She didn't bake very often, maybe once every few months. Before she destroyed her Old City Sanctuary her dear old friend would bake, the kitchen smelling deliciously of cakes or pies for the night, soothing Helen's nerves quicker than a cup of tea. Maybe it was the reason she had taken up the mantle, unconsciously missing the invisible signs of domesticity in her home.
Whatever the reason, she enjoyed the rhythmic motions of cake making. Measuring the dry ingredients, creaming the butter and sugar, combining it all with eggs and milk, then waiting. It was the waiting Helen loved.
Their first year in the new Sanctuary was difficult. There were hurt feelings on all sides, and rightly so in most cases. Helen was still smarting at Will's, ‘No more lies,’ as if she had chosen to lie for the fun of it, Nikola had moments of attitude, behaving almost like Will (that surprised her), whilst Henry spent the first few months watching her warily, as if expecting her to blow up this place too.
She made her first cake in the new kitchen for Henry.
Helen, when she found him on the moors, could only guess at his age. Neither had a clue when his actual birth date was. They celebrated, instead, the day he came to the Sanctuary. He watched all those around him but gravitated to Biggie, who’d taken the boy under his wing with an ease Helen envied. When he saw the Victoria sponge Biggie brought to the kitchen table at tea time, a lone candle in the centre, his whole being perked up.
Tugging on Helen's arm, he asked, “What's that?”
Helen blinked, then smiled, her heart warm with affection for the little boy. “That is a cake.”
“No, that?” He pointed to the lone candle.
“Ah! That’s a birthday candle. The idea is to blow it out and make a wish.” She glanced at Biggie, before pushing the cake toward him. “Would you like to blow it out for me?”
When she had Ashley, Henry was all of about five, maybe six, years old. He kept looking at her expectantly, wondering when she'd wake up and play. Helen explained how babies grow and change quickly, but need a lot of sleep when they’re very young. Soon enough a year passed. Ashley toddled after Henry, always chasing him if she wasn’t in her playpen, always wanting what he held. So when he asked about her birthday cake, Helen couldn’t say no.
“Happy birthday dear Ashley! Happy birthday to you! Now blow out your candle!” Henry told her, bringing her close to the candlelit cake he’d carried to the table.
“Aaaake!” Ashley squealed.
“Yeah! Blow out the candle, like this!” Henry blew gentle on her face, making her giggle and clap. “Your turn!”
She blew a raspberry.
“Henry, why don’t you help her?” Helen suggested, holding a small camera by her chest.
He nodded. “I’m gonna help, Ash. Ready to make a wish?”
The oven timer dinged. Smiling, glad everyone else was sleeping or otherwise distracted, she opened the oven, tested the cake and brought it out to the countertop. Steam swirled gently from the top as she gave it a minute to rest, finding the wire cooling rack she needed.
She couldn’t decorate the sponge for a fair few hours, so she made some fondant icing.
“... Henry would really really really like a hero cake,” Helen heard from the kitchen door, watching Ashley eat her dinner. “But he said Tommy said comics are for babies.”
Biggie growled. Ashley giggled, and growled too. “No, here,” he explained, tapping her stomach.
Another growl. Biggie threw his hands up in faux alarm, eliciting another giggle from her daughter.
Soon enough Ashley stopped asking for characters on her cake - “Jeez, mom, only little kids have cartoons on their cakes!” - preferring something closer to a Black Forest Gateau than an iced sponge. She did, however, still like the candles, bouncing when someone (usually Henry, his role since her first birthday) brought through her cake.
Fondant made, portioned out and a portion rolled, she started cutting out various types of snowflakes, embossing a flake pattern onto a dozen small disks to be dotted all over. Preparation, decoration, anticipation. She’d get out the edible glitter Abby brought with her during her last visit.
“Doctor Magnus, I- I didn’t think anyone would still be awake!” Abby explained, mixing cake batter in her pyjamas.
Helen shook her head, smiling. “It's not a problem, Abby. Although, if that is what I think it is, you’d do well to add chocolate chips.”
Abby cheeks flushed a delicate pink, and she bowed her head, a habitual response if ever Helen saw one, although Abby’d forgotten she didn’t have her hair down to cover her face. “He told me he didn’t care if he got a cake tomorrow, but it's his birthday and…”
“There’s always cake on your birthday,” Helen finished, nodding as Abby did. “Would you like company?”
Abby smiled again. “Sure.”
“You’ve never made a cake for me,” Nikola murmured, wrapping his arms around her as she added colour to a portion of icing, making it a cool, light blue.
“You’ve never made me one,” Helen retorted, “but I don’t complain.” She kissed his forearm. “Your experiments finished for the night?”
He nodded, kissing behind her ear before letting go and sitting next to her by the table. “They’ll be under Big Brother’s watchful eye until the morning.”
Helen stopped her fondant colouring for a moment to look at him shrewdly. “I thought you were avoiding Orwell?”
“Lady Wolf left 1984 in my lab, again.” Helen arched her brow, and Nikola wilted. “I might have told her to leave it there…”
“Uh-huh.” She nodded, then felt herself easing from her teasing suspicion as she resumed colouring her icing. “What did you say of it? ‘I like my wines dry and my literature exciting, not, as George has, the other way.’” She pursed her lips and tilted her head, saying, “You insulted James that day.”
Nikola pshaw’ed it away. “Watson wasn’t insulted. He was mildly ‘put out’, as you used to say… What--?” He touched an embossed disk, his digits gentle.
“Snowflakes, for the cake,” she explained.
“Your point? Alice wanted snowflakes, and since Henry and Erika don’t arrive back until tomorrow afternoon, I decided to help.” After putting the fondant back in the bowl, she left the table to make a batch of butter icing in the mixer. She also needed to find a small brush, the glitter Abby’d left, and some vodka too. As the butter and icing sugar mixed together, she put her other items on the table, then carefully moved one of the cooled sponges from the rack, placing it on a stand, ready to decorate.
“Not that I love questioning your actions,” Nikola reached for the vodka to have his hand batted gently away, “but what if Wolf Mama wanted to bake?”
Helen winked, turning off the mixer and bringing the bowl to the table. As she spooned out some icing, she replied, “I asked before she left about her plan.”
“And?” he asked a minute later after watching her spread and smooth the butter icing over the bottom layer and adding the top.
Helen’s eyes widened a fraction as her voice went up a few notes, the crumb coating of icing forgotten. “‘Henry suggested I ask you, as Alice loved your last cake.’” Grabbing the fondant, she made quick work of rolling it out to the right size. With the ease of practice, she draped it on her rolling pin, laying it down on the butter icing. “I’m just relieved we were able to calm the Jabberwocky in time.” She tapped his hand sharply with her own when he reached for the vodka, saying, “I need that to glue the icing on.”
Nikola made a face. "Starting her young?"
"Being purposefully obtuse?" she shot back, grinning. As she painted the backs of her fondant creations, she added, "I'll be at least another hour."
"Can I help with anything?"
Helen thought for a moment, a stab of painful nostalgia in her chest as she thought of the evenings her old friend would let her sit and sip tea as he made cakes. Change was inevitable in her line of work, but she'd always assumed their friendship would last his long lifetime. "Not with the cake, but you can finally explain your latest project, if you'd like." Her tone was hopefully baiting, as she pushed his forgotten glass of wine towards him. "I'm all ears."
The next day, when Helen presented her granddaughter her cake, Alice's delighted cry of, "Frozen!" made everything worth it. With Alice's little face aglow from the candles, Helen couldn't help but think of every birthday cake she'd missed, and those magnificent few she'd had the foresight to record for posterity. Yes, she thought, as a camera shutter clicked and a flash dazzled her, worth every moment crooning lullabies to the Jabberwocky.