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First, Second, and Third Opinions

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Looking Back, the Young Woman Sets the Tone

Some would say that he was unpredictable. At least, Chane had heard it from enough people to look for grains of truth in their fears. In certain situations, she could see their points. His surface identity shifted with each inevitable name change. He wasn't a liar but the truths he told almost seemed too impossible to be true. She couldn't deny that he was particularly wily in a fight. She had, after all, watched him work that magic with her own eyes.

Still, she didn't believe them. For someone like her, unpredictability held a comfort all its own.

* * *

Some Time Earlier and in Some Place Familiar

He showed up at the Genoard home just as the sun slipped beyond the horizon. Chane watched as he casually walked the path to the door. The last hints of light caught sight of the yellow daisies he held behind his back and brought them to dim light. He almost looked like the average young lover. After all that had happened, something seemed pedestrian about the whole scene.

She had turned to go back to her room by the time the butler announced his arrival. She pretended that she hadn't heard. Chane had settled down with a book before he had even attempted to ask were she was hiding. When she detected the faint sound of footsteps resounding in the hall, she set aside her book and walked to the door. He was already waiting by the time she opened it.

"It's good that I found you," he said. "I was starting to wonder if you were even here. Can I come in?" Chane stepped aside.

He glanced around the room, his eyes excited. They didn't tell her much. He always seemed excited. "I see you've living pretty bare here. That's fine," he said as he dragged a finger across the desk. "I don't need much either."

She gave no response. Chane retrieved her book and took a seat on the bed. Her eyes could only scan a sentence before a hand slipped over the page and pressed the book down. She looked up into excited eyes. "It's been two weeks since everything went down. We haven't talked since then." She nodded. "Is there any reason for that?" She shook her head.

He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. "Can I have a seat?" She nodded and he took a seat next to her on the bed. "I've come on a little strong. I know that." He glanced at her but she refused to return his gaze. "I could maybe step back if you wanted." She gave no response.

"It's okay. I get it." He rose up and handed her the flowers. "These are for you. I may call on you again sometime."

She watched as he walked away. As she listened to his footsteps trail away, Chane brought the flowers to her face. Perhaps I have been cruel, she thought. After all, she had indicated to him that she was willing to give him a chance. He had tried and she had not. And what other person in her life had ever gone to such consistent lengths to see her?

She tossed the flowers on the desk and ran to the window. He had just exited the building. She opened the window. She waved to him wildly when he looked back to the house. "So I see you've changed your mind!" he yelled. "I'll be right here when you're ready."

* * *

Testimonial 1: Jacuzzi Splot

Oh him …

Well, he certainly likes you Chane, but I … uh … well … he's the RAIL TRACER! HOW DO YOU THINK I FEEL?

I'm so sorry about that. How I feel isn't important right now. Don't mind me.

Anyway, I don't think I've known anyone like him. He's all over the place, ya know? But he really seems like he'll do whatever is needed for you. That kinda makes him a little like us. Only terrifying.

He's done some crazy things. I suppose you can't forget that. I would hold it all against him but I really can't after all we've all been through. Who else would believe it all, right?

I know how I feel. But it's really your choice, Chane.

* * *

A Night Out and Other Uncomfortable Things

She hadn't asked him where they were going. She realized now that had been a mistake.

Chane had never been one for crowds, much less clubs. She had always been shut away from others. This was either by her father's will or her own. There were too many unknown variables, too many chances for her or someone else to say the wrong thing and put everything in jeopardy. She had been taught to be weary of crowds. For years, she never saw a reason to question this wisdom.

She saw no need to question it now. The tables were packed together so tight she could smell her neighbors and the illegal alcohol they were drinking. They were so loud they she could barely hear the musicians on stage. Occasionally, they would bump into her without even leaving the basest of apologies. It was hard to keep her face neutral as the chaos swirled around her.

He, however, seemed strangely at home. He talked with old acquaintances, catching up with them in a boisterous manner. He took a bit of pride on correcting them about his current identity. "It's not 'Claire' anymore," he'd say. "I can't tell you the new one yet. I'm not sure what it is yet." His friends laughed indulgently. There were obviously used to such tales. It was such a silly idea to her. Still, she couldn't help but listen. He was fascinating.

That wasn't to say that he ignored her. He was quick to make sure her glass of ginger ale was full. He would point out to her all the various players in the room, telling her their stories and secrets in his most quiet, conspiratorial tone. She was quick to point out those she wanted stories on and he was quick to tell them.

And there was something else in which he was personally interested. "We should dance, Chane," he said, voice low.

She shook her head, smiling. Dance? Dance! She could run. She could walk. She could swim. She could even dodge and fall. But there was no way she could dance, especially not in front of so many people. Still, she was curious as to what it would be like. Could she move with him?

She let him plea two more times before offering him a strong nod. "Yes. And I know just the song. I can set this up."

He began to stand up and make his way to the stage. But Chane was surprised when he didn't move further than his chair. She rose up and latched on to his arm. "It's Reginald. He's a Runorata operative."

None of this made sense to her. But as she saw a burly man and his five companions approach them, she knew it couldn't be good.

"Hey Vino! We've got a bone to pick with you," said the man.

"You must not keep up with current events very well. That's not my name anymore."

"Does it matter?" Reginald pulled out a gun and aimed it for his mark. "You're the same regardless of what you call yourself."

The crowd went wild. Chane clung closer to him as the people around her rose up and fled the building. She stared at the gun and sighed. This wasn't going to be pretty.

* * *

Testimonial 2: Nice Holystone

Eh, you want to know what I think of him? Mostly, I don't think of him much outside of what he'll do for you.

Anyway, he's a weird sort of character. He did all of that on the train and then he ran to your rescue in the warehouse. And he managed to track you down to the Genoard house when no one should have known you where there. The dress he bought really suited you, though. At least he has good taste.

But who am I to judge? Me and Jacuzzi … well, people think we're kinda funny. But you know what? Funny works for us. It might work for you too, Chane.

At the very least, you know he'll always have your back in a fight.

* * *

Plus ça Change ...

Out of all the ways Chane had imagined the night going, this option had only vaguely crossed her mind. But it almost made a kind of poetic sense. They had met during a fight and they had agreed to see one another after another fight. Why wouldn't their first real outing not involve one as well?

"Vino, you could just give up and we'd let the girlie here go," said Reginald.

Her companion laughed. "Some names are hard to let go," he said to no one in particular. "And I don't think I'll be giving up just yet."

"Would your girl approve?"

"She's right here. Why don't you ask her yourself?"

One of the men moved toward her. She backed up against and pushed her companion to the side. The man laughed and continued forward, his hand now held out. Chane's hand disappeared inside her coat arm and unhooked a latch just below the elbow. The knife fell into her hand. The man took another step forward and she swung out. The blade barely grazed his fingers. His laughter became more manic and he tried once more to grab her. She swung again and he grabbed on to the blade. She pulled up and away and the fingers he had used fell away from the blade and to the floor. His fevered screams resounded through the club.

Her companion laughed as he reached into his coat. "As you can see, Chane isn't quite willing to give up to people like yourselves. She can take care of herself," he explained. "I don't think you can say the same for your man."

The gun shots followed soon after. Chane didn't know who had fired first. She had only seen one of the men fall to the floor. Her former foe, now covered in freshly shed blood, was after her again. Wielding a wine bottle, he tossed a few wild, easily dodged swings. These swings become more wild and he soon fell to the floor, woozy.

Chane couldn't rest. One of his friends, knife in hand, came charging for her. She pushed a table aside and ran towards him. They met and their blades clashed. Slice after slice, they didn't land a blow on each other. Eventually, the stood there, their knives connected, as they tried to force the other out of their way. "Bitch, what do you think you're doing? This is between us and Vino!"

He didn't see the flying foot. Chane, however, noticed her air-born companion and bounded away from her opponent. Foot collided with face and the man bounced against a table as her companion landed behind it. He jumped back to position and began to bash the man's head against it. "Will you call me a 'bitch'?" he asked with a voice that was as jovial as ever. "You think that's the way you talk to someone like this, huh?"

Chane didn't bother to listen to the rest. Her gaze was fixed on the man who came running for her companion. He passed by her, unaware that she had even been watching. Chane followed. She rose her blade before he could raise his and plunged the knife into his back. He turned and tried to swing. Chane reached into the coat's collar and pulled out another knife. She slashed his throat before he could bring his blade down again.

Another man was heading her way but suddenly stopped. She understood why: police sirens. He backed toward the door and was soon joined by a bloodied Reginald. "You haven't seen the last of us, Vino!"

"Uh-huh. I'll be loosing sleep over that."

He and Chane watched as they fled. "Come on, Chane," he said. "I know a way out back. We've gotta go!"

Chane didn't argue. She retrieved the knife from the man's back and tossed both knives into a deep coat pocket. She grabbed hold his hand and the two of them ran backstage. As they threaded their way past toppled boxes, she caught sight of hiding performers. She wanted to give some sign that she understood how they felt. But she caught sight of herself in the mirror and noticed the bloody splotches that stained her face and clothes. Nothing she could do would make anyone feel better.

By the last door cowered the bartender. "Hey, Claire! We appreciate most of your business but don't you think this was the kind of thing you should have left at work?"

"Work just follows me wherever I go, Larry," he said. "And admit it: I bring spice to your life and you'd miss it if it weren't there."

Chane thought she head the bartender mumble something as they fled.

"Don't worry, Chane. I've got a place where we can clean up and hide out," he said.

She had a good idea about what that place was. Under any other circumstances, she would have protested. But as she ran through the alleyways, she realized that she would need just such a place. That it would be his home was not something with which she would concern herself.

* * *

Testimonial 3: Huey and Chane Laforet

You know how I feel about this man, Chane.

- But Father …

No "buts", Chane. He can't be a good influence on you. He pulls you in opposing directions.

- It's not like that, father.

But it is. He pulls you from me and toward himself. Don't we have something special between us?

- Of course, father, but …

Our secrets are more secure when they're just between the two of us.

- But he already knows!

And you're fine with this?

- Why not? He would tell no one and would want nothing from you.

He will want what we hide.

- He's not like everyone else. He has no use for your gift. He doesn't care.

Do you care? For him, that is.

- Sometimes, I don't know if I do. But I want to know. I want to discover that for myself.

* * *

In the Lair (and on the rooftop) of the Beast

The warm shower did her a world of good. She had protested, though, at his insistence that she do so before him. "Oh don't mind me," he had said, "I'm used to this." She figured it was best to go ahead as she watched the dried blood crinkle around his smiling mouth. Her mind kept turning back to that image as she watched the blood trails circle down the drain. How could he be so comfortable?

She parted the shower curtains and saw a pair of flannel pajamas. Casually, she spread them out across the sink and floor before toweling off. The clothes were large but seemed to small to be his. Who can these belong to, she thought as she slipped the shirt over her head. She pulled the voluminous sleeves up to her elbows before stepping into the pants. She pulled the ends of the drawstring as tight as they could stand, ran a casual hand through her damp hair, and turned the handle.

When she walked out, she saw that his hand was covering his face. The fingers in front of his right eye parted and a red eye looked her up and down. "Oh, you're swimming in them," he said as he shook his head. He walked over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. If she hadn't known better, she could have sworn that he was blushing. "These are a few years old and I thought that they might fit you better. I'm sorry. I had considered buying you something of your own should such an occasion like this arise, but we weren't talking and I thought it would look presumptuous. You're fine with this, aren't you?"

She nodded. "Ah good! Well, I'll see you in a bit." With that, he disappeared into the bathroom.

Chane took a look around. He had been right: he did live a fairly Spartan existence. Everything he owned appeared to fit easily into a three-room apartment. The unadorned walls showed none of his accomplishments nor hinted at the extended network of friends that both relied upon and were relied on by him. The closet and dresser obviously held tantalizing secrets and Chane had to restrain herself from peeking. Instead, she ran her fingers along the weathered wooden shells and wondered what they contained: papers on his various identities, weaponry the likes of which she had never imagined, or just ordinary clothes. The options seemed limitless.

His options for entertainment were particularly meager. All she had noted was a radio, a portable gramophone, and a few books. Perhaps the Genoard house has spoiled me, she thought. She had lived with much less and felt a bit foolish judging him on this account. Still, she needed a way to pass the time. She picked up one of the books, plopped down in a nearby chair, and flipped through the yellowed pages. Occasionally, she would hear a few lone notes to a popular song slip out from the bathroom confines. She would lower her face into the book and smile.

Eventually, he returned from the shower pink-skinned and crazy-haired. It didn't pass Chane's notice that his pajamas wore the same pattern as the ones he had given her to wear.

"I see you've been able to entertain yourself. That's good. But I hope you're not too comfortable. I've got something planned for us," he said.

She closed the book and placed it to the side. When she looked up, she noticed him rifling through the box of records next to the gramophone. He took one out in particular and held it out to Chane. "Could you hold this for me?" She took the record and watched as he picked up the gramophone. With his head, he motioned toward the table and said, "Grab the keys and follow me up."

She grabbed the keys. He was already gone by the time she looked back up. With record and keys in hand, she flew out the door. The hall was poorly lit but she was still able to see where the upward running stairs began. Her left hand grabbed about until she felt the bannister graze her fingers. She latched on and began her ascent.

The stairwell was no better lit than the hallway but the occasional windows offered up just enough light to guide her up. Happily, the stairs themselves were in good enough condition that the sometimes awkward lighting didn't put her in harm's way.

After a few minutes of climbing, she noticed the opened door. She stepped toward it and smelled the brisk night air. She sighed and stepped out. He was already there waiting for her.

"What took you so long?" he asked. She merely smiled as she walked toward him. He held out his hands and she placed the record in them. He offered her a short nod before sitting down next to the gramophone. He placed the record upon it and placed the needle on in position with all the softness he could muster. He grabbed the handle and gave it a multiple strong turns. In moments, delicate piano lines issued forth from the bell.

"This wasn't what I had planned from the start. But," he said, turning toward her, "I think we still owe each other a dance."

For a moment she didn't budge. So many thoughts ran through her mind: would anyone see them, would she cut bare feet, and was this some random bit of silliness on his part. Chane raised a hand to protest and he took it in his own. He wrapped the other hand around her waist and pulled her close. The keys fell to the ground and she latched her other hand to his shoulder. "You're fine with this, aren't you?" She looked into his eyes and gave a firm nod.

He was, as she suspected, light on his feet. He guided her in circles around the roof. At times, it seemed as if his feet never touched the ground. Still, he was able to guide her less trained feet toward something like dancing. Soon, Chane felt as if she had gotten the hang of it. She placed her head against his shoulder as he hummed along with the tune.

"I knew you'd find your rhythm," he said softly. "You've always seemed pretty quick to things, even if those things weren't about me. I think we could probably stay like this forever." She couldn't find it in herself to disagree.

But the music wound down to an abrupt stop. They still continued to twirl. He led her back to the gramophone before finally bringing them both to a stop. "All things end, don't they?" She nodded. "That means I'm going to have to take you home."

She almost raised a hand to protest. His smile, though, sent her hand back of her side. She smiled and nodded. It would be fine to end things for the night. After all, it didn't mean that the good times were over.

* * *

All's Well That Ends Well

It didn't matter to her that they were both walking up the steps to the Genoard home in blood-stained overcoats. No one was outside to notice. And even if there were people to watch them, they would merely note a young couple sneaking up to the doors well after midnight. That was scandalous enough.

She attempted to turn the handle but his hand descended over hers. She turned around and stared into his smiling eyes. "It was a good night, wasn't it?" She nodded.

"And I suppose I can call on you again?" She smiled.

"Then I'll try to see you again some time this week, work allowing. Word has it that the Gandors will have something ready for me by the end of the week and I would like to see you before then."

He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "Good night," he whispered before leaving a kiss on the hand. He let go and the hand drifted to her Chane's side. He made it halfway down the walk before he turned back and waved to her. She waved back and turned to open the door.

She glided through the doorway and halfway to the stairwell. Chane wouldn't have noticed Nice had she not spoken to her. "I saw everything," she said. "You want to tell me about it?"

Chane shook her head and brought her finger to her lips. "Can I hear about it tomorrow?" Chane nodded and made her back up the stairs. She could only vaguely hear Nice's response from the floor below: "You've got it bad!" Chane didn't bother to respond. Any motion she gave would only point out how true it was.