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Like Those Foreign Stars

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Damian was so done.

Despite the countless prestigious galas he had attended in his infancy and in the present time, despite the practice he had mastered to pretend a certain semblance of interest when someone tried to engage in a boring conversation with him, Damian still could not unwind and pretend to be enjoying wealthy people’s company. It took a lot of him to be able to talk about such banal things or answer absurd questions that were absolutely meaningless.

Why on earth would anyone want to know about his favorite movie?

Damian could not help but feel confronted about sharing even a small fraction about himself on display. Who did they think they were to demand those answers from him? They were not deserving of that information. Damian knew it was very difficult for him to open up to people, even after so long. He found it almost impossible. The idea of opening up to strangers for the simple sake of the mission seemed ridiculous to him. Why should he be the target of their foolish gossip? After all these years, he still could not figure out how Richard could do it. He didn’t understand how the acrobat could carry himself with grace and elegance, be polite and caring, and meanwhile portray an honest smile over his face while he was surrounded by so many falsehearted people. It was a tiring task if Damian was honest. It just made him think more highly about him. But that was to be expected, after all, it was Richard he was talking about. The man was certainly an enigma still able to surprise him.  

It had only been mere days since they had embarked and Damian was already feeling aggravated.

He could enlist a long list of things he didn’t like and a very small list of things he considered pleasant about this cruise. Starting with the passengers, what a great bunch of losers. The ship itself was not so bad, as it certainly had an aerodynamic design and complied with what they offered on their website. The Captain did not seem to be that insolent, but that was yet to be proved. The cooking was acceptable yet not exquisite, and the customer service was certainly quite outstanding. Damian could say it wasn’t as bad as it could be. The only truly impressive thing about this charade was undoubtedly the seascape. Damian had felt inspired by just looking out the window. It was a good thing he had brought his sketchbook so he could do something productive while they expected something to happen, or while nothing was happening. And that was even worse. Having nothing was disappointing.

On their third day on the cruise and not a single clue or hint of piracy, Damian felt unsatisfied. Predictably, Todd and Grayson would rather have the answers magically appear, instead, Damian did not share such ideals and preferred to take action by his own hands. Father had taught them better, there was no time to lose. It certainly wasn’t summer vacation.

It was pretty early, however, Damian was a morning person. Waking up early was effortless, untangling from the person lying next to him, not so much. Damian was aware that he had stated about not bringing the two twin beds together or about not cuddling together, but at the time it became impossible for him to decline when the acrobat had asked so charmingly. Richard was like an octopus, he was attached to his back with large, warm hands, and he had tangled his feet with his as per usual. This time Richard had decided to be the big spoon and hug him from behind in his sleep. Damian hadn’t put up a fight, because certainly, it was just not something that bothered him anymore. Big spoon, little spoon, was all the same. Damian had grown up and now in body mass he was equal to Richard, if not broader. The acrobat was lean and light; Damian was now pure muscle. Perhaps not yet built like Todd or Father, but he was quite well for his age, which meant he was always the big spoon anyway. Gently, Damian removes Dick’s hands around his middle to finally sit on the edge of the bed, he stretches and then glances back when he hears the blue-eyed complain quietly, so Damian simply caresses his cheek tenderly, putting the blanket back on top of him. There was no point in trying to wake him up, the acrobat was not an early riser.

 

“Go back to sleep, It’s early.”

 

He whispers and Richard seems to mutter an ‘OK’ and then falls deeply asleep once again. Damian stays a few more minutes there, not hiding a snort watching Richard drool on the pillow. He takes a picture for future extortion, and after that, he finally gets up with quiet steps to the bathroom to get ready to start the day. He found the differences in their character quite amusing, and despite that, they both fit together so well. Richard needed the physical contact almost as much as breathing, but he was not really that much of a needy person, but rather a loving person who expressed his emotions through physical contact. On the contrary, Damian did not appreciate contact that much, but for him, he was willing to make a sacrifice. If there was one thing he’d learned with all these years, it was that sometimes a hug could say more than a thousand words. Being hugged by Richard was just another level of warmth. From time to time, Damian allowed himself to enjoy that physical contact, going so far as enjoying the contact with the other members of the family.  

Damian showers in 5 minutes and dresses up in grey slacks and this time he decides for a black short-sleeved shirt, feeling fresh and renewed. Before doing everything else, he quickly leaves on the bedside table sliced red apple for Richard for when he wakes up. (Good thing the workers leave fresh fruit every morning) Damian begins eating from his own apple as he sits outside on the veranda, appreciating the first rays of morning sun peering into the horizon, reflecting in the waves of the sea with golden glints. It is certainly a sight that leaves him awed and in high spirits. Damian quickly pulls out his phone and checks the notifications in case there was anything meaningful or any message. When everything looks in order with the outside world, he takes his own tablet settling it on the wooden table, determined to write and narrow down his own list of suspects to at least 10 individuals and not the original 22 that he wrote down on the 1st day. It’s a bit tedious, cross-checking background information of said individuals with the scant information Drake had sent them (which certainly was pretty poorly) Damian needed more than a few simple facts, he needed to know everything about those individuals. Typical of Drake. Damian already knew that if he wanted something to be right, he had to do it himself.

When he is within through cross-checking with the cave’s database, he can hear Todd moving silently through the living room and then opening the glass-door to the veranda, squinting at the light outside.

 

“What the hell you doin’ here at 7 am?” His voice is thick indicating that he has just got up. Damian does not even spare him a glance, too busy with his notes. 

“Unlike you, I do take the mission seriously and that is why I’m making notes about the case.” He replies flatly. Todd snorts making Damian feel a hint of irritation, here comes his sarcastic remark.   

“Whatever, it’s not like they’re going anywhere,” Todd responds dryly, but Damian can feel him stepping behind him, glancing through the old police reports he was checking.  

“Perhaps not, but hard work pays off, as Richard would say. We need to be one step ahead of them unless we want the mission to be another failure,”

“Uh-huh,” Todd murmurs as he continues to read the files. Damian sighs loudly, looking back over his shoulder to the nuisance of Todd.

“Those are my suspects, find yours.” Damian snaps giving him an exasperated look before turning back to the files.

“Screw you. Keep playing detective then, I’m getting outta here.”

 

Todd mumbles and Damian can hear the door of the suite being closed rather sharply, no doubt he went for a morning stroll along the promenade deck like every morning. Predictable. Damian rolls his eyes continuing with his task. With a cinnamon tea next to him, Damian ignores all the sounds and distractions and he focuses his attention solely on creating a detailed file of his suspects. He pops his knuckles. Down to business.

 

_____________ 

 

A long time after, Damian finally ends his investigation. By this point, Damian had more than just detailed data, he had basically written a thesis for each suspicious character on his list, and despite that, Damian was greatly disappointed. By digging deeper into their information, he had found nothing of importance for the case, no connection to the other possible pirate profiles. He had narrowed his list to 3 individuals, and reluctantly. They were organized in order who presented the greatest indication in their possible association with the pirates, but the information gathered was not worth enough without evidence. The highlight he had found on was a passenger named Andrei Chapman, with criminal records ranging from armed robbery, extortion, and third-degree murder. It fit the profile. Though those crimes had occurred more than 10 years ago, and he had served a six-year prison sentence. Allegedly, Andrei Chapman had made peace with the past and had reformed his life. Sometime after, he became the owner of an influential newspaper company. Damian was still uncertain about giving him the benefit of the doubt, as he knew how unlikely it was for a person to genuinely change. However, he himself had learned in the flesh that it was possible for a person to change for the better, with the right influence.  

Of the two other suspects, one had IED (Intermittent Explosive Disorder) although he was on medication, and apparently, he hadn’t had any kind of altercation with the law in recent years, which honestly was no reason to suspect that he was a ruthless pirate, for he himself had experienced fits of rage without any relevant reason in his childhood, but, perhaps being raised by the League of Assassins had more to do with that. The other suspect only had family members with criminal records, but nothing more than that. Damian slams his fist against the wooden table, feeling exasperation about not finding something more valuable, something that could prove that there were undercover pirates on-board. Even though the first suspect gave all kinds of red alerts, it was not enough to take action on the matter. The only person who didn’t fit on the list and was suspect number four was Kai Beck. He was clean, with no criminal record, not even a bloody speeding ticket. Damian had observed the man though, he could see in his eyes something malicious, something about him not fitting with the other buffoons. But then again, he couldn’t make a judgment without evidence against him. Father always had made that clear. Damian wanted to do everything according to the book, but he knew that he might not be as righteous as his father was. He was still determining whether that was right or wrong. 

The only thing left to do was keep under surveillance those four suspects, perhaps implant a bug in their cabins, perhaps force them to speak, or maybe he could—    

 

“Hey, you,” Damian is abruptly brought back to the present when he feels Dick’s arms wrap him from behind in a tight hug. All the negative feelings are quickly forgotten. Damian smiles putting aside his notes. “Good mornin’ lil brother.”

“Good morning, Richard. How did you sleep?”

“Pretty good,” He replies in a sweet tone. “What you doin’? You got up early.” Dick kisses him noisily on the cheek and Damian gently pushes him away, narrowing his eyes at him.  

“Stop at once with the kissing. You haven’t even brushed your teeth!” He warns him and the acrobat just sticks his tongue at him. He proceeds to take a chair and sit next to him, finishing eating the last bits of his apple. Without any permission, he climbs his feet up on his lap. Damian simply sighs and allows the action, quite used to the non-existent personal space around the blue-eyed.

“So, what you doin’ Dami?”

“I narrowed down my list of suspects, stacked outstanding background data, and I arranged them, from my point of view, from the most suspicious to the least. Now it is a full report, unlike Drake’s,” He answers, placing his hands on Richard’s feet.  

“Hey, Timmy couldn’t be so specific about the data, considering there are 185 passengers on-board. Remember he gave us that information without us asking for it. He was just trying to help, you know that, right? That’s what brothers are for.”

“Precisely, no one asked him,” Richard purses his mouth, almost pouting and that’s all it takes for Damian to sigh in defeat. It was ridiculous how he could succumb to such a stupid gesture. But there he was. “Tt. Perhaps he didn’t do such a bad job, but it still does not matter. Unfortunately, my preliminary number of suspects dramatically shrank to four individuals, and of which only one person actually has a record. The other three have only insignificant evidence against them. Which means perhaps all of this was in vain.” 

“I don’t think it was in vain, Dami. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You found something noteworthy, didn’t you? You worked hard to find something, and that’s what matters. Maybe it wasn’t what you expected to find, but you have to learn to accept small victories, remember? One step at a time. Now maybe we have something to work on. And for that, I’m proud of you.” Damian takes his forgotten cup of tea and takes a sip, trying to disguise his lack of words. Richard always knows when to say the right things that Damian didn’t even know he needed to hear, but they have a weighty impact every time. If Damian is honest, perhaps even more than Father’s words could ever do. 

“Thank you, would you want to read it?” Richard gives him one of those proud smiles that reach up to his eyes, making small wrinkles appear. Damian can thus see when it is a true honest smile, a smile that certainly competes in warmth with the sun itself, winning by a lot.  

“Sure thing Little D,” Richard analyzes his notes, staring at the information with great attention, making that gesture of running his tongue down his lower lip whenever he found something interesting. Damian waits with patience, drumming his fingers over the wooden table. The acrobat puffs a breath passing a hand through his messy dark waves, the bulky blue diamond ring gets stuck in his hair making Dick grunt an ‘ouch’ but he immediately gets down to business again. “This is excellent Dami. This covers plenty of data that might be handy. This guy, Andrei, definitely has the records and the profile we’re looking for. It fits the very possible crew members’ background history, which may be the perfect cover. Now that he’s someone important in the media, no one would suspect him. This qualifies him as our new prime suspect, right?”

“Yes,” Damian replies bringing his hands to his chin, thoughtful.

“It’s the most remarkable thing we have, for now, so the only thing left to do is just wait for something to happen, I guess,”

“Perhaps yes. Though we can centralize our attention on them with a wide scope. Not being aware that they are being observed perhaps will make an error come out. Gordon has not reported any suspicious calls, but now we can give her a name to direct her sharp sight. If they were to be undercover, it will be a matter of time before something occurs.”

“Do you think there are undercover pirates?” The acrobat suddenly asks with a thoughtful expression, wrinkling his forehead searchingly. Damian has the need to run his fingers across his forehead to get rid of that frown.

“Not quite,” Damian responds with honesty, his detective side aware that with how little they’ve found, it’s very possible this could end up being another failed mission.

“I see,” Richard mumbles directing his attention once more to the notes, his mind drifting away. Damian clears his throat, fishing out his phone and opening the voice notes, knowing that Richard adores leaving long voice messages to father just to piss him off. Maybe this will brighten him up a bit.

“Someone must inform Father of these new developments and possible lead. Would you do the honors?” The acrobat smirks full of mischievousness, taking the phone and bringing it closer to his mouth.

“Captain’s Log, Star Date 04.06.2020. We are aboard the Celestial Seas ship en route to the French Polynesia, in an effort to put an end to the terrible bloody acts of a crew of pirates who have terrorized and put all ships on high alert. We are holding position pending of a simple hunch to be able to identify the raiders, although Lieutenant Damian Wayne has collected detailed information about our suspects—”

 

Damian rolls his eyes fondly, hiding a smile behind his palm. He cherished listening to that nerdy voice. He could sit there and listen to the acrobat chatter for hours without getting bored. Fortunately, Damian was familiar with what Richard was saying, as the acrobat had made him watch Star Trek movies on repeated occasions, so he found it quite entertaining and clever his way of giving a report to father. The acrobat keeps going and going, recording his voice with thrill. No doubt father will grunt when he gets the voicemail, but he will still hear it until the end, giving it his full attention. Just as Richard was finishing making the voice note, the door opens revealing Todd. He had a slight layer of sweat on his face due to his trotted by the deck. Without saying anything, Todd goes to the mini-bar and he prepares himself a strong coffee in the premium coffee station.

 

“Good morning Little Wing,” Richard greets sweetly, giving Todd a smile. Todd simply nods his head in greeting and continues to drink his coffee wordlessly. “Everything OK?”

“Yes Dickie, I just need coffee,” Todd exclaims with a frown upside down.

“Anyhow. What do you want for breakfast? We can have room service. Order whatever you want.” Damian says ignoring the other specimen on the mini-bar, giving Richard his total attention.

“We can order some burritos? I’m getting burritos,” Damian frowns with displeasure, but the acrobat ignores him taking Damian’s phone and making the order.

“Why on earth would you order something like that having a whole gourmet menu for breakfast?” He asks with bemusement.

“Uh, because I love burritos and you said that I could order whatever I wanted?”

“I refuse to eat such thing,” He declares crossing his arms. Jason snorts with a funny smile on his face.

“Sounds great to me,” Todd announces and Richard immediately looks at him with a smile, taking his feet off his lap and going inside the suite.  

“Awesome. Have you tried the burritos on 5th Avenue back in Gotham?”

“Sure, who hasn’t?”

 

Todd replies and suddenly, the two of them are chatting about burritos, for Christ’s sake. Damian plots his way back into Richard’s attention, but he reminds himself that the acrobat spends all his time with him, more than with Todd, so it’s not worth making a fuss about it. Damian knows better, he’s an adult now. He has to learn to share.  Though that does not mean he has to like the idea.

 

 

_____________

 

The moment the words come out of Richard’s mouth, Damian knows he won’t like it. The acrobat’s excuse for going to the Sun Deck is very poor, and yet, Richard always knows how to persuade people to do exactly what he wants. Sometimes one look is enough, and when that does not work, Richard uses his fine, mesmerizing chatter to get inside people’s heads. (Like a mermaid that lure a sailor to jump into the open sea) Everyone always gives in, such as Todd, who immediately refuses, exclaiming it is a waste of time. But Richard just has to beat his eyelashes at him, and Todd agrees.

By the time he sets foot on the Sun Deck, Damian knows he won’t stand being there.

There are so many things that displease him. On the one hand, the masses far and wide, crowded like lizards sunbathing. The unbearably sun up high. Meaningless conversations being heard in the distance. People laughing at the top of their lungs not caring if they do it to your face. On the other hand, pop music playing on the speakers is another level of torture. Damian did not escape listening all day the same songs being played like a broken record by Richard so that he would have to be tortured here too. No thanks. Damian can only stand to stay there for a little while, just for the sake of not arouse suspicion or look like an odd duck. But enough is enough and Damian goes AWOL, unannounced and stealthily, getting lost in the crowd and making his way towards the Main Deck. Once Damian reaches the suites and cabins section, he travels the corridors with familiarity, wandering with all the calm in the world. Evidently, there’s hardly anyone lurking around, all busy pretending to be of any importance out there. The red-carpeted floor seems to glint when Damian passes over it, there is not even a single stain of dust or dirt. Everything is impeccably clean. Damian had already trek around the halls on the first day, memorizing the paths of the cleaning crew and staff, learning where the cameras and blind spots were. It was a routine exercise, getting as much information as he could about where he was standing. He could not just feel uninformed of every last detail. It was a bad habit? Perhaps. Was he paranoid? Perhaps.

But living the life they lived, it could result in saving their lives in every sense of the word.

Damian had learned to be untrusting, to always expect the worst from people in order to not to get hurt. Never trust anyone. Is what Mother used to say. Anticipate the blow. Is what Father always says. How did Damian wanted to get rid of those old-time indoctrinations when he himself knew it was for the best? It was useful to live in the shadows, without getting too attached knowing that life was cruel and at any time could take it away from you. But it was a sorrowful, empty life. Damian didn’t want that anymore. Over time, and tears, and blood, and great effort, he learned to see things from a different perspective. He understood that all those years where he hid under his shell, where he did not say what his heart truly felt, had been wasted years. Richard showed him another way, a better way of looking at things, and now seeing it in retrospect, it was crystal clear. He still had a long way to go, but being able to recognize his maturity and awareness in all this time gave him a sense of delight. 

Wearing a satisfied grin, Damian reaches his destination. Suite 43, said suite belonging to Andrei Chapman, suspect number one, who currently was on the Sun Deck sunbathing with the rest of the population. Unfortunately, he could not approach that much to Kai Beck’s cabin, cause it looked like the chap was just leaving his cabin to feed himself and that was all he did, which technically was not that odd, but it raised suspicion anyway. Regarding the other two suspects, it might not even be worth barge in their cabins. For now, the target was Chapman and that was it. He had about 10 minutes to sneak in, plant a bug, and withdraw off the scene without being spotted. Damian prized challenges, he was thrilled about the factor of being discovered red-handed, tasting the adrenaline of doing something he shouldn’t. Damian sets the timer on his watch at the moment of setting foot in front of the door. He swiftly examines the electronic lock with calculating eyes, he knew first-hand what kind of security and what kind of flaws the ship had. There were many different types of locks, but they all had one thing in common: to lock and to open up. If the lock cannot open it is not a lock. The same way that a door that does not open is not a door, but a wall. Plain and simple. 

All locks are meant to be open, even an electronic lock that works with an access card. Damian pulls out of his pocket a small square device (irrevocably useful, developed by no other than Batman himself) and swipes it above the lock, scanning the susceptibility of the security. It takes no more than 10 seconds when the light from the small screen is illuminated in green. Damian swipes the device once again near the lock, hearing an almost imperceptible beep coming from the device. It was not complicated, it just emitted a slight electromagnetic pulse to bypass the physical bolt. This could be considered manipulation, it is not technically picking, correct? 5 seconds later and the door opens with a click, Damian places the device back in his pocket and ingresses the cabin, closing the door quietly behind him. Damian wastes no time and locates the best space to plant the bug. It doesn’t take him any time to put the artifact inside the far corner of the wardrobe and one more under the nightstand, he makes sure both mics are working properly before looking around. At first glance everything seems normal, there is nothing suspicious but that doesn’t mean that there is not something incriminating hiding somewhere. Damian is methodical while searching the place, not leaving his fingerprints by not touching anything. It is when he bends down to look under the bed, that something catches his attention. A seemingly empty black suitcase, but Damian recognizes the brand. It’s expensive, usually used for heavy transport. What could have been brought on a cruise ship that was weighing? Many things, not much time to find out. With one minute left on his timer, Damian catches sight of the safe in the room. He could open it, but that would take time and probably he won’t find anything useful. He can come back later.  

The moment Damian closes the door, footsteps are heard in the hallway. Damian spins on his heels quietly and bumps into a girl of the staff, she raises her eyebrow inquisitively towards him. Damian places his hands inside his pockets, looking casual. 

 

“Whoa! I didn’t see you coming, I’m sorry, sir. Can I help you?” She asks nicely.

“Yes, thank you. I got lost. Can you show me the route to the bathroom?” He requests in a sweet tone, and then he gives her one of his commercial ad smiles. Cheery and smooth. Grayson would be proud. The girl smiles back at him. Nicely played.  

 

_____________

 

Hours later, Damian finds Todd and Grayson in a scene he would never have imagined.

They both were inside the pool and Richard was sitting on Todd’s shoulders while they were playing the so-called ‘chicken fight’ with a couple of strangers. It is not like they haven’t played that preposterous game in the past, certainly in a more lethal and uncivilized way, but never in a public location. For Grayson, he could understand. He had that childlike attitude, Todd on the other hand was not like that, and yet, there he was, playing and seeming to be having a genuinely good time. It was surreal, watching the Red Hood acting like a toddler. They both were laughing and Todd had that face of mischief while he held Richard thighs with his big hands to keep him well secured. Instead, Richard was grinning from ear to ear as he supposedly tried to knock down his opponent, a redheaded (great) who was just making a fool of himself. It seemed like they’ve been playing for a while now because there was a considerable number of individuals laughing and watching the 'show' for fun. Damian crosses his arms over his chest. Those vultures have nothing better to do? Of course not.  

Richard gives one of those sweet laughs that make Damian feel back at home and then the acrobat lays his eyes on him, his face lights up immediately and Damian’s shoulders are suddenly loosened. “Dami!” Naturally, it is a bad time to get distracted because the imbecile redhead takes advantage of the distraction to push Richard and pull him off Todd’s shoulders. Undoubtedly the acrobat could have dodged the strike in a myriad of ways, but why he decides to lose, is beyond him. Damian sighs and he doesn’t hide a growl. Marvelous.

Is not until the three of them were sitting on some benches sometime later (while both fools dry up with the sun) that Damian feels that calmness again. Grayson was eating a mango so enthusiastically that it was impossible not to unwind, even Todd seemed more serene and not like his usual fuming self. Perhaps it was not all in vain, and perhaps even if they didn’t find undercover crooks on-board, this cruise would still be worth it merely for their company.