BHM The Shocking Adventures of Spark

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stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
A/n: Hello, party people! I'm on a bit of a fat superhero kick. If you happen to be following the Pigverse on Deviantart, this is my latest contribution to this awesome shared universe all about superheroes gaining weight. If you're not...have you considered looking it up? I promise you won't be disappointed. Anyway, without further ado, allow me to introduce:

THE SHOCKING ADVENTURES OF SPARK!

EPISODE ONE: RESCUE FROM RIVINGTON

CHAPTER ONE

It had been an...interesting summer for Ben, to say the least.

He was staying at his brother’s house, D’von having housed him for the last five years due to their parents freaking out about the emergence of his powers at age fourteen. (He had accidentally regurgitated a white-hot ball of electricity at the dinner table after his parents had a particularly heated argument, and his sudden outburst only made things worse.) D’von, for the record, was gifted as well, but much more capable of flying under the radar. He was so inconspicuous, in fact, that he had never been diagnosed with superpowers and thus, never received a formal education in using them, but he was doing fine on his own. Their parents still had no idea. His gift was mind control, and honestly, he could have brought about world peace if he was put in front of the right world leaders, but he was of the staunch opinion that he didn’t owe anything to the world, so he spent his days working as a bartender and using his power to finesse exuberant tips out of his guests, which was how the Taylor-Moore boys were able to afford their comfortable two-story house.

Ben, on the other hand, was much less adept at using his power.

For example: towards the end of summer, he was behind the counter of the convenience store where he worked, minding his own business, waiting for a customer at 3 AM, when a masked gunman barged in and stuck him up, demanding he open the register. So he did, and then the man demanded with a gun pressed to his temple that he open the safe, too.

The robber was so practiced at this, there was no emotional reading coming off of him. To him, Ben was just another splatter on the ground if he didn't open that safe.

Which he didn't know the combination to.

And he couldn't so much as muster a spark.

It was a good thing Bombshell showed up in the nick of time.

Go Fork Yourself had had a field day extracting the gunman from the building, and Ben probably should have been in counseling, but at least he wasn't dead.

***

"God, turn your blinker off, you fuckin' idiot!" Oriana swore at the car in front of her before swerving recklessly around it, shaking her head. In the passenger's seat of her silver sedan, Ben clutched the armrests.

His car was in the shop: he had accidentally fried the battery with a misfire of his powers. Luckily, his cousin was available to drive him to school for move-in day. "Slow down, Ori! Someone's gonna recognize your driving if you're not careful!"

"This far from Blackwater City? Nah. Especially not in my civvy car. Out here, I'm just a maniac in a Honda Accord." She hung a sharp left and weaved her way down the feeder road.

"Just try'n not kill us."

"Relax, I'm a great driver."

"But you're on edge. You're jumpy, you've lost sleep...wait. You aren't still e-stalking Big Tech, are you?"

"It's not stalking, it's research. Besides, newsflash: you agreed to help me!"

"I was along for the ride at first, but I don't think this level of obsession is healthy."

"I can't help it!" Oriana squirmed in her seat. "He's so...driven. So brazen, so...so 'fuck-the-system.' I see a lot of myself in him. Or maybe I see him in me, haha! It makes me want to just--"

"Cool it Oriana. I can taste your feelings, remember? And this...this is weird."

"Sorry. Hmm. Tax fraud. Swine flu. How to get rust out of bathroom grout."

"Better," he sighed. "Hey, can you still take me to the shop to get my car a week from now?"

"Barring any emergency. Why can't D'von take you?"

"He can't get out of work on a Friday."

"Yes he can! He's the most powerful compulse in the state that I'm aware of! He can mind control his way out of anything!"

"Yeah, but he thinks the restaurant will fall apart without him." It probably would. Antonio's Mex-Italian Cantina's menu was a mess. Without D'von there to keep the establishment's patrons in their seats, ordering and tipping, the place would have folded already.

She hung a right on West Main and finally, finally, dropped Ben and his suitcases off in front of the brick archways that served as the facade of the school. "You need help getting your stuff to your dorm?"

"I'll be fine," said Ben.

"Listen, any trouble and you call the hotline, okay?"

"Bet."

With that, she sped off.

***

Ben had mixed feelings about returning for his sophomore year at the Bellevue Academy for the Gifted. On the one hand, he might actually start the year right. He had lost twenty pounds over the summer, if only because he mostly only spoke to his brother and Oriana. D’von was pretty emotionally closed-off, and Oriana...well, let's just say she kept herself busy. He was still chubby, but some progress was better than none, right? On the other hand, classes were demanding, he had never been a great student, and every semester seemed to drive him further from his childhood best friend and longtime crush, who was clearly more talented than he could hope to be.

As he hauled his things into the dorm for the start of term, he was stopped by his friend Blake, another misfit who mostly kept to the on-campus LGBT club. “Sup, man? I heard you had a close encounter with Bombshell.”

Not wanting to seem uncool, Ben shrugged, leaned against the wall, and said, “Yeah. I had the mo'fucker on the ropes, but it was nice of her to come finish him off for me.”

He had never actually been in a single fight in his life, but ‘I’m secretly a take-no-names badass using the whole 'hapless' front to keep everyone off their guard’ was a much more appealing vibe than ‘I can still barely control this superpower thing,’ so since last year, he had been running with it.

"What was she like?"

"Well, she was wearing orange…"

"Cut the crap. Did you get her number, or what?" asked Blake. "Personally, she leaves a bit to be desired for me...namely the lack of something between the legs. But hey, you swing both ways, and you're totally her type."

Ben wanted to blurt out, 'That's my cousin!' But it wouldn't do to compromise Bombshell's identity like that. "Everyone has her number. It's posted in public on her Twitter. But it ain't like that, man. She likes someone else."

"Oh really? Anyone we've heard of?"

"She wouldn't give me many hints," Ben lied, "but it's someone on the super scene. And he works in Blackwater City. And don't quote me on this, but he might be self-made rather than born in."

"Don't tell me it's Big Tech," said Blake. "That would be so...unlike her. Then again...there's a conspiracy theory going around amongst the freshman that he only became a villain because he wants her to smack him. We're pretty sure Heather Greene started the rumor. And it's a far stretch, but...have you heard of feedism?"

"Have I? Maybe?" D'von and Oriana were both card-carrying members. Everyone knew Bombshell was a feeder; the way she used biomanipulation to whack crooks with the weight-gain stick to impede the progress of their crimes, how could they not? And D'von brought home a new pudgy paramour every week, sometimes more than one, sometimes more than one at a time. It was weird, having a cousin and a brother who were both of the opinion that fat was the most delightful substance on planet earth...meanwhile, for Ben, it was just part of his everyday reality.

And then...then, there she was.

Walking toward him, a vision in her summer dress with a sash tied around her waist, was the Felicity Cohen.

Every inch of her tall, slender frame exuded confidence from her golden blonde curls to the toes of her pink kitten heels, and really, why wouldn't she be confident? She was well-read, intelligent, and had a natural mastery over her enhanced physicality: endowed with the powers of flight, immense strength, and superhuman durability, she was a Goddess even among the gifted. She was also, by consensus of the student body, the most beautiful girl in school. Her talents with her powers had earned her instant popularity last year, and these days she was usually surrounded by a posse of rich kids and model students. He wondered how she had been able to shake off her clique to come and see him. "You cut your hair," he noted. It was long before the start of summer, but now fell just above her shoulders. "I like it."

"And you got held at gunpoint, so I heard!" said Felicity. She was worried. Her concern overwhelmed him. As she threw herself around him in a hug, it felt to him like being lovingly fed hot soup in bed...forcefully...through a beer bong.

He waved Blake along to allow them some privacy. He’d need to adjust to this much social interaction. “Aight, Lissy, lemme explain, but first, imma need you to dial it back a little bit. You know how I have trouble with these feelings things.”

He went around the corner, by the windows, after throwing his stuff past the entrance of his room, hoping she would follow. “Everything was fine. Bombshell came.”

"Good, good...she didn't accidentally hit you, did she?"

"What? No! Lissy, I been fat since ninth grade."

Since he came into his powers.

Electro-empathy: that was what the doctor had called his ability to turn others' emotions into electrical output. Only, for some reason, most of the time his body converted it into blood glucose instead. Between high school and the start of college, he'd gained eighty pounds, and not in any traditional way. The empathic energy he ran into every day sustained him so well, he didn't even have to eat anymore. He subsisted these days on multivitamins and grapefruit LaCroix.

"You told me. I'm just still getting used to the new you. Not that it should matter."

They'd lost touch in eighth grade. That was when Felicity's family moved to Michigan. But prior to that, they'd been next-door neighbors. Born three months apart, they'd been in diapers together. Their mothers used to golf together. Their fathers used to fish.

Then, Felicity was gone, and everything changed. He turned into a super freak. Oriana became Bombshell practically overnight. His parents had a falling out over the whole powers thing. His dad insisted Mom should be more accepting. Mom said Dad should have told her he had freakazoid blood. They were now in the middle of a messy divorce.

Along the line, he started at Bellvue, only to learn that the girl he used to play in the leaf piles with, whose cuts he bandaged and whose bullies he fought, was in his graduating class, having become the ideological successor to Power Lass.

"Are you sure the weight gain isn't due to stress? What with the ongoing divorce and all," said Felicity. "Might be worth looking into."

"Nah, the doctor made it pretty clear when I was diagnosed: my powers are basically ricocheting into me all the time."

"I can't even imagine. The ricochet effect sounds so rough."

"You get used to it. Anyway, where's your dorm? And lemme get one of those for you,” said Ben, taking one of Felicity's bags off her hands and slinging it over his own shoulder. He knew she was more than capable, but since he’d already dropped of his own stuff, he didn’t want to be a jerk and let her bear the whole load while he himself was unburdened. It wasn’t heavy to him; not now. She was radiating a warm energy that he couldn’t quite place a name to, but he was sure it would sustain him all day.

"Anyway, I'm sorry I was so distant last year. I guess I just got swept up in things...this year will be different. I promise."

“I’d...I’d like that,” he said.

"Come with me to dinner?"

"Sure."
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
He accompanied Felicity to the dining hall, settling for his usual grapefruit LaCroix while she took her pickings of the food.

Just as they sat down, a new voice sounded from behind him. “Hey Felicity!”

He turned around in his seat. Oh, God. It was Miranda, one of the popular girls. “Good to see you back! Hey listen, me and Lola Freeley were gonna try out for the cheer squad next week, and we were wondering if we’d see you there? Also, Jason McCafrey will not shut up about you. You know Jason, tall, blond, plays lacrosse, telekinetic...anyway, just a heads up, he’s probably going to ask you to the fall formal. Oh, who are you?” she asked, seeming to notice Ben for the first time.

“I’m Ben, we had intro to enhanced physics together last year?” he reminded her.

“Oh, that’s what your name is!” said Miranda. “Did you do something different with your hair?”

He hadn’t; it was in the same slightly-gelled style he kept it in to prevent it from sticking out crazily that he wore last year. “I lost twenty pounds.”

“Good for you,” said Miranda, even though last year she was one of the first to hop on the train when people made fun of him. “I took off about fifteen over the summer, myself.”

“Yeah, but you’re a shapeshifter, so…”

“Anyway, Felicity,” said Miranda, forgetting about Ben once more. “Have you heard anything about Jessica Sims? I haven’t seen her, but Jason says he heard it from Brock Kensington that she got pregnant!"

Her stream of gossipy malice coiled through him unpleasantly. He took a deep breath and tried to channel it out slowly, as an imperceptible static into the air…

Only, the electricity that came out of his fingertips was way too strong and made the soda can he was holding burn to the touch. He dropped it, wincing in pain and spilling the remainder of the soda in his crotch before the can rolled off his lap and hit the floor with an empty clatter.

Fuck! That was going to be a second degree burn.

"Ben!" exclaimed Felicity. "Let me take you to the infirmary!"

“Hang on, I don’t want to litter,” said Ben, reaching under the table for the soda can, but he didn’t need to touch it to feel the heat still radiating off of it. He grabbed a cloth napkin off the table to pick it up and chuck it in the trash on their way out into the hall while Felicity led the way to the nurse's.

“It’s not your fault; even if she wasn’t talking about it, she would’ve still been thinking it,” he said in regards to Melinda’s voracious thirst for the misfortune of others, in this case Jessie’s mysterious absence. Why did some of the most blessed people have the darkest hearts? If he had been gifted with natural charisma, an innate mastery of his powers, and stereotypical good looks, he would simply enjoy his life and mind his own business without trying to bring others down.

By the time they reached the infirmary, he had managed to dry most of the soda off of his pants with the napkin, but it still looked like he had pissed himself. “It’s grapefruit LaCroix,” he said before the nurse could ask.

The nurse examined his injury, then glanced at Felicity. “You’re a good friend for bringing him in so quickly. Fortunately, the damage is minimal. He could have hurt himself worse with a hot stove. You kids wait here, and I’ll be right back.”

While the nurse was away, Ben decided to make smalltalk. “So what classes are you taking? I’ve already gotten approved for Superhumans in Literature and Field First Aid on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then on Thursday I have a four hour seminar on Combat Thermodynamics.” A few of the guys in Q and A who had heat and flame related powers had convinced him to sign up, since his power manifested as electricity, but he was nervous about embarrassing himself, especially if he would have to spar with anyone. “Then I got Wartime History of Human and Super-Human Experimentation on Tuesday/Thursday and I’m on the waitlist for Gifted Home Economics.” Not too beefy a schedule, except for that combat class that he was worried about.

"Oh, I can get you into that home-ec course. I teacher aided for Blonsky over the summer, she likes me."

Soon, the nurse returned to sanitize his burns (he struggled to disguise an expression of pain), apply some burn cream, and wrap his hand up in gauze. “I can accelerate your healing process, but you have to give me something to work with. A happy memory, perhaps?”

“Of course.” He’d had this nurse before; her powers were emphatically based, too, but instead of being able to use others’ emotions as a weapon or a fuel source, she could use it to heal others’ injuries. He defaulted to a memory of riding bikes with Felicity all around the neighborhood, an eternity ago when things were much less complicated, while the nurse squeezed his hand between both of hers.

“There. You should be better in two days tops, and if you can’t hold a pen right now, go to administration and they’ll provide you with a tablet to take notes for classes.”

Once he was dismissed, he accompanied Felicity back into the hall and asked, “Want to go find your dorm? I can help you unpack your stuff if you want. Unless you’d rather bond with your new roommate alone.” He was hogging her time and he knew it. He just missed her after all summer without her.

"Sure. I just have to swing by the office to see where it is."

So they swung by. As Felicity was handed her key, Ben couldn’t help but overhear she had been put on financial aid. He wanted to ask her about it, but it looked like she wanted to keep moving, and it wasn’t until they reached her room that she finally opened up.

"Look, you should know...my parents didn't take well to the powers thing. They think I'm an affront before God. They threw me out last year. I've been living in shelters."

Ben’s heart dropped.

All he could say at first was, “Yike.”

Even as she spoke, he could tell she was tempering her mood. “That’s got to be rough, Lissy. Hey listen though, if you need help with money, for whatever the school won’t cover like clothes and bus fare and things, I got you.” He didn’t want to brag, but his brother made at least ten stacks a month at his restaurant job, which was way more than they needed for their mortgage, and Ben usually put whatever D’von sent him into savings. “Consider it payment: I bet you finna be having to help me a lot in that combat class. I also know the fall formal coming up, and even if you don’t go with Jason McCafrey, you deserve to treat yourself to a nice outfit.”

And how secretly happy had he been to feel her disinterest when the subject of Jason had come up over lunch! That guy was so juvenile. Honestly. Using his telekinesis to take her stuff and rile her up...it was like he was in third grade, pulling on a girl’s pigtails because he lacked the wherewithal to just say he liked her. Ask Ben, Felicity deserved someone who was emotionally mature, intelligent, and good to her. He wished he could be that person, but he would never want to bring her down with his own faults.

“And hey. If you want to stay with me and my brother over the breaks, we have a couple extra rooms. It would be no trouble at all. You would have your own bathroom and everything. Also he’s a really good cook. We could watch Netflix, and he keeps the liquor cabinet stocked...only if you want to, though. And hopefully your parents change their mind…”

That much he knew was wishful thinking. Supers were largely misunderstood by most of society. But he couldn’t help but wish the best case scenario on Felicity.

"You'd really do that for me?"

"I would do anything for you."

When they got to her dorm, it was dark, and her roommate had still yet to arrive. "Hey Ben? Would you mind...staying with me tonight? Maybe watch a movie? I have a sleeping bag, you can take the bed."

"I'll just take your roommate's bed, it's fine."

"Oh, yeah. Two beds. I'm stupid."

"You're not stupid," said Ben. "You've just been through a lot recently." He settled into Felicity's absentee roommate's bed and turned on the TV.

They fell asleep watching Diced.

***

In the morning, Felicity offered to walk Ben to his room. When they got there, his roommate was already present and unpacked. “Hey, sup! You must be the roommate. Name’s Malcolm.”

“Ben, nice to meet you,” said Ben, meeting Malcolm halfway for a handshake. Suddenly, he was glad he had lent Felicity his jacket for the walk. Although Malcolm was shorter than Ben by a good several inches, he was attractive in that carefree way you saw in rockstars, with his dark hair elegantly tousled and a light shadow of stubble over a jawline sharp enough to cut glass. His blue eyes regarded Felicity with interest and Ben felt a surge of jealousy; not that he had the right to. Felicity was out of his league anyway. But like anyone else, he couldn’t help what he felt.

***

Ben spent most of the weekend unpacking his stuff and getting to know his new roommate--that is, if he couldn’t steal a moment with Felicity. He learned that Malcolm Jimenez was half Venezuelan, his father having immigrated in search of a better life. His power was super speed, which was how he’d been able to unpack so quickly. He was a junior, and had just transferred here from Rivington, which explained why Ben didn’t know him--Ben had a pretty good memory for names and faces, even if people didn’t seem to find him particularly memorable.

For the most part, Malcolm kept to himself. He liked to play video games and listen to Spanish rap. Not a lot of emotion came off him--it was like he was always bored, or else understimulated.

Then on Saturday night, Malcolm came in with a backpack full of stolen handles of liquor and Ben learned that the one thing that gave him a thrill was compulsive shoplifting.

“Dude, you gotta be careful! Trust me, you don’t wanna catch a case,” said Ben after Malcolm told him what he’d done.

“Relax, I’ve done this tons of times. I was in and out so fast not even the cameras could tell. Anyway, over at Rivington we used to get the fish as drunk as we could the day before classes.”

“Yeah, we do that, too,” said Ben, recalling fondly how they’d tried last year. Oh, they’d tried. But his tolerance was already fortified from living with D’von.

The next day, the festivities started early. Before breakfast was even over, the halls were crowded with improvised pong tables, giggling freshman girls, and seniors passing out beers. Malcolm had swiped a carafe of OJ from the dining hall and mixed Ben and himself a couple of screwdrivers in the dorm. Ben took a sip of his and shook his head.

So far, the list of Malcolm’s sins was as followed:

Unfairly good looking
Literal kleptomaniac
Mixed a weak ass drink.

But other than that, he was an alright guy.

“Don’t play with me, boy,” said Ben, spiking his drink with another slow five-count of vodka. He drained half of it, but wasn’t even affected.

“Damn! So that’s your power? Superhuman alcohol tolerance?”

“Nah, my brother’s a bartender.”

“Then what do you, you know, do?”

“You know how some people eat their feelings?” he began. “Yeah, I eat other people’s feelings.”

“Guess you’ve got some emotional friends then, huh?”

And there it was, Strike 4: fat jokes. But that one wasn’t as cruel as some of the ones Ben had heard, and at least the guy was sharing his liquor (even if he hadn’t paid for it.)

“C’mon, let’s go take stock of the fresh meat,” said Malcolm, leading the way outside, Ben trailing along if only to see if Felicity would turn up for the festivities. She would probably be surrounded by a gaggle of girls as well as male admirers, none of whom would know his name, but he was still hoping to see her.

Shuffled around by the crowd, he soon found himself in an open dorm room, hoping to top off his drink, which was by then three quarters empty. Inside the room, loud music was playing, and a few people were dancing, tipsy and awkward--except for this one girl who was full-blown drunk, shaking her hips as she stood on top of someone’s desk. With a bottle in one hand and a cup in the other, she chanted, “Dance! Dance! Dance!” in time with the music.

The craziest thing about this situation was that Ben knew her.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
Her name was Chloe Nguyen, and she was D’von’s new coworker at the restaurant. D’von had said she was cool and told Ben to come in and meet her, thinking they might hit it off. Ben hadn’t been looking for a girlfriend, but he hadn’t wanted to be rude to his brother.

Only, before he could even say hi to her, he’d felt the insatiable, fetishistic lust coming off of her in waves along with a certain deviant guilt. No wonder she got along with D’von; she was One Of Them.
It had hit him hard--it was like trying to drink six shots of espresso back to back, except one of them was laced with Xanax--and he had fainted off his barstool.

Now, there was nothing coming off of Chloe, like her roiling nymphomaniac energy had been tempered by the booze. And of course, she recognized him immediately. “Ben! I was wondering when I was gonna run into you!” She hopped off the table to come and greet him. “Here, you’re running dry,” she said, and refilled his glass from the bottle of Three Olives Grape that she was holding.

“Chloe? What are you doing here?” he asked, stopping her pour before the glass could overflow.

“I just transferred here? From Rivington?” she said, as if he ought to have known.

“I uh, didn’t realize you were also super."

“Like, duh, that’s how I knew you’d be here! After I put your lights out--sorry about that, by the way--I went sifting through your brain a little to figure out what happened. I’m a telepath, in case you didn’t figure it out.”

“You violated the privacy of my unconscious brain?”

“I was trying to help revive you!” she snapped. “Anyway, I get that our attraction is like, totally one-sided, and I get that it makes you uncomfortable, so from now on, whenever we’re around each other I’ll just think extra hard,” she said, tapping her temple, “about dead puppies and naked grandpas.”

“Um, thanks? I think?”

“You wanna take shots?”

“No, that’s okay, I really need to find my friend.”

That whole encounter had lasted less than a minute--Chloe talked fast--and when he dipped back into the hall, Felicity was there and Jason was getting way too far into her personal space bubble. Ben didn’t miss her flinch. “Hey Jason, leave her alone much?” he said, moving closer. He wasn’t going to put hands on the guy--not unprovoked. He just hoped to send him a clear message about moving in on girls who clearly weren't interested.

"Oh, relax, big boy. I was just trying to ask your friend to the fall formal."

"Well, I can't go with you, Jason!" Felicity announced. She threw an arm around Ben's shoulders and declared, "I'm already going with Ben!"

She led him down the hall by his arm. "Sorry. I had to give him the slip. And if you'd rather go with someone else, feel free to 'dump' me before then."

"Lissy, I'd love to go with you to the dance." Even as a last resort.

"So it's settled! C'mon, let's go down to the quad."

The Bellvue Bonfire was, of course, tradition.

As they took their seats by the fire, Ben noticed Felicity shivering. Unlike the other night, he didn't have a jacket on to lend her. So, he made do by wrapping an arm around her in the hopes of warming her up. “Wish we had some hot chocolate and marshmallows,” he said offhandedly. Not that he needed the sustenance, he hadn’t since he’d come into his powers. Still, it would be nice to share a sweet indulgence with a beautiful girl.

One of the senior girls had taken up the mantle of recounting the history of the Academy and its mission to imbue its students with the life skills they would need to do good by society. Ben was only half-listening. He had heard this story last year.

On the other side of the firepit, Chloe took a seat. Ben might not have noticed her, except Malcolm came to sit down next to her. They spoke amongst one another, Ben picking up bits of their moods even if he couldn’t hear their conversation. They clearly knew each other from their old school. There was some playful teasing from Malcolm...then a flat, derisive dismissal from Chloe...then Malcolm came back with some heated vitriol and Chloe turned vengeful in a way that Ben wasn’t sure was justified or not. He turned his eyes down to a spot of dirt between his feet, trying to ignore the pair, but he’d already taken in more than he would have cared for.

“They both transfers from the Rivington school,” he explained, “and it feels like whatever baggage they had over there, they decided to bring with.”

"Well, I'm happy to mind our business if they mind theirs."

He took a sip of his drink--orange and grape, interesting flavor combo--but it was watered down by the ice now, and getting warm by the firelight, so he set it aside.

"So my roommate's still not here," Felicity mentioned as the bonfire came to an end.

"Is this another invitation?"

"Come on. Let's swing by yours for any provisions you might need."

Felicity walked Ben to the his dorm.
When they arrived, Malcolm was in there--with a girl. Mandy Hiatt; Ben had had Superhuman-Mundane Governmental Relations 101 with her last year but she didn’t seem to remember him. She was sitting criss-cross on the bed with a beer in her hands, still dressed, thank God. “Really, Mal? You wasn’t even gonna tell me?”

“Relax, Benny. We’re just having a few drinks. In fact, Mindy was about to leave if you’re staying.”

“It’s Mandy,” said the girl.

“I’m not staying,” said Ben, stuffing his things into his backpack.

“Really, now?” Malcolm beat Ben to the doorway, where he regarded Felicity with a smirk before clapping Ben on the shoulder as he passed through. “Look at you, big man on campus! Good job, buddy. Proud of you.” The tone of his voice clearly suggested he thought Ben was about to get some.

“It ain’t like that, man. We just finna have a few drinks, that’s all.” He didn’t want his time spent with Felicity to result in her getting an ‘easy’ reputation.

He packed a backpack with a change of clothes and some toiletries, and together, he and Felicity dipped. They couldn’t reach Felicity's room fast enough. Once they were there, Ben placed his bag on the floor next to the extra bed and palmed the remote. “Let’s watch TV,” he suggested, thinking that would be a good way to wind down.

As soon as he turned on the TV, though, a news anchor, a generic blonde woman, started rattling off the details of a recent string of disappearances. “...bringing to 32 the number of young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 missing from the Northwest coast since January of this year. Each missing person was either a registered or speculated superhuman, and local officials have not shared details of the ongoing investigation. With so much mystery surrounding the disappearances, some news outlets are beginning to speculate on the possibility of state involvement. Gerry, what’s your take?”

The screen split, and showing a balding Black man in front of a microphone. “Well, Brenda,” said Executive Correspondent Gerard Williams, “Supers have always been subject to discrimination, be it from the police or civilians. These disappearances might be unexplained, but they have serious implications."

"Let's not watch TV." Ben reached for the remote.

"Wait!"

Felicity rolled over in bed, opened her laptop, and ran a few searches. "I've been following this story."

"Me too, me too...it's so depressing. Sometimes too depressing to hear about. But you gotta admit, it feels right now like any of us might be next. What you got?"

She handed him her laptop. He scrolled the list of names of missing people. The first thing he noticed was that he didn’t recognize any of them. He knew the names of pretty much everyone who went to Bellvue except for the freshmen, even if nobody seemed to know his. Their powers were varied: a telepath here, a super-strength wielder there. One-handed, he copied and pasted one of the first names on Felicity’s list, Gina Flowers, into Google.

Gina’s blog was the first result. Ben clicked on it and looked at her profile picture. Gina was a thin, dark-skinned girl with her hair in long braids, wearing a Rivington cheer squad uniform with one arm slung around the shoulders of another cheerleader, a familiar Asian girl with her black hair in low space-buns. “That’s Chloe next to her,” Ben muttered. Scrolling through her page, he came across a worried thread of comments:

January 10 3:55 PM Chloe Nguyen wrote: Girl where are you? I didn’t see you in class

January 10 6:44 PM Chloe Nguyen wrote: I’m at dinner if u want to join us. Nate is wondering where u are

January 11 3:16 AM Chloe Nguyen wrote: ok you’re starting to freak me out. Are u ok?

January 11 1:06 PM Chloe Nguyen wrote: WTF? I can’t hear u at ALL

Ben went down the list of missing people in a similar fashion. The ones who disappeared in late winter all had similar worried messages on their pages. Then in Spring, the pattern changed. The kids who dropped off the map then had status updates about how they were dropping out to go to work, or embarking on international travel.

The kidnapper, or kidnappers, were getting smarter over time.

The most recent victims were absent from social media entirely, but of the ones who still had profiles up:

“They all went to Rivington.”

Ben looked up at Felicity. “Do you think...do you think those kids who transferred in from over there just came cause they wanted a change of scenery? Or did they have to escape something?”
 

stevita

like the pancake
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Messages
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Texas
What an amazing story so far! I love it, stevita.

Thanks so much! This means a lot coming from one of my favorite authors on here.

I'll try and have the second chapter uploaded shortly, but in the meantime if anyone is interested in more BHM/male gaining-centric comic-booky superhero hijinks, my cowriter and I just wrapped Bombshell and Big Tech in: The Chimera Conspiracy. My cowriter is also firedog98 on Deviantart in case anyone wants to read more of his BBW superhero stories. We've got a few more collaborators in this shared universe but I think I'm the only one on Dims.

But do keep on the lookout here because I'm trying to get chapter 2 edited and posted before the week is up!
 

stevita

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Joined
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Messages
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CHAPTER TWO

Ben slept fitfully that night, dreaming of sinister surgeons and students shackled to operating tables and awakening with a start before sunrise. He tried to go back to sleep, but he couldn’t. He decided he might as well get ready for the day.

He brought his change of clothes into the bathroom and set them down on the counter. A fresh undershirt, a burgundy sweater, and some new jeans he’d bought a week before school started in a size 36. He hadn’t been a 36 since he was fourteen, and he’d been shorter then, so a shopping trip had been inevitable.

Once he brushed his teeth, he showered, relaxing under the water as he opened up the soap bottle and worked on cleaning himself up. While he was in the shower, he heard someone using the toilet and running the sink. Stupidly, he assumed it was Felicity. He turned off the shower and dried himself off, wrapping the towel around his waist before stepping out.

“Whoa! Ok. Dead puppies, dead puppies and naked grandpas,” said Chloe as she turned around with her hands pressed to her temples. She must have been staying in the dorm on the other side of the shared bathroom. She instantly retreated past the other door and slammed it shut. Ben got dressed and knocked. He remembered her picture with the disappeared girl and didn’t know when he and Felicity would get a chance to speak with her again. “Chloe? Can me and my friend ask you something?”

***

Chloe felt bad.

Okay, seeing Ben Taylor-Moore shirtless was a feast for her eyes, but she already knew he didn’t like her like that. She could pull the thoughts straight out of his mind. Anyone’s mind. What’s more, her attraction made him uncomfortable. So she was working on curbing it. She wasn’t a monster.

Her roommate was still asleep as she dressed herself in a conservative ensemble: red sweater, matching red belt, tan capris. She toed into a pair of sneakers before going back into the bathroom and knocking on the opposite door. She already knew her suitemate and her lover had questions about Rivington. She didn’t have all the answers they were looking for, but she would try to help. All she knew was she missed her best friend Gina, and something was wrong at her old school.

“Are you guys decent?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Ben.

She hadn’t even met her suitemate yet, but she could see her in Ben’s mind. It was the attractive blonde girl he had sat with last night while she was arguing with Malcolm. What a lucky girl.

Chloe tentatively pushed her way through the door. “What do you guys want to know?”

"Please, sit," said the girl, offering her a chair. Chloe knew what was coming a second before she opened her mouth again. "We have some questions about Rivington…about Gina Flowers."

***

For a moment, Chloe squirmed in her seat. Ben could tell she was trying to calm herself, which he appreciated. The last thing he needed was an accidental misfire first thing in the morning.

He paced. That made her nervous, but he couldn’t help himself. She tamped it down again. He looked over at Felicity and saw that she was boring into Chloe with her gaze.

Finally, Chloe turned to Felicity to answer her question. “Gina’s been my best friend since freshman year. When I lost my place on the cheer squad, she was the only one who would still talk to me.”

“Why’d you get kicked off the cheer squad?” asked Ben. Chloe turned as red as her sweater. There was that thread of guilty, giddy glee over her controversial craving again, but she seemed to push it aside once she got that it wasn’t sitting well with Ben.

“It’s irrelevant. Let’s just say something embarrassing happened in my social life. I was thinking about transferring last semester, but Gina convinced me to stay. Then one day she just stopped showing up to class. She was dating a guy named Nathan Villanova, but even he hadn’t heard from her. And then other people started disappearing. I couldn’t stay there anymore; the entire atmosphere was tainted with hysteria. The whole student body rang with a constant, high-pitched squeal of fear. It wasn’t a stream of coherent thought. More like...just...internal screaming that went on and on. It was too painful for me to stay there, as a telepath.”

“And that’s when you left?” asked Ben. “If not for that, you would have stayed?”

“I wanted to find out what happened to my friend. But it was too overwhelming, having to hear everyone’s panic. And we were all scared. A few other people transferred over here, too, before they could be next.”

“Like Malcolm Jimenez?”

Chloe scoffed. A white-hot flash of resentment charged through her before she reigned it in. “Malcolm didn’t leave Rivington by choice. He was expelled.”

***

This was it. A real mystery, a call to arms, even, and...was she interrogating a suspect?! Felicity's adrenaline couldn't have run higher.

Since she had started compiling those names, she had been waiting for this case to unfold, and she wanted to be front and center of it all. If she could save all those people, Mom and Dad would have to eat their words about her.

The world would know her name.

But first, she needed more pieces of the puzzle. Any small detail might prove of importance. "Why'd Malcolm get expelled?" she asked the girl in the hot seat.

"I don’t know.”

“But you could find out, right? Being a mind-reader and all?” said Ben.

“Am I like, officially being invited into the detectives' guild?”

Ben glanced at Felicity. "It's your call, you're the one that made the list."

Felicity didn't know that she could trust in Chloe's complete innocence, and she didn't like the way she looked at Ben sometimes, like he was a piece of meat. But she was surrendering information, and if she were lying, Ben would be able to detect it. Besides, if she truly wanted to help, her telepathy would be a major asset to their team.

"Alright, let's deal you in! Your first mission: get the 411 on Malcolm. He strikes me as super sus. I want to know what he's hiding."

“I could try," said Chloe, "but Malcolm thinks almost exclusively in Spanish. The way mind-reading works--in my case, at least--think of deliberately probing someone’s mind for information like unspooling thread. Now imagine unspooling that thread and finding it too thick for your needle. That’s what the language barrier does to me.”

“Guess we’ll have to interrogate him ourselves,” said Ben, turning back to Felicity. "He don't seem like too bad a guy to me, though. A troublemaker, sure...but not evil or anything. Here's what I'm thinking: he probably just got kicked for stealing, or cheating on tests, or indecent exposure, or some other Malcolm-y thing. But there's something fucked up going on at that school, and there's an off chance they threw him out 'cause he knew too much."
 

stevita

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"Well, now that you're in the band," said Felicity, "why don't you join us at breakfast, Chloe?"

"Sure! And why don't I buy? I know you guys hate the coffee in the dorm caf, but the cafe by the science building does a good job, right?"

"Uhh, sure." Was Ben ever going to get used to her being able to jump into his head like that?

Now that she was part of the task force, he supposed he would have to.

"You know, Felicity, with your power set, I'm surprised you didn't get into Rivington," Chloe ventured as they departed across campus for the cafe.

"I was offered a full ride scholarship from there, but I turned it down," said Felicity. "I wanted to stay with Ben." She wrapped both arms around one of his and his heart leapt with excitement. "Though of course, looks like I'm gonna have to go there anyway, only as an infiltrator instead of a student."

And just like that, his bubble burst.

She was so confident in her ability to run this rescue mission, confident enough to jump right in at a galloping speed. And why shouldn't she be? She could no doubt beat up fourteen men without breaking a sweat.

But if she expected him to be her trusty sidekick, she was severely overestimating him. He didn't know how to fight. He'd be more a liability than an ally to her.

He'd be dead weight, a ball and chain to her, impeding her from being the hero she could be.

They arrived at the cafe and Chloe stepped into line, handing her credit card to the cashier, this senior named Drake who had a reputation as a careless womanizer. “Woo-whee! I could use a coffee; this hangover’s starting to kick in. Let me get a double caramel latte with whipped cream, a hazelnut croissant, and these two are with me; he'll do a solo Americano and she'll have what I'm having, except she wants almond milk and sugar free syrup, no whip, and instead of the croissant she'll have a protein power box."

“He'll have a what now?” asked the cashier.

Chloe rolled her eyes. “He wants a shot of espresso topped off with hot water.”

The cashier swiped Chloe’s card, staring steady at her, his lust so strong it was palpable, at least to Ben. “Chloe Nguyen, huh?" he read her name on the card before handing it back to her along with her receipt. "Ask me, you should be called--”

“‘Chloe Dang,’ how original,” she beat him to the punch. Ben wasn’t sure if she’d used telepathy or if it simply was that obvious a joke; both Nguyen and Dang were common Vietnamese last names. With a flourish of smug indignation, she signed the receipt, wrote her phone number on it, and said, “Give that to your coworker.” The cashier looked from Chloe to his coworker, the kinda hefty guy making the drinks, and gave her a sour look, handing her a plastic number card on a thin metal stand for the table.

As they found some seats, waiting for everything to be ready, she looked at Ben. “You’re sure you’re not hungry.” It wasn’t a question.

“Just ate.”

“I didn’t mean to get that intense. I just...I saw what the cashier wanted to do to me in his mind. It was...offensive.” She looked at them both in turn and changed the subject. “So, what are the best clubs to join here? And what’s there to do in the area? I have to work brunch shifts on the weekends at my job, but other than that I’m pretty new to the area and I haven’t really got my bearings yet.”

That was more Felicity’s area of expertise than Ben’s; he didn’t get out much. Being oversensitive to the moods of others tended to favor one towards introversion. Felicity, however, seemed to have a few suggestions.

She had yet to speak aloud before Chloe's eyes lit up. "That arcade sounds awesome! I love arcades! And we should definitely hit up that mall to go dress shopping for the formal! I know it's still a couple months out, but if we wait until the last minute, there'll be nothing good left on the rack!"

Ben sipped his coffee in silence, listening to the girls'...conversation? Then, a table over, some scandalous gossip between members of the school newspaper that hit closer to home than he'd have liked caught his ear.

"She's gonna whack him. She's gotta whack him!"

"No way. She's powerful, but she can't fly. I say, he gives her the slip."

Chloe seemed to have picked up on the speculation, too. She rose from her seat and approached the table. "You guys talking about Big Tech and Bombshell? I love Bombshell!"

"We're placing bets," said Erika Kimborough, editor in chief of the Bellvue Biweekly. "You want in?"

"That's horrible," said Felicity in a quiet tone. "Big Tech should get arrested by the police, not blown up like a fucking party balloon by some freakshow."

"I'm not sure I trust the cops these days," said Ben. As a man of color, it went without saying. "Not that I'm about to jump in this betting pool, either." The thought of putting money on Oriana's sex life made him cringe. But, if he were to place a bet…

"One thousand dollars says she hits him," said Chloe.

"Fuck yeah she will! NOBODY fucks with Blackwater City!" exclaimed Mason Harvey, a rowdy senior on the photography team decked out in Blackwater Stingrays gear, navy blue baseball cap on backwards with a navy and yellow-emblazoned jersey peeking through from beneath his coat. If 'hometown baseball fan' counted as a personality trait, it was his only one.

"Wait! She'll hit him," Chloe went on, "but that won't be the end of it. She won't leave him to the cops. He means something to her. She's enamored."

Erika raised her eyebrows. "Bold move. Since you're betting on a hit, care to speculate on the final numbers?"

Chloe reached out to Ben, seeking insight.

'She likes them in the mid-300 to early 7's range,' he told her without ever moving his mouth.

"568," Chloe said decisively. "Seventy-two around."

"Bit of a low-ball compared to some of the other bets," said Erika. "You sure you don't want to up your damage prediction?"

"Those are my numbers, and I'm sticking to 'em." With that, she pulled a fat wad of cash out of her handbag and started counting twenties out onto the table.

***

Ben had forgotten his multivitamin again. He really ought to have been more diligent about that. Other people's psychic energy might have pumped him full of a constant flow of calories, but it couldn't replace micronutrients. D'von was always on his case, saying if he died of scurvy due to his own negligence, he would dig him out of his grave to kick his ass. It was one of their darker running jokes.

Before classes, he swung by his dorm. Malcolm was getting ready (button down, skinny jeans, and way too much Axe), and popped his head backward in salute when he caught Ben's reflection in the bathroom mirror. "What's up, Benny? Get you a little some-some last night?"

"Told you it ain't like that, bruh. Felicity's a good girl, I'm tryna be respecting her."

"How noble of you."

"Anyway, I just came to get my pills before class," said Ben, retrieving a few bottles from the cabinet. He dry-swallowed his multivitamin, then his omega-3 supplement, and finally the vitamin C--according to the news, it was going to be a rough flu season, and D'von had insisted on sending him off with an extra bottle for protection.

"Bet! Who's your supplier?" asked Malcolm.

"I usually get them from the pharmacy up the street from my house, if my brother doesn't go for me. Cashier's name is Greg. Nice guy. He recycles. Anyway," he said on his way out, "me and Felicity were wondering if you had time to hang out and shoot the shit with us after class?" There was no time for an interrogation now, but Ben could at least schedule it.

"Yeah, sure," said Malcolm. "Want me to get some coke?"

"Nah, that's alright. Felicity don't drink soda pop and I probably shouldn't."

Malcolm smirked. "I wasn't talking about the soda."

When it clicked for Ben, he said, "Look, man, when Felicity comes, you better hide that shit. I don't care what you do, but if she finds any hard drugs in here she'll go to the campus rent-a-cops so fast."

Malcolm cocked his head. "What do you see in her?"

"What do you mean? She's my best friend."

"And what I'm hearing is she's a self-righteous, goody-goody snitch. And yet, you're obsessed with her. You? You're rough around the edges, man. You need someone who knows rules are sometimes made to be broken!"

"Are...are you flirting with me?"

"I might be," said Malcolm with a smirk. "Don't you ever feel like you need a break from the ladies?"

"Look, man. You may be obnoxiously hot--"

"So you do think I'm hot?"

"It would never work."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm already going to the dance with Felicity."

On his way out, he shot a quick text to his fall formal date.

9:55 AM me: Got Mal to agree to talk to us. Interrogation scheduled for after class today
9:56 AM Felicity: I knew I could count on u

His heart somersaulted with joy.

***

"Good afternoon class," said Dr. Rochford, the Field First Aid teacher, as the last of the students filed into their desks and class commenced. "I trust you've all done the summer reading on emergency response in the heat of battle. Let's launch right in, shall we? Who can define the ricochet effect for me?"

Chloe's hand shot straight up. "The ricochet effect is when the use of your powers backfires physically upon you. The most common manifestation of ricochet is weight gain, but it can also result in loss of sensory input, hallucinations in those with powers under the compulsive umbrella, or, in some incredibly rare cases, organ failure, anaphylaxis, cardiac arrest and death."

"Very good, Miss…?"

"Chloe Nguyen."

"And what should you do in the event that you experience a ricochet during combat? Let's hear from someone else. How about you, Mr…?" asked the professor, staring straight at Ben.

Shit. He hated being cold-called.

"Well, in theory, when you feel it coming on you should stop using your powers, fall back behind another member of your squad, and rely on martial arts to finish the fight," he said, "but I guess if you can't turn your powers off, you just have to choke it down and pray a couple extra pounds will be the least of your worries, right?"

"You sound like you're speaking from personal experience," said the professor.

"I mean, the reading says ricochet is really rare in people with passive abilities, like empathy. It almost never happens...except when it does, and we--I--don't know what to do about it, barring yeet myself out of society and live in an isolated cottage in the woods, never interacting with people again."

"He looks like he already made it to the cottage in the woods, if you know what I mean," muttered Jason McCready to Mandy Hiatt, just loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Let's keep the hurtful comments to ourselves, shall we?" said the professor, but by then, it was too late for Ben. The room was alive with emotion: derision and pity and horror and sadistic glee all swirled together in an unpleasant cocktail that swelled threateningly inside him. Try as he might to hold the floodgates, he couldn't prevent their inevitable burst. Every light in the classroom burned blindingly bright before burning out with a menacing POP!
 
Last edited:

stevita

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"Ben, wait!" Chloe followed Ben out of the classroom, surging with righteous fury at the people who'd laughed at him and a burning need to know he was okay. He wished he could tell her he would be. He hated that he couldn't just enjoy this one moment of sincere, unperverted compassion from his new friend--not when it may well stop his heart.

"Just stay back, Chloe!" he pleaded, backing away from her. "Stay twenty. Feet. Back. I just puked thunderbolts all over class! I really can't have any more emotions crammed into me right now!"

"Ben...I'm sorry…" She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt.

He hated to see her cry...but he had to get out of here.

He bailed around the corner, locked himself in the nearest janitor's closet, and curled himself into a ball at the foot of the door, breaking down in dry sobs.

***

After his last class, he met up with Felicity in the quad and together they headed to his dorm. He didn't mention what had happened in First Aid. He hoped the rumors wouldn't reach her ears too quickly.

"What do you think, Felicity, you want to be the good cop or the bad cop?"

"I should definitely be the bad cop. No offense, but I'm the one who plays hardball. You're softer."

He fiddled with the bottom of his shirt, trying to make it not cling so much around his middle. It didn't go unnoticed to Felicity. "I meant personality-wise. Besides, you're only what, 190? It's not so bad. Not that it matters."

210. But he'd take that.

When they reached the dorm, he smelled the marijuana before he even opened the door. So much for Malcolm hiding the drugs. But he supposed weed was legal here now. "Here, I'll go in first. Clear the air," said Ben. He let himself in with the key and strode across the dorm. "Aight, hombre, if we gonna be cohabitating Imma need to set some ground rules. One: if you're gonna do this, open a window. It smells like someone ran over a skunk, and the skunk is lactose intolerant, and before it got hit it got into a picnic basket full of cheese." He opened the window and snatched a can of air freshener off Malcolm's desk to absolutely nuke the place. The apple cinnamon scent was a little strong for his preference, but he knew Felicity wouldn't step inside if it reeked of pot. Once he was finished, he held the door open for her. "It's...better."

Malcolm was sitting in one of those cheap cloth fold-out chairs with the cup holders on either armrest. He set a glass pipe on the dresser and said, "Sorry I don't have anything to offer. Nothing you guys would like anyway. I'll have to be a better host. Y'all like hot Cheetos? I can stock some hot Cheetos in here."

Ben rolled his eyes. "It's aight, man. You might have something we are looking for, though: information."

"Regarding…?"

"What happened at Rivington."

Malcolm laughed. "You mean she didn't tell you? Ah...I guess if she ratted on me she'd have to rat on herself, anyway."

"Who are you talking about?"

"Chloe. I pursued her, she rejected me, and then one day while her back was turned in the library I found some weird chubby-chaser porn on her computer. I was a little fucked-up and feeling vengeful, so I sent that shit to everyone at Rivington."

Ben stared at him.

"What?" said Malcolm. "Don't tell me you didn't know about her. You can hear feelings, yeah?"

"It's...irrelevant." Chloe's private life was none of Ben's business, and Malcolm should have stayed out of it, too, but he wasn't about to call him out on it yet. He wanted to see if Malcolm had anything else, anything, you know, useful. While this was all...quite telling about his roommate, it wasn't exactly the sort of intel he had hoped to obtain. "So that's why you were expelled?"

"Um, actually…"

***

Malcolm Jimenez was a bit of a showman, okay?

He got up, walked over to the closet, and pulled out a stack of files, which he dropped onto the dresser with a dramatic thud. "These are the student records of 100 kids from Rivington, all sophomores, juniors, or seniors this year. I thought it was weird that they left them by the shredder. They were about to destroy them. So, I stole 'em. I would have got away with it, too, I'm too fast for the cameras to catch. But my roommate snitched me out. They didn't know I made copies, though. And then, one by one, these people from the files started going missing. We're up to what, 29 now?" That was the last he had seen on the news. Anymore, he couldn't watch it without being stoned. It was all too depressing.

"32," said Ben. "Didn't know you were following the case. You don't strike me as the type."

Malcolm shrugged. "What's it to you?" Yes, he had his reasons for caring about the missing people, but he wasn't about to bear his soul to a guy he had just met three days ago and his prissy little playmate.

***

"What's it to us? WHAT'S IT TO US?!" Felicity exploded. She grabbed Malcolm by the collar and slammed him into the wall with all her strength, causing the plaster to crack and the ceiling fan to wobble on its supports. "People are disappearing! Is this all just a game to you? Something to do while you sit on your useless ass all day stoned?"

"Jesus!"

"Look here: we don't know who you are or what you're getting out of this. As far as I'm concerned, you're not to be trusted," barked Felicity. "Just because you have stolen evidence doesn't mean you're our ally. So you'd better tell me what your stake in this is before I grind your skull to sand."

Of course, Felicity's threats were empty, but Ben had to admit as she roughly released Malcolm that she made a pretty convincing bad cop.

"Okay, okay, you don't have to attack me!" the transfer choked out, staggering back and practically falling back into his chair.

As Malcolm prepared to talk, something in him shifted. His defensive attitude turned to discomfort and then...grief?

"Can I at least have a shot first?" he asked. His voice was trembling.

"You gotta drive today?"

"I ain't even got a whip, man."

"Fine." Ben poured Malcolm a shot of whiskey and Malcolm downed it in one, no chaser.

"My mom had powers too. When I was in elementary school she got accused of something she didn't do and thrown in state prison. I never learned what for, Dad just said she didn't do it. She died in there. Then years later there was a prison revolt. The government had to send in the army. It was all over the news. Turns out they were doing illegal experiments on people of ability. A few of the escaped inmates reached out to my dad and gave him the debrief on my mom...they were taking tissue samples while she was still alive...cutting her up and drawing blood like a frog on a science table...

"Only the head scientist did any prison time. The others said they were forced to participate and got off. They never released it to the public what the experiments were tryna do. After I got expelled I had nothing to do for the rest of last year cept sit at home and watch the news. Then when supers started disappearing I started paying closer attention, thinking if these the same people who killed my mom…"

Malcolm trailed off. For the first time Ben noticed a rosary tucked into his collar. His mom's, maybe?

"That's all he knows," said Ben. "If he was hiding anything else, I'd sense it." Especially with as much of an emotional raw nerve as Malcolm was right now. His anguish weighed so heavily on Ben that he was practically gagging on it.

"What was her power? Your mom?" asked Felicity, still cold, still all-business.

"Super strength. Like you. Stronger, even. I'm sure she coulda lifted an armored tank if she wanted to," said Malcolm. Glancing back at Ben, he added, "Yo, can I get another shot?"

"What am I, the waiter?" Ben rolled his eyes. Nevertheless, he fetched the shot. He was still, after all, the good cop, and right now, Malcolm needed comfort.
 

stevita

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CHAPTER 3

The week flew by in a blur. Classes went alright for Ben, for the most part. The first Thermodynamics of Combat class came without incident; they had just taken notes, but the next week, they would be expected to spar with one another. Ben was nervous about it, but he also knew he couldn't put off stepping into the combat ring forever, especially since superhumans were becoming a target to some yet unknown power.

The literature class was easily his favorite. Going over the syllabus, he found they would have a whole unit covering comic books: what was rooted in reality and what came from the grandiose imaginations of human writers and artists. Other than that, they would read some classical literature (Kafka, Ellison, et cetera) and analyze the possibilities of the narratives alluding to the superhuman experiences, along with some more recent memoirs and anthologies of short stories written by superhuman authors. Finally, they'd wrap up the semester examining the public perception of modern superheroes through the lens of real-person fanfic. It would be an easy A for sure.

He had signed up for Queers and Allies again, along with the robotics club and the Telepath-Empath Society, where he ran into Chloe. She had sent friend requests to both him and Felicity and after accepting, he was getting constant notifications--she liked to post a lot of selfies and videos where she would practice making drinks for work.

Malcolm had agreed to send him the stolen files on the condition that he tell no one about his deceased mother. The guy didn't want to be seen as vulnerable. Ben had agreed to Malcolm's terms, because Ben wasn't a jerk, but it was probably more than Malcolm deserved after he had destroyed Chloe's reputation at their old school.

Then…

Then Friday rolled around, and home economics was called off in the middle of class due to an electrical fire breaking out in the kitchen.

It couldn't be traced back to Ben, and his classmates had been willing to chalk it up to a case of faulty wiring, but it was still with a cloud of misery hanging over him that he sat alone in the dining hall with his homework and his grapefruit LaCroix, until Felicity and her kale salad with chicken came to join him.

"What's the matter, Ben? You look down in the dumps."

"It's nothing," he lied.

"Look, Ben, I don't need to be an empath to know something's up with you. If you want to talk about it, I'm all ears. And even if you don't...please let me know if there's any way I can cheer you up." With that, she leaned down and pecked him on the cheek before taking her seat.

Wow. That did make him feel better.

"Hey guys!" Chloe arrived then, setting down her tray bearing a side caesar salad drowning in dressing, a side of fries, and a large slice of supreme pizza, along with a lemonade and a piece of chocolate cake. "Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all," said Felicity, offering a seat with a gesture of her hand even as Ben felt her jealousy coiling inside him. It was one of the ugliest, hardest to stomach emotions he had encountered since his powers came in, and yet…

He was strangely flattered to know it made Felicity jealous that another girl might be sweet on him.

Ben thought nothing of the spread Chloe had picked out for herself. If anything, he was envious that she could eat so much and stay the same size. But it made sense; she'd been on the cheer squad at Rivington and had made it onto the Bellvue team effortlessly. Practice had already started, and her workout routine had to be insane to maintain her level of musculature.

Her physique, described in a word, was sturdy. Her thick thighs and muscular arms warned anyone who looked at her what a powerhouse she could be. She had the perfect build for the bottom of the pyramid, and the firm, jutting globes of her derriere were a sight to behold, not that Ben ever looked. Well, okay, he'd looked! But he always averted his eyes. She was slightly soft around the middle, the tiniest bit of a belly jiggle visible when she wore tight tops, but somehow it only made her appear more approachable, more human.

Felicity, however, had something to say.

Well, not say, but Chloe picked up on it.

"Hey, don't be so judgemental! I've had a long day. Anyway, I'm taking the cake back to my room for later."

"I didn't even say anything!" Felicity snapped back. "Maybe try and stay in your own head, for once?"

"You guys, please don't fight about stupid shit!" Ben pleaded, desperate to end the sudden vitriol. "Remember, we have a common goal!"

"He's right," Felicity conceded. "I'm sorry. We're all on the same squad."

Wow. He was surprised that had worked. He could feel Felicity's excitement ramping up.

"Malcolm told us Rivington had tampered with their own records, yeah?" he recalled. "We need to find a way to make sure that the student records here are still intact. We also need to follow up with the rest of the students whose records got deleted at Rivington and make sure they're safe. And if we really want to get to the bottom of this…"

"We gotta go in!" Felicity's eyes lit up and she absolutely came alive, pounding one fist against the table hard enough to shake it. "So when are we doing this?!"

"Felicity! Chloe!" called Miranda from the cheerleaders' table nearby. "What are you guys doing over there?"

Felicity stood and picked up her tray. "That's right. Chloe, we should go. We were all gonna go over the routine, remember?"

Chloe remained in her seat. "You go. You can bring me up to speed later. Reconvene tomorrow morning at Antonio's in Blackwater City?"

"D'von's job?" asked Felicity.

"My job, too," said Chloe. "Ben always eats for free."

"Cause I don't eat," Ben pointed out. "But D'von will probably comp your tab, too. He'll be so stoked to see you again!"

"Alright then! Bet, or...is that how it's used?" asked Felicity. Ben shrugged, and she made her way to the cool kids' table.

***

Malcolm kept the light on all night, so Ben struggled to sleep. In the morning, though, his roommate had a little surprise for him.

"I happened to overhear someone was planning a little B&E last night," he said, and while Ben was adjusting his clothes and taming his hair in the mirror, slapped a piece of paper onto the bathroom counter. On it was hand-drawn a meticulously detailed map of the Rivington campus.

"You were eavesdropping on us?" asked Ben. He had seen Malcolm a table over in the dining room, but assumed he was engrossed in talking to the two girls who'd been chatting him up, apparently attracted to the whole badboy image.

"Don't be so ungrateful; it took me all night and three Adderalls to draw this up for you."

Ben wanted to say something snarky--but he also didn't. Ever since learning that state-sanctioned scientists had killed Malcolm's mother, it was hard for him not to have sympathy for the guy. Malcolm probably stayed fucked up all the time because he was depressed. Ben couldn't defend what Malcolm had done to Chloe, but the guy had his better bits. At least he was volunteering his energy to help the cause.

"Hey, do you think you could do me one more favor?" He knew he was pushing it, but he might as well ask. "Could you run down to the dean's office and see if any of our records been tampered with?"

"What's in it for me?"

"The public good. And...and I'll buy you a bottle of Jack Daniels."

"Done." Malcolm was there and back before Ben even realized he'd moved. "Records look intact. Drinks on you."

"Bet."
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
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Messages
296
Location
Texas
"So we're gonna meet up here with Chloe," Felicity reviewed as she and Ben stepped out of their cab in front of Antonio's Mex-Italian Cantina. "Discuss the plans, bring each other up to speed, and then your cousin is picking you up from the restaurant to take you to the auto shop?"

"Yeah," said Ben. "She was supposed to pick me up from campus yesterday, but something came up."

They walked inside and helped themselves to a table. "She sure does have a lot of last-minute emergencies," Felicity remarked. She had a sense there was something Ben wasn't telling her. "Is everything okay with her side of the family?"

"Yeah, they're fine."

"Is it a health condition?"

"She just has a busy job."

"Sure." Felicity meditated on it for another moment. "Oh my God!" she realized at last. "She's a superhero, isn't she? Who is she, Scarlet Flame? Oh my God, she's Scarlet Flame! I always suspected it! You do have a bit of a French look in your features, you know."

Ben winced.

"Oh, don't worry," said a delighted and dazzled Felicity. "Her secret's safe with me. I love Flame, she does such great work for our country!"

D'von was working behind the bar and gave Ben a quick glance and nod of acknowledgement, but quickly returned to his chat with a hefty forty-something woman who appeared completely wrapped around his finger, even with his sunglasses on to nullify his powers--typical D'von, ever the flirt, although, at least he did what he could to prevent the accidental use of superhuman persuasion while trying to pick up chicks. After a minute or two, Chloe arrived at the table with a club soda for Ben and a water for Felicity. "Glad you guys made it! Lemme just check up on my other tables and I'll be right back to talk shop." She deposited a couple of menus on the table and darted off.

Felicity perused hers while Ben left his untouched. "So what am I supposed to do after your cousin picks you up?"

"I don't know. Chloe gets off once brunch is over, maybe you can take her to the MaxEntertainment," Ben suggested. "She'll love that."

"Hey, what are 'pizza nachos'?"

"Y'know, you take the chips and you throw some salsa on there, some cheese, your toppings...you can do pepperoni, meat lovers, or just build your own. They're actually pretty good...from what I remember."

Felicity doubted that. "What about the Southwestern Lasagna?"

"Oh, you know, you got the layers of cheese, tortillas, beans, ground beef, sour cream, little garnish of pico…" For all that Ben tried to convince Felicity--and, she suspected, himself--that he didn't miss food, at times like this, when he talked about it and his eyes lit up, she could tell he was lying. He used to adore all manner of cheesy, deep-fried junk, back when his metabolism could handle it. She never touched the stuff herself, but it was sad, watching him yearn.

Her poor boy. Even without touching a scrap of food all week, he'd already gained back half the weight he'd lost over the summer due to having to deal with people, she could tell just by eyeballing. What torture he must have gone through.

"I feel terrible."

"Please don't; that's my least favorite flavor of feelings."

"Sorry. It just sucks, knowing your only hope of seriously losing weight is to become a hermit, and it's not like that's sustainable. Not that it should matter. You literally have a medical condition; anyone who judges you is a shit."

"Who said anything about judgment?" said Ben. "Can we just not talk about my weight?"

"Of course, of course!" Felicity agreed, doing her best to backpedal. "I mean, not talking about it won't make it--"

"I know! I know. But today I just want to have a nice lunch with my favorite girl. So can you please try and think happy thoughts?"

Felicity blushed and bit back a smile. "Okay. Sorry. It's none of my business. Another guy might not forgive me so easily. But you've always been too good to me."

A busboy swung by the table and set down a basket of bread and what Felicity at first thought was a small bowl of marinara sauce, but upon a taste test, turned out to be salsa. She spat her unchewed bite of bread into her napkin.

Chloe returned shortly after, notepad in hand. "Alright then, chicken Caesar for the lady, and Ben, are you sure you're not hungry?"

"You're just gonna ask that every time, aren't you?"

She dashed off to the computer to put in the order and quickly came back. "So where are we with Operation Rescue?"

"Well, I already touched base with all the kids on the list and started a chat server. I sent you guys the link, right?" said Felicity.

"Got it," said Chloe. "I've been keeping tabs. A lot of them said they plan on traveling in groups for safety, or else dropping out and moving back in with their families. A few more are thinking of transferring here."

"Good," said Felicity, taking the lead. "What about infiltration?"

"Oh! I have something for this!" Ben piped up. He pulled a piece of paper out of his back pocket and unfolded it on the table. "That look like an accurate representation of Rivington?"

"Yeah," Chloe nodded. "I don't have the campus layout memorized, but this looks right. You got this from Malcolm?" she intuited.

"He wants to help," said Ben.

"I see that...wow, I had no idea about his mom. He's still a douchebag, though."

"Decidedly douchey, but decidedly an asset," Felicity agreed. A bell dinged in the kitchen.

"Be right back!" Chloe left a final time and came back with Felicity's lunch, which mostly resembled a normal Caesar salad, except instead of croutons, it was finished with tortilla strips, and the chicken was shredded and smothered in some sort of green sauce. Felicity stared at it warily. "Yeah, the fare here is a little...adventurous?"

"What I want to know," said Ben, "is what's going on right here." He tapped his index finger on a spot on the map where Malcolm had drawn stairs leading down to a blank space with a big question mark on it.

"Those are the graduate labs," said Chloe. "They're underground. But nobody gets in there except the grad students in STEM."

"Oh my God," Ben murmured, a horrified expression crossing his features. Soon, Chloe picked up on whatever terrible thought had occurred to him.

"Oh my God!"

"Well, don't keep me out of the loop, guys," said Felicity.

"Those kids that went missing from Rivington," said Chloe, "what if they never left?"

***

The arcade scene sure had changed in the last few decades.

Not that Malcolm would know anything about that. Small, dark, independent shops where a troubled youth could go to escape from the world and take out his baggage on a pinball machine in solitude were something he'd only seen in movies that were well on their way to becoming classics. The 'arcades' of the modern era were sprawling entertainment centers alive with noise, complete with full staffs of mechanics and cater-waiters, gleaming prize counters whose glass was kept attentively scrubbed of children's fingerprints by an underpaid teen in fifteen-minute increments, and full restaurants and bars.

All the screaming toddlers? Not Malcolm's scene. But he was still waiting on that bottle from Ben and he was fresh out of booze. The FunPlex Gaming Center back home had always been an excellent place to charm free shots out of the hot milfs escaping to the bar to buy themselves relief from the hectic nightmare of a child's birthday party, so he figured the MaxEntertainment on the edge of this suburban college town would be the same.

He probably should have been convening with Ben, Chloe and Felicity about their attack plan on Rivington. And he planned to touch base. But he was nervous.

There were so many factors at play that made it uncomfortable that he'd decided on an impulse to help the intrepid trio.

If they stood to blow the lid off of a human experimentation plot, he wanted to be a part of it. Give his mother some much-deserved vengeance and himself some much-needed closure. And he had spent more time than anyone running the halls of Rivington, looking for trouble to cause. The map he'd drawn was probably more detailed than the original floor plan put together by the architects. For all intents and purposes, he should have felt like he was a full-fledged member of the team.

But then there was Chloe, the girl whose life he'd ruined in one moment of blinded, jilted jealousy. Chloe, who he still pined for, even though he knew she was right to hate him. If only he hadn't been so quick to action. If only he'd considered the possibility of becoming someone she could love, instead of lashing out when he learned that he wasn't.

And Felicity...ooh, there was no mistaking she didn't care for him. But she was the strongest of the four of them. If they needed anyone on this team, it was her. Besides, her disapproval wasn't as bad as Ben's pity.

Ben, who pretended he was okay but was the most entitled to feel miserable. Malcolm had heard about what happened in First Aid. It stung him that this guy--who was still accidentally misfiring like a kid in puberty, helpless to control his own potential--this was the guy who felt sorry for him now that he'd dropped the dead mom bomb, and yet, there was something in him that also felt fiercely protective of Ben, and not in a big brother kind of way. It was a totally different vibe.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
After a heavy handful of shots he charmed out of female bar guests, he got up from the bar and started wandering the place in contemplation. After a while, he bought some game tokens from the front counter and made his way to one of those dance games with the arrows on the floor. Chloe used to love these. Probably still did. He slipped a coin in the slot.

From the start of the song he picked, he performed poorly. It wasn't speed that the alcohol took from him, but accuracy and timing. He was anticipating the moves, stomping each arrow a split second too soon…

The game had just finished cleaning the floor with him when out of the corner of his eye, he saw Felicity and Chloe enter the establishment through its sliding automatic doors. Felicity was all dolled up in this frilly, flowery thing, while Chloe, understated as ever, still wore her black-on-black server uniform from the restaurant where she worked. She'd been working restaurant gigs ever since they met at Rivington. He used to come into the House of Wings near campus late at night and on the weekends, trying to talk to her, back when he was a freshman and she was a sophomore.

Back before he'd fucked everything up.

Chloe handed Felicity some money and urged her toward the bowling shoe rental desk. As Felicity headed for the counter, Chloe made a beeline straight for Malcolm.

"Feel like round two?" she said, coming up on him.

He put a coin in his slot, then another in hers. "If you think you can beat me, sure."

They chose their avatars. She selected a song.

She began beating him off the bat.

"So I heard we're on the same team now," she said, making every move with close precision and exuberant enthusiasm. Obviously, she was in practice. It figured; cheer squad and all. "I just want to make one thing clear: this doesn't mean we're square. I'm willing to work with you for a good cause. This is about your mom for you. It's about Gina for me. But between the two of us? It's strictly business. And once we solve this, if we solve this, we're gonna go our separate ways, and I will never speak to you again."

"Chloe…"

Wi th one decisive stomp of an arrow on the ground, she claimed her victory.

He turned to face her, tipsy, vulnerable, and painfully aware of the stakes. She was graduating this year and goddammit, he didn't want to never see her again!

"I know I screwed up. But I want to fix it. Tell me how to fix it!"

"Hmm…" She tilted her head. A wicked smirk spread across her face. "Maybe you can buy my forgiveness. Let's set the price at 25?"

"25? That's nothing! What's your Cashapp?"

Chloe laughed. "Oh, Mal. I'm not charging in American dollars."

Suddenly, he understood.

She had always been a tricksy, vindictive wildcard. But then, he'd always harbored a vengeful side of his own. In that way, he felt bound to her. Attractive as she was, the thing that made him yearn for her was not her beauty, but her fire.

It would be...a change of pace for sure.

But if it meant he could start over fresh with her...right now, he was just drunk and just reckless enough to say yes.

"Tell you what. I'll do you one better. You got a pen and paper?"

"Always!" She whipped a pen and an order pad out of her bag. He scribbled onto one sheet and signed his name and his fate away to her below:

IOU
£50

"What's my deadline?"

"Let's call it the fall formal?" she said with a playful smirk.

It was September 9th. To fulfil his end of the deal, he'd have to gain fifty pounds between now and November 27th.

But he believed in himself.

"See you there. Dress nice."

"Deal." He offered a hand to shake, and when she took it, he didn't go slack.

***

Chloe met Felicity by the bowling lanes, where she found the blonde putting on her shoes. "What was that about?" she asked. Chloe flashed the note.

"I was just selling Mal over there an indulgence."

"Why are you charging him in British currency?"

"I'm not," said Chloe with a wicked grin.

It clicked for Felicity then. "Fifty...pounds...you're going to make him gain fifty pounds?"

"Make, nothing. He doubled my asking price. And who knows? By the end of it, I might actually want him."

Chloe didn't need Felicity's grimace of disgust to know what she thought. Her brain was recoiling with contempt. "I mean, I knew you were one of those chubby chasers, but fattening someone up...that's just malicious!"

"He had his chance to back out. And you can boo and hiss all you want. I know deep down you still want to see if you can beat me at bowling."

The match came out almost even, with Felicity winning, but not by a significant margin. "Rematch?" Felicity offered. She still thought Chloe was a horrible little fiend, but she felt obligated to get some girl-bonding time in with her, since they had teamed up to save the world.

"Nah. I'm going out for a cigarette."

'Fucking gross,' thought Felicity.

"Wait for me by the air hockey tables?"

"Sure."

Chlo e let herself out into the parking garage, lit up, and leaned over a guardrail.

The back door swung open behind her as a mechanic got off his shift. Tall, tan, and broad, with soft shoulders, thick thighs, and a round, respectable gut that led the way into rooms, he was just her type.

He'd dropped out of Blackwater Community College as a sophomore to attend trade school. He was 27 now. He had a D&D meetup with some friends from his last job later on tonight, but they wouldn't be convening for another four hours. His name was Javier, but everyone who knew him well enough called him Javi.

And he was trying to pretend he hadn't checked out Chloe's ass, thinking, 'Damn!'

But nothing in his brain was a secret from her.

"It's okay to look," she said. "I know, it's a pretty great ass. To be honest, Javi, you're quite the looker yourself."

"What the--?"

"Oh. My bad. Mind-reader," she explained. "Anyway, since you've got some spare time, I wouldn't be opposed to giving you a little token of my admiration...if you'd be amenable."

'Is she...asking me to hook up with her? No, no...she has to be making fun of me. Pretty girls like her don't like big fat whales,' he thought.

"Aww, you think I'm pretty?" she replied, aloud. "And yes we do! Sometimes! And don't say 'big fat whale' like it's such a bad thing. You could just as easily call yourself a big, cuddly teddy bear. By the way, I was serious about the sex."

He thought to himself how nice it would be to have her in his bed, her warm body cuddled up in his arms. He'd be gentle with her, so careful and so reverent. He wanted to please her. She wanted her to show him that her adoration was genuine, that she really did find him desirable when even now he thought himself unworthy of breathing her air.

"Oh, honey," she said, her heart broken for him. "The media, the billboards, the magazines...what has the diet industry done to you?"

It had crushed his soul just like it crushed so many. She wished she could reach into the heart of 36.5% of the adult American population--and yes, she had looked that number up--and flip the switch that would clue them in that society was lying to them, that they were lovely and perfect…

But she couldn't, and in any case, she was well aware that her straight-sized-savior complex wasn't doing anyone any good. Fatphobia was systemic. Capitalism and militarism held hands to uphold it. Bodies were valued by how expensive they were to attain and how useful they could be to uphold the status quo. Every year, billions of dollars were made in the weight loss industry, and every year, tens of thousands of soldiers, super and mundane alike, were sent to kill and die in the name of lower gas prices.

A near-anonymous hookup with some rando Chloe met at the arcade would solve nothing.

Still, she imagined she would have fun.

But then reality came crashing in for her intended daily special.

"Look, no offense. You are really pretty. But I don't even know your name."

A text came in from Felicity:

>Where are you?

Chloe sighed and typed a reply:

>coming
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
The Telepath-Empath Society, Bellvue Chapter, met for lunch every other Tuesday in an unused classroom in the combat building. As the latest meeting adjourned, Ben and Chloe exited the meeting together, both with new insights after the afternoon's discussion.

"I guess they're right," said Chloe, leading the way outside and back to the dorms. "I do tend to dominate conversations. I can't turn off the fact that I hear every thought anyone thinks, but I could be trying a lot harder to let them speak and respect the things they choose not to say. Even if I know their secrets, I probably shouldn't acknowledge them."

"And I should probably get one-on-one tutoring," said Ben. Of the whole group, he was the only one whose powers fell under more than one umbrella. "But who understands this stuff enough to help me with it? How am I gonna find another...compound? Hybrid? What do I even call myself?"

"Well…what about Oriana?"

"She wouldn't get it. I know where you're going, but her emotional control thing is part of her biomanipulation. That's just her messing with your brain chemistry instead of your body. It's different than being a probe and an influence, or a physic and compulse at the same time--"

When they entered the commons, it was alive with activity. Students were gathered on sofas and huddled up on the floor, chattering amongst themselves, cheering, sighing in defeat, or else simply awed into silence, all eyes on the TV.

"Don't look now," said Chloe, "but I'm about to come into some money."

Onscreen, it was Blackwater City Councillor Jasmine Freeman, recounting the attack on her press conference earlier that day. She appeared markedly windswept and there was blast debris in her hair. "Bombshell was on security detail for me when all of the sudden, this...this goat...lion...cyborg THING just ATTACKED her out of nowhere!" The camera panned to a view of the goat-lion-cyborg thing in question, cleaved in two, one half of him on the ground and the other embedded in the brick fence enclosing the courtyard of the world-famous Westpark Hotel where the press conference had taken place.

"And then?" the reporter led on.

"Well, Big Tech came to her rescue! All of our rescue, really," said the councillor, back in frame. "And after she already attempted to neutralize him, no less!"

"Councillor Freeman, did you happen to witness the fight between Big Tech and Bombshell?"

"Well, no, it happened offsite--"

"Then how can you be sure of their clash before the events of the conference?"

Jasmine stared straight into the camera, unamused. "Is there...another reporter? Can I have a new reporter, please?"

In the commons, someone held their phone up in the air. "I found it!"

"The body cam footage of the Big Tech fight?" asked someone else.

"No, Bombshell hasn't posted it. But someone caught it on tape and it's all over Insta!"

Back on the TV, the reporter was asking the exasperated councillor, "Did they say anything to you before vacating the premises? Perhaps an explanation?"

"No! They just bailed in the back of a Go Fork Yourself truck!"

Erika Kimborough weaved her way through the crowd, announcing bets and doling out wads of cash. "Ten bucks for Kyle Morgan on Bombshell...fifty bucks for Annaleigh Ogden on Bombshell...FOUR HUNDRED bucks for Heather Greene, paying out double for accuracy on Big Tech going down to Bombshell without a struggle…"

"Thank you," muttered a chubby freshman in a black-on-black, fishnet-heavy outfit, meekly, tucking the money into her pocket before darting up the stairs.

Erika approached Chloe and held a roll of bills in her direction. "And a whopping triple payout of three thousand dollars for Chloe Nguyen, the only one to foresee Bombshell taking her own prisoner."

Chloe palmed the money, momentarily dazed. Then, her face lit up and she jumped up and down, squealing, before wrapping Ben up in a suffocating hug. "Oh my god! I can't believe it!" A lot came off of her in that moment. Gratitude, excitement...and at the core of it all, solidarity. They had, after all, worked as a team. It came as a total surprise to him that her feelings were an easy cocktail to swallow. Usually he got a sense that she only wanted to use him like a 210-pound dildo--actually probably closer to 220 now. It was nice to feel seen as a partner, an ally...a real person.

Chloe pulled away, blushing. "See? I can turn the naughty switch off sometimes," she replied to a question Ben hadn't asked. Sobering quickly, she turned back to Erika. "I believe there was an extra $350 for whoever guessed final stats the closest?"

"Damn, out for all you can grab, huh?" Ben remarked.

"Always!"

Ben rolled his eyes.

"Bombshell hasn't posted the stats," said Erika.

"Or the body cam footage?" said someone in the crowd.

"Looks like you called it, Chloe: she is in love." Erika counted out the remaining money and said, "In this case, I guess we'll split the winnings between you and Heather...wait, where is Heather? Ah, fuck it." She handed the whole stack of bills to Chloe.

"Hey, where's my cut?" piped up Mason Harvey. "I'm the only one that predicted another villain would be involved!"

"Yeah, about that," said Erika. "Guess you didn't count on me finding out you can see the future. You've been disqualified for days. Consider your entry a processing fee."

Chloe and Ben fell back to the edge of the crowd. She counted out the bills again. "Right, so this is Heather's," she said, rolling up $175 and tucking it into a side pocket of her handbag. Then, she held out a cut for him. "Technically, this is all rightfully yours. But I did the talking, so I'm keeping half."

"Keep all of it," said Ben. "It's Oriana's private business, I can't profit off of that."

"Have it your way." She stuffed the money into her bag. "You know, we should work together again. We'd make such a good team! Think of it: Decoder and Lightning Rod or something."

"Lightning Rod's taken, and besides, I'd never use it. You could make way too many sex puns."

"Okay, how about...Voltage?"

"Taken."

"Kilowatt?"

"Taken."

"Conduit?"

"Taken by a guy who's already got a multimillion dollar movie franchise! At this point girl, you just naming off famous electromancers that originally came from the hood."

"Wait, I can do this! How about...Spark?"

He mulled it over in his head. "I like it," he decided.

Now, if only he could get in shape and get his powers under control.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
Chapter 4

Whenever possible, Heather Greene liked to take her meals back to her dorm, where she could truly indulge to her heart’s content, even to the point of mild discomfort if she was in a randy enough mood to use a vibrator while she dined.

But her roommate, who usually made a point of leaving early to hit the gym before class, was taking a rest day today, so Heather ate breakfast alone at a table in the dining room. She hoped the other students wouldn’t notice her plates--and yes, there were three of them--piled high with sausages and fat strips of bacon, eggs scrambled with cheese, buttermilk biscuits, blueberry pancakes drowning in butter and syrup, and a toasted bagel cut in half, smeared on one side with cream cheese and the other with strawberry jam. She was already chubby, surely the others in the room would think she ought to be doing everything in her power to cut back. Then again, she also hoped they would notice. It was deliciously naughty, thinking of the whole school suspecting, or better yet, knowing for certain, that her secret body insecurities leaned in the opposite direction to what they might expect: she had just crested 230 pounds the last time she bothered to weigh herself, and she wouldn’t feel complete until she surpassed 300. Then again, that’s what she’d told herself about 200, back when she had been stuck at the 180 plateau.

The conflicted cocktail of her thoughts was a beacon to Chloe, who approached her tentatively, mentally rehearsing what she was going to say. In the end, she decided on simplicity. “Care for company?”

Heather panicked. ‘Aw, fuck. A cheerleader. Is she here to make fun of me? To lay into the fat freshman making a pig of herself? Oh, shit...will I like that? What would I want her to call me? A sloppy sow? A mindless glutton? A bariatric patient in the making? Fuck, I’ll hate that. I’ll hate that here. But then when I go back upstairs, if Kyla’s gone I can break out the magic wand and replay her words in my head and imagine her grabbing and shaking my--’

“Relax, Heather,” said Chloe, red as she’d gone in the face herself. Heather was a lovely specimen. She wore her hair in an asymmetrical bob with an undercut, dyed black in stark contrast to her alabaster complexion. Her blue-green eyes were lined with a thick rim of black eyeliner, her plump, inviting lips done up in a shade of purple so dark it was almost black. Every part of her was round and soft, from her chubby, cherubic cheeks, to her curved shoulders and chunky arms, a belly that pooled adorably in her lap, her thick thighs, and an ass that would breach the edges of her chair a mere few pounds from now. In her tight band T-shirt, heavy jewelry, and figure-hugging black jeans supporting chains upon chains, she screamed ‘don't fuck with me’ from head to toe, and yet, she was so quiet, reading the room, lying in wait. “I didn’t come here to make fun of you. And if it’s alright by you, verbal humiliation’s not my thing.”

“Telepath?”

Chloe nodded.

Heather was taken by surprise, but she didn’t not want Chloe to sit down.

So Chloe pulled out a chair and set down her own egg and cheese croissant sandwich and caramel latte. Her eyes came to a rest on the sketchbook Heather had cast off to the side of the table: she had planned on working on potential costume designs this morning, but after she’d taken her first bite of those pancakes, the textures and tastes of the food had been too distracting for her to go on.

“Evergreen, huh?” said Chloe, gesturing with her head towards the open page of the sketchbook, where Heather had designed herself an outfit in a black and forest green color scheme, featuring combat boots and a one-piece bodysuit cutting off just below the hip, underneath a truly badass cloak and hood. Heather was a brilliant artist. The Heather in the sketch looked almost just like the Heather in real life, only, she had drawn herself markedly fatter.

“Yeah, I think that’s what I’m gonna go with,” said Heather. “I’ve been thinking about street vigilantism for a while. I’ve just never had the extra cash to scrape together a costume.” Her uber-religious family had kicked her out at sixteen when she came out as gay. She scraped by on government assistance and scrounged together extra cash with her gambling habit, but she didn’t always win as big as she had in the last student betting pool. “Now that I’ve got four hundred dollars to play around with, though--”

“Oh my gosh! I completely forgot, I’m sorry!” Chloe dug the $175 out of her handbag and handed it to Heather across the table. “This should have been yours. I came down here to give it to you in the first place.” Then she’d caught all of Heather’s most intimate thoughts and gotten distracted. “How’d you know, by the way, that he wanted to be whacked?”

Heather glanced off to the side. “Because I’d want to be whacked,” she confessed, thinking to herself that if she didn’t say it, Chloe would know anyway. “Not too hard, but maybe like, sixty? Seventy? I know you must think I’m a nut job.”

“Actually,” said Chloe, “I think it’s neat.”

“You do?”

“There’s a reason I wanted to stick around and talk instead of just dropping off your cash and jetting.”

“You? You’re a f--? But you’re a cheerleader!”

“And if I liked the little skinny-mini on top of the pyramid, I’d be chatting her up right now, but I’m not.” Chloe gave Heather a hopeful gaze. “We should hang. Come to The Donut Hole with me after classes? They have one right on campus, next to the Taco Shack.” She hadn’t seen it yet, but she knew it was there because a few of her classmates often had the establishment on the brain towards the end of her 4:00 classes, when dinner time approached. Apparently, they sold all manner of delicious sweets beloved by stressed and hungry college students. “I’ll buy you whatever you want.”

Heather thought about it for a moment. She’d received encouragement online, but she was still super new to it, and she’d never had a feeder in real life. And now, along came a gorgeous one, practically throwing herself at her feet…

Chloe beamed. Heather thought she was pretty!

“I finish at three today,” Heather said, her mind made up.

“Great! I finish at five."
 
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stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
Chloe cut the last few minutes of Superpowers and the Deterioration of the Modern Understanding of Natural Law to make it to her dorm, shower, and change before she met Heather. She wanted to look--and smell--her best, and nobody noticed her cutting. The class was one of those huge ones, taught in a cramped auditorium, where students came and went for bathroom breaks unquestioned, and the few people who had seen her leave thought nothing of the fact that she packed up her laptop and took all her stuff.

Freshly changed into a soft sweater set and skirt, she arrived early to the spot in the quad where she and Heather had agreed to meet. Heather showed up a few minutes later, her face red with embarrassment. "I'm late."

"No, I'm just overeager."

"To see me?"

"Of course, beautiful!" Chloe linked elbows with Heather and led the way across campus.

She probed Heather's mind to see just how far she could go. If Chloe had her way, she'd have a hand up the back of her shirt, squeezing her yielding, jiggly sides, caressing her skin...but Heather had never been intimate with another person before, and Chloe didn't want to shock her. She settled for reaching over with her free hand to give her upper arm a squeeze. A million giddy thoughts swirled in Heather's mind.

'She likes me. She likes me fat. She likes fat girls. She's taking me out for donuts. Will she want to make me fatter? I want her to stuff me senseless. I want her to make me helpless. I want to lick icing off her fingers. I want to lick icing off her naked body. I'll be such a good little fatty for her…'

Chloe was getting wetter by the second.

Then they arrived at the donut shop, and the moment was ruined.

A gaggle of cheerleaders passed them by, led by Felicity and all thinking the same thing: 'What is one of us doing with some fat loser?'

Defiantly, Chloe glared them down. "I'm on a date. Duh."

The group scattered and walked away. Heather was bewildered, but had the vague sense that Chloe had stepped up to defend her. She hugged the stunning senior around the waist before turning to a nearby rose bush. "Watch this." Cradling a rosebud in the palm of her hand, she brought it to full bloom, at which point she broke it off the stem and tucked it behind Chloe's ear. "A small token of my appreciation. And it matches your outfit."

"That's an amazing power set!"

"Thanks! I can use it offensively, too."

"I know, you don't have to give me the demonstration."

They walked into the donut shop arm in arm. As they approached the counter, Chloe gave Heather's arm another squeeze and said, "Tell him what you want, darling."

"Um...let me have a couple of chocolate glazed and a brownie, and an iced coffee," Heather told the cashier...but she was holding herself back.

"And a half dozen assorted, and a strawberry milkshake, and a lemon bar."

Heather blinked and looked at Chloe with wide, disbelieving eyes, stunned at her generosity.

Leaning in close so no one else could hear, Chloe whispered, "I did say you could have whatever you want. Don't worry, the lemon bar is for me. I know you prefer sweet over tart."

The cashier rung them up, handed Chloe their purchases, and bid them good day. If he was feeling some judgmental sort of way, Chloe was content to save calling him out on it for some later date. She was too eager to please the absolute hottie on her arm.

They ended up taking things to the basement under the girls' dorm. Nobody ever came here, but there was quite a setup: projector, couches, a full kitchen; that would come in handy if Chloe ever felt like cooking. She wasn't exactly a Michelin star chef, but she had mastered the art of spinning straw into culinary gold. Her rice soup had once gotten her laid by a rich boy she met at one of her jobs.

But tonight, on the menu was pure sugar. Cuddled up on the couch with Heather, she alternatively took small bites of her own dessert with a fork she found in a drawer and fed her paramour morsels of sweets she broke apart with her hands.

"You like licking my fingers, don't you?" she crooned as Heather sucked them clean. "You like being told what to do…" Chloe broke off another piece of a donut and thumbed it into Heather's eager mouth. Heather squirmed on the couch, writhed and pulled Chloe's free hand into her pants, past her panties, to her wet, needy core.

"Feed me some more, Chloe?"

"No, baby," said Chloe, palming and patting Heather's full belly. Stuffed with sweets, it was completely firm, round, with no give. "I know you have big dreams, but you're at capacity." She cuddled up tight on the couch and continued to stroke Heather's clit. "You did so good for me though...I think you've earned your reward."

And there it was. Heather spasmed with a cry of delight. Chloe loved it when they reached completion, breathing heavy, thoughts jumbled. Heather's pleasure became hers, bound as they were by the sweet tether of telepathy.

They lay together for a while, grinning like idiots, staring at the ceiling. Then the guilt started to set in.

"What is it?" asked Heather. Even without a probe ability, she could tell by Chloe's contemplative silence that something was wrong.

"There's this guy," Chloe began.

"There always is," Heather nodded against Chloe's shoulder.

"See, he's sweet, and funny, and would basically make the perfect boyfriend. And I'm totally catching feels for him. But he likes someone else, and besides, I'm way too kinky for him. Then there's this other guy who's loved me for years, but there was always one thing he couldn't give me...until now. He's offered to try. But last year he hurt me pretty bad, and I don't know if I'll be able to forgive him at the end of all this, or if his efforts are just going to end up in vain. And then...then there's this girl."

"Yeah?"

" Yeah. She's edgy and counter-culturey and really, really hot. Kinks-wise, we are totally compatible. Maybe you know her." Chloe paused and sighed. "But I'm afraid if I pursue her, I won't be good for her."

"Why do you say that?" asked Heather.

"Because I'll still be thinking about these other people," said Chloe. "I won't be able to give her my whole heart."

Heather lay her hand over Chloe's and said, "Chloe, your heart isn't something you have to break into pieces. Love is infinite, and you might find that it only grows the more people you love. And this mysterious girl? I think you're doing right by her just by being honest about all this. But eventually you should share your truth with the boys, too. However they take it, at least you'll have closure."
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
Malcolm could get used to eating whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. It was a nice change of pace from his disciplined upbringing--he knew Dad had been hit hard by Mom's passing, and it had caused him to raise Malcolm on a strict schedule, intending him to one day be the instrument of his wife's vengeance, and Malcolm wanted to bring down this Rivington plot and do right by Mom as much as anyone, but it wasn't as though a few, or fifty, extra pounds would stop him.

And once he completed the task before him, he'd have absolution for what he'd done to Chloe. Maybe he'd even win her love.

Used to be, he found his escape through drugs and hard liquor, but those didn't make you gain weight. Sure, they left evidence: you'd show up to class late, the bags under your eyes would have bags, you'd twitch, you'd shake, you'd lash out. But people were willing to forgive all those things more readily than they forgave obesity.

Which almost made deliberate weight gain into an act of...rebellion? It certainly felt punk rock enough to him.

And he was finding that sometimes a nice, rich slice of cheesecake brought him just as much pleasure as any cocaine high. Unfortunately, he'd had to give up cocaine as part of his plan to reach his 50-pound goal, but it would be worth it in the end.

The problem was, eating whatever he wanted wasn't quite working. Since he'd shook on his deal with Chloe, he was up by exactly two pounds. Two.

Fuck a fast metabolism. He needed a new strategy.

Forcing himself to eat past the point of satiety wasn't exactly the most comfortable experience, but he was willing to make sacrifices in pursuit of his goals. It wasn't even just about Chloe anymore; of course, her affection was his endgame, but he had begun to live for the sick thrill of pushing himself toward a fate it seemed everybody else in the world was working to avoid. He was entranced by the morbid curiosity over where the fresh fat would settle on his frame once he managed to break his metabolism. It was strange, yet electrifying, feeling horny over his future self. In the past few days, he'd jacked off a handful of times to the mere thought of expansion.

Jacking off was the last thing he felt like doing in the moment, though.

He'd ordered a large pizza and forced himself to finish half of it, and now lay beached in bed, alone in his dorm room, miserable, with an old cartoon streaming on the TV. His stomach ached. Every few minutes, he fought his gag reflex.

A knock sounded at the door. "Mal? You're alone. I can tell that much. Can I come in?" It was Chloe.

For a second, it was an internal debate. Could he let her see him like this, gorged to the point of self-sabotage? Surely, she'd think him pathetic.

Or…

Or maybe she'd give him an A for effort, along with a happy ending to motivate him to stick to the goal.

"It's open," he groaned.

He heard her let herself in. For a while, he didn't open his eyes, but he could tell she'd approached him by the sound of her footfalls and the shadow she cast over his face. "Overdid it a little, huh, Mal?" She helped herself to a seat on the bed. "You know, if you'd told me last year that I'd walk in on you like this and asked what my next move would've been, I'd have told you I would pin you down while you're vulnerable and stuff the rest of that pizza down your throat."

"Well, that ain't very nice," he grumbled.

"I know, I know. But seeing you like this…I just want to take care of you."

She slipped a cool hand up his shirt. His eyes shot wide open. "What are you doing?"

"Making you feel better. Don't you trust me?"

He exhaled. "Okay. Do what you're gonna do."

She pulled up his shirt and rubbed gentle but firm circles against his distended stomach, right above the navel, where it was the tightest. The relief was immediate, and he couldn't but let slip a moan as the tension in his middle eased. "Good?" asked Chloe.

"Not as good as sex...ooh." He arched up against her hand involuntarily. "But better than taking even the most satisfying dump."

"That's gross! Boys are gross."

"It's satisfying, though, right?"

"I mean, yes, but you shouldn't talk about it." Nevertheless, she continued in her tender ministrations, letting her hands drift towards his sides and giving them an experimental squeeze. "Do I feel progress?"

"It's only two pounds," he admitted.

"Well, progress is progress." She gave his belly a light pat. "Y'know, back in the day...before you outed me to everyone at Rivington...I was actually pretty sweet on you. All the girls were. Who can resist that bad boy mystique?"

"But I was never your type."

"Look, sometimes you see a cute guy and think, 'man, he would fatten up nicely.'"

He felt the blood start to rush south.

"And that scares me now, Mal. I never said anything to you because I was afraid if you knew the truth, you'd think I was a freak. And then when you destroyed my reputation--"

"I was being a butthurt little dickface. I'm a different man now, Chlo."

"When I offered you that deal, it was in the interest of keeping the squad united. It's important work, what we're doing. But I knew I didn't want to just hand you a free pass. But now? I keep thinking, what if I catch feels, and you hurt me again? I almost want to call the whole thing off, becau--"

"I won't hurt you," Malcolm promised. "Not now that I finally have a shot at being with you."

Nothing like talking about feelings to kill a boner in progress. But it was just as well; somehow, he was enjoying their tender moment.

"Don't make me regret believing you, Malcolm Jimenez."

"Never."

He let her soothe him for a while longer before asking, "Hey, Chloe? Could you do me a big favor?"

"What?"

" ;Put the rest of that pizza in the microwave for me...Ben has it set up on top of the mini fridge, right there...and then come back and feed it to me with your hands."

"Are you sure?" She ghosted her fingertips over the surface of his stomach. "You're already so full. Look how tight this little belly is."

"I feel a lot better now. And I still got 48 pounds to go."

She retrieved the pizza box, plated the remaining slices, gave them a quick reheat, and returned to bed, setting the plate on her lap. "There's one more thing I wanted to ask you. Do you mind if I'm screwing around with other people?"

"Out for all you can grab, huh?"

"Always."

" ;I think that's what I like about you. Back when I used to see you at the bar counter, flirting with all the guys except for me…"

"You're one to talk, you little manwhore."

"We're the same, Chloe. Free birds. I would never take that from you."

"I guess we do have more in common than I thought," Chloe agreed, picking up a slice of pizza. "Now I hope all this emotional shit has you working up an appetite…"
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
296
Location
Texas
Ben returned from his Friday night robotics club meeting to find Malcolm beached in bed, barely conscious, with an empty large pizza box on his bedside table. "Exam stress?" asked Ben, throwing his backpack in the corner. Malcolm had been doing this a lot lately, ordering in and going on late-night fast-food binges fueled by weed. But even before he asked, Ben knew this wasn't a simple matter of stress eating. Something had changed for Malcolm.

His recent binges had all been accompanied by an undercurrent of excitement, a guilty but erotic anticipation. "Or is this about something else?" Ben added, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

"Chloe."

"You tryna impress her now?"

"I just let her stuff me," Malcolm confessed. "It was hot as fuck."

Great. So now Ben was doomed to have to deal with the emotional cocktail coming off a roommate who was diving headfirst into feedism with one of the hottest girls on campus.

Why did that make him jealous?

He shuffled around the room, throwing this and that into his backpack: a change of clothes, some toiletries, his homework. "Hey, man, I think I'm finna spend the weekend at my brother's house. So you and Chloe feel free to use the space, okay?"

When he pulled up at D'von's, the house was empty. It was typical for a Friday night; the bar crowd at the restaurant would be out of control were he not behind the counter to...well, to control it.

Ben got his homework done that night, busied himself with a few rounds of video games, got into the liquor cabinet, and eventually passed out on the couch before midnight. D'von must have gotten in after Ben had fallen asleep, and in the morning, he was gone again, but his work shoes were by the door.

That was weird; Ben could have sworn D'von worked a double every Saturday.

When D'von finally showed up, it was with his arms full of grocery bags and their cousin in tow.

"D'von, thanks so much for takin' off to help us move," Oriana was saying as they crossed the threshold. "I wish I coulda done it on a weekday, but I'm still at Cyber Security for the next two weeks, and we really couldn't have waited--oh, sup, Ben?" she gave him a backwards nod upon noticing him on the living room sofa. "I didn't expect you to pull up."

"Yeah, well, the folks at school bein' a lot right now." Honestly, so was she. This Oriana was a complete 180 from the one who'd given him a ride to school. Smug satisfaction rolled off of her in intense waves, even as she carried herself with a slight limp, as if she had spent the last several days on a rigorous flexibility training regiment. Ben could gag on the intensity of it, and without an outlet, he was probably gaining at a rate of two pounds an hour as long as she was in range. "Wait, you moved? As in, you and Big Tech moved in together?"

"Hell yeah!" said D'von. "And because I volunteered to help 'em unpack all their shit, she offered to come over here and make jambalaya!" He crossed the room to the liquor cabinet, popped open a bottle of bourbon, and poured three shots. "How 'bout a round for Queen B and her new boo?" he toasted, distributing the shots. Ben downed his joylessly while the other two clinked glasses.

"Isn't that a little fast? You've only been aware of this guy for what, three months, if that?" Ben pointed out.

"My life moves fast," said Oriana. "Besides, you'll love him once you meet him."

"He is a nice guy," D'von conceded. "Course, he ever breaks yo heart, Imma make him stick his head in the river and take a deep breath--"

"D'von!" Oriana protested.

"Aw, c'mon, Ori! All our lives, you been like a baby sister to me! And I know I'm always being the one to try and hook you up with a man, but now you got one, I can't help but feel a lil protective."

"I can handle myself. Or did you forget, I'm Bombshell?" She laughed and sauntered into the kitchen, D'von following after. Ben, for his part, remained where he sat, grateful for the distance.

For a while, cooking sounds came from the kitchen while D'von and Oriana conversed indistinctly. Ben turned up the volume on the TV.

"Yo Ben! Are you sure you don't wanna come get some of this jambalaya?" called D'von from the kitchen after a while. "I know you don't need to eat and all that, but our girl does a good job."

"Nah, it's okay," Ben responded.

"D'you at least want me to fix you a spot at the table?" asked Oriana.

"I'm fine, really, I'm fine right over here." With how sweet she was on her new man, he was liable to end up in a diabetic coma if he allowed her too much proximity for too long.

And he so wanted to be happy for her.

From the living room, he overheard them talking.

"Is he still ricocheting?"

"That's what it looks like. What's your professional opinion? You the one what's educated in all this shit."

"It's...shocking, really. Not that I'm a expert. And the ricochet effect ain't researched that well. They never taught us what causes it, just what to do if it starts happening in the middle of combat. But as far as I know, it runs in families, and ain't nothing like that ever happened to me."

"Me neither. But neither of us has a probe ability. Guess God made him too powerful and had to give him a caveat."

"Don't tell me you still believe in that bull."

"You really create fat out of thin air, and you wanna tell me you don't believe in miracles?"

"I create matter out of energy! There's a perfectly sound explanation of how I do what I do, it'd just go over your head!" Oriana snarked. Ben cracked half a smile. It was always a circus when D'von and Ori got into one of their ideological debates. "Poor Ben, though. If he was a freak like us, at least he'd be able to enjoy it.

And there it was: pity. The last thing he wanted. In the next room, the other two weren't close enough for him to feel it or take it in, but regardless, he didn't like having to overhear it.

As quietly as he could, he collected his things and let himself out.

It was nearing midnight by the time he completed the drive back to Bellvue.

He took refuge in the basement under the dorms in case Malcolm had Chloe over for company. All night, the lights stubbornly stayed on, no matter how many times he flipped the switch, and he never caught a wink of sleep.

His hands were shaky in the dining hall the next morning as he struggled to open his grapefruit LaCroix. When he finally got it open, the agitated can shot a spray of cold carbonation directly in his face. He hissed a curse as a few onlookers laughed. Their sadistic glee caught in his throat like a deep breath of dust.

Two tables over, Chloe rose from her spot next to Malcolm and his overloaded tray to approach Ben. "Rough night?" she asked, helping herself to a seat across from him.

"You already know."

"Better than you can imagine. Family time is always awkward when you have a probe ability, even when you like your family. You don't want to hear every thought they think, or feel everything they feel…"

"What's your family like?" asked Ben.

"Oh, they have nothing nice to say about me. My parents? Both super...both military...both officers. They're disappointed I was born with telepathy and not something more useful in combat. If only I was more like my cousin Fireball…"

"Your cousin is Fireball?" Who would have thought Ben would have so much in common with a girl who so perplexed him? Complimentary power sets, relations to supers with a certain degree of notoriety in the public spotlight…

"Technically I think he's like, three or four times removed, but he's close enough to have crashed my parents' vow renewal reception. Guy went facefirst into the champagne fountain, brought the whole damn table down with him."

Ben laughed, even as he tried not to, but Chloe wasn't offended. In fact, it brought her comfort to see him smile.

And he drank up that comfort like water in the desert. He liked that feeling. He wanted more of it. From her.

"Anyway," she said, "I have an apartment in Blackwater. I rented it so I wouldn't have to go back to my parents' over the summers, but I don't use it during the school year. Well, I will once I graduate, but like, for now?" She slid him a key across the table. "If you ever need a place to crash and be alone, the building's called Park Place. It's on Westchase, between 19th and 20th. And it's apartment number 305."

"Wow, Chloe," said Ben, a little breathless. "You're actually such a lifesaver right now, y'know that?" He was a little confused, though. He would have thought she would want him stuck in the middle of as much of others' emotional chaos as possible, helplessly getting fatter on an unstoppable onslaught of energy…

And as she unspooled that thought from his mind, he felt something in her break.

"Oh, Ben...I would never want that for you. Don't you get it?" she said, her voice cracking.

"Chloe--I didn't mean--"

She stood and backed away from the table. "My offer still stands about the apartment. But I should go."

She left the dining hall near tears with Ben in pursuit. Malcolm soon noticed the commotion and followed her out. "Chloe, wait!"

"What did you do to her?" Malcolm snapped, wrapping a protective arm around Chloe's waist.

"Big words coming from the guy who outed her to a whole school."

For a moment, Malcolm just glowered. Ben could feel the debate within him...but in the end, he decided not to pick a fight. "C'mon, Chlo. Let's just hit up Taco Shack instead," he said, leading her around a corner.

Ben couldn't have felt worse. As the realization hit him, he wanted to be sick. Despite Chloe's peculiar predilections, she saw him as a human being first. A human being and an equal. She always had. Even through her blazing attraction to him, she'd shown him nothing but kindness, friendship, and respect.

And now, he had broken her heart.
 
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