Secret Lives (mm cb musc)
“Excuse me… is this seat taken?”
The soft rumble of a masculine voice abruptly pulled me from the dancing jumble of figures on the ThinkPad’s screen. I looked up into a pair of soft hazel eyes, sparkling in a cragged face, a thick goatee outlining beautifully-shaped lips, white teeth flashing in a quizzical grin.
“N-no… I’m sorry.” Quickly the laptop bag was pulled aside, its pockets bulging with assorted receipts, the gentle clank of pens bouncing inside of it as it fell to the floor. “There’s plenty of room. I just was storing it here.”
“So I noticed,” the handsome fellow chuckled, as he slid in close to me along the bench, our backs up against the wall, the afternoon light of San Francisco’s sun coming over the treetops and down 18th Street. “You’re the first man I’ve seen with a laptop at Starbears who actually looks like he’s working.”
“Time, tide, and cranky clients wait for no man,” I laughed, studying him up and down. Just a shade under six feet, close-cropped fade, a well-worn T-shirt and green cargo shorts over black workboots, thick dark hair rippling over well-defined forearms. Involuntarily I straightened up as something very deep in my subconscious threw the blood control switch to my groin.
He snickered, as if he were watching my inner battle. “I’m Jim—Jim Gelber. I’ve never seen you around before—new to the city?”
“I’m here on business, doing client calls. Dan Evans, by the way,” I said, extending my hand.
His eyebrows went up and his grin widened. “Client calls, eh? If you didn’t have the laptop, I’d say those calls had something to do with ‘booty’, you’re cute enough.” His hand closed around mine, his grip strong and powerful, sending another jolt down to my rapidly-swelling member.
I blushed dark red. “You’re not so bad yourself, you know. You could be in porn, with looks like yours.”
He grinned evilly. “Who’s to say I haven’t?” And with a chortle, he reached out and patted me on the back. “Don’t worry, Dan. I’m not a porn star. But I am someone who can recognize a nice cub from out of town—and is very interested in getting to know more about him.”
My cock was definitely throbbing now. “You know, I was thinking the same thing. It’s not often you meet a handsome musclebear like yourself.”
He smiled, about to apply a quick retort—but suddenly, his face clouded… as if he had heard something, something he didn’t want to hear. “Excuse me,” he said, quickly rising to his feet, then down the street at a fast walk, his boots thudding harder and faster as he went—then abruptly around a corner.
Well, THAT’S a new one, I thought to myself, staring in disbelief down the sidewalk. Was it something I said? With a sigh, I turned to my laptop, shutting it down, pushing it into the case—and it was then that I heard the yelling from up the street.
“Hey, someone call the cops—there’s been a wreck!”
I grabbed my bag and stood up—and it wasn’t hard to figure out where to go next, not like I had a choice with the crowd shoving against me. People streamed out of doorways, headed into the street, running up Castro, yelling.
“Oh crap, it’s a BUS!”
“Shit, stay away—the hotwire is down! Touch it and you’ll get fried!”
A jumble of twisted, steaming metal lay in the middle of Castro Street, a demented modernist sculpture, painted in dingy white with the red Muni—and with horrified faces, some streaming blood, rising to the windows, pounding desperately, trying to get out. Wisps of gray smoke curled up from the crumpled engine compartments, the ominous smell of smoldering insulation, brakes… and, I gasped, a red glow starting to show through the ripped-open vents at the rear of the bus.
“We have to do something!”
“WHAT, man? There’s a kajillion volts running through that—it’ll kill you instantly!”
I looked around desperately… come on, there has to be something, anything. We can’t wait, those people are in danger…
“Wait—LOOK! He’s here!”
“COOL—He can handle it! Go Superbear!”
“Super—“ my jaw dropped as I saw a figure clad in a tight metallic red shirt, yellow tights, FLY down the street… stopping in front of the bus… then reaching out and grabbing it. Stunned, I watched this apparition dig his hands into the asphalt of the street… pulling apart the concrete, flinging it left and right, building an ersatz wall to keep away the snapping wires, his body glowing with electric energy as they touched him, but his movement continuing unabated… then almost casually rip open the front of the bus, metal shrieking as his powerful muscles flexed, moved under the tight suit, his cape flapping in the breeze. Out came the victims stumbling, shuffling out of the ruined bus, clutching arms and legs, some carrying each other, several being borne out on the strong arms of the mysteriously-masked man with the bear logo on his chest, setting them gently down on the sidewalk away from the smoking, now-burning heap of steel. Turning back, his features hardening, he pursed his lips and an icy blast roared down on the bus, the fire immediately extinguishing, icicles forming on the blackened steel, and with a quick turn, twin beams of energy blasted from his eyes, amputating the sparking hotwire and fusing its stump with the web of dead wires above the street.
Dumbly I stared, watching the impossible, a comic-esque hero brought to life—until a loud shriek from one of the victims jerked me back to reality.“Mama… MAMA…” a little boy cried, pulling at the sleeve of a woman laying sprawled on the concrete. I sprinted towards her, the cold bile of fear rising in my throat as her chest failed to rise. I kneeled down, grabbing her wrist—and my worst fears were confirmed. “Somebody call the paramedics! This woman—she’s not breathing, no pulse!”
The little boy stared at me, his black hair streaked with ash and dirt, his liquid brown eyes streaming… “Mama… why won’t she”… his shoulders heaving, a wail rising from his throat. Oh God, I have to, I thought… turning back to the woman, quickly pulling up her jaw, pausing… my lips against hers, quick breaths….nothing… leaning over, pushing down on her chest, then breaths… chest again… breaths… chest… breaths… feeling at her neck… nothing… then… oh please the sudden flutter against my fingertips, a sudden gasp… she… she’s….oh YES.
“Mama… what’s wrong with my—”
“It’s OK, it’s OK,” I said putting my hands on his shoulders, a huge wave of relief washing over me as I saw two EMTs running towards us, the crowd parting, pointing them in our direction, quickly kneeling down by his mother and opening their kits, shoving an oxygen mask on her. “Your mom was having trouble breathing there for a bit, but she’s going to be OK—these folks will take care of her.” I hugged him close. “And I’ll make sure you get to a safe spot. Do you have someone your mama told you to call if there’s a problem?”
“My… my grandma… I know her number. Mama taught me….” he trembled.
“Great, perfect, that’ll…” I fumbled for my mobile… oh crap, it’s in my laptop bag—
“Here, use mine,” came a voice from above.
“Thanks, I…” My voice trailed off as I saw him again… those impossibly-soft eyes… but this time darkened with concern. He looked down at me, a worried expression on his handsome face… then a small grin as he held up my laptop bag.
“How about we take care of him, then grab some dinner?”
I sank back onto the soft leather bench in the darkened restaurant, acutely conscious that I reeked of smoke, vainly brushing at the streaks of soot and dirt on my clothes. “You know, I really don’t think I’m dressed for this occasion.”
“Relax,” Jim chuckled, his hands folded, his chin resting on them as he watched me across the table, his golden ring reflecting dapples on the wall. “First, Blue is San Francisco casual, which means they’re happy that you’re wearing clothes in the first place. Second, you’re a hero. It’ll be up and down the ‘Stro in an hour, in the Chronicle tomorrow, and the BAR in a week: ‘Gay Man Saves Mom, Dries Kid’s Tears’”.
I sighed. “I only did what anyone would do. Besides, I sure as heck didn’t do the heavy lifting—and I still can’t believe who did.”
“Superbear, you mean.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying that—but Superbear, I guess. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he came flying down the street.”
Jim smiled at the corner of his mouth. “Maybe he was only doing what anyone would do. Then again, maybe BOTH you and he are doing things no one else would do. Isn’t that what makes a hero?”
I grinned wryly. “CPR, anyone can learn. Super-strength, invulnerability, super-breath, and heat vision—and that was just what I saw today, God only knows what else he can do—those are a little harder.”
“Or easier,” Jim said, leaning across the table, a harder look in his eyes. “After all, it’s not hard to be a hero when you’re super, now is it? I’m more impressed by someone like you who steps into the breach WITHOUT super-powers and does what needs to be done. What makes Superbear special?”
“The fact that he does something good with them,” I said, staring back into Jim’s eyes. “After all, if YOU had super-powers, what would you do with them?”
He blinked, almost as if stunned by the question. “Well… I’ll throw it back. What would you do with them?”
I blushed. “Well, to be honest… probably the same thing Superbear’s doing with them. Call it being warped by comic books, but I think… I think I’d want to use them for the good of humanity.”
Jim grimaced. “Are you sure? Think of the responsibility… having to jet off at a moment’s notice anywhere, anytime… and the isolation. You couldn’t tell anyone… couldn’t share your secrets… you couldn’t be honest with or get close to anyone without putting them in danger.”
“Well, it’s probably a good thing I’m not a superhero, then,” I said, levelly meeting his gaze and smirking, “because there certainly is someone here that I want to get closer to before the night is over.”
He blushed like a little boy handing a flower to his teacher. “I… well… I’d ask for the check, but we haven’t eaten yet.”
“And you won’t get it when it comes, Mr. Gelber—or at least that’s the client name I’ll be putting on my expense report,” I chuckled. “Speaking of which, I suppose I’d better be calling a hotel and getting a room. Any recommendations?”
A wicked grin crossed Jim’s face. “I know this great bed and breakfast just a bit away… original San Francisco Painted Lady, full laundry and linen service, garage parking, high speed Internet connection, easy access to shopping, transit, and attractions.”
“Hmmm, a B&B,” I smiled. “Is it really a B&B&B—Bed and Breakfast and Bear?”
“Brains, brawn, and blond—or is that you?” Jim snickered. “I can’t in the least figure out why you’re not taken. Are you an ax murderer or something?”
“Only every second Tuesday—and, since this is the third week of the month, you should stay intact,” I grinned. “How about yourself? I notice the ring… two bears embracing… is there another cub in the den?”
“Nope, nary a one,” he said hurriedly—just a little TOO hurriedly, I thought to myself. Oh well, he’s cute—I’ll deal with the moral implications, if any, later. “Well then, Mr. B&B&B Keeper, you’ve got yourself a guest for the evening.”
His face brightened, that beautiful smile coming back. “Thanks Dan… that’s great!”
Reluctantly, my eyes opened, as the morning sun finally overwhelmed the burgundy draperies holding it back and streamed into the bedroom. I let out a tiny growl, and was rewarded with a sweet answering snarl from the other side of the bed. Jim’s arm, furry and warm, slowly fell across my shoulders, his forearms knotting as he reached around, running his fingers through my chest hair. “Morning, cub.”
“Good morning, bear,” I crooned, snuggling back against the hard pillows of his furry pecs, his arms closing around me. “For once this week, I actually beat you waking up—of course, on my last day here.”
His grip tightened. “That’s right — you’re flying home today.” He sighed gently. “Dan… this past week has been so wonderful. It’s going to be strange not having you here.”
“You know,” I said, rolling over to face him, “all you have to do is ask… and I’ll be here. Whenever, wherever you want. And…” here goes nothing… ”I would like nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you.”
His face fell, hazel eyes turning misty. “Oh Dan… dammit, I knew you were going to say that, I just knew it.” He turned over, burying his face in the pillow, his shoulders heaving.
“Jim, I’m sorry, I… I didn’t mean to—”
He looked up, his eyes red, tears smeared on his cheeks. “No, Dan… it’s OK….it’s not you, it’s me. I think the world of you too… but there are just too many… complications. We just can’t do it.”
“Jim… sweetie… I promise you… whatever it is, we can work it out—”
“No, Dan… we can’t.” He raised himself up on his elbows. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear….and it’s not because I don’t care about you… but this is too much. I can’t—I WON’T—ask you to deal with it.”
My hackles and Irish temper rose. “Look, Jim, why don’t you TELL me just what ‘it’ is, and I’ll make the decision whether I can deal with it or not.”
“NO, Dan,” he barked back, eyes blazing, biceps and shoulders knotting. “I’m NOT putting anyone — especially not YOU—in that situation. You’ll only wind up getting hurt—“ and he abruptly cut himself off at my reaction.
“Hurt? Jim, are you in some kind of danger—”
“No, no, cub, no,” he murmured, pulling me close, his chest against mine, his eyes welling anew. “I’m fine, and I will be fine.” He looked at me wistfully. “God, that is what I love about you—fiery and feisty one second, tender and caring the next. You’re quite the cub, Dan Evans.” He turned away for a second, his back tautening, staring up at the casement, then back to me. “You’ll just have to trust me on this one. Please… please… don’t ask me to tell you why, just trust me when I say we can’t do it.” His eyes met mine, pleading.
So this is what true heartbreak feels like, I silently said to myself. I could feel the hot tears dripping down my cheeks, wanting to break loose in deep sobs… but I can’t do that to him. I squared my shoulders. “You know I’m disappointed… but….I trust you, Jim.” I offered my hand. “Friends?”
He took it in his strong paw… squeezing it… then gently planting a kiss on my wet cheek. “Friends.” He looked at me softly. “I’m sorry, handsome. Tell you what — you’re leaving this afternoon, why don’t we do a—” he suddenly stiffened, cocking his head to the side, his eyes taking on a sudden far-away look.
“Earth to Jim… come in… do a what?”
He snapped back, blushing. “Sorry sweetie… just remembered something I gotta go do.” He jumped up, heading for the door. “Let’s do brunch in an hour. See you at Harvey’s—” and he was off, his feet pounding on the stairs, the front door opening and slamming shut a heartbeat later.
I lay back on the pillows, staring up at the ceiling, mind turning over and over. Why me? Why do I always find the good ones who can’t commit… I rolled over groaning, and suddenly I saw it—a brown square on the nightstand. Jim’s wallet! He’ll be back for that in a second, I thought, sliding out of bed, pulling on my shorts. I grabbed the wallet and headed downstairs, shivering as the cold of the morning soaked into my feet, sliding on my house shoes, grabbing my jacket—and stopping stock still as I saw Jim’s overfleece still hanging on the peg next to mine.
Wait a minute, I thought… he was naked in bed too—SURELY he didn’t. I ran to the door, pulled it open, the brisk air and bright sunlight making me sneeze… what in the hell, his car’s still here… I looked up and down the block. Where could he have GONE?
A sudden banging from the narrow alley next to the house caught my attention. I walked back and around to see a figure moving in the shadows….”Hey! Come out of there! I’ll —” and suddenly a pair of hands closed on my face, forcing an acrid moist cloth to my nose. I swung wildly, but instantly my legs turned to jelly, collapsing, the world spinning, sunlight dissolving into a surreal riot of colors… and then blackness.
I blinked once… twice… the world at first fuzzy, then sharpening bit by bit. OW, my HEAD. I reached up involuntarily, only to cry out as sharp metal edges bit into my wrists… handcuffs… in the dusty dimness, a chain shining dully, wrapped around a thick metal warehouse post. What in the—
“Ah, so you’re waking up,” came a liquid, haughty voice from off to my side. The owner walked into view; fiftyish, a thick shock of silver hair, tanned, whipcord-slim, a dark Armani suit—and the lean hungry look of a weasel eyeing a piece of meat. His eyes sparkled with a predatory gleam in the brownish haze—the picture-perfect Hollywood rendition of a gigolo fallen on hard times.
I gagged and spat, the bile heavy in my throat. “I don’t know who you are, but you just made one hell of a mistake.”
“Big words from a man in shackles,” he sneered, circling me, his heels clicking on the concrete floor. “I assure you, this is no mistake. When I go hunting, I always use the finest bait to lure my quarry.”
“Bait? Quarry? What on earth are you talking about?”
“Think of it as a game,” he said, looking me up and down. “It started when I found out there was a trophy, an object of incredible power, and it by rights belongs to me. But it was given away by someone who was out of their mind, and its current possessor doesn’t want to give it up. So this has been the game—to draw him out, to study him, to discover his weaknesses. It’s been a hard slog, staging accidents, crimes, anything to get his attention… but I have finally found the perfect way to get what is mine back. You.”
Wait a minute….staging accidents….”You….you didn’t….you COULDN’T…”
“Crash a Muni bus? Oh, that was easy,” he said, almost gleefully. “One quick-acting mickey in a Big Gulp, and it was all over from there. The hard part was timing it so that it would crash in the Castro. You won’t believe how many times I had to experiment on people to get the dosage down correctly — and how some people just can’t handle a few chemicals. Puts them into terrible comas, I tell you. Fortunately, you just dump them in the Bay and—”
“You, you—BASTARD,” I groaned, yanking futilely at the cuffs. “You put innocent lives at risk and KILL people—and you call it a GAME? What could you possibly want so badly that you would—”
“Don’t play the innocent with me, pervert,” he snarled, grabbing me by the jacket front, yanking me to my feet, his eyes blazing with hate. “You know full well what I want and who has it, and it’s —”
“Me,” came a rumbling from the shadows, a massive form moving into the wan light coming through the filthy windows, fabric rustling as his cape rippled. Superbear!
He stared at the man in disgust, his fists clenched. “Why did you take him?”
“Leverage, ‘Superbear’, leverage,” the man smiled, and I felt cold round metal up against the base of my skull. “Now, we can do this very simply…” he shoved the gun barrel into my neck… ”or we can do it in a very messy fashion. You have something that belongs to me, and I want it.
Superbear’s face creased as he saw the gun. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“The name is Milan, ‘Superbear’… Caldwell Milan.” His voice hardened. “And I want the ring.”
Superbear flinched. “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Too late to bluff, faggot,” Milan growled. I gasped as he shoved the barrel deeper into my flesh, smiling evilly at Superbear’s reaction. “I know everything about that ring— where it came from, how you got it, and what it can do. It’s an easy choice; give it to me or pick this ‘cub’s’ brains up off the floor and try to stick them back in what’s left of his head. Granted, you’ll permanently lose your powers in the process, but I think that’s a small price to pay for a cub, don’t you?”
Powers… no… ”Superbear, don’t,” I gasped, wincing as Milan ground the gun barrel against my skin. “He’s lying—he’ll kill us both. Don’t worry about me! Get rid of him before he hurts someone else. He’s the one who crashed that Muni bus—AGGGGHH,” I screamed, as a blackjack cracked against the side of my head… feeling a warm liquid start to run down my ear, the world going into, out of focus as I fought to stay conscious.
“Shut up, ‘cub,’” Milan said coldly, “or I’ll give you worse—and I’ll make him watch.” He turned towards Superbear. “Well? What will it be? Your powers or your cub?”
Superbear stared at him with a gaze of pure hatred… then, with a sweeping gesture, held up his right hand… suddenly, in a dazzle of light, a golden ring appeared on his finger.
Milan smiled. “Excellent, Superbear. I knew you’d see reason eventually. Now…” his smile became a predatory sneer… ”take it off.”
“Superbear… no,” I croaked, gritting my teeth against the pain in my head. “You can’t—think of all the people you’ve helped, you can save—”
He shot me a look that was strangely tender and filled with longing… then back at Milan’s leer… and squared his shoulders… ”Sorry cub….I have to.”
He reached up… and pulled the ring off his finger. Suddenly the room was filled with a blinding flash… obscuring his form for a second.. .then back to the dusty haze. My eyes adjusted back… staring at where Superbear was standing… oh my God… it, it can’t be…
Jim stood there shivering, shaking, goose pimples all over his naked body, trying to stand……with a groan, he fell to the floor, his hand opening, the ring bouncing across the concrete floor towards me.
Milan sneered. “Draining, isn’t it, ‘Superbear’? I daresay you haven’t had that off since that stupid old bat gave it to you. Terrible thing to be back to mere mortal, isn’t it?”
Jimmy groaned again, with a supreme effort pushing himself off the floor. “Don’t you… talk about Matilda that way… she was a wonderful, caring person. She was—”
“A decrepit old pot-smoking hippie who I had the unfortunate circumstance of being related to,” Milan said, casually holstering the gun,walking over and scooping up the ring. He held it up to the light, pure unadulterated evil joy seeping across his features. “She didn’t even know what she had—and then she gave it to some artsy queer on her deathbed. Typical.”
“I’m also beginning to see why she didn’t give it to you,” Jim snapped back, struggling, trying to keep himself upright.
“Well, I’ll admit it would have been hard for her to get it into San Quentin,” Milan answered facetiously. “Then again, she didn’t know I was there—since my mother told her that her own grandson was killed in a car wreck rather than tell her he was a convict.”
“She mourned for you, Milan,” Jim gasped, losing his struggle and slumping to the floor. “She thought about you often—wished she had been there, that she could have helped you—”
“I don’t want to hear it, Gelber,” Milan snapped. He bent over and picked up the ring, a satisfied leer on his face, holding it up to the light. “Still in perfect condition. Thank you for taking such good care of it—especially since I’ll be using its powers to eliminate both of you shortly. Ironic, don’t you think?”
“Please,” Jim pleaded, “leave Dan out of this. It’s between you and me. He knew nothing about it.”
“Knew nothing about it?” Milan said, a wide smile cracking on his face. “You mean… you never TOLD him, Gelber?” He shook with maniacal laughter as he turned towards me. “My god, you must be the most naïve fool, to let him LIE to you like that! Where on earth did you think he was going, why he was late to everything?”
“This may be a new concept to a conniving, evil twat like you, Milan, but it’s called TRUST,” I hissed, wincing as my vision doubled again, each word painful, feeling my strength start to ebb away. “I… I trust Jimmy… because… I love him. I didn’t HAVE to know, nor did it matter.” So… tired… weak. “Of course… a creep like you wouldn’t know a damn thing about love—AGGGGGHHHH,” I cried out as he kicked me across the ribs, doubling over, falling to the floor.
“Please, Milan,” said Jim, anguish written across his helpless face as he watched me writhe, “he’s not who you want. Let him go and you can do whatever you want with me.”
“Ah, but you see, Gelber, he may not have known before… but now he knows not only about it, but who has it,” Milan fired back… then evilly grinned. “And I’m not going to leave someone who knows MY secret identity running about—especially someone with a smart mouth,” he said, spitting on my prone form. He waved the ring in front of Jim’s face, taunting him. Jim groaned, his face contorting as he tried to reach out, grab it, only to collapse. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell him—probably because you’d have to kill him then, too. But—” he took the ring… his finger standing, waiting for it… “he gets to know for a few fleeting minutes who the NEW superhuman is!”
“No—DON’T!” Jim yelled as Milan slipped the ring on his finger. Milan grimaced for a second… then a triumphal grin… flexing his muscles…
“Oh… yes… I feel it… the power… I… I….” His face twisted. “What… no… it… what’s… happening….” His fist clenching… “AGGGH… PAIN…” He grabbed frantically with his other hand, yanking at it… then tearing at his ring finger, desperately pulling.
“Must… get… OFF!” With a cry of agony, he flung it off his hand, the ring going over his shoulder… seeing its arc… it’s… coming… without thinking, I opened my hand… and… the ring jumped SIDEWAYS in midair, falling into it!
Milan stared at his withered hand, now twisted and gnarled, looking like it belonged on an Egyptian mummy. “What… what… YOU…” he snarled at Jimmy, whose face was a curious mixture of sardonic smile and physical agony. “What… did… you… DO?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Jimmy chuckled hollowly. “Maybe you didn’t read up on the fact, but the ring doesn’t take well to people who will misuse its power. I tried to warn you, but—”
“But NOTHING,” Milan seethed, grabbing for his gun with his right hand, then howling in pain as it moved, chunks of decomposing flesh falling grotesquely to the floor. He fumbled with his left hand, reaching, trying to pull the gun out of its holster.
I stared down at the ring in my palm… feeling its sparkling heft… I’ve got to get it back to Jimmy… change him back into Superbear… but he can’t… Milan’s in my way. I looked at my own finger… shivered at the thought, the sight of my own hand withered and destroyed like Milan… but… I looked up in horror to see Milan finally yank out the pistol, leveling it at Jimmy’s helpless form.
Jim chuckled, wincing as he moved. “You’ve lost, Milan. Kidnapping, robbery, endangering lives, all to get something you can’t even touch without it destroying you.”
“Given that,” said Milan, his voice dripping with contempt, “I don’t feel too bad about adding murder to the list.” His hand tightened on the grip. “Say goodbye to your cub, Gelber, but don’t worry; he’ll be joining you soon.” He sighted, his finger clenching.
Oh god… no choice but to — I clenched my lips and shoved the ring onto my finger.
With a flash, the world seemed to suddenly go into slow motion. Milan’s words were clear, booming in my ears, but as if they were being played at eighth-speed…. ”Sssssssooooooo loooooonnnnggg, Ssssssuuupppperbbearrrrrrrr… ” as the gunshot cracked, a wisp of smoke coming out of the barrel as the bullet shot out, inching towards Jimmy. I yanked my hands free, hearing a groan as the handcuffs shattered… got to… protect Jimmy… diving in front of him, turning my chest… seeing the bullet strike, then COLLAPSE against my pec… and bounce off towards the wall.
Milan’s eyes widened in shock. “No, NO—it CAN’T BE!” Frantically he squeezed the trigger, shot after shot firing forth. I felt the impact of the bullets against my skin, but like a mosquito or determined fly, stinging for just a second, then passing, the bullets zinging off, bouncing into walls, the floor. Without thinking, I squinted, staring at the gun barrel. He screamed again as the metal melted, sagging as twin beams of pure energy struck it. He turned and ran, sprinting desperately, trying to get away. I leaped into the air, swooping down and grabbing his shoulders. He swung at me, crying in pain as his fist connected with my jaw.
His eyes burned with rage and hatred, staring at me. “You, you… you can haul me off to jail, but every criminal, every police officer, every media outlet on earth will know who you are—”
“Will they now,” I said coolly, with a self-assurance I didn’t even know I possessed, meeting his gaze, staring back at him… his eyes widening, then becoming glassy. “What exactly will they know?”
“The true identity of… Superbear… and of you… I will tell them all,” he replied, his voice dropping into a strange monotone.
I continued to stare at him. “Now how could you tell them that? You don’t know who Superbear or I really are, do you?”
His eyes flashed confused for a second… “I… I…” he shook his head, trying to resist… then suddenly relaxed. “I don’t know who you really are.”
“Very good,” I chortled. “And you’ve never known. You’ve never had any curiosity to know. In fact, the only thing you do know is that you have to go to the nearest police station and confess what you’ve done, don’t you? You don’t know WHY you did these things… you just know you caused all these problems.”
“Yes… I…. must confess… robbery… causing accidents… drugging… endangering lives… murder… kidnapping—”
“You can leave out the last,” I said hurriedly. “Oh, and one more thing—the next time you have an inclination to call gay men names, flap your arms and cluck like a chicken.”
This is entirely too fun, I thought to myself. “Now—” I pointed towards the door, “you need to get to the police station and confess, right? In fact,” I cocked my ear, the sound of sirens headed this way clearly visible, “they’re coming to get you now. Don’t forget to turn in any thugs that you used along the way. Get going.”
Milan staggered towards the door as I instantly zoomed back to Jimmy’s prone form. He looked up at me, his eyes a mix of shock and wonder. “Dan… I…”
“Just lay still, Jimmy,” I said. The crunch of gravel outside instantly caught my attention; I looked at, then THROUGH the wall… seeing a line of police cars pull up, Milan running towards them. I looked up at the broken skylight… then scooped Jimmy up, wrapping him in my cape—CAPE? I thought dimly—then lifting off, through the hole, ducking to one side, and flying off towards the house, one side of my brain in utter disbelief over the fact that I was airborne, the other thinking only of getting Jim out of there.
Jim stirred in my arms, looking at the city below as we flew by. “Not home, Dan—over there.” He pointed in the direction of Twin Peaks. I followed his point and caught a glimpse of a steel door, cleverly concealed in a thick growth of underbrush; I shot down towards it, the door creaking open, hurtling into a long cave which dove straight downward, then horizontally… then broadened into a large chamber, lights coming on instantly as we entered.
“What in the…” I stared around at the cave walls, the imprint of hands that had gouged out the solid rock clearly visible… computer equipment, a wall of flat screens showing various views of the city… a meditation alcove.
Jimmy laughed. “Put me down and I’ll explain.” He stretched as I complied, gently lowering him to the ground, then helping him up as he struggled to his feet. He looked me up and down, shaking his head in amazement and amusement. “My God, look at you!”
I stared down at myself….and noticed that I was now wearing… holy smokes….red spandex tights clearly outlining my pulsing femoral muscles……two leather straps wrapping, coiling around my bulging biceps……a red cape billowing softly in the breeze blowing through the chamber….reaching up, feeling a mask on my face… my chest and nipples hard and defined under a blue metallic shirt, stretching a tight logo of—it can’t be—
“It’s OK, Dan,” he said, gently pulling me close. “The ring must have… accepted you, just like it did me the first time I put it on. I know it’s a shock… but… you’re now… Super. Just like I was.” His eyes softened. “Matilda—Milan’s grandmother—was a friend of mine. She was a healer and a witch in the Haight, thought it was just mumbo-jumbo at first, but she really did have the power. She helped me and countless others—but the last time I saw her, she asked me to take her ring.” He smiled. “Little did I know that that was where her power came from—or what would happen when I wore it.”
“So this… this is the ‘complication’ you were talking about?” I said, flexing my arms tentatively. God, I feel like I could lift this whole darn mountain! “This also explains why you were late so often… why you were—almost—never there when I woke up in the morning. You were off being Superbear.”
“Exactly,” Jim said, his face falling. “Dan, I’m so sorry… I didn’t want to lie to you. But I also didn’t want to put you in danger.” He grinned wryly. “Looks like I blew the last anyway. But you handled it… like you always do… and now you’ve got the power to do what you wanted, to help others.” He looked quizzically at my chest. “Well, aside from a slight color scheme change, looks like you can step in and assume the mantle of Superbear.”
I looked at him… and sensed the slight undercurrent of disappointment in his voice. “No, I can’t.” I walked back over to him and hugged him close… sheepishly backing off on my grip as his eyes bulged… whoops, forgot about that strength part. “Jim, you’re Superbear. I can’t be that, nor… nor will I take that away from you.” I reached up… making the motion I’d seen him do… the ring appearing on my finger. “I believe this belongs to you.” Gritting my teeth, I pulled it off.
I stood there looking at the ring, dumbfounded. “But… I… you… when you took it off…” I flexed my arm… still strong. I lifted off the ground… still flying….”What the heck?”
Jim’s eyes widened. “I… I don’t know. Maybe… maybe the fact that you gave it up willingly—”
“Actually, the fact that you accepted it freely AND gave it up freely,” came a voice from behind us. Jim and I both whirled to see an old woman in a wildly-colored shawl, long stringy gray hair, a basket draped over her arm, smiling beatifically at the both of us.
Jim’s jaw dropped. “My god… Matilda!”
“Yes indeed, Jimmy,” the old woman chuckled. “You were right about my powers. Sorry you had to find out about my grandson—” she spat “—the hard way. Nicely done, though, Dan… he has no idea who you two are, nor why he caused all those accidents. He’s just confessing left and right to doing them. A nice touch on the ‘chicken’ part as well.”
“Matilda, what’s going on?” Jim asked. “Why didn’t Dan change back when he took off the ring?”
The crone smiled. “Well, Jim, I think it’s trying to tell you something. She shook her finger at him, part warning, part playfully. “Before today, Jim, you thought the ring and its power were in the way of your happiness—that it was a responsibility that you had to bear because it kept you from getting close to others. As a result, it never gave you its power completely—and, when you took it off today, it separated itself—because it thought you didn’t want it.”
Jim hung his head. “Yeah… I guess I did. When I first wore it… it gave me what I’d wanted my entire life. But… but I couldn’t tell anyone… or at least thought I couldn’t… and it became more and more of a burden.” He sighed. “I wanted so much to be Superbear… but I thought being Superbear was getting in the way of being Jim.”
“Exactly,” Matilda said, shaking her head sympathetically. “Dan’s only thought when he put on that ring was that he’d do anything to save your life.” She shot a sidewise grin at me. “Of course, the fact that it tied in nicely with what HE wouldn’t even admit to himself—about wanting to be a hero—helped quite a bit. At any rate, the ring’s given him what he wants—the power to help you and others, permanently.”
“But… this means I’m—”
“Yes you are, Dan,” Matilda chuckled. “The ring has given you its power completely; I suggest you wear it because it does have a lovely costume change spell that you’ll find quite convenient, but otherwise, you’ll be super with it on or off—you no more need it than you do to eat broccoli three meals a day.” She looked at me again. “But there’s another matter. How many rings are you holding, Dan?”
“One, I—” I stared dumbfounded as I opened my hand… the ring… it’s separated into TWO… each with a bear on it…
“Exactly,” Matilda smiled. “Two rings. Remember, it knows what you really want; I think it means that you are meant to work as a pair.” She turned towards him. “The choice is yours. You’re free to be Jim without having to worry about Superbear, or you can have back the power, and accept the responsibility—but it seems you’ll have help.”
He looked at me… his eyes misty again. “Dan… I don’t know… it’s always been hard for me… but… if we do it together—”
“Always and forever, Jimmy,” I smiled, sliding the first ring onto my finger and holding out the second. “The offer I made this morning still stands.”
He smiled back at me, his eyes alight… in one quick motion, he took the ring from my hand and slid it on his finger… and in a flash, he stood proudly before me again as Superbear.
Matilda giggled, obviously pleased with herself. “Looks like my work here is done. I hope San Francisco is ready for—“ she paused dramatically, “Superbear AND Supercub.”
“If they aren’t, they’d better get that way,” Jimmy growled, flexing his muscles. He looked warmly at her. “Thank you, Matilda. I’m sorry I didn’t realize how wonderful the gift was—or—” he looked over at me, “just what it would add to my life.”
“You’re welcome, Jim,” she said, her form rapidly fading. “Now get out there and enjoy what you have—and each other.” She dissolved into nothingness.
Jim looked over at me, grinning. “Come on… Supercub.” He lifted off, flying through the tunnel, then upward into the rapidly-darkening sky… I followed behind, pulling abreast, his hand reaching out to grab mine as we streaked towards the Golden Gate… his arm around my back as we touched down gently on the top of the first tower of the bridge. Off to one side, the sun sank over the horizon into the vast expanse of the Pacific… to the other, the lights of San Francisco were twinkling in the hazy darkness.
He held me close… we gently kissed… then he moved around behind me, his arms around my chest, our capes flapping in the sea breeze. “I’ve come up here often… to think… to dream… but I never could share it with anyone else.” He gestured down there… then off into the distance. “The whole world is your oyster, Supercub… if you want to leave, I can’t and won’t stop you. But I’m hoping that…” he squeezed me tight, “you’ll stay here… with me.”
I snuggled back into his hard chest, laughing as a plane launched itself from SFO, exhaust trails burning a bright contrail into the night, peering through its hull and seeing an empty seat 11D. “Well, since that’s my flight leaving… I think you’ve got me whether you want me or not.” I turned and looked at those incredible eyes, shining through the mask. “But I know you do want me… and I want you. Superbear AND Jimmy… Supercub AND Dan… partners in crimefighting and… partners in life.
He grinned… and our lips met again in a passionate kiss, high above the city… hugging each other tightly, feeling our bulges press against each other… then leaping off into the night sky, headed towards the bright lights of the city… and our home.
I stood in the bright sunlight, watching the traffic zip by on Van Ness, nervously shifting from foot to foot… letting out a sigh of relief as I saw Jim walking briskly towards me, motioning; I followed him back into the alley.
He grinned. “Were you worried?”
“A bit,” I shot back, planting a kiss on him, feeling his furry goatee rub mine. “When you’re running late, I always wonder what natural disaster is happening, and if you need my help.”
“Well, this disaster was man-made—I couldn’t find a parking spot,” he laughed. “But maybe Supercub could have helped move a few cars over a bit.”
“Yeah, yeah, didn’t I get a lecture about ‘abusing your power’ a few weeks ago?” I hugged him.
His lips quirked. “Moving a car or two to help your husbear park is one thing. Giving the jerk who dumped that kid in front of you at the beer bust four flat tires is another.” He pulled me a bit closer. “Milan was convicted today on all counts. The jury said he was a ‘sociopath, a murderer, and a stain on society’. He’s going for life. Oh, and—” “Jim laughed, “he had a GAY prosecutor. The judge had to censor him numerous times for, and I quote, ‘attempting to imitate a rooster in the courtroom.’”
“Thank goodness for small favors,” I smiled wanly.
He pulled me a bit closer, his smile tender, his eyes warm. “Are you nervous, sweetie?”
“Yeah, I am—I just, this is a big deal, I’m not sure what to say…”
“No need to worry, cub—you’ll do great. I know you will.” He looked at his watch. “OK, showtime. Do you know where you’re going?”
“Yes, dear,” I chuckled. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
He grinned, stepping back… in a flash, his clothes transformed into his Superbear costume… and with a step and a leap, he shot off into the sky.
I smiled… god, that is so sexy when he does that… then concentrating, I felt my shirt and pants reshape themselves… and with a leap, Supercub headed to the clouds. Off I flew, over to the port where the sculpture had just been taken off the ship, and bracing underneath it, I lifted the twenty-ton work easily onto my shoulders and flew off towards the sparkling dome of City Hall, my ears picking up the miles-away addresses, honing in on the podium with my telescopic vision.
Superbear smiled, looking at the crowd. “Thank you for that wonderful introduction, Mayor. Ladies and gentlemen, it is truly my pleasure to be representative today—not only of the gay community, but of all the citizens of San Francisco—as we dedicate our new monument to diversity. This signifies what we as a city hold dear—that regardless of who you are, what you do, or who you love, you are part of the rich tapestry that is this city.” He looked towards the sky. “And now, to reveal the monument, I’d like to ask someone very special to me to bring it to us. My friends and neighbors, I’d like to introduce my new partner—Supercub.”
Easily, gently, I dropped out of the sky, hearing the gasps of the crowd as I landed, then gently lowered the monument to its pedestal… fusing it to the mounting bolts with a few quick blasts of heat vision… then standing back, walking to the podium… my heart beating fast as Superbear came up behind me, grinning as he slid his hand behind my cape and onto my butt.
“Hello, folks… I’m Supercub, and yes, I am Superbear’s partner. As a resident of San Francisco, I am in awe of the city… its history, its culture, its people… and I promise you that both Superbear and I will do our best to protect and serve you, its citizens. Thank you.”
The Mayor came up. ”Well… this is certainly a surprise… but… on behalf of the city of San Francisco, we welcome you, Supercub… and…” he looked at Superbear “… are glad that you two are together.” He smiled. "If I still had the power to do it, I'd offer to marry you… but… you may…."
Superbear and I turned and kissed as the crowd cheered wildly.