I was still in the bar when Shawn came in.  “Hey, you never called,” I said, giving him a quick hug.  “How did it go?”

“Weird,” he said.  “One moment it was like I’d never been gone, and the next we were both crying… it was chaotic.  It was hard, but you were right, I had to do it.”

“Ch’nyce, get this man a beer,” I said, and as she did I said, “What about your son?”

“I’m going to see him tomorrow,” he said.  “She called him and kind of explained things, and he wants to see me.  So that’s something, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, as he took a sip of his beer.  “Do you want me to go with you?”

“No,” he said.  “I’m sorry I dragged you all this way, Polly.”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “I was glad to be here for you.  But if you don’t need me, then I may try to catch an earlier flight home.”

“Yeah, that’d be fine,” he said, laying his hand on mine.  “Thank you so much.”

“You are welcome,” I said, putting my other hand over his.  “But now, I need to pay a visit to the little girl’s room.”

As I stepped out of the stall, I saw Ch’nyce washing up, and thought, Nice to know they take that whole employees-must-wash-hands thing seriously.  She looked at me and said, “Your boyfriend is hot.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I said, as I stepped to the sink to wash up myself.  “He’s just a friend.  He’s going through a rough time right now.”

“Sorry to hear that,” she said, holding the door for me.

Back in our suite, Shawn laughed and said, “Ch’nyce was really impressed with you.”  I gave him a confused look, and he continued, “She said you drank more than a gallon of beer and never looked like it affected you.”

I laughed.  “It didn’t, except it made me need to pee.”

He replied, “It would suck not to be able to get drunk.  I think I may need to get drunk pretty soon.”

“I’d understand if you did,”

He smiled at me, and sat down in one of the chairs around the meeting table.  I grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge (which I had ordered the night before), sat down beside him and opened one for him.  “I’m going back to San Francisco, Polly.  After I’ve seen my son.”

“What are you going to do?”

He took a long drink of his beer.  “Be a paramedic again.  The Guardians will help me set up a new identity, and I’ll be able to be Micron in public.  Heck, I may keep my first name… no reason to change it.  I’ll need some refresher courses, but that won’t be a big deal.”

“It’ll be good to have you in San Francisco,” I said.  “With me out, the Guardians could use another hero on the roster.  And I think you’ll like it there.”

“I’ll have to make new friends, too.”

“I don’t know if we run in the same circles,” I replied, “but I’d be honored if you’d consider me a friend.”

“I already do,” he said, looking at me with those deep brown eyes, and I leaned in and kissed him.

Some time later, I rolled over and threw my bare leg over him.  He was still hard, but from the little twitch I felt when I did that, I knew he was too sensitive to go for a third time.  “You were great,” I said.

“Thanks,” he replied, still breathing a little hard.  I laid my hand on his heaving abs… they were glorious.  Then he looked me in the eyes and said, “This doesn’t mean anything, does it?”

“It means we’re friends, and we have really good sex together, and that’s it.  These days it’s called ‘friends with benefits.'”

“I can live with that,” he replied, and he pulled me to him and kissed me.  He was a great kisser.  I caressed his bald scalp, enjoying the feel of the fine stubble, and leaned into the kiss.

We kissed a long time.  When we were done, he said, “Y’know what?” and when I shook my head he said, “I’m kind of hungry now.”

“Well, we could order room service,” I said.

“No, let’s not.  Let’s get dressed up and go down to the hotel restaurant.”

“Dressed up?” I said, and he practically jumped out of bed and pulled a nice-looking dark suit out of his garment bag.  “Oh, dressed up.

So I put on my best little black dress, high-heeled black pumps, my favorite pearl necklace and a few gold bangles.  I even gritted my teeth and put in some dangly gold earrings.  Shawn walked out of his bedroom looking sharp, took one look at me and said, “Damn, girl, now I want to take you back to bed!”

“You!” I said.  “After all that, we’re definitely going to eat now.  To dine, actually.  Just let me touch up my makeup.”  He sat down and watched me the whole time… it was a kind of a show to him, I guess, and I didn’t mind.  I kind of like being watched by someone who appreciates me.

The restaurant was closed.  That’s what the sign said on the door… “closed for private party.”

“Damn,” said Shawn quietly.  “I guess we need to go somewhere else.  Would you mind driving?”

I was about to answer when someone behind us said, “Let us help you out.”

We both turned around.  Behind us stood a man and a woman; she was thirtyish, sharply dressed, a little heavyset but not actually “obese,” while he was skinny and pale-skinned, with a forgettable face, slightly balding head, and thick round-rimmed glasses.  His suit was a bit shapeless, even though it looked like nice material.

“I’m Roxanne,” she said, sticking her hand out for Shawn to shake it.  She held on to his hand as she said, “We’re on our way to the convention dinner, and we’re each allowed a ‘plus one.’  If you’d like, you can go as my ‘plus one’ and she,” nodding to me, “can go as Doug’s ‘plus one.’  Of course, we’ll all know who’s really with who, but it gets you in to a really nice dinner, and we’ve basically already paid for it.”

I’m not an idiot, and neither was Shawn.  Roxanne wanted to be seen with Shawn.  I’d already seen a lot of the accounting convention people, and he would be hands down the sexiest man in a room with any of them.  Heck, she might even be hoping to take him to bed… good luck with that.  But Shawn and I exchanged a quick look, then we both smiled at them and he said, “Lead on, pretty lady!”

So that’s how a porn producer and a paramedic ended up in a room full of accountants, eating really good steaks and politely ignoring a succession of speakers, each of whom was more boring than the one before.  Roxanne insisted on sitting by Shawn, and I sat by him, leaving Doug to sit on the other side of me.  The table seated eight, but the others at the table kind of ignored us and we pretty much ignored them.

Everything was going really well until I noticed a server make a chair disappear.

He was a solidly-built guy, dressed in the same white shirt, black pants, and black vest as all the other servers (male and female).  He was halfway across the room from me, near one of the side walls, and I have no idea how he caught my attention.

But I saw him walk up to an empty chair and lay his hand on it, and then another server walked between us; when that person had moved on, the chair was gone and he was walking away.  Roxanne was talking to Shawn, and he was politely looking at her; Doug was eating, his movements birdlike.  Any time my hand passed close to his, he moved quickly away, and I felt like there was a definite space around him that he didn’t want me to violate; I didn’t understand, but I didn’t care enough to push the matter.  So I was bored, and the server’s strange actions caught my attention.  What had he done, fold the chair up and put it under the table?  It was like watching a magic act, and I wanted to see what he did next.

The big room had two large, double-door entrances along the hallway side (the “back” side of the room), and a pair of single doors on the other side which the servers used to come in and out.  The server I was watching walked up to one of the double doors and stood facing it for just a moment, doing something I couldn’t see with his hands.

When he moved on, I saw that there was something on the door… a bar of some kind, wrapped around the door handles, holding the doors closed.

Oh, crap, I thought.  “Shawn,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder.  He turned toward me, and I said, “Look at that door.”

“What’s that?” he said.

“That guy did it,” I said, pointing to the odd-acting server.  Roxanne said something irritated-sounding, but I ignored her.  Shawn turned, and as we both watched we saw him walk up to another chair and put his hand on it.

This time, I saw what he did.  The metal chair flowed, like liquid almost, and ran up his sleeves until the chair was entirely gone.  I saw one of the people at that table look at him, obviously alarmed, and said something, but the server ignored him, walking off quickly toward the second set of double doors.

I was trying to figure out some way to get away, so I could change, when I remembered I wasn’t Mystery Woman anymore.  What I needed to do was to give Shawn cover, so he could change into Micron.  I knew he was carrying his costume… he had explained to me how he would shrink down, take off the costume, then return to normal size and put the shrunken costume in his pocket.  I just needed to give him time to get it on.

I jumped up and pointed at the server.  “Stop him!”  I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I took a few steps toward him.  He said something really nasty as he ran to the other door, knocking down a female server who was accidentally in his way.  Then he was at the door, and he grabbed the handles and did whatever it was he did to secure that door.

“You,” he said, pointing at me.  “You sit your ass down, bitch.”  I took a step backward, trying to act like a normal woman.  He yelled, “Everybody listen up!  Y’all money people, ya gonna give me your money now.  Get it all out!  Money, watches, jewelry, all of it!”

“Or what?” said one young male accountant, bravely (or foolishly) standing up to face the server.

The server took a step backward, laid his hand on the back of a chair occupied by a well-dressed woman.  She fell heavily to the floor as the chair turned to liquid and flowed up his arm.  Then he laid his hand on another chair, and did it again; this time, the occupant threw himself to the floor before his chair was liquefied.  The metal didn’t go into his sleeve, though; instead, it covered it, and by the time he had liquefied five of the chairs his whole body was covered in dark metal.

“I am Steel!” he yelled, raising his fist.  Then the metal flowed up his arm, forming something like a sword blade, curved and heavy and crude-looking, and he swung his arm down and slammed the blade into a table, hacking it in two.

The young accountant backed away, cowering.  Then Steel turned around and looked at me.

“You, bitch!  You still standin’?  Time you learned to listen, little girly!”  The curved blade changed, flowing and twisting until it was a steel cable, and he drew his arm back and swung it like a whip.

I moved.  All that training with Lenny hadn’t been for nothing.  I jumped backward, scrambling up onto the table I had just been sitting at, but I wasn’t fast enough.  The steel whip caught me, tearing my dress and my skin.  I screamed, I couldn’t help it.  I kept scrambling backward onto the table, throwing plates and centerpiece and everything else out of my way, and I saw him draw back for another shot.

“Try fighting someone your own size,” said a deep male voice, and Steel and I both looked for the source of the voice.  It was Micron, in full costume, standing off to one side.  Steel turned, looking Micron over carefully.

“I’ve heard about you,” he said finally.  “Thought you was gone.”

“You thought wrong,” he said, putting his hands on his hips.

I realized he was keeping Steel busy, and more importantly, looking out of little eye holes, Steel probably couldn’t see me anymore.  I slid off of the table, checking my side… my dress was ruined, but my skin had already healed.  I turned around to the crowd of people and indicated by hand waving that they should move back.  Some of them had already gotten the idea, but I saw Roxanne about to say something.  I grabbed her, put my hand over her mouth and whispered, “Move it!” in her ear.

That got the point across.  She got up and got moving, and the center of the room cleared.

Steel made big flat spatulas on his hands and used them to sweep the tables away.  “Okay, Shrinkydink, let’s get down.”

“You first,” said Micron, and Steel turned his big spatulas into clubs and swung at him.  Of course, Micron shrank, and Steel’s clubs swung through empty air.  Micron did his thing, jumping at Steel and shifting his mass so he hit like a bullet… but he hit Steel’s armored chest with a clunk and fell to the floor.

Steel’s clubs retracted, covering his fists so they looked like bowling balls, and he struck the floor hard with one of them.  I saw Micron scramble out of the way at the last moment, and then he leaped, resuming normal size.  He sailed up like he weighed nothing, which was probably close to the truth, and grabbed on to one of the art deco light fixtures.

I saw Steel change again.  His lower legs got longer, making him taller, and he stretched the steel on his arms out into clubs again; he did it fast, drawing back for another swing.

“No fair,” came another voice, masculine, but higher pitched.  “You’re having a pinata party and didn’t invite me!”

I turned to see who had spoken and saw a man in a black and white costume; it was mostly white, actually, with black gloves and boots and a black half-cowl kind of like mine.  Across the front of his chest was the word “SUPERHERO” in block letters.

Of course everyone has heard of Slapstick, but this was the first time I ever saw him in person.

He had distracted Steel, and Micron swung from the light fixture and flew at him, hitting Steel in his chest.  He couldn’t hurt him, but as tall as Steel had become, knocking him down wasn’t at all hard.  He fell in the middle of a bunch of tables, smashing several of them.  “You know what they say,” said Slapstick, running forward with high steps like a cartoon character, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

Micron did a size-and-mass-shifting leap from Steel’s chest to the floor beside Slapstick.  “I’m Micron,” he said.  “Sorry I’m not familiar with you.”

“Some call me Rocky,” replied Slapstick, “and some call me Hardass, but you can call me Slapstick.”

Steel drew up his leg and kicked Slapstick in the chest, and Slapstick flew across the room and smashed into the wall.  “Oh me achin’ head,” he said, as he slid to the floor.

Steel had retracted all his metal, and when he stood up he looked like a crude steel statue of a man.  “Your turn, Micron,” he said, and he drew his arm back like a baseball pitcher and threw a steel ball at him.  Micron did his shrinking thing, trying to avoid Steel’s pitch, but it was a sinker (that’s what Sarah told me it was called, anyway), and as he shrunk the ball dropped suddenly and hit him.

“Micron!” I yelled, forgetting that I wasn’t in costume.  But Steel ignored me… he stalked forward, looking for Micron on the floor.

“Where are you, little man?” he asked, and I saw that his feet were covered in heavy steel boots.  “I’ma stomp you flat.”

“Who’s on first?” said Slapstick, popping up from under a table right in front of Steel.  Before his surprised opponent could do anything, Slapstick punched him hard.  It wasn’t a clunk, but more of a clang, and when Slapstick drew back his hand I saw he had left a fist-shaped mark in Steel’s armored chest.  “Neat!” he said, and he slapped Steel’s face, leaving a hand-shaped mark in his cheek.  Steel fell down, and Slapstick stomped on his butt, leaving a print.  “This is fun!”

Steel evidently came to his senses, though, and the next time Slapstick stomped him the steel wrapping his body flowed up Slapstick, covering him.  “Wait a min…” he began, before his mouth was covered.  Then he was a vaguely man-shaped statue, completely covered in crudely-formed steel.

But in doing this, Steel had left himself unarmored.  Micron appeared behind him, expanding out of the wreckage of suppers and tables littering the floor, and tapped him on the shoulder.  Steel turned around suddenly, and Micron punched him hard in the face.

He teetered for a moment, then fell hard to the floor.

Everything was quiet for a moment.  I wondered how long Slapstick could hold his breath, and how we were going to get him out of the steel shell.  I wanted to run up and help, but I wasn’t Mystery Woman anymore.  My costume was far away in San Francisco, and I wouldn’t have put it on if I had it with me.

Then Slapstick moved, the steel casing groaning and squealing.  He stretched his arms wide apart, and the steel tore down the middle of his chest.  He swung his arms up and down until the steel wrinkled and tore at his shoulders, and Micron helped him get the steel off of his hands; with them free, he grabbed the edges of the rip down his chest and tore the remaining steel off.

The whole room cheered.  Slapstick raised his hands high, dancing around like a boxer who just won a match, then took Micron by the hand and raised his arm high as well.  “The winners, and still champions!” he yelled.

“You’re crazy, man,” said Micron, laughing.

“Darn, someone told you,” replied Slapstick.  “Well, I guess we’re done here,” he said, and he went up to one of the doors and tore the steel shackle in two.  The doors opened, and Slapstick walked out, hands in the air.  “That’s right, uh huh,” he said, kind of be-bopping through the door, “I’m sexy, that’s right, uh huh!”

Micron stayed around until the cops showed up to collect Steel.  They administered a shot to him before hauling him off; I could only assume it was Interdictin, to keep him from using his powers.  Otherwise, what would prevent him from absorbing a police car?