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stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
466
Location
Texas
"But that kid might have had a chance if he'd--"


"Been born into a tolerant society," she finished for him. "But none of us are." It was times like this she was glad she was sterile.


"I know...still, I can't help but feel, since I did make a conscious choice--"


"Hold that thought," said Oriana. "It don't matter how you got to the weight you're at. Just like it don't matter how a homeless dude became homeless. At the end of the day, you should still give him a dollar." She reached across the table and squeezed his hand.


"Thanks. You always make these things make sense." At last, he fixed himself a plate.


By the time she saw the waiter again, she had finished her wine, taken in small sips while she watched, rapt, as Eddie enjoyed his dinner. "Excuse me, Sir? Me and homegirl are prob'ly gonna want another bottle of wine."


"Miss Mitchell and her date have, uh...already left for the evening. She said something about...about 'leaving the lovebirds alone'. They covered the tab for the table, don't worry."


For a moment, Oriana panicked. She had been relying on Martika's social status to get them through the evening safe from unwanted comments and public scrutiny...but glancing around the room, she found that no one was looking at them. With the exception of the staff, every eye in the restaurant was glued to a phone screen.


"In that case…" She rotated the empty wine bottle by its neck. "Can I order this by the glass?"


"Yeah! I mean, certainly, Ma'am."


"Then open us a new tab. And could you swing by in a few minutes with a dessert menu, please?"


"Yea--cert--absolutely," said the waiter. The poor thing was running out of ways to say yes. He cleared some empty plates and hurried off, while Eddie helped himself to seconds.


"Wonder what's got everyone so distracted?" he mused. "Think they're all hooked on the latest installment of the Bombshell and Crucifix Show?"


"Maybe. Ooh, let's see if my old pal Fredo's had anything to say!"


Only, when she pulled her phone out of her bag to check the news, it wasn't she and Martika who'd made headlines.


"Fuck."


"What is it?" asked Eddie.


"Trouble at Rivington," she read off her screen. "Hundreds of bodies of students recovered five miles outside campus after authorities discover university destroyed; bomb plot suspected; investigation underway. Hundreds, Eddie. And if they were found off campus...that means they were dead before the bombs went off."


"Isn't...isn't that the place you got expelled from?"


She wasn't religious anymore. But for this, she crossed herself.
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
466
Location
Texas
Chapter 6

***
It was public knowledge that Bombshell ran the Blackwater City Special Circumstance Detention Facility. Most of the inmates entered its walls more than a little resentful. After all, she was personally responsible for bringing each one of them down mid-heist, in many cases severely damaging their mobility. But it was a grudge that usually passed within a few weeks.


Bombshell was a benevolent jailer. When she'd taken over administration the previous year, she'd promised reforms, and she'd certainly delivered. The cells, already built wide to accommodate super-sized culprits, had been renovated into legitimate rooms, allowing the inhabitants at least the internal sense of privacy. There were cameras in the corner of every unit, but the bathrooms were left unsurvielled, for what that was worth: so many of the inmates required the help of an attendant to use the facilities anyway, but the caregivers all worked with gentle hands, if a few were suspiciously enthusiastic about the task of getting their soapy hands between the prisoners' burgeoning rolls.


Cable and internet were available 24/7, along with a full digital library and virtual work-remote education programs, and while hard drugs were strictly off-limits, visitors were free to provide their incarcerated loved ones with alcohol or tobacco. In a recent press release, Bombshell had stated she would 'rather have the guys getting it legally than making it in the toilet'. There was a balance here between recreation and reform.


The staff was always on call to help the inhabitants from their cells to the dining hall, the rec yard, medical check-ups, and therapy, both of the physical and psychological variety. And as for the food…


Bombshell had lamented on her social media that she wasn't able to staff netter chefs, but none of the crooks were complaining about the all-day access to all they cared to eat of every course of regional cuisine imaginable, from southern fried green beans to Thai pumpkin curry, flaky baklava to frozen custard. It was still a prison, but it operated more like a celebrity rehab, or a really fancy hotel you just weren't allowed to leave.


In short, it was a fatty's paradise.


They never saw Bombshell. At least, that's what they thought.


The population consensus on Oriana was that she was just another common correctional officer, patrolling the halls and attending to her assigned prisoners, but Jared knew better. He'd recognized her power set instantly upon the run-in with her that had landed him in here. Who'd have thought the scrappy freshman from his combat class back at Rivington Hero School would ever make a name for herself?


A knock sounded at his door. It was more of a courtesy than anything else; the COs all had a master key. Jared heaved himself into a more upright sitting position in bed, casting aside the outdated newspaper he'd been thumbing through. Oriana let herself in, clipboard full of paperwork in hand, ready with a bariatric wheelchair. "Mr. Fleming, your petition for parole and a reduction has been reviewed, and you've been approved."


Shame; he was actually starting to like it in here.


And what was he going to do on the outside? No way Uncle Sam would take him back now.


But it would be nice, being able to walk more easily.


"If you'll c'mon with me…"


"We're going now?"


"Unless you want to wait another three months for a time slot to open up," said Oriana.


Jared painstakingly rocked his way off the bed and to his feet, gripping the edge of the mattress for support. Months in physical therapy had somewhat restored his range of motion, but simple tasks were still an irritating struggle. Nevertheless, he insisted, "I don't need the chair."


"You don't gotta try and impress me," said Oriana. "In fact, I'd prefer you don't. It's kind of Stockholm-y and weird."


"It's not about you." Okay, so it kind of was. But as he followed her out of the room and halfway down a corridor before the effort became too great and he had to pause, slumped against the wall, he was glad he hadn't admitted as much.


"Just get in the chair."


Obediently, he collapsed into the seat. "Stronger than you look," he remarked between labored breaths as she wheeled him down the hall.


"Please cut the flattery. Again, makin' it weird."


On the other side of the hall, he watched as a CO wheeled another prisoner back towards his cell from the dining hall, a juicy-looking and overstuffed burrito in his hand, halfway to his mouth. Here and there, other plus-sized prisoners were corralled into their suites by COs with varying amounts of interest in their eyes. Up ahead, a little brown-haired dude in a uniform put his arm around a female inmate's wobbly waist to help her out of her chair and over her threshold.


It was...kind of sexy, if Jared thought about it. There was something strangely satisfying about being waited on hand and foot, even if it was only because there was no other way.


No. No! He was getting the reduction. He was going to walk like a normal person again.


Even as the thought of being absolutely indulged reared its head.


A few minutes passed before curiosity got the better of him: "Why'd you approve my parole?"


"Because I sincerely believe you acted out of desperation when you committed those robberies," said Oriana. "It was about keeping the city from shutting your lights out. You're a dick. But if you had truly meant to hurt anyone, you'd have brought a gun."


"Do...do I have to take parole? Can't I just get the reduction and then serve the rest of my time?"


"What?"


"You take care of me in here. Out there? I don't know."


"Jared, there are guys out there who need to be in that cell more than you do."


He would be flattered if he wasn't so anxious.


"So what...actually happens?"


"Did you read all the consent forms before you signed 'em?"


"I skimmed them."


Oriana sighed. "We put you under a full abdominal ultrasound and then a specialist does her thing behind some monitors. The whole procedure takes about five hours, and you should know, even with the procedure spread out over such a long time, there is a risk, however small, of combustion."


"Combustion?"


"Kaboom."


Was it sick that it was a risk he was willing to take?


"You're her, aren't you?"


"The specialist?"


"Bombshell."


"...Yes and yes. Shoulda known you'd recognize me."


At last, they arrived at the operation room, an office-sized space with a wall made of one-way glass. There, they were joined by a six-man team, who helped him out of the chair and onto a reclining medical cot. "I notice you've opted for general anesthesia," said Oriana, flipping through the papers on her clipboard. "Y'know, that's really not recommended."


"I heard it hurts."


"Most inmates report more of a discomfort than outright pain, usually on top of a high-grade fever," said Oriana. "And the verbal feedback helps me work. You'll have your vitals monitored, of course, and there's the ultrasound, but there's only so much the readings can tell me. I'd rather have the two-way communication."


"I trust you."


"You shouldn't. Reductions are tricky."


"Just put me under."


"Well, if you won't give me a choice…"


The anesthesiologist came into the room with an IV on a stand and a small machine. "We're going to start with the nitrous...try and relax." Jared was all too familiar with this part. A gas mask slipped over his nose and mouth. He was already counting backwards from ten. Then, the needle…


"See you in five hours," said Oriana. "And once you get out of here--listen. No more crimes. And no weird shit, neither."

***

"Jared...how do you feel?"

Jared awoke gasping.

Vital monitors blared with noise.

Oriana panicked.

"Somebody call 911! We need a respirator, stat!"

Breathless, he lost consciousness once more.

***

He awoke in a hospital cot, his sister Claudia by his side. He was still hazy from another round of anesthesia, and breathing was still a difficulty, despite his body being reduced to somewhere in the early 300s. "Wh-what--?"

"Shh. Rest," said Claudia, smoothing down his hair. "Your lung capacity was damaged in the reduction process. Bombshell had to fix you up on the fly. You won't...you won't be able to breathe as well as you used to, but at least you'll live."

Claudia hadn't spoken to him for years.

Funny how people came out of the woodwork when they thought you were helpless.

***

Oriana returned to her office, where she pored over the rest of the day's paperwork, her heart heavy with a deep, defeatist shame. She had tried to warn Jared about the dangers of having a reduction performed while unconscious...she wanted to believe what had happened to him wasn't her fault. But there was no denying her involvement.

There were so many ways the situation could have been better handled. She could have kept him on physical therapy for a few more years, helped him lose the weight the natural way. Or she could have offered him a series of smaller, less drastic reductions. Salvidar Solutions could have helped, if they had investors. If that bill that would offer her inmates state funding for mobility assistance would go through. If she had just stuck to her guns and withheld the anesthesia.

As Oriana rounded a corner on her way out of work, she happened along her little British CO just as he was leaving an inmate's quarters. "Oh! Hullo, just, uh…"

Oriana smiled. "Max! You charming devil, you."

"I-It's nothing like that! In fact, there's something you need to see immediately!"

"Immediately, huh?" Sighing, she followed him into the cell.

The scent of something scorching hit her immediately as she crossed the threshold. Then, she saw the giant gaping hole burned through the wall, its edges charred black and still smoldering. But it wasn't just that wall--whatever had created the hole had blasted through the next six walls until it hit green grass and daylight.

The absence of the prisoner from her cell was the last thing noticed by the bewildered biomanipulator, but she'd have escaped from jail, too, if all of the sudden there was a giant gaping hole in it.
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
466
Location
Texas
Oriana's jaw clenched. "Put the place on lockdown. I want extra guards all along the perimeter. Max, you're in charge." She fished her keys out of her pocket and tossed them in his direction. "I need to go down to the police station and tell the Commissioner to be on the lookout for any escaped convicts with a BMI of 60 or above."


***


Oriana arrived home late. Eddie was in the middle of a phone call at the time. It sounded tense.


"No, we're called Salvidar Solutions, and we're completely there, technology wise. We just need the funding for mass production. But we'll get investors!" he was saying into the receiver. "Trust me, we know what we're doing. Especially if the bill goes through! We're gonna be state funded. Anyway...she's back. Yes, I'll ask her. Good night, Mom."


Fuck.


Oriana hoped he missed her entrance. She didn't want questions. She didn't want to be seen. She made some noise in the kitchen as a decoy before tiptoeing her way to the bedroom, where, still in her full uniform, she burrowed under the comforter, buried her face in the pillows and wept.


Of course, he found her. Blinded by her tears, she felt the comforter lifted up before he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against his belly. "I don't know what you think you did, but I can tell when you're beating yourself up," he said. "For what it's worth, whatever it is, I still love you."


"It's worth everything," she croaked. She wasn't ready to tell him about the reduction, or the prison break, but his secure embrace brought her a comfort she couldn't find anywhere else at a moment when she felt utterly in over her head. "Y'know...sometimes I have nightmares...about Chimera...about Ted...you don't wake up when I do, but you give me this lil squeeze, just like this, and then...then I'm okay."


"I'll be here just like this for as long as you need."


For minutes, they were locked together, Oriana snuggling closer against him and letting the pressure of the warm weight of his arms soothe her. She found herself pleasantly surrounded by his bulk, almost suffocated by his softness. He let one heavy thigh fall over her waist, weighing her into the mattress. It was probably bigger around than her waist altogether...and so soft.


He always knew exactly how to ground her.


She couldn't help but let herself be swallowed up by his bulk for the longest time. There was a certain comfort, a catharsis, in feeling him surround her, his big belly pinning her more or less on her stomach in bed.


As awful as the day had been, everything was going to be okay.


He was the first to speak. "Hey, Ori? What would you say to...to meeting my mother? Say, tomorrow?"


"That could be nice," she replied. "It'll be a relief to do a normal couple thing. No villains to deal with...no politics…and I'll get to meet the lady who raised the genius I fell in love with."


Yes. She could feel it. Tomorrow was going to be a better day.


What she didn't mention was, not all the nightmares were about supervillains.


***


"Do you know why you're here?"


Oriana stared down at the surface of her high school principal's desk, fighting tears. "Because I biomanipulated all my boyfriends and made them fat."


Really, they had always been on the pudgy side. The first was Jack Thornton, from her debate class. After the two of them had waged absolute war at the podium and destroyed the forces of Fountainview High in the debate tournament in the fall, hopped up and giddy on adrenaline, they had shared a victory kiss on the bus ride back to school. For a while, they were inseparable…and his waistline ballooned, despite no change in his diet or exercise habits. She insisted she didn't mind the extra weight on him--preferred it, in fact! But forty pounds was a lot to gain in a few weeks, and in a panic, he decided he needed to see a doctor.


Modern medicine couldn't find anything wrong with him, but he was determined to lose the weight, and he'd have an easier time doing that, he told her, if he wasn't dating a 'chubby-chasing weirdo'.


Then there was Joel Kim. Captain of the Mathletes and aficionado of all things sweet, starchy, and/or fried, he was plump as a dumpling and perfect for her. She asked him to the movies the Friday before Christmas break, and from that moment, they were hooked on each other. They spent many an afternoon making out on her living room sofa while her parents were at work, feeling each other up, her hands in his shirt, grabbing at all his pudge, until inevitably his belly would rumble and he'd push her off, begging her to make that pasta dish her dad had taught her how to make, or, ooh, maybe those brownies again.


A few brownies hardly explained a hundred pound weight gain in a matter of months, but the extra fat only made her hungrier for him and he relished her attention.


Then one night he called her in tears to tell her that his mother had forbidden him to see her any longer, on the suspicion that his ridiculous weight gain was a product of her bad influence.


It might not have hurt so much if she hadn't received the call on prom night, while she waited for him on the dance floor alone.


Troy Beckett picked her up within the hour. Tall, broad, star of the defensive line and sporting a respectable gut from a little too much dirty bulking and not enough cutting, he appeared warm to her, approachable, if a little cocky. He told her she looked like a Christmas tree, in the glittery silver dress that had set her back eight bucks at Goodwill. Lame pick-up line, but at the time, she was just grateful to be noticed. After years of being the weird loner who came home to look up 'belly stuffing videos', unable to share her secret shame with anyone, and now, with two bad break-ups under her belt, it was nice to feel like someone was dazzled by her glitter and glamor.


A week, thirty pounds, and a torn ACL later, Troy was out one position on the football team and one athletic scholarship. He turned on her then, blamed her, screamed in front of the whole lunchroom that maybe she should see a doctor, because it wasn't normal that everyone she dated got mysteriously fat.


And sure enough…


"Several parents have come forth and said they don't feel like their children are safe, attending class with you," said the principal.


Really, she was here because she had told Troy about her diagnosis in confidence, figuring he deserved to know, and he had told everyone.


"You'll still be able to finish out the semester remotely before you start at Rivington University. They have the tools to help you control this ability."


"Remote, you mean, at home, from my computer?"


"My hands are tied, Oriana. I'm not the bad guy here. But before we wrap things up, would you like security to escort you to your locker?"


"Why, so y'all can make sure I don't make nobody else fat on the way? I think I can manage." She stood up and stormed out of the office.


All around her, she heard whispers as she made her way down the hall. Every set of eyes she tried to meet averted immediately.


"I heard it was her fault."


"I heard she got diagnosed with powers."


"She's...she's a Deviant?"


"So, like, a superhero?"


"There's nothing heroic about inducing obesity."


"I heard she's been expelled."


"She's getting sent to a freak college, for freaks."


She briefly met Troy's eyes. He glared at her, before his new girlfriend took him by the shoulder, turned him around, and led him down the hall.


People started to throw objects. Three paper balls hit her in the back of the head. Eyes watering, she reached her locker at last, shaky hands fumbling with the lock. At last, she nailed the combination, threw it open, and began to shove her books into her backpack.


"Freak!" somebody shouted.


A warm, wet projectile hit her square in the seat of her pants. She winced, turned around, and picked up the offending object: somebody's Frito pie from the cafeteria. Why had she worn white pants on the day of her exile?


Collecting her things, she ran out the front door of campus. Everyone laughed. Everyone jeered. Nobody came to her defense.


***


Oriana woke with a start, clutching a pillow to her chest. The sun was shining through the blinds and the bed was empty. She checked the time on the bedside clock: 10:45. Of course: Eddie was in therapy. He probably hadn't wanted to wake her before he left.


What was the last thing he'd said to her?


Meeting his mother. Right.


Anxiety began to eat at her from inside.


Relax, she told herself. Breathe. Mama Big Tech was probably a perfectly lovable woman, who'd love her in turn. After all, she'd raised the most wonderful man Oriana had ever known. Sure, the circumstances under which they'd gotten together weren't the most ideal. "Suicidal Ideation: the love story" was not a plot device she planned on sharing with her future biographer, but from what Eddie had shared with her, it sounded like this Tegan girl had really messed him up.


They had a bright future. Their families would support them. She was just having bad dreams because of the nightmare that had been yesterday.


Still, there was a nausea that ate at her. Eddie had never talked about his mother before.


She wanted to expect the best, but the truth was, she had no idea what to expect.
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
466
Location
Texas
"lesbiate" 😆😆😆
Glad I got a laugh!

And glad I haven't lost you after introducing a character with a heat-ray schlong.

Oriana's thinly-veiled denial of her bisexuality is a point I plan to touch on in later chapters. Being bi myself, I always intended for her to have a bond with Crucifix (and to a lesser degree, Scarlet Flame), but given that she's spent the last few years as a weird, reclusive superhero, she really never had time to question her sexuality, and with Eddie in the picture still questioning whether or not he deserves any love at all, much less hers, she's VERY careful not to shatter his ego by bringing jealousy into the mix.

But that doesn't mean she and Crucifix won't make out at least once before the end of the story. I haven't decided yet.
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
466
Location
Texas
Chapter 7

***

"We're coming close to our time, Eddie, so is there anything else you wanted to bring up and talk about briefly before I see you again next week?"


Eddie had been seeing Dr. Castro for a while now. It had been Mickey's idea, after she cooled down about receiving his suicide note--not that he'd even sent it! He had Chimera to thank for that. Nevertheless, he had been planning it.


He hadn't yet disclosed the Big Tech business to his therapist--that would be a lot to drop--but he had told her about his depressive tendencies, along with his overbearing mother, and vaguely alluded to the suicide attempt.


"Well...Dr. Castro, there is one thing."


"Like I've said, you can call me Armanda if it makes you any more comfortable. Or Amy, if you prefer."


He didn't, not quite yet, as much as she had done for him.


Right at the get-go, she'd replaced her flimsy office couch with a much sturdier number after he spent the entirety of their first session standing. He'd insisted she hadn't needed to go out of her way for him, only for her to sternly remind him that they were here to talk about his depressive thoughts, not her furniture choices, and that he'd have an easier time opening up if he was comfortable. He really couldn't argue with a professional, and besides, therapy wasn't cheap. Buying a couch was probably no big deal for her. Plus, she'd get to write it off on her taxes, since it was for the office.


Dr. Castro wasn't the sort to baby her patients--sure, she held Eddie's hand a little during their sessions, but she was, at the end of the day, a straight-to-the-point, analytical person who had no problem delivering hard-to-swallow truths.


He was apprehensive about dropping the latest bomb on his therapist. She'd no doubt have some helpful and terrifying advice for him concerning the matter. But talking about it beforehand might make it easier to face the day, and he was so anxious he was willing to try anything: "Oriana's meeting my mother this afternoon."


"Wow. Okay." Dr. Castro gripped the armrests of her office chair. "I wish you'd brought this up at the start of the session. How are you feeling?"


"Mostly dread," Eddie confessed. "A bit of an old wound reopening, too. You know, one of the last things Tegan ever said to me, before she walked out of my life, was that for all I was making a big deal of moving out of my mom's house, I never left, not mentally."


"Tegan being the ex-girlfriend?" said Dr. Castro, referencing her notes. He had told her, of course, about his disastrous first relationship, along with his childhood of isolation, the homeschooling, the gaslighting, the expectations of greatness that his mother had put on his young shoulders, and yes, he had meant to go full non-contact when he moved out, but somehow, that never happened. He still dutifully took her calls, even if he hadn't seen her face to face in a few years.


"Yeah."


"Well, Eddie, based on our previous talks, I can tell Tegan hurt you immeasurably. Her dismissal of your feelings while you two were still speaking wasn't okay then, and it isn't okay now. However, part of emotional growth is coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the people who hurt us are right about certain things."


Oof. That hit him like a truck. But he supposed it was worth his consideration.


"She's my mother, though."


"She can be your mother and also be the reason you're here," said Dr. Castro, jotting down notes. "In fact, that's usually how it works in my office. Now, what has Oriana said about your mother?"


"She, uh...she doesn't know how bad she can get. I mean, no, she's not bad, just--"


"Eddie," said Dr. Castro, fixing him with a serious look, "just last month you were upset because you didn't feel like Oriana was being honest with you in expressing when she was vulnerable. But do you see how communication needs to be a two-way street, here?"


"I'm trying to protect her, okay?" Eddie ejaculated. "Mom always expected me to end up with some successful, conventionally thin, emotionally stable, intellectual white woman. And Ori's successful, and she's smart, but I'm afraid that won't be enough to spare her from Mom's scrutiny!"


He hadn't even wanted them to meet.


Usually, when his mother called, he ducked into another room. He reassured her that his start-up was going well, and that life was good, but he never mentioned he was attached. Then one day, Oriana walked in on one of his phone calls holding two dresses on hangers: "Eddie, Martika and Dante invited us out to The Luxe tomorrow night. What do you think, the green or the red? Tika's no doubt going to upstage me, but still, it's The Luxe, I want to look the part."


"Is that a woman?!" his mother had asked, and then...well, then it was over. She'd demanded to know how serious it was, and after clawing it out of him that it was, in fact, serious, insisted on meeting the girl in question, despite Eddie's insistence that Oriana worked a high-powered, time-consuming job and 'freelanced as a performance artist in her spare time,' because that was one way to explain street vigilantism, right? But Mom was unrelenting, until finally, Eddie caved.


"Look, Eddie, it sounds like you cherish Oriana very much," said Dr. Castro. "And you make her sound like a tough girl, but if I were her, I would appreciate being forewarned. The foundation of a relationship is honesty, and when it comes to tense family situations, it can often feel like a battlefield introducing the new partner to the parents."


"Oh, trust me, I know about the battlefield."


"And it sounds like there's still time to make sure she goes in armed."


"You're right, Dr. Castro."


"I surmised as much. Now, does 10 AM next Wednesday still work for you?"


"Sure."
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
466
Location
Texas
Oriana dug through her wardrobe, looking for an outfit that said, 'I'm a performatively normal human woman of an average lifestyle and average predilections' without saying, 'I'm going to use your son's face like a bike seat as soon as we leave your house'. She knew Eddie was coming back from therapy soon to pick her up so they could go to his mom's, but she still wasn't ready.


Maybe she was putting too much thought into this.


She'd never made such an effort towards curating her own image before. Usually, she wore what she liked and said what was on her mind. Even as Bombshell, she got into frequent spats with the media and, until Jasmine took over as Commissioner, openly refused to cooperate with the police. But this was Eddie's mom. She wanted to make a good impression. She didn't want a repeat of Joel Kim, whose mother had never even met her, but marked her for a problem anyway.


She didn't think she could handle rejection right now.


She ended up going with a white and blue floral dress that fell below the knee and tied in back with a sash: very Second Baptist Church of Blackwater. She had just finished her makeup--nothing too dramatic--when she heard the front door.


"Hey babe, I'm ready!" she called, stepping into the living room in her conservative white flats. "Look, I wore your colors! I mean, not that your mom would know about the whole Big Tech thing. Unless she does know? Oh God...am I the asshole for keeping my parents in the dark?"


"It's...it's a great dress, Oriana. And no, she doesn't know," said Eddie.


As she moved closer to hug him hello, it hit her how...off he was, all of the sudden. He was tense, and the color had drained from his face. She'd never seen him look rougher after a therapy session than before. "Babe, what's wrong?"


"I guess I'm just nervous," he said.


"Well, me too. I actually ain't never met a man's parents before." She squeezed his hand in a way she hoped was reassuring and led the way out to the car--his car, which was much more spacious than the Honda Accord she should've probably already traded in. "It'll be fine, though. I've fought villains, I can handle a little initial meet-and-greet awkwardness."


"I don't think you understand," said Eddie as he held the passenger door open for her. "My mom can be a little...critical."


"Critical how?"


"She doesn't think anyone is smart enough for me."


"Dammit! I knew I shoulda gone with the power suit instead of girl-next-door vibes. Is there time for me to change?" She tried to make it sound like a joke. Tried to force confidence into her voice as she said, "Seriously, though. I get that she's protective of you. I am, too. And I'm not gonna sit at her table and pretend to be on your level. But I'm sure she just wants you to be with the best person for you, and it might be hard, but I'm gonna go in there and try and prove to her that's me."


He settled into the driver's seat and keyed the ignition. "Yeah, about that...any chance we can drive by the ER and have you shot up with a couple hundred CC's of Scarlet Flame?"


"Will she be that hard to convince?"


"Just don't mention you worked at Cyber Security. She thinks it's beneath the true intellectual; that it's a crap factory where the spirit of innovation goes to die."


"Well...I mean it was kind of a soulless corporation that sold our service to other soulless corporations and paid us pennies on every dollar they raked in, but I wouldn't call it a crap factory. I was a good hacker, and you were a good programmer. I think that oughta count for something."


Eddie just sighed.


He drove like a turtle's grandmother all the way there, which made his dread clear to Oriana, but although she was nervous, she remained determined. Finally, they arrived, and she knocked on the door.


"I am not ready for the shock," Eddie mumbled.


"Shock?"


"Look, your son shows up for the first time since college graduation, more than triple his weight from the last time you've seen him, what are you doing?"


"You mean you didn't tell her?!"


A short, plump woman in a matching silk blouse and skirt set too nice for the drapes and faux hardwood flooring answered the door.


"You must be Mrs. Salvidar!" Smiling brightly, Oriana extended a hand to shake, letting her other hand rest on Eddie's upper arm in a gesture meant to appear chaste, but nevertheless supportive and affectionate. "I'm Oriana. It's a pleasure to finally meet you!"


Mrs. Salvidar fainted in the doorway.


***


This already didn't bode well.


Eddie winced as Oriana revived his mother and helped her off the floor. And here he would be content to have left her in the care of the city's best emergency response team if it meant he could avoid this whole encounter. "You aight there, Mrs. Salvidar?"


"Please, it's--it's been Ms. Salvidar ever since Eddie's father abandoned us and we took back my maiden name. But call me Cecelia," she stammered, already taking back control of the situation even as she staggered shakily back to her feet. "I apologize, it's just...been so long, and there's so much to take in." Regaining her composure, she sent a pointed look Eddie's way before leading the way into the living room. "Come in, you two! Please, sit down."


One glance at his mother's familiar Ikea furniture told Eddie that wasn't going to be an option. "I think I'll stand, but thanks, Mom."


"Then I will, too," said Oriana. "Wow. Standing." She forced a smile. "It's like we're at a corporate happy hour or something. I feel so glamorous. Anyway, I brought--"


Eddie's mom was gone for a minute, but returned with three cups on a plastic tray meant to imitate fine china, though it did a poor job. "Sparkling...cider," Oriana finished, fishing the bottle out of her oversized handbag. "But I see you already took care of drinks." She set it gently on the table.


The three of them took their cups in turn and Cecelia clicked her glass with Oriana's, grinning with wide eyes. "So, tell me, Oriana, how did you meet my son?"


"He was standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain," said Oriana. Her entire tone and demeanor had changed, snapping from west-side to country club with surprising skill. Funny, what an effect Mom seemed to have on people. Despite her own foreign background, she put on such an air of 'Norman Rockwell painting' that made everyone feel the need to sound like they'd been to Harvard around her. "His car was being worked on. I couldn't stand to see him shiver out there. So I offered him a ride, and the rest is history."


That much was true; they had seen each other around the office, but that day, in Oriana's car--that was the day they learned each others' names, even if Eddie had gone on to pursue Bombshell, not Oriana, oblivious to the fact that they were the same person.


Inside, he was kicking himself. If Oriana meant to win herself points for compassion, she was playing the wrong game. Mom would have him paired with a shark among sheep, who cared for his social advancement, her own, and absolutely nothing else.


"And what do your parents do?"


"My dad's a driver. My mom's a secretary."


"Is that so?"


"They both worked very hard to afford me a college education. I actually graduated just three years ago from Bellvue." Phew. Gratefulness to the parents and working the degree into the conversation? Back on track.


"Bellvue?"


"It's a university for the gifted."


"Gifted?" Cecelia repeated, eyes going even wider.


"I tested well and made it in. I've always had a gift for biology and mathematics."


Well, that was one way to put it.


"So you graduated from this Bellvue place and went into…?"


"Right now I'm working in corrections," said Oriana.


"But once Salvidar Solutions gets on its feet, she'll also be taking over as head of accounting!" Eddie supplied. "She's crazy good at math."


"It's true. Give me any number and I can multiply it by 3500 in the snap of a finger!"


"Why 3500?" asked Cecelia.


Eddie bit his lip.


3500 calories equaled a pound of body fat. He hoped she wouldn't blow their cover...but then, he wished she would, if only to get it over with.


"It's just...such a fun number to me."


Yeah. That didn't sound weird.


Oriana finally took a sip of her cold tea. She shuddered, presumably at the taste of artificial sweetener. She kept none of it in the house, opting instead for real sugar, and butter, and sourdough bread and baked beans and milk chocolate. Fresh eggs...bacon, ready for the frying pan...all manner of lovely things meant to be fattening, filling and delicious.


"Is there maltodextrin in this?" asked Oriana.


"I beg your pardon?" asked Ceceila.


"The yellow packets of artificial sugar. Fun fact, but ironically, those make you gain weight like crazy."


"Interesting, indeed. Where did you learn this?"


"She took a nutrition course at university," said Eddie. He happened to know she'd done it specifically to get better at feedism, but kept that under wraps.
 

stevita

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((A/n: Content warning in the following segment for Eddie's mother's casual ableism, verbal abuse, and refusal to acknowledge her role in his suicide attempt.))

***

"Eddie, I meant to ask you," said Cecelia, "would you take a look at my computer, please? It's been giving me trouble."


"Absolutely, Mom," he agreed.


But as soon as he followed her into the other room, it became clear that this wasn't about the computer.


"A correctional officer! A dumb, common CO! Eddie, you can do better than her! And the strange factoids, the fixation on specific numbers...are you sure she isn't--" she dropped her voice to a harsh whisper. "Well, are you sure there isn't something wrong with her? Autism, maybe?"


"She's actually the head of administration at her workplace!" Eddie stepped in in Oriana's defense. "And even if she did have autism, why would that be a bad thing? She's making plenty of positive reforms! Her prison has one of the lowest repeat offense rates in the state!"


"Reforms? And for what? Those people are locked up for a reason!" Cecelia snapped. "And while we're on the topic of reforms, shall we talk about your weight problem?"


"Or shall we perhaps...not?" Eddie proposed.


"Eddie, we can't just not address the elephant in the room. This--" She raised a hand and dropped it in exasperation. "This is ridiculous! We have to get this in check!"


"Relax, Mom. I'm just on a new medication," he lied. "It's really helping for my depression."


"Depression? What have you got to be depressed about? Is it that woman?"


"No!" he exclaimed. "Oriana is the best thing that's ever happened to me!"


"That's what you said about Tegan, that bitch."


"It's different this time! Oriana cares. She would do anything for me."


"And I suppose she supports this new medication regiment of yours?"


"She wants me to be happy, Mom."


"And you're happy, morbidly obese and barely able to tie your shoes?"


"Ori can help with the shoes."


"So you admit it? She's a dangerous enabler, a self serving freak who would make you helpless without her? What kind of a sick power complex must she have to have made you complicit in the destruction of your own health?!"


"My bill of health is perfectly clean, Mom."


"That's impossible!"


"I don't see your medical license!" he snapped, suddenly brave.


"Excuse me?!"


Just like that, his sudden streak of boldness was gone, quenched like a candle flame between decisive, oppressive fingers.


He saw her hand twitch at her side and instinctively flinched.


Not that she would dare.


Back when he was twelve years old, puny and powerless, she could throw him into a wall with enough force to dent the plaster with a backhand for backsass. If she tried it now, there was no way she'd move all six feet and over six hundred pounds of him.


And yet, he still braced himself as if the blow was coming and sure to land just as hard as all those years before.


"Yoooo. I'm still here."


Oriana was standing in the doorway, one foot propped up against the frame, arms crossed, prim-and-proper act dropped. "Look, MIZ Salvidar, I can't tell exactly what you're tryna accomplish here, and I know your head might be too far stuck up your own ass for this to come through, but you should be aware that last year, your son tried to KILL his self. Right in front of my own eyes, too. Now, I always thought it was mostly because his shitty ex girlfriend took a steaming five-pound dump on his heart, but it's pretty clear now that that ball started rolling a whole lot earlier than that."


Cecelia contrivedly softened her features. She gazed into Eddie's eyes in shock, her own welling with voluntary moisture as she squeaked, "You tried to what?"


But of course, she wasn't done with Oriana. "And if you're insinuating that my son attempted suicide because of something I've done--"


"You push and push, demand and demand, nag and nag and nag. And have you ever once told him that you're proud of him? That what he done is good enough? He is on the verge of completely revolutionizing the medical industrial complex, have you said anything about that?"


As much as he wanted to step in in his mother's defense--terrifying as she could be, she was still the one who'd raised him alone, taught him how the world worked--Eddie couldn't resist the allure of basking in Oriana's praise. She was the opposite of stingy with it, but even still, he'd spent his life starved for it, and long-ingrained cravings were hard to shake.


"If I push Eddie to be his highest achieving self, it's because I actually care!"


"Quit dodging my question."


"You have to go," Cecelia demanded, glaring at Oriana. "I'm suddenly nauseous."


"Mom, if she's going, I have to go too."


She went from hard to soft in the blink of an eye. "Eddie, please don't do this to me! I'm begging you."


"We took one car!"


"You heard the lady," said Oriana, leading the way out. At the threshold, she snickered. "Nausea. And I bet she'll be running a low grade fever, too."


Eddie pulled the door shut behind him. "Did you biomanipulate my mother?"


"You heard all that awful stuff she said! I'm sorry, but NOBODY talks to my man like that!"


"She was shocked! And did you have to tell her what happened?" In the moment, he'd been too busy processing the fact that for once in his life, he had a defender. But he really wished his mother didn't know about his suicide attempt.


"She oughta know how much damage she's done."


"She'll never take the blame! She'll just find some way to twist this and use it against me like she always does," Eddie explained. Then, in the same breath: "I can fix this! I'll just call her tonight--"


"What part of what I just witnessed would anyone wanna salvage?"


"I made a mistake, Ori! You were right, I should have been upfront about the weight gain. But she only acted out because she was worried about me because she loves--"


"Eddie, this is gonna be hard for you to hear, but that? What I just saw? That ain't love. Trust me: hostage situations are my specialty."


She was right. He knew she was.


Especially about that hard to hear part.


"Look," she said as they got into the car, squeezing his arm to offer comfort, "we just need to get her claws out of you. It might be a long process, but I'll be there to tend the wounds every step of the way, aight?"


He exhaled deeply. "Alright."


"I get it. Well, I don't, but I do. You don't want to believe she was abusive, because once upon a time she was all you had." Rubbing his arm in gentle circles now, she went on, "But now you have me. And Mickey and Marion...my cousins adore you...Dr. Castro...well, you pay her, but she wouldn't do what she does if she didn't care. And Dante and Martika...I know they're a lot, but they're our friends, and they're so happy for us."


Great. Now his eyes were starting to water. "Hey Ori, would you mind driving?"


They switched seats and embarked, Oriana being uncharacteristically gentle on the road: signaling, braking gradually, sticking in one lane, slowing down for yield signs and yellow lights. They were at a long stoplight when she said, "Y'know, I always knew I was an oddball. Even before the powers. Mom and Dad say even as a small child I was obsessed with numbers, way too good with pattern recognition, liked squeezing soft things…"


But they'd never gone so far as to say there was anything 'wrong' with her.


Eddie chuckled.


"There's a smile!" She beamed. "Oh! Speaking of my family, what do you think about a low-effort dinner tonight?"


"You mean, at your parents' house?"


"It's about time they met the man in my life." She whipped out her phone. Eddie winced.


"Do you have to do that while you drive?"


She reached over and gave his thigh a long, reverent squeeze. "You're absolutely right." With that, she put her phone in the cup holder and pulled into the parking lot of the nearest Stop-n-In. Once she had the car in park, she dialed.


"Daddy! Hi!" she said into the receiver. "No, nothing's wrong...okay, I've had a bit of a rough afternoon and I was hoping me and mine can stop by for dinner. No--I just want to see you and Mama, that's all. I know I been a terrible stranger lately, but--"


Oriana's father asked a question Eddie didn't catch.


"Do you think you can plan to cook for me and an extra four?" she replied.
 

stevita

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It took Oriana the remainder of the afternoon to bake and ice a bundt cake she deemed worthy of bringing to her parents' house, but it was all very well. She said having something menial to do with her hands helped work the stress out of her, and judging by the grunts of effort she gave over the mixing bowl as she stirred the batter by hand, she had a lot of stress to relieve.


At around seven, Eddie pulled up with her at her parents' small suburban house on the west side. "Looks cozy," he remarked.


"Yeah, it ain't much, but it was home. I ever tell you about how they went through the trouble to refinance it to get me a car back in the day?" said Oriana.


Wow. And his mom thought she knew about sacrifice.


Since Oriana's hands were full, he went ahead and knocked. As they were waiting for the door to open, she asked, "Are you still mad at me? About what I said at your mom's?"


"I'm not mad. I mean...I'm not happy about what was said…" He took a deep breath. "Mostly, I'm scared."


"I told you, there's people in your corner. And you're about to get two more. Trust me."


A brown-haired, middle-aged, very rotund white woman wearing a simple frock and an exuberant smile answered the door. At first, Eddie thought the Taylor-Moores already had company over. That, or they'd arrived at the wrong house, but Oriana ought to know her own childhood home.


"Mama!" Oriana squealed fondly as the woman wrapped her up in a tight hug.


"Oh, Oriana, it's so great to see you! Here, let me take this off your hands...you really didn't have to bring anything!" she said, taking the cake in its tupperware and placing it on the armoire by the door.


"Says the one who taught me never to show up to people's houses empty-handed," said Oriana.


"And you must be Eddie! Oriana's told us so much about you over the phone...all good things, no worries!" Eddie went in for a handshake, but once again, Oriana's mother opted for the hug, which was made slightly awkward by the sheer amount of belly between the two of them, but her genuine enthusiasm wasn't lost on him.


"It's nice to meet you, Mrs.--"


"Sarah, you can call me Sarah. But come on in, you two!"


Sarah led the way into the dining room, which was set for seven. "I thought you told your father you had more people coming?"


"I said to cook for extra people. I never said nothing about the actual headcount."


"Well, this way the wine will last longer, anyway. Ori, your father's still finishing up dinner, but let's have a drink in the meantime. Eddie, do you like pinot noir?"


"I...don't really drink," he said.


"Lemonade, then?"


"That sounds nice."


Sarah retreated into the kitchen and soon returned with a bottle of wine and three glasses in one hand, a tall glass of lemonade in the other. "Jeremiah absolutely spoils me," she said, handing Eddie his drink before uncorking the wine and pouring a glass for Oriana, one for herself, and one for her husband. "He knows I have a sweet tooth, so he keeps a pitcher of this stuff in the fridge just for me. He even juices the lemons from the tree we have out back. Let me go see if he needs any help. You kids sit down!"


"Don't worry, the chairs will hold," said Oriana, helping herself to a seat. Eddie, meanwhile, remained standing, captivated by the room's decor. There were at least four paintings of birds in the room: "My grandma did those, before her eyesight started to go," explained Oriana as she watched Eddie take stock of the place.


"Mom's side or Dad's side?"


"Dad's."


"I never knew you were mixed."


"I never said anything," said Oriana. "One symptom of having a telepath in your dating history is you forget most people can't read your mind."


He moved on to the bookshelf in the corner, which held a framed photograph of Oriana and her cousins as children, roughhousing in the yard. By the looks of things, she was winning. There was more, too: her medal from a debate tournament, along with several rough crayon drawings of happy landscapes with smiley-face suns overhead.


"These are yours?"


"From elementary school."


"And you were in debate?"


"I mopped the floor with the team from Fountainview High!"


The whole place had a warmth about it, a certain working-class humility that he wasn't used to associating with comfort. And there was another thing probing his curiosity, too: "So, are your parents--?"


"That, I don't know," said Oriana. "My cousin D'von might not have a filter, but I still think it's weird talking about kink stuff with family. I maintain a don't-ask-don't-tell policy with my parents, although they might have me figured out because of all my high school accidents."


That's right, she had told him she'd unintentionally fattened up every guy she'd dated in high school. If only they'd attended school together. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble, and spared Blackwater City tens of thousands of dollars in property damage.


Soon, Oriana's mother returned, helping her father set down several dishes on the table family-style. Oriana's father was a tall, thin, balding black man in smart rectangular spectacles, khakis and a button-down that had seen some wear. "You must be the boyfriend!" he greeted Eddie, extending a firm handshake. "Eddie, right? Jeremiah, it's so great to finally meet the man who made my baby girl smile again."


"I'm sure it wasn't just me," said Eddie, slightly flushed, as he finally took his seat at the table. "Leaving her boring office job had to have helped."


"My man, trust me. You can hear the difference in her voice over the phone. Well, don't be shy, kids, dig in!"


With a devious smirk you'd miss if you blinked, Oriana took the plate from in front of Eddie and loaded it up with a hefty scoop of everything on the table: shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, green beans smothered in gravy and topped with bacon, hunks of cornbread with a generous dollop of whipped butter...for a moment, he was a little self-conscious about the sheer volume of food he had in front of him. But Oriana's father had made plenty, and her mother had stacked her plate quite high herself, so he figured he was in good company and dug in.


The food was immaculate. "Wow, Jeremiah...I can see where Ori gets her talent in the kitchen."


"You know, Eddie, spare time was hard to come by while she was growing up, but the one thing I did make the time to teach her was cooking. Didn't want to send her off to college and let her live on ramen."


"Please," said Oriana. "I lived on Taco Shack more than I'd like to admit. Still kinda do."


"Taco Shack...don't they endorse some superhero around here?"


"Something like that. I think she saved one of their cashiers from getting shot and now she eats for free there," said Oriana. "Is it Evergreen? That sounds right."


"No, it's Bombshell!" Sarah interjected. "Crazy story, but one of my friends from the office actually had a close encounter! She was there, at the Westpark Hotel, when that crazy cyborg attacked her and Big Tech had to come to her rescue!"


"And after she already whacked him, too!" added Jeremiah. "Good man. Someone else might not have come back for her."


"Hehe. Yeah. They're so adorable. They're totally goals!" Oriana said nervously, holding up both hands in the shape of a heart.


Miraculously, her parents didn't seem to put two and two together.
 

stevita

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Once dinner wrapped up, Oriana offered to help her mom with the dishes while Eddie and her dad carried on with their apparently riveting discussion on the topic of the rise and fall of landline phones. Two more bottles of wine had been uncorked and she walked with a slight stumble, but she still had it in her to wash a dish.


She really shouldn't have gotten so drunk. She'd be as bad a lush as Fireball if she kept this up. But life had been so stressful lately, and besides, it had been so long since she'd seen her parents. A little celebration was simply in order.


"So? What do you think?" asked Oriana as the two of them toiled away over the kitchen sink.


"He's very nice! I just have one question."


"Shoot."


"So did you find him like this, or…?"


"Mama, I'm offended! If you're asking me if I had another biomanipulative accident, that's not what happened!"


"Good, I know how hard it was back when you couldn't control your powers."


"That was years ago, I'm fine now," said Oriana, before drunkenly blurting, "I did it on purpose this time."


"Oriana!"


"It was his idea!"


"TMI, girl!" With that, her mother playfully soaked her with the sink's sprayer hose attachment.


"Oh, you done it now, Mama!" Oriana filled the glass she was rinsing and splashed her mother right back. Her mother screamed, but soon she was chuckling and shaking her head fondly.


"I should have known you'd turn out exactly like your father."


Oriana seized control of the hose and doused her mother once more.


So much for don't ask, don't tell. Amazing what several glasses of wine could do.


Liberated by the alcohol, they splashed each other and laughed until Oriana's mother went suddenly stoic. "We should have played like this when you were a little girl. Sometimes, Ori...sometimes I feel so awful that I didn't pay more attention to you."


"You were helping put bread on the table."


"That's no excuse. I was a terrible mother."


"Mama, that ain't true! I had a great childhood! So maybe I spent a lot of afternoons at Uncle Jerome's, but you and Daddy had to hold down the fort. It ain't your fault that some jobs get higher paid and some don't." She took her mother into a sopping wet embrace and said, "I can't exactly forgive you because I was never mad at you in the first place. But don't beat yourself up, okay?"


Her mother gave her a tight squeeze. "Thanks, baby girl."


***


"No one could have predicted that one day, we'd all have a supercomputer in our back pocket. You blink, and suddenly it's the future."


"That'll be the information age," Eddie agreed.


"Sorry to change the subject, but has Oriana ever told you about what she studied at Bellvue?"


"Oh, the superpower stuff? Yeah, I know all about biomanipulation." Oriana had recently gone into detail about it, figuring if they were going to be fighting back to back, he should be intimately familiar with her power set. "There's reflexive biomanipulation, so basically shapeshifting, and then there's what she does, offensive biomanipulation...actually, can I say that? I know she can, but it's kind of her term to reclaim, the polite word nowadays is 'projective biomanipulation'--"


"Damn, son," said Jeremiah. "You might know more about all this than me. I'm just glad it won't come as a shock. You've been so good for her. I'd hate for you to get spooked."


"Spooked? Never. It's all actually really fascinating. It must've been an adventure to go to school with the people who grew up to be, say, Silver Eagle, or Scarlet Flame, or...or Crucifix, do you know about Crucifix?"


"Do I?" Jeremiah chuckled. "If I was twenty years younger and a single man, why--"


"Alright, boys, are we gonna cut this cake or what?" said Oriana, returning alongside Sarah from the kitchen, both women drenched to the bone.


"Why are they all wet?" asked Eddie.


Jeremiah clapped him on the shoulder. "Because we done our jobs, son."


Oriana screeched with laughter.


***


Oriana curled up to Eddie on the drive back, half-asleep, lazily rubbing circles into the top of his belly. "Did you have fun?"


"I like your parents," he said.


"Me too! I remember...back before the telecom market crashed, my dad had an office job. He was actually pretty important. One day, they sent him on a business trip, and he took me and Mom with him...only, they wanted to charge us extra. He was disputing the charge, and the clerk at the airport looked my mom right in the eye and said, ma'am, we wouldn't have to charge you for the extra seat if you weren't--well, I won't repeat what he said. It was mean. But you know what Daddy did? He clocked the fucker."


"Wow."


"That's when he became my hero," Oriana rambled on. "In that moment, I knew that when I found somebody to love, I was gonna defend them, whatever it took, even if it got me arrested and banned from Delta Airlines."


"I doubt there's a cop in the city foolhardy enough to try to arrest Bombshell."


"Maybe not Bombshell, but I hope you know, Oriana Taylor-Moore ain't fuckin' around either."


"I think I found that out this afternoon."


"Sorry, again. I just get so defensive over you. I couldn't let her get away with hurting you the way she did."


"We'll deal with it when we deal with it." He took one hand off the steering wheel and wrapped a delightfully doughy arm around her shoulders. She let slip a squeak of happiness.


"So tell me the truth, who's the better cook: me or my dad?"


"You...but by a narrow margin. I'm surprised I managed not to overdo it."


"So what you're telling me is you got room for seconds of dessert once we get home?"


He squirmed in his seat. "Oriana, I'm trying to drive."


She gave his squishy side a lustful squeeze. "You like it," she accused.


"Guilty as charged. Put the cuffs on, Officer."


"You know, we could probably actually do that. I could totally requisition an extra set of cuffs from work if you wanted to role play." She snorted and shoved the armrest out of the way so she could better press herself against him. "Hehe. Roll play." Then, "I'm stupid."


"On the contrary, you're quite intelligent. You're just five and a half glasses of wine in."


Just then, something caught her attention on the radio. She sat bolt upright. "Turn it up!"


"This is Greggo at Mix 95.7 with the news at the top of the hour. Following the discovery of a mass grave outside the grounds of Rivington University, an investigation uncovered several secret laboratories located underground on the campus. The laboratories appeared to have taken the worst of the damage from the explosives that are suspected to have leveled the school. The date and time during which the explosions took place remain unclear, but inspection of salvaged equipment and documents turned up evidence of human experimentation, and authorities now suspect the bodies found near campus to be the casualties of illegal tests conducted by faculty on the school's own students. The US Heroics Division denies any and all involvement in these activities. Nevertheless, journalists and concerned citizens alike are calling for further investigation."


"Ori, are you okay?" Eddie asked softly.


That depended. Did shuddering at the thought of oneself strapped to a dissection table make the cut for 'okay'?


She'd only been there for a semester, but she'd been there.


"How come," she sighed, "every time you look at the news, it's worse?"
 

stevita

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Chapter 8
***

Her pudgy hands dug sharp, manicured nails into his sides. On all fours, his arms threatening to give out under the burden of his immense weight, he gazed down at the sheets, nervous. "Are you ready, big boy?" she asked.


He gulped, terrified, but somehow wanting this. "Ready as I'll ever be."


"Relax. On my count, just exhale and let it happen. Three...two…"


Despite her instructions, he inhaled sharply as her strap entered him. Each wide cheek of his bubble butt did little to deter the length of her instrument. But after a while...it wasn't bad. The lube made the penetration relievingly smooth, and pleasure shot through his nerves where her hands gripped his sides.


"That's it. It's nice, isn't it? Trust a compulse to take you to that happy place."


She leaned into him from behind, her flabby belly resting on his back, warm and comforting and oh so sensual. "D'you like fat girls, Eddie?"


She thrust her instrument deep inside him. It hurt for a moment, but then she hit something that made him gasp with pleasure.


"Well?"


After letting out a grunt, he answered: "I'm more or less bi-sizual. If that's a word."


"Now, tell me this: do you like being a fatty?"


Suddenly, she pulled out. He gasped and backed into her, desperate for completion. "Please--"


"Answer me."


"I like...being a fatty." All that soft, sensuous weight to enjoy, or have enjoyed...who wouldn't?


"Louder!" she demanded. "Tell it to the world."


"I like being a fatty, okay?"


"Good! Good." She grabbed him by the hair and forced him to look up at his surroundings. "We're all so proud of you. Especially her."


He was onstage, and all around him, a full auditorium watched, either pleasuring themselves or one another, lost in hedonistic abandon...and there, front and center, was Oriana, sitting in Dante's ample lap. He had two fingers in her mouth and the other hand in her pants, but nevertheless, she gazed at Eddie with utmost adoration. "You're such a good boy."


***


Eddie awoke with a jolt.


Oriana wasn't there, but he smelled her cooking. When he dressed and made his way to the kitchen, she was taking croissants out of the oven.


"I'm trying something new," she said, holding a warm croissant to his lips. "Blow on it, it's hot. But it has mozzarella and prosciutto."


He blew, leaned in tentatively, and took a bite. "Oh. Wow. This is good." Sitting down in a sturdy kitchen chair, he said, "I could probably finish this whole batch. But first: be honest with me. Would you be mad if I um...had a dream where I had sex with someone else?"


"Depends who it is,' said Oriana as she plated the croissants and set them on the table. "If it was some celebrity like Bailey Sharp? Fine. I'll take that. That's normal. If it was my mom? Less okay."


"It was Martika."


"Oh. That's fine, then. I dream about having sex with her all the time. Don't mean I'm gay." She picked up the plate. "Now who wants to be a good boy for me?"


***


"How did your visit with your mother go?"


Feeling his whole body sink against Dr. Castro's couch cushions, Eddie wished for a moment that the piece of furniture would swallow him up. "Badly. She and Oriana had an argument...everything more or less blew up."


"What was the argument about?"


"Let's see...she called Oriana a 'dumb, common correctional officer'...Oriana accused my mom of being overbearing and withholding of affection...the question of my weight came up, Mom hasn't seen me for a while and she was livid; Oriana had to defend me there...they really covered all the bases, honestly."


"And who do you think was right?"


Eddie slumped forward in his seat, elbows on his knees. He heard the couch creak under his weight. Suddenly embarrassed, he straightened up, flushing deeply.


"Don't worry about the couch," said Dr. Castro.


Eddie sat with the question for a while before answering. "I should say Oriana. She was the one defending me. And yet...I feel--"


"'I' messages, good."


"I feel like I could be doing so much better."


"With regards to?"


"The business."


"Eddie, you're a CEO at the age of twenty-three. That's more than almost anyone can say."


"But I got the venture capital through total dumb luck, and I still have no clients or investors."


"Is it a crime to be lucky?"


"No. I guess not." It was technically a crime to steal millions from various corporations while flying around in a robot suit in a vain attempt at trying to get dusted by a local superhero, even if he had given all that money back to the poor. But he supposed attracting the attention, and the funding, of a tech billionaire turned secretly evil cyborg had never been his fault.


"Do you care to delve into the matter of your size?" asked Dr. Castro, ever empathetic behind her desk, leaning in, chewing on the end of her pen, listening.


He forced a shrug. "I don't mind it. Oriana doesn't mind it."


"You two don't mind it, or you find it to be a source of gratification?"


He must have been scarlet. Was his front of indifference really so transparent? He supposed he'd gained a couple pounds since the last time he'd been in this office, but he'd assumed that, as heavy as he already was, it wouldn't be noticeable.


"This is a judgment-free office," said the clinician.


"Yeah, I guess it is kind of gratifying."


"That's okay. There are many different types of pleasure. I wouldn't recommend enlightening your mother on the details of your intimate life. In fact, I won't press for the details either. But this does help me understand you." She poured herself a cup of coffee from a pot on her desk. "Coffee?"


"No, thank you."


"There's something else you wanted to bring up today." It wasn't a question.


"Yes...but it's kind of embarrassing."


"Well, like I said, this is a--"


"Judgment free office, yeah, I got that," echoed Eddie. Well, he might as well spit it out before she guessed. "Last night, I had a dream about one of Oriana's friends."


"I see. Was it a sexual dream?"


Eddie swallowed and nodded.


"Would you like to elaborate on what happened in the dream?"


"Oriana's friend um...penetrated me, with a foreign object, in front of Oriana as well as an auditorium full of people." Could that have been more uncomfortable to explain? If Dr. Castro asked him how that made him feel, he might implode.


Instead, the doctor leaned forward in her seat. "Ah, Standard Sex Dream Number 47. Here's what you're gonna do: go home, take three Prozac. Chase the first one with a shot of Jack Daniels, the second with a shot of Evan Williams, and the third with a shot of Bailey's. And it has to be in that order, otherwise you will develop a clown fetish."


"Wait...really?"


She chuckled. "No, but I thought a little deflection with humor might ease your discomfort. Now, have you spoken with Oriana about this?"


"Yeah, she doesn't think it's such a big deal."


"But you're still troubled."


"Should I not be?"


"Tell me about Oriana's friend. Are they attractive?" asked Dr. Castro.


"Objectively, yes. But I don't want her that way," Eddie tried to explain. "She's kind of a celebrity, and she's...well, she's awe-inspiring, but also...intimidating? She makes me feel--"


"Remember our 'I' messages," Dr. Castro cut in.


Eddie took a breath. "Okay. Rephrasing: when I'm around her, I feel...completely upstaged."


"Do you feel envy?" asked Dr. Castro. "Like you wish you could be more like this person? Perhaps this dream was less about sex and more about your feelings of…?"


And just like that, she hit the nail on the head. Not that he could talk about it in all its depth with her...but it was so true! Why should Big Tech be seen as a victim after all the work he'd done to reverse the public's opinion, while Crucifix got to traipse around the city as a reputable girlboss even though it couldn't be clearer that she gave the opposite of a fuck what people thought about her?


It clicked for him then: maybe the key to getting around in public in either of his identities with any sense of inner peace was to stop trying to defend himself and lean into who he was. He was happy with his size. Why should anyone else's opinion go acknowledged?


"You know, that's it," he said, "it's that I feel...powerless, compared to her. But I think I know what I should do about it."


"Great! What's your plan?"


"I can be more like her if I want to be," said Eddie. "I just need to stop letting other people bring me down."


"Good!" She smiled brightly. "I think that's a good plan. Now, we're coming close to our time. Is there anything else on your mind?"


"Nope, I think that about--" He shifted his weight to heave himself off the couch, only to hear a snap, falling backwards as its frame collapsed beneath him. Mortified, he struggled to his feet. "I'll pay for that!"


"There's no need. Like I've said, this is--"


"A judgment free office. Got it."
 

stevita

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Another girls' night out found Eddie once again at the bar with Dante, though this time, his mind was much more at ease about Bombshell and Crucifix's efficacy as partners out in the field.


Each occupying two barstools, the two expansive men had ordered a broad and numerous selection of appetizers, and Eddie was digging in with gusto. "I think I've got you beat by at least two plates, dude," said Eddie with a playful nudge to Dante's side. In like-minded company when it came to matters of feedism, his voracious capacity, along with his hulking size, became a point of pride instead of self-consciousness, and he was even enjoying a bit of friendly competition with his...well, his eskimo brother. He wished Mickey had been able to make it; he'd invited her, but she was working late. He dunked a fried mozzarella stick in his ramekin of hot marinara and bit into it, letting the cheese ooze and pull apart as it melted in his mouth--so good. It was criminal that he'd spent his childhood deprived of all the buttery, carb-loaded, deep-fried deliciousness spread out on the bar counter before him.


"Yeah, but calorie for calorie, I think I'm in the lead." Dante set the bones of a chicken wing down on a plate and slid Eddie a dipping cup of bleu cheese dressing. "Try those with this--way more fattening."


"I don't know about cheese on cheese, man."


"It's better than it sounds, trust me," Dante insisted. "Anyway, back to that deprivation thing: you really need to nut up and give that crazy mom of yours the business."


"She's not crazy--"


"Eddie. This woman put the responsibility of being the world's next great genius on your shoulders since you was a young child. And even though she saw you as a future meal ticket, she still beat your ass. Sounds pretty crazy to me."


"Okay," Eddie sighed. "She's a little crazy. She's still my mother."


Dante shook his head. "What nobody ever tells you is, the saying goes like this: 'the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.' Who cares who you came out of, bro? Far as I'm concerned, you don't need her. You got me, I'm your brother now. Martika's your sister. There's that gay couple, you got them, and Ori, that's your future wife right there. The fuck you need some bitch who never even appreciated you for you? And I know Ori already told you this, but ain't that therapist of yours always saying repetition is the key to locking in those positive affirmations?"


"Look, I didn't come here to get a therapy session."


"I know, I know. For once, you came out with no ulterior motive other than to socialize and have a good time. That's progress." Dante raised his glass. "To progress!"


"Progress." Eddie clinked his cherry cola with Dante's shot of cognac.


It was the same copper-haired bartender working the counter as last time, and she knew to replace Dante's drink as soon as he drained it. She threw him a wink, but otherwise left the boys to their conversation, and soon turned at the sound of a bell and padded into the kitchen. The TV behind the bar was tuned to the news with the volume all the way up, and as Eddie loaded a heaping spoonful of queso onto a chip, a breaking story made its way on the air.


"Protests erupted across the southwestern United States this evening two weeks after word went mainstream that hundreds of workers were injured, dozens killed, due to oversights in workplace safety at a string of warehouses run by global e-commerce conglomerate Atlantic.com. We go now live to field reporter Kathleen Young at the scene of a demonstration."


The screen panned to a young journalist with a microphone standing among protesters shouting and chanting in a city square, signs held high. "Thank you, Regina. I'm here now with the protesters in Santana, Texas, in the aftermath of the Atlantic death toll. Let's hear what they have to say. Excuse me, sir?" She pulled a protestor from the crowd and thrust the microphone under his chin. "What are your thoughts on the matter at hand?"


"Corporations can't continue to determine when we live and die!" the man shouted. "We are losing loved ones! The poor are suffering so the rich can continue to cut corners! This is a job for Big Tech!"


Eddie's heart leapt into his throat.


The screen flashed back to the generic blonde anchorwoman. "Thank You, Kathleen. As we have known, the vigilante known as Big Tech first entered the public spotlight last year as a sort of 'Robin Hood' figure, building his legacy on philanthropy funded through anti-corporate-motivated cybercrime. Temporarily neutralized during a confrontation with Blackwater City's Bombshell, he was fattened to immense proportions but, due to access to advanced technology, managed to rise from the ashes and resume his career in vigilantism. Nowadays, Big Tech mostly keeps to the shadows, preferring to prioritize rescuing his lover Bombshell when she gets in over her head, and, in fact, recently, he has confessed on the obscure radio program 'Nail Me to the Cross,' hosted by Deviant rights advocate Martika Mitchell--"


"That's my GIRL!" exclaimed Dante, before downing his shot and slamming the empty glass against the bar.


"--that his plan all along was to be caught and fattened by Bombshell. But it seems now that people are begging for Big Tech to vindicate them by returning to his criminal ways. Let's see what Roth Gilligan, our heroics correspondent, has to say. Roth? What do you think? Is Big Tech a good guy or a bad guy?"


The feed cut to an older white guy in a suit before a dark blue background intended to look like a clear night sky, but it was clearly greenscreened. "He's a fat guy, Regina. Sure, he's helped some people, but the fact of the matter is, we've got a six-hundred pound man--"


"667," Eddie interjected with a smirk.


"Damn! What Oriana been feeding you?"


"--flying around in a robot suit, attracting media attention on a global scale. And it may be true that he wanted Bombshell to, oh, Bombshell him...but he could have just disappeared after that. Instead, he's still out here in the public eye.


"I say, screw what he wants. If he knows what's good for the people--if he wants to keep calling himself a hero, vigilante, what have you--he'll eat a salad, join a gym, and stop embarrassing America!"


"That's quite enough of that." The bartender, having returned, changed the channel to hockey. Dante gave her a nod of appreciation before turning back to Eddie.


"What do you think? Wanna go back to the old ways?"


"You...you think this is a job for Big Tech?"


"I don't think. I know," said Dante. "I know your heart bleeds for the people that got less than you. I know you know how to make this right."


"You're not seriously suggesting I commit a crime?" Suddenly, Eddie was glad Mickey wasn't here, what with her supervillain theory. It felt more viable than ever, and yet…


Dante had a point.


The working class had a point.


"Come on, man, you already know this: not all bad guys wear ski masks and carry guns. Some sit in offices and own companies."
 

stevita

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BIG TECH'S LATEST HEIST: ONE BIG FAT DISAPPOINTMENT


The day has finally come when physical fitness is no longer a requisite for a so-called 'superhero'. Thursday evening between the hours of 10 PM and midnight, Atlantic.com, Inc, was targeted by a cyber attack which liquidated the company's assets, transferred billions of dollars in funds to entry-level employees, and brought all production to a screeching halt. When executives attempted to remediate the situation, they found themselves locked out of all their devices, their screens emblazoned with a certain oversized vigilante's catch phrase: 'rue the day'.


Earlier in the month, Atlantic workers organized strikes over allegedly unsafe working conditions and unpaid overtime. Their uprising caught the attention of several news networks and became prime fodder for Big Tech and his communist leanings. And yet, the attack was carried out remotely, without any break-ins or physical action.


It is a troubling time to be alive indeed when the unfit can easily menace the economy as efficiently as any hardworking supervillain. As recently as last year, Atlantic.com had been one of the Big Five companies in the U.S. information technology industry, along with YeeHaw, Kumquat, MicroSystems, and the now-dissolved Mybrid. But if the internationally-sprawling e-commerce and streaming giant could so easily fall to the whims of one lazy, obese American on his couch with a computer, it seems hardly worth the billions it accrued.


National authorities are working around the clock to trace the attack, but so far the manhunt has proven fruitless.


© The Incorporated Press, 2024


***


BombshellOfficial: Let me ask you guys one question


BombshellOfficial: If a FIT person had taken down Atlantic, what would the press look like?


BombshellOfficial: I doubt they would have been open-minded enough to call it 'justice'. The folks up top love their money too much.


BombshellOfficial: But would the word "lazy" have even come up? Or would the perp have been "ruthlessly efficient, a dangerous genius and enigmatic threat"?


BombshellOfficial: Maybe there'd be a little more respect and awe for an era where we all carry super computers in our pockets


BombshellOfficial: and you can shut someone down across the country if you're smart enough


BombshellOfficial: when I know some of y'all remember having to get off the computer so Dad could use the phone.


BombshellOfficial: Confession time: I did it. I just borrowed bae's catch phrase cause it sounded good. BT not the only one in this house that knows how to hack.


BombshellOfficial: Real funny that y'all thought this was him because of his weight and not the whole tech wizard thing


BombshellOfficial: Prayers and condolences to the friends and families of the workers who lost their lives due to unsafe warehouse conditions


***


Eddie walked into the bedroom to find Oriana sitting criss-cross on the bed, angrily clacking away on her laptop keyboard. "Still on a Twitter rampage?" he asked, holding up his phone.


"Just about wrapping it up." She closed her laptop and plugged it in on the end table by the bed.


"Why'd you take the fall for me?"


"To show the world how ignorant they are."


He sat down next to her and put his hand on top of hers. "Just so you know, I don't really care what some idiot reporters have to say about me."


She bit her lip and met his eyes. "I like the sudden fortitude. And I don't give a shit what people think of me neither. But this ain't just about us. Look: not every big guy can rely on indestructible robot armor. And not every freak like me is bulletproof. So we might not give a shit. But what about every other me out there? Every other you? Our lifestyle don't exist in a vacuum. Who's gonna stand up for all of them, if not us?"


Her words moved him, and he reached around her to pull her in close. Instantly, he felt the telltale rush of feel-good chemicals that meant her happiness--and her desire--were leaking into him. He kissed her deeply, and the feeling only intensified. She pressed herself hard against his body, causing his yielding flesh to pool against her dramatic curves. Fingernails digging into his plush sides, she kissed him again and again before coaxing him to his back on the mattress.


"Holy shit, you're good at that," he said as she straddled his wobbly waist as best as her short, thick legs could manage. "And you're...truly selfless. I think that's why I finally came around for you."


"And you're sexy when you go all 'fuck-the-system,'" she smirked. "It ain't no wonder I wanted you to f up so bad. Now make love to me, Eddie?"


He didn't need telling twice.
 

stevita

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"Even the finest sword, plunged into salt water, will eventually rust."


-Sun Tzu


***


Part 2: Hell Hath No Fury


***


Chapter 9


***


It had been an eventful week in the life of Fat Jail's administrative head, and only one of the events had been any good.


The good times came on Sunday, with the release of the live-action film adaptation of The Splice Sisters, Oriana's favorite childhood cartoon. For years they'd been teasing the movie, and for years, Oriana looked forward to nothing more than getting to watch the superheroic sisters on the big screen, all grown up and learning to balance college, romance, and fighting giant monsters, but she'd been so busy with her own balancing act lately that she hadn't even realized the picture had at last reached theaters. But, because they loved her so much, Eddie, Mickey and Marion had come together to surprise her with tickets to the matinee.


"I think it was good," said Mickey on the drive to dinner, which she and Eddie had insisted on booking at a local dim sum restaurant, despite having sucked down between them enough hot dogs, sodas, and popcorn refills to make the concessions manager have to run to the store for more. By the end of the movie, Oriana had been squirming in her seat, watching her man cut loose and indulge, and she was pretty sure Marion had creamed her shiny metal pants in the seat beside her (Eddie and Marion having each required two). "Can you believe those sound effects? I swear, when that lightning fight started, I could feel the ground shake."


"I thought it was way too gory," said Marion. "There's a time and a place for cynical realism and gritty noir, but is it really a children's fandom?"


"They sailed my ship!" Oriana exclaimed. "I been rooting for Keiko and Brian since the end of season 1 in the cartoon! And I'm so happy they didn't do that shitty thing where the fat kid grows up to be skinny, like in that horror movie with the clown."


"I don't know. Didn't that subplot feel a little contrived?" Eddie teased from the driver's seat. "Shy, nerdy guy becomes a supervillain, but only because he has a crush on the workaholic heroine who only has time for crime…surely it would never happen that way."


Just then, the FatPhone rang. Everybody froze, and Oriana groaned. Yes, she had her costume in the glove box and her helmet in the trunk, but did she really want to do this now?


"This is Bombshell, what's your emergency?" she answered as pleasantly as she could muster.


"Bombshell, it's the Commissioner."


"Jazz, I thought you have a whole squad of cops with superpowers now. The hell you need me for?"


"Just calling to give you a little update. Remember when I campaigned for this office on a platform of disarmament?"


"Yeah, you had me on the podium as your little trophy hero the whole time."


"Yeah…I'm afraid getting rid of the guns is gonna have to wait."


"Lemme get this straight. You have a bunch of cops that can just zap lawbreakers with Taser beams out their fingertips, and you think they still need guns now?"


"I'm afraid I was a little in over my head when I took this position," the Commissioner confessed. "You're aware, of course, of the ongoing strife between the Blackwater Police Department and the US Heroics Division?"


"It's only the most heated Tweet war in the Deviant community." Each law enforcement agency had been doggedly accusing the other of the murder of Blackwater's beloved rogue heroine Voltage since the moment her body had been discovered. Oriana didn't know what to believe, other than Voltage didn't kill herself.


"The fight is no longer confined to the Internet," said Jasmine. "Apparently, the Division has taken my hiring of Genetic Deviants onto the force as an act of aggression. That earthquake you felt half an hour ago was the sound of Corporal Punishment putting five of my best men in the ICU."


Fuck. "And I fit into this…how?"


"I know you're not on my payroll, Bombshell…but if, as a favor, you were to go down to the Division HQ and fatten a few of their operatives as a warning from me–"


"I can't do that, Jazz. I move against the Division and they'll use my friendship with Flame to take it out on her faster'n you can say workplace exploitation."


"Bombshell, sometimes you have to put the greater good before personal relationships."


"I think that's where I wanna go head and agree to disagree," said Oriana, and she hung up.


She returned to work on Monday morning to learn that over the weekend, five more fantastically fat felons had escaped from jail. How the hell did this keep happening?


And now?


Now, she had a complaint on her desk stating that one of her correctional officers had exposed himself to a female inmate.


The week had been far too long for her waning patience, and fucking hell, it was only Tuesday!


A soft knock at her door heralded Max Wentworth's quiet entry on light, timid footsteps.


And she had so wanted to like that guy.


"You wanted to see me, Oriana?"


"You're fired, Max."


"But–but why?"


"Because I have you on camera being inappropriate with one of my cons." Whatever had been tearing through cell walls had destroyed the cameras in the compromised rooms, and she had yet to recover the footage, if it could even be salvaged, but the evidence of Wentworth's lechery was as clear as day.


"Oriana, you've got to understand. I was–I was just trying to help her!"


"By whipping your dick out and waving it around? I can't believe I thought you was one of the good ones! Fuck out of my jail before I have to call for a forklift to remove you, I am not even close to playing around right now!" She chucked a stapler at his head and missed by milliseconds before he made a mad dash out of her office to clean out his locker.


***


"SPARK! SPARK! SPARK!"


The dank, dark underground arena echoed with the cheers and cries of spectators from every direction. Ben Taylor-Moore bounced on the balls of his feet, fight-ready in his corner of the ring, as a duo of medics dragged away his spent and defeated opponent, the dastardly Laser Prick, a powerful Deviant endowed with super strength and the ability to fire devastating heat-ray beams out of his…well, out of his dick.


But even such an overpowered, not to mention overexposed, menace was no match for Spark's powerful fastballs, each glowing sphere a burst of pure electric energy fueled by the ambient emotional timbre of the crowd–at least, that was how it was scripted.


The fights were fixed, not that the audience knew. None of the participants were in any real danger. Still, Ben found it nice to hear his name cheered, and on his first night in the arena to boot.


The whole thing was organized by Crucifix, the Princess of Pain herself, who had recently made her own debut in the crimefighting spotlight as the occasional sidekick to Bombshell, the Fattening Femme Fatale. Ben was among the few in the illegal prizefighting hall who knew that Crucifix was none other than Martika Mitchell–yes, that Martika Mitchell, owner of real-estate conglomerate Mitchell Enterprises and star of the only radio show on the air to tackle the mistreatment of Deviants in the Heroics Division and military.


Ben didn't know how long Martika had been operating the fighting ring, but even if he thought of himself as more a lover than a fighter, he was honored to be making his debut on her circuit. He did, after all, owe her everything.


He'd first come to her as a chubby nobody who could barely control his electroempathy, fresh out of a Division internment camp where he and his fellow prisoners had been subjected to all manner of excruciating experiments in the pursuit of the perfect supersoldier. After his escape, Martika had taken him underwing, helped him get a grip on his powers, conscripted him into the fight against the exploitation of their kind…


And turned him into a local legend.


You wouldn't hear about Spark in the mainstream news. He was still chubby, if not solidly in fat territory now–as strenuous as Crucifix's training regiment was, it came with unlimited access to any delicacy her staff knew how to cook, and Ben knew better than to showboat in the spotlight in a futile attempt to impress the masses as a plus-size hero. Look what the tabloids had already done to Big Tech.


So, he kept to the shadows. He lurked in alleys waiting for people to save and used the cover of night to his advantage in a storm-gray coat and boots that made no noise against the roughest of pavement.


But to anyone who counted themself a member of the Crucifix fandom, the spectacular Spark was an inspiration. According to rumor, after each hard day's work engaged in street-level philanthropy, the city's newest pudgy protector got bedded by a different chubby-chasing hottie every night. People whispered about the time he saved pop sensation Bailey Sharp from a mugging and she invited him inside.


And according to the data Martika had obtained from–actually, it was unclear exactly where the data came from, but Ben wasn't one to argue with a good thing–the crowds demanded to see him dominate in the ring. Not completely–no, if he swept all his competition in his first ever tournament, it would look contrived–but he'd be coming in second this time, and if all went according to Crucifix's plan, people would come out in droves next time to see him redeem himself.
 

stevita

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"The winner is Spark!" Crucifix declared into her megaphone, grabbing his hand and hoisting it into the air as she clambered over the ropes of the spotlit wrestling ring in her thigh-hugging boots, leather pants, and precariously laced corset. Ben hadn't thought it was possible for his adoring fans to cheer any louder, but all at once, he was proven right and pleasantly surprised. "Next on the roster, we have a Deviant who's made some waves in rough seas lately. Once another underpaid and unappreciated Division contractor–"


The audience took the opportunity to boo for the Heroics Division.


"--he was forced into a life of crime to make ends meet. He may have evaded Scarlet Flame, but made the mistake of taking a hostage in the territory of none other than Bombshell. This seasoned soldier of superhuman bureaucracy has seen some shit, you guys. And I know you're all rooting for our best boy Spark, but does he have what it takes to defeat The Human Hallucinogen?"


***


Winded, gasping, and ready to bend double and throw up, Jared put on a good show of sportsmanship by shaking Spark's hand and giving the crowd a small wave in deferential acceptance of his defeat. In hushed tones, he hissed, "Ben, what the fuck, man? I thought we were friends!"


The plan had been for Jared to hit Ben with a little dose of what he could do. Dig up his worst memories of his time spent being experimented on in an illegal lab, making friends with a next-cell neighbor only to watch her be singled out for torture day in and day out, forcing him to relive the starvation, the agony of having his bone marrow forcibly extracted on the table of a diabolical surgeon, and, in the days after his escape, the rejection of the girl he'd spent his life pining for. Ben would suffer the torment until Jared's natural tendency towards an ego trip gave him enough energy to channel, and then fire an electrical attack just powerful enough to make the compulse stagger. Once Jared was caught off guard, Ben would rush him, but Jared, still with enough of his wits about him to make a last-ditch attempt at stealing the victory, would grapple with him for a moment, and then Ben would throw him over one shoulder–well, more like Jared would throw himself; in these sorts of matches it was the victim who did all the work–onto his back to end the match.


It all went according to script except for that last part. Instead of a throw, the fight had ended in a choke slam, when Ben failed to do his part getting Jared into the air and had been forced to improvise.


"You know I have lung problems, bro."


"Look, I'm sorry dude!" said Ben. "I don't have super strength, and you're kind of a big dude."


"Jared! A word."


Jared's attention flitted to the corner of the ring, where Cruxifix was glancing over her shoulder at him, waiting for him to follow her.


She led him down a narrow, unseen hallway that was torch-lit a little ways ahead. The stone sides of the tunnel threatened to brush both their sides, but if she had confidence that they wouldn't end up stuck, he assumed he was walking into safe territory.


Their journey ended in an unfinished room with a low ceiling and a single lightbulb dangling from a string to illuminate the mildew-flecked walls. Though Crucifix was a merciful employer, he expected he'd been pulled aside for a scolding. "Look, Boss," he said, "I know I fought like shit, but I'll put on a better show next time, I swear–"


"You poor dear thing," said Crucifix. "Did you really think I singled you out just to voice a grievance with your performance?"


He blinked. "Yes?"


"Obviously, no one's ever shown you the support and respect you deserve." She reached up to stroke his fat cheek with the pad of her thumb before giving the flesh there an affectionate, motherly pinch. "True, I mean to pull you from the prizefighting scene, but only to offer you a promotion."


"A promotion?"


"Your talents are wasted on this silly spectacle. You'd serve me much better as a soldier, defending the Commune. And you'd see a 20% pay raise, of course."


Jared could scarcely believe his ears. The Commune! He'd heard little about it, but he did know it was Crucifix's most important project, and she only entrusted her worthiest of men to set eyes on it.


"What do you say, big boy?"


She extended a handshake, and he gripped her hand firmly. "You got yourself a deal, Boss!"


***


Thank God there was a bar in this underground fight club.


"Another, s'il vous plaît," said Scarlet Flame to the barman, setting down a glass of wine, the faint burgundy residue coating its inside surface the only evidence that just a minute earlier, it had been full. It was an alarming pace at which to imbibe, even for her, but it was all she could do to keep warm in the cold catacombs, wearing only her costume of lacy, formfitting red lingerie and matching strappy stiletto shoes that would draw blood where the buckles bit into her ankles before she returned home for the night. Her handlers at the Division would grill her in the morning about why she'd been unreachable (she'd left her phone at home) and what had happened to her microchip (she'd damaged it deliberately to prevent getting caught in the middle of circumventing the law, but she could always play it off like it had been broken in a fight that broke out while she was making a routine street-level save). Normally, these sorts of rowdy venues weren't her scene. She would have much preferred to drink her wine at a glitzy hotel bar, or on a picnic blanket on the pretty public lawn in the shadow of the Waterfall Wall, but she was three weeks behind on rent and couldn't afford to part with any more plasma at the blood bank this month. Luckily, her friend Martika Mitchell from the radio station gave her the tip off that her acquaintance Crucifix would pay well for anyone willing to fight in a Deviants-only wrestling tournament.


The barman set a fresh glass of cabernet before her and she finished it just as Spark mopped the floor with Human Hallucinogen. That was her cue: she was to be tonight's big surprise, a heel to come out of nowhere and defeat everyone's new favorite corpulent crusader and get the fanbase hyped to see him beat her next week, same time and place.


"I won?" asked Spark, up in the ring and looking precocious in his basic domino mask and cute little Che Guevara-looking gray costume. For only being a college student, the kid had a natural flair for acting. If he wasn't so plump, the Division would probably be banging on his door, dying to get their claws in him as America's next friendly neighborhood golden boy.


Some people had all the luck that way.


"Holy shit, I can't believe I won! Unless there's anyone else I still have to fight?"


Just as scripted, Flame threw her empty glass to the ground, where it shattered, ear-splitting and vulgar, against damp, cold stone. "I'll fight you, Spark."


All booed as the famed bootlicker of the despised Heroics Division stepped over the ropes to invite herself into the ring.


Spark's chubby cheeks flattened the tiniest perceivable amount as his eyes blew wide behind his mask, his jaw going slack in a spot-on imitation of shock. "Scarlet Flame? But this is an illegal fighting league! And you work for the government!"


"Mais oui," agreed Flame, "and those sons of bitches never let me out of my cage to have any fun!"
 

stevita

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Scarlet Flame's late entry into the tournament had been a surprise even to Spark, but he had expected the fight with her to end quickly. After all, all within earshot of her were bound to her will. Wouldn't it make sense for her to simply command him to forfeit the match?


That wasn't how it went down.


Trained intensively by her handlers in the art of causing a spectacle worthy of national television, she choreographed a battle that showcased her acrobatic talents with Ben held at the mercy of her whims, slamming himself into the ropes at the slightest push of her dainty fist. To the audience, the whole affair must have looked ridiculous. Had superpowers not been a factor, he could have flattened the government's favorite poster girl. She clocked in at maybe a buck twenty soaking wet, and she wore the most unwieldy pair of high heels he'd ever seen. But, as it went, she had him winded well before the match was halfway over.


"I suggest you fall," she finished with a note of finality, and it was with relief that he collapsed backwards onto the mat.


She planted the ball of her foot into his belly, not hard enough to hurt him, but firmly enough for it to sink a half inch into his pudge and sell the scene. "Not bad for an old dog, eh?" she said, looking down at him with a practiced smirk.


"Good game, Flame."


To jeers and insults shouted from the stands, she helped him to his feet and he shook her slender hand.


"Spark, a word?"


Crucifix, having emerged from wherever she'd been hiding, stood just beyond the ropes, gazing gravely at Ben. "What's up, butter cup?" he asked, letting himself out of the ring to approach her. Awfully informal way to address the boss, and he knew it…but he figured he could get away with a bit of familiarity, considering they occasionally met in a more intimate context.


His cocksuredness disippated as she began to lead him out of the arena and down a dark hallway in total silence.


"Did I do okay? That was the fight I was supposed to throw, right?"


Their trek ended in a small, dark, secret cavern deep in the catacombs. Martika turned around and embraced him tightly, cradling the back of his skull protectively with one pudgy palm. "Oh, Ben…you were perfect. But I'm afraid we have bigger problems than the outcome of a wrestling match."


"What do you mean?"


She choked on her next words: "The Division knows we were at the scene of the Rivington explosion."


"But–but–!" Ben stammered, suddenly numb. "But there's no way they can prove anything!"


"Maybe they can't tie my identity to Crucifix," said Martika, "but I've sent letters to the Bellvue campus addressed to Spark, and you picked them up."


"I never told anyone I WAS Spark, though!"


"Do you think the Division will care if they think they've found a lead?"


Ben swallowed thickly. He'd already been held in the Division's custody once, and after months of freedom, he still got nightmares. "What are we gonna do?"


"I have vacant houses in the Commune. You can have your pick. I hate asking you to uproot your life in Blackwater, but you'll be safer there."


Ben could scarcely believe his ears. The Commune! He'd heard little about it, but he did know it was Crucifix's passion project, her own personal utopia, and residence within was a privilege reserved for only her most loved comrades.


"Holy…I knew what we had was special, but I didn't realize it was that serious."


"So you'll come with me? To the Commune? Tonight?"


He wrapped his arms as far as they would reach around her wide waist. "I'd follow you anywhere, Crucifix."


***


There were rules in the fight club, despite its under-the-table operation in an OSHA-noncompliant network of catacombs before a crowd of onlookers gambling over the outcome of each battle, their winnings all kept a tight-lipped secret from the IRS. No killing, no breaking bones, no causing permanent injuries. Temporary ones, though? That was fine.


Max sat on the ground in an out-of-the way chamber at the end of a corridor, back propped against the wall. He prodded at a mild but painful burn from getting smacked directly in the chest with an electric shock as he waited for Crucifix to bring him some more medical attention.


Only, when she arrived, she didn't have a doctor for him. All she had was pure, unbridled fury.


"Max, you insolent, insubordinate moron! I didn't know this was possible, but you've lowered my opinion of the British by so much that you've raised my opinion of the French!"


Before he could protest on his own behalf, she hit him with the full force of her pain projection.


It was like a million knives twisting into each square inch of his skin. He screamed in agony, but that only seemed to make her angrier, if her rage was what determined the intensity of the stabbing sensation.


"Let's recap, shall we? I gave you ONE JOB: to report to me on the activities of ONE WOMAN. In exchange, I offered you safe asylum, a paper trail of online activity painting you out NOT to be a complete sack of dog crap, a hefty bribe to your wife back in England if she would stop investigating your whereabouts, and the chance at a peaceful life with the big beautiful jailbird of your choosing. You could have followed my VERY simple instructions, but instead, you've decided to go over my head, cause a panic at Fat Jail with a mass break-out, and now you've gotten yourself fired for sexual harassment?! I've never been so thoroughly failed!"


"I'M SORRY! PLEASE FORGIVE ME!" Max sobbed through the torture.


"No, I don't think I will! In fact…I have half a mind to give you a taste of what it feels like to have a promise broken. Tell me…does Victoria know what you did to her? She may have been willing to turn a blind eye to your abandonment of marriage, but what would she do if she found out that the rapid weight gain that ended her tennis career was because of the appetite stimulants you slipped into her food? Or…ooh! What would Bombshell do to you if I gave her the tip that you're a dirty rotten food tamperer?"


"PLEASE! I'LL DO ANYTHING! I'LL WIN MY WAY BACK INTO HER GOOD GRACES, I SWEAR!"


"NO!" snapped Crucifix. "I used to think working with scoundrels would be a small price to pay in pursuit of a perfect world, but now I see that garbage like you is only fit to handle garbage. I don't want you anywhere near my Oriana. From now on, you'll work in public sanitation in the Commune." With that, she finally ended his torment.


Max could scarcely believe his ears. The Commune! He'd heard little about it, but he did know that no one who'd ever been remanded there was ever seen again.
 

stevita

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Life returned to normal with suspicious ease at Fat Jail once Mr. Wentworth was dismissed. The mysterious break-outs had stopped, which made Oriana wonder if there had been more to the blubber-obsessed Brit than he let on. But, with his position to fill, she was falling behind on her plan to conduct a more thorough background check than she had when she hired him.


A knock at her office door heralded the scheduled arrival of her next interviewing candidate. "Come in!"


In walked a slim woman with straight, dark hair and horn-rimmed glasses. She wore a long, flowing skirt and top and had a colorful shawl draped over her shoulders. "You must be…?" Oriana began, digging through the stack of paperwork on her desk to find the woman's application.


"Ilana, from Russia. The pleasure is mine to be having to meet chief warden lady of big man prison!" She helped herself to a seat in front of Oriana's desk. Oriana quirked an eyebrow.


Not only was this woman's Russian accent obviously fake, but the application Oriana had finally tracked down identified her as a woman named Luna from a city called Io, Florida.


"Right, and what brings you to America?"


"Is terrible drought in Italia in these times."


"Where?"


"I, I mean I–Ispaña!"


"Spain?"


"Sí, sí, is where I am from. I think you will be finding me more than qualified for the handling of grande hombre prisoner man."


"Uh huh," Oriana drawled. On her desktop computer, she went through the practiced motions of hacking Whatsername's phone. The results were curious, but not shocking to a woman of her acumen.


Whatsername was logged into a FeedFrenzy account that looked regrettably familiar: it was just Max's, recycled.


With a flick of her wrist and a bored expression, she worked her usual magic. The candidate screamed as her body bloated with a barrage of fresh fat which failed to tear her loose, flowing clothing, although the flimsy chair did snap under the burden of her increased weight.


"Miss Warden Lady…please…!" begged the applicant, but Oriana would not be fooled.


There was only one adversary she could think of who was careless and reckless enough to send a spy into her midst with such a transparent disguise, as if he wanted to be caught, just to prove himself as a nuisance. As for the break ins? He had probably put a laser cannon in Max's hands. Bombshell and Big Tech might have given him the smackdown and left his physical body to be destroyed by the impact of a Go Fork Yourself truck, but he was still out there, somewhere in the cloud. Nothing ever disappeared from the Internet.


"Tell ya what, Luna or Lana or whatever the fuck your name is. Fuck outta my office, and when you see Chimera, tell him–actually? You don't need to tell him shit. One look at you and he'll get the message."


Watching the horrified, fattened spy waddle out of her office as fast as her inflated legs could carry her should have brought Oriana a sense of smug satisfaction. And it did, but she also felt guilty. It had been happening on and off since she and Eddie had gotten together. Not every time…but there were days that came out of the blue where fattening a criminal felt like cheating on him. Sure, there was the crucial difference between her relationship with him and the one she had with the city's population of scoundrels. While he welcomed every pound her attention and calorific cooking piled onto his growing body, the enemies she fought saw their fattening fate as a dreaded punishment.


But then she thought back to the day of their fateful battle: until she'd removed his mask and gazed upon his familiar features, he'd been another hostage taker to her. She'd hit him with those first five hundred pounds not out of love, but out of fear for the life of some random citizen, and most of the time, she could live with herself, but there were nights when the simple, tender act of lying in bed pressed against the delightful rolls and bulges of his body felt akin to praying at an altar she had once desecrated.


She called Eddie up, and he answered after two rings. "Ori! Is everything okay?"


"You love me, right?"


"Ori, of course I love you! Are you okay? What's this all about?"


"I'm fine, nothing's wrong. I just like to hear it," she said, cracking the smallest of smiles. "Love ya too, my sweet lil butter puff."
 

stevita

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Woohoo! The plot thickens. I 💕 love how you're bringing all the threads together.
Thanks so much! So glad to hear people are still reading this even with my frequent disappearances. Although, this time I actually have a good reason for disappearing: I have a Patreon now (stevita) and for the last couple months I've been busy writing exclusive content for that. There's some Sparkverse bonus material on there as well, too, but mostly it's complete speculative fiction/WG stories that can be read as standalones.
 

stevita

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((A/n: Welcome back, party people! Apologies for taking so long to get to this chapter; between returning to restaurant work and setting up my Patreon--which is chock full of Sparkverse bonus content, by the way--I've been a busy bean! But to make up for my absence, I've got an action-packed chapter for you guys full of Crucifix being a devious chessmaster and general badass for 3000 words. Thanks for tuning in!))

Chapter 10

***

Bombshell and Crucifix were among the first to arrive, decked out in their full costumes, to the clandestine meeting of heroes and associates scheduled to take place in the basement of Contini's Pizzeria.


Bombshell had been the one to arrange the assembly, book the venue, compile the guest list, and email the invitations, but she was just about as in the dark as she could be about the nature of the event. She'd done it all as a favor to Scarlet Flame, who'd asked her rather ominously to gather everyone together who had any information about a rogue vigilante operating under the codename Spark, who Bombshell herself had never heard of until Flame's 3 AM phone call.


Spotting the duo of vigilantes, the owner beckoned them over from behind the bar. "Bombshell, good to see ya again!"


A few other costumed heroes started to trickle in behind them. "You too, Don Contini," said Bombshell as she approached the bar, Crucifix at her heels.


"Just Gino, please. We's friends, ain't we?"


"Just tryna set a precedent. Get everyone else to show some respect. Is Vinny around?"


"My brother's working–and you oughta know! You ladies have been keeping his forklift business in plenty of work. I'm assuming this is the lovely Crucifix?"


"I see you keep up with the news," said Crucifix.


"Great work, hun, keep it up. Anyway, I'm gonna need all your phones and recording devices before you step downstairs...that is, assuming you're here for the private event?"


"Of course." Crucifix slid her phone across the bar, while Bombshell surrendered her body cam, work phone, politics phone, personal phone, and--reluctantly--the FatPhone.


"Right down there."


Bombshell led the way down to the basement, where Scarlet Flame greeted them in her masquerade mask and flowing satin sashes and red lipstick and corset and thong, holding a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other. "B! It's been too long! Why don't we ever hang out anymore? And Crucifix! Have you spoken to your friend Mademoiselle Mitchell lately?"


"Would you believe I woke up in her bed this morning?" said Crucifix with a conspiratory wink.


"Oh la la!" Flame fought back a giggle. "Well, when you get the chance, tell her merci beaucoup from me for putting me in touch with you! But come, ladies, have a glass of pinot noir!"


"S!" Bombshell took her into a sisterly embrace, wincing at the sharp angles of her bony hips and protruding ribcage. "You poor thing, you been sick or something?"


"I'm afraid it's simply a matter of the Division's bad habit of forgetting to feed us contractors," Flame remarked.


One by one, superheroes arrived, each helping themself to a folding chair at a long table that stretched from one corner of the basement to the opposite wall. Flame handed each new guest a glass of wine once they were seated. Bombshell only recognized a small handful--in the vigilante world, she made it a personal policy to save her civilians, get off the scene quick, and otherwise mind her own business.


"Who invited the cops?" said a woman in a gold one-piece and burgundy cape and gloves as Commissioner Freeman entered with a security detail of two uniformed officers. One of them, a petite but curvy woman with her dark hair wound into a thick, round bun, sported a black eye and a wrist splint–she must have been one of the officers injured in the Corporal Punishment attack.


"Bombshell did, actually," said the Commissioner. "What I want to know," she went on with a conspicuous glare in Flame's direction, "is why nobody told us the Feds would be here."


"I'm off the clock, cherí," said Flame.


"Don't you 'cherí' me after your friend Corporal Punishment attacked my department!" snapped the Commissioner.


"First of all, I knew nothing about that, and if I'd had anything to do with that operation, I would have never sent the Corporal. Her costume is such an eyesore!"


"S, Jazz, I don't know what your beef is, but I really don't want to have to break up a fight," said Bombshell, "and I know Gino Contini don't wanna have to have anyone forklifted outta this basement. So can we please just move things along?"


"Mais oui, of course," said Flame, "as soon as she admits that the Blackwater police department is responsible for the murder of Voltage!"


"Bullpuck," responded the Commissioner.


"I thought we were here to talk about Spark," said Crucifix, reaching for the bottle of wine Flame had set on the table. "This is excellent pinot, by the way." Bombshell thanked her silently for the backup with a grateful sideways glance.


"Who the fuck's Spark?" asked the woman in the cape from earlier, looking expectantly at Bombshell. All eyes followed hers, and Oriana found herself at the center of an unexpected spotlight.


"Why's everybody looking at me like I know the guy?"


"Well, he's a ghost online. No Twitter, no Insta, and it doesn't look like he was ever on Mybrid. The only mention of him on public airwaves is in this NC-17 fanfiction where the fat fuck seduces you and cucks Big Tech. So, you wanna tell us about your new friend?"


"Look, I never met no Spark, and I don't know nothing about no fanfiction." It was a lie; Oriana had come across the fic in question when she looked up Spark after the call came in from Flame, but she didn't want to get into the long conversation that ended in admitting she read, and occasionally wrote, RPF about herself.
 

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