If you’re looking for the beginning of this story (with an explanation as to what this is all about), it’s here: https://atomicfeminist.com/2019/12/20/women-in-fridges-a-cold-day-in-hell-part-1-boy-meets-girl-girl-meets-fridge/ You can click through to the rest either via the prompts from the site or links in the stories. Thanks for reading!
Before Zoe could reply Sanjay blasted her with fire again and if she’d been a second slower, her healing abilities would have gotten another workout. She wrapped herself in coldness and the flames passed by on either side of her without hurting her. It was terrifying though because she still didn’t feel quite up to snuff; the heat seeped in, she could feel the temperature rising despite her best efforts.
She pieced it together that however long she’d been out had been enough time for Sanjay to recover from whatever Desire had done to him. Maybe not all the way, in fact probably not all the way at all, since he didn’t heal fast like she did, but still. She realized with dismay that in her diminished condition Sanjay could beat her. If he’d been at full power, she’d most likely be dead, actually dead, no backsies this time.
And he was getting stronger every moment that passed. Zoe just hoped she was getting stronger too.
The flames stopped suddenly. He was much closer now, apparently he’d walked several yards towards her while he was shooting her. She could see his face clearly. He grimaced and Zoe understood that he’d run out of steam and couldn’t work his flamethrower eyes any more. She said a quick prayer of thanks that Captain Obvious was still very far from full strength. It provided her the window of opportunity she’d been hoping for. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s really me, Sanjay listen…”
Before she knew what had happened she found herself across the room pressed up against the wall by the entrance to the warehouse. Sanjay’s hand gripped her throat and he was choking her but of course it didn’t hurt since she didn’t feel pain any more. She felt him collapse her windpipe shut totally and crush the hyoid bone in her throat. The arteries carrying blood to her brain squeezed off and everything started to go dark. She felt her tissues hemorrhaging as the tips of his fingers penetrated her skin and she wondered if he was going to rip her throat right out. But then he smashed her a few times against the wall instead. The bones of her spine audibly cracked as they shattered.
Zoe knew if it went on much longer she would lose consciousness and she might miss her chance to convince him who she really was if that happened. She didn’t even want to consider what might happen if she lost her head totally, if he ripped it from her body; it seemed like maybe not even she could come back from that. She had to make him listen, but she couldn’t catch her breath to speak. He slammed her into the wall again and her skull fractured. Her vision went red, bright red for a moment but then her bones started knitting back together again and Zoe was able to shake it off.
Sanjay sucked air through his teeth and snarled at her. “Why are you not dying?”
She reached up and raked him across the cheek with her fingernails and to her surprise she actually broke his skin. 4 lines of blood welled from his cheek and since Sanjay wasn’t used to people being able to hurt him, he inhaled sharply and released his grip just a little in surprise. Zoe was able to suck in a breath and scream loud enough to knock him back a couple paces.
There was a metallic whine as DeShawn Wallace pressed his stun gun against the temple of Captain Obvious. Zoe expected him to try and talk him around, convince him, but Wallace didn’t hesitate, just fired the gun time after time, one, two, three, four, five times, and on the fifth time, Sanjay finally blinked and stumbled to the side and fell over.
Before Zoe could react Wallace was standing over Sanjay and firing into his forehead this time, 3 more times, and then the gun clicked empty and wouldn’t shoot any more. “Ten shots,” Wallace complained, “I’m supposed to have TEN shots, bitches, TEN on full charge, god damn it!” After nearly throwing the gun away in disgust, he holstered his now-useless weapon and vowed to have some words with the department. By that time Zoe had recovered enough to move and so she rushed over and slid on her knees next to Sanjay’s head. “Be careful, Zoe, that’s all I got. And it never would have worked except for that Obvious was already in a weakened condition.” Wallace thought Zoe should probably get the hell out of there, but he figured she wouldn’t go even if he told her to, and she thought the exact same thing of him.
“I got it, I understand,” Zoe said. Sanjay groaned. “Sanjay, listen, it’s me, it’s really me, ok?”
His eyes flipped open and the enraged and vicious expression returned. “Who are you!?” he screamed and spit flew out of his mouth when he did. But physically he was so diminished he couldn’t do anything other than raise a hand and paw at the air uselessly.
Wallace put up a hand to stop Zoe from talking as he squatted nearby, resting his arms on his upper thighs. “Cap, ok, think about it man, be cool, just think it through, baby, ok? Shapeshifters, they’ve only ever found two, two in the whole wide world in all this time, does it make any fucking sense at all that with only two shapeshifters ever found in the entire world in nearly 100 years of superhumans that you got two more of em in front of you here today??”
“Not you. HER. She tricked you. She tricked you! That is NOT ZOE!!” he shouted and flailed wildly with his arms and legs. Zoe was dismayed to see him rise several inches off the ground before dropping back to earth again. He was already coming back from being stunned, which, that wasn’t good. Zoe had hoped for more time to get through to him..
“Oh, sure, I’m the figment of everyone’s imagination and you’re the real deal!” Zoe said to Detective Wallace bitterly.
“He did see you dead, Zoe, it’s probably pretty hard to reconcile.” Then he turned back to Captain Obvious. “Even if she was a shapeshifter, even if she pulled the wool right over my eyes, why would a shapeshifter you never met before come here and risk her life to save you? Does that make any sense at all, Cap any sense at all?”
“The government,” Sanjay said.
“The government? The government already scrambled the big heroes out after you, man! You think they’re gonna send one little girl after you? YOU? We’re the only friends you got right now so stop fighting and give us a chance to explain, would you?”
“Sanjay, it’s me, I promise. Ask me anything, ask me something only I would know.”
But he must have been convinced already by what Wallace had said. “Is it…is it really you, Zoe? Really?”
His voice cracked on the word “really” and Zoe got so emotional she couldn’t speak, just nodded.
“It’s really her,” Wallace confirmed.
“How.” Sanjay couldn’t believe it, he couldn’t let himself believe it. He glanced at the person claiming to be Zoe and then looked away, afraid that if he looked too long he would get sucked into this insane fantasy, and even more afraid that if he looked too close he’d see something that would prove to him that this person wasn’t Zoe at all. And that’s if this was even reality, which it probably wasn’t. The most likely explanation was that this was a dream, he was gonna wake up back in the cage with the vampire standing over him sucking his life away. But if it was a dream was the realest goddamn dream he had ever had and even as he actively tried to fight it off, he felt a tiny flicker of hope.
“I’m like you now, or something, I guess, and I just…I didn’t die.”
“You’re like me?”
“Well, not exactly, but I could do things I couldn’t before, like…survive.”
“Oh, my God, Zoe, oh my God! No way!”
“Way,” she breathed weakly, since it seemed like something the old Zoe would have said. She suddenly felt it was very important to let Sanjay see only the old Zoe since for all she knew he wouldn’t like the new one at all.
For his part, Sanjay suddenly felt it was very important for Zoe to see him being stoic and manly and not completely losing it even though on the inside he was 100% totally and completely losing it. “That’s, that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s…” he stammered, trying to find a word that would express the cacophonous crescendo of emotions he was experiencing without making Zoe feel like she needed to comfort him, that she needed to be strong for him. Because if it was Zoe, if it was really Zoe, he didn’t want to ask that of her. “That’s, that’s…” If it was really Zoe wanted to be a rock for her and ask nothing from her although he felt a lot more like 100 billion grains of sand being blown every direction by a windstorm rather than a rock. But he couldn’t find the right word. “That’s.” He stood up instead to distract everyone including himself from the fact that he was a fucking mess.
“Are you ok?” she asked him, as Sanjay struggled to his feet. It seemed like his knees were still wobbly; he even stutterstepped to the side till he got his balance, and he was favoring one of his legs. Zoe knew that in addition to the stuns to the head, Desire had undoubtedly done to him what he did to her, and while she’d been able to bounce back from it fairly easily, Sanjay wasn’t able to heal like she could, as evidenced by the scratches she’d put on his cheek which were oozing blood still.
And that didn’t even get into the emotional shit. He had just crushed her throat himself which would require some considerable unpacking, not to mention the whole Flat Stanley thing. He was probably a fucking mess and didn’t want to let her see it.
“Are you ok?” he asked, and even though Zoe tried really hard to nod and say yes enthusiastically for his sake and be all like NBD she just couldn’t. No matter how bad he needed her to be ok, no matter how bad she wanted to be ok for his sake, she was not ok. She managed one measly nod and a shrug and Sanjay saw right through it. “You’re not ok.”
Zoe felt her face crumple and then she shook her head and started crying. Sanjay pulled her up from where she was kneeling on the floor and wrapped his arms around her, and she was so so so incredibly relieved that it didn’t feel scary or strange when he touched her, in his arms felt like the place she was meant to be just the same as it did before. It occurred to her that while there was certainly no shortage of terrible men in the world, there were so many other men who were good men and tried to protect you from the bad ones, who wanted to keep you safe, who would even give their lives for you if it came to that, and she felt a renewal of faith.
“You’re not ok, of course you’re not ok, I’m sorry, Zoe, I’m so sorry,” Sanjay murmured into her hair and as Zoe sobbed into his chest, she could feel him shuddering, and she knew he was crying too.
Detective Wallace took a few steps back to give them some privacy and checked his phone. He had 477 new messages and he knew a good 466 of them were about Obvious. He considered cancelling the rogue alert on Captain Obvious right then and there. But he didn’t feel like he could till he’d talked to the guy and figured out where his head was at. Heroes went rogue and stayed rogue for reasons far less than what Obvious had been through and Wallace just, he needed to be totally sure. He wouldn’t be doing his job if he wasn’t. “Obvious,” he called, wishing he could give them just a little more time. But for all he knew any second the Flying Brick was gonna come busting down the door like the Kool Aid man wondering why there were two dead superhumans on the floor instead of in a paddy wagon on the way to jail.
Captain Obvious raised his head and Wallace was relieved to see he looked like himself again, no more crazy eyes and hungry alligator smile. Zoe Rose reached up and wiped the tears from off the guy’s cheeks with a proprietary and brilliantly sparkling thumb and while he was happy for them and everything, Wallace felt a small blurp of jealousy. He was on his second divorce, and it just seemed like sometimes all the happy endings were for other people. “DeShawn, thank you, man, seriously, I can’t thank you enough for what you did here today. If there’s ever anything I can do, anything at all…”
“Well, there is something you can do, Cap, you can give me some assurance you’re gonna behave yourself. No more rogue shit, right?”
“I…I…I can’t, I can’t though, because I still have to kill Flat Stanley.” Then he looked at Zoe for confirmation. “It was Flat Stanley?”
“Was it ever,” she said, and she saw a hint of that same unhinged bloodthirstiness settle back onto Sanjay’s face.
“Come on, dude!” Wallace interrupted. “Don’t go there!”
But before he could get rolling, Zoe continued. “You don’t, though.”
“Zoe, seriously, yes, I do. I have never needed to do anything more. Don’t try to stop me.”
“No, you don’t, see, because I already did, see?” She pointed at the floor and there were all these little pieces of bloody flesh everywhere and a whole bunch of rats had come out of somewhere and were eating the pieces of flesh and carrying other pieces of flesh away to feed their rat babies. “The cycle of life continues.”
“You did that?” Sanjay asked her, and grabbed her upper arms to push her back far enough to look in her face. Zoe’s heart skipped a beat and then another beat thinking he was going to be horrified by what she’d done, I mean after all he was a superhero for Christ’s sake, he put people like her away. But much to her relief he had a wry, impressed grin on his lips. “Nice work!” he crowed proudly.
“God damn it, you two, that was NOT nice work!” Detective Wallace was so irritated he stamped his foot and swung his fist in front of himself. He pointed at Captain Obvious. “It was illegal, highly, incredibly illegal what she did, and I should have called it in when it happened. But this is about you, Obvious, YOU. Not her right now. You. We’re gonna get to her in a minute, now we’re talking about you. You need to promise me, and I mean right now, that you are through with this vigilante shit. You get me? No more. I don’t even want you looking cross-eyed at a bad guy without going through the proper channels. You need to get a search warrant to get a search warrant, from here on in. I’m gonna call in and cancel the rogue alert, and I’ll do it with joy in my heart, my friend, but be aware I’m putting my reputation on the line for your spandex-clad ass, and before I do I want an assurance that you aren’t going to screw me over here, ok?”
“Ok, Wallace, yes, sure, ok. Of course.”
“And when you get far from here, far, far away, so they can’t triangulate this location and uncover the mess the two of you made here tonight, you’re gonna get in contact with your handlers and let them know everything is ok. You weren’t rogue, you were never rogue, this has all just been a big misunderstanding, and I’ll back you up. ”
“I’m not rogue, I was never rogue,” Obvious repeated, and smiled in a way that Wallace didn’t trust, not one bit.
“And another thing, your girlfriend, she’s gonna sign the paperwork, right here, right now.”
“Hey, way to talk about me like a piece of luggage, DeShawn.”
“Sorry, Zoe, I’m just hoping he can talk some sense into you.” Wallace pulled the paperwork up on his phone; Zoe could sign the agreement with a thumbprint and then once he was safely away a few blocks from the remains of two dead superhumans, he would upload it to the cloud. He shouldn’t be helping them cover this up, shouldn’t be helping them at all, should have called and turned them both in hours ago and waved faretheewell as the starcrossed lovers got dragged to Hellgate, but Desire was a pile of ash, even his bones were ash it looked like, and Flat Stanley was rapidly disappearing into the bellies of several dozen rats. The authorities, if they ever even found the remains, wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of any of it. Wallace just couldn’t bring himself to lose two potential allies – good people, no less – in exchange for justice for two monsters who the world was better off without.
Zoe tucked the curling edge of her blunt-cut brunette hair behind an ear. “Yeah, about good sense, guys? I’m not, actually, going to be signing the paperwork.”
Sanjay spun around on his heels to look at her so fast his cape swung out. “You’re not signing the paperwork?” He seemed more amused than surprised but Zoe felt queasy with nerves going against what she assumed his wishes would be.
“I just think I can do more good without signing the paperwork, Sanjay, is all. And um, I don’t want to make promises I’m not gonna be able to keep. Especially not to you.”
“God DAMN it, Zoe,” Wallace scrubbed a hand across his head and tried to decide what to do. He had a splitting headache from whatever Desire had done to him and he was just so over superhuman bullshit for one night it was ridiculous.
But before he could do anything, Captain Obvious turned back around to face the detective and said decisively, “She’ll sign the paperwork.”
“I’m not, though, Sanjay. I’m not signing the paperwork.” Zoe’s stomach clenched and her face glowed with heat, heat she found very unpleasant now that she had fridge powers and everything. She looked down and gulped and tried not to start sobbing again because that felt like a cheap and manipulative ploy. It was just that she didn’t want to lose him again, not after coming so close to losing him and both of them fighting their way back to each other somehow. She wanted her happily-ever-after, she wanted it more than anything. But he had to understand she just couldn’t be the hero the government wanted her to be. She had to be a different kind of hero in order to really make the world a better place for women like her. Otherwise she would just become part of the problem.
“Zoe,” said Sanjay very gently. He chucked her under the chin so she was staring up into his incredibly beautiful face. She loved him so much the thought that she was going to lose him made her nauseous and all hyperventilate-y but at the same time she loved him so much she couldn’t lie to him either. “Sign the paperwork.” She opened her mouth to protest, to explain her point of view, but then she noticed something about the tilt of his lips, the look in his eye, the set of his jaw, and while she couldn’t read his mind, she was suddenly certain she knew what he was thinking.
Sanjay was thinking that systems were funny things. People put so much faith into them, treated systems like these wise and perfect entities that could deal with any contingency no matter how unexpected, but at the end of the day systems weren’t only fallible, they were easy to beat. After all, the system had ignored Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein even though there were rumors about them for decades, and even jokes made right out in public. The system ignored Louis CK and Matt Lauer and Jimmy Savile because they existed within the system and the tendency of the system is to protect its own and look the other way. The Boy Scouts was part of the system. The US Gymnastics program was part of the system. The Catholic Church was part of the system. The criminal justice system let Brock Turner go with a slap on the wrist, not to mention Jeffrey Epstein and Mike Tyson. Woody Allen and Roman Polanski never even went to jail.
Great system. Wise system.
The United Bureau of Superheroes was part of the system.
That system set Flat Stanley free and never even managed to catch Desire. So why couldn’t a person, or a couple people, exploit the tendency of the system to be blind, deaf, corrupt, and impossibly stupid? A person or persons could, they could do exactly that, especially if they were hiding behind the smokescreen of respectability and the even better smokescreen of celebrity. The system could protect good people surely as it protected actually evil ones – if not even better. If they got caught, IF, it would be years and years down the road. They could do a lot of good behind the scenes and under the table in that amount of time.
Sanjay watched Zoe putting it all together, doing the calculus, following the implications to their logical end, and she smiled a tiny, wonderfully familiar mischievous smile that broke his heart into a thousand pieces since he was so happy to see it again. He pulled her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across her knuckles and squeezed her hand supportively as she pressed her thumbprint onto the detective’s phone, hereby registering herself as an Official Superhero, or she would be once Wallace pressed send a safe distance away from the crime scene.
“That’s more like it,” Wallace said, and then he left muttering something about how he’d say it had been fun, but it hadn’t been.
Zoe and Sanjay weren’t paying attention to him anyway. Sanjay burned what little was left of Desire and Flat Stanley into nothing and then he sizzled every surface he and Zoe might have touched in the warehouse so there wouldn’t be DNA or fingerprints left to find. All that was left was a cage and a folding chair, and someone would be confused by them when they showed up to the warehouse in the future, but that was it.
Then he picked up Zoe in his arms and flew off into the night. Zoe unfroze the sprinklers so they would wash away whatever was left of the two villains. She loved it how completely obliterated they both were, it was like they had never existed at all, really. They left nothing behind them, not a trace. They existed only in memories that Zoe intended to block out at the first available opportunity.
The further away they got from the glow of Los Urbanos, the better Zoe felt. It felt like everything terrible was receding into the distance leaving only the two people who mattered.
As they flew over the ocean Zoe felt a surge of instinct. She wriggled in Sanjay’s arms. “Let me go, I want to try something,” she said, and while Sanjay looked stern and worried, and she knew it was going to be hard for him to learn to trust in her strength, he let her go. She plummeted and as she did she started to scream. Just as she’d suspected, she could aim her voice down at whatever was below her, and was able to keep herself aloft that way.
She flew back up to where Sanjay waited. His eardrums were impervious to damage just like the rest of him so her screaming didn’t bother him at all. He said it sounded like music to him, like some sort of really beautiful alien music. They circled around each other in the moonlight playfully a few times. Then Zoe flew back to him and let him carry her again because she wanted to be carried for a while. She snuggled into Sanjay’s chest and was happy to find she still enjoyed his warmth even though she wasn’t cold at all and never would be again.
“So tell me, Killer, who are we going after first?” Sanjay asked.
Inexplicably, Zoe thought about her grandma all of a sudden. She had been married to Zoe’s grandpa for 62 years, which seemed like an impossible length of time. When Zoe asked her how two people could stay together so long in a world where everything had changed so much so fast, she had explained that sometimes when people are very, very lucky, they change in ways that bring them closer together, not further apart.
Zoe Rose really was blessed. Even cursed, she was still blessed.
She wasn’t sure, but she thought she might start with Chuck down at good old KAQT News.