Simple question, simple answer, right?
My timing probably sucked, as usual, and that was part of it. I didn’t really mean to keep asking about it or push her into something she wasn’t ready for. I wasn’t really ready for it, but we’re talking about me—I’m almost completely dependent on her these days. Okay, true, I do things on my own, but she was the one who got me to take care of the more important things. The one to do the thinking.
Like I said—Ninety-Nine.
“I can’t believe you asked me that in front of Larabee.”
“I didn’t realize it was a do not talk about in front of Larabee subject,” Clayton protested, trying to keep up with April. She had pulled a coy little I need to think about it instead of answering, and then she made an excuse and started to leave. He’d had to follow her—not just because she had the car and was his ride, but also because he knew that this was not finished. “It… came up. Again. It seems to do that a lot. Maybe I haven’t been very patient or given you the time you wanted to think about it, and we haven’t solved all the possible complications with my job and if anyone from the agency is at all involved in some way with my ability or past or if they’re looking to use me in the future. We don’t know. It’s all still in the air. It doesn’t change what I already figured out and what should be kind of obvious to you—I need you. Without you, I’m annoying. I whine. I mope. I complain about my ‘power’ and never do anything about it. It sucks being in your role, and I won’t deny that. I don’t think anyone else would want it—or even that they should. You would probably have preferred that you never saw that weirdo from the park again.”
She stopped, shaking her head as she turned to face him. “That’s not true. I don’t—I love you, Clayton. I didn’t figure I’d meet the my ‘prince charming’ under those kind of circumstances, no. Things are never going to be normal with us, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.”
“Is it—It is about your parents, isn’t it? And then what you figured out about Brady—even though we don’t know that for sure yet. You feel like he betrayed you when you really needed him, after you’d lost them, and losing them was bad enough—I can’t say I know because I don’t. I never had parents to lose. I grew up in the system, and one thing that teaches you is how to be alone. A lot. I had decent foster parents, but they weren’t family. It’s I’m not trying to—I want to help, and you know I don’t know how to do that, but think about it for a second, April. While I know I can be a real jerk sometimes, I’m so dependent on you that I… I don’t ever want to hurt you again, and I don’t want to be alone, either. I tried to convince myself that it was for the best because I am kind of… messed up genetically, but that hasn’t stopped me from falling in love with you. And you know, it’s not like I can really get that hurt with my power because it’s so… lame. You might be stuck with me for a very long time. I guess that would be kind of scary and—”
She cut him off with a kiss. Clayton hoped that was a good sign, he thought as she stepped back again. “Stop babbling now.”
He nodded. “Okay. No babbling. What happened to your parents?”
“It’s not like you can bring them back or guarantee it won’t happen to you.”
“No, and I wouldn’t try to make that promise, but you keep—it hurts you. Every day. And it’s something you don’t let me help with, and while I know that I’m not good at this kind of stuff, I can at least be there for you to listen. To hold you. All that stuff you’ve done for me and the way you keep me from drowning in my problems—I should do something for you for a change.”
He reached up to touch her face, and she sighed. “Clayton…”
“You don’t have to marry me. I promise I’ll stop bringing that up. You can tell me when you’re ready, if you ever are,” he assured her. She frowned, and he smiled slightly. “I want to help. Kind of rare for me, don’t you think?”
She snorted. “Yeah, it is.”
He wrapped his arms around her. “You are important to me, even if I don’t always show that because I let this ‘superhero’ thing get in the way.”
“You’re not a superhero.”
“I know that. Larabee doesn’t, but we do.”
She leaned against him for a moment. Maybe someday she’d realize that she didn’t always have to be the strong one—and maybe he’d get better at showing her that, too. He needed a lot of work, and he was still figuring that out, but he was trying. “This is nice.”
“Yeah. I could do this for a very long time,” he said, and she looked up at him. “What? I didn’t ask you again. I’m not asking. I was just saying… I like doing this. I could hold you for a long time. That’s all I’m saying. It is kind of cold out here, but I don’t even feel it. I just feel… you.”
She smiled. “You’re so… I don’t even know what word I want to use right now. Sweet in a warped way, I guess.”
“Everything about me is a little off, I agree,” he said, his hand reaching up to find the chain around her neck. “This was your mother’s, right?”
She nodded, slipping the chain over her head and setting the ring in her palm for a moment. “It was just… sudden. They were there one minute, gone the next. I was working, and I got a call… It was over before I even knew what was happening. Car crash. Big pile up, they were only two out of about twelve that died that night. There were more people injured, but I don’t remember how many. I used to think they were smothering me. I was an only child, and they were more than a little involved in my life. Then… they were gone, and it was… terrifying, being that alone. It… This is all I have left. Everything else is boxed up and put away or got sold off to manage the debt.”
He touched her cheek, and she bit her lip, shaking her head. “I thought I could box it all away, but it doesn’t work that way. It always comes back.”
Clayton nodded. “That’s how I always feel about my power—I know, nothing like what you’re going through, but I’m relating the best way I can right now. I just meant… Every time I think I’ve got it handled, something else happens, and I don’t. I don’t think you need to box it away—pretending it doesn’t hurt doesn’t help. Though now I know I’m even more lucky that you gave me your father’s coat.”
“Someone should use it, right? He would have liked that,” April said. Then she laughed. “He would have hated you, though.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
She took another look at the ring and then lifted the chain up again. He went to help her put it back on, but she shook her head as she took the ring off the cord. “My mother, though, I think she would have liked you.”
Clay managed a smile, but then he frowned as she put the ring in his hand. “Uh, April, I appreciate the coat and all, but this is not me.”
She just gave him a look, and then he finally understood. He took her hand, slipping the ring on her finger. She smiled at him, putting an arm around his neck as she kissed him.