Lira could tell when her stepfather was almost home. It was his work boots; they made a unique sound in the hallway as he approached the door to their apartment. It wasn’t easy to hear them over the constant background noise of the city all around, but she’d had plenty of practice and incentive. The sound only bought her a few seconds, but that was enough time to get off the couch and hurry into her bedroom and out of sight.
“What the fuck have you been doing all day?!” she heard him bellow at her mother as soon as he came in through the door. Her words weren’t quite slurred, but it was easy to hear that he was already drunk. “I told you to clean this place up!”
“I’m so sorry, Randall,” her mother said plaintively. Leanna always sounded like she was on the verge of tears when she talked to her husband, and usually was. “I was busy preparing dinner and -” A sharp sound cut her off: he’d slapped her. Once upon a time that sound had made Lira flinch, but it was as familiar as the work boots by now.
“I didn’t ask for your fucking excuses,” he snarled, and slapped her again. “I asked you to do as you were fucking told!”
The conversation, punctuated frequently by more slaps as her stepfather criticized her mother, was nothing new, and Lira only half listened to it as she huddled in her bedroom, trying not to make any noise. Sometimes, when she stayed in her room and remained very quiet, Randall would forget about her. He’d just eat his dinner, drink some beers, and then either pass out on the couch or drag her mother into their bedroom, where there would be more familiar sounds for a while.
She’d left the light off, but there was still enough daylight to make out everything in her bedroom. Not that there was much to look at. She’d had a jewelry box on her dresser once. Nothing fancy, just some odds and ends her mother had given her over the years, most of it passed down from her own mother. He’d pawned that off first. The dresser was later. Almost all of her possessions had met the same fate eventually: her books, her stuffed animals, her backpack after he’d pulled her out of high school. Even her bed. He’d left her the mattress for a couple months, but then he’d found someone willing to buy it for a few cases of beer. Now she slept on some old blankets piled up on the floor. It wasn’t very comfortable, but sleeping in her room was better than the alternative.
The walls were blank, save for a few scraps of paper taped to them. They were all that was left of the posters of one of Chicago’s most popular superheroes, Frost. When Lira had been younger, she’d adored the woman. She’d even gotten one of the posters signed by her two years ago, when her mother had taken her to some publicity event in Millennium Park. That had been six or seven months before her stepfather entered the picture. Randall hadn’t been the one to tear the posters down; she’d done that herself, when Frost’s mocking smiles had become too much to bear.
“Lira!” her stepfather bellowed. “Lira, where are the fuck are you?! Get out here!” Today wasn’t going to be one of her lucky days.
She found him in the kitchen. Her mother was there too, her attention focused on cleaning up the clutter on the table, most of it left by Randall the night before. Leanna was a mousy, anxious woman who bore little resemblance to the jovial blonde beauty Lira had seen in old pictures. Some of that was age and stress, which had conspired to replace her youth with wrinkles and blotchy skin. But even without those, her scarred and burnt face would have been enough to make her unrecognizable. There were several fresh burns on her face where her husband had struck her moments ago, and her chin was smeared with blood from a now cauterized cut on her lip. Randall’s hand still glowed red.
Officially, everyone with a power, no matter how large or small, was labeled an Aberrant, but everyone knew the term Ant: people with superhuman powers that served little practical purpose. Like her fourth grade math teacher Mr Wilkins, who could change the color of a sheet of paper, or the Stephanie living down the street that could perfectly mimic any sound she’d just heard. Their abilities were still registered and tracked by authorities, but they were little more than parlor tricks for the people who possessed them. In a way, being an Ant was even worse than being mundane. At least a normal person could hold out hope that someday they would develop some amazing power of their own; if you were an Ant, you’d never be anything but an Ant.
Lira’s stepfather was a heavyset man of nearly fifty years, and at no point in his life would anyone have called him a beauty. His aberration was the ability to generate heat through the palms of his hands. As far as Lira had ever seen, they couldn’t get very hot, barely enough to warm up food. It was as useless a power as any other Ant’s, unless you were cold or the microwave was broken.
Or if you wanted to hurt someone. And Randall enjoyed hurting people.
“You don’t even have the goddamn kitchen table cleared!” he yelled at his wife, face red with anger. “I work all fucking day to support the both of you, and I can’t even eat my fucking dinner when I get home because the table’s covered in shit!” He grabbed Lira’s mother by the back of the neck and slammed her face first into the kitchen table, reopening the cut on her lip. Leanna screamed and squirmed as tendrils of smoke began to rise from underneath his fingers and a sickly, all too familiar smell hit Lira’s nostrils. “From now on, you lazy bitch,” Randall spat, leaning down to put his head right next to hers, “I expect this entire pigsty of an apartment to be spotless when I come home. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Randall, yes,” Leanna cried out. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again, I promise!”
“And you will have dinner ready and waiting, and on the fucking table!”
“Yes, yes! I promise!”
Randall held her like that for a few seconds longer, just to show that he could, before releasing her. The large burn mark now on the back of Leanna’s neck looked nasty, and would need to be treated to prevent infection, but the woman knew better than to do that now. Instead, she merely redoubled her efforts to clear the kitchen table. Lira’s stepfather watched her for a minute, until he was satisfied that his lesson had been an effective one, then turned to focus his attention on Lira. “Took you long enough,” he said. “Now get the fuck over here.”
Lira obeyed, standing in front of him with her back straight and head up. Randall’s hand no longer glowed, but it was still sickeningly hot and sweaty as he caressed her cheek and fixed a strand of her blonde hair. “You have a good day, sweetie?” he asked, his tone almost gentle. Lira liked it better when he yelled. She nodded. It had been like most every day for the last year and a half. He didn’t want her going to school, where she might tell people what her stepfather did for fun, and he didn’t want her working a job, where she might earn enough money to risk running away. So instead she just sat around the apartment all day, waiting for him to come home. Like any other appliance.
His hand traveled down the side of her neck and over the ratty black T-shirt she wore. He’d sometimes talk about pawning off all her clothes and keeping her naked all day long, but she knew he wasn’t serious. Even in a rundown tenement like theirs, people would eventually notice a perpetually naked nineteen year old girl. That hadn’t stopped him from selling off all of her underwear though, and he didn’t bother replacing clothes that were worn out or too small. The many holes dotting her shirt revealed flashes of chest and stomach, and her nipples stood out clearly against the tight, thin fabric. Her stepfather walked his hand down her front until he was palming her left breast, his thumb making lazy circles around her nipple. “Did you miss me?” he asked as he groped her. She nodded again.
His other hand caressed her stomach, then slipped down into her jeans and between her legs. Lira resisted a shudder as a callused finger rubbed her slit up and down. “And what about your tight, warm cunt?” he asked, his face right up next to hers. Lira knew he could see the fear and disgust in her expression, and that he enjoyed them both. “Did she miss me too?” Another nod.
She’d had a boyfriend when Randall had first shown up, back when she was just a naive kid who believed all that bullshit about superheroes saving people in need. She’d liked Gregory, but there hadn’t been much chemistry between them, and their relationship had never progressed beyond some heavy petting. She wished she’d known better back then. Not that she thought Gregory would’ve helped her if she’d been putting out for him; Randall had nearly broken the kid’s arm the first time they met, and the coward had never shown his face around her again. But at least she wouldn’t be stuck with the memory of her stepfather’s satisfied grin the moment he’d confirmed that she still had her virginity.
The sudden sound of glass breaking startled the both of them. In her haste to clean the table, Leanna had knocked an empty beer bottle over to smash against the floor. Two seconds after the impact, she was already kneeling, picking up the shattered pieces with her bare hands while apologizing profusely, but she knew just as well as Lira that Randall wouldn’t be satisfied by that. Sure enough, he roared with anger when he saw what had happened, and kicked her in the side, causing her to fall over onto some of the shards with a crunch. “Stupid clumsy bitch!” he snapped, punctuating his words with another kick. “Stand the fuck up! Now!”
Shaking, Leanna obeyed, blouse torn and skin bleeding in half a dozen places from the broken glass. Randall pointed to one wall of the kitchen, and she nodded quickly, scurrying over to stand facing it, only inches away. She was already shaking like a leaf, knowing exactly what he intended. “Pants down!” he growled. Lira’s mother whimpered but obeyed, unbuttoning her pants and let them pool at her ankles. She wore no underwear either, and her skin was riddled with burns and bruises. Lira tried to focus her gaze elsewhere, but she didn’t dare turn away or close her eyes. He would be watching to make sure she didn’t.
His hand now a fierce red, Randall smacked it hard against his wife’s bare ass, the sound like a gunshot. “This one’s for not having the house clean,” he said, her flesh sizzling as she let out a choking, agonized cry. It had only been two days since the last time he’d disciplined her, and her half healed skin was still pink and tender. He let his hand linger there for a moment, then reared back and smacked her ass again. “And this is for being a stupid cunt who can’t do anything right!” A third smack. “And this is for being a disobedient twat who needs to be reminded of her place every goddamn day!”
Leanna cried out with every blow, but made no attempt to move away or stop him. She’d only ever done that once, the very first time he’d spanked her like this, just a few days after their wedding. She hadn’t known what he was planning to do at first, and after the first hit she’d spun around and slapped him, telling him hotly that being his wife didn’t make her his property or pet. His response had been to punch her hard enough to knock two of her teeth out, use some strings of Christmas lights from the closet to tie her down to the table, and then spank her like that until long after she’d begun begging for his forgiveness. By the time he’d untied her hours later, his seed trickling from all three of her holes, she’d been a broken woman. When he’d decided a couple weeks later that she wasn’t enough to satisfy him sexually, and he was going to start using Lira too, she hadn’t even tried to persuade him otherwise.
This was a much lighter discipline session than that first one, but he still spanked her more than twenty times before stopping, and Leanna was reduced to a sobbing mess by the end. As soon as she’d pulled her pants back up, she hurried back to the kitchen table and resumed cleaning up the bottle shards. Randall barely spared her a glance as he returned his attention to Lira. “Now where were we, sweetie?” he asked, his hand already back on her breast. “Looks like Mom is going to be busy for a minute, so why don’t you and I go spend some time together?”
Lira nodded, and allowed him to lead her into his bedroom, where she began to strip without waiting for him to order it. “See?” her stepfather said appreciatively. “That’s what I’m talking about. You’re so much smarter and well behaved than that worthless cunt of a mother you’ve got.” Once she was fully undressed, he pushed her gently until her back was on the bed and her legs dangled off the edge. He leaned over her, groping her bare breasts with both hands now while he kissed the side of her neck. “God, you’re so fucking beautiful,” he breathed. “Not like that fat, ugly bitch back in the kitchen. That’s why I never hurt you, Lira. Because it would be such a fucking waste to ruin this pretty face of yours.”
She hadn’t always been so pliable. The first time he’d tried to rape her, she’d fought back with everything she had, forcing him to bind her hand and foot to the same bed he was molesting her on now. She’d been certain that someone would do something, that Frost or one of the other superheroes she’d spent her life idolizing were going to burst in at any second and save her. She’d believed in them. She’d held onto that faith even as he’d gleefully ripped away her clothing like she was a present being unwrapped, even as he’d mauled her breasts with grimy fingernails and kissed her with cigarette stained teeth, even as his cock tore through her hymen with only his spit as lubrication.
Lira didn’t remember when exactly she’d accepted the truth. Maybe it was when she felt the nauseating warmth of his seed being squirted into her, or when he’d rubbed his limp and sticky cock against her lips after pulling out, and she’d realized what he expected her to do. Or maybe it was when her spent and happy stepfather went to sleep beside her a few hours later without bothering to untie her, and she realized it was because he intended to use her again in the morning. But eventually it had sunk in that she was on her own. No one was coming to help her. And why would they? She wasn’t anyone special. She was a complete nobody, just another poor kid living in a Chicago slum. None of those heroes knew what was happening to her, and they wouldn’t care if they did.
She’d still fought back the second time, but she’d done so knowing it wasn’t going to work. She’d resisted even less the third time, and the fourth. By the time she’d been his teenage fleshlight for a week, she didn’t bother at all. She’d accepted that he was stronger than she was, and that that gave him the power to treat her however he liked. It was easier when she didn’t pretend that her own feelings mattered, and just did what he wanted, whenever he wanted.
Lira had lost track of how many times he’d raped her since then. She laid motionless on the bed while her stepfather continued complimenting her, her eyes fixed on a single point in the ceiling. As long as she focused on that point, let herself think on nothing else, it was almost like she wasn’t even there in the room. Someone else was tasting whiskey and tobacco on Randall’s breath as he kissed her hungrily. Someone else was crushed against the mattress by Randall’s weight as he climbed on top of her. Someone else whimpered softly as Randall’s cock penetrated her.
“Do it,” he urged as he began to thrust in and out of the girl. “You know what I like.” He smiled as her skin began to glow softly. “That’s it. You look like an angel like that. My perfect fuckable angel.”
Whoever the girl on the bed was, she was just another worthless Ant like Lira. Another person who would never possess any real power. In a world full of super powered people, with more appearing every day, all she could do was light up her skin, and all that was good for was helping Lira’s stepfather enjoy raping her even more.
It didn’t take him long to finish. It never did. Before five minutes had gone by, his beer belly was jiggling as he pounded the girl, already on his last legs. He clutched her thighs as he came, pulling out a moment before to splash her stomach, chest, and face with droplets of cum. Then he crawled forward until he was crouched directly over the girl’s head, wanking himself to wring the last few drops out. She opened her mouth obediently to catch them.
“So fucking beautiful,” Randall repeated when he was done, running a hand through the hair that had pillowed around the girl’s glowing head. “Especially your hair. You have such perfect golden hair, Lira.” Lira could have corrected him, informed him that it was some other girl’s hair he was stroking, but she was too busy focusing on the ceiling. “See what it does to me?” he said, showing her how his cock was already beginning to stiffen again. “You sexy little slut.”
He used the girl on the bed once more, again finishing on her instead of in her. Randall had told Lira once that the only thing he hated more than kids was condoms. This was his way of avoiding both, though it wasn’t particularly effective, and sometimes he got too worked up and couldn’t be bothered to do even that much. Last year Lira had twice discovered something growing inside of her. She’d taken care of it both times.
Randall left her still half on the bed, his sperm soaking her bare skin as its glow faded way, to head back to the kitchen to yell at Leanna some more and eat his dinner. Lira didn’t bother to get dressed after standing back up, using the opportunity to take a shower instead. Her stepfather often liked to join her when she showered, to shampoo and rinse her hair himself like she was a doll before bending her over or forcing her to her knees. But he was busy in the kitchen, and Lira was able to scrub herself clean without any interruptions. The shower water washed away her tears as she worked.
Lira didn’t notice the warmth at first, mistaking it for the heat of the shower. It wasn’t until she turned off the water, less than three minutes after she’d turned it on – Randall would be furious if she used up all the hot water – that she noticed the sensation. It was strange but not unpleasant, a warm feeling in the pit of her belly like she’d just drunk something hot. She touched her stomach, puzzled, and wondered if Randall’s method of birth control had failed yet again.
As she focused on the warmth, she felt it suddenly shift inside her and break apart, the sensation running down her limbs. Surprise made her lose her balance and stumble, slipping on the wet floor. There were no handholds in the shower stall, but instinct made her grasp blindly for one anyway as she fell. Somehow she found something, catching herself just before she struck the ground. Slightly out of breath, she turned to see what had saved her… the wall.
She’d driven her hand straight through the wall.
Lira pulled her hand out slowly, expecting to see blood, but there was only bits of plaster and insulation. It didn’t even hurt. She looked at her undamaged hand, flexed it, feeling that strange warmth inside it. Then she straightened up and slowly reached out to grasp the stainless steel shower curtain rod with both hands. It bent easily in her grip.
Lira stood silent and still for a long minute, looking at the rod. Then she turned the shower back on, and basked in it until the hot water was gone. She wrapped a towel around herself and left the bathroom, drying her hair and getting dressed in her bedroom. Her warmth had become far less substantial after bending the curtain rod, but she could still feel it in her faintly, and it was slowly building. By the time she left her room and walked into the kitchen, wearing the closest items she had left to decent clothing, it felt more tangible than ever.
Her stepfather was still there, seated at the table, tearing strips off a roast chicken with one bare hand. His other held a half empty bottle of beer, and two newly emptied ones sat on the table. The television was on in the other room, some news report playing, and he was watching it through the open door. He glanced up at Lira as she entered, and belched once, but remained otherwise focused on the TV. Her mother kept quiet in a corner of the room, trembling slightly. She would get to eat only after he’d had his fill. Unless he was still angry with her, which he probably was. As he often liked to remind her, especially when he knew that her daughter was listening, disobedient bitches didn’t deserve anything but cum in their bellies. Judging from her stained lips, he’d already fed her the only dinner she was going to get that night.
Lira took a deep breath.
“Get the hell out!” she screamed, putting every ounce of hatred that she felt for her stepfather into it, for this vile, greasy animal who’d taken so much from her. The force of the exclamation rolled out like a shockwave, making both empty beer bottles fly off the table and shatter against the wall. “Get out!!!”
Randall was too drunk to notice what had happened to the bottles. “Don’t you dare take that tone with me, slut,” he snarled, still working on a mouthful of chicken. He rose up from the table, legs unsteady. “Just cause I don’t wanna mess up that pretty face doesn’t mean you can treat me with disrespect.” Both his hands were already glowing a deep red.
Lira didn’t bother to dodge as he came at her. She didn’t know if this strange new power would protect her, and she didn’t care. She was done ever backing down from him. Randall seized her left arm, and for a moment the grip was painful, but then she felt some of her warmth coalescing there, and the pain vanished. Randall’s smug grin slowly faded as he realized that his hold on her wasn’t having the intended effect. He looked down at her arm, staring in disbelief at the way it refused to burn. She waited until he looked up to meet her eyes, the first flickers of fear present in his gaze.
She broke his jaw with the punch, and sent him skidding across the kitchen floor.
Lira strode forward and kicked him in the ribs as he crouched on all fours. It held none of the unreal strength her punch had, and Randall groaned but otherwise showed no reaction. She realized that her warmth was almost gone again, but as she focused on it, she felt it shift inside her. She imagined it moving to her leg and felt it obey, withdrawing from the rest of her body to gather there. Her next kick shattered several ribs.
“I said get out!” she yelled, and though it lacked the raw power from before, her stepfather flinched at her words.
Randall rose slowly and unsteadily to his feet, blood dripping from his busted ribs and broken jaw. There was sheer terror on his face now as he stared at her. Lira had never seen anything more satisfying. She took a single step towards him and he whimpered, a dark stain spreading at the crotch of his pants. “Leave,” Lira said, more quietly than before but just as fierce. “Now. And never come back. If I ever see you again, I will kill you.”
Her stepfather didn’t bother saying anything. He just stumbled away, panting heavily as he flung open the door of the apartment and disappeared. Lira listened to the sound of his work boots fade away.
“Thank you,” her mother whispered, tears in her eyes as she came forward to grasp her daughter’s hands. “You… oh, my baby, this is a miracle! You saved us! You…” Her voice trailed off as she finally noticed the hatred in Lira’s expression.
“I was talking to the both of you,” she said. “Leave, or I’ll throw you through the goddamn door myself.”
“But, but…” Scared and confused, her mother looked at her helplessly.
“You’re the one who brought him here,” Lira said, biting off each word. The warmth was already returning, and some part of her longed to use it again, to smash the woman to pieces with it, but she resisted. Barely. “You brought him here, and you let him rape me. You let him rape your daughter. You’re even worse than he is. Now leave!”
After they were both gone, Lira grabbed one of her stepfather’s beers from the fridge. He’d once threatened to beat both women black and blue if either touched them. It tasted awful, but that wasn’t the point. She nursed it as she sat on the couch, relaxing in her quiet apartment and idly playing with her warmth, practicing sending it to different parts of her body, or letting it spread to fill her from head to toe. She didn’t really care to stay in this apartment, she decided. She’d go find herself a nicer place to live tomorrow. After all, money wasn’t going to be much of a problem anymore.
The television was still on, playing the same news report. “Billions are in mourning today as news of the tragedy spreads around the world,” a female newscaster was saying. “Thirty two nations have already announced plans for a state funeral to honor Baldur’s memory.”
Baldur was dead? Lira let out a low laugh. The greatest hero in the world, the most beloved man in history, had been murdered in his own home. Once she would’ve grieved as hard as any of the teary faces on the broadcast. Even the newscasters were affected, wiping away tears as they talked about how the Dawnbringers would be holding a public service for him soon. But now the news was just funny. He’d been as useless as all the other heroes, and now he was gone and she was still here. The TV was showing a picture of his purported killer, a young woman who looked only slightly older than Lira. The media already had a name for her: Nightshade. Lira raised her beer bottle in a salute. “Asshole probably had it coming,” she told the picture. “Cheers.” She drained the bottle, and then threw it against the wall.
Hundreds of heroes out in the world, and not a single one had lifted a finger to help her, no matter how many times she’d prayed for it. It still made her sick to think about her faith in them. If she’d known back then that nobody would ever come save her, maybe she would’ve done a better job fighting against Randall that first time he’d taken her. Maybe she wouldn’t have had so many sleepless nights curled up on her blankets or being spooned by that pig in his bed, wondering just why it was that she didn’t deserve to be rescued like everyone else.
But none of that mattered anymore. Heroes didn’t matter anymore. She had the power to help herself now. She could do whatever she wanted, and if any of those bastards calling themselves heroes had a problem with that, well… Lira smiled. She wouldn’t mind the chance to show them exactly how she felt about them.