I moved gingerly, feeling the pull of sore muscles and the constant ache of the incisions. It hurt but it was a lot better than a week ago when I'd first come back to myself. Dr. Layton was pleased with my progress and was seriously contemplating letting me out of the hospital. I was worried about the cost of the private room and the physical therapist who'd started coming by to work on my arm and show me how to get the strength back.
A sling was going to be part of my fashion statement for some time to come. The therapist's name was Mike Flannery and he'd told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to go slow. The nerves and muscles that were repaired needed time to heal but they also had to be coaxed into remembering what they were supposed to be doing. He'd given me a rubber ball and I was supposed to squeeze it gently, for now.
So, I was slowly curling my fingers around it and trying to squeeze without sending shooting pains up my arm. Not much luck. I'd been left without a guardian angel for the last hour and was beginning to feel a little lonely. Don't go getting too used to all the company, Jimmy. You still have to find a place to stay. Not to mention getting back to work if you still want a paycheck to pay for all this care.
"Hello, dear. Want some company?" Mrs. Kenyon stuck her head around the door with a bright smile.
"Hi, Mrs. K, I'd love some. I'm not having much luck with the little instrument of torture that Mike left me."
"Oh, Jimmy, you need to give it time. Let the nerves have a rest before you ask them to go back to work." She leaned over, kissing my cheek and smiling at me. She came by everyday and often stayed to chat, bringing me up to speed with the investigation.
Of course, Keith did as well and Perry had come by twice to see how I was. He'd assured me that the medical insurance would pay for everything but it still bothered me that I was in a private room. Clark brought me in edible food every evening and told me all the dirt that Lois and he uncovered.
"You're worried about something, Jimmy. Care to share it with an old lady?" In this little game that we played, she exaggerated her great age and I jokingly overdid my deference.
So, it all poured out. My fears that the bill for the hospital would be too big for me to handle, that I'd lose my job if I didn't get back to work, that my arm wouldn't ever get strong again and that I'd keep having the nightmares that had plagued me all week.
She listened and held my hand, not interrupting me with false platitudes. When I ran out of fears, she poured me a glass of water and handed it to me. While I drank, she paced slowly around my bed to the window and then back. Her white hair glowed in the afternoon sunlight and I watched her with an old ache in my heart. If I'd had a grandmother I would have wanted her to be just like Mrs. Kenyon.
"Jimmy, I know Perry has told you that the Planet will cover all your medical expenses. What he hasn't told you is that the reward for uncovering Richard's killers is going to be split between you and Keith." She sat down again and took my hand in hers. "At the moment, that means your share is $50,000. I made sure your apartment insurance was applied for so there's another $10,000. And I was hoping that you'd come back and stay with me until you're healed enough to want to leave."
I know my mouth was hanging open while my brain processed her little speech. $60,000. That was three years salary. Hell, I could go out and replace my whole wardrobe and buy all the books I'd lost to the flames. And Mrs. Kenyon was looking so hopefully at me. How could she want me to stay at the palace she called home?
"I don't want to push you into anything, Jimmy, but I so enjoyed having you stay. Going through the family papers together. Sharing hot cocoa before bed." Her eyes glittered before she dropped them to stare at the warm spot she was rubbing into my hand. "I felt like a family again. It gets very lonely up in my aerie with only Cransom and Cook to talk to."
Tugging on her hand, I brought her eyes back up to mine. "I would love to stay with you until I'm back on my feet again. But would you, um, mind if I had a visitor once in a while?"
My cheeks grew hot and I had a hard time meeting her wise gaze. She tilted her head and got the thinking look I'd seen once before when we made the connection between the big four. "Superman or Clark? I couldn't help but notice that you feel something for both of them and the feelings seem to be returned."
Oh, God! As far as I was concerned, they were simply two halves of a very complex man but of course, she didn't know that. How did I explain that I love them both because they're the same man? I couldn't give away his secret. But I didn't want her to think I was a slut. I really wasn't cut out for a life of deceit. So, I decided to go with the truth.
"I love them both. This whole thing has gone so fast that I ... I don't know which one I love more. Or what they feel about me. I'm a little confused right now." And that was nothing but the honest truth.
She smiled sweetly at me. "Take your time. If they love you, they'll give you the time and space to heal and learn your own mind. Clark strikes me as also slightly confused right now. As if he's just learned that he has a choice of lifestyles."
I nodded. How very right she was. But of course, the same held true of Superman. Only she couldn't know that.
"On the other hand, Superman is so involved in his crime fighting that I wonder how much of his life he could devote to you. Not to mention the danger he might inadvertently put you in if it became known that you two are ... friends."
"True. But I seem to be able to manage getting into trouble all on my own these days." I sighed and rolled my eyes.
She just laughed and poured me some more juice. We talked about my release the next day and she told me that her cook was planning something very special for my welcome home dinner.
Home. Not something I'd had in some time. If ever. I could feel myself begin to flirt with a depression that seemed all too easy to find these days. Determinedly, I counted my blessings. One of the nicest of which sat beside me, chatting away about everything and nothing. And the other nicest was due to arrive within the hour.
She didn't leave until Clark appeared with his bag of goodies and a surprise visitor for me. Mrs. Kent followed her son into the room with a beaming smile. Once the introductions were made, the two ladies seemed to size each other up, approve of what they saw and settle in for a good conversation while Clark spread out my feast.
Adjusting the bed so I was raised enough to see what he'd brought me, he stole a quick kiss while his broad back hid us from our audience. He tasted of oatmeal and milk, so I was guessing that cookies were on my menu for the evening.
"Missed you today. Perry has an intern working with Lois and me. He's nice enough but everything has to be explained to him. Over and over." Clark sighed and laid out the short fork that was easier for me to use with my left hand. He'd already cut up the ham and potatoes so they were in bite sized portions. The soup was a clear broth in a handle-less cup that I could simply pick up and sip without having to steady a spoon.
He always thought of everything. Grinning, I drank my soup while his voice washed over me with all the news of the day. Indictments were being handed down all over the place and reporters were having a field day. It bothered me a little that I wasn't more envious of not being in the thick of it but I felt one step removed from all the hustle and bustle.
Dying can do that to you.
He poured me more milk and held the glass while I sipped. His eyes watched me with such tenderness, I basked in their glow. But I needed to acknowledge his mom before he gave us away to her. In fact, I couldn't imagine how he was going to tell her. It wasn't something you just blurted out between 'hi, mom' and 'how are you'.
'By the way, I've just turned gay', probably wouldn't go down real well.
"Well, Jimmy, what do you think? Is my casserole as good as Clark's?" Her head poked around her son and smiled at me.
"Better. Clark's was good but this is just melting in my mouth. His potatoes weren't as tender as these." I grinned at my lover and watched him stick out his tongue at me. Oh, what I'd like to do with that tongue.
"I didn't soak them overnight in salt water the way you do, Mom." He sighed and tried to look put upon but it didn't work.
"I'll bet you didn't cut them up as thin, either. What am I going to do with you, Son?" She hugged him tightly. "How are you feeling, Jimmy? Clark has been keeping us up to date on your progress but you still look so pale."
"I'm getting better every day. But I'm still not doing very well with my little exercise ball." I nodded at the little red ball that lay at my side.
"It takes time, young man. Don't be so impatient." Mrs. Kenyon came up on my other side and leaned over to kiss my cheek. "I have a charity dinner to go to tonight, Jimmy. It was nice meeting you, Martha. I'll see you at lunch tomorrow."
"I'll walk you out, Mrs. Kenyon." Clark left me alone with his mother.
"Jimmy, Clark has told me that your relationship has changed." Her wise eyes gazed into mine and I tried not to flinch. "I'll admit that it wasn't what I expected. And at first I was rather dismayed. But then Clark has never been an ordinary boy. He feels things so intensely that an ordinary relationship would never be enough for him. He says you know about his extracurricular activities. What may happen to him while he's fighting crime worries me more than what the two of you may do with each other."
"I love him too much to ever hurt him." I managed to get out.
"I always wanted another son. I just never thought that Clark would be the one to bring him home to us." She leaned over and kissed my cheek.
Choking back tears, I gripped her hand. "I promise he won't ever come to harm if I can prevent it."
"A mother couldn't ask for any more. Just ... love each other. Take care of each other. I've never seen him so happy. Or so worried when you first got shot." She blinked back her own tears. "He cried on the phone when he called to tell us what had happened. Barely coherent and frightened as he hasn't been since he was a child."
I hated hearing that and yet, deep inside, I felt a little thrill that what happened to me could so affect Clark. And as if my thought had the power to materialize my lover, he walked back into the room and to my wounded side. His warm hand gathered mine in and he began the gentle massage he'd instigated a couple of days back. It hurt at first but now, I'd begun looking forward to the tender manipulation.
"Mrs. Kenyon asked me a rather odd question before she said goodbye." Clark looked at me quizzically.
"She noticed that I'm attracted to both of you. Superman and Clark. I couldn't tell her that you're two parts of a whole. But I didn't want her to think that I'm just playing around so I told her I couldn't make up my mind which of you I loved more."
"That would explain it. She asked me if my confusion was lifting any." Clark smiled down at me and rubbed a little harder a little farther up my weak arm. The tingles were back but bearable so I just smiled at him.
"She seems like a very good friend. Even invited me to lunch tomorrow for your welcome home, Jimmy." Mrs. Kent beamed at me.
"Mrs. K has been a wonderful friend to me. She told me today that the $100,000 reward is going to be split equally between Keith and me. So, I can replace my books and my leather jacket." I winked at Clark.
"She also said you'd be staying with her for awhile." Clark looked a little down at that. "I was going to offer my place."
"You know I'd love to live with you, Clark. But I'm not going to be much good on my own for awhile and Cransom will be playing baby sitter for me. It wouldn't do for you to take any time off now. You and Lois are the lead reporters on this whole conspiracy scandal."
"I know. The security at the penthouse is so good that you'll be safe there. I just ..." he blushed a bit before continuing on, "I wanted you where I could hear your heartbeat."
Okay, so I'm a puddle of sentimental goo in this hospital bed with a tingle going straight to a place it shouldn't be going while Clark's mother is in the room for God's sake and I really need a kiss but I have to be content with squeezing his hand with my weak one. He registered the slight motion and grinned.
The knock on the door saves us from getting too maudlin. Keith's dark head peeked around the corner and his smile lit the room. Watching him come in, my eyes widened at the man who followed him. AD Skinner had very gently questioned me the day after I'd awoken for the first time. As far as I knew, Keith had spent the whole week with him and the team of agents that were tracking the conspiracy.
There was something about the way they were standing at the foot of my bed that teased at my memory. The AD was a big man with the sexiest bald head I'd ever seen. Powerful broad shoulders tapered down to a trim waist and long legs. The two of them were standing at least a foot apart but I could have sworn they were touching. Something in their auras had caught and held them fast together.
Grinning at my friend, I listened to their polite conversation and the AD's telling about me the award money. Keith's slender good looks were enhanced by the glow in his brown eyes. He looked freshly fucked and I was envious. It seemed like ages since I'd made love or been made love to. My body hadn't been interested in too long but watching them not look at each other was reminding me of Clark and I in the news room.
They left shortly after and the AD's hand on Keith's back as they exited the room was a dead giveaway. Mrs. Kent left then and Clark went with her, leaving me feeling a little down. He probably wouldn't be back if she was staying with him. So, I rolled my little ball back and forth and counted my blessings again.
I was so intent that I didn't even look up when the door opened again. Just another nurse to check on me, I thought absentmindedly but the cocking of the gun brought my eyes up to meet the gaze of the man I'd last seen in the Solitary Cyclist, the evening Senator Gibbs was killed.
"You bastard!" His voice was low and menacing, his eyes the coldest things I'd ever seen. He was wearing a wig and a well cut suit that fit him perfectly. But I knew who he was. "Because of you, my partner is in prison. Do you know what they'll do to him in prison? It's all right for a bitch like you, you'd probably enjoy it. But he's a man. A real man."
My voice was paralyzed with fear. The button to call the nurse was an inch away from my hand, hidden in the fold of the blanket but I couldn't use it. She'd come in completely unsuspecting and end up dead or injured right along side of me.
"Little faggot! I had to wait until now to take care of you. With you dead, there's no one to testify against him and they'll have to let him go." His gaze was contemptuous.
"There were two of us who built the composite sketches of both of you. Killing me won't keep him out of prison." It was a slim chance but it was all I had. Oh Clark, I'm sorry I screwed up again. If you hadn't fallen in love with me, this wouldn't hurt so much when you get the news.
He smiled a very cold and cutting smile. "Not to worry. He's being taken care of along with that AD he's been sniffing around like a bitch in heat. What is it with you guys and your perversions? Can't you let real men alone without having to try and drag them down to your level?"
And that's when he pulled out the long shiny tube and started screwing it to the barrel of his gun. Even I knew it was a silencer and that's when I knew I was a dead man. There'd be no noise to alert the security on this floor and my guard had been lifted the day before. Part of me wondered who'd authorized that and another part hoped very hard that it wasn't the AD who might even now be 'taking care of' my friend.
But part of me was thinking about what I could do to not get killed. Not now when I had everything to look forward to in my young life. A little red ball wasn't much but it was all I had, that and the call button. So taking a deep breath, I pushed the button with three quick jabs and threw the ball at him while he was sighting down the barrel at me.
The pain was excruciating but I grabbed the pitcher on the bedside stand as well with my left hand and threw it against the wall while I rolled out of the bed onto my bad side. The pft-t-t of a bullet hitting the bed sounded very loud to me but then I was busy trying to get the bed to roll towards him to pin him against the door.
But the door was opening and I was yelling. "Get security!"
"No need. This man is going nowhere." Superman's voice was ice cold and the sound of breaking bone was loud in the quiet room.
The next few minutes were chaotic, to say the least. My shoulder was on fire with pain. The nurse and doctor who had to help me out from under the bed were busy trying to make sure that I didn't have another bullet hole in me. Superman had escorted the gunman out of the room but not without one heart felt look of anguish in my direction.
Adrenaline is wonderful stuff. Gets you through most anything. But when it's done, it's done. Finis. Leaving you with the aftermath of whatever unwise or dangerous thing you were doing. Some of the stitches had ripped out and the next half hour was spent in being patched up while being poked and prodded by at least six different interns.
So glad I could be a learning experience for someone. Luckily, they were there when I went into shock. I don't remember anything after a certain point except for the bone shaking cold that seized hold of me. When I did come back to myself, my hand was being stroked and held.
"Clark." It was little more than a whisper but he heard me.
"I love you, Jimmy. And I am not leaving your side until you are safely in the penthouse." His voice shook a little. "Keith and the AD are all right. Skinner took out the gunman who was waiting for them at their car."
"Good." I pried my eyes open to see his face looking curiously naked without his glasses. "I love you too. And I could really use a hug right now."
The indecision on his face broke my heart. "I'm afraid to hold you for fear I'll hurt you. Your new stitches are still fresh and when the painkiller they gave you wears off, you're going to be in a lot of pain. I could make it worse."
"Nope. Holding me will never hurt me. There's room up here if we squeeze together." I was willing to flutter my eyelashes if it would do any good but I settled for just looking forlorn.
He finally smiled a very small smile but he was moving and that was what I was after. Honestly, I didn't feel a thing when he gingerly moved me to one side and slid under the blanket. My bad arm was propped on a pillow so I couldn't move it but the feel of his body against mine warmed me completely. One of his arms slipped under my waist while the other settled gently on my stomach.
I sighed and smiled up at him. "Better. You feel good."
"So do you." He very gently kissed me while his fingers rubbed soothing circles on my abdomen.
"How did you get here in time to save me again?" I relaxed against him with another sigh.
He snorted and sighed himself. "I almost didn't. If you hadn't distracted him, I'd have been too late. I'd just put Mom in a cab when I got the oddest feeling. I tuned up my hearing and heard him threatening you. Part of me just snapped and I turned into Superman while I was flying up the stairwell."
"It was close. Have I told you that I love you lately?"
I felt his smile against my cheek. "Well, it's been a few minutes."
"Well, I do. Are you sure your mom's okay with us? That was a pretty brave thing you did."
"Nope. That was easy. I don't keep things from Mom. She has this sixth sense where I'm concerned. She says it's a mom-thing. And she already knew something was wrong by the time she got here."
I was curious as hell about something and the drugs uninhibited me enough to let me ask him. "Did you really cry on the phone when you told them about me getting shot?"
He pulled back enough to see me. "Yes. I've never been so scared in my life. I thought I'd lost you before I could tell you I love you."
"Wow. Nobody's ever cried over me before." I thought that was kind of sad and funny at the same time.
His eyes got a little watery on me and he sniffed once. "Get used to it. You've got me and Mom and Mrs. K now, who will cry if you don't stay out of trouble."
What a lovely feeling of ... I searched for the right word. Family. Yeah, that was it. Family. Not something I'd ever really thought to have. And here it was. I tried to tell him my discovery but my eyes were suddenly too heavy to keep open and my mouth was full of cotton wool.
"Sleep, love. Tell me tomorrow. I promise I'll be right here."
Another soft kiss on my cheek, then one on my forehead. Each eyelid was anointed then my chin. Tender little nips all over my face and I fell asleep before I had time to count them. I could wait until tomorrow.
Because now, I knew there'd be one.
End chapter seven