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Envy and the Gilded Cage, Part 1

by Dr. Bender

a Whateley Universe tale

 

Chapter 1

“Alan Bartol?”

“Yes.”

“Darren Loganecker?”

“Here.”

“Elinor Ostlund?”

“Present.”

“Emilia Dumire?”

“Here.”

“Eric Temple?”

“Yeah.”

“Fino Valocco?”

“Present,” I answered, my voice carrying the same curious inflection unique to high school students that seemed to intimate a strange combination of boredom and nervousness. As my homeroom teacher rattled off the names of my fellow inmates in a neutral monotone, I mused that I could defy anyone to find a high school student that actually wanted to be in a classroom surrounded by what was in effect a bunch of complete strangers who seemed to suffer from MPD.

As usual, I took to doodling faux thaumaturgical formulae on the back of my notebook while the daily newsletter was passed around. Keeping my hands busy prevented me from fidgeting with the added benefit of distracting me from my troubles. That particular morning, I had a lot of troubles to face.

My full proper name was Serafino Sophia Valocco, though I insisted on using the short form of my first name and kept my mouth shut about the second. This was partially a precautionary measure to make me hard to track by magical means and partly to escape the inevitable derision if anyone discovered I had a girl’s name.

Secrets weren’t my biggest problems that morning, however. We were in the middle of May with the summer holidays looming on the horizon. That meant final exams, grueling study, assessment projects, and last but not least, Junior Prom. Being an ‘A’ student I wasn’t as worried about the first three, though they preyed on my mind, but I was petrified of the last and for the life of me I couldn’t think of a single girl that might let me take her to the dance.

For starters I’d never been that attractive. I was the sort of doughy Italian-American boy that looks like he’s been hit in the face with a shovel. Not ugly or obese, really, but plain, even without my glasses. I’d also been well entrenched in the weirdo-slash-goth-slash-nerd bracket thanks to little things like drawing fake magic circles on my books and reading more than my fair share of supernatural romances.

What I didn’t know when the bell rang to signal the start of first period was that I was about to begin one of the worst days in my entire life.

My first class that day was gym. I forgot to mention my other failing too: my complete lack of coordination. The moment coach blew his whistle and told us to get our lily-white asses out onto the basketball court, I knew I was doomed. When I saw Kristen Bell, Amy Long and Tamika Hall whispering to each other from the other court where the girls were playing, I said goodbye to my chances of getting a date. Word of the accident that was about to befall me would spread through the school the way syphilis spread through the football team.

Sure enough, five minutes into the game, I was hanging around mid-field trying to stay out of the melee when Donald Hancock passed the ball over my head to Trent Stephens. “Heads up!” Trent shouted while I span around just in time to catch the ball with my face. I didn’t even feel myself hit the ground.

I opened my eyes, disoriented and trying to remember what had happened, to find Coach Feldman shouting into my face. Problem was, I couldn’t hear what he was saying and his beet-red face struck my addled brain as funny for some reason.

“…now get on your feet and get back into the game!” He finished, storming off without realizing I’d hardly heard a word he’d said to me. Feldman was an old-school ‘what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger’, ‘shame is the best motivator’ type. Unfortunately for my own sake, I couldn’t stop chortling, yelling that hard made his head look like an eggplant. Rounding on me just as I managed to wobble to my feet, glasses in hand, he shouted right in my face again. “You think I’m funny, gawd dammit? Let’s see if you still have breath enough to laugh after doing fifty on the sidelines! NOW!”

I managed to hide my smile. Fifty push-ups wasn’t going to be a cake walk but it beat getting knocked on my ass, so I set to it with just enough gusto that I wouldn’t be done until the end of the game. Fortunately, I was out of shape enough to convincingly pull off taking half an hour to do fifty push-ups. What joy I could derive from that small concession was ruined, however, when I noticed the girls giggling at me behind their hands. It just got worse when Philip Tiller thought it would be funny to step on my back on the way to the locker room while Coach’s back was turned. He even timed it so that I was at the peak of my extension and copped yet another blow to the face as my hands slipped out from under me. Sighing, all I did was check that my glasses were all right, thanked whatever gods were listening that I’d had the foresight to get memory metal frames and finished off the last few push ups before returning to the locker room, feeling like my arms were made of lead.

Naturally it was an ambush. Trent and Donald grabbed my arms and Phil immobilized my legs so he could pants me. Then they shut me in a broom cupboard by jamming the handle with a chair and threw my bag out one of the high windows, with my clothes, shoes, and phone along with it.

Strangely calm once I’d come down from the adrenaline-fueled ‘fight or flight’ reaction, I took a deep breath and let out an extended long-suffering sigh. Lacking pants, possessions or the means to call for help, I set to shaking the door handle and pounding on the barrier vigorously, hoping to shake the chair loose or call attention to my plight. I got lucky. They’d done a sloppy job of jamming the door, and the chair fell away on my fourth attempt.

The weakness in their plan was the assumption that I’d be too embarrassed to walk through the school corridors in nothing but briefs. What they failed to take into account was that after a certain level of humiliation and embarrassment, such things cease to matter, particularly after you’ve been sconed twice in the headmeat. So it was that I showed up at the infirmary half naked and bleeding from a cut to the forehead that I hadn’t noticed. I told Nurse Gibson everything while she cleaned and bandaged the superficial cut (which bled profusely like all head wounds do) then she passed everything on to the deputy principal while the groundskeepers found my belongings.

I didn’t really think about the consequences of telling on the three boys when the staffers sent me off to the cafeteria after the lunch bell rang and Nurse Gibson was satisfied that I didn’t have a concussion. So it was that I slunk, dejected and injured, into the cafeteria to obtain some edible objects that barely contained nutrition and hopefully hide in a dark corner to buy time to get my act together. I blame being punch drunk for what happened next.

I think it’s a symptom of how insane teenagers are that my first priority was who to ask out to the prom. Halfway through lunch I’d cooked up some half-baked plan to leverage the bandage on my head for sympathy when I noticed Lisa Hong and her friends glancing my way and giggling. That’s when my ‘brillient’ idea struck me.

Lisa Hong was just right. She wasn’t one of the pretty crowd but she wasn’t on the ‘I’d rather die’ list. And no, I’m not just talking about looks, Amanda Mons would have been a sure fire date if I would only ask but she had a voice like nails grating down a chalkboard, peppered her conversation with racist comments, and let everyone know exactly what she thought of them at high volume. Lisa was the smart nerd type, complete with glasses, acne and bracers, but I could have a conversation with her on about the same intellectual level and we got on well enough doing class projects together. We weren’t friends - I didn’t have any female friends - but I figured I had a shot.

Next thing I knew, my feet had taken me over to her table without bothering to inform my brain, thus my tongue wasn’t exactly prepared for speech when it came time to flap my gums. “Ah-bleh-bler… er… um… hi, Lisa,” I greeted, flushed with embarrassment while her friends giggled at me. Fortunately, she seemed to be at the same loss for words as I was. “Oh… er… hi, Fino,” she answered.

“Look, uh,” I mumbled, wringing my hands behind my back, “I was just wondering… I mean, if you wouldn’t mind… if you’re going… if I could, um, maybe, take you to the dance? Imeanifyou’renotgoingwithsomeoneelse.”

It took a moment for my question to sink in but my ego took a hit when she visibly winced. “Oh! No! I mean, er, sorry, I can’t go with you.”

Slumping slightly, I sighed, scratching my head. “Oh, er, ok, sorry. Um… if you don’t mind… could you at least tell me why?”

She looked at me like I was retarded and talking another language. “You mean you don’t know?”

I blinked, totally confused. “Know what?” Leaning over, she took her phone out of her handbag. It was a fancy one that had a proper screen and let you surf the internet. She tapped the screen with the stylus a few times before holding a picture out to show me.

I recognized myself immediately. The situation I was in, my arms and neck immobilized, pantless, someone holding my legs, in the locker room, all that was familiar, though my memory of the moment was a blur. I didn’t remember anyone taking pictures but then I was panicking at the time. And I certainly hadn’t known that my underwear had slipped down a bit in the excitement. All the faces in the picture had been blurred except for mine but someone had drawn a helpful red circle around my exposed privates with a line that pointed to the word ‘tinydick’ crudely scrawled with a mouse in some photo editing program.

“Someone put it up on the web,” Lisa informed me, “everyone’s seen it.”

She didn’t actually say that she couldn’t go out with me because doing so would be social suicide but I took the hint. I died a little on the inside when I walked away from that table and the girls immediately burst into a fit of giggles along with half the cafeteria. I’m proud to say I didn’t cry or run but for all practical purposes, I fled to the library and found a quiet corner to curl up in and brood.

Mrs. Russo, the librarian, found me and called the deputy principal again. The deputy principal collected me, excused me from classes and put me in a quiet room while they tried to call my mother. Of course, she wasn’t answering her phone, a fact I was wholeheartedly glad for. It didn’t fully dawn on me, however, until the final bell rang and remembered that she’d promised to pick me up at three thirty on the dot. Panic broke me out of my reverie.

It was imperative that my mother should not find out about my day. This one fact burned in my brain as I snuck out of the main office and into the men’s rest room. Appearance become my first priority. I got rid of the bandage, making sure the cut wasn’t about to seep. I could explain that with a simple ‘I fell over, I’m such a klutz, durrrr’ excuse. The rumpled state of my clothes was an easy fix, all I had to do was straighten my tie, adjust my belt and tuck in my shirt but my dark, sunken, eyes were another matter entirely. I splashed water in my face, hopped up and down to get my circulation going and forced myself to smile – anything that might improve my mood enough to pass as tired and bored rather than desolate and depressed. With that done, I climbed out the window to avoid notice by the authorities.

I arrived at the parking lot wearing a mask of forced cheerfulness, hoping beyond hope that Mom would just accept my prepared story of a boring day at school without questioning me too closely. Unfortunately, she blindsided me unintentionally by pulling into the school in the black Lamborghini Gallardo rather than the less conspicuous Rolls Royce like I thought she would. By the time she pulled up to the curb, we’d attracted the attention of just about everyone in a hundred yard radius. Then she opened the door and stepped out.

Let’s be clear about this: Monica Belluci wishes she looked like my mother. I can say this without bias as a son that has no sexual interest in my own mother. Stiletto heels made her long, shapely, legs lethal at twenty paces, particularly combined with the dress that was slit high enough up the thigh and low enough at the front to be scandalously tantalizing without being obscene (telling me louder than words that she was at least trying to keep low key). When she walked, every man with line of sight followed the sway of her curves, and no few women either. She was feminine, mysterious, and exotic, oozing enough sexuality to reduce any man to a drooling blob of flesh.

“There you are, darling!” She greeted, hugging me enthusiastically and arousing the jealously of every man present. I love my mother with all my heart but hugging in public wasn’t a cool teenager thing to do, so I returned the hug with much less enthusiasm. “I thought I’d give us a bit of a treat and brought the Gallardo… hopefully there’s enough boot space in this thing,” she said, holding my shoulders at arms length which was how she noticed the cut on my forehead. “Oh dear! What happened to you?”

I tried to give her an embarrassed grin. It wasn’t hard. “Oh, it’s nothing, I fell over on my way to class. You know me, two left feet…”

“MRS. VALOCCO!”

The shout interrupted me and I cursed. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the Principal, Mrs. Norman, trotting across the schoolyard to intercept, waving at us with a sheaf of papers. I cursed inwardly as she came to a halt a few feet away, breathing hard. “Phew, I’m glad I caught you! I just wanted to assure you, Mrs. Valocco, that we are doing everything in our power to find out who is responsible for all of this!”

Mom’s eyes narrowed. “All of what exactly?”

I held my face in my hands, not wanting to see the beginning of what Mrs. Norman had unknowingly unleashed.

 

Chapter 2

“Names!” Mom demanded as we sped down the highway without much regard to the speed limit.

“Mom, slow down, we really don’t want to have a run in with the cops right now…”

“Don’t you dare try to deflect me,” she growled, gripping the wheel with white knuckles, “you will give me the name of every single person involved, starting with that pig of a coach. I’m going to get HELLENISTIC on his ass.”

“Look, Mom, I know you care but, seriously, I can handle this myself…”

“No, you can’t, this offence cannot be ignored. The worst any authority can do is give these cretins a slap on the wrist. After what they did to you, these people deserve to SUFFER and I swear upon the souls of our ancestors that I will be the instrument of retribution!”

The cold sinking feeling in my stomach told me that this whole thing had gone too far already. Mom’s accent was getting thicker, a sure sign that her rage was getting the better of her. The forecast for tomorrow was pain accompanied by light showers of blood. “Please, mom,” I begged, “I really don’t want to have to move again. Please?”

“It is too late for that, my child. If you won’t give me the names willingly, I WILL use the truth serum on you again. Are we clear, young man?”

I gulped. “I’ll tell you… but I have one condition.”

“Name it.”

“Promise me you won’t hurt anyone,” I demanded.

She scowled. “Define ‘hurt’.”

“Promise that you won’t kill or permanently injure anyone involved, physically, mentally or spiritually.”

I had been planning my ‘worse case scenario’ contingency in my head since the end of lunch. It wasn’t perfect but I could make sure nobody died this time. When Mom smiled, the sinking feeling plummeted down to the Earth’s core. She reached over and squeezed my shoulder tenderly.

“That’s my clever boy,” she purred, “after all; there are fates so much worse than death.”

The insane glint in her eye did not make me feel better.

Not long after that exchange I gained a new appreciation for the Gallardo’s design standards when I noticed a large black SUV with heavily tinted windows change lanes with us as we sped down the highway. “Woah. Mom, we’ve got a tail.”

“I see him, sweetie, he’s been with us since we left school,” she answered, moving off down the next exit ramp. The SUV followed, which wasn’t the smartest move in the world if he wanted to remain inconspicuous. A few minutes later, he turned off only to be replaced by a metallic blue sedan no more than a block later.

“They know where I go to school?” I asked rhetorically, hearing the note of panic in my own voice. “Who do you think they are? MCO?”

“The MCO would have just kidnapped you to force me out into the open. No, I think we have the honour of being tailed by the FBI. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to belong to the Foolish Bureau of Idiots. Be a honey and get mommy’s special phone out of the glove compartment would you?”

Ignoring the fact that ‘mommy’s special phone’ sounded like a code phrase for a vibrator, I opened up the glove compartment and retrieved the specially issued Syndicate Communicator from under a stack of maps. Handing it to her, she quickly keyed a number into the keypad and pressed dial. It only took a few seconds for someone to pick up on the other end.

“Hi Paulitto, sorry I have to get right to the point, I have some Frequent Buttsex Initiators on my tail and, naturally, that’s the last place where I’d like them to be. No, that’s ok, I have some anger to work out so I’m happy to deal with it myself but you wouldn’t happen to know where a girl might find a nice, private, spot for some one-on-one time with some special friends would you? ‘Joey Hung’s Cash Your Crash Emporium’, got it. By the way, the Famous But Incompetent bastards were waiting for me outside my son’s school…”

Mom had to hold the phone away from her ear as Uncle Paulitto shouted some sudden expletives. “I agree; could you put the word out? You’re a peach, Paulitto; give my love to Annette. Bye.”

She hung up and handed me the communicator. I kept it out just in case. “Uh, won’t a shoot-out with the cops attract some heroes, mom?” I asked, worried for her. I didn’t have to worry about her, she can more than take care of herself, but I still worried.

“Only if they manage to call for help,” she answered, giving me a fleeting grin, “but honestly I don’t rate their chances. Now, do you have your mask and charm bracelet?”

I pulled up the arm of my long sleeved shirt to show off the charm bracelet she’d given me. A simple little amulet imbued with a very complex series of protection spells that did everything from concealing my identity to deflecting bullets; great for gunfights, lousy against school bullies. I had to get the mask from a secret compartment in the back of my bag. It wasn’t magical but it was far from ordinary, what looked like opaque spandex contained sophisticated flexible circuitry and a miniaturized kinetic battery, providing air filtration and several enhanced vision modes. Mom activated her costume amulet while I pulled the mask over my head as we simultaneously pulled into Joey Hung’s; the Fucking Ballbreaking Imbeciles pulled up outside the gates, still trying to be inconspicuous.

“Now you know the drill, right?” Mom asked, her hooded cape shadowing her face except for the flash of yellow eyes. Her costume was mostly composed of her dark grey robes and cape with a hood that made her look kind of owl-ish. Her code name, Strega, was the modern Italian word for witch that placed its etymology in the Latin ‘strix’, a vampiric monster that screeched like a barn owl. In costume, her skin was luminescently pale compared to her usual olive complexion and when she leant over to kiss me on the forehead, I could see that her lips were ruby red.

“Don’t struggle, keep my mouth shut and do everything the nice men with guns tell me to,” I repeated the rule to reassure her that I wouldn’t do anything stupid.

“That’s my boy,” she encouraged me, smiling tenderly. Then she opened the door of the Gallardo and slipped outside, disappearing in the maze of wrecked cars and piles of junk. I’m not really religious but I said a prayer after her before getting down to business.

Step one, get out of the car. I’d gotten a whiff of the junkyard when mom had opened the door but I wasn’t prepared for the unique aroma that reminded me to turn on the mask’s air filtration unit. Breathing much easier, I picked my way over the uneven muddy ground of the clearing that surrounded the main office so that I was clearly visible in the fading light away from the car and put my hands up in the air. Like all good mafia wreckers, I was surrounded by twenty foot high walls of compacted cars, practically ensuring privacy.

I’ll give them one thing, the Freakish Bozo Impersonators know how to make an entrance. The blue sedan sped through the gate first, followed closely by the black SUV and a white van emblazoned with logos for Antonio’s Plumbers. The sedan and the SUV blocked off the Gallardo while the van came to a screeching halt in front of me, two agents in black suits jumping out of the cars to secure the Gallardo while another got out from the van while waving a Glock in my general direction.

“FBI!” He identified himself. “Hands behind your head and get on your knees!”

I groaned but complied, sinking at least an inch into the muck. If you’ve ever seen the price of a school uniform you’d understand, my trousers were going to be ruined. The agent cuffed me before roughly hauling me over to shove me up against the van and search me. Pro tip if you’re ever in a similar situation: don’t be a smart ass. Cops hate smart asses.

The guys at the car gave the all clear and the back of the van opened up, the Special Agent in Charge emerging with a couple more heavies to complete the perimeter along with the token female agent. She was probably along for the ride so that they could arrest my mother without provoking a sexual harassment lawsuit. The Special Agent made a bee line right for me, glancing askance at the guy who was patting me down.

“He’s clean,” the agent informed, confiscating the Syndicate Communicator before taking a step back.

The guy in charge showed me his ID, the photo of a lantern-jawed man with immaculately cropped brown hair matching the face next to it. “Special Agent Rick Mason,” He introduced himself. “I only have one question for you, kid. Where’s your mother?”

I did as I was told and kept my mouth shut. Internally, however, with my cheek up against the cold metal plate of the van, I had to wonder who designated today to be National Pick On Fino Day and why hadn’t they informed me so that I could have stayed in bed.

Scowling at my obstinate silence, Agent Mason looked to his subordinate. “Get this fucking mask off the little prick.”

The other agent, who was older, glanced at me before he answered. “Sir, we don’t have the right to reveal his identity in public.”

Growling, the Special Agent proved just how ‘special’ he was by ripping the mask up over my head and shoving my back up against the van. “Just answer the question,” he came close to shouting in my face, “where is your fucking mother?”

My lips were sealed and the other agents were looking distinctly uncomfortable with Mason’s violation of the identity protection laws. If someone photographed me like this and the picture got out to the media, my life wouldn’t be worth squat.

Mason’s gun came out, his eyes as cold as ice as he shoved the barrel in my face.

“Sir?” The older agent asked in protest.

“Shut the fuck up and watch the perimeter. You see anything out there, put a bullet in it,” Mason answered, keeping his eyes on me. “You know what your mom did, you little shit? You know the name Nathan Wallace O’Neil?”

I nodded, technically keeping my mouth shut. Nathan O’Neil, the only cop my mother ever killed. A hero cop who manifested nullifier powers and became a vigilante on his time off. Called to the scene of one of mom’s capers, he’d lost his partner so he could change into costume and leap in to save the day. Mom took his partner’s gun and shot him in the face. The irony was if the idiot hadn’t been a nullifier, mom could have neutralized them both without killing anyone.

“All right, then you know she’s got this coming. I want you to call her on that freak phone of yours and tell her what will happen if she doesn’t give herself up.”

Taking the communicator off the older agent, he held it up to my face. Looking him in the eye, I kept my hands behind my back and remained silent. He punched me in the stomach.

“Fuck,” the older agent swore, turning away as if not looking would make what Mason did go away.

“If you don’t speak, I swear I’m going to put a bullet in you,” Mason continued, holding me up with the pistol’s muzzle pressed against my chest.

“You know you’re all dead if you do that,” I wheezed, deciding that not tempting the crazy ass gunman was the more prudent course of action. “Are the rest of you just going to let him do this?”

None of them answered. None of them looked. And they wonder why nobody likes the FBI.

“The way I see things, little man, we’re off the radar,” Mason answered me. “We know this place is run by your mom’s mob friends. Plenty of bodies under all this junk, one more won’t make much difference. You know what I think? I think your precious mother will just let you take the heat for this. You’re a minor, all you’ve got to look forward to is an extended stay in juvie. Two more years and you’re eighteen and out on your own recognizance. Or maybe she’ll just let me shoot you. You’re a squib, right? Maybe mommy’s next kid will be a proper freak just like her.”

Pure hatred manifests in people differently. I don’t do the burning rage thing, I go cold, like my heart’s pumping ice water. It’s something mom and I share.

“Tell you what,” Mason said, pulling back the hammer of his plastic gun, as he lowered the muzzle down to my leg, “let’s see how devoted mommy is to you, really.”

The gun went off. Fortunately Mason was flying thirty feet across the yard before hitting the mud, making an impact crater like a meteorite. I hit the dirt and rolled under the car as the rest of the agents opened fire at nothing but shadows, discarding my handcuffs. I’d picked them with the piece of wire I keep in my sleeve; handcuffs are ludicrously easy if you know the trick to it.

I want to make it clear that my mom doesn’t usually kill cops. In fact, she’s killed people just for trying to kill cops on her capers. Mason and his team had made it clear that we weren’t playing by the rules, however, so much so I had to wonder if they weren’t going for death by supervillain. If they were, they got their wish.

The driver of the sedan died first when a nearby stack of wrecked cars toppled over, crushing him inside. Assorted junk pelted the agents from the pile, obscuring their vision. A particularly sharp piece of jagged metal decapitated one of the men before turning in a long arc and lodging in the chest of a second, felling them both. Panicking, the driver of the SUV threw it into reverse and sped backward, right into a patch of ground that suddenly dissolved into quicksand, sucking him under inside the car in a matter of seconds.

The agents that were left regrouped around the van, with the driver frantically trying to start it back up without success. The older agent was shouting into his radio but wasn’t getting anything but static. “Shit, shit, shit! Where’s the kid?”

Nobody had time to answer before the driver of the van started screaming, the vehicle rocking over my head as something big growled and roared in the compartment, tearing the man to pieces. Still panicking, the agents unloaded their guns into whatever was killing him to no avail. In the excitement, it took a few seconds to notice that one of them was writhing on the ground vomiting scorpions.

There were three agents left standing: the older one, the female and a guy in mirror shades. They were panicking, trying to cover every angle at once, when mom decided to get her hands dirty. Fading into existence out of thin air behind Mirror Shades, she slid her fingers through his back and pulled his heart out. Older Guy noticed a little too late. She was under his guard before he could get his gun around. Cradling his head in her hands, her long-nailed thumbs slid into his eye sockets with little resistance, his skull seemingly imploding as mom’s spell drained his memories. That left little Miss Shaky-knees still standing. I’ll say this for her; she managed to keep her gun steady as she levelled it at mom’s chest.

The whole owl thing mom’s got going on doesn’t seem so scary. It’s not like The Necromancer’s biomantic armour, for instance. Mom also plays up her sexuality to the max as well with the dangerously sexy femme fatale thing. Owls, however, are still predators and when she turns on the intimidation factor there’s maybe a handful of people in the whole world that wouldn’t shit bricks. FBI lady wasn’t one of them.

“Don’t move,” FBI girl managed to command in an uneven tone. I think she was hoping that her gun would at least buy her time to come up with a real plan. Brave, if stupid.

Mom’s eyes flashed yellow as she caught the agent’s gaze. “Agent Belinda Cory Straghton,” mom purred, “you don’t want to shoot me, do you?”

She blinked, suddenly seeming confused and unfocused. “No,” she answered, her voice almost wistful. The gun fell from Belinda’s limp hands as mom sashayed towards her, sliding her hands around the agent’s waist as she pulled her into an embrace. Their lips met, the suddenly pliable agent responding enthusiastically to the kiss, moaning rapturously. She squeaked a few times before collapsing from overstimulation, and mom laid her down gently next to the van.

Finally she turned to where Mason was scrabbling through the mud, having woken moments before and searching for his gun. Perhaps he was too injured to run or maybe too stupid. Mom wouldn’t have had a bar of it either way, stalking towards him with the implacable grace of a hunting cat.

One kick rolled him over onto his back so mom could place the stiletto heel of her thigh high boots onto his neck. The heel had been crafted into a deadly point while the toes had retractable talons, serving both a practical purpose and enhancing the whole owl motif she was going for. Mason took the hint and froze in place.

As it turns out, Mason had a solid set of balls on him, trying to talk his way out. “If you kill me…”

“Don’t you dare speak to me,” mom interrupted. “I have something to say before you die. You can call me whatever names you like. You can shoot at me, you can hound me, you can vilify me and maybe, one day, you can kill me. But nobody, and I mean nobody, questions my dedication to my SON!”

Mason started to shrink. Slowly, so that he knew exactly what was happening and could savour every moment of his demise. He ended up only a few inches tall before mom put her weight down and crushed him into the mud. There was a lot of screaming. With the job done, mom wiped the sole before coming back to help me out from under the van, letting me rest against it as she lifted my sodden shirt.

“Are you ok, sweetie?” She asked with concern clear in her voice. “I’m so sorry; I didn’t think they were going to hurt you…”

“I’ll be ok, mom,” I gasped as she probed the bruise, trying to man up and take it, “you couldn’t have known. What the fuck was wrong with that Mason guy?”

“Language, young man,” mom said automatically as she retrieved some healing balm from her belt and started applying it to my stomach. “Agent Tilley seemed to think that Mason might be a plant from Humanity First! These anti-mutant groups are amazingly well funded, it’s not implausible. The good news is that they were only following an anonymous tip that I was going to be at St. Andrew’s, they backtracked the Gallardo’s plates to connect me to the ‘Amanda Shaw’ identity. Everyone who knows about you is either dead or…”

We both turned to look at Belinda where she lay unconscious on the ground. Sighing, I tried not to blush but failed. “Awww, another one, mom?”

“You can have her if you want.”

“EWWW! Mom, she’s, like, how much older than me?”

“I can fix that…”

“Woah!” I grabbed mom’s hand before she could cast the spell. “No, mom, please. I want my first time to be… you know… special. With someone I like.”

Smiling, mom gave me a hug. “One of these days, Serafino, I’m going to figure out exactly what you’re looking for in a girl.”

I want to be clear again that I had exactly zero sexual interest in my mother, as hard as that might be for most heterosexual males to believe. I wasn’t gay either, despite what you’re probably thinking. When you have a mother like mine, though, every other girl in the world just seems… lacking. Standing there in her arms, I remembered what Mason had said. It was an old wound and suddenly, as the adrenaline ebbed and the events of the day caught up with me, his words cut me to my core. “Mom,” I croaked, a tear rolling down my cheek as my head rested on her shoulder, “I’m sorry I’m a squib.”

“Shhhhh,” Mom whispered into my ear, stroking my hair comfortingly, “you’re my son, that’s all that matters. Call my son a squib… I should find J.K. Rowling and kill her too.”

 

Chapter 3

“I told you we were going too far,” Donald Hancock grumbled as he, Philip Tiller, and Trent Stephens cooled their heels in the waiting room outside the principal’s office.

“Shut the fuck up,” Phil growled. “Jesus, don’t be such a pussy.”

“Besides, you were laughing your ass off,” Trent observed.

“Locking someone up in a closet without pants? Kinda funny,” Donald answered. “Posting a picture of his wiener up on the net? Dude, that’s gay.”

Phil was halfway out of his seat before he remembered where he was and sat back down. “Look, are we gonna have an issue Donald? I swear if you say a fucking word…”

The door to Principal Norman’s office swung open, interrupting them. “Boys,” Norman’s voice called to them from the room beyond, “get in here, now.”

Shuffling into the room, the three boys formed a line in front of the principal’s desk, her high-backed chair facing away from them towards the window which presented a nice view of Boston beyond. All three jumped when the door suddenly snapped shut behind them as if an invisible hand had slammed it closed.

“Do any of you three boys have an explanation for me?” Mrs. Norman asked, though she kept her chair turned away from them so they couldn’t see her at all.

Trent, the weasel that he was, grinned. “About what Mrs. Norman?” He asked ingenuously.

“About the picture of Mr. Valocco that you posted on the internet under a false name, Mr. Stephens.”

Blinking, Trent almost forgot himself. “But… ur… what picture?”

A sudden, sharp, ‘thwack’ sound like the impact of a cane against flesh emanated from Trent’s buttock region, the boy jumped at least a foot in the air with tears in his eyes. “OW! Goddamnit!”

“What the fuck?” Phil asked a moment before receiving the same treatment. “AARGH! Crazy bitch! What the fuck was that?”

Realizing that something was very wrong, Donald ran for the door, finding it jammed shut.

“You can forget trying to leave here, Mr. Hancock,” Mrs. Norman purred, “not until I’ve had my way with you all.”

The chair turned smoothly, revealing someone that wasn’t Mrs. Norman sitting in her chair. The sight of the shapely figure’s distinctive grey cape, under which lay a grey bodysuit with a plunging neckline, thigh high boots tipped with stiletto talons and flashing yellow eyes was all too familiar, however. The sight of the Strega provoked enough terror that all three adolescent boys screamed like little girls.

“SILENCE!” Strega commanded.

All three boys’ mouths snapped shut in unison.

“That’s better,” Strega purred. “From the sounds of things, you boys had no idea that Fino Valocco was connected, did you?”

Phil went pale, his jaw dropping back open. “C-connected?”

“Associated,” Strega answered, lithely standing to bring her full height to bear against the boys, who were shorter than she. “A made man.”

“Fino? ARRRGH!” Trent’s question was swiftly answered by another invisible blow to the buttocks.

“Now, he could have had you all sent to sleep with the fishes,” Strega explained, smiling, “but no, he said. Better to just let it slide for the sake of the family. After all, what’s a little youthful exuberance between classmates?”

All three boys suddenly grinned and nodded eagerly.

“NO!” Strega shouted, slamming her fist down on the desk and making all three jump. “After all, if we let someone mess with one of us, where does it end? You and others like you might think it’s ok to do these things. Well, boys, I’m here to tell you that it is not. You have accrued a debt that must be repaid. I am here to collect it.”

Reaching into her cloak, Strega pulled forth a Tupperware container with tiny holes drilled through the lid. Something was banging against it from the inside, trying to get the boys attention as it waved frantically. Curious, the boys leant closer, peering through the clear plastic. They gasped in turn as the recognized the figure of Coach Feldman, only an inch tall and begging for help.

“Let me be clear that the only reason any of you are still alive is because Fino begged for leniency on your behalf,” she explained, “by all rights I should be building a suspension bridge out of your intestines, but he made me promise that I would do no permanent harm to you or your families. I hope that makes you appreciate that every moment of your lives from this point forward is a gift of mercy from him but I’ll leave you all to mull that one over. What I want to know right now is which one of you took the picture?”

Philip immediately pointed at Donald. “It was him!”

Donald gaped, staring at Phil incredulously. “You fucking…”

“It was,” Trent said, backing up Phil’s lie. “He made me put it on the ‘net too.”

Strega slammed her fist down on the desk again, sending Coach Feldman sprawling inside his container. “LIARS! Pathetic little worms like the two of you are exactly the sort of scum I truly detest, too mediocre to either accept your fate or to truly reject it. You connive and scheme, happy to allow others to suffer in your stead. No, you will not escape today and I swear that your pain will be like nothing any man has ever experienced.”

Opening the lid of the Tupperware container a crack, Phil and Trent screamed again. A great wind sucked them inside as they shrank down to Coach Feldman’s size, entrapping them the same way. All three tiny figures grabbed their ears as Strega re-sealed the container, the seemingly benign ‘pop’ of the lid obviously deafening to their tiny ears. “You three can wait in there, I’ll get to you later.”

Donald gulped, shaking and sweating in the grip of terror like he’d never experienced before. “What are you going to do to me?”

Stepping around the desk, Strega approached him in her usual seductive strut that made the inexperienced boy shy away and peer intently at the ceiling. Her hand grasped his jaw with surprising strength as she forced him to look her in the eye. “Do you understand that I could kill you or worse right now?”

“Yes,” Donald gasped, his throat suddenly dry, sure he was staring into the face of death herself.

“Do you understand that you exist only by the grace of Fino’s mercy?”

“Yes!” Donad answered, crying as he tried desperately not to wet his pants.

“Are you sorry for what you did?”

“I-I thought it was just a practical joke,” Donald explained, babbling, “I didn’t know Phil was going to take a picture like that. We were just going to lock him in the closet but then Phil’s grabbing his pants… I couldn’t stop them… I’m sorry; I didn’t think it would go that far or I never would have…”

“Shhhhh,” Strega quieted him. “I know you didn’t mean it Donald, but you didn’t stop it either. A piece of advice from someone who learnt this lesson the hard way; those that we choose as our friends define us in part. You need to be smarter and choose better friends.”

Donald nodded.

“Now, I think we can make a deal, Donald. If you co-operate with me, I’ll take it easy on you and you can help repay your debt to Fino at the same time, savvy?”

Still crying, he nodded weakly, sniffling.

Strega smiled. “Good. If you agree to be the perfect prom date for Fino, Mr. Hancock, I think we can call it even.”

Blinking, Donald’s terrified brain tried to make sense of the proposition. “Fino’s gay?”

He gasped as Strega’s grip on his throat tightened. “No, Mr. Hancock, Fino is not gay. None the less, when I am done with you, you will be his perfect little princess. You will flirt with him. You will laugh at his jokes. You will hold hands. You will dance together. You will wear the prettiest dress at the ball. And by all the gods and goddesses, if he asks you to spread your legs for him you will ride his cock like a Texas rodeo champion. Do we have an understanding… Daphne?”

        *        *        *        *        *

Waking up was hard that morning. I had a headache so bad it felt like my whole head was pulsating in time with my heartbeat and my eyes felt like someone had rubbed grease into them. My only comfort was that I was in my own bed, safe and secure despite the trials of the day before.

Panic gripped me for a moment when I saw it was 9:24am by the digital clock on my bedside table, before I figured mom was letting me take the day off. I was grateful, the last thing I needed was the derision of my peers. The only problem was, thinking back on the night before, I couldn’t remember going to bed. I remembered Uncle Paulitto arriving at the junkyard with a bunch of the boys to clean up the mess, then being driven home in a Syndicate limo. Mom made me take a shower then came up to tuck me in with a tray full of milk and cookies…

Suddenly aware of exactly what had happened, I managed to wobble to my feet and lurch over to pound on my closet door. “Melvin! Get your squidgy butt out here, NOW!”

“All right, all right, hold your horses,” a deep voice garbled from the other side of the door. There were a few squelching noises before the tentacled beast pushed the door open and flopped out onto my floor, leaving a trail of slime behind him. There’s a reason our floors are polished hardwood despite the winter cold, though I had a Persian rug by my bedside to take the sting out on early school mornings. “What’s up, kid?” It asked.

“What did my mother ask me after I drank the glass of milk and truth serum she foisted off on me last night?”

The closet monster groaned, or rather bubbled which is like their version of groaning. “She told me not to tell you.”

“Well that’s great,” I said, scowling, “remember who took the rap the last time you took one of mom’s grimoires in order to summon a date…”

It winced. “Yeah, yeah, ok, I owe you one. She only asked you what happened at school yesterday and for the names of the coach and the kids that bullied you. Then she asked you the name of the girl you asked to the prom, why you liked her and what sort of girls you like.”

I put my face in my hands and moaned, so embarrassed I wanted to curl back up under the covers and stay there until the next millennium.

“Don’t sweat it kid,” Melvin chuckled, “you said ‘someone as perfect as my mother’. She was touched; serious brownie points kid.”

“Great,” I grumbled, “she’ll probably get it into her head to age regress or clone herself or something.”

“Come on, she’s not that whack,” it admonished, slithering back into the closet. “Go on, have some breakfast and try to relax. Your mom’s out so you won’t have to deal with her for an hour or two.”

“Yeah,” I sighed, “thanks Melvin.”

“No charge.”

The moment I opened the door, I could smell bacon on the grill wafting up from the ground floor. Still a little unsteady, I took the stairs slowly and carefully one at a time on the way down. Halfway there my bladder decided to inform me that it needed to make a pit stop, so I stumbled on a little faster and managed to get to a downstairs bathroom just in time. Emerging after washing my hands, feeling a bit better, I went into the kitchen to find a strange twenty-something blonde with tousled, shoulder-length hair wearing nothing but underwear and a white blouse making my usual egg and bacon breakfast.

“Oh, hi Fino,” she greeted cheerily over her shoulder, “take a seat, it’ll be ready in a minute.”

It took a moment for me to recognize her with her hair down. It was a marked improvement. “Wait… er… Belinda, right?”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” she quipped. “Don’t worry, your mom told me you like ‘em sunny side up.”

“Uh, yeah,” I answered, taking a seat. It was always a little disconcerting to watch one of mom’s new converts at work but I had to admit, she handled the kitchen like a pro. Not something I expected from the Fastidious Brats Incorporated. The breakfast she presented me looked like a picture from a magazine, only real. “Thanks, Belinda.”

She gave me a peck on the cheek and a warm, familiar, hug. “My pleasure, sorry I can’t stay but I’d better get changed before she gets home.”

I couldn’t help watching her wiggle her ass at me as she walked out, giving me one last invitingly coy glance over her shoulder before she disappeared through the door. Resisting temptation, I turned on the news and listened while I had breakfast. It was nothing but the usual. Blah, blah, blah Israel; blah, blah, blah Iraq; blah, blah, blah Bush is an idiot; blah, blah, blah mutants. Nothing about missing FBI agents or gun-to-spell fights in the middle of a major city, which was a good sign.

Concentrating intently on the news, I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard a gentle cough right behind me. Jumping out of my seat and twirling around, I stumbled a bit when my heel hit the leg of the table but managed to catch myself on the kitchen counter. This turned out to be a good thing, since if I’d fallen I’d have lost the only remaining scrap of dignity in front of one of the cutest girls I’d ever laid eyes on.

She was at least part Asian with dark, alluring, brown eyes. Her skin was golden and she wore her hair in a shaggy bob that left her slender neck exposed. She was trim and soft, a little curvy with the promise of future development and her wry smile at my antics seemed to light up the room. Her shoulders and arms were pleasantly slender and her long legs had a pleasant hint of muscle tone. She wore a St. Andrews school uniform: a simple blue skirt and white short sleeved blouse with short white socks and loafers, showing off a wonderful expanse of leg. She sort of reminded me of Lisa Hong, only more Eurasian and a lot cuter.

It dawned on me that she looked about my age, but I didn’t recognize her at all, which was weird. “Uh… hi,” I mumbled stupidly, trying to recover, “sorry but… do I know you?”

She suddenly blushed and looked away, opening her mouth to speak but was interrupted when my mom entered the kitchen in full Strega costume.

“Hi, honey,” mom greeted me, “good, you’re awake. Fino, this is your new prom date, Daphne Han. She’ll be staying with us until Sunday morning.”

I frowned. Prom was Saturday night; it’d taken me weeks to work up the nerve to ask Lisa. Most of the girls that were actually presentable were taken long ago and Daphne had the sort of looks that a guy just couldn’t miss. Still, the name sounded familiar but I just couldn’t place it. “Daphne Han… Da… Donald? Donald Hancock?”

She turned beet red and cringed away from me, unable to look me in the eye. Astounded I looked up at mom askance.

“What? He’ll get over it,” she answered my unspoken question. “You need a date to the prom, she’s more than willing, aren’t you Daphne?”

Despite the fact that she was obviously mortified, Daphne nodded in agreement.

Resting the heel of my palm against my forehead for a moment, I rebuilt my composure before taking a deep breath and adjusting my glasses. “Ok, Daphne, why don’t I get you settled in to one of the guest rooms. Mom, Belinda said she’s gone to get changed.”

Mom flashed me a smile. “I better go check on her. Be sure to keep our guest entertained, dear.”

I nodded and she gave me a motherly smooch on the head before sashaying out the same door where Belinda went. Sighing, I turned back to Daphne and wondered what the hell I could say that could make what my mom had done better. Sure, I was angry at the prick but, if you’ll pardon my French, the situation was beyond fucked up. “Uh, look, Donald…”

“D-Daphne,” she insisted, “y-your mom made it clear you have to call me Daphne.”

I raised my hands. “You’re right, best to follow the rules. Look, Daphne, I’m really sorry. I tried to keep it all a secret but Mrs. Norman spilled the beans. I don’t like you, you’re a total prick and I’d rather not be stuck spending one night with you, let alone three, this wasn’t my idea at all. And heck, you probably hate my guts right now. If mom’s dead set on this, though, there’s nothing we can do, let’s just try and get through this and go our separate ways. Until Sunday, we can at least be civil.”

The glare she gave me told me that I was right on the money but then something reminded her what mom would likely do to her if she broke her word and her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Yeah, ok,” she mumbled, hugging her arms selfconsciously.

Trying to smile reassuringly, I shrugged. “Awesome. Hey, look on the bright side, it’s only three days. Don’t worry, mom NEVER goes back on her word. If she makes a promise, she’ll stick to it… you’ve just gotta make sure you don’t leave too much wiggle room, so don’t worry, ok?”

“I guess,” she answered noncommitally, not looking reassured at all.

After an awkward silence, an idea struck me. She needed a distraction, I could give her one. “Hey, you like video games? I got a PS3 if you’d like to, you know, kill some time.”

She blinked. “Um, yeah, ok. That’s… cool.”

Grinning, I stepped over to the doorway and gestured for her to proceed. “Please, ladies first.”

I got an angry scowl and a weak punch on the shoulder as she strode through angrily but, as they say, revenge is sweet.

“Wow,” she commented as she entered my room, “you are such a geek.”

Admittedly, her assessment of both myself and my room was perfectly correct. The judgment still stung a little, though. Most of my walls are covered in shelves either stacked with books or displaying my collection of figurines. Not action figures, please note, I kept those childhood toys in the attic, I only kept my statuettes on display. I had everything from Battlestar Galactica to Star Wars with a few superhero bits and pieces on the side. My mom’s platinum edition collectors card, signed of course, took pride of place on my wall. I kept a full deck by my bed as reference too, since I figured it’d come in handy if I knew who I might be dealing with if the house was ever discovered.

“And proud of it,” I answered, “let me guess, sports fan? When they prove that making a touchdown can cure mutant AIDS, call me… oh, wait, it’s kinda the other way around. Funny that.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and gave me a look. “Ha-ha, funny. Where’s this PS3 then?”

Touching the secret panel, my TV and stereo setup popped out of the secret compartment on the wall along with my video library, replacing several of my bookshelves. “There aren’t too many titles yet, how about Virtua Fighter 5?” I suggested.

“Shit yeah,” she answered, brightening almost immediately, “I’m gonna slap your ass right back into the kitchen, be-atch!”

        *        *        *        *        *

“AAARGH! How the hell did you do that? Cheater!” Daphne accused several hours later, flopping onto her back in frustration.

“I keep telling you you’ve gotta block that low punch.”

“You can’t block that fast! This game is broken, I wanna do something else,” she demanded, jumping up to her feet. “You got a basketball court or something?”

I glared at her. “You just want to play basketball because you know I suck at it and you’re sore at me for kicking your ass at your own game.”

She smirked. “Yeah, so?”

Turning off the PS3, I stood up too. “So we’ve got a half court out back. Let’s see if you’ve really got the balls… oh wait a minute…”

Glaring at me right in the eyes, she growled.

        *        *        *        *        *

I was regretting my smack talk from the prone position on the half court less than half an hour later having fallen on my ass for the third time.

“Jeeze, you really are unco,” Daphne commented, nailing her thirty-sixth consecutive shot.

Getting up, I retrieved the ball and bounced it to her. “Yeah, yeah, you want I should get mom to take a picture of you naked and spread it around?”

What I said struck a nerve I wasn’t expecting. She missed catching the ball completely, going white as a ghost. I slapped my forehead. “Sorry,” I apologized, “I shouldn’t have said that.”

She looked like she wanted to say something to me for a moment then suddenly turned to stalk over and retrieve the ball before returning to the key. “Come on, I’ll show you how to shoot.”

Confused, I walked over to her and let her put the ball in my hands. “See, you hold it like this,” she explained, positioning me the same way she’d done it. “Throw with one hand, guide with the other, use your whole body and keep your eye on the ring. Got it?”

Nodding, I concentrated on the ring, bent my knees, straightened and pushed up. The ball arced up, hit the ring, circled for a few moments then fell out and onto the ground anticlimactically.

“Not bad, you just need some practice,” she commented, “doesn’t your dad ever play with you?”

I turned away from her and walked over to retrieve the ball. “Never had a dad,” I said, keeping my tone level.

“Oh,” she answered, at a loss for words.

I took another shot from closer in and nailed it, the ball slipping neatly through the net without even touching the ring.

“I’m sorry for what we did,” Daphne apologized. “I didn’t know that Phil was going to… all he said was that we were going to put you in the cupboard with the chair to keep you from getting out too quick. It just got all out of hand…”

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “that’s what you get for hanging with assholes like Phil and Trent.”

She glared at me again, her mouth working for a few moments before snapping it shut. “You’re one to talk with your mom…”

My calm snapped. Hurling the ball away, I grabbed her by the collar of her blouse and shoved her against the black chicken wire fence. “My mom what?” I asked in a low, cold, voice. “Tell me what my mom is, would you; I would really love to know your opinion. Evil? Was that the word you were searching for? You’ve gone though every moment of your life thinking you’re a wolf only to discover that you’re really a tasty little lamb and now you want to shift the blame? You made the kill and let it fall in the water, don’t blame me for attracting the fucking shark.”

I pushed myself away from her, more afraid that I’d do something to her than she was. She started crying, and I turned away so that she wouldn’t know that I was crying too. “I’m sorry,” I apologized in a broken voice, “just… let’s not talk about my mom, ok? You wanna watch a movie?”

Calming down a bit, she nodded.

        *        *        *        *        *

“Is it weird that I still think Megan Fox is hot?” Daphne asked, hugging a pillow as the actress bent over the engine block of Boof-head’s new ride.

“Dude, if I was a girl, I’d totally be les for her,” I answered.

She chuckled. “How’d you get a copy of this anyway? Movie’s not out at the cinema for a few months.”

“Preview blu-ray,” I answered, helping myself to some popcorn, “I know some people who know some people. The entire run of discs won’t be cut for a few months but the initial batch circulates around the studio and some select members of the press.”

“Sweet,” she commented.

“We can watch 300 after this too if you want.”

“Awesome,” she said absently.

“Big, sweaty, naked men with bulging muscles…”

Scowling, she bounced a bit of popcorn off my head. “I knew you were gay,” she said archly.

Leaning over the edge of my bed so that my face was only an inch away from hers, I looked into her eyes and smirked. “You sure about that?”

She smirked back, seemingly self assured. “Look, I hate to say it but let’s face facts. I’m a totally hot chick and right now, you could do anything you want to me. But you haven’t made so much as a move on me since I walked through the kitchen door. So yeah, wiener, I’m calling your bluff. You are so gay.”

“Yeah? And you still like Megan Fox, so what does that make you?”

“Comfortable in my sexuality,” she answered, returning fire with a snappy comeback.

“We’ll see,” I chuckled, returning to my place on my bed.

“Chickenshit,” she teased under her breath.

        *        *        *        *        *

An hour or two later, I watched Daphne chewing on the tip of a lock of hair as she stared at the screen intently. The Spartans were fighing in slow motion, muscles rippled as they danced across the screen and she’d taken to shushing me every time I tried talking over King Leonidas. Right in the middle of the movie, she jumped to her feet. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she announced.

“Third door on the left,” I directed.

She turned and walked out like she had a purpose.

“Don’t try to escape,” I called after her, resting my head on my pillow.

Naturally, I was fast asleep seconds later.

 

Chapter 4

I woke up to the most wonderful sensation I’d ever felt in my life. The bed was warm and something soft and very huggable that smelled very, very nice was snuggled against me. When I opened my eyes and saw Daphne’s sleeping face sharing my pillow, I wondered when heaven would come looking for their missing angel.

Then I panicked.

It was with great relief that I discovered that I was still wearing all my clothes. Even so, the last thing I wanted was for her to wake up, make an assumption and start hitting me before she realized she still had her panties on. Problem was, I was wedged in against the wall and the only way to freedom was past her sleeping form. Moving as slowly and carefully as I could, spreading my weight as wide as possible, I got up on all fours and reached one hand over her to rest my palm against the edge of the bed. Ever so slowly, I raised my right leg up, over her legs and gently put my leg down.

So of course, the shifting of the mattress woke her up with me hovering over her like a randy pervert. She screamed and brought her knee up as an automatic reflex, the surprisingly sharp kneecap connecting with my fruit basket. Shouting in pain and alarm, I rolled off the bed onto the floor clutching the family jewels. When Daphne realized what she’d done, she was on the floor next to me in a trice.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she pleaded, “please don’t tell your mom I did that!”

Regaining my breath, I smirked. “Tell you what, show me your tits and I’ll forget the whole thing.”

Her jaw dropped, eyes wide with disbelief and horror. Reaching up, I flicked her on the nose. “Psyke,” I said, grinning.

She got angry again after the initial wave of relief, slapping me on the shoulder. “You… you… you asshole!”

That only made me laugh harder which made the pain go away much faster than any medicine. At first she was determined to be mad at me but finally her resolve broke and we were laughing together on the floor.

“So let me guess,” I said finally, “you tried to get out the bathroom window?”

Blushing with embarrassment, she nodded.

“And mom was waiting outside?”

She nodded again.

“And she gave you an order to crawl into bed with me that you couldn’t refuse?”

Beet red in the cheeks, she nodded.

“I told you not to try and escape, you got off easy. Come on, let’s grab some breakfast.”

We arrived in the kitchen to discover mom cooking breakfast. Daphne immediately wilted, huddling behind me and grabbing my arm like I was her only shield against the madwoman that was terrorizing her. To be honest, it felt kind of good.

“Morning, mom,” I greeted cheerfully, leading Daphne over to the table and pulling out a chair for her before giving my mother a hug and kiss on the cheek.

“Good morning, dear. Sleep well, Daphne?” Mom asked pointedly.

“Uh… yes, ma’am,” Daphne answered nervously, staring intently at the table.

“Good, we’ve got a big day ahead of us. We need to get you a new prom dress and the whole beauty treatment; you better eat up and go shower. I’ve laid out some casual clothes for you to change into.”

Nodding meekly, Daphne did as she was told. We ate in silence before she scurried off to the downstairs bathroom, horrified beyond belief. “Geeze, mom,” I chided, “you could go a little easier on her.”

“Oh? Do I smell love in the air?” Mom asked, coyly biting off the corner of her toast.

“Ewww, mom, no! Come on, that’s still Donald in there!” I protested.

“I could make her totally infatuated with you,” mom tempted me.

“No.” I stated with a certain air of finality that would brook no more discussion. “Speaking of infatuation, what happened to Belinda?”

“Oh, I created a cover story and sent her back to the FBI,” she answered, “we should have some advance warning if they try anything else.”

Yeah, that was mom’s forte, enchantments and mind control. There’s a bunch of two-bit seductresses in the supervillain community, the vast majority are just pale imitations of The Strega. It was those same abilities that she’d honed over the course of the World War II spy games and the secret wars between the paranormal communities. In case you’re wondering, yeah that makes my mom over sixty years old but she looks like she’s in her late twenties to early thirties.

I was surprised when Daphne emerged looking like a wet dream incarnate that mom had gone for a more practical wardrobe. She wore a geek chic white top with a purple Decepticon logo. The top hugged her torso almost like a second skin along with a pair of tight hipster jeans and comfortable-looking sneakers. It was simple but it worked, showing off her gorgeous body to great effect. It probably helped that she didn’t feel as self conscious as she did wearing a skirt.

“You were saying, honey?” Mom whispered.

“N-no,” I answered hesitantly.

        *        *        *        *        *

“Who was that?” I asked mom when she snapped her cell phone shut. We were waiting outside the changing rooms for Daphne to emerge in the latest iteration of gaudy silk and lace that passed for appropriate formal attire. I thanked the deities every time she stepped out of the room that I wasn’t a girl, some of those outfits are down right embarrassing.

“Message from Belinda,” mom informed me, “seems we’re in the clear, turns out Mason went cowboy on them over an anonymous tip.”

I frowned. It was in character for a guy like Mason to go after a high profile mutant supervillain, it was the kind of case that got you into the papers and kicked up the food chain; if it didn’t get you dead. In the end, though, what got Mason killed was coming after me. Believe it or not, mom doesn’t kill cops as a rule. Heck, mom doesn’t kill anyone as a rule, my involvement in the events of the last few days was escalating things well out of hand and, sitting in that store, waiting for Daphne to finish changing, I was acutely aware of it. “I guess the real question is who ratted us out, then.”

“Bingo,” mom agreed, “but don’t you worry about it, dear, I’m taking care of everything. Ah, here she is now.”

Turning to look as Daphne stepped shyly from the booth, my jaw dropped. Cool purple silk shimmered in the light as the dress swished around her ankles. Her feet were clad in black high heels that made her only a couple of inches shorter than me and the dress was slit high up her thigh, showing off plenty of leg. Above that, a strip of loose cloth arced from her waistline, over her breasts and around her neck, leaving her back and arms completely exposed. The color set off her golden skin tone, dark hair and eyes perfectly; all she needed to do was glam up with some silver jewelry. The high heels had taken a bit of practice but she was rapidly getting used to them.

“You look… gorgeous,” I said without thinking, completely taken aback. She blushed but had a coy smile on her face at the same time which struck me as strange.

“Yes, I think we’ll take that one,” mom said, quickly organizing the sales clerk. While she was distracted, I made my way over to whisper to Daphne. “Are you ok?” I asked, concerned.

“I… don’t know,” she whispered back, hugging herself again. “Maybe this body’s affecting my brain or something.”

Nodding as if I understood, I gestured back to the changing room. “Maybe you should change back into the casual clothes. It might make you feel better.”

She nodded sullenly and slunk back into the alcove, drawing the curtain shut behind her. I went back to mom and waited for her to finish with the clerk before speaking. “Mom, did you do something to Daphne?”

Mom stared at me with arch amusement. “I’ve done a few things to Daphne, dear.”

“I mean, last night or this morning,” I muttered angrily.

“No, I haven’t done anything to her since yesterday morning,” Mom answered, “and I won’t as long as she keeps her word. That was the deal.”

I trusted what mom said implicitly, I’ve never known her to out-and-out break a promise or blatantly lie, even if she does stretch the truth a bit. “Then is it just me or is she acting a bit… weird?”

“How so?”

“Like just now, when I complimented her. She smiled.”

Mom grinned. “Girls like compliments.”

I gave her a look.

She turned me to face the changing rooms, hugging my neck and leaning closer to whisper in my ear. “Maybe she’s starting to enjoy it. Maybe after tomorrow night, she won’t want to go back to the way things were.”

“Yeah, and maybe goose farts turn lead into gold.”

“Oh, I haven’t tried that one,” mom joked, “maybe I should.”

“Ha,” I said flatly before she went back to finalize things with the clerk. My eyes bulged out when Daphne emerged from behind the curtain. She’d changed back into the casual clothes… but she was still wearing the high heels.

        *        *        *        *        *

“YES! I WON!” Daphne cheered herself on, having finally bested me at Virtua Fighter 5.

“Lucky hit,” I commented bitterly.

“Oh yeah? You’re just sore because you lost to a girl.”

“You’re not really a girl, remember?”

“Really?” She asked ingenuously, cupping her hands over her breasts. “’Cause these feel mighty real to me right now.”

“WOAH! DUDE!” I protested, shielding my eyes from the disturbing sight.

“Well, make up your mind then,” she teased, “either I’m a guy, in which case touching my own chest is only natural, or I’m a girl and you just lost to me. You can’t have it both ways.”

“Watch me,” I said flatly.

“Oh?” She asked coyly, rising onto her knees so that she could lean over, bringing her face close to mine. Glancing down, I could see the swell of her breasts. If she’d been wearing a lower neckline I probably could have seen her belly button. “You sure you don’t really want me to be a girl?”

I glared at her. “Now you’re teasing me.”

Flopping back onto her butt, she giggled. “You got me. Come on, another round!”

        *        *        *        *        *

Finally, the hour rolled around and I found myself waiting at the bottom of the stairwell for Daphne to finish getting dressed and descend while mom was outside getting some sort of surprise ready. When she did emerge, silver and diamonds glittering in the light of the chandelier, she took my breath away. I felt like an angel was descending from heaven to meet me as she walked down those stairs, accepting my hand to help her down the last few steps.

She smiled. “Hi. Nervous?”

“Petrified,” I answered, grinning back.

“Me too,” she confided, though she didn’t look it.

We stepped outside, hand in hand, to find a two horse coach waiting for us outside, complete with horses. Mom sat behind the reins disguised as a driver in full formal wear. “Lady and gentleman,” she greeted, “I present to you the Feldman Coach drawn by some familiar faces, Phil and Trent.”

I blinked. “Ok, that’s… wow, mom, you really kept your word this time!”

“I always keep my word,” she answered imperiously.

“Yeah but this time you taught them a lesson without, you know, really hurting anyone. Thank you, mom.”

Mom smiled down at me. “No problem, dear. Now why don’t you two love birds get on in.”

“Don’t get any ideas,” Daphne mumbled as I helped her up into the coach, “I am not in love with you.”

“Home stretch,” I whispered back, glancing over my shoulder to see if mom had heard. “Don’t blow it now.”

Sighing, she nodded and put on her wistful smile again. The coach ride was surprisingly smooth and, as much as I hated to admit it, I felt comfortable with Daphne. I was almost tempted again to relent and have mom make the arrangement permanent but, once again, I resisted. I was living a fairy tale but it was forced and fake and, even if Daphne forgot who she used to be, I would know and I’d hate myself for the rest of my life.

Jaws dropped when we arrived outside reception looking like the prince and princess of the ball. I wasn’t the best looking guy at the dance but my tux made up for it. People seemed to shy away from us, not knowing what to say, or maybe they just couldn’t believe that I’d managed to snag such a gorgeous date. Probably the latter, I overheard someone whispering some rumor that my mom had hired her. Only problem was, I couldn’t refute it.

“Dance?” I asked, wanting to get away from the gossiping crowd. Gulping nervously, she nodded and I led her out onto the floor. It took me a moment to get my feet used to it but we quickly found ourselves swaying to the beat along with the rest. Once the music changed, we were both a little out of breath, so I led her off to one side and offered to get us some drinks, which she accepted. Winding my way through the crowd, I went straight past the punch bowls and got some orange juice out of the fridge in the kitchen just in case some idiot had spiked the punch.

Returning to where I left her, I found Daphne beset by three guys, all of whom seemed to have had some trouble doing up their ties if the rumpled states of their collars was any indication. I wasn’t familiar with them and they look liked seniors, probably crashing the party to look for dates. As I approached, I watched one of them grab her butt, causing her to jump and squeak in embarrassment. She looked at a total loss for what to do and the other girls around seemed to be pointedly ignoring her plight.

“Here, Daphne,” I said, handing her a glass, “orange juice.”

One of the thugs ‘accidently’ knocked the cup so that the contents spilt over the front of my tux. “Whoops,” he said, “why don’t you get yourself cleaned up. Don’t worry, you can leave Daphne here in our… capable… hands.”

The other two snickered.

I’m a klutz on the court. I’m not a klutz in mom’s dojo. Sure, I stay out of gunfights and if you ambush me in the middle of school after I got hit in the head and then did fifty push-ups, like most people I’m not worth a damn. Particularly if fighting back is a sure way of getting noticed and, consequently, putting my mom in danger. Give me a reason and time to prepare, however…

I kept things simple. Orange juice isn’t the sort of thing you want to get in your eyes, it’s surprisingly acidic, and I showed the one on my right why. The one in the middle caught the first punch in the solar plexus, which sent him down like a sack of potatoes, wheezing and gasping for breath. The last threw a punch at my head, which was a mistake. He found himself flipped head over heels into the one that was busy wiping orange juice out of his eyes, killing two birds with one stone.

“Fino?”

Looking over to where the voice came from in the sudden silence, I saw Lisa staring at me incredulously. Smiling, I offered my hand to Daphne, which she accepted. “Princess,” I said theatrically, “I believe it is time for us to adjourn. This scene is dead.”

We left to find mom waiting for us outside with the carriage, looking smugly proud. Ignoring her, I took off my coat and draped it over Daphne’s shoulder to ward off the suddenly chilly night air before helping her into the carriage and following myself. When I sat down, Daphne snuggled against me, seeming to feel the need for some comfort. I put my arm over her shoulder as mom snapped the reins, and I told her that she was safe and it would be all right.

Between us, I kind of wished I hadn’t given her my coat at the time; I almost froze my nipples off.

Arriving back home, mom gave me a kiss before I got off the coach and gave me another hug. “I’m so proud of you, dear.”

Smiling, I hugged her back. “Thanks mom.”

“By the way,” she whispered, “I have some work to do tonight. If you need a bigger bed, you can use the master bedroom…”

“Mom!” I hissed, trying to keep my voice down.

“All right, all right,” she gave in, kissing me on the forehead, “sleep well, I’ll come back for Daphne in the morning.”

Getting off the coach, I unlocked the door so that Daphne and I could go inside and get warm again. I waved mom goodbye as she drove off in the coach.

“You really love your mother, don’t you?” Daphne asked as she handed me back my coat.

“She’s infuriating,” I answered, “frustrating, insane, vindictive, power hungry, occasionally homicidal, mean, sly and she takes a liberal view of the truth. But yeah, I really do love her; in a perfectly normal mother and son way.”

She nodded, not even making a comment at my expense. Stepping closer, heels clicking on the tiled floor, she reached up and started to undo my tie. “We really should get you out of this wet shirt…”

I took her wrists gently in my hands and pulled them away from me. “Yeah, I should but you don’t have to do that.” Stepping past her, I deliberately stepped quickly up the stairs. She followed almost immediately, recovering from the shock quickly, but didn’t catch up with me until we were on the upstairs landing.

“It’s just a shirt,” she protested, looking seriously angry with me, “why can’t I do that for you at least?”

“Look,” I said, sighing, “I don’t know what sort of thoughts my mother’s been planting in your head these last three days but I do know that you don’t want to do anything you’ll regret later.”

“It’s just a shirt!” She protested.

“Yeah, it’s just a shirt now,” I answered, “then what happens? I get out of my pants? You ask me to help you with your dress? Next thing we know, were in a bedroom together, half naked, one thing leads to another…”

I trailed off when she started to look guilty. “You’ve done so much for me,” she said in a small voice, “saved me I don’t know how many times. From your mother, yourself, those guys, my own stupidity… why won’t you let me do this for you?”

Sighing, I ignored the insistent tug in my crotch that was reminding me how easy it’d be to just screw her brains out. “Because in the end, you really don’t want to,” I answered. “I don’t want my first time, or any time, to be something someone regrets. You might even hate me for it and that’s something I couldn’t live with.”

Gliding forward, she forced me up against the wall as I backed away, maintaining eye contact with me the whole time. Trapping me between her arms, unless I was willing to throw her off, she pressed her body against mine. “In the morning, your mom will change me back. That’s the deal and like you said, she doesn’t go back on her deals. She’ll wipe my memory or something, so that I don’t remember these last few days because I know too much about you and Strega and you made her promise that she wouldn’t just kill me and be done with it. If I’m not going to remember any of this, I can’t regret anything either and right now, I really do want to repay you, for everything.”

Grasping her shoulders, it struck me again how easy it would be to pluck the forbidden fruit. “No,” I said, pushing her gently away, “that doesn’t work because I’d remember. I’m no saint. My mom’s a diehard supervillain; my only male role models are gangsters, and just in the last few days, I’ve become an accessory to who knows how many crimes… not to mention the situation you’re in right now is partly my fault…”

“No it’s not,” she interrupted, “you’re not to blame for your mom.”

I shrugged. “Most of the really crazy shit she does happens because she’s protecting me or trying to make my lot in life better. You’d have been better off if I wasn’t around at all; although I’m partly to blame.”

She didn’t really have a comeback for that one, so she just stared at me helplessly. Smiling, I stroked her shoulder. “Look, why don’t you go to bed. Just think, you’ll be home again before you know it and this whole nightmare will be over. I’ve decided I’m not going back to school, I’ll get mom to defer my exams so I can take them at home. You’ll never see me again and I won’t be around to fuck up anyone else’s lives. Everyone wins.”

“Except you,” she observed poignantly.

“Daph… Donald,” I said, looking her in the eye, “I don’t deserve to win.”

I tried to step past her but she shoved me back against the wall with both hands. “Maybe not,” she whispered, “but you do deserve this.”

Our lips met, suddenly pressed together as she thrust her whole body into mine. After the initial surprise, her arms locked about my neck so that I couldn’t pull away as her tongue danced across my lips and the swell of her breasts pressed into my chest. Giving in, I kissed her back, sliding my hands around her waist as she rubbed her warm, soft, flesh against mine.

After a seemingly endless moment locked together, we pulled apart. I stroked her cheek tenderly for a moment, looking into her eyes. “Goodbye, Daphne,” I said in parting, sure that I’d never see her again. She patted my chest for a moment before fleeing to her room, close to tears.

I went to bed that night feeling like a king.

to be continued