This incredible girl.
Because of her, his heart beat.
His heart beat.
They’d thumb wrestled for the window seat. He’d lost. Girl had a death grip. Claudia had fallen asleep as New Jersey blended into Pennsylvania and then Ohio, and now they were somewhere over Indiana and the sun was setting behind them. Steve leaned forward every once in awhile, glancing past Claudia at the landscape beneath them--the endless green fields, dotted with color as they passed over cities (red and black and gray rooftops, occasionally a splash of blue for a swimming pool) but they held his interest for only a few moments at a time.
Instead, he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes and rested his right hand over his chest where he could feel his heart beating, steady and reassuring against his palm. His heartbeat pulsed in his ears. He swore he could hear it even over the drone of the engines.
Stowed carefully away in his carry-on was the metronome, where it lay still and silent. Hopefully it would remain that way for a long, long time.
It was a wondrous thing, living.
Beside him, Claudia stirred in her sleep. He watched her awhile, the calm smile on her face and the slow rise and fall of her chest. In the space between her heartbeats, he saw the horrible end she had risked for him, but she, too, was still breathing. Usually she was so fiesty and fierce and fidgety, it jarred him.
Her eyes opened. “We’re doing the Edward Cullen thing, I see,” she said around a yawn, shifting in her seat to stretch. "Also, airplane seats? Not a fan."
“I’m not--you can’t just call me--” Steve sighed. “You’re going to make this a thing.”
Claudia arched her back and settled down in her seat again, smirking at him as she combed her fingers through her hair. “No one said anything about a thing.”
He folded his arms, narrowing his eyes. It was a stretch to look angry but he thought he could manage distinctly ruffled. Claudia's snort suggested that he came up short.
“Fine," he said, "but if you nickname me Edward next, you’ve officially gone too far.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ve got enough nicknames. Poopypants.”
“You couldn’t have stuck with Jinksy?”
“Poopypants has such a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” She waggled her eyebrows at him. “But seriously, Jinksy, how are you feeling?”
“I feel... good,” he said, and laid a hesitant hand over his heart once again, just to be sure. It answered him, strong and steady. Like it had never stopped. He could almost make himself believe that it had never happened, that his death and the last couple of weeks of not-quite-life had been nothing but a bad artifact-induced nightmare. Which in some ways, it had been. But not quite.
“Good?” she repeated. She leaned closer, worry tinging her expression. “But good-good, right?”
“What other kind of good is there?”
“I mean, you could’ve gone with great or awesome or--”
“Claud,” he broke in gently, laying a hand on her arm to stop her. “I’m great.”
“Oh.” He watched her let out a deep breath. “Well... good.”
“And, hey,” she said, just casually enough that he knew something was coming next. “Now that you’re off the metronome and no harm done, we’re cool with the whole me bringing you back from the dead thing, right? We’re moving on?”
There were so many answers he could have given her. He could have told her that his joy and gratitude to be alive still warred with his conscience--the conscience that said she shouldn’t have done it, but neither could he find it in himself to wish himself dead nor guarantee that he would have been able to resist the temptation had their places been reversed. But--what was done, was done, and he was alive. He was happy to be alive, bickering with this little sister he’d never expected to find on their way back to their odd little family in the middle of nowhere South Dakota.
Yes, moving on was best.
“We’re good,” he settled for saying, and reached out to squeeze her arm. “We’re moving on.”
Her smile was answer enough.
“So,” she said, and cleared her throat. “Now that that’s settled, do you have any plans for tomorrow night?”
“Good segue.” He arched an eyebrow. “Real smooth.”
“Anyway,” she continued, ignoring him, “I ask because if you’re free, it is so time for another movie night.”
“Depends,” he said. “Whose turn is it to pick, again?”
Steve winced. “What is it this time?”
“I think he wanted to watch The Avengers.”
Claudia shrugged. “I liked it.”
“I mean, it was all right, but it was just so--” He fell silent under her glare. “And you know that Artie’s just going to interrupt and ramble on about how Captain America’s shield is really an artifact.”
“Okay, I know I’m a tech geek and not really a sci-fi geek, but seriously,” she said, “all I’m saying is that I want moves like Black Widow and also that I want to live in Stark Tower.”
“Okay,” he conceded. “That’s fair.”
“Thaaaat’s my Jinksy,” she said, and settled back into her seat, clearly satisfied with herself.
He shook his head. “One of these days I'm going to win, you know,” he said.
“Things are looking pretty good for me right now, though,” she said.
They were interrupted by the familiar buzz of the Farnsworths. The smile slipped from Claudia’s face as Steve glanced surreptitiously around the cabin. As far as he could tell no one was paying them the slightest attention. Claudia pulled hers out of her pocket and flipped it open.
“Artie,” she said, “whassup?”
Steve could make out Artie’s glare even on the small screen. His opening line was as predictable as ever. Out of Artie’s range of vision, he mouthed along, “We got a ping.”
“When and where?” The corner of Claudia’s mouth threatened to twitch into a smile.
“Albuquerque,” Artie informed them. “People moving as if trapped in an invisible box while unable to speak. We’re still digging, but it’s obviously a mime-related artifact of some kind.”
“Mime?” Steve repeated, hard-pressed to supress a shudder.
“What’s wrong with mimes?” Claudia wanted to know.
“Nothing," he said, "but mimes are sort of like clowns and I hate clowns.”
“Just get there,” Artie ordered, and hung up without a word of farewell. Claudia snapped the Farnsworth shut as the screen went black, and tucked it back into place inside her jacket.
“I hate clowns,” Steve muttered.
“We got this.” Claudia gave his arm a reassuring pat. “We so got this.”
"Well, then." Steve gave her a sideways glance. "Lead on, partner."