Rating: T (for some violence and dark themes)
Spoilers: Up to the end of Season 2 finale.
Summary: Think what you want, but this life throws out much that you could never expect. Helen focused piece with other characters making an appearance, namely Jenny, Nick and Lester. Featuring one post-S2 Nick POV ficlet and two Helen POV AU/future ficlets.
A/N: Written for rodlox, as part of the Priemval ficathon, who asked for Helen saves the day – these are unorthodox takes on that theme but hopefully they fulfil it adequately. It's not all sunshine about her character but I hope the canon take on Nick's views doesn't count as badmouthing considering how it ends. I also tried to work “An intelligent species that the fossil record never mentioned.” into it. Thanks to fififolle for betareading and AshsBoomstick for being my sounding board/inspiration.
Expect The Worst
Helen isn't evil, even Nick wouldn't claim that – manipulative, conniving, practically merciless but not quite heartless, though as good as perhaps given she left Stephen to die twice...and letting him think she was dead for eight years. But he won't call her evil, because he was once taught that truly being evil means not having a choice and he's certain everything Helen did she intended to do. It's the consequences, her lack of reaction or her oft enough amusement at the horrific and tragic, that is what has turned his feelings around - makes him despise her for abusing his own memory of his wife and his trust of who she was.
Still, she's a good woman, if you classify that as being good at what she does, at who she means to be. Never one to believe in sin or absolutes, her ideals are skewed towards scientific gain at almost any cost. Perhaps that's why, no, Nick never notices what he ought to.
He looks at her, stares in disbelief first off, at the figure approaching him from the dusky horizon. The thin crisp silhouette formed by the dark leather jacket may or may not be her and he holds his breath, but underneath the assurances of his mind, he just knows it's her. Studying the way she saunters towards him and stops still two meters away from him, he tries to predict her next move, forgetting to consider why she's here, why she's putting herself in this vulnerable position. In practice there are only two reasons but he presumes she's overconfident, so damn sure of herself, knows that he still cares about her despite what he last told her.
Helen stands there, head tilted, coy and casual with her hands thrust in deep pockets, oblivious to the idea which had run through his head as he watched her approach. His finger still twitches with the urge to lift up the tranquilliser gun and pull the trigger. It's getting to be a dark night, traces of the sun disappearing rapidly and the moonlight unlikely at this time of the month; he could probably have argued he thought she was a creature, especially given the mottled leather she is wearing. Lester wouldn't have believed him, would have said something scathing and accusatory, but he'd never have the facts, and if Nick was really unlucky (or was it lucky? He really couldn't figure it out) she wouldn't have died from Ketamine overdose, and then Lester would have had less reason to question his actions, with a prize presented to him, no matter it being by happenstance.
Yet Nick didn't take his chance, arm half-raised - a slightly puzzled look on her face at his actions descends into panicked confusion and pain. Her body slumps to the floor and behind her he sees Connor's face loom out of the treeline, the rest of him still partially obscured by the shadows. The boy gives him a somewhat apologetic looks as he phones for Abby and Jenny, waiting around for help to arrive. If he didn't know better, Nick would think Connor knows what he had intended to do – every mumbled half-sentence that disturbs the silence between them seems to say Connor's sorry, “but he just had to”.
Nick watches their backup, the special forces men Jenny called in, strap his former wife to a stretcher and almost laughs when Jenny makes an offhand comment as she stands next to him.
“I suppose you're lucky Connor was around. Who knows what she wanted with you.”
Truth is Connor had more saved Helen than him and Jenny really ought to be asking what he wants with Helen, why he hadn't shouted for help when they were so close by. Jenny can't be quite as good at her profiling and risk assessment as she suggests she is, and he thinks maybe that's because she's used to him, warmed to him and still can't see the change he feels inside since the fiasco in the compound and Stephen's funeral. He wishes this could be the last he ever sees or hears of Helen but she is never gone - ghost or not, she haunts him in a tangible way that permeates every day - the work he does and the absence of his friend both constant reminders of the mistakes, the misjudgement he's kept making. No more.
The next day is full of meetings, full of Lester's questions and snide comments. Nick ignores it all, not addressing anything directly to do with Helen, instead he talks about his latest theory on the anomalies and the changes to the timeline possible, until he realises he's about to mention Claudia and inadvertently Helen, Helen's meddling. Lester is looking smug, knowing Nick has lost, and Jenny turns away, lips tight, expression pained.
The most Lester gets out of him is agreeing to watch from the other side of the mirror screen of their basement interrogation room. It's mostly used for the larger projects as an extra research lab, equipment wheeled in, but occasionally also to scare people who get the 'wrong' idea about the things that happen around the country. The Official Secrets Act is trotted out and Lester makes sure the borrowed goons from another government agency make it clear they can hold them there for a good amount of time, long enough for them to recollect their memories in the proper order. Nick hates it, usually any mention of this place leaves a bad taste in his mouth and makes him question Lester and Jenny's priorities – it always seems going too far for him, even agreeing that the public cannot know.
But now, he has some pleasure seeing Helen down there, feeling stupidly powerful towering over her in the first floor observation room and knowing he can direct the goons to use whatever questions as he wishes. It's doubtful anything will shake her enough to get her to give any information up, yet Lester thinks this is the best plan, using him as a weapon against her, as if Nick is supposed to know her well. Personally he thinks Lester has more in common with her, more likelihood to get what she alludes to, but there's no convincing either him or Jenny to do this instead.
Lester doesn't have the time or patience, and Jenny can barely stand to look at her. It's unexpected and strange; he expects it has something to do with her perception of who she ought to be now and Helen as the perpetrator. Staring the person who essentially victimised her in the face is intimidating and it's like Jenny fears that the woman will change her with one blink of an eyelid. Ridiculous notion but not difficult to understand, and worryingly not actually out of the realm of possibility, so there are no scientific reassurances he can give her.
As he stands there listening to them 'interviewing' Helen, his mind goes blank, unable to see anything of the woman he knew in her. They ask questions and she meets them with further questions, mostly undermining repetitions, their words thrown back at them. There's nothing he can use against her that she won't know is from him, expected and prepared for. After an hour and a half he walks out and goes home, not intending to let anyone know, but five minutes after he's got in his door the phone rings.
It was a woman's voice. “You do realise if you don't do this it means I have to. I get blamed for not keeping you in line, as if it's possible to. Even if you don't fear Lester, I do – I'm replaceable, unlike you,” Jenny says, scoffing at his poor judgement and the supposed unfairness of her position.
The rant makes him blink – replaceable, is that really what she thinks? - and suddenly he reconsiders his choices.
“You're right. It was selfish of me to leave. I'll be there in,” he glances at his watch, calculating what it'll take in what's going to be rush hour, “an hour.”
“Really? Oh, um...good.”
Jenny hadn't expected that response clearly. At least sometimes he's capable of surprising her and indeed, himself as well, because when he finds himself back there he has a surge of bravery, fuelled no doubt by the very anger he'd felt the night before, simply channelled more usefully. He opens the door and notes the guards are gone, as is Helen. There's still someone chained to the desk though and his heart lurches as she looks at him, Jenny staring at him half-terrified, like it's Helen back to finish her off, and half-infuriated at being restrained so indignantly, one wrist and one ankle haphazardly secured to the chair and the desk respectively. He doesn't remember or wish to reflect upon the fact that Helen was tied up in the same manner, no care given, but then he hadn't thought much on that considering he'd almost been ready to make good on his prior threat to shoot her if he had to.
“Don't just stand there! Get me out of these things.”
“I don't have the keys. What do you want me to do?”
He fumbles in his pockets and produces a penknife, that Jenny immediately yanks out of his hand and applies one of the odd tools to the locks. A minute later and her hand is freed, and she gets to work on her leg.
“When did you learn to pick locks?”
“Handy skill to have at a boarding school,” she replies non-plussed, and the second restraint drops to the floor, loose and empty. “Come on, we need to get to Wyefield Park – she was egotistical enough to mention her villainous plans.”
“What about backup?” he asked as they jogged down the corridor, turning right and taking the direct route to the subterranean carpark.
“I'll call on the drive over, but we have to make a move now. God knows when we'll have a chance like this again and I can't let Lester forever lambaste me for letting her get away.”
Jenny insisted they take the only company car he had keys to, since it at least had decent supplies, unlike his meagre trunkful of bits and bobs that she'd frowned at. The downside was he hadn't got much of a clue where Wyefield Park was and ended up distracted by trying to figure out the infernal technology in the car that told him to make a u-turn on a dual carriageway, barely paying attention to Jenny after handing her his mobile to place the call on.
“Well, that was about as useful as...” and she grimaced, in her frustration unable to find the words to complete the sentence.
“They're not coming?” he asked, wondering if Helen might have designed a distraction to lead the others off on a wild goose chase in order to make her escape.
“They're in Hertfordshire. An hour out from here when you include the traffic.”
“But we'll be fine,” she adds, “we've got a veritable arsenal in the back.”
He feels his stomach sink and hopes that they can manage this on their own. Frankly, he's surprised at Clau...Jenny's confidence when she assures him they can do it because it wasn't that long ago she had found herself tricked and trapped by the woman.
The sun is setting and he realises they have little hope of finding Helen if she doesn't wish to be found this time. Jenny still holds the gun up protectively – he was a tad surprised when she expressed competency with one - but she'd stopped putting as much energy into each step as they stumbled around the wooded area looking for some sign of activity. There's simply nothing. The park is deserted - no joggers, no dogwalkers, no miscreant youths drinking cider on the bandstand.
“I suppose we've lost her,” she says dejectedly.
“It's not your fault, you know. You could hardly have done anything to prevent it.”
“If I'd been where I should'a...”
“If you'd been there then you might have been in the same situation as me, only no one would've come looking for you for a lot longer. You always do have to go off and do things by yourself, off the record. Looks like that's been useful on this occasion though.”
Part of that doesn't make sense to him, but he can't tell what it is and he misses the hint of something else that comes through in the last thought she responds with.
“How did she manage to do that to you exactly?” he asks, suddenly curious.
She bristles at the question, ostensibly looking away to search the horizon. “I'm sure you'll get to read all about it in the official report but right now I don't wish to talk about it.”
There's still the sense of something odd going on, something he can't put his finger on and it appears to be confirmed when she breaks from her stance and stalks across to him with a predatory look.
“As if you've never made mistakes.”
And as soon as her lips are finished forming the words, he find them upon his, Jenny kissing him hungrily, as if it's the last thing she will do. He has just enough time to register what's going on before she steps back and it's over. Her mouth opens but instead of the explanation or excuse he expects, it forms a perfect O as he hears a dull thud.
Her eyes look down and his follow, witnessing the sickening spread of red across her stomach. He manages to rush across and catch her as she falls, and glancing up he sees Helen, smoking gun swinging from her hand as she strides towards him.
“I'd get back if I were you. No telling what it'll do.”
He was confused by her words, but holding Jenny in his arms prevented any rational thought. Flurries of emotion passed through his mind, fast and furious and unsettling, leaving him aghast, unable to find the words to say anything coherent at all.
“How dare you...how...you...”
His eyes brim with tears he isn't conscious of and the inconsolable pain he'd been blocking for the weeks since...since Stephen, filters into him like a flood. The body in his arms is limp now and all his attention is on Helen, his gaze full of an unequalled rage, far far more passionate than what he'd felt before. Until he feels a strange sensation, Jenny's body shifts, there's no other description for what is happening. He drops what she has become, stumbling away, lost for words once more as the form then seems to lose structural integrity. Where Jenny once was there is now a bubbling, twisting unidentifiable mass.
“What did you do?” he shouts at Helen.
She doesn't answer immediately, she watches the thing with fascination, as it becomes Jenny again for a fleeting moment, then turns back into a mirror of herself.
The thing morphs through several forms after hers, creatures he recognises and some he has no clue of. Eventually it stops, settling on a mottled grey fleshy mass, a quadruped if he's not mistaken, missing a leg. He turns to Helen, who is smiling, amused.
“WHAT is that?”
“That wasn't Jenny, and yet it was good enough for you, to fool you of course. That. was the version of me you captured – that is something you need to be careful of. Highly intelligent, partially empathic. All it needs is to hear you, to touch you and next thing you know it is you, usurping you.”
She moved to circle the corpse as she talked. Nick stood, stuck to the spot, taking it all in and attempting to purge the images of it as Jenny, of Jenny dying, from his mind.
“It takes an imprint of your memories, not all of them, but just the right amount to get by as you, albeit a colder imperfect copy. It latched onto my visage in the Neolithic but I've been following it for some time, trying to minimise the damage it's been doing – it has a hard time with travelling and multiple eras, it's not very adaptable to those types of changes despite appearances. You know,” she says as she crouches down to get a closer look, “I'm surprised you didn't catch on to it's differences.”
Unphased by his sniping, Helen continued, taking pleasure in being the lecturer here.
“They tend to ask a lot of questions and are evasive since they only have basic behavioural and memory imprints of the thing they imitate.”
“So in other words it's just as evasive and manipulative as the real thing, huh?”
He expected a mock hurt look but merely got a playful “Touché,” and a reminder he didn't need.
“Didn't you threaten to shoot me the next time you saw me?”
“Not quite, but I already managed to resist once this week,” he retorts dryly.
“Yes, I saw. But that wasn't so much resisting as not taking the chance. Well - ” she says, stepping forward, “here it is.”
“I don't have a gun.” His reply comes too quick, obviously an excuse.
“I've got one. And so did that thing,” she says, glancing to her belt and then her feet, at least one of those he calculates is within his reach. “Don't tell me it didn't cross your mind. I recall you were quite good at rugby tackles and wrestling, after a fashion.”
He takes a moment to think, wondering how he got here, how what had been so clear just twenty four hours before had him uncertain right now.
“You saved my life, possibly. This isn't benefit of the doubt, I'm returning the favour because I'm not a heartless bastard.”
“I wonder if you'll regret this later,” she whispers as she passes him by.
“Try not to make me, Helen.” He turns and catches her arm briefly, letting go as she pauses next to him. “Stop all the madness.”
“Ah Nick,” she says, with a shake of head, again in amusement though this time almost sad at the same time, “you don't get it. It's only looks like madness when you can't see the bigger picture.”
“Enlighten me then.”
It comes out as rough and desperate plea, with more feeling than he'd have thought possible to have for anything involving her any more.
Her eyes study him unusually, not as he'd expect, there's no sense of the woman he's used to these days, who they all live partly in fear of. Yet, the moment slips by and she coolly replies as she physically moves away as well.
“You had your chance, you passed it up. Just like now. Goodbye, Nick.”
He lets her go, because he can't think what else to do, and, because walking away too is easier than being a man who cares – it doesn't matter if he shoots or follows her, either is more passion than he can bear.
Expect The Unexpected
Every part of her life now involves calculating the risks - every action has great potential and it could go either way. One step to the right instead of to the left could be disastrous against the wrong opponent, yet she always manages to stay that one step ahead of them all, creatures and people alike. Slowly it unravels though, so slowly she doesn't see it until it's too late and upon her.
Farnham Hall and the surrounding area is a familiar enough haunt for her, in another time or two at least. How she'd known it previously was as a convenient hideout with a stash of period appropriate clothes, paraphernalia and money. The dilapidated residence was ideal exactly because few wanted to risk the structurally dubious entrance and she was uniquely imbued with knowledge of the old cellar tunnels out into the grounds, thanks to her forward thinking plan to research the area after her first accidental visit. She'd always considered it quaint, with its overgrown gardens and Gothic architecture, somewhat like an abandoned church and usefully with little likelihood of attracting any attention – the ideal distance from the village, but a major town not too far out. Of course, she hadn't thought what it might be like to stumble into the area in an emergency, in another time, when the house was still occupied...
As soon as she steps through the anomaly she knows this is wrong, not where she'd intended. Her head is still a mess, filled to the brim with a cacophony of thoughts fighting for supremacy. There are hands grasping at her and shocked screams in the background. She squints in the harsh sunlight and the glare of the anomaly; seeing apples spilled on the ground, the clang of a blacksmith working, a priest fumbling for his Bible – she's smack bang in the middle of the village. In the centre of the market she stumbles in pain, dressed entirely inappropriately, trying to keep a semblance of control as her head feels like it might explode. All she'd wanted was a quiet place to stay and figure out this change in her mind – illness, sabotage or whatever it is - away from the danger of any creatures, but she'd inadvertently placed herself in more peril. She is a picture of scandal and madness that can't be abided; it is not too long before she smells the tang of chloroform and all is dulled, until she wakes up here, appropriately in Farnham Hall, the local mental asylum.
She'd never considered the unknown as something to fear – it was always with awe and balanced consideration she approached such things. An amazing scientific discovery, a once in a lifetime adventure, the power to discover the secrets of time. Except, we don't usually think as carefully as we should about whether we really want to know everything. Helen Cutter hadn't and suddenly she is afraid.
There's peace here of a kind, when the screaming of the other inmates stops. She doesn't know what they do to the other patients, if they bother doing anything in this era – her remembrance of Victorian medical history is vague at best and she can't pick out memories well at the moment – but she had wondered in the idler times if the callous primitive treatment they go through might be better, a lesser evil, than what she is going through herself, in her mind. Or did they do this to her? She doesn't know any more what is real and true.
The days blur to her, the meaning of time unhinged and almost alien to her senses. When she tries to think of one thing she can't stop the flow, one thought leading to another free form. She can't deal with it – a memory spawns another and another and another, threads in her head that go on endlessly. Losing her original train of thought, she rocks against the wall in time to the cycle, matching the involuntary movement of her mind – trying to exhibit a little bodily control.
By whenever it is - long enough for her to grow grimy in the grotesque cell, she can see - Helen starts to get the idea though. The panic that overwhelms her isn't simply panic, it's every emotion crushed into one because for every point in that string of thoughts the feeling follows it. And as she learns to examine the thoughts as they come, focusing on each voice in the figurative room, she comes to understand. Some of them feel like deja vu, thoughts and feelings of what should just be a memory echoes relentlessly inside her brain. Her sense of time is expanding, and it's as if she's watching an image of her watching herself ad infinitum, but every image is actually a combination of thought and sense. And each of those is a different frame of time, none of them in the right order.
Some days consist purely of frustrated hysterical sobbing, she thinks. It's hard to tell if it happens that way or if her memory is compressing events within the natural sequence humans expect. It could be either and the pain, the intensity of this new life, is enough for her to lose her curiosity as to which it is.
In her saner moments she writes what she can recall, scratched as deep as possible into the walls with scraps of wood that bite into her flesh, or a nail or even her own bloodied nails – anything to make the mark and mark this place as where she was and is, and in a way will always be.
It's hard not to laugh at the situation - everything she knows of the anomalies, everything she worked so hard to protect and to keep a secret, is entrusted to the ravages of time and the monsters that maintain the institution. Will they paint over her marks? Will they fill in the walls? She wishes she knew better how the building was when she first visited it, but she doesn't know, not in any time frame she has concentrated successfully on.
The walls looks wrong to her whenever she views them. It never seems complete to her senses, perhaps because there is more to discover locked away in the future frames and her eyes try to see it as it should be. Eventually comes a reason not to care about completeness or cure.
Helen had many reasons, many justifications, swimming around about why she needed to do what she did. Experimentation was a necessary part of progress and as she had told Nick, practically no one would ever know what changed in response. That still holds true, no one can care about what they don't know. Neither had she missed that she would always know - what she'd forgotten to factor in was giving a damn. Now she can see the ultimate cost, not simply to her but to them all, making her logic worthless, her reasons petty in the face of the future – when she feels that future as if it is real today, the dismay of failure and the dread of utter loneliness laid out right in front of her. An omen she can't ignore, regardless that it is one possibility out of many.
She continues writing with a fervour that is unrecognised, nothing anyone does here surprises the caretakers any longer. But one day she senses a flutter in the wind, a piece of paper dropped by a visitor, a prestigious doctor interested in lobotomies. She senses it before it happens and sees exactly that moment from the grate on her celldoor. Scrabbling at the paper edge poking from under her door, she takes it and runs her hands over it's smooth cream surface, truly overjoyed. As she glances up to see the doctor peer at her with a mix of disdain and interest, she catches a feeling of knowing the man, the idea of a repetition yet to occur, but she pushes it away, looks away and smiles amongst the squalor, a plan forming in her mind as thought flows from another to another and it draws together miraculously.
“Come here,” she practically coughs out. Her voice is scraggly, grating from disuse and undoubtedly scary. It should help, she hopes.
The boy spies her out of the corner of his eye as he scrubs the floor – the corridor is the only part they attempt to keep clean, for the visitors, for they matter more than anyone in here – but he does not move.
“Anthony Julius Marsh – you come here!”
He lets out a whimper, looking around for help, before facing his fear and addressing her.
“Not meant to talk to you, miss. You're not right in the head.”
She pushes the paper under the door, folded messily into a makeshift envelope around the message.
“Take it to that address in the town.”
The boy peers at it.
“You can read, can't you?”
“No,” the child admits with little shame, “but me older brother can.”
She breathes a sigh of relief, but knows soon enough her semblance of being conscious in the present will end, no matter how much concentration she applies to it – it never lasts long and she has little time left.
“Take it there or I will haunt you when I die.”
It's the longest sentence she has spoken for months, if not a year, and it strains her voice. He gasps and she supposes that does help after all.
“You and all your family,” she adds with a dramatic flourish that pushes her over the edge and into a free-fall of time. She vaguely notices the boy snatch up the letter, making her thankful that her family solicitors are nearby, a cross-section of time that leads her home. Up comes the random fact of her staring at the door all those times “est. 1846”. Round her mind had been thoughts that tedium must be bred into them all, and she had felt better than them, for taking risks, doing what no other would. That had been when she had made her will, when she had the notion her studies would take her away from a mundane life as a university lecturer.
Here she is, away and yet back before it started, wanting it to never happen. Please, she begs the universe, make my future self take heed. Of course she'll investigate the vintage letter addressed personally to her from before she will be born – she won't be able to resist. She'll come looking for Susan Smith, Farnham Hall, Block 2, room 23 and find the answers she'd risk existence for. Or maybe this is how it will always end, the risk taken because humankind always wants to push, to see what's there. It could be her, it could be her and Nick, it could be any person sitting here, holding everything in their head, wishing it wasn't, wanting simplicity instead. Time will tell her or she will never know. Lately she hopes for the latter, never knowing which lately this is.
Expect A Knight
The skyscrapers are like smoke on the skyline, half crumbled remnants of London, but she pays them little attention after seeing them so frequently and misses the Coelurosauravus gliding alongside her twenty feet above, overtaking her pace towards the meeting place.
There's rubble lining the street, a few chunks big enough for effective shelter, and she walks along the lines the tanks made on the tarmac like a child playing a game, careful not to step on the cracks. Death and decay finally seems distant now the air is clearer, free of the smell of blood and guts that she is nevertheless getting used to because there are times being squeamish will get you killed.
Helen stops at 96 Jermyn Street. What was once a tailors, dedicated to the finery of men, is gutted like all civilisation on the planet.
“Did you have to be so dramatic?” she starts, relying on his usual habits of arriving early and hiding around the corner. “We could have met somewhere else, somewhere more...”
“Scenic? Pretty?” he says, stepping out to stand in line with her, both of them surveying the damage. “Or are the words you're searching for less apocalyptic.”
She glances across at the man at the same time he turns to judge her reaction. He looks every bit as scruffy as last time; unshaven, his beard gone wild, along with his subtly greying brown hair and wearing combat fatigues still stained red, but mottled with concrete dust, and partially dried mud up to his knees. It's the very opposite picture to that of his younger self.
“What next?” she asks neutrally.
He laughs at her impassiveness, the attempt to hide, to push down any feeling at the destruction he forces her to view by meeting here.
“Oh, so you actually came back for orders? I never know with you.”
“Instructions, sir,” she draws out the honorific sarcastically, “I think you know me well enough to know I don't take orders from anyone. I'm only here because I choose to be.”
“Come now, be modest, you know that's not entirely true.”
He walks across to her, whispering in her ear, not gently but harshly. “You're here because I saved you. Originally you were Gorgonopsid chow and your brief misadventure left a particularly distraught widower I ended up having to manage anyway. I suppose at least that one had an unmarred memory of your character, one that's vastly more flattering.”
Helen glances down, avoiding eye contact and swallowing painfully. He always like to bring that one up, damned man, she'd slap him if she thought it would make any difference but it won't.
“If you recall, you're the one who asked that sacrifice of me. In the the interests of non-interference you said. Ha! What the hell do you think you're doing right now?”
“Well,” he says, snorting at her outburst, “you hardly stuck to that plan, did you? Playing tease with Cutter and messing up half the missions I sent you on. Not to mention that futile, and unauthorised, attempt to have him follow you around through time like a puppy dog. As well as your unprofessional backlash at his new beau,” he grins at her as he rubs that fact in, but still continues. “Both with complete disregard to what we're - ”
She interrupts his criticisms with a clear demand, “ - and what do you wish me to do now? Tell me and let me be out of this damned spot.”
“Are you quoting Shakespeare?” he asks, with a strangely merry chuckle at the idea, “or more accurately, misquoting.”
There he is, a quirky smile on his lips, he looks like a drunk standing in the aftermath of a disaster.
“Why do you come back here? Why do you torture yourself?”
Uncharacteristically, Helen doesn't know why she's asking, why she wants an answer to something that is of such little significance. She's doing what he wants, that should be enough to please him. All the rest - the hello's, goodbye and how are you's - are unnecessary niceties that neither of them have really ever bothered with.
He waves a hand dismissively. “This is where I belong, but then I wouldn't expect you to understand. You have no problem flitting around time, leaving behind your lovers.”
“Yes, you're right, it's far more noble to reminisce on the days gone bad. Much healthier to hold onto the belief we'll change it all, save humanity, save your precious team.”
His cheeks burn a shade redder at her presumptuous declaration.
“It was never about them, not for me.”
“No, of course not. You've made that clear with your stance on Stephen,” she snaps back.
He says nothing in return and she feels a heat rising, the anger she should have felt before and she can't resist getting in his face about it now, quite literally.
“You know he could help! We could do it with him. Why rely on me to tweak this and that? Why rely on Nick to react like you think he will? I feel like I'm herding sheep. You could tell them, but no you won't even tell me more than I need to know.”
“You're quite right, we are interfering and we're doing more than we should as it is. It has to happen organically, we can't push this. Not like before,” he trails off.
“Before?” she questions, missing his meaning.
“You think I don't know how unlikely it is I can fix this, prevent catastrophe? I tried warning them outright, leaving the clues for the scientific community, anything to speed up the process and give us time to prepare. None of it worked, I tried time and time again before I realised how pivotal you could be, why my 'precious team' was required. Time isn't as flexible as you might like to think, you can only bend it, avert the flow. Force it and it will come right back to hit you in the behind.”
“Wait. You're not just talking about our changes, are you? You started this, didn't you? That's why you want so badly to make it right.”
“I signed the forms and as good as sealed a deal with the devil. Scientists rolling dice, playing God. I didn't for a moment believe they'd achieve anything.”
“And now the fabric of time is coming undone...”
This is the most he has ever admitted about the scenario. She'd thought humanity's downfall was simply inevitable, succumbing to the unorthodox evolutionary event, but this is much more than she could have imagined, millions dying because of the whim of a few theoretical physicists and the civil servant who'd indulged them, most likely to get the Science Commission off his back. She wants to ask, why didn't you tell them to get stuffed like I know you could? but she is distracted by a lively chirping.
A creature glides down to rest on Lester's shoulder and he pulls a small piece of something out of one of his upper pockets, feeding it – Abby Maitland's adopted prehistoric pet, Rex, she realises.
“Couldn't get rid of the blasted thing,” he says in defense of his sudden softness.
Maybe the point is she doesn't know that man, the one who would refuse, and every version she has met has been affected by that one mistake.
“How endearing, James. I do believe you've made a friend finally.”
“Certainly no one would accuse either of us of being so. Here,” he hands her a miraculously dry and clean envelope, “you'll need portal T6 from Nexus Alpha. My contacts will debrief you when you get there.”
“Sure. See you next time, same place I presume,” she says, walking away, not waiting for an answer. Is she saving the world a day at a time or is she saving James Lester? It's hard to know if she will succeed at either, and the prices are high. No one individual is worth risking the interests of the general public – he made her believe it, live it, lie and steal in the name of this endeavour, and now, there is no turning back. She trundles forward, hoping like him, that this, or anything like it, isn't the future they will leave to the others.