AN: This story takes place halfway through season four of "Warehouse 13" and after season six of "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer." Tara did not die in season six, however, Willow did.
Disclaimer: I obviously don't own "Warehouse 13" or "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer." If I had not included this disclaimer, would you have thought I did?
The Witch in the Warehouse
"We don't need anyone new," insisted Artie petulantly.
"There is a hole in your team," argued Mrs. Frederic, trying to hold back both the sigh and the headache she could feel coming on. The two of them were standing in the Warehouse's control room, remaining mindful of the fact that the Warehouse's agents were down among the artifacts and could return at any moment. While a new employee certainly affected the rest of the team and they would need to be informed of any change, they did not need to hear Artie and Mrs. Frederic arguing. Especially with recent uncertainties and the loss of Leena still such a painful wound, Myka, Pete, Claudia, and Steve needed stability. "Leena filled a necessary spot on the team, Arthur," continued Mrs. Frederic. "She may not have been a field agent, but her skills were required."
"You think I don't know that?" fumed Artie. "I know how valuable and wonderful Leena was. Why don't you just say that you're thinking? We need Leena, but I killed her!"
"That is not what I was thinking, Arthur," Mrs. Frederic said, softening her voice. "Leena cannot be replaced. She was a bright soul whom we will all miss. But some of her skills can be reproduced. I am certain that the young woman I have found to run the inn and assist with artifact placement can fill a void in this team. She is not replacing Leena; she is providing a certain skillset. I expect you to give her a true chance and to make her feel welcome here."
"What is it that you think qualifies her for this position?" asked Artie, trying to return his voice to normal.
"Tara can see auras—"
"Like Leena," interrupted Artie.
"Yes, like Leena," agreed Mrs. Frederic. "Tara is incredibly in tune with the energies of the world. And what is more: She can harness those energies."
"Harness how?" asked Artie.
"Well, she calls it magic," answered Mrs. Frederic. "She can affect the world around her in startling ways. I have seen her make objects levitate and even change their forms."
"So, you replacing Leena — sorry, filling a void — with a witch?" questioned Artie incredulously.
"More or less," answered Mrs. Frederic. "I think she'll be a great asset to the Warehouse — and the Regents agree."
"I guess I don't really have a choice," said Artie.
"You don't," agreed Mrs. Frederic.
0 ~ 0 ~ 0
"How are you feeling, Ms. Maclay?" asked Mrs. Frederic as she walked the diminutive blond to the Warehouse. Walking together, the two women could not look more differently. Mrs. Frederic stood upright, exuding confidence, as she strode across the yard. Tara stood slightly slouched, sheepishly hiding her face behind a cascade of dirty-blonde hair — a behavior she had nearly stopped in her time with Willow, but which had resumed when her lover's heart had been pierced by Warren's bullet. The face Tara was hiding was lined prematurely by grief and reproach.
Before answering the older woman's question, Tara took a deep breath, a means of quieting the stutter that seemed ever-present on her lips. "I'm OK," she answered, "a bit nervous, I guess."
"Understandable," Mrs. Frederic said with a slight smile.
"I'm just concerned that my presence will hurt more than help," said Tara. "I know they are going through a d-d-difficult time and I recently lost someone, t-t-too. And I know I don't want a replacement for her."
Mrs. Frederic sighed, having not realized before that moment that she would have two Arthurs with whom to deal. "You are not a replacement," said Mrs. Frederic. "You are a new, valued employee. That is all." Mrs. Frederic opened the door to the Warehouse and ushered Tara inside. "Let's introduce you to your coworkers."
Ducking into the control room from the umbilicus, Tara tried to stay mindful of smiling and making eye contact. She had been working to overcome her shyness and could feel herself backsliding, as much as she tried to fight it.
"Arthur," called Mrs. Frederic, "this is the new innkeeper I told you about. Arthur Nielson, meet Tara Maclay."
"Welcome to the Warehouse," said Artie in a not-so-welcoming voice with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Hi," said Tara, with a half-smile. "It's nice t-t-to meet you. I l-l-look forward t-t-to working w-w-with you."
Hearing her nervously stutter, Artie felt a tad badly for his brusqueness. But he found himself unable to overcome it.
After shooting a pointed look at Artie, Mrs. Frederic motioned Tara further into the room, and said, "Let me introduce you to everyone. This is Pete Lattimer, Myka Bering, Claudia Donovan, and Steve Jinx."
"We call him Jinxy," cut in Pete.
"But that's really not necessary," said Steve quickly.
"What?" questioned Pete. "I thought you loved being called Jinxy?"
"'Love' is a strong word," said Steve with a smirk.
Tara could feel herself relaxing as she listened to the easy banter and watched Myka roll her eyes. The agents reminded her a bit of the Scoobies — even just this small taste of them. Like the Scoobies, the agents strove to protect the world and, due to the high stress levels of their lives, had fun when they could. Even simple fun like light-hearted teasing.
"So, she's the new Leena?" questioned Claudia.
"No," replied Mrs. Frederic rather sternly. "She is the new innkeeper and she will assist in artifact placement."
"OK. Sorry," said Claudia, holding up her hands in a don't-shoot gesture.
"W-w-what is your specialty?" Tara asked Claudia, stepping further into the room.
"Oh, I'm an all-around genius," said Claudia with an utterly false modesty. "I'm a hacker, a secret agent, and a badass."
Tara laughed a bit nervously and Steve jumped in. "I'm former ATF, and Pete and Myka used to be in the Secret Service."
"And what about y-y-you?" Tara asked Artie.
"NSA," he said shortly. "And you?"
"I … um …" Tara looked to Mrs. Frederic for some help, but was discouraged to see that Mrs. Frederic had disappeared without anyone noticing.
"Oh, she does that," said Pete nonchalantly, causing Tara to nod understandingly and smile shyly.
"I'm not government," said Tara quickly. "But I can sense auras and energies, w-w-which will hopef-f-fully make m-m-me an asset to the t-t-team."
"I'm sure you'll be great," said Pete in a friendly manner. "Have you seen the Warehouse yet, where the artifacts are kept?"
"N-no," said Tara, finding herself charmed by Pete's friendly and easy demeanor. She could tell the others were a bit uncertain of her, and she didn't blame them. She just hoped the rest of the team was like the Scoobies. The Scoobies had had a difficult time accepting her at first, seeing her as a replacement for Oz. But they had eventually incorporated her into the group. She felt guilty for leaving them so soon after Willow's death. They were in pain, too, and needed to circle the wagons. But she knew she couldn't stay in Sunnydale and begin to feel better. Maybe it was running away, but Tara didn't think running away was always a bad thing. She had stayed after her mother had died and she had taken care of her father and brother. But she had never truly felt at peace with her mother's death and with herself until she had left home and moved to Sunnydale. Until she had met Willow. Tara snapped herself back to the moment, pushing away thoughts of her love. She knew that if she thought about Willow now, she would break down. Instead she focused on Pete and asked, "C-c-could you show m-me?"
"Right this way, m'lady," said Pete with a large grin on his face as he offered Tara his arm in a most chivalrous manner. After a brief hesitation, Tara took his proffered arm and allowed herself to be led through the door opposite the umbilicus.
Wow. Tara felt as if the breath had been pulled out of her in a strong sigh. Seeing the Warehouse and feeling all the magic in the building, all the power, just stalled Tara for a moment. It was magnificent. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Shiny. Glorious. Bright. Loving. Welcoming. … But it was also dark and forbidding and dreadful. There were some evil things stored in the Warehouse. But even the evil things could not detract from the wonder of the moment.
"It's amazing," breathed Tara.
"Pretty great, huh?" said Claudia. Had Tara looked at her new colleagues, she would have seen grins on each of their faces as they remembered the first time they had seen the Warehouse.
But Tara didn't look around. She only had eyes for the Warehouse. She could hear it whispering to her, calling her, welcoming her. "I smell apples," Tara mumbled.
The group took that in, registering that the Warehouse liked their newest member. "I have some paperwork for you," said Artie curtly, cutting off everyone's musings. Tara dutifully, though a bit reluctantly, followed Artie back into the control room.
"So, what do you guys think?" asked Claudia.
"She seems nice," said Pete, shrugging. "A bit shy."
"She does seem shy," agreed Myka. "Maybe even a little too much. You have to be tough to do this job. I hope she can be. We need someone we can rely on."
"I think it's too early to judge her," interjected Steve. "We haven't even had one disaster yet."
"Yet?" questioned Claudia.
"Well, we haven't had an in-Warehouse disaster in, what, two weeks?" asked Steve. "I give it another week — tops."
"You have to stay positive, Jinxy," said Pete, clapping Steve on the back. "I think we have two weeks."
"Oh, so much better," said Steve sarcastically.
0 ~ 0 ~ 0
Tara's first week at the Warehouse was uneventful. She slowly settled into the routine of her new job. She got up early each morning and made everyone breakfast, listening to their friendly banter, but not partaking. She would then clean up from breakfast while they headed to the Warehouse. Others may have resented the position, but Tara liked it. She was naturally a caregiver and she felt centered and grounded when she was helping others, even if that help was just making pancakes. She would then head over to the Warehouse herself. Since Leena's death, there was a backlog of artifacts needing to be shelved. Tara did not have a spare moment — and that wasn't even including all the artifacts Artie had shelved improperly. Honestly, placing a sword from the Crusades next to treasure pilfered from Constantinople was a recipe for disaster. That wasn't even a matter of auras in Tara's opinion — it was just common sense. Artie had grudgingly thanked her for her intervention before launching into a long explanation of why he had placed those items like that. Tara just listened politely.
Mrs. Frederic had told Tara all that had transpired in the Warehouse in the past year. Tara could understand Artie's guilt and she understood his complex feelings regarding her. Even more so, she could see the dark metaphorical cloud over his head. His guilt over Leena's death was preventing him from fully experiencing any other emotion. Tara kept trying to do little things to cheer him up, but they kept backfiring. She had asked Claudia, with whom Artie seemed to have a father-daughter relationship, what Artie's favorite breakfast food was. Claudia had suggested blueberry muffins, so Tara had dutifully made them. But Artie didn't like blueberry muffins — he liked Leena's blueberry muffins. Tara had felt awfully and proceeded to throw the rest of the muffins away, which had seriously upset Pete. Tara knew it would take time to find her place, but that didn't make the interim any easier.
Unlike Artie, the others had warmed to her. She felt closest to Steve, who was a straight-shooter. She never knew when to believe the others, who loved exaggeration and worked in a place that thrived on exaggeration, but Steve she could take at face-value. And she found herself getting on very well with Pete and Myka.
There were issues with Claudia, but unlike the issues with Artie, they were entirely Tara's fault and she knew it. Just as it pained Artie to be near Tara, it pained Tara to be near Claudia. The young hacker reminded Tara so much of Willow that sometimes she felt she couldn't breathe. Although Tara knew that Willow had been shy back in high school, by the time Tara had known her, Willow had come out of her shell and was bitingly funny, like Claudia. But there was always a core of sweetness to her. Tara worried for Claudia. The girl was brilliant, like Willow, but she could so easily be led astray. It had damn-near killed Tara to see Willow begin to go down the path of dark magic, and she worried that Claudia could be susceptible to the same temptations. Although Claudia wasn't a witch, she was powerful when she had a keyboard under her fingers and that sort of power could be intoxicating. And that worry colored every interaction Tara had with Claudia. Tara knew that if the two became close, she may one day have to watch a friend struggle in a way similar to the woman she loved. She had felt so powerless when Willow had collapsed into her magic and she did not want to feel that way again.
That's why Tara was now sitting by herself among the shelves, scrutinizing various artifacts to determine where they should be stored. It was beyond her comprehension why Artie had put Mussolini's cufflinks among the regular artifacts when they clearly belonged in the Dark Vault.
Then Tara felt it. The hair on her arms was standing straight up and she could hear a faint crackling noise coming from further inside the Warehouse. Something was wrong — she could feel it in her bones. She hesitantly began to walk toward the sound, and then she heard a scream that sounded a great deal like it had come from Claudia. She began to run.
Her heart nearly stopped when she saw Claudia, lying prone on the ground, her head cradled in Steve's lap. There was lighting shooting out of the aisle behind them. Claudia wasn't moving and Steve was gently shaking her.
"What happened?" asked Tara sharply.
"I don't know," answered Steve. "We went to shelve a new artifact, but Claud got zapped."
"Zapped by what?"
"I don't know," said Steve, clearly worried by Claudia's current condition.
"Well," said Tara, taking charge without even a hint of a stutter anymore, "we should move her farther away from this lighting storm. Can you carry her?"
In response, Steve lifted Claudia up into his arms and began to put some distance between them and the lighting. Tara stayed where she was, looking at the growing intensity of the storm thoughtfully. After depositing Claudia in a safe aisle, Steve was disturbed to see that Tara hadn't followed. Going back for her, he saw her standing before the storm, apparently unaffected by the growing tumult.
"Come on," said Steve, grabbing Tara's arm and pulling her away.
The two went back to Claudia, and Tara immediately knelt down beside the younger woman. After murmuring to Claudia for a few minutes, Tara took a deep break and muttered, "Sorry." Forming her hand into a fist, Tara began vigorously to rub her knuckles over Claudia's sternum.
With a loud gasp, Claudia bolted upright, grabbed her chest, and bit out, "Ow!"
"Sorry," repeated Tara, "but the pain of it can sometimes wake people up. It allows medical professionals to see how responsive a patient is. How are you feeling?"
"I'm OK for someone who just got struck by lightning and then assaulted by an innkeeper," said Claudia testily, still rubbing her aching chest.
"I'm not sure it was lightning," said Tara. "If it were lightning, I think you'd be more hurt. And the noise it was making … I think it was definitely electricity, but probably not lightning. I think we should go back to the control room, check that aisle's manifest, and see what could be causing this."
"Wow," breathed Claudia, "I've never heard you say that much before. I like hearing you talk more."
"Th-thanks," said Tara, tucking a sheaf of hair behind her ear self-consciously.
"Let's move," said Steve, herding the two women in front of him.
The three of them arrived at the control room at the same time as Pete and Myka, who had been in another part of the Warehouse.
"What the hell's going on?" asked Pete. "Did somebody set off Benjamin Franklin's kite or something?"
"Did you?" asked Tara, turning to Steve and Claudia.
"No?" answered Claudia. "I didn't see any kites in that aisle."
The five of them headed into the control room, where Artie was already working the problem. "It's the Van de Graaff generator," he told them.
"It's being caused by a rock band?" asked Pete.
"The Van de Graaff generator, not Van der Graaf Generator," said Artie with his annoyed face.
"And that would be?" asked Pete.
"A Van de Graaff generator is an electrostatic generator that uses a moving belt to accrue high amounts of electrical potential in a big, hollow metal sphere," explained Myka. "It was invented by Robert Van de Graaff in 1929 in the United States. Nowadays the generator can be used to accelerate subatomic particles to high speeds, which is useful in physics research."
"How do you know that?" questioned Pete, mouth agog.
"I read," said Myka simply. Turning to Artie, she asked, "Is it the original generator?"
"Yes," said Artie, "and it was imbued with the physicist's mania and fervor."
"But what set it off now?" asked Myka.
"Well?" asked Artie, arching his eyebrows at Steve and Claudia.
"Whoa, we didn't do anything," asserted Claudia. "We were shelving that artifact, like you told us to do."
"What was the artifact?" asked Tara.
"I told them to shelve it there," said Artie curtly. "I've been doing this for a long time. They didn't cause this by shelving an artifact."
Thinking back to the Crusades sword and Constantinople treasure, Tara wasn't so sure. "I-I-I know y-you're g-g-good at y-your job, I j-just w-w-want to know w-what it w-w-was." Tara finished speaking quietly, her face quite flushed.
Taking pity on the girl, Steve answered, "Marilyn Monroe's hairbrush. It makes people who use it extremely vain, to the point of self-harm—"
"The Narcissus effect," supplied Claudia.
"Yeah," agreed Steve. "And it turned one owner into a cokehead."
"Yikes," said Pete.
"The hairbrush didn't cause this," said Artie, stalking into the archives room.
"It m-m-may h-have," said Tara, glancing nervously at the closed door Artie had just gone through.
"Go on," encouraged Steve. "We're not shutting you down. We want to hear what you think."
"I think Artie would too if he didn't miss Leena so much," said Tara with some melancholy. Taking a deep breath, she refocused herself. "Hair-brushing can generate static electricity, and electricity is the Van de Graaff generator's specialty."
"That makes sense," said Claudia, sitting down at her computer. "And you said you wanted to see what else is in that aisle?"
"Yes," said Tara, crossing the room to look over Claudia's shoulder as the young agent scrolled through the list. Tara put aside her brief discomfort at being this close to Claudia, because stopping the electricity storm in the Warehouse was just too important to let personal issues interfere. "Stop there," said Tara, pointing to a line item. "Can you pull up information on that one?"
"Can squirrels fly?" responded Claudia cockily.
"Is that a yes?" asked Tara, smiling.
"Yeah," said Claudia, pulling up the information. "The Everlasting Hope generator was an emergency generator at Everlasting Hope Hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The generator stayed running all through the storm, kept running by the hopes and fears of the patients and doctors."
"That sounds good," said Pete.
"Not so much," said Claudia. "The generator powered itself by drawing power from around it. Every generator within a twelve-block radius of the hospital stopped working. Soon the lights in the Warehouse will start going out to feed the generator. Once it runs out of electricity and stuff, it begins to draw power from people, draining them and eventually killing them."
"OK, so, not good," surmised Pete.
"I think I know what's happening," said Tara. "Marilyn Monroe's hairbrush triggered the Van de Graaff generator, which is now drawing energy from the Everlasting Hope generator."
"So how do we shut it down?" asked Steve.
"I'm not sure," said Tara. "Even though the Van de Graaff generator is causing the problems, it's being fueled by the hospital generator. I think we need to take out the Everlasting Hope generator first … but I don't know how."
"We could goo it," suggested Claudia.
"But we can't get close enough," argued Pete.
While the others settled in for a long discussion, Steve surreptitiously slipped away, in a manner that would have made Mrs. Frederic proud, to follow Artie into the archive room. Artie was just sitting at the table, staring at the wall.
"Find anything useful?" asked Steve sarcastically.
"What do you want, Agent Jinx?" asked Artie testily.
"To know why you're hiding in here."
"I'm not hiding," snapped Artie.
"Lie. You are." When Artie didn't respond, Steve soldiered on. "We all miss Leena and wish she were still here. But she's not. And she wouldn't want us to be rude to Tara, to be dismissive. I know she's only been here a week, but she's good at this job and she is trying to win us all over, but you won't give at all."
"How dare you?" ground out Artie. "I am treating Tara the same way I treat all of you, no differently."
"In all fairness, you're not," insisted Steve. "I'm big on truth-telling, so I'm going to be radically honest with you. Leena is dead. We all wish she were still here, but she isn't. It hurts that Leena's not here. We all feel the hole, the absence. But I refuse to let it overpower my life. I let my sister's death rule my emotions for a long time and it wasn't healthy. It changed my reactions to some situations drastically, negatively. I know you feel responsible for Leena's death, but it is not your fault. You shot her; that's a fact. I won't pretend that it isn't true. But it's complicated. You weren't in your right mind when you shot her. You were being affected by an artifact. You had to use the Astrolabe, Artie. You saved the world. Every artifact has a downside. Saving the world was a big upside, so it required a big downside. Losing Leena was the biggest downside we could suffer. But that isn't Tara's fault. Mrs. Frederic hired her to do a job and she's doing it. And you're avoiding her, upbraiding her, making her feel incredibly unwelcome. Tara is a kind, smart, hard-working woman and she deserves better. She figured out what was wrong and she is saving our bacon right now. I have decided to let Tara in. That doesn't mean I'm forgetting Leena or even replacing her, but I have enough room in my heart for a new friend. If Tara had been hired as an agent, there is no way you would be treating her like this. Remember Leena, miss Leena, but don't take it out on Tara. … OK, I'm done. That's all I have."
A heavy silence descended on the room as Artie really thought about Steve's words. He could recognize the truth of them, but he wasn't sure if he could accept them. He had killed Leena, one of his greatest friends. He was never going to be all right; he was never going to feel better. But Steve was right: It was not Tara's fault. She had been doing a good job. And she was right. Clearly the hairbrush had activated the Van de Graaff generator, which was likely being powered by the hospital generator, which was in that aisle if Artie's memory served correctly.
"So what's the plan?" asked Artie, willing to get back into the swing of things, but not ready to engage in such a deep conversation with Steve at the moment.
"No idea," answered Steve. "Shall we rejoin them and find out?" Steve opened the door and held it for Artie, allowing the older man to exit first. Without another word, Artie walked out the door, with his back straight and his head held high. Gently rolling his eyes, Steve followed.
The rest of the team was still debating a proper course of action when Artie and Steve entered the room.
"We need to shut off the VDG generator before anything else," argued Claudia.
"But it's gaining power from the hospital generator," replied Tara, keeping her voice soft and even, yet certain. "We can't shut it off while it's being juiced. We need to take out the hospital generator."
"But we can't get close to the hospital generator while the VDG generator is shooting off lightning," argued Claudia.
"We should take out the hairbrush first," interjected Artie. "While I don't believe that will stop the Van de Graaff generator, I believe it is necessary. I think that if the hairbrush is still in play, we won't be able to shut down either generator, as the hairbrush was the catalyst for this entire fiasco."
Tara was surprised to hear Artie's words. She had not believed that he would be able to look past his own guilt regarding Leena's death in order to look at anything logically. It gave her hope for her future here in the Warehouse.
"We have the same problem," pointed out Claudia. "We can't get close to the hairbrush either thanks to the VDG generator."
"What if the person who went gooed themselves first?" asked Pete.
"That would help keep the hospital generator from zapping them, but not the VDG generator," reasoned Tara. "I may have an idea though." Turning to Artie, she flashed a brief and hesitant smile. "Do we have access to a golf cart with a metal frame maybe?"
"Not a golf cart …" said Artie, deep in a thought triggered by Tara's words. "We have a handcart, but we have some spare pipes that we can put on it." Looking to Tara, he asked, "I'm assuming you were thinking of building a Faraday cage?"
Tara nodded, glad that she and Artie were on the same page.
"What's a Faraday cage?" asked Pete.
"It's essentially a metal frame that draws electricity to it, protecting whatever is in the center from being zapped," explained Tara.
"Faraday cages were invented by Michael Faraday, an English scientist, in 1836," continued Myka. "They're used, for example, to protect scientific equipment from lightning strikes and electrostatic discharges."
"It's a bit like a car's metal frame protecting you during a lightning storm," clarified Tara.
Artie nodded his head encouragingly, although he was still having trouble looking Tara in the eye. "Pete, Steve, there's some spare piping in Storage Room D. Go get it," ordered Artie.
"I have some ideas about how we could build it," said Tara.
"Me too," offered Claudia.
Just then, half of the lights in the Warehouse blinked out, losing their power to the Everlasting Hope generator. Looking up worriedly, Tara murmured, "However we do it, we need to do it quickly."
0 ~ 0 ~ 0
By the time they finished constructing their Faraday cage-car, more than ninety percent of the Warehouse's lights had been extinguished.
"Well, let's go," said Pete, enthusiastically jumping into the cart. "Myks, come on."
"Wait," said Claudia. "Why are you two automatically going? I helped design the car; I should go."
"Well, we have three spots," reasoned Pete. "Hop in."
"I want to go, too," said Tara forcefully, asserting herself. She made sure to speak clearly and she was relieved not to have stuttered.
"You're not a field agent," argued Pete, though not unkindly.
"I can help," insisted Tara. "I understand these artifacts and I can see their energies. I should go."
"You could get really hurt," said Pete.
"So could you," retorted Tara. "I don't need to be protected. I have done this sort of thing before and I'm still here."
"We're not saying you're unable to do these things, just that you've not been trained to do them," interjected Artie.
Tara could feel her face flushing and her emotions rising. She suddenly felt too warm and each muscle was tensed, ready for a fight. "You don't know me. You don't know anything about my life before I joined the Warehouse. I was part of a group not dissimilar to this one. I have done things you would not even be able to imagine. Do not sideline me because of a perceived yet unproven weakness. I'm going. End of story." Tara clenched her jaw and stared intently at her colleagues, just daring them to continue arguing.
"So Tara has one seat, I have another, and Pete has third," summed up Claudia. "Anyone have any issues with that?"
"No," said Steve quickly. "You guys just need to go before any more lights go out."
The three agents climbed into the car and set off, encompassed in a slightly uncomfortable silence and thoughts of their work.
Feeling somewhat self-conscious, Tara murmured, "I wish I hadn't worn a skirt today." Then, channeling Buffy, she added, "This outfit isn't very fighty."
Laughing, Pete said, "Hopefully we won't have to fight anyone."
Slightly more relaxed, they fell into a silent camaraderie as they drove through the aisles. As they got closer to the aisle in question, the crackle of electricity got much louder, turning into loud cracks and bangs. Just one aisle away, the flashes were so bright that all three were seeing after-images on their retinas for a while.
"OK," said Pete. "I'm going to drive alongside the shelf, as close as possible. Claudia, you reach out and grab the hairbrush without getting out of the car. Are you guys wearing your gloves?"
"Yes," said Claudia exasperatedly, rolling her eyes.
"Yes," said Tara more softly, holding up her purple-clad hands.
"You sure I won't get zapped … again?" asked Claudia.
"As long as you keep your body within the frame of the Faraday cage," said Tara. "But just to be safe, try to grab the brush as quickly as possible."
"Gotcha," said Claudia as they drove into the center of the lightning storm. It was like driving into Zeus' beard. With the lights out, the only illumination they got was from the lightning, and Pete was using that scarce light to navigate the car, which was being zapped every second or two. Its metal frame was working wonders, and all three agents were very careful not to touch the frame, which would have been instant death.
"Now, Claudia," yelled Pete as he got the car right next to the shelf.
"Yoink." Claudia snatched the hairbrush quickly, bringing it inside the Faraday cage. "Ow ow ow …" said Claudia before dropping the hairbrush into a goobag. The brush emitted massive sparks, causing all three reflexively to angle their bodies away from it, before quickly leaning in again to avoid the metal frame. "Well, that was explosive," said Claudia.
"Were you hurt?" asked Tara concernedly.
"Nah," said Claudia. "I mean, the brush was giving me little shocks, like when you rub a balloon against your head, but I'm fine."
"Good," said Tara, giving Claudia a small half-smile.
"Uh, guys, not to be a spoilsport, but the lightning is still pretty intense," said Pete. "I thought bagging the brush was going to end it?"
"No," said Tara, "but it started this whole thing, so that's where we had to start, too."
"Now we have to goo the generator," said Claudia, hefting the goo-gun. But almost as quickly as Claudia lifted the gun, she dropped it again. Both Claudia and Pete's eyes drooped shut, as if they had been given a soporific.
"Oh no," murmured Tara, rearranging the wavering Claudia and Pete to prevent them from hitting the Faraday cage. Tara could see the life force draining out of her new colleagues to power the generator. She could additionally see her own power beginning to drain. If they stayed here much longer, they would all die. Mustering her strength, Tara grabbed the goo-gun and began murmuring a Latin incantation under her breath. She nearly immediately felt stronger.
Stepping out of the car, Tara relied upon her own fortitude and the shield spell she was chanting. The spell created an energy bubble around her that kept anything from getting in, as well as anything getting out.
Approaching the Everlasting Hope generator, Tara took a deep breath and raised the goo-gun. She depressed the trigger and was dismayed to see that the goo was trapped inside her energy bubble. In order to goo the generator, she would have to drop the spell. Tara glanced back at Pete and Claudia and could see that they didn't have much longer. That decided it for her. Tara was not going to lose anyone else. Without batting an eye, Tara ceased chanting, dropping the shield. The second the shield was dropped, Tara began spraying the hospital generator with the goo. The generator, which had been giving off a healthy hum, began to cough and sputter, before powering down. Tara turned back to see if Pete and Claudia were all right, but the last thing she saw was a final lightning bolt headed right toward her.
0 ~ 0 ~ 0
"I woke up just in time to see Tara get hit by the lightning," Claudia told Artie. The young agent sounded rather hollow.
"I don't even know how she got all the way over there," said Pete, rubbing his hand over his face.
The other agents looked as if they had been hit with metaphorical anvils. So soon after losing Leena, this was just too much. They may not have spent a lot of time with Tara, but they liked her and could see the good in her.
"She saved us," added Pete.
Turning their heads so quickly it looked like whiplash, the agents all looked toward the soft sigh that came from the couch.
Tara slowly sat up and put her hand to her head, wincing slightly. "What happened?" she mumbled.
"You were struck by an electrostatic discharge," said Myka, kneeling down next to the couch and reaching over to take Tara's pulse.
"You got struck right after you shut it all down and saved all of our lives," said Pete.
"You were pretty badass," added Claudia.
"The Everlasting Hope generator was draining you and Claudia," said Tara. "Are you two all right?"
"We're fine," said Claudia. "It's you we're worried about." Claudia handed Tara a glass of water, which the witch took gratefully.
"How did you manage to get close enough to shut down the generator?" asked Steve.
"Luck?" suggested Tara with a shrug.
"Lie," said Steve. "Really, how did you do it?"
"Magic?" offered Tara.
While Pete, Myka, and Claudia laughed, Steve's eyes went very wide and he swallowed harshly. Tara was clearly someone with whom he did not want to mess.
Artie, who was watching everyone very closely, felt much the same way. "Can I have a moment alone with Tara?" he asked.
The others dutifully left, glad that their new teammate was seemingly all right.
Artie pulled a chair over to the couch and sat down in it heavily, sighing deeply. He wasn't quite sure what to say and the uncomfortable silence grew. Tara wasn't sure where to look, so she stared resolutely at her fidgety fingers.
Unable to take the silence anymore, Tara said, "It's all right. I know."
"You know what?" asked Artie.
"That you're sorry and that you need time." When Artie didn't say anything, Tara continued. "Grief takes time and we all feel it differently. I'm grieving, too. My girlfriend died a couple of months ago and I don't think I'll ever feel better about it. It's why I don't like to spend time with Claudia; she reminds me of Willow. There are so many strong differences between Claudia and Willow, so many, but it's the subtle similarities that hurt. I'm not Leena. From what I've heard about her, there are a lot of differences. But there are some similarities, and they must be so painful for you. I am willing to give you the space and time that you need, but it can't interfere with our jobs. We do important work here. And I hope that some day we can be friends."
Artie nodded slowly, before saying, "I'm glad you're all right." He got up to leave the room, but turned back for a moment. "You did good work today. And welcome to Warehouse 13."
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