Hopeful
Katherine Hana Li spin_kick_snap
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The Pickle Hut, Los Angeles, Sunday Afternoon
Taking a portal back to Fandom was roughly a billion percent better than flying. Rather than getting to the airport several hours early, followed by a long flight in recycled air, indubitably sitting in front of a small child that squalled and kicked and next to a large man who thoughtlessly encroached on her space, Kathy could make her way to wherever the portal was scheduled to open with only minutes to spare, and then boom! She'd step through and be in Fandom. Okay, actually she'd step through, have a few weird layovers and pitstops, and then, boom! Fandom, but it was still better than flying. A layover in the Dimension of Blue was infinitely more interesting than a layover in Cleveland.

On a whim, she'd scheduled her portal to open not far from the diner that Gorgon had introduced her to over Thanksgiving break. It wasn't much to look at, everything scrupulously clean but rather faded and worn. More than one of the booths had rips covered by duct tape, the air always smelled heavily of brine, and the colors and decor looked like they hadn't been updated since the seventies. Between that and the giant neon pickle outside, most people gave the Pickle Hut a pass. Kathy couldn't say she wouldn't have done the same if she had seen it under other circumstances. But the people who judged this book by its cover were seriously missing out on some of the best food in the city. Certainly on the best kimchi Kathy had ever tasted outside of Koreatown.

The Pickle Hut specialized in all things pickled. They had a whole separate menu for different kinds of pickles to try, including a pickle sampler platter and another featuring different kinds of pickled vegetables from all around the world. Pickled eggs, pickled beets, pickled jalapenos, pickled mango sauerkraut...if it could be pickled, it was probably on the menu, somewhere. Even pickled herring, which Kathy was working up her courage to try. Their main menu featured traditional diner food, especially burgers (that often featured pickled whatevers) and milkshakes (that generally didn't, though they did offer a pickle-flavored shake for the daring), both of which were always oversized, really thick, and amazingly good.

If Kathy hadn't spent most nights flitting around the rooftops of Koreatown at an easy jog of thirty miles per hour, she'd probably have to start worrying about how many burgers she'd eaten this trip. And since she had plenty of time before her portal was scheduled to arrive, Kathy had ensconced herself in a booth and ordered a lunchtime special with extra fries and an monster-sized oreo cookie shake.

This was way, way, way better than airport food.

[For the other LA native and open for phone calls]

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Right. Last night had been a late night, and tomorrow he'd be back to work dealing with Hollywood's other biggest scourge; his clients. But this afternoon, Nick had nothing to do with himself but go through a file of headshots for a studio that was looking to cast some cheap unknown in a supporting role for the next big DC flick. He had the file tucked under one arm as he made his way into the place in LA where he did all of his best thinking, and he gave the waitress there an easy grin and a nod.

"Hey, Mona! The usual - and extra toursi today, beautiful. I'm gonna be here a while."

And then a straightaway to his usual seat, where he slapped his file onto the table, slid into the booth, and only once he'd settled in with his work did he bother to glance up to see who else was in today.

spin_kick_snap

2015-01-04 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Kathy was absently dipping a french fry in ketchup, mind more focused on accurately remembering Bernoulli's equation than on her surroundings. With several hours of enforced idleness (and no outlet for her to plug her laptop into to play a video game) before her portal arrived, Kathy had decided to get a jump start on her elective courses, trying to avoid another panicked catchup at the end of the semester like the one she'd just had.

So in between thoughts of P1 + ρgy1 + ½ρv12 = P2 + ρgy2 + ½ρv22 and I should ask Mona for another plate of fries and maybe a pickle platter, it took Kathy a few minutes to place the voice of the guy who'd just came in. In fact, it wasn't until Mona had bustled over and started giving him hell about his 'little disappearing act' did Kathy realize that she recognized it at all.

Looking up over her pile of textbooks, she was surprised to see Gorgon--err, Nick, he wasn't in costume--sitting in the booth right in front of hers.

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sorry, Kathy, Nick was just a tiny bit preoccupied, now that Mona had sauntered over. He was holding up his hands in that universal gesture of surrender, wearing his best shameless smile because, shut up, it was a survival instinct, these days.

"Aw, c'mon, Mona. Still with that? I've been back since November, yeah, I know Mana was worried sick, but I fell off a cliff. Wasn't like I was planning for that, you know?"

Mona was apparently not hearing any of it. Not when she could be giving him a good swat on the back of his head and cussing him out some more.

It was not every day that Nikolai Bartamian was thoroughly cowed by a short waitress with a mean left hook, but Mona had that touch. People didn't come to The Pickle Hut to be coddled. They came to be lovingly bullied and then fed pickles while they licked their wounds.

spin_kick_snap

2015-01-04 06:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Too true. Kathy's first thought upon meeting Mona had been 'motherly'. That had swiftly changed to 'nosy aunty who had an opinion about everything and wasn't afraid to tell it all while making sure you ate more, because you're too thin'. And she was always there; no matter what time Kathy walked in, she could bet that Mona would be behind the counter, flipping through a magazine, and occasionally yelling at Petey, the busboy/delivery guy.

In a way, she made it feel like home. Kathy had grown up with multiple interfering old aunties of various levels of kinship. Besides, she got off lucky, apparently; all of Mona's mother-henning on her behalf centered around making sure that she'd had enough to eat and that she'd be all right walking home. Kathy had never been swatted upside the head with a menu.

And since Nick was entirely focused on defending himself against Mona's onslaught, Kathy was just going to watch the show with unabashed amusement. She was pretty sure that Gorgon had never faced an opponent as fierce as this one.

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Gorgon didn't have an arch-nemesis yet, but if Nikolai was ever asked if he had one, he'd probably say it was Mona. They had this whole thing down to a science way back when he was in high school. He'd duck in just a little too early for classes to be out in order to beat the crowd, she'd cuss him out because his future! and he'd cuss her out right back, mostly because he was a little shit who knew he could get away with it.

These days, he did less cussing back, though there were a new nasty words in Greek when another swat of the menu knocked his shades askew and he had to scramble to straighten them again before Mona could knock them clean off.

"Fell off a cliff! Fell off a cliff! Petey, do you hear this?"

"I hear it, Mo-"

"I wasn't finished yet! Off a cliff! He says it isn't his fault like he had no choice but to be on those rocks that day. Deje de ser tan pendejo, Nikolai!"

And this was about the point in the argument where Mona started cussing him out in Spanish. A few moments later, Nick started returning the favor in Greek. No, neither of them had the faintest idea what the other one was saying, but they could both guess, and this, too, was part of their routine.

Along with more menu-swatting.

spin_kick_snap

2015-01-04 06:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Stop being so stupid!

Kathy was just as lost as Mona when Nick started in with his Greek, though she could follow Mona's half of the conversation without fail. And she was hilarious. There were several times when she had to duck behind one of her books so they wouldn't hear her laughing.

"Thank God he made you pretty, stupid boy, because if you were forces to survive by your wits, you'd be dead in a week!" And then back in English. "Fell off a cliff? Who told you to climb up it, huh?" And once more in Spanish. "You spend all your days in an office with a little weight set and suddenly you think you can scale cliffs like the Mighty Dragon or something? Your mama raised you smarter than that, idiot boy!"

"Can I get you more fries?" Petey was at her elbow, a worn towel thrown over his shoulder. Kathy startled, too wrapped up in the multilingual battle of wills to notice his approach. "They'll be at this for awhile. But I could get you more fries if you want?"

"Oh, sure," Kathy said, fighting down a blush at having been caught blatantly eavesdropping. "I mean, if you wouldn't mind?" She realized that this was probably the first time she'd ever heard Petey finish an entire sentence. He usually only got halfway through a mumbled reply before Mona interrupted.

"Not at all. I--"

"Petey! Stop flirting and fetch that girl more fries! And another milkshake! No one can be expected to study on an empty stomach." Mona gave Nick another glare, pursing her lips. "Nice to see that there are some people around here who know the value of education!"

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 07:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

"You say that like I'm not already making a good living at the agency," Nikolai barked back, reaching for his file and waving it around again. "Na pari i eychi! I was educated just f--uck!"

Now Mona was beating him with his own folder of headshots. This was going well. A few more smacks for good measure, and she was setting it down on the table where he had picked it up from.

"And watch your tongue in my restaurant or I'll come back out here with the dish soap!"

spin_kick_snap

2015-01-04 07:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh. The Pickle Hut was Mona's restaurant! That explained why she was here pretty much anytime Kathy came in, regardless of the absurdity of the hour.

Petey scurried off to the kitchen with her dirty plate and Nick had been too distracted with his beatings to notice her, so Kathy felt free to continue to listen in on their argument.

She just wished she had popcorn for this.

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Nikolai really had no intention of watching his mouth. Why would he start now, if he'd never bothered before? But now that his folder was safely back on the table, he was sort of half-hunkering over it before people's hundred-dollar shitty photos could get further mangled by a lady who smelled like garlic and vinegar.

At least now they had reached the part of the routine that involved Nikolai pretty much groveling. This was also part of the delicate dance of the Pickle Hut. Mona would soon retreat to go bask in her glory. And probably make Nick a milkshake, because the boy didn't eat enough.

"-Was stupid, I know, I know. I had all the right gear, but a strap snapped, it would've been safe otherwise. Haven't gone rock climbing since. Not planning on starting again. It's been two years and it's pretty much fff-" Nick made a tactical decision at the last second and cleaned up his vocabulary slightly. "-screwed up life as I knew it. I missed almost two years of work, you know? Not in any hurry to go through that again."

...

Swat.

"Well, don't do it again, stupid boy. We've been worried sick, waiting for you to grow up, Nikolai. Any day now, you might actually surprise us."

spin_kick_snap

2015-01-04 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

As opposed to Mona's earlier theatrical scolding, that last bit sounded more sincere. Genuine. There was concern and care there, under the veil of irritation. Kathy quickly looked down at her notebook of physics problems, tips of her ears red. It was one thing to eavesdrop on what seemed like an amateur comedy routine, but it just seemed wrong to listen in when someone was talking from the heart.

Kathy kept her eyes on her work as the waitress bustled past, still grumbling about muchachos tontos malditos, but couldn't help but glance over at Nick when Mona was safely behind the counter again, calling his order into the kitchen. "And don't forget the toursi! He wants extra!"

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 08:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Nick was going to wait until Mona was neatly tucked away, too, before sighing and slumping back in his seat. He'd worry about the damage to the photos in a moment. It wasn't as though he hadn't known that would happen when he came in, after all.

A few moments later, there was that feeling that maybe he was being watched. And finally, he glanced over his shoulder, and--

... Ah.

"Enjoy the show?"

spin_kick_snap

2015-01-04 08:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Kathy's first instinct was to squeal and duck under the table. But she'd made a resolution to live her life as Kathy with the same colorful abandon as she did as Banzai, so she ignored that kneejerk reaction in favor of giving Nick a smile and a shrug without breaking eye contact.

Well, sort-of eye contact. She kept looking at his sunglasses anyway.

"It was pretty entertaining," she admitted. "Even if I didn't understand most of what you were saying. Probably for the best that you didn't understand Mona, either."

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 08:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

"My best guess is a few dozen variations on 'how stupid can you get,' with a side order of 'you're lucky you're pretty,'" Nick mused, shrugging his shoulders. "It's not the first time we've gone at one another like that. I doubt it'll be our last. Mona and I, we go way back."

She probably wouldn't get away with swatting him so many times, otherwise.

"So. Back for the holidays, huh?"

spin_kick_snap

2015-01-04 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, he wasn't wrong.

"Yup. Leaving in a few hours, actually. I finally got sick and tired of planes, so I'll be portaling back. Oh, thank you." That last was to Petey, handing over a plate of hot, golden fries and a shake thick enough to keep the spoon standing straight up. She gave him a bright smile and snagged a fry before looking back to Nick. "Been here almost three weeks, actually. Surprised I haven't seen you around." In costume, since goodness knew their daylight lives didn't intersect. "I think I've been here often enough to earn regular status."

There was nothing like a pair of hearty burgers after a night's patrol.

gunslingerpose

2015-01-04 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

"I've been spending more time on the bike after work," Nick replied with a shrug. "Out a little later, covering more ground. I missed it, so I'm making more use of it while I fall into a routine. Anyway, you're not a regular around here until Mona smacks you with a menu at least once."

"I heard that, Nikolai!"

"Which'll probably happen sooner rather than later."

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