Thanks to skatergurljb for the beta.
Title: I'll Never Tell
Characters: Helen, Nikola mentions of OFC, Will, Kate, Henry, The Big Guy
Pairings: Bits of Helen/John, Helen/Nikola, Helen/OFC
Spoilers: 2x10 - Sleepers
Summary: It's against the spirit of the season to have a depressed genius at Christmas...
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring...
Except for the vampire creeping around her main sitting room.
Ex-vampire, Helen reminded herself. That was still taking a little getting used to, and she suspected it was a hundred times worse for Nikola. Which would probably explain why she'd been so nice to him of late. Not that she was ever exactly horrible to him, much to her own annoyance.
"Looking for me?" he asked, a typically broad and confident smile.
She never had admitted it, and never would, but she'd always found Nikola somewhat charming. A certain roguish appeal that made her smile in spite of herself. And he was immensely lucky for that; she would have throttled him long ago if it wasn't for that sometimes annoying whiff of affection she held for him.
As always she hid it well though, sighing at his question, as if that was the last thing she'd be doing.
"I thought it was Father Christmas," she countered dryly, tilting her head at him.
"You do know he's not real, yes?" Nikola pointed out, his wit clearly not dulled by his changed genetics. "Unless there's another big secret you've not told us. You're not holding the old man hostage, are you? That would explain why such a naughty girl gets such a lot of presents..."
He nodded towards the tree in the corner, which indeed was surrounded by gifts. They were not all for her of course, everyone having placed their presents there in readiness for the next morning. The pile was a little smaller than usual this year; none to or from Ashley. Helen's heart ached at the thought, but she'd already privately done her mourning for her first Christmas without her daughter and so she pushed it aside, packing the accompanying emotions back into their neat box. She wanted to enjoy her time with those she did still have.
She didn't know if Nikola spotted the flicker of emotion, although he could be surprisingly perceptive at times. Maybe that was the reason for the sad and somewhat uncomfortable expression that momentarily showed on his face. It was gone quickly though, replaced by the smile that always worried her; it meant he was pleased with himself and that invariable meant trouble.
"I suppose adding one more to the collection wouldn't hurt," he continued, revealing a bottle which he'd been hiding behind his leg.
When he held it out for her, a ribbon tied surprisingly elegantly around its neck, she realised it must be a gift and she was honestly a little surprised. Is that what he'd be up to? Sneaking in here to put a present under the tree? That was certainly a change of disposition; Nikola had never really been the gift giving type before. She took it with a small smile, inspecting the label.
Well, well, well...
"I'm afraid I failed in my attempt to resurrect Churchill so he could present it to you," Nikola drawled with a slight grin. "But as we both know, I'm an adequate replacement."
She gave him that dry look again, the one he seemed to own.
"I've never heard you describe yourself in those terms before," she reasoned, playing with him a little. "'Adequate'."
Nikola sighed melodramatically, sitting heavily down onto the sofa.
"That's all I merely am now," he said, a study in self-pity.
Helen's look was gentler this time, a bit more understanding. His mood had been up and down for months and she'd got well used to the rapid changes in disposition. Others might have been angry at him, one of the most brilliant men in history feeling sorry for himself because he was too close to the rest of the mere mortals. But, Helen had long since grown to understand him and how desperately he needed to feel like he was special.
"Oh, Nikola," she sighed with kindness, sitting next to him and patting his knee reassuringly. "Come now. Even completely human, you are more than adequate. You're one of the smartest men I've ever met."
"Don't you mean the smartest?" he queried with an arched eyebrow.
Helen gave him that dry look of scolding again.
Some things never changed.
"If you insist," she said, standing and heading to the side cabinet. "Shall we open this?"
He gave a look of disdain, apparently unimpressed by her almost blasé attitude.
"Helen, it's a 45 Bordeaux, you don't just...open it."
"But," she reasoned with a smile, returning to the sofa with two glasses and a corkscrew, "as you are so fond of telling me, wine is meant to be drunk, not used as decoration. Or at least when it's my wine it is."
Nikola paused thoughtfully, then nodded.
"True," he agreed before an expression of realisation hit him. "And I can actually get drunk now. I don't know if that will improve matters or not."
She smiled broadly, working on opening the bottle, wondering just how amusing a drunk Nikola would be. Fun but troublesome she suspected.
"I suppose you'll be holding some kind of gathering tomorrow," he continued, with a definite air of disinterest as she passed him one of the two glasses she'd poured.
"Yes," she replied, assuming he was fishing for an invitation without actually asking. He'd probably just turn up regardless, she realised, but he did prefer the proper etiquette. A product of his time.
She sipped at the wine - very good wine as it happened - making him wait a moment.
"You're quite welcome, of course," she finally conceded, smiling over the top of her glass at him.
He sighed wearily.
"It will be...lame," he pointed out, cringing at his apparent inability to find some way of describing it that didn't involve such a crass modern colloquialism. He drank a generous mouthful from his own glass. "Unlike this wine, which is exquisite. If I'd known that, I would have kept it for myself."
He wouldn't, but she decided he wouldn't appreciate her mentioning that.
"I throw a good party I'll have you know," she countered instead.
"Are you inviting the people who work here?"
"Then it'll be lame," he concluded once more.
Helen rolled her eyes. Apparently being made mortal had done nothing to diminish his superiority complex after all.
"Now, I..." Nikola continued, almost wistfully, "I used to hold the most magnificent Christmas parties, do you remember?"
He held his glass up, swirling the wine around, watching it move as an unmistakable fondness crept across his features. Helen smiled a little at the expression.
"1898," he continues with a slight sigh, "the last one at the Radio Wave Building in New York before I moved to Colorado."
He winced at that.
"Not one of my better ideas, I admit. Colorado I mean, not the party."
Helen does remember it well. Nikola could be cruel, dismissive and disdainful of company and yet, when he chose, he could also be charming, generous and gentlemanly. And he had always had definite streaks of the showman in him, which explained why his Christmas parties were always such elaborate affairs, designed to be enjoyable and highly impressive.
The word 'affair' made Helen blush and she took another sip from her glass, hoping to hide it.
1898. It had been all but ten years since her problems with John and nearly as long since his disappearance. She had spent a long time trying to find a cure for him and, when one wasn't forthcoming, just trying to find him. He was her responsibility, she'd told herself, and she had to stop him hurting others, whatever that may entail and no matter how much it broke her heart. Only there had been no sign of him, no more murders of such ferocious brutality to follow. She'd seriously begun to wonder if she'd mortally wounded him that last night in the alley, if she was just chasing a ghost. The thought had saddened her greatly but, at the same time, had been some kind of relief. She had just wanted it over and done with.
Whilst she had found plenty of inner strength in those years, she couldn't deny one thing; she was lonely, gradually coming to realise how much she missed touches of affection in her life. That was what had driven her to accept Nikola's Christmas party invitation, even though something inside her tried to insist that it was a poor idea. She had been very pleased by what she'd found however. The decorations had been lavish, the music suitably festive, the wine and food meeting his own exacting standards and the company interesting; a mixture of Nikola's employees, other scientists, artists whose work he was fond of and several notables of New York society.
It had been a rather more unassuming young woman that had caught Helen's eye however, an innocent looking but bold secretary who hadn't been afraid to come up to the impressive Dr Magnus and tell her how much she admired her. Helen was not exactly unused to compliments, but they seemed to be so beautifully genuine from this young woman, Celia, that they warmed her in a way she hadn't felt in too long.
Perhaps that was how, in the face of all sense and reason, they had ended up in a dark office, locked in each other's embrace, kissing passionately. It'd been utter madness at the time, still was when she thought about it now. People didn't really do that sort of thing now a days, let alone at the turn of the century when attitudes were quite different. But she hadn't cared, longing for another's tender touch after so many years of isolation and loneliness. The thought of being with another woman in that manner had never crossed her mind before, and she'd been surprised that the notion really wasn't as odd as she might have expected. In fact, it had given her a thrill, her excitement a cross between the forbidden nature of it and the thought of a new journey into the unknown.
Celia had been sweet, willing to please and not at all hesitant, lying beneath Helen on the desk as their clothes had been peeled away. The other woman's youth had excited her, she was barely twenty, so much potential waiting to be realised, so much still to discover and so eager to experience it. Helen had had far less practice as a lover back then, and none with a woman, and so they had made love experimentally. Testing, touching, seeing what the other liked. It was a little awkward, clumsy even sometimes, but, by god, had it been good. She still remembered now the soft, almost reverent touch of Celia's fingers, happy to be guided to where Helen needed her most, learning how to stroke her as Helen writhed above her. She remembered having to lightly bite down on the other woman's shoulder as she came, muffling her cries of ecstasy in case those in the party next door heard them. She recalled quite vividly Celia's wide eyed look of shock as Helen had slid a finger inside her, making the younger woman feel things she had never done before, arching and writhing until she came for the first time. A most beautiful sight.
A warm, deep shiver of delight slid through Helen's body at the memory, and Nikola raised an eyebrow.
"I seem to remember you drunk a little too much that night," he pointed out nonchalantly, perhaps trying to get her to reveal to him what she was recalling.
A smile was her only answer. She had absolutely no intention of telling him. She didn't need him looking at her in arousal at the idea nor, just as likely, throwing a fit about her doing something so unhygienic on one of his desks. No, a woman was allowed her secrets and frankly Helen rather enjoyed keeping that naughty little one to herself.
She'd never seen Celia again after that night, much to her own disappointment. She'd later heard that the young woman had joined the suffragette movement and had been instrumental in helping women get the vote in several states. Helen had been inordinately proud of that.
"You were still blonde back then too," Nikola added, trying to push her buttons when no confession was forthcoming. "I prefer the brunette though. Much sexier."
"That's not what she said," she teased between sips of her wine.
She tried not to laugh when Nikola nearly choked on his.
"What on earth are doing?" Helen scolded sharply a tone that would have made most men contrite.
Nikola Tesla wasn't most men however and he pulled up his blindfold, glaring at her in return.
"I am pinning the tail on the donkey," he answered, slow and deliberate, as though she was very dense for not understanding that in the first place.
"No," she countered sharply. "You are pinning the tail to my wall."
She was indeed correct, indicating firmly that he'd very successfully missed the picture of the donkey entirely, the tail hanging out of the woodwork instead. The other pinholes in the wall suggested that it hadn't been his first attempt either.
He all but pouted at her.
"Blame them," he said, waving his arm in a rather uncoordinated fashion towards Will, Kate and Henry, all of whom seemed to find the whole thing very amusing. "They insisted I take place in this charade."
"No," Kate teased with a grin. "Charades comes later. After another bottle of wine."
Helen frowned at Nikola, Kate's words giving her pause, detecting something in his mannerisms that she hadn't seen for well over a century...
"What?" he asked, frowning at her in return, apparently uncomfortable with her studying him.
"You're drunk," she concluded, almost in disbelief.
"Of course I'm drunk!" he snapped back with irritable disdain. "I'm playing children's games with Dr Expendable, the violent girl and your housebroken werewolf, when a few short months ago I was probably the most advance being on this planet; why would I not be drunk?"
He looked back towards the others.
"None taken," Will said dryly, arms folded across his chest. Apparently, her protégé had got well used to the insults by now.
The Big Guy interrupted any further bickering, not seeming at all bothered by the scene he walked into.
"Dinner's ready," he insisted simply, nodding to indicate they should all follow him.
Nikola sat heavily down onto the sofa again, looking particularly sulky as he reached for a bottle of wine and found it empty. Helen nodded towards the others, silently telling them to go on without her. She'd be there in a moment.
"I'll save you a seat, Doc," Henry said with a small smile.
"Make it two," she insisted.
Nikola gave a 'hmph' that seemed to say 'I don't think so', but Helen ignored him. She hadn't achieved all she had in life by surrendering in the face of a little stubbornness.
"You have to move on, Nikola," she said kindly once they were alone, feeling a measure of pity for him again. Effectively, he was in mourning for the life he'd lost and she knew all too well what grief in all its forms was like.
"Oh, yes, onwards and downwards into a spiral of mediocrity," he bit back in return, scowling.
She didn't answer, instead picking up a stray pen from the desk. She held it, half a metre away from him and, upon letting go, it flew straight to the back of his hand. A simple, but hopefully effective demonstration of how not mediocre he was.
"And what am I supposed to do with that?" he asked with a dramatic sigh.
"I don't know," she said, keeping an air of enthusiasm, "think of something."
"The point being? I'll be dead in, what? Fifty years if I'm lucky?"
Her sigh was sharp and a little annoyed. As if his wallowing did any of them any good. In fifty years he could achieve more than what most men could do in five lifetimes, if he put his mind to it. But, she also understood that for an immortal the idea of sudden mortality must be quite terrifying. She honestly felt that she might have the same fears were she in his position.
"Frankly, I have no idea what the future holds for you," she pointed out firmly. "Look at Watson, he managed to hold off death for near a century, and your skill in engineering and genetics outweighs his. Who's to say what you might come up with?"
That, at last, seemed to spark a hint of interest in him. He sat up a little, suddenly looking thoughtful.
"You're right...you're right..." he said with a slow, slightly wobbly nod. "I am a genius, after all. If I put my mind to it, I could...defeat death itself."
Helen wasn't entirely sure that the slightly manic look in his eyes was at all healthy. For anyone.
"I shouldn't be wasting my time here," he announced suddenly. "I should be in my lab..."
He went to stand, far too quickly for a man in his state of inebriation, and he wobbled dangerously. Helen's reflexes where honed though and she lurched forward, grabbing both of his arms to steady him.
"When you're sober," she insisted, "and in a more fit state to be around potentially dangerous equipment. For now, come and have dinner."
She wasn't entirely sure whether he'd accept that invitation. He'd probably just scoff at the idea and make some crass remark about not eating anything prepared by an animal.
What she certainly hadn't been expecting however was a kiss and, when his lips suddenly claimed hers, she was too shocked to do anything about it. He tasted strongly of red wine, but there was still an essence of electricity there, even with that power apparently gone. Maybe it was just part of who he was after all.
He pulled back, giving a grin full of roguish charm.
"Mistletoe," he explained, as though that was an adequate justification.
She gave him 'his' look again.
"It's on the other side of the room," she pointed out.
"Close enough," he said with an unbothered shrug.
She rolled her eyes and let him get away with that one. It was Christmas after all. She put her arm through his, leading him off to the dining room. Yes, he drove her insane at times and Will was right, he had been a thorn in her side for many years. But she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Merry Christmas, Nikola," she said with a soft smile.
He looked at her, as if trying to gage some hidden meaning in that. Then he just shrugged, accepting it for what it was.
"Merry Christmas, Helen."