This takes place in Season 3, but is kind of AU in the sense that I am entirely disregarding Walter Sykes' existence. So just take your wonderful imaginations and edit him out, while still keeping all the other details (Jane, H.G., Steve, etc.) - minus "Giant Crater in the Ground 13" too, of course - and pretending they make sense without the occurrence/existence of Mr. Sykes and all his dastardly deeds. That shouldn't be too much to ask, no? Ah well, that's what the 'AU' comes in handy for. Anyhow, I sincerely hope that you enjoy my ramblings and are not so opposed to inconsistent updates as to be put off in reading this, as that is bound to be the case (unfortunately, readers of my other stories can attest to such delays). And while we're on the topic of my other fics, I feel obliged to apologize for the noticeable dearth (dearth, love that word) of updates to those and I almost promise (an almost promise is like a promise, but without the moral obligation) to at least update my other Warehouse 13 fic sometime soon. Which, I'm sure, is probably the only one of mine most of you would read if you WERE reading any of my other stuff. But in my defense, I do have a 4,000 word research paper I need to be writing... Okay, I know - terrible excuse. Who ACTUALLY does homework anyway - and during the summer, no less? I'm sure most of you wouldn't give a damn if I threw my A grades out the window and invested every waking hour of mine into my writing. However, for some completely unfathomable reason, schools and parents tend to frown upon this failure, so I simply mustn't. My deepest apologies. Now, without further ado (e.g. 'Before this AN turns out to be longer than the chapter itself...') I present to you another possibly-moderately-decent piece of fanfiction dredged from the recesses of my oft-distracted brain. Voila.

P.S. OH MY UNSPECIFIED DEITY, SEASON 4 STARTS TONIGHT! Ehem, sorry for that...erm...fangirly moment. Moving on.

Claudia Donovan lay in her bed at the B&B, listening to thunder rumble across the South Dakota badlands. A moment later, her room was lit blue by a flash of lightning.

The storm had rolled in around dinner time and been going strong ever since. Artie had rushed down to the Warehouse after eating, grumbling and mumbling something about artifact disturbances and needing to be there to monitor during the storm and Trailer the dutiful dog had gone with him. Steve was away again on personal leave - his parents had finally decided to move into a smaller home and he was there to help them out for the next four days - and Pete and Myka, who had been planning to fly back in from Portland, Oregon with their latest artifact snag until they were grounded by the storm, were currently holed up in a cheap motel near the airport waiting for their postponed flight, which left only Claudia and Leena at the B&B. The latter had gone to sleep hours ago, but the resident tech genius was still wide awake, because every time she shut her heavy eyelids, another roar of thunder or flash of lightning sent them flying open again.

Mercifully, the storm began to dwindle within the hour, and Claudia finally drifted off.

Sleep didn't last long, however, as her eyes shot open what felt like minutes later. She rolled over, scrubbing at them with the heel of her palm, then squinted blearily at the digital readout on her bedside clock. So she'd slept just over an hour - it didn't feel that way. The damned storm was the destroyer of her beauty sleep.

Except the storm had stopped. She heard no thunder, no lightning, no rain beating on the window.

Okay, so the storm hadn't woken her up. Perhaps Leena was getting a drink of water. Or Artie and Trailer were back from the Warehouse. But Leena slept like a rock. And Artie... Well, Artie was Artie and he practically lived at the Warehouse.

She decided to put it down to the creaks and moans of an old house and settled back into her pillow with a sigh. She had to get up in a couple hours and was determined to sleep through as much of that time as possible.

Now, it was no secret that Claudia was not the brawn of their group. She was the only agent without formal training of any sort - though Myka had taught her enough moves to get by. Her intelligence was sufficient in most sticky situations anyway. Yes, Claudia Donovan knew enough that she could hold her own. But there wasn't a lot she could do in either respect while laying prone in bed with only an hour's sleep under her belt.

For instance, she definitely didn't have the strength to fight back when a chloroform-soaked rag was pressed to her face. There wasn't even time to scream.

Despite last night's storm, Leena awoke feeling refreshed and well-rested. A hot shower and a mug of freshly-brewed coffee only improved her already cheery mood. Once she had finished with these, the B&B owner set to work mixing up a batch of blueberry muffins for breakfast. Artie would be in soon enough, Claudia would be down in about an hour. And any remaining muffins would surely keep long enough for Pete to finish them off as soon as he and Myka returned.

True to form, Artie ambled in and dropped into a chair just as muffin tray number one came out of the oven. Leena gave him two, and a steaming mug of coffee just the way he liked it. She popped the next tray in before joining him at the table with her own muffin.

"Some storm last night," she commented. "How's the Warehouse?"

Artie brushed crumbs out of his beard and sipped his coffee, sighing contentedly. "It's coping. Some disturbances here and there, but - ahhh," he leaned back, releasing another satisfied sigh, "That's to be expected with all that extra energy in the air." He waved his hand around as if to emphasize his point.

"Good. Nothing major, then." She left it as a statement, not a question. Clearly, he hadn't had any problems.

At that moment, Trailer padded in and settled at Artie's feet to stare adoringly until he received a chunk of the man's warm blueberry muffin. Though he made a show of grumbling and scrunching his bushy eyebrows, it made Leena smile to see this softer side of Artie, more visible in his aura than in his demeanor.

She stood as the oven timer and Artie's Farnsworth went off simultaneously.

Artie flipped it open. "What?"

"Good morning to you, too," came Pete's sarcastic response over the communicator. "Hey, we're on our way back from the airport now. We managed to get on a red eye that took off as soon as they heard the storm there was clearing off. 'Bout another hour until we get there, maybe less." His face drew closer the screen and in a mock whisper, he explained, "Myka's driving."



"Children, children," Artie sighed, this time not out of pleasure. "Just get back as soon as possible so we can get that artifact put away, got it?" He didn't wait for a response, snapping the Farnsworth shut once he'd finished.

"I run. A daycare," he exclaimed, munching on the remainder of his muffin.

Leena smiled and shot him a sidelong glance. "You know you love it."

"Love it? How could I love it? They drive me insane, all four of them." He looked at Trailer, resting peacefully under his chair. "I should trade them all for dogs. Someone would obey me for once."

Leena's hands went to her hips. "You don't mean that," she said. "I can tell. You have a soft spot for them. Wouldn't trade any of them for the world. And don't try denying it. I may not be Steve, but I can tell when you're lying, Artie." She softened her words with a smile and returned to the muffins.

Artie harrumphed, flapping a hand dismissively. "Yeah, yeah. Speaking of my agents, where is Claudia?" He glanced around, as if she'd been standing there all along and he'd somehow missed her.

"I don't know," Leena replied. "She should be down by now. Want me to go wake her?"

He nodded. "Please. She shouldn't be sleeping the day away. She promised to do some inventory while Steve is away."

Leena wiped her hands on a dish towel, covered the muffins, and made her way up to Claudia's bedroom. She knocked once. "Hey, Claudia?"

No response. She knocked a second time.

"Are you awake? Claude?"

Again, no response. Leena pushed open the door and entered quietly, but found only an empty room. The redhead's laptop sat unopened on her nightstand.

Further inspection of the hallway bathroom and other bedrooms also revealed no sign of the young tech genius. Leena returned to the kitchen, where an expectant Artie sat with another muffin and a guilty aura. She would have scolded him about straying from his diet, had she not been preoccupied with the seeming disappearance of their youngest member.

"Artie, she's gone."

He batted at crumbs on the lapels of his coat, furrowing his brow. "What?"

"Claudia. She isn't upstairs. I can't find her."

Artie stopped abruptly and frowned, getting to his feet. Beneath him, Trailer jumped up as well, sensing the sudden tension.

Leena stared, waiting, as Artie scrutinized their immediate surroundings.

"Something is wrong," he said finally, and the air around them suddenly felt a bit ominous. "Something is...very, very wrong."

Hm. I'm not too sure about how his turned out. Let me know if I should continue (but only if you can find time in between freak-outs over the season premier). Thank you!