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alive in the same human way

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“You could dye it, you know,” Leena says one night.

Claudia looks up from the pile of dishes in front of her. She hates doing the dishes, and she hates chore wheels, and she hates that today the chore wheel has dictated that she’s the one who must be doing the dishes, but it’s better than the alternative. She’s sure the older agents—older agents, as if she herself is officially an agent and not a nineteen-year-old-kid with a propensity for unearthing things other people would have rather kept firmly earthed—would be delighted to let the littlest of the group become de facto scullery maid.

Claudia crosses her arms across her chest, caring more that she keeps her body language defensive and less that she’s getting suds on the hem of one of her DIY’d denim jackets. This does nothing to fool Leena, of course. Leena can see Claudia’s aura, or whatever the fuck, and Claudia is pretty sure that despite the fact that her aura will always have a healthy dosage of do not fucking try to read my aura, also what the hell even is an aura, sounds fake to me to it, it’ll also always have a bit of I so desperately want to belong. And she tries to hide that pathetic feeling from Pete and Myka, tries really hard to hide it from Artie, but there’s no hiding things like that from Leena.

It’s unnerving. Claudia crosses her arms a little tighter. She says, “What?”

“Your hair,” Leena says. “You could dye that bit that you clip in.”

“I do dye it,” Claudia lies, frowning. 

“No, you don’t. You could. It’d be more low-maintenance, probably, because you wouldn’t have to clip it in every day.”

“How do you know I clip it in every day?” Claudia demands. She decides to take out her frustration about being read like an open book out on a particularly offensive dirty dish. Pete never scrapes all of his food into the trash before leaving it on the sink for someone to wash. He’s a pig. “Did you read that in my aura? See it in the stars?”

“I can see the ends of the clip on your scalp,” Leena tells her, matching Claudia’s barefoot, mismatched-sock-clad height in her small-heeled boots. “Also, that piece of hair moves differently than the rest of your hair does when you tilt your head. It’s clearly rooted in a different way.”

“Oh.” Claudia lifts her head upright. The dish is nearly clean now. She hits the dispenser harder than necessary to get out one last dollop of soap.

“I know a few alright brands that you could easily pick up from the store in Univille for cheap,” Leena offers. “We could drive into town together.”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Claudia says. “Pretty sure your natural organics whatever-whatever brands don’t carry the colors I like. I prefer my hair accents to look like something manufactured in a lab, not something that could be squeezed out of, like, avocados, or whatever color the soul-spirit of a flower is, or something.”

“Fair,” Leena says. She’s kind despite Claudia’s pushing, which is frustrating. Claudia likes to think she’s uniquely good at getting under people’s skin, but with the Warehouse team, it’s been different. That unnerves her, puts her on unsteady footing. She’s not used to having so many people feel comfortable with getting as close to her as the people who work at the Warehouse seem to be.

“I don’t…” Claudia starts, and then she stops, because she doesn’t need to tell Leena details about her personal life. Which is ridiculous thinking, because Leena knows Claudia was institutionalized, and she knows the long and complicated history Claudia has with her brother and with Artie, but telling Leena that Claudia doesn’t know how to dye her hair? No, no, that’s a step too far, apparently.

Leena seems to get what she means, though. Frustrating again. She says, “I’d offer to help, but I’ve never bleached my hair before, which is what I’m assuming you’d do.”

Claudia nods that yes, that was her plan. “You haven’t?”

“Nope, I just put red over the brown,” Leena tells her. 

“Great,” Claudia says sarcastically. And she doesn’t know why she says it sarcastically. There’s nothing to be sarcastic about. Easier to put up a wall, though, she supposes. She could see herself getting attached to Leena, which would be a mistake. She should know by now that getting attached to people is a bad idea. She’d hate to have to wait another twelve years to bring a loved one back.

Leena reaches across and takes the clean plate from Claudia’s hands. She dries it with large, methodical swipes of a rag, face set in quiet, beautiful concentration as she does so. Claudia can’t help but stare. She doesn’t understand the serenity with which Leena seems to operate, but she admires it, and sometimes even covets it, and she thinks it’s something worth staring at.

“Do you want me to drive you into town tomorrow?” Leena asks.

“Leena, I’m nineteen. I have my license,” Claudia shoots back. She starts scrubbing at a mug whose insides are coated with coffee grounds. Artie should know that it’s terrible for his health to be having caffeine this late. Which, okay, pot, kettle, because Claudia has a stash of energy drinks in her room at the B&B, but she’s a kid. Artie’s old. There’s a difference. And she doesn’t want to have to be concerned for him, because concern means care, and, yes, she knows that she cares, but knowing and admitting are two entirely different things.

“I know,” Leena laughs. It’s a nice laugh. Claudia thinks her own laugh is a little too sharp, a little too boyish. Maybe tuning your aura to the stars has the magical side effect of enchanting your voicebox. “I just meant I’d be happy to go with you.”

“I’m… it’s okay,” Claudia says awkwardly. People being earnest saps the fight out of her, and Leena is upsettingly forthright with her kindness. “I’ll be cool on my own.”

“Alright,” Leena says. She takes the mug from Claudia and dips her dry rag inside of it, swiping in a circle that slowly reaches the rim of the cup. “If you change your mind, though, you know where I live.”

It dawns on Claudia that she doesn’t, actually. So she says, “I don’t, actually. I mean, I know you live in the B&B, duh, but I don’t know what room you’re in. I don’t know what room anyone’s in, to be honest.”

Leena cuts her eyes to the side, glancing at Claudia through lashes that have just the right amount of mascara applied to them. Claudia doesn’t know how she does it. Claudia always ends up with clumpy messes of easily-smudged black. It’s cool, though. It’s her style. Or so she’d tell anyone if they were to judge her about it.

“I’m down here,” Leena tells her. “In the room right by the front desk. The one closest to the entrance. It’s the only one that doesn’t have a number on it. Artie’s in the little room above his office, obviously, and Pete and Myka are upstairs. I believe Pete is in room seven and Myka is in room nine, but I could be misremembering.”

“Great,” Claudia says. “And didja stick me way up top in unlucky number thirteen for a reason, or–?”

“Oh, I hope you haven’t minded staying there,” Leena tells her. “Artie said you might like to be a little more isolated and have a little more space, so I gave you that room. It’s the only one on that landing above the second floor that’s in the turret-looking area, and because of that, it has some extra room in it. I assume Artie wanted to make sure you didn’t feel too crowded in by the rest of us and wanted to make sure you had a place to put inventions other than the office area of the Warehouse.”

Claudia pauses her scrubbing to process this for a second. After that second has passed and she realizes that she’d rather process an act of love like that while sitting down, she says, “Nah, it’s cool. Rad as hell to be up there. I feel so Bertha Mason, you know? Insanity and all,” Claudia laughs, twirling a finger by her ear in the universal sign for crazy .

Leena offers her a tight-lipped smile, which is the way most people react when Claudia jokes about her less-than-perfect mental health. “I’m glad you’re happy,” she decides on saying.

“Hell yeah,” Claudia affirms. “As a motherfuckin’ clam.”

After the first round of dishes, the rest get rinsed by Claudia and loaded into the dishwasher by Leena, who, apparently, thinks that there is a proper way to load a dishwasher and that whatever Pete Lattimer does is the exact opposite of that proper way. Claudia thinks about asking why some dishes have to be hand-washed and others can be done by machine, but then she thinks that the answer will probably have to do with either good vibes or Warehouse fuckery, neither of which she needs to know is associated with the things she eats off of. 

Leena walks Claudia up to her room, which is sweet, but not necessary. As they pass by the second floor, Claudia thinks she can hear Pete and Myka talking about something. She can’t make out what they’re saying, but they sound happy. She hopes they get to bed soon. They’re supposed to wake up early to drive out to North Dakota for some new case in the morning.

Claudia lets herself imagine, for a second, falling into the sort of rhythm they have with this ragtag family sort of thing that stays under Leena’s roof. It wouldn’t be hard. It’s only been a few weeks since she moved here, and already she feels herself getting closer with these people at a rate she’s never really experienced before. She’s already halfway to being content and comfortable with the friendship she has with Pete and three-quarters of the way there with Artie, and the fact that she’s only a quarter of the way there with Myka and Leena is no one’s fault but her own. 

Fault. Fault is an interesting word, she thinks, as Leena gives her a goodnight smile. Fault, because it really is Claudia’s own fault. Even when she lets her guard down, even when she’s sweet to Leena and jokes around with Pete and teases Myka and lets Artie know, in her own little ways, that she’s glad he came back for her, there’s a voice in the back of her head telling her that this is dangerous. That she should pull back before she allows them to get too close. That she should break away before she becomes the reason that another person she loves gets hurt.

It’s an absurd fear—the past doesn’t need to predict the future, after all—but it’s an acute one nonetheless, and one that Claudia knows will take her a while to grow out of. She’s glad, at least, that she’s gotten to the point of wanting to grow out of it.

Leena’s lips press against Claudia’s hairline. The feeling of her mouth against Claudia’s skin melts away her tangle of self-strung anxieties. Leena says, “Goodnight,” and gives a little wave, and walks away.

Claudia stands in the doorway for a long moment, one arm crossed over the front of her hips and the other braced against the frame, holding herself at a slant. She takes a breath in, cheeks puffing out, and lets it out in a low whistle before going into her room and closing the door behind her.

 

“When are Pete and Myka getting back?” Claudia asks, swinging her legs. Pete was the last person to sit on this chair, and he never readjusts it to be regular people’s height. Which is fine by Claudia, honestly, because she likes swinging her legs.

Artie looks over his shoulder at her with an eyebrow raised. “You sound like you’re eight. Whining.”

“I am not whining,” Claudia whines. “Is Leena busy right now?”

“Yes,” Artie says. “She has a bed and breakfast to run, if you forgot.”

“Yeah, yeah, she’s an enterprising young woman and I should aspire to be more like her, blah blah blah, whatever,” Claudia says, rolling her eyes and twirling a wrist in the air. Bracelets clatter down her arm in a tumble of silver studs and black leather. 

“No,” Artie says, turning back to whatever the hell it is he’s screwing up on the computer. Claudia should know better than to trust him with free reign of a computer. She gets up out of the chair and heads towards him. “I don’t think you want to be like Leena.”

“I don’t,” Claudia says, leaning down. She braces her elbows on the table and braces her chin in her palms. Her jaw feels a little rough in her fingers, and she can feel the joints and the bones of it underneath her sometimes-too-thick and sometimes-too-thin skin as she speaks. “She’s… she’s cool, I guess, but I don’t think running a B&B is in the cards for me. I don’t think being an enterprising young woman is the sorta thing I’m destined for.”

“Agreed,” Artie says sharply.

Nooo, Claudia, you could so totally start your own thing like that, you have it in you to run a hostel, you could —”

“You would hate that,” Artie tells her. “You don’t peddle in hospitality.”

“Pot and motherfuckin’ kettle, man,” Claudia laughs. She pushes his hands aside and puts her fingers atop the keyboard. “Just dictate to me what you wanna do, ‘kay? You type like a turtle.”

“Slow as a turtle, you mean. Turtles can’t type.”

“You type like a turtle,” Claudia repeats. “Do you wanna get up outta the seat and let me down?”

“No,” says Artie, “because then I’d be standing. You’re the spry one, aren’t you? You can stay upright.”

Claudia blows a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Sure. What’re you looking for?”

“Pete and Myka contacted me on the Farnswo—”

“Can I have a—”

“No you cannot,” Artie says firmly. He pats her upper arm, holding on for just a second.

“No, Claudia, you cannot.”

“Eh, worth a try. So, Agent Golden Retriever and Agent… fuck, I literally cannot think of an animal to compare Myka to. I can feel her judging me from miles away for even attempting such a comparison, though. Anyway, what’s the what with them?”

“Something—a book, probably—that would give the person who– who interacted with it, read it, maybe, the ability to speak any language. There’s, uh, there’s a price, though, as with everything. Their tongue starts to putrefy.” Artie waves his hands around as he speaks, which would be fine except for the fact that Claudia’s leaning over him and he keeps hitting her arms and her side. 

“Ew, gross,” Claudia says, which seems to be the apt reaction to this. She types in a few keywords and presses enter. “Any of these seem to fit the bill?”

Artie pushes her aside and peers at the computer screen, squinting. Claudia makes a mental note to remind him that he should get a check-up on his eyes. She doubts he’s done it in years, honestly, and he should probably get on that quick before his eyesight gets any worse.

And then she takes a moment and she takes a step back. She’s already thinking about the daily minutiae of household life here with the crew at Warehouse 13. It’s barely been a month since she started living here and she’s already mentally going through the motions of taking care of a family. 

She cracks her wrists to clear her head, hissing with delight as they snap. Not looking up from the screen, Artie says, “You’ll give yourself arthritis if you keep doing that, you know.”

Claudia wants to snark at him with a thanks, Dad , but it feels a little too real for the moment, so she doesn’t say that. Instead, she says, “You really think I’d suck that bad at running the B&B?”

“Well, yes,” Artie says. He doesn’t even take a moment to consider it.

Claudia is grateful that she’s now standing behind him, because despite herself, despite the fact that she prides herself on being okay until she isn’t, she shrinks at that. “Really?” she repeats, sounding, to her ears, like a pathetic and desperate and five-year-old wimp.

“You’re not built for that,” Artie says. “I mean, I’m sure you’d be fine at it, as you seem to have a freakish ability to master whatever you want to master, but you’re not built for that.”
“Oh,” Claudia says. “Well, what am I built for, you parcel of ancient wisdom, you?”

“If you keep cracking jokes about my age, I’m going to fire you,” Artie says.

“Empty threat, that’s probably not even within your jurisdiction to do, also I’d just hack my way back in,” Claudia shoots back, quick as a rubber band that’s been pulled to just a hair shy of its snapping point.

Artie shakes his head slowly. He says, “That’s what you’re built for.”

“What, being a nuisance?”

“Well, yes, but… that. Hacking into the Warehouse. Not– not that specifically, because I’m still upset with you for doing that, by the way, but, well, you know. That sort of thing.”

“Bigger and better,” Claudia says smugly. “Is that what you mean?”

“Don’t get an ego about it,” Artie’s quick to instruct her. Always ready to… not clip her wings, really, but make sure that she doesn’t fly too close to the sun. “I just mean that you have the potential to be a valuable asset to the Warehouse is all.”

Claudia smiles at that. She likes being a valuable asset, especially because she knows that that’s how Artie is telling her that he cares about her. That he loves her, even.

“Yo,” she says, ready to talk about something else. She doesn’t want to spend too long toeing the line of expressing real human feelings with anyone, especially not Artie. He’s terrible at it, for one thing, and for another, she puts more stock in his feelings than she’d care to admit. And she’s feeling good about the fact that he apparently thinks she’s destined for greater greatness than a mastery of the mundane, so she should probably change the subject before this train of thought and this line of conversation inevitably sours. “I’m gonna dye my hair.”

“Do you not already?” Artie asks.

“Uh, no. The red’s natural. The color is a clip-in.”

“Why would you clip hair into your hair,” Artie says. “That makes no sense. Just color it.”

“Yeah, Artie, that’s what I’m doing,” Claudia sighs. “Anyway, this is when you say no, Claudia, don’t do that, you’ll ruin your hair, you’re a kid, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, your gingerness is a blessing, et cetera, et cetera.”

“You know, it’s a common belief that gingers have no souls,” Artie tells her.

“I can never win with you,” Claudia says, throwing her hands up.

Artie presses a key on the computer. One single key with one single finger. And then he lifts that finger, examines the set of keys in front of him, and deliberately places it down on another key. Claudia thinks she might actually just keel over and die. 

“Would you rather I admonish you?” Artie laughs. “I can do that easily.”

“No,” Claudia says. “Just, like, this is my teenage rebellion, man! Don’t you wanna curb it?”

“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” Artie asks. “This is not your teenage rebellion. This is just who you are.”

Claudia hmphs at that, just barely managing to hold back the urge to stop her foot like a toddler throwing a tantrum. He’s right, of course. He usually is, loathe as Claudia is to admit it. And it’s not as if Artie’s obligated to play a father figure that he isn’t. It’s just that Claudia has never had a normal kid experience, not once, and, as stupid as it is, getting into a petty fight over something as trivial as a streak of her hair would feel nice.

But as good and real and oh-so-very-nineteen as that sounds, that’s not Artie, and that’s sure as hell not her. She’s going to end up having those tiffs with Artie, she’s sure. She’s going to have them with Myka, too, and maybe even Pete and Leena if she manages to piss them off enough. She doesn’t doubt she will; as Artie said, she’s singularly gifted at mastering anything she puts her mind to, and she’s more than put her mind to mastering the ability to piss people the ever-loving hell off.

Basically, everything is going to be okay, given time.

Claudia breathes in and she breathes out. She says, “Well, can I take the car out to Univille to pick up some dye, then?”

“Absolutely not,” Artie tells her. “For one thing, we’re in the middle of a case right now, and you can’t scamper off at a time like that. For another, you are not allowed to drive the car unsupervised.”

“Jesus Christ. I’m nineteen.”

“Exactly,” he says. “Too young. Wait for Pete and Myka to get back, and then we’ll talk.”

Well, Claudia did just wish for a typical teenage experience and now she’s getting what would, in a normal house, be a father telling his youngest kid to wait for her older siblings to come back to take her into town. Karma’s a bitch, she supposes.

The case goes off without much more of a hitch than usual, which is nice. And Pete and Myka are only in North Dakota, which is even more nice, because it means they’ll get back soon. Claudia passes the time waiting for them attempting to teach Artie how to play one of the games she downloaded to one of the computers. It doesn’t go very well, but it’s fun.

And over a quick dinner that Leena brings down to them at around eight, Claudia thinks that she belongs here. It was hard to be mean to Leena last night. It took effort to try to get her to fuck off. She doesn’t want to expend that effort. Claudia wants to take a risk, and letting herself love and be loved is the biggest risk she can think of.

When Pete and Myka come in the door, they’re squabbling like an old married couple about how Pete got distracted by this, that, and the other, and how Myka’s such a nerd that she almost got tempted into using the artifact for herself because—and here Pete puts on a borderline offensive imitation of Myka’s voice— it’s just sooo cool, Pete, I mean, imagine being able to speak and understand any language! Could you imagine anything greater than that? Who cares about being a spinster when all I need to keep me warm and happy is the wide world of multi-lingual literature!

Myka checks his hip with her own, and Pete responds by poking her harshly in the shoulder. Artie goes over to them to berate them for acting like they’re younger than Claudia and takes the artifact off of their hands.

Passing it to Claudia, he says, “Stick this in the literature aisle.”

“The one in the Cooperstown section or the Stockbridge section?” Claudia asks.

Artie takes a moment aside to consult Leena on his Farnsworth about the optimal energy triangulation, or whatever. Claudia has no idea how Leena has a handle for these things, or why the Warehouse is so picky about what goes where. 

“Ridgway BW-214,” Artie tells Claudia. At her look of mild surprise, he says, “Come on, now. You don’t think we just have two literature aisles in this whole Warehouse, do you? Books are one of the most common artifacts out there.”

“Whatever you say,” Claudia says, taking the bag holding the artifact from him.

As she starts to go, Artie grabs her by the shoulder. “Claudia,” he says, “I know that one day you’ll have the entire map of the Warehouse memorized. You’re already shockingly good at knowing where things are supposed to go. You’re picking up on how things operate around here very, very fast.”

She smiles. That’s pretty damn close to a compliment.

 

After she’s shelved the artifact and after enough time has passed that Pete and Myka are probably cleaned up from their trip, Claudia stands in front of the door Leena said was Pete’s at the B&B and raps on the door with her knuckles twice in quick, harsh succession.

It swings open a few seconds later to reveal Pete in a Dartmouth hoodie and quite possibly the rattiest pair of sweatpants Claudia has ever seen. “Hey,” he says, running a hand through his hair. He shakes water droplets off of it and, when a few splatter against Claudia’s ripped jeans and layered shirts, says, “Sorry. Just got outta the shower.”

“Can you take me into town?” Claudia asks. “Or, like, actually, rewind,” she says, twirling her fingers around themselves. “Scratch that. You so don’t have to. But can I take your car, then?”

“Yeah, I’ll drive you,” Pete says. “Gimme a second to get on my socks and shoes, though.”

“So you’re gonna just wear th– okay,” Claudia says. She sucks in her cheek to keep herself from laughing at Pete’s confused look. 

As he turns his room upside down (even more upside down, really; the place looks like a hurricane struck it, and that’s coming from Claudia, who is not even a little bit a paragon of having a neat room) looking for his socks, he says, “Why do you need to go into town this late?”

“It’s not that late,” Claudia says. “It’s, like, nine. Wait, did you guys eat?”

“Yeah, we picked up food on the way back. Shockingly enough, there are not a lot of options between bumfuck North Dakota and bumfuck South Dakota.” Pete looks up from a tangle of socks with a grin. “I got to see Myka Bering choke down McDonald’s. I even got her a Coke. It was the greatest day of my life.”

“What I’d pay to see that,” Claudia says.

Pete finally gets his socks on and bounds over to meet Claudia in the doorway. “So?” he asks.

“I wanna dye my hair,” she says. “Like, for real dye it. I always use these clip-on extensions for the color, but I wanna actually dye it this time.”

“Oh, cool,” Pete says. “And, don’t get me wrong, I’m super glad to drive you, but can’t you drive yourself? You’re nineteen.”

“That’s what I keep saying!” Claudia sighs. “But, no, according to Artie that’s still too young to do things by myself. Nevermind the fact that my adult ass was able to hack my way into Warehouse fuckin’ 13.”

“You picked me over Myka,” Pete says. “Ha-ha. I’m the cooler one.”

“You’re the one who isn’t obsessive about schedules,” Claudia corrects. “Myka would throw a fit if I interrupted her post-mission decompression flow.”

“Okay, true,” Pete agrees. “One time I knocked on her door a few minutes after we got back to the B&B and she yelled at me for sixty seconds straight.”

Claudia raises one aggressively filled-in eyebrow. “Exactly? Did you time it?”

“Oh yeah,” Pete says in that way of his that he has where Claudia seriously can’t tell if he’s joking or not. On the one hand, it would be ridiculous of him to do that. On the other hand, it’s Pete, and Pete would absolutely do that, because Pete is not-so-secretly a thirteen-year-old masquerading as a man twenty years his senior. 

“And I wanna get it done tonight,” Claudia says. “Who knows what tomorrow’s schedule will be like, you know?”

“True,” Pete says. “I honestly don’t know how Mykes manages in such a disorganized environment.”

“She does well enough,” Claudia notes, because she really does. Myka always manages to keep a handle on things no matter how chaotic they get. It’s admirable. Claudia wishes she could have been like that when she was younger.

“More than,” Pete says with all the affection and admiration of a kid looking up to his big sister. “Okay, lemme just grab my shoes and my keys and we’ll be on our way, yeah?”

“Do you not keep your keys by the front door?” Claudia asks.

Pete waves a hand. “I used to, but I kept forgetting them there. It’s easier to keep everything in the organized chaos of my room. I know where everything is here, at least,” he tells her, taking a step back to make a grand, sweeping gesture at his absolute trainwreck of a room.

“That is impressive,” Claudia says.

“Yeah, I’m talented as hell,” Pete agrees as he swipes his keys off of a dresser and steps into beat-up sneakers. “Okay. You ready to go?”

He doesn’t let her drive, much to her chagrin, but he does let her play her music. They chat idly about some artifacts Pete dealt with before Claudia joined the team until a song comes on that Claudia tells Pete she found from the most recent episode of Supernatural and he laughs so hard he nearly swerves the car.

“Hey, fuck you, man,” she says harshly. “I know that it’s a misogynistic show, and I know that—”

“No, no!” Pete’s quick to cut in. “No, I’m laughing because I like that show, too, and Artie and Myka and Leena refuse to start watching it no matter how hard I pester them, so it’s cool that now that you’re here I have someone to talk about it. It was just surprising, you know? I didn’t know there was a big teen girl demographic.”

It’s Claudia’s turn to laugh. “Dude, you have no idea.”

Pete inclines his head in her direction, thankfully keeping his eyes trained firmly on the road. “That was cryptic as hell and I would love for you to explain it to me when we have more time, ‘cuz we’re real close to Univille and I feel like this is a thing that’s gonna require a longer explanation.”

“Very much so.”

Pete glances at Claudia sideways quick enough that the car doesn’t drift from its lane. He offers, “If I’m not away on a case when the next episode airs, we can totally watch it together.”

Claudia’s instinctive response is to say no. This is a man she’s known for almost no time at all, and she doesn’t like how easy it is to trust him. She doesn’t like how easy it is to pretend that in their happy little family, he’s her older brother. It feels disingenuous to Joshua, and it feels like she’s letting her guard down without thinking. It feels like a mistake. 

But she also thinks that she’s here for the indefinite future and she should probably make the most of it, and it’s as good a start as any to have a friend to sit with while she makes bitchy commentary over a half-decent show about ghosts, demons, and werewolves, oh my.

Claudia thinks about Leena’s disarming openness and about Artie saying, in his own way, that he’s proud of her, and she thinks that maybe this is how Pete expresses his love. Maybe it’s by sharing a part of himself with her and wanting her to share right back. Maybe it’s something as simple and stupid and easy as extending an offer to watch television with a friend.

Despite being good at driving, Pete can’t park decently to save his life, so a nausea-inducing attempt at pulling to a stop shakes Claudia out of her introspection. Pete hops out of his side of the car quickly and opens the door for Claudia before she has a chance to get it herself. He offers her a hand, and after a second’s hesitation, she takes it and pulls herself out into the crisp night air.

There are not many options for Claudia to pick from when it comes to hair color. Which is fine, because she doesn’t really need range, she just needs a shock of color. Her options are pink, orange, and blue-green, and since the rest of her hair is already close enough to the first two colors, she decides on the third. While she grabs bleach, Pete goes off to get some latex gloves, and he pays for everything before Claudia even has time to get her wallet out.

“You didn’t have to do that, you know,” Claudia grumbles.

“One of us has a paying job,” Pete tells her. “The other one… well, she might soon. Right now, though, she’s still in her transitional phase.”

“Yeah, have been since I was, like, thirteen,” Claudia laughs, and at Pete’s confused look she decides that she can tell him about the whole I’m trans thing at a later date. “Anyway,” she continues, “thanks.”

“It was seriously whatever,” Pete says, waving her off. “C’mon. Let’s get you back home before Artie has a conniption because his only daughter is out past nine-thirty, which is probably his bedtime.”

Claudia experiences about seventeen different emotions at once, and twice as many options for how to respond. She could say despite Artie being an old man, he really doesn’t sleep until the early hours of morning. I know this because I stay in the Warehouse at the computers for hours on end. Part of that is because I have important things to do on the computers, and part of that is because someone needs to keep an eye on Artie since Leena can’t while she’s at the B&B and he’s in the Warehouse. She could say whoa, only daughter? Erasing Myka and Leena much? She could say I am not his kid, Pete, and fuck you for assuming I’m comfortable with you insinuating that I am.

Instead, though, she tucks her sheet of hair behind her heavily metal-adorned ear and gives Pete a smile that’s made of exposed heart and the sandpapered bluntness of all the teeth that aren’t canines. She says, “Yeah, he’d go postal,” and she gets in the car.

They spend the drive back chattering aimlessly. Pete tells stories of ex-girlfriends, censoring himself to keep everything PG-13 (despite Claudia’s insistence that she’s an adult, really, Pete, I know what sex is, you don’t have to say shit like “doing the do”, or whatever ), and Claudia rattles off bands that she thinks Pete would enjoy, given the time. And at one point Claudia makes some mildly off-color joke or another about her time in the psych ward, and Pete’s face twists a bit, and Claudia thinks oh, no. I’ve ruined something that could have been wonderful .

But instead of changing the subject or calling her a basketcase or becoming ice-cold, Pete says, “You know, Claudia, you gotta be… well, just make sure you’re not using jokes as a way to offset actual progress.”

“Are you just saying that ‘cuz you’re uncomfortable with—”

“No,” Pete says, voice leagues calmer than it usually is. “I’m saying that because we all do that– I do that. I spent too long wisecracking about how drunk I loved to get without making any effort to stop getting drunk. It’s easy to pretend that self-awareness is some fantastical feat, but you and I both know it’s just one step out of many.”

“Oh,” Claudia responds. There’s not much else to say to that. 

“You’re welcome,” Pete says, and it’s not presumptuous, and it’s not teasing. He gets that it’s hard for her to say thank you to a piece of advice like that. It means the world to Claudia that he doesn’t expect her to verbalize it just yet. It means the world to Claudia that he sees her as young enough to still be given the benefit of the doubt and old enough to be talked to like the adult that she is.

She says, “I’m glad you… y’know, I’m glad someone else here has dealt with the—” 

She cuts herself off before saying crazy shit , or sarcastically, melodramatically intoning mental illness . Instead, she takes a deep breath, and says, “I’m glad you understand.”

“Of course, Claude,” Pete says. He takes one hand off of the wheel to pat her knee affectionately, and Claudia remembers being a kid, six or seven, and leaning against Joshua’s shoulder. Pete feels just as stable.

 

When they get back to the B&B, the lights are out downstairs, which means that Leena’s asleep. They slip in quietly—Pete, despite being an excitable puppy dog, is also a trained agent who can move ten times more silently than Claudia can, even with her years of practice at moving around undetected—and Pete gives her a tight hug before disappearing into his room. 

Claudia stands in the corridor of the second floor of Leena’s B&B with bleach in one hand and dye in the other and takes a second to breathe in the almost-silence of the night. The B&B is never fully quiet. A bigger romantic would say that it’s magic, that it’s an extension of Leena, that it breathes with her lungs and beats with her heart. That it’s alive in the same human way that she is.

She turns to go up to her room, but it’s dark and she’s weirdly emotional and she’s not looking where she’s going, so she trips upwards and crashes against the stairs with a clatter of bony limbs and a clunk of box dye against wood.

“Shit,” she groans, trying her best to keep her volume down. She doesn’t actually know if Leena houses non-agents at the B&B, but even if it’s just her and Pete and Myka around, Claudia doesn’t want to wake Pete and Myka either.

No dice. Pete’s door opens. He sticks his head out and says, “You good, Claude?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m cool, just tripped. Goodnight,” she says, and he gives her a smile and a wave before disappearing back into his room.

The second his door closes, Myka’s swings open. She’s backlit by the light from her room, and her hair frizzes out into a bedheaded halo of flyaways. She doesn’t look tired, but she does look ready for bed. She says, “Claudia?”

Claudia waves from where she’s sprawled against the steps. “Heya. I fell. I’m fine, though. Go to bed.”

Myka walks over to Claudia, leaving the door open behind her for light. She stands over Claudia like some beautiful giant. She says, “What are you doing?”

“Up this late?” Claudia finishes. “I could say the same to you, missy.”

“No, it’s only about half-past ten in the evening. I don’t expect you to be asleep by now. You’re a teenager. And I’m a person who subsists on a… flexible amount of sleep.”

“Yeah, you do tend to have pretty heavy bags under—”

“Jesus, is it a conspiracy?” Myka asks, throwing her hands up. “Pete was just like this the other day. On that case with the electricity spine. Myka, the bags under your eyes look heavy, let me hold them for you , or whatever it was he said.”

Claudia picks herself up off of the ground. “It’s not a conspiracy,” she says, “I just think we both think you gotta get more sleep.”

Myka’s face softens. “I know, I know. Sorry.” She runs a hand through her hair. “I’ve just been kind of tightly wound since…”

“Forever?” Claudia hazards a guess.

Myka gives her a look that says you’re treading in dangerous waters . Claudia returns it with one that says I’m more comfortable surrounded by sharks than by fish.

“Anyway, where did you sneak back from?” Myka asks.

“Didn’t sneak,” Claudia corrects. “Pete drove me out to pick up some hair dye. I just wasn’t looking where I was going and I fell on the steps.”

“Time for a color change?”

“Nah, just the streak. I, uh, have never actually dyed it before. Which seems kinda dumb, considering I cut it myself and stuff, but. Yeah. This’ll be my first time bleaching.”

“Want me to do it for you?” Myka offers. 

Claudia’s a bit taken aback. “I think I’ll be okay on my—”

“Because I used to dye my hair when I was in college,” Myka says, and, oh , she needs someone to talk to. Claudia understands that hollow ache. “I was blonde for a bit. I make a cute blonde.”

“I bet you do,” Claudia agrees. “And, yeah, sure, you can do it for me. That’d– that’d be nice.”

Myka rushes back to her room to shut off the light and then disappears down into the living space of the B&B for a few seconds to grab a mixing bowl and the box of latex gloves that Pete forgot downstairs. When she returns, she follows Claudia up to Claudia’s bathroom and then instantly gets to work laying everything out in a properly organized way.

“I’ve done a lot of damage to my hair,” Myka tells Claudia. “I used to straighten it all the time. And then there was the poorly-done bleach jobs I gave myself in college.”

“I can’t imagine that,” Claudia laughs. 

“I have hidden depths,” Myka tells her with a small smile. “You don’t think I’m really all that boring, do you? I’m not. I’m just good at keeping people in line when need be.”

“And thank goodness for that,” Claudia says. “Where would Pete be without you?”
“Probably still working for the Secret Service,” Myka sighs. “Having a semi-normal life.”

“I think he’d get bored of that pretty quick,” Claudia says quickly. She really doesn’t need Myka getting sad or sentimental on her. Claudia does not deal very well with crying people, and Myka does not seem like the type of person who would let herself cry in front of others, but, hey. As Myka herself said: hidden depths. Anything’s possible.

Myka is a masterpiece deconstructed in her sleep shirt and sweatpants. Claudia has never seen her without eyeliner on before this. She’s just as pretty as always, but she’s strikingly human in a way she tends to transcend when she’s in suits and sensible shoes. She mixes bleach while atonally humming to herself.

“You know,” Claudia says to Myka’s back, “it’s funny that this is, like, the last step of my whole… I dunno. My vibe. Like, I start out with the ripped jeans, I add the pins and patches, I take some safety scissors to my hair, and next thing you know I’m a full-on grunge lookbook.”

“It’s just hair,” Myka says. “It changes as you do. Maybe this isn’t about looking badass. Maybe it’s about permanence.”

Claudia almost cackles. “You’re upsettingly metaphorical tonight.”

“Mm, I mean it, though,” Myka says. She directs Claudia to sit on the floor, and she kneels behind her. Claudia can feel Myka’s nails scraping her scalp as Myka takes the clip-on extension out of Claudia’s hair. 

“What,” Claudia scoffs, shoulders tense, “you think I’m finally ready to settle down, and that’s why I’m dying my hair? It’s just hair,” she repeats, parroting Myka’s own tone. “It’s so not that deep.”

“Okay,” Myka says. Claudia hears the snap of latex against skin as Myka puts on a pair of gloves. “I think it’s a good thing, though. In most ways.”

“In most?”

Claudia can feel Myka’s breath against the back of her head as Myka sighs. Myka says, “I’m not great at, y’know, feelings, sometimes.”

“Well, then, I’m sure whatever you’re about to say is gonna go over just great.”

“Claudia,” Myka admonishes, and Claudia is shot through with the shame of a younger kid being told by their older sister that they’re not living up to who they could be. “All I’m saying is that it’s good that you’ve grown so comfortable with this place being your home as quickly as you have.”

Claudia wants to disagree. She wants to insist that there’s a safe amount of distance between herself and the B&B, between herself and the group of people who work at Warehouse 13. She wants to say that this is just a stop in her train ride of a life’s journey. She’ll be flying down the tracks to the next one soon enough.

But she knows that that’s not true. Not that she has to tell Myka she’s right, though. 

She settles against Myka, relaxing a bit. Myka paints bleach onto a section of Claudia’s hair with precision. Claudia probably wouldn’t have the patience to do it as neatly as Myka does.

While the bleach is stripping Claudia’s hair of its color encased in an aluminum foil wrapping that Myka grabbed while downstairs, Claudia turns to face Myka. She says, “In most ways. You said that it was good that I was, like, settling into Warehouse life, or whatever, but you said that it was good for the most part. What’s the bad stuff?”

Myka tucks a curl behind her ear. “Nothing,” she says.

“Dude, I’ve spent my whole life picking apart when adults are lying to me,” Claudia says. “Just give it to me straight. It’s easier for both of us.”

Myka takes off her gloves carefully, folding them inside-out so that the bleach on them stays on the inside. Once her hands are free, she rubs her temples and closes her eyes and takes a long, deep breath while Claudia waits. Finally, she says, “The artifact Pete and I dealt with recently. The spine. I got to talking about it with– with Rebecca, the woman who used to be an agent. She said it was like the Warehouse. A lifetime commitment ,” Myka laughs humorlessly. “I don’t want you to be strapping yourself into a lifetime commitment when you’re nineteen.”

“I’m young,” Claudia says flatly. “Big whoop. I’ve been told that a lot these past few days.”

“Yeah, and it’s true,” Myka says. “You are young, Claudia, and you’re bright. Really bright. One of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I spent years in school with some very smart people.”

“Yourself included, of course.”

“Well, of course,” Myka agrees, flashing Claudia enough of a smile to let her know that Myka’s poking fun at herself. Which is honestly not a thing Claudia thought Myka capable of until this moment. 

“I think I’m okay,” Claudia says. She wants to pull her legs up in front of her but worries it’ll make her look too childish, so she sticks to staying cross-legged. “I’m bright enough to pull myself outta this if it’s too much of a leech, don’t you think?”

“That’s a leading question if ever I heard one,” Myka tells her. “But, yes, you are. I just… I want you to know that you have your whole life in front of you, and in this line of work, your life might get cut pretty short. I saw it almost happen to Pete the other day, and trust me, it was not a fun thing to watch. The Warehouse really is a lifetime commitment. I sure as hell know that even if I left I wouldn’t be able to forget the things I’ve seen in here.”

“What, you thinking about leaving?” Claudia asks.

“You’re deflecting,” Myka points out.

“Dammit, Myka, could you not read me for, like, two seconds?”

“Sorry,” Myka says, very clearly not at all sorry. “Force of habit. And this isn’t about me. But… no, I don’t think I am thinking of leaving. Every day is a challenge here. I like that.”

“Masochist,” Claudia says, prodding Myka in the shoulder.

Myka rocks backward, laughing. “Maybe a little,” she admits. “But, you know, you’re the one who put yourself through the trouble of hacking into the Warehouse for fun. You love a challenge just as much as I do.”

“I do,” Claudia agrees.

She hasn’t really thought of herself as similar to Myka in many ways. Myka is hair in a neat ponytail and clean-pressed shirts. She is so by-the-book, so fond of rules and regulation, so good at keeping herself together. Keeping everything around her together, too. And Claudia is a poorly-cut asymmetrical bob and boots that give her two inches of attention-grabbing height. Claudia tends to have more of a break-what’s-been-fixed-and-what’s-already-broken approach to life.

But they really are the same sometimes, Claudia realizes. They both so desperately want to be seen. They just go about it in different ways. Myka doesn’t just operate within a system, she masters it. She gets to be the best at it. She epitomizes all that it is, because who has more facial recognition than a poster child? And Claudia operates outside of it, smashing rules to pieces and hurling herself shoulder-first into walls in the hopes that she’ll bring them down, because who’s more infamous than the most visibly misfitting of misfits? 

In the end, though, their goals are the same. They want to be known. And Myka’s been breaking more and more conventions as an agent, and Claudia’s been slotting herself comfortably into the mechanics of Warehouse life, and she doesn’t think the two of them are trading roles, or anything. It’s just that the Warehouse brings out parts of people they didn’t know they needed.

Myka checks the watch strapped to the inside of her wrist. “It’s been twenty minutes,” she says, and Claudia starts unwrapping her hair.

While Claudia washes out the bleach in her sink, Myka gets the dye ready for application, putting on a fresh pair of latex gloves. They operate in a comfortable silence, the ease of two people who don’t really know what else to say to each other but are alright with not saying anything at all. Claudia is so used to an overwhelmingly pressing urge to run her mouth, to fill the silence, but tonight she’s finding solace in the peace of a ten-thirty bathroom sink with no sounds filling the air save for the drip-drip-drip of a sink that needs to be tightened up.

When she’s done, Claudia settles herself in front of Myka again. Myka pats Claudia on top of her head, and it’s a gentle thing. For a second, Claudia almost feels offended, as if Myka’s treating Claudia like she’s glass. But Claudia sees in the way that Myka toys with the box of dye, fiddles with the wrist of her glove, that Claudia isn’t the issue. It’s Myka that Myka thinks is breakable. It’s Myka that Myka is learning how to handle with care.

Claudia tugs on the bottom of Myka’s oversized tee. It’s a University of Pennsylvania wrestling shirt, which means that it’s one of the shirts Pete stole from various colleges he didn’t go to that somehow found its way into Myka’s drawers. Claudia’s worn her fair share of hand-me-downs from Joshua throughout her life, so she understands. She says, “I’m ready when you are.”

Myka takes a deep breath and gives Claudia a slightly shaky smile. Dye-doused brush in hand, she says, “I’m glad you’re ready, Claude. I am, too.”