In Carentan, it's always cold. Helen has trouble imagining the famine time. Her brain simply does not want to wrap about the concept of three years of solid darkness, of bone chilling temperatures. She tries to imagine lying in bed and waiting for a morning that never comes.
On day 45, an old man dies and she and Will move out of Ravi's home and into the empty one a few blocks over.
"Don't feel bad," Ravi assures them. "Better to go during the light years. Much better. He could have never survived another famine."
They still spend their time in Ravi's lab but it's nice to be able to have somewhere else to go for a few hours. Anna, Ravi's wife, is graciously inviting but Helen knows that no woman wants perpetual house guests. They don't have much to move - a few sacks of acquired clothing, and they accomplish the task within a couple of hours. The house is filthy from neglect and small, but it has a large bed in the back room and another room with a cot that should be mendable.
Helen looks around, her hands on her hips. They've spent all day in the lab and she's already tired but the place needs some attention to even be habitable.
"I suppose we should start on the pantry," she says. The tiny kitchen smells like vegetables about to turn.
"I'll start on the cot," Will says. "Not like we're going to lose the light, though."
She offers him a wan smile - he makes jokes to help himself cope with the situation. She's already used to an endless, unknown amount of time stretching before her and it's not something she wants for Will, that dreary acceptance.
"Call if you need help," she says.
He comes out about an hour later, his sleeves rolled up and his hands dark with dirt and grease. She has filled the sink with hot water and soap to wash the counters and inside the refrigerator. There's an old, tired broom but no mop. She'll have to do the floors with the stiff brush or rags and she's trying to talk herself into it, all that time on her hands and knees on the wooden floor.
"Need a hand?" she asks hopefully.
"A part, actually," he says. "I was going to go see if I could rig something up at the lab."
She glances at the clock.
"Ravi and Anna are long in bed, Will," she says. "Could it wait until the morning hours?"
Will sighs and glances at the dusty couch. It's short and sags in the middle.
"Yeah," he says.
"Take the bed," she offers. "I'm not even that tired."
He knows her well enough to know that's a lie and he frowns at her. But she just nods at him encouragingly and he shrugs.
"Wake me up when you're ready to switch," he says. He washes his hands in the sink, careful not to let the water spill over the lip. He disappears down the dark, narrow hallway and she hears the door close. But as soon as he's gone, she realizes she's too tired to go on. She drains the sink and wrings out the rag she's been using to drape over the head of the faucet.
She takes her notebook and sits on the couch. She props her feet on the wobbly coffee table, stained with rings from years of use. She lets her head lie back and her eyes close. She drifts.
Will has trouble sleeping in the constant daylight so he appears before too long.
"I'm going back to the lab," he says, touching her foot. She looks up at him, her eyes itchy and dry. "Please get a few hours of real sleep."
"All right," she says. "Come get me if too much time passes."
Generally, Helen prefers a lot of alone time but here, in Carentan, she doesn't like to let him out of her sight and he, somewhat inexplicably, seems to feel the same way. He's always glancing over his shoulder, looking for her, relaxing slightly when he sees that she's there, she's safe, she's whole.
"I will," he promises.
The bed is rumpled but still warm. She tries not to think of the dusty linens, the threadbare curtains letting in light. She wonders if the old man had died in this bed. She hadn't asked when Ravi had offered the house. It doesn't matter. People die; new ones take their place.
When she wakes up, hungry and alone, she brushes her teeth and decides to head back to the lab. It's late, but lunch time tends to be flexible and maybe she'll not have missed it. She slips on the camel colored coat with the heavy flannel lining. It had been acquired for Will but they both wear it. The sleeves are too long on her, but it's warm. In the pocket, she finds a small white stone and she worries at it with her thumb as she winds through the streets toward Ravi's home.
Josie and Will are working over a pot of tea, the remnants of lunch beside them. The tea is the organic brew of people working with what they've got and Helen has trouble getting it down. There hasn't been sugar in decades.
"Dr. Magnus," Josie greets in her lilting voice.
"Hey!" Will says. His greeting is slightly more genuine. Josie is fiercely protective of her community and while she has warmed to Will, Helen still feels very much like the newcomer.
"Am I too late for lunch?" she asks hopefully. Josie slides off her stool.
"I will see what remains," she says. When she's gone, Helen takes her seat.
"You look a little better," he says. She nods. A little rest has helped but they still face hours, days, years sifting through data that may or may not solve their problem.
It is tedious work. Half the time, she's not even sure what it is that she's looking for. The last thirty years has made her lazy. She is used to massive quantities of information at her fingertips. There's no search engines, no algorithms for processing data, no Henry. Everything must be read and evaluated manually.
It's chilly in the bunker and Will doesn't let her sit for too long.
"Come on," he says, when hours have passed. Josie has come and gone. They can hear Anna upstairs, baking fresh bread for the morning hours. "Let's go home."
They should have rationed their time better, their energy. She is too tired for cleaning and they haven't gone to the market. The plot of garden that comes with the house has been neglected.
Will gets the frame for the cot repaired but the mattress is soiled and infested with a family of mice. He drags it out to the storage shed behind the house. It will take some thought as to how to acquire a replacement.
"Your turn," Helen tells him firmly, pointing toward the bedroom. "I had it last."
It seems silly to argue.
She searches the cupboards for something to eat. There is dry food - a canister of nuts, some dehydrated apple slices. There is flour and yeast and salt.
When Will comes out a couple hours later, looking tired still, she is kneading bread dough. He stands there, brow furrowed, processing this information.
"You can make bread?" he says, finally.
"What kind of question is that?" she asks.
"I just... assumed... that you've always had a household staff I guess," he says. He scrunches up his nose at himself. It's a classist stance to take and she doesn't call him out because his expression clearly shows that he knows it.
"There are always lean times," she says. "I'll admit, Will, our situation seems grim but it is not the grimmest I have faced."
"I guess that's oddly comforting," he allows.
"There is a way out of here," she promises.
"And one day you might even find it," he says.
They invent this staggered schedule of sleep and lab and for a couple weeks it almost works. It means less time in the lab together, but no one has to sleep on the couch and Josie almost warms to her. She misses him, though. When she looks at him, it's like looking outside of the dome. It's like if they're together, they are living two lives: life in Carentan and the life they ought to be leading.
But the system breaks down. Lab time gets put on hold for a harvest and everyone works outside, picking crops and building up the food stores. Will spends time up high on wooden ladders, washing the solar panels with the other young men and Helen goes around offering her services as well. She sets the arm of a teenage girl who has been bucked off a horse. She checks the temperature of a four-month-old baby who has been running a fever for two days and mixes some herbs together that she thinks will ease the fever, explaining them to the young mother in rusty french.
The teenager's mother gives her half a peck of apples in exchange for setting her daughter's arm. Helen trades half of those away for two pairs of jeans. They'll fit Will and her both. Too long for her, too wide for his hips, but she can't worry about fashion here. She doesn't wear make-up and her hair is growing out, the roots golden in the sun.
When Helen comes back to the house, Will is standing in the front room, hanging his coat on the hook by the door. He looks up, as if surprised to see her and then at the clock on the wall and then cants his head slightly. They stand for a minute, not quite knowing what to do.
"Do you wanna... I don't know, just share?" he says, finally.
"God, yes," she says.
Will pulls the curtains to make it as dark as possible. Helen has patched them, but it's not an absolute darkness like they both seem to desire. Helen has never had trouble sleeping in the light until Carentan; until the light never wanes, yet everyone fears the coming darkness. She pulls off her work pants but leaves on her wool socks, her flannel shirt that hangs down past her hips because it was, a long time ago, made for a man. When it is dark, she climbs into the bed and listens to Will shedding his clothes. The mattress dips and creaks.
It could be uncomfortable, but it isn't. He starts to snore and she drifts off moments later.
They don't go back to the staggered sleeping schedule.
Day 102 is a Sunday and though Helen would be happier in the lab, Ravi takes the day off and so they do as well. Helen wakes up first, leaving Will drooling with his face smashed into his pillow.
She makes dough and lights the oven. Will is always in a better mood when he wakes to the aroma of baking bread. She's boiling water for laundry when Will comes out bare chested and yawning.
"Did you shower?" he asks. There's a little solar panel to heat the water but the warm water doesn't last long and takes half the day to reheat.
"No," she says. "Simone's baby is due any moment and I just thought I'd give it a couple hours." No point in cleaning up with a day of chores ahead of her and perhaps childbirth. He still hesitates and she just rolls her eyes. "Shower, please."
"Okay," he says and disappears again. She goes back into the bedroom and pulls the curtains. They've turned the other room, the smaller one with the wire frame of the cot, into their lab away from the lab. But mostly it's filling up with clutter, of bits and pieces of technology that can't be adapted for any use anymore, clothes that need mending, her boots that she'd worn into the dome that had turned out to be sturdy but not at all warm. She takes their burlap sack of laundry into the small room to sort it. She knocks lightly on the bathroom door.
"Yeah?" he says.
"Just taking your clothes," she says, and scoops what he'd been wearing off the floor. She can't see past the dingy shower curtain and anyhow, Will had been through her infirmary enough times that he had no secrets left.
"Thanks," he says. She closes the door behind her. When he reappears, he's dressed to go out - layered up in shirts and coats. She's on the porch, her arms in the laundry basin, covered with soapy water.
"Going out?" she says, sitting back and dragging a wet, sudsy hand across her forehead.
"Just for a bit," he says. "Andrew said if I help him with the grapes, he'll send me home with a bottle of wine."
"A bottle of wine," she says, raising an eyebrow. "Oh my."
He grins. "It is our day off. Unless you want to save it for something special?"
"Don't be too long," she says.
"I promise." He touches the crown of her head as he passes.
It's warmer in the house than out of it, with the fire going, so she drapes their clothes all over inside instead of bothering with a line. They don't have much and they tend to wear things again and again before washing since this chore is so tedious. Helen misses her industrial washing machine - she misses her house and her friends and her life.
She can't tell if it's worse knowing they don't miss her back, not yet. She hasn't been gone that long, to them.
By the time Will gets back, Helen is well into her little hour of self-pity. She straightens her spine when she hears him open the door but he takes one look at her and he offers her a very small smile of understanding.
"You okay?" he asks. It is her instinct to say yes, I'm fine but she isn't and so she bites her lip and shakes her head and hits her hands against the warped wooden table and tilts her head back far so the tears don't spill. He comes up to her. "Hey," he says. "Come here." He puts his arms around her. She doesn't hug him back but she does allow him to hold her while she presses her face into the worn fabric of his sweater.
"I'm okay," she murmurs but doesn't force herself to pull away.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he offers.
"No," she says. "I just... was having a moment."
"I shouldn't have gone out," he says.
"Nonsense," she says, and does step away. "Did you bring me wine?"
"I did," he says. "But let's save it." She nods. Alcohol would only make her more maudlin and he knows it. She presses her hands to her cheeks. Her fingers are always cold and they help ease the flush of emotion from her skin.
"I have to go check on some patients," she says.
"Want me to come?" he asks. And there's no reason that she should, but she does and so she nods. He helps her into her coat, the big leather one that slides around her shoulders and he keeps his hand on his back as they walk through the town.
"Careful," he says, helping her step over some tools left in the road.
"Thank you," she says. Heels she can run backwards in, but clunky work shoes a size too big are somehow hard to navigate.
"I'm not saying I actually want to be stranded on a desert island, but since we're here, I'm glad it's with you," he says.
She leans into his touch and doesn't trust her own voice. His arm is solid beneath her hand and despite this invisible prison they are in, Will is real. She takes a deep breath and tries not to worry how quickly time is passing them by.
Helen tries not to keep track of the days (it's 121), but she's been here long enough that she's lost fifteen pounds and while Will stays strong doing physical labor, it's hard to keep up the toned physique that he maintains with access to the Sanctuary gym. They all eat less and work harder and Helen is looking over her choices for clothes when he flops back onto the old mattress and pulls his pillow over his face. He is dressed and shaved and waiting for her. She picks up the jeans she'd been wearing when they entered the dome and holds them against her body. They used to be form fitting but now, when she pulls them on, they are loose and she has to roll the waist over so they don't slide down.
Will doesn't watch her dress, though after such time in close quarters, it doesn't seem to matter anymore. He's patched her up enough times at the Sanctuary - has seen her in a bloody bra, hunched on an infirmary bed after John beat the snot out of her, has helped her into scrubs.
He pulls the pillow away from his face while she is buttoning her shirt.
"Josie wants me to go with her to take the readings this morning," he says.
"That's hardly a two person job," she comments.
"I think she just wants someone to talk to," he says. "I was thinking you could go. Get a little air."
"I'm not the one she wants to talk to," Helen says pointedly.
"You think she doesn't like you," Will says. Helen says nothing to this, just picks up the wooden hairbrush and runs it through her hair. "She respects you."
"Not the same," she says, heading to the little bathroom where there is a small mirror. He follows her.
"She's just young," Will says, fitting his body into the doorway. She braids her hair over her shoulder. It's long now, the ends starting to split. Perhaps she will ask Anna for a trim. She shakes out the half of braid and decides to knot it instead, close to the base of her neck.
"Everyone is young," Helen says. "I'm glad that she is an able assistant to Ravi. I'm glad that she finds you a comfort. What she feels about me is moot, really."
"So you won't go with her?" Will says.
Helen secures the final pin in her hair and turns to face him. "What is this really about? Do you want my approval for her? She's a very nice girl, Will."
"Approval?" Will asks, his forehead wrinkling in confusion. "No, I just... I don't want to date her, I just want you two to get along!"
"Then you probably ought to tell her that," Helen says. "Because I'm not sure she knows." Helen moves to leave the bathroom, but Will's body still blocks her in. He's still staring at her, his mouth hanging open in confusion.
"I was just trying to be nice," he says after a minute. She puts her hands on his chest and rises to the balls of her feet to press a quick kiss to his cheek.
"From you, that's all it takes," she says and then shoves him hard, out of her way.
Will ends up going with Josie; Helen and Ravi work in the lab. Anna brings them both hot water with a slice of lemon. It's not tea, but it's better than nothing and she could use the vitamin C.
"I'll try to find you some protein today," Anna says to Helen.
"I'm fine, really," Helen says. "Please don't go to any trouble."
"It's no trouble," Anna assures her. "You need to put on some weight."
Helen is not used to people telling her what to do, not used to being mothered. Anna certainly knows Helen's age but doesn't seem to care. Helen blinks, watching her leave.
"It's not meant to be an insult," Ravi says. "When the dark comes, you'll need to be in good health to survive."
"I hope to solve this before that happens," Helen says.
"I know it," Ravi says. "But if we don't, Helen, you and Will need to carry on the research."
"And Josie," she says, a note of frustration in her voice. Ravi laughs, a deep, warm sound from his gut and Helen huffs at his mirth.
"Can you really blame her?" he chuckles. "You never age! She's trying to fight a battle that can't be won."
"Battle?" Helen says helplessly. "I don't..."
"Will is young and handsome and will make it through many dark years," Ravi says.
Helen sighs and rubs her brow. "You are spinning tales out of nothing, old friend," she tells him.
Ravi shakes his head. "Will's devotion to you is no tale," he says. "And yours to him as well, I suspect."
"You've gotten mouthy in your old age," she says, turning back to her work.
"I knew one day you'd come, Helen," Ravi says, reaching across the desk to take her hand. His fingers are warm around her cool ones. "I hoped you wouldn't, but I knew you would. And while I'm sorry there is no easy escape, it is good to have you near me again."
Will and Helen stay for dinner and Anna drops a large piece of chicken onto her plate with a look that instructs her to eat it all. Still, she cuts off a piece and adds it to Will's plate when Anna is in the kitchen because he's skinny, too.
Josie upsets her water glass and rushes away to get a rag. Ravi continues eating quietly.
"Tomorrow, I thought we'd go over that damaged research again," Helen says hoping conversation will ease the evening to an end. Josie reappears and mops up the water.
"Je suis désolée," she murmurs to Anna who pats her shoulder affectionately and hands her a new glass of water.
"You have another idea?" Will asks.
"I was making an herb poultice yesterday," she says. "And I thought perhaps the right chemical compound could bring out the ink in the page a little. Make it easier to read."
"We ought to test it on something less important," Will says. She rolls her eyes. Obviously. "Great, let's do it tomorrow."
"Tomorrow is Leo's birthday," Anna says. Leo is Josie's young brother. "I was hoping you all could stay out of the lab, at least for a couple hours?"
"We can work from home," Will says.
"You're welcome to come," Josie says, looking at Will. "Leo likes you, Will."
"Thanks," Will says. "Maybe? If we get our work done."
Helen eats her chicken and it also tastes like lemon. The lemons were probably about to turn but it's tart and moist and good. There is no dessert but they linger around the table anyway while Will talks about baseball. Organized sports are not popular in Carentan - the young ones kick a ball around sometimes, but there is not space for something like a baseball diamond. The land is needed for crops and livestock.
Still, Will's face lights up when he talks and it's nice to see. Perhaps she'll get him tickets to a game for his birthday next. If they are out by then.
"You ready to go home?" Will asks, snapping her out of her thoughts.
"Oh, yes," she says because she is, so ready. They just have to find a way. Will means the little house they share, though, and she is ready to go there, too.
They walk slowly because she is tired today. He has his hands in his pockets and she holds her coat tightly around her.
"You okay?" he asks.
"Just thinking," she promises. "Since we're banned from the lab, I think I might sleep a little longer."
"I think you should," he says. "Do you want to go to Leo's party?"
"You can, if you want," she says, evasively.
"I'm tired," she says. "Let's just go to bed."
The house is cold and he makes a fire. She heats up water to wash her face with. They move easily together, used to the space now, used to sharing it. She saves hot water for him and he runs a rag over the back of his neck. It is tempting to sleep in layers because it's cold, but they do a better job of keeping each other warm if they don't and their clothes don't need the extra wear of serving as pajamas. She strips down to her panties, so worn they're practically indecent and a tank top. She's lost so much weight she doesn't bother with her bra most days.
The bed is cold and she lies for a few minutes, shivering, before calling for him. "Will?"
"Coming," he says, and then appears in the room to pull the drapes and shed his clothes. They leave the bedroom door open, hoping for the last of the heat of the fire before it dies but it makes it slightly less dark. It's a trade off that, in the beginning, they wouldn't have made but now without the extra meat on their bones, they endure. He gets in the bed and she immediately rolls into him, pressing her back against him. He obliges and tucks her into him.
"Are you really okay?" he asks, when they seem settled.
"I wish you'd stop asking me that," she says.
"I'll never stop asking you that," he promises.
"Do you miss her?" Helen asks.
"Abby," Helen says. Will makes a noise in the back of his throat. She's surprised him.
"I guess I did, at first, but now mostly I don't think about it," he admits.
"How do you not?" she asks. "I think about the Sanctuary all the time."
"I do too," he says. "But she's not part of that, not really so I..."
She doesn't make him explain. He tugs her a little closer and she can feel his hot breath on her shoulder. It makes her shiver, a little, and his arms go around her waist and then slide down low to her hips. She can feel him fingering the bones there, they way they are sharp in a new way.
"I'll do some work for some eggs," he says.
"Will," she says.
"You need more protein," he says.
"I know my physiology," she says. "I'm okay. I'm strong."
"You are," he says.
They don't talk anymore and she can feel when he falls into sleep. His grip on her relaxes slightly, so she lifts his arm and rolls away. It takes her longer to surrender - she feels unsettled and plagued by her inability to solve the problem of the dome. She is reasonably sure that if she had access to her own lab and a variety of materials, she could crack it and this only makes her feel more trapped.
Sleep fights her the whole way. Strange, terrifying images flit through her mind. She knows she's dreaming, but she can't seem to shake herself awake and when John appears, she's terrified. She runs from him, but he simply appears in front of her, that gleam in his eyes that heralds a blood lust the likes of which she's never seen in anyone else.
"Helen," he says, his voice dangerously low. It hits her in the gut and spreads through her hotly. She breathes in both frightened and drawn to him and when he reaches out to her, he grabs her arms so roughly that she cries out with pain.
"No," she says. And, somehow, at her words, he loosens his grip into something gentle and then cradles her against him. It's soothing and she lets herself lean into him, desperate for the comfort.
But then she know for certain that it isn't real. John can make her feel many things, from absolute terror to the sharpest arousal, but he is not a comforting man. He does not ever make her feel safe.
But she does feel safe now and the way the hands hold her, the smell surrounding her has become just as familiar as John.
"Will," she says and opens her eyes.
It is Will holding her, stroking up and down her bare arms and hovering over her with an expression of deep concern.
"Magnus," he says. "You were dreaming."
"I know," she says. "I couldn't stop."
He gathers her up and she holds on tightly, breathing deeply his smell and hiding her face in his neck. She worms her knee between his legs and hooks her foot around his calf. She hangs on for dear life until her heart starts to slow down. He rubs her back, his fingers sliding over the bumps of her spine.
He holds her all night and she lets herself be held.
She sleeps late in the morning and when she rises, it's clear Will has already been out. He's standing at the stove, frying an egg.
"Is that for me?" she asks.
"Farm fresh," he says. The bottle of wine is gone from the counter. When he turns off the stove, she touches his arm.
"Thank you," she says. He nods and runs his hand down her arm, just as he'd done in the night.
On day 151, Helen is working in the lab and catches the wrong wire with a pair of stubborn pliers and receives a rude shock. It pushes her hard against the wall and she knocks her head and slides down, dazed and stinging. Her hand is burned across the palm.
"Helen?" Ravi helps her up and Josie pulls the first-aid kit to tend to her hand.
"I'm okay," she says. She's conscious, at least. Ravi helps her to the stool and stands behind her so she can lean against him. Josie tends to her burn, cleaning it with an ointment and wrapping it in a faded cloth bandage.
"How is your head?" Ravi asks.
"I'm fine, I was just a little careless, I'm afraid," she assures them.
"You flew," Josie says.
"Helen," Ravi says. "Enough for today. Josie will walk you home."
Josie closes the tin lid of the first-aid kid loudly.
"I don't need an escort," she says. "It isn't far."
"If you're sure," Ravi says.
"Please let Will know I've gone home," Helen asks Josie. She nods.
"Of course, Dr. Magnus," she says.
Helen does feel drained. Her head aches and when she gets home, she doesn't bother to start the fire. She just strips, strips everything off and crawls into bed. Her hand throbs and she tucks it under her and between her breasts and tries to sleep.
She wakes up when Will rushes in, loudly and with great concern.
"You okay?" he says, coming into the bedroom. He seems to realize he's woken her up, then. "God, sorry, but tell me you're okay. She said you hit your head and got shocked and what the hell happened, Magnus?"
"I'm fine," she says, sitting up, holding the blanket close.
"Let me see your hand," he says, reaching for her. She shows him, twisting her wrist so her palm is up.
"Fine," she says. "I'll heal in a couple days."
"And your head?" he asks, touching her hair, his fingers worming through to the tender lump and ghosting over it softly.
"Will, please," she says. "Stop fussing."
He ignores her, tilts her head up so he can look at her in the light. She hadn't closed the curtains when she'd crawled into bed and so she can see every worry line etched into his face as he searches her eyes for signs of concussion.
"Look at me," he says. Whatever he sees must satisfy him because he huffs out and relaxes slightly. She reaches up to where his hand cradles her face and grabs his wrist.
"I took a nap," she says. "I'm okay."
He sinks down next to her, weary. He puts his head in his hands and rubs his face and then turns back to her.
"I just... Helen, I can't imagine anything worse than you not being here with me," he says. "You have to promise me you'll be more careful." She feels a pang of pure affection for him. She's never heard him call her Helen before.
"You know I'd never be intentionally careless," she says, tucking the blankets under her armpits.
He nods. It's all she's going to offer him and he's smart enough to take it.
"Who told you?" she asks.
"I came back to the lab to pick you up and Josie told me," he says. He looks a little guilty.
"I kind of... um, tore her a new one when she told me that you walked home by yourself," he says.
"What did you say?" she asks. Will shakes his head.
"I'll apologize in the morning," he says.
"It's her birthday tomorrow, you know. Anna told me," Helen says.
"Oh great," Will says. "I'm the world's most colossal jerk."
"No," she says. "Perhaps the dome's..."
He nudges her with his shoulder and she rests her chin on it. "I will never leave you behind," she says.
"I know," he says.
She wishes he could promise her the same.
He goes to start a fire, to let her dress. It's late, as far as their watches are concerned, but she's been napping for hours and he's so keyed up that she pulls on a pair of jeans that Will had left on the floor and her blue sweater, the arm warmers that Anna had knitted, and her socks. She must look like a vagrant but he won't care.
He's heating water for porridge and sitting at the table with the white worry stone in his hand. It's the one they carry in the pocket of their shared coats, the one she fingers while she walks the streets, the one he tosses up and catches when he's puzzling something out.
"You could drill a hole through it," she says. He looks up and sets the stone on the table. "Thread it with something sturdy. Fashion a clasp."
"That's what I thought, too," he says. "A peace offering."
"Of sorts," she says, sitting across from him. "Do you want help?"
"I want you to eat and get some more sleep," he says.
"You may have the rest of the day to hover over me but that is all," she says. He grins.
They eat their porridge, staring into the fire and then she sits with notes to go over while he rummages around the junk room for spare bits of wire and a small enough drill bit to fashion the necklace. It's a bit silly but they both know Josie will like it. She dozes off on the couch while he works and he wakes her a little later, the necklace in hand.
"May I?" he asks.
He holds it up to her, checking the length and then smiles, slipping it into the pocket of his jeans.
"Nicely done," she says. "Now, can we go to bed?"
He swallows. "Yeah," he says.
When they get in to the bedroom, it's not quite the same as the night before. He's still full of nervous energy, leftover from the adrenaline of his worry. He can't stop looking at her, can't stop touching her. He inspects her hand, peels the arm warmers form her skin and she just lets him, just watches him do it. And because she doesn't stop him, she thinks he gets a little bold and he reaches for the hem of her sweater. She doesn't have anything on under it but still, she slowly lifts her arms.
They haven't drawn the curtains and his eyes are so blue in the light as he peels the sweater away.
Her nipples tighten into hard buds in the cold air but she doesn't shiver. He stares for a moment, his eyes flicking between her face and her breasts and then he tosses the sweater toward the pile of dirty clothes and reaches for the button of the jeans. But it's not necessary. They're so big she can just push them down, and they do this together.
All that's left are her socks. His eyes travel up and down and he allows her to use him for balance as she takes off one sock and then the other.
"Now you," she says.
He makes such short work of his clothes that it's almost enough to make her laugh. He pushes down his boxers carefully, steps out of them, his erection bobbing in the air.
She's aroused too. It's what the nervous energy has shifted into. It had been subtle because she really believes this had started as an act of comfort, but now she needs comfort of a different sort and Will does too. She wants to feel safe and cherished - she wants to feel alive and not alone.
Naked and bathed in the cold, ever fading light of Carentan, Will shuts the curtains and they climb into bed and drape the heavy blankets over them.
She reaches for him because she wants to, because she doesn't want to leave the rest of the night hours to chance. She wants to feel him against her and inside of her and all around her. She can't tell if he's surprised or not, but he meets her kiss with enthusiasm nonetheless. His mouth slants against hers and when she licks along the seam of his lips, he groans and opens his mouth to her.
He tastes like lemon, like the mint sprigs she mixes into their homemade toothpaste, and like Will.
It gets frantic, fast.
She knows he is simply following her lead and her body is telling him that she wants more and she wants it now. She can't seem to stop moving her hands - they're in his hair, down his biceps, dragging nails across his back. He actually whimpers when she snakes one hand between them and wraps it around his erection. He's so hard, twitching beneath her fingers, leaking moisture against the skin of her belly.
His kisses make her head spin. Attention to detail is part of why she'd wanted Will on her staff in the first place and it translates beautifully into the bedroom. He sucks her bottom lip between his teeth and bites down and she moans and strokes him a little faster and suddenly she's on her back and he's on top of her. She cradles him with her body, sliding her hands down his back to settle on his butt and bending her knees.
"Helen," he says, his voice so low she almost can't make it out.
"Shh," she says, soothingly. She presses her fingers into his lower back. She wishes it were warm enough to kick the blankets off, she wishes she could turn her head to the window and see nothing but the inky night sky full of stars. He leans a little and reaches between them. His fingers on her hip, her thigh, and then she almost sobs when he eases one inside of her. She's ready, so ready. He huffs at what he finds, grateful and surprised and aroused. Like somehow he can't believe she might want him, too.
She holds him gently, guides him inside. They both moan as he sinks into her and she has to readjust a little, has to let him pull her legs up so he can find the right angle. He presses his forehead to hers, kisses her softly - her cheeks and the worried little line between her eyes. She meets his eyes and nods, arches her neck and her back and her hips all at once and he pulls out and presses in again and she has to close her eyes. It's too much otherwise; sensory overload.
She hasn't done this in quite some time.
He holds her so close to him and she doesn't want him to let go. He buries his face in her neck when he starts to lose control. She can feel him tremble against her.
"Will," she says into his ear. "Touch me."
He lets out a ragged breath and slides his hand between them. He presses a clumsy thumb against her clit, and really, she doesn't need much and then she starts to feel it too. That desperate need for release, barreling blindly towards it, sweaty skin slapping skin, the sound of moisture and breathing and then there it is - the moment she hangs there, just on the brink. She feels her toes curl, her hips rise, and her whole body seems to clench in and open up wide at the same time. Her hand is on the back of his neck and she clutches at him blindly, holding him against her as she comes and comes, sobbing and dizzy and the pleasure, oh god, the pleasure just swallows her whole. His thumb doesn't cease, just keeps up those maddening circles and she wants to push him away but she can't so she just lets it keep washing over her.
He pulls out and with a shout, comes across her belly, sticky and hot.
For a moment she feels a little robbed. But at least one of them had kept their wits about them and she can't be upset, not really, not when she's still floating in afterglow. Her heart is pounding in her chest and he pulls the blankets back so as not to mess them. It's chilly and she's shaking already and he collapses next to her, his body hot against hers. His semen starts to dry on her skin. If she stays here much longer, they'll have to boil a kettle to get clean. She stands on shaky legs.
"Stay," he murmurs. "Stay with me."
"I am," she promises him. "I'm right here."
This seems to soothe him and his eyes close. She watches him for a second. Lord, he's beautiful. Easily the most attractive, youthful, vibrant man she's taken to bed in at last 75 years.
In the bathroom, she wipes herself clean with cold water on a wash rag. She hisses, tender between her legs. She tries not to think too much about it. It was bound to happen, wasn't it? Sharing this little house, the little bed, sharing everything. Intimacy comes in many forms and with Will, it's like she's been ticking them off a list. Professional courtesy, living in the same house, friendship, sex.
She lifts his arm and rolls under it.
Her skin against his, she falls asleep.
It doesn't happen every night, but it happens enough. Will's attempt to mend thing with Josie ought to have gone well, but then for some reason he won't quite explain, he starts to hold her at arm's length. All the better, Helen thinks. If Josie has figured out the shift in Helen's relationship with Will, it doesn't show but Helen doesn't think she has, because the young girl watches Will with longing eyes. Ravi knows, though, certainly. He looks at her knowingly, looks at Will, smiles, the lines of his face deepening.
She and Will don't really talk about it, not even when they're alone. Maybe they ought to, but she's in no hurry and Will's the one who likes to put labels on things, yet he's as tight-lipped as she's ever seen him. He's probably afraid of spooking her.
And besides, she's trying to figure out her place in the scheme of things. The fire elemental, the growing dome, the rate at which things are going to get ripped apart at the seams. Helen has spent more than her allotted time on the Earth and it seems like the Earth has started to take notice. Between Big Bertha and now, this dome, the guilt is beginning to gnaw at her.
Day 225 is easily the worst day of all their days in Carentan. People are just gone, they're just not here. And not only people, but things which feels like adding insult to injury. Cows are missing, a whole plot of vegetables just about ready to harvest has reverted back to dusty, unturned soil. She can't stop thinking about how fast time moved around her, and how slow, and how she might have stood there forever letting it happen if she hadn't felt Will next to her, heard his plea to shut it off. They just don't have what they need to make the machine a viable way of collapsing the dome.
And if they do get the materials they need, she realizes it means the end of the Carentan they know.
When they finally get back to their little house, someone has thrown rocks through the windows. Inside, the furniture is overturned, their food stores have been looted, and someone has slashed their mattress to shreds.
They gather what's left - some clothing and some research notes and Will takes her the back way to Ravi's along the edge of the dome instead of walking through the rioting and mourning city. Anna is watching for them out the back door and ushers them inside.
Helen touches her arm in thanks. Anna has every right to expel them from her home. Ravi must have explained things to her - she must know that time is almost up.
Will sleeps with her in the small bed in the spare room instead of sleeping on the cot in the lab as before. They still don't talk, but when she shuts the wooden door behind her, he is there, pushing her hair aside to get to her neck, worming his hand under her sweater to feel her skin.
But it isn't like before. He is rough with her. He tears at her clothes in stead of easing them away. He spreads her thighs so wide that they ache and he wrests orgasm after orgasm out of her with his tongue and lips and teeth until she pulls on his head hard enough that he has to disengage or risk a bald spot above each ear. He flips her over and isn't happy until she's on wobbly hands and knees and then he thrusts into her from behind. It would be uncomfortable if he hadn't so thoroughly prepared her, and even still, his thrusts cause the mattress to squeak and she worries about the amount of noise they're making.
"Please," she says, trying to voice her concern, but the sound of her voice must break him because he groans and does something he hasn't done ever before. He clenches his fingers around her bony hips and he comes inside of her.
They've been so careful about this. There's no easy or particularly effective method of contraception in Carentan and pulling out, of course, is frightfully unreliable but it's what they've had and now it's shot to hell. He presses his head against the back of her neck, kissing the sweaty skin he finds there, the bump of her spine. He thrusts a few more times, shallowly, drawing out the pleasure. He nips at her skin, allows one hand to cup her dangling breast.
"So fucking good," he says, kneading and thrusting and kissing.
Will hasn't been himself lately. He's been frustrated and frightened and maybe, she thinks, a little lonely.
She doesn't want him to drift away from her. She's selfish to want him to stay with her as she's promised to stay with him but at the moment she doesn't care and he doesn't seem to either. It could very well one day occur to him, as he ages, that having a partner to share his milestones with him is more important to him than having her in his bed - timeless and unchanging. Hermione on her pedestal.
She clenches around him and he hisses, thickening inside her once more.
"Again," she demands. They may as well spend the whole of the night hours rutting like animals. The damage is done, after all.
It's amazing, though, how much damage one woman can cause. If she's learned anything in 160 years, it's that she is a wrecking ball and nothing she touches is safe.
Waking up in the hospital is nothing compared to the long flight home. Helen charters a plane because the idea of sitting on a commercial flight is enough to upset her stomach. She's spent nearly a year with the same small group of people that the thought being surround by strangers is... and Will looks so relieved at the notion that she knows that while it might be a luxury, it's the right choice.
Kate and Declan are struck silent with surprise. She and Will look a little better than when they appeared in the field, surely, but she's still terribly ragged around the edges and if Will looks as thin as he does, it's hard to imagine just how skinny she looks to the rest of them. There weren't things like full-length mirrors left in Carentan.
"My bathtub," she says, looking at Will. He understands the sentence fragment enough to know it's what she missed enough that it's the first thing on her list. A long, hot soak.
"God, yes," he says. "And a big meal."
They look at Kate and Declan who are still sort of staring with mouths agape. She raises her eyebrow. It's as strange for Helen to see them virtually unchanged as it is for them to see her as, essentially, a POW survivor.
"I..." Kate says. "Are you a blonde, doc?"
She can't believe that she's somehow still tired after all the sleep she got in the hospital but she is. The noise of the engine is lulling her under. Her head slips and then she feels ridiculous because she's woken herself up. She glances around. Declan is up at the cockpit, talking to the pilot and Kate is pacing the aisle, impatient to be home.
Beside her, Will pushes the arm rest between them up and out of the way.
"It's okay to sleep," he says, shifting toward her.
"This isn't Carentan, Will," she says, watching Kate flop into a seat and then, a moment later, stand up again.
"No," he says evenly. "But it's still me."
She doesn't know how this is going to go when they get home. She knows Will well enough to know he'll respect whatever she asks of him, but she's not yet sure what that should be. Within the walls of the Sanctuary, within the flow of normal time, they do not have a relationship that ought to be sexual. And yet, she doesn't want him less because the sun rises and falls each day.
And Will has Abby, even though it feels like that shouldn't be true anymore. Still, she tucks herself against him and he puts his arm over her shoulder so she can be comfortable.
"What do you want?" she murmurs and looks up at him through long lashes.
"The same thing I've always wanted, Helen," he says. He smiles down at her.
"Indulge me," she says.
"To feel like I'm home," he says. "And if you don't think that you have everything to do with that..."
"All right," she says. "Perhaps when we get home, somewhere after our long baths and large meals, we can make a plan."
"A plan," he chuckles. "Formal requests and paperwork in triplicate."
"Don't be cheeky," she says, her cheek against his sweater, her eyes closing.
"You know, for all intents and purposes," Declan says softly, settling back in his seat near them. "What you experienced in Carentan never actually happened."
"If everything that happened in there ceased to exist, they why do these two look like homeless people still?" Kate says, coming to sit down.
Helen doesn't open her eyes - has no desire to participate in their theorizing. She just wants to sleep, to leave the heavy thinking for another time.
She sleeps for most of the flight, his voice rumbling through his chest against her when he speaks. She doesn't wake up frightened. She doesn't dream of John.