Charlotte awoke with a moan. Who'd gone at her head with a sledgehammer? She curled up into herself, squeezing her eyes shut and wishing the light of the sun could turn off with a switch. She felt pressure on her head; a hand stroking through her hair.
Helen's soft voice penetrated the haze of pain. Charlotte groaned in reply, her mouth feeling full of cotton.
"Darling I'm sorry, but you have to get up."
Charlotte petulantly batted her hand away.
"I have something that will help you, trust me."
Charlotte wearily unstuck her eyelids and opened them. Helen's face swam blearily just a few feet above her. She was holding a glass filled with something thick and dark green. Charlotte's stomach turned, and she feared she'd be sick. Helen set the glass on the side table and gathered Charlotte's head between her hands, stroking her cheeks softly.
"It's alright, love."
She helped the younger woman sit up against a mound of pillows, grasping the glass in her hand and raising it to Charlotte's lips. The professor was shocked at how tasty it turned out to be. Her headache instantly dulled into a barely-there annoyance, and her stomach settled.
"You could make a fortune marketing that to my students."
Helen laughed. "No, young people need to suffer or they'd never learn."
"I certainly agree with you there." She brought her hand up to run through her tangled hair as she surveyed Helen's room. It didn't look too torn up. She rifled through her memory, trying to piece together the night before. They'd been at dinner. Tesla had been sneakily filling up her wine. Helen's foot was caressing her calf… then everything went fuzzy. She took a deep breath and steeled herself.
"So what's the damage?"
Helen looked at her quizzically.
"It's obvious I got ragingly drunk."
Helen nodded, biting her lip to keep from grinning.
"So what's the damage? How big a fool did I make of myself? How much do your friends hate me, and wonder how you could ever look at me?"
Helen chuckled, placing the empty glass on the nightstand before settling herself down beside Charlotte.
"I am happy to report," grinned Magnus, "That you were not the only one to go three sheets to the wind last night."
Charlotte raised an eyebrow.
"After Nikola had filled your glass a few times…"
"I knew you knew what he was doing," Charlotte interrupted, grumbling. Magnus smiled innocently.
"After a few glasses of wine, you started to participate rather jovially in conversation. It seems your skills as a teacher transcend the influence of alcohol, as you somehow managed to persuade Will, Henry, and Kate to engage in a 'chugging' match."
Charlotte cringed. "With wine?"
But Helen wasn't finished.
"Tesla was horrified, but let it go when he saw the effect it had on everyone. Once you all were feeling rather good, you then declared that as new friends, we must all partake in some shots."
Charlotte's face burned bright, and she clasped her hands in front of her. "I haven't done shots since I was 25."
"You needn't worry, darling," Helen assured her. "I was quite impressed. I often feel that they don't listen to me, but you managed to get even my old friend and Nikola to take a few shots with you! And trust me, Nikola does not often stray from wine."
Charlotte managed a grimace to acknowledge the compliment.
"I don't think I've ever quite seen my team let go like that. The nubbins had everyone on edge. Without your encouragement, they might have still been burning with all that tension."
Charlotte's eyes suddenly went wide.
"Nobody hooked up or anything did they? You told me they all had other people, and…"
"Don't worry, nobody 'hooked up'," Helen smirked. "Besides you and I, of course."
Charlotte's eyes connected with Helen's. "You took advantage of me while I was drunk?"
Helen shrugged impishly. "Call it payback for when you took advantage of me in my sleep on Grande Comore."
"Harumph," Charlotte pouted, but smiled, and leaned her head against Helen's shoulder.
"Your two guys… Will and Henry? They can't even look at me."
"They were looking at you last night."
"Probably plotting how they can get rid of me. Either that or I was dancing on a table or something. Maybe it's a good thing I don't remember."
"Charlotte," Helen said firmly, "They act that way not because they disapprove of you, but because they want to ravish you almost as much as I do."
Charlotte shifted her head to peer up at Helen. "You think so?"
Helen shook her head affectionately and leaned down to peck her on the nose. "How oblivious you are."
Charlotte snorted. "I wouldn't be talking. Those guys check you out every time you turn your back."
Helen paused at that, frowning slightly. "Perhaps since you've been here, yes. Who knows how long it takes for the pheromones to wear off."
"Blame it on the pheromones. Right."
"Charlotte," Helen warned.
"What about Kate?" Charlotte asked, happily changing the subject "She was quiet at dinner, but kept shooting me these weird looks…"
Helen laughed outright at that. "Kate gave you a right good talking to, actually, after the second or so shot."
"Talking to?" Charlotte asked worriedly.
"Oh yes," Helen emphasized, wrapping her arms around Charlotte and pulling her closer. "Something along the lines of, 'It doesn't matter that I live in Hollow Earth, if I hear so much as a whisper about you messin' around on my boss, I'm gonna come up to the surface and kick your ass into orbit' or something to that effect."
Charlotte shook her head. Though she didn't remember it, she could practically see the scene in her head. The young woman had fire, there was no doubt.
"You have a lot of people who care very much about you," Charlotte observed, stroking Helen's bare arms. She'd clearly been up for a while, as she was fully clothed, but her dress was sleeveless.
"And I care for them," was Helen's quiet reply. Charlotte wasn't in the mood to let things turn somber.
"So did you get drunk too?"
Helen grinned slyly.
"You'll never know."
They talked for a while longer until the need for the bathroom became too much, and Charlotte had to excuse herself. She asked Helen if she wanted to join her in the shower.
"Though I'm sorely tempted, I have to say no," Helen replied regretfully. "I have a telephone showerhead. I know what you do with those. If I go in there, I won't be out for hours."
Charlotte's face indicated that that was more than OK with her. Helen leaned in and kissed her.
"I have to get down to the lab. You're supposed to be helping me work on a very important problem, remember?"
"Alright," Charlotte said mournfully. "I'll see you down there in a little bit."
As the doors closed behind Helen, Charlotte sighed. Back to work. If Magnus was the kind of scientist she thought she was, the next few days would be full of work, playtime cast aside. An idea popped into her head. Suddenly, Charlotte smiled. She could work side-by-side with Magnus. But she could also indulge in a little experiment of her own.
Three Days Later
The doctors had made remarkable progress. Between the two of them, with occasional help from Tesla, they'd managed to create a working prototype of an anti-nubbin inoculation. It had taken a while to get there, and several purposeful doses of pheromones had led to some interesting times, but they'd finally made a break-through. They'd tried it first on one nubbin, then a group of them. When the results were overwhelmingly positive, Henry volunteered to be the first mostly-human test subject. There was a slight problem when his allergies went into overdrive, but they figured that was because of his physiology and not the injection itself. An argument erupted when they were deciding who to test next.
"I'm sorry, Will," Magnus said, her voice loud, "But you will not be the first human subject. It's still too risky."
"Oh come on!" Will volunteered after hearing from Henry that it was alright.
"No, Will. It's not going to happen. Just because it worked on Henry does not mean it will work on you. We need to work incrementally towards full human testing. Discussion over."
He threw his hands up and stalked out of the room.
"So I guess it's me then." Charlotte said, rolling up the sleeve of her lab coat. Helen reached out and stopped her.
"Not you, either."
"You really have to ask? There's no way I'm testing an experimental hormone injection when you have a dormant, deadly virus running through your system."
"The operative word there being dormant."
"Charlotte, you know as well as I that anything could set that thing off. I will not take any risk at all of doing that."
Magnus' eyes were blue fire as she stared into Charlotte's. The professor knew that so long as she was a carrier for the virus, Magnus would never let her do anything remotely dangerous in the lab.
"Fine," she conceded, crossing her arms across her chest. "Who, then?"
"Me, of course."
"You are 274 years old, with ancient vampire blood in your system, and you said yourself that the nubbins affect you differently. How exactly are you the ideal test subject for normal humans?"
"It is precisely because I'm more vulnerable that I'm the best subject. If the counter-agent works for me, it will surely work for everyone else."
Charlotte still didn't fully agree with her, but this was Magnus' lab. She had to play by her rules.
"I'm administering it," Charlotte stated firmly. Magnus nodded, and rolled up her sleeve. Charlotte provoked the very-awake nubbin they had in containment, easily getting it to release its pheromones. They seeped through the glass and out of the little holes they'd made in the walls. She watched, fascinated, as they hit Helen, her blue eyes instantly darkening and clouding over.
"Charlotte," she breathed, stepping closer, her shoulders hunching, her head lowering as she set Charlotte as her target. The young woman quickly inserted the needle into Helen's arm, releasing its contents, and then pulled back. Helen took another step forward, reaching out to her, breathing hard. She stopped halfway. Her eyes suddenly cleared, and her breathing evened. Her hand dropped to her side.
"Well I'd say that was a success!" Helen proclaimed.
Charlotte enthusiastically agreed. "And easily manufactured. Of course we don't know about any long-term effects, but I'm 99.8% sure there won't be any. You should have no problem keeping a supply on hand, just in case."
Helen reached out to take Charlotte's hand in hers. "Thank you, Charlotte," she said sincerely. "I really hope the nubbins never escape again, but if they do, this will be a great comfort to me."
Charlotte squeezed her hand. "It was my pleasure."
It dawned on her that her work was finished. There was no longer anything keeping her here in this wondrous, wacky place.
"You know," Helen pondered. "In the last few days I've practically told you my whole life story. You know some of my greatest secrets, yet I still know barely anything about your past."
Charlotte made a face. "My life has been so boring compared to yours. I don't even want to waste your time."
"It can't be that bad if you end up dealing with incredibly deadly viruses. You wouldn't be boring me. I'd like to know."
Charlotte felt warm under Helen's genuine gaze. "Well, you'll just have to wait until next time. I can't hold off on my classes any longer." Plus, if Magnus was that interested in getting to know her, it meant she'd be more inclined to visit. Soon, she hoped.
For right now, however, she still had to give Helen her present. Magnus hadn't been able to devote 100% of her time to the nubbin problem. Other Sanctuary matters sometimes took her away, plus the new information on SCIU that Tesla had brought. The flood of problems from last week, though, had miraculously lessened. Charlotte had made full use of her time alone in the lab. Sometimes a Sanctuary employee would drift down to say hello, bring her some tea, or in the case of Tesla, hover all too close to her, peering over her shoulder, hand accidentally brushing her waist as he walked by. She could do nothing but roll her eyes and keep focused. The big guy had come down a few times as well, but merely stood by the door, silent. His presence set her on edge, but he hadn't interfered, for which she was immensely thankful.
"Charlotte," Helen began.
"Wait!" Charlotte squeezed her hand once more before letting go, moving across the lab to open a drawer in the far table. She withdrew a small vial, eliciting a curious look from Helen. She moved back to the older woman and presented her prize. Helen plucked the small vial from her hand and held it up.
"Love Potion #9?" she read the label in disbelief.
"I just couldn't get that song out of my head when I was working on it. It's horribly cheesy, I know. I'm sorry."
"The title is fine." She'd never tell Charlotte how adorable she thought it was. "I'm just curious as to what it is." Helen was intrigued, squinting her eyes to study the thin, slightly shimmery liquid inside.
Charlotte practically bounced, rocking back and forth on her heels.
"Well I know the nubbins themselves are a huge threat and that their effects could disable a team, but one-on-one the pheromones aren't so bad, are they?"
Helen slowly shook her head, her body tingling in remembrance of their last few nights together.
"So I figured I'd bottle them up," Charlotte beamed. She stepped forward, resting her hands lightly on Helen's hips. She leaned in to speak right next to Helen's ear. "You can keep them in that special drawer of yours. Save it for… special occasions."
Helen licked her suddenly dry lips. She pulled back so she could see Charlotte's face. Very carefully, she placed the small bottle on the table. Her hands moved to Charlotte's waist.
"Special occasions?" Helen quirked an eyebrow.
"Yeah. Y'know. Like when I visit you."
Helen leaned in, brushing her lips against Charlotte's. "But only when you visit?"
Charlotte's eyes darkened at her tease. They hadn't discussed their relationship, hadn't classified it in any way. She technically had no right to dictate who Magnus could see or not see. Her grip tightened on the doctor's hips.
"Only me," she confirmed, and then cut off Helen's reply with her lips.
The Next Day
Helen sighed as she watched Charlotte's plane fly away. She'd offered her her private jet, but Charlotte refused. Apparently a fellow professor was picking her up from the airport, and Charlotte 'simply couldn't' be seen arriving in a private jet. She'd been honest when she informed her colleagues that she'd been working on a problem of the utmost scientific importance. She hadn't told them it was in the private facility of an eccentric billionaire. They would already be swarming her with probing questions, the professors interested and excited about the science of what she'd been doing. She didn't need personal questions coming into the mix!
Their relationship had remained un-discussed. They'd somehow silently come to the conclusion that they both very much enjoyed the other's company but understood the importance of their respective work. They wouldn't let their jobs fall to the wayside, but at the same time, would take full advantage of any free time they could spend together. As had already been proven, they also worked well together in a professional capacity. They hoped the opportunity would arise again. Helen fingered the small bottle that lay hidden in her coat pocket. The 'love potion' had worked wonders. She didn't know how Charlotte had done it, but the professor had managed to create a concentration of the pheromones that didn't have the same cumulative effect as the raw product did. Helen could take it as much as she liked with no fear of becoming overwhelmed by their power. They'd tested that fact numerous times their last night together.
When the women had finally emerged from Magnus' bedroom that morning to leave for the airport, both Helen and Charlotte were shocked to see the whole team waiting to wish Charlotte goodbye. They hadn't planned it at all; each individual had just found themselves drifting towards the main entry hall. Will and Henry had actually looked her in the eye and said they'd enjoyed having her there. Kate had given her a significant look; her arms crossed, but then, to the shock of all, leaned in and hugged her.
"I hope you know how lucky you are," she'd whispered in Charlotte's ear before pulling back.
Tesla then swaggered up to her and gathered her in his arms, dramatically. "My number's in your suitcase," he whispered.
The big guy grunted at her. Charlotte decided to interpret that as a good thing. Helen picked up her suitcase, and as they were leaving the door, she suddenly heard Biggie stomp up behind her and cuff her on the head.
"Ow!" Her hand flew to the suddenly throbbing bump on her head. Helen grabbed her arm to steady her. Charlotte looked up to ask what that was for, when she saw the beaming faces of Magnus' team.
"Did I just miss something?" she asked Helen, who was smiling wider than anyone.
"I'll explain in the car," Helen replied. She hooked her arm through Charlotte's, and led her to the garage.
Charlotte's plane drifted up into the clouds, and Helen bowed her head. She had to get back to the Sanctuary. There was work to be done.
Charlotte gazed out the window, heart tightening, when clouds shrouded her view of the tarmac and the building in which she knew Helen was standing. She rested her head against the back of her seat, closing her eyes.
That had been without a doubt the craziest few days of her life. She was still fighting to digest all the information she'd learned, the things she'd seen, and the people she'd met. She didn't fully believe Helen's statement that the team approved of her, but she harboured an almost desperate need to make them like her. It was childish, but she couldn't help it. She inexplicably wanted everything she could to do with Helen's life, and her coworkers were obviously a big part of that.
She could temper her enthusiasm, though. Helen Magnus was one-of-a-kind. Charlotte still didn't think she was worthy of her attentions, but so long as she had them; she was damn well going to make the best of it. She sighed as the hum of the engines started to lull her to sleep. She'd had a stressful, busy few days, and her body was finally starting to catch up to her. She grinned, crossing her legs. There was only so much 'hanging out' a girl could take in five days.
Charlotte drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the adventures she hoped to have, with Helen Magnus by her side.
OH'S NO IT ENDED :O Aaaah! :( The simple Nubbins!Fic that turned into something much longer and Helen/Charlotty than I expected! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing! If you have any thoughts for another nubbin fic, or what should come next in the developing relationship between Helen/Charlotte, or in fact ANY story you'd like me to write... please share :) Although I do hope to get back to "Duality" now... woopsies!