Man, it's been a heck of a summer. Only now, when school is back for my son and my allergies are under control do I have the hope of getting back to fanfic. Please, go back and reread the earlier chapters of this story, or you shall be very confused. Remember, the Helens have switched places, and Ashley has appeared in this reality to escape her own.
I may screw up my own timelines, as it has been too long since I wrote for this story and I don't have a beta. Please kick me if you find a problem.
And there has been a vast outpouring or great Helen/Nikola work recently. Thanks to all the great Teslen writers out there!
Edited 6/2014 for typos
The comfort she felt in his arms seemed foreign. She could not remember feeling like this since she'd lost her mother. Her father was never one to cuddle or soothe, he'd expected her to endure. John's comfort was trite words and promises that never were fulfilled. Even when she'd wrapped John's arms around her in that dank hotel room in Southeast Asia, she was seeking a ghost of true comfort. This is what had been missing from her life for so long. Someone with whom she could break down entirely, and who would help her pick up the pieces and start again and still, still would love her. Could her own Nikola Tesla care half so much? Had she been missing this for a century?
The arms cradling her tightened as her tears abated. He took in a deep breath, and she could feel the tension in him. "We lost a child as well." Nikola whispered into her hair. "Helen was taken by Druitt and the Reich's Ahnenerbe in the late '30s. You…she was five months along at the time. I tore apart half of Prague looking for her. By the time I found her she'd had the babe ripped from her womb and she was near death. I took her to James and Anya in London, and we kept her alive, but she'd lost a part of herself. I lost a part of myself. I ended up back home in Croatia, ripping to pieces any Nazi I could find. It was the first time I'd let the monster in me free reign. You needed me, and I wasn't there. It wasn't until well after the war ended that we managed to find our way back to each other. By that time, the Cabal had formed, and Druitt was making Rippers from his own cloned children injected with the blood of our dead son."
She shuddered at the pain in his voice, realizing the implications of a world in which crazed superabnormals like they'd made Ashley into were a constant risk. It explained Bigfoot holding a gun, the EM shields, everything.
She drew away slightly, almost afraid of how badly she wanted to comfort him, hold him. It was easier to ask when everything had happened than why. And it was far easier to change the subject. "When did you go public with the existence of abnormals? There's no way this level of technology and security could exist without…"
He chuckled softly, moving away from her across the seat and leaving her room to draw breath without the fear of crushing her lips to his. "It was a slow process. We stopped faking our aging by the time of WWII. I don't think either of us gave a damn anymore. The questions started in the press, and Helen and I managed to dodge them, given the war that was brewing. After the war, there were many incidents of destruction and havoc, unexplained and the source of general anxiety, political chaos, and many comic book plots. The communists were blamed of course, but it was the Cabal. When war once again loomed large in the early 60's, President Kennedy was attacked and killed on a trip to Dallas, along with over ten thousand people that had come to see him along the route. It was a small army of Rippers that the Cabal had lost control over, and there was no way to cover up that level of destruction.
"It was then that the UN decided to reveal the true breadth of our organization, and Helen and I became even greater celebrities. There was a special force started under the auspices of the UN and NATO, and we helped develop their training. I helped to create the network of EM shields that protect most of the civilized world. We've fought a slow battle ever since against a group of would-be terrorists that wish to destroy all abnormals and control the fate of every being on the planet. We've fought coups and plagues and stupidity for fifty years, and now we've achieved a near stalemate."
A world in which the Cabal was ever present and all pervasive. In which everyone lived with the fear of being without defenses. "It sounds horrifying. How, how do you survive it, day after day?"
"Someone has to protect humanity from their own blunders." She could feel Nikola's grin and she turned in his arms, his face, his lips far too close to hers. "I survive because of you. And Anya and Dmitri and Sophie. You've…my Helen gave me a family, somewhere to belong when my own family discarded me as a distasteful inconvenience. You gave me a purpose, Helen. You expected me to be better, and I hate to fail you."
It was not possible to resist kissing him. His lips were firm and warm and fit over hers with a heady perfection. She remembered this from Rome, but she'd been too angry at his disappearance to appreciate how perfect a kiss could be. Nikola broke away with a sigh and she had to sink her nails into her palms to resist wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him to her, making him take her right there across the leather seat.
"We need to get you home. Though I might have you memorize a speech from me to give to your version of Nikola. And possibly ask you to give him a good swift kick in the ass from me. If he let you hurt this much, let your daughter die, then he must ache inside as much as I would. As I have. He'll need a good yelling at, then some quality make up sex. Best cure for all that ails one."
Ashley clutched to Nikola's shirt, tears streaming for her eyes. "Da, you can't do that again. You can't! You can't build it. It's destroyed, and I hope to God no one every builds one again." She wrapped her arms around him and clutched him as though he was her link to sanity. Nikola enfolded her in his arms rather than try to push her away, his heart aching for the pain this girl, a piece of his Helen…well, some Helen. Awkwardly, he stroked her hair, his eyes flickering to those of the woman so close to the one he wanted.
"She's been through a great deal. More than the front she's putting on. She'd reed thin, and she ate earlier like she hadn't seen food in months. If I were to guess, she hasn't had a home in a very long time." Helen's eyes were glistening, touched with tears for this daughter she never had.
"Ashley…child. Tell us about where you come from. What has you so scared?"
Her cheek stayed against his chest, but her voice was remarkably strong, if a bit monotone.
"When Mama died, you went a bit mad. She'd gone down fighting the Cabal of course, and you couldn't get there in time, not when you were stuck in containment in London. You stayed in denial when she was buried, and worked through it until you came up with an antidote to the plague they'd set out, but it was almost too late. There were so few abnormals left, and the Cabal kept coming, looking for proof of Praxis and a way to destroy everyone and everything that wasn't human."
"How did they…" Nikola cut in.
"Shush, Niko! Let her speak." Helen gave him "the look" and he knew he'd best shut up and listen.
He stroked Ashley's hair and she took a breath. "We were in hiding in India, the Mumbai Sanctuary had survived the initial waves of Cabal and had scattered quite effectively. Then, the little furball showed up, just blipped out of nowhere, right into Da's lap. You…Da had barely spoken in weeks, he barely ate, but when Furball appeared, unaffected by the plague and obviously abnormal, Da woke up. He started studying the little guy and treating it like a pet. When he figured out that it existed across multiple realities, he went nuts. The situation was getting worse and worse, more and more governments falling to Cabal control, more and more friends dying miserable deaths. When the first nuclear bomb went off over Chicago, he started building a machine to move to another reality, to keep jumping until we found someplace where it was safe for us, where we had no counterparts to displace.
"But I knew better." She sobbed suddenly, and emotion entered her voice again. Tears stained Nikola's shirt as she wept. "He wanted to find another version of Mama. It made him alive again, until it didn't."
There was a long pause, but Nikola understood. "I died? I suppose I had to somewhere."
Helen kicked him, but Ashley chuckled. "Oh, it's good to hear you act like you are supposed to - an egotistical loveable bastard, that's my Da."
"And my husband." Helen glared at him lovingly.
"What happened to your Da, Ashley?" Nikola needed to know. Playing with reality streams would be incredibly dangerous, but losing Helen would drive him to do it. He had to understand what had happened, and how he could fix his own damn mistakes and do it right this time.
"Troops were at every entrance to the bunker we were in, this one in the middle of the outback in Australia. There was nowhere to hide, we'd thought no one had been able to track us…but they'd tortured Uncle James, broken him into thinking that Da was trying to destroy the world with some kind of doomsday machine and he'd found us for them." Tears ran down her face, but her voice sounded like a meditative chant – she needed to tell this story before it burned her up inside. "We'd built too well…there was no way in and no way out. We knew the bomb was coming. Da had been shot badly in the last escape, so much that it would have taken weeks and a lot of blood we didn't have to fix him up right. He was weak. Too weak."
"I told you to go – to find somewhere to start over." Nikola whispered, but it rang through the library.
"I would have done the same." Helen reached out to stroke Ashley's hair, and it was the most natural thing in the world for Nikola, despite twelve decades of hating people touching him, to bring an arm around this Helen and bring them all into a hug. From three different realities, three people who all needed comfort found it in each other.
Ashley began to weep again, silent sobs that racked her body. "I swore I would come back for him, that I would save our world. But there was such an explosion when he sent me through the portal, I was so badly burned it took weeks for me to recover. I think they may have set off the bomb, and combined with the power of that damn device…there may not be a reality for me to go back to. There's nowhere I can call home."
"I promise you, Ashley. You will always have a home with me." Nikola may have been thickheaded in matters of the heart, with timing that had cost him the love of his life more than once, but in this he knew the right thing to do. Now – if only he could get back the Helen that would be overjoyed to hold this girl in her arms, rather than the one missing her own children.