struck a match and lit it
january 10, 2021 — liam & stella sawyer

After working overnight, then going with Liam to the shelter to see the dog he wanted to get, Stella had slept hard all day. Happily so, with an eye mask and ear plugs to keep out any of the ruckus she assumed would come with Liam having Roman over and trying to cook something. She woke up still alive and with the room around her not engulfed in flame, so she had to assume it hadn't gone horribly — though if it had been edible remained to be seen.

She slipped on her robe and headed downstairs, almost making it into the kitchen before the smell registered. Something had definitely burnt, and that realization got rid of any sleepiness that had been lingering. A few steps more and she could clearly see whatever was left from the fire extinguisher, which she'd mentioned to Liam as a joke, being used. Stella closed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath and slowly exhaling. No one had been hurt, she assumed since she hadn't been woken up. Nothing appeared to be damaged, not really.

Coffee had been what she'd gone downstairs for, but given the state of things she poured herself a glass of wine instead, taking a healthy sip of it before calling out for her brother. "Liam!"

Historically, macaroni and cheese hadn’t given him much trouble. Liam had made enough Kraft in his freshman year at college alone that the process of boiling water and dumping in a box of noodles had become practically second nature. He prided himself on not having to measure out the butter. That afternoon with Ro, however, he had gotten a little bolder, finding a recipe online for homemade mac and cheese — the real stuff — and jumping off of the culinary cliff. Fifteen minutes in, and his friend was dousing him in white foam from the fire extinguisher, the acrid, chemical smell filling the kitchen and masking the leftover hints of smoke from his charred sweatshirt. Because he had been on fire. Not figurative fire, literal, super-hot, fire.

The two had cleaned it up as best as they could, but they were still reeling from the not-so-near-death experience, and their minds had clearly been elsewhere. Once Roman had headed back home, Liam had locked himself in his room with a Zippo lighter, holding his open palm over the flame for as long as he could. As it turned out, ‘as long as he could’ was a very long time. The fire licking around his hand was very real, but he couldn’t feel anything. He knew he wasn’t immune to any and all pain – he’d smashed his elbow on the side of the sink in the fray to extinguish himself earlier, and that certainly registered — so far, it was just fire. Which, concerningly, fit right into the narrative of the email he’d received the month before. It was just a matter of time before he started spontaneously combusting. Hopefully in private.

Liam was rolling his fingers in and out of the fire as Stella called up the stairs for him, quickly flicking the Zippo shut and shoving it into his front pocket. With a quiet, resigned huff, he pulled himself off of his bed, taking the stairs two by two and slowly trekking into the kitchen, rubbing sheepishly at the back of his neck when he took in the damage from earlier. “Wow. I thought we did a better job at cleaning this up. I know, I know... I’ll, uh, I’ll fix it.” The foam had evaporated into a thin, white powder which coated every visible surface. He didn’t even know where to start. “If it makes you feel better,” he began, turning on the water and quickly rinsing the remains of his charred sweatshirt down the drain. “We both agreed that takeout is the way to go from here on out.”

Stella was more concerned about the blasé vibes she got from her brother, that he was so calm and indifferent about the apparent fire that had happened. Something looked off about him, but these days she didn't know what 'normal' was. She studied him as he stood at the sink, her head tilting as she frowned in thought.

"I don't care about the mess," she started, giving a shake of her head as she took a step closer. "You're... are you okay? What happened? I'd been joking about you not burning the house down, I didn't actually expect a fire. Did anyone get hurt?"

Liam had done his fair share of wigging out since being sprayed in the face with a fire extinguisher. Roman had been his first sounding board, and then he'd called Kaia in full crisis mode, so by the time Stella had awoken from hibernation, he had moved back from the proverbial edge. "It was me. I was the fire." Fully prepared for the blank look on Stella's face, he dug the Zippo from his front pocket, already desensitized to what was about to happen. Liam spun the lighter between his fingers, leaning himself against the countertop. "I learned a cool new parlor trick today. I mean, a part of me didn't disappear, but I did light myself on fire... accidentally... with no follow up trip to the ER. Ruined one of my favorite sweatshirts, though, not too stoked on that."

Liam understood how differently the afternoon could have gone. His way of coping with the insane changes that both he and his sister were going through was through feigned disinterest — a step away from shutdown mode. "Check this out." Skillfully, he flipped open the lighter, sparking a flame which he proceeded to stick his hand directly into the center of. "It's not as impressive as it was when my whole arm went up earlier." Before she had time to freak out, he offered out his palm to her, a bemused smile on his face. "See? No harm done. Not a blister, not a scratch."

A blank look was exactly what he got, at first. Stella blinked, his words slowly registering and trying to make sense in her brain. I was the fire. Not the food, him. Her lips parted as she went to speak, but then pressed together again as she didn't know what to say. A few weeks ago, all of this would have sounded impossible and ridiculous, she would have rolled her eyes and told him to just tell her the truth. But she'd lost a week of her life, had an email telling her about superheros, parts of her body kept disappearing and coming back.

"Okay," she said slowly, a pinch forming in the middle of her brow when he flicked the lighter on. Even with him saying he'd been on fire, that he was fine, she still drew in a sharp breath when Liam stuck his hand right in the flame. Not freaking out, but the gears in her head turning still. Stella took his hand in hers when he held it out, running her thumb over his palm before poking and prodding at it in a little more of an inspection. "What does it feel like? Does it hurt, tingle, pins and needles, anything?"

If he hadn’t gotten the email last month, he would have been teetering on the edge of a full-fledged panic attack, but it was still there, taking up space in his inbox, labeling as something that he didn’t ask for (but that sounded kind of cool). Plus, Stella’s foot kept disappearing and reappearing, so it wasn’t exactly his first brush with something that he couldn’t science his way out of. “It kind of tickles? Pins and needles might be a good way to put it. It’s just.. I don’t know, it’s a weird feeling, but obviously it’s better than the alternative.” Liam didn’t know what being on fire felt like, but he wasn’t in a rush to find out.

Once Stella had finished with her quick medical assessment, he held his hand up in front of his face, rubbing the residual ‘weirdness’ from the center of his palm with his thumb. “This stuff is going to keep happening, isn’t it? Your foot, my... whatever this is? Until I eventually start spontaneously combusting for fun and you disappear altogether?” Liam let his words roll over in his mind, realizing they had been much heavier on the doom and gloom than he had intended. “I’m sure you’ll get a hold on the invisible woman thing, but in the meantime, use your powers for good. I’d hate to lose all those privacy points we banked by not having to share a bathroom.”

Stella was far from done, she'd make him sit down and let her do a quick check of all his vitals to see if anything stuck out as strange — but that could wait. She considered his description, taking a slow sip of her wine as she filed it away. Just one more oddity to add to the never-ending list that was their recent world. That email they'd received had been the tip of the iceberg, provided just enough information to be helpful while still not helping at all.

"Can you please stop saying that?" Stella set her glass down and rubbed her hand over her face, as if that would push away the incredibly uneasy feeling that swept over her at the thought of disappearing — even if she would still be there, just invisible. It would be different if they knew why, or how, and how to reverse it, but they didn't. "It's — I don't know. Parts of me disappearing, it's a problem but you catching on fire could be incredibly dangerous. We don't know how or why, you know? And without that, control is essentially impossible."

“But I’m not,” he interjected, reaching behind Stella to grab the already opened bottle of wine. “— Catching on fire. In fact, it looks like me catching on fire is kind of impossible. At least for now. One superpower at a time, Stells.” Liam snatched a mug from beside the coffee maker, blowing a puff of dust from the bottom before turning it over to fill it with wine. Halfway. Half a glass would help to quiet down the alarms that had been sounding between his temples for the last couple of hours, while more than that would worsen the spiral. “Ro got me a fire blanket for Christmas. There’s always that? But we should probably invest in more fire extinguishers. And a better smoke alarm — I can’t believe that didn’t wake you up.” A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips from behind the rim of the mug as he tiptoed around the serious subject in an attempt to lighten the mood.

After a long, long sip of wine, he wrinkled his nose and kept the mug close to his chest. “I’m not saying it’s not scary, because it is. I’m just – I don’t want to get too into it, you know? My brain is tired.” There was a brief, despondent glance tossed toward the garbage can he had stuffed his charred sweatshirt into earlier. “That was my favorite YSL hoodie. It took years of breaking it in to get it that soft. Poof, gone. May she rest in peace.” Liam set the mug on the counter to loosely rest his arm over Stella’s shoulders, his head angled toward her. “We’ll be okay. We grew up with mom and dad... this is nothing compared to that.”

She drew in a breath, exhaling slowly to keep from snapping at him. Liam was trying to lighten things up, like he so often did. He was the one who'd been on fire, not her, so if he was trying to play it down it wasn't her job to stoke it back up. Stella hated not knowing things, hated it. She'd gone to great lengths in her life to have a wealth of knowledge at her disposal, right up there in her brain. Even collaborating with Reed hadn't helped, neither of them had been able to find answers. When it came to matters like this, where body parts were disappearing or catching on fire, answers felt even more important than ever. Not getting into it, as Liam had said, wasn't something she could do. Not when it was something this big.

"I just want to understand it," she said quietly, arm coming to rest around his back after his settled on her shoulders. The corners of her mouth tugged down in a frown at his mention of their parents, which was a fair enough point but still. "We need to understand it to control it. I know you don't want to get into it right now, I know, but soon? I'll get you a new hoodie, I don't care, just — I'm worried, okay?"

Liam and Stella were radically different people with radically different ways to approach problems. While Stella was often the cool and collected one who spent hours trying to figure out the why, Liam had a tendency to shelve things until they a) swelled to catastrophic proportions, b) went away on their own, or c) blew up in his face. It wasn’t like he was bursting into flame without a little help or bursting through the ceiling to fly through the skies of San Francisco in a dazzling and completely involuntary display. No. He’d deal with those problems when they arose — probably by not dealing with them at all. However, he did perk up at the prospect of a new hoodie.

“I know you’re worried but worrying about things that haven’t happened yet isn’t going to do either of us any good... right? And as for the kitchen – I’ll clean it up. I promise. I just needed a little time away from the stove. Nothing but the microwave and takeout from here on out.” Liam made a small x over his heart with his fingers, offering her a warm smile before turning on the tap in the sink. “Kaia’s coming over in a little bit. Just so you’re not freaked out by someone else being here.” If anyone could bring him back down to earth, it was Kai. The water sent a curl of steam rising to the ceiling, and he held the sponge beneath the spray until it was saturated. “If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll make a date with Reed to get checked out. I’m not signing any releases, but if he wants to, I dunno, see how far this goes — with safety nets in place in case things go bad — I could do that. For science.”

Yes, they were incredibly different people. For instance, Stella could make a list of all the reasons why worrying about something that hadn't happened yet was a good idea. After all, they were in new territory and the rules were unknown. There hadn't been an instance of Liam spontaneously setting anything on fire prior to earlier that day, but it had still happened. What was the next step? How long until it evolved to something else? She'd been dealing with her invisibility problem for days and still had no idea how it worked, why, what to do about it. Liam's new talent, it was dangerous. For instance, what if he'd spontaneously combust while he was standing there with his arm around her shoulders? That was the kind of thought running through Stella's mind and the reason she couldn't relax about it, be as chill as Liam seemed to be. Someone had to plan for the worst, in case it happened.

Stella worried at the inside of her lip, not wanting to harp on about things she knew Liam clearly wanted to dismiss. If it'd been her who'd been on fire, she would've freaked out and tried to escape that particular reality for a while herself. Drinking what was left in her glass, she closed her eyes a moment before looking at her brother. "Okay, talk to Reed please, I'm sure he'll want to try and figure it out," she started, grateful to take that win since he'd suggested it himself. "I want to check your vitals to make sure nothing's going on, before Kaia gets here."