The following is a complete work of fiction.
This is my first City of Heroes Fan Fiction. If you are not a person who knows the City of Heroes MMPRPG, some of this story may not make sense. However, like my X-Universe Fan Fictions, I have written enough background into the story that I believe it is accessible to anyone who likes science fiction and comic book worlds.
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City of Heroes - Book 1
Awakenings - Chapter 11
February in Paragon City was cold, harsh, and always unpredictable. It wasn't the weather that made it that way, it was the villains. I woke up, for the third time this week, huddled against warm, hard muscle wrapped in two layers of clothes. Five days of power outages. We'd given up trying to keep things in the refrigerator cold and just put them all out on the balcony. At least none of the food had spoiled. Between my psycho kinesis and Urioch's energy powers, we could cook anything that could be cooked in a pot or skillet. I tried to tough it out the first couple nights, but my head cold only got worse. Urioch simply informed me that it was better to keep warm and healthy than prideful and ill. It wasn't pride, it was self preservation, but he'd been right. Without power, there was just no way to keep warm enough. Nights were dropping under zero and the days barely rose over twenty degrees. It was probably warmer in the sewers than it was in our apartment.
Watching my breath drift up in wafts of mist through the air, I sank in against my big, body warmer, and his arm tightened around me a bit. My thoughts drifted back to Christmas. I was making breakfast, French toast, when the first of our guests arrived. Levitating the pan away from the burner, I answered the door. "Breakfast?"
Magdalene smiled, standing in the hall wrapped in a soft green ruana and a comfortable looking sleeping dress. "Mmmmm," she sniffed the air, "French toast."
Stepping in, she handed me a couple boxes. "Merry Christmas, Jason."
I smiled, taking the boxes, and then looked up. Gay men could kiss anyone. It was a law. I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and grinned. "Merry Christmas, Mags."
She looked up and laughed. "What a perfect greeting for the holidays." With that, she bent down and gave me a real kiss on the lips. I dropped the skillet and I turned as red as my shirt.
"I'll put these under the tree," I mumbled, heading for the tree post-haste.
"Whom are you expecting?" Mags walked into the kitchen, slid the skillet off the burner and saved my toast from burning.
"Janet is a definite, as is Blaize. Lenny should show up. Janet harassed him about the fact that a Jewish man had nothing better to do on Christmas than to spend time with friends anyway. I doubt Onyx will come. She didn't answer my email. Brawler has family, but sent his regards. I have no way of contacting Hon'dah, so if he feels it through the universal vibe he'll show. Demonicalle said she never misses a party. Professor Duggan said he would drop by."
Magdalene flipped the toasts out on to a plate and put on a couple more before turning around. "What does your shirt say?"
I grinned, pulling the hem down so she could see it more clearly. "Reformed Grinch!"
She laughed. "I like the red sweats as well. Very season spirited."
"I thought I should wear something with color in it. Most of the time I'm in black."
"Multi-tone Grey, actually." Urioch came into the room wearing comfortable sweats and a loose tee that didn't really disguise the muscle underneath. He looked at the tree. "I see you were able to restrain yourself."
I laughed. "I was anxious to open presents as a kid, Urioch. I'm not a kid any more."
"Much of the joy of gift giving is watching the recipient's reaction. I am glad you have not opened your presents yet."
"I don't have any presents, Urioch." I wasn't upset about it. I'd only bought presents two days before Christmas, so there was no way I was going to get mad about a lack of presents for myself. Magdalene stepped into the living room and raised an eyebrow at me. I corrected myself. "Okay, I have two presents."
"I suppose that the items in your stocking are for someone else?"
I snapped about and looked at the bookshelves. I'd put a couple of presents for other people in my stocking, but it had been nothing close to full. It was stuffed solid. "Oh, cool!" I hadn't realized what I'd done until I found myself on the floor, in front of the book shelves, digging presents out of my stocking. I grinned up at Urioch and Magdalene's amused expressions as I slowly got off the floor, moved the presents to the coffee table, and sat down in the arm chair. "Okay, so some habits die hard."
Magdalene laughed, coming around the couch to kiss me on the forehead. "You are adorable. You have such a capacity for joy when you allow yourself to feel it."
I grinned. "Good teachers."
Joy was only one of the lessons my teachers were good at, I realized as I came back to the present. Another was to make the most of peaceful moments. Moments of peace were a hard earned, but kept life so much clearer. I lay there, being held, and let the moment last. We didn't have power, we didn't have heat or light, but I was warm, content and safe. If that wasn't peace, I didn't know what was.
Unfortunately, peace seldom lasted long, especially in Paragon. The panicked beeping of the communicators shattered the stillness of the room. Yanking the things to me from the nightstand, I handed Urioch his while I looked at mine. How they managed to keep emergency system communications going with hardly anything else working was something I just couldn't understand. My call was from the Cygnus Medical Center. Urioch's was from Freedom Corps.
"Jason," Amanda's sounded desperate and exhausted, "I know you have issues with using your powers, but we really need help from healers and I'm running out of people to call."
"Uhm," I looked at Urioch as he rolled over to the other side of the bed to talk more clearly with Corps Headquarters, "I'm not sure if I'm even available. We just got a call from the Corps."
"I'll hold." Hold? How did you go on hold on an emergency frequency?
Urioch looked at me. "They have recovered the power plants, but the Clockwork have scavenged key points of the power grid during the outage. They need help clearing the junctions of danger before the workers can repair the grid."
"Do you need me?" Though I knew it was wrong, I really hoped he did. I didn't want to face the hospital.
"What was your call?"
I cursed at him silently before answering. "Amanda says the hospital is desperate for healers."
Urioch nodded. "I believe we can find enough support for the task, Jason. Healers are a limited resource. You should go to the hospital."
God damn it. I didn't want to go to the hospital. I put the communicator to my head. "I can be there in a half hour."
"Thanks, Jason." She hung up.
I frowned at Urioch before rolling out of bed. So much for peace. I'd rather have fought a gang of gay rapists, naked, than tried to heal people. "Keep safe. I don't want to come back to find you're missing the tips of your ears from frostbite."
"My armor provides me adequate thermal protection," he answered, following me out.
I stopped before walking to the bathroom. The water mains had been shut off after the second night to prevent pipes from exploding when they froze. We had antifreeze in the sinks and toilet. "Damn it, I hate pissing in a bucket." We had a chemical toilet that Blaize loaned us. The Damage Control guys had managed to keep Infernotech's garage as a warm zone, so the building had become a shelter. They had minimal power from a generator, and they had the ability to flush if they melted snow into the toilet tanks. I heard they had over a hundred people sheltered in the place. Janet was staying with them over the blackout. She didn't do well when she was cold.
"I am thankful we have a way to eliminate that does not soil the apartment," he went into the kitchen while I made use of the 'facilities', "I'll melt some water to drink and to wash. This may prove to be a long, tiring day for both of us."
Of that I had no doubt.
I was still trying to get the fantasies of alternate bathing scenarios out of my head when I landed at the Hospital. Sponge bathing, in the radiant aura of the guy you're nuts for but can't have, was a torture I didn't need. It didn't faze Urioch, of course, but at times I thought he could just shut off anything associated with hormones. I certainly couldn't. I kept my back to him the whole time so he wouldn't see that the chill didn't diminish the effect he had on me. It didn't help that I hadn't been able to jack off in nearly a week. Too damn cold to keep it out that long, and in bed I wasn't alone. Life was quickly become a frozen hell, and the day had started out so nicely.
Amanda wheeled around the sleeping and huddled forms of the people lining the halls. The place reminded me of the hospitals after the Rikti Invasion. "Jason, I'm sorry to ask you to do this, but I'm out of options." The hospital had minimal power from emergency generators. They were lucky to be able to keep the place heated, and it still wasn't all that warm inside.
"That's okay, I know you wouldn't call if it wasn't major." I still didn't like it. I'd only managed to heal a couple people other than Urioch and myself, and only people I knew personally. Pulling up the necessary emotional energy to heal complete strangers just hadn't worked. "I don't know what I can do."
"Anything is better than nothing at this point." We wheeled to a medical elevator. Apparently the main elevators were offline. "We can't do more than a few surgeries a day with the limited power and water. We've been shipping out all the patients we can to other cities, but every day we have more people showing up."
"Urioch says that we've recovered the power plants. Hopefully, they'll restore power soon."
Amanda handed me a badge as we got into the elevator. It was white with "Paranormal Healer" and an ID number in green. "You'll need to wear this. The scanning system isn't working, so they can't verify your medical clearance, but no one is going to care at the moment."
I looked at the ID as the elevator went up. She couldn't' have had the thing made during the crisis. "This ID mine?"
"Yep. I had the number put through when we confirmed your abilities." Amanda shrugged as the doors opened.
We nearly bumped into Demonicalle as we came out of the elevator into the emergency care unit. She looked wiped out. Her normal vibrant green skin was more like a grey-moss green. "Amanda, there's nothing I can do for Mr. Peterson. If I pump any more radiation into him, his nervous system may shut down."
Amanda put her gloved hand on Demonicalle's arm. "There's only so much anyone can do, Calle. Get some rest."
Demonicalle laughed, pulling out her communicator. "No such luck. They need me up at nuclear plant. Biotech is on her way there, but apparently there was a leak and they have hundreds of people who have been exposed. My powers can fix that a lot easier than some of the problems here."
"Don't burn yourself out, Demonicalle." Even her aura was dull to my perceptions. How long had it been since she'd slept?
She flashed me a trademark Demoncalle smile. "Not a chance. I still have a hot gay boy to teach how to dance."
I laughed. God I loved her. No one could make me smile faster than she could, even Urioch. I blinked for a moment, realizing what I just thought. I put out my hands. "Give me your hands." It couldn't have been that simple.
Demonicalle looked at me for a moment, tucked away her communicator, and gripped my hands. "What?"
I closed my eyes, trying to hold onto the happy feeling she'd given me the moment before. "Shhh." Wrapping my thoughts around the feeling, I tried to give the joy and happiness back to her. There wasn't even a lock for me to undo. The energy just poured out. It wasn't the overwhelming rush or explosion that I had when trying to save Urioch or myself, but it flowed. I opened my eyes, and watched the white-green radiance surround my hands and spread over her. As it faded, I could see her color was a lot cleaner. She still looked tired, but the dead look of exhaustion was gone.
Demonicalle took a deep breath and let go of my hands. "Thanks." Her eyes met mine and I knew she'd felt the whole exchange. Her communicator beeped, and she hit the button for the elevator. "I've got to get to the power plant."
I got out her way, but gripped her arm. "I meant it. Don't burn yourself out."
"So did I," she laughed, "I'm still going to drag your ass out on the floor and teach you to move." She got onto the elevator and hit the down button. "Later, loser."
"Losers Rule!" I pumped my fist in the air as the door closed.
Amanda smiled at me. "Glad to see someone still has his spirits up. We could use an injection of confidence around here."
"I'll do my best." I wasn't sure I could replicate what I'd done with Demonicalle with just anyone, but I was going to give it my best shot. "Who's in the worst shape?"
Wheeling down toward the emergency room, Amanda sighed, "Mr. Peterson. Automobile accident; back broken in several places; he had brain swelling which we managed to release with a drain, but he's paralyzed – probably quadriplegic, but without the scanning systems we're working blind. Without main power, we don't have the tissue regeneration systems. He's on breathing and organ maintenance units, but even those are dicey."
"I don't know, Amanda. I mean, I can hardly heal myself and Urioch... this sounds a lot worse than anything I've done before."
"If you can just give his system some strength to hold out until we have power again, that will be enough."
I looked in at the man on the other side of curtain. They didn't even have all the monitors working. I could feel the disconnection, almost like he had snapped electrical lines within him. "I'll try, but I'm not making any promises."
Amanda's beeper went off. "Damn. You go in, Jason. You've got clearance." Wheeling up the hall, she headed for the emergency entrance.
I sighed, went in, and smiled as the poor guy looked at me. "Hi, I'm Jason." It didn't even occur to me that I was in costume. It probably wasn't the best thing to wear a black costume with stylized skull mask and a skull logo when in the hospital.
Even though was on pretty severe drugs, his eyes went wide and I felt his surprise and a touch of fear.
"I apologize for the outfit. Normally I'm trying to scare the shit out of the bad guys, not comfort patients." Fuck it. I peeled back the mask.
There wasn't much for me to work with. There were no visitors, no flowers, no photos, no cards, nothing for me to get a bead on who David Peterson was. Empathic healing required some connection, something that allowed me to bond with the other person. That was why healing strangers had never worked. Me, yeah; Urioch, at a moment's notice; friends, apparently that wasn't as out of my realm as I'd originally thought. But a stranger was unknown territory. I wasn't even sure how long he'd been here. I eyed the chart at the foot of the bed and wondered if my paranormal healer status allowed me access to his medical information or not.
So what now, Jase? Just sit here and empathically record all the odd and painful sensations I observe? I laced and unlaced my fingers on my lap as I waited for inspiration, or a sign.
I felt his curiosity about me building between bouts of pain, fear and chemically induced fog. I wondered if I should use his first name when I talked to him; Mr. Peterson sounded so detached and cold – he definitely needed some connection and warmth.
"May I call you David?"
It seemed to take a moment for him to register what I'd asked, and he couldn't talk, but I felt what seemed to be a favorable response.
His attention returned to me as I stood beside his bed again. He couldn't move his head, so sitting at the head of the bed gave him no sense of company. In addition to his attention, I felt he was curious.
I tapped the side of my head. "Empath. I can't read your thoughts, but I get impressions."
He seemed to understand what I meant.
"So, uhm," yeah, my bedside manner was stellar, "you have family?"
That was a problem. I frowned as I tried to figure out what I felt. Yes and no, true and false had both intellectual and emotional components. Numbers didn't seem to carry the same emotional energy; at least not the thought of numbers by themselves.
That didn't feel right.
Yep; he had three kids. More importantly, he loved them a lot.
I just stood there, not sure what to ask next, and his mind wandered. I was pretty sure he was thinking about his kids, or his family, because the base sensation of love hadn't changed; but his emotions were a mixture of love, regret, guilt, and fear.
"Worried about them, huh?"
He looked back at me, and I knew I was right.
All in all, he looked like he'd been a healthy, robust man; not a body builder or super hero, but he had been in pretty good physical shape. I guessed he was used to being the strong, dependable, provider and protector. "Were they with you," I asked, nodding at him, "you know, in the car?"
His relief made it evident to me that they hadn't been.
"Cool. I'm glad your kids are okay."
The worried, guilt ridden love came back. I didn't need empathy to see it; his emotions came through the fog in his eyes.
I pondered that for a moment, and then reached down to put him had on his chest. He couldn't feel my hand there, but I made sure he saw me do it. "Can you think about them? Your kids?"
He did, and for a moment I felt the warmth of his love rise up through my palm. Unfortunately, he quickly began to worry, and the guilt and fear started polluting what I felt.
"Hey, David." He looked at me. "Can you try to just think about how much you love them? I mean, without the worry and stuff?" I tried to smile encouragingly. "Good thoughts help."
That sounded weak, even to me, but he tried. He closed his eyes and the other emotions faded back a bit. Most people couldn't control their emotions, I certainly couldn't, so that was the best I was going to get. I closed my eyes and focused on the energy I felt in his chest. I drew it up my arm, wrapped it around the green-white light in my own chest, and then let the energy flow back down into him. Slowly, the other emotions disappeared as the love brightened.
I opened my eyes, but I didn't see the room. I was lost in a world of green-white light. Memories that weren't mine faded in and out. The birth of my son, my daughter's first steps, Sunday morning funnies in bed with the whole family snuggled together; the memories felt so real, as if I'd lived that life, but I hadn't. I gathered them up and pushed them down into the body below me. David's eyes snapped open, light radiating from them as he gasped. I swore I heard his bones cracking.
I flinched, and the connection snapped. I watched as the light faded from around us. David was crying; so was I. I went for a nurse.
"So he's stronger," I asked as the nurse checked David's pulse and blood pressure herself. He woke up about a half hour after I'd tried to heal him. It felt like there was a touch more vitality in him, but I wasn't sure.
"I don't know how, but yes." She looked at me. "Can you see any other patients?"
Taking a breath, I nodded. "Yeah, but I think I want a white coat or something to go over this." I tapped my costume. "I don't think, Doctor Death, is the impression we want to give someone when I walk in."
"I'll get you one and find out who you should work with next." She left as I got up and touched David's arm.
"I'll check on you later, okay?"
He smiled, he still couldn't speak, but I almost heard his, "Thank you."
I left him, wishing I could do more, and met the nurse in the hall as she brought back the coat. "I've got a list."
Sliding on the coat, I grinned. "I guess I'll be crying for a while." My eyes were still red from working with David.
"Honey," she said, glancing into David's room before she turned to take me to my next patient, "if I could do anything like that for these people, I'd be crying too."
Main power for the hospital came back, after several false starts, about eight pm. It was midnight when I sat down in the lounge, between two sleeping orderlies, and realized I hadn't eaten anything but the half-thawed fruit we'd warmed up that morning. I closed my eyes and sank against the cushions of the chair. Sleep claimed me almost immediately. I woke to the smell of something warm and creamy that had me salivating. Opening my eyes, I saw Urioch crouched down, holding a cup of coffee a short distance from my nose. "You're a god," I mumbled, taking the coffee from him and sipping it. It was horrible coffee, and had creamer instead of cream, but I didn't care. It was warm and had caffeine.
Urioch chuckled. "I have been promoted?"
"What are you talking about," I asked as I sat up in the seat, sipping more of the horrible, life giving liquid.
"You had described me as an angel once. I was unaware of my promotion to the status of a deity."
I frowned at him. "I never called you an angel." I'd thought it more than once, but I was pretty certain I hadn't said it.
He shrugged. "It was while I flew you to the hospital during your overdose. I doubt you would remember."
Damn his eidetic memory. He probably remembered things I'd said in my sleep, or under my breath, that I would never have said in my right mind. "You can't believe anything a person says when he's drugged up and dying."
Frowning slightly, Urioch regarded me as I tried to keep from looking as nervous as I felt. "I find that people close to death speak the truth more easily for they feel they have nothing left to lose." He shrugged again and stood up. "It is not important. Your assessments in both cases were false."
It was time to change the topic. "Ready to go home?"
"The apartment may not have power for another day or two. They are still struggling to stabilize the emergency services grid."
As tempting as a warm building with running water was, I wanted out of the place. I'd cried and poured out more emotion in one day than I had in an entire year. I wanted to go home, to my little space, and just be alone. Okay, not necessarily alone, but at least with someone I didn't have to pour everything into. Urioch was easy. He already had just about everything I could feel. There wasn't any work involved. "I'd rather sleep in my own bed."
"Mine," he corrected, "in your exhausted state, it would be unwise to chance getting chilled."
"Yes, Dad," I complained as I rolled my eyes. I was glad I wouldn't lose my body warmer. I was getting used to him.
Janet chewed on her burger while we waited for Lenny to arrive. He was over a half hour late. She quietly ate while Blaize and I caught up. We hadn't had a chance to get together since February.
"I can't believe you slept with him for a week and didn't get jiggy." Blaize shook his head and slurped down his Coke.
"Oh yeah, that would have been rich. What was I going to do, say 'let's fuck, we'll keep warmer that way'?" I snorted, taking a sip of my water. "Even if he weren't straight, no one would fall for that one."
Blaize's complexion shifted, and I felt a wave of what I couldn't identify until Janet spoke up. "Why not, it worked for me?"
I blinked at her, and then looked back at Blaize. Dark skinned or not, the guy was blushing hot enough to fry an egg. "Oh my God. You and Janet?"
Blaize frowned, reaching over to grab Janet's hand. "What? I happen to like skinny, white chicks. Big boobs and butt just end up being saggy when you get older."
Janet grinned. "He isn't the most romantic guy on the planet, but he's great at keeping a girl warm at night."
"So is a muscle-bound elf, but his methods are totally platonic." I wanted to feel virtuous, but I started to wonder if the ploy would have worked. I may not have gotten sex, but a naked Urioch pressed against me would have been nice. No, no that would have been worse.
"Look who decided to grace us with his presence," Janet quipped as Lenny followed the host to our table.
Lenny frowned at her as he took his seat. "I couldn't get in. Didn't anyone know that you can't get into this place without a SC level of five?"
Skylines was a favorite hero restaurant. In downtown Steel Canyon, it was at the top of one of the tallest buildings and had a landing terrace for heroes who could fly. To get in, one member of any party had to be at least security level five. I hadn't mentioned my promotions yet. "Yeah, so?"
"So how the hell are we in here? I stood around downstairs, waiting for you guys to show up, convinced someone must have been on drugs when we made the date." Lenny hated being wrong, late or even improper.
Janet and Blaize looked at me. I shrugged. "Okay, so I'm SCL5. I didn't think about it." It was just a little white lie.
"When did you get SCL5?" Blaize frowned, leaning in. "I'm only SCL3, and I got my clearance less than a month after you did!"
I shrugged. "I don't know."
Janet narrowed her eyes. "Yeah, right. You got your SCL4 in February after spending nearly a week performing miracles on people." She looked at Blaize. "If you read the Freedom Corps daily updates you'd have known. Jason healed like a whole emergency room of people during the freeze."
"Janet." I still wasn't comfortable with my healing powers. It wasn't hard for me to do any longer, but Freedom Corps had begun receiving pleas for healing. Demonicalle and Magdalene assured me that the celebrity status would die out after a while. I'd simply shown up during a crisis and the word had gotten out. I hadn't wanted to get together to talk about me. I wanted to catch up with my friends. I looked at Lenny. "You're looking good."
Lenny smiled. "Well, finally having a mentor means I can move forward with life."
Blaize whooped, causing a few people to look our way, and Janet clapped her hands together.
"That is wonderful, Lenny. When? Who?" Janet nearly spilled her drink, leaning in to get the details.
"I have Mr. Modest to thank for that," he smiled at me. "He introduced me to my mentor back at Christmas."
I grinned. "Shaed is your mentor?" I had wondered if anything had come of their meeting. Professor Duggan and Lenny had chatted on and off at the apartment during Christmas.
Lenny nodded. "Since January, but we really didn't started working together until March. Shaed had to be cleared to mentor. There was some question about his active status."
"He puts so much time in at the University and teaching self-defense classes that I doubt he puts more than a night a week into superheroing."
"Yeah, apparently you have to have so many hours a year on record in order to mentor. It took him a couple months to fulfill the active hour requirements." That explained why Professor Duggan had looked so tired over the last couple months.
We ordered our lunches, Janet ordered her second lunch, and we got back to catching up. Lenny looked at me suspiciously. "So, have you been saving up? Even the burgers are twelve bucks."
I shrugged. "I got a gift certificate."
Janet eyed me. "You're holding out on us, Jason. Spill."
I sighed. "One of the people I helped back in February has a relative who works here." It was only a little lie. It was the granddaughter of one of the owners. "I received a thank you through Freedom Corps, including the gift certificate." Gift Card with renewing meal credits. If I ate all the credits myself, I could have stopped for lunch or dinner several days a week for the rest of my life. I liked eating with friends.
"So, anything else?" Janet looked from me to Blaize. "I swear, getting him to talk about this stuff is like pulling teeth."
I think Blaize finally picked up on my discomfort, and bless him, he changed the subject. "Look, you guys may be all hot and bothered about hero news, but I'm not. I want to help, but being a full time hero isn't my bag. Once I fulfill my parole period, I'll stay registered, but I'm not going to spend every night on stake outs and trying to bust the baddies. I want a real life."
Thankful for any new subject, I looked at Janet.
She shrugged. "I want to support the hero community rather than be one of them. I'll always be on call, but I agree with Blaize. I want to have a normal life."
I looked at Lenny. "What about you?"
"What I want and what I can have isn't necessarily the same thing." I had noticed the dark miasma wicking lightly from him. We were at a hero restaurant, so people were in costume, had auras of power, and everything else. Lenny's leaking darkness wasn't even noticed. "Shaed says he has a friend who could use another cook since his place is open 24/7. It isn't owning my own restaurant, but at least I get to do something other than flip burgers."
"So you're going to be part-time hero, part time cook?" It was really depressing to think I was the only one of my parole friends who planned to take up the hero mantle full time.
"For now, part-time student, part-time hero. I'll see what happens when it happens." Lenny never counted his eggs before they were hatched.
Blaize eyed me. "You were the only one of us with this hero shit in his blood, Deathman. Don't look so depressed. You've got more important things to be depressed about."
"Like what," I frowned, taking a drink.
"Like how the fuck you're going to get your gay ass laid."
I spit all over the table as Blaize laughed and Janet defended herself with a blurring napkin. Lenny just wrapped himself in darkness. Glaring at Blaize, I wiped my face while trying to come up with a response. "The last thing I need right now is to get mixed up with some guy, Blaize. Just because you're easy and Janet has no taste, doesn't mean the rest of us are desperate to be coupled."
Blaize mock growled at me. "You diss'in on my woman?"
I laughed. "No. I'm saying she's a saint for taking you off the prowl. Women everywhere praised the Lord when it happened."
Janet sipped her coke, grinning. "Good recovery, Jason." She blew Blaize a kiss and then narrowed her eyes at me.
Blaize laughed. "Man, could you imagine, at this time last year, that you'd be an honorary member of a high-profile hero group and eating in a place like this?"
"A year ago, Blaize, I was on the street, about to be promoted in an entirely different way." I suddenly realized that it would be a year since the day I died, the day I met Urioch, and the day life started over, in less than a week.
"When we're all sitting on our collective asses, watching the television with rug rats running around, screaming, you're going to be one of those guys everyone talks about. 'I remember Death's Head back when he was...'" Blaize grinned. "You'll be out saving the world while we're trying to save the dishes from a munchkin stampede."
"Fuck it. I don't care if you guys all go off and get houses with white picket fences and have two and a half kids each. We'll still be friends, right?"
"United bro," Blaize affirmed, putting his fist out. We all bumped knuckles.
I sat there, memorizing the feeling that settled on the table before our food arrived. This was family. It didn't matter what we did, where we went, or who we met, if one of us needed help, we'd be there. I made a note to give thanks for that next Sunday.
I stared at the latest stacks of letters from Freedom Corps sorted on my bed. There was the stack from the nut cases, who didn't get responses. There was the stack of the general well wishers, who received a generic 'thank you' response. There was the stack of hate mail, which I'd turn over to Freedom Corps for threat analysis. And then there was the stack of sincere, heart wrenching letters from people in need. I never knew how to respond to those. I looked up as Urioch came to the door. "How do you deal with all of this?"
The promised decline of celebrity status had not materialized. Next Sunday was Easter, and I was amazed at how many people wrote heroes for miracles instead of praying. No, it wasn't amazing, it was disturbing.
"Jason, you know that Freedom Corps provides the services of the Media Communications and Image Department for dealing with a member hero's fan base. The majority of the mail addressed to me is dealt with by the MCID." Urioch looked at my pile. "You were told to register your media management preferences with the MCID when you received your level one clearance."
"I know, I know," I grumbled, looking at the stacks with dread. I never thought media management would be an issue for me, so I'd skipped those forms. "What do I do with all of this?"
"Determine which letters are ones you would like to personally address, segregate, and then log into your Freedom Corps account to arrange for media management support. The MCID is quite skilled at it."
I sighed; it made sense. "Okay."
"Dinner is ready." Urioch left me to deal with my stacks while he set the table.
As I shut down my laptop, I looked at the paper bag that had a certain bit of fan mail I needed to deliver personally. I picked up the paper bag and brought it with me to dinner. Urioch raised an eyebrow at me as I put the bag next to his plate and sat down. "What is this?"
Were my palms sweating? I grinned, trying to cover up the nervousness eating away at my gut. "Open it and find out."
Urioch peeled open the envelope, pulled out the card, and read it quietly. I knew what it said, of course; I'd agonized over what to get him for days. The cover read, "Life at times is about survival," and the inside read, "Friendship teaches us how to live. Thanks for everything, Jason." Though there were hundreds of cards to "rescuers" available, Urioch was more than the hero who saved me. He'd been my friend, even when I hadn't wanted one, and I had no way of expressing how much that meant to me. He smiled, put the card back in its envelope, and looked at me. "Thank you, Jason."
Fuck! I wasn't going to cry. Why the hell did becoming a good guy mean I had to be a damn fire hydrant? "Open you present."
He pulled the book out of the bag. It had taken me forever to find something I was sure he hadn't read and expressed the things I couldn't. It was an antique book of poetry about friendship. Well, I wasn't sure if it was really an "antique", but it was older than me. I spent two afternoons at Lowenski's trying to find something unique. The old bastard had let me look, fret and grumble for hours before he asked me what I was looking for. When I told him, he just went back to his desk and pulled out the slim, old, well worn book and handed it to me. I'd read a quarter of it, crying at the words I couldn't express for myself, and knew it was what I wanted. The title was simply, "Friends."
"What brought this about?" He set the book down, safely away from the food zone, and looked at me.
"It was a year ago today that you blew your way into my life, saved it, and gave me a chance to start over." I shrugged. "I'd forgotten what it was like to have friends, feel safe, and believe in myself." I wanted to add, I'd forgotten what it was like to love, but I didn't. "I just wanted to say thanks."
"It is not necessary, Jason. I am your friend." He looked back at the book and smiled. "Thank you."
After dinner, lying on the couch watching a movie I'd missed while on the streets, Xmen, I realized at some point in the last six months I'd gone from lying on the couch with my feet in Urioch's lap, to being stretch across the couch with my head in his lap. When had that happened? I just closed my eyes and listened to the music of the closing credits. Urioch flicked off the TV, but neither of us made a move to get up. His fingers had been softly stroking my hair most of the movie. We stayed there, me laying on the couch and him sitting on it with his fingers in my hair, and he started reading from the book I'd given him.
I drifted away, listening to the music of his voice as he softly read poem after poem. All I could think was how close it came to sounding like "I love you". I always slept like a baby when I fell asleep with Urioch reading to me.