Owen didn’t fault Galvanize for assuming they were dealing with a Super. He was in a dangerous situation, and a Super willfully causing fires would be his worst case scenario. It meant he had to run like hell and leave these people behind, because he wasn’t cleared to stop a fire-coated arsonist. It was a reasonable leap to make, but it was wrong.
There were things he recognized, as a former Hero, and as a father, that told him something was off. The blackened spots on the metal tub showed it had been used for similar purposes before. The people, probably her family, were scared and frantic but not lost in panic, and that meant this was something they’d come to terms with. The way the girl was sobbing and trying to bite back her fear spoke volumes of how much she hated what was happening to her. Above all was the efficiency of the system they were using to douse her. This had been planned, worked on, and drilled. They knew she might start burning, and they had a method in place to deal with it.
“It’s not a Super,” Owen said, correcting his team leader. “It’s a Powered. She can’t control it.”
“You can’t…” Galvanize’s words trailed off as his brain finally snapped to the context clues Owen had already seen. Fear had made him momentarily slow, not stupid. “Crud, I think you might be right.”
“I am right,” Owen stepped forward, his large body’s movement finally seeming to snap the people in the apartment aware of the costumed men’s presence. One of the older men lowered his bucket and raced over to Owen.
“No… go… Go Away!” His voice was heavy with a Hispanic accent, and his stilted way of speaking made it clear he was still learning English. Once upon a time Owen could have faked his way through some basic phrases, but Spanish was a skill he’d long ago let rust into oblivion on his mental shelf.
Galvanize, thankfully, had not been so lax in his language exercises. He hurried over immediately, snapping into a quick, fluent conversation with the older man. Owen was impressed; the kid even rolled his r’s, a trick he’d never managed to get down.
“I’m hitting a wall,” Galvanize told him after a few moments of conversation. “They understand that the building is on fire, but they’re refusing to leave. They seem keep to thinking we’re here to take the girl away.” He shot Owen a confused expression, visible even through the mask and breather apparatus on his face. “Any insight you want to offer?”
“Mirror Fog really did keep you kids away from other Supers, didn’t he?” Titan gave a small shake of his head. “Powereds with abilities that are a severe danger to others, ones like hers, are often put in ‘protective custody’ until they find a way to let them safely interact with society. Usually some tech-genius can slap a suit or something on them, but there’s always rumors of people never being heard from again.” Owen pointedly refrained from commenting on his own suspicions of the validity regarding those rumors. There were more important things at the moment.
“I can see how he’d be worried about that at the moment,” Galvanize said, sparing a moment to glance at the growing amount of fire filling the building. “But we need to get them out. I’m going to have to ask you to pick them up and remove them forcefully.”
“You open to a suggestion?”
“I’ll hear it out,” Galvanize assured him.
“They’re here to protect the girl. If I take her out, they’ll follow on their own. Faster and safer,” Owen pointed out.
“True but… well I guess you’re allowed to deal with her. But be gentle, Powered or not, she’s still a person.”
In that moment, Owen grudging respect for the young man leading this team of corporate shills metamorphosized into genuine affection. Job be damned, he liked this kid.
“Don’t worry,” Owen assured him, stepping past the older man still jabbing in a language he couldn’t understand. Dimly, he felt a pair of hands grip his bicep, some poorly thought out attempt at stopping him. His assailant, like countless others who’d tried such things before, was in for disappointment.
Owen continued forward, kneeling down next the metal tub and staring at the girl in the face. He smiled at her, his big, wide, corny grin that had endeared him to the hearts of the public so many years ago. It seemed he still had a bit of his old charming magic left, because the girl stopped crying long enough to turn and look at him.
“Are you okay?” His voice was calm and gentle, ignoring the urgency of the situation around him.
“No,” she said, her words high-pitched, hoarse, and heart breaking. “I can’t stop this time. I keep trying and it won’t stop.”
“Don’t worry,” Owen assured her. “I’ll get you out of here. We’ll go out to your apartment’s pool and help you cool down. Does that sound okay?”
She shook her head fiercely. “I can’t leave. I can’t get up. I’ll burn people. I’ve burned Papa and Mama and my sister and our house… I burn everything.”
With great care, Owen reached out his hand and brought it down on top of her head, momentarily smothering out the flames before they regrouped and dashed across his skin. The girl tried to pull away, but he held fast, holding his hand there long enough to send the message. Then, he pulled it away and held his fingers in front of her face.
“You can’t burn me,” Owen told her. “I’m special, like you. No matter how scared you get, no matter how hot you get, you can’t hurt me. I promise.”
Her eyes grew wide, an unsettling sight since they were still coated in flames, as she stared as his unmarred skin. Not even the hair from the back of his knuckles had been singed. She reached out and grasped his fingers with hers, ever so carefully, and watched in amazement as the fire coating her failed to scorch him in the slightest.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Titan. What’s yours?”
“Well, Alexandria, how about that swim?”
She nodded, and he reached over, delicately scooping her out of her metal washtub and pulling her against his chest. His uniform crackled and wrinkled as she came into the contact with it, but his words held true as he fire proved unable to burn him.
“Ready when you are,” Titan told Galvanize, who gave a quick nodded and hurriedly escorted the rest of the apartment’s occupants to the stairs. Titan followed, even more careful in his steps than before.