"I don't know, I thought it was kind of cheesy."
"It's pizza. It's supposed to be cheesy."
"Pizza can be too cheesy!"
I rolled my eyes. Mom always got like this when we went out for dinner; she felt going out to eat was a waste of money when home-cooked meals were better. But it meant we got to hang out, something we hadn't really done since I went to university interstate.
When I told her I was coming home for the holidays she was delighted. Apparently, she had requested leave at work to make the most of my vacation time, and insisted I come stay in my old room at her house. Honestly, she was a bit overbearing sometimes, but as a single mother I suppose she meant well.
"Well, why don't you pick where we go next time," I offered as we walked into an alleyway. "Maybe you'll find something better?"
Mom laughed and smiled at me. "I still think we should just have dinner at home. I haven't cooked for you in a while."
I was about to reply when a wicked laugh rang out from somewhere above us, maniacal and intimidating. I immediately tensed up and flinched; Mom gasped and looked for the source of the laughter. And there it was; jumping from a fire escape stairwell onto the dumpster in front of us, a cloaked figure in a face-protecting mask, flasks of eerie green fluid at her belt. I started to sweat. Somehow, despite knowing supers and villains frequented my home city my time away had lulled me into a false sense of normality.
And the Apothecary was anything but quiet. With another manic laugh she pulled a flask from her hip and held it to her mask as if kissing it. "Evening, Doctor. Heard you were trying to ruin my fun. Might you wanna give your so-called cure a test run?" Her thumb teased the stopper from the flask.
"Mom, what is she -"
"Get back, Mel!" Mom's face was a mix of fear and determination, an expression I had only half expected to see. The Apothecary never really caused physical harm, but her victims were never the same, so the fear was understandable. Shit, I was terrified.
The determination, felt out of place, though...
"This lovely little concoction is designed to exaggerate your current feelings and fears! I reckon I'll be able to cause quiet a bit of havoc terrorising people with this," the villainess giggled, then tossed the glass flask to the concrete.
"Get away!" Mom screamed and shoved me to the side, bending to try to catch the vial. Then everything happened at once.
The glass shattered on the ground and a green mist erupted, catching Mom before she could react. A laser came out of nowhere and shot the Apothecary in the arm, and as she screamed a –hero who moved too quickly for me to identify slammed into the dumpster and caught her hardly a second later, the dumpster slamming loudly against the wall behind it and buckling as the support beam snapped.
I fell on my side and felt a sharp pain stab into my thigh. I screamed, louder than the Apothecary had, and felt blood when my hand grabbed at my leg. The instinctive motion drove the shard of metal further into my leg and I felt such a strong pain my vision started to fade.
As I fell onto my back, leg throbbing and the noise of screaming Apothecary and the hero shouting at her starting to fade, the last thing I saw was my Mom falling to her knees by my side, grabbing my shoulders.
"Mel! Mel, stay awake!"
She had such concern on her face. It almost made me smile, but my eyes closed and I fell into the dark.
I don't know how long I was out. I remember small flashes of activity - Mom's panicked voice, the beeps of medical equipment, sirens flashing, but I wouldn't say I was conscious. The next memory I know wasn't a pain-induced hallucination was waking up in my bed, in my room, at Mom's house. I groaned and tried to sit up, and cried out as my leg throbbed.
Moments later Mom was in the room and at my side, crying and hugging me to her chest and apologising over and over.
"I'm sorry, Mel, I'm so sorry, sweetie. It's my fault," she sobbed.
"What..." It felt like I hadn't talked in days, my throat was so dry. "What happened? Why... your fault?"
"You know I work at the Central Chemical Lab. I've been trying to design a cure for the Apothecary's toxins, that's why she targeted me. You were caught in the crossfire," Mom confessed, then kissed my forehead. "I didn't expect her... I don't know how she found out."
Mom worked with heroes? It was a lot to take in, and I still felt addled from whatever drugs the hospital had me on. In fact... "Why are we home? What about... my leg?"
Now Mom smiled through her tears. "Once they removed the shrapnel and you were safe I convinced them to let me bring you home. Being a government medical expert, they were more willing to let me take you than they otherwise would have been. Now I'll make it up to you, and look after you." She kissed my forehead again.
It felt kinda nice to be mothered. Something niggled at the edge of my memory for a moment, before bursting with clarity. "The toxin... did you get... infected?" I gasped my concern, but Mom was shaking her head.
"I took my prototype cure, baby. I was worried for a while but I feel fine. No unexpected moods or emotions. At least the work got some use, I doubt we'll need it as much now that the Apothecary is behind bars," she attempted to laugh, then sobbed once more and clung me to her breast.
I blushed and lethargically wrapped my arms around her for a moment before they fell to my sides. "Mom, I'm tired," I whispered.
She gently lowered me to my pillow and stroked my hair off my face. "I'll let you rest then, sweetie." She remained gazing at me for long enough that I blushed again.
"Oh," she chuckled, embarrassed. "Just... when you were injured. I was so scared for you. All I could think about was you... I forgot the Apothecary was even there. I saw your life flashing before my eyes, your first words, your first steps, when I first held you and breastfed you..." The tears were back in her eyes as she kissed me once more. "I love you so much, Mel, and I'd do anything to protect you. I promise."
"I love you too, Mom," I mumbled. She squeezed my hand and quietly left the room, but I was asleep before she even reached the door.
A few days of bed rest and I was feeling a lot better, emotionally. Enough to feel bored. My surgery scar still stung a bit but it was healed enough I could walk - or hop on my good foot. I made my way down to the living room, carefully sat on the sofa, winced as my thigh bumped the arm rest and turned the TV on.
An hour later I heard the door open and shut, and I went to stand to help Mom in with the shopping. Naturally, I had been so engrossed with my show I had forgotten about my wound, and cried out as I tried to put weight on my right leg, falling back onto the sofa.
"Mel!" Mom cried. I heard the thump of shopping abandoned on a coffee table and she was at my side in seconds. "What are you doing out of bed? You need your rest. You haven't had a chance to heal!"
I nodded and whimpered. Falling back to the sofa had bumped my wound on the arm rest again and my eyes were watering at the pain. Mom chastised me as she lifted me to my good foot, took my arm around her shoulder and helped me back up the stairs.
"Honestly, I can't leave you for two hours! You need to stay safe, sweetie. If you need anything, just let Mommy know, alright?"
I frowned for a second before wincing as my hip bumped hers. She hadn't called herself "Mommy" in fifteen years. I suppose she was just that worried about me, though. She guided me back into my bed and tucked the blankets, making me swear to stay in bed without her permission. It made me feel like a child again, but I kept it to myself. I didn't want to stress her out any more.
"What if I need the bathroom?"
Mom smiled at me. "I bought a bedpan, so you won't even need to leave the comfort of your bed." I felt my cheeks flush dark.
"Mom, I'm not going in a bedpan... especially with you emptying it!"
"You're staying in bed whether you like it or not, young lady," she replied, a stern expression on her face. "You'll hurt your leg if you try to do anything on your own, so just let Mommy handle everything for you.”
Alright, enough was enough. There was concern, and there was... whatever this was. I started to push myself to a seating position, but Mom pushed me back into my pillow. I was so shocked it took me several seconds to start struggling. "Mom, come on! I'm not a kid!"
"You're acting like one! Just do what Mommy says and everything will be fine!" She held me down with one hand and fumbled in her pockets with another.
"Mom! Let me go!" I raised my voice. She brought out a small cube pill and held it to my mouth. I didn't know what it was, but I wasn’t just going to swallow something a crazed biochemist forced on me. clamped my lips shut.
"Come on, baby, open for the aeroplane," Mom cooed. She was smiling now, but there was something in her eyes that worried me. Even scared me. When I shook my head a flash of anger crossed her expression, then a sorrowful frown. "Then I'm sorry... This will hurt me more than it will you." She jabbed her knuckle into my wound.
Pain erupted in my leg and I opened my mouth in a scream, but before I could make too much noise Mom's hand slapped against my lips and I felt the pill fall into my throat, instinctively swallowing. I looked fearfully into her eyes, and her crazed but loving smile was back.
"It's just a sedative, Melly. Just relax, relax for Mommy," she cooed, stroking my hair with her free hand. My struggles got weaker. I needed to escape. I needed to find out what was wrong with her. I needed to... needed to...
My eyes slid shut as she started to sing my old lullaby.
I woke sometime around noon, probably the next day. It was getting hard to keep track. I couldn't feel the pain in my leg anymore, so it must have been a while. I squinted slightly, checking Mom wasn't in the room before I opened my eyes. Once I did, I opened them wider.
There were flowers on my bedside table with an elaborately pink Get Well Soon card next to a stuffed bear, also pink. I hadn't liked that colour since I was seven. Which made the pink balloons tied to the end of my bed and the pink star stickers on the door and wall particularly embarrassing.
Obviously the Apothecary's toxin had affected Mom after all, and I needed to get help. Since she knew the heroes, perhaps they would be able to help? I just needed to get to them before she noticed. Hopefully my leg was strong enough to get me out of the house. I swung my legs over the side of the bed.
Or tried to. My back twisted, but my legs didn't. I frowned, tried again, and started to sweat. I couldn't feel my legs. In fact, I couldn't feel my arms, either. And now that I looked, some of the balloons were tied around what looked suspiciously like an IV drip.
"Good morning, sweetie," Mom walked in, all smiles and love and scary eyes. She leaned over and kissed my cheek, rubbing my arm fondly, but I still couldn't feel it.
I tried to scream at her, but all that came out was a pathetic whisper. "What are you doing to me?"
She stroked my hair in what she must have thought was a soothing manner as she replied. "I know it's scary, Melissa, but it's for your own good. Mommy can't trust you won't move around and hurt your leg, so she's given you a drip to paralyse your body to keep you safe. It also weakens your vocal cords so you won't hurt your throat," she smiled. She SMILED.
I don't know if you've ever tried to call for help by whispering and flailing your head around, but it's perfectly ineffective and I stopped after a couple, of minutes. And Mom just cuddled me to her breast and hummed softly the entire time like she was consoling a goddamn baby. Speaking of which...
"...are your boobs bigger?"
Mom giggled. "Trust you to notice. Mommy's trying an experiment, sweetie. Soon everything will be right again. We'll be the perfect protective Mommy and little daughter.
She left quick enough I don't think she heard me whispering. "I'm twenty-three.."
That week passed extremely, excruciatingly slow. Unable to move my body, I couldn't even read a book or play games, or surf the net, or talk to friends - a benefit, Mom, said: "The internet is too dangerous for a sweet girl like you and those friends of yours are a bad influence." She hooked me up with a TV suspended above my bed, and sometimes put audio books on a set of headphones for me, but she exclusively 'let' me listen to media that was made for grade schoolers - no violence, no swearing, definitely no sex. Nothing that could corrupt her sweet, precious honey or possibly make her upset.
After a marathon session of one of a dozen interchangeable shows about fairies and flowers, Mom came in for dinner. Ordinarily she'd be carrying a plate of soup or soft, blended mush she'd spoon feed to me, complimenting me constantly and wiping dribble off my chin with a smile no matter how many filthy looks I gave her, but today she was approaching me empty handed. And busty. This past week her breasts had swollen and I had a bad feeling about why.
"Time for dinner, honey~" Mom smiled as she unbuttoned her shirt. I could see milk already beading at her nipples.
"What did you do," I whisper-moaned. She giggled and tied her hair behind her in a ponytail.
"I was thinking, we haven't been as close as when you used to breastfeed. I told you before I thought about it while you were hurt, and I thought perhaps it would help us bond again." She pulled a chair up, sat and pulled my head to rest on one breast. This was the most humiliating and terrifying moment of my life. "Drink Mommy's milk, sweetie, I made it specially for you," Mom whispered and kissed my head.
"I'm not drinking - I'm not sucking your fucking tits, mom."
Her eyes went wide and she dropped me back on the pillow. "Melissa, I don't know where you got such language but I will not tolerate it. If you aren't going to have your dinner tonight, perhaps tomorrow night you will be better behaved." She topped up my IV bag and stomped out of the room, locking the door - a pointless gesture, considering I couldn't move, but one that still had me feeling chastised until I remembered my situation.
I think I held out pretty well. I rejected breakfast and dinner the next day, both of which were repeated offers to suckle Mom's breasts. Toward the end of the second day, though, it was starting to get to me. But for whatever reason Mom didn't show up at dinner time, and I started to really panic. Not that I could do much but lay there starving, thirsty and trying not to cry for fear.
Eventually, like an angel, Mom came into my room in the middle of the night, already topless, and sat by my bed. She didn't lean forward this time, and just sat there. My eyes stared at those beads of milk, I licked my lips. I was so, so hungry. Still she waited, arms crossed as if waiting.
"Mom... Please... Food..." I begged with an even weaker voice than a few days ago. I honestly wasn't sure I could last another night.
"Don't you have something to say, Melissa?" Her tone would have made me shiver if I could have felt it. She was disappointed in me, and I knew why.
"I... I'm sorry, Mom... You were trying to help me and I... I've been fighting... Every step... I'm a bad girl," I felt tears I couldn't afford welling up. "I'm sorry..."
Now she leaned forward slightly, breasts swaying toward me a second before they bounced away. "Mommy."
"...I'm sorry... Mommy..."
Instantly her lips formed a beautiful smile, and tears came to her own eyes. It was like I had said something she had always wanted to hear - perhaps I had. She hugged me tight to her breast, and I felt her dribble on my cheek, tantalizingly out of reach. I whimpered and tried to lick it but couldn't reach.
"It's okay, honey. You were just misguided. The world does that. That's why I need to keep you here, to keep you safe. Do you understand now?"
I nodded weakly. "Y-yes, Mommy... I understand..." I was going to pass out.
"Then it's dinner time, my precious sweetheart. I love you," she kissed me and held my head so I could finally wrap my lips around her nipple and suck. Warm, smooth, nurturing milk flowed into my mouth, and I started to weep from the relief of it. I gulped and gulped like I had been lost in a desert.
"Your resistance let Mommy have some more time in her lab, though. It turns out you were right, the toxin did affect me." Her words hardly mattered compared to the fulfillment of her milk. "I managed to reverse engineer it and modified it, and worked it in with the chemicals that are helping me to lactate. Now you'll be just like me~"
Just like her? What did that... whatever... Need milk...
"You need Mommy's milk, honey."
Yes, I need Mommy's milk. I could feel it in my soul.
"Mommy is safety. Mommy is comfort."
Yes, yes... I could feel that too, the truth in her words. I had been starving, so thirsty, and Mommy was saving me. Mommy was protecting me. She wanted me to be safe. She wanted me to be unharmed. She wanted me to be fed, she only ever acted in my best interests, and she wanted me to be with her.
Mommy was my heroine.
I gulped a mouthful and looked up into Mommy's eyes. I could see my own face reflected there, a wide smile spreading across my chapped lips. "I love you, Mommy."