A Brew & A Brood
written by: Beth Mills
The older Elliot Cameron got the more he hated his advanced metabolism. When he was a younger man it made for quite a few grand spectacles; drinking contests are a great way to make fast cash when you can’t get drunk. You can eat all the greasy, fatty, junky food your gut can hold when you burn through it in a matter of an hour. Cut himself shaving? Hell, he could have Ginsued his own fingers if he wanted and that boosted ‘tab would fix ‘em right as rain in a jiff.
“So what do you have to complain about, you sad pitiful fuck,” he often thought, during the times he was feeling less than generous with himself. He knew he was one of the increasingly few people blessed with powers; along with the advanced metabolism, he also possessed super-strength and heightened reflexes. Still, the older he got (what was he now one-hundred/one-hundred and fifty years or older?) the more he resented the “blessing.”
The “gift” of watching everyone around him actually age and then die. The “boon” of being the only hero left standing as his friends and allies fell away at his side. Best of all was the “gratitude” of a population that hated him for being what they couldn’t-effectively immortal.
When it first began to affect him, he couldn’t say exactly. They had called it shell shock after he fought in the Great War. He doesn’t even remember what they called it before that. Of course, the anti-depressants didn’t work for him, and the idea of self-medicating was a joke he had only briefly indulged in. Therapy was a balm he couldn’t afford, as he’d learned that the hard way. It had never occurred to him that his enemies might discover the weekly meetings he attended weren’t matters of state but of the mind. It was to his utmost relief and guilt that Doctor Ward had taken his oath very seriously; he had taken it all the way to his grave.
What’s a broken-down hero to do when the hard times and the crushing regret overwhelm the drive to move on? For Elliot, when it got too much to even make it past the other side of the covers, he liked to start with the oldest scrapbook and work his way to the present. Some of the newspaper clippings were so old they were almost ready to crumble. He barely recognized himself in his first artist’s portrait and he thought, Jesus, have I really gotten that old. It gets hard to tell when the face in the mirror never changes.
The articles in the albums run the gamut from some of his greatest triumphs to the most shattering failures; from the most intimate of character profiles to the most mundane and silly of puff pieces. Every cat he had ever saved from a tree had its own home next to every nuclear crisis he had averted.
It was on a particularly bad day in what had been an especially horrible month of a splendiferously terrible year that he had stalled looking over album number four. The day, of course, decided to get worse, by having the audacity to bring a visitor to his door.
Well, I guess it was about damn time somebody showed up, he thought, somewhat relieved, though more than a little miffed at having his stewing session interrupted. Still, he clomped to the door, readying himself for the clash. However, when he opened the door expecting The Barbed Wit or Dr. Yankem, he was shocked to find his ex-fiancé standing there instead.
“Hello darling,” Vivica Mandalay chirped cheerily.
“Back from the dead, Sparrow?”
The villain smiled widely, “Come on now, Virtus, I know you never really believed I was dead. You’re too smart for that.”
Elliot huffed in annoyance. Yeah sure, he knew she was alive; he was just surprised that out of all the enemies he’d made over the years, she’d be the one to come collect on old debts after his announcement.
“Well, aren’t you going to invite a girl in from the cold, Virtus?”
“It’s June,” he scoffed.
“Come on!” she said with a mocking pout. “I brought beer.” She dangled said case of beer from one finger before her as though it weighed no more than a coin purse.
He narrowed his eyes in suspicion at the proffered beverage. With a sigh, and a roll of her eyes, “Oh, come on! Why would I bother poisoning you when that didn’t work the first five times?”
“Eight times,” he stated frostily. Nevertheless, he stepped aside. She practically skipped into the living room, clunking the liquid delights onto the coffee table. He flinched when she barely missed the still-open scrapbook.
“Look at you!” Delight poured from her in waves as she spotted the group photo attached to one of the time-worn articles. “’The Golden Heart to Head New Super Initiative!’ Been a long time since you went by that name. And your hair! So short!” Vivica couldn’t contain her gleeful laughter as cracked open a beer for each of them. He’d always loved that laugh, even when he hated her.
He’d gone by so many names in so many years it was almost pointless to try to remember them all. The Golden Heart was the first time he’d been with a team, though. That was the first time someone had really had his back… the first time he’d had friends.
Still somewhat suspicious and waiting for the sword to fall, he stayed silent as he accepted the beer.
“Come on, El! Drink up!” Vivica wasted no time in doing just that as she flipped through the book.
“When was the last time you saw any of these guys?”
“At their funerals.” And with that bitter thought, he swiftly downed the alcohol.
With a long-suffering sigh, Vivica handed him another beer. “Well, aren’t you just Miss Mary Sunshine today?”
He did not deign to answer.
“I can’t believe you still have all of these albums,” she paused, eyes shifting to the bookshelf half packed with similar tomes. “Do you still have the wedding planner?”
“I burned it.” He stated, quite matter-of-factly, taking another swig.
Hurt flashed in her eyes before she caught on. “Liar. That was just cruel.”
He acknowledged the lie by finally re-establishing eye contact, though he refused to give in to the guilt clawing its way through his brain. She was the one that left and in the worst way. So instead of apologizing, he decided to get directly to the point.
“What do you want, Viv? If you aren’t here to fight then you might as well move on. And if you are here to fight, well I hate to be the one to break it to ya, but I’m retired.”
He couldn’t help another wince as she casually flopped the scrapbook shut. He glowered at her, kicked back as she was: relaxed in his favorite chair, as though she’d never left, and casually sipping her beer like he wasn’t sitting as tense as a stretched rubber band ready to fly or snap under the pressure.
If she doesn’t do something pretty soon, my head might fucking explode.
“You see,” she began, sitting forward to mirror him, both of them resting their arms on their knees. “That’s what we need to talk about. This ‘retirement’ nonsense. That’s right, full-on sarcastic air quotes! You can’t retire.”
“Oh no, I assure you, I can.” He finally leaned back, projecting a false air of nonchalance. “I’ve already done it.”
If Vivica had rolled her eyes any harder, they may have fallen right out of her head. “Come on the world needs you-“
“The world neither needs nor wants me anymore.”
“Shouldn’t you be off stealing the crown jewels or sweet-talking some foreign dignitary out of their nuclear launch codes?”
“Please! I’ve had the crown jewels for years.”
He choked on his beer. “What!?”
She laughed deep and heartily. “You’re still so easy!”
“That wasn’t funny.”
“It wasn’t a joke.”
“You can’t just steal the cro-“
“That’s not your concern anymore. After all, aren’t you retired?”
Damn, he thought. She’d walked him right into that one even easier than the time she’d tricked him into running headlong into a curtain of bullets for her.
“Always such a hero.” she playfully accused with a smile. “Come on, El. You think I don’t know what you’re up to?”
He took a long draw of cold brew before he answered. He knew he couldn’t manage a lie while looking her in the eye, and he didn’t want her walking him into another verbal slap.
“Alright. You got me. I am taking up golf.”
She only stared at him, waiting as he began to squirm. Her smug smile grew to Cheshire proportions as his leg jiggled with nerves.
“You are still the worst damn liar,” she laughed and he couldn’t help but smile sadly.
With a tired sigh, “What do you want me to say, Viv?”
All traces of humor vanished, just as quickly replaced with anger, “I expect you to tell me what the fuck you’re thinking!” He glanced up at her, wondering if she even realized she’d stood up, or if she even noticed she’d started to steam and smoke.
He simply continued watching her, calm and serene as he sipped his beer. “You think I’m stupid!? You go on television and announce your secret identity, and that you’re retiring! Then come home to your nice little secluded cottage.”
“Easy now, you’ll scorch the ceiling of my nice secluded cottage,” he lackadaisically moved the photo album from the table before she could turn it to ash. She was full-on raging now at his apparent lack of urgency. He went to take another pull of the beer, only to curse and drop the now red-hot can.
Boiling foam exploded across the hardwood as it landed. “Jesus fuck, Vivica!”
“How can you just sit there?!”
“It’s my damn house!” he cried, standing, not to tower over her, but to brace himself. “But you wanna get to the point; we’ll get to the damn point! I’ll admit you’re the first person to try to talk me to death!”
“That’s what you want though isn’t it!? ‘Retire’ with a blaze of glory!” He was taken aback to see there were tears in her eyes, “Announce your name to every supervillain, criminal, and jaywalker you ever met! That way any damn entry-level blockhead minion with half an ounce of computer savvy can take that name and find where you live. Which just so happens to be sequestered away from where any innocent bystanders might get hurt.” Chest heaving and flames licking at her fingertips now, she sighs out the last of her rage, “You’ve invited every villain you’ve ever fought to hunt you down and take you out. This isn’t a retirement. It’s a suicide.”
He hated when she got like this. It was so much easier to meet the rage with rage, but he couldn’t bear the quiet worry and condemnation. She didn’t have to know that though. He rallied himself to push back at her. He might as well have it all out with her, once and for all.
“And why should you care? Why should it matter if I’m retiring to play golf, or if I’ve decided to take my last ride on my own terms? You’re the one that left.”
She tried to summon the rage to throw back at him, but there was shame now dulling its edge, “How dare you! Pin-Stripe was trying to kill me-
“Oh fuck off! Who’s playing who for stupid now?”
Vivica was knocked back a step. It occurred to her much too late, that she had never seen him angry. Not until then, when it was not just anger-not just rage, but something that blows far past them both. “I don’t know what you-”
“Stop! Just stop it! I know how you faked your death. I know…” he choked out a sob surprising them both and making him even angrier. “I know how you faked all their deaths.” That one had her back on her ass; the ancient chair groaned in protest as her flames winked out. “Yeah.”
He snatched another beer before throwing himself back into his chair and thumping his feet onto the coffee table.
After a long painful moment where neither could look at the other, “When?” She coughed the tears back down. “How long have you known? How did you find out?”
Refusing to give in to the urge to comfort her, he stayed seated; gazing balefully into the dying beer suds splashed across his floor.
“I had suspicions after Kathy-God what was that- 80 years ago? It’s hard to remember. But I was fucking positive back in ’94, I mean,” he finally looked at her with a smile that he wished was loathing, but was more likely lost, “I will hand it to you, finding the ‘body’ in the fridge was a nice touch.”
She cringed. That certainly hadn’t been one of her prouder moments. “El, I-”
“You know,” he cut her off, sitting up and looking her in the eye, “I was actually stupid enough to think it was because you were jealous. That you convinced them, maybe bribed or threatened them, into leaving me so you could have me.” Suddenly he lurched to his feet slinging the beer he had yet to open through the far wall; beer, drywall, and aluminum shrapnel flew through the room. Vivica flipped over the back of the chair, keeping it between them as she eyed him warily.
“Did you find it funny?” He screamed. He let the fury override the sorrow, because if he lost it now, if he let her see how she’d broken him then she wouldn’t fight him. And by God, if he could choose the one that ended him he would want it to be her. “Did you find it funny watching me grieve for them? Every time? Did you find it funny when I grieved for you!?” It was the wrong way to go because now he couldn’t stop the tears. His rage was slithering into a cold cruel longing to have her hold him, and he wanted to stop- wanted to fight her- to hold her- to run from her and never come back. But he’d broken the floodgates now, as matching tears had begun flowing down her pretty face. “Did you laugh as I cried for you? For three days! Three days before I came to my fucking senses and realized what you’d done?!”
Vivica couldn’t stand it anymore, she ran to him as he sank to the floor. Though a part of him wanted to push her away, he gathered her into his lap as they sat on the floor, weeping together in a tight embrace; neither noticed nor cared that the puddle of sticky beer was now soaking into their clothes.
They sat curled into each other for more than an hour. The cracked pieces of a vase desperately trying to remain fused together. She clutched him even tighter, so afraid he would push her away when she finally told him the truth.
“You’re wrong. The world needs you so much. It’s always needed you, and it always will!”
He was shaking his head and he tried to pull away, so she gripped him by his face, refusing to let him run away. This was it, do or die; she finally had to explain it all.
“I know, okay,” she sniffed, breathing so heavy and brushing the hair from his face; the only face she would ever love. “I know I might have gone about things the wrong way, but the world needs you! And you would be so happy and I-I-I hated taking that from you.
“The first time wasn’t my idea. Mari came to me. She came to me the night before I pulled that heist in Chicago. I was so pissed because you’re right about one thing: I was so jealous of her. I loved you the moment we met.” She finally slid to the floor beside him, but they kept ahold of each other’s hands. “You told me once you’d never forget what I was wearing then. Is that still true?”
He gave her a sly watery grin at that. “Not a damn stitch.” And oh, he had missed that laugh. “I’d tracked you from some damn heist, and I felt so clever. Right up until you helped me pick my jaw off the floor with a bitch slap.”
“Well, that’s what you get for barging into a lady’s room in the middle of the night!” They laughed with their fingers woven tightly together like an anchor.
Sobering, Vivica knew she owed him the rest of the story. “I wanted to kill Mari when I realized what she wanted to do to you. But it made so much sense! You were so happy and you wanted to retire then and there… But if you did who would be there the next time The Scarlet Nail kidnapped the president? Or the next time the Black Hole Brothers launched a nuke at the moon? So we made the decision. Each one of us, every time we made the same decision. Every time it killed me.” She sobbed and he held her close. “We knew the world couldn’t make it without you. Because out of all the other heroes, you’re the only one that’s never gone down. And I know it’s hard for you, so hard. I know that and I’m sorry, but you can’t give up! You can’t! You can’t! Youcan’tyoucan’tyou-“
Surprising them both, she kissed him. She kissed him, and they kissed each other. They came together as they had so many times before. On the wet sticky floor, surrounded by plaster dust and old pictures from times no one could remember anymore, they found each other as though they’d had only been separated by days, and not decades. They lay there together afterward, naked and sated, but not yet whole. They were still lying there holding each other when they heard footsteps approaching outside. Five maybe six sets of feet were making their way up the walk, and they both knew his enemies had come to cash in receipts from his supposed transgressions against them.
Whereas before Elliot had planned to put up a token fight and then let them have him, now he didn’t even bother to put on more than his jeans before he went out to meet them. He certainly wasn’t disappointed as he saw some of his greatest hits. The Barbed Wit and Dr. Yankem were there setting up what looked to be some sort of tractor beam. The Black Hole Brothers were lugging a damn rail gun between them. Then there was the Creeping Darkness and Captain Shadow; both of whom were trapped in the shadows of nearby trees. Not the best choice in supervillains for a daytime attack, but he did admire the gumption.
Elliot smiled; it would be too easy. He launched himself into the air barely a millisecond before the tractor beam would have locked him in place. To their credit, the Dr. and the Wit did manage to snag a bumblebee that was flying by. Elliot landed behind the Brothers, grabbing the rail gun with one hand, and elder brother Marcus with the other. He launched Marcus into Dr. Yankem and the Barbed Wit before kicking younger brother Daniel into the tree line.
To make sure the gun was out of commission, Elliot jabbed the barrel into the ground, then used a snap kick to break it in half. Before any of the villains could gather themselves he dragged them all over to the same shadow where the Creeping Darkness and Captain Shadow had inadvertently trapped themselves, then pointed the tractor beam at them, freezing them in place for the sheriff to handle. It all took less than three minutes.
Elliot came back into the living room to see that Vivica hadn’t bothered to redress, but had helped herself to another beer and another album. This album was a pretty lacy white and did not depict any stories of grand heroic feats; this one opted for flower arrangements and hors d’oeuvre ideas instead. Ideas for the dream wedding they’d never had…yet.
She looked up from her prize, smiling at him. “You always were such a terrible liar.”
“You didn’t think to come and help me with that mess out there?” he jokingly chided.
“Oh, did you break a nail without me?” She shot back with a grin.
He couldn’t help but smile as he joined her on the floor. Though he knew this one moment of happiness wouldn’t fix all his problems, (and if he could be honest it probably wouldn’t fix any of them) he would take that moment of happiness. And he decided that if it was for her then the world, whether it needed or wanted him or not, would have to put up with him just a little longer.
- A Brew & A Brood - February 12, 2023