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Our Plague
« on: November 26, 2017, 03:15:59 AM »

Pushing through the doors of The Old Whale, the construction on the bar was immediately obvious. Natalie bit her lip, feeling an immense amount of guilt, and unsure how to handle it. Her eyes met with Glenn, who was sweeping up some various debris leftover from the construction crew. She wanted to be happy, wanted to smile seeing her drinking ground get a much-needed facelift, but she could only feel guilt. There was no way Glenn could ever pull together enough money to fix the bar on his own.

And it meant there was only one possibility.

Irving.

Natalie was the facilitator of the whole deal. Of course, Irving painted it as he was simply doing a favor to the bar owner for hosting Fight 2 Win and their champion. In reality, it was a debt that Glenn had walked into. And it wasn’t like he could say no. The bar was his livelihood. It was all he had and Natalie not only nearly brought it to the crowd, but now she put his life in the hands of the mob. All she could think about was what happened when she lost the f2W Championship?

She imagine they wouldn’t be as friendly then. But as Glenn lifted his eyes up from cleaning, he smiled at Natalie. He didn’t know. Maybe he did, but if he did, he didn’t understand the severity of the situation. Natalie wanted to be happy for him, she put on a forced smile, but inside, it killed her to see this. She walked up and took a seat on one of the remaining bar stools as Glenn took his usual place behind the counter

“So, what can I get the champ?”

“I’ll just take a water, Glenn.”

He smiled and started to pour a glass. Natalie focused on the flowing water, trying anything to distract herself.

“I’m really sorry about what happened here…”

“Hey, it’s not everyday you get a bunch of aliens blowing up your bar.”

“Not aliens.”

“Are you positive? Cause, Nat, I don’t know if you noticed...but there’s a pretty big fucking hole in the middle of the dance floor. And then Cher...”

Natalie put her hand up, cutting Glenn off.

“Let’s not talk about it.”

He chuckles and Natalie offers a small smirk in return. The events all felt so surreal still. Even experiencing it live, watching it back; none of it made sense to her. All she wanted was to wrestle. And now she was being pulled into aliens, Scientology, but worse of all? She was being pulled in deeper with her debt. She was putting others in danger. Even if she hated what Joey stood for, what he represented, and the dangerous nature of his work naturally...she still felt guilty pulling him into this.

But no one had any complaints. Natalie didn’t voice hers; not like they’d be heard to begin with. It was all about making a profit. Trying to make new business connections. She was locked in. There was no running away. And maybe it was selfish of her to stay in it. All it’d take is one thing and she’d be gone. Instead, she’s staying in it. Putting everyone at risk and for what? So she can be a champion? Natalie wasn’t sure there was a right response to it. To anything. She needed a drink more than anything, but had to refrain while training.

“You know, I have to thank you, Nat.”

The sound of Glenn’s voice broke her away from the trance she put herself in, looking up at him.

“For what?”

“I mean...minus the bar getting beat up to shit...business has been great. People love a good bar fight and I get to host the fucking champ!”

Natalie listened to the joy in Glenn’s voice and envied him for it. She wished that she could see the same silver lining that he did. For Glenn, there wasn’t a care in the world for him. His bar was being fixed for free. In a few weeks time, the place would be booming with plenty of people buying tickets and buying booze. He’d get to turn the lights off and head home. But Natalie didn’t share the same luxury. And with Irving, anything was possible. Maybe Glenn would become their next victim. And it’d be Natalie’s fault.

“Your business partners have saved my life.”

And ruined hers.

______

Natalie needed something to take her mind off of everything. The throbbing electronic music gave her a headache; too sober to pretend to enjoy it. She wanted to try and stay clean this cycle. Focus on training. Focus on giving her all against Fantana. But she was weak. It was a rare night off. When she should’ve been in the gym, she found herself back where it all started. For perhaps the first time in her life, she wished Joey had work for her. But there was nothing.

There was just Natalie. All by herself.

As she navigated through the club, her eyes scanned through the crowd. Natalie pushed by the dancing patrons, no one seemingly bothered by her no-nonsense swim through them. Her eyes locked onto the sign: The Men’s Restroom. No one batted an eye. As she opened the door, there was already a small queue formed. One clubber after another, waiting in line. A brief exchange of money for a small vial. That was what she was living for at the moment. Each passing second felt excruciating, but it was eventually Natalie’s turn as she held up two fingers. She pulled some bills out of her money clip and handed them over to the man, who started to count them.

“Good seeing ya again, Nat.”

“Yeah, yeah, Mikey. Let’s just hurry this up.”

“Antsy? Don’t worry, Nat, you know I got your fix.”

A slimy grin appeared on his face; one Natalie wanted to wipe off, but that’s what started all the trouble to begin with. Satisfied with the count, Mikey turned toward another who reached into a bag and produced two small vials. Stepping away, Natalie wasted no time popping the first one open, taking a brief taste, and immediately dumping the contents out onto the corner of her hand before taking the first hit. The burning of her nostrils was enough to wake her up, to get the blood flowing, and the heart pounding, but it wasn’t enough.

Her tolerance was beginning to show, but only for a moment as the second hit wiped that away. For the first time all month, Natalie felt alive. She felt confident. In one instance, every problem went out the window. The smiling Natalie King in the mirror is the person she always wanted to be. The most elusive person in the world. But she was there now and that’s all that mattered. As Natalie turned back toward the exit, she couldn’t help, but notice someone staring right at her. She stared right back; sending a different vibe toward him, but he didn’t stop.

He wouldn’t stop. And that pissed her off. To the point where she took offense. She stepped up to the man, Natalie a few inches taller than him. A smug smirk on his face. He opened his mouth, no doubt about to say something sleazy as anyone getting cocaine in a men’s bathroom would say, but Natalie wasn’t interested as she clocked him with a headbutt; shattering his nose instantly. The line broke apart as the man fell to the bathroom floor and Natalie didn’t let up, planting her foot into the side of the man’s ribs.

“Nat!”

Mikey’s voice rang out, but she couldn’t hear him. All she was focused on was the man on the bathroom floor, covering the white tile with his blood. She delivered each kick, hoping to break as many ribs as she could. Unfortunately for her, that wouldn’t come to fruition as Mikey and a few others pulled Natalie away.

“Natalie!”

Her eyes were still locked in on the man, now being helped to his feet, and taken out of the restroom. Static was all she heard, but her name repeated over and over again started to drown it out. She finally snapped her head toward Mikey.

“What?”

With the back of her hand, she wiped the blood from the man off her face.

“I’m good. I’m good!”

She shook her arms free from the grasp of the bystanders and stepped over the small pool of blood that had formed. That’s what she always wanted. To be in control. To be unstoppable. And that’s what was she was getting in life. That’s what Fight 2 Win gave her. Even if there was some ulterior motives elsewhere, she didn’t care. She was their champion. She was their fighter. She was THE face of the company.

And someone was coming to endanger that status. All month, she wondered if she even stood a chance against Zack Fantana. But one hit, one reminder...she knew she was more than ready. Stepping back onto the dance floor, she navigated toward the bar; looking for a drink, but in all honesty, she was looking for another fight. Just as she reached the bar, a hand shot out of the abyss of dancers, and grabbed onto Natlaie’s arm. She turned, ready for another fight, but nearly sobered up as she locked eyes with Joey.

No words were exchanged as he started to walk with her toward the back exit, like a disappointed father escorting his trashed daughter out of a party. Once they reached outside, the cold air helped enhance everything around Natalie. She was hyperfocused on everything, but that didn’t mean anything. Her night was over. Somewhere in her sober mind, she thought that was a metaphor for her life. Joey opened the door of the idling silver SUV and ushered Natalie in it, following behind her. Buckled in, the driver put the car into gear, and they were off.

“Mikey called me. Told me what happened. You’re lucky I happened to be nearby, Nat.”

Acting like an adolescence being scolded, Natalie didn’t respond, simply staring out of the passenger window toward the cloudy night sky. She didn’t want to be there, but in all fairness, Natalie didn’t know where she wanted to be. Not until her eyes glanced over just enough to see the F2W Championship lying in the front seat.

“You know how bad it would’ve looked for us...for Irving if you got picked up for trying to kick some punk to death in a bathroom? ”

She heard everything Joey was saying, but didn’t truly listen to it. Her eyes locked in on the championship. That’s where she wanted to be. Fighting again. In the ring. In a cage. Out of it. It didn’t matter. It was all an escape for her. No matter how temporary. It’d let her forget that she’s putting Glenn’s life in danger. That she’s putting anyone who comes into contact with her in danger. And all for that belt. By all accounts, Natalie should resent it, but she needed it more than ever.

“If you want to do this shit, call me first. I can’t guarantee you’ll be this lucky next time, Nat. And I can’t guarantee what Irving will do. So this? This is being kept between us, understood?”

The championship let her be in control. The challengers would come to her and she’d fight them. One by one. No matter who they were. Or, in some cases, what they were. She was there to fight them and prove that she was the best. Maybe it was just the coke in her blood talking. But Natalie only had to reason with herself. If there was any silver lining in life, she had to snatch onto it, and ride it for as long as she could. With Joey next to her, he was a good reminder.

“You good, Nat?”

A good reminder that she’d never be in control of her life.

“I’m fucking great.”

But she’d fight to regain that control. No matter what it took. Even if it wasn’t winnable. She’d never give up. It started with Alfie. Continued with Blackstar. His goons.

And it certainly wasn’t going to finish with Zack Fantana.

______

In her usual spot of The Old Whale, Natalie King sat seated on the partially destroyed stage where plenty of dive bands had played. The F2W Championship was laid out next to her and she stared at it as the camera got closer. Lifting her head up, she turned to acknowledge her new audience, and a warm smile accompanied.

“I can’t begin to tell everyone how honored I am to still be standing here as your F2W Champion. Of course, even then, it comes with another asterisk by my name. I defended this championship against Blackstar’s men, but not Blackstar himself...so I managed to leave the Whale still the F2W Champion, but I didn’t get the man I was after. And that’s alright. I showed that I’m willing to go to any lengths to make sure I stay champ and I don’t care who they put in front of me...I’m fighting tooth and nail every. Single. Night.”

“When I won this championship, my intentions weren’t to just celebrate it and be grateful to be here...my intentions have been to stay champion. And those plans haven’t changed. Sure, everything else around me might change...but you can guarantee this belt isn’t going anywhere. So when I saw the name I was drawn against this show...I couldn’t help, but smile. No more Blackstar. No more Scientology drama. Right now, I get to focus on Zack Fantana. Now that’s a challenge I look forward to facing.”

Her genuine smile remains, knowing all too well that a break from Blackstar and everything else was welcomed. A new challenge.

“Don’t get me wrong...while I loved having to fight for my life against a horde of aliens with dangerous weapons that could’ve killed me...I’m looking forward to an actual wrestling contest. A man who has had quite the résumé. A résumé I lack. It’s no secret that I’m still very new to all of this, but I don’t let that define who I am. Zack is a competitor, a winner, a champion; he’s so much more than me...but if there’s one thing we have in common? The thrill to compete. To fight. You strip away all of his accolades and achievements...and you’ve got a man looking to prove himself.”

Natalie stands up from the stage; her smile dampening down.

“Me? I don’t have anything to fall back on. This F2W Championship?”

On cue, she picks the championship up off the stage and holds it up for display.

“It’s all I’ve got. It’s all I’ve ever had. And I’m not letting it slip away. But I’d be foolish to say it’d be easy. I know it won’t. If there’s anything my time in F2W has taught me, it’s how to be prepared for literally anything wild happening. But this one? It should by all accounts by normal. And do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a normal match, Zack? It’s been awhile. I haven’t had the luxury of facing Devlin or Cruz...I’ve had to face an alien. TWICE.”

“So I might slip up. I’m bound to make mistakes here and there. But I’m not letting this opportunity go by me. This is more than just a wrestling match or even a championship match, Zack...it’s the opportunity to prove everyone out there I belong. That I’m just as good as everyone else. I may lack the experience and titles...but all that matters now is that I’m the F2W Champion. That I’m willing to put my body through anything to hold onto this belt. If you want to be the champion? That’s great then, Zack. Cause I wanna be the champion too.”

She rests the belt on her shoulder and adopts a cocky smirk.

“We can’t let our pasts define us...when we meet...that will define us. Our match will show the world just who Natalie King and Zack Fantana truly are. When the spotlight is on us, when the F2W Championship is on the line...do we sink or do we swim? When I was fighting Alfie Tenner, I thought to myself, ‘It can’t get anymore challenging.’ And then it did. When Blackstar stepped up to me...I did what even I thought was impossible and I left Melee as the champ.”

“When he sent his goons after me...I did what I thought was impossible and I left Melee AGAIN as the champ! So when we meet, I want you to know, Zack, I’m thinking that me having a normal match is impossible...but you know what? I’m going to leave Melee as the champion for a third time! And I know you’re going to do everything in your power to make sure that doesn’t happen. To that I say: GOOD. I want that fight from you, Zack. And I know you’ve got your charm, your wits, you vague threats of biological warfare...but underneath all of that, you’re just as scrappy and as hungry as me.”

For a second, there's a playful smile on her face, but just for a moment as Natalie returns to being all business.

“I can’t guarantee the destruction will meet the same standards that Blackstar and his crew have upheld...but it’s going to be a war nonetheless. It’s going to be brutal. It’s going to be ugly. But damn...I’m looking forward to it. A chance at normalcy. That’s what I’m most eager for. I’m eager to see if you’re just as good as advertised, Zack. I don’t want any shenanigans. Any outside forces trying to interfere into this. I just want Zack Fantana in a wrestling ring.  Is that too much to ask for?”

A simple shrug of Natalie's shoulders.

“It’s a tired cliche, but it’s still the truth. The two of us will enter this match, both looking for the same thing, but only one of us can walk away...and given the odds stacked against me these last two times...I like my odds, Zack. But hey, maybe third time’s the charm. Maybe this third possibility will become a reality. Maybe I don’t walk away Melee as the F2W Champion...but then again...I never cared about the odds to begin with. But perhaps most important of all...”

She holds the F2W Championship up and her eyes follow it.

“This one is for you, Cher.”

Bringing the title back down, she then looks toward the camera and holds the championship right up to the lens.

“And this? This is for you...if you can take it. Bring the best you’ve got, Zack.”

Natalie puts the belt right back where it belongs on her shoulder and smirks as she walks off; the camera fading to black.