In which Claire makes her first kill.
Though he was quiet, Claire hadn’t actually fallen asleep and she heard the muted movements of his boots over the floorboards, the metallic hiss of the lock he slipped back into place. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness several sleepless hours ago, but even so, William was hard to distinguish from the hazy black that engulfed their apartment. His hair, clothes, everything was black against black—he’d left for a job, and didn’t know she knew.
The soothing sounds of crickets had been easier to hear in the living room, so she’d decided to camp out on the couch, hoping the white noise would calm her anxiety over her brother’s absence. The hope had been a vain one, but she was glad now that she’d lingered and breathed a mental sigh of relief at William’s return. The fact that he had yet to notice her presence at all told her just how exhausted he must have been, and a pang of almost maternal worry tightened her chest.
This wasn’t something he wanted, she knew that, but he’d done it for her, and the guilt tore at her insides each time he left.
Shifting on the couch to stand, Claire froze as William turned, evidently having heard the movement. He was otherwise still, except for a quick movement of his hand to his hip that Claire barely caught. She should’ve known he’d still be armed. “It’s only me,” she said, breaking the tableau. She rose, pulling a blanket off the couch with her and wrapping it around her shoulders like armor.
Several moments passed before William spoke, at last letting out a quick sigh. “Why are you still awake?” Unthinkingly, he reached over to pull the blanket around her more tightly, letting his hand rest briefly at her cheek. He knew why she was up and truly had no need to ask. Indeed, it was more of an admonishment than a question, and Claire responded to the unspoken sentiment that went with it.
“We have other options,” she said quietly, though many of those were equally as unsavory as the route they’d chosen. She heard, more than saw, William shake his head.
“We really don’t. The threat of blackmail is honest, not a bluff. That aside, it is rather lucrative…” William replied, attempting to diffuse the atmosphere with his usual humor. He wouldn’t risk what security they had achieved for selfish reasons. His sister’s life, their future, was worth some exhaustion and blood on his hands. William had told her as much on many occasions, yet she insisted just as frequently that they find another way. She made no such protestations now, but he could see the thoughts forming behind her eyes.
She opened her mouth once, closed it, and shook her head, thinking better of arguing this late at night. Claire could see the dark bags under William’s eyes even without proper lighting. “You have another assignment tomorrow night, non?”
“…have you been reading my things?” The accusation was made calmly, but Claire understood the control that kept his question from turning into something beyond a simple inquiry. William cared for her above all, but he did not hold with breeches in privacy.
“Hardly. Your voice carries through these thin walls. No, no one else would understand your conversations, but I’m far from ignorant.”
William let out a slow, measured sigh. “Another nocturnal mission,” he said with a mirthless chuckle, “but at least I’ll have time for a proper meal.” He squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to stop the burning from being awake so long; it helped somewhat, but not enough. Making to trudge toward his bedroom, he was stopped by Claire’s blanketed arms clasping around his torso, her face buried in his chest. It brought a smile to his weary lips, and he kissed the top of her head, pulling her into his chest for a tight hug.
“I’ll make something tasty for us,” she muttered into his chest.
William laughed at the idea and shook his head. “You’d best order something if it’s to be tasty,” he teased. Claire laughed, too, and pulled back enough to look up at her brother’s face.
“Chinese, from that place around the block, the authentic one.”
“That sounds marvelous,” William agreed. He poked her side playfully until she let him go and this time did head to his room. Reaching the door, however, he paused and looked back over his shoulder to see Claire still standing at the end of the hall.
“Claire,” he called, earning a nod of acknowledgement from his sister.
“Please don’t wait up for me tomorrow. I’ll be just fine, I promise.”