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WhatIF Logo

Evershade Reforming

by Polk Kitsune

 

Prologue

It's the bottom of the ninth, bases empty, tied score, one out, two strikes, two balls. Pitcher winds up, curve ball-OOH! Batter took the bait, and missed. Strike three, second out. I swung my bat one more time in practice, letting the excitement rise in my veins. Looks like it's up to young Kyle Yates to keep this game going.

That was me, walking up to the plate, a young teenager, not too bad-looking in the school team's uniform, if I said so myself. I could almost hear the crowds cheering as I got myself in the best moment of the the game. Oh yes, it was fun to be out in the field, chasing the fly balls, and getting the catch, but there was always something about holding the bat in your hands, swinging hard, and scoring. This was the spotlight moment, my moment to make a difference, and I was looking forward to it.

 

Even if this was only a practice game.

Nothing wrong with getting pumped up, though. Training was meant to push you to your limits.

I pulled my helmet over my brown hair, looked to Zack, our pitcher, and took my position. "READY WHEN YOU ARE!"

Zack didn't waste any time, and his whole body pulled back, before letting it loose. I saw the ball, the trajectory, and with one hard twist, I swung.

"STRIKE!"

Damn. Too high. The ball plunged faster than I thought. Oh well. "I'LL GET THE NEXT ONE, YOU'LL SEE."

The pitcher grinned as he caught the ball back. "THAT'S WHAT THEY ALL SAY!"

Back to our positions, bat back up, and I waited for the next ball. Our pitcher puled back, threw that one out, and I could see it moving right for- "WOAH!"

I barely had time to leap back to see the ball pass right where I was a second ago, pounding against the back wall.

"HEY, ZACK!" Coach called out. "KEEP IT STRAIGHT, KID!"

"SORRY COACH!" He rolled his wrist around a few times.

"He's tired, I bet." I got back in place. "He's tired. Been pitching all day. Took a nasty spill too."

"Eh. It's no excuse." Coach nodded to me. "You okay too, kiddo?"

"Oh yeah. I'd feel worse if I didn't at least get a hit now."

The old man gave me a confident smirk, and nodded. "Good for ya. Okay then." He set himself back in place, ready to catch the next one. "BALL ONE!"

I could see Zack's eyes narrow down and focus. After a blunder like that one, he couldn't slip up. This one should be right in the middle.

He pulled up, wound back, and threw as hard as he could. I braced myself, saw the ball, swung...

And for a moment, I felt the bat contact with the ball.

I didn't lose a second, and began sprinting down for first base. You didn't waste time looking where the ball went, until you were halfway down the line. By the look of it, it had gone far off left field. Perfect. Far enough for a second base. Maybe my batting skills needed some polish, but if there was one thing I knew well, it was sprinting.

I made it aroud the first base, and didn't stop. I could hear the cheers behind me and the screams of the team. It felt sooo good.

I almost made me miss the outfielder winding up to toss back the ball to second. That was too soon! Way too soon! I wasn't going to make it!

The ball was tossed, and I dove toward the base for a last ditch effort.

I slid across a few feet, arm out, as the ball flew right into the shortstop's glove.

But my hand slapped over the base, just a second, before the shortstop put it to me. "YES!"

And the crowd went wiiiiiild!

Okay, maybe I did have a wild imagination once in a while.

Now, if only the pain would have come from my imagination too. Ow.

"Good play there, bro." The baseman patted me on the back, giving a silly grin. "Too bad it's only practice, not the series."

"Heheh. Ngh. Maybe, but how am I supposed to make the slide of the century, if I don't practice taking a dive once in a while?"

"Then prepare to eat a lot of dirt. Then again, you know if I was the one fielding, you wouldn't be celebrating right now." My best pal, Owen extended his hand. "Come on up now."

"Thanks." Pulling myself back up, I winced. "Ngh. Ground must have a few sharp rocks in it today. Ow."

"Yup! Extra hard, just for you." Okay, that one earned him a good punch to the shoulder. "Heheh."

"GOOD RUN, KID!" Coach called out. "ONE LAST ONE, AND WE CALL IT A DAY!"

"You heard the man. Take your base, and get ready." Owen punched in his glove a few times.

"Yeah yeah... Oh." I looked at who was coming out. "No wonder Coach wants one last swing."

Coming up to bat was the team's very own jock, and star player: Josh. The guy was built real strong, real tall, and if you asked him, born with natural beauty. You'd think he was more fit for the football team, but we had him, and his batting record scored more than a fair share of the team's runs. Maybe it wouldn't sting so much if he didn't boast about it from every rooftops. Good thing he was on our side.

"So?" Owen noted. "Think Zack will give him an easy one?"

"You think so?"

"Heck yes." He leaned forward. "Zack's tired already, and unlike you, if he does hit Josh, he's in for a lesson in pain. He won't risk a trick pitch."

"And you think Zack's smart enough to get that?"

"Hah. Right."

Zack wound up, pitched, and Josh connected flawlessly. It was high, it was fast, and we could all tell someone was going to have to fetch that ball from outside the field. The whole team cheered, while Josh basked in his glory, and Coach called out: "Okay, boys, hit the showers. Training's done, get back home, and I'll see you all on Monday."

Just like that, it was over. Owen and I were walking back, patting each other for all the efforts. Maybe it sounded childish, maybe unreasonable, but this sport was all I could think about at times. The feel of making contact with a bat, of catching a fly ball, or of stealing a base just to get closer to home was so satisfying. It was so great.

So we kept on training, we kept getting better, and we kept on scoring high. And then maybe one day, me and Owen, we'd be playing in the big leagues. We'd be playing in the stadiums with the best of the best, and we'd be surrounded by the sport at all times. It'd be grand.

Yes, maybe it was a little childish.

But it was my dream.

Chapter 1

"I'm hoooome!" I cried out as I opened the door to our apartment.

"Welcome home Kyle," Abbey called out from the kitchen, where a delicious smell was coming from. She looked out from the side of the corridor. "How was practice today?"

"As usual, really. Coach's training us hard." I couldn't help but grin as I walked by her. "You should have seen Zack's wipeout though. He says he just tripped, but the way he went down..." I couldn't help but snicker. "Didn't stop him from trying to bean me though."

I saw an amused smirk draw on my sister's face. She could already picture it, I bet. "Sounds painful, but keep it for later, okay? There's laundry to fold. The whites should be done." She turned back to her pots and pans, stirring the pasta a little more. "And don't you dare touch a single cookie before lunch."

I moaned, and pulled my hand away from the cookie jar. I thought only mothers were supposed to have eyes in the back of their heads. I guess she really picked up after her.

I reached out for an apple instead, and headed off to my daily chore. "Another load to dry, as usual?"

"Yup. Delicates. You know." I groaned a little. I knew what she meant. Last time wasn't exactly my fault. "Oh, and Dad's going to be late tonight." She added.

"He's always late! What's the difference?" I shouted back, before biting down on my snack. I wasn't exactly complaining though. He was the one getting money into the house, and the reason we had a roof over our heads. He worked real hard for it too. That's why we kids did everything we could to pitch in around the house. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and so much more.

Then again, one of us was a chore on her own. I looked at my younger sister, Gabrielle, as she was diving halfway into the dryer, picking up leftover clothes, and tossing all the clean laundry on the floor instead of the basket. She tried hard, but sometimes a little 'too hard' for her age. That's usually when we had to help her out of trouble, or we were getting into some ourselves.

I couldn't help but ask with a slightly annoyed tone. "Gabby. What are you doing?"

She lifted her head, and conked herself on the top of the dryer. "Ooowww." She looked back at me as if the bump on her head was my fault. "I wanted Miss Mittens back!" She said as she held her red plush cat in her arms. Its big bright eyes would either make you think it was cute, or creepy. For her, it was cute 24/7. "All nice and clean!"

Wait a minute. White load? Red plush?

It took me a moment to take a second glance at the clothes thrown on the floor. "G-Gabby. You didn't..."

I thought that stuff only happened in TV. Color me surprised.

"W-what?" My sister and her cat were looking at me with matching innocent stares.

"GABBY! LOOK WHAT YOU DID!" I screamed out as pointed to her mess. All the clothes were now dyed a bright pink.

"But... B-but."

Oh no. I just had to open my big mouth a little too much. Again.

"I-I just wanted..."

Tears were coming from her eyes. Here come the floodgates.

"N-now wait, Gabby."

"T-th-to... WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!"

And she ran away, slamming the door to our room, crying her eyes out. Every single time she did something wrong, every time she ran crying to her room, and every time the same guilt trip on my part. It's not like I did everything perfect, but she had that 'sad little puppy dog' look in her eyes, and Abbey was the 'responsible one'. It sucked being the middle one. Even more when you're the only boy around.

And speaking of my handicap. Abbey came right over, apron still on, looking at me like I'd just kicked a kitten. "Kyle, what happened?"

"Your wardrobe just got a new expansion." I said as I pulled out my brand new pink shirt. The boys back at the field would be laughing their asses off by now.

Okay, so Abbey already knew about the mix-up. Seemed that she found out herself when she pulled it out of the washer. Once more, I freaked out for nothing. I'm the big bad bully of the day. After a few apologies, Gabrielle was out, and everything went back to normal.

Normal, though, never seems to last...

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The next morning, I woke up like a zombie, stumbling out of bed. I'd been having trouble sleeping lately, and even though this was the weekend, my head still felt like I was in deep fog. I made my way to the bathroom, luckily this time, without crashing face-first into the door frame. I was rubbing the sand out of my eyes when I felt a little something different.

I looked in the mirror to see my face, and my reflection seemed as surprised as I was.

Pink hearts on my left cheek, flowers on my forehead, eyeshadow all around my eyes, cat whiskers coming from my nose and outward, and huge red lips all around mine. All done in bright markers.

Gabby! I growled as I immediately grabbed a wet towel, and began to wipe the drawings off my face. When I said I had trouble sleeping, it seemed like it often included my little sister coming into my room and having fun with my face. It wasn't the first time either. I guessed it was her little revenge for yesterday.

Okay, I complained, but it could have been worse, right?. If she ever got the bright idea to grab permanent markers, then I'd be in real trouble.

At least, a cold wet towel on the face was always a good way to wake up to reality. The more I rubbed, the more cold water hit my face, and the sharper my senses became.

That's when I felt something else.

It was around my shirt. I couldn't quite put my finger on it yet. It felt a little tighter than usual. Did Gabby pull of another of her pranks? Were her methods evolving? Oh, if I look there and she's filled out my shirt with her stuffed toys, I was gonna give her a piece of my mind.

I pulled my shirt up, and found no toys. No markers, no drawings, none of the usual traces of the little monster of a sister I had.

What I found instead were two large swollen lumps on my chest. They weren't exactly big, not even the size of my fists, but I was pretty sure I didn't have those when I had gone to bed the last night. Ask any guys in the locker roon, and they would testify that my chest was as flat as my muscles could be. So this? These? They shouldn't have been there.

Okay, it took me a moment to shake off the shock, but I already had my mind set on the obvious culprit. Gabby? Really? First markers, now this? Okay, it was immature as all heck, but I had to give the runt some credit. Whatever clay, or makeup she'd used, I couldn't see any seams or straps. This was movie production quality. You'd think this was way too complicated for a little girl her age. Maybe Abbey had given her a hand? But why? What's the point?

Well, whatever, joke's over, time to peel these off. No matter how real these looked, they had to come off, and with that in mind, I grabbed one, with the intention to pull it off, when it really hit me. I could feel my hand on that lump. My wet, warm palm over right over that squishy soft... "The heck?"

Something wasn't right there. I shouldn't have been feeling that. My skin should have been underneath the thing. I tried to come up with an explanation, when I squeezed the lump, and again, I felt it. It was like a small water balloon, but the sensation was making me shiver. I reached up to the second, and I shuddered. It was the same there! "What the hell is going on?"

"What is going on?"

I spun around, looking at Abbey, in her bathrobe, rubbing her eyes. Still shaking from my discovery, I pointed to the two new 'developments' I had. "What do you think?"

She needed a moment to look, before she realised what she was seeing. "Erm... Are those...?" She rubbed her eyes again, and took another look. "Kyle? I..." She leaned in closer, frowning at the sight, and before I knew it, she pinched one of the pointing tips, and pulled hard.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW-OW-OW!" I pulled away as pain shot through my chest. "OW-ow-ow-ooooowwwww."

"Sorry! I thought they were..." Abbey called out, putting a hand on my back. "Are you okay?"

I bit my lip, and tried to quiet down. "Nnngh. Kinda. Oooowww. It's sensitive. Real, real sensitive, dammit." I had tears in my eyes. I still felt that little nub throbbing in pain, and those two weight bouncing down as I leaned forward. It was unreal.

"Kyle? What's going on?"

"I don't know! I fucking don't know!"

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A few hours later, my father and I were sitting at the hospital, waiting to be called up. I couldn't help but shift nervously here and there. Every time I did though, I could feel those nipples rub up against the thick fabric of my sweater, and I stopped instantly. I tried to stay as still as I could. It was so frustrating. Why did I have these? Why was this happening to me? What was going to happen next?

Why does the wait at the hospital always take forever? I swear I saw that clock ticking backwards just to spite me.

I looked up to my father. He seemed rather calm at first glance, standing straight up, arms crossed over his chest, a stern, serious look stuck to his face. The kind of look he'd usually carry off to work when duty called. He looked tough, and in control. I knew him a little better though. He was probably nervous too, and was stiff as a board. As nervous and concerned as could be about his son growing breasts, he was steeling himself for the blow. When he looked down at me, his stone-cold attitude changed, giving me a confident smirk, and he ruffled my short brown hair with his large roughed-up hand. "Don't worry, sport. We'll get this all fixed up. You'll see."

"I hope so." I muttered without a hint of enthusiasm. They'd already run the usual tests: pulse, bloodwork, temperature, X-rays, and ultrasounds. They'd even used a machine that squeezed 'those two' to make a scan. Damn that one hurt like Hell. I'll never trust a doctor saying 'this won't hurt a bit' ever again. And I don't know how many times they asked me if I was taking pills or hormones of some sort. Almost as if all the nurses thought I wanted this to happen. I was sorry if I sounded a little pissed, but this seriously wasn't my day.

My train of thoughts was cut off as the PA system chimed, and called out: "Kyle Yates, please go to Dr Julian's office."

Finally. I started into a brisk walk, my father staying by my side the whole time as we came into the small office. The place looked clean, sterilized, decorated by charts, medical tools and certificates hanging on the wall. Sitting behind his wooden desk was old man Julian, looking over the files with my name on it. I could see from the wrinkles showing on his dome head that he was deep in thought. It took him a moment to realize that we were here. "Ah! Mr. Kyle. Mr. Leon. Please, sit down."

He gathered his papers together, and pulled out his pen as we took our places. "Now, Kyle, I believe we may have come to a conclusion about your..." He looked to me over his glasses. "Symptoms." That look in his eyes told me I wasn't going to like this.

"So, what's happening Julian?" My father asked in a friendly tone. It seemed as if he'd known the man for a long time.

"Leon..." The doctor took a deep breath, and sighed, trying to stay professional. "There's no real easy way to say this, so I'll just come out with it. It's a case of Gynecomastia." My father gave a small wince. "Yes, the Turcios Disease." He looked toward me, bringing his hands together. "Male breast growth."

"No duh." I responded in a deadpan tone. Wasn't it obvious enough? Apparently not.

He sighed, and rubbed his tired eyes. "It's more complicated than you think, Kyle. Those aren't just fatty tissues gathering there. There are actual mammary glands growing. It's not just a growth, or a tumor. Your testosterone is thinning, hormone levels are changing, and your body is trying to get a proper response." He looked at me straight in the eyes. "Kyle, this is important. Are you taking any kind of hormones?"

Did I mention I was asked that one very often lately? "No."

"Drugs?"

It was getting annoying. "No."

"Any medication?"

And I was just getting tired of it. "No. No. No. NO. NO!" I leapt to my feet, about to burst in frustration. "I wasn't taking anything. I still ain't. I'm NOT drugged up. I DIDN'T-"

"KYLE!"

I looked back at my father who was glaring at me sternly. Looks like I crossed a line. Sitting myself back down properly, crossing my arms. I winced as my arms pressed right on 'the twin peaks', and quickly pulled away. "No, Doctor Julian, I don't."

The doctor was looking at me with an eyebrow raised. He didn't seem fazed by my outburst, but only became more curious. "Any troubles at school? Exams coming up? Girl trouble?"

Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. This was different. "Hum... No, not lately." Well, not more than usual.

"I see." He wrote down a few notes. "And nothing at home?" I shook my head, and that made him frown. "I guess this is one we'll have to take a closer look at. There are no obvious causes for these changes," he said, once more looking over his glasses at me like I needed to be careful. "I suggest you come back here after a month, we'll take a few more tests, and then discuss a proper treatment."

"Wait. What? A month?" I had trouble living one day with these without feeling self-conscious every second, and now I had to wait a month? "Why?"

Julian once more gave a tired sigh. "To put it simply, Kyle, we need to know exactly what we need to do. You're still young, and your body is already going through some radical changes. There's a possibility this will be gone within a year or two. If they still grow, IF..." He made sure to press the word. "... IF they still grow, we may try to put your body back on the right track with some hormones, but you're still very young for that, and your body might not accept that easily." He shook his head. "And if the tissues harden in place, then we'll have no choice but to go with surgery."

"Why not right now?" I asked. It seemed like he was dead set on wanting me to keep 'these' longer.

He glared at me angrily. "Kid," He sighed, and rubbed his tired eyes. "Kyle, you're not listening. Your body is still changing. If we perform surgery now, we may cause more damage than good in the long run."

I was about to burst in rage. I wanted these off NOW! Right away! These... Things didn't belong to me! It just wasn't fair.

I was about to let another burst of frustration out, when I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a squeeze. "Look, Julian, my boy is under a lot of stress right now." I looked up at my father, whom spoke calmly, in control of the situation. "Surely, you can understand that."

"Yes, yes." The doctor was rubbing his temples, like he was taking care of a headache. "But you must understand that there's reasons we do things this way, a lot of them for the best, long-term. You don't want to mess with your health."

Dad nodded in understanding. "Sounds like you're also under a lot of stress. You're more tired than usual."

"You noticed, huh?" Doctor Julian looked at dad over his glasses, before dropping his head, and shaking. "I may be under the weather right now, but that won't change a thing."

"I'll disagree with that, my friend. It's not an easy diagnostic, I presume, and if your head isn't clear, you're about to confuse and worry your patients more than anything else."

He sighed, and nodded. "I suppose you're right, Leon. I've been buried in work, and I'm not getting any younger."

"Isn't that why you hired that new doctor recently?"

"She's half the problem! There's no order to the system, she has to do things her way, and she has to debate on everything." He shook his head, giving a chuckle. "Makes my wife seem pleasant in comparison."

"Heheh." Dad shook his head. "Give it time Give it time. You two will work it out. If you need it, prescribe yourself a small vacation. I'm sure she could lighten your load in the meantime, or run crying for help."

The doctor actually gave a chuckle. "Yes, but then my clients would be stuck with her." He shook his head. "I swore the Hippocratic oath: to do no harm. I couldn't do it to them."

"To get you in a better mood? I'm sure they'd be thankful, in the long term. Don't bother trying to hide it, you're smiling just thinking about it."

Well, he was. Small, but there was a smile there. "All right, all right. I'll put it into consideration."

"Good. Good." Dad nodded. "It'll do you some real good." Done with his plans though, Dad put his arm around my shoulder. "But back to the matter at hand: aren't there any alternatives for my boy?"

He looked back at me, this time a little more relaxed and at ease. "Unfortunately... No." My heart sank once more. "I'm sorry, I really am, but Gynecomastia is idiopathic. It means it can happen suddenly with no known medical causes. We're still researching the matter, but every single case are different. We've narrowed down some of the chemicals that can cause these symptoms, but even those without contact to them can catch this." He sighed, looking sorry and ashamed. "It's something, as a doctor, I never liked admitting, but until we know what causes this, there's no solid treatment known." He looked back at me with a serious look. "But I've seen other cases like you before, and they've all grown up to be men in great shape." His sight shifted back to my father. "Of course, if we have to rely on surgery, you will have to worry about the bill, Leon. Insurance will never cover the costs. It's considered a purely cosmetic procedure. It would be expensive."

My father squeezed my shoulder, but kept smiling. "Whatever Kyle needs, we'll do it. We might be tight for a little while, but whatever's the treatment, we'll do it." He smiled at me with confidence, and gave me a nod, telling me everything would be fine. "Besides, if he says there's a big chance it'll be gone on its own, it will be." I struggled a little inside, but I returned a small nervous smirk.

So in the end, things didn't look all that bad. I still had 'these' for a while, but it wasn't going to last forever. And with any luck, they'd be gone by themselves! If things looked grim, in the worst case scenario, I always had surgery. If it came to that, I'd work twice as hard to make it up to dad. I couldn't help but sigh to the fact that I'd have to get used to the two 'pokers' on my chest, but there was hope.

"If that's all then, we'll schedule you for next month for your next examination." Julian said as he pulled the file together. "Oh, and you probably will want to invest into a bra or two in the meantime."

My face scrunched up. "A.... What now?"

I'm sure that somewhere, out there, somebody was laughing at me right now.

Chapter 2

If this wasn't embarrassing as hell, I didn't know what was.

I looked at the reflection in my sister's mirror. I was naked from the waist up, except for an old bra that my sister had kept in a box. The red look of embarrassment on my face was going to be stuck there for a year or two now.

I'd spent a good ten minutes trying to clip the damn thing on around my back, while Abbey was just sitting on her bed, giggling at me all along as I cursed like a sailor. That's when she finally told me to flip it around, attach, then back around, slide my arms in the strap, and set it into place. That made it all so much easier. Do girls really do this every day?

"It's a little small for you..." She said. She was right, I guessed. Not that I knew much about this kind of stuff. The cups felt silky soft on 'the twins', and pulled them back toward me. At least I didn't feel them move around as much, and they'd stop showing through my shirts. But the straps were digging into my skin, and the whole thing made me more aware of what I had more than anything else. "We'll take some time to find you something that fits better at the Goodwill store, but this should do in the meantime."

"This feels so wrong." I muttered.

She looked at my reflection over my shoulder, smiling. "Just give it a little time. You'll forget you're wearing it after a while." She was kidding me. Right? Right?

"Why pink?" I asked in a deadpan tone. I knew I'd regret opening my mouth.

"Because it might be better to keep the white one for when you go to school? Besides, I thought pink was cute on me back then. I didn't expect my little brother to be wearing it one day." She said with a small giggle and a pat on my back. That stung.

I started to wonder how many times I could use the line 'I lost a bet with my sister' as an excuse, when I heard a smaller voice at the door. "Why is big brother wearing big sister's undies?"

"I'm just wearing her old bra, Gabby." Weak excuse, I know. That didn't make it any less awkward.

"Why are you wearing big sister's bra?" She asked again, peeking into the room.

Abbey answered that one. "Because the doctor said Kyle's going to have small breasts for a little while, sweetie." Ugh. Thank you, miss sensitive.

"Oh..." She looked at me with those innocent eyes of her for a moment. "Why?"

"Because I'm sick. That's why." There couldn't be a more simple truth.

"Whyyyyyyy?"

I simply gave her a tired look. Didn't she understand? Of course not. In a few years, she'd be wishing for these, and more. She could have them for all I care. For me, they were getting in the way, and I couldn't wait to get rid of them. Please, God, make it quick.

"Miss Mittens says you look pretty with pink!" She said, lifting her plush cat over her face. "Nyah! Hehehehe!"

My face couldn't be a brighter shade of red at this point. Whether it was embarrassment or frustration, I couldn't tell. But right now, any excuse to relieve some stress was welcome. I leaped out at the door, and opened it wide. "We'll see how pretty I look if I get my hands on her."

She caught on pretty quick, and ran away from me like a rocket, starting a chase between the two of us two times around the whole apartment, ending in a small tug-of-war with the plush toy. So I didn't get to kill the cat, this time, but we had some fun. That is, until Abbey picked us up and set us on our daily chores. At least some things never changed.

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I had one day to get used to my new 'assets' before the real challenge came in. Monday. School. A whole crowd of people to stare and bump into me. I tried to forget about it, but Monday always came.

I felt conscious of my problem the whole day. The white bra wasn't any less tight on my skin, and every move of my shirt reminded me that I was wearing it. I felt every stare look at me, wondering if they could see anything. Kind of like your first public boner pushing on your pants. Good thing no one notices those either. I think I got a few odd stares here and there, probably because I was looking back, but otherwise things got surprisingly smoothly. Classes didn't go too badly. I was glad I had one of the seats by the sides of the room. The less attention I got the better. Besides, everyone fell asleep during History and Math.

I got through the morning without any problems, and as noon came up, I ran up to the cafeteria. First in line always got the better picks. I always did it anyways; I was a pretty good runner on the team afterall. Might as well show it off. And the last thing I needed was to be squeezed and poked from all sides by every student in the school. Soon enough, I was sitting at a table, digging into my meal as the crowd divided, and the cliques were settling in their usual spots. I could see Owen and Lauren coming my way, as usual. "Hey there!"

"Hey, K." Owen let out. "You're still racing for that piece of pie?"

I shrugged. "It's the only way I can get them before Big Bruce can get a hold of the tray. The whole tray."

Owen laughed as he sat down. "Damn right."

"Real mature, you guys." Lauren rolled her eyes, but even she couldn't help but smirk.

The two of them were my best friends for a long time now. Owen was my partner on the team, and we hung out together most of the time at school. A bit crazy on sports, you could say, considering his collection of gear, cards and posters, but a great guy nonetheless. As for Lauren, our families lived in the same building, so when we played in the parking lot, a long time ago, and it was rather hard not to meet up. We were friends since then, and kept up with each other. She'd grown real well too. She had a cute face, long silky hair, and eyes you could lose yourself into. She'd also grown a great rack that she didn't seem to mind showing off. In fact, her tube top was stretching just enough so I could almost see her black... Bra.

My eyes snapped right back up and my faced showed some color as it reminded me of my new problem, and that pressure over my chest. Dammit. Why did it have to remind me that I was growing my own set of boobs? Was this going to be the same way all the time? Was this what women had to go through every day, all the time, with people looking at their breasts? I was starting to hate myself for what I was doing all this time. Not a good sign. At least I could feel a part of their pain now, and I had to give them credit. It was tough!

Too bad. Things almost seemed back to normal. Just for a few minutes...

"By the way, Kyle." She called out to me, pulling me back down to reality. "Where were you last Saturday?"

"Saturday? What was...? Oh crap." I brought my hand to my face. I was so down on my bad luck, I forgot about everything else. Of course, I wasn't really going to tell her what happened. "I... Completely forgot." And the award for weakest excuse on the planet goes to Kyle's brilliant mind! Give it a big hand, everyone.

With the expression on Lauren's face, she didn't seem too forgiving on this one. Owen looked between the two of us. "He didn't just screw up your first date, did he?" He still grinned as Lauren gave him a small slap on the back of the head.

"No. Kyle was supposed to give me a hand with my essay last Saturday. I had to work on it solo." She didn't look pleased, at all. History was the subject she hated the most, and she let us know it at every occasion. "Good thing it wasn't due today."

I raised my hands up. "Look, I'm sorry, seriously. I'll make it up to you tonight, after school? I'll bring the snacks, you can watch your shows, and I'll work on it."

I actually got a smirk on her face until Owen dropped in a problem with that plan. "Hmmm? Kyle? Baseball practice? Today? Coach would kill you if you didn't make it."

Baseball practice? Oh crap.

Wait... Practice? That meant changing into our uniforms and the showers? And me packing a new 'package' on my chest? Crapcrapcrapcrap. I'd never hear the end of it!

Okay, maybe I could skip the showers, and change in the bathroom stalls if I got there ahead of time. That should cover my rear for a little while. At least until I come up with a proper excuse. Life just couldn't be simple, could it?

Lauren sighed. "In that case, just come on by after supper. If Abbey will let you go for the night."

I smirked at her. "Sure. Don't worry about it. If it's school work, she'll let it go. I'll be there." I said as I dug into the piece of pie.

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"And then BAM! You could just kiss it goodbye, ladies and gentlemen. It's outa here!"

I came out of the bathroom stall, uniform in hand, just as Josh was giving to the team the play-by-play of his latest homerun glory. He was making a show of stroking his ego. Again. As if he needed it.

I was about ready to head back home after one bad session. I was off my game. I'd missed a perfectly good fly ball, and my swing was terrible. I guess I shouldn't blame everything on it, but my bra didn't help my performance. It didn't hold up properly every time I ran. The twin balloons moved around like mad when I went for bases, and I don't have to mention the movement they gave when I swung the bat. It didn't help that the idiot, Zack, threw a ball right into my chest. That HURT like HELL! He only hit it because I misjudged my own body by an inch, but still. That was deliberate.

"Are you feeling okay, Kyle?" Owen came up to me as I stashed my uniform in my locker. "You were sluggish tonight."

"Yeah, yeah." I was tired of this. "Coach already chewed me out about falling asleep at the bat. The last thing I need is-"

"YO, KYLE!" I winced as I heard him. Not now. "You're not gonna cry to your best buddy because you took a ball, do you? I thought you could use a few!" Some of the other players chuckled.

"Very funny." I turned to see Zack coming out of the showers with a towel around his waist. God, the guy was annoying when he wanted to. Tended to shove his nose into just about anything and everything, and followed with a barrelful of trouble. Oh, he was a wonderful joker when you weren't the target, but when you were, watch out. I twitched inside as I returned the mad grin he was giving me. "Next time, aim for the face, Zack. So I won't have to stare at your mug for a while."

He cackled with glee. "Heeheeheeheeeeeh! Sweet!" He pointed straight at me. "You asked for it, Kyle! Next one. POW! Right in the kisser! That'll prove you can take it like a man!" Okay. That sent shivers up my spine. Was he kidding, or not? I could never tell with him. Was he joking, or was the madman going to come out? I better watch out the next time he took the hill.

I didn't even notice when he came up next to me, and placed an arm around my shoulders. "Aw, come you know I'm just-... Just..." He froze a moment, the usual mischievous grin on his face switching to a confused gaze. His arm shifted a little more, trying to grab something on my shoulder...

"GAH! Look at the time!" I slammed my locker door, and slipped out toward the door. "Lauren's going to skin me alive!" I cried back to the guys as I ran, leaving a few perplexed faces behind.

Okay. I overreacted. I admit it. But if that nutcase would have grabbed my bra strap, the game was over. No continues. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars; do not survive until the end of the school term.

At least I got away fast enough...

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I took my seat at the back of the city bus, rolled my head back and closed my eyes. All that was left was the ride home. I could just sit back, and relax.

Looking back on my first school day with 'the twins'. Okay, they were getting in the way, but no one really noticed them. Except for that close brush in the locker room. Did that mean that I wouldn't be able to get close to anyone without risking my secret blown to smithereens? Ugh. It was going to happen again, eventually. I couldn't avoid it. Maybe I could get some kind of sweater or something thicker to cover up. Either that, or yell out to everyone at the school that it's a medical condition. Alternitavely, I could also pull a pistol to my social status, kiss it goodbye, and get the same results. People would be standing miles away from me like I was contagious, or laughing like I was a cripple on a wheelchair. Wonderful.

As I felt the bus start to move, I made up my mind on keeping my secret. I just had to keep it hidden until it's over with. That was my best option right now. Maybe I could tell Owen and Lauren at least. Owen would probably freak out a little at first, but he's a smart guy, he'd understand. As for Lauren, she'd be poking fun at me for a few weeks, but at least she had some experience with 'them'. Much more than I did. Abbey was good, but a second opinion never hurts, and she couldn't be there all the time. Yeah. I'd let those two in on it. Tomorrow. When we're alone.

At least then, I had a plan. Something close to one anyways.

But in retrospect, my biggest mistake was thinking the day was over.

"Hey, Kyle."

I barely had time to lift my head before felt two strong hands grab around my collar, lifted me up on my feet, and slamed me in the back of the bus. My mind still reeled from the shock when another set of arms lifted my shirt up while the first set kept me up on the wall.

"SEE? I told you he was wearing one! But nooooooo. Nobody believes me! NOBODY!" I couldn't mistake that voice. Zack. Fuck.

My vision finally cleared up, and I saw Josh who was lifting me up, two other well-built guys, along with Zack who was looking over Josh's shoulder. All four were looking down at my chest in surprise. It didn't take long before that changed. Josh looked up at me with a mix of rage and disgust.

Busted. Big time.

"What kind of FREAK are you?" He shook me violently, lifted me off the ground, and slammed me into the wall again.

"I bet he just enjoys women's underwear so much, he just HAD to try it for himself." Zack cackled again. Couldn't the guy shut up for once?

"L-look, I-" Before I could even add in another word, Josh had his knuckles crash into my jaw, rattling my head once more. The guy didn't hold back either. I thought for a moment he'd broken something.

The look on his face frightened me now. I'd seen the guy a lot of times. I always thought he was strong, and that his ego could use a good deflation. The jock lifestyle pleased him enough. His body was shaped and ripped like a bodybuilder's, and he was strong as an ox. I knew he was strong, but you don't realize the difference, until he lifts you up. No kidding. And by the enraged look on his face, he wanted nothing less than to flatten me into roadkill.

"You think this is funny, Kyle?" I shook my head desperately, but he was having none of it. "How long has this gay queer stuff been going on? Huh?" He shook me hard. "HUH? You think it's kinky to bring this in our locker room, you sick fuck? What do you think was going to happen?"

And suddenly, it was gone. The immense anger he was radiating was replaced by a smug smirk as he looked to his two muscle bound pals. "What do you say boys? Think we should teach the queer a good lesson?" The grins written on their faces filled me with dread.

"WAIT! WAI-OOF!" They both punched me in the guts, knocking the air right out me. I grabbed my stomach in pain, feeling the blow force something up my throat as Josh dropped me back on my feet. I wasn't going anywhere.

My whole body bent forward, and I felt two blows on the back of my knees, sending me on all four on the floor. They followed with a foot slamming on my back, and I found myself biting the black rough floor of the bus. I looked up a moment, looking for help, but all the passengers were far in front, and the driver seemed concentrated on the street. I opened my mouth to yell for help, but a foot to my cheek stopped that quickly. From that point on, everything was a blurr of voices and pain. Coming from all sides, they kicked me across the small area in the back. I couldn't even see the blows coming when they stomped my ribs, stepped on my legs, or just slammed their feet on my cheeks. I could only feel the blows and bruises hit me. I swear one of them had a steel toed boot.

I turned on my back, and tried to block their blows. I tried yelling at them to stop through my tears, crying in despair, but the blows kept on coming. That is, until I felt the bus come to it's first stop along the road. As it did, I felt Josh's foot step on my chest as he leaned down over me. "Now how was that, freak?" He held my aching jaw so I could get a good look at his smug face. "Now, you've been a good player, a good asset to the team, and you've been with us for a long time, so I'm feeling generous. I'll give you a deal, a chance, really." I saw his face twist in rage along with his tone. "THIS. STOPS. NOW. I don't care how you might feel inside, or if this is a joke. This ends here. None of this faggot crap, none of this frilly dressing up; or I'm going to make sure you take a permanent leave off the team. After all, we wouldn't want to get the same reputation that the team in St-Francis got, right?" He tapped my cheek slightly. "Think of this as a small lesson. Take a sick day. Think about it, about what's important, about what might... Happen if you don't get better. Got it?"

He threw my head back down, and finally led his boys out by the back door, looking back at me with a disgusted glare. Zack actually stuck around a moment, looking down at me with his stupid grin, and took a picture with his cell phone, cackling with glee. "Heeheeheee!" He leaped out the doors, waving back to me. "Bye bye, girly guy!"

I laid there on the floor for a while, trying to catch my breath. My head was ringing so bad, I could barely feel the rest of my body, but I knew I'd feel every blows for a while.

Why? I asked myself. Why did they do that? Why me? Did I deserve that? What did I do? Dammit. I tried to hold back the streaming tears from my eyes as I cursed my fate over and over again...

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I came into our apartment tired, dirty and bruised. I let my pack hit the floor, and silently made my way to the bathroom. My whole body felt painfully tenderized. I kept on replaying in my mind how I got beat up by Josh and company, every blows recorded into my mind, and I kept on asking myself why I got targeted like that.

I splashed my face clean as I figured the reason why. It was pretty clear. The twins were hurting more than ever now, pushing against the damn bra. They found out about it so fast, it wasn't even funny. I just wanted to rip it off, and get it over with. But even if I got the bra off, I couldn't take 'them' off. Which was worse? Being beat up for wearing a bra, or being beat up for having girl parts? No matter what, I was doomed.

I looked up into the mirror, expecting to see ugly swelling, my lips spit, a black eye, and maybe even a broken tooth or two. That's how bad I felt. But I looked at my reflection...

To find nothing but a clean face.

For a moment, I searched up and down, looking for the bruises or the cuts, but I couldn't find a single change in color. I flipped the light switch, and looked again. Maybe I missed something. But no. Nothing. No swelling, no blood, not even a little blue. In fact, my skin looked smoother than ever. I reached up to my cheek, expecting to feel pain, but... Nothing. No pain. At all. I remembered the punches, I remembered the feel of those kicks, and I remembered the pain that was going through me, but now... Nothing. No traces. I looked across my arms, I lifted my shirt, I even rolled up my pants, looking for anything. But once more, nothing. I may have been dirtied up, but bruises and cuts? I was clean. Completely fine.

What's going on? I looked back and forth at my reflection. I remember the beating. I remember going into the bus, Josh picking me up, and being shoved down for the beating of my life. I felt it, I know I did. It wasn't just a dream, was it? No way. It felt way too real. Josh and his goons were there, that's for sure. Were they really taking it easy on me, and those blows were just for show? But why did it hurt so badly? Tazers? Needles? Voodoo? Something?

"We're hoooome!" I heard Abbey call out from the entrance, pulling me back tot he real world. "Kyle, are you here? Help me with the groceries."

"Coming!"

I looked back in the mirror a moment, hesitating. Should I tell them? If they didn't see anything, better not worry them about it. I started dusting off my sleeves. I'll just keep on going until I figure out what's going on.I already have enough to worry about right now.

I nodded to my reflection, and finally headed for the kitchen. "So what did you bring for supper tonight?"

Chapter 3

I looked up to the shower head, letting the warm water hit my face straight on. I felt the water run down my body, releasing tension all over me. It felt good, I'll admit it. But then, once more, two globes of flesh came right back to attention. The water running over the smooth skin was something else. I shivered, and tried to pay attention to where I my hands were washing instead. I needed to forget about those two. Easier said than done.

I thought back to yesterday, and no matter what I tried to focus on, my thoughts kept going back to the bus. I remembered clearly how they pulled my shirt up; the disgust, and rage on their faces. Being thrown to the ground, and all the brutal blows pouring on me. My hands shook from the memories and the pain. Even if there wasn't a single trace left, I still remembered it all.

And what will happen today?

Did they tell anyone? Did they say they caught me wearing a bra? Would everyone know? And what happened on the bus? Would it happen again? Would people think I'm a freak?

What name did Josh drop off again? Saint-Francis? What had hapenned there? I remembered some of the guys mentioning the name, but what was the story? Maybe I'll have to ask Owen later.

I couldn't even tell Lauren last night. I went down there with full intent to tell her before we started on her history project. But as soon as I saw her face, I just couldn't. I froze. I didn't know the words. I didn't know what to say. And when I realized that, I told myself this wasn't the time. That it could wait just a little later. I didn't need to break the news to her right now, did I? And before I knew it, we were working on the history project; researching, writing down notes, and looking over each other's shoulders when we found something. Before long, it was over, and I was waving back to her from the third floor.

To be honest though, I didn't tell her because I was afraid. Afraid that she'd react the same way Josh did. She wasn't anything like the brute, but I was afraid she'd panic, and just chase me out the door like I was some kind of sicko. I didn't want the girl I liked to think of me that way. Yeah. That's why. Guy falls in love; girl freaks out; girl pulls a restraining order on mentally deranged guy. End quote.

I told myself she wouldn't react like that, and when I tried to get the courage to talk to her about it, her father, or her phone decided to ring. I clammed up right away, and waited for my next chance, which I never got. I keep beating myself up for not telling her last night. I might not get another chance like that one.

And now, here I was, in the shower, staring down at my two nemeses. I'd avoided touching them for a while now, but I had to sooner or later.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and began to soap 'them' up.

Okay, that didn't feel too bad.

I mean, they felt really soft. Really...

That... That felt good. Warm, and... And...

"Gah!" I dropped the soap as I snapped back to reality. What am I doing? Okay, I knew what I was doing. Not every day a guy fondles himself. God, I was such a freak. Look on the bright side, Kyle. At least I'll experience what few guys ever will? I snerked. Okay, lousy consolation, but it was all I had.

Trying to forget that little event, I dried off, dressed up, and made my way to the kitchen, where the rest of the family was. Dad was eating through a set of toast as he read the newspaper, Abbey was cooking her own set of eggs, just the way she liked them, and Gabby was at the table, eating through her cereal with Miss Mittens.

"Morning." I sat down in my usual spot, greeted with my plate of eggs and bacon. I casually set them on my toast, and began to much on breakfast as usual.

"Good morning." Abbey called back. "How'd it go with Lauren last night?"

"Pretty well." No way was I telling how I really thought it went. I chomped a piece off my sandwich. "Got a good chunk of that project done. Just type it up, check the spelling, a few footnotes, and we'll be done!"

"Did you two kiiiissssss?"

I almost choked, and turned to Gabby. "No, we didn't!"

"You should try and get her." Dad said as he turned to the next page. "Before it's too late and she slips through your fingers."

Gee, thanks dad. I chomped again.

Abbey gave me a much kinder smile as she took her seat. "Give him time. He'll ask her when he's ready. No sooner. Besides, Dad, you haven't brought someone home for a long time either." She grinned at my father, whom just retreated behind his newspaper.

Gabby just smiled innocently again. "Maybe big brother will bring back a boyfriend home!"

Okay, this time, I choked. I coughed, and tried to catch my breath, staring at Gabby with wide eyes. "WHAT? NO!"

"But you got boobies now!" She pointed toward my chest. "And boys like boobies!"

I looked at her in disbelief. Where did she learn this stuff? I looked up to my father who was still hiding, then to Abbey who couldn't seem to stop giggling. I felt my face turn red in frustration. "Let me show you how I-"

"HEE!" She squealed out as I grabbed her, and gave her a noogie she'd remember for a while. She squirmed and squirmed, trying to get out of my hold. "NOOOOO COOTIES! COOTIES!"

I stopped when she almost kicked me between the legs, and we both laughed. I looked down at her, still holding on. "Okay, you listen to me, Gabby. I'm not gay, I don't like boys, and I never will." I shook her playfully. "Do you get it?"

She smiled up at me, knowing I was just playing around. "Got it! Got it!"

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Noon. I was already sitting at my table, and was munching on some fries. I looked around nervously though. This morning hadn't been as nice as yesterday. Okay, I was a bit more relaxed, but people were giving me weird stares where ever I went. Even during the lines, I could feel people's eyes pressing on my back. At least today, I had a thicker shirt on. That should keep people from guessing, but still, people were looking me like I was a freak.

I watched Lauren head my way, followed by a rather nervous looking Owen. Yeah, he was giving me 'the look' too. He nodded to me. "Hey there." He sounded friendly, but he still sat a bit of a distance away.

"Hey man." I waved back to him. I had a guess what was on his mind. I just had to ask though. "Is something wrong?"

"Nothing! N-n-nothing's wrong, man." Me and Lauren must've had matching stares, because he quickly corrected himself. "Okay, okay." He rolled his eyes, probably choosing his next few words carefully. "Well, rumors have been going around, aaaaand..." He looked straight at me with a hint of fear for the answer. "Dude, you're not gay, or anything?"

"... What? No!" Was this going to the theme of the day?

"Okay." He quickly followed up with: "Are you wearing women's underwear?"

"WHAT?" Me and Lauren both let out in tandem. He looked serious. "Fuck no! What gave you THAT crazy idea?"

He seemed hesitant for a moment. "W-well, Zack's been going around saying things about you, and-"

"You know Zack's crazy, right?" I quickly added in.

"Yeah, yeah, but he was real insistent. Josh and the boys said they'd look things up, and... well, rumors be rumors."

The three of us looked toward the other side of the cafeteria, where the rest of the jocks were sitting, and I could see a whole bunch of them look back toward me, some with disgust, others with perplexed looks written on their faces before they turned back to Josh, asking questions. The look on Josh himself though couldn't be misunderstood. He looked pissed. I thought for a moment the glass he had in his hand was going to break under his fingers. He could probably imagine my neck in that grip right now. I looked away quickly, and back to my friends. "Yeeeaaah... Friendly bunch, aren't they?"

"Yeah." Owen didn't look amused, at all. "But still, Zack was pretty loud. Kinda hard to ignore."

"Owen, look." Lauren cut in, giving a short laugh. "I was with Kyle last evening. We were working on my history project!" She added in quickly before Owen could ask anything. "And if Kyle was wearing a bra, I would have noticed it. Don't you think?"

Oh irony. Oh sweet, sweet irony. How can you be so bitter, yet so sweet at the same time?

Owen looked at me a moment. It took him a moment of hesitation, until he finally gave: "... Yeah. You're right." He looked back to me with a sheepish grin. "Sorry man. We're good, right?"

I smirked at him, and shook his hand. "Of course man. Next time Zack says something, just do what everyone else does. Laugh, and back away slooooowly."

I laughed with them, but inside, my heart sank. I wasn't going to tell Owen about this. Ever. Now I knew how he was going to react. I'd have one less friend on the planet. And I just couldn't, I just couldn't lose him. Not now. Not like that.

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There goes another thing I'll never look at twice the same way again. I thought as I changed shirts in the bathroom stall. They'd started on volleyball at gym class, and as fun at it can be, you don't really want to jump when you've got two jiggling balls on your chest. I watched women's volleyball on TV before, and loved it. But you never understand how hard it can be until a part of your body keeps moving like that. When you lunge in one direction, and your breasts move in another, it's a whole new challenge.

I finished changing, openned the door to the stall, and was greeted immediately by a bright flash in my eyes. "ACK!"

"You know, I'm not sure if I should congragulate out, or pitty you at this point, Kyle." I was rubbing my eyes, until the white spots in front of them dissapeared, but I recognized the voice. "I mean, for a guy who should be in bed, nursing a few bruises with an ice pack or two, you're looking in pretty good shape." My vision started clearing up, and I saw Zack, camera in hand, sitting on the counter, smiling widely. "But then I have to ask myself: how bad does a guy want to get beat up when he has to step up from underwear, to makeup."

"Hey there, Zack." I groaned, looking around. No one else around? Good. Zack may have been a good picther, and a little excited, but he didn't have Josh's muscles. "What the Hell are you talking about?"

"You need a refresher?" He swung around, and put an arm around my shoulder.

"Hey, hey, HEY NOW!" I swirmed in his hold, but he held me up to the mirror.

"You see, last I saw you, you had a few extra colours. A few extra blues, a little red, even a bit of black, right around the eye. You know how that's like, right? Riiiiight?"

If he was trying to be funny, he was falling flat with me. "Are you going to let me go now?" At least, I had plenty of sarcasm left.

"Right, right, right." He pulled me right back in. "Now you see where I've got a problem? Things like that, they tend to stick around. Kinda skin-deep, know what I mean? So can you tell me where that's gone? You can be a tough guy as much as you want, but you can't really hide this, unlesssssss..." He reached up,a nd rubbed my cheek with his thumb. "Somebody's been diving in mommy's makeup box, and-OOF!"

I never thought it'd be so satisfying to swing my elbow into someone's guts before, but there I was. That gave me the opening to shove the guy away. "What's wrong with you? You didn't get enough yesterday?" I turned away, hoping to get as much distance as I could from him. "Why don't you just leave me alone?"

But just as I walked away, I suddenly felt a pull on my back, and my breasts were squeezed oh so tightly. "Ah-ha-I'm afraid I can't do that, girly guy." He had me by the back of my shirt along with the elastic of my bra, and he pulled himself back up to me. "Besides, you're still wearing this thing? Seems you haven't learned your lesson."

He let go, and the elastic snapped me right in the back with a loud 'WACK'! "OW! Ow. Oooowwww." Damn, that stings!

"I can't let you go, because rumors about you also affects the rest of the team." He faced me smugly, crossing his arms. "Wouldn't want the same thing that hapened at Saint-Francis to happen here, do you?"

There's that name again. "What happened at Saint-Francis that's so bad? What does it have to do with me?"

"You don't remember? Oh my." He snickered, shaking his head. "Well, you see, that school used to have its own baseball team. Doing well, pretty good, was a bit before we enterred the scene." He rubbed his chin. "Then it turns out two players had a thing for each other. Oh, they kept it quiet for a while, but when they officially 'came out', the whole school started gossiping. There were only two real faggots on the team, but everyone else started thinking the whole team was for the gays. The ridicule was so bad, the whole team's uniforms were printed with rainbows."

"That's... A real stretch, you know that?" Zack was just kidding, right?

"... Yeah. Yeah." He pulled out his phone, and began typing a few things. "You know how gossip goes. One person tells the tale, it gets worse, and worse... until somebody ends up in a ditch." He nodded, and showed me his phone, with a newspaper article. "They found the first homo by the side of the highway. They beat him up really good, it seems. Moved far, far away after. The other guy, no one really knows, it seems."

I must have gone a few shades paler, since his grin grew just as much. "You're kidding, right? You're kidding?"

He shrugged nonchalantly. "You can call me a liar all you want," he shook his phone. "But I don't write the news." He shook his head as he continued. "It seems the team had enough of the duo ruining their reputation, and, well, decided to take them out. Little too late though, because from there on, no one wanted anything to do with them. The team is now nothing but a past tense." He frowned. "Wouldn't want that to happen to our team, would you?"

"Well no, no... That's just messed up." I was shaking my head, but something didn't quite fit right. "Wait, wait, wait. What does that have anything to do with me?"

"... Are you a little slow? What kind of message does your cross-dressing is sending around the place?"

"Hey, I didn't come out to anything. I never admitted to anything." I pointed at him. "You're the one who started telling everyone. You're the one who started all the rumors. If you hadn't-"

"Woah, woah, woah there. Don't try to pin this on me now." He shrugged. "Okay, maybe I was a little panicked at first, but I'm not the one parading around with Victoria's Secret strapped around my shoulders." He made his point by poking me on the chest, which got him to pause, look down, and poke again. "Did you even go ahead, and pad those things? Damn."

I slapped his hand away. "Stop that! If it weren't for you, no one would have had to know!"

"Oh? You think you could have kept that bit hidden away for long?" He shrugged. "Heck, maybe you should be happy I'm the one who found out."

"Happy?... HAPPY? SERIOUSLY?" I walked right up to his face, pushing him back against the wall. "You went off squabbling to Josh, and you ambush me!"

"Yeah." He mumbled. "And you're still standing up. You're pretty lucky, you know that?" He gave a small glance over my shoulder. "Ready for round two?"

"... What?"

"You see, all I've been trying to do here," Zack was grinning widely, as I felt a hand squeeze my shoulder. "Is buy Josh here enough time to catch up to us."

A chill ran up my spine, all the way up to my cheeks, as I turned, and saw Josh glaring down at me. Zack, I could look face-to-face, but Josh? I didn't stand a chance.

I desperately used my whole body to push him aside, and bolted out of the bathroom, but I'd barely put a step in front of the other, before Josh's grip tightened, and he pulled me back, putting an arm right around my waist, holding me tightly. "Ooooohhh no now. You're not getting away that easilly."

"Let me GO-OOF!" It suddenly got real hard to scream for help when he squeezed a bear hug on me hard enough to lift me up, and squeeze the air right out of my lungs. I kicked, and wrestled against his grip, and just as I thought I was getting loose, he pushed me down, head into a sink, and opened the faucet. He forced me under the water, for a good minute, before pulling me back up.

"Nothing?"

"Nothing." Zack mimicked. "No makeup. No disguises. No paint. No black eye. Are you sure you actually hit him?"

There was a small 'wack', and my vision came back as Zack was rubbing his shoulder painfully.

"Felt that one, did you?" Josh glared back to me, almost breaking my shoulder. "So how did you do it?"

"Owowowow! I don't know! Ow! Dammit! I didn't do anything! Believe me, I felt it! OW!"

"Then how is it you're here, you little faggot?"

"Well, if it isn't makeup, it isn't a disguise, and that were sure as heck weren't drugged up enough to hallucinate the same thing yesterday... If you take out the impossible, and you're left with..." Zack started to count on his fingers, came up to a realization, then shook his head. "Nah, can't be. That'd be way too crazy."

"What?"

He waved his hands dismissively."Nah. Naaaah. Can't be. I mean, what are the odds?"

Josh put on more pressure on my arm. "Spit it out, Zack."

He looked at me, then at Josh, biting his lip. "Maybe we're dealing with a mutant?"

"What?" Josh and I had just about the same reaction.

"What?" He shrugged. "You got a better idea? I mean, we see some of them regrow limbs on TV, right? Right? Or maybe knows someone who is a mutant, and got some help?" He recoiled at the glare Josh gave him. "Hey! What? It's that, or magic! Maybe a clone brother we never heard of? Maybe he never really existed, and we're all having a mass hallucination! Which one's more likely, dude?"

Josh pulled me back up by the collar, and looked ta me in the eyes. "So? Are you a mutie, or not?"

I just shook my head rapidly. "I swear, I don't know what the hell he's talking about!"

He lifted a fist in the air. "Shall we find out?"

I put my arms in front of my face, closed my eyes, and waited for the punch to come, but the blow never came. One minute later, I opened one eye slightly, and I could see Josh giving it some thought.

"You know what?" He pushed me back on the counter. "Not today. Not right now."

"What?" Zack and I were just as confused by the decision.

"I said: not now. Do I need to be clear?" He growled. "It doesn't mean I forgive you, it doesn't mean you're getting away, it just means This isn't the right moment."

Why? Why isn't it the right moment? The realization came in quicker than I expected. Duh. We're still in school after all. He'd be busted in no time.

"The rumors have only started," continued Josh. "So maybe those rumors will die down. Maybe you'll be lucky. Maybe you'll dodge a bullet." He pulled me in closer, with this restrained rage look in his eyes. "Maybe I won't have to make an example out of you for the school. Wouldn't that be nice?"

That got the gears in my head spinning. "B-but how am I supposed to make a rumor like that go away?"

"Not. My. Problem." He poked me in the chest. "Either those rumors die, or I show them what we do with rumors like those."

I knew I wasn't going to like where that was going. "Come on, Josh, you can't be serious here. I didn't hurt anyone. I didn't start this. You don't have to-WOAH!"

He just hefted me up, and tossed me down on the floor. "Doesn't matter now, freak. Now go, before I change my mind."

I didn't waste a second more, and just dashed for the door, running for my life. It was getting out of control, and Josh was growing impatient. If things didn't change soon, it was going to get worse. Much worse.

Was Josh really doing this for the team? Was it really going to end that way?

And was I really a mutant?

Like those heroes on TV?

Really?

But as I ran off through the school, Josh and Zack were still on topic, the smaller of the two eyeing the door. "You're really going to let him get away? Give the homo a chance?"

"No. Not really. You really think I'd let trash like that stay in the team? It was bad enough he was in women's underwear, but now? Ugh."

"... Ah." Zack looked up to him curiously. "Sooooooo all you just told him right now?"

"Like I said," he leaned against the counter. "We're not ready. We beat him up right now, all he gets is another reason to plot revenge, and we get in trouble, maybe expelled for it. At least if he thinks he has a chance, it gives us a bit of time to prepare."

"Prepare? Prepare how?" He snerked. "Are we about to kill Mustafa, Scar?"

Josh snerked, and shook his head. "We need more people. I know a few guys who wouldn't mind teaching a cross-dresser a lesson. Doubly so if they're a mutant."

"Mutant? So you do believe me?"

"It's possible. Makes sense. Even more reason to prepare ourselves."

"I see..." Zack fidgeted. "Are you sure that's a good idea? Picking on the mutant?"

Josh frowned. "Got something against it?"

Zack waved his hands up. "Hey hey, no. I've got nothing against teaching the sissy crossdresser a lesson, but I've got a rather fatal allergy to getting my face melted."

"You've still got your face intact, don't you?"

Zack made a bit of a face. "Yeah. Yeah. My nose is still between my eyes."

"Then he doesn't know what he can do. Yet." He crossed his arms. "Meaning he's at the right time to pick on him. See if he's the real thing or not."

"So you're really going to go through with this? Mutant or not?"

"Especially if he's a mutant." He snorted. "If he's not a mutant, we make a pretty good example of him, and how the gay thing aren't welcome around here. If he is, then we expose him, and get the means to really... Take care of him."

Zack's eyes opened a bit in worry. "Wait. You mean, you're going all the way?" Now there was food for second thoughts.

"All the way." The jock shook his head. "What do you think will happen if he is a mutie?" He raised a hand. "Think real hard. For about every hero teams, there's about a dozen villains each. It's as if it's in their genetics. And who pays the price? The common man." He shrugged. "It's unfair to everyone else." He nodded to Zack. "Besides, if he does end up with mutant powers, who do you think he'd pick for revenge at the first chance?"

Zack gulped loudly, then pointed to Josh, and himself.

"Exactly." He nodded. "So if you don't want to end up crippled in a hospital, it's best we take him down, now."

"Capishe." Zack gulped again, fidgeting nervously. "So how long do we have now?"

Josh smirked confidently. "Oh, I'm sure we've got plenty of time."

Chapter 4

"Ow. Tsk." I rubbed my right arm as I left the baseball field, heading toward the changing room along with the rest of the team. Practice was over, and it was time to shuffle back home. I usually loved the game, but for once, I was glad it was over.

"Are you sure you're good?" Owen asked me as he ran to my side.

"Yeah. Yeah." I rolled my arm a little. "At least he didn't keep up with his promise."

He looked at me like he was missing a part of the picture. "What promise?"

"He didn't aim for the face." I looked behind me, and saw Zack throwing his baseball in the air before handing it over to the coach. Bastard...

I felt Owen's hand on my shoulder, and he gave me a sorry look on his face. "Look, dude, I saw what happened on the field. Not cool."

"You mean the tripping, the pushing and the other pranks?" I said in a monotone voice. It happened quite a lot, and blatantly, on the field. Just as I was about to run, someone would cross my legs, and I'd end up eating dirt. Other times, the same guys would just push me down. Someone even handed me a baseball bat with a greased handle. Were they just there to make fun of me?

He gave a somber nod. "Yeah. Those. Sorry if I didn't say anything before."

I sighed as I pushed the door open. "No worries. Even Coach didn't say a thing. And I'm sure he was watching. Every single shot..." I gave him a small smirk. "But hey, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?"

I was smiling to him, but inside I just wanted to scream. It's been two days since that meeting in the bathroom, and things kept on going downhill.

Every time I walked through the corridors at school, I could see people staring at me, their eyes drilling into me from head to toes as they either tried to figure me out, feared that I might be diseased, or were just plain disgusted by what I might be. And as soon as I passed them, I could hear as they talked about me. About how I was a tranny. About how I was gay. Did rumors really go this far this fast? None of them saw what I was doing. What I had. Yet I was already judged guilty.

And as rumors spread, while some were just looking at me, others got bolder. Some 'ran into' me as I walked, shoved me by the side, and even got my face shoved against the door of my locker a few times. I yelled after some of them, but they just kept on walking while another one got me with my back turned.

Since then, I've been trying to get away from the crowd of people. I found it easier if I climbed to the second level of the school to travel between classes, and tried to get from a classroom as soon as possible to avoid gatherings. It seemed to work. For a while at least. But even during classes, I could feel people giving me the evil eye, and even some of the teachers tried to edge away. Was the whole world turning against me? All of this because of a rumor Zack started?

How was I supposed to make a rumor like that die down? Run around the school ground shirtless? I thought it would just go away, maybe another story would come along, but so far, I didn't have any luck, and I didn't know how long Josh would wait.

Maybe if I had a little help. Someone to speak for me. But that would mean telling them what was happening, what I had to do, and on second thought, I coudln't do it.

Not much I can do about it now. Nothing but let it blow over. I told myself as I began to change. I pulled the sleeves on my baseball uniform, and slid my other shirt over it. Looked a little overstuffed right now, but it did the job without me having to disappear in the bathroom. It helped in the regular gym classes at least. Just slip the gym clothes underneath a little earlier in another bathroom. Slide the top one off in the changing room and no one even blinks.

At least, it worked in regular gym class. But here, with the team, I could hear the grumbles behind my back. I gave a side glance, and half the room turned their sights in another direction. They either looked angry for some reason, or were snickering silently. Some of them huddled around Josh, and looked back at me. I tried to figure out what they were plotting when Owen tapped my back.

"See you later man. Don't let those jerks get to you, okay?" He gave me a confident smirk as he walked out.

"Take care man." I let out as I waved to him. Oh, if only he knew half of what I'd gone through. Would he support me, or just freak out?

I stuffed my bag with that question in mind, and walked out of there with the sound of the rest of the team muttering behind me. I rushed to the other end of the school, and slipped into the bathroom to change again. I just wanted to get away from here as soon as possible. All I had to do was take the bus, and...

Wait... The bus...

Fuck! How could I forget about that? The school bus was safe, there were so many people there, they couldn't beat me up, without everyone else pitching in, but the city bus was another story. They knew where I went. They knew how to get to me. They had only team members with them. And this time, they had time to plan the thing. I'm SCREWED!

I took a deep breath. Okay, okay. Just calm down. Maybe it's not that bad. Maybe I'm just overreacting. I'm being paranoid! That's right! I didn't even know if they were really planning something or not. If they were, then there'd be signs of it. Someone would follow me, or something. If they do, I'll have to lose them. Somehow. Maybe I was paranoid, but I didn't liek to take any more chances as is.

I left the school, digging into my pocket for any change I had. A few coins, barely over five bucks. Taking a taxi was out of the question. Maybe I should go to Owen's place? No. He was even farther than I was. Dad wouldn't be home with the car for a while either. Wish I had a bike now, but no such luck.

My mind kept on running through my options as I walked down the street where the bus stop was. I didn't have a lot of choices. For now, the bus was my fastest way home, yet my first deathtrap. If I made it in there, I might be able to at least cover some ground. If any of them go into the bus, I hightail my way out by the back door, and run. All right. At least that sounds like a plan.

I gave a glance back as I was reaching the bus stop, but it didn't take long before snapped right back forward. Shit. Right around the last corner, I could see Luke, one of the two bullies who'd followed Josh that day. I took a second glance, and I could see he had two other guys with him, including Big Bruce. Backup. Oh great. I got to lose them.

I kept on walking normally. Maybe they didn't know I looked. I didn't hear them running yet, so that was a plus. As I reached the bus stop though, I kept on walking, and turned around the corner of the building. As soon as I did, I launched into a sprint straight ahead. Hopefully, before they'd realize anything, I'd be far ahead. When I heard Luke scream "HEY!" behind me, panic made me kick into second gear. Legs, don't fail me now.

I turned another corner, and dashed into the closest convenience store I could find. The cashier looked confused at me for a moment as rushed in. I didn't even let him say hi before I asked. "Bathroom? Where?" I leapt in, locked the door behind me, and stepped back slowly. Surely enough, they wouldn't be looking for me here. Would they?

I stayed in there for a good fifteen minute before I finally peeked out. Nobody but the cashier out there. Good. I slipped out, and watched out the window. It didn't take long, before I saw the bus I usually took roll right past. I could see Luke in there along with Zack, phone in hand. But I didn't see Bruce, or anyone else. Those were still out there. Along with Josh, and whoever else he might've picked up. I'd dodged a bullet, but I was still in the gun range without a vest. I was far from home, no ride, and a couple of people out there after me.

I couldn't just stay here though. I had to get home. I grabbed a sandwich, paid and left. I had a long walk ahead of me...

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You never really know how far you really have to go until you've walked it. What felt like five minutes in a car can fill a good hour on your feet. Easily. Too bad I didn't have time to appreciate the scenery.

I had to watch every face I passed, looking over my shoulder every few minutes, looking carefully around every corners. If I ran into them, any of them, I had to be ready to bolt it. The problem with that though, is that I don't quite know who was 'one of them'. I knew Josh, Zack, and company, but otherwise, I had no ideas. I could see one of them, not notice it, and suddenly, WHAM! I'm down for the count.

I almost ran into Rick, the other goon, in front of the local pawn shop. Of course, I ran off, and as soon as I did, he came after me. We must've ran around three blocks before I finally lost him through an alley. Close. Way too close.

I left my bag somewhere I could pick it up later, just in case it would slow me down. Even if I had to have a bit of late homework, it wouldn't be too much trouble. I just had to get home. I should have called Abbey at least, but it was a little too late now. Besides, I was almost there. Three blocks away, and I'd be home free. I couldn't wait...

Suddenly, a car just stopped by the side of the road, and my eyes locked on the driver. Josh was looking back at me with that hateful glare of his, but the smirk he had sent shivers up my spine. As if he had me...

I looked around quickly, and ran out into the alley. I knew where it led. It was a shortcut I used here and there. I knew it led to a parking lot, and once I crossed that, I'd be that much closer. I just needed to lose them. Just a little longer.

But I hadn't gotten far before I saw another car park right at the other end, and two guys came out, looking toward me. You got to be kidding.

Okay, maybe they weren't with Josh. Maybe I could just run past them.

"Stop him!" I heard Josh behind me.

And maybe flying pigs landed on Mars too.

Just as I got by them, I felt two arms grab me, lift me off the ground, and toss me on my back into the middle of the alley. I looked up, and I could see Josh stare down with a victorious grin on his face. "Gotcha."

I scrambled away from him, and flattened my back against the side wall. To the left, Josh was there, holding a baseball bat, and was being joined by four more. He nodded to Big Bruce to go back. "Watch that end." I looked to the right, and I could see five guys coming toward me, two of them sliding knuckles over their fingers. There were a few more coming behind them, including Zack and Luke.

"So this is the guy?" One of the taller ones asked Josh. "Doesn't look like much."

"That's the guy. Don't worry about it." Josh snerked. "Little piece of gay trash."

I pressed my back on the wall, and climbed up to my feet. "You... You're wrong! I'm not!"

"Yeah yeah, that's what they all say." Luke said as he punched his open palm.

They weren't going to believe me. They never would. I looked for the widest opening I could, and once more tried to run right inbetween them. "Hey!" Just as I got there though, my stomach met with a fist, making me lurch forward, and two arms grabbed me once more, and pinned me back to the wall. "The worm doesn't give up, does he?"

Josh came up, and shoved the end of his bat on the middle of my chest. I shot straight back up in pain, and I felt my shirt lifted once more. "In any case, this dirty faggot's getting what he deserves. We're doing society a favor."

I couldn't believe my ears as I heard them agree with each other. "N-no! You don't understand, I- UGH!" My head flung to one side from the blow to shut me up.

Josh called out to the rest. "What do you say, boys?"

And the rallying cheer they gave made me fear for my life. The gang swarmed around me, and each one began to deliver blows after blows on my body. The two thugs on my sides let me go to join in on the beating, but I could barely move. I tried to block some of the blows, raising my arms, but every time, the force just overwhelmed me, pushing my hands aside.

My whole body was wracked with pain, flopping under the number of blows. My body started to fall to the ground, pressing against the wall. No. No. Not again. Not again! I cried out in pain as I heard the names the called me, the insults, and more than anything else, their cruel laughs.

I slumped down, my strength and will gone. In the end, I couldn't do anything. I could barely feel the pain running through my body, and I couldn't resist anymore...

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Finally, after getting their fill, they left. I could still hear the echo of their laughs as they walked away. I just stayed face down on the cool ground for a while. I laid there, breathing heavily, trying to recover. My whole body felt numb. I could feel the swelling all over. My face must've been demolished by now.

Why was this happening to me? Was this how it would always be from now on? Beaten up for something I couldn't control?

I shivered as the wind blew over a naked spot on my back. My clothes must've ripped in the struggle. I finally opened my tired eyes, seeing only the beams of the street lights. It was already dark. My arms trembled as I lifted myself off the ground. I felt like hell came over me, but I had to get back.

This can't go on. I told myself as I walked, trying not to fall forward on my face. My whole body felt out of balance, my legs were shaking, and I kept thinking I was going to fall forward. Even my eyesight seemed to blurr, black lines appearing here and there. Good thing I only had two blocks left to cross.

It just has to stop. Now. I told myself. I couldn't survive another beating. I wasn't even sure I was going to survive this one. I didn't care if everyone knew I had breasts, I didn't care if they thought I was a medical freak, or handicapped. I just wanted them to leave me alone now. Josh. Zack. The rest of them. I just wanted it to be over. All over. I didn't care how anymore.

My legs shook as I took in the first few steps up our building. I leaned forward, hoping my head wouldn't spin too much before I reached the third floor. For now, I needed help. Medical help. Dad and Abbey would be home, we'd head off to the hospital, and I could get treated properly.

I finally opened the door to our apartment, and slowly stepped in. "Kyle? Is that you?" I could hear Abbey's voice calling out to me as I leaned against the closest wall. I'd finally arrived. "Do you know how... late it... is?" She froze as she saw me. I could see the look of horror on her face. I must've looked as bad as I felt. "K-Kyle?"

"Heh-hi sis." God, even my voice felt weird. "S-something... ha-happened on-"

"Sshh. It's okay. It's okay." She said reassuringly, putting an arm over my shoulders and supporting me. "We'll get you changed, and we're taking you straight to the hospital." She started to lead me strangely toward my room first.

"Ch-change?" I asked, giving a weakened chuckle. "I-I think there are more important things t-to worry about." We walked past my father, who looked at me in that same surprised look over his face. "Like... cleaning the blood, binding..."

She looked over at me again. "Blood?"

I looked up to her again. "Y-yes? Don't you see it?" I took quite a beating, surely enough, there would be blood. Right?

"Kyle, did... Did you take a look at yourself?" She asked with a touch of worry in her voice.

"Huh?"

"... Come on." She led me toward the bathroom, and pulled me toward the mirror. That's when I finally got to see the damage.

Like she said. There was no blood in sight. My clothes were in rags, my shirt open wide, my bra ripped to pieces, and my pants showing wide cuts, but I didn't even show a drop of red. Just like the first time, I didn't even show any bleeding, or bruises. I should have been swollen like a pumpkin, but I wasn't. Not even a scratch on my... smooth... skin...

I rubbed my eyes with one hand as I looked down at myself. By what I saw with the hole in my shirt, my breasts had swollen even more than they had before, the aureoles showing off my nipples even more. I was sure they had grown a cup or two, I couldn't exactly tell how much. That just didn't happen, did it?

But the twins weren't the only things that had changed. The muscles I had developed seemed to have smoothed down over my belly. My waist and hips were making an odd curve down. My legs seemed to follow the curve, the rips in my pants showing skin that looked way too smooth. I had a few scars down there, I knew it. I did.

I looked back up to the mirror, and finally saw my face clearly. My hair, usually a bright brown, cut short, had grown down to my shoulders, the only traces of the original at the tip before it switched to a dark black, as if I'd let a dye grow out. My chin had narrowed down, refined. My cheeks seemed different, felt different as I reached up with slimmer fingers. My nose seemed smaller, cuter. And finally, my eyes, the boyish look softening up in a more feminine feel to match the rest of my face. Even the color of my irises were changed, lines of a bright purple appearing inside my usual green. I looked into them deeply, until I saw a strand of black hair pass in front of them.

I was in shock. I almost fell down again, if I hadn't been held up. I couldn't believe what was going on.

"What... What... What..." I trembled, looking up to Abbey. My voice, higher than usual, almost choking around the words. "What's happening to me?"

Chapter 5

What's going on?

That's the question I kept asking myself ever since I saw my new face in the mirror. Every minute that followed was a new discovery. A new part of me. A new fear of what had happened to me. Why do I look like a... Like a...

All I could do right now though, is get to the hospital. They'd be able to get me some answers.

I double checked when I was changing into some cleaner clothes. I still had a penis, so I was still a guy, at least technically. I thought. Although my clothes had trouble following that train of thought. My boxers' elastic wasn't tight enough to keep it up properly anymore, yet I struggled to get my pants up over my hips. And once they were up, there was still a small gap left, so I had to tighten my belt as hard as I could to close it. My shirt was no better. I tried two or three of them, but in every case, my new 'inflations' were squeezed tightly against the fabric, yet hung loose underneath them. And I thought my nipples were poking out before, it was nothing compared to this. The last bra I had left wouldn't even fit me anymore. Without taking the time to look through Abbey's box, I just grabbed a sweatshirt, slid it over me, and looked at the results. I still had a few more curves than I ever did before, but it helped.

I left my room, trying not to fall forward again. I still felt a little dizzy. I could see Abbey and dad by the entrance, the later sliding his coat on. "Now you stay here, and watch the-"

"But I want to know! I want to be there." She definitively looked worried.

He raised one hand. "Look, Abbey, dear." He lowered it down reassuringly. "You've got to keep an eye on Gabby."

"She's sleeping."

"Good. Keep her that way. Don't need to wake her up. We need someone here. We can't both go. Understood?"

"Yes, but-"

"Are we ready to go now?" I asked in a low voice, wincing a little. My own voice felt so odd. They both looked a little startled as they looked at me. I didn't blame them.

Dad turned to grab his hat as Abbey came to me. "Look, Kyle..." She hesitated a moment. "Can you at least tell me what happened? You mentioned blood, and your clothes, and..." She looked at me with enough worry in her eyes to make me crumble. She probably wanted to know everything as bad as I did.

I looked up to her, wishing I could explain her exactly what happened to me, but I wasn't even sure myself anymore. I thought I'd be a bloody mess in a stretcher by now. I had the clothes to prove something happened, but otherwise...

"I'll... I'll give you the details afterwards, okay? I... I don't even know anymore." I hesitantly gave her a smirk. "We'll call as soon as it's over, okay?"

She looked like she was about to argue with me for a moment, but she reconsidered, and finally just wrapped her arms around me. "Take care, little brother. Okay?"

I returned the hug hesitantly, feeling the new difference between our bodies even more now, our breasts pressing against each other, but I still hugged her. "I will, sis. I will."

With that, I let go. I started on my way, until my foot caught on something, and my whole body flew forward. "W-w-w-w-WOAH!" Abbey caught me just in time before I crashed onto the floor. I sighed, and looked up to her. "Th-thanks."

With that though, she refused to let me go until I was seated in the car. I waved out to her, and the car left the lot in a hurry.

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A little later, we were in Doctor Julian's office, waiting for him to return from his last patient. The nurse had just finished with the preliminaries: temperature, pressure, and the standard questions. Imagine the look on her face when I said I had curves I never had before. That threw a loop in her daily routine. I guess people are going to give me that look for a while now.

I sighed, and looked up to my father. The guy, whom last time sat straight up with military stiffness, was looking down at me with concern matching mine. He didn't look angry, or disappointed, he just looked concerned. He didn't ask me a single question during the drive. He didn't ask in the waiting room either. Not even now. I knew he wanted to know more, but why wasn't he saying anything?

Just as I was about to open my mouth, the doctor came in, with file in hand. "Good evening, Leon. Good evening..." He paused a moment, looking at me. He took a moment to look at the file, and back at me. "Leon, I know you're not one to pull a prank on me, but if you wanted to bring-"

"Julian..." My father took his more serious stance. "This isn't a joke." He gave a nod. "This is Kyle."

Julian looked at him for a moment, as if deciding to believe him or not, then back at me with a questioning stare in his eyes. I bit my lip, and gave him a silent nod to confirm what dad just said.

The doctor looked shocked for a moment, taking a second look over at me from head to toes. After about five awkward minutes spent under his evaluating gaze, he shook his head, and pushed his glasses further up his nose. "Right... Right." He sat down, and opened my file, going through the sheets. "It hasn't been a week since the last time we spoke, Kyle. Yet you've gone through some rather... Dramatic changes." I couldn't help but shiver. The doctor reached into his desk, and set a small tape recorder. "Tell me everything Kyle." He sat down with a thick pad, pen at hand. "Tell me how you feel right now, what you think could have caused this, and everything that you can remember during these past six days."

With a sigh, I began to tell them my story. Wearing a bra, being caught by Zack, and the first beating Josh gave me. Dad looked shocked for a moment, and told the doctor this was the first he'd ever heard of this. I just hung my head low. I couldn't look up to him right now. Julian told me to continue, and I followed with my discovery at the mirror, and how I was unharmed. That seemed to catch their attention. But they didn't ask any questions yet. Finally, I told them about the beating I'd just survived. I tried to describe it; I tried to give as many names as I could, and all they did to me. I shook in my seat as the blows flashed clearly in my head.

"And... When I came back home, I... I was like this." I looked up to him as he wrote down his notes. I could see the wrinkles in his forehead as he tried to hammer down the problem.

He looked up to me once more. "That's all?" I rolled the details in my head again, and gave him a nod. "Okay... Get up, and take the sweater off."

As I got to my feet, I immediately did a double-take. "W-what?"

"I just need to make sure of what we're looking at, Kyle." He said reassuringly. "Scars, malformations, discolorations, even cancer growths."

That didn't make me feel all that much better, but if it would help him figure it out, I didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. Taking a deep breath to steel myself, I lifted the sweater off my head. The shirt was a little trickier, but soon, I felt the cool air blow over the twins. I could almost feel the stares from the two other men in the room zoom in on 'them'. This was all kinds of awkward. I looked to my father in unease, but he simply looked away. I could see the color in his face though.

"Tell me if this hurts."

I almost screamed and jumped as I felt his hand grope my breast. "Wha-wha-what are you doing?"

"Looking for anomalies. Now stay still." He said as he prodded another spot on them. This felt so weird, so creepy. I could feel his rough fingers press into them. Feel the softer skin move like putty. This was how it was supposed to feel? "Tell me, did you feel any kind of growth before tonight? Any swelling?"

I tried to focus on the question as he kept on 'checking' on me. "N-not really." I thought a moment. "K-kinda. Th-the bra was feeling tighter."

"But they weren't anywhere this big until now?" I shook my head as he examined the nipple, and then switched to the other globe. "And any other parts of your body?" I shook my head again. "Your face? Your waist? Your legs and hands?" I shook my head again and again. "Not even your hair?"

"No... Nothing, until tonight. After what those fuckers did to me." I trembled, and bit my lower lip. My new voice made this sound all so weird, but I couldn't stop myself. "And then... Well, you know."

"Yes... Yes... And your penis hasn't changed? Shrunk? No burning sensations?"

I looked at him like he was a madman. "... What? I-" I clammed up as he looked at me sternly. "N-no. No, It's... Okay." I was scared to see where that kind of question would lead. "I think?"

"I see... I see." He lifted my two tits a little as if it were a natural thing to do. "No apparent surgical scarring here..." He looked back up to me. "Any leftover scars from the fight? Anything?" I shook my head again. "Any problems moving around?"

"I... I did have trouble with my balance at first. I almost fell a few times, but I'm... I'm getting used to it."

"No pain when you move your arms or legs? Turning around?" I closed my eyes, and shook my head again. "I see..." He gave a sigh, and waved to me. "You can put your clothes back on."

With that, he sat back in his chair, and closed his eyes, rubbing them in thought. He reviewed his notes, added a few more lines, and finally picked up his phone. "Chelsea? ... Yes. Is Doctor Dane available? ... In surgery? I see..." He looked toward me with a nervous expression I'd never seen on his face before. "This is rather special, Chelsea. As soon as this one is over, send the doctor to my office... Yes... Yes, of course. Thank you."

He hung up with a trembling hand, sighed, and shook his head, muttering something I couldn't catch. "Kyle... I'm sorry to say this, but if what you've told me is true, this may be something completely outside of my field." I could feel my heart and hopes sink down with every word. "Unless there's some kind of surgeon behind the scene, or... Some kind of miracle 'quick growth hormone' involved, this is, by our current technology, medically impossible. But we do have someone here who's got some... Alternative experience, and will give you some concrete answers." He slid his notes in my folder, and closed it. "In the meantime, I want to make a few tests. Blood, urine, X-rays, and a visit to the MRI..." He took in a deep breath, and put a hand on my shoulder. "We'll find out what's wrong with you, boy."

I gave a tired sigh. "I... I hope so."

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I rubbed my arm where they'd stuck the needle, pressing the cotton ball on properly under my sleeve. Giving blood was never fun, but it was one more test down the line. One more step toward figuring out why I changed like this. The more I thought about it though, the more it scared me. What was going to happen next? What if the doctors couldn't figure it out? What kind of specialist do they have here anyways?

We sat down in front of the X-ray room, and waited for my turn to come.

"Look, Kyle." I looked up to my dad. "I know you're going through something rough right now, but I want to know." He gave a grave sigh, looking both disappointed and concerned at me. "Why didn't you tell us about those bullies?"

I felt my stomach squeeze at that question. "I... I... I just... I don't know." I looked down to the floor "No. I mean, I know, but..." I rubbed my face. "I thought I could handle it. I thought, if I just stayed quiet, it'd pass. I mean, you saw me. I didn't look like I was beaten up. Who would believe me? That my teammates decided to beat me up? Just like that?" I shook my head. "Sure, people were staring, but it was supposed to pass! This whole bra thing was supposed to be temporary. I didn't think they'd go that far!"

I sighed, and pressed my face against my hands. "But now THIS comes up! I almost get beaten to death, and... and... This!" I felt his arm around my shoulders, and squeeze. "I just want this to be over. I just want this all to be fucking over, and everything... To go... Back to normal. To the way things used to be."

My father gave a sigh. "Son... It's going to be hard, I know." He paused a moment. "If you had problems with the bra, you could have told us, we could have found something else. Or at the very least gotten those punks off your back."

I looked up at him, frowning a little. "Do you know how bad it sounds to have your parent call to stop a fight for you? How many people would beat me up then?"

He lifted a finger at me. "Maybe, but then we wouldn't be here, would we?"

I felt the stab in my reasoning, and simply looked down in defeat. "I never imagined they'd go this far..." I muttered.

He sighed with me. "But we're here now... From now on though, if anything happens, come to me or Abbey for help."

"Unless you're working..." I muttered. "And Abbey's not exactly available all the time either."

His face twisted with guilt and regret for a few seconds. "I can't help that, you know."

I bit my tongue. "I know I know... It's just..." I clenched my fists tightly in frustration. "I can't do anything. I can't fight them, I can't hide from them, and I can't run from them!" My arms shook harder. "I-I can't even prove they beat me up!" My voice choked up by the end, and I lifted one fist in the air, slamming it down on my knee. "It's not fair!"

I lifted it again, until my father caught my arm. "Kyle. Calm down." He said in his commanding voice. "You're in a hospital."

"Huh?" I looked up, and saw a few people stare at me as they walked about for a moment. My face heated up in embarrassment, and I looked down. "S-sorry."

Dad sighed, and let me go. "Kyle, I know it may seem unfair, but you do have something most victims don't have." I looked at him as if he'd just told a very bad joke. "You know your attackers. You've already given us their names, and the fact that they come from your school."

"What good does it do if I know them?" I spat out. "I don't even look beat-up! Not a scar, nothing! I... I just look like-"

"We do have your clothes. They're rather... ruined." He noted. "I'm sure there's plenty of traces of them on them."

"Most of them are on the baseball team." I muttered. "They could have had their hands on them at any time. Besides, it's not like it proves what really happened." I winced inside, until something dawned on me. "But... Maybe there-"

"STOP THAT THING!"

The scream of a nurse pulled everyone's attention at once. I could see her running in our direction down the corridor, a look of panic in her face. She was reaching down to what looked like a pure black orb of ink about three inches long that seemed to... hop across the floor? Just as she seemed to reach for it, it just leapt away a few more feet forwards out of reach. It would almost have been funny if it wasn't so freaky. And the fact that they were both headed straight at us!

I pushed myself against my chair, and just tried to stay out of the way. I did not want to get involved in any more weird stuff. But just as the black slug-like mass passed in front of our waiting cubicle, it immediately launched itself at me! "GAH!" I threw myself off my chair, and the thing splattered against the wall right where I was sitting, but it didn't take a second before it came right back at me.

I threw my arms out, and it attached itself to my forearm, pressing against the sleeve of my sweater. "AAAHHH!" I screamed out in terror, and slapped my hand on it like a bug, but as my hand pressed on top, it just split apart, slipped right in-between my fingers, and flew right at my face! It shoved itself right into my mouth, sliding right between my teeth, and down my throat, wriggling down there. I tried to close my lips in an attempt to stop it, but as soon as I did, the leftovers began to slither immediately up my nose. Before I knew it, the last bit of it was moving down, and it felt as if it all vanished inside of me.

I trembled in shock as everyone seemed to stare at me. I patted down my chest, trying to feel that black thing, but... Nothing. What kind of science fiction did I just survive?

"Kyle, are you okay?" Dad came over, checking up on me.

"Uh huh?" I squeaked out. "I-I think?"

"Doc's not going to be happy about this." The nurse muttered at the scene.

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I didn't know what to think anymore. My whole life was becoming weirder by the minute. There were no traces of that black thing after it went down. Not on the floor, not on the wall, not even in my mouth. It was in me, doing who knows what.

They rushed me through my tests, even at the complaints of other waiting patients. They did about three types of scanning on me, but even through that, they hadn't found anything about that black blob. I didn't feel anything inside of me, so it must've been lying still... or something.

Now, we were sitting at Julian's office, waiting for the doctor and his specialist. My leg bounced up and down nervously. What's taking so long? I wanted some answers. I wanted to know what was going on, but the longer I waited, the worse it got. This was supposed to help me, not confuse the hell out of me. None of them could tell me anything, and that scared me more and more by every passing moment. Only this 'specialist' could do anything, it seems.

After what seemed like an eternity, Julian came in, followed by a younger doctor and what seemed to be his daughter. I shot up on my feet, and looked toward the man. "Are you the specialist?" He looked at me a little shocked, and I asked him right away. "Can you tell me what's going on? What's happening to me? How do we-"

"Umm..." The man looked hesitant for a moment. "I'm sorry, but... I'm not the doctor. I'm just the assistant."

"Huh?" Completely confused, I turned to Doctor Julian for an explanation.

The old doctor rubbed his temples, his face twisting in annoyance. "Kyle... Meet Doctor Emily Dane."

He showed his hand in the direction of the small girl who didn't look any older than ten years old, her blonde hair tied into a ponytail, and wearing a lab coat that almost looked too big for her fit. She seemed a bit ticked off at me, and turned toward the assistant. "Paul, one day, we're going to have to find a way to get this cleared up." The man just shrugged with an embarrassed smile as the girl reached out toward me. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Kyle."

I stared silently at her for about a minute while she shook my hand. This was supposed to be their specialist? I looked toward Julian. "You can't be serious. This is a joke, right?" I turned to the 'assistant', then at my father. "Right? Right? Where's the hidden camera?"

The 'specialist' seemed even more ticked off than before. "How rude is this kid?" She looked toward Julian. "He's speaking to a medical genius, and he thinks this is a joke?" She scoffed, and turned to the desk, opening my file.

"But... But... She's a KID!" I screamed out. "She looks even younger than I am!"

"And just as mature." Julian rubbed his tired eye. "But she is literally twenty seven years old."

I stared in disbelief at him, then at the pre-teen girl. "That... Just can't be true."

"Yet it is." She muttered, insulted by my statement. "By a certain twist of fate, my body is stuck this way." She rolled up her eyes at me. "But it doesn't mean I'm not smarter than you are, boy." She was flying through those pages so fast, I wondered if she even glanced at the words.

"But...B-b-but why her?" I asked. "I thought you said you were getting a specialist!"

"I did." Julian said with a sigh. "Who better to look this up than a mutant?"

My blood froze at the word. "M-m-mutant?"

"It's not obvious?" She said, looking up toward me with an amused smirk.

I took a few steps back, and fell back in my chair. I felt a lump form in my throat. "S-so you think that I'm... I'm..."

"I'll be the judge of that." She muttered as she pulled a few pages out. The small girl came up to me, studying me from head to toes, making my whole body tense up. With a wave of her hand, Paul swooped in, and placed a stool for her to climb up to eye level. She pulled out a small penlight. "Open your mouth..." I did as told, and she examined a moment. "Nothing here. Good. Now look into my eyes." She blinded me for a minute or so, while I tried not to blink. "Yeah... Classic signs." She stood up straight with a playful, childish smile on her face. "But we can't tell for sure until we see the real treat."

I frowned at her. "Real treat? What do you mean by the real treat?"

"Your power, silly." She rolled her eyes. "Well, the one we know, at least. Paul?" She pointed to her assistant. "Would you prep up a needle for the boy?"

"Right away doctor," the 'male nurse' answered quickly.

"P-power?" I twitched inside, and leaned toward her. "Wh-what are you talking about? I just want to know what's happening to me! How to stop this shit from happening!"

I felt my father's hand squeeze my shoulder again as the girl leaned forward, pressing her tiny little finger on my nose. "You're putting the carriage before the horse, boy." She pushed my head back as Paul strapped the rubber band around my arm. "I guarantee you that once we've got your power figured out, we can explain the rest of the equation." She smiled proudly, and even posed, pointing one finger in the air. "In fact, with my brilliant mind, I've already figured it all out!" She turned toward Julian with a broad smile. "Of course, I couldn't have done this so quickly without your notes, old man. Very thorough."

Julian groaned, sitting back on his chair. It seemed like he had his own bitterness toward the girl. "Just because you're the one who knows mutants the best, doctor, doesn't mean you're better than the rest of us. I only did my job as a man of medicine."

"Won't you just tell me what's going on then?" I winced a bit as I felt the needle dig into my skin. It didn't hurt, but the cold feeling sent shivers up my spine. "D-didn't you do this already? You've got my blood." I said, as I saw the vial fill up with the red liquid.

She turned toward Julian. "Nobody's bothered to tell him, did they?" The older doctor shook his head. "Oh joy." She muttered with a hint of sarcasm.

"Bothered to tell me what?" I asked, getting a bit more worried. What did they hide from me?

She shook her head. "Tsk tsk. Okay, you remember the black substance that went for you?" I shivered at the memory, and nodded to her. "Well-"

"Doctor?" Paul tapped the girl's shoulder, and held up the vial.

"Already? That was quick." She giggled, and bounced as she stared at it. "Look, it's starting."

As we all leaned forward, we saw my blood swirl a little inside the glass tube. Black lines appeared over the red, and grew wider and wider, until all my blood had become that inky black, and suddenly, it shot upward against the stopper, pushing against the rubber. My jaw just dropped at the sight.

"See? It's trying to get out." The girl whispered in awe. "It's trying to get back into you, boy."

My stomach squeezed tightly. "W-W-Whaaaat?"

"Your blood wants to come back into you. It changed into this, and right now, it's trying it's hardest to come back." The black blood was shaking around the tube violently now, jumping up and down, ramming onto both ends of the vial rapidly. "The nurses claimed that the three vials cracked, and exploded before it gathered up, and began jumping away." She looked back to me with an all-knowing glint in her eyes. "It knew right where you were, even if you were halfway across the hospital. Very smart cells."

"Umm... Doctor Emily?" Paul looked a bit worried as the vial shook violently in his fingers.

She gave a nod, and he pulled the stopper out. As soon as he did, the black liquid burst out in the air, arched down, and back onto my face. I tensed up, clenched my eyes close as the creepy feeling swam right down my throat, and it disappeared on the way down once more.

That was it. There was no denying it. I... I really was a mutant. That was my blood. That was my blood in that vial, and it just... Jumped into me. It really happened. I was one of those people. Those superheroes and monsters on TV. Those people that did the unimaginable, the incredible. Those that some viewed as freaks and menaces to society; to the human race. Those hunted down by Humanity First.

I was one of them.

The realization made me sink in my seat. I looked up at my father, who looked at me with as much disbelief as I did. "I'm... I'm..."

The girl seemed giddy with excitement, hopping off her stool. "We've got a mutant! Yes we do!" Did she really need to sound so happy? She added a few more notes to the file. "Probably classified as a high level Regenerator..."

"Maybe with some Shifter attributes also?" Paul added in as he looked over her shoulder.

She playfully tapped the tip of his nose with her pen. "You're learning... But I think it's something more here. Maybe a little Exemplar too."

"Exemplar?" He raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"

"Positive. I-"

Julian coughed, trying to interrupt the two. They looked back to the three of us who didn't know a thing of what they were saying. Julian sighed, looking at me and my father. "I'm sorry, there's a reason I try to keep her out of sight."

She scoffed. "You know I'm better than the rest of the quacks."

Julian frowned as he turned to her. It seemed like it was a long argument between the two. "If you'd actually-"

Dad coughed heavily. "You two..." They both growled at each other, and then turned back to us. "You said you knew what's happening. Can you explain now?" She opened her mouth when my father interrupted. "In terms we can all understand?"

She grumbled a little. "Okay..." She sighed. "Well, Mr Leon, your son, as we've just seen, is a mutant." She looked through the pages. "By the sound of things, he's what we classify as a Regenerator. Most wounds on you repair by themselves on a much accelerated rate. Bruises have their blood vessels clot together in seconds, broken bones re-attach themselves, and cuts mend themselves." She waved a finger. "In fact, I bet that black effect happens every time too. Every time your body doesn't function, or fit as it should, it snaps back into place." She looked up a bit. "I'd like to test it a little more myself, but..."

"S-so... That's why I don't have any wounds, or scars?" I mumbled lowly, looking down. "But..." I looked toward her. "Why do I look like this? Why is my body changing? My chest is growing, my hands are getting smaller, and my face-"

"Is looking more and more feminine?" She interrupted, looking away from the file. The blood in my veins froze again at the last word. I couldn't say she was wrong, I'd been thinking the same thing for a while now.

She gave me a smug smile, mumbling something about shutting me up. "Well, you said that before tonight, there weren't ANY signs of other changes, outside of your breasts?" I gave a nod which made her smile grow wider "Then we know your regeneration is linked to your changes. The more your body repairs itself, the more female you become."

My body trembled after hearing that. I wasn't just becoming malformed? I was turning into a girl?

Paul decided to cut in. "So you mean the cells are changing from Y's to X's?" He pondered. "Maybe when it turns to black, the cells find it easier to change that way?"

Emily waved a finger, shaking her head to correct him. "No, no, no. He'd still have a boy body. Even if the mutation would accelerate the changes in the cells, or create female hormones, it would only make him more emotional, give him odd feelings, and maybe a slight development of the chest." She held up a picture of my X-rays. "But none of that could go so far as to change the body that drastically. Especially something like the pelvic bone. It's rather obvious when you think about it."

Julian pushed his glasses back on his nose. "We do have to break that part in some cases for it to form properly."

"Exactly." Emily nodded in agreement, hopping in excitement. "Which is why I believe we're dealing with an Exemplar effect."

Paul slapped his fist into his hand. "So he's got a BIT?"

She squealed. "YES!" Julian coughed once more, making her groan in frustration. "BIT means Body Image Template." She gave us a bored look. "Exemplars are mutants whose bodies change to look in a certain way. The final form, or the blueprint, is the BIT."

I trembled more and more nervously as the explanation ran on. "S-so my BIT is... What made this?"

"Yup!" She giggled impishly. "Although it's incredibly rare to see a female BIT in a man."

"But... But..." I clenched my teeth, and stood up. "I'm a guy. I'm still a guy!" I stomped my foot. "I've still got a cock, and-"

"And it will surely go the way of the dodo." She sang to me. "It could just disappear into your black stuff overnight. Oooor maybe it'll just fall off, and turn into dust. Or maybe it could even slowly turn into a vagina, starting with the balls pulling inside into your ovaries, the sack turning into your lips, the length sinking inside, and the tip turning into your little clit." She suddenly seemed to have a sparkle in her eyes. "Wouldn't it be amazing to watch that process happen?" The three men shuddered in unison, but none more than me, as that vision might very well be my reality.

"You m-mean... It's... Not over?" I whispered in fear. "Ho-how do you know?"

She pointed to her face. "Your eyes, boy. Surely, you noticed the lines around them?" I knew about the lines: small purple crescents in my brown iris. But I didn't know the meaning.

Paul seemed a little confused, like the rest of us. "You never taught me that one, Doctor."

She shook her head slowly. "A common sign of a mutation is that the eyes change color." She came in a little closer to me, and everyone else leaned in closer to see. "It's happening here too. I'm guessing your normal eye color is brown?" I nodded to her as she made little circles around my eyes. "See the lines here? I'm sure when the last line of brown will be gone. You'll be close to finished." She gave an amused giggle. "If we go by these, you're a little under halfway done to your final form."

I couldn't hold back a whimper. "B-but you can stop this, right? Right?"

She gave a snerk. "If we could stop mutations, I'm sure the world would be a better place, boy."

I stomped my foot in frustration. "I mean the transformation!"

She raised an eyebrow. "There's a difference?" Everyone stared at her hard for a moment, until she explained herself. "Just like your regeneration, there's no real way to stop it."

I looked down a bit, trying think of something. "What if... What if I don't have to use my regeneration? And stay at home? My body won't change, will it?"

"Now you're just being silly." She raised a finger. "Even if it was only your mutation that caused your transformation to happen, there's no real way to avoid it. One fall, and it would begin. A paper cut. Heck, at every step we take, our bones fragment, and repair themselves. In your case, your cells would do the job every time." She tilted her head, giving it more thought. "Although you'd really want to avoid any more attacks or major accidents. The more it kicks in, the faster it will go. And if you rush things too much, you might run into increased chances of a burnout, or a GSD happening."

Julian raised an eyebrow. "Burnout? GSD? Explain?"

Paul winced a bit, while Emily explained. "A burnout is when a mutant's body overwhelms them, and they literally burst into flames. Most cases are deadly, and I've heard some who almost took out a whole city." That thought terrified me. "And GSD stands for Gross Structural Dystrophy. Those are usually major, permanent changes to the body. Very ugly business. Horns, lizard skin, body of stone, cat ears, tentacles, and such. I've even heard of one girl whose body was like jelly." She gave a smirk at me. "Being a girl then would probably be the least of your worries."

"And... And that could happen to me?" I asked, my voice struggling to get out. I could feel my father's hand on my shoulder, trying to support me, but at this time, I don't think anything would help me.

"It could." She stated, almost considering it. "Unfortunately, there's no real way to tell until it's over." She raised her finger one more, waving it around to warn me. "But you really don't want to take any unnecessary chances, got it?"

I clenched my teeth tightly, and trembled in my father's hold. "Wha-wha-what about hormones?" I looked up to Julian, who seemed a bit surprised. "You told me it could stop the breasts, c-c-can't it stop this?"

He looked at me nervously. "W-w-w-well, I..."

"You're a mutant, boy." Emily giggled a little, tossing her hands in the air. "You can toss most modern medicine out of the window. Even more so in your case." She shook her head once more, to deny me of another ray of hope. "Your body would probably reject any kind of hormones, if it doesn't just turn the doses into harmless proteins." She twirled her hand around. "And if you think upping the dose will help, let me tell you this... All previous attempts at reversal either failed utterly, or ended in burnout."

"Can't you... I don't know, change the damn BIT? Erase it?"

She looked at me as if I'd just told a bad joke. "If I could, surely enough I wouldn't be stuck as a ten-year old, now would I?" She scoffed. "Researchers barely understand it, and the so-called mages have no ideas. You might as well give it up." She sang out childishly.

Denied, denied, denied. I just couldn't take it anymore. I just had one more plea. "What about surgery? Put me on a table. Anything! Just... Just... Fix me, please!"

The others stared at me silently as I was about to cry out. My vision blurred as the tears began to form. That's when I heard it...

"Pffth... Pffth... Pfhehehehe." Emily had a hand over her mouth, her eyes closed. "PFHEEHEEHEEHEEEEEHAHAHAHAHAAaaaa. AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!" She leaned against the desk as she laughed. I didn't understand what she was laughing about. "HAHAHAHAHHAAAAAaaaaa. Oooohhh." She shook her head, looking toward Paul. "He doesn't get it! He just doesn't get it! I mean... Surgery? Come on! Isn't it-WOAH!" She held out her hands as I came this close to punching her right across the face. If only dad hadn't held me back. I just wanted her to shut up!

"Now wait a minute! Let me explain now!" She was still smiling as she took back her footing. "Surgery isn't just a magic trick, you know? It's basically just putting you under the scalpel, and cutting you up. But we've just explained to you that anything we do to you will just heal itself! I could cut you open, and even before I could look inside, it would just seal up. I would try again, and what do you know? The exact same thing would happen again. No matter which surgeon would try, the result is the same! By the time you came out of the room, you'll be even more on your way to femininity than ever before!" She leaned forward, shaking her head. "Don't you get it, silly boy?"

I did get it. I really did. I understood every word, but it didn't make any of it feel any easier. From all of this, one thing was so very clear.

No matter how fast I ran, there was just no getting away from it it...

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From that point on, everything was just a blur to me. The places, the voices, the people, the trip back home... Everything. I just lost myself in my thoughts. I must've been in shock. I vaguely remember that there was more shouting, more arguing, the talk of a certain school, and more testing. But that didn't matter for me right now. There were only two facts running through my head right now.

I was a mutant...

And I was going to be a girl...

There's no changing those facts. Or so they say. They even proved it in front of my very eyes, and yet I didn't want to believe it. Why? Why me? Why is this happening to me?

As a mutant, I was going to be branded as a freak. A menace. Treated as dirt. If that got out, who knew what would happen to me? I saw the news. I heard about the attacks that were made. Mutants captured by Humanity-one. Mutants experimented on. And I thought at the time that some of them deserved this. But now, I was one of them! I didn't want this! I didn't want any of this to happen! Of course, there are superheroes out there, but what can I do? I can't do those incredible things they show on TV. I cant even defend myself against a pack of school bullies.

I just want to get through school, help the family until Gabby was old enough, get a good job, a girlfriend, keep on practicing baseball, maybe even make pro, and maybe make a family of my own in the future. A normal life, right?

But now, that was all gone. I was a freak now.

Not only that, but I wasn't even going to be a boy. That thought scared me just as much. Was I going to be expected to act like girl? To live like one? Bras, panties, dresses, skirts, and all the girly clothes that came along with it? To look all cute and pretty? Was I going to be expected to date boys too? No! No! Just no! I didn't want to! Never did, never will!

But I was going to be a girl soon. I was going to have to face everything they did. PMS. Periods. Pregnancy? Was I going to have a baby one day? To carry one? To give birth? No! Please, God, no.

Sports. Baseball. There was no way. Not only was I a girl, I was a mutant. Baseball was out of the question. The team would never let me in. No team would. Already as a girl, my choice was limited, but mutants were practically banned from participating in any professional sports. I didn't even know if they were allowed to watch at all. I was going to miss the game so much.

There was no way I was going back to school. Not willingly. Not like this. If they don't know what happened to me, how many guys will look at me? How was my life going to be out there now? I... I might not even be Kyle anymore. All my grades were going down the drain along with my identity. I wasn't great, but all this time, all these years, gone? And what if I said I was Kyle? That I was a mutant? How many people would come after me? Just like... Them...

Josh and Zack. They were right on one thing. I really was a mutant. There's no denying it, they were right on the money for that. But I wasn't gay! I'm not a transvestite! I wasn't! I kept on telling them that, but they beat me up anyways!

And now... Now I really was going to go from guy to girl. I was going to be looking the part. They were going to think I'd done all this of my own free will too. What were they going to do next? The fear was overwhelming.

Owen. He was already freaked when news was going around, and now? Now that I was on this one-way trip? The guy might as well join Josh and company.

And Lauren? Oh God, Lauren. I never told her I liked her. I never stepped forward and did it. Now, I'd be a girl too. I'd never have the chance. She'd probably hate me. She'd probably run away now if I ever told.

No. No. No. Noooooo...

Before I realized it, Dad and I were climbing our way up the stairs, and opening the door to the apartment. Home...

"Dad? Kyle?" I heard Abbey running in from the living room. God, what was she going to think? "What happened? You never called." She looked at us in concern as we came in silently. "Dad? Kyle?"

I looked up to her for a moment, and tried to form the right words. But every time I struggled to speak, my throat choked out all the sound. What was I going to tell her? That I was a mutant? That her little brother was going to be her new sister? That I was a freak now and nothing could ever change that? That my life was over?

I tightened my fists, shaking in my frustration, took a deep breath, and I...

And I...

I...

I broke down.

I fell against Abbey, and let out a loud cry. "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-HA-HA-HAAAAAaaa..." I cried like I'd never cried before, screaming into my sister's chest with all my strength. The beatings, the transformation, the predicted future, and the feeling of being so helpless to do anything about it. It was overwhelming. I just couldn't hold it in anymore. I felt Abbey's comforting arms hold me, and I clung onto her, pouring all the pain and misery I had gathered over the past six days into the tears and the screams.

I cried and cried...

Until I couldn't cry anymore...

Chapter 6

The next morning, I slowly regained consciousness, greeted by the feeling of a wet pillow against my face. I wondered for a moment why it was wet in the first place, and finally remembered why.

I cried myself to sleep that night.

That's right. It all slowly came back to me as I felt the pressure on my breasts. All the news I'd been delivered last night. The beating of my life. Being a mutant. Being a girl.

I just closed my eyes tightly, and wished that either the nightmare would end... Or that I'd never wake up again.

"Abbey!" Unfortunately, it seemed like the Sandman wasn't going to come. "Kyle brought home a girl!" Or maybe it was a nightmare. I turned my head, slightly opened my tired eyes, and saw Gabby, who was holding a box of crayons. She smiled at me, and turned toward the door, shouting: "And she's cute too!" Murder ran through my mind right there and then. She looked back to me, and asked innocently. "What's your naaaaame?" Great. She didn't even recognize me.

"Leave me alone." I mumbled as I covered my head with my bedsheets.

"Come oooonnn." She jumped into the bed. "Tell meeee." She whined annoyingly. I just turned away, and tried to ignore her, but she shook me as hard as she could. "Pleeeaaaase?"

I curled up around myself, tried to forget her. "Noooo..."

I felt her shift on top of me, and pulled the bedsheets away as she could whisper in my ear. "Do you really like Kyle?"

I could feel my face turn a new shade of red.

That was it.

I sat up suddenly, pushing her up with me. I glared down at her little startled face. "Gabby. I told you to leave me ALONE!" I screamed out in anger.

She looked up at me in fear for a moment, then slowly started to look lower, down at the shirt I had on. Then lower, seeing the curves I had. Then finally a little lower, right where she was sitting, on my lap. It took us a moment to realize that she was feeling a tent in my pants, but when she did, she looked up at my face again, and pushed away, crying as she ran out. "WAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAAABBBEEEEEEYYYYY!"

I sighed. At this point, I wanted to cry too...

I fell back onto my bed, curled up, and covered my head with my pillow, trying to block out the scream. I didn't want to deal with this. Not now. I heard the door close, and whispered a quiet: "Thank you."

Just leave me alone...

I didn't want to see anyone, or anyone to see me. I felt like crying so hard. I just wanted to curl up and disappear.

I stayed in bed for what felt like hours, trying to forget the world. Trying to forget myself. Trying to keep from falling into a weeping mess again. But every time I tried to think, every time I came down to it, I just couldn't push it out of my mind. Every passing second, I was becoming less of a guy and more a girl. Everything that I was, and everything that I'd looked forward to was being erased. Replaced. What am I going to do? Every time I asked myself that question, I just couldn't come up with an answer. I tried, and tried, but I only came up with more tears. I was trapped, with nowhere to go but down.

Finally, something forced me out of my room. A full bladder about to explode. I tried to ignore it for a while, but I could only do so much. I was only human. At least some kind of human. I squirmed out of bed, and slowly stumbled my way to the bathroom. I had a little trouble taking the damn pants off. After that though, I just had to take a moment to double check. It was still down there. Didn't look different. Or shrunken. Good.

After relieving myself, I was making my way back to my room, when it hit me. A sweet, warm, lightly spicy aroma fluttering through the air. A cinnamon flavor that invaded my mind. As it did, my stomach squeezed, and grumbled in hunger, reminding me that the sandwich I had yesterday was long gone by now. I was so depressed that I'd forgotten to eat. Worry was never as filling as food, no matter how much you had of the former.

Following the scent, I peeked around the corner to the kitchen. Abbey was pulling out a pan full of delicious cinnamon buns from the oven. The sweet smell was overwhelming. I loved it when she made her homemade desserts like this.

She turned around, saw me, and jumped in the air, her eyes went wide in surprise. "Ah! Kyle!" She almost dropped the whole thing to the floor. "You startled me." She set the pan aside, and smiled at me with relief. "Are you feeling better today?"

I gave her a small nod, pulling some of that annoying black hair out of my eyes. "Yeah. Kinda. Ah-As good as can be, considering."

She slowly came closer to me, looking at me straight in the eyes in that warm, motherly way. "Good. I thought you might need some time alone, so I called in sick for both of us, and..." She hesitated a moment, then realized I was staring at the cinnamon buns. "Want one? I'm sure you're hungry by now. You haven't eaten much, have you?" I gave a nod, and soon enough, we were sitting down, savoring the sweet pastries.

The bun was so warm and tender, that it melted in your mouth. And it was so sweet. Not to the point where it would rot your teeth, but enough to lift you up to the clouds. I was digging in without remorse. "Mmmnn."

Abbey was barely touching hers though. "Kyle..." She sighed. "Dad told me about what happened at the hospital."

My appetite vanished instantly as I was about to take the last bite. A cold feeling ran through my veins as I looked toward her. "Y-yeah?" I looked down at my plate. "He told you, huh? About me, and my... Mutation?"

She gave a nod to me, speaking in that soft tone of hers. "Yes. On how you're supposed to heal, the black thing with your blood, and-"

I dropped my fork, and sighed. "And how I'm going to be a girl soon."

"Yeah..." She edged in a little closer to me. "You were really upset last night." I looked away from her, sniffing. "How do you feel now, Kyle?"

"... Miserable." I muttered. "I mean, I get beat up, everyone thinks I'm a gay transvestite, a mutant, and... And..." I placed my hand over my forehead, my throat choking down the words. "Look at me now. I-I'm already looking, hic, l-like a girl. And that's all I can be now."

I felt her arm wrap around my shoulders, and pull me against her. "And you never wanted this, did you?"

"Of course not!" I sobbed. "I don't want to be a girl! I don't want to wear dresses! I don't want to date boys! I want to be able to play sports, not be the cheerleader!" I hiccuped. "But I can't stop this! I can't!"

"Sshh. Shh." She whispered. "It's okay. Everything will be okay."

"Yeah right." I muttered, sniffing. "I'm loosing my manhood. I'm losing my friends. I'm losing my future. I'm even losing my face. What do I have left?"

"You've still got us." She said, pulling me closer to her. "We'll always be here for you, Kyle."

I leaned against her, shaking a little. "Even if I'm-"

"Even if you are a mutant. Or a girl." She ran her fingers through my long hair. "You're still family. You're still Kyle inside."

I thought about that for a while. "Dad just lost his only son. And Gabby won't see her big brother again."

"Dad wasn't so worried about that. He seemed more preoccupied with the fact that he wasn't there to help. He thinks it's his fault again. You know, work and all that." I nodded softly. I knew why. "And Gabby..." She giggled. "Well, she's Gabby. She didn't quite get it when we tried to explain it to her the first time, but when she finally understood, you should have seen the smile on her face." I gave a small groan. Why was I not surprised? "So cute."

"And what about you?" I looked up to her. "How do you feel about... Me?"

She looked down at me with a warm, comforting smile. "I've told you already. You're still Kyle. My little brother. You're going to go through some big changes. Bigger than a lot of people, I know." A sliver of worry drew across her face for a moment, but it disappeared just as quickly. "But I still love you, Kyle. No matter what you may be." She gently placed a kiss on my forehead. "If you need any help during yooouuur... Transition, you can count on your big sister. Okay?"

I looked up to her for a moment. My beating heart seemed to slow down, and I finally relaxed a little. "Oh-Okay." I held on to her, and rested my head against her chest. At least I knew my family was here. At least I had someone who cared. No matter what. And right now, in this embrace, I felt safe. A small piece of comfort I could hold on to.

"Everything will be fine. Everything... will be... fine..." She whispered softly to me.

We stayed like this for a while.

That is, until my stomach grumbled in protest.

Abbey gave me a soft smile, and squeezed me around the waist. "Come on, let's get you something more filling."

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That's when we decided to break off, and prepare a real meal together. Granted, sandwiches aren't the tastiest or fanciest of meals, but I was hungry, and these were quickly done. After a filling dinner, we began to work on cleaning up the place a bit. I didn't exactly feel in shape to work, but maybe getting myself occupied would take my mind off my condition.

At least I thought it would.

Moving around was a whole new ball game. My whole center of gravity had shifted around. Standing upright, it wasn't so noticeable, but every time I took a step, I felt something shift. I don't know if it was the new shape of my legs, or the new weight on my chest, but it definitively felt different.

I leaned down to grab one of Gabby's toys, and in a split second, I had to catch myself before my face met the floor. Okay, Kyle. Next time, a little slower. Less hips, more knees. Just to make things worse, every time I leaned down, I could feel the rim of my pants slip down around my hips. I pulled them up slightly, and hoped they settled there.

Getting back up, I felt my globes shift around in my shirt again. It was really getting annoying. Every time I moved, 'the twins' seemed to bounce and move as if they had minds of their own. And just trying to hold something up without those two getting in the way was impossible. I had that problem before, but thanks to the added cup size, it was getting unbearable.

It bore a foot-wide hole in my paper-thin male ego to actually ask this, but I didn't have much of a choice. "Abbey? Are you sure..." I gulped. "You don't have any bras my size?"

She looked back at me with an apologetic smile. "No. I don't. Sorry."

I sighed, and let my shoulders drop. It was humiliating to admit this, but I was missing the support right now. Maybe I just got used to the bra when I had smaller breasts? I froze in my steps. Did I really admit that? I shuddered internally, and tossed another toy into the box.

I moved on, and leaned to grab Miss Mittens. I looked at the big beady eyes and the feline smile, and muttered: "What are you so happy ab- Wa-wa-wa-WAH!" My legs suddenly caught into something, my whole body was flung forward, and crashed straight down to the floor. "Ngh..." I groaned, and looked back, finding my pants all the way down to my ankles, and they sent me on this quick trip.

"Are you oh... kay?" Abbey asked as she came in. "Kyle?" I could see she was struggling not to laugh. I groaned, and pulled my pants back up, when I realized then that the fall probably cost me a little more time. A little more before I'd be a full girl. How much was one bruise? A minute? An hour? A day? I whimpered inside. Even my clothes were working against me.

I tried to be careful for the rest of the afternoon. Together, we did a good job. The cleanup job was usually pushed back for Saturday, but now, at least, the place was cleaned up in advance.

I looked at our work over the living room when I heard a rush of footsteps, and a loud: "SISSY!"

"Huh? GAH!" I barely had time to turn before Gabby ran right into me, tossing both of us into the sofa. "Oof! Gabby!"

I looked down at my little sister, clutching me around the waist with a happy smile. "Sissy!" She giggled, pressing her face against my chest.

My lips twitched. "S-s-sissy?"

She smiled up to me. "Yeah! Abbey's the big sister, and I'm the little one. So you can't be the little sister too!"

"B-but... Sissy?" I asked, hoping she'd change her mind quickly.

"Yeah! It's cute!" She giggled, and held on tighter to me. I looked miserably toward Abbey, whom just gave me an amused smile, and shrugged.

With a sigh, I looked back down at my little sister. "Can't you just call me Kyle?"

"But you're a girl now! You can't have a boy's name. That's just silly." Ow. There goes my ego again.

I pulled a small wry smile though. "Y-you're not sad for your big brother?"

She looked up to me with those big childish eyes. "Why?" Wasn't it obvious?

"We-we-well, I'm not going to be a boy anymore. I-"

"You're going to be a girl too! I know! Isn't it sweet?" Okay, she was way too cheerful about this. She looked to Abbey expectantly. "Can she move in our room?"

I twitched again. "What?"

Abbey just laughed. "I don't think there's enough room there, Gabby."

"But she's a girl tooooo!" She pouted.

"I'm not a girl yet!" Well, not fully anyways.

She squeezed the twins with her little hands, sending shivers up my spine. "But you've got boobies!" She didn't hesitate to press the point, and my chest. "You're a girl now!"

Did she enjoy this? Did she enjoy seeing me being turned into a girl? I wasn't sure if I wanted to hug her, or strangle her. She gave 'them' another squeeze, and it didn't take me two seconds to make my choice. I reached in between us, gripped her sides, and began to tickle her like there's no tomorrow. She gave a high-pitched squeal, and squirmed wildly, before she began to fight back. Before long, we were both rolling around like we used to. We even fell off the couch, and that didn't even slow us down.

By the end, we were both laying on the floor, trying to catch our breath. Okay, maybe a little too much fun. Before I knew it though, Gabby was hugging me with a smile painted on her face again. With a tired sigh, I gave up, and just placed a hand over her head, holding my little sister. At least I knew where Gabby stood.

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A little later, I dashed into my room, and slammed the door behind me. I knew Gabby liked me, but playing 'tea time' with her and her dolls? She thought that because I was going from boy to girl, my usual excuse of 'boys don't play with dolls' was null and void. It didn't mean I wanted to play that with her any more now than I did back then.

With a groan, I flopped down on my bed, and sighed. At least I slipped out of that one easily enough.

At least, it seemed my family wouldn't hate me. Abbey was so understanding, I almost couldn't believe it. As for Gabby, she seemed happy about it. Which was a little disturbing, I'll admit, but it could have been worse. I still had to face dad though, but... He'd understand. Right?

But what about the rest of my life?

I wasn't just going to live inside the apartment for the rest of my life, was I? What was I going to do out there?

I took in a deep breath, and tried to relax. Okay. First, I gotta find out what I've got. What do I have? Or rather: what do I have left?

I looked at my left wall, where my eyes met with a poster of the Chicago Cubs. It was last year, when our school baseball team went to see them as a reward for winning the scholar championship. I was so proud when we got to meet the pro players. I still remember the knots I had in my stomach when I shook their hands. I got my baseball bat signed and everything. It was one of the proudest moments in my life.

But what about now? I don't think there ever was a woman in the major leagues. Ever. And I'd be one before I'd even finish my teenage years. Baseball- No. Professional baseball was out of reach for me. Forever. There goes one dream promptly crushed.

Did I have an alternative with sports though? Softball? Maybe. Tennis? I hadn't practiced that kind of swing in a long time. Volleyball? I had enough trouble keeping the twins in check in one class, let alone train regularly. Gymnastics? You'd have better chances of convincing me to jump in a fire than get me to wear one of those costumes.

Who am I kidding? I didn't have anything left in professional sports anymore. It wasn't because I was a girl, but because I was a mutant. I still remember the fiasco that happened a few years ago in Europe. They discovered that one of the soccer players was actually a mutant, and when they did, the whole sports world went into shock. The world thought the team had used those powers to win, and fans came up with so many excuses. It would have made your head spin. The man himself though, was hunted down like a dog, and that's the last news we'd heard of it. I was younger back then, but it still left a big enough impact on me. And since then, they made sure that no mutants were ever to be involved in sporting events.

So even if I found something else in sports, it would only end in catastrophe. There was nothing I could really do. The world wouldn't even give me a chance. I didn't think so anyways.

I decided that the poster would only bring back bad memories. Lost dreams I could never reach.

And so I began to roll it up. I would make it disappear before it brought any more tears. Just as I turned to my closet though, I found myself staring at the other poster I had set up there.

She was hot. In many more ways than one. Her body was luscious. Her curves were perfect. Her legs were long and slender. She had a full chest, one I could stare at for hours, just wishing I could get my hands on, to touch them, feel them. And her face was radiating beauty. Those vibrant red eyes, that long flowing blond hair, that beautiful confident smile, those full red lips. All that with the silvery mask sitting on top of her cute nose. Just enough to cover up her secret identity.

She was dressed in that body-tight spandex-like material all over. The kind that left almost nothing to the imagination. The blazing red color of the material reflected all the curves of her body as she sped off, flames bursting from her feet and fingertips as she made fiery trails behind her. The silver gauntlet and greaves she had, enhanced the feeling of strength that seemed to emanate from her. Just over her picture, was written her codename with a flame design: Racetrack. A superheroine that could run at extreme speeds, and create flames at will. I'd seen her a few times before. She was absolutely incredible.

I stared the poster for a few minutes. She looked so good. So strong, yet so beautiful. I'll admit I took this poster for more than just the fact that she was a hero. It brought in a lot of fantasies. Both heroic, and erotic. Who knows how many wet dreams this one poster fueled up. Every guy had to have something, right?

But I wasn't going to be a guy soon. Was I going to look at this differently? Was this going to change too? Was I still going to fantasize about her, or look up to her for fashion advice? Was my brain going to turn into a girl's too? Was this the kind of stuff I was going to wear? That I'd want to wear?

No. Of course not. This was only the stuff superheroes had to wear. Freedom of movement, right? This wasn't everyday clothes.

A superhero. That was something I hadn't thought of. Maybe I couldn't be a sports prodigy, but maybe I could be a superhero. Save people. Stop villains. Save the day. I couldn't help but smirk a bit. That might be nice. Being looked at as an example to follow. The top of human performance. The epitome of strength.

Of female strength. I couldn't forget that, but it still made my stomach twist. I'd be the greatest female example to follow. Somehow, I doubt I'd be the best one on that field.

I shook my head quickly. Even if I wanted to be a superhero, what could I do? All I know right now is that I heal quickly. Then again, they don't know what I will do in the end either. Would I be able to lift buildings over my head? Would I be able to fly? To shoot lasers from my eyes? I looked up to Racetrack once more. Will I be able to do what you do?

I looked up at her for a moment, trying to find an answer to that, when I felt a familiar sensation down there. I looked down to make sure. Yeah. I was pitching a tent. It hurt a little too, since it was so tight around that area. But I had the answer to one of my questions. At least I know I'm still turned on by sexy women. I sighed as I reached down, trying to push my manhood down in a better position. That's when I felt something else poking out. It took me a moment to realize, but my nipples were pointing up against my shirt. They felt hard, and pressed against my shirt with a pinching sensation. I winced, and resisted the temptation to touch them. And still turned on as a woman. Great...

I groaned, and opened the stuffy closet to toss the baseball poster in. At least I knew Racetrack's poster was something I could keep. A source of so much inspiration...

That's when a certain realization slipped in my mind.

If I was going to be a superhero one day, did that mean there'd be posters of me too? Does that mean that I'd be...

Other guy's wet dreams?

My mind was invaded with pictures of guys dreaming of me like that. Of getting turned on at the sight of me. The same way I did with Racetrack here.

I felt my insides rot away and die.

No. No way. No fucking way. NO! FUCK NO!

Okay, I was definitively freaked out. I fell back on my bed, shaking my head violently, trying to shake away the pictures of guys from my mind. Distracting thoughts. That's what I need. Fast cars, ice cream, beaches, flowers, puppies. Anything I could think of to get the thought out of my head.

After a good minute of a proper panic attack, I finally cleared my mind of that nightmare.

Like it or not, though, I had to face reality. Guys would be looking at me. How could I stop that? But it didn't stop me from feeling sick every time I thought about it. Guys and me, not going happen. Ever.

So then what does that make me? Straight guy, or lesbian? I couldn't help but give a weak laugh. Guess what, guys? You were right! I am gay! Just on the other side of the shore completely! Oh, the irony. You bastards would probably cheer me on if you knew.

My laugh faded quickly though. I could see that picture frame that stood on my small desk. Every one of them, smiling proudly for the camera. All grouped together. And I could point out every single face that was there last night.

I grabbed the picture, and stared at it. Our baseball team, all around a trophy, each one of us in uniforms, Coach looking over our shoulders. I felt on top of the world. Invincible. Everyone felt the same way. We were so happy back then.

Owen and I were always close together; sticking to the outfield, training for the big game, and trading jokes all the time. Zack was always playing the clown; crazy, but harmless enough. Unless he purposely tripped over his own two feet, which was hilarious. Luke, and his weekly adventures. I swear the guy couldn't keep a girlfriend steady any longer than that. I even looked up to Josh back then. He was so strong. So fast. He was our star player. Sure, he was a jerk at times, but he had his shining moments.

I remembered the laughs. I remembered the tear and sweat we were put through. And the cheers of victory we had in the end. All together.

We were a team.

And look how quickly they turned on you. I thought to myself.

In less than a week, at least half of these bastards decided I was trash. That I should be hunted down, beaten, and left to die.

Why? Because I had to wear a bra? Because they thought I was gay? Because they believed I was a mutant? Did I really deserve this? Did all that time together mean nothing? Did I suddenly turn into a monster and try to eat them alive?

My fingers curled around the frame and tightened as I watched their grinning faces on the picture. My blood boiled in anger as I thought of what they did to me. They were probably back out there, laughing at me. Laughing at what they did. I could picture their mocking smiles just as they punched my face over and over again.

My hands were shaking as I stared at the picture. Swiftly, I lifted the frame in the air, and smashed it on the floor as hard as I could, the glass shattering in pieces. I grabbed between the shards, and pulled the picture out before tearing it in my rage. I gripped the remaining pieces in my hands as hard as I could, picturing I had one of those assholes by the neck, squeezing until his head would explode. I felt like killing every single one of them! Every. Single. One!

My anger soon faded though, my hands still shaking in frustration as I looked down at the glass shards, and the ripped pieces of a picture I used to treasure. "One more thing broken to pieces," I muttered. With a sigh, I began to gather it all up, and tossed it in the trash. It's all gone now...

I took a moment to let the words sink in. Was it really all gone?

I stared at one last picture I had. One that we'd taken at the summer fair. Owen, Lauren, and I all holding each other around the shoulders, laughing happily. Last year was so much fun. We had a blast. By the time it was all over, we were exhausted. Owen and I had turned each game into a competition, and spent all our money in the process. By the time it was all over, we were exhausted. Owen and I had turned each game into a competition, and spent all our money in the process. In the end, we offered the prizes to Lauren, who kept about one or two. The fun we had was where the time and money really went. It was worth it.

I sighed, and thought back to my two friends. What about those two? What will they think?

My eyes focused on Lauren's face, and I felt my heart squeeze again. How will I tell you?

That's when I heard a knock at my door. "Kyle?" The blood in my veins froze instantly. "It's Lauren. I brought you your homework."

She's here? Now? NO! I wasn't ready for this. Not now. I didn't want her to see me like this.

"Gabby told me you were in your room, so I thought I'd check up on you." She knocked again. "Are you okay?"

That was sweet of her. Really sweet. But now wasn't the time. I needed to disappear!

To the right. Closet? Too much stuff.

To the left? Window? I'm desperate, but not suicidal.

I heard the door knob turn slowly. Too late to lock that. "I'm coming in."

Reacting purely on instinct, I just grabbed my bed sheet, slid under my bed, and cocooned myself up just in time to hear my door open. On second thought I probably should have tried to keep the door closed to keep her out. I cursed myself silently for not thinking straight, but it was too late now.

I closed my eyes tightly as I heard her footsteps. "Kyle? Where are- Oh? You gotta be kidding me." I felt a sudden tug on the bed sheet as she began to pull me out from my hiding place. I resisted the urge to whimper, and tightened my hold on my cocoon. "What are you doing?"

Please, go away. Please go away. Not now. Not like this. That's what I wanted to say, but my throat choked up, and I turned my back to her. One last pathetic defense.

Unfortunately, that didn't seem to convince her. "You can't be that bad if you're down here. Come on." She pulled even more on the sheet, and I held on, pulling back. "Nngh! Look, I know that brute, Josh, beat you up. There's nothing to be ashamed of, Kyle. Gh! Come oooonnnnn!"

We kept on with the tug-o-war for a minute or so, but the more she pulled, the more the cloth slipped between my smaller fingers. In panic, I tried to grab even further, but all it did was pull me toward her. Why was she so adamant about this?

"Lauren? Kyle?" I heard Abbey call out from the door, when suddenly the sheet slipped from my grasp, and Lauren pulled it away from me.

She smiled in victory. "There we go! Was it... that... hah-haaard?" Her expression slowly changed as she stared at me, going from victorious to questioning. I quickly backed away from her, until my back pressed against the wall. Her eyes squinted as she came in a little closer, examining me from head to toes. "Whooooo?" Her eyes suddenly widened, filled with surprise. "Kyle?"

I whimpered inside, curled up a little more, and gave a small nod. "It-It's me." My voice came out as a nervous whisper. She had a look of shock and confusion on her face, staring as I was crazy. It made me want to sob miserably. Please. Please, don't look at me like that.

"What... Happened? I thought you'd be..." She looked back to Abbey a moment. "This is a joke, right? One bad joke?" Abbey shook her head, and that's when Lauren looked really scared.

"L-Lauren. I-I-I..." I covered my head, and pressed my face against my knees. "I-I-I'm changing into a girl."

I closed my eyes tightly as she yelled at me. "I can see that! When did you make that crazy choice? When did you think-"

"I didn't!" I screamed at her. "I didn't want this! It's... It's..." My voice decided to choke out again. I wanted to blame something or someone for all of this. "It's all their fault."

I tried hard not to cry again. I could feel tears start dripping down my cheeks already. There was an awkward silence between us for a while, until I heard Abbey's voice again.

"Look, Lauren, it's complicated. Kyle's gone through a lot of things lately." I looked up a moment, my vision blurred by the water in my eyes. "Last night, he came back home like this. His clothes were ripped, and he'd just been in a big fight." Just as Lauren was about to contradict her, Abbey pointed out to the pile of shredded clothes I had. "That's how we knew."

Lauren insisted though. "But that doesn't explain why he's a girl now. Did a surgeon make a mistake, or something?" I couldn't help but snerk at that one.

Just as Abbey was about to continue, I interrupted. "I'm a mutant." They both looked to me. "Turns out I'm a mutant. The more I get hurt, the more I turn into a girl. So when Josh and those assholes got to me, th-this is what happened."

I looked up to Lauren, and she still seemed to be in disbelief. With a sigh though, she sat back on my bed. "Look, this is obviously way more complicated than you make it sound." Her hands and voice were shaking nervously. "Ho-how about you start explaining from the beginning? This just... Doesn't make any sense right now."

Abbey sat next to her, and they both looked down at me, waiting for me to tell the tale. With a sigh, I began. "It all started last Saturday when I woke up..."

I told them what happened. Everything. I had to fight back the tears as I spoke, my own voice struggling with the words, but I told them everything I could remember. Lauren was surprised a little when I admitted wearing a bra, but what really got a reaction from her was hearing about the beatings. She seemed shocked at first; I could see her fists tighten up in anger. But I continued on with what happened at the hospital. The effect my blood had seemed to scare them both rather well. I couldn't give them all the terms the doctors gave me, but I told them the big details of what was happening to me. They listened to every word I said with silent stares.

"Then we came back here, and I-I..." I simply looked down in shame. "Th-that's all."

Lauren took a moment to take it all in. I could see the concern in her eyes. "So that's why you're turning into a girl?"

I gave a soft nod. "Yeah."

"And there's really nothing to change you back into a guy?"

I cringed, and felt my heart sink again. I shook my head. "Doesn't seem like it."

I felt her fingers touch my forehead, and brush my black hair away from my face. I could see Lauren's sad eyes look down at me. "Mmmnn. So it's true. They really did change."

"Yeah. And by the time they're completely purple, if not before then, I'll be... I'll be a girl." I felt like I'd said it so often now, yet it still felt like an open wound.

"And you didn't tell us anything?" The accusing tone in her voice opened another wound. "When were we going to hear about this? You didn't trust us?"

"No! That's not it! I-I-I-" I hiccuped. "What was I supposed to say? That they beat me up, but I'm completely okay? Or... Or... How could I explain this?"

"You should have said something!" She screamed. I quickly backed away from her, and she immediately regretted her words. "L-look. We were worried. You didn't show up at school, you were acting weird all week long, and... When Owen told me how Josh was bragging with the rest of them about how they... Got you, I... I..." She sighed. "And then, I find you like this. Not exactly what I expected. I thought you'd be broken, in a cast or something."

I sighed. "I'm already disfigured as it is."

"Kyle." She sat down next to me. "Come on. It isn't that bad." She looked up and down at me. "How does your body feel now?"

"It's a pain. I've got to think twice before I move in any way, or I can crash to the floor at any moment. Everything shifts differently, my arms and legs are so small, and my hips and chest are so different, and-"

"But you're still okay, right?" I stopped, and blinked at her. "You're not in a hospital bed, hooked to an IV, or in a wheelchair. You're still able to walk, talk, and everything. By the way you described it, if it weren't for that... mutation, you might be handicapped for life, or worse." She wrapped one arm around me, and pulled us closer together. "You've still got two legs to walk on, don't you?"

It took me a moment to really let those words sink in. To admit that even with everything that happened to me, she was right. "Yeah."

"I'm glad you're safe, Kyle." She whispered.

I felt a sudden joy build up inside of me. She cared. My stomach squeezed though, reminding me of what I had. "Even if I'm-"

"Even if you're a mutant. Or a girl." She gave me a friendly smile that melted my doubts away.

"Lauren." I hugged her as tightly as I could. If she would still care, even if I was changing, then it would be all right. "Thank you."

We hugged for a few minutes. It felt so nice to hold her. To be held by her. To know she'd still accept me.

If only it would last just a little longer.

"Abbeeyyy!" Gabby yelled out from the door. "The clock rang!"

My older sister looked up. "Really? Lunch is just about ready then." She sighed, and got up. She looked to Lauren a moment. "Did you already eat?" She shook her head. "Would you like to eat here then? Father's going to be taking care of a few things tonight, so we're going to have some leftovers."

Lauren smirked, and gave a nod. "Sure, no problem. Just let me call home to tell my dad."

"Great. Shouldn't be long. Hope you like lasagna." She paused a moment at the door. She seemed to hesitate a moment, then looked back to us again. "Lauren, are you free tomorrow?"

Lauren and I looked at her curiously. "Yyyeeeaaaah? Why?"

She leaned against the door frame. "Would you like to come with us to the mall then? Kyle needs a new wardrobe."

I raised an eyebrow. "W-what?"

"Kyle, you've been asking all day if I had a bra that could fit you." My cheeks turned red. "And I don't think you want to repeat what happened with your pants, do you?"

"What?" Lauren asked, and amused smirk drawn on her face. "What happened with his pants?"

Abbey couldn't help giggling. "Well, you see, Kyle's pants were slipping, and-"

"Abbey!" I whined out. How much was she going to embarrass me?

"Okay, okay." She gave another giggle. "But with some clothes that fit you better, it shouldn't happen again."

"But I-"

She raised a hand. "No dresses. No skirts. Nothing too 'girly' if you don't want to, and you've got final say on everything, alright?"

What was she, a mind reader? I looked at her for a moment, and sighed in resignation. "Okay."

She looked at Lauren a moment. "Well? What do you say? Wanna come? The more the merrier."

I looked back to Lauren, and found that she was studying me from head to toes. "I can think of a few things that should look good on you. I remember a few tops that show just enough skin right around heeere." She made a small circle around my navel. She giggled a little as I grumbled. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding! Anyways, we'll see what we can get once we get there." She gave a nod to Abbey. "Tomorrow then? Sounds good. I could use a few things myself."

Abbey clapped her hands together. "Great!"

I gave a sigh of resignation. To say the least, I wasn't looking forward to play 'dress up' with these two, but I did need new clothes. I had the feeling it would be embarrassing like nothing else. Didn't have much of a choice. Maybe between Abbey and Lauren, we could have a good time. I hoped.

With one more hug, Lauren and I headed off to the kitchen, and began to make a few plans for tomorrow.

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"What about Krystal?"

I shook my head. "Nah."

"Samantha, maybe?" Lauren tossed in the next one.

I shook my head again, mid-bite.

"Ooh! Oh!" Gabby was bouncing with excitement. "Bambi!"

I gave an annoyed groan. "No."

"Aaww." Gabby looked disappointed again. But as much as she wanted it, there was no way I was picking that one.

Back to the top, Abbey was next. "Michelle?"

"No..."

Lauren snapped her fingers. "Alex!"

I sighed. Didn't feel right either. "No, sorry."

"I know! Blossom!"

I growled, and glared daggers at Gabby.

She looked up innocently at me, and pointed to Miss Mittens. "She thought it was cute."

Abbey sighed, and rubbed her forehead. "Kyle. I know you don't like the idea, but you have to make up your mind sooner or later."

"I know. I know." I sighed, and looked down in defeat. This all started in the middle of lunch, when it was mentioned that it might be weird to call me Kyle out at the mall. And with that, they began to give out new names for me. But at every proposition, it reminded me that I wouldn't be Kyle anymore. Maybe it seemed childish to them, but it felt an execution for me. "Sorry, but it juuuuust doesn't feel right."

Lauren frowned at me. "Too bad, but I don't think anyone here would be comfortable calling out: Does the bra fit, Kyle?" My face turned crimson at that one. "So sooner or later, you're going to have to buck up, and take it like a man." She quickly realized that she slipped up. "... Like... A... Woman." She held back an amused snicker as I glared at her. "S-sorry. Thaaaaat didn't come out right."

"Very funny." I muttered.

Abbey giggled a little, but quickly settled back.

"Seriously though, Kyle, this can't really wait. And unfortunately, I'm running low on names." She finished off the last piece of lasagna on her plate. "How about this? Since it'll be your name, we'll still let you choose it. Completely up to you. We'll set you up on dad's computer and go on a website for baby names."

I raised an eyebrow. "Baby names?"

She smiled at me, leaning toward me. "Because I doubt there's a website out there made to 'name your angsty teenagers'." I grumbled a little, but she had a point. "If nothing else, we'll just take something temporary, okay? Just for tomorrow. And you can change it later if you don't like it."

I sighed in defeat. If I changed my name once, I might as well change it for good. And I was going to lose the name Kyle anyways.

But if I was going to change my name for the rest of my life, I wanted one that felt right. That felt right to me.

I could at least get that, right?

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And so that's why, a little later that evening, I was in front of my father's computer screen, going through lists of names after names through the internet.

It wasn't that helpful though. "No... No... Heck no!"

Abbey leaned over my shoulder. "So, how's the search going?"

I rolled my eyes up. "Not good. Have you seen some of these names? Fanny? Fabunni? Falala? This is only one page! And there's thousands just like these."

"Good thing you only need one good name?" She said with a hopeful smile.

"Doesn't help that it's so slow." Lauren added in, watching from the other side. "Dial-up's the only thing you guys have?"

Abbey sighed. "No. But it's an old computer. Dad only uses it to get his emails, and for work. We're not usually allowed on it either, unless it's important."

"And I do hope it was important." The stern voice froze us all in place. We turned in unison toward the door, where my father stood. He certainly didn't look happy.

I cringed. Busted.

He sighed in disappointment, and shook his head, tossing his suitcase on the bed. "Lauren, go back home, your father's waiting for you. Abbey, put Gabby to bed, will you?" The three of us got up, and were about to bolt out, when dad held an arm up in front of me. "Kyle, stay here. We have to talk."

I froze in place, looking at Lauren as she waved to me. "See you tomorrow!"

I waved back to her for a moment, before looking back to dad, who was leaning in front of his computer screen. "Nothing here... Good... Good..." He popped up a few screens while I sat on the bed, waiting for him to open up. Finally, with a sigh, and a nod, he sat down by my side. He looked down to me, that stern look on his face softening considerably. "Glad to see you're doing better, son."

I gave him a faint smile. "Yeah. Although..." I sighed. "I suppose you won't be calling me 'son' for very long, will you? You gotta be disappointed."

I felt his hand on my head, and quickly ruffled my hair like he used to. "It's not your fault, sport. Your DNA just decided to take a left turn at Albuquerque." I had to hold back a chuckle. "And as long as you're willing to sit down with me to watch the baseball season, I can still call you my son." I know he was trying hard to cheer me up with a little humor. I had to resist laughing. Maybe I should have told him how I felt about baseball right now, but I didn't dare interrupt him.

His smile changed though as he straightened himself out. He was about to discuss about more serious matters. "I've been looking after work about help for your changes. Julian's been helping me find the proper papers and contacts for your new identity."

I blinked. "New identity?"

"Yes. Everything, from your school records to your birth certificate, will need to be changed now, or transferred. Of course, some things will have to wait after all the changes are finished-" I shivered at the mention. "But we might as well begin now."

I sighed, and gave a slow nod, then realized something. "Wait. School records?" I looked up to him with a bit of shock. "I-I-I'm not going back there, you know that, right?" With Josh just waiting for me out there, there was no way I'd place a foot in there.

Dad just sighed. "Look, Kyle. There's only a month and half left before your exams. And there's no way you're not getting an education, son."

I felt choked inside. He wasn't really going to force me, was he? "B-but dad! They're going to ki-"

He held out one hand to calm me down. "I know. I know. Your classmates. I know. That's why tomorrow; I'll look up for a deal. Maybe find some courses on the internet for you. Also, since it's so close to the end of the year, I can try to get you passing grades somehow, or even end with a modified exam. If nothing else will work, we'll get you to another school. Somehow." He sighed. "Special conditions and all. I'm sure they'll understand."

I gave a sigh of relief. Saved. But then one little detail followed up in my mind. "But what about next year?"

He held out one finger, and opened his suitcase. "Doctor Emilly gave me this." He reached for a pamphlet inside, and handed it over to me. "She couldn't praise it enough, and after looking over it myself, I'll have to agree."

I eyed the pamphlet curiously. "Whateley? What's that?" I opened it, and the sight of super heroes and magicians greeted my eyes. I couldn't believe what I was seeing for a moment. I looked back at the cover, showing a normal boarding school, then back at the content inside. "What the heck?"

"It's a boarding school for mutants." Dad said, looking over my shoulder. "Specifically for mutant kids to take control of their powers, and have normal lives."

My eyes went wide as I read through the starting content. True enough, it looked like exactly that. The pictures clearly showed the message too. Supermen lifting houses, mad scientists and their experiments, and girls running at the speed of sound. What really caught my eye though, was the red-headed elf, who seemed not only incredibly beautiful and hot, but she was controlling the wind and lightning with a wave of her hand. It took my breath away.

But even with the great pictures, the details of the place worried me a little. "Four years?" I looked up to dad. "You're sending me away for four years? All the way to Boston?" Was he trying to get rid of me? The freak of the family?

"It's for the best, Kyle." He said to me. "This way, you'll be fully graduated by the end, and hey they have first-class teachers there. This isn't only about you getting your schooling either." He pointed to one of the further sections. "The Whateley faculties will be able to help you with your mutation, and keep things under control. They have researchers specialized on these matters. At the same time, you won't have to worry about those bullies anymore. They'll be far away."

Those all sounded like good reasons. If it was all true, at least.

I kept on looking through the pamphlet, lost in thoughts. Was it really worth it? Was it worth leaving home? Leaving the family? What about Lauren? After this disaster, I finally find something to cling to, and it's going to be snatched away? And what about Owen? I hadn't told him anything. Things keep going downhill lately.

My eyes almost popped out of my eyes when I saw a further section. "Dad? Did you see this?" I pointed to the entry fees. "This is way too much. How are we going to afford this?" I read a little further. "And that's without adding in the costs of books, materials, and lodging."

He gave a sigh. "I know. But there's a lot of financial aid offered by this school." Dad pointed out. "We'll grab a scholarship, and if that's not enough, we'll take a loan. We'll manage."

Did he really want to do this? Did he really want to throw the family into debt because of me? Now I was a ball and chain to everyone. "What about Abbey? An-and Gabby?"

"I'll talk to Abbey about this, and Gabby still has a lot of time before we have to worry about college." He squeezed my shoulder. "I'm willing to take these expenses right now, because these changes you're going through are going to make life difficult, unless you're trained properly. This place will help you more than anyone else."

I looked up to him with a heavy weight inside my chest. He really was willing to go this far. For me. Was he trying to make up for something? Should I be happy, or worried?

"In any case, I've already asked for the applications forms, but it's up to you if you want to fill them out or not. The decision's up to you." He sighed. "If you don't want it, we'll find something else. We'll manage. That's all."

I looked up to that solid, assured expression on his face. "Really?"

He slowly gave a nod. "Of course. No matter what, everything will be okay, sport." He said with confidence, ruffling my hair again. "Don't worry. I'll take care of everything."

I gave a long sigh of relief. Those words coming from him meant something. "Thanks, dad."

"No problem, son." He said with a huge smile. "So." He pointed to the computer screen that still showed the bright colors of the website. "What were you looking for?"

"Huh? Oh." I rubbed the back of my head in embarrassment. "We were looking for a new name for me. I can't exactly go as 'Kyle' anymore, now can I? At least, not in public."

"Hrm. True. And if you're getting a new ID, you'll need something new." He patted my shoulder. "Good thinking. So what did you come up with?"

I shrugged. "Nothing really solid. You haven't seen the names they'll give people these days. Let alone find one that feels right."

He stared at the screen a moment, rubbing his chin a moment. "I don't know if you'll like this one." He looked down at me a moment. "But I still remember how your mother wanted to name you. If we had a girl, of course."

"Huh?" Okay, this should be interesting. Or a disaster. "What was it?"

"Karen." He took in a deep breath. "Your mother wanted to name you Karen."

I took a moment to take the name in. It wasn't too girly, or too obvious. It wasn't funny, or anything. It just felt right.

"Karen." I whispered the name slowly, drawing a small smile.

Thank you, mom...

Chapter 7

I couldn't stop trembling as I let the warm water run down my body. At first, I thought the shower would help me. I'd be alone with my thoughts for a while, and the hot water should wake me up. It usually did the trick. Tough luck.

I did need something to wake me up though. No matter how many times I tossed and turned in my sheets, I couldn't seem to find any real sleep last night. I had so many things going on in my head. Now that I'm a girl, now that I'm a mutant, what am I going to do with my life? What am I going to become? What kind of mutant am I going to be?

For now though, those big questions could wait. I had something that came much sooner to worry about.

We were going to the mall today. Right into a crowd of people. They were going to see me as I was right then. Were they going to stare? Was I going to act right? Did I really have to do this now? What if I messed up? What if people found out? What if those guys found me? What if any guys looked at me? I mean, really looked at me! What was I going to do?

The more time passed, the sooner we were heading out, and the more nervous I became.

Why did I agree to do this again?I kept asking myself. I let a spray of water cover my face, trying to clear my mind. I knew why. I needed new clothes. And I couldn't get them unless we got out there. Maybe we would be in and out of there quickly. I hoped. Am I really up to this?

I just closed my eyes, emptied my mind, and tried to focus. Karen. My name is Karen now. I had to keep repeating that mantra over and over again as I washed myself. I was Karen now. I wasn't Kyle anymore. Just Karen. I needed to forget my old name. Forget my old life. No matter how much I wanted it back. Kyle was gone. It twisted my stomach every time I thought about it, but I had to make this work.

At least for today. If I can at least to make this trip work, I should be okay. I can work it out afterward. Take it a little slower, or something.

I looked down at my small hands. Those small, delicate, feminine hands. "I'm Karen now," I whispered quietly. "Karen..."

I grabbed the soap again, and looked at those two globes of mine. Again, I tried to avoid them for as long as I could, but rubbing every other part of myself was just as bad. Every curve of my soft skin reminded me of what I was becoming and the fact that it wasn't even over yet. I thought taking a shower would let me forget my problems, but that plan backfired pretty badly. Not a second passed without being fully conscious about my figure.

And now, here I was, looking at the pair that started it all. "I hope you two are happy now," I muttered. "It seems you're going to stay for good after all." I couldn't stop a whimper as the tips reddened, and poked out. "What? You're going to taunt me about it too?"

I shivered as I began to soap them up. Maybe if it didn't feel so nice, it'd be easier to say it felt wrong. It was supposed to be wrong, right? But every time my hands pressed into them, caressing the tips, the sensations running through my body simply felt so good. It was odd, but for a moment, I felt like I wanted to... Wanted to...

Ack! Okay, I had to stay away from that line of thoughts.

Just as I pulled myself away from my imagination, I felt something else grab my attention. I looked down a little lower, and saw my soldier standing up high for attention. "What are you so happy about, dead man?" I knew it was only a matter of time before it would be gone, shrinking down to nothingness, yet it was still poking up when it felt like it. As if I needed another reminder of what was going on.

I was about to reach for the cold water, when I thought: If I'm going to lose it... I might as well enjoy it? Right? While it's still there...

Hesitating for a moment, I closed my eyes, grabbed my soldier, and lost myself to thoughts of Lauren and Racetrack...

And the rest, is better left to your imagination.

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"Good morning," I said to dad as I let him have the bathroom. He gave me a tired mumble as he made his way past me, ruffling my wet hair a bit. He paused, and took a second look at me. We looked at each other for a moment, before he gave a tired sigh, and continued on his way. He must've been tired as hell. I had to sigh too. It was going to take some time to get used to this. For all of us.

"Good morning, Sissy!" Of course, some of us were was having a much easier time adjusting. Gabby was looking at me with her brightest smile from the other end of the table.

"Good morning, Karen!" Abbey's cheerful voice didn't really improve my mood either. Why did she have to pick today to be a morning person? "Took you a while in there." She said with a bit of a sly smirk.

I gave a tired groan. She really didn't need to know why. As I sat down, I felt a few strands of wet black hair slide down my brow, and right over my eyes. "It's this hair." Hopefully, she'd buy that excuse. I pulled the strands back up where they belonged, feeling more water drip down from it. "It's so hard to work with. It's too long. How do you do it?"

She stopped in her tracks, and examined me for a moment. "Your hair is a mess..."

Just as I was about to reach for the cereals, I felt her fingers comb through my hair, and before I knew it, her fingers caught in a knot, pulling my head back by the roots. "Ow-ow-ow-ow-OW!"

"Karen, how did you dry your hair?"

"I just dried it with a towel. You know, rubbing and-OW!" I grabbed her hand before she'd pull my scalp off. "Stop that!"

"Karen." She sighed. "You're gonna need to take care of your hair better than that. It's not as short as it used to be." Before I could even begin breakfast, she pulled me out of my chair and dragged me to her room for my first lesson in hair care.

This wasn't a good way to begin the day.

For a guy, hair is easy. Wet, soap, wash off, and dry. Cut when it gets a bit long. Combs and/or gel if you want to get fancy.

For a girl, things were far more complicated. Or at least they felt much more complicated as I listened to Abbey, comb in one hand, blow drier in the other. She told me how I needed to wash it gently, comb it out, wrap it around in the towel, squeeze it out, and everything. And when she thought I wasn't paying attention, the comb caught on a knot or two as a painful reminder. Okay, maybe I was getting a bit bored by it, but I knew it might come back and bite me if I didn't listen.

Not that I wanted this hair. Nor did I want it to shine, or look healthy or anything. I didn't even want it this long in the first place.

"You know, while we're at the mall, we might as well get you a good haircut at the salon."

I felt a shiver run up my spine. I looked up nervously at her. "W-why?"

She held out a few strands of hair to me, showing the short brown tips that suddenly switched to black after an inch or two. "We gota take care of this. Even if you claim it's a dye job, and you just didn't like it, this won't hold up."

I looked at my original hair color for a while. Would someone really recognize me with just that? I didn't really want to take that chance. "Yeah. Yeah." She was right though, I had to admit it. But I still didn't like the idea of a salon. Every time I passed the place, I could see women with their hair in rolls, pulled upwards, and their heads stuck in machines for hours! I didn't want to go through that! "Can't you just give me a cut here? Just for today?"

I could tell she was about to tell me exactly why we needed to go, but just as she looked at me, she hesitated. She bit her lower lip, considered for a moment, and then reached for the highest drawer of her dresser. "Okay, I'll do it." She pointed to me. "Just for today. And don't expect any spectacular results."

"Thanks. But I don't need spectacular results," I muttered quietly. "In fact, I wouldn't mind if you could just cut it all off!" I said as she began to snip away the longer hair.

"Don't say that. You've got great hair," she said as she combed it down, before cutting another inch off. "You just need to take care of it better." I whined loudly, which earned me a tap on the back of the head. "You'll get used to it, Kyl-Kh-Karen."

I let my shoulders fall in defeat, and sighed. One more thing to get used to. I just let her work in silence, looking down at the floor, when...

"Whuh? Wha-WHA-WAAAAAH!" Abbey shrieked out hard enough that we both shot off the bed, and pressed against the opposing ends of the room in panic.

I stared at her, waiting for my heart to slow down before I asked: "What happened?"

She looked up to me with widened eyes. "You don't see it?"

"See what?"

She pointed down to my leg, and that's when I saw them.

They were small, black lines, like strings, and they were crawling up my legs like snakes. There was about a dozen of them, and I could feel them slithering up my skin, up my thighs, and...

"Ah! AH! AAAAAAAH!" I screamed as I tried to slap the little buggers down like bugs, but that didn't even slow them down. In fact, two of them were hanging off my fingers, and trying to pull themselves higher. "Get off, get off, get OFF!" I tried to shake them off my hand as hard as I could, while the rest just kept going higher and higher. "Dammit! It's just like what happened at..."

I slapped my free hand over my mouth and pinched my nose. This was the hospital all over again!

I closed my eyes tightly, waiting for them to get back into me as I felt them crawl up over my face, over my hand, over my forehead, entangled around my scalp, and...

I waited...

And waited...

Finally, I felt a hand run through my hair, and I opened one eye slowly. "Is it over yet?"

Abbey looked at me curiously, and nodded. "Yeah." She lifted my hair a bit. "Yeah. Yeah. It's over."

"Where did they go?"

"Back to your..." She paused a moment, and pulled a few strands of black hair up. "Hair."

"What?" I said in confusion, before she turned my head toward the mirror. It took me a moment to realize what she was pointing at. The left side of my head hadn't changed, but the right side, where Abbey had cut was not only completely black, but now had gained an inch of length.

Abbey placed a finger on my head, about an inch over where the brown ends were. "I cut around here. I wanted to make it shorter for you, and that's when that happened."

"It's... It's just like my blood." I grabbed her scissors, and cut the other side of my hair. Just as the strands touched the floor, the black ends of my hair began to squirm, separate from the brown leftovers, and began to climb right back up. "Just like at the hospital." I watched in the mirror as the thin lines came back up, re-attached, and once more, gained in length. "Even my hair comes back to me." I just let my head drop. "I can't even cut it."

I felt Abbey's arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer. "Karen..."

I weakly held up the scissors to her. "Go ahead. Keep going. Just... Try to make it even? At least?"

She leaned down and kissed my forehead. "I will. Promise." She smiled to me. "And look on the bright side. you won't have to go get a haircut now. It'd be pretty pointless, wouldn't it?"

I snerked. "Yeah." It was a rather small consolation.

She began to work on the rest of it. It felt like it took forever since she had to wait for everything she cut off to come back before she could continue. It slowed down the process to a crawl. By the time she was done though, there wasn't a brown spot of hair left on my head. I had to pull the hair out of my face like a set of curtains to look in the mirror. I could see my hair had reached down past my shoulders now.

"Great. Just great," I muttered. That's when I felt her hands pull my hair back and together. "What are you doing?"

"Stay still. Maybe we can't cut it, but I can still style it. Just give me a moment," she said as she searched into her drawer.

Before long, she'd put my new look through half a dozen styles. Ponytail, braids, pigtails, and a few others I didn't even know. I just sat there, letting her style to her liking for a while. Each one was becoming more awkward than the last. We hadn't even stepped out, and I already felt like a doll. I let her play with it, until...

"What's that for?" I asked, a little worried.

"This?" She held up the 'wand'. "It's a curling iron. You just take your hair, and-"

I backed away quickly out of reach, and shook my head. "Nuh-huh. I'm not going into that kind of fancy stuff."

"But This just goes-"

"NO!" I screamed out. "I'll just take it like this. That's it!"

This is usually the point where she'd tell me to stop being a baby, and take it. She was about to, I could feel it. Instead though, she just let it drop back in her drawer, and reached for something else. "Okay then, at least let me do this."

I didn't have time to complain before she started on me again. "Come on, sis! Stop! Hey!"

"Stop squirming. This'll help. You'll see." She finally let go, and looked back to me. "There we go. Now take a look."

I gave a sigh, and looked to the mirror again. It took me a moment to see what she'd done, but I could see the couple of barrettes she'd set up on each side of my head. Abbey sat down beside be, and smiled at the results. "See? They frame your face, and this way, you won't have your hair in your face anymore."

Okay. I didn't have anything to complain, this time. They were small, the hair was getting in the way, and besides...

"I think they look good on you." I turned to the new voice, and saw that Lauren was spying on us from the door with a happy smile. She waved her fingers at us. "Hi!"

"Hi-hi." I felt like shrinking down into my bathrobe just from the embarrassment.

"Hi Lauren." Of course, Abbey didn't seem affected. "You were watching, mn?"

"Just for the last part. Hope you didn't mind, Gabrielle let me in." She smiled as she dropped her purse on the bed, and sat next to me. "Did you do something to your hair though? It wasn't this long."

"It's my mutation," I said lowly, twirling my fingers. "More changes on the way."

"Hey, it's not so bad." She looked me over, studying my face. "A ponytail would look good on you though."

I groaned. "Aw, come on, not you too."

Lauren and Abbey looked at each other, and giggled playfully. "So, ready for today?"

"No." I let out a sigh. "But I'll go anyways."

"Good girl." She pulled me into a one-armed hug. "We'll have fun, you'll see."

"I-I-hum... Maybe?" I knew it wasn't going to be, but it was hard to stay grumpy around her.

She paused a moment, and her eyes lit up. "Oh yeah!" She looked inside her purse a moment. She looked at me hesitantly. "I-hum..."

"What is it?" I asked curiously.

"I brought you a little something. I..." She hesitated again, trying to work out the words. "Yesterday, you were complaining a lot about how your clothes didn't fit right anymore. Remember?"

I could feel my cheeks becoming red. "Y-yeah. I do." I was so glad she wasn't there when my pants dropped. "That's why we're getting new stuff today."

"Yeah! Yeah. And I thought..." Her fingers drummed on her purse, before she pulled out a small bag. "I thought you might have the same problem with your... Underwear."

The blush on my cheeks was spreading now. I pulled my arms around my chest, and squeezed 'them' again. "Y-yeah. Sis' bra doesn't fit anymore, and-and-and-"

"It's okay, it's okay." She tried to reassure me. "I thought so." She gulped a bit. "It's why I brought you these." And she thrust the bag toward me.

I looked at her, a little confused as I took the bag. "What is this?"

"They're... Mine."

My cheeks felt hotter and hotter as I placed two and two together. "They're... yours?" I took a peek inside to confirm it, and I was greeted to white cotton. "I... I-I-I-"

"I think our sizes are pretty close, so they should fit." She held up two fingers. "One bra, and one set of panties. At least for today."

I didn't know what to say. This wasn't the way I ever pictured to get my hands on her undies. And I was going to...

My imagination cut off as Abbey patted me on the back. "Go ahead." She smiled at me. "Go try them in your room, we'll wait for you."

"Right. Right." I nodded to her, then looked back to Lauren. "Th-thank you," I whispered shyly.

She returned a smile, and gave me a friendly hug. "You're welcome, Kyle."

"I... Hum... Actually. " I hesitated a moment. "It's Karen now."

"Karen?" I nodded, which made her smirk. "So you finally made up your mind, mn?" She seemed to consider it for a few seconds. "It's cute."

I felt warm all over, until I felt Abbey's hand squeeze my shoulder. "Go, girl, go. Unless you want to go to the mall in your bathrobe."

She didn't have to tell me twice! I almost leapt off the bed, and ran to my room.

A few minutes later, and I was right back to: What I am getting myself into again?

The panties felt nice. Very nice, in fact. Better than my boxers did now anyways. They were thin, soft, and hugged perfectly in place. They really felt nice.

Yet I couldn't stop myself from thinking: these are Lauren's panties. I felt like such a pervert. I couldn't help it! The more I thought about it, the more I pictured her in them, the fact that I had them on, and the more that lump down there grew.

I frowned as I looked at my little soldier down there. "You haven't had enough already?" If there was one thing that looked wrong here, it was seeing Lauren's panties with 'him' stretching them. And even though it felt nice, I was going to have to wash these well before I had any chances to hand them over.

I just gave a sigh. Well, it's only a matter of time before that'll become flat. I cringed a little. Yeah, that definitively killed 'his' mood.

I heard a knock on the door. "Are you okay in there?" Lauren called out.

"Yeah." I looked to the top half of the set. As if Lauren's panties weren't enough. "The bra feels a little loose though." I said, pulling one of the elastics.

"Really? Did you put it on right?" This time, it was Abbey calling.

"I-I think so." I double checked.Did I do something wrong?

"We're coming in!" Abbey called out.

I heard the door knob turn just in time for me to slam my back against the door, and I began to slip my pants on. "Give me a minute here!" I struggled for a good minute with those pants, before I finally let them in.

Abbey didn't waste a second to slip back in her motherly role, and check up on my bra, leaving me completely embarrassed in front of Lauren, whom seemed as embarrassed as I was. Abbey pulled a few times on the elastics. "No. Seems like everything's right. It is a little big for your size."

Lauren seemed to smile a bit proudly for a second or two. "It should still do for today at least."

"Yeah." Abbey considered for a moment. "Maybe a little later too. Lauren, do you mind if we keep this one?"

"Why?" Lauren and I asked in tandem.

"The doctors did say you didn't finish transforming, didn't they?" She pulled on the bra a bit. "Soon, you might be able to fill this one more properly."

I groaned. Great.

Lauren looked at me, a little surprised. "Really now?" I bit my lower lip, and nodded. "Well... I guess you can keep it. For now."

"You don't mind?"

She shook her head. "If it'll help you Kyl... Karen?" She seemed a bit hesitant, but switched to a more caring smile as she saw me. "Right. If it'll help you, Karen, it's okay." I couldn't quite believe it, but I really couldn't complain.

Abbey seemed rather pleased. "Good. One less piece to buy at the mall." She got a confused look from Lauren and me, and she quickly explained: "Since you're still changing, Karen, and we don't know how fast, we're going to take two sets of clothes your size, and one set one size larger. Just in case things change again."

Lauren pondered for a moment. "I guess that does makes sense."

"Doesn't make it any less of a pain." I muttered as I slipped my sweatshirt back on. "And it's going to be expensive in the long run."

Abbey nodded. "Yeah, but we don't know how long, and how drastic those changes will be. And you can't exactly wear the same thing every day now, can you?"

"She's right." Lauren looked at me apologetically. I still felt down though.

"Besides, if they don't fit anymore, we could pick up a sewing machine one day so we can work out the difference." Abbey noted. She gently patted me on the head. "It'll work out. It might sound like a pain right now, but it'll be worth it, you'll see."

I let out a whine, but before I could say anything more, we heard dad call out to us: "Are you girls ready to go?"

I bit my lip. Time's up, time to go. "Coming!"

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"But daddyyyyyyyyyyy! It's not fair!" Gabby was whining out ever since we'd gotten into the car, and even more since we pulled into the mall's parking lot. "I wana go tooooo!"

 

The rest of us sighed in exasperation together. Dad explained to her. Again. "Gabrielle, your sisters have important things to do. They can't take you with them."

 

"But I wana goooo!" She climbed on the back of the front seat. "I wana go shopping with big sister and sissy and Lauren! I wana see sissy in her pretty new clothes!"

I gave a tortured groan. I just had to picture the pink dresses and big bows. There was no way I'd survive the trip if Gabby was coming with us. I looked to Lauren, who sat by my side, and we shared sympathetic looks at each other.

"Look, Gabby..." Abbey turned back to her. "This is important, big-girl things-"

"But I'm a big girl too!" She whined.

"I know, I know." Abbey rubbed her head. "You're a big girl too, but we don't have time for toys today. You wouldn't have any fun. Besides, you're going to have the whole day with Melissa." She leaned in a bit closer to Gabby's ear, and whispered: "I heard that she just got the Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses on DVD."

I could almost see the sparkles in Gabby's wide open eyes for a moment there. She began to look between me and Abbey, seriously having second thoughts. "Bu-bu-but Sissy-"

"Will only wear the prettiest clothes. I'll make sure of that." She winked to her mischievously. "Don't worry, big sis' on the job."

It took a moment for Gabby to figure it out, and finally, she smiled. "Okay!" She sat back, and looked at me with a smile that made me groan painfully. Abbey wasn't serious, was she?

Finally, dad parked the car. "Here we are." He struggled to reach his wallet in his back pocket a moment. "Now, I'll meet you all back here at four. Abbey-"

"Meet us back at four?" I asked curiously, leaning forward. "You mean, you're not coming with us?"

"I've got things to take care of." He leafed through a few bill. "I'm meeting a friend who'll be able to give us a hand with the papers about your new identity. After that, there's the matter of your school and your records. It could take some time." He looked back to me for a moment. "Besides, Abbey and Lauren will be much better suited to help you with clothes than I ever will."

"... Yeah. Good point." I said bitterly. "I guess." I felt disappointed as I fell back in my seat though. So much for leaving early.

He handed a small wad of bills to Abbey. "Here's money for clothes, lunch, and a little extra spending money for you girls." He gave a knowing stare at Abbey. "Do try not to spend it all." He looked back to Lauren as she was about to step out. "Abbey will pay for your lunch too."

Lauren nodded. "Okay." She raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure, sir?"

"One meal won't be too bad, I'm sure." Dad then turned to me. He reached, and placed his hand on my head. I expected him to ruffle my hair as he usually did, but instead he just looked at me with a concerned stare. It was making me a bit nervous. After a minute or so, he finally cracked a small smile. "Take care, dear. Okay?"

I just nodded to him. "Yeah. You too, dad." I finally got my chance to step out of the car. "Don't let the bad traffic get to you."

He gave an amused snerk. "Yeah, right. I'd be more worried about the paperwork I'm going to face." He looked to us, and sighed. "Now, remember girls. Back here, at four. I don't want to have to go in there looking for you." After he got our nods of agreement, he finally waved to us. "Now, be good! Bye."

Gabby followed up, pressed against the window. "Bye bye, Sissy!"

I waved back to her, my stomach twisting lightly as I muttered. "I wish she'd stop calling me 'Sissy' already."

"She will, one day." Abbey said with a smirk. "The day she stops calling me 'big sister', or dad into 'daddy'. She'll grow up. Eventually."

"Eventually." I groaned out. "It'll never come soon enough."

Lauren took my hand, and squeezed it a little. "Come on, Karen. Let's go." I stumbled a little as she pulled me toward the mall. "Better get there while it's still early."

I raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

She gave me a concerned look. "I think you're going to want to avoid the lunch crowd. Wouldn't you? The less people around, the better?"

Abbey gave a nod, following behind us. "Especially if our first stop will be for your..." She searched for the right word for me. "Intimates."

In an instant, I knew what she meant, and a second later, I was the one dragging Lauren through the front doors.

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Why was I in a hurry again? I kept on asking myself that question as I walked into the store. I must have looked like a five year old on his first trip to the toy store.

Everywhere I looked: panties, bra, or the combination of both; either in the racks, hanging up, or in packs; on displays, on posters, or on manikins; silk, cotton, or frilly. They were everywhere! This was the kind of store I usually eyed from a distance, nervous that I might get caught peeking, and... Well, I'm sure you can figure out what I was thinking.

But then, there I was.

Right in the middle of it.

My face must've been a bright red, I was sure of it. My head was lost to fantasies, and my soldier down there was making himself painfully obvious to me. It was getting more and more awkward by the second, and I had to resist the urge to turn around and run. I'm here to get some of my own! I have to be here! I kept telling myself that, but it really wasn't helping my nervousness.

"Can I help you?"

I almost jumped out of my skin when the clerk came to me. "I-I-I'm he-here f-f-for..." My mouth might have gotten better use as a jackhammer the way I was shaking.

Abbey came to my side, rescuing me from total embarrassment. "We're just looking for a few cheap sets of bras and panties right now." She rolled her eyes a bit. "The airport seem to have 'misplaced' her baggage. You know how that can go."

"Aaaahh." She gave an understanding nod. "Hate it when that happens. They always say they're sorry, that they'll get everything sorted out, and... Ugh." She shook her head as she guided me to the changing room. "Unbelievable." I just smiled, and nodded with her along the way, until she asked me: "So do you know your current size, dear?"

"Ah!" I gulped a bit. "I don't know. I-I never-"

"Not a problem." She smiled cheerfully at me as she turned the key. "We'll just have to make some fresh measurements. Just take off your top, and we'll get started."

I looked back at Abbey and Lauren nervously, and they both gave me sympathetic smiles, and a nod. It seemed I didn't have a choice in the matter.

The process felt completely embarrassing. Maybe most girls went through this many times, but for me, being half naked with this woman, someone I barely knew, wasn't sitting well with me. Even less when she wrapped her measuring tape around my chest, and claimed out: "Looks like a blossoming B cup, sweetie." I resisted a groan as she adjusted the tape a bit. "Don't worry, dear," she said in a reassuring tone. "You're still growing, so they'll get bigger. Promise."

I held back a whimper. That's not what I wanted to hear.

She then added: "Then you'll get all the cute boys drooling over you."

I shivered at the thought. Okay. That's definitely not what I wanted to hear.

She left me with that thought for a moment, and came back with an armful of bras of different colors and brands. I tried to slip on the first one on. After a minute of struggling, I finally attached it, and settled into the cups. It was relieving to finally have a bit of proper support up there. It felt like silk all over, and I had to admit, it felt really nice.

"How does it feel?" She asked as she observed around me.

"It feels fine. I mean it- Hey!" She poked with her nail at my breast. "Ow!"

She looked to me like she was expecting this. "Hurts here, doesn't it?"

It took me a moment, but I could feel the wire under the cup dig into my skin. "It's just a pinch. it's not much."

"It may feel like only a pinch now, dear, but this is only the beginning. You're going to be using this for a while. That's when the pain is really going to be a bother." She shook her head as she began to unhook it. "It's too small. Definitely. It might seem fine, but we can find something you're going to be comfortable in for the long run." She looked through the selection she'd pulled out. "You don't know how many women walk away with bras the wrong size, thinking the pain's supposed to be a part of it. Let's see... How about this brand?"

Before I could have my say, she had pulled a lacy black bra over my chest, and had begun to set it in place.

I had a bad feeling this day was never going to end.

Bra after bra, she made me try all sorts of them: from blue to red, cotton to silk, and even strapless to push-up. I couldn't tell if she was just bad at fitting, or if she was trying to get me to wear her whole store's inventory. Every time, there was either something wrong, or she had a better idea in mind.

There was one, I had to admit, did look great. It was a cherry red silky bra that seemed to cup my set so well. I felt like the material was caressing my skin as I slid it into place. I knew the clerk wouldn't find any flaw if it fitted or not. I looked at my reflection, and found myself taking a moment to examine how it looked. The color was perfect, the way it molded the curves of my breasts was wonderful, and the laced design of roses was fitting so well.

I was a little nervous to admit it. I look... Pretty. Yeah. I look... Pretty. That was the word I was looking for.

"Hum. D-dear? Sorry, but..." She said a bit nervously.

"What is it?"Oh. Don't tell me there's something wrong with this one too.

No. Wait. She was looking to low to be looking at the bra.

Lower.

Lower...

I followed her line of sight until I saw it. "ACK!"

I backed away, and covered the tent that was growing in my pants. I was so busy looking at myself to notice the huge hard-on I was getting.

It was too late though. She'd seen it. There was no way she'd just forget it.

She was just looking at me with a look of shock on her face.

"This-this isn't what you're thinking." I pleaded miserably.

Her lips turned upward, and then she began to snicker. "Oh, I get it." She waved her hand, giving me a sly look. "I get it, dear." She was turning a bright red herself, before she started to giggle too. "You almost got me too." She said, waving a finger. "You're good. Really good."

"Ah... Ah..." I didn't know what to say.

"Don't worry." She smiled to me brightly. "I won't tell anyone. Your little secret is safe with me."

Okay.

I was going to die there.

No matter how well my body repaired itself.

I was going to die of embarrassment right there and then.

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The whole affair took an hour and a half before we could finally get away from that place. I couldn't tell if the woman was angry, or just disappointed when we walked out with only one bra in hand. Then again, just that bra was already expensive enough. Part of me wanted to buy the red one too, but Abbey was strictly against it. The budget didn't allow it, she said.

 

At least the one I got gave me the support Lauren's bra couldn't give, without the extra pressure Abbey's gave. I could actually breathe easier. Not to forget that silky feel it gave. I had to admit it though, after a day of wearing ill-fitting attempts: that bra did feel mighty comfortable.

As we walked away though, I could see the clerk wink at me mischievously. That wink sent a shiver up my spine.

Now that we knew the brand and measurements that were the best for me, Abbey assured me we'd be able to get one cheaper with the same fit at our next destination. Getting my clothes at Wal-Mart was probably for the best anyhow.

As we made our way through the mall though, I could see there were more people walking through the halls. There was still plenty of room to walk in, but every glances in my direction made me want to sink down in my sweater and hide.

Before we were halfway to the store though, Abbey stopped in her tracks. My heart skipped a beat as I saw her lips turn into a predatory grin. I followed her line of sight until I saw a bright, colorful sign that showed: "BIG SALE! Everything 50 -70% off!"

Before I knew it, I felt a grip tighten on my wrist, and Abbey was pulling me toward the store. "I got a better idea." Maybe she didn't realize that her grin was making me nervous, but there was no chance I was getting away from her. "You'll thank me for this, you'll see."

With a sigh of resignation, I let her lead the way, followed by Lauren, whom seemed to have a twinkle in her eyes that matched Abbey's.

Great. Must be a girl thing, and I'm getting swept up in it.

Abbey and Lauren didn't waste a second before they started browsing through the clothes. It was like it was second nature to them.

For me, just being in the women's section of a store was like being in a foreign country. I didn't know where to start or where to go.

This might sound strange, but before this, all I'd see for tops would be a huge selection of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and such. All I'd have to pick was the picture in front of it. Comic characters, funnies, skulls, skaters and so on. I'd usually pick up a baseball T-shirt if I could. There were more formal and complicated sets, but for me, it seemed straightforward.

But as I looked around this section, everything was different. Any logos I used to see were either replaced by flowery designs or rainbows, if not totally gone. One of them had "Your Girlfriend's Worst Nightmare" printed on it. Whoever wrote that probably thought he was being real funny. There were a few with skulls, but most of that section looked like it belonged to a goth. Everything else seemed to be a bright shade of bubblegum pink.

On second thought, the logos should have been the least of my worries.

As a guy, it didn't matter how much skin you showed. It was pretty straightforward. In here though, every displays seemed to show off how tight the clothes were supposed to be. Every manikins, and every poster I could see made sure to show every curve the models had. Even the tops with turtle necks and long sleeves made sure that the material was as thin and as tight as could be. Was that what I was gonna have to wear?

I looked in one corner, and a saw a good selection of hoodies. Those seemed much thicker, and covered the body so much more than the rest. The last thing they'd do is show off my body. Or so I thought anyways. But about half the stock they had was pink, or had a ton of flowery designs sewn in. This wasn't something really I wanted to wear.

Then again, my alternatives weren't that much better.

One shirt had a V-cut so wide, even the manikin had one shoulder slide out the collar.

The other one looked more like a net than a shirt.

The next one seemed like it was meant to leave the whole waist naked for the world to see.

The one after looked like a combo of the other three.

My sight moved on to the next one, and my eyes almost popped out of their sockets. It was a charcoal black top, with material so thin, you could see the red bra that was underneath. I wondered for a moment if it was made out of nylon. It wasn't meant to cover you as much as to say it's there. It didn't take me long before I pictured Lauren wearing this. I thought she might look so cute in it, and I'd get a good look at her...

"Do you want to try that one?" Lauren whispered over my shoulder, and quickly reminded me that I was the one getting a new wardrobe.

Did I want to try that on? Did I want to show off my assets to the world? To give every guy a free peek?

I shook my head slowly. "No." I didn't want this! I didn't want to show off my body. I didn't want to be looked at. At all! "No. No, I don't. It... It..." The words just stopped in my throat, refusing to come out.

Lauren gave a sigh of relief. "It's okay. How about something a bit closer to what you used to wear?"

Did she just read my mind? In any case, I was glad to let this one go. "Y-Yeah. If I could." I rolled my eyes a bit. "You wouldn't have seen a shirt with the Cubs' logo on it somewhere?"

She rolled her eyes at me with that knowing smirk. She probably thought I was kidding. It couldn't hurt to be a little hopeful, right?

That's when Abbey came up to me with a few sets of clothes slung over one arm. "Karen? Could you try these on first? I think these should be about your size."

I quickly looked through what she'd brought. No dresses. Nothing pink. Good. Jeans too? Good! A few blank shirts, and...

"Wait. What's... This?" I pulled out a dark purple piece out of of the pile, and held it up.

Lauren raised an eyebrow. "A tube top? Really, Abbey?"

As if on cue, I noticed a woman walk by the store with the same kind of top wrapped up tightly around her chest. The kind you figured might be one size too small. The kind that squeezed all around her body, looking as if it was painted over her chest, leaving very little to the imagination. The kind that you knew if she just bent forward a little, you could see all the way down her...

Male instincts kicked in, and the first thoughts that crossed my head were:She's hot!But then I remembered what I was holding up in my hands, and all the blood in my face drained out in dread. Is this what everyone expects me to wear too?

Abbey smiled. "Sure! I thought it looked cute. And it matches Karen's eyes, so-"

"No." I held it out at Abbey as if the cloth was on fire, and shook my head. "I won't, Abbey. Nuh huh. No way. I really don't want this."

She looked disappointed for a moment. "But Karen..."

"Abbey." Lauren added in, stepping by my side. "She's not ready. You know that."

Abbey frowned in frustration. "I... I just thought you'd..." She looked at me a moment, then sighed. "Sorry. But you'll try the rest, okay?"

"Okay!" I gave a nod, took what she'd picked, and hurried into the changing room before she changed her mind.

I quickly discarded my stuffy old sweater, and slid on the red shirt she'd gotten me. I was so glad to have something lighter on my back after three days of wearing the same sweatshirt. And this one didn't squeeze my new assets like my old collection did. I looked in the long mirror on the side, and checked myself a moment. It looked a little bland, but otherwise, perfect.

The first problem came with the jeans.

They slid up the legs with no difficulties. I had plenty of room there.

And I felt so relieved when the rim passed around my hips, as if they were meant to.

It's when I reached the top that I felt it.

"NGH!" I made a face as I felt the crotch squeeze my package painfully. Dammit! These weren't designed for girls with attachments.

With a bit more determination, and a mental reminder that I wanted jeans, I just closed my eyes, and squirmed, trying to fit it to the side. It took some work, and it wasn't comfortable, but I pulled it off.

That is, until I tried to pull the zipper up.

First try. "Mph!" Nope. It wouldn't go.

Second shot. "Gh!" Just a little, but it went back down.

Third attempt. Just put a little muscle into it, and... "AAARGH!"

I crossed my legs, scrunched my face, and bent forward in pain. Oh GOD, that HURTS! Bad idea. Bad idea. No pants are worth this much trouble.

"Karen? Are you okay in there?" I heard Lauren's voice on the other side of the door.

"Fine. I'm fine." I squeaked out.

I tried the second pair in the pile, and those seemed just a tad bigger, must have been another brand, but it fit just enough for me to zip it up without too much problems. That is, if you didn't count a squeezing sensations around my balls, and the bulge that they were making down there.

A few minutes later, Abbey was raising an eyebrow hesitantly as the three of us looked in the mirror. "Karen." She sighed. "I don't think that's going to work."

Lauren was just looking silently at my reflection, staring a lot lower than I wanted to. I could only guess what she was thinking.

"Do you think a lot of people are going to notice?" I muttered before I reminded myself of what happened at the bra store. I got lucky back then.

Abbey hesitated a moment, a look of concern drawn on her face. "I think so. And you know what that would mean, right?"

I shuddered at the thought. I already knew how awful it was when people saw I was bad as a guy with breasts; I didn't want to think what they'd do if they saw me as a girl with a package. But I still wanted a good pair of pants on. "Can't you get something bigger? Enough to hide it?"

She winced a bit. I guessed it wasn't likely to happen, but she gave me a tired sigh, and turned around. "I'll see what I can find."

"Thanks." I let out before I felt a small tug from Lauren.

"Hum, you... Never told me that you hadn't lost... I mean, that you still have..." She looked around carefully, leaned in, and whispered. "... Your equipment?"

I winced lightly. "Sorry. It... Didn't exactly come up. I mean, what was I going to say?" I hesitated a moment. "Besides, they said it'd be gone soon."

She leaned forward curiously. "How long?"

"Before the transformation is over. At least, that's what they said." I muttered sadly. "Until then, I get a few more memories to make with it's still attached."

Lauren's cheeks were becoming redder with every seconds she looked down. "I-I see." She looked back up to my face, hesitated for a moment, and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. "Are you okay about this?"

For a second, I trembled in shock under her arm. "I'm not okay with most of this. You know that." I snerked, and forced a wry smirk on my face. "But it's not like I got a choice anyways, right?" I let out a dry chuckle. "Besides, peeing while standing up is overrated."

She placed the other arm around my waist, and hugged me tighter. I looked into her eyes, and for a moment, I thought she could see through the dry humor; that she could see how much scared I was. And I saw how much she was worried. Yet she was still giving me a comforting smile. "You're stronger than that, Ky-" She bit her lip. "Karen. You'll get through this. I know you can."

I let the words sink in a moment. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. It's just... It's just..." I sighed. "Thanks, Lauren. Thank you." I reached back to her, and we shared a hug for a little while. I really needed that.

After we released each other, I looked back at the mirror, trying not to think too much about what was going to happen. No matter how much I stared though, it didn't make the lump any less obvious. "I never gave a thought about this problem though. I mean, I always wore jeans before. Wasn't a problem."

"We'll find something." She said in a reassuring tone. "If nothing else, you'll be able to get jeans a little later on."

"Yeah. You're right." I let out weakly. "Once my little soldier's fallen." I sighed, and gathered myself up. I don't have time to get depressed again. That still left me with my first problem. "I still need some pants though."

She patted me on the shoulder, and winked. "Leave that to us. Okay?"

"Okay." I gave her a small smirk, and nodded. "I'm counting on you."

During the next two hours, I tried jeans after jeans, hoping that the next pair would be a better fit than the previous one. No luck. Every one of them were either showing off my equipment or slid off my hips. Halfway through the process, Lauren did find a pair of black slacks that fit. The color did hide the bump better, but it just couldn't make it disappear. We even tried a few guy's pants, hoping they'd help, but I still had the same problem my old set had. They were either too tight at some spots or too loose in other.

After so many attempts, Abbey finally came up to me with a piece of clothing I did hope to stay away from: a skirt.

"Abbey. Uuuuh." I bit my lower lip. "You're not serious, are you?"

She frowned in frustration. "Karen, you're running out of options. Pants can't do it without showing off, and you're not going out there if you're going to show, right? This should give 'it' enough free space, and fit nicely on you."

I eyed the skirt warily. I didn't like it. I really didn't want it. This was in girl's territory. No-man's land, at the exception of the kilts. Something that showed off their legs, and blew up in the wind. Something cute, and it was so... So... Girly!

But I'm a girl now. The thought twisted my stomach into a knot. The skirt may have been girly, but I was too. I could wear this, and I was expected to. And if it would help...

Abbey handed it to me. "At least give it a try first, okay?"

I gave a hesitant look at Lauren, whom bit her lip, but gave me an encouraging nod.

With that, I let my shoulders drop and surrendered. "Okay. I'll try."

As I closed the door of the changing room, I closed my eyes, and, once more, I repeated my little mantra.

I am Karen now. I am Karen now...

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God, this feels so weird! After wearing pants all my life, even if the skirt went down to my knees, it felt like I was naked from the waist down. I could feel the bare skin of my legs touching one another as I walked through the mall, surrounded by a crowd of people. It felt so wrong!

 

But the skirt passed the girls' inspections, and it was hard to go against that. I could still remember the grin Abbey had on her face when I walked out of the changing room. She seemed so happy.

At least I only had to wear that for today. Once we'd get home, I'd be able to ditch it for the slacks we bought. I just had to be a little patient.

In the meantime though, all I wanted to do was fade away and vanish.

By the time we'd pulled out of that store, it was already noon, and the lunch crowd was in full swing. The corridors were flooded with people coming and going. It was hard to move around without being swept away upstream, and the last thing I wanted was to be separated from Lauren and Abbey.

But the crowd also brought something that filled me with dread. The stares. They came from all over. No matter where I looked, I felt like someone was looking my way; looking at the girl I'd become. It wasn't so bad with women, most were charming and welcome, but every time I saw a man smile broadly at me, I was on the verge of panic. It felt even worse when one group of guys were staring at me like sharks eyeing their next meal, and I had to stop myself from screaming when I felt a hand brush against my backside.

So when Abbey proposed to get out of the crowd until things cooled down, I agreed with her without a second though.

Finding the first opening we had, we ducked into a music store. While I took a moment to settle down, I took a quick glance at the place. Man, it's been a while since I've been here. I remembered coming to this place every time we came by the mall. It used to be a lot more full in the past, but ever since MP3 players became so popular, it was seemingly struggling. It even tried to bring in DVDs to pull in a new crowd, but it could only do so much.

I looked at the old Metallica poster that had stood up on that wall forever, when suddenly, I heard: "Hey! Lauren!"

Someone waved toward us over a few rows of CDs as he was heading our way. Lauren waved back. "Owen! Hi!"

When I saw my best friend turn the corner, I froze in place, and held my breath. No way. Not now!I shuffled behind Abbey, and just hoped he wouldn't notice me.

Luckily, his focus shifted to my sister first. "Oh, hi Abbey. How are you two doing?"

"I'm fine." They answered in tandem, before Lauren asked: "And what about you? What are you doing here?"

He grinned, and held up a CD. "The latest album from Brass Monkey. It just came out, and I had to get it."

I shuddered along with Lauren, who said: "How can you stand that..." She winced. "No. I can't even call that music. It's like putting nails and chalkboards in a blender, hitting 'puree' and calling it a musical."

He waved a hand aside. "You just don't get it. Not everyone does." He shrugged. He'd given up trying to convince Lauren and me a long time ago. "And why did you come here today?"

Lauren's face seemed to color, and she glanced my way. "W-well..." I tensed up as she extended a hand to me. "Karen here is visiting for a while, and she needed a few sets of clothes."

Oh great, Lauren. A bull's eye on my head. Just what I always wanted. Just shoot me already! I tried to smile to him without panicking. Please don't figure it out. Please don't figure it out. Please. Don't. "Hi th-there."

"Hi." He reached out with one hand. "Nice to meet you. I'm Owen."

"I'm K-Karen." I stuttered out, as I shook his hand. "Nice to meet you too." I tried to stay as still as I could when I saw his eyes wander up and down. Don't tell me I look familiar. Please. I was so worried about him recognizing me though, that it took me a minute to realize his stare had stopped wandering about three inches lower than my shoulders. "He-hey!"

His eyes shot back upward. "So how long are you going to visit?"

"For a while." I whispered lowly as I crossed my arms over my 'twins'. I can't believe he'd... "Th-there's some trouble going on back home, and I really needed to get away."

"Aaah." He rubbed the back of his head, obviously uncomfortable. "I'm sorry to hear that."

I shook my head, and tried to stick to my story. "It's okay. I'll be fine. I just need some time to think about things."

He smiled in relief. "Good. I- huh?" He looked toward the cashiers. "Oh! Line's open." He rushed over there, pausing for only one moment. "Just give me a minute, this won't be long!"

I waved to him a little, then whispered to Lauren. "Does he always look down at your, I mean, mine, I mean..." I pointed to my chest. "You know?"

Lauren gave me a small, amused smirk. "You mean, you never noticed?" I could see her cheeks turn a bright shade of pink. "He does stare, here and there. And you used to do the same thing too."

"Wha-what?" It was my turn to blush.

"Yeah." She crossed her arms. "In fact, you're doing it right now."

My eyes shot right back up to her face. "What? But- I didn't- I just..."

She simply smiled at me, and patted my shoulder. "It's okay, Karen. Most guys do it anyways."

"Besides, you should be flattered. He likes you." Abbey giggled, definitely amused.

I groaned a bit. "I should be flat." I shook my head. "This is just too weird. This is Owen we're talking about. My best friend. And he's... He's ogling me." I shivered again. That was one thing I really didn't want to think about right now.

But before we could continue further, Owen came back, bearing a huge satisfied grin on his face. "There goes this week's allowance, but it's worth it."

Lauren gave a sigh. "My ears don't think so. If you don't mind me, I'll buy myself a set of earplugs."

Owen didn't seem to find that funny, giving us the most deadpan laugh you'd hear on this side of the mall. He then looked at Abbey. "Oh yeah." He looked concerned for a moment. "How's Kyle doing lately?" My heart just skipped a beat. He looked to Lauren. "Did you check up on him? How was he?"

Both girls looked at each other nervously for a moment, then looked in my direction. Abbey finally answered: "Kyle... Really isn't feeling well right now."

Lauren nodded with her. "Yeah. He really wasn't looking too good. At all." She looked at me nervously, and bit her lower lip. I returned her nervous look. I didn't know what else to do but stay quiet, and nod.

Owen let his shoulders drop down. "You mean... They did it? They really did it?" He looked depressed for a moment. "They really beat him up?"

"He really looked bad, Owen." She shook her head softly. "You probably wouldn't recognize him right now."

Lauren cut in. "We took him to the hospital, and they did all they could." She sighed. "The best thing we can do, right now, is let Kyle rest and heal up." I had to give Lauren some credit, she was a quick thinker under pressure.

"No way." He just shook his head, and his face twisted in anger. "Those damn bastards!" I saw his fists close tightly hard enough for his arm shake under the frustration. "I... Ugh. I can't believe it. Josh and those guys." He leaned against the side of a display, and looked at the ground. He raised his fist, and for a second, I thought he was going to hit something. "Goddamn bastards."

I had to bite my tongue. Just mentioning Josh's name made my blood boil, even though my legs were quivering in fear. I wanted to get back at the jerk somehow. But what can I do? And how?

Before I could ponder that any more, Owen asked: "So when are you going to see him? Can I come too?"

Abbey hesitated a moment. We didn't plan that kind of excuse. "We'd have to check back with dad. He's already going there for today, and this is his day off. After that..." She gave an unsure shrug. "But as soon as he gets back on his feet, you'll be the first to know."

Owen silently took the rejection, and hung his head low. Lauren and I exchanged uncomfortable glances once more. I didn't like lying to Owen right now, but it had to be done.

The awkward silence that had settled between us was broken by a sudden growl. "S-sorry." I placed a hand over my protesting stomach. "I barely had a piece of toast for breakfast. It's probably long gone by now."

Another stomach joined into the fray. This time, it was Owen's body making the call. "I guess we're all a little hungry. How about we go for the food court, grab something there together?" He said with a smile my way.

For a moment, I couldn't imagine how this could get any more awkward. Then again, I still had another twelve hours to go.

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It took us a while, and a bit of pushing around, but we finally made our way to the food court. The place was just as crowded as the halls. Between all the people at the tables, those traveling in between the chairs with trays, and the baby strollers laying about, the whole place was a labyrinth. Getting a good table wasn't going to be easy.

 

We quickly agreed to a plan, Abbey would go gather our orders while the rest of us would scatter through the mess of people to find a spot. Luckily, Lauren caught a family that was just leaving. I was so embarrassed when Owen actually took the time to pull the chair for me. I couldn't exactly say no, could I? I wished he would have stopped staring at me with those eyes from the other side of the table. If only he knew who I was, surely would have stopped. Right?

He leaned forward a bit. "So where did you come from?"

I looked down at my knees, trying to avoid looking directly at him as I tried to remember the story we'd made earlier. "I-I-I'm from Maine. Portland, Maine."

"Portland?" He looked surprised. "That's quite a long way from here to run away."

Once more, I froze. "W-w-well, after what happened, I-I-I..." We didn't think that far ahead. What am I supposed to say?

But before I could say anything, a sudden flash of light exploded in front of my eyes. "ACK!" I rubbed my eyes, trying to clear away the white spots out of them.

"Hrm. Dammit. I forgot to take the flash off. That just won't do." It took me only seconds to recognize the voice. I glared up, and couldn't tell which was greater; my dread, or my anger. Zack was just walking around the table, grinning like a shark. "Aaaahhh. Too bad. That shy look on your face would have been perfect too."

The heat around the table must have rose up by one degree. Owen shot out of his seat, and grabbed the cocky guy around the collar. "What are you doing here?"

"Hey, hey, heeeeeyyyy." He raised both hands nonchalantly. "Bad idea, buddy. Baaaaaaad idea. Calm down, switch to decaf, take a chill pill, or something." Zack waved a camera in front of Owen's face. "I thought it was time to get an upgrade, after the last camera got busted. There's only so much the camera on my phone can do." His grin grew about an inch wider. "Then, I saw you, and I decided to check up on the three musketeers... Well, minus one."

For a moment, Owen looked like he was struggling between letting go, and slugging the smug bastard. I wished he would have done the latter. Zack would have deserved it. I had to hold myself back from jumping across the table, and strangling the guy myself. Him and his buddies had almost destroyed everything I had, and he was celebrating.

When Owen let him go, Zack quickly slid into the free chair, and raised an eyebrow my way. "You didn't take long to find a replacement either." He gave a playful growl, leaning toward me. "Quite an improvement too, I have to admit, but I don't believe D'Artagnan wore a skirt. Could be a French thing." I had to grip my chair not to jump on the other side of the table and start paying him back for everything he'd done.

Lauren glared at him, and slowly uttered: "If you're looking for trouble, Zack-"

"Oh, no trouble. No trouble at all." He snickered. "Heck, I could even make sure Luke doesn't try to go for her either. I know he'll be tempted. New meat and all." I shuddered at the thought. He then switched to Lauren. "Then again, if you're free now, I-URK!"

Owen pulled him back by the collar. "Back off, Romeo."

"Hey, hey, HEY! I was just asking!" Zack shrugged , and rolled his eyes. "Sheesh!"

Lauren's face twisted in disgust. "Not that I'd ever be interested in you, jackass."

"Aaawww." Zack leaned back over dramatically. "Ye wound me, oh fair lady." He cackled as he straightened up. "And I thought I might have a chance now that your tag-along is out of the picture." Once again, it took all my willpower not to reach out and punch the stupid grin off his stupid face. He raised an eyebrow, and asked: "And how is Kyle faring out anyways, mn?"

"What do you think?" Owen growled. "He's in the hospital."

"Ah? Is that so?" Zack raised an eyebrow with that smug smile. "Good riddance."

"Good riddance?" The three of us hissed out. If looks could kill, Zack would have exploded on the spot. But all it did was make his grin grow even wider as he leaned back in his chair.

"Well yeah! One less homo to worry about." He shrugged with a huge smile. "If that's not a good thing, I don't know what is."

Lauren leaned toward him with a challenging look on her face. "You keep on saying that Kyle's gay. How did you and your 'crew' get to that conclusion? What if you got it wrong? You just beat him up for no reason." I nodded to Lauren confidently. They didn't know what was really happening.

Zack didn't quite believe what he'd just heard. "You think we made a mistake? Really? Didn't I show you the photos? Isn't it obvious? HELLOOOOOO!" He paused for a few seconds. "Unless you think 'drag queen' doesn't mean 'gay'."

"Drag Queen?" Lauren raised an eyebrow. "Now you're taking it a bit far."

"Am I?" Zack smacked his lips a bit. "Okay. The guy was wearing a bra. Getting into women's underwear still qualifies." He looked to Owen. "Right?"

Lauren gulped a bit. "What if he had a reason to wear a bra? What... If he lost a bet?"

Zack snerked loudly. "Yeah. A bet. HAH! Good one." He shook his head, and shrugged. "We warned him two times, and the whole thing lasted a week! If it was a bet, he could have just told us. We'd all have a laugh at his expense, he'd take if off, and it'd be over right? But did he even gave a hint? Nooooo." He looked at us. "Did he tell any of you?"

Owen sighed, and shook his head. "Nope. Not a thing."

"What if it was a medical reason?" I finally decided to jump into the discussion, which earned me a silent stare from all over the table.

"Medical?" Zack muttered in a deadpan tone. "Medical. Really? What? He can't live properly without a bra? I gets hives, and rashes if he doesn't get that silky feel over his chest? Pfth! Yeah right. Gaaayyyy!"

I simply nodded. "Yeah. I think the doctors call it... What was it again?... Gynecomastia, or something? Bad hormones in the body, and even a guy can start growing breasts?" I was rewarded with another awkward pause from the other three. "It's treatable though."

Zack finally opened his big mouth. "Okay. If that's REALLY what's happening, we're moving away from homo, and more toward freakshow! Just as bad, yet somehow still GAAAAYYYYYY!"

"Zaaack." Owen growled again.

"What? It's true! Besides, do you really want to be seen with a guy like that? Come on!" He shook his head. "And, if we didn't chase him off, what do you think would happen?" He looked to Owen. "You remember what happened to Saint-Francis' team?" Owen winced. He remembered. "The very same thing could've happened to us, you know." Zack pointed out. "The moment someone else found out, and we didn't weed the guy out... Well, how the hell do you think the rest of us would look like?” He pointed down at the table. “Josh saw that coming, and he did what had to be done." He looked at Owen seriously. "In fact, you should probably thank us for straightening him out."

"Thank you? Thank you?" Owen's face reddened in anger as he leaned toward Zack. "You're joking, right? You and your crazy gang beat up Kyle to a bloody pulp! Who knows what's going happen to him? I'm surprised you're not with the police right now. And I'm supposed to thank you?"

Zack didn't seem intimidated though. "Of course! If you have a queer around, people are going to start wondering who said queer is... How can I say this... Who would be the queer's partner in crime?" He leaned forward with an amused smile on his face. "Now who would be the one guy that Kyle's been the closest to? The one person that's always sticking by his side. The one who'd be 'his manly man', his knight in shining armor, his main squeeze, the one guy he'd want to hold on to at night..." He grinned at Owen. "Now I wonder who that could be. Wouldn't you?"

Owen's face seemed to lose it's color with every words that came out of Zack's mouth. "I...I..." He shook his head slowly. "Th-that's still no excuse!"

"Yet, I bet people are going to draw a rather simple conclusion, won't they?" Zack snickered as Owen just looked away. "But now, you won't have to worry about that, will you?"

"Zack," I hissed out angrily. "Why don't you just leave us alone?"

The guy turned to me with his smug smile. "Why? I'm just giving a little warning to a few friends now."

I frowned, leaning toward him. "Sounded more like threats than warnings."

He came in a little closer. "But I'm just having a little fun."

I stood up. "You're annoying us."

He mimicked me. "So what, mn? Gonna spank me, and send me home?"

I glared. "Don't tempt me."

He then grinned, and whispered lowly. "You know, you're kinda cute when you're trying to be threatening."

The way he let out those words sent shivers up and down my whole body. I was going to be sick.

That seemed to get a few laughs from him. "Hehehehe-URK!" That is, until someone pulled hard on his collar.

The wrathful glare that Abbey had as she looked to Zack even made me nervous. I knew that angry look in her eyes, and things usually didn't end too well. For a moment, I thought she was even lifting Zack off the floor with one hand.

Zack looked confused for a second, gave a nervous chuckle, and waved to her. "Hey there."

She carefully set the tray of food on our table with her other hand, and turned back to Zack. "Okay. I'm going to say this slowly so there's no misunderstanding here." The tone of her voice had a low rumble of true anger. "Leave. Us. Alone." She reached out with her other hand to his collar, and really lifted him up to his toes. "If you or your friends harass us any more today, or if you think of getting even close to my little brother, you little creep," Her eyes focused on his as she uttered the words. "I'll guarantee you'll regret it."

As she let go, Zack tried to get his footing back. "Bu-bu-but, you can't- you don't scare-"

The punch he received echoed throughout the food court. The way he just shot to the side, I thought his head was about to pop off his shoulders. Everyone suddenly looked at the two of them, and stared. Zack stood, looking shocked as he brought a hand to the red imprint over his cheek. Looking around at everyone, he slowly started to back away from Abbey slowly at first. "Fuck," he muttered lowly before he finally turned, and hurried away from us.

As the court slowly returned to it's usual chatter, I let out a sigh of relief. Lauren smiled to Abbey. "Thanks. He definitely deserved that."

"My pleasure." Abbey let out, rubbing her wrist. "The little vermin's got a tough face though. Ow."

I snerked. "Probably from all the falls he took on it lately."

Abbey sighed, and looked at us. "Did he do anything? He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"Nah. He was just flapping his gums." Lauren rolled her eyes. "As usual."

"But he was right." We turned to Owen quickly, whom looked rather uncomfortable. "I mean, you've seen the pictures too, Lauren. He did have 'it' on."

We all looked in shock at him. My heart just skipped a beat. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

Lauren slapped her palms on the table. "So you think beating Kyle up was a good idea too? Is that it?"

"No!" He waved his hands quickly. "No, no, no! No way! I wouldn't dare! It's those sickos' idea!" He took a moment to catch his breath. "I meant... What if Kyle really is gay?" There was an awkward pause all around the table. "What if he really does wear women's underwear? Or even dresses like a girl?" He looked to Abbey, a little scared of her. "I'm sorry, I don't mean anything bad, but... But..."

"But... What?" Lauren and me asked together.

He just groaned. "I don't know. It's so freaky, so weird. I mean, what kind of guy does this stuff? Really?" He rested his forehead in the palm of his hand. "And Kyle, out of all people? That's just... Wrong!"

I got back up on my feet. "S-sorry, I... I gotta go." I left quietly. I had to get away from there.

I just couldn't hear any more of this.

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Dammit! I splashed water over my face a few times. Damn Owen. Damn Zack. Damn fucking mutation!

I took in a deep breath, and tried to calm down. I felt like I was either going to scream my lungs out, or cry my eyes off; and I couldn't afford either one right now. I had to bear it out.

I can't believe it. When I thought I might be able to tell Owen, this happens. He's already thinking I'm gay by now, thanks to those bastards. How am I supposed to tell him I'm like this NOW without him freaking out? I rubbed my face dry as I tried to figure out what to do. The way things were going, Owen was going to think I was some kind of freak, no matter what I did.

Then again... It is pretty freaky one way or another. I looked up at my reflection. How do you tell your best friend that you've just changed sex?

Just when I was about to ponder what I had, I suddenly felt a rough hand caress my backside. "Ooohhh. You're cute." A man was leaning in close with a rather large smile. I'd never felt more creeped out before in my life. "Now what's a cute girl like you doing all the way out here? Mmnn?"

What's that creep doing? Was the first thought that rang into my head. It was only when I caught a glimpse of the urinal in the mirror that I realized my big mistake. Oooooh crap.

"Leave her alone, Clark," another man noted as he zipped up. "She's probably underage anyways."

"Hey. Even school kids need extra allowance." He squeezed my butt. "What do you say, sugar?"

I don't know exactly what came over me, but he seemed just as surprised as I was when my hand slapped across his face. A second later, after panic gave me back the use of my legs, I bolted out of the men's bathroom as fast as I could. So fast, that I slammed my face against the division between the two doors. Crap, crap, crap, crap! I held my nose painfully as I stumbled around for a few seconds, dashed into the women's side, and locked myself into a stall.

Panting heavily, I dropped onto the toilet seat. "I can't believe I did that," I whispered. If I hadn't been so upset, and actually paid attention to what I was doing, instead of following an old habit, I might have avoided that.

"But instead..." I closed my eyes, and shook my head. "Stupid, stupid, stupid." I sniffed a little. I felt like crying again. Everything was so unfair. I couldn't even go to the bathroom without doing something wrong. All because this stupid mutation decided I needed to be a girl. I didn't want this!

Why me? Why is this happening to me?

I wrapped my arms around myself, and wiped my tears away.

I stayed in that stall for a while, trying not to think how harsh the world was...

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I finally got out of there, led back to the food court by my empty stomach. Abbey and Lauren were just about done, and Owen was nowhere to be seen. "Where did he go?"

 

"His dad came to pick him up." Lauren said. "He tried to ask him for more time, but no luck."

Abbey gave a concerned look my way. "How do you feel, sis?"

I mumbled a weak little: "I'm okay." I took a bite out of my burger. A little lukewarm, but still eatable.

"I'm sorry about Owen." Lauren said softly. "You know how he can be sometimes. Before he knows it, he has his foot in his mouth." I groaned in response, and kept on eating. "Besides, he couldn't have known what really happened, could he?"

"I get it. I get it." I sighed. "It still hurts though. You know?"

"Yeah, I know, but..." She bit her lip. "When are you going to tell him?"

I winced. "I don't know. At this pace, right around never sounds pretty close."

"Karen." She turned toward me, putting on a more serious tone. "Do you think you can keep this a secret from him forever? At one point or another, he's going to want to see Kyle."

"I know." I rubbed my forehead. "I know. But how am I supposed to tell him? You almost didn't believe me yourself at first."

"We might not have to." I looked to Abbey, who continued to explain. "We tell him you're still at the hospital for a while, and when you're home, we tell him you're not feeling well enough to see anyone." She took a sip from her drink. "We can do that for a few months, and then we can tell him we sent you off to a private school because we didn't want the same thing to happen again. Case closed."

"I... Guess... That could work," I let out. It didn't feel right to lie to like that to him, but it might be the only way not to hurt him.

Lauren crossed her arms. "And what will you do when Karen comes back to school?"

"She's not going to," Abbey let out. She saw the confusion in our eyes, and finally explained: "The part about sending Karen to a private school isn't a lie."

"Ah." I looked down a bit. "So dad did talk with you about that already?"

She nodded. "Yeah. And I think it's for the best."

"What?" Lauren looked between the two of us. "What's for the best? A private school? Are you kidding?"

"She isn't." I hung my head low. I guess I know where I'm going now. Might as well kiss everything else goodbye. "There's this school that's... Well, for people with 'special gifts' out there, and the doctor said I should go there." I looked to Abbey. "It's expensive though. A bit too much."

Abbey shook her head softly. "It's okay. College can wait. And besides, if it'll keep those creeps away from you, it's worth it."

"Ho-how long's that gona be? How far?" Lauren asked, seemingly upset.

"Four years." I mumbled lowly. "In New Hampshire, or something."

"Do you really have to go there?" Lauren pleaded. "It-it's not like those guys will be any more trouble. We just had one right here, and he couldn't even clue in it was you."

"It's more than just that." Abbey added. "That place will help Karen with her mutation."

"What mutation? I mean, look at her! No fires, no horns, no scales, or anything you see on TV. You could still be considered normal." Lauren kept on insisting. "You could still go to school with us. Just take different classes, and try to avoid the gym. And if you change more, no one would be the wiser!"

"You think so?" I felt a little glimmer of hope. Maybe I didn't have to leave. "You really think so?"

"Of course! Things might not be the same, but... We'd still be able to hang out together." She smiled at me in a way that made my heart flutter.

Abbey didn't seem too hopeful though. "But what if there's an accident? What if you cut yourself, or something. Some people might figure out you're a mutant." She shook her head. "We'd be right back to square one."

"But those bullies wouldn't dare touch a girl," Lauren countered.

"Maybe. But then there's all the people who are anti-mutants. I doubt they'd be so forgiving."

It seemed that the more the discussion progressed, the more bleak things seemed. If it wasn't bullies, it was worse. my heart just sunk at the thought. It was so depressing.

Abbey looked at me, and hesitated for some reason. "Okay. We'll talk more about this later. If dad thinks it's okay, then... Maybe." She she reached over, and squeezed my hand. "But you have to realize that this is for your safety, Karen. You've already been through enough trouble already."

"I know. I know. And you know I don't want this to happen again, but I don't really want to leave." I felt Lauren hug me once more from the side. I whispered to her: "If we could make this work..." She slowly nodded to me, and squeezed even harder.

Abbey smiled at us. "In any case, we have three hours to go before dad picks us up, and most of our shopping's done." She crossed her arms. "After you finish eating, how about we go catch a movie?"

"Sure!" Lauren and me said in tandem.

Unfortunately, Lauren caught the jinx. I owed her a soda.

Soon enough though, we left the food court, Lauren and I holding onto each other's arms. Just that made wearing a skirt almost worth it.

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"The Return of the Champion?" Lauren asked, eyebrow quirked. "Isn't that an old title?"

 

"Maybe." I winced. "But to be honest, I'm really not in the mood for a superhero movie right now."

Abbey leaned in closer. "Actually... It's a documentary."

"Pass!"

We moved on to the next poster.

"Romance Hill?" I gave a pleading look to the two girls beside me. "Please, no."

"Come on, it'll be good." Lauren gave me a sly smile. "Give a chick flick a chance. You'll like it! It's got Leo in it!"

Blergh. "The last thing I need is to see 'another' kiss scene with that guy." And I had a feeling that my malehood would shrivel up on itself as soon as I stepped into the room. "Can we skip this one? For me? Please?"

Lauren gave a grunt, but as we moved on, Abbey whispered in her ear something like: "She'll see the light one day."

The next one was about 'The Shaping'.

"Horror one. A story about an evil, possessed house?" I raised an eyebrow. "Sounds a bit cliche."

Lauren grinned widely. "I heard about this one. It's good."

"Really?"

She nodded. "Really. It's spooky, with disturbing images, and things that come at you right out of nowhere! And what it makes the main character do, oooohh, this should be good."

"It's too bad I'm not getting you to see it then." Abbey interrupted sternly.

"What? Why?"

She pointed to one corner. "Eighteen years or older only." She shook her head. "Sorry. I can't."

"Come on! We look old enough! We'll pass! Pleeeaaase?" I pleaded, but Abbey barely gave an amused snerk, before moving on.

"Weekend at Karedonia 3?" She asked in disgust. "They actually dared to make a sequel to that?"

I groaned, and followed along, curious about the next one. "What's this?"

"It's... Bad. Ugh." I could the shivers it gave her. "Let's just say what they did in the last one was way disgusting."

"How bad could it be?" Lauren asked curiously.

Abbey made a face. "Well... At one point one of the girls, who was probably drunk, started to flirt with the owner of the place."

"Uh huh?" Lauren and I nodded.

"And the next scene, the two are... Ugh-frenching so hard, I..."

We both raised an eyebrow, wondering what was so wrong. "Yeah?"

"And then the next morning, the girl comes out of the owner's bedroom, and..." She just shook her head. "Oh god."

"So what?" I asked curiously. "Is she disgusting, or something?"

Abbey looked green for a moment. "The owner, since the first movie, is a corpse. Full rigor mortis, and stuff."

The colors drained from our faces. "So everything that girl did..."

Abbey nodded, still looking green. "Uh huh."

"With a..."

"Yup."

"And they made a sequel?"

She crossed her arms, and looked away from the poster. "Yeeeaaah."

We looked away from that one in disgust. Some things were never meant for cinema.

The next poster looked much more promising. "Jennifer Stevens in Operation Skycracker." I raised an eyebrow at the sight of the blonde woman holding a handgun. I must have been staring rather intensely, since Lauren elbowed me a little.

"I guess you're interested in this one?" She asked with a sly smirk. I couldn't hold back an embarrassed chuckle while she examined the poster herself. "Sounds like a spy movie to me."

"Jennifer Stevens..." Abbey pondered. "I think she's known mostly for her radio show, but I guess she's popular enough to have a movie now."

"So how about it?" I gave a sheepish grin to the two. I was looking forward to this one! I didn't need to argue before Lauren pulled me toward the ticket booth.

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The movie was good. The actors, the plot, the action, and the explosions. It was all good. Watching the good guys sneak around unnoticed, and almost getting caught was so exciting. And the death trap seemed perfect. I thought for a moment that they were done for! At least, until Jennifer used the electro magnet in her belt. I hadn't thought of using it that way. Everything was so perfect on the big screen.

 

But the best moment of the whole thing was when I felt Lauren's head rest against my shoulder. She felt so warm. It was then I wished the movie would never end.

Unfortunately, the end came all too soon, and it was time to go. We spent the last few minutes talking about how awesome the movie was until dad picked us up. By then, we had to endure a hyped up Gabby who seemed to bounce with questions, and chattered on about how great and wonderful her day was. Dad did ask a few questions of his own. He was a little concerned about the skirt too, but Abbey was able to cover most of the details.

Finally, we were back home, and piling out of the car. While dad, and my sisters climbed up to our floor, I stayed down a little longer with Lauren.

"Thanks for coming today. I'm really glad you came along," I said a bit nervously. My cheeks were probably a bright red by now.

She smiled to me, and gave a friendly nod. "I was glad to be there. I just wish I could have helped you more." We shared an awkward silence for a minute, as her face started to show some concern for me. "Are you okay, Karen?"

"Yeah." I nodded to her, fidgeting in place. "Yeah, I'm fine." I wasn't totally honest there, but as she was looking at me, I couldn't help but nod, and giving a lopsided smile. "I've got everything I needed today after all."

"Yeah, but..." She hesitated a moment. "Did you ever figure out how you're going to tell Owen?"

I winced a bit. I'd forgotten about him for a while. "I... I don't know." I looked aside. "But I guess there's not a thousand ways to go about it. I'll call him, get him here, and... Unload." I snerked. "I doubt he'd believe me though."

"I believed you." She mumbled.

"Yeah. After you pulled me out, screaming from under my bed." We both shared a few seconds of laughter. After we caught our breath, I looked to her. "Would you be there too? It'd really help me. It could go better if we're all together."

She nodded firmly. "Of course I'll be there. We'll tell him, even if we have to get through his thick head." The smile she had was kinda contagious. "Then things will be just like they were before, the three of us together."

"Just. Like. Before?" At first, it sounded great, but deep in my mind, I knew things would never really be that way ever again.

But before I could find the words, Lauren was pressed up against me, her arms wrapped up around my neck, and was hugging me tightly. "We can make this work, Karen. I'm sure we can."

It was then that I realized that she wouldn't let this go.

That she wouldn't let me go, even after what I was going through.

And that, honestly, I didn't want to let her go either.

I reached around her, and returned the hug, and I realized that even through all the bad times, I really wanted to stay with her, no matter what...

I gave a soft nod to her, and that's when I felt her soft lips on my cheek. My heart went crazy in my chest, and I felt so hot inside, I thought I could melt right there and then. She pulled out of our embrace with her charming smile, and all I could do was stare at her dumbfounded as she walked back toward her home.

She waved to me, and finally said: "I'll see you tomorrow, Karen!"

I finally popped out of my trance, and waved to her merrily. "See you tomorrow!"

I waved to her until she was out of sight, taking a moment to reach for my cheek. It was still warm. Lauren kissed me! I couldn't stop smiling. I was just so happy.

With newfound confidence, I headed back home, practically bouncing up at every step.

Maybe my life as Karen wouldn't be so hard.

Life was finally looking up again.

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Little did I notice the sight on the other side of the street, behind the trash bin, was someone taking a few pictures from a distance with a brand new camera as I climbed the stairs back home. Satisfied with his work, he pocketed the gadget, and made his way back to the parking lot where he'd left the others. "This should be enough proof at this point."

 

The lot was usually empty on Saturday evenings, but this time, there were four cars parked, along with a circle of ten guys chatting to each other. Circulating around the circle were a set of four photos: two of Kyle, and two of Karen.

"You're saying this is the same guy?" "Nah, it can't be." "You did see him in a bra before, right?" "Yeah, but this is a dress!" "What's with those eyes?" "Didn't we beat up this chump before?" "Huh. Didn't know he was that girly." "The resemblance is kinda uncanny." "Can't believe he'd go this far." "What's this gay shit now?"

Zack just shook his head as he made his way around the gang, to reach Josh, whom was sitting on the back hood of a car, overlooking the others. The smaller of the two pulled out his camera from his pocket, and switched a few pictures, before presenting it to Josh. "And there you go. One picture showing them coming right back home, still no Kyle present, but this Karen persona."

A few of the boys crowded behind Josh, looking over his shoulder, as he went through the pictures. "Yep. Height seems the same too." He switched to another picture. "Same shoes. Looks different, but some points are similar." Then came another picture. "Seems really close to his friend too. Real close." Josh shook his head, and looked to Zack. "And they all said Kyle was at the hospital?"

"Yup. They didn't even try to deny it."

"Right." Then Josh turned to Luke: "And when you went to give him a visit?"

Luke just shrugged. "Nothing. They couldn't find his name anywhere."

"Then either they're lying their asses off, and leaving Kyle at home alone, all day long, a guy that shouldn't even be able to get off the bed," that alone was able to kick off a few murmurs around him. "Or that this new girl is actually Kyle in full drag, walking around like nothing's wrong." The murmurs grew louder and louder at hat one. No one really believed the first case, but the second still seemed farfetched. Maybe farfetched, but still the only possibility for what was happening. Josh shook his head. "Worse, it seems he's a mutant too."

"You're sure about that?" Zack asked. "Because if he is a mutant, it's pretty weaksauce."

Josh pulled up the picture of Karen. "You said it yourself earlier. Common signs for human-like mutants are unusual eye colors. Purple isn't so common, last I checked." The crowd murmured again in agreement.

"So the freak is a mutant?" One of the younger ones said.

"Well, at least some kind of healing ability." Another guy added in.

"That's weird."

"Oh yeah."

"And queer."

"Yup."

"So what are we going to do about it?" Luke and the rest of the gang looked up to Josh.

Josh didn't even hesitate: "Simple we crank it up a notch."

"How do you crank it up a notch?" Zack shrugged. "We tried teaching the drag queen a lesson, but if he's a regenerator, nothing will stick. We'll just be right back where we started!"

"Even regenerating mutants are mortal. You just gotta know how." He looked about the group they were in. "So which ones of you were taught by Humanity First again?" A few hands rose up among the ranks. "Good. Good."

"Dude. Mortal?" For once, Zack seemed a little shaken. "You're not thinking about-"

"What do you think?" Josh asked, as he got some stares from people around him. He shook his head, and stood up. "What do you think is going to happen with that freak, if we don't do something about it? Going to become a hero? It's a nice dream, but it's just as likely he's going to be a villain." He waved a hand out. "One way or another, you've seen the news: you know what happens when mutants get involved in anything. Massive battles across cities, damage reaching over millions of dollars on a daily basis, and so much death you barely get the statistics. Even those who don't fight tend to cause problems. They make weapons, they arm each other, they experiment on people, they put honest people out on the street, and just walk away, like we don't even matter. It keeps happening, and right now, it's not going to be different."

Josh shook his head. "Gramps always told me he'd seen a mutant as a kid. How he was amazed on what he could do, how frail he was, but how they were amazed at the sight." He nodded a bit, until his face formed a nasty frown. "And if he'd known the thing would become the mass murderer today known as Kill Switch, he would have killed the thing back then. Every time he hears the name, he regretted doing nothing."

He pointed back. "And back there is another mutant. Back there is another one of those potential monsters, and he's still has no ideas what he can do, what he can become. This is our one chance. Are we just going to sit here and do nothing? Or are we man enough to take this in our own hands?"

His response was a loud: "YEAH!"

"Good. Good." He grinned as he cracked his knuckles. "Now here's what we're going to do."

Chapter 8

“A little more. I can do it. Almost there.” I just kept running though the city streets, taking deep breaths with every step. The bridge was right there, just on the other side of the street. “Just a little more. That’s it.” The more the road went uphill, the harder it was to take the next step, but I didn't dare slow down.

Pushing for the final sprint, I finally reached the top of the bridge. Standing on top of my goal, I rose my arms way up in the air. "WOO!" And I finally let myself drop on the bench. "Oof. What a workout."

It had been a few days since I had some exercise, and it felt like the perfect time for some jogging. It felt like it'd been forever since I went for a run. For some reason, I thought I would have been more tired than I was. I barely felt that usual ache in my legs. Maybe next time, I'll go even farther. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have gone this far. The trip home was going to be just as long. I didn't want to get out of shape though. Coach would have had kittens if he knew I'd slowed down. Not that he'd care now. I chuckled. He'd have a fit for a whole other reason at this point. I got in shape alright, just the wrong kind of shape.

I wiped the sweat off my forehead. At least it felt nice to have some fresh air again. It felt like it’d been forever since I‘d seen the sky. Then again, it had been only two days since we went to the mall. Maybe there was something about being left alone in the apartment, with nothing to do, that made time slow down to a crawl. At least yesterday I had Abbey and Gabby around. Lauren even came to visit again. Now, if only I hadn't been forced to play in Gabby's tea party when Lauren came in, I might not have been half as embarrassed that afternoon.

Dad told me that I'd have to meet his friend in a few days about my new papers and identity. There was also something about testing that needed to be done, but he told me not to worry about it; that it was all part of the regulations. It really gnawed at me at first. I wondered what kind of testing they could do to me. Surely, it wasn't meant to hurt me. At least, I hoped it wasn’t.

After that would be over, maybe I'd be able to go back to school like everyone else...

As I sat up, I felt my assets shift with me. They were getting in the way again. The bra definitively helped, but once I started to run, they were bouncing so hard they were quickly starting to hurt. I must have looked weird running with my arms around my chest, trying to keep these two still. I really need to get a sports bra. You two are getting more and more high maintenance as I go. For now though, all I could do was take it easier on the way back home.

As I watched the cars pass underneath the bridge, I started to think about what I had talked with Lauren about yesterday. How we'd face Owen together.

The plan was simple: we'd invite him to my home, set him up in my room, and lay it on him. Simple, direct, and to the point. Maybe a little too direct, but at least we had enough proof to show him we weren't crazy.

But being considered crazy was only half the problem. What if he did believe me? That I'm a girl now? How's he going to react to that? That's what really scared me. I really wanted us to be friends again, but I didn't want to risk him turning on me either. I already had the rest of the baseball team beat me up, I didn't want to add him to the count. This transformation made sure no one recognized me, and Owen already thought I was 'Karen'. Maybe that was enough.

“If he hates me for this...” Just that thought filled me with dread. “Maybe it'd be better if he didn't know.”

But I missed him. It'd only been two days since I saw him at the mall, but I missed talking to him. I missed practicing our passes to each other in his backyard. I missed hanging out together. I missed how things used to be.

From where I sat, I could see his house in the distance. For a moment, I thought that maybe it wouldn't be so bad, that maybe he'd understand. He was my best friend after all. Lauren believed in him. Maybe I should too.

I'll give him a chance. I'll just have to explain things right. Make sure everything’s clear. He'll understand. He will! I clung to that bit of hope, and started to formulate a speech for him. I only had to convince him I wasn't gay, that this wasn't by choice, and that he had to keep this a secret.

Yeah. Easier said than done.

At least I got plenty of time to think about it. I got back on my feet, and started on my way home. I should be back before school ends, I told myself, until I felt the twins bounce. I quickly wrapped my arms around them again before they could go any higher. At least, if I can keep up the pace.

In the distance, I could see dark clouds starting to loom over the city. It would probably rain that night, or so I thought. If my head hadn't been stuck in the clouds, maybe I would have seen the real storm coming.

It only took a few seconds. I barely felt the two arms wrap around me before I realized I'd been pulled off my feet, and into the alley.

At first, I was in shock. I didn't know what had happened; only that I was being carried away, and that all my senses screamed at me to panic. I tried to scream, but the man’s rough hand muffled my cry for help. I kicked and squirmed, trying to make him drop me, but it only made him tighten his strong grip. I wanted to punch him, to fight him, but he was too strong. He wasn't about to let me go.

I could see it. I could feel the chill run up under my skin.

I was gonna die.

No. No, no, no, no, no! I didn't want to go. I didn't want to die. Not like this. Not because this bastard caught me. I wasn't going to go down like this! I gathered whatever strength I had, screaming, punching, and trying to hurt him however I could.

He dragged me back further from the street to where three other guys were waiting. Grinning, one of them loomed in. "Got the little fucker," he started to laugh, until my foot connected with his crotch. The response was immediate, his body folding down as he let out a strangled grunt. Just as quickly came the reaction from the asshole holding me. He squeezed down, lifting my feet off the ground and trying to maintain control as I kicked at the air and squirmed.

"Stop it, you little piece of-AAARGH!" I finally got a break, and bit onto his fingers as hard as I could. The big guy let go of my mouth, and that was my chance to draw in some attention.

I took a deep breath, and hoped that my scream would reach someone. "HEEEEE-Gack!" A hand wrapped around my neck and squeezed the life out my voice. I barely had a second to see the thug's glare before his punch connected with my jaw.

My whole head rang with pain, and everything became a blur. I heard one of them bark orders as I gasped for breath. They pressed something against my lips, and finally let go off my neck, before the brutes threw me down to the pavement.

When I could finally see straight, I found myself pinned face down under the biggest of the brutes, while another one was duct-taping my hands together. I cursed in silence; they'd taped my mouth shut already. Pulling and squirming under the big guy was just useless. He'd already proven how strong he was, and with his weight on top of me, I didn't have a chance. Meanwhile his friend finished a solid silver duct tape cocoon over my hands. "There we go."

"Get the legs too." The one who punched me sent a glance my way, before turning back to his phone. "Don't want to chase the little fucker down the street."

The punk caught my foot as I tried to kick him. "Gotcha! Hehe! Feisty one, aren't you?" He started to tie my ankles together tightly. I cursed again. Tied up like this, I wasn't going anywhere. My chances of escaping from these guys were getting slimmer with every passing minute.

"Goddamn, motherfucking, shit... NGH!" The one I got in the crotch was pulling himself together, and he looked really pissed off. He ground his heel into my cheek until I thought he'd break my jaw. "Goddamn freak. Let's see how you like a good shot in the balls."

Thankfully, the 'leader' yanked him back by the collar. "You've already done enough."

"Bastard kicked me in the nuts," he grunted.

"And maybe next time, you'll see the foot coming." He closed his phone. "Big guy wants this one right now. Said we shouldn't play around with it. Might be dangerous."

The brute cracked his knuckles in anticipation. "Hmph. He won't mind a few extra bruises."

With a groan, the leader handed his phone over. "We don't have time for this. Call the others, tell them to get off lookout." He then pointed to the other flunkies. "You two, get this one in the trunk. We're going."

The big guy finally got off me, only to grab me by the wrists, while his pal got my ankles. No, no, no, no, no! I pulled and squirmed as they pulled me up, and tossed me into the trunk of their car. I managed to crawl halfway out, but the big guy lifted his boot high, and kicked me right back in. His pal shoved my arms and legs in, and the last thing I saw was the smiles on their faces before they slammed the door down.

No. Please, god, no. Panic ran through my veins. I tried to push the trunk lid, hit it as hard as I could with the tight space I had, until my knees and arms were throbbing in pain. I tried to peel away the tape over my hands, but I could barely feel my fingers in that silver cocoon. Even the tape over my mouth felt like it would never come off.

Suddenly, I could hear loud heavy metal music explode from the speakers, and the car started going. A few bumps in the road made the whole trunk jump and I smacked my head on the metal frame. I felt the car turn around, and we were off.

They had me.

They had me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The realization was sinking in deeper and deeper in my mind. They took me out of nowhere, overpowered me, outnumbered me, and again, I couldn't do a damn thing about it. Why does this keep happening to me?

I didn't know where they were taking me. I didn't even know why they wanted me, or what they wanted to do with me. I guess they want to take me somewhere secluded and quiet, so they can do whatever psychos do with... young... girls... they... grab... Pictures of rape, mutilation, and murder flashed in my mind. News stories about lost girls who were never found again, or broken so badly, they could barely be recognized. Am I.... Going... To be one of... Those?

I gasped. The realization scared me down to the bone. No.

I banged on the door even harder.

I wanted out of there.

I wanted to be back home.

I wanted to be far away from these fuckers!

But no matter how many times I hit it, the metal door didn't even budge. Eventually, I had to give up. I was tired, I was exhausted, and nothing was going my way.

It's not fair. Not fair. Not fair. I sobbed, and pressed my face against my arms. I didn't know how long the tears were there, but I couldn't hold them back anymore.

In the darkness, I curled up, and cried...

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Hours passed. The car never stopped. I couldn't tell how far we were gone. The only hint that time passed was the headbanging music changing tracks. I knew that all I could do, all this time, was wait for these brutes to open the trunk and let me out. Until then I was just along for the ride.

I knew things would only get worse from there on. I didn't know how worse, but I had plenty of time to think back about it.

At least they won't rape me. It wasn't just denial going through my head. They said that I was a freak, so they know something. One even proposed to hit me in the balls, so they must know about my mutation, or at least my condition.

But then, how did they know? Who told them? It's not like they checked or anything. They just picked me up. Did the doctors tell them? That squirt of a mutant doctor? Was it Dad? Gabby? Abbey? Lauren? I shuddered. Who else knows about me?

I pushed that question aside for the time being. I knew there was nothing I could do about it from inside of that trunk. Doesn't matter how they learned about me. They do know, and now, they're going to take me to their boss. Whoever that is. Chances are I don't want to find out!

I tried to undo my bonds as hard as I could. I didn't have much luck there. Try as I might, I didn't have any play with my wrists. They were taped way too tightly together. The whole trunk was probably cleaned out before I was tossed in too. Nothing sharp around for me to cut the tape open. I did have more room with my feet though. That was something I could work with. I started to test the limit, and stretch the tape as much as I could, trying to loosen the damn thing. Maybe If I took my shoes off, I could slip one foot out. Not much, but if I can at least run when they-WHOA!

Suddenly, the car took a left turn, and the whole trunk started shaking violently, bouncing up and down, and tossing me around like a rag doll in a dryer. I cursed their car's lousy shocks as my head smashed against the door again and again. The car took another sharp turn, threw me hard to the side while the brakes squealed loudly, and finally everything came to a stop.

As I tried to get my head to stop spinning, the loud music died down, replaced by the sound of doors being slammed shut. Gh. Guess this means we're 'here'. I tried to force one foot out of the tape as hard as I could. I knew I was short on time already. I just didn't realize exactly how short until I heard the trunk's lock click. No!

As door opened, I was greeted by a bright flash right in my face, and that infernal cackling. "Heeheeheeee! Yup! That's Kyle all right. No mistake about it." I stared up in shock at Zack's impish grin as he looked down over me. "Good job, guys!"

Zack? But... How'd he know? One thought led to another, and for a moment, any rage I had for the guy was replaced by more fear. If he's here, then did the rest...?

"All the miracles and horrors of plastic surgery all rolled into one shitty package. Good thing we got him quickly." He rubbed his hands together. "Don't have all day though. You grab the hands, and I'll grab the- WOAH THERE!"

That nimble monkey bastard got out of the way as I tried to kick him. That gave one of the the big thugs the chance to grab my ankles firmly. "Don't worry, small fry. I got him." I tried to pull back, but the big lug just got a better hold, and pulled me out of the trunk like a sack of potatoes.

As I was fuming over the facts, being dragged over the bare ground, I tried to make out where we were. All I could really see, outside the little dirt trail, were trees, trees and more trees. Back where we came from, I could only see a sharp turn, with no signs of the road between the branches. I couldn't even see the city over the treetops. I’d been out in the woods once in a while, but I had never seen these trails before. How far did these bastards take me?

The trail finally broke into a large clearing. I could see dirt paths in all sorts of various directions. The whole place could have been a maze for all I knew. I was dragged right past a row of various cars parked on the side, about six of them by what I saw. On the other side, there was a set of three ATVs and trailers with them. Someone must have been doing work here at some point. Further in the back of the clearing though, I caught a glimpse of more people, sitting around a large crater in the ground. Goddammit, more of them?

"Heeeyy! We're back," my captor announced. It didn't take long before all of them swarmed around me with either glares of disgust or wicked grins across their faces. There must have been at least twenty of them at least. Up close, I could recognize half of them from the back alley when they beat me up, some of them obviously ready and willing to give me a second helping.

The first one who broke away from the group leered over me with a crooked smile. "Soooooo, you're tonight's entertainment, huh?" He knelt down to my level, and to my surprise, gently cupped my breasts. "You're a little younger than the usual, but you'll do fiiiiiine, baby." It wasn't until his hands started to rub and caress my chest that I recognized that hungry look in his eyes. He wasn't looking for violence, but he was definitively looking for some action!

No way. Fuck! This isn't happening. This seriously isn't happening! I kicked, bucked, and twisted away from the guy, but he was clearly stronger than I was. He pulled me back in his grip, his hand squeezing my breast hard. "Aaawww, don't be that way, babe." He leaned in close enough for me to smell the alcohol on his breath. "It'll hurt a little at first, but you'll learn to enjoy it soon enough."

One of his buddies finally came up to his, and whispered into the pervert's ear. Whatever he said, it changed my aggressor’s lustful look in his eyes to one of confusion. His hand let go off my chest, trailed down my body, until he grabbed onto... "MMMMRRRFFGH!!"

"AAAAAACK!" He jerked away in shock, letting go off my balls as quickly as he'd grabbed them. "Holy shit, man! That's a dude!" A roar of laughter echoed all around from the rest of the guys as I squeezed my legs tightly together in pain, thanking God that the molestation had stopped. "That's not fucking funny, guys!" The pervert was already back on his feet, looking pissed as he kicked me square in the stomach. "Fuckin' queer."

My body curled around itself, trying to keep my lunch inside, when I saw a new set of feet walk up to me. My gaze followed up his huge muscled frame, while I grew more and more afraid, peaking as my eyes locked on Josh's furious face. His lips twisted in disgust, his brow furrowed deeply in rage, and his eyes radiated with more anger than I'd ever seen before.

"Hard to tell, isn't it?" His foot swiftly shoved me on my back. "Wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it myself." He followed by shoving his heel on my chest, and placing his whole body down as he ground his foot in. "We told you to cut it out, Kyle." I bit my tongue and closed my eyes tightly; trying to endure the pain he was drilling in my breast. I could barely breathe under the pressure. "Should have listened when you had the chance, you little piece of shit." As he pulled his foot off, I got to take a long comforting breath in. "Luke, Rick, you two take care of the tarp. Carl, you get the gasoline ready. The rest of you, fill in the pit for a good bonfire." He cracked his knuckles eagerly. "I'll soften the freak up myself." His twisted lips turned into a vicious sadistic smile. "This time, we'll make sure he won't be coming back from this one."

A bonfire? What? They're not going to... Oh God no. It dawned on me that they weren't just going to beat me up this time, they were going to outright kill me. Panic rushing through my veins again, I pushed as hard as I could with my hands and feet, crawling away from the pit quickly, until Josh grabbed the duct tape cocoon around my hands. "Oh no, you're not." I didn't stop pulling away, thrashing left and right in his grip, until I noticed that he wasn't dragging me back in.

"Oh, don't worry." He chuckled as he started to wrap my wrists in a chain knot. "Mutant or not, I doubt you'll be conscious by the time I'm done with you." He pulled on the knot hard enough for the links to dig into my skin, and closed it off with a padlock. I pulled on the chains, but once more, there was no room to maneuver anything, as if the duck tape wasn't enough. The more I tried to shake the chains off, the more Josh looked satisfied with his work. "I'd tell you to hold on tight, freak, but I'm pretty sure you'll follow along nicely." I had a few choice words I only wished I could have screamed. Unhappy with my reaction, his grin turned into a scowl, as he grabbed my head by the hair, and smashed my face down on the rocky ground.

My whole skull rang with pain, but I bitterly knew this was only the beginning. I expected another blow to soon follow, so I covered my head, closed my eyes, and waited for it...

But nothing came.

Not a kick. Not a punch. Not even a pinch or an insult.

I carefully opened one eye, wondering if Josh hasn't been pulled away by his buddies. Instead, I was greeted to the sound of a motor roaring to life. Josh had climbed onto a small ATV, put on his helmet, and was working up the small vehicle. For a moment, I wondered if he'd forgotten about me as I watched him start the ride away, and made his way toward a small dirt path that snaked off into the forest.

Where the hell is he going? I didn't get what he was planning, until I felt a tug on my arms. Looking down, I finally noticed that the chain Josh had used to wrap up my arms followed the dirt path, and ended up hooked on the backside of his ride. No... Way... FUCK! Panicking, I pushed myself away desperately, but it was one tug-o-war I simply didn't have a chance in hell of winning. With something carrying that kind of weight and horsepower, I might as well have been trying to move an elephant.

I only saw Josh's eyes for a second, but the look he gave was enough to send me a cold shiver down my spine. He flipped his visor shut, and gunned the throttle. The wheels peeled out, throwing up a huge cloud of dust that covered everything. I barely had a second to shield my face before the chains dug into my wrists, whipped me forward, and dragged me right behind him. Pain tore through my shoulders so bad that I thought they'd gone out of their sockets. My whole body skidded along the ground so fast that everything went past me as only a blur, and every moment that followed was nothing less than pure, unyielding pain.

As fast as the scenery passed beside me, the ground underneath ripped down my body like a grinder, stones poking out from the dirt punctured my underside from my shoulders to my feet over and over, ripping my skin back, while my arms pulled me forward with more and more intensity. Every puncture raking through felt like it was lit on fire, and the pressure never ended. It was even worse when the small bumps and holes of the road tossed me about in every direction, slamming my body up and down like a sledgehammer before the grinding continued. It all hurt like Hell.

The first turn came in hard, the strong swing tossing me off the road, and into brush, where branches snapped and clawed into my skin, yanking my head back by my hair, while my underside met with bark, roots, and stones the size of bricks. I screamed as one branch pierced through my side, into my skin, and pulled open a large bleeding gash. The pull back on the road almost felt welcome.

It all passed at blinding speed. The blows never stopped coming, and the pain only got worse. When one hill shoved me to the side, there was another one right after, raking through my back, followed with my breast ripped by another sharp rock, before a hole slammed my face to the ground. It didn't help that the cloud of dust kicked up by Josh made it impossible to tell what was coming up next. Everything came up so fast and so hard.

The chains bit into my wrists. I had to find a way out of this, but I couldn't even try to wriggle my hands loose with that knot on. I could feel my fingers going numb from the pressure. I shook my arms hard, trying to pry something loose. Even if the duct tape would have loosened a little, I might have been able to do something from there on.

I was pulling myself up, trying to get a better look at that chain, when I suddenly heard a loud screech ahead of me. For a short moment, the pull on my arm became slack, my body thrown in the air, and I could see Josh taking a sharp turn around a corner as my body kept going straight ahead. I didn't even notice the tree until my back slammed into it, and the most intense pain in my life erupted through my spine as it tore in half with a loud 'SNAP'! I screamed into the tape as hard as I could. OH GOD! All the bruises and scratches were nothing compared to the torn feeling in my back. I could feel my spine broken out of alignment, the fragments digging into my flesh from the inside, and the blood spilling from my back. I thought I was going to die, right there and then.

I didn't even get a moment to wallow in agony. The chain whipped forward again, and dragged me back on the path to resume my torture. I screamed and howled as it twisted my spine further, stretching my body through the ground. Every sensation below the waist was blocked off by an inferno of pain in the middle. STOP! I wanted to scream. STOP, YOU MOTHERFUCKER! STOP! Through the burning pain, I felt the tears running down my face. Please, stooooooooooop.

But he didn't stop. He didn't even bother to slow down. He probably didn't even notice how hard he was running me into the ground.

Another bump into the road tossed me right on my chest, where the rocks clawed in my flesh mercilessly. My shirt finally gave up, ripped open, and left only my bra to protect me from the biting shards. I twisted my body to the left, only to be rewarded with an intense, tearing pain from my spine. My upper body had turned, but my legs hadn't even attempted to push. COME ON! I pushed again, with the same result. I couldn't even feel them. They were just bouncing back there like dead weights. Move. MOVE! But instead of getting an answer, my path hit a sudden hole, and while my arms were pulled upward by the chains, my face got slammed right into the dirt without mercy. My head felt like it had been split open. My vision blurred, and it took a whole minute to even register the dirt all over my face.

As I tried to regain my senses though, I felt a sudden squeeze in my back. There was a sliver of pain as it twisted again, followed by an odd, cooling sensation. What the hell? With little warning, I could feel warmth though my legs again, along with every bruise they'd collected along the way. ACK! Okay, that hurt, but I was never this happy before to be able to wiggle my big toes.

So my body's still healing. Right. Go figure. One more bump, and finally I flipped on my back again, followed with a stone slab slamming on the back of my head. OW! Gh. Damn thing won't help with the pain though. It's not fast enough either. It just means this will last longer. And if it goes on like this, my body will-AAGH! I rolled to the side as I felt my shoulder blade crack under the strain. Ngh. Fucking useless mutant power. If only I had super strength, I'd bust out of this in no time. Or if I could make fire from my hands; or laser eyes; or even if I could just fly, I wouldn't be here! Hell, if I wasn't a freaky mutant, I wouldn't be in this goddamn shit!

While I was cursing, I started to hear something else over the roar of the ATV's motor. It was faint at first, but as we came closer, it wasn't hard to recognize. After all, I'd just been put through hours of that screamingly loud metal music when I was in that trunk. The guitar riffs got louder the closer we got, and it was soon joined in by screams and cheers of the gang.

It was a hard and bitter pill to swallow, enough to turn my stomach inside out, but it really drove in that these guys, these sick bastards, were cheering for all of this. They were cheering for Josh. They were cheering for this torture. They were cheering to see me broken down and burned alive.

And to think I used to call some of those shitheads my friends. I choked off a sob. And now they're going to kill me.

Since we were back at the beginning, I thought the ride would be over, but Josh didn't even slow down as we passed the clearing. One wide turn along the path, and I was looking back at the whole gang shrinking in the distance. I was relieved for a moment, but it didn't last.

It looked like Josh still wasn't done with me yet. I now had to suffer another lap of this infernal torture.

And maybe another after this one.

And another.

And another.

Until that maniac had enough.

No. Please. Stop. I had hit rock bottom. I could only pray for a miracle. Please. Somebody stop him. I didn't care who did it. The police, the rangers, the firemen, or even the Champion! For a moment, just a moment, I dreamt that Racetrack would zoom in-between the trees, burn through that chain, and carry me off in her arms. Where's one of those heroes when you really need one?

Waiting for that miracle to appear, I felt the road pull into its first turn again. I braced myself, and tried to protect my face from the thousands of sharp branches ripping through my flesh, and opening wide bloody holes at every exposed inch. Through the rush though, one thick branch slipped right between my legs, and caught right onto the knot around my ankles. For only a moment, I screamed as hard as I could as the chain pulled on my wrists, and the root held on tight, the two sides just pulling on me until something gave out. My shoulders cracked under the tension, just about to come right out of their sockets, until the duct tape gave out first and ripped apart, launching me back into the road that welcomed me with a thick slab of stone smacking me on the back of the head.

My head rang terribly. I could feel the wet spot behind my head where the blood was spilling, and through all the pain I felt, everything started to go dark and numb. I just wanted to close my eyes, and drift off to sleep...

I knew though, that once I'd lose consciousness, once I'd gone under...

I would never wake up.

Everything would just end.

As I drifted on the edge of consciousness, all the pain and all the fears numbed down to nothing. I was standing at death's door. That last moment where I could look back at my life, just before I'd go to whatever afterlife there was. I didn't have much time to leave anything behind. All I had were the few people close to me.

I'm sorry, dad. I really should have stayed home. I'm sorry we couldn't make things work out. Sorry I couldn't make you proud. Sorry I can't say goodbye.

Abbey, I'm sorry to you too. I won't be able to help you anymore. I'm so sorry I won't be there. You'll have to take care of dad and Gabby on your own now.

Gabby. I'm sorry I can't play with you anymore. I'm sorry I can't watch you grow up. I can't help you along the way. Please be a good girl when I'm gone.

Owen... I should have told you when I had the chance. I wanted to see you again. I really did. If I'd get another chance... You better get to the major leagues one day, buddy. Sorry I couldn't be there with you when it happened.

Lauren. Just thinking about her made it all worse. I wish I could be with you right now. You always made everything better. There's so many things I want to say to you. I won't even get to see your smile again. If only I had more time. I choked down a sob. If only I could see you... One more time...

I wanted to see her again. More than anything in the world, I wanted to see them again. All of them.

I don't want to die. Not now.

Another chance. I just wanted one more chance.

There's still so much I want to do.

A sharp pain in the back of my head flared up as I braced myself. I could feel the ground under me again.

I don't care how...

I closed my eyes, and pulled my arms apart as hard as I could.

I don't want to die.

I didn't get far at first. My hands were still cuffed together. But I pulled again, and again, and again.

I just want to live!

Suddenly, something flickered inside, my efforts paid off, and I felt my arms rip out from my bonds like there was nothing there. I did it? I really did it?

When I opened my eyes though, what I saw took my breath away.

My arms were free all right, but they were both completely black. Not a black man's brown skin, but they were an inky, tar-like black color all over. I looked at them with mixed fear and awe as I flexed my new fingers. What the Hell? ACK!

Another rock slammed into my shoulder, and that's when I noticed I was still moving. My arms were free, but I was still being dragged all over. But I'm free! what's going on? It wasn't until that I looked up that I saw my first set of arms; my real, pink, flesh and bones arms still bound together with the tape and chains. Huh? I looked back down at the black arms, and back to the real ones. How is that even-WHOA!

A bump in the road hit my left side and tossed me over back on my chest. Goddammit. I didn't have time to second-guess what had just happened. I had to stop all this. Cringing through the pain, I grabbed onto the chain with my new black limbs, and started to climb up. It was hard to move forward; the ground kept pushing me back. It was like I was a trout swimming against the upstream current. Every time I reached out further was a chance for something to knock me right back down. But I didn't dare give up. If this was my one chance to get through this, then I’d take it with all I had.

Pulling further and further forward, I cleared the cloud of dirt, and grabbed onto the back railing of the ATV. Josh didn't seem to have noticed me; he was probably focusing on the driving for now. Good. I checked on the chain again, and cursed. Another padlock was holding that end in place.

The ATV suddenly swung hard into that sharp turn again, and I found myself flung hard right against the right spinning tire. I bit my tongue as my legs were pelted with all sorts of pebbles and dirt shot off from the ground. My skin was peeling back, and my legs felt like they were on fire. I was so close. So close. Just ignore the pain. It's nothing. Nothing. I kept telling myself that as I pulled myself over the rails, swung my legs in, and settled onto the back of the ATV. Finally. A moment of relief.

I wasn't out of the woods yet though, in every sense of the phrase. I glanced back at Josh. Still no reaction from him. The roaring motor was probably drowning everything else out. Thanking what little luck I had left, I reached back, and gave the chain another good tug. Of course, the chain was firmly attached. If I wanted to take the damn chain off, I was going to need the keys; and in order to get them, I'd have to take that brute on. I really didn't like those odds. At all.

Clenching my teeth together, I reached over with my two black hands, about to do my first attempt at picking pockets. Just as I slid my fingers in, I heard him go: "Huh? The hell?"

Crap. He definitively noticed me then. I braced myself and quickly tackled against his back, shoving him down on top of his handlebars. I wasn't gonna go down without a fight. I pulled one hand out, and looked at my prize. Dammit. Don't need a wallet. I didn't get a second try before Josh slammed one elbow right into my ribs. "Mmph!"

"Get off, freak!" He pushed himself back up, almost tossing me back on the road. The ATV suddenly swerved, and only my grip on Josh's jacket was keeping me from flying off. He tried to shrug me loose, but I clung on for all I could, pulling myself back on.

As the ATV settled back on the road, I heard the cheers of the gang that was waiting for us. If we stop here, then they'll get me. No doubts. I was so close. I couldn't lose now.

Whatever I was going to do, I only had one shot at it.

I had to get control of this thing from this damned bastard.

I threw myself against Josh's right shoulder, making him swerve again. As the whole thing swung around this time, I wrapped my black arms around his right arm, and let the motion carry me. "GODDAMIT!" Had he been lighter, he would have been thrown right off with me. Instead, he pulled me right by his side as he tried to get the ATV straight again.

"You little piece of shit." His scream died down as he got a good look at me. "What the hell?" For a moment, I could almost see the confused look in his eyes. If I wanted an opening, it was now or never.

The screaming crowd was getting closer and closer. This is it. I grabbed onto the right handle, and pushed the throttle hard. The motor roared with power and shot off down the path. It wasn't long before we got into the clearing, and that's when I pulled on my side of the handlebar. "STOP!" Josh snapped back and tried to wrestle control away from me, but we were already running right into the gathered crowd.

"GANGWAAAAAAYYYYYY!" The gang's cheers quickly changed into panicked screams, as they scrambled out of our way. They would either run out of the way, or get bulldozed by the ATV. I had to hold on to the throttle just a little longer to pass this clearing. After that, I'd only have to worry about Josh again.

But the crowd had hidden a hole in my plan. The hole for the bonfire. The whole group split in two to make a path for us, and before I knew it, the ATV's front wheels were diving right into the fiery pit. For a second, I felt the flames lick my clothes and my skin with intense heat as the fire enveloped us. I thought we were done for.

But our ride didn't give up yet. The motor roared even louder. As soon as the back wheels hit the pile of wood, it shot forward, catching the outside lip of the pit, and launched us both high into the air.

As we reached the top of the leap, I could see where we were going to land: right on top of a bright red car.

There was no stopping it.

There was no softening it.

It wasn't going to end well.

I just closed my eyes, and braced myself for the crash.

The ATV hit with a loud 'CRUNCH', and flipped over, tossing me right off. The world started spinning like crazy, and everything became a spinning blur. I felt the ground slam into me twice, before something slammed against my back with a sickening crack, and I collapsed on my side.

Finally, everything came to a stop.

No more tumbling or tossing around.

No more spinning.

No more dragging across the road.

The world was lying perfectly still.

I still felt all the bruises and cuts all over my skin, my skull was still ringing from all the blows, and my stomach was telling me I was about to throw up.

But now, I felt like I could just lay there and rest. Maybe... Just a little nap. That'd be... really nice about now...

"Holy shit!" I could barely hear the voice over the fading ringing in my ears. "Guys. Over here."

Crap. I forced one eye open. Everything was so blurry, but I could still hear the gang coming. Got off the ride, but it's not over yet.

I brought my hand up to my face. Still black. Still free. Good. Pushing myself up was harder than I thought. My body felt so heavy. I was so tired. I was in so much pain. I felt sick to the point of hurling. My legs were quaking as I got on my knees, and my back was still feeling like fiery hell from that last blow. I wasn't going anywhere fast. Maybe I should just stay down and play dead instead.

But as I pulled myself up on my feet, I started to notice a difference. I had stopped counting the number of bruises a while ago, but I was certain that I was feeling them less and less by the second. The cuts I had numbed down, as if a cool lotion had been poured on them, and the stinging feel of the cold air was disappearing. Now that my body wasn't constantly being battered, my mutation was healing the pain away.

"Oh my God." I looked toward the voice, and pulled my fists up. I didn't care who that blurry shape was, he wasn't going to take me without a fight. Not even with his two friends. Or four... Ten... It was going to be a very short fight.

What the Hell are they waiting for? They clearly had me outnumbered, but they just stayed away, muttering between themselves.

"What's with that freak?" "Did you see anything like that?" "Duuuuude." "You see that?" "Wasn't like that before." "Where's Josh?" "Is he still alive?" "How?" "Bro, whatever you gave me, it's way too strong." "Can we just leave him like that?" "Urk." "You go get him." "Hell no!" "I'm gonna be sick."

The blur started to clear up, and I could finally see the look of awe in their face. Wait. No. Not awe. Fear. It was fear I saw in those eyes.

I took one step forward and half the gang backed away. One more step, and they all jerked back. It was hard to move without falling over on my face, but the reaction was simply priceless. They're scared... Of me? Really? Now? I chocked back a laugh.

I staggered on, watching them stay far away, when suddenly I felt a tug. Huh? I gave a quick jerk, and instantly regretted it when an intense shot of pain tore right through my waist. "MMMMRPH!" My legs buckled, and I caught myself on a nearby tree. I felt my insides lit on fire for a few seconds, followed by that numbing sensation. What was that?

Mixed in-between the shredded remains of my shirt and trapped between my two flesh arms, was a thick branch, about four inches wide, sticking right out of my stomach for about a foot out. That... That doesn't... Look right. The skin around the shaft had turned into the tarry black goo, and although I could feel warm blood spill out underneath the hole, it wasn't long before it too turned black, and tried to climb back in. How did I not feel that? How am I still... Alive?
 
Okay. Okay. Calm down. Deep breaths. Deep- "GGRKH!" No deep breaths! No deep breaths! Feeling that hole squeeze around the stake wasn't pleasant. It traveled all the way back to that burning spot in my back. It wasn't my spine breaking during the crash. It was that skewer.
 
My abdomen squeezed down again. The black parts were pushing to get back in place, and there was a thick piece of wood in the way. My insides were trying to break through the piece of wood, and doing a poor job at it. Bark was stronger than guts. Dammit. Better get this fixed now before it really starts to hurt.
 
I grabbed hold of the stake with both hands, closed my eyes, held my breath, and I pushed the branch back as hard as I could. "Mmph!" The first shove got it back all the way to the tip. I felt that urge to throw up again. I hadn't felt the wood break its way in the first time, but I felt every inch, every bump rub inside. To my surprise, it wasn't half as painful as I expected. It all blurred with that numb sensation. The healing probably started already. It didn't make the process any less disturbing.
 
"What the fuck is he doing?" "Are you seeing this, dude?" "That is fucked up!" "How tough is this freak?" "Is that a freaking vampire?" "I-I think I'm going to-"
 
I ignored their commentaries as I grabbed the back end, pulled the stake out with a wet 'shlorp', and let myself rest against the tree. There. Come on, power, work your magic. I could feel the hole close down on it's own, like fingers pulling the skin together, weaving between one another, and fade into my skin. It was so weird. I felt the process happen again and again inside of me, sealing up the bloody hole. Much. Much better.
 
"AAAAAAH!"
 
Luke's shriek pulled everyone's attention back to him as he was scrambling up on top of Rick's back. "Wha-wha-wha-what the fuck is that!"
 
I couldn't see 'that' at first, but I spotted a little black spot wiggling it's way between the blades of grass, and heading back my way. Then there was a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, and even more. There was a tiny army of black spots bouncing around rocks and grass, all converging on me. Every bit of scraped skin and blood I'd spilled on that trip through hell was coming back. Did I lose that much?
 
At least I knew what they were.
 
They, on the other hand, didn't have a clue.
 
"What are these things?" "Oh my god!" "Is he doing that?" "I saw something like that on TV." "Black magic?" "They're fucking everywhere!" "Duuuuude." "Get away!" "They're like little slugs!" "Girly dude's gonna eat our souls, man!" "What do we do?" "We're so dead, man." "Mutie's finding his powers now." "Fucker won't die either."
 
"Fu-fu-FUCK THIS SHIT!" A frightened guy turned tail, screaming his head off while running for the cars, followed by his fellow cowards. Others were dragged away from the scene, including the one that was puking his guts out by the bushes.
 
"COWARDS!" But that didn't disperse all of them. One of the bigger ones called out to the others. "He's not that tough. He's still weak. We can still finish it off." The self-appointed leader glared at me, and started to make his way forward, careful of not stepping on the black slivers crawling up my way. Those that hadn't gone for the hills, about ten of them, followed his lead, cracking their knuckles in anticipation. They weren't giving up. It wasn't over yet.
 
I braced myself back up on my feet. I knew I couldn't fight them all. There was no way. They were bigger, and stronger than I was. They'll take me down eventually. They took me down with only three of them before, what am I going to stop them with now?
 
No. I shook my head clear. I didn't just shake Josh off just to give up here. I grabbed the stick I'd just pulled out, and held it up at the ready. I'm not going to just lay down, and let them have their way with me again. Not without a fight.
 
I slowly backed away from them, ready for the first one to rush me. They weren't in any hurry to catch me. Maybe they were being cautious after all they were seeing. It was fine by me. I could still feel the black blood climbing back up my legs, and I could feel my strength return, bit by bit. I took the extra time to gauge my odds.
 
Ten of them, one of me. Not good. Definitely not good. I gripped the stick in my hands tighter. It was out of balance, but sturdy enough to stay together. It was my only edge out there, and I knew how to swing real hard. I could thank the life of baseball practice there. Maybe I could hit one of them with it, maybe a second, but as soon as they surrounded me, I was done.
 
Maybe I should just try to run for it. "NGH!" The thought of retreat had just come in my head, when I felt a tug at my shoulders. One quick glance down confirmed my fear. The chain that held me to the ATV was tensed up. One of those thugs was stepping right on it. I gave another tug, and it was no go. Fuck. So much for running.
 
But that guy looked familiar. Vaguely, but it still struck something. Was this the guy who kidnapped me? Back at the street? No wonder he didn't fear me by now. He'd already brawled with me before. But he had something back then. Something I can use.
 
That was my one ticket out.
 
My one shot.
 
I just had to get to him. Last long enough.
 
I reached up, ripped off the tape over my mouth, and gave one desperate scream of defiance.
 
They mustn't have expected the scared little girl to run in first, because the first swing connected right on the jaw of the front runner. Not wasting a second, I cut to the other side, and shoved my handle right into the next thugs' guts, forcing the air out of his just as he was trying to grab me. He grabbed my shirt, but it tore away as I continued to my true target.
 
I brougth my stick at the next one in another wide swing, but he was ready for me, catching my weapon. One tug. Two tugs. He wasn't letting go. If you want it, you can have it. I let go just in time to duck under the arm of one more guy before I finally reached my kidnapper.
 
I saw him wind up for his punch, so I kept low, and dove right at him. I felt his fist slam into my back, sending crackles of pain through my spine, but I had my arms firmly wrapped around his waist, my cheek pressed right to his belly button. "What the fuck?" He shook left and right, trying to shake me off, but I wasn't about to let him go now. I was too close for him to really swing at, so he kept throwing down his fist on my back. "Let me go, you gay fuckwad!"
 
He kneed me right in the chest, knocking the air out of me, but I held on tight. I just needed a bit more time. I heard him call out: "Stop just staring, and help me get him off!" The thugs got a chuckle on that one, but I knew it wasn't good news for me. I didn't even see the steel-toed boot slam on my side. One. Two. Three kicks, and I slipped off, rolling away from them.
 
I curled around in the fetal position, as they all swarmed on me. "Get the freak!" Again, I felt their blows over my back, kicks tossing me aside and knuckles making my ribs crack in pain. But I still stayed curled up. I protected my head. I let them push me around, and I took in all the pain.
 
I just kept telling myself: I just have to last long enough. I just have to stay conscious.
 
"You goddamn mutie." "You freak!" "You're nothing!" "You gay little piece of shit." "Yeah!" "We'll show you who's better than anyone else!" "YEAH!"
 
Tears were welling up in my eyes. The pain was getting worse. My legs were starting to buckle, and I had no ideas how long my black arms would last. I can take it. I can take it.
 
"We should have started this way, rather than the whole theatrics." One of them grabbed my hair, and pulled my head back.
 
"AUGH!"
 
"So, you got anything to say now, freak?"
 
The circle of thugs chuckled together, but that slowly died down, as a small mumbling voice could be heard.
 
"... forces... their way... hang on."
 
"What was that?"
 
Somehow, I manage to crack a smirk. Not liking my reaction, he shook me hard.
 
"What the fuck was that, you sick little freak?"
 
"Okay, okay!" I coughed. "But do you think you can speak a little louder?"
 
I pulled up one black hand, holding up my kidnapper's cell phone, with the numbers 9-1-1 highlighted.
 
"I don't think she heard you clearly enough."
 
I did it. I really did it.
 
The operator called out to me again: "Hang in there, sweetie. We have your location. Help is on the way right now."
 
The reaction was instantaneous. I could see the look of shock on their faces. My kidnapper snatched his phone right out of my hand. "Hi?" I reached out for him, only to be pulled back by his pal. "Yes? No! No! No! It's just a misunderstanding. Don't send- DON'T- DO YOU HEAR ME, BITCH? I-NGH!" He glared as his phone, then promptly tossed it in the bonfire. He looked back at us, grabbing his head. "They're coming."
 
Help was on the way. It'd only be a matter of time for them to arrive. All I had to do was last long enough for the rescue to make it here.
 
I knew it.
 
They knew it.
 
Time was ticking.
 
Maybe it was in poor taste to be smiling at this point. The guy decided to remind me of who was in charge, and kicked me right in the chest again. This time, I caught his foot, and held on again. He tried to shake me off once more. "Let go, you crazy fuck!"
 
I was having none of it. He was shaking me hard, but I wasn't coming off. "No. No. Come on. Stick around a little. I'm sure they'd love to hear all the stories you have. What do you say? OOF!" I got another boot to the side to quiet me down. "Gods." It was painful. Oh so painful, but I still wasn't going to go down like this.
 
My captors looked at each other nervously. "So what do we do now?"
 
I groaned, but kept smiling. "Heck. For all you know, they called for the superheroes." I tried to feed their mutophobia. "How do you think they'd react to how you treated me?"
 
They cringed obviously, and the leader shook his head. "At this point? Not worth it." He pointed back to the cars. "Start the engines, join back with the rest. It's a bust."
 
The one who had my hair in his grip shook my head. "What about this one?"
 
He shook his head. "Don't have time to finish him off." The other started running for the cars. "Took a stake to the heart, and kept going. Leave the freak."
 
I gave a sigh of relief. "Thank God-ACK!" The thug grabbed me by the neck, and dragged me off in another direction. I twisted and thrashed in his hold, struggling to breathe.
 
"Don't think you're getting away," he mumbled as he dragged me back to the fire pit.
 
They're still going to toss me in? After all this? I doubled my efforts, kicking my feet on the ground and clawing at his hands, but he just kept going.
 
That is, until the telltale tug on my arms tensed up again, and it all came to a halt. "ERK!"
 
"What the-?" He gave another few tugs, not caring that he was choking me in the process, but he wasn't making any progress.
 
That chain, the same chain that dragged me all over that road, that same chain that kept me from running off, now kept me a few yards away from a fiery grave. I clung to my lifeline hard as he kept pulling. I thought my head was about to pop off.
 
"Hey! Moron!" Those by the cars yelled out. "Let it go already, or we're leaving your ass here!"
 
With a dissatisfied grunt, he finally threw me down on the ground. With a final spat on my face, he growled: "This ain't over yet, mutie." Before he made his way off after the rest of them.
 
Moments later, I heard the last of the cars drive off out in the woods.
 
Finally, it was over. All over.
 
I just laid there, on the ground, my whole body either numb, or on fire from all I'd just been put through. The ride from Hell was over. The gang was leaving. I was going to be rescued. Finally, I could simply rest.
 
As I closed my eyes, one thought came back to my mind.
 
Dead. I should be dead right now. After all I'd gone through, after all of this, I knew that if it weren't for my gift, I wouldn't be alive right now. The feeling, the sensation of that stake going through me was still very fresh inside my mind, let alone the ride. People didn't walk away from those. How strong is this healing of mine? I was thankful, truly thankful, but it was also disturbing like nothing else in my life. How much can this power keep me alive?
 
"Then again," I mumbled, looking at my new hands. "People don't usually grow new limbs either."
 
Getting a chance to examine them brought a new feeling of awe, and even more questions than ever before. I never had them previously, and I didn't think they were part of my regeneration, besides being tarry black. They felt as real as my normal arms at least. Maybe I was slightly bitter. I was even more of a freak now. A little bitter, but I was still very thankful for them. They'd just saved my life. How could I not be happy to have them?
 
If I can do these, I wonder what else I can do. I had to snerk. Maybe there's a little more to me than I thought.
 
But along with that came another question. What was going to happen to my real arms? My flesh and bone still tied up together. Are they going to be just dead limbs now? That's just not right.
 
It was with worry that I tried to move the little fingers of my human hands that I lost my focus, and as quick as they'd come out, my black arms suddenly dissolved. Dissolving was the best word I could use to describe it as the limbs lost their shapes, melted down, sticking to my skin, before slipping right inside. I only got to watch the whole thing with a gaping mouth in horror.
 
"What?.... What? NO!" I tried to reach for the melting goo of my vanishing arms, and I found the motions back in my flesh and bone limbs instead. "I still need those! I'm not done!" I closed my eyes, and tried to pull them out again, pulling my arms apart again and again. As great as it was to tell my limbs were still alive, they were still stuck in a duct tape cocoon. "Just a little more. Come on!" I pulled, pulled, and pulled soem more, and I got nothing more than a whole lot of frustration for my efforts.
 
Without any results, I finally let it go, and just lay there a bit more. "Guess I'll just have to get someone to help me get these off." I groaned a bit, noticing a strange whine to my voice. Now that I had a moment of peace to notice it, I wondered if those splinters would have damaged something inside.
 
"Where are they?"
 
My heart skipped a beat suddenly.
 
"All of you!"
 
I could hear another voice. Didn't they all leave me alone? Didn't they all run?
 
"Where's the freak?"
 
Josh? Recognizing his voice, I rolled up on my feet, almost falling over again. He's still out here?
 
"NGH! Where are you?"
 
I knew I wasn't going to be able to put up much of a fight against him like this, but at least I'd be ready for him.
 
"Somebody help me!"
 
"What?" Did I hear that right?
 
"Somebody! Ngh. Over here!"
 
What happened?
 
Led by curiosity and worry, I followed the sound of his voice through the field, closer and closer until I reached the tree line.
 
That's where I found him, laying down on his chest. His clothes were a wreck, he was covered with dust, and I could only guess how many bruises he had from the crash.
 
Yet even with all the pain he had form the crash, as soon as he saw me, his bleeding face twisted in an intense rage I'd never seen before. His voice came out as a rumbling growl: "Yooooouuuuuuu!"
 
I fumbled backwards in shock, as he slammed his hand toward me, dug into the ground, and tried to pull himself forward.
 
"This is all your fault!"
 
He clawed forward with his other hand, grunting in pain and anger as he reached for me. My legs were shaking. Shaking so hard, I fell down on my knees. I felt like throwing up.
 
He gave a third attempt to crawl forward, but it didn't matter. He wasn't going to fight. He couldn't.
 
Right on top of him, was the ATV, flipped on it's side, squashing his legs in a way I didn't think was possible. Legs didn't get that thin or bend that way.
 
Yet, even with the weight crushing him, he reached out a fourth time, his face turning red from rage, ignoring the agony he must have been under.
 
"You did this to me!"
 
I braced myself at the accusation. This guy, who'd just tried to kill me a few minutes ago was blaming me? "You did this to yourself, you self-righteous asshole!"
 
"You goddamn, gay, fucking mutant freak!"
 
He wasn't listening. He just kept on digging at the ground, over and over, never really going forward, grunting with every movements.
 
"You can't-argh-You can't get away with this!"
 
He's gone insane. That was the only explanation I had. He's clearly gone insane with rage.
 
After minutes of pointless struggle, his body tensed up, his eyes rolled back, and he finally fainted under exhaustion.
 
I just sat there, watching him silently. My old team member, my tormentor, laying there helplessly. There wasn't much I could do there. I wasn't going to be able to move the machine off his legs, but help was on the way. Surely, they could do something for him, but I doubted his legs would ever recover. Maybe that was more punishment than I could ever deal to him after all this.
 
So, sitting back, watching him, reflecting on all the horrors he'd put me through, I just had to wonder.
 
"How did we get to this point?"
 
As if to answer, I felt a drop fall on the tip of my nose. Blinking, I looked up just in time for the rain to come pouring down on us.

Chapter 9

Over. It's over. It's all over.

I glanced at the handcuff around my right wrist. Well, almost over.

One quick tug on it reaffirmed that it was attached to the hospital bed's frame. "Do I really need this?"

The inspector they'd left me with flipped the page of her newspaper, and gave a sympathetic sigh. "I'm sorry, sweetie, but it's part of the procedures. They'll come off soon enough, promise." She looked to the clock. "Your dad should be here real soon. You just have to be patient a little longer."

With a sigh, I pulled the blanket tighter around myself and closed my eyes. All I could do for now, was wait.

It had been about two hours since the rescue team had found Josh and me. They had the ATV off Josh and had him rushed to the hospital in no time. I still remembered the way his bloody legs looked as they hauled him away. It still gave me shudders.

Of course, Josh was the emergency. He got the priority. I was only a witness in their eyes. After they'd snapped the chains off and wrapped me up in blankets, they started asking me what happened. When I tried to respond, I couldn't muster up the words. Thinking back on what happened brought back every feelings I'd gone through. It was like I was reliving every seconds from the rough kidnapping to the stake firmly piercing through me. It took my breath away. They asked me again and again, but I froze every time. They started to talk about shock and trauma, before sending me off to the hospital too.

Since then, I've been under police watch non-stop. A nurse had given me a quick examination and after they'd made sure I was physically fine, I was allowed to call someone. Dad sounded so worried. As soon as I told him where I was, he told me he'd be right over.

Now, I thought he was taking his sweet time. Maybe he'd been delayed. It didn't take this long to get here.

As I laid back, I thought back one more time to what had happened. The whole beating was still playing flawlessly in my mind. Every picture was perfectly clear, along with every blows, voices and smells. Even the taste of the tape was fresh in my mind. It was like playing back a movie and I was in the middle of it.

A part of me wanted to deny it all. I wanted to think it hadn't happened, that it was all but a bad dream, but I couldn't tell myself otherwise.

They'd tried to murder me.

For all accounts and purposes, I should have died back there, many times over.

And yet, here I was: alive and well.

I couldn't decide if I should have considered myself lucky or cursed to be a mutant.

The only real comfort I had was the knowledge that it was all over.

"Karen?" I opened my eyes to find dad rush in and squeeze me tightly in a strong hug. Shaking like a leaf, I pulled my own arm around him, and held on to him like it might be the last time.

"Dad..."

"Karen. Oh thank God. Where were you? Why were you out? Why didn't you...?" He ran his fingers down my back, through the rips in my clothes and pulled back, giving me a second look over. When his worried eyes looked into mine, he asked: "What happened to you?"

I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. "It-it's Josh again. It's complicated."

"Then it's a good thing we've got plenty of time and coffee." Another voice spoke out.

Two more people had filed in the room after dad. The one who'd spoken up was an older man, looking around his fifties, and as if he'd seen them all. He pulled a seat for himself, and handed the inspector a cup of warm coffee. "I'm Detective Bradley McConnor. It would help matters immensely if you could fill us in, dear."

The second was a younger woman, all set in a business suit and briefcase in hand. She leaned toward me, and shook my hand. "Hi, Karen. I'm Linda, from the Mutant Commission Office. I was working with your father for your new papers. I'm sorry we had to meet like this."

"N-nice to meet you.”, I said, trying to hold up my blanket up.

"Huh?" The inspector assigned to me looked to the older man. "Bradley? Hum, sir? Why is the MCO here?"

The detective rolled his eyes, and finished his sip of coffee. "Take a wild guess.”, he said, with a nod my way.

She looked back to me, and I saw the realization dawn on her, along with a look of growing panic. "You left me here with a... A Mutant?"

Bradley gave a tired sigh. "We didn't know at the time. Besides, Sam, you're fine. Right?"

"Yeah."

"The young lady didn't give you any trouble, did she?"

"No. I suppose not." She settled down, but she was obviously still nervous about me. A little while ago, she was giving me looks of concern; now that I'm a mutant, she was giving me the eye.

"Good." The detective took another sip of coffee, before reaching in his coat, then pull out a small tape recorder and a notepad. "Now, Karen, you've probably been through a lot tonight, I'm sure, but we've got a few questions for you. If you and your father don't mind?"

Should I? I really wasn't sure. Okay, they were the police, but were they really on my side? One of them was already getting second thought. Would they even believe what I had to say?

Looking up to dad, I could see how worried he looked. He gave me a slow nod and patted me on the shoulder. "Please? Dear?"

How could I say no to that? If there was at least one person I could trust here, it was him. I steeled myself, took in a deep breath, and nodded. "Go ahead."

Inspector Bradley gave a nod, and hit the record button before noting the date and our names for the record. "Now, if you don't mind, we'll start from the beginning. Can you tell us what happened tonight before we found you?"

"Well..." I closed my eyes to gather my thoughts. The pictures still came as visibly in my mind. "Like I said, it's complicated. It all started in the afternoon, when I wanted to go out for a jog..."

I told them everything I could. Every single detail I could offer as I relived it all in my head. Every faces, every movement, every place and every pain I had gone through. I didn't realize when I began shaking or when the tears came out. The memories brought back all that I felt through the ordeal. I was angry. I was scared. I felt like crying again. It was getting harder to talk straight as I went on. Dad was holding on tighter and tighter every second. I could feel him shaking along with me.

"That's when I made the call." I finished, holding my breath for a moment. "And you know the rest."

Silence reigned over the room. Linda was staring at me with wide eyes and a slack jaw. Sam had a hand over her mouth and was shaking her head in disbelief. Dad leaned down and kissed me forehead, whispering: "I'm sorry, dear." I could feel his warm tear over my skin as he held me.

Bradley steadily kept a stoic look on his face as he kept writing down his notes, as if lost in his own mind. He was the one who broke the silence first. "Miss Linda?" He barely looked over his notepad. "Could you pass over the documents on Miss Karen?"

"Oh?" Linda broke out of her daze, and flipped her suitcase open. "Of course." She handed a file over. "Here you go. This also has the medical papers that were taken here."

"Thank you. Much appreciated." He started leafing through the file at a steady pace. "Now, Karen, this wasn't the first time these boys had assaulted you?"

I nodded. "Y-yeah. Well, some of them at least. A lot of them were new."

"And you hadn't made any efforts to contact the police prior to this?"

"They went to the hospital first, and then Karen's father contacted me the day after." Linda cut in. "Since this case involved a mutant, it fell under MCO jurisdiction."

Sam huffed. "Maybe if you'd gone to us first, this wouldn't-"

Bradley held up one hand to quiet Sam down. "That's a debate for another time. What's done is done." He glanced back to the MCO agent. "I see you told them to stay low until arrangements were made and then try to re-introduce her to society."

Linda gave a regretful nod, and settled herself back firmly in her seat. "It's policy to try and keep the confidentiality of some mutants, especially younger ones. We keep records of them, but public information is classified for a reason."

His eyes shifted back to me. "And you deliberately left the household?"

My head lowered down between my shoulders. "I-I didn't think anyone would look for me." I swallowed the lump in my throat. "I didn't think they'd even recognize me."

The man pulled out two photographs, and held them up, comparing them to me. "I can see why you'd think that." Sam leaned over to take a look too. Bradley slid the pictures back in, and closed the file. "I can see that your regenerative powers were well documented, maybe not to the extent you described, but I haven't seen any mention of those black arms. Something you forgot to mention?"

"They never had them before." I bit my lip as I looked at my hands. "I didn't even know I could do that before it happened. I swear."

Bradley looked at my father, whom shook his head, then to Linda, whom did the same and responded: "We never got the chance to do any complex power testing."

"Then maybe now's the time to add it in to your file." He turned his chair to take a better look at me. "Do you think you could give us a demonstration?"

"Hum. Sure?" I stared back at my digits of flesh and bone. "I mean, I could try. I just don't know if it'll work again." I lifted my free arm up over my head and pulled down. Nothing. I reached up again, and pulled. Again, nothing. "Well, this is going nowhere. Maybe if I..." I rolled my wrist inside the handcuff. "This might do." I braced myself, and I started to pull my arm back.

Sam backed away in her seat. "What're you trying?"

"My arms were tied up back then." I turned to the side, trying to get a better position.

"So you're re-creating a similar situation." Bradley noted. "Having your arms bound doesn't seem to be the only requirement."

"No kidding." I pulled and pulled, until I heard a creaking sound from the bed frame. Again, the new limb wasn't coming out. "What am I doing wrong?"

"Maybe it's not about strength put into it." Linda proposed. "Try to think back to when they came out. Can you remember how you felt?"

Humoring her, I closed my eyes, and brought back the memories of the moment. It was picture perfect once more, enough to make me shudder. "Pain. There was lots of pain." Pushing that sensation aside, I tried to think of anything else I had going at the time. I was scared. I was crying. I just wanted to get away, and suddenly, I felt the chain break, and my arms go free. Wait. No. I didn't feel the chains break. They were still there. I did feel my arms go free though. Was that what did it? Wishful thinking? Delusions? Feeling it? Only one way to find out.

Keeping my eyes closed, I tried to imagine as if the cuffs weren't there and pulled my arm back once more. The metal dug into my skin at first, but I pressed on until I felt my arm go right through the loop and way past what I should have.

There were a few impressed gasps around the room. Opening my eyes confirmed what I suspected as I flexed those five black digits in front of my face. "That'd be it." I felt the four set of eyes watch with awe as I compared my black right hand with my fleshy left one.

Linda pulled out a camera from her suitcase. "Sorry, but I'm going to add that to the file. Karen, dear, could you hold your arms forward? Both of them?" I did as told, and she took the first picture. "Good. Now, to the sides, as far apart as you can? Good, good."

Bradley curiously poked my arm with his pen, which I grabbed on a reflex. "So you can feel this?"

"Yeah. It's toned down, and a bit cold, but yeah; I can feel it."

"Fascinating." He pulled his pen back, and went back to his notes. "There must be some kind of nerve endings in there or something imitating them."

"Meaning it's not just a construct." Linda had joined into the scribbling in her own files. "I'll have to note this under shifter and manifestor power. Even include you with multiple limbs category."

Bradley tapped his pen on his notepad. "And you said it disappeared when you...?"

"When I started to feel my real ar-" As quickly as it came out, my black arm dissolved and slithered back where it came from. "Dammit."

"Karen," Dad said. "Language."

"Sorry." I sighed, giving another tug on the cuffs. "I just lost concentration for one moment and 'poof'. Gone."

The older inspector gave a smile of satisfaction and jotted down a few notes. "That explains that. Now, Karen, would you be willing to testify about all this in court?"

"Yeah!" I let out. "No pro-"

"I'm sorry," Dad cut out sharply. "But we can't. We can't go to court. I won't allow it."

"Dad?" My insides squeezed hard. "W-why not?"

I saw his fists tighten until his joints grew red, and his face tightening. He was struggling with all this, and tried to keep himself under control. "It's... For your own good, dear."

Inspector Bradley coughed, and settled in his seat. "You know, Mister Leon, your daughter's testimony would be a key factor in getting her assailant arrested and put away."

Dad nodded. "Yes, I know. But-"

"And we have, by her story, another dozen or so young men out there, willing to do this all over again, maybe all the way." Bradley flipped through his notepad. "I'm afraid to say that with the evidence we have, I doubt we can link them to the crime without her story."

Sam glanced at her partner. "Really, Brad?"

Bradley shrugged. "The rain's probably compromised most of the scene. We'll be lucky to get trace evidence." He looked back to my dad as he took another sip of coffee. "You see, it would really help us all to cooperate."

Dad seemed to consider for just a moment. "I understand that. I do." He took in a deep breath and leaned forward with hands together. "But if this is brought up to court, rumors about Karen will slip out. About her being a mutant, and..." He shook his head. "There might be two dozen... 'delinquents' on the street who..." He braced himself. "Assaulted her, but can you say we can protect her if the whole city knows? I've never supported Humanity First, and I don't know what weight they carry around here, but I've seen the news about them, and it's never good news."

"What?" I felt that lump in my throat swell up. I pictured a crowd of people with signs and torches right outside our apartment, all out for my blood. "N-no way." Before I realized it, I was shaking again. I tightened the blanket around me.

Dad put a hand on my head gently. "I want them to be caught too, officer, but I can't put my family in even more danger. Isn't there another way?"

"I see." Bradley gave a heavy sigh. "Well... Maybe we can get a testimony from the boy, but just in case we can't work with that, then we're going to need forensic evidence. Every bit we can." He looked back to me once more. "Do you have a problem if we collect some evidence off you? You won't have to show in court for evidence like this."

I looked to dad, whom gave a reassuring nod. "S-sure. If that'll help?"

"Good." He had a wide smile on his face. "We'll do our best. Sam?"

"Y-yes, sir?" She almost jumped out of her seat on reflex.

"Run the collection kit on her. Everything."

She bit her lip. "Everything?"

"Yes. Everything." He took another sip of coffee. "Can't afford to lose even one bit of evidence we can use. And I'm sure she'd be more comfortable with you doing it, than me." He said with a nod, before he got up, shuffling through his notes. "I'll go check up on the boy, maybe ask a few questions from the parents before he wakes up. Everything else is up to the boys on the scene."

"I... See." She shook her head, and pulled her suitcase up on the bed and opened it up. "This might take a while."

Bradley gave a nod. "Good." He turned to my dad and Linda. "It would be better if we leave these two alone for now."

Dad gave a nod, his hands squeezing my shoulder. "Okay." He looked back to me, his eyes filled with worry. "We'll be right outside, okay? Just ask if you need anything." I nodded to him. "I'll go tell your sisters you're okay. They've been worried sick."

"Sorry. I didn't mean to." I felt something brush up against my cheek.

"I know." He leaned down, and kissed my forehead. "I'm just glad you're okay, dear. We'll get through this, somehow."

"I hope so."

My cheek was stroked again, and with a glance, I saw Sam sealing up a cotton swab and note it down. Dad waved back to me as he followed Linda out the room, as Sam pulled another swab. She reached over, and did the same swipes on the other side of my head. "Did you really go through all that?"

"What? You don't believe me?"

"No, no! I mean, I believe you, it's just..." She shook her head, writing down another note. "A little hard to imagine. It's not every day someone survives something like that."

"Yeah. Heh. That's true." If someone had told me I'd go through this a week ago, I would have told them they were cuh-coo-crazy for cocoa puffs. "It... It's kinda out there, isn't it?" I pressed my palm right under my ribs, right where, not too long ago, I had a stake of wood go right through me. I still remembered how it felt so clearly. There was no denying it. It happened.

Sam gave me a look of concern and sighed. "It's why we're going to have to try even harder to prove you're right." She held up another swab. "Can you open your mouth, please?"

As soon as my lips opened, she reached in, and rubbed the cotton on the inside of my cheeks. Once she pulled out, I just had to ask: "So what are you doing right now?"

"Trying to get any traces of your attackers." She sealed the swab and marked it down. "You know: hairs, skin cells, saliva... Residuals. Any traces we can follow. Even through the dirt."

"Even inside my mouth?" That one didn't exactly make sense.

"At least in there, the rain might not have reached that." As she readied another swab, she realized that I wasn't buying it. With a sigh, she began to explain: "I know this may or may not have happened, but we have to check everything. Otherwise, the whole kit might get rejected. Don't want that, do we?"

"Nnnnooooo." I let out, still a little unsure. I let her swab the other side of my mouth before asking: "So what else has to be swabbed?"

I saw her brace herself. "Well... A S.A.F.E. kit covers your whole body. After I've finished with your face, your ears, and brushed your hair, I'll have to take your clothes in for evidence." She looked at the ripped shreds that were left of my clothes. "At least what we have here." She took a deep breath. She didn't look all too comfortable. "After this, is the reason Brad wanted me to do this alone with you. Since you were groped, I'll go over your body, including your breasts and your labia."

"Hum... Labia?" There was one name I didn't hear often.

She raised one eyebrow. "Did you ever do sex ed?"

"Yeah?" It had been a while though.

"The labia's your..." She made waves with her fingers, trying to draw me a picture. "Your privates?"

"My pri- Oh... Oh! Th-that!" My face was surely turning a bright red once I finally got it. "Bu-bu-but you see, I-I don't-"

"I know." She raised both hands up. "I know, you haven't mentioned anything about rape, but we have to be thorough."

"I-I-I g-get that." I gulped. "But you see, I don't have a... Wait..."

Something didn't quite feel right. "I got..."

It felt oddly warm from down there.

I must have really been out of it not to notice that right away. "I mean..."

I looked under the sheet, between my legs.

The nervousness was making me shake.

"Wah-whu-why?"

Sam put a hand on my shoulder. "Karen? Are you okay?"

I slowly reached in-between my legs...

And I was given a jolt of whole new sensations as soon as I touched 'it'.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

linebreak shadow

"God. That was embarrassing." It was so good that the room came with a shower. After all that, it was a huge relief to feel that warm water wash everything away. I'd never felt this dirty before.

After my little panic attack and Sam shoving dad back out of the room, she continued with her collection. I was stripped, photographed, and examined all over. I mean all over. She kept staring at me 'down there', making notes all the while. I just wanted to forget where she shoved those swabs of hers. It felt so good to hear that it was over.

Now, I could just forget about all of it, if only for a moment. All the dirt I was covered in, from the mud I was dragged through to the bits of branches and leaves I'd picked up, was being washed off. I couldn't have been more relieved.

I felt the water run down my body from head to toes, and as I scrubbed, I got the chance to take inventory of what I had left. If being broken was what forced the changes, it was obvious I wasn't the same anymore. Every curves I had felt had shifted once more into a more feminine shape. From my hips, to my delicate fingers. But the most obvious were the twins... No. My breasts. I might as well call them properly from now on. They were attached to me for the rest of my life after all. My breasts had swollen again after all this. Some might call me fixated on them, but they were so hard to ignore. Even when I felt the streams of water down my back, the smaller waist and slender legs, my breasts were at the forefront of everything. "I guess I better get myself comfortable with you two," I mumbled at the two perky tips as I soaped them up. "You didn't have to grow on me this quick." I could have said that 'they' were the most awkward part of the shower, but honestly, that title went a little lower down my body.

Right between my legs, there was my little soldier, holding on for all it could. That little private part of me was the only hint of masculinity I had left, and it had just recently gotten a little extra company.

It was hard to see at first, but I could feel the tingle right underneath my balls. A delicate set of lips forming a slit right there. My so-called labia. My lady parts. My pussy. Whatever you called it, it was right there, and I knew 'this' is what I was stuck with. After all, 'this' is what belonged with my breasts and the rest of my body. I won't even try to describe how weird it felt to have a cotton swab rub in it.

But then, it also meant that my little soldier was on its last leg. The new recruit had been hired, and he was about to be retired at any moment. I didn't want to think about how it was going to come off. If I already had the lady parts, did that mean it wasn't transforming? It was just going to drop off, like the doc said? That really didn't sound good. At all. Maybe it could disappear in my sleep? In any case, I was in no hurry to find out. I tried to avoid even touching it. If I could even give it a few more minutes...

I was drying myself off as I stepped out of the shower, when I caught a glance into the mirror. I felt my heart jump. Now that it wasn't covered in mud, I got a good look at my reformed face. At first, I couldn't recognize myself. All the boyish features I had kept were whipped away like magic, replaced by the soft visage of a girl I'd barely seen. That long flowing black hair, those soft tender cheeks, the narrow chin, those lost eyes...

"I'm... Pretty." I felt a knot forming in my throat. "Pretty cute."

I stayed still in from of my reflection, staring at the girl I'd become, while my mind struggled to settle how I should feel about this. I knew I was turning into a girl, I'd convinced myself I'd live as one, but seeing me like this was something else. I was looking at a very cute, very naked girl in front of me. What straight guy wouldn't have a reaction? Questions kept popping in my head, between a mix of tingling excitement and awkward nausea creeping up more and more.

I caught myself on the sink to settle my shaking body. Get a grip, Karen. This is just another part of being a girl. I can do this. I almost died tonight, but I'm still here. I got my second chance. I can't let this stop me. It's nothing, really.

I looked into my reflection's eyes. "This... You're me now. The new me." I brushed my long hair off my face. "You're just a little early... And cute. I'm gonna have to get used to that, aren't I?" It still felt awkward to admit it.

I slipped on the paper-thin hospital gown given to me. Sure, it had a huge window up my backside, but it was better than walking around in my birthday suit. "Dad's gonna have to bring some clothes back. At least, if they even fit anymore. Two weeks, three sets of clothes. What a nightmare."

Just as I was about to open the door, I heard Linda burst into laughter.

"What the hell?" Nudging the door open by a crack, I listened in.

It took her a moment to stop laughing. "Okay, that's pretty clever, for a kid her age."

"I know, right? I'm not sure the crew ever found the rubber duck either." And that was dad talking with her. "Then again, that's why we went camping the next year instead. Ah. This one was at Kyle's baseball tournament, when they won the finals."

"Ah! They won?"

Dad's pictures. I let off a sigh of relief. Go figure. He's still showing off that collection. Thank god we got him to take out the baby pictures.

"Yeah. He couldn't stop bragging about it for a month after that. He kept acting out the final inning at the table. It was his passion."

"Boys will be boys. And this one must be the camping trip next year?"

"Yeah. All around the camp fire. We had to take this one three times too. The camera wouldn't stay still, and Gabrielle wouldn't stop making faces."

"Gabrielle's the smaller one, right?"

"Yep."

"How cute. So these three are the reason why you switched to a desk job?"

"Yeah." I could hear him sigh. "I had to, really. What if something happened to me? Who'd take care of them then? Social services? I couldn't. I won't..."

"I know. By the sound of things, though, you've been managing well on your own."

"The kids have been doing their share. I'm lucky Abbey's responsible enough for three when I'm not there..."

"Something up?"

"When I'm not there. Is that what I've been doing wrong? I wasn't there often enough?"

"Tsk. Leon..."

"I know, I know, I bring the money to the table, keep a roof over their heads and all that, but... I'm not involved enough in their lives. They're still growing up, and I'm... That's the second- no third- maybe fourth time, maybe more, that he--she-she's in danger, and I can't do anything about it until it's over. We almost lost her tonight, and-"

"Leon, listen. You did all you could do. You can't be there twenty-four/seven either. With what you're showing me here, you've done well."

"But tonight-"

It wasn't your fault, dad.

"Was a tragedy, yes. But she's still alive, right? Then let us do our job, and working together, we'll do what we can to keep it from happening again."

"... Yeah."

"Did you two make any plans?"

"Yes." I could hear him sigh. "She really wanted to stay here. But now, I just don't know if that can happen."

What?

"You know what might happen, right?"

"Oh, I know. I know. But she's got some friends here who took her in. I thought maybe they could keep it all secret. Maybe it'd work out for her here. But now... Karen?"

I slammed the door close. Uh oh.

"Karen!"

Hesitantly, I opened the door again, peeking out. "Sorry. I didn't want to disturb you two."

"It's... Fine, dear." Dad rubbed his forehead. "Come on over."

Having this horrible awkward feeling that I'd just broken a moment between them, I sheepishly sat by dad's side. "Sssssoooo what do we do now? What's going to happen?" I did wonder what he was about to say a moment ago.

Dad seemed to hesitate as he looked at me, but before he could answer, Linda rolled the table over to me, and dropped a stack of papers on top of it. "Since you're still in police custody until their initial investigations are done, it's probably best we fill in for your mutant identification right away. If there's a possibility of this being brought into court, this will definitively help your case."

"Really?" The pile seemed to be as thick as our phone book, and most of it was filled with fine print. "This is going to take the whole night."

"It looks big, but it really isn't that bad," Linda explained. "There are a lot of sub-sections and parts written for specific power sets or circumstances, like the changes in your body. For example, if you had telepathy, we'd have to mention what your limits and restrictions are. It does mean though that we'll be able to skip a lot of it with a few check marks." She sat beside me, and sighed. "I would have liked to have this filled out much earlier with you, but there were a lot of delays. Usually, we'd have most of this filled out along with a team of testers to really work out the details, but some people, whom will remained unnamed," she mentioned in a grumble, "kept forgetting to notify the higher ups."

"Darryl?" Dad noted sympathetically.

Linda crossed her arms. Seemed it wasn't the first time this had happened. "Sometimes, working with the system means fighting with it. It's like they don't want to work with mutants."

I eyed the pile suspiciously. "So am I really supposed to fill this then? No test?"

She nodded confidently. "It's unusual, I'll admit, but there are cases like yours where there's an incident, it's better to have you in the system right away. We'll have your powers documented for future reference. This is only a placeholder though. It's not a complete registration, but it will do. You'll get a temporary card, until the proper tests can be completed."

"I guess that makes sense." I looked over the first entry, and quickly found something wrong. "Hum. Am I supposed to enter my new name, or my old one?"

The whole process felt like it took forever and a day to fill in. Half the form was written in lawyer-ese, and the other half filled with terms like 'devisor', 'pyrokinesis', 'diedrick syndrome' and 'Kirby's sub-space temporal dispersion'. Thankfully, Linda was there to explain us what the questions meant most of the time. It seemed like they didn't want to miss anything in these forms either. Sheets after sheets on how far you could throw fire, how much you can teleport, and how much jello you can manifest. You'd think they would save a few pounds of paper by having a few blank pages topped off with: please describe your mutation at the best of your knowledge. Just keep it simple.

We were just about to give the last few signatures, when there was a knock at the door. Dad called out: "Come on in."

Instead of a response, we heard a bit of arguing from the other side of the door, topped off by a loud: "HOW DARE YOU!" After a moment of silence, the door finally swung open, and instead of the inspector, as we expected, in walked a young blonde girl, whom hadn't entered puberty yet, wearing an oversized lab coat.

Oh God. Not her again.

She turned back, grumbling at the man that followed her. "You know, as good as an idea it was, I don't think these are working at all." She was pulling at an engraved name tag on her flat chest that read: Doctor Emilly Dane. Medical Genius!

Her assistant was right behind her, obviously embarrassed. "I'm sorry, doctor. I don't know why they didn't believe you."

The little snobbish kid snorted. "Tomorrow, we're going back with the stilts."

"Still having issues being recognized, doctor?" I added in bitterly.

There was a twitch on her forehead, but she shrugged off my question and kept a bright, childish smile up. "And good day to you too, boy. Or is that young lady by now?" Having the 'kid' call me that felt so weird. She was enjoying seeing me squirm a little too much. "How are you feeling today?"

Before I could spit out a response, dad interrupted: "Why are you here, doctor?"

There was a sly glimmer in her eyes. She was up to something. "To be honest, Mister Yates, considering your child's mutation, I did ask the reception to warn me if you ever came in so I could do the diagnostics personally."

"The paramedics already covered that, genius." The snark earned me a thermometer shoved in my mouth.

"Pffth. Did you even mention to them that you were a regenerator? No? That you were a mutant? Not that either? Whether you did or not, they still wouldn't even know where to begin to look." She pulled the thermometer out, made some notes, and continued on. "Because you're a regenerator, you heal quickly; however, it doesn't mean you heal the right way. Some mutants need their parts to be knocked back into the proper places." She turned to her assistant. "I believe the record holder was Danger Craver? Had his funny bone shattered forty two times before it set back correctly? No joke."

"You gotta be kidding me." The death glare she gave told me I chose the wrong words. "I mean..." I patted myself up and down. "I don't feel any pain."

The mini-doctor was back to her smug self in an instant. "You wouldn't believe how many times I heard that one, dear. It's really best we make sure, especially... Considering the police is involved and how drastically you changed since we last saw each other, I take it you were in an accident of some sort, correct?" She waved her hand nonchalantly. "At least, I don't believe you're the kind of person to try bungee jumping without a bungee cord." That was my turn to give her a death glare. With a shrug, she continued: "That's why we'll have you take an X-ray, and a good trip to the MRI. We'll see your bone structure, infections, possible cancer growth and maybe even some foreign objects in there."

"Great." I let my shoulders drop. "More tests. Do we really have to do this, dad?"

Dad didn't seem too sure. "If the doctor says it's for the best..."

"Better to be safe than sorry." Linda agreed.

The tiny doctor pulled my head down to her level, and looked into my eyes with her penlight. "Hey!"

"No bleeding." She switched eye. "No yellowing either. Your irises..." She finally let me go, and nodded proudly. "Are fully converted. Whatever accident you had, it did the job."

"Did what job?”, I asked as I rubbed my eyes. I was going to see spots for a while.

"If I'm not mistaken, doctor." Paul flipped through his notes. "It means her transformation is done, correct?"

"Bingo!" She sang. "Welcome to your new body, dear. Hope you enjoy it. You'll be stuck with it for a long time."

"Right. Right. This is it, huh?" Well, that just confirmed what I saw in the bathroom. This was it. This was my new body; my new looks.

Wait. Wait, no.

Something wasn't quite right there. "Well, it's not completely over. I still got a bit to go."

"... What?" The little 'genius' had her smile turn upside down. "Are you telling me I'm wrong, young lady?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I am. You see, I haven't completely gone over the fence yet."

Oh, the dumbfounded look on her face was priceless. "What?"

"I still have a..." It was rather embarrassing to admit. "I still have a-WHAT THE HELL?" Before I'd realized it, the sneaky little doctor pulled my robe up to take a look for herself, before I pulled in back down. "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"

She still seemed in shock at first, her eyes fixated on me. Her assistant tapped her on the shoulder, making her jump. "Doctor?"

Emilly sharply pointed her pen at me. "Boy! Yo-young lady!"

"Can't make up your mind now?" I muttered.

She waved her hand. "Whatever. How long has it been since you had a vagina? Your lady parts?"

I could feel my face heat up. "I-I'm not sure? Three, maybe four hours? It probably got there during the accident. I didn't notice 'it' 'till we were here."

She muttered, rubbing her temples. "Why do they always skip the important stuff? Paul!"

The assistant jerked nervously. "Y-yes, doctor?"

The doctor seemed to have lost any cheerfulness she had since she came in the room. I didn't think she could look so serious. "Delay the X-ray and MRI. We can't risk it right now. Instead, go get the ultrasound, pronto."

Paul nodded rapidly, writing down his orders. "Yes, yes. Hum. May I ask why, doctor?"

"Because usually, we'd get a urine sample for this or even rush a blood test, but with this bo-gir-patient, we're not even going to get any DNA."

"Doctor?" The assistant seemed to be as confused as the rest of us. "I don't follow you. What's happening?"

At the peak of nervousness, Emilly grabbed her assistant by the collar, and pulled him down to her eye level. "Let me connect the dots for you." She pointed at me. "We have an intersexed mutant on our hands here. Remember what I told you about those?" He nodded. "Yes?" Another nod. "Good. Now, the patient's also regenerator of level six. How quickly do those generate new cells?"

"Oh." His eyes suddenly lit up with understanding. "OH!" Followed by a gulp, and a more nervous glance my way. "Oh."

"What?" I edged in closer to the duo, wondering what got her panties in a bunch. "What is it?"

Emilly ignored me, and continued slowly. "You get it? Good. Now go get the ultrasounds right away, before we get really, really busy around here."

"Is it really that fast?" The assistant whispered.

"You'll find out soon enough. Now go! Go! GO!" Had anyone blinked, they would have missed Paul dash out the door in a hurry.

Dad was sitting on the edge of his seat, his hands curling tightly into fists. "What's going on, doctor?"

The little doctor looked up to him, sighed, ran her hand through the top of her head as a twitching hand fished out a lollipop from her pocket. "Something rather unexpected, I'll admit." With the candy in her mouth, she seemed to relax, and returned to her more casual self. "Though to cut down to the layman's terms, we may have a case of a 'Virgin Mary'. Self-impregnation."

"... What?" Again, she was using those terms only the adults were familiar with. At least, it had dad and Linda on edge.

"This may sound complicated, young lady, but I do believe they have sex education in this day and age. Biologically, when we're born, the parts that become our genitals are practically the same. In those that change genders, that would be you, dear, the set goes from one to the other, from testicles to ovaries, from prostate to uterus. But right now, if you're right, and you're still in transition, then you may be producing both sperm and ova at the same time, and at the same location." She rolled the lollipop in her mouth. "Usually, it takes time for ova to be formed, at least a month, enough time for the leftover sperm to die out. But you? You're a regenerator, whom just went through some drastic changes. Ova might have been created when your sperm was still alive and kicking. It's a rather rare combination of circumstances, but the possibilities are there."

That was a lot more medical terms than I knew how to deal with. I had a bad feeling about this. "So what does it mean?"

"It means, young lady, that you may have made yourself pregnant. Very pregnant."

The news hit me like a freight truck. "Oh god." Me? Pregnant? I'd only gotten my womanhood a few hours ago, and I was pregnant? I never thought about anything like that before! "I-I'm going to have... A baby?"

"Possibly." The doctor noted as she sucked pensively on her lollipop. "Maybe even babies, plural." She waved her hand. "Self-impregnation is tricky. It's like starting a marathon, but you have runners starting at the finish line. You don't want to know what's the world record for that one."

I felt as if my belly was growing under my hands. I pictured myself swelling more and more with every kid. Then later, laying down, pushing them out one after the other. Seeing the babies in my arms. The nursing. The family, with me as the mother. It was too much. My head was spinning. I had another wave of nausea start to crawl up my throat. I was about to panic. I wasn't ready for this. No. Not at all.

I felt dad hold on to me tightly. "Are you sure of that?"

"Weeeellll..." Emilly toyed with the stick in the mouth. "I can't really guarantee a positive. Not yet anyhow. It's all in theory."

"Huh?"

"The baseline tests aren't reliable in this case. No DNA, no positive. You could run all the commercially available test strips, and they'd all show the same thing, even if you felt the little tots kicking inside." She shrugged. "But considering the other issue we have on our hands, we should be able to determine it soon."

We all had the same question for her: "What other issue?"

She pointed her lollipop my way. "You, young lady, are a regenerator. It's known for rapid healing, high cell generation."

"Wait. Wait." Linda snapped her fingers, trying to remember something. "I know about this one. Regenerators have faster pregnancies, right? Weeks instead of months?"

Emilly nodded. "Yes. Or in some cases, in a matter of days. Cells multiply much more rapidly, so forming the kid is much quicker. And considering the levels we have here, you might enter the second trimester in an hour or two." That annoying, confident smirk of hers came back up. "You know, you've brought us quite an interesting situation here. What are the odds?"

"Glad you're happy," I spat out. "You're not the one who has to go through this." I was shaking in fear now. It was too much, too soon, too quickly. I didn't want a baby. I didn't know what to do. "Can't you stop this? Oh! Oh! Wait! No, let me guess: you can't. Regenerator, right? Are you always this frigging useless? Or do you like sitting back, and watching, you little-"

"Karen!" Dad squeezed my shoulder before I could jump out at the doctor. "The doctor's doing the best she can. Just give her a chance. Okay?"

"But-but-but I d-d-on't wana be-hic-"

"Ssh." He whipped the tears out of my eyes. "We'll get through this, dear. We will. You just have to be strong a little longer, okay?"

He was looking in my eyes with such determination; I swallowed the lump in my throat, steeled myself, and nodded. "Oh-okay."

He patted my head, and smiled. "Good. Now, doctor, is there anything you can do?"

"Weeeellll..." The doctor sucked a bit more pensively. "We can't move on before we find out if there was impregnation in the first place. After that? If you're lucky, we could find a specialist with a teleporter on hand who can get here fast enough. If the fetuses aren’t affected by your power, we may be able to make an abortion, if that's what you desire." She shrugged. "Otherwise, I suggest we keep the maternity ward at the ready."

"So there's a way out of this?" It was at least a little relief.

She waved a finger. "A possibility. It's better to be ready for the worst though." The smile she had made me wonder if she didn't enjoy seeing the worst case scenario first-hand. "You can't say I didn't at least warn you of what might happen."

"Why thank you, doctor." I muttered bitterly.

While we waited for the assistant to return, I was left to wonder what would happen. I'd thought about being a girl for a while now, and I thought I'd be ready for it if I took it slowly. But this? Going straight to motherhood? I'd skipped way too many things along the way there. I wasn’t ready. I knew that. Sure, I helped take care of Gabby before, but this was completely different. I didn't even want to think about giving birth. I couldn't be pregnant. I never wanted it. Hadn't I gone through enough already? I kept praying for a miracle to happen again.

After what felt like an eternity, Paul finally came in, rolling in a computer. "Sorry. Sorry. Coming through."

Emilly put her hands on her hips. "What took you so long?"

"My apologies, doctor. The Hendersons were already using the machine, and, well, they insisted they weren't disturbed." He looked to the rest of us, and winked. "They wanted a bit more time with their upcoming, and..."

"And you buckled under the pressure." The tiny doctor didn't seem impressed. "Anyhow..." She pulled a bottle from the desk, and looked at me. "Please, dear, just lay down, and we'll have an answer for you soon."

I did as told, and pulled the bed sheet over me before pulling the dress up. I was at least going to have a little modesty here (I wasn't letting those little hands near my clothes that easily again). They squirted some kind of gel over my belly, and started to rub some kind of wand over my skin. After assuring me there was no funny business happening, they turned their attention to the screen. The video they were seeing was unreadable to me: it looked like there was nothing but static and thick gray lines, but the doctors were all over it. They whispered between each other, with most words I caught needing a dictionary. They were pointing at the screen, and arguing on what was what (usually ending with the smaller one in the right). The wait was excruciating.

"Ah ha!" The tiny doctor turned around with a satisfied smile. "Got it."

I had a bad feeling in my guts. "S-so, doctor. Am I going to be pregnant?"

"Yes."

The blood in my veins froze. No...

"That is, if your boyfriend decides to skip on the condom one evening, the possibilities are there."

"... What?"

"Doctor." Dad sounded as frustrated with her as I was. "Again, can you explain what's going on? In terms we can understand?"

She scoffed, and pointed to the screen. "So far, through the ultrasound test, we found no fetus, singular or plural. No fetus: no baby."

"Oh thank God." I dropped back on the bed, and sighed in relief.

The doctor raised a finger. "At least, so far. I'm tempted to have another scan scheduled later, just in case your regeneration isn't fast enough to create something the ultrasound can pick up." She rubbed her chin pensively. "But with what we've found out, the odds have been drastically reduced, I'll have to admit."

Paul didn't seem so sure. He searched the screen for what the doctor spotted. "Why do you say that?"

With a roll of her eyes, she started to explain by circling a section of the screen. "Do you see this? This would be the bladder. This part behind it over here? That would be the uterus. Now, what got us confused was this," she said as she circled another section underneath. "This would be your prostate, young lady."

She let that statement hang in the air for a moment, as if waiting for a reaction. It did take me a moment to remember when I'd heard the name before, but something didn't fit. "Wait, if that's my prostate, and that's my uterus... Didn't you say-"

"I know what I said, and at the time, it was a valid theory." Well, she didn't waste time correcting herself. "If this would have been a textbook case, I would have been correct, but instead of turning your sperm storage into a baby factory, your body grew a whole new one. It's probably packed very tightly in there, but the two are separated." She waved her hand about. "In this case, the odds for cross-impregnation are much lower."

I felt a huge weight of stress simply fly off my shoulders, and finally, I could relax. I wasn't pregnant. I wasn't going to have a baby after all.

"However," she said with that smug look on her face. "This may also prove that my previous assumption was correct."

I let out a tired groan. "What now?" Hadn't I gone through enough stuff already?

"This is the final result of your transition. There may not be anything else. The initial misconception was earlier, but then again, who could tell?" She pointed to me. "Although you look like a young lady, technically, in the end, you'll be a hermaphrodite."

"A her-ma-fro-what?"

"Hermaphrodite." Paul was dutifully taking down his notes. "Meaning someone who's intersexed, showing both signs of genitalia. Originally Greek, derived from the son of Hermes and Aphrodite."

Emilly seemed proud of her assistant, and continued on. "By which I mean you're going to carry both a vagina and a penis. Lucky you."

"So I'm..." I looked down at my crotch, an odd sensation spreading through me. "I'm going to keep it? It's not going to drop off?"

She nodded proudly. "Positive."

Dad was rubbing a headache off. "What makes you so sure of that?"

"I'll admit the odds of an intersexed transgender mutant are rather low: about one in six. At least, in my experience. In this case though, it's the fact that even though most of her changes have been through modification, her body literally grew a new organ, while leaving the other intact. It didn't reproduce any other organs of limbs in the same way. No second bladder, no second set of eyes, not even shedding off an extra layer of skin."

"So why did it make one... Unless..." Paul snapped his fingers. "The body is going to keep the male genitalia, so it's been left untouched."

"Logically? Yes." She was grinning widely. "Exactly what I was thinking." Maybe the tiny doctor kept him around to finish off her thoughts.

"So..." I swallowed the knot in my throat. "I'm stuck as a girl-boy?" I didn't how to feel about that. Maybe I was still riding the high of the previous news, or all the trauma I'd just gone through, but part of me was real glad that my little soldier was going to stay after all. I wasn't going to lose everything. I was still going to be a bit of a guy, which... Was also a huge problem! Did that mean I was never going to really be a girl? A full-blown girl? That I'm going to have 'him' dangling down there all this time? How was I supposed to be like the other girls with this? But being a guy is good, right? But I also have to become a girl! Can I even do that now? The more I tried to wrap my head around it, the more I felt I was going to faint.

I was snapped out of my daze with dad squeezing my hand. Again, he was looking really concerned. "Are you okay, dear?"

"Yeah." I nodded. "Yeah. I think so." Am I really going to be okay?

The doctor, on the other hand, didn't skip a beat. "Well, now that our little crisis is over with, off to the X-rays we go!"

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The next few hours were an excruciating exercise in patience. Minutes that felt like hours passed, while I watched the ceiling, trying not to move even a toe as I was being scanned. The last thing I wanted was for an anomaly to show up, just because I had an itch on my left leg. But waiting like that did give me lots of time to think. There wasn't anything else I could do anyways.

Was I a girl? Was I a boy? I couldn't really be both, could I? Okay, physically, I was, but I couldn't just go around saying I was both. What kind of freak does that? If people tried to kill me for being a cross-dresser, what was I supposed to do about this? I couldn't let that happen. Not again.

So I had to choose one side to live as. It'd probably be a lot easier to pose as a girl. Even if I'd lived my life as one all this time, I couldn't pass as a boy looking like this. I remembered how I looked in the mirror. That was a girl, a pretty one at that. It was unmistakable. But then again, one look at my package, and people wouldn't spend too long before coming up to the same conclusion as those assholes back there. One way or another, I was trapped. Maybe I could pass as someone 'in transition'? Yeah, right. Like that'd make things any better.

But what else could I do?

Whatever it was, we'd figure something out. I still had Lauren. I still had Abbey. Dad and Gabby too. Heck, maybe Owen too, if he doesn't freak out. We'd find a way, surely.

I had to look at the bright side of things.

I wasn't pregnant.

I wasn't broken.

I didn't have some weird mutant cancer.

And even through all I'd gone through, I was still alive.

I was lucky to be still alive, and I had to make it count.

I just had to keep reminding myself we'd find a way to make it all worth it.

linebreak shadow

"I think it's still a little too tight." I complained as I tugged the bra's elastic once more underneath my shirt. "You're sure we got the right cup size?"

 

Dad seemed baffled by the question. He'd only brought the clothes back from home after all. Thankfully, Linda was able to answer: "I'm afraid you might need a whole new fitting, dear. It's more than just the cups: your shoulders and back surely changed sizes too, so some part might end up looser, others tighter."

"Guess I really did change that much after all this." Sitting down by dad's side, I sighed. "It's nothing too bad. Just annoying right now. Still better than that backless gown I had."

The pants also felt off. I couldn't figure out if it was because of my rearranged hips or because I was still 'packing'. Looking down felt so weird now. What was supposed to feel right? The one part on my body that's not supposed to be there was the one part I still felt familiar with. It was everything else that felt off. It felt nice and soft, but still off. Okay, maybe not 'off', but it was still new territories. But, by the sound of things, I was going to have a whole lifetime to get familiar with all this. At least the pants stayed up, and didn't show off anything.

My musing got cut off by a knock on the door, followed by inspector Bradley coming in, along with a small tray of various coffee cups. "Good morning." He paused a moment, looking at the clock. "Or rather, good afternoon. Heh. Time flies when you're busy."

"G-good afternoon, inspector." I felt a lump form in my throat as nervousness took over.

Dad put a hand on my shoulder, and asked the question we both had in mind: "How did the investigation go so far?"

The inspector offered the leftover cups to us, before taking a seat himself. "So far, the evidence seems to be in your favor." He took a sip of coffee. "There wasn't much, but we did find your clothes along that dirt road, just as you described. We should be able to have your path across the whole way marked down soon enough. And although the place is rather isolated from the city, the land and vehicle are property of Josh's parents, making it unlikely you were the one leading him to it. It's not much, but it was enough to convince the DA of your story."

I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. "Does this mean...?"

The inspector nodded. "You're free to go, young lady."

"YES!" I pumped my fist into the air. I was going to go home, and Josh was going to get his just deserts. That. Was. Perfect.

"Good. That's great news." Dad seemed relieved, yet still on edge. "Is there anything else you need from us, officer?"

The smile that the inspector had just pulled simply vanished. "Well... It's true that you're free to go, but I'd still like it if you would reconsider about giving a testimony."

Dad held his hand up. "I believe we've already discussed on the matter."

"We have, and at the time, we didn't have the complete picture either. It's why, in all respect, I'm asking again."

"Why?" I had to ask. "Why do you need me to testify now? You just said you had enough on Josh, right?"

The inspector looked at me with sympathy. "Yes, we may have enough to get him, and that's a huge step, but we can't say the same about his accomplices. We don't have enough for his gang." He gathered his thoughts with another sip of coffee. "The rain compromised any piece of evidence we could've had. We can't establish a timeline. We can't put them at the scene of the crime. Without that, we can't get a warrant." Looking over to my father, he added: "I know you said you wanted to avoid the public knowing about your mutation, in fear of retribution, but here, we have a group of delinquents, organized delinquents, who know what you can do, and where you live. At best, I can get cooperation from Josh, but that will take some time. Even if you stay quiet, you may still be in danger."

"But if we testify, we set ourselves up to the main public." Dad noted gravely, bringing his hands together. "Both are rather sour options, sir."

"Maybe, but the public isn't completely violent. Some will understand, opinions of mutants tend to be up, even more so since you're a victim here." He drummed his fingers over his cup. "With this gang on the street, we already know how they feel about you, but we don't know who they may hurt. I may need your help to bring them in, before something else happens. Before someone else gets hurt."

Dad and I looked at each other in unease. I wished I knew what to say, I thought I'd gotten out of trouble with the police, but now I had something else waiting for me. I felt so powerless. Like there was no way out. Again.

Dad stared long and hard at me, as if he was reading me. "I'm afraid, inspector, that we're going to have to stand by my first statement. We can't go public with this."

"I see." The inspector seemed disappointed. "Are you sure about this?"

Dad nodded. "I get your position, and I know you want them in custody, sir, but from my side, I have a family I need to protect, no matter what. I can't jeopardize their lives in order to catch a bunch of kids. I'm sorry."

"What do you expect to do if we can't catch them? If your security's the issue, then you're still in danger like this."

Dad took a deep breath. "We'll move away."

"What?" I squeaked.

"We'll move away to another city, maybe even another state. We may not have the protection from the police, but I doubt that gang will go so far as to follow us that far, if they even could find us."

Inspector Bradley considered the decision, leaning back in his chair, drinking a long shot of coffee again, before picking a second cup out. "That... Could work. You're still taking a risk though, you realize that?"

"Maybe," Dad sighed, "But it's the better option for us."

"Better option?" I shuddered at the thought. "Dad? How are we supposed to move? What about your job? Our schoolwork?"

Dad didn't look too comfortable about it. "I'll ask for a transfer, or I'll find something else. We can transfer your school record too. It'll take some work, but we'll be fine."

"What about Lauren? An-and Owen? We had a plan, we were working things out. We-"

"Too dangerous, Karen." Dad held his hand up sternly. "I know you want to stay with your friends, dear, but it might be just as much dangerous for them too. You can make new friends at your new school. We're all going to have to adjust."

"... Dad... I... What are Abbey and Gabby going to say? We're going to lose so much." I was grasping at straws at this point.

"We're going to have to talk with them. Your sisters were really worried about you too, and when we’ll tell them what happened... I'm sure they'll agree to move. At least Abbey will. Gabby might need a little more explanation."

"... I... Can we afford it?"

He looked at me straight in the eyes. "It'll be worth it."

I didn't know what else to say. I didn't have another argument. It just sounded so dramatic of a change. I didn't want to lose my friends. I didn't want to move away from my hometown. Now I was dragging the whole family along with me. I knew why he wanted to move, it just didn't feel fair.

"If this is how you want to proceed," inspector Bradley piped up. "Then I certainly won't stop you." He fished out a card from inside his coat. "But I expect you to keep in touch for the future. We may have more questions."

Dad took the card with a respectful nod. "Of course."

"In any case, you're free to go. I'm sure you'll be as busy as I am." He finished off his coffee as he made his way out. "Good bye, and good luck."

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Finally being released, dad and me silently made our way back to the car. Yes, I was free, but it still felt like something was looming over our heads. As we took our seat, dad told me: "Once we're back home, I'll explain everything to your sisters, and you can begin packing. We'll need to leave as soon as we can. Okay?"

I gave him a nod, and stayed silent for the ride home, watching the scenery pass us by. For all I knew, that might have been the last time I saw these streets. Part of me didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to say goodbye to it all. But any time I tried to make an excuse to stay, I reminded myself of what might be waiting for me, just around the corner, or in the next alleyway. That if we didn't go, I might not be so lucky next time.

I was going to have to pack up anything I could, probably help dad with his stuff too, while Abbey would help Gabby get everything ready. If we were lucky, and if we knew where we were going, we'd be gone by tomorrow. I'd have to take some time to say goodbye to Lauren too.

My heart began to ache. I was going to have to say goodbye to Lauren, wasn't I? Along with everything else, I was leaving her behind, and that hurt the most. She'd been by me since the start, we had a plan to stay all together, and when I thought everything was going to end, the thought of her brought me back. But I couldn’t let her face what I did. If she got hurt because of me...

I had to see her again. At least once, or I'd regret it.

But now, without her, it meant that I'd have no one to lean to in school. No one to support me, bring me along, teach me the ropes. Heck, it was going to be a whole new school. A whole new place, with new people to meet. At least here, I knew what school was like, but the other school was a whole new ball game. I was going to be the new kid around the block, and I was going to screw up so much at first...

I was going to screw up. How much? Would it be bad enough that they'd find out? I wasn't exactly a complete girl after all. And what if they found out I was a mutant too? What would happen then? Did they have gangs there too? Anti-mutant mobs? Was this whole thing going to happen all over again? Was the rest of my family going to get mixed up into this?

No.

No, it couldn't.

I-We weren't going to live through that again. I survived this time, and we were moving away to get away from it all. We weren't doing all this just to get dragged back down again.

But what can I do?

I couldn't stop the gang back then, and I certainly can't stop them now either. I simply wasn't strong enough. I tried to hide myself as much as I could, but they still found me. I'm a mutant. How long can I hide that? The only reason I even survived tonight was because of this mutation.

Because... of this... Mutation?

Maybe I can do something.

Before I realized it, we were pulling into the parking lot of our building. "Here we are, dear."

"Yeah." I bit my lip, and asked. "Dad?"

"Yes?"

"Do you remember... About that school you showed me? The one for mutants?..."

Chapter 10

Some time later...

"You know, maybe I should have asked her when was the best time to meet up," I asked myself as the train station's clock hit ten past eleven. Ten minutes had already passed since we were supposed to get together, but from what I could see in the half empty hall, she was a no-show. Granted, I had shown up about half an hour early, I didn't want to take too many chances after all, but now, she was running late. Okay. Maybe I was only getting angsty. Maybe I was a little impatient. But what if maybe she didn't care to see me? What if something happened to her? What if-

"Late, late, late, so late!"

... Or maybe she really was late.

I could see Lauren run past the entrance, trying to catch her breath. I felt so relieved. What I really didn't expect though, was for Owen to catch up behind her. What was he doing here? I made sure to pull the pink hoodie a bit further over my head, just in case, and I pulled my suitcase as I started to make my way toward them.

"Are you sure about this?" I could barely hear Owen over the station's announcements.

"Yes, Owen. I'm sure." Lauren grumbled as she looked around. "And if we'd been here on time, we wouldn't have to worry about missing her, now would we?"

"If you say so." He seemed more confused than anything else, by what I could tell. Maybe even a little lost. What exactly did she tell him? Well, if there was anyone I could trust from the guys, it'd be him, at least.

Holding my breath, I finally tapped Lauren's shoulder. "Hi there?"

"Yes?" She snapped may way. "Sorry, I'm looking for-for..." It only took a moment for her to go from frantic searching, to pausing and then to confused. "F-f-for..."

"Now, now, Lauren." I lowered the shades from my face, giving her a proper look of my purple eyes. "Don't tell me I've changed so much you don't recognize me anymore."

"KAREN!" And from confused to a bright smile, and one of the tightest hugs I've ever felt. One I was happy to return.

"Oh, I missed you too. Missed you. Missed you soooooooooooooo much." I'd waited so long for this, and already it was worth all the planning I'd done.

"Oh god. Finally found you again. After all those months, you finally show up!" She looked over me from head to toes. "You look okay. Are you okay? Where have you been all this time? Why did you leave anyways?"

I held up both hands, trying to slow down the flow of questions. "Woah there. One at a time! Give me a chance, okay?" I sighed. "It's a long, long story, Lauren. I'll tell you all about it, but..." I glanced over at Owen, whom seemed to fidget, and squirm, like he'd suddenly been caught in something really awkward. "Why did you bring Owen along?"

She shrugged a bit at me, a sheepish look on her face. "I know you wanted me alone, but you didn't really expect me to come here on my own, did you? It's dangerous." Okay. I couldn't exactly find a flaw in that statement. There's a reason why I tried to cover up in a hoodie to meet like this, after all. "I thought if there's anyone that'd be okay to come, it'd be him."

"Yeeeeeaaaaah." Owen shuffled a bit, looking even more skeptic than ever before. "And she told me one pretty unbelievable story." He leaned in close, looking me right in the eyes. "You... Don't look like him at all, so... Kyle? Where is he?"

"Erm... I..." I wasn't ready to deal with Owen like this. Not now. It was definitively not part of the plan. I glanced over at Lauren: "You told him already?"

She glared at me, as if it was my fault. "Don't give me that. You were gone! Poof! Disappeared without a sign. I didn't know what to do, and he kept asking about you. Since we were going to tell him anyways... I thought he might know something, okay? I was desperate."

Owen was staring at us, like he was waiting for the punchline to a really bad joke. Joke's on him though: all he was going to get was some really awkward explanation that I really didn't want to do out in the open. I just didn't know who might overhear us.

"Okay. Okay. It's a long, and kinda complicated story, okay? How about we go sit down somewhere? There's a cafe next door. We can sit down, relax, and I'll tell you everything. Okay?" I'd planned to take Lauren to that place anyways. Maybe I could use this to deal with Owen too.

The two of them looked at each other, and after they agreed, we made our way to Danny's Cherry.

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The little cafe was a quiet little place, if you didn't mind the 50's music and theme the owners had settled on. It seemed a little darker than the internet pictures showed, but that worked in my favor. We made our way to a small table in the back corner, away from the window and out of sight. Just the way I needed it. Finally, I could relax a little. Owen took it upon himself to take our orders, giving Lauren and me a chance to chat alone.

"I'm sorry," Lauren said, looking at me from across the table. "I didn't think it'd get this awkward, this quickly."

"It's okay, it's okay." I tried to put the most reassuring smile I could. I couldn't really blame her for bringing a friend of ours along. "Besides, I did want to tell him at some point." And this might have been our last chance before a long time. "I just wish I'd been, you know, prepared for him. Get my story straight."

Lauren seemed rather sheepish. "Well, to be honest, you didn't give me much to work with. I don't hear from you for months, and out of the blue, I get one email saying to meet you here with your name at the bottom. Not another word."

Now, it was my turn to feel a little sheepish. "I only had the internet at the library, and I didn't know if anyone was looking over your shoulder or anything. Sorry."

"Still," she gave me one of those sweet smiles I fell in love with. "I'm glad you came back. We really missed you, you know?"

I could feel my cheeks heating up. "And I missed you too. You wouldn't imagine how long it felt all this time away from you."

We both smiled at each other for a moment, before she tilted her head. "So... How is your... Well, you know? Your transformation? I mean, I barely recognized you back there."

"You didn't?" I blinked for a second, before catching on. "Ugh. Yeah. You didn't see me after..." I shrugged a bit. "It's finished by now. Finished a while ago, even."

"... So how did it go? Nothing weird, or monstrous?" She kept taking pot shots in the dark, and seeing my reaction. "Is that why you've got that hoodie?"

"No, that's not it." Seeing she didn't quite believe me, I took the hoodie right off. At least, I had a summery purple shirt underneath. I took the time to let her get a look, turned left, turned right, showed I didn't have any fur, or tentacles growing out of my back. I was all human, all girl... Well, okay, there was that one bit, but I didn't have to show that. Unfortunately, I didn't really grow after the accident. I'd worked out and exercised, but I was still not showing any muscles for the effort. "So? What do you think?"

I'd say with her smile, she looked rather satisfied. "Looks normal, and I'll be honest, rather cute." She looked up to my right side. "What do you think, Owen?"

To my surprise, Owen was right by me, holding the tray of drinks, and looking a little embarrassed. "I think you're really cute too. You're looking great." And now, all his embarrassment was transferred to me. When your sister or father says it, it's nice. When your best friends say it, there's a whole other implication possible there. Owen set the drinks down, and sat besides Lauren, keeping a straight face up. "Okay. You said you'd explain everything, right?" He crossed his arms. "So can you start with telling us where Kyle is? Seriously?"

Okaaaayyyy. So Owen heard the story, but he didn't believe a lick of it? I couldn't exactly blame him for being skeptic, but I had to tell him the truth here. Even more so with Lauren in tow. "Kyle's right in front of you. I'm right here, Owen. Though thanks to some," I shrugged, "fucked up genes, I'm Karen now."

His shoulders dropped, and he sighed. "Really? You're sticking to that story?" That earned him Lauren's elbow in the side.

"Yeah. I am. There's no real other way to cut it." Then again, we weren't making it easier to convince him. Unlike Lauren, we didn't have my family to convince him, and I wasn't halfway down the feminine line anymore. I've got no physical proof to show him I used to be Kyle.

So what did I have left that made me Kyle?

Between me and Owen? We had a bit of history. If there was anything to put my bets on, this was it. Now what could I tell him that Karen had no business in knowing?

"Do you still have that picture of George 'Babe' Ruth next to that heroine, Bombshell, in your locker?"

Owen looked at me strangely, like he couldn't quite follow where I was going with this. "Erm..."

"Yeah. The two pictures under the hook for your baseball glove. You tend to take a quick peek before a match. A bit of inspiration. Used to have the same thing in mine. It's not like the posters back home, but it was our own. You still have that pack of chewing tobacco on the shelf too?"

"Chewing tobacco?" Lauren cut in curiously. I couldn't blame her for not knowing; we didn't exactly let her in on every little baseball tradition.

Owen started explaining. "Yeah. It's something most baseball players use since the old days. Little bit of tobacco you chew, and spit out. It's controversial, but they didn't ban it for the longest time."

"So when we learned that all the great baseball players, like Babe Ruth used to do it? We decided to try it out too. We thought it'd make us play like the pros."

"Tasted awful."

"Horrible."

"Like chewing old, smoked sweat socks."

"We didn't last, at all. We spat out the thing so fast, and we spent the next hour rinsing our mouths... Before we tried it again."

"What?" Lauren was a bit surprised. "Why?"

That was my chance to really launch into explanations. "We didn't think they were really that bad. Why would the baseball players all chew that stuff like gum? Maybe the bits we'd taken were bad. We went through what? Half the pack? By then, we thought it was maybe like coffee, that only the adults could get a good taste from it. That until we got to the right age, it was useless." I glanced at Owen, whom didn't dare interrupt me. "That's why we kept it around. Once we'd be older, once we'd be in the minor leagues, or even the major leagues, we'd give it another shot. We were so sure we'd make it there together, someday." My heart sank again with that reminder though. I knew it was never going to happen for a while now, but just because you know something, doesn't mean it doesn't sting again.

Owen was staring at me in silence for a good minute now. I hoped what I said had hit a chord in his head, somehow. His gaze followed up and down my body once more. "Why would Kyle tell you..." He shook his head vigorously. "Wait. No. That makes no sense." He looked over to me suspiciously. I waited for him to blame me on sneaking into the boy's locker room for a peek, but the story was something only between the two of us. That was my grand slam. He looked at me suspiciously, and finally asked: "Red Socks, or White Socks?"

I just shook my head. "Easy. Gotta root for the home team. White Socks."

"Okay." He nodded. "Where did I hide my treasure then?"

That was an older one. "Showed it to me on that trip to your grandfather's farm. A tin under that big apple tree, if he hasn't ripped it out of the earth already. Gotta hope those cards survived."

He snapped his fingers. "Okay then, last year, on that training trip, who got stung by hornets?"

"Uuugh." I shuddered at THAT memory. "Who didn't get stung? Everyone got caught. And it wasn't hornets, it was bees. Zack had to lap the camp ten times for dropping the hive on us."

Lauren watched up with a smug smirk on her face. "Interesting little stories, you know. I'm just itching to see if you had some kind of secret handshake you'd be willing to break out."

Owen snerked. "What are we? Five?"

I raised my eyebrows. "Actually, we tried to make one. Then we found out it wasn't worth the swollen hands we got two days later."

Lauren broke out into snickers. She was seeing a part of us we barely let out. We were only kids back then. Owen, on the other hand, looked dumbfounded. He looked about, surely trying to figure out another question to catch me with. I had enough.

"Look, bro, I know it's hard to believe. Imagine how it felt on my side of things. I didn't believe it either, but it happened. I'm 'changed' now. And I didn't have a choice about it either. I'm a... Ah!" I snapped my fingers, and dived into my bag. "How about I show you my 'talent' in action?" That should have killed any doubts he had.

My friends looked at each other while I pulled out a pair of scissors from my bag. "Lauren, you told him what my powers did, right?" She nodded to me, as I took a quick look over the cafe. No one seemed too interested into us. Good. "Owen? Could you hold on to this?" I handed him a lock of my waist-length black hair, while they both gave me a confused look. I simply smiled at them, and cut it off as close to my scalp as possible.

If my best friend didn't look confused enough as is, he simply stared at the hair, completely lost. "What? Why did you do that?" It didn't take three seconds for his answer to come as he felt something shiver in his hands, then shift, and wriggled like he was holding a handful of worms. His face dropped into horror, and threw the whole bunch of goo-fibers at me. "GAAAH-HAHA-WHA-HAaaaa." As hair strands rained down on me, I realized I should have seen this kind of reaction coming.

I was a little more used to this process now. I'd had quite a bit of practice back home. So Owen got to watch as every strand ran down my shirt, across my skin, up my neck, like a swarm of spaghetti, until they reached right where I'd cut them off. Soon enough, I felt the familiar weight of my hair back where it came from.

Owen was in shock. He was pressed back against his seat, a distressed look frozen on his face as he stared at me. He shuddered: "What. The fuck. Was that?"

I let the scissors hang on my fingers, about to answer, when Lauren beat me to the punch: "I told you. It's her 'talent'. If she hurts herself, she heals up. Even her hair can't be cut permanently."

"You never said anything about hair!"

My startled friend looked at me, and I could see the thought process through the changing expressions in his eyes. He went from frightened to observing, to pondering, and piecing everything together. I thought if I could at least pierce his disbelief somehow, show him that everything we were telling him could be real, then I'd get through to him. There was only one concrete proof of my transformation: the power that reformed me the way I am now.

Owen finally looked back with a somber look. "So it's real? It's all real?" He leaned in forward. "Kyle?" I gave him a small nod, and that suddenly turned him all red and embarrassed "Holy fuck."

I couldn't help but giggle playfully. "Finally. Seems we got through your thick head."

"And you're a girl now?"

There was that awkward feeling again. Those butterflies fluttering in my stomach. "Y-yeah. For a while now. All the way." I bit my lower lip. "And before you ask, no, I didn't choose to go through this."

Lauren nudged him in the side teasingly. "I told him that one already."

Owen barely made a squeak. "I know. I know. I just... Holy fuck, dude. You just don't see these kind of things happen."

"If you think it's weird finding this out, try living it." I put a hand on my chest. "But it's still me in here. Haven't changed that much."

"Yeah." He nodded somberly. "Yeah." He took my free hand, and shook it. "It's nice to see you again. I mean, nice to see the new you. I-I mean, good to see you're doing well." He looked down at our hands, his face turning red again. I gave him a good, strong squeeze to remind him who he was dealing with. That made him chuckle at least. Okay, that didn't help my image, but I had to try at least. "Honestly, I thought you'd disappeared with Josh, or got in trouble with the rest of his gang."

"What?" I had no idea what had happened to them. Heck, in fact, the last thing I wanted was to get involved with them ever again. That's why I wanted to meet in secret after all. "Something happened to them?"

My two best friends looked at each other for a moment, and Lauren started: "You haven't heard anything?"

"I haven't been in town for the last few months, give me a break."

Owen leaned back in his seat. "Well, it did start when you disappeared." His glance made me sink in my seat. "Then we heard Josh was in the hospital and then: nothing."

"Nothing? What do you mean?"

"Nothing, as in he didn't show up at school, didn't leave any memo, didn't answer to calls, and his parents refused to comment. Zack and Luke even said they sneaked at his house, and his room was completely cleaned out. There was nothing left." Owen shrugged. "We haven't seen him since then."

"Then Zack stopped pestering us." Lauren noted.

"As in disappeared too." Owen added in, nodding. "Stopped showing up one day too." He shook his head. "Then Luke, though we heard he'd been arrested for drug possession."

"At least, that's what the rumors say." Lauren nodded. "The news says the police have been cracking down lately, so people think he'd been caught in."

Owen nodded, and started counting off. "Then Ryan, Jack, Kirby... Before I know it, we're only half a baseball team anymore." He bit his lip, and frowned. "And then you decided to show up. Or at least..." Owen looked aside. "Or you knew what had happened to you, or... Or if we were going to be next." As he said that, I finally noticed that he had one hand holding down on Lauren's all this time.

So the gang had disappeared while I was gone? What was going on? I held up my hands defensively, shaking my head. "I don't know what's going on, really. At least, not since I left. I didn't do anything to them, and I certainly don't want anything to happen to you either."

"Then what did happen? Why did you go?"

I did owe them that much of an explanation. "I had a... Terrible, horrible day."

It was horrible, but I did tell them. All of it. Every detail. How I was kidnapped, how I was dragged around in chains, and how I was almost blamed for Josh's injuries. How dad thought it was better to hide, than to come to court, and how we ended up moving away immediately. I gave them every bit I could remember. It had been months, and the pictures still haunted me at night. Every memory were still as clear as when I lived them, the same as when I told them to the police officers that day. They were a constant reminder of what might happen if I ever got found out.

Owen and Lauren were listening attentively, at least enough not to interrupt me while I kept on going. Maybe I just didn't give them a chance. They did seem rather pale and spooked the more I went on. I supposed they should have been.

"That's crazy." Owen finally mumbled out. "The guys wouldn't do that kind of thing."

I opened my mouth, but Lauren cut me off: "They'd already beat him-I mean-her, twice before."

"I know, I know. They're bad, and rough, but we're talking moving straight up to murder at this point." I could see the disbelief in his face. "I mean, you know those guys. They might joke, and think they're all that, but they're our teammates. They wouldn't do that."

I didn't blame Owen for doubting me. I was wondering the same thing myself when it all started. "But it happened It was all real, way too real. I'd show you the scars if I could." I crossed my arms, trying to keep them from shaking so much. "I looked things up on the internet, and it seems these things happen, to either transgendered people or mutants. Even worse when you're both. They could have just given me to some lab, or they could have left me hanging on the side of the highway. It's... Sick. That's what it is. As if just being me, being like this, was insulting them. As if all those years together meant nothing. It's... Painful and scary as Hell."

I must have been really focused on Owen, since i didn't see Lauren sneak around the table, just to put her hands on my shoulders. I hadn't realized how much I was shaking. "Are you okay?"

I braced myself against her, tried to get still again. "Y-yeah."

"Really okay?"

"Yes. Really." I wiped my eyes. "It's over now. It's over, and all behind me. I know that. I knew that since the night as over back then too, but when I picture these stories... Those things that happen, that could happen again, to you, or my family..."

"That's why you ran?"

"Yeah. Well, that's why dad wanted to leave, and he made the big decision. I can't say he was wrong at the time, but we had to go. I had to go."

"Why?" Owen cut off. "Because you can heal real quick?"

I gulped. "Or that I was a guy, and now a girl."

"Or that, yeah! You're not a menace. You're not dangerous. You're not some monster on the news destroying the city in a rampage. People would understand that. It's stupid otherwise. Josh... Josh did it to himself. I mean..."

"Yeah. We know that. But people might just say I caused it. Made it seem otherwise. Even worse now, if you say Josh, and everyone involved started disappearing. They might just pin it on me on principle." Heck, for all I knew, Owen had some suspicions when he arrived at the train station.

"... That's fucked up." Owen was shaking his head. "That's just fucked up. You can't win like this, and you didn't do anything."

"The court won't help either. If nothing else, the story might just draw more attention my way. If Josh and the gang would almost kill me, you can imagine what would happen if the rest of the world knows about it."

"That's not fair." Lauren whispered as she squeezed me closer.

"I know. I know."

There was a moment of silence between the three of us, filled in only by the sound of the nearby jukebox finishing another song. There was a weight on us we couldn't quite shake off, until Owen spoke up.

"So what now then?"

"Huh?"

"What are you going to do next? Are you going to move back here?"

"I wish. I really wish I could. but we've all moved, dad got installed at his new post, Gabby into her new school, and- Mrph!"

Lauren wasn't looking happy, letting go off the pinch she had. "So you're not coming back here? you just came by to say hello?"

"I'm more curious about where you're really going." Owen cut in, leaning toward me with a curious look in his eyes. Lauren and I were a bit surprised, but he added in: "Oh come on. How much luggage are you packing in there? For one person? And I don't think you'd go on a vacation on your own. You can't really afford it."

"Erm... Okay, that's... Really observant of you." It seemed Owen wasn't done surprising me that day.

"So are you staying here? Or where are you going?" Owen, meanwhile, wasn't about to let it go. "Are you in trouble? Running from your new home?"

"No. That's not it." I held up my hands. "Look. Give me a chance to explain." I took in a deep breath. "I'm not running, I'm going someplace where... People like me can be trained. A school that tolerates mutants. Where even if an accident happens, and my powers show, I won't have to worry about being hunted down, or anything like that. I'll be staying over there for a while, at least until I graduate."

Lauren tilted her head. "That boarding school for mutants?"

"Yeah."

Owen raised an eyebrow. "There's a place like that? Really?"

"Hey, even mutants need to learn things."

"Yeah, but how do you picture this place? Flying saucers? Futuristic towers? Underneath a volcano? Explosions everywhere?"

"Oweeeeeen." That was enough sarcasm from him.

"What?" He shrugged. "We are talking about a school for mutants, right?"

"Yes, but just because some of them have powers, doesn't mean they're not normal." I mumbled. "It's meant to get us to live a normal life, even with our powers, or issues. how are we supposed to do that with 'explosions everywhere'?"

"Guess that does make sense." Owen gulped hesitantly. "Sorry, it's just a little hard to take. I mean, you don't look like what they advertise as 'mutants'."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"But, Karen," Owen looked right at me. "Are you sure you're okay with all of this?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, are you really giving everything up? I mean, first you move away, without telling anyone, not even us, maybe off to some school that could be mutant terrorism 101, for all we know, and do you know anybody there? And... And weren't we supposed to go to the major leagues together? Didn't we promise that to each other?"

I winced. That one stung right in the heart. "I know. I know, but you also know mutants can't go into competitive sports, right? I can't."

"And what about living as a girl?"

I gulped. Lauren cut in: "What's wrong with being a girl now?"

"Nothing 'wrong' with it." Owen shrugged. "I never said anything on that to you, but what about her-him-I-whatever-Karen? Do you feel like a girl now? Does it feel like that's your life now? Do you belong with them? Are you comfortable with that, and giving up what you were raised with? I mean, we've known each other since we were kids, and I never pictured you for a girl."

Something just hit the bottom of my stomach back then. The questions were pretty spot-on. I was still learning to be like this. I wasn't completely on the other side of the fence. And whenever I didn't expect it, a certain piece of the old me was a reminder that I wasn't everything I was claiming to be. What's worse, is that I had a dream: a dream I didn't think I could touch anymore. Not because I was anything really exceptional either. And I was leaving Owen out there alone for it. All of that traded for becoming Karen.

Owen continued with: "What if you had a way to turn back into Kyle?"

I snapped back. "Do you have a way?"

"Erm-Well, no, not exactly." Owen fumbled. "But what if you found a way?"

"I'd take it, goddammit. I'd take it, right away if I could. Heck, even if I had a way to just look like Kyle on a permanent basis, I would take everything back." I swallowed, and took a deep breath. "But I can't right now. I don't have that way back, and I might never. So all you're doing right now, is tempting me, teasing me with something I can't get back to. Until I can find a way back, then I have to look for what else I can do, what other life I've got ahead of me. I'm still looking for that. that's why I'm going out there. To find out. Make a fresh start. To see what I can do. And if there is a way to turn back, then that's also the best place to find out. They've got people for this."

Owen slowly deflated, looking down.

"And besides, being a girl isn't so bad. I'm still myself. I still like what I used to like. I still get to watch baseball, I still get to wear pants here or there. I don't have to wear dresses, go for bows, or anything completely off track. I've got choices, and I don't have to restrain them for being 'too girly' either. People I've seen tend to treat me nicer too, at worst, a little too nice." I shook my head, taking those pictures out of my mind. "At the same time, I got closer to my sisters too. It's not the two sisters and me anymore; it's the three of us. Like an awkward barrier just melted away after a while. We even got one big room for all to share." I snerked. "Though, I think they're going to enjoy the extra room now that I won't be there."

"But you're one of the girls now." Owen pleaded. "You're saying this like it's not going to be different. I-I mean, I know you're still 'you', at least, I think i can see that." He mumbled, before getting back in gear. "I mean, you're going to a new school, right? Who are you going to hang out with? If it's the girls, then you're going to go with their talks of boy bands, fashion, dolls, that kind of stuff. I know that's nothing you really care about, but... Do you really imagine yourself hanging with the boys again? How do you think they're going to react?"

Lauren tilted her head. "You know, the more you talk, the more I wonder if you consider me a girl or not anymore."

Owen blinked. "Woah, no-not what I meant! I mean, you've been with us for so long, we've been so close, that-that..."

Lauren leaned over forward "Thaaaaaat whaaaaat?"

"That's you're okay. Perfectly fine. It's..." He pointed back to me. "Look, I'm just saying it for her sake. Are you okay living as a girl?"

"I... I'll be alright. I'll learn." I smiled. "And it hasn't been so bad so far. You'd be surprised." Owen winced, looking to Lauren a bit, then upward. I just had to ask: "Is there something wrong, Owen?"

"Wrong?" He seemed flushed with embarrassment. "Not exactly. I mean... I thought you had more... A grip on your masculinity. You'd hold on to it, or something."

Now it was my turn to lose my will to go. Did I really lose it all? There was one bit of male that stuck to me, but that didn't need to come out, did it?

Lauren though, didn't seemed convinced. She scooted over to Owen's side, and whispered something in his ear, causing his face to turn a bright red color. He shook his head rapidly in denial: "No way!"

"Come on." Lauren smirked. "You're too easy to read."

"And you're not helping," he grumbled.

She tugged on his sleeve. "Come on. Be honest. What's so hard about that?"

He winced "It's awkward!" He glanced to me. "It's... Him, her-I can't..."

"Can't what?" I asked. "What's wrong?"

"Weeeelllll." Lauren kept up her sly smirk, even under Owen's death stare. "You remember when I thought Owen might find you cute?"

"Y-yeah?"

She gave a nod in Owen's direction, whom seemed redder than a tomato.

"... Oh. Wait..." And my turn to blush came around too. Owen... Liked me? As in 'like-like'? My best friend?

"Dammit, Lauren." Owen mumbled. "I told you it was awkward." That sure didn't stop her from smiling from ear to ear.

"You... Er. Like... Me?" I didn't know this feeling swimming inside my chest. I was all sorts of conflicted. I didn't even picture this one. "B-but then why were you asking if I wanted to go back and all that?"

It got a good two minutes of watching Owen squirm before he came up with an answer. "I wanted to- I'm not sure how to treat you, or something. If you're Kyle, are you going to keep just that, or do you expect to be treated like a girl too? Do you plan on acting like a guy, do you hope to be one, or to go all girl, and how I'd have to... I mean... You see what I mean, by awkward?"

I understood, all too well. I felt my cheeks burn up for a moment, but this was Owen after all My best bud. A guy, of course! This was so weird! I had no ideas what kind of boat I was getting into. This was too quick!

I took in a deep breath, cooled down my nerves, and tried not to let my voice shake too much. "Look, Owen, I'm... I'm still me in here. You don't have to treat me like a girly girl, anything special or different." I sighed. "At least, for the little time I'm here?"

Owen closed his eyes, settled himself down, and gave a nod. "Alright. I'll try." He gave Lauren a nudge. "As long as someone stops teasing us about it."

"Hey!" Lauren was giggling, returning fire to Owen. "You were the one who wouldn't quit picking on poor little Karen. Come on, be honest."

And that's how the rest of our afternoon went like. fun between friends, and plenty of laughter.

linebreak shadow

Before we noticed it, time had passed by us, and the afternoon was gone. My train had pulled over, and as much as I wanted to deny it, our time was up. I had to go.

"This is it, I guess." I looked back at my two best friends, just as I was about to board, my heart tightening hard. It was hard to say goodbye, after so much time apart. By the look on their faces, they felt just the same. At least this time, I could say a proper goodbye. It was a small consolation, knew, but I needed to go.

Owen opened his arms widely, paused, then switched, extending one hand, hesitated, and finally gave me a brotherly fistbump. "We're really going to miss you. Things just aren't the same, you know that."

"I know." I was smiling in sympathy. "Do keep the dream going, okay? For both of us."

He snerked. "Tall order there. I've got half a team I need to whip into shape now." He cracked his knuckles. "Means I gotta carry your weight, and the weight of a few newbies in the meantime, but we'll manage. You'll see. Just make sure to visit when you've got the time, alright?"

"Definitively. Send me pictures. Don't let the newbies or the new recruits get the best of you." I patted him on the shoulder, and winked. He would do fine.

Lauren and I hugged each other tightly. She felt so warm, yet I couldn't stop trembling. I knew I was lucky just to see her again, but we weren't going to meet like this for a long time. "You have no ideas how much I'm going to miss you."

"You make it sound like we're not going to talk to each other anymore." She squeezed me even tighter. "You've still got my email, and my phone number. I don't want to wait another month before I hear from you again. Okay?"

"Of course." I snerked. "Otherwise, you'll start coming after me? Eep!" My reward for trying to be cheeky: a small pinch on my rear. That'll teach me. "But seriously," I remembered that nightmare of a moment, when I believed it was all over, and my thoughts of her brought in that one chance to come back home. "I wouldn't be here, wouldn't be the girl I am now, if it weren't for you." It also tore me inside that there I was, with her in my arms, and I was mere moments away from leaving her again. I wanted to tell her so much, but I knew I shouldn't. "There's no way I'd forget you."

She smiled warmly at me, melting my heart. "I won't forget you either. Promise." She leaned over, and delivered a kiss on my blushing cheek. "Just... Take care of yourself out there. Come back to us one day. You haven't left yet, and..."

"I miss you too." I kissed her cheek, and squeezed on our hug for as long as I could afford it. "But it's time to go."

I let go of her, and took my suitcase into the train, waving at my two best friends. It's only after the doors closed, that I the feeling that I my stomach settled with the heavy feeling of leaving them behind again. It wasn't easy the first time, and this time felt so much closer.

"Okay, no time to feel depressed. This is for the greater good, right?" I swallowed my feelings, and tried to shake myself back into gear, before the train would start up again. "Besides, this isn't the end. We'll keep in touch. We'll see each other again."

I dropped myself into a window seat, and pulled out a slide of photo-booth printouts of the three of us, leaving a few more memories for us to hold on to. "I'll be back." I muttered to myself. "I'll be back, better, stronger, and I'll be able to take care of myself. I won't let a gang of thugs try to kill me again. Never again. They won't hurt me, or anyone I care about."

"I'll find a way at Whateley."

Comments   

+1 # Podracer 2016-11-04 19:23
That was a hard road. It's a good job Karen was resilient, in more ways than one.
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0 # Polk Kitsune 2016-11-10 04:13
Thanks for the comment. ^^ Yes, it was a hard road, and it wasn't easy to write. I wanted to make sure it worked though, and as scary and painful as it was, I had to show it as is, and hope it was all worth it.
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+1 # alisa28 2016-12-01 15:05
WONDERFUL WONDERFUL!!!
Greatly enjoyed This story!! Though a bit harsh at some points You managed to encompass a wide range of felling with the community, family friends and loved ones.. .
Don't go away! Iam surely not the only one to appreciate your great writing!
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0 # Polk Kitsune 2016-12-01 21:38
Heehee ^^ Thank you very much! Not leaving, and already working on the next part. ;3

Thank you so much for the comment. ^^
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+1 # PhaineOfCatz 2017-01-13 19:41
A lot of unanswered questions back in Karen's home town. We never really get a full view into what drives Josh, and adding in the weird disappearances after the fact makes one wonder if there was more involved.

Interesting character with a very interesting power. Regen might be the best classification for it, but it's almost more like their body functions as a swarm. We didn't get to see proper powers testing, but even if nothing else is found there is a lot of room for Karen to grow into and understand about herself. Add in all the gender complications and she doesn't really need an outside force to make her life interesting.
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0 # Polk Kitsune 2017-01-17 06:03
There is a lot of questions left unanswered, yes, which I'm using as a setup for later stories. :3

Heehee. And thank you for the comments. There's a lot of things I can do with her, including her own powers, and what Whateley has to offer. Her high regen is a big focus of her characterization, and what I can do with her. I also have to find alternatives to what might be considered dangerous. After all, what would be deadly for some might not apply there...

Yes, I haven't done testing in these chapters... In fact, I was tempted to do a whole testing chapter with another character, and getting Emilly involved, between chapter 9 and 10, but a friend of mine discouraged me from it, saying it woudl be unnecessary, and stretched the ending to this entry way too long. But if you're looking for testing, I already have four chapters of the sequel in the forums, awaiting further feedback, one of them involving power testing. Unless you'd rather wait until I'm done and post it here. ;3
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+1 # PhaineOfCatz 2017-01-19 16:51
I've recently started doing some editing for WhatIF stories, and would love to see where this is going. That said, being new to the forums I didn't see another evershade up for review. Where should I be looking for it?
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0 # Polk Kitsune 2017-01-19 21:47
Independent Fiction: Tunnels Posted Stories: Fabrication Lab Evershade 2 - Rebirth

That thread is where you'll find works in progress, and those more likely to get edits. They're not fully finished, but progress is moving steadily forward.
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