(flash fiction from my old blog, inspired by a Chuck Wendig prompt in which you write a super hero story twisted with another genre.)
She found him lying on a park bench in the middle of the night, asleep.
He had ragged clothes that looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks. A cold autumn breeze blew but he didn’t seem to be bothered by the cold at all. He had a long dirty beard, streaked with gray, and his hair looked dirty and unkempt. Even with the beard and the dirt on his face, she could tell it was him.
She leaned down and touched his shoulder.
He snatched her hand and crushed it as his eyes opened, cofused with sleep.
She heard bones snap and felt an agonizing burst of pain. She bit back a yelp of pain.
His eyes widened as he came to. Recognition and realization filled his big blue eyes. “Oh god, what did I do?” he asked, letting her hand go.
She backed away, every jolt stabbing her hand. “Nothing,” she said, taking a deep breath, handling the pain. She’d been hurt worse.
He stood up, as tall and muscular as she always remembered.
Why couldn’t he change? Get a pot belly or look old or something. But he did look old, she realized. His face was heavily lined with wrinkles. He looked…tired.
“We have to get you to a hospital,” he said.
“No, I’m fine,” she said. She hated being the victim, despised it. It was partially why they’d broken up so long ago.
He ignored what she said and picked her up, gently.
She couldn’t stop him. She never could. You can’t stop someone with super strength from picking you up. “You never listen, you know that?” she snapped. “Sometimes people don’t want to be saved!”
He looked at her, his eyes looking resigned. “I know that, now.” He smirked ever so slightly. “But I’m still taking you to the hospital, whether you like it or not.”
She sighed. It’d been so long since she’d been in his arms. She had to admit it felt good, despite the pain in her hand. “You’re insufferable.” At least he didn’t fly.
He carried her through the park. “How did you find me?” he asked.
“It’s my job,” she said. “Find people who don’t want to be found and ask them the questions they don’t want to answer.”
“You didn’t do this for your job.”
“No,” she said, looking away from his face. “I’m not even working there anymore. I’m retired.” She looked back at him. “I figured you would already know that.”
He shook his head. “I stopped watching, like you asked. It hurt, for awhile. The not knowing whether you were alive or dead or in danger…” he sighed. “But you wanted that and I didn’t understand then but I did as you asked.”
“Do you understand now?”
“I think so.”
“Where did you go? You were off the radar for years.”
“Oh,” she said. “Of course. Why the hell not?”
He smirked. “I needed a quiet place to think. I stayed there for a long time.”
“The world could use you, you know. It’s not such a great place, even with the villains gone.”
He frowned. “I always helped out. I always did what I could. One crisis after another, one megalomaniac after another. I fought them. I stopped them. But the question I keep asking myself, even after all these years, is whether I destroyed more than I saved.”
“That’s ridiculous!” She would have smacked him in the face if her good hand wasn’t broken. Not that it would have hurt him a bit, but it was the principle of the thing. “You saved the world you idiot.”
He nodded. “And I destroyed entire buildings doing it. Do you know how many people died? Every battle, every earth-shattering impact, everything I did affected someone else, somewhere.”
“But you had to. You saved humanity.”
“Did I? Or did I just enable it?”
“You’re being more dense than usual and I don’t appreciate it.”
He chuckled. “I always wonder, if I hadn’t been there to save the day, what would have happened.”
“Poof, goodbye humanity,” she said.
He shook his head. “I’m not so sure about that. Humanity is an..ingenious species. I wonder if they would have come up with a solution without me. A better solution rather than beating the problem into submission. Maybe humanity would’ve come together to face the threat. United. But they didn’t have to. Because I was there to save the day.”
It was her turn to shake her head. “It’s useless to think like that. You saved millions of people. You should be proud of that. Everyone owes their lives to you. You could still do good in the world, you know that.”
“No. No more meddling. I’ve seen the way humans treat each other. Murdering civilians, killing their own kind over petty things. I tried to help but…what can I do? I could destroy every factory in the world to stop climate change but more would be built. I could destroy every weapon and still more would be created. I can’t solve humanity’s problems, I can only prolong them, which is what I did for too long. Too long I’ve been an enabler. Humanity has to face these problems on its own.”
She could see the pain in his eyes. “So why did you come back to the states?”
He looked down into her eyes. “Humankind is infinitely fascinating. I wander the streets at night. I stop petty crimes.”
“And that’s enough for you? Let the world burn but you’ll take out a purse-snatcher or two?”
He growled. “It’s not like that.”
“It sounds like that. It sounds like you’ve given up.”
He stopped walking. “What am I supposed to do?” he roared. “Take part in the wars? Whose side? Who is right and who is wrong? I thought it was so simple before, black and white, but I was a fool. I can’t take part in their wars, their fighting. I can’t pick sides because whichever side I pick, the other loses. People get killed.” He took a deep breath and loosened his hands that had tightened to an uncomfortable degree. “I’m sorry. I try not to get angry.”
“You can’t stop yourself from getting angry. Everyone gets mad sometimes.”
He started walking again. “Not everybody can demolish a building with their fist when they get mad. I have to stay in control, always.”
“And if you can’t?”
He refused to look at her. “That’s why I stay out of things. Why I stay away from those I love.”
Silence reigned for the rest of the walk.
She didn’t know what to say. Perhaps they’d said it all.
She left the hospital with a cast on her arm resting in a sling around her shoulder.
He walked her out.
The sun rose above the hospitals tall buildings.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She shook her head. “It was my fault,” she said.
He didn’t argue. He knew it’d be useless. “I forgot to ask, why did you find me?” His eyes took on a glint that had been missing. “Do you need help? Are you in trouble?”
It was hope, she realized, in his eyes. A hope that had been shattered in a world he couldn’t help. Humanity had to advance and it couldn’t do it with his help. Do you need to be saved? he said with those eyes, and hoped she did.
She shook her head. “No. I don’t need saving.” She took a step closer to him and touched the back of his neck with her good hand. “But I think you do,” she said.
He dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around her. He pressed his face into her stomach and started crying.
She stroked his hair and told him it was going to be okay.