I used to have aspirations of being a spy. I did.
They were up there with my aspirations of being a hero. Both of them fell into the ridiculously absurd category. I wasn’t meant to be a hero or a spy, clearly. I could probably make an interesting distraction, but as far as being truly useful with my talents… That just wasn’t me.
Of course, if you really thought that Larabee or April let me settle for that conclusion, you’d be wrong. They refused to let me stop at one failure.
Maybe we should say that I’m getting better—at failing, at least—with practice.
“I’m still not sure how you managed to do this to yourself.”
“I’m spectacularly talented—if there’s a way to screw up something simple, I find it,” Clayton muttered, trying to find the right place for the ice pack, wanting to get rid of his pain. He was bruised everywhere from the fall—or so it would seem—and his head was still killing him.
“Stop saying that,” April ordered, gently combing her fingers through his hair. “You weren’t expecting a shift—that’s one thing. You didn’t know they’d put the cover back up, that’s another. You’re not a hopeless failure, no matter what you want to think. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you.”
“So while I’m not sure I agree with Larabee’s insistence on making you your own mini-vent shaft maze to practice with, I do think you can do better next time. We did get you to stop freaking out so much when you were with me, right? You hardly ever shift when we’re making out anymore.”
“That’s such an improvement. ‘Hardly ever.’ Should be never. Never ever.”
She flicked her fingers at his face. “What did I say? Stop it. Granted, it ruins the mood most of the time, but it can be funny, too, not just frustrating. And the important part is that it’s teaching you to relax no matter what happens. Even if I get frustrated, I don’t leave. I’m not horrified by what you can do. You’re doing the whole feeling sorry for yourself thing again, and I don’t like that much, but I know that I can make you stop.”
“You can,” he agreed with a tired smile. “I love you, April.”
She studied him for a long moment, and he thought for a second he’d said the wrong thing before she leaned down and kissed his forehead. “I was wondering when you’d figure that out.”
He made a slight face. “That’s the kiss I get for those words? That’s it? No wonder no one ever says them anymore—”
She cut him off, giving him a real kiss that made him forget that his head hurt and his body was bruised all over. He smiled. “That’s better.”
“Just don’t expect me to go kissing all the bruises better. That’s above my pay grade.”
“Oh? And you’re being paid for this?” he asked, curious. “What do you get out of it besides a whiny loser and a few gummy bears?”
“You know what I get, and you’re going to knock off being a whiny loser. Right now. I know you’re hurt, but that means a little pity, a little whining, and then sucking it up, because it all hurts sometimes. We’re going to need to do something different this time.”
“Different like… what? Marriage?”
“I was talking about your spy thing.”
“You’re scared of commitment? You? Of all people?” he asked, sitting up and looking at her. He didn’t care that his head spun a little as he did. “I admit—that’s kind of hard for me. The whole genetic freak thing coming back up again, as always. I mean, I never did that well before that happened, but then we throw Cailey into that mix, and how she—”
April covered his mouth. “I’m not Cailey. I don’t—I’m not really thinking about marriage right now because my mind is on what might be going on with you instead. I’m worried about this thing with your boss; I won’t lie about that. It scares me a little, and I don’t like the idea of losing you. There was something about the way he spoke to me—it wasn’t supposed to set off any warning bells, wasn’t supposed to be anything other than a coincidence, but it didn’t feel like that. I felt like… Maybe I’m getting all paranoid now, Clayton, because I swear, now that I think back, when I talked about you with Brady—I don’t think he was jealous.”
She sighed, looking down at her hands. “It sounds crazy, and I’ve been trying to talk myself out of it for a while now, but I think he was trying to get information from me. He asked a lot of questions about you, and I just figured he was being possessive, wanted to know the ‘competition’ or whatever it was, but he… He wasn’t asking the normal stuff—the stuff I would have expected. He was always curious about your ability even though I told him I didn’t believe it, and he kept asking if I’d seen what you could do and what I thought that meant. I always said I hadn’t and it meant you were a liar, but if you think about the way that Brady just conveniently showed back up in my life about the same time as you did… He was gone for a while, probably after he realized that I wasn’t a good source of information on you anymore, and then we—you and I—met at the park… Am I going crazy, do you think? Making too much of nothing?”
Clayton frowned. “I don’t know. It’s really hard to say what he might have been thinking. I barely met the man—I didn’t like him, but I was jealous, even if I wouldn’t admit that to myself. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe we’re all seeing conspiracies where there aren’t any. I mean, what could the point of making someone do something like me be? I can’t find the point of it, after all.”
She shook her head. “Just because you haven’t doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a reason—if they had anything to do with it. And we don’t know that. That’s why you have to get better at spying.”
“I need a recorder so that I can get stuff even if I smack my head—they make them really small these days, so that’s not a big deal to hide or anything. And I don’t know how we’ll do it, but Larabee does not get to be the voice in my ear. That needs to be you. And…” Clay groaned. “I’m going to get stuck using that vent shaft maze, aren’t I?”
“We should have put pillows under it.”
“You say that now?” Clayton demanded, rubbing his sore elbow. He reached for the water bottle someone had thoughtfully left him instead of a pillow. “I think I have more bruises than clear skin at this point.”
“Thought you could shift and make some of them go away.”
“Yeah, maybe, but not nearly as many of them as I’d like,” Clayton muttered. He looked over at April as he took a slow sip of his water. “Now you really won’t kiss them better, will you?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “You have to get better at shifting quickly.”
“It’s not like I’m going to suddenly start flying, you know. I’m still going to fall.”
“But if you fell as an adult, you could turn it into a jump and not land on your face and get all banged up and bruised.”
“I don’t have that kind of grace, either. The genetics that let me shift ages apparently took all coordination with it.”
“Not all of it. You need to try again.”
Clayton shook his head. “No. Not now. I hurt too much. And even if we put a pillow there, that is not going to be enough.”
Larabee held up a pillow. “This is no ordinary pillow. I should show you how I modified it. First, I removed the stuffing and then I—”
“I’m done,” Clay repeated. He held his hand out to April. She took it, helping him to his feet.
“I think you were close the last time, but we’ll try again later.”
“You just like seeing me fall on my face, don’t you?”