Title: I'll Be Home For Christmas
Series/Sequel: Where The Love Light Gleams (1 of 3)
Author: Meg Brown, aka GunBunnyCentral (previously Andromeda Valentine)
Feedback address: email@example.com
Date in Calendar: 25 December 2012
Fandom: Warehouse 13
Pairing: Myka Bering/Helena Wells
Rating: PG-13 at most
Word Count: ~8000
Summary: She'd imagined this homecoming a thousand times in a thousand different ways, but had never imagined this sudden inability to simply walk through the front door of the place.
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Disclaimer: “Warehouse 13,” the characters and situations depicted are the property of Universal Cable Productions, Universal Media Studios, and SciFi. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. This site is in no way affiliated with "Warehouse 13", SciFi, or any representative of the actors.
Note: Set during Season 4 - no specific spoilers, though it works off the assumption that all the craziness up through 4x10 gets set back to normal.
I'm dreaming tonight of a place I love,
even more than I usually do.
And although I know it's a long road back,
I promise you...
I'll be home for Christmas -
you can count on me.
Please have snow, and mistletoe,
and presents under the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me
where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas,
if only in my dreams...
Amy Grant, Home For Christmas
Helena stood on the porch of Leena's Bed & Breakfast, tiny overnight bag in one hand as she stared at the door. She'd imagined this homecoming a thousand times in a thousand different ways, but had never imagined this sudden inability to simply walk through the front door of the place.
It was a sad commentary on the state of her life, really - she stood on her own doorstep on Christmas Eve, her every worldly possession packed into a ridiculously small piece of luggage, heartbreakingly uncertain if the family she returned to actually wanted her home.
Helena saw a light come on inside and heard footsteps approaching the door. Before she could decide what to do or what to say to whoever opened that door, it flew open to reveal Leena, the inn's proprietress, beaming as if Helena were the the one person in the world she wanted to see just then.
Even so, Helena couldn't make herself move until Leena stepped forward and grabbed her hand to tug her inside. Once they were across the threshold, the other woman wrapped Helena in a welcoming, sisterly hug. "I'm so glad you made it after all. We were all so sad when Myka told us you wouldn't be able to get home."
Helena remembered every moment of that call - Myka struggling to hide her disappointment as Helena broke her word yet again, even if it wasn't her fault this time. The conversation with Claudia just after had been even worse, though - the young redhead had made no attempt to disguise her anger, both at Helena and at the Regents keeping her out in the field over the holidays.
Leena's warm welcome did more than Helena could ever say to alleviate that hurt, though, and she melted into the embrace, needing both the comfort and the feeling of truly having come home.
Leena, canny as ever, ignored the unshed tears shining in Helena's eyes. "I have some hot chocolate and some warm gingerbread in the kitchen if you're hungry. I had a hunch someone would need it."
"Somehow, I don't doubt that," Helena said, a genuine smile spreading across her face. She'd kept her distance from the other woman during her all too brief stay at the inn nearly two years back, but had seen enough to know that Leena had a unique bond with her home and the people living in it.
What Helena really wanted was to just go upstairs and curl up with Myka, sleeping somewhere familiar for once, beside the one person she loved more than anything else in the world. She was absolutely petrified of what would happen come morning - there was so much unspoken between herself and Myka that she honestly had no idea if they'd ever truly be friends again, much less become anything else - but those few short hours while they slept would be heaven on earth.
Of course, Helena's stomach had its own opinion - namely, that she never ate well at the best of times, much less when every nerve was on edge and jangling - and grumbled loudly. Leena just grinned at the noise and led Helena into the kitchen, setting a mug of homemade hot chocolate and a still-warm piece of fresh gingerbread in front of her.
Sipping at her own cocoa, Leena seemed to lose herself in her thoughts for a moment before she focused on Helena again. "We're a bit short on space right now, but I can get your room ready again over the next couple days. If I'd had at least some idea when to expect you back, I could have had it all taken care of."
Leena's irritation wasn't directed toward Helena in the slightest - she merely shared Helena's exasperation at the way the overly cautious Regents kept postponing any final decision on Helena's fate while they shamelessly took advantage of her willingness to do whatever was needed to prove herself worthy of returning to the Warehouse.
Helena read that in Leena's voice and expression, and grinned conspiratorially. "I think the Regents will find that things have changed somewhat after the holidays. I've done everything they've asked, regardless of my own feelings, and I think I've more than proven myself."
"It's about time," Leena said, though her eyes had that slightly vacant look that said she was reading every facet of Helena's aura just to be safe, which Helena couldn't blame her for. Whatever Leena saw there seemed to please her, and she reached out to place her hand over Helena's. "It'll be good to have you home - I'm sure Myka won't mind you staying in her room until we can get you your own."
Only coming from Leena would that statement somehow be free of any salacious undertones whatsoever - which Helena found amusing in its own way, given that Leena could surely see better than anyone just how deep every aspect of her attraction to Myka ran. The thought of everyone else's reaction, though, made her grin. "Pete will be insufferable when he hears."
Leena smiled back, amused as always by Pete's antics. "He means well, even if he has an odd way of showing it."
Leena's smile faded, though, as she looked up toward the ceiling for moment. Her expression when she returned her attention to Helena was serious and a little anxious. "Listen - you should know that Myka hasn't been dealing with your absence as well as she pretends to, and it only got worse after you told her you couldn't get back here for Christmas."
"Whatever it is, Leena, just tell me," Helena replied, suddenly feeling even more tense than when she'd arrived. "You know I want to help."
Leena nodded. "I promised I wouldn't say anything to anyone, but I think you should know - she has nightmares, bad ones, about you being out there all by yourself. I'm hoping that'll change with you home now, though."
Well, that certainly settled it. Helena was well and truly done playing errand girl for the Regents, especially if it was taking that sort of toll on Myka. She'd talk to Mrs. Frederick about finalizing her reinstatement - they'd gotten on quite well over the last several months, and Helena knew she worried about Myka as much as anyone did. More importantly, she knew that Irene shared her belief that she'd more than earned her place back.
Leena, as always, seemed to follow that unspoken train of thought, and placed her hand atop Helena's again. "I can speak with Mrs. Frederick for you, if you like."
It was a generous offer, given how prickly Helena tended to get when anyone implied she couldn't take care of something herself, and Helena was genuinely grateful. "That... would be lovely, Leena. Thank you."
"Any time," Leena said with a smile, and Helena could swear she felt a huge weight lift from her shoulders at the display of genuine friendship.
Leena glanced upward again, though, and the smile faded. "Right now, though, I think Myka needs you."
That was all Helena needed to hear - a moment later, she was slipping quietly into Myka's room to check on her. The curly-haired woman was sound asleep, but obviously lost in a rather unpleasant dream, and Helena stood there frozen for several heartbeats, unsure of what to do.
Then Myka called out Helena's name, and that was that - Helena thought for a moment that the other woman had somehow woken up and seen her, but quickly realized she was still sleeping. Hastily removing her boots, Helena climbed atop the covers - she couldn't quite bring herself to climb beneath them - and wrapped herself around Myka as best she could. "It's alright, darling - I'm here."
Myka seemed to quiet down at the sound of Helena's voice, and fell back into a calm, contented sleep. Helena never even realized it when she followed her a few minutes later.
The first thing Myka became aware of was that she was warm - almost too warm - and that something heavy was weighing her down. She figured that the dog, Trailer, had snuck into her room again - he did occasionally get tired of sleeping in Pete's room - and went to push him off her. "C'mon, Trailer..."
Myka's eyes flew open as her hands encountered warm, solid flesh instead of fur - for a moment, she could hardly credit what she saw. Helena - the very same Helena who had regretfully insisted there was no way she'd be able to get back to Univille for Christmas - was sound asleep in her bed, having arrived sometime after Myka had fallen asleep herself. She'd apparently curled up against Myka during the night, and it was the warmth of her body and the weight of her limbs that Myka had felt.
It took Myka several heartbeats to accept that she wasn't dreaming, and several more after that for the shock to wear off. She hadn't seen Helena in person since the day they'd saved the Warehouse from Sykes - hadn't really been able to communicate much with her even after Helena's 'radio silence' had been lifted - and her brain simply could not fathom the fact that Helena was right there beside her.
Once the shock did finally wear off, though, Myka kind of wished it hadn't - out of all the reactions to Helena's return that Myka could possibly have had, the only one that fatigue and pent-up emotion allowed for was a sudden dissolution into tears. Myka hated being reduced to crying, feeling it made her look weak, and certainly did not want Helena to see her like that.
Shutting her eyes tight, Myka focused all her energy on getting her emotions back under control - of course, her tears stemmed as much from joy as from anything else, so she wasn't as successful at it as she'd have liked. She had to work so hard at it, in fact, that she never even noticed Helena stirring.
"Myka?" Helena, clearly awake now, shifted her arm so that she could wipe away the tears drying on Myka's cheeks. "What is it, darling? Another bad dream?"
Somehow, Myka was unsurprised that Leena had told Helena about the nightmares - with her freakishly unerring judgment, Leena had known it was the right thing to do. Attempting to seem at least halfway composed even as she sniffled a little and swiped at her eyes, she did her best to explain her upset. "No. It's just... you're *here*, and you said you wouldn't be..."
With that, Myka fell into another crying jag, cursing inwardly the whole time - this was not what she'd wanted Helena's return to be like. Helena, though, seemed unperturbed by the waterworks, pulling Myka close and just holding her until she calmed down.
Knowing Myka all too well, she pre-empted her apology, smirking a little as she spoke. "Don't you dare apologize for your reaction, darling - you have no idea how desperately I needed to know I was missed."
Myka went from weepy to spluttering with typically Myka-esque indignation, which was probably all part of Helena's plan. "What? Of course you were missed!"
Tears no longer threatened - that much had worked its way out of her system, at least - but Myka's brain was still whirling with what felt like a million questions, all buzzing around at once as she reached out to touch Helena's face. "But how-? When-?"
Helena put two fingers against Myka's lips to silence her. "Enough, darling - I'm home now, despite everything, and I won't be leaving again. Assuming you want me to stay, of course."
There was a lot of history, good and bad, that they'd never had the chance to work through, but some things Myka already knew past any doubt. "God, yes. It's just... not right when you're gone."
It was Helena's turn to get misty-eyed - she'd shed her own fair share of tears over their forced and seemingly endless separation - but Myka was kind enough to pretend she didn't notice. Silence fell after that, just as Helena had feared, but it was not the awkward, painful sort she'd been expecting - they were silent because they were both a little afraid to say anything until they'd regained their equilibrium, but they were also comfortable together in that silence.
Helena, at Myka's insistence, climbed under the covers, and they lay there curled up together as the rising sun began to fill the room with daylight. Despite the emotional upheavals of just moments before, it was so quiet and calm and cozy that they both nearly drifted off again.
Leena's knock at the door, calling them for breakfast, pulled them from their almost-doze. They smiled at each other, sharing their mutual amusement at being torn between hiding out in Myka's nice, safe room and joining their noisy, rambunctious family downstairs for breakfast - Myka's growing desire to let everyone know that Helena had returned decided that one, as if there had really been any question.
If either of them had been worried about how Helena's presence would be received, they needn't have bothered. Steve was reserved but warm as Myka made introductions, and Pete was so happy to see Helena that he actually hugged her - Helena, for her part, pretended to merely tolerate the display of affection despite being completely unable to carry the ruse.
Claudia's reaction as she stumbled out into the hallway and saw Helena there was, in its own way, as extreme as Myka's. The redhead hurled herself at Helena, nearly bowling her over with a fierce bear hug that would have made Pete proud. "HG! I knew you'd make it!"
They all started the trek downstairs to the dining room, though Pete took a moment first to playfully bump Myka in the shoulder and waggle his eyebrows suggestively - he actually looked disappointed when Myka just rolled her eyes. "Really, Mykes? Your girl sneaks home on Christmas Eve just to be with you, and you actually *sleep* instead of getting some?"
Myka punched him in the arm, but he laughed it off even as he rubbed at where she'd hit him. "It's okay, I guess. You two can just make up for lost time tonight - it'll give me a chance to pass out earplugs so the rest of us can still get some sleep while you two are-"
This time, Pete took the hint, though he still shot Myka a grin as he raced off to catch up with Claudia. Helena managed to catch up with Myka halfway down the stairs, and they walked hand-in-hand the rest of the way to the dining room.
Artie was already down there waiting on everyone, and Myka and Helena froze as he noticed their joined hands. Instead of being upset or cranky or even just somehow Artie-ish, though, he smiled and nodded as he murmured to himself. "Good."
Then he *did* turn cranky, as he, Leena, and Steve tried to corral Pete and Claudia, who had already given their inner five-year-olds free reign. It was the very epitome of family, and it was glorious - the actual breakfast itself was amazing, of course, and everyone got along so well that even Helena and Artie were happily bantering back and forth.
The rest of the morning was a bit of a blur to her, if Myka was being honest. She didn't really care what they were all watching on the television or what everyone was saying about it, not when she was curled up against Helena on the couch on their first Christmas morning together.
She snapped back to wakefulness, though, when Helena mentioned needing to go over to the Warehouse without her, a sudden surge of panic rushing over her at the thought of the two them being apart again. She felt more than a little sheepish when it turned out that Helena just needed to gather up her gifts for everyone, and didn't want Myka to see her present before it could be wrapped.
On the other hand, no one could really blame either woman for feeling a little separation anxiety after everything they'd been through. Somehow, though, Myka managed to let Helena leave her sight, after a quick discussion about where in Myka's room Helena should put her things, and a mutual hand squeeze for reassurance - a kiss would have been better, but their first kiss, when it finally happened, was not going to be for the entire Warehouse team's consumption.
Pete, for all that he shook his head at the lack of kissing, seemed to understand what was going on. He slid in beside Myka once Helena had gone upstairs, giving Myka someone comforting to curl up against. Being Pete, though, he couldn't resist a little teasing. "So, sharing a room already, huh? That was fast."
Something must have crossed Myka's face at that, however, because Pete's expression went from amused to concerned. "You okay, Mykes?"
Checking around the room, Myka confirmed that no one else was paying any attention to her or to Pete, and that their conversation would be more or less private. Sighing, she curled up a little closer to Pete, resting her head on his shoulder. "Not really. Helena's finally back, and all I can think of is how freaked out I am that we'll be sharing a room - and a bed - for a few days. I know it sounds completely ridiculous, but we've never been out on a date, or even kissed! I don't- I can't-"
Pete could tell she was getting herself all worked up unnecessarily - as Myka was wont to do - and just squeezed her hand. "Breathe, Mykes. It'll be okay - it's not like you two weren't joined at the hip before anyway. You'll probably love having her there."
He was probably right, of course - Myka had learned never to ignore Pete's emotional insight - but there were still parts of the picture he didn't have. It was the somewhat embarrassing, TMI part of things, which was why she'd never brought it up with anyone at all. "You don't understand, Pete. I haven't... with anyone, not since Sam, and never with another woman. I know I'm not ready - but what if she thinks that since we're sharing a bed..?"
Pete, any hint of teasing strangely absent, planted a brotherly kiss on the top of Myka's head. "Then you tell her you're not ready yet. That woman has literally given her life for you, Mykes - trust me, she'll wait. Take things as slow or as fast as you feel comfortable with - the important thing is that she's back here now, with you."
Myka, feeling much better somehow, thanked Pete by punching him playfully in the arm. "When did you get so smart?"
Pete just grinned. "I could tell you my secret, but then I'd have to steal all your cookies. I mean it, though, Mykes - just relax and enjoy having HG back finally."
Helena came back downstairs not long after that, and it seemed to Myka as if she could see the sadness and fatigue falling away from the other woman moment by moment. Even the jibes Helena exchanged with Pete just before she left for the Warehouse with Claudia and Steve in tow seemed happier, less brittle somehow.
The only time frame Helena could offer for her return was that she'd be back by dinner, so Myka decided to try and keep busy instead of just sitting around waiting. First, she helped Leena clean up from breakfast, scrubbing anything and everything within an inch of its life, then she went upstairs to get showered and dressed for the day. After that, she confirmed that all her gifts were properly wrapped and placed under the tree, especially the one she'd bought for Helena without even knowing if the other woman would would be home - that turned her a little misty eyed again, but Pete took care of that quickly enough when he deliberately started pestering her about his present.
After that, Myka grabbed one of her Sudoku books and curled up next to Pete as he flipped through the television guide to find something to watch. Much as she hated Pete's habit of channel-surfing, it felt comfortable and right just then - had Helena been there too, it would have been absolutely perfect.
Finally, just moments before dinner was ready to be served, Helena, Claudia, and Steve returned, laden down with the various gifts they'd retrieved. They were all happy and breathless and pink-cheeked, lips ever so slightly blue, and it was clear they'd made time to play in the snow outside - it made Myka equally happy and breathless to see Helena so completely relaxed and... well, just plain radiant.
Everyone insisted that Myka and Helena sit together at the table once Leena summoned them - though Claudia, who'd missed Helena just as keenly in her way, called dibs on the chair on the other side of her - and neither of them felt the need to argue with the arrangement. Where breakfast had been light but filling, dinner was an all-out spread that had even the most self-controlled of them drooling a little.
Leena, as always, had outdone herself, and it was all amazing - even Myka, usually the least likely to do so, simply gave in to the inevitable and loaded her plate down with far more food than she could comfortably eat. Helena, though, took comparatively little, eating what she'd taken but doing so rather slowly - Myka, remembering that Helena had never been particularly good about eating enough at the best of times, was a little concerned until Leena caught her attention and somehow managed to convey that Helena was just fine.
Leena, as it turned out, was right - by the time she and Artie had finished regaling the table with various Christmas and Hanukkah anecdotes, Helena had eaten plenty and even moved on to dessert. Pete and Claudia, predictably, both completely lost control of their inner child in the face of a massive sugar rush and started clamoring to open presents the moment it appeared everyone was finished eating.
Helena, who seemed content and at ease in a way Myka had never seen, requested that she be allowed to hand out her gifts first. There was a happy glint in her eye as she asked that matched Pete and Claudia's, and it didn't escape Myka's attention that the entire household quietly banded together to foster it.
Helena gave Artie his gift first. His eyes widened as he looked at the pile of Victorian-era sheet music that he'd unwrapped, and he seemed as close to choked up as Myka had ever known him to be. Helena couldn't help smiling at the reaction. "The sheet music belonged to my mother - I learned to play, of course, like every other girl, but never really cared for it."
Artie, never one for displaying emotion, managed to mumble something both genuine and appropriate as he thanked her. It was an amusingly awkward moment, actually - most people would have exchanged a hug of some sort at at a time like that, but it was pretty much accepted that Artie and Helena would probably never, ever reach that point with each other. Finally, though, they shook hands, and it seemed to work perfectly for them.
Helena turned to Leena next, handing her an oblong package that turned out to be an extremely well-preserved Victorian doll. Leena, who loved such things, was clearly enthralled from moment one and vowed to find the perfect place to display it.
Helena, seeming a little anxious despite her smile, ran her hand through her hair. "It was one of Christina's favorites - she worked very hard to keep it looking like new."
"I'll take care of it," Leena assured her, pulling her in for a quick hug.
Attempting to recover from the slight waver in her equilibrium, Helena handed Pete his present. "I'm given to understand that you like all sorts of games, not just video games. I thought you'd like this one."
Pete - who loved board games as much as, if not more than, any video game he ever played - whooped excitedly when he unwrapped the antique Chinese checkers set. He also immediately began trying to rope everyone in the room into playing a game or two with him just as soon as they had the time - surprisingly, Helena was the first person he asked. "Man, oh man, HG - this is awesome! You know it means you're gonna have to play me, though, right?"
Helena graciously agreed, and Claudia bounced in place a little as she squeezed Myka's hand, sharing her excitement at the possibility that Pete and Helena might actually start getting along. They were both thinking the exact same thing - if even Artie could finally be brought around, then anything was possible.
Myka suspected that Claudia had helped Helena pick out the gift the she gave to Steve - there was just no way Helena knew enough about him to choose anything for him without a little assistance. However she'd gotten there, though, Helena's choice of gift proved as inspired as the rest of her presents so far.
"It's a first-generation Tesla," Helena explained as Steve held the firearm up to examine it. "It was mine, actually, back when I was at Warehouse 12 - I refused to carry a regular firearm. Sadly, it got broken during a mission and it proved easier to replace than to repair."
Steve, normally so reserved, just grinned as he batted Claudia's hands away from the old Tesla. "It's awesome."
Helena turned to Claudia then, holding out her gift for the redhead. "I thought perhaps you might help Steve repair the Tesla. You would, of course, require these to do so."
Claudia excitedly unwrapped her gift, squealing happily when it turned out to be a set of steampunk-looking tools of the sort Helena herself would have used during her days at Warehouse 12. Myka was pretty sure Helena still had hers, actually, and that she still used them - she couldn't suppress a smile as she pictured Helena and Claudia neck-deep in some project that threatened to explode or combust at any moment.
Claudia froze suddenly as she checked out the leather case the tools had been rolled up in. Her face went paper-white as her eyes widened, and she held the bundle back out to Helena. "I... can't take these, HG."
There was a shakiness to Claudia's voice that Myka didn't like, especially when she had no clue in hell what was wrong. Helena seemed to understand the situation, though, and apparently disagreed with Claudia's assessment of it. "Nonsense, darling - I insist."
Myka spotted the cause of Claudia's apprehension as Helena handed the leather-wrapped bundle back to its new owner - the leather had a stylized letter 'C' embossed on it, and it had clearly not been done recently. Only one other person with that initial sprang to mind - Christina Wells.
Helena's smile was a little sad, but she was genuine in her desire for Claudia to keep her gift. "I gathered these for Christina, darling - if they aren't to be hers after all, then I insist they be yours instead."
Myka felt her eyes sting a little as Claudia all but flung herself at Helena, wrapping her in another bear hug - she was reasonably sure that Claudia was tearing up a little too. "This is awesome, HG - just what I needed for some of the stuff around the Warehouse."
Recovering her composure, Claudia turned to Steve. "You ready to fix a Tesla, Jinksy?"
Steve totally was, of course, and they shared a quick high-five. Artie, being Artie, had to interrupt their excited chatter with one of his stock speeches about Claudia needing to observe proper safety procedures during her projects - Claudia, being Claudia, paid close attention to every word while also giving him all sorts of good-natured attitude to hide that she did so.
Myka took Helena's hand, searching her face to make sure she was alright, but she needn't have been concerned. Letting go of Myka's hand, Helena reached out to pick up a rectangular present, handing it to Myka with a huge grin. "I saved the best for last, darling."
Claudia suddenly got two or three shades more excited than she already was, and Myka jokingly feigned a twinge of fear as she examined her gift. She deliberately took her time doing so, just to tease both Helena and Claudia, until Claudia simply couldn't handle the delay any longer. "C'Mon, Myka - will you just open the damn thing already?"
Myka, grinning, carefully peeled off the wrapping paper to reveal a rectangular wooden box. She recognized it from the cameo-like design on the top as being the box that she'd stored Helena's grappler gun in until its heroic demise rescuing several Regents - including Pete's mother Jane.
Myka realized belatedly that she'd never told Helena what had happened to her beloved invention. "Uh, Helena - about the grappler gun you gave me..."
Helena just chuckled. "I already know, darling - I'm given to understand the poor thing died a hero's death, so I'm content. Now kindly open your gift, if you please, before Claudia perishes from the anticipation."
Laughing, Myka opened the lid to look inside the box. A gasp stole the laughter from her lips as she saw what lay inside - a brand new grappler gun, smaller and shinier and even more steampunk than its predecessor. It bore the hallmarks of both Helena's and Claudia's handiwork, and she suddenly realized just why Claudia had been so keen for her to open the gift. "You two made this together somehow, didn't you?"
The two women grinned conspiratorially at each other for a moment before Helena answered Myka's question. "I sent Claudia the designs, and she actually built it - I do believe she even improved somewhat on my original schematics."
It was silly, and juvenile, but Myka had to fight hard not to just bounce around on her toes with happiness as she hugged them both in turn. "I can't wait to test this out!"
That impulse to bounce gave way to amusement as Claudia and Helena fell into an impromptu, rapid-fire discussion on the grappler's specifications that left everyone else's eyes glazed over about thirty seconds in. Trailer, banished during dinner and largely ignored this whole time afterward, lasted a full two minutes before he moved in to whimper and nuzzle at Helena's hand as if looking for his own gift.
Helena, though admittedly not much of an animal person, had clearly already been won over by Trailer's canine charms. She patted him on the head and scratched behind his ears, actually seeming a little contrite. "I'm sorry, dear boy - I wasn't able to find anything suitable for you. Perhaps we can go to the pet store soon and pick you something out?"
Trailer, apparently mollified, gave a quiet bark and licked Helena's hand before going to lay back down by Pete with one of the new chew toys he'd been given. Everyone must have suddenly felt a tad guilty for leaving him out, because the dog spent the next several minutes getting coddled and fussed over, accepting the attention as if it were only his proper due.
Myka insisted on being the next person to hand out her gifts - in particular, she wanted to give Helena the gift she had taken a lot of time and trouble to find. Being herself, of course, all the certainty she'd felt in picking the thing out suddenly fled as she handed the wrapped package over to be opened.
Helena, though, was thrilled simply to receive a gift from Myka - the very first, actually - and would have been happy no matter what that gift turned out to be. Instead, it was her turn to gasp in surprise as she opened a small rectangular jewelry case to reveal an antique gold bracelet set with opals and watermelon tourmaline.
It was very similar to a bracelet - a family heirloom - that Helena had told Myka about, a favorite piece that she regretted no longer having. Myka had done her best to replicate it, and it was very close, though not exact. "I know it's different from the one you told me about, but it was so close that I had to get it for you."
The original hadn't had opal or tourmaline, but they were both Helena's birthstones, and the change had just felt right. Helena certainly seemed pleased as she held it out for Myka to place on her wrist. "It's absolutely lovely, darling."
Myka, concentrating on working the antique clasp, completely missed the impish glint that came into Helena's eyes. Taking advantage of their proximity, Helena pulled Myka close and planted a kiss on each corner of her mouth. "Thank you, darling."
There was nothing improper or even overtly sexual about it - save that it was Helena, kissing her - but Myka still flushed beet red and found herself stumbling for words. Claudia at least covered her mouth to hide her grin, but Pete started snickering outright - fortunately, Leena saved him by handing him his own gift from Myka, thereby distracting him before Myka could get annoyed.
Everything after that was something of a blur to Myka, who never never quite recovered from that kiss. She managed to pay enough attention to see that her gifts were well-received, and then to accept her own gifts from the others in return, but her mind wasn't entirely present.
Once all the gifts had been exchanged, everyone settled in to watch the game Pete had recorded - American football had never been Myka's favorite, but she liked sports well enough in general to enjoy a game or two on special occasions. If nothing else, it was an excellent cover for indulging the seemingly endless need she'd developed to be in close physical proximity to Helena.
It was, Myka would learn later, quite a good game - as it happened, though, she saw nothing beyond the first few plays. One moment she was listening to Pete and Steve argue about some penalty or other as they tried to explain the rules to Helena, the next she was waking up to the sound of Pete and Claudia snapping pictures with various cell phones - she'd apparently fallen sound asleep at some point, curled up against Helena, clutching her new grappler to her chest like some sort of bizarre teddy bear.
Claudia and Pete, as expected in such a situation, had made sure to get multiple pictures on multiple phones - in some sort of weird attempt to be thoughtful, they'd even used Helena's and Myka's phones to snap a few. The images, to be fair, were actually kind of sweet - fortunately, Myka was only half-awake and thus not really coherent enough to voice that thought.
The game was over by then - Myka had apparently stolen herself a nice three hour nap - and now they were starting up one of the many Christmas movies that had been dragged out for the season. It was one of the few that Myka actually liked and didn't mind watching again for the umpteenth time, but her eyelids started growing heavy again almost immediately.
When she got woken up again - this time by Helena, as she laughed at something onscreen - she'd somehow managed to shift around in her sleep so that her head was in Helena's lap. Someone, she noted vaguely, had taken the grappler from her and set it aside before she managed to accidentally fire the thing in her sleep - they'd given her a throw pillow to hold instead, which was much more comfortable and much safer.
The movie's final credits were rolling - make that a five hour nap, then - and Pete was setting up one of his video games for himself, Claudia, and Steve. Myka caught something about Pete not using his Chinese checkers set until Helena played the very first game with him, but she was still extremely groggy and all the conversation just sort of flowed around her without really sinking in.
"Myka, darling," Helena said as Myka's eyes grew heavy yet again, "perhaps we should get you up to bed."
Pete and Claudia both had to muffle their snickering at that - Steve, at least, just smirked a little. Myka and Helena apparently rolled their eyes simultaneously, which only prompted more snickering from the peanut gallery. Miraculously, Pete managed to avoid saying anything too terribly inappropriate - maybe he was trying to cut his partner a little slack after their conversation earlier.
Myka, still wanting to spend time with everyone, considered protesting that she wasn't really tired anymore, but it was already nine o'clock at night, and she was in fact still exhausted despite her nap. Of course, a good chunk of her sleepiness had faded by the time she told everyone good night and followed Helena up the stairs - it probably had something to do with the steadily increasing nervousness as they moved closer and closer to being alone in Myka's room.
It was every bit as awkward as Myka had expected once they actually got into her room, but there really wasn't much to do except move forward through it. Myka grabbed everything she needed to get ready for bed, and left Helena to unpack and get ready for bed herself as she headed for the bathroom down the hall.
Helena was apparently done unpacking by the time she got back, even finding time to change into her pajamas, and was occupying herself playing with Myka's pet ferret. She looked up with a grin as Myka walked through the door into the room. "Your ferret is rather more charming than I remember - he started doing the most peculiar little dance right after you left the room."
Myka couldn't help chuckling a little at the all-too-familiar image that conjured up. "It's called a war dance - Pete was saying he wanted to play."
Helena quirked an eyebrow at the name. "Pete?"
"We call him PJ," Myka explained, "for Pete Junior, but yes - he and human Pete are so alike that I just couldn't resist."
That was apparently the most hilarious thing that Helena had ever heard, because she just threw her head back and laughed - a long, loud, genuine belly-laugh. Myka had never heard anything like it from her, and tried desperately to ignore the way it just seemed to wash over her and roll down her spine.
Distracting herself by glancing around, Myka was struck by the realization that Helena had apparently had next to nothing to unpack. The idea of Helena roaming from hotel to hotel with no possessions of her own, and no familiar place to return to filled Myka with an unexpected anger. "Helena, please tell me the rest of your things are at the Warehouse somewhere..."
Helena caught the sudden shift in Myka's mood, and there was almost a pleading note in her voice as she tried to keep things light. "Don't, darling, please - I'm home now, and we'll buy whatever I might need once the stores reopen."
Myka couldn't ignore the plea in those words, so she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Opening them again, she fixed Helena with her most authoritative stare. "Fine - but no more living out of a suitcase, okay? You said it yourself - you're home now."
"Indeed, darling." There had been many reasons why Helena had never truly settled in during her first stay here - reasons she and Myka would have to talk about one day - but she'd long since made the decision to move past her previous mistakes and actually accept the fresh start she'd earned.
PJ, sensing the sudden increase in Myka's stress level, responded by insisting that Myka play with him immediately. Myka let the ferret charm her out of her darkening mood - like his human namesake, he was quite good at it when the occasion arose - then went to put him back in his cage for the night, checking that he had plenty of food and water. Understanding the routine, PJ just climbed into the little hidey-hole that he'd chosen for his sleeping space and settled in without complaint.
By the time she was done taking care of PJ, Myka was able to recover something of her easy, relaxed mood from earlier. Pete had been right in what he'd said - whatever Myka and Helena had had to deal with over the last several months, Helena was home now, and that was all that really mattered.
Lost in her thoughts, she never even heard Helena pad up beside her, or heard her retrieve the gift she was now holding out. "I have one final gift for you, darling - though I couldn't quite bring myself to give this one to you in front of everyone else."
The light in the room glinted off the bracelet she'd placed on Helena's wrist, and Myka grinned as much at that as at the unexpected gift being offered to her. Helena seemed oddly intent on that gift, though, so Myka quickly moved to take it from her, wonderingly idly what it could possibly be.
Once she had it unwrapped, she suddenly understood Claudia's earlier attempt to refuse Helena's present. The rectangular jewelry case held the larger of Helena's two lockets, obviously cleaned and restored prior to being wrapped up. "Helena, I can't..."
"I'm afraid I must insist, darling," Helena replied, covering Myka's hands with her own so that Myka couldn't let go of the box. "When you returned this to me after Hong Kong, I realized that it felt right for you to have it - that I *wanted* you to have it."
Despite the lack of actual in-depth conversations during the time they'd known each other, Myka and Helena had always had a kind of instinctual understanding of each other that went beyond mere words. When Myka opened the rectangular locket to find Christina's image still in it and Helena's own picture now filling the previously empty spot opposite, she understood - Helena was trusting her with some small part of Christina's memory, the most precious thing she had.
Any thought of further protest vanished as Myka simply tried to let her understanding and gratitude show in her eyes and face. "Thank you, Helena."
Helena, pleased by Myka's acceptance of her gift, took the locket from its case and moved behind Myka to help fasten the chain around her neck. It was all Myka could do to keep her pulse and her breathing under control with Helena that close and her fingers brushing against Myka's skin.
There was no way Myka could hide her reaction, though, when Helena pressed a quick, almost furtive kiss against the nape of her neck. She shivered and gasped, which Helena took as permission to trail a few more kisses over to just below Myka's ear.
Myka knew she'd probably have to stop this soon, but Helena hadn't yet moved beyond her comfort zone. Willing, at least for the moment, to see where things led, Myka shifted herself around to face Helena - she definitely had no objection to finally getting that first kiss.
It was a good first kiss, too - sweet, gentle, and a little tentative as they got their first taste of each other. There weren't any earth-shaking fireworks - those were for later - but Myka was quite content for now with the undemanding warmth that slowly coursed through her.
Then Helena's hands slid up under her pajama top, and Myka abruptly reached her limit. She didn't pull away or remove Helena's hands, but she used her own hands to still them in place so that Helena understood to stop.
Myka struggled to form the words to go with her actions, but they seemed to have deserted her. Helena, fortunately, seemed to know exactly what Myka was trying to say. "Too fast, darling?"
The easy acceptance helped Myka find her voice again. "I'm probably crazy for saying this, but - I'm not ready, not yet. I still need some time to process all of this."
"I know this is something of a first for you, darling," Helena said finally. "Needing to take things slowly is perfectly understandable."
Myka figured Helena might as well know the whole story. "I haven't been with anyone in years, Helena - I haven't even wanted to be, except with you. My head and my body just need a little time to catch up to each other."
"Of course, darling." There was no way Helena could keep herself from smirking after a statement like that, though she did her best to minimize it. She got a little more serious, though, as a sudden thought seemed to strike her. "If you aren't comfortable sharing a room with me, darling, I can-"
"No!" Myka tamped back the sudden flare of separation anxiety and forced herself to respond again with a bit more rationality. "I mean - I want you to stay in here with me, as long as you understand that nothing physical is going to happen just yet. I- I should probably warn you that I'm a terrible roommate."
It was a weak attempt at a joke, but Helena smiled anyway. "I doubt I'll be much better, darling, but I expect we'll muddle through."
Helena moved one hand to brush a stray curl out of Myka's eyes, then brought both hands up to cup her face. "Just so we are perfectly clear, darling, we'll take things as slowly, or as quickly, as you feel comfortable with. All I ask is that you do your best to communicate those boundaries to me so I don't step over them."
Myka nodded her acceptance of Helena's terms, then leaned her forehead against Helena's shoulder. "I missed you so much..."
The fatigue she'd felt when they'd first come upstairs suddenly returned with a vengeance, and she struggled unsuccessfully to fight off a yawn. "Sorry - long day..."
Helena just smiled at that - emotionally speaking, it was quite true - and started guiding Myka toward the bed. Once she'd ascertained which side of the bed Myka preferred, it was easy to get the other woman comfortably settled and tucked under the covers - given that she was swaying on her feet, Myka didn't exactly argue.
After that, Helena turned off the overhead light. A small single light was still burning in the window, though - the same light, Helena realized, that she'd spotted from the yard when she'd first arrived. "Myka, darling - what's this light for? Shall I turn it off?"
Myka, barely conscious, was also barely comprehensible - she just mumbled something to the effect of having read about the light in a book. The final few words of her statement, however, were quite clear, and brought tears to Helena's eyes. "It was to help guide you home..."