Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
 
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A Life More Ordinary

by Amy Latta




"It's over, Dastardly Deceiver! I'll blast you with my lasers!" He lifted up his arm to shoot them.

"You can't stop me, Awesome Dude!"

Dastardly Deceiver leapt to the side and dodged the attack.

"I'll get you!" He ran toward Awesome Dude, who turned and fled. Dastardly Deceiver was close on his heels. Deceiver leapt and slammed into Awesome Dude, who fell on the ground, screaming and crying.

"Ooowwww!! You hurt me! Mommy!"

The child who had been playing Awesome Dude ran to his mom with his brother right behind him, ready to explain. In her office high above the park where the children were playing, Lana smiled and sighed wistfully as she watched the mother lean down and hug her children, brushing them off with a stern look.

Lana was just thinking she should get back to work when a loud wail came over a nearby loudspeaker. "Villain alert!" it crackled. "Everyone in the stairwell!"

Lana rushed to the stairway where several office workers were already huddled, grumbling, and checking their smart phones. She caught sight of her friend Diana, who grinned at her. Finally, a crisp and professional voice came over a loudspeaker. "That was a great villain drill, everyone. Don't forget to fill out your drill times and have them in to the office by 5pm."

Diana turned to Lana. "Did you know we were going to have a drill?"

"Of course not," Lana replied, annoyed. "When do they tell us anything we need to know? I was freaking out, thinking the building's going to get blasted any second!"

Diana chuckled as they walked down the hall together and paused at a balcony. "Great view, though."

"It really is," Lana replied thoughtfully. She took a moment to take it in while keeping one eye on the clock and trying not to breathe in too much smog. A red blur soared by, weaving in and out among the other tall buildings. They could just see the top of the sign outside reading "FEMCO." The building itself boasted 53 floors, which was small compared to other buildings but claimed to be the largest modeling firm in Pinnacle. It was large enough, at least, to look over most of the city.

Diana noticed Lana's contemplation. "Something on your mind?"

"We can talk about it later. It's not important."

Diana gave her a look and said, "You're not getting away with that. Come on, it's time for a coffee break anyway."

"Shouldn't we get back to work? We have important things to do," Lana insisted.

"Oh sure," Diana said, "if you count playing 'Who's more beautiful' every day. God forbid the magazines find someone average to grace their covers. Beats modeling, at least."

"You know you miss it."

"It was nice to be recognized but the schedule was horrible. I have so much more time now! Anyway, it'll wait. And so will your numbers."

Lana hesitated a beat. "I don't have a choice, do I? You really do bring out the worst in me," she continued as they started downstairs.

"No, I make sure you take care of yourself."

Lana and Diana walked into the coffee shop and approached the counter, where there was a sign hanging: "PLEASE BE THINKING CLEARLY ABOUT YOUR ORDER." The cashier greeted them by name. "Double mocha no-whip and our strongest coffee, black. Right?"

Diana grinned. "Right as usual, Tony. Hey, whatever happened to those headshots you sent in?"

Tony sighed. "They said I don't have enough of a reputation. Sure, I've stopped a few robberies, but I'm not famous. How can I even get famous if the PR firm rejects me for not being famous?"

"It's such a catch-22," Diana agreed sympathetically. "I'm sure you'll get your break eventually."

Tony smiled. "Thanks, Diana. I'm free this Friday night," he added hopefully. "Just in case... you know."

Diana gave him a small smile. "You never stop trying, do you?"

"Not until I wear you down and you say yes. Oh well. At least we'll always have coffee."

Diana raised her cup and she and Lana sat down. At 5'10", Diana was almost a head taller than Lana. She had classic Grecian features with tanned skin and blonde hair. Lana with her short height of 5'3", pale skin, and dark hair, always felt a little intimidated by Diana. They had been working in the same building for years but hadn't met each other until Diana retired from modeling and started scouting talent. They'd started arriving to get coffee at the same time and simply continued the ritual.

"When are you going to stop leading him on?" Lana asked.

"When he starts charging me for my coffee."

"Come on, he's a nice guy."

"I know and I get a good vibe from him, but I'm not looking to settle down yet. I'd miss the adventure." She sipped her coffee. "Mm, nice and bitter. Oh, did you see this morning's newspaper?" Diana held up the front page as Lana read the headline.

"Mysterious Green Superhero Saves Child from Fire. Hey, you're there too!"

Diana beamed. "Isn't it great? I'm dating the photographer." She turned to Lana conspiratorially. "Turns out he has super-speed; that's how he gets all those great pictures." She sipped her coffee. "I'm going to break up with him."

"Already? Why?"

"Super-speed isn't great for everything, if you know what I mean. Nice guy, though. He has a special friend; I could introduce you."

"No thanks; I don't think I could date another special. I've been burned before."

"Oh yeah, what was his name? Flamer? Flame Guy?"

"Fire-man," They both laughed. "At least he can control his power now. He's even stopped a few muggers." She sighed. "I just want someone normal. Someone I can settle down with in a nice, normal town."

"I'm telling you, normal is overrated. Specials have super-strength, they can fly you around, read your mind...mmm."

"I just don't know if I want all that adventure. You've been captured before; isn't it scary?"

"It's not that bad. You're the villain's only leverage, so they can't really hurt you. Once you realize that, it's kind of a rush. Screaming, begging to be let go, getting carried off by someone strong and handsome."

"I couldn't do it. Anyway, look at the rest of the paper: Robberies and muggings. More sightings of this "Poison Dart" guy. Besides that, a new villain practically every week. You know how much our company spent on rebuilding last year alone? Not to mention the life and accident insurance for employees. I'm starting to regret taking this job. Insurance in a small town was boring, but at least it was predictable."

"You get a little something in every town, though. Here's an article about 'mysterious accidents' in Plebeia. But I know what you want."

She gestured to a man that had just walked in and was standing by the counter. He was dressed simply in slacks and a polo shirt. His build was slight but not skinny. With hazel eyes and mouse-brown hair, everything about him was average.

"Honestly," Diana said, "I don't know what you see in him. There's nothing special about him."

"That's what makes him special," Lana said.

"Just go talk to him," Diana urged. "You might be surprised at what happens."

"I wish I had your courage. I'm just--oh, crap! Here he comes! What do I do? How do I look?"

Diana smirked. "Be your wonderful self. I'm gonna go get a refill." She got up to talk to Tony as the man approached the table. Lana straightened her hair and quickly reached for the paper. The man smiled nervously.

"Hi," he said. "I was wondering--"

"Yes! I mean, um.... would you like to, sit..." She cleared the newspaper away and knocked the coffee onto the man's shoes. "Sorry!"

The man looked uncomfortable and said, "It's ok. Um... maybe I can buy you another one sometime."

"S--sure, ok." Lana smiled at him dumbly.

Diana walked over. "She'll see you tomorrow," she said.

"Great," the man said. "I'm Steve, by the way."

"Lana. Sorry."

"Lana. I guess I'll see you tomorrow then, Lana."

"Ok."

Lana stared at him as he went out the door. "Great," she whined. "Now he thinks I have the intelligence of a 2-year-old."

"No, of course not," Diana said. "You'll do great tomorrow. And my vibe tells me he's a good guy, so don't worry about that." "Your vibe hasn't been wrong so far." Lana looked at her watch and sighed. "We'd better get back to work."


* * *

The next day during an afternoon break, Diana rushed into Lana's office. "I can't take it anymore!" she said. "Tell me about your lunch with Steve today!"

"Well, we talked about interests: books, movies. You know, the important stuff. Time just flew by. I was actually a little late getting back today." Lana paused thoughtfully. "You know, he really is unlike anyone I've met so far. He seemed a little nervous, and I don't want to rush anything, of course. But there might be a future here."

"Aw, nervous is cute! It means he likes you. Are you going to see him again?"

"Friday night." Lana smiled. "He's picking me up here and we're walking down to that cute little Greek restaurant down the street."


* * *

The next few days seemed to drag by for Lana. Finally, Steve stepped off the elevator and onto an office floor. Diana was walking by, handing some notes to a woman at a desk. "Excuse me," Steve said. "Is Lana here?"

Diana looked at him and smirked. "Well, look who it is," she said, taking in his simple suit and bouquet of flowers. Steve shifted uncomfortably. Some of the women in the office tried to look busy as they eavesdropped; others stared openly.

"You're her friend, right?" Steve said. "Donna?"

"Diana. And yes, I'm her friend so if you ever hurt her, I know specials that will kick your ass. By the way, you might want to get rid of those flowers. She's allergic."

Steve looked at the large bouquet he had brought and was about to toss them when Diana grabbed them. "No need to waste good flowers," she admonished.

"Uh, thanks." They looked at each other uncomfortably for a minute. Steve had the distinct impression Diana was enjoying it. He cleared his throat. "So... Lana?"

"One floor up," Diana said. "Don't worry," she called after him as he rushed out, panicked. "You're not that late!"

* * *

Lana looked up from her desk as Steve knocked on the doorframe breathless. "Steve! I'd almost given up on you. What happened? Out saving the world or something? "

Steve started. "What? No, why would you think--"

"Sorry. People tell me my jokes could use work."

"It's ok. I went to the wrong floor and your friend kinda... she was nice enough. I guess."

"Say no more. I'm glad she didn't scare you off. She can get a little protective sometimes. So... uh, ready to go?"

"Yeah."

They walked down the street in silence. A bedraggled man was sitting on the sidewalk with a sign that said, "Will read minds for food."

Lana gestured to him and said, "This economy's really gotten everyone down, even specials. Poor guy."

"It's a tragedy," Steve said. "Give me a minute." He pulled something out of his pocket and gave it to the man, who thanked him.

"What was that?" Lana asked as they walked on.

"A dollar gift card to McManus's," Steve said. "Everyone needs a leg up now and then, so I help out when I can. The gift card makes sure it goes towards food."

"Wow," said Lana. "I've never known anyone to actually do that."

"Are you ok with that?" Steve asked.

"It's a nice gesture," Lana replied. "It's nice to know there are do-gooders in the world that aren't specials."

"What's wrong with specials?"

"Nothing, but they're expected to help people, you know? I just think it's nice that normal people can do good, that's all."

Steve smiled as they reached the restaurant. They sat down and ordered, then silence. Lana coughed.

"So," she and Steve started at the same time. They laughed.

"Um... how about that Poison Dart guy?" Steve asked. "He seems to be getting fairly popular lately."

"Yeah, he is. The news said his ratings are already catching up to Awesome Dude's. He stopped a couple of muggings last week, so that's good."

"If you had a special power, what would you want it to be?"

"I kinda like the way I am. I guess I wouldn't mind being able to stop time so I can get all my work done!" She laughed. "How about you?"

"I think I'd like to fly. It must be fun, soaring around the city. Was that your friend I saw in the paper yesterday?"

"Yeah, that's Diana. She likes to date specials; it gives her a rush. I tried dating a special once, but I don't think I could stay with one."

"Why not?"

"You know, there's so much danger involved. Secret identities that everyone knows about anyway. The fear of getting kidnapped for the latest dastardly plan. I like the quiet life. Well, as quiet as life can get around here. I come from a small town and I guess some of it stuck. "

Steve sipped his coffee. "I'm sure it's not all bad. What's Poison Dart's ability? Jumping? He'd be able to carry you across the city. Boing!" He moved his arm up and down like a frog jumping.

Lana laughed and Steve joined in.

"So, anyway, tell me more about yourself." Steve said.

"Not much to tell, really..."

The subject of specials dropped, the rest of the evening went smoothly as they talked until the restaurant emptied. As he walked her back to her car, Steve asked, "This was nice. Can I see you again?"

"Anytime. Here's my number." Lana handed him a piece of paper and their hands lingered together for a minute. Slowly, Lana leaned in a little as Steve leaned forward to meet her. They kissed a slow, searching kiss before breaking apart.

"Well," Steve said, smiling, "Good night."

"You are quite the gentleman," Lana said. "I might have to change that soon." She smiled wickedly. "Good night."

Steve walked down the street whistling. As Lana got into her car, something nearby bounded onto a rooftop and traveled across them into the distance.

The next few months went by smoothly. Awesome Dude wasn't fighting much crime but Poison Dart was busier than ever. Not that there was much crime anymore; even villain specials had quieted down. Life was almost as normal as it could get for Pinnacle. Diana was speculating about who Poison Dart's nemesis would be.

"I'm telling you," she said. "It'll have to be a snake. I heard there are some that are immune to poisons."

"Mm-hm," Lana mumbled.

"Lana, is something bothering you? It seems like something's off. Is everything ok with you and Steve? Gasp! He's not cheating on you, is he?"

"No, I--I don't know!" Lana broke down in tears. "I think he might be."

"What? What makes you say that?"

"Everything will be going great on a date and he'll get a call and suddenly rush off. His phone goes off in the middle of the night and he has strange conversations with people and won't tell me whom they are. Other times I turn around and he'll be gone, then show up and swear he was there the entire time. At first, it just happened once or twice, but now it seems like it's happening more and more. I just don't know." She looked at Diana. "Can you think of any other reason?"

Diana chewed on her lip, thinking. "I just don't get it," she said. "My vibe's never been wrong before, but I can't think of anything else it might be. Unless... never mind."

"What?"

"Being a special would explain it. I don't see any tells, but it fits."

"It couldn't be. He's too gentle! He wouldn't even kill a spider in my apartment the other day; he threw it out the window!"

Diana smiled sadly. "I don't want to see you throw away a good guy, but do what you feel need to do, Lana. I'm here for you. Call me if you need me."

"Ok. Thanks, Diana."

The weather matched Lana's mood the next day: dark and dreary. She walked slowly to the coffee shop, her dread a tight ball in her stomach. Steve was waiting for her. He stood up to greet her, then stopped.

"What's wrong?" he asked worriedly. "Did something happen?"

"Steve, I... we need to talk."

Steve looked confused. "Was it something I did? Whatever it is, I'm sorry."

Lana gave him a strange look. Was he really that clueless?

"Steve, it's about the time we spend together. Or don't spend." Lana tried not to cry as everything she had told Diana spilled out in a tumble.

"Steve," she finished, "Is there anything you need to tell me?" Lana looked at him, eyes wet in spite of herself. Steve looked at her sadly, took a breath, and looked away.

"I... can't tell you," he said after an eternity.

"Is there another woman?" demanded Lana.

"No, of course not, I just... I've been happier with you than I've been with anyone, Lana."

"Steve. Whatever it is, we can deal with it together, but there needs to be some trust. Tell me what's going on now or... or I walk out that door." She pointed to the door, finger and voice shaking.

Steve looked at her helplessly, then shook his head sadly. Lana stared, then quickly walked out so he wouldn't see her cry.


* * *

The next day during lunch, Diana paused at the door. "Are you sure you don't want to come with me?" she asked Lana.

"I'm fine. I can't run into him right now. I just need time to think."

"If you're sure. I'll bring up the usual." Diana smiled and entered the coffee shop. She was just about to leave when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, Diana looked around. It was Steve.

"Oh, it's you," Diana said witheringly. "You have some nerve talking to me after the things Lana's been telling me."

"I know she's mad, but I can explain. Can I sit down? I need to tell you something."

Diana hesitated, looked at his forlorn face, then sat at a nearby table and pushed out the chair opposite her. "You have exactly one minute," she said, looking at him threateningly over her cup.

"The reason I've been acting strangely is... I'm Poison Dart."

Diana snorted, coffee dribbling down her chin. "You're Poison Dart. But you can't be! Specials always have a tell and you're the most average person I've ever seen. There's absolutely nothing that stands out about you. In fact, even non-specials have something. That's it." Diana's eyes widened as she realized what she was saying. "That's ingenious."

"I thought you might not believe me." He pulled out a bright green mask and a wrist mechanism, then gave them to Diana under the table. "I've wanted to tell Lana for so long, but she keeps going on about being normal and how she could never date a special. Diana, would you help me? Maybe bring her around somehow?"

Diana sat for a minute, looking at the items with a dazed expression. She stole a quick glance around but everyone was too absorbed in their gadgets and conversations to notice them. Diana opened her mouth to object, but her vibe was sending off bells in her head.

"First, tell me something."

"Anything."

"How do you really feel about Lana?"

"She's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Diana considered him for a long moment. "All right," she said finally. "I'll try. Try," she added as he beamed. "I can't guarantee anything."

"Diana, you're a wonder," Steve said. "Thank so much."

"I just hope this is worth it," Diana said. "I'd better get this back up to her so she doesn't get suspicious."

"Thanks," Lana said as Diana handed her the coffee. "Was everything ok down there? It took a while."

"Oh, um... the cashier. He was flirting with me again." She made a mildly annoyed and amused face. "Still want to go out tonight?"

"Of course! I'll meet you at The Bomb."


* * *

The Bomb was a bar that featured a large, unexploded bomb leftover from a villain. Specialists had declared it safe and it had become more popular over the years.

"This is nice," Lana said, sipping a beer. "When's the last time we did this?"

"When you broke up with Adam."

"Oh yeah, Adam Amete. I wonder what he's up to? Think I should call him?"

"No! You've been down that road before. He thinks too small and he's no good for you. I got a bad vibe off him, remember. You'd better be glad you have me to keep you out of danger. Just relax and have fun. There must be someone here you like. How about him?" She pointed to a muscular guy in a tight shirt.

"Are you nuts? Those jocks are all the same. What do you think about him?" She gestured to a man in hipster glasses reading a book.

"First of all, hipster glasses! Besides, he has special written all over him. See how nervous he looks, glancing over his shoulder every five seconds? Which might not be so bad, you know, depending on what his ability is. Oh, hello!"

The room halted as the door flew open and a special swept in, red cape flowing over a blue and white outfit. "Go about your business, citizens. No danger here... except of a few of you swooning, of course." He paused to brush back white-blond hair. His white teeth glistened and his eyes twinkled in an expensively-tanned face. A few girls rushed up to him.

"Awesome Dude! Awesome Dude!" they giggled, trying to get his autograph.

"Don't worry, ladies. Plenty for everyone." He watched a TV screen that happened to be showing one of his commercials, and then sidled up to the bar. He ordered, looking around until his gaze landed on Lana. Diana gasped, nudging her.

"Diana!" Lana protested.

"Sorry, I can't help it! Even if he retired, Awesome Dude is still, well... awesome."

"Yeah, and he knows it. Yet another reason I don't date specials. What's he doing? Oh, damn, he's coming this way! What do I do?" As he strutted over to their table, Lana grabbed her beer.

"Hello doll," he said, "what's a gal like you doing in a place like this? Let me rescue you from this place and take you back to mine."

"Um--I--" she dumped her remaining beer on her shirt. "Oops! I'd better go clean this up."

"Maybe I can buy you another? Here's my publicist's card. Call him anytime."

"Sure... I'd better go." She grabbed Diana and dragged her to the bathroom to clean up.

"That was close! We have to hide in here until he's gone. Is he gone?"

"Get a hold of yourself, woman! He's just like every other macho guy in a bar; you just have to know how to handle them. Do you want to leave and go somewhere else?"

"I think I'll just collapse in bed with a good TV show. There's a great one on tonight about what life would be like without specials to help us."

"Ok, give me a few minutes and then we'll walk out together. You might want to watch; you could learn something."

Lana peeked out the door as Diana strolled up to Awesome Dude. She fluttered her eyelashes and made small talk, then subtly gestured for Lana to come out. Lana stayed where she was. Diana kept talking, making bigger motions. Lana started, cursed herself, and then started walking out to Diana.

"Well, Dude, my friend isn't feeling well. But you call that number anytime. Bye for now!" With that, she took Lana's arm and steered her out the door.

"You gave that arrogant slime ball your number?"

"Of course not," Diana grinned. "I got a bad vibe off of him, so I gave him the number of the mental hospital."

"A bad vibe? With Awesome Dude? Maybe you should get your vibe checked out. First Steve, now him..."

"About that..." Diana started.

"Oh... I'm feeling sick. I need to go."

"Are you sure you'll be ok tonight?"

"I'll be fine," Lana assured her. "I'll call you if I need anything."

"Ok," Diana said. "See you Monday!"

"Bye!"

Lana went home, slid gratefully under the covers, and switched on the TV. A newscaster was saying, "...popularity wane is partially caused by the lack of villains. Or is it the other way around? Reformed villain Teutonic Titan is here to give us some answers. Titan?"

"Just Georg now," a blonde muscled man answered in a heavy German accent.

"Of course. Georg, can you tell us why the threats against Awesome Dude have decreased?"

"Vell, Jean, is very simple. Fights against Awesome Dude had become so boring. Ve vould capture his girlfriend, he'd shout, 'You know vhy I'm going to hurt you? Because I'm awesome, dude!' Ve'd beat each other up a little until he vun. Villains need something new. Anyvay, he hasn't been around much."

"I see," Jane said. "What about up-and-coming villains?"

"No vun vants to fight cast-offs," Georg said. "They vant to make a name for themselves against their own heroes, like Poison Dart maybe. That's vhy I retired. You can read all about it in my new book, 'T for Teutonic, T for Terrific.'"

"And those are found in a bookstore near you. Thanks, Georg. Stan?"

"Thanks, Jean. A new special has leapt onto the scene and into our hearts. Calling himself Poison Dart, he can apparently leap tall buildings in a single jump and shoot poison darts from his wrists. Citizens have been sighting him more and more in the past months and he's even been responsible for stopping several major crimes. Awesome Dude might want to make some room in the pond for this one. Coming up: more details about the apparent theft at the Technetium plant."

Lana turned off the TV. What a stupid name for a special, she thought, and drifted off to sleep.

She awoke to a consistent beep.... beep. Foggily, she tried to reach for her alarm as everything swam into focus. She was tied to something cold, a bright light shining directly into her eyes. "That's great, that's great!" someone whispered behind the light. "Fantastic reaction! Now don't move!" He chuckled. "As if you could!" The light wheeled around to reveal a man in a dark mask and cloak holding a large video camera.

"Awesome Dude! My name is Mysterioso! I have your girlfriend here on the top of the old Megacorp building. If you do not come here and face me man to man, I will blow up this building with your girlfriend in it! Time is running out!" He turned off the camera and put it down.

"I'm not his girlfriend," Lana said groggily. "He hit on me once in a bar. What am I doing up here?"

"And you fell in love with him instantly. That's touching. Right now, you're strapped to a bomb, waiting for me to save you. Don't worry, we're at The Bomb, the bar. It doesn't actually work...I'm pretty sure. I just wired the technetium to it to make it look good."

"You're waiting for... yourself?"

"Oh, sorry." He took off his black cape and mask to reveal Awesome Dude.

"Can you just tell me what's going on? Why are you doing this? I'll give you anything, just let me go!"

"Well, you see..." He checked his watch. "Hold on a minute. Keep looking scared. Great!"

He put on his outfit, turned on the camera, and picked up a giant silver box with a big red button on it.


* * *

Several blocks away, Diana went into the coffee shop at FEMCO. "Tony," she asked. "Have you seen Lana? She's not at work yet."

"Haven't you heard? It's all over the news!" Tony pointed to a screen showing a man in a black mask and cape with the caption "New Villain threat after months of peace. Ploy to get to Poison Dart?"

"This is it, Awesome Dude! You have exactly one minute before I blow up this bomb and your girlfriend with it!" The screen went black.

Diana gasped. "Wait right there." She called Steve's cell phone, which finally answered the second time she called. "Steve! Did you see? Lana--"

"I'm already on my way," he said.


* * *

Lana was getting annoyed. She thought back to her classes in self-defense classes in high school. Just keep him talking, she remembered. Get him to monologue.

"Awesome Dude, I don't understand. Why are you doing this? Surely someone like you doesn't need to go to these extremes."

"Maybe a few months ago. But have you seen the polls? I can't even get hemorrhoid cream commercials anymore! All they want now is Poison Dart. Even my arch-nemeses are retired."

"So, you're blowing up the city for revenge?"

"No! Of course not! I told you, that bomb is useless, I think. You see, when I swoop in as Awesome Dude and save the day from Mysterioso, everyone will love me again! They'll forget all about Poison Dart and I'll be back to the big time. Then I can pass on my mantle to some lucky young lad before settling down with my best gal."

Lana turned her laugh into a cough. "Aren't you worried I'll tell anyone?"

"Why would you? Naturally, you'll be grateful to me for saving you from certain doom. No one would believe you anyway. Now. Showtime! Prepare to be amazed." He set the camera on a tripod and turned it back on.

"It's over, Mysterioso. Your days of terrorizing the city have come to an end! Do you know why? Because I'm awesome, dude!" He stepped out of frame and quickly put the mask back on before stepping back into frame. "So you've come to face me, then! En garde!" Below, the city watched in confusion as Awesome Dude and Mysterioso jumped in and out of the shot, yelling off camera. "Who's filming this?" asked someone at the coffee shop. Diana turned to Tony next to her. "Mysterioso sounds a lot like Awesome Dude," she commented. Nevertheless, she felt comforted as Tony slipped her hand in hers.

Lana thought wildly. Ok, Lana, you can do this. Clearly, he's an egomaniacal madman. How tight is this rope? She wiggled a little. Damn. Pretty tight. I hope he can get them off. Oh god, I hope he's not expecting a date from this. I have to get out of here! She watched as he jumped back and forth in front of the camera, making strange noises like "Pow!" and "Bam!" Lana felt a strange puff of wind that didn't have anything to do with the farce in front of her. She risked a glance off to the side and saw a man in a bright green suit with black stripes and a mask. She mouthed, "Poison Dart?" He nodded, then gave her a slow wink. Poison Dart pointed to the bomb, mimed an explosion, and shrugged. Lana shrugged back. She mimed pressing a button. Poison Arrow looked around, spied the button, and circled stealthily around Awesome Dude until he got the detonator. Awesome Dude stopped scuffling and turned the camera back on himself. "And so, Mysterioso..."

"It's over!" shouted Poison Dart. Awesome Dude and the camera spun to face him. "Poison Dart? What are you doing here?"

"I'm stopping you, Awesome Dude."

Awesome Dude gave a nervous laugh. "I think you mean Mysterioso. And you're a little late; I've already vanquished him!" He pointed to the dark cloak huddled on the floor.

Poison Dart held out his hand and a few darts shot from a device on his wrist and into Awesome Dude's arm, making him yowl. Dart crouched and leapt forward from all fours, grabbing the camera and pointing it at the nearly empty room before pointing it at himself. "As you have all probably guessed, Awesome Dude was fighting himself. Perhaps the reason will come clear soon, but for now, all you need to know is: the city is safe."

He put down the camera, untied Lana, and leapt up to the roof with her. He set her down gently, pulled off his mask, and there he was: quiet, average Steve.

Lana stared at him for a minute until Steve broke the silence. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. I know how you are about specials. Then, once the admirers started coming, it was nice to love someone who liked me for just Steve." He sighed. "I'll understand if you don't--mmmfff."

His speech was interrupted by Lana leaning in and giving him a long kiss.

"So. You're not mad?" he asked when they finally broke apart.

"This could be just the adrenaline talking, but mainly I'm relieved. I thought you were cheating on me!"

"I couldn't do that to you, Lana."

"Because you love me. That is what you said, right? Love someone who liked you for you?"

"It is." He smiled nervously.

"Look... I don't know where this will go. I'm used to having a plan and I feel really confused right now. I know that Steve is a great guy and I love being with him. I love him. So... maybe I could give Poison Dart a chance, too. I love you... Poison Dart."

They embraced, holding and comforting each other.

Lana pulled away and looked at him seriously. "So, about the name. Poison Dart? Really?"

"It's really hard to come up with a good name that's not already taken! Do you know how many specials are in this town?"

The distant roar of helicopters suddenly grew louder. Shouts rang out. "There they are! Poison Dart, what was it like to defeat Awesome Dude?" "Young lady, what's your name? Is the rumor about you and Awesome Dude true?"

Poison Dart looked at Lana. "Are you sure you're ready for all this?"

Lana nodded. "With you, I'm ready for anything."

Together, hands grasped tightly, they faced the press.


* * *

A year later, Lana hurried to answer the doorbell. "Coming as fast as I can!" she yelled. Steve got there ahead of her. "I win again! You're so slow these days," he teased. Lana slapped him as he opened the door. Diana and Tony were waiting outside.

"Diana! Tony!" Lana said. "I'm so glad you could make it!"

"You've gotten so big," Diana commented. "It's pretty soon, isn't it?"

"Any day now," Steve answered.

"It feels like forever since we've seen you," Lana said. "How was Greece?"

"Fantastic," Diana said as Steve and Tony went inside to talk. "I hadn't realized how beautiful it could be from hundreds of feet in the air. It was the perfect honeymoon! This is a nice place. How far is it from Pinnacle?"

"Only about 2 hours or so. It's nice and peaceful out here."

"Does Steve miss the action?"

"After his final fight with Viper, he was more than happy to settle down and let someone else take over. He's ecstatic about having a baby."

The men came in. "Come on girls, let's eat! We can catch up over dinner."

They sat at the table and talked long into the night. 100 miles away, a new superhero gaining in popularity told the cameras, "And so once again, our fair city is safe and all is right with the world."


THE END


2013 Amy Latta

Bio: In Ms. Latta's own words, "I don't call myself a writer;  the last story I wrote was for a Creative Writing class in college. I love superheroes and had some questions about superhero life that needed to get answered. I teach preschool and update my blog, Tiny Packages, when I remember. You can find it at blogspot.tinypackages.com. I'm also married with two cats."

E-mail: Amy Latta

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