In Which She Was Ten for Three Years

Fifteen birthdays in Claudia's life, including my own (slightly warped) explanation for Claudia's inconsistent age since she's 19 if you believe what she said in "MacPherson" or 22 if you believe Joshua's comment about her not knowing how to be ten plus him being trapped for 12 years in "Claudia."

Warehouse 13 isn't mine. Please try to contain your shock.

She was five (but really seventeen), and she wanted her mommy and daddy.

"Well, what do you think?" Joshua asked.

"It's very nice. Thank you." It was a nice, fluffy blanket, that was true, but Mommy and Daddy would have known that her favorite color was purple, not pink, and she liked kitties better than puppies.

"Are you okay?"

"Yes." She tried to smile. It wasn't Joshua's fault that Mommy and Daddy were gone. She'd heard those ladies talking at the funeral, when they hadn't known she was hiding under the food table, and it was all because of some stupid patch of ice on the road. But just because it wasn't his fault didn't mean that she didn't want them here.

"It's too big for your cot," he said, obviously forcing himself to smile as well, "but I know you don't like sleeping on that anyway. And I promise, as soon as the undergrads clear out for the summer and there are some decent apartments available for rent, we'll find someplace nicer where you can have your own room. Maybe near a park. You'd like that, right?"

"Why can't we live at home?" She liked her room there.

"I…you know why, Claudia, we talked about this. I have to finish school, and it's just too far away." He shook his head. "It's getting late, how about we have some cake and then I'll read you a story before bedtime."

She nodded reluctantly, and he pushed himself up from the couch and took the three steps necessary to reach undersized refrigerator, pulling out a package stamped with the logo from the grocery store down the street. "I got double chocolate, and I bet now that you're five, you can manage a really big piece."

She put the blanket aside, with the tub of legos and the two books he'd given her, and slid down off the couch to join him. "I'm not five."

"What?" He looked down at her. "No, I'm pretty sure you're five. You don't still want to be four, do you? If you're four, you won't be able to start kindergarten this fall."

She shook her head. "I'm not four either. I took the test, and it said I'm seventeen and young at heart."

He snorted and dug a knife out of the silverware drawer. "You're not young at heart, you're just young. What test was this, anyway?"

"I don't know. It was in the magazine." She leaned against the counter and stared at the cake. She didn't think her stomach really felt hungry, but it did look pretty good...

"Grab spoons for us, would you? And what magazine are you talking about? Was it one of Mrs. Thom's?" He looked down at the slices of cake and frowned. "Oh, do you want ice cream with your cake?"

What kind of question was that? Who didn't want ice cream with cake? "Yes." She pulled out two spoons as he'd asked and then climbed up into her chair at the table. "It wasn't Mrs. Thom's." Claudia stayed with her while Joshua was in school, and while she was nice for an old lady—although she did smell kind of funny sometimes—all the magazines and books she had were about plants and paintings. Not very interesting, especially since she wouldn't let Claudia color in them or cut out any of the pretty pictures. "It was on the table beside your professor's office when you went to talk to him yesterday." She'd been lucky to find it; Joshua always took longer talking to his professors than he said he was going to, and while she'd remembered her coloring book, she'd forgotten her crayons. "There was another quiz about staducing people, but that one had stupid questions and the answers didn't make any sense."

"Stad—seducing people?" Joshua almost dropped a scoop of ice cream destined for one of the pieces of chocolate cake onto the floor, and she scowled.

"Be careful!"

"Claude, you shouldn't be reading stuff like that. You're five."

"No, I'm seventeen."

"Five. Magazine quizzes aren't exactly well known for their accuracy."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "No. I want to be seventeen."

"Fine, we'll split the difference and say you're ten." He dug out another scoop of ice cream and dumped it on the second plate before putting the tub of ice cream away. "But you still shouldn't be reading things like that. Next time read your own book while you're waiting for me, okay?"

She frowned. She'd already read all her own books—except the two new ones, and she'd read them soon too—and anyway, her books didn't have quizzes like that. Besides…she counted on her fingers quickly and then glared at him. "Ten isn't splitting the difference."

"It's close enough. Besides, you're too short to be any older. Now, do you want your cake or not?"