We All Have Our Time Machines
"What's past is prologue. What to come in yours and my discharge."
Helena turned her hand in Myka's and gave it a gentle, comforting squeeze. "What did you find, anyway?" she finally asked, returning to the original topic.
The younger woman glanced down at the book, lifting it slightly. "G.K. Chesterton's Tremendous Trifles."
Helena's head fell backward against the chair as an odd look crossed her face. For a moment, Myka was afraid she had said something wrong, and that the melancholy would return.
But then, very softly, she began to speak again.
"All pessimism has a secret optimism for its object. All surrender of life, all denial of pleasure, all darkness, all austerity, all desolation has for its real aim this separation of something so that it may be poignantly and perfectly enjoyed."
Helena paused long enough to find and hold the younger woman's gaze.
"The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost."
Myka's heart dropped just a bit as the meaning of her words sank in. The captivating gaze retreated to the roof.
"You're familiar with the essays, then."
"That one, yes. I had the privilege of reading it after Gilbert wrote it."
And then, the sadness did return, but something else flared to life deep within Helena's eyes, as well. It was a light, one that Myka had never seen there before, and though its growth was hindered by strands of sadness, it still managed to thrive.
"We're in quite the melancholy mood tonight, aren't we, my dear?" The light held mirth, but was made of many things.
It was made of the pain of losing something precious and important, stretched out to infinity, and the unquenchable hope of finding something beautiful despite the loss. It consisted of the fire in Helena's spirit splayed against the darkness in her soul. She could see the past reflected back, a lifetime locked up with grief over love that lasted but a fraction of that same time. She had that very thing, once, a love that was lost far too soon. It was different, yet familiar.
After a few more moments, the darkness was pushed away completely, and the light that remained in Helena Wells' eyes was breathtakingly brilliant. But it didn't linger: Helena was far too stubborn to allow her own emotional barriers to come down for that long. In its place was something rich and warm, but only the embers of that inferno Myka had witnessed moments before remained.
In the aftermath, the women simply stared at one another, hands clasped, content to let the space between them write its own story.
Claudia was the first to move.
In a motion so fast it could hardly be seen by the naked eye, she wrapped Steve in a crushing bear hug. Jinks was relieved to see her and happy to be back in the warehouse despite his unusual state of dress, but as her hug lingered far longer than a simple greeting should, the past began to seep back into his consciousness as her warmth slowly defrosted his body.
"What the hell just happened?"
He remembered the hangar, the office, watching H.G. Wells come back to herself from that coin. He remembered the halfhearted thank you that Sykes had given him just before Tyler's strangled cry of terror interrupted whatever else he meant to do.
A fight came next. He had knocked a gun out of Marcus's hand when he caught sight of a familiar red head coming up the stairs, then joined Claudia and Pete in fending the undead bodyguard off. It had been H.G. Wells that had found the box and stopped whatever device was inside it, conveniently stopping their adversary's heart, as well.
But by that time, Sykes was at the back door, and he had control of Myka through that riding crop.
He remembered dying next.
And then he remembered a foggy place with a cobblestone street and two very familiar people telling him to go home.
"I...I think Myka and H.G. Wells sent me back from the dead." His eyes darted from person to person as their shock deepened. "As strange as that sounds."
Claudia finally backed away, a poignantly familiar look on her face. He'd seen it in a Wyoming forest once, just as she thought he was about to kill her.
She looked betrayed.
"What? What did I miss?"
"She's dead? H.G. is dead?"
"I…" he looked to Pete for help, but he was just as stunned. "They didn't say much. They just looked…happy, I guess."
"I still don't get it. How are you even alive? We didn't give you the bread or the wine. Steve…you should still be dead."
But Mrs. Frederic approached him, a platter in her hand, and bid him to eat and drink. He did as he was told…mostly because he'd crossed the woman once, and he was playing a role, and even though it was scripted, he never wanted to see that side of the caretaker again. He chewed on the tasteless, hard crust and drank the too-sweet wine, and the warmth that had left when Claudia pulled away came back to him. The greyish pallor of his skin slowly eased into something that looked a little pinker and alive.
His heart stared beating again, and it was in that moment that he realized that he'd been, for a few minutes, something like Marcus Diamond, an undead being.
"This job just gets weirder and weirder," he muttered.
"You wouldn't have lasted like that," Mrs. Frederic told him, as if reading his mind. He raised his eyebrow, but hid the rest of his face behind the cup of wine that was still slowly bringing his body back to life.
"Miss Wells was unsuccessful in convincing Myka to return to the world of the living, it seems. In her place, she selected an alternate."
Claudia set her eyes on her boss and curled her hands into angry fists. "You knew," she spat. "You knew it would cost her life, and you let her go anyway! You knew what they would choose all along!"
"Life always demands a price, Claudia. Always. And...I suspected, yes. They are two very stubborn people. The choices they've made already led me to believe that the process of bringing one back would not be so simple as switching places, and that in that complication neither would depart the afterlife without the other."
"But…but to lose Myka? To lose either of them…the price is too high. Mrs. Frederic, I was prepared to die for the Warehouse. They should have left me there."
"Take no offense to this, Agent Jinks, but I do not believe the choice to restore you was made as a sacrifice. Rather, I suspect this was the only acceptable resolution those two could come to."
Steve finished the wine and set the glass down. Pete came to a seat on the cold cement floor, his head in his hands.
"So…that's it?" he asked. "We lost them both?"
Mrs. Frederic didn't reply immediately. She merely stood in place, wearing the closest thing any of them had ever seen her come to a smile, and breathed deeply.
"Do you smell that?" she asked.
The pair of spirits stood hand in hand in their foggy refuge beneath the streetlight. Helena had no trouble convincing Myka that Agent Jinks needed to be restored to life, and when the solution was presented to the puzzlemaster beside them, he nodded his head in approval.
It had been a rushed reunion, but it was for the best. Steve needed to live, and too many questions stood good odds of preventing that.
"What happens now?" Myka asked of their companion.
"The paradox that the pair of you created is at an end." He responded. "With that puzzle solved, I believe it is time we part ways. You must both travel your own paths. I must travel mine."
Helena let go of Myka's hand just long enough to embrace her mentor, and the older man returned the hug.
"I have missed your friendship, my dear," he said.
"As I have missed yours."
"Please do take care of yourself. And you, as well, Miss Bering."
Helena turned back to the other woman, hand outstretched. Myka's mouth was open to respond as she reached toward the offered arm.
Then, as if she were made of the mists that surrpunded them, she vanished.
In that horrible moment, she realized they had never discussed the nature of the afterlife, nor had they discussed whether or not this place of crossings would lead them in different directions.
"Chaturanga? What does this mean?"
He smiled demurely. "Goodbye, my dear. Be safe."
He, too, evaporated as the dense fog closed in. The darkness squeezed upon her place under the streetlamp like a collapsing wall, suffocating what little light remained. Her feet scraped against the cobblestone as she backed into the lightpole, placing herself as close to that waning flicker as possible.
Within moments, the fog swallowed everything, and she was pitched into a heavy darkness.
The agents were all pitched sideways as the Warehouse shuddered. Metal twisted and groaned, artifacts and boxes shook and clattered, and light the mighty roar of a thunderclap, the Warehouse bellowed in protest.
"What was that?" Arite asked suspiciously, eyes darting from shelf to shelf.
Claudia rushed to the nearest backup terminal and, within a few keystrokes, had some answers. "Major artifact disturbance, Bronze Sector." She frowned. "How can a bunch of statues kick up a disturbance like that?"
"I suggest we find out!" Mrs. Frederic said, shouting over her shoulder as she raced to the source.
The group navigated the aisles until they reached the epicenter of the quake, finding a single overturned statue on the platform when they arrived. Walter Sykes's bronze form lay awkwardly on its head, the heavy bulk of the rest of him weighing down upon the weakest point.
"Oh, crap! The bomb!"
"No, we're safe." Artie held his hand out to Claudia as she rushed forward. "If that thing were going to blow up thanks to that little rattle, we'd be toast by now. But…"
Pete tilted his head awkwardly, matching his position to that of the statue in front of them. "That looks like it hurt."
"I actually doubt he felt anything. And…I doubt he'll be feeling anything ever again." Artie pushed his glasses further up his nose as he neared the statue. "I'm pretty sure our friend here is dead."
"I mean, I'm not gonna cry over him or anything," Steve said, "but…what? You expect me to believe the Warehouse killed Sykes?"
"Indeed it did."
Steve glanced at his boss and frowned, deeply concerned. "On purpose?"
The warehouse shook again, and Jinks cast his concern upward.
"You missed the whole conversation, Jinxy. Apparently, the Warehouse plays favorites."
"Great," the blonde agent responded. "Remind me not to piss it off."
Artie stood and backed away from the overturned statue, coming to a stop next to his supervisor. "Mrs. Frederic, what did the Warehouse do?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but instead pitched over in pain. As the Warehouse began to shudder one more time, the rest of the agents converged around the caretaker.
"Leena? Leena!" Artie grabbed the woman's wrist desperately. "Can you tell what's happening?"
The innkeeper shook her head. "No. She's different. I can't really read her like I can the rest of you, but…there's something around her that isn't usually there."
"Is it an artifact? Can we stop it?"
Leena shook her head. "I don't think so. I think this has more to do with her connection to the Warehouse than anything."
The shaking stopped abruptly, and after a few calming gulps, so too did its human connection to the world.
Artie, Claudia, Pete, Leena and Steve waited in silence for the woman to speak, afraid to ask for answers they weren't sure they really wanted to hear. Their fear turned to confusion, however, when the woman stood to her full height and genuinely grinned at them.
"Well now," she remarked. "That was an unexpected turn of events."
She skirted the edge of consciousness, aware of little, but slowly becoming aware of more. At her fingertips, she found soft fabric. At her cheek, a comfortable warmth. Her mind supplied the details of a bed in a room bathed in light.
Perhaps she had found heaven.
Her eyes were sluggish to open, and part of her wanted to revel in the illusion she had created for herself for as long as possible. Opening her eyes left the possibility of disappointment. In her dream world, she could add whichever detail she wanted. The warmth beneath her cheek could be Myka's long body, sleeping soundly and safely in her arms. They could be at a beach, on an island, with a clear blue sky during the day and endless stars at night.
As sound and other senses began to engage, however, her dream world faded until she was forced to accept whatever reality she had been thrown into.
When she opened her eyes, she was disappointed to find at first blurred, grey shadows completely unlike the bright white linens of her imaginary sland retreat. After a few moments and several blinks, her new world came into focus, and she gasped.
She was in the Warehouse, in the exact same place she had left.
For a moment, she thought she had failed in her task utterly, not only leaving Myka to the eternal Underworld, but somehow failing to make her intentions to stay there clear enough for the ruler of that place to hear it. The thought left her mind as her brain engaged, finally. The softness at her fingertips was fabric – the sheet that covered Myka's body was pressed between her own palm and that of her friend's, their fingers clasped together. The warmth at her cheek had been the warmth of another human body, alive and whole and breathing.
And at the head of the table, where Myka's head lay in a nest of dark, thick hair, her sickly grey complexion had been repainted by a faint but lively blush.
She was alive. Myka was alive.
As the realization washed over her like a hundred years of relief, the red lips of her sleeping beauty parted to whisper a single word.
A moment later, those beautiful green eyes opened, filling her own soul and every corner of her world with light.
Warehouse 13 was a living thing, and all living things make choices.
Mrs. Frederic had explained it to them all once they reached Artie's office. The Warehouse had sacrificed Walter Sykes to the Underworld to bring one soul back, and then sacrificed its own, in a way, to bring back the other.
Irene Frederic shared a special bond with the sentient Warehouse. She communicated with it on a level no other could. That self-awareness was transferred to her – she was the Warehouse now, in spirit. The building itself would still have its safeguards, its "autonomic responses," as the caretaker had phrased it, and would eventually redevelop its personality.
But that would take time – centuries, perhaps – and she was to act as its conscience in the meantime.
"A life for a life," she had said.
The warehouse was a living thing that made its own choices, and like those made by humans, some could never be understood.
They could all, however, appreciate the gifts that those choices had given them.
The celebration lasted well into the evening. Leena cooked up a feast unlike any other, Artie cooked a dozen kinds of cookies, and Pete and Claudia pulled every stop in creating a proper party atmosphere. Even the mystical caretaker had participated, assisting the chefs in the creation of their wonderful meal..or, at least, watching them as they prepared it. The remaining three kept to themselves, each a little freaked out by the day's turn of events, but each more than grateful to be back amongst the living, in each other's company, and home.
After dinnertime, they each retreated to change into more comfortable clothing. Myka was the last to come back down. She'd taken a long shower, and a long look at herself in the mirror, surveying the traces left by her dances with death. There was a fading gash on her forehead from the rock Pete had thrown at her in Wyoming, as well as a few scrapes earned from running through the woods. These, in time, would heal and fade away.
The wound over her heart, angry and puckered despite being cleanly sealed, would probably never fade away.
Her finger brushed over the marred patch of flesh, tracing its roughness and texture, before she sighed and pulled a tshirt over her head. She was glad to be back, happy that all was set right and that Steve and Helena were alive again. But Myka would be lying if she denied still being a little haunted by the past, by the hours spent locked in her own memories at her windowsill, by the memory of shooting Steve and being shot by Sykes.
"Hey Mykes! Are you coming back down, or do we have to go up there and drag you out?"
She smiled to herself as she shouted back a response, and locked the memories away in her room.
She descended the steps quickly, noting the squeak of that third step as she always did, and was surprised by what she found below. Claudia had a playlist of very modern rock music blaring from some speakers attached to her laptop, keys clattering as she did some form of last minute work. Pete, no surprise, was eating cookies by the handful, chatting lightly with a refreshed-looking Steve while dodging Artie's attempts to get him to save some of the cookies for others. Mrs. Frederic seemed to have left, pulling her characteristic disappearing act. Helena was helping Leena pick up the last of the dinner dishes.
"Your ears aren't bleeding," she said, coming to a stop beside her friend.
"Quite the surprise to me, as well, darling," she responded, a smile finding its way to her lips. "Apparently my alter-ego was quite fond of the Foos."
Myka's head tilted at Helena's turn of phrase. Claudia laughed.
"Dude, I was as shocked as you are."
Pete waved a cookie. "Yeah…Emily Lake didn't seem like the type of person that would like rock music."
"Her tastes were rather eclectic, it seems." The former-Emily rebutted.
"Yeah, well, you dressed like a librarian." Pete frowned. "And screamed like one."
"Emily Lake had never seen a gun before, Agent Lattimer."
Pete scrunched his nose in disgust as his head reared backwards. "Okay, that has to stop. No more Agent Lattimer, no more Peter. Call me Pete."
Myka couldn't stop the grin that broke across her face. Even before Yellowstone, when they were all at their friendliest, Helena had never called Pete by his first name, and she doubted her partner had wanted her to.
Helena, for her part, frowned back. "May I retain Peter?"
"Nope. Makes me sound too stuck up."
"Or like a perpetual ten year old that flies around in green tights," Claudia added. "Come to think of it, that first part's right."
Pete and Claudia began to bicker, and Helena produced a demure smile as they did. You devious woman, Myka thought. She watched the scene for a moment, genuinely entertaine dfor the first time in what felt like forever, before placing her hand on the smaller woman's shoulder. When Helena's attention was caught, she threw her head toward the porch. "I think I want to go outside and stargaze for a while. Would you like to join me?"
"Darling, I would love nothing more."
They slipped out the back door, picked a dark, distant corner to block out light, and sat together on a double bench. The air was chilly, kept company by that slight bite that heralded a changing season. They drew closer to one another, sat so close together that neither was certain where one ended and the other began, but did not do so strictly for warmth.
"So," Helena breathed after some time, her left hand conjoined with Myka's right.
"So..." the taller woman drawled, smiling.
"This is nice."
Myka looked away from the sky to watch her companion. Her dark eyes were searching the heavens, but it was an idle study. She was being watched through the corner of an eye. The Secret Service agent tilted her head, wondering what it was that Helena was really looking for, and was rewarded with a secretive smile.
"It's not your style to make casual conversation."
Helena sighed and threw her attention back to the sky.
"I have always wondered what was beyond the heavens. I imagined when I was younger I might even explore them, touch cosmic dust, run it through my hands...discover what the very fabric of the universe was made of."
Myka glanced back at the glittering stars before settling her attention again on Helena's precelain face.
"What did you think it was made of? Green cheese?"
The question earned a short bark of laughter. "No, but they have these lovely radio telescopes now that have begun to sift through that stardust piece by piece in search of those answers."
There was another laugh, this one with less mirth.
"Imagine such a thing. Using nose and formless dischord to reason the meaning of the universe."
There was a hint of something tragis in nher words, as there was so often with the woman beside her. "It was hard, wasn't it? Adjusting to all our noise?"
Helena shook her head. "No. Not hard. It was maddening. Between the constant clanging of modern means and the wild chaos within my own mind, it was a wonder that I was able to think at all."
It had occurred to Myka that the world must sound different when Helena had first arrived in her life. That concern was a very large part of what had motivated her to give the woman an iPod as a gift, and stock it full of an entire century full of music.
She felt the slender shoulders next to her own shrug. "Now it's part of life. White noise, as you would call it. I've learned to tune it all out. Though I must admit, I had never thought it would be necessary. In my vision of the modern utopia, nose was never a consideration."
Myka drew Helena's chin to face her with two fingers. "You can still create it, you know. You really do have so much to offer the world. You can do anything you want! You could just invent things and sell them, or you could write, or go work for NASA or something."
Her hand fell away from the other woman's face, dropping and landing over their joined hands.
"Or...maybe...you could come back to work here, and more or less do all of that in your free time, anyway."
Helena tilted her head as a wistful smile bloomed across her face. "Perhaps," she said. "I think I would like that. But I do also think I need to…gather myself, for lack of a better phrase. Take some time to readjust to being myself without some madman running loose bent on destroying the things I love."
"Where would you go?"
She smiled. "A beach, perhaps. A secluded island paradise for an extended holiday, with as little modern convenience as I care to bring and the sounds of the sea and the wind." Dark eyes darted back to green. "Does that sound mad?"
Myka smiled and pat her hand. "Not at all. Even normal people dream of getting away from it all sometimes. I think you'll get whatever you need."
"And…you? Would you come with me, if I asked you to?"
There was hope in Helena's eyes, a warm light that was such a rare and fleeting thing in the past. Myka had only ever seen it once, and then only briefly. It grew and flared and shined brightly, and it warmed her to the core.
That blinding light was love, she realized, and as her own heart was filled to the point of explosion with excitement and joy and wonder, she knew her own eyes must hold the same light.
Myka stood, pulling Helena gently from her own seat by their clasped hands. Tentatively, gently, she ran her fingers along her companion's jawline, awed by the searing heat that came from the small points of contact. At last, her palm came to rest against Helena's cheek.
"I would follow you anywhere," she whispered.
There had been, once, a moment between the two of them that was meant to teach a poignant lesson. The consequences of failing to heed that lesson, the consequences of leaving things unsaid between them, would haunt both their dreams for a long time. And beyond the demons of their past, beyond the memories of fire and blood, there would always be other hazards. Their lives were as dangerous as they were exciting. Through that danger, they had to resolve to live and love as if it could all be lost in a moment...because it already had been.
And even if they both survived to old age, together, one day it would be again.
Myka stroked her love's face lightly with her thumb before she leaned in to finally capture Helena's lips with her own. Some time later, when both women came apart for air, Helena tugged at their joined hands, leading them inside the now-silent house, through the dining room and parlor, and up the stairs.
The third step creaked loudly when they reached it, but through the rush of blood and the sound of her own fluttering heart, Myka never noticed.