One of Nikola's arms stretches across the headboard of the couch as he spins a slim, silver case between his fingers in the desolate dark, but in the thunderlight he stops it from spinning and he tilts his head slightly; Helen’s scent precedes her, a warm throb that flutters in Nikola's nose and bends the air in his ears as she leans, just for a moment, against the door-frame. In the static air, he listens to the shift of her clothes and the long breath that stems from her inner thoughts, and though the thunder drowns the room, he marks her pulse apart from the other charges in the air and makes a game of counting it.
"Is this a private viewing?" Helen asks. In the cavernous room, the thunder swallows the ensuing echo of her wedges against polished stone. In a small yet stylish summer hideout, far above the underground Sanctuary main, a wall of wide-paneled windows showcases the storm that tumults in the dusky pink sky just before rain.
"Why if it isn't Helen of Troy" Nikola lilts brightly, tilting his head to sight her, though his gaze quickly drops to the sloshing bottle she cradles in one arm, and the two glasses she has stemmed in the other, "Oh, and her Dionysian friend. What've you got there?"
"Have a look."
She hands the bottle over the couch and settles into the crook of back rest, reaching into the pocket of her sweater-jacket to offer him an opener. He takes it without looking, still studying the label, and Helen watches his hands grip while he jacks the cork loose and jostles the pitchy liquid within.
"You know, I always heard you were at your most elegant during electrical storms," she muses, and reaches down across his shoulder right after he pops the cork to grab the bottleneck before he can pour. Audibly, he frowns.
"I'm not ordinarily elegant?" he counters, matter-of-fact, watching while she rises from her perch and crosses around the couch to bait him. His frown follows, eyes drowned on the bottle.
"Rumor has it you sent everyone away when they happened and shut and locked the door. Turned off the lights."
He studies her prowling voice with a dark glint, but his grin is slanted, feral, and he hums deep to counter her provocation, his gaze canting her eyes. “You pour that bottle and I'll consider myself officially seduced."
Dangling the glass within reach, Helen lets him reach before she whisks away with a low, unarmed giggle, and crosses around the couch to set the glasses down on the coffee table.
"Don't let me interrupt your palaver," she sits, and settles in the arm of the furniture, the bottle hostage in one hand, "As you were. I, for one, want to see what all the romantic hype is about."
"This isn't re-scheduled television programming, Helen. My wits aren't available on demand," he says sorely, turning his gaze with his head back to the window, "and besides, no one wants to listen to the desultory convictions of a jaded old man. Now, give it."
"Old?" she capers, settling her shoulders into the cushioning besides him. He scoffs with a breathy protest when she takes a straight sip, "I thought the term was 'well preserved.'"
"'I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled," he begins in spite, though her eyes only enamel with play. And she is playful, lit from the setting memory of her recent venture. He larks back, lolling his head as he settles his shoulders on the cushion alongside her.
"Oh dear lord, please not Profrock,"
"'Is it perfume from a dress/ That makes me so digress?'"
"That's enough Elliot, really. Quite enough."
She rises from the cushions in retreat, and Nikola's cut-glass amusement is softened by her adamance, but she smiles towards him, and he proffers a grin back as he siphons his glass by the stem and pushes it fourth.
"Que sera sera, my dear."
She pours, and he glamours at the liquid splash as though it is naked before him.
"You know, my father had a cat like you once. If you left him alone during a thunderstorm, he would mewl in a chair until you came to see what was the matter." She prizes her glass next, and over-pours her helping, boring at him while the red froth sloshes at the rim, "and then when you went to comfort him, you could never tell whether he would hiss or purr."
"Pet me and we can find out," he licks, but she, drinking an unsavory gulp, deflects, so he settles into the cushion and leans back to watch the storm, "anyway, what's the point of you bringing me alcohol when you aren't going to give me attention along with it?"
"We gave the cat cream."
Nikola tucks into his glass, crosses his legs and holds his glass comfortably aloft.
"Fine," he salts, “Pour me my cream and go play with your preternatural friends. Its more than enough to make my evening captivating."
But she stays, of course, slips off her wedges with her toes and tucks her legs beneath, and, for a while, they watch the clouds phosphoresce against the darkening sky. With a half a toothed smirk, he shakes his head at her, tucks back into the cushion, and lingers to watch the light from the strikes shock the shadows on her face while she marvels at the expanse of sky.
"To your liking?"
Helen breaks with a coy tilt, and it is that optimism that he has always found seductive. His temptation brines; he follows it down to her tucked legs, and as easily as his eyes stoke, he pridefully stretches an arm across the empty side of the couch; he leaves her space, for him a chasm, but hers to cross.
"The interplay of richness, the hammering acidity" he wiles and takes another sip, aims the glass in the air, "its pure hedonism; and like all good plunders, its starts with leather and ends with rosy hips."
"Cheers to that."
"Certainly suits the company.”
"I formally retract my cheers."
Helen scoffs tenderly in reply, and as she she shakes her head, he watches her hair sprawl differently against the heavy knits of her jacket. Thunder draws him back to the window, and again, they sit and sip in the swallow of the room, a dead-air soon drowned out by the static pelt of rain. His legs uncross, and he swills the last drop and drinks it back before leaning to grab the beryl-green neck of the bottle, flicks his gaze at her glass to check. He reaches to refill her glass first, and she puts forth her glass, hums when that's enough.
"So," he clears, "I haven't seen you in around in what? A good five, six days, at least?"
"Hmm, yes," she muses, counting back mentally while he fills his own glass, "Ten, to be exact."
"And where has the lovely lady been? Pajukan, Cambodia, the Baltic sea, rubbing elbows with Perkūnas?"
Nikola is not terribly far off, and her expressions showcases her vague impression. He leans his elbow on the couch now, has the base of his glass rested on his thigh to hold it stable, and she turns too, both of her hands clutching her glass as she adjusts under-folded legs.
"The Iberian Penninsula, if you must know. You've heard of the moura enchantada?"
"Mmm, some kind of harpies?"
"A nymph-like creature, but more than that, they're ophidian shapeshipters. Proteans, like Henry," she alights, and he feigns repulse, "All female. Most leads we've gotten in the past we've attributed to myth or extinction but recently a team of therianthropologists from Declan's division found a strange carcass in an undiscovered dolmen near the Galician coast."
"This is all sounding a little too prelapsarian," he smarts, then swirls what is left in his glass to sniff.
"Ah, yes," she matches, "you're remembering Notre-Dame."
"Le Portail de la Vierge."
"In fact, mid-transformation, the creatures bear a remarkable resemblance to the effeminate serpent depicted on the western facade of Notre-Dame, or the frescoes by Michelangelo and Masolino; the depiction is simply a popular western convention of that time, but if we look outside the west, there are also the nāgiṇī of South Asian mythology. Water deities."
The balm of the rain sinks even in this room; he is done with his last sip, and moves closer as he sets the glass down, watching her mouth, she notices, and briefly, she calculates the way his jaw sets when he looks back up, and puts her glass back to her lips to block them from view.
"Well, that explains this little Madeiran present. And that adventurous afterglow you've got," he warms; his mouth widens when she simpers, "coincidence, undoubtedly, but the resemblance is worth noting."
"It could be a complete coincidence, or there could be some ancient encounters-- even a relationship-- that has echoed through myth and memory."
"A little romantic, don't you think?"
“Yes, "she guards, turning back to lean into the couch, watch the window, "but still, reminds me when we first started the archives; all that discovery and adventure; back when the journey took months of unpredictable travel. It's my favorite part of this job."
"And speaking of ancient encounters," he leans back, shoulder-to-shoulder as the thunder shudders against the panes. The raptured air flushes against his cheeks, then mingles with their soft breaths, and he leans closer in because of it.
Nikola knows, always, when he has her approval, and she can see the want mingling with his certainty as he fixes his eyes on hers while she considers. Kissing him rarely-- no, never-- stops with just that, and, with one arm stilted against the couch and the other holding her glass, she weighs her decision with a tilted head. Her jaw juts as she parts her lips slightly and studies how close he dares to get.
He doesn't break the gaze, but does falter a little when she moves closer, stopping inches from his face; his eyes darken all while her proud gaze softens, shifts from one eye to the next as she searches to read his equal pride.
"Is this a recent acquire?" she descries the silver case in his coat pocket and reached to pluck it before he can close in, and his whole body sinks into his frown.
"A gift from my tenure at SCIU," he dismisses, still tolling the space between him, but she only leans back to take in the last sip of her glass.
"Ah, yes, your lady-friend in the chemistry department."
He retracts, crosses his legs and the cold air fills between them.
"Hardly," Helen corrects, spinning the ill box around to examine the quality, "She has good taste,"
"Obviously," he embitters.
"There's an encryption-- jCe?"she reads aloud, running her thumb across the etched lettering.
"Had I known we'd be playing show and tell, I would have brought something a little more stimulating."
"Come now, don't make me guess" she wheedled.
"Josephine Evelyne Coates" he sighs, "'if you must know."
"Pretty name," she conceded, "pretty girl. You two must have been close."
He over-pours his next helping while she shake the case to test its count, then pushes the silver button to raise it open.
"Ah, your supplements."
"Josie saw the pills on my desk, didn't recognize the prescription. Pharmacy rep through college. I told her all about the drug trails for the rampant migraine problems I'd been having."
"Josie, is it?" she smirks, then shuts the case to hand it back, "She most certainly admired you."
"She most certainly left me."
"Can you blame her? Its not by chance that she became a scientist at one of the most well hidden secret facilities in the world. Its hard enough being a woman in a field dominated by men. A woman like her only lets special people into her life: people she can understand and trust. When she found out the truth, you probably broke her heart."
"See? This is why I never courted. In the end, I lost the job, the girl, and then I accidentally invented an execution grid; countless hours adrift in an ocean of guilt and humiliation that could have been better spent tossing handfuls of millet into Herald Square. As you might recall, I went into hiding in similar conditions," he palsies, draining his glass without savor, "I thought you came to cheer me up."
"I don't remember making any promises."
"Well, if I'm not mistaken, given the difference in time zones, it's a little past your bedtime."
Helen laughs so freely that even Nikola is at her mercy with a grin of his own, "Ah, Nikola, don't be cross. I only meant that you ought to look back on her with the care you felt before, not this narrative of red-penciled betrayal you've conjured up in an attempt to abate your humiliation. At the very least, you'll find your humanity."
"Not much of a consolation prize," he glowers.
"With your bruised ego, certainly not," she enlightens, "But if you don't mind, I'll keep you company a little while longer."
She drains the last of the bottle into their respective glasses, and they both resume their shouldering. They sky darkens further, the lightening stark against the black, and after a few daunting strikes, she sets down her glass, leans her head against his shoulder and curls into the cushions.
"There are five kinds of energies, described as fire, observed in later Zoroastrian literature-- " Nikola begins lowly. She feels his shoulder rolling as he transfers his glass to the other hand, and she takes it, places it there on her leg to that he planes his palm against her knee, "Some require fuel, some water, some, like normal human bodies, need both; but the fourth fire requires neither fuel nor water to sustain itself. It manifests in the clouds, a residual energy stemming from the very cosmic fire of creation."
"Nine hundred years ago, that's what people contemplated when they saw the same phenomenon we see before us now. A spiritually driven observation on what you and I understand as remedial force between the opposite charges that develop in the upheaval of a storm. Early science in its purest form."
"A force that has enthralled you for nearly two lifetimes."
"As have you," he smiles close-by, his hand drifting a little further up to smooth her thigh, though he stops to check her quiescence.
"And that," she notes with raised brows, "is my queue to go to bed."
"Hold on," he tempers, removing his hand to turn towards her while he straightens, "before you leave, I have something to say."
"What could you possibly add to this derailed train of thought that's worth my while."
"Something banal and that goes without saying, and a little late in coming, but anyhow, I suppose I owe you a simple thanks."
"Taking me back."
"You're right," she agrees, "It goes without saying. This is a sanctuary, after all. You're an abnormal, licensed and collared in the Sanctuary Network records, and a personal friend," Helen distills, "but it is nice to hear. Besides, I let you back in here for two reasons: because only you can help me finish what I’m working on and--"
"Because you like me?"
"Because you are a singularly occurring Lazarus taxon impeding the complete extinction of your kind."
“Are you trying to tell me I’m one of a kind?”
Helen slips on her shoes, and her hair sways across her neckline as she rubs the ball of her ankles. Though a bolt strikes close in the shell-shocked sky, she does not startle and neither does he, only meets his eyes with her vulnerable blue.
"And what if I am?"
Neither of them notice the sky or its fire again. Her chaste kisses segue into counter-locked plunders, and soon his tongue engulfs her with gentle forays that match the crest and trough of his body reading hers. All either of them think, now, is that perhaps there is a sixth energy. One, he thinks, that must travel backwards through time from some cosmic fire of destruction. One, she thinks, that only lovers of four lifetimes can observe.