She is Fire and I am Steel

“No. What happened to the dog?”

She’s sitting across from me at a table in an Italian restaurant no different from any other. The same checkered tablecloths. The same red-orange lights kept low so the blind dates can mask their imperfections. But Wolffington and I have known each other for years. And we don’t wear masks anymore.

A mouthful of wine, and a bite of garlic bread to soak it up. “Some weird skin rash. Keeps chewing her tail. Probably just a food allergy.” Wolffington pauses to breathe and swallow. “Dogs have those, same as people, right?”

I nod. “Sure, probably.”

“I never thought this would be my life.” Wolffington shakes her head. “That my biggest worry would be wondering what to feed my dog.”

“We didn’t expect to live this long,” I explain.

A final sip and the wineglass is empty. “We should have, Calino.”

Neither of us is even forty yet.

Instinctively I look away, down at myself. The blue suit, slightly bluer shirt and tie. It hides quite a bit. More than Wolffington’s sleeveless dress. When she raises her left arm to signal for more wine, the flame tattoos that surround it shine in the low lights.

“What do you worry about?” She asks me once the waiter has acknowledged her and hustled back with another bottle.

I consider being honest. If so much time hadn’t passed between us I would risk the truth. But right now I’d rather make her laugh.

“I worry that Blackguard Blythe is going to be up for parole soon.”

Wolffington laughs so hard she snorts fresh wine. She swings her napkin up to keep the liquid from bleeding onto her dress. I admire her for a moment, the way I did back when we were teammates. Her unapologetic, graceless charm.

“It’s terrible that I remember him. He had that top hat, the cape and those bloody smoked glasses.” Wolffington blows her nose on the cloth napkin and wine speckles it, probably permanently. “And his female sidekick.”

“Henchwoman.”

“Sure, what was her name?”

“Miss Anne Thrope.” Even I can’t help but smile.

Wolffington pounds the table with delight. “Right!” Then the full memory returns and she lets the napkin drift back to her lap. Her face is solemn. “We killed her, didn’t we?”

A question that needs no answer. Both of us remember crashing through the skylight of the roller disco. The Flaming Pudding and her sidekick Hot Plate rising up against the flashing lights and whistles. Miss Anne Thrope holding the skaters hostage, all tied together. My hands were tight claws aching to be released. Wolffington had her flask open.

Miss Anne Thrope didn’t back up. If she had decided like any normal henchwoman to scuttle off and let heroes and villains fight it out she would’ve lived to be arrested. But she advanced with her whip and this bizarre, fearless grin.

Our food arrives. Wolffington absently thanks the waiter. I eat quietly, munching pasta without tasting.

The whip had wound itself around Wolffington’s left arm. Her tattoos glowed with genuine fire and the loops of the whip burned away like paper. Another drink from her flask brought fire right out of Wolffington’s fingertips. It drenched Miss Anne Thrope, who screamed and staggered. There was plenty of heat in the room for me to do my job, so I unclenched my fists and my mind, allowed them to seek any nearby metal.

The screws on everybody’s roller skates were perfect. I telepathically ripped out the hot metal and let my hands zigzag in Miss Anne Thrope’s direction, drilling a hundred, near-liquid screws into her burning body.

We didn’t stay. Even at that moment Wolffington and I realized what we’d allowed ourselves to do. It was one thing to kill a supervillain in the heat of battle, so to speak; accidents happen among equals. Miss Anne Thrope wasn’t our equal. She was far more ordinary than Wolffington or I could’ve claimed to be. And we had murdered her.

So there was no untying the hostages. No accepting grateful hugs and handshakes. The two of us ran away to let the police find a smoldering corpse riddled with metal slugs. Pretty soon we ran away from each other.

“Blythe turned himself in after that,” I remind Wolffington.

She sets down her fork. “I know. Wasn’t his master plan to have the roller skaters power a giant hamster wheel that’d generate enough electricity to overload the city’s transformers?”

“Yeah.” Neither of us bothers to smile this time.

Wolffington stares at her left arm. She holds it out across the table and we both stop eating to look at it.

“What the hell made us think we should fight crime, Calino?”

I reach out, put my hand in hers. “We were young and had superpowers. Who doesn’t want to be a hero?” Wolffington tries to pull away but I hold on. “People crave attention from others. Our bad luck we had gifts that got us the attention we wanted.”

The two of us sigh. I let her hand go. “Do you ever use your power?” She asks softly.

“I still can’t control solid metal, it has to be softened with a heat source. In the middle of a burning building, maybe. But without you?” I shrug.

Wolffington and I look up at one another. A bond deeper than love or sex, the bond we willingly broke could be rebuilt tonight at this restaurant. After years of brief, polite phone calls, when she finally breathed deep and asked to see me again, I wondered if it was to scratch an itch. If she desired to sweep the streets clean of crime with me once more.

“I thought about going solo after we broke up,” Wolffington admits. “Never had the nerve to do it. I missed you, Calino, really. It’s probably why I got the dog. Something loyal and dependent.”

Maybe I should be offended, getting compared to a dog, but I’m not. Working with Wolffington, I understood that she needed me as much as I needed her.

“Know how I fight the urge to use my power?” Wolffington suddenly snatches up her wineglass. “I drink so much my body can’t convert the alcohol into fuel fast enough. I get pissed almost every night, make it impossible to even think about channeling fire through my arm.”

She angrily swallows the drink. I finish my food. Our waiter returns with a dessert menu but Wolffington waves him away.

“Calino, was tonight a mistake?”

Her face is pinched. Tears lurk at the inner edges of her eyes. The pain that gnawed at me ever since I gave up the crime fighting life had already chewed Wolffington apart. It could never be shared, even with someone she loved. Not even with me who went through it all alongside her. The past is nothing but a burden when you don’t believe you’ll live long enough to regret it.

But since I’ve already made Wolffington laugh once this evening, I tempt fate and try again.

“Tonight’s only a mistake if you don’t tell me what kind of dog you got.”

Wolffington doesn’t laugh this time, but she does grin. And the tears are blinked back. She flicks her empty wineglass off the table, where it can do nothing but bounce soundlessly against the thick carpet.

“I think it’s a beagle mix. Here, I have pictures.”

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