I was being kind of optimistic about the next few days. While it might not have killed me, it definitely took a toll on me. Random shifts were back down to one a day, yeah, but they still knocked me out for the better part of the twenty minutes before I could shift back, and I started giving it at least an hour just because. I was sore all over and tired all the time.
So was April—tired all the time, at least.
Larabee said she was taking her role as my sidekick a little too far.
She punched him right in the gut.
She was a bit moody, too, but given what we’d all been through and my still sorry state, it wasn’t like anyone could really blame her.
“Clayton, what are you doing walking around? Go back to bed.”
“I’m sick of the bed. Especially since you’re not in it.”
“Oh, I hate to burst your little bubble there, but you are still not up to sex, so don’t even start,” she said, rolling her eyes as she tried to push him back to the bedroom. He caught the wall and turned to grab her around the waist. She’d get free soon enough. She was a lot stronger than him physically these days. And probably in all the other senses, too. April was just plain strong. “Clayton—”
“Can’t baby me forever. I need to be up and moving. I need to get better.”
“And maybe better means rest. Be patient.”
He sighed, leaning his head against her shoulder. “I am so sick of being sick. Okay, so I’m not sick. I nearly died. I know that. I just want to be able to be normal for a change. I want to feel like a human being for a while, not some discarded rag doll. Or gummy bear.”
She shuddered. “Please don’t go there. I was just getting to the point where I could eat them again.”
“Okay. No gummy bears. But I have to do something. I can’t sit still. Not like this. We’re going to have to talk to them or something. I need to know what I can really do, and if there’s a way to stabilize or reverse this, then maybe I should do that. I don’t need to be… like this, and I’m not helping anyone. At least if they could do that much, I could be a good, reliable husband for you. It’s funny how that seems so appealing now when I used to dream of being a superhero and saving the world. Now I know that I can’t—and the real gift is being normal.”
“There is no such thing as normal.”
“There’s living a life without a sick scientist claiming he’s my father because he created me in a lab; there’s life without random age shifts. There’s life without conspiracies. You’re a teacher. It’s a good life, a respectable, responsible one. You don’t have to do something other people consider great, but you are doing great things. Me? I had a job in a cubicle that I hated and wasn’t even qualified for, and I want something that isn’t… this. I don’t want to be the genetic freak anymore. I want to be free to have a real life, not a life between one random mishap to the next.”
She touched his face. “I love you, but you are a random mishap waiting to happen, Clayton. We can deal with conspiracies and random age shifts. We’ve been doing that for a while now. I don’t care what they have to say. You are you. You don’t have to change for anyone.”
He sighed. “I don’t know what to do, though. Something has to change.”
She nodded. “Yes. But not something as radical as rewriting all of your genetics. That’s not happening. We’ll find a way to make this work. All of it. It’s not finished yet.”
“I kind of wish it was.”
“There’s nothing easy about your life or my life or really anyone’s life, and that wouldn’t change if you didn’t have the ability to shift ages,” she insisted. “You just need a bit more time to recover. I know this time is hard and boring, but we’ll just make sure you survive it, and when you do, then we’ll go on to the next step.”
He nodded reluctantly. “I just wish I could… fix it all or make it go away. Wishing doesn’t change anything, doesn’t really do any good, and I know that. I thought something was really going to turn when I confronted my boss. It did, but not like I thought it would. Not like I expected. I’m still in way over my head, and I can’t see a way out of it.”
“Everyone dies at the end?”
“I hate it when you tell me that’s what happens at the end of movies.”
She grinned. “I know. But I wasn’t kidding that one time.”
“No, you weren’t, and that movie sucked,” Clayton agreed. He leaned against the wall. “Someone has to survive the end of this movie. Not that it should have made it past the first act. It’s a terrible movie. No one wants a whiny, pathetic hero who can’t stop talking about how horrible his life is, and even if he’s got an amazing, wonderful, kick ass romantic interest, no one buys that she’s really interested in him because he’s so annoying.”
April shrugged. “Fiction isn’t necessarily about what’s plausible, and if that’s a terrible movie, how do all of those remakes and sequels get made? At least this is somewhat original.”
“You mean this wasn’t done as a television show? Who’d have thought?”
“No, it wasn’t, because you are not a computer and I’m not a spy,” she disagreed. “Besides, the hero has to start kind of pathetic and annoying so that he can grow through the story.”
“I don’t think I’ve grown.”
“Maybe not. Kind of hard to tell with you, what with the age shifting and all,” she teased. He made a face. “You’re still pretty shaken up from almost dying; though, I can tell that much.”
“At this point, we just do what we’ve always done. We move on. We face whatever comes next.”
“And when we have no idea what that is?”
“Larabee makes a costume, and the world seems the same as always?”
Clayton laughed. “Larabee and spandex. Sad when that is a sign that things are right with the universe.”
“It could be worse.”
“Yeah, let’s not think about that, okay? Better for everyone if we don’t.”