1963-09-21 - Knight with Shining Arm
Summary: Bucky comes to the rescue of Pepper and shows off with Dracula. A messy battle ensues. Pepper witnesses her first deaths ever.
Related: http://marvel1963mush.wikidot.com/plot:once-upon-a-hellmouth
Theme Song: None
bucky pepper dracula 


The PanAm building is shining and new and, to most New Yorkers, a monstrosity. They'll miss it when it's eclipsed by some Stark endeavor but, for now, it dominates the skyline. The top floors are unfinished and it's there that Vlad Dracula has made his new home. In just days, the top-most floor has become something like home, carpeted in imported rugs and draped in tapestries.

Newly-built cages line one end of the top floor, slowly filled by humans scooped from the streets or imported from out of town. Sometimes they cry out but their defiance is quickly crushed by the influence of the surrounding master vampires who come and go on Dracula's errands.

Pepper, on the other hand, has no cage. She has a room, of sorts, glassed in to allow her to watch the proceedings around her. She receives nothing but water, brought to her by one of her original captors. The Ragged Man and the Blue Woman look young now, their clothes renewed, and they confer about her frequently. They aren't pleased with Dracula allowing her to keep her own mind.

Watching people die at the hands of vampires is no easy thing, though, and Dracula's favourites make no secret of their appetites. Many of them linger at the glass, watching her with curiosity and hunger.

*

The redhead is, as often, a resourceful woman. She's been using her time with her own mind to better study exactly what sort of set up they have got her in, what the locks are made of, how strong the glass is, how often the patrols and visitors come to her 'room'. It's hard to get a pocket without them, really, as she's not being so much guarded as she is simply a tasty piece of food they like to look at. Still, she's managed to keep it together other than the first time she watched someone die. That was horrific enough that, for a good hour, Pepper could do nothing but sit and cry. Still, tears weren't helping her, so she pulled herself back together and has returned to plotting a way out.

The next time they bring her water, Pepper gives a sweeter smile to the person who has opened her door to deliver it. She follows them after to the door, one of her bobby pins hidden in her hand. "…Thank you. This… helps. Thank you." She calls politely after the vampire, trying to distract them as the door is being shut, so she can slip the pin into the lock. If she manages it, the door won't actually be locked and she'll be able to push it open the moment she sees an empty time. If she can get out and sneak to the stairs… that's all that matters. That's a start. So, she waits for the first chance of no one watching her. Hopefully patience will pay off.

*

Reconnoiter the location. Assess enemy strengths and weaknesses. Prepare the battlefield accordingly.

Deliver maximum effort.

The routine's so much a part of Winter Soldier's thinking he doesn't even consider the step-by-step. It's reflex. Winter takes back routes, service elevators, even fire stairwells in lieu of a more direct approach to the upper levels. He stops off four levels below where the vampires had taken over the unfinished floors, picks a lock to the stairwells, and starts creeping up them, quiet as a whisper. Vlad's minions occupy the top two levels— so Winter leaves the access corridors and paces into the 57th floor. Finished, but not occupied. He drops his heavy rucksack on the ground and starts setting up a fallback point— weapons, ammunition, medical supplies. Because prepared. Suspicious, conical shaped lumps are extracted from the backpack and placed on key architectural joists and supports, and activated with a *click* and ominous beep before going silent.

Because prepared.

Winter returns to his rucksack, packing what he needs for the next leg of his trip, and forces open a deactivated elevator shaft. He grabs the cables and starts hauling himself up, hand over hand, bypassing the next two stories and climbing fearlessly over a 57-story drop until he can access the service hatches that lead him to the roof.

*

Dracula comes to visit her from time to time and he seems to sense her restlessness while she's making her plans. He gets up from his black throne and smooths out his long, red coat.

"Later," he says to his chamberlain. The man is trying to explain something about a map of the city but Dracula is not paying as much attention as he should. The starving vampires he's rescued squabble and he has to stop to tend to them, and then he's paying attention to Pepper. He crosses the room, pausing to shake one of the starving from his ankle where it clings to him. The Blue Woman opens the door for him and he sweeps in.

"You could be happier," he says to Pepper. "If you would simply remember yourself, Countess." Sometimes it's Countess. Sometimes it's Elizabeth. It's never Pepper. "Come." He holds out his hand to her.

*

The bobby pin that Pepper has stuck in the door tumbles to the floor as the door is opened — hopefully no one's heard it clinking against the ground, and Pepper is down one more tool that she can use in the future. There are still a few stuck in her hair, but not many. She stares hard at him, trying to put on a game face, but she's not all that good at faking happiness at her captor. She's still pretty much quickly going between being pissed and being terrified.

Pale eyes stare down at his hand, considering a moment, but then she looks back to the others at his back and an idea comes. "I… I'll come, but… I want it to be just us. You keep giving all your attention to all these others. You have no time for just me. Take me somewhere… private, alone. Even if it's just downstairs. I know you don't want to leave this place but… there are too many around all the time." Pepper insists, almost soundng haugthy. She's trying to sound like what a vampire Countess SHOULD sound like. Maybe it'll make her gamble to get him alone all the better. Then she just has to figure out how to overcome one ancient vampire, not a dozen of them.

*

Winter grabs the hatch to the elevator service room and opens it, peeking up to make sure the area is clear. He takes a moment to hang his rucksack from his belt so it can't hang him up, then reaches over and with his left arm, hauls himself bodily up into the service room. He pauses again— the M16 is set aside for a fallback weapon, and he sets the rucksack down and transfers two items into the haversack at the small of his back. He opens the door to the engineering area and peers through the crack, using a small mirror to scan the corners. Four targets— three humans and a grunting, jaw-jutted demon that looks more bored and restless than anything.

With inestimable patience, Winter waits for the two humans to amble off around the corner and out of immediate sight. He eases the door open and in one fluid motion, makes two attacks— he whips a knife at the lone human servant remaining. The blow takes the man in the throat without so much as a gurgle of protest and he drops to the ground. The demon starts to turn, and Winter calmly puts three rounds of sanctified, blessed silver-wrought lead into what he'd peg as the brainstem. Gore splatters, and the demon goes down hard with a wheeze of pain.

"Huh." Winter makes a mental note to thank the Wizard more properly (and make significant payments to the synagoge he'd robbed, for the silver) and eases into the corridor, holding that silenced HDM .22 out in front of him. He retrieves his knife and stalks the other two humans on the level.

One of them feels only a hot pain on his throat before darkness over takes him— the other sees his world end in the shape of a massive, silvered fist slamming into his temple with enough force to break his neck.

Winter casts around, finding the door he's looking for— 'Fire Suppression Services'— and slips inside the room, to wreck still more havoc— fingering a small glass phial at his beltlike which holds a rather innocuous amount of grey-green dust…

*

"We can go up on the roof. Not alone, but you can change that. Or not." Dracula takes Pepper by the hand and brings it to his lips. He's still oddly warm and has that lovely smell about him. He leads her out into the main room and gestures to Chamberlain. "Bring me our friends," he says pleasantly.

Chamberlain bows and goes to a cage that he opens. Several people step out, just ordinary New Yorkers: an older man, a homeless veteran, a woman with a child, and a police officer still in uniform.

"Surely your people deserve a little fresh air as well, Countess." Dracula smiles down at Pepper, then leads them all toward a staircase that will eventually lead to a rooftop garden and helicopter pad. "Let us go up."

New York is sinking into darkness, the evening is lovely, but Hell's Kitchen looks afflicted. Even from here, the clouds can be seen. Dracula leads Pepper and her little entourage out to the edge of the roof to survey his work. "You have more control of things than you think," he tells Pepper. "Perhaps you need a reminder."

*

Every hair on the back of Pepper's neck stands up straight as she follows him out of her room and allows her hand to be taken. Any half temptation to his scent or his warmth is all erased now by having seen others die already. Her eyes remain cool on him, uncertain, even as she's grasping at confidence she doesn't feel. "…Yes, it would be good to let them out in the air." Pepper murmurs softly, apologetic, guilty eyes flickering across the group in front of her.

She follows him, considering, her eyes flickering between the other humans and the man at her side. Maybe she'd have back up if she acted now, especially if it was just him and the humans. Surely they would fight with her. Then he's commenting about her control and her eyes narrow on him thoughtfully.

"…I have control? If I do, and these are truly my people… then I demand you release them. I do not like this set. They should be let free, back to their homes and their lives. Do I have that control?" Proud, she's trying to be proud and demanding, to take the same attitude she does when she's running the office.

*

Winter's readying himself to start moving from the upper stories when he hears voices. Not from the access crawlspaces— from the main stairs. One of them regal and full of arrogance. The other, feminine, and scared…

and his heart leaps when he realizes how /familiar/ that voice is.

Winter falls back to the access hatch to grab his gear and his M16, then on swift, silent feet sprints into the service tunnels. He readies a few other things, and sets one more explosive on the master release valve for the fire suppression system. He sets the timer with firm pushes of detent-loaded levers.

He leaves by a back way and clibms towards the uppermost levels of the 'false roof'— the canopy that hangs over the air conditioners and generators on top of the building. He sets his ruck up again in a fallback position, then on his belly, silent as a grass snake, crawls to the overlook of the giant Pan-Am balcony that overlooks the entire city. The view is utterly lost on him— he shoulders the ultramodern rifle and waits, prone. Patient. Silent. Barely breathing— his heart barely beating.

For Pepper and her captor to land in his line of sight.

*

"Of course I will release them, if that's what you desire." Dracula gestures to the police officer to come closer. The man is calm, obviously hypnotised by some force. "Your name, sir?"

"Sergeant William O'Reilley, My Lord. Bill." Bill takes off his hat and does a decent bow.

"This officer," Dracula says to Pepper. "Knows his own name. He has borne it since birth, I expect. I expect it makes him proud, does it not, Bill?"

"Yes, sir." Bill nods solemnly.

"All you need to do for Bill to go home to his family, Countess, is tell me your name." Dracula gestures between Bill and Pepper. "This is how much power you have. Your name is the difference between life and death. Bill. If you would."

Dracula points to the edge of the building and Bill, settling his cap in place, steps up and onto the rail. He stands balanced calmly on only a few inches of steel, at parade rest with his hands behind him. "If my Countess Elizabeth does not tell me her proper name, Bill, you are to step away from the building."

*

Perhaps Bucky's countermeasures are good enough for the average vampire but the Blue Woman has lived almost as long as her master and she knows the scent of subterfuge. She changes in a puff of black smoke, becoming a bat, and slips into a vent that will carry her to the roof.

Chamberlain watches her go and nods to the Ragged Man who stands, head tilted, listening for sounds of struggle from the roof. No sense worrying. Yet.

In the dark of an intake vent, buffeted by the circulating air, the Blue Woman surveys the scene. This will not do.

A moment later, she is a woman again, elegant and lovely. She stands for a moment, watching a litle longer, and then she moves faster than any human can, to kick the rifle out of Bucky's hands.

*

There is a sinking feeling at the base of Pepper's stomach about how easy this is. He'd just let them go? The officer still knows his name? Pepper gives the officer a shy, nervous smile, trying to convey something reassuring in her pale eyes, but there is soething vacant about Bill's gaze. Too calm. Entranced, almost. They were all under control, weren't they? Pepper couldn't lead a revolution. No one else on this roof wanted to revolt. She swallows her heart back tightly down her throat.

"…Y-you… you must let him go. If I say that… that name, you must let him go. You've *promised*." Pepper insists, somewhat shakily, the edge of tears and fear behind her voice now. She knows this is how the breaking starts. Even if she's doing it for the best of reasons. She stares over at the man as he climbs to the edge of that rail. Pepper just shakes her head slowly in turn, as if she could deny this was happening.

"…I… I'm… Elizabeth. Now let him go. Please. Let him down!" Pepper insists, her tone a bit too high pitched and desperate for the arrogance she was playing at before. She's in over her head, so entirely. Her eyes quietly search the top of the building for anything that could be used as a weapon. But she's quickly losing hope that her plan will, at all, work.

*

A bullet whips past Vlad's head. It misses by mere inches— hypersonic and singing like a bird. The M16 flies across the canopy and clatters to the ground with a racket of steel on concrete.

There's scuffling, grunts of pain, a cry of frustration from the canopy. A moment later, Winter Soldier and Chamberlain fly off the roof and slam into the concrete a scarce few yards from Pepper, Dracula, and the victims. Chamberlain's fast— but so is Winter Soldier. The man Pepper knows as Jack Frost fights faster than any human has a right to. And he has a surety, a /grace/ that belies his merely mechanical speed. He rides Chamberlain to the ground, straddling her hips, pummeling her with his left fist in a blur of motion, and stabbing her in kidney and liver with a long combat knife. Holy symbols and silver wire have been crudely worked into the blade and vampiric ichor sprays into the air in wide loops.

Winter rears up to deliver a killing blow, aiming to drive that blessed blade into Chamberlain's heart— but she vanishes in an unholy screech, smoke billowing as she retreats to lick her wounds. It looks like she clubbed him in the jaw— it's a bit lopsided behind that iron mask, and his eyes are grim and full of silent hate behind dark red lenses.

He flicks his knife in his right hand, holding it in a ready posture, and cracks his neck— staring at Vlad pointedly.

The tension couldn't be thicker if a tumbleweed came along on an errant breeze.

*

"I'm so glad." Dracula actually smiles at her. "It will take time to harden your heart, Elizabeth, but when it is hard, it will be more fierce than my own. I can tell. Bill." He snaps his fingers. "Step down."

And Bill does. Just like that.

"Thank the Countess," Dracula orders. "She has given you—" He stops speaking when the bullet flies past his head. He turns to Pepper. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Elizabeth." This time — for the first time — Dracula really looks into Pepper's eyes. "I will have you remember yourself. If we are parted, I will have you remember me, and return to me in time. Your place is here, at the top of the world." It is not a suggestion. "But, we must clear the field. I will not have you harmed."

Dracula gestures to Bill when Bucky lands before him. "Do entertain our guest, Bill. The rest of you, also. But not the little one." The woman puts her child down and the little girl comes to hide behind Dracula's broad form while the four adults rush Bucky. Bill and the veteran know how to fight, taking their time to assess, while the older man throws himself toward Bucky's knife with the woman right behind him.

*

Winter pops the woman in the temple with the hilt of his knife, and with a calm twist of his wrist, breaks the other man's wrist and brutally curbstomps his knee, crippling him. He lunges at Bill, keeping the cop between him and the other attackers. Bill's good— but he doesn't stand a chance. His punches are dodged effortlessly. Winter kicks his inner thigh, cracking his femur and sending his leg flying out, then smashes his knee right into Bill's forehead when the cop trips and staggers. He grabs the coldcocked cop before he can even fall, using his left hand, and uses him like a club to knock the other veteran down. Rather casually, he kicks the downed man in the forehead and knocks him out cold.

The entire attack took about two seconds to stop. Winter flicks his knife on his fingertips, eyeing Vlad.

Standoff.

Bucky breaks the staredown first— he leaps sideways and out comes that little, bizarrely raygun-like Czech .32. Silver-tipped bullets anointed with holy oil crack through the air at Vlad. In his ironlike left hand, the submachine pistol has almost no recoil and dances in his grip… well, about as little as a raygun would.

*

Pepper releases a breath of relief as Bill steps down, her heart thundering against her sternum, but she's saved that life at least. And then there is a bullet. Her eyes shoot wide, pulse double timing for totally different reasons as she looks from Dracula, towards the loud, violent entrance of Jack, back to Dracula. There is her mistake. The moment she looks back, he catches her eyes, and for a heartbeat or two Pepper's vision glazes. It's not Pepper, it's something more animal in the back of her mind, taking that order, that reminder. "…Yes, My Lord…" She whispers to him, tone as zoned out as her eyes.

But it doesn't entirely last. The fight is breaking out more violently and Pepper manages to snap her gaze away, probably because she was allowed. She stumbles backwards, still on bare feet, and stares in shock at the chaos on the roof. "..D-don't hurt them! They don't know what they are doing!" Pepper calls over to Bucky, her tone desperate and worried, but also hopeful for the first time ever. As the little one is given permission not to fight, she dashes over to the child, "Here, keep behind me… keep low…" She whispers breathlessly, trying to do everything she can to protect the child with her own form as chaos reigns on the roof.

*

Dracula watches Bucky disable his human victims with an odd expression. When Bucky fires, he turns to mist, a black ribbon that evades the bullets before snaking around Bucky to reincorporate up on the high ground where Bucky had stationed himself to take the shot.

The door to downstairs slams open and a dozen vampires pour out onto the roof, headed for Bucky with singular purpose. Six starving ones skitter after them like human spiders, eager for any fresh meat that falls.

"Feel free to end this, Elizabeth," he says coolly. Clouds gather ahead, black and furious, already crackling with lightning. Rain spatters the rooftop.

The vampires hunt like a pack, scattering to surround Bucky. Their fangs gleam in the lightning flashes and they hiss furiously. Muttering gleefully, the starving ones fall on one of the downed humans and begin to feed.

*

Winter Soldier remains silent. He drops the Czech subgun, letting it dangle from the leather thong on his shoulder, and transitions to his 1911 with sure speed. It's a soldier's gun— it rewards a strong grip and sure hand.

Winter is neither weak nor careless, and as the vampires spill onto the balcony he shoots them one at a time. In the head. One shot only, with those silver-tipped .45s. The hole alone would probably be enough to greivously wound them, but the wrought silver in the hollowed bullets certainly does what it's advertised to do. But that's eight rounds for twelve targets, and even a 100% accuracy rate leaves him a bit short. Bucky drops the .45, slide locked to the rear, and goes for his combat knife, slashing and cutting with a surgeon's sure hand. One vampire lunges at his blind side, scrabbling and clawing at his left arm— but screams in shock and pain when it encounters silvered metal hammered into the steel of his prosthetic, and the holy runes carved into the metal plates. Winter throttles the vampire to death with his bare left phalanges while his knife works, leaving gutted and smoking corpses on the ground. Starving ones leap at him mindlessly and are cut down with fast and violent slashes of his knife. No aim to wound— he severs tendons and slashes throats, that holy weapon doing unspeakable damage to their ruinous forms.

He never even moves his feet, planted resolute as an oak tree.

The last body hits the ground and he looks up at Vlad— and flicks that knife on his fingertips once more. Inviting the master to come down and play himself.

*

There is a very dangerous, very large gun on the ground that no one is going for. Of course, Pepper isn't really trained for it and is probably going to break her wrist just trying to fire it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Having tucked the kid off to the side, "Stay!" She orders him, she dashes barefoot in the direction of the gun and leans down to scoop it up, her eyes too-wide with adrenaline and the panic of the whole situation.

Gun in her hands, the redhead turns it on the vampires. The pack feeding on Bucky means she'll probably be likely to hit Bucky just as much as she is any of the vampires. But Dracula isn't with the pack. He's hissing at her coolly, even as the rain comes in. Suggestioned planted or not, she is, at the moment, free of his gaze. So she violently turns the gun around. "I'm no one's Countess." She growls out to him before opening fire, the gun half knocking her back off her feet. But she'll fire again the moment she can manage. Maybe luck will be on her side.

*

Dracula looks pleased, though he does move again, just ahead of the shot. The rain is coming down in earnest now, blood thins and washes across the roof, the temperature drops drastically once more. Dracula pulls a long knife — almost a sword — from the sheath at his waist. It is old, definitely meant for fighting, and quite sharp.

Now, Dracula no longer moves at human speed. His hair and coat swirl as he crosses the roof, stepping between his fallen minions and the feeding starving ones, to engage Bucky.

"The Countess seems determined to draw this out," he says almost conversationally. He keeps moving, a swirling mist clinging to him, in and out of flashes of lightning, almost as though he could dodge the rain. "Come. Pretend to fight me for her — she is already mine, has always been mine, but I will allow this. Your audacity amuses."

*

There's a grunt from Winter. A laugh?

And then he falls on Dracula.

And whoever's come for Vlad over his many lives, Winter's equally their equal. He doesn't fight like a mortal man. He's not just fast, but fluid. Not merely strong, but resolute. Gymnastic. Athletic. And equally brilliant on offense or defense. His combat knife dives and parries, blocking Dracula's attacks and parrying them easily. He presses constantly, trying to force Dracula onto the defensive as much as possible, to maximize the advantage of a knife in true infighting.

And all the while he's silent— furiously silent— his eyes barely visible behind the red lenses of the mask obstructing his face. He gives it all he has, a modern day god of death attempting to visit grim vengeance on Vlad Drakul— a story old as the immortal vampire himself.

*

The fight is so fast Pepper can barely even see what is going on, much less line up another shot. There's glimmering tears in her eyes, trying to track the ancient vampire with the barrel of the gun but she's simply human, and neither of the men are. She curses beneath her breath and, instead, turns on the ball of her foot and walks over to the starving, feeding vampires. At least she can maybe save lives here. She lines up a head shot. One. Two. Three. Three bullets in the head of the first feeding vampire before she does the same with the second.

"RUN!" She half yelps at any of the humans that are still conscious, even if it was probably something she should do herself. She wasn't leaving the man that came to fight for her. So she fires into another feeding vampire. It's her best idea, taking out what back up the man has.

*

"The world is much improved," Dracula notes approvingly. Fighting him is like fighting a storm, all shifting pressure and buffeting blows. He's feeling Bucky out, letting him in and rejecting him over and over. He aims for cuts at any exposed skin at the throat and up under the jaw, at the one elbow that isn't metal, across the forehead. Anything to open the skin and let the blood out. It all feels like a grand experiment.

"What I could do with you, my beauty," he purrs at Bucky. "What you could be…" The storm above rumbles, a cold wind blows, and the remaining starving ones turn their attention toward the whimpering child beyond Pepper. There is no one left to run, even if there were somewhere to hide. The rooftop is slick with blood and rainwater.

*

Winter Soldier gives as good as he gets. He can't stop to applaud Pepper's initiative— he just keeps bringing the pain. Slashing. Striking. Vlad goes for a grapple and gets a brick-crushing grip of silver-plated fingers around his bony eldritch wrist, though he manages to fling off Winter's left hand before Bucky can break his arm. The counterblow tears Winter's facemask off and sends it flying off the edge of the PanAm building, whirling in lazy circles the sixty stories to the ground.

There's a line between superhuman and inhuman, though, and Vlad's superior power— and centuries of expertise— bear out over Winter's vicious skill and endless talent. Vlad manages to get the upper hand— Winter barely blocks an overhand slash and Vlad presses forward with that immense strength. It forces Winter to his knees, throwing his left hand to the ground for support. His right hand holds that knife as Vlad's ancient sword bears down, and even Winter's superhuman strength starts to falter. His knife shakes and starts to slide down the length of the sword, threatening to leave his bleeding neck vulnerable to a blow from the weapon as Dracula bears down on him with genuinely supernatural might, the full weight of his power behind the hilt of that sturdy, ancient steel weapon.

Their eyes lock, inches apart— and Winter takes a huge breath through his nose, defiance in his face.

Then he spits a huge mouthful of garlic and holy oil he'd hidden in his cheek full in Dracula's eyes, point-blank.

He doesn't stand around for quippy one liners, either— he collapses, rolls, and swings an uppercut at Dracula with that left hand, the power coming clear from the ground as his legs and hips twist to try and hit the ancient warlord with every ounce of power at Bucky's command, silver glinting on his knuckles.

*

She tried. That might be what is on her gravestone, in truth. Pepper Potts tried so hard. But it wasn't enough, not for any of the adults. All she can do is hope that it will be enough for the child. And as the last few turn their direction towards the child, she can do nothing but fight harder. Keep their attention on her, not on the kid. She will do everything in her power to save that one soul on the roof, the one more innocent than all of them.

She immediately imposes her body between the child and the hungry vampires, opening fire with anything that is left in the gun, but there probably isn't too much. She's then going to fight. Fist, nails, ripping her hands at the wounds in their flesh to open them more. If nothing else, she will be an easier target to eat than the child because she is RIGHT THERE. "Run! Find the stairs! GO!" She yells at the terrified child as she uses every last, desperate measure at the back of her mind to keep the vampires distracted. All she can hope is that it's enough.

*

And at that moment, the timed explosive on the fire suppression system goes off. Sprinklers explode into life on every floor of the building, starting at the top, with those massive 10,000 gallon water tanks on the uppermost floors feeding the entire beast.

And that main source, that giant tank, contains one extra ingredient— the ground thumbbone of one Saint Marcellus, stolen just last night from the Museum of the Greater Atlantic Diocese.

Holy water, and 10,000 gallons of it, crashes inside the building.

*

Pepper's fight with the starving is better matched than one might expect of a young woman fighting three vampires. They've been locked away in a vault for decades and are weak, even with the feeding they've been doing. They break easily, their fingers snapping even as they tear gouges in her skin, their ribs cave in with kicks and punches. It's a violent struggle but Pepper is surviving it — bloodied and terrified, but surviving.

The child doesn't run. She giggles, high and awful. "Play," she chirps and leaps onto Pepper's back, chubby little fingers clutching at Pepper's clothes as her sharp little teeth tear at Pepper's neck. "Play, Lizbeth!"

Dracula howls with outrage when he's injured. His face blisters, his eyes swell, his cheeks drip. Then the blow — the silvered fist takes him full on the jaw, shattering it and twisting his head around with a terrible, splintering sound. The Lord of the Damned staggers back, head twisted wrong and hanging oddly onto one of his shoulders. Anyone else would be dead. Dracula is simply angry — blind and angry.

But, if anyone knows the dark, it's Dracula. His inhuman hearing and reflexes let him recover, spinning out of his stumble to turn on Bucky with all his rage unleashed. The stroke of the sword is only a feint and then he aims a backhand at Bucky's face with alarming precision.

*

Winter goes flying backwards, landing, rolling several times— and for a moment, it looks like he's just twitching and unable to respond, hands partially obstructed by the roll of his back.

Then he straightens out, the slide on his 1911 going *chunkchunk* into place, and extends his right hand. A booming .45 rips through the vampire-child on Pepper's shoulder, silver streaking fire through her corrupted flesh. He turns and that .45 hammers at Vlad, kicking in his hand as he flings those heavy lead wadcutters at Vlad's face, one bullet at a time. Are his reflexes good enough to track the silver puddled in the center of the hollowpoints? Because that's where the bullets are going— right between his eyes.

*

When things are truly getting bad, Pepper doesn't panic. She cracks down with stubborn, desperate determination. And this is one of those moments. Pepper doesn't actually know if she's going to survive or not, but she's giving herself every shot at doing so. She stabs forward with her thumbs, putting the eyes out of what she thinks is the last vampire, all of her shaking with adrenaline and the beginning fingers of shock. But, her assumption was wrong. The young, scared child she was trying to save was not a child at all. She was a vampire too.

"…Dear god… what…" Pepper yelps out as the chubby fingered little girl leaps on her back and she feels those small teeth ripping at her throat. She screams, panic setting back in as she uses the butt of the gun to shove it straight into the girl's face. Over and over and over. She spins, trying to whirl to the edge of the roof as she uses every last bit of violence and strength she has left in her to gun-butt the girl's head off of her. And then her hands. She trying to toss the child over the edge of the roof, completely horrified panic having now taken over all her motions.

*

It's in the middle of Pepper's desperate shoving of that gun in the child's face that, well… the face just explodes. She's covered with brain bits, blood, skull fragments, but those teeth are no longer in her neck. The motion she started is easily completed as she shrugs the child off her back and the little, broken body tumbles down entirely too many floors. Pepper, freed now, just sinks to her knees. She's bleeding from a dozen wounds, including one right at the side of her throat. Instinctively, a shaking hand presses over the side of her neck, trying to hold blood in as she sits there and shakes.

*

Dracula is badly wounded, dodging bullets is a struggle without sight to aid him. Finally, he dissipates into mist again and rises up into the faltering storm. For the moment, even Hell's Kitchen wins a reprieve. A few last spiteful lightning bolts slam the rooftop, seeking Bucky's metal arm and weapons, as the Lord of the Damned makes his retreat. Next time, he won't be so arrogant.

Dracula's last minion lies in pieces and there's carnage all over the rooftop. Below, only a few of his minions survive. If they're worthy, they'll find him again. If not, he's better off without them. He's survived worse with less.

The sky clears with a warm wind and everything is quiet.

*

Winter Soldier doesn't stand around congratulating himself. He reloads. He stoops, picks up the M16, and reloads it as well. Then he reloads his Skorpion. Once all the gear is settled, he reaches down to offer Pepper a hand up— his human hand.

"We have to move," he rasps at her. "Can you walk?"

*

The offer of the human hand gets a stunned, quiet look, like something in Pepper's brain cannot entirely process that it's all over. Her free hand remains pressed against the side of her throat, blood rather quickly slipping through her fingertips, but she can still move for now. She nods mutely, putting her other hand into his and pulling herself up, though she's already half sinking against him. They'll need to move fast for *many* reasons. "…Y-you..came…" She breathes out shakily, letting him guide her. She's moving, but not really self directed right now. Shock is an awful thing.

*

Winter pushes Pepper's hands out of the way and examines her wound. He's not terribly gentle about it— but they look shallow. Painful, but shallow. "I've got medical gear downstairs," he rasps at Pepper. "Follow me. Let's get inside and patched, then we'll regroup at home."

He touches her cheekbone gently. "Of course I came," he tells her. "Did you think I wouldn't?"

And then he unlimbers his .45, turns, and clears a path for Pepper, first to his fallback point— then all the way back to her apartment.

*

The woman winces a bit as he pushes her hand out of the way. It's bleeding a lot because, well, those little teeth went into her jugular. But, fortunately, they didn't rip out, they more fell away, so her throat's not ripped open. Just bleeding with every frantic beat of her pulse. It's enough she's not going to bleed out on the roof, at least. She nods fainly at his words.

"…I…I'm with you. I promise…" She whispers a slightly delayed moment later. She's still not quite with him, but she's stubborn and fighting through the shock. That's his girl. "I…I didn't know if you could find me…" She breathes out, but there isn't time to talk. They needed to get out of there. So, she follows his path, fast as her shaky legs will take her, running on the last bits of adrenaline she has left.

*

Sinjin has left.

*

Winter keeps Pepper moving. Down to the parking garage, onto his Liberator— he wraps her in his jacket and puts her behind him on the bike. He's covered in weapons, but the lingering storm and the chaos of the Hellmouth opening up downtown keeps the cops from troubling him. One tries— he just opens the throttle and they leap away.

He takes her away from town and to a drive-in motel. They park behind the buildings and he leads her through a side entrance, opening the door and checking the room, then escorting Pepper in.

It's not until they're inside, and the door is locked, that Jack Frost can— finally— relax, and his head slowly bows with exhaustion setting in after he gets Pepper settled in on the bed.

"Take your dress off," he rasps at her. "I need to bandage and clean those scratches." The neck injury was treated, but she's got plenty of ugly scratches and dings from her rough captivity at the hands of Dracula's minions. He slings a duffel bag loaded with weaponry on the ground, then starts removing his own gear. The facepaint smeared over his eyes gives them a hollow, tribal look, masked in shadow and making the whites pop in contrast.

*

It's like she's some moving doll at his side, far too quiet for the normal Pepper Potts, just going through the motions and not fighting him on a single thing. It makes it easier to get her in his jacket, at least, and on the back of the bike. She sinks against him, almost half burying into his back. It's during the rid that he might feel the tell tale moisture from where she's pressed, but it could be rain as much as tears. Either way, his back is getting damp.

Then they are in the motel room and it's ever last inch of strength she has to get to the bed. But she makes it. She sits there, still finely trembling, wrapped up in his coat which she's been freely bleeding into for most of the ride. "…I-I…I'm sorry… I didn't know…what to do…how to fight better. I'm sorry…" She rasps out, not quite moving out of her dress yet. Not moving at all, really. She just remains huddled under his jacket, staring forward.

*

Bucky gets the sharp implements put away and hangs his wet jacket up, then moves to Pepper. He touches her face, looking into her eyes clinically. "You're going into shock," he rasps. He turns the heat in the room on high, then moves to start the shower up. It rattles to life and water splatters against the walls.

He returns to Pepper and helps her stand, then unzips her dress and slides it off of her, helping her as much as possible. His hands are gentle— careful. He sets the sopping, cold garment aside and half walks, half carries Pepper to the shower and stands her under the water, holding her upright in his arms with a strong, reassuring hug. The injuries and the blood washes off of them— gore and ichor and injury alike cleansed under the water as the shower washes them both clean of their ordeal.

"It's all right, Pepper. I've got you," he rasps, resting his cheek on her forehead.

*

There is no protest from her as he gets her up and out of the dress. The thing is ruined practically anyway, so many claw marks in it and rips. easy to get out of her panties as well, the little lacy pair perched low on her hips and it's a simple thing to smooth them down and off. She walks numbly with him to the shower, not even really shaking any more. The heat is a good idea. It will help a lot.

It takes a few moments for her to actually lean into the hug, but then she is. Her body against his, her cheek to his chin, slowly she starts to come back into some realization of how bad it was. How completely terrified she had been. Beyond any fear she'd ever felt in her life. But he's there. He has her. He came for her. She presses a bit tighter into his throat and, finally, a ragged sob breaks free from her lips. Her small hands clutch at his side, holding on for dear life. "…so sorry…" She sobs into his throat. She's not a woman who's ever seen death before. She's never been on a war field, not like him. How many humans were dead on that roof? It's all burning through her now.

*

Jack has. It's been years since he wept for the death of people. Years since he felt remorse or pain or pity.

But something stirs in him as Pepper leans into him, crying for her lost innocence, and he strokes her ginger hair with a gentle sympathy. "Nothing to apologize for," he rasps at Pepper, shaking his head. "You survived. You fought back. You did everything you could have," he reminds her. "I'm very proud of you. And… I love you," he says, before hugging her against the slablike muscles of his chest, stroking the nape of her neck in small but gently reassuring motion.

*

"…I-I love you…too… I do. God… you came…" Pepper breathes out into his throat, sinking tighter against him, like she could completely bury herself against the firm muscle of his chest and arms. His fingertips through her red hair helps as well, coaxing more of those entirely too necessary tears. The water still runs pink with her blood, as the shower beats against both of them, pouring down the drain all the misery of the night.

"…I tried to fight. I… I couldn't…do…anything… I tried. There were so many of them…" Pepper whispers against him, guilt half choking her. She clutches harder against him, not daring to let go for a few more moments. Not while they're standing. She's practically holding up none of her own weight.

*

Winter's a rock— he holds her upright until the blood is cleaned away and the water cools. He picks her up and carries her to the bed, still naked, then sets her down in front of where the heater blasts the warmest air he could set it for. He removes his own soaking wet clothing, tossing it aside. He's got his fair share of cuts, too, but the water seems to have staunched them. A flask appears in his hand and he hands it to Pepper— bourbon. /Good/ bourbon. He reaches for peroxide and bandage, and sets about cleaning her wounds. It stings— but in a good way. A healing way. Cleasing, like the hot water of the shower. Most of them are quite minor, and require nothing but bandages and tender care. He starts at her toes and works upwards, diligently, kneeling in front of her and working patiently until he stands up and leans over her to bandage the last little injury— a tiny nick in front of her ear. "Better?" he asks, kissing the tip of her ear, then standing in front of her, finally drying out from the warmth in the cozy motel room.

*

The tears have mostly stopped by the time he gets her out of the shower, and she's slightly shivering again. A good sign, even if it's heartbreaking. Pepper is generally so strong, resilient through the face of the craziest stresses, bosses, panics. But everyone has their line, and her's was crossed tonight. Death was worse than all of that. She sinks onto the bed in front of him, closing her eyes as she savors the blowing of the heat on her. She does take a good belt from the bourbon before setting it aside and just savouring the tender brushes of his fingertips, the gentle stinging, but how achingly gentle he is with her. It seemed almost impossible a man so skilled at violence could also be so tender. She turns her head as he finishes bandaging that last wound, kissing the inside of his wrist and happily taking that kiss against her ear. Her eyes are still shut, but she isn't shaking near so bad.

"…Y-yes… much. I still… I don't even want to sleep. I don't want to think about it. I…don't know to get that out of my head, Jack…" Pepper admits softly, but she's not lost to tears any more. She reaches up, not daring to let a single second go where they aren't touching. She needs that touch still. "…Where…did you learn to…to fight like that? That… it doesn't seem possible…"

*

"I was in the Army," Bucky rasps. "Korean. We were a special team. We trained harder than anyone else— fought more. Did missions no one else would take," he tells her. "I… I can't really talk about it," he tells Pepper, stroking her cheek gently, and unbothered by their nudity. "It's still classified."

"I'm here for you, Pepper. Whatever you need. I'll help you get through it," he rasps at her. He leans down and turns her face up to his and kisses her quite thoroughly, cupping her chin in his strong right hand. Gentle though his ministrations are, his kiss doesn't remain gentle for long— hungry with need and desire and worry all rolled into one, venting a full day of fear for her along with the adrenaline in his sytem following his fight with Dracula.

*

A mute nod comes at his commentary about it being classified. She can accept that. Pepper trusts him through and through, this much is clear. He just saved her life, why wouldn't she trust him? "You…you were amazing.." She admits with a breathless little laugh, even trying at a half smile as she says it. Maybe his trained life of violence could be for something good, if it saved women like her.

Then he's kissing her and Pepper doesn't shy away from it at all. A necessary, warm distraction and reminder as to why it is still good to be alive. SHe melts into the kiss, losing herself against him, her arms coming up to tug him down onto the bed so they can kiss deeper without him leaning over her. It might not go much further than kissing right now, but it's a desperately needed escape. "I…I do love…" She breathlessly murmurs against his mouth when the kiss finally, momentarily breaks.

*

Jack goes along willingly, sprawling into the bed half atop, half aside Pepper, their legs twining automatically. There's something powerful and life affirming about being touched, being wanted— a basic human need. Even the Winter Soldier isn't above it.

He kisses Pepper with hungry, passionate embrace, for long moments, then rolls sideways, bringing her along atop his lean stomach, her hands on his barrel chest, his hands stroking the backs of her bare thighs. "I love you," he rasps, looking up at her bright, robin's-egg eyes. Something like a smile curls at the corner of his mouth— on anyone else, it'd be a splitting grin.

Well, progress. Right?

*

The kiss is long enough to leave her breathless, but in the best of ways. Pepper allows herself to be shifted along him, moving to rest half on his stomach, her small leg draped between his, drinking up the warmth of his body as most of her feels like she's never going to be warm again. But at least she's no longer actively bleeding or crying. It's quite good progress, considering the night.

The sight of that ever so slight smile from him, it makes her smile back gently. She tilts her head to the side, pressing the lightest of kisses against the corner of his upturned mouth. "…sleep…maybe… don't know if I can, but… god, Jack… I'm tired. Everything hurts." SHe's going to be even more sore in the morning. But maybe that soreness and exhaustion means she can get to sleep through the horror.

*

"Glad I got my thank-you kiss first, then," Jack rasps— but he's still smiling, slyly. He reaches down for the blankets and tugs them up and over Pepper's shoulder, then tucks her into her spot nestled in the crook of his right arm. "Sleep if you can, Pepper. You've earned it," he whispers, leaning over to press a kiss against her high brow, then stroking her red hair once more with his fingertips.

*

The blanket around them, trapping his heat against her smaller frame, helps a lot. He can feel her body relaxing, unknotting in a few areas as she sinks in against him and remembers how to breathe deeply. She still doesn't shift away even an inch. He's going to have her attached to him most of the night. She smirks at the kiss comment and leans up to give him another, though this one is far more tender, grateful and loving more than lustful. Finally, she sinks her head back into his shoulder. "…love you. Goodnight, Jack…" she whispers against his throat. It'll take some time, but eventually her breathing does even out. She might even get a few hours in before screams and nightmares wrench her awake.

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