I had to say—I liked April’s way of fixing things. A lot.
I’m not going into details about it, but suffice to say that my very talented sidekick—partner—had a way to make me stop thinking about what I was supposed to be doing and screwing it up in the process. No, she got me around that problem in a very creative way that I particularly enjoyed.
The end result, then, was that I stopped trying to be a kung fu master and actually succeeded in being able to defend myself for a change. I wasn’t going to win any kind of tournament or contest, but at least I wasn’t constantly on the mat and passing out.
Though… Maybe I might have preferred that in the end. It’s hard to say. Either way was pretty damn painful.
“I still say you should be the superhero.”
April laughed from her spot on the floor. She’d taken the hit and not moved, apparently preferring the floor to another knockdown. He knew that feeling well. “You’re insane, Clayton.”
“Yes, but you love me anyway, Ninety-Nine,” he told her, kneeling down beside her and giving her a kiss. “I can’t believe I’m actually winning.”
“Don’t be so impressed. I’m just a girl, after all.”
“You’re the better half in this relationship, and since when did you ever think of yourself as ‘just a girl?’” Clayton asked, combing back some of her hair. “You’re not. You never have been. You’re the surprised woman behind the successful man.”
She giggled. “I shouldn’t laugh. It’s not that funny that you put yourself down all the time. Okay, help me up. I’m tired. I think we might need to get someone else to train with you a bit. And by someone else, I don’t mean Larabee.”
Clay laughed. “Yeah, that wouldn’t help all that much. He’d win because whatever costume he picked would blind me, and I’d never stand a chance.”
“We are terrible. Always so mean to Larabee,” she said as she got up. She dusted herself off and sighed. “You’re getting better and stronger by the day, and I should be glad, but I have to admit—I’m scared. I know the better you are, the closer this bait thing gets, and I don’t want you being bait again. Even if Larabee’s machines are perfect, I don’t—I don’t want you to die, and I don’t want to go through that scare again.”
“I know. And believe me, I don’t want to do it, either. I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life in hiding, and if there is a possibility that Kilbourne’s actual research can make my life easier in any way—even if it’s only knowing what he was trying to do when he messed with my genetics, then I have to take it. I just do.”
She nodded. “And I know you do. That doesn’t make it any easier.”
“Nothing will. It’s not going to. This kind of thing shouldn’t be easy. That’s what I think they leave out of all those stories with heroes and superheroes. Oh, sure, they have dark times, and maybe a few minutes of angst, but overall, they still do the heroic thing no matter what. They always come through. And that’s supposedly the definition of a hero, right? Not backing down no matter what the odds? Always being courageous? And yet they always make this crap look so damn easy. It’s not. And it shouldn’t be. That’s why heroes don’t exist. Because real people are scared to death of this crap.”
She reached up to touch his cheek. “There are heroes. And even heroes need to know when to back down and live to fight another day. Sometimes running is the only option. Sometimes it’s the last stand. The hero that does it knowing it’s not easy and goes ahead anyway—that’s real.”
He kissed her again. “I can’t tell you what it means to have you believe in me.”
“I am a sucker for lost causes.”
He laughed, pulling her tight against him. “Yeah. And you sure found one in me.”
“No. I didn’t. Because this time you are going out there, and we are going to win. We’ll get that information, and we’ll take back our lives so we’re not living in hiding. We are going to have something beyond debates about superheroes and the limitations of your ability and this stupid conspiracy we got stuck in. We deserve all that.”
“I’m really just glad I’m not getting beat up anymore. I wish you’d been around for the first time I was doing this.”
She shrugged. “At least you know now.”
“Where did you learn all that, anyway?”
She put a finger to his lips. “If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.”
He almost smiled, but he pulled her hand down and looked at her. “Really, though, April. How did you know all that? And please don’t joke about it. I’m suddenly getting a very bad feeling about this. You didn’t actually let them… recruit you, did you? You’re not a part of this thing, are you? Is my life the damn Truman show? Tell me you’re not a part of this.”
She winced. “Clayton—”
He shook his head in disbelief, stepping away from her. “No. This isn’t happening. You—You were the one thing in my life that I could count on, and even that’s not real? How much of it is pretend? This is why you didn’t want to marry me, isn’t it? You don’t love me at all.”
“That’s not true. I do love you. You’re not letting me explain—”
“What is there to explain? Everything in my life is a lie.”