The piano bar itself was amazing, probably it was the coolest part of the ship in Jason’s opinion, and to say of the adjacent casino, but its difference lay in the design. The bar design had a jazzier vibe, hitting elegant but no so formal, the checkerboard floor give it a nice touch combined with the colors of the furniture, and the plants scattered around gave it a lively touch. In return, the casino had a more formal air with a more sophisticated interior design. Too bad they didn’t come here to dance or socialize anyway. Without getting too ‘distracted’ (Jason is suddenly struck with an image of Dick dancing while wearing the Discowing suit. That’s fucking priceless) by the disco ball or the bodies dancing to the rhythm of the jazz music, they head for the casino glass-doors separating the two main attractions of the ship, according to the reviews on the internet. Jason can see why when he sets foot in the casino.
The change in the atmosphere is instantaneous.
The dense smell of tobacco and cigars soon reaches his nose, and Jason can feel his mouth watering. The sound of live jazz music is replaced by the bells and whistles from the various slot machines, and the racketing noise of their levers being pulled. From the card tables, he can distinguish the cards whirring in the hands of the dealers. There’s the unmistakable clicking of a roulette wheel, and Jason can appreciate the way red and black rush together as it spins. Wherever you look something catches your attention, be it the bright neon lights in the background or the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The captivating atmosphere is enveloping and for a moment Jason forgets where he is, it’s until he feels Dick’s hand sticking something inside his pocket shirt that Jason returns to reality.
“What?” Jason wrinkles his forehead looking down at his shirt and finding a wad of bills.
“I said we should start with high stakes, you know, draw attention,” Dick says with a smirk and brushing the hair away from his eyes. “Go for bold bets and don’t expect to win, you know the drill. It shows that we have a lot of money to bet and that we don’t mind losing, just having fun,” Jason puffed a breath. To be bold is to wear what you’re wearing. Basically you have a sign on your forehead that says look at, he thinks to himself.
“You don’t need to overflow money when you’re already drawing attention just by standing there like a fool,” He says instead.
“For once, I coincide. You are attracting too much attention and you haven’t even started playing. It must be your bad taste in clothing.” Damian adds with a playful look of mischief in his green eyes.
“What’s wrong with it? I don’t see anything wrong with my outfit. You know what? I don’t care what you two think,” Dick pouts, actually pouts and for a moment the serious façade of Damian slips revealing a small tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Hmm, considering your tastes, I’m not surprised you have such low standards.” Jason snorts at that and Dick makes an offended noise.
“I beg your pardon?” Dick fakes a British accent placing a hand over his chest. Alfred wouldn’t be pleased. “Could you repeat what you just said? Why do I have low standards?”
“If we consider your choices of partners, friends, and cooking, you can comprehend my point. Who in his sane mind orders burritos for breakfast?” Damian replies with a smug smile nipping at his glass of water.
“Ok, that’s rude. Those burritos were the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. But that’s not the point, the point is that there’s nothing wrong with my tastes, let alone my clothes!” Dick says while placing his hands on his hips. Jason takes the chance to give the blue-eyed a glance over. He was wearing a tight patterned shirt in a soft purple color and light beige slacks and sneakers. But what stood out most about him weren’t his clothes or his hair that looked messy but at the same time perfect. What stood out most about him were his eyes. Dick had placed a kind of eyeliner that made his eyes look like two glowing lush gems. If that wasn’t enough to get anyone hypnotized, Jason didn’t know what else could compete with that.
“Okay, we got it, Dickface. So what’s the play here? Lose money foolishly showing off daddy’s money?” Jason asks crossing his arms. “That’s it?”
“If you want to get the attention of a big whale, you have to pretend to be one. There are a lot of people just lurking around the gambling tables, maybe one of those people may be our fellow pirates,” Dick says in a low tone. “Is the opportunity to make it clear that we bring a lot of cash to party,”
“I love the part where we become targets and we risk getting killed,” Jason growls. Dick ignores him putting a hand on Damian’s shoulder.
“Do you want to play?”
“What about the slots?”
“How old do you think I am? Those machines are senseless and they’re rigged to never let you win. What is the point?”
“The point is... having fun! Maybe even make friends, you never know what kind of nice people might be out there.”
“Nice people? On a wealthy ship and surrounded by people in black and white?” Damian crosses his arms around his chest and Dick lets out a sigh, clearly knowing when the punk won’t change his mind. “This is a complete waste of time, Grayson. None of our suspects seems to be around. We should focus on them and not foolishly lose our time with this nonsense.”
“You rather stay listening to your suspect jerking off all night than being here? Which by the way, Dickface had to tell me about what you did cause you didn’t seem very inclined with sharing about those bugs you planted, you creep,” Jason growls. The brat had unwillingly shared his investigation with him, and only because Goldie had coaxed him to do it. Now they had a new fucking suspect that matched with what he considered was incriminating, but the million-dollar question was, why would the owner of an important newspaper be an undercover pirate on his free time? It sounded very unlikely, but not impossible. Take Bruce, a billionaire playboy, philanthropist by day, and crime-fighter dressed of a fucking bat by night. Nothing sounded impossible with that in mind.
“That is outrageous, Todd. At least I did something meaningful and I was not sitting on my butt or starting a water war, such as you. I don’t have to report anything to you if I don’t please, you imbecile,” Damian’s face was the very image of a tomato, gentlemen. The kid’s got that face that he was about to swing the first punch and Jason was eager to fight the little shit. He wouldn’t mind another round with the punk.
“Listen carefully, insect. Like it or not, we’re on this ridiculous mission together and if you don’t start cooperating I’m gonna kick your fucking—”
“Stop it!” Dick gives him a slap on the back of the head and Jason grunts. “You both already knew what you were coming for and you could have said no since the beginning, but since you both are here that means we’re going to work together like we’ve done many times before. This is not about you, or about me, this is about gathering evidence, hear testimonies, and maybe even catch those responsible for so many deaths in these last months,” Dick scolds at them, a serious expression tarnishing his soft features. For a moment, Dick looks older and Jason almost felt bad about getting this reaction out of him. “Put aside your shenanigans and let’s focus on doing our jobs. I’ve got a feeling, okay. There’s got to be something we’re missing.”
“Sounds reasonable, Richard. I did not mean to cause you any discomfort. If Todd stops saying things that hassling me, perhaps we can call an armistice for today,” The demon lifts his chin arrogantly, but his body language suggests a nonchalant posture and he no longer seems about to beat the shit out of him. Jason sighs heavily, knowing there’s no way to say no to Dickie, let alone to that little display of vulnerability with his last sentence.
“Fine by me,” He mumbles nodding in the vague direction of Damian. “Let’s concentrate then on the high stakes on the high seas, or whatever,”
“Well, I’m gonna go roll my luck with the dices then. Stay out of trouble,” Dick smiles softly at them. “Or should I say… get in trouble?”
“See you in an hour or so right here, yeah?” Jason says with a stern tone, he cannot avoid sounding like a mother hen. He'll be damned. “Don’t accept drinks from strangers, got it? Much less if you didn’t see with your own eyes how the drink was prepared.” Goldie makes a noise of protest at the back of his throat and his smile vanishes. Jason had forgotten Dick’s legendary temper.
“Unbelievable,” Dick mumbles with an exasperated expression on his face. “That only happened once, okay? I don’t need you to be my bodyguard, Jason. For God’s sake, I don’t need protecting!” Dick growls.
“If I remember correctly, it happened more than once Richard,” Damian adds making Dick roll his eyes so abruptly that for a moment Jason fears his eyes will get stuck. “When we were in New York at that time, and then—”
“A second ago you wanted to kill each other and now you’re a team? That’s ironic, don’t you think?” Goldie quickly cuts off Damian. “You two should focus on what really matters here, the mission and nothing else, capisce?”
The blue-eyed gives them one last warning look and then he strides to the casino’s exchange counter swapping cash for chips, then Dick moves to the craps zone with a cocksure posture and an easy movement of his hips. Immediately, Goldie gets a place in the game and when it’s his turn to move the dices he does it with a smooth, practiced flick of his long, manicured fingers, tossing them and apparently getting a seven for the way the other players say hurrah. To Jason’s (and Damian’s) annoyance, it doesn’t take 5 minutes for someone trying to buy Dick a drink. 10 minutes pass by and he already has several people gathered around, cheering him. Jason can’t say that he is surprised; of course that those eyes screamed trouble. He should know by now that Dick is that charming, he has a magnetic energy that invites people to come closer. Jason can’t deny it, Dick is beautiful too, but not only that, he is smart and spontaneous. He always says the right things to keep the people bottled up. He is a performer.
Half-hour later and Dick is already in the spotlight.
Jason preferred to be more discreet, go unnoticed. When people are so focused on other things, they tended to be careless with their body language, so while Dick is laughing and fooling around, Jason focuses on the people’s reactions around him. Jason has always been good at reading people, it has been one of his most powerful weapons, one that people didn’t usually associate him with. Cass taught him many tricks, so he looks for hostility or some other negative emotion in the crowd gathered around, but there’s only esteem and interest. He glances back at Dick, noticing how the blue-eyed looked on his element, having people around trying to get his attention. But Jason knew him, could read him like an open book. As much as Dick enjoyed being in the centre of attention, this kind of people weren’t of his liking. He was nothing like them.
Jason decides to go around the casino before betting on a game. The place wasn’t that big, but enough to fit seven gaming tables and about 35 slots. There were a lot of people just watching and smoking pretentiously from their seats on the red velvet armchairs, throwing daggers at the people who seemed to be on a lucky streak. There was the persisting sound of laughter, cheers, and the occasional cry of defeat, of course. Jason takes some time to check the place out. Five cameras, no guards in sight except the one at the entrance. It didn’t look like the casino was as guarded as it should be, despite the large amount of money being handled. Maybe they thought because everyone on board was rich there was no need to worry about robberies, which clearly was a mistake.
Half an hour later, Jason glances down at his opulent watch and he decides that it is the perfect time to play a game. Jason returns his steps to the entrance of the casino and finds Damian already there with a sour face. He bumps his shoulder with him, catching the attention of the punk.
“You found something interesting?” He asks pretending to type something on his phone.
“No, though the security is shamefully poor, if I am honest. Even an infant could commit a robbery.” Jason chuckles at that and Damian looks at him with a smirk, sharp teeth and all. Fucking scary.
“Yeah, fucking idiots. It’s the perfect place for our undercover pirates to be lurking in the dark, if there is any. I honestly doubt this mission is worth shit. We only wasted time boarding this ship,” Jason comments bitterly.
“It is highly probable, Todd. Although as Richard would say, hope dies last. Perhaps there is a reason we are here that it is not known for us just yet.”
“Maybe. Where’s Dickface anyway?” He asks discreetly looking around in the crowd, Dick was no longer on the craps. Damian’s face changes instantly with that same frown on his young face.
“Last time I saw him, he was being approached by a bunch of bachelor ladies,”
“And that’s a problem?” He asks carefully. Talking to Damian about his overprotection over Dick always ends in a fight. Even if the demon admits that sometimes he’s too controlling with Dick, Damian doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. And well, who is Jason to judge, bearing in mind that most of the family is like that with Dickiebird, which is not really a healthy thing, but considering the incidents in the past he kinda understands.
“Not quite. Though I dislike that these people feel like they can touch him whatever they please, as if he were just a ‘pretty thing’ on display. Richard is much more than that.”
“Yeah, but remember that this is just an act. Dick is always the one in control. He allows it, but he knows how far enough is enough.”
“Of course I know that, Todd. But you know as well as I do that sometimes Richard is willing to bite more than he can chew just for the sake of the mission.” Damian grunts.
“Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?”
“Hey, baby brother, where were you?” Dick says suddenly at the rear of them, hugging the demon from behind. Damian clicks his tongue at the nickname, still, he still allows the hug and even turns his head towards Dick with a soft expression.
“Where were you?” Damian asks instead.
“Oh, just over there,” Goldie waves his hand nonchalantly. “Jay, why don’t we play blackjack? I feel like it’s the perfect time. The stars are lined up for us.” He says eagerly, chuckling at his own words.
“Whatever, just don’t make a fool of yourself,”
Once having changed cash for chips, they target a table of blackjack with seats availables. There wasn’t much crowd gathered around, but the moment Goldie takes a seat, magically, there are several spectators around the arc-shaped table. Jason rolls his eyes as he settles down. At the same time, a middle-aged man sits at the other side of Dick, giving his brother a dazzling grin. Jason gives the man a once-over, immediately noticing the strong presence of the guy. He had a square jaw, blond hair, and some intense green eyes. Tall and broad. He was wearing a designer suit and his features were solid as a rock. It gave Jason the vibe of a businessman, but he couldn’t shake the dark, odd feeling about the man. Something was off about him, but he couldn’t seem to place the what. Dick seemed to notice something too because he gave him a cautionary look just as the game begins.
Jason had a lot of time without playing cards, but he doesn’t find difficult taking the rhythm and begin to stand out in the game. Blackjack like many card games are about probability (basically maths) and strategy, things that he uses to his advantage. Jason is aware that Dick can kick not only his ass but everyone’s ass at the table if he really wanted to. Goldie is a math genius, he’s also pretty observant despite his apparent blindness from time to time and with the most obvious things. Dick is a good player; Richard Grayson-Wayne isn’t. So he plays the fool, making risky moves that have people cheering with awe, betting high and not minding losing. His plan to attract attention is a total success.
Dick soon captivates the players, the dealer, and even the audience gathered around. Jason just focuses on playing, and after winning twice in a row, he can notice curious glances throw at his direction. The other players at first seem a little skeptical of what appears to be a rookie winning on his first game, some quit when Jason keeps winning, but some others keep playing, bringing out that competitive side of theirs. They must think is just beginners luck. The businessman keeps playing, not at all perturbed with losing, he seemed far more interested in making a conversation with Dick, pulling out a laugh or two from the blue-eyed which almost made Jason’s right eye to twitch. Damian was lurking around the table like a shark, with his arms crossed and a rigid posture over his shoulders. It seemed that at any moment he would take a bite.
“Damn, are you one of those who were born with a star, or do you just know how to cheat wonderfully?” It took a second to register that those words were being directed to him, so Jason takes a sip from his glass with an arrogant smirk.
“I don’t need to cheat, it’s pure talent,” He says throwing down his cards. The crowd gasped and cheered. He’d won, again. Dick joins the hurrah’s putting a hand on his shoulder. “As you can see.”
“Damn, you are so good, Jase!” Jason nods looking proudly at his significant number of chips, he didn’t imagine winning so much in a single night. It was the perfect hook if there was a predator in the crowd, which seemed less and less likely.
“How did you do it?” Someone asks and everybody seems to lean forward in interest.
“Oh, but a magician cannot reveal its secrets, can he?” The businessman intervenes with a curious look on his face. Jason shrugs with a smug smile.
“Or maybe luck is on his side tonight,” Dick adds.
“I’d be just as lucky if someone so handsome sat next to me,” A girl from the crowd says and Dick blushes a little.
“Life is a one-shot game. There is no such thing as luck or fate,” The businessman says, making eye contact with him. “We only have the choices we make, and we can only pray they’re the right ones,” Jason nods nonchalantly, trying to grasp the message behind those words. The man extends his hand, getting very close to Dick in the process. Jason accepts reluctantly the offered hand with a strong grip. “I’m Aleksander.”
“And this nice gentleman is your partner, Richard?” Aleksander asks with a subtle smile. Jason almost flinched so hard with the way that dude talked to Dick, like if they were best fucking friends. Jason takes his glass rolling his eyes inwardly. What is wrong with that dude? Is like— wait what? Did he say, partner!? Jason coughs, looking at the man with a puzzled look on his face when Dick answers first with a polite tone.
“Why would you think that?” Dick tilts his head slightly, like a confused puppy.
“With such a beautiful ring on your finger, I assumed it was an engagement ring,” Aleksander directs his gaze towards the ring on Dick’s hand, touching briefly his skin. Jason chuckles without humor, feeling the tip of his ears getting red.
“Oh, no. We are just friends,” Dick says with a shrug, and Jason nods uncomfortably.
“My apologies, I totally assumed something that was not there.”
“Yeah, you did,” Jason says immediately.
“Well, in that case, I’d like to buy you a drink, if that’s okay with you, Richard,” Aleksander says with a hopeful smile. Dick seems to consider it for a moment.
“Why not?” He ends saying.
Jason puffs a breath rolling his tongue over his lips with annoyance. Without further ado, they both rise from the gambling table. Dick gives him one last look before following him towards the red velvet armchairs in the far corner of the casino. Jason can see sideways how Damian immediately follows them like a freaking dog. Knowing that the demon is watching over Goldie makes him feel a little bit more comfortable, so Jason keeps playing.
He takes at least one round on every single damn gambling game, making subtle questions, blending with the folks around, putting on a mask. He hated how easily he could manipulate people into unconsciously giving him all the answers he wanted, how he could talk about superficial things, and pretend he was above others even though his stomach twisted with discomfort. The lies flowed out of his mouth easily, despite the bitter taste they left. He could put on a smile and laugh and pretend to be having the time of his life.
Sometime later he decides to sit on one tool trying to put in line his dark thoughts. Jason feels extremely offended when a bartender offers him a colourful piña colada. It almost caused him to poke his left eye seeing the ridiculous paper umbrella. He raised his glass of Bourbon with a tight smile, just grabbing a shrimp kabob from the tray. Jason tries to ignore the dark cloud that seemed to be above his head when he hears a voice next to him.
“Hey you,” Jason spares a curious look at his right and finds a girl that looks quite familiar. Then he remembers that heavy stare, noticing is the girl from the first day in the dining room. Jason looks at her in surprise but with a smirk over his face.
“Hey you,” He mimics her and she chuckles.
“What’s a guy like you doing all by himself?” She asks frowning slightly. A guy like me? A clown, you mean? He thinks amusingly.
“I’m just taking a break, I guess. What about you?”
“Same,” She replies with a sigh. “Everything can be so… overwhelming sometimes. The music, the lights, the people.”
“I get it,” He says honestly. She smiles taking a seat next to him.
“Hey, don’t take this the wrong way, but I can tell a black sheep when I see one, you know?”
“Is that so?” Jason chuckles. Well, fuck. “Do I look miserable or something?” He is supposed to act like a rich prick, not like a loser.
“Just kinda sad,”
“Let me guess, you are a black sheep too.” She leans her cheek on her hand with a funny expression on her face. For some reason, Jason has the feeling that this girl has a mysterious air. Unlike most girls, she’s not wearing a tight dress and heels, but a golden glitter shirt uncovered from the back and some tight black jeans. She had a septum piercing on her nose giving her an almost bad-girl look.
“I can’t deny it but I can’t affirm it either,” Jason snorts at that and she tilts her head. “My name is Mila, by the way. Nice to meet you, black sheep,” She smiles and Jason returns the smile.
“Jason,” she repeats his name as if she were recording it on her head. “It suits you.”
“Thank you. Could you tell me why you think calling me a black sheep is gonna get you to flirt with me?” He jokes and Mila laughs raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, but I’m not. It’s just that you look different, you seem like someone interesting.”
“And why do you assume I’m interesting?” Jason touches his chin thoughtfully. He can hear a rather thick accent coming from her, but he still can’t know exactly from where.
“You have this mysterious vibe; you know? And you don’t seem like an idiot, and that in itself is saying enough.”
“Well, thank you. I’m glad I don’t look like an asshole then,” Mila nods with a smirk and then Jason squints at her. “Where are you from?” Jason asks and Mila takes a sip of her drink with an intrigued look.
“I am from Prague, but I have lived in America for several years, that is why I have lost my accent a little. Instead, you have a strong one.”
“You have a Gothamite accent. I am right?” Jason smiles with a nod and wondering if he really is that obvious.
“You caught me,”
“I’ve only heard things, but is it really as horrible as everyone says?”
“You have no idea,” Jason tries to sound casual but it actually comes out bitterer. “Tell me, what made you want to embark on this fascinating cruise?” The sarcasm is present in his voice and she chuckles.
“It is not as much as I wanted, but more than my dad made me get on board.” She says with a sigh. “You know; you have to keep up appearances,”
“That sucks. Parents can be a real pain in the ass,” Jason answers harshly.
“Don’t tell me you have daddy issues too?” Jason coughs on his drink, running his hand over his mouth to clean the liquid. “Oh shit, you have!”
“Of course not,” He denies immediately. Bruce isn’t even his father, or father figure of the sorts, so why everyone assumes he has daddy issues? Fuck Bruce for that. “Well, we’ve had tough times, but maybe for now, we’re in a truce.” He ends saying, feeling bothered about saying it out loud even though it’s the truth.
“I get it. But why not bother our parents? That’s what they’re for,” Mila comments and Jason has to agree.
“Cheers for that,” She grins and Jason raises his glass with a lopsided smile.
“Well, tell more about you, Jason. You are rather intriguing.”
“Uh, where do I begin?”
After several beers and a rather interesting chat with Mila, Jason sneaks out of the casino towards a large balcony to smoke. His quota for interacting had ran out a while ago. It’s too much to ask try to keep his head above the water while being surrounded by so many stupid people?
Once alone and with only the moon as company, he forgets about everything for a sweet moment. Letting his mind flow is something Jason is not allowed to do often. In the field, you can’t drop your guard. Sloppiness can cost you dearly. Jason carries it in his blood, it is an immediate reaction, always anticipating danger, his body always ready to attack, defend, or escape. You can’t be distracted because the claws of danger are always flying around the corner, in the shadows, lurking, waiting for the least expected moment to attack. Jason knew that very well. But for this sweet moment he is allowed to breathe a little from all the fog, right? Jason finishes his cigarette as he appreciates the moon shining high. For a moment, he remembers the feeling of standing on top of the tallest building in Gotham, the mighty rushing wind all around him, the smell of the city and the sounds of traffic and police sirens in the background, looking at the same moon but with an armour and a helmet on and the weight of the world on his shoulders. The memory seems from another life, and yet, not even a week has passed since the last time he patrolled.
It’s funny, how you can feel like you’ve been doing something you are sick of for what it feels like a lifetime, but the moment you don’t, you feel hollow. Like deep down, you know there’s nothing else for you to do, there’s nowhere else where you belong. Gotham is his home. And deep down, Jason knows he wouldn’t trade that tragic city for anythin’ in the world.
Jason is pulled out of his mind when he senses someone’s presence, when he looks to his right he finds the demon looking intently at him. Jason raises his eyebrow.
“What is it? You got tired of terrorizing people? You should—”
“Have you seen Grayson?” Damian cuts him off with a grunt.
“No, I thought you were checking on him,” Jason replies carefully, noticing how Damian’s jaw strains. “Why? There’s something wrong?”
“I cannot find him, I’ve searched all over the casino and he is nowhere to be found.”
They were so screwed.