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Summary: Claudia has no idea just how much she's stitching him back together. Steve and Claudia friendship, spoilers for Second Chance.

He's a loner for years before he meets her.

Sure, he has a few friends here and there, people he'd say hello to if he passed them on the street, and the people he works with, and a few people from school who will send him a happy birthday message because Facebook reminded them to do so.

But for the most part, he's a loner by choice after Olivia dies, because getting close hurts and there's really no one he connects with, anyway. He has a couple short-lived relationships that end without affecting him at all, and he gives up on that and throws his life into his work. He's good at what he does, uses his natural lie-detecting gift to save people and catch bad guys, thrives on the excitement of the job, then goes home alone, watches late night television and falls asleep with no new messages on his phone or in his email.

He never really thinks there's anything wrong with this kind of life, until the day the Warehouse interrupts it and draws him inside its endless wonder.

At first his life doesn't feel all that different, even though the new job is of a far more mystical nature. He transitions smoothly from one dangerous gig to another, and still doesn't have anyone he finds indispensable, anyone or anything he couldn't leave in a moment's notice without looking back. His new partner, Pete, doesn't even like him because he's the "new Myka" and apparently doesn't compare to the original. Artie feels the same but tolerates him a little better. Leena seems a part from them all, distant, and he doesn't have the energy to bridge the gap. The only one that seems at all interested in him as a person and not entirely bitter that he's replaced an old friend is Claudia.

When he first meets her, he doesn't make the connection right away. There's just a vague sensation that he knows her and some stirring of affection, and that should really be the first clue that she's going to be the one to change his life. It takes one case for him to feel connected to her, and it happens the instant she takes his hand in hers as they watch a loving father bear the burdens of his son.

It isn't until their second case, however, that he draws the comparisons to Olivia. Claudia saves his ass and does it with a smirk, and he's struck truly speechless for a second. He's a kid again, and Olivia is there, punching guys that pick on him and getting him to laugh off the taunts and know he's better than that, better than them. And he's never really shared the story of his sister with anyone, because no one's ever asked and he's never felt the need to confess something so private. But Claudia wants to know about his life and loss, and it's actually not as hard talking to her about Olivia as he thought it would be. So Steve tells Claudia about the best of Olivia - how she acted out stories for him when he was little, how she designed scavenger hunts for him, how she once hid a hot pepper in a bully's sandwich - and Claudia in turn tells him the best of big brother Joshua, and by the end of the night, they're laughing together and he can't for a second imagine leaving the Warehouse now.

He'd forgotten how it felt, to be this alive. And with her acceptance seems to come the acceptance of the rest of the team, almost as if he'd always belonged there, and then he's more than just their co-worker. He's family. Jinksy. He knows it wouldn't have happened like this without Claudia. She makes him her best friend before he has any say in the matter, and only then does he realize how empty he'd let his life become before he'd met her.

And that's why he's okay, putting his life at risk for her and their family and their mission when the Warehouse is under attack. That's why his last thought with his last breath is of her, and though he'd rather stay with her, he's okay as long as she's safe. As long as his actions protected her like he couldn't protect Olivia.

Steve never expected to come back, never expected her to try so hard to pull him from the other side. He probably should have known, if for no other reason than he'd have done the exact same thing for her; nothing would have gotten in his way, not Artie or the rules or the fear of the consequences.

And yet, the fact that she put her own life at risk bothers him. He's glad he's alive again, glad she's done with the grief, but it's jarring and hard to be grateful for something so beyond comprehension. When he finds out about the downside, he just hates himself a little more for failing to protect her completely; his very existence is now a danger to hers. And so he researches the metronome, all the while thinking that he'll die again if he has to, even if Claudia would rather die with him than live without him. It's not her choice to make, it's his, and that's the way it is.

But in the end, he can't keep her from the truth and before he can even blink, she's helping him find a way to safely disconnect him from the metronome.

The answer has him going home to Mom even as everything inside him resists the idea.

It's the one chance they've found that might extinguish their dangerous bond for good. He goes only for this, only because her life might depend on it. He tries to be brave about it, but once he's home all the things inside him, those things that he's been afraid to face for years, erupt to the surface. The grief, the hate, the shame overwhelm him. It hurts to feel betrayed by your mother, and yet it hurts far more to forgive her and betray the one who's gone. Because Olivia, his sweet, brave sister never got the chance to live a full life. It was stolen far too young, and her death left him hollow and his mother, she - she fought to let the man live, to let that monster live even after all he'd done to their family. Maybe it's merely his presence in his childhood home, but Steve feels like a teenager again, filled with rage but with no outlet, and helpless. So helpless.

Truth be told, he hates not having his mother in his life anymore, but he can't even look at her without feeling the sting of her actions. Didn't you love her? He wants to scream it at her, and though he hates himself a little for thinking it, it's not enough to regret the thought.

And then Claudia's there, witnessing his grief, his weakness, and asking him to do what he promised himself he'd never do in this case.

Forgive.

Forgive his mother, put this all behind him.

It's impossible, he thinks - there is no end to his grief for his sister, there is no room in him to forgive, to be okay with the fact that the man still lives while his sister does not. It isn't fair, it isn't right.

But Claudia's looking at him with disappointment and concern in her eyes, and then his mom's in danger and no matter what they've been through, he can't lose her, and especially not on such bad terms. He loves his mother too much for that (he never stopped, could never stop), he loves Olivia too much to act against what he knows she would have wanted, and he loves Claudia too much to disappoint.

And in the end, he breaks the metronome without caring what the cost is to his own life.

But it's not just the metronome that shatters into nothing. The second it breaks, he feels something burst inside of him. For a fraction of a second, he really thinks it might be his heart. But no, it's not physical, it's emotional. In an instant, his reasons for being angry falter, and though his grief is still there, only a little of his hatred remains, and none is left for his mother. For years it has taken so much energy to maintain that kind of burning passion, and he just doesn't have it in him now. He feels light, and dazed, and almost free.

His mom was right, she'd always been right. Those feelings were poisoning his soul and only now does he realize just how much they were weighing him down.

And all Steve can think of is that he died once. He died and never got to make up with his mom, his only family by blood. And all he knows is that he doesn't want to go out that way again. It's not what Olivia would have wanted for him, it's not what Claudia wants for him now.

And maybe he can't yet forgive the man whose bullet stole Olivia's life, but he can forgive his mother for wanting there to be a little less pain for another family in the world. Some part of him has always understood, but only now, after he's been exposed to so much of the good and bad and shades of grey in humanity, can he accept it as something other than a betrayal.

And when he's finally calmed himself down, his mother insists they stay for dinner and Claudia accepts before he can get in a word. He feels awkward and ashamed of his earlier outbursts of grief and anger, but his mother glows and he marvels at her ability to forgive him so very quickly. At the dinner table, they make up for lost time by simply talking. He tells her the truth, tells her that he' s no longer with the ATF, but that he still does very similar work, and how he lives in South Dakota now.

And then he mentions, as casually as possible, that he wouldn't mind if she visited sometime.

She beams and passes him some fresh bread, and Claudia hides a smile and asks for seconds.

They say their goodbyes sometime later, and Steve hugs his mother like a child would, and thinks the smile she gives him is a beautiful thing. He's missed it and only now can he admit that to himself.

His beating heart is far lighter than it's been in years.

It's on the way back to the Warehouse, when he glances over to Claudia in the airplane seat next to his, that he is struck by the fact that he's never properly thanked her for all she's done for him. This girl, his partner, best friend, sister doesn't know how much she's given him. She has no idea just how much she's stitching him back together, after grief and loneliness and loss. She is the reason he belongs at the Warehouse, she is the reason he lives and breathes, she is the reason he can find it in himself to forgive, she is the reason he has his mother back in his life. She's everything he doesn't deserve, but he'll take his blessings where he can get them and would never give them up without a fight.

He almost tells her during the trip, but she's tuned into her music for a long time and then falls asleep before he can find the right words.

The need to thank her only strengthens during this time, and so, when they finally arrive back at the B & B after their long trip, he follows her into her bedroom. He had thought of so many eloquent, powerful ways to say it on the plane, but in the end, he only says, "Thanks, Claud."

And she looks at him with a tired, jet-lagged smile. "For what?" she asks. It amazes him, that she really doesn't know that she's the thread to his life, to everything he is and wants to be.

He shakes his head at her, pulls her in for a hug, kisses her head, and says, "For bringing me back. For being there for me. For being generally awesome. For being you."

She snorts into his shoulder. "Stop being a Cheesy Jinksy," she says, but she tightens her grip on him all the same. "It comes with the package, Steve. BFFEWYLION, remember?"

He laughs. "Of course," he smiles, letting go of her. "Goodnight, Claud."

"'Night, Steve." she says with a smile interrupted by a yawn.

He smiles back and closes her door, and all he can think is that he must be the luckiest man in the world, to have a BFFEWYLION like Claudia.

A/N: Written because I'm in love with their friendship too.