High and Dry
Helen peeked in through the lid of the large crate currently occupying a sizeable portion of Nikola’s sitting room, the sides marked: CAUTION HAZARDOUS CONTENT and DR WATSON, SANCTUARY LONDON in large black print. She grinned at the creatures inside, curled up together and playing, occasionally nibbling on food, before checking that the battery device attached to their inner cage was operational. Which of course it was, Nikola had only hooked it up fifteen minutes ago.
She was going to accompany their package down to the docks that afternoon, just before the cargo ship departed, and make certain that they were knocked out with a sedative for the majority of the journey. With any luck, it would coax them into hibernating.
“All ready for their trip?”
Her head jumped to him from where she was leaned over, bright eyes augmenting his already brimming energy as he came in, readjusting the cuffs of his clean shirt. Much as he dreamed of seeing it destroyed by amorous advances, the ruination of his clothing was simply the result of a leaking battery cell. They hadn’t really been designed with containment units in mind, so it had taken a little tweaking which had, sadly, resulted in said spillage.
Thankfully Miss Marino had been released from Helen’s temporary ward – formerly known as his bedroom – this morning, on strict instructions to rest for another couple of days. Her blood samples sat labelled in Helen’s medical bag, ready to assist her in perfecting the antidote for humans. If she planned on living in the same house as them she would probably need it too, Nikola mused, with the amount of emotional trauma she continued to survive.
Peering over her shoulder the vampire pulled a face at the little demons as he now called them. “Oh yeah, sure, now they act all cute…” he glared, still sour at having been bitten, and all the irony that scenario brought with it.
Chuckling Helen closed the wooden lid, removing the glass cage from view and securing it with a sizeable padlock. That was when his eyes drifted, and noticed the luggage stacked by the door.
His stomach pitted, “You’re going back with them?” He asked plainly, trying, and surprising himself with how well he succeeded, in keeping the disappointment out of his voice.
Somehow she still managed to notice it though, narrowing her eyes momentarily as if trying to gauge the nature of what she’d detected, and then realising, rather self-consciously, that she was staring.
“Well, actually,” she looked away, at the floor, at the box, anywhere but, “I have a few things I need to do first…” the flash of hope in his eyes was instantaneous, “I’m not entirely sure how long it will take.”
His lips curled up into a smile. “So then…” his voice was soft around the edges, “perhaps we can finally make it to Delmonicos?”
Helen wondered whether she was imagining it, or just allowing herself to get flustered over nothing, but whatever that invitation was laced with was incredibly distracting. So she was a little slow and dazed as she gently nodded her agreement.
“Perhaps,” she smirked, regaining her balance, “if we don’t run into another nest of abnormals.”
He just couldn’t stop grinning like a Cheshire cat, and as always that look provoked an inner laugh at his expense; one which simply radiated from her despite all attempts to the contrary.
“Well,” his mouth was inexplicably dry as he tried to supress his excitement at the prospect, “I’m sure you could manage to stay until we do.”
She eyed him instantly, playfully, as if to ask what made him think she had any intention of waiting around just for his benefit, and was about to say so when-
“I believe you, Dr Magnus, still owe me one…” again he got that argumentative look in her eyes, mixed with just a little bit of indignant ire, heralding a stern telling off, “for those bugs…” he continued to waylay the incoming lecture, his momentary disgust at the memory of cockroaches and maggots slipping over his palm, soon replaced with a knowing leer, “you can take my bed whenever you feel like it.”
God knows how but she managed not to blush at that – perhaps because it was too obvious, too audacious to be anything but bait, and Magnus prided herself somewhat on having the wit to avoid such traps. “I’ll remember that,” came out hard and unimpressed, a verbal eye-roll which should have been accompanied with hands on her generous hips – and might have, had she not felt the undercurrent of honesty in what he’d said.
Tesla, for his part, merely watched, stared, as she brushed him off, unable to keep himself still or extinguish the glimmer from fading in his eyes: especially when she got mad. So when she looked at him seriously, the words “Thank you,” falling meaningfully from her lips, he shifted uncomfortably and grew still.
“Of course, next time I’d prefer not to be relegated to the couch for four nights,” he joked.
She raised an eyebrow, “As I recall Nikola, you barely spent two on the couch…”
“Ah, I forgot,” he replied, laying the sarcasm on, his hands gesturing across the upper half of his body with the usual flourish – an armour he habitually wore, “once again you distract me in my work to keep me up all night in your service.”
The notion could’ve almost sounded romantic, if it weren’t for the lewd inflection he’d deliberately infused it with, “Oh dear lord,” she chuckled, turning to hide the great big grin she just couldn’t stop, and focus on putting her gloves on. Swiftly passing him by she made to leave the apartment and go about that all important business she’d mentioned; before he charmed her into abandoning the boys with a shipment of Lapillus Diaboli, to take the holiday she’d originally intended to have when she’d bought that godforsaken ticket.
“So, dinner at eight?” he enquired hopefully, as he span round to follow her escape with his observant eyes. He looked more self-assured than he felt… as usual.
When she turned, hand on the door, there was a secretive, intrigued smile on her face that made every one of his hairs stand on end. The thoughts that went on in the depths of that mind swimming alluringly out of his reach.
“I’ll look forward to it.”
The personal butler opened the door, allowing Magnus to see into the opulent room beyond, and the swathes of overwhelmingly white bouquets currently swamping every available surface. Light streamed through the windows, barely chastened by pale blinds, lending the room an almost heavenly air, and in the centre of it all stood one woman. Her thick brunette hair swept up and away from her seen-it-all-before eyes, thick brows like roman arches. The barest hint of a smile upon her lips, Margaret Brown finally turned, surprised to see a fellow survivor pass through her door. In all honesty, she had thought this would be some journalist’s rouse, announcing that they had saved each other from the sea, but this stranger was no stranger at all. She recognised the woman instantly, and in response, Helen gave the warmest and most permanent of smiles.
“My, my,” she cooed in her Colorado-tempered mid-west accent, attempting to remain composed and matter-of-fact despite herself, just like the Brit not ten feet away. Mrs Brown’s hand curiously found its way into the nape of her neck, as if to play with her necklace. An old girl-hood habit she had never quite shaken off, and had since adapted into an elegant affectation. Realising she was staring, and that her guest seemed too unsteady to make a sound, the Missouri native snapped back to reality with resounding gusto, swooping across the room in a burst of energy to take Helen’s hand in her own. Neither woman found themselves at a loss for words very often, but it wasn’t until the ridiculousness of their formality overcame Margaret that either of them so much as uttered a word. “Oh my goodness,” she chuffed, disbelievingly, “what am I thinking? Let me embrace you!”
She was hardly one for such intimacies with acquaintances, but Helen didn’t so much as flinch as Mrs Brown gathered her into open arms, and pressed a rather polite hand to her back. It was a gentle hold, one made of relief, and shared experience, and the happiness of being alive.
“Mrs Brown,” Magnus managed to clear her throat, as they pulled apart and regarded each other as if looking in a mirror. She smiled hesitantly, encouragingly, “I hope you do not mind me seeking you out-”
“Mind!” she expelled, “Heck no, I’m just pleased as punch, I’ve…” she seemed to look around her at the bouquets as if struggling to make sense of it all, “Call me Maggie. Please.”
Helen raised her eyebrows, she knew of her nickname certainly, but had never expected leave to use it in her presence so soon. They barely knew each other, after all. “Thank you… Maggie, I-”
“My goodness,” the larger, more dowdy-faced woman interrupted good-naturedly, lacing her fingers atop Helen’s arm as if they were schoolgirl confidants, “but you haven’t even told me your name,” she started leading them to the coffee table, “You know I only realised once we stepped foot on the Carpathia, and they took you away to the ship’s medic.”
Helen gave a wistful look at the memory, repressing the wince at being prodded at by that doctor’s hands when she’d already told him precisely what was wrong and what she needed.
“Dr Helen Magnus.”
“A doctor! Oh I knew I’d like you old girl,” she breezed, offering Helen a coffee which she politely declined in favour of tea, if she had it. Maggie sent her servant hurrying for it, leaving them completely alone. “Say… you don’t happen to know… eh, actually, never mind,” she grew sombre at the thought of Madeleine Astor and her baby, and decided quite abruptly to change the topic, “I have a daughter, you know, we call her Helen… after my sister…” her voice grew quieter, a sad smile on her lips, “perhaps she was looking out for me, huh?”
Magnus raised an eyebrow and inclined her head, her eyes cast to one corner, “I rather felt it was you looking out for me.” She looked Maggie in the eyes, resolved to express her complete and utter gratitude in two words, “Thank you, Margaret… I… wouldn’t have stood much of a chance-”
“Oh really Doctor,” she took Helen’s wrist and leaned in jovially as the tea arrived, “square’s square I say,” she chuckled nervously, eyes welling up slightly with a tinge of guilt. She, Margaret Brown, did not deserve this. She didn’t deserve the flowers, the attention, and she certainly did not deserve this woman’s praise… after all, all she did was get onto a boat when she was told to and live. Not like the others. Not like Helen, not like the ones who never came back. Her smile was shaky, but it was okay, everything was alright, because Magnus was looking at her with nothing but compassion and understanding beneath that reserved exterior, and eyes which had shared that horrible sight.
“We’re still here aren’t we?” Maggie said.
Helen nodded quietly, taking up the proffered tea, and allowing that statement to sit on the air – so inadequate and yet so precise. It was a while before Margaret mustered the words to speak into the glassy silence.
“You know Doctor,” she shook her head with a disbelieving sigh, “you were something of a miracle to us in Lifeboat 6. I heard the girls talkin’ about it, whisperin’ all the way to New York.”
Slowly, in an attempt to cover her piqued interest, Helen raised her head from the lip of her cup and acknowledged Maggie face to face. The American leaned back with her coffee, a little more relaxed with the attention now on someone more appropriate and deserving, relishing her tale.
She chuckled, “You think I’m joking? All of a sudden, there you were, a head bobbing in the water to our right – half-dead already. I’d seen you, you know, at first I’d thought you were a fish,” she laughed again; “you’re a strong swimmer! But I couldn’t get them to pull closer to you, they didn’t dare go back in case we got sucked under and that Hitchens fellow…” she pulled a face that made Helen smile with recognition, “well, we all saw you slip under. Imagine our surprise when you reappeared a yard away! He couldn’t argue with us then.”
Magnus’ eyes narrowed automatically, zeroing in on her description and comparing it to her own remembrances. She had sunk… and it hadn’t been the lifeboat coming closer?
“Jeepers, then that dolphin or whale… whatever it was, went and sprayed us all with a kick of its tail as we were reachin’ out for you.”
There was nothing but the press of water on her crown, the hard hands of fate grasping her leg, drowning her, pulling her deeper and deeper into darkness… and then her hips, under her arms, pulling her through the heavy water like a dredger on a canal. Forwards, upwards… onwards to…
She hung on Maggie’s every word, “Funniest thing was, they weren’t fleeing the sinking, not at first anyway. Once I saw the one flapping near us I realised some of the splashin’ in the distance were from tails. I mean, I always thought dolphins would’ve high-tailed it outta there, you know? Surprised they were even there, the water being so cold…” she frowned slightly, drawing herself back to her point, and her guest, with a charming expression, “so you see the girls got it in their heads they must have rescued you,” she chuffed a jovial laugh, “I told ‘em to start usin’ their heads and they might start going somewhere in life. Still, at least they managed not to conjure the notion it was some kinda mermaid, thank the Lord!” Magnus’ ears pricked at the word, knowing full well that there were more things beneath the surface than even she knew, “I believe there may well be hope for ‘em yet.”
Magnus smiled cagily in response, sipping her tea and feeling its warmth slide through her gullet, settling her stomach with the thought, the knowledge, that in this wonderful world, there was always hope. She stared at the liquid for a moment, wondering, with an eager curiosity, whether, perhaps she and her unsung preserver would ever meet again.
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Saphyr88Write a Review