Times Square Smackdown
After getting a bunch of reviews for the past few chapters, I'm taking action on something that's been confusing readers and I missed out on. Since Regan and Regina/Reggie are too similar, and Regina's since had her Detroit origin retconned, the character will be renamed for reader sanity. She appears in this chapter and all future ones as Naledi, although South Africa's former connection to Europe means her last name is still perfectly valid as Jackson. Oh, and since I forgot to mention this in the last two chapters… you should all go hug HeatherSin if you're enjoying this. She's the one who got me to restart the story.
Reaching down, Dawn dipped a chip in the jar of salsa before offering the jar to Cassie. "So, are you pissed off that they've replaced you so easily?"
Cassie pondered that for a moment before shaking her head, dipping a chip of her own into the jar. "Not really, to be honest. I mean, I thought I would be… especially with how hard I fought to get in and the problems I suffered through at home for them and how worried I was about you taking my place… but now? Kate wasn't willing to try her little coup until it was too late to save me, they've replaced me… good riddance. And besides, Astrid's cool enough now that I'm past the whole 'you slept with my girlfriend, you disgusting skank' thing and Gisela seems nice enough."
"I know! How come it couldn't have been Kate, you, Astrid, and Gisela as the Young Avengers? Now that's a team I would have joined up with without a second though. We would have kicked some ass, too." Dawn pouted and decided to drown her annoyance with more chips and salsa. While things with Astrid were a bit more awkward for Dawn than they were for Cassie, the two were managing fairly peaceful coexistence… which was handy, given Janet had all but moved the redhead into one of the remaining guest rooms. Gisela, she'd yet to meet but Cassie had come back from one of her coffee dates with Kate with nothing but good things to say. "Well, the new girls seem happy, the team seems happy, we're happy, and nobody wants to set my supervillain-smacking schedule for me. In the end, we all win."
The two snuggled closer on the couch, content to enjoy their snack and the mindless entertainment of afternoon television, when suddenly the news cut in with a special report. "This just in… the Young Avengers are currently facing off with Venom in Times Square! And according to eyewitness reports, even with their new members Arachnia and Princess Powerful, it seems like the team has bitten off a bit more than they can chew. Charlie, do we have a cameraman down there yet? We do? Then why are they staring at my ugly mug? Roll the footage, man!"
The view switched from the television studio to a rather shaky view of Times Square. Why it was shaky soon became apparent as the cameraman swore loudly and dove to the left, narrowly avoiding being hit by a flying black and white shape. A body, it turned out, as it rolled over and stretched. The auburn hair made identification easy for Dawn and Cassie and they watched as Astrid scuttled forward on her four boney spider legs, only to be backhanded into a nearby car by the another figure in a similar black and white costume: the infamous Venom.
Astrid stayed slumped against the car and the camera panned back over to Venom, watching as Teddy moved in to grapple with the black-suited hulk, but Astrid evidently wasn't as idle as the cameraman assumed. Dawn jumped as something vibrated in her pocket, pulling out her cell phone to find a text message. Cassie peered over her shoulder at the screen and raised an eyebrow. "What the heck does 'SMA?' mean?"
"Save My Ass."
"Are we gonna?"
After thinking about it, Dawn shrugged. The Slayers were about as trained as they were going to get without doing some serious seismic damage with full Slayer training sessions at superhuman heights. This would be a good test of their new abilities, plus a chance to rub some salt in the wound when it came to the Young Avengers' misstep concerning her and Cassie. "…I guess. Not like we're doing anything more interesting at the moment." Groaning, Dawn rose to her feet and rolled her shoulders to work out a bit of stiffness as Cassie dashed off down the hall to get changed. Following at a more sedate pace, a plan was already forming in her mind as she tapped out a text that would be broadcast to six identical black and yellow phones.
'Wasp Corps, Bug Out'
Sometimes, it really sucked to be the normal girl on a team of superheroes, Kate mused as she let another arrow fly. Teddy was a superstrong shapeshifter, Astrid was a superstrong spider girl, Gisela was fucking Power Girl who'd traded heat vision for energy blasts from her hands, Billy had his magic, Tommy had his speed and weird little explosive blasts… even if none of them were doing particularly well against their crueler and more experienced foe, they were doing better than her. And Eli, for that matter. That made her perk up a bit. Even with the super-soldier serum pumping through his veins, the group's former leader was just as useless as she was. Cool.
Then again, Kate realized as Venom swatted her arrow out of the air with barely a thought, the team needed every little bit of help they could get at this juncture. Should she really be happy about Eli's uselessness?
Kate set that one aside for later consideration as she knocked another arrow and took aim, holding the bow steady for a moment before scowling and lowering it. What was the point? The arrows were irritants if they even managed to slip through and land, which was about one time out of four, and her teammates dodging in and out to attack Venom meant she risked hitting them in what would be a painful and embarrassing case of friendly fire. Her eyes fell on one of the fallen SWAT officers and the H&K G36 lying by his side. Hmm. Now that was an id-
"Hornet to Young Avengers." Kate jerked at the sudden noise, hand flying to the earpiece of the radio she was wearing. With the battle plan decided on, the channel had been largely quiet as her teammates fulfilled their roles without any further guidance from her. But now… "Hornet to Young Avengers. Disengage immediately. Time till target: ten seconds." Astrid and Gisela, both in the midst of trying to force Venom to the ground, traded looks before flinging themselves away from their black-clad opponent. "Four… three… two… weapons free, attack pattern beta, go go go!"
Bursts of yellow light began to rain down from the sky, peppering Venom with bioelectric blasts that seemed to do nothing more than irritate the villain. Seconds later, four black and yellow clad figures popped into existence in a circle around him, falling upon Venom in a flurry of fists and feet. Kate's jaw dropped as she watched; she considered herself fairly proficient in hand-to-hand combat but these girls of Dawn's… ones she'd met at the salon and who had seemed normal enough… were in a league of their own.
Suddenly, perfectly in sync, all four delivered one last punch before spinning away from Venom. Kate's radio crackled again. "Kame…" A pulse of green light had Kate craning her neck back so quickly she heard something crack, but the pain was secondary to disbelief as she watched a human-sized figure in black plummet face-first towards the ground, hands outstretched with a ball of green energy between them. "…hame…" The ball continued to grow, casting green light over the surrounding area even in the middle of the afternoon. "…ha!" A column of green energy roared downward, slamming into Venom and eliciting a roar of pain. The villain managed to keep his feet for a moment before dropping to one knee, then tipping forward to fall onto his chest as the attack pushed him deeper and deeper into the ground. At the last second, Dawn's body shrank just a bit and her wings extended, allowing her to pull out of her manic dive and come in for a stumbling - but not splattered on the pavement - landing. "Regan… you and Anthony are up. Cassie, you're next."
"Anthony?" Kate looked over at Eli, wondering when her teammate had sidled up next to her. Christ, she really had to work on her situational awareness. "They're actually recruiting guys now? I thought it was just Dawn, Cassie, and all Dawn's little girlfr… Jesus Christ!"
Kate followed Eli's gaze and her blue eyes went wide. She'd brushed off the strange emphasis on the first three letters of the name as just her mind playing tricks on her… but suddenly it all made sense. Ant-hony. As in a fucking bigger than a Humvee ant. Complete with reins and Regan riding on its back, pink cowboy hat looking incredibly out of place next to her black and yellow costume. "Somebody's got to be unafraid to lead the Freak Parade!"
A deep chuckle rolled through the artificial canyons of the city and then a seven-foot tall Cassie appeared, looking like a whole new woman in her redesigned black and red costume with a silver visor hiding her eyes and some sort of silvery harness on her back. "I swear, Regan, if you get that stupid song stuck in my head one more time…"
"Girls… eyes on the prize, if you don't mind?"
"Oh, fine." Regan's steed skittered around the battlefield until she was behind Venom, slowly moving towards him as he struggled to climb back to his feet. Just as he was finally managing to get upright once more, the giant ant lunged forward, pincers closing around Venom's body and holding him fast even as he struggled and beat against them. "Time to kick it up a notch, Cassie!"
Approaching the trapped villain, Cassie's black-tinted lips curled upward in a smile. "Oh, we're kicking it up to notches unknown, baby!" The harness whirred softly before unfolding to reveal two shiny metal spider legs, the points digging into the pavement behind Cassie as she raised her arms, a pair of silver gauntlets glinting in the sunlight. Cassie angled her wrists down and a clicking noise echoed ominously across the suddenly silent urban battlefield. As tiny gouts of flame burst to life, Kate realized for the first time what she was looking at. "Bam!"
Fire poured from the nozzles mounted on Cassie's armor and the sudden, awful burst of heat had Kate ducking her head and turning away for protection. While it took Venom out of her sight, he was still within hearing range and she winced as he let out a bestial roar of pain that slowly turned into a more human-esque scream of pain as the fire overpowered the symbiote and forced it into submission. Finally, the heat died down and after giving things a few extra seconds just to be safe, Kate peered back over her shoulder to assess the situation.
The road now looked like a war zone, with a streak of dark, bubbling asphalt that ran from Cassie's position to the crater created by the attack Dawn had unleashed on Venom. A crater that now contained a burnt, hairless, entirely human man at the bottom, with a collapsed, headless giant ant corpse a few feet away. Less than two minutes, and the girls had done what the Young Avengers' couldn't. And their only casualty had been an ant, which was probably easy enough to replace. Christ, her team was pathetic. Thank God Dawn had come to their rescue, Kate realized, because they'd definitely bitten off more than they could chew. Maybe they could at least get a few public relation points by handling the capture and turning him over to the cops, though. "Hey, Arachnia! Wanna fish him out of there with your webs before the asphalt hardens again and he's stuck?"
"Do I want to? No. He's probably going to smell horrible and I like being upwind of him, thank you very much." Kate narrowed her eyes and Astrid sighed. "Oh fine. Although I don't see why Hulkling can't just stretch his arms to reach in and grab him. Then again, if you want it done right, send a girl…" Turning away, she waved to get the new arrivals' attention. "Hornet, Ant-Girl, can one of you gimme a lift? If someone holds me out over the crater, I'll web him and pull straight up. Beats trying to jump over the crater and yank him out or walking in that mess myself."
After exchanging looks and a few gestures with Cassie, Dawn stepped forward and began to grow, her wings retracting as she hit full height. As she continued to stretch higher, she moved over to the crater, dropping to her knees so she straddled the patch of gooey black asphalt. Snapping her fingers, she held out one hand over Venom's limp body and Astrid took the hint, launching herself into the air and easily landing in Dawn's palm, nimbly scrambling between two of the black-haired girl's fingers before attaching a web line and dropping slowly towards the ground.
Hanging there for a moment, Astrid lined up her shot before releasing another web line that hit Venom right in the chest. Kate watched as the blonde reeled the line in, trying to ignore the man's moans of pain and hideous appearance. "Hey, Hulkling! Catch!" Kate's eyes went wide as Astrid whipped her arm back and forth a few times, building up some good momentum before releasing the web line and sending Venom's host tumbling through the air in Teddy's direction. The shapeshifter caught the man and barely restrained the urge to drop him, letting out a rather girlish squeal of disgust. Kate sighed and shook her head; add that to the list of things Eli was going to be bitching about when they returned to the warehouse for debriefing.
Shrinking back down to her human size, Dawn gave a full-body shudder before shrinking a bit further and fluttering over to Kate on her insect wings. "Hey. Wanna come over for dinner? It's fajita night and Hank could stand to be stuck with a smaller portion. If I don't start finding more people to come over for meals, he's going to need to make a bigger costume soon."
"Umm…" Kate looked over at where Eli was glaring in her direction. Well, maybe not her direction, she conceded; Dawn, Cassie, the new Wasp Corp girls, or maybe even Astrid was likely the true target of his bad mood. Still, the ugly sneer on his face meant he was going to be a joy to deal with during their post-patrol debriefing, and she really had no desire to stick around and put up with his shit at the moment. "Chicken or beef?" Dawn looked confused and so Kate elaborated. "The fajitas. You having chicken or beef? Not that it matters; just curious."
Approaching from behind Dawn, Cassie wrapped an arm around her floating girlfriend's waist. "Knowing Dawn? I'm going to guess maybe shrimp, because she likes at least one seafood option and we had fish last night, and… no, chicken's too common. Pheasant? Duck? Pigeon again?" Dawn's eyes widened and the blonde shrugged before kissing the older girl's jaw. "My Googlefu is strong, sweetie. It wasn't that hard to find out what the 'squab' part in 'Peking squab' was. So, how close am I?"
"Shrimp and pheasant."
Kate blinked. That certainly sounded… interesting. Well, not that she'd never eaten either before, but she'd never eaten either prepared by Dawn. Who was, by all accounts, a rather eccentric chef. What the hell? She'd risk it. It certainly beat a night with a cranky Eli. "Alright, I'm in. Mostly because you guys owe me in a story. How did you know we needed help? And where the hell did you two get that energy cannon and a flamethower? Because if you've got an address, I've got the money…"
Holding up a hand, Dawn cut her off. "All in good time. Before we can leave, though… Dawn to Mahika, time for you to do your thing. Take care of the corpse; pavement is the DOT's problem."
"This isn't fair at all." Emerging from behind a box truck, the Indian girl stomped over to where the headless giant ant was lying on the pavement, a pack consisting of two massive silver cylinders and some connecting pipes shifting on her back with each step. As Kate watched, she reached back to pull free a hose and went to work spraying the ant with some sort of bright blue foam. "Why am I the one stuck on cleanup duty? You seven made this mess. With the Young Avengers. I didn't do anything."
"Exactly. And that was the agreement. I don't try to make you fight, and you do assist with search and rescue or cleanup efforts. Well, there's nobody who needs searching for." Dawn gestured to the torn up street, which was littered with wrecked cars - some of which were burning, others of which were just plain destroyed - but that was the extent of the damage. The businesses lining the street were still intact and apart from the cops who'd been injured or killed before the Young Avengers' arrival, there had been no new casualties. "By process of elimination, that makes you cleanup girl tonight. So get with the cleaning."
Muttering under her breath, Mahika returned to her task of hosing down the remains of Regan's steed and Kate watched as each pass made the lump of black ant get a bit smaller. Pym Particles, she realized. The reversal formula. "Alright, so we're out of here." Kate back to Dawn, who had shrunk down to her minimum size and was hovering a foot away from her face. "Why don't you go home and grab some casual clothes? Astrid, go with her and then give her a lift back to… err, our place?"
Astrid looked over at Kate for permission and Kate nodded in agreement. "Alright. Oh, and Dawn? Thanks for the assist. They couldn't have done it without you."
"Excuse me? Shouldn't that be 'we couldn't have done it without you'?"
"Pshaw, Spider-Man beats Venom up all the time. I was just holding back to make the rest of you look good."
"…no! Wow. And we're actually trusting you to lead us? For real?"
As Astrid wandered off, still bickering with Kate, nobody noticed the odd black substance that the redhead stepped in. Nor did anyone notice the entire puddle rearing up and curling a series of little tentacles around her ankle, surging up her leg and riding away to leave behind a now clear spot on the pavement. It continued to ripple and move for a few seconds longer before smoothing out to encase her calf in a flat black material that perfectly matched her costume.
Absorbed in what she was doing in the kitchen, Dawn missed the first, soft cough. The second was louder and far more attention grabbing, and she looked up from the cutting board. Standing at the entrance of the kitchen, head ducked slightly as she traced her fingers over the wasps embroidered in yellow on her black sari, was Mahika. While Dawn had a feeling she knew what was coming, she decided against assuming. "What's up?"
"I'm going home. I thought our agreement meant things would work out, but now I see it's just your way of mocking me because I won't do what you want me to do. At least back in India, the Watchers respect my pacifism." Raising her head, Mahika glared at Dawn before her anger disappeared and her face smoothed to a relatively impassive visage, brown eyes breaking away from Dawn's own. "I left my W.A.S.P. suit downstairs in apartment two. I don't know what'll happen to it but I didn't think you'd let me keep it. Not that I'd have a use for it. Do you want the sari back? I can change before I leave."
Dawn shook her head, inwardly debating whether or not to share the fact that the Watchers who 'respected' Mahika had probably only sent her to New York because they were sick of dealing with her. "A gift's a gift, Mahika. I wish we could work things out, but… well, you won't fight and I won't have someone who won't pull their weight. Not to be mean or anything, but it costs a lot more to feed and house you here than it does back in India. I'm not short on change, but I'm not going to let you be a leech on my purse if you're not giving anything back. So… I had Billy make that portkey back when we made our deal. You know what to do."
Nodding, Mahika held up a simple copper bracelet and slid it onto her wrist. "All I have to say is 'There's no place like home' and…"
"Don't!" Dawn lunged forward, passing through the space Mahika had just occupied as the Indian girl disappeared into thin air. Landing, Dawn sighed and reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose. "Great. Now I've got to ship all her shit to India. Or maybe I'll just bribe Billie with more presents. Yeah. That sounds like a plan."
Subject: Job Opportunity
Hey, I remember talking on the phone last month and you mentioned you were getting kinda bored with running the NY branch of the ICOW. I'd ask if you'd heard of my new project, but I'm pretty sure even people living in caves in Tibet have heard. Seriously, Oz emailed me about it yesterday. But anyways, getting back to the point… want in? Mahika cut and ran back to India and so we need a new girl to round out our six. I've still got a few names on file from the first time around but none of them are close and I'd rather not take another person I don't know. Did that the first time, and got Mahika and the brat twins. Reminds me, do people really dump bodies in the East River? Think I could get away with doing that to the Phans? They're tiny; could probably fit 'em both in one Hefty bag…
Subject: Re: Job Opportunity
Yeah. Saw the whole thing live. Even with your database, some of my Slayers wanted to try and go slay Venom. Ron White evidently had it right: you can't fix stupid. Although I'm not sure I want to know why your idea of a good plan involved a flamethrower and a giant ant. As for joining up, I'd need a bit to get a better 2IC installed so she can take the reins when I leave. Why don't we get together for coffee and discuss it? Tomorrow, noon, the Starbucks at 450 W 33rd Street (between 9th and 10th).