1964-03-12 - Death Awaits Her
Summary: Pepper comes home before her first full day in office to find an assassin waiting for her. Fortunately, a dark cloaked man intervenes and saves her life. But who is the mysterious figure?
Related: None
Theme Song: None
batman pepper 


Rico Valentine wasn't the cheapest hitman in the books, but he wasn't the most expensive either. His best asset is he was local - Murray Whitestone, the board member who hired him, didn't exactly know how to contact The Hand.

Rico had picked Pepper's lock a couple of hours ago, expecting the dame to be home shortly after work. He hadn't anticipated her keeping long hours. Didn't make any sense to him. What was a looker like that doin' wasting her time taking a man's job when she could've had her pick of any of the old creeps on the board puttin' her up in a better apartment just for laying on her back? The world had gone crazy.

Rico double-checked to make sure his silencer was in place as he finally heard a key in the lock. He has no idea that the man watching him through the windows is far better trained to wait and sit in silence and contemplation - or the things he plans to do to Rico when the killer tries to make his move.

*

The two-bedroom remained empty most of the day and night. Betty's room was covered in so much dust it was clear that Pepper's roommate hadn't been there in at least a month. Meanwhile, Pepper herself was putting in an almost insane amount of hours at the office Bruce gave her at Wayne Manor, in preparation for her first day in the actual offices tomorrow. Terrified and excited, she couldn't sleep anyway! Or maybe those were the drugs Bobbi had given her. Either way, it's just before midnight when her key turns in the lock.

Pepper looks half drowsed, but also ready to still work, her hand tucked around a briefcase that contains two ledgers and a few more files she needs to bring into the office come the morning. She tosses on one light, just enough she can see, as she tosses off her shoes into the corner and begins to unbutton her jacket. She's in a tight green number today with a boat neck and pencil skirt, her red hair drawn up in a tall beehive of the most fashionable style. She could work AND look good. In fact, she almost always did. Once her coat is free, she moves deeper into the room.

*

Rico could've stepped out of the closet and double-tapped the redhead already. But he was a scumbag and scumbags follow their nature. In this case, he lingers a bit, the door cracked enough to let him watch Pepper start to undress.

Maybe if he roughed her up a little bit, it would make it seem more random, less like a paid hit. And it would be fun. It'd been too long since Rico let himself have any fun.

*

While Pepper is one of the sharpest around in business, in her personal life? She tends to not be nearly on top of things as she should be. So she misses the slight crack in the closet, the very faint scent of someone else on the air in the place. Her tired mind misses any hint that something could be wrong. She just walks through into her bedroom and begins to peel out of her green dress, a low sigh of relaxation escaping red lips as the poplin fabric is completely released and dropped to the floor. Then she's moving for her dresser so she can start taking pins out of her hair. Once she had her red hair down, life would feel infinitely better and she could get to working.

*

The barrel of the silencer presses to the nape of her neck, cool and threatening. "Shhhhhhhhhhhhh, don't stop on my account, doll. You just keep on keepin' on. Maybe if you do it in a way I like, this won't end up too bad for ya," Rico whispers. His face is concealed behind a ski mask, his hands gloved. He's not the largest man, but he conveys menace with relative ease, as if the gun pressed against her neck didn't do the trick.

*

The feeling of the end of a gun on one's skin is unmistakable, in truth. Pepper's pale eyes shoot wide, body going stiff and heart suddenly leaping into her throat. "…W-what? I…I'm not… Whatever you want, take it. I… I have money now. I can go get you money…if it's about t-the…the Vigor, all that stuff is gone, I swear. I don't have any…" He tells her to continue, but Pepper is shocked and terrified enough she barely wants to move, save the wrong move make that gun go off. She drops the one pin she was holding, standing there just in her slip, garter belt, bra and panties, her pulse beating like a mad bird in her throat.

*

Rico laughs, "Shit, Vigor? Man, you're a more interestin' broad than I woulda guessed. It's always the straight-laced types, ain't it? Nah, it ain't about that, although I might take a few things. Souvenirs, don'tcha know? Nah, I'm afraid you just made the wrong kinda enemies, sugar. But who knows, if you're real nice to me, maybe I'll have second thoughts," he says. "You know how to be nice. I bet you were real damn nice to Bruce Wayne to get that job…" he says.

There's a sound from the living room, like a vase falling over, making Rico turn his head sharply, "The fuck? You bring somebody home witcha?" he says.

*

Pale blue eyes press shut tightly, praying to whatever God might actually be up there, as he presses the gun in a little closer, "Enemies? No…I'm not…I didn't make enemies. I'm just a…" She was about to say secretary, but that's not true any more. And the rock at the pit of her stomach is the realization that might actually be the problem. She swallows back another panicked breath, shaking her head slowly, "If…if this is about the new job… I didn't do anything. It… it's not my fault." Would she offer to quit? Could she? She doesn't yet, even if the thought hovers on her lips.

She nearly jumps out of her skin at the sound from the living room, heart in her throat again, "W-what? Uh… My…My roommate, she's probably just come home! You should go, or she'll catch you!" Pepper lies, poorly at that, but she's doing her best to try and get out alive. It's the only thing that's coming to mind.

*

Rico snorts, "Looks like your roommate ain't been around for a while. Maybe you brought home some poor schmuck to keep yer bed warm tonight. Well, too bad for him. You go oh ahead first and I'll give him a nice surprise."

He pushes her out towards the living room, keeping the gun in place, moving it down a bit between her shoulder blades to keep shoving her along. He's nervous, though, for some reason. Something wasn't right.

*

The woman didn't know if it was safer to say she didn't, or pretend she had. So, indecision and terror crosses her pale face and she really has no choice. He's shoving her out the bedroom and into the front room, still just in her under things, stumbling on stockinged feet like a newly born foal. Her eyes frantically search the room, "Betty? Betty, are you…Home? You…You should get out of here, if you are. Just… go… call the police!" There. Pepper took the one stab at helping herself and her roommate she could. Maybe this was the night Betty showed up. Maybe she had a chance of helping her escape.

*

Rico brings his gun up and cracks Pepper on the back of the head, trying to knock her stumbling forward, "Bitch! Try to rat on me, I'll—OW!" he cries out. There was a whistling sound just beforehand, of something passing fast through the air as a strange object flies out of the shadows, striking him in the wrist. He clutches at his hand as the object falls down next to Pepper.

It's a strange thing, almost like a boomerang, but carved in the shape of a bat. And then there's a voice from the shadows, a rasping thing, almost a whisper yet it seems to carry across the room.

"You're finished, Rico."

*

A small yelp of pain escapes Pepper's lips as he cracks her across the head. That worked. She's sprawling forward in pain, on her hands and knees now, but she manages to stay conscious. He didn't quite get her at the right angle to knock her out. But it did get her out of the way for whatever has attacked Rico's wrist now. Her eyes go somewhat wider as she hears that voice. Not one she knows, but she quickly starts to scamper, on hands and knees, to somewhere with some cover. "H-help me…please, call the police? He… he was here when I got home!" She calls out to the rasping stranger.

*

Rico reaches into his jacket and draws out a large knife, the kind with a guard around the knuckles, gleaming in the moonlight that passes in through the window. "Oh yeah, tough guy? Why don't you show yerself and I'll carve you up before I finish up with Little Miss here?"

There's a moment of silence and then one of the shadows in the corner of the room moves. It resolves into a shape, cloaked and almost inhuman. The man's face is hidden behind a mask and cowl, the points at the top making the shadow cast behind him by the moon into the shape of a bat. His lips, the only part of his face exposed, slowly move into a smile. It is not a pleasant smile.

"Try." he says to Rico in that same flat, sinister voice.

*

Well, that was terrifying.

While Pepper seems to accept that this mysterious, cloaked figure is definitely there to help her, he seemed as dark and as intimidating as the man she was being saved from! Hell, honestly, a little bit more. She still scuffles back on the floor, closer to the cowled man, hiding in the shadows and away from her original attacker. "D-don't…don't get hurt, I'm not worth it. We… we should just call the police. Get him out of here." Of course, the man is covered in enough body armor that being hurt might not actually be possible, but Pepper is brand new to anything self-defense wise, terrified, and half concussed. She's not exactly thinking straight.

*

Rico takes a couple of steps back himself at first, "You…I…they…I didn't think you were real…" he says, shaking his head for a moment. Still, he seems to find his nerve, letting out a gutteral cry as he charges the cloaked figure.

Batman doesn't spare a glance to comfort Pepper. He deals with the threat at hand. His cloak whips around him, disorienting as he engulfs the hitman in his darkness. Beneath the cloak, three maneuvers, none of them designed to do permanent damage. But all of them -hurt-.

Rico screams, falling to his knees himself on the other side of that cloak, clutching his hand to his chest and struggling to breath. The bruise on his windpipe won't blossom until tomorrow in the hospital. That it comes in the shape of a bat is coincidental, but you'll never convince Rico of that.

"Quiet," Batman says and finishes with a swift strike to the back of Rico's neck, sending the assassin off into unconsciousness as the vigilante looms over him.

*

Other than the goose-egg on the back of her head, Pepper has managed to get clear of this situation far better off than the unfortunate Rico. She watches the entire fight with too-wide eyes, barely able to trace the dark clad man's movements, he's so fast and has that large cloak. But with every blow, she's more convinced that the intimidating figure is on her side. Shakily, she begins to push herself up the wall, so she can get back to her feet and head for the rotary phone in the far corner.

"…Is… is he dead?" She asks, as the attacker collapses bonelessly to the floor, unconscious. But not dead. Still, it was hard to tell and Pepper's witnessed a lot of messes lately. "…I should call the police. Probably. He… I… I don't know why he… was here…" Not entirely true, but Pepper's still in confused shock over it all.

*

Batman looks down at Rico for a moment, "No, he'll live. Which is more than he intended for you," he says.

The cloaked figure moves across the apartment to where Pepper kneels on the floor. A gauntleted hand goes beneath his cape and draws out a manila folder that he throws down on the floor next to her.

"His name is Rico Valentine. He's a hitman, usually associated with the Nefaria mob but he was freelancing tonight. He's got a record."

"He was hired by a man named Murray Whitestone, the chief accountant at Wayne Enterprises. Whitestone didn't want you looking too closely at the accounts. He's been skimming, something around fifty thousand dollars a month, for years. Throw in a little professional jealousy and even a worm like him will try and bite," he says.

The file includes pictures of Whitestone and Rico meeting at a diner, even capturing a money exchange. There are phone records, mimeographs of Rico's rap sheet. Even some internal documents proving Murray's embezzlement.

"Give that to the police."

*

The redhead stares at the strange, cloaked figure, her face drained of all blood at this point and numb with shock. Pepper just shakes her head slowly, "…that…this isn't…How business works. God, we're… a corporation, not the mafia. This is insane. Surely it was a… mistake…" Pepper tries to justify, but she cannot help but open the folder with shaking hands and look through the documents. She couldn't deny the truth when looking at those. She looks earnestly sick.

"Who… are you? Why would you…help…like this? I…I'll give it to them, but you saved me. You did this work. You… you should show it to them. Not me." Pepper explains breathlessly, still standing there in nothing but her under things, slightly shivering now. As much from being mostly naked in the winter as she is post-adrenaline crashing.

*

"The mafia is very much like a corporation. And sometimes vice versa," he says. "You have your work cut out for you. He isn't the only one at Wayne who's dangerous. Perhaps you should get some security," he says.

"The police would like to bring me in for questioning. What I do isn't exactly legal," he says. "But it's effective. And necessary." He kneels down by Rico and there's a clicking sound as he cuffs the man's hands behind his back. Just in case.

*

Shaking hands or not, Pepper manages to get the files back in that folder. Of course, it wasn't marked with any of his fingerprints, this other man in heavy gloves, but her's would be all over it now. She takes another unsteady breath, trying to get her mind to catch up with everything. The phone. The police. She should do that. She nods slightly to him, "I… I guess it isn't. I'm… still glad you did it. God, you… You saved my life." Pepper affirms, the gravity of the situation still settling in, heavy and sickening.

"I still owe you. I can… pay for it, now. The help. I don't know how to say thank you." Pepper finally makes it to the phone, lingering by the old receiver, but she doesn't quite pick it up yet. She's more fascinated by the dark, imposing figure that saved her life.

*

Batman rises up from where he kneels, finally glancing over in her direction. "You'll get your chance," he says. He moves over to the windows of the apartment, pressing with his fingertips. They swing open, apparently unlocked. Not too much mystery of how he got in, except that you're up quite a few floors with not a fire escape in sight.

"Be careful in the meantime. But I'll be watching," he says.

And then he's out, leaping through the window. He should plummet to the ground below, a lethal fall.

But when Pepper looks out, she'll discover he's disappeared, vanished into the night. Perhaps he flew away.

*

"But your…name…" Pepper tries to call out after him. It's too late. The strange man in black is already plummeting out into the night and Pepper forgets the phone, dashing after him in panic. That window didn't have a fire escape on it! However, when she looks out into the chilly winter night, there is nothing. No body on the floor, no one hanging from a ledge. Nothing. Pepper blinks in confusion, one hand coming up to rub gently at the back of her head. Maybe she had been hit harder than she realized.

It's another handful of seconds before she leans out enough to pull the windows shut again. Unconscious assassin on the floor, incriminating evidence in her hand, the woman walks over to the phone and finally picks it up. She rings up 9-1-1. Her voice is still slightly shaking but, with the crisis management of someone who is destined to be an executive, she explains fully, "Operator, someone just broke into my apartment and tried to kill me…" Soon enough, her night will be going very long with police reports and a brief trip to the ER.

*

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