Any Port In A Storm
The rain was warm. Or at least it seemed that way after the bitter, icy cold of the Atlantic. She'd never been so happy to see dry land, or the statue of liberty, in all her sixty-two years. New York was reassuringly full of noise – the sound of water sloshing across dirty roads beneath car tires, the rattle of horse and carriage – a rumbling, electric sprawl, covered in lights. Gripping onto the railing was all she could do to stop herself jumping into the water and swimming to land. Her heart was actually pounding.
Beyond the piers she could hear the crowds being held back; reporters, friends and family members, desperately calling out names which echoed in the long, enclosed harbour. Names of people who were probably dead. She shivered at the memory, thankful for the fact that she had broken with convention – as usual – and come alone.The Carpathia had already come to a stand-still, but they weren't letting them off. Her fellow passengers were starting to get rowdy, fevered, stressed. She knew she should have been saying something to put everyone back in their place, but she couldn't. She couldn't even speak right now. She just kept staring, and staring, and staring at the shore. People were muttering, whispering around her. Something about a Senator Smith, and enquiries, and immigration.
Many long minutes later someone dared to place a hand on her arm, "Excuse me Ma'm?"
It took her a second to look the crew member in the eye, a boy of seventeen or so.
"We've been given permission to come ashore."
Then she realised there was a queue, and she was practically alone on deck. Relief was like sunshine inside of her.
"Thank you," She remembered her manners, hesitant and quiet though it was, before joining the other remaining souls.
Tesla wasn't even going to attempt pushing through that heaving mass of humanity, for the unlikely chance of catching a glimpse of her. He paused at the cab, surveying the scene. No one had been allowed off the boat yet. A rather flash automobile stood outside the pier, protected from the crowd, which continued to shout and call as though anyone could make out a particular name or sentence out of that lot.
They'd have to go through immigration too… even if it was a speeded up process especially for the Titanic's survivors. He inwardly quashed the flip of terror inside his stomach at the thought of it. At the thought that Helen had been her usual punctual self and made it on board, at the fear that she had finally run out of luck, and found herself buried under an iron sea.
It was completely irrational of him. There was no way to tell. Not yet. They had no evidence either way, and with Magnus' odds… she'd have found a way, surely? Unless she had gone and done something typically, stupidly Helen: like offering up her place in a life-raft to somebody else. The worst part, was knowing that she probably had.
Glancing around his eyes zeroed in on the nearest clock to confirm his calculation. 21:42: it would be a while yet before they were all off the boat. Better to wait in the dry. He got back inside the cab and instructed the driver to wait.
She took a second to reply, the American accent jarring, despite its sympathetic tone, "Helen. Helen Magnus."
"Date of birth."
"August 27th Eighteen-fift-" she caught herself, paused, and shook her head. Her unchanged pre-Source-Blood self wouldn't be looking quite as spry at sixty-two, "Sorry, that's my mother's birthday," she lied, unable to make eye-contact and still awfully hushed, "August 27th Eighteen-seventy-six."
The immigration recorder eyed her momentarily, but let it pass. To be honest he'd questioned the point of all this. Why not let the poor souls just go home already? Sometimes he hated being the bureaucracy.
"Place of origin: Great Britain, I presume?"
"Excellent. Thank you Miss Magnus. The US Government is affording you three months to decide whether you would like to file for citizenship or return home." He finished scribbling in his book, "You seem in good health. Do you have any family, or friends you might wish us to contact here in America, or may we arrange for a hospital?"
Magnus automatically ran a diagnostic of her own health in her head. She'd not broken any limbs, her cuts and bruises had been tended to on the Carpathia, the cold had affected her toes and legs, but it wasn't anything she couldn't patch up.
Her head snapped up to the immigration officer.
"Shall I arrange for a hospital?"
Tesla sighed impatiently. It was 11pm. What the hell were they doing with them, conducting the Spanish Inquisition? The taxi driver wasn't in any hurry, at however many extortionate dollars per hour, but he couldn't wait any longer. Getting out and stepping into the rain the driver made a noise.
"Oh don't worry yourself, I'll be back in five minutes," Tesla groused, closing the door, and heading towards the pier.
The crowd had thinned somewhat. Some turned away with bad news, others exhausted from the rain and the wait, others, it seemed had found their loved ones as they finally exited the pier's passenger areas, onto the soaking street. He raised his eyebrow at the sight of Dorothy Gibson taking her first tentative steps, unsheltered, in the rain. All the reporters instantly flocked to her side, which was fortunate, in a way. In the hubbub surrounding the return of the latest darling of moving pictures the crowd had shifted, enabling him to step through into the high-ceilinged entrance with minimal bodily contact.
It was like nothing he'd ever seen. Beyond the cordons and officials, lines of passengers – mostly women and children – huddled like weeping angels, still in linen shifts and heavy overcoats as though woken from their sleep. On the rows of benches they waited, hot coffee and tea in their hands, as the luckier ones sat at temporary desks, answering a few brief questions. His eyes immediately scanned left to right, up and down, methodically assessing every head for the only one that mattered.
"Excuse me sir, you're not allowed to wait here."
He glared at the police officer, moustache bristling beneath curt, thinned lips, "I have no intention of waiting." He began to stride forward, the officer stepping into his way.
"A list will be released tomorrow morning."
"And I am here now, so I might as well-"
The voice was quiet, tired, worn, but nevertheless music to his ears. The shock, the relief, stunned him for a moment, the vulnerable look on his face all too telling. But the minute he caught sight of her he snapped back to his usual form like elastic.
"Helen Magnus," he smiled, in awe, "always at the centre of trouble."
Later, when he looked back at this moment, he would regret not sweeping her up immediately into the biggest embrace imaginable, but at the time, it felt as though to do so, would be admitting defeat. An admission that someone actually had the power to make him fear for something other than himself... it was not a sensation he much cared for. Blame it on that damn Victorian upbringing if you must.
The police officer had stepped to one side, not that either of them had noticed. Magnus threaded her way towards him, pushing aside the barriers, her hands pale and small looking inside the oversized sleeves of the seaman's coat. Nikola stepped up to meet her, embracing her like they always did – as friends… though she held on a moment longer than was strictly proper.
It was like being rooted back into the ground. Reality swept in on her, his contact like a lightning rod in a storm. She was just so glad to see a familiar face! There had been plenty of times she'd been glad Tesla had left for America – whenever the wine cellar was emptied, or the generators blew, or that awkward silence occasionally appeared over test-tubes and microscopes – but dear God, she'd never been as thankful as right now.
"How did you know?" she asked, straightening out and holding him at arm’s length, in a manner he mirrored perfectly.
His eyes narrowed at her. Memory loss was not a good sign, "You sent me that letter four weeks ago. About tickets to the greatest, fastest ship ever created, remember?"
She blanched, "Of course." Her fingers flexed, "How silly of me. I'd…" she trailed off with a faraway look, and Tesla was suddenly very keen to check her over.
"Come on," He said softly, "I'm sure the Waldorf-Astoria has enough Earl Grey and Breakfast Blend to set the entire Empire to rights."
Despite the offer of a perfectly made brew, there was one thing Helen was desperate for – warm clothes. Or at least a change of them. Tesla gave her the bathroom to freshen up, calling for tea, clean towels and a nightgown to be sent. Trusting him enough in this situation to leave it unlocked she closed the bathroom door, running the hot tap until the mirror steamed, and ripping off the days-old garments.
Her eyes crunched together, her lips peeling back from gritted teeth as though she'd been scolded by the fabric falling to the floor. She breathed, sucking in the moist, warm air about her face, hands whitening as she gripped the sink. Belatedly, just as the water neared the rim, she remembered to turn it off, and in the silence – that deafening silence – there was at least the flush of blood in her body rising to the top of her skin.
The tap dripped, and she stared at herself in the fog of the mirror, an indefinable shape in the mist. She didn't want to look at herself. She knew what she'd find. She'd seen enough of it on the patients dragged into the Sanctuary's OR, saw it on the faces of the passengers rescued from the pitiless sea.
God the sound of those screams.
A knock on the door made her jump, shook her to her senses, and she realised she was standing naked as the day she was born.
Nikola. She reached for a towel, wrapping it around herself just in case. To her relief the door remained closed.
"I asked them to bring you some nightwear but the tea is here… if you want you can use my dressing gown."
She thought about it. Spend a few more modest moments in the solitude of a small, white box, panicking… or have someone to talk at her, soothingly, reassuring her that everything was normal again. As a doctor, she knew what she'd prescribe. As a patient, being with anyone right now was a taller ask than she ever thought possible.
"Helen, are you…"
"I'm fine," She bit out, harder than she had meant to, and instantly regretting the callousness. Her next words came out much nicer, "Thank you." She opened the door a smidgen, just enough to allow him to pass through the fabric, and smile rather too confidently at her. As if he'd known all along that she would accept.
Can't get between a Brit and their tea.
"I'll be out in a minute."
He nodded, backing off as the door came to a close, and, hands on hips, approaching the trolley placed near the roaring fire. What a day. He had barely realised before bringing her here the slew of considerations he had completely failed to factor in. He'd been so consumed, so possessed by the need to ascertain her safety that he'd not even thought about what she would wear… where she would sleep. That last one shot a bolt down his spine: part excitement, part fear, and a whole lot of anxiety. She wouldn't permit him to share the same bed, he was sure and right now, after all she'd been through, he was a little ashamed of himself for even thinking it. He had never expressed his admiration for her, or clearly proclaimed his affections, and now could not be a worse time to complicate matters.
The sofa. Yes, the sofa would be a much better option for his own sleeping arrangements. Aching back be damned. It was the very least he could do. The bathroom door opened and he realised that she'd taken a little longer than the minute she'd predicted to achieve the oh-so-complicated task of tying on his robe, but he let the comment slide. She could take all the time in the world, just so long as she kept breathing.
Tipping the liquid into the china cups, he glanced, semi-casually in her direction as one might a skittish pet easing itself into your view. The robe looked good on her, a little too good, he lamented, the slightly William-Morris-esque design looking less like curtains and more like a dress around her curves. The green satin, like her blonde waves, caught the firelight in the most spectacular way. He covered the stolen glance, concentrating on preparing the tea, and pretending he hadn't noticed the far-off look in her eyes.
"Here," He presented her with the cup. Tea the correct colour, sweetness and size, perfect to the last counter-clockwise stir.
Finally she looked him in the eye, "Thank you." The sensation of warm china against her fingertips was almost as blissful as the first sip. Suddenly the world seemed a little more normal. The heat slid down her gullet, calming her overwrought stomach with a taste of something which seemed like a luxury after ship-food and the stench of coffee. Speaking of which, she was glad Tesla had decided to forgo the vile compound he typically favoured.
He was watching her, as though making a study. She shouldn't have been surprised; it was what they'd trained themselves to do. No doubt he could see the discolouration on her toes, tucked against the arm of her chair, the fading bruise on her collarbone, the nasty scab on her cheek. She didn't look half as bad as she felt, but it didn't stop her feeling defensive under the scrutiny.
"I'm fine," She sighed determinedly, ushering a 'never-said-you-weren't' shrug from the vampire now sitting opposite her. "I've patched up enough people to know I have nothing to worry about."
Tesla kept smiling, but it was that suit-yourself smile that knew she was obviously missing something which he, genius that he was, could see plain as day. For some reason, tonight, it irritated her beyond all belief. Scoffing she tipped some more tea down her throat, and stared determinedly into the flames.
"I'm just glad you're here."
She flicked her eyes at that, the earnest honesty of his statement unmistakable. It forced her to breathe deep, again, to suck back the tears of relief, of disbelief, lest she show her vulnerability. Pressing her knuckles against her lips helped too.
He sipped meditatively on her favoured drink, "I'll send a telegram to London tomorrow. Let everyone know you're safe."
She closed her eyes at the thought of James and Nigel, pacing the Sanctuary, awaiting imminent news of her death. Bloody ticket.
Moments of silence passed. Minutes which Tesla, easily distracted as he was, wasn't entirely comfortable with: "You'll have to tell me some time."
"Hmm?" she frowned at him, a determined expression which didn't quite reach the eyes.
There was only one other time he could recall her looking quite this rattled… a dark time, a dark place, and not one he would ever wish her to return to. He did his best to keep her mind on the sly look he was giving her instead of his words.
"How you survived."
She looked at her fingers, anywhere but at him.
"I have to admit, I worried you'd given up your place on the life raft for the sake of your peculiar brand of altruism."
The half-formed words on her lips, the slightly stunned expression, told him she'd done exactly that.
He cursed in Serbian, under his breath, reigning in the urge to tell her how absolutely ridiculous, preposterous, perfectly stupid that had been in curt, snarky jabs.
"Oh please Nikola," She began, sounding the most Helen-like she had all night, "You weren't there. You-"
"You're right," He insisted, still clearly frustrated with her, "I wasn't." The fingers perched on his temples slipped back to the cup, "But let's not pretend that wasn't a stupid move in terms of your own chances."
"I'm really not the person you need to explain that to," She ground out, setting her cup on the trolley again and suddenly feeling a lot less in the mood for a fire-side tea party.
He sighed, suddenly, as she made to stand up, stopping her in her tracks, "Look, I'm sorry Helen."
She looked to him expectantly, awaiting the retraction that would probably never come. He swung the cup back to its place next to hers, deftly extricating himself for his chair to stand before her, whilst straightening his jacket, almost nervously.
"You are who you are. Reckless, determined, and brilliant…" he smirked at the uncertainty starting to fill her expression. The careful gauging of his flattery as she attempted to ascertain its truthfulness, and the motive behind it, "…we wouldn't have it any other way."