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For the love of Alice

“I work on missiles on a secure base,” he tilted the scrawled out diagram first one way and then another, “but the engineering of a simple bowtie,” he sighed when he found what he hoped was the right side up and set it carefully on the dressing table in front of him, “seems to have alluded me.”

Cross worked in stern silence with his fingers, typically attuned to intricate work on the aforementioned missiles, jumbling up in fabric quicker than one might claim Bob as his uncle. He growled to himself as he hurriedly unknotted the mess. Cross stared a moment at his reflection, his grey suit and starched white shirt immaculate save for the crumbled mass of cloth around his neck. As he moved his arms to set about trying again, his newly gifted gold cufflinks caught the morning sunlight streaming through the windows. Cross slowed his movements. This time he’d read aloud the directions.

“’Start with the bowtie lying face up,’” he looked at his reflection in the mirror, then back at the diagram, “how am I supposed to know if this is face up or down, Rory?”

Cross felt a sliver of satisfaction at calling out his friend for the vague instructions. They’d been hastily written on a napkin, the words slurred together and in places near blotted out due to liquid residue bleeding the ink out in every direction. But he should be grateful that Rory had taken the time to draw them out at all during his stag party. Though it hadn’t been much of a stag party, at least not what most men his age would expect of one. It’d just been Rory and a few other colleagues from base sharing drinks and dinner at a diner a few towns away. The closest thing to a “smoking dame” had been the prehistoric-looking broad who’d served them their food. That hadn’t stopped Rory from testing out his magoo on her though, and his commendable efforts had placed free pie in front of everyone before the evening was over.

So assuredly, not the traditional bachelor party, but for Cross, it was enough. The secretive nature of their work meant long months of isolation from family and friends. Although, even when he wasn’t confined to base, Cross didn’t have much of a family to go home to. His grandmother, whom he visited when he had a chance, lived in Buffalo across the river, and that was about it. His younger brother, Duncan, had died in the war and their parents had both been out of the picture long before that.

Cross counted himself lucky because though he had little by way of blood relatives, he made up for it with the likes of Rory: resident prankster in their small “family” of civilian technicians assigned to the Grand Island Nike Base. Rory never tired of pulling a prank, nor did he tire of reminding Cross of how much of a lucky son-of-a-gun he was for:

1. being friends with Rory (always said in a tone that denoted a serious case of self-importance),
2. being employed by Uncle Sam (this was always said with sarcasm since Rory shared similar scars from the war),
3. being able to “play” with large explosives and design “big kids” toys,
4. having the most no-nonsense-loving grandmother known to humanity (Rory’s words but Cross concurred), and
5. having an amazing woman like Alice Coleman agree to marry him.

It was for that marriage that he was now at an impasse with this bowtie. When they had discussed attire for the ceremony some months back, Cross had tried to tell Alice his bowtie tying skills were less than impressive, but the look of delight on her face at the sample drawings of what their ceremony could look like (bowtie and all), had kept him mute. He’d do anything to see that look of unadulterated joy on her face. Aside from his grandmother, and according to Rory, Rory, Alice was the only good thing he had in his life worth living for.

Cross heard the door behind him click shut, and he spoke over his shoulder without looking, “I hope you’re better at tying these dopey things than you are drawing them, Rory, because-“ his words died out. Standing just inside the doorway stood not Rory but a stranger in his stead.

“I’m afraid I never learned how to tie one of those either.” The stranger spoke first after allowing confused silence to settle between them. “I prefer clip-ons.”

“Who are you?” Cross finally asked, ignoring the stranger’s vain attempt at small talk. “What are you doing here?”

The stranger shifted from one foot to the other with nervous energy. He wore simple black slacks and a khaki button-down; not exactly military uniform, but not entirely civilian attire either. Cross didn’t recognize him from Alice’s side of the family, though he struck Cross as familiar. It may be because he seemed to have the run-of-the-mill white American looks about him and that his was a face that looked like many. But there was something else about the stranger, an essence that lurked about his shoulders, that told Cross that there was something much more about him that painted him as more familiar than mere generic looks.

 “I-,” the stranger raked a shaky hand through his hair and spoke out on a whoosh of air, “you’d think by now I’d have this speech down pact.” A mirthless chuckle followed his words, and he kicked at nonexistent dust on the floor.

Cross raised his eyebrows. “What speech?” Cross had the crazy thought maybe he should call for help. But, upon looking more intently at the stranger, Cross didn’t see any form of weapon on the man, nor did he hold himself in a volatile way.

The stranger brought his tired-looking eyes back up to Cross’s and, without further preamble, stated, “You can’t marry Alice.” The air of the room seemed now to crackle with foreboding where before it’d been full of the average wedding-day jitters.

“Pardon?”

“I said, ‘you can’t marry Alice.’”

Cross laughed dourly. “Oh, I heard you the first time, buddy. My response was more along the lines of ‘why the hell not?’” He crossed his arms over his chest and widened his stance as he stared down at the pleading look on the stranger’s face. “Last time I checked, Alice loved me, I loved her, and nobody had staked a prior claim or made a law against our marrying.” He then narrowed his eyes and pointed at the stranger’s throat. “I want to know who you think you are to be coming in here on my wedding day, telling me I can’t marry my own future wife?”

The stranger again shifted on his feet before he pointed towards a table close by, indicating a pitcher of lemonade. “May I?”
Cross cursed his childhood lessons on manners at his grandmother’s knee when he acquiesced to the man’s request for refreshment without demanding an answer first. The stranger’s hands shook, causing some of the liquid to upset and dribble to the floor, but the majority found its way into his glass, and from there, that majority found its way from the glass into the man’s mouth—though a good deal bypassed and trickled down his throat. The stranger wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, took a deep breath, then spoke while he set down his glass with an air of determination.

“I am from a future.” Cross blinked, so the stranger quickly continued. “I don’t say ‘the’ future because the future I’m from is not your present one.” The stranger kept himself from looking directly at Cross as his nervous energy brought him to pace a slow circle around Cross. “The future I’m from is peaceful and financially stable. We have no missile bases or standing armies and no topsy-turvy stock market that warmongers use to finance proxy wars. It is a time of technological innovation, the third industrial revolution, some call it. That’s how I was able to build my time machine, you see? Because of the peace and the stable funding for such endeavors. Scientists and inventors aren’t used to create weapons to bring about destruction; we can use our skills to better mankind. It is a time and a place of true peace and prosperity for all.” Coming to stand where Cross had once been in front of the mirror, he looked back to Cross as if everything he’d just said made perfect sense.

“You’re joking, right?” Cross waved at the air around the stranger. “You expect me to believe you’ve come all the way from the future just to tell me I can’t marry Alice? And for what? Because…wait a second. I don’t even know what my marriage has to do with your supposed shiny future of peace.”

“If you marry Alice today, then my future, that of peace and prosperity, will no longer exist. We’ve cured cancer and ended world hunger in my future, and we’re colonizing the moon and working towards doing the same with Mars. Currency is not used to keep a man down or destabilize nations in my future. If you marry Alice, then all that will not happen.” The stranger’s tone turned once more to one of pleading. “I will not happen.”

Cross shook his head and backed away from the lunatic, as that was what this man was: an escaped asylum patient. Of course, the closest asylum was across the river, but he could’ve snuck onto the island with a truck or ferry. Crazy things like that happened in this world. Rarely. But they happened. Time travel, on the other hand, was still a theory.

Cross didn’t take his eyes off the stranger on his route towards the door. “So, for the sake of the cure for cancer, world peace, stable currency, and moon colonization, I’m not supposed to marry Alice? That makes no sense. I don’t see how those events even correlate to one another.”

“Alice wasn’t supposed to fall in love with you.” Cross stopped and quirked his head to the side, studying the stranger. “You have to travel back in time with me, today, now, and ensure that Alice will fall in love with the right man because the fate of a better future depends on it.”

Cross laughed. That last statement did it, and he was convinced. This man was a prank from Rory, and it was just like Rory to send a lark on his wedding day, mere hours away from the ceremony. He’d never let his friend live this one down.

“All right, you can cut the joke now. I get it.” Cross boldly walked forward and punched the stranger on the shoulder before pushing past him to face the mirror. “Rory put you up to this to get my mind off the wedding jitters. Well, you can tell Rory that it worked, for a little while.” He looked at the stranger through their reflection. That eerie sense of familiarity struck again, but he hid his unease behind a smile. “Though let him know that maybe next time, go easy on the doom and gloom. That’s a bit much for a wedding day.” Despite his bravado, Cross noticed his fingers shook when he reached up to start over on his tie.

“If you don’t come quickly,” the stranger moved towards the door, “a much darker future than you expect for you and Alice will happen. And it’ll happen sooner rather than later.”

Cross dropped his hands and glared at the stranger through the mirror. “What do you mean by that?”

The appearance of none other than Rory himself cut off the stranger’s answer. Rory was out of breath, and his suit appeared crumpled. No doubt he’d woken up mere minutes ago and had run from the base. Typical Rory.

Cross turned to point first at his friend and then to the stranger, “Good job, you old dog. Now get your prank and cut out so I can get ready in peace.”

Cross noticed confusion cross his friend’s face, but that was replaced with determined curiosity when the stranger pushed Rory out of the way and fled the room. Rory quickly followed, leaving Cross, as he’d earlier requested, alone. Only he wasn’t as alone as he would’ve liked. The stranger had left an ominous feeling in his wake. There was something about him, though Cross now knew him to be an instrument of Rory, that left Cross unsettled. The abject sincerity he’d seen in the stranger’s eyes when he’d spoken of the darkness he and Alice could face, “sooner rather than later,” churned in his stomach. He’d deck Rory the next he saw of him. This was a low blow, even for that mischief-maker.

“There you are.” Cross looked up to see his grandmother standing in the doorway, as pristine as ever in her best church clothes. “I see that you’re not ready yet.” She strode forward, her steps having not grown any less hurried over the years, despite her aging. “Some things never change.”

Some could consider her words harsh, but Cross knew she spoke them with love. His grandmother Aizel always pushed Duncan and him to be the best they could be and never waiver in doing the right thing. She’d tried to be everything to them they needed: father, mother, grandmother. She hadn’t always succeeded, but she’d for certain tried, and he respected and loved her for it.

As she took over the endeavor of tying his tie, Cross laid his hands on her thin shoulders, “How are you holding up?”

“Funny question to ask me,” she harrumphed at her own efforts to tie the bowtie before undoing what she’d just done and looking down at Rory’s diagram, “when you’re the one getting married. Now, what on earth was Rory drinking last night when he drew this?” She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

“How is Alice?”

His grandmother shrugged, “Pacing up a storm in the other room with her bridesmaids trailing after her.”

“Do you know if anyone we don’t know talked to her?” Cross felt a spike of apprehension.

“What do you mean?” His grandmother went back to tying the tie. “People have been coming and going all over this church today, and I’m still learning her side of the family. There’s so many of them.” A few seconds more, and then she stepped back and smiled. “There now. Have a look.”

Cross turned to look at his reflection before he smiled at his grandmother. Regardless of if it’d been well made or not, he would keep it with pride. As it stood, she’d done a better job than him. “It looks great. What would I do without you?”

“Practically nothing.” She turned on her heel and marched over to the settee, where she promptly sat with a purposeful grace Cross had only ever seen in one other person: Alice. “You want to tell me why you’re acting so jumpy?” She held up a hand before he could speak. “And don’t try to say that it’s the heebie-jeebies because of the wedding, because that’s a lot of hooey to me. I know what wedding day jitters look like, and Alice is displaying them, not you.”

Cross couldn’t imagine Rory surviving the tongue-lashing his grandmother would put him through if she knew the truth, so he distracted her with other pertinent points that could lead to his “heebie-jeebies”: would they remember to write thank you cards for everyone who helped to chip in for the wedding; would Alice be satisfied with the reception since they’d had to scale back on some of the pomp and circumstance; was he a good enough man for the likes of Alice; would his salary as a civilian contractor for the military be enough for them while she went back to school to earn a higher degree (a goal she’d set for herself long before meeting him and a goal he wanted her to see through); would he be a good father when they had children down the road; and he would’ve gone on, but a not-so-distant alarm interrupted their conversation.

“It can’t be,” Cross whispered more to himself than his grandmother as he moved to the window and looked in the base's direction where the high-pitched wailing originated.

“Does that mean that the Reds are attacking?” Cross turned around to see his grandmother clutching at the pearl necklace around her throat, her fingers brushing over them as if they were rosary beads. “Isn’t that what that alarm means, Cross?”

Remembering himself and his audience, Cross shook his head, “It is highly implausible that the Reds would attack on my wedding day, grandma. I’m sure it’s an unscheduled drill.” He knelt in front of her and smoothed his hands over her knees. “I’ll have to check-in at the base now, of course, but I’m sure it’s just a drill.”

As he helped her to her feet and moved towards the doorway, she spoke. “What makes you say that? I don’t recall having seen published a pre-approved schedule for when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor or when the Nazis blitzed London. How can you be so certain it’s just a drill?” The panicked hitch in her voice unsettled his stomach, but Cross soldiered on in the name of calming her nerves.

Forcing a chuckle, “I just don’t think that they’d do it. Not today. It’s too pretty a day for mutual destruction.” They went through a narrow corridor to the side entrance of the chapel. “You and the others will have to head towards the air-raid shelters until the drill is over. If YOU recall, that procedure was published in the pre-approved ‘What to do when__?’ packet that was sent out from base a few weeks ago.” He winked at her sudden exasperated look.

The chapel was empty when they hurried through, and Cross barely noted the flower arrangements Alice had been so excited about. It was surreal, walking through the chapel all decorated for their big day, with the base alarm blaring in the background. A church should have organ music playing in it, not the wailing of promised destruction. Cross made a beeline for the entrance, seeing a gathering of ladies just outside, waiting, no doubt, for his grandmother to join them. She hesitated when they stood on the wooden planks of the church porch, and she turned back to face him. Her hands sought his, and she held tight. Her movements and expression set Cross’s teeth on edge, much like the earnest pleading in the stranger’s voice when he’d spoken about the future and their coming doom. Cross steeled his expression into one of neutral sympathy.

“You be careful with your rockets, Cross.”

“Missiles, grandma. And I doubt we’ll be doing anything with the missiles today. Except maybe polish them after this colossal mistake.” He squeezed her hands. “It is just a drill.” Leaning forward, he kissed her cheek. “The others are waiting for you. Go on now. I gotta hurry on back to base. I’m sure Rory’s already fit to be tied looking for me.”

With one more gentle push, she left his side and joined the other ladies. They quickly began loading up the cars, but Cross didn’t see the telltale white of a wedding gown. Where was Alice? Cross was just turning to look for her when a pair of hands came over his eyes.

“Don’t you know it’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding?” She whispered into his ear. Her breath was warm as it tickled across his skin. Despite the still blaring alarm, Cross felt a wave of peace flow through him. Alice always brought such peace with her presence.

He attempted humor, “With this alarm, you would think that I’d done much more than just see you.”

“Cross!” She playfully slapped his shoulder. Then her arms came around his waist, her palms laying flat against his chest, as she hugged herself tightly to his back. He felt the change of emotion in her touch and he tried to stave off her misgivings with a press of his hands atop hers. “I love you, Cross.”

He closed his eyes and smiled, “I love you too, Alice.” He squeezed her hands closer to his body and felt her arms tightening their hold around him in response. “I really gotta go now, honey.”

“I know. I know. I’ll be with grandma and the others in the shelter.” Though it was a warm day, he felt chilled when she let go and heard her heels on the wooden planks as she stepped away. “Come back to me when you’re done. I’m not keen on being jilted today.”

Though he knew she’d box his ears later for doing so, Cross couldn’t help but steal a glance over his shoulder at Alice’s retreat. The breeze wafted through her veil, lifting it just enough for him to glimpse the blonde locks of her carefully coiffed hair beneath it. He waited until he saw her lithely slide into the same car his grandmother had disappeared into, and he nodded to himself. They would be safe.

Cross turned and started for his own car, but he caught sight of the stranger standing just apart from the cars near a copse of trees. Cross narrowed his eyes. The stranger had been no hoax after all, and Cross had a sinking suspicion that he was connected to the alarm. Cross hurried off the church steps and in the stranger's direction. He muttered to himself when the stranger immediately retreated through the trees.

If the stranger was trying to hide from Cross, he wasn’t doing a very good job: his trail was as apparent as if an army tank had gone through the undergrowth. Somehow, Cross felt the stranger wanted to be found, and the further he moved away from the church, from the base, and from anyone who could be of possible help in case this went south, the more Cross wished he’d thought of bringing some sort of weapon should the stranger turn out to be a Soviet spy (as was Cross’s building assumption) and not just a madman.

He pushed aside the last of the brush that kept him from the shoreline near the new bridge construction site. A perfect spot for a murder. Or for a secret rendezvous with a getaway boat. Cross readied himself as he stepped onto the sunshine-brightened shore. Directly in front of him stood the stranger. He didn’t look any different from when Cross had seen him before, aside from holding what looked to be a remote device in his left hand.

Cross stopped and pointed to the device. “What is that?”
   
“I told you. I built a time machine. This device,” the stranger held it up higher, which had Cross shifting on the balls of his feet for better leverage in case he needed to flee, “will recall my machine. It is in the fourth dimension right now. Outside of time and space. It can’t stay within any given time for longer than a few seconds, otherwise, it melts down.”

Cross jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “And the alarm? Do I have you to thank for that?”

The stranger’s arm lowered, “I warned you that if you didn’t come with me right away that the dark future would come sooner rather than later.” His eyes held a promise of pain when they settled on Cross. “That alarm was set off because one of your colleagues mistakenly believed that the Soviets launched an attack against the continental United States a few minutes ago. The radar sensors were wrong; it was not a missile he saw, but a glitch in the system. The Soviets will think that it was an unprovoked attack, and they will retaliate against the Americans with their own missiles in a matter of hours. The American president will call the Kremlin to stop further attacks, but it will be too late. Both sides will then plead with their allies to join with them in a crusade of mutual destruction.” The stranger looked at his watch and again shook his head. “You are a day away from World War 3 and the annihilation of everything you love.”
   
“Did you cause the glitch?” Cross asked, despite himself. He could bring himself to believe that this was crazy. There would be no attack. It was an unscheduled drill. He would marry Alice today, and Rory would never hear the end of it for arranging the most elaborate prank in the history of pranks. But his instinct, the thing that had gotten him through the war with barely a scratch, told him that this stranger was telling the truth.

The stranger pressed a button, and a rounded ball of energy appeared in front of them. “Does it matter when this war is inevitable with how the countries of this world are poised? What difference does it make if it was me, the Soviets, your colleagues, or truly a glitch? Unless you come with me now, this will keep happening. Only you’ll not realize you’re repeating hell on multiple timelines. And I, I will continue to come back to plead with you to stop being a selfish ass, to truly prove your love by making the ultimate sacrifice.” The stranger stepped closer to the ball of energy. “So what’s it going to be, Cross?”

Cross undid his bowtie and ripped the material from his body, dropping it to the ground, and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. If he was going to go back in time, he’d rather go without the noose around his neck. He pulled off his suit coat and hung it on a nearby branch; he would also go without the straitjacket. He strode forward and nodded to the stranger.

Once they were settled in the machine (the piece of evidence Cross had needed to reassure himself he was doing the right thing and was not crazy), he turned to the stranger and asked, “Why today?”

“What do you mean?” The stranger busied himself with checking the various dials and levers that cocooned them in a cramped space barely big enough for two. It was both exactly what he’d expect of a time machine and not at all. The cylindrical shape took him by surprise, as did the sheer number of buttons on all sides of them. What looked like a hand-drawn portrait of a young woman, tucked carefully between two dials nearest the stranger, also stood out as something unexpected.  The repeating clicks and whirs of the machine, however, were exactly as he’d have imagined.

“Why did you travel to my wedding day to ask me to come with you?” Cross continued. “Why didn’t you travel to an earlier time?” He faced forward and looked at the stranger with his peripherals. “Why did you wait so long in the timeline of my life with Alice?”

The stranger lowered his hands to his lap. “Oh. Well,” he returned to his earlier nervous tick of running his hand through his hair, “Time works in waves the same as sound, light, radiation, etcetera. And these waves are all influenced by the gravitation pull and push from the sun, planets, and surrounding stars. Time jumps can only happen when there is a spherical alignment between certain celestial bodies. So-” He noticed Cross’s eyes glazing over and hurried on. “It took much trial and error to come to a close enough time to do some good without risking absolute failure. In fact, this is my third attempt, and each attempt has been to a different point in your timeline with Alice.”

Cross couldn’t bring himself to ask what had happened in the first two attempts. From the expression on the stranger’s face and the tone in his voice when he’d alluded to them, neither of those attempts held much by way of hope for this one. Instead, he distracted himself with further questioning on time travel matters.

“You said you were from ‘a future’ but not ‘the future,’ and you mentioned me repeating hell on multiple timelines. Why did you have to travel to this particular timeline and stop my particular marriage to prevent this coming apocalypse? I’m still not seeing the connection between my marriage to Alice and an entire future of prosperity being at risk because of it.” Cross nearly mimicked the stranger by running his hand through his hair, a habit both he and Duncan had gained from their father, but he stopped and kept his hands in his lap.

“Think of time as an ongoing silk tapestry: elaborate, intricate, dynamic.” As much as physically possible, the stranger leaned back and spoke with his hands waving in the air in front of him.  “If you snag it somewhere along the way, you can still keep the tapestry and keep building upon it, but that’s going to cause other snags, future unraveling, and the overall look and feel of the tapestry will be ruined because of the original snag.” Cross raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t help but find sardonic humor in the idea that his marriage to Alice was of such consequence that a time traveler had felt the need to come back not once or twice but three times to stop such a “snag” from happening.

Cross allowed his morbid amusement to show on his face when he spoke again, “So my marriage is the time snag for the tapestry of our combined existence?” The stranger’s cheeks flushed, and he looked away, drawing Cross’s eyes back to the hand-drawn portrait when he too glanced towards it. “Who is that?”

“The integrity and consistency of tapestries have to be protected.” The stranger spoke as if Cross hadn’t asked the question. “Because they’re delicate, beautiful, and worth saving.” Cross watched the stranger reach out and lightly draw a finger down the line of the portrait’s cheek.

His voice held such conviction that Cross deduced the woman in the portrait was as much a motive for the stranger to time travel as was ensuring the colonization of the moon and the financial stability of the future. His earlier dislike and distrust of the man partially diminished now that he could grab hold of at least one thing they had in common: they both had someone worth bending the rules for. 

Then, just as suddenly as they’d been whisked out of time, they were dropped back into it. Unceremoniously, the pair of them were dumped into a field, and the machine disappeared as quickly as it had earlier appeared. Standing side-by-side, they took in their surroundings in silence. It was early morning by the looks of the sun just peeking over the tower-like trees lining the field. Shafts of light reflected off the dew-covered grass like droplets of fire. When he breathed, Cross could see his breath. The air carried the scent of early autumn. Turning to the time-traveling stranger, Cross broke the near-reverant silence of the field with his question.

“Where ar-“

The world exploded, or at least the earth directly in front of them did. It sent Cross and the stranger hurtling backward, both landing a few feet from where they’d been standing. Cross recognized the sound and damage of an exploding shell and, in confirmation, more came raining down across the field further away, accompanied by the sounds of M-1 and K98k rifles. They’d traveled back to the war. And directly into a firefight between the Allies and Nazis.

Cross rolled onto his stomach and covered his head. He waited until the shelling stopped and the firefight seemed to travel some distance away before he lifted his head and looked around for his time-traveling companion. Cross spotted him lying not too far away and crawled towards him.

“Oh, buddy,” Cross pulled himself up and assessed the damage. Cross could smell both the tang of blood and the pungent stench of feces. There was a hole in the stranger’s side, and some of his lacerated intestines had fallen out. The stranger had reached down and attempted to push them back in, but seemed to be losing the strength to keep up the fight. He was bleeding out fast. Cross knew that very few men survived a gutshot like this isolated out here. Keeping his voice calm, he forced a thin smile, “Hey there, fella, how’re you holding up?”

The stranger used his one good hand to grab at Cross’s, his eyes wide but clear when he looked at him, “The man Alice is supposed to marry-” he coughed, causing a reaction of moans and spasms as more of his guts gushed out on a wave of blood, “he will die today. Unless,” he squeezed Cross’s hand hard, using it as the anchor that kept him attached to this life, “unless you get him out of harm’s way. You gotta-” he coughed again, and again, his body was wracked with spasms and moans.

“Sshh,” Cross leaned over the stranger and wiped dirt and grass off his face, “I get it, buddy. I get it. You don’t have to worry.” He nodded at the dying stranger. “Hey, buddy, you never told me your name.”

The stranger’s sudden smile took on a loopy quality, and Cross knew he wasn’t long for this world. “They named me for the man who saved my father.” Cross had to lean closer to hear the whispered words as the sounds of the firefight grew louder again. “Cross.”

Cross jerked his head back and stared. The stranger nodded, the smile still on his face, and then Cross understood the sense of familiarity he’d felt at first sight of him back in the church. He also remembered this field: the field of his war-time luck. He'd faced down death and won in this field, while someone else, someone apparently far more important to the future than himself, had died on the road not far from here.

Rustling in the grass just behind him brought his attention away from the stranger, and Cross turned to stare at the bayonet point on the end of a rifle barrel. He acted on instinct: ducking to the side, Cross used the barrel to jerk his assailant closer, punching at his assailant’s face almost in one motion. His assailant fell over with a grunt. The bayonet stuck in the ground just beside Cross, but his assailant forewent the weapon and was back on him in seconds. Cross scraped with him in the grass, doing his best to get the upper hand because he knew he had more at stake here than just his own life. Alice. Grandma. Rory. Future.

His assailant got him in a headlock. Cross punched and scratched at the man’s hold, but he didn’t budge. His mind grew fuzzy. Alice. Grandma. Rory. Future. Cross looked to the side and saw the dead eyes of his time traveling companion staring back at him with one last look of a pained plea frozen on his face. Cross felt down the arms, then the torso, and finally the legs of his assailant until he found what he was looking for. Gripping the handle tightly in his hand, Cross unsheathed the boot dagger and stabbed in and twisted upwards between his assailant’s ribs, more than likely piercing a lung and, if he was lucky, nicking an artery. The grip around his neck loosened. Cross took full advantage of it, pulling away from the headlock while repeatedly stabbing backward into his assailant’s torso before he rolled out of the death embrace altogether.

He scrambled to his knees and faced his would-be killer. His assailant’s head was bowed, staring at the blood seeping into his hands as he clutched at the wounds Cross had inflicted. When he looked up at Cross, Cross stared into a matching pair of green eyes with a matching expression of fear and horror. A shell exploding nearby, showering them with clods of dirt, snapped Cross out of his revulsion. He hurried forward, pushed the dying man onto his back, and worked to strip him of his coat.

“Who-“ the man’s voice was weak as he spoke, and his hands clutched helplessly at Cross as Cross finally divulged him of his uniform coat and put it on.

Cross placed his hand over his doppleganger's mouth and shook his head at the man’s dying gaze. He grabbed the discarded rifle with one hand and the fallen helmet with the other. Cross shouldered the rifle and ran, leaving his dying counter-self beside the corpse of the time traveler. Up ahead, he saw the convoy of his old comrades moving down the road in pursuit of the retreating Nazis. He ran faster. He knew he had little time now.

The first explosion, though he had known it was coming, still surprised him. It halted him in his tracks, along with everyone else. Then everyone began yelling at once. Some thought they were being shelled again and scrambled for cover off the road, only to find themselves blown skyward when they took a wrong step. Landmines. Cross stopped long enough to scan the frantic mass of soldiers, his eyes homing in on his target almost immediately. He paid no heed to the officers' orders nearby and instead began his run through the crowd.

His eyes connected with his brother’s just as they both heard the click of the landmine. Duncan opened his mouth, a question on his lips, but Cross couldn't hear anything aside from his own pants and screaming heartbeat. Arms outstretched, he threw himself forward and imagined the press of Alice’s hands against his chest, the smell of her skin, and the taste of her lips as she kissed him. He heard her laughter and remembered that he would do anything to see her smile. Even if it meant her smiles would be for someone else…

Cross smiled and whispered, “Alice,” as his world ended.

 
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