The color was warm, the effect was the same. She lifted the glass to her lips, tilted it back, and swallowed the escape its contents offered gratefully. A pleasant tingling diffused through her, and she took another sip, hoping numbness would spread beyond her lips and the tip of her nose and seep into her heart long enough to make it stop hurting.
Her mother hadn't asked any questions when she appeared at the bookshop door, and she hadn't offered any answers. Her father hadn't been as subtle, and he persistently asked for explanations she wasn't ready to give. After a few days, he stopped asking, but the questions lingered in his eyes.
A week later, he'd sent her to an estate sale in Texas. "To get your mind off things," he'd said.
Inventory was enough. Inventory meant she could concentrate without thinking. An estate sale in Lubbock meant she'd have to appraise the value of a book so long abandoned its spine would crack ominously if she even tried to read the publish date, haggling with her father's local and national competitors, and tolerating the less than appetizing advances of every single one of them.
The youngest bidder – a scruffy, stocky assistant professor in the local university's agriculture department – just wouldn't give up.
"Aw, c'mon Myka. Just a drink? Bashrock's is right down the street."
She had no idea where he'd found her first name since she hadn't bothered to introduce herself.
The estate had been that of a local oil man of no modest means and a small collection of first editions that had never been touched. She made a few bids, won a few books, tried not to remember how amazing the Warehouse library had been, and failed.
The last lot in the collection had been billed as a secret that couldn't be missed, and she looked forward to it with mild curiosity. Her breath hitched when the sale manager revealed the title: A Modern Utopia.
Her eyes filled with tears and she hastily left the room. Outside, she leaned heavily against the stucco wall of the dead man's house in the oppressive Texas heat, gasping for a breath to help steady herself and getting lungfuls of superheated pain instead. Several minutes later, that was where Tom or Dean or whatever the hell his name was found her, no better off than she had been inside.
Maybe she could use a drink.
Myka figured out that it was a mistake to walk into that particular bar the second she stepped through the door. She was hit with a wall of smoke, and what didn't stink of ash and vomit smelled like thirty years of sweat and grime and drunken debauchery. The place was decorated in bright red and black and old, carved up wood.
Only in Texas could such a dump be called a bar.
Stu – his name was Stu, she found out later – directed her to the bartender, ordered them both beer, and started jabbering about a football team and Longhorns and Aggies and Bears, oh my. Myka gathered the man was talking about other colleges, but she skipped the experience of the overcrowded state school in favor of Cornell, so she had no idea which ones he was talking about. He obliged her by explaining, even though she never inquired.
When the beer came, she asked for something stronger.
Stu managed to entertain himself perfectly well, and it left her with far too much time to think about all the reasons she was there to begin with.
Fine. Really, it was just one reason.
The woman had played her masterfully, and that had hurt Myka in a way she couldn't put words to. Myka had bought her lies wholesale, and defended her to Pete and Claudia and even Artie because she was, somehow, invested. She'd let her hero worship of the mind that had created her favorite stories blind her to the truth. Until two weeks ago, she would have called H.G. Wells a dear friend.
Friend? Was that word really descriptive enough for what Myka thought she'd found?
Her fascination had gone way beyond simple friendship to a level so deep it scared her. She hadn't felt such a connection to another human being since…
Had she ever felt such a connection? Could she honestly say that Sam had captured her imagination the way Helena had? Could she say she had ever been as awed by the man she'd loved as she had been by that raven-haired demon? How could she have let anyone, even the genius that was H.G. Wells, draw into such a tangled web of deceit?
She downed the rest of her drink quickly, then asked for another. She didn't need to be thinking about that.
"So yeah, you have to rotate crops so you don't deplete the soil, you know? Have to get this complicated balance of nutrients just right or the crops just won't grow right. It's tough – not many people out there are smart enough to figure it out. So, you know, the entire nation depends on my research. Without it, we'd all starve."
"Hardly," Myka replied absently.
Stu shifted in his seat. "What's that? What would you know about it?"
She shrugged. "I know you grow cotton in this state, and I know that of the schools listed at the top of agriculture research, the one across the street isn't among them."
Stu bristled as Myka took another heavy sip. "My program is the finest in the country! And you…what do you do, anyway? You sell books!"
"It's not even the finest in this state, according to what I've read…and I remember everything I read. I might sell books now, but I was a Secret Service agent until a month ago. An eidetic memory comes in handy for a job like that."
"A…what memory? "
Another swig. "A photographic memory, except better. Not that you'll remember."
She heard a snort from her left. The bartender was snickering as he poured someone a drink.
Stu was quiet for a long moment, then he chugged what was left of his beer and drank the one Myka had never touched.
"You know what, it's fine. It's fine. Let's just go back to my place, huh?"
She turned to face him for the first time since she'd walked into the God-forsaken hole in the wall, shock and anger spurring her to narrow her eyes and clench her teeth.
"Excuse me?" The words came out like a hiss, but the man didn't catch the warning.
"Well, I didn't bring you here to watch you drink all night. And only women I've ever seen take on that much whiskey that fast are real loose women. No offense or anything."
It was as hard to believe that he'd uttered such drivel as it was to believe that the person she'd cared for so much – so deeply – had deceived her so deliberately. She felt her blood run hot as rage washed through her body on the heels of the alcohol, over the insult he'd hurled at her and the insult Helena had imparted with her betrayal. She felt like making the idiot suffer for both slights.
Her nostrils flared as she took in a sharp breath, harsh words on the tip of her tongue, when she caught his eyes. They were a muddy hazel, and completely unfamiliar to her. The eyes she wanted as targets for her rage were so dark they were nearly black. The face she wanted to scream at was pale alabaster, not sunburned and stubbly.
She decided to end their conversation quickly.
"You know what, Stu? I'm gay. Now leave me alone."
She stopped paying attention to him after that, but gathered that he must have left when the bartender came back over and collected money that hadn't been there before. She swirled what was left of her drink, listened to the slight clink of the ice against the glass, and finished it off.
Her heart still ached.
The bartender laid a hand on hers. "If you don't mind me sayin, Darlin', you look like a woman who lost something recently. Whoever he was, I'm sorry for your loss."
The ache grew, and Myka's eyes filled with tears. Had it been so obvious the whole time? Had that Neanderthal subjected her to bad company because he was just that dense?
"Let me get you one more. On the house. I'll make it strong…then I'll call ya a cab."
She nodded, grateful for the kindness and shocked at how relieved she was to have it. She felt as miserable and lost as she had when Sam had died. Then, like now, she had attempted to bury herself in tasks until she could deal with the grief.
H.G. Wells wasn't dead, but Helena was. The woman survived, but her friend was gone.
Maybe what hurt most was that her friendship had been an illusion all along.
With the next drink came intoxication, and she nearly cried in relief when it finally, mercifully, hit her. By the bottom of the glass, she could feel nothing, and that alone made her happier than she had been in weeks. The young bartender ran her card and escorted her to the waiting taxi, and when she got back to her hotel she stripped out of her foul-smelling clothes, and climbed directly into bed. Her hair still smelled like the bar, but the lingering effects of the whiskey were enough that she didn't have to care.
Tomorrow, she'd try something different – maybe she'd dye her hair or straighten it or something just for a change – and then she'd go home and lose herself in inventory until she was ready to deal with her shame and grief.
Until then, unconsciousness was an acceptable form of escape.
Title (and story premise) derived from the lyrics of Grace is Gone by Dave Matthews Band.
As a side note, I didn't buy into the possibility of Myka and H.G. having anything other than a friendship until that season finale. In fact, if I shipped anything on this show, it was Pete/Myka, but even I couldn't ignore the subtext in the last few minutes of Season 3. It's been absolutely insidious. I've resisted writing something since October.
Of course, this all caught the attention of my muses, and now they just won't shut up.
This is - hopefully - it for Warehouse 13 from me...but the 42 pages of dialogues and outlines on my hard drive suggest that's wishful thinking. Much like Myka, the alcohol is just deluding me into believing I can go on with my regularly scheduled life.
That's just foolish.