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Like Those Foreign Stars

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It was supposed to be a simple undercover mission. Interview passengers, gather information before the pirates knew they were after them. Maybe take a piña colada or two and get a nice tan. But if Jason could have glimpsed what was going to happen, he never would have set foot on that ship. Hell, Jason wished he’d hung up on Bruce the moment he tried to recruit him. He hated this family so much (not true). In hindsight, Jason should’ve known that nothing was ever as easy as it seemed with Dick Grayson’s company. Jason could not figure out how everything had gone so wrong, not when the gunfire momentarily stopped, leaving the air smoking and his ears ringing. Not when he could hear in the distance the pained sounds coming from Dick. It was a good day to die, apparently, no, scratch that, it was shameful. And he’d die sober, damn it. What a pathetic way to go.

 

_____________ 

 

 

It all started a few months back when a rumour spread among the people, stories that were said from port to port, a warning that in some part of Oregon a new gang had begun to operate. They called themselves ‘The Poseidon’s Fall’ and showed in a short time that they were not amateurs. Rumor has that they were a band of former marines who had deserted to create their own crew of blackmailers and paid robbers on high-class cruise ships and other small fishing vessels, yeah, basically pirates. Jason wasn’t surprised, pirates had always existed, it wasn’t that strange. However, they weren’t as many people still pictured them to be, no eye patches, stick legs or talking parrots, and certainly no ships with sails and cannons. They had AK-47s, high-tech ships, and loyal, ruthless crews.

Black sheeps that didn’t fit anywhere but with the also merciless sea.

They quickly gained recognition for their brutality and the number of victims they used to leave at each scene. They didn’t care about the collateral damage they left behind and that was worrying, as they usually targeted cruises with wealthy folks, youth looking for fun, parties, and booze on the high seas. Normally, Jason wouldn’t focus on these kinds of robberies, let alone involving bastards that swam in money and that were given everything on a silver platter, but what bothered him was that the pirates used to kill crew members, as well as passengers that sometimes were too young. They killed them just because they could, even if there wasn’t any struggle or fight from the victims. It was a matter of revenge, something personal. They intimidated people through violence and murder to make it clear that they were in charge. That made Jason’s blood boil. The case soon drew Batman’s attention too, as the pirates were good enough to cover their tracks. There were no snitches between them who could give information about their crew or about what long-term ambitions they had. They didn’t have any useful data about their identities, and they couldn’t get into their operation as apparently, they weren’t recruiting. They were left to wonder who was the mastermind behind it, which was so frustrating. At some point, the police reached a dead end in their investigation; they were chasing their own tails. When a rumor said that the so-called pirates had target Gotham to make it their base of operations (not for anything still considered one of the most corrupt cities) Bruce soon decided to take matters into his own hands, or rather, get involved the whole family in the case.  

The pirates weren’t easy to track, though. Jason had to admit that they were good, good enough to get to the point when they hadn’t even gotten close to finding who was behind it after several months of surveillance. They had the advantage of knowing the ocean, it was their ally. They were like ghosts, never stayed in one place for long, constantly changed of ships for their attacks. They were also perfectionists, no fingerprints at the scene, no mistakes, and no witnesses. That made them dangerous; they needed to be stopped before they committed more robberies, before more people could die on their hands.

After some time of comparing the limited data about their tactics, movements, and patterns, they discovered how their M.O was. They targeted luxury small cruisers, usually with less than 250 passengers, they sent undercover thugs to blend between the passengers to get the control from inside the ship; sometimes they hijacked the entire cruiser and sometimes only the command centre, sometimes they took specific passengers as hostages to whom they demanded an excessive payment to be released. It was orchestrated perfectly; they had the resources, the cash, and the specific people to achieve the perfect robbery.  

The best course of action to catch them was to be first-hand on the scene. Bruce’s brilliant idea had been an undercover mission, blend among the passengers as well, make questions, the protocol, yeah. If they had the ‘fortune’ of being ambushed, it was their chance to study how they operated up close, how they dealt with complications, but the main goal was to place a tracker on one of the bastards so they could trace them back to the nest of snakes. It wasn’t something any of them hadn’t done before, really. The problem was predicting which ship was in the pirates’ sights. Apparently, it was something random, and there were many luxury cruisers to choose from. That had been a step back in the plans, one that was delaying them with their capture. So far they couldn’t coincide with the pirates. Cass and Babs had gone to a cruise with no luck, then it was Tim’s and Steph’s turn but that had been a total bust. It happened sometimes, the missions weren’t always predictables, shit happened and things didn’t go as planned in many ways.  

When Dick offered to try his luck, Bruce called Jason’s number one night.

Jason could have ignored the call, but he didn’t. Truth to be told, maybe he wasn’t in rocky terms with the Bat anymore. The old man had asked him in a very subtle way to be Dick’s back-up, but he hadn’t explained any concrete reason why precisely Dick would need him of all people. He could understand why, though. It wasn’t a secret that Dick, no matter how successful was on his undercover missions, always ended up in some way or another in a complicated situation. Dick was like a magnet for trouble. In his last undercover missions Dick had been very reckless, always compromising his safety for others, always jumping into dangerous situations that could easily be avoided. He didn’t think before leaping, and at the end of the day that could end up killing him, regardless of his seven cat lives that Jason had always envied him. With Dick two things happened, or either people loved or hated him to death, simple as that. Jason had agreed to go as his back-up for two reasons: to hopefully help in the capture of the damn pirates once and for all and do justice to the many hours of surveillance and scheduling, and last but not least, making sure that in the process Dick didn’t end up being the self-sacrificing bastard he always was. It wasn’t also a secret that they both worked well together, it wasn’t the first time that they went on some undercover mission and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Jason could admit that of the whole family, it was with Dick that he got along best. Dick accepted his company on the case only a bit suspicious but with a warm smile after.   

They only needed to be certain that the pirates would target the cruise ship they were going to board, there wasn’t time for more failed missions. They had the time against them to catch the pirates before they either completely vanished or changed routes. And what had been Dick’s great idea? Gossip. Richard Grayson-Wayne had publicly boasted about travelling on an expensive and exclusive cruise across the South Pacific Ocean, so he was the bait, and simply put Jason was pretty much his bodyguard, the fucking action man. It still was a big if, but it was worth a shot. There was nothing to lose, right? (how wrong they had been) That had basically settled down how things were going to be; pretend to be one of those rich brainless fellows, board the cruise ship, keep an eye on the passengers in case there were intruders among, and basically wait for the possible attack. So far it hadn’t sounded so bad, Jason had to admit that Dick wasn’t a crappy company. The complication had appeared when Bruce had forgotten to mention that the not-so-little-shit of Damian was invited too. Jason didn’t have another choice to tag along grudgingly. (He discovered sometime later that since the beginning, Bruce had bought three tickets)

 

“Tell me again why I’m here?” He asks for what seems to be the fourth time in a row and Tim just rolls his eyes. The cruise was a week away, so Jason was in the cave getting the final details ready.

“Because Dick is the bait and you are the brute force in the equation?” Tim mumbles from his seated position on the batcomputer. 

“So I’m only useful to you because of my body mass? Fuck you.”

“No one said that, Little Wing. And let me remind you that it was supposedly your idea to tag along with me on this mission. I didn’t ask you to.” Dick narrows his blue eyes at him and Jason puffs a breath.

“Whatever,” He makes a dismissive gesture with his hand. “You really think this is gonna work?” Jason asks skeptically, looking at the custom-made 24-carat gold ring encrusted with a blue diamond on Dick’s finger. It really was a very pretty ring but a rather expensive one, like really expensive. The color of the gem had the same tone as Dick’s eyes. For Jason, it was the bewitching combination of the blue of the sea and sky put together in a rare gem.

“Of course is going to work, Jason.” Dick mumbles.

“Not you,” Jason growls. “Replacement, give me your numbers and stats.” Tim frowns making a gesture with his hands, clearly exasperated.

“What do you want me to say, Jason? Everything can happen on a mission, but if all goes well, I’d say the odds of success are 86.6%.”

“And if everything goes wrong?”

“What could go wrong?” Is what Tim had said. Wow, bloody inspiring.  Jason sighs feeling the headache coming. “Just stick to the plan and everything will work out.”

“And the tracker on the ring is going to work just fine? Are you sure they’re going to bite the hook?”

“Of course. It’s a high-tech, waterproof tracker, and it works even if they were to use a jammer signal,” Tim says as a matter of fact. “And regarding to them biting the hook, I am 98.7% that they will fall into the trap. It is a very striking ring, yes? And the person wearing it even more.” Tim whispers the last, but Jason hears it.

“The ring is valued at a lot of money; no doubt it will attract attention.” Damian mumbles appearing out of nowhere. He handles Dick a cup of tea that Alfred had kindly left for them and Goldie accepts the steaming cup with a warm smile.   

“Aren’t you going to pour me a cup of tea too?” Jason mockingly asks.

“No, I don’t like you.” The demon replies with a devilish smirk. Dick giggles at that and when he sees his face he runs an arm across Jason’s shoulders with a light grip.   

“It’s going to be a piece of cake, you’ll see,” Goldie smiles brightly at him. “It’ll be fun, Jay!”

“Famous last words,” Jason mumbles rubbing a hand over his face. “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”

 

 

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The days before boarding the cruise had been heavy-duty and full of things to do, such as packing up, doing final planning and then boarding a plane to take them to LAX and from there to the cruise port terminal where they would board the ship. After 5 hours and 27 minutes of having to put up with Dick the whole flight talking about whether Mexican food had the hottest recipes, they were finally in the small queue to board the cruise. They were the last to arrive, oops. They completed the check-in and were given their boarding pass, electronic card to open their suite, and various travel booklets. Jason was hungry and in a bad mood as he re-read the booklet with the itinerary about what was waiting for them in the next twelve bloody days of travel. Dick had chosen an extravagant and paradisiacal destiny, of course. Tahiti and the Society Islands, an archipelago in the South Pacific, part of the French Polynesia. (Good thing his French was good, a bit rusty and not-so-smooth like Dick’s but good enough) The itinerary had scheduled stops in Huahine, Bora Bora, and Moorea, really magical destinations and where Jason had never gone before, only heard about. He’d be a liar if he didn’t say he was excited, even if that wasn’t part of the mission. 

The name of the ship seemed to shimmer with glints of gold when the small rays of morning sun reached them from behind. Celestial Seas. A brand new ship made in the last year or so, stoked with the latest technology. The cruise ship was as deluxe and impressive as the reviews on the internet described it. Jason couldn’t remember the last time he had set foot on a ship but it was a long, long time. Normally he would never choose a cruise of this kind. It was all about appearances, like about who spent the most money on-board or about who wore the best clothes, sailing ended up being one more thing to boast about.       

As they were greeted by the staff with smiles and some cheers, Jason couldn’t help but think that he didn’t fit. They were surrounded by a bunch of rich pretentious bastards who only cared about filling their empty lives with unnecessary luxuries. It was far from the kind of place Jason would feel comfortable in, but that’s why it was an undercover mission after all, pretend to be someone else. They were led by a friendly member of the crew to a little tour for the ship and then to their suite, and Jason had to admit that the view of the ship from inside had its charm. It had a discreet elegance and tasteful décor combined with exterior and interior lines reflecting a nautical mood. Public areas that included 2 finest grills and 1 gourmet dining room, a bar with live music and lots of cocktails, a casino, an observation lounge, a swimming pool on the sun deck, and even a damn spa. Not to mention the stunning suites and cabins. Seriously? This was considered a small cruise? 

Everything sparkled wherever you looked, everything you touched was expensive, and somehow that made his stomach twist.  

It wasn’t that Jason hated sailing, quite the contrary, he was actually quite attracted to the whole picture. The mystery of not knowing what you could find in your travels, not belonging to anything or anyone, without a settled place to call your home, just the much-feared ocean —considered treacherous for a reason— ahead of you and nothing but your wit to survive. No rules, no paths to follow. Damn, it sounded fucking awesome. Too bad Jason was prone to seasickness. (Thank heaven for those motion sickness pills ‘cause otherwise, Jason would’ve thrown away the little he ate on the plane at the moment of setting foot on the ship) He was hooked by the idea of sailing, but this time it sucked when he had to watch other people have fun while he had work do to, or better said, pretend to be the dumb-with-more-muscles-than-brain-cells type of person, which was basically demeaning and tedious. The only good thing about all this (despite being surrounded by idiots the whole time) was indeed the ship. Soon the mundane view of the city had disappeared being replaced by sea and more sea. Ocean breeze, the smell of saltwater flooding his nose, the sound of the waves splashing around smoothly, the almost imperceptible vibration of the engines, it was peaceful.  

Good thing Bruce’s credit card had gotten them the best and most expensive cabin on the ship. Their suite was on the stern deck, where strategically speaking was the best location to be, not only for the incredible vision of the stelae left by the ship, but for the great visibility it gave to detect a rear attack. When Jason swipes the card to open the suite, he can’t help but let out a whistle. The suite looked like a hotel room, no, scratch that, like a freaking apartment. It had a living room, separate dining area, mini bar, two-bedrooms, a bathroom with an ocean-view whirlpool bath and separate shower, and lastly a large veranda with floor-to-ceiling glass doors with everything and wooden lounge chairs to enjoy the magical sight of the ocean. Dammit, this suite was more luxurious and expensive than all of Jason’s safe houses put together, for crying out loud! Maybe it was time to retire, sell everything, and buy his own ship. The idea sounded freaking good. Captain Jason.

 

“Well, I see why is called Owner’s Suite,” Dick says going directly towards the veranda and peeking a look outside. “Holy Hollywood!”  

“I bet even with what you wipe your ass here is made of silk,” Jason mumbles more for himself.

“Hmm, I must admit it has the best view on the ship, so it’s acceptable,” Damian scans the suite from top to bottom, giving a little smug nod after. Jason sighs feeling a throb behind his eyes while he observes that Dick had already thrown his denim jacket to the floor and they’ve only been here for five minutes.

“Let’s get something clear, assholes. Out there I might be like Dick’s bodyguard, but here I’m not going to be your fucking slave. Don’t drop your shit to the floor, Dickface!” Dick takes off his shoes throwing them into the floor too just to piss him off.   

“I don’t need any bodyguard, Jason,” Dick snaps. “For the thousandth time, I’m not the damsel in trouble!” Before Jason can reply Damian makes a noise behind him.

“The suite has room service included, Todd. Stop whining.”

“I’m not whining, but if we’re gonna pretend to be a nice family for the duration of this we have to put some rules. First rule, Dick, don’t be fucking lazy and put things in their place! Second rule, everyone here has their own space so no more coexisting than necessary. And the last rule is if any of you bother me, I’m gonna kick your asses, I don’t care if I screw up the fucking mission!” Dick turns around giving him a wide look and Jason grunts. “And yeah, while you were too busy looking pretty, I took it upon myself to check for hidden bugs or cameras. We’re clean.” Dick rolls his eyes, grabbing the welcoming sparkling champagne from the coffee table and pouring himself a drink with a grin.   

“Cheers to the best words of welcoming I’ve ever heard. Thanks a lot, Jay.”

“Fuck off.” Jason growls pouring himself a drink too. They hear the voice of Damian from one of the rooms.  

“I’ll take the single room, you two can share the room with the twin beds.” The brat declares and Jason feels ready to throw him into the sea. It will be a real challenge not to kill him in these long twelve days that await them. The just-turned-18 was a pain in the ass, even if supposedly he was older and more mature. Maybe he wasn’t that annoying as before, but he still was a demon spawn anyway. Damian had grown bigger and he was a small- meaner-clone of Bruce from head to toe, just with green demonic eyes. He was taller than Dick, for starters. It was so weird to see him all grown-up and not being the small child that would slide Jason’s throat at the slightest provocation. Jason could even admit that he liked the punk. He was waiting for him to be on age to teach him to drink.    

“And who named you the boss?” Jason replies and Damian comes out of the room giving him a worthy batglare, but his face changes from irritated to stoic in seconds with just one look from Dick. Like a tamed snake, Damian stands next to Dick quietly.

“Dami, we could share the room, it would be like a sleepover, right? It’s been a long time since we’ve had one, don’t you think?”  

“Grayson, I don’t have 13 years old for that kind of nonsense anymore.” His words may seem harsh, but there isn’t really any heat behind them. Jason tries not to chuckle. 

“I know, Dami, but are you too old to not want to have a sleepover with your big brother or something?” Damian stares at Dick for a long moment, but Dick uses his perfected puppy eyes against him. After a moment, Damian grunts. Nobody can say no to Dick’s puppy eyes.

“Fine, but we won’t put the beds together and we won’t cuddle.  Understood?”

 

Jason begins to unpack his belongings in his thankfully single room. He starts hanging his clothes in the wardrobe, noticing that there was a white robe and a pair of slippers settled in there. They look comfy. He brought clothes that are by far from his liking but is what his persona definitely wears. Mainly white and black shirts, (tighter than usual to bring out his toned figure, if he is pretending to be the dumb protective pal he needs to sell his image) stylish slacks, a patterned shirt that Dick insisted him on bringing, his always reliable leather jacket, sneakers, some bermudas, and a swimsuit just in case. Once the wardrobe is organized with his clothes, Jason unpacks his second suitcase, a double view suitcase containing tactical equipment such as bugs, cameras, and some cool gadgets developed by Wayne Tech. He brought also his always reliable pocket knife. Bruce had said no guns, he didn’t say anything about knives. He preferred guns, obviously, but as he was very adaptable he knew that knives represented an advantage, they didn’t run out of bullets, they were silent, discreet, and easy to hide. The perfect kind of weapon, maybe not to fight with a crew of pirates, but it was better than bringing nothing. Jason places everything inside the personal safe in the room. Wow.    

Once everything was in order and they had made the suite more like theirs, the three settled outside on the veranda. Jason makes sure to put on sunscreen and wear sunglasses, damn sensitive skin of his. The wooden table outside had a vase with a pretty white rose, some chocolates and fresh fruit ordered aesthetically. It was a nice touch. They have some of the deck plans and blueprints loaded on a tablet on top of the wooden table as well. Having memorized every part of the ship was important. They needed to keep a closer eye on the recurring locations such as the control centre or the engine room in case they were intruders aboard, those were the places the pirates always took first.  

 

“If there were pirates on board, I don’t think they’ll make a move until we’re halfway our destiny, right?” Dick takes a bite from his chocolate, happily lying in one of the lounge chairs.

“No,” Damian mumbles without looking at him.

“Usually they take advantage of how far the cruise is so that the Coast Guard or any kind of help takes more time to arrive, right?”

“Yes.”

“Hey, you think they still use flags with a skull and crossbones?” Jason tries not to smirk at that.  

“No,” Damian says again making Dick grin. “We must inspect the passengers. It shouldn’t be that difficult to identify a couple of crooks. They would stand out a lot among all these rich people, regardless that they are camouflaged.”  

“Hmm, I don’t think so, look at Jay. He seems like a crook, put him an eye patch and voilà! He could look like a pirate too.” Dick says and this time Jason chuckles.

“I don’t look like a pirate,” Jason says and Damian smirks devilishly at him.

“But you surely drink like one,” Before he could answer, the tablet on the table buzzes. Damian picks it sliding his thumb over the screen. “Hello, Father. Drake,” He mutters the last. Dick quickly rises from the chair and steps behind Damian, waving at the tablet like an idiot. “Why the call?”

“Checking in. Everything is in order? Are you already settled?” Jason can hear Bruce’s voice as rigid as always, but he can hear the warm tone underneath. “Anything out of the ordinary with the passengers? Have you found anything suspicious?”

“Cool out B, we barely unpacked,” Dick says right away. “Is not a crime to relax for a moment, it is?”

“You are not in vacations, Dick. This is a serious matter and—”

“Where's Jason?” Tim’s voice interrupts Bruce’s speech and Jason just waves his hand on the screen, not standing up.  

“All this luxury was really necessary?” He complains instead of saying hi. “Cause I feel like I’m gonna die again, just by breathing the same air as so many knuckleheads.” Damian rolls his eyes at that.  

“You always have to bring that up, don’t you?” Goldie mumbles and Jason decides to ignore him. 

“Your suite is the most spacious and with more privacy than the other cabins. I don’t see the problem.” Bruce answers making Jason grunt.

“Of course you don’t see the problem. As freaking usual.” He whispers taking a sip of his glass.

“You need to stand out as wealthy young men eager to spend all their money on cocktails and stuff,” Tim says after the awkward 5-second silence. “Make yourselves a target. Be loud.”

“That’s my speciality.” Dick grins and Jason has to agree.

“Anyway, I’m sending you guys all the data I could obtain from the passengers. Remember that we are looking for big guys, 5’11”, more or less the same height as Jason. Tanned, maybe with some tattoos under the shirt—” Tim announces and Damian grunts.

“Tt. Like if we’re gonna be checking every passenger for tattoos, Drake.”

“The crew has a very significant and distinctive tattoo. It’s a strident with two skulls on the sides,” Tim finishes saying.

“Maybe Dick can hook up with some passengers and search for tattoos.  After all, he has a thing for bad guys,” Jason jokes and Dick makes an offended sound. 

“Of course I don’t!” Dick denies but Jason can see the funny way his blue eyes gleam.

“No.” Damian and Bruce state at the same time.

“Okay, then we’ll be checking the people. If someone’s undercover, maybe they’ll spend more time in their quarters,” Dick says. “But I’m pretty good at gossiping about people, I can ask about crooks that fit in our description, after all, if they are on-board it shouldn’t be that hard to find them, right? Easy peachy.

“Hmm, do it carefully. You don’t want to draw all the attention to yourself.” Bruce warns even if they all knew Dick always drew the attention without even trying.

“But it is just like Timmy said, stand out, be loud,” Dick protest with a frown. “Make up your mind, B.”

“That’s why I’m here, Father. I’ll make sure Grayson doesn’t end up dead. Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on him.” Damian replies with a firm nod before Bruce could add something. Dick puffs a breath and hugs Damian from behind, putting his head on top of Damian’s.

“That makes you my knight in shining armor, huh?” Damian shakes his head with a soft look on his face. Jason pretends not to notice.

“That’s nonsense, Richard. I’m merely here to provide extra help if necessary, and make sure Todd doesn’t ruin the mission.”

“Aha, we all know the two of you are thick as thieves,” Jason mumbles. It’s the truth anyway, Damian and Dick are very close. They’ve always been, but over the years their bond grew stronger. Everywhere Dick goes, Damian goes. Damian assigned himself the task of being Dick’s protector, as a child he already was overprotective with him, but with the years his overprotectiveness got thicker, to the point of being a problem.

“Well, stay sharp, and take care of each other’s backs.” Jason can hear that typical tone of Bruce that makes him sound like if he were angry, when in fact that’s his daddy-tone activated. Is his way of saying that he cares more about their safety, something that still shakes Jason to the core, something that still gives him a certain feeling between bitterness and disbelief. 

“Yes, sir! Thanks, sir!” Dick makes a military hail and Damian pushes him away ending the call.

“How old are you Grayson, five?” Damian mumbles and Dick just shrugs.

“And how old are you Dami, sixty?” Dick replies with a funny smile. “A little comedy doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“It does if it’s you doing the comedy, if we can even call it comedy,” Damian smirks at him and Dick makes an offended noise.  

“Don’t you dare!” Jason ignores their banter sitting down in one of the lounge chairs, flexing his arms behind his head, enjoying the sight of the ocean, and the gentle breeze moving his hair. Fuck yeah.