Title: Aftershock
Author: Gab (Milena D)
Rating:
PG-13
Spoilers:
Up to episode Burnout (1x06).
Characters:
Claudia, Artie
Genre:
Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Family

Summary: It may be a a world of ceaseless wonders but that doesn't make any of them invincible.

Author's Notes: Just a note about Claudia's age given the discrepancies between the finale and the the earlier eps. Most of the boards are going with the theory that Joshua was exaggerating about her age in the episode "Claudia" and that would place her age when he disappeared as somewhere around 7. And since this is supposed to happen well before the end of Season 1, I'll be saying her age is around 18-19 in this fic.

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Chapter 1: What Amounts To Kidnapping
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Claudia let out a disgruntled sigh and tapped her foot rhythmically on the ground. Already frustrated with the situation, she became even more irate when her displays of annoyance went unheeded by her companion. He was dozing. Dozing. Claudia's eyes narrowed and she let her left foot slip rather forcefully to the side to kick him.

"Wh-what? What? Did they call us?" Claudia rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, Artie, they called us. That's why we're in the other room now." She replied sarcastically. "Oh, wait, no! I'm sorry, no, we're still here, aren't we?"

Artie huffed a sigh and straightened himself in his chair. "I'm sure it won't be long. Maybe I should have had Mrs. Frederic make a call. Oh but that's right, there was some brat who threw a tantrum of epic proportions at the idea. I wonder who that was again..."

"I didn't want to come here to begin with, geezer." Claudia returned heatedly. "If you wanna get your joints refitted with the latest models that's fine with me but you don't have to drag me along."

"Yeah, well we're not here for me, my dear." Artie reminded her. Claudia huffed and jerked herself properly back into her seat, her arms crossed. Artie sighed internally but refused to let himself budge. He didn't see it this way of course but some people could claim that it was partly his fault that they needed to be here. If he hadn't abandoned her over a decade ago...well, he had.

He felt Claudia's glare burn into the side of his face and hoped they'd be seen soon. The almost three hour ride over to Rapid City, South Dakota had already seen much of the same dynamic and he was getting tired of feeling like a villain.

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Almost 4 Hours Ago

Pete and Myka had left for the Bed and Breakfast; Pete, despite his good humour, was in overall pain from the full body electric shock therapy he'd given himself in St. Louis. Leena was waiting for all of them with a hot meal, something none of them had seen for almost three days...but Artie and Claudia wouldn't be tasting the sure-to-be succulent dishes for a long while yet because Mr. Anal Retentive wanted every piece of research they'd chucked about over the last three days picked up and stored away before they left.

"Seriously, dude," Claudia moaned as she bent to pick up another pile of books, "this crap will still be here tomorrow."

"This place is cluttered enough as is, I don't want to have to walk into it in the morning." Artie returned, distractedly as always. He'd become very adept at shrugging off complaints with the recent additions to the warehouse team. Really all he had to do was dole out retorts every 5-10 minutes and he was set. When 13 minutes passed without having to crush teenaged rebellion, he looked over his shoulder to find Claudia doing absolutely nothing but facing the other wall.

"Hey, you're the one who wants to leave. Faster you get to work, the faster you can." Artie called out.

"Yeah, yeah, keep your pants on." She mumbled, sniffing once and stuffing something into her pocket.

"Wha-What...are you crying?"

"Please," Claudia said, not turning around, "your fossilized tomes are covered in three different layers of dust and I haven't popped my anti-histamines today."

"Uh huh." Artie replied, moving more quickly than his age or size suggested to grab her face.

"Hey!" Claudia shrieked, trying to jerk out of his grasp. "Personal bubble, dude. Look into it."

"Shut up." He replied brusquely. Using his finger to wipe off a drop of blood from the edge of her nose, he held it up at her eye level and glared at her. "What's this?"

"Corn syrup and red dye #2?" Claudia replied sheepishly with an attempt at a disarmingly innocent smile. Artie apparently wasn't in the mood because his glare hardened and he forced her into the chair near the desk.

"Look you don't have to get your panties all bunched up, I'm fine." She sighed, accepting the tissue he gave her to wipe the bits she'd missed.

"Uh huh, and how long have these been going on?" He asked, his arms crossed as he leaned on the desk.

"Dude, it's just been this one." Claudia replied sincerely, holding his gaze for as long as she could until she had to look away. "Okay, two. But we've been burning the midnight oil and the candle at both ends trying to figure out this spine thing, it was bound to happen."

"Just two times?" He repeated.

"Yeah! Two...dos, twice." She replied, annoyed.

"Over only three days." Claudia stayed silent that time.

"So tell me, which part of that is a lie because this looks like more than twice to me." Artie replied, tugging out the cloth she'd tucked into her jacket earlier. It was almost entirely covered in differently saturated patches of blood. Claudia exhaled tiredly and held up her hands.

"Okay, fine, busted. Listen, all I need is some sleep - which may I point out you're keeping me from - and I will be just fine." With that conclusion to this exhausting affair, Claudia stood up and made to leave but swayed slightly as a bout of dizziness assaulted her.

"No, you won't." Artie retorted, his hands coming down on her shoulders to steady her. "You've been away from the effects of Joshua's experiment for long enough for any of this to have ended. Unless..."

"Unless it left me with some not-so-pleasant souvenirs." Claudia bit out. "Yeah, I get the picture, Artie. I actually painted it myself almost a month ago."

His expression changed from frustration to concern in the span of a second and before she knew it she was out of his grasp and he was getting their coats.

"Come on." He ordered, holding hers out to her.

"Where are we going?" She asked suspiciously.

"Come on!" He repeated, grabbing her arm and steering her out.

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"This is ridiculous." Artie grumbled. "There are what, 10 000 people in all of South Dakota? How can they all be here now?" A nurse had come to take Claudia's history and a blood sample but still no word on the scans Artie had politely requested.

"See? Staying here is counter-productive. As stoked as I am to go road tripping with ya, Artie, my bed is calling me." Claudia made it to her feet (without swaying, score!) and made shooing motions towards the door. "Come on, big guy, up and at 'em."

*Claudia Nielsen report to Radiology. Claudia Nielsen, Radiology.*

"Ha!" Artie cried, getting to his feet.

"What? Who-" Claudia replied, her brow furrowed.

"That's you, kid." He replied, pulling her down the corridor.

"Dude, I'm a little past the age to play foster kid." She grumbled, secretly nursing the spike of joy the idea of being a daughter for a bit brought her.

"Uh huh, and I'm sure that your years of unemployed house-jumping has provided you with a great health plan?" Artie asked her sarcastically. She made a face. "That's what I thought. Let's go."

Well, thank you Pragmatie Artie for bursting that bubble, Claudia thought sourly. "That's fraud, G-Man."

"Yeah, well, when you've committed treason against two major world powers everything else seems...slightly less major." Artie quipped quietly and conspiratorially. "Not that the government is going to know about this. For all intents and purposes, medically speaking, tax-wise, blah blah blah, we - Mrs. Frederic - thought it best to make you, well...my...you know...dependent. For now at least, until you actually start existing in the system again."

As they got to the Radiology wing, Claudia suppressed her grin and just nodded as if that made perfect sense to her. It wasn't quite the d-word the little fairytale-believing, rainbow-loving girl inside her was hoping for but she'd take it.

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Two more chapters on their way soon! Please let me know if you liked this one! :)