disclaimer: not mine
rating: PG, if that
spoilers: season one finale
characters: Beverly, Henry
length: 1700
genre: angst, gen
notes: I... Palmetto caused this. I'm still sorta reeling and going "wtf, Eureka fic, wtf?" But she said something about the season one finale, which caused me to go "oh HENRY" and her to say he needed a hug and soup. This is... neither. Spoilers for that big spoilery thing at the end of season one.

how many lives we lead are strange
by ALC Punk!

Beverly Barlowe doesn't think of herself as a nice person, not deep down, where others can't see. On the surface, sure, she's nice. She's nice to everyone, she sits and listens to their secrets and their petty little foibles and their weaknesses. And she smiles and offers comforting advice and never breaks her role, never let's anyone know that it's all fake.

She's not fake, she sometimes tells herself. Not the way others would mean it. She's smart and she's competent, and she's good at her job or the Syndicate would never have contacted her.

In a town full of people with IQs higher than Mount Everest, she can feel a little left behind and in the dark. Like now. It's not something she fully understands, but the technical readouts and the recorded notes that the bug she'd implanted on Nathan Stark had turned up something. Some anomaly that irritated at the back of her mind until she couldn't let it go.

Little things bothered her, as though she were moving in the world just a half-step out of time with it. Someone had hit pause on Beverly Barlowe while the world played on, and when she got unstuck, she was here. Or there.

Not that it made sense.

"Henry," she greets him like he's supposed to be on her doorstep looking like the world ended (it did, three days ago for him).

"I got your message."

She never sent one, but Beverly doesn't let that change her sudden plan. Half-formed and intangible, it turns like clockwork in her mind as she smiles calmly, "Come in, Henry." Stepping back tugs him up and inside, like kinetic energy transfered from one object to the next.

Or maybe that's the wrong kind of energy. A nervous twitch slides through her fingers, but she ignores it, heading into the kitchen.

Tea, the ritual of boiling water and crushed leaves and she can already smell the sharp smell of the lemon peel even before she sets the kettle on the stove. "Henry, would you like some--"

"Coffee, if you've got it." He stands like a man waiting for the ax to finish falling.

There's a tin in her corner cupboard, buried behind newspaper clippings and old recipes she's never bothered to use. Fishing it out sprays her with dust, setting her coughing for a moment before her lungs clear. It's probably expired and stale, and it's instant, but it's coffee. Beverly wonders, as she wipes her hands absently on a dish towel if she should stock up on it more.

Or if maybe this obsession with patient comfort is going one step too far.

The Syndicate had long deemed Henry unapproachable for its needs, Beverly reflects a moment later, her equilibrium restored by the steadying presence of ritual. Boiling water, tea leaves, coffee grounds (the latter isn't quite the same, but the movement of stirring is almost enough). Perhaps they were wrong. A man who has lost everything is a man with nothing left to care about--possibly she's been reading too many bad pseudo-psychology journals.

"I can manage coffee, if you don't mind instant."

"It's caffeine," he says, finally dropping into the chair she'd indicated, like a manequin with its strings cut.

"Black?" she guesses, already pouring the now-hot water into the blue wedgewood mug.

"I used to take it--" the words stop, as though they trigger a memory he'd rather not face. Watching his eyes, Beverly sees the sudden grief that is swamped a moment later by anger.

And something cold. A calculation that actually makes her take a step back, spoon bouncing on the rim of the mug as she lifts it to stir.

"Something wrong?"

A half-step out of time, she thinks, settling the spoon in and gently scraping the instant coffee up and into the water, swirling the last unsettled bits, "Nothing. Nothing's wrong."

Tea would steady her, but she suddenly doesn't want steadying. Sticking the wet spoon into the coffee grounds, she spills some on the counter as she fills her own mug. The water sends steam up as it pours and the bitter tang of the coffee catches at the back of her throat. She should have sugar and milk, pretend it's latte, but there'd be no point.

Beverly was never one to lie to herself.

"Thank you," Henry says when he takes his mug from her.

Her own hand wrapped around the warmth of her own mug, Beverly doesn't answer as she moves to take the seat across from him. She's not old enough for arthritis, not aged enough to feel her bones ache with the cold or the changes in the weather.

"You ever..." she starts, changing her phrasing even before the third word leaves her mouth, "get the feeling that we've missed something?"

"I think we miss a lot of things," opines Henry, his voice bitter. He takes a gulp from his too-hot coffee, and doesn't complain about the taste. "People, things that we leave behind too fast."

"Life is short," Beverly suggests, thumb sliding back and forth against the ceramic of her mug. "Grab what you can."

"And who you can."

There's an abruptness to his tone that leaves them both sitting in silence for several minutes. Beverly thinks she can feel the coffee growing cold, then decides it's an illusion before she raises the mug to take a sip. It tastes as bad as she'd expected and she makes a face, but restrains herself from coughing.

"Not the greatest, is it."

"No--" she laughs suddenly, surprised to find that she means it when she says, "I'm sorry, Henry."

"Everyone's sorry." The mug doesn't break when he slams it down, but the force causes coffee to slosh out. Not that he notices. "Everyone's so god-damned sorry, you know? It's enough to get on your nerves. To make you just want to--"

She lets the silence fall for several minutes before sipping again. Henry spends the time staring at the puddle and then absently cleaning it up with the red and gold cloth napkin she'd arranged just that morning (or had she).

"They mean it, you know. People don't know how to support or help with grief. So they're sorry." Helping him to understand won't make it all better, of course. Nothing will ever make it all better. Time will make it hurt less, but the pain of his loss will never go away. Beverly's head comes up, the thought a stray that makes no sense.

A loss that should never have happened... would never have happened.

She's been spending too much time with insane people, she thinks. People who are off their rockers, who throw curve balls as easily as breathing. Thoughts that make no sense are common-place.

"I just never thought that he, of all people..." Henry stops suddenly, and looks at her, his eyes filled with betrayal.

This. This, here, now. Something drags her head up and her eyes meet him. Her voice is soft when she prompts, "What did he do, Henry?"

He, who? Stark? Stark is the only one she can guess at, knowing the man blames himself for the loss of Dr. Anderson. He won't talk about the thing in section five, he won't discuss what top secret experiment they were running. But he blames himself for her death.

"I thought, I thought Jack was my friend. I thought he would understand--" now the betrayal cuts even deeper.

Tell me. Tell me, tell me, tell me. She feels like a five-year-old, demanding candy from a parent, dancing down the aisle in the store. "Would understand what?" Her throat feels parched and she swallows coffee without noticing the taste anymore.

"I came back to save her. To make it better." Now he's a man after the guillotine has fallen, watching his head bounce down the long corridor into nothing. His voice is a harsh whisper when he finishes, "changing the future was so easy."

Careful, Beverly, she thinks. Move sideways. A half-step forward and three steps back-- "What did Jack do?"

"He must have, he must have gotten Stark to help him with the artifact," Henry laughs, then, the sound scathing and raw. "Jack's not smart enough to fix a car engine let alone mess with the artifact."

Another sip of coffee on both their parts and Beverly is silent.

"But to come back, just to stop me--!"

The head has disappeared and all that's left is the long litany of sorrows before entering hell. Beverly reaches out and touches his hand. "He shouldn't have stopped you."

And Henry laughs, something like sanity returning to his eyes. "Well, no. He should have. After all, we don't exist outside of time. Not like it does." Reality follows an instant later, and he stares at her for a long moment before pulling his hand free.

Beverly curses the dawning knowledge in his eyes. Something she did tipped him off, some edge to her voice, she was too eager--

"Thank you, for the coffee, at least." He smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes.

It's an expression she's seen before a thousand times. Usually in the mirror. When facing a client, she can make the effort to swamp her eyes, too. "Henry, I'm here if you need me." Please.

"Oh, I think you're the one who needs me." The laugh again, and this time there's almost humor in it.

Beverly doesn't walk him to the door, too afraid that he'll never come back (afraid that he will). Absently, she slides a finger across one of the droplets of coffee, smearing it across the surface of the table. The artifact can exist outside of time. The future can be changed.

Things the Syndicate will be interested in, even if it's only theory and speculation. Some of the technical jargon from Stark's computer is beginning to make sense, though. Wormholes and loops, theories of relativity that Einstein would have never claimed. Maybe she won't mention it. Not yet. The information could have a purpose beyond what they wanted, after all.

Half a step out of time.