Darkness and Light
Over many years living many lives, Helena Wells had learned to embrace the quiet solitude of night.
In the harsh sunshine of the Manhattan summer, new to the city and filled with the joy and terror of finally being free to do as she wished, she found that people stared at her. Perhaps it was her beauty – regal and dignified yet entirely unique, a series of qualities that were useful as an actress. Perhaps it was her indomitable personality, as if wit and intelligence could sparkle in the sunlight like diamonds. Whatever it was that drew the people of New York City to her, she had learned long before her arrival to keep her true self hidden from everyone, and to wear a series of masks in public for her own protection. She named that persona "Emily Lake."
At night, however, the people drew into themselves, or their friends, or their lovers. The sun was set, and nothing in the city shimmered the way it could during the day. The night was when pretense could be dropped and artificial things were revealed with bright colors and sharp contrast. Nighttime in the city was when truths were revealed.
In the time after Christina's death, before Helena Wells met Myka Bering, night was the only time that Helena could feel anything real. She hid her grief during the day, for no one knew Emily Lake ever had a child. Left alone in her solemn penthouse, tucked away with the memories and regrets, the pain had washed over her, receded, and then crashed into her anew like a churning tide.
At night, she could allow herself to be angry, and guilty, and so very, very lonely. She could feel all those things deeply, and they all made her feel alive.
Myka had changed the nature of her nights without effort, and slipped into her life as if she was meant to be there all along. Now, with the benefit of time and experience, Helena believed there was a very simple explanation for that.
Nothing in Helena's life had ever been as simple as the love she shared with Myka Bering. Their love was her truth.
When the night ceased to be her refuge, it was the only thing she had left to cling to.
How I long to hold you and kiss you and make you mine. One touch, and you would see – it's meant to be.
Look at that, I've made a rhyme. Perhaps I was meant to be a writer of poetry, or a singer.
I cannot help but believe it was fate that brought me to see you this evening. You and I have been connected for so long. To find you here, after such a long time apart, is surely a sign from God that I was meant to have you as my wife.
Come see me tomorrow night. I'm staying at the Carlyle. I've left a key for you with the concierge.
With great affection,
For all her affection for words, none could describe the utter chaos of that night.
The patrons of the club were scattering like small animals from a fire, an apt description of the scene as the harsh lights of sirens cut through the evening fog with angry beams of color. The façade of the building was illuminated so brightly that only a true blaze could have made for a more frightening canvas.
Helena was pulled aside, away, and resisted so powerfully that her arms were twisted to angles they should never meet without giving way, but the pain that lanced through her shoulder and down her spine was nothing compared to the sheer panic coursing through her veins in that moment.
In the flickering light of an emergency stage, the slick blood on her hands seemed to blend into her skin.
Fear alone kept her grip on the gurney as it was pushed through the crowd toward the ambulance. Her mind was filled with it, locked on it and the all-too familiar sensation of her world collapsing in upon itself. This was how she felt in nightmares, less and less frequent with Myka in her life.
"Miss…Miss Lake? You need to let go. We need to put her in the ambulance."
"I need to go with her," she managed to say, perhaps not loud enough to be heard. "I need to stay with her."
Her eyes never left the mass of dark curly hair splayed across the bright medical blue of the gurney's padding, and the pale, blood-streaked face that looked still as death.
"All right," the voice relented.
Shrill, mechanical noises filled Helena's ears as she was loaded with Myka into the ambulance, and rushed away from the hellish scene.
I was quite discouraged when you did not visit the other week. I thought at first, perhaps, you were simply busy or out of the city. I discovered in your absence that you are the subject of some rather salacious rumours unbecoming of your station.
You have lived the life of an exiled vagabond in this heathen country long enough. I'll be in the city again for a week. Come to me, Love – same arrangements as my last.
She left London out of respect for her family and disdain for the system it served. She arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport out a need for a fresh start in a new world.
Never had she imagined that her former life would create such utter devastation.
For a decade and a half, she had been a willing American exile, cultivating a name removed from her heritage on the lights of a Broadway stage. She avoided Hollywood, despite its many invitations – utterly aware of her strengths and preferences, Helena was happy in a city where artificial things could be distinguished from those that were natural.
London was a place much like Los Angeles, except far more skilled at hiding its falsehoods after a millennia of war and royal politics. The unnatural things were far more subtle, folded deeply within words and gestures and social politeness.
Lord Richard Crowley was an unnatural thing she left behind in London gratefully, one as easily picked out as a Hollywood starlet's plastic surgery. The man had been very blunt and borderline obsessive in his business ventures, as he had been in her pursuit of Helena. Her father had approved, of course – all the more reason to escape while she could.
He'd been to a play some months ago, and it happened to be the one she was starring in. Helena greeted him politely, briefly, and that was all – the Static Bags were playing at The Time Machine that evening, and she refused to be late for their performance.
She did not expect to hear from him again.
She wished she never knew him at all.
I have been informed by my sources that those "salacious rumours" I referenced before are, indeed, quite true – I must I never expected such things from you. I see your American lifestyle has had an ill effect on your manners and upbringing. Really, what has become of you?
It is not too late to return home to England a respectable woman, a Lady, bound to me as your father always intended. I've held such affection for you for so long. Perhaps you have been away from London for too long to remember how happy you were there.
I shall find you this time, and you shall see reason.
There were doors through which she was not allowed to pass.
Beyond lay her life, filled with an immeasurable strength of spirit but fragile as the human body that housed it. Beyond the doors were machines and mechanisms designed to save that body, struggling for its every heartbeat, living by will alone.
Through those doors lay her life, but also her potential destruction.
Pete, Claudia, Steve, and Artie had arrived shortly after the ambulance pulled into the emergency bay and Myka was ushered into an emergency suite. Time passed without notice – she knew they were there, knew they were speaking to her, but had no capacity left to understand.
Left outside those doors, she could only watch through glass as doctors worked to keep Myka alive. Her blood was everywhere.
Myka's blood was on her hands.
Christina's blood had been on her hands.
She began to tremble as the line on the heart monitor attached to her beloved flattened, and as one of the doctors placed two long, flat panels inside her chest and called out once. Twice. Again, dammit, charge it again.
With each new call, with each new pause, her heart stilled in her own chest until the surgeons began to move once more. She found herself hoping, praying, that every beat her heart refused to take was a beat Myka's heart would.
The band had finished playing their set, and were now active and welcome patrons of The Time Machine's VIP area. Pete was at the bar, elbow on the mahogany lip and a boyish grin on his face, chatting up the lovely bartender as she kept his water glass filled and worked her magic for everyone else. Claudia and Steve were at a table not too far away, having found and befriended some younger mixologists of a different sort. Even from a distance, Helena could hear the young girl's excitement as they discussed the technological innovations of modern music. Artie was in a secluded corner booth, hidden from the world, with a very regal and distinguished blonde woman he was known to wear on his arm from time to time.
Helena was at her usual table, accompanied by the one person who had ever been asked to join her. They discussed the set, and some recent literature, and then rehashed an old conversation about the merits and wonders of the science fiction genre before discussing their upcoming vacation.
They had been excited. Happy.
They had been interrupted.
"Richard. What are you doing here?"
Myka stood, surprised perhaps by the presence of a stranger that seemed to know her girlfriend's true identity, and began to move her hand in greeting.
"It's time for you to end this ridiculous charade and come home with me, Helena."
The musician's hand stopped and slowly fell back to her side as Helena's powerful ire grew hot.
"Richard, I honestly have no idea what it is you think I owe you, but this improper and impolite. I was in the middle of a conversation before you inserted yourself into it."
The man's typically put-together dress was unusually disheveled. His hair stuck out awkwardly in places, and his clipped accent slurred together a little. He was drunk.
He was never so stupid, she thought, as he was when he was drunk.
"You and I are meant to be, Helena. You know this. Your father approves."
"I came to America to relinquish myself of my father's expectations. That included you, and I would ask you to respect my wishes."
The man's eyes were always wild sparks of madness encased in blue containers – perhaps the one attractive quality he held — but upon the polite but firm request those sparks grew to a blaze. She was given just a moment's warning before his fury was unleashed.
He grabbed at Myka, taking the arm she had declined to offer him moments before.
"Your wishes are irrelevant! You are a disgrace to your father's name! All this cavorting around like an American trollop, complete with your very own harlot at your side."
Myka struggled and Helena reached for the man, attempting to pry his bruising grip from her pale arm.
"Release her, Richard! My god, man, show some restraint!"
"You were meant to be my wife, Helena!"
"I was never betrothed to you! We have never been under the obligation of the antiquated Victorian notion of arranged marriage! My father may have liked you, but my hand was never his to offer, and he never did!"
"You were meant to love me, and you disappeared! Your father was worried!"
"My father let me leave with his blessing! "
"You have been corrupted by these Americans and their –"
He was interrupted when Helena finally managed to pry enough of Myka's hand free for her to elbow him in the stomach, just as Pete crashed into the man fist-first and Steve tackled him from behind. He flipped backward onto Emily Lake's reserved table, sending their unfinished drinks and their crystal containers across the floor. Myka staggered to Helena's side as Pete began to recover and Crowley began to roll over.
The attention of the entire lounge was now on the best seat in the house, the fabled place where a famous actress sat alone night after night for years until The Static Bags played the house for the first time. The crowd watched as the strange man with the slurred British accent rose from the splinters of that table holding a gun.
Pete ceased his forward momentum, raising his hand slightly as he backed away.
"Hey man, there's no need for this kind of violence."
Crowley's eyes were wide and mad as he jerked the gun first to Pete, then to Steve, keeping the two physical threats as far from him as he could. Finally, he let his gaze and gun level at Helena.
"You are mine," he snarled.
She wanted nothing more than to strangle the man, but she tried reason, instead. "No, Richard," she said softly, "I'm not. I never was. Please…please end this before someone truly gets hurt."
For a long moment, she thought her plea had connected with some small, sane spot somewhere in his brain. His face bore an expression that she read as revelation, and he looked as if he had been struck by the horror of his actions.
Whatever it was, it passed quickly.
"No. No. If I cannot have you, no one will."
In the soft light of the lounge, the revolver glinted for just a split second as he shifted his aim.
The gunshot shattered the only silence The Time Machine had ever witnessed.
The blonde woman was a doctor.
Artie spoke to her in the corner of the waiting room they had been escorted to after Myka was taken to surgery. Helena watched the doors through which doctors passed for some sign of the one that had taken Myka away. Time slipped around her without notice and without end.
Her hands had been wiped clean – by whom, she did not know – but she was still aware of the presence of all the other band members. She was aware of their fear and, at least in some part of her heart, she felt guilty over her inability to offer them comfort.
The rest of her heart felt guilty over putting them through it in the first place.
The doctor – Calder, she learned – disappeared beyond the doors after some time, and Artie watched them as if she would never come back.
Helena feared the moment she did.
The waiting room felt sterile, and if it were possible to feel a color, white was appropriate. There were few places in nature where pure white could be found – fresh-cut roses from her terrace garden, untouched snow in the French Alps, memories she had managed to share with Myka and Christina both — and in those precious moments the color never managed to feel as empty and bereft as that room. The paint was too bright, the light was too white, and the walls glowed in a way that hurt her eyes and scorched her soul.
The doctor returned, her face only a shade pinker than the color scheme, and spoke to Artie first. His eyes widened and he cast a glance over his shoulder toward her with tear-filled eyes.
Helena felt her world begin to crumble beneath her as the solemn woman walked to her.
Bravely, she stood, her legs aching and protesting as they stretched from the position they had spent hours bent in.
"Miss Wells, Artie tells me you are the one Myka would want…that you are the one she has given power of attorney to."
It took several long heartbeats for the words to sink in, and for the implication to form into a certainty that physically washed over her and nearly dropped her to her knees. She hadn't known, and they'd barely begun to discuss what the future would look like with the two of them. There was so much they had yet to discuss.
Myka had apparently already made some of those decisions.
As the kind doctor escorted her forward, she gripped the offered hand a little too tightly for her own support.
Through the doors, beyond the barrier…was the end of her world.
Helena was dimply aware of the fighting behind her as the woman at her side collapsed to the ground. She reached out to catch her, to cradle her, to stop her descent though she had failed to stop the bullet.
The musician's voice, so sultry and silken and filled with raw emotion on any of the stages she performed upon, was broken and made jagged by pain. Her bright green eyes were filled with tears, but it was the confusion and pain that Helena saw, no doubt reflected in her own.
Though terror held her firmly in its cold grasp, the actress's instinct was to care and comfort. Her first concern was Myka, and survival, and hope.
"Shh, darling." A pale, slender hand closed over the bloom of red over Myka's heart, desperate to put back what had already been spilled. "You'll be all right. Help will be here shortly. Everything will be just fine."
Myka's pink lips turned crimson as her blood found other avenues of escape, fleeing from the trauma ad the patrons scurried from the scene. They trembled – against what, Helena did not wish to imagine.
Myka's eyes slipped closed. Helena's heart stopped.
The stale smell of sickness and death clung to her as she followed the doctor to her fate. Her mind was permanently stained with it, and tricked her senses into reliving the painful moment she was brought to view her daughter's body so many years ago. There had been nothing left to do, then. There was simply the signature that needed to be given that allowed her release to the funeral parlor.
Was that what she was meant to give to the hospital? Was that what they required of her?
The doctor's gentle touch grounded her to the reality of harsh fluorescent lights and brightly-colored scrubs, and how she wanted to escape. How she wanted to be anywhere else in that moment.
She wanted to be on the way to Bora Bora with Myka by her side, packed for a week-long excursion by themselves. She wanted to be on that private beach that she had reserved for the pair of them, lounging on a chaise overlooking their private beach at sunset, sipping expensive wine. She wouldn't be watching the darkening sky – no, she would be watching her companion as the light changed and painted her tanned skin colors that can't be found in the skyline of New York City, as nature bathed her beauty in the only grace that could improve upon her perfection and then as her eyes lit up in surprise, sparkling as brightly as the diamond ring Helena would present to her…
They were meant to be on a plane at 7am the morning after the set at The Time Machine. That time had come and gone.
Their time, it seemed, had as well.
The doctor stopped in front of a closed door at the end of the hallway – another barrier, the finalbarrier – and turned to face her.
"Helena…listen, it's not pretty. What you'll see in there is…" the doctor trailed off, seeming to think the better of her words. "On second thought," she began again, "you've probably…you've probably seen worse. But it will still be a shock. I want you to be prepared."
Through her mind flashed an image of Myka's face, alight with a brilliant smile that outshone even the sun.
"I understand," Helena whispered.
The door opened, and for the first time in hours she could see sunlight. It flooded the room, harsh but warm. On the wall to the left, tucked behind a wall, was Myka, laid out on a bed and hooked up to a dozen machines.
All of them were on. All of them were active.
Myka was alive.
She nearly dropped to her knees as she turned just slightly to face the doctor. "I…I don't understand," she stammered, struggling to push words out through a dry throat with breathless lungs.
"Only one person may stay with her until her condition is downgraded. I spoke with Artie, and he was absolutely adamant that person be you."
"To stay…" she whispered numbly.
"Yes. To watch her. To be here for her when she wakes up."
To be there for her…oh, that such a thing were still even possible was nearly overwhelming. Without direction, her feet guided her to the chair by Myka's bedside and placed her in it. Without thought, her fingers reached out to cradle Myka's cool hand in her palms.
"I'm going to go see to everyone else. If you need anything, just hit the call button."
"Thank you," she replied, but her eyes never left Myka's face, covered though it was in tubing.
The doctor was gone a moment later, leaving the pair of women alone in the room. Helena watched the way the morning sunlight danced across Myka's pale skin, sat in awe of her every breath as if she had just been given to her for the first time.
In a way, perhaps that was true.
"Thank you," she whispered again to any being listening.
The bright light of a full moon illuminated the city skyline as it hovered overhead. She smiled as she cast her eyes about her balcony garden and watched how the flowers seemed to glow in the moonlight. Far below, the city was uncharacteristically active, and there were so many potential scientific reasons for it, but the terrace was a refuge. The terrace was solitude and quiet.
Helena thoughtlessly picked a white rose from the container by the door.
The low, sultry voice made Helena smile. She twirled the rose in her fingers as she continued her journey to a pair of chaise lounges in the middle of the garden. The comfort of her seat was not her destination, nor was the enjoyment of her moonlit garden her goal.
Her destination was Myka. Her goal was to make that marvelous woman happy.
She had always found that the night stripped away the lies of the city and left them bare. She had believed that nothing natural could shine at night.
Helena Wells had been wrong.
The moon cast just enough of a glow to expose an inner beauty in the woman at her side that could not be seen in the sunlight. Her brilliant smile held its own luster, and sparkled brighter than even the diamond ring around the rose's stem. When Myka pulled her into a passionate kiss – a hope, a promise, a commitment – she thought she knew the answer. Such warmth must hold its own inner light.
Perhaps it was not night that would uncover the truths of the city.
Perhaps it had always been their love.