The Italian Job

October 30, 2017:

Backscene: Three years ago, a grieving Timothy Jackson Drake left the remains of his family and his friends to find the whereabouts of his foster father, Bruce Wayne - a journey that takes him all over the world while stubbornly refusing to listen to those who care about him…all of whom are convinced that the World's Greatest Detective is dead. Here, his search takes him to Venice, posing as international art thief Alvin Draper, where circumstances throw him in a collision course with another thief and leading to the two of them getting framed for the assassination of a powerful mafia don, only deepening the mystery surrounding the Batman's supposed death.

Venice, Italy

Beautiful Venice.

Characters

NPCs: So Many

Mentions: Members of the Bat-Family, League of Shadows, implied references to the Council of Spiders, Wolverine

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

VENICE, ITALY
THREE YEARS AGO

The Carnivale di Venezia was in full swing.

Much like all of the other cultural gatherings in the world that celebrate Lent and the days preceding it, festivities are rife with music, food and nearly every excess imaginable, dominated by a colorful crush of bodies streaming out of nearby cruise ships and underworld elements that intend to capitalize on the sheer number of opportunities presented by one of the most famous gatherings in the world. While most of the locals have silently vacated the city a few days ago as they often do whenever this season hits their calendars, these elements remain, representatives of the Mala de Brenta, the violent Venetian mafia founded directly from the roots of its older and more established Sicilian cousin, keeping a close eye on the proceedings in the shadows. After all, nothing happens in Venice without the Maniero family knowing about it - descendants of "the Boss," Felice Maniero, and in charge of the network after his unfortunate downfall in the mid-90's.

And like most of their forebears, they are notorious patrons of the arts - one of their fronts, a large custom tailoring company that specializes in the three-piece suit, had been selected as one of the panelist judges of the annual la maschera piu bella, one of the Carnevale's most important events - an international affair where fashion designers from all over the world are called upon to agree on who has made and presented the most beautiful mask and costume in the gathering. The announcement was due on midnight, in the grand ballroom of the San Marco Luxury - Bellevue Hotel, arguably the most beautiful establishment of its kind located in the heart of the Square. In the last few days, it has also become the site of a major Christie's auction for works featuring Italian renaissance artists, including its prize piece: Catherine de Medici's "Golden Rose," once gifted to her by Pope Paul III in 1548.

Don Alfonso Maniero is distinguishable even amidst the crowd; dressed in black and his face fully covered by a bauta mask that is just as ostentatious as the present offerings, gilded with genuine gold and gems, and most tellingly surrounded by his personal protection squad. A cape has been draped over his broad shoulders, marking him out as one of the judges - all the other ones are marked out in a similar way, calling back to an old Venetian tradition of deciding matters of import in an anonymous conclave of one's peers.

The ballroom is full masks and finery, a nightmarish situation, to be sure, for local law authorities and private security firms hired to keep a close eye on the event, especially when the ballroom doors are open and guests are free to spill into the streets of the Square to enjoy everything else Venice has to offer this evening. Underneath the lights of chandeliers dripping with crystals and amidst the black-and-white presence of masked waitstaff doling out champagne on glinting flutes, a string orchestra plays on a raised dais near the main stage, flanked by two grand staircases winding up to the semi-circular, second floor landing that is also teeming with people who intend to get a bird's eye view of the comings and goings of…well, everyone else.

—-

THREE YEARS, FIVE HOURS AGO

"I understand that you're upset, Master Timothy, but this hardly seems the right way to go about things," says the voice of an older gentleman, precise in a very British way… But also concerned. The speakerphone in the lavish suite which has been rented under a name that is definitely not Timothy Drake transmits his voice, and his worry, all the way from Gotham. "Master Bruce's disappearance has us all on edge, but to go haring halfway across the planet…"

"I know what I'm doing," Tim insists as Alfred trails off. Wash-out dye lightens his hair from inky black to a dark, chocolate brown. He's started growing it out, from the shorter, spiked coiffure he'd preferred when he first taken on the mantle of the Boy Wonder, and now it's sort of lazily brushed back: The kind of look that says 'I put a lot of work into looking like I just rolled out of bed like this'. Contacts lighten his eyes, putting a greenish tinge in the blue he was born with. A little light prosthetic and makeup work reshapes the bridge of his nose, the line of his jaw. He barely recognises himself, looking in the mirror.

But that's a problem he has more often than not, these days.

"Young master…" the butler starts again.

"It'll be fine, Alfred," he insists, turning towards where two suits are ready. A tuxedo, perfectly tailored and hanging carefully… And in a case, a red and black bodysuit, a stylised yellow R in a black circle on the breast. A cape, scalloped, black with a yellow liner. A black domino mask. "I'm just investigating a lead, I told you. I'll be back in Gotham before you know it."

A lead, maybe, on where Bruce had gone. Jack Drake was barely cold in the ground, and now his adopted father had disappeared as well. So naturally, he went off on his own. He didn't contact Dick, or Conner, or anyone who might've been able to help. Gotham would need everyone else anyway, with the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder both gone.

"Do be careful, Master Timothy," Alfred replies, seemingly conceding this particular battle. "We've all lost quite enough people, recently."

The line goes dead.

"Dirty pool, Al," the teen hero says to the empty air of the suite. He reaches for the tuxedo, though. This job doesn't call for Robin, yet.

THREE YEARS AGO

Appropriately enough, his mask was red.

Other than that, its design wasn't all that unusual: The beak, the plumage, suggestive of a large, humanoid bird - not a particularly improbable scenario, on its own - but the whole thing was a dark, dark red that faded to black towards the end of the beak and the tips of the feathers. From behind the mask, aquamarine eyes watched everything, analyzing details, memorising floorplans, positions, identifying security. But that was well hidden. On the visible part of his face, his mouth was pulled into a lazy grin, a man carelessly enjoying an incredibly fancy party. Alvin Draper was an art thief of growing renown, who'd already lifted some rare pieces from individuals of questionable morals in Paris. It was a useful cover for other activities, particularly investigating those same individuals of questionable morals. They were, after all, far less likely to worry about someone gathering intelligence on them when some priceless object d'art had been taken from their collections by an industrious cat burglar. It had a way of distracting the greedy, vain people who often rose to the top of the criminal ladder.

—-

There are plenty of criminals here - given Tim Drake's current excursions around the world in search of his tireless search of his aadopted father, he would certainly be familiar with plenty. Members of the Mala de Brenta, arms dealers, bankers that moonlighted as money launderers and others all ping on the young man's collective dossier like signals from a radar, easily recognizable by face, stature, diction or the company that they keep.

Security is present everywhere and they are also distinct - not by costume but by the way they carry and position themselves all over the ballroom; in the front entrance, the landing, the very bottom of the twin stairs. They are dressed like everyone else, but there is no fooling Red Robin's eyes, disguised as they are; his youth belies his experience in such matters. While it can't be determined as to what he is there for, someone is bound to recognize him within this present colorful den of vipers, especially what he had recently pulled in Paris.

"Monsieur Draper?"

The voice comes from a young woman, the top of her mask giving way to lengths of red hair fashioned in a thick spiral that drapes down her back. Her half-covered face, most of it hidden by a mask inlaid with sequins and framed by gold plumage, reflects an easy smile colored by lipstick as red as her dress, as daring a piece as those donning most of the eye candies decorating the arms of Maniero and his associates. Diamonds frost the circumference of her neck, her left wrist. Blue eyes glitter from underneath her assorted accoutrements. Her accent is distinctly Parisienne.

"And here I thought you'd be a harder man to find," she tells him, extending her fingers towards him in offerance of a handshake. "Though I suppose the Christie's auction is a distinct enough draw for any man of your particular set of skills." Lashes lower under the mask. "Were I a more egotistical woman, I'd be congratulating myself for being just that clever or just that courageous of a gambler. My name is Monique d'Aubigny. I represent certain…interests."

The redhead pauses when one of the wait staff arrives at their vicinity, long fingers plucking a flute off the silver platter provided by a masked young blonde woman dressed a white dress-shirt, black waistcoat, a tie and slacks. She turns to offer Alvin Draper a glass as Monique continues to speak.

"I understand that you might simply be here on a much deserved break. You know what they say about all work and no play, especially the young. But if you are interested in at least hearing my client's proposal, I can arrange it."

—-

It's not really a nice crowd.

Of course, it's been a while since he's spent much time around nice crowds. When your extracurricular activities involve foiling the plans of the worst villains Gotham City can throw up, it's easy to forget what it's like to go to a party that isn't primarily attended by people who live by profiting off of the misery of other human beings. It's exactly what they are, of course, and exactly what he knew he'd be surrounding himself by, here in Venice. He hadn't come all this way to associate with philanthropists and saints, after all. Far less likely that those sorts would have any clue what might've happened to the Dark Knight on his 'sabbatical'.

The use of the name he's been going by catches his attention, as of course it was supposed to. He turns to look at the red-haired young woman in a daring dress of scandal red, everything about her designed to draw the eye, from coiffure to mask, from makeup to jewelry.

Tim Drake wouldn't care - mostly, anyway; he was still a seventeen year old boy - but Alvin Draper was a few years older. Alvin Draper was the sort of man who enjoyed a bit of notoriety for his skilled thievery. Alvin Draper was the sort of man to revel in the life of the dashing rogue.

Alvin Draper was the sort of man who'd take those offered fingers… And bow over them rather than shaking her hand, lightly kissing the woman's knuckles.

"Mademoiselle d'Aubigny," he replies, his voice a smooth baritone that toys with the name as he speaks it, his pronunciation of course flawless. "Or is that just wishful thinking on my part?" Draper wonders, as he straightens up and releases her hand. Everything about her is designed to draw the eye. He doubts that's her real name any more than Alvin Draper is his, though there's always the possibility that she's not lying about why she's approaching him. He glances briefly at the blonde waitress, taking the offered glass but not drinking from it, as d'Aubigny makes her pitch. Or, her pitch for her pitch.

It's annoying. A distraction. What he wants to do is to ignore her and get back on task. Instead, he thinks to himself: How would Dick talk to her?

"I'm simply an admirer of beautiful things, Madamoiselle d'Aubigny," he says, that lazy grin broadening, his head tilting as he looks her over. Everything about her is designed to draw the eye. Play along, pretend to be taken in by it. There's nothing tense about his body language at all, nothing sharp. Laguid, liquid, easy. Robin would've preferred to be hiding in the darkness. The waitress. Maybe he should've got undercover as a waiter. "But I do pride myself on being an excellent listener, as well. If I'm being sought out, it would be rude to at least not hear what they have to say."

—-

Is that wishful thinking on my part?

There's a laugh, the redhead visibly charmed with no small measure of amusement tickling the corners of her mouth. There's a slight incline of her head at that, elegant fingers tilting the flute to her lips and taking a sip. Practiced in seduction, clearly, where the use of the glass does the work for her in turning the man's attention to her mouth and the possibilities it presents. Monique waves her hand to send the blonde waitress away, fingers resting in a loose array on the curve of her hip. Fixers such as she are typically skilled in reading the room, but if she detects any of Alvin Draper's impatience, she doesn't show it.

"Not all too wishful," she assures. "I'm afraid the curse of the modern age has assailed the likes of even such as myself. The career remains my one and only husband, though I hope you don't find it as discouraging as it sounds."

There's a nod of that red-haired head towards the twin stairs and the presence of security. "My client is present in the current gathering, but I'm afraid he's rather particular about who sits in the same room as him. As such, I'm under strict orders not to divulge just exactly he wants from you until you've demonstrated a certain willingness and acumen to do what needs to be done. With that, here is the pre-proposal: You've no doubt heard of the Golden Rose, as priceless a piece of art as it is a piece of history. Rumor has it that several parties are in heated competition to obtain the piece for themselves. My client would like you to….obtain it…as a sign of good faith."

She lifts her fingers to press against the side of her face. "What do you say, Monsieur Draper? A crowded room, with tremendous levels of security and no preparation time whatsoever? I hear your line of work is just as much about the challenge as it is the take. Do you— "

Her smile dips into a small frown, eyes closing and shaking her head, turning away from him as she takes a breath. "Do you…forgive me I think I'm…"

Monique's knees buckle underneath her skirt. She tilts sideways, bearing towards the floor. A scream pierces the air, enough to cut through the revelry. Something shatters against the floor.

Should he lift his head, he'd see it, a random guest here and there toppling into the floor unconscious. Like falling dominoes, women and men alike are assailed by what appear to be fainting spells. Not everyone in the room is affected, but it does cause enough pandemonium to put a stop to the proceedings. The orchestra stops playing music and various calls for an amublance or several can be heard.

And then, suddenly, the ballroom plunges into pitch darkness.

Alarms start to ring, from all over the hotel - systems register a security breach, but there is no hope of pinpointing the exact location. According to security's headquarters, the breach is happening everywhere.

—-

He doesn't have a lot of practice at this sort of thing. It's mimicry, rather than any sort of mastered skill: Bruce or Dick would've had the woman eating out of their hands by now, and the best he can do is cobble together the sorts of things they would do. The kiss on the hand. The playful remark about her being 'madamoiselle' instead of 'madame'. The look to add a certain implication when he called himself an admirer of beautiful things. His gaze following where she invites it when she takes that sip of her champagne, watching those red lips.

Alvin Draper was that sort of a guy, after all. The type who would mix business with pleasure, if he got the chance. He needed to play the part as far as he dared, now that he'd been identified. Let the woman think she was winning him over, distracting him with her charms.

He listens, of course. To what she says, and what she doesn't say. It's the sort of setup he'd expect out of a pulp spy novel, or one of those heist movies Ives liked to watch. Monique was alluring bait for the hook, since they didn't have any other leverage they could apply to him.

There was always the possibility, too, that the Parisienne represented someone he'd stolen from when he was in France previously. Someone who might even use this as a setup to get revenge on him. Schemes on top of schemes.

And then she fell.

The young man moves immediately, without even thinking, to catch her. The only one he can catch, it seems, as others around the room tumble to the floor, something having hit them like a blackjack to the back of the head. He eases the red-haired woman to the floor as gently as he can manage, quickly checking her pulse, her breathing. Reaching through the eyehole of her lovely mask to peel one made-up lid back, to check her pupil.

There's no immediate pattern to the victims, and indeed they seem to be selected randomly. Two here, one by themselves out of a group there. Not a gas. Nothing that would have a blanket effect. His first guess is something in the drink. He reaches under his tuxedo's cummerbund, pulling out a small plastic box with what looks like those breath mint strips in them, opening Monique's mouth and putting one under her tongue. A simple but broad-spectrum antitoxin… More accurately, an immune system booster that should help her body blunt the effects of whatever was in the drink.

Next, he reaches for a small chemical analyser, to—

The lights go out.

Alarms start to ring.

"I suppose you should've hired me sooner, Madamoiselle d'Aubigny," he remarks quietly, before white lenses slide into place over the eyeholes of his mask, a soft green glow suffusing them as he switches to night vision. Someone will be taking advantage of the chaos, so the very first thing to do is figure out who (other than him) isn't panicking.

—-

Monique is as limp as a rag doll when she 'faints' in Alvin Draper's arms, the rest of her dress pooling underneath her like blood. She is thankfully breathing, when the teenaged vigilante checks her vitals - whatever is inside of her system, it is not poison, or at least, not one that is lethal enough to kill her. As he administers his own brand of first aid, she is not sensate enough to stop him, mumbling something in unintelligible French when he sees to her, but otherwise, she is down for the count.

He's able to pry her mouth open and check her tongue easily; the strip changes color before it dissolves in her mouth, to blunt the effects of the chemical that has been introduced to her bloodstream. It'd be difficult, at least, to stay where they are unless he has moved her away from the inevitable crush of stampeding traffic that will follow. Panic levels in the room are rising, screams and cries for help mingling with the barking, gutteral orders of the security team. There are people attempting to get to safety, convinced that they are in the presence of a terrorist attack - a sad commentary of the present state of affairs around the world.

His small chemical analyzer will break down the composition of whatever's in the champagne, once the end is dipped into his own glass, presently full as he had decided not to imbibe from it. Whatever is in the drink, it is a sedative, not poison - powerful enough to put people to sleep and wake up in the morning with hangover-like effects, but otherwise not much else.

In the darkness, as his white lenses click into place, he'd be able to clearly see through the thick film of black; whatever is driving the alarms crazy and shut off the power seems to have affected whatever back-up systems and generators there are, and he knows from his own homework of the premises - undoubtedly he has - that the place is no slouch when it comes to security.

Up the stairs, should he look, security teams are pouring from it, but there is a figure that slips through the gaps between bodies, unseen given the camoflauge that darkness provides, making a quick dash up the stairs and vanishing into the second floor landing.

More security personnel come pouring in; his gap to determine what is happening is closing quickly.

—-

Naturally, he needs to get the young woman safely out of the way of any potential stampede of panicked partygoers. Leaving her laying in the middle of the floor would be beyond merely negligent. Even if she might work as a fixer for some probably very bad individuals, letting her to get trampled or in the way of angry security personnel isn't an option.

But time is a concern, too. He has to strike a balance, there. If he had to let whoever did this get away in order to save a life, he would, surely, but if he doesn't have to make that choice…

Once Monique is safely out of the way, and he knows that whoever did this isn't looking to add dead bodies to their resume, the disguised young man can dedicate himself fully to the next step. Whoever it was clearly had access to the drinks, and that leaves him glad that he's a teetotal. If he'd had some of the champagne, he'd probably be out too… Or, if it was a sedative he'd already built up some immunity to (it's important to be prepared) it would've still left him unable to operate properly.

Security was arriving, pouring in. Given the nature of their employers, there was probably a very thin line between 'politely escorting guests out' and 'putting potential troublemakers down with prejudice'. Time to move was limited, but he saw someone dashing up the stairs, taking advantage of the darkness, the chaos.

Dress shoes are more difficult to run in, but he still clears the distance quickly, able to see in the dark as he is. Vaulting partway up the stairs to make up for lost time, he keeps low, avoiding contact with anyone else. It was dark enough that most would be unable to see their own hand in front of their face. It was loud enough that they wouldn't hear him running. Bumping into people was the biggest danger for being noticed, as well as slowing himself down.

So he runs, athletic but careful, his steps surprisingly light as he imagines an obstacle course. A minefield of potential reactions that could end up with him shot.

But even in a situation like this, he was a hard pursuer to lose.

—-

His quarry has a head start on him.

By the time he reaches the second floor landing, the tight corner has him on a potential collision course with a guard and his partner, guns drawn and the bob of flashlights making themselves known, nearly missing him from between the high beams. Across the way, he'd find the rest of the hallway empty, but he would recognize the wing from the specs of the hotel that he obtained - it is the avenue that leads into the wing where the auction's items are being kept in display, protected by some of the most advanced security measures in the world.

Security measures that are probably moot, now, with the power dead in the building.

Should he manage to evade the pair of guards that have come across him, he'd find the door to that wing wide open; moonlight filtering from the antiquates arched windows of the room gleam over glass case containing priceless heirlooms and pieces - diamonds and precious stones, over several expensive pieces of pottery dating back to China's Ming dynasty, jade and sculptures fashioned from rare black coral carefully harvested off the coasts of Hawai'i. Paintings as well, from well-known Italian masters, the choicest of these being Canaletto's Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day, painted in, or around, 1754 and one of the present collection's favorites.

In the middle of these is an opened glass case that once contained Catherine de Medici's "Golden Rose."

He'd feel the cool touch of wind brushing against the exposed areas of his skin, detect a hint of brine from Venice's canals. When he turns his head, he'd find a slender figure swinging a leg over the sill of an open window, a bag on her shoulder.

He would recognize her easily - the blonde waitress, passing out flutes of champagne around the gathering all night.

She is /clearly/ not expecting company either; eyes as pale green as his find him across the way through her half-mask, widening visibly.

"Ah, shit."

She twists immediately and /drops/ vanishing from under the sill, taking up a devastating free fall that is liable to at least twist someone's ankle from several feet in the air should one land incorrectly, except he would discover - know, really, from his meticulous examination of the hotel, that there is an array of balconies underneath that anyone could leapfrog out of.

Which is precisely what the woman does, landing in a crouch before lunging for the railing, both hands bracing on top of it and sending her flying off it and towards the crowded streets below.

—-

If he were a greedy person, he would find himself in the middle of a treasure room of temptation.

Riches beyond measure, really. Art from all corners of the world, pieces that would've made his father's eyes light up to see them. Works of ancient hands, of civilisations that were old before ground was even broken on Gotham City.

He'd never really shared Jack Drake's fascination with matters archaeological, the hobby that had been his true passion rather than the business that bore his name. Someone had joked, at his funeral the previous year, that the members of the Gotham Antiquities Commission knew Jack Drake better than his own shareholders did.

Seeing all that, the memory of his father's face floats up from the depths of his mind. Intrusive, painful. Eyes staring at nothing, a razor-bladed boomerang sticking out of his chest, a gun fallen from his lifeless hand.

No, no; he pushes all that away, puts it in a little box at the back of his mind where it can't hurt him, can't affect him now. Alvin Draper doesn't have memories of dead parents haunting him.

Instead, he chases the blonde waitress. She sees him, her slight form moving with practiced acrobatic ease as she drops off, a carefully planned series of jumps to get her down to the street quickly without shattering her legs in the process. He knows the way down, too. He can see it in his head. Careful, cautious.

Instead, his hand whips out, a quiet *paff* of air as a titanium bit is launched from his grapple gun, catching the top of the open window.

And then, without breaking stride, the masked young man vaults out, tucking his legs up and in to clear the sill, thumbing a control on the gun to reel out the line, dropping him towards the street at a quick but controlled pace. He's maybe five feet from the cobblestones before another press makes the grapple release the window frame, reeling the line in as he hits the ground running.

As he quickly searches for the waitress to continue giving chase, a distant, detached part of him considers that he didn't come all this way to stop a robbery.

But, well, old habits die hard.

—-

It is chaos when Alvin Draper lands in the heart of the Piazza di San Marco. Costumed and masked persons surround him in every turn, the air thick with the smoke from fireworks and foodstuffs emanating from street carts and open cafes. There is music here as well, improvised performances from entertainers peddling their talents on the narrow, winding avenues that dominate Venice. From his vantage point, there are people /everywhere/, festive cries and noises punctuated now and then from the telltale sirens of distant sirens; the polizia are on their way on the narrow speedboats that they use to cut through the distances between districts faster.

His experience helps, at the very least, a years-long veteran of midnight chases in cities infinitely darker and more violent than a place like Venice. To the left of him and further down, he'd find a blonde head weaving quickly through the crowd just before she vanishes in an alley, just one of many that thread through the city. His chase will eventually lead him there, an object lying in the middle of the cobblestoned path.

It is a black waistcoat. A few yards ahead of that is the unmistakable length of a black tie.

It is not unlike following breadcrumbs. As he continues rushing through the winding, twisting path he'd find more articles of discarded clothing - a pair of dress shoes not unlike his own, though certainly of a cheaper make. A belt follows soon after. A pair of slim-fitting slacks…

…certainly it would end there, right?

He would be wrong. Cutting another corner, the trail continues; a sock, followed by its pair…and then a cotton brassiere, ending with the realization that the thief might be brazen enough to run through these dark Venetian streets naked.

Underwear, to finish the damning trail.

The stretch of it ends at the storefront of a local laundry service, though the windows are dim - there is no light source save for a single bulb burning at the very back of the establishment, beams of light cut through briefly by a moving shadow before it vanishes once more.

—-

At first, of course, he assumes that she's engaged in doffing parts of her outfit while she runs simply to reveal something else underneath. He's done it before, it's a classic, the ol' costume underneath civilian clothes gag. Or an outfit that can easily be changed into another outfit with the removal or reversal of a few outer elements. Solid field operative stuff.

That assumption fails to hold up under further evidence, though, as he starts to find not just the blonde's outerwear, but eventually her pants, her socks…

Her bra, and then her panties…

At this point, there's a certain embarrassed hesitation about the young man. He's been on plenty of midnight chases in the past few years of his life, but none of them have really involved a young woman stripping throughout. She's in the city! People would almost certainly see her!

But the panties are a marker for where he needs to go if he's going to track this mystery thief down, directing him to that laundry service. Closed for the night, one would expect, but there's someone inside, moving around.

Stealing clothes, maybe. Surely she must have some kind of backup stashed somewhere. She wouldn't have an escape plan that involved just running through Venice stark naked.

He crouches low as he moves for the door, shifting the vision in his mask to thermographic, to watch the heat signature inside. He tests the door, gently, quietly: If she didn't lock it behind herself, then he opens it slowly, slowly, to creep in at a low crouch. If it is locked, well, then he just has to pick it, first.

Of course, he has a full set of lockpicks in his cummerbund. Who wouldn't?

—-

The door is open when he tries it, the appendage swinging inward and the silhouettes of rows and rows of washing machines registering in his multi-purpose lenses. Sneaking in further, he'd hear something moving and quiet at the back room; not like his presence would be detected by most, or even those trained to detect such intrusions; Tim Drake's training regimen was a thorough exercise in masochism, on top of other things. Despite his age, he'd give traditional ninjas a run for their money.

He would have to sneak around the machines and make his way into the back door, left slightly ajar, but his thermal lenses would indicate that she's already moving out again, slipping through the window leading out into the areas behind the revelry. Distant points of heat would register the rest of the Carnevale crowd, and the figure is already racing on two feet to join.

Presumably she is not naked when she does this.

When he reaches the back room, he'd find one other piece dropped by the thief - a tangle of fake blonde hair, resting in the middle of the room.

—-

Presumably, yes, she is not naked when she rejoins the crowd. It would make it harder to disappear among them: Even on a night like tonight, people would definitely remember seeing a bare naked woman. Especially one trying to discreetly carry a priceless art object.

Assuming she was still carrying it, and hadn't ditched it so she could come back and get it later…

Honestly, he wouldn't put anything past someone who tore off her own panties in a Venetian alleyway to get out of her disguise faster, so she wouldn't lose any time in getting away from her pursuer.

There's a faint sigh from the young man before he mentally acknowledges he's not going to catch her in a foot chase now. Instead, he'll need to get to work.

"This isn't what you came here for," he reminds himself as he switches back to the low-light vision, stooping to check the wig. She would've secured it, she wouldn't have risked it slipping and giving her away while she was in disguise, and it had held on the whole way to the back room… So there might be trace evidence. Her own hairs, something he might be able to use, collecting them into a small plastic bag from another of the myriad pockets on the inside of his cummerbund.

Then, it's back to thermographic: Looking for residual heat, looking to see where she'd been inside of the laundry, in case she'd left any evidence behind there, as well, especially at the window she'd escaped through. Fingerprints or blood, maybe, since it seems unlikely she'd leave behind any maps to her hideout. Anything to identify her, really. If it comes down to it, he'll have to retrieve her underwear to get some DNA samples, or traces of perfume from her clothing or the wig, if she was wearing any.

He doesn't rush, he doesn't let haste spoil the work. He needs to be thorough. No matter how good she is, the woman must've left some clues behind.

But once he's got them, he'll need to return to his hotel to analyse them, along with the sample of the sedative from the champagne, in case he can get any deeper specifics on the sedative compound and trace it to a source. Cross-referencing not just with the Bat-computer but with INTERPOL and local police databases.

There can't be that many ginger thieves in Venice, right now, can there?

—-

The next few hours are steeped in the serious business of solving another mystery. After Tim's collection of all the trace evidence he could retreve, including fingerprints that he manages to find given his gadgets, he's able to return to his hotel suite to analyze what he has found. For now, his original purpose for being in Venice is forgotten, whether it's to establish contact with the Venetian mafia or some other angle.

He would indeed find the woman's own hair from the wig, collected carefully - a couple of strands of red-gold tucked in the middle. He'll also find plenty of epithelials in remains of her shirt, fingerprints which are so especially important in today's day and age with respect to crimefighting. No blood, however, whoever the woman is, she's managed to escape the chaos of the Bellevue Hotel relatively unscathed. While he waits for the DNA analysis to come back as well as the cross-referenced results through various electronic databases, he'll manage to isolate the sedative compound and break it down further in the equipment he's brought with him in his suite. He'd be able to trace it to a pharmaceutical company based out of Germany, though he would know that it is being peddled in the streets of Venice as a popular, cheaper alternative to Rohypnol, with supposedly exclusive distribution rights by certain elements of the Mala de Brenta.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, his electronic queries would yield results in the form of a relatively fat INTERPOL file - a thief with an international presence. Real name unknown, real age unknown (estimated at her late teens), though there is plenty of her DNA to go around, enough to identify as to which crime scenes she has been responsible for and with a penchant for breaking in and escaping places meant to keep even the most capable of criminals out. The modus operandi varies, but with one consistent factor, at least in places with high-tech security measures and how they've managed to fail before she strikes. Either she is a talented hacker, or something else entirely.

It is strange, however, that despite the presence of her DNA and fingerprints in these databases, there is nothing else on her real identity.

There aren't many pictures of her either; cameras on the sites of her thefts, from the United States, to Europe, to Africa and certain parts of Asia have failed to capture her likeness, save for one - in Cape Town, South Africa, though her hooded outerwear only leaves the lower half of her face visible, as well as a few tresses of red-gold hair peeking from the side. Not enough to recognize her on sight, perhaps, but certainly enough for advanced gadgets and computers to identify specific points of commonality.

Something that could be used in combination with CCTV cameras all over Venice, perhaps.

The targets of her thefts range from priceless pieces of art, to jewels, cold hard cash and, the most profitable of all, corporate secrets. There is a note in her file about certain notable thefts from Stark Industries and Shaw Industries, of a few dangerous prototypes missing, though the Stark prototype was somehow 'retrieved' shortly afterwards. She has no known affiliation, not even with the Unified Guilds; strictly a solo operator.

She has a list of aliases, including references that someone as well-read as Tim would recognize: Lorelei Lee, the Jazz Age trickster featured prominently in Anita Loos' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Josephine Balsamo, lover and archnemesis of Maurice Leblanc's famous gentleman thief, Arsene Lupin; Irene Norton - clearly a reference to the infamous Irene Adler of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the man she supposedly ran away with. A pattern that Tim can keep in mind as well.

He would not find any of those names checked in any hotel in Venice, though he would find another familiar name following the pattern of her aliases: Mary Baker, who he would know as the perpetrator of one of the most infamous princess cons in the nineteenth century - the woman who claimed to be Princess Caraboo.

Unfortunately, it is also a very common name, especially in a period when Venice is full of tourists. There are three hotels in the area where a Mary Baker is checked in - but how many of them have red hair?

—-

"Yeah, of course," he muses when he sees the red hairs caught inside the blonde wig. It figures that the two women who distracted him from what he'd been planning to do tonight would both be redheads.

Not that he'd never comment on the troublemaking nature of red-haired women where Oracle might hear him.

Once he's swept the site, the detective makes sure to clean up after himself - and, incidentally, the mystery thief - before returning to his rented suite. The equipment there still isn't as good as what he'd have access to at the Batcave, but he's still able to remote network with the computers there, taking advantage of his portable crime lab and what he would characterise as the frankly disappointing lack of cybersecurity on INTERPOL's own systems.

It's still a job of work, devouring the rest of the night. Chemical analysis, DNA analysis, tracking down all those little trace elements even a very good thief is going to end up leaving behind. With all the advances in forensics in the past few years, it's harder and harder for criminals to escape without a trace.

Lucky for them, law enforcement around the world remains chronically underfunded. Lucky for thieves like this that there's targets of greater importance out there.

And yet, unlucky for them that there are other, more motivated and equipped people who might decide to track her down. He wouldn't be the only one, necessarily. Assuming the local outfits could pull together anyone with half a brain to work the evidence.

"She's good," the young detective muses, rubbing his eyes after hours of staring at computer screens. The lack of clear images of her face suggests that she is, indeed, either very good or very lucky - her anonymity preserved by fortunate happenstance, maybe. Or some kind of metahuman ability…? Given her apparent youth, that seems like a distinct possibility.

Although it would be foolish of him, of all people, to dismiss the possibility of an extreme level of skill despite her lack of years.

Computers whirr and beep as information transmits back and forth between the suite and Gotham, a slight lag even with the dedicated piggybacks on WayneTech's satellite network. Constructing the model of the lower half of her face, at least, from the limited number of pictures available. Something to cross-reference with the CCTV footage in Venice, narrowing down his focus as the pattern of the young woman's choice of aliases comes to light, checking for security camera footage from the hotels in question. The front desks would be covered, certainly, though there's no way of telling how long she might've been in town, getting ready to strike. That forces him to start with that day, and work backwards, face recognition software combing the footage faster than he could by eye.

But the lack of anything concrete about her was curious. It made it difficult to construct much of a profile. No known connections with any criminal organisations, not Intergang or the Religion of Crime, or any of the networks of thieves' guilds that the Family keeps an eye on.

"Well, she seems pretty proud of herself, at least," he muses, frowning faintly. "Maybe using the aliases to deliberately flaunt her presence…"

Or it could be a compulsion. It's not like that was an uncommon thing among super-criminals, either.

—-

Perhaps it's both luck and skill - that wouldn't be much of a stretch either.

As Tim ensconces himself within his quiet musings, his whirring computers suddenly register an alert, his facial recogition scans producing a hit. Through the lenses of a CCTV camera, he'd be able to enhance and enlarge the image of a young woman moving to the front desk and speaking with the concierge. Dressed in a simple spring dress and coat, with sunglasses perched on her head and a bag on her shoulder - not the same one he had glimpsed her carrying - she is the very picture of an American tourist in Venice. A pale hand extends to retrieve an envelope from the man at the front desk, before she turns to head for the elevator.

The camera would be able to track her ingress into it before she turns around and waits for the double doors to close.

This 'Mary Baker' has red hair, cropped in a tousled bob with sideswept bangs. She flashes a friendly smile to others that board the elevator with her just before the doors swing shut.

He would be able to identify the hotel given its logo and seal etched on the marble tile on the lobby's grand floors - the Palazzo Venart, directly across the canal from Venice's Cannaregio district and known for its sixteenth century Jewish ghetto. If there was any further doubt as to whether she is the person he is looking for…

…he would also know that the hotel is also across the canal from the Casino di Venezia, where gambling has made its home in the picturesque city since the mid-1600's.

There are many reasons why she uses such a pattern for her aliases; as he surmises, it could be ego or compulsion. Perhaps a lack of creativity, a certain laziness to come up with something clever or terrible, or maybe it operates as a signature of sorts. After all, save for her aliases and a grainy photograph taken from halfway around the world, there doesn't appear to be anything concrete about her personality or her background - the rare blank slate to come across the former Boy Wonder's path, when he makes it his business to know anything and everything as to who, or what, he is dealing with.

—-

Persistence, thoroughness pays off.

The bed in his rented suite remains crisply made, unused. Strongly brewed coffee and a bit of microsleep in his chair serves the young man well enough as he follows the evidence he's got, works the case. It wasn't what he came to Venice to do, but thanks to the thief's escapades any source he might've been inclined to check for some clue about the disappeared Dark Knight would surely be locked down. Besides, who knows what sort of interesting things an international criminal might be privy to.

So he does what he knows. He works the case.

Outside, the sun starts to rise, but the curtains in his suite are fully drawn, keeping him plunged into darkness lit only by the screens of the computers he brought with him. His stomach growls in protest eventually, and he stifles it with a few energy bars rather than anything that would rightly be considered 'food'. There's too much work to do for him to bother with petty things like that.

When he runs out of work to do, waiting instead for the facial recognition program to give him some useful data, he starts working out instead. Always moving. Always doing something. Never giving himself time to linger on the ghosts behind him.

Eventually, though, he has a hit. Eventually, he knows where he needs to go, and there's no time to waste.

He showers quickly, before dressing in civilian clothes again. This work needs Alvin Draper still, not Robin. This is the work of a fellow thief, unwilling to just let someone else take a prize from right under his nose, not the work of a vigilante from halfway across the planet. The Boy Wonder can wait a little while longer.

Instead of the tights and cape, designer jeans and a dark purple and black dress shirt. A black waistcoat, and a tie that nearly but doesn't quite match the inky tone. Hair brushed partially back. Casual, just rolled out of bed looking that good. The dashing rogue, all the way to the hilt.

Part of him finds it fun, playing a role. He always has.

Part of him hates it now, wasteful artifice.

It isn't hard, with a little digital elbow grease, to find out just what room 'Mary Baker' is in. Worse still, in this modern age of databases, it's easy to see what notes are attached to a given customer's entry: Wake up calls, breakfast orders… So, when he reaches the Palazzo Venart, eyes hidden behind sunglasses like much of the city after a night's partying, he strides through as though he were supposed to be there. It's the first, simplest trick in any confidence playbook: If you're somewhere you aren't supposed to be, never even hint at it. No hesitation, no confusion, no looking around. Act authoritatively, decisively, and most people won't even think to question you. Elevator, up to the correct floor, just in time to intercept the woman with the room service cart. A little more Dick Grayson, there: The American tourist's American boyfriend, speaking good - but not too good - Italian, wanting to surprise the red-haired young woman with breakfast, in the hopes of making up after a fight the night before.

And hey, if appealing to the woman's sense of romance, here in one of the world's most romantic cities, doesn't do the work, a generous tip in advance has a way of assauging concerns.

And so, just in time, a knock on the hotel room door.

"Signorina Baker?" calls a voice. An Italian, speaking good - but not too good - English. "Your breakfast is here."

—-

It is the typical breakfast cart laden with foodstuffs typically catered to an American's palate - bacon and eggs, freshly brewed cappuccino (served in the morning and never after), a plate of warm cornettos (as they can never be called croissants) and a bowl of fresh fruit. Everything a growing girl needs to start the day.

"Just a second!" she replies in English, indicative that her command of the language might not be as good as Tim's. A few sounds emanate from the thick door - shuffling, a push of furniture here and there, the light steps of bare feet. It isn't long until the double doors of the suite open up, revealing the redhead that he had glimpsed from the CCTV cameras, and whatever details that have been lost due to his long-distance watch are filled in now that he is staring directly at her; her eyes are blue, nose and the top of her cheeks dusted with the faintest sprinkle of freckles.

She is dressed simply in a pair of jean shorts and a tank top that buttons up the front, her chin-lengthed bob tousled around her face - unlike his disguise, she seems to have really just rolled out of bed.

Her expression is expectant, but it is also one that devolves into befuddled confusion. She looks past his shoulder - she is a few inches shorter than him - down the hall on one side and then the other.

"…umm…Giordano's not working today?" she asks him, in halting Italian - her accent is off, keeping to the simplest of the local vernacular. While he would easily expect thieves to be masters of deception, the young woman simply can't hide this. Italian just wasn't one of the languages she had a chance to learn, though she does know a few….hardly fluent in any of them, but enough, really, to get by. "He's usually the one who brings me my breakfast."

But she waves him in, shutting the doors behind him. There's a friendly grin. "You can just set the cart wherever," she tells him, wandering towards the kitchen area. There's a bottle of orange juice already sitting in the counter, leftover from the night before - after all that running, she must have been thirsty.

The suite is easily one of the most expensive ones in the hotel, an open concept space with a few steps leading to the large four-poster bed, a living room area, a dining nook and the kitchen, with balcony views across the canal and facing the Cannaregio district and its famous ghetto and casino. Sea birds cut lazily across clear blue skies; it's a beautiful day in Italy, and considering the fact that the doors are open and there is a cushioned chair pulled outside, a newspaper draped across the seat, the young woman seems to be enjoying it as well as the fruits of her ill gotten gains, though certainly she hasn't fenced Medici's "Golden Rose" already - it's been less than twenty-four hours, and she was still in the city.

The newspaper is a local periodical, and one he would find familiar. The headlines, too, are expected - in bold letters, the theft has made the front page. Chances are it has made headlines across the globe as well.

—-

Mentally, he revises his assessment of her age. He'd figured she'd be a bit older than himself, maybe a year or two: Seeing her, he pins her more at his own age, or maybe a year younger.

Which makes her evident skill all the more impressive. It's not like he could fairly dismiss her abilities at her age as impossible, given his own situation, but unless she had intensive training of her own, someone taking the role of her Batman, but channelling her talents towards crime instead of crimefighting…

Not the League of Shadows, he's pretty sure. The methodology didn't suit, even for somebody who had rejected their teachings and gone off on their own. The style was all wrong.

It could simply be some kind of raw, natural talent. Something that went beyond mere inclination… But still, surely, even that kind of raw ability would need to be honed, refined.

And yet she seemed to be alone. No mentor keeping an eye on her, from a cursory examination of her rented suite. Just a young woman, a minor, by herself. Curiouser and curiouser.

Brief scan, assessment, cataloguing of observations: They all take a few scant seconds for the Dark Knight's detective protege. As Robin, he didn't always have the luxury of time to turn over a crime scene, so he had to learn to spot details immediately, to commit them to memory. Filed away in the vastness of his memoriae regis, an endless mental construct of a building patterned on the rooms and hallways of the mansion that had until recently been his home. Gone now, destroyed, the plot of land neighbouring Wayne Manor (and another manor as well, one that even his keen mind can't hold onto the thought of yet; the fact that anything was there slips through perception like trying to hold water with his fingers) sitting empty for all that he owned it now. Only the version in his mind remains, a storehouse for everything he sees, hears, experiences. Filed, categorised, organised, named, numbered.

He puts the cart slightly out of the way, mostly inobtrusive but also near at hand… And also, coincidentally, between the kitchen area and the front door - the door whose deadbolt he also sets, quietly, once she's no longer there to see. Just in case. He meanders over towards the open balcony doors, to the newspaper headline - he'd done all his reading online, of course. The news spread quickly, as something sensational always would, grabbing eyes and ears. Selling issues, getting clicks. People did love a brazen heist.

"How many people do you suppose got hurt, last night?" he wonders, not even bothering to keep up the accent and the facade that went with it. It served to get him into her room, and that was all he needed. "Unconscious from the sedative in the champagne, slumped on the floor in the dark with everyone else panicking, security stomping around armed. A recipe for disaster, if I ever saw one."

—-

The young redhead is already eager to get into her breakfast, it looks like. With him placing the cart out of the way - and she appears not to notice how he bolts the doors of her suite before venturing further inside - she's moving to remove the silver covers over the hot items. The scent of bacon and eggs waft enticingly towards her. He'd find her rubbing her hands together, girlish delight imprinted on the gesture, before plucking the plate off the cart as well as her cappuccino.

She moves, though his words halt her steps - she's about to mention the tip, but the sudden disappearance of his Italian and the change in his demeanor puts a stop to that expected generous gesture. Pivoting on her heel, she inclines her head at him, friendly smile vanishing in favor of a look more assessing than anything. While her heart leaps into her throat, her brain scrambling through the possibilities - ranging from a fellow thief to an assassin, at worst, though it's telling that 'law enforcement' doesn't even cross her mind - she manages not to panic. She does not throw everything at him and jump for the window.

His question, instead, is answered by a loud growl…coming from the redhead's stomach.

"….sorry, I'm starving," she says instead, pivoting on her heel, long legs carrying her further into the kitchen. Setting the plate on the counter, she fishes for silverware, finding a fork that she uses immediately on her eggs.

"Well," she begins in between chews, looking up at him. Those few seconds of moving about are all she needs, he would see it in her eyes - that brief, desperate look has faded in favor of something more calculating and mischievous. "There's no mention of the sedative in the news. Not yet, anyway, so I'm assuming, signore, that you were there." She points the silver tines at him in emphasis. "Not just that but you were able to test it."

He's a few inches taller than her, athletic - probably not a stranger to a fight. Young, but police that age would be beat cops - if he was law enforcement, they would be sending a detective, and he's simply too young for that kind of promotion. Assassin? A distinct possibility, those, she knows, do not have any age limitations. She's heard of some of the best being trained from the cradle.

An assassin that tests for drugs in the middle of an event, though? What kind of person is that prepared?

She can play the innocent, after all, what did he truly know? But she dismisses the thought quickly enough; instincts are what they are, she already knows that is not going to fly.

"Anyway, who cares? Did you take a peek at the guest list? Criminals and accomplices, from where I'm standing, whatever happened to them is an occupational hazard."

Setting her fork down, she picks up her cup, cradling it between her hands and taking a sip. "So did you really come all this way to lecture me about making a mess? What are you really after, Mr…?"

—-

"Police wouldn't have come by themselves," the young man says, while he's being assessed. He's watching her watch him, standing between her and the balcony, keeping the exits as covered as he can. "And an assassin, or a good one anyway, would've already struck." He pauses, consideringly, and amends his own statement: "Or maybe poisoned your food."

It's almost like reading her mind, but once he dropped the thin facade and confronted her, at least in a roundabout way, it was obvious that she'd start trying to figure him out. She'd want to know who he was, why he was here, what his angle was.

A thief, at her age, would have to have excellent survival skills, with the number of powerful and merciless people she'd pissed off.

Her comments on the guest list at the event aren't inaccurate, really, but they are callous. Which isn't particularly surprising: Thieves tend to be selfish by nature, hence the larceny. Their guiding star is their own self-interest, generally focused on preserving their own skins and their creature comforts, in that order.

"Draper," he supplies, when asked about his name. "Alvin Draper. And no, I was just curious how you'd react," the young man explains, with a kind of callousness of his own. Making himself look at her as a list of traits, responses to stimuli; it was easier to do now than it would've been a year ago. "It was quite a chase you led me on, once you got out the window. I'm impressed you managed to stay ahead of me while stripping. So… Did you have clothes hidden in the laundry ahead of time, or did you just steal whatever fit?"

—-

"Well," she remarks, her smile hidden against the cup she holds against her lips. "If you were an assassin that poisoned my food, you'd have left already after dumping the cart. Then again, the thought did cross my mind that you could be the kind that likes playing with his food. There's no shortage of sociopaths in the killing business."

Blue eyes note his position, and she knows precisely where the cart is - she had retrieved her breakfast from it just a few minutes ago, so she has no other option but to stay where she is and keep her distance. He could still be out to kill her, and at a mere seventeen years of age - or so she estimates - she's not ready to leave this world just yet.

He does provide a name, in the end - surprising, that, but it lends credence to his roundbout assertion that he's not an assassin. It is familiar - there are many thieves in the world, but she's made it a point to know the names of most of them, not at all a stranger in doing her homework. Draper, from what she recalls, is relatively new, but making a name for himself quickly enough, or what she recognized as a certain desire to get recognized quickly. She would know - that's what she had done when she started.

"The Paris job," she identifies readily, curiosity underscoring her pale mien. "Just a few weeks ago, wasn't it? And now you're here?" Just in time for Carnevale, though really, is that so surprising? With the Christie's auction and so many artists present for the mask awards, he was either meeting a client or doing his homework. For what, she doesn't know. "Always thought you were the eager sort, not disappointed in that regard."

At least, not yet.

"After what you pulled in the City of Lights, it's normal to lay low for a while. Why are you in such a hurry, I wonder?"

Did you have clothes hidden in the laundry ahead of time…?

"I don't think you came all this way to ask about how I managed to slip past you stark naked," she says with a sudden laugh, planting a hand on her hip and lifting her brows. "Unless you're really interested and if that's the case, I didn't think I'd peg you to be the pervy sort right away." Pale blue eyes brim with amusement. "Then again I shouldn't rule anything out, you're definitely younger than I thought you'd be."

—-

There's no shortage of sociopaths in the killing business.

Fervently, he hopes that she's much less aware of how true that is than he is. Even if she is a thief, it's not like she's the sort of person who would belong on the inside of Arkham, or the penitentiaries for the truly lost: Blackgate, Iron Heights or Belle Reve would take all the mischief right out of her. She wasn't a killer, just selfish and cavalier.

A faint, wry smile plays across his face when she recognises the name, and his antics in Paris. The theft had been secondary, really - a means to, as she suspects, build up his bona fides… Just not for the reasons she'd think. But in Paris, there were people he knew who were connected to the missing Bat, who might have something to point his way. People whose attention needed to be gotten, one way or another.

And so the way had been pointed, to Venice next. In the end, the trail would go cold, and he'd return to Gotham like he'd promised Alfred… But it wouldn't, at least, be because of this encounter, this detour.

In the end, there were some places even he couldn't follow into.

But the red-haired young woman would be left to wonder about just why he was in such a hurry, at least for now, because of course he had his own question, and one that would draw a laugh out of her.

"I've never followed somebody through the streets of a major city by their trail of clothes, before," he says, which is pretty much true. Not a lot of people would get completely naked for the sake of escape, unless they had a strong reason to suspect their clothes would keep them from eluding a tail. "And I'm younger than you thought I'd be? You look like you stole the Golden Rose as a sweet sixteen present to yourself, signorina. If I was any older, I'd have to put myself on some kind of watch list just for having chased you like that. But no, it's purely a professional curiousity."

—-

In a world that is slowly filling up by people who can't be matched by ordinary mortals, experience has made the young woman cautious. There are all kinds; telepaths, magicians, men outfitted by gadgets capable of feats that weren't even possible in the last ten years. Her running striptease had been less to discourage any well-meaning gentlemen, and more to ensure that she hadn't been planted with a tracking device while her back had been turned to him. Certainly, she could have detected it, and fried it, but the fact that there are specific abilities unique to her by virtue of her genes is something that she tries to keep under wraps. She wasn't about to blow off the lid on that for something so simple as this.

His quips about her age and his own has her lifting her shoulders. "In the big leagues, they're usually older," she tells him, draining the last of her cappuccino, reaching for a napkin to wipe the foam off her mouth. "At least in their twenties. But you don't look it, Vin. May I call you Vin?" Shameless enough to shorten his name already, as if they've known one another for ten years as opposed to the total of ten minutes that take up their acquaintanceship. "Anyway, you know better than to prod at a lady's age."

She leans against the counter at that, crossing her arms over her chest. "Professional curiosity, hm? Just what else are you professionally curious about? You can smile and dance around the issue as long as you like, but like I said, this is an awful lot of trouble just to ask me about my clothes. Are you thinking that just because we're in the same line of work that I'd just tell you what I did to the Golden Rose?"

A hand lifts, teeth clipping at the fingernail of her index finger. Lips tilt upwards in a smile, the look in her eyes to match - one that promises either a very good joke or a very surprising bit of mischief.

"Not that it matters to me either way. If you want it so much, you can have it."

What.

"Unless that's not what you're after. Fruit?" She offers the bowl - when did she pluck that off the cart? "And you don't have to keep calling me signorina. The name's Rory." A common nickname for Lorelei. "Rory Lee."

But now at least he knows which alias she usually goes by.

"It's just as real as my wig. But you'd know about aliases, wouldn't you, Vin?" Her grin returns.

—-

The expression that crosses the young man's face when she decides to start calling him 'Vin' - oh, she phrases it as asking for permission to do so, but she's going to do it anyway - could be charitably described as dubious. He's not sure what's wrong with the full name, Alvin… It seemed like a perfectly good name to him when he picked it out.

"I'm curious about how you pulled off the whole thing by yourself," he says, although he really is wondering what the heck she was thinking stripping off like that. She could've easily waited until she was safely inside the laundry, and ditched the waiter's outfit while she was out of sight. Maybe she's really that shameless, though. It wouldn't be unheard of.

Privately, he wonders if this is what Catwoman was like, at this age.

And there's that mischievous cheshire grin, the look of a young woman who's inordinately pleased with herself and what she's about to do. Who figures she's going to pull the rug completely out from under the other person involved in this conversation. Who finds a kind of delight in what she knows, and perhaps more importantly the fact that someone else doesn't know it.

And, just like that, she offers him the stolen Golden Rose.

His head tilts at that, his eyes narrowing slightly as he thinks. Now he's the one trying to figure out what her angle is.

"Rory?" he says, not taking any of the offered fruit. The last people who put anything she gave them in their mouths didn't fare too well. "I figured you more for a Josie. Definitely not an Irene, or a Mary. And what makes you think this isn't the name I was born with?"

Still, he has to wonder. Even through his impressive composure, the question expresses its need to get out and be free.

"So why, after you went to all that trouble, are you willing to give me the Golden Rose just for the asking?"

—-

I'm curious about how you pulled off the whole thing by yourself.

The remark earns him another laugh, her head tilting back slightly at that. Her amusement only grows, brows lifting so high they nearly reach her hairline. "Seriously? Do I look like a Bond villain? Just because we're being friendly doesn't mean I'm about to spill all the details about my secret evil plan. You're really cute, hon, but when it comes to the trade I might as well be a nun as far as secrets go." After a pause, she holds up a hand. "If that happens to be a kink, that's not a proposition, mind, that remark's purely coincidental, I assure you."

When he declines the fruit, she fishes out her fork again to dig into a chunk or two of honeydew melon, seemingly oblivious to the way he narrows his eyes in thought. And while he's made his own assumptions about her, profiling her where she stands, her approach is much more straightforward: she simply waits. Her patience yields some unexpected fruit, reflecting just how thoroughly he's dug into her file, whatever's out there in the INTERPOL database or whatever law enforcement outfits around the world that keep tabs on her.

"I'd have to be really good at French to be walking around with that alias," Rory tells him lightly, all cheer and good humor, when he pegs her more as a Josie. "Besides, you and I know very well that any international heist master doesn't trade with his real name. That's pretty basic."

He asks about the Golden Rose, and her smile grows.

"Sorry, hon, but like I said, I'm not a supervillain. You've gotten this far, though, so I'm more than confident that you're capable enough to figure that out for yourself, eventually. Besides, don't think I haven't noticed you asking me all your curious questions while dodging my own the best you can. Not very sporting of you, Vin. I know it's tradition not to play fair, but I don't like it when things are too easy, either. With that said, let's try again."

She wiggles her fork at him.

"Why are you in Venice?"

—-

It's an effective tactic, he knows. It's one he's used fairly well in the past himself, playing on conversational awkwardness or letting the other person stew in guilt or fear. The latter works better when you have an obvious advantage over them, of course: It's a tactic better suited to a costumed vigilante than a young man in designer jeans. He doesn't think that the redhead would be particularly susceptible to conversational awkwardness, either. She seems the type who would simply sit there and eat her breakfast rather than chatter just for the sake of it, accidentally betraying herself.

So, he asks questions. Tries to not give away more than he gets. If the red-haired thief is off-balance thanks to him having found her here, she's not showing it. Adaptable, he decides. Probably a good improviser.

"You'd be surprised how often people love to spill the details of their secret evil plans," he notes. "There's plenty of big egos around."

He doesn't say anything about the nuns, though that's definitely not a kink for him. The only nuns he's ever met have tried to kill him.

She manages to smile all the more widely, not buying his alias as anything but, and turning around his question as to why she's so willing to give him the Golden Rose, after she'd been through the effort of stealing it. She's sure he's clever enough to figure it out… Eventually.

That rankles him, on top of everything else. The distraction from his original goal, the wild goose chase she led him on through the back alleys of Venice…

"You don't care about the Rose itself, just that it's known to be stolen, and is out of circulation. So… Confidence game. You can sell fakes, and without the original to check them against, nobody will be sure who got scammed."

He doesn't bother searching for confirmation, it seems self-evident enough to him - a touch of annoyed arrogance leaking through, really.

Besides, she's waggling her fork at him, pressing him on her own question again. Why is he in Venice?

It wouldn't be for the same mark she'd been after, he was only just approached when he actually arrived at the event.

What does that leave? Well, there's plenty of other things to steal in a place like Venice, after all. Especially on a day like that.

So…

"I'm looking for my father," he answers. Something sort of like the truth, but he slips back into the lazy amusement of Alvin Draper when he says it, letting tension go in a faint sigh. "I was hoping to do a little snooping around last night, when someone went and set off all the alarms and put everyone in the city on their guard. And so, frustrated and unsatisfied, I had to turn my snooping in a different direction."

—-

Yes, all of that - but in the end, he has only to blame but himself. He did not have to follow. He did not have to track her down. He could have chosen to ignore everything, dig his heels in and pursue his objectives with the rabid tenacity the Batman has instilled in him since the moment he came into his life. He could have chosen to keep his eyes on the prize.

But he didn't.

It may very well be a reflection of his age - he is young, perhaps even as young as her. The redhead doesn't know, but her profession requires her to be, at the very least, one with a good grasp on human nature, to be able to read between the lines and track the flow of power between or among the people in the room. And this one, she surmises, doesn't know when to let go. Even when he must. Even when it gets in the way of everything else. Even when it's detrimental.

She can taste his annoyance, though she doesn't know where it comes from. She doesn't know if it's because of her stubborness or something else entirely.

Alvin gives her his best guess. Her amusement fades a little bit, giving way to a hint of surprise. It's a good hypothesis and mostly accurate.

"You know your games," she says easily as she lifts her fingers in both hands, as if in surrender. "It's definitely a possibility. But what if the Golden Rose is just bait for a bigger fish? You're a thief, Vin. These days, nobody will hire you unless you prove you're capable. Or maybe I'm one of those big egoes you mentioned and just wanted to see if I could do it. I might not spill the details of my plans to those who would listen, but this line of work requires some brass ones, right? Ever watch the Thomas Crown Affair?"

She plants a hand on the counter, leaning against it. "Or maybe all of the above? None of the above? How would you really know when this is the first time we've met? I bet you've never even heard of me until today."

Her patience pays off once again, when he tells her something surprising. He'd know it by the faint furrow on her pale brow, before whatever other telling expressions she may reflect is drowned out by the act of reaching for her orange juice and taking a healthy swallow of it. Fingernails and their candy apple-red lacquer click-click-click on the counter as she taps them against polished granite.

"I didn't think you'd be there on a personal matter," she tells him at last. "Or the fact that you would tell me about it when it is. He a guest or a prisoner of the Manieros?"

It resonates; more powerfully than Alvin Draper could ever guess, but she doesn't let it show.

—-

One of the reasons why he's able to pull off the whole 'Alvin Draper' thing is that many of the skills involved in being a dashing art thief are pretty similar to the ones involved in being a costumed vigilante and detective. And that, of course, includes the necessity of being a student of human nature. He can see the way she responds to his somewhat frustrated summary of what he thinks she's doing - a brief moment in which something almost slips through her jovial facade, enough to let him know that if he wasn't entirely correct, he was more than merely in the ballpark.

And then she tries to offer up alternative explanations, possibilities to instill doubt. A shell game. Three card monte, but with words instead of cards. But he doesn't bite, doesn't let himself get distracted or caught up in wondering which, if any, of the schemes suggested was the one she was actually pulling. At this point, it probably doesn't matter too much.

Probably.

The truth, or at least something similar to it, serves him well enough at the moment. It elicits a curious response from 'Rory', rather than the dismissive amusement he had sort of anticipated. She uses her drink to hide her face, she taps her gleaming red manicure against the granite countertop. She's thinking. Perhaps trying to evaluate if he's lying or not, tracing paths of possibility to see if there's any advantage she can think of in falsehood on his part. Of course, he could be a pathological liar. He could be bullshitting her just because.

Could be, maybe.

"Not supposed to have personal matters in this line of work, right? Things like that are leverage just waiting to be used against you." Threads waiting for somebody to pull on them until everything comes unravelled. But then, is his real life any different? The masks, the costumes, the codenames… All armor to protect the vulnerable parts of their lives.

"I don't know where he is. I thought they might have some information. Those types… They keep their fingers in as many pies as possible, and they have all sorts of interesting sources."

—-

Not supposed to have personal matters in this line of work, right?

There's a strange twist to her smile at that. "Oh, I don't know. I don't think it's so bad to have them now and then," she tells him simply, taking another swig of her juice. "I mean…then it'd mean that you've got something going on other than the business, right?"

Finishing her bowl of fruit, she rolls her head back, a hand reaching up to thumb the sideo of her neck. As if she's forgotten that he's literally trapped her in her own suite, she moves towards the center of the room, where the four poster bed stands alongside the dresser and the full lengthed mirror. She pulls a few of them open, drawing out a few clothes. Inspecting herself briefly in the mirror, she frowns at something only she can see, leaning in further to brush her fingers underneath her right eye. Somewhere past her shoulder is the man's reflection, standing by the balcony as it is.

"You know, a lot of people said that the Manieros were over after good ol' Felice got busted back in the nineties," she says, turning to look over at him. "Their rise back to power was pretty recent. Some say they must've made a deal with the devil, to make that kind of resurgence, but I guess with those kinds of connections, you can't go wrong, right?"

She turns on her heel to face him, her clothes pressed against her hip. "You were right about the fakes. I had about four made after I took it. My guy's pretty good, you'd need to be really well-versed in goldwork to be able to determine whether it's the genuine article or not. I have a few buyers - you could only imagine what kind of names went in that list in a hurry."

Rory turns at that, moving towards the bathroom and the door closing behind her. There's a rush of running water from the sink, the rustle of clothes. But her voice continues to resound, albeit muffled, through it.

"One of the people on the list is Monique d'Aubigny," she tells him. "Don't know if you know who she is, or if she caught your eye during the party. Red hair, slinky dress, green eyes?"

She must have served dozens of masked revelers that night; she clearly recognized the woman, and perhaps even made it a point to drug her. She had not recognized Alvin, himself. Then again, his red-feathered mask did well to hide the more prominent aspects of his disguised features.

"She's Don Alfonso's art expert," she tells him. "He's expecting his prize in a couple of days. If you want the in, you should probably deliver it to him."

The door opens after that.

She's changed from her sleep clothes into street clothes; a sleeveless turtleneck shirt with a light hoodie tugged over it, a reddish-brown leather jacket pulled over her shoulders. Fitted blue jeans are tucked underneath knee-high boots. Deft digits are busy tugging fingerless gloves over them. Clad in something more appropriate for the outdoors, the implication is clear - by his leave or not, she's determined to leave her room.

Looking up, her smile returns, impish in its bent. "You can wait a couple of days, can't you?"

—-

He knows that she hasn't forgotten that she's trapped in the room - inasmuch as she is truly trapped, anyway - but rather that she's doing the next best thing: Acting like it doesn't affect her. It's the same methodology by which he got into the hotel and up to her room without even a second glance. Act like everything is exactly how it should be. Act like you're in control.

Even if you aren't, it can make the other person question themselves. Wonder what you know that they don't. It's an effective psychological tactic, another on the curriculum he'd been schooled in by the Dark Knight since he was fourteen years old.

"The world has plenty of devils ready to make deals," he says, with a faint shrug. At the moment, the source of the Manieros' resurgence doesn't particularly concern him - though he's still picking up details, tidbits, filing them away in case it does in fact end up concerning him - and he seems unfazed by her admission that he was right about the fakes, and had basically grasped her scam.

Of course, the people who would be on that list in a hurry would be the people who already knew the Golden Rose was stolen. People who didn't have to wait for the news to spread. People who had been there. So honestly, he isn't particularly surprised when he learns that one of the buyers she has lined up is indeed the same Monique d'Aubigny who had approached him at the party.

At least that answers who the woman was approaching him on behalf of.

"You're being awfully obliging, Rory," he says, once she reemerges dressed in her street clothes, clearly intending to go somewhere. He doesn't trust her, of course - that would be pure foolishness. But if she is willing to help, then it would also be foolish to dismiss it out of hand. He might still be able to get the information, if there is any to be had. A calculated risk, then.

"I guess a few days couldn't hurt… But it seems like I should keep an eye on you until then, doesn't it? I wouldn't want to see anything bad happen to my new friend now that we've gotten to know each other."

Also, he doesn't trust her to not cut and run on him if he lets her out of his sight.

But it would be rude to say so.

—-

You're being awfully obliging, Rory.

"Don't get the wrong idea," she tells him lightly, moving to pull a backpack out from underneath the bed and hitch it over her shoulder. "I'm only helping you out because at this stage of the game, I'd rather make friends than enemies. I also figured it might work to get you out of my hair faster. I mean…barging in a lady's room just like that, a woman's gotta have her privacy, you know."

If he trusted her now, he would be a fool - they don't know each other, but at the same time, he doesn't seem like the type to let it go, either. As she has already concluded earlier, he may have problems in that regard.

It seems like I should keep an eye on you until then, doesn't it?

Rory laughs at that, looking him right in the eye as she bumps the breakfast cart with her hip; much like a cat about to knock something off a desk, her stare bores into his while she just nudges the blockade he has made out of the way, leaving the front door clear. If she is in any way afraid of him, she doesn't show it. She could be, but he would have no way of knowing. He isn't a mindreader, after all, no matter how well he pretends to be.

"While I'm flattered that you're that concerned about my well-being already." And spoken with a tone that suggests that she doesn't believe that for a second. "I don't like being monitored, and I don't like to be cooped up either. So you can either wait, or follow me around and be ludicrously bored. Because it's not every day that I get to enjoy Venice, and I'm going to do just that. See the sights, take a few pictures and eat amazing food. So if you think you're going to get some grand epiphany about the way I work and who I talk to while you Big Brother me for the next couple of days, you're going to be extremely disappointed."

Which would probably only aggravate him even further, when he's already been hopelessly detoured from his true objective following the mystery she presents. But there's no way she would know that either. She's simply playing the odds that a working man like him has better things to do with his time.

She even has the audacity to wink at him, before she turns around. Unless stopped, she unbolts the door and throws it wide open, taking long legged strides out of her suite and down the hall.

—-

It wasn't, of course, like he'd expected the position of the tray to really stop her - placing it to be any sort of serious barricade would've been a lot less subtle than what he did, for one thing. Instead, its placement is more designed to be a simple impediment. If she tried to make a break for the door, it would slow her down for a critical moment. Likewise, deadbolting the door would cost her precious seconds getting it open. He could catch her, this time.

So when she stares at him in a rather catlike fashion while she nudges the cart out of the way with her hip, his eyes don't leave hers… But his expression becomes mildly curious, one brow arching and a furrow developing in the middle, as he asks silently just what she thinks she's proving, there.

This is stupid, part of him thinks, frustration and bitterness welling up. There's other ways he can try and pick up Batman's trail. He doesn't need to play ridiculous games with some nameless thief.

But as always, the idea of leaving something unfinished rankles him. The thought of not knowing something chafes against his very nature. And there's always the possibility that the Golden Rose could be the key to getting the information he hopes exists.

It's not just that he's lost too many people already in the past year, and now his recently adoptive father, his legal guardian has vanished on some 'sabbatical'. It's that, for certain sure, but it's not just that.

But what's the point of being Robin if there's no Batman?

"You'd be surprised how difficult it is to bore me, Rory," the disguised Boy Wonder warns her, a wry smile on his face when she winks at him and turns towards the door…

She might feel the faint rustle of air in the room, but with the balcony windows wide open as they are it could simply be a breeze. Still, she might look back, once she's unbarred the door, and if she did she'd discover that her suite was now empty of interlopers, that 'Alvin Draper' vanished as soon as she turned her attention away from him.

But if she thought that would be the last she saw of him, then she would be the fool.

—-

Much like him, she has absolutely no time for this, but his tenacity is one that she's able to pick up quickly and while thieves are generally expected to be skilled liars, she has been plenty truthful in at least one thing - the desire to get him out of her hair faster, and in that case, the quickest way to do that is to give the interloper what he wants.

The lad wants his father; some part of her understands that, she's lost count of how many family registries she's combed over in the last year in hopes of finding where she had come from, to no avail. She understands frustration in that regard. But to say she is wholly driven out of empathy in providing him the in would be an exaggeration. She knows nothing, remembers nothing, has spent the last year watching others take for granted what she would fight tooth and nail to keep, if she only had these blessings. She doesn't have the room to be generous.

But this? This she can afford.

It's just an in. An opportunity to make connections. Networking on its own wasn't that dangerous, right?

Right.

She looks over her shoulder once, and finds her suite empty. Amusement and exasperation flit over her expression, but she doesn't gawk at where he had vanished. Somehow, for some reason, she expected that.

TWO DAYS LATER….

She doesn't bother scouring the city looking for him.

The days pass without much incident and to her credit, she has done nothing but what she has told him she would. She spent the last forty-eight hours enjoying Venice and what it had to offer; gondola rides, museums, restaurants, shopping. Out of her guise as a prodigiously skilled thief, she's a relatively normal teenaged girl, interested in the same things in her usual demographic, willing to try anything and everything, though deep down, it is less out of the desire to experience life, and more to discover what she herself likes - because she doesn't know that either.

Finally, she receives it - a package from the front desk, a box that looks like any other box that's delivered to the hotel, day in and out, by different couriers. Even with the CCTV cameras, it would be impossible to determine which one had delivered hers.

But she plucks it from the concierge's waiting hand and carries it with her carefully. Up her suite, until she enters it. With a blade, she rids the box of the tape, pulls out the Golden Rose, gleaming and resplendent in its antiquated glory, before she moves to the table in the middle of the room and sets it right in the middle, admiring it from where she stands.

Taking a seat on the couch, she lifts her legs and lets it rest on the table next to the priceless sculpture. With a remote, she turns on the television. Can of diet cola in hand, she waits.

—-

He's been watching.

It's not all he's been doing, of course, but the mysterious young man who alleges to be named Alvin Draper knows to be careful, to be cautious. He needs to make sure, for example, that 'Rory' isn't going to sell him up the river to cover her own responsibility for the recent theft. Not that he's really worried about the local outfits catching him, but it would be worse than just a nuisance to have to escape the city and regroup with a new plan for getting the information he hopes to find.

Worse, another thought occurs to him: There might be no clues, here. The signs that pointed this way from Paris might've been false leads, laid by the World's Greatest Detective to keep anyone - even his protege - from following him.

This whole escapade might be a complete waste of time and money and energy he could've spent in Gotham, instead.

So he watched. He watched more than just 'Rory', naturally, settling himself in like a spider in the midst of a web. He doesn't follow her directly at any point, instead using temporary agents, mostly among the children of Venice. He's not so foolish as to assume he's the only one to have that particular idea, but it's worked well enough at other points, in other places. The first night, Robin took to the rooftops of Venice, a shadow in red and black and yellow, with a shock of black hair and his face obscured by a domino mask.

There hadn't been much to learn, really, but the exercise helped him work out some frustration, burn off some nervous energy. A few of the city's residents had a better night than they would've otherwise; a number of the city's underworld residents had a much, much worse one.

That felt good, too. It always did. It spoke to something warmer in the cold grimness that had settled over him, had started to work itself into his bones in the past few months. These days, that interested him more than sightseeing, than visiting the incredible cultural and historical sites that the ancient cities of Italy had on offer. Part of him was bothered by that.

Two days after he'd first tracked down 'Rory', first gotten into her hotel room by deceit, while the redhead sits admiring her good works and sits with a can of cola, watching television, a voice speaks from the balcony.

"You know, that stuff's not any better for you than the non-diet kind," 'Alvin Draper' tells her, rather than knocking on her door like a normal person. If there is such a thing as a 'normal person' in a world where all sorts of metahumans exist. But no, that warning's not the right way: That's Tim Drake, not Alvin Draper. Dashing rogue, playful. What would Nightwing do to recover from that…? "If you're worried about fitting into your catburglar costume, I can think of a few exercises that would help…"

—-

He arrives just as she knew he would. She just didn't know when. If he had meant to keep an eye on her, she was certain that he'd somehow find a way to put eyes in her room.

Once again, her patience yields fruit - Alvin Draper's familiar voice filters in from the balcony, and Rory shifts in her seat, turning slightly to face him. Wiggling her can of diet soda at him, she smiles faintly. "It's not because of the calories," she tells him simply, stretching arms and legs out before hoppng on her feet. "Regular soda's just too sweet for me. And I don't have a costume." This earns him a laugh and a quirked eyebrow in his direction. "Do I look like I'm from Gotham?"

Pulling her boots back on her feet, she gestures to the artifact on the table in front of her. And whenever he ventures closer, she tosses him a bag. "You're the one who wants face time with the Manieros," she tells him. "You can pack it up and take it with you. They're expecting us at their famiglia's palazzo at eleven, so we have about…" She checks her watch. "Half an hour. So gird your loins and be your charming self, alright? The last thing we want to end up is fish food."

She reaches out, pulling her jacket over her shoulders; black, this time, and with a hood. The redhead seems to prefer wearing layers.

Once the precious (fake) sculpture is packed away and carried by Draper, they set off into the twisting, narrow avenues of Venice. A ferry ride takes them along the Grand Canal, right into the Dorsoduro district. Their destination looms above the water, flanked on one side by a narrower canal. The Palazzo Dario is a historic building, one that is often closed to the public despite its historical importance. While it had been acquired by the Venetian mafia very recently, Don Alfonso was a lover of the arts - he has upheld a longstanding agreement with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and had left the building available for special art exhibitions.

Most days, it houses a few pieces of the don's personal collection - in the end, it's a fitting place to hold the exchange.

Broad-shouldered and suited security types meet them in the lobby of the four-story building, before they're ushered in further. There's more security here than even 'Alvin Draper' would anticipate; there are mafia types in almost every nook and cranny of the labyrinthine interior, escorted into its inner sanctum by a phalanx of dark-clad bodies, opening up to a grand sitting room where several impressive pieces are out on display. It's curious - Don Alfonso was reputed to be careful, not paranoid.

The room has high ceilings for an old building, its former glory restored by recent renovations. All the better to showcase the artworks within - near-priceless paintings by Italian masters, sculptures, ceramics…even rare fossils.

Monique d'Aubigny stands by the broad-shouldered man who he would know by sight as the current head of the Mala de Brenta, busily thumbing through what appears to be a recent catalogue published by the German Museum of Anthropology….and he would know immediately, by his gait and mannerisms, that he was not the person present in the gathering at the hotel a few days ago. Whoever it was had been a very convincing body-double, but there's no fooling the Boy Wonder's eyes.

"Monsieur Draper!" Monique's eyes light up with curiosity. "What a surprise. I didn't know you had a partner." A glance at the redhaired thief. "What a pair you make. Glitch, was it?"

"Don't look at me," Rory says, lifting her shoulders, her smile languid and easy. "It was all Mr. Draper's idea. I'm just the one with the sticky fingers."

"So I see." A pale hand gestures between the older man and the two. "This is Don Alfonso Maniero."

A curt nod from the man - well-built despite being well into his fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair and an olive complexion. While not overtly friendly, he isn't overtly hostile, either. "Your reputation precedes the both of you," he says, gesturing to the display table set up in the middle of the room. "The Rose, if you will?"

—-

Do I look like I'm from Gotham?

"Dunno what that's got to do with anything… Isn't it New York that you can't go three feet without running into somebody in a costume? I heard they even have some kinda catburglar there who really keeps to the whole theme." He shrugs and spreads his hands, as though resigned to this revelation that 'Rory' didn't have what one might conventionally call a costume for her work.

"See, I got into this whole business hoping to meet lady thieves in black catsuits," Draper says, sounding jokingly disappointed. It fits with the character. "It's just been one disillusionment after another."

He catches the bag easily, of course, those green-tinged blue eyes watching the red-haired young woman as she speaks. Whatever playful manner 'Alvin' might be trying to put up, he's more than sensible enough to listen carefully to what the other thief has to say. It could always be possible that she was setting him up to fail… But he can at least count on her own sense of self-preservation, to some extent.

If they were going to send one thief to sleep with the fishes, after all, why not two?

Once they arrive, the young man is already observing, already calculating, cataloguing, creating a map of the palazzo inside of his head. He'd expected the guards, standard issue soldatos who look like they stepped off of an assembly line somewhere, but not the numbers. An intimidating force, to be sure - which might be the idea, it could simply be an effort to remind any thieves who thought they might get up to any funny business just who they were dealing with. It makes the hairs on the back of the Boy Wonder's neck stand up, a little bit, a warning from intuition forged out of years of dealing with the worst criminals in the worst place on Earth. But there was no way to back out, now. They wouldn't be simply allowed to leave because they left the kettle on.

But like any soldier - and that was exactly what he was, trained to fight in the Batman's war on crime, on evil itself - in a time of crisis he falls back on his training, the elemental concepts drilled into him under the tutelage of a number of extremely (and in a few cases, literally murderously) hard teachers. First, and most importantly, here: Never let them see you sweat.

After all, he reminds himself, they have no idea what they're dealing with.

"Madamoiselle d'Aubigny," he greets the red-haired fixer pleasantly. "You're looking much more lively than the last time I saw you." It's a genuine relief that she wasn't seriously hurt during the chaos after 'Rory' turned out the lights. He had, after all, no interest in seeing her hurt.

The name 'Glitch' for the younger woman gets filed away, added to the mentally constructed room filled with his observations of her.

But then, there's the Don.

While he has a certain disdain for the overall quality of criminal groups from outside of Gotham - by and large, they simply couldn't cut it in the City of Yesterday, just like most of the 'traditional' outfits and gangs who'd been run out of town by the Bat, and the rise of the super-criminals - that was not the same thing as dismissing them outright. Anyone who had risen as high as Alfonso Maniero, leading an outfit in the midst of a resurgence, was going to be clever, and dangerous.

Carefully, then, he moves towards the table. He's counting steps in his head, calculating distance and angle. The middle of the room is a killbox. With so many armed mafioso, it's an extremely bad place to be if they end up not liking what they see… Or, for that matter, liking it too much.

But the bag, carefully carried all this time, is set down on the display table, and unzipped. the Golden Rose, so carefully packed away, is removed with equal care, because this would be a really bad time to accidentally drop it, or something.

—-

There had been an appreciative laugh at the black catsuit comment. "Sorry," Rory tells him, flashing him another wink over her shoulder as they leave her suite. "I take all of my costuming cues from the Thief videogames."

But that's neither here nor there.

Alvin's pleasantries towards the voluptuous green-eyed redhead earns him another smile, and one open in its flirtations. "Occupational hazard," she says, with a dismissive wave of manicured fingertips, her stare lighting up when the artifact is placed on the display table. "Ah, yes, marvelous. May I, signore?" The last to Don Alfonso, who nods and gestures for her to go ahead with her inspections.

To her credit, the fixer is careful when she does this. Gloves find her hands, and she takes in the small details with a small wooden stick, lifting the Golden Rose's branches with increments to look underneath golden petals and finely detailed leaves. Lastly, she takes a few samples from the base, and puts them in a centrifuge set up on another side of the room, along with a few state-of-the-art pieces of diagnostic equipment.

Reading the printouts, she moves back to the Golden Rose itself, looking up at Alfonso and smiling. "Magnificent," she tells the man. "Congratulations on yet another fine addition to your collection, signore."

Alfonso's dark eyes gleam with satisfaction. Tucking the catalogue under his arm, he steps forward towards the display pedestal, a hand extending for the artifact.

The air within the room changes, suddenly. It's nothing that can be seen, or even heard - simply one that anyone with a penchant for survival and fine-honed instincts for danger would be able to sense. And when it comes, it is a silent thing. The moment that Don Alfonso reaches a hand towards the perfectly forged copy of Catherine de Medici's Golden Rose on the table, his chest is suddenly torn open by a high caliber bullet, which blasts through Monique's spine while it's turned towards the direction of the shot. Blood sprays outward as both bodies tilt in opposite directions; the mafia don's burly frame, in particular, lands directly across the pedestal where the artifact stands, forcing it off its foundations, both landing in a loud crash.

The German Museum of Anthropology catalogue that he has been holding spills from his grasp, falling open on the ground and soaking up the man's blood. Through garish red pools, photographs of the building's latest offerings find the light, including an ancient stone fragment bearing a single, but terribly familiar carving of a bat symbol.

In the far wall where the shot came from is a gaping hole, the faint sound of echoing wind wafting through it. Old buildings like these, especially former residences of Italian nobility, not a stranger to attempts at their lives, are rife with secret passages. The single hole through the wall where the bullet has passed through is indicative enough that someone has breached some of them. And not only that, he knew precisely where Don Alfonso would be standing, calculated his height, weight, distance and the thickness of the wall….and all without any visual on the target. The killing equation had been calculated to nothing but absolute perfection; it speaks to a level beyond professional.

Monique's twitching body slowly rolls on her back. Blood froths from her lips; before their horrified eyes, she chokes to death.

Rory is stunned. There's no artifice in her expression, her blue eyes wide and her face ashen. She's already turning tail, to head for the nearest exit point, but the mafia don's security is already on high alert - not to mention the guards in the room are just realizing that they failed at their jobs…a failure that has been timed precisely when the two thieves happen to be visiting their boss.

There's only one conclusion they could reach.

"Che cazzo!"

"They're decoys!"

"We're not!" the redhaired thief protests, her voice high and frightened, almost pleading, lifting her hands defensively. "We don't know….this wasn't us!"

Her words fall on deaf ears. Those crystal-blue eyes only widen further when the automatic weapons are turned to their direction, fingers squeezing the triggers.

—-

He knows, deep down, that something is going to go wrong. He doesn't possess any superhuman abilities, he certainly can't see the future… But still, he knows. He feels it in his bones, felt it from the moment he noticed that there was simply too much security on hand. He steps back, out of the killbox, letting Monique examine the Golden Rose, the exquisite forgery Glitch had made as part of her con, her scheme to steal the original and sell the copies to whoever could pay her enough, secure in the knowledge that nobody would ever know which was real and which was fake. He plays it cool - never let them see you sweat - and keeps his looking around the room to a minimum. He only watches the examination with half an eye, not wanting to seem overly invested in it.

It's a simple transaction after all, right? No one would be so arrogant, so bone-deep foolish as to walk in here with an easily identified fake, right?

Well… He certainly hopes so.

The sense of something wrong coalesces too late, as a single bullet kills the Don and Monique d'Aubigny in one perfect, too perfect shot.

There's no way to help either of them, he knows. the Don was surely killed all but instantly, and there's no time to save Monique from her own grisly death. That doesn't mean he doesn't feel a sense of guilt over it, of course. If he'd done something different, if he'd been better, it might not have happened.

He absorbs the scene, horrific as it is, the details etched into his memory, the curious detail of the bloostained photographs. An ancient stone tablet, carved with a bat…

Whatever that means, though, he'll have to deal with later. Now, there's a more pressing problem: Rory, or Glitch, or whatever her name is trying to escape. The blame being put on them, as the red-haired thief plaintively tries to reason with the guards.

The timing is perfect. Too perfect. Someone acted with the knowledge of where the Don would be, when he would be there. Someone with the knowledge of the palazzo's interior, its secrets.

Too much security.

Inside job. Setup. Two conveniently placed scapegoats in the middle of a room full of angry soldatos whose honor has just been stained by their failure to protect the don, a stain that can only be washed away by blood.

Another advantage of a memoriae regis is that the passage of time is a subjective thing. Inside a person's own head, a moment can stretch out, impossibly elastic. Inside the construct within his own mind, he has time to think. To plan. The locations of the gunmen, the placement of Glitch in relation to himself. The door is a non-starter. Too easy to get lost inside the palazzo, too many other guards. Here in the heart of the building, there's no windows, no obvious weak points…

Except one.

Black smoke fills the room suddenly, thick and obscuring… To most people, anyway. The domino mask that 'Alvin Draper' quickly places over his face boots up immediately, giving him a largely clear view despite the smoke, and he grabs Glitch from behind, pulling her back and down, making a smaller target as the soldatos' weapons no doubt go off anyway, loud reports filling the room as they shoot blindly.

"I'll get you out of here alive," he tells the redhead in a quiet, serious voice that brooks no disagreement - he's cribbing from his mentor, here. "But you have to follow my orders exactly."

In his head, he's counting carefully. The smoke won't clear quickly in an old, isolated room like this, which is good. It'll buy precious seconds that they need to not die.

After a couple more of those precious seconds, the small lump of Playdough-like explosive that he tossed against the wall with the bullet hole in it goes off: The explosion should be enough to break a hole in the wall, and it banishes the smoke from that spot for a heartbeat or two.

"Go," he rasps at the redhead. "Now."

—-

The black smoke that suddenly erupts in the room probably does not alleviate any concerns whatsoever from the soldatos who think that both thieves are somehow part of their don's assassination, but what it does is obfuscate their view of their targets. Rory is about to move, already taking a step, but the sudden appearance of darkness gives her enough of a pause that Alvin manages to get his hands on her, pulling her back and down while bullets whizz over their heads. Frantic fingers clutch onto his forearm, the taller man's body weighing her down.

Orders barked in Italian filter through the smoke. Disbelieving eyes turn towards Alvin as the two of them huddle under cover. "What is this?" she whispers at him. "Are you some kind of…" Oh god I can't believe I'm saying this. "…ninja?"

His promise to get her out of there alive has her frowning, lips parting, only for her head to duck again as another hail of bullets shreds the couch somewhere behind them, the brush of stuffing and feathers tickling her nose and cheeks at the resulting rain. But the spray of hot lead ceases - the men are professionals and they know shooting blindly in the dark only runs the risk of friendly fire.

But this time, it's as if she is reading her mind. "Look I've been in hairy situations before, things'll only get worse for us if we use the door, but the secret passage where the shot came from, if we can only…"

He proves that he's a few steps ahead of her there; the telltale explosion blows the wall outward, taking out two of the mafia security team in the room. The redhead's face snaps towards the direction where she hears it. In spite of their very limited visibility, her directional sense is keen - she knows precisely where the wall with the secret passage is.

Alvin barely gets the word out when Rory is already on her feet, hurling herself through the billowing smoke and keeping herself low. She's not a stranger to combat, to getting shot at, to having people after her trying to kill her. She's always used whatever advantage was available to her, but that doesn't necessarily mean that she is spoiling for a fight. Sometimes, running away is the best course of action and the best way to ensure her survival.

The noise does give the soldatos a direction as to where to fire, though. Bullets ricochet and twist metal, crack into concrete, sending bits ancient wall flying when she breaks through the hole Alvin's explosive has left behind. One of the projectiles tears across her upper arm, leaving a thin trail of blood. Somewhere behind her, a rifle is swung towards Alvin's midsection, but this is done blindly and out of instinct. These guys knows how to follow footsteps, also.

But they do make it into the passages, at least. While the redhead has no mental blueprint on the most secret spaces of the palazzo, she knows they are on the third floor and they ought to be making their way down. So that's where she goes, already twisting in her heel to head in that direction…

…she stops, suddenly, hearing echoes of more coming from below, and shouts in Italian thickened with tension. "Shit!" she hisses, turning back around and starting to clamber up higher, towards the fourth floor and the roof.

She moves like lightning, when given enough impetus too, and at the moment, she is engrossed in the very serious business of trying not to die. "No choice, now. Vin, come o— "

Rory is cut off when she suddenly goes down, sprawling over something solid on the narrow steps leading to the fourth floor landing. She lands directly on a black-clad body on its back, devoid of the usual trappings of the don's security force. Whoever he is, he is dressed in tactical gear, his face an unnatural shade of gray and unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling. Black veins frame his cheeks, his mouth slippery with gushing, frothing saliva. Frozen fingers clutch over a high-powered rifle - the kind that could do the damage they witnessed just moments before.

The redhead's face contorts; it isn't out of fear, indicative that she's found her share of corpses, despite her wide eyes - there's confusion there…and one that gives way to some semblance of familiarity.

"Cape Town," she whispers.

—-

The guns are still a problem, even with the obscuring smoke.

That's the thing about guns: They require neither skill nor intent to kill. They make anyone dangerous… Even by accident. He knows that he can't follow Rory immediately, that he has to create at least a little bit more of a distraction to make sure the redhead is able to make it to the hole in the wall leading to the secret passages without getting riddled full of bullets. The gun swung towards him makes it all the more urgent that he do something, of course.

No time for fear or hesitation. Slow means dead. Moving with alarming, immediate speed he grabs the rifle, controls the direction of the barrel, keeping himself out of the line of fire. He has to work quickly: Doing this will draw more attention his way, more guns. In close, he hooks his foot behind the shooter's ankle, uses his grip on the weapon to drive it backwards, to slam the butt of the rifle into the soldato's face, before wrenching the weapon away. Someone else, of course, might turn the gun on their would-be killer. Shooting the mafia men in the smoke and chaos would probably turn the whole situation into massacre as they ended up firing wildly, as they found themselves suspecting traitors in their midst.

But there is, after all, the Rule.

Instead, the gun's clip is ejected, the round in the chamber similarly sent free from the side of the gun rather than its barrel. Unable to really see it, with no time to stop and think about what he's doing, he relies on his training. Many might assume that because the Batman eschews guns, that his students know nothing about them. But that would be pure foolishness, not understanding the weapon of the Enemy. He knows guns, inside and out. He's spent hours at the shooting range, with a variety of different arms. He's sat, in the dark, blindfolded, until he could disassemble and reassemble most rifles by touch in the space of a few seconds.

Here, he only has to disassemble. The rifle comes apart, as if by magic.

Only a few heartbeats have passed since Rory made a break for the hole in the wall. A masked figure vaults out of the smoke, clearing it for just a moment before dropping back in on one of the shooters facing the recently created hole. Moments later, the shooter is the one to emerge from the smoke… Suddenly, violently reeled upwards by one ankle.

The real distraction there, of course, is the small device stuck to the man's back, emitting a noise like an air raid siren, a deafeningly loud, offensive sound that comes and goes in erratic waves.

"You're hurt," he says, when he catches up to Rory a few moments later. It looks like a fairly minor injury, but that doesn't mean it actually is. Still, first things first. Once they get out of the palazzo, and somewhere safe, he can worry more about how badly the thief had been shot. As long as she can move, they should.

So he follows, while she concerns herself with figuring out the way they should go. Heading downwards, towards the ground floor and presumably an exit, wouldn't actually be his first choice anyway… But the approach of more angry gunmen from that direction makes it seem like up is the only option available anyway. Up, until the redhead trips over something.

Something that, naturally enough, turns out to be a corpse.

"Looks like poison," he suggests, showing even less of a shocked reaction to the appearance of a fresh corpse than her. "Doubt it was the suicide kind. Still…" He moves to help Rory up… Which serves to get her out of the way for him to use a small syringe and ampoule to draw a blood sample from the corpse. Which isn't particularly in keeping with thiefly behaviour… But under the circumstances, it's better to be thorough.

"Be careful. Whoever did this is probably still around, somewhere. Let's get up to the roof."

—-

One by one, the soldatos go down with the Boy Wonder's meticulous dismantling of fire arms and joints. The loud burst of a distracting, electronic whine does nothing for the chaos in the smoke filled room; all part of his plan, once he ventures out of the hall and into the passage just in time to see the redhead dart past him and move up the stairs.

You're hurt.

"I can look at it later," she tells him. "Like I said, this isn't my first rodeo, but we really have to get out of here, V— " She gawks a little bit at the mask on his face. "Wow, I guess you really liked Carnevale, huh? Or are you just a fan of the classic thieves' motif?" He certainly embodies the look of the debonair masked man, flitting through an exotic city under the cover of night, relieving the rich of their valuables and fighting scores of armed men. Not like she had actually seen his skill in the smoke-filled chamber.

But with the corpse discovered, helped off it by her companion, he takes a sample of his blood while the redhead's own fingers lift to touch the barrel of the rifle clutched on the graying corpse's grip, feeling the heat emanating from it. Blue eyes narrow thoughtfully, glancing back behind her. "We can't stay here," she tells him, somewhat breathless when she turns back around and starts running up the stairs towards the roof.

"And I don't mean just here. I mean Venice. Don Alfonso's dead and they think we had something to do with it. I don't know about you, but there's no way I'm staying in the country after tonight."

Bootsteps take them up to the rooftop access, throwing the doors open. Rory pivots then, heading towards the very end, where the roof of the adjacent building is visible. She doesn't look back; either she is that callous or her ability to assess her sitution is better than anyone ever gives her credit for, and already knows that Alvin could hold his own. She doesn't stop. She doesn't hesitate.

Bracing a boot on the rail, she curls her body forward and soars.

Like some manner of midnight corvid, she sails over the gaps between buildings with nary a blink, not looking down or around. She doesn't even scream. She lands on the tiles of the adjacent roof, letting inertia and gravity pull her across it, tumbling with the agility of a practiced gymnast and effortlessly rolling to her feet. She hurdles over the clay segments, skidding down the sloping angle in speeds that are downright reckless. But she has to, for what's about to follow.

Because the gap is bigger at the very end of the run and she needs all the help that Physics can afford her.

Her boots nail the edge, and she springboards off it, her slender silhouette twisting over the heads of foot traffic and her arms spread on her sides. She is nothing like his older foster brother, but then again, nobody can ever be the aerialist Dick Grayson has become. But she is no novice and she knows precisely how to position her body when she lands, with soft knees and lessening the resistance her body makes against gravity's pull.

Hopefully he follows; his is a death that she doesn't want in her conscience. But she expects him to keep up, not in a habit, really, to underestimate anyone she comes across. It is one of the many reasons why she is still alive, despite having nothing and no one.

When the soldatos finally manage to reach the roof of the palazzo, they would be gone, with nothing but the distant lights of the city to express their condolences on the death of their master.

LATER….

They run until they no longer can't, but considering the two of them, they get pretty far.

Rory slows until she stops, leaning her back against the side of a nearby cafe and taking a breath, heat misting in the Italian springtime's chilly air. The copious amounts of adrenaline surging through her veins are enough to blunt the pain in her arm. She tilts her head to look at the gash on her upper arm and the blood drops brimming out of it.

"What a fucking mess," she breathes, lifting a hand to scrub her hand over her face, fingers coming away damp from the thin sheen of dew from her skin. "This wasn't what I signed up for when I took this job."

—-

Asymmetrical combat is the nature of the Work.

Nine times out of ten, there's going to be more of them than there are of you. Gang members, or some outfit's footsoldiers, or ninjas… Bad guys have a way of coming at you en masse. Learning how to even the odds - strike and fade tactics, sowing chaos, creating fear - was one of the first things he was taught about working in the field. Now, it's second nature to him, synthesised with all the other things he's learned over the years, and now he was faster, stronger, smarter than he was as a fourteen year old.

Operating without his staff, without much of his bag of tricks is limiting his options, but there's no point in wishing for what you don't have when a bunch of angry Italian gangsters are trying to murder you. Work with what you have. Improvise. Escape.

The redhead's gawking and her comment about his mask draws a lopsided slash of a grin from him. It does, as it happens, fit with that whole gentleman thief aesthetic. She might be onto something there… But the fashion considerations of Alvin Draper, thief, were for another time when there were less people out to shoot him.

Once he's gotten a blood sample from the corpse, the syringe is capped and stowed away, though he hardly seems to be paying attention when 'Rory' checks the heat of the assassin's weapon.

We can't stay here, she says, already taking off up the stairs.

He lingers long enough to close the dead assassin's eyes, before scattering something on the floor - caltrops, because as a point of fact he is kind of a ninja - and then following. He's well aware that the city is about to become entirely too hot for them, perhaps even the entire country of Italy. She was probably right that they should get out of the city that very night, but he had a few loose ends he still needed to take care of. Things which could lead to some dangerous secrets being exposed.

Not that his rented suite was in the name Alvin Draper any more than it was Tim Drake.

Or that the building he was staying in wasn't owned by a certain multinational corporation based in Gotham City, either.

In the meantime, he follows her across the roof just as quickly, just as recklessly. Running the rooftops was another thing that had long since become second nature to him, moving up and over and around and through obstructions in ways that didn't cut down his speed at all, vaulting across that first gap with the ease of someone who spends far too much time doing similar things.

The last, longer jump he has the advantage: He's a bit taller than the redhead, he has longer legs. Like her, he flips over, arms stretched out for balance and, for a long moment, he hangs inverted over the unsuspecting pedestrians below, his feet straight up above him, turning over to land with surprising ease.

But, yes - Nightwing would've done it better.

LATER…

"I seem to remember somebody bringing up 'occupational hazards,'" he remarks off of Rory's claim that it wasn't what she'd signed up for, in the midst of catching his breath. Carefully regulating his breathing, slowly easing down his own heartbeat through an act of will. Mind over body, an incredible level of control over his own physiology. He's still exhausted, toxins built up in his body leaving his limbs feeling heavy, but he doesn't sound it.

Instead, from somewhere, he produces a disinfectant wipe, which will definitely hurt when he applies it to the bleeding flesh wound on her arm, and then a pad bandage to adhere over the injury. Stitches would be better, but this will at least keep her from bleeding everywhere in the short term.

"Anyway, this time you managed to keep your clothes on, so I'd say you're definitely improving."

—-

It's rare to find someone by accident who can keep up with her, but somehow Glitch has managed to come across such a one. With an appreciative grin angled in his direction, they vanish into the shadows.

They return to the light in the midst of a pedestrian flood and the warm lights of a nearby cafe, the scent of pizza and pasta filling the air. Her head rolled back against the wall, she concentrates on nothing but breathing, to calm herself and reclaim enough of the air she lost to stop the sharp, stabbing pain on her side for having run so fast. But she doesn't dare to close her eyes - they've obtained a considerable distance between the mafia guards and themselves, but in the advent of modern technology, she's certain that calls have been made already, and there'll be eyes and guns on the streets.

She is about to say the very thing when Alvin's taller shadow falls over her own, blue eyes looking up with a start when he slips his fingers through the torn hole of her jacket, to apply the disinfectant and the bandage. She bites back a wince, a tight smirk directed at him. "Well, my occupation isn't usually so murderous. Just how many pockets do you have on you? I've never seen anyone pack as much shit as you do in there." Mischief flares in her eyes. "You got a secret fanny pack or something?"

When he says that she is definitely improving, her eyes roll skyward. "I had a reason," she tells him, pushing away from the wall. "Thanks for the patch-up. We should get off the street as quickly as we can, though. Any suggestions?"

She pauses, and she angles a look at his direction. "You doing alright?"

She starts moving at that, not one to stay in one place for too long; the likes of her lead transient lives, he can be assured that when she says that she intends to leave the country in the next few hours, she will.

"So what happened, anyway?" she asks as they weave through the twisting alleys. "With your dad. How'd you lose him?"

—-

Just how many pockets does he have on him?

"Not enough," is the offhanded reply, as he tugs the ripped sleeve of Rory's jacket to sit in a way that hides the bandage underneath. It helps that she dresses in layers, makes it easier to obscure her recent injury… Anyone getting close enough to see what's being concealed is going to be able to see the bloodstains anyway. "Anyway, you're not the only one with trade secrets you aren't about to give away. Who knows? Maybe it's magic."

It's not.

He doesn't entirely believe in magic, really, and his tone of voice when he makes the suggestion to the redhead says that loud and clear. Certainly nothing so practical and paradoxically mundane as to let him hide more equipment on his person. Evil rituals and stuff, sure, he can grok that no problem.

She asks him if he has any suggestions for where they might get off the street long enough to regroup, and he has to think. He has to consider the possible dangers of taking her back to his rented suite - it's not like he left his Robin suit laying around, he still has to hide stuff away and worry about housekeeping showing up, but she's a thief. Respecting boundaries is not likely to be in her nature, if she gets curious. Of course, she has to go and ask him serious questions, wondering if he's doing all right.

Asking him about his father.

"I'm always all right," he replies automatically. Even before all of this, before the secrets and the lies and the getting into fistfights with Scarecrow in an alleyway at 1am on a school night, letting other people worry about him had been anathema. So he was always fine. He was always all right. And everyone else, even the few people who knew those secrets of his, were kept at a safe distance where he could worry about them and they weren't allowed to worry about him.

Maybe that was why Stephanie died.

As they move through the alleys, he has to sort out his own deceit. Remember what he'd told her. She was asking how he'd lost his father, yes, but she didn't mean Jack Drake, dead on the floor with a boomerang embedded in his chest. She meant…

"He left," he explains, simply. "He's a secretive kinda guy. If it was just me he'd left behind… I'd let it go. But it's not. Other people were counting on him."

He's used to being left behind, after all. His parents did it all the time when he was little, and then they each did it to him one final time.

Intellectually, he knew it was inevitable. Everyone died.

Emotionally, part of him - the boy who'd grown up alone except for his housekeeper, who'd known that his only neighbours were secretly Batman and Robin, a secret he could never tell them or anyone until the day he'd seen no alternative (part of his mind stirred at the idea of Wayne Manor being his only neighbours, but the though vanished as quickly as it came, disapparing as if it had never existed), whose few civilian friends had whittled down to exactly one - believed he must somehow deserve it.

"This way," he growls, grabbing Glitch by the hand and tugging her into a different alleyway, moments before two burly shadows cross in the direction they'd been headed. He draws her down another route, moving decisively rather than with apparent randomness… As though he knew exactly where he was going.

Because he does: He recognised the alley, remembered the route through the tight back paths of Venice towards his own hotel. It's the only option, right now. A brief stop there, and once he's tied up those loose ends, they can go their separate ways out of Venice.

—-

I'm always alright.

"I'll take your word for it, but if you're bleeding buckets, I'll drown you in the canal myself," Rory warns, her tone light - it's done in half-jest, but there's an edge of seriousness to it. Not that she would, murder is anathema to her nature as a thief, given the mess it always involves, but the implication is sound in the fact that he's a liability if he hides an injury to the point that it becomes a devastating impediment for the both of them, as opposed to just simply telling her the truth so they could take care of it immediately, and reduce the risk.

He seems to be telling the truth, which is why she doesn't press it. She doesn't see any wounds on his person.

If she senses that he's attempting to backtrack and keep his lies straight, the redhead doesn't show it. If nothing else, their survival is her paramount concern, now and the requirements of the moment necessitate not caring too much about the circumstances as to why he decided to insert himself in her affairs. If nothing else, having back-up had helped tremendously this evening; the last thing she expected was an assassination attempt with a plot twist.

Every shadow flanking her sets her teeth on edge, though she walks briskly enough to keep up with him, keeping her calm. She listens and the story helps assuage the urge to grit her teeth. Anyone would callously respond that a deadbeat father was not worth going after, but her situation is different. In his position, in light of her own, she would do the same thing.

"So what makes you think he's here or passed through here and tied to gangsters like the Manieros?" she wonders.

She is oblivious to the underlying nature of his pain, but she senses it regardless, tastes it as sharply as the apprehension in the back of her tongue. She knows because she can relate, a deep-seated, momentary commonality that she can't explain. It catches her offguard enough that she doesn't even protest when Alvin grabs her hand, rasps in that low tone and steers her into another narrow avenue, just in time to duck a few threatening shadows. Her grip over his tightens, a reflection of nervous tension.

Rory looks over her shoulder, content to let him lead the way.

"These streets are going to be crawling with agents in a few hours," she tells him quietly. "You ought to probably bail and come back once the heat dies down, maybe. Plus….what happened. I've heard about something like it before, when I was at another job."

She doesn't give any additional details after that. She can be patient and it's paid off in spades, keeping in step with him until their destination building looms before them.

And it looks like they're going through the back.

—-

'That's none of your business,' he should tell her.

Given the profile of the red-haired young thief that he's been putting together since he met her, it's fairly likely that response would drive her off entirely. Then they could go their separate ways once they'd gotten safely off the streets, and he'd never have to worry about running into her again. Just snap at her, let her know that her curiousity is unwelcome.

"He has a talent for getting himself into situations with bad people," the young man replies instead. "And some people I spoke to in Paris suggested he'd passed through Venice recently."

And good riddance, the Frenchman had growled around his cigarette. Henri Ducard was, if nowhere near the world's deadliest assassin, certainly one of its cleverest… A man in his line of work, especially one who specialised in finding marks who nobody else could find, didn't live to be grey-haired and bitter without being smarter than the average hired gun. You listen to me, boy. When that man doesn't want to be found, it means he's engaged in some deadly foolishness. Go back to America. You chase that quarry, you might find yourself in something that makes that debacle in Hong Kong look like a walk in the park.

Ducard had still told him, though. The old mercenary had sent him to steal that painting, one Ducard himself had been hired to obtain - he did more than just assassinations to pay the bills, or perhaps it was part of a scheme to flush out some quarry; he certainly hadn't been about to tell Robin - and he wasn't in the business of denying fair pay for work well done.

"No time," he says, when she suggests finding somewhere else to lay low for a bit before coming back. "I'll stitch up your arm, give you a change of clothes, and you can go where you want."

He should ask about where she'd heard about 'what happened' before on another job, press her for details… But they weren't safe, not yet.

The back entry to his hotel opens up with a keycard, one which 'Alvin' happens to have a copy of for whatever reason. Normally, it would be an emergency exit, or a loading entrance - right now, in the dark of night, the back lot was empty. Inside, up the stairs to his floor, though he carefully checks outside the stairwell door before leading Rory out of there and towards his room, which opens with a different keycard.

The suite inside is nice. Not as nice as it would be if he'd used his real name, but that would've brought all sorts of problems his way. Door to the bedroom is shut, keeping its secrets away from prying eyes, and the main sitting room and the like is dimly lit, the lights of the cityscape shining in through large windows.

Still, he sweeps the room, his mask's vision switching to thermographic, looking for unusual heat signatures. Once he's satisfied - if he's satisfied - that there's no interlopers, he takes off the mask and pockets it, moving to get the first aid kit out of the spacious bathroom.

"Shed some layers, I need to get at your arm," he instructs. "Then sit down, and tell me about this other job where you heard about something like that before."

—-

No time.

There had been a slight incline of her head at that, cool blue eyes watching his profile as they moved. Her expression is downright inscrutable, but he should have expected that by now; she is no genius, but the fact that she has survived at the age she's in while in a dangerous profession without support from anyone says more than anything else she could actually reveal about herself, speaks of the kind of mental acuity that uses every little thing she has been given and runs a hundred miles with each. But whatever conclusion she mined from those two little words, she kept to herself.

Rory shadows him in silence, she makes absolutely no sound when they flit through the shadows and up the floors leading to his suite. There's a glance at the keycard, makes note of the difference, before they venture inside. Another suite, it is a shade or two lower in the opulence scale of the room she procured for herself, an investment made possible by the actual Mary Baker's passport and credit card. But unlike what he has expected before, she doesn't help herself to his personal effects. She doesn't immediately start opening drawers and peering what is inside.

Instead, within full view of the cavernous bathroom he ducks into, the redhead sheds her jacket and hoodie, and sits down. The black, sleeveless turtleneck she wears is a perfect match of hue of the network of intricate tattoos that worm down her shoulder and down her elbow. Inside the dim light of his hotel room, her blood runs black, soaking through the bandage he quickly applied to her while they were on the street.

"So the family business, huh?" she wonders at last. Her curiosity about his family life is strange in itself, sparked by something that wouldn't be evident by anything outward, visible and obvious about her. "Being ne'erdowells. What did you figure then, Vin? Did you grow up thinking you'd be better than your dad?"

She doesn't know why it matters, what happened in South Africa. Slender shoulders lift upwards. "They were rumors," she tells him, tilting her head back to look at the ceiling in recollection. "Pretty substantiated for rumors, though. I wasn't there, but I was in the city working another heist with an acquaintance who didn't really give me much of a choice but to come with him. I figured there wouldn't be any harm." Her eyes move back to look at Tim when he rejoins her. "He's a dangerous guy, and I like having dangerous friends."

Though really, dangerous doesn't even begin to describe the man who took her along to Cape Town.

"While I was there, someone got killed. Not just anyone…don't remember his name, but he was a politician. Director of Public Prosecutions. He made his career putting away human traffickers in the country." Her uninjured arm lifts, fingers pulling through her tousled red hair. "The hit was advertised….from what I heard, the assassin actually let the guy know ahead of time that he was coming for him."

—-

Did you grow up thinking you'd be better than your dad?

"No," is the answer the redhead receives for that question. It's truthful, in either case. Neither his father, nor the man who had recently legally adopted him would really be termed 'thieves' - though certainly, on the path that he walked to become the Batman, Bruce Wayne had been in situations where he'd had to steal to survive, so that he could better understand the criminals he sought to defeat - and neither man was someone he really needed to surpass in any sort of moral sense.

Although probably there were people who would offer up some disagreement about that latter assessment, at least where the Dark Knight was concerned. he could be… Difficult.

"He wasn't some scumbag. He always worked with a code, and he taught me to do the same. Something to keep us different from the animals who stained their work with blood."

The idea of honour among thieves was, by and large, a fantasy… But it was an appealing one, wasn't it? The gentleman thief with a code was an enduring fixture in the popular consciousness, from Robin Hood, to A.J. Raffles, to Arsene Lupin, to Simon Templar.

Kneeling down beside Glitch now that she's got her jacket and her hoodie removed, he looks over her intricate tattoo work only briefly. It's an unusual choice for a thief and a con who seems to favour her anonymity, more the sort of thing you'd see from someone who was a member of some sort of organisation or society… But again, he'd seen no trace of a connection between her and any of the known underground societies.

"Do these go all over?" he asks, because Alvin Draper would. The dashing rogue, the flirt. Nightwing would've had a cooler line.

His remark made, he instead listens, listens to her explain about the Cape Town job, her 'dangerous friend', and the assassination that had happened while she was there. It doesn't ring any immediate bells, but a little searching later would probably turn up whatever he needs to know about it, while he checks the dead assassin's blood for whatever it is that killed him.

"Seems pretty coincidental, that your dangerous friend was in town and some big shot got killed," he remarks, pulling the bandage off of her arm with a single quick motion. Next, he disinfects the injury again, before lightly smearing a pale blue goo on the skin around the wound. It's cold, and it stings, but numbness sets in as the local anaesthetic goes to work.

"Hold still," he tells her, quietly but firmly, bracing her shoulder with one hand while, with the other, he uses a small surgical needle and thread to stitch her arm shut. He focuses on it with the kind of laser precision that suggests the rest of the world falls away completely, that the only thing that exists to him right now is what he's doing. Not some quick hackjob to make sure she heals well enough and then kicking her out the door: It would become clear fairly quickly, to a perceptive young woman like the redhead, that he was being careful, to reduce the potential scarring as much as possible.

He was trying to make sure her tattoo wasn't ruined.

"Did you hear anything about the Don being warned ahead of time? Maybe that was why he had all the extra guards?" he asks, offhandedly, while he works. To help keep her distracted while he stitches her up.

—-

He wasn't some scumbag.

"I figured you didn't think he wasn't if you're getting shot at and framed all because you're looking for him," Rory remarks, tossing her outerwear away. "Not like it matters to me, anyway. Even if he was, I think I'd be doing much the same thing you're doing." She inclines her head at him, a more rueful quality teasing her smile. "Doesn't sound like you're talking about the business of thieving, though. Not just that, anyway."

His eyes roam over her tattoos and it is, indeed, a curious choice for someone who values her anonyimity and being just another face in the crowd, a measure of individuality embedded on her skin. The flirtatious remark has her rolling her eyes skyward. "You can find out for yourself, if you like," she tells him, calling his bluff, leaning back on the floor with one hand. Fingers move to toy suggestively over the clasp of her belt. "If you're interested."

Those toying fingers stop; the hand extends to flick her index finger in the center of his forehead.

"But you're not," she tells him. "Seriously, Vin, I'd be able to tell if you were."

Straightening up from her lean, there's a firm shake of her head at his suggestion. "There's no way," she tells him. "He was with me around the time the lawyer was killed, so it couldn't have been him. My friend's capable of a lot of things, but being in two places at the same time is definitely not part of his skillset, as extensive as it is." She barely flinches when he rips the bandage off her skin quickly, curious eyes falling on the gel he swipes over her bleeding cut.

There isn't much reaction to that either, save for a brief tightening around the corners of those crystal-clear eyes.

The quiet clicks from his apparatus fill the resulting silence afterwards. She keeps herself still, able to do so without complaint; he could assume that she could hold the same position for hours, and he wouldn't be wrong. He isn't the only one in the room who can act like a ninja. Her stare wanders away from him again while he works, taking in the walls of his suite, and whatever spare items may be lying around. There isn't much.

His question about the don has her nodding. "I didn't hear anything," she tells him. "But I was thinking the same thing. Don Alfonso's careful, but he's not paranoid. All that security went above and beyond precaution, and putting us in the one room in the place without windows, to boot, surrounded in all sides. He didn't trust anyone tonight that he didn't vet, himself."

She shakes her head. "But the Cape Town job ended up the same way, pretty much. The lawyer got killed…by someone really good. He attacked when he said he was gonna, location, date, time. Even with the challenges, the skill was beyond professional, much like what we saw tonight. Story just turned stranger, there. They found the assassin, too. Strung up by laser wire."

A different method of killing than they witnessed by poison, but…

"Too many points of commonality, though, I think," she says. "A difficult mark, near impossible methods of assassinations, and the super-skilled assassin killed shortly after by some other assassin? It's weird, right?"

In the few months following, Tim Drake couldn't even begin to imagine just how weird and dangerous all of this will become, but for now it is another mystery that generates more questions than answers.

—-

She calls his bluff, his remark wondering how extensive her tattooing actually was, and for a moment 'Alvin' actually looks surprised. Heat starts to rise in his cheeks as she moves her hand to toy with the clasp of her belt, but before he can actually make some kind of protest, she's flicking him in the forehead, and telling him that she knows he isn't interested.

The weird part is that he finds that strangely offensive. It's the sort of offense only a teenaged boy can really take, one supposes, viewing the statement as a potential slight against his masculinity… As well as one against his subtlety. As though he couldn't be interested in somebody physically and keep it to himself! She can't imagine how many women in tight costumes he's had to deal with, as Batman's sidekick!

Honestly, it's no wonder Dick Grayson turned out the way he did.

"Sorry I haven't been leering at your ass the whole time," he mutters. "It's been a busy few days."

Of course, the reason it really bothers him is that she's right. Currently, whether or not the red-haired, unexpectedly tattooed thief was attractive or not was the last thing on his mind. Even the offense slips away quickly enough, as he focuses on trying to learn what he can from her, and focuses on stitching up her injured arm while leaving as little permament marking behind as he can.

"I was figuring inside job," he says, of the assassination of Don Alfonso. "The knowledge of the palazzo's secret passages, the presence of the extra guards and useful scapegoats… Someone with access to the Don's schedule could've arranged it so that taking us out would keep security preoccupied while they got rid of anything else that might've led back to the real killer. But if the Don had been forewarned, and then someone else had decided to take out the assassin…"

The similarities are undeniable, even if the methodologies are different. It catches his interest, as it can't help but do, the detective unable to resist a mystery, just as he'd been unable to resist tracking down the other thief. Someone hiring assassins to take down other assassins? Or maybe…

"It's definitely weird. But whatever it is doesn't have much to do with a couple of thieves, right?"

Finishing up the stitches, he gently ties off the end, carefully cutting to leave as little extra threading as possible, before he wipes away the blood and the contact anaesthetic with wetnaps, and then places a new bandage pad over the cut.

"You should get out of Europe, not just Italy," he tells her. "Go someplace sunny, tropical. Lounge on a beach for a while. A nice little vacation."

—-

She blinks once at the sight of ruddy red pushing up from under his slightly-tanned complexion.

For that brief moment, something other than the dashing art thief and the stone-cold professional slips out of the cracks, the part of him that sits in between, closer to the teenaged boy looking for his father than any of the masks that he's shown her in the last few days, whirling around like a roulette. While there's some satisfaction there, there's a hint of genuine warmth; Rory tilts her head back against the bed behind her, laughter escaping at his offended mutter.

If she knew about all the other tightly-dressed women throwing themselves at him as Batman's unfairly muscled teenaged sidekick, in the light of this moment where every book or movie would be expecting some other kind of amorous development, she'd probably laugh even harder. As it is, it probably doesn't help that she's laughing as he silently grouses about his inability to call up the best parts of Dick Grayson when it comes to dealing with the members of the opposite gender. Not like it matters in the end, but still, being able to unleash something is a relief; bands of tension unwind from her chest at the very act.

"There's nothing wrong with that," she tells him. "Look, sorry to bust your bubble on your rakish reputation, but you're not the only one who can figure shit out pretty quickly. You're just gonna have to deal with the fact that you've got some really competent competition around."

She catches that glimpse of interest, too, just before he turns away to retrieve another bandage. Rory inspects his work, an approving twist to the line of her mouth when she regards the meticulous row of stitching over the black bands of her tattoo. "Though if being a thief doesn't work out for you, you've got a bright future ahead of you if you decide to go to medical school," she offers, right when he plasters the bandage on her skin.

He thinks inside job, but the pale red-haired young woman shakes her head. "If it was an inside job that they're trying really hard to make look like an outside job, they came up with a really complicated way to do it, and you can't guarantee success with that many moving parts, especially when you're bringing in two wildcards in the equation." She points to him, and then to herself. "That's definitely not how I would do it, anyway."

It's definitely weird…

He's right there. Whatever just happened has very little to do with them.

At least, she hopes so, anyway.

But when he tells her to get out of Europe entirely, she wrinkles her nose at him. "I'm not done with the continent yet," she tells him, though she doesn't explain why. "I'm definitely out of Italy by tonight, but I can't just leave this side of the world right now. You're not the only one looking for something, Vin."

With that, she slowly stands up, moving to retrieve her hoodie and her jacket, pulling one over the other, and rolling her shoulder.

"What about you? Don't tell me you're sticking around."

—-

Honestly, the ginger thief is very lucky that he's not a vindictive person. A vindictive person would've probably made the stitches hurt more than was strictly necessary after she laughed at him.

"It's pretty rude to laugh at the guy who just saved your life and stitched you up," he notes, though he doesn't sound like he's actually angry, or anything. He doesn't bother to put on even the appearance of mirth, now, but there is a kind of… Vague, dry amusement now that she's apologised for bursting the bubble on his 'rakish reputation'.

The mention of the success he might have if he went to medical school goes unremarked. It wasn't the first time he's heard it, and of course he's considered the possibility… But being a doctor, no matter how morally rewarding it might feel, would take up too much of his time. Any 'career' he undertakes as an adult would be a second job, at best, after all. Simpler to go with something in business, or maybe a law degree, to remain part of the Wayne business empire.

"No, you're right," he agrees about his initial 'inside job' theory. "That was just what I'd figured when we were actually getting shot at. Once I saw the dead assassin it seemed a lot less likely." He doesn't like to rule anything out completely until he's got all the facts, and of course it's still quite possible that the initial assassin was hired by someone inside of the family, but… No, he was overcomplicating it. She was right, it was too many moving parts to ensure everything would come off without a hitch. And the second killer… Someone must've known there was a contract out on the Don, and decided to, what? Remove future competition?

There's a faint sound of annoyance from the young man when Rory says she isn't 'done with' Europe just yet despite his eminently sensible advice to get out of the whole place for a while. He's not the only one looking for something, she says.

He watches her, for a long silent moment, as she slowly stands up. His eyes, rendered a green-tinged blue by the contact lenses he was wearing, study her slender figure.

"I've got something I need to check, first, but I don't plan in staying in Venice much longer," he says, finally rising himself, and moving towards a wardrobe drawer, opening it. He pulls out a t-shirt (it's green, with a Green Lantern logo on the front), and a dark hoodie, and he tosses them towards her.

"Change into those, at least. Get rid of the bloodstained clothes, and take a jacket from the closet. I know you've probably got alternate plans, but the less time you spend wearing something that might draw attention, the better."

—-

"I wouldn't be laughing if said guy who just saved my life and stitched me up wasn't so ridiculous," Rory points out, flashing him a broad, unrepentant grin. "Besides, I hope you don't mean to lord that over me. I'm capable of returning the favor." There's a point of pride, there, of being as young as she is, but able enough to go so far on her own, with little to no assistance from anyone. Tim Drake had been nurtured, guided….alias Lorelei Lee, as far as she knows, had simply been dropped in the middle of a desert with nothing but a small bottle of water, expected to make it across the sands with nothing else.

The sound of annoyance has her tilting her head back at him, a brow inching upward over her right eye. "Oh, please," she tells him. "At least I'm getting out of here right away, you're the crazy one who wants to stick around."

His long scrutiny is borne with good grace; if she notices, she doesn't show it, folding her hoodie over one arm. She's about to reach for her jacket, when fingers suddenly move sideways, snapping out to catch the shirt and the much larger hoodie tossed her way without looking at them, or even seeing them. If nothing else, she doesn't seem to be exaggerating about being capable of returning any life-saving favors.

There's a curious glance at the logo of the green shirt, squinting at it. "…what. Really?" There's another laugh, and she doesn't give him any warning when she drops both bundles she's holding so she could turn around until her back is facing him, and divest herself of her sleeveless turtleneck. More of her tattoos would be visible, though only on her other arm, a similar design curling on the curve of her shoulder, which doesn't extend as far as her sleeve.

It's loose on her, but she tugs on the sleeves to cover up the bandage he had applied on her upper arm. And in a show of simple Girl Magic, she pinches the hem against the flat of her stomach, drawing out the two longer ends to tie it snugly over her ribcage and above her midriff, pulling the knot to the side of her torso instead of the middle. The result looks more done out of some geek chic design, rather than rolling out of bed and getting dressed in a boyfriend's gear. She foregoes the hoodie he gives her, and picks up her own jacket.

"Torn clothing is all the rage anyway," she tells him, wadding up her hoodie and blood-spattered turtleneck, giving him a smile. "I'm not gonna raid your entire wardrobe just so I'll be able to pass off as someone anonymous in the streets of Venice, Vin. I'll be fine."

Striding over, she hands him his hoodie back.

"I'm probably gonna regret asking this, but what're you off to check, anyway?" She inclines her head at him. "Because if you're gonna go off chasing killers that kill professional killers, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you as to how insane that sounds."

—-

I hope you don't mean to lord that over me.

"No," he replies, the sentiment seemingly final, hanging for a long moment before he adds: "Just occasional reminders."

He's joking, really, as largely alien to him as the concept seems these days. Everything that's happened to him over the past year and change might have put him in a darker place, more grim, more serious, scouring away the boy that he should still be… But his core principles are unchanged. He helps people, saves people. He would've saved the life of the worst person in the world, in the chaos in the palazzo. He would've saved Monique d'Aubigny, if he could've. He would've saved Don Alfonso, if he could've.

But he couldn't, and as pragmatic and cold as he tries to be, he'll regret it and remember it. He'll remember the sight of the red-haired fixer laying on the floor, paralysed and suffocating from the bullet that tore through her spine, drowning in her own blood. The look of horror on her face in her final moments, the gurgling sound as she tried futilely to breathe. He'll remember the hole the high-powered rifle put through the body of Don Alfonso, the awful feeling of relief that, mercifully, the man had died instantly.

She calls him crazy for not planning on leaving Venice on the hour, which is fair enough and gets no dispute from him. She catches the clothes he throws her way without even looking, her reflexes beyond merely excellent - which was what he'd expected of her, after what he'd seen of her in action.

And then, despite laughing at the Green Lantern logo tee, she turns away and, without warning or hesitation, divests herself of her sleeveless turtleneck.

In a way, it answers his earlier question about how covering her ink was.

She catches him offguard with that, but at least she turned around. His first reflex is to look away… A reflex that he deliberately fights against, because after she made him blush earlier he wasn't about to give her the satisfaction a second time. Instead, he watches the play of the muscles of her back as she draws the t-shirt on, noting the faint spray of freckles that run down her spine, like a milky way of tiny stars barely visible against her creamy complexion.

He notices details, because he's actively trying to avoid thinking about the fact that she's topless right there in front of him.

He takes the hoodie she offers him back, after her display of Girl Magic, but he gets the feeling she's not going to listen if he tries to argue with her about it. It wasn't as though he was going to run out of clothes anytime soon, after all. Instead, she turns things around on what he is going to do.

"You seem like the sort of person who doesn't like having regrets in life, Rory, so we'll probably both be happier if I just don't answer your question. Just get yourself safely out of Italy, since you won't listen to me about going somewhere in the Caribbean. Or, I hear New Zealand is nice…"

—-

Just occasional reminders.

He's rewarded with another peal of laughter at that. "Yeah. Thought so."

But she is not devoid of a sense of humor, if nothing else, she clings to it as stubbornly as anything - a defense mechanism, most days, to move forward comfortably dressed in the fiction that nothing or nobody could ever get under her skin. In this moment, it's natural and real, accurately sensing a joke when she hears it, and knows that he is far from attempting to offend her with the white-knight routine. Whoever he is, he is not selfish with his aid - she wonders, deep down, whether it's the code that he had been talking about, in relation to his missing father.

Wouldn't that be a stretch? To come across a selfless thief?

She is oblivious to how the bodies of those he failed to save will haunt him, and darken his outlook on his life even further. To be in this profession entails some degree of pragmatism, to abandon hopeless causes so one could live to fight and steal another day. And as Rory prepares herself to venture out into the world again, as she can't stay here forever, she is already thinking of next steps - the train station, and the locker she had rented, to take the majority of her kit, handily packed in the backpack he had seen her tote around occasionally. Ready to go once circumstances make it necessary.

With her turned around, she doesn't know that he's looking, either, but she fully expects him to at least avert his eyes, given his earlier reaction. So when she turns around to face him, dressed in the loaner shirt, she suspects nothing of his attempt at rebellion.

When he takes the hoodie she returns to him, she's already pulling her jacket over her shoulders.

"What are you trying to say?" she wonders, sliding her fingers in her pockets and rocking back lightly on her heels. "That I'm somehow gonna regret leaving you to tackle it by yourself because I intend to leave? Aren't you underestimating me a little bit?"

Her mouth tilts in a rueful bent. "Not saying I'm really that callous, though I can be, when I want to be." The expression tempers into something more serious. "But I'd be the last person to look at how young you are and think that you're getting into something you can't handle by yourself. I kept hearing it, you know? From people older than me, from people as young as me. I prove them wrong every time. Hell if nothing else, it only makes me try harder."

She lifts her shoulders in a faint shrug. "I'm not gonna bend your ear with the typical shit either. Say something like…" And she twists her voice in a high-pitched falsetto. "Oh mah god, you're a thief, I'm a thief, we've got so much in common let's, like, totally rock this town." It fades with a smirk. "If nothing else, judging from what I've seen in the last couple of days, I'm pretty sure we're two incredibly different people. But if I had to guess as to where our personalities and characteristics intersect? It would be there."

—-

Some who knew of the things he does in his costumed identity would call him more pragmatic than other 'capes', certainly… But his pragmatism doesn't extend to giving up on apparently hopeless causes in quite the same way the thief's must. For her, it's a survival mechanism, and an understandable one at that. Sometimes you have to cut your losses, in the face of insurmountable odds. Only the most venal and narcissistic of thieves would put getting their hands on the mark ahead of their own survival.

But for him, it was different.

He couldn't tell her that, of course, because he was still pretending to be a thief, albeit one with a code like the gentleman adventurers and dashing rogues out of fiction. He couldn't tell her that the idea of giving up in the face of hopeless, insurmountable odds was antithetical to the training he'd received. Not to be foolhardy, or suicidal - not without cause, anyway - but that one should never surrender. That with willpower and cunning, even a mortal man can accomplish miracles.

Once he'd started to follow in the footsteps of the Bat, it was inevitable that he would have to stare into the abyss. The darkness of the human soul, and all the terrible, awful things that people do to one another. It's just that when you do what he does, you're expected to become the kind of person who makes the abyss blink first.

"You're the one who figured you'd regret asking," he reminds her, brushing a hand through his casually touseled hair, the other one dropping to his side, holding the rejected hoodie. But she turns rueful, and then unexpectedly serious. She talks about what she thinks is the one point of commonality between the two of them, that they were both types of people who would only respond to being told they couldn't handle something by working to prove that they could.

"Okay, first of all, never do that valley girl thing again. It really doesn't suit you," he tells her, shaking his head. "And secondly, you're right. Neither of us is going to be convinced to not do what we feel we need to. Just… Be careful, okay?" Which is a bit rich, coming from him. "The world would be a little bit worse, if you went off and got yourself killed."

Although, again, she isn't the one about to go investigating a bunch of assassins who assassinate other assassins.

—-

You're the one who figured you'd regret asking.

"That doesn't mean I won't regret it in other ways," Rory replies, shooting him a look and firing back on his retort before she even blinks. "Like watching you circle the drain with distractions again until I just give up on asking altogether. You're lucky I'm the independent and easygoing sort, Vin. Unlike other people in this room, I don't make it a habit of stalking people I don't really know."

True to her word, she doesn't insist, or even offer. And unlike his earlier disappearing act in her suite two days ago, she does the normal thing and saunters towards the door with her hands stuffed in her pockets. Opening it up, she rolls her head along her shoulder to look at him when he asks her to be careful. Eyebrows shoot up towards her hairline.

"I'm the one doing the smart thing and leaving the city, Vin," she tells him, laughter more implied by her tone than actually heard. "Not gonna say I like living dangerously either, because I'm pretty attached to my hide. Can't promise anything, but you can be assured that even if things get bad, I'll find a way out. I'm assuming it's the same for you."

She's not done with this world yet; if nothing else, it is teeming with unfinished business.

Pressing her index and middle fingers to her lips, she blows him a kiss, before booted feet take several steps out of his suite, the door shutting behind her.

—-

It's better that way.

Using deflection, distraction and lies to create a distance between himself and Rory, to create a kind of safety. How many times had he snuffed out potential friendships like that, since he took up the mantle of the Boy Wonder? Or things that might've been more than friendships? Ariana Dzerchenko, Zoanne Wilkins… It hadn't worked on Spoiler, and look where that had gotten her, killed in an explosion. It had carved away the friends in his life, sacrifices to the necessities of a secret identity, until there was just Ives in his civilian life, and Superboy, Impulse and Wonder Girl in his superheroic one.

But even them, he'd distanced himself from. Right now, it was better that way.

It had to be.

So he doesn't say anything to try and absolve himself, or ameliorate what Rory says. He just watches, quietly, as she leaves after he exhorts her to be careful. Of course, he knew that she would be, because she was a survivor by nature… But still, he felt that he ought to actually say so.

When she blows him that kiss, and then leaves, shutting the door behind her, he finds himself feeling curiously guilty. He shouldn't, really. She was a thief, and he was sure that by the time she'd gotten out of Venice she would've put Alvin Draper and his fate entirely out of her mind. Besides, he had other things to worry about.

He's already peeling off his clothes as he moves into the other room, the one with the shut and locked door, with the blackout curtains. The only light inside is the harsh blue of computer monitors, but it's enough to see by, looking at that red and black costume with the yellow R on its breast.

"Okay, Robin," he tells himself. "Time to get to work."

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