Disclaimer: I do not own DC. Just binged a bunch of the Warner Bros. animated DC films. That's some good shit. I can sit down and enjoy them more than a lot of the live action stuff.
...Other than Batman: Hush. Fuck that movie. Astute individuals should know why.
Chapter 31: When In Rome
Max couldn't wipe the grin off of his face as he sat in his comfortable, spacious first-class seat. He hadn't been on a real plane since he was a toddler. It was the vehicle that would finally take him away from Gotham City and all of its misery, to a new land. Somewhere he hadn't seen before. Somewhere that would obviously be better, because anywhere Selina would take him was obviously an improvement.
Selina sat next to him, looking as classy as ever. Even Max cleaned up fairly well to travel. Seeing as how Selina had an image to maintain, she insisted he couldn't just go around in shorts or ratty jeans, and sleeveless shirts or crude graphic t-shirts, the way he normally would have during summer break. He had to dress somewhat better, so he packed a more upscale wardrobe, including the short-sleeved dress shirt, classier pants, and smart shoes currently adorning him.
He felt that she would have been pleased with him, especially considering she had been with him when he'd picked all of those things out, but ever since he'd met her at her apartment, she'd been giving him the side eye. It came to a head when she leaned in close a few minutes after they'd taken off from Gotham.
"What?" Max finally asked, partially dreading the answer, "Did I do something wrong?"
Selina didn't answer at first, instead getting close enough to give him a decent sniff, "Okay, yeah, it's definitely you. Why do you smell like Irish Spring and ozone?"
Max's mouth fell open in surprise, "I showered last night and this morning, and everything I'm wearing is pristine!"
"I know, hence the Irish Spring comment," Selina replied cheekily, "Now what about the other part?"
Max was somewhat hesitant to answer her, given that he knew exactly what had prompted the change in his personal scent, "Uh... it's a long story. But the short version is, I got hit by lightning last night."
Selina raised an eyebrow in curiosity, "During the storm?" Max nodded, getting her to wince in sympathy, "Did it hurt?"
"No, it didn't," Null said, his eyes wide in awed remembrance. He opened himself up to it and prepared to absorb it, playing the role of lightning rod, "It actually felt pretty awesome. Didn't last very long though."
Selina sighed. It could only happen to him. Only the kid she had chosen to associate with would find himself hit by lightning with no ill effects, "I'm assuming you did this on purpose."
"You have good assumptions," Max said with a nod, confirming it all. A silence fell between the two of them, as he refrained from any follow-up explanation.
"Well?" Selina eventually said, flicking Max on the ear before he could put on headphones, "Are you going to tell me why you thought it was a good idea to get hit by lightning?"
Max sensed a lecture coming, and tried his best to subvert it, "I'd rather not. And I didn't think it was a good idea… at least not until after I did it. I just needed to check something."
"What? What in the world could you possibly learn by getting struck by lightning?"
In the privacy of their first-class suite, Max held up a hand and allowed some electricity to crackle between his fingers for a moment, "How much energy I can absorb, for one. And the answer is, more than a lightning strike."
Selina had always wondered how strong Max could really get, especially when he started showing more power than he originally did. It had been a steady, creeping climb over the last year, "...So, you can absorb enough electricity to power a house for a week and a half, and you're saying you can take more? Why do you need to know that?"
She had trained a thief, not a street-sweeper. Max didn't even like fighting. What would he need that much raw power for?
Max sneered slightly at the reminder of why he engaged in his little test, "You know what I was doing last week? Going on a date with Supergirl," Kit could see the surprise on Selina's face. This was news to her, as he hadn't seen fit to inform her of this, "Yeah, and she had a super-stalker. I could do some damage to him in the end, but-."
"-But you didn't have the knockout power to really protect yourself," Selina finished for him knowingly. She had seen the after-effects a day or two afterwards, but figured he'd just had a rougher outing as Null than normal, "You see? This is why we don't interact with the superpowered folk."
Max snorted in amusement, "Really? You're really going there with me right now, Miss I-let-supervillains-hide-out-at-my-bar-and-have-a-thing-with-you-know-who?" Selina swatted at him at the reminders, both of the female company she kept, and of rooftop rendezvouses with Batman, "But yeah, hanging out with Supergirl comes with problems on that level. And I like being alive, so daddy needs more juice."
"Juice that clearly doesn't last," Selina muttered smartly.
"I got a big boost, but it burns off pretty quick. I think it lasted fifteen minutes?" Max explained, "Not sure what the parameters for time or the amount of boost is, but I don't plan on soloing any bad motherfuckers anytime soon-," Or ever, for that matter, "-So, I figure it's fine for now."
Selina relaxed, knowing that Max wasn't going to do anything on his own to draw unwanted attention, "Good, because you shouldn't have to sling any electricity around on vacay."
"I hadn't been planning to," He never particularly planned to use any of his flashier powers. It just ended up happening.
It wasn't like there was anyone wherever they were going who would know him to pick a fight. It wasn't like anything would happen where he'd feel the need to dive into a situation headfirst. As Selina said, he was going on vacation, and he didn't feel like getting caught in the open, all Null-ed out for the world to see in a foreign country overseas.
(11 Hours Later - Rome, Italy - Leonardo da Vinci International Airport)
While leaving the country had been exhilarating, Max had quickly tired of staring at airplane walls and airport corridors, which had been the extent of his travel experience to that point.
Standing out in front of the airport, having carried his luggage and Selina's from baggage claim, he was beginning to get grumpy, "Why are we in Rome anyway?"
"Reasons," Selina replied cryptically, much to Max's displeasure, "It's just the first stop on our little getaway. Why?"
Max regarded his mentor suspiciously, "You know, for us just being on vacation, you seem pretty tense."
Selina grinned and reached over to pinch Max's cheek, which he quickly put a stop to, "Aww... are you worried about me, Maxie?"
Teasing to deflect. It was a play out of Selina's book that Max had long since grown accustomed to, "I can count the number of people who would care if I kicked the bucket on two hands or less. You're one. So, yes, I am," He replied seriously, brushing her hand aside, "If you're working some angle already, I'd like to know so I don't get blindsided, please."
Selina's grin quickly faded as she regarded Max more seriously, "When we get somewhere out of the open, I'll let you know what's going on. I'm warning you though, it's personal."
Max held up his hands and shook his head, "Ah, you don't have to tell me the personal stuff if you don't want," Her business was her business, after all, "Just keep me abreast of the crap might get me killed."
The two lapsed into silence until Max gave a tug to the cart he was using to lug all of their luggage, mostly Selina's around, "Why did you bring so much crap? Do you really need all of this crap?"
Selina sighed at Max's grumbling over her packing habits, "We're going to be mingling with high society quite a bit on our trip. A lady needs her options."
Max opened his mouth to say something smart in return when he was interrupted by a man calling out to them in English with an accent, "Signorina Kyle!" A man in a tailored black suit with smartly coiffed blond hair and sunglasses walked up to them, "I apologize for being late. Don Verinni extends a warm welcome, and looks forward to meeting with you soon. My name is-."
"-Christopher Castillo," Selina interrupted as he approached, "They call you 'The Blond, since a Sicilian with golden hair is pretty rare," She stopped and frowned accusingly, "It's not a dye job, is it?"
Max subtly positioned himself at Selina's side, in a position to react, just in case, "Who is this guy?"
Selina pushed down her sunglasses to look up at the taller blond man, "Mr. Castillo kills people for a living. He's very good at it. Maybe the best in Italy, aren't you?"
Despite being called out for his occupation, Castillo never lost the smirk on his face, "No."
"You're not the best in Italy?" Selina replied innocently.
"No, it's not a dye job," Castillo chuckled, "But I can see someone's done their homework."
Max looked back and forth between the two adults before nudging Selina, "See, that wasn't so hard," He gestured to the hitman standing with them, "This is the crap that could get me killed that I wanted to know about."
Castillio eyed Max from behind his dark shades, "Who is this?"
Selina waved away the question, "My apprentice. Don't mind him. He's just here to be my shadow while I travel," She said, downplaying any potential concerns, "Do you have a car, Blondie? I need a bubble bath, and some pasta. Not necessarily in that order."
Castillo chuckled to himself and went off, presumably to procure a ride. Once he was clearly out of earshot, the travelers from Gotham City could speak more freely.
"His tie looks like a box of Fruity Pebbles threw up on some fabric," Max said.
Selina smiled, thankful that Max was able to give her a laugh, "Dangerous people have a habit of lacking taste," At this point, she lowered her volume, "When we get to the hotel, follow him. I want to see where this Don Verinni is staying before he offers any kind of invitation to us."
Rome was weird to Null. Everything seemed so old. Even older than the old buildings that remained up in Gotham. One thing of note was that the architecture wasn't as... pointy as Gotham's. Despite how old everything seemed, it didn't feel dirty. At least, not as dirty as home felt. The layer of grime he felt walking down the street in Gotham City wasn't as prevalent in Rome.
He'd tailed Castillo, then sent for Selina after getting a distance away. She hadn't screwed around, and had arrived to back him up promptly. She was more zeroed in than he'd ever seen her.
The thief and the cat burglar surveyed the property - a large Rome-styled home in the heart of town, walled off to keep prying eyes away.
Null's eyes strayed toward Catwoman, who was laser-focused on the task at hand of infiltrating the house, "So this Verinni guy is a big deal, huh?"
Catwoman, garbed in her standard work outfit, answered Max without glancing his way, "Don Verinni is the boss of bosses for all of southern Italy. You're aware of the Falcone Family, aren't you?"
Null grinned under his hood at the thought of one of his current primary sources of income and training, 'You mean some of the guys I rip off and sic Red Hood on every chance I get?' He thought to himself before saying anything, "Yeah, I am."
If Catwoman noticed his reaction, she didn't bring it up, "The Falcone Family came from this area and relocated in Gotham years ago. Before you or I were ever born," The way she spoke was deadly serious, "Carmine Falcone's rise to power could not, and would not, have happened without Don Verinni's blessing."
Null winced at the idea of angering a major player in a foreign country, "Okay, if we're jerking around mafioso, I'm gonna defer here," His expertise rested with relieving them of their lesser physical assets. Catwoman usually aimed big for most of her scores.
"There won't be any 'jerking around', Maxie. I just want to have a word," She said with what she hoped was a reassuring smile, "You don't have to go in. You can go back to the hotel."
Max scoffed. He wasn't keen on getting real Italian mafia on his neck, but he wasn't going to run away, "And leave you here all alone?"
Catwoman placed her hand on Null's head, "You haven't eaten since the flight. Go back, get some room service. I'll slip in later and let you know I'm alright," She gestured with her head for him to leave, "Go sleep off your jetlag."
Null knew when he was being dismissed, and nodded before taking off. As he'd said before, Selina's business was her business. If it wasn't something he needed to know about for the sake of his own well-being, she was free to share at her own volition.
Selina watched him leave, the smile fading from her face. From there, she turned her full attention back to the house, moving in to probe a bit closer. The property had armed men patrolling, and guard dogs ready to take a bite out of anything that wasn't supposed to be there. However, there was nothing there that she hadn't dealt with hundreds of times before, and she dealt with these issues as she came across them once more. The technological security was far below the standard of what she was accustomed to as well. Infiltrating the grounds and the house itself had been almost a literal walk in the park.
She found what she was looking for, sitting in a walled section of the garden. It was then that she revealed herself to a man who seemed less than surprised to see her, "Buona sera," The man greeted in Italian.
Short, round, grey-haired, and balding, with bushy eyebrows, he wore brown slacks and suspenders with a white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up. At first glance, he didn't seem the type to have the kind of power he did in Rome. But appearances were oftentimes deceiving.
Catwoman was wary in her approach, sticking to the wall, "I hope you speak English, Don Verinni. My Italian starts at 'Armani' and stops at 'Gucci'."
Don Verinni scoffed at what she figured he felt was an uncultured American, "That's going to be a problem if you're planning on staying in Rome for very long."
"I've been known to say a lot without having to say a lot," Catwoman said slyly, "As to how long I'll be staying in Rome, that depends on how much you can tell me about Carmine Falcone's past."
Don Verinni clicked his tongue and started reaching for the wine bottle on the table at his side, "It's a shame about Carmine. That boy-."
Selina cut him off, having seen what else he had on that table before she ever revealed herself, "-If you touch that gun, that corkscrew goes through your hand before it leaves the table."
"I was going to offer you a glass of wine. I just opened this bottle and was letting it breathe."
"Breathing is good. Keep that in mind."
Whether it was the implied threat, or the implication of treachery on his part, the Italian crime lord reacted in offense, "If you lay a hand on me, you'll never get off the grounds. I have bodyguards-."
Selina let out a laugh, "You'll find two of them hogtied near the stables. I don't remember what I did with the other two, but you might want to get better help," She suggested, moving in closer once she'd established his situation, "I'm here on behalf of Selena Kyle."
Don Verinni picked up his glass of wine, a scowl on his face, "I have one of my best men working with Signorina Kyle. You coming here is a sign of disrespect."
"Believe me, no disrespect was intend-," As Catwoman spoke, a gunshot rang out loudly in the otherwise quiet night. Selina dove for cover, and when she looked up, she found Don Verinni slumped in his chair, a bullet hole resting neatly in the center of his forehead, "...Uh-oh."
At that moment, as she heard the remaining guards scramble, Catwoman found it prudent to make herself scarce as quickly as possible.
(The Next Morning)
Despite being worried about leaving Selina to deal with her own business on her own, he trusted her to know what she was doing. After all, she'd been at the game longer than he had by years. If anyone knew how to keep from getting in over her head, it was her. She was also right about his fatigue. Flying to Italy had taken more out of him than he'd first thought. He hadn't even managed to make it to his room in their suite, instead conking out moments after he stopped to lay down on the couch.
Ma was awakened by a call from the front desk. A message from the blond guy that had taken them to the hotel the day before that he was on his way up to the room. If Selina had returned, she hadn't informed him, so he took it upon himself to check the rooms. One of the doors was shut, and the bags he'd left in front of it had been taken in, giving him a feeling of relief that she must have made it back.
*KNOCK! KNOCK KNOCK!*
Max rapped on her door before letting himself in, "Hey, good news from last night, the airline found your-, Jesus Christ!" He screeched, averting his eyes.
With it being summer, and not all buildings in Rome having A.C., Selina had taken it upon herself to sleep with nothing more than a thin sheet covering her – and nothing else.
This was something she saw no problem with as she sat up and almost gave her protege a free show, "What's your problem, Maxie?" She said groggily.
Despite trying not to get an eyeful of Selina, he couldn't help but try and get a few peeks, "Seriously? That you're not wearing any clothes. How can you sleep naked when you're not at home?"
Selina chuckled and wrapped herself up in the sheet, "Are you saying you do sleep naked when you are home?" Most people she would have clawed their eyes out for seeing her like that. But with Max being mortified, she could forgive him.
Honestly, the boy had slept with someone already. It was nothing he hadn't seen before, if his engagements with Rose Wilson were as thorough as she figured they would have been. Of course, there was probably a world of difference between the body of a teenage girl and a full-grown woman.
Max turned his back to Selina fully as she started to move about her room, making no effort to put any clothes on, "No... seeing as how I never know when people might drop by. People like you... or the Bat-people," He mutterd, "Anyway, this isn't about me. Ol' what's-his-face is coming up."
Selina froze in the middle of pouring herself something to drink by her bedside, "...Gonna have to be a bit more specific, Maxie."
"That dude from yesterday," Max said, not remembering the man's name. He met a lot of dangerous people after all, "The hit man you had me follow to mafia guy's place."
Selina clicked her tongue in recognition, "Right. Blondie," Christopher Castillo. She remembered.
"Pretty sure that wasn't his actual name," Max said, turning his head to see the pensive look on his mentor's face, "Why do you look like this is going to be trouble?" Just yesterday, the guy seemed ready to assist her. Why would she be worried?
Selina bit her lip. There wasn't time to brief Max on everything that had gone wrong last night, "Okay, in good faith of the full disclosure thing we talked about yesterday, this probably is going to be trouble. You can block bullets, right?" She asked, as it had been some time since she'd seen him in action.
Max raised an eyebrow, feeling less and less confident in the peacefulness of his vacation by the second, "As long as I know they're coming? Yeah."
"We might need that," Selina said with a frown.
*KNOCK! KNOCK KNOCK!*
Max's head snapped to the door. That had to have been the guy. He looked back at Selina to find her eyes as wide as his, "Okay, uh... go dig around for something to put on. I will go deal with our hit man/guide/whatever he is."
Selina nodded. There was no need to panic. They could handle themselves, "No powers," She insisted before Max could walk off.
"No powers," Max agreed with a roll of his eyes before shutting the door to the room, "...No powers that he can see," He said under his breath to himself.
With that, he walked up the door, internally prepared to have to redirect some bullets. He wondered how well his magnetic field could affect rounds at close-range. He'd never had to try before. When he opened the door, however. No bullets came flying. There was just the man, Castillo, standing there with the same smug smile from yesterday.
Max could sense a gun on him, and wished he'd have tried to draw so he could wipe the look off of his face. It didn't happen.
"Buongiorno, 'Maxie', was it?"
Hearing anyone other than Selina call him that made Max feel physically ill, especially when it was a tall, strapping, guy, "Please don't ever say that again. It's just Max," He said, allowing Castillo in as the man chuckled.
Castillo looked around, finding no Selina in sight, "Dov'è la tua padrona?" He said, getting a deadpan look from a monolingual Max, "Sorry. Where is your mistress? Signorina Kyle?"
"She's-," Max started to say when he heard the water start to run in the bathroom connected to Selina's room, "...Taking a bath, apparently," He said with an exasperated sigh. This was going to take a while.
Castillo held up his hands as if to say it was no foul, "It's no problem. I can wait," He said, taking a seat on one of the chairs.
Max eyed him suspiciously as he plopped down on the couch that had served as his bed the night before. A silence between the two dragged on for several minutes until Max felt the need to probe for details, "So, uh... you mind telling me what you're here for?"
Knowing how much shit Selina was in before she came out would probably leave him better prepared for whatever had to happen once she did so.
Castillo, to his credit, didn't mince words with the teenager, taking off his sunglasses to make direct eye contact, "Don Verinni is dead, and people are blaming Signorina Kyle."
Max's mouth fell open, "We just got here yesterday," He patted the couch he was sitting on, "See this? I was out cold, drooling on this thing until all of forty-five minutes ago."
Selina didn't just kill people like that. Even if she did, it wasn't the sort of thing she did with less than five hours of planning and prep for. Whatever she'd gone to see Verinni for at his home, it hadn't been to kill the guy. It just wasn't her style in any way, shape, or form.
"Besides, don't you work for Verinni?" Max asked, his fingers twitching, just in case Castillo felt like pulling some movie action and drawing on him after giving Max reason to be on edge, "If you think Selina had something to do with his death, shouldn't you be trying to kill us?"
"And you're including yourself in this?"
Max glared at Castillo and his attempts to treat him as though he were ignorant, "Come on. You're seriously telling me you would leave me alive if you were supposed to kill Selina?" True, even after spending months with Rose, he wasn't an expert on contract killers, but it seemed like day one stuff to tie up all possible loose ends, "'Apprentice' means I'm still learning. It doesn't mean I'm naive or stupid."
Speaking of which, he had been around enough things burning to know what it automatically smelled like. Castillo was no stranger to the scent as well, prompting both to get up and investigate. Opening the door to the suite, Max was met with plumes of smoke and the sight of heavy flames down the hallway.
Castillo muttered something in Italian that Max could only assume was some kind of curse. Max himself bolted for Selina's room to bang on the door of her bathroom, "Selina! The hotel's on fire! The stairs and elevator are blocked, and it's coming this way!"
Inside, he could hear her quickly jump out of the water. The door cracked open, "Fantastic. As if the last 12 hours couldn't get any worse."
Now that he had her attention, Max ran out to grab his bags and whatever of Selina's he could carry. The fire was starting to burn the door to the suite, "Lament our blown vacation when we're not about to burn to death. I don't feel like dying in a hotel fire, so grab some shit and let's go."
Castillo shut the door to prevent smoke from getting in too quickly. He found Max dumping the bags by the large window in the room so he could open it up, "You mean jump? From six stories up?"
Max could see the fire underneath the door of Selina's room. With the fire moving so quickly, they had no time to waste, "If you have any other ideas in the next five seconds, share 'em! Otherwise-!" Max took the plunge, quickly followed by Selina and Castillo.
The fall felt like it took a lifetime, before their bodies eventually broke the plane of pool water that had been waiting at the end of their drop. After a few seconds, all three surfaced, with Selina's hands wrapped around Max's neck.
The cold, soaked woman was clearly furious, "Why didn't you break our fall!?" She quietly demanded to know of Max.
The teenager wrestled her hands away from his throat fairly easily, "You expected me to?" He said, coughing up some water.
"For a six-story drop? Yes!"
"You said be subtle!" Max argued in his defense. "Besides, we're fine! We landed in water!"
Selina's wet hair dropped over her face as she seethed at her student, "Did you know there was a pool down here before we jumped?"
"..." No, Max hadn't. In his defense however, there had been one in the end. And even if there hadn't been, he could have survived a six-story fall to the ground, "...I mean, you didn't look either."
Selina slapped handful of water in Max's face and swam away for the edge of the pool, "...You're an idiot sometimes."
Max squinted at her and spat water out, "Yeah? Well you're naked and the water is clear, so what's-his-face can see your boobs."
Selina realized that she was indeed still nude, and that she wasn't around just harmless little Max anymore. Castillo was there too, and as the hotel evacuated, more people would follow, "Get me a towel before I drown you. And Blondie, turn the fuck around!" With foreign eyes off of her, Selina focused one the matter at hand, "Okay, you came to talk about something, so let's start with this; any idea who'd want to barbecue me?"
"Si," Castillo said as he pulled himself out of the pool, "Don Verinni."
Max threw a towel from the poolside to Selina to wrap around herself. He kept an ever-watchful eye on the unknown quantity who was with them, "You just said he was dead."
Castillo nodded as he took off his soaked suit jacket, "I mean his son. Guillermo Verinni."
There was a lot to unpack mentally. Selina needed to talk to Max about what had happened last night, and more, "Okay, I'm going to need a plan 'B' here. With the old don dead and the hotel gone, we don't really have a lot of options."
Castillo cleared his throat, "Signorina, if I may. I know a place where you'll be safe. And your little friend too."
Both thieves looked at each other skeptically. Pretty forward for a man who had met them for the first time yesterday. But then again, as Selina said, they lacked a contingency plan.
(Five Days Later - Anzio, Italy)
From a hotel in Rome to a private yacht in Anzio. Castillo had his own boat that he used to hide the American pair on until the heat against them died down. Rome had been too hot a location for them to hang around in. Anzio was much less so, but even then, they had to exercise caution.
It just so happened that caution wasn't the most exciting thing in the world.
For the umpteenth time, Max walked the full span of the ship, returning to where he oftentimes found Selina sunbathing, "If you told me we were going on vacation, and we would be cruising on some dude's boat, I figured it would be more fun than... this," Laying around and relaxing might have been her thing, but no so much for him. He had no desire for a tan.
"Aww, you don't like the view, Maxie?" Selina attempted to tease, not even turning over from her stomach to face him.
"I basically saw you naked in Rome," Max droned, "Plus, your usual getup doesn't leave much to the imagination to begin with."
Even as a hormonal teenager, Max could only stare at T&A for so long without getting bored. And he was desperately bored. They had been hiding just offshore for the entire time. He hadn't gotten to see any of Anzio, much less meet anyone or do anything... not that there would have been much to do. Anzio wasn't Rome, after all.
"So," Max said, plopping down in a deck chair nearby, "Do you think this was all a big frame-up? Or was it just wrong place, wrong time for you?"
Selina didn't know yet. They'd been running and hiding ever since it happened, "The shot didn't come from anywhere close, but it wasn't a sniper's bullet."
Max raised an eyebrow. To hit a man dead center in the forehead was hard enough for actual snipers trained thoroughly in how to use their rifles meant to do the job, "How do you know? I didn't think you were a big firearms expert."
Selina laughed and kicked her feet up behind herself, "Maxie, if it had been a sniper's bullet that killed Don Verinni, it would have left quite a mess on my gear. T'was a smaller-caliber round that did the deed."
Max decided to just take her word for it. If Rose was still around, he would have called her to get her opinion by now, but that wasn't an option, "...Is whatever this is really worth it?"
"Mmm?" Selina hummed questioningly.
"You told me you came to Italy to scare up some personal info; planned to knock on some doors, shake some trees, whatever," Max said, "Now we've been stuck on a yacht for a week."
"Not quite a week, but I see your point," Selina said, "It won't be much longer, I promise. Then we can go somewhere that'll really broaden those horizons of yours."
Max nodded, "If you say so," Even if Selina was kind of shady, she was still easily the adult he trusted the most.
From inside of the boat, Castillo stepped out, his gun drawn. When Max saw him, he tensed up, ready to react. But Castillo wasn't picking a strange time to turn against them. Instead of aiming at Max or Selina, he pointed at a fishing ship floating through the harbor where they were anchored.
"Get below," He fired one shot, and from a distance, Max saw a man with a scoped rifle drop.
Max and Selina scrambled away as more weapons opened up from the fishing boat, targeting anything alive on Castillo's yacht. Selina made a beeline for her Catwoman suit, "Now, what are the odds our handsome host bothers leaving any of our new friends alive?" She asked rhetorically as she changed, "I'm heading over there myself. Maxie, if you don't mind-."
Max was posted up by the nearest window, watching the shootout while keeping his head down, "-I'll make my move when I see you make yours," When he turned to look at Selina, she was already gone.
She wanted someone to question, which meant she was going to the fishing boat to make sure Castillo didn't just kill them all. That came with the problem of approaching a handful of armed men, but that was where Max came in. His powers were weaker without the use of his suit to amplify them, but he was still strong enough to reach the 150 yards he needed to sweep the weapons out of the hands of their attackers.
Watching closely, Max watched Catwoman swim the distance between the two vessels. Once she disappeared out of his sight, he counted to ten and used his magnetic powers to rip the guns out of their hands. Right on cue, Catwoman leapt over the side and right into action, whip and claws ready.
It had been a while since Max had seen Selina fight – a rare treat. Even without powers, her movements were so smooth. It had been so long since she had trained with him, and he had learned so many things since then that they fought nothing alike any longer.
While Selina fought to keep from being hit at all first and foremost, Max didn't mind taking a punch if he knew his return would land harder. Weapon in hand, she was equipped to make opponents pay when they missed, while still keeping out of their grasp.
And then, just like that, it was over.
A single shot. From where, Max didn't know. A single shot rang through the air and dropped Catwoman where she stood on the deck, surrounded by fallen enemies.
Max didn't remember getting up and running outside.
He didn't remember boosting himself over to the fishing ship and sweeping aside anyone who was left to get up and prey on Catwoman once she was down.
He didn't remember the look on Castillo's face when he returned to the yacht after revealing his abilities.
What he did remember was the sight of Selina covered in blood, seeping from the wound in her chest.
Selina first awoke to a sharp, biting pain in her chest. Breathing hurt. Trying to move hurt so much worse. Upon realizing this, she subsequently beginning to writhe in her bed, making it even worse, "Ugh… oh my God…"
"Whoa-whoa-whoa," Hands guided Selina back to a still position so that she couldn't make her condition worse, "Stop trying to get up. You aren't going anywhere anytime soon."
She had been prepared to struggle when she recognized Max's voice. As her vision focused properly, she was able to make the boy out at her bedside, "W-What happened?" Her throat was dry.
Max unscrewed the top from a bottle of water that he helped her drink while he answered, "You got shot. We're on the yacht. You've been out of it for days."
Selina stopped drinking long enough to take a breath, "No hospital?"
Max shook his head, "Castillo didn't want to take you in your Catwoman suit, so took the boat out to sea and patched you up himself."
Out of morbid curiosity, Selina peered underneath her sheets at her wound, "Max... that shot was exactly where it needed to be for a kill. How in the hell did he patch that up?" She should have died, slowly.
Max proudly held up a hand and let electricity dance between his fingertips, "Pretty easy to keep pressure on arteries when I can hold a wound shut with magnetism. Plus, I'm a walking defibrillator," The smile slowly drifted from his face, "...He knows... that you're Catwoman... that I've got powers. He knows. I blew it."
Max didn't care about playing their cards close to the chest, once Selina had gotten a hole blown into hers. He'd never seen someone he liked get badly hurt before. Usually, it was him who got the worse end out of confrontations when it was him and someone else.
After watching it happen to Selina, he honestly preferred it when he got hurt. Max knew she was tough, but she looked so fragile. This was the first he'd seen her move in days, "I'm sorry," He apologized, "It's just, you got shot, and I blew my stack, and I had to get you out-."
"It's okay, Maxie. It's fine," Selina said, giving him a pat on the hand before he could really get going, "You got me out in one piece. Given what happened, that's the best I could hope for."
Max didn't believe so. The best she could have hoped for was not getting shot at all, "This is the third time someone's tried to kill you since we got to Italy. We still don't know who's behind it," He said, "Did you piss off someone at the airport and I just didn't see it?"
The two shared a bit of a laugh. Selina quickly stopped, as it hurt to so much as chuckle. It made Max angry. Seeing Selina so weak left him wanting blood. She could see how angry this was making him and sighed, carefully lifting her arms up.
"Alright. Get me up," She demanded, much to Max's confusion.
"What do you mean, 'get you up'?"
Selina scoffed and looked out of the window, "I worked too hard on my tan for the last week to lose it sitting down here. I want to go back up on deck, and I doubt this place is wheelchair-friendly. Come to think of it, I doubt this yacht even has a wheelchair."
"It had blood transfusion equipment. Dude is loaded," Max said. Who knew killing people could make so much money? Rose was low-balling herself in Gotham City.
Either way, Max did as Selina asked, carefully helping her to a standing position. He didn't know how long it took to heal from the trauma of such a chest wound, but he stayed close, knowing she probably shouldn't have been walking.
Max carefully placed a robe around her before taking her up the stairs, giving Selina a thought, "Did you get me out of my Catwoman costume while I was out, Maxie?"
Max didn't bother denying it, "In my defense, you had most of your chest wrapped," Getting embarrassed at being teased took a backseat when he watched her almost die, "...Don't really have an excuse for the bottom half though. Sorry about that."
"I'm just picking on you," Selina assured him, nudging his cheek with her fist, "I told you already, it's fine. Shame though. You were too scared to even enjoy the view."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
With the banter between the two filling the open air, Castillo was able to hear them approach from where he sat at the controls of the yacht, idling while cleaning his weapons, "Buon giorno, Signorina," He said in greeting, "The thing about cats having nine lives must be true."
He wasn't even going to try and play dumb in knowing. Oh well. The figurative cat was out of the bag, "It helps to have a guardian angel watching over you sometimes," Selina said, alluding to Max, who unlike her was 100% and ready to react if things got chippy.
"Si," Castillo said, "That boat was staffed with men from the Verinni Family. I spoke with your little friend here about it. Perhaps Guillermo hired a professional to do the job."
"You mean like you, Blondie?" Selina offered, slightly antagonizing him.
"Maybe better," Castillo said with a scowl, "The shot that hit you, neither I nor Max here could tell where it came from."
Selina looked over at her student, "Well, didn't you two get chummy while I was out?"
Max shrugged from where he leaned against the wall. He held no guilt about conversing with Castillo, "Not like I had a lot else to do but watch you sleep and watch him clean his weapons," After being stuck with him for a few days, Max could admit that he didn't dislike him
"So, what's your deal anyway?" Selina said, turning her attention back to the hit man, "You're a gun-for-hire, but I didn't hire you. The only crossover we have is that I may have killed your boss."
"A story for a story then," Castillo said with a smile. He held up the weapon in his hand, "My father, and my father's father, worked for the Beretta family."
"The ones that make guns," Max said, recognizing the name. He'd had enough Berettas lying around his house back when he'd housed a mercenary for a few months.
"No. They make the finest guns in all the world," Castillo corrected the youth with a smirk, "Mio padre taught me to shoot when I was six-years-old. The rest... eh. I came up through the ranks. The Malatzo Brothers, the Fitzies, then Don Verinni."
Someone had certainl racked up quite a resume for murder, "Your father must be proud," Selina said.
Even realizing that it was a jab, Castillo never stopped smiling, "I'll never know. He was killed in a vendetta between two families when I was ten."
Max winced. Great tact from Selina, to insult the guy that had helped him keep the blood in her body, "Oh. Well... I guess you can join the dead parents club with me," Max offered as a lame consolation.
"Grazie for the invite, Max. I'll take a raincheck though," Castillo said, humoring the boy. He focused back on Selina expectantly, "Your turn. Why did you come to Rome?"
Selina let out a deep sigh. At this point revealing her secrets couldn't do much more harm than had already been done in keeping them, "...There was a man. A very powerful man. His name was Carmine Falcone."
Castillo interrupted her there, "Si. I know this man. He was my godfather."
Both Selina and Max reacted in surprise, "Huh. Didn't see that coming," Max muttered. The ornate tapestry of crime and justice was a smaller world than some people realized.
Castillo continued, "The Falcones lived in Italy before coming to America. I'm sure you both know this," Given that they both came from Gotham City, where the Falcone Family dominated organized crime before Batman arrived on the scene, they certainly did, "Other people called him 'The Roman'. To me, he was 'Uncle Carmine'. I used to play stickball with his nephew, Johnny Viti," He laughed, "I was supposed to go to Johnny's wedding, but I could not get a visa."
"You really didn't miss much" Selina quipped with a smirk, "...It was hot."
"The Catwoman left a scar on Uncle Carmine's face," Castillo said, "And now she's here, and Don Verinni is dead. I'm sure there's an explanation."
"Of course," Selina said, though her thoughts were a bit more jumbled, 'This is too weird.'
Castillo walked outside to stare out at the ocean surrounding them, "Guillermo Verinni is not going to stop until he has killed you."
Right. Revenge for what he had been convinced Selina had done, possibly by the same shooter that wounded her, "And what if I found his father's real killer?"
"In Italy, it is much better to give something for something."
"Well, I don't happen to have an extra daddy lying around that I can give him."
"No. But there is something worth much more to him."
(Three Days Later - Vatican City)
"The Vatican," Max whispered to himself as he found himself back in the Rome area, skulking in the dark through the small locality, "I'm breaking into the fucking Vatican."
It was surreal when he'd been told what had been needed to get the younger Verinni off of Selina's back - a ring worn by the first Don. The blood spilled over the trinket over the years was significant, as in the eyes of the mafioso, whoever wore the ring ruled the families. It was locked away in a place where no one could get to it, but where everyone affiliated would know where it was.
The Basilica di san Pietro... at St. Peter's Cathedral.
It must have been some kind of major taboo for the 'good Catholics' that comprised the crime families to go after it. Max and Selina weren't religious in the slightest, so they had no moral quandary with ripping off the Vatican for their own purposes.
However, Selina was hurt and still recovering, so Max had to step in to perform the job on his own. That meant studying maps of the grounds, getting floor plans, taking note of the security schedules, identifying alarms and locating their power sources. He had Selina to help, but in the end, his feet would be on the ground. No one else's. It was his show. His heist.
Italy didn't have a supervillain problem the way more places did overseas. A major heist on the eastern seaboard would guarantee measures put in against metahumans. By comparison, getting to where Null needed to be was much more straightforward. He was electric interference personified. As long as he could get close enough to most security measures without setting them off, he could deactivate them.
Sitting on a floated sheet of metal in the pitch dark cathedral, Null hovered in front of the elevated sculpture, staring intently at it. More specifically, staring at the bulletproof glass it resided behind. More trouble for him, all because of some kook in the 70s going at the thing with a hammer.
"...I thought I packed Selina's claws for this," Null said to himself. The folly of youth. In his rush to get everything needed for the heist together and to get the job done quickly, he'd neglected to procure the claws, "Well, couldn't make this too easy for myself, could I?"
As he continued to think of a way past the barrier, another figure lurked in the dark of the cathedral, watching, stalking, until they got close enough to strike.
Null's magnetic security field was disrupted, but he didn't react fast enough to completely avoid the attack from behind, "Ow! Son of a bitch!" A sharp pain etched into his back as he was knocked from his seat. As he went to pick himself up, a tail wrapped around his throat, slamming him to the floor.
As he lay on the ground being strangled, Null looked up at owner of the offending appendage. It was a naked, auburn-haired woman with skin in the unique pattern of a cheetah's fur, "C-Cheetah?"
"Aww," The woman purred as she continued to torment Null, "You know my name. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for you," She said, "Not who I was expecting, but it's fine. You'll lead me where I need to go."
Null, in fact, was not familiar with this individual. He'd been referring more to what she looked like. The fact that it was also a name she went by was a coincidence. Either way, someone trying to kill him was someone trying to kill him. And at this point, he wasn't leaving without what he came for.
Null tensed up his body and activated his electric charge, shocking Cheetah with enough force to loosen her grip on his throat. She let out a scream as Null stood, holding onto her tail. He used it to pull her in for a punch to the face. Instead of falling to the ground, Cheetah took the blow and got her distance.
"Impudent child," Cheetah said through a growl, "I've taken punches from Wonder Woman and gotten back up. Do you really think you can hit me any harder than that?"
No. No, Null did not think he could hit harder than Wonder Woman could. Then again, he didn't have to.
Cheetah was fast, faster than Null on foot, but Null's enhanced reflexes, combined with his magnetic field gave him the ability to avoid Cheetah's deadly claws. All he had to do was wait. From the way she moved, fighting more like an animal than a human, it was just a matter of time until she pounced.
A quick use of her tail took out one of Null's legs, bringing him down to a knee and leaving him in a vulnerable looking state. Cheetah seized the opportunity and launched herself into the air, intent on landing on him and mauling him.
She stopped in midair as though she were being held by wires, "Huh? But, I-?" Looking down at Null, she found the thief smirking up at her with his hands out, as though he were catching her, "What? What did you do?"
Null stood up, proving to Cheetah that it had been his actions that had stopped her. She clawed at the air in a futile attempt to free herself and slice into him, "Don't worry about what I did. Worry about what I'm going to do," Electricity danced through his fingers, before a flick of the wrist sent it flying Cheetah's way. The sound of crackling energy and Cheetah's screams echoed through the cathedral.
She was fast and strong, but caught in the air she had no leverage, and her powers didn't lend well outside of direct melee, so she had nothing to combat Null's powers with if she couldn't reach him.
Cheetah's screaming eventually tapered off as she lost consciousness. For good measure, Null kept shocking her for another ten seconds. Probably not the moral approach, but she'd tried to attack him first and lost, so it served her right.
Once Null was finished, he let her body drop to the floor with a thud. Now that he wasn't in imminent danger, he could try and tend to the wound on his back, "Of course she clawed me in a spot I can't reach," He complained, "Man, it cut through the suit..."
He glared down at Cheetah, only for his eyes to stop on her claws. Claws that seemed pretty sharp. Claws that easily cut through the padding his suit provided. Claws that he proceeded to use to cut through the glass around the sculpture within... and then into the hollow base of the sculpture where he found the ring inside of a small case.
"Definitely the smallest thing I stole in a while," Null said, tucking the ring away. His fight had made quite the bit of noise, and guards were on their way, " Good meeting you. Thanks for taking the heat," He said to Cheetah, magnetically sticking her to the floor before making himself scarce.
Out of costume, Null lay on a table in a safehouse as Castillo worked on stitching up his back. He'd passed the time regaling Castillo and Selina on the heist,
"...In the end, that was way easier than I thought it would be."
Selina sat nearby, admiring the ring that her apprentice had procured, "Other than you being used as a scratching post by Cheetah."
Max gave her a side eye from where he was laying, "You talk a lot for someone who got shot a week ago. Ow!" He exclaimed, glaring back at Castillo, "Hey!"
Castillo waved his needle at Max, "Treat the signorina with more care. She is still recovering."
Max rolled his eyes and laid his head back down, "Oh yeah. My silver tongue will put her right back into critical condition," Treat her with more care? What about him? He was freshly injured, "And yes, Selina, I caught the phrasing there."
Selina seemed quite pleased as she continued to admire the tiny piece of jewelry in her grasp, "Now we use this for leverage."
"To get that don's son to stop trying to kill you."
Selina spared a glance Max's way before returning her attention to the ring, "...Well, I'm sure we can work that into the deal."
Castillo raised an eyebrow behind his sunglasses, "What deal?"
"I came to Rome to get a piece of information out of Don Verinni," Selina said, throwing the ring into the air and catching it tightly within her fist, "Now that he's dead, the only other person I can imagine who has it is Guillermo."
Max winced at the surefire way Selina sounded, "Yeah... we should probably be careful with that thing... or in general."
"Why?" Castillo asked.
"Cheetah was waiting to jump the heist. She was expecting Catwoman," Max recalled, "Now how did anyone know anyone else was going for the ring at all?" In the past week, they had been stuck on a boat with each other.
Castillo had finished stitching Max's wounds and went to bandaging up his work, "You couldn't get anything out of her?"
Max gave the blond assassin an incredulous look, "I know you guys don't see much in the way of supervillains and shit here in Italy, but I'm not gonna mess around with someone who says she picks fights with Wonder Woman."
Since running hadn't been an option, he put Cheetah down as hard and as fast as he could. Plus, the fight had roused the guards. Null didn't need an international rap sheet. Questioning the woman hadn't been on his mind at the time.
Selina had a lot to think about. There was a gunman roaming about to take her out, and Cheetah had been imported from who knew where to go after her head as well, "...You can take the girl out of Gotham City..." She said to herself, "Either way, I think sitting on this thing for too long is a bad idea. We need to keep things moving."
If there were those out there that had clocked their course of action up to that point, waiting too long before making their next move would give those forces the chance to set something up for them.
Guillermo Verinni was a simple man. Well, as simple as a major player in the criminal underworld could be. He lacked his father's decades of experience at the top, leading from the perch, looking down. He hadn't seen everything, hadn't learned how to react to everything. So when certain things were put in his face, he would react similarly to what was expected.
It was with this mindset that Null crashed the man's dinner with some of his bodyguards, appearing in his kitchen and startling everyone into going for their guns. They were stopped when he magnetically stuck all of their weapons to the ceiling.
"Uh, hold on," Null used the time he'd bought himself to prepare the translator on his phone, "I come with something interesting for you," the translator recanted a rough version of what he said in Italian. Verinni and his men looked at each other confusedly until a small weight smashed through the window behind them.
They dove for cover until Guillermo looked up and saw the ring tied to a fishing line. He scrambled after it, followed by his guards, as the line retracted out the window it originally came through. Once they all made it outside, all without rearming themselves, Catwoman pounced from above. Catching them all unaware – a boon, seeing as how she was still healing – she made quick work of them, leaving Guillermo standing alone.
Guillermo was a tall, spindly man with white hair tied in a ponytail. He had a distinct scar going down his left eye, an eye that was discolored and dead.
Catwoman circled Guillermo, whip in hand, claws out, gleaming dangerously in the light the moon, given the chance to shine momentarily through the overcast, "I hope you speak English, because a situation like this can turn bad very quickly," The new Verinni Family don simply glared at her, surrounded by his fallen men, "Let's get one thing straight. I did not kill your father."
"Then who did?" Guillermo snapped, only to find razor-sharp claws underneath his chin.
"Who knows?" Catwoman purred as Guillermo tried to draw away from the blades, "Maybe you hired whoever it was, seeing as how you're the only person that's benefited from his death."
Guillermo didn't answer one way or the other, "What do you want?"
At that, Selina grinned predatorily, "Believe it or not, I want help you solidify yourself as the new boss," She moved in closer, getting a shocked reaction for her next words, "I have the ring, Guillermo," She said, both seeing and feeling him tense up, "All I want for it is one thing. Tell me where Louisa Falcone is."
Guillermo's tip guided Selina to a convent miles outside of Rome, far from any paved roads, positioned near the end of a cliff. There was no time like the present, so that very night she took it upon herself to sneak in herself and have a face-to-face with the wife of the man who used to dominate crime in Gotham City before his violent end.
Armed nuns, or at least guards dressed in nun's habits, served as security, which was something most other monasteries couldn't boast. It was a sign she was in the right place.
Rain poured down as Selina scaled the side of the cliff. As the experienced burglar tried to make her way inside, a sniper's scope kept track of her movements. The man laying prone on the ground taking aim at her only needed to pull the trigger to end her life.
...If only his gun didn't jam when he did so.
"The hell?" Deadshot wondered to himself. Yes, it was raining, but it was nothing that would affect his weapons. Not with the constant care he showed his equipment. He was a world-traveled, notorious assasin, "You've gotta be kidding me."
"Nope. Not kidding."
Deadshot tried to turn over and defend himself, but found himself pinned to the ground, unable to move underneath an oppressive force. He turned his head enough to see Null there, one hand extended downward, projecting magnetic force to pin him to the rocky surface.
"Huh," Deadshot grunted, trying and failing to push himself up, "Well, ain't this a bitch? Who're you? Her bodyguard?"
Null stared down at the man impassively, "Nah, that's somebody else's job, I think."
Null was aware of Deadshot. He'd been part of his education of criminal names to know back when he was first being trained by Selina. He wasn't necessarily slated as someone to flee from, since Deadshot didn't really kill people without a reason, such as being paid to kill people.
For someone being held at the mercy of a hard-to-read metahuman, Deadshot didn't seem overly concerned, "So, what kinda skin you got in this game? Don't tell me you're another hitman after Catwoman."
At that Null smirked, but it didn't sound like he found anything funny about the idea, "It'd be really shitty if I let someone hire me to kill the lady who took me in," He crouched down and sat on Deadshot's back, "So, now I'm going to ask you some stuff. You're going to want to answer me."
"You kidding?" Despite his position, Deadshot didn't take the tough talk of an obvious minor seriously, "You don't even look old enough to have hair on your balls, kid. And you say you're gonna torture somebody?"
Null grabbed Deadshot's right arm and pulled it behind him, taking great care not to set off the unique gun mounted on his wrist, "Let's get one thing straight. I'm not a psycho, but you shot my mentor, and I'm still pissed about that. If you make me hurt you to find out what I want to know, I'm probably going to enjoy it."
Deadshot chuckled at the threat, "I'll believe it when I see-YAAAGH!" He yelled, feeling the tip of one of his fingers break.
Null used his leg to keep Deadshot's arm trapped on his back, allowing him to pick and choose which fingers he manipulated by hand, "I like to think I'm pretty simple. I don't like losing things. If you take something from me, I'm going to take something from you. The more important the thing you try to take, the more important the thing I'll take," He said, finding another finger to target, "Who hired you?"
"Aww, that's so cute. You want to watch your Cat-mommy's blind spot," Deadshot's response was another broken finger, "God! You little piece of-!"
"Sorry about the trigger finger," Max interrupted Deadshot's curse, tapping him on the index finger that now resembled a question mark, only bent the wrong way, "I should really slow this down. You have three joints in each finger, except the thumbs. Only two in those. You do the math on how many times I can do this. By the time I'm finished, you'll never hold a real gun again."
Deadshot again tried to struggle his way out, to no avail, "Do you have the stomach for that? Gonna ruin a man's life, just because you're mad?"
Null raised an eyebrow on the hired killer trying to pull a morality play on him. He wasn't mad. Not furious like he had been. Selina was on the mend, and was well enough to pull her tricks and enter the convent on her own. Now it was just about making a point, "I don't know what you think is important, but I'll bet your career is pretty high on the list, or at least your abilities – what makes you special," Max placed his hand on the next joint in Deadshot's right index finger, "...I'll take it away from you, because you tried to take something important away from me, or at least someone told you to."
He was prepared to make Deadshot's index finger touch the back of his hand when the marksman finally gave in, "It's a job!"
Null could have figured that much for himself. Deadshot didn't seem to be the type that would have a reason to target Catwoman on his own, "That's fair. But you won't tell me who hired you. That means the buck stops with you, until you say otherwise."
Deadshot laughed from his place on the ground, "You want to know who hired me? I'll answer your question with another question. Who's your little lady here to see?"
Null stared at him quizzically before looking up at the convent, "Bullshit," He scoffed, "Louisa Falcone has been holed up in this nunnery. She doesn't even know Catwoman is in Italy."
"How do you figure?" Deadshot growled at Null's unwillingness to believe him, "How do you think I knew where to find you? How do you think Cheetah knew where you were going to be," He asked bitterly, "Feh, I shouldn't have held out as long as I did on saying it. The bitch outsourced my contract to another player. That's a professional no-no. You don't hire multiple hitmen for one job."
"Okay, so say I believe you. Say Louisa Falcone hired you and brought Cheetah into the country to kill Catwoman. Why?"
"Not my problem. But it's clearly something worth killing over. We done?"
Null thought about his next move before magnetically stripping Deadshot of every weapon and piece of ammunition on his person. Only then did he get off of his back, but he still held him down, "...Every part of me wants to give you back what you gave Catwoman," He said, a glow coming to his eyes, "I could light you up like you were in the electric chair. They'd see the light show from the convent. I could throw you off this cliff you know. You seem tough, but you probably wouldn't survive."
"So why don't you?" Deadshot, said, getting up, checking over his person for anything that Null might have missed.
Null shook his head and tossed all of Deadshot's gear over the side of the aforementioned cliff, "Because it wouldn't mean anything, because you aren't scared. You weren't scared the whole time. Even when I was breaking your fingers, it feels like you told me what you did just so I'd get off of you."
Deadshot forewent looking at Null in exchange for examining his mangled right hand, "I figured I could just shoot your dumb ass if you were stupid enough to do that. Didn't know you were a human metal detector/magnet. That's handy."
Null didn't respond, glaring at Deadshot as they circled one another. Instead of fighting though, Deadshot turned his back and walked away.
"I'll have to look you up one of these days, junior," He said as a parting shot, "Once my hand heals, I'll be sure to pay you a visit."
Max didn't take his eyes off of the man until he was long gone, "...Well, at least now we can tell Verinni that he was the one who popped his old man. Save us some trouble."
The guards at the convent were vigilant. It was nothing that Catwoman couldn't deal with under normal circumstances, but injured as she was, the climb up the sheer cliff face was agonizing, and the pouring rain didn't make things any easier.
Catwoman climbed, claws digging into the wall of the building itself. Every move she made to pull herself up hurt, but she had to be quiet, "As undignified as it would be to let Maxie do all the heavy lifting... I wouldn't have said no to getting a boost here"
Dodging the watchful eyes of sentries and spotlights, Catwoman eventually reached her target window, slipping inside with as much speed and grace as she could muster. Once there, she froze solid. A woman in hooded robes sat, hands gliding over the pages of the large bible in her hands under candlelight.
This was what she had been waiting for, and there was no time like the present, "Louisa Falcone?" She asked, only to get a response in the tongue of the region, "I'm sorry. I keep having this same problem. I don't speak Italian."
Fortunately for her, this woman spoke English, "Ah, your accent. American? New York City?"
So they could communicate. For some reason that made Catwoman even more nervous, "Close enough. Are you Louisa Falcone?" The woman turned around only for the unfocused eyes of the blind to meet her, "Oh," Selina gasped quietly.
Despite how quiet she had been, Louisa's sharp eyes had caught it, "It's been so long since anyone new came to visit me that I'd nearly forgotten that 'oh'."
Caught off-guard, Catwoman felt like jumping back out of the window, "W-What do you mean?"
Louisa stood and slowly approached, "It's perfectly alright to feel uncomfortable, but I promise you that being blind isn't contagious," Despite the offense in Louisa's words, her tone was decidedly neutral.
Her being blind had been unexpected, but it hadn't been what had caught Selina's attention, "You misunderstood me. I'd be less than honest that I was caught off-guard to find you sightless, but my reaction was in seeing you."
"And that would be why?"
"...It's like seeing myself, only older," Selina said, removing her mask to reveal her own face... for all the good it did. Not only was she looking at a person she could have considered herself the spitting image of, but the person in question couldn't even see her to share the feeling.
"I think you'd better explain that."
Now came the true hard part. Selina had traveled thousands of miles for this, "I... I have reason to believe that you are my mother, and Carmine Falcone is my father."
Louisa Falcone seemed to hesitate in her response for a moment, "May I?" She eventually asked, reaching out with her hands. Selina moved forward, placing her face into the woman's grasp, allowing her to study her face by touch, "I can tell you are a very beautiful woman, signorina, but I'm afraid you've come to Rome for nothing. I only had one daughter."
Just like that, Selina's heart sank, "Yes, I know her. Sofia," Not her. Not Selina, "Louisa, I can only imagine how absurd this all sounds, but are you sure?"
Louisa said nothing else, instead returning to her seat, not showing Selina her face again. Selina knew a dismissal when she saw one. Nothing else of relevance would be said.
"I see," Selina said, breaking the silence of finality as she departed the way she had come, "I'm sorry I got your floor all wet."
Once Selina was good and gone, Louisa rose and shut the window she had used to get in. In the dark of the room, she heard footsteps approach, and a man spoke to her, "Perche non avette detto la verita? (Why didn't you tell the truth?)"
"Desidero l'anello. (I want the ring.)" Louisa said, outright ignoring the question, "E se non riesci a capirlo, sai cosa devi fare. (And if you can't get it, you know what you need to do.)"
"Si." The man confirmed as he went to leave.
Max didn't know what had transpired back at the convent. Selina hadn't said much once they'd left, and she came back more morose than he could remember ever seeing her. Apparently whatever had happened hadn't been good.
They made it back to Castillo's ship where Max opened up about his own experience on the job, "Deadshot was the one hired to plug you," He said as Selina stared blankly over the side of the yacht, "I didn't kill or maim him-," Not too much at least, "-and in exchange, he told me that the lady you went to see was the one who hired him to kill you."
Max frowned at the sound of her voice. She sounded defeated. It was a first, "He said he didn't know why, but suggested it was definitely something worth killing over," Again, she hardly reacted, "Selina, what's wrong? Whatever this is, you've been dead focused on it. And it isn't about money, because that ring I stole is worth millions to the right people."
Selina seemed to ignore him at first before turning around, leaning herself against the railing, "Max, how certain are you about where you come from?"
An odd question, "Pretty certain, seeing as how I've got birth pictures of me in the hospital with my parents somewhere in my house," He said with a raised eyebrow.
"Lucky you," Selina said, turning back away from him, "I had a family too, but I wish I was as sure as you about who my parents really are," She reached up to touch her own face, "I don't look like my sister, I don't look like my mother, and I damn sure don't look like my father," She spat the last part hatefully, "He said so all the time, and I tend to agree. But in that convent, it felt like I was looking at myself."
Finally, Max was able to add up the pieces of what they were there to do. He'd been missing some big chunks, but Selina had just filled in the rest of the gaps, "That doesn't explain why you came here in the first place to find that out. You think you're a Falcone. But why?"
Selina pulled out a photograph she had on her person. A photo of the Carmine Falcone, his wife Louisa, and a baby, "Just... by chance. Something I stumbled upon years ago when I was getting started. Something I haven't been able to get out of my mind since," She let out a tense breath, "I thought this was a good chance to put those demons to rest."
But had she really done anything of the sort? Selina could understand words. Louisa's words left no argument. She didn't even humor the possibility. Even if she had been Carmine and Louisa's daughter, even if she had been a child of the Falcone Family, what did it matter now? Louisa was the last living Falcone, and what did Selina expect from her then? A relationship?
It was enough to make her laugh, but not because it was funny, "I think I've indulged myself enough for one trip; nearly getting us killed and running into more dead ends than I'd have liked," She tucked the picture away and headed for the gangplank. She needed to take a walk to clear her mind, "I'll see about getting us out of Italy."
Max watched her walk off of the ship by herself, "...Haven't even done anything fun in this country," He said to himself before heading down under the deck. He stopped when he realized someone had been lurking nearby while he'd been speaking with Selina. There was only one other person on the ship – Castillo, "What do you know?"
"Nothing for certain, except for one thing," Castillo said, revealing himself, "When Louisa Falcone told Selina she only had one daughter, she lied."
When Max had asked his question, he'd meant what Castillo had heard in regards to his talk with Selina. Instead, he got something else for his trouble, "What the fu-? What are you-? Why do you know that?"
Castillo's gaze was tense, "I was just a boy then, but I remember going to see the baby girl with dark hair and violet eyes," Very distinctive eyes. Eyes that one would remember seeing, even if it happened over twenty years later, "The labor was hard. Louisa was in the hospital for weeks, and Uncle Carmine played the good father publicly... but privately?"
Max finished the thought for him, "He didn't want her?" Castillo nodded, "But he had at least two kids already. He had three that I know about," Mario, Sofia, and Alberto Falcone. He knew about them because both of them had died years ago in one of Gotham's many tilts of good and evil, but not much beyond that, "At least two of them are older than Selina, for sure."
"Si, Mario and Sofia," Castillo said, "This was before Alberto was born. It was a matter of image. Machismo. Privately he feared what Don Verinni would think had he produced more girls than boys."
"That's pretty messed up, I'm going to be honest."
"I haven't gotten to the 'messed up' part yet," Castillo said, smiling with no humor behind it, "While Louisa slept, the baby was given to Milos Grapa, Uncle Carmine's trusted bodyguard, for disposal. It was all about Gotham City. Uncle Carmine needed the Don's blessing to go to America and start his own crime family."
Max had to admit, he was right. That was the messed up part, "I don't get what killing a fucking baby – his fucking baby – has to do with that!" He exclaimed.
The more he heard about the criminal elements in Gotham City, the more Max was glad that he'd chosen to stay independent from them. Even the ones who weren't supervillains were extraordinary pieces of work.
"The baby was... the sacrifice. However, Louisa Falcone stopped them," Castillo continued, "I don't know what she gave Milos in return, or threatened him with, but she convinced him to take the girl to America and give her up for adoption," He turned away and took a deep breath, "I've never spoken of this to anyone."
"...Do you know the baby's name?" Max asked with great trepidation, 'This really isn't any of my business.'
Max didn't know if he felt relief or not when Castillo shook his head, "I do not. It wouldn't matter if I did. Names can be changed."
"Why are you telling me this?" Max asked, outrage slowly growing, "Come to think of it, why did you wait so long!? We've been here for a week and a half! Selina's been scrambling for whatever trace she could get this whole time!"
He had been around them for nearly two weeks. With the information he had, and what he knew about Selina's targets and goals, he probably knew there was a relation to all of this long before then.
Castillo didn't flinch in the face of the angry young metahuman, "Because as you have heard, and as you have seen, there are people who would kill those who knew this information."
"That didn't answer the first question," Max said. He was starting to see why the half-truths and omission of details that he used so fondly could be vexing to others, "Why. Are you. Telling me this."
"Consider it payment," Castillo said cryptically, pulling out the ring of the first Don, "Something priceless for something priceless," Before Max could lunge, Castillo revealed a trigger with the button pressed down in the other hand, "I wouldn't. I've seen what you can do. Bombs will go off if I let go of this switch, or if it shorts out."
Max looked at the floor and the walls around them. If explosives went off there, he doubted he was making it out. He would either die in the blast, or drown when the yacht sank, "Jesus... you booby-trapped this thing? This is your boat."
There was no tell on Castillo's face to show that he was bluffing. Max couldn't take the risk, "I know. It was either return with the ring, or kill Selina. I like her," The Italian hit man said, "You should both leave. Take her things, take your things, and go."
"Return with the ring to who?" Max asked, knowing he wouldn't get an answer.
Castillo smiled the same infuriating smile he had put on when they'd met, "Now that is also information worth killing over."
With everything that had happened, and what he'd learned from Deadshot, Max could guess who he worked for in three tries.
Left alone to her own devices for a little over fifteen minutes, the sound of rolling wheels grabbed her attention. It was then that she saw a frustrated Max carrying every bag the two of them had brought to Italy that was still intact.
"What are you doing with all of our-?" She stopped when she noticed the yacht sailing away from the marina, "Ah. So, it went the way I figured it would. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop with him. And the ring?" She asked knowingly.
"He's got it," Max said angrily. It was a shame. He'd actually started to like Castillo. But now? Well, the man was smart to get himself as far away as he could as soon as he could. Max was starting to develop a taste for getting back at people who screwed him or his limited number of loved ones over, "He told me... some things. Things about what you've been looking for."
Selina let out a hum. Max couldn't tell what it meant from her, "Is whatever he told you a definitive answer? Yes, or no, I don't care. But is it one or the other?"
Max didn't bother beating around the bush. He couldn't lie to her, even if there was a chance the answer would cause her pain, "...No."
It was difficult for her to stomach, but it was time to cut her losses, "Then don't worry about it. It doesn't matter," She said with great difficulty, "Even if he did have a yes or a no, I doubt he has any hard evidence to back any of it up."
"But-," She had a point, one that Max couldn't refute. The story had been intriguing, but nothing there could officially tie itself together with Selina's point of view, "Okay. So we went through all of this for nothing?"
Selina bade him an apologetic look, "Sorry, Maxie," She reached out and pinched his cheek. This time, he didn't stop her the way he usually did, "I'll make it up to you the next place we go. How does that sound?"
Max's lips quirked upward, despite his attempt to maintain a scowling demeanor, "The next place we go better be somewhere you can get some actual rest," Selina didn't say anything about that as they walked along, "You seem to be taking all of this a lot better than I thought you would."
Selina inwardly agreed. It had been quite the experience, and in the end, while she wouldn't say it all sat well with her, she wasn't broken by any of it, "Well, I had a lot of time to think since we've been here, you know? I think I can live with not knowing. None of this changes anything about me. I still am who I am," She said, "Sometimes it's not about who wins. It's about who loses the least."
Max looked over at his mentor, slightly puzzled, "That's cool and all, Selina, but I meant the ring. I figured you'd have been steaming over that," Again, even with the reminder of Castillo's treachery, there was no real reaction from her. Max read the mood and what he knew of Selina to draw his own conclusion without being told, "...What's-his-face doesn't have the ring, does he?"
While he couldn't read Selina before, the smirk on her face and her light tone might as well have subtitled her with the outright truth, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Max responded with deadpan snark, "Yeah, well I guess I won't know where the money you give me comes from when you do whatever you're going to do with it," Cheetah sliced the hell out of him for that ring. He'd better get something, "...Be damned if I get permanent scars on my back for no take..."
"How about my everlasting gratitude?"
"As long as your everlasting gratitude comes with some form of legal tender, sure."
The vacation is underway. After some unpleasantness in Italy, and learning more about Selina than he ever knew before, Max is blowing that pop stand and heading somewhere else. Presumably somewhere decidedly more chill.
Aha... come on. We all know there's no chance of that happening.
Until then, I hope you guys enjoyed.