Less Complicated

June 7, 1944

Dearest Chane, Claire writes, Not much time for letters, but I think of you at every free moment and couldn’t help wanting to write. He pauses; a shell’s just landed pretty nearby, and it’s hard to write when everything is shaking. The fighting’s pretty fierce here, he goes on, but all the boys are in good spirits. We landed yesterday and my squad was great — we tore up the beach, stormed a mortar fortification and secured a foothold for the other guys coming in after us. It’s pretty clear the Krauts don’t have what it takes to stand against us. We’ll be home before you know it. He stops for a moment to collect his thoughts. There’s a smudge of blood on the bottom of the page, but that’s all right. She’ll know it’s not his. I’ll write again when we reach Paris, if not sooner. Give the boys a big hug and a kiss from their dad. They’d better be behaving themselves for you while I’m gone. It’s more like a note than a proper letter, but that can’t be helped. The sergeant is yelling for them all to grab their gear and get moving. All my love, Claire writes, Felix.

He tucks the note into his pocket and reaches for his rifle. Perhaps if there’s time tonight or tomorrow he’ll write to Luck, too.

*

December 24, 1938

When they first arrive it’s all hugging and laughter, and everyone has to exclaim over how handsome the baby is. Berga swears to spoil him rotten as soon as he’s old enough to appreciate it, and even Keith spares them a few words of congratulations. Chane’s voice is still lost, but she looks happy enough that Claire doesn’t need to tell his brothers her thanks.

The heavy conversation doesn’t start until after dinner. Luck pours some brandy — the thrill’s sort of gone out of it now that it’s legal, but the taste is still good, like sweet dark fire — and hands Claire a glass, and says, “You don’t look a day older.”

“Not a day older than you, you mean,” Claire says. He raises his glass in a toast. It makes sense, if he stops to think about it. He’s never going to die, and he’s going to want his brothers around. Things are simply working out the way they should.

“You mean — have you had the elixir, then?” Luck asks.

“Elixir?” Claire says. He grins. “Cheater. No, I haven’t had anything like that.” He shrugs, takes a sip of his brandy. “I’m just not going to die. Haven’t I been telling you for years?”

Luck smiles the way he always has when he’s having trouble believing Claire’s audacity. That’s his favorite word for it. “You’re not even aging,” he says.

Claire shakes his head. “Why would I want to?” Poor Luck, always looking for explanations. “Really, it’s much less complicated than you think.”

*

December 30, 1931

She’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, and that’s despite the fact that she’s stabbed holes in the side of his train. For a second when he first climbed up on the roof he thought it was the other woman in black, but no; Claire hasn’t seen her a second time, though he’s definitely introduced plenty of other people to her.

This woman, Chane — it’s a beautiful name, even, and he knows he’s going to say it to himself over and over, just to hear it — this Chane is not an ordinary person, but a real one. Her eyes are gold, not black. And Claire is certain, the way he is certain he will land on his feet, that if that man in black hadn’t shot at them she would have nodded.

After all, look at the message she left for him. I will wait for you forever, carved into the roof of his train, the letters glowing where the dawn catches the raw edges of the metal.

Claire has that long, but he doesn’t have that much patience, not for something like this. When he gets to Manhattan, he’ll take care of this job that Luck called him home for, and then he’ll find her. Chane. Claire smiles.

*

September 29, 1928

He’s practicing, alone in the dark, when he falls, and he hasn’t even hit the ground yet when he thinks, that’s lucky. People would have panicked, during a show. Then he hits the ground — no safety net, because he’s never needed one — and he’s sure that should have hurt, but there’s no pain at all. Funny. It was a bad landing, too.

“Pretty good routine, up to that last step,” a girl says.

Claire sits up and smiles at her. She’s not part of the troupe, so he did have an audience after all. “It was, wasn’t it?” He winks. “Let’s pretend that last bit didn’t happen. I promise it’ll go a lot better tomorrow.”

The girl shakes her head, smiling apologetically. She’s dressed all in black, and it looks like there’s something strange about her eyes. “I’m afraid it won’t,” she says.

“Don’t worry,” Claire says. “I’ve never missed a step in a show. It’ll go off flawlessly.”

“What I mean,” the girl says, coming over to crouch next to him, “is that you won’t be here tomorrow, Claire Stanfield. You won’t be doing any more shows.” She holds out her hand, but there’s definitely something not right about her eyes — no light reflects from them at all, just darkness a man could fall into — and Claire pulls back.

“I think you have the wrong idea,” he says.

The girl smiles again. “Funny,” she says. “I was going to say that to you, in a minute.”

“I’m not going to die,” Claire says.

“Technically,” the girl starts.

“I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time,” Claire says, because the argument they could get into there wouldn’t be worth it. “I know you have to be very busy. But I’m not going anywhere.” He smiles. “What would happen to the world without me?”

“Nothing,” the girl says. She looks less sorry for him now.

“There, you see?” Claire says. “And that would be a waste, when there are so many wonderful possibilities.” He sits up again, thinking harder about it this time, insisting that his body come with him.

“This never works out for people as well as they think it will,” the girl says.

“They weren’t me,” Claire reassures her. He’s afraid he is going to have an awful headache. “I’ll be fine.”

The girl almost looks like she wants to keep arguing, but she doesn’t, only shakes her head. “Well, you aren’t the first to give it a try,” she says. She gets up and dusts off her skirt. “Good luck, Claire. I’ll see you again eventually.”

Claire grins. “Don’t hold your breath.”

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