Melissa stared out at the world passing her by. The green and brown of pine trees blended and mingled as they raced by her window. She turned right and drove the car up a narrow dirt path shaded beneath the canopy. She drove up to a clearing and put her 1970 Mustang in park, then stepped out, spreading her arms wide and letting the mid-morning sunlight send a feeling of blissful warmth through her skin and down to her very core. "It's called sunlight, slick." she called out jokingly to her passenger, "I know it's new to you, but you ain't gonna burn. Trust me."
The passenger door opened and out stepped a man dressed in jeans and a plain white t-shirt with a brown leather jacket, face clad in a plain black mask, two white slits for eyes. "I don't like this, Melissa." the man replied, scanning the surrounding woods.
Melissa crossed her arms and chuckled, "Look, Robin Hood, mowing down tacos on the deck of the ship for the twenty minutes you allow yourself between cracking skulls does NOT count as a date."
"No, I mean... every minute I'm not out there--"
"You're taking a deserved break." she interrupted, "You're having a life for a change. You're recovering from the downright stupid task of making everyone's safety your responsibility. Besides, how many bullet wounds are you shaking off right now?"
Longshot averted his eyes and answered bashfully, "Two."
"And how many stab wounds?"
"Uh... more than two."
"That's what I thought. Now come on. You can't be there for everyone. You're gonna run yourself into the ground if you blame yourself for taking a day off. Let go of the damn guilt trip and let's have a little fun."
"Fine." Longshot shrugged, following Melissa through the clearing and into the woods. They walked together in the shadows of towering redwood trees, pine needles crunching beneath their feet. They would stop along their path for the passing deer or rabbit. She shared with him stories of herself, of the world she came from where bloodshed wasn't so commonplace, and once more, she asked him for his real name, a request which he denied once again by saying he didn't have one. Every time he gave her that answer, it killed her inside. Still, she stayed upbeat and tried to show him what it was like to be, for lack of a better word, normal. She had always envied the heroes, the masked men who risked their lives for others and expected nothing in return. But now that she had seen what living like that did to a man, how accountability and self-sacrifice wore away at him and made it impossible for him to grasp even the concept of a normal life, she found herself disillusioned about the glamour of heroism. Still, she had an admiration for someone who could endure that.
"Melissa..." Longshot began, running a gloved hand down his face, "Thank you."
"For what?" asked Melissa, sitting down on a nearby rock.
"For... how do I put this? When I'm with you, I feel like... I feel something I've never felt before. I... I dunno. I feel almost..."
"Yeah. Yeah... that's what I was gonna say. Seeing the world through your eyes, it's the greatest feeling I've had in a long time... and I wanna return the favor."
"Could you phrase that in a way that's less vague and potentially creepy?"
Longshot walked up to her and offered her his hand, helping her to her feet. He held her close and whispered, "I'm going to give you a rare view. I'm going to show you the world through MY eyes." Without warning, he picked her up and flung her over his shoulder. She shrieked and turned herself upright, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his torso. They both undid their belts and looped them together to harness her safely to his back. Safety, of course, being a vague concept to the both of them. "Ready?" the archer asked.
Melissa placed her chin on his shoulder, hair brushing against his ear as she whispered playfully, "Born that way." The archer nodded and jumped up, repelling off a rock as he took hold of a branch and flung himself higher into the trees, the screaming, laughing girl coming along for the ride. He ran along the high branches, leaping with silence and precision. Screaming and laughter mingled in her voice, and only grew louder as Longshot dove out of the treeline and into the open air. He turned and fired the grapple gauntlet hidden beneath the sleeve of his jacket, the bolt sinking into supple wood without resistance. The steel line went taut and they swung on a long, sweeping course over the forest floor. Melissa was tempted to throw her arms out wide, but she knew that might mean an uncomfortably close relationship with a body cast, so she kept them clamped tight around the archer's chest. He retracted the line and landed with grace on a soft patch of earth.
Melissa climbed down, her she tried to contain her laughter and steady her heart. "Oh my god!" she exclaimed, brushing the hair from in front of her eyes, "Oh my god... my legs are shaking. I can't even... and down I go." She toppled over, landing not in the dirt and brittle old pine needles, but in the arms of the archer.
"It's okay." Longshot whispered, giving more of a laugh than she had heard in all the time she'd known him. He pulled her upright and held her steady as he said, "It's alright. I've got you."
"Yes, you do." she answered with a smile. Their eyes locked and she reached up for the edge of his mask, but he flinched and pulled his head away. "Don't be afraid, Longshot." Melissa whispered, "The entire reason we're here is to convince you that there's one person you don't have to hide from."
"I'm not hiding, Melissa." Longshot replied, "I'm not afraid. This is who I really am. What's underneath is just hollow. This is what I'm meant to look like."
Melissa's smile faded and she whispered plainly, "Not to me."
The archer surrendered and let her pull the mask from his face, his scarred, ugly true self feeling the light of day. He bowed his head and shadows fell upon his face, but she lifted his chin and brought him back into the light. "Let me save you for a change." she murmured before touching her lips to his. He didn't resist. For once in his life, he simply let everything else fall away and lived in the moment. He allowed himself to be happy.
Melissa stared down at the picture, the memory of that day encased and frozen in time. She sighed and set it back down with all the other pictures on the table. Rain streaked down the window, pelting the sidewalk and the roof over her head. She remembered lying next to him, listening as he described how he heard the rain. He told her how he could smell the slightest difference in the air, see details of a sunset that should only exist on an artist's canvas, and how he could feel her, sense her and connect with her more closely than anyone she had ever known. He showed her what it did to him every time her heart beat.
But those days were over.
She turned around and dropped down on the couch and started cleaning her gun. The TV started blaring and she looked up to see the streets from the view of a news helicopter. Someone was doing a play-by-play of the events below, but she didn't listen. All that caught her attention was the image of Longshot and a few other heroes taking on some pack of gunmen sporting some cutting edge weapons in the middle of the city. The camera was too shaky and the shootout was too chaotic to make out any details, but the image was crystal clear in her mind. Even from high above, she could tell that Longshot was hurt. He dropped down and crouched behind a broken chunk of concrete as gunfire rained down on the other side. She could see that he was short of breath, bruised and ragged. He rolled to new cover and shot at the same time, striking one of the gunmen in the shoulder. He ran up the length of an overturned bus and landed down like a hawk on his prey. She turned her head and almost turned off the TV. It had gotten too hard to watch over time. Still, she set the remote back down and continued cleaning her gun.
She calmed herself as she remembered that he would always be okay. He would always walk away in one piece. He would always come home.
Just not to her.