Down the Dark Path– by Victor Moore

DISCLAIMER: Marvel owns everyone, except Sakura, Agent Li, and the old woman, they're mine. No money will be made from this. This is for enjoyment purposes only. Yada, Yada, Yada.

CHAPTER IV:

For days, he had watched her. He knew her routine inside and out. When she went to work, jogged, or what movies she liked to see. While she was at work, he examined her apartment. As expected of a top-level employee of Stark Enterprises, it had an elaborate security system. One that surpassed the Hand's level of training, almost impossible for him to circumvent. However, he noticed that the floor was not wired, so he made a makeshift opening in an unused closet, which could be concealed at ease. Satisfied, he left and waited until his target came home. Then he would end her existence as he was instructed to.

Taking position on a rooftop across the street from her place, he peeled off his dark red mask and ran a hand through his unruly black hair. It took the shape of a wicked butterfly with vicious looking jagged wings. When he adopted this hairstyle, he did not know. All that mattered now was his job. He was a master assassin, a member of the fabled Hand. The first few missions he did were of taking care of deserters. Now he had a real assignment. Planning was one thing, but he could not wait until he slipped in there and watch as the life would flee her eyes. He licked his lips unconsciously. Anticipation flickered in his cold eyes as he looked at the sun hanging low in the sky. An hour later and he would be able to feel her blood on his skin. Putting the mask back on, the man formally known as Wolverine extended his claws one at a time, then retracted them in the same order.

Setting her groceries on the white tiled kitchen counter, Virginia Potts, affectionately called "Pepper" by her friends and family, started to rummage through the plastic bags and put the various items in their appropriate places. When that was finished, she kicked off her shoes and poured herself a glass of water. Thinking back to events earlier in the day, as she drank the liquid, she decided this was one of the worst days she had in a long time. Everything seemed to go wrong.

Her boss, Tony Stark, had decided that today he would save the world in his usual fashion as the heroic icon of industry and a member of the mighty Avengers, Iron Man. So, she answered all of his calls, some of which wanted to talk to Tony immediately. After making up the typical excuses, which she has become accustomed to over the years, she received numerous visits from dignitaries of industry, a couple of well known actresses, and a class of school children with their escorts on a field trip. Pepper had to politely brush off the actresses (who all wanted Tony to be their date at the upcoming Academy Awards Show), or reschedule appointments for the members of the business community with apologies and incentives. The third graders however, she had to show around Stark Enterprises. Normally she loved children, but not in large groups. They were a screeching symphony of voices all wanting to be heard at the same time. It gave her a migraine, but she took the little ones though their tour and when they where gone made a mental note for the forth time today to kill her employer.

"A nice long hot bath is what I need. Something to soak all my worries away." She mused as she wandered down the hall to her bedroom. After taking off her work clothes she donned her pink robe and proceed to the bathroom with its very large bathtub. Filling up the basin with hot water and poring in the scented bubble bath, she circled her hand slowly in it. When it was full, she turned the water off. On a shelf on the wall farthest from the tub was a tape player and some tapes. "Damn it! I can't believe I forgot the stupid thing in my purse."

Heading back to the kitchen counter, she found her large black leather handbag. Opening it revealed numerous items, which in all reality should not be able to fit inside. Jim Rhodes had once said that it was a 'Marry Poppin's Effect'. She had to rent the video to understand what he meant, and then laughed hard when she found out. After a few seconds, she brought out an audiocassette. It was an audio book entitled 'The Eye of the World'.

A reflection on the microwave door caused her to spin around and face a short man in a dark red ninja outfit. She was shocked and fear jumped in her voice as she spoke. "Who the hell are you?"

The man silently approached her with out an answer.

Pepper backed up into a counter and reached behind her never taking her eyes off the intruder. Her hands found the handle of a large knife resting in a dark wooden block.

"If you want to die faster, then try it."

Her hand moved slowly away from the knife, after seeing the danger in his eyes. "What… what do you want?"

A gaudy toy ring appeared in his left hand, and he set it on the tile countertop near her purse. Then he took a step back. "Put it on. Middle finger, left hand." His voice held a dangerous edge to it.

Pepper looked him over. He came for one reason, to kill her. Quickly, she ran over the options in her mind. None came to her. The ring, she realized was placed a short distance away from her keys, or more importantly, the black electronic box attached to the key chain. Press the button and a signal would be sent to Stark Enterprises that she was in danger. All she had to do then was survive until they showed up. Her hopes began to rise.

Regardless of her plan, her hand still shook when she reached for the ring. As instructed, she put it on the appropriate finger.

"I was hoping for more of a fight from you. Guess I'll just have to kill you with my disappointment."

She quickly projected a surprised look at the door. The assassin followed her gaze. That allowed her to use the device.

The sound of the button brought his attention back to her. "So you are a fighter after all. I assume you called for help? No matter, by the time they get here, you be dead. Tell you what, I'll give you a chance to live. How does that sound? You get one free shot. If you kill me, you live. If not… well let's say it won't be pretty. Go!" In two quick steps, she grabbed the large knife and threw it at him with all of her strength. It landed in his shoulder as he stood there. Her hand grabbed the salt container next to the block and she popped the top off.

"Well that's your shot, not bad, if I do say so myself." He stated as he took the knife out and dropped it on the floor. "Now it's your tur…" A small influx of pain interrupted his sentence as the salt from the container landed in the wound.

Using the distraction, Pepper bolted for the door. She made it and ran outside, but it cost her. The metal blades that extended from the back of his hand cut through her robe and into her side. She tried to push back the pain as she continued to run down the stairs, out the driveway, and into the street as fast as her bare feet would take her. She knew what she did would not last for long, but she hoped that it would give the few precious seconds needed to survive until help arrived. Risking a chance to look back, she saw him leap from her doorway and hit the ground running. Cursing under her breath, she ran faster.

A man walking his poodle saw her turn the corner and run past him. Her robe's belt had been cut so her robe trailed behind her exposing her nakedness and the bloody wound. Concerned, he shouted after her. "Hey miss! Are you alright?"

"No, she's dead. She just don't know it yet. But you do." Came a gruff answer from behind him.

Before he could turn around to see who said it, a blade went cleanly through his neck. The poodle yelped in surprise as her owner's head landed next to her, then again as the falling body dragged her backwards a bit.

Pepper ran for half a mile, before she was shoved into the ground. Picking herself up quickly caused immense pain. Her ankle had twisted and she could barely stand. A gasp of air left her loudly as three blades penetrated her abdomen.

"Not bad frail. You fought bravely. But now it's over." He pulled out the claws, then drove them for her heart.

A blasted of ionized electricity hit the assassin in the side before he could connect, and he flew fifteen feet back into a wall. The impact cracked the immovable object and pieces fell off him as he picked himself up. "Now that is what I call a quick response. Good play frail. Good play."

The newcomer hung in the air, the smoke trail from the repulsor blast fading away in the light wind. His red and gold armor covered him completely except for the slits for his eyes and mouth. "Who are you?" Iron Man bellowed in a synthesized voice.

"A messenger." The assassin answered.

"From whom?"

Pointing to Pepper, he sarcastically stated, "Ask the message."

Looking at the injured woman, the Avenger saw her blood pour out upon the street. His palms started to glow brightly as he leveled them at the Hand member.

Sheathing his claws, he just shrugged his shoulders. "What's it going to be, metal man? Me, or the frail? You can't have us both. If your extremely lucky, you may be able to get her help in time, but if you wanna dance with me, than she's good as dead. Your call." With that he turned and walked away.

Cursing loudly, Iron Man picked up Pepper and flew as fast as he could to the nearest hospital. Her blood spilled onto his armor and trickled to the ground below.


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