The bedroom door clicked quietly shut behind her, the quiet of the room interrupted only by the hiss of the fire, and the ever-present hum of the electrics. Nikola remained exactly where he was, lounging in the chair with a glass of wine in his hand, shifting only his eyes to confirm his suppositions. She looked preoccupied, thoughtful, her hands smoothing across the corseted planes of her stomach to clasp each other primly in the middle – a habit from a much earlier time, when bustles and skirts had confined her movements a good deal more than her clothes did now.
"Miss Marino's doing well."
Tesla had surmised as much from the relief etched on the mother when Magnus had sent her home not five minutes ago.
She crossed the room, noticing he didn't look particularly engaged and wondering briefly whether this was the start of some sullen protest at being dragged into somebody else's uninteresting problems.
"Looks like she’ll make a full recovery," her tone became more authoritative as if it might move him to care. "Her mother said she'd even spoken with her… which is a relief."
Sitting down on the couch with unladylike heaviness, Helen began to feel the day's exertions catching up with her. Glancing at the time she sighed, surprised to find it was nearly eight already. Almost automatically she turned her gaze to the temporary cage for the abnormal, resting nearer the window, as if the lateness of the hour might've somehow made it more likely to escape. The hotel would probably object to such a use of its decorative porcelain, but it was about the only material they could think of in a pinch which had air holes that the creature might be averse to chewing on. There was the steel cage Tesla had fixed up too, of course, surrounding the jar just in case it got through. A delaying tactic really. The abnormal had already shown a predilection for gnawing through iron gratings, Helen couldn’t imagine the bars of a cage would be much work for them.
As yet, the animal didn't appear to have stirred from its electrically-induced stupor – they'd have to fix up a proper containment if they were planning on adding its neighbours. In fact, she wouldn't mind working that out tonight, after some supper and a nice bath.
Helen was so wrapped up in the thought that she didn't notice the tea pot and cup sat on the table in front of her until Tesla's voice drew her attention.
"You mean I spent all that time working on an antidote we didn't even need?"
She smirked coyly, eagerly pouring out the amber liquid he'd provided without even questioning when it had gotten there, "Well… I wouldn't say that." Cup in hand she sat straight in her seat and inhaled the aroma of Earl Grey with warm appreciation, "Better to avoid the twenty-four hours of fever and hysteria if possible, don't you agree?"
He was uncharacteristically unresponsive, clocking her in a manner she was more used to from James – pensive and serious. Something was on his mind again, something he didn't necessarily want to hide from her, but equally had no desire to broach. Helen cleared her throat a little uncomfortably, and he almost snapped back into life, "Definitely," he breathed, and then smiled sarcastically, "much as I just love having sick people to stay."
She took another sip, "You'll have your bed back in no time," she said, setting the cup down.
"Planning on taking up my suggestion to share Dr Magnus? I'm scandalised."
She glanced up at his wide grin, realising only slowly what he was alluding to, and feeling her insides constrict at the insinuation in a not altogether unpleasant way that she promptly tried to ignore. A little flustered she just about managed to put on a haughty glare, "Clearly you don't share very well, and I should think James will have wired me some funds by now. I was actually thinking of finding my own rooms once Miss Marino is well... get out from under your feet."
If she didn't know any better she would've thought the look on his face was one of genuine disappointment.
"But you're staying in New York?" He asked, taking a sip of his wine, and looking to her as if she hadn't just peeked behind the off-hand facade.
"I don't know yet," she admitted, suddenly quite desperate to change the topic. Self-consciously she flexed her fingers around the cup, "The abnormal we managed to catch... I think it reacted to some kind of trigger. Not just its situation." She gestured with her free hand as she thought through the hypothesis out loud, "It was practically quaking with fear at first, even when it was cornered, and then, the change in its temperament was too dramatic, the timing of its onset just too delayed to be coincidence."
"Hmm, and when it did go all… Mr Hyde on us, it went for you – even though I was closer, and a more obvious target."
"That could simply be down to the fact that you're part vampire. It might have sensed the difference in our physiology… and made the tactical assumption that I would be the easier target."
"Possible," he conceded, elbow leaning against his chair and two digits resting into his temple as he meditatively swirled the wine in his glass, "but why, then, did its comrades in the ventilation flee from you if you're such a soft, tasty target?" he smiled craftily, "Why didn't the creature instinctively take out the greater threat first?"
Despite the calculating glint in his expression he didn't seem to have an answer to hand. Or maybe he was just waiting for her to finally see what he already could, so he could gloat about how clever he was… again.
"It's not all about you, you know," she reproached with as much good humour as she could muster.
"No," his tone cut through it with the gravity of his reasoning, assessing her meaningfully, "It's about you."
Casting her eyes down she did her best to avoid that penetrating look. Just long enough to grasp the possibility he was presenting her with, to take herself out of the equation for just a moment, and look at the situation more objectively. Would it have gone crazy without her there? Was there anything in those few preceding moments from trapping it, to its escape, where she had provoked it in some way?
Tesla was practically counting the seconds before she looked at him again, with that spark of possibility he so enjoyed to see.
"It might have been reacting to emotions… my emotions, specifically."
He inclined his head, encouraging her to elaborate in the hope she might open up her feelings a little more.
She tucked her head towards her chest, struggling to admit to her deepest darkest suspicions, "They could well possess empathic abilities… be able to sense our state of minds."
He reached over to put his glass down next to the tea pot, and sat upright, closer to her in a way, lips thinly pressed together, "I was thinking it might be a response to chemical stimuli, but you're the xenobiologist."
She looked at him questioningly, wondering what chemical stimuli he was thinking of.
"Fear…" he said by way of explanation, "except it wasn't fear, was it?"
Had she really been so obvious, so transparent?
A victorious, self-assured smirk was slowly, almost subconsciously, creeping into his expression, and she felt an unusually strong urge to smack it right off his face. It was only the sobering thought that – insufferable though his presumption was – he'd been close to the mark, which held her in check. So she considered him instead, curiously, distracted by the fact that he'd been reading her behaviour so closely.
It was beginning to unnerve her. When, exactly, had Nikola Tesla made it onto the list of people who knew her best in the world?
They'd always been friends, and since Oxford, they'd been close, certainly, but frankly she'd always presumed his social ineptitudes stemmed from a distinct inability to read people. Now she was left with the indelible proof that far from being unable to read them he'd just, quite simply, never cared. Logically of course this formed an evidence of sorts that he did care about her. Something which, at the back of her mind, Magnus had always known, and then, as now, she wasn't entirely sure what to do with that knowledge.
"No," she responded distantly, "well, not quite I suppose…"
She had that glazed look again.
"A potent memory?"
Her attention sharpened at his remark, though that smirk had evaporated, "Yes," her quiet voice solidified, "quite potent."
He wanted to brush that invisible strand of flaxen hair to one side, along with that desperate, trapped expression, but it was too intimate a thing to even consider. Instead he subtly cleared his throat, and mustered the courage to bring it up again, "Like the nightmares."
This time she didn't glare, didn't snap, didn't close down on him. He'd been concerned about her, that's all. All this time – those surreptitious looks, the times he'd unexpectedly hung around – he'd been keeping an eye on her, from a distance. Quietly trying to ask what was wrong, making sure he was always around. Just in case. Just in case she fell into the darkness clinging to her like a cloud and couldn't find her way back again.
She looked at him, a knot of sadness in her frown, lips crimped by anxiety and pressing together out of desperation. Her eyes encapsulated the weight of grief, releasing themselves from the burden of silence with a plea of yes, yes, like the nightmares. But still, she could not utter the words.
The curtains were good enough in the bedroom that when Magnus opened them, and the window for some fresh air, Catherine flinched like a mole pulled from underground.
"Good morning," she smiled softly at the girl, returning to the bedside and taking the girl's wrist to monitor her pulse. "How do you feel Miss Marino?"
Dense, dark eyes considered her briefly, her attention twisting to the open window and the watery light, before returning to her doctor. She swallowed, her throat sore and sticky, her flesh feeling like it had been pummelled all over, "Like death," she rasped thinly.
Helen's smile grew a touch at the girl's spirit, "I can assure you the fact you feel that way is the strongest possible sign to the contrary." The pulse was strong, temperature a little high but good, very good, "Do you feel nauseous at all?"
She thought about it, for a moment, "My head's spinnin' but… no, not really." She watched as Helen left her bedside to pick up a tray of food from the trolley, "So… you're my doctor?"
Magnus nodded as she brought it over, trying her best to ignore whatever expression of disbelief had probably seated itself alongside the enquiry.
"Breakfast," she smiled at her, "We'll see how it goes with the porridge, it might be a bit too much for now, but you need to drink this." She handed her a glass of carrot juice and Catherine scrunched up her nose, her feeble grip causing it to almost slip out of her hand. "Got it," Helen reassured her, making sure that Catherine had a firm take on it with both hands, before guiding it to her mouth. Clearly her brain hadn't gone completely unscathed as she was having some trouble coordinating.
Somewhat chastened by the surprise of not being in full control of her muscles, the girl sipped tiredly, resigned to her tonic. She appeared to be pleasantly surprised by the taste, or perhaps she couldn't taste a thing and that was what she liked. Either way, satisfied her patient did not require strong-arming into accepting her medicine, Helen pulled round the chair her mother had used the day before so that she could see Miss Marino’s face.
"Catherine," her voice was empathetic, soothing, "we need to talk. This sickness, it's not quite like anything I've ever seen before." That was almost a lie, but she couldn't very well explain what it reminded her of without sounding strange. As it was, the girl was slowly sipping on her drink, looking at her straight, with her nose still in the glass. "What can you remember?"
Licking her chapped lips, Catherine tried to rest the glass on her lap, but Magnus took it away and held it for her, sure that it wouldn't stay upright for long if she didn't. The maid looked her in the eye and sighed, to regulate her dissonant breath – even feeling groggy and fogged Miss Marino knew precisely what she'd been doing before it all went to hell, she couldn't forget.
"I was just taking a tray – room service – to 1204," she explained in a weak Brooklyn accent that sounded quite different from her mother's Italian intonation, briefly breaking into a mild coughing fit, "they requested to have the evening paper with their meal, like always." Her voice quietened, eyes drooping to the juice still left in the glass, "And I was readin' it instead of payin' attention to where I was going… like always."
Magnus nodded but she seemed reluctant to continue, "Go on," she placed a reassuring hand on hers, "it's alright."
Her face flinched, and instantly Magnus knew the memory was a hard one to recount, "I skipped all the Titanic…" she chocked a little, trying to hold back the emotion and coughing to reassert some control, "that stuff's been in the news for like a week and it ain't been helpin' nobody. So I was reading the bottom half of the paper, you know, and…" she struggled to breathe, "I'm sorry…"
"Shh, it's alright," Magnus comforted, though she found herself inexplicably affected by her reaction, as though it had been her own pain in a mirror, "this can wait until you're stronger." She held out a handkerchief to the girl for a tissue, "Here."
The girl took it, her bleary eyes noting the sad look in the doctor's smile as she stroked her upper arm in a motherly fashion. "Wait," she struggled to regain her voice, and reached for the glass. Helen passed it over, allowing her to take a sip of the fluid to soothe her throat, "It's okay I just… I've not told a soul about this, not my mama, not even a priest and it..." she shuddered, unable to finish her confession but determined to explain.
"If you feel it's relevant Catherine, only if you think this is something you need to say."
She gave the barest nod, "I'm engaged… was," she corrected quickly.
Helen's gut veritably lurched at that declaration, so simple, yet irrationally her mind connected it to her own life, her own story.
"I was engaged." Catherine broke down into tears – full, heart-heaving sobs that no teenager should ever have to expel and yet, so very often, did.
"Catherine, breathe evenly," Magnus commanded, concerned that the girl was working herself into hysterics, and that if the venom wasn't quite out of her system she might relapse, "in, and out," the girl started responding, so she stood the glass she'd rescued onto the bedside table, "that's right, good. Thank you. In and out. Good girl." She wanted to hold her close, mother her, but maintained her professional distance by a compromise. Taking both her hands, Helen pressed her thumbs in gentle circles on the tops of them, keeping their eyes locked together, "Deep breaths. It's alright now, it will be alright eventually. Trust me."
Miss Marino stilled at that, noting the undercurrent of experience in that last comment which made her wonder how on earth a prim, old-fashioned lady like this could possibly relate – and yet, she believed her, completely. Almost wordlessly she could tell that here was a woman who knew.
"Have some more carrot juice," Magnus insisted, handing her the rest of the glass and picking up the porridge with the intention of feeding her some. Clearly she had recouped a fair amount of strength – even if she was quickly exhausting it – so she had faith that her stomach would be of a robust constitution too.
Quietly Catherine obeyed, searching the doctor's fathomless expression in between sips.
"I'm afraid, there's no delicate way to ask this," she remarked, "but-"
"He died," the girl flinched, turning away from her.
She nodded, preparing the first spoonful, "That was what you read in the paper?" A nod of the girl's head indicated she had hit the nail on the head, "And you went into a state of shock."
"Yeah," She whispered. "Mama says I had a fit, or seizure, I didn't really… I mean I remember falling. I think I heard you."
"Here, eat this." Magnus instructed, feeding her as though she were an infant. Then, as the girl took her breakfast and swallowed it down, Helen managed to think of something other than the horror of losing the one you loved, and came up with something intelligent to ask, "How come you read it before anyone told you?"
She shook her head, clearing her mouth to respond, "No one knew we were together. Franklin, he ain't exactly got a stirlin' reputation in our neighbourhood, and I woulda lost my job in a flash if anyone knew I'd be up and leaving them in six months to start a family, so we kept it quiet." She smiled sadly, "Until he'd earned enough to start his own bus'ness, y'know?" she took in a shaky breath, "If I had known… I'd have told him to leave the damn shop and become a mailman or somethin'."
Helen looked at that pitiful grief etched on her expression, wondering whether she could really have said the same about ditching her dreams of scientific exploration if it had meant saving John.
"I'm sorry Catherine. Truly, I am."
She sniffed, "Thanks doc," she coughed again, hesitantly permitting another spoonful, "for everything." She swallowed, "I mean it… you really didn't need to go to all this trouble. Y'could've just packed me off to my room an everythin', or the hospital, but this is… I mean I ain't never slept in a bed so soft-"
"Think nothing of it," Helen insisted with all sincerity, realising that the girl was obviously quite talkative in her natural state and promptly feeding her another spoon at this sign of improving spirits. Letting her amusement show Magnus knew, right then, that having finally admitted this secret, spoken of her loss, Catherine would be alright. She would recover from her heartbreak, she would carry on, and she too would survive.
It would take time, undoubtedly, but Miss Marino was young, far younger than she had been herself – and though it affected her with no less pain, she was adapting, even now, at a far faster rate. It was almost as miraculous a process to witness as the functioning of the body itself, as it overcame the most vicious invaders and reasserted its will to exist. The toxins in her body were being neutralised, one by one, relieving her embattled nervous system and injured brain. No doubt, eventually, time would do the same for the poison of her grief.