Living with Clayton meant I saw some weird things. Whether it was one of his shifts or Larabee’s spandex outfits or giant gummy bears, I was really getting used to the fact that my whole life had become… weird.
Teaching was actually the normal part of my day, and that said something, really.
What I saw when I found my husband in that building was still hard for me to take, though.
April winced as she watched Clayton’s body convulse again. “Larabee?”
“Still here, April. What is it? Clayton?”
“Yeah. I need your help getting Clayton back to the car. The way is clear, and the fighting’s over in the other side of the building. As is the posturing. I heard that doctor rambling on about something. I didn’t care enough to listen. Maybe I should have, but I just wanted to get to Clayton, so…”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Yes, damn it. I already got him part of the way out, but I can’t do this on my own. It’s fine when he’s smaller. I can actually manage him as a kid, but I can’t carry a full grown man, not when he’s unconscious. Come on, Larabee. Suck it up and get your friend out of here.”
“I’m coming,” he told her, and April looked down at Clayton again, wincing. “Is it wrong of me to want you to switch back to a kid again? Just for a bit? I want to get you closer to the door.”
He didn’t answer, and she sighed, touching his forehead and then his hair. He couldn’t do this to her. He was not allowed to die.
Though, to be perfectly honest, she didn’t know if that was what he was doing right now. She knew it wasn’t good, but he was still breathing after each shift, at least. That was something. She’d take even the little things at this point. It should not be like this. Clayton was… harmless. He never hurt anyone, just wanted to be normal, and maybe he was a bit of a dreamer and even a whiner at times, but he did not deserve this.
“Wow. Who took that guy out? One of the other agents?”
“Larabee, focus. Over here. Help me with Clayton.”
“Wait—was that you? Did you really kick that big guy’s ass like that? I mean, that is amazing. Clayton wasn’t kidding. You are a superhero.”
“Larabee! Over here! Now! Focus!”
“Did you really do that to him?” Larabee asked as he started to lift Clayton up, and April looked at him in annoyance.
“What does it matter? It’s Clayton we have to worry about. We have to get him out of here and figure out what to do. I don’t know that we can take him to a hospital, and he’s—I don’t know, Larabee. Just help me get him out of here.”
The scientist nodded, and they half-carried, half-dragged Clayton between them until they got back to the car. Larabee helped her get Clayton in the back seat, and she sat down with him. Larabee got behind the wheel. “Crap. Did he just shift? Again?”
She nodded. “He’s been doing it a lot. It scares me, honestly. He said if he did it sooner than twenty minutes then it hurt and he was unconscious for a day. He’s done it at least five times since I found him.”
Larabee winced. “We may need to use my stabilizer for him.”
“Yeah, but—I don’t know. Clayton also said that he thought maybe the random shifts were his body’s way of ‘adjusting’ itself, fixing itself in some way. What if that’s what it’s doing?”
“Neither option is really that good—and you’re right. We can’t take him to a hospital like this. To the lab, then, I guess.”
“Here,” Larabee said, holding something out to April. “Rip it up. Tear it to pieces. It should help.”
She frowned. “Larabee, this is your favorite. It’s Magenta Man, and you wouldn’t—I can’t. I know I’ve been angry and I said things, but I can’t rip this up. Not only do I not think that’s possible after the ooze that you soaked it in to make it work with Clayton’s ability to shift ages, but… it’s your favorite.”
He nodded. “I know it is, but… My tech stuff was what failed, and Clayton never should have been in their hands for that long. It’s my fault, April.”
“Then you can make it up to him, but I can’t rip that,” she said, moving around again to try and get comfortable. She would really, really like it if Clayton would wake up—but if he was right about the shifts and unconsciousness… He’d be out for at least a week at this rate. “Why would anyone do this?”
“I don’t know,” Larabee admitted, setting his costume aside. “I can see so much potential in what they did, I guess. There’s a lot we can learn from Clayton and his ability, but this? This was just needless cruelty. They hurt him… because they could.”
“Almost makes me wish I’d killed that one back there,” she whispered, shaking her head. “Someone has to pay for this. Something has to be done. And I want real answers, too.”
“We’ll get them, April. I promise,” Larabee agreed. “Did you want to try using the stabilizer? It could—”
“As much as I want to wake him up and know he’s okay, I—I am going to trust that this is what he has to do to survive. Remember, he’s different. He’s going to need to let his body process what they did to him in ways that we can’t. He could shift and make some of the injuries go away, and maybe that’s what this is, as scary as it seems.”
“Those were bruises, not broken bones.”
“Larabee, I will rip your costume if you don’t stop. I need to think positive right now, and you need to do it, too, damn it.”
“Okay, okay,” Larabee agreed. “Hey, April, can I make you a superhero costume now?”