Chapter 1: Prologue
The death count is high, much too high when Walter Sykes’ senseless war against the Warehouse is over. If either side can be deemed the winner, their victory is a Pyrrhic one. Everyone who fought for Sykes is dead. Steve is dead, Mrs. Frederic is dead, H.G. is dead, and the Warehouse has been obliterated. The Regents are in a panic, they’re all mourning, they’re all devastated and shaken to their cores. Everyone but Claudia is debating what to do, what their first priority should be.
Claudia has had a one-track mind ever since she picked up Johann Maelzel’s metronome. It takes no time for her to pack a couple of bags: clothes, her laptop, and the metronome. She tucks her Farnsworth and mini-Tesla into her pockets. Fight or flight.
She’s been using Steve’s Prius ever since he was fired—no, not fired, but sent undercover on a suicide mission. It wasn’t like he could come back to Univille to reclaim it with the story that was fabricated. Claudia waits until after Myka checks on her, her own eyes bloodshot and swollen, filling with another round of tears to shed for the ones they’ve lost, and tells her that dinner is ready. She lies on her bed, staring at the wall and tells Myka that she’s not hungry; Myka just nods and says that they’ll check on her after dinner before leaving the room.
Claudia listens to Myka’s footsteps retreat and waits thirteen minutes before grabbing Steve’s keys off of her dresser and her bags out of her closet. In all the shock and confusion following the destruction of the Warehouse and the death of Mrs. Frederic, the metronome was the last thing on anyone’s mind other than hers. She knows Artie has some sort of plan formulating in his mind, one that could reverse the fate of Warehouse 13 and Mrs. Frederic, but it’s not enough for her if it doesn’t bring Steve back. She cannot just let him go.
Claudia's not sure how she ended up in this place. Stuck somewhere between running and hiding. She can't deal with everything that's happened over the past year—it's too much. She doesn't want to deal with it. She clutches the metronome and stares at Steve's corpse. She's afraid to release the pendulum rod because she's terrified that it won't work. That his heart will not resume beating in time with rhythm of the metronome.
It's an overwhelming sense of desperation and desolation that fills her. She knows it's only a matter of time before the Regents or Artie, Myka, and Pete find her. If she doesn't do this now, then she'll probably never have another chance and Steve will be gone for good. She's lost him but he's not gone, and yet he is. She wants him back. She needs him back. He is the Shirley to her Laverne. He is the best friend she has ever had and, gay or not, he just may have been her soul mate. She doesn't want to live without him. She wants to wake up and find out that the past couple of months have been a nightmare—that Jinks was never sent undercover, that he never died, that her heart hadn't been ripped out, torn apart, put back together again only to be blown to pieces.
The fingers on her left hand dance along the wooden side of the metronome as the right hand rests on top of Steve's. Claudia can do this; she wants to do this she tells herself as her fingers hover over the pendulum rod. All she has to do is remove the latch and set the rod swinging at a steady rhythm, a strong healthy beat for Steve’s heart to keep time with. If she just sets the rod free, it will start ticking out the beats for Steve’s heart to follow and he’ll be alive again. Her hand moves to the base of the metronome. She wants Steve to live. She knows that he would want—not this. Claudia’s conviction and determination wanes because Steve wouldn't want this. Deep down she knows that he knew that his death was a distinct possibility and yet he willingly walked into the fire. So that he could protect her. It’s not that she’s ungrateful, but with all the casualties his sacrifice seems in vain. What would he say if she brought him back?
He would be so disappointed in her. He would be honored that she cared so much but he’d be quick to point out, as gently as he could, how misguided she was in bringing him back; her intentions are not pure because they are selfish. He would tell her that she has her whole life ahead of her, that she shouldn’t be afraid to live it and to love. Then he would ask her to let him go, beg her even, and let him rest in peace.
Claudia exhales, setting the metronome down. He’s gone and she’s not going to bring him back. She can hear Jinks’ voice in her head, “So brave,” and she feels like she could breakdown at any moment. She grips his hand tighter, gathering her strength from him; he is still her rock. She closes her eyes and remembers his smile, remembers his eyes, remembers him full of life. Taking a deep breath, she opens her eyes before squeezing his hand one last time. She lets go, places a kiss on Steve’s temple, and whispers goodbye. She has to make herself walk away. She doesn’t look back because if she does, she just might change her mind.
She exits the building and there’s Pete’s damn mom, the grand high Regent herself, leaning against Steve’s—no, her car. She’s in no mood to exchange pleasantries or engage in small talk. “What?”
The older woman stares at her, trying to figure her out. “You didn’t use the metronome?”
Claudia looks around. “Does it look like I used it? Do you see Steve Jinks? Alive?”
Jane’s chest rises and falls. “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you made the right choice, Claudia. If you’d chosen differently—it’s a path that it would have been very difficult to come back from. It would have changed Agent Jinks if you had brought him back. He would not have been the same. It’s going to take time, but you will heal. If you need to take some time off—”
“Oh, I will be doing more than taking some time off. I quit.”
Jane’s eyes widen. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that I heard you correctly.”
“I think you did, but, I’ll elaborate just so that there’s no misunderstanding: I am tired of all of this. Do you know how many artifacts have tried to kill every single person that I care about since I joined the Warehouse? In two years, do you know how many relationships I’ve watched that place destroy? I’m sick of it, all of it. I’m done. Find someone else to do inventory and filing.”
Jane is on Claudia’s heels as she walks around to the driver’s side of the car. “Ms. Donovan—Claudia, you do not fully understand how important you are or the full extent of your purpose at the Warehouse.”
She spins around, furious. “My purpose? No, no, no. If this is about me being front-runner for the position of Caretaker, I think I’ve made myself perfectly clear: I am not interested.”
“You are not just the front-runner, you are it. There is no one else. The Warehouse has chosen you. It chose you long before you were aware of its existence.”
“Well, it’s just going to have to get used to the disappointment like everyone else has and choose someone else.”
“Claudia, please, wait—”
“No. It’s over. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” She yanks open the driver’s door of the Prius then hesitates a moment before fishing the Farnsworth out of her back pocket. She stares at it for a moment, letting her resolve build, then she shoves the communicator at Jane. “Tell Artie that I’m sorry. And that I said thanks.”
Jane starts to shake her head slowly, “I will not.”
“Take it!” Claudia barks, jabbing the Farnsworth at her.
The older woman jumps, looking frightened, and she reluctantly takes the object, her hands shaking ever so slightly. “Whenever you’re ready to come back…”
“Oh, go to Hell,” Claudia spits, pulling her mini-Tesla from of her front pocket. Jane jolts, expecting Claudia to fire at her. Instead, Claudia throws the weapon to the ground at Jane’s feet before climbing into the car and roughly pulling the door shut.
Jane watches as Claudia pulls into traffic and speeds away. She collects herself, regains her composure, sighs and opens the Farnsworth. “We have a problem. The situation has escalated. Ms. Donovan was less than cooperative. Do whatever is in your power to delay the transfer.”
Pete shoves himself away from the table and stands. “So that’s it? We just let Claudia take off to God knows where and we don’t go after her?”
Myka speaks calmly, “Pete, she’s in mourning and we have to let her deal with this her own way and in her own time.”
“I’m not saying that we should forcibly bring her back here, but we can’t not keep an eye on her.” He looks to Artie. “Can we?”
Artie adjusts his glasses, carefully measuring his words. “Our orders are to let the Regents handle the situation and apparently they have a plan. Oh, and a timetable. It seems that they always do.”
“The Regents are going to handle it? What are they going to do except upset her even more?”
“Artie, you know—”
“Agent Lattimer,” Mrs. Frederic begins, appearing out of nowhere, still looking a little worse for wear since her and the Warehouse’s recent resurrections, but her voice and presence still carry the same power and intimidation as before. “You are under no circumstances to initiate contact with Ms. Donovan. You are not to search for her, and you will not disobey these orders. Is that clear?”
Pete swallows. “What if she—”
“If Ms. Donovan were to contact you, then please, by all means, feel free to converse with her as you would with any other friend and former colleague. What has happened has happened and what will happen, well, that is not up to you. It is not for any of you to bring Ms. Donovan back here. There is a plan, trust in it.”
“Like Jinks trusted in my mother’s plan?” Pete’s words taste as bitter on his tongue as they sound.
Myka shakes her head and walks out of the room. She doesn’t agree with how the Regents always choose to handle certain situations, but she respects their authority and their level of ignorance. The Regents must protect the Warehouse at all costs but they don’t understand what it is to have and lose a partner. They observe, stepping in when they feel it is necessary; to them, dying for the Warehouse is a noble sacrifice, one that should be made with little to no hesitation. Myka would die for the Warehouse but she would rather risk her life to save Pete, Claudia, and Artie first—the Regents do not and cannot understand the bond of a team and the family that they make up.
“Agent Lattimer, Ms. Donovan has always been able to fight her own battles. She does not need you to speak on her behalf simply because she is not here to do so. We are all quite aware of her current feelings regarding the Regents, the Warehouse, and her future role. In time, she will come to accept all these things and she will return.”
Pete does not notice the way that Artie tenses when Mrs. Frederic mentions Claudia’s future role. Artie had promised her that it would be up to her. He’d only been trying to protect Claudia and to reassure her, to comfort her; he can only hope that one day she’ll be able to forgive him for continually letting her down and lying to her. Perhaps if he’d been honest with her and told her the brutal truth that she didn’t want to hear, she wouldn’t be running now, not when she needs them and they need her the most.
Chapter 2: Part 1
Claudia spends the first two years away from the Warehouse living as a nomad, never staying in one town more than two or three months. She takes various temp jobs or side jobs working on and fixing up computers and other electronics. It never matters how long she’s been in town—two hours, two days, two weeks, or two months—a Regent always finds her and reminds her of her duties to the Warehouse. They tell her that Mrs. Frederic is weak and so is the Warehouse. The first time they inform her of Mrs. Frederic and the Warehouse’s status, she’s relieved. It must mean that whatever Artie had been up to when she left was a success. They always tell her that they’ll see her again and she always responds with venom and sarcasm. She knows that she’s good at staying under the radar, off the grid, and covering her tracks and she sometimes wonders if they implanted a tracking device in her; knowing the Regents and their wacked out ways of thinking, she wouldn’t put it pass them.
She calls Joshua and video chats with him on a semi-regular basis; it’s the most contact that they’ve had with one another since she rescued him from the inter-dimensional space. He never mentions the Warehouse and she never asks. He invites Claudia to come and stay with him in Switzerland and she wants to, she really does, but it would be far too easy for Artie and the others to find her. (She wonders how hard they’re searching; sometimes she’s afraid that they’ve given up on her or that they will. She needs them to keep the faith that she has not been able to.) She can say no to the Regents all too easily but she knows that if Artie, Pete, or Myka were to ask her to come back to the Warehouse she’d say yes before she could even blink.
But they don’t. It’s always one Regent or another, never Jane Lattimer or Mrs. Frederic. They never say much, they never even try that hard to convince Claudia to come back, they just ask and condescendingly say that she’ll come around in time.
In her third year of running, trying to forget, trying to move past it all, she arrives in Nashville. She’s been there about a month when she runs into Dwayne and a couple guys from the band. She spends more and more time at the house that the guys share and eventually she decides to stay in town for a while and moves in with them because the rent is cheaper and it’s nice to be around people that she knows, even though they will never truly know her. She gets a steady job on the technical support staff at a multimedia company.
Not too long after she moves in, she’s sitting outside having a laidback jam session with Dwayne. They finish singing “Crimson and Clover” and the Joan Jett connection takes them both back to when they first met.
He has always wondered how Claudia with her punk-rock attitude and style ended up in the Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota and working for the government. “I still can’t believe you worked for the IRS.”
She shrugs. “It was a job and I needed something to do. And I liked the people a lot. We clicked.”
“You’ve never gone back.”
“I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back. I thought that I loved my job but then one day…” she swallows and tries to come up with a way to phrase what happened because revealing that her partner was killed in a work-related incident is only going to lead to more questions and more lies. “One day I realized that it wasn’t worth it and that upper management sucked and did not give a damn about anything other than getting the job done. I had to get out of there.”
“Yeah, they claim that they really care and you can come to them with your problems but in the end it’s all about saving time and making money,” Dwayne says with a nod.
He can tell that this part of her past is a painful topic for whatever reason and he lets it drop. He readily accepts the vague details and explanations that she gives regarding her time in Univille and why she left so abruptly.
There are times when Claudia manages to convince herself that it was all a dream, a horrible, fantastic nightmare. There are mornings when she first wakes and she doesn’t remember the Warehouse exists. She forgets that she ever lost Joshua and that her sanity was ever in question. She forgets what it feels like to experience the whammy from an artifact, to almost die, to watch everyone she cares about walk alongside Death and almost not make it. She forgets seeing Steve’s dead body, his open eyes not seeing her, not seeing anything; she forgets clutching his cold, stiff hand. She does remember that Steve was her best friend, she won’t forget that. She remembers that she cares about Artie, Pete, Myka, and Leena, but she does not want to remember how or why. Her selective amnesia works well as long as the Regents keep their distance but they never do, not for long, never long enough.
In the space and time of four years, Claudia has become skilled in denying that a part of her soul is desperate to go back to the Warehouse and never leave again. She’s tried to burn her bridges and now she’s too afraid to admit to herself that she’s scared to ever go back. She’s terrified that if she does… they will all be gone. She cannot go back. So, she stays with Dwayne and the guys and she works, she indulges in her music in the evenings, making her rounds at various open mic nights.
She can’t explain it but she feels apprehensive about performing this night. She’s felt a little off the whole day, a bit twitchy, kind of paranoid. She peeks over her shoulder while out, expecting to see the imposing and irritating figure of a Regent trailing behind her but she doesn’t; it is about time for them to resume their regularly scheduled harassing of her again.
Dr. Douglas Fargo is a man on a mission. He’s spent the past day shadowing Claudia Donovan, waiting for the right moment to approach her and make his presence known. Watching her from a distance, slipping out of her line of vision whenever she starts to turn, he feels like a stalker, and not like a highly educated man following orders. Surely, she must sense that someone is following her but he’s been trained well these last few months, he knows how to stay inconspicuous and hidden until the time is right.
He fiddles around down the block from Claudia’s residence; he’s not sure what he’s waiting for but then she’s walking out the front door with her guitar case and getting into her car. He follows her to a small bar. Fargo has never actually heard her sing or play before and she had always referred to her musical abilities as amateurish and a hobby that she wouldn’t quit her day job for. He had assumed that she was better at it than she said and she is. She’s rather good in fact and appears as comfortable strumming her guitar as she does typing on a computer. It revives a bit of his old guilt and regret that music was the only thing that had been real in Princess Claudia and he wishes once again that the prototype had been truer to his inspiration.
When she’s riding the euphoric high after performing, he deems it the perfect time to initiate contact. Plus, he is on a time crunch now. He really should have considered “running into” her a little earlier in the evening. He makes his way through the crowd towards the backside of the stage where Claudia’s securing her guitar in its case. Her back is to him and he clears his throat to get her attention. “Claudia Donovan.”
She stiffens; she knows that sound, that nervous clearing of the throat and that voice. She spins around, looking equal parts shocked and confused for a few seconds before a grin brightens her face.
“Doug!” Claudia throws her arms around his neck, hugging him. Over this last year, she hasn’t thought of the Warehouse and its associations often, finally achieving the emotional distance she’s been longing for, but every once in a while a name or a face will pop into her head, and then a Regent will find her and try to convince her to come back. She’s relieved, and maybe a little giddy, to see a familiar face whose connection to the Warehouse has always been a superficial one. She pulls back, still grinning. “It’s good to see you. How are things in Eureka and at GD?”
His eyes sparkle as he takes her in, making note of the ways she has changed. She’s forgone dying her hair, letting the naturally light brown hue (a few shades too dark to be considered dirty blonde) see the light of day. He misses the violent red accompanied by a colorful stripe because it was so quintessentially Claudia. He’s not comfortable with the thought that it was a part of her personality tied to her youth. He needs—he wants—her to still be that girl, only older and wiser so that she can confidently and successfully take on the role of Warehouse Caretaker.
He clears his throat, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Good, they’re good. I actually stepped down as head of GD recently; I’ve had more pressing matters to attend to.”
“Get out! Are you a family man now?”
He chuckles. “No, not yet. Holly and I—well, relationships need a certain amount of openness and honesty to thrive and there were some things that I just couldn’t tell her.”
“What? Like about your little day trip to 1947?”
“How did you—”
“Between the zoetrope-induced sepia-toned memories with period clothing and the way the Sheriff was not only freaking out by items from 1947 Eureka popping up but he recognized them—wasn’t too hard to put two and two together and get five. Plus, I did have to deal with weird shit kind of like that on a daily basis.”
“Right. Well, that was one of the big ones.”
“Geez, Dougie, what kind of skeletons are you keeping in your closet?” The playful question is barely out of her mouth when her eye catches something. On the collar of Fargo’s shirt is a golden Eye of Horus pin. Her eyes harden and narrow as she takes a step back. All warmth is gone from her voice, “Oh, you have got to be kidding me. This is bullshit.”
“What the hell, Doug? You know what that place did to me. You know everything it took from me. How could you? Why? I mean. . .why?”
He shrugs. “Mrs. Frederic and the Regents are scary and persistent; they can be quite persuasive.”
“Yeah, well, you can go back and tell them the same thing that I’ve told every single one of them: There is no way in hell that I am coming back. Oh, and for good measure, ‘Fuck off.’” She spins around and storms out the bar.
“Crap,” Fargo mutters before chasing after her into the parking lot. “Claudia!”
She stops and turns around, irritated. “What?”
“That last part…was that directed toward me or the other Regents?”
“Little of both,” she snaps. She takes a deep breath. “Why don’t any of you understand? I do not want anything to do with the Warehouse anymore. It’s not some phase that I’m going through, these years that I’ve spent away—as well as all that will surely follow—will not be chalked up to youthful folly or rebellion, and there will not be a morning when I wake up and regret breaking up with the Warehouse.”
“The Warehouse needs you, Claudia.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t need it. And someone should tell it that co-dependent relationships are not healthy.”
“There are things that you don’t know, that you don’t understand…”
She rolls her eyes. “Here we go again. The last time I heard that, my best friend had been sent on a suicide mission by your co-workers. I think we both know how that ended.”
There is a pleading look in Fargo’s eyes and a touch of desperation in his voice. “Can you just give us twenty-four hours to convince you?”
“Why should I? I’ve spent the past four years trying to separate myself from that place. This is my life—”
“No, it’s not!” Claudia’s completely taken aback by his tone and the steely look in his eyes. “Gloves off: You have always been connected to the Warehouse and you know it. The Regents are in place to protect the Warehouse, and, in that vein, its Caretaker. Mrs. Frederic has been growing weaker and weaker since the reversal of the Warehouse’s destruction. She’s ready to relinquish her position.”
“Yeah, well, I am just as uninterested in it now as I was the first time it was almost forced on me.”
A wry chuckle slips past his lips. “That doesn’t matter. Claudia, this has always been in your future.”
“I don’t care!”
“Like I said, it doesn’t matter,” he says with a shrug, giving her a sad smile. “I’ve done what I was supposed to do, I’ve said my piece.”
She closes her eyes for a moment, willing the tears that are welling up to subside. “How can you be okay with us just being pawns with no control? I don’t want this. I just want to be able to live my life and have some sort of peace and happiness! I don’t want to have to keep secrets from the people that I care about! It’s not fair.”
“I know but we all have to make concessions and sacrifices; some more than others. Do you know how lucky you are that the people you have been closest to have been privy to the existence of Warehouse 13? The people you considered your family as well as your brother all know; the rest of us have only one person that we can share this with our entire lives.”
She scoffs, “So, what? That’s supposed to somehow make this all better?”
“Not at all, but it is meant to help put a few things in perspective. Most of us get no warning whatsoever. As much as you have tried to deny it, you’ve had years to prepare for this.”
“Gotta say, I’m really not digging this new Regent you, Doug. You’re kinda pissing me off.”
“I can’t say that they didn’t warn me. Although, I was kind of hoping that you’d be a little more receptive.”
“Yeah, because being blindsided and bitch slapped by both karma and fate, in the form of someone you thought was a friend, normally warrants open arms and sunshine. Sorry I haven’t pulled out the welcome wagon.”
“Plane, train, or automobile?”
Fargo tries not to smile, the corners of his mouth twitching upward slightly. “You’re coming?”
“You say that as if I’ve ever really had a choice in the matter, which, according to you and the rest of the all-knowing Regents, I never have.”
“Claudia, I know this is difficult for you—”
“Okay, that’s going to have to stop. Do not talk to me like we’re still friends because we’re not; I really dislike you right now. If I hadn’t gotten rid of everything Warehouse related when I left that godforsaken place, I would have Tesla’d your ass by now.”
He looks down at his shoes. Fargo had known that this was going to be a difficult assignment and he had been told that Claudia would be furious and more than likely remain obstinate, just as she had been every other time she had been accosted by the Regents. He hadn’t been given the option to decline and he wouldn’t have taken it if he had. The reasoning behind him becoming a Regent had been made obvious to him from day one; they needed a person who had a connection to Claudia, who could be convinced that it would not be a betrayal, who would protect the secrets of the Warehouse, someone who she wouldn’t be as quick to rebuff. He was their final option, their only option.
“As I said, such was expected.” Fargo swallows and looks up at her, clearing his throat. “Arrangements have already been made; someone will pick you up at six a.m. sharp.”
“Whoa, slow down, I need some time to take care of a few things.”
“Tell everyone that there’s a family emergency.”
“Seriously? I don’t even get a day?”
“Well, we can’t have you changing your mind, now can we, Cl—Ms. Donovan? The wheels have already been set in motion, preparations have been made, and the only piece of the puzzle that is missing is you.”
She snorts, “Care to toss in a few more clichéd phrases?”
“Six a.m. I’ll see you on the plane,” he says before turning away and walking across the street.
She watches him retreat, a flurry of emotions and thoughts running through her. She groans loudly, “Frak!” and sighs before walking back into the bar to grab her guitar before driving back to the house that she shares with the rest of the band.
The guys are still in various states of being awake when she gets home. Home. She drops her purse on the kitchen counter and sets her guitar down by the sofa. Dwayne’s on the deck, with a beer and his guitar; Claudia slides the door open and steps outside. “Hey.”
“Hey. How was open mic night?”
She sits on the lawn chair across from his. “It was good. I ran into an old friend, got some bad news.”
Dwayne sets his guitar down and leans forward. “What’s wrong?”
“A family friend is dying. I’m leaving in the morning and I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“No. I’ll be fine.” She rises. “You should probably sleep in your room tonight; I have an early flight.”
She tells the others and leaves a message for her supervisor. She is one of many minions in the IT department so it shouldn’t be a big deal. She doesn’t know if she should really pack or how much if she does. Taking her laptop is a no brainer, always is. She eventually decides to pack a duffle with a couple of changes of clothing and some toiletries. She lays down and tries desperately to fall asleep. She tosses and turns, her mind still racing. It’s almost three a.m. when she finally gives up all hope of falling sleep. She makes a pot of coffee and sits in her nightshirt and pajama shorts on the deck. She reclines in one of the lawn chairs, searching for constellations.
As she mentally traces the stars that Andromeda is comprised of, Claudia begins to realize that she is absolutely beyond belief terrified about returning to the Warehouse, the place she had once called home, the markings of which she still feels etched beneath her skin. She continues to stare at the sky, the stars blurring to form lines that she once knew so well, the countless aisles in the Warehouse. She’s always felt its pull, the Warehouse whispering its long and well-guarded secrets.
A deep voice rouses her. “Ms. Donovan?”
It takes several seconds for her vision to focus when she opens her eyes. She blinks a few times. “Yeah?”
“It’s six a.m. I’m here to take you to the airport.”
“Okay.” She makes no move to get up.
“Ma’am, perhaps you should get dressed. I can take your things to the car.”
She raises her eyebrows and she slowly pushes herself up. “You’re a lot more vocal than Mrs. Frederic’s old bodyguard.”
“We’re chosen to suit the personality of the one we serve.”
“O-kay.” She’s more than a little creeped out by him shadowing her to her room. He grabs her duffle and laptop bag off of her bed, informing her that he will be waiting outside. She pulls on a pair of worn out jeans. She replaces her nightshirt with a tank top and a jacket. She grabs her purse from the kitchen counter and slides her sunglasses onto her head as she walks out of the house, pulling the door closed behind her. The bodyguard is standing by a black Lincoln Towncar; he pulls the back driver’s side door open for her as she approaches. She stops short, next to the red car she’s spent the past four years driving.
“Can we take my car instead?” The bodyguard examines the Prius before responding with a “Yes, Ma’am.” He opens the door for her and she hands him the keys—it’s too early and she’s too tired to argue over who’s going to drive and where she’s going to sit—and he closes the door once she’s seated then he transfers her bags from the Towncar’s trunk to that of the Prius. The ride to the airport is short and silent; the car stops outside of a hanger near a small jet.
The bodyguard opens the door for her. As he grabs her bags out of the trunk she asks, “Hey, do you have a name?”
“Well, Joe, if you keep getting my bags, I’m gonna feel the need to tip you and I really can’t afford to.”
He reluctantly sets the duffle and laptop bags by her feet. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Please don’t call me ‘ma’am.’”
“Yes, Ms. Donovan.”
“Yeah, I’m not feeling that either. Let’s just try ‘Claudia.’”
“No, Ms. Donovan.”
She sighs. “This is going to take some getting used to.”
Fargo steps into the view, framed by the jet’s door, and taps the face of his watch. “Time is of the essence.”
Joe closes the trunk and opens the driver side door.
Claudia spins around. “Wait, aren’t you going?”
“Yes, Ms. Donovan, but the car has to be loaded onto another plane. My flight should land shortly after yours then I will drive you and Dr. Fargo to Univille.”
“Have a nice flight, Ms. Donovan.”
She boards the plane; Fargo is already buckled into his seat. “So what is this, Regent Air?”
“Unless in a time of crisis, these accommodations are specifically intended to be used by the Caretaker, occasionally the Head Regent, and sometimes by the Warehouse Guardian.” His voice is even and it’s clear that he’s taken her words from the previous night to heart. She can see hints of the same old Fargonator underneath the stick-up-the-ass Regent mask.
She sits down across the aisle from him. “So, what’s the in-flight movie?”
“You were quite clear last night when you informed me that we are no longer friends. I assume that our relationship should now be approached as a civil and professional one.”
“Or you could pull your head out of your ass and maybe let me get a few words in so that I can apologize. See, you actually get a choice.”
Fargo opens his mouth, shocked, then closes it, opens it again, and closes it again. His lips purse and he looks a little perplexed. He sort of nods and makes a gesture with his hand, indicating that she should continue.
“I realize that I may have been a little more abrasive with you than I should have been. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but I can be a little rough around the edges sometimes.” There is humor in her voice.
“You’ve always been quite the enigma.”
Just like the Warehouse, she thinks and Claudia can feel the ice in the air surrounding them begin to thaw. “I just have a thing against Regents, which I thought you understood. So, yeah, not a fan of Regent you by default, but you as you, Dougie, Doug, Fargonator, I’d kinda like to keep as a friend.”
“It’s just another hat,” he says with a shrug. “I’m really not any different except for when it comes to the Warehouse.”
The air grows warmer and she grins, “Oh, God, Artie must hate that you’re a Regent!”
“Yeah, he doesn’t know yet. I actually haven’t been a Regent that long, only six months. None of the agents know that I’m—”
“Technically one of their bosses?”
“Yeah.” He’s quiet for a couple of minutes, debating whether he should broach the next topic or not. What the hell. “You’ll still get to have a life outside of the Warehouse. Being the Caretaker is going to be consuming but you’ll have the time to devote yourself to having friends and a family. You can stay in Nashville; you don’t have to have to move back to Univille. It’s better than the chances if you were just an agent.”
“You still haven’t told your one.”
“Are you asking or…”
“We know these things. We keep track. I was kind of wondering though.”
“Wondering what? Why I haven’t told Dwayne? We had barely started dating just before I left the Warehouse. When he and I reconnected last year, I didn’t really think there was a need to.”
“Are you going to?”
“I’ve barely processed that I’m semi-willingly returning to a life of madcap and endless wonder and Dwayne and I have been in fluctuating states of “It’s Complicated” ever since we started dating, so I can’t say that I’ve got him pegged as my ‘one.’ And, you know, speaking of my not quite unwilling return, if this flight was planned, what was that whole ‘give us twenty-four hours’ ploy about?”
“Deception. I was ordered to get you to the Warehouse today by any means necessary.”
“And if I hadn’t budged?”
“There may have been a syringe in my pocket primed with a mild sedative,” he says sheepishly.
She looks at him in disbelief. “I’m sorry; you were going to drug me?”
“And abduct you, if you want to go into semantics,” he adds, as if it were no big deal.
Her look of disbelief turns into one more resembling curiosity. “Okay, I know that I’m not the most adept at interacting with people and there are times when I question my sanity, but seriously, you Regents are so not right in the head.”
“I’ve started coming to a similar conclusion myself.”
She smiles at how nonchalant and accepting he is about it. “I gotta admit, Doug, I have missed having people around that I could really talk to about my past. And not just my time at the Warehouse. If I can’t bring myself to tell Dwayne about my time in a psychiatric facility, what are the odds that I’ll ever be able to tell him about the Warehouse?”
“You never know.”
“It seemed like you and Holly were a lot more serious than Dwayne and I and you couldn’t tell her about your time travel hijinks or the Warehouse. What does that mean for me?”
He unbuckles his seat belt, rises, and prepares himself a drink. “I did tell her. About 1947. I just waited too long to tell her. When I told her who else knew outside of the five of us that went back, how long they’d known…. She felt that it meant that it took all that time for me to trust her and that hurt her. It also meant that I wasn’t the man that she thought I was. The funny thing is that I was preparing to tell her about the Warehouse too. She was going to be my one.”
“The Warehouse has a nasty habit of ruining relationships.”
“You can’t blame the Warehouse for all the bad things, Claudia. As much as you say it’s taken from you, don’t you think that it’s given you even more? And, you know, if it weren’t for it, you and I would never have met.”
“Maybe. But it’s been a lot easier not to remember any of the good things.”
“You wouldn’t have gotten your brother back.”
“If not for an artifact and the intrusions of MacPherson and Artie, I never would have lost Joshua in the first place,” she says pointedly. Claudia doesn’t buy into destiny so the thought that she was always destined to find the Warehouse and that it was destined to find her never occurs to her.
Fargo finishes his drink. Holly and their break-up are still sore subjects. He’d been in love with her and not the same way he’d been infatuated with Claudia or Jo before her and it was more than his relationship with Julia had been. He had only discussed it with Zane, but he had even been contemplating marriage. He shakes away the longing and clears his throat as she stands beside him, mixing a drink of her own, probably to calm her nerves. “So, just how ‘complicated’ are things with Dwayne?”
“Well, sometimes we sleep together, sometimes we don’t; we’re sort of like friends with benefits. There are feelings but whenever we try to talk things out, there’s too much that I don’t think that I can tell him and it’s just this vicious cycle of me being closed off so we call it quits but several weeks later, we’re back to dinner and a movie and the mattress mambo.” Her tendency to ramble and inadvertently over share have not waned over the years. Her lack of a filter has always endeared Fargo but it is a concern for the other Regents.
“You deserve better than that.”
She takes a sip of her drink and raises an eyebrow. “You say that like you’re interested.”
“I’m not,” he responds firmly and quickly.
Her eyes widen. “Oh, wow. I was just kidding. That was harsh, Doug. Learn how to let a girl down easy.”
“Claudia, I didn’t mean—it’s not—I just…” He closes his eyes and takes a deep, cleansing breath before looking at her. “I haven’t quite hit the rebound stage.”
“Newsflash, Doug, even if I wasn’t just joshing you, no girl wants to be the rebound girl; and if she is, she doesn’t want to know.”
He leans over, nudging her with his elbow. “You deserve better than that too.” She’s relaxed and softened so much since the night before. She once again resembles the girl he’d instantly fallen for at the Warehouse and had tried so desperately to woo during her too brief visit to Eureka. She was the dream girl, ideal perfection that he had been clinging to when Holly had first entered his life.
She chuckles, “Yeah, our love lives would still be so much easier if we could just find people—”
“Who were like us. I know. You’re still young, though, so who knows?”
“Well, you’re hardly living in a retirement community.”
Something in the air changes, shifting and blurring the lines of professionalism, friendship, and what Claudia and Fargo almost had the potential to be to one another. It’s a combination of being caught up in the moment, memories, and alcohol on empty stomachs. His lips are on hers and his body pressing into her, pinning her against the wall. She whimpers slightly, her fingers curling around the fabric of his suit jacket. His tongue slides into her mouth and she angles her hips, not quite grinding them against his. It takes a second or two, but once the shock of that pleasurable sensation registers in the rational part of his brain, it brings Fargo back to reality and he pulls himself away from Claudia. They both stare at each other for a moment, wide-eyed, waiting for their breathing to return to normal.
Fargo goes back to his seat and sits. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.”
“No, don’t be.” She starts grasping at straws, anything to explain what just happened. “We have history and chemistry and we’ve been reminiscing. Didn’t mean anything because you are still head over heels for Holly and I’ve got a good enough thing going with Dwayne.”
“Right. And there are protocols and regulations regarding relationships and fraternizing between Regents and Warehouse agents.”
“I’m not an agent anymore,” she reminds him.
It’s a thought that crosses both of their minds yet neither of them says anything about how there are probably even stricter protocols and regulations regarding relationships between the Warehouse Caretaker and Regents.
She attempts to lighten the atmosphere, a strained chuckle accompanying her words, “Well, this isn’t at all awkward, is it?”
He can’t bring himself to look at her at first, because there are memories and desires from years past floating around in his head and the added heat of their most recent kiss is going to take a while to dissipate. On top of that are thoughts of and feelings for Holly. And then there’s a little voice in his head telling him that one of the reasons he cared for Holly in the first place were the things about her, even the tiniest ones sometimes, that reminded him of Claudia. So maybe he is in rebound territory; or maybe he never completely got over Claudia in the first place.
Claudia bites her lip. There’s always been something between her and Doug, sparks that ignited before they had even introduced themselves to one another. There’s something about this kiss that throws her completely and it takes a moment for her to realize what it is. Impulsive and yet timid, shadowed by inexperience and bravado, she had always been the one to initiate the few kisses that they had shared before. She had attracted him like a magnet, pulling him to her and he had allowed her to, barely having the time to respond before the kiss was over.
The flight attendant, who has been doing a horrible job, enters the cabin with a yawn. “Can I offer you some coffee or orange juice? Waffles? Some toast?”
“Coffee,” the both chime. The attendant retreats, assuring them that she’ll be back shortly after she finds out their preferences.
Fargo looks at Claudia for the first time, really looks at her, since he’d been assigned this mission. The dim lighting of the bar and the darkness of the night before had prevented him from fully examining the changes in her appearance. There are the faintest of etchings of lines on her face and peek-a-boo strands of grey in her hair that you have to look for to see them. The texture of her hair appears different; his fingertips itch to reach out and take a few strands of her hair between his fingers to see if he can feel a difference. But to do so would be a continual of his already overstepped boundaries.
Claudia traces the rim of her empty glass with a finger before setting the glass down. She keeps her eyes cast downward, avoiding meeting Fargo’s eyes. She can feel him watching her, scrutinizing her. It’s always been too easy for her to run and hide. It’s never been fight or flight, always just flight, as far and as fast as possible. The skin she is most comfortable in is that of the socially awkward ugly pretty girl who’s too much of a weird techno-geek and certifiably insane to fit in even with the losers or the outsiders. Part of her is still so surprised whenever someone hits on her, once she realizes that she is indeed being hit on. She doesn’t know that she carries an alluring mystique about her that is a combination of her own secrets as well as the Warehouse’s.
The rest of the flight is tense and awkward. It’s not just because of the kiss that Claudia and Fargo shared but because she’s going home. She had never really intended to go back to the Warehouse when she left and now she is consumed with the thoughts that she will forever be bound to it for the rest of her life as long as Warehouse 13 stands. It’s a harrowing thought that causes a hollow feeling inside of her, knowing that she will have to continue watching the people around her, people who mean the world to her, die. She hates the thought that she will always be left behind; that everyone will leave her because she will have no choice but to stay.
Claudia stares out the window. They are flying over the border and into South Dakota. She’s so close and yet she has never felt further away from the life that used to be hers. "Do they know that I'm coming back?"
Fargo looks up. "Oh, yes, the Warehouse agents will have been informed of your return prior to our arrival. Dr. Calder should be arriving in Univille any minute now to make sure that everything is in place in order to ensure a quick and painless transition of power."
"You just keep throwing things at me."
"It's like I said last night, Claudia. You have had time to prepare for this and now that time is coming to an end. Mrs. Frederic is ready to, how shall I put it: retire."
Claudia starts fiddling with the strap on her bag. "Do you think that they'll be happy to see me?"
"Why wouldn't they be?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I left without a trace and haven't bothered trying to contact them over the past four years. I'd be a little pissed at me if I were them."
He shrugs and tries to reassure her. “Well, I’m sure that they’ll just be happy to see you safe and sound once again.”
“And so it was the Regents’ decision that none of you be informed until they knew for certain that Ms. Donovan would be returning and what her return ultimately entails.”
Myka's eyes are wide. The likelihood of the possibility of Claudia’ return becoming actuality had dwindled for her as the weeks had turned into months and then into years. "She's coming back? When?"
Mrs. Frederic stands before the group gathered in the dining room at Leena's Bed and Breakfast. "Her flight is due to arrive within the hour and then she will be brought here post haste."
"Claudia's coming back?"
"Yes, Agent Bering, Ms. Donovan is returning."
"Why? I mean, why now? Why is this time any different than all the other attempts to bring her home?"
"Because none of those times was the right time, Agent Bering. Nothing has changed since Ms. Donovan left. Everything had to happen in its own time. She might not think that she is ready but she is. She wouldn't be on her way here if she wasn't."
Pete's face is screwed up in consternation. "You said that she's taking your place. What exactly does that mean?"
Mrs. Frederic takes a deep breath. "Well, Mr. Lattimer, it means that I will finally get a well deserved break. Ms. Donovan will be the new Director and Caretaker; all of my duties will become hers. The connection that I share with the Warehouse will be severed and replaced with a connection to its new Caretaker."
"Yeah, but, what are you going to do? No offense, but you don't strike me as the bingo or bridge type."
"I have always preferred higher stakes, Mr. Lattimer, like baccarat." It's the strangest thing, a sight and sound unfamiliar, but Mrs. Frederic actually appears to be amused. "I have lived a long life; I am weary and ready for sleep."
"Do not fret for me. I have been looking forward to this for some time now. All of my affairs are in order and I have made my peace. The only thing left is the transfer of power once Ms. Donovan and Dr. Calder arrive."
Artie has been silent this entire time. "Vanessa's coming?"
"Well, of course, she is, after all, still the Warehouse physician. Who else would you expect to oversee this?"
Artie sort of shrugs. "I don't know."
"She was as unaware of Ms. Donovan's impending return as you were, Arthur. She was notified as soon as we received confirmation that Ms. Donovan had boarded her flight so that she could make all of the necessary arrangements." Mrs. Frederic pauses. "I know that this is a great deal for you to all process and not much time to process it in, but whatever unresolved issues any of you may have with Ms. Donovan and her actions, will need to be resolved quickly. The transfer is scheduled for sundown and we do not need her questioning whether or not she can handle the responsibility or if she is doing the right thing. The Warehouse needs her and it needs her now, as do you all."
Myka looks up, her eyes watery, ready to protest, only to see that Mrs. Frederic has vanished.
"Seriously, the woman's about ready to breathe her last breath and she still has ninja moves."
Myka rolls her eyes. "Pete."
"What? I'm just sayin'.”
Artie pushes himself away from the table and rises. “I’m going to head over to the Warehouse. Make sure the artifacts are behaving themselves and not getting…antsy.”
“Why would they—never mind,” Pete cuts himself off abruptly at the impatient look that Artie gives him as he gathers his bag. Artie leaves and Leena goes upstairs to finish preparing the rooms.
Myka’s staring blankly at the table’s centerpiece.
“Hey, do you suppose that Claudia will be able to do that thing that Mrs. Frederic does?"
Myka scoffs. "I don't know the first thing about what Claudia will be able to do once she's the Caretaker. Well, that's not entirely true. I suppose it will be easier for her to disappear from our lives when she feels like it."
"Pete." Her nostrils flair and every muscle in her face tightens. "She has never once tried to reach out to us since she left, so don't act like I'm just supposed to forget that and welcome her with open arms. Working at the Warehouse has been hard on all of us. She is not the only one who felt lost and absolutely devastated."
"You left too, Myka."
Her tone and her eyes are full of indignation. "And I left a letter and you all knew where I went. She just left us, Pete; she deserted us. We were her family and she left us. You know, maybe I could understand if she had gone to Switzerland to be with Joshua but she didn’t. She decided that she would rather be alone in the world than with the people who cared about her. How can you so easily forgive her?"
"How can you not, Myka? You said it, we were, and we still are, her family. Besides, you were the one who said that she needed to deal with Steve’s death in her own time, that she didn’t need us pushing her."
“I know what I said, Pete, four years ago. She was still a kid when she left, we don’t know who she is now. For all we know, the Claudia Donovan that’s coming here might be a completely different person than the one that we knew and cared about. And she probably is, because our Claudia would not have stayed away for so long, she wouldn’t have been able too. Just like I wasn’t able to.”
“Yeah, but we were able to come after you and consult. You were reminded of how much you loved the Warehouse and that you belong here. We couldn’t do that with Claudia, you know that. Look, Myks, the only thing that should count right now is that she’s back, or, she will be soon, and like Mrs. F said, she’s going to need all the support that we can give her. You’re gonna have to look past her running away, just for a little while, until she gets her feet beneath her. Then, you know, you two can hug it out, huh?”
Myka shakes her head, frowning. “It’s not going to be that simple, Pete. I will do what’s best for the Warehouse, but I can’t just let it all go. I get that you don’t see it the way that I do but her complete disregard for us and the Warehouse these last few years, it’s a kind of betrayal and it’s going to take some time for me to get over it. We all lost so much then, Pete; we shouldn’t have had to lose Claudia too but that was the choice that she made. It wasn’t fair to us; now, she’s going to have to deal with the consequences just like we’ve had to.”
Pete understands where Myka’s coming from but he doesn’t get why she can’t forgive Claudia when she was able to forgive H.G.. Claudia never tried to take out all of humanity in response to all the pain and suffering she had endured in her short time on earth. Instead of homicide and destruction, Claudia had chosen solitude and denial, and Pete gets that and to him that is much easier to forgive than H.G.’s courses of action.
Chapter 3: Part 2
Claudia shuffles. The seconds it takes for someone to open the front door seem to stretch out for hours. Fargo places a hand on her shoulder and offers her a reassuring smile. She wishes that she could share in his optimism but she doubts that they’re going to simply welcome her back into the fold as if no time at all had passed.
The door swings inward and Leena comes into view, looking exactly the same. A smile brightens her face. Her voice is warm and gentle. “Claudia. Welcome back.”
Claudia doesn’t move. That’s it? That’s all that Leena has to say to her after she disappeared for four years? How very anti-climatic.
“Please, come in.” Leena steps aside, gesturing for them to enter. Joe lifts Claudia’s bags and carries them into the Bed & Breakfast, and sets them by the staircase. The bodyguard stands, silent, at attention by the stairs.
Claudia takes a deep breath, steadies herself, steels herself, and slowly steps forward, over the threshold, and inside. It’s like she’s stepping into her past, present, and future all at the same time; everything in her life is starting to converge into a meaning and purpose that she’s never felt ready for. She looks around the foyer and inhales. It smells familiar; it smells clean and warm and like Leena’s cooking and like—she sniffs the air—like cookies. Artie.
She turns around and there they are, Artie, Myka, and Pete, gathered in the living room, staring at her, reality setting in. They knew she was coming back, Doug said that they knew, but they’re still standing there in a suspended state of shock. She doesn’t know that they’ve had less time to prepare for her arrival than she has.
“Hey. Long time no see.” The words sound lame and she feels awkward, like an outsider who used to belong.
Suddenly, Pete looks like a kid on Christmas morning, or, him as an adult on Christmas morning. His smile is almost blinding. One second he’s about thirty feet away from her and the next he’s rushed at her, knocking the air out of her, and enveloping her in a bear hug. “Claud….”
He squeezes her like he’s not going to let her go anytime soon and she’s close to tears because the years of blocking out memories and denying that she missed them are hitting her full force; plus, Pete’s hugging her really tight. “Bone crushing, Pete.”
“Oh, sorry,” he says sheepishly, reluctantly loosening his hold on Claudia. He keeps an arm around her shoulder as he turns to face the Artie and Myka. Myka stays rooted, choosing instead to stare at a spot on the wall out of the corner of her eyes. She will not get caught up in all of the emotions, she will not welcome Claudia back only for her to leave again because that’s what she does when things get difficult instead of accepting their support and letting them help her.
Artie looks older than dirt…well, even older than dirt. He slowly approaches Claudia as she nervously chews on her bottom lip. She has to keep things light and playful or she’s going to turn in a sobbing mess of tears. “Geez, you look positively geriatric, Artimus.”
“Yeah, well, the years haven’t been as kind to those of us who aren’t young whippersnappers such as yourself.”
She clenches her fists at her sides before she decides, screw it, and springs forward, hugging Artie. He closes his eyes, holding her, and whispers, “I missed you too, kiddo. Welcome home.”
They both take a couple of steps back and that’s when Artie notices Fargo standing just behind Claudia.
“Why is he here? Unless…no.” Artie shakes his head, his tone full of disappointment and disgust as he eyes Fargo. "Don't tell me you've been off playing house with him all this time."
Fargo clears his throat. "I was tasked with ensuring that Claudia made it back to the Warehouse."
"Why were you tasked with any—" Artie stops when he notices Claudia pointing at the Eye of Horus pin on Fargo's jacket. Artie's face falls. "No. No, no, no, no, no. You have got to be kidding me. He's a Regent?"
"Yep." Fargo rocks on the balls of his feet, looking proud.
Artie shrugs and throws his hands up in the air, as if he realizes that he should have expected something like this, that there must be bad news accompanying the good. "God hates me. The universe hates me. I should've known that by now, I mean, look at the state of my life."
Claudia's trying very hard not to laugh at Artie's reaction. It feels good to know that no matter how much time has passed, that while some things change, others never will. It's almost as if she'd never left. Except she did and while Pete, Artie, and Leena are willing to forgive and forget, Myka is standoffish.
Fargo takes a step back. "I'll just go up to my room and rest for a bit." The only ones who pay any mind to his departure from the room are Claudia and Pete.
"So." Claudia shuffles, shifting her weight.
"Your room's the same," Leena pipes. "I put a fresh set of sheets on the bed. Unless you'd like another room and I can have one fixed up for you before the transfer's over."
"Old room's fine." She doesn’t ask if they kept it preserved in the Warehouse.
Leena nods. She takes a few steps closer to Claudia, places a hand on her shoulder, lowers her voice, and says, "You are welcome to stay as long as you like. This is still your home."
Claudia smiles at the innkeeper. "Thanks."
Leena looks around the room, taking in the emotions running on high, before excusing herself.
"I'm going to go work on inventory," Myka says briskly, sidestepping the younger woman, and quickly exiting the room.
Artie lets out a sigh. “I’m going to go check on her.” It is as off putting as always when he envelopes Claudia in a hug and yet it’s weirdly comforting. It feels like home; it feels like family. “It’s good to have you back. I really have missed you.”
The air is far too heavy with sentiments. Claudia playfully punches Artie on the arm. “Right back atcha, Grumps.”
Artie grabs his coat and his hat as he leaves. On the other side of the door, he reaches into his coat pocket pulls out Claudia’s Farnsworth, the original. He looks over his shoulder at the door before slipping the device back into his pocket; he’ll return it to her later.
"It's going to take a little time for Myka to come around," Pete states after the door closes.
Claudia leans back against the wall. "I can see that."
He’s trying to be as cheerful and optimistic as he can be; it’s not too hard. He’s thrilled that Claudia’s finally back and he knows that, deep down, Myka is too. "She missed you. We all did, but you know how Myka is. If you'd e-mailed or something—"
"I know. I just…I couldn't."
"Why?" She must have a valid reason and if she’s willing to tell them what it is, then he can relay it to Myka and maybe then she’ll start to thaw.
"Because I knew that I'd come running back here and I didn't want to. I needed time to deal with everything, not just Steve's death. I was still a kid and there were so many things that I wanted to be able to do. I needed to get away because this whole Caretaker thing was looming over my head and there was nothing that I could do to get rid of it or stop it. I could only delay what has apparently always been the inevitable. The life of a Warehouse Agent is one thing, but Caretaker? I wasn’t prepared for that, I couldn’t handle it and I didn’t want to.”
For all these years, Claudia has had no one to talk to about the Warehouse or why she left. Now that she does, the words just keep pouring from her mouth, her thoughts racing faster than her brain can process them and she can verbalize them, but she tries anyway. “I love the Warehouse and it was always where I wanted to be for the foreseeable future, but there's always so much heartbreak and death and missed opportunities, and I wanted more than that. I wanted the chance to have more than that from my life and if I have to spend the rest of my days chained and bound to the Warehouse, how will I ever get to live my own life?” She pauses before continuing with a half-shrug, “Then I realized that this is my life.”
“It’s okay, Pete. It is what it is and I accept that now.” She doesn’t say that she hasn’t accepted the probability that she will have to watch everyone she cares about die as she slowly ages and lives years past her expectancy, her vitality fused to the existence of Warehouse 13. She doesn’t know how old Mrs. Frederic is and she doesn’t want to know, not after seeing what remained of her when she and the Warehouse died. She doesn’t want to be all Picture of Dorian Gray; she wants to grow old and grey surrounded by the people that she loves who love her in return.
Artie finds Myka eyeing the metronome on its shelf.
“Claudia leaving was hard on all of us.”
Myka jolts and looks at him. Somber has become her default disposition. “I know.” She rereads the label beside the metronome. “What would have happened if she had used it? What would the Regents have done to her? What would they have done to Steve?”
“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.
“But you must have some idea, Artie. There would have been some punishment. Burning Claudia wouldn’t have worked, she’s too smart and too resourceful for that. Would they have bronzed her?”
“I doubt it. From what I’ve been told, the Warehouse chose Claudia long before she chose it and since then she has always been the next in line for Warehouse Caretaker; bronzing would not have been the way to convince Claudia. As for Steve…I don’t think that the Regents would have allowed his resurrection. You know, as headstrong as Claudia is the Warehouse is just as stubborn and determined. They are a perfect match.”
“When did she find out?”
“When Warehouse 2 was awakened and Mrs. Frederic almost died. The transfer was about to begin when you and Pete deactivated the Warehouse, thus saving Mrs. Frederic and delaying Claudia’s ‘promotion.’ Steve’s death coupled with Mrs. Frederic dying . . . I completely understand why she ran and why she stayed away so long. She’s been carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders since she was a little girl and that’s partially my fault for making her promises that I am in no position to keep.”
“So there were extenuating circumstances. Why couldn’t she have told us this herself? I know that she needed time and space, I know that. It’s just…if she’s Caretaker, is she really going to be that much a part of our lives?”
“Well, she can’t exactly avoid us seeing as how she’s going to be our boss. Oh God, Claudia’s going to be my boss.”
A chuckle escapes from Myka.
“Yes, ha ha, lest you forget that means that she will be your boss as well.” Myka stops laughing. “Uh-huh, see, not so funny now, is it?”
Myka stares at the floor for a moment before sighing and bringing her eyes up to meet Artie’s. “I just want her to be back for good. I know that sacrifices had to be made to protect the Warehouse, I just…I feel like she sacrificed us all to protect herself.”
“I know, but you’ve got to remember, she’d spent most of her life not having anyone else looking out for her and she reverted back to that. You can’t blame her for that, Myka—well, you can, but you shouldn’t.”
“And I don’t, not really. I just…I don’t know, Artie. I understand that she had her reasons for leaving, I’m just not sure that I will ever understand why she felt the need to stay away so long and to stay silent. It’s like she stopped caring about us, Artie, and that is what hurts me the most.”
Artie nods his head. “I think maybe that’s why she never tried to contact us, Myka, because she didn’t stop caring. She wouldn’t have been able to stay away and I think she knew that.”
Myka presses her fist to her mouth, her eyes tearing up. Dammit. Artie may be right. She’s been letting resentment nest inside of her, convinced that Claudia no longer cared for any of them, never once considering that the truth was that Claudia cared too much.
Claudia’s looking at a framed photograph of her and Steve, a duplicate of the one he’d had in his room, from their assignment to retrieve Ulysses S. Grant’s flask from an overzealous Civil War re-enactor, when she hears a light rapping at her bedroom door. She sets the frame down and crosses to the door, opening it.
Fargo stands in the hallway. “I wanted to bid you farewell and the best of luck before I get on my way. It’s been great seeing you again, Claudia. Maybe with our new positions we’ll have a chance to see each other more often.” He holds his hand out for her to shake; she just stares at it, dumbfounded, not reaching for it. After several seconds, he withdraws his hand. “Anywho, I should go thank Leena once again for her hospitality.”
Claudia shakes herself out of her stupor and follows him down the stairs. “Wait, you’re leaving?”
“I may not be the boss anymore but I do still have other responsibilities and duties at GD.” Fargo says.
“But, I thought that you were supposed to make sure that the whole transfer happened.”
“No, my job was to make sure that you returned and remained in order for the transfer to take place. You’re not a flight risk so there’s no need for me to stay any longer.”
“Doug, I need you, as my friend. I would really appreciate it if you stayed at least until the morning. I think that it would help with the transition.” She doesn’t know why she’s angling for him to stay but she does because she suddenly and vividly remembers being twenty years old and trapped in a minefield with him. She could’ve stayed the night in Eureka, since there had been no pressing need for her to return immediately to Univille. As strained as things were becoming between them, part of her had wanted to stay with him after the FarGames debacle but she hadn’t. There is a chance that she’s going to live the rest of her life missing opportunities so she might as well use this chance to make one and take it.
“I don’t really see how my being present would help, but, if you insist, I’ll see what other arrangements can be made.”
She grins and bounds forward, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. He allows his arms to slide around her waist. Her arms loosen and she starts to pull back. It won’t be much longer until her days of impulsiveness that can be chalked up to reckless youthful abandon are gone for good. She grabs onto the impulse and kisses Fargo. It comes as a bit of a shock to him, even after their in-flight kiss that morning. He responds to the kiss and she smiles against his lips. She ends the kiss, albeit reluctantly, and looks at him, trying to gauge his reaction.
He starts to speak but stops, flustered, looking confused. He clears his throat. “Claudia, I—we—the rules about fraternization—”
“I’m still no longer an agent, Doug, and I won’t be Caretaker for another couple of hours so I’m pretty sure I just found us a loophole the size of a Mac truck if you’re interested in accompanying me back upstairs. To my room.”
No one will ever say that Douglas Fargo made the wisest decisions and despite whatever consequences he may have to face for what he’s sure will amount to an infraction, he doubts that he will ever regret his decision to follow Claudia back up the stairs, no matter how foolhardy it is.
Pete checks the time and looks out the window. It’ll be sunset before any of them know it.
He spins around, surprised to hear his mother’s voice. “Mom. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I just dropped by to see how preparations for the transfer are progressing and to see how everyone is getting along. How is Claudia?”
“Good, she’s good. She’s, uh, ready and rearing to go.”
Jane nods. “That’s good.”
“Did you always know where she was?”
“Yes, Pete, I did and I will not apologize for not telling you.”
He bobs his head. “Yeah, I know, you couldn’t because you knew that I would go after her and she needed time and space yada, yada, yada; I get it. It would have been nice to know that she was doing okay is all that I’m saying.”
“But simply knowing would not have been enough for you.” Sensing someone else in the room, Jane begins to turn. “Nor would it have been enough for you, Agent Bering; would it?”
“No, it wouldn’t have been,” Myka admits easily.
“We have our reasons and to us they are justified. It was best that you only know that we intended to bring Claudia back to the Warehouse. It has always been her destiny and it was only a matter of when she was ready to face it.”
“Is she ready?” Myka asks.
“I would not dare speak on her behalf. The question of her readiness and her acceptance is best answered by her.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Claudia stands in the foyer, Fargo a few feet behind her.
“Well, that certainly is a relief,” Jane says. She raises an eyebrow as she looks at Fargo. “Dr. Fargo, I thought you’d be on your way back to Eureka by now.”
He swallows nervously. “I’m not needed back until tomorrow afternoon so I decided to stay the night.”
There’s a knowing look tinged with amusement in Jane’s eyes. Clearly, the first step in dealing and working with Claudia Donovan will be acquiescence; the young woman is going to use up every inch of wiggle room the Regents give her and after she’s used that all up, she’s going to make some more.
Myka takes a step forward. “Claudia, are you sure about this?”
It’s the first time since Claudia’s returned that Myka has spoken directly to her. She shrugs. “More or less.” Myka begins to open her mouth but Claudia continues, “But I have to do this. I can’t keep running away from my life just because I don’t like the direction it’s going in. Besides, I’m sure Mrs. Frederic wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when she became Caretaker either.”
Pete snorts. “Well, probably not. I mean, can you imagine Mrs. F jumping?”
Myka rolls her eyes. “Not the point, Pete.”
“I know that,” he says defensively. “I was just trying to lighten things up.”
Home. Friends. Family.
Joe opens the front door. “Ms. Donovan? You’re expected at the Warehouse shortly.”
“Oh. So soon?” Claudia’s not that ready yet it is time for her to face the music.
Both Pete and Myka move into the foyer. Myka offers, “We can go with you.”
Claudia shakes her head, “No. If something goes wrong….”
“Nothing will go wrong, I can promise you that,” Jane says from the living room.
Claudia has never put too much stock in the promises of the Regents before but for some reason, she believes Jane—this time. Fargo reaches out and squeezes Claudia’s hand, giving her a reassuring smile when she looks over her shoulder at him. Claudia takes a deep breath then exhales, letting go of Fargo’s hand and walking towards Joe and the front door. She can do this.
“Hey.” Claudia stops and looks at Pete. He grins. “Buck up; we’ll be here when you get back.”
There’s hope and confidence in her radiating off of him as well as Myka and Claudia begins to feel that maybe she actually is ready to become Caretaker after all. She walks out the front door and to the Prius without hesitation and without glancing back.
After the front door closes behind Claudia, Pete sighs. “Our little girl is all grown up.”
Myka chuckles and smirks. “You do realize that when Claudia gets back, she’s going to be our boss, don’t you?”
Pete screws up his face. “No. I really hadn’t thought about that. What are the odds of her giving us a raise?”
“She’s going to be just fine, Artie,” Vanessa says, patting his hand. “It’s just as it was back then. She can handle it; it’s what she was always meant to do.”
“I know. I just wish that this could have happened on her own terms. I never wanted her to feel like she had to do, like it was being forced upon her; she should want to be Caretaker.”
“Why the hell do you think I’m here, Old Man?” Artie turns to see Claudia standing in the doorway to his office and he rises. “Nobody made me come back, although, interestingly enough, it seems that the Regents are willing to use abduction as a last ditch effort, just, FYI.”
Artie shakes his head. “No, Claudia, I know that this isn’t what you wanted—”
“No, it is not but I’ve had plenty of time to learn that what you want doesn’t always matter. Actually, it very rarely matters.” Claudia thought about a few things in the ride over from the B&B and she concluded that perhaps certain events had occurred in her life for a reason; that she had made decisions that had steered her along on the course of reaching her destiny. “Artie, I chose the Warehouse over my brother. You know how long I spent trying to get Joshua back; after all that, didn’t you ever think it was a little strange that instead of sticking by his side that I decided to live thousands of miles away from him?”
Artie shrugs. “Well, I mean, you’re a little strange, so, no, I—well, maybe a little.”
“I never questioned it. Being here just felt right. For the first time in my life, as nonsensical as this place is, everything made sense and I felt like I belonged. I was supposed to be here and I guess I was always supposed to be the Warehouse’s next Caretaker. So, here I am, reporting for duty.”
Good God, the daughter he never wanted but that he’s always loved has grown up. She’s changed but she’s so much the same. “Are you sure about this? I meant what I said; you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
Behind him, Vanessa raises an eyebrow, pressing her lips into a thin line. She’s not going to protest, she’s not going to interrupt but Artie really should not be saying these things to Claudia. She knows why he is, why he feels like he should, but it does not make it right.
Claudia smiles at him. “Duh.”
Artie almost pulls her into a hug but he doesn’t, instead, he nods his head. “Okay. Good, good.”
Claudia can sense someone behind her and glances over her shoulder to see Mrs. Frederic. She exhales and looks back at Artie. “I’ll catch you on the flipside.”
“Yeah.” Artie starts to leave, stopping next to the current Caretaker. “Mrs. Frederic, it truly has been a pleasure—”
“Oh, Arthur, come now, let’s not be sentimental,” Mrs. Frederic begins, sounding slightly exasperated. “But, if you must, there have been times when it was a great joy working with you and your team of agents. Especially this most recent team.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Frederic, for putting it together and for allowing—”
“Seriously, Arthur, that more than is enough. You are welcome. I dare say that Ms. Donovan’s return has put everyone’s emotions in a tailspin.”
“Yeah, well, what doesn’t she put into a tailspin?” Artie says with a chuckle.
“Hey!” Claudia exclaims.
“I meant it as a compliment,” he says offhandedly. After several seconds of silence, Artie realizes that they are waiting for him to leave. “Okay. Well then. Mrs. Frederic, I guess I won’t be seeing you.”
“No, Arthur, I don’t expect that you will. Not in this life anyway. Give my regards to Agents Lattimer and Bering.”
Noticing that Artie’s having a little difficulty making himself leave, Vanessa offers to walk him out while Claudia and Mrs. Frederic have a few moments to themselves before the transfer. Claudia and Mrs. Frederic watch as Artie and Vanessa walk into the umbilicus and the door closes behind them.
Anxiety begins creeping in as Mrs. Frederic turns around and faces Claudia because she’s about to take on her destiny; there will be no looking back, no turning back. Part of her still worries that they’re mistaken about her. She wasn’t lying when she said that she accepted her fate but now knowing that the sun’s starting to set, Claudia is overwhelmed. She feels as petrified and wholly unprepared as she did when she first discovered that the role of Caretaker laid in her future. She’s not ready but she is willing. She clears her throat and asks, “Any words of wisdom? Or just advice?”
“I assure you that you will do just fine, Ms. Donovan.” Mrs. Frederic cocks her head to the side, eyes narrowed for a moment before she continues speaking. “It is a wonder that you never fully give yourself credit. You have always been a bright young woman full of the greatest potential, however you also have a tendency to act foolishly and you can be quite stubborn and disobedient. I am sure those traits will continue to serve as an annoyance for the Regents but I also believe that they will assist you in giving the utmost care to the Warehouse and its agents. Do not allow yourself to be ruled by your emotions yet do not close yourself off. Learn to find the balance.”
Claudia gives the older woman a weak smile. “There’s no chance that there’s a handbook or instruction manual, is there?”
“Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on what sort of rule-bending or breaking mood you’re in, there is no manual and no training. There is an overall knowledge and sense of your duties and responsibilities that will accompany the transfer; I guess you could say that they are pre-installed with the software. Some of the Regents may still have their doubts but I, and the Warehouse, have every faith in you. That the Warehouse still insists on having you as its Caretaker is all that matters. Are there any other questions I can answer for you before we get started?”
“Is being Caretaker all that you do?”
Mrs. Frederic guffaws and the sound is so foreign and unexpected that Claudia nearly jumps out of her skin. There is gentleness and a light in the Caretaker’s eyes that Claudia has never seen before. “I have lived and I have loved while carrying this title, Ms. Donovan. I have loved more than once. I have had a family; I have a son. Despite this responsibility, you still have a life to lead outside of the Warehouse if you so choose. The Warehouse may be selfish but she is not that selfish. You both need to thrive and form bonds to remain healthy. Do not be afraid to live your life as you see fit when you are not acting directly as Caretaker. Remember, you will have to answer to the Regents from time to time but they do not control you nor do you control them; the roles, the power dynamics should be symbiotic.”
“Would it be completely inappropriate for me to hug you?”
“Normally, I would say yes but considering the circumstances, I do not think it inappropriate nor would I mind.”
Claudia takes a few steps towards Mrs. Frederic and timidly reaches out to hug the older woman. The Caretaker allows her successor to hug her for several seconds before she steps back, her eyes lingering on the young woman’s hair. “I do believe that the red suited you rather well, Ms. Donovan. But you could continue to do without the ever-changing stripes. Just my opinion.”
Vanessa returns, professional and somber. “The sun is setting. Shall we begin?”
Mrs. Frederic gives a quick nod of her head.
Vanessa leads the Mrs. Frederic and Claudia to the area that she has prepared for them, so that they can both be as comfortable as possible during the process. There are two reclining chairs, next to one another, facing opposite directions. Mrs. Frederic sits in one and extends her right arm. Claudia sits in the other chair, her arms folded on her lap. She watches as Vanessa produces the green ribbon that will seal her fate and begins to wind it around Mrs. Frederic’s wrist. Vanessa steps over to Claudia, waiting. Claudia takes a deep breath and slowly exhales, closing her eyes and holding out her arm. Oddly enough, as nervous as she is, she feels a strange sense of calm washing over her when the ribbon touches her skin, unlike the last time. She can feel the ribbon tightening around her wrist of its own accord, a tingling sensation spreading down to her fingertips and up her arms through the rest of her body.
It’s beginning. Claudia opens her eyes and she doesn’t see Artie’s office, she sees everything that this Warehouse 13 is, that it has been since it came back into existence in 1914 when it was rebuilt to as it stands today. The Warehouse’s past, present, and future surrounds Claudia and she absorbs all of it entirely.
Her vision clears and Artie’s office comes into sharp focus as Claudia stares out at the space in front of her, wide-eyed. “Whoa. Download complete.”
Every aisle, every shelf, every nook and cranny of the Warehouse is taking up space in Claudia’s brain; every artifact inside of the building, she knows what it is, what it does, the history behind it, and where it’s supposed to be and yet she doesn’t. She can feel the vitality of the Warehouse coursing through her body.
“Claudia?” Vanessa is standing in front of her, unraveling the green ribbon from around Claudia’s wrist, looking concerned. “Are you okay?”
She sits up, glancing around the room with new eyes. “Yeah, I’m great. Mrs. Fr—” There’s a sheet draped over the former Caretaker.
Vanessa gives her a sad smile. “As I’m sure you already know, the transfer was a complete success. Congratulations, Claudia, you are now officially the Caretaker of Warehouse 13. If you don’t mind, I’d like to check your vitals.”
Claudia doesn’t mind. She can feel the Warehouse buzzing with excitement and renewed vigor. Weird. And kind of awesome. She’s still in a bit of a daze when she leaves the Warehouse, exiting through the umbilicus into the cool night. Joe is waiting for her, holding open the back passenger door of the Prius.
She wrinkles her nose. “I call shotgun.”
He looks about ready to protest but seems to think better of it before sighing in resignation as he closes the door. “Yes, ma—Ms. Donovan.”
Claudia steps forward quickly, before he can open the front passenger door for her. “I got it, Joe. Thanks.”
He nods and walks around to the driver’s side. “To the Bed & Breakfast?”
She looks at her reflection in the side view mirror for a few moments, brushing her brown bangs to the side. She curls several strands of hair around her fingers as she remembers Mrs. Frederic’s last words to her and a small smile begins to creep onto her face. “Could we stop in town first? I need to pick up something at the drug store.”
Chapter 4: Part 3
There’s an impromptu celebration of sorts at Leena’s when Joe and Claudia return; “welcome home” and “congrats on your promotion” combined. It remains unspoken that it could also serve as a wake for Mrs. Frederic. There is relief, excitement, and just a hint of sadness.
The Head Regent is there; he wanted to make sure that the transfer occurred with little to no difficulty and that the Warehouse was in good hands. He intends for his visit to be brief and he accosts Claudia so that he can make sure that they understand each other.
Mr. Kosan regards her with something akin to begrudging respect. “Ms. Donovan, I trust that you will act by placing the best interests of the Warehouse’s above everything else. You have witnessed the strength of the bond that you now share.”
Claudia suppresses an eye roll. “Yeah, I get it; the Warehouse’s best interest is my best interest. Protect it, protect myself. Look, I know that you guys don’t like me all that much and I’m certainly not your biggest fan either but I am going to try to always do what is right for the Warehouse and my agents. And if that means that I have to break a few rules every now and then to make sure that my team stays alive and remains relatively unharmed, I’m going to break ‘em.”
“I appreciate your candor as well as your determination and how much you value this team, Ms. Donovan. As long as we are on the same page that the Warehouse always comes first, your interpretation of the rules will be dealt with if and when, however necessary.”
“So, bringing on new agents—”
“Perhaps you should take a few months to adjust to your new position as Caretaker, Ms. Donovan, before taking on more of your responsibilities as Director. We will be checking in with you periodically and we will discuss the process of hiring Warehouse personnel at a later date.”
“Oh, goody,” she says, trying not to sound sarcastic. She’s trying to let go of all the bitterness and resentment she’s built up towards the Regents over the years, for herself and for the sake of the Warehouse; it’s going to take time. She really wants underlings. Minions. No, underlings.
Kosan turns away from her and exits the room.
Claudia wrinkles her nose as she watches him leave. “Regents are lame.”
“I’ll second that,” Pete says, sidling up to her. “I mean, I guess my mom isn’t that bad.” He tilts his head to the side. “Fargo seems pretty decent too, don’tcha think, boss lady?”
“He is one of the good guys.”
Pete nudges her with his elbow, smiling, prodding. “Uh-huh. So?”
“Not going there, Pete.”
“Because it’s none of your business?” That should be obvious.
He shrugs. “And?”
She stands straight, squares her shoulders, and gives him a hard look. With a warning tone, she tries on her new authority. “Agent Lattimer, my personal life is none of your concern.” She manages to hold it together for about four seconds before cracking a smile and starting to laugh.
Pete laughs with her. “You almost had me there.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m going to have to work on the whole not cracking thing.”
“Hey. I’m not interrupting, am I?” Myka asks with a half-smile as she approaches them.
“Not at all.”
Myka looks down at her hands, pressing her lips together before she begins. “Claudia, I’m sorry for being so cold towards you earlier—”
“Oh, no, Myka, I totally understand, I would’ve been the same way—”
“—because I thought that all this time you had stopped caring about us and about the Warehouse—”
“—and when I think about it, I could have at least sent an e-mail or had Joshua let you all know that I was okay and thinking of you guys—”
“—but then Artie said that you probably hadn’t and I realized that I had been wrong and I needed to stop holding a grudge against you.”
“—but I didn’t and I know that it was selfish but I’m back now and I know it doesn’t mean much but I’m so sorry for what I put you all through.”
Myka takes a breath. “Can you forgive me?”
Claudia shakes her head. “There’s nothing to forgive; you had every right to hate me.”
“Aw, Claudia, I didn’t hate you. I could never hate you.”
Pete pumps his fist in the air as Claudia and Myka hug. “Yes! I knew it. Hugging it out!”
Both women roll their eyes and Claudia playfully punches Pete on the arm. It’s just like old times; they have all missed this and they’re so grateful for the return. There’s a comfort and ease to their conversations, tension has given way to laughter.
Artie watches his team interact for several minutes before he interrupts. “Excuse me, but I need to borrow Claudia for a few moments.”
A little perplexed, Claudia follows him to the relative quiet of the living room. “What’s up?”
“I have something of yours.” Artie fishes the original Farnsworth out of his pocket and holds it out to Claudia. “I’ve been meaning to give it back to you all day.”
She shakes her head. “I stopped deserving that a long time ago, Artie.”
“No, you didn’t. We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve all taken the coward’s way out at one time or another; but as scared as you were, you came back and that’s all that matters, that is what’s important. Take it.”
Claudia reaches out for the device, handling it carefully, inspecting it, and turning it over in her hands. She looks up at Artie, sincere, and then she smirks. “I still can’t believe that this thing is almost as old as you. Thank you.” She closes the Farnsworth and slides it into her back pocket before hugging Artie.
He pats her back then pulls away. “Yeah, okay, enough hugs for one day.”
“Yeah, ‘cause too many hugs can be bad for your health,” she says sarcastically.
“You know, I have not missed your attitude or snark, young lady.”
Both of her eyebrows rise. “You might want to watch what you say, old man; I’m your boss, remember?”
“I am sure that you will never let me forget that.”
“I wouldn’t be me if I did.”
“No, you would not. You should always be you, Claudia.”
She notices a look of discomfort on Artie’s face. “Are all these warm fuzzies giving you indigestion?”
She and Artie rejoin the others as Pete and Myka are regaling them with the details of one of their recent and more humorous artifact retrievals. The stories continue until everyone is laughing so hard that they can’t prevent a few tears from rolling down their cheeks.
The party slowly dies down. Fargo calls it a night first because his flight leaves early. Leena is tired from the day’s extra preparations. Vanessa accompanies Artie back to the Warehouse. Jane begins to feel like she’s intruding. Claudia’s exhausted but restless and neither Pete nor Myka seem ready to retire either so the three stay up, reconnecting, until the early morning hours when they can no longer deny that they need to get some sleep.
Still Claudia remains awake, returning to the informal dining room with her laptop. The Warehouse is always awake and right now, it cannot rest because, like its Caretaker, it is still familiarizing itself with this new bond.
She starts thinking about the arrangements that will have to be made. She has a life in Nashville but it was never home; Univille, the Warehouse, Leena’s, these places are home and they’re where she intends to stay for the time being, at least until she starts figuring out what being Caretaker means for her life.
Claudia hears soft footsteps on the stairs and looks up to see Jane’s descent.
“I see that I’m not the only one who’s having trouble sleeping. Do you know if Leena keeps any chamomile tea around?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, it won’t hurt to check,” Jane says as she crosses to the kitchen door. She pauses, her back to Claudia. “You know, I never wanted Pete to find out about the Warehouse; and I most certainly never wanted him to become an agent. We all become aware of just how dangerous working with the Warehouse is early on. Despite my wishes and my best efforts, Pete still ended up here; he chose to be here. Whatever destiny has in store for us, Claudia, we still have choices to make along the way. Agent Jinks knew the risks and he still chose to go undercover; he was offered the assignment and he took it. I understand why you blame us for his death, Claudia, but we were never responsible for it.”
“Then why do you still have a guilty conscience?”
Jane swallows and turns to face Claudia. “Because we couldn’t save him and we couldn’t save the Warehouse, not when it truly counted. We made mistakes. We’re only human and so are you. We can’t save everybody and neither can you, no matter how hard you try. I have to live with every decision that I have made regarding the welfare of Warehouse 13. Guilt and regret are powerful emotions that are hard to overcome and you will have to face them because you will be forced to make decisions that are going to leave you in a world full of guilt and regret. You can’t always make amends, no matter how hard you try.”
Claudia cocks her head to the side. “Is that what you’re trying to do?”
Jane sighs. “Yes. Believe me, none of us wanted for Steven Jinks to die; to say that his death, his murder, was unavoidable would be a lie. I am sorry for everything that you have lost.”
“So am I. And I’m sorry that it took me so long to grow up.”
“Don’t be.” She hesitates before broaching the next subject. “Your bond with the Warehouse is an intricate one. If the Caretaker is happy, normally the Warehouse is content as well. I think we can all agree that you do deserve a little happiness, Claudia. When you find it, hold onto it and don’t let go.” Jane smirks. “Even if it is against the rules.”
Claudia is trying to process what she’s hearing. It sounds like a Regent is giving her the go ahead to break one of their rules. “What does that mean?”
Jane shrugs, giving her a mischievous smile. “It means whatever you make of it.”
An alarm sounds on Claudia’s laptop. She has a ping.
Seven months later. . .
The FBI agent tosses his keys onto the table beside the door, flipping the light switch on. This has to be the weirdest case his team has ever worked on. A series of seemingly unrelated killings only tied together by the unsub’s use of an eight-inch serrated hunting knife. And then the damned Secret Service showed up as if they had any sort of jurisdiction. As he’s pouring himself a glass of whiskey, something catches his eye. He spins around, drawing his weapon.
He has never before seen the redheaded woman perched on the edge of his desk, wearing forming-fitting jeans, a blue blazer over a black tank top, tiny buttons all over the lapels of the blazer, and boots.
He keeps his gun trained on her. “You made a big mistake breaking into the home of a federal agent.”
She gives him a Cheshire cat grin as she pushes herself forward. “My name’s Claudia Donovan and I work for the government.”