BHM The Shocking Adventures of Spark

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stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
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Location
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Ben got the group text from Felicity at the end of his combat thermodynamics class summoning him to an empty classroom in the science building for a team meeting. He arrived a little nauseous, hand trembling around the can of grapefruit LaCroix he'd picked up along the way, hoping it would help his nerves--it didn't. Felicity was already present, sitting atop a vacant desk. In her pink dress and kitten heels, she was a beauty, her glowing aesthetic dimmed only by her scowling expression and tapping foot. "Ben! You look like hell, what's wrong?"

"Gee, should I write up a list?" He sighed. "Mostly, I just hate how I left things off with Chloe."

"It sounds to me like she and Malcolm are just as much to blame, if not more. They could actually talk to you, instead of hiding like children and holding the whole mission back!"

"I don't think that's really fair to her," said Ben. "I really hurt her feelings."

"Boo fucking hoo."

Chloe was the next in. Upon meeting eyes with Ben in the doorway, she gasped, eyes widening as she took in his inner struggle.

'I'm sorry,' he thought helplessly.

"No," she said, "I'm sorry!"

'You can't control what you want.' And he'd been a fool for judging her for it.

"And you can't control what you think! I should have been more considerate of your discomfort."

"Well, I shoulda been more open minded about your...why don't we call it eccentricity?" he said, aloud this time.

"Oh, Ben!" She bounded across the room to wrap him up in a hug.

Making up with Chloe felt so natural. So easy. Sure, she felt the hug a little too intensely. But she didn't mean him harm. The feelings he felt coursing into himself from her were only nice ones: comfort, care, admiration. Sure, her outpouring of emotion was pumping glucose into his veins by the minute...but it was all so delicious, he didn't want it to stop.

They were still locked in their embrace when Malcolm zipped into the room, a blur until he managed to slow his own inertia. It took a toll on him--once he managed to stop running, he bent double, out of breath. It made sense: he was a little heftier than when Ben had seen him last.

"Whoa. So like...you guys are cool now?"

Ben didn't want the hug to break...but they couldn't stand there like that forever.

Chloe pulled back and smiled. "Yes, Mal. We're cool."

Felicity rolled her eyes. "Now then. While you two were off doing, oh, whatever, the kill count at Rivington has risen to forty."

"Ay, hold up a second, who said anything about a kill count?" Malcolm interjected. "They're all still just missing...right?" He looked to Ben for an answer.

"We...we have no way of knowing for sure," he confessed. "But they're covering the disappearances in the news...if any bodies turned up, they'd show it, right?"

"In. The. Meantime." Felicity fixed Chloe and Malcolm with a stern stare. Ben was somehow immune from her wrath--years of history, he presumed--and while he wished his recently reconciled friends weren't in Felicity's crosshairs, he couldn't help but feel relieved. "When are we going to act?"

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Felicity, it's, like, just not realistic for us to spring into action ASAP. For one thing, I'm not ready. I need to train myself to be able to withstand all the mental screaming on campus, otherwise I'll freeze up as soon as I step foot there!"

Ben was glad she'd used herself as an example; he was unprepared, too, by a long shot. But did his friends need reminding of the fact out loud?

"Sorry--sorry I'm late!" came a new voice, as a plump, dark-haired girl dressed in all black pushed her way past the door, ass-first, her arms full of binders and notebooks of schoolwork. Ben recognized Heather Greene from the betting pool. Chloe waved, and even Malcolm gave her a fond nod of acknowledgement.

"Who the fuck are you?" Felicity snapped, her patience slipping by the minute. Overhead, the lights began to flicker: Ben was reaching capacity as far as how much of the ensemble's energy he could contain.

"I'm--I'm Heather, I'm Chloe's gi--Chloe's friend. She invited me to the meeting. Something about rescuing a bunch of missing kids?"

Felicity glared at Chloe. "You didn't think to put this to a vote?"

"She's crazy powerful! She'll make a great asset to the team. She's already saved me once. And she already has a supersona and everything!"

"Well, then," said Felicity, "show me what you can do."

With a crack, the floor underfoot gave way as several tendrils of vine burst forth from the earth and bound Felicity's feet to the linoleum. Felicity just stood there, unflinching, before yanking her left foot free, snapping the vines in the process. Heather recoiled with a grunt of agony, as if Felicity had scathed her physical body and not merely the plants she was controlling. Her pain burned white hot through Ben. Soon, Chloe's panic and Felicity's smug satisfaction entered the mix, sending him over the edge. A crackle of static sounded around him and a sudden jolt racked his entire body. He collapsed on the ground, electrocuted.
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
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Messages
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In an instant, Chloe was on her knees at Ben's side. She took his wrist to check his pulse--thank God, it was still there--and squeezed his hand, looking up at Felicity and Heather. "You guys, we all need to calm down or we'll hurt him more!"

"Leave him to me," said Felicity, seeming to regain some semblance of humanity as she knelt down to scoop him up bridal style as if his hefty body were no heavier than a throw pillow. "I'll take him to the infirmary. Oh, and Heather: sorry, but you're just not strong enough."

Chloe held back her rage, waiting until Felicity and Ben were out of the room and at a safe distance. When she was sure she could do no damage, she let down her pretense of composure and blurted, "Fuck her!"

"Yeah, Heather, you've gotta be one of the most powerful bitches at this school," Malcolm agreed.

"More useful in combat than me, for sure," said Chloe. "But, like, you already know why she's dismissing you out of hand."

The message came through for Heather, but the pudgy fledgling heroine had her doubts on Chloe's assessment. "Are you sure it's that? Ben's a chunky dude, and she seems to care an awful lot about him."

"Please. She just enjoys how he worships the ground she walks on. If he ever wises up, he'll be just another misfit to her," said Chloe. "Anyway, she can't keep you off the rescue mission if you really do want to be here."

"Yeah," added Malcolm. "She's outvoted."

***

"This package came in for 'Evergreen,' announced the RA, holding up a padded envelope in the dining hall as the students ate breakfast. "Anyone know where to find her?"

"Yeah, I'll take it to her," said Chloe as she exited the serving line with a heavily loaded tray. She might as well, since she was already taking her breakfast. She let the RA tuck the envelope under her arm and went upstairs to Heather's dorm.

There was only Heather's consciousness in there: her roommate had already left for the gym. Chloe knocked. "It's open!" came Heather's reply, though Chloe had known it a second before she spoke.

"My hands are full!"

A second later, Heather opened the door. Her black hair was tousled from sleep, and her black band t-shirt clung tightly around her full chest and squidgy middle, riding up to expose a pale sliver of belly. Her pajama bottoms were similarly tight: they looked like they'd split down the ass if the fledgeling heroine bent over. Chloe practically salivated.

"Rise and shine, sleepy head!" The door fell shut behind her as she crossed the room to set the tray down on the bed. "I know this looks like a lot, but we have to make sure you're, like, well-fed and stuff, so you'll be at the top of your crimefighting game! After all, the safety of the campus is depending on it!"

Heather blushed. "Ah, shucks. You know I'm not that big a deal, right?"

"Oh, really? Then why are you getting fanmail from…" Chloe took a moment to examine the return address on the envelope before gasping in shock. "Holy shit!"

"What, who's it from?"

Baylor Elizabeth Sharp: otherwise known as Bailey Sharp, the first name in pop music on a global scale. At only twenty-five, she had a veritable empire of media attention all to herself. Her shows were explosive, extraordinary, out of this world--even without all the pyrotechnics, her voice would have ensnared crowds, but the special effects budget her success afforded turned her into something truly spectacular. From just some sweet country blonde from Texas, she had built her image into something extraordinary, recognizable at one glance no matter who you were, and this recent year, amidst a flurry of press releases, she had moved to a penthouse in uptown Blackwater City. She'd even written a song about it, and it had topped the charts for twelve weeks running, only to be usurped by yet another one of her singles.

And now, apparently, she had business with Evergreen.

Breathlessly, Chloe handed Heather her package. Heather turned it over hands and read over the same handwritten text Chloe had only seconds before...but she was markedly underwhelmed.

"Bailey Sharp? As in, the pop singer? She wants to talk to me?" she said, rolling her eyes.

"Aren't you going to open it?"

"This is wasting my time and delaying my breakfast."

"Come on, it might be worth the read!"

"I don't even like that preppy top 40s music," Heather groaned, tossing the envelope onto her nightstand. She sat down on the bed with a heavy plop and pulled Chloe's tray of offerings into her lap: it was piled with plates of eggs and sausage, biscuits smothered in butter and then gravy, and, to cut through the savory feast with some sweetness, an array of fruit and cream cheese danishes. "I was kind of hoping you'd...you know...stuff me to bursting this morning."

Chloe flushed red hot...but her curiosity burned even hotter. "In a second; if you won't open it, I will."

"Ooh," said Heather, "is this baby's first felony?" Growing impatient, she picked up a biscuit and tore in, demolishing it in three huge bites before throwing Chloe a seductive sideways glance, sucking the gravy off of her fingers one by one.

"Felony--what?"

"It's a felony to open someone else's mail."

"Well look at you, knowing the law, Little Miss Hero."

"Excuse me! There's nothing 'little' about me."

"But you'll look little compared to your future self some day soon if I have my way!" Chloe tore into the envelope and unfolded the letter within.
 

stevita

like the pancake
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Messages
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Location
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Dear Evergreen,

News of your heroic acts at Bellvue has been causing quite the stir on Twitter. On behalf of the city of Blackwater and all its townspeople, I wish to extend an invitation for you to patrol the streets and defend the innocent from evildoers, if you would so desire. Please find enclosed a token of my appreciation for your work, along with a check--I hope it will cover your expenses and free you up for vigilante work. Should you choose to accept my offer, the checks will continue to arrive biweekly. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via email and we can arrange to speak in person.

Hoping you are well,

B.E. Sharp.

***

Chloe blinked. "Holy shit."

"What?"

Chloe handed Heather the letter, along with the rest of the envelope's contents: a set of car keys and a check for ten thousand dollars.

"What the fuck?" asked Heather. "This...this has to be some sort of prank. Sure, I'm getting some attention on Twitter...but it's all bad. People think I'm some big fat lardass who's destined to fail."

"Bunch of ingrates," said Chloe. "Come on, though! We have to see the car."

"Chlooo," whined Heather, "my breakfast is getting cold."

"Then be a good girl and eat it faster," said Chloe, reaching over to pluck a raspberry danish off the tray and shove it forcefully in Heather's mouth. With any other feedee, she'd feel bad, but she knew Heather liked to be played with rough. Heather swallowed a huge bite of pastry and washed it down with a gulp of juice.

"So good! The chefs here really don't fuck around. It's surprising you don't have more fat people here."

"You literally just received ten grand and a car, and all you're thinking about is the quality of the food?"

Heather put the tray in Chloe's hands. "Tell you what: since you want to see the car so bad, why don't we go downstairs and break her in? We can sit in there, crank the AC, and pretend like you're stuffing me in a drive-thru parking lot."

"Ooh, I love role play!"

"Figured as much. You did join musical theatre club."

They walked down to the parking lot, where Heather hit the 'unlock' button on the car key. A sleek, forest green, absolutely sexy hotrod blinked to life, its paint job shiny and immaculate, its seats spacious. "This...this is not real," Heather breathed.

"You know you have to talk to her, right?"

***

Heather pulled up to the parking meter and walked up to the small Italian restaurant where she and Bailey agreed to meet in her full Evergreen regalia, mask up for identity protection. "Hey, I know you!" said the hostess. "You're Evergreen, right?" Heather was taken aback by the woman's welcoming smile and cheerful disposition.

"I didn't think people liked me this much."

"Oh, baby doll, I've seen the mean Tweets. But here at Contini's, we don't discriminate. You can be a big girl and fight crime, that's great! Or you can fight crime by em-biggening other people, that's fine, too. D'you know, Bombshell keeps our family afloat? Swell dame. All her work keeps my uncle and his forklift business running. Anyway, where can I seat ya?"

"Um...if you have any quiet tables in the back…"

"Right this way."

Heather wasn't waiting for long before the blonde, suntanned princess of pop turned up and helped herself to a seat across from her. "Evergreen, I'm so glad you decided to meet. Order anything you'd like, my treat," she insisted. Heather perused the menu--it was tempting. Everything looked so rich and decadent...but she didn't have the familiarity with Bailey yet that she had with, say, Chloe. Eating in front of strangers was always a challenge: risk the humiliation that would come with the exposure of her secret, or play the part of the good fatty? Sadly, the second option was always the only viable one. Feedism got such a bad rap for a harmless personal choice. So, when a nervous waiter came and Bailey ordered a garden salad with grilled chicken, Heather ordered the exact same thing.

"I imagine you must have a lot of questions."

"Yeah, for one thing: why is our waiter wearing a Rolex?" asked Heather. She was pretty sure she'd seen Swarovski crystal around the hostess' neck as well.

"I was told this is the place to do business discreetly. I have a feeling we shouldn't dig too deep into what that means. Anything else?"

"Why me?"

"Your heart's obviously in crimefighting, and I'd hate to see another promising young heroine pipelined into the military, as they so often are."

"But there are so many people trying to make it as heroes out there. You could have picked anyone."

"But not anyone is as good as you are. I've seen you on video, and pardon my French, but you're a badass. Not to mention that the superhero scene needs more representation for plus-sized women."

Wait a second. Why would a slim, successful pop star even care about fat acceptance? Unless…?

No. Heather couldn't dare bring it up. It was too risky. Then again, she could always act like she'd learned the lingo while being propositioned by a few fat admirers and that was where it ended. "Ms. Sharp...if I said the word 'feedism' to you, would it mean anything?"

"Hmm...pretty and clever, I should have predicted it." Bailey pulled a stack of papers from her oversized bag, along with a pen, and slid everything across the table. "I'm going to need you to sign this NDA. Simply put, it says you agree that we never had this conversation."

"Right, because it would be devastating for your reputation if it got out you'd hired a fat girl to fight crime, right?"

"We all need to keep the lights on," said Bailey with a guilty sigh. "The record label is very strict about my curated image. But do you accept my offer?"

"Twenty thousand dollars a month to live the biggest dream of my life? Duh, of course I accept! I just want to understand." If this was some sort of fetish thing--if she was expected to slut up her costume so some blubber-loving pop star could watch her jiggle while she fought bad guys on the local news--she wouldn't turn the offer down, not for all that money on the line. She would rather just go in informed.

Bailey looked from Heather's eyes to the dotted line on the form in front of her.

Out of sheer, burning curiosity, Heather picked up the pen and signed herself into secrecy.

"Thank you, Evergreen," said Bailey, taking back the paperwork. "And as for the true depths of my motivations...let's just say I hope you'll accept envy as a form of flattery."

Could it be?

The global darling of the pop music scene, a closeted wannabe gainer?

Perhaps the famous Bailey Sharp wasn't so unrelatable after all.

"I look forward to our partnership, Ms. Sharp."
 

stevita

like the pancake
***
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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CHAPTER 6

It was Chloe who called the next meeting in the unused classroom Ben and company had more or less turned into their planning headquarters. She was a raw nerve today--great. For both their sakes, the last thing he wanted to do was stress her out. But the last time they'd seen each other, they'd had such a moment together...before he, you know, had a little power outage. "Hey, Chloe...can we talk?"

"What ab--? Oh, I see," she nodded, effortlessly combing through his thoughts. "Yes, I do still like you. Yes, there is something going on with me and Malcolm, and me and Heather. But that's the thing, there's always room for more in my heart. Guess I'm just a free bird that way. Always have been. But if that's not something you want for yourself, I'm happy to just stay best friends. Shit, that's right, Felicity is your best friend. Well then...what does that make us?"

Dammit...he didn't know! If anything, he was now even more confused than before. All he knew was he wished he could take the dread she was experiencing away from her.

"So...what's this meeting about?" he asked, if only to change the subject.

"My training," she explained. "I figured maybe if you guys hit me with the worst, most painful thoughts you could think, it would help desensitize me, so I'd be able to help out at Rivington without losing my cool. Who knows? The same technique might work for you, too."

Chloe sounded like she could be onto something. Something he wasn't ready to test out on himself. Of course, she wouldn't have been factoring in any physical costs when she came up with her training plan; she wasn't the one who had to carry the consequences of everyone else's thoughts on her waistline.

"Oh. True. Well...we'll figure something out for you! I'm sure we will!"

Felicity was the next in, followed by Malcolm, who bolted through the door, a barely visible blur, before he stopped to steady himself with his hands braced against a desk, stumbling on his feet. "Whoa, note to self, don't do that after smoking."

"Don't you still have a class to go to today?" Felicity admonished him.

"Yeah, and I have to give a presentation. I get stage anxiety, okay? Anyway, are we just waiting on Heather now?"

"Great, plant girl is coming?" Felicity rolled her eyes.

"Actually, Heather is busy, like, saving the city. On a private payroll. So I guess she was the one who was too good for us, and not the other way around." Chloe smirked triumphantly. "But let's get down to business. I asked you guys to come here because I'm gonna need each of you to like, hurt me a little."

"What?" asked Malcolm.

"Look, I know it sounds crazy," said Ben, "but she needs our worst thoughts and memories so she can get resilient enough to go through with the rescue mission."

"Oh, I might have something for this," Felicity smirked.

"I actually want Ben to go first," said Chloe. "He'll be able to tell if he's hitting me too hard."

Ben swallowed. He didn't want to hurt her...but she was convinced she needed this, and she was right: he would make the best warm-up for this exercise in masochism.

So, when she nodded to signal that she was ready, he gave it to her. He started off slow: the fateful night his powers first manifested at the dinner table, the horror in his mother's eyes, the absolute rejection. The accidental misfires he'd had last year in class, before she'd shown up. The fat jokes, the ridicule, the humiliation. Finally, he gave her that afternoon at the register at the Stop-'n'-In, with a robber's gun pressed to his head...the trembling confrontation of his own mortality...the fear that maybe, just maybe, Bombshell wouldn't arrive in time...the hate and shame of the fact that he didn't know how to save himself…

Chloe gasped, her eyes moist. Ben stopped the onslaught, soothing her with something happier: roughhousing in the yard with Oriana as children. Neither he nor his brother were ever a match for her, but back then, everything had just been a game. They'd been innocent, untroubled by superpowers or bad guys or the sense of doom that seemed to pervade the air more as each day went by.

"Thank you," said Chloe as her breathing steadied. "Mal, you want to give it a go?"

"Maybe I should stand a few feet back," said Ben. "Maybe on the other side of the door?" He exited the classroom, but left the door cracked just enough so he could see what was going on.

Malcolm had her on the ropes with whatever he was thinking for a good three minutes, but he released her just before the tears came. Once he was done, she gripped his hand and said, "Mal, you poor thing...I had no idea."

Why was Ben jealous? WHY was he jealous?! Here he was, with a knockout date to the dance, the most popular girl in school and his lifelong best friend to boot, and yet, all he wanted to do was be the person Chloe was comforting…

"Alright. My turn." Felicity threw herself into a chair facing Chloe, smirked, and bored into her eyes. Ben saw Chloe flinch...for a minute, she stood her ground. Then, she erupted out of her seat and stormed out the door.

"This is bullshit! I refuse to work with you!"

"Chloe!" Malcolm gave chase, catching up with her with the help of his superhuman reflexes. "What did she do to you?"

"Fuck her! You and me, Mal, we can do this mission alone!"

Ben wanted to ask what had happened, but the other two were too quick, losing him around a corner.

***

"Chloe? Chlo, talk to me, what did she show you?" Malcolm begged for answers, but Chloe was still too shaken, too appalled, too enraged to form words. It was a good thing she'd lost Ben back in the hallway--being around her when she was like this would be torture for him.

When she reached her car, he let himself into her passenger's seat, and she didn't stop him. She wanted to assuage his concerns, but she was also, if a little guiltily, relieved to find him concerned about her, to find he thought she was worth caring about. 'All I want,' he was thinking in circles, 'is to know that she's okay…'

Wait, what?

"Okay, what's happening? I have never been able to understand you before," she said. "Am I like, starting to pick up Spanish?"

It had been the same in the classroom: for once, his thoughts hadn't been an indecipherable jumble to her. She hadn't been thinking too hard about it back then, though.

"You know I only did that so you couldn't get into my head, right?"

She cracked a small smile in spite of herself. "Good to know all it took to get you to trust me was to emotionally blackmail you into getting fat."

She drove to her apartment at an aggressive ten above the speed limit, braking roughly in her parking spot before leading the way in, practically throwing the door open. "Whoa, careful," said Malcolm. "Wouldn't want you to lose your deposit."

She left him in the living room, storming into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of ice water and a double shot of Three Olives Grape. After she chucked back the shot and caught a moment to breathe and decompress, guilt began to gnaw at her. She could be treating Malcolm a lot better for following her all the way into the city for emotional support. So, when she returned to the living room, she had a beer for him, along with a bowl of chips and an ashtray. She didn't smoke pot herself, but she liked to stay prepared in case her guests did.

Malcolm had invited himself to a seat on the couch and put the comedy channel on TV. "Gee, thanks, Chlo!" he said, taking the beer and clinking it with her glass as she sat down. He wrapped an arm around her waist and helped himself to a handful of chips. "You're always such a good hostess. That's one of the many reasons I like you."

Onscreen, a comedian was starting his routine on stage with some sort of joke about superheroes: "So it's Scarlet Flame, Bombshell, and Kilowatt walking into a bar after a busy day of fighting crime. They sit down at a table, get a couple bottles of bubbly, and just shoot the shit drinking for a couple hours...but eventually, they get drunk and start to get a little argumentative. Before too long, they're all bickering about which one of them is the coolest superheroine.

"Scarlet Flame goes, 'I am Scarlet Flame, the most adored superheroine in America! I'm trained in eleven different styles of fighting, and using my powers of persuasion, I can force any crook to turn himself in to les authorities! Little girls in every state have my face on a poster on their wall. Every straight man and every gay woman is in love with me, and I have even gotten a few people to, how do you say, switch teams? Plus I am French, which everyone knows is le sexiest accent. So, obviously I am le coolest.'"

The audience gave a sensible chuckle.

"Bombshell just shakes her head and goes, 'I'm Bombshell, y'all, and I don't give a fuck about the law! I can stop bullets, lift several times my own weight, and oh yeah, I can just look at you and put five hundred pounds on you in thirty seconds, no sweat. Edgy teenagers love me, and ain't that who controls the market these days? I have more reckless driving tickets than anybody else in the state, but that just makes the misfits like me more. And if we're talking 'bout getting taken to pound-town, I got my own arch-nemesis to fall ass-over-man-tits in helpless, Stockholm love with me! Kinda helps that he needs my help to use the shitter. Codependent bastard. So clearly, I am the coolest.'"

Chloe flinched. The in-studio audience went wild with laughter.

"So, Scarlet Flame is feeling pretty defeated, Bombshell is smirking in triumph, but somehow, Kilowatt is totally unfazed. She's smirking, even. So Flame turns to her and says 'What makes you think you're cooler than us?' To which Kilowatt replies, 'Are you kidding? I'm fucking Captain Justice!'"

Chloe wriggled out of Malcolm's embrace, returned to the kitchen, and took a big pull of grape flavored vodka straight from the bottle. She brought it with her when she came back, slamming it on the coffee table. Malcolm had lit up a joint and was happily smoking away while the comedian continued: "What is the deal with Catboy, anyway? Does he actually have cat powers, or is he just a furry?"

"Okay, you've been trying to act cool, but something's clearly wrong," said Malcolm just as Chloe prepared to chug some more liquor. He held her a little tighter than before and gently took her hand to guide it up his shirt, placing it at the softest part of his little starter belly. She recoiled and shoved him.

"Oh God, Chloe! What's wrong? What did I do?"

"Look, I just don't feel like being fetishy right now, okay?"

"It's okay, Chlo. We don't have to. I was just trying to be comforting. I don't know what's going on in your head...but I know Felicity did something to you, and you're not in a nice place, and...dios mio, Chloe, I wish I could just...whatever it is...take it away."

She squirmed back around on the couch and put an arm around him. Gave his fleshier-than-ever side a squeeze. Asked, "How many pounds up are you?"

"Thirty," he answered. "I should hit fifty by the dance, the way I been eating. Mhm. Way you been feeding me."

"Does it feel okay?"

"Honestly? It feels great. Specially when you squeeze me like this," he said. He tried once more moving her hand to his belly, and this time, she gave it the most reverent, adoring treatment in the form of a long groping session. "That's it, Chlo. Y'know, it's so nice, getting to eat whatever the fuck I want, let it stick, and have a hot, beautiful girl, with such a pretty face and such a great ass--" He gave her ass a gentle slap for emphasis, "want me that way. Fill me up then feel me up, Y'know?"

Boys: they never listened. And yet, she did find comfort in his enthusiasm. "As long as you're happy."

"Are you still happy? This was your fantasy in the first place. Tell me the truth, Chloe: what did Felicity show you?"
 

stevita

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Joined
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Location
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"I wish you'd just drop it."

"You already know I won't."

She sighed. "She told me just how much she'd like to murder me, like, fifteen different ways, in explicit, gory detail, no less, to 'rescue' Ben from my horrible, twisted feeder agenda."

Malcolm held her tighter and swore under his breath.

The two were silent for a long time. Malcolm turned over the information in his mind. He knew he couldn't work with someone who wanted Chloe dead, but he had doubts about what Chloe had said at the school: could they really pull off the rescue mission alone?

"We won't have to," said Chloe. "She thinks this is some kind of space race now, and she's determined to beat me to the punch. And as much as I don't like her...she's actually powerful enough to succeed by herself, especially armed with your map."

"So that's the new plan, then?" asked Malcolm. "Sit back and let her do all the dirty work, I get my vengeance, you get your friend back, all from the comfort of this couch?"

"Yeah." Chloe nodded and quirked a small smile. "Hakuna matata, and all that jazz." She leaned back against him, resting her head on his shoulder while she felt her own back sink against his softer chest. "Though...I guess there's no point in paying me the rest of your dues now, is there? After all...we're off the task force, and I haven't run off." She shook her head. "Looking back, I kinda can't believe I asked that of you. You're actually a really great guy when you like, actually try to be."

"If I'm so great, then shouldn't you want there to be more of me?" he quipped. "Besides, I'm having fun. Getting to eat junk food all day is pretty dope. And it's weirdly hot, feeling myself get bigger all over…"

A tingle shot through her whole body. She felt light and floaty, as if someone had opened a trapdoor at the base of her spine, emptying out her insides and allowing her to drift weightlessly into the sky.

"I'm curious about where the last twenty pounds will end up," he concluded.

"You mean you will put it on after all?" she asked, a gleeful grin spreading across her face.

"I mean," he said, shifting position to lean forward, grab the bowl of chips, and place it into her lap, "I want you to put it on me."

She squealed with delight, turning around to pop a chip into his eager mouth. She waited for him to finish chewing before leaning in to give him a playful peck on the lips. He licked his lips and smirked. "What is that, chocolate chapstick?"

"What can I say? I know how to get fat boys interested." She popped off his lap and headed towards the kitchen. "I actually have some chocolate cake, lemme go get that real quick!"

"My fucking favorite."

Chloe was absolutely on cloud nine. She could barely contain her happiness as she pictured Malcolm with even more heft to his step and girth added to his frame. Nothing could spoil this night--or so she thought.

But there was one thing she had failed to account for.

***

"Felicity, what's going on?" asked Ben, tailing Felicity a few feet behind as she headed in the direction of her dorm. "What did you do to Chloe?"

"I showed her who she really is, that's all."

"Well, she's out of the band. Is that what you wanted?"

"She'd have been dead weight anyway. She can't even control her power."

Ben's heart sank. "I can't neither, remember?"

"But you have potential! You actually have an index!" She turned around and clasped both of his hands between her own, staring him straight in the eyes. Suddenly, all he could do was stand there basking in the spotlight of her attention. "Listen to me, Ben. You're gonna do great things one day. You know why? Because I believe in you."

An involuntary smile spread across his face. His heart fluttered. He could have sworn he heard angels sing.

"In the meantime, I think I'll go change and head up to Rivington to investigate," she said and turned on her heel.

"Wait, now?"

"No time like the present," said Felicity. "I'll just air drop myself in, break into the lab--"

"Lissy, that's insane," said Ben. "You know they shoot down anything unidentified in their airspace, right?" It had never been a question of which nearby hero school Ben wanted to attend after Oriana came home with horror stories after only a semester at Rivington.

"So what? I'm probably bulletproof."

He wanted to share her confidence...but the mission at hand was nothing to scoff at. "Are you missile-proof, though?"

She shrugged. "Maybe?"

"Listen, what if we just wait two days, then we won't have to worry about missing class and making the professors suspicious...we'll go on Saturday morning, sign in at the office and act like we're just visiting friends. Then we don't gotta worry about getting caught sneaking in."

She blinked. She felt stupid for a moment--he winced as her self-consciousness wrenched his insides as if they'd been seized by an aggressive fist--but soon, her doubt turned to hope. "You're so smart! But...what do you mean 'we'? You want to come with me?"

"I mean, yeah!" said Ben. "Look, I know I'm a little unpredictable...but I can do some damage! You've seen me fry the lights in a whole classroom dozens of times. Imagine what I could do under some real pressure." It was impulsive, and he knew it. But he didn't want to let her go alone.

"You...you want to just ricochet your way through a rescue mission?"

"Well...it's better than nothing, right?"

She reached over, took his hand, and smiled.

***

It was the night before Ben and Felicity's planned infiltration of Rivington, and he couldn't be more nervous.

Nervous about getting in. Nervous about saving people. Nervous about what would become of them as a pair once this was all over.

It had been a busy couple of days preparing--for such a spitfire, Felicity's social life was shockingly tame. She hadn't even had a fake ID before Ben used one of his contacts to get her one.

They'd spent almost forty-eight hours in each other's company, planning, going over the plan, and studying the layout of Rivington, and yet, there was a solid two-foot distance ever between them. He wasn't stupid; he knew she wasn't crazy about the fact he'd picked up yet more weight recently.

He had swung by the on-campus gym earlier, after the robotics club let out, but everyone there was so ripped and toned and perfect...he'd gotten intimidated. So, he retreated to his dorm and attempted a few jumping jacks. The sensation of all of his fat bouncing with his every movement made him all the more self-aware of just how much space he took up. He was quick to break a sweat and lose his breath, and before too long, he resigned himself to reading a book in bed.

An hour and three chapters of A Tale of Two Cities later, he rediscovered his motivation. He knew, of course, that he wouldn't lose any noticable amount of weight in a day...but dammit! He could make progress. He'd probably never be skinny, but a small reduction probably wasn't impossible, right? Maybe he could put on some muscle mass and take a few inches off his gut. Maybe one day Felicity would want to touch him somewhere other than his hand.

Determined, he set his book aside and got on all fours to attempt some push-ups--attempt being the keyword. He had barely lowered himself for number one before he felt the soft underside of his belly hit the floor. Shame moistened his eyes. How had he even let himself become this big? His arms gave out and he collapsed.

Fighting for breath, he heaved himself up again.

And that's when Malcolm walked in.

"Hey, what's up, dude? Oh, here--can I correct your form for a minute?"

"Um. Sure?"

Malcolm got right into it, bending over to grip his hips and straighten his posture without a moment's hesitation. The feeling of his fingers sinking into Ben's pliable sides threatened to crush the breath from his lungs, somehow. He was embarrassed, and yet...it wasn't just that.

"You wanna have your hands spread shoulder width apart on the ground," said Malcolm. "And trust me, your shoulders are always wider than you think."

Ben grunted and adjusted his position. "Okay, try again now," said Malcolm. Ben lowered himself toward the ground, once again painfully aware as his belly made contact with the floor through his shirt. He had an easier time than before, but still only managed six push-ups before his arms gave out under his weight and he let himself plop against the faux hardwood with a heavy smack and a jiggle of all his fat, breathless and defeated.

"Here, bro. Don't feel bad, everybody starts somewhere." Malcolm extended a hand to help him up, and he threw himself onto the couch. Nothing came off of Malcolm--no secondhand embarrassment, no pity, no self-righteous superiority. That, at least, was a relief. "So, what's with the sudden athleticism?"

"Nothing. It's stupid," said Ben. "Where's Chloe?"

"Her job called her in. Shots?" Before Ben even had a chance to answer, Malcolm started pouring whiskey into two red plastic cups. But it wasn't like Ben was going to say no. The last thing he needed was empty calories...but he also needed to take the edge off for the night, and besides, it wasn't like he'd made any progress on the weight loss front, so he had nothing to undo.

"Cheers," he said, knocking cups with Malcolm before they both chucked back their measures.

"Seriously, bro, what's--oh my God. This is about Felicity, isn't it?"
 

stevita

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"No! Maybe? Shut up!" Ben took the bottle out of Malcolm's hand and poured himself another shot.

"It's totally about Felicity! Either Chloe is rubbing off on me, or you're an open book."

"Pretty sure you can't 'catch' telepathy, no matter what the conspiracy theorists are saying," said Ben.

"You're probably right...about that one thing, at least."

"Whaddya mean?"

"Look, I know you think you know Felicity--"

"I've known her all my life. I know she can get intense sometimes, but I trust her."

"Alright, but just so you know, you'd be welcome to borrow Chloe if you ever wanted to."

"Chloe's a person, not a library book."

"See, this is why she likes you! It's not just the killer bod."

Ben understood that Malcolm wasn't making fun of him, but he couldn't help but feel defensive.

"Look," Malcolm went on, "all I'm saying is, if you give Chloe a chance, she'll be way better for your self-esteem than a girl who doesn't--"

"Bro, I don't wanna join your polycule, okay! Please, can we not do this tonight?" Ben sighed. He was under enough pressure as it stood without his roommate trying to meddle in his personal life.

"Alright, we don't have to do this," conceded Malcolm. "My show's on, anyway." He retrieved his laptop from a nearby dresser and started opening a live podcast. "You mind if I play this on the speakers?"

Ben shrugged his assent.

A moment later, the show began.

"Welcome, welcome, welcome to another episode of Nail Me to the Cross, your only source for the superhero gossip the feds don't want you to hear! I'm your hostess-with-the-mostest, Martika Mitchell, here today with Kilowatt!" announced a woman's voice over the airwaves. "Now, Kilowatt, let's get right down into the nitty-gritty: what say you to the rumors that you've become romantically involved with Captain Justice?"

Another, softer voice, also a woman's, laughed and delivered a reply: "They're just rumors. If Captain Justice were really hooking up with a rogue like me, he'd be in deep trouble with the US Heroics Division. But even if we were seeing each other, I doubt it would be romantic. More like, he'd see me more like a toy or a novelty. He strikes me as the kind of contractor with a big head, who looks down on us rogues, but I'd keep coming around to seduce Division secrets out of him and later on hold them over his head for funsies. He just looks like a guy who'll confess anything when he's horny, you know?"

"She's totally fucking Captain Justice," said Malcolm.

"You actually listen to this celebrity gossip crap?"

"It'll get better, it always gets better."

"Bit of a vicious side, huh? Now tell us, Kilowatt, you've been rogue for how long now?" asked Martika.

"Six months."

"And prior to that?"

"I became a contractor for the Division ten years ago, when I was nineteen."

"That's remarkable! You don't look a day over nineteen now! For those of you listening at home who haven't had the good fortune to catch this cutie on the news, Kilowatt is glowing, absolutely killing it, in a costume of her own design. It's kind of got a sexy electrician vibe to it--it's hard to picture when I say it like that, I know, but she is pulling it off! So, what's your secret to eternal youth? Is it some kind of special skin cream, some superfood that you eat every day…?"

"Technically speaking, I'm actually still nineteen," Kilowatt confessed. "Early in my career, I made the mistake of falling in love with a civilian. I compromised my identity to him, which was a violation of my contract. When the Division found out, they put me on ice."

"They put you on--?"

"In cryo-freeze, I mean."

"What?" Ben spat. "How do these things happen? Why the fuck would any superhero work for the government if this is how they do 'em?"

Malcolm shrugged. "No choice? Money problems? Not to mention this stuff just isn't common knowledge. Martika's obscure, and even still, you wouldn't believe how hard she has to fight to stay on the air."

"How did you get out?" Martika asked Kilowatt back on the podcast.

"Someone broke me out. Forgive my discretion, but I won't tell who. But I will say, after I regained consciousness, I helped thaw out everybody else who'd been in holding with me, and they won't be too happy with anybody who tries to fuck with me."

"So, what's next for Kilowatt? Do you plan on staying rogue?"

"That's a good question. I was recently approached by Blackwater City's new police commissioner, Jasmine Freeman, about a job opportunity. I don't know if I trust a mundane as my employer...but she is offering me a much better pay rate than my last gig."

"Are you worried about changing allegiances so quickly?" asked Martika.

"I guess it's true that superheroes get a bad rap when they do that," Kilowatt responded. "People say that Ember changes squads like she changes underwear. Here's the thing, though: I'm not wearing any underwear."

Malcolm let out a boisterous laugh. "Do you see why I love this show?"

Ben wondered to himself if Martika would want to have him and Felicity on the air if they managed to rescue all those missing students after all. He decided against letting Malcolm in on their plans, though: if Malcolm knew, he'd tell Chloe, and they'd both worry about him, although he wasn't sure which they perceived as the greater threat to him: whatever was waiting at Rivington, or Felicity. Why trouble them like that?

***

Ben and Felicity arrived at Rivington in Ben's car at precisely noon on Saturday.

Pulling up in the parking lot a good 10 minute walk from the administration office, Ben cut the engine and tried, to no avail, to steady his trembling hands. "So, we're really doing this?"

"Y-yeah. I guess." For the first time in his life, he heard Felicity's voice crack. She looked pale in the passenger's seat.

"Hey, Lissy. Don't sweat it. You got this."

"What if I don't, though?"

"You're the most powerful person I know."

"I know, I know...but, just, what if? I don't want…" She muttered something incomprehensible.

"What?" asked Ben.

Her sudden amount of embarrassment filled him to the brim all at once like a beer bong. She struggled to find the words as he squirmed in his seat. Then, at last, she spit it out: "I don't want to die a virgin!"

Ben blinked. "You're a--? But you've had a million chances! Every guy at school--"

"None of them were ever up to my standard! But now--"

"Think about this, Lissy." As much as it killed him to stall, as much as he wanted her, he forced himself to think rationally. "What if you get pregnant?"

"I'll take a Plan B in the morning, assuming we're still alive. Come on, Ben. I know you want this." She began to hastily strip off her shirt, then her bra, throwing them on the dashboard to reveal her perfectly pert breasts, slim shoulders, and narrow waist.

"I do! I do, it's just...we're in the middle of a parking lot!"

"Nobody's here, and the windows are tinted." She crawled over the center console in an attempt to sit in his lap, but her little body got wedged tightly between the steering wheel and his gut. Shame burned through him at the realization that if he got much fatter, he'd have to invest in a more spacious car.

And it wasn't just his own embarrassment he felt--the revulsion was rolling off of Felicity in waves.

"Felicity, come on, just please put your shirt back on."

She wriggled herself free, returned to the passenger's seat, and glared. "You want me. You've wanted me for years!" She said it like an accusation.

"I do! But...not if you don't want me back."

"Fine." She redressed herself with a petulant huff of breath. He led the way out of the car and toward the front office, utterly miserable.
 

stevita

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He didn't understand. Why was she so determined to sleep with him if she didn't find him attractive?

"After this is all over, I'll get the weight problem in check. I will. You'll see."

She held her silence.

They signed in at the office with their fake IDs without issue and were welcomed onto campus, but Ben knew as he took his first steps among the historic buildings and prestinely-kept hedges that the hard part was still to come.

"It's gonna look weird if us two outsiders are just wandering around by ourselves," he pointed out.

"So what do we do?"

A pair of girls passed the two of them, sticking close to one another. Their figures were both lean and muscular, much like Felicity's, but though they were built for speed and power, they emanated a sense of hypervigilance and dread. The feeling was pervasive in the air, and every second he spent here brought Ben closer to feeling sick. Nevertheless, he approached them, tapping one of them on the shoulder. She jumped, breathing hard, wide-eyed, and turned to face him. "Who're you?"

"Hey, um...I'm Ben...this here's my girl Felicity...this is gonna sound crazy but we think we know where all the missing students from this school went. Do you think you could walk with us to the graduate labs, just so it looks like we have friends here?"

One of the girls looked from side to side and shoved her hands in her pockets. "Okay...but we don't have to go inside, right?"

"No, you can leave that bit to us," said Felicity, squaring her posture with a confident grin. Good, she was back in day-saving mode. Ben liked this version of Felicity much better than the one who was disgusted with him but somehow still pissed about being blue-balled.

All together, they walked deeper into campus, and as the crowds got thicker and Ben absorbed more and more of the student body's distress, he began to get overwhelmed. Halfway to their destination, he fell to his knees in agony.

"What's wrong with him?" asked one of the girls.

"He ricochets," said Felicity. "He's usually fine, but sometimes--"

"I got this, I got this," Ben painted, struggling to his feet…

There was a collective POP! Every street lamp, every shop light, everything electric within sight suddenly lost power. Ben looked around in awe. Was it possible he'd shut down power to the entire campus?

As he righted himself, he realized with dread that his pants were pinching tighter than ever in the waist and threatening to split along the inner thigh. Could he really have gained that much weight in a matter of seconds?

"Are you okay, dude?" asked one of the Rivington girls.

"Did...did you do that?" asked the other.

"He's kind of crazy powerful that way," said Felicity, leading the way forward. "Come on. There's no way for anyone to know where that electromanipulative attack came from. If we hurry, we can still get to the lab undetected."

The science building was situated toward the middle of campus, right in the heart of the cyclone of fear. As they came up on the entrance to the basement, Ben was once more overwhelmed, this time by the pain on the other side of the door. Already at capacity, his whole body jolted with a surge of electricity that instantly knocked him unconscious.

***

"Hey girl, um, your friend fainted."

"Yeah, he electrocutes himself all the time," Felicity grumbled. "Hostages first, then you check on your squad. Don't they teach some sort of rescue seminar here?" Actually, according to Bellvue's rescue seminar, your squad should be your top priority, but she'd seen Ben survive worse--he'd be fine. And no, she totally wasn't pissed at him for denying her the chance to make that day the happiest of his life, and at such great personal sacrifice, at that! She'd meant it about not wanting to die a virgin--she had hoped to postpone their first time until he lost some weight, but in the middle of a mission as high-stakes as this one, she would have endured every ounce of blubber!

At least the mission itself was so far a grand success. Thanks to Ben causing a schoolwide blackout, the electronic keypad demanding a password for entry to the lab was rendered inoperational, the door mercifully unlocked. It was heavy--it had to be made of solid steel--but it was nothing Felicity couldn't move, and it hit the wall with a loud SMACK as she let herself in.

Brandishing her phone as a flashlight, she padded down the stairs until she reached the bottom. Shining the light around the room revealed an expanse of floor-to-ceiling glass cells. In about half the cells was what was recognizably a person, but the prisoners were filthy and emaciated to the threshold of personhood, many of them bleeding through crude bandages, all of them lying listlessly on the concrete ground.

At least, at first.

Then, slowly, the ones who were awake began to gaze toward the light.

Felicity approached one of the cells and pushed the glass door open, its locking mechanism fried like the one upstairs. The girl in the cell painstakingly pushed herself upright, staring at Felicity by the light of her phone. "It's open?"

"You bet."

The girl pounded on the glass separating her from the adjacent prisoner. "Tash, it's open!" she hissed, her voice hoarse from weeks of either underuse, or screaming. Felicity couldn't tell. "Hey everybody! Get up! It's open!"

The captives staggered to their feet and began to crowd toward the exit in waves. If not for her super strength, Felicity might have been stampeded.

She'd done it. She'd really done it.

But it felt...too easy.

Was there really no guard down here? No failsafe?

She never even felt the tranq dart hit her in the neck.
 

Tad

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I'd saved up a few chapters for a rainy day and so I wouldn't have to endure too many painful pauses, wondering what is next. So of course I chose today to get caught up have to endure waiting after the biggest cliffhanger chapter ending in the story so far!

PS. the story is amazing. Despite or because of my teenage comic book habits I'm not a big fan of super-powers stories as a general thing, but I adore what you have done with the genre. Also, anyone who can read this without wanting to instantly eat until they can barely move is just not human, the feedism part is soooo goooood.
 

stevita

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Thanks so much! I appreciate the read. I know the whole "human experimentation" plot device is a total cliche in the superhero genre, but I'm trying to make it work.

Anyway, this chapter broke my heart to write, and I promise good things are coming for Ben...but first, we'll have to meet the Big Bad. Stay tuned~
 

stevita

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CHAPTER 7

Chloe awoke on Sunday morning to the smell of baking and marijuana. She'd traded shifts at the restaurant to allow herself one merciful morning off, and today's prospects were already feeling interesting.

She was alone in bed, but her lovers had carefully tucked her in, and Heather--she knew it was Heather because the memory still lingered in the freshman floramancer's mind--had placed a pillow next to her for her to cuddle while she slumbered on. It was a sweet gesture, but she was still a little disappointed to realize she wasn't cuddling a warm, chubby cutie instead.

Squinting against the sunlight streaming in through the open curtains, she rolled out of bed and padded through her apartment to the kitchen. Malcolm was sitting at the table fumbling with his phone, red-eyed and high as a kite. Heather was busy at the stove, pulling strips of bacon out of a pan and onto a plate and cracking eggs to scramble in their leftover grease. She paused to bend over and pull trays of buttermilk biscuits (from a box mix), waffles (of the frozen variety), and croissants (from a tube) out of the oven. She'd been quite the busy bee this morning, between the grocery run and the cooking.

And she was hurting for a playful scolding.

"Nice to see someone decided to take the morning off from saving the day for once," said Chloe before delivering a light smack to her ass that sent its wide expanse wobbling in her too-tight pajama bottoms, each cheek spilling out of the top of the waistband and put on display by a shirt that might have fit correctly fifty pounds ago. "Now go sit down! We can't have you wasting calories."

"Ooh, yes ma'am!" Heather purred, taking a seat across from Malcolm as Chloe finished plating breakfast.

"Anyway, I can't believe you two planned an eating contest just to impress me! That is, like, so hot." Chloe gave them her best seductive smolder, making a big show of biting her lip and fanning herself.

Malcolm swore under his breath in Spanish. "It was supposed to be a surprise!"

"When are you going to learn that there's just no surprising me?" Chloe sashayed her way to the table, plates in hand, set them down, and took her seat, legs crossed, smirking. "On your mark...get set…"

She hit the surface of the table with a CRACK like a starting gun and then her lovers descended upon the feast set before them, each fixing themselves plates piled high. Heather drenched her entire plate with maple syrup for that extra caloric kick while Malcolm reached for the butter, slathering each bite of a biscuit before he crammed it into his mouth.

"You--" Heather interrupted herself with a belch before flushing and gulping down some orange juice. "You really think you can beat me? I have way more experience, and I'll bet a bigger capacity."

"When I destroy you, what do you want me to tell your family?" quipped Malcolm.

"Who cares? I hate my family."

"Play nice, you two!" Chloe shoved a biscuit each into her lover's mouths. Heather's eyes bugged as she gagged it down while Malcolm took it out of his mouth.

"Damn, girl! You're not gonna butter it first?"

"Heather, are you okay?" asked Chloe. "I didn't mean to--"

"I'm fine." Heather gulped down some juice and let out a belch. Chloe practically melted.

The two were neck and neck for three heaping plates full, each shoveling food into their mouths at a pace that would make Chloe concerned if not for her access to all their thoughts. Finally, Heather started flagging just as Malcolm was loading up his fourth plate. "H-how are you still going?" she asked as he drenched a waffle in butter and syrup, folded five strips of bacon into it, and practically deep-throated the whole dripping, greasy mess.

He swallowed, wiped the syrup from his chin, and proclaimed, "Behold, the power of weed, baby!"

Even he had a limit, though. After two more of his waffle-bacon calorie bombs, he surrendered, leaning back in his seat, gasping for breath and rubbing his belly.

"You have only yourself to blame," Heather teased. "You already had it in the bag, but you just had to show off."

Malcolm only groaned.

"Come on, up you go," Chloe coped, gently coaxing him to his feet and over to the couch, where he collapsed with a grunt and a creak of the springs. "Y'know...since you won, that should mean you get to get off first," she said, gently positioning herself on top of his hips, knowing full well what would happen.

"Oof...way too full, Chlo." He took her by the waist and moved her off to the side.

She smirked wickedly. "I know. I just wanted to hear you say it."

"I think if you tried to get me off right now, all that'd come out is a white flag. I so overdid it."

"Yeah you did." She palmed his upper belly through his thin white shirt--there was no give whatsoever, and she could feel it quiver with his each labored breath. "That had to have been at least four thousand calories."

He arched against her hand, begging for relief. She rubbed in gentle circles until he began to relax. "Where do you hope all that fat's gonna go?" he asked.

"Hmm…" She glanced up in contemplation. "How about that nice bubble butt you're getting? It's too bad I'm not a biomanipulator."

"Oh dios mio...I'd be doomed!"

"I think you mean we'd be doomed." Heather had nestled up behind Chloe on the couch to hug her from behind, pulling her against her own taut tummy. "Where's my attention, huh?"

Chloe wriggled around to face her. "I happen to know you like me to make you beg for it." She pulled her in for a long, deep kiss that left poor Heather gasping.

"Ooh...so stuffed...getting dizzy." She fell onto her back and gave Chloe a look that pleaded for comfort.

"You two are so cute when you're stuffed," she grinned, placing a hand on each of their bellies. Suddenly, Heather shot Malcolm a sly glance.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Mal?"

"Hmm...maybe the conspiracies are right, and telepathy really is contagious," he said.

"Hey, don't even joke--!" Chloe began, but before she could get another word out, her lovers had dragged her onto her back on the couch to smother her between their two distended guts. She saw it coming a mile off, but that didn't make her any less weak. With a squeak of delight, she melted, putty in their hands as they teased her. When she felt Heather's hand lazily slip into her panties, she knew she wouldn't last long at all.

***

The rest of the week passed in an Elysian peace that Chloe hadn't experienced since the disappearances started at Rivington. For once in longer than she cared to calculate, cheer practice went off without a hitch--the other girls weren't so quick to single her out as the chubby-chasing lunatic without Felicity to act as their ringleader. She picked up a few shifts at work after classes, she came home with fat wads of cash in her pockets thanks to her compulse manager, and she was often greeted first thing upon returning home by the sight of Heather and Malcolm curled up in her bed together, Heather exhausted from an evening of catching bad guys, Malcolm absolutely blasted, both resting off food comas. She was powerless to resist the urge to crawl under the covers and squeeze in between them. Sandwiched between their soft, growing bodies, Chloe slept better than she ever had in her life.

The weekend rolled around, and the trio found themselves at the mall in the city. One changing room over, Heather was admiring herself in the mirror, standing in a black dress with a leather bodice and puffy tulle skirt, along with her chunky black boots. It was an inch or so loose, but she was hoping to grow into it before the dance--or maybe even be spilling a bit out of it by then. Chloe, on the other hand, had yet to find a winner among the armful of dresses she'd brought into her own stall. She'd tried a pink one, and hated it. A green one had looked great on the rack, but it made her look washed-out and sickly when she tried it on. There'd been a gold one with sequins that she so hoped would be the one, but as it turned out, it wasn't designed to accommodate someone with curvy hips--she'd almost gotten stuck in that one.

Chloe's original plan to attend the dance with Malcolm had taken something of a turn: now, she'd be taking two dates.

It wasn't unheard of at Bellvue. Many of the teachers still remembered the year Dante Collins brought a girl on each arm. They were mortified, of course, but Chloe was proud enough of her pudgy paramours to show them off without a care in the world about the public's opinion.

"Come on out, girls, let me see!" Malcolm insisted from outside the stalls. If he sounded eager, it was because he was--eager to get out of Neiman's and grab some lunch.

"Okay, okay, just as soon as I find something I like!" called Chloe.

"Are you kidding? You must have thirty dresses in there!"

Heather's door creaked open. "What do you think?"

"You look great, Heather. Not that--I mean, I know you don't--"

"No nefarious intent read," said Heather. "Just waiting on you now, Chlo."

Scowling, Chloe pulled a dress out of the pile. It was a strapless, floor-length gown made of chocolate brown satin that slit elegantly up the thigh. She slipped it on, surprised at how it flattered her curves--she had just about given up for the afternoon, but this wasn't bad.

"Okay, what do you guys think of this one?" asked Chloe, emerging from the stall. Both Malcolm and Heather gazed at her with wide eyes, their minds, not to mention heart rates, racing. Heather wished nothing more than for Chloe to pin her to the wall of the changing room and have her right then and there. Malcolm wanted to peel the dress off of her with his teeth. "I guess I'll get this one, then, yeah?"
 
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stevita

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(A/n: Warning: the following two installments contain body horror, fat shame in the medical community, and depictions of human experimentation. If this is a trigger for you, stop reading at the end of the Chloe/polycule bit. Summary: Ben and Felicity wake up in the lab with their powers turned off due to sedatives and the supervillain steals some of their bone marrow.)

"So, what's next after this?" asked Heather as the three sat in the food court, purchases all paid for and bagged. She and Malcolm each had a veritable mountain of Chinese food in front of them while Chloe worked her way through a fried chicken sandwich. "Well, first off, you two need to finish off every last bite on your plates," she said. "After that...cuddle pile at my place?"

"I thought you'd never ask," said Malcolm with a roll of his eyes and a smirk--it was hardly a secret what Chloe's new favorite activity was.

"Is it just me," said Heather, "or has this been the best week of school so far?"

"I didn't want to like, say it, but things are a lot more peaceful without Felicity around," agreed Chloe. "And I feel horrible for thinking this…"

But it wasn't as if she could stop herself.

"I want Gina back, but I wouldn't complain if Felicity wasn't with her."

"Hear, hear!" said Malcolm. "The witch can fry for all I care. Also, why is this shopping mall coconut shrimp so fucking good?"

Heather winced. "Well, I don't want her to die...but I hope she's nicer when she comes back."

"If she comes back! Come on, think like an optimist!" said Malcolm.

"Guys, guys, let's not have a moral debate here! We came here to have a good time."

"Oh, speaking of people we haven't heard from," said Heather, "have you guys talked to Ben lately?"

"Ah, he falls off the map all the time," said Malcolm.

"He might be at his brother's," added Chloe. "Ben has a...condition that makes--"

"Every time he's around people he ricochets himself fatter," Malcolm explained. "And unfortunately for him, he can't enjoy it."

"Way to be blunt!" snapped Chloe.

"Just telling the truth."

"That's too bad," said Heather. "He seems nice. And I know our Chloe remains fond of him…"

Chloe didn't think she was that much of an open book.

"Shit," she murmured under her breath. "Maybe it is contagious."

***

When Ben awoke, the power was back on. He was lying in some sort of cell, constructed almost entirely of glass. On his right, Felicity was coming to in an adjacent cell. The two girls who had acted as their accomplices were locked up across the hallway from him, and on his left was a girl who looked way too young to be a college student. She had brown hair and a determined expression set on her face, staring straight ahead.

Astonishingly, Ben and his compatriots were, for the moment, unharmed. They still had all their clothes, and, to his shock, he had his phone. Prying it out of his back pocket, he checked the screen: zero bars, and he was on 8% power.

Great. That would be of little use.

As Felicity regained consciousness, she took stock of her surroundings and staggered to her feet to swing a punch at the glass that confined her.

The glass didn't so much as fracture.

"What is this, Deviant-proof glass?" she growled before swearing at the top of her lungs and trying again.

"It must be tempered," said Ben. "D'you know where we are?"

"In a glass box."

"Well, I can see that!" snapped Ben. Then, "Sorry. I just...I don't remember what happened before I...I guess I blacked out…"

"After you cut the power, all the doors in the lab opened," said Felicity. "Some of the prisoners made it out, but I didn't get a good look at anyone, and looking around, it looks like a good chunk have been recaptured."

So they were in the lab.

And they'd been this close to saving the day.

"Well, m-maybe I can cut the power again?" Ben suggested. "Give me a feeling."

"I'm giving you a whole lot of pissed-off-at-the-world right now, how do you not feel it?!"

That's when Ben realized that for once, he was alone in his head.

The lab was full of people in identical glass cells, looking all kinds of ways: broken, hopeless, paralyzed by dread or terror or grief--and yet, Ben was absorbing none of it.

"It won't work," said the little brunette to his left. "You've been suppressed."

"We've been...what?" asked Felicity.

"You've been drugged with a powerful central nervous system depressant that disrupts activity in the part of your brain that lets you use your powers."

"What kind of monster--?!" Felicity looked like she needed to vomit. "Will it wear off?"

"Yes, but not before they dose you again. Trust me, I've been here a while. I've seen what they do."

"Ben, we have to get out of here before--"

With an ominous creak, the door to the lab swung open, and two sets of footfalls, one heavy and one high-heeled, descended the stairs. Ben scrambled to his feet, suddenly on high alert.

A bespectacled woman in a lab coat, looking to be about in her mid-twenties, and a big, broad-shouldered man about the same age approached the group of newcomers. "So this is the fresh batch of subjects?" said the man. He gave Ben a sideways scowl. "Why's that one so fat?"

The woman rolled her eyes. "Fuck's sake, Marv, why does anyone get fat? Because they're a lazy fuck that eats garbage. Come on, you're a scientist." She approached Ben's cell and with all the contempt of someone who wasn't about to be gentle. "He might need the double-dose tranq darts. Give me the big gun."

"Sure thing, Liv." The big mook, 'Marv,' handed his partner, 'Liv,' some sort of handheld firearm. Liv opened a small, sliding glass hatch in Ben's cell wall.

"The doctor will see you now," said Liv, and shot him in the neck.

***

When Ben next awoke, he was face down on some sort of table, secured in place by straps around his shoulders, wrists, ankles, and knees. Craning his neck, he took stock of the room. There was a privacy curtain in one corner, a table laden with surgical implements he didn't recognize, a set of monitors, and three other cots, onto which were strapped Felicity and their two accomplices from Rivington. There was a stool, too, and upon the stool was the most ancient man Ben had ever seen. Stooped, wrinkled, and wheezing with each breath, he looked as though he could have croaked any second, and yet, he sat steadily on his perch, observing the students and making notes on his clipboard. "Ah, good. You are starting to wake up." The doctor--well, Ben presumed this was the doctor--set down his clipboard with one shaky hand and stepped behind the curtain while Ben and his compatriots regained their wits…

***

"What do we do if we're ever kidnapped?"

It was Ben and Oriana tossing a tennis ball back and forth on the community court while she grilled him about hostage situations. It was the summer after he turned fifteen, and he remembered, because that was the year the Rays had been stripped of their World Series title after they were caught cheating. Not that he cared much about baseball, but it was all Mason Harvey, the senior in his gym class, had talked about the whole last semester. According to Mason, he had seen it coming, even if he was still heartbroken over it.

Oriana never used to be this grim, but ever since she had become Bombshell, a paranoia had overtaken her. She needed to know, she told him, that he'd know what to do if any of her enemies ever held him captive for leverage.

"Cooperate with my captors."

"And?"

"Don't try'n escape, just wait for you to come save me."

"And?"

"Try'n memorize their faces."

"And?"

"If I have to relay their demands to the cops, make it clear that it's their demands, not mine. 'My captor is demanding that…' Insert demands here."

"And?"

"And...what?"

She sighed. "This important shit, Ben! This could be the difference between you living and dying, you think I want that on my conscience? I need you to be able to handle yourself in case of an emergency."

He tossed the ball back over the net in her direction. "Fine. What am I missing?"

"Speak with deference, but dignity. Imagine this person is your friend. If your tone is familiar--listen to me, Ben--not informal, definitely not flip or disrespectful, but familiar--it'll make you feel more like a human being to them. It'll make it harder for them to harm you."
 

stevita

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By the fluorescent lighting in the room, Ben was able to make out the outline of the doctor behind the curtain, stripping. He removed his coat, then his shirt and pants, and finally kicked off his shoes. Ben found a small relief in the fact that he wasn't forced to witness the scene in any more detail than a silhouette. Then…

He shuddered in horror as the doctor's body began to divide. First, a second head sprouted from his shadow. Then, each limb appeared in duplicate. Finally, his torso stretched laterally until twice its original width, before pinching off at the hip and separating into two distinct copies. Each--twin? Clone?--divided once more.

The four silhouettes fell away from view. There was a rustling, and at last four identical, hunched, liver-spotted and thankfully clothed old men emerged from behind the curtain. "Let's take some samples, shall we?"

Each of the four doctors retrieved a syringe from the table and approached a patient. While the girls struggled in their bonds, Ben forced his breathing to steady. Shifting to press his forehead to the cot and brace himself, he stammered, "That's, uh...that's a pretty neat ability. Is it biomanipulative, Mr.--?"

"Subjects may refer to me as Doctor."

Ben kicked himself inside. Bad guys loved their titles; that was just Supervillains 101. "Y-yes, Doctor. Of course. Um. Sir."

"What are you doing, Ben?" hissed Felicity. Ben heard her thrash in her cot. "Hey! Get your fucking hands off me!" She struggled some more before letting out an anguished scream.

Ben didn't catch what was happening, but he knew he had to help her. "Anyway, Doctor," he said, keeping his tone as friendly as possible. "It's, uh, nice to meet you. I'm Ben. The blonde girl is my friend, Felicity. She's panicked. She can be a bit like a cat at the vet sometimes. But she's gentle, you'll see. Just please don't hurt her."

"You...you are not afraid?"

Oh, Ben was very afraid, and he had a feeling that the doctor wanted it that way. But perhaps he could gain control of their dynamic if he kept his head about him.

Something jabbed him sharply in the neck. He gasped, but forced himself to hold still, lest the needle break inside him.

"I mean...this is a pretty intimidating setup you got, Doctor. Sir. Um. But like. I'm a science guy, too. Not as smart as you, though. Obviously." If his heart rate was elevated, you'd never know it. "I suck at biology, but I'm decent at robotics. Like I said, it's all pretty neat."

He dared a glance to the side and found the three copies of the doctor now occupied with him, staring intently into his eyes. One of them had a Rivington girl's skirt down around her hips with a needle jammed into her pelvic bone. She was whimpering in discomfort, but things could have been a lot worse. The doctor struck Ben initially as a callous sadist, but he seemed unpreoccupied with hurting his charges more than necessary...for the moment.

"I was not expecting any of you intruders to appreciate my work," he said. "You mentioned biomanipulation. How well do you know the umbrella, boy?"

"Not super well," Ben lied. "I know one biomanipulator. Bombshell. Well, not know. She rescued me over the summer when someone tried to stick me up at my job. She gave me a ride home, but I never even got her number. Her car is super small, by the way."

The doctor soon gave him the same treatment as he had the Rivington girl, working his pants halfway down his ass and sticking him with something sharp. Ben grit his teeth. The pain was like nothing he'd ever felt. "Relax, I just need to collect some bone marrow."

Ben's eyes burned, but he dared not scream and startle the doctor into a slip of the hand. "Please, Doctor...do you think me and my friends could have some anesthetic? We'll be good. I promise," he choked out.

"Unfortunately, the Heroics Division has no allocations in the budget for such things," replied the doctor, continuing to pull marrow.

So this was a Heroics Division plot.

"But back to biomanipulation…

"I suppose my ability falls into the classification...but while some are born with gifts, God gave me only brains."

"So you...created your power in a lab? And put it in yourself?"

"Precisely, boy!"

Man, this guy liked to gloat.

"After decades and decades of research in genetics, I've finally mastered the precise science of imbuing powers into the body. That, my friends, is why you are here: the results of your bloodwork will determine whether you will become donors or subjects. The Division is quite eager for me to put my work to use in their pursuit of the ultimate super soldiers!"

"What a cliche!" Felicity snapped.

"Felicity, no!" cried Ben.

Her doctor snatched his clipboard off the table and cracked her across the face with it. She groaned and lost consciousness.

The doctors stepped back behind the curtain to divide once more, and the next thing he knew, he was being unstrapped and led, staggering, out of the room by two old clones, the girls led out behind him in similar fashion save for Felicity, who had to be carried.

The doctors dropped Ben off in a solitary room while their clones took the girls in separate directions. They offered him a bowl of an awful-looking, grey sludge. He crawled into the corner of his new cell, fighting the urge to vomit. It would have been pure acid anyway. "Something the matter?" asked one copy.

"I've, uh...I've been on liquids for a while, Doctor. But I can sit out lunch, it's fine."

"Ah. One moment." One of the copies left the room while the other asked, "Is it medical? The reason for your liquid diet?"

"I...don't really need to eat," said Ben. "Not normally, anyway. My powers ricochet hard enough that I keep putting on weight without it, anyway."

"Fascinating," said the doctor.

"And making for a very shitty super soldier." It was a reach, but maybe, just maybe, his captor would deem him useless and release him.

"Perhaps. But if I could isolate the part of your genetic code that causes the ricochet effect and successfully duplicate the rest of your powers in one of the other subjects, without any of your disadvantages...wouldn't that be a discovery?"

"So...so I'm gonna be a donor?"

"We'll see what the bloodwork looks like. But in light of your tendency to ricochet, it seems the only use I'll have for you is as a genetic donor, yes."

"Will it hurt?"

"Yes, if I need to collect more bone marrow or perhaps some stem cells. But the subjects will have it worse. Some may not survive, if their bodies reject the donation process."

Ben got an idea then. "Y'know, Doctor, Felicity would make a good donor, too. She's got three different superpowers! Imagine if you could like, isolate them before putting them in other subjects? It would be groundbreaking. You might even win a Nobel Prize!" He suppressed a gag at his own actions: he didn't want to condemn anyone to potentially deadly experiments...but he had no choice. He was trapped, and there was no way everyone in this compound could avoid the worst fate the doctor could deal them...but he could try to protect Felicity.

Even if it required him to think like a mad scientist.

The doctor grinned toothily, his eyes gleaming with a maniacal anticipation.

"Perhaps you're right, Ben. We shall see what her bloodwork says."

His clone came back in with a can of cola and set it on the ground next to Ben. "Drink this, boy. You need your strength--I'd hate for you to die on me before we've tapped the full wealth of your potential."

Ben did as he was told. The sugar rush hurt his head, but only for a moment. The flavor lingered in his mouth after he swallowed, an unexpected temptation, and he slurped down the rest of the can, acutely aware of how much he'd missed drinking anything other than grapefruit LaCroix.

"Good," said the first doctor. "Now, will you peacefully let me escort you back to your cell in general holding, or will you need to be sedated?"

"I choose peace."

The doctors shared a deep, satisfied sigh before Number Two said, "It's so convenient when they break easily!"

(A/n: Well, there you have it. Meet the dastardly Dr. Duplicate! For those of you reading for the plot, thank you for sitting through five slow chapters of character development before I could get to the action. And for those of you reading for kink, I promise Ben has good things coming. In the meantime, I hope Chloe and her hefty honies have provided adequate spank bank material!)
 
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Tad

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Thank you for brightening up a dreary November Monday \! (for me, looks like you posted these yesterday)
 

stevita

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CHAPTER 8

After allowing him a brief, and monitored, bathroom break, the doctors led Ben back to his original cell. He stepped in without a fight and looked around: Felicity was still unconscious, the brunette on his other side still glaring stoically ahead, her face a stone mask. His two Rivington co-conspirators were glaring at him.

The doctors locked the door and turned to depart. On their way out, one of them smacked the glass of the staring girl's cell with his clipboard. "What are you looking at?" he demanded as his clone walked out of the room. "I ought to wipe that glare from your face…" He knelt down to meet her at eye level where she sat criss-cross on the ground, unblinking. "I do so hope you don't survive the experiment. I will relish ripping your lifeless corpse apart and using your skin for window dressings!" He smacked the glass once more, stood, and followed his clone out.

Then, the bickering began.

"Well, if it isn't the evil scientist's new best friend?" snapped one of the Rivington girls.

"What were you thinking, getting all buddy-buddy with the enemy?" said the other.

"I was trying not to get all our asses kicked!"

"By groveling like that lunatic was your new God?"

"Look, I get it!" said Ben. "We all want to be heroes." Rivington, especially, encouraged a culture of volunteering to fight on the front lines--that much he had discerned from his conversations with the transfers and Oriana. "But right now, we ain't heroes. We're hostages."

The two girls rolled their eyes and turned away. Clearly, he wasn't getting anywhere with them.

His attention shifted to the girl in the next cell, who'd taken the doctor's abuse without so much as a slight flinch. "Why does he hate you so much?"

"Because he can't scare me," she replied.

There was a murmur amongst the prisoners.

"She's talking to him!"

"She don't talk to nobody!"

Ben scooted closer to the glass barrier between himself and the stoic stranger. "Why not?"

She mirrored his movement, scootching closer to him, and dropped her voice. "Right now, I'm trapped. What would be the point in being trapped and scared?"

"Guess you're right…" Easier said than done, though. Clearly, she was made of harder stuff than he was. "It doesn't rattle you, though? He just threatened to use your skin for curtains!"

She shrugged. "Last week, it was 'scalp for a bathmat'. The week before that, it was 'bones for kitchen cabinet handles'. I can take whatever that bastard throws at me."

"You're tough for your age," said Ben. "A little young to be a student here, too. Did you get a combat scholarship? I heard of them doing that sometimes for high school kids who come into their powers early and kick ass at wrestling or whatever."

"Not a student. And I lied about my age to get into the study. I just didn't know it would be like this."

Ben blinked. "Study?"

"Look," said the girl. "The world is full of bad guys. There comes a point when you realize, they have to be fought. And at some point, Grandma's revolver doesn't cut it anymore. Then one day, you see a flyer for a study that says you might end up with superpowers. What would you do?"

Ben shrugged. "I guess I never thought about it before." Since the fateful day he'd first vomited lightning at the dinner table, his only ambitions had been survival, control...peace. Prior to obtaining his powerset, he'd had a comfortable life. He could still hear his mother in the shotgun seat of the family car, every time they approached a panhandler in the median: 'roll em up, kids, roll em up.' A younger Ben had never given much thought to justice, and looking back, that was likely because he'd come into the world knowing nothing but privilege. Even after his mother rejected him for being a 'freak', he enjoyed a comfortable life with D'von. Oriana was his closest contact with hardship--his cousin from the impoverished west side, who always mopped the floor with him and his brother when they roughhoused, scrappy as she was due to a childhood of having to fight tooth and nail for respect.

Oriana had nothing on his next-cell neighbor. This girl had seen some shit.

"We should know each others' names," he realized in a flash of insight.

"Why?"

"We should know each others' names!" he repeated, louder this time, for everyone to hear. "That way if one of us gets out of here, we can look each other up, find each others' families...maybe find someone who can help us."

"Why should we trust you? You got us into this mess!" said one of the Rivington girls.

"I know, and it was an accident, but I am trying to keep my cool and fix this shit, and I'd appreciate your trust. Here, I'll go first." He jabbed himself in the chest with his thumb. "Ben Taylor-Moore, it's a pleasure. That's Felicity Cohen. Any of y'all get out, you go to Bellvue and get help!"

"Bellvue?" asked a guy lying on his back in a nearby cell. "We might as well just sit in here and wait to die. You guys can barely scrape by in a baseball game, and you think your friends can save us?

"Well, if anyone from our school was smart enough to figure out what's going on down here, we'd be saved already, right?" said one of the accomplices. "Bellvue's worth a shot. Taeryn Cunningham, by the way. I'd shake your hand, but...you know, glass cages."

"Kaedynne Novak. That's K-A-E-D-Y-N-N-E," said her friend. "If any of you get out of here, call my father, the CEO of Atlantic.com."

"And you?" Ben asked his teenage neighbor.

"No one is looking for me," she said, quietly enough so only he could hear. "My parents were murdered when I was three. I was at home with the sitter. My grandma died last year, it was cancer. And my sister…" She clammed up then, but Ben didn't press.

"What if I just wanted to know your name?" he asked. "As a friend?"

"Or...or an ally?"

"Yeah. An ally," he agreed. "Hey, why won't you talk to anyone but me?"

She slammed her hand to the glass. "Because you're the only sucker that's come through here with at least half a brain. Thanks to you, some of us might survive this place. Elisa, by the way. Elisa Bieler."

"Pleasure." He met her hand through the glass. "Now let's start planning."
 

stevita

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In three days--or what Ben thought was three days, it was hard to tell without any natural lighting--he had become familiar with the clockwork of the lab. First thing in what, as far as he was concerned, was the morning, the doctor, his clones, and his grad student cronies would enter the cells and forcibly inject the prisoners with their daily suppressants. Ben was the exception.

While Felicity thrashed and struggled against three clones in the next cell, Ben's doctor handed him a syringe and allowed him to self-administer the injection under his watchful eye. Once everyone was suppressed and the staff began to withdraw, a panting, bruised Felicity stared at Ben in disbelief. "How come you don't get manhandled?"

"Because I cooperate," he explained. "It's Hostage Crisis 101. I went through it earlier, but you were still KO'd. You might want to stop fighting so hard if you don't want him to keep beating the shit out of you."

"Forget it," she hissed, teeth gritted, nostrils flaring. "They can take my blood and tissue, but they can't have my pride."

Throughout the morning, prisoners were taken and escorted to what Ben could only assume were operating rooms, though whether for tissue extractions or experiments, he couldn't be certain. The students returned lethargic and pained, often collapsing on the floors of their cells upon return.

The only meal of the day was taken in isolation. If Ben had to take a guess, this was a demoralizing tactic: lunch had been a social affair since kindergarten for anyone who'd attended school. Taking the comfort and conversation out of a familiar communal event was sure to make the prisoners feel all the more alienated from one another, right?

Too bad for his captors that Ben was smarter than your average lab rat.

Maybe once--if--he got out of here, he should switch his major from comp-sci to psychology.

***

"Come with me, Ben."

The doctor opened his cell and led him down the hall and into yet another isolation chamber, equipped with a table and a drawer set full of surgical implements. "It is as we thought: due to your tendency to ricochet, along with the...engorged state of your body, you would make a poor super soldier indeed. But your genetic material may still prove useful. Your electromagnetic abilities would make a fine weapon, if accepted by the right host."

"So you need more tissue." Ben sat down compliantly on the table.

"I'm afraid so. But...I've grown fond of you, Ben. I may not have general anesthesia...but I do have drinks." He offered Ben a bottle, seemingly produced out of nowhere. Ben took it and drank deeply. Usually more of a hard liquor man, as it offered more buzz for your caloric buck, he savored the sweet taste of the liqueur as it went down. He could have drained the bottle, but he didn't want to push his luck.

"You sure can drink, young man."

"Brother's a bartender. How do you need me?"

The doctor guided him face down onto his stomach on the table and readied the syringe.

***

One by one, students started to spasm, sweat, and seize on the floors of their cells. "What's happening to them?" Ben asked Elisa, forcing himself not to flinch as a boy in a cell diagonal to him shuddered in a curled-up heap.

"The doctor attaches foreign superpowers to a virus of his own design, that rewrites your whole genetic code. You'll hear him gloat all about it if you're around long enough. If they survive this stage of the sickness, supposedly they get extra powers. But we don't get to see where they're taken at that point."

"Do many survive?"

Elisa's jaw set in a hard scowl.

"What was your sister's name?" asked Ben.

After a moment's hesitation, she exhaled. "Nora."

"You came here together, didn't you?"

For the first time, her tough front cracked, and Ben could see her eyes moisten.

"I'm sorry. You don't have to think about it." He was all too used to saying that sentence, only in the past, it had always been for his own benefit. "But we'll get out of here. We'll beat Dr. Duplicate."

"Dr. Duplicate?" Elisa let out a choked-off laugh.

Ben flushed.

"It's just what I've been calling him in my head."

"Is that the best you can do?"

"Well, it fits, don't it?"

***

At last, the day had come: Ben had won the dastardly doctor's trust completely.

While a few of the other hostages, especially the newest arrivals, still held onto defiance, many others had adopted Ben's strategy of evasive docility, but none of them received the easygoing conversation and, if not gentle, then at least decent, bedside manner from the doctor from which he benefited--and he'd bet the others weren't getting offered soda pop and alcohol, either.

It was suppression time once more, and Felicity was fighting harder than ever. Two clones, already in a sour mood with her, fought to subdue her while she kicked and snapped.

"Useless girl! Why is it everyone who takes in your DNA dies?!"

"Fuck if I know! You're supposed to be the doctor here, asshole!"

That earned her a smack across the face that left an angry red handprint, and still she struggled, elbowing one of the clones hard in the stomach. Even without super strength, she managed to make him groan...Ben would be rooting for her if he didn't know she was only inviting greater horrors.

"A little help here!" called the struck clone. Ben's doctor handed him his syringe and didn't even think to watch him dose himself before rushing to the aid of his duplicates. Seeing his window of opportunity, Ben slipped the syringe into his pocket as discreetly as he could.

The three doctors at last subdued Felicity, one standing with his boot on the back of her neck while the others held her down and injected her, as if she was a rabid animal. "Such a shame...such a beautiful girl. If you weren't such a little hellion you'd be perfect for the breeding program."

She cried out in pain--it killed Ben to see her suffer, but he had to remain aware of his surroundings. He wouldn't have much time to execute his hastily scrapped-together plan.

A clone passed by Elisa's cell and slapped the glass with his clipboard. "You again with that insolent look on your face! I shall relish it if you perish upon my table!" he raved. "You know what else I'll relish? Hollowing out your skull for a paperweight in my office!"

Had Ben been trapped in here a week already?

Elisa was as silent and staunchly unflinching as ever. Meanwhile, another clone approached his cell with a maniacal smile. "Good news, Ben! I've almost completed the isolation of your powerset into its core genetic elements. Soon, we shall see what untapped potential flows through your veins!"

"That's great, Dr. D," Ben slipped.

"What was that?"

Shit!

Ben gulped. "D-Dr. Duplicate? It's just something I thought of, I didn't mean no disrespect!" he stammered.

The doctor stared at him blankly for a moment, before laughing boisterously. "Docile and clever! Perhaps, after this round of experiments concludes, I shall be in need of a new lab assistant! Keep it up, Big Ben, and you may just make the cut!"

An acidic gag pulled at the back of his throat. He couldn't fathom ever working for such a monster. But, in the interest of making it out of the lab in one piece, he forced himself to smile. Perhaps, if he played his cards right, the doctor would give him the opportunity he needed to stab him in the back.

All twenty of him, or however many there were, somehow.

As the clones and their interns filed out of general holding, Felicity shot Ben a seething glare. "Nickname basis with the Big Bad, huh? Hump his leg any harder, and soon he'll start bringing you candy!"

"Don't be mad at me just 'cause I have self-preservation instincts! Besides, don't you get it? This is what he wants. If we turn on each other, we're easier for him to control."

"Alright, Mr. Supervillain Whisperer."

"Spark."

"What?"

"My name," he decided. Really, he'd been decided for a while. "It's gonna be Spark. If I survive this hellhole."

"Well, that's stupid."

His eyes burned hot with the salt of tears that might have rolled out if he weren't so dehydrated. "Lissy, please. I don't wanna fight. I need to concentrate."

"On what, dare I ask?"

Bit by bit, he could feel his powers slowly returning. Felicity's contempt, twisting through him like a knife in his gut...Elisa's vendetta, fueling him like octane...a million other threads of terror, hopelessness, and disrepair tied his insides in knots. The feelings were fainter than he was used to, but he knew he couldn't let his powerset return to full strength. If he did, he'd most certainly regurgitate.

But right now, he had just enough energy flowing through him to power up his phone.

He dug it out of his pocket and brushed his thumb over the charging port. He was up to 100% in seconds. Across the hall, a few inmates had stirred in their cells and perked up to observe. "Bro! Are you doing electromancy right now?" asked one boy. "Can you blast us all out of here?"

"I...I can't," Ben admitted. Shame burned through him more intensely than any of the others' cumbersome emotions. "I can't control my powers. It's totally possible that I'll kill us all if I try." Breath shuddering as the influx of energy intensified, he unpocketed the syringe, popped off the cap, and jabbed himself in the arm.
 

stevita

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(TW: the following post contains body horror and minor character death.)

"What was the point of that?" barked Felicity.

"Evidence." Ben began snapping pictures of his surroundings, being sure to capture every angle of his prison before powering down his phone to conserve his battery.

"To show to who?" asked Felicity. "You heard all the doctor's evil monologues. He works for the Heroics Division. You wanna call the cops? These guys are Feds!"

"Look, I have a plan, okay? It just hinges on me not winding up dead."

Felicity huffed and crossed her arms. "On the bright side, at least you've lost some weight."

Of course he'd lost some weight, he was surviving off a can of soda per day. Of course, he'd noticed his pants loosening, his face looking narrower every time he caught his reflection in the glass, his belly flattening. For once, he didn't give a shit. He'd gladly trade a gain of a hundred pounds to get his life back.

***

When Felicity stirred, she was upright, secured to a chair by a whole myriad of ropes that bound her torso to the back rest, her wrists to the armrests, her thighs to the seat and her ankles to the legs. Tied into identical traps were Kaedynne, Taeryn, and the little brunette--Elisa, she'd overheard--who had become so fond of Ben in the days that had passed, even though he was Dr. Duplicate's favorite prisoner and she was his most hated, though with her refusal to break in his grip of fear, Felicity had earned herself a place on the podium as a solid runner-up.

And what was with that camaraderie between Ben and Elisa, anyway? It should have Felicity he was making small talk with to retreat from their grim reality, not some near-stranger. Sure, she'd snapped at him a bit...but that was always how she got when she was stressed. He knew that.

And he always came back to her in the end.

The doctor--just the one--entered the room, clipboard in hand, and dumped a fistful of syringes onto a supply cart. There were four of them: one needle per prisoner. "Ah, lucky ladies, it seems you're returning to the land of the living!" he chirped brightly. "I trust we all had a good beauty sleep?"

"Can't say the same for you," Felicity rebuked.

"It seems we have a volunteer to go first!" declared the doctor, still just as chipper. "And I had so hoped it would be our resident troublemaker down on the end."

"You think she's trouble? I could show you some real trouble, Dr. Dickface!" she cried, struggling in her bonds...but her bravado melted away once he approached her with a syringe. "Wh-what is that?"

"A little gift, from your friend Ben," explained the doctor. "In this syringe is one component of the genetic code that comprises his power set. If I'm correct in my hypotheses, then after today, two of you may be well on your way to becoming the next stage in human evolution!"

"But there's four of us," Kaedynne pointed out.

"Correct!" said the doctor. "Unfortunately, one of you will likely die. And one of you may gain a good deal of weight."

"No, no, nonononono! You sick fuck! You can't do this to us!" screeched Felicity, her panic switch fully flipped. Try as she did to thrash out of her bonds, though, stripped of her powers, she was immobilized by the ropes and helpless as the doctor stuck the needle in her arm.

"Where was that freak-out when he said one of us would die?" said Taeryn, but just as quickly as Felicity had broken down into hysterics, she fell to weeping when it came her turn to take the needle.

***

One by one, Ben watched his neighbors fall ill to the effects of the virus carrying pieces of his genetic code. It had been horrible enough before, seeing the other prisoners lay listless on the ground, bodies racked with chills and cold sweats, eyes gone bloodshot. He hadn't thought it could get any worse, but it had: now, he felt responsible.

Taeryn was the first to start recovering. Bit by bit, she regained what little had been left of her glow of health. She started talking more, moving around again. Ben thought she had a good chance of survival.

Then, late one evening--it felt like evening, even though he couldn't see the sky--she whipped around to face him, wide-eyed. "You're an electromancer AND an empath?"

"An electroempath. The zap-zap kinda depends on the empathy. How'd you know?"

"They didn't suppress me today," she said, "and boy howdy, the empathy just kicked in. I can feel what you're feeling. I can feel what everyone's feeling!"

Ben winced. "I'm sorry." It couldn't have been a pleasant experience.

"It's so much, Ben! How do you do it?"

"Well, usually I'm not being held captive by an evil scientist in a lab full of terrified people. But you're right, it gets rough."

"Oof...oh god...what's happening to me?" She lurched forward from her sitting position, landing on all fours on the concrete.

"What does it feel like?" asked Ben. "Like a huge sugar rush?"

"N-no, it's not like that, it's like...I'm...I'm vibrating. It's so hot in here, is anyone else hot?"

She seized then. A veritable firework show of electricity erupted upon her skin from head to toe, sparkling and cracking and popping. Smoke filled her cell, and lightning danced against the glass walls before dissipating in snakelike, six-zagging trails.

When the smoke cleared, Ben could see that her body had hit the ground, badly burned. What was left of her face was contorted into a grimace of pain.

Soon, a pair of clones came to shove her into a body bag and take her away.

Ben crawled into the corner of his cell.

"Well, that rules out one outcome," muttered Elisa.

"Whaddya mean?" asked Ben.

"Dr. Duplicate said one of us would die, one of us would get fat, and two of us would get crazy awesome superpowers. Or something like that. I wasn't listening, I tend to tune him out."

"I--I--I--"

Elisa placed her small hand against the wall. Her arm shook. Her face was flushed, her dark hair plastered to her face with sweat. She had a fever.

Ben met her halfway.

"I'm glad you're not gonna die, but I didn't want her to die either!"

"It's like you said: we're hostages. And beggars can't be choosers. And I know it's horrible, what happened...but she's safe now. This place can't hurt her anymore."

***

Suddenly, the cell door opened. Malcolm admitted himself, all his swagger put aside for once as he knelt down next to Ben, biting his lip with concern. "Bro, what did they do to you?" He sat down on the floor and eased Ben's head into his ample lap, his thick thighs and muffin top serving as a comfortable pillow. "Damn...you look so skinny now. I think I'm ahead of you."

"Don't remind me," Ben croaked. For years, losing weight had been the dream of his life. Now, though? He felt like something had been stolen from him: his smaller, tighter belly alien to his hand as he prodded his own flesh with his fingers, the gap between it and his jeans jarring. His thighs, no longer crowding against one another the way he was used to. His arms, slimmer, but atrophied from weeks of underuse.

For so long, he had lamented being the fat guy. But now, he missed being the fat guy. He missed the familiar flesh he'd grown so accustomed to.

"Don't worry, bro," said Malcolm.

And in walked Chloe.

She was wearing a short dress and heels, and she reeked of concern. Ben drank it in mindlessly. Slowly, he felt his body expand, thighs thickening, waist ballooning...and for once, he enjoyed it. "Ben! My poor, sweet thing! Look how they starved you!" She ran up to him and practically tackled him, hugging him tightly where he lay. "It's gonna be okay, alright? I'm here now."

"Chloe…" He wrapped his arms around her, combing his fingers through her hair. "Chloe, I'm so fucking starving."

"I know. So eat up."

The force of her desire coursed through him like a tidal wave, filling him completely. If drowning could be pleasant, this is what it would feel like. An intoxicating warmth spread from his core to his extremities, at once relieving and reviving him. Her delicate hands caressed their way down his arms, his sides...he felt his stomach swell against them, his thighs crowding together with a push of fresh fat, his back and rear softening against the cold concrete...but for the first time in his life, the shame was gone. The bigger his body bloated with blubber, the stronger Chloe's adoration for him grew, and though he was now well past sated, he wanted to swallow every last drop of it.

She lifted his chin to press a firm, needy kiss to his lips, smirking once it broke. "Enjoying yourself?"

"More, Chloe," he moaned in utter desperation to be stuffed with everything she felt. He cuddled her against his belly and savored the spike of her bliss.

"Don't worry," she whispered. "I'm hungry for you, too."
 

stevita

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"Mmh...Mal...Chloe…"

A soft rapping on the glass of his cell roused Ben from sleep and he realized he had one hand down his loosened jeans, grasping his hard-on. On the other side of the glass stood Dr. Duplicate, chuckling softly as he watched from above like a voyeur: instant boner poison.

Ben startled, heat flushing his face as he pulled out his hand. "Jesus, Dr. D! What gives? What time is it?"

"Well before your wake-up call, but I was wondering if you might accompany me for a little walk?"

The last thing Ben wanted to do was accompany the deranged clone anywhere, but it couldn't hurt to scope out his place of captivity. "Sure," he said, staggering to his feet, still half-asleep and lightheaded from malnutrition. Dr. Duplicate released him from his cell and led the way. "Um...where's Kaedynne?" he asked, noticing the empty cell across from his.

"Your friend showed signs of recovery, so I removed her to another room for observation. I believe her new powers will be coming in shortly. Shame I missed it when the other one's suppressants wore off. These moments are never as much fun to watch on security footage."

"Um, Dr. D, where are we going?" asked Ben as he followed the doctor out of general holding and down another hallway.

"Why, to witness the marvels of science, my boy!" He opened a door to a private room. "After you…"

Ben stepped into the room, where Kaedynne was strapped securely to a chair. "It shouldn't be long now," said Dr. Duplicate. "Want to place bets on what has become of her?"

"Not, it, not really a betting man, Doc."

"Suit yourself…"

"Wh-what is that?" whimpered Kaedynne, suddenly startling in her seat, reacting to a stimulus Ben had not yet perceived. "What IS that?"

"What's what?" asked Ben, wondering if it was something he ought to be worried about.

"I can...feel you. Your fear, your anxiety...your guilt." Her breath hitched and she lurched in her seat but was pinned back by her restraints. "Oh God...I can feel everyone in this shithole!" Breathing hard, eyes red with the beginnings of tears, she pleaded, "You gotta suppress me again, Doctor!"

"But I've only just begun my observation!" the doctor proclaimed, scribbling frantically on his clipboard. "And--what's this? It appears things have just started to get interesting!"

"What? OH MY GOD!"

Ben watched in horrified silence as Kaedynne's trim body began to thicken. Her flat stomach rounded out into a small pooch, then a proper belly, pushing up her shirt as it expanded, cut into two flabby rolls of flesh by the waistband of her jeans until the button burst and the fly busted open, unable to contain the swelling orb of fat within. Her thighs, breasts, and upper arms all expanded with adipose, her cheeks rounding and her chin doubling. Her t-shirt sleeves were swallowed into the narrowing gap between her shoulder and her fat neck, and her jeans finally gave their final surrender, splitting down the inner seam as her thighs burst through.

"Ben, you fucking bastard!" she screeched. "You could have told me being a fatass was one of your fucking superpowers!"

A surge of shame coursed through him--which he knew wasn't making things any easier for Kaedynne--but he couldn't help it. He might not have been the one who injected her with foreign DNA, but this wouldn't be happening to her if he had any other normal, un-fat-related power.

"Try to channel the emotions into electricity!" shouted Ben. "That should get it out of you!"

"Why are you yelling?" she screamed. "I'm fat, not deaf!"

"Well, why are you yelling?"

"WHY THE FUCK DO YOU THINK?!" She strained in her seat, but only continued to fatten. "It's not working!"

"Try again!"

"I THINK I'D KNOW IF I HAD LIGHTNING POWERS!"

At about triple her original size, Kaedynne's blubbery body broke through the restraints that were segmenting it like sausage links. The chair beneath her snapped under her colossal ass and she fell flat on her back, and still, she grew. Her gut domed out above her, a great hill of flesh that grew closer to the ceiling with every passing second. Her sides spilled out, pale and wobbly, soon to approach the walls.

"You should really suppress her, Doc. If she keeps getting bigger, can't it damage the building? Think of your work!" The words felt cold and inhumane coming out of Ben's mouth...but the doctor would never listen to the humane argument against this twisted experiment, would he?

"Hmm...right you are." The doctor pulled a walkie-talkie out of his labcoat pocket. "Liv! Come to exam room 5, and bring some of our strongest suppressant. Six doses ought to do it, but bring ten just in case."

"Roger that, Joe. Over," came the crackling reply.

"What a day! Think of the military applications of what we've just seen--imagine wielding the power of Bombshell in a dart gun! And I couldn't have done it without you, Ben! Now then!" Dr. Duplicate began to stroll down the hall. "Won't you join me in my office? We can have a drink, to the triumph of science!"

Ben saw no triumph here, just a man determined to find out to what extent he could torture his prisoners. Against every lesson Oriana had taught him about how to behave in a crisis, against every self-preservation instinct he had, something snapped in him. He was done kissing ass. Glaring the doctor straight in the eye, had clenched in defiance, he said, "Actually, I think I wanna go back to my cage in general holding."
 
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stevita

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It had been a busy dinner shift at Antonio's Mex-Italian Cantina, yielding plenty of income for everyone on the floor, yet now, two hours before close, it was a ghost town. D'von had used his powers of compulsion to clear all his guests out--after he had them leave generous tips, of course. He had poured himself and Chloe a few rounds of shots, on Tony, the owner, but now it was time for him to cut out early, a man on a mission.

"Can I leave you in charge, Chloe?" he asked her. "I have to--"

"Go see Tiffany, I know," she said. "Good luck!"

"Thanks...I'm pretty nervous."

Last week, his gorgeously gluttonous girlfriend of two weeks had dropped that she was into BDSM. Tonight, D'von was going to tell her he was a compulse--perhaps she'd like him to take her wheel during play from time to time? He was looking forward to her reaction as much as he was dreading it--what if she rejected him? Being a Deviant meant being misunderstood to a good chunk of society. People got kicked out of their houses over it. He'd watched it happen to his own brother.

"Like, seriously, dude," said Chloe, "I know she's like, super pretty and everything, but if she can't appreciate you, powers and all, then she doesn't deserve you. Fuck's sake, she's never seen your eyes without your sunglasses because you're afraid you'll accidentally compel her. Hell, I've never seen your eyes."

"You already know why."

That she did. "Because you think I'm such a swell dame, and you worry you'll accidentally force me switch from feeder to feedee like in that story on FeedFrenzy.com, The Eight Month Arrangement or something."

"The Eight Month Contract. I'm not about that dubcon shit."

"You still read it front to back," she smirked. "And you jacked it."

D'von winced.

"Hey! Hey. No self-loathing thoughts." She closed the distance between them in three small steps and enveloped him in a hug that wasn't quite squishy enough for his taste: he was all too aware of the gap between her arms and his ribs. Nevertheless, he appreciated the gesture. "Everyone in this community reads fic that takes away a feedee'a autonomy. We enjoy it, even. But we get it: that's just fantasy. We'd never do that to a nonconsenting person. Not if we're worth our salt, I mean, there are like, some yikes feeders, but can I talk to you from the heart for a minute? You're the cream of the crop, D'von Alexander Taylor-Moore."

"Aww...Chloe...don't you make me cry!"

"No! No cry!" She gave him one last squeeze before taking him by the shoulders to push him to arm's length and look him in the eyes through his sunglasses. "No matter what, you're gonna be fine. I'll always be here. You're my best friend."

He sniffled a bit, but held the waterworks in. "Thanks again, Chloe." The bell over the door dinged as he let himself. Then, as Chloe stepped out from behind the bar to wipe down the counter, it dinged again.

"What'd you forget?" she asked. Instead of an answer, she was greeted by a pair of hands covering her eyes.

"He's your what, now?"

Even slightly inebriated, Chloe would recognize that consciousness anywhere. It sparkled with their shared experiences, crackled with all her deepest secrets. This girl had stood on her shoulders--literally--through years of cheer practice. Chloe didn't even have to guess.

"Gina."

***

Something was different. Elisa could feel it in her blood as she awoke tied to a chair in an examination room, the doctor standing before her, ready to take notes. "Well? I know you can speak, girl. Are you gaining access to my true feelings?"

She doubted he had any feelings at all, other than sadistic glee whenever he killed or maimed. If she had her way, though…

Despite her facade of unyielding invulnerability, she was just as broken inside as every other prisoner in the lab. She'd seen horrors, she'd felt terror. If she had one wish before the doctor figured out what secrets lay in her new genome and disposed of her as he'd been promising, she'd have him feel her pain, everyone's pain, ten-thousand fold…

Out of nowhere, the doctor began to back away, whimpering, eyes widening and filling with moisture. Elisa felt an invisible thread connecting them through which her intent was being channeled and understood then: she wasn't an empath. Quite the opposite: somehow, she could control others' emotions.

Smirking, she continued filling him with fear, until his back hit the wall and he jumped with a piercing shriek.

She wondered...what else could she do?

Reaching for the thread with her mind, she gave it a tug and felt a trickle of...some kind of energy. It coursed through her, emboldening her. She yanked on the thread, grunting with effort, until she had pulled enough energy out of her target that she could grasp it, heavy in her hands before she threw it at him as hard as she could. It hit its mark and he was knocked out cold instantly.

"Huh."

Now came the moment she'd been waiting for: during one of her many beatings, she'd lifted a scalpel from the doctor's lab coat without drawing his notice. Seizing her opportunity, she squirmed in her bonds until she was able to work it out of her back pocket and cut herself free.

She was getting out of here.

But first…

For all her trouble, she thought she deserved a trophy.

She rummaged through the cabinets until she found something she could use: a mid-sized electric saw. As she powered it up and it whirred to life in her hands, one of the clones walked in.

"What do you think you're doing?"

At last, she had a comeback. Advancing on him, she declared with a vicious fury, "I was just about to take your skull for a paperweight. Say, what was it you said to Nora, when we first woke up in those cells? Oh yeah: 'Always good to have a spare, in case one breaks'."

It took little effort at all for her to terrorize him into submission using the very ability he'd spliced into her, and once he was a weeping mess on the ground, she buried the spinning saw blade in his neck.
 
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stevita

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CHAPTER 9

"Alright, you've got me stumped. What makes the burger Mexican?"

Gina was thinner than Chloe remembered her, her cheeks hollow, her shirt hanging loosely off of her angular shoulders as she sat at the bar looking over the menu, and her eyes...they were drained of a light they'd once held. Other than that, though, she appeared to be in one piece. There was no blood or bruising that Chloe could see. She'd even done her makeup and hair.

"The guacamole, and I think the seasonings," Chloe replied.

"Ok then...what makes it Italian?"

Chloe sighed. "The prosciutto. Look, I know this menu is a mess. I make good money here. Manager's a compulse. How'd you find me, anyway?"

"You're the one what's always posting your location on your socials." Gina dropped the menu on the counter. "Just hook me up with this 'enchi-lasagna', whatever that means." She was thinking very hard about the time when she was eleven and her parents took her to Disneyland.

"Gina, what happened to you?" asked Chloe. "Mal had a hypothesis that there are human experiments going on at Rivington."

"Well, the scumbag was right," said Gina, still dodging the memories. "Anyway, since when do you talk to Malcolm?"

"Things have changed. You kind of have to like, see him to believe it."

"Girl. What did you do to him?"

"Come on, Gina. I'm the most basic, predictable creature on the planet. Take a wild guess."

Gina chuckled and took a sip of her wine. Chloe poured them each a shot.

"You bout to ring up my food, or what?"

"Sorry. Jesus, you must be starving," said Chloe, rushing to the computer.

"Oh, they fed me at home, but I mean, I could eat. What--did you really think you'd be my first stop? I love you to pieces, but I did have to touch base with my family."

"How are they holding up?"

"About as good as one does when your daughter gets kidnapped by the feds and stays missing for months," said Gina.

"The public will riot when they find out about this," said Chloe. "I mean, I know we're still kind of in that 'feared because they don't understand us' stage in our history, but I imagine that, like, the vast majority of the population won't be okay with human experiments."

"Too bad they can't find out from me," Gina sighed.

Of course the Division had already figured out that she escaped. They'd offered her and her family a large sum of money if she would forget her little plight had ever happened. She hadn't taken the deal yet, and she was dreading having to make the decision: her classmates' lives, or her parents' mortgage and debts?

"That sucks," said Chloe. "Usually in those adventure novels, they don't give much thought to the family, nevermind the mortgage. Anyway...god, I hate to ask this of you...but can you like...take me back? To the lab? I know you probably don't wanna think about it, but me and some, uh, classmates were investigating the disappearances, and, well, there's something I need to know."

"Aww, you were looking for me?" Gina grinned. "I shoulda known. Pick at my brain all you want."

Usually, it happened automatically, but this time, for some reason, Chloe had to reach. She wasn't sure what she hoped to find.

She sifted through Gina's memories--having her blood drawn; enduring the doctor's monologues, or occasionally his backhand if she got mouthy; the suppressants; the confinement; watching so many of her classmates fall limp in their cells, dead. Then, one day the power cut, and then...natural light, at last. A tall, elegant blonde wandering the lab...the realization that the doors were open...Gina had made a break for it…

And there was a boy, passed out by the entryway. Gina didn't recognize him, but she thought to herself that Chloe would have liked him. Dark, curly hair, cherubic features, clocking in probably somewhere around the 250-pound mark...Gina hated to leave him, but attempting to rouse him would lose her precious time…

Chloe pulled out of Gina's mind, stunned and gasping. For one thing, she had never been able to pull out before. She didn't even know how she'd done it, but it was hard to give pause and mull things over knowing Ben and Felicity could very well be having inhumane experiments run on them right now.

And she didn't even particularly like Felicity.

But, in this critical moment, she couldn't bring herself to think of leaving her for dead...even if that was the difference between them.

She ducked into the kitchen. "Hey, Mike!"

"What's up, Chloe?" responded the solitary cook.

"Can you pack up that lasagna thing to go? And after that, you can leave. I gotta get back to campus."

Returning to the bar, she asked Gina, "You took your car here?"

"The bus."

Chloe tossed her keys on the counter. "Then we'll take mine. You drive, I'll navigate."

"Why can't you drive?"

Chloe grabbed a to-go cup and upturned a bottle of vodka into it. "I gotta test a theory."

***

"When facing off against a verbal full-range compulse, what is your most readily available line of defense?" Heather read off a flashcard, curled up in the corner of Malcolm's bed in nothing but her tight band t-shirt and underpants while he lazily swiveled in his computer chair, down to his boxers, a bit of overhang spilling over the waistband even as he leaned back in his seat. They had thought returning to campus would make it easier to study for their upcoming exams, away from the temptations that came from the privacy of Chloe's apartment. They were wrong. They'd ordered delivery no fewer than five times since noon, split a fat bowl of weed, killed a fifth of tequila, and played a stoned round of strip poker. Power to Heather for trying to actually get back to studying, but Malcolm wasn't feeling it.

"Verbal full-range...the fuck is that?"

"Verbal meaning they use their voice to control you, full-range meaning they can control thoughts, feelings, and actions."

"So like, Scarlet Flame?" asked Malcolm. "Why would we fight her? Ain't she one of the good guys? Why aren't they teaching us how to fight Human Hallucinogen? He's the one out there robbing folks."

"Ranged sensation compulses are also gonna be on the test, and could you just answer the stupid flashcard?"

"Who would you fight, if you could fight anyone?"

"Fine, I'll bite," said Heather, tossing her flashcards aside. "Bombshell. I mean, I don't actually want to be immobile, but the idea of being able to actually feel myself get fatter at timelapse speed is hot. Plus, I'd let her walk all over me. With her boots."

"You're so gay."

"Don't you forget it. Who would you fight?"

"I'd fight Big Tech."

"Why?"

"Cause maybe if I won, Bombshell would wanna fuck me."

Heather laughed. "Too bad he'd vaporize you."

"He'd have to catch me first."

A knock sounded at the door before Mason Harvey poked his uninvited head inside. "Eep!" shrieked Heather, grabbing a blanket to cover herself.

"This Ben's room?"

"What of it?" asked Malcolm.

"Some chick's been asking around about him all morning," said Mason.

"Who?"

Mason shrugged. "Skinny little white girl. Ringing any bells?"

Malcolm groaned. "Felicity, Ben's avoiding everyone. And in your case, I'd say he has a good reason to!"

But it wasn't Felicity who pushed past Mason and barged into the room.

'Skinny' was an understatement: the girl looked half starved to death, with prominent dark circles under her eyes. Her dark brown hair was a mess of tangles, hanging to the middle of her back. Where had she come from, the woods?

And she couldn't have been older than fifteen.

Heather scuttled to the bathroom to find her discarded pants. The girl helped herself to a seat on the couch like she paid rent. "That's your girlfriend?" she asked, eyeing the bathroom door.

"Not exactly," slurred Malcolm. "It's kinda complicated, she's my girlfriend's gi--hey, that's kind of an invasive question for a--wait, who're you?"

The girl sighed and rolled her eyes. "Where are my manners? Elisa Bieler. Now, what do you do?"

"What do I--?"

"Your power. What do you do?"

"I, uh...run fast? I guess?"

"Alright. What's she do?" asked Elisa, cocking her head toward the bathroom.

"She controls plants. She's actually like, really powerful--"

"Good, I can work with that."

"Bruh, what's going on?"

Elisa rolled her eyes. "Have you really not noticed that your friend has been kidnapped?"
 

stevita

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Chloe stumbled her way into Malcolm's dorm room panting from the long sprint from the student parking lot, head spinning from the booze. "You guys, you guys! We have to mobilize the super squad! Ben and Felicity are in trouble!"

"We know," said Heather. "This is Elisa, she was locked up with him. She's been bringing us up to speed."

Gina, meanwhile, had followed Chloe in and was giving Malcolm a smirking once-over. "Let me guess: Chloe let you buy her forgiveness?"

"Oh, hey Gina. Say...have you lost weight?" Malcolm shot back, an insensitive remark considering the circumstances, but Chloe didn't expect them to be singing Kumbaya together immediately. After all, no one had fought more fiercely for Chloe than Gina after Malcolm destroyed her reputation. Once, she had thrown him clear across the football field. "Anyway, since when do we care about Felicity?"

"You don't know what we went through down there," said Gina. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone. And--Felicity, that's what her name is? She did break in and help free us. Some of us."

"She has a feisty side," said Elisa, "but I like her. Besides, we were in a very fight-or-flight situation, and flight was impossible. So I get her anger. I probably didn't meet the real Felicity."

"Oh, trust me, she's a bitch from Hell," said Malcolm. "Chloe, you don't need me to tell you what she did to you." Turning to Gina, she gasped theatrically. "Oh, I'm sorry, did you just lose your spot as Chloe's greatest defender?"

"I don't need a defender, and people can change! You did, for me!"

"I was never as horrible as her! I never fantasized about killing you!"

"Everyone chill!" Elisa commanded, and just like that, Malcolm, Chloe and Gina all took a step back, suddenly sedate. "We don't have time for all this. We have a lab to break back into."

"Okay, no offense," said Malcolm, "I know you mean well, kid. But I don't know how comfortable I am bringing a thirteen-year-old into a possible death trap."

"I'm fifteen!" snapped Elisa. "And I can knock a grown man unconscious with my brain. And I have a surgical saw in my backpack, AND I've already killed with it twice!"

"Sounds like competence to me," said Chloe.

"And what about you?" asked Malcolm. "With your telepathy?"

"I think I can control it," she said.

"How?"

"Same way Fireball accesses 'is firepower."

That was when Malcolm finally noticed she was flushed in the face and slurring.

She couldn't believe she hadn't figured it out before. Every time she partied, the threads of people's thoughts grew softer, easier to grab without hurting herself on the edge of a particularly rough memory or painful experience. Every other time she'd tried to pull out of someone's mind, she failed, but she'd been sober all of those times. "I mean, it makes sense. We are--" HIC, "related. Here, I'll prove it! Everybody think of the worst thing you can!"

Just like last time in the classroom, everyone offered their most painful memories or most insidious visions. But now, the influx of thoughts didn't pour into Chloe against her will. Now, she was able to feel around their edges, avoid the ones she wished not to engage with, and reach around them for anything else she wanted--say, for instance, Malcolm's answers to the recent pop quiz they'd had in History of American Vigilantism, which he had failed so hard.

"See? I'm fine."

"Can we really let you come to a fight drunk, though?" asked Malcolm.

"We'll all have her back, right?" said Gina.

Malcolm picked up a bottle of whiskey. "I guess we'll have to take this for the road."

"Still shoplifting liquor, I see," Gina commented. "Is that gonna be a problem later on down the line in your hero career?"

"I doubt it. Big Tech's stolen millions and nobody talks about it anymore. All they're asking is whether Bombshell has to wipe his ass for him." Malcolm nudged Chloe and smirked. "I'll betcha twenty bucks she does."

Chloe shook her head. "Bidet. Duh. Arright everyone...let's move out!"

***

"Forty bucks for a tank of gas," Gina muttered under her breath as she let herself back into the driver's seat of Chloe's car and keyed the engine back to life. "Where's Fireball when ya need him?"

"So who exactly is this Fireball guy?" asked Elisa, up in the shotgun seat.

"Chloe's cousin, the mercenary," explained Malcolm. "He works for the military. They forcefeed him a fifth of liquor, drop him in a combat zone, and three days later, the gas prices go down."

"His powers are dependent on him bein' plastered. Guess it runs in the--" HIC, "--family," drawled Chloe. She squirmed in her seat to lay her head on Heather's shoulder, pressed delightfully between the blubbery beauty's to roly-poly side and Malcolm's modest but still deliciously soft love handle. "Man...now is suuuuch a bad time for me to be getting horny," she chastised herself.

Heather shrugged. "It's not like we can help it that we're sexy."

"Do you guys think I could ever be's bad as Fireball?"

"What? No!" said Heather. "You're a rogue at heart, and he's the military's dog. When he gets debauched, it's to murder women and children overseas. You're doing it to save lives."

"So you really think the buncha us can pull this off?" asked Chloe. "Or's there still time t'call Bombshell?"

Elisa turned to stare seriously at the three in the back. "When I was locked up with Ben, do you know what he told us, in case any of us managed to escape? He didn't say to call Bombshell, or call Big Tech, or call Evergreen. He said go to Bellvue to get help. He believed in his friends. He believed in you."

Heather scoffed. "How sweet. But I am Evergreen...just in case you were wondering."

Gina pulled into a parking lot surrounded by historic-looking buildings with facades of greying brick. "I don't know what y'all believe, but if you have a God, say your prayers, 'cause we're here."

***

Get knocked out. Wake up strapped to a table. Get knocked back out. Wake up in a cell. Get knocked back out. Wake up strapped to a table…

It was all becoming rather monotonous for Felicity.

Yesterday, the shakes and sweats had finally come to an end. She had already anticipated being taken out of general holding, as the others before her had been once they'd survived the virus. Today, she was somewhere cleaner than the Rivington lab, better lit, and yet, strapped to another table. As she came to, she was overcome by the strangest sense that she was waiting for...something.

On the wall to her right was a large, darkly tinted mirror: one-way glass, no doubt. On her left, as well as in front of her, were blank walls, the door to her back.

The creak of hinges from behind barely startled her. She had been through Hell; what was another ring of fire or two? "She's been selectively suppressed for flight and strength, but other than that, she's conscious and ready for assessment," she overheard a voice say in the hall. "Dr. Cohen, why don't you go on in and see if you can find anything else in her power set?"

Wait...what?

Slow, tentative footsteps made their way down the room and toward her, until their owner stepped out from behind her hospital cot. The woman's tall, slender frame and tight bun of blonde hair was identical to Felicity's. Their gray-blue eyes were the same. "M-mom?"

The ambient temperature in the room suddenly plummeted. 'Am….am I doing that?' Felicity wondered.

She had never given much thought to what her parents did for a living. Her father was a statistician. Her mother was involved in some kind of research. That was all she had ever cared to know.

"Felicity, you have to understand--!"

"No. You threw me out. You hate us Deviants. You can't be working for the Division!"

Mrs. Cohen's eyes began to water. 'Oh, I'm sorry, it's Dr. Cohen,' thought Felicity sardonically. "Darling…" Felicity's mother smoothed a hand down her hair. Wish though she did that she could recoil, she was strapped in for the ride. "I had to send you away. If my employers found out I had a Deviant for a daughter, they'd have forced me to let them study you for their current project. How did you ever get mixed up with it anyway?"

A nerve flinched in Felicity's clenched jaw. "I was trying to save lives, Mother. What's your excuse?"

"We only meant to do good," her mother said in pleading tones. "To protect Americans!"

"By turning other Americans into lab rats?! People are being killed!"

"Progress has always meant breaching uncharted territory. There are going to be risks."

"THOSE RISKS HAVE NAMES!" shrieked Felicity. "What's going to happen to Ben?"

"He'll be fine, so long as he cooperates with Joe."

She was lying. Something in the air tipped Felicity off, as if she'd gained an additional sense. "Tell me the truth!"

Her mother's eyes glazed over as if she was held in a trance. "He's already fallen out of favor with my colleague. If he's lucky, he'll be killed quickly once they bleed him dry of any material they can use."

No. Not her loyal one-man entourage, her favorite playmate, the only real person in a life that had grown increasingly fake since powers and popularity entered the picture.

The doctor shook off her fog, disoriented for a moment before she remembered where she was. "Felicity...that was amazing! And who knows what other new powers you've acquired! If we work together, I'm sure we can bust you out of here!"

"And why the fuck should I ever trust you again?"

Suddenly, her mother's head spun 180 degrees and she collapsed on the linoleum, dead. Behind her, the door burst open with a mighty slam and before she could make head or tails of what was happening, there was a needle in her neck.
 

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