Disclaimer: I do not own Warehouse 13
Author's Note: This one basically wrote itself. I have all these ideas in my head and have had so much free time lately. I think this one's my favorite so far.
It's been a long twelve years. Technically it doesn't feel like it's been twelve years for Joshua; it feels like no time at all has passed. In fact, the only way he had realized that time had passed was when he first saw Claudia, when she came to his lab to figure out his experiments. At first he had thought she was some random student, but when she saw him she called out his name and he suddenly realized.
As he sits in the backseat of Artie's car with his baby sister asleep with her head on his lap, her arm wrapped like a vice around one of his legs, he can tell the years have not been so kind to her. He looks down at her sleeping face and tries to register all the changes from the girl he left behind. There's the obvious physical difference; the seven-year old he left with Artie is nearly unrecognizable now. There's something else as well. She's hardened in a way he can't quite describe. Her clothes are hard, her makeup is hard. The blood dried under her nose is hard. Even her expression in sleep seems somehow guarded and wary. They've barely begun the long drive home; Claudia fell asleep almost the second she sat down.
For him it's only been a few hours, a day at most, since he last saw her asleep. Raising a kid on a college student's salary hadn't been easy, to say the least. Their tiny one-room apartment housed two twin beds, a desk, a fridge, and a stove, with a tiny bathroom walled into one corner. Each night after finishing Maria Looney he would tuck her in, kiss her, and then set about his homework while she slept. He can easily picture the innocence, the peace, on the seven-year old's face as she dreamed. The difference is striking as he looks into the face of his sister at nineteen. It's the first moment he feels the full weight of guilt for his rash decision. Twelve years on her own. He shakes his head, as if to rid himself of the thoughts, and begins questioning Artie on this warehouse he heard him mention and these agents who are following them home in a separate car.
When they arrive at the Bed & Breakfast he tries to awaken Claudia but finds his efforts ineffective; the girl doesn't rouse even slightly. Artie grumbles something about just leaving her in the car, but Joshua unbuckles her seat-belt and scoops her up in his arms. She's still too small for her age, and he carries her easily into a guest room at the B&B. He's directed where to go inside the Bed & Breakfast by a kind, beautiful woman who introduces herself as Leena. After depositing his sister onto the bed, pulling off her sneakers, and carefully tucking the blankets around her, he presses a soft kiss to her forehead. He has a sudden urge to recite the entire story of Maria Looney on the Red Planet, but shakes it off. The book is over a hundred pages long, and while he still has all of it memorized – he's been reading it to her every night for the past two years, after all – she's asleep, and it would take a very long time. He would really like to finish that conversation with Artie about the warehouse and artifacts.
They all sleep late the next morning; Pete and Myka, Artie's warehouse agents, stayed up with him and Artie, helping explain everything to him. He's fully caught up on who Artie really is and what the warehouse does, and he has to admit he's more than curious to go check it out for himself. They also explained how they figured out Rheticus' puzzles, and he's still embarrassed that in twelve years of being stuck in inter-dimensional space he didn't think to inspect the compass for a secret panel. Not that it would have helped; he didn't know about Thomas and he's not entirely sure he could have translated the Latin without help, but all the same it's an embarrassing thing to have missed. After Rheticus they naturally moved on to discussing Claudia. They don't know much, other than her previous residence and her stint in the mental hospital, and hearing about the latter makes the guilt flare up again. It was nearly four in the morning before they drifted off to their respective bedrooms, Leena directing Joshua to yet another guest bedroom near Claudia's. When they awaken it's the early afternoon, and they each stumble to the kitchen in search of sustenance. Joshua shoots question after question at them throughout the meal, as hungry for details about this future world he's stepped into as he is for breakfast. It's well into the early evening before any of them realize they've yet to see Claudia, and when they do there's a race up the stairs to check on the teenager.
They find her asleep, in almost the exact position Joshua and Leena left her the night before. The blankets have hardly moved from where he tucked them around her, and she's pale, but her breathing is even. Artie checks her pulse and pupils and declares her fine –exhausted, but fine. They leave a tray of food with a glass of water beside it and head back downstairs. There are, thankfully, no pings calling the warehouse agents' attention, and they enjoy a quiet night at the B&B catching Joshua up to current events.
The next morning the food in Claudia's room is untouched, the teenager still asleep, and Joshua begins to genuinely worry. The guilt he's been stamping down for two days forces itself back up with a vengeance, and he's ready to shake her awake or collapse into himself from guilt when Leena steps in. She can read auras, apparently, and says Claudia's is normal –not the healthiest, and more exhausted than Artie thought, but she's in no danger. She coaxes him out of the room and downstairs to the living room.
Pete introduces him to the internet, which existed before he disappeared, obviously, but is so much better now. What a difference twelve years can make. He spends the remainder of his day surfing the web, catching up on news and music trends. When Artie is in the B&B they discuss Physics, but for the most part he's left to his own devices. The warehouse needs its agents present to do inventory and keep an eye out for pings. It's long after dinner when they again head up to their respective rooms. Joshua peeks in to check on Claudia. The sandwich on her tray is half-eaten, the glass of water empty, and Claudia is once again asleep. The guilt that has been sitting in his throat all day allows itself to be pushed down once again. The next morning when he peeks his head in he's almost startled to see her sitting up in bed with a laptop across her knees. She looks up when she hears the door open and gives him a tentative smile. It's the first time he's gotten a good long look at his baby sister since she was seven years old, and the realization immediately makes him dissolve into tears. Her eyes widen, and she shoves the laptop away, meets him in the middle of the room in time to grasp him in a bear hug as he sinks to his knees, crying into her hair.
They sit that way for several minutes before his tears calm enough to choke out an apology.
"I'm sorry, Claudia. I'm so, so sorry." He repeats it over and over, for what feels like hours. The guilt has finally fully hit him, and it's as though that seven-year old has died. His sister is alive, but he has thrown away twelve years and there's no chance of getting them back. This girl in his arms, this girl he loves more than anything in the world, who he would do anything for, is essentially a stranger to him now and it's entirely his fault. He can't apologize enough, and his voice is raw before he stops trying.
"Hey" Claudia cradles his face in her hands and forces him to meet her eyes. "We're together again and everything's going to be fine. I promise." It doesn't escape him that their roles seem to have reversed. He used to be the adult, the comforter, the reassuring one. Another wave of guilt hits him as he realizes that for the past twelve years he was gone every time she needed him. She pulls him by his hands until he's standing, and she leads him to the bed and forces him to sit on the edge, while she goes to refill the glass of water. Once she's satisfied that he's adequately calmed down she lays back onto the bed and pats the spot next to her. He moves back to rest against the pillows next to her and she grasps his hand as they lie there looking up at the ceiling.
"Where do we go from here?" they ask it at the same time, and then laugh. Claudia looks over at him and squeezes his hand.
"We'll figure it out, bro. We survived losing mom and dad and Claire. We survived a twelve-year separation. I know it's weird, but we'll figure it out. We'll just take it one day at a time" He squeezes back, and yawns. After a moment she yawns as well, and he takes a deep breath and begins reciting Maria Looney to her. Before he hits the halfway mark they've both drifted off to sleep.