Chapter Twelve: Cut Off

AN: College + medical bs = delay. More thanks than I can ever sufficiently express to elizabethlives for accompanying me this far, but the rest of this journey must be made alone. Also, I swear that the ending of this chapter just wrote itself. I just sat at the keyboard and typed it.
...

Artie wasn't bothered or even surprised by Pete's announcement of Claudia's continued contact with Myka, but when he heard that it was because Myka was on a mission from Mrs. Frederic, he leapt to his feet from his seat at the dining room table, and Leena had to catch his chair before it could hit the floor. No matter how much Claudia tried to explain, he just couldn't seem to comprehend her involvement.

"Why would Mrs. Frederic pick you?!" he raged. "You're just a kid! You're not even an agent!"

"A 'kid' who happens to know the Warehouse computer system inside-out!" Claudia shot back, affronted.

"Only because McPherson helped you hack it," Artie spat, his words uncharacteristically venomous.

Claudia flinched, stung. With equal vitriol, she snapped, "It wasn't all with his help. And maybe the reason I know it is because while you sit on your ass eating cookies, I actually work on cataloguing the artifacts!"

Even as Leena was covering her mouth to hide a smirk, Artie was swelling up like a very red balloon. He was about to unleash what was sure to be a rather explosive tirade when –

"Arthur…"

The familiar, commanding tone caused him to immediately deflate, and he turned around with the expression of a schoolboy with his hand caught in the cookie jar – the one Claudia rightly accused him of being so fond of.

"Mrs. Frederic," Claudia acknowledged, shocking the others with her use of the woman's full name. Even the Caretaker raised an eyebrow before turning to Artie.

"Whether you like it or not, Claudia is acting under my orders, and I did indeed swear her to secrecy…a confidentiality Mr. Lattimer has now broken," she added, giving Pete a pointed look. That he didn't even had the decency to look ashamed caused the Caretaker's other eyebrow to rise and Leena's jaw to drop. Declining to comment on what could be considered an act of insubordination, however small, Mrs. Frederic turned to address Claudia.

"You have sent Agent Bering your final findings, have you not?" She inquired, and Claudia nodded. "Good. Keep those findings close and to yourself."

"What was she researching?" Artie demanded, apparently forgetting whom he was talking to.

Mrs. Frederic turned to him, once again arching an eyebrow, but this time with slow imperiousness. "You do know the definition of the word 'confidentiality', do you not?" Put in his place, Artie sat down with a sheepish expression. "And everyone else understands this?" Leena gave her a vigorous nod, but Pete's affirmation was reluctant. "Good. I'm glad this has been cleared up," the Caretaker finished, her tone indicating that the discussion would go no further as she turned and left the dining room.

After a moment of indecision, Claudia went after her. "Mrs.–"

But when she turned the corner, the woman was – as usual – gone.

Pursing her lips in frustration, she turned to see Pete standing in the doorway. Frustration became unrestrained anger. "You've ruined everything, Pete!" she screamed, finally letting her tears fall. "EVERYTHING!" Her fury was such that she gave no thought to twisting the knife she'd just thrown. "I was helping Myka, and you were so selfish that you went and tattled like the jealous four-year-old you are! What, so if you can't talk to her, nobody can? You're such a fucking child, Pete! Myka is on the most important mission of her life! Everything that's ever mattered to her is on the line, and if she fails, it will be because of YOU!"

The stricken look of realization and horror on Pete's face gave her such cold satisfaction that it made her sick. Turning on her heel like a relay runner, Claudia sprinted across the hall and took the stairs two at a time.

Locking herself in her room, she opened her laptop and immediately began protecting her research. Claudia encrypted everything – her work on the mystery artifact, the differing copies of HG's file, and the author's coded message – before containing it within lock after lock and password after randomly changing password. Finally, and with some regret, she rigged it all so that one mistake in any step would cause everything to self-destruct, reasoning that since Myka had a copy it wouldn't be completely lost.

After eradicating every single trace of her electronic research and what few indications remained of her communications with Myka, she sent a final text to the woman's burner phone.

Myks-

Pete found me out. Mrs F covered. cant talk again. ur on ur own. good luck. luv u.

-Claud

After sending the message and wiping the number from her phone's memory, Claudia curled up on her bed and sobbed herself to exhaustion.

...

"My goodness, Myka, where on Earth are you?"

Myka looked behind her at the crumbling wall of her hotel room and the tattered curtains making feeble movements in the hot wind. "I'm…east," Myka said, turning back to Helena and trying not to grin.

"Uh-huh…" Helena drew out. She was trying to look over Myka's shoulder at the newspaper on her bed: it was obviously in a different language, as it was written with a different alphabet. It looked familiar to her, but she couldn't quite place it before Myka knocked the paper out of sight.

"Helena!"

The dark-haired woman chuckled. "You can't blame me for trying, darling." She arched an eyebrow. "I know you're good with languages, but I can't imagine that you speak all of them…"

Myka flushed, twirling one of her curls around her finger. "I've been using Frederick Saussure's comb – not too much," she assured her. "Just enough that I can get around."

Helena tilted her head as she gave the brunette a scrutinizing frown. "I don't know, I think you may be using it a bit too much…" She ran her finger over her own upper lip as if indicating the presence of something foreign. Myka clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide, and she leapt from the bed to check the bathroom mirror. There was a pause, then –

"Helenaaaaaaaa!" Myka whined, and the dark-haired woman burst out laughing, nearly collapsing on her own bed. She was still laughing when the brunette reappeared, her nose wrinkled in the resigned scowl of one who'd just been had.

"Oh, you are just too gullible, darling," Helena grinned.

"And you are far too pleased with yourself, Ms. Wells," Myka remarked, pursing her lips. The author pinched her fingers together in a "little bit" gesture, and it was the agent's turn to chuckle.

"It's safe to guess though, darling, that you're getting closer to your goal?" Helena prompted. But instead of the sly grin she'd been expecting, the brunette's laughter faded into a look of solemn anguish. "Myka?"

"Helena, I…" Myka bit her lip and looked away for a moment. When her eyes met Helena's again, they were shining with tears. The breath she took was shaky. "If…when I find what I'm looking for…I won't be able to contact you again – even with the lantern, it'll be too dangerous. I…" She tried to take another steadying breath, but again, she shook. "This is the last time we'll be able to talk before the trial."

Helena felt her heart twist. Her nightly correspondences with Myka were what kept her sane. The knowledge that each evening brought the brunette's smiling face was what kept Helena going through each monotonous, solitary day. To have that ripped away from her…

The dark-haired author put on the bravest face she could. She knew that, were she to show how much this disconnection would unravel her fragile happiness, Myka would immediately blame herself and take unnecessary risks to keep in contact. Steeling herself, Helena forced a reassuring smile. "Well, at least I have your letters to keep me company. I only wish you could have something similar of mine."

Myka, realizing what Helena was doing and marveling at the woman's strength, forced a smile of her own. "I'll buy a copy of The Time Machine," she decided, "and when I read it, I'll remember how you read it to me."

The smile Helena returned was one of genuine happiness, and the two women gazed into each other's eyes for a few moments, each savoring the distant but tangible presence of the other. Then the dark-haired woman cleared her throat in an effort to fight back tears. "There's still one thing we have left to do, darling."

The look Myka gave her was both wary and intrigued. "And that would be?"

"You have to tell me a story." Helena adjusted herself into a more comfortable position on her bed and rested her chin in her hands, every bit the attentive listener.

Myka chuckled, shaking her head. "What story should I tell?" she asked, trying to hide her nervousness. As well as the brunette knew and loved Helena, she was still the great author HG Wells.

Said author saw right through the brunette's feigned nonchalance. "Anything, darling," Helena coaxed, her voice gentle.

Myka took a deep breath, still unsure, but then Helena smiled at her, and the brunette knew. The woman she loved had trusted her with the most passionate, painful, soul-revealing story she had. Now Myka would do the same.

Though the nervousness had not left her completely, the brunette began with surety. "Once upon a time there was a girl named Myka. Myka's parents loved books and owned their own bookstore, so Myka learned to read and love reading when she was very little. But her father always seemed disappointed in her for some reason, even though her mom assured Myka that he loved her just as much as he loved her younger sister, Tracy. So when her father was feeling especially disappointed or when Myka was feeling especially alone – or both – she lost herself in a book."

Despite the sadness Helena felt for a young, lonely Myka, the author smiled at the image of the brunette wedged in a corner with a huge book propped in her lap, oversized reading glasses perched on her nose while she tried to keep her riot of curls from obscuring her vision.

"Myka read everything she could get her hands on," the agent continued, "from Alice in Wonderland and Little Women to Shakespeare and Euripides. She sailed with pirates, journeyed through the center of the Earth, met Lilliputians, and travelled in time machines." This she said with an eyebrow-raise and a sideways smile at Helena, whose own smile broadened in return. "She found that answers to so many of her questions and solutions to so many of her problems were hidden in the works of her favorite authors, woven into the words for her to find, comprehend, and learn from."

And so Myka continued, telling Helena of her ascent through adolescence and college until she ultimately decided to join the Secret Service. And then came Sam and Denver and guilt.

"I still don't know how I could justify sleeping with him…justify why I did. He promised me he'd leave her, but he didn't want to hurt her, but we already were…. I don't doubt that he loved me, but I think he still loved her a little bit, too. And then there was the mission, and he was too early, and I was too late…and then his wife didn't find out about…until the funeral…" The brunette wasn't even conscious of the tears running down her face, tears she thought she'd long since spent.

"His death wasn't your fault, Myka," Helena soothed, her voice soft. "You couldn't have predicted what happened. You know as well as I how easily the people we love can be taken from us."

Myka reached from the bed and put her fingertips against the globe of the lamp. Helena met and mirrored them with her own as the two women shared each other's sorrows. After a few moments of silence and a shared gaze, the brunette continued her story: about meeting Pete and teaming up with him on what was supposed to be a typical assignment but turned out quite differently. "And that," Myka said with a wry grin, "was how I ended up at the Warehouse."

Myka spent the next hour or so regaling Helena with tales of her and Pete's exploits – some exciting, some terrifying, some hilarious, some all of the above, and all of them Warehouse-class strange. Helena found herself laughing and crying and on the edge of her seat all at once. She held her breath all through Myka's account of her adventure with Lewis Carroll's mirror and ached for her when she was once again faced with the guilt of Sam's death. She couldn't help but laugh at the misadventure within the Warehouse when it nearly broke down – like Artie, she admitted to having the same experience with a few fellow agents – and lauded Claudia's ingenuity at using the alternate B&B as headquarters from which she could talk to Myka. When the agent told the story of Edgar Allan Poe's journal and pen, Helena couldn't help but feel proud of Myka and how she had reconciled with her father, and told her as much.

The story of Artie's near-death and how McPherson had actually saved him by slipping the Phoenix Talisman into his pocket stunned Helena at first, but after a moment of thought, she came to a conclusion right as Myka asked the corresponding question. "Why save him? Why would McPherson save Artie if he hated him so much?"

"Two reasons, I think," Helena replied. "One, because despite everything, Artie had still been a friend, once; and two…he wanted to make him suffer." At Myka's startled look, Helena elaborated, "McPherson never told me about Artie and the Phoenix Talisman, but based on his…" she choked, "…our plan, I can guess that he probably wanted Artie there to see his victory – for his once-good friend to feel ultimate failure before the world ended with the hope – however small – of starting anew. It was his revenge." Helena gave a short laugh, though it was devoid of any humor. "How horribly ironic that…our vision of a better, kinder world was to be implemented with such an act of cruelty.

Wizard's Second Rule, Myka thought, but said nothing, knowing Helena wouldn't get the reference. Instead, she pressed her fingertips against the lantern globe again. "Helena…whether anyone else believes it or not right now, you weren't yourself when you were following McPherson's plan – not really. Your judgment was clouded by pain. You wrote it yourself: it was like a blessing. You would find the peace you sought and take the world with you. Your years in Bronze, your years suffering – it's more than any one person can or should bear. You deserve another chance, Helena – a chance to heal, and I will make the Regents see that."

Even if she wanted to, Helena couldn't have stopped the tears rolling down her face. "Oh, my dearest Myka." Even amidst painful memories and with an ocean between them, her smile was joyous. "If I deserve that chance, it's because of you. You taught me how to love again."

Myka's own smile was blinding, and the two women once again fell into a shared gaze of love and longing, letting their emotions fill the silence speaking for them. Only when the waves of longing devotion had stilled did Myka take up the tale again, describing how she and the rest of the Warehouse team had tracked HG to England and learned that she was a woman.

Myka smiled despite the nature of the memory. "Even though you had Pete hostage, the first thing I thought when I saw you was that you were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen," she admitted, her face flushing.

Helena chuckled. "I was thinking much along the same lines, darling – or curves, as it were," she amended with purr, giving Myka as much of a once-over as she could.

"Helena!" the brunette pretended to protest, placing a hand to her chest in a scandalized gesture. This only made Helena chuckle again.

The agent prudently skipped the story of being stuck to the ceiling (though she admitted that, despite her distress at being trapped, the fact that technology from HG's books actually existed had secretly thrilled her) and of McPherson's demise, instead continuing to when they met at the university.

"Really, dear, if you wanted to participate in autoerotic asphyxiation, all you had to do was ask," Helena interrupted, her face the picture of innocence. Myka couldn't even say the other woman's name this time – only make a few strangled noises and bury her head in her hands as Helena laughed.

"Helena Wells, you are absolutely incorrigible," she finally groaned.

"And you wouldn't have it any other way," Helena smirked.

"No, I wouldn't," Myka agreed. "You did sweep me off my feet, after all." Both women smiled at the memory. Despite the danger of the moment, it had been the moment each had realized the nature of their feelings about each other, even if neither of them – not even Helena – was ready to admit it at the time. "And I really was coveting your grappler," Myka admitted.

"I knew you were," Helena chuckled. "Though what I found more interesting was your comment to the scientist later on – about me being an agent under you, doing whatever you say…"

Myka blushed, even as she smirked. "It was an unconscious slip at the time, but I regret nothing." Both women laughed again, then sighed as they gazed at each other. "You told me that day to keep an open mind," the brunette continued. "And I knew you were talking about returning to the Warehouse, but part of me…part of me heard it as keeping an open mind about you…and me."

Helena's smile was so loving that for a moment Myka felt she was there beside her, the raven-haired woman cradling her in a tender embrace. "Part of me meant it that way," she murmured, and Myka's smile was blinding.

...

The story, as all stories must, finally caught up with the two women speaking to each other across thousands of miles. "And so it was that Myka Bering found herself hopelessly in love with the great HG Wells, and was lucky and blessed enough to be loved back. And so it was…" Myka choked on her words, both in sorrow of the not-quite-ending tale and fear of the chapter that came next. "So it was that Myka was forced to take the final step of the journey alone – face the final test that determined success or defeat."

There was a moment of thick silence before Helena murmured, "I believe that last part was incorrect, darling." When Myka gave her a stunned look bordering on incredulous, Helena elaborated, "And so it was that Myka was forced to take the final step of the journey alone in body, but with Helena's love as her constant and forever companion. Despite what she may think, even in times of deepest despair, Myka will never be alone."

Helena was smiling as she pressed her fingertips to the globe of the lantern, even as tears filled her eyes. Myka, whose own tears were streaming down her cheeks, reached out to meet the semblance of Helena's touch, the dark-haired woman's smile encouraging a shaky one of her own. Without needing to speak, both women leaned towards the globes of their lanterns and pressed their lips against the glass, eyes open as they savored the kiss they could only wish for.

"I love you," they spoke together, and the simultaneity brought smiles to their faces.

As when Helena shared the novel of her heart, the two had talked until it was dawn for Helena and dusk for Myka. Neither was ready to let go of the other, inevitable as it was.

"I'm coming back for you, Helena," Myka promised, her voice fierce even as a murmur. "I will return to you and I will never leave your side."

"I know, darling. I'll be right here waiting for you." Helena kissed the glass of the lantern once more. "I love you, Myka Bering. You're never alone."

Myka returned the kiss, both women's hearts crying out for more. "I love you, too, Helena Wells. Keep me close to your heart, and you'll never be alone, either."

And then, as if overloaded by the hours of emotion sent across the distance, both lanterns went dark in bursts of sparks and smoke.

Helena gaped at the broken lantern, her heart having stopped the moment the light went out. "No…no…" She grabbed the artifact and shook it. "No, Myka, come back! Come back!"

Again and again she shook the lantern and tried the knob until she let it slip from her hands, defeated. Helena fell back on her bed and curled into a ball, shaking and sobbing and chanting Myka's name over and over. A moment of cognizance made her reach under her pillow for the letters imbued with Myka's voice and Helena clutched them to her even as she cried, clinging to the soft words of love reaching her in a jumbled murmur. But the sobs wrenching her heart drove her to exhaustion before Myka's soothing whispers did.

The scream that left Myka's throat was one of pain and anger and anguish and heartbreak all shredded and re-mangled into sound. She lifted the lantern and was about to throw it into the wall when she stopped – not because she cared about damaging an artifact, but because it was the only thing left that connected her to Helena, even if it no longer did.

Falling back on her own bed, Myka clutched the lantern to her chest and curled her body around it, rocking back and forth as she sobbed for the woman she loved. She was still clinging to the last vestige she had of Helena when her tears carried her into an exhausted sleep.

The creation of an artifact – especially a bifurcated artifact – is a rare thing indeed, but for an artifact to be remade is even rarer. Neither woman could have realized that Paul Revere's lanterns, far from breaking, were being enhanced by the love that had been poured into each. Were either Myka or Helena to turn on their lanterns the next day, they would find that they indeed still lit. Were both of them to reach for each other against the glass, they would find that they could feel each other's fingertips, skin against skin. But it was best that they didn't, for their first kiss should not be across oceans, but rather in each other's arms.