Author's Notes: One day in July I wondered what sort of impact Helena leaving Boone would have on Adelaide and Nate. And then this happened.
A million thanks to typey and littlebabycats for pushing me through this; it never would have been completed without them.
Even in terms of her relatively short life this far, the nine months that her dad had dated Emily Lake should have been a fairly inconsequential part of her life. Sure, Emily had been her dad's first girlfriend in the four years since her mom had died, and yes, she had lived with them for seven of those months, but Emily should have been a mere footnote in her story, maybe only a touch longer than the ones for each of the many other women that her dad had dated throughout her adolescent years.
But Emily had been different, and not just because she somehow led to her kidnapping. No. All of the girlfriends who came after would wave her away, or plaster on a fake cheery smile whenever she came into the room. Perhaps after Emily, he purposefully chose women whom Adelaide wouldn't get attached to. Whom he wouldn't get attached to.
Whatever the reason, she never connected with any of them, and she could never give up the feeling that Emily had always cared.
Some of her friends laughed at her musings, told her that she had been thinking too much back then, that she always thought too much about everything. They told her that Emily was just the first, and that's why she liked her. Others told her to get over it, that it was her dad's life, not hers. But thing was, Emily had taught her to think. She had influenced her life more than anyone else other than her parents had. And every time she won a match, or went up a belt level, she wished she would see Emily's now absent dark eyes admiring from the crowd and that slightly sad but still proud smile directed at her and not somewhere over her head like what all the other adults did.
Her dad called her precocious and her teachers told her to just do her work, but Emily's voice still echoed in her mind: always think, always question, and always be extraordinary.
Who wanted to be normal, anyhow?
Emily was playing with her hair before bed, and Adelaide finally asked what had been weighing on her mind for the three days since she had been rescued. "What did you mean when you said that your name was Helena?"
She felt Emily's hands waver, pausing halfway down her back before continuing and being drawn away completely. She heard the rustle that always meant that Emily was pulling at her own hair, and Adelaide turned around to watch the black locks fall exactly into the same position they started. She had a small smile on her face and she cleared her throat. "You weren't wrong when you said that Agent Bering and I went on adventures together."
Adelaide just looked at her inquisitively. She had picked up enough from Emily to know that sometimes the best way to get someone to talk was to just stay quiet. The look that Emily gave her after a moment of silence, though, told her that she knew exactly what she was doing, and Adelaide's resolution faltered. "But why did you change your name?"
The sides of her mouth turned down as if Emily was trying to figure out how to tell her, or how to keep parts of it still secret. "I don't want to lie to you," she said softly. "There have always been far too many lies, and..." she trailed off and finally looked at Adelaide squarely. "Do you know what the witness protection program is?" She nodded. "It was a little like that. I needed to hide for some time, and then again, and when it was done it was easy to keep wearing Emily's name. Emily is safe. Emily keeps people safe. Helena, she..."
She trailed off, and Adelaide could tell she was lost in thought, but she – the girl who had been taught to listen – didn't dare make a sound. A second later Emily shook her head as if she was trying to shake the thoughts free, and Adelaide was startled to actually see a glassy sheen in her eyes. "I told you my real name because I thought it important to show you who I really am, but I am Emily too, and it is Emily who I am trying to be." She paused. "Does that make sense?"
For Adelaide, it was one of those rare moments in which she knew that something significant had happened, but even as smart as she was for her age, she could only pretend that she knew about the grown-up concepts that Emily was trying to impart to her. Still, she nodded solemnly like she had just been told some great truth, and Emily visibly relaxed. "Let's get you ready for bed then, yes?" And though she had replayed that conversation in her head over and over again, it was only later that it began to make sense.
Because it was only when Emily left that Adelaide realized that safe might be important, but the people who stay safe don't get to have adventures.
She waited patiently in the high school counselor's office as the woman talked just outside the door to the teacher who had dragged her in there. Some of the words floated into the room, but she already knew what they were saying. She had gotten into a fight. A real one, and that mandated a session with the counselor.
She had seen many therapists and counselors after her mom died, and she didn't think this one would be much different. Adelaide took the time that she was left alone to let her gaze take in everything she could see, and as a constant exercise, she tried to see how far Emily's training could get her.
She studied the degrees up on the wall, and when she realized the print was too small, she went behind the desk to inspect them closer. She turned around and saw the photos on the bookshelf angled away from the students' eyes, and briefly took in the contents scattered across her desk, and the books on her bookshelf.
The two adults sounded like they were finishing up, so Adelaide returned to her seat, defiantly crossing her arms, and was content to look like every other teenager who made their way through there.
The door closed behind her and the counselor took the seat behind the desk instead of the seat beside her. Okay, then. She was going with the stern adult route rather than the friend approach. Adelaide could adjust accordingly.
The woman surprised her, though, and instead of starting with a discussion about how fighting is bad, or even asking her what had happened, she simply said, "Six weeks. It's hardly a record for a new school, but it's not a great way to start."
Adelaide shrugged and stayed silent, staring instead into the counselor's eyes and refusing to show weakness.
"Your teachers say that you're smart. You answer their questions correctly though you don't volunteer, and the few assignments and tests that you've had you've scored very well on."
"Perfectly," Adelaide interjected, and she could see a phantom of a smile cross the woman's lips. "I've gotten perfect marks so far."
"And yet you skip class."
Adelaide studied the woman and decided to take a chance, following the strands of information to conclusions that Emily's training had brought her to. "Periods are 45 minutes long. Detentions are 30. Every time I skip a class, I gain 15 minutes." She shrugged again, studying the woman's face for the signal that said she guessed right. "I only do it when I've already read ahead."
The woman sat back in her chair, studying Adelaide with every bit of concentration that she herself had just shown, and her fingers came up to her lips as if to think, but Adelaide saw it for what it actually was – she was trying not to smile.
"And the fighting?" She said at last. "Was it to protect a friend?"
"I don't really have friends. It's easier to just stay quiet." The woman nodded. "But then one of the older girls started pushing around one of the girls in my grade. I told her to stop, and then she attacked me when I turned my back."
"The other girl is much bigger than you too, and she took you by surprise. And yet, you're unscathed."
Adelaide tried not to be cocky, she tried not to let that frowned-upon inclination toward self-satisfaction get the best of her, but she was too proud of the situation. "Well, she didn't know that I've studied karate for the past five years."
The woman outright laughed, and Adelaide could feel herself giggling along. Her dad was going to be angry and the principal would be notified, but she could see the counselor liked her answers, and was even a little impressed by her.
Adelaide couldn't help but think that Helena would have been proud.
Adelaide had seen it coming, Emily leaving. It had been a month since the kidnapping. A month since Emily and her dad had started fighting. A month since she had seen her dad smile anything like the way that Emily used to make him smile. And then three weeks since Emily started sleeping on the couch, even though she pretended that she wasn't.
And then, after the talks about how Emily wanted to try to make it work, that maybe she would move out and they would try to take it slower, that she wanted to still be there for Adelaide, that she would fight for their relationship – Emily got a phone call.
As was usual for that night of the week, her dad was working late and Emily was getting ready to drive her to her kempo lessons. They were right on schedule when Emily's cell phone rang, and Adelaide could see the confusion and then concern on her face when she looked at the call display. "Pete," she had answered, and somewhere in Adelaide's mind she recalled that was the name of that Secret Service agent who had travelled with Agent Bering. "What happened?"
And Adelaide watched Emily's face completely drain of colour.
"I'll, I'll be right there. Pete, I –" but then her voice cracked and she hung up the phone, her eyes unseeing and her body not moving when the calendar alert beeped, signifying that it was time to leave.
Adelaide had seen that emotion before playing on someone else's face, but it took her a few moments to place that it had been on her dad's when he finally realized that her mom was going to die. It was the look of being terrified, and hurt, and helpless all at once. Not knowing what to do, she did what her dad did whenever she was upset: she sat Emily down on the closest chair, brought her a glass of water, and then when she realized that Emily was still gripping her car keys, belatedly wrestled them out of her clenched fist.
Emily had taken a long sip from the glass of water, seemingly without even really being conscious of it, and when she had finished she finally looked at Adelaide with a moment of clarity through the fog. "Adelaide..." she said, her voice strained.
Adelaide wanted to be strong for her, she wanted to be helpful, but she couldn't stop the voice that sounded tiny and scared when she finally asked, "Is Agent Bering okay?"
She expected to see surprise in Emily's eyes – that look that Adelaide saw too often on an adult's face before it turned to contempt, but Emily's just showed relief. "You dear, sweet girl," she said, her accent softly folding around the edges of the words. "I don't know yet, but I have to go see."
She knew by then, both by the fear in the older woman's face and the arguments that had happened over the past few weeks, that Emily would be gone by the time she came back home that night. Or, maybe she had already gone.
A look of steely resolution came over Emily then, and Adelaide somehow knew that the bone crushing hug that Emily gave her was as much for the adult as it was a goodbye gesture. So when Emily cupped her face, Adelaide leaned into it. "Helena?" she finally asked, and when she smiled, Adelaide knew she had guessed right.
"You know that animated movie you like with all the animals that sing?"
Adelaide paused for a moment at the non sequitur, but the need to answer correctly far outweighed her momentary confusion. Despite the seriousness of the moment, she giggled. "The Lion King"?
Helena nodded, and gazed into her eyes like she was speaking to an equal, not just some lame, smart-aleck kid. "Don't ever forget who you are, yes?" She searched her face for acknowledgement, and even though Adelaide didn't quite understand the significance, she nodded.
Satisfied, Helena glanced at the clock at the spell was broken. "Let's get you to class, then," she said, but Adelaide knew that her attention was focused elsewhere.
When she was let out in front of the building, Helena gave her another hug, and Adelaide couldn't stop the short gasp that left her mouth. "Will I ever see you again?" she managed to get out, and even though she was trying to be so-very grown-up, she could feel the tears starting to well.
Helena looked heartbroken. "I do hope so, very much, but it is up to your father, and – we've both known that things are not going to get better between us. I just wish –" whatever she was going to say was left unfinished, and she hugged her once more. "At least once more. I owe you that."
And with that, she was pushed into her class. And even though she wanted to be like all those heroes in her books and just walk away without looking back, she couldn't help herself and was so glad she did, because she was left with one last proud and melancholy smile through the passenger window before the SUV pulled away, and Adelaide was left alone.
The counselor asked her about it, about not having friends. About why she didn't. About how she never felt like she fit in.
"It's hard," she said, as honest as she has ever been. "After my mom died, I had trouble making friends. It was quiet a lot. And I haven't really felt like I belonged here, like I'm just waiting to find..." She shrugged. "I don't even know what I'm looking for."
"Since your mom died, have you ever felt like you belonged?"
Adelaide's eyes found the window and she gazed outside, a hand finding the hollow at her throat in a gesture that would have been familiar if she had realized she was doing it. "Once. I felt it once."
It was time for her weekly check-in with home. She was running late, but her computer beeped exactly on time, his face appearing on the screen on her college dorm's desk. "Hey, dad," she said as she hastily cleared a pile of papers from the view of the camera.
The school year just started, but she had stayed behind the summer between her first and second year to work for a grad student in the psychology department. It wasn't great money or experience, but she had gotten to talk to some of the professors and had apparently impressed them, which had been her goal.
That had started the wheels turning, and the gears were moving at a rate faster than she anticipated. And she was not looking forward to having that conversation with her dad. Hence the hastily cleared pile of paper...
...and not quite meeting her dad's eyes, which of course he caught on to far quicker than she would have liked. "Is something wrong kiddo?" and she winced at that word. "Are all those language courses catching up to you? Is it money?"
She shook her head. The languages came to her more easily than they did for most of her classmates, all of whom were plenty smart. And money – "No, the scholarship is more than enough." She allowed herself a brief moment to puzzle on that again, because while her grades in high school had been great and she got a glowing letter of recommendation from her counselor, she hadn't been involved in enough extracurricular activities to feel like she truly deserved this level of financial aid at such a good school.
Moving to DC had been her first choice, but she hadn't thought that she was going to be able to afford living in that city and school. But it had been the only one to pay for her tuition and give her a living allowance. She felt that it was like the universe wanted her there, in DC.
That brought her back around to the conversation that she was avoiding. "It's that I miss you a lot, dad, but I don't think I'm coming home next summer either."
Her dad looked hurt, but he smiled anyway. "Already have your summer job lined up? Are you closer to deciding what all these psychology and language courses are going to mean for a career?"
Her eyes glanced to the hidden pile of papers, and she decided that it was time, even though she knew it was going to be met with objection. She knew that he still hadn't gotten over what had happened to her so many years before, and he was going to protest, or be angry, or –
"I got an internship with the Secret Service Student Career Experience Program," she said in one quick breath, and she paused. She saw him gulp, but then barrelled on. "Profiling. Or negotiation. Or investigation. That's my career, dad. Federal law enforcement."
"I thought – " She knew what he thought, that she was going to get good marks and then apply to law school and become very successful in a very safe profession.
But she wanted adventures, and she wasn't going to find them writing contracts.
"I know dad. But it's something I've wanted for a long time... since –"
"Yeah." He cut her off and looked at her with a pained expression. "Since Emily."
"Since Helena," she corrected, and in her head she silently added, since Agents Bering and Lattimer.
He didn't like it, she could tell, and she knew he'd be trying to change her mind at every opportunity, but he would have to get used it. Somehow, she just knew that she was making the right choice.
Just after Helena left, Adelaide had begged her dad to let her come and visit, but her dad said that he didn't want there to be any contact between them. He said that Emily had put her in danger. That she had lied to them about who she was, and then abandoned them. That kind of betrayal wasn't something to be forgiven so easily.
Adelaide said that Emily may have done those things, but Helena didn't lie, and Helena was the one who saved her.
Her dad didn't understand the distinction.
He shipped all of Emily's things to a PO Box in South Dakota.
She didn't hear from Helena.
She made the transition from awkward preteen to young adult with more grace than many of her classmates, and at the time barely even acknowledged the gift for what it was. The summer before she started high school, she and her father spent the season at a rented cabin on the lake, and he quickly entered a relationship with one of the single mothers who was also renting. Adelaide hadn't expected it, but once it began she realized its inevitability, and she knew she would never be caught off guard again.
She shot up like a bean stalk in those two months, but spent every waking moment outside, cycling and jogging and swimming in the lake, and playing sports with all the boys in the summer community, so that she wore each new iteration of her body as easily as the one before.
Her dad's new girlfriend came with two catty teenage girls, and while they were only two and three years Adelaide's senior, the games they played trying to engage and harass her made her feel like a child again.
However, her tormentors opened up a new world to her. It took half the summer, but one day when they were flinging insults and taunts, she was able to separate each of the offences into what they truly were: the girls were upset that their mom had abandoned them for a summer fling, and were jealous of Adelaide for her popularity amongst the summer boys.
Adelaide was familiar with what her dad was like when he got a new girlfriend. After Helena left, it was easy to distance herself from her father's love life. It was easy for him, too, to keep her separate, to not have to worry about her getting invested. She knew her father would get caught up in his whirlwind romance and would forget her, for just a little while. He had had his heart broken too many times, and she liked it when he smiled, even though it meant that she had to amuse herself for days and weeks. She didn't fault him for it. In truth, she liked the quiet.
And the boys were enjoying their last summer before high school, with more energy than their bodies knew what to do with, and only noticed those who could keep up with them.
It wasn't until she went to her new school, personality and confidence intact, that she realized how important that summer was because as each new student fought for their place in the new pecking order, she sat back and watched, collecting each secret and revealed motivation for later. And then when she finally was noticed, finally seen as someone that hadn't yet been claimed by the popular kids, or geeks, or nerds, she played the game far better than anyone else.
She noted with pride that she was still following Emily's teachings and Helena's parting words: observing those around her meant she was able to navigate high school with ease, and knowing who she was meant she didn't succumb to the expectations of her peers. She had no patience for the drama that occurred in the halls around her, not when she had experienced real pain.
Someday – she told herself – her surroundings would match the person that she was inside. Until then, she would just continue doing what she did best: watching the stories of her peers unfold before her, and solving the mysteries of the personalities that they would never show to the world but could be seen when Adelaide looked hard enough.
The internship was good. It really was. She was learning a lot and got to do background research on some interesting cases, but there was something still missing. She thought that when she arrived here, that things would fall into place. That she would find that place where she fit, where she belonged.
But the puzzles almost came together too easily. She kept yearning for more.
It didn't help that any time she searched for any familiar names she was locked out of the computer system until she could find a superior to unlock her station.
In her senior year of high school she went on a class trip to Chicago. She had been there before, and had always loved the abundance of museums and art galleries that her suburb lacked.
When they entered the Field Museum of Natural History, most of her classmates raced directly to the upper level – even the most popular and disengaged students could still admit that dinosaurs were cool – but she wandered through the ground level instead, disappearing into the Ancient Egypt exhibit.
It was crowded, but Adelaide moved soundlessly through the exhibit, slipping through the currents of the people walking around, lost in the histories of each object. When she was at the back of the room, though, she was pulled from reading one of the plaques by a familiar voice, and though it took her a moment to place it, several voices would always be seared into her memory. Everything from those two days was.
She hadn't been paying attention to what they were saying until she had recognized the female voice, but now she could hear everything the male voice said. "Everything is behind ropes or in cases, or is something interactive that everyone would have handled," the man was saying when she was finally able to make out their words. "What's here that someone could have touched?"
The woman laughed, and Adelaide remembered that sound, even though she only heard it once. "When have ropes or cases ever stopped you?"
As they continued to bicker, she poked her head around the corner of the statue she was looking at to bring them in view, and she studied them. Their badges were at their hips, something purple was poking out of each of their pockets, and she could tell that they were armed. They went from piece to piece in the exhibit, she reading all the displays and he wandering somewhat aimlessly until he locked eyes with Adelaide.
He nudged his partner and she turned around so that Adelaide could get her first good look at the woman in years. Her curly hair was shorter and more tightly wound – but it was still the same green eyes that peered back at her. "Agent Bering?"
She could see a slight look of shock on the woman's features, but then it seemed that she placed her face. "Adelaide?"
She didn't know what she expected – she really didn't have time to actually form expectations – but the woman quickly crossed the floor and held her at arms' length, taking in her appearance as if to memorize every bit of it before breaking into a large grin.
Adelaide awkwardly stood there as Agent Bering examined her, and she let herself examine the other woman as well. She didn't seem to have aged; in fact, she looked better than she did on that day she arrived on her dad's porch, just before she had been taken.
And even though some part of her wanted to resent the woman for taking Emily away from her, for hurting her dad, and for depriving her of future training, a bigger part wanted to prove herself to the woman who started at all.
She gulped and then took a step away, finally turning to the other agent, who seemed confused. "Like, the kid HG was living with?" Adelaide watched as Agent Bering shot him a glare and he seemed to come to his senses. "Right. It was Emily. Em-i-ly," he repeated, as if trying to remind himself that it was her name.
Agent Bering cut him off. "Do you remember my partner, Agent Pete Lattimer?"
Adelaide nodded. "And I know Emily wasn't her real name. She told me it was Helena."
They all stood there uncomfortably for a moment, but Adelaide was used to the feeling of not quite knowing what to say. There was so much she wanted to know: why did Helena leave? Why did they call her HG? What was her last name? Were they still in contact? Did Agent Bering know why Helena had never contacted her, like she promised her she would? Agent Bering was being equally as quiet, and Adelaide could feel the agent studying her.
She glanced around the exhibit, just for something to do, and her eyes paused at some teenagers who were goofing around in the re-creation of the Egyptian marketplace. It wasn't the teenagers that caught her attention, though; it was the stall that held some ancient vases and tools. She'd been there just a little while ago, and she was sure the stall had been behind glass – and now that glass had disappeared.
Her immediate response was to blame the teenagers for somehow destroying the protective shield, but she had been trained by Emily and the deeper parts of her brain were already processing what the two agents had just been talking about.
"The glass disappeared," she muttered before she even realized she was speaking, and she heard them question her. She answered without thinking, her eyes still on the teenagers who were getting closer to the vases. "Like in Harry Potter, the glass that protected those vases just disappeared." She looked back to the agents, and was surprised to see them each putting on a pair of purple gloves. "That's what you were looking for, right? Something that could be touched, but not by everyone?"
Agent Lattimer raised his eyebrows in surprise but Agent Bering let out that low laugh again. "I remember you being smart," she said, her mouth turned up in a half smile. She studied her for a second, then grabbed an extra set of gloves from her pocket and handed them to Adelaide. "Come with us, I want to know what it looked like before."
They started the walk together, but before they had gone very far one of the teenagers she had been watching picked up a vase, and the lights around them flickered. "Adelaide..." Agent Bering drew out, her voice tight. One hand was already reaching for her holster and the other was handing her her badge. "I want you to take this and use it to get as many people out of here as possible, okay?"
Adelaide just nodded, her mind already tracing the routes in the exhibit and purposefully ignoring that the weapons that the agents pulled out were definitely not guns. She gave herself one second to marvel at them and the way the sight of them tugged her back to the day that she had been locked in that dark room, seeing a similar gun in the woman's hand once before, but then she shook away the errant thoughts and took over, moving away just as the lights went out completely, and an odd glow came from the area that the agents were now heading toward.
She did what they asked, clearing the room as quickly as she could. She then waited outside for them, even flashing the badge when museum security showed up, telling them to wait, that two agents were in pursuit of someone and had their guns drawn, and the guards didn't want to get hurt, did they? To her surprise, they listened to her. At least, they did until the lights came back on. Then they ran into the room and Adelaide peeked in, happy to see the agents walking back towards the exit, and she saw Agent Lattimer tuck a silver bag into his inside jacket pocket when the security guards weren't looking.
She had seen those bags before. Emily always had one with her. She said that it was for collecting evidence and at the time Adelaide had believed her, but now...
There was something more going on. And she wasn't surprised.
For years she had pushed aside the idea that there was something bigger going on with her kidnapping, that she wasn't just a bargaining chip for whatever they wanted from Emily.
There was no time to think about that now, though. She only had time to toss Agent Bering's badge back to her when her teacher came looking for her, dragging her away from the action. She tossed one last look back at the agents as they were trying to placate the security guards, and Adelaide was left alone with just her questions, once again.
After Helena had left, she had tried to find her. She was able to put some clues together and track her to a school in Cheyenne, and Nate had sent all of Emily's things to South Dakota, but even in a state as sparsely populated as that one it was remarkably hard to find where the agents were stationed.
It didn't help that Emily Lake was a fairly standard name, and she wasn't even sure if she would still be using it. Yes, she was a pre-teen that had grown up with computers, but Google could only get her so far.
The only other name she had for the woman was Helena.
She was accepted into the service without question, spent some time in a field office, and was very quickly transferred back to DC. She was on the fast track – she was going places; and yet, it still felt like there was something missing.
But the middle of an investigation was no time for contemplating her career path. Security guards at a federal building kept falling asleep, seemingly against their will.
She and her partner, Kyle, were just supposed to be asking some questions, but when they arrived, the guards were once again passed out. They were waiting for back-up when they caught sight of someone in the adjacent hall. Adelaide had to struggle to keep up with her track star of a partner during the pursuit, but she joined him at the corner of a connecting hallway where they had seen their quarry disappear into. With a nod that drew on experience and instinct, they pulled their guns and entered the corridor.
There was no longer anyone running away, but two dark shapes on the ground at the end of the hallway caught Adelaide's attention instead. As they crept closer, Adelaide recognized the shapes as people, and neither were the person they were originally chasing. No, he had been shorter, more like a child. These two people were women. Very familiar women...
The pieces slid into place as she arrived at their side at a jog. She was about to check for pulses when she spotted one of those familiar silver bags nearby, and that odd looking telephone object on the floor. She paused, her fingers inches from one of the throats, and something inside her was warning her not to touch them.
"Stop," she said to Kyle at barely more than a whisper. He halted beside her, his gun still trained on them. Raising his eyebrows at her, he waited for an explanation. "I – I know them. And..."
And everything that she had ever witnessed or experienced with Helena and Agent Bering came back to her, and she waved Kyle off again. "Just, cover me, okay? And don't ask questions."
He nodded and watched as she crept over them carefully, using the silver bag to move their jackets until she found what she was looking for. "Put these on," she said as she tossed him a pair of purple gloves. She could tell he was puzzled, but she didn't have time for that. She could explain later – if there was anything to explain. She didn't know what she was doing; she was just following her memories.
She picked up the copper communication device that she had seen Agents Bering and Lattimer use before, and turned it over cautiously in her hands before opening it up and pushing a button, hoping that it would work. She felt relief as the small screen came to life, and she was met with a very confused male face. "Who are you, and where are Myka and HG?"
She nervously turned the thing around so that whoever the guy was could see the situation. "I'm Secret Service," she declared, not knowing how much to tell, or how much he already knew. "I've put on the purple gloves and grabbed the bag, but I don't know what to do next."
She took a moment to glance over at Kyle, who looked bewildered, but nothing was going to stop him from guarding the three of them. He had her back. The voice on the phone pulled her back to the unknown man's face. "Look, someone else is on their way, but see if either one of them is touching anything or holding something. And be careful not to make contact with any objects."
She stepped cautiously over the two women, grateful to see that they were still breathing. She mentioned that to the face on the screen, who let out a sigh of relief. Helena – who wasn't wearing gloves – was clutching Agent Bering's bare arm as if she had grabbed it to try to keep the other woman upright, and they had both fallen. And in Agent Bering's purple gloved hand was a gold pocket watch.
She inspected it closely without touching it, worried. What was she supposed to do if she couldn't touch it? How was she supposed to help if the gloves didn't do anything? And then she saw it. "Her glove is ripped," she said to the screen. "There's a watch on a chain, and the purple glove is ripped. I can get it out of her hand, I think. And then...?"
"And then put it in the static bag. You got that? Don't let it touch your skin, and, when you put it in, shield your eyes. It'll spark."
She nodded as if she knew what he was talking about, handed the phone over to Kyle, and threw the watch into the bag just as another familiar voice came from an adjacent hallway. "I got him, but he didn't have the watch –"
They stared at each other for a moment, a sort of stunned silence having come over him before he spoke. "Adelaide?" Agent Lattimer asked in surprise, and she was about to answer when the figures on the ground started responding.
She vaguely heard the voice from the device repeat her name incredulously and when she turned her head to respond, she felt the bag being taken from her hand. A weary looking Agent Bering looked up at her with her eyes wide, and she was slightly shaking her head. "I'm so sorry we have to do this."
She barely had a chance to look up before she saw that strange gun pointed at her partner and a burst of electricity take him down. She was already reaching for her weapon, though she knew it wouldn't do any good. She knew she was going down, so with her last few seconds she looked at the newly awakened Helena.
Helena was staring back with surprise, but when their eyes locked Adelaide could see the smile growing on her face.
And then everything went black.
Adelaide saw Agent Bering only once during her university internship. She didn't know what Agent Bering was doing at the DC headquarters, but when Adelaide saw her across the room, she weaved in and out of the crowd to try to get to her before she caught sight of her and disappeared.
Agent Bering gave her the same warm smile that she did the last time she saw her, back in that museum in Chicago, and studied her carefully. "So, you've got an internship here." She said more as a statement than a question, and Adelaide got the distinct impression that she had already known that.
It gave Adelaide pause, and just as the other woman was studying her, she studied her back. She looked happy and content – even more so than she did in Chicago. Her hair was longer again, and while she did look older, she wore it well.
It was weird, being studied like that, and she was immediately transported to so many years ago, standing on her father's porch with this woman, then a stranger. That was the beginning of the end for Emily and her dad.
And suddenly, she felt like she was that age again, desperately wanting to prove herself to Emily, wanting to show off the skills cultivated by Helena – and like so many years ago, she couldn't hold back and the words just started spilling out of her. "You're healthy now. I thought Helena left because you were hurt, in Chicago I realized it must have been because you were sick. You looked better in Chicago than when I first met you. And... you weren't surprised to see me here, so you already knew that I was working for the Secret Service. Which means, for unknown reasons, either you have been keeping tabs on me, or... Helena has, and she's still with you." Her nervous gaze swept over the other woman again, and she noticed that despite Agent Bering's calm demeanour and her sly smile, she was fidgeting and playing with a ring on her left hand. This one took a moment longer to puzzle out as she was struggling against years of naive memories, but suddenly the last piece fell into place. "Oh, you're with her." She shook her head. "Everything makes so much more sense, now."
Agent Bering let that low laugh come out again. "And you haven't changed a bit."
"I really hope I have." It was awkward for a minute – Adelaide never had quite learned the right social graces to keep the conversation flowing in an unfamiliar situation, and her mind was trying to make the final jump. Once again, she spoke without fully forming the thought. "But then if Helena had been checking up on me, why hasn't she ever tried to contact me?"
Agent Bering's expression was sympathetic, and Adelaide once again felt so young. "I'm so sorry," she finally replied, her face turning to pity when Adelaide took an involuntary step back. "We were under orders not to interfere."
"Orders from whom? Interfere with what?"
Agent Bering just took a step forward and gripped her shoulder, not answering the question. "It's good to see you, Adelaide," she finally muttered, and she turned away.
Adelaide wanted to run after her. She wanted to demand an explanation, beg for an answer to any number of the questions she had, or even just plead to Agent Bering to take a message to Helena for her – but the moment was gone.
Adelaide stood in the middle of the crowded room and felt a distinct longing for a chance to actually talk to the agent, even for just a few minutes to tell her how much she admired her, that Adelaide likely wouldn't even be in DC without the chance that Agent Bering gave her in Chicago. That in her, she saw someone who was happy with her career, and proved to Adelaide that she could have adventures.
But instead, she stood silent and still, watching the woman escape out a side door, without even looking back.
Her head hurt and her shoulder stung from where she had fallen onto it, and her bosses were extremely unhappy with her report on the sleeping guards at the federal building. It didn't help that whenever anyone searched for Bering or Lattimer they got locked out, or that she couldn't tell them what a damn pocket watch had to do with anything, or what Helena's last name was, or even how they came to be passed out themselves, at the place they were supposed to be investigating.
No. Her bosses were not happy, and she was dragging herself home with the last bits of energy she had left.
Her apartment was dark and she left it that way, throwing her blazer over a chair and going straight into the kitchen for a glass of water. It was there she caught sight of a petite redhead who looked about her age, standing on the other side of her island.
"Knock, knock," the redhead said with a smug smile. Adelaide reached for her gun just as the presence of another intruder became known behind her, grabbing it before she could take hold. Her eyes didn't move from the girl, though, and she heard the clip being safely ejected from her gun.
"Who are you?"
"You're being transferred, and I'm your new employer," the girl said with an undertone of sass, but Adelaide could tell she wasn't joking. "I'm the one who's giving you an invitation to a world of endless wonder. You in?"
And even though Adelaide hadn't known her path had a specific destination, she felt as if her entire life had been leading up to that moment. Without even thinking, she could feel her grin growing and her head nodding, and with a voice that was barely more than whisper she gave her answer.