Written by Woodclaw :: [Saturday, 17 November 2012 11:24] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 26 April 2014 13:45]
(Many thanks to Njae and Camille for the editing, and to Highlander for helping me with the accent.)
- This was originally one of my submissions to the Summer 2012 Workshop. I never submitted it becuase I wasn't able to cut it down to the required words limits, still this story had to come out somehow
- Both the main characters are from Scotland and they are supposed to talk with an accent; in Sean's case I altered the normal spelling as an attempt to show is much thicker accent
The clock over the counter of the “Hall of the Smoking Dragon” struck the two. It was an old, slightly rusty, clock, in tone with the general look of the pub. The tables were all new, but handmade from dark oak wood. The assortment of weapons on the walls looked like they were picked from some battlefield, but they were actually very good replicas. Only the roof was original, made of thick trunks that looked like they were in place since the middle ages, which was exactly what convinced Sean – the almost 35ish co-owner, barman and general aide – to buy the place. A longtime fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, D&D and anything even remotely fantasy, opening a fantasy-themed pub had been his dream for a long time.
Looking around from behind the counter, Sean made a quick headcount. It was Wednesday and the pub had run on a smaller crowd, but it was still a popular spot, thanks to the excellent cooking of his co-owner William. “Hear me. Hear me.” he shouted, trying to imitate an herald, “Tha hour is late, lads and lassies, an' tha city gates 're aboot to close.”
There were a few grumbling and some burping as the last customers payed and exited, leaving Sean the sole master of the room. As he started to collect glasses and plates, the bell next to the door rang and a gust of wind ruffled Sean's hair. He was about to shoo the unexpected visitor, when a slightly accented female voice addressed him from the counter: “I hope it's not too late to taste some real dwarven ale.”
Recognizing the voice, Sean smiled and bowed: “Certainly not, we're always open fer brave an' fair maidens.” unfortunately he had miscalculated his motion and the two glasses on the top of the pile felt. Before he could even move a finger to reach them a blue and white blur snatched them in midair.
Smiling, Sean turned to the counter to thank his favorite customer. She was sitting on a stool next too the counter, resting her back against it, and she was dressed in her signature blue and white attire. Lots of people consider her to be unattractive because she lacked the porn-star-ish profile of other superwomen, others cited her rather covering costume as a major turn-down. Sean thought that both categories were comprised by idiots.
Overall she was a little short, being just a tad under 5'5”, with a compact and very athletic build. Her legs were slender and showed a good amount of definition – emphasized by the blue leggings – looking quite shapely and powerful even without any kind of heels attached to her white boots. Her blue leotard hugged her chest and arms in a similar way, outlining her athletic build and her modest B-cup breasts. Finishing the outfit were a pair of short white gloves, a white belt with a couple of pouches – because even superheroines need a place to keep their cells – and a blue half-mask that showed her lovely smile, grayish-blue eyes and ruffle ginger hair.
Sean got behind the counter and poured her a stout but, as usual, he kept starring at her every other second. Trying to get his mind on the job he looked down into the pint, carefully trying to steer on the side of caution.
“So, any news around here?” she asked.
“Nothing major. Tha business's going well. William continues his crusade agains' microwaves.” Sean said, serving the beer. “Oh, an' we finally got him.”
“Tha very same.” Sean answered with a hint of pride in his voice, “Tha ol' Askelor went down last Friday. May his scaly arse roas' in tha nine pits of tha Abyss. Just … well … it wasna tha same tae kick his arse without our healer tae patch us.”
“Yes, I'm sorry for missing it, but I was busy in Ghana.” She gulped down the pint in a single swig and handed back the glass. “Same again, please.”
Sean poured another pint, but he knew the symptoms. He passed the glass, but didn't let it go when she grabbed it. “Maggie, whas is going on?”
She stopped out of courtesy. While Maggie was considered a lightweight in the superhero business, Sean knew very well that she could lift a truck with one arm without much effort. He had witnessed that a couple of times. “It's nothing, really. It's just one wee thing … ”
“Tha big things fill tha bowl, but tha wee ones make it spill, ma mother said.”
Maggie smirked and slightly tugged the beer, “Believe me, it's nothing important.”
Sean reached for the beer. Before getting her powers, Maggie couldn't hold her liquor if her life depended on it. Now her body could process toxins very fast, which meant that she was able to drink a few pints, going through drunkenness and hangover in a matter of minutes but, when you can benchpress 10 tons and run close to the speed of sound, even a couple of minutes of drunkenness are bad news. One pint was good, but two in less than a minute were already a bit too much, in Sean's opinion. “Maggie, please. Ye know how I feel when ye start drinkin' like this.”
Maggie looked at him straight in the eyes, tears rolled down and over her mask. “I cannae do this anymore, Sean.” she whispered, “It's killing me.”
“Do whar'?” Sean answered automatically and deeply regretting it.
“This!” Maggie cried, pulling away her mask and the ginger wig attached, revealing her pixie cut brunette hair. “Do you know what they said to me, today? Do you know what nerve? Do you know what I 'ave to endure? What I 'ave sacrificed? Do … Do you … ” she blurted out, while her whole body started shaking uncontrollably and she half-collapsed on the counter.
“Aye, I do.” Sean whispered while trying to embrace her.
Maggie pushed him back with a light touch, but to Sean's ribs it felt more like being pushed back by a heavyweight boxer. He stumbled two steps and tripped over, landing on his backside and bonking his head against the racks of bottle behind him.
Even with her speed, it took Maggie a moment to realize what her casual gesture had caused. She leapt over the counter – and her beer – with a graceful movement. “Are you …?” she asked with a worried look?
Sean was a bit dizzy, “Not bulletproof, fer sure. But ma skull is pretty thick.”
“Aye, very thick.” Maggie smiled with relief and – for Sean – it was like the whole room had got brighter.
They remained there for a couple more seconds before the whole scene became a bit awkward. Sean got himself back on his feet while Maggie helped him steadying himself. “Now, what were ye sayin'?”
Maggie blushed, a bit uneasy about her outburst just moments ago, but the cat was out of the bag. “It's just that … ” she stammered, “You know … I was helping some people in a car accident yesterday and this old lady … she … she went ballistic on me for not being there to save her husband in a train wreck months ago.”
“'That's pretty horrible, but … ” Sean tried to interject.
“And then there was this guy last week, who kept asking me why I didn't get myself a pair like Thunder Girl's. Or that girl two months ago that blamed me for her father death.” she cried out, “I'm sick of this, Sean. I'm not God. I can't save the entire world, but people seem to think the opposite … It's like, they want me to save them and looking stunning while doing it.”
Sean looked away from her for a moment. He and Maggie went back a long way and he hated to see her like this. They were best friends since primary school and then they went apart when Maggie's family moved to Inverness, but they met again in college. When Maggie got her powers she automatically trusted Sean to help her and keep her secret. He hated to do this, but sometimes being a friend meant to give someone a metaphorical kick in the ass. “I think it's yer fault too.”
“What?!” Maggie shouted dumbfounded – half-deafening Sean in the process.
Sean's ears were ringing. “Maggie, ye allowed yerself to be treated like this. Since gettin' these powers, ye pretty much stopped doin' anything in yer life, but helpin' others. Now they think they can abuse ye, cause ye will always be there fer them.”
Maggie returned to her stool and looked down into her untouched drink. She was starting to feel really bad, her stomach was like tied in a knot.
“Ye need to be a bit more egoist, to love yerself a little more. Take some time fer yerself. Jus' fer example: when was last time you saw a film?”
Maggie tried to look defiant and answered: “A few months ago, I went to the opening night of 'Thor'.”
“Maggie, tha' was last year.”
Maggie blinked a couple of times and just stood there with her mouth agape for a moment. “Really? … ” she uttered, realizing Sean was right.
“That's ma point. Ye keep helpin' people, but pretty much ye 'ave nae life outside of it.” Sean said in a neuter tone. “Tha guys keep askin' fer ye, an' I'm runnin' oot of excuses.”
Maggie didn't answer, but she kept looking to the counter with a single-minded focus, it was like she was trying to see through the thick oak and down to the center of the Earth, which Sean knew she couldn't do. Even if she had lots of super-senses, x-ray vision wasn't among them. Sean took the opportunity to collect a few more glasses and plates and started to load the dishwasher. After about three minutes she spoke again. “Sean, do you remember when you asked me on a date, last year?”
The question took Sean by surprise and it took him a moment before answering: “Aye.”
“Do you remember what I answered?”
Sean was very puzzled. He knew for a fact that, among other things, Maggie had a pretty much photographic memory – which was why those stupid remarks wounded her so much, because she will remember them all her life. “Aye, ye said somethin' about not woundin' me, 'cause ye were too busy savin' tha world to commit yerself, right?”
Maggie reached across the counter and grabbed Sean by the collar, not a very comfortable position for either of them, being Maggie quite short and Sean a lot weaker than her. “You know sometimes I think that my skull is thicker than yours.” she whispered before kissing him straight on his mouth.
When Sean was able to break free from the kiss he smiled: “What about savin' tha world?”
“The world can wait. Fancy going to the cinema tomorrow night?”