Emma couldn’t believe she actually agreed to this.
The restaurant was packed, as she expected for a Saturday night. She didn’t like crowds much, and she liked eating out even less. When she wasn’t on the job, she preferred peace and quiet.
But, in a sense, she almost was on the job right now.
She felt someone grab her arm and nearly threw a punch.
“Honestly,” an all-too-familiar voice behind her sighed, “is this really the outfit you choose for a date night?”
“Don’t. Touch me.” Emma pulled her arm out of the woman’s grip and turned around. Somehow, she looked exactly like Emma expected; tan skin, a leather jacket, obscenely short shorts, fashionably ripped fishnet stockings. The green dye of her hair was even the same shade she normally wore in her costume, which was a nice touch. “You got a table yet?”
“Should be any– oh!” The device in the woman’s hand buzzed and started blinking. “You’ve got good timing! C’mon, let’s get satted.”
“That’s not a word.” Emma kept her eyes on the floor as she followed the other woman to their table, murmuring a “thanks” to the waitress as she handed them their menus. She tried to ignore the person sitting across from her, until she pulled Emma’s menu down and stared straight at her.
“I’m Nova, by the way,” the woman said.
Emma set her menu down and grumbled. “That your real name?”
“Could be. It sounds a little better than ‘Pychlone,’ doesn’t it, Sta–”
“Quiet!” Emma hissed. “Not in public. Christ, are you always this loose-lipped about your identity?”
Nova held her mouth open for a moment, then closed it. “So what’s your name?”
“Uh huh. Sure it is.”
“You think I’m lying?”
“No, I just don’t think a–” Nova leaned low and whispered “–superhero who’s so uptight about secret identities would call herself ‘Starling’ if her first name was Clarice.”
Emma opened her mouth to speak, but closed it when the waitress showed up at their table.
“Evening,” the waitress said, a hint of exhaustion poking through her cheery demeanor. “Are you gals ready to order?”
“Let’s just start with drinks,” Nova replied. “I’ll have a Coke, she’ll have a–”
“I’ll just have water,” Emma said sternly. “I can order for myself, Nova.”
“Ohhhh kay,” the waitress murmured. “Coke and water. Anything else?”
“You wouldn’t happen to have a nice chianti, would you?” Nova chuckled.
The waitress blinked. “Ma’am, this is a Chili’s.”
“I know, it’s… ah, never mind. Oh, some chips and salsa, too.”
“You got it.” The waitress wrote the order down and walked away, shaking her head.
Emma drummed her fingers on the table. “So what’s wrong with my outfit, anyway?”
Nova sighed dramatically. “Oh, come on, ‘Clarice.’ A sweatshirt and yoga pants? On what planet is that an acceptable outfit for a date?”
“This isn’t a date, ‘Nova.’ This is just two… acquaintances getting dinner.”
“Aw, you only think of me as an acquaintance?” Nova pouted.
“What else would I– ugh, whatever.” Emma groaned and buried her face in her hands. “Anyway, what do you call your outfit? You look like an extra in Mad Max or something.”
“What? That’s not even… like, because of the jacket?”
“Just, the whole…” Emma waved her hand around. “I dunno! I don’t do fashion!”
“Yeah, I can tell,” Nova giggled. “That little number you wear on your ‘day job’ is just appalling. Whose idea was the fringe on the arms?”
“It’s supposed to be like… wings? I guess?” Emma shrugged. “Anyway, what do you care what I dress like?”
Nova stared at Emma and smiled warmly. “I just think it’d be nice if you dressed up a little more.”
Emma put the finishing touch on her mascara and stepped back from the mirror. Her face almost seemed like it belonged to a different person; smoother, more dolled up. It was different, but… not bad. She looked down at her outfit, nerves starting to creep into her gut. The crop top was a little more revealing than she usually wore, but it wasn’t showing that much more skin than her uniform. It was the skirt that gave her pause. She didn’t wear skirts. She never felt comfortable in skirts or dresses or anything “too” feminine. But… She swayed from side to side, watching the skirt twirl around her waist. It didn’t feel as weird as she thought it would. It actually felt… kinda…
Emma blinked and shook her head. “Wh-Wha… What the fuck was…”
“Oh, shit, did I do something?” Nova looked concerned.
“I… just…” Emma sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Just be careful, alright? You were supposed to give up that whole brainwashing gimmick if I agreed to do this.”
“I’m not brainwashing you,” Nova snapped. “It’s just… sometimes I lose track of what my brain’s doing, and it creates some feedback.”
“Well, try harder. I don’t need you in my head.”
Nova frowned and looked away. “I don’t want to be,” she murmured.
As if to break up the awkwardness, the waitress returned with their drinks. She set them down on the table and fished her notepad out of her apron. “Now, are you two ready to order?”
“Uh, sure.” Emma looked down at her menu and shrugged. “I guess I’ll have the… grilled chicken salad?”
“Mushroom jack chicken fajitas for me,” Nova said.
“You got it.” The waitress scribbled their order on her notepad and walked away.
Emma scratched the back of her head. This dinner – or date, or whatever Nova wanted to call it – was already going terribly. She didn’t want to pretend she was into this woman, but she was already skeptical of the idea that Nova would actually quit being a supervillain if she agreed to do this. If she had a bad time, that might be enough justification for her to go back to being Psychlone.
“So, uh…” Emma was never good at small talk. But she figured she should give it a shot. “How’d you, like… get into the business?”
“‘The business?’ That’s what you call it?” Nova chuckled.
“Well, I don’t really wanna be shouting out what I do for a living in a crowded place, do I?”
“Nah, guess not.” Nova sighed and blew a strand of hair out of her face. “Well, as I think all post-humans do, I first discovered my powers when I was about 12. My teacher, Ms. Fox? She was, just, the worst. Really strict, really serious, never even hinted that she had the capacity to smile. Like that evil bitch in Matilda, you know?”
“I never saw that movie.”
“Y– Well, you didn’t have a childhood, more like. But anyway, one day I just started daydreaming. I imagined her giving up for the day and letting us run around on the playground. And then she did.”
Emma raised an eyebrow. “So you brainwashed your teacher into letting you play instead of learn?”
“Well, it wasn’t on purpose,” Nova said, rolling her eyes. “It’s like what just happened with you; the fantasy must’ve, like, bled out into her mind. Anyway, we all got caught and the principal made us go back in the classroom, but every day after, she’d try to get us to sneak out again. Like the idea had just… infected her. It took them a few weeks before they realized that something had gone seriously wrong with Ms. Fox. She got removed from the class and we got a new teacher, but by then I’d kinda figured out that I did something. I wasn’t sure what, but I kept daydreaming, hoping that whatever I did would happen again. And… it sure did.”
“The way you say that sounds like it went really poorly.”
Nova smiled sheepishly. “You know… I was about that age when boys and girls start getting those funny feelings they can’t explain, and their parents gotta sit them down and have The Talk. And the new teacher, Mrs. Baker? I definitely had some feelings about her I couldn’t process yet…”
“Um…” Emma wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear more. “I-I think I get the–”
“So anyway, I made my teacher flash her boobs to the whole class.” Nova took a sip of her drink and smirked as Emma blushed furiously. “She was mortified, obviously. I mean, she was basically a tradwife; she only took the teacher gig because that’s one of the only jobs a married woman should have. So she told the principal what happened, and he and the other school board people put two and two together and realized there was a psychic kid in that class. They suspected the boys at first, but none of them had any readings on whatever that stupid machine was.”
“S-So,” Emma stammered, trying to maintain her composure. “So then they tested the girls, and that’s when they found you?”
“Correctamundo. Y’know, sometimes I still think about it. It’s one of those, like, formative memories, right? You just don’t forget something like…” Nova trailed off. Her cheeks went red. “I think it happened again.”
“What happened again?”
Nova silently pointed at Emma’s chest.
“Oh, fuck!” Emma looked down and–
She frowned. Her sweatshirt was still on, and her breasts were still fully covered.
“Ha! Made you look!” Nova chortled.
“That’s not funny!” Emma scowled.
“Oh, I think it’s very funny.” Nova took another sip of her drink and sighed contentedly. “So, you wanna share your story? How you found out you were special?”
“There’s… not much to tell.” Emma crossed her arms and looked off to the side. “My neighbors had a trampoline, and they’d let me play on it sometimes. I was pretty close friends with their daughter. One day, I jumped and didn’t fall back down.”
“How’d the neighbor kid react?”
“We both thought it was cool. We ran to tell our parents, and… then the Bureau came.”
“The fucking Bureau,” Nova said bitterly.
Emma raised an eyebrow and flicked her eyes over to Nova. “Sounds like you have some experience.”
Nova stayed quiet for a few moments. “…Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and tell younger me to just lay low. So I wouldn’t have gotten caught.” She looked down at the floor; her expression was a blank, but the rage shown through in her eyes. “They don’t look at you as human. Oh, sure, they’ll give you a cake on your birthday, and maybe they’ll let you talk to your folks once in a while, but…” She sighed and flashed a hollow smile. “Shit, I’m spoiling the mood, aren’t I? This is supposed to be fun.”
“Yeah, but…” Emma looked at Nova’s face – really looked, like it was the first time she’d really seen Nova. Without the mask hiding her face, without the cocky attitude clouding Emma’s perception of her; just as a person. “…I’ve been there. I think you either get used to it, or it breaks you.”
“You shouldn’t have to ‘get used to it.’ I mean, we were kids. We deserved more than getting poked and prodded by creeps in lab coats and shoved into a concrete cell when they got bored of us.”
“I don’t think I’d call it a cell, but…” Emma shrugged. “Maybe I had it easier.”
“You probably did,” Nova said. “American scientists always had an easier time experimenting on savages than people that looked like them.”
Emma felt the bitterness in her words like a knife in her gut. “Is that why you decided to become a supervillain?”
Nova rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, I’m hardly a supervillain.”
“You’ve put over three dozen people in the hospital.”
“Well, I wasn’t trying to! And it’s not like I killed anyone!”
Emma rubbed her forehead and smiled despite herself. “Y’know, it really doesn’t matter what you think you are. What matters is what you’ve done.”
“Yeah?” Nova leaned forward, uncomfortably close to Emma’s face. “And what have I done, exactly?”
“You’ve ruined people’s lives,” Emma seethed. “You think you can just pop into someone’s head, fuck around with it, and leave without causing some damage? Some people can’t cope with that. There’s people you’ve controlled who’re gonna be in therapy for years trying to fix what you did to them.”
“And?” Nova smirked. “Y’know, a lot of people could probably use therapy these days.”
“You’d be the one to ask, right?”
“Ooh, solid comeback,” Nova chuckled. “You write those yourself, or do you have someone do them for you?”
The men in suits all stood around her, tossing ideas back and forth over her head. Emma felt like they weren’t really looking at her as she was; more like she was a mannequin. Eventually, one of them would address her directly. “You need to smile more,” he’d say. “You don’t want to come across as too mean.” The rational part of Emma was humiliated. None of these people knew her, who she was, anything about her. But another part of her – a part of her she didn’t like thinking about – was almost relieved. It was exhausting trying to manage everything about her “image” on her own. Sometimes it was nice to just listen and follow orders.
“Emma?” Nova reached out and shook her arm. “Hey, you okay?”
“Huh?” Emma shook her head. “Uh, yeah. Fine. Just… I dunno, lost in thought, I guess.”
Nova smiled softly. “Y’know, uh… shit, I dunno how to say this without being weird.”
“Nah, nah, forget about it.”
Emma leaned forward. “Well, now you just made me wanna hear it more. C’mon, tell me!”
“You promise you won’t think it’s weird?” Nova asked.
“Well, I can’t promise. You can’t know how you’re gonna react to something until you hear it.”
Nova shrugged. “Fair point.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, just tell–”
Nova suddenly leaned forward and planted a kiss on Emma’s lips. Emma froze; first out of surprise, then out of confusion. It was so unexpected that her brain short-circuited.
Nova pulled away and saw their waitress standing next to them. “…Hi.”
“Hi.” The waitress set their chips and salsa on the table and stifled a laugh. “Y’all have fun, now.”
“Thanks,” Nova muttered, burying her face in her hands. “Ugh, that’s just typical. Sorry for embarrassing you.”
Emma blinked. “Um…”
“What is it? Is this just how you normally react to being embarrassed, or is this like extra bad?”
“Not… bad. Just, uh…” Emma averted Nova’s eyes and scratched the back of her head. “That was my… first.”
“…What the fuck?” Nova burst out into a fit of giggles, then clamped a hand over her mouth. “Shit, I’m sorry, that’s not funny. But, seriously, what the fuck?”
“I don’t know!” Emma blushed. “I guess I just never felt the need to? Or, like, got in a serious relationship or whatever.”
“Wait, wait wait wait wait wait…” Nova ran a hand through her hair. “Is this the first, like… actual date you’ve been on?”
“Maybe?” Emma groaned and rubbed her temple. “I mean, we had proms and stuff at the academy, but I only really paired up with guys because I was supposed to. I didn’t really do anything else besides that.”
“Guys? So are you bi, then?”
“Honestly? I thought I was straight. I only agreed to do this date thing because you said you’d stop doing supervillain stuff if I did.”
Nova furrowed her brow. “What, you’re not even into me? All this time I’ve had a crush on you and you weren’t even gay?”
“I’m– wait, what?” Emma blinked. “You have a crush on me?”
Nova sighed dramatically. “No shit, I have a crush on you! I mean, god damn, dude, you’re gorgeous!”
“Yes!” Nova paused. “Well, less so now, but when you’re in costume and stuff.” She paused again. “N-Not to say you don’t look good now! It’s just, uh… y’know…” She trailed off and grabbed a tortilla chip out of the basket. “…I’m just gonna shut up now.”
Emma couldn’t help but chuckle at Nova’s nervousness. It was a far cry from her theatrical, bombastic Psychlone persona. Now that she was actually talking with her, Nova seemed almost… normal. “It’s alright,” Emma said. “I’m… flattered? I just don’t really think too much about how I look. It’s weird for someone to say that about me.”
“But you gotta know you’re hot, right?” Nova asked. “I mean, look at yourself!”
“I don’t really see it that way,” Emma shrugged. “It’s, like… when I see myself in the mirror, I only see the flaws. The pores, the little bit of hair above my lip. I guess that’s how it is with most people, though, right?”
“Eh, not really. When I see myself, I go like, ‘damn, I’d hit that.’”
“I think that says more about you than it does about me.”
Nova chortled and shook her head. “Yeah, probably. But, seriously, you are beautiful. I’m not just saying that to get under your skin or make you drop your guard.” She reached out and touched Emma’s hand. “I… I wanna make this work. I want this to lead to something serious. Or serious-ish, anyway. I know it’s gotta be hard for you to see things that way, with me being your arch-nemesis and all, but can we at least, like, try?”
Emma laughed and threw her arms around Nova. The air was cold, snow clinging to their boots as they trudged through the greyish sludge that had accumulated on the sidewalk. But that didn’t matter. When they were together, the rest of the world fell by the wayside. It was just the two of them, together. Emma couldn’t think of anything better.
“…Sure,” Emma finally said. “And, uh… you can call me Emma.”
Nova double-checked her watch and smirked. It was amusing to her that she was late –fashionably so, not late late – to their first date, but now Emma was late to their second.
She tapped her foot and looked down at the movie tickets in her hand. Maybe she’d picked the wrong one? Emma said she could choose whichever she wanted to go see, but she might not have expected Nova to choose a horror movie. Or maybe her cab or bus or whatever was delayed? Would Emma have even used a car, or would she have flown here?
A pair of hands slipped in front of Nova’s eyes. “Guess who?”
Nova spun around and took a step back. She had to blink a couple times to make sure she wasn’t imagining things. “E-Emma?”
“Who else?” Emma chuckled. Nova barely recognized her. Gone were the sweatshirt and slightly-worn yoga pants; now she wore a dark blue crop top and a black skirt, revealing her toned abs and strong, muscular arms and legs. Her hair was down to her shoulders instead of in a messy bun, and she was even wearing makeup. Tasteful, subtle makeup, but still. It was wholly unexpected coming from Emma, but somehow, Nova felt like she’d seen it before.
“I-I wasn’t… I mean, um…” Nova swallowed and felt her cheeks burn. “You look nice.”
“Thanks.” Emma let out a nervous giggle and scratched her chin. “I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it. I told you I’m not good with fashion, but… I dunno, I just felt like I should try dressing up a bit more.”
Nova winced. Now she realized where she recognized that outfit from. That stupid fantasy she had back at the restaurant, the one Emma must’ve felt in her mind. As the two of them walked inside and got in line at the concessions stand, she started to notice other things about Emma that were different. She was a hell of a lot cheerier, for one thing. Nova tried to tell herself it was just because Emma was more comfortable being around her, but the nagging worry grew louder and louder.
She shook her head and tried to ignore it. “So, uh, do you like horror movies?”
“Oh, I don’t watch that many movies,” Emma replied. “But I don’t get scared too easily, so I should be–”
Emma peeked through her fingertips as the woman crept through the darkness. The score went eerily quiet, and Nova smiled as she knew exactly what was about to happen. A moment passed. Then another. Then, as the killer’s shadow emerged from the side of the frame, a loud musical sting blared from the speakers. Emma let out an adorable yelp and jolted, launching popcorn into the air. Nova wrapped an arm around Emma’s shoulders and laughed.
“–u-um.” Emma blinked rapidly, furrowing her brow. “I… I dunno. I can get really spooked sometimes, so… b-but I think I’ll be okay! As long as you’re okay with me, uh, screaming. A bit.”
“…Yeah, that’s okay.” Nova sighed and ran a hand through her hair. She knew what was happening. She never liked using her powers to change others, only to temporarily control them. She’d been trying as hard as she could to keep Emma as she was, but her fantasies still bled through.
Emma cocked her head to the side. “Is something wrong? You seem unhappy.”
“No, I… I dunno.” Nova rubbed her temple and stared into Emma’s eyes. “Are… are you happy?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“You don’t have to just say that. You can tell me if you’re not happy.”
“I told you, I am happy.” Emma grabbed Nova’s hands and held them tight. “I don’t know what it is, but… I’ve felt happier since our first date than I think I have in a long time. It’s, like… freeing, almost. Knowing you’re out of the game. And… I’ve actually been looking forward to this date since then. So I guess you could say you’ve won me over.”
Nova closed her eyes for a moment, then smiled. “Okay. As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.”
Emma raised an eyebrow. “Uh… alright?” She turned back to the front of the line and rolled her eyes. “Man, supervillains are fucking weird.”
“Oh? And you’re not?” Nova laughed and wrapped an arm around Emma’s shoulders. “What kind of self-respecting superhero would go on a date with their arch-nemesis, let alone two?”
“You’re retired – or at least you better be,” Emma retorted, smirking. “And you were hardly my arch-nemesis. You were a second-stringer at best.”
“Ah!” Nova gasped and clutched at her chest dramatically. “You wound me! Who knew the righteous defenders of our fair city could be so cruel?”
Emma giggled and slapped Nova playfully on the chest. “Shut up! You don’t want anyone to overhear, do you?”
“You’re the one who started talking about supervillains in the first place,” Nova retorted.
“Yeah, but you’re so much louder.”
“Maybe you’re just quiet.”
“Maybe you,” Emma replied, her voice going into a low whisper, “need to keep your voice down.” She grabbed Nova’s shoulder and pushed her against the wall, staring up into the former supervillain’s eyes with a startling intensity. “We wouldn’t want anyone to find out about our little secret, would we?”
“H-Huh?” Nova gasped. “Oh, um… n-no, course not.”
“That’s what I thought.” Emma smiled and planted a kiss on Nova’s cheek. “Jeez, did I scare you? You look super freaked out.”
“Just wasn’t expecting… that,” Nova muttered, clearing her throat. “I don’t mind it, though–”
Nova yelped as Emma’s hand made contact with her ass, her whole body jiggling in response. “One,” Emma counted, her voice a low, seductive growl. Another slap, another yelp. “Two.” Nova mewled and squirmed in Emma’s lap, her eyes lidded with lust. “Oh, you’re enjoying this?” Emma smirked. “And here I thought I was punishing you. But you’re just a naughty little slut, aren’t you?”
Emma’s eyelids fluttered. She let out a quiet gasp and covered her mouth.
Nova’s eyes widened. “E-Emma? You okay?”
“Yeah…” Emma hooded her eyes and grinned. “Better than okay, actually.” She grabbed Nova’s wrist and pulled her in close. “Y’know, I was thinking. Maybe after the movie, we could go over to my place and… get to know each other a little more?”
Nova gulped. “Uh… s-sure! I mean, if you really think bringing a supervillain into your lair is a good idea–”
“Oh, trust me,” Emma purred, hooking an arm around Nova’s waist and walking the two of them back towards the concessions stand. “I know exactly what I’m doing.”