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Something In The Water

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The Warehouse is huge. No, the Library of Congress is huge. The Warehouse? It defies description. There are so many places to get lost, so many crooked corridors and dead ends, so many layers to it, you could disappear into the long aisles and never be seen again.

And right about now, two of its inhabitants are having that very thought. Only they're both thinking outside the box. Literally.

Artie couldn't face looking at newly reinstated Agent Wells. It made his blood pressure spike and gave him a splitting headache. He just wanted to get out and away for a bit, just relax. He had to think. Something had to be done, and with Myka and Pete on her side, he had no idea what. So he'd gone back to an old hide out, tucking a six pack of root beer under his arm as he exited the elevator maintenance shaft on the roof.

He was headed for a little corner of real estate shielded from the wind known for a spectacular view of the northern sky. There was only one problem. A shadowy figure already occupied said prime piece of real estate, and he could smell the kettle corn from where he stood. He sucked in a breath, puffing up like a bullfrog ready to roar. That was, right up until he heard something that took all the wind out of his sails.

It sounded like sniffling.

"Claudia? Is that you?"

She started a little, wiping at her cheeks with the back of one hand. "Artie. Hi, sorry. Look I didn't know this was yours -- I mean, I'm sorry. I can go."

"No. No, it's -- okay." All his frustration with her bled away in a single brusque sigh.

He had been just about to tear into her. About skiving off work, about following protocol and not going out of bounds (which is how he kept this place secret until she'd got here). He was on the verge of unleashing a torrent of unspent and quite possibly ill-justified anger on her, until he heard the waver in her voice.

"Are you -- I mean -- is everything all right?" He approached her, and she scooted aside for him, leaving him plenty of room to sit on a corner of the tattered blanket, if that was indeed his intent.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Of course I'm fine. Totally. Fine."

He leaned back and regarded her over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses. He may not be the most perceptive man on the planet, but he knew when a woman said they were fine in that tone of voice, the last thing they were was 'fine'.

"Yeah, sure you are." He lowered himself a bit creakily, and settled onto the blanket beside her, handing over the root beer, and snagging the bag of kettle corn from her. (He couldn't handle tears, least of all from her. She was supposed to be the tough girl, the one who hacked her way into the Warehouse all by herself. She wasn't supposed to do girly things like cry.)

Claudia looked stunned for a moment at the shift in his demeanour, and then she sighed. Artie didn't always make sense, but he meant well. She knew that much. "Bottle opener?"

Artie rolled his eyes at her, shaking the bag of kettle corn and peering down into it. "Don't you have one of those ultra-super-mega-multitools or something?"

Claudia looked at him for a moment as if he'd grown a third eye. "Yes, as a matter of fact I do."

"Well? Doesn't it have a bottle opener on it?"

She looked long and hard at the bottle in her hand, eyeing the label. "Mmm. I can't remember the last time I had a refreshing beverage that didn't have a screw top. Where did you get these?"

"Never you mind where I got these."

"Artie. This is the original A&W logo. Did you go into the vending machine section? You told me..."

Artie held up a hand, his lips pressed in a firm line. "I know what I told you. And if I ever catch you in there, I will make sure Mrs. Frederic finds out about all the modifications you made to the Farnsworth network, are we clear?"

Claudia's eyes went wide, her indignation flaring. He displayed his complete and utter indifference by taking his hand out of the kettle corn bag and popping a handful of salty sweet deliciousness into his mouth and chewing, noisily.

"Artie, that's so not fair."

"Hey, you never said you wanted to work here because I was fair." He mumbled, his mouth still half full. "Now, get that -- thingamajig out and open us up some root beer."

Claudia snatched her back pack closer and had a good long rummage. Of course the multitool was at the bottom of her bag. Wasn't that always the way of things?

"So why are you up here?" She didn't look at him as she fiddled with the tool.

He munched in silence for awhile. "Too angry to be in the office. Needed to get out. Clear my head."

"Yeah, I kinda noticed that earlier." Ah, there, something that might be a bottle opener. "You come up here often? Because I thought I was the only one."

He squinted at her. "What, you thought the blanket and the radio escaped up here to have a little alone time together?"

She smirked, folding the tool back together with the maybe could be bottle opener extended. "Stranger things have happened in this place. Besides, the radio was circa 1967."

"Yeah? So? It still works."

"And it had a half inch of dust on it."

Artie sighed, cutting a glance across at the young woman. "Yeah? Well. It's been a while since I've had a chance to get away."

"Well, maybe we can work out a time share or something. Here, I can't make this thing --"

"...Give. Give give give." He took both bottle and opener, and fiddled with it for a moment. "No reason to. It's not like I'll be up here again any time soon, not if Agent Wells is joining the team for good."

Claudia watched him as he popped the top on the root beer and handed it to her, taking up his own to fiddle with and open. Sometimes her boss seemed fuelled by his anger, a furious little steam engine of determination trying to save the world one purple pot of goo at a time. Today? He just looked old and tired. Worn thin by the prospect that maybe yesterday's enemies were today's allies, and didn't that reality just bite.

"Thanks. For the root beer, I mean."

He didn't look up at her, just held out his bottle and clinked it against hers.

"You're welcome. And thanks. For the kettle corn, I mean."

They sat side by side in silence for a long time, sipping and munching.

"So that boy..."

"Yeah," she cut him off with a dry little laugh. "Witness protection program, of course. Was a tech guru for some mobster type. I used my mad google-fu to figure out who he really was, only to blow his secret identity out of the water and get him moved to another state. I am the dream girlfriend, clearly."

"Mmm. Bummer." He had no idea exactly what google-fu was, but he didn't need to to get the gist of it. "You liked him."

"Yeah. I did." She picked at her shoelaces, and exhaled a sigh far too heavy for a woman as young and as beautiful as she was.

He kept his mouth shut though. Nothing to be said for losing someone you'd made a connection with. This job had no shortage of problems that came with it without having to face the cold hard truth that it made real relationships damned hard to come by. (A fact that made him cherish them so much more when they did come along.)

He shook the bag of kettle corn at her and she gave him a tight-lipped smirk from under that forelock of hair.

"Thanks, Artie."

He smirked back at her, a fond look in his eye.

"Don't mention it. Isn't that root beer good?"

She wrinkled her nose at him. "It's okay, I guess? I'm hardly what you'd call a root beer connoisseur."

"Clearly. This is the original recipe, invented in 1919 in Lodi, California."

Claudia quirked an eyebrow at him. "Lodi. Right."

She leaned her shoulder against his and took another sip, ready for the incoming lecture. "Must be something in the water."

He sighed and shook his head, quickly returning to his default state of exasperated with her and the world in general, and not just for not knowing anything at all about the history of really good root beer in America. (She also noticed, he made no attempt to move away.)