Contains scenes of violence and coarse language. Reader discretion advised.Hank Cheetas, Cleveland, evening
The host led Eric and Natasha to a booth along the wall. Eric moved so that Natasha would take the seat facing away from the door. He allowed her to sit down first, then sat across from her. She reached across the table and took his hands into hers. He smiled back at her. "How's this?"
Natasha looked around at the other diners. Several in costume were obviously from the convention. "It's nice, I guess. Not as intimate as I'd hoped."
"It was close." He tried to smile. "I figured you wouldn't want to walk far."
"That's so sweet." She tugged on his hands, trying to pull him closer.
Eric jumped in his seat. "Sorry, just my phone." He retrieved one of his hands from Natasha to pull out his cell phone. "It's a text message from Mom. Might be urgent."
Natasha fell back in her chair. "Okay. Don't take too long."
"I won't." With the cell phone held below the edge of the table, Eric read the incoming message.
E - Call me NOW! - TashEric worked to keep his relief from showing. He looked across the table at his date. "I need to call home. You know how moms get."
"Yeah, sure." The redhead shrugged. "Want me to order for you while you're gone?"
"Please. I'll have the pasta special." Eric got up and dashed to the men's room. He bolted into a stall and dialled the number the message came from.
After the first ring, he heard the voice he'd been waiting for. "Eric, is that you?" Nasty asked.
"It's me. I got your message. What's up?"
"She's not hurting you or anything, is she?"
"No, not exactly. Are you okay?"
"Just a few bruises. I've been hit worse. Hang on, Micki wants to talk to you."
Eric heard the phone being passed over. "Eric?" he heard Micki ask.
"You still have the other Natasha with you?"
"She's at the table. I told her I needed to call Mom. I don't think she's going to believe me if I'm away much longer."
"That's fine. Where are you right now?"
"The men's room." Eric realized what Micki wanted. "At Hank Cheetas."
"I'm going to have a team there soon. What I need you to do is keep Natasha busy there. Enjoy dinner and get a receipt. We'll have a plan shortly."
"How long do you want me to stay with her?"
"As long as you can. We need her to find her friends from the other dimension, but we don't want to lose her, either. Eric, if you want to back out, just say so."
Eric leaned against the stall's divider. "No, I'm good. I just don't think she's interested in her friends, that's all."
"Figure something out. Just don't do anything yet other than eat. Can you do that?"
"Yeah. I better go. Tell Tash that I'm happy she's back."
"Bye." Eric closed his phone. He came out of the stall, washed up, then returned to his table in the dining area. "Hi. Sorry about that."
"No problem. But you're paying for the most expensive appetizers. I didn't know what you wanted to drink."
"Water for now is good." He tried to get comfortable again. "How was your day?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. A little shopping, a little exploring." Natasha eyed Eric hungrily. "Waiting for the right moment." She reached out to caress his arm. "I couldn't wait to see you again."
Eric grabbed his glass of water and downed it in one gulp.
Street in front of Hank Cheetas, Cleveland, evening
Nasty kept watch out the window of the Foundation's van. Part of her wanted to go in and take Eric away from her evil twin. Another part wanted to just hit her twin. Both parts were putting her on edge as she waited. "How much longer?"
Vicki put a hand on Nasty's arm to try to calm the angry redhead down. "We're still waiting for the others."
"They're not coming. Look at her." Nasty pointed at the restaurant's window. "Does that look like someone who wants people around her?"
"I don't know. I don't if she likes being in a threesome." The blond tried to hide in the van's upholstery to escape Nasty's death glare of doom. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
Nasty ran her hands through her hair. "Who knows what she's saying to Eric."
In the driver's seat, Gwen turned to face the teenaged girls in back. "Ms Sinisis said that we were to wait."
"That's not her friend in there at the mercy of an evil invader!" Nasty buried her face into her hands. "That didn't even make sense. I sound like a jealous girlfriend."
"She is hitting on him," Vicki pointed out.
"I am not his girlfriend. I mean, we're not, well, we kind of are, but we're not. It's not like we're dating. I'm not seeing anyone. He's a friend. A really, really good friend. Really, really good."
Vicki patted Nasty's arm. "Which is why we're here, to make sure nothing happens to him. I'm sure he knows you're here."
"Micki told him that I'm here."
"She said there'd be a team out here."
Nasty glowered at the blond girl. "You're not helping."
"Girls, can we just watch the restaurant?" Gwen begged.
"Fine!" Nasty turned her attention back to the action inside. "Do we have binoculars or something?"
Gwen handed a pair back to the red haired teen. "Try not to break them. They're my favourite pair."
As Nasty held the binoculars up, Vicki asked, "You have a favourite pair?"
"You have more than one pair of those?"
Nasty tuned out the background chattering. She adjusted the binoculars, focusing in on Eric. He looked a little nervous, though he was smiling and talking as he ate. The bitch across from him kept flicking her hair over her shoulder and touching his arm. Calm down, Giuliano. He knows that wench isn't you. Besides, it's not like you and he are an item. Except that he was always helping you with homework. Except that he was the first guy ever to ask me to a dance. Except that he was the first guy I ever kissed, and he didn't try to stop me. Eric's always been there for me. Never a bad word. So why am I not his girlfriend? Because, you fucking moron, you never thought you were acceptable to him, that he deserved better. Well, look at what is moving in on him because of your wishy-washy, stupid desire to not pull him down. You haven't pulled him down. He's pulled you up, and you're just letting that bitch devour him. Nasty set down the binoculars. "I'm going."
"But the others aren't here yet!" Vicki tried to stop Nasty from opening the door.
"They aren't coming. She doesn't have a reason for them to be here. I'm going to give her a damned good one." Nasty stepped out of the car.
From the receiver in Nasty's ear, Micki said, "Natasha, what the hell are you doing? Get back in the van before she sees you."
"Micki, they're not coming. Not unless that girl calls them in. I'm just going to make sure she does."
"Damn it! Okay, everyone, hold your places. Be ready to move in when the others arrive. Natasha, you better be right about this."
"Trust me, Micki, this is something that has to be done. Wait for me to call everyone in." Nasty stormed across the parking lot, her fists clenching and unclenching over and over. 'I have never let myself be beaten, not when I still could fight. I am not letting some ditz-brained double of me get Eric. Not even over my dead body. She can take her baby doll and her flirting and her underdressed ass and get lost!'
Nasty kept her temper in check long enough to leave the restaurant's door on it hinges. The maitre d' stepped in front of her. "We're no longer seating anyone."
"That's okay. I'm here for a friend."
The host moved closer to speak in a low tone. "The restaurant is closed. The police have asked us to move everyone away because of a possible altie. You cannot come in."
Nasty's brow furrowed. "I know." Her words came out clipped. "That's why I'm here. To deal with the problem."
"I'll need to see some ID, miss."
"Micki, some help here?"
"It'd be easier if you were dressed as Peregrine." Sarcasm oozed from every one of Micki's words.
Nasty bit back several choice words. "Look, can you at least tell me if there's a guy here with a girl who looks just like me except dressed as a skank?"
"Fine. But you have to stay here." The host disappeared deeper into the restaurant. Nasty considered following but decided that going could put Eric at risk. The host returned. "That is the table I was told to avoid. What's going on?"
Nasty took the radio receiver out of her ear and gave it to the host. "Here. Talk to the person at the other end. She can explain everything." She rushed past the host as he tried to figure out what to do. Keep calm, Giuliano. Don't tip her off. Don't run. See what's going on first. Don't lose your cool. Whatever you see, remember that Eric's not really doing anything. He's just pretending. Nasty saw both her counterpart and Eric sitting at a booth, across from each other so her back was to the door. Good, good. Just stay calm. No sudden actions. Natasha caressed Eric's hands.
Nasty stomped to the table, reaching it in several strides. She grabbed Natasha's hair near the roots. "Get your fucking hands off my boyfriend, you bitch!" Before Natasha could react, Nasty slammed her double's head into the table. Plates clattered and a tall glass of soda fell over. Nasty gave Eric an embarrassed smile. "Sorry." She pulled on Natasha's hair, hauling the duplicate out of her seat. "Let's go!"
Natasha flailed, trying to get Nasty to let go. "Let go of me!"
"Did I say you could speak to me?" At a deserted four-top, Nasty rammed Natasha's skull into the table edge. "Did I?" She wrapped her free arm around Natasha's neck. "Keep moving!" She pulled the resisting girl to the main door, squeezing with her arm anytime Natasha squirmed. Nasty kicked the door open and shoved her captive outside, not caring if Natasha banged her head on the frame. At an empty parking space, Nasty threw her alternate self to the ground. "Never go near him again!"
Natasha pushed herself to her hands and knees. "Is that what this is about? Here I am about to launch an invasion and you're concerned about your boytoy?"
Nasty stepped into a savage kick. Natasha crumpled back to the ground, clutching her side. "Shut up!" Nasty roared. "This is between you and me." She stomped on her opponent's back, leaving a dirty shoe print on Natasha's red blouse. "Let's go!"
"No. I'm fucking pissed! Get up!"
Natasha remained on the ground. "No! You wouldn't hit someone helpless on the ground."
Nasty snapped a brutal kick, striking Natasha's bare shin. "You're not helpless, bitch."
Natasha cried out with pain. "You're insane!" She rolled away from the angry redhead. With a wince, she came up on her knees. "You can't do this! You're a /hero/!"
"And I'm supposed to stop you." Nasty stepped closer and unleashed a backhand that cracked her opponent's head to the side. "I can keep going all night."
"If that's what you want." Natasha charged her arm, covering it with a sheath of purple energy. Without getting up, she aimed her arm at Nasty. "Can you take it as well as you dish it out?"
Nasty charged in, bulldozing over Natasha. The blast of violet went off into the evening sky. "Did you do any research at all?"
Natasha picked herself off the ground. "I know all I need to know about you. You were the fifth Peregrine; the shortest lived one, too. You got more press because of your filthy mouth than you did for stopping crime. You unmasked on the air." The purple energy recharged on the teenaged girl's arm. "Your marks at school are mediocre. Your mother sleeps around."
A feral grin appeared on Nasty's face. "You missed one thing." She jabbed the dimensional invader in the gut. "You missed why I'm called Nasty." She stomped down hard on her double's instep, eliciting another cry. "I fight to win." Nasty grabbed Natasha's arm above the sheath of energy. "I do what it takes to make sure the other guy doesn't get back up." She jabbed her elbow once, twice into Natasha's gut. "No matter what I look like at the end, the other guy looks worse." Nasty slammed her fist into Natasha's face. She felt the cartilage in her duplicate's nose crunch. Satisfied, she dropped her double and stepped away.
Natasha covered her nose with her uncharged hand. "You broke it! You rotten bitch, you broke my nose!" Blood flowed out from under her fingers. "God damn it, you rotten bitch, you'll pay!" Getting to her knees, she launched herself at Nasty.
Nasty grabbed the uncharged arm. Pulling hard, she redirected her opponent's charge into a nearby Ford Focus. "Fuck you. This is my world, not yours." She moved in before Natasha could push away from the car and pounded three hard shots on her double's back before letting her up. "Got that?"
As she slid down the side of the car, Natasha reached back to where she was hit. "Do you realize that if you kill me, you will die, too?" She staggered to her feet and turned around. "Do you?" she screeched.
"I don't give a fuck." Nasty threw a punch that Natasha barely ducked under. "Even if I die, I still win." Before Natasha could take advantage of the opening left, Nasty jabbed with her left hand, hitting the invader on the cheek. Nasty danced a few feet away, keeping an eye on her opponent.
Natasha spat out some blood. "Good thing I don't have to fight alone." The energy surrounding her arm dissipated. She tapped on her watch. "My friends will be here soon enough. Where are yours?"
"Waiting for yours." Nasty ran in. She kneed Natasha in the chest, then chopped at the watch communicator. Her fingers locked on the watch's wristband.
"Let go!" Natasha tried to pull her arm away. The wristband prevented her from getting far. For several moments, they remained locked, each pulling, before the band broke from the strain. Both girls tumbled backwards, falling on the asphalt.
Street in front of Hank Cheetas, Cleveland, evening
Meredith watched as the fight between the identical teen girls continued. "Come on, Tasha, power up, already!"
"She can't hear you. The maitre d' has her receiver."
"Then how the hell is she supposed to give us the signal to go in." Meredith reached for the Yugo's door handle. "I'm going."
"Stay put, Alpha." Micki's voice crackled over the radio. "Believe it or not, Peregrine knows what she's doing."
Meredith left her hand on the handle. "She's beating the other girl to a pulp."
"Then she doesn't need help, does she?"
"Signal detected," Pete interrupted. "Coming from Peregrine's counterpart. Automated, probably pre-programmed."
"Alpha, this is Pixie. Wait."
"Wait. We might be able to sneak attack them if they're focused on Peregrine."
Keith shrugged. "Sounds valid to me, Mere. It's the classic distraction."
"I don't like it." Meredith sighed. "I really don't like it, but I'll go with it." A flare of purple caught her attention. She turned her head in time to see Tasha smack into the restaurant's wall. "I really hate waiting."
"Pixie, Alpha, this is Micki. Get ready."
"Aye, aye!" Vicki's enthusiasm was unmistakable.
"Getting ready," Meredith acknowledged. She pulled her t-shirt over her head, then shook out her hair. "Keith, just make sure you stay on the line with me. This is not going to be an easy fight."
Keith stared into the distance as Meredith took off her pants. "As always, Mere. As always."
Street in front of Hank Cheetas, Cleveland, evening
Vicki felt the anxious energy building within her. "They are coming, right? That wasn't Ms Sinisis just telling us in case they're coming, right?"
Gwen shrugged. "You'd have to ask her."
From the van's radio came Meredith. "Pixie, when we go, fall in behind me. Omega might have sensors covering all around him."
"Omega? Alpha, he's in sealed armour. My pixie dust isn't going to affect him."
"Having you suddenly in his face when his sensors didn't pick you up will confuse him. I need that. You can go on and deal with your oversized counterpart."
"Oh, okay, I get it." Vicki smiled. "I can do that."
"Ladies, cut the chatter," Micki interrupted. "Visual contact made on Omega and not-Pixie. Stand by."
Vicki opened the door of the van facing away from the restaurant. She shrunk down, her wings unfurling, then stood on the bench seat. Vibrations shook the van.
Leaping out of the van, Vicki soared into the air. She saw Prototype Alpha jumping away from her friend's compact car. With a dip of her wings, Vicki slipped in behind Alpha. Ahead of her, she saw Omega and a two storey version of herself running toward Peregrine. She beat her wings harder, gaining speed and flying a few inches above Alpha's boots.
Prototype Alpha glanced back. "Ready?"
Ahead, Omega turned to face the incoming silver and blue streak that was Prototype Alpha. She fired several ionic bursts, scoring hits on his chest, then pulled up. Omega tracked her with his arms, his railguns forming along them. Vicki maintained her course. "Surprise!" she shouted as she past his visor. Startled, he turned to follow the small blur that just went by.
Vicki ignored the powered armour, turning to aim at her counterpart. Reaching her overgrown double's leg, she changed course, gaining height as she tucked in close to her duplicate's body. With her fists held out in front of her, Vicki used her speed to put as much force into striking Tori's jaw. "Sneak attack, bitch!" She rolled away to bleed away her excess velocity. "Ow, damn it, that hurt." She shook her hand out. Below her, Tori fell back, landing on a sport utility vehicle. Its alarm blared for a moment before Tori smacked the remains of the truck into the pavement.
Natasha's breath came in ragged gasps. "We beat you once." Her arm charged up.
Explosions erupted along the length of Meredith's body. Her force field's blue deepened as it protected her from the impacts.
Tori stomped a step towards Vicki, crushing a sign beneath her foot. She held up a beefy fist, cocking it. She thrust it forward.