1964-03-07 - An Offer She Can't Refuse
Summary: Bruce Wayne invites Pepper Potts to his mansion to discuss a job offer. She didn't realize it would be for her to be his CFO.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
batman pepper 

The invitation arrived in the form of a registered letter, simply to secure the fact that the message reached her. It was delivered to her home, early in the morning after a charity ball - the most likely chance to catch her at home.

The text was simple "Bruce Wayne requests the pleasure of your company to discuss an opportunity." Directions were included to Wayne Manor and a number to a car service was given, with the understanding that any journey would be on Mr. Wayne's account.

She's seen Bruce Wayne at a few charity functions - handsome, charming, a little dashing. He has a reputation for being a bit of a flirt and a bit of a ditz. Everyone knows his board runs the company and he's just a figurehead.


This was not necessarily the *best* time to be discussing opportunities, be it personal or business, with anyone. The supply of Vigor had run out and yes, Bobbi's cocktail she'd made Pepper to help her get off the stuff was a small assistance, but it certainly wasn't a cure. Pepper almost considered turning down the invitation, but it wsa Bruce Wayne and she knew the department of defense wasn't long for keeping the program where she worked. Eventually, the business woman in her won out. She took the very last dose of Vigor to her name, just enough to make certain the shakes her mostly gone for the meeting, and prepared to get ready.

It's a good hour and change later now, long enough that the actual *powers* the stuff gave her have worn off, but she's not in the throws of withdrawal. Perfect timing. She's in one of her favourite, neat green dresses, something fitted almost skin tight to her body with a high collar to still give the appearance of modesty. Her red hair is up in the perfect beehive and she's got a secretary's notebook with her, just in case. She smells fresh from the shower, brushed with vanilla and cocoa oil. Her make up is perfectly in place, hiding how thin her face has gotten over the last months. This is as good as she's looked in weeks.

The car drops her off at the front steps, eyes going a bit wide. SHe's been around money before, but Tony always used his money in very different ways. She's never been to a proper *estate* before. There wasn't room in the city. Almost nervously, she climbs those stairs and moves to ring whatever bell she can find.


The door is answered by an older Englishman, in classic tux and tails, his hairline slightly receding and a wisp of a mustache across his upper lip, "Good evening, Miss Potts. Master Wayne shall entertain you in the study. Please, come with me," he says. His manner is gentle but firm, escorting her in and guiding her with a gliding walk. The floors are perfectly polished, the cabinets showing not a speck of dust. Remarkable, given that no other servant seems immediately evident. Perhaps Wayne sends the rest of them home at night.

The study itself is well-appointed, with countless leatherbound books, a fireplace with a small fire placed in it, bottles of brandy, port and wine set out to taste.

Bruce himself is in a large, leather chair from the colonial period. He rises at her entrance, offering his hand, "Miss Potts, a pleasure to meet you outside of the formal gown set," he smiles, "Please, have a seat. Alfred, get Miss Potts whatever she'd like to drink," he says. His own glass seems already full of a clear liquid.


While Bruce Wayne is know among the party set as a flirt, a ditz, but charming, Pepper has actually gained her own reputation among the upper elite and businessmen of Manhattan — She was the woman who got Tony Stark under control. When she worked for Tony, the company did a complete stock turn around actually rose by ten points by the time she finished there. Her association with the Fisks has given her nothing but praise and more than a few people mutter how she's the brilliant mind behind a lot of business. But there's been other gossip as well — especially since her leaving Stark Industries. She's lost weight since then, been sickly, been scattered. People say he knocked her up then got rid of it, or she was on something with him and the company no longer gives her the drugs. Or just that she was an idiot who fell in love with her boss and is now wasting away. Either way, her notoritiy was a strange story for a simple 'secretary'.

Pepper, however, is trying to put it all behind her. A professional, game smile on her lovely, if slightly drawn, features. That neat notebook tucked into her arm. Her highest pair of black patent leather heels. She is a woman ready to do business and impress, all the more fierce for the rumors she knows which have been going around. Her heels flick in a quiet, clipped rhythm as she follows Alfred down the hall. "Thank you. This… this is lovely…" And then soon into the study. It's studied just as much as everywhere else, her pale blue eyes drinking every detail in. She's learning as she goes.

"Mr. Wayne. It's… a true honor to meet you. Well, like this. We met briefly at the urban housing gala back in the summer, but you were so busy…" SHe offers her hand to him for a warm, business-like shake. "Ah…just some coffee would be lovely."


Alfred nods and quickly steps away, "I have a pot brewing in the kitchen. I'll be just a moment, madame," he says.

Bruce settles in across from her, resting his arms on the chair. He's heard all the rumors, of course, good and bad. More than that, he's investigated them, in ways both legal and extralegal. "I remember," he says. Of course he does, he remembers everything. "You wore yellow," he smiles, "It suited you well."

"Rather than beat around the bush, I'd rather get somewhat straight to the heart of the matter. I think you're going to waste. I think you may have been wasted your whole career. I'd like to rectify that. I have a job offer to make you, if you'd be interested. But before I lay it out fully, I want to make something very clear."

"What I'm prepared to offer you is more than you've been given before. More work, more responsibility. A higher public profile. I have a dozen crawlers down at Wayne Enterprises who would happily crawl over one another with knives in their teeth for the opportunity I'm about to give you."

"That isn't to discourage you. It's to give you fair warning: make sure that what I offer is something you genuinely want before you answer," he says. "Is that fair?"


The comment about her dress genuinely seems to surprise her. Pepper's head tilts, but her cheeks slightly rise with a blush in response too. She gives him the proper, pretty smile of a pretty girl in response, "Thank you, Mr. Wayne. You are… quite sweet." But there is something behind her blue eyes that also says she's thinking this over. She catches the fact that he's probably *far* more intelligent than most would assume. If he remembered that, he wasn't drunk. He's observant of details. He's put on a persona that the press is buying. She's sharp enough to pick that up and she's intrigued.

But the words that follow are enough to make her smile slightly fall away and her blue eyes go even wider than before. SHe sinks down into the seat across from him, neatly crossing her legs at the ankles but keeping her back and shoulders completely straight (if not slightly arched. She knows how to keep everything on display.) She listens thoughtfully, head tilting again. "I…Understand, Mr. Wayne. I would never take an opportunity in which I wasn't genuinely interested, I promise you that. It's why I've enjoyed my work with the Department of Defense. But… I am listening."


Batman takes a sip of his drink as Alfred returns, a filigreed mug of coffee set before her on a silver dish. "Cream or sugar, madame?" he says, hovering close at hand and prepared to apply the proper leavening for the bitter brew.

Bruce runs a finger along the rim of his glass, his legs crossed as he sits back for a moment. "I can imagine the things you've heard about me," he says. "That I'm just a playboy, a figurehead. That I don't really run my business, that the board regards me as little more than a joke. A name to put on the letterhead. A pretty face to show up at cocktail parties and charity balls," he says.

"All of that is true. While I was going around the world, enjoying the pleasures of wealth, the board shut me out. I have little influence on even minor affairs, much less major business decisions. I am humored by some, openly jeered by others. And that, I'm afraid, I will no longer tolerate."

"Between you and me, Miss Potts…I am no fool. But, at the same time, I have no desire to dedicate my every waking hour to business. I enjoy my lifestyle and make no apologies for it. But the business is being run badly and I can tell. There is corruption, graft, patronism. The place needs a surgeon to remove the tumors. I would like you to be that surgeon," he says.

He reaches down under the table next to him and throws down a file on the table between them. "Provided our talks go well and you find the contracts amenable, at the beginning of next week, I will announce you as the new Chief Financial Officer of Wayne Enterprises. You will also serve as my board proxy. Given that I'm CEO, even if in name only, that effectively gives you both positions."


"Ah, just cream, please." Pepper echoes to Alfred, giving him a warmer, thankful smile. She's not the sort to dismiss servants or act like they are a part of the wall. She accepts the mug of life-line coffee, with cream, and tilts her head to the man respectfully, "Thank you. This smells lovely." And with that done, though, her blue eyes turn back to the man across from her. A slightly wry smile pulls at her red velvet painted lips. "No, a pretty face and playboy doesn't remember yellow dresses unless they are on his bedroom floor. And I do think *I* would remember that." Pepper teases back, just a bit huskily, but the tone of her voice says she's on to him.

Well, of course, until the moment he makes an offer she could have NEVER foreseen, no matter how on top of things she is. Pepper nearly drops her coffee, letting it sink to her lap as she watches him in abject shock. Yes, people had made jokes about her running SI, but those were just jokes. This was beyond the pale. She blinks. Once. Twice. SHe's trying to find her voice and not quite succeeding. Finally, she remembers her coffee and, instead, takes a good drink of that. It's enough to kick start her mind again.

"…You will have open rebellion on your hands in your company if you do this, you know? I don't know your people well enough to say… how that will go. Even if I'm willing to fight back. Which I am." Her eyes are filled with a thousand ideas, already calculating the possibilities, how she could hold onto this, how to fix it. "…I'd need to see the paperwork. The current board documents, share holders… See how bad they could make it for you."


Batman nods, "All in the dossier," he says, gesturing towards the file. "And yes, it will be ugly, especially at first. They will call you names. They will certainly call me names, but yours will be nastier and more poisonous because you're a woman and they'll think they can get to you that way," he says. "They will also underestimate you. They will laugh behind their hands and think that the boy king has made a foolish mistake. They will probably imply that you got the position on your back, that I've been charmed by a pair of long legs and a low-cut blouse," he says.

He takes a sip of his water and sets it down again, steepling his fingers. "But there are good people there. I've made a note of a few of them, the ones that you can trust, whose loyalty is to the company and not their own lined pockets," he says. "I have included what evidence I've managed to gather on the corruption. I suspect it's only the tip of the iceberg," he says.

"And I know what you're thinking. Why me? Why now? Well, I've had my eye on you for some time, since you worked at Stark. We all heard the rumors, of course, that you were the vizier to his king, the power behind the throne. I also know Tony Stark just a little, enough to know that he's never needed anyone to help him make decisions. But that only meant that you were capable enough that he trusted you to make decisions without him. Men like him do not cede such power without good cause," he says. And neither does he, of course. In truth, Bruce Wayne makes Tony Stark look like an easygoing, happy-go-lucky type. But he's not quite ready to show -that- much of his true self.

"I also want to make another thing clear: you are done with drugs," he says simply. "I am not judging you. Everyone is entitled to mistakes. But I am gambling a great deal on your formidable capabilities, Miss Potts. I cannot have your indulgences put it at risk."


With one last sip of her coffee, Pepper sets the mostly full mug aside and forgets it for now. Business was in front of her, far more tempting business. She leans over, still a pretty motion in that tight dress, but it's not done to show off. It's done to claim the file and pull it into her lap, pulling the thing open and already beginning to scan information. A slightly cool laugh escapes her throat, "I'm used to them saying that. What do you think they said about Tony and I? That and worse. It's fine." It genuinely doesn't seem to bother her. She flips to another page in the file, "…I also outted at least three embezzlers during my time with SI, so I know the patterns." Yes, this is now a job interview to her. SHe's already getting to work.

She is half listening to the reasons as to why he's picked her, but that's the interesting thing about Pepper Potts — she knows she is that good. She doesn't shy away from her capabilities. So, instead of stammering questions, she's just seized on the chance to prove the capablities she knows she has. But his last statement, that's enough to stop her in everything she does.

Pepper's head jerks back up, pale eyes shooting wide with guilt, deer-in-headlights almost. She stares at him for a few too-rapid heartbeats, considering just how to answer this. Was it a trap? How could he know? Finally, she offers breathlessly, "…It… wasn't indulgence. I got… dosed with the National Guard. All of us, at the same time. It was… an attack. I've been trying to get off of it. Being careful. A woman with SHIELD has been helping me. But… I… I'm not that kind of person, Mr. Wayne. It was a horrid accident."


Batman nods softly and, though his gaze is firm, there is surprising compassion in it as well. It's true that he could be unforgiving of those he saw as scum, as criminals. But, indeed, he did recognize that Pepper was a victim.

"I know. And I know that you've recently managed to begin freeing yourself from that trap," he says. "It's an impressive accomplishment. In its own way, as impressive as anything you've accomplished in business," he says. "That said, I wanted to be above board about it - I don't want you to feel the need to hide it. If you were to feel that you need help or treatment, I would be happy to provide it, discreetly. I know the best doctors in the world," he says.

"You'll find your compensation package is substantial, including insurance, retirement accounts and all of that. You'll have three weeks yearly vacation and stock options after six months on the job," he says. "You'll also find non-disclosure agreements."

"You will, in the end, answer only to me," he says. "I am placing my trust in you. In return, I hope you can place your trust in me," he says. "I am not always an easy man to work for—"

He's interrupted by a slight cough from the butler, who merely smiles blandly when Bruce looks is way, "Something to add, Alfred."

"No, Master Wayne, I think it's going swimmingly."

"So glad I have your approval. This is Alfred Pennyworth, by the way, Miss Potts. I'm sure you'll be seeing quite a lot of him."


For a few moments, Pepper looks trapped, like she might have shot herself in the foot admitting that. But he doesn't seem to be condemning her. He knew, somehow. The younger woman studies him, eyes still a bit too-wide, pulse beating like a mad bird in her throat. Finally, though, she just nods. She takes a breath in through her nose, "…full honesty. Something we should have between us, if you are serious about this offer. I left Stark Industries because Tony said the same thing — work for him or take Vigor. At the time, I had no… replacement. I had no way to get off the drug. He just wanted me to drop it cold. There was no help. I felt like he gave me no choice. Getting off the stuff felt like it would kill me. That is what happened between us. I… cannot take this offer and promise I'll never touch it again. Not in good conscience." Even if her supply was entirely gone. "But I can promise I am getting off of it. I'm working with Bobbi, taking the… mix she's made me. I've cut down significantly. I plan to be off it for good soon. It might not be tomorrow. Is that amenable to you?" Pepper looks entirely too nervous about that, half wondering if her honesty about the matter is going to lose her the best job of her life.

Alfred is given a genuine smile, if still nervous, warmth behind her eyes for the older man as she offers her hand respectfully to him, "Alfred. It's an honour." She isn't just sucking up. She means that.


Batman nods firmly, "That seems fair," he says. "For someone like Stark, the idea of not having the kind of control likely doesn't occur to him. To him, you simply decide and a thing is done, consequences be damned," he says. "He probably would give himself no more leeway than he did you," he says.

Full honesty, of course, was something he wasn't truly offering. Not yet. He had no intention, as of now, of filling her in on his nocturnal activities. And he would wait until he was entrenched into the business before he used her to conceal any expenditures he'd rather keep private. For now, putting that on the table this early would only make her suspicious.

"Just keep me updated on your progress," he says. "I want to give you time to look over the formal offer. But I also want to give you an opportunity to ask any questions you might like. Perhaps even join me for dinner. What are we having for dinner, Alfred?"

"Roast duck, sir."

"I don't like duck."

"I know, sir, but it's very fond of you and I couldn't bear to disappoint it again."

Bruce sighs, "Very well."


The redhead lets out a breath she didn't even realize she was holding, her shoulders slumping back in relief. She nods curtly, "Of course, I will keep you up to date. As my boss, you could ask for full medical records and I'd get them to you from Bobbi. She's been a real help." Pepper smiles a bit softer, clear fondness for the woman in her eyes. The help she has been getting is good help, clearly.

Then her eyes flicker back down to the folder in front of her. "I would love a few hours to look this all over. Access to anything else you might have. With some time to study, I could honestly give you a response if I think this is able to be done or not. I won't take the job if I think I'm going to fail." She's too good to fail, and her career too important to her. Clearly, the redhead is not just a pretty face. The business in her voice is razor sharp.

She cannot help but grin at the interplay between the two men, though, a bit of a glimmer of amusement coming into her blue eyes, "Well, I love duck, Alred. I think that sounds fantastic and clearly Mr. Wayne doesn't have perfect taste in *everything*."


Alfred smiles to the redhead and leans over to his employer, "You were right, sir, she is wiser than her years," he says, before going off to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

Bruce shakes his head in faux exasperation, "I wouldn't expect anything less. I have no expectation of an answer tonight. Take your time. I'm confident in the result, however, and have taken the liberty of scheduling a press conference for Monday. If I have to go to it alone, well, I can always tell them about my last trip to Bermuda. It was quite amusing, if not necessarily appropriate for the six o'clock news," he says, rising from his seat and offering his arm to escort Pepper to the dining room.


A private little wink is shared with Alfred, grin dancing across her lips, but then Pepper is left in the room alone with Bruce. She looks back to her employer-to-be, lips pressing in a rather deeper smirk at the Bermuda comment. "Bruce. I worked for Tony Stark for almost a year. NO exploits you had in Bermuda can compare to half of what I walked in on every other night of the week. I will never need to see a dirty movie in my life, I promise you." She deadpans, without impatience or awkwardness. It's simply the truth.

Then he's getting up to offer his arm and her brows arch, "Dinner this early? I was going to work a few hours, see what I can find in these files. But… I could flip that order. I know you don't want an answer tonight but… I'll never be able to sleep if I don't give one. I'd like to stay and go through what you have here, before or after we eat, if you are comfortable with that?"


Batman chuckles slightly, "Miss Potts - do you prefer Virginia or Pepper, I feel entirely too formal referring to you that way - I'm quite certain that Tony Stark has an impressive record of debauchery, flagrancy and indecency. And I'll assure you of one other thing - anything he can do, I can do better," he says.

"And we can eat or not eat as you please - I tend to keep a rather irregular schedule myself. I'm a night owl so I'll often eat dinner at four in the morning or have breakfast in the middle of the afternoon,' he says. "I lost track of the hours, although I somehow always end up seeing the dawn one way or another. I'm just more likely to pull the curtain, roll over and go to bed when it comes," he says."


"Pepper, please. God. Pepper, Mr. Wayne." Until he says for her to call him Bruce, she will stick to formality. It's just the way Pepper was trained. She settles in on his arm, however, fitting neat and warm at his side as they walk together towards the dining room. She has the file hugged in her other arm, like it was a baby she was cradling, but to her it was probably just as important. As he comments about doing things better, Pepper just clears her throat. There's a blush crawling all the way up her throat to her ears. "I… ah… Noted." She could flirt back. She restrains herself.

The commentary about the dawn gets an arched brow, but she nods in understanding. "I've had a lot of those nights. Tony got me an apartment in the SI building just so I wasn't commuting home at 2 am in the city. So, I do understand. I… I'd happily eat now, if you don't mind me reading and eating. My poor habit is working through meals, I guess. There's just not enough hours in a day."


Batman nods, "Not at all, nothing wrong with a working dinner," he says. He guides her down the spiral staircase and along a gleaming hallway to a traditional dining room, the long table laid out with candles. Thankfully, Alfred hasn't forced them to sit at opposite ends of the table, placing Bruce's portion at the head and setting a place for Pepper at his right.

"Pepper suits me well. And Bruce is good for me," he says. "I get enough Master Wayne from Alfred. I know if he calls me Bruce I'm in trouble," he says. "Alfred practically raised me, you see," he says, gesturing for them to have a seat. What happened to Bruce's parents is no secret - it dominated tabloid headlines for months when he was ten and remains one of New York's legendary unsolved mysteries.


The woman walks smoothly at his side, navigating marble floors easily, even on her spike heels. This close, she smells like vanilla and cocoa oil, something both edible and feminine about it. She doesn't have the clammy skin of an addict, proof already she has been working to get off the stuff. She still studies the mansion like it was some museum, the place so large and lovely. She can't entirely hide her awe at it.

"Bruce, then. I think I can remember that. And I'm glad you don't mind working dinners, I suspect there will be a lot of them early on. Sorry that I'm not more thrilling a date." She winks at him, just a touch of flirtation behind it. But the cmoment about Alfred raising him kills some of the light hearted mood. She makes a quiet, understanding sound in her throat. "I…remember the papers. When it all happened. I… I'm sorry. I'm glad he's been here for you, at least." She gives his arm the most gentle of squeezes, half reassuring, half sympathetic. "I can't even imagine. I remember crying to my mother when I heard… scared she'd disappear."


Batman smiles, "Oh, I'm sure you have your thrills to offer. I like a thrillride myself. Roller coasters with plenty of sharp curves," he says, indulging his own playful side. He smells of expensive cologne, but, unlike many men of his position, not a hint of tobacco or liquor.

Bruce draws out Pepper's chair, letting her take her seat before Alfred draws out his. At her words of understanding, there's a moment where he closes off. His eyes darken, his face goes slack. It's brief, a flicker of a moment, that moment when he hears the roar in his ears, the gunshot, the pearls. He's almost used to it, the way it comes, like clockwork, reliable as the tides at mention of his parents. Most people wouldn't even notice the effect it has on him, before he manages a weak smile.

"It was all a long time ago. I don't think about it much anymore," he says.


The woman hasn't been around him long enough to figure out exactly what the trigger is, but she can guess. That closed off look, the hardness in his eyes, Pepper's gaze lingers on him for a few long heartbeats before she gives the smallest of nods to herself and folds down into the offered chair, "Thank you, Bruce. You are an absolute gentleman. It's… a nice change." Pepper admits with a softer smile, happy to let him move on and not pick open that wound. Not yet, they weren't that close. It's just another piece of information she's filing away for the future.

She sets up the file next to her, opening it to the second page where she'd left off. "What is your goal with Wayne Enterprises? Once we get through all this…what do you see as your future?" Yes, the working dinner is starting already, before Alfred's even brought drinks.


Alfred brings in a small salad first, something simple with fresh greens and ripe tomatoes, a vinaigrette on the side of desired. He'll even grind pepper for them to taste.

"Ultimately, I want the kind of company that I can be proud of. We've recently begun to develop medical technologies. I'd like to expand that, invest in hospitals and clinics. I want to get us out of some of the more unsavory industries we're involved in and make sure we're treating workers humanely,' he sighs. "I'd like to do all of that and still be able to make those trips to Bermuda," he winks. "Which is where you come in."


The salad is accepted with a warm smile, the cordial thanks, and some pepper for Pepper. Of course, she's only half interested in it, eating in small, bird like bites between deeper attention that she's giving to the file. She's clearly adept at eating while working and very carefully NOT dripping anything on the more important than food paperwork. She's done this dance before.

"How deep in this file is your medical division? If you didn't include it in the initial information, I would like to see what you've done so far. It's an up and coming industry. We'll need to poach a few scientists for R&D to make it viable, but I'm certain we can find money in the budget for tempting offers." No, she certainly wasn't just some secretary. And she's been working in NYC's business community for ages now, she probably knows how to poach people too. The comment about Bermuda gets him a wiry smile. "Give me two months. I don't WANT to call in the big guns on whatever bullshit goes down, but you and I both know it's going to be shit. Two months to get this all straightened up, cleaned out, and fire who needs fired. Then you can spend the whole summer wherever you like and I'll take the steering wheel full time."


Bruce smiles and is more assured than ever he made the right choice. He'd done his own psychological assessment of her, along with an extensive analysis of her academic records. And Batman may have made a brief dip into her personnel file at Stark, not that such things were in the most secure part of the building - her replacement wasn't quite up to her standard. He'd known she had the capability, but was unsure only if the misadventure with Vigor would have shaken her confidence. Thankfully, it appears that he need not worry on that.

"Two months is more than sufficient," he says, "The medical information should be in there, right before our charitable work. The Wayne Foundation's doing a lot of charitable medical work, mostly through the Tompkins clinic," he says. "I'm also putting significant pressure on a few members of Congress in regards to nationalized health insurance, but I doubt there's much chance of it getting through. LBJ has a very progressive agenda, but even he doesn't have enough capital to overcome some of the anti-communist fervor that would keep it from getting through," he sighs. "I'm a capitalist through and through, but I, myself, get tired of seeing people dying simply for being poor."


Eagerly, Pepper turns back through the file towards the medical research, silent for a few moments as she speed reads the paragraphs there. "Mm… yes. We need to get you a proper research director. Someone who can actually put ideas into the R&D. You all are… excellent with weapons. Personal protective gear. You've got great R&D for some of the new tech. But… that's the only way to build a department that will thrive. I'll start head hunting." She mutters, before remembering to take another bite of her salad and then flipping over to the next page.

Blue eyes flicker up at his comment about people dying for being poor and communism. She shakes her head quietly, taking another bite and actually bothering to swallow before she starts. "You'll never get anything universal here. I can't believe England hasn't fallen apart for it already, the NHS is in shambles. But… you can put more funding behind the things helping those people. Planned Parenthood… it started here in New York, did you know that? They're doing excellent work. And while the people who you piss off for doing this shake up are around bashing your name, it might be good to start doing even more public charity work. You'll need the PR for a bit."


Bruce nods. In truth, he was constantly annoyed to do the PR bit, much as it served to provide an excellent cover. The number of criminals getting away with their bloody work while he was eating hors d'ouvres and playing footsie with fashion models always grated on his nerves. But getting the company in shape was important, both for the company itself and for the war.

"Yes, we have excellent researchers in that division,' he says, "Non-lethal weaponry are a big part of the future, I think, or, at least, should be. Human conflict is inevitable, sometimes even necessary. Putting the right tools in the right hands can at least make it worthwhile."

"And you're likely right, but I like tilting at the occasional windmill. You might have to play Sancho for me on occasion, but at least you'll look better on the mule."


The comment about playing Sancho actually gains her attention for longer than a few heartbeats. Something changes in her eyes as she watches him, a softer, more heartful edge to her smile. "I… like working with a proper Don Quixote, on occasion, at least. Sometimes those windmills are monsters… and sometimes the world needs to dream. I'll keep you in reality, if you keep running off after them and pulling me along. Deal?" Pepper offers that softer than before. It's not all business. It's a woman who really does work best when she's behind a visionary and she hasn't had one of those in months. She's seeing hope here, with this man, for the first time in months.


Batman nods, "I'll consider it a deal," he says, "Although you technically haven't agreed to anything yet, remember?" he reminds her with a gentle tease.

The duck is presented, each of them getting a leg and a portion of a breast, along with some garlic broccoli. "We have gelato for dessert this evening. Oh, and sir, the matter of the girls from last night? I have been told that it's all taken care of," he says.

All of which sounds very lascivious. In truth, he had, through a couple of shell companies, found temporary housing and work for a group of North Korean women who had been sold and shipped for illicit purposes. Batman and the demonic entity known as Zed had interfered with their operation last night, freeing the women from captivity. The papers had only noted a warehouse fire and an abandoned ship at the docks.


Her smile turns wry again, "Well, I never sign anything without reading it all first, but unless you have some big, awful joke on page 86… I think you have yourself a deal, Bruce. I'm a fool. I can't pass up impossibly good offers for crazy amounts of work that will drive me insane, keep me up all hours of the night, and get my name dragged through the mud. It seems I have a type." Pepper winks at him again and then sinks back in her seat, turning one more page before she actually settles in for the food.

Her stomach actually audibly rumbles at the scent of the duck on the air, she giving a little, lacivious groan at the smell alone. "… Alfred, if this keeps up, I'm going to get so fat…" SHe's only half teasing. She probably could use about 15 lbs, all things considered. She dips into the food eagerly, though the comment about girls gets a curious look. "and what happened last night?" She asks him only half casual. Pepper is a woman used to knowing things, good and bad.


Bruce smiles evenly, always having a ready fib at hand to cover up for his nocturnal indiscretions, "Just a little party that got out of hand. I had Alfred make sure everyone got tucked in properly and made it home safely, that's all," he says. "He often plays the part of designated driver, keeping my head above water when I'm in too deep," he says.

He nods as she more or less agrees to his terms, "I don't think your waistline's in any danger. I'll be keeping you on your toes plenty as it is. And yes, I thought you might find the offer too good to resist. I recognize that the salary and benefits might seem lavish, even by the standards of the industry, but there are times when its worthwhile to overpay. And, in truth, having the highest paid female executive in the world will do a great deal to boost our company's profile in certain areas," he says.


The commentary about the party makes Pepper's brows arch, but she's more amused and accepting than anything. That used to be so much a part of her life, she has no surprise that it might return to being a part again. It'll be nice to have clean up assistance with Alfred, if nothing else. "Well…I'm certain I can help Alfred in the future, when such things get out of hand." SHe offers gently.

Then they are going on about work and she bows her head in agreement. He has her. It's just a matter of signing the paperwork. However, she slightly chokes on her duck as he mentions the highest paid female executive in the world. She hadn't even LOOKED at the numbers yet. "…T-the… world? Well, then…I… I'm certain I'll be worth it, Bruce. I won't let you down." She states firmly, after remembering how to breathe. Her fingertips reach over, carefully paging to that bit of the offer. She won't pass out. She swears she won't.


The compensation is relatively straight forward - one million dollars in salary, paid in monthly installments. The stock options that kicked in at the end of six months would add another 200K to her total pay. "I like round numbers," he says simply.

Alfred provides the necessary pen and agrees to sign as a witness. It also so happens that Alfred is a certified notary public. "I know you won't let me down, Pepper. I was very sure you were right for the job before I even made the offer. Now that I've spent some time with you, I'm even more certain that I made the right decision."


The woman pages open to that page and actually does stop breathing a few moments. Tony was generous. This was unheard of, for a woman at least. Pepper kicks in, remembering to breathe as his words go forward about being right for the job. She just nods mutely, accepting the pen from Alfred and giving him an awkward, oddly nervous smile of thanks. Pepper is genuinely overwhelmed for the first time in ages. "…I… I'm glad, Bruce." Shit, those were awful words. That was an understatement. But that's all she had right now.

Slightly shaking fingertips reach to the document, finishing reading the last few lines before she finally leans over and puts her name 'Virginia Potts' on the line. There. Done. She slides it back over to Bruce and Alfred, her eyes too-wide with the shock of everything. "…I… should finish out the week at the DoD… just to wrap a few things. I can come and work at night here, if you want me to start. Or… take some files home in preparation for the… annoucement."


Batman nods, "All easily arrangeable. If you need anything, Alfred can easily provide it. He knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak. I'm good at big picture, terrible at details," he says. Which is completely a lie, of course, but he does delegate these aspects of Bruce's life largely to Alfred. That allows him to focus on the part of his life that matters most, the secret part, the hidden self.

He really does need a psychiatrist. Too bad that's never going to happen.

"We can set up a temporary office for you here, for certain. You can even use one of the guest bedrooms if you like. I think there are twenty five or so, so…take your pick," he chuckles. "I'm looking forward to working together, Pepper. Welcome to Wayne Enterprises."


"Well…my roommate has been missing for almost a month. I don't have any pets. So… it's not like I have anything to go home to. I think setting up shop here and getting to work in the nights isn't a poor choice. I'll go back home tonight, get a bag together. Be back tomorrow evening and ready to work." Pepper seems a bit more reassured by this point. She's made the decision and is now, finally, ready to charge forward with it. She takes in a deep breath, trying to half calm the flutter of her heart. "I… I'm honored, Bruce. I really am. And excited. We… we'll change the world, you know that?"


Batman smiles, "That's the general idea," he says, letting Alfred take away his plate as he's finished. "What's this about your roommate being missing?" he says, trying to seem very casual as he asks the question, even his proverbial bat-ears are pricked up in curiosity. That, at least, he hadn't picked up in his research.


"Ah… I just moved in with her when it all went bad at SI. Sweet woman, a nurse… Betty Ross? I…I think her ex did something. He… he's not really stable. SHIELD's looking into it, and the cops. Everyone's trying everything they can, but…" Pepper shakes her head, trying not to look too grim about it but she's clearly worried. Just another thing that has kept her up at night. She finishes a good half of her meal, which is a pretty good go of it considering her size. She gives Alfred a thankful nod as she passes the plate off, happy to retake the folder entirely.


Batman nods and makes a note of it. SHIELD and the cops were all well and good. They weren't him.

"Well, I'll keep a good thought for her, then. Hopefully it all works out all right," he says. He nods to Alfred, a bare flick of his head and the butler gathers together all the dishes, "Will anything else be required? More coffee, Miss Potts? Perhaps a brandy? I'd say you could do with one, Master Wayne," he says, another of his futile attempts to get his employer to relax more.


Of course, Pepper will probably be *awful* for Bruce's relaxing. Right now brandy is the last thing from her mind too. "Well, Bruce. I… cannot believe I'm telling the entirely too handsome billionaire who is my by far too generous boss that I should be going but… I should. I'll take this home to finish with tomorrow and be back tomorrow night but… I've kept enough of your time for now and, in truth, want to reread this all a few times before I bring some proposals to your desk. I'd be awful company tonight, just working and drinking coffee. So… I should go." Pepper lets that slightly self depricating smile return to her lips, truly regretting needing to tear herself away to work. But, work always comes first. "Thank you for the thoughts about Betty. I just keep hoping… Maybe I'll go home tonight to more lucky news."


He nods, "Luck is a fickle mistress. I tend to stay away from Atlantic City. Well, at leas tthe casinos. There are a few places off the boardwalk, however, that are worth visiting," he says.

He sees her to the door himself, a hand at the small of her back, every inch the gentleman, "I'll have Alfred prepare a room and an office for you tomorrow. Just beware as I said - I tend to keep rather odd hours, so you might catch me asleep when you expect me awake," he grins. "And don't be too disturbed if you hear noises in the night. But the house is pretty big, I doubt I'll bother you much."


The woman walks along with him casually, trying to look calm, even if she's filled with a nervous excitement she's not felt in ages. She hugs the heavy folder against her like a lifeline, too eager to spend the night reading it. Work would be hell tomorrow, but it was worth it. "I'll keep that in mind and I won't be too loud when I come in. Just in case you are sleeping." She pauses at the door, offering him her hand one last time, "Thank you, Bruce. I… really am looking forward to the future, now. Try to get *some* sleep, we have a lot of work ahead of us." She tosses him a wink, then she's walking out into the night.


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