"Jesus fucking Christ!"
Claudia's goggles were hanging off her neck, her hair was a mess, and she was only wearing one glove. She would have looked funny, if she hadn't looked so angry.
"This is 'we'll be back tomorrow, talk to you then'? You don't think maybe grievous bodily injury is the sort of thing I like to be warned about?"
"Since you'd just blow it out of proportion, no." Artie was moving a little more slowly than usual, but nothing in his tone of voice gave away the fact that he'd spent much of the previous night in a hospital.
"Out of proportion?" Claudia snarled, but Artie was already leaving the room and couldn't quite appreciate the acidic quality of her question. Pete could, and wished he hadn't.
"You know how things work around here," Myka said. "Never tell someone something if you can just let it blow up in their faces later."
The women shared a glance that seemed like a promising start to the Sisterhood of the Avenging Warriors, so Pete thought he should do something – it was going to be a rough for a while, and the sooner they could start fixing things the better. "We just didn't want you to worry."
From the unimpressed look on Claudia's face, that sounded just as lame to her as it had to him. "Is this going to be a thing now?" she demanded. "One of you comes limping back half dead after every mission?"
"I hope not," Pete said grimly. "It's not like we have fun dying."
"Fine, whatever," she shrugged, pulling off her other glove and dropping it on the table, not quite throwing it. "But I really hate funerals, so don't give me any reason to go to one."
"Sounds good to me."
Myka just shook her head.
Myka wanted to talk about it – about the file, about MacPherson, about trust and honesty and openness and the lack thereof in the Warehouse. She tried talking about it with Artie, but he had mastered the art of not having conversations – that had been the trouble in the first place – and she didn't get far with him. She talked about it with Leena, despite not being happy with what Leena had to say. At some point she told Claudia, and Pete was glad he missed that conversation, because he was guessing that it got ugly.
She kept talking about it with Pete too, or at least to herself while Pete was around.
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Of course I'm listening." And he was; he just wished he could change the topic or go somewhere else.
MacPherson was one thing; he was a threat and they had to talk about him so they could figure out what he was planning and how they could stop him. So that he couldn't catch them off guard again.
As for everything else...maybe it was something they should deal with, maybe it would mess up their ability to work as a team, but for now, Pete didn't know how to handle it. He'd defended Artie and Artie had made him a liar. Sure, Artie had never asked Pete to defend him, but that was what being a team was all about.
Thinking about it left him with the sick hot feeling of betrayal, made him angry and ashamed all at once, until he really didn't want to think about it at all. Yet the same thoughts continued to circle around his head – it can't be true, there has to be an explanation, Artie's a good guy. Yet it was true, and with Artie refusing to provide any explanation, the third belief was getting harder and harder for Pete to defend to himself.
It wasn't as though Artie hadn't told them anything at all. On the trip back to the Warehouse, he'd given them some background on MacPherson and told them the bits of the last few days that they'd missed. But he was still holding back and Myka was not in a forgiving mood. She gave up on trying to get more info out of him – gave up on talking to him at all. Since Claudia wasn't talking to Artie either and Pete couldn't think of much to say, it was a pretty damn quiet around the Warehouse.
Leena was a help on that front. Myka and Leena were always slightly at odds, and Claudia, though she had warmed up to Leena somewhat, still said she was "kinda creepy," but that didn't matter so much to Pete as the fact that Leena was actually willing to talk about normal things. Normal was always something of a subjective term around the Warehouse, but for now Pete was willing to accept anything that didn't involve treason or swords as being "normal."
They ended up talking about '80s movies and old family vacations and the grandfather clock someone had tagged a decade ago that supposedly told you what time of day you were going to die.
Pete could quite happily spend days in the Warehouse stacks, playing with the artifacts, but there were still more artifacts out in the world causing trouble. With hardly any heads up at all, Pete found himself and Myka on a plane to California. Artie hadn't told them much about the case, but there wasn't much to know yet.
They got a car once they landed, and ended up driving around what felt like the entire state. A lot of time in the car meant a lot of time to talk, and Pete finally brought up something he'd been curious about. "So Claudia didn't take it well?" he asked. "When you told her about Artie's file."
"No, that's not it," Myka sighed. "She just said, 'wow, double agent? Crazy stuff'."
"Huh." That hadn't been what Pete had expected, but when he thought about it, "Although, it's not like she remembers the Cold War. It's all just James Bond movies to her."
Myka gave him the look that asked why he couldn't, just once, take something seriously. He tried another approach. "Fine, so, what's she so angry about if she thinks selling secrets to the Russians is no big deal?"
"She thinks getting impaled is a stupid way of disarming someone. And I agree with her."
"Whoa, hey, that was not my idea, so spare me the glare of doom."
"You're taking his side."
"Side? What...I'm not – there aren't any sides here, okay? We're all on the same side."
"Tell that to Artie."
Pete could understand everyone's stance on things (except maybe Mrs. Frederic's, because she was an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a ninja, topped with the most intimidating glare he'd ever seen). If there had been sides – which there weren't, whatever Myka might think – he wouldn't have been able to pick one.
It wasn't exactly that he agreed with everyone. It was just that he disagreed with everyone equally.
Pete tried a new argument. "Everyone has secrets."
"That doesn't make it okay," Myka told him. "You don't think there's anything wrong with this? You don't think it wouldn't be fair for him to just tell us something? Not everyone has secrets, Pete, we don't have secrets, because Artie already knows! Background searches and – and medical records and Pete, he knew everything about us before we even came to South Dakota and all he offered us in return were cookies."
"Good cookies," Pete corrected.
Despite what Myka said, he did have secrets; there are some things background checks can't find. He could tell that she had secrets, too, from the way she sometimes changed the topic suddenly or she started to stress eat in situations that shouldn't have been that stressful.
She would just say those things weren't relevant, it didn't matter if she didn't tell them. Pete didn't have an answer to that, but it bothered him. He didn't like the thought of Myka hiding things from him any more than he liked hiding things from her. It was easier that way, all the same.
Their trip was successful, but their homecoming didn't feel very victorious. The Warehouse seemed lifeless, as though they were all in mourning someone Pete didn't know, or waiting for something that no one had told him about.
"Here's your artifact," Myka announced, pulling out the bag to show Artie.
He barely looked at it. "Good. You know what to do with it."
"Yes, we do," she replied.
"So get to it," Artie waved them off.
Pete didn't have anything to add to that. He simply watch with the same casual scrutiny as Claudia, who mouthed "Yikes" to him.
After Pete's close encounter of the electrocution kind, Claudia had been his ally in coming up with as many bad puns about death and shocks as possible. She'd laughed. She'd teased Myka for not getting into the spirit of things.
That was the Claudia Pete was used to, joker Claudia who was only ever really phased when some project she was working on didn't turn out right. He'd forgotten about Claudia the hacker and Claudia the kidnapper, who spent years on research and stalking, who was willing to die by inches to save someone else.
It was nice to know that she was in his corner, but it was a little uncomfortable living with her day-to-day when she was like this. He wanted fun Claudia back.
"Hey, Claudia, you're mad at Artie." She shot him a skeptical look. "So why weren't you mad at me when I almost died?" Not as subtle as he could have been, but it got the job done.
"At the risk of sounding like a cold-hearted bitch," Claudia replied, "Risking your life is in your job description. Artie just...does research, and reorganizes the Warehouse, and I'm not saying things don't get messy down there, but cataloging angry curtain rods? Not the same thing as taking on Samurai James."
It sounded bad until Pete though about how he felt when Myka was facing death-spines and invisible swords, and how he would feel if it were Claudia or Leena instead. He wasn't happy about Myka being in danger, but that was the reality of the situation. She would face danger and he'd face it with her, and the others would be safe.
That was how it was supposed to work.
"You're right, that doesn't sound cold-hearted at all," Pete said with a straight face, and Claudia punched him. "Ow, hey, you'll spoil the loving atmosphere we have going here."
"This is affectionate punching, dolt," she laughed. She didn't have much in common with his sister, but she made him think of her anyway. He wondered if this was how Claudia acted with her brother.
"Okay, okay, take it easy there, Buffy, I got another question."
"You're Mister Inquisitive all of a sudden, aren't you?"
"Death's not in your job description, is it?"
"I'm not sure I technically have a job description. I hope I don't, then I can just keep doing whatever I want."
She rolled her eyes. "I couldn't tell."
"You almost died getting Joshua back."
"That's different. That's...family. And it's not like anyone was going to miss me if I kicked it."
Pete was pretty sure that wasn't true. He was glad that she had phrased it in the past tense, at least.
"It's not really that different. Everyone makes their own decisions about when it's worth risking their life. For you, it was Joshua. For me and Myka, it's – "
"I was going to say the safety of the public, but 'everyone' works too. Makes me sound like Superman."
"Are you going to run around in a cape and tights?"
"I think there's something in the regulations against that..."
"Bet you'd pull that look off, though."
Claudia shrugged. "Why not?"
"Well, for starters, tights."
"What happened to your fun-loving and adventures attitude?"
"It heard you plotting and ran for the hills. Look, the point is, Artie's an agent too, and he has to make these decisions for himself."
"It's a stupid decision," Claudia muttered, but her heart wasn't in it.
"Just let it go, okay?"
"I will," she promised him. "I just didn't want to let him off easy when he pissed me off that badly."
Scared her that badly, Pete thought, but he didn't say out loud. Having seen the Wrath of Claudia, he had no desire to call it down upon himself.
Claudia liked to repurpose old Warehouse items. She had a lot of good ideas, and things usually turned out well, but sometimes they went through some uncomfortable middle stages.
This time her experiment didn't just mess up the artifact she was working on, it upset several of the other artifacts in the building – something to do with an EM field, she claimed, although Pete wouldn't have been surprised to find out artifacts were alive and conspiring against the humans.
Running around the Warehouse throwing buckets of purple goo at things left Pete feeling oddly elated. This felt like the good old days, though he wasn't sure if "the good old days" was really the right word for something they hadn't been doing for all that long.
The Farnsworth was buzzing. Myka waved him over and answered it. They were both out of breath, but it hardly mattered as the conversation was one-sided.
"Guys, I'm seeing fireworks near row 800, you might want to check it out before something catches on fire." Claudia hung up without waiting for a response.
"Sure, no problem," Pete grumbled. "Run over there, now over that way, now all the way across the building and back again, and I'm just going to stay up here."
"If she doesn't get it turned off, it's just going to get worse."
"Still, she's just a little too happy about sending us scurrying through the stacks."
"Suck it up," Myka told him with a hint of a smile.
"I think she set that thing off on purpose," Pete whined, for the spirit of the thing.
"Not everyone's a troublemaker."
"You've met Claudia before, right?"
"Fine, maybe, but you're still stalling."
It was another half an hour before Claudia fixed whatever had gone wrong, and another hour after that before they'd shut down all the problem artifacts. Artie got the full report from them and looked thoughtful at the end of it. "We don't know you got everything," he pointed out. "You should check, to be sure."
"You check it out," Myka told him. "I'm not getting out of this chair."
"I second that," Pete raised a hand and shut his eyes. "Someone bring me some cookies and milk, would you?"
"No cookies. You have a job to do."
"We've been doing our jobs," Pete reasoned. "And now we're exhausted, and we're taking a break, which will be over sooner if we have cookies to help us recover."
"Taking a break while the Warehouse falls down around you," Artie grumbled. "What do you think you're getting paid for?"
"Smart ass comments?" Myka guessed.
Pete grinned. "Our charming personalities?"
"Causing trouble," was Claudia's suggestion.
"I think that's just a perk," Myka said.
"Or an occupational hazard." Claudia smirked and grabbed a few cookies, handing them out Pete and Myka and keeping some for herself, but "None for Scrooge at the keyboard until he learns the true meaning of Christmas."
Myka even ate one cookie, apparently deciding that it was a day to be flexible on her no-sugar rule, and Pete didn't even tease her about that because he didn't want to discourage progress. He did tease Claudia about her mis-invention; she haughtily informed him that he'd be thanking her as soon as she got it up and running properly, and she wheedled Artie for permission to experiment on a Tesla. He refused, predicting doom and gloom should she try, and Myka asked in a stage whisper how long Pete thought it would be before Claudia just went ahead and did it anyway.
She caught Artie's eyes, and while they both looked a little wary, it was a definite truce. It was Warehouse-brand normal, and Pete wouldn't trade it for the world.