Title: Veni, vidi, vici
Warnings: Canon-typical violence, language. Content may not be suitable for younger audiences.
There's a light shining through the crack under Bruce's door. It's the fifth time in as many days that Alfred has gone around the house, completing the night dusting, to find Bruce up past midnight. He cracks the door open, sighs when he sees the boy slumped over his writing desk, fast asleep, papers and a file marked Arkham Project strewn across the wood.
Oh, Master Bruce, he thinks, turns off the overhead light, then the lamp, gathers the boy up carefully in his arms and carries Bruce to his bed, pulls back the covers.
As he tucks the boy in, Bruce stirs, murmurs, quietly, "Mother...Father..." Alfred feels himself soften. Here is a young boy—his charge—who's recently lost his parents, and he's hurting, running himself ragged trying to solve their murder. He remembers a younger Bruce, a more carefree child, running through the gardens with his father chasing behind him, laughter floating through the air. Bruce's changed so much since then—he's changed so much since his parents' deaths.
Alfred wonders if Bruce will ever be happy, or if he'll get so consumed with his task to solve Martha and Thomas' deaths that he'll lose any chance of happiness. He resolves to make sure that never happens.
"Falcone thinks he can hit me, in my business—I'll show him." Maroni's voice is loud, and he seems quite unaware that literally anyone could overhear him.
Which is what Osvalda's doing right now—covertly, obviously, it'd do her no good to be found out and killed. Thankfully, despite only having been the manager for a short amount of time, Maroni isn't suspicious of her. It probably has something to do with the Don's sexist beliefs, but Osvalda'll ignore them for now, as they're keeping her alive.
Maroni, idiot that he is, only had the surroundings checked once—there's a reason he's second to Falcone. Osvalda listens to Maroni as he lays out his plan of attack, and a plan of her own forms in her mind. She smiles.
Now, all there's left to do is work out The Plan with Jaimie. Honestly, she's still astounded at the detective's actions—she had thought that the other would've tried to distance herself, used the cop vs. mobster logic, but no, she actually seems to embrace, hell, encourage Osvalda's clumsy overtures of friendship.
It's a nice change from the usual, but Osvalda pulls her mind away from that topic, concentrates on Maroni's plan.
It's a small booth in the corner of the café Ed introduced Jaimie to, GC Jitters, an offshoot of the chain based in Central City; Jaime wonders how they've been able to survive this long in Gotham, relatively unscathed; as far as she knows, Central City has a fairly low crime rate, and mobsters are virtually nonexistent.
The booth's position, near the back of the café, affords both privacy and protection, and thus, is the perfect place for Osvalda and Jim to meet. When Jaimie gets there, she's slightly out of breath, and running late. The other is already waiting for her when she rushes in, slides into the seat across from Osvalda. The mobster is perusing the menu, and looks up, smiling broadly when she catches sight of Jaimie.
"Jaimie, my friend," she greets. "I'm glad you could make it."
Jaimie smiles sheepishly. "Yeah, sorry I'm late—something came up."
"Nonsense," the other dismisses, and when the waiter—Rose—comes to take their order, says, "Chai latte, and...?"
"Large hot cocoa," Jaimie fills in. "Extra whipped cream." The waiter scribbles on her note-pad and departs, leaving them alone. "Perhaps we should get to the matter at hand?"
Osvalda sighs, lightly, clasps her hands in her lap. "Straight to business, I see."
"Straight might not be the right word," Jaimie quips, which makes Osvalda break into a small smile. It's a very beautiful smile, makes her green eyes light up, softens her otherwise sharp outer appearance.
It fades far quicker than Jaimie would like it to, and Osvalda says, "Regardless, you are right—we have a limited amount of time, and I'd like this to be convincing, seeing as how I'd much like to stay alive. Maroni may not be bright, but he isn't completely clueless, loath as I am to admit.
"Obviously, we'll need to act, and act well—do couple-y things, go on a few dates, hold hands, anything else you can think of?"
Jaimie feels slightly in awe of this woman, her ability to turn nearly any situation to her advantage, but, "You missed something—well, a few somethings, actually," she points out. "The six-'o-clock date at Bamonte's, and typically, partners visit each other's place of residence quite often, so that would be necessary. And you've already been over to my place, so..." she trails off.
Osvalda snaps her fingers. "I knew I was missing something—though I can't say I look forward to interacting with Selina again." She shudders slightly. "I am quite certain she has murderous intentions towards me."
Jaimie laughs lightly. "Nah, she'll warm up to you—you'll see. Now," she reaches under the table, clasps one of Osvalda's hands in her own. "When did you say our date at Bamonte's is?"
Osvalda seems frozen for a moment, and Jaimie wonders if she's been forward. Then, she snaps out of it, returns Jaimie's smile. "The day after tomorrow—dress formally, though I'm sure that you'll look dashing regardless."
There's a small squeal from where they've forgotten about the waiter, who's returned. "Oh my gods you're suchacutecouple!" she exclaims, words slurring together in excitement. Osvalda blushes lightly, and Jaimie ducks her head. Rose leaves them with their drinks, a grin on her face as she departs.
Osvalda checks her watch. "I have to go—important business meeting to get to." She stands, and Jaimie stands with her. They split the bill, despite Osvalda's protests. When they get to the door, Jaimie leans over, presses a small, chaste kiss to the other's cheek.
"Bye, darling," she says, softly, and departs.
The man sits on the cold concrete, guitar case open, plucking miserably at the strings of the instrument. It's out of tune—he'll have to re-tune it, but he hasn't had the opportunity to do so yet. The pedestrians mostly ignore him, save for one man wearing a black trench-coat and a black hat that covers his face. He strides up and drops a small green bottle into the guitar case.
As he leaves, the guitarist catches sight of a single disfigured ear as the man disappears into the crowd. The guitarist reaches into the case, picks up the bottle. On one side, it has that medical symbol on it, the one that's a staff with two snakes wrapped around it—a caduceus. He turns it over.
The other side reads, in bold black lettering,
He shrugs—why not. There's a slight pop as he uncorks the bottle, the glass stopper sticking slightly as he pulls it out. Cautiously, he raises it to his nose, eying the small plume of green that rises before recalling the voice of his science teacher yelling at a student for doing just the same, and pulls it away, wafting it slightly with his hand.
The bottle falls to the ground, shatters, the sickly green spreading out and running down the gutter.
A few blocks away, the same man enters a small convenience store, heads straight for the refrigerated goods aisle. He cracks open one of the refrigerators, pulls out a gallon bottle of milk and pulls off the cap, chugs the entire thing before doing the same to two more.
It's not until he's on the fifth bottle that the owner notices something's wrong. "Hey!" he shouts, advancing toward the musician. "You gotta stop—you need to pay-" He hits the wall, head cracking painfully against the plaster.
From the cafe across the road, Jaimie polishes off her sandwich, draining her cup of coffee. Suddenly, an alarm sounds, and Jaimie whips around, sees the broken glass window of the convenience store, the owner lying on the ground, and takes off.
"Hey partner, it's lunch! We're off-duty!" Bullock protests, waving his own sandwich in the air. However, Jaimie hears the sound of his steps behind her.
There's a man lying on the ground, injured. Jaimie moves to help him. "He went crazy—he went-he went crazy, ripped the ATM—the whole ATM machine outta the wall!" The man babbles, and Jaimie furrows her brow. What is he on about?
Bullock comes to a stop, puffs out, "Right, sir, we're homicide, no one's dead, and it's lunch—call 911 and they'll send someone to take care of you."
Something about the man's words seem odd—well, odder than the rest of it. "What did the attacker's vehicle look like?" she asks.
The man laughs, slightly hysterical. "There—there wasn't one. He pulled it outta the wall with his bare hands!"
"Did you just say he pulled it pulled it out of the wall without any help?" Bullock asks, and the man nods.
Jaimie and Bullock share a look—this is something far more unusual and dangerous than what they've seen before.
"Thank you for coming; I know many of you have busy schedules." Despite his age, Carmine Falcone's voice is strong from where he's seated at the head of the table. To his side, Fish Mooney.
"As you know, Maroni was awarded a share in the Arkham project. I've gathered you to assure you that our partial share in the Arkham development project is not a loss. If anything, we will profit from it even more now that a war has been averted."
There are mutters, people shift, until one of Falcone's subordinates, a Russian known only as Nikolai, pipes up, "Maroni will be emboldened by success—we should strike back first."
Fish glares at him. "And if he does, we will remind him why he is second," she snaps. "We are more than equipped to deal with him."
Nikolai sneers, "You are too bold; perhaps there is a reason for a woman's place, in the motherland." Fish looks ready to shoot him, opens her mouth to spit back a venomous response, only to be halted by Falcone.
"We are family, Nikolai; Fish deserves her place as much as you," Falcone reminds him. "We must provide a united front to our enemies." His unspoken threat hangs clearly in the silence.
"You're certain that the man is the same one Charmagne recognised?" Jaimie asks. After checking the security cameras and CCTV, they managed to find a shot of the perp's face, which was then recognised by an associate of Bullock's, who claimed the man to be Benny, and directed them to his usual hangout.
"Yes, I'm certain," Bullock snaps, hands tightening on the steering wheel so his knuckles go white. "They had a few one-night stands, and Charmagne's good with faces. Plus, it's our only lead."
Damn him for being right. Jaimie exhales, willing the tension to leave her muscles. Lately, she's been on edge—worry for Os, mostly, and at Gotham, for its tendency to kill tons of people in general—not even mob-related deaths, which, surprisingly, to newcomers, are actually fairly rare. No, it's just Gotham, in all of its messed up, macabre glory, such as the couple who invited a family whose children they were babysitting over, only for their parents, in a horrifying twist, to learn that the absence of their children wasn't that that they had gone to the park and would be back later, but rather because the kids were the main course.
Bullock stops the car, and they get out. It's the bridge, and it takes a bit for them to locate Benny, mostly because the man is slumped on the ground, curled into a foetal position, surrounded by so many milk containers—and the ATM—that they almost obscure him from view.
Jaimie rushes to the whimpering man's side, and Bullock follows behind her. Suddenly, Benny convulses. "He—help me, ple—please help me! It h—hurts, s—so much," he cries. "The man w—with the—with the m—messed up e—ear—he g-gave me...it f—felt s—so good to s—start, b—but n—now it's doing s—something h—horrible."
"Alright," Jaimie says, tries to remain calm. "Stay calm—we can help you." She raises her hands to show there's nothing in them. Wrong move. The movement registers, and Benny springs up, and, with inhuman strength grabs the ATM and makes to hurl it at them, but just a second before he can, a sort of shiver runs through him, and his face contorts, bends, collapses on itself, and he, to, collapses, the ATM falling on him.
"Oh god," Bullock mutters, turns away, and Jaimie can't blame him—what was once a man is now but dust underneath and around the ATM.
"What if it's not an isolated incident?" Jaimie wonders out loud. "What if Benny was just the start?" The mere thought makes her feel slightly sick, and Bullock too, if the green tinge to his face isn't just a figment of her imagination.
That night, as the rest of the city sleeps, he walks amongst the streets, and there are more green-filled vials.
Bruce stares unseeingly at the board in front of him. On it, tacked up over each other, is every lead, every bit of evidence, anything that might lead him to his parents' murderer. So far, nothing. Only whispers, rumours, and, bizarrely, a nursery rhyme his father once sung to him.
Beware the Court of Owls,
That watches all the time,
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch,
Behind granite and lime.
They watch you at your hearth,
They watch you in your bed,
Speak not a whispered word of them,
Or they'll send The Talon for your head.
Bruce has no clue what it means, other than the fact that it's popped up numerous times during his search, and by this point, he highly doubts it's a mere coincidence, coupled with the fact that his father sung the piece to him the nights before his death, but for the life of him, Bruce can't think of any connection; this Court, if they are real, is an unknown variable, and either no one knows who they are, or they're too afraid to tell, which leads him to conclude that, somehow, this Court is involved in his parents' deaths.
The thought leaves a sick feeling in his stomach, and instead, he focuses on his parents' business. During the time since then, Bruce's grown increasingly suspicious of the members of the board; there's more and more evidence that Wayne Enterprises isn't nearly as clean and honest as he'd once thought, and Bruce has an ever-growing hunch that Gotham isn't what it seems.
Thus, he's decided to attend the upcoming charity event hosted by Wayne Enterprises; it'll both give him a chance to interact with the board members, and show the public that he is taking an interest in the goings on of his family business.
There's another set if shouting and yells, followed by the thump of fists hitting flesh. Someone yells, and Jaimie groans, presses the heels of her palms against her eyes, tries to relieve the pressure building up behind them. Beside her, ever-impervious to the noise and chaos, Bullock takes a swig from his flask. Captain Essen pinches the bridge of her nose.
The precinct, as if jinxed by Jaimie's utterance, is overrun by people of all sizes, genders, races, and social classes, all dosed up with what they've been referring to as "Viper", and, as with Benny, they all exhibit inhuman strength. So far, really, that's all that they can figure out, other than that the perp must have high-society connections, because a few of the victims are of Gotham's elite, and as far as anyone can tell, the perp's not targeting any one group—or groups—of people, so Ed theorizes that whoever it is is probably testing an initial version to refine the formula.
After that, Jaimie's friend had muttered something under her voice, taken a look at the test results from the victims, and dashed off to the lab, promising to return. Actually, speak of the devil.
"Jaimie, Detective Bullock, Captain" Ed greets. "I must say, the results are quite fascinating—the drug fuels the subject's strength by consuming their body's calcium at a hyperactive rate, giving them almost absurd strength, hence the subject's need to consume calcium, leading to incidents like the break-ins where the subjects consumed mass quantities of milk.
"However, the consumption is so rapid that, within twenty-four hours maximum, the subject's bones crumble and they suffocate to death. As I told Detective Gordon earlier, it's highly likely that this is simply the first batch, and whoever created it is simply testing it out to try and perfect it," Ed finishes.
Essen's brows furrow. "Why would anyone pay for a drug that kills one-hundred percent of its users?"
"As you saw, ma'am, there are many different groups affected, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were dosed unwillingly," Jaimie cuts in.
Bullock set his flask down and addressed the Captain. "Before it kills 'em, it makes 'em feel wonderful, an' it gives superstrength." He shrugs. "There's probably plenty 'a junkies who're desperate enough to take willingly."
Surprisingly insightful, for Bullock; perhaps he does have some merit as a detective. "How's it made?" Jaimie asks Ed. Perhaps there's something in the way it's manufactured that can help to trace it to the perp.
Ed lights up, eager to talk about this new mystery. "It's an incredibly sophisticated process, nothing you could do with anything less than state-of-the-art labs and equipment—and this isn't anything small; whoever created this has already refined it far enough for mass-production, and clearly, it's been mass-produced on some level."
"I'm guessing that not many people have access to that sort of stuff?" Jaimie asks, and Ed nods.
"Almost no one, actually, other than two main pharmaceutical companies; Wilde Pharmaceutical, headed by the enigmatic, and mysterious Mr. Xander Wilde, and WellZyn, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises—which, if rumors are to be believed, the latter is far more likely, though I don't know if it's the company, or a former employee." The look on her face shows her irritation at not knowing. Jaimie can't blame her.
Ed starts to say something else, only to be interrupted as a scuffle breaks out amongst the officers. One of the victims is fighting against the officers, scratching and clawing, teeth bared, and with a slight pang of sadness, Jaimie realizes it's the woman who helped them track down Benny: Charmagne. She wonders how the woman got ahold of Viper during that time.
The fight doesn't last long; at first, Charmagne seems to have the upper hand, superstrength and whatnot, but, as with Benny, she starts writhing and shrieking in pain. Jaimie watches in morbid, horrified silence as the macabre scene plays out in front of her, Charmage's face collapsing in on itself, then she crumbles to the floor, clothes falling atop the shapeless pile of what once was a human.
Some of the officers nearby, along with some who were attempting to restrain Charmagne, turn green, and one or two hastily clamp their hands over their mouths, looking ill, and shakily make their way to the bathrooms.
Jaimie sighs. Between the case and her date with Osvalda later—even if it is a fake date, which, for reasons she can't—doesn't want to—decipher, makes something twist uncomfortably within her—her day is absolutely packed. Thank gods she had the foresight to start chilli in the slow-cooker before she left for her shift in the morning, so there'll be something hot for Selina to eat when she gets home from school
Once her shift's over and she's gotten back to her apartment, Jaimie spends half of her remaining hour worrying over what to wear. No doubt, Osvalda will look stunning, dressed to the nines, and what sort of impression would it give if she turns up in casual clothes? No, that won't do.
Thankfully, she has a few formal things—mostly purchased for weddings for distant relatives, worn only once. She lays her three choices out on her bed—a short dark blue and black piece, a floor-length, lighter blue dress with silver piping, and a dark green dress that hits just below her knees. She worries her bottom lip, indecisive, and checks her 'nice shoe' collection. There's a pair of black flats, and a pair of slightly-heeled black boots that, frankly, look far more comfortable.
Decision made, Jaimie pulls them out of the back of her closet from where the box is hidden, and holds them up. In the light, they have a dark iridescent tint, and it clashes horribly with the light blue and the green dresses, which leaves the shorter black and blue piece. She puts the other two away, brushes her hair—it's gotten frizzy from the static in the precinct, and since it's a pixie cut, it looks ridiculous—and slides on the outfit, which sits nicely against her skin, checks the clock—twenty minutes—and takes a deep breath.
I've got this. It'll go fine—there aren't that many things you could do...besides accidentally ruin the whole charade (and there's that bitter, acrid feeling) and wind up getting Osvalda killed.
Her heart jackrabbits, and she closes her eyes, tries to take deep, measured breaths, feels her throat close up, the air not reaching-
Jaimie's phone vibrates and lights up with a text message, breaks her out of her downward spiral; she fumbles with it, and navigates to the Messages app. There's a message from an unknown number:
Are you ready? We have ten minutes. Do you know the address?—O
Osvalda. The tension leaves Jaimie's shoulders, and she quickly types, Sorry, got into a bit of a situation; I'll be on my way asap, and slips on her boots, grabs her keys; there's a spare key in the hallway by the apartment door for Selina, so she locks the door and makes what turns out to be an alarmingly short trek to Bamonte's.
When she gets to the door, Osvalda's there to greet her, dressed, as Jaimie predicted, to the nines and looking gorgeous, if she does say so. Osvalda smiles at her slightly, a quick tug at the edges of her lips, offers her arm. "Shall we?"
Jaimie nods, links their arms, and Osvalda leads her to their table; situated in the back, away from prying eyes, there's something almost cosy about the two-person table. "You look nice," Jaimie says quietly as they slip into their chairs. "It almost makes me feel underdressed."
Osvalda blushes lightly, the red sprinkled delicately on her pale face, highlighting the freckles on the bridge of her nose. She looks adorable.
"You needn't be worried," Osvalda says, once she regains her composure, "I might be slightly overdressed-" Whatever she's about to say is cut off when the waitress comes to the table with menus. They're dark red with gold embossment and writing, and they fit with the aesthetic of the restaurant well. They—well, Jaimie—peruse the menu for a few moments, before Osvalda speaks softly.
"If I may, I'd suggest the three cheese ravioli and a Caesar salad—Bamonte's has the best I've ever tasted," she offers. Jaimie feels her lips twitch slightly into a smile.
"Thanks, I was starting to feel out of my depth—I don't know what half of these dishes are," she admits, and Osvalda laughs, eyes sparkling.
"So glad I could be of help, honey," she teases.
Jaimie grins, sets her menu down so as to see the other better. "You're probably one of the only people who'd bother," she says, more truth to the statement than she's intended, but it's light instead of dark and saddening like it usually is. "It's just my unique charm."
Osvalda makes a sound that sounds suspiciously like a short huff of amusement, and mutters, "Charm. Yes, of course, definitely."
The waiter comes back around, and Jaimie orders Os' suggestions, as well as a dish of meat-filled cannoli, and Osvalda orders linguine alfredo and a bowl of minestrone soup, and a basket of garlic bread, and two plates of tiramisu and two Rainbows. After the waiter leaves, Jaimie tries to protest, cites the price, and insists, really, just a simple dinner is enough, darling, but Osvalda cuts her off.
"Dearest Jaimie, I'll have you remember that this is our six-month anniversary, and I'm the manager—price is no issue," she says firmly, leaving no room for debate, and Jaimie gives in. The ravioli, cannoli, salad, and garlic bread are all heavenly, and they make small-talk while waiting for the tiramisu and cocktails. The detective learns that Osvalda likes the smell of lavenders, is fluent in German and Greek, that she enjoys classical literature, and that she can bake almost anything except brownies, and she likes cats but as a child the places she lived in never allowed pets.
They slowly eat the desert, and drink their cocktails—which, as its name suggests, is a rainbow concoction, red at the bottom and light, cerulean blue at the top, topped with a cherry and an orange slice, quite fitting, she thinks—before she bids Osvalda goodnight, leans down to peck her on the cheek.
Without warning, Osvalda stands on her tiptoes, tilts her head up and catches her lips in a short kiss, slightly awkward, and their teeth clack a bit, but it tends tendrils of electricity down Jaimie's spine, like a wish made of lightning and thunder, a wish that this, this charade was a reality; a flickering wish that Osvalda would ever want to actually be with her in real life. Yhough she knows, intrinsically, that the second the other woman catches sight of her plumage, it'll end in calls that go to voice-mail every time and a cold-shouldered avoidance, and it leaves an aching sensation just bellow her heart, and she thinks, oh gods, I'm so fucked.
"-the casino's too well guarded," Frankie argues, loud enough that Osvalda can hear him from the position she's in, halfway across the restaurant. Being the manager does have some perks, and she's already deposited a fair amount of money into her mother's bank account via cheque.
"Robbing it will cost us too many men," Frankie adds, trying to reason with the Don, to no avail. Honestly, if the man had a bit more ambition, he'd make a better mob boss than Maroni. However, Osvalda can't complain, truly, considering she can twist this to her benefit.
Carefully, making sure to broadcast her presence, Osvalda approaches the Don's table, stands by it with an air of nervousness around her. The Don notices almost immediately.
"Excuse me, sir; I couldn't help but overhear your discussion about the casino-"
Frankie cuts her off almost immediately. "Mind your own business," he growls. Osvalda purses her lips lightly, but backs away.
"I'm sorry, of course. I'm sorry," she backtracks. Maroni squints at her slightly.
"No. Tell me what you know," he demands.
Osvalda blinks, startled at the sudden change of mood. "About the casino? I know a janitor who runs the boiler room..." she trails off. "He could get you in there easily. There are access tunnels no one knows about."
"Access tunnels?" Maroni questions, a glint in his eye. "Come here. Sit down," he orders.
"Thank you, sir," she says, smiles twitchily. "A great honour indeed."
"What's your name again?" Maroni asks.
Osvalda's smile drops off of her face. "Everyone here calls me Penguin, sir." It's not a lie, per se.
"You don't like that name, huh?" Maroni observes, and Osvalda can feel the twitch of her eye. Apparently, it's enough of an answer, and Maroni takes a glass, places it in front of her, says, "Yeah, well you're wrong. It's a good name. It works for you.
"So, how do you know this man?"
Osvalda takes a sip from her glass, savours the taste of the ruby-red liquid. "I have connections," she replies.
"Reliable, is he?"
"I'm sure I can convince him to be."
"Boss, this is a dishwasher in a suit," Frankie protests, agitated, taps his fingers rapidly against his leg, impatient.
"Relax," Maroni placates, turns back to Osvalda, "is that right, Penguin? Are you just a dishwasher? Because I don't get that vibe. You come off as all humble, but you got a little player in you, huh?"
It may be blatant flattery, but Maroni's highly unlikely to believe the truth—which means, of course, that she'll tell the truth, or part of it at least. "That's very perceptive of you, sir," she pauses for effect, "I guess that's why you're the Don." Maroni looks pleased, smiles. She continues, "I'm not a mere dishwasher, and this isn't my first rodeo, so to speak."
The spark of interest is back in Maroni's eye. "So you've ridden some bulls, huh? Well, well, do tell."
"Well, my real name is Osvalda Cobblepot."
"I think that once you hear my story, you'll agree that I could be a great asset for you, sir," she says, watching the Don's reactions carefully, "it's a long, funny story, really, but the headline, just so you're not surprised—I used to work for Fish Mooney." Ah, recognition, a calculating gaze in the Don's eyes.
"Fish Mooney?" It's Frankie who asks, guarded, but curious.
"Yes, sir. I was privy to many aspects of the Falcone family business—until they tried to kill me." It's bitter, and in that moment, focused on her hatred of Fish, Osvalda doesn't take notice of the Don's movements, and suddenly, her head slams into the table, stinging and bruising already, and she stifles a gasp.
"Heh." The Don's chuckle is mean, and he grabs her by the hair and lifts her head back up, looks her in the eye and grins. "Hello. Heh. Suffice it to say—heh." He laughs again. "That is a funny story."
"Detectives," a stern-faced woman greets, "I'm Taylor Reece, one of WellZyn's attorneys; I'm here to reassure you that WellZyn has no part in the manufacture of Viper, and legal action will be taken against those who claim as much—however, I am also here to aid you." She taps her fingers lightly against a file. "Any information you have may aid us."
Bullock looks like he's about to make a sarcastic comment, so Jaimie cuts in: "We don't have much, but we know some basic physical attributes of the perpetrator—medium build, heavy step, so probably an old injury or a prosthetic of some sort, and, most notably, a disfigured ear."
The attorney's eyes widen slightly, and she stops tapping. "Stan Potolsky," she says slightly shakily, "he's a former WellZyn employee—a biochemist—who became unhappy with his work after an accident that gave him a permanent limp, and he tried to cut off his ear in protest, before quitting." There's more to it than that, Jaimie can tell, but Reece is looking slightly ill, so she doubts now would be a good time to push for more answers. Reece glances around, and makes her excuses, before practically fleeing.
"Well," Bullock says after a moment, "I'll go and request a search warrant; try not to get involved in any BS," and disappears.
Jaimie lets out a small sigh, forces her muscles to un-tense, but a second later, the hairs on the back of her neck prickle, and she tenses back up again; a moment later, the reason becomes apparent: Frankie Carbone, Don Maroni's right-hand man. She's never had the misfortune to meet the man one on one, but he's hardly inconspicuous, showing up at various crime scenes. Usually, an exchange of bills with an officer or witness is bound to follow.
"Come with me," he says gruffly, grasps her forearm, and Jaimie yanks her arm away, glares.
"Nope, no way," she snaps, the instinctual urge to bare her teeth barely controlled, manifesting only as a twitch of her lips. "I'm not going with you anywhere."
Carbone chuckles darkly. "I think you will, if the name Osvalda Cobblepot means anything to you." Jaimie freezes.
The next few minutes pass in a blur; no one in the precinct tries to stop Carbone from dragging her off, ducking their heads and averting their eyes. She's escorted into a black car, stares blankly out the window until the car stops and the mobster pulls her out of the car, practically man-handling her through the back door of what Jaimie vaguely recognizes as Bamonte's; everything seems far off and unfamiliar and she feels clammy. The mobster escorts her into a room, and everything else seems to black out, her vision narrowing in on the slight, frail-looking person next to Maroni, lip split and a black eye blooming like a splotch of ink when water wets it, and suddenly, everything clicks, and there's an unholy fury rising in her, because-
It's Osvalda, sitting battered and bloodied.
She wants to kill Maroni, flay him. Osvalda catches her eye, sees something—a wildness, a feral hatred—and shakes her head minutely. No.
Maroni opens his mouth, says something, and Jaimie focuses, drags her gaze away from the pale woman. "...if your stories match, then Cobblepot here is telling the truth," Maroni grins, claps Os' shoulder, hard, and she winces slightly. "If not—then you both die."
Gods, Jaimie thinks, what a mess. She hasn't got the faintest clue what Os told the mob boss, so she decides the best bet is the truth. "I was investigating the Wayne murders—Falcone and unknown parties in the GCPD conspired to use me to frame Mario Pepper. To ensure my silence, once I discovered that Pepper was framed, Falcone ordered me to shoot Cobblepot." And gods, she wants to say Os, but that would seem to intimate, and the last thing Osvalda needs is someone who could be used against her. "I didn't."
"Does anyone know that Cobblepot is alive?" Maroni asks, and Jaimie shakes her head.
"If they did, we'd both be dead."
Maroni looks ecstatic. "So not only are you telling the truth, Cobblepot, but your very existence gives me a brand-new weapon. Thank you for your candour, detective. And remember, if you breathe a word of this to anyone, you will regret it."
Carbone ushers her out, and, helpless to do anything else, Jaimie tries to send a reassuring look to Osvalda.
"Classic loner." Bullock sneers as Potolsky's possessions tumble onto her desk, and onto the floor. "No living family members, no friends, an' no one he's really close to, other than his assistant, Jervis Tetch." Jaimie roots through the mess, and spies a photograph—dated twelve years prior, and, in the same spidery script: Jervis, Prof. Wilde, and I. It's a photo of Potolsky, a slender, wild-haired, tanned man, and a short man with curly, almost frizzy hair, atop which rests an elegant top hat.
She flips the photo over, looking for any more writing, but it's blank. "We know which one's the professor?" Jaimie asks the other detective, who nods.
"Yeah—that one," he replies, pointing to the slender man. "The good professor Zachary Wilde is retired, now, but he gives the occasional seminar—lives in the Narrows, where he was born, an' the short dude is Jervis Tetch, Potolsky's assistant."
The professor's name rings familiar, and she hums, trying to remember where—oh! "The professor—does he have any relation to Xander Wilde?"
Bullock blinks, surprised. "Yeah, actually—Xander is Zachary's nephew. Why—you think that Potolsky's using Wilde's shit to make his bone-sucking drug?" The grim look on Jaimie's face is enough of an answer. "Alright," Bullock sighs. "We can't rule it out, at least yet, even though I find it hard to believe."
Zachary Wilde lives in a small apartment in the Narrows, in a building painted a greying pink, on the first floor; on his door is a brass knocker in the shape of an owl's head, and Jaimie lifts it tentatively and knocks. The clack of metal against metal, three times, echoes, and a small cloud of dust puffs up into a cloud, hitting Bullock in the face, making the other detective cough.
Thankfully, she's not forced to wait long—within a minute, the door opens, revealing the professor; he's a bit slimmer, now, and there's a touch of silver-grey at his temples.
"We're with the GCPD, Professor Wilde," Jaimie says, as Bullock's still recovering from his bout of coughing. "We'd like to ask you some questions."
"Of course, of course—please, come in."
Jaimie crosses the threshold, pulling Bullock behind her. "Thank you, Professor. First off, what do you know about Stan Potolsky?"
Wilde pulls out a chair for himself and sits down, looks off into the distance before speaking. "Stan was a student of mine, just over a decade ago—he was a biochemist by training, but he was always deeply interested in philosophy. He often came to me when he felt morally conflicted about his work-"
Bullock makes a confused noise. "Morally conflicted? Why? WellZyn's attorney told us he made shampoo an' other domestic products—what's morally conflicting about that?"
Wilde lets out a harsh bark of laughter. "They lied to you, the—Stan worked in WellZyn's biological warfare research division. Specifically, he worked on designing epigenetic drugs to make super-soldiers—hmm, what did they call it?" He tilts his head in thought. "Ah, yes—Viper."
"Erm—did it by any chance suck the calcium from the vic's bones?" Jaimie asks.
Wilde claps his hands, smiles. "So—you have heard of it? Yes, well, Viper was...it was simply a test strain—the first one, if I'm not mistaken. They succeeded in making a non-lethal version, called it Venom. Bit of a snake obsession, if you ask me," he says, and Bullock wrinkles his nose in distaste. "Stan pleaded with his bosses to stop and when they refused, he went straight to Thomas Wayne; Wayne apparently managed to get the project shut down, but it was restarted as soon as he died."
"You don't seem particularly upset to learn about the destruction," Jaimie notes, the gears in her head turning, and suddenly, everything connects—the little things that had seemed off, and it lights up in her mind. "You're working with him."
Wilde smiles, spreads his hands. "Ah—you got me, Detective—you really are as good as they say, aren't you? Well, I'd stay, but I have stuff to do, places to go, and I don't particularly fancy a prison cell-" He reaches into the candy bowl by his side, lightning-quick, and plucks a small vial, filled with green, pops the cork and downs the concoction.
Shit shit shit, her mind screams as she ducks away from one of Wilde's fists, and it passes a mere inch above her head. However, Wilde doesn't seem very picky about targets; Bullock's down within seconds, Wilde's hands wrapping around his neck, his face turning blue, and, with no other route she can take to avoid a casualty—because she may hate the man, but she isn't one to let others spoil her revenge—she shoots Wilde in the back, right below his left shoulder.
The man lets go of Bullock, falls to the side, and blood bubbles out of the wound, but he isn't dead—yet. Jaimie moves to his side, asks, harshly, "Who's his next target?"
Wilde laughs, blood speckling his lips, and gurgles, "H-he's...he's striking back at-at Wa-Wayne Enterprises—and th—their empty alt-altruism willl not—willll not erasssse their crimessss..." His eyes roll back into his skull, and he goes limp.
The security is, frankly, horrible; it takes a simple waiter's outfit to sneak in, and the security wave him pass, not even asking about his duffel-bag. Well, what they don't know hurt them—well, he cuts himself off, bitting back a maniacal cackle of laughter, it won't hurt them, it'll just kill them.
From there, it takes him a mere six minutes to navigate to the hotel's roof.
Disguised as a waiter, Stan Potolosky sneaks into the hotel with a full tank of Viper, and then goes to the roof to connect it to the ventilation system. Then, there's only a press of a button between the life and death of everyone in the hotel; Stan's finger hovers over the button before he pulls it back, scolding himself; he can be patient.
In the meantime, he has half an hour to piggyback off of a signal and live-stream to every TV in Gotham. He smiles grimly, pulls a laptop out of its case in the duffel-bag, and starts it up, the logo blinking to life on the screen, and he waits.
WellZyn will come to an end one way or another.
"Master Bruce, this is Molly Mathis—she worked closely with your father." Alfred's statement brings Bruce back to reality—for the past hour, there's been an itch at the base of his neck, a subtle scream of wrongwrongwrong in his mind; that something is terribly, terribly off. Beneath his skin, his feathers keep shifting, and he's been slightly distracted and agitated.
He pastes a smile to his face. "Ms. Mathis, I'm Bruce." He holds out a hand. "I'd like to discuss the irregularities I discovered in the Arkham Proje-"
Suddenly, the televisions on the walls switch on, static-y black and white streaking across the screens, glitching and slowly resolving into a low-res picture. A man steps into the frame, taps the green-filled tank by his side. "Hello, citizens of Gotham." He says, "I am responsible for the creation of the drug known as Viper—but I never intended for it to ever get beyond a theoretical. That blame lies solely with my former superiors in WellZyn—thus, Wayne Enterprises is ultimately responsible for the destruction it has caused; today, I seek to right the wrongs done to innocents by this corrupt corporation."
Bruce turns to Mathis. "Is this true?" he asks quietly.
Mathis shakes her head, but there's a slight paling on her cheeks, the tensing of her wings, silver feathers stiffening; Bruce wonders, through a curtain of anger and rage, whether she's the only one who's wearing a mask, or if all of the WI Board of Directors members have secrets and hidden agendas.
He wishes it didn't hurt as much, that his parents' world, their company, is corrupt, but he remembers his father and mother's never-ending quest to help Gotham's citizens, and it hurts tenfold.
"Come on, you have to let me in," Jaimie pleads, "unless you let me pass, everyone in that ballroom is going to die!"
The guard shrugs.
"Sorry, ma'm, no invite, no entrance," he says, apologetically.
"You know what, no," Jaimie snaps, and pushes past the guard, pulls Bullock behind her. She rams into the door at the end of the hallway with her shoulder when it doesn't open when she twists it, and someone on the other side lets out an oof of surprise. Inside, there's various screens connected to the cameras, and a chair. "Bullock, look for a button or switch labelled P.A.-" she orders, turning to deal with the woman who's gotten up.
"I'm really sorry about this," she apologizes, before knocking the woman out, carefully placing her into the chair.
"Got it," Bullock calls, and Jaimie rushes to his side, flicks the switch. "Attention, Wayne Enterprises Charity Ball attendants—you need to evacuate the ballroom. Right now. This is a matter of life or death. Please do not panic, and make your way quickly to the exits."
"Bullock, go assists the ballgoers—I'm going to confront Potolsky." Bullock nods, offers no protest, leaving quickly. She wonders if, in another life, he might've protested, insisted she needs back-up.
Thankfully, the room she's in has a roof-access stairway, and she races up the steps, bursting through the door onto the roof; there, standing next to his rapidly-emptying tank of Viper, is Stan Potolsky. He turns to face Jaimie, calls, "Detective." There's a sort of resignation in his tone, as if he's known this would be the outcome all along.
"Potolsky." She doesn't say any more—there's no sense in trying to reason with him.
He nods slightly, a mere incline of his head. "My work here is done. WellZyn has been exposed; the fall of the Court has begun—I am merely one of many dominos to fall, the first in a chain of salvation. The Court must be destroyed, and a few lives is a small price to pay to avoid a mass destruction.
"What do you mean?" Jaimie asks, puzzled.
"If you need more proof, look inside Warehouse 39—but do hurry, Detective; the Court will hasten to cover their tracks." Then, he throws himself off the ledge—and how didn't she notice he was that close? She rushes to the edge, fingers outstretched in a vain attempt to catch the man, but it's too little too late, Potolsky already splayed out on the concrete.
She requests Ed accompany her to the warehouse, as the other option is Bullock, and Jaimie has a sneaking suspicion that the man would tip off whoever's hiding stuff there. When she opens the door, carefully, lest a creak of the hinges alert their presence to any others who might be there, Ed's eyes widen, and she stifles a gasp.
"Oh my gods," the forensics analyst whispers. There're tanks of green liquid of various shades, up on end like glowing columns. Each has a hazard warning label, and a label noting the effects and of the liquid and the code-names given to each version. Some are hooked up to test subjects—tubes filled with glowing green running from IVs into arms of pale men and women. There are even a few glass boxes hooked up to machines that dispense it as green gas, the test subjects strapped to white hospital beds. She isn't even sure any of them are alive. The sight makes her stomach turn, and she feels sick.
Ed handles it worse, stumbling and reaching for something to support herself, and Jaimie grabs her arm, steadying her, pulls her into a hug. The act of moving, though, causes her to catch sight of a white envelope hidden behind a toolbox on the highest shelf above the counter.
"Ed," she says quietly, "I know that this is awful, and I promise that we'll get these people buried and notify their families, but there's something that Potolsky told me—something about the destruction of Gotham, and I think he may have left a letter to help us, but I can't reach it—it's too high up, and I need your help, okay? Can you get that envelope on the highest shelf? Please? For me?"
Ed nods shakily, pulls her head from where it's rested on Jaimie's shoulder, and stands, grabs the envelope, and looks ready to collapse, so Jaimie helps her sit down on the floor, sits next to her, puts an arm around her.
With an unsteady hand, Ed opens the envelope, pulls out a crisply folded sheet of paper, unfolds it. The same spidery handwriting from Potolsky's photo etches its way across the page. With a shaking voice, Ed reads what's written.
"To whom it may concern,
If you have found this, then that can only mean one thing—WellZyn has been exposed, and I am dead. Thus, you need to know a few key things-
1. Investigate the Court of Owls. Do so covertly—if the Court catches wind of any investigation into their organisation, it is unlikely you will remain alive. The court is not a myth. They are very real and unless stopped, will bring about the destruction of Gotham. I suggest you collude with the orphaned Bruce Wayne. He may be a child, but he is in a position to help, and I suspect he may already be looking into the Court. Do not say Their name more than absolutely necessary—they have spies everywhere.
2. Wayne Enterprises is controlled by Them.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, speak to my former assistant, Jervis Tetch. He is far more dangerous than you might think.
"Master Bruce," Alfred greets. The boy raises his head, sets the papers and files in his lap down, pushes the rolling corkboard pinned full of photos and red string strung between the pins to the side. "You've become quite the Anderson."
"Alfred," Bruce greets, ignoring the jibe, eyes falling to the tray in the butler's hands. "Ooh, are those turkey sandwiches?" He makes his way to Alfred's side, eyes eager.
Alfred rolls his eyes fondly at the boy's excitement, but lets him take a sandwich, and takes one for himself. "I'm certain I told you to put those files away," he scolds.
"Did you? I mustn't've heard," Bruce says, innocently.
Alfred sighs. "Well it doesn't matter much now, does it, since you've managed to convince me of your hair-brained conspiracy theories," he mutters. "Pass me a file."
Surprise flicker's across Bruce's face, then he breaks into a smile. "I knew I'd be able to sway you to my side eventually," he says. "It was only a matter of time."
Carmine sits on the bench, watching raptly as the pigeons cluster around the crumbs he throws them. It's something his mother did when he was a child, something he's grown to appreciate in his age; there is something uniquely calming about feeding pigeons.
Then, a sound, familiar, catches his attention. "...Questo bimbo a chi lo dò ? Se lo dò alla Befana, se lo tiene una settimana." The singer comes into sight, a blonde woman, humming softly in accented Italian, a single earbud in, staring off into the distance.
With a start, he realizes why it's familiar—it's a lullaby his mother sang to him, and apparently the surprise shows on his face, because the young woman looks to him, blinks, smiles and approaches him.
"Do you like it, too?" she asks. "It's one of my favourites—actually, I have a playlist of Italian lullabies." She pauses, asks, shyly, "If you want, you can listen to them with me." She offers the other earbud, and Carmine smiles.
"Thank you," he says, genuine, and gently takes the earbud. "I'm Carmine."
She smiles back. "I'm Liza."