The B-CUP Breakup

“Um, aren’t you going to take that off?” Taimi asked timidly.

“Why Miz Sakurai, I never thought you would ask something like… oh no, I’m still wearing the ears, aren’t I?” Titania reached up and sure enough, the frilly little hat and fox ears were still on her head. “Ah, knickers. I always forget the headband.” She removed the last piece and placed it with the rest of her Lorna costume, always a hit on Maid Day for the cleavage if not character recognition, and set about straightening it before putting it away.

There was a knock on the locker room door before Susana stuck her head through. “Are you ladies decent?”

“Who bothers to be decent in the change room?” Titania replied. “But we’ve at least got our shirts on, love, don’t worry.”

“Oh good. Thanks again for staying late and cleaning up, girls.”

“It’s the least we could do, dishy. You keep letting us borrow the bar for our hero thing, after all.”

“Well, I’d rather have you meeting here than in some abandoned warehouse or sewer or something,” Susana said, putting one hand on Titania’s waist and looking up at her girlfriend. “And you’re sure ‘dishy’ is a compliment?”

“Yes, I jolly well am sure, Ana,” Titania said, smiling down at her boss and lover. “And you jolly well are a dish,” she added in a whisper, kissing Susana on the forehead while a blushing Taimi resolutely stared into her locker. “Now, you get your bum out the door so Taimi and I can get the chairs up and start cleaning.” With that, Titania led Susana out the cafe’s back door, locking it behind her.

“So, I was wondering….” Taimi began as Titania returned to the locker room, but trailed off, unsure how to broach the subject on her mind.

“Oh, I know I could get more tips if I played a more popular maid than a minor character from a minor PSP game,” Titania said when Taimi never finished her question. “But look at this tail! So fluffy!” She waved it in Taimi’s face before putting it away.

Taimi was taken aback, both from the urge to sneeze and the glimpse into Titania’s girly side that felt so odd now that they were forming a hero team. Nevertheless, she gathered herself and tried again. “No, I wanted to ask you something about being a hero. I wanted to know… what happened to the B-CUPs?”

Titania’s face fell. “Oh. That subject is… a lot less fluffy.”

“Hwe~h? Is it a sore subject? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to….”

“Yes, it is, but you have a right to know it if you’re going to be teaming up with two former B-CUPs. A good leader knows about her subordinates’ pasts, after all,” she said, smiling indulgently at Taimi’s discomfort at being called the team leader again. “Just… give me a moment to collect my thoughts. Come help me mop once your costume is put away and I’ll tell you the story then.” With that she left the locker room; Taimi could hear her putting chairs up on tables by the time she had her Maria cosplay hung up and went out to join her.

~ ~ ~

There was a lot of come and go in Borderline City’s Umbrageous Protectors. Young heroines would join for a little while to get their name in the paper before moving on to bigger and better things (Titania said, putting up the last of the chairs), but at the core there were always five of us: me, Loretta, Teri, Jane, and Margaret; I guess you’d know us better as Hyperia, Duchess, Killer Queen, Mystress, and Steel Magnolia.

There must have been almost two dozen of the others over the years. Apprentices, rookies, junior members, whatever they wanted to call themselves. We’d sign on one or two at a time, they’d give us eight months or so and we’d get them press and name recognition, a chance to go on to a team the press took seriously or the confidence to strike out on their own. At first it was fun mentoring the new generation but as time went by the new girls got less fresh-faced and more mercenary. More than a couple didn’t care about being heroines as much as jumpstarting some other career, usually modeling.

We still thought it was a good idea to keep the team going. We were doing good for people, no matter how much of a joke the B-CUPs were to most of them. I won’t say it wasn’t hard. We got far less attention on our heroics than anything else. It was always either spectacle or scandal when we got press, and that takes a toll on you. Still, no one expected Mystress to be the first to snap.

Like Steel Magnolia, Jane had joined us for the sake of companionship and a bit of a joke. She wasn’t ok with being the butt of it though, and was always the one trying to get us to be taken more seriously. This made her the media’s favorite target, but she took it like a trooper for years. She got more and more somber over time, and then eventually came the press conference. She stood there in front of everyone, looking perfectly normal and not like she’d been crying for days, and told the world she was retiring to focus on her family. She moved back in with her parents to get that degree she’d always been talking about. She’s an accountant now.

It seemed natural at the time to replace her. Having only four of us felt off, and losing her left us without a magician. We had one psychic junior member who had been with us for over a year by that point and seemed to actually take the team seriously, which was a refreshing change from our usual rookies, and when we invited her to become an official permanent member she accepted immediately. That’s how Lovely Lynx joined the B-CUPs. It was a huge miscalculation.

Don’t get me wrong, Belle is great. She was a huge asset to the B-CUPs, and there’s not a single doubt in my mind that she’ll be the same to our new team. The problem is that we just sort of threw her into the deep end of being a real B-CUP. The rookies didn’t get a much closer look at us than the rest of the world, since by that point we were so accustomed to them leaving as soon they stopped seeing “junior B-CUP” in front of their alias in the papers; in general they spent more time talking to their personal trainers or the B-CUP Media Team than to us.

Belle thought she was getting let into an elite sisterhood, that we were doing things too important to share with the flighty girls who made up most of our recruits. She was so young, and so proud that she’d proven herself capable enough to be allowed into the inner sanctum, and so disappointed when she got there. Loretta’s constant fiddling with her little techy toys, long hours in the gym, and the frightening number of painkillers she took afterward. Margaret’s huge pile of crosswords she could never finish, or the fact that she was a couch potato who seemed to keep her girlish figure largely by being too lazy to eat sometimes. The pictures of Teri’s ex-boyfriends on all her training targets, my anime pin-ups in my locker. The way Killer Queen and I would fight.

I don’t mean that we would have heated discussions over the comparative values of our crime-fighting philosophies. I mean that by that point in our relationship at least twice a month Teri’d call me a weak, crime-coddling coward because of how hard I work not to inflict any permanent injuries on mooks, or I’d call her a psychopathic murderer since she was, well, the Killer Queen, and what would follow was a nastier scramble than most of our villain takedowns. Half of them were only stopped by Margaret calling up her battle form and physically stepping between us; even I felt it when one of my kicks landed on Steel Magnolia, and even then she’d often have to grab us by the scruffs of our necks and hold us apart like misbehaving kittens.

It was difficult for Belle, discovering that not only were we just people, but for the most part we weren’t even very pleasant people. And that was just us. The media attention the poor little jailbait got when she became a permanent member – the first new one since the team started years before – would have overwhelmed anyone, and she was really just a kid no matter how long she’d been wearing a mask. If the rest of us hadn’t had our heads so far up our arses, maybe we’d have been able to predict how hard it would be on her. Paparazzi hounding her, gossip reporters always in her face, fake nudes on the internet. And when she found out she was getting fanmail….

She was so happy when one of our minders let that slip. She walked right down to the office that handled that stuff for us, found the guy assigned to her mail that day, and cheerfully asked for a letter so she could answer it personally. And bless that poor intern, I’m pretty sure he tried to pick the envelope in the stack with the most childish writing on it, but he should have gone for girlish instead. It was heartbreaking to watch Belle, who before the B-CUPs got letters from schoolgirls who looked up to her, read her first fan letter from a thirty-something shut-in who was still waiting for his perfect high school romance.

Belle and I spent a lot of time together. It felt really good to hang out with someone who was enthusiastic about stopping crime, and not in Teri’s bloodthirsty way. Actually, we were coming back from the taco truck three blocks away when we heard the story breaking. Complete cliché, but we saw ourselves on a wall of TVs in an electronics shop window. The new part was that this time our measurements were prominently displayed. Nothing that hadn’t been speculated on before, and nothing that the team tailors didn’t know, but it was new. Belle and I were more amused than anything, until a picture of Killer Queen popped up with a kill count. When a list of each of the deaths she had caused started scrolling up the screen, we started running back to HQ.

By the time we got there, the legal team, the business team, our minders, our tailors, everyone was on damage control. The only people with nothing to do were the masks. Duchess was leading the team trying to track down the leak, since all that information should only have been on the team’s secure server, but the best the rest of us could do was try to console Teri.

The thing is, despite her reputation or even how I feel about her, she didn’t really kill that many people. More than a few criminals who ran into her needed surgery afterward… or walked with a limp, or learned the latest in eyepatch fashions… but she really did leave more people alive than not. She’d always reveled in her reputation as an unrepentant knight templar, but this was the first time she’d been forced to think about what she’d been doing.

Teri didn’t take it well. She barricaded herself in a restroom and wouldn’t come out for hours. She missed out on the gossip shows coming up with the idea that Steel Magnolia was a mole. It was started by some moron who said it as a joke – I think he even said at the end of his bit that she wasn’t smart enough to be a mole – but people ran with it and before long it was being reported as if it were fact. Maggie tried to take it with grace and aplomb, not that she would have described it that way, but it was obviously wearing on her.

Eventually we had to call the professionals to get Teri out. That was one brave psychologist, going in there alone. In twenty minutes they came out together, Teri crying and looking even smaller than you, Taimi. She looked at all of us standing there and waiting for her to come out, whispered “Sorry,” then let herself be led down to the garage and an unmarked ambulance waiting to take her to Billingham.

The B-CUPs might have survived losing Killer Queen, but just as Belle, Maggie, and I were starting to accept that Teri was gone, Loretta came in to tell us that they’d tracked down the leak: it really was Margaret. Not something she’d done on purpose, she’d just been on the internet from the HQ computers and gone to the wrong site. Whoever it was who wrote that virus was probably just looking to steal identities, but he got a hell of a lot more than that from us and decided to share some of it.

Maggie didn’t take that news well. She’d never bothered exercising her mind much, but this was the first time she’d hurt someone because of it. When the rest of us tried to assure her it was just terrible luck, she wouldn’t listen and stormed out, wordlessly pressing through the crowd that had gathered around our HQ.

Belle and I, and our rookie at the time, I think, all I remember about her is that she was particularly forgettable; we were all smuggled out in plainclothes, pretending to be part of the team’s civilian support staff and heading home. Loretta – Duchess – refused to do the same, sleeping in the gym. She wouldn’t say this, but I think she was refusing to leave the HQ unmanned just in case our teammates came back. Two days later, the news got out that Teri needed serious help after her breakdown, with the doctors fearing she might suffer a complete psychotic break if she tried to put on her mask again.

Maggie called in after the major news outlets spread the story that Killer Queen was done, saying she was too ashamed to keep being a heroine, that she’d thought it over and she was hanging up her mask for good. Within an hour of Maggie’s call the marketing team was pulling triple shifts on damage control, the business team was hard at work figuring the most profitable replacements for our lost members, and Loretta had recalled me and Belle.

We ended up in the HQ conference room, the three of us bunched up at one end of a table built for ten, going over the paperwork. There was the press release our minders wanted us to give later that day, all sweetness and light about Killer Queen needing some furlough for medical reasons and Steel Magnolia resigning for personal reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with being a mask. There were new contracts our sponsors wanted us to sign, divvying up who would shill which product formerly covered by Teri or Maggie. A list of photogenic heroines the business division thought we should approach about filling our vacancies.

It all just felt… ridiculous. The B-CUPs were almost seven years old as a team at that point, and we were down to only two of the five founding members. We had one of the highest turnover rates of any hero team who had never faced an apocalypse fight, even without counting our “junior members.” Meanwhile, Belle did what Belle always did: put her head down and her nose to the grindstone, taking the work seriously just because she’d been told by someone it was serious work; but Loretta and I could barely stand to look at all those papers.

I looked across the table at Loretta and caught her eye, then looked at Belle sitting on my left, looking down at sponsorship contracts like she thought she had a serious chance at selling bowhunting equipment as well as Killer Queen, and back at Loretta. She nodded at me and we stood up. Belle started, then looked up at us. I’ll never forget the way she looked right into my eyes and quietly asked me, “Is it over?” When I nodded at her, she sighed and stood up, like a little girl being woken up from a nightmare.

We sent Belle to the kitchen to see if there were any snacks left and reconvened in Loretta’s office; she grabbed a notebook, I shoved her desk out of the way, and the three of us sat down on the floor with a half-gallon of ice cream Belle had found to hash out our own speech for the press conference. In the end it was a scribbled mess, rambling, half of it scratched out, rewritten in the margins, and scratched out again, but we got it done just in time for the conference. And then….

Titania trailed off, looking into the distance as she mopped the same spot for the fifth time. The cleanup had long since been completed, but Taimi had perched on a barstool while letting Titania continue both her story and her mopping. “Goodness, are we done mopping already?”

“Um… you were mopping for a while, actually,” Taimi said, hesitantly. “So I took care of the soda fountain, put the last of the plates away… actually, we’re kind of completely done.”

“And I was just yammering away while you were doing all the work,” Titania said, rinsing the mop clean. “Hold on, I’m knackered, and the least I could do after you did all that work is treat you to a drink.” With that she disappeared into the kitchen; Taimi heard her rummaging in a cooler for a moment, then she emerged with two bottles of milk coffee.

“Hweh? Are you raiding the cafe’s supplies after hours?”

“Me? Never!” Titania said, handing Taimi her coffee. “I’d never steal from my girlfriend’s cafe! I might pinch a few bottles from Susana’s private stash, though.” She opened her bottle and took a drink.

Still slightly uncertain, Taimi popped her own bottle and took a sip. “What happened then?”

“What?”

“At the press conference, I mean. You and Belle and… Loretta wrote a new speech, you said, then you kind of trailed off.”

“Well, lovey, we gave our speech. We told everyone that Killer Queen had had a breakdown and both she and Steel Magnolia were retiring as a result of the leak, and that the B-CUPs weren’t going to go on without them. We thanked everyone for their support, told them good-bye, and walked off the stage.” Titania shook her head ruefully. “Oh, the business people were looking at us like poleaxed steers, but there was nothing they could do. We all went out the back to think about what we were going to do.

“Bless Susana, she was at the conference and as soon as she heard the team was breaking up she took off and got her car, meeting us around back. Loretta refused a ride, but Ana and I took Belle home. I suggested she go be a normal woman for a while, and she agreed.” Titania sighed. “I expected her to go to school or something, not become a female James Bond at sixteen. Oh well.”

“What did you do?”

“I spent a lot of time with my girlfriend, started picking up some extra shifts here – the B-CUPs really did pay well, and waitressing more killed time and made some money. Charity work for the Red Cape every fortnight or so. Getting called up from the hero reserves once in a while, like when the druid thing started.”

“And everyone else?” Taimi asked. “Duchess, and Steel Magnolia, Killer Queen. Even the hacker who started the leak. If you can tell me, I mean.”

Titania was quiet just long enough for Taimi to worry she shouldn’t have asked. “Blimey, why not?” she asked quietly. “We didn’t hear anything else from the hacker. Maybe he didn’t actually have anything else. Maybe he was just having a laugh and was surprised as anyone when he actually broke up the team.

“Loretta… she dropped her mask too. She was a lot older than she looked, with no powers of her own, and keeping in shape for the job was almost as dangerous to her as being a hero itself. She ended up joining Transiston’s company. Last time I talked to her she’d been climbing the ranks pretty quick in their budget product department; makes sense, since she’d always built her own devices on a shoestring budget before the B-CUPs’ sponsorship money started rolling in.”

Titania stopped and stared into her coffee. Taimi got a feeling she was wishing it was something stronger. “Margaret got a job with Super-Bilt, that construction company that only hires people with powers. A lot of former masks do that even if their powers aren’t really useful in the industry, you know. It’s a symbol. Conflict of interest laws, and the company’s contract, mean they can’t be a mask and work for Super-Bilt at the same time, so people go to them as proof they’re really done with being a hero. As for Killer Queen….”

Titania moved her coffee and wiped away the ring of condensation that had gathered on the bar. She chugged the last third of her coffee in one go, then tossed the empty bottle across the room into the trash, making a terrific clatter. “I actually got a letter from Teri just a few weeks before Hyperia and Sapphire Zephyr met. It was short, and it was awkward, and it was a heartfelt apology for the way she’d treated me in the team. The return address was a room at the asylum. I know I should reciprocate, but… I’m scared, I guess. Maybe I can get Belle to go visit her with me, I don’t know….”

Taimi sat in awkward silence for a moment, then made a big show of checking the clock. “Oh, look at the time, I guess I should be going. And you probably want to… go home to Susana, or… um, do you need a ride or anything?”

Titania grinned wanly at her. “Don’t worry about me, you go. I’ll get home just fine. I’m not actually pissed, just wishing I was.” The two left the cafe through the back door, Titania locking it behind them.

As they split up in the tiny, almost abandoned parking lot behind the cafe, Titania called out, “Taimi, don’t let this get you down.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just… remember you asked me how the B-CUPs broke up, so that’s the story I told you. We were together for seven years, and most of that time wasn’t made up of heroes having breakdowns or scandals breaking about us. We’d have sleepovers like we were still in junior high, big team shopping trips when we signed a new sponsor; hell, for a lot of that time Killer Queen and I were actually the closest friends on the team. Hero teams are a good thing, SZ, and this new team of ours will be too. So… keep your chin up so you can act like a leader, alright?”

Taimi looked back at Titania, then slowly nodded. “I’ll… I’ll do my best, Hyperia.”

“There you go, kid. Leading by example, good choice. See you at work tomorrow.” With that, Titania clambered into her car, giving a friendly wave as she drove off.

The B-CUP Breakup

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