The ocean was a strange place after dark.
No wonder only a handful of people could survive in its uncharted waters.
No one in their right mind would choose to dive into its depths willingly, but in a matter of life and death, perhaps anyone would have chosen to throw themselves into the unknown and fight for their lives at the hands of nature, and not at the hands of some crooks. (It had more to do with his pride rather than with his sense of self-preservation) Nevertheless, Jason couldn’t go back in time and change his decisions. What was done would stay that way. Everything that was gonna happen from now on, he took full responsibility.
It was well-known that the ocean always struck as a mystery; from its dimensions to its depth. Furthermore, what was impressive about the ocean was also terrifying. Going into the ocean was going out of your element and into something completely unpredictable, something you didn’t have a shred of control over. It was dangerous enough at daytime when you could see the waves and what was around you. At night, it was a completely different story. Simply because it was very dark —with a spectacular view of the Milky Way, though Jason was more focused on looking down because of what might be underneath them— and in the dark, your judgement could be distorted. Quite some time ago Jason had already lost his sense of direction (it wasn’t like they could decide completely where to go, the tide was moving them at its whim) he just knew he wanted to put as much distance between the cruise and them. Why? Jason didn’t even know why anymore.
If it weren’t for the uneasiness that was eating him alive, Jason might even be enjoying this experience. With the sound of the waves crashing in all directions, and the unknown sounds that the ocean made at night. Who was he kidding? He wasn’t enjoying anything. Nor the sounds, nor the sensation of his heavy clothes attached to his body, nor the constant motion moving them up and down with the swells, nor the heavy boots that seemed to want to fucking sink him. Everything was freaking annoying. But the most annoying thing on top of all, was Damian’s keen voice that had been bitching non-stop since they touched the water. Jason could only bite his tongue to not say something he might regret.
“—You are a mockery to all vigilantes, Todd. You had one responsibility, you just had to safeguard Grayson! And you failed spectacularly. I told you we shouldn’t have engaged. We had to let things happen in order to catch them. Then what did you do? You persuaded that buffoon of Beck to set up a damn armed confrontation that put us in this situation!” Damian emphasized his words smashing his fits against the water, splashing saltwater everywhere while letting out an annoyed growl. “I never expect anything from you and you still manage to disappoint me!” Jason finally snaps with his words.
“Shut the hell up! If I hadn’t done the things I did, they would have tortured, extorted, and then killed us in the worst way. Would you have preferred that? It was to die there or...” die here. Jason couldn’t bring himself to say the words out loud.
“There is always a way out. There is always the likelihood of making a negotiation. And if everything went downhill, we would have attacked them. We would have beaten them. But you took away those possibilities at the moment of throwing that stupid explosive!”
“I did what I did with what I had at the time. What’s the point of reproaching me now? I can’t change the things I’ve done, the choices I made!” Jason yells. “Here at least we have another chance. We can make it.”
“And how do you expect us to do that? Are we going to survive on pure talk from you or do you at least have a scheme of how we’re gonna get out of this?”
“Yes, Damian, I have.”
“Enlighten me, Todd.” When Jason is quiet for a couple of seconds, Damian sighs exasperatedly. Jason sees through his perimeter sight the scowl from Damian’s face illuminated by the moonlight. Honestly, Damian looked ridiculous, with his hair glued to his forehead he looked like an angry and wet kitten. If it weren’t for the moonshine, Jason would be completely and utterly blindfolded. “Marvelous. Good thing you have a scheme in mind, because if not, we would be even more screwed up, correct?” The sarcastic tone comes out of his mouth so fluently now.
“Demon, I’m five seconds away from kicking your ass. Knock it off!”
“I just cannot believe you made such a stupid decision without even considering our thoughts. You were being unreasonably reckless. You acted rashly, without genuinely considering all our options.”
“Guys,” Dick says softly, but no one takes notice on him.
“Don’t even try to say you thought this through, Todd. Don’t even try!”
“—I considered all of our options. I meditated on it!” Jason replies frantically. “Right now all you have to do is keep swimming and keep your mouth shut!”
“Swim to where? There is nowhere to go! Are you blind, you big idiot?”
“Do you want to stay here, with the risk that they might come after us!?”
“I prefer to face them and not the unknown sea and all its dangers below us. I refuse to be part of your emotional slip-up and be devoured by sea serpents or something far worse!” Damian hisses. “We should move south.” He declares as if he had all the answers of the universe.
“You don’t even know which way is south!” Jason argued. Dick’s hand yanks his hair and Jason snarls, quitting the monetarily swimming to give him a peek. He was holding Dick in a solid grip, being like his temporary lifeline while Goldie clung to him with all his might. He clearly couldn’t swim, had neither the strength nor couldn’t make any effort to aggravate the hole in his stomach. Jason was the one keeping him afloat, pulling him forward. He had put more cloth around the wound as well as his belt to slow down the unstoppable bleeding. For now, everything seemed stable. (Though if Jason allowed himself to be realistic, he knew that Goldie didn’t have that much time left by the rhythm of blood loss and the fact of being swimming in the deep ocean. And the scenario was even worse if Jason acknowledged the fact that the wound was going to keep bleeding, and what it might attract) “Why’d you did that, Dickie?”
“I need to stop for a moment,” Dick muttered through his teeth. Jason could glimpse how he was frowning in pain. They both look at the blue-eyed worriedly. Jason rushes to coax Dick to float on his back to get some rest, putting his hand on Dick’s forehead trying to sense if his temperature was high. Okay, it was elevated but not yet worrisome, though that wasn’t gonna stay that way.
“You okay?” Jason asks stupidly. Of course, he wasn’t okay.
“I think I’ve swallowed too much salt water that I’m gonna puke.” He says in a nauseated tone.
“Don’t puke,” Jason says with a sigh.
“Hold your breath for a few seconds and then release the air slowly,” Damian says softly, his attention purely on Dick now. “You cannot afford to lose any more fluids, Richard. Dehydration would be much worse for you in these conditions.” Damian whispers and then he adds. “What can I do to make you feel better?”
“You been arguing for half an hour, I’d feel better if you both shut up, okay? I haven’t even been allowed to make a cheery comment or a little joke to lighten the mood.”
“Seriously? We’re swimming blindly in the open sea, in the dead of night, and you’re fucking bleeding. Couldn’t you be more serious about this?” Jason says in an apprehensive tone, rolling his eyes in irritation.
“And what good would it do to be serious right now, Jay?” Dick refutes aggrievedly. “What do you want me to say? That our odds are too small, much more mine, and that we’re probably gonna drown before anyone can find us?”
“I prefer the cheery Dick.”
“That’s what I thought.” Dick sticks his tongue out at him and Jason manages a chuckle.
“We are not going to drown; I am not going to allow it. If you can, take your mind to the meditation exercises Father taught us,” Damian says instead, his tone gentle. The 18-year-old brushes away the wet strands from Dick’s forehead fondly. “Calm your body and just float backwards. The stars look beautiful from here, don’t they?”
“Yeah, they do,” Dick replies more calmly, looking up. “Back in Gotham, we can never appreciate a starry sky like this. It looks magical.” Jason takes a moment to look up and appreciate the night sky, though quite honestly, how could he genuinely appreciate something so beautiful with the constant creeps that were running through his veins? Every minute that passed was a damn miracle. Jason was aware of their odds, he had them very much in mind. It was impossible not thinking about statistics and probabilities. The ocean was full of creatures looking for food. Sharks were not the only predators to worry about, but for now, they were the most imminent danger. Jason had read that swimming at night during a full moon increased the risk of being eaten by sharks since bright moonlight silhouetted them against the surface, making them an easy meal for predators lurking below. And it got worse, sharks loved to come out at night, twilight, and sunrise. The deep-sea sharks were large and moved in large fucking numbers. (There was no need to mention that the sharks could also detect blood in the water from miles away. Though supposedly, a shark was more likely to be attracted to a bleeding fish or sea lion than to human blood. But Dick was going to keep bleeding significantly, and Jason didn’t have the confidence to stay positive) There were too large areas of jellyfish common in these types of waters. Surviving in the ocean had highly variables depending on multiple factors. One of them being the water temperature, which was the reason why they were still alive and with more guarantees of survival. The water temperature was warm at this time of the year. No forecast storms, no expected rainfall. Nothing but summer days with lots of sun and nights with fresh air. Out of the whole pile of bad shit luck, at least they had that lucky break. But things could change overnight, and Jason shouldn’t call victory yet.
“Okay, I think we can stop here and just save our energy. I just wanted to get as far away from the area as possible, but yeah, swimming is pointless unless we have an idea of where we are and where the nearest land is.” Jason explains as he tries to relax his body, getting used to the idea of stop moving against the current.
“Finally something logical comes out of your mouth,” Damian says.
“We have enough hours before dawn. We need to think of something before the sun comes up. Sunburns aren’t fun.” He comments ignoring the little shit. Jason’s skin was the most likely to burn quickly, he had in mind how uncomfortable it would be if they didn’t find shelter or something to cover their faces with against the harsh midday sun.
“And what will we do about food and water?” Damian asks in an accusatory tone. “For not mentioning that Grayson needs urgent medical attention. Your clothes aren’t gonna stop the bleed forever, we need to think of something. An infection and even internal bleeding could be happening as we speak. What is your plan in that regard?”
“I’m sure B must be already on his merry way or sending the fucking army to burst in on the cruise ship. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds us. When they won’t find us on-board, they’re gonna assume we jumped off the ship. They’re going to sweep the area and its surroundings until finding us.” Jason says what any optimistic person would say, even if he begs to differ.
“And how do you expect them to find us if we got so far away from the ship? The tide is high, whether you like it or not, we cannot fight it. It will drag us where the wind blows.” Damian says looking at him seriously. “What if it takes us thousands of miles away? Will they still find us in time?”
“If his golden child is lost, B won’t rest until he finds him. I have no doubt about that,” Jason says trying to sound confident. “All we have to worry about is staying afloat and surviving the night.”
“Good thing I took swimming lessons,” Dick says in a murmur.
“But will it be on time? You and I can survive longer than average, but Grayson, under these circumstances... I fear not.” Damian sounded so broken when he admitted that out loud that it even made Jason swallow hard. Dick makes a noise of protest.
“You two do know that I’m right here, right?” Dick says lightly, reaching for Damian’s hand. He grimaces when he moves, but he doesn’t emit any noise. “Dami, I’ll be fine. I’ve been through worse case scenarios. I can hold on a bit longer, okay? Besides, Jason is right, B is not going to rest until he finds us. He must be on his way right now.”
“I cannot...” Damian’s voice breaks and Jason closes his eyes, looking away. It wasn’t time to cry like a baby, Jason needed to be strong, for them. They couldn’t break so soon, not when it hadn’t been even two hours since they jumped off the ship. “Not you. Not under these circumstances.”
“You won’t lose me.” Goldie tries to assure Damian softly. “It’s not gonna happen.”
“I promise we’ll get through this, kiddo. One way or another. It’ll just be one more anecdote, a bittersweet memory.”
“Stop talking and just float, idiot. You need to keep your body loose,” Jason instructs, trying to take over the conversation and distract Damian. “You tired? I’ll stand guard if you want to rest your eyes a little.” It was a great bet to let him sleep, but Jason could see the tiredness reflected on his face. One way or another, Dick was gonna fall asleep at some point. It was better if he did it under supervision.
“’m not tired.” Dick whimpers, even if he could barely keep his eyes open. Falling asleep in the middle of the ocean shouldn’t be so easy, but Goldie was exhausted. Damian reaches out his hand and passes it across Dick’s forehead, caressing his wet skin.
“Rest. Todd and I are going to stand watch.” Dick twits his mouth in clear disagreement, but after a moment his head goes sideways. Jason rushes to place Dick’s head over his shoulder, trying to keep it out of the water, passing his arms awkwardly through Dick’s arms in a half-hug. It wasn’t going to be a comfortable position, but whatever. It was the least Jason could do.
“Are you really being the big spoon, Jay?”
“Shut up, Birdbrain.” Of course, he doesn’t.
“Is this a bad time to say I’m afraid of sharks?”
“My God,” Jason groans, loud and exaggerated. “Dick, just shut up.” The blue-eyed gives him a shit-eating grin and then he seems to fall asleep, or pass out. Having nothing more to say, Damian and he remained silent for what seems like hours. Jason’s body was beginning to feel fatigued. The energy used back fighting with the crooks had been plenty. Jason was sore, thirsty, and with a stabbing headache. Swim for nearly two hours and now stay floating trying to not drown and keeping Goldie as still as possible began to tire his arms and legs. But his senses were on maximum alert, listening to the slightest movement in the water make him flip his face frantically. On the one hand, Jason was grateful that he couldn’t see what was beneath them. The mental picture of a fucking shark swimming under their feet made him feel fucking chills. Even the thought of a giant squid was also pretty scary right now. Maybe there was some kind of sea creature waiting for them to fall asleep to eat them alive.
“Todd, answer sincerely. What do you think our chances of survival are?” Jason tildes his head sideways, knitting his brow in contemplation.
“If B is on his way and looking for us right now, our chances increase drastically. We can have a maximum of two days without water, but that would already be dangerous, we could risk kidney failure. If it rained, we could drink rainwater and that would give us more time, but it’s unpredictable to know if it’s going to rain. We can stand a week without eating, but our body will not stand a week with the sun at its best without protection. So, I figure we’d have three days under the conditions we’re in, enough for a search and rescue team to find us.”
“And Grayson?” Damian asks fearfully. Jason clears his throat uncomfortably, not knowing if he should sugar-coat his words, or be completely frank.
“You want me to be honest?” Damian narrows his eyes at him.
“Mmh,” Jason meditates on his words. He knew that immersion in seawater with an injury could aggravate the inflammatory response of the wound and delay the healing process, not to say that seawater might contain germs or bacteria that could infect the wound. It was safe to say that currently, an infection was gonna take place, which diminished dangerously the time Dick had to get medical attention. Jason simply answers: “His odds don’t look good.” Damian looks away abruptly and Jason can see him running a hand over his face. If he’s wiping off drops of saltwater or tears, Jason can’t tell. “But Dick is like a cat, he has seven lives. I’ve seen him face worse odds. If anyone can get shot and survive this, it’s Dick.”
“Of course. Richard is the stubbornest, strong, and most resilient man I know. If anyone can cheat death, it’s my brother.” Jason nods, hoping so. Otherwise, Jason might as well consider himself dead.
There’s no way Jason could have slept through the night, even if he had tried, even if he had been exhausted. His muscles felt heavy and sluggish. Even floating on his back had done nothing to relax his body. He had stayed awake, hyper-attentive to any movement in the water or unknown sound. Tonight, it was certainly crowned as one of the worst nights of his life. Though Jason counted it as a win-win to have survived this long.
The sun blooms on the horizon, filling the sky with shades of orange and pink, stretching from above and transmitting the hope of a new day, leaving behind a dark neon blue ocean and a total and complete darkness that had swallowed them whole. Jason breathes a sigh, though that didn’t mean they were out of danger, but being able to appreciate what was around them and stop being so vulnerable was an absolute relief. The sounds of the day were much more comforting than those of the night, with chirping birds flying sporadically, and some fishes jumping out of the water and splashing around. The water was crystal clear and with an intense sapphire blue —one that almost matched Dick’s eyes— but the most impressive and scary thing was that he couldn’t see the bottom. There was nothing visible under them, perhaps miles deep to the bottom of the ocean, completely unknown. And not only that, there was absolutely nothing around them, no ships, no mountains, not even a damn cloud, as if they were the last three people in the world. The tide had moved them in the course of the night, who knows how many miles, which complicated things, which reduced chances of sooner rescue.
Admitting that maybe he had made a hasty decision, and that jumping out of the ship maybe had been a mistake, made him feel uncomfortable and angry with himself. He was better than that. He was a vigilante, for God’s sake. Jason wasn’t a panicked rookie. He was supposed to have more control over his emotions. But as Jason passes his sight across Dick’s pale, sweaty face, he can’t help thinking this time he had really screwed this up.
“Are you done having a mental breakdown? Or are you just gonna stare at Richard’s face instead of thinking of some way to get water and protect us from the sunbeams that lie ahead of us?” Damian’s face was the same as always, obnoxious and grumpy. His hair was a mess, fluffy with the saltwater and some strands were still wet, sticking to his forehead ridiculously. But that whole act of ferocity seemed out of place with the way Damian had Dick leaning on his shoulder, the way Jason did at some point last night. The demon held Dick so delicately that the scene was quite sweet. Not that Jason would say it out loud, maybe the saltwater was starting to make him delirious.
“I’m not having a mental breakdown. I’m considering killing you and using you as an offering to the gods so Dick and I can live.”
“You think your supposed ninja reflexes can catch a fish?”
“I cannot comprehend if you’re joking or if you’re being serious. Did the heat melt your brain already?”
“Hopefully not.” Jason examines Dick’s makeshift tourniquet, noticing that for now, it was still doing its job and apparently the bleeding hadn’t worsened overnight. That didn’t mean everything was fine. Damian puts his palm on Dick’s forehead, with an antsy expression. “How’s the fever?”
“Worsening.” Instead of saying what was really going through his mind, Jason says what anyone would say to lighten up the spirits.
“At any moment we will hear the sound of a chopper. They must be looking for us. Last night was risky ‘cause of the low visibility, it made the search difficult. With this brand-new day, it’s the proper time to continue the rescue mission.” His enthusiasm sounded so fake, but Damian didn’t seem to be on the mood to contradict him, he just nods stiffly.
“You can cut the sleeves off your undershirt to make an improvised cap. Richard will need something to cover himself from the sun as well.”
“What about you, runt?”
“I can stand the sun much better than you. Because of my birthplace, I am used to high temperatures and the unbearable sun. Instead, you, as pale as Drake, will not endure half a day. You will look like a stewed crab, and by the end of the day you would perish a gruesome and disgraceful death.”
“Huh, and we don’t want that, right?” Jason smirks. “But how do you expect me to cut tidily my shirt, with my teeth?” Jason asks trying not to be surprised at Damian’s first display of concern for him in a long time. Or maybe Jason was just blind and had never paid attention to those little actions that might seem irrelevant, but they weren’t.
“With a tool, of course,” Damian says rolling his eyes irritably. Then carefully, the demon pulls something out of his pocket and hands it to Jason. A knife. Jason looks at the blade in disbelief.
“And could you explain to me where you got this and when you were planning on telling me you were armed?”
“You never asked. Besides, did you really thought you were the only one bringing weapons on-board?” Damian smirks at him mockingly and Jason snatches the knife, starting to make origami with his last piece of clothing. In Damian’s arms, Goldie begins to stir up, grunting in pain. After a few breaths of air that look awfully arduous, those blue irises open. Long dark and wet eyelashes flicker against Dick’s pale skin, making his eyes impossibly bluer. Jason comes out of his little bewitchment with those royal blue eyes and then he clears his throat.
“Good mornin’ Birdie. Welcome to the land of the living. Ready to swim back to Gotham?”
“In your dreams, Jase. I can barely stay floating,” Dick murmurs and when the silence becomes heavier in the air with his words, Dick smiles sweetly to the demon. “Hiya, Dami.”
“Richard,” Damian nods his head in greeting. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve had better days. But as far as it goes, well enough.” Goldie says trying to sneak out and gently pull away from Damian’s hold, but the 18-year-old doesn’t allow it, gently squeezing Dick back against his body.
“I do not recommend any kind of effort. As you said, you barely have the energy to keep floating, you cannot float on your own. Let me hold you longer. Just hang loose and let me take care of you, okay?” Dick nods not too happy with his words but at least he doesn’t complain.
“What you doin’?”
“An attempt on doing something to protect our heads from the sun. It won’t be long before this turns into hell itself.”
“Clever. So, we survived the night, hurrah, that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”
“Mmm-hmm,” Jason murmurs, trying to smile, but it must look like Bruce trying to smile. Uncomfortable and stiff. Dick giggles at his gesture and then he whimpers, clutching a hand to his stomach. “Don’t laugh, moron. You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
“Asking Grayson to not laugh is like asking Riddle not to tell riddles, impossible, and tiring.” Dick looks at Damian with a funny expression and then he cracks-up, winning over them and making them laugh too.
“You just made it worse!” Jason says between laughter, not knowing if it was a funny laugh or a laugh on the verge of hysteria. They shouldn’t be laughing, right? Was it like the calm before the storm? Or were they already starting to be delusional?
“If we’re gonna get humorous, then I got a good one…” Dick says full of mischief and mirth in his eyes. Jason groans making his head back dramatically.
“How do you know the ocean is friendly?”
“Jeez.” He passes a hand across his forehead.
“I know this one,” Damian declares totally focused, passing his tongue over his chapped lips. “Because it waves?”
“You got it, D!” Goldie says enthusiastically and Jason can’t help hiding a smile with his hand. “Ok, ok, see if you can guess this one. What can make an octopus laugh?” Damian wrinkles his forehead, meditating on his answer. After a few seconds, he shakes his head comically.
“Ten-tickles!” Jason can’t help but snort with such nonsense. Damian just frowns even more, not following, or not finding it funny. “All right, that was a bit silly. I have another one. Why did the starfish cross the road?”
“To escape this fucking torture?” Jason mumbles.
“No! To get to the other tide!” Goldie burst into laughter, even as he clutches his stomach in pain, though that doesn’t seem to be a good reason to stop.
“That is absurd, this is not even funny. I do not understand what their purpose is, and I’ll never understand why you store so much meaningless information in your brain.” Damian says baffled, swimming gently back and rocking Dick gently on his chest, making him lean more comfortably over him.
“It doesn’t have to make sense to be funny, it’s just humor.” Goldie says, swaying his hand over the water with delicate movements.
“Damian’s sense of humor is equivalent to that of a rock, everybody knows.”
“And do you have a sense of humor, Todd? With your everyday ass face, it seems impossible to know.”
“Shh, none of you have a sense of humor anyway! So let me tell you a really good one, okay? Pretty please?” Dick flaps his lashes and Jason immediately gives up, gesturing with his hand for him to continue. Dick smiles closing his eyes for a moment and then opens them, his gaze slightly blurred. “Ok, this one’s my favorite. What do you get if you cross a fish and an elephant?”
“Are you done?”
“I am far from over,” Dick says in a humorous tone. “OK, I heard this one on the radio the other day. Get ready. What did Batman do when he went shopping?”
“What did he do?” Jason asks heavily.
“Dick, just stay still. You’re gonna hurt yourself!” Jason mumbles for the hundred time.
“I swear, something grazed my leg again!” Dick twist his head in all directions, a spooked expression on his face. “Jay, stop making fun of me, it’s not funny!” Dick wrinkles his red face cutely.
“For the record, I’m not. Don’t freak out, Dickie. There’s nothing swimming around us. It must have been just a fish.” Jason says running his hand through his wet hair, combining it back and away from his face.
“Dick, there are no sharks. I’ve checked.”
“Are you sure?”
“You think I’d be so calm if I knew there was fucking shark swimming underneath us?” Jason raises an eyebrow. “Why would I lie? I’d just throw your sorry ass to the beast and swim the hell away.”
“I’ve never asked why are you afraid of sharks, though.” Jason adds with a curious expression. Dick just bites his lip in contemplation.
“Many teeth. And I guess the Jaws movie kind of traumatized me. Living the life we live, and after having seen so many things, I’m not doubting that there can be sharks that big and monstrous.”
“It seems to me that sharks are misunderstood animals,” Damian says with a frown over his face. “Franchises took advantage of its image and sold the idea to people that sharks are merciless and evil creatures. However, the odds of a shark attacking a person are one in 11.5 million. It is a long shot, at best.” Jason chuckles nervously, not commenting that those distant odds didn’t apply to three people swimming in deep water, without a boat, and with a wounded person.
“Well, whatever,” He clears his throat. “I think it’s time to hunt, I’m bloody starving. Any particular dish in mind?”
“What are you planning on, catching a fish with your bare hands?”
“It shouldn’t be that hard. Besides, I have all day to practice, don’t I? It’s not like I have something better to do.”
“Jay, be careful.” Jason rolls his eyes and takes a deep breath, diving completely into the water. Well, it turns out catching a fish with your hands wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Although there was a great variety of fishes swimming around —swimmin’ to a great closeness of Jason— they were in their fucking element. It must have been a ridiculous image, Red Hood himself, trying to catch a fish and failing miserably. The fishes must be laughing at him right now. Goddammit. What Jason would give for a speargun right now. He returns hours later empty-handed and with a scowl. “No luck?” Dick asks softly and instead Damian just snorts.
“As if. Todd just went to make a fool of himself thinking he could succeed.”
“Shut the fuck up.” It seemed that today they would stay with an empty stomach too.
When there are no more jokes or anecdotes left to tell, when just talking was tiring on its own, silence enfolds them like the waves around them. The only other sound was Dick coughing, painful sounds, leaving him breathing heavily and as a dead-weight over Damian, who though seemed physically fatigued and numb for not moving in hours, refused to let go of Dick. The blazing sun over their heads made it all even more unbearable. There was nothing else to do but save their energy, remain floating hoping to hear a ship or a plane in the distance. But until now, there was nothing. Jason’s skin starts to sunburn and feel itchy, the skin hot to the contact, uncomfortable, and making him feel prickly. His head remained covered with a ridiculous makeshift cloth, covering half of his face and only leaving his eyes uncovered, though his shoulders hadn’t been spared from the harsh sun. Even if Jason tried so hard to think of something to distract his mind, it was impossible to concentrate on anything other than saltwater, hunger or thirst (More than once his stomach was making shameful hunger growls, even Damian’s stomach was ratting him out) Though the worst in Jason’s opinion was the thirst. His throat at this point felt like it was stuffed full of sand, every swallow of saliva was painful. Having so much water around them and not being able to drink a single drop was a fucking torture.
If Jason had thought he had the willpower to survive three days or even more, now it seemed like a near-impossible stunt. Every minute that went by Jason wondered what was his motivation. Every never-ending hour that went by without any sign of someone coming to rescue them made him wonder why he kept fighting. Was it foolish and naïve to long for them to be rescued in time? That Dick, who was dying so slowly, would make it?
The coughing didn’t cease, and the makeshift bandage was staining in crimson, leaving a line of blood in the water. Dick’s chest moved up and down in uncontrolled breathing, his face even paler and at the same time with cherry cheeks due to the fever that didn’t slow down. No doubt a nasty infection was already taking place, and if Dick didn’t receive the proper antibiotics and the proper addressing to his wound, he didn’t have much time left. Even though Jason already knew the numbers and the odds, accepting that his brother could die as soon as night fell wasn’t easy. It was fucking hard, but knowing it was his fucking fault, made it a thousand times worse. The pain in his chest wasn’t physical, it was emotional pain. That pain that made him feel like a little boy again, helpless and useless.
It was scary to have given up hope so quickly, to have gone from laughing until crying a couple of hours ago, and now be sure that death was just around the corner. How was Jason going to get back home —if he survived— without Dick? He couldn’t. How could Damian bear to see his big brother, his fucking hero, his almost father figure, die right under his nose? It wasn’t right. His mind was already going through a very dark tunnel, and Jason no longer felt able to stop himself. Of all the adversities that had come his way, why this one felt so impossible to overcome? Why did hope had died so quickly?
“There is no way we can contact that goofy idiot of Kent?” Damian surprises Jason with those words. His voice sounded hoarse, painful even. “If Richard calls for help, perhaps the buffoon would hear him.” How desperate was Damian to admit that he was willing to ask for help, no less than from Superman?
“Nop,” Goldie answers in a murmur, his voice pitiful and worn-out. “Outside world, mission in space.” Dick wasn’t even trying to open his eyes anymore, nor disguise how the pain was drawn over his face.
“Dammit. How about that ridiculous fish, your friend?” Jason inquires softly.
“Aqualad? He’s not a fish, he’s Atlantean...”
“Whatever, what about him?” Dick frowns and then twists his mouth.
“Any other super-friends available?” He inquires knowing the answer already.
“Plenty, but unreachables.”
“It’s okay. Father will be here in time, just like Todd said. Any minute now. You just hold on, OK?” Dick nods with a little smile, but he looked more tired with every second. That minute had become one hour, and that hour another one, until the afternoon was falling on them. The sun was lowering its intensity; the night was looming over them. Time was truly running out, and there were still no rescue signs in sight. Maybe they’d never come, or maybe they’d come too late. Bruce certainly knew the first 48 hours were the most critical on a rescue mission, but there was no real guarantee that they were really looking for them. He was already beginning to lose hope that a rescue team would find them. Maybe no one had seen them jump overboard. Maybe the pirates escaped. Maybe Kai Beck was dead. There were many questions and no way to know what was happening. It sounded almost ridiculous to think that of all the ways to die, an infection and a gunshot wound would be what would end up killing the legendary Nightwing. No, this couldn’t be the end. It couldn’t end like this. Jason takes a deep breath and he suddenly gets the courage to speak.
“I got something to say. You with us, Dickie?” The blue-eyed nods, not bothering to open his eyes. There was no problem with that, Jason knew that Dick was giving his 100% to keep fighting, not giving up. Of the three, Dick would be the last to hold out hope. “I just… gotta say that I’m sorry. I was wrong. I made the wrong decisions and now you are paying the consequences of my mistakes.”
“Jason—” Dick opens his eyes and looks at him with such affection that Jason feels even worse.
“No, Dick. Is the truth. I wish I could go back in time. It’s stupid, but I really wish to.” Jason says in a pitiful tone, his voice failing him.
“Little Wing, this is not your fault. The sum of many bad decisions, including many of mine, led to this. We’re gonna get through this, like we always do.”
“Thanks, Goldie," Jason mumbles shyly.
“I can only say you acted like a panicked newbie, acting without thinking, putting many things at risk. Although not everything is completely your fault, this situation could have been avoided if only we had acted in accordance with the protocol. I do not accept your apology…”
“I am not done yet, Grayson. As I was saying, I do not accept your apology, however, it looks like you are a lucky son of a bitch.”
“Damian!” Dick snaps scandalized and Jason just frowns.
“What the fuck do you mean by that?”
“If I am not hallucinating, it seems to me that I can spot mainland at 9 o’clock,” Damian points behind them and Jason spins his body quickly, looking for signs of the blissful land. In the distance, it could be seen what it looked like a mountain. The more Jason looked, the more certain he was of what he saw. He lets out a howl of euphoria. “Right there!”
“No fucking way! You gotta be kidding me! Come on, we have to hurry before the night falls and we can’t see shit!”
“Jay, it’s too far… I d-don’t think I can do it,” Dick mumbles, trying to gather enough energy to move. “It hurts.” Jason swims towards him and wraps his arm across Dick, supporting his body. Jason gives him a look full of determination.
“Yes, you can, you’re Dick fucking Grayson, the original Boy Wonder. You’re the fucking Nightwing! You can do this, and if you don’t have the strength, I’ll take you swimming there myself!” Dick nods with a tiny, hopeful smile.
“Lead the way, Little Wing.”