Chapter 1: Chicago, Illinois, 1893
In which Wolcott finds himself more than a bit starstruck and shoots his partner.
Timeline notes: This is several years pre-canon for Five Fists of Science and... something of a mesh of the two timelines W13 has given us for HG; I use Christina's death date of 1899 as my main mental reference point, rather than the S3 implication that that happened in 1891. Either way, this is pre-rocket shenanigans.
The world moves slowly, and new truths are difficult to see.
William Wolcott still cannot quite believe this is his life.
Gathering the wonders of yesterday and keeping them and the general populace safeguarded from each other, working with a very singular woman who spends her free time imagining the wonders of tomorrow, travelling farther from Cardiff than he would have ever been able to on his own resources - who would have thought a simple military helmet would lead him to such a place as Warehouse 12?
“Come along, Woolly,” HG says, sweeping past all the marvels the Columbian Exposition has to offer as though she sees this sort of thing every day. “We wouldn’t want to be late for our appointment.”
“I--” William stops gaping at the displays long enough to hurry after her. “Are you sure Mr. Tesla is even going to be here?”
“Of course he is. Who do you think arranged for all the electric lighting at this event?”
“But I thought Mr. Edison--”
HG rolls her eyes, and the briefest of scowls crosses her face. “Mr. Edison wouldn’t know originality if it bit him in the arse. Besides, Woolly, take a closer look at the bulbs. They’re not the incandescent style; Mr. Edison was so upset to lose the contract that he wouldn’t allow his patents to be used in the Exposition.”
“Oh. That’s rather... mean-spirited of him.”
“Would that it were the worst to be said of the man.” She keeps walking, occasionally reminding William to keep pace, until she reaches a secluded park, somehow both part of the Exposition and well away from everything. There’s a man seated on a bench, smoking a cigar; William doesn’t think much of him at first - he’s far too old to be Mr. Tesla - until he stands and walks toward them.
“Now, this is something of a surprise,” he says; William tries not to wince at the harshness of the man’s American accent. “And what super-scientifical wonders are you unleashing on the world this time, Miss Wells?”
HG smiles. “Charmed as always, Mr. Twain, but I’m afraid it’s your dear friend who has the wonders for us today.”
“Ah, yes, he did say he’d contacted your organisation. Who’s your fish-faced young friend?”
William closes his mouth, wondering just when it fell open; before he can gather his wits enough to make an introduction of his own, HG says, “This is my new partner, Mr. Wolcott.”
“They’re letting you break in the new recruits? I am sorry, Mr. Wolcott.” Mr. Twain flicks some ash off the end of his cigar. “And between you and me, Helena, your organisation contacted our mutual friend before he called for you, which tells me that when you’re properly settled in the States, you simply must come by for dinner sometime.”
HG raises an eyebrow. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind. I don’t suppose you know what delights Nikola has in store for this meeting?”
“He does not.” Another man approaches them - Mr. Tesla, William presumes - and sets a case on the bench Mr. Twain had previously been occupying. “I had hoped to perfect the design before sharing it with anyone, but it seems that is beyond me.”
“You’ve been holding out on me?” Mr. Twain says. William can’t tell at first if he really is outraged or not, but then he adds, “All right then, let’s see it,” and doesn’t sound half as upset.
Mr. Tesla nods and opens the case; what’s inside is such a surprise that William finally finds his voice. “A pistol?”
HG laughs, pulling the pistol out of the case. “Don’t be silly, Woolly. If I’m any judge, this doesn’t do anything as simple as kill people.”
“Nor so undiginified.” Mr. Tesla scowls. “I will leave using electricity as a lethal weapon to Mr. Edison. This will leave its target quite insensible for a short time, and perhaps affect the short-term memory of being shot.”
“Now this I have to see,” Mr. Twain says.
“I quite agree.” HG turns the pistol so that she’s holding the muzzle, and holds it out to William. “Go on, then, Mr. Wolcott. Have a go.”
“I...” William looks among the three of them, lost for words for a moment (but given that he’s sharing company with two authors and two scientists in three people, he thinks he’s allowed to feel a bit outclassed). “I - HG, I can’t possibly shoot you!”
“Of course you can, Woolly, it’s perfectly safe. I trust Mr. Tesla to have seen to that. And if for some reason it doesn’t work as he intended, I would much rather we find that out while he’s still here than when we’re back in London.”
“You have a point there, I suppose.” William sighs, takes the pistol, and motions for everyone else to step back; once HG is well away from everyone else, he takes aim and fires. The burst of lightning still surprises him, even knowing it was meant to happen, and the force of the blow almost makes William lose his footing; once he’s recovered his balance, he finds HG just as insensible as Mr. Tesla had promised.
“How...” He clears his throat, hoping that will help him sound less nervous. “How long until she wakes up?”
“No more than five minutes,” Mr. Tesla says.
Mr. Twain applauds, then takes his cigar out of his mouth and says, “Good show as always, Nikola. So tell me, what the devil do you think is wrong with the thing?”
“No matter what I have tried, I have not been able to persuade it to recharge on its own. I can hardly make something marketable out of that, at least for military purposes. But as Miss Wells has complained more than once about the inefficiency of their current methods for slowing people down, I thought it might pique her interest.”
William looks at HG’s prone form and bites his lip. “I dare say it will, at that.” He wouldn’t even be surprised if she set about improving the recharge problem.
William’s watch tells him it’s been three and a half minutes, by the time HG finally stirs, but it feels much longer. She sits up, rubbing her shoulders as though they’re sore and smiling.
“That,” she says, “was marvelous. I should imagine you have more than one of these ready, or you wouldn’t have said anything.”
“Unless he didn’t bother making more than one of an imperfect prototype,” Mr. Twain points out, “but I dare say he’d make an exception in your case.”
“Quite so - we’ll certainly need more than one. And I do assure you, Nikola, your name will remain with this invention.”
Mr. Tesla smiles. “I do appreciate that.”
Chapter 2: St. Louis, Missouri, 1965
In which Ahme sets about some religious reforms and Rebecca gets her stuff back.
Timeline notes: This is set just after the events of Help! and three years or so after Jack's encounter with the Spine.
Rebecca’s tried everything she can think of short of calling up the B&B and hashing this out with Phyllis - but even though she’s missed Phyllis dearly since she left, she doesn’t want to do that. That would likely be the first step to getting pulled back in, and now that she’s making her own life for herself, the last thing she wants is to get caught in the Warehouse’s snares again.
Besides, as long as there’s even a shred of a hope that she’ll figure out where Jack disappeared to - and while those shreds are getting very tattered indeed, she still has them - she’s not leaving St. Louis. If he’s still there to be found, he’s going to need a familiar face as soon as possible. The fact that she’d be able to finally tell him off for not waiting for her to get there and help him investigate is merely a fringe benefit.
Between Jack vanishing into thin air three years ago and her own quiet departure from South Dakota not long afterward, she never quite knows what to expect when someone knocks on her door; this time is no exception. She certainly wasn’t expecting a smartly dressed Indian woman - more than a bit fond of loud colors, but Rebecca can’t hold that against her - but that’s no reason not to be polite.
“May I help you?”
The woman smiles. “You work for Warehouse 13, do you not?”
Rebecca frowns. “I used to. Why do you ask?”
“I have something that ought to be stored there, but I have not been able to locate the warehouse itself. I should think you can get it there, though.”
There are dozens of questions Rebecca could ask from that statement alone, but she knows better than to open that particular can of worms (even if it is entirely metaphorical) while standing on her porch. “I suppose you had better come in, then.”
The woman does so; she introduces herself as Ahme, seats herself rather primly on the sofa, and declines Rebecca’s offer of tea. With the formalities out of the way, Rebecca sits down in her chair and says, “Where did you even find out about the Warehouse, anyway?”
“One of its ancestors was in India,” Ahme says. “My grandmother heard stories of it from her grandmother, who I believe learned of it from her grandmother in turn, and so on. It is not the sort of place a family forgets easily.”
“I can imagine. What is it that you think... needs to be in storage?”
Ahme opens her handbag and pulls out a ring; at first, Rebecca thinks the positively giant ruby on it must be costume jewelry, but the metal looks far too old for that to be likely. “The sacrificial ring of the Dread Kaili.”
Rebecca raises an eyebrow. “I would have thought it was Kali.”
“An easy mistake to make, but Kaili is very much her own force. Not only is the ring itself very difficult to remove, short of the death of the one wearing it, but... it is past time the temple learned a new way to do things, and they will not unless this is taken from them. My sister thought sending it out of the country would be enough, but as it turned out... it was not.” She smiles a little, in the way that many a Warehouse agent did when recalling a particularly wild case (in a way that reminds Rebecca more than a bit of Jack).
“I see.” Rebecca doesn’t quite see, but from what little Ahme has said, she really doesn’t want to ask about the rest. “And that’s all the more you want out of this?”
“I would very much rather go home than stay here. Among other things, the temple will need someone capable of forward thinking if it is to make the adjustments it needs to. Whatever has happened between you and the organisation, I will gladly leave you to sort out.”
Rebecca relaxes for the first time since the conversation began. “Consider it done, then.”
Three weeks after she sends the ring off in the mail, a delivery man knocks on her door, with the last of her belongings from wherever Mrs. Frederic had arranged to store them, when she took the job. Someone must have worked out that she doesn’t mean to come back; it’s comforting, in a way, not to have that hanging over her head anymore.
Chapter 3: Warehouse 13, South Dakota, 1994
In which Artie is contacted via computer about a certain NSA project.
Timeline notes: This is shortly after MacPherson's break with the Warehouse, and two years post-canon for Sneakers.
It’s not that Artie misses MacPherson or anything. The person he knew so well is long gone; in retrospect, the signs have been there for a few years now, pretty much since poor Carol got mixed up in the middle of everything. If he’d been more clear-headed, he would have seen that his friend was on the point of a psychotic break sooner.
But he didn’t want his friend to be gone. He still doesn’t. He keeps thinking that he needs to tell James - but he’s not there, he’ll never be there again.
Maybe it’ll be better once Mrs. Frederic finds some new agents, but for now, it’s just Artie and the Warehouse. It’s very lonely when the only other sentient being around can’t actually talk to you--
His train of thought is derailed by his computer popping up a dialog box. That in itself isn’t entirely unusual - he has the system set up to do that when it gets a ping - but the line of text that proceeds to enter itself is definitely new:
Warehouse 13, I presume?
Artie freezes for what feels like an eternity, then types back. He has to make sure it’s not James, after all - he can’t think of anyone else who could come this far, but it’s worth double-checking. Who are you and how the hell did you get into my system?
My name’s Carl, comes the reply. As for how I got in, usually that’s a business transaction, but since you asked so nicely, you might want to beef up your firewalls. I didn’t even have to cheat.
“Cheat?” Artie says to himself, before typing in the question.
That’s why I’m talking to you. Couple years ago we got something after a job that... Well, once I confirmed Mother wasn’t talking out of his ass again, I think your place is the best place for it. I mean, it’s more of a technical weird than just weird, but still.
You have my attention. What is it?
Ever heard of Setec Astronomy? Carl says. Artie’s eyes go wide; of course he’s heard of Setec Astronomy, untimely death of the cryptographer who was working on the project aside. He’s kept an eye on the NSA’s activities ever since Mrs. Frederic recruited him, partly just in case they pulled that kind of universal-decoder stunt. But the project fizzled out not long after the cryptographer’s murder, so he hasn’t thought much of it in the two years since.
You bet your ass I have, he responds. How did you end up with it?
Long story, probably classified, you know how it goes. Anyway, I have to figure it’s probably in better hands with you guys than anyone else, us included.
Would this have anything to do with the Republican Party’s mysterious bankruptcy?
There’s a long pause; just as Artie starts to think Carl’s let the connection drop, he replies. I can neither confirm nor deny that information. So where do I take it?
Oh no no no, I’ll come to you. You’ve done quite enough poking into top-secret government facilities for one lifetime, I’m thinking, and we don’t roll over as easily as the Coolidge.
Even better! Mother will be twitching for weeks!
Artie sighs, and pushes his glasses up to rub the bridge of his nose. Carl sounds far too excited about this, even in text - but it’s rare anymore that anyone can find out about the Warehouse, let alone someone who actually wants to help it. He supposes he’ll have to take what easy missions he can get.
Chapter 4: Los Angeles, California, 2009
In which Pete talks to a fellow alcoholic, but doesn't call him out on it.
Timeline notes: Between the Iron Man movies, and between "Burnout" and "Implosion."
Pete still isn’t sure what part of sending the recovering alcoholic to collect something from Tony Goddamn Stark is supposed to be relaxing. While he’s never had the dubious honor of meeting Tony in person, his reputation was legendary enough in military circles without the tabloids helping, and all the tabloids did was confirm that Tony approaches booze the way Chicago used to approach voting - early and often.
He’ll grant Artie that the odds of being electrocuted on this snag-and-bag are very low, at least, but still.
Tony’s assistant shows him into the house (and what a house) and down to the garage, where they’re greeted by a blast of heavy metal.
“Mr. Stark?” the assistant calls over the music, before sighing and turning down the volume via a control panel on the wall.
“Don’t turn down my music.”
“Then you might consider responding the first time,” she says, hardly missing a beat. “There’s a guy from the Secret Service here to see you - I think he’s with those people SHIELD told you about.”
“Oh, the warehouse?” Tony finally emerges from under a battered hot rod; there’s something glowing in the middle of his chest, and Pete thinks it says something about how used he’s getting to this job that he barely raises his eyebrows at that. “Awesome. Good to meet you, Agent...”
“Lattimer,” Pete says. “Pete.” He debates offering a handshake, but decides to wait until Tony’s had a chance to wipe his hands off. The assistant, he notices out of the corner of his eye, turns and heads back upstairs.
“Pete. Want a drink?”
Tony waggles a bottle in Pete’s direction - no doubt it’s the best whiskey on the market, because why would Tony Stark spend his money on anything but? “You sure?”
Pete shakes his head. “Technically I’m on duty. Besides, some of us do better with the tiger locked in the cage.”
Tony shrugs, but before he can say anything else, a cultured British voice cuts in - the same one that addressed Pete when he rang the doorbell. “If you would have taken the time to read the files I prepared for you, sir, you would know that Agent Lattimer takes his sobriety quite seriously.” There’s something about the way the voice seems to come from everywhere at once that he can’t quite put his finger on.
Tony just rolls his eyes and pours himself a drink. “Really, Jarvis, why did you exepct me to read something?”
“I shall endeavor not to have such a lapse of common sense in the future, sir.”
And then Pete figures it out, and grins. “So your butler’s your computer? I work with someone who would absolutely love it.”
“Maybe, if they ask nicely, they can have one,” Tony says. “But they’ll have to prove they’re up to the responsibility. An AI this complex is for life, not just for Christmas.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’d be a problem,” Pete says; he doesn’t know Claudia very well, yet, but he can’t see her doing anything but take care of a computer in her charge. “But anyway. We’re not here to talk about your computer, are we.”
“Definitely not.” Tony sighs, and knocks back half his drink. “Finally got around to fully cleaning up Obie’s parting gifts, and not only do I not have and not feel like building the storage space here to keep that crap - okay, I fully admit I don’t understand how this Artifact stuff works. But I’m thinking sooner or later, you might end up wanting it for your collection anyway, so we might as well cut to the chase.”
“Put it like that, we’ll probably be after yours, when you’re done with it.” It takes Pete a few seconds to fill in what Tony’s not saying, until he connects the casual mention of ‘Obie’ to the former Stark Industries CFO. “That was no prototype you were dealing with, was it?”
“He didn’t disappear on vacation, either.” Tony finishes his drink and immediately pours another (what Pete’s seeing is all the hallmarks of a major problem, exactly the thing that destroyed his marriage - but he also knows how little good a near-stranger pointing that out will do).
“Always did get a bad vibe from the guy,” he says instead. That much is entirely true; Stane was so polished he was oily, in most of his public statements. “What kind of stuff are we talking about?”
Chapter 5: Storybrooke, Maine, 2011
In which Claudia and Steve check out a pretty weird town in Maine, and the sheriff sends them home with a souvenir.
Timeline notes: After "Desperate Souls," before "Past Imperfect."
“No wonder this place tripped Artie’s radar,” Claudia says, over some of the best damn pancakes Steve’s ever had.
“What do you mean?” he says.
“Besides the name of the town? We’re staying at Granny’s B&B, staffed by Ruby and Ashley--”
“Who you keep side-eyeing, by the way. What’s that all about?”
Claudia shakes her head. “Long story,” she says, after she swallows. “Like fifty years long, I’ll tell you on the way home. Anyway, the mayor’s name is Regina, for godsakes - this place has some serious fairy tale shenanigans going on.”
“And what are we supposed to do about that, bag the whole town? Can we even do that?”
“Well, our B&B’s in the Warehouse already, and... but not only would that be a Bad Idea in general, most of the town probably doesn’t deserve bronzing. I don’t know, Artie just said see if anything was fishy, but at this rate I’m a little worried about who the sheriff’s gonna be.”
“Well, if it isn’t the little ATF agent who could,” a third voice cuts in. “Don’t tell me Madam Mayor’s scaring the nonexistent tourists already.” A blonde with a sheriff’s badge pinned to a too-large jacket pulls up a chair at their table, and Steve grins.
“Emma? Wouldn’t have pegged you for the Maine type.”
Claudia frowns. “You two’ve met before?”
“We crossed paths on one of my first cases. Emma, this is Claudia Donovan, I work with her now. Claudia, Emma Swan, the only other person I’ve ever met who can tell if someone’s lying, and apparently the sheriff we’ve been waiting for.”
“Again with the meaningful names,” Claudia mutters; before she can elaborate on whatever theory it is she has this time, Emma rolls her eyes.
“Trust me, kid, I’m the normal one here,” she says. “And Henry doesn’t need any more encouragement than he’s getting.”
Steve raises an eyebrow. “Your kid found you?”
Emma doesn’t answer (Steve takes that as a yes, and doesn’t blame her for not saying it; he’d only found out she’d had a kid by accident); instead, she studies them for a few minutes, finally saying, “So you’re working with Eyebrows now?”
“How did you know that?” Claudia says, at the same time as Steve says, “When did you meet Artie?”
Emma snorts, and points at the gloves sticking out of Claudia’s tool belt. “Three, four years ago. North Carolina. I was tailing a deadbeat dad and Eyebrows was tailing the money clip the guy was using. Which... apparently was making him not pay child support, or something? Anyway, he said he’d help me bag the bond if I agreed to never speak of it again, but if you’re part of his racket you clearly know what’s going on.”
“In general, yes,” Steve says, “but I don’t remember hearing about any money clips.”
Claudia shrugs. “Would’ve been before my time. Anyway, your charming jurisdiction tripped Artie’s radar, so he wanted us to see if anything was fishy.”
“Of course he has radar.” Emma rolls her eyes. “Mostly we have small-town drama. I mean, if you believe Henry, then our dear mayor exported everyone from Fairyland and dumped them all here--”
“Maybe he’s on to something.”
Steve sighs. “Claud...”
“What? I’m just saying, I mean, holy meaningful names, Batman. But we can’t take the entire town to South Dakota.”
“I wouldn’t let you, either,” Emma says. “Either my kid’s got one hell of an overactive imagination, or it’s something that needs to be sorted out here, since it started here. Or something. But as long as you guys are in town, I was considering sending something along to Eyebrows, if I could figure out where. It’s in my office.”
Steve raises an eyebrow at the slight hesitation before Emma claims the office - she must be extremely new to the gig. After they finish breakfast, she takes them to the sheriff’s office, goes over to the desk, and pulls a wicked-looking dagger out of a drawer - she’s got a towel between it and her hand. It’s probably no guarantee against Artifact properties kicking in, but for someone who’s only vaguely aware of Warehouse protocol, it’s not bad.
Claudia pulls on a pair of gloves, and takes the dagger with a frown. “Dude, in what story did his name actually end up on something?”
“I’m not saying this out loud, who knows what it would do.”
Emma shrugs. “Far as I know, just the one in Henry’s book, but I’m not exactly the world’s authority on fairy tales here.”
“Where did you get it?” Steve says, starting to wonder himself if there’s more to Storybrooke than meets the eye. After all, if the dagger’s got the kind of roots Claudia and Emma are talking about, and it’s here to be rounded up...
“Let’s just say I’m doing the local pawnbroker a favor, not that he knows it yet. But if Henry’s on to something, I think that’s... best out of circulation, let’s say.”
Claudia tosses off a salute with her free hand before fishing a static bag out of her tool belt. “Nothing we don’t deal with all the time,” she says, and drops the dagger into the static bag - which promptly starts sparking like nothing Steve’s seen before.
“Holy--” Emma says, before ducking behind the desk; Steve covers his eyes and follows suit, hoping Claudia has the sense to get away from the thing. Nearly a full minute later, the sparks finally die down, but Steve doesn’t risk a look until he hears Claudia say, “Okay, that was... almost needlessly intense.”
“No kidding.” Emma gets up from behind the desk, eyeing the static bag like she’s expecting it to explode any minute. “This kind of thing happen to you guys a lot?”
“Kind of,” Steve says. “But I haven’t seen anything this intense since Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.”
“You know what, I’m not going to ask. Anyway, you guys have fun with your little souvenir there, and if you need anything else while you’re in town, let me know. Can’t guarantee Regina won’t do her best to get in my way, but I’ll do what I can.”
After they’ve left the sheriff’s office, Claudia says, “Okay, really, what is it with fairy tale shenanigans and knives?”
Steve blinks. “I... think you’re gonna have to explain that one, Claud.”
“On the way home. Like I said earlier, it’s a long story.”