And I'll Always Love You, The Way That a Father Should Love His Daughter
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters nor anything else related to the show.
Note: Another of my previously posted on tumlr fics; written to fill a prompt request. If you're unfamiliar w/ Staind's "Zoe Jane" I highly recommend that you listen to it before or while reading this. It's a song that I have always associated w/ Artie & Claudia's relationship; the title for this fic comes from that song.
I know what I'm doing. Saving Artie from all of you. You, you're the worst of them. You're an insolent, annoying child who will never be a woman. Who only wants everybody to love her. Here's the truth: Artie doesn't love you. He doesn't love any of you. You've ruined his life.
Artie corners Steve in the filing room. "What's wrong with Claudia?"
"Steve..." It's Artie's warning tone of I want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and I'm not going to leave you alone until I get it.
"Look, Artie, she made me promise not to tell anyone."
"Yes, well, I am not just anyone. Is it about what happened at the watermill?"
Steve nods his head slowly. "You should talk to her, Artie. She needs...just talk to her."
"If I could tell you, I would but I am not going to break my promise to Claudia. This is between you and her."
Steve remains tight-lipped after that, much to Artie's chagrin.
Claudia's taken to spending as much time away from the Warehouse as possible, dividing her free time between the B&B and various locations around Univille and Featherhead, so talking to her it's easier said than done. Of course, Artie's been avoiding mealtimes at the B&B with the rest of the team. He hasn't been to the B&B since before...the last time he was there, Leena was still alive.
Artie forces himself to return to the Bed and Breakfast and he's hit immediately by the smell of home cooking, not Leena's, and the sound of laughter. He recognizes Claudia's cheer above Pete's but it catches and dies off quickly when she catches sight of Artie.
Steve looks from Claudia to Artie and back and makes a hasty retreat as Claudia's eyes land on him, panicked and accusatory. Pete looks to Myka for direction and she just jerks her head towards the kitchen, announcing that they'll be doing the dishes.
Claudia shoves her hands into her pockets and rocks on the balls of her feet. "Hey."
"Claudia," Artie greets solemnly.
She nods her head. "So. What's up?"
"Why don't you tell me?"
She looks at him for a second before shrugging. "I dunno."
"Claudia..." Artie starts to open his mouth then stops. He walks over to the table and sits down at the table. "Sit down."
Claudia blinks then does as ordered.
"Look, what happened in Germany, I want you to know that I do not blame you for what you did; it's what you had to do. It's what I would have had you to do."
It's a little too much for Claudia as she processes it. She scoffs, snorts, and sniggers, with sniffles here and there, a sob trying to break through. "It's not that. It's not..."
It's almost an inhuman sound that comes from her body. Artie moves as quick as possible to her side only to be met with her raising a hand and waving him off. "Claudia?"
"You think think that..." She clasps a hand over her mouth as the tears well in her eyes. She shakes her head.
"Talk to me, Claudia."
"You don't care!"
The words rip from her mouth and slice through his body, tearing at both of their hearts.
Quieter, "You don't care."
"No, it's my fault. I'm sorry. I never should have intruded on your life."
She shakes her head. "You never wanted me here."
"That's not true-"
Her eyes, like a laser, give him pause. There is pain, heartache, and doubt in her eyes as she scoffs, "Really?"
Artie tries again, cautiously because with honesty is the best way to approach her. "Okay, yes, maybe when you first came to the Warehouse it took me a little time to...get used to you and your presence and your...sparkling personality," he admits. "But I had a choice, Claudia, I had a say in the matter, and you would not have been allowed to stay here if I had said no. It is a choice that I have never ever regretted. Not for one second."
"But if you really had a choice, Artie..."
"I would rather die than to live without you in my life," Artie says, placing his hand under her chin and forcing her eyes to meet his as the tears seep from her eyes.
Her face reddens, tears roll down her cheeks quicker, and her chin trembles even more.
"Do you work my nerves every now and then? Yes. Are there times when I want to wring your neck? Yes. Could I imagine my life without you in it? No. You, Claudia Donovan, for better or for worse, you are a part of my life and you are my family. You are not getting rid of me any easier than I am getting rid of you, capisce?"
"No buts. Who gave you the benefit of the doubt after you technically tortured and kidnapped me?"
She sniffles. "You did."
"That's right. And when the Warehouse security feed showed you working with MacPherson, who still believed in you and came after you?"
"And despite the astrolabe induced visions I had, who did I protect?""
Claudia looks down. "Me."
"That's right, you. You mean more to me than the Warehouse does, Claudia. More than anyone else, you are my family. Yes, you may work my last nerve and there are times when I wonder if you know the definition of the word 'respect' but none of that matters. Do you know what I've learned over the past few years? I have learned that nothing means more to you than family. And in that time I have also come to discover that nothing means more to me than family either. Before everyone else, you are my family, Claudia."
She struggles to get the words out without breaking down completely. "But you said-"
"That was not me," he growls. Artie takes a deep breath and steadies himself. "Whatever was said was meant to get beneath your skin and to break you. None of it was true. Don't you know that's what evil does? It finds your weakness and it exposes it, takes advantage of it. Family doesn't do that. The people who love you will not do that. I would not do that to you. You have to believe me."
Claudia nods her head, the tears rolling down her face.
She looks up at Artie.
"You," his voice cracks but he's able to prevent any tears from slipping from his eyes. He sniffs and clears his throat. "You mean more to me than anything else in this world. Anything."
Claudia's chin starts trembling in double time, her face becoming even redder, as she whimpers and springs forwards into Artie's arms, sobbing.
"Shh. It's okay. It's okay." He holds her, rubbing his hand up and down her back, waving the others away when they peek in. "It's okay. We're okay."