I had one more person to see before I left GHQ for good.  I went to the lounge, where I found Shawn on the couch with a tablet in his hands.  “Catching up on the changes?”

“Oh Lord, I’ve missed so much,” he said.  “How are you feeling?”

“Okay, I guess,” feeling a little irritation… everyone asked the same question.  I reminded myself that they all just cared about me, and had seen me lying dismembered in a hospital bed an inch or two from death just the day before, and I made the irritation go away.  “My parts are all here, but I don’t have my own powers yet.  Don’t know when this magic thing will wear off.”

“Mystery Woman, if you don’t want to go with me, I’ll understand.”

“No, Shawn, I do want to go.  Here,” I said, handing him a slip of paper with an address on it, “meet me here tonight and we can discuss everything.  Okay?”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” he said.  “What is this place anyway?”

“Mediterranean restaurant.  You’ll love it, I promise.  I reserved a table for two in my name, and it’s my treat.”

“Thanks, Mystery Woman, but it’s too much.”

“No,” I said, “it’s not.  You’ve been dealt a sucky hand, and I want to make things better for you.  And if good food can’t do it, hey, they’ve got a great wine list too.”

He laughed.  “You win, I’ll be there.  Is it fancy?”

“Eh, not really,” I said.  “Geek casual mostly.”

“I think I can handle that,” he said.  “Thunder and Lightning helped me get some clothes together.”

“Great.  See you tonight at seven, then?”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied, smiling a really sexy smile.  I smiled back, then remembered that in his mind he was still married… I needed to hold back and follow his lead, not just push in and take what I wanted, no matter how sexy he was.

I went home, took a quick shower and put on my makeup.  Then I went to my bedroom to get dressed.  Zoe came home about half an hour into my process, and it looked like I had half my wardrobe tossed all over my bedroom.  “Polly!” she called.  “You home?”

“Yeah, in my bedroom,” I yelled back.

She came to the door, saw the mess I’d made and asked, “Polly?  What’s going on?”

“I’m going to dinner tonight with… with Micron.  Out of costume, I mean.”  I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell her his name or not, so I went with “not.”  “I can’t decide what to wear.”

“This one,” she said, pointing to a sexy little figure-hugging black dress with a strategically-placed hole on the right hip.  “It’ll have him hard in a jiff.”

“Zoe,” I said, a little flustered, “he’s married.  This isn’t a date, it’s just two friends having dinner together.”

She looked doubtful.  “Okay, I’ll play along,” she said.  “You want to look good, good enough so you don’t look frumpy if he shows up fabulous, right?  But not sex-on-a-stick good.  So… how about this lavender one?”  It was a bit longer, a sleeveless A-line with a deep plunge in front but not too suggestive otherwise.

“I thought about that one, but I was afraid it was still too much.”

“Nah, it’s fine.  Put it on, and we’ll find you some jewelry.”

I pulled the dress on, then said, “How do you do it, anyway?  The holes in my ears all healed up.”

She turned around with a pair of gold loopy earrings.  “These will be perfect.  Now just hold still.”  Before I could say a word, she grabbed my ear and pushed the earring post through my earlobe.

“Ow!” I said, but quick as the sting came, it was gone.

“You’ll be fine until you take it out,” she said.  “Then the hole will go away again.  Want me to put the other one in?”

“No,” I said, and then, “Yes.  Do it, please.  I’m not sure I can get it in the right place.”

“It takes practice,” she said, shoving the other one in.  I held in the exclamation that time.

With earrings taken care of, Zoe picked out an appropriate necklace, suggested a couple of gold bangles, and helped me find the right pair of pumps (nude peeptoes, with very high heels) to round out the outfit.  I threw my bare necessities into a tiny gold purse and was ready to go, with just enough time to spare to make it on time.

Unfortunately, my bedroom was still a mess.  “I’ll take care of it,” said Zoe.  “Have fun.”

“Thanks, Zoe,” I said.  I’d have kissed her goodbye if I hadn’t just put on lipstick.  “You staying in tonight, then?”

“Actually, a friend is picking me up, but it’s a casual thing,” she said.  Usually Zoe told me everything… not naming her friend made me a little curious, but I reminded myself that first, it wasn’t my business, and second, I didn’t have time to question her anyway.

“Well, you have fun, too,” I said, and I grabbed my car keys from the bowl by the door and went out.

I beat Shawn to the restaurant, which suited me fine.  The maître d’ was an old friend and had arranged a good table for us; the waiter, on the other hand, I didn’t really know.  “I’m Tyree, and I’ll be serving you tonight.  What can I get you to drink?”

“Just bring me water for now,” I replied.  “I’ll order something else after my friend arrives.”  As it happened, Shawn came in very soon after I sat down, and the waiter appeared with a glass of water for each of us.

“Hey, Polly, nice to see you,” said Shawn as he sat down.

The waiter set our glasses down, handed us each menus and said, “Is there anything I can get you to drink?”

“White wine,” I said.  “Not too dry.”

“I’ll be right back with that,” he said, and he turned quickly and went off toward the kitchen.

“Nice, thanks,” said Shawn.  Then he opened the menu… “Wow.  Just, wow.”

“What?”

“I knew prices had gone up since… since I’ve been out like this, but wow.”

I laughed.  “It’s okay, I’ve got it.  You’re being wined and dined… just sit back and enjoy it.”  He was dressed in a light blue button shirt with a darker V-neck sweater over it, nice casual clothes, if a bit conservative.  I was really glad I hadn’t gone with the black dress… with him dressed that way, I’d have looked like a hooker.

“I could get used to this,” he replied.  “Tell you what, you order for me.  I don’t really know Mediterranean food.”

“Sure,” I said, and when the waiter came back I did just that.  I don’t remember now what I ordered for us, but I got different dishes and we each tried the other’s food.  Shawn was just such a fun guy to be with, warm, intelligent, confident… and oh, what a voice.  I had thought Troll had a sexier voice, but the longer I listened to Shawn the more I appreciated his voice.

Our table was off to one side, so we weren’t just surrounded by people.  I asked him questions, got him to tell me stories about his past.  He couldn’t talk about his heroing, of course, but he told me about his childhood, how he had grown up in a rough neighborhood in St. Louis but got a scholarship to a university in New York, and how he had gone back home to try to make a difference there after he got his degree.

I loved the sound of his voice.  It honestly was turning me on, and while I didn’t plan to try anything with him, I couldn’t help wanting him to keep talking.  And what man doesn’t love to have a woman listen to him?

But there was an edge of sadness in his voice… even if he went home to see his family, he couldn’t tell the world who he was without revealing he was Micron.  Where had he been for twenty years?  People would see that Shawn was back, still in his twenties, and hey, so was Micron, and the jig would be up.

He didn’t say any of that, of course.  He didn’t have to.

Every time the waiter came by to check on us, I saw him eying Shawn’s wedding ring.  Of course, as I wasn’t wearing one, he was no doubt thinking Shawn was cheating on his wife with a floozy.  He never said a word, but it got the better of me, and pretty much as soon as we were done eating I said, “C’mon, let me pay up and we’ll get out of here.  I don’t care for the looks our waiter is giving you.”

He grinned.  “I don’t care.  I mean, what difference does it make?  You and I both know there’s nothing going on between us.  Nobody else matters.”

“What about your wife?”

“She matters.  She does… but not right now, not here.”  The waiter came over and I gave him my credit card, and when he brought the receipt back I added a tip to it.  I didn’t want to, honestly, but I did it anyway.

We left the restaurant and we took a walk.  It wasn’t the best part of town, but even without my own powers, I felt perfectly safe with Shawn beside me.  “Can I ask you a question?” I said, putting my arm around his waist.

“Sure,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulders.  “Anything.”

“How did you get your powers?”

“Well,” he said, taking a moment to think, “I was assisting one of the professors with an experiment.  He was trying to make neutronium synthetically, using an array of graviton cannons.  I was alone, testing the equipment; it was the day before the first experiment, and one of the cannons wasn’t powering up right, and it was my job to fix it.  I broke the rules, Polly… I didn’t disconnect the power from the cannon before I approached it.  I had turned it off, but for safety purposes you’re not supposed to trust that.  I opened the access panel and was checking all the connections when it just came on… first, it emitted a fluctuating graviton field that made me feel like I was inside a tornado, and then after about a minute the containment field failed and it compressed me down to about the size of a pea.”

“Wow,” I said.  I had understood maybe ten percent of what he said, but I got that last bit pretty clearly.  “That must have hurt.”

“I don’t know, I can’t remember it.  I watched the video, though… then I erased it.  It should have killed me, Polly.  I should have died when I was compressed that way.  Somehow I was changed instead.  It took me a few weeks to master my powers, but once I did I knew I had to be a hero.  I never had any doubt, you know?  I made my first costume, and all I can say is I sucked at making costumes; when I joined the Guardians, they told me about the costume stipend, and I used it to buy a new one.”

“Costume stipend?”

“Yeah, don’t they still do that?  Guardians can draw an annual stipend to buy or repair their costumes… at least, we did back then.”

“I’m going to have to ask about that,” I said, and then I remembered… I wasn’t a Guardian anymore.  Maybe in Thunder’s mind I was, but in mine I wasn’t.  I didn’t say anything to Shawn about that, though.

Eventually we got around to planning our trip to St. Louis.  He wanted to put off talking about it, but I wouldn’t let him… I knew if I did, he’d keep putting it off.  I used my phone to order plane tickets for both of us, and when he protested I told him once again that it was on me.  The Guardians had taken care of getting him replacement ID, so that wasn’t the problem I had thought it might be.  “There we go,” I said at last.  “We leave Thursday afternoon.”

I got home about two AM, and I was beat so I hit the bed pretty quickly.  Zoe had sorted out everything, even folding my costume up and putting it in the bag.  I only had one now, except that I did have a spare set of boots, so that was something.

I woke up suddenly, my mind full of Plasma, his guns firing nuclear fury at me.  I looked at the clock and saw that it was just after five AM; I laid back down and tried to sleep, but I didn’t do much more than toss and turn, so I finally got up, fixed coffee and watched TV in the living room.  Zoe came in about six thirty, said “No time to talk, I’m running late,” went to her room to change, and ran back out again saying “Hey, can I have the car?  Thanks!” fast enough that I had no time to reply.  I just sat there, bemused and befuddled.

The next day was busy.  Frank and Sarah came over and we started calling models, letting them know we were still in business, and confirming that we still had people for the planned shoot on the weekend.  I told them they’d have to handle it all themselves, and Sarah said, “No problem.  We’re getting good at that.”  I stuck my tongue out at her, and they both laughed.

Around noon Frank said, “Oh, Polly… I called the realtor and told her what we were looking for, and she said she has a building for us to look at.  Can we go over this afternoon?  Bill and Will are both available, and I’d like their opinions too if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, that’s fine,” I said.  “Let’s go get lunch first.  Can you drive me?  Zoe has my car.  I could ride, but then we couldn’t talk.”

“No problem, dear,” he replied.  As we got up to leave, he said, “Do you need to get your costume?”

I stepped into the kitchen, pulled out a knife and cut my hand.  As I wiped away the blood from the rapidly-disappearing wound, I said, “I guess not.”