grumpybear1031: (W13 -HG DINER)
[personal profile] grumpybear1031
+ Title: Belief & Betrayal
+ Authors: [livejournal.com profile] grumpybear1031   and [livejournal.com profile] shaych_03  
+ Fandom: Warehouse 13
+ Pairing: H.G./Myka
+ Notes: Ladies lovin’ ladies ahead… and angst, and action, and well, just read it – we promise you a happy ending. Takes place where 2X12 Reset leaves off, possible spoilers for both seasons. Some liberties taken with certain events, as we don't have actual dates for H.G.'s bronzing etc...  We are finally finished and doing a second round of edits...whooo hooo.
+ Rating: We'll play it safe and say R throughout NC-17 Chapters will be clearly marked.
+ Disclaimer: Warehouse 13 and it's characters belongs to Syfy. We're just borrowing them for a while and promise to give them back.
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] taterc   for help with a quick beta.

Author's Note: Shay, I hope you can forgive me for dragging you into this mess. My obsession with H.G. Wells blinded me, and a need to correct the total mess that was “Reset” kind of made me crazy. I'm not much of a writer so your help in getting this from inside my head to down on paper is very much appreciated. I'd also like to say a big thanks to[livejournal.com profile] darandkerry   for being an amazing beta. Your suggestions and punctuation help are invaluable.


Author's Note:
Jen, you may have dragged me into watching Warehouse 13 kicking and screaming, but I've had more fun working on this story with you than I have in a long time. Your ideas are great; you have a natural ability to kick start my muse and keep her chugging along happily. Should I even bother to mention how good you are at calling me on BS characterizations or reinterpreting the sometimes cornball melodrama that my muse creates? Anyway, I'm glad you got me into this. I would also like to add my thanks to[livejournal.com profile] darandkerry  , for her spot on beta skills. I hope we didn't kill you with all the missing commas.

PREVIOUS CHAPTERS
CHAPTER 1  CHAPTER 2  CHAPTER 3 & 4  CHAPTER 5  CHAPTER 6  CHAPTER 7  CHAPTER 8  CHAPTER 9  CHAPTER 10  CHAPTER 11  CHAPTER 12  CHAPTER 13  CHAPTER 14  CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 16  CHAPTER 17  CHAPTER 18  CHAPTER 19  CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 21  CHAPTER 22  CHAPTER 23  CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

Cautiously, the four of them had made their way down the hall. Clinging to the walls, they'd tried to keep silent, using the flickering shadows to mask their movements. Every word that came from the room seemed to fly at them like an assault.

Myka visibly flinched when Valda's words echoed down the corridor. Pete's face just grew darker and darker until a silent mask of rage stretched his lips back into a snarl. Claudia looked ill. Oddly, it was Artie whose emotions got the better of him when he heard Valda's snidely state, "Arthur Nielsen would never believe, without absurdly concrete proof, that something that came from the Bronze sector was harmless."

Pausing, Artie had to put his hand on the wall to steady himself as a surge of overwhelming shame made his knees go unsteady. This was his fault. He was the reason that Helena was in that room, enduring an unimaginable amount of pain. His intractable nature was why the warehouse had almost lost two of its best agents.

Anger erupted within him. No one messed with his people and got away with it. Taking a firm grip on his gun, Artie pressed on, determined to make sure that no one else would suffer because of his stupid, stubborn inability to see anything outside of his own worldview.

At the entrance to the room, they stopped and squeezed together in the shadows. It was too dangerous to just burst into the room. Valda was armed and way too close to Helena for any of them to get a clean shot. Instead, they were forced to wait, watch, and listen as the madman spun his tale of revenge.

The four agents stood poised to act as Valda moved away from Helena and stopped beside an ornately carved wooden box. Several long wires emerged from the body of the device and were affixed to Helena at various points.

As Valda patted the box, he crooned, "Where were we? Oh yes. I was telling you all about my little obsession with destroying you. You see, Miss Wells, you're something of a legend in my family. Oh, not because of those pathetically boring stories you wrote, or even because of your record as a warehouse agent. Oh no, in my family, you my dear, hold the eternally damning title of murderer."

This was when Myka knew her moment to act was coming very soon.

Taking a deep breath, she was startled to find her gaze caught by Helena's. There was so much pain and loss reflected at her that, before she could stop herself, she started to move forward, but was quickly forestalled when Helena abruptly looked way, turning her attention to Valda.

Loudly, Helena proclaimed, "I've always thought that you carried a bit of a bad odor about you, Mr. Valda. Now I know that it's because you descend from a piece of slime so rotten that not even his whore of a wife would claim his body."

Valda let out an incoherent shout of rage, turned away from the doorway, and jammed his thumb down on something inside the box. Cerulean blue threads of electricity lit up the wires, making Helena jerk and spasm in the bindings, keening in utter anguish. Meanwhile, Valda stood, head thrown back and mouth open as a groan of overwhelming ecstasy was ripped from his lungs.

Two shots rang out; Valda dropped like a stone. The device crackled once and then overloaded, sending one final blast of electricity straight into Helena's body.

"No!" Myka leaped through the door, heedless of any danger, and raced to Helena's side. Tearing at the bindings, she freed Helena and pulled her convulsing body into her arms. "I'm here, shh, I'm here. It's okay. You're going to be okay," she whispered as she rocked back and forth.

Somehow, Helena found the will to speak. "Knew you'd make it," she gasped. Her body twitched violently, she let out a single, piercing cry and then, was silent.

As the woman in her arms went limp, Myka felt as if her whole world had come down to this one breath. "Helena?" she whispered, shaking her unresponsive lover gently. "Come on, don't do this. Don't do this to me. I love you, Helena. Don't you get it? I love you. You can't die." Harder and harder she shook her until she was dragged away by a pair of gentle hands. "No!" she screamed, fighting the insistent pull. "I won't leave her! She can't die!"

From somewhere deep down, Artie found the strength to counter Myka's hysterical blows and wrapped her in a hard, confining embrace. "Myka! Myka, you have to come away now. You have to let Dr. Calder in so she can work!"

Dazedly, Myka whispered, "Dr. Calder?" She turned and watched as the doctor slipped into the room and made a beeline for Helena. Quickly and efficiently she assessed Helena's condition and then began performing CPR while bellowing orders.

Uniformed men and women came then, and over Myka's protests, pulled them out of the room, leaving only the doctor and four others to work on reviving Helena.

Myka refused to go any further than the hatch. Once across the threshold, she pressed up against the wall and stared in, watching as Dr. Calder and her team fought to save Helena's life. Every heartbeat that thundered inside her chest was one more nail in the wall of silence that Myka felt closing around her. Please, she prayed silently, come back to me.

"Clear!" yelled Dr. Calder. The team all moved back as the doctor pressed the defibrillator paddles against Helena's body.

Helena jerked and twitched and then, as her body thumped against the table, gasped and took a breath. It was the most beautiful sound Myka had ever heard.

**

 

Over the next three weeks, the agents' time was spent in several lengthy debriefings. Regents would appear at Leena's at odd hours to question Artie, Pete, or Myka at length. What they were seeking, none of the agents could quite understand, since the queries ran from the obscure to the grossly private - in one case, earning a particularly offensive regent a slap on the face from Myka. After that, no one seemed inclined to examine the status of her relationship with H.G. Wells.

Helena underwent several procedures to repair the damage she'd suffered both in the accident and afterward, which meant that most of the time, she was either sleeping or in therapy. Throughout, Myka stayed by Helena's side, only leaving when she was forced to appear before a regent.

**

 

At Ellsworth Military Hospital, Helena was quite the celebrity. Not because they knew who she was, but because she was their only patient who had her own personal secret service agent, and that agent was, according to several orderlies, “smokin’ hot”. Helena enjoyed her infamy, taking advantage of it for her lover’s benefit. Myka had use of a cot, and the kitchen staff always brought enough food for two at mealtime.

The only time Myka did not stay by Helena’s side was when she was ordered to leave – by a doctor, by Helena herself, or by a superior, such as when the regents would call for her to be debriefed. At those times, Pete would step in and take up her self-appointed duty to ensure Helena’s safety.

This only served to further lift Helena’s celebrity status, as now several more folks were impressed and charmed by the affable agent.

Today, Myka was off at debriefings once again, so Pete had come along to sit with Helena. They talked of little things, with Pete sharing several entertaining anecdotes about his and Myka's first year with the warehouse.

Helena had already heard most of the stories, but there were enough bits and pieces that were especially entertaining or interesting that she was able to take enjoyment from the discussion. Sadly, the pain in her head only seemed to grow worse whenever Myka was not around, and she often ended up falling asleep in the middle of Pete's tales. Not today, though; today, she had a mission for Myka's partner.

“Pete, I need you to do something for me, but you will have to keep it to yourself. It is of the utmost importance, and I swear, it is nothing more than a personal favor. Can you do that?”

Shrugging, Pete smiled and said, “Sure.”

Helena slowly outlined her request, and by the time she was finished, Pete was almost hooting with glee. “Oh, I so have to tell Claudia about this!”

“You will not! This is to be between us, do you understand, Agent Lattimer?” The glare Helena gave him would have melted steel.

Pete swallowed as he remembered that this was the woman who had invented a time machine. “Um, yes?” he said weakly. “Sorry, I just got a little carried away.” He rubbed his hands together and cackled softly. “You gotta admit, it's pretty awesome.”

Helena smiled tenderly. “I do hope that it will bring a positive result, yes.”

Near the end of her stay in the military hospital, Helena had a visitor that she'd been both expecting and dreading. Mrs. Fredric, followed by the regent, Taka, appeared one afternoon, right after Helena had suffered yet another debilitating headache.

“Good afternoon, Agent Wells,” said Mrs. Fredric softly. Taka remained silent, staring at Helena with a slight air of distaste.

Helena grimaced and said, “Why hello to you, too. I do believe you are here to affect some form of repair to my rather addled brain, are you not?”

Solemnly, Mrs. Fredric nodded. “We are. Unfortunately, unless Agent Bering still has the Pearl of Wisdom, I cannot guarantee its effectiveness.”

“Oh my God!” Myka jumped from her chair as if she'd been jabbed in the butt. “Of course, of course, I have it. It's in my pocket! I never gave it to you. I'm so sorry. I guess in all the excitement, I just forgot it was there,” Myka continued to ramble and apologize as she dug around in her coat pocket until she retrieved a fabric-wrapped wad. Opening it, she revealed the Pearl. It gleamed softly in the dim hospital lighting

Helena stared at it and then said, “Such an innocent looking thing, isn't it? Considering all the terrible things it has done, I mean.”

Going to her side, Myka took Helena's hand and entwined their fingers. “It's not your fault, honey,” she whispered softly, earning her a tired smile from Helena.

“That may be, darling, but I still feel the guilt of my actions, no matter how little control I may or may not have had over them.”

After cleaning the artifact, Mrs. Fredric turned to Myka and said, “Thank you, Agent Bering, for keeping such good custody of the Pearl. Though you were remiss in not returning it to the warehouse promptly, I believe, in this instance, that your memory lapse has served a better purpose. Likely, its proximity to Agent Wells has kept her from suffering further ill effects.”

Astonished, Myka said, “You mean even though that thing is responsible for hurting Helena in the first place, having it around kept it from hurting her worse?” She shook her head disbelievingly. “You know, I don't think I even want to know what kind of sick and twisted mind could create an artifact like that.”

“In any event, now that you have returned the Pearl to my custody, Agent Bering, I am afraid that I will have to request that you leave,” said Mrs. Fredric, though her tone was gentle, her words held the weight of command.

Myka frowned, and started to protest, but Helena shook her head. Pulling her hand from Myka's, she said, “No, darling, Mrs. Fredric is correct. You should go. Take a break. Visit with Pete – he misses you.”

Unable to deny Helena's request, Myka smiled sadly, bent and kissed her lover quickly. Quietly, she said, “I'll be back as soon as I can,” and then left to go find Pete.

Mrs. Fredric then turned to Helena. “That was very brave of you, Agent Wells.”

Helena’s eyes closed briefly and then she said, “She does not need to witness this. Please, do make it quick. I’d rather my screams not bother the other patients on this ward.”

“Oh, do not concern yourself with that, Agent Wells,” said Taka as she approached the recumbent patient. “We are quite alone.” Helena shivered at the cool, calculating nature of the regent’s tone. She was not afraid, though. Taka had to have been personally chosen by Mrs. Fredric, or she would not be here.

“Well, go on then. Plumb the depths of my brain at your leisure.” Putting on a brave face, Helena turned her head slightly, gasping when the cool, oily slide of the Pearl into her ear elicited little more sensation than that of a cotton swab.

Waiting only a few moments, Taka began to speak in a low, soft voice, guiding Helena through a series of meditative exercises that eventually left her in a completely vulnerable state. Then, Mrs. Fredric stepped in and began the most intensive questioning session Helena had ever undergone. Nothing was sacred; all the secrets of her soul were uncovered, sorted and laid bare.

There was pain; some of it physical as the artifact bounced around and irritated old wounds, some of it mental as the caretaker brought out memories of Helena’s daughter. All of it was necessary, for though Mrs. Fredric believed in Helena’s innocence, there were those on the regent’s council who doubted. By the time she was through, no one would doubt Helena’s loyalty to the warehouse.

Once the interrogation was finished, Mrs. Fredric took it upon herself to guide the Pearl out, soothing all the damaged tissue and using its powers to heal instead of hurt. When Myka returned to Helena’s side later that afternoon, Helena was sleeping peacefully, and for the first time in a long time, did not suffer any debilitating headaches.

Dr. Calder came by a short time later and let Myka know that she’d be able to take Helena home soon.

**

 

Valda's ship was a treasure-trove of evidence. Several journals containing detailed information regarding his collusion with James MacPherson were found in his personal quarters. In them, they learned that Valda and MacPherson had concocted an elaborate scheme involving the warehouse, H.G., and eventually, a massive plot to discredit Artie, Pete, and Myka. The revelation caused quite the uproar among the regents, and eventually, word came back to the warehouse agents that Adwin Kosan, the regent who had been Valda's sponsor to the council, was asked to step down and take a permanent leave of absence.

He did so, vanishing so suddenly that Claudia grew suspicious and, as a part of her evidence gathering, added Kosan's name to her growing list of “be on the look out for” that were coded into her search spiders. Three days later, she had only come up with mostly dead ends, but there was one very curious fact – Adwin Kosan secretly owned a sixty percent share in Benedict Valda's shipping business.

No other connections outside what was expected of two men who had been colleagues could be found, but that little detail was enough for Artie to instruct Claudia to disable all of Kosan's warehouse pass codes.

The day that Dr. Calder gave Helena a clean bill of health, Mrs. Fredric arrived at the bed and breakfast with an announcement.

They'd all gathered in the dining room to celebrate Helena's return – even Artie was there, grudgingly donning a bright pink party hat and displaying what was, for him, a considerable amount of cheer.

As the honoree, Helena sat at the head of the table, with Myka to her right and Claudia to her left while Pete and Leena laid out a banquet of edible goodies, including shortbread, tea, crumpets, and a plate of watercress sandwiches.

Glancing at the decidedly boring offerings, Helena put on a brave smile and reached for her tea, only to have Claudia laugh and swap it out for a white paper bag that was spotted with grease and smelled heavily of onion.

Licking her lips, Helena said, “Oh, is this what I hope it is.”

Claudia grinned. “Let's just say a little bird told me what your favorite fast food is.

Having been on a diet of bland, boring, “good for her” foods for three weeks, the sight of a greasy, onion and ketchup covered cheeseburger was almost enough to bring tears to Helena's eyes. Instead, she quickly took a bite, groaning in delightful pleasure at the taste.

Pete watched, mesmerized as Helena took a second bite and smeared ketchup on the corner of her mouth. "Um, you've got, some, uh -" He pantomimed wiping her face and started to pass a napkin to her but was stopped when Myka casually leaned over and removed the offending sauce with a casual sweep of her tongue that ended with she and Helena sharing a lengthy kiss.

Suddenly very interested in the arrival of Mrs. Fredric, Pete forced himself to turn away from watching his partner kiss another woman and smiled weakly. "Hey, Mrs. F, what's up?" he squeaked and coughed, and added, "Would you like some tea?"

Seemingly unaware of the open display of affection being shared by two of her agents, Mrs. Fredric shook her head and said, "No, thank you. I cannot stay long. I've come to inform you that, as of now, you are all on vacation. For the foreseeable future, the warehouse is officially closed. The regents have decided that it is time for a full investigation and are sending in a hand-picked team of auditors who will determine if any other artifacts are missing.”

This casually stated comment earned several expressions of shock from the agents. Even Helena and Myka broke apart to stare at the caretaker, aghast. "But what about those artifacts that are still out there, uncollected?" said Myka with concern.

"Yeah, who's gonna make sure some poor schlub doesn't shoot off his own foot with Buck Roger’s ray gun or something," added Claudia.

"I'm sure that the world will survive without Warehouse 13 for a few weeks. If something truly dangerous surfaces, then I am certain that you will all be willing to return to work. Until such time, there really is only one other matter." Mrs. Fredric now turned to face Artie.

He smiled weakly and blew on a party favor. "Rah-rah?" he said, even as he inwardly cringed. The look on his superior's face was all too familiar. Over the last three weeks he'd gotten plenty of lectures about letting his natural paranoia get in the way of his investigative skills.

"Arthur, you are, I hope, well aware of my feelings as to how you handled yourself over the last case, and indeed, how you've behaved with regard to Agent Wells since she became an active agent. What I now need to know is whether or not you are capable of letting go of your preconceptions when it comes to Agent Wells."

Carefully, Artie set aside the noisemaker and then folded his hands on the table. "I have been an agent for a long time. There are things I've seen, things I've done that make me proud; there are others that leave me filled with guilt and shame. All of these experiences have taught me one very important thing - you've got to be able to trust the people you work with, otherwise, well, otherwise you're just asking for trouble. After James' betrayal, I thought that my trust had to be earned, not given, and because of that, I acted rashly. I expected treachery, so I saw evidence of it everywhere. That's my fault, and it led to people getting hurt - even killed - because of it." He turned now and looked directly at Helena. "Without knowing anything about you, about why you were in the Bronze sector, I assumed you were just like every other artifact - something to be cataloged, shelved, and forgotten."

Frowning, Myka said, "But she's not an artifact, Artie, she's a human being. I thought we'd already dealt with this."

Artie hung his head. "I know, I know. We have. But I'm old, and set in my ways, and it sometimes takes me awhile to really understand and accept change. And well, you must admit that H.G. - Helena - is a big one. It's not an excuse, I know. I'm the one that you look to, to lead you, to guide you, and to give you the information you need to do your jobs, and I haven't done that very well. Instead, I let my prejudices blind me to anything other than what was the obvious. For that, I am -" He paused, steepled his fingers to his lips and then shook his head slowly. “I'm very sorry.”

Coming to stand at his side, Claudia put her hand on his shoulder and said, "Hey, we all thought she was guilty. We were supposed to think she was guilty, right?" She looked around the room, as if seeking support for her statement, and received grudging nods in response.

Reaching up, Artie covered her hand with his, giving it a couple of pats in the process. "You're right, but still, I hold myself to a higher standard. I should have thought to look deeper - to see that Helena wasn't acting rationally. Maybe if I'd listened to Myka early on, maybe if I'd taken the chance to talk to Helena after she was made an agent, I'd have known about the map she gave the council, or maybe I would have been able to see whatever it was that Myka saw. I don't know. I will never know." He looked utterly miserable. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I know I should be able to trust you, Helena; I just don't know how."

While he spoke, Helena had put aside her lunch and focused her attention on his words. Now, she stood and walked over to where Artie sat. Looking down at him, Helena assumed a casual stance, allowing a superior smirk to cross her face before saying, "What a fine speech. Did you write it yourself, or did you have to borrow a few words from the dictionary to get it right?"

"Helena!"

"H.G.!"

Pete and Myka were both equally shocked, but Claudia only looked at her, both eyebrows raised and then frowned.

Very softly, so softly that only Mrs. Fredric overheard, Claudia whispered, "Artie's about to get his ass handed to him by H.G. This should be fun. Not."

Myka went to go to Helena's side, but Helena held up a hand and said, "No, Myka. I'm not crazy, nor am I still under the influence of the Pearl." She did pause then and look at Mrs. Fredric. "Never do that to me again, by the way." She was referring to the visit the caretaker and Taka had made to her while she was still recovering from having shoulder surgery.

Mrs. Fredric only gave her a bland look. "It was necessary."

"It was horrific." Helena closed her eyes and tried to push the memory of that afternoon from her mind. It was difficult. The hours had dragged on, becoming an ordeal that had left her physically and mentally drained for days.

"Had I not intervened, the resonances of the Pearl's influence would have burrowed deep into your brain and, eventually, killed you."

"I know. I do understand why you acted; I do not, however, have to like it." Returning her attention to Artie, Helena said, "You, on the other hand - you have behaved in the most ungentlemanly fashion. From the moment we met, I knew you were one of the most petty-minded individuals I'd ever had the displeasure to know. My opinion of you has not changed. You say that you do not know how to trust me - I could say the same to you, after all I'm the one who saved your life."

The tension in the room was knife-edged. Pete began to worry that if he so much as sneezed wrong, he'd be sliced to ribbons by it.

Softly, he said, "You know, maybe we should all just -" His words trailed off as Helena turned and glared at him. "Or not," he murmured.

"When MacPherson debronzed me, I was confused; my file should have had a specific date I was to be released, and I can assure you that I did not choose the year 2010 as the date upon which I wished to return to this world. However, he soothed my fears with false promises and a certain roguish charm that I should have recognized as pure deception. Once I learned of his true desires, I took steps to ensure his schemes would come to naught. I did not realize he had a partner. I did not see the danger; I only wished to regain my place, to carve out a life as best I could. Instead, I was met with the wall of your mistrust." All the attitude drained from her then as she whispered, "I had no home; nothing. No one wanted or needed me anymore. Indeed, I considered requesting a return to the Bronze sector. At least there, all that I would have to deal with was my memories. Yet I stayed; I persisted, because I knew I had something to give to the warehouse. I had something to prove; to you, perhaps, but mostly to myself. I am a good agent. I have value. I am a human being worthy and capable of greatness." Ignoring Artie, Helena turned and reached for Myka's hands. Enclosing them in her own, "I am able to love and be loved," she finished with a whisper.

"And I almost took that from you, because of my inability to see beyond the serial number next to your name," Artie said softly. He stood, removed his party hat, and said, "I think you have all earned a vacation - but perhaps I'm the one who needs it the most. I've let the warehouse become too much a part of me. I've become less of a person. The job, the hunt, the collection and storage of artifacts has blinded me. I've lost sight of what's important – the people." He covered his mouth, closed his eyes, and then, with a sigh, he said, "I'm sorry. I can't offer anything more than that. Nothing else matters." He turned and started to walk toward the door.

Watching him go, Claudia was immediately struck by the familiarity of Artie's posture. Only once before had she seen him so defeated. "Wait!" Claudia cried. "Wait, you can't just leave. We can't let him go!" She turned and glanced pleadingly at Myka and Helena, then at Pete and Mrs. Fredric. "Don't you get it? He's leaving. He's not coming back. Right? You're just going to run away, aren't you Artie?" She ran over and stood between him and the door. "Just like you did after Joshua vanished."

With a wink, Helena released Myka's hands, turned, and calmly said, "Coward."

Artie froze and his hands balled up into fists. "Excuse me?" he said, but did not abandon his position near the door.

"You heard me. Coward. You'd rather run away than stay here and work this out. It's easier, isn't it? Running. Always running; I've had a bellyful of running, Artie. I ran away from my life for more years than you've been alive and look where it got me. Try something new - try something courageous." She grinned self-deprecatingly. "Try something I failed at - try to learn from your mistakes. If you can do it, then so will I." When he did not respond immediately, she raised one eyebrow challengingly and added, “I dare you to.”

Her expression was warm and welcoming; once Artie had found only something to fear and mistrust in Helena's dark eyes, but now there existed an open door that invited him to put aside his burdens and step through. Fleetingly, he glanced to the side and was surprised to see hopeful looks shining back at him on the faces of his agents. Even Mrs. Fredric seemed moved by the moment - her hands were clasped tightly around the back of a chair and she leaned forward expectantly.

"Well, I -" He paused, removed his glasses, cleaned them, replaced them, and then cleared his throat softly. Backing away from a challenge like that was going to be tough. "I guess I can try. I mean, don't expect miracles, because you know, old dog - new tricks, but -" The rest of what he said was cut off by Claudia's and Pete's cheer. Artie accepted Helena's hand and was only mildly surprised when she gave it a light squeeze before she drew him into a gentle hug.

"You and I have a long path to trod, but we will do it for them," she whispered softly. Louder, she said, "I forgive you."

As softly, he replied, "I don't deserve it, but thank you. Anytime you want to talk, I'm here. I can't always promise to be the good guy, but I will be honest."

"That is a rare commodity; I will keep that in mind," said Helena as they separated. She returned to Myka's side while Artie settled into his chair once more.

Mrs. Fredric nodded as if this was exactly what she'd expected to occur. "Very good. Enjoy your vacation; when the regents are finished with the warehouse, there will be plenty of work to be done." With a firm nod, she turned and left the others to continue their 'party'.

More food appeared; Claudia turned on the stereo and began to dance while the others snacked on popcorn and cupcakes. Leena finally said, "So, now that I finally have you all here, can someone please tell me what the heck happened?"

Everyone sort of paused in their chewing and gaped at her.

Bits of popcorn dribbled from the end of Myka's chin while Pete had to swallow a rather large bite of cupcake or risk choking. Helena chewed thoughtfully, swallowed and then wiped her lips.

"Well," she began, frowned slightly and said, "Perhaps this is better told by someone whose memory isn't made of Somerset cheddar."

Artie snorted. "Swiss cheese, Helena. It's Swiss cheese. Or didn't you have that back in the bad old days?"

Helena grinned while Myka continued to choke on popcorn. "Oh, we did, and I do know the idiom, but I cannot abide the taste of Swiss cheese. It rather reminds me of how men's dirty knickers smell."

This, of course, prompted gales of laughter from Claudia and forced Pete to hastily set aside his cupcake.

Leena just looked at them like they'd all lost their minds.

Artie sighed. "All right, I guess I'll be the one to start. H.G. was the bad guy -"

By turns, they all added to the collective pool of knowledge, each throwing in one or two tidbits that eventually painted a full picture of what had transpired three weeks earlier.

At one point, Pete actually stood up and clapped his hands to his face. "Oh my God. That skunk! That smarmy little bastard! If he wasn't dead, I'd kick his ass from Cairo to the warehouse!"

"What is it, Pete?" Myka said, her face a mask of concern.

"Valda! At the dig site, when we went into the tent, he grabbed this map and shoved it into his pocket. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but -" He was truly peeved by the memory. “Damn the man! I knew he was a skunk!”

Myka jumped in and said, "That had to be the map that Helena turned over to the regents, right?"

"To be concise, I gave it to Adwin Kosan, Benedict Valda, and three other regents. They were very appreciative. In particular, I recall Valda looking somewhat surprised. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but hindsight has made the moment rather singular." Helena took a sip of her tea, made a face and then said, "Oh that is simply dreadful. What kind of tea is this, anyway?"

Claudia grimaced. "It's green tea. Sorry, it was all that was left in the cupboard."

Leena thought that over and then, with some trepidation evident in her tone, asked, "What was done with the Pearl?"

"Nothing, yet." From a pocket, Artie withdrew one of the foil bags used to contain an artifact's powers. "Mrs. Fredric and I agree that since you and Helena were so terribly harmed by it, that you two should decide its fate." He donned a pair of purple gloves, opened the bag and let it roll out onto his palm.

It sat there, gleaming softly, looking like a harmless bead. At one time, they might even have seen it as beautiful, for it was certainly alluring. There was an urge to reach out for it, to take it up and let it slide over their flesh.

Nauseated, Helena looked away and muttered, "I don't care what becomes of it, so long as I never again have to look upon it."

Leena could not suppress a shiver. "Take it away! Please. It - calls - in a whisper I can still hear."

Myka looked from her friend to her lover, noticing that the longer the Pearl's presence remained out in the open, the more they seemed affected by it. Glancing at Pete, she shared a silent conversation with him that ended with Pete nodding once and then getting up from the table.

Standing as well, Myka said, "Give it to us." She held out her hand to Artie.

He looked from Helena to Leena and back, and satisfied that neither was going to interfere, he slid the Pearl back into its bag. "I suggest you take it some distance from the house. There's likely to be a minor shock-wave and I'm not footing the bill for new windows."

Myka took the bag and said, "Got it." Turning to Pete, she said, "Don't forget the sledgehammer."

As a group, they trudged out to the back of inn. When they were a fair distance from the building, Pete cleared a patch of ground with his foot. "Okay, you want first whack, or should I go for the Wile E. Coyote award?"

Myka set the bag on the ground, and then quietly said, "Give me the hammer and get back."

Wordlessly, Pete handed over the tool.

As she was taking aim, Helena called out, "Myka, you don't have to do this. It can be sealed in the Dark Vault."

Almost simultaneously, Leena echoed her with, "Please, just let it alone!"

Grimly, Artie said, "Ignore them; it's the last vestiges of the Pearl trying to beg for its existence. Go ahead, Myka. One good strike should do it."

Closing her eyes, Myka gripped the sledgehammer in both hands, raised it above her head and brought it down with a soft oomph of exertion.

She was almost immediately knocked back by a purplish cloud of dust that was followed by a concussive blast. Falling backwards, she barely had time to scramble away before a crackle of electricity consumed the bag and a two foot circle of dirt around it and then erupted, sending clods of molten debris in all directions.

Clutching their heads and moaning in pain, Leena and Helena slumped to the ground near the back door while Claudia and Pete ran to get fire extinguishers. Artie grabbed hold of Myka and dragged her out of the way of the rather merrily burning fire and waited until the others returned and started dousing the blaze.

Ears ringing, Myka staggered over to Helena and drew her into her arms. "Are you okay?" she shouted. Helena winced while Leena made shushing motions.

"Head hurts," Helena murmured and then collapsed against Myka. On the other side of her, Leena fell into Helena's lap, forcing Myka to bear the burden of both women's weight until Artie arrived to coax Leena to semi-consciousness.

Carefully, Artie got Leena to stand and then escorted her inside while Myka sat, calmly cradling Helena against her. With some amusement, she watched as Pete and Claudia chased sparks around the back yard, dousing anything that looked like it might burn for more than a few seconds.

"Hey, look at that - it's a warehouse family barbecue, no charcoal necessary." Myka pressed a kiss to Helena's forehead and then nuzzled the top of her head with her cheek. "Now all we need is a dog, a Frisbee, and some water balloons."

"Is this one of those awful jokes that ends with the vicar getting goosed by the miller?" mumbled Helena softly as she slowly drew herself to a seated position next to Myka.

"What? No, I was just, you know, thinking how nice it would be to have a real family style gathering someday," said Myka wistfully.

Helena's expression grew thoughtful and she said, "This place does have an appeal, doesn't it?" Myka just smiled and leaned her head against Helena's

Later, long after everyone else had gone to sleep, Myka and Helena lay together, curled in a heap on Myka's bed. They'd not yet undressed; this was to be their first night together since Helena had been released from Dr. Calder's care. Instead, they had spent their time reading to each other from their favorite books. After a while though, Helena had voluntarily forfeited her turn, preferring to listen to Myka as she put voice to words that Helena remembered dictating to her brother so many years ago. Lying with her head pillowed on Myka's chest, she almost didn't realize it when Myka set aside the novel and started lightly scratching her back.

“Hey there sleepyhead. You ready to turn out the light and get some sleep?”

With an effort, Helena rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. “I don't know. I'm not really that tired. I guess I've just been thinking.”

“About?” Myka said as she turned onto her side and looked down at her lover.

Helena smiled. “You. Me. Us. Everything.” Slowly, she turned and snuggled close to Myka. “You do realize that things aren't going to change as quickly as you'd like, right? That Artie and I will likely continue to bicker and disagree? Trust will not grow easily between us.”

Kissing Helena gently, Myka said, “I know. But you've made a good start, and for that, I'm grateful.”

Helena sighed as she parted from Myka. “I can't help but wish that Christina could be here; that she could know you, how wonderful you are, to see how happy you've made me.” Her eyes grew glassy and she looked away. “Oh, I'm such a wreck tonight, Myka. I'm sorry. We should be celebrating my triumphant return to health, not rambling on and on over things long lost.”

Gently, Myka cupped Helena's chin and encouraged her to look up. “I don't mind. You need this, Helena. You need to grieve. For so long you've let sorrow tear you up and twist you around – it's time to let it out, to let it be what it is.” She stroked Helena's lips lightly with her thumb. “You don't have to be so stoic; I'm here now.”

"Oh, my love, your presence alone keeps all my demons away," Helena said softly as she leaned into Myka's touch. "You are the miracle that God granted me at the end of my journey, and for that, I cannot give enough thanks."

"Helena, sometimes when you talk, I don't know whether I want you to shut up so I can kiss you senseless, or let you keep talking until I swoon."

"There's always option C - both," Helena said as she tipped her head just enough to capture Myka's thumb and bite down on the pad gently.

Making an inarticulate sound of need, Myka closed her eyes as chills raced up her arm. Helena continued to suck and nip at Myka's thumb, painting a wet trail across her palm and the inside of her wrist.

Slowly Helena followed the line of Myka's arm, tracing the shape and curve of muscle and tendon with her mouth.

Myka felt as though she were standing on thin glass. So much time had passed since she and Helena had last made love. Helena's injuries had been so severe that they'd only been able to steal quick kisses in between treatment and therapy. Even artifacts, apparently, had their limits when it came to healing a body as traumatized as Helena's had been. Now, Myka was almost afraid to unleash the ragged control she had over her desire for her lover.

Groaning, she said, "Helena, I want you, so much - oh God, so very much - but -"

"Shh," Helena whispered, laying a single finger on Myka's mouth. "I'm fine, darling. I want this; I need to know that you are mine, forever.

"Forever?" Myka gasped as her shirt and bra were deftly removed.

Helena's hands were hot as she stroked them over Myka's body. "Forever," she whispered, unbuttoning Myka's pants. "I offer you all my tomorrows, Myka Bering, if you want them." Her fingers dragged along the edge of Myka's panties.

Myka sucked in a huge breath and replied, "Just tomorrows? How about today?"

Leaning down, Helena gave Myka several lingering kisses and then said, "Today and every day, Myka. I am yours if you'll have me."

Entranced, Myka ran her fingers through Helena's hair, across her shoulders and down her back. As she slipped her hands under Helena's shirt, she whispered, "I hope you're asking what I think you're asking, because I'm only going to say yes once."

They kissed again. Helena smiled. It was a slow, sultry grin. "In that case," she said as she slid her hand past the barrier of Myka's pants. "Open my collar."

Barely able to form cognizant thought, Myka gasped and said, "Wh-what?"

Helena's grin widened. "My hands are a bit engaged at the moment, Myka. Be a dear and unbutton my shirt."

With fumbling fingers, Myka fought the buttons one by one until Helena's blouse hung open just enough to reveal the locket she always wore. Nestled atop the pendant was something new, however. It was a ring. Seeming very plain in design, the more Myka stared at it, the more she realized that it was set with hundreds of tiny sapphires. Crowning the center was a large, square cut diamond.

"H-holy - oh God," she whispered and then bit her lip as Helena's touch grew very demanding.

"It's yours, you know. I wanted to capture a star for you, but all I could find were these silly stones. Still, Pete did assure me that it was a proper gift for the woman I intend to marry."

"It's - um -" She sucked in a breath and then, as Helena's strokes began to slow, she growled, "Don't even think about stopping."

"Oh no, never," Helena said reassuringly, allowing her touch to deepen. "I intend for you to tell this story to our grandchildren some day."

"Helena, I am not telling our grandchildren about our sex life," Myka said and then, as the import of the words broke through the haze of desire coloring her thoughts, she whispered, "Oh."

Helena's touch again changed, now becoming slow, loving, almost a caress, though not teasing in any way. "Yes, Myka. Our grandchildren. You let me imagine such things. Such incredible possibilities. Our life; our family. This one we have now, and the one we will make in the future. You've given me that, Myka."

"You don't want much, do you?" Myka said as she wound her fingers in Helena's lapels. "Marry you, have your babies - the next thing I know, you're going to want me to cook your dinner and wash your laundry."

Helena chuckled. "Nonsense; you cook about as well as I do, and I'd really rather not die of food poisoning. As for the laundry, I'm not above a bit of menial labor - especially since I know you enjoy watching me work." She licked her lips and pushed into Myka. "You do enjoy watching me work, don't you?" she asked in a low tone.

Dragging Helena down for a kiss, Myka said, "If I say yes to all of this, will you shut up and make love to me?"

"With pleasure," said Helena as she sealed their future with a kiss.

TBC (one more to go)

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