka nodded. If there was an Artifact at work, they could be in for a great deal of difficulty.
"How do ya want me to do it Cap'n? Might look a bit odd t'have birds swoopin through tha courtyard."
"Just have it crap on the guard's head," muttered Jinx, eliciting a snort of laughter from Claudia, quickly stifled.
Wells merely shrugged. "Might as well. Have your friend fly low over the courtyard and aim for the wall."
"And if he hits it, then I've got that er .thing .we talked about Sarah," Claudia whispered.
Myka had a moment to muse on the turns her life had taken in the service of the Warehouse that she was now crouched outside some rich nob's house, watching another house, in the dead of night, covered in soot and waiting for a bird to do its business on a stone wall.
"Ah, the excitement of being a Warehouse Agent, eh?" Helena leaned over and whispered to her and Myka had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.
The two women shared a quick grin, but at that moment Sarah pointed at a winged shape swooping through the darkness. There was a breathless moment and then one of the guards jumped and made angry gestures at his shoulder. His partner started and then began to laugh and Sarah grinned like a devil.
Wells turned to Claudia. "Well Ms. Donovan?"
Sarah was already holding out her arm and an instant later the darkness seemed to spit forth a large, brown flecked barn owl with a white face and talons that reached around the girl's entire arm.
Claudia was already reaching into a pack Myka hadn't noticed she carried and conferring in a series of animated whispers with Sarah while fiddling with something she had removed. After a while, the Midshipman turned to Wells and Myka.
"Ok, so if these things do what they're supposed to, they will explode on impact. And it should be a pretty decent boom, so Sarah says to let her know where you want them."
"How many do you have?" Wells asked.
"Only two. I didn't time for more. Sarah thinks the owl can carry the both at the same time."
Rather than reply to Claudia however, Wells crawled back along the line of her people until she reached Hawk. There was a quick conference Myka couldn't hear and then several shadows detached themselves from the wall and vanished into the dark. Inching her way back, Wells answered Myka's curious glance.
"I'm sending scouts around that house. I don't want any surprises and I've passed word to be sent back down the line. We'll move on your signal Ms. Donovan."
"Mine?" Claudia nearly squeaked. Myka could nearly hear Wells smile.
"When the explosions go off darling. And don't worry Commander, my people know to look for Commander Lattimer and Captain Nielsen. We'll find them." The Captain placed a hand on Claudia's shoulder then with a last glance at Myka, moved to speak with Sarah once more.
And then they waited.
Myka hated this part of any conflict. The waiting was the worst. It was the time the mind wandered and nerves grew taut. It was a time when doubts crept into the heart and things went wrong. It was a time when those who believed in gods prayed. Myka rarely found herself in that group, believing that if one found themselves in need of prayer, they were likely in sufficient trouble as to make prayer useless. Still, she sent a tentative plea into the night that Pete and Artie were ok. That was really all she needed right now. The Commander resolutely ignored the treacherous voice that pointed out there was something or rather someone else that she would very much like. Now was not the time.
No sooner had she thought that, than a soft scraping and movement out of the deeper shadows in the alley behind them resolved itself into the scouts Helena had ordered out. There was a whispered conference and then the scouts melted back along the line. Myka could just hear news being passed through the crew like a soft breeze disturbing grass.
Crouching next to Myka, Helena fingered the butt of her pistol. Her face was streaked in soot, but even now the Captain managed to be beautiful. It was almost irritating.
"Well, I can't say that a night-time frontal assault on an enemy compound with unknown fortifications and weaponry - not to mention possible Artifacts - is the most intelligent course of action I've ever taken, but our only advantage lies in that whoever is inside does not know we are aware of their true purpose. The longer we wait, the more likely we will lose that advantage. I've set word to be passed through the crew. We go in now and we go in hard look for Mr. Lattimer and your Captain and take as many prisoners as possible. If you have any suggestions Commander, now would be a good time to make them."
Feeling her heart speed up and adrenaline start a slow burn in her blood, Myka couldn't bite back the fierce grin that split her face. "I'm afraid I don't have any ideas myself. But if it helps," Myka paused for a moment and pretended to consider. "I don't believe this is anywhere near the most rash thing I've ever done in the service of the Warehouse. Top ten perhaps, but no higher."
The Officer watched Wells try not to smile. "Remind me to get you to tell me about the other nine sometime, Commander. Right then, if there's nothing else. Sarah ..go."
Claudia had outdone herself this time. When the small canisters the owl carried hit the ground, the resulting explosion seemed to rip the night itself apart. The bird's aim was perfect. The first fireball took out the guards, the wrought-iron gate and a good section of the stone wall around it. The second hit the main door of the house and blew it inward, along with a large chunk of the front veranda and the surrounding walls.
So much for stealth! Myka just had time to think, and then Wells was up and running and the shadows came alive as the crew followed her. After that, time for thought was a luxury the Commander could not afford. There was only the action and reaction of battle, nerves and muscles trained by exhausting hours of practice and experience working in concert without seeming direction by the mind. Myka's senses at once stretched and narrowed, every cell in her body alive as her world narrowed to only what was in front of her. The Commander leapt a smoking pile of stone and sprinted across the small courtyard. Even now she could hear shouts and an alarm being raised inside the house and an instant later, men in various stages of dress came boiling from the rear of the dwelling. They were inside too, clattering down a grand winding staircase and emerging from other areas the Officer could not see. She had only time for a fleeting realization that they were facing a very well-armed and organized adversary who was fielding nearly a small army of his own, then gunfire split the night followed by yells and the clash of steel.
Glancing to her right as she ran, Myka caught a glimpse of some of Wells' crew breaking off their charge and engaging the men in the courtyard, but an instant later her feet found the uneven remains of the wide marble steps and she was forced to concentrate on running.
The Commander drew her pistol and distantly registered those crew around her who were so armed doing the same as they burst through the smoking remains of the entry way. The attackers found themselves in a grand, marble floored room that resembled nothing so much as a small ballroom. Indeed, crystal chandeliers glittered above and there was a great bank of windows off to the left that looked to lead to a veranda and possibly gardens. Myka had only a fleeting impression of gleaming white marble, gold fixtures, polished wood, the bright lights above and then her battle trained mind pushed it all away and she focused on the men rushing down the staircase and coming from farther back in the house.
Those not wearing bed-clothes were attired in a bland uniform of dove grey with various insignia in silver braid on the sleeves or shoulders that likely signified rank of some kind. In essence then, it really was a private army. The Commander had no time to dwell on the implications though. Many were kneeling and aiming or trying frantically to load rifles or pistols but the crew of the Time Machine used their advantage well and a ragged volley of shots rang out, Myka's own among them.
Quarters quickly became too close for guns and blades were drawn. Bending down without slowing, Myka yanked her dagger from her boot and drew her sabre. Around her, Wells' black-clad crew collided with the defenders like a wave against the breakwater. The clash of steel and the sound of boots striking marble filled the air, accompanied by the screams of the angry and injured. The noise echoed off the stone and wood paneled walls, making it even more chaotic.
Myka found herself engaging a burly man with his night shirt hanging out of his belt and no boots, clearly roused from bed. For all his size and strength (and her arm stung from the force of his blows where he closed with her) she was quicker and used her boot heels to her advantage. A well placed stomp and he yelled as she broke his toe then used his distraction to twist his blade between her dagger and sabre. She used the hilt of her sword to smash his temple. If he had a hard skull, he would be fine. In his place sprang two more men, both in that grey uniform with very little silver on their sleeves foot soldiers then. Myka had no time to think after that. She merely fought.
Men came and went before her blade and every parry, thrust, dodge, riposte, attack and retreat began to run together. All that mattered was winning.
Quick glances around her showed the enemy dead or wounded mounting but they were fighting Wells' crew to a standstill. Where on earth are they all coming from? The question flickered through her mind as she dropped to her knees in a desperate attempt to avoid her opponent's slashing attack and used her advantage to stab his thigh. With a scream he dropped and Myka jumped up, kicked his sword away and looked around for another quarry. The Commander found herself at the rear edge of the conflict, still only halfway across the hall. A movement out of the corner of her eye brought her around to her right where she saw Sarah battling a man twice her size. Myka was moving instantly. The defender was in full uniform as well and it was clear he had not been called from slumber. He was steadily forcing Sarah back toward the rest of the fighting. It was not only the small crewmember's plight that had Myka forcing her legs to move faster, however; it was the ring of keys at the soldier's belt and the stone steps she saw leading downward behind him.
Time began to stretch for Myka. Each beat of her heart was suddenly loud in her ears. She could feel the pull of the large muscles in her legs and the limits of her lungs as she struggled to draw more from her body. She was still yards away when the big man swung hard at Sarah, the sheer power of his arms knocking one of her knives away from her. The Officer saw the instant Sarah's attacker knew he had her, watched Sarah realize it too.
Myka was still four strides away.
The soldier raised his sword.
Sarah dove to the side.
Myka dropped to one knee and slid, her hip taking the brunt of her weight as she slipped across the last bit of space and came in under the soldier's raised guard. Her sabre in front of her like a lance, she ran him through.
The giant man looked down in shock at the metal protruding from his body, then his eyes dimmed and he collapsed, barely giving Myka enough time to get out of the way. Tugging at her blade, the Commander's senses suddenly screamed a warning and she whirled, only to see her would-be assassin clutch his throat and stumble forward, his momentum carrying him to a boneless heap at Myka's feet.
Grinning savagely, Sarah darted forward and yanked her bloody knife from the dead man's throat and wiping it on his clothing saluted Myka before running off to rejoin the fight.
There was no time to appreciate what had just happened, however. With a yank, Myka freed her sabre and then sliced the tie holding the set of keys to her dead opponent's belt. With a last glance at the melee going on behind her and quick prayer to whatever god might be willing to listen to he, the Commander plunged into the darkened stair well.
Either her luck was holding or it was simply that every available man in the mansion had responded to the attack by the Time Machine's crew. Whatever the reason, Myka met no one when she finally emerged at the bottom of the stairs and found herself in a short, dank stone hallway. A wooden table with a scattered deck of cards and a half eaten dinner signaled that at least one person had been stationed here.
Presumably the dead man with the keys.
The walls were slick, almost dripping with condensation and the lamps that sat in iron holders did little to dispel the gloom.
It must be under the water level down here, Myka realized as she walked forward. She could only hope that this was her destination. The hallway ended in an 'L' junction and turning the corner, Myka felt hope flare. On either side of the longer hall, there were heavy metal doors with bars across tiny windows.
Cells! Now if only
"Pete? Artie?" She called hesitantly, heart in her throat. If they weren't here
"Pete?" She called louder, her voice sounding oddly flat in the space as the stone absorbed it.
Myka's heart began to sink. She would never forgive herself if something happened to her partner and Artie
"Myka? Mykes is that you? MYKA!"
There was a pounding at one of the doors at the end of the hallway and Myka ran to it, fumbling with the keys to find the right one. Pete's excited face was pressed against the tiny window and relief made the Commander's knees go weak. In her haste, her fingers felt clumsy and it seemed to take forever for the shaped piece of metal to slide home and the tumblers to click into place. At last she was turning the handle and then Pete was grabbing her and pulling her into a hug so tight she felt her ribs creak. Myka didn't care. She was holding him just as tightly.
"Oh Mykes, I'm so glad to see you!"
"Pete! You're ok right? You look ok, they didn't hurt you "
"Where have you been, we thought you were dead! Where is the rest of the crew "
"ALRIGHT. That's enough of that." Artie, it appeared, had not changed one bit in Myka's absence. It made the Officer smile, giddy with relief.
Except for their clothes being rumpled and dirty and having a rather unwashed aroma around them, the two Agents looked none the worse for wear and Myka felt a huge weight lift off her chest, one she had carried for so long she had ceased even being aware of it. Their celebrations, however, were cut short. Artie all but stormed out of the cell.
"Where is he? Where is MacPherson? Do you have him in custody yet?"
"MacPherson?" Myka queried, the name only vaguely familiar. "Wasn't that "
"Yeah, Artie's old partner. Kinda went round the bend and decided he'd rather just sell Artifacts and make himself piles of money," Pete muttered darkly. "He's the one running this little circus."
"Well, isn't this the day for former Warehouse Agents," Myka replied dryly.
"What?" Artie asked sharply, then shook his head. "Never mind. Where is Mrs. Frederic, MacPherson needs to be handled carefully."
"Uh. Mrs. Frederic isn't exactly here, Artie." Myka offered.
In return she was witness to another of the Captain's wild gesticulations and his voice went up at least an octave.
"What do you mean she's not here? Who is commanding this mission?"
"Well ." Myka decided that perhaps now was not precisely the best time for the whole truth. "Me."
Artie's eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
"Then we have to get out of here. We need to find MacPherson! He cannot be allowed to get away!" And with that, the older Agent darted with a shocking amount of dexterity for his rather round form past Myka and Pete and ran back down the hall toward the stairs.
Blinking, Myka and her partner just looked at each other. "After you," Pete said.
Myka grinned, mock-bowed, and together they ran after their Captain.
The chaos had not lessened much in the moments Myka spent freeing Pete and Artie, though casting an eye over the fighting, the Commander felt a fierce surge of pride at the number of downed enemy soldiers. Wells' crew were clearly gaining the upper hand. A fact even the defenders were apparently realizing as here and there, Myka saw men throwing down their weapons and surrendering. Even Artie seemed to be taken aback by the sight that greeted them when the three Agents made it to the top of the stairs.
The stunning effect was momentary, however, and Nielsen quickly reached down and grabbed the sword from the guard Myka had killed, motioning for Pete and Myka to follow. "We need to get to MacPherson's office. If he hasn't escaped yet, we might get lucky. He could be trapped there." And with that, the Captain took off at an angle that set him skirting the edge of the fighting and toward the back of the mansion. Pete followed suit, pulling a knife from another dead man's chest and stealing his rapier. Myka, already armed, nonetheless stooped to snag an unfired pistol.
The group was nearly through the main hall when a squeal cut across the din and a red blur nearly tackled Pete.
"Pete Artie oh my god you're ok we're so glad you're ok I missed you so much!" Claudia really did have a knack for talking without breathing.
Pete spun the younger woman around but was forced to put her down quickly at Artie's angry motions. "Yes, yes, we're glad to see you too, now come on!"
Claudia raised one eyebrow and looked at Myka as the group jogged off after their Captain. "Well he sure hasn't changed."
Myka could only snort.
Dodging individual fighters here and there, Myka recognized Wells' crew, instinctively counting faces as they made their way to what the Commander could only assume was the kitchen and servant's areas. She saw Hawk and Sarah forming an effective and deadly team, Jinx and Katherine with their backs to each other and several others. It wasn't until Artie turned sharply and started clambering up a small, almost hidden staircase that the Agent realized she had not seen Helena in the fray. Pausing for a moment, Myka let Pete and Claudia rush up after Artie, torn between her duty and the desire to just make sure Helena was alright
A commotion behind her whirled the Agent around, her sabre at the ready. Myka could only watch in surprise as two of the grey-uniformed defenders stumbled backward through a door that appeared to lead to the kitchen and chasing after them came none other than Wells herself. There was a wild grin on the Privateer's face and though the Commander could see a slash in the black fabric of the Captain's sleeve and a trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth, she looked otherwise fine. More than fine as with a gleaming satisfaction in her dark eyes, Wells dispatched the first of her opponents and then kicked the other in the head, knocking him out cold.
"Darling!" Helena smiled broadly. "I was just cleaning the kitchen. Did I hear the dulcet tones of your Captain Arthur?"
Myka could only nod, unable to stop herself from returning Wells' grin. "Yes, Artie and Pete are fine. Artie's after Macpherson."
"Well then by all means, let's go!" Helena gestured and Myka wasted no time, turning and running up the stairs after Artie, her heart and feet suddenly light.
The two women rounded a sharp corner that opened onto a landing and found Artie and Pete trying to batter down a carven oak door while Claudia looked at them with resigned exasperation. The door was clearly not budging.
"Move aside!" Myka called, striding forward and drawing her pistol. She placed the muzzle in the lock and turned away, shielding her face and pulling the trigger. The lock exploded and the door swung open.
Myka, Artie, Pete, Claudia and Helena burst into a richly appointed office. It was a beautiful space, well lit with oil lamps and a bank of windows behind a mahogany desk. Outside Myka was shocked to discover that the sun was well on its way to rising, the black of night fading to a soft grey and showing the ocean stretched beyond the south-facing windows.
It was the lean, handsome man with greying hair and rich clothes, however, who held everyone's attention.
James MacPherson, former Warehouse Agent and wanted fugitive stood behind his desk, clearly interrupted in the last stages of gathering a variety of items into special-made thick canvas bags.
Artifacts, Myka realized. At the look of it, at least a dozen, and who knew how many more he simply hadn't had time to collect.
"Ah Arthur. I see the cavalry has, as they say, arrived. I'm sorry we didn't get to finish our chats old friend, but I doubt it would have done much good. You simply won't see."
"Don't you dare James," Artie ground out. "This isn't about me. This is about your betrayal of everything we hold dear."
Myka edged from behind Artie, taking a very slow step to the right. Perhaps if the Captain could keep his former partner talking
She suddenly found herself staring at the muzzle of a gun.
"That will be far enough Agent Bering. I must congratulate you on your resourcefulness. Getting Wells on your side I truly did not see that coming."
Before anyone could respond to that (and Myka felt H.G. tense behind her) the former Warehouse agent tilted his head. "I'm sorry Arthur. It appears we shall be forever at odds."
And then he pulled the trigger.
The next think Myka knew she was looking at Helena and Claudia's worried faces and wondering how she'd gotten to the floor and why her shoulder stung.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," the Commander assured a panicked looking Claudia, who helped her sit up and then smiled at Wells.
"And that's H.G. with the save. Again," the young woman said pointedly.
There was no time to respond though, because a yell from Artie pulled everyone's attention to the window. Or rather, the porch behind the window where James MacPherson, with his bags of stolen Artifacts, was grabbing onto the frame of something out of sight and then jumping off the railing.
Except he wasn't jumping at all.
"Oh you have got to be joking," Pete groaned as he and Artie skidded to a stop at the edge of the railing MacPherson had just leapt from.
Myka had to echo the sentiments as she watched the former Warehouse agent gliding away over the rooftops of the neighboring houses, standing in the frame of what could only be called a 'contraption.' And even worse, looking out to sea, the Commander saw a familiar outline on the water beyond the harbor.
"Is that " Claudia pointed at the ship.
Myka only barely resisted smacking her forehead. "That damned frigate. So it was MacPherson the entire time."
Tilting her head, the Midshipman was considering the dwindling form of the rogue agent.
"So that thing he had was "
"One of Leonardo DaVinci's flying machines."
"Wait, I thought none of those actually worked?" Claudia asked.
"No, no, they were just terribly unreliable and " Artie shook his head. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that MacPherson got away. Again! At least this time the Regents have to take me seriously. They will have to see what a threat he is and then "
But what would come next none of the people in the room would find out for at that moment, Artie realized that MacPherson wasn't the only former Warehouse Agent who had been present.
"You!" He pointed at Helena, who was standing rather stiffly near the door, attempting to tie a makeshift bandage around the sword cut on her upper arm with one hand and her teeth.
The Privateer looked up, her expression sliding from curiosity to utterly impassive in the space of a heartbeat.
"What is she doing here?" Artie snarled. His tone was so vehement that even Pete actually backed up a step.
Helena's eyes glittered dangerously, but it was Myka who stepped forward, instinctively standing between her Captain and the Privateer.
"Artie it's ok, H.G. has been helping us. Claudia and me. She rescued me and it is her crew down there that made it possible for me to free you."
Nielsen, however, was clearly not buying the Agent's explanation. Resembling nothing so much as a small dog with its hackles up, the Warehouse Captain took a menacing step forward, his eyes fixed on Wells.
"Oh so that's the game is it? You use my Agents so you can keep track of our investigation and then what? Warn MacPherson? Help him escape? What are you playing at Wells?"
The Privateer could have been carved from marble. Only her dark eyes blazed as she replied with perfect civility.
"I assure you Captain, I have had no dealings with Mr. MacPherson." A cynical expression tugged at her lips. "Though I am quite sure you won't believe me, there is more than one reason to leave the employ of your precious Warehouse."
The Warehouse Captain snorted in mingled disgust and disbelief. "Oh right. You just had an attack of conscience and decided to sail off on your own to get filthy rich. How noble," Artie sneered.
Helena snarled but Myka turned, placing her hand on the Captain's arm. Nothing more, yet the soft touch brought Wells up short and she took a breath and relaxed somewhat. The Privateer opened her mouth to speak but Artie was on a roll.
"Pete, go back to the cells and get some of the manacles. I'm placing you under arrest Wells and taking you back to the Warehouse."
Myka's eyes grew wide and fear shot through her like a current at Helena's expression. The last thing she wanted was a confrontation between the two captains. The Commander's protest died forgotten, however, as an older woman with dark skin, a very complicated hairdo and an impenetrable aura of command walked through the shattered door.
"That will not be necessary Arthur. Ms. Wells' actions are not under suspicion at the moment." Commodore Frederic did not appear to notice the charged atmosphere of the office as she swept in. Nor was she alone. Behind her strode a group of soldiers in the uniform of the Royal Navy and in their midst
"The Regents?" Artie asked, pushing his glasses up his nose as if not quite able to believe what he was seeing. The Captain wasn't the only one who was struggling to comprehend that four of the mysterious people whose connection with the Warehouse Helena still didn't understand had convened in once place and were even now looking around the office as if expecting MacPherson to still be there.
After that, matters became quite confused. The room filled very quickly with guards, and Helena found herself pushed aside. The volume quickly rose as well. Artie was haranguing one of the Regents balding man Wells remembered was called Valda while Mrs. Frederic alternated between trying to calm him down and field the questions of the Regents themselves. One of them a blonde woman Wells was unfamiliar with pulled Myka and Pete aside and immediately began questioning them.
No one seemed particularly interested in Helena. The Captain found herself, standing near the door, suddenly very redundant in the little tableau being played out in a rogue Agent's former office. The Privateer could have laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Apparently the Regent's policy of pretending that she did not exist extended, quite literally, to her very presence.
So, once again, I have done all that they could have asked from an Agent and more, and they will simply ignore me. So be it, the Captain mused bitterly. With a final tug of her teeth, she managed to secure a bandage around her arm, ignoring the sting of the wound. It would likely need stiches. And will most likely scar, she mused darkly.
Shaking her head the Captain realized what was happening and pushed the melancholy away. It was a weakness she could not afford. Across the room, Myka was deep in discussion with the blonde Regent. She did not turn toward Helena.
Oh Katherine you were right, Wells sighed inwardly. But the Captain had long known this moment was approaching. I just didn't realize it would come so damned swiftly. Still, the Privateer could recognize the need for retreat when it was staring her in the face. There is nothing for you here anymore Helena. Her words to herself where harsh, yet it took far, far too much effort for the Privateer to tear her eyes away from Myka's elegant profile and force her body to make the simple movements needed to place one foot in front of the other and walk out the door. In a turn of events that suddenly felt very convenient, the Captain had taken a deep slash to her thigh. It was not life threatening, but the burning pain flared in her leg with each step. Helena clung to that pain, embracing it, letting the fire cleanse her mind until her surroundings blurred into the background.
That her sight blurred as well was a fact Wells simply chose to ignore.
Concentrating on moving as steadily as possible, the Captain walked slowly out of MacPherson's office.
She did not see the unfathomable eyes of Mrs. Frederic following her.
It did not take long for the pain in Wells' leg to become something she no longer needed to embrace and instead had to struggle to keep from overwhelming her. Seeing more Royal Navy guards on the back stair, she walked carefully along the landing and paused at the top of the great staircase that descended to the ballroom. It was impressive really, how much damage her crew and Ms. Donovan had managed to wreak upon MacPherson's mansion. Seen in the brightening day, the ruins of the entry way and the gates beyond were even more vivid. Below her, men in the blue coats of the Navy had taken over guarding those defenders who had the sense to surrender, and laying out the bodies of those who had not. Her own people were grouped loosely near what had been the front door, keeping one eye on their surroundings and the other on the sailors. Helena was relieved to see that most everyone was at least sitting under their own power, even if many of her people looked exhausted and were sporting wounds. At least from a distance no one appeared in immediate danger of not returning to the ship.
Squaring her shoulders and blinking away the stinging in her eyes, the Privateer clenched her hand around her katana's hilt where it protruded from her belt, and began to descend the stairs. As her crew caught sight of her, whispers passed and gradually, sometimes with the help of others, every single one of them stood and managed to come to attention.
Helena could feel the eyes of the entire Naval contingent on her as she made her way slowly across the marble floors. Gritting her teeth she forced herself to walk perfectly evenly, refusing to show any sign of weakness.
Still several yards from where Jinx was standing at the head of her crew, Wells heard a gasp of surprise and turned her head to see Captain Holden of the Steadfast staring at her. Already anticipating another scene like the one with Arthur, Helena felt her hackles rising. She would be damned if this man who left members of his own crew to drown (that Myka was not technically a member of Holden's crew had no place in Wells' moment of righteous indignation) would waylay her.
Helena was spared such a confrontation, however.
As Holden moved toward her, his hand on his sword and a thunderous expression on his face, a voice rang from the top of the stairs.
"At ease Mr. Holden. Captain Wells is free to go."
Unable to resist, Wells turned carefully and looked at where Mrs. Frederic stood at the top of the grand staircase. Backed by marble walls and standing on the red carpet, she looked like royalty, and held herself as such.
Holden backed away, momentarily confused.
Helena stared at the dark woman for a long moment, but she could not read the Commodore's expression. As always, the woman was a cypher: One Helena was too damned tired to attempt to figure out. Instead of her usual mocking salute, the Captain just nodded, then turned carefully and strode to her crew, head held high.
"Are all present and accounted for?"
"Yes sir," the younger man snapped back in precise tones.
Helena nodded sharply. "Very well. All hands return to the ship."
Jinx saluted with a military precision Helena had no idea he'd possessed and spun on his heel. "Crew of the Time Machine .Fall out!" He barked. And bless them, but they did just that. As if choreographed, every single member of Wells' crew executed a perfect about-face and began to march - rather slowly in deference to the wounded - out the door.
Wells could feel the shocked stares behind her, and in a moment of wickedness, she snapped to attention herself, turned on her heel, gave the Commodore a razor sharp salute, then spun about once more and marched after her crew.
The façade lasted till they were down the street and out of sight of the house. Helena's leg nearly gave out and she swore. It was a signal for her crew to return to their usual more pragmatic state. The injured leaned on their comrades (or in a few cases were simply picked up and carried) and they shuffled along as best as possible.
Jinx quickly moved to his Captain's side but she waved him off. "I'm fine Stephen," she said quietly, thanking him without words.
The young man nodded, understanding. "Orders Captain?"
"Get the wounded taken care of and set sail. I want Venice to our stern as swiftly as possible. And Mr. Jinx?"
"Make sure to get rid of that god damned figurehead."
Jinx grinned. "Aye sir. It will be my pleasure."
The sun was fully up by the time the Time Machine's crew stumbled wearily onto her decks, tossed off her moorings and set the sails to make their way slowly out of the harbor. There was a stiff breeze coming off the sea and it was enough to carry the ship out of port without assistance of oars. The docks were already crowded and no one gave a second glance to another would-be merchant ship leaving for open waters.
Helena saw no sign of the French frigate.
Katherine's assistants were moving among the crew, passing out clean water, soap, alcohol and bandages. Those crew with minor wounds were tending themselves while others waited for the doctor's care and Helena sent a silent prayer of thanks she had lost no one this time.
Once her ship was past the breakwaters, Helena ordered only the mainsail dropped and a southerly course set. "We make for the horn of Italy. I want to head for open ocean," she told her current helmsman, a plucky English lad called Paris.
"And Mr. Jinx," she called loudly enough that the crew understood she was addressing them as well. "Would I be correct in assuming that several caskets of that very fine brandy we brought to trade are, in fact, still on board somewhere?"
Jinx pretended to consider. "I do believe there is a possibility of such a thing, yes Captain."
"Well good. Have them brought up and broached. I for one, plan to get drunk."
The cheers of her people were weary, but heartfelt.
Hours later, the Time Machine was at least on her way back to her former state. The tacky figurehead had been quite literally hacked from the bow and the extra boxes and general garbage that had cluttered her deck had either been stowed properly or simply thrown overboard to provide a new home for some ocean dwelling creature.
They sailed south until nearly midday and then dropped sea-anchor barely within sight of the eastern coast of Italy. It was a beautiful day, the sky an endless, pure turquoise scattered with fluffy white clouds.
The wounded were tended, the ship as squared away as she would get until they could dock somewhere and Helena was sitting in her cabin, boots off, a bandage around her thigh and a mug of brandy in her hand.
The sound of her door opening signaled Katherine's arrival. Helena said nothing, merely poured another mug and placed it across her desk for the exhausted physician. James sat heavily and brought the mug to her lips, saluting Wells before downing half the amber liquid in one gulp.
Helena, who understood the urge all too well, merely waited.
After another healthy swallow, Katherine slumped in the chair and sighed. "The crew is fine. Mostly minor wounds. Sarah has a badly sprained ankle and Shawn broke an arm, and I've lost count of how many stitches I've placed today, but you have damned skilled people and you should be proud of them Captain."
Wells looked at her old friend. Even as tired as she clearly was, Katherine looked remarkably put together. She had found time to wash the soot from her hands and face and her hair was secured in its usual tidy braid. Had Helena any energy to spare she might have found the other woman's grace irritating. Now she just marveled at it.
"I know," was the Captain's quiet reply.
"And their Captain?" James' voice was soft.
Helena stared at her brandy, gently swirling the heady liquid. "I'm fine Katherine." With a sigh, Wells leaned back in her own chair and let her head drop back. "I just wish you hadn't been right."
James did not ask about what. Myka and Claudia were gone. The answer was obvious.
"I didn't want to be," the physician said gently, empathy in her tone.
Wells shrugged one shoulder. "What is done is done."
Katherine was a very good friend and a wise woman and so did not point out the utter fallacy of Helena's words.
"So what now?" She asked instead, tactfully changing the subject.
Wells raised her mug and levered herself up, grabbing the jug of brandy and pouring another measure for herself. "Now I get exceedingly intoxicated and let the crew do the same, and tomorrow we nurse our hangovers and head for a friendly port. Perhaps Olhão. Alfonso owes us and if nothing else, it's a quiet place for some respite. We also need intelligence and in all honesty, I think tis time to hunt something ordinary: Like treasure or a troublesome pirate ship. To hell with chasing ghosts."
The two women raised their mugs in silent salute and then Helena set about doing exactly what she'd promised and got very, very drunk. Katherine shared one more drink and then went to find her own bunk, leaving her friend to try and forget alone.
Outside, the crew also celebrated. Few, however, drank to excess. Unlike conscripted sailors, the crew of the Time Machine knew that celebrations and rewards came, if irregularly, then not infrequently. The drinking continued all day, but it did not interfere with setting watches and tending to the injured.
The sun was beginning to lower itself from the sky when the Captain stumbled into bed, not bothering to do more than change into a clean shirt. The room spun around her and she was asleep nearly as soon as her head hit the pillow.
For a miracle, that sleep was dreamless.
It had been over a week since the sun rose over Venice to find MacPherson escaped, the Regents converging on the wreckage of his former headquarters, and the Time Machine slipping out of the harbor, taking H.G. and her crew away. A week where Myka drifted along, feeling as if she were merely going through the motions of life. Her sleep at night was restless and uneasy and during the day she felt at turns exhausted and then so full of pent-up energy she thought she might explode with it.
With Pete and Artie back and news that the Artifact Hunter II would meet them upon return to London, Myka should have been overjoyed. Instead, the Lieutenant-Commander felt strange. Things she had once taken for granted now seemed new and unfamiliar. It was odd to be on dry land again, sleeping in a real bed. Her uniform jacket with its collar and braid felt heavy and confining and people stopping to salute her or calling her 'sir' just seemed out of place.
Be honest Bering. 'Tis not everything else that is out of place. It's you. The uniforms and saluting and standing on ceremony were still familiar, but distantly, as if she had heard about them from someone else and Myka herself was a different person, an imposter in a uniform. With little to do but wait on the Regent's questions, the Officer often found her mind wandering away from her, thoughts settling on Helena and what the crew of the Time Machine might be doing at that moment. Usually those thoughts were just a jumble of impressions or memories Sarah in the crow's nest or Helena's face as they sparred. But sometimes, perhaps at dusk, the Commander could picture it easily. Like tonight, when most of them would be dining, the watch changing, lanterns being lit and sails set for the night. Helena would be at the helm, feet in her shining black boots braced and raven hair whipping in the breeze
The snapping of fingers in front of her face brought Myka back to the present with a jolt. Wherever the Time Machine had gone, it was far away from here: Here being the temporary mess hall the Regents had ordered set up while Warehouse personnel investigated what was left of MacPherson's headquarters. Myka was sitting at a long wooden table in the spacious kitchen eating lunch with Pete. Or rather, she was pushing her food around her plate and woolgathering while Pete shoveled mouthfuls of potatoes and roast beef. They were not alone, but none of the soldiers eating at the other tables paid them attention. Pete and Myka were officers. The others were merely common crewman. They kept their distance.
The situation made Myka miss the occasional raucous meal with the Time Machine's crew, or even better, a quiet supper with wine in Helena's cabin.
The fingers snapped in front of her face again. "Earth to Myka? Where do you keep going?"
The Officer just shook her head, forcing herself to concentrate on her partner. "Sorry Pete, just thinking."
"Come on Mykes, you're not even eating." The handsome Marine said plaintively.
The Commander looked down at her food and felt a hard lump rise in her throat. With a sigh, she pushed the plate toward her partner. "Here. I'm not hungry. You go ahead."
Pete blinked, but, never one to give up food took the plate and began making inroads on it. The sight made Myka smile half-heartedly. Though truly none the worse for his time as prisoner, Pete acted as if he had been starved to within an inch of his life and was intent on making up for lost time, or so he claimed.
"Hey, Myka, seriously. What's the matter?" Pete actually put down his fork and looked at his partner. The true sign of friendship. It made Myka smile just a little bit more. The expression was short-lived, however, since it was impossible to explain to her dearest friend what she was feeling when she hadn't even truly admitted to herself that she felt it.
"It's nothing darling." The endearment slipped from her lips without thought but it brought the Commander up like a slap in the face. Pete too, looked stunned as it was something Myka would normally never have called him except in mocking.
Biting her lip against the surge of sadness and frustration, Myka waved him off. "I'm sorry Pete, it's nothing. Truly. It just feels odd to be back is all. There were times the Warehouse seemed so very far away, and I worried we might never get you and Artie back."
Now her partner's handsome face softened. "But we are back Mykes. And we're fine. Well, Artie is so hopping mad that MacPherson got away there is probably steam coming out his ears, but he's alright. Take the victory will you? We destroyed MacPherson's headquarters and probably gained some valuable intelligence on his next move."
Myka refrained from mentioning that it had been Helena and her crew that had truly been responsible for most of the destruction of the rogue agent's headquarters and the capture of his men. But that was a battle not worth joining. Still, Pete was trying and so could she. Straightening, she re-buttoned her coat.
"You're right, as usual. It will pass. Anyway, I have a meeting with the Regents in a moment, I should be going."
Lattimer nodded. "I'll be right hmpfh mphm ooo." He said around a mouthful of potatoes. Myka translated that easily as "I'll be right behind you," and was pleased to learn she was at least still fluent in Pete.
Walking up the stairs to the top floor, Myka tugged one last time at her coat and settled her sabre at her hip. She paused just before the landing outside the carved oak doors that led to MacPherson's old office. Taking a breath, the Officer turned the corner and was surprised at the sight of Claudia standing at attention outside the room. Upon seeing her friend, the Midshipman relaxed her rigid stance and shot Myka a weary smile. It was clear that the young woman had been expecting another officer and it struck the Commander in that moment that she was not the only one having a difficult time re-adjusting to life within the staid military hierarchy of the Navy. Claudia too, was once again in full uniform and the dark blue coat did not appear to fit her any better than it did Myka.
Looking around to make sure they were alone, Myka walked forward to stand next to her friend, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey Claud. How are you doing?"
The young woman shrugged. "Oh I'm alright."
Myka merely looked at her steadily and Claudia's face fell. "I miss them," the redhead finally admitted quietly.
Myka had no real response so instead she simply wrapped her friend in a quick hug, which was returned tightly. The sound of footsteps approaching on the other side of the door forced them back, however, and Claudia sprang to attention, her expression empty as the door opened.
"Ah, Lieutenant-Commander, excellent. Come in."
The Regents had taken over the office for their own, repairing the damage done to the door by Myka's pistol and using it as a combination meeting place and wardroom. The great mahogany desk now occupied the left side of the room and was piled with papers, charts, books and other paraphernalia. Several more chairs had also been brought in and now joined the original leather monstrosities in a rough circle atop the rich Persian rug. At the moment, the four Regents that had accompanied the expedition and Commodore Frederic occupied those chairs. To her left, a young man Myka recognized as one of the Regent's assistants sat bent over a sheaf of paper, scribbling notes. To her right, Artie and Captain Holden from the Steadfast stood at ease and Myka had to work to suppress the feeling of distaste at the sight of the other man. She still had not quite forgiven him for giving her up as lost after the destruction of the Artifact Hunter.
Then again, if he hadn't, I never would have met Helena
One of the Regents the sharp eyed man she recognized as Mr. Valda rose at that moment and the Commander forced her attention back to the proceedings.
She stood rigidly at attention until he approached and held out his hand. "At ease Lieutenant-Commander. Or perhaps I should say Commander. Commodore Frederic has suggested, and the Regents have agreed that you are long overdue a promotion. Congratulations Agent Bering," he said as he took her hand and shook it.
A bit stunned at the suddenness of the proceedings Myka barely managed a "Thank you sir."
Valda and the rest of the Regents clearly had other matters on their minds, however, and the short man waved off her thanks. "Yes, we regret the lack of ceremony, but I am sure you can agree time is of the essence here. Your rank has been entered into record and all other necessary matters attended too. We must turn now to more pressing matters."
Myka, sensing her input was not desired at the moment, stayed silent.
"Agent Bering you were in the company of the former Warehouse Agent H.G. Wells for over two months. Please describe her ship and crew compliment."
The Commander blinked, put even further off balance by the sudden change in topic.
"I'm sorry, sir?" She queried, trying to gain a moment to collect her thoughts. She risked a glance over at her Captain, but Artie's face was shuttered, his expression grim. Well, grimmer than usual.
A sense of dread crept like a frost into Myka's heart.
"Her crew compliment Commander. How many men and women does she have aboard her ship? What is the Time Machine's weapons capability? How well are her people trained? How many Artifacts does she have at her disposal and what are their natures?"
It was Valda that was speaking, but all the Regents were watching her like birds of prey with a rabbit in their sight. The assistant was scribbling madly and out of the corner of her eye, Myka saw Captain Holden's face take on a moue of distaste.
Swallowing and trying desperately to control her racing mind, Myka looked at the group of mysterious men and women before her. Even the Commodore, who Myka had always occasioned to like, was looking at her with an unreadable expression. Though in Mrs. Frederic's case, that was not particularly unusual.
"Commander Bering, please answer the questions."
"I am sorry sir, but do you mean to suggest that Captain Wells is a threat to the Warehouse?"
Valda looked at her like a child who had just asked a question with a particularly obvious answer.
"Of course she is a threat to the Warehouse Agent Bering. What we are trying to determine is the extent of that threat."
Myka's mouth was open before her training and common sense could stop her. "Sir, forgive me, but I do not believe Captain Wells presents a danger to us."
Valda merely made a dismissive gesture and rose to pace the floor between the chairs and where Myka stood, his hands clasped behind his back. "That determination is not up to you, Commander. Now please, answer the questions."
The Officer, however, found herself unable to do so. Her tongue seemed lodged in her mouth and her throat had closed. If it hadn't been for the emotions swirling like a maelstrom in her breast, Myka might have entertained the possibility she was under the influence of an Artifact.
The Regent misinterpreted her silence. Quirking an eyebrow as he walked past, he spoke again.
"Be at ease Agent Bering, this group has no intention of delving into any uncomfortable actions you might need to have taken to remain aboard Wells' ship. Indeed, we commend you for your resourcefulness and dedication to your mission."
It was utterly the wrong thing to say.
Valda's words and sneering tone rang in Myka's head like a great bell, drowning out everything but a rising tide of rage.
She was moving almost before he finished speaking and in the stunned silence of the room, the sound of her fist impacting the Regent's jaw was incredibly loud.
Valda's head snapped back and he overbalanced, taking two stumbling steps and then measuring his length against the carpet. All eyes in the room were locked on Myka as she took a menacing step forward. Even the scribe in the corner was staring at her open mouthed, his quill dangling from ink-stained fingers.
"How dare you," the Commander ground out. At her side, her fist was clenched so hard her arm shook and she longed to strike the downed man again.
"How dare any of you." She spun and stared at the other occupants of the chairs.
"Captain Wells acted during our entire acquaintance with nothing but the utmost propriety. She saved my life when Captain Holden would have left me to drown," and now Myka indulged in a withering glare at the man in question, barely registering his face drain of all color before turning back to the Regents who were still frozen wide-eyed in their chairs.
"If it were not for the heroic actions of the Captain and her crew, you would not have MacPherson's headquarters. Indeed, you would likely still be chasing your own tails trying to guess who might be behind all this. And now, after risking her ship and the lives of herself and her crew for the Warehouse, you have the audacity to sit here and imply such lewd things about her character and my own!" Myka nearly snarled.
Forcing herself to breathe, the Commander took a step back and looked at the people the in the room really looked at them. What she saw made her suddenly understand,
"You're afraid of MacPherson. You're afraid of what he might do and you're looking for a way to use Wells against him." Myka shook her head in disgust. "Helena was right. She's nothing but a tool to be used and discarded at will to you, isn't she?"
Their silence was all the answer Myka needed.
"Well," she said, propping her hands on her hips and looking around, finally letting out a deep breath. "In that case, ma'ams, sirs, you can take that promotion and shove it, as the commoners say, up your ass. I hereby resign my commission as an Agent of the Warehouse."
Pivoting on her heel, Myka was brought up by the voice of Mrs. Frederic. The Commodore had that same inscrutable expression on her handsome features, but Myka was beyond trying to decipher it.
"And just where do you think you will go, Ms. Bering? Your father's estates were sold long ago. Your home has always been with the Warehouse."
If it was meant to be a warning, it failed utterly in its purpose. For the first time all day, Myka truly smiled. "I'm going to go find the woman that I do believe I've fallen in love with and ask her if she needs another deckhand."
The admission was like a huge weigh lifted from her chest and for the first time in weeks, perhaps the first time since she had run from Helena's touch after waking up next to the other woman, Myka felt she could breathe. It made her laugh as she turned once more and strode out the room, slamming the carven oak door behind her with a childish glee.
She nearly walked right into Claudia, who looked like she was about to cheer, and Pete, who looked like someone had just whacked him over the head with a board.
"Mykes what ?" Pete trailed off and the (now) former Warehouse agent softened.
"I'm sorry Pete. It isn't that I didn't want to tell you it's merely that "
"It's that she was being stupid and noble and trying to pretend she didn't have all these feelings for H.G." Claudia piped up, nearly bouncing to Myka and hugging her fiercely. "Oh my goodness, Mykes what are you going to do now?"
Myka smiled wryly. "Just what I said I'd do. Try to find Helena."
"Myka are you sure about this?"
Pete's voice was soft and the former Commander looked at her best friend.
"Oh Pete," she sighed. "Honestly .no, I am not sure. But I have a really good feeling." She watched as her handsome partner's face slowly split into a grin and he nodded.
"Alright then. Go, and be safe. And try to stay in touch. You and H.G. Wells we'll follow up on that later." At Myka's mock glare he just laughed and shoved her gently in the direction of the stairs. "Go, I'll keep these idiots from following you too closely."
On the other side of the door, the occupants were apparently finding their voices and someone it sounded like Artie was yelling. Knowing she was running out of time, Myka leapt forward and wrapped her arms around Pete.
"I love you Pete Lattimer. You were the brother I was never granted. Don't ever forget it."
His arms squeezed her hard. "Yeah alright, I love you too Mykes. Now go!"
And without another word, she did.
The former Agent was halfway down the stairs heading to the stables when she heard rushing footsteps behind her. Turning, Myka watched as Claudia nearly fell down the stone steps trying to catch up.
"What?" The redhead asked. "You didn't think I was going to miss this did you? Come on Myka. H.G. lets me blow things up! Blow. Things. Up. No way am I not getting in on that action."
Myka's laughter carried them through the kitchen and out to the courtyard.
Commander Bering's last act as a member of His Majesty's Navy was to commandeer several travel packs, a hefty purse of coin and four horses from the quartermaster who had not yet heard she was in disgrace.
A commotion was just rising behind them as Myka and Claudia swung into the saddle and set spur to their mount's sides. With the clatter of shod hooves on cobblestones, the two fugitives galloped out of the yard and turned north through the city.
Once out of Venice proper, Myka eased up, letting the horses walk. She took off her uniform coat and turned to where Claudia was doing the same.
"We have enough supplies for a week, a bit longer if we're careful, but we need to get rid of these uniforms. I want to stay away from towns if we can. We'll buy some provisions then hunt when we can."
Claudia nodded. "Do we have a direction?"
"West and south to Monaco, I want to avoid the edge of the Alps. Then see if we can book passage in Toulon or Marseille to Barcelona."
Myka shrugged. "It's a major port and Helena mentioned she enjoyed it. I am hoping she will stop and resupply at some point. If not " trailing off, the former Commander looked soberly at her friend. "Claudia I don't have any illusions. This may be a long journey. Helena isn't known for being easy to find at the best of times and now?" She left the rest unspoken, but the younger woman nodded.
Her face equally solemn, Claudia replied. "I know Myka. And I thought it through. I love Pete too, and Artie when he's not being .Artie. But I miss the Time Machine. I miss H.G. and Jinxy and Katherine and getting to invent things. I miss being respected by the whole crew and not just you and Pete and Leena. I don't care how long it takes. I'm in."
A slow grin pulled at Myka's lips. "Very well then, my fellow fugitive, we ride west!"
And laughing, they did just that.
There was no word of the Time Machine in Toulon, nor in Barcelona where they traded their four road weary horses for two fresh saddle animals of Spanish blood. With arched necks and graceful paces, they also were of hardier breeding, able to go longer distances than the horses Myka and Claudia had 'appropriated.' It would also cost less to take only one animal apiece. Myka chose a dapple grey mare just fading to pure white and Claudia settled on a blood bay with a kind eye.
After searching the docks and asking around, the two former Naval Officers gained no word of the Time Machine. If Wells was sailing this way, she had not come to port in Barcelona. Myka felt a moment of disappointment, but in truth she was not surprised.
"So, onward?" Claudia asked?
"Onward." The former Agent agreed, checking the saddle bags one more time before turning and leading her horse down the wharf.
The two women bartered passage on a merchant vessel with plans to stop at most ports along the coast. While the going was slow, it would give them a chance to ask at each port if there had been word of Helena and her crew. Without revealing their true identities, Myka and Claudia traded their skills as deck hands for free passage for themselves and a good rate for the horses. The Captain was a taciturn older man who asked no questions and was appreciative of their help. It was a dull voyage, but Myka was not unhappy. No one was going to be looking for two AWOL Naval Officers on a non-descript merchant vessel.
As the days turned into weeks, however, she became increasingly frustrated at the lack of news of the Time Machine. Fall was settling in and Myka suspected that Helena would go to ground somewhere during the winter. The Captain had spoken of the habit on more than one occasion. Looking back, the former Agent wished she'd thought to ask Helena where.
When their ship docked at Cadiz, Captain Ruiz informed the women he was going no further north. It was time to disembark.
"Do you think she's gone back to Olhão?" Claudia asked as they walked their horses through town, trying to get their land legs back again.
Myka nodded. "And if not, Alfonso may well know how to find her."
Claudia quirked an eyebrow. Myka smiled dryly. "Not my first choice of an informant, but I'm hoping he won't hold our past meeting against me."
"Worth trying I suppose," the younger woman replied. "Are we going to try and book passage on another ship?"
The former Commander shook her head. "No, we might as well ride. I highly doubt anyone is looking for us here, and even if they were, we don't particularly resemble renegade Naval Officers." Myka's tone was wry. Captain Ruiz's merchant vessel and crew had not been subjected to the same standards of cleanliness Myka was accustomed to from the Navy, or the Time Machine.
Claudia's agreement was muttered under her breath and Myka caught enough of it not to need the sentiment repeated.
Three days later they arrived in Olhão.
The first thing Myka did was seek out an inn and use the last of their coin to book a room. The second thing she and Claudia did was to find one of the old public baths left over from the Roman era and still maintained in some cities. After a thorough scrubbing of themselves and their clothing and a decent dinner, Myka mounted her horse again and rode to the harbor.
The former Commander tried to tell herself that she was not truly expecting Wells' ship to be there.
Those silent words, however, did not lessen the sting any when she could not find the familiar silhouette of the Time Machine amongst the other vessels.
Claudia took one look at her face when she returned to the room and sighed. "I'm sorry Mykes."
The older woman gave a half-hearted smile and flopped on the bed, her arms over her eyes. Myka was tired. Tired of traveling, traveling of hoping; tired of not knowing where Helena was. She had been sure the Captain would come back here, but with failure now came self-doubt.
"'Tis alright Claud. I will go visit Alfonso later. Perhaps he can shed some light on her whereabouts."
But that visit too, was a disappointment.
Greeting her in his office above the tavern (Myka's entry was much less covert this time and she was escorted upstairs by a lean woman with darting green eyes and at least three hidden knives), Alfonso was at first highly suspicious of the former Agent's presence.
Myka was long past playing games however. All she wanted to know was whether there was news of Helena.
The Duke of Thieves stared across his desk at the woman he had once threatened with the knowledge of a price on her head. For the longest moment his face was inscrutable. Myka merely waited. There was nothing else she could do.
Alfonso's eyes suddenly widened and his posture relaxed. Sighing and shaking his head the thief made a subtle gesture and the woman with the knives bowed and left.
"So, it is matters of the heart and not treasure that send you chasing the infamous pirate H.G. Wells." His words could have been mocking but the Spaniard's voice was gentle and Myka found herself nodding wryly.
"I am sorry señorita. I wish I could help you, truly. By all accounts, Wells has done my people a service. The Rogue are back in Venice and prospering."
Myka took a second to reflect on the fact that learning thieves and beggars, cutpurses and swindlers were once again taking up residence in a city meant things were right. Still, she found she rather liked Alfonso and his obvious delight made her smile gently.
Thanking him, the former Agent stood to leave.
Her name stopped her just short of the door.
The lean man narrowed his eyes in a show of calculation and he stroked his chin. "There may be, a chance that I could send word to our good Captain. What would such a chance be worth to you señorita?"
Myka stared at the man, his handsome features and lively dark eyes. It wasn't often the former Commander went with her heart and not her head, but now was one of those times.
"Everything. Anything," she replied simply.
Alfonso's eyes widened in surprise. "Madre de Dios, you really do love her don't you?"
There was only one answer to that question and Myka did not even hesitate. "Yes."
The Duke of Thieves shook his head in awe. "I never thought I would see the day." He drew himself up and walked to stand in front of Myka, holding his hand out. "I will send word. I am afraid I do not truly have a guarantee it will reach her, but I will offer to try."
"And what is your price, sir?" Myka asked evenly.
Alfonso flashed a white grin. "There is no price señorita. At least not in money. I am a romantic man, and it is not often I see true love staring me in the face from so unlikely a source."
Myka narrowed her eyes and the thief laughed. "And I want to see what H.G. Wells in love looks like. A unholy terror that one. Perhaps you can do the rest of us a favor and civilize her eh?"
At that the former Agent had to laugh, taking Alfonso's hand and returning the firm grip. "I doubt it sir, but I will offer to try." The tall man easily recognized his own words being tossed back to him and he grinned even wider.
"Where are you staying? If I receive word back, I will notify you."
Myka told him, and then turned to walk out the door. She paused, however, and looked back at Alfonso one more time.
"Alfonso?" She said softly.
The thief looked up, raising an eyebrow in query.
"Wells isn't the only one who doesn't take kindly to being crossed. Just remember that." And with a wink, Myka was out the door. Alfonso's laugh followed her down the hallway.
After that, Myka and Claudia had little to do but wait. It was a frustratingly familiar occupation and Myka chafed at it. They took to riding their horses out of the town and through the charming Portuguese countryside each day, but when five days had passed with no word, Myka seriously began to consider that she might have to make more permanent arrangements for her and Claudia's futures. The two women were out of coin and had only three days left at the inn before they would owe more money.
And I have no idea where to go next, Myka sighed inwardly. It was a beautiful fall evening that she and Claudia rode through but clear sky and soft breeze were utterly lost on the older woman. Beside her, Claudia was quiet. The younger woman had been subdued as well and Myka felt a stab of guilt.
Their horses' hooves sounded their return to the town proper, striking the cobblestones smartly as the women made their way back to the inn.
Turning into the courtyard, Myka dismounted and handed her mare off to the stable-lad. She gave the grey's nose an absent-minded pat before heading back to the inn, Claudia presumably at her heels.
The former Midshipman, however, was not following. Eventually realizing this, Myka turned to question her friend, only to find the young woman standing in the middle of the courtyard, gazing intently at something over the roof of the stable.
"Hey Mykes, isn't that ?" Claudia trailed off, pointing.
Two things happened nearly simultaneously then.
Myka followed Claudia's line of sight and realized the redhead was staring at a massive eagle perched calmly on the thatched roof of the stable. No sooner had the former Agent spotted the bird then it fanned its great wings and launched into the air, the powerful rushing of air as it gained flight clearly audible. It circled the courtyard once and then still rising higher, flew west toward the harbor. And just as the bird turned, one of the numerous street urchins Myka had learned served as Alfonso's network of messengers and spies came skidding into the yard.
"The ship! Is here señora! The ship is here!"
Frozen in shock, Myka looked at Claudia. The girl's eyes were as wide as her own mostly likely.
"Does he mean?"
"Helena," Myka breathed. As if the Captain's name were a signal, the former Agent was off like a shot. She burst into the stable, startling the stable-boy who had just finished removing the saddle from her grey and was brushing the mare down. Myka didn't hesitate. Calling an apology, she untied the reins from the post, spun the horse around and grabbed a chuck of the mare's thick grey mane. With a twist of her hips Myka swung up and landed on the mare's back, digging her knees in and spinning the horse on its hocks. The mare, catching her rider's excitement, bolted forward, eyes rolling as Myka set her head toward the inn's gate.
She just had time to register Claudia yelling "wait for me!" before the grey got its footing and Myka found herself charging through the streets of Olhãoo. People scattered like sheep and the former Agent had cause to be grateful for her mare's Spanish blood. Turning, weaving and dodging, the mare managed changes of direction and speed that would have sent most horses sprawling.
Back in the stable, Claudia grabbed her horse's bridle from the wall and yanked open the stall door. "Like hell you're leaving me," she muttered and, slipping the bridle over her own mount's nose, proceeded to follow her friend.
Standing alone in the courtyard, the young stable boy just stared after them.
Skidding around a last corner, Myka gritted her teeth and held on as she urged the mare down the final gentle slope to the harbor. She just caught sight of the great eagle circling above her and then the last line of buildings was crossed and the mare burst onto the docks.
Sitting back, Myka clamped her knees and brought the grey back to a sliding stop, where she pranced and tossed her head, flinging her mane. Her rider ignored her, too busy frantically scanning the docks.
There! Identification nearly followed the act of giving her mare her head and once again, Myka was galloping. This time however, she had a destination. This time she could see the familiar shape of the Time Machine's masts as the ship docked at one of the far piers. Never, in her entire life, had Myka Bering been so grateful to see one vessel.
Adrenaline surged in her blood like a white hot tide, making her breath harsh and her hands tremble on the reins. She pulled the mare around hard and the horse's hooves struck the wood planking of the docks just as the Time Machine's crew finished fastening her moorings.
Approaching fast, Myka could now make out individual faces.
And there at the helm, just like she had imagined her a rather ridiculous number of times, stood Helena.
The ship's gangplank came crashing to the docks and Myka brought her mare into a stiff kneed halt, the horse tossing its mane and half-rearing in protest. Myka didn't care. She'd found what she was looking for.
Helena Wells did not sulk. She didn't. It simply was not in her nature. She had never been the type of woman who was careless with her feelings. Nor could she stand ridiculous outward displays of emotion from others. Life went on and one had to deal with things as they came. It was as simple as that. If there was a guiding principle in Wells' life, such sentiment might have been it, and she had always chosen to deal with things on her own terms.
Sailing away from Venice, however, the Captain found herself unable to simply put the past few months in a box and lock it away in her memory.
Helena found that nearly as irritating as it was painful.
Still, to the world, she presented the face she always had the daring Captain, the shrewd Privateer, the wise friend. Even those close to her in her crew would have been hard pressed to say if their Captain's behavior really differed.
Only Katherine, who had known Helena the longest, and Sarah, whose golden eyes saw so much more than what was on the horizon, could tell just how deeply Commander Bering's parting had affected their leader.
Sarah held her tongue because she owed Wells her life and did not feel it was her place to interfere with the Captains' business.
Katherine stayed silent because she knew damned well there was nothing she could say that would make the least bit of difference. The physician had once been in a similar position to her old friend though the specific circumstances were far different and she was intimately familiar with the kind of pain no doctor can treat.
So the Time Machine rounded the tip of Italy and sailed north up the coast. In discussion with her crew, Wells confirmed her decision to sail to Olhão.
"We'll see about setting Wolly and Foster up somewhere and then I want to find a place to winter. The crew needs a rest." Helena sighed. "I need a rest." Sitting in her cabin with Katherine and Jinx, it was the only admission Wells had ever made to hint she was at all affected by what had happened in Venice.
Exchanging a glance, her physician and First Mate merely made noises of agreement.
"And next spring?" Jinx asked.
Wells ran her hand through her hair and considered the charts in front of her, considering. "We haven't had a good run-in with a Spanish gold ship in far too long. What do you say Mr. Jinx?"
The young man grinned, relieved to see the old sparkle in his Captain's eyes. "I say that sounds like a good time, Captain."
Helena nodded, straightening and putting her hands on her hips. "Very well, when we get to Olhão we'll sound out Alfonso. I'm sure he'd be more than happy to help us fleece his former country for a cut of the spoils. Any other suggestions? That will be all then."
The two crewmembers moved to leave, but Katherine glanced back as she walked out the door. Helena was standing alone at the window, hands clasped behind her back, looking out to sea.
The image made the physician unaccountably sad.
The Time Machine was some weeks at sea, taking its time and staying close to shore to avoid bad weather on the open water. Several times Sarah's gulls warned them of approaching storms and they found refuge in small harbors to weather them. They stopped at small fishing ports and traded for supplies and water; they drilled in combat and cleaned the ship.
The routine was comforting, quiet, resting.
Helena wanted to scream.
The longer they tacked along the coast of France, then Spain, the more the Captain found herself wanting something, anything to happen. H.G. Wells was spoiling for a fight and there was no one to give it to her.
So, rather than risk taking her temper out on her crew, she withdrew into herself. So much so that the crew noticed, and began to whisper.
Still days away from Olhão, Helena paid no attention to the gull that circled the ship and landed at the edge of the crow's nest. The birds came and went frequently these days, company for the ship's smallest member. Wells finished her watch at the wheel then handed the helm to Paris, retiring to her cabin for the night. She rarely ate with the crew these days, so she was unaware of the news that spread like wildfire amongst her people that night when Sarah came down from the crow's nest.
Sitting crowded around tables in the mess, there was a hushed discussion and then finally, "what do you think doc, you've known her the longest." It was Jinx who asked and Katherine considered the situation.
"I think we shouldn't tell her until we're sure. Sarah, that eagle of yours, is he around?"
James nodded. "Very well. Send him ahead to look for her. I'll not have Helena's hopes raised if Alfonso is toying with her."
There were mutters of agreement.
"As for the rest, we make for port at Olhão anyway. I vote for letting matters play out as they will. She won't thank us for interfering. Let us just make sure we actually do dock."
There were nods of agreement all around and secretive smiles exchanged among the crew. Hardened, experienced sailors and fighters every one of them, but they were human beings, and fond of their Captain. And though not liking that she had chosen her duty over Wells, they understood and approved of the woman who seemed to have run off with Helena's heart.
So stood matters when the Time Machine coasted gently into port on a beautiful, clear evening several days later. Behind the ship, the sun was sinking to the horizon, gilding the stone walls of Olhão as it began to spread its cloak of light on the other side of the world.
Helena stood at the helm, guiding her ship with expert grace into port. Her mind, however, was not wholly engaged in its task. Indeed, it was a common feeling as if there were simply a part of the Captain that was missing. She wasn't distracted per se, merely not present.
It was perhaps because of this that it took so long for the commotion on the docks to penetrate her awareness. Long enough for the apparently suicidal rider on the grey horse to come plunging down the length of the wharf and bring the mare to a sliding, head-tossing halt at the foot of the gangplank. For an instant the Captain struggled to identify the woman, for she was not wearing the expected navy and cream uniform with its familiar gold braid, but instead a white shirt with laces at the front, tucked into tan breeches and black riding boots.
The moment Wells realized she was staring at a familiar riot of tousled brown hair and full red lips was the moment that missing part of her snapped back into place with an almost physical force. The breath left her lungs in a rush and the Captain could no longer quite feel her hands on the worn wood of the wheel. She was not even conscious of moving, so fixed was her gaze on the slender figure now sliding from the back of her horse and running part way up the gangplank before hesitating.
Both women were utterly unaware they had an audience in the crew, who froze where they were, terrified of breaking the tableau playing out before them.
In long strides Helena crossed the deck and leapt onto the plank before she too, paused.
The two women stood frozen, an arm's length apart while their hearts raced in their chests and they both struggled for words and the moment stretched.
It was Myka who succeeded in finding her voice first. Her eyes locked on Helena's, the question slipped from her lips as barely a whisper.
"Permission to come aboard?" It wasn't what she wanted to say, but her heart and her mind were so crowded with images and emotions that it was all her tongue could apparently manage. Helena was staring at her with an expression that said the Captain was having a hard time believing this was all real.
Dark eyes never leaving Myka' face, she finally spoke, uttering the one word the former Warehouse Agent had been dreading even more than 'no'.
There were so many answers to that question, how could Myka ever choose the right one? It was not even a question of telling the truth. Rather the difficulty lay in understanding the whole of that truth and somehow being able to put it into words, a feat Myka was unsure she was capable of doing in that moment. Not when every cell in her body was crying out at the other woman's nearness, when her fingers itched to feel Helena's skin beneath her own again and her lips longed to taste Helena's mouth.
"Why?" Helena asked again, her voice barely stirring the air between them.
"Because you were right."
Surprise flickered across elegant features, but Myka had found her tongue. "You were right about the Regents. And the costs. And because while I will always believe in what the Warehouse stands for, it is not my home any longer." Myka found that she trembled as she spoke. The months of a journey both of distance and emotion were finally, possibly at an end and she was more terrified in the second of silence following her words than at any other moment in her life.
It seemed, however, that it was now Helena's turn to be at a loss for words. Instead the Captain reached out and with aching tenderness, cupped Myka's face. The former Agent could feel an answering tremor in Helena's hands and knew she wasn't the only one suddenly staring into an abyss she had no idea how to cross. The branches of a hundred paths lead from the next few seconds and the distance of those few inches between them seemed in that instant more fraught with danger than any uncharted water. The desire to just lean forward and touch her lips to Helena's was nearly painful; a constant pull from somewhere below her racing heart. Yet Myka remained frozen, unsure now that she was finally here of how to take the final step and
"Oh for the love of God, just kiss her already!"
Unaware of anything but each other, the two women had failed to notice Claudia's significantly less harrowing arrival on her own horse. The Midshipman now sat, still mounted, at the base of the gangplank with her hands on her hips and an expression of utter disgust on her face.
The younger woman's words were at once a dousing of cold water and a lifeline to grab onto. Myka and Helena clutched at each other, laughing and blushing, and then Myka stilled, slid her hands into Helena's mane of dark hair, pulled the Captain close and did just as Claudia suggested.
She nearly whimpered at the feel of soft lips parting under her own and when Helena's tongue slipped into her mouth, the former Agent's knees nearly buckled. Helena merely wrapped her arms around Myka's waist and deepened the kiss. They were heedless of the cheers of Helena's crew or Claudia sliding off her horse to quite literally jump up and down in glee. They stood on the gangplank and kissed until the need to breathe forced them apart and then they did so only reluctantly. Grinning like a fool, Helena pressed her lips to Myka's forehead as the two women clung to each other.
Behind them, the crew of the Time Machine clapped and whistled and Myka chuckled. "How much money do you think they've had riding on this?" she asked Wells, her hands sliding up and down the Captain's back, feeling lean muscle shift beneath the linen fabric of the other woman's shirt.
Wells' dark eyes were dancing when she replied. "Enough that I'm ordering whoever wins to pay for rounds for the entire crew for the next few days."
Myka laughed freely, tipping her head back in pure, unfettered joy. When she finally looked at Helena again, the Privateer's expression mirrored what Myka herself felt.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to realize what was right in front of me the whole time," Myka admitted quietly.
Helena's face softened and she ran her fingers through the hair at Myka's temple. "What's done is done darling. Now, kiss me again," the Privateer commanded, grinning.
"Does this mean you're willing to take on another crewmember or two?"
"Hmm, we'll see. There are, after all, certain .qualifications one needs for this life."
Myka narrowed her eyes, biting her cheek to keep from laughing at the other woman's expression. "Helena G. Wells, you dirty rotten scoundrel "
"Pirate my darling. Dirty," she kissed the corner of Myka's mouth. "Rotten," then the other corner, "Pirate," and finally claimed Myka's lips deftly. Though in all fairness, the Commander yielded without a fight.
It was only Claudia's yell from below that finally separated them once again. The young woman stood holding the reins of the two horses, her hands on her hips.
"So? Are we gonna celebrate or what?"
Helena never looked away from Myka when she replied, "Celebrate."
The cheers of her crew could be heard all along the wharf.
And celebrate they did.
There was indeed a great deal of money that changed hands among the crew and as promised, Helena made the winners take some of their earnings and go into the city to bring back brandy, wine and fresh food. The Captain and Myka ate with the crew and stayed through the first round of toasts before retiring to Helena's cabin amid a great deal of ribald teasing and hearty cheering. The Privateer laughed as Myka colored prettily, but in truth, Helena simply wanted to enjoy the luxury of Myka's presence. Desire simmered between them, but it was banked by the knowledge that they had tomorrow, and hopefully many more days following it.
The silence while Myka moved the second chair closer to Helena's familiar desk and the Captain poured them both a mug of wine from her collection was comfortable. They toasted each other across the scarred mahogany surface and drank. Myka let her eyes slip closed as she savored the slow burn of the alcohol, imagining sunlight on grape vines as it slid over her tongue. Still savoring the drink, she felt her body relax truly relax for the first time since she'd left Venice. Sinking lower in the battered leather chair, Myka let herself accept that she was truly here, and that the page had turned on a very long chapter in her life.
And another begins.
"So what now?" She finally asked, glancing up at Helena who was slouched with her usual boneless grace and had propped her feet on her desk.
The Captain shrugged elegantly. "In part, that is up to you."
Myka raised an eyebrow and Helena smiled wryly.
"I admit that I may have soured on the idea of chasing MacPherson after we parted, but the man is dangerous and I have contacts the Warehouse cannot exploit. I had planned to go chasing treasure come spring, but for some reason the prospect now holds significantly less appeal than it did this morning," her dark eyes sparkled and Myka could not and did not attempt to stop the smile that tugged at her lips in return.
"Well I want him caught," Myka stated flatly. "He's been the cause of too much pain and injury. But what about your crew?"
Helena's smile grew. "Something tells me they won't have a problem going after him. I will put it to a vote nonetheless. After all, this isn't the Navy," the Captain teased. "Still, we likely will put to port for the winter. I mean to discuss this with Alfonso. He need not know exactly why we seek MacPherson, only that we do and are willing to pay handsomely for information. MacPherson and his organization put the Rogue out of Venice. I do not believe that Alfonso's people will be at all averse to helping us."
"Sounds like a plan," Myka replied, her mind wandering through possible places where the former Warehouse Agent might have run after Venice and what Artifacts he might still have. She hadn't learned the full inventory before she'd gone AWOL.
"One of many," Helena replied and the low, rich tone of the other woman's voice snapped Myka out of her reverie. Upon meeting Myka's startled glance, the Privateer licked her lips slowly and her eyes grew dark with hunger, flicking over Myka's body.
Myka's pulse leapt and the wine in her mug trembled when her hand clenched around the pewter mug. "Helena," she whispered, as shocked at her own response as the Captains' expression.
The woman across from her merely laughed richly and put her wine down, standing and moving around the desk. She was attired in the outfit Myka secretly loved best a simple white shirt unlaced at the throat, a red silk sash and sword belt at her waist, her tan breeches and tall black boots. The Captain's hair was unbound and tumbled over her shoulders and as she knelt before Myka, the former Agent had to force herself not to reach out and run her fingers through it.
Whatever Myka was expecting, it was not for Helena to kneel at her side, deftly removing her wine cup from an unresisting hand and placing it on the desk. The Captain then gently guided Myka's knuckles to her lips and pressed a kiss to the back of sitting woman's hand. If Myka had been standing, that mere contact probably would have made her knees give out. As it was, her breath caught in her throat at what she saw in Helena's dark eyes.
"Forgive me darling, I shouldn't tease. I am just so very, very glad you're here."
Now Myka gave in to temptation and threaded her fingers through Helena's hair.
"As am I."
They didn't say any more. They didn't need to.
They fell asleep in each other's arms that night, and when the sunlight slipped through the window the next day, it fell gently across two people who were precisely where they wanted to be.
As Helena predicted, the crew voted unanimously to go after MacPherson and there were plenty of bloodthirsty calls and jests when the decision was made.
Standing in the mess, Wells raised her hands for order. Inwardly she was delighting in the ferocity of her people and trying to contain the warmth that spread through her heart when she looked at the men and women who were, in truth, her family.
"Very well, we go after the dog. But not now. I mean to sound out Alfonso. His people stand to gain by this as well, and frankly, they have resources we don't. And I plan to harbor for the winter. Wherever MacPherson is, I have no desire to be running after him on a possible wild goose chase when the winter gales blow in. Foster and Wolly have asked to go back to London," there were sighs and noises of regret, but no one was surprised. The two crewmembers who were gravely injured during the skirmish with the Spanish galleon had recovered as well as could be expected, but had both decided they were through with 'the life'. "I'd like volunteers to escort them to London."
Several hands shot up and Wells nodded. "Very well. Any further plans shall have to wait until I've spoken with Alfonso. Dismissed."
The crew dispersed back to their duties Claudia among them leaving Helena and Myka alone.
"So," the former Warehouse agent raised her eyes. "Alfonso?"
Helena made a wry face. "I suppose we should get it over with."
Fortunately, the Duke of Thieves was not only amenable to the idea, when he heard the sum Wells offered he nearly rubbed his hands in glee.
"Wherever this MacPherson is, if he has gone to ground in any city on the continent, we will find him for you. And if he is not here, we will try and find where he has gone. Have your little bird leave a few of her friends with me. They are faster than any messenger," Alfonso suggested. It took Myka a moment to realize he was referring to Sarah when he said 'little bird.'
Helena merely nodded and stood, holding out her hand. Their meeting had been significantly less tense than the first encounter and Myka couldn't help but find the quick-witted thief charming when he wasn't being suspicious and greedy.
It was a soft evening, a bank of clouds on the horizon signaling the possibility of rain and Myka was looking forward to dinner in Helena's cabin and then joining the crew for an evening of what Wells had promised was surprisingly good music. There were a number of talented people on the Time Machine and tonight they would celebrate Foster and Wolly's official retirement from the life of privateering. The two crewmembers had already stated their desire to return to England and open a pub.
"Where good-hearted scoundrels always drink free!" Wolly had called to general applause and laughter. It was a bittersweet thing to lose crew, but Myka knew that Helena's people were damned lucky. They could choose. In the end, that made all the difference in the world.
Her thoughts so occupied, the former Warehouse Agent wasn't really aware that she had placed her hand in the crook of Helena's arm until the sudden cessation of the other woman's stride brought her up short.
Startled, Myka reached for her sword by instinct, only to pull back before her hand reached the hilt.
There, standing in front of the gangplank of the Time Machine, was Commodore Frederic.
Hazel eyes met dark brown, each pair reflecting the shock in the other.
"Well," Helena murmured. "This could be interesting."
Interesting turned out to be an understatement.
The striking, mysterious woman standing on the dock as if she had not a care in the world was dressed in her usual civilian clothing in this instance a dark green dress with a full skirt and high neckline, and her hair done in its familiar elaborate hairstyle. Never one to mince words, Mrs. Frederic just waited until Helena and Myka were within polite speaking range.
"Captain. Commander. We should speak. I have a proposal for you both."
And without further ado, the Commodore strode up the gangplank and onto the Time Machine, ignoring the nonplussed looks of the crew.
Myka and Helena exchanged another glance and then, since there seemed to be little choice, hurried after her.
Standing around Wells' desk in the Captain's cabin some time later, Helena tried to digest what had just happened. In truth, she was at a loss, so sudden was the apparent change in her fortunes.
Myka, however, was not having any such difficulty.
While Wells' tried to wrap her mind around what the Commodore had just offered her, it was the former Warehouse Agent who stepped forward, placing herself unconsciously between the Captain and the Commodore.
"No." The word was sharp in the confined space and two startled gazes fell upon Myka.
"I will not let you just use her," the former Commander snapped, her body tensed as if for a fight.
The Commodore merely shook her head. "Not use Agent Bering. Employ. I am offering Captain Wells full reinstatement as an agent of the Warehouse. She and her crew will have the full backing of the Warehouse and our contacts inside the British Government. You have my word on it."
Still struggling to comprehend just what was transpiring, Helena looked to her newest crewmember. "Darling? It sounds eminently reasonable. Tis not as if we weren't going to go chasing MacPherson on our own."
But the former Agent's focus was still on Mrs. Frederic. "Your word," she ground out.
The stately woman merely inclined her head, apparently not at all distressed at the tone in which she was being addressed. "My word."
At that, Myka's body relaxed somewhat and she turned to Helena. "Only if you want to, Helena. I won't let them make you a pawn."
The Captain reached up and brushed her fingers along Myka's cheek, her heart and eyes suspiciously full. "No," she said quietly, her eyes holding Myka's. "Not a pawn. Not with you by my side. A knight at least. Possibly a queen." Her smile was tender and it drew an answering grin and a blush from Myka. Remembering that they were not alone, however, Helena slipped her hand into Myka's and turned to face the Commodore. No sign of her earlier hesitation showed on her elegant features.
"Very well. I accept your offer. Full reinstatement to the Warehouse and our priority will be to hunt down and detain Mr. MacPherson. But before we do that," she paused, glanced once more at the woman beside her and then continued in a softer voice. "I want time." Helena stated softly.
Mrs. Frederic cocked her head in question.
"The time that my crew gave you by finding MacPherson in Venice. My people and I need a rest. You will be sifting through MacPherson's headquarters for weeks yet, winter is coming and I have my own sources to sound out. I want time."
If Mrs. Frederic was surprised by the request, she gave no indication. Instead she merely nodded. "Then you shall have it. Is there anything else?" From another person that question might have been mocking but the Commodore made it merely curious.
Helena shook her head. "No. I will have Sarah discuss staying in contact with the Warehouse with your Agents and you may discuss arrangements for the payment of my crew with my First Mate."
The Commodore nodded. "Very well then. Agent Bering, Agent Wells. Good day to you," she paused and then a decidedly human expression slipped over the older woman's features. "And good hunting," she smiled.
Already turning to each other, neither woman noticed when Mrs. Frederic walked through the cabin door and failed to appear on the other side. Instead, Helena was staring at Myka with a stunned expression on her face and Myka was nearly beaming.
"Full reinstatement, for both of us, full support for my crew, Myka my darling ." Helena trailed off, unable for the first time in many years, to adequately find the words for what she felt.
Myka found herself facing the same difficulty so she simply solved it by pulling the Captain to her, cupping Helena's face in her hands and kissing her tenderly.
"If this is a dream," Wells whispered against Myka's mouth. "I never want to wake."
The next day, a messenger arrived with orders bearing the official stamp of the Royal Navy, listing Captain Wells and the Time Machine in the full service of The Crown. Helena's only comment was a dry, "I hope they don't expect us to wear the uniforms, the collars on those dreadful things itch." The last details for remaining in communication with the Warehouse were hammered out between Warehouse Agents and the crew of the Time Machine, and then the last messenger left and they were alone.
"Where to Captain?" Asked Jinx as he strode up to the helm to join H.G. where she stood with Myka.
Wells grinned. "Now Mr. Jinx, we go wherever we wish. We still have leave."
The young man's eyes widened. "Leave, but surely I thought "
"Oh yes, we'll be hunting MacPherson soon enough, just as we planned, but the Regents need time to sift through what he left at his headquarters and I've made a deal with Alfonso. His people will be spreading the word across the continent. Wherever MacPherson gone to ground, someone will know. In the meantime, Wolly and Foster will be leaving for home tomorrow. Winter is closing in quickly and it will make deeper water dangerous at best. My earlier thoughts remain true. I've no intention of embarking on this venture in winter."
"So what you are suggesting is that " Jinx said, excitement clear in his voice at the realization that the crew was not to be denied their earlier plans.
"I'm saying that the Time Machine will be dry docked until spring my friend. Now that we have the full backing of the Warehouse, we can make sure she is secure. And we are, indeed, taking our much needed rest. Pass the announcement to the crew and make the arrangements, Mr. Jinx. They are to be back here, at this very dock, with the spring thaw and not before."
Her First Mate was grinning from ear to ear as he saluted and spun on his heel. The two women heard him yell "Hey Claud, guess what!" before the cabin door shut.
"So, Captain Wells. The ship will be in dry dock, your crew is scattering to the four winds. What are we going to do for these next few months?"
Instead of answering, Helena merely grinned slyly. "Pack lightly Commander. We're going for a little ride."
"A little ride" ended two days later just as the sun touched the horizon. They were somewhere in southern Spain, probably just outside of Seville if Myka had her bearings correctly. They were trotting through vineyards and the smell of the ripening grapes hung heavy and sweet on the evening air. Helena rode ahead of Myka, the Captain's seat easy on the dark bay she'd purchased in Olhão. The sound of hooves on the hard packed earth was the only thing that disturbed the sleepy quiet of a beautiful evening. Myka was just beginning to wonder where they were going to stop for a night when they came around a bend in the road, and there atop a gentle, terraced hill, sat a Roman-style villa with stucco walls and a red tile roof.
Sitting deeper in the saddle, Wells brought the bay to a halt and Myka pulled up next to her.
"A villa in southern Spain" the Commander said wonderingly. "Why am I not surprised?"
Wells' answering laugh was rich before she grinned. "Dinner should be set for us if we hurry!" and with that, she tightened her legs and her mare shot forward. Myka rolled her eyes, but her grey was dancing in place, tossing its head at being held back and she let go of the reins. The horse jumped into a gallop and Myka jumped with her, grabbing mane and laughing as they tore up the sloping drive and clattered into a large courtyard just behind Helena.
A boy of about ten came running outside and at recognizing the Captain, let out an earsplitting cry of welcome. "Señora! You are home! Nana! Papa! Señora is home!"
Dismounting, Myka could only watch, rather dazed by the sudden commotion, as a stout older man trotted out into the yard followed soon after by a woman who must have been his wife. The gentleman sported a neatly trimmed beard and dark hair just graying at the temples and was dressed in well-made farmer's clothing. Beside him, the plump woman of about the same age with a kindly, round face and her thick black hair tied in a neat bun was wiping her hands on her apron. Both of them gave cries of delight and moved to embrace Helena, while the boy who must have been their grandson nearly danced with delight. It was a touching sight and one Myka could only wonder at as the woman put her hands on her Helena's shoulders, kissed her cheeks and then started scolding the Privateer about how thin she was and how it was so very rude that the Captain had not informed them she was brining company.
Then it was Myka's turn to be introduced to Señor and Señora Lorenzo, who acted as for lack of better word seneschals for Wells' property. Alejandra ("call me Ana") and Francisco Lorenzo welcomed the Commander with the same enthusiasm and beckoned the two women inside.
"Felix, see to the horses!" Francisco called and the young man jumped to obey, grinning fit to split his face when Helena took a wrapped package from her saddlebags and held it out to the boy.
She snatched it back at the last moment. "Listen closely Felix, this is no toy. If I find you've been misusing it " in her dark traveling coat with her dark hair and eyes, haloed by the setting sun, Helena looked every inch the dangerous pirate in that moment.
Unfortunately she was talking to a ten year old boy who knew she had a present for him and her attempt to be stern failed. Utterly. Myka had to bite her lip to keep from laughing as Wells sighed and handed over the parcel. The sound of paper ripping filled the air and then Felix was lifting a beautiful dagger with a silver-chased pommel and a sturdy leather sheath. It was a small knife a young man's knife but it was beautifully wrought and of very high quality. The boy's eyes shown.
"Thank you Señora," he whispered. Felix then proceeded to slip the sheath on his belt and gravely take the reins of Helena's and Myka's horses. "I will take very good care of it."
As he walked away, Helena turned back to his grandparents, only for her face to take on a distinctly guilty expression. Myka just watched in awe as the tiny, plump grandmother with her hands on her hips made infamous privateer H.G. Wells bite her lip in uncertainty. "I'm sorry Ana. I just saw it and I knew he would love it ." She trailed off as the older woman's eyes narrowed.
Apparently deciding she had teased the Captain long enough, however, Ana finally chuckled. "You spoil the boy. It is sweet." Then her look became calculating. "You should have a few of your own. Then you can stop ruining my grandchild!"
The look of horror that came over H.G.'s face was enough to set Alejandra, Francisco and Myka to laughing until their sides hurt.
"Come in, come in," Francisco gestured once he managed to catch his breath. "Dinner is nearly over but the hypocaust is fired. I know how you love to bathe when come home."
At 'bathe' Myka's ears perked up and Ana laughed at her expression. "Ah, just like Helena I see. Well good, let us feed you first. Tsk. Both of you, too skinny."
The meal that followed was simple - cooked game hen with garlic and white wine sauce, fresh greens and bread just from the oven but Myka wasn't sure when she had ever tasted anything so wonderful. Ana merely waved away her praise.
Conversation was primarily dominated by the Lorenzos updating Helena about the state of her land, though in truth there was little to report. Helena maintained some small acreage around her villa, but most of the lands traditionally attached to it she had sold to local farmers in exchange for an agreement never to build on them. In return, they also farmed the grapes and olive trees that still belonged to Helena and aside from a bottle or two of the wine that came from her vines, the Privateer took nothing. "What would I do with produce?" she said humorously. Ana and Francisco oversaw the villa when Helena was gone though they lived with the rest of their family in the small village just over the next hill. Myka learned that the couple had two daughters and a younger son, that Felix was their oldest grandchild and they were expecting him to have a little brother or sister any day now, and that they had been caretakers of Helena's estate for nearly ten years.
"So you bought this " Myka trailed off, trying to remember when Wells left the Warehouse.
Helena merely nodded, however. "Yes, I found the property when I was still with the Royal Navy. It was going to waste and the land wasn't being worked. I was actually riding through on my way somewhere else. I stopped to water my horse and looked out over the valley and that was it. I knew I didn't want to leave."
The Captain's eyes were gentle and far away as she spoke and the sight filled Myka's heart with something she still had difficulty describing.
Neither women noticed as their guests exchanged significant glances and secret grins and rose from the table.
Startled out of her reverie, Helena went to rise but Ana waved her away. "Your bath is all ready, I will come back tomorrow with lunch. You both look tired. Go, bathe, sleep."
Myka couldn't help but chuckle as the tiny woman ordered the Captain around in her own home.
"Ana would you please show Myka where the bathing room is? I need to talk to Francisco."
Ana nodded and beckoned Myka along, making a shushing motion when the Commander would have cleared her dishes. "Leave it. I will clean it all tomorrow."
Myka followed the older woman out of the warm kitchen and through the rest of the house. It was an open, airy space with thick white walls and colorful throw rugs over the tile. What furniture occupied the rooms tended to be sturdy, leather and masculine in feel, made to be used and enjoyed rather than looked at. There was a dark stone fireplace and a beautiful fresco of a landscape above it. Following in Ana's quick footsteps, the Commander passed by what looked like a sunroom that led outside to a veranda and then down a short corridor to what Myka guessed must have been the bedroom. Or at least, it was the room where Helena had installed a massive four poster bed with mounds of pillows. The blankets and pillows were crimson and cream and Myka brushed a hand along them silk.
Well now I know where she's spent her fortune, the Agent mused. At this time of evening, the rooms themselves were lit with candles held inside slender glass tubes with mirrors behind them, some of which had been blown from colored glass so that the light filling a particular room was warm gold or soft red. The arrangement created a beautiful and safe light that could be doused just by lifting the glass and blowing out the candle.
And then Ana walked through a door in the back of the bedroom and Myka walked into heaven. It was a bathing room, but so much more than that. Someone had apparently decided to echo the bathing chambers of the Romans, because the tub was massive. Indeed, it wasn't so much a tub as a pool sunk into the floor with a lip of tile that didn't reach to Myka's knees around it. There was a window next to the pool so the bather could look out over the valley, but curtains allowed privacy when wanted. There were several candles in their sconces on the walls and the white tile glowed in the dancing light. Water already filled the pool and Ana pointed to a small plug in the bottom and a sluice gate similar to the one in the 'shower' on the Time Machine.
"It is so easy, water enters there" Ana pointed at the gate "and leaves there" she pointed at the plug. "No hauling or heating water. There is a fire underneath the reservoir and the bath." And sure enough, Myka saw gentle curls of steam rising off the water. "I filled it when I saw you two come charging up the drive."
The old woman chuckled at the Commander's expression and pointed out the robes and folded cloths for drying off.
"Go on, you will feel better when you are clean. Goodnight señorita!"
Myka murmured goodnight, but she was already removing her boots. Her breeches, traveling coat, shirt and underclothes followed and were tossed unceremoniously in a pile in the corner. Closer inspection of the tub revealed several baskets of flowers and herbs around the lip and Myka shook her head.
H.G. Wells. Feared Privateer and secret lover of scented baths. It amused Myka to no end, but she didn't hesitate to crumble some of the lavender onto the water. She paused, then grinned and for good measure, tossed a handful of fresh rose petals onto the surface where they formed crimson accent marks to the glistening water.
Walking over to the lip, Myka saw there were steps down into the pool, and one hand on the tile, the Commander carefully lowered herself down.
Oh. Heaven, Myka thought as the hot water enveloped her body. After months at sea, the turmoil of her time in Venice, then traveling again, the bath was quite possibly the most deliciously sensuous experience she could recall. The pool was deep enough so that if she knelt but did not sit on her heels, the water came just to her neck. The Commander made quick work of washing herself, using the gleaming silver brushes and razor to remove weeks of sea-travel from her body. Then she drained and refilled the tub, delighting in the novelty of fresh, hot water and scattering a few more flowers on the water. Indeed, it was hot enough to almost be uncomfortable, which meant it was perfect. Letting herself lie back, Myka closed her eyes and half-floated in the tub. Quieting her mind, the Agent just let herself feel: the silken caress of the hot water, the tendrils of steam as they drifted over her face, the smell of lavender and rose from baskets on the lip of the tub.
It was bliss.
Even the sound of Helena approaching caused her only to lazily open her eyes. The Captain was leaning against the doorway, watching her. Lit only by the candles, Helena's hair became a cloak of shadows over her shoulders and her eyes, black in the low, flicking light, burned with something far more powerful than fire.
Neck deep in hot water, Myka felt a frisson of desire slide through her and she trembled. Perhaps she should have felt embarrassed, exposed as she was, but when Helena looked at her, she could never find it in her to feel anything other than wanted. For Myka - a woman who had spent nearly her entire life fighting her way through the ranks in a man's world - it was an unfamiliar but wholly welcome experience to be seen not as an object, but as herself.
And then it was her turn to delight in the beauty before her.
Without a word, Helena slipped off her own clothes, tossing them heedlessly into the pile with the Commander's. Watching, Myka nearly forgot to breathe, for Helena could have been a statue carved by one of the ancient Greek masters. The curves and planes of her body flowed together and the watching woman was minded of the legends of Aphrodite.
No, she corrected herself as Helena stepped up to the tub and Myka saw muscle and tendon outlined in shadow and candlelight. Not Aphrodite, Athena.
With a deft twist, the Captain pinned her hair atop her head and then, eyes never leaving Myka's, stepped into the pool.
Myka was frozen, held in place only by the force of Helena's gaze though she had no desire to break free. Everything beyond the space between them faded away and when the other woman cupped Myka's face in her hands, she held on to slender wrists and melted into the kiss that followed. Myka's heart raced in her chest and every nerve ending seemed to tingle with the possibility of the desire that flared like a flame between them. Suddenly the air seemed thick, her skin sensitized to the smallest touch. The slightest movement by Helena transmitted through the water so that it felt as though she was being caressed, even when the Captain's hands remained against her face.
They did not remain there for long however. Those elegant fingers slid down her throat and traced the line of her collarbone and Myka could not help the soft gasp when a delicate touch traced the valley between her breasts. Her stomach tightened and she tensed. It was an instinctual response beyond her control, but it brought Helena up short.
Myka looked up to find the other woman with an expression it took the Commander's desire-fogged brain a moment to place. It was fear.
"Myka, darling, forgive me, I " Helena trailed off and Myka could have laughed at the hesitation in her voice if it didn't fill her with an unexpected tenderness. Instead the Agent grabbed her companion's hand and she smiled gently. Shifting forward so that their knees touched, it was Myka's turn to trace her thumbs along Helena's cheeks.
"I wasn't, I'm not afraid Helena," she said gently, tilting her head to catch the other woman's gaze. She could feel the tension in the slender body before her and searched for something to say. Helena beat her to it.
"Forgive me darling, I should have asked. I just I forget that my wicked ways are uncommon."
Myka shook her head emphatically. "You are not wicked. And I am not so innocent," she said meaningfully. "It is just that it was a long time ago, and a very different experience."
Now the Captain's eyes flashed darkly and a new kind of tension threaded through the slender shoulders. "You weren't hurt?" Helena's tone promised that if the answer was yes, someone would get hurt. It made Myka's heart unaccountably full.
"No, no he was very kind, and we cared for each other a great deal " the Commander trailed off, remembering Sam. His handsome features and gentle sense of humor. He had been kind to her, but now those memories seemed to belong to someone else.
"And yet " Helena prompted gently.
Myka smiled wryly at how well the other women could read her. "And yet we ultimately wanted different things. He wanted a wife who would give him children and I wanted to be a Warehouse Agent. And he never did quite forgive me for being a better shot than he."
That made both women grin and the tension eased from the moment. Reaching up, Helena took Myka's hands in her own. "What happened to him?"
The Commander shrugged. The tale held no pain for her. Not anymore. "He married. I believe they were quite happy for a time, but he was killed by an Artifact and she was left a widow. I think about her sometimes, and how that could have been me." Myka squeezed the fingers entwined with her own. "I never, not for a second, regret that it wasn't."
Helena smiled slowly, dark eyes searching Myka's face for something. Whatever she found, it appeared to satisfy the Captain, because she slowly ran her hands up Myka's arms, her touch leaving fire in its wake. Myka felt her heart start to race again and her breathing became shallow and quick.
There was no description for Helena's smile but wicked.
"Well," the Captain murmured, "just so long as I am not competing with a ghost."
"Helena G. Wells, you need never compete with anyone," Myka grinned and then pulled the Captain to her, claiming her mouth. It was a tender kiss, Myka's tongue flicking over Helena's lips before slipping into the other woman's mouth. Gently, deftly though, Helena took the lead and Myka surrendered to her willingly. What followed could have been called a seduction but was in truth merely an education as Helena tenderly began to teach Myka the pleasure of her own body.
It began with lips: Gentle kisses that moved along her jaw and down her throat. It continued when teasing teeth grazed the skin of her shoulder and a questing tongue tasted the hollow of her throat. When Myka moved her hands to try and return Helena's caresses the other woman pressed a gentle finger to her lips. "Shh. Please Myka. Let me do this for you, for myself," and under the teasing grin was a longing that was so clear to Myka she could only nod, her breath scarce in her lungs.
And then Helena slipped behind her, kneeling so their bodies were pressed along the length of each other, front to back. With a gentle touch the Captain pulled Myka against her and the Agent gasped at the feeling of Helena's skin against her own. Helena's thighs cradled hers and slender arms wrapped around her, for a moment just holding her.
"Just let go my love, I have you," Helena whispered in her ear, and as gentle hands slid slowly along her arms, Myka did just that. Here there were no Artifacts, no missions, no protocol, no danger, no fear. Here there was only the warmth of the water and the slender strength of Helena's arms. And then those elegant fingers slid across her ribs and skirted the underside of her breasts and there was not even that. All that remained was to feel.
In his own way, Myka knew Sam had loved her, but she had never known the kind of slow building, excruciating pleasure that Helena showed her that night had in truth never understood that it was possible. Yet Helena revealed to her it was more than possible; it was beautiful. Hands the Commander had seen sure and steady on the wheel of her ship or gripping the familiar hilt of her katana now slipped over water-slickened skin with the utmost gentleness, playing Myka's senses like a maestro with a favored instrument until Myka's body sounded to the harmony of her making. Helena teased the breath from Myka's lungs in gasps like notes, until she quivered like a sounded harp string. Her head fell back on Helena's shoulder as she gripped the other woman's thighs, trying to find an anchor in a rising tide of need. It seemed like Helena was everywhere, caressing her breasts, her ribs, her thighs, kissing her neck and then holding her tightly as carefully, slowly, those elegant fingers slipped inside her.
Arching against the arm holding her tight, Myka whimpered softly, desire so intense it was like pain in her blood.
"Just a little farther," she heard Helena whisper almost distantly over the pounding of her heart in her ears. Then Helena was pushing deeper into her, stroking her and Myka let herself be claimed, utterly, completely and without reservation. She seemed to hover on the edge of some unknown precipice and then Helena moved deeper. The darkness behind Myka's eyes shattered as she found her release, the crashing wave of pleasure sweeping her away for an instant and an eternity.
She came back to herself with Helena holding her tightly, pressing soft kisses along her shoulder.
"Oh," Myka managed, still trying to catch her breath.
"Myka?" Helena's voice was suddenly concerned.
A lazy smile drifted over the Agent's face and she managed after a moment to sit up and turn so she could wrap her arms around Helena. "Are you supposed to see stars?" she asked, unable to wipe the grin off her face.
Relief softened the Captain's features and then she narrowed her eyes. "Rotten woman."
"Hmm," Myka quirked an eyebrow. "That's Agent, my love. Rotten Agent." And then she leaned forward and effectively silenced any reply Helena might have had.
Wandering hands were stopped by Helena's gentle touch, however. "Much as I do enjoy this, I do have a bed," the Captain said, gasping as Myka kissed a particularly sensitive spot along her jaw.
"Hm. Bed, how novel. Very well."
It took them a while to traverse the short distance however, because Myka accidentally splashed Helena getting out, which led the Captain to retaliate, which created quite a mess and meant it took a while to find something to dry off with.
The candles were burning low when Myka at last eased herself onto the silk sheets next to her lover.
Lover. The word curled through her mind like a tendril of scented steam from the bath. The Commander had never spent much time pondering the nature of love it had simply held no place in her life. Now, however, as she propped herself up and reached out to trace delicate fingertips along the planes of Helena's body, watching the flush rise along satin skin and the way the other woman's breath quickened, it seemed as if there was room for nothing else in her heart.
It should have been terrifying.
As Myka leaned down and captured Helena's mouth with her own, her dark hair creating a curtain around them and the Captain's hands sliding along her back, urging her own desire, fear was nowhere to be found.
For all the years of strict discipline in the Navy, Myka found it remarkably easy to settle into life at the villa. Such was the seeming isolation and quiet of the surrounding country that it was little effort to believe that she had stepped into an entirely new world one wholly separate from the Warehouse, Artifacts, and MacPherson. As the weeks wore on, only the occasional messenger bird belied that sense of peace. Usually the information was from Artie or Mrs. Frederic, updating them on any developments that had come from MacPherson's Venice headquarters. Only one bit of news truly struck Myka, however, and that was when Artie speculated that MacPherson had the horn of Jericho in his possession.
"So that's how that frigate destroyed the Artifact Hunter." She murmured, reading the slip of paper over Helena's shoulder. "We never would have heard the sound over the noise of the frigate's guns. Damn."
The Captain's expression was understanding.
For the most part, however, the two women simply enjoyed living. Helena had an extensive library and Myka spent hours curled up in front of the fireplace reading. Ana and Lorenzo came and went, providing pleasant punctuations to the quiet days otherwise spent only with each other.
They sparred, they rode through the countryside, they read, and they discovered each other.
Myka had teased Helena the day she found a book of Sappho's works in the original Greek and a translation in the library, but the Captain had merely smiled unrepentantly. Moving to slip her arms around Myka, the other woman pressed her lips to the Agent's shoulder. "And why should you be at all surprised darling, that I have such a work?" She'd asked archly, her question only half teasing. "Have I not convinced you of the beauty that lies within a woman's body and spirit?"
And then she'd pulled the book from Myka's unresisting hands and set about reiterating that lesson.
If she delighted in the pleasure Helena could evoke from within her own body, however, it was almost nothing compared to the heady rush of discovering the power Myka had over the other woman. It never ceased to be a wonder to the Agent how she could affect her brash, headstrong lover with just a look; or how grazing her teeth over the flaring pulse point in Helena's neck could make her gasp: How tracing her nails down the silken skin of the other woman's inner thigh made her moan and how if Myka sucked just right, she could bring Helena arching off the bed, her body trembling and hands gripping the sheets.
Thus winter passed. And yet as spring approached Myka found herself increasingly torn between duty and desire.
It wasn't until Helena joined her on the veranda one evening, however, that she realized just how deep the conflict had lodged in her heart.
The night was clear, the stars in the deep velvet blue sky twinkling like diamonds. There was a touch of frost still, but Myka could feel spring on the horizon a threat now, rather than a promise.
The sound of a footstep alerted her to Helena's presence and the Commander smiled when her lover draped a thick, soft blanket around her shoulders before moving to stand next to her. They stood in comfortable silence for a while and then Helena spoke, her breath frosting ever so slightly.
"It doesn't mean parting you know."
Myka turned to face the other woman, not following the thread of her thoughts. Helena smiled gently.
"Leaving here. Resuming the hunt for MacPherson. It does not mean we will be parted. I won't let them take you away from me. Not now."
Something; some nameless fear that had been lurking deep within her heart became manifest in Myka's breast at those words and the Commander suddenly realized what had truly been tugging at her. It wasn't dread at her duty or a desire to stay here in this house forever. It was fear. Never before had Myka Bering been possessed of something she feared losing more than her own life, and even that had always been an abstract possibility.
"What if it's not a choice? This is no game Helena. MacPherson is dangerous. What if I lose you?"
Understanding settled over the Captain's features, but she had no real reply. There was none to be given. All Warehouse Agents understood the danger of the world, perhaps more so than most for they were faced with mortality every day. Instead of replying then, Helena merely stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Myka, hugging her fiercely. The Agent returned the embrace and the blanket fell to the flagstones, forgotten.
"I can only promise I won't go without one hell of a fight my darling. You know as well as I that is all any of us can promise."
"I know. But I've never been afraid before," Myka finally admitted.
"Nor have I, darling. Nor have I. We can but make the most of the time we have."
It took a moment, but Myka gave a soft huff of laughter. "You're just trying to have your way with me again aren't you Captain Wells."
"Well, I am an unscrupulous woman," Helena leaned back, pressing a kiss to Myka's forehead. Her expression softened. "Don't rush tomorrow darling."
They didn't, but it came anyway.
Spring was approaching and with it came more birds bearing news.
One of them was from Alfonso.
The first blush of green was just beginning to cover the hills when a small hawk fluttered onto the veranda where Myka was curled up, reading. Untangling herself from her blanket, the Agent rose carefully and held out her hand. When the bird hopped quietly onto her fist, she checked and was unsurprised to see a messenger pouch tied around the creature's leg. Untying it Myka tossed the bird back into the air and unrolled the scrap of paper.
Written in a hasty scrawl were three words.
"We found him."
They left at first light the next morning, riding hard for Olhão.
Dinner the night before was bittersweet. Ana and Francisco joined them and the elderly couple were genuinely upset to see the Captain and her companion leave. Both, however, were well aware that the two women were involved in matters that were much grander in scope than any one person's life. Whatever forces drove their dark eyed employer and her gentle natured friend, Ana could only pray that God watch over them. Once the meal was over, Francisco brought out a bottle of rare champagne and the four toasted to safe journeys.
When Helena praised the vintage, the older man nodded. "I have one more bottle. I will keep it," he said holding the Captain's gaze, "until you return home safely."
There was nothing to say after that but 'thank you,' and then Ana and Francisco left the women alone for the night. There was little to pack and time seemed to rush forward, slipping out of Myka's grasp until the Commander found herself in the courtyard of the villa, holding the reins of her grey and watching the sky fade to a soft pink in the east. Behind her, Helena emerged from the stable leading the bay. The two Agents shared a last look at what had truly become home to Myka, then turned as one and swung up on their horses.
Neither looked back as they cantered down the road and around the bend.
Francisco was as good as his word however, and just over a year later, tired, somewhat worse for wear and bearing the weight of many new memories, not all of which were pleasant, Helena and Myka shared a glass of champagne in the kitchen of their home.
"To victories," the Captain raised her glass, watching as the afternoon sun streaming through the window caught the pale bubbly liquid and turned it golden.
"To having tomorrow," Myka countered, reaching across the worn wood of the kitchen table and entwining her hand with Helena's.
"To having tomorrow, and all the days after."
The gentle sound of crystal ringing floated on the air but it was soon forgotten as the Captain and her Commander abandoned their glasses and found other, more pleasurable things to savor.
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