To Come Away Unscathed
Summary: He should have known it was too good to be true, to have those he loved returned to him, to have the Warehouse undamaged, to have the world hopeful once again. Spoilers for The Ones You Love.
A/N: Eventually Artie's going to get his mind back. Eventually he'll know what he's done. This is one way it could play out.
His mind is splintered, cracks along the surface. He can feel the fractures as false realities and true memories compete for dominance within him.
The first thing that comes back to him is a lesson he'd promised himself to never forget: there's always a price to pay, always consequences for our actions. He's known since James went rogue that playing with fire would only get everyone burned in the end, and that playing God would cause lightning bolts to rain down upon your head.
There's a jolt, electricity. In his body or in his imagination, he isn't sure.
What he remembers: there's a reason the Warehouse exists. Some artifacts have miraculous, wondrous, beautiful effects that could do great things for humanity. But there's always a downside, a risk, and the forces need to be contained. You can cause perfect harmony on one side of the world, and get complete destruction on the other side. He's used artifacts before, but only in the course of securing others or stopping them from wreaking havoc on the world. But Artie had always been careful to choose artifacts of the most limited power for any given recovery mission.
But turning the clock hands back.
That's different. That's major. That's stripping away lives and deaths and mistakes, and reforming them again, and that's not something you can walk away from. There will be consequences to his actions. He knows this - knew this, even as he searched for the astrolabe. He'd known, then, that he wouldn't come away unscathed. But Steve was dead and Pete was dead and HG and Mrs. Frederic and the world in chaos and Myka locked away and his girl, his Claudia probably suffocating, dying, dead, gone. Every piece of his family stripped away, no hope to speak of for anyone.
There has to be a better world than this.
It was his last thought before he used the astrolabe. He used it. That piece of memory requires some more attention; there's something important there. But these fragments of his mind are forming lines now and falling into chronological order. He won the game, saved the Warehouse, saved everyone but Steve. And then Claudia brought him back too!
His mind had whispered that it wasn't right to let her, but hadn't he done something of the same? Conflicted, all he'd been able to see was Claudia and James, one in the same; two people he loved, both gone on the same bitter road that had once started with such good intentions.
But Steve made - makes - their family complete. How could that be wrong?
An evil of your own making.
It was a parasite of fear inside him, but even with this latest threat he had allowed himself to believe the lie. He had believed that using the astrolabe had returned to him all that was right in the world, that he faced a stoppable evil, as long as he watched out for Claudia and fought Brother Adrian tooth and nail.
There are always consequences.
He'd forgotten what he'd known about playing God, about consequences and lightning bolts. He'd believed he could have his family back and a Warehouse undamaged and a world with hope. That even Steve could come safely back from the other side and their family would remain intact.
There are splinters in his mind. Reality is winning this war. It's coming back.
There's a force inside, stretching out his consciousness to its limits. They - his team, his family, are pulling him back to the world somehow. Real, not real, wrong, right.
They're surrounding him. He feels like he can't breathe, but he does so anyway. His hands feel wrong, cold. He thinks they might be wet. Why are they wet?
He sees them all suddenly through bleary eyes. His family: Steve and Claudia and Pete and Myka and Mrs. Frederic and even H.G.
He sees all but one.
A cough, a sputter in his mind. The cogs must be stuck. He's pretty sure he only thinks the question. Where's Leena?
But there's a collective shudder in response, eyes darting dangerously between partners. Claudia's crying; he's seen her cry so much this year. When will it stop?
And then God's lightning strikes him with an image, a memory, a reality. He coughs into his hands, coughs blood that belongs there, and he knows the truth, feels it in his bones and heart.
Feels it in the memory in which he sees what he's done, the memory in which he sees Leena murdered by his own hands. Dying, dead, gone.
You never come away unscathed.