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Like Those Foreign Stars

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At the same time that the man let it be heard the commotion through the speakers to emphasize that he ain’t fucking playin around, Jason’s brain plots a plan A, B, C, and all the other letters of the alphabet, all as fast as the hands of the clock ticking. All kinds of strategies assault his mind with ideas and courses of action. His instincts scream at him to do something and not stand there like a fool. How many pirates are on-board? How is this going to be? How are they going to handle the situation? Everything in him begs him to make a move, something, anything. But his well-cemented instincts are cruelly shattered when the screams and the sound of said gun firing echoed in the distance, bringing him back from the depth of his mind.  

At this moment, for better or for worse, Jason is not the Red Hood. He’s not a well-trained vigilante, but a passenger like the rest, and the thought manages to knock the air out of his lungs for a second time. Maybe worse than waiting, feeling powerless is one of the worst feelings there can be, powerless when in fact, if he wanted to, he could put an end to all this madness in a snap of his fingers.

He feels someone grip tightly his shoulder to then slide down to squeeze his arm and he knows immediately who that warm hand belongs to. Jason peers at Goldie over his shoulder, focusing for a second on his pursed lips and then on the little wrinkles in his blue eyes. Despite the imminent danger (consciously or unconsciously) Dick still managed to radiate an aura of confidence and an inexplicable feeling of safety that wraps him up like a warm blanket around his shoulders. The touch anchors him to reality, and Jason concentrates once again on the powerful voice expounding through the speakers. Aleksander’s voice.

 

“—Perhaps you heard of us in some breaking news on TV, and perhaps in your little minds never occurred the idea that we were indeed real, but here we are, aren’t we?” The pirate lets out a dark chuckle. “As you already know, ladies and gentlemen, we are wandering in the middle of the ocean, which means there is nowhere to run or hide. I am the only one that controls this ship right now, meaning that from this moment on, and whether you like it or not, your lives lie in my hands.” Aleksander declares in a frivolous tone. “Do not even try to communicate with the outside world, it would just be a waste of time. Our schedule is pretty tight, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we? We can do this the easy or the hard way, the decision falls in your hands. My crew and I just want something very simple from you; your obedience and your better common sense, after all, nobody wants to die tonight, I am right? Having said that, I request to every member of the crew on this ship to listen carefully. Do not try anything stupid, because if I do notice the slightest complication occurring, I will not hesitate to kill the Chief Officer and Chief Engineer, and if that is not enough, I am gonna kill a random crew member here on the bridge every 3 minutes. Bring all passengers to Deck 5, and afterwards, you will escort yourselves to your cabins. Get moving.” There’s a three-second silence and then he speaks again. “Silly me, we are missing something. I speak now directly to Security Officer, Lt Nathan Yar, and your security personnel. Drop your weapons, boys. If anyone dares to start shooting, blood shall flow.”

 

The transmission is cut with a high-pitched noise and for a moment, everything sinks into complete and utter silence, but the quietness doesn’t last a minute when panicked voices fill the small grill with questions and concerns.

 

“How did they get on the boat?”

“Who are they and what do they want with us?”

“What are we going to do?”

“Should I try calling the police?”

“You didn’t hear? It’s impossible, there’s no signal, you twit!”

“What are we supposed to do then?”

“Shut up, everyone!”

 

A voice yells but the commotion of voices doesn’t stop babbling and wailing, yet, Jason tries to block all the voices, putting aside his neglected instincts of jumping into action. Jason hopes for Bruce’s sake that no crewman in the control centre has been killed, if not heads will roll tonight. Next to him, Dick helps to lift a lady from the floor and then immediately he approaches the still dazed passengers, waiters, and kitchen staff who have gathered in the middle of the restaurant. Jason urges himself to react and he shoves out of the way chairs and cookware laying on the floor as he moves towards the small group of frightened people still trying to figure out the situation.

 

“I think the best thing we can, is doing what they say, we can’t take chances. We have to be smart.” Dick interrupts the fuss using his most calmer, comforting voice. The voice Nightwing uses with a frightened victim.

“Are you crazy!? They’re going to kill us, dude!” A chubby man yells at him, rudely pushing Dick’s chest making him take a step back. “We must do something now we can. Go hide or something! Who are you to say us what to do anyway, squirt!?” Damian immediately pushes the man firmly back, putting his body slightly in front of Dick.

“Listen, buffoon, no one is forcing anyone to do anything. If you want to hide like a vile chicken, nobody is stopping you, but if you want to be of any use then hold your tongue and free us from your stupidity.” Dick puts a hand on Damian’s shoulder, pushing him softly away.

“Dami,” Goldie says to the demon and then he faces the little group again. “I’m just trying to help, okay? I’m no one to tell you what to do, but I’ve been in some similar situations in the past, and I know the smartest thing is to calm down and heed the demands to not risk anyone’s life, including ours.”

“You will know what is best for yourselves. If you want to risk being killed then go hide, or whatever.” Jason can’t help saying, making the chubby man grunt in annoyance. Interrupting the stare of tense gazes, a waiter takes a step forward raising her hands on the air in a gesture of peace.

“They are right. Please try to stay calm, everything will be fine. We must move to where that man indicated, okay? Please follow me.” After an initial denial, the people sigh in surrender and begin to leave the grill with hasty steps next to all the kitchen staff. Jason passes a hand over his hair while he observes the people abandoning the room. How did we get here? He wonders. 

“Come on, we gotta go too.” Dick looks at them with a reassuring smile, though Jason doesn’t know if it’s addressed more to them or himself.

“Go where?” Jason replies. “To our deaths?” Dick makes a noise at the back of his throat.

“What? No! Why’d you said that? Geez. Why I am surrounded by so many gloomy and pessimistic people all the time!?”

“Don’t be a drama queen, Dickface. Not all of us can be a ray of sunshine.”

“Hilarious, Jason. You gonna stop with that or what?”

“Or what.” He smirks and whatever Dick was about to answer back is interrupted by the glass-door being sharply slammed against the wall, causing the glass to break precipitously and fall to the ground with a pointed sound. A second later, the person closest to the door screams in surprise when a gloved hand grabs the collar of his shirt and roughly pushes him into the hallway.

“Out. Now.” A gruff voice barked, catching the attention of everyone inside the room. They all lay eyes on a man dressed in a tactical black uniform (clearly of military use) with everything and cargo pants and boots. The pirate was wearing a balaclava, the only thing visible of him being his brown eyes. He had a tactic vest notoriously loaded with gear, rounds, and weapons. And if that weren’t enough, he had an AK-47s hanging around his middle. He looked like a pro from head to toe, and he also looked like a son of a bitch who was about to fuck up their night. As much as Jason tried to recognize him as one of the passengers, he couldn’t know his identity.  “Didn’t you hear, you deaf motherfuckers!? Get out or I’m gonna fill your stupid faces with bullets! Move!”

 

The last passengers step out with trembling hands held high. Dick gives him one last look before raising his own hands walking gently over the broken glass on the floor. Jason raises his hands squeezing his jaw as they approach the shattered exit when the pirate suddenly pushes Damian to hurry him out, the demon throws a poisonous look at him but thankfully, he refrains from saying anything. Okay, one pirate in sight. How many more? By now they most likely have thugs taking over the engine room, Aleksander has the bridge, and there must be more thugs controlling the flow of people to a specific location. Just like the reports said.

At the moment of setting foot in the hallway, it is evident the fucking disaster outside. People are running and jostling one another out of the way, people are fighting and yelling nonsense while being pushed by other people trying to run towards the Main Deck. Jason can’t blame them, fear does those things to people, it turns you into someone else and you can only think about saving your own skin. There is a never-ending sound of voices and yet it is impossible to understand a single word, and that only makes Jason feel a throbbing headache over his temples.

When a bunch of people pushes them out of the way trying to hurry after the grumpy pirate’s voice behind them yelled, at some point between all the jostle Jason loses Dick and Damian off his sight in the frightened crowd. He curses when someone pushes him for standing still in the middle of the fucking hall, and with all the reason, but fuck him. Jason begins to get anxious thinking about what would happen if he can’t find them when without warning, someone holds his hand in a strong grip and Jason breathes a sigh when he feels Goldie next to him once again. Uff.

 

“We’re here, Jay.”

“Do not hold my hand, Grayson. I am not a child.” Damian says but he doesn’t even try to take his hand away.

“Yeah, it’s awkward.” He comments but Dick just holds their hands tighter, intertwining their fingers and everything. Jason shakes his hand repeatedly, trying to get the older to release him, but Dick, being a stubborn ass, resist his attempts to separate their hands. Ah, fuck it. Jason ignores the hand holding.

“Pipe down. There are more things to worry about right now,” The blue-eyed says in his team leader tone. “Damian, I don’t question your self-control, but you have to promise me that you’re not gonna overreact and attack every single person who tries to lay a hand on me or you. Okay, kiddo? We can’t cause any more trouble and let them have us in their sights more than is strictly necessary.”

“I have excellent control of my emotions, thank you for asking, Grayson,” Damian growls irritably. “I do not need a reminder. I know we cannot expose how incompetent these pirates really are, because clearly if we could, we’d finish them off in less time than it took for that charlatan to open his presumptuous mouth.”

“Damian.”

“However, if you are asking me not try to rip off the hand of anyone who even thinks of putting their disgusting hands on you, I assure you I will try to contain myself, fine? Though I cannot promise anything of the sorts.” Before Dick could answer, he does.

“Keep in mind you’re not invincible, Baby Bat. The human body only resists a bunch of bullets anyway, doesn’t matter if you’re trained to fucking dodge them. Imagine, dying in the hands of some low-life pirates. How embarrassing.” Despite the words, Damian smirks at the comment.

“You sound so preposterous trying to camouflage your concerns, Todd. I am no newbie, and my knowledge goes beyond what your mind can understand. Nonetheless, I comprehend the plain truth about never underestimating our enemies. The question is, do you? Or your outbursts of anger will bring us all to disgrace, zombie?” He says in a cheeky tone, putting lemon on the wound.

“Low blow, brat,” He says faking a hurt tone and not denying or affirming about how he actually cares about the demon, even if it is to a very low degree. “I thought you weren’t going to call me that anymore, you little shit. And no, gremlin, my ‘anger issues’ won’t be a problem. But your overprotection with Goldie won’t be in fact the real problem here? Are you sure that’s not gonna get us killed? You once broke someone’s wrist just because he was patting him on the fucking back!”

“Please, Todd. That only happened once and just because Grayson was uncomfortable with the touches and yet he trying to be polite did not raise his voice to stop the action. Grow up and stop trying to convince yourself that I am still the same I was years ago. I have more control than you can yearn for.” Damian gives him an ear-to-ear grin that makes him feel annoyed.

“Listen, Tasmanian devil—”

“Guys, enough. Put your minds on the game.”

 

Dick whispers and for once he does what he is asked, looking beyond his little comfort bubble (that being those two idiots) analyzing the threat that hangs over their heads. Jason knew what Dick was seeing right away. There were crooks with AK-47s yelling at the passengers to keep their hands up and keep walking. (And here came the question, how did they bring on-board those heavy weapons? How did they transport so many weapons after supposedly a detailed inspection upon boarding the cruise? There were several answers for that, and each one was more outside the law than the previous) Everyone wore the same tactical black uniform and covered face. Their movements were in sync, no doubt they had a degree of militarily discipline with their straight-backed posture, tight-knees, and keen-eyes, like little soldiers. Surely these were the fat fishes, he could bet all his helmets on that. Dickie was right after all.

After a few minutes later of uncomfortable silence, Jason feels someone step on his foot and he grunts. At some point and with so many jostling he also lost his sunglasses. Walking among so many people makes Jason felt like a sheep walking to the slaughter. And it wasn’t like that? A voice tells him.

The atmosphere was heavy with tension, fear and many other negative emotions. He could hear people sobbing next to them and that just made Jason feel the anger growing inside him like a rumbling monster that was about to explode. At this point, they were in the great reception of the ship where they had been received the first day, of course, now the atmosphere was a completely different one. There weren’t excited voices commenting how stunning the ship was nor applauses echoing on the walls, now there were whimpers and sobs of fear. The reception wasn’t that big, but among so many crowded people it seemed that all could fit.

There were people everywhere, they felt much more than 185 passengers plus the crew staff. There were more people also coming down the formal stairs, jeez. Because of the route they were being led by the pirates, it was most likely they were heading to a specific place; the formal dining room. Well, yeah, it was wide enough to accommodate almost all the passengers, it made sense. They needed to keep all the passengers together in one place, having control of so many people wasn’t easy, despite their method of intimidation and threats. If someone dared to rebel, what would stop other people from doing so?

 

“How many pirates do you think there are in total?” Dick whispers again. “Including the first guy back there, I count 4. The testimonies were always a bit confusing when it came to describing how many pirates were on-board. Cause they were wearing the same uniform, people couldn’t recognize one from another.”

“I don’t calculate more than 10, though I can venture to say that maybe 12,” Jason replies. They knew beforehand that the pirates were efficient enough to need fewer people for their attacks. The question remained, who the fuck they were? “We know about two, but who the fuck are the others?” Jason ends up saying.

“I think I recognize that guy. We spoke about the weather the other day. His voice and his gestures are similar,” Dick comments discreetly pointing with his eyes at one thug a few meters ahead of them. The thug was on top of a table to get a better view of everyone, and to make it clear that for now, he was above them, literally. The fucker. “He can’t be over 23, damn it, he’s just a kid. How did they convince him to do this?”

“People these days would do pretty much anything for money, it doesn’t matter the how, just the much. These types of hits pay a lot of bucks. They promise them the moon and it ends up being impossible to resist such an offer,” Jason says bitterly. “Easy money moves the masses, Dickie.”

“His name is Khalid Riley. He was on the passenger list; I can recognize his eyes, body type, and height. Son of rich parents but presumably, they disowned him for problems with addictions, or so I read.” Damian nods in his vague direction and Jason spins his head painfully quickly toward the demon, wrinkling his forehead in honest perplexity.

“How?” He simply asks. The brat is clever, but that much?  

“I am the son of Batman.” It’s Damian’s simple answer. And well, yep.

“Good job, Little D. You’re very good at recognizing people from afar. See? Timmy’s information proved useful, didn’t it?” Dick says and Damian is saved from answering when said guy, Khalid, reloads up his gun loudly.

“Shut the fuck up and raise your hands in the air or the next I see not doing it will get a warning shot, to the freaking face!”

“Charming.”

 

He whispers and Dick finally let go of their hands. Jason just realizes that he never stopped holding their hands like stupid kids, he can feel his ears heating up. The three raise their hands at the same time that they finally get to the passageway to arrive at the dining room entrance. Jason can see one more thug at the glass-door swiftly leading the people inside. Immediately, Jason names him big and ugly, ‘cause he is as tall as a mountain and he has ugly, drooping eyelids. He wouldn’t be too surprised if that guy ended up being a ship’s security guard, he doesn’t remember seeing someone this robust among the passengers before. From his place, Jason can notice that the tables have been thrown into the corners making a great space in the room and people have been ordered to sit on the floor in groups. The surest thing is that once they’re all inside, they’ll be stripped of their belongings and anything of value they can find. An effective and fast theft. That’s how they operated.

 

“Hurry up, there nothing to see. Suka! Move your asses in!” Big and ugly yells with a heavy Russian accent marked on every word. “No crying, ladies. Just moving!”

He bites his cheek to avoid going and breaking the pirate’s mouth just when Dick is next in. Jason looks cautiously at the thug when he seems to tilt his head to the side and then he extends his rifle preventing Dick from advancing further.

“You are Richard Grayson, aren’t ya,” The crook says it like a fact and Jason feels his heart pounding furiously in his chest. Now what? Dick seems to swallow and he nods slightly, faking a scared role, it seems. It takes more than an idiot with a gun to intimidate Dick Grayson. “You do not belong here, ya go with the others. Get out the line, pretty boy.” Big and ugly growls, using his rifle to push Dick out of the way and into his side. Damian immediately tenses up ready to attack but he seems to restrain himself from causing any fuss, for now. “Ya two, don’t move!” He says to them, so the three of them stand pathetically aside with their hands in the air while the crook yells again to the other passengers to move inside. In a moment, big and ugly pulls a military two-way radio out of his vest and speaks in Russian. “У меня с собой ваш бриллиант, сэр. Отправил его в путь.”

 

Jason speaks fluent Russian, which is why he has no trouble understanding the words, and he knows that Damian and Dick are also fluent in the language, however, the words stir more the knot in his stomach. Not even a second later and another pirate (Khalid) comes to the scene, taking him by the upper arm with an iron grip. It takes everything in Jason not to break that wrist and get out of his grip.

 

“Возьми красавчика с остальными.” Big and ugly says and Khalid nods his head slightly.

“Follow me.” The crook demands and squeezes his arm again, making him walk in the opposite direction while putting Dick and Damian ahead of them as they walk. Strangely, the pirate hadn’t even tried to restrain them the way he is doing with him, almost as if he didn’t view them as a threat. And, okay, maybe his face isn’t the friendliest right now, but Jason can’t help but think that there’s a reason why the pirate keeps a painful grip on his arm and not one on them. The nuts turn in his mind as they are pulled away from the other passengers and from the dining room to enter now into the empty hallway toward what appears to be the Upper Deck.

“Where are you taking us?” Dick has the nerve to ask for the third time and Jason can only observe as Khalid clenches his jaw under the balaclava, gripping tighter his hold on him. Yeah, Dick Grayson can be that annoying sometimes.

“Shut up, schmuck.” Schmuck? Really?

“Don’t you think we have the right to know what’s going on?”

“You have the right to remain silent if you don’t want me to break that mouth of yours,” Khalid warns as they round the corner of the hallway. “You’re lucky the boss claimed you as his prize ‘cause otherwise I’d already beat the shit out of you.” Damian squints heatedly in the direction of the pirate but he doesn’t open his mouth.

“That’s not very nice, you know?” Dick chirps in a light voice, intelligently not commenting on having been chosen as the boss ‘prize’. As if Dick was some kind of thing to get chosen, dammit.

“And you think I care about being nice? Shut up.” There is a moment of silence and then they feel a movement in the ship, like when they turned on the big machine the first day they left the port, though now was almost imperceptible, he was feeling it more than hearing it. Jason reaches out his hand touching the wall and he can feel the small vibration. He raises his eyebrow and then there’s a little tug that moves them mildly a stride forward, the ship gnashing and rumbling. Dick and Damian stop walking briefly and the pirate pushes them roughly forward again. “Keep it moving.” They already knew that the pirates moved the ships off their original course to leave them adrift somewhere far away, but it was something very different to experience in person, and Jason can’t help but clench his fists angrily. Khalid seems to notice it and he gives a tug to his arm as if to remind him who’s in charge here. 

“Seriously, what’s going on? Why did you separate us from the others? Why have they turned the ship back on? Where are you taking us?” Dick can fake a great role as a concerned brat, Jason must give him credit for. But this time Khalid doesn’t reply, instead, they arrive at a random door and he bangs the door twice, immediately, the door opens announcing a new pirate. His brown eyes glare up and down at them for a few seconds and then he smirks under his balaclava.

“Welcome, welcome, princesses.”

 

The pirate jerks him inside the room, which caused him to nearly trip over his own feet, how embarrassing, then Khalid pushes Dick and Damian brusquely after him, making Dick bump into his back, though Jason can’t even complain about the poor treatment when he notices how creepy the room manages to look. There were no windows and the lamps had been destroyed, leaving a single white LED long lamp centered in the middle of the room. It was a stockroom, but they’ve removed all the furniture leaving the room bare, bare except for the 3 passengers that were frighteningly sitting on the cold floor, but they weren’t ordinary passengers, they were the richest boys and girl on the ship. Instantaneously, everything falls into place.

Jason shares a look with Dick and he can read the painted uncertainty on his face, which doesn’t help with his own discomfort. Aw, fuck.

 

 

_____________

 

Time is relative, it was said, therefore, as strange as it may seem, time could pass more slowly in one place than in another, people could have a complete and different perception of time even if they were standing in the same room.

Jason knew first-hand how time could end up being something abstract: from how fast the time passed when he had to dodge a blast of bullets aimed at his head, or on the contrary, how slow it seemed to move when looking at the timer of a bomb about to explode. For Jason, time was relative and capricious, because sometimes it stopped when he wanted it to pick up speed and sometimes it accelerated when he wanted to stop it, and on top of that it was cruel too because there was never a warning when you were about to run out of time.

Jason’s watch said that it had been 45 minutes since the pirates had hijacked the ship, and of those 45 minutes, they had been in that room for at least 25 minutes, and yet, these 25 minutes already felt like a lifetime had passed. It was beyond frustrating, it was unbearable. Sitting on the floor Jason hadn’t felt so useless in a long time. The door had been closed sharply and hadn’t been opened since, leaving the room looking like an old interrogation room and not like they were on a luxury cruise anymore. One pirate had remained inside the room keeping an eye on them, and Khalid kept outside the door, remaining in the typical resting pirate position. If before Jason had felt powerless, now the feeling seemed to have multiplied exponentially.

There was something wrong with hearing screams and gunshots and not being able to do anything about it, neither help nor disarm nor put an end to it. It contradicted everything Jason was trained to do, his raw instincts. His mind had already pondered 25 different ways in which he could disarm the pirate inside the room and 25 other ways in which he could knock out all the pirates on-board. His body was just waiting for the order; he was ready to spring into action. But of course, that wasn’t his mission, and for now, Jason had to sit tight, doing nothing as anyone in their right mind would. 

Jason feels movement on his right and he can see how Dick tries to say something, but of course, the pirate wasn’t having any of it.

 

“If you dare open that mouth of yours one more time I will break your fucking teeth. Second warning, princess,” Dick sighs dramatically and settles better on the ground, deciding for sitting hugging his legs against his chest. The pirate straightens out and then he directs his sight to him, giving him the same mistrustful look that he gave him from the beginning. Jason could read a wary posture over the pirate’s body and he wondered why there was so much hostility towards him. Does his face show how much he wanted to kick his ass right here and now? That’s why Jason wears a helmet. Jason looks at him the same way, challenging him with his eyes. The pirate doesn’t take long to puff up with the provocation. “What are you looking at?”

“I’m just looking, is that a crime?”

“Don’t be funny, motherfucker. I never permitted you to look at me, did I? If you challenge me again, I’m gonna shoot you in both feet, how does that sound?”

“Doesn’t sound too nice, is a no from me.” He answers petulantly and the pirate only snorts but says nothing else.

 

Jason looks to his right to find Goldie giving him a humorless look and then he seems very entertained with looking at the crease in his trousers, but his posture was tense and defensive, he seemed ready to jump and help. Instead, Damian moved his green eyes back and forth, probably analyzing the pirate’ weak points, thinking about the best evacuation routes, plotting an escape, all to pass the fucking time. Jason looks quickly behind his shoulder, noticing that the three passengers looked worse than before, with reddish eyes and trembling hands.

It had not taken Jason any time to recognize them. Dylan and Jade, him the owner of a club of yachts and who they had met on the first day in the dining room, Jade, the trembling girl that was glued to his arm as if her life depended on it, was the daughter of a renowned oil company magnate in the world. Lastly, Brendan, owner of a privileged and well-known law attorney firm specialized in criminal defense cases, uh. (That topped it off, right?) All of them with a heavy load of money marked on their backs. They were the perfect target. Jason didn’t want to take his mind to that train of thoughts, he didn’t want to think yet about what it meant to be in this room and not with the other passengers, even if it was obvious. Though Jason did want to tell Dick ‘told you fucker’.

Just when Jason was about to poke out his eyes in desperation, thank fuck, the pirate’s radio buzzes taking his attention away from them, so Jason can finally share his thoughts and not burden himself with dark feelings. He nudges Damian’s side with his elbow, catching the punk’s attention.

 

“Ideas? Comments? Suggestions?” Jason whispers. “Making us wait count as psychological torture, right? I’m going to make a complaint about poor treatment.”

“It has not even been half an hour and you are already breaking. Shame on you, Todd. Even Grayson who’s worse than you to stay still is holding up better.” Damian whispers back.

“Hey! That’s not true, Little D. If the situation warrants it, I can stay still for much longer. It seems like you don’t know me, uh.” Dick whispers and he manages to sound actually offended.

“Please, I know you to a greater degree than anyone else in the world, it offends me to think that you do not have that in mind.” Dick smiles and taps Damian’s nose tenderly, making the demon blush slightly. “Not here, Grayson.” He mumbles quietly. 

“I was kidding, kiddo. I could never doubt that, ever.”

“Are you done with your bullshit of brotherly love? Can we talk about something more serious, I don’t know, maybe about the fact that we’re about to be kidnapped by fucking pirates!? I didn’t sign for this, you know!?”

“Do not be jealous, Todd. It is not entirely your fault nobody loves you.” Damian comments nonchalantly, not giving two acres of shit what he just said.

“Excuse me?” He exclaims.

“I do love you, Little Wing. Always.” Dick also ignores what he said, but he smiles at him sweetly and Jason tries to ignore the warm feeling spreading through his chest. Coff, coff, now is not the time. “Okay, now passing to more serious things, what are your bets?”

“I bet I can knock out all these assholes in less time than it would cost you to cook instant noodles.”

“I bet I can do it faster than that, Todd,” Damian says with a challenging smirk.

“No! That’s not what I meant, guys. I mean, what do you think is about to happen now? Why do they have us here? The richest folks are here, Dylan Bentley, Renee Crowley, Brendan Rosen, all sons of magnates or millionaires themselves. I don’t feel good about this.”

“What’d you think we’re doing here? Shooting the breeze?” Jason growls. “You think they’re going to take us on a field trip in their trunk? That they are going to let us go? No! You’re Bruce Wayne’s ward. Your ass is worth a lot, not to mention the fact that Aleksander has you in his sights. I told you this was gonna happen, and what did you tell me? ‘No, Jay. That’s an extreme case.’ Guess what, Goldie? This has become an extreme case! Right now, I hate always being right, ya know?”

“Supposedly, they didn’t use to take many hostages in the last months. It seems that they are increasing their bets, then.” Dick mumbles instead, not addressing the facts and not giving two flying fucks about his reprimand.

“You really don’t care about being kidnapped by a bunch of fucking criminals!?” He snaps.

“Damn right I am, Jason. But what do you want me to do?” Dick growls. “Yeah, I admit I didn’t think this was gonna happen, okay? I said it. Are you happy?” Dick waves his hands dramatically. “We talked about this, Jay. We can’t do anything about it. All that matters is that they take the ring. We’ll manage, okay? Is hardly the first time we been kidnapped in our civilian identities. It’s gonna be okay.”

“He is correct, unfortunately, we cannot put these clowns in their place. As Father said, we cannot engage. We must let things take their natural course.”

“That is ridiculous. I’m not gonna let them bore me to death or let them plunge my ass into the sea just for the sake of the mission! Fuck it!” He almost spoke in a loud voice. “Are you telling me you haven’t noticed the looks that bastard keeps giving me? They are going to keep you safe because your asses are worth something, what about me? According to the records, I’m dead. It’s not like I came up with the idea to go change my death certificate before boarding and say, ‘Hey, hmm. How do I explain to you that I blew up into a thousand pieces but I’m here alive and kicking?’ or whatever. I didn’t think this was gonna happen when I brought my ass on-board!” Dick wasn’t amused.

“Well, that can certainly be a problem,” Damian replies softly, his young face furrowed with dismay.

“No shit, Sherlock.”

“Holy cow, I didn’t think about that either,” Dick bites his lip. “But don’t worry, Jay. We’ll think of something, I have some kind of plan, okay?” Goldie answers with a comforting tone, and for a moment, Jason believes him. “Although I wonder why they’re so suspicious of you in the first place. Do you think they know something?”

“What could they possibly know?” Jason replies more sharply than he intended. “That at night I dress up like a freaking vigilant to beat scumbags as a way of living? Don’t be stupid.”

“Perhaps they can smell the hostility coming from you, almost I can smell it, Todd. Lower your testosterone.” Damian pretends to wrinkle his nose comically.

“I’m not doing anything, demon. That asshole was the one who started with the hostility. What do you want me to do? Start crying to feign that I can’t break these guys like a toothpick?”

“Hush,” Dick whispers just as said toothpick turns around to glare at them and then return to speak quietly on the radio. “Don’t worry, let’s just do what they say and everything will be fine.” But it seemed that that fortune was not on their side, cause just at that moment, there was a bang on the door and the pirate straightens up, making two big strides to the door and then putting his hands behind his back just as Khalid opens the door wide, revealing a tall, strong figure with green eyes that promised hell. Aleksander enters the room and immediately, the atmosphere transforms into one of fear, everyone surely could feel the aura of authority and evilness coming from the man. Here we go.

“Status?” Aleksander requests in a thick voice.

“We are on time, sir.” The pirate replies with a tilt of his head.

“I would hope for nothing less.” A new voice says and Jason notices another figure entering the room. Jason knows who immediately, Andrei Chapman. Damian almost growled. 

“Please, as if our crew was nothing else but exceptional,” Aleksander mumbles to Andrei and both chuckle.

“I’d say we have about 35 minutes for Delta 4 to arrive. Enough time to have some fun, huh, boss?” Khalid makes a gesture with his head and Aleksander snorts.

“You two are dismissed. We take it from here.” The two pirates nod before closing the door behind them. Andrei holds a folding chair taken from who knows where and places it in front of them, Aleksander takes a seat as he casually pulls a cigar out of his vest, all while Andrei obediently stands beside him. The pirate lifts a bit his balaclava revealing his creepy mouth so he could smoke properly. After quietly smoking for a while, Aleksander gives a drag blowing the smoke towards the ceiling, and then he spreads his legs more on the chair. Gross.

“It is such a beautiful night, there will be a full moon, did you know? I wonder if anyone noticed that, or perhaps you were so engrossed looking at your reflections in your golden mirrors? A shame, see, the moon is one of the most splendid sights a man can afford. Though of course, what would you know about that?” Aleksander comments bitterly. “Let me tell y’all that the moon is much more than an event worth admiring, in case you were wondering. As you probably know, the moon affects the tides, it draws the oceans to it. When there is a full moon, the sun, moon, and earth align, and the tides are higher, just like tonight. Not only that, the moon has served as a guide to the sailors in the past, it guided them to make their way between the open sea. Tonight, it will shine high, while you and your dear families will fill my pockets to get your precious freedom back. Isn’t that poetic?” 

The room erupts with sobs and cries and Aleksander raises his hand to shut them up. “Oh, but why the long faces? As I promised, nothing will happen to you as long as you obey and remain quiet. I make myself clear?”

 

There is a quiet ‘yes’ from the passengers and that seems enough for Aleksander, who nods boringly and then tilts his head to the other pirate as if sharing a private joke. Jason dares to glance at Dick and he finds the blue-eyed throwing daggers with his eyes at Aleksander’s head.

 

“You okay?” He whispers and Dick looks at him with a troubled expression that prickles his skin.

“I’ve got a bad feeling—”

“Now you have it?” He says incredulously.

“I don’t know, I guess—” But Jason can’t even try to comfort him in some way when a voice speaks behind them.

“Ok, that explanation of the moon has been very enriching, but I have something to say,” Brendan stands up confidently and Jason closes his eyes momentary. Aleksander doesn’t answer but Brendan keeps talking, which is a terrible idea. “I’m a lawyer, but you could say that a businessman too. I have made so many deals that I cannot count them all anymore, and I’ve convinced even the most stubborn person to not press charges. I would venture to say that you too are a businessman, in your own way. We’re very much alike, you and me, I bet. We want power. You’re not an idiot who just came to steal purses, right? You want something else, and I can give it to you. Just tell me how much you want to leave us alone, okay? I am sure we can make a deal out of this. Everyone has a price, name yours.”

“You know…” Aleksander begins to say with an almost amused tone, dropping his cigar butt to the ground. “Perhaps we do are a little alike, always willing to make a deal, always ready to bargain. I am in awe of your courage, young man. I think it is very humane of you, despite what its said about your type, that you are willing to save these strangers,” Brendan nods at that and Jason tenses. “Unfortunately, I never said I was willing to bargain, nor did I give you permission to talk.” Jason can’t even make a move when Aleksander casually pulls a gun from his vest and shoots steadily, without hesitation. He didn’t know if he flinched more for the sound of the gun ringing in his ears or the plump sound of someone falling to the ground with a cry. Suddenly there’s the dull sound of screaming and curses all around him. Yeah, Jason missed his helmet. 

“You shot me!” Brendan yells in pain, squealing from the deep of his throat, making Jason feel nauseous. 

“You are a perceptive man,” Aleksander comments humorously. “I grant you that.”

“You’re fucking crazy, man!” Brendan sobs and Aleksander shakes his head.

“Why does everyone take from crazy someone who is willing to get blood on his hands for a goal? You also have blood on your hands, it’s just that you are too blind and selfish to notice.” At his side, Dick bites his finger nervously, ready to jump. Of course, Aleksander can sense his intentions and he puffs a chuckle, waving his gun from side to side. Jason recognizes the gun then, a Glock 17. “I never said you could move, kid. Sit.”

“He could bleed out if we don’t put pressure on the wound. Please,” Dick says. “You can’t let him die like that, have pity.” There’s a tense silence where Jason is sure Aleksander won’t say anything, but then he waves his gun indifferently.

“How can I say no to a face like that? Go on, kid.” He purrs in a patronizing tone that even makes Jason feel offended. Damian clenches his fists and everyone watches as Dick rises gracefully from his seat, but he stays in his place.

“Won’t you have some alcohol with you, maybe?” He asks uncertainly. 

“Why? Looking for a drink, kid?”

“No, I need to have my hands clean.” 

“Fussy, aren’t you?” Andrei mocks but he pulls out of his vest a flask with a skull design and throws it at Dick.

“What a waste,” Aleksander solemnly comments. Once with clean hands, Goldie crunches down at the height of Brendan, he checks if the bullet had come out and luckily it did. The gunshot wound was on his upper left thigh, a dangerous area but apparently, it hadn’t touched any major artery, if it had touched the femoral artery there would be a lot more blood coming out of the wound, so the probability of survival was greater than 75% with the proper procedure. Dick rips a part of Brendan’s shirt to use as an improvised bandage around the wound to stop the bleeding, after that he secures the cloth firmly in place and he quickly takes off his belt using it to a makeshift tourniquet above the wound. He makes sure that the tourniquet isn’t too tight and he starts questioning the guy to make sure he isn’t going into shook. “Ok, enough, although the role of nurse suits you, go back to your place,” Dick cleans his bloodied hands with more alcohol and he is about to sit down when Aleksander makes a noise of consideration. “You know what? Now that I come to think, why do not you come a little closer, kid?”

“Under no circumstances, imbecile!” Damian growls standing up. “Grayson, sit down.”

“Damian!” Both Dick and he snapped at the same time. Jason grabs the sleeve of the little shit making him sit before Aleksander could think better and lift his gun to shoot him.   

“Tsk, tsk. I see you are very protective of your older brother, I wonder why,” Aleksander snorts. “I do admire a bit of rebellion, but I cannot let you talk to me like that, little one,” Damian’s face was red and his eyes promised wrath, but Damian knew full well that right now, he wasn’t Robin either, and hopefully that would stop him from making any other move that could kill them all.  

“Please, don’t hurt him, he’s scared, okay? He doesn’t know better, yeah?” Dick pleas and Aleksander turns his gaze towards him. No one would buy that the brat was scared, but the pirate seems to leave it behind, for now. Aleksander hums and reaches his hand, making him a gesture to get closer. Dick slowly approaches and Aleksander suddenly jerks his hand roughly, making him sit on his lap and pulling a strangled gasp out of Dick. Jason clenches his fists so hard until he can feel his nails digging into his palms. Don’t do anything stupid.

“I will let that go just for this occasion. But if your spoiled brother ever talks to me that way again, I’ll muzzle that mouth of his. Is that clear?” Dick nods carefully. Aleksander reaches his hand to grab Dick’s jaw with his gloved hand and Dick swallows, moving his Adam’s apple notoriously and that only makes Aleksander grin widely. He seemed so pleased to have Dick on his lap, like he was some kind of trophy he could brag about. Aleksander was enjoying this show of power, he wanted to embarrass Dick, let him know he couldn’t do anything about it. The discomfort and fear of other people were like a prize for him. How sick. “Do not be afraid, kid. I will not harm you.”

“And then what do you want with me?” Dick inquires.

“I needed someone to warm my lap,” Both pirates laugh rudely and then Aleksander pulls his hand away from Dick’s face to grab his hand and squeeze his fingers, bringing the ring closer to his face. “However, I do not have you here just because you are pretty, but because of this beauty tangled up in your finger,” Aleksander hums and with his free hand moves his gun across Dick’s face. “A blue diamond is one of the rarest and most expensive diamonds that there can be. Perhaps you were not aware that having this ring on has put a price on your head. And you see, the colour itself is worth even more. Deep blue, just like your eyes.” Aleksander mumbles in his ear.

“Why don’t you take the ring and leave him alone?” Jason can’t help to growl, but no one seems to give a fuck.

“Yes, he has beautiful eyes.” Andrei comments in a bored tone and Aleksander agrees softly. He twists Dick’s fingers painfully and the blue-eyed grunts.

“And what do you say when someone compliments you? Are you that ungrateful, pretty thing?”

“Thank you.” Dick spits out the words grudgingly, his face was tight with bitterness, not hiding his discomfort with those sexist and stupid comments.

“Cat got your tongue, kid? You are not as talkative as last night, why is it? Don’t you have the guts to insult me to my face? Are you a coward, Richard?” Aleksander shakes his head disappointedly. “Oh, yeah, I remember. According to your words, we were just ridiculous stories. You said we were absurd, cheap copies of scoundrels from the past. Now I wonder if you think the same. Do you regret your words? Are you sorry?”

“Yes,” Dick manages to say, but Jason could see the strain in his neck and jaw as he fought to say the words. “I am sorry.” Jason could feel the rage running high, how these assholes thought they had overpowered Dick in some way? They needed a lot more than guns and a macho to accomplish something like that, and Jason was sure that nobody could ever really dominate Dick. Ever. It was insulting, and more knowing that Dick could take anyone of these men down with a blindfold on and his arms tied behind his back. No one could stand against him.

“I like the ring. I can tell it’s about 6 carats. Is a nice radiant shape too,” Andrei comments, changing the subject. “That rock is worth a lot of money.”

“Hmm. I told you it would be a good fishing, didn’t I? Look what our net caught. You are the reason we are here tonight, Richard.”

“Are we that important to you?” Damian asks petulantly and Aleksander chuckles.

“Yes, you are, little one. So far, you are the fattest fish I’ve caught in my net. And I’m not a man who likes to brag about his exploits, but this will certainly be a high-calibre story. I hold in the palm of my hand two sons of one of the most powerful men there is, which for now makes you my most precious treasure.”  He says squeezing Dick’s waist, causing Dick to move uncomfortably in his lap. If Damian’s face was red with wrath, now his scowl was thunderous.

“You do not know who you’re messing with, pirate.” Damian threats. “You are not the first thug who thinks it is good enough for getting us caught up in his money disputes with my Father, but you are certainly one of the least relevant there can be. Who are you in any case? Just a common thief?” Oh, man, but fortunately, or not so fortunately, Aleksander seemed much more entertained in Dick than in keeping his word to muzzle the brat.

“What do you feed these kids today? I can see the resemblance, Richard. You both have a pointed tongue. It pleases me greatly the fact that you underestimate me that much, for when all this is over, my name will be well-known among all the pirates in the history, and you will be the reason,” Aleksander replies easily, apparently unperturbed with Damian’s taunts. “I am more than a common thief, little one. I’ll tell you my name if you are that curious. Aleksander.”

“I have no interest in knowing your name.” Damian snaps and that makes Aleksander’s chuckle in Dick’s hair.

“You do not seem too surprised to know who I am, Richard, why? Are you in shock and cannot think straight? We could go get some fresh air. To refresh your mind, of course.” Jason didn’t like that insinuation at all and before Dick could answer Jason interrupted the tense moment. Enough is enough.

“Yes, whatever. How long before we can leave?” Jason looks up in defiance to come face to face with Aleksander, who tildes his head to the side.

“You sound eager about leaving.”

“Sounds better than sitting here listening to this shit.”

“How curious. Now that you mention it, I was waiting for you to open your mouth. Good for you for not prolonging this much longer than it should.”

“And why is that?” He asks suspiciously.

“You see, I know the faces and names of all the passengers on-board, and not only them, but also from all the crew itself. I’ve done my homework, and it turns out I have no idea who you are,” Aleksander mumbles now pointing his gun towards him, Dick tenses immediately. “I cannot decipher you, young man. You are not like the others, clearly, you have some kind of training. I can recognize a hunter when I see one. Since the moment I saw you at the casino, I knew you were going to be trouble. You are not an idiot, and that makes you dangerous. However, an odd thing happened when searching for your name in multiple databases. They all came with the same result. You are a dead man, Jason. It is time for you to explain certain things.” Aleksander looks at him sternly, as if he were an ant that had to crush with his boot.

“I’d rather not. What do you want me to say anyway? I’m clearly not dead.”

“I can see that, but that does not answer my original question,” Aleksander replies.  

“Are you a cop?” Andrei inquires walking around them, and Jason feels his muscles tighten. He already knew what was coming. “Are you a private guard?”

“I wouldn’t protect those brats even if they paid me all the money in the world.” He answers flatly.

“Then who the fuck are you?” Andrei asks. “We know for sure there is an undercover fed on this ship. I wonder if you are the little thief.”

“I’m not a pig, that’s for sure. And I’m not a thief either.” Jason exchanges a quick look with Dick, both knowing what Andrei was implying. Seriously? Why him? Jason knew taking that thumb drive hadn’t been a good idea, and now he was going to suffer the fucking consequences. Thanks, Goldie.

“You know, Jason, as I said last night, there is no such thing as luck or fate. I do not think it’s chance that I have this strange vibe with you, much less when something has been stolen from me. Especially if we consider that that something is too important to me. I cannot let some dirty hands find something is none of their business.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, I didn’t steal anything, man. Do you think I’d be stupid enough to lie in your face when you’re pointing a gun at my face? No!”

“Why should I believe you? If you cannot even be honest about who you really are, then perhaps we must apply extreme measures to make you more cooperative.” Aleksander answered easily. Jason could see how he make a gesture to Andrei with his hand.

“Aleksander, please don’t do this. What is what you want?” Dick interrupted the scene with a pleading tone. “Tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you!” 

“What I want is not something you can give me, kid.” The pirate hissed in an icy tone. 

“Then why you’re doing this? Why are you here?”

“I am simply here to get what’s mine.”

“Let’s go for a walk, Jason,” Andrei commented, and he could feel the hair behind his neck raising. That didn’t sound good, Jason was sure ‘go for a walk’ meant a bullet to his forehead. He had no doubts about it. Dick immediately tried to say something but Aleksander grabbed his face once again, making him groan.

“Thanks but no thanks, man.” Jason mumbled.

“Too bad it wasn’t a request, then.” Andrei answered in the distance.

“Wait—”

“Jason! Watch out!”

 

Jason shouldn’t have laid bare his back, nor should he have been more focused on Aleksander and Dick in front of him. But what could he do now? His identity was hanging by a thread, a bad movement and things were going to get very dark soon. He couldn’t compromise the mission, not until that fucking ring was in Aleksander’s hands. Unfortunately, Jason couldn’t do anything, not when he saw the shadow behind him, not when Damian immediately went into attack mode beside him, and not when Dick had that terrified face as he was struggling to get free of Aleksander’s hold. He could only hear the mantra of what terrible fucking idea this mission had been in the back of his mind.

Something pointed hits him hard on the head, sending him sprawling down and he ain’t got no time to even grunt in pain when everything bursts in bright colours and his sight becomes blurred. The last thing Jason hears is Dick’s screams echoing in his ears when everything turns black.