Melissa threw on her brown leather jacket and shut her car door as she walked up to the house overlooking the bay. The walkway was surrounded on all sides by thick greenery, and plants dangled from the rafters overhead. She came to the front step and reached out for the doorbell, but paused when she heard something rustling in the bushes.
"KYAAH!" a strange voice cried as a figure burst from the bushes, tackling Melissa to the ground. She struggled for freedom, but her attacker had the upper hand. Finally, she abandoned wrestling and simply shouted, "Grandma!"
Her attacker stopped to examine the young woman's face. "Melissa?"
"Yep. That's still what they call me in case you forgot."
"Sorry to startle you like that," said her grandmother, offering her a hand up, "Thought you were that Jehovah's Witness."
"For the last time, Grandma, the Jehovah's Witnesses are NOT stealing your mail."
"Well, somebody is! Now, quit doddling! Come inside! Come inside!"
Melissa obeyed and followed her grandmother inside, into the living room, where her mother and sister sat on the couch, drinking coffee. They both jumped up to greet her as she came in.
"Charlene!" Melissa exclaimed, hoisting her sister up in her arms, "How you been?"
"Well..." her sister groaned, "My ribs had almost mended."
"Whoops... sorry." she laughed nervously, setting Charlene back down.
They all greeted each other and sat back down, sipping their coffee. Melissa simply stood with her back against the wall as they all updated each other on the goings on of the Hannigan family. She listened to stories about her father frantically trying to use super glue to reattach a few missing hairs and Charlene's kids gluing their dad's shoes to the floor. Her family was going through a glue phase, apparently.
That all came to an end when the focus turned to her. "So, Melissa..." said her mother, folding her hands in her lap, "Anybody new in your life?"
"As a matter of fact, there is." she answered proudly.
Everyone immediately perked up. They had sat down like this countless times, and every time, her mother would ask the same question, and without fail, her answer was always the same. This was a shock, to say the least.
"Well, what's his name?" her mother asked anxiously.
Melissa sighed. "This really the first question that comes to mind? Not, 'hey, Melissa, how's that promotion treating you so far?' or, 'how does it feel to officially be the most accomplished woman in your field?' We're just cutting straight to my love life?"
They all nodded unanimously.
"Fine... if you must know, his name is Paxton."
"What does he do? How'd you meet?" asked Charlene.
"He's, uh... he's a firefighter. We met on my last assignment with the CIA before I got promoted up. There was a shootout with a metahuman fugitive and I wound up trapped in a burning building. When I woke up, he was giving me mouth-to-mouth, and then, well... I was giving it back."
They all laughed, and when they quieted down, her mother spoke up, "So... when do we get to meet him?"
"That's a little more complicated." Melissa replied, "He's a firefighter, married to the job, ya know? There's always somebody out there for him to save. The only real time we get to spend together is when he gets hurt."
In perfect unison, they all sighed and shook their heads. "Oh, Melissa..." her mother whispered in disappointment.
"What?" she lashed back, "What the hell is wrong with that?"
"You can't build a serious relationship on occasional get-togethers. It's not gonna work." Charlene replied.
"And when did that become your decision, Charlene?" Melissa snapped, "Look, news flash, people... I've got a demanding job, too! The way my organization is set up, I'll only be stateside half of the year! If I've found somebody who makes me happy during that time, what's wrong with it? Also, when did everyone become concerned about all of my relationships being serious?"
Her mother raised her voice slightly as she pleaded, "Well, maybe if you stopped reading your comic books, you could find yourself a man who can give me grandchildren!"
"Sorry, Mom, but your grandchildren aren't my primary concern right now!"
"She's got a point, Melissa." Charlene interrupted, "You're not getting any younger. It's time to grow up and find somebody serious."
"Well, ya know what, Charlene? You got lucky! You met Dan when you were nineteen and never looked back. It doesn't work out that way for everybody, and that doesn't give you the right to play god to weak little mortals like me, so kindly shut up and let me make my own damn decision!"
"Back us up on this, Grandma." said Charlene, looking across to the old woman who had been sitting quietly in her recliner until now.
She shrugged and replied, "Tough to say. What's he like in the sack?"
"Mom!" Melissa's mother snapped, missing Melissa's subtle pantomime to her grandmother of her brain exploding out the side of her head.
"What?" her grandmother answered, "You think I don't know about the ol' hot potato? You're exhibit A that I do, deary."
Her mother and sister both turned their focus back to her. "The point is, Melissa, you need to trust us. If a man puts his work over you, no matter how important his work is, it isn't going to work. End this now, before you get hurt." said Charlene.
"Look, I don't need to defend myself to you guys. I'm out of here." Melissa replied before storming out the front door. She ignored the speed limit as she revved her engine and tore down the street.
A short time later, she pulled into her own garage and walked inside, all the pent up frustration and anger dissolving into nothing as her eyes met with his. He had perked up from his place on the couch when he heard her car round the corner. The anticipation got the best of him, just as it did her, and despite the sharp pain in his side and the stiffness of his legs, he stood up and received her as she came running into his arms, hands planted on is cheeks for a long, passionate kiss.
"You look tired." he whispered, brushing a lock of hair from her eyes.
"I could say the same about you." she replied, the faintest smile blooming as she planted a brief kiss on his lower lip.
"I'm always tired." he said, wiping the dark circles of scarred flesh that surrounded his eyes. He wore a tight black t-shirt, his left forearm wrapped in bandages, as well as his right bicep. He had a few fresh marks on his face, overlapping the tapestry of scars that consumed him. His lip was split and swollen slightly. She slipped from his embrace and walked toward the kitchen as he limped back onto the couch, wrapping himself in blankets.
"How are your legs doing?" she asked, looking over her shoulder as she walked.
"Better." he replied, digging himself deeper into the couch, "I've gotten all the sensation back. The muscles are still weak and partially unresponsive."
"Well, that's what you get for fighting a guy called Frostbite."
"Yes. How foolish of me to save an entire city from the next ice age."
"Just kidding," she replied, coming back into the living room. "Besides..." she leaned over the back of the couch and kissed him on the cheek, "Why would I complain about having you all to myself?" She smiled and wandered back into the kitchen.
Paxton craned his neck and listened curiously. "Melissa... are you... cooking?" he asked.
"Yeah!" she answered excitedly, looking at him over the island counter.
"I thought you didn't know how to cook."
"I learned! Well... I learned how to cook ONE thing. Look, do you wanna eat or not?" She turned back to the refrigerator and picked out the rest of the ingredients, beginning her work as Longshot closed his eyes, content, warm, and, for just a brief moment, happy.
About an hour later, they sat across from one another at the dinner table, eating their spaghetti and stealing the occasional glance at their opposite, smiling.
"So..." she began, tangling her fork in pasta, "How long do you need to heal. Or, put another way, how long can you stay?"
He paused, chewing his food before he finally answered at a whisper, "Wednesday."
"Next Wednesday?" she asked excitedly.
"No." he replied, looking down at his plate, "This Wednesday."
The happiness immediately flushed from her face, left only with wide-eyed surprise and crushing disappointment. "But... but that's not long enough to heal all the way."
"I can't afford to consider that." he answered callously, "By that time, I'll have healed well enough to fight again. It doesn't matter if I'm all the way mended. If I can stand, if I can shoot, I need to be out there."
"Why? Why can't you allow yourself to take it easy once in a while?"
His eyes finally rose to met hers, but his expression had hardened as he coldly responded, "You know why."
"Actually, I don't." she said assertively, "Paxton, I understand. Unless you're out there, having a positive effect on the world, you're tortured by the memory of what you've done. I understand that every life makes a difference to you. I do. But you don't deserve this kind of abuse, especially not from yourself. And ya know what? Your memories aren't all you have anymore." Her hand rested on his, and she suppressed her reaction when she found that it was ice cold. "Paxton, you've saved more lives than you destroyed, countless times over. I know that doesn't undo anything. I know that doesn't make it right. But you deserve to rest when you need it. You deserve... you deserve to stay with me."
She noticed a slight warmth rushing into his hand. Not enough, but warmth nonetheless.
"I..." he stammered and looked away from her, "I wish it didn't have to be this way."
"It doesn't!" she yelled, jumping up from her chair, "You can be with me without going crazy from guilt! You've fought enough to deserve that!"
He stood up to face her as he replied, "And you're certain that you're only concerned with me right now?"
She bit her lip. "Alright, fine!" she shouted, slapping the wall and turning away, creating some distance between them. "I'm sick of this! I'm sick of trying to help you, and only making you guilty! I'm sick of sitting around and waiting for the day when you can forgive yourself for being with me. I'm sick of hoping that you get hurt because it's the only time I ever get to see you!"
She wrapped her arms around herself, a pained expression on her face which softened slightly as she felt Paxton's hands on her shoulders. "I'm here now, Melissa." he whispered in her ear.
"I know..." she sighed, glancing at him from the corner of her eye, "But for how long?"
His hands, now warm to the touch, slowly moved down her arms, coming to rest on her waist as he answered, "As long as I need to be."
She turned to face him, her eyes drifting shut as their lips touched and her shirt was pulled over her head.
The two lovers lay side by side on the hardwood floor, staring up at the ceiling. They were both silent. The only sound was the nigh-undetectable tapping of Paxton's finger on the soft blanket that covered them, in perfect rhythm with her heartbeat. Suddenly, his finger froze. "This isn't gonna work, is it?"
"No." Melissa sighed.
"It's over, isn't it?"
Their eyes descended from the ceiling and connected. Melissa always felt helpless in situations like this, but there was something she saw in his eyes, a certain... vulnerability, and it was present now more than it ever had been. "Just remember, Melissa..." he whispered, "I love you."
"I know." she replied.
"That isn't going to change. No matter what, you'll always be the woman who helped me, whether I wanted it or not, and... I owe you my life. But I owe you a lot more than that. I owe you the chance to find somebody who can make you happy in the ways I can't. I love you." He leaned in close as they shared their final kiss. She looked at him, his scarred face and unfathomable brown eyes, and she smiled.
"See you around, Robin Hood." she whispered. And with that, he put on his clothes, activated his teleporter console, and walked out of her life.
Melissa looked down at the place on the floor where it had happened. It was only a few months ago, but it felt to her like a lifetime. "What is it, Melissa?" Mike asked, looking to her and pulling her closer to him.
"Nothing..." she said, finally breaking eye contact with the spot, "Just a ghost."
"You know how I hate when you get cryptic like that." he teased, kissing her on the cheek.
"Oh, come on," she laughed, nuzzling up alongside him on the couch, "You know you don't hate anything about me."
"You're right," he said with a smile, giving validation to something intended as a joke, "I don't."
Melissa pulled up once again in front of her grandmother's house and walked inside, greeted the other women of her family, and listened as the conversation went around to each of them, finally falling upon her. "So, Melissa..." her mother began, "Anybody new in your life?"
Melissa almost wanted to pounce on her mother for the little smirk of self-satisfaction she'd worn ever since she found out she was right about Paxton, but she restrained herself. "If you must know, there is."
They all perked up once again. "Well, what's his name? Wait... it's not another firefighter, right?" She and Melissa's sister both laughed.
"Hilarious." Melissa replied in the most deadpan fashion possible, "His name is Mike. And..." she paused, deciding not to divulge the fact that he had a son, instead finishing with a smile, "He's pretty great."