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Like Those Foreign Stars

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

 

_____________ 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And if everything goes wrong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

_____________

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

“No,” Damian mumbles without looking at him.

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Chapter Text

 

After checking some info and catalyze some passengers from zero-likely-to be-pirates to some who give them the vibe, Dick brings out something about a special welcoming lunch arranged for two o’clock in the dining room. It may be the perfect opportunity to check-out a considerable number of passengers face to face. Having memorized the wealthiest people on-board was crucial as they could be the main targets, besides, it didn’t hurt having a clearer idea of those who shared a stay with them in the high-seas. The theoretical part of any undercover mission sometimes was very tedious. Jason may be great at planning, but nothing compared with the rush of the chase, the action, the adrenaline, so it was bloody time to leave the suite and begin the field research. Who knows, right? Maybe not even a pirate can call the shots with an empty stomach.

Jason decides to keep his current outfit consisting of a white fitted short-sleeved shirt, black slacks, and some white sneakers, something casual and fresh. Being a perfectionist, Jason makes sure to have his hair combed back and without any hair out of place. He had to dye himself black that annoying streak of white hair. It’s not like he cares that much, but not seeing it reflected in the mirror gives him a certain sense of nostalgia, as if the one who stared back at him was a complete stranger. Maybe it was stupid, but not being able to recognize himself in the mirror added an uncomfortable weight over his shoulders. Good thing there wasn’t any dress code on-board, considering already that the clothes Jason wears are worth more than his safe house in Crime Alley. Dick being a pompous ass instead changes clothes taking a hell of a time in the bathroom, making him and Damian wait like idiots. When he finally comes out, Jason’s mocking comment gets stuck at the tip of his mouth. He can’t help to narrow his eyes at him. Dick is wearing a white bowling shirt stamped with a palm tree design, some buttons are unfastened to show a little skin. He has tight-fitting white slacks that highlight his slim but muscular figure, and to complete the look a pair of white sneakers. The gold-plated watch on his right wrist stands out a lot in contrast to the white of his clothes. Jason would like to say that Dick looks just like another rich prick from the bunch, but no, Dick somehow always stands out from the crowd.   

 

“What?” Dick asks when Jason is still watching him closely. The blue-eyed brushes the hair away from his eyes and Jason notices gold rings adorning his long fingers, but the blue diamond ring stands out proudly even more.  “Is there something wrong with my outfit?”

“No,” Jason replies not wanting to make a fuss. Ever since Dick turned twenty-six it was as if he had the constant fear that his good looks were fading away, which was stupid, considering that the years have only settled his beauty. Right now, he looked like a fucking Adonis. With the moon shining in his eyes and with a smile that could melt even the coldest heart. But whatever, it wasn’t like it had any effect on him, not at all. Next to him, Damian stops writing a text and lays eyes on Dick with critical eyes. 

“What are your intentions with that clothing, Grayson?”

“Uh, I thought we had already made clear our way to blend in among all the rich guys, leave an impression, Dami. If there are pirates on-board we need them to focus on someone to rob and I’d rather be me than someone else.” It is his simple answer and Jason rolls his eyes.

“And here comes the self-sacrificing idiot I know,” Jason comments.

“I’m just being fashion. Is that a crime?” Dick whines.

“Why do you always insist on doing the opposite of what is been told to you, Grayson?”

“Chill out kiddo, we don’t even know if there are undercover crooks. It’s no big deal.” Dick replies calmly. 

“I am not a kid anymore, Grayson.” Damian reminds Dick as if they didn’t knew already, so Jason prefers to change the subject looking at Damian with a raised eyebrow.

“Aren’t you too warm with that turtle neck? We are in the middle of summer, you freak,” Damian lets out a weary sigh and crosses his arms around his chest. His shirt tightened around the biceps making them stand out proudly. He has the same fashion sense than Bruce, for fuck sake! So the dwarf thinks wearing a black turtleneck shirt, grey slacks, and some Salvatore Ferragamo sneakers is a good outfit for a cruise. Like father, like son.   

“I don’t know when you thought your opinion might matter to me, Todd.” Jason just takes a deep breath and turns around. The view of the sea from the promenade deck is stunning as they walk to where the gourmet dining room stands. The deck is extensive and has circular windows giving it a classic touch but keeping the modern look of the ship. There are several reclining chairs with people drinking from their cocktails while staring at the sea. Jason can perceive a wide variety of sounds everywhere. The murmur of people’s voices walking beside them, the soft breeze buzzing in the air, and the waves dancing calmly around. Jason had memorized the whole ship, each part, and centimeter, but it was one thing to see it on a screen and another very different thing to appreciate it in person. They arrive at the dining room to find out they have reserved seats in the VIP section, Jason doesn’t even ask how. The restaurant seems to glow with all the abundant natural light thanks to the large floor-to-ceiling glass windows, giving a full view of the ocean. The tables are round and naturally, they look aesthetically pleasing with the formal dinnerware set on. They are led by a waiter to their table near a large window and where it can be appreciated the bow of the ship. Jason is almost intimidated by all the looks on them as they settle down, which makes him angry, considering that every night he faces criminals and the worst of the worst of humanity on a daily basis. For a moment, Jason notices the contrast of the different parts of his life, the two sides of the coin, the white and the black. Jason realizes that he’d rather face the darkness of Gotham than sit here among so many false and dazzling people, at least back there he has a sweet illusion of control, of security, but out here he finds himself at the mercy of so many things. The ocean, the command crew, and maybe even pirates.  

“Jase,” Dick taps his thigh slowly, pulling him out of his head. The waiter leaves their menus and Dick grabs one using it to slightly cover his mouth.

“Yeah, Dickie?” Jason parodies a soft tone that makes Dick wrinkle his nose comically.

“Goon alert at nine o’clock,” Dick whispers and Jason discreetly directs his gaze to the spot where Dick guides. There’s a guy sitting at some tables away from them, he seems on his thirties, robust under his Hawaiian T-shirt, and he has a hipster beard that doesn’t fit with his green calculating, and mysterious eyes. In his posture, Jason can notice that the guy is a little stiff. He knows he was on the passenger list that Tim sent them, but he can’t remember his—

“That would be Kai Beck,” Damian says smugly without even looking behind his shoulder or taking his eyes off his phone. Jason doesn’t waste time asking how Damian can do that. Fucking creep.  

“Is there anything incriminating about him? Shady records or maybe even a dark past as a sailor?” Jason mocks taking a menu and vaguely reading. Everything sounds expensive and difficult to pronounce, but whatever.  

“Do you want me to tell you about his blood type, too?” Jason releases a dry laugh when Damian gives him a teasing smirk.   

“Damian.” Dick’s tone sounds reproaching on his own so the gremlin sighs.

“Not that I am aware of, apparently according to the records he is just a regular and boring engineer, but that does not mean he does not have a double job.”

“We can’t rule out anyone, so let’s keep an eye on him.” Dick mumbles smiling at the beaming waiter approaching them with a tablet ready to take their orders.

“Hello, good afternoon. I’m Javier and today I have the pleasure of attending you. I would like to remind you that we have the best quality food on board, so satisfaction is guaranteed. Have you already decided what to order? Or would you like the chef’s suggestion?”  

“I will be the judge of that,” Damian says and Jason feels the need to kick him under the table. “A vegetarian Thai potato curry would do.” Damian says pompously, the waiter nods with a smile and then turns to look at them.  

“And what can I bring to you, gentlemen?” Before Dick could answer, Jason orders for both of them.   

“Risotto Lobster and we’d like to accompany it with 2 glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, please,” Jason replies smoothly.  

“Great choice, sir, in a moment I’ll be right back with your dishes.” Javier quickly leaves and Jason can appreciate the poorly hidden surprise on Dick’s face.

“What?” He can’t help but ask. “You thought you were the only one who could play a rich douchebag?”  

“Impressive,” Dick ends saying with a smile that Jason can’t help but return proudly. “That’s a fine palate, Jase.”

“Meh, I still prefer chilidogs.” Man, he can’t help the craving to eat one right now. It was his tradition after patrol, a nice, greasy chilidog on top of a building to end the night. There is a quiet silence for a few minutes and then Dick picks up the conversation casually.

“Yeah, I’d really like a double cheeseburger with chips and a soda right now, or a big chocolate cake.” Dick mumbles and Damian runs a hand across his chin looking at the blue-eyed with a funny expression.  

“Could you remind me how you are not fat or covered with pimples with your sugary diet, Richard?” Damian asks playfully.   

“I have good genes, what can I say, Little D?” Dick chuckles softly and Damian rolls his eyes fondly.

“Mmh, are you sure? Is that a pimple I’m seeing?” Jason jokes, pointing to Dick’s forehead. Dick frowns raising a hand to check but Jason reacts faster and smacks him loudly on the forehead. Jason chuckles when Dick blurts out a curse.

“Geez! What’d you do that for?” Dick exclaims hitting him on the shoulder. It hurts but Jason pretends it didn’t.

“Because I can,” He replies easily. “And also because your stupid face makes me want to punch it.”

“If we are talking about faces, yours causes nausea, Todd,” Damian says with a smirk, and before Jason can reply the waiter arrives with their dishes. Jason’s stomach almost growled with the smell of the food, heck, it was about time.

“I’ll be around in case you need anything else. Bon appétit, gentlemen.” Javier says with a smile and Jason thanks him, once he’s gone Dick takes his glass gently shanking it with a silly grin.   

“Cheers!” The high-pitch tone certainly catches the attention of several people around, and Jason reminds himself why they are here. Dick’s company and even Damian’s had been a regular thing in Jason’s life in recent years, so with moments like these, it could be easy to believe that they are in a crappy restaurant back in Gotham playfully fighting, and not on a cruise in the middle of an undercover mission. Jason couldn’t deny any longer that he enjoyed the family company in his own way. Many things had to happen so that Jason could once again feel part of something.

“Cheers Dickie.” He ends saying winking at the blue-eyed. The rest of the day flows between Damian criticizing everything, Dick running his mouth like a talking parrot, and delicious food that indeed honoured the reviews. They stay for a while in the dining room, using the excuse of the margaritas that the staff starts to hand out to keep tabs on the passengers from time to time. Everything looked normal. The bearded hipster was still sitting on his seat while tapping his fingers on the table to the beat of the background music, his posture was much more relaxed than a few hours ago, but Jason still didn’t trust him for some reason. Damian had disappeared about a half-hour ago saying he was going to do some things on his own, no questions asked. Meanwhile, Dick and he were having a fascinating (sarcasm) conversation with the people nearer to their table, or rather, Dick was the one talking while Jason was pretending to actually care. While Dick preaches about his ring and the people were saying that the gem matched his eyes, Jason feels the heavy eyes of someone on him. He looks nonchalantly to the right and he connects eyes with a girl. She looks about twenty-five, short, straight blond hair, she has a rather bored expression on her face. For some reason, Jason has the impression that she doesn’t seem to fit in with the people at her table. She smiles softly at him and then resumes her talk with the guy sitting next to her. Jason has a weird feeling but he can’t place why.  

“Jase, did you hear?” Dick gently bumps his shoulder bringing him back to their table. “Dylan here says he has his own club of yachts, and he’s heard about those ridiculous pirate stories.” Dick gives him a subtle look and Jason fakes a surprised tone.  

“Really? Have you seen one face to face? That would be thrilling.” Jason asks and the guy called Dylan shakes his head biting his lip.  

“No, I haven’t come face to face with a pirate and lived to tell the tale, but I’ve heard rumours. I don’t think those are ridiculous stories Richard, I think they’re actually pretty ruthless.” Jason nods recalling the reports about the attacks, the mere thought makes him clench his jaw, so he finishes his drink slowly.  

“I thought that pirates no longer existed, or at least only in Somalia,” The girl named Jade next to Dylan says uncertainly. “We aren’t in danger, right?”  

“Don’t worry darling, I’ve heard that security measures have been taken on cruise ships, we are safe,” Dylan replies with security.

“Yeah, for me they are like bigfoot, seeing is believing,” Dick says and Jason feels the need to sigh out loud. From the corner of his eye, he notices the bearded hipster standing from his seat and leaving the dining room quietly. Jason waits a few seconds, he lazily stretches and then he leaves his napkin on the table fishing out his phone from his pocket, giving them the typical excuse to leave the table. A phone call. 

“Well, if you’ll excuse me a moment, I’ll be right back. Don’t let my buddy here get crazy with the margaritas, they are his kryptonite.” Dick laughs at that and Jason leaves the dining room with a relaxed stride, bringing his phone to his ear and actually making a call. The line rings twice before the person picks up with a sleepy voice.

“What is it?” Tim answers, rudely yawning after. Jason chuckles and looks at his watch. In Gotham it must be a little after three A.M or something. “Everything OK?”

“I’m just calling to say everything’s fine, actually. What are you doing up, Timbo?” He says while he follows from afar the bearded hipster, Kai, to the lower deck. The guy’s headed straight for his cabin, not straying or going anywhere else, which is a little weird considering it’s pretty early, but maybe the guy is just tired. For now, he’s innocent until proven guilty.

“I’m just finishing work,” Tim mutters and Jason nods, catching that he just came from patrol. Once the guy disappears into his room, Jason turns around and decides to take a walk on the promenade deck, holding the phone with his cheek and shoulder while pulling a cigarette out of his shirt. “How about you guys? I heard the food on-board is great.”  

“Well, yeah, isn’t that bad,” Jason mumbles lighting up the cigarette and taking a good drag, then he blows the smoke seeing it disappear above his head. “The line is secure?” He goes to the point.

“Gimme a sec,” Tim replies and Jason can hear the faint sound of his fingers on the keyboard, it takes a moment and then the replacement speaks again. “Ok, we’re clean. What is it, Jason?”

“We may have a prime suspect, so give me everything on him. His name is Kai Beck.” Jason says quietly, leaning on the deck railing.

“The reports I sent you cover plenty of data, what else do you need to know about him?”

“I just want to know if our friend is who he says he is.” He answers giving another drag of his cigarette.  Jason has learned not to ignore his instincts ever again, nop, lesson learned.  

“Uhh, according to the records he is clean, no criminal records or apparent ties to any criminal organization. He has been an engineer for a few years in a private company, lives in Seattle since—”

“What private company?” Jason interrupts him with curiosity.

“Uhh,” Tim types a few more things and then he replies. “Is a medium-sized company called SouthShore Security and Intelligence. Why?”

“Mmh, don’t you find it odd that a simple engineer from a medium-sized company bought a ticket for a luxury cruise? The tickets aren’t exactly cheap. Doesn’t strike me as someone who enjoys cocktails and wears Hawaiian shirts in his free time.”

“Good point, but it’s just the first day to jump to conclusions, don’t you think?”

“There’s no harm in a little caution, you fucker. Don’t be jealous that your mission was a failure.” Jason says strolling around looking for a place to deposit his cigarette stub, once he does Jason heads towards the bow of the ship.

“For God’s sake, I’m just trying to be neutral,” Tim argues. “Do you want me to dig deeper into his profile?” Tim adds with an interested tone. “Or I can ask Babs to give it a look too, there’s no one better than her to dig up dirt on someone.”

“Yeah, yeah, tomorrow,” Jason says putting his free hand into his pocket.

“Well, I will let you know if we find something. Oh, by the way, where are Dick and the demon?” 

“Dick’s probably getting waste on margaritas as we speak, but he should be fine. On the other hand, I have no idea where Damian is, the little shit.”

“Typical,” Tim says with a chuckle. “Anyhow, don’t let them out of your sight, especially Dick, he always attracts more attention than he can handle.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Go to sleep jackass, you’re already talking like a mother hen.”  

“I’m not! That’s literally you!” He hangs out before Tim could say something else. Jason allows himself a moment of tranquillity to sit in one of the reclining chairs and just enjoy the seascape. As much as he kind of enjoys the company of the others, there is nothing compared to a moment alone, to clear his mind and loosen up a bit from all the fraud. After a long time of sitting there and just keeping his head blank, he stands up and takes the opportunity to take a look at the security of the cruise and do a little check-up around as well. There are cameras installed around discreetly and mainly in the most crowded areas of the ship, Jason finds some deck officers but they don’t carry any visible weapons and they appear to be somewhat rookies. There’s not as much security as there should be, considering the recent rumours and attacks to fellow cruise lines. Jason doesn’t like how easily he can sneak into the engine room, or at least at the adjacent room because there is an electronic door to go inside the engine room, but with the right tools, it is easy to pick the electronic lock and password. Is until Jason makes a rather loud sound to get attention that a kindly employee tells him that it’s a restricted area, Jason pretends to be somewhat drunk and the employee politely escorts him to another area. Jason takes a few more laps through the halls and decks and then he realizes it’s already night. Feeling the tiredness of the day he heads towards the suite with slow steps. Once inside he removes the shirt from inside his slacks as he hears noises coming from the bathroom, when he gets closer he can make out the noise of someone throwing up. He frowns opening the door and peeking a look inside. Dick is crouching on the floor and with his head almost tucked into the toilet, Damian is behind him giving gentle rubs on his back. Jason raises his eyebrow and tries not to snort.

“I told you not to drink so many margaritas, Dickface,” Dick makes a pitiful noise and gags again. Damian looks at him sharply and Jason ignores the stare. “And there goes 200 bucks flushed down the toilet.”  

“Shut up, Todd,” Damian mumbles pulling the lever of the toilet and then closing the lid. Dick rests his forehead against the cool surface for a few seconds, and then Damian hands him a glass of water. Dick rinses his mouth a few times and then he nods to Damian with a little reassuring smile.  

“Thanks, Dami. I’m okay,” Jason crosses his arms around his chest waiting for an explanation, Dick just shrugs nonchalantly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a ship, okay?” Jason chuckles this time, finding empathy for him and honestly a little satisfaction in knowing that he isn’t the only sensitive to sailing. For some silly reason, finding flaws in the golden boy always makes Jason feel guilty for feeling pleasure with the realization that Dick, no matter how high everyone has him on a pedestal, is not perfect, but a mere mortal like the rest of them. Jason clenches his fists at such a stupid line of thought. Yeah, right, as if Jason didn’t put Dick on a pedestal even higher than everyone. 

“Todd, report,” Damian says and Jason abruptly comes out of his head. He nearly growls with how much Damian sounds like Bruce.

“Is pretty,” He replies. “But the security is thin. Easy access to the engine room as well to the bridge, the staff is too friendly for their own good, and there are not enough cameras to monitor the ship properly. An attack would be too easy.”   

“Idiots, they prefer to invest money in foolish luxuries than in security. It is always easier to blame others than taking matters into their own hands by taking precautionary measures.” Damian growls.

“What about you, demon, did you find something?” Jason asks and Damian purses his mouth as if he were offended by the question. 

“Tt. Of course. I may have a few more suspects to add to the list, but it’s too early to tell.” Damian says and Jason doesn’t want to ask what he was doing.

“Why did you find them suspicious?” Dick asks intrigued.

“There are some passengers who stay away from the crowds, wear long sleeves,” Jason makes a gesture to Damian’s clothes and the demon ignores him. “For now, is just speculation, but we must see everyone as possible suspects. Appearances are always deceiving.” 

“Yeah, like all these people who think Dick is actually funny,” Jason replies with a snort, Damian nods and Dick immediately makes an offended noise.

“Hey! I’m right here, dork.” Dick retorts.

“His puns are the worst,” Jason continues saying with a smirk.

“Tt,” Damian rolls up the sleeves of his shirt leaning on the wall. Why they are still chatting in the bathroom, Jason doesn’t know. “Did you get anything useful from those serpents?” Damian crosses his arms giving Dick a deep look.

“Some people think that the pirates are just a myth and others said that it is just fake news, uh, I made a friend called Brendan who claims to know almost every passenger aboard and he said there are some fresh faces around, which is promising news. Oh, and I heard that in the night the piano bar turns into a nightclub with everything and dance floor.” Dick says with a smile.

“Wow, what super useful information. Thank you Dickie.” Jason mumbles.

“No, is great news! People always slip their tongues when they’re drunk. We should definitely go! The night’s still young,” Both Damian and he exchange a look as Dick gets up from the lid letting out a yawn. “I’m just gonna brush my teeth.”

 

Dick exclaims how excited he is about moving his ass on the nightclub, but when he goes to the room to grab something, he stays knocked out cold on the mattress. Maybe his twenty-six did already start affecting him. Jason can’t help chuckling and taking pictures of him. Blackmail material for later. He and Damian make notes of their findings in the tablet, the demon gives Daddy Bats some reports of the day, and then its only Jason on the veranda. He stays for a while lost on his thoughts until sleep wins over him and he decides to sleep a little, he doesn’t know if he will be able to fall asleep so easily, but the king-size bed is calling him. On his way to his room, just out of curiosity, he peeks a look into the other room and he smiles mockingly for himself when he dimly glimpses the scene before his eyes. The twin beds are pulled together creating a king-size bed, Dick is snoring softly, spread upside down while using Damian’s chest and shoulder as a pillow. Instead, Damian is lying on his back with one hand on Dick’s middle. The latter with his almost superhuman senses opens his eyes giving Jason a challenging look in the dim light, as if daring him to say something. Jason puffs a breath and ignores Damian’s sharp stare closing the door quietly.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Two mornings later, after waking up early to take a morning stroll on the promenade deck to see the sunrise, returning to the suite for the first cup of coffee of the day (Thank heaven for the premium coffee station) and then taking a shower with the wonderful view in front of him, Jason finally feels a little more acclimated to being on the ship. He would like to say that these three days on the cruise have been terribly bad (with the company of these pretentious suckers, and adding to it having to coexist with Dick and Damian every minute of the day) but honestly, he couldn’t find that many reasons to complain. Yeah, there were already two times where he had a sparring match with Damian in the living room to cool out from the anger or too many times where he had to count to 20 so he wouldn’t lose his patience with Dick. But that wasn’t something out of the ordinary. And the truth is that they had had also good times, like last night when they had a good chat on the veranda, until Jason’s mouth ached from trying not to laugh and Dick was crying because of laughter. They’d been through so much together, so many years of trying to rip each other’s throats and then fighting side by side against madmen in ridiculous suits. They were family, after all, maybe quite dysfunctional, highly dysfunctional, but Jason felt comfortable enough to let his guard down around the two of them.  

They accepted him for who he was, so he didn’t have to wear a mask around them anymore.   

The three of them were adapting to sharing a space together, although honestly, he was the intruder. Damian and Dick coexisted all the time, to such an extent that Damian used to live with Dick half the year, and the other half was spent in the manor. That’s why seeing their everyday routine no longer surprised him, even though sometimes he couldn’t help feeling jealous of how well they got along. Every morning without exception, Damian would leave a cup of tea or chopped fruit for Dick, with the excuse that he wanted the blue-eyed to start the day with something healthy. It was a little cute, really. Seeing someone like Damian, the biological son of Batman, grandson of the Demon’s Head, 5’7, with a piercing green gaze, ending up being a complete softie for Goldie. 

They were suckers, for fuck’s sake. Bruce might be the Dark Knight, but when Dick was around he behaved just like any overprotective father would. Dick just had that face, Jason couldn’t say no to him. Damn puppy eyes and its undeniable power. Like this morning, when Dick had convinced him to go to the pool on the Sun Deck to sunbathe with the excuse of seeing if they could find Kai Beck skulking around, which was a terrible excuse, but Jason ended up going with him anyway. He tells himself he only did it because Dick asked nicely and not for other reasons, like he actually wanted to go. But when Dick gave him a lopsided smile full of mischief, Jason just puffs a breath regretting his decision.     

 

“You got to be joking.” Is the first thing Jason says, but no, of course, is not a joke.

“Please, you’ll have done worse things for me, like keep my organs inside my body and not out of my belly. Don’t be a drama queen.” Dick replies raising an eyebrow.  

“Dammit, I’m not a drama queen, Dickface!” But yeah, he’s got a point. 

“Sure,” Dick answers with a knowing look on his face. “Then just do it already!” When Jason still doesn’t make any move to do it, Dick shrugs. “Well, I’m going to ask some hot guy to help me then. Hey! You—” Dick chirps to a shirtless guy passing by and Jason doesn’t think twice before lashing out at him and covering Dick’s mouth with his hand before the guy could hear him. Dick wriggles out from his grip with a triumphant smile and Jason reluctantly snatches the sunscreen from him.  

“Ok, fine!” Dick giggles while Jason applies a generous amount of product on his hands. Ok, maybe he did was being a bit dramatic but that was better than admitting he was a bit shy about putting sunscreen on the back of his kinda brother-sometimes-crush. Dick takes off his shirt flexing his muscles, making a show of it, of course, and then he lays on the recliner. His skin looked radiant with the little sunbeams reflected on it. Jason leans close and he begins to spread the product efficiently on his skin. As Jason spreads the sunscreen, he can’t help but be distracted by the moles scattered around his back, so much that Jason almost missed Dick’s words.

“Your hands feel so nice, Jase,” Dick says with a moan and Jason feels the tip of his ears getting red. “Have you considered giving erotic massages? Because you would be—”

“What the fuck man?” Jason interrupts him with an embarrassing high-pitch tone that just makes Dick giggle stupidly.

“Did I say something wrong?” Dick still has the nerve to ask. “I’m just being honest, Jase.”

“Don’t say weird shit like that! And stop calling me that!” Jason snaps and sits on his recliner trying to hide his red cheeks with a sour face. He spreads the exceeding of sunscreen on his arms trying to get out of his mind the sound Dick made. Jesus.  

“Ok, peaches,” It takes him a second, and then Jason grabs the closest thing he has (that being Dick’s sandal) and throws it at his face, listening to the satisfying sound of his projectile hitting the target. Dick makes a noise between laughter and pain and Jason doesn’t hide his grin, but the satisfaction is short-lived when Dick tosses the projectile back to him, hitting him on the cheek.  

“Shithead!” He yells at him trying not to laugh, but feeling rather humorous Jason doesn’t hold back a genuine laugh, attracting attention to both of them. After a few minutes of laughter, Jason grabs his stomach feeling loose and in good spirits.

“I wish we were always this sappy,” Dick whispers and Jason tries to ignore the sting he feels, completely forgetting the laughter. Thanks for bringing out how miserable we are, ass. He thinks to himself.  

“We would be if we didn’t have the constant concern about dying before turning 30,” Jason comments bitterly. 

“Or dying from fear toxin overdose,” Dick adds gloomily.

“Or be blown up in an explosion, which I don’t particularly recommend.”

“Would you stop making jokes about your death? You aren’t funny!” Dick grunts. 

“It’s not a joke, those are facts.”

“Whatever, it’s not funny,” Dick announces with a sad puppy expression on his face, so Jason changes the subject.

“You think the dwarf is causing trouble? Maybe starting a fire or something? Should I worry?” Jason half-jokes. The punk did have disappeared like a ninja a while ago. Jason was almost certain that Damian was a vampire, he hated sunbathing (despite he spent the first years of his life living on a forsaken desert) he had the gothic style and he had evil eyes that promised danger.

“First, Damian is no longer a dwarf, he’s taller than me, probably he will be taller than you,” Jason chuckles dryly at that. Yeah, sure. “Second, Damian hates public areas, he wouldn’t hang around here unless it was strictly necessary. He’s probably lurking somewhere or maybe terrorizing some passengers. He’s fine.” Jason gives him a look of ‘seriously?’ under his sunglasses and Dick just shrugs.

“He’s probably sneaking at every cabin searching for evidence.” Jason comments. “I wouldn’t be surprised, not at all.” Dick seems to ignore his words and when Jason glances at him he finds the blue-eyed softly singing the background song. Jason pays attention and recognizes the melody of Island In The Sun by Weezer. “Isn’t that one of your favorite songs?” 

“You remembered,” Dick gives him a surprised look so Jason shrugs like if weren’t a big deal.

“You put it on repeat all the time. When I borrowed your Spotify account it was always on your playlists, I assumed it was one of your favorites.”

“Yeah, it is.” Dick smiles softly and a second later he frowns. “Wait, you borrowed my Spotify account?”

 

When Jason ignores his question, Dick sighs and begins to read a Vogue magazine while getting a nice tan. The blue-eyed was only wearing his swimsuit, and apparently it was a pleasant sight for everyone, as Jason could notice the discreet and not-so-discreet glances in their direction from time to time. Dick as freaking usual was oblivious to the looks he was getting, humming the pop songs sounding on the speakers and gently moving his feet to the rhythm of the song.  Jason was tempted to throw a towel over him, but that would only make him look like if he cared about Dick, and Jason didn’t want to look like such a killjoy either. If Damian were here, he would definitely throw a towel over Dick and growl like a dog at anyone who dared to look at his brother. As there was really nothing to do for now, without feeling too guilty Jason flexed his arms behind his head while nipping at his drink. From their spot on the Sun Deck, they had a good view of the pool and the people gathered around. Jason felt so cozy that maybe he could take a nap, yeah, it sounded good, too bad his brain wasn’t cooperating with the idea of relaxing. Deep down Jason knew he couldn’t lower his guard.

Their first days of traveling the Pacific Ocean hadn’t been very enriching for the case, which was pretty disappointing, the thought of this whole show being in vain made it so bad.

Jason had just managed to gather what a crew employee had told him at some point yesterday morning. According to the lady, Monica, a ship of the same line had been attacked a few weeks ago but the incident wasn’t made public to not cause panic among the tourists. The pirates allegedly hijacked the entire cruise and took it off its original route. Apparently, there weren’t casualties, but Jason still questioned that. Monica had decided to be honest and share that information with him on the condition that Jason didn’t go gossip with the other passengers. She had assured him that Celestial Seas was safe. Regardless of the almost non-existent reasons to suspect about pirates on-board, they had installed a little device that spied the incoming and outgoing ship phone calls. Yes, it was quite illegal but Bruce didn’t seem to care about privacy anyway. From the Clock Tower, Oracle was monitoring in case a suspicious conversation happened, but so far, nothing yet. The bearded hipster was still in their sights, but they couldn’t prove anything until Kai did something incriminating, which he still didn’t do. Jason was a little resigned to thinking that maybe Kai wasn’t an undercover pirate, neither Tim nor Barbara had found anything in him yet, but Jason couldn’t stop thinking that no matter how clean he seemed, for some reason he still suspected about him. Sometimes the people who looked the least suspicious were the ones who ended up surprising you.

Jason was starting to think that maybe there weren’t any pirates on-board. They have been acting in the spotlight, being loud, making their presence known. Jason had seen almost every passenger face to face at least once, and no one seemed out of place. But if Jason was beginning to lose hope about finding pirates in their way, Dick on the other hand wasn’t losing hope. He kept saying that he had a hunch, that he was almost certain that there was something strange with the few passengers who didn’t leave their cabins. Dick always followed his instincts, and this time it wasn’t the exception.

 

“You know what I been thinking?” Dick asks suddenly and Jason spares him a look.

“What?”

“Blackjack,” Dick says with a grin changing his position on the recliner and choosing to lay on his back, the new pose brings out his abs and slim hip. Jason tries not to stare too much.

“Blackjack?” Jason repeats not following.

“Yeah, blackjack, craps, roulette, does it ring a bell? We haven’t set foot in the casino. Maybe we’re looking in all the wrong places. There’s a lot of money moving around there, as well as gamblers, and it’s a lot more serious than the piano bar, isn’t it?” Jason considers it for a moment, Dick has a point. Maybe they’re indeed looking in the wrong places, Jason doesn’t want to get any ideas about finding something, but maybe it’s not a bad idea.

“Well, we should go tonight, but don’t get your hopes up, okay? I doubt we’ll find anything. It’s been days and the only solid thing we have is that their last move was close, maybe the trail is warm. When we get to Tahiti we can ask questions to the locals, maybe stay a few extra days or something.”

“Okay, but I’m just asking for a little optimism, yeah? Maybe we’re looking for the wrong people, what if they’re not muscular or tattooed as we think? It’s like Damian said, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll keep my eyes open if you do the same.” Jason mumbles the last and Dick tilts his head like a confused puppy.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Dick wrinkled his nose.

“I’m just saying we should all keep our eyes open, ok? Maybe one of your buddies organizes fancy club yachts parties by day and by night is a ruthless pirate, how can you know?”

Jason. Whatever Bruce said to convince or recruit you to come with me, bear in mind it’s an exaggeration. Bruce is too much of a control freak and you know it. I’m very much capable of taking care of myself, okay?”  

“I’m just here for the free drinks,” Jason crosses his arms trying to end the conversation without spilling the beans about how he actually cares about him in an unselfishly way. Dick is about to contradict him as usual, so Jason smirks wickedly at him. “So you can take care of yourself pretty well, uh?”

“Jason, I’m offended by the question. Do you think all my years in pixie boots and green panties were made-up or something? I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have, goddamnit.” Dick snaps and Jason raises both hands in a gesture of peace.

“All right, all right, jeez. So you’re saying you can see an attack before it happens? You telling me you’re that good?”

“By all means,” Dick replies with a frown and Jason smirks broader. “What’s this about, Jason?”

“Just curious,” He answers plainly. Dick puffs a breath but takes his magazine and begins to read it again. Jason waits for a few minutes and then he touches Dick’s shoulder insistently.

“Now what?” Dick says with a stern tone and Jason points to a spot near the lift access.  

“Shit, isn’t that Damian talking to a girl?” Dick immediately straightens up looking at the place he just pointed mumbling a ‘where?’ and Jason tries to hold back a chuckle, he adds. “Don’t you see? It’s right in front of your face, moron!”

“I don’t see anything!” Dick puts a palm above his eyes trying to see better, so Jason seizes the moment to in a swift move take Dick and put him over his shoulder. Dick yelps in surprise and tries to escape, but Jason is stronger than him so he can’t get out of his grip around him that easily. “Jason! Put me down!” Dick protests but Jason doesn’t lower him. “What are you doin’?” Paying no mind to him he races to the pool maliciously and without hesitation, he throws Dick into the water seeing with satisfaction how Goldie splashes water everywhere. Jason can hear the whispers and the discreet giggles around, but he decides to ignore them while a big grin spreads across his face. Dick pulls his head out of the water pushing aside the now messy wet hair away from his eyes with a fuming gesture over his face.

“So you can see an attack before it happens huh,” Jason makes fun of him. “I see your guard’s a little low, Wonder Boy.”

“You caught me by surprise,” Goldie answers while swimming towards him slowly. “I was distracted.”

“Well yeah, obviously,” Jason chuckles and gazes suspiciously at the extended hand that Dick pulls out of the water, asking for his help to get out of the pool. Jason should have known better when Dick grabs his wrist with an iron grip and tugs him towards the pool. Well, shit. He curses as he has the uncomfortable feeling of his clothes sticking to his body. “You moron!” Shit, his sunglasses also disappeared with the splash.

“You were asking for it,” Goldie was still laughing.

“This ain’t over!” Jason swims at Dick and dips his face into the water with a loose grip, after a few seconds Dick kicks him in the stomach and takes a deep breath when he pulls his head out of the water, but with a wide grin over his wet face.

“Be careful what you wish for!” Jason smirks back at him.

 

If they both started a water war, no one commented on it afterward.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Go back to sleep, It’s early.”

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

_____________ 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“So, what you doin’ Dami?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

_____________

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

_____________

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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 (oh yeah, what a pity) 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?”

“No,”

“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 cannot 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 find 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. But 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 but 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,”

“As if.”

 

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 the 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.”

“Jason.”

“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 enquires with a hopeful smile and 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 colorful 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.

“I’m Jason.”

“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.”

“Yeah?”

“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.

“Cheers!”

“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.”

“Shit.”

 

They were so screwed. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

If anything Dick was very good at, it was reading people by just looking at them. Kind of like when you’re in a bookstore and you read the introduction of myriad books and you immediately know which books you’d never read and which books you would read over and over. That’s how effective Batman’s training and Cass advises had been, he could read people as if they were books. Obviously, comparing books with people maybe wasn’t the best metaphor, but somehow it made sense. Though Dick always liked to believe that there was more than meet the eye, on a mission, it turned out to be very useful to know how to read people quickly. Dick knew how to pick out micro-expressions that happened in a second and vanished the next, he could perceive what the body language said about a person without the need for words. For him, communication through touch and movement was the most certain thing that could exist. (Alfred had always told him that he was a kinaesthetic kind of person) A man could be a master of lies, may trick with his words, but his body would always betray him. Whilst it was true that was an ordinary and quite essential skill in the vigilante business, sometimes Dick liked to think that his sixth sense was above average. It never had failed him before, not on his Robin days, not when he built his own legacy on Blüdhaven. Dick couldn’t remember a single moment when his instincts had let him down, and yet, in spite of all that awareness regarding the body language and a clear perception of his surroundings, his family and many other people were always teasing him about being pretty naïve about a lot of things. And okay, maybe in a way it was true, but Dick knew that for what it was really important, he was genuinely perceptive, thank you very much. People were wrong about that gossip cause it was one thing to turn a blind eye to certain things and another very different thing was not seeing it at all.

Dick liked being underestimated, though it was a double-edged sword.

He basked in seeing the stunned face of his opponents when they realized he was much more than a little birdie in black and blue or a fine, graceful figure. Clearly, this mission was no exception to the rule, despite Bruce’s ‘better judgment’ in sending him on this operation from the very beginning, B himself must know by now that he was the best option. Everything about him drew attention, and his face was quite well-known even outside Gotham. Dick knew that from the moment he publicly bragged about his vacation on a luxurious cruise on the South Pacific Ocean, he had painted a red mark over his back. He was aware of being the perfect bait for those new famed pirates, and for that reason, he didn’t think twice before embarking on this cruise, and what better than being accompanied by Damian and Jason? Brotherly bonding was what Dick enjoyed most in the world. It didn’t matter if it was on top of a skyscraper back in Gotham, in the kitchen of the manor, or in an undercover mission on a cruise ship. It was worth the same. What more could he ask for? Oh, well, maybe a little breathing space. Definitely.

Since the first day, Dick had felt all eyes on him. And he wasn’t dumb, he knew he was somewhat attractive, but that much? He could feel the watchful looks everywhere he went, like a shadow following him at every step he took. It got to a point where it became a bit tiresome, overwhelming even. But to be honest, not all the looks were bad, as they were almost always followed by a smiling face or some kind words. He was used to it, but that didn’t mean he always enjoyed being the center of attention, as now.

Undeniably there were many kinds of looks that meant hundreds of different things, emotions that could range from being pleasant to being awkward, and this time, Dick felt really uncomfortable under that intense green gaze. From the moment he set foot on the ship, after meeting the majority of the passengers even if it was in a fleeting glance, after engaging in a lot of conversations with all sorts of people, Dick hadn’t been so sure he’d found a person who gave him all the red flags as Aleksander did. From the moment he sat next to him in the game and gave him that dazzling smile, Dick knew. There was no doubt in his mind that this man was pretending to be someone he wasn’t, a wolf disguised as a sheep. His walk was that of a hunter, looking for its prey in the crowd, and Dick knew very well that he had been chosen as the prey in this particular hunting. He didn’t know whether to be offended or pleased about having captured the most likely pirate’s attention, as that had been literally the purpose of the mission. It hadn’t taken much effort if Dick was honest. A lovely smile this way, a comment about his travels around the world that way, waving the big diamond ring at every opportunity that seemed fit.

Everything in order to get the bad type of attention, and it had paid off.

 

“You do have stunning eyes. Did anyone ever told you about that gem matching the color of your iris?” Dick rolls his eyes inwardly. Really? Can’t anyone be more creative with their flattery? At some point it gets boring. “Though in my opinion, I do not think there is anything that can compare their color. I am sorry if I am overstepping, I’ve just never seen eyes quite like yours.” Aleksander comments in a gentle tone, his voice is husky and certainly a bit demanding. He had that perfect mumbo jumbo to roll people into sharing their biggest secrets without even realizing it, he knows how to ask subtly for basic information and personal data that might seem harmless, but is not. Luckily, he was a pro in that field as well. Extra point for himself, yeehaw!

“Can you believe my optometrist told me once that my eyes are nothing special? Even if it is said that only 8% of the population has blue eyes, but whatever.” Dick comments with a shrug.

“Well, rest assured it is a lie. It’s not just the color, it is your gaze. Kid, anyone who says otherwise is just envious.”

“Thanks,” Dick smiles softly taking a sip of his drink, an apple martini, ugh. He had never liked alcohol that much, this was just for the sake of the mission. He couldn’t turn down the invitation to this drink, not when he was so close to getting answers. How would Aleksander suspect him if Dick was playing to be the charming, partygoer, and goofy Richie Grayson? Hopefully, he had him in the palm of his hand.

“Why did you choose a destination as magical as French Polynesia? Are you traveling for pleasure or business?” Aleksander enquires looking at him with interest.

“Oh, always pleasure. I needed a break, you know? Changer d’air!” Dick says with a smile, waving his arms to make an emphasis.

“Do not we all need it?” The man snorts. “Hmm, so do you speak French, uh. You are full of surprises, young man.” Aleksander comments with a curious tone.

“Yup. Fun fact, French impresses girls more.” Dick winks at him making the man snort again.

“Thanks for the tip then. Tell me, Richard, have you enjoyed this ocean crossing so far? What do you think of the ship?”

“Everything is excellent, I have been on many cruises in many places in the world, and I think I can say that this is one of the best. Even though my dad didn’t want me to board this cruise, you know?” Bullshit. Dick didn’t even like cruises. They always ended up being a nightmare, he felt like they were on top of a piece of wood helplessly floating in the ocean, or maybe was the fact that Dick had seen Titanic before they boarded, yeah, that was it. Anyway, Dick always felt dizzy and his fear of sharks didn’t help.

“May I ask why?” Aleksander’s face changes into one of genuine curiosity, and Dick must bite his tongue to not show a face of incredulity. Dick’s tone comes out more petulant than he had planned.

“Surely you’ve heard those ridiculous stories of pirates attacking cruise ships, haven’t you? My father thinks they’re real, for goodness’ sake! Me on the other hand I find them very absurd, I mean, seriously?” He can see how the man’s attention is now completely on him.  Aleksander tilts his head sideways for a moment, as if he didn’t believe what he’s saying.

“And why do you find them absurd?” The man touches his chin questioningly. “Even I who am far from the media have heard about them. I do not think people like them should be underestimated.”

“Maybe, but for me they are nothing more than silly tales. I mean, pirates in the 21st century? I think they are being very old-fashioned; you know?” Dick says nonchalantly, gesturing with his drink in a dismissive way. “I don’t think anyone should consider them important, they are simply cheap copies of scoundrels from the past.” He ends saying with an amused smirk. If Dick is really, really good at something, it’s in pissing people off opening his big mouth. Aleksander doesn’t seem to react to the taunt, but Dick manages to catch how the man squints his eyes at him for a second in what might seem irritation.

“Those are some harsh words, but I think you’re right, kid. Perhaps they are nefarious people doing absurd things in order to gain attention,” The man smiles playfully, but the edges of his smile look forced. Dick can feel a chill running down his spine. If he could describe the red lights on his head right now, they’d look like a shiny Christmas tree. “Richard, do you know that young man standing over there?” Dick glances quickly around to find Damian staring at them, not hiding it at all. Dick sighs heavily, having noticed the intense glare of his little brother a while ago while they were chatting. Although it was kind of sweet to see Damian so committed to making sure he was safe, sometimes he could be a little scary. Damian never hid when something bothered him, his face was easy to read due to years of practice in understanding his many gestures and grimaces. Dick knew for experience his baby brother was too close to snatching a bite. He needed to regain control of the conversation, and having Damian breathing down his neck wasn’t helping. “He’s been watching us for a while now, you want me to do something?”

“Oh, no. He is my little brother Damian, I am sorry. He may seem a little hostile but he is only joking. Just ignore him and he’ll go.” If looks killed, Aleksander would already be torn to shreds.

“I see. There is no need for an apology. I can understand that, after all, we do not know each other. So if you allow me, we can change that.” Aleksander looks at him intensely, waiting for an answer, so Dick smiles brightly.

“I’d be happy to.”

 

Turns out the man wasn’t as easy to manipulate as Dick would have thought. No doubt Aleksander was well trained and skilled at keeping the conversation fluid and supposedly spontaneous, but Dick could read between the lines. Topics such as his personal life, travels, and even the relationship with his family always came up, but curiously, the man hadn’t yet commented on whether or not he knew he was the adopted son of the billionaire Bruce Wayne, although Dick had the feeling that Aleksander had him well-studied in advance, this conversation hadn’t happened by chance. Dick was trying to give Aleksander everything he wanted to hear but trying not to put Damian or Jason at risk, he didn’t want to make them an easy target, he wanted to stay as the main and possibly only target. With a bit of effort, Dick had managed to pull out a bit of information of him, though almost none, but nevertheless useful to create a profile about his personality. There was certainly an aura of leadership coming from Aleksander, from how he talked to how he sat. He was smart, analytical, and even funny and polite, for crying out loud. How could a person seem so nice and end up being a cold-blooded pirate?  Sure, hypothetically speaking, but every second that passed Dick felt more accurate with his hunch. He was risking the thought that it even seemed that the man had some military discipline, or maybe even marine (which would say itself a lot, cause according to the rumor the pirates were former marines) The man had said he owned a large number of nightclubs in several states, and he did have that Wall Street businessman vibe, but not of a clean one. (Who was, anyway?) Dick knew he couldn’t trust anything that came out of Aleksander’s mouth. When Dick feels the conversation going up a dead end, he realizes that Damian was no longer watching them, it looked like his Little D went for a walk around the casino or was checking the bugs in Andrei’s room. In any case, it was the perfect opportunity to take the talk elsewhere and turn the conversation around, maybe even get more answers, so Dick gives him his best dazzling smile.

 

“Why don’t we get out of here? I think the weather is ideal for a walk on the promenade deck. What do you think?” Aleksander gives him a lopsided smirk (pretty scary) making his stomach twist.

“Lead the way.” Dick knows he should warn one of his siblings about his plans, but the idea of them ruining everything with their silly overprotection makes him think twice. His Little Wing was talking with a girl and Dami was... doing his thing, whatever that was. They’d be fine without him for a few more hours, right? No big deal.

 

_____________

 

The idea comes to Dick after an hour or so after he and Aleksander had walked on the promenade deck while discussing many topics. His detective side was frustrated with not being able to get anything more from the man, Dick needed evidence on his hands, he needed to get his much-desired questions solved. If he couldn’t get that from Aleksander, Dick needed to take matters into his own hands, solve the riddle about him, and that aura of darkness that he emitted.

He had to be patient, like when you throw the hook into the water and wait for the fish to take the bait. Patience is a virtue, is what Bruce always said. Dick waits patiently, taking his time, waiting to pull the hook. Then it happens.

After casually talking about the ship’s suites, Dick manages to find out the number of Aleksander’s suite, though it hadn’t been as easy as it would have been with someone else. Dick could have asked Timmy for the information, but it felt good to be able to do something himself, it gave him great satisfaction in seeing that his persuasive gifts were as good as ever. It had been a long time since Dick had been on an undercover mission (his family believed that he always ended in some misfortune in such missions, which was a total exaggeration) so this was like a journey down his memory lane. Once knowing where to go and knowing that the man wouldn’t return to his suite soon afterwards, Dick plans his escape. However, trying to get away from the man in question was proving to be an almost impossible task. For every excuse that Dick made up Aleksander came up with a solution, as if he refused to take his eyes off him, which was interesting, yes, but very annoying. He needed to bail himself out, he was wasting precious time on what he could be investigating Aleksander and find out if he was just misjudging or if his hunch was pretty much justified.

 

“Do you really have to go? The night is still young, kid.” Aleksander requests, but his tone didn’t sound honest, instead, it only twisted more the knot in Dick’s stomach.

“Yeah, it’s a shame, but I’m a little tired and my brother’s probably looking for me everywhere. But I’ll see you soon, won’t I?” Dick asks näively, almost pouting just to add weight to what he said. Aleksander smiles softly, his white teeth looked almost like fangs and Dick cringes internally. In the shadow of the moon, his features looked tougher, almost gloomy, not far from the face of any other villain in some dark alley back in Gotham.

“Of course you’ll see me soon,” Dick knows it’s a promise, and not a good one. The simple tone gives him more chills. “You can be sure of that.”

“Well, then I’ll go. It’s been a pleasure, Alek.” Dick says kindly even if the words feel rock-like on his mouth. It was rude not to be polite. Alfred had always taught him very well, even if Dick was about to unmask this man.

“The pleasure was mine, Richard,” Aleksander surprises him when he takes his right hand and kisses his knuckles softly. Dick almost jerked at the gesture, but the way the man looks at the ring one last time makes Dick squint suspiciously. OK, that there was a clear sign, almost as clear as the moonlight. “I’ve had a great afternoon with you. Sleep well kid.”

“Au revoir.”

 

Dick’s smile seems about to get stuck halfway, but Dick urges himself to put on a 100 watts’ smile. With all the grace he can muster, Dick walks away and once he’s far enough away he lets out a long sigh. My gosh, that was intense, but chop-chop, there was no time to lose. Dick didn’t have time to catalogue everything that had happened and put it in little boxes to analyze under the microscope. There were things to do and places to go.

Dick heads to the upper suites on deck 6 with a gentle jog, smiling at a girl passing by him in the hallway to ease his tension. He settles a strand of wavy hair away from his face tiredly, okay, maybe it would have been a good idea to follow Damian’s advice and cut his hair before they had boarded. His little brother was so wise, always after him with some advice, almost as a spiritual guide or something. But being so stubborn, he hardly listened, and when something went wrong, his little brother was always there with a smug face saying ‘I told you so’, the brat. It was almost as if their roles had been reversed and now Damian was the one who was constantly reminding him of his duties, which sometimes upset him, but at the same time, he appreciated the effort of the kid. No, not a kid anymore. Damian was a young man, even taller than him. Gosh, how is that they grow so fast? Dick feels like a proud father seeing Damian becoming a great, passionate, and virtuous man. It was an indescribable sensation, to be able to see the change in Damian’s attitude and to go from being a spoiled brat to this more tolerant and understanding person, and more knowing that he himself did his bit to make that happen.

Were there stones on the road? Plenty. Was it worth it? Every damn second.

They had reached that point where after so much loss, sorrow, and stubbornness on their part had created many cracks in their already fractured family, but with a lot of glue, love, and above all patience, everyone seemed to have finished licking their wounds and were willing to make peace once and for all. Jay had been the hardest to bring together, but Dick always had kept a lot of faith in his Little Wing, knowing well the man behind the helmet. And despite his wariness at first, Jason integrated himself back into the family, being accepted with open arms. Was it normal to feel teary eyes after thinking about his much-loved family? Hell yes. After 5 minutes of trekking through the halls, he reaches the door marked with the number 105. Once there, Dick puts his mind back on the game, away from his thoughts and emotions. Being a full-time vigilante, bringing his mind to neutrality is as easy as switching on the light, going from Dick Grayson to Nightwing doesn’t take him more than a blink. After looking on each side with caution and seeing that the coast was clear, Dick uses his magic wand to open the door (said magic wand being Batman Tech) and after a few seconds, the door opens with a satisfying click. What he finds inside, is more than just incriminating, and all in the form of a thumb drive.

 

_____________

 

Jason’s well-rooted instincts immediately kick in, his mind is invaded by a million thoughts and possibilities, each seeming more unlikely than the previous, but at this point, nothing could stop that well-know, hideous feeling of uncertainty. What the heck was going on? Should he worry? But instead of showing how he really felt, he gives Damian his best glare of skepticism, trying to keep his concern at bay.

 

“Say again?”

“For heaven’s sake, do you want me to spell it out for you or what?” Damian snarls. “Grayson is missing.”

“I got that part, genius. But I mean if he is just ‘momentary missing’ or like ‘missing from the face of the earth’?”

“What do you think?”

“I’m sure he is doing stupid flips around or flirting with someone,” Damian gives him a bitter look. “Don’t worry too much about him, Dick knows how to take care of himself.”

“Sure, and if that were true, you wouldn’t be here, would you? You’d be wasting your time somewhere else, but you know as well as I do that Grayson has a bad case of tough luck. You care about him and you look like a moron trying to hide it.”

“And what happened to that brat who never accepted how much he cared about his older brother, huh?” Jason growls.

“I grew up. You should do the same, Todd.”

 

Jason rubs his forehead with his fingers, wisely deciding to ignore Damian, who clearly is too emotionally involved to be of any help in this case. Ok, first things first. In the event of a ‘sudden disappearance’ the first logical thing to do is dial the number of that said person, right? It didn’t matter that they were possibly within reach from each other, after all, where could Dick have gone without letting them know? Although it wasn’t uncommon for Dick to throw himself into the unknown without a safety net, he would have had the trouble of telling them where he was going, to not worry Damian, right? But a voice reminds Jason that Dick is an adult and he didn’t have to report his location every 5 minutes, for fuck’s sake. It was time to acknowledge that fact, which meant that there wasn’t any solid reason to worry, it probably was a false alarm and Damian was just overreacting. Knowing the little shit, it was likely that his overprotection was making him fucking paranoid, considering that he had the terrible example of having Bruce as a father figure, making him jump to hasty conclusions and always expecting for the worst.

‘Everything’s fine’ Jason repeats himself as he hears how the phone rings and rings several times with no answer until eventually, it goes to voicemail. Jason curses but that doesn’t stop him from dialing again, though. There was no need to make a fuss, it was just a precaution. It wasn’t like there was any real danger on a luxury cruise, right? Well, not counting the very, very low probability of undercover pirates being on-board, but honestly, what were the odds that just tonight they had decided to carry out their attack and take Dick hostage? No, Jason wasn’t considering that option, nor was he imagining the idea of finding Goldie’s remains at the sea by tomorrow morning. Absolutely not.

 

“This is worthless, Todd. Don’t you think I already tried to call him unsuccessfully?” The dwarf’s voice jerks him back to the current time being. “Are you going to stand there and be incompetent or will you assist me in finding him?” Damian barks but surprisingly, he didn’t sound as threatening as he should. The words weren’t even spoken in spite, but with a well-hidden anxious tone that leaves Jason frozen in place. Was Damian freaking out internally? At his lack of words, Damian pinches the bridge of his nose with irritation.

“Don’t patronize me, shithead. As I said, Dick probably is playing roulette or he’s sticking his tongue in someone’s throat. There’s no need to get your panties in a twist!” Damian glares at him with dire.

“If that is the case, then why don’t you lead the way inside and surprise me with your prodigious detective skills?” Jason sighs heavily trying not to strangle the little shit, Dick would definitely kill him. The dwarf was just trying to hide his worry behaving like a fucker, he could relate. Tragically, they were more alike than he cared to admit, so he knew how useless it would be to try to convince Damian to calm down.

“Okay, Dick was with that looming man, Aleksander, so maybe he’s with him, right? But I don’t remember seeing him on the passenger list Tim sent, so I have no fucking idea who he is.” Just great.

“I do not remember seeing him before either. Undoubtedly, Richard had some suspicion about him and for that single reason, he agreed to chat with him. The question is, will he be responsible for Richard’s disappearance? Should we—”

“Not so fast, brat. Dick’s not missing... he’s just not here. That doesn’t mean something bad happened to him, or that that prick has anything to do!” Jason doesn’t share the fact that Aleksander gave him a bad mojo from the start. Damian didn’t need that information right now.

“Then enlighten me, where he is, buffoon?” Damian utters. “If you are so sure, then tell me where Richard might have gone without letting m— letting us know?” Damian sounds so mad saying it, as if the fact that it happened on his watch made him angrier.

“Dick doesn’t have to tell you everything he does, you’re not his fucking babysitter,” Jason growls. “There’s no need to jump to hasty conclusions, we’re probably just looking at all the possible bad things and not thinking about the obvious.”

“And how do you explain the sudden disappearance of that man too? It is a coincidence?”

“Dammit, I don’t know!” He yells. After a moment, Jason simmers down his temper enough to speak again. “Hear me out, we should split up to see if we found him, maybe they went to talk elsewhere or something. I’ll search the upper decks and you search the lower decks. If you find him first, call me, okay?

“Tt. Fine.”

 

Damian gives him one last vile look before disappearing once again. Jason takes a deep breath as he makes his way back into the too sharp, too loud, and too bright casino. This time, stepping inside the casino is not a pleasant thing. Every little thing is too overwhelming now, but Jason blocks all the rowdy and enveloping atmosphere compacting it in a small box in the back of his mind. Just to be safe, Jason gives the casino a quick sweep over, hoping that this is just a silly misunderstanding, an exaggeration by Damian regarding his older-brother-and-favorite-person-in-the-world. But the demon was right, there was not a single trace of Dick, nor in the card tables, the roulette, the slots, or the red velvet armchairs where was the last time he saw him. Okay, fine, maybe he went to get some damn air or something. With that in mind, Jason leaves the casino behind and heads for the Sun Deck. The ship itself wasn’t so big, Dick couldn’t have disappeared just like that, besides, what could that knucklehead be doing that seemed more important than telling them where he’d gone? Asshole.

To Jason’s misfortune, the cruise was full of life. People were everywhere, like little ants after a piece of sugar. Jason feels that his patience is running out when he examines most of the upper deck crowded areas without finding any blue-eyed in sight. Dammit. Did Jason have to get one of those stupid anti-lost belts they put on kids these days? If Dickface wanted to get lost like a little kid, Jason was gonna treat him like one. He feels his phone buzzing and when he checks it hoping it’s a message from Goldie, it’s a new message from ‘adopted deformity :)’ Name with which he keeps Damian’s number under, whoopee.

 

‘Report. Did you find any trace of him?’

‘No, not yet. Nothing up here. You?’

‘No traces of him down here.’

 

Jason doesn’t even bother to answer back, preferring to turn around on his heels and deciding to start looking in the cabins section, even checking in their own suite didn’t seem like a bad idea. Which would be ironic, wouldn’t it? Find the fucker there without any worry in the world, while Damian and he almost burned the whole ship looking for him. It was always like that, wasn’t it? Jason could be in total control of his emotions and outbursts of anger like he had never before (after the pit, Jason never believed that would be possible) but the moment something happened to someone he cared about, Jason lost his shit. A flaw in the human condition, a weakness. He used to be terrified of that notion, but now it seems that he accepted it as everything that comes and cannot be changed.

He was trying to keep some semblance of control while he wandered through the halls. Apparently, all the people were elsewhere and what made his task easier, well, except for a few passing crew members Jason ran into every now and then so he just tried to give that vibe of ‘nothing weird going on over here’. Being on that section of the ship, Jason could sense the movement of the structure more intensely, and if he paid enough attention, he could even hear the ship moving as if it were a monster breathing and groaning. Jason snorts as he turns the corner and he realizes this looked like a fucking maze. Not wanting to waste any more time, Jason pulls his phone out of his pocket ready to dial Timmy’s number when he notices several missed calls from Barbara. Oh shit. Ignoring Barbara either involuntarily or voluntarily, always turned out bad. How come Jason didn’t notice the ringing of his phone? Weird. Not wanting to be scolded right now, Jason starts dialing Tim’s number when the above-mentioned dials again. Perfect timing, almost as if she knew they had screwed up somehow. Feeling a little reckless, Jason ignores the call and finishes dialing Timber’s number.

 

“What is it? Everything OK?” Tim’s voice sounds very awake, energetic even. “By the way, Barbara is pissed because she thinks you’re ignoring her calls, you should know by now that it is not a good idea to make her angry.”

“For the record, I’m not ignoring her. For some reason, I never heard my stupid phone rang,” He comments bitterly, swallowing his pride with his next words. “I have an issue. I need you to do something for—

“Wait a minute, how come you didn’t hear your phone? There’s supposed to be really good coverage. Have you checked the why does seem to be interference?” Tim sounds surprised. Jason did hear some interference coming from the line, which yeah, it’s weird, but not the top priority right now. “There is no forecast storm, nor strong winds on your way. The signal should be flawless.”

“Not really. As I said, I’m kind of in the middle of something.” Jason mumbles begrudgingly.

“And that ‘something’ is more important? Jason, I know I said myself that according to how little you had found on these days there was a low probability of unwanted guests on-board, but it doesn’t seem strange to you that the signal is suddenly failing when that usually is the first indication of something weird going on? And you remember that report we read? That the pirates started to partially cut off the signal to make it look like a malfunction from the ship?” Tim drags on elaborating his possible theory of a possible attack, like if Jason didn’t have enough headache to think about that right now. “I don’t want to jump to hasty conclusions, but I don’t think that these events are a coincidence. I know Bruce already gave up on the mission, but the fact that we haven’t found anything weird on the calls yet doesn’t mean something isn’t happening w—”

“We lost Dick,” Jason says out of the blue, cutting off anything Tim was saying. There’s a 5-second silence when RR’s voice resonates back in his ear pretty loud.

“What!?” Tim sounded really shocked. “How did you lose a 26-year-old grown-up man? And with Damian there?” Jason clenches his fits, hating the high-pitch of Tim’s voice right now. “Weren’t you supposed to be going to the casino and play for a while? What happened?”

“Didn’t you hear, fucking deaf? We. Lost. Dick. I don’t know how the hell it happened, but right now you have to tell me where he is. Search in the CCTV cameras or the GPS of that ridiculous ring, or whatever. Be that high-tech nerd and find him.”

“The GPS on the ring indicates that Dick is still on the ship, let me triangulate his position to know more precisely where he is. I’m also checking the cameras, wait a sec.” Jason sighs heavily when he hears voices coming from ahead of him. He is about to ignore them when Jason kinda recognizes said person’s voice.

“I think I found something, I’ll put you on hold.”

“Wait—”

 

Jason abruptly moves away the phone from his ear when the voices in the hallway sound closer and closer, so he casually leans on the wall next to some large plants that provide a little coverage from prying eyes, making himself part of the decor. He pretends to be checking his phone when said persons pass by him and it takes just a moment for Jason to recognize that broad body and expensive suit. Jason frowns in confusion when he spots none other than Aleksander himself wandering quietly next to another tall man. He looks at them with disbelief when his brain suddenly supplies him with the memory of where he saw that face before, that man being Andrei Chapman, number one suspect in Damian’s research. Holly shit. Jason got that feeling like when a new piece fits into the puzzle as he watches both men talk as if they’ve known each other all their lives.  It gives him a certain mix between optimism for maybe having found preliminary evidence even from a hunch, and anger because Dick is still nowhere to be seen. Jason returns the phone to his ear and Tim’s voice immediately squawk again.

 

“Can’t you wait two fucking minutes?” Jason growls.

“Sorry, I thought something bad had happened. Anyway, hmm, okay, I checked twice and I’m pretty sure Dick is in your suite.” Tim says cautiously.

“You sure?” Jason swipes a hand over his face heavily. “‘Cause I’m two seconds away from going to strangle him.” He muttered.

“The GPS doesn’t lie, and I just checked the cameras. Dick’s in the suite. Take it easy, will you? Maybe Dick has a good reason why he didn’t tell you what he was doing.” Tim says trying to help, ugh, fuck Goldie for being the favorite. 

“Don’t make excuses for him, brat. While I give Dick a piece of my mind, find any connection between an Aleksander and Andrei Chapman.”

“Okay, I will, do you need—”

“Not now.”

 

Jason hangs up and promptly sends a message to Damian, then he angrily goes to the suite as if the devil came after him. It wasn’t Timbo’s fault, but Jason didn’t want to say anything hurtful on the phone. Yeah, amazing how much he controlled his emotions and outbursts of anger, huh. However, Jason wanted to believe that this time they were justified. As he slides the electronic card to open the door, Jason can already hear Damian’s yells echoing inside. Jason breathes a sigh as he closes the door and finds Damian waving his arms angrily in the middle of the living room. It seems that the runt is ahead of him with the scolding then. Well, round two is for him.

 

“—and I won’t mention how reckless that was, because unequivocally you already know that, don’t you? But it seems to me that you do not learn. Are you six years old? Why on earth would you did not think of announcing your whereabouts? Don’t you think we’ve done this many times before, Grayson?” Damian states angrily. Jason folds his arms around his chest as he lay eyes on the fucker, who is sitting quietly with his gaze fixed on the tablet screen, not at all disturbed by Damian’s scolding.

“I’m sorry Damian, I didn’t mean to worry you. I know I should have said what I was doing and not sneak out. Clearly, I made a mistake, but—”

“‘Mistake’?” The demon interrupts him incredulously. “I would rather call that immaturity. What would have happened if I had done that, Grayson? Retire without warning and leave you concerned?”

“You already have, Dami,” Dick responds calmly without taking his eyes off the screen yet, but his brow is furrowed, either in concentration or in irritation. “Sneak around without explanation. Why is it different when I do it?” Dick briefly lifts his blue eyes off the screen, giving Damian a sassy look before returning his eyes back to the tablet. Jason notices a thumb drive connected and he wonders what is it.  

“That is not the point!” Damian starts to prepare his defense but Dick cuts him off again without even sounding mad. Fuck. Jason stays frozen on his place, watching as Goldie handles an angry Damian as if he were an angry kitten and not a dangerous vigilante.

“So what is the point?” Dick makes a gesture with his free hand. “I’m here safe and sound and that’s what matters, isn’t it?”

“The point is that— you keep ignoring me, Grayson! You have not been able to look me in the eye to talk about this.”

“I’m not ignoring you,” Dick mutters tiredly. “I’m just waiting for you to stop yelling at me so I can explain myself.” Jason gives a short huff of amusement, finally coming out of his daze, but for some reason, his anger felt subsided.

“Yeah sure, whatever you have there is more important than facing us, right dickhead?” Dick bites the inside of his cheek but he still doesn’t reply immediately, making Jason anxious with all that strange mystery out of character from Goldie. “Can you stop typing and tell us what the hell is going on? Why did you disappear like that then?” Dick seems to sigh heavily, finding the right words before speaking, but he seems to prefer just cut to the chase.

“It’s him.” Dick just says, lifting his eyes from the screen and finally looking at them. Jason opens his mouth about to ask what the hell does he mean by that, but something on his face makes him shut his mouth.

“What do you mean?” Damian vocalizes his thoughts.

“He’s an undercover pirate, I know.” Oh.

“And how did you come to that conclusion, huh?” Jason enquires doubtfully.

“Do you have proofs?” Damian asks instead. “You were in his presence for a couple of hours, Grayson. By that standard, can you say he’s an undercover criminal?”

“Yes, and I have proofs,” Proofs? What the fuck? But before either of them could answer Dick’s phone rings. Goldie takes it heavily and without thinking he puts the call on speaker. “Hey B. What’s up?”

“We need to talk, now.” That was Batman’s voice speaking. Great. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Did something happen? Is everyone okay?” Dick immediately switches from mischievous, teasing older brother to Nightwing mode, the change causes Jason to clench his teeth. He still wanted to give that knucklehead a piece of his mind. 

“Everyone’s okay. Is nothing of the sorts.” Bruce’s grumpy voice replies and Dick’s shoulders seem to loosen significantly.

“It’s good to hear. Okay, well, in that case… Did you hear my full report from earlier today? You understood the context, right B? About Star Trek?” Jason raises an eyebrow. What the hell is he talking about? Oh, right, he’s talking about the insufferably long and ridiculous voice memos that Dick seems to want to send to everyone these days. Maybe he’s not in Nightwing mode after all.  

“Yes Dick, I did.” Bruce grumbles.

“And?” Dick prompts him to make a comment. “You liked it?” There’s a 5-second silence where Bruce sighs heavily and then he replies.

“Aye,” Dick snorts at that and then Bruce clears his throat. “But unfortunately, I did not call to talk about such pleasantries. Are the three of you all right?”

“Physically, yes. In state of mind? Not as much if you like to consider my humor is equivalent to a dragon spitting fire as we speak.” Damian shoves himself into the conversation. “What do you want to discuss, Father? We are in the middle of an important conversation, if you do not mind. I was scolding Grayson for being—”

“Damian, don’t start. That’s not important now. B, what’d you want to talk about?” Goldie finally breaks that annoying deadpan expression not at all according to Dick’s ever-open face, giving a warning look to the demon.

“Not important my ass. Don’t try to change the subject, Dickface.” He mumbles and Goldie cast him a glance too. Teaming up with Damian is only bearable if it’s to annoy the golden child. Period.

“Do not interrupt me again, this is a pressing matter, Grayson. We are not done talking about the fact that you cannot just vanish off my sight and hope an apology solves everything. You’ve made that clear in the past, remember? I will not let this call from Father be the perfect excuse to not touch this topic never again. For a moment I thought—” The words seem to get stuck in Damian’s throat, which seems to make him angrier as he slams his fist into the table. Dick’s face morphs into one of total remorse.

“Dami—” But none can continue with the sentimental turn in the conversation when they hear a grunt from the forgotten phone-call.  

“Enough.” The words resonate with the worn-out speakers on Dick’s phone. “We can sort out that later, but right now we have more compelling matters to discuss,” He says in a bossy voice, but Jason can hear Bruce’s well-hidden tone of concern underneath. He knows the Bat is dying to ask about what happened that made Damian had his feathers on a ruffle. “Such as why were none of you answering the phone? And in that case, why has no one tried to investigate the reason for this dubious failure in the feed? You should have reported any day finds at the usual time. What happened?”

“In my defense, I never heard my phone, nor do I have any missed calls from you or anyone else,” Dick says quietly and Jason puffs a breath. Yeah, sure.

“I wasn’t aware that you had tried to contact me, Father. I do apologize, we were focused on something else, now I see my mistake.” Damian says through his teeth, avoiding looking at Dick, who instead seems to sink more in his seat.

“It’s very likely that I would have ignored your calls anyway, but this time it wasn’t my doing, old man.” He says irritably. “Apparently Barbara tried to call me too, and I didn’t hear shit. What do you want us to do, anyway? Go check the antenna to find the problem? What’s wrong with not reporting in time? It’s not the end of the world.”

“No, it may not be the end of the world, but we had agreed on a specific time to communicate any development during the day, failing to do so can be assumed as something wrong has happened. I am not a fortune-teller; I cannot know everything that happens over there. You are my eyes and ears. And no, Jason, I am not asking you to go check the antenna, maybe I’m just asking for a little more discipline regarding the protocol, or has your training been of no use?” Bruce grunts. “All these years and you don’t remember the importance of communication?”

“Uh, yeah, as we are proper adults who communicate with words instead of grunts and express their feelings like normal people, right?” His tone sounded drenched with sarcasm. “You should know by now that we suck at communicating.”

“I’m aware of the many issues we still have to solve, hopefully, we are on the right path to do so, yet we’re not normal people, are we, Jason? And therefore, we cannot act as such.” Bruce replies composedly, not falling for Jason’s provocation to start a fight. “And not being normal people, your job there is not to sunbathe on the Sun Deck or indulge on the restaurant menu, is it? Your job there is to gather information for the case. Correct?” Jason can feel the heat rising to his face, can recognize the bursts of irritation rising through his veins like lava.

“Yeah, but—”

“However,” Bruce cuts him off promptly, his voice sounded harsh, as if his next words were difficult to spit out. “Perhaps this time I made the mistake of thinking that this mission would be promising in some way, but it hasn’t, and it probably won’t. If the information I collected this very night ends up being legitimate, I’m afraid that we can take for granted that this mission has been a waste of time. And hence, the blame will be on me.” Bruce snarls and Jason can clearly hear Dick gasp.

“What are you talking about? What the hell did you find?” Jason asks solemnly, oh man. Bruce never usually manifests when he’s made a mistake, but when he does, it turns out to be earth-shaking.

“I—”

“Wait,” Dick interrupts whatever Bruce was about to say. “I can’t take you seriously if I’m not seeing your grumpy face. That’s why technology does exist, you know? To connect people even if they’re on the other side of the world. Let’s FaceTime, shall we?” Dick smiles without humor, making him and Damian shift uncomfortably on their feet.

“Fine.” Bruce growls and hangs up. A moment later, Damian’s tablet lights up announcing the new call. The dwarf takes it and puts it aside from the other tablet on top of the table. Jason decides to stand behind Goldie, putting his hands on the back of the chair. From there Jason can see over Dick’s head said tablet running a program to decode information. 

“How different,” Dick mumbles with a cheeky tone, making a little bow with his head. “Sir, please continue with your report.” Jason could see how Bruce’s face looked as if he was about to grow a thousand new grey hairs in the next second. The old man was in the cave wearing civilian clothes instead of the Batsuit. He looked freshly bathed but his face was of someone who had been awake for days. Not a very nice picture. On Jason’s left side, Damian seems to straighten up, swiftly slapping the back of Dick’s head.

“Ow!”

“Ignore the tot, please continue.”

“As I was saying… I may have found an informant, though his word remains in doubt until proven otherwise, the information provided seems very revealing to me. As you know, there was a strong rumour about the crew known as ‘The Poseidon’s Fall’ wanting to move their base of operations here in Gotham. So I’ve kept an eye on the port, watchful of any indication of operations happening in the dark. Today it proved fruitful when I found an informant who was willing to leak information due to his brother being involved, he feared he might be killed one of these days,” Bruce explains thoroughly. “That person told me everything he knew about their operations, and how his brother ended up joining the organization. For starters, the crew is much broader than we first thought, they are not a simple gang of criminals, but by now they are a well-structured organization that has only grown in recent months. I know we believed that they weren’t recruiting, but it appears that you don’t ask to join them, the invitation comes to you anonymously. Everything is arranged via phone calls and through the internet, so following the trail would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. According to my informant, the core of the gang remains to be top secret, high-end mercenaries, and former marines as we already knew, but the new recruits are not. They are not people from that league, if not ‘ordinary’ civilians, people who have no associations with anyone in the criminal world, people that normally would go unnoticed on our radar. It is the perfect setup, they’re disposable in case they get caught, and by not knowing the identity of the people in charge, nobody can talk or rat out no one, which makes them untouchables.”

“Clever,” Jason mumbles absorbing the new information, knowing closely that type of operations. They haven’t been the first nor will they be the only ones to implement that M.O, but it’s always a fucking pain in the ass. It takes time, dedication, and a lot of patience to catch assholes like that. “Nobody knows the people in charge, nobody talks, nobody knows anything, which means we’re dealing with real pros, people who know how to evade the law, or in this case, the Bat clan itself. Challenge accepted.” He says with a smirk.

“Nobody is untouchable,” Damian adds. “We have dealt with this type of operations in the past. Having knowledge of their way of operating can put ourselves one step ahead of them. As they all follow predictable patterns, they will eventually make a mistake. We just need to step on their heels long enough to catch them. No one is flawless.”

“And we can take advantage of the fact that the recruits aren’t professionals like the core crew. Just like your informant, I can get them to talk if I put my hands on one of them.” Jason smirks at the thought. His speciality was making rats talk. Bruce frowns at the prospect, knowing well what was going through his mind. “I’m guessing that getting the information about the recruits will be easier, right?” Jason’s mind immediately goes against Kai Beck, the bearded hipster. Of course. That jerk definitely has something to do with this, it’s obvious. No one is that clean. “They’ll squeal like pigs once I speak to them.”

“Nobody’s gonna make them ‘squeal’, Jason. That’s not your task on this mission, and you know it. I’ll get that information. For now, I don’t have any particular name yet, but as Damian said, it’s just a matter of time. Apparently, they aren’t just civilians, but cruise ship employees who were extorted or bought to sell information and facilitate the attacks. The roots of the operation run deeper than I thought.” The old man sighs heavily, passing a hand across his face with a solemn expression. “However, just because getting the names of the recruits may be easier doesn’t mean it will be of any help. The problem lies in the fact that we can catch as many recruits as we can, but it will count for nothing if we can’t catch the main perpetrators. Catching people rank so highly always takes time, time that we do not have now.” Bruce’s voice sounds so stress-laden that he feels his own anger growing. “In the slim probability that there would be undercover thugs on-board, and even if Dick’s ring were to be usurped, the GPS signal would most likely direct us to some pawnshop or a third party involved who would purchase the ring to auction it on the black market at the highest price. Even if we keep under surveillance the transition, that doesn’t guarantee it’ll lead us to the original perpetrators.”

“Then what shall we do, Father?” Damian inquires warily, touching his chin in a restless gesture. “How will we catch the criminals?”

“As we have done before. We must be smarter to predict their moves and wait for the right moment. Hypothetically speaking, if there were to be an attack on the cruise, let them take the loot, once on land catch the recruits, and force them to speak if necessary in order to give us more information about the core crew. I have faith that working together, like the handles of a watch, will make us catch them soon enough.” Bruce seems to look at each one in the eye through the screen, a determined look on his face. Damian nods and Jason just folds his arms around his chest.

“Sounds acceptable to me. Adjusting to what we have at the moment and stay one step ahead.” Damian comments nodding at his Father. “Patience will pay its dividends in due time.”

“All I can say is for you to be cautious, not because they’re recruits and look like civilians mean they’re not dangerous. Remember that if the information is legitimate, they were chosen for a reason. In case something happens, do not underestimate them, is that clear?” Jason finds himself nodding when he realizes that a certain blue-eyed has been quiet the whole conversation, which is so out of character that makes Jason raise his eyebrow inquiringly down at him. To be safe, Jason places a hand on Dick’s forehead, checking to see if the acrobat had a fever or was ill somehow. Dick whines and pats his hand away. “Dick, is that clear?” Bruce inquires with a frown as he looks at his eldest son. “You have been uncharacteristically quiet.” All eyes turn to Dick, who cracks his knuckles before answering.

“B, what would you say if I told you I know the big cheese?” Dick finally intervenes in the conversation with a chipper tone. “Or rather, I have all the attention of said big cheese over my back? Would you finally admit that I beat you that last time we played Monopoly?” He and Damian both glare at Dick in disbelief. Oh, right. Dick supposedly found proofs against Aleksander. Jason hopes that for Dick’s sake those proofs are weighty cause if not, Jason will kick that legendary ass.

“Elaborate.” Bruce demands squinting his eyes at him, clearly not buying it.

“Well, while my two brothers were worried about me—”

“I wasn’t worried.” Jason states and Dick glances up behind his shoulder to glare at him in a clear sign of ‘Bullshit’.

“Like I was saying, while Jason was talking to a girl and Damian was lurking around, I was chatting with a certain man named Aleksander, who from the first moment he approached Jay and me in the game of Blackjack, gave me a bad feeling, like a really bad feeling, B. From the start he tried to get my attention, he invited me to drink, he was even kind, but in the meantime, he tried to hook up me to give him information about my life. Clearly, he knew who I was, and I have no doubt he chose me as his target.”

“Target?” Bruce wrinkled his forehead. “As in—”

“Yeah, target, B. Like when a hunter picks its prey.” Dick says in exasperation.

“Even though those are suspicious actions, yes, that doesn’t mean he’s one of the criminals on the top, does it? Maybe I’ll make him a possible undercover thug, but not one of the main ones, correct? Dick, you know very well that a hunch is useless without evidence, right? Besides, how can you ensure that man is an undercover criminal and not just a… suitor.” Bruce says uncomfortably.

“He is not a suitor. And yeah, I know that, you don’t think I’d come to tell you my findings without proofs, right? Have you lost your faith in me, old man?” Goldie chuckles softly, touching his chest in a dramatic way.

“Dick,” Bruce says, not having the patience to deal with his eldest trying to mock him.

“Hear to this and judge it for yourself. As I was about to tell Dami and Jay before you called, I disappeared from the radar just for a moment to speak more privately with Aleksander, cause he was as insipid as you to share his thoughts, ya know? Anyway, I got his suite number and sneaked into his cabin. Between a room ordered at a military level, high-end laptops, lots of technology not according to a supposed businessman, and zero Hawaiian T-shirts, I found the crown jewel,” Goldie taps his fingers near the connected thumb drive on the tablet. “A thumb drive that contains a lot of highly coded information, which by itself says a lot. What normal person carries a thumb drive encrypted like that to save a few documents!? Isn’t that as incriminating as it is? I don’t even have my laptop protected like that, and I’m talking about my work laptop if you know what I mean.” He says waving his arms in the air. “Right now I’m running a program to open it, and I can bet all my allowance that that contains info about the passengers, plan decks, and anything incriminating that you can imagine.” He slaps Dick in the back of his head.

“Ouch!”

“That’s what you were doing? You couldn’t have sent, I don’t know, a fucking message or something? Dammit.” Jason accuses him.

“Sorry, Jay,” Goldie mumbles pitifully.

“Hmm. As I said, even though you’ve found very probable evidence against him, that doesn’t prove that man is the head of the organization, does it?” Bruce insists again, not yet convinced.

“He didn’t look like a rookie to me, Bruce. When you been in the vigilante world from the age of nine, you learn how to recognize dangerous people with just one look. Why is it so hard for you to believe what I just said? His body language was all wrong! It gave me chills, B, and you know very well the sharpness of my sixth sense. He had the posture and the gestures of a trained person, he knew what he was doing, and he kept looking at the ring, the damn ring, B! If you’d only seen his face when he kissed my hand, it looked like he was drooling to get his hands on the bloody ring!” Suddenly, Damian emits a noise of wrath, approaching his face to Dick’s.

“He did what!?” The demon snarls. “The imbecile dared to violate your personal space to bring his filthy mouth to your hand? Why didn’t you say so before, Grayson? Who the hell he thinks he is—”

“Dami, hey,” Dick stands up, accidentally pushing the chair and smacking Jason’s foot with the leg of the chair, but he refrains from saying anything when Goldie puts both hands on Damian’s shoulders, calming the cobra down with his harmonious voice. “No one violated my space, I allowed it. I was the one in control. I was the one handling the situation. Remember, I don’t need protection, kiddo. I’m fine, okay?” But that doesn’t seem to be the right thing to say, because Damian shakes his head sharply.

“I detest the fact that you are willing to spend an uncomfortable moment in order to get information for the mission. I detest that you have to be in that defenseless position, where they think you are just a pretty thing to impress. I’ll never agree to that; I do not care how many times you tell me it’s for the greater good. Throwing you to the wolves, doesn’t seem fair to me. It doesn’t matter if you say you’re okay with it, I can’t tolerate it.” There’s a silence that feels way too prolonged, and where Jason doesn’t even know how to react. Listening to Damian express his fears and private thoughts is not something he is allowed to hear very often. At best, Damian would sit next to him quietly on top of a building, and Jason would only remain silent as well, letting the city’s lullaby calm Damian (or both) long enough to continue their patrol. It was their unspoken way of making themselves known that they were there for each other, in those few moments of weakness. But hearing him here, seeing his open expression of vulnerability, leaves him pinned to the ground. Dick recovers immediately, of course. He is the only one after Bruce (if not more) who knows intimately that little man standing there, who knows his secrets, fears, and longings, and that understands him as if they were the same person. Hell, what Jason would give for a connection like that with someone.

“Damian, I know I can’t possibly ask you to agree to something like that, it wouldn’t be fair of me.” Dick begins to say, giving a little squeeze to the demon’s shoulders. “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to do what we do, there wouldn’t be bad people to fight every night, and I wouldn’t have to do the things I do, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We are trying to build a better, fairer world. Save those who need saving. I know I don’t usually protect myself as much as I should, but I know I’m not alone, I have you, and the whole family to watch my back. A lot of people don’t have that privilege, and if I can do anything to help them, I will. I can’t promise you that someday I’ll stop putting myself on the line, but I promise you every day I do my best to get back to you. Us against the world, right kiddo?”

“I’m not a kid,” Damian corrects him, but his voice sounds light, as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. “I understand what you mean, and I appreciate your words, Richard. We can move forward with the outstanding matters on hand.” If Damian’s cheeks were pink, no one commented on it.

“Remember the old man is still watching us, Dickface.” Jason comments with a mocking tone, breathing a sigh at the change of vibe in the suite.

“Oh, right,” Goldie giggles and looks at the tablet. “You there, B?”

“Yes.” Bruce responds immediately, clearly having watched the whole thing. He doesn’t seem to want to comment about it, however, his face was the contradictory combination between comfort and distress. As if he somehow felt responsible for that way of being so self-sacrificing of Dick, but at the same time was proud of his strong morals. It was a dilemma, one that Jason would never share with Bruce. Dick’s overwhelming need to save people before himself was something that Jason both admired and repudiated. But it seemed like Dick didn’t want to understand that he wouldn’t be able to save anyone else if he ended up dead, and that wasn’t an option Jason would allow to happen.

“Good. Looks like now we just have to wait for my program to finish cracking the codes so I can shut your mouth, right B?” Dick smirks devilishly at the camera.

“You can try, brat,” Bruce replies with a smug smirk of his own. A moment later, they hear a notification from the other line. “I have a guest who wants to join the video-call.” The demon sighs irritably, guessing who. Jason leans on the back of the chair once more when a new face appears on the screen, the face of someone who survives on caffeine alone and has a diet based on take-outs.

“Timmy! Lil brother, how are you? Have you eaten on time? Are you getting enough sleep?” Dick immediately bombards the black-haired punk with questions, not giving Tim time to even answer. “I know you’ve been busy, but you haven’t even tried to reply to my messages.” Goldie pouts foolishly, making Damian roll his eyes.

“Yes Dick, I’m perfectly fine,” Tim replies in a light tone. “I’m sorry I didn’t reply to your messages, it’s just that work has taken all my time, but I’ve seen all the pictures you’ve sent me. Even the puppy meme.” Tim answers making a gesture with the phone in his hand. It seemed that he was in his apartment, although the curtains were closed and Jason could only distinguish his face illuminated by the screen.

“What do you require, Drake?” Damian asks petulantly.

“Jason asked me to look into something, and I did. Turns out what I found is more interesting than I thought. Did you know there’s a connection between a certain Aleksander Lane and Andrei Chapman?” Tim replies with an intrigued tone. “Which by the way, the name of Aleksander did not appear in the passenger data I sent you because even with the Batcave database there are no records about him. Finding his name in the passenger log took me a while as if somehow it was protected. Apparently, Aleksander owns an endless number of nightclubs in various parts of the state. You could say he’s someone important due to his fortune, which could actually buy him certain privileges, but why hide his name from the passenger list in the first place?” Okay, yeah, that’s highly incriminating. You don’t hide like that unless you have skeletons in the closet.

“That’s the story he told me,” Dick comments, concentrating again on writing codes on the tablet and Jason must remember that Dick is also an excellent hacker, which seemed to be forgotten when Barbara and Tim came to the picture. With that in mind, he stays a good moment observing the elegant movement of his lean fingers on the screen. “But I’m not buying it. I’m about to end this man’s whole career.”

“What’s the connection? Cut to the chase, Timbers.” Jason says trying not to snort at Dick’s comment.

“Well, here’s the interesting part. As Damian investigated, Andrei was locked six-years and when he served his sentence he got out of jail and magically became the owner of an important newspaper company. Well, it turns out Aleksander not only did bail him out many times before he was imprisoned, making it clear that they have known each other for years, but he is the co-president of the company. Don’t you find it curious that a major newspaper company, which influences many other companies, has not mentioned anything about the pirates in the last months? You know how the media works, yellow journalism pays more. It seems strange to me, that despite the many alerts that have been announced on TV, hardly any newspaper has published anything about them.”

“Funny,” Jason says. “What are the odds of bumping into your crime partner on a luxury cruise just like this?”

“While this makes them our prime suspects, it does not mean we can rush to say they’re part of the core crew. I wish I had the confidence to affirm their complicity, but we can’t get ahead of the facts. Their records don’t indicate that they been former marines or something of the sort.” Bruce insists again. That fucker of little faith.

“Finding an encrypted thumb drive is not inherently incriminating to you, old man?” Jason supports Dick’s theory, cause it was getting more and more sense. It wouldn’t be something like divine justice that precisely, the top dogs of the organization had decided to rob the ship themselves, at the same time that they had boarded the cruise ship on an undercover mission?

“5 more minutes and I’ll have my hands on everything,” Dick mumbles. “Almost there.”

“Ok, hypothetically speaking, and that by some chance in fate the core crew were there, how do you know Aleksander will keep his sight on you and not on the other wealthy passengers? It all depends on that ring getting into their hands. Without it, everything we’ve achieved could be lost along with them.” There are a collective eye roll and facepalm of all the members of the video-call, simultaneously followed by complaints.

“Are you aware of Dick’s superpower with enchanting people, right?”

“Please, B. All villains have had a crush on Nightwing at some point.”

“Father, if only you could see all the indiscreet and obscene looks that Richard has received throughout this crossing you would be as scandalized as me.”

“Oh, B,” Dick chirps trying to hide his flushed face. “There’s only two types of people in the world: The ones that entertain, and the ones that observe, ya know?” Jason chuckles at the reference. “I can bet a kidney that Aleksander has his sight on me. And not just for being Richie Grayson, heir of billionaire Bruce Wayne, but because I’m sure I pissed him off with something I said.”

“What’d you do this time, dumbass?” Jason asks. Dick had the natural talent to annoy people to the point where they wanted to beat the shit out of him.

“You know, I may have said something about pirates being ridiculous stories and being just copies of scoundrels from the past.” Uh, does Dick never learn the consequences of opening his big mouth? Apparently not.

“That’s Dick Grayson’s speciality, pissing off the hornet’s nest.” A voice infiltrates in the video-call, a second later, a new window opens announcing the face of the third participant of the video-call. Oracle, who didn’t look happy. Crap. Jason scratches the nape of his neck while looking more closely at Barbara. Her red hair was tied in a tall ponytail and Jason could tell that she was in the Clock Tower. Even across the screen, Jason could feel the fury of her gaze upon them, but more precisely upon him. “That was a risky move, Grayson. Not something I would have recommended doing, but definitely will keep his attention on you.”

“Hey, Babs. Thank you for making my night with your lovely presence.” Dick says in a sweet tone.

“Don’t think if you’re sweet you’ll get rid of a scolding, Dick. Why wasn’t anyone answering my calls? Communication is the bottom of any successful mission. And before you say you didn’t even hear my calls, Jason, you were able to talk to Tim. Isn’t that right?” Barbara lowers her glasses a little revealing that deadly glare at him.

“I have no excuses; all I can say is that I’m a fucking jackass. Sorry.” Jason recites his always reliable argument when Babs scolds him.

“No swear words.” Bruce grunts.

“I’ve been swearing all night, why the reprimand now?” He asks incredulously.

“Did you find anything Babs? I’m sure you have something.” Dick interrupts the bickering that was coming.

“Unfortunately, I did. I didn’t have much hope of doing so, but there are many signs I can’t ignore. One, everything you already mentioned. Two, the fact that cell signal and Wi-Fi have failed simultaneously throughout the day. I hacked my way into the control center and found that the crew has made an alert for unexpected interference with the ship’s communications to the outside world. However, they attributed it to technical problems, and not as something strange going on.”

“The probability of communications failing on a modern cruise ship is not so out of the ordinary, but given all the other factors I don’t think it’s a coincidence.” Tim adds.

“Exactly, and if we take into account that there are more than two suspicious passengers, it’s almost obvious. I have no doubt you have stowaways on-board, boys.” Barbara says carefully. “And adding the fact that I finally managed to blow the lid off Kai Beck, that takes things for granted.”

“What were your findings, Gordon? He is an inside man, isn’t he?” Damian says wrinkling his forehead.

“Yes, he is. But not the way you think. Surprisingly, Kai Beck is not an undercover pirate, but an undercover FBI agent.”

“What? No way.” Jason yells at the turn of events of something that certainly hadn’t crossed his mind. “Are you serious?”

“There must be a mistake, Gordon. I’m aware that not everyone who wears a badge is corrupt, or that inept, but Beck cannot be good, I could see the malice in his eyes. He does not radiate confidence.” Damian says in denial.

“That is why we must not judge a book by its cover. Having searched so deeply for some shady records and not having found anything left me intrigued, so out of curiosity I went through their databases, imagine my surprise when I discovered his file. His information was obviously well protected to prevent anyone from discovering his real affiliation. I don’t know if you guys can trust him, but his records don’t lie, he’s had many successes in catching criminal organizations in the past, and he has recently been working to gather information about the pirates. Judge it for yourselves.”

“We have to give him the benefit of the doubt, right?” Dick of course says, but Jason’s not that sure.  

“If he’s there, it means the police aren’t as far behind in their investigation as they were a few months ago,” Bruce announces with a thoughtful expression.

“Or because he knew that Richard Grayson and Damian Wayne were going to board the cruise, which was too big of a bait to let go. Though curiously, Kai is off-duty. He may have followed an investigation on his own, which is not a smart move. Now he is one more factor to think about.” Barbara says, tilting her head looking at Goldie. “You found something, Hunk Wonder?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Dick finally slumps away from the tablet, and Jason can observe an extensive list of files and documents appearing on the screen. The blue-eyed places the tablet on his lap and begins to review the documents one by one. “This is nuts, there’s like a thousand files here. I’m sending you guys parts so we can decrypt everything faster. Each document contains an extra encoding, don’t you think that’s a lot for a simple recruit, Bruce?” Goldie asks with sarcasm.

“Hmm.”

“Let me see, Grayson.” Damian leans over Dick to read the documents while Jason is still processing all the information blowing up in his brain. “Aren’t those blueprints from another luxury cruise line?”

“They are, Little D.” Dick says giving Bruce a quick glare.

“Okay, I already got a piece. I’m opening it.” Tim announces, quickly focused on reading and typing.

“So you’ve stolen the thumb drive instead of making a copy of the information,” Bruce comments cautiously at the acrobat.

“It’s not stealing, it’s borrowing. And yes, I couldn’t just copy the documents, B. I couldn’t risk losing everything in case Aleksander returned to the suite. This contains the evidence we need to maybe catch them sooner and not just the recruits, but the big whales. Remember?”

“And you don’t think he’s gonna realize that something this important was stolen from him?” Jason says, suddenly feeling like that was an awful mistake.

“It’s impossible for him to know I was the one who took it. It’s no big deal.”

“Dick—” Bruce begins to say.

“Do you trust me?” Dick suddenly asks, taking Bruce by surprise and apparently all the associated Bats on the call. A second later, Bruce’s face contorts into one offended.

“Of course.”

“Then trust in me when I say this man is one of the big enchiladas of the organization. When I bragged about this trip, he saw it as the perfect chance to get his hands on a lot of money if he put his hands on us. I bet he wanted to tag along to make sure no one messed things up. This would be their most significant job, the one who would throw them into the fame, something like their master move. Think about it, it was a big business: he didn’t want to leave it in the hands of some rookies. He wanted to make sure this would be successful in every way. I know it, B. Trust me.” There’s a silence for a moment in which Bruce seems to absorb Goldie’s words, but Jason can see how Bruce nods softly in surrender.

“Why that didn’t happen when I went on the cruise?” Tim teases, but Damian doesn’t seem to take it humorously.

“Because you are not relevant, Drake.”

“And you are, brat?”

“Of course. I’m Father’s biological son, and therefore, the rightful heir. Perhaps I will just divide the fortune with Richard, but not with you.” Before Tim could answer, Goldie interrupts them.

“There are many files with documents, real estates, and endless screenshots of account transfers in the last few months. It seems to me that he keeps a log of all the transfers to keep track of the big bucks in his accounts. Oh, there are also pictures. Tell me what kind of pictures you have and I’ll tell you who you are.” Jason glances down at the tablet on his hands noticing how the blue-eyed has opened a file and he can see several pictures being passed haphazardly by him, Jason hopes there aren’t nude pictures over there. 

“You’re right, Hunk Wonder. There are a lot of documents with bank accounts. Isn’t that a lot for a nightclub owner? I mean, is not that many clubs are clean, but this is ridiculous.” Barbara says making a gesture with her hand. Dick hums as he passes a picture but a second later he opens it again, dropping the tablet with a gasp. 

“Holy Hollywood!”

“What?” Damian and Bruce ask at the same time.  

“Look at this!” Dick lifts the tablet and Jason can observe why his commotion. It’s an old photo and the caption indicates it was taken in mid-2002. The person posing for the photo was no more nor less than a much younger Aleksander wearing a combat utility uniform from the U.S Marine. His face hadn’t changed much, but he looked young and his smile seemed authentic, a completely different contrast to the man they met tonight. He held an M16 rifle and looked as if he was on some mission. The picture spoke for itself. “I'm sending you the photo, B. You owe me an apology; don’t you think?” Dick says in a flippant tone giving Damian the tablet to put his hands on his hips. “We’ve got him.” It was a satisfying thing to be able to fit the pieces into the puzzle, and although there was a lot of information missing, this was the key moment in the mission. Jason breathes a sigh with such a significant breakthrough after months of investigation, after all, having this kind of luck of having coincided with the top dog of the organization wasn’t something that happened every day. Things didn’t use to be that simple, and for that very reason, Jason begins to feel his stomach twisting at the thought. 

“That photograph itself is very relevant, isn’t, Father? We had the culprit right in front of us. If I had only known before.” Damian says looking at Dick with a frown.

“Now everything depends on a bloody ring.” Jason says and immediately Goldie spins in his place to look at him with a playful grin.

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

“Okay, don’t be a smartass.” Jason can’t hide the smile tugging at the end of his mouth, though. Even Tim snorts, but then his face changes to a more serious one.

“Okay, knowing that now comes another question. We already know about Andrei Chapman and Aleksander, but the question is, who else is undercover?” Tim asks and the words sink into Jason like scorching magma.  They still hadn’t fucking clue how many more thugs were undercover, and time was running out. It was no longer a question of if, but when.  

“Shit, then we won’t enjoy the fucking cruise after all.” Is the first thing that comes from his mouth to hide his uneasiness.

“That’s your crucial concern right now?” Damian grunts giving him a sour look.

“Really, Jay?” Tim snorts without humour.

“I feel personally attacked, I wanted to know the French Polynesia.” Jason half-jokes with a grunt. He did wanted to explore Bora Bora, dammit.

“What’s next?” Damian asks placing his hands under his chin.

“As I had already made clear, you will follow the protocol,” Bruce speaks. “This doesn’t change things; it just brings out the importance of them taking the ring and of you acting like professionals.”

“What if they want to take a piece of Dick too, uh?” Jason says. “We won’t do anything about it if that happens?”

“We’re just here to observe and make them bite the hook, not to engage,” Dick says seriously. “Richard Grayson can’t make a mortal leap and knock out someone in public. We’re undercover.”

“Good thing I brought my knife,” Jason mumbles and Dick stamps down the tablet turning around to glare at him.

“You brought a knife!?” Dick asks in disbelief. “You can’t leave home without some kind of weapon or something?” 

“I’m a cautious man. I don’t jump without a safety net, unlike others.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Goldie snaps.

“What do you think?” Jason says back. “You insulted the man, who by the way is a bloody fucking pirate, and I’m sure he’s not gonna take lightly that you made fun of him. What do you think’s gonna happen, asshole?

“He needs me alive so he can collect his money. We’ll figure something out later.”

“And I’m just gonna let you offer yourself up as bait, again? What if he decides to take you hostage and keep you as a guarantee? Or what if he decides to kill you after collecting his money, huh? Damian and I are just supposed to let that happen?”

“That’s an extreme case, Jason,” Dick mumbles and Jason feels the rage raising again. “We need this to happen, we can’t lose them. Please—”

“Then what? We are supposed to let them rob this ship too? They are merciless and won’t hesitate to kill crew members or passengers in order to leave no witnesses or evidence of their presence. Are you willing to risk that?” Jason growls and Dick bites the inside of his cheek.

“Of course not.”

“Maybe Richard Grayson can’t take down a few crooks, but sure I can. Nobody recognizes my face. As far as the public is concerned, I’m a dead man, and as such, I can do as I fucking please.” Jason says and Dick rolls his eyes.

“What are you gonna do? Stab them all with your knife?” Tim says trying to lighten things up. It doesn’t work.

“You really think I need a weapon to bring down a few thugs?”

“Absolutely not.” Bruce cuts them off. “No one’s going to intervene in anything, we can’t jeopardize the mission, not now that we know one of the main perpetrators is on the ship. Jason, you won’t do anything, and that’s an order.”

“Fuck you! You are not the boss of me!”

“Jason, you can’t let your emotions cloud your judgment. I fully trust that each of you will know how to handle the situation properly, and although insulting the man was a mistake, I’m sure Dick will get a handle on the situation to keep it from escalating into some catastrophe.”

“And I just have to trust that everything will work out? Will we trust that a man who kills people in cold blood just for money won’t kill us too? They don’t have values, Bruce. They won’t stretch their hearts.”  

Jason. You agreed on the terms of this mission since the very beginning. You knew in advance the plan in the case of stowaways on-board. You won’t engage and that is my final word. Is that clear?”

“Stop it. The signal is failing again,” Barbara interrupts their fight and Jason observes how the video-call begins to have interference. “—ing connection, do you hear me?” Her voice sounds choppy too.

“We cannot hear you, Gordon. Try again.” Damian stands with a tense posture on his shoulders. “Father?”

“—better be fine, do— hear me?” Bruce kinda manages to say.

“Don’t worry B, we’ll be fine,” Dick promises in a soft tone. “I promise we’ll—”

 

But Dick cannot finish his sentence when suddenly the signal is cut off definitively. The screen announces that the connection had been lost.

Phase one began at 2:54 a.m.

 

_____________

 

 

“Jay, can you sit down, please?” Jason grudgingly moves away from his slouched position on the railing to sit heavily in the small wooden chair. He places his sunglasses over his head giving the blue-eyed a sulky glare. “Come on, eat something. Yeah?” Dick slides his half-finished plate across the table towards him. “We need to be well-fed, you know?”

“I’m not a dog,” He mumbles eyeing the nice smoked beef, but the very thought of eating makes the knot in his stomach widen. “And I’m not fucking hungry.”

“Do not waste your energy on this stubborn fool, Richard. Is not worth it.” The demon says without his usual condescending tone, Damian hadn’t been able to finish his meal either. After a whole night of almost no sleep, a whole morning and a better part of the day playing dumb and avoiding discussing the issue on hand, the three were sitting in the grill that was in the stern of the ship. Honestly, it was a really nice place, as it was open, they could feel the air over their faces and have an unobstructed view of the sea. Even though it was getting late, the weather was warm. The colors in the sky looked like a work of art, warm orange tones mingling with the turquoise blue of the sea. It was impossible not to look at the sky and feel peacefulness. In a certain way, it felt like the calm before the storm.

“You really want to start a sparring match now, runt?”

“You wish,” Damian says without looking at him. He was doing some sketches in his sketchbook. Duh

“Chill out,” Dick says leaning his cheek over his open palm. He didn’t appear to be worried, but he was just very good at hiding it. Jason could read all those little things that didn’t fit with his magnetizing way of being. His baby blues had a distant and troubled glint making him look older, so Jason lets that awful feeling of helplessness take over his mouth.

“We’re stuck on a ship thousands of miles away from land with an unknown number of crooks. Don’t ask me to calm down.” He growls feeling that nerve-racking anxiety, and that just makes him feel angry, always angry.

“What do you want me to say?” Dick asks looking him in the eye. “A lie? That everything will work out? I can’t make a statement like that, Jason. I can only try to stay calm and hope for the best.”

“Good for you.”

 

He sharply rises from the table and returns to his original position on the railing. He pulls out of his pocket shirt his last pack of cigarettes and lights one, hoping that the nicotine works its magic. How could he possibly calm down knowing what lies ahead? There was nothing worse than waiting, he decides. It was like if you saw the future and you know what’s going to happen, but you can’t do shit to change things. You can just sit there pathetically, waiting.

Technical problems. That’s what the ship crew said.

We will solve it as soon as possible, they said.

There was no way to communicate with the outside world. Without the other passengers knowing, they were already in the hands of the pirates. They could only spin the coin in the air, hoping that fortune would be on their side once again. But hell, there was so much going through Jason’s mind. For some reason, he couldn’t stop thinking about what Bruce had said. Okay, yeah, Jason knew what he was getting into since Bruce called him that night. But now it was so different when he was already here, standing in the middle of the mess. He was aware that many, many things could go wrong (It seemed that his mind at this point could only think about pessimistic scenarios) There were many factors they hadn’t take into consideration. Many things that were out of their control, and he could only think some way or another, everything was going to go wrong.

 

“Hey,” Dick’s voice pulls him out of his spiral of bad thoughts. Before he could answer, Dick takes the cigarette from his lips and gives it a drag, pulling the smoke out gracefully through his nose. He squints comically and Goldie smiles sideways. “What? You think you’re the only one with tricks?”

“I thought you knew better than to burn your lungs with this shit.” He takes back the last of the cigarette to give it the last drag. Jason hopes there are cigarettes all the way down to hell.

“Yeah, well, you can’t deny how handsome I look smoking, Little Wing,” Jason chuckles at that. For a moment, all his worries pass to the back of his mind. But it is impossible for him to stay in this state, not when he feels responsible for these two idiots next to him. “Oi, please take off that wet puppy face. I can’t stand it. I know it’s wrong to promise things you don’t know if you can keep, but I—”

“Don’t,” Jason lifts his finger at him. “I don’t wanna hear it. If you want to promise me something, let it be this, Dickie. Promise me you won’t leap into the danger without a second thought.” Dick lowers his gaze towards the floor, deliberating his answer thoughtfully. Just then Jason observes something unusual in his peripheral view. The ship was no longer advancing as fast as it should have been, it seemed to be slowing down, but before he could pronounce any warning, there was a loud, strident sound of something falling into the sea and splashing water.

“Jason—”

“Watch out!” A second later, the sudden and abrupt stop of the ship propels them from their shafts, pushing them back brusquely and dangerously close to the railing. The air leaves his lungs with the impact and Jason lets out a grunt. Reflexively, Jason shoots his hand at Dick’s forearm, holding him firmly in place. The sound of cries of surprise, curses, and things falling to the ground fill his ears immediately, leaving his ears ringing for a minute.  In a millisecond, Damian is next to them putting one hand on Dick’s shoulder. Jason shakes his head trying to get rid of the sound of his own heart beating hard on his chest. The rush of adrenaline is immediate; Jason can feel his senses sharpening, he can feel his body getting ready to attack and protect. It’s an immediate response, something carved into his very brain and muscles. Always ready to fight. “Are you okay?” Jason asks once he knows his voice won’t quiver because of all the jitters also running through his veins. He can hear the voices away from the waiters trying to calm the people down and the sound of the tables being moved off the ground.

“Yeah, ‘wing. Come on.” That’s not Dick’s voice, that’s Nightwing speaking. Immediately, Dick straightens up and approaches to help the few disoriented people still on the ground, Jason and Damian behind his heels. Was that the ship’s anchor? Is that why the movement was so abrupt?  

“We must—” But Damian can’t finish whatever he was about to say when everyone hears a clang followed by some interference coming from the ship speakers. In the background, they can hear the sound of yells and complaints, and then a thick voice takes over the speakers.

“Hello, Celestial Seas. This is your new captain speaking. Our previous captain is not in a good disposition to continue with his duty, but do not worry. You are in good hands.”

 

Jason can recognize that voice straightaway, yet the accent is so different, it’s a strong Russian accent, dark and heartless. Immediately after, they hear the sound of a gunshot and screams of terror echoing through the speakers, giving him the goosebumps.

That’s when things go south.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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 in 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 afterward, 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, it was impossible for him to 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. There are people running and jostling one another out of the way, there are people 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 in 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 on the opposite direction while putting Dick and Damian ahead of them as they walk. It’s strange that 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 about 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 gave you permission 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 in order 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 in 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 give them a glare 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 in order 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. It’s obvious 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 color itself is worth even more. Deep blue, just like your eyes.” Aleksander whispers 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?”

“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-caliber 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. You think I’d be stupid enough to lie your face when you’re pointing a gun to 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 interrupts the scene in 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 colors and his sight becomes blurred. The last thing Jason hears is Dick’s screams echoing in his ears when everything turns black.  

 

 

Chapter Text

 

His heart seemed to thump to the beat of a drum. Steady, incessant. He felt on top of a cloud, floating in the middle of nowhere. Jason couldn’t move, didn’t want to. There was nothing surrounding him, no worries, no responsibilities, no fear. However, the foggy numbness is rudely interrupted by a sharp and cruel cackle.

“Wakey, wakey, Jase.” A low and cocky voice speaks from afar. Accompanied by that voice, comes burning pain to his ribs. “We don’t have time for you to take a nap.”

His heart rate begins to pick up speed, becoming irregular, racing. Suddenly, there are noises everywhere —thundering steps, glass shattering, things breaking— Another chuckle and more pain.

“I told you, you hit him too hard, twit.” A new voice speaks. Everything sounded as if Jason was submerged underwater and his ears were plugged. Nothing was clear.

“You wanted me to hit him with a pillow, perhaps?” There’s an irritated puff.

“I’ll take care of this.”

“You? Are you sure you’re going to be impartial about this?”

“I wasn’t asking. Now fuck off.”

“As you wish, princess. Have some fun.”

A very familiar voice seems to whisper to him to be alert, to wake up. Whispers become words, and words become screams. He feels like he is free falling, diving into an abyss. What’s on the other side? He’s about to find out.

 

Jason regained slowly conscience, like when you wake from a deep dream and have no idea of what’s going on or what your name is. Waking up like this didn’t feel pleasant, not when he could feel a sharp pain every time he took a breath. Actually, his whole body felt like a truck had ran over him. The fuck? It took a few minutes for his hazy mind to think in retrospect about what had led him to this situation, and then the vivid memory of Dick’s screams, the Glock 17 pointed to his bloody face, and the blow that knocked him out comes back to his mind, goddamn. Worse, the pain felt not only in his temples but it felt as if his whole head was pounding, yup, not a pretty way to wake up. Specifically, Jason could feel the throbbing pain in the back of his head in what he was sure was going to be a bump. Great, thanks, Chapman. Jason had the feeling that he’d been unconscious for a while, which wasn’t good. It was embarrassing enough to have been knocked out by a thug, but having losing valuable minutes while being unconscious, was unforgivable. Many things could happen in the course of 5 minutes. Before doing anything, Jason decides to play doctor. Cause of the symptoms Jason could tell, he’d say he had a mild concussion, nothing too serious, a promising diagnosis. Maybe his ribs were bruised, but nothing overly concerning (though why they were bruised?) Physically, everything seemed to be in order, but the one thing he couldn’t ignore was the stress that was coursing through his veins that made him feel more sluggish and tired. Go back to that feeling of being in the midst of oblivion and clouds sounded good, but of course, that was unthinkable.

Eyes closed and quiet breathing, he moves his hands slightly, feeling the restriction of movement, but surprisingly, his legs weren’t tied. He was lying on his right side, and by the temperature of the floor and the smooth surface, he could guess he was over wooden floor. Jason experimented moving his fingers until he realized that his hands were tied behind his back, forearm against forearm. Uh, a difficult tie-up, it wouldn’t be so easy to get off those ropes, and he couldn’t dislocate his thumbs or even his shoulder to escape. It would take him a considerable time to be able to untie his arms. Let’s get to it, oh, wait, he’s an ordinary passenger, and an ordinary passenger couldn’t do such thing. Fuck. Jason was supposed to stay there tied up like a sack of potatoes? That wasn’t right, not when Dick and Damian were in the hands of those bastards, not when Aleksander had looked at Dick like a toy he wanted in his collection. His blood boiled at the thought of what might be going on. His mind immediately went to the worst-case scenarios, like a torture-loop. Enough.

It wasn’t time to let his mind wander about things that might not even happen, and if he didn’t try to figure out what was his next move, maybe he wouldn’t even be able to prevent something worst from happening. Feeling more awake with every passing second, Jason tries to move his hips, trying to determine if anyone had checked his pockets. Unfortunately, they indeed had emptied them, which meant bye-bye to his lighter and his last pack of cigarettes. Dammit, at least, he could feel the pocket knife hidden safely inside his boot. Small miracles.

 

“I can almost hear you think.” A very familiar voice says, catching him off guard. The voice didn’t sound intimidating, nor did it sound angry. It sounded almost amused, light, but feeling threatened, he rises from the vulnerable position in which he was lying to sit down facing the voice. Good idea, move so abruptly with a concussion, geez. Jason squeezes his closed eyes feeling nausea and bile rising up his throat. He collapses heavily on what seemed like a glass-something, taking deep breaths to not throw up. “Come on, open your eyes. I was gonna ask how you felt, but I can see that that blow did hit you hard. Pun intended.”

“Ba dum tss,” Jason murmurs feeling a little better from the nausea. “Did someone kicked me in the fucking ribs?” He asks and the person chuckles. His voice sounded scratchy, his throat felt dry. Opening his eyes didn’t sound good, for some reason, he didn’t want to see that face he knew for sure was familiar.

“Open your eyes, black sheep.” Black sheep? What kind of— oh. Jason blinked several times before opening his eyes completely, everything felt like a mixture of bright colors and lights. It took him a few seconds to adjust his eyes, and when he recognized the person right in front of him, Jason could feel his stomach twisting, again.

“What the fuck? Mila?” She hums with a pleased grin over her face. “What the hell is going on?” Well, the answer was quite obvious, but Jason was still feeling a little dazed, either by the blow or by this shocking discovery. They were in a very familiar living room, but Jason couldn’t focus on two things at the same time right now.

“Hello, Jason. Would you like some water? You look pale and honestly, like shit.” She says casually and Jason rolls his eyes.

“You think?” He mocks. Mila was sitting on top of a coffee table, playing with a knife. She looked beautifully dangerous. Her face was bare and her smile was bright, red lipstick contrasting with her perfect white teeth, short blond hair was tied in a messy ponytail and her eyes sparkled with mirth. Jason narrowed his eyes, trying not to show any emotion that would betray how stupid he felt right now. Seriously, Jason?

“That sounds like a yes to me,” She declares with an insightful tone grabbing a bottle of water from near her feet. It is then that to not curse her rudely, Jason finally looks around only to release an angry sigh. They were inside a suite, but not just any suite, no, they were in their suite. It had been destroyed from top to bottom. There was glass everywhere, broken pieces of furniture, basically, nothing was left standing —good thing he hadn’t pay for anything— The disaster had been made in an outburst of despair and concentrated violence, most likely looking for something: the stupid thumb drive. Luckily, it was safe with Dick. Or maybe not so good, considering they’d keep blaming him as long as they didn’t find it. He didn’t felt like complaining about the disaster, but ugh. “After a concussion, you need to keep hydrated.”

“What I need are answers. Let’s not pretend to be friends, why am I here? Why vandalize my suite, huh? Where are Dick and Damian?” Mila ignores him and she crouches down to his level, uncovering the bottle and bringing it closer to his mouth. Jason growls but accepts the water, it’s like paradise for his dry throat, though. Being so close to her, Jason is able to see her in more detail. Something catches his attention when she moves her arm to cover the half-finished bottle, a large tattoo on her upper arm, it doesn’t take him any time to recognize what it is. A strident with two skulls on the sides.  

“They’re fine, for now, you shouldn’t worry about them, you should worry about yourself.” Mila replies a few moments later, looking him right in the eyes.

“Where are they?” He snarls, but Mila doesn’t seem at all affected. She stays at his level, but away from his reach. Puff, like if he didn’t have his hands tied. But okay, Jason could be dangerous even with his hands tied and with a concussion. It seemed like she didn’t want to underestimate him. “Why the ship isn’t moving?”

“How do you know that?” Jason gives her a look and she snorts. “Well, yeah, you could say we’re wandering in the middle of nowhere.” Those words sounded fucking familiar, where he had heard that before?

“What about Dick and Damian? Where are they?” He tries again.

“The grumpy kid is still where you last saw him. They had to rough him up a bit because he went nuts when they tried to take the older boy away from him, what the fuck is wrong with that kid anyway?” She complains. “Mmh, the pretty boy is with my Father on the bridge, if you are interested in knowing.” That definitely sounded like something the brat would do, and although it wasn’t a good idea to piss off the pirates, Jason couldn’t hide the smirk that escaped him. Well done, dwarf. Though Jason didn’t like the idea that they have been separated. Damian wouldn’t be there watching over Dick to make sure the moron didn’t get into any more trouble.

“And what the hell is Dick doing there in the first place? What’s going on?” He immediately asked and Mila just lifted a perfect shaved eyebrow.

“Let’s say the pretty boy is negotiating for your life right now.” Crap. Another factor they hadn’t contemplated (like everything that was happening in this mission) What would Dick be telling them? The truth? A half-truth? Hopefully, he was sticking to the story they have made out.

“What the heck,” He whispered. “And then what am I doing here with you? I can’t negotiate for my own damn life?” It’s then that a little voice in his mind reminds him of an alarming detail. Did he hear wrong? Jason opens his mouth incredulously. “Hold on a sec… did you say, dad?”

“Yep, definitely concussed.”

“Bullshit. Are you telling me that Aleksander is your dad, for real!? Oh, man.” How come Jason didn’t notice the similarity before? It was right in front of his eyes, goddamnit.

“I thought you would have already realized by now. It’s pretty obvious.”

“No, I honestly didn’t!” He yelled. Oh, bad idea. The migraine was definitely coming back.

“When I said my dad made me board the ship, I wasn’t lying, Jason. You looked like the kind of person who would have noticed that something didn’t add up. But of course, you just turn out to be like everyone else.” Jason keeps to himself the fact that that first day in the dining room, he indeed had felt something strange with her, but he hadn’t been able to get any deeper into the why. And now, that mistake had come back to bite him in the ass.

“You sound disappointed, you liked me at some point?” He jokes and she actually gives him half a smile. Jason frowns.

“I honestly did like you, Jason. You have a wicked sense of humour, you’re straight with your opinion—”

“And you’re a pirate, daughter of a nut, son of a bitch who has killed people in cold blood just for greed,” He spites and her face changes, as if it were something personal now. “So why don’t we cut the niceties and get straight to the point. I ask again, what am I doing here? No, wait, I have a better question. What are YOU doing here?”

“I’m here to see if what the pretty boy says matches what you’re gonna tell me. And well, if the stories don’t match, it won’t end well for you.”

“Well, shoot then.” He clenched his teeth.

“Ha, that’s funny,” Mila mumbles without humour. “As I’m sure ya know, you’re here for a simple reason, Jason. We have no fucking clue who you are, where you come from, or what intentions you have. When I approached you last night, for a moment I thought you were going to discover my real purpose of talking with you—”

“So you were just trying to get information from me, find out who I was.” He cuts her off sharply.

“Of course,” She admits easily. “But you gave me nothing. At first, there was nothing wrong about you, you seemed more or less normal. But the more you talked the more I knew you’d be a danger to our plans. You’re smart, observant, and curious, certainly not a good combination for our cover. As far as I can tell you’re an undercover bodyguard or a mercenary Bruce Wayne hired to watch over his bastard children, but I have the feeling that you are something more than that, something else.”

“I’m just an ordinary passenger.” Jason comments raising his eyebrow as if offended.

“Bullshit. Is your way of observing, of noticing details, of reading me like you did last night. There’s something with you that I can’t understand. You’re like an open book and yet, your pages are blank. You gave me nothing to work with, no clues, no hints. It didn’t even look like you were struggling, is something you do on pure instinct. As protection.”

“I grew up on the streets, learned not to trust anyone since I was 8. Besides, it’s not like I’m gonna recite my life to you just because you talked nice to me, but that doesn’t mean I have anything to hide, nor am I pretending to be someone I am not.”

“And then who the hell are you, Jason?” Mila asks with a real curiosity in her grey eyes. He chuckles before answering, thinking well about his next reply, maybe his fucking life depends on it. “Why your records say you’re a dead man?”

“If you’re dead, no one can bother you. You’re off the hook,” He simply replies. “I’m not a damn bodyguard or a mercenary. You could say that I am someone very close to the Wayne family, if I told you who I am, you wouldn’t believe it.”

“Try me.”

“We don’t have time for that. I guess you’re going to abandon the ship soon, aren’t you? Time is running out, so my point is that it won’t be a good idea to kill me.”

“Why not? All I have to do is stretch out my hand and you’d be dead,” Mila moves the knife nimbly in her hand. “Just because you mean something to those snobs doesn’t mean your life has value. Why take you with us if we’re not gonna get anything out of your sorry ass?”

“Bruce Wayne would pay a large sum of money for my ass. Hell, even I have the money myself to bail me out if you fucking want.” Jason answers securely, looking into her eyes. Mila tildes her face, thoughtful.

“Uh-huh. Are you a fed?”

“I’d rather stab myself, no, I’m not a fucking fed.” Jason growls.

“So I guess you didn’t sneak into my dad’s suite and go through his stuff, did you? You didn’t steal a thumb drive either? Was it a little mouse then?”

“Is that why you destroyed everything, seriously? Why on earth would I steal a thumb drive?” He exclaims crisply. “Look, I don’t have reasons to lie. I’ve got everything to lose in this game. If last night you analyzed me well enough, you would know that I am transparent with what I say. I didn’t even know we were going to be hijacked by pirates, let alone know about you or Aleksander. How could I have guessed? Impossible. Besides, I bet by now you guys realized I don’t have that bloody thumb drive!” Jason argues.

“What are you doing here then? What is your relationship with Dick Grayson?” She changes the subject with more questions.  

“We are close, but not in the way you think. Yes, I came here to keep an eye on him, okay? That’s the truth. I… care about him.” It wasn’t worth lying, she would have been able to tell his lie right away.

“And why did you wanted to keep an eye of him in the first place? Did you knew something?”

“No, but I watch TV. I didn’t think it was a good idea for him to come alone. Besides, his face attracts all kinds of bad attention, if you know what I mean. He’s an idiot too.”

“So you are friends?”

“You could say that.” Friends, former enemies, brothers. Mila makes a noise of contemplation while she gets up, and then she pulls something out from her vest. With an attentive look, she throws it at his feet. Jason lowers his gaze only to freeze in shock. “Where did you get that?” Jason can barely control his tone, he can feel his jaw and fits clenching. 

“From the wallet of the pretty boy. What a nice photo, by the way. You looked cute with freckles.” Jason feels a twinge of melancholy when the memories of that day re-emerge from oblivion. He didn’t know Dick keep that picture in his wallet, not after all this time. “Tell me the day that picture was taken.” He locks his gaze on the photograph, almost hearing the laughter of that day. It was like seeing a ghost from the past. Before all went to shit, before all fell apart. In the photograph, three people were smiling widely, and behind them, the skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex.

“April 16.” Jason had always wanted to visit the museum of Natural History, and if it weren’t because he got to live with Bruce, that dream would have been impossible. That day, Dick had made an effort to coexist with Bruce just for him. He had tried to make up for him all the time he was away, absent. Who’d say a few weeks later, all the effort would go to shit for a crowbar. “It was one of my favorite days.” He admits with a little smile. Mila hums with a frown, maybe seeing his sincerity. She sits on the coffee table once again and Jason sees her grab the same two-way radio out of her vest. He breathes a sigh.

“You better have played fair, Jason. Don’t make me look bad. My work here is done.” Mila says softly while getting up and walking to the door, and Jason couldn’t stop his next words.

“Mila. Are you aware of what are you doing? About what is gonna happen when they capture you?” Jason says just as softly. “You may not have killed anyone yet, and you may not be here for your own decision, but you’re still an accomplice. You’re gonna go to jail. Are you willing to spend your life locked up?”

“Only if they catch us.” She answers with a crooked smile, but it didn’t look honest.  

“They will.” I will. “You can’t run or hide forever.”

“Not all of us can be who we want to be, Jason.” She mumbles, opening the door and pulling out of her vest the same balaclava that everyone wears. A pirate who was probably standing guard outside the door enters the room, but Jason can only concentrate on the way Mila puts slowly on the balaclava over her face. That’s when something fundamental passes through his mind, something he hadn’t thought of until now. Jason feels his blood freezing. Something clicks into place.

“Hang on,” Jason says and surprisingly, Mila stops one step away from leaving the room. “If you are so sure that they will not be able to catch you, why did you show me your face?”

“I’m sure you already know the answer to that question.”

“Fuck.”

 

All the signs had been there and Jason had been too blind to notice, distracted by so many other things that didn’t matter now. The realization feels like an ice bucket thrown to his groin. Couldn’t this mission get worse?

(Unfortunately, Jason hadn’t considered Murphy’s law)

 

_____________

 

As the pirate sort of drags him through the corridors —that at this point seemed more like a maze— Jason has an internal struggle. Things had changed, and now everything hovered between two possibilities, be it following the protocol by the book, be taken hostage, wait for the authorities or the Bats themselves to solve the case, stay alive. (That’s what Bruce expected them to do, what the old man would do if he were here. But he wasn’t here, was he?) Or, he could do the exact opposite of what Bruce had said and work something out, improvise on the go, take them down. Of course, whatever he decided, had a consequence (either mild or serious, but at this point, any action could trigger even more problems) There wasn’t enough time to meditate every possibility, Jason was hesitating too much. He was all about act first and think about the consequences later. What was stopping him now? This was no longer a simple mission that had gone wrong, no, this was becoming a gamble for their lives.

There was no way that Jason was going to let this get any further out of their hands. Fuck Bruce and his not-engage rule. He couldn’t just let the pirates get away with kidnapping, hurting, and very possibly killing them. Jason was unwilling to put the mission above their own lives. With that train of thought, Jason keeps his head down, pretending not to be a threat. The pirate anyway was so busy talking on the radio, wasn’t paying enough attention to him, which was an awful mistake. By this point, Jason had already loosened a bit the ropes tying his forearms, having enough movement to rotate his wrists, though Jason didn’t need his hands to attack. As they turn the corner, Jason was ready. With small glances, he had catalogued the pirate’s weapons, extra rounds, and other gadgets in sight. Their armament as expected, was very, very cool, which made it clear that despite his training, Jason shouldn’t be too confident. His only defence was his wit, his build, and his stubbornness to not die (again). Another thing to considerer were the consecutive power outtages, as if some systems were overloaded, or maybe they were cutting it off on purpose. Whatever it was, made it look like they were in a haunted house or something. The light was very dim, they could barely see the corridor before their eyes, which actually was one more advantage in his favor. A deep breath and Jason stops all of a sudden, causing the pirate to bump into his shoulder. Jason doesn’t even give him time to say anything when he spins on his feet, connecting his boot with the pirate’s kneecap, listening to a sickening crack.  

 

“Motherfucker!” The pirate’ cry seems to ring in the silent hallways, putting his nerves on edge. Jason gets into attack position when something takes him by surprise, a shadow appearing down the hall. Jason feels his body tensing, but too late. Something slams against the pirate kneeling on the ground and him, sending them flying towards a half-open room. Both stumble absurdly and Jason not being able to use his hands falls on his ass, stunned, and perplexed. The door closes behind them, leaving everything almost in complete darkness. “What the fuck!?” The pirate yells again. “Wh—” There’s the sound of a struggle and then the unmistakable sound of a stun gun being fired. The shock of electricity strikes the pirate, drawing a whimper out of him, his body shakes with the aftershocks until after a moment, he lies on the ground, unconscious. The room stays completely silent for a moment. Jason can hear fast breathing, or maybe it’s his own breathing ringing in his ears. Nobody moves, nobody says a word.  Jason glances at him carefully, noticing something familiar with the guy, but honestly, Jason could barely see his face.

“I already had him, damn it.” He growls without being able to avoid it.

“Oh, that’s the thanks I get after saving your ass?”

“You didn’t save my ass. I had it all covered.”

“Er—” Whatever the guy was about to reply was interrupted by the radio of the unconscious pirate making a beep. The shadow crouches down and takes the radio, clearing his throat. “Delta 8 here.” His voice sounded with a different accent, a fake one. But not only that, his voice was fucking familiar too.

“Delta 8, you haven’t checked in for a while. Everything in order?”

“Everything in order, sir.”

“Don’t forget to report routinely. Be here on time, ETA 15 minutes.”  The voice sounded a little wary. Jason was sure they knew something was wrong.

“Copy.” Jason tildes his head, trying to recognize the guy. Where has Jason seen this guy before? Is it...? The man lowers the radio and takes a step towards him. Jason reacts instinctively, sweeping the guy’s feet and throwing him to the ground instantly, pulling a whoosh out of him. Jason places his boot on his gut before the man could move a muscle, ready to cut the air out of him. “What the fuck!?” The guy hisses painfully, clearly not having foreseen this twist of events.

“I’m the one asking the questions,” Jason replies solemnly. “Why did you bring me here? Who are you?”

“Calm it, mate! I’m here to help, okay?”

“Bullshit. Who are you?”

“I don’t see shit. I’m gonna give us some light first, all right?” Without waiting for an answer, he fishes out from his pocket shirt a lighter, illuminating his face and staring at him cautiously. Jason stares back at him almost with his mouth open. No fucking way “My name is Kai Beck, okay? And I come in peace.”

“Who?” Jason utters, still unable to believe the scene in front of his eyes. Jason hadn’t even given Kai a thought since Babs had mentioned that he was an FBI agent, and it never would have crossed his mind that he would find him in these circumstances. Of course, Jason couldn’t pretend he already knew who he was, so he was going to give the poor guy a hard time.

“If you’d be so kind as to move your boot off my chest, I could show you my badge,” Jason slowly pulls his boot aside and observes as Kai cleans his shirt while standing up. He takes out his badge and shows it to Jason. “If I could communicate with my superiors, I would verify my identity, but for the moment you’ll have to trust me.” Kai fucking Beck process to get behind him and Jason jerks away.

“What—”

“I’m gonna get you off those ropes, okay? Don’t move.” Jason stays still as Kai uses something to break the ropes. If Jason’s head was still pricking, now it was turning into a full migraine again. “Ouch, that looks painful. Did they hit you? Are you okay?” Of course, the bump had to be very noticeable. Puff.

“May I ask why a fucking FBI agent is on a cruise, in civilian clothes, and tackling people randomly? Sounds like bullshit to me.” Once he is free, Jason moves his arms, waiting for the circulation to return to his fingers.

“It’s a long story, man. I wish I could explain, but we don’t have time. Their extraction is about to arrive. They will leave the ship with their pockets full of money and with hostages. I can’t just do nothing, I must try to do something, somehow. But you don’t have to worry about that, okay? I need you to stay safe here—” Jason snorts cutting him off and Kai looks at him weirdly.

“I assume you have a plan, backup, right?” Jason asks with his arms crossed around his chest, giving him a hard look. Jason knew very well that Kai was on his own, he just wanted to bring it up.

“Er, well, let’s just say I’m off duty, okay? But I made it clear to a colleague that if I didn’t communicate at a certain time, there was something wrong. I’m sure he already informed the authorities that there’s a situation,” Kai replies putting his hands over his hips. “And about having a plan, honestly, I was gonna improvise, I guess. I need to gather all the information I can get if I want to bring down the whole organization.”

“So let me get this straight,” Jason uses his fingers to count. “You’re off duty, with no way to communicate with anyone and the only certainty is that someone might warn the authorities that something might be wrong. We’re in the middle of nowhere, with who knows how many highly armed pirates on-board, who won’t hesitate to kill you the moment you try something, and who at any moment are going to notice that I’m missing and that they lack a guy. Basically, it’s a suicide mission.” Jason says raising an eyebrow.

“If you put it that way… it sounds really bad, but yeah—” Jason scrubbed a hand over his face, trying to think. Think, think. It was time to make a decision. Run into Kai Beck was a sign that he should engage? Or should he leave it in Kai’s hands? What would Goldie do if the roles had been inverted, follow Daddy’s orders? Should he let things flow their course? No, he shouldn’t. “What’s life without a little danger?”

“You got a point there, Beck.” He turns around and Kai’s hand reaches for his arm, so Jason ducks under it and grabs Kai’s hand, twisting it behind his back, effectively pinning him to the wall.

“Hey!” Kai protest. “Knock it off, okay? We are on the same side! Where do you think you’re going anyway? To face all of them on your own? You’re a civilian!”

“I’m no ordinary civilian.” Jason lets go of his arm and Kai turns to look at him angrily.

“You may be strong and have a few tricks up your sleeve, I admit it. But they’re an organization, they’re well-coordinated, they’re lethal, and they won’t hesitate to fill you with bullets as soon as you make a move. How do you plan on beating them all by yourself, uh?”

“I don’t have to recite my curriculum to you, do I? Get out of my way.”

“I can’t let a civilian get into an armed encounter—” Jason signs heavily.

“Look, I don’t trust you, and you don’t trust me. Let’s go on our separate ways and see what happens, all right?”

“Are you deaf? Absolutely not.”

“I wasn’t asking permission. Plus, I won’t work with a fed.” Kai’ face was the clear picture of insulted.  

“Do whatever the hell you want then. If you want to die, that’s your problem!”

“Fine.”

“Fine.” Jason heads for the door though before he could touch the handle, he hears a tired sigh. “Wait, Jason.” Jason takes a second to decide and then he turns his head to the side. Strategically, having back-up might be convenient, it didn’t matter if the help came from a fed. The question was, could he trust him? “I didn’t mean that. Come here.”

“How do you know my name?” Jason asks with a curious expression.

“It’s my job to know everything. Besides, I’ve been noticing your weird looks all week. Did you think I wouldn’t notice? For a moment I thought you were an undercover pirate or something.”

“I don’t look like a pirate!” He says offended. “I’m just a citizen worried about… putting an end to these freaking bastards.”

Liar. Why do you care so much? Are you close to Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne?”

“The only important thing here is that we have a common enemy. You’re wasting your time trying to interrogate me. I’m trusting that you won’t betray me, do the same.” Jason says as he grabs the knife hidden in his boot to help him cut the rope with which he was tied to use it on the unconscious thug. He secures his arms with strong knots and once his arms are secured, Jason begins to do the same with his legs, his movements being observed by a skeptical Kai.

“Could you explain to me why you had a knife in your damn boot?” Kai asks first. “How do you know those knots? Who the hell are you really?”

“Precautionary measures,” He replies easily. Once the pirate is totally restrained, Jason begins to sculpt his vest, taking the most useful things he can find. Great, duct tape, Jason cuts a piece to put it over the pirate’s mouth. When Kai clears his throat, Jason sighs. “Let’s say I have some kind of training. This isn’t my first rodeo, okay?” Jason says irritably. “With my help, I assure you we will catch the bastards before you can say ‘get your hands up’.”

“What kind of training? Are you a private guard watching over Grayson and Wayne?”

“Why does everyone say that? No!” Jason almost yelled and Kai makes a gesture of shuu. “I have special training, thank you.”

“What special training?”

“Oh, I am sorry, is this some kind of test to be on your team?” Jason mocks with a smirk when finally, he puts his hands on a bloody gun. He checks the charge while a troubled expression passes through Kai’s face. The gun was only for an emergency, of course.

“Look, man, how do I know you won’t end up dead? I can’t risk more civilian lives. I just can’t. And besides all that, how do I know you won’t get in my way out there? I don’t know who you are, I can’t let you use a gun just because you said you have training. It doesn’t feel right, not to mention it breaks all the rules!”

“As if breaking the rules were a bad thing. Listen, you’re here to protect the passengers, you’re here to catch these bastards after—

“Actually, catching them wasn’t the original reason why I am here. I just came for a hunch, all right?” Jason ignores him.  

“—so many lives they’ve taken for mere greed. If it’s true you’ve been after them for a while, then you know how pro they are, you know no one’s been able to catch them so far. If you want to be more likely to succeed on this, you need all the help you can get,” Jason says looking at him in the eyes. “I got two people out there very important to me, yeah? No matter what you said, I’m gonna go out there anyway and get them out of this mess. I can’t lose them.”

“Fuck,” Kai buries his fingers in his hair, releasing a weary sigh. Then he straightens up and gives Jason a squinty look. “Fine, let’s work together. But if you don’t listen to me, and something goes minimally wrong, you’re out. If we don’t die, I’m going to arrest you anyway. Is that clear?”

“Fair enough.” Jason extends his hand and Kai reluctantly takes it. He begins to divide the armament for two, breathing slowly, getting into the role of a well-trained vigilant about to kick some asses. Clear mind. Straight shoulders. “Ok, listen close. Here’s what we’re gonna do—”

“Seriously? Who do you think you are? I call the shots here!” Kai complains with his hands in the air and Jason bites his cheek but lets him speak. “Let’s split out. I’ll take the Bridge and you the Engine Room. Taking control of the ship should be our firsts move. Once having back the control, if they hadn’t destroyed the console, I can send an emergency beacon to the Coast Guard. After that, I will take care of the pirates watching the passengers. They are my priority. Meanwhile, you do your… thing. Whatever that is—”

“I will take down the rest of the pirates gathered around the ship.” He declares petulantly.

“Hmm-uh, right. I’ll meet you on the starboard side of the ship. I’ve been listening to some of their conversations, that’s where their extraction point is, that’s where your friends must be.”

“Ok, but what if, theoretically speaking, I get caught? I’m as good as dead then?”

“I’ll come to you. I have an idea, you only need to trust me, all right? Be ready to run as fast as you can when I give you the signal.”

“What signal?”

“You’ll know.”

“Well, I’m putting my trust in your hands, Beck. Don’t screw this up,” He threatens him. “I heard Dick was on the bridge. If you find him, make sure he’s okay. He and Damian are my priority. Got it?”

“Got it. Hey, Jason. Don’t die, please.” Kai gives him a half-smile, but it looked more like a grimace.

“That’s the plan.”

 

 

_____________

 

The lights flickered above his head, half-broken, casting shadows on the walls, and making it even harder to glimpse his path ahead. They were expecting him already. Honestly, that had him without worries, it only intensified the fire running through his veins.

Predictably, it didn’t take Jason even five minutes to bump into a pirate while he trekked around the corridors, but as fast as the guy tries to grab him in a chokehold, Jason knocks him down. There wasn’t time to have an equal and fluid confrontation, it was time to be quick, agile, merciless. Jason was moving like an unstoppable force, delivering powerful blows, going for inflicting pain and immobilize his contender in the most efficient way. Of course, Kai had warned him not to kill anyone, (what a shock) though it was a risky strategy. Two guys who barely know each other against several highly armed criminals. The odds weren’t on their side, but when did Jason ever let that stop him before? Red Hood had faced worse odds and come out unharmed. 

Jason repeats that as he makes his way to the Engine Room. Throwing a smoke bomb turns out to be the best option to get the attention of the two pirates guarding the room. The rest ends up being a piece of cake, not that Jason wanted to brag that much. It was fight or die. It was too easy to hit very hard on the liver or break a bone or two, he didn’t have to think too much when he sprinted towards the action. Disarm, dodge, hit, dodge. He just moved, letting his body take the rhythm of a well-orchestrated fight. It felt good to make ‘em pay all the trouble they had caused; the innocent lives they had taken. They had it comin’.

 

“Who the fuck are you!?” The pirate snarls, drawing a knife from his vest. Jason head-butts him, causing the pirate to drop the knife by inertia. They couldn’t use weapons down here, which meant it was hand-to-hand combat. The pirate throws a blow and Jason evades it, taking impulse and kicking him in the groin. The pirate’s legs buckle under him, making him fall to his knees. Jason takes the opportunity to knee him hard in the face. He falls backwards, blood running from his broken nose.

“The son of a bitch you didn’t count on.” Jason says aloud, fishing the radio out from his pocket and crushing it with his boot. All clear down here. Jason felt in his element while holding a gun and wandering in the dark. His leather jacket felt familiar over his shoulders, like an anchor. With that in mind, Jason runs to the next section, having cleared the Engine Room.  

 

Even though it was night, the air wasn’t cold, it was very hot and Jason could feel the sweat sliding down his neck. Everything was in complete darkness out there, with the moon shining high above the clear sky. A beautiful night that was about to turn into a crimson battle.  Jason knew he was going against Bruce’s explicit orders, but whatever. The Bat wasn’t here to contemplate their options face to face, he hadn’t seen the way Aleksander wandered his eyes over Dick, he didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. On top of that, when did Jason had been good with following orders? Certainly never.

They were going to catch the bastards anyway, here and now. Jason was gonna make sure every one of the fuckers was behind bars by the end of the week. But in spite of all that confidence, Jason couldn’t help but hear that tiny voice in the back of his mind telling him that Aleksander was a dangerous man. Not for nothing they hadn’t been able to catch him for so long. Sneaking out of the Batman wasn’t something just anyone could accomplish. There were still so many leaks in their plan. There weren’t enough backup plans that could do much against people so determined to win, of crushing others, of conquering.

Not knowing what was going on with Dick or Damian made him run faster. He knew that if circumstances required it, they wouldn’t let themselves be killed, but they could still get hurt. To get to them, though, he had to face who knows how many pirates who were hovering around the ship, watching for him somewhere. Maybe he didn’t have the element of surprise, but Jason’s skills definitely were going to be a shocker, as no doubt the three unconscious pirates could claim. Jason decides to take his chances and go for the extensive Promenade Deck that goes all the way around the ship on the Main Deck. There was a lot of wooden furniture thrown around, everything they had taken out of the dining room to make room for the passengers; it was the perfect hiding place, Jason decides as he advances through broken pieces of wood and furniture. Not long after, Jason hears footsteps. In time he hides behind a flipped table, peeking through a small space to spot a pirate looking through the dumped furniture with his flashlight. Jason plans his next move when he observes a teapot move very close to the edge of a table, about to fall off with the slight movement of the sea. He curses under his breath, trying to reach out and stop the teapot from falling and give away his position. On his back, the steps start to fade away, but the teapot seems to have a life of its own and falls off the table mere inches from his fingers, making a sharp clang noise when it touches the ground. Jason closes his eyes when he hears a chuckle.

 

“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” A rough, husky voice speaks. Jason moves promptly, hiding behind more furniture. The space was limited. The Promenade Deck was wide, but with all the tables and chairs scattered around there was no place to run. “Come out, wherever you are.” Jason manages to spy enough to see that the pirate had already pulled out his gun. Hell, fuck the little stealth he had left. “You gonna hide in there like a coward all night? You disappoint me, kitty. You were supposed to be a dangerous kid. Lies, lies, lies.”

Jason surprises the crook landing in front of him. “Boo.” With one kick Jason disarms him, and then he grabs the closest thing he can reach —the wooden leg of a table— to give the first strike. The improvised bat hits the pirate’s forearms when he tried to protect himself and then hits powerfully his shoulder. Jason takes advantage of the bewilderment on his face to spring on his feet and launch a kick to his throat. The black-clad man chokes, almost bending in pain, but he still pulls out another gun and starts shooting crazy. Jason barely dodges the shots, taking protection behind another flipped table. When the bullets run out, the pirate takes refuge as well.

“I found him. I need… fucking backup.” He wheezes through the radio in Russian, and Jason chuckles, low and dark.

“I speak Russian too, asshole. Who’s the coward now?” Jason says in amusement. 

“What are you supposed to be? A fucking kickboxer!?” Jason doesn’t bother to answer, following the coughing sounds while crawling through the furniture without making the slightest sound. Once having located the crook, Jason surprises him for the second time. The black-clad man gets up squeezing his probably dislocated shoulder with one hand and pointing his gun with the other, but Jason is faster and smacks him with the improvised bat in the face, sending him sprawling down, Jason is on him immediately. The pirate tries to kick him in the abdomen but Jason dodges, holding the hand with the gun and bending his fingers, feeling as they break behind his strength. The crook grunts dropping the gun. Jason uses his foot to immobilize the man to the ground, putting pressure on his wounded shoulder.

“How till’ your extraction arrives?”

“What—” He puts more pressure on the wound and the man cries. “You… little shit. I won’t tell you anything!”

“I know.” The pirate looks at him strangely and Jason sends him to sleep with a jab to the jaw. Jason throws the two-way radio into the sea, and when he gets up, he has to crouch back down when a knife (aimed at his skull) passes mere inches over his head, digging into the wall in front of him. Jason rolls out of the way of a kick and finds himself face-to-face with no one else but with Big and Ugly. The cavalry already arrived; what a pleasant surprise.

“Look who I ran into. Son of a bitch who is been giving us trouble.”

“Oh, you were looking for me?” Jason can barely step aside when the pirate throws himself at him. His upper hand was brute force, but Jason wasn’t in the mood to let him get cocky. A half-aborted step back prevents the punch aimed to his jaw and Jason counterattacks with a round of blows straight to the face. Big and Ugly just staggered, rubbing his cheek, unaffected. Jason raised an eyebrow.

“Not bad, urchin. Why do not you show me some more?” Jason clenches his fists, ready, waiting for the pirate to lash out for him. Jason avoids the first blow, the second comes with more force, barely brushing his cheek. Jason drops a kick in the pirate’ knee, knowing from experience the weaknesses of someone built like a building. The pirate only grunts, raising his massive arm and crashing it into the side of his face, Jason blinks repeatedly, trying to ignore the twinkling stars in his vision. Big and ugly countermoves, taking advantage of his daze to clutch tightly the collar of his shirt with both hands. Jason elbows the outstretched arms, trying to get the hands off his throat. The man hisses with the impact, but he doesn’t let go. Jason uses his leg power to jump and kneel him hard in the gut and then on the face. The hands release his shirt instantly, successfully reclaiming some space between them. “Slippery, aren’t ya?” Big and ugly coughs and before Jason could answer the crook tackles him. Jason runs out of air with the force and the heavy body above him. He tries to knock him out off him but the pirate sits on his stomach, pinning him down. A jab crashes into his jaw and Jason curses, feeling the world spin-off his axis. The bile comes back up his throat, making him gasp. His head feels like cotton candy, his sight slightly blurred. Though he can see how the pirate removes his balaclava, spitting blood to the ground. Aw, fuck, that was a tooth? “Ain’t so much fun to be the one to receive, right, bitch?”

“This is just child’s play. I’m barely warmed up.” The crook grabs him by the neck, again, making him bare his teeth like a trapped animal. The hold tightness, making Jason blink several times to get the fog out of his sight.

“How about we play a game where I blow your brains out right here and now?” The cold muzzle of a gun pressed against his jaw. Big and ugly grins, blood coming out of his mouth, running down his chin in a nasty way. The fella indeed was ugly as fuck, with sunken eyes and a crooked nose. Despite the dizziness and discomfort, Jason manages a smirk.

“Eh, thanks but no thanks. Fuck you.” Unexpectedly fast, Jason buries the knife hidden on his boot in the hand holding the gun. Jason rolls away, hearing the pirate’s cries. He stands up, withdrawing the gun from the inside of his jeans and pointing it towards the crook crouched on the ground, holding his bloodied hand over his chest. It would be so easy to kill him in this vulnerable position; his finger hovered over the trigger, hesitant.

“Pull the trigger, pussy. What are ya waiting for?” Jason locks gazes with the man, seeing the amusement on his face. Jason bites his cheek, knowing what Bruce would tell him if he were here, picturing Dick’s face with those big blue eyes telling him not to. Dammit. “I knew ya did not have the balls.”

“You’re sure?” The man tildes his head with a pleased grin.

“I am.”

“Drop the weapon, Jason. This little rebellion of yours ends now,” A voice speaks behind his back. Jason clenches his jaw, looking behind his shoulder to find Khalid pointing his AK-47 at him. Jason pondered his options, knowing that he could no longer tempt his fate. Everything depended on Kai Beck now. He drops the gun, raising his hands over his head. Khalid approaches him, kicking the gun out of reach and immediately smacking his hand in the back of his neck, furiously dropping him to his knees. Jason tries to blink away the green color that was threatening to swarm over. “You’re fucked.”

 

_____________

 

The moment his knees crash into the ground for the second time this night, a pair of arms curl around his neck. Jason doesn’t resist the hug and even leans his head against Goldie’s neck, taking a deep breath, filling up his lungs with the familiar scent of Dick’s blueberry shampoo (sweet, and it smelled like home) Jason allows himself just a moment of weakness before untangling from the warmth of Goldie. He touches a bruise on Dick’s cheek with his finger. If his shoulders no longer seemed so tense, and his posture was no longer so defensive, no one commented anything about it.

 

“Are you okay, Dickface?” Jason couldn’t find any other visible wounds, which was good. Dick takes his hands and looks him in the eye, his face looked tired and with lines of stress and worry. 

“I’m fine, Jay, I was so worried about you. Are you okay? How does your head feel? You must have a concussion—”

“I’m okay. We have more things to worry about right now.” Dick tenderly grabs his hands between his, checking his bruised knuckles with a raised eyebrow, he shrugs. It is then that Jason notices that the blue-eyed was no longer wearing the ring. 

“I am touched by your concern, Todd. I’m fine, too.” Jason rolls his eyes but he faces a very unimpressed Damian. The demon didn’t look happy, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary. He also had a bruise forming on his face, but otherwise, he seemed ready to rip heads off with his bare hands. Jason looks around —seeing as the other three passengers were clinging to each other a few steps away from them. Khalid was the only one watching them— before speaking softly in French.

“Be ready to run.” Dick’s face was pure surprise, and not by the meaning of his words. Jason has to hide the smile from his face.

“Ooh la la,” Dick whispers. “Why are so shy to speak French? You are very good.” Damian coffs.  

“What are you playing at, Todd? Let me remind you that we cannot intervene, and even if we could, then why did you get caught, idiot?” Damian questions with a humourless tone.

“First, I wasn’t planning on getting caught. Second, what were you doing while I was out, huh? At least I did one good thing today,” Jason complains. “All I can say is that I picked up a stray on my way here. It’s gonna be fine, most likely.” Damian narrows his eyes at him.

“Is that supposed to comfort me?” Dick tugs Damian’s sleeve, stealing the demon’s attention away from him.

“Jay, you know I trust you, but are you sure about this? We’re not supposed to engage. Damian and I can’t risk our identities, you know it. I don’t have a good feeling about this. I ask you to meditate well whatever is going to happen.” 

“Things have changed. You have to trust me, Dickiebird. Can you do that?” Dick’s face shows so many emotions at the same time, but Jason could see when Dick gave in. 

“Yeah, I can.” 

“I am still not convinced.” Damian says crossing his arms.

“Oh, well, that’s a shame, ‘cause I honestly don’t give a fuck.”

“Guys, stop it. If Jason trusts that everything’s gonna be okay, so am I,” Dick was about to add something else but his face dropped, his eyes watching something behind Jason. It’s showtime. “Watch out!” Jason felt his pulse racing, preparing for the threat. A blow takes him by surprise, crashing into his already bruised ribs. Jason hisses and Dick immediately tries to stand as a barrier between him and his attacker. “No! Don’t hurt him, please—” Dick pleas and when Jason turns his body to see who’s the fucker, he finds Aleksander’s enraged face storming over him. With a quick movement, Aleksander pulls him on his feet to then crash him against the railing, immediately going for his damn neck. The tips of his feet barely touch the ground, and Jason could only put his hands over the strong ones that could so easily break his neck.

“Do not hurt him, you say? This motherfucker just wrecked my crew, Richard. I could have killed him, but I wanted to give him a chance. And how do you repay me? Attacking my crew as if you were a fucking superhero!” Jason begins to struggle, the grip on his neck begins to cut off the air. “You think you can just fuck everything up and hope there are no consequences, Jason?” Another punch comes this time to his stomach and Jason coughs, closing his eyes and feeling as his head begins to prick again.

“Stop! Aleksander, please!” Jason ignores Dick’s begging tone and tries to focus on not passing out. His eyed watered and Jason is sure that his face was the livid picture of a tomato.

“Tell me with whom you are working. It is impossible that a single man could fight against all my men without dropping a single drop of sweat. Speak now or I am throwing you into the sea.” Jason tries to talk but the hold was too much, Aleksander releases a sigh and loosens the grip. Once he stops coughing, Jason meets his green burning eyes.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I was just fighting that big guy back there and that’s it.”

“Stop being funny and answer me.” 

“I swear! Just like I told Mila, I’m not a liar. I have nothing to hide.”

“Do not say her name,” Aleksander growls and then he directs his attention towards Khalid. “Status?”

“They should be here by now,” Khalid comments nervously. “Do you think something happened?”

“They’ll be here in time,” Jason touches his throat, feeling the sore skin. There were going to be some bruises there, he was sure. After a moment, more steps are heard and Andrei Chapman appears. Aleksander looks at him intently, but without taking his attention completely away from him. “Well?”

“I lost contact with Gamma. I also have no contact with the Bridge. I lost contact with everyone.”

“He’s a fucking fed!” Khalid exclaims. “What other explanation do you have? But that’s not the question that matters here, tell me, why is he still fucking alive? He knows too much about us! He screwed everything up!”

“Where is Mila?” Aleksander asks instead, calm.

“Inside. Safe.” Andrei replies. “Waiting for instructions.” 

“Are you listening to me? We hadn’t contemplated this drifting time. The authorities must be on their way. Is this still part of the plan?” Khalid yells at Aleksander. The atmosphere was getting tense. Jason smirks internally. “What if Mila was wrong about him?”

“I trust her.”

“Well, I don’t!”

“Stick to your job and do not speak to me that way. This is just a setback. Gamma will be here on time. Get ready.”

“Just let us go, please.” A female voice speaks, Jade. Aleksander walks away from Jason a few steps to pull out his gun and point it at the group. Unconsciously, Dick places himself in front of Damian, not taking his eyes off the gun.

“Unfortunately for you, darling, no one’s leaving. Things have changed, and now you are going to become my ticket out if something goes wrong,” Aleksander states. He looks to his right towards Big and Ugly, he was leaning over a wall, clearly wrecked. “Alpha 1, go to the Bridge and tell me what’s going on there.” Big and Ugly nods, giving Jason one last poisonous look before starting to limp away.

“Go on, send your minions to do your dirty work, hide behind your guns cause without them, you’re nothing but a low-life thief. You’re not gonna make history, you’re not gonna be relevant. You’re just a mediocre joke.” Jason spites out bitterly.

“That’s about to be seen,” Aleksander says between his teeth, clearly falling into the provocation, Jason only smirks at him. The pirate points his gun at him. “Do not think saying those things is going to get you killed that easy. No, you are coming with me. You are gonna beg for a death as sweet as a bullet in your fucking mouth. I am gonna wipe that smile off your face, Jason. Whatever you did, you are gonna pay for it.”

“I will?” Jason locks his gaze on Aleksander, rebellion burning in his pupils. “If you’re gonna shoot, you better not miss, ‘cause you’re not gonna get this chance again.”

“Jason!” Dick chirped in a tight tone.

“Is that a dare?” Aleksander inquires with an eyebrow raised. “You got some kind of death wish?”

“Honestly, I don’t know anymore.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Aleksander had his index and middle finger around the trigger, and there was Jason, laughing in the face of the danger. “You are awfully calm having a gun pointed at your face. Is this a common thing for a Gothamite?”

“Shoot him!” Khalid insists frantically. “Dammit, do it!”

“You are just stalling, aren’t you? You are the bait.” Aleksander remarks, his face goes blank, beside him, Khalid raises his own gun but whatever he was gonna do is interrupted by a gunshot blaring, Khalid drops the gun when a bullet hits his shoulder, making him yelp in surprise. Aleksander growls, turning his back on Jason for a second. Everyone raises their rifles, but in the dark, no one could see where it came from. Jason beckons to Damian and Dick to be ready at the same time that the ship speakers make a high-pitched noise and then a voice speaks above all the nerve-racking silence. This was the signal.

“This is the agent Beck speaking. Throw down your weapons, you’re surrounded! There’s nowhere to run or escape. The FBI already knows about you, and as we speak they are on their way here. If you surrender now and let the hostages go, we can make a deal, otherwise, things will get worse for you. This ends here and now! Don’t make a move!” But of course, Aleksander wasn’t ready to negotiate. With his hand he commands to his men and they line up. The second shot is struck within inches of Aleksander’s feet, as a warning. Through the round windows, Jason can spot several security guards pointing their guns at them. Oh shit. They were in the middle of what was about to become a fucking bloodshed.

“Move!” Jason yells to the passengers the moment he manages to reconnect his mouth with his brain. “Run, get out of here!”

 

When the gunfire erupted, the hell breaks loose.

Jason immediately throws himself to the ground, covering his ears. There was nowhere to run with the spray of bullets flying in all directions, but lying on the ground was just as dangerous. A stray bullet could hit him. He was too vulnerable there, in the midst of all the mess. As he can, he begins to crawl away from the ground zero. Jason manages to discern how the passengers were already running away. The cacophony of crashing gunshots was blinding, the screams and roars of a fight rumbled in the air. Jason looks around frantically; he couldn’t see Damian or Dick, they weren’t anywhere. Fuck. Did they run with the passengers? Or they were still here? Jason curses, trying to see between the dust and smoke. For a handful of seconds that seemed to march eternally, he doesn’t spot them anywhere, but then, Jason distinguishes two figures on the ground. His heart stops. No, please, no. Jason starts crawling as fast as he can, and the closer he is to the two figures, he recognizes the shape of Damian trying to move someone out of danger. Dick, it was Dick who wasn’t moving.

In hindsight, Jason should’ve known that nothing was ever as easy as it seemed with Dick Grayson’s company. Jason could not figure out how everything had gone so wrong, not when the gunfire momentarily stopped, leaving the air smoking and his ears ringing. Not when he could hear in the distance the pained sounds coming from Dick. It was a good day to die, apparently, no, scratch that, it was shameful —and he’d die sober, damn it. What a pathetic way to go— Jason reaches them and he can see Damian’s bloodied hands pressing on the wound, a gunshot wound in Dick’s lower right abdomen that was thickly bleeding. Dick’s face was tight, with drops of sweat already falling down his forehead, he could see reflected the pain he must be feeling. But Jason couldn’t calculate the severity of the wound fully here, not on the dirty floor, he didn’t know if the bullet had touched any vital organs, he couldn’t tend the wound either, not in the middle of a fucking fight and a shooting. The possibility of internal bleeding was high. They needed to move him, they needed a first aid kit, they needed more time.

 

“Dickie? Talk to me,” Jason says, touching Dick’s face carefully. The blue-eyed blinks away the tears of pain and grabs his hand in a strong grip. “Fuck, so you didn’t need a bodyguard, huh? I take my eyes off you for five seconds and you are already bleeding! What I’m gonna do with you?”

“Shut up, Jay. It hurts, but I’m fine.” Goldie says very sure of himself, but the hole in his stomach didn’t look good, nor his fast breathing.

“Don’t lie, dammit. You aren’t fine,” Jason growls, passing a hand over his face. He immediately after takes off his jacket and shirt, remaining only in a simple white undershirt. Jason passes the cloth carefully around Dick’s torso, like a temporary tourniquet around the wound to stop the bleeding as best as possible, ignoring how Dick silently whines. Once Jason finishes, Damian goes back to put pressure over the wound with trembling hands. Jason takes Dick’s wrist, measuring his heart rate with the help of Damian’s watch. “We are fucked. We’re gonna die and Bruce is gonna kill me and—”

“Shut up, imbecile. You are gonna have a fate worse than death if something happens to Grayson because of you. That is a promise. Now think of something and get us out of this mess, Todd. Now!” Damian sued in a sharp tone, but his face betrayed the fear he was really feeling. 

“I’m thinking! Dammit!” Jason yells, jumping when the sound of bullets is heard again behind their backs. Shit, they had to get out of here before another bullet hit one of them.

“I am going to kill them all,” Damian threats while gently pulling Dick’s hands out of the wound. “I am gonna make them regret this.” His delicateness while making sure that the improvised tourniquet is doing its job didn’t fit with his hateful words. “You didn’t have to get on top of me, Grayson. And now look what happened.”

“I know, it was my fault, Dami.” Dick says biting his lip to not make any pitiful noise. 

“Absolutely not. This is Todd’s fault.” 

“Oh, thanks for that, jackass,” Jason complains trying not to take it seriously. But honestly, it was. “Why didn’t you run, Dick? Why did you let yourself get shot?” Jason mumbles under his breath. 

“You guys always assume I’m perfect, but I’m not, and I’m certainly not bulletproof, idiot.” Dick says and he manages to sound incredulous. Jason lets out a shaky laugh.

“Fair enough. Hang on, I’m gonna get you out of here. Everything’s gonna be okay,” Jason didn’t sound reliable even to his own ears, but nobody said anything. “I’m going to—”

“We got a problem,” Damian says through clenched teeth. “Behind us. Take care of it!” Jason looks back to catch sight of Andrei Chapman ready to shoot them. He curses and places himself defensively in front of Dick and Damian, drawing his last hidden gun. Jason shoots twice, but Andrei hides behind a column. Jason didn’t have sufficient bullets to defend them enough to take shelter somewhere. Time was running out. He deliberated then, in a millisecond, considering all the possibilities and outcomes of what he was about to do. Dick was hurt, there wasn’t anywhere to run, no back-up plans left, not enough bullets against a damn AK-47. Quite simply, they were so screwed. Unless... Jason pulls out of his hidden pocket his latest ammunition —stolen from their same arsenal— calculating their possibilities, distance, and time. Damian looks at him like he just lost his mind, probably yes. “What are you planning to do with that, Todd?” But Jason decides not to answer, throwing the explosive towards Chapman without a second thought. Jason wastes no time to put Dick over his shoulder, ignoring Dick’s yelp. He jerks Damian by his arm as they run towards the railing.

“Go!” Damian doesn’t even have time to protest when the explosion resonates behind them. There was no going back.

They jump overboard. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

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.

“I did—”

“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?”

“Guys, please—”

“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.”

“You promise?”

“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.

“Guys?”

“Yeah?”

“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.

“Yes.”

“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.”

“So witty.”

“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.

“Please don’t—”

“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.

“What?”

“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.”

“Listen carefully—”

“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?”

“Something bizarre?”

“No!”

“Then what?”

“Swimming trunks!”

“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.

“Got ham!”

 

_____________

 

 

“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. 

“You promise?”

“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.” 

“Touché.”

“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.

“Far away.”

“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…”

“Dami—”

“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.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“We’re almost there, Dickie. Almost there. Hold on.”

 

Comforting words came out of his mouth without permission. Jason was never the kind of person who liked to offer comfort through his words, he preferred to offer it through his actions. Words got carried away, actions didn’t. With Dick things didn’t work that way though. There was something about him that made him cherish words even more than actions. Sometimes he just needed to hear it in order to believe it, as strange as it was. They all had their own ways of coping with their issues, who was he to judge anyway? If Dick needed that kind of reassure right now, Jason was willing to offer it to him, even if he had his own demons whispering in his ear.

You’re not gonna make it. Is far away. Don’t even bother.

Jason felt that the more they swam, the island itself seemed to move further away. He was afraid that in the blink of an eye the island was gonna vanish between his fingers, a glimpse of a paradise drifting away. The illusion of a helpless and delusional stranded. His arms and legs were burning with the effort; his strength was about to ran out. Every move and stroke felt like the last one Jason might give, succumbing to exhaustion, dehydration, and an endless list of aches. But Jason kept going, not stopping to catch his breath, just letting his body move with his latest backup power, burning every last drop of energy he had left. His eyes fixed on the target. Get to the island and get them to safety.

His objective was repeated in his mind like a nonstop mantra, ignoring the voices in his head telling him they weren’t going to make it, sending adrenaline into his veins, determination in every push forward he gave. Dick had already stopped trying to help, he had made a great effort, but his body couldn’t take it anymore. Despite his total lack of cooperation to move, Dick was uncharacteristically stiff while Jason held him to his side, deathly quiet and just emitting small cries of pain with the frantic movement of Jason trying to swim towards the island. It was risky, he knew. Moving him so sharply in his condition could further aggravate the wound and worsen the bleeding, but there was no other option. Even if Dick got mad at him, Jason would rather that than lose him tonight. Damian was swimming right next to him, clutching to his shirt in an attempt to not be torn apart by the tide. He was speaking to Goldie in a soft voice, trying to encourage him to stay awake, barking orders to pretend he was the one in charge, too afraid of not making it in time. Jason was no longer sure if Goldie was awake or not, or if he was listening to what the demon was saying, but at this point, it only mattered to get there and then Jason would think of something, a way to improvise and stop Dick from bleeding to death.

 

“You can achieve this, Richard. Just a bit longer,” Damian sounded as drained as Jason felt. “We got through the hard stuff, now you just have to keep your head out of the water. Kind of literal.”

“No, just— I gotta stop—” Jason hesitates just for a second when Dick’s almost imperceptible voice is heard over the splash of the water. But Jason couldn’t afford to pause and risk no longer being able to keep going. Not when they were so close. “Jay… hold up a second, please—” Dick sounded breathless and in pain. Jason could feel the heat emanating from his body, something that was undoubtedly already bad.

“I ain’t stopping just cuz you say so. You can do it, we are about to make it!”

“Hurts.” That’s all Dick acknowledges and Jason just closes his eyes for a moment but he doesn’t stop his march.

“Do not quit, you still have so much to give. This is nothing compared to what you and I have faced back in the old days. I’ve seen you fight with a knife buried in your shoulder and still win the fight. I’ve seen you take a fall from truly high and still got up with a cartwheel included! Richard, you promised!” Damian sounded like that 12-year-old boy again, terrified that a person he loved so much would abandon him. If the demon had a panic attack this instant there wasn’t much Jason could do.  He knew Damian’s biggest strength and weakness was Dick, but he had to trust the demon to pull himself back together on his own. For everyone’s sake.

“R-right. I promised—”

 

Jason no longer focused on listening to the conversation, nor the slurred speech of Goldie. Keep swimming. What from a distance seemed like the crest of a mountain was now a large island right before their eyes. The closer they got, the smaller they seemed compared to the huge piece of floating land. The waves of the beach played them a good fortune, pushing them into the current of the island and closer to the mainland. Jason readjusts his grip on Dick while they move with the waves, trying to not fucking drown. After a few minutes amid swirling waves trying to tow them in all directions, they finally reach shallow waters, being able to catch sight of the fucking bottom full of sand, shells, and vast aquatic life. They made it. The water drags them to the beach, and after nearly 24 hours in the open sea, they finally touch terra firma.

The moment his body makes contact with the sand Jason feels like letting go of a screech of glee. He grabs a handful of sand between his fingers, breathing in and out, his body trembling with the effort. Jason’s whole body felt about to shut down, the headache was almost unbearable and his face burned, but there wasn’t time to recover and lie down. Goldie didn’t have that luxury. Jason hoists Dick up carefully by his shoulders, dragging him out of the water. Dick was a dead weight as his heels dug into the sand. The sun was already setting behind the horizon, the last of the light was about to vanish and leave them in complete darkness again.

Making up his mind, Jason gently picks him up in his arms, gathering the last of his brute force to carry him in bridal style. Dick immediately nestles his head in the crook of his neck, wincing in pain when he stirs his wound accidentally. With careful steps on shaky legs, Jason walks toward the safety of the beach, far from the ocean that almost swallowed them whole and nearly ate them alive. Jason seeks for a good place to settle Dick down, and he finds a spot between two palm trees and soft white sand. Kneeling down into the sand, he deposits Dick on the ground with all the care in the world, finally daring to take a breath. Jason gathers up the courage to peek at the blue-eyed through his wet and dripping hair. Dick’s eyes were tightly shut and his features were twisted in pain. Jason reaches out one hand and touches his forehead, boiling skin to the contact. He brushes some wet strands away from his face, catching his breath. Jason nods for himself and then he gazes at his wound, finding that Damian already had his hands on his belly, slowly moving to the side clothes soaked in fresh blood that didn’t stop pouring from the wound.

 

“All right, huh, we need to stop the bleeding. And I have an idea, but I can’t do it fucking here.” Jason murmurs looking around the area surrounding them. In front of them there was a mass of trees and palm trees towards what bear resemblance to a jungle. With the light disappearing, it was risky to go into uncharted territory without knowing what might be lurking inside. Jason hadn’t survived being eaten by sharks to come here and be chewed up by a fucking panther. But staying here didn’t seem like a good option either, they were very out in the open, he felt very exposed on this spot. They needed fire, and the conditions out here would make it harder. Making a shelter was one of the golden rules to survive, but make one out of scratch would take too much time. Dick didn’t count with that time. Jason plays with the options in his mind before glaring at Damian. “Choose wisely. Stay out here in the open, or risk seeking refuge?” Damian looks back at him with intensity, and then he looks away and stares at Dick with a troubled expression.

“Neither option is reliable enough, however, if we have to take a chance and choose the best for Richard, I’d say risk seeking shelter.”

“All right, stay here with him. I’ll give a quick sweep of the area and see if I can find something.” Damian nods and then grabs his arm before he could stand up.

“Take the knife,” Jason takes the offered weapon and stands up without casting a last look at Dick, repeating to himself that in no time he will see him again, hopefully wide awake. “And don’t die, imbecile. You are needed here.”

“Aw, so you need me after all, shrimp,” Jason smirks at him. “No worries, I’ll be back. Though if I don’t come back by nightfall, think of something else.” Without waiting for an answer, Jason makes his way into the shadowy jungle.

 

_____________

 

 

Jason advances through brushes and trees cautiously, perceptive to any sound around him. He was trying to not get too far away from the beach. Going deep into a jungle was kind of stupid, more at night and with no one beside him. How to know if the island was uninhabited? Jason couldn’t be sure if there was a tribe somewhere in there, ready to hunt them down and offer them as a fucking tribute. Yeah, Jason wasn’t going to take any chances. There would already be time to explore the island tomorrow. For now, the only goal was to find a safe place for this night. A cave might be an option —how ironic— as long as there were no other residents in it.  

With the light disappearing behind his back, Jason carries forward in his search with time against him. (He couldn’t be exactly stealthy. His boots were dripping wet and made a squelching sound every time he walked. Here and now he was an awfully easy prey) On his way, he finds some places but not entirely suited. It wasn’t time to be picky, though something told him to keep looking, that’s when Jason bumps into the perfect place. It wasn’t completely a cave, it was more of a crevice formed in a wall of rocks rising towards a hillside. It wasn’t too deep to consider it the refuge of some beast, but enough to keep them out of the open and it could protect them from the wind or rain. Besides, it was strategically hidden from view by a few well-placed trees and bushes, which would keep them safe from predators. Jason loses no time to scout the place out with the little light that was left and once sure that it was safe, Jason makes his way back to the beach, marking the trees with knife slits to not to forget the way. It’s not like he couldn’t remember the path by memory, but all the trees looked the fucking same.

When Jason reaches the beach, the night had already fallen, leaving everything on indigo hues and shadows. Damian glares at him with an irked face just as Jason bends down, obviously already annoyed for taking that long. Jason ignores the green eyes nailing daggers into his head and focuses on Goldie. To say that Dick was one step away from death was understandable, but there wasn’t time to lose it. Jason only peeks at the bleeding wound to then place his hands under Dick’s knees and back, ready to carry him one more time. Jason grunts with the effort when he lifts Dick in his arms, the acrobat wasn’t as light as a feather, he was pure muscle, after all. When the blue-eyed doesn’t even stir with the shifting, Jason tries to forget the exhaustion and take the first steps with urgency. However, his body didn’t felt like complying. He was already on edge, his legs felt like jelly and his arms seemed about to fall off. Damian’s eye seems to throb in exasperation when the 18-year-old stands in front of him.

 

“You’ll drop him, Todd. Hand him to me.” Damian growls stretching out his hands towards him. Jason shakes his head, bringing Dick’s body protectively closer to his chest.

“I can do it—”

“Don’t be stubborn, you fool. Give him to me while you lead the way.” Jason lets out a sigh and carefully, he lets Damian pick up Dick and gather him up in his arms. The scene leaves Jason pinned to the ground for a moment. Damian wasn’t a kid anymore, that he already knew, but now he could carry Dick in his arms like Dick had done so many times in the past. It was a strange thing to see, something almost sappy. The demon wasn’t far behind from reaching him in height. And my God, he looked so much like Bruce, so much that Jason felt like punching him in the face. Fuck. The blue-eyed settles comfortably into his chest and Jason blinks, spinning on his heels and signalling Damian to follow him.

“C’mon, this way, brat.”

“Are you certain you found an adequate shelter? Is crucial to survive this first night. If not, we are most likely screwed.”

“Yup,” Jason says as he gets rid of branches and leaves out of their way. “In fact, I believe it will be our new residence for a couple of days.”

“Not if Father finds us before.”

“As this first day he has been so successful…”

“He will find us, probably in the course of two to three days.”

“Uh-huh,” He mumbles not quite sure. “We’re almost there.” Both walk quietly and only with the sounds of the jungle as background noise, something that wasn’t that relaxing but at the same time was kinda melodious. Not long after they reach the cave-no-cave and Damian wrinkles his face in reluctance.

“That’s it? Is this the best you could find?”

“What were you expecting? A cabin with jacuzzi, flat screen, and air conditioning?” Jason makes fun of him as between the two make their way into the shelter. The three could fit fine though just a little bit to close from each other. He could even stand up straight and not hit his head with the ceiling, which was good. The demon places Dick on the ground, looking around the cave in mistrust. “Lower your standards, punk. This is much better than I expected to find. Now, let’s get to work.”

“Did you at least inspect that there were no wild animals? Insects?” Damian asks instead.

“That’s your job, brat. Look out for insects and pick up the leaves and branches out of here,” He growls. “You don’t happen to have a lighter?”

“You’re not capable to make a fire without one? Are you that inept?”

“I sure as hell can! But I don’t want to take too long doing it, we need light and we need that fire ASAP!”

“I stole a lighter from a stupid pirate back on the ship, but I do not think it still works with all the water!” Damian snarls and roughly hands him over the lighter.

“Fuck, whatever. While I make the damn fire I need you to get some palm leaves or something cushiony to put on the ground so we can sleep better. Goldie needs to be as comfortable as he can, and the gravel ground isn’t. Got it, brat?” With Dick’s mention, the fight leaves Damian’s body and he sighs, nodding.

“Got it.” Both move their asses in an orderly fashion way. Jason —barely able to make out their surroundings— gathers dry tinder, twigs and branches of various sizes to build a makeshift tepee. Once he has enough elements, Jason places them at the entrance of the cave to not asphyxiate them in smoke but close enough to have light inside. It wasn’t that hard to make fire without tools, but it was laborious. Dick needed that fire already, so Jason gets to work. Using the smaller twigs, he creates a tepee shape putting the tinder in the center. After several attempts, some gashes on his hands, and many curses, Jason manages to light the fire.

“Fuck yeah!” Putting more dry branches Jason keeps the flame until the fire is steady enough to take his attention away from it. Jason wipes the sweat off his forehead and then turns around, noticing that Damian had already done a good job of collecting weeds and some palm leaves as a temporary bed. (How he got the palm leaves, no fucking clue) Jason could hear quiet voices talking so he gets closer to them and he notices with great relief that Dick was awake with half-lidded eyes.

“It’s about time, Todd. It’s good to see you’re not the Donkeyboy I knew you to be.” He ignores the demon’s taunts effortlessly.

“Hiya, Dickface. Good to see you joined us. How are ya feeling?”

“‘m okay,” The blue-eyed murmurs looking at the ceiling of the cave with cloudy eyes out-of-focus. “H-how did we get here? This is… a cave?”

“Technically it’s not a cave, and I guess we got here by pure luck.” He admits with a snort. The orange reflections of the fire were reflected on Dick’s face, the sparkles dancing on his skin. It would have been a really good touch on him if it weren’t for the fact that Dick could barely keep his eyes open. He taps his cheek with his fingers. “Hey, keep your eyes open. You can’t fall asleep, slob.” Goldie furrows his forehead and then his eyes fluttered open.

“Why? ‘m tired.”

“I can tell, but I need you awake for what I’m about to do.” Damian looks at him certainly formulating a lot of questions in his mind. Jason brings his hand towards the pulse on Dick’s wrist, noticing that his vitals were spiking, as was his fever. His skin was sweaty and Jason could see him shivering. 

“What are you planning to do, Todd?” Jason pulls the knife out of his pocket and swings it in his hands. This idea has been in his head for a while now. He knew that an emergency cauterization with heated metal should only be done if there were no other options to treat a serious wound. He also knew that this procedure was incredibly painful and should only be considered in a case of life or death. This was the case. If Jason didn’t stop the bleeding right now, he was going to die. There were no other alternatives or back-up plans. Dick had already spent half of his seven cat lives. Damian’s eyes widen in alarm when he seems to understand. “Are you certain about this? I—”

“We’re out of options and out of time. If we don’t do this…” Jason trails off, the words left handing in the air.

“I understand. Tell me what you need me to do.” Damian’s voice came out firm and unwaveringly, even though his face gave away the 18-year-old boy he still was. Jason had never respected him as much as he did right now.

“Ok, I need you to cut your shirt and have more clean cloth ready, we’ll need it for later. I’ll do everything, I just need you to hold him still. If you can put something in his mouth to muffle the screaming, do it.” Damian was stunned for a few seconds and then he snaps out of it, biting his lip but beginning to cut the sleeves of his black shirt wordlessly. Kneeling by the fire, Jason approaches the blade of the knife into the flames, careful not to burn himself. Unfortunately, there was nothing to wash his hands with or disinfect the wound, they would have to do it the hard way, Dick already had a nasty infection spreading anyway. At least the fire would help kill any bacteria that might be on the knife blade. It was too much to ask after everything that has gone wrong, the pain Jason was about to inflict to Dick and the fact that Damian was the one who had to keep him still. It wasn’t going to be pretty, but it had to be done. It wasn’t time to be a chicken and back off now. He couldn’t hesitate doing so, his hands had to be strong and steady. His mind couldn’t drift towards the disastrous outcomes of what might happen. “When I give you word, I need you to get rid of the tourniquet and try to clean the blood as best you can. You must hold him steady, understand?” Damian nods slowly, his face tight and his body stiff but his eyes determined and ready.

“‘ho?” Dick mumbles out of the blue and Jason tries to not smile, peeking at the blade and seeing that it was almost ready. Just a little more.

“Dick, are you with me?” Dick tries to twist his face towards the sound of his voice and Jason takes it as a yes. “I’m gonna cauterize the wound, and you won’t like it. It’s gonna hurt like hell, but I need you to hold on, okay?” Goldie gazes at him not following.

“You w-what?” Dammit. Jason didn’t want to do it without his acknowledge, but Dick’s gaze was far-away and the tremors running through his body barely let him talk.

“Just try to no kick me, okay? And don’t hate me for this.” Jason lowers his eyes to the knife noticing that it was bright red, ready. “Take off the tourniquet.” Jason doesn’t wait for an answer and pulls the knife away from the flames, hissing with the temperature of the handle, but he ignores it. Jason hovers over Dick’s side and notices as Damian was trying to gently clean the wound, but with the tourniquet out the river of blood wasn’t stopping. Damian forces a piece of cloth into Dick’s mouth and this time Dick reacts, blinking repeatedly and when his eyes land on the bright scarlet knife, his eyes become clearer, fear smearing his face with creases.

“No, no, n-no! Jay—” Jason ignores the twinge of pain at these pleas taking a quick breath while Damian puts his weight over Dick’s chest keeping him down, and then the kid places his forehead against Dick’s in a gesture of comfort. Jason connects his eyes with those blue eyes, mentally asking for forgiveness. “D-don’t—”

“I’ll scar, okay?” It the last second, Dick’s face changes, resignation and calmness were written all over as he closes his eyes, giving Jason the push he needed to place the scorching knife on his skin. The first scream of pain is one of the most spine-chilling sounds Jason has ever heard, it didn’t matter that it was muffled by the cloth. The following cries rumble on the cave, leaving him overwhelmed. And then, there’s nothing but numbness while Jason works.

 

_____________

 

 

With the first rays of light skyrocketing in the sky, the steady rhythmical lap of the sea, and the early twittering of the birds, Jason was already in motion.

At any moment he was going to succumb to all the extra human effort he was enduring, he knew. But it only had taken one glance at the rosy cheeks and the much better semblance of Goldie and he was already on his feet, taking the first steps out of their shelter and into the morning jungle. They needed water, Dick needed that water because if not, all the effort Damian and he had put into saving him would be in vain. After all the pain that Dick had to suffer last night, it wouldn’t be fair on his part. It didn’t matter that Jason could barely keep his eyes open, it didn’t matter that he hadn’t been able to sleep thoroughly the night, too afraid that Goldie might die if he dozed out. It didn’t matter that today would be almost 34 hours without sleep, he still could put up a fight.

The jungle was all Jason expected it to be. Warm, muggy climate, with lots of trees and palm trees forming a canopy of abundant green foliage above his head. On the ground, there were traces of fruit nibbled by animals and that gave him hope of finding something to eat. Jason follows his instincts as he ventures the island, always marking his way back to the shelter. He knew that the further inland he went, the better odds of finding water sources were. Testing his theory (and the advice of several survival books) after following the trail of dampness on the ground, and the occasional footprint left by an animal, the sound of running water reaches his ears. Jason makes his way towards the unmistakable splash while pushing away foliage from his freaking face and it’s when he comes across a clear. Surrounded by rocks was a stream that flooded down towards some precipice. “Thank fuck!”

Jason bends down and sinks his hands into the fresh-water, letting out a sigh with the cool temperature. Jason scrubs a hand over his tender face, wetting it and feeling the relief on his reddened skin. He makes a waterfall with his hands and drinks the water without slowing down, fuck it doing it carefully. Once his thirst was as satiated as possible, Jason thinks of a way to collect water and bring it to the two dummies. With a look at a coconut palm, Jason’s lightbulb clicks on.

 

_____________

 

 

“Seriously?” Damian rolls his eyes only complaining once but then he takes a sip of the water stored in a coconut shell. It looked fucking aesthetic like that.

“I climbed a fucking tree, peeled the damn coconut and made my way back here, and that’s the first thing you say? Not even a fucking ‘thank you’?” Jason says with his mouth full of coconut. Alfred wouldn’t approve.

“Tt. It was pretty creative coming from you, so I guess a thank you would not hurt. Moving on, Todd. Wipe that smirk from your face!” Jason doesn’t and instead smirks even more. “Though we’re going to assume that the water isn’t contaminated? Don’t you think we should boil it for Richard? His immune system is already seriously affected; we cannot risk worsening the infection.”

“You got a point there, Baby Bat.” Jason gestures for Damian to approach the still lit fire. Damian squints at him but says nothing, turning his back on him. Jason leans heavily on the cave wall, taking the chance to check on Dick. The fever was still accounted for but no longer was as alarming as last night. The color had returned a little to his face, and at least he didn’t look like a freaking corpse anymore. Jason inspects the wound next, noticing with great satisfaction that there was no longer any blood on the new bandage. That didn’t mean that Dick was completely out of danger, but it meant that they had gained more time. The clock was still tickling for him. With one hand on Dick’s wrist, Jason closes his eyes succumbing to the fatigue. It doesn’t take much for Jason to fall asleep, or maybe faint. Dick’s heartbeat lulls him and in no time Jason finds himself matching his heart rate with Dick’s. Knowing that Damian was gonna do guard duty makes him not resist the darkness that gets hold of him. The first time he awakes is because of someone squeezing his hand. There were muffled voices on the background, but Jason was too tired to try to understand what they were saying. Jason ignores it and the feeling of a warm hand on his makes him doze out again. The second time he awakes it’s by movement in his perimeter sight, and even with his eyes closed, Jason squeezes someone’s wrist in protective mode. A hand slides down his cheek and Jason calms down. Darkness returns to tuck him in. The third time he awakes is because he feels something falling into his lap. Jason forces himself to open his eyes and after a few seconds to adjust his sight, he stares into a pair of green eyes.

“You better eat something before you pass out from malnutrition.”

“Huh?” Jason looks down and finds a coconut shell filled with fruit suited over his lap. He takes a berry between his fingers and stares at Damian with a baffled expression. “Where’d you get this shit?”

“In some shrubs. Where else? There is a lot of variety of fruits on this forsaken island. Despite the circumstances, the overall picture is encouraging.”

“I’m not vegetarian!” He snaps waving his arms in the air.

“Do I look like I care?” Jason rolls his eyes bringing the berry to his mouth just to stop at the last second. He gives the demon a glare.

“How do I know it’s not fucking poisoned?”

“Do you think I am stupid? I am not Drake. You honestly think I cannot tell the difference between an edible berry and a poisonous one?”

“If you can’t tell the bloody difference between Star Trek and Star Wars, what do you expect me to think!?”

“They are about the same damn thing!” Damian yells in irritation.

“Absolutely not, you idiot!”

“The titles say it all. They’re different universes, okay? You wound me Dami, so many marathons together and you still can’t tell the difference.” A playful voice says and Jason shifts his eyes to meet with a couple of blue eyes fixed on him. It’s like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders when Goldie gives him a warm smile. Despite his sweaty forehead and bruised lips, he still looked charming. “Oh, hiya there, Jay.”  

“Dickie?” He clears his throat when his voice comes too soft. “How you feelin’ fried chicken? Everything OK?” 

“I feel as if someone had put a burning knife over my belly.”

“You’re not funny, Dick. Seriously, stop it.”

“You just can’t appreciate my sense of humor! Cass would have laughed.”

“No, she wouldn’t. Cass would have definitely hit you for joking with something that serious.”

“Liar, liar, pantsuit on fire!”

“I think the heat is making you more stupid than usual. I should have left you to fend for yourself.”

“How kind of you, Jaybird. I’m glad to see you’re in such a good mood.”

“What can I say? Breakfast was brought to bed for my slave and despite sleeping leaning against a freaking wall and with an annoying rock stirring my back, I got plenty of fucking rest.”

“I am not your freaking slave!” Damian hisses like an angry kitten.

“So what are you, a fruit picker or something?” Jason makes a gesture to the fruits on his lap.

“I just relish on reading herbology books in my free time. At least I read something stimulating and not love stories such as you!”

“So that makes you a nerd, like Timmy, and it makes me a hopeless romantic?” He smirks devilishly at the kid. “And for the record, I don’t read such books.” He lies.

“See? That’s why no one loves you, Todd!” Dick and he look each other in the eye and then they burst into laughter.

 

_____________

 

 

After being satisfied with plenty of fruit, coconut, and some kinds of mushrooms enough to feed a squirrel army, Jason spends the rest of the afternoon busy doing what any survivor should prioritize.

The first thing he does is what in any survival book or movie tell you to do, create a signal for help in case any plane or ship that passed close enough could discern in the distance. Even if Jason never imagined himself collecting rocks of various sizes with the heat of the sun pounding down at him while he made a big SOS on the sand. If only the villains could see him right now. Pathetic. How did he go from being at the top of the pyramid to ending up here at the bottom of the food chain? The second thing Jason does is create tools and weapons with whatever he can find at his disposal. Good thing Damian had brought that knife with him, if it weren’t for it a very different story would be taking place. (Jason tries to ignore the fact that that same knife cauterized Dick’s wound) They couldn’t survive from berries and fucking seeds —no matter what Damian appealed— the island was teeming with wildlife at their disposal. Not that Jason was a stone-hearted bastard that was eager to hunt, far from that. But he knew the benefits of eating meat and the energy it would provide. Dick needed those B vitamins and minerals if he wanted to fight any infection that was brewing right now.

Once creating several good-sized spears, Jason heads to an area of the beach with shallow waters and some rocks that facilitated the skill to walk and peer from above the fishes without being detected. The water was warm, crystal clear with a mesmerizing bluish-green hue. He was able to appreciate with clarity the great variety of fish and corals; Jason even picks up a pretty shell for Goldie. With lots of patience, Jason remains motionless while waiting for the right moment to attack. His patience pays off after some time when Jason gets through two fishes with one strike. Satisfied, Jason makes his way back to the shelter, following the smell of smoke. Behind him, the sun was going down and the sky was turning indigo, with pinks and oranges and brilliant reds painted like brushstrokes. When Jason reaches the shelter he finds decorations that weren’t there before. It looked like someone had been busy. Damian had collected more fruit and picked more coconuts, breaking various coconuts in half creating more containers to store nuts and stuff. He had also collected more wood for the fire.

 

“Honey, I’m home!” Jason jokes as he leaves his wet boots by the fire to dry. It was strange, having adapted so quickly to the idea of being on a desert island completely by themselves and without anyone knowing if they were dead or alive. Jason should be scared, but for some strange reason, he just felt on some kind of holydays. Maybe being able to adapt so quickly and be prepared to survive and face any challenge was something he did unconsciously. Jason wasn’t going to question why his mental health was so good at the moment. 

“You brought food, Little Wing?” Jason nods and then hands the shell to Dick, who gives him a heartwarming smile that makes it worth having been roasted with the sun while he tried fishing. 

“Yeah, maybe it won’t be butterfish but it will be good enough.” Jason sits down by the fire as he begins to prepare the fish. First removing the scales and then taking the guts out. This time Alfred would be proud of him. Goldie looks at him with his eyes wide open, clearly having never seen anything like it. Dick and the kitchen, they just didn’t fit together.

“I won’t eat that.” Damian declares and Jason ignores him, knowing in advance that the 18-year-old animal lover was clearly going to say that. Jason places the two fishes on sticks ready to roast. He takes off what little remains of his shirt and places it near his boots, feeling the sweat sliding down his neck from the heat of the fire.

“No wonder, shrimp.”

“Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, ‘Fish are friends, not food’?” Goldie says instead, his brow wrinkled.

“That’s literally the dialogue from an animated movie, Dick. Grow up.” Jason mumbles.

“But did you know that the fishes can literally convey messages to each other? They moan, grunt, croak, boom, hiss, w—” Dick begins to explain and Jason feels his eye throbbing.

“Your point is?” He cuts him off.

“Well, maybe they can create bonds and you just killed them!”

“We gotta eat, Birdbrain. You know that, right?”

“At least it’s safe to eat?”

“Of course!” He yells and then Jason softens his tone. “Maybe it won’t have the condiments you like but the fire will give it a good taste. At least it’s edible, all right?” Once the food was ready, Jason uses the coconut shell to put the cooked fish and he sits next to Dick, helping him sit straighter to lean on the wall. Goldie clenches his teeth letting out a small whimper with the action and Jason stops, looking at him worried. “You okay buddy?”

“Yeah… is just that the wound is still tender.” Jason stares at him doubtfully and after a second he gives him his damn food. Dick examines the fish carefully, tilting his head to the side like a confused puppy while Damian just looks at him like he just committed the worst crime on the face of the earth when Jason begins to devour his food, releasing a moan. Fucking delicious. “Does it really taste good, Jay?”

“Dick, for God’s sake, stop being a diva and eat your fucking food!”

“Be careful with the spines,” Damian says instead. Dick gives them a funny look and then begins to eat with caution. When Jason is done with his food, he leans on the wall, breathing a sigh and rubbing his stomach. The blue-eyed had apparently not been very hungry and had only nibbled his fish without finishing it, but with a single glare from Jason, Dick finishes it without complaining. The night had already fallen and outside was dark, the only sounds being the crackling fire and the sings of the nocturnal animals out there. Damian was cuddling next to Goldie, the acrobat lying on his chest quietly, his own chest rising and falling in soft breaths. Jason could feel his eyes closing, knowing that Dick was okay, he could rest. But of course, the harmonious silence is interrupted by certain chatterbox.

“If it weren’t for the conditions we are in, this would be very nice. Three bros sitting around a campfire to tell stories and eat marshmallows. If my mood weren’t so sour, I would probably start singing. There’s a song that matches perfectly the mood we are in. And says something like, on an island in the sun, we’ll be playin’ and havin’ fun, and it makes me feel so fine —” Against all odds, Dick’s tone sounds sweet and melodious. “Hip, hip—”

“Please don’t,” Jason mumbles without any heat, knowing perfectly what song he’s talking about. His favourite damn song.

“But we do not have marshmallows,” Damian comments like a pompous know-it-all.

“Nor the desire to tell stories,” Jason adds.

“Don’t be such a killjoy. What are the odds of landing in a place as beautiful as this? When we remember these moments, will it just be a bitter memory or a one-in-a-million experience?”

“I got sand everywhere, places where it shouldn’t be, my face must look like a stupid lobster and there’s a rock hammering at my back right now, so what do you think?”

“You’re just seeing the bad side of things.”

“And the bright side is…?”

“We are alive—” For now, it’s what seems to linger in the air. “And I can’t stop thinking about how lucky we’ve been. Timmy would have said a thousand predictions against us and we still beat them all. And I can’t stop thinking about a lot of things, actually. I can’t stop thinking about what happened back on the ship. We let them down, the passengers. If anything h-happened, I—”

“But that wasn’t your fault, Dickie. You said it yourself, it was the sum of many bad decisions and just bad shit luck. Hell, in any case, this would be my fucking fault! I… simply acted without thinking. If only I had meditated better on my decisions…”

“It was those pirates’ fault. Todd may be more to blame, but in the end, they are solely responsible for this. When we get out of this, they better be imprisoned and ready to pay for their crimes. I will make them regret this.”

“B will not rest until that happens, and then he will come for us.” The blue-eyed brushes away the hair from his eyes with a look full of hope.

“If Father is to inspect every adrift island or centimeter of the sea, he will. He’ll find us.” Damian immediately goes to the defense of the old man, what a surprise.

“Though I wonder how long that will take? Aleksander, he’s really dangerous. For good reason, we couldn’t catch them for that long and I doubt if it’s any different now. Their identities hung by a thread and he knew it. If they managed to escape, they must have already vanished from the face of the earth,” Dick mumbles with a distant look on his face. “It was a big mistake to underestimate him. I should never have believed I could foresee his moves or get into his head. It was stupid and reckless a-and a huge mistake.” Dick stammered and Jason frowns. The mere mention of that man makes Jason clench his fists, feeling his fury awakening. Ignoring the wrath trying to take over his mind, Jason speaks up his mind.

“I don’t care what Bruce says, when we get out of here, I’m gonna beat the hell out of him, so much so that he won’t ever forget it. And after that, I’m gonna find the deepest, hideous pit to drop his ass in.”

“I would like to join.” The demon says and he snorts, nodding in his vague direction. There’s a little awkward silence after that and then Jason asks the thing that’s been on his mind for a while now.

“Though now that you brought this up. I have a question, what happened to the ring?” Dick lets out a sigh and Jason asks cautiously. “Does he have it?”

“Yeah, he does. While you were unconscious and Damian was with the other hostages, Aleksander took me to the bridge. I felt like he didn’t want to let go of me—”

“What else happened?” Damian snarls, unconsciously bringing Dick closer to his body.

“Basically, not much. He was busier trying to communicate with more accomplices on the way. Something big was going on, I guess. As we were on our way to the extraction point though, he stopped me near the railing and said something very strange.” Dick frowns his face in concentration and unconsciously, Jason cringes. “He kept saying something about consummating some kind of revenge, and when I asked him again why he was doing this, why he had chosen to be a pirate, he simply said: ‘They say the sea is treacherous, and yet, it has never betrayed me.’” Dick explains taking a hand to his face, thoughtful.

“The dude is nuts. He’s dangerous, yeah, but he’s batshit crazy. He just tries to sound like a preacher or some kind of poet.”

“No… he isn’t, Jason. There’s a big difference between being crazy and doing crazy things. I’ve tried to find a meaning for what he said, and I think this is all about revenge, obviously. If I have to guess it has to do with the Marine he served so many years. He lost something that meant a lot to him, and somehow, stealing and killing is a way to find retribution.” Dick looks at him with a curious look. “You talked to his daughter, didn’t you? Didn’t she tell you something?”

“Todd attracts daughters of nut jobs, what a surprise.”

“Mila didn’t tell me anything, but in my defense, I didn’t know she was his freaking daughter. Though I’m 80% sure she didn’t agree with her father’s way of being. If I’m alive, it’s because of her. Maybe she wasn’t all bad.” 

“I doubt that,” Damian states with a growl.

“Maybe…” Dick says instead. “Anyhow, I guess it’s no longer worth talking about the past. I’m very sleepy, and I’m cold. Jay, could you be a real charm and come here to hug me?”

“Oh, no.” Damian sighs gloomily.

“No, not a chance.” Jason crosses his arms around his chest.

“But everybody knows you’re a great hugger! Jay, c’mon!” Dick starts to pout and Jason looks away, trying to not surrender against Dick’s best weapon: his damn puppy eyes. “Please? For me?”

“The hell I am!” He snaps shaking his head from side to side. Jason Todd, being a hugger? Not at all. Jason had never heard anything so ridiculous.

“Pretty please?”

“No, Dick, don’t even fucking try.”

“Please, please?”

“Augh! Fine!” Jason growls but he still crosses the little space between them to lie next to Dick. At first, he just lies there, a bit uncomfortable, but then that feeling goes away as fast as it came. He’ll be a total cheat liar if he didn't admit he was kinda enjoying the moment. In no time, Jason already had his heavy arm over Dick’s middle (careful of his wound) and the other stretched out that Goldie was using as a pillow. Goldie being sandwiched between Damian and him. “If you tell anyone about this...” Jason threatens with a heavy, sleepy voice, burying his face in Dick’s hair.

“Yeah, yeah, the big bad guy of Red Hood doesn’t cuddle.” The blue-eyed murmurs with a sleepy tone as well, muffling a yawn with his elbow. 

“Both of you shut up,” Damian chirps with a clipped tone. “Good night, Richard.”

“Night, Dami.” 

“Not ‘good night’ for me?” Jason asks with a sneer.

“No.”

“Fuck you.”

 

_____________

 

 

On their second day after arriving on this island, Damian and he had established after some bickering that a wise idea might be to find high ground to get an idea of the proportions of the island, see if in the distance they could discern more land in sight, or maybe even a passing ship. (It was valid to feel hopeful, they really had hardly any time on the island like to really start losing hope. It had been only two days, it didn’t matter how much longer it felt) They knew that while staying in their comfort zone was a good idea to not get lost, getting away from the shelter meant maybe finding better conditions, more fresh-water sources, or maybe more food. Besides, Jason needed to stretch his legs a little, and so did Damian, who hadn’t detached himself from Goldie longer than a second since they hit land. The 18-year-old had been very reluctant to leave Dick’s side and leave him alone and defenseless on the shelter. The truth is that indeed Dick looked a little pathetic, with his hair all sweaty and glued to his forehead and that ash color dulling his natural sun-kissed skin. Maybe he would no longer die from blood loss, but the infection was still slowly taking its course, like a cancer creeping bit by bit. However, Dick was far from being defenseless. Jason was highly conscious of that fact. 

Damian had only agreed to go saying he would try to seek for medicinal plants, but the truth is that Dick had told them something like: ‘will you two stop being such worry warts? I’ll be fine’ and thus they found themselves on their way to explore the island and its surroundings. Jason had reluctantly cut off his pants, leaving them like improvised shorts. His boots were like the holy crown, they protected him from the unstable ground full of branches, vegetation, and the not unlikely event that some damn snake decided to sprout from some weeds to bite him. Damian had also cut off his clothes, and they both looked like they were out of a castaway movie, they probably already smelled like one. They needed a freaking bath. Jason could feel his beard growin’ over his chin, and his hair was definitely a mess, Damian not far from looking the same. But whatever, those things didn’t matter right now. After a long time of walking in silence, with the amplified sound of birds singing their lungs out, they reach a hill that takes them to the highest part of the island. As they reached higher, the smells intensified with the breeze ruffling around them. Scents like a bit of clean fish, saltwater, and a hint of seaweed.

When they plant their feet near the cliff, both could clearly appreciate the size of the island and the seriousness of their issue at hand. There was nothing in sight. No ships, no planes, nothing but miles of sea that seemed to have no end. But despite all that, it was impossible not to be stunned by the view of the beach from the top. There was so much to see and so much to thrill about. The waves ahead roaring and rolling down, crashing onto the shore with a soft hiss, the colors of the sea almost too intense to be true, deep blue that when it reached shallower waters it became a turquoise blue, the white sand that seemed to shimmer deflecting the rays of the sun. It was a paradise. Quite simply an aphrodisiac paradise. Maybe Jason hadn’t been able to explore Bora Bora and its magical beaches, but this didn’t owe it anything.

It was an unknown and ownerless piece of land, for their eyes only.

 

“Why do you think it’s taking them so long to find us? They are really looking for us?” Damian asks without his usual smug or confident tone, showing his vulnerable side now that Dick wasn’t here. Something the brat rarely did with Jason. “I attempt to be bold next to Grayson, I do not want to dishearten him. But I do not know if Batman’s gonna make it in time.”

“I’m the least apt to answer those questions… but somehow I know it’s gonna be okay. I don’t have that much faith in B, but I do have faith in the others. They aren’t gonna leave us stranded here. They’ll come.” He replies confidently. 

“I certainly hope so,” Damian says wiping drops of sweat off his ruddy face.

“C’mon, we’ve seen enough, I think I’ve seen a bunch of plants around there, maybe one can help Dickie.” Jason cast one last look into the distance, and then he slumps his shoulders in a bit of hopelessness. They will come, they better. 

 

_____________

 

Tim had left his apartment in a hurry and arrived at the manor in a heartbeat the moment the video-call had been cut off that sharply. He hadn’t left since. After that, there had been no communication of the sorts. Dick, Jason and Damian were adrift somewhere, and completely on their own.

At first, Tim hadn’t allowed himself to worry that much, they were just fine, right? Tim could still track down the GPS signal on Dick’s ring indicating where they were in real-time. Batman had already made an anonymous call to the FBI and hopefully, they should be on their way to the cruise ship location. Everything would be fine.

Then time began to move along without any updates about them, and Tim began to feel the familiar twits in his stomach. Something had gone wrong, he was sure of. Bruce was acting crazy —driving him crazy as well— murmuring that something had been done out of protocol, that they had been surely reckless. Bruce was trying to hide his distress behind grunting and a dark vibe that emanated from him like waves. Cass had been the one to calm the situation with a single glance from her sharp eyes. Barbara promised to keep them notified about any news that might show up, but there was still nothing, and the fact that she still couldn’t find something, was what made Tim even more anxious. What if something had gone terribly wrong? What if...? 

To avoid further torturing himself with those doubts, Tim decided to keep himself busy digging into the files that Dick had managed to send them from the stolen thumb drive. The bits of encrypted information could help to put the pirates in jail for a really long time. But as soon as he had started he had finished, having pulled out every last drop of evidence he could lay his hands on. With nothing else to do to keep his mind occupied, he kept trying to get some updates about the cruise. Then it happened, the GPS signal on the ring all of a sudden was in motion like a rocket taking off. Was it Aleksander who was on the run? Was Dick with him, Damian, and Jason too? What the hell was going on? Bruce had been unhesitatingly ready to do something and not keep sitting in his butt. He had flown from the cave eager to intercept the GPS signal, whoever it was. Tim had to stay under the command that Bruce needed his eyes and ears here in the cave. Batman only took Orphan with him. Then it was just Tim all alone in the cave, waiting for some answers or some kind of feedback. Steph wouldn’t come until tomorrow, so Tim had no one to share his doubts and fears with. As one would expect, Alfred had sent him to take a shower and eat something more substantial than just coffee. But before long Tim was back in the cave, and still, nothing had happened after almost an entire day since the last communication with the cruise ship and with Dick and the others. That was not good, not good at all. Later, Barbara had told him to turn on the TV. The breaking news being: The attack of a luxurious Cruise Ship that had been hijacked by pirates. The report had become a trend instantly, being the news of the moment. Soon the name of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne also would be also trending, Tim was sure. Gotham reporters thirsted over drama.

Tim was immediately collecting data from the police database. According to the first reports from the police and the FBI, apparently, two pirates had escaped the police operation that had been carried out, though the crooks left behind were already being under arrest and ready to be charged in court. Tim anonymously sent them everything he had on them to count with more evidence against them. The reports indicated that there had been no casualties among the passengers, only some people with gunshot wounds but until now they were reported stable and out of danger, among them the same Captain of the cruiser. A large number of passengers presented a state of shock and some others had presented panic attacks. Taking their testimony would take a while. The good thing was that all the passengers had been rescued and were already on land. Though there still weren’t any word from Batman or his brothers. Where were they? Of course, Tim had tried to call them, but the operator said they were outside the coverage area. 

The question was, if all the passengers had been supposedly rescued, why they still didn’t know about Dick, Jason, and Damian? What were they hiding? Clearly, something bad had happened, and he needed to get to the bottom of it. He couldn’t lose anyone, not now, not after everything they had overcome through the years. 

Tim could hear the tickling of the clock hanging from the wall. It was a silly thing, really, something that Dick had bought as a joke years ago. It was a typical bing-bang watch, but with a cartoon of Batman and Robin in the centre. It had been hanging there for so long, but Tim sometimes still find it foreign to the cave. The bright yellow colours of the caricature made an almost contradictory look with the dark colours and the architecture of the cave, and yet, not even Bruce seemed to care about it hanging there. Now though, Tim felt like his heart was matching the slow tickling. Every breath felt far away as he waited for something to happen, anything to happen. The feeling in his gut was sinking him deeper and deeper into the leather seat. Tim certainly was too bad at waiting.

And then, as a bad omen, suddenly the clock stopped, leaving the cave completely silent. Simultaneously, Tim could hear the phone ringing in the distance.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

For some people, falling on a desert island might seem scary —and it was— it might seem like the end of the world and many might wonder ‘why did this happen to me?’ ‘Is there a specific reason I had to face this test?’ For Jason, perhaps there was no specific reason why they were here but simply because of his own stupidity and a long list of bad decisions. It meant something else, a lesson to learn, definitely, but it was also a way to know a part of him that had been buried beneath many layers, a side of himself that Jason didn’t even know existed anymore. Here he wasn’t Red Hood, the anti-hero willing to cross an imaginary line which separated him from his former mentor and family, but neither he was Jason Todd, the one who came back from the dead and was blinded by revenge and burdened with battle scars. Here he could be a survivor mate, a good listener, a shoulder to rest on; a brother —something that Jason hadn’t allowed himself to be before— He didn’t always see Dick and Damian as brothers, though after his reintegration with the family he kinda did, but right now, the feeling felt like never before. How did Jason know? Easy. It was being able to imagine to be anywhere else in the world, but prefer to be here with them, despite the circumstances.

The moment they set foot here on the island, they were no longer the same persons they were before. It was just strange to see how a person could get used to a different life so quickly. Jason could feel the way in which his body, mind, and spirit were coupling really easily to the whole process of being castaways. Damn, life could change so fast. In one blink you are the king of Gotham and in another blink, you are just a drop in the ocean.  

Climbing palm trees every day was easier, and although the coconut was already beginning to tire him, he still ate it with the same enthusiasm. Keeping the fire burning was already a custom, as was going to fetch and collect more dry wood. Going fishing wasn’t as tedious as before (Their diet consisted mostly on fish, some oysters, crabs, and a few other things he managed to catch) Jason was being faster and more efficient when it came to piercing the fish with the spear. He was even designing a fish trap to avoid sun-burning his face and save some time, though honestly, Jason had all the time in the world. Damian’s watch had been busted with the water, so the time was now an abstract concept. Simple questions like ‘What time it is?’ were now simply answered with ‘Is now’. Nights of chasing villains over rooftops now seemed like a long-ago life. Nights of sitting by the fire and telling stories were now their new ordinariness. The cave-not-cave had become their temporary home, each claiming their own space (which was almost none) but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter because some way or another they would find themselves cuddling together, whether Jason liked it or not. What happened on this island, stayed on this island, period. Despite the initial epic discussions between him and Damian, they were fewer and fewer now. It got to a point where it got boring to fight. Spending so much time together was starting to affect Jason. They have solidified a bond so quickly that sometimes it scared him. Hell, Damian and Dick had that emotional tie since forever, but now Jason could understand it more than ever. It was something ridiculously sweet, and authentic and raw. A whole new way of being vulnerable that Damian didn’t anyone see under any circumstance. And somehow, Jason also felt vulnerable in tons of ways. Gosh, what kind of bug Jason had caught? Certainly also being stranded on an island did make you feel a roller coaster of emotions.

But enough of that now. They also had other challenges on their hands. He knew that they needed to expand their diet (despite Damian’s tantrums) They could survive on fish and fruit quite well, yes, but having a little variety wouldn’t hurt. He wasn’t very familiar with the wildlife on this island, but he knew for sure that he could catch an iguana or a bird, most likely. The idea of eating one of those animals didn’t sit well on his stomach, but he could also hear what his body was telling him. I mean, if Jason couldn’t get his hands on a damn cigarette, at least some meat would suit him well.

 

“Did you know that a fish would suffocate if they tried to chew because chewing would interfere with water passing over their gills?” Dick says out of nowhere while chewing himself a bunch of berries. What he said almost incomprehensible because of the food in his mouth.

“And did you know I don’t give a fuck?” Jason growls, trying to separate a vine to make a kind of makeshift rope strong and manageable enough.

“How rude, Jase. Lemme tell you something, how come you don’t wanna know a little more about what you’re eating?” Oh yeah, Dick already had that face he made every time he was offended, the drama queen.

“Oh, trust me, I know plenty enough about what I’m eating. I just don’t keep any track about whether a fish can drown or how many times it poops.”

“You know? These days with you had made me realize what a stuffed shirt you are!” The blue-eyed snaps crisply. How many times had Dick already said that? Thirty times in the course of this day?

“I’m not boring,” Jason argues. “You’re just too stupid to realize that half of what you say makes no sense!”

“Well, I am bored! What you want me to do, Jay? I can barely stand up on my own and my belly hurts and ahg. You and Damian aren’t exactly the most talkative people I know! What I’m supposed to do? Grab a coconut and make it my friend so I can call him Wilson?”

“Say again?” Jason demands carefully, uncertainty settling on his chest. He sets aside the vines to glare at the acrobat straight in the eyes. “Your belly is hurting?”

“Honestly, it’s all hurting, okay?” Dick whines and Jason looks around, making sure Damian wasn’t prying. He lays his hand in Dick’s forehead. He no longer had a fever, but his temperature was a bit warm. “Off!” Dick bats his hand away sharply. Fishy.

“Hey, chill out. What’s going on? What aren’t you telling me?” The words come out a little harsher than he intended, and the way Dick flinches makes Jason curse himself.

“Nothing.” Dick looks the other way, not at all obvious.

“Dick…”

“Seriously, I don’t have anything. Stop worrying!” Contrary to what many believed, Dick Grayson was a master of lies. He could fool Batman himself since the beginning of the times. But if there was one thing Jason was better at, it was not buying shit from anyone.

“I ain’t worried,” He misleads easily while getting back to his job with the vines. “But you know you can tell me what’s going on, right? There’s no reason to be secretive. You said it yourself, we’re in this together.” Use Dick own words against him, how sweet. Dick squints suspiciously at him for a few seconds and when Jason thinks he won’t say anything, Dick sighs heavily.

“I know, it’s just that—”

“Grayson!” With terrible timing, they can hear the quiet footsteps of Damian approaching the cave. Dick shuts his mouth and Jason growls in annoyance. Well, shit. It looks like Jason will have to find answers another way.

“Look what I found.” Damian crouches at Dick’s height and shows him a little snake tangled in his fingers. Dick’s blue eyes widen in surprise and he jerks away.

“Dami, why are you holding a snake? It could bite you!”

“She isn’t poisonous, she won’t be more than a week old. Grayson, she is harmless. I assure you that she is more afraid of you than you are of her.”

“She?” Jason lifts an unimpressed eyebrow. “Seriously? Are you thinking about adopting a baby snake?”

“No, of course not.” Damian frowns and then he brings the snake closer to his chest. “I am just making sure no predator can hurt her.”

“If you care that much we could cook her to save you the worry,” Jason jokes and immediately Damian’s shoulders tighten, ready to attack. As if the snake could understand him, she seems to hide in Damian’s hand. “I’m freaking kidding! That doesn’t even work like a toothpick!” It’s then that the demon pays attention to his little project. He jabs his finger at his chest.

“If you think for a second I am going to let you hunt an animal, not only are you mistaken, you are also stupid. Where did you learn to do this anyhow? From some stupid survival show!?”

“Huh, Man vs. Wild is a gem, okay?” Dick adds abruptly. “Bear Grylls is way too cool. I really like the show.” Both ignore him.

“Sorry, I don’t speak skank.” Jason says nonchalantly and Damian bares his teeth at him. He gently hands over the baby snake to a spooked Dick, then he launches himself at Jason. Both roll disastrously finding their way out of the cave in a mass of tangled body parts and hisses. Damian tries to sit on top of him to get the upper hand, but Jason being a great deal stronger than the runt kicks him away. Jason smirks as Damian gives him a smug look and they both end up sparing without going too far with the blows. After a few minutes, Jason ends up victorious, sitting on Damian’s back and leaving him biting the dirt.

“Get off me, Todd! You’re so fat!”

“Not until you stop being a spoiled brat!”

“And what are you supposed to be? A role model? As if.”

“At least I’m not a stupid punk like you!”

“You aspire to be half of what I am, you fool!” Jason chuckles and puts more weight on Damian, hearing the kid grunt. “Grayson! Tell him to get off of me!” But instead of helping, Dick starts laughing. They both stare at him and Dick grins widely, looking at the baby snake tangled in his hand.

“See that, Sally? With those fights, I can sit here and pretend that nothing has changed. That we are back home.”

“What the fuck? You already named it? No—” Jason complains and the little shit takes advantage of his distraction to use his cleverness and quickness to twirl from underneath him and shift positions. Damian settles comfortably on top of him, twisting his arm behind his back.

“The name fits her well.” Damian comments with a smirk of his own. Jason writhes beneath him, trying to get him off. How is it that the dwarf could pin him down so easily? The fuck?

“We are not going to adopt a snake!” He yells, but that doesn’t seem to cause the reaction he expected. Damian gives him a malicious smile, pure sharp teeth, like a dammed snake himself. “And get the fuck outta me, you asshole!”

“Your opinion is not relevant, Todd.”

“Over my dead body.” Jason twists more forcefully, but Damian resists.

“Be careful what you wish for.” No one could really blame Jason for playin’ dirty and throw the dwarf off of him to preserve what little pride he had left, nor for starting another sparing match that escalated to a tickle war. My God, Jason had already become a softie. Shame on him.

 

 

_____________

 

 

After a long discussion regarding that adopting a baby snake wasn’t a good idea, Damian had agreed to just make sure he found a good place for her. Jason immediately after had finished building his trap hoping to maybe catch a wild animal. He even scattered around some berries like some kind of bait. It could work or not, but there was nothing to lose anyway. Trial and error. That’s the way things were now.

The next activity of the day was fishing now that the sun wasn’t that unbearable. This time though, Dick had insisted on going with him, and well, Jason had agreed with a simple ‘please?’ from the blue-eyed. Dick was considerably better, and although Jason was still attentive to any red flag, Dick was not a soul that should be quiet for much long. It just didn’t go with his overactive nature and acrobatics. Dick wasn’t cut out to lie there watching life go by. If he moved carefully, maybe it would do him good to stretch his legs for a while and get some fresh air and stuff. Besides, it wasn’t like Jason didn’t appreciate the company. If it were other circumstances, and they were back home, Jason would rather be left alone to have a moment of peace, but now it seemed that Jason was getting more and more used to the company of Dick and Damian, to the extent that hearing their voices in the background helped him feel calm. Maybe they could even finish that talk that had been so abruptly interrupted by the demon, but Dick had just sat in the sand, unwilling to talk about it. Technically, there wasn’t anything wrong about it, but Jason couldn’t help but think that something off was going on. The first red flag was making itself present.

 

“Hell, you’re really good at this, Jay. Next time someone asks me five things I would take to a desert island; you are my first choice. I mean, you’re the whole package, Little Wing.”

“Shut up, dork,” Jason mumbles turning his back on him, his body in stealth-mode, spear ready.

“Look, I’m being honest here. After you I would choose a sleeping bag, then a mosquito repellent, a toothbrush, and a Twinkie, I guess.”

“A Twinkie, seriously? No wonder that without me you would be already dead.” Jason smirks, his sharp eyes attentively following a good-sized fish that was too close. Jason holds his breath and launches his spear, hitting the target. Dinner was served. 

“Gosh, you’re mean, Jase. Poor fish.” Jason just rolled his eyes.

“Ah, but you have eaten it without remorse, haven’t you?”

“Well, yeah—” Jason cuts him off briskly, throwing the dead fish into the sand.  

“And back home, you keep eating burgers and KFC, right?”

“Yeah, but—” Dick’s face was pure horror and Jason tries to not chuckle.

“And scrambled eggs... bacon... coffee with milk and a little bit of honey. The list can go on and on, ya know?” Jason says carefully. “It’s the same thing, Dick. It’s just that you don’t see the process, you just get the final product.”

“I know you’re technically right but it’s very different when you see it in person. Back home I don’t have to see what I’m gonna eat straight in the eyes. I can’t eat anything if I already gave it a name!” Dick throws a handful of sand everywhere with a pout.  

“Then don’t! We’re just taking what we need, benefiting from every part of the fish. It’s not hunting just for hunting; it’s hunting to eat. There is a big difference, okay? Look, I know sometimes you want to be empathetic with Damian and eat less meat or whatever, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t feel guilty about eating this, okay?”

“Okay,” Dick takes another fist of sand between his fingers and then leans his head in his free hand. “Are you almost done, Little Wing?”

“What? You already bored? You were the one who whined about goin’ out to pretend you weren’t a sack of potatoes back in the cave.”

“No, I just want to make sure Damian doesn’t adopt the whole nest of baby snakes.”

“Mmh, knowing him—” It is then that Jason manages to distinguish something between the rocks, something sneaky and familiarly red. Without thinking, he throws into the water. Jason can hear Dick calling his name, but he focuses on swimming to the bottom combing the rocky area and coral for the lobster antennae that he had previously seen. With the help of his spear, Jason searches through the gaps in the rocks carefully, and when he can spot the lobster he guides the invertebrate out of its hiding spot with a sweeping motion. He uses his bare hands to grab it, earning a painful pinch of the animal. Jason manages to get a hold of it with much more difficulty than it would seem and he swims back to the surface, raising the lobster in his hands victoriously once out of the water. “Whoo! Look what I caught! Fuck, I’m good at this.”

“Oh my,” Dick stares at him open-mouthed and Jason can feel a proud smile decorating his face. “Is that what I think it is—? Oh, wait, you know what? You look alike. Are you twins?”

“Fuck off.” He mumbles with a growl and Dick begins to laugh.

“No, seriously. Not just because of the red face, the lobster has these big pincher claws, and it has sharp edges and shell that protect his body. It hides behind an armour so as not to show its soft side. Just like you, Little Wing.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re bananas, Dick. Seriously.”

“I’m totally serious!”

 

_____________

 

 

After eating very delicious lobster (a real treat) Jason felt glorious. Who would have thought they’d eat like kings on this island? Of course, minus the family vegetarian. Damian had just stared at him aggressively as he himself chewed coconut. The image was ridiculous, with Damian’s black hair messed up in all directions and cherry cheeks while chewing. Poor fool. Hours later they found themselves on the beach, they had already seen the sunset and its bright colors and now were looking up, each of them illuminated by the moonlight and surrounded by the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Was it out of place to admit that Jason felt better than he had in a long time? Jason was supposed to be having a hard time, instead of enjoying it this much?

 

“And that’s Hercules up there, can you see it? Looks like he’s jumping, doesn’t he?” Dick points with his finger at the sky while smiling. “Is the fifth largest of the modern constellations ya know ‘cause he was described as being larger than life.” The blue-eyed settles better on Damian’s stomach, both sprawled on the sand and concentrated in the sky and in naming each star and constellation up there, with bright eyes filled with the light of the stars themselves. On the other hand, Jason was lying on his side, satisfied with just hearing their voices and stories.

“In fact, he is with a knee on the ground and not jumping, Richard,” Damian murmurs tangling his fingers in Dick’s hair in an almost unconscious gesture.

“Oh, right.” Dick shrugs and lifts his finger towards the sky again. “And that’s—”

“That’s the Ursa Minor, yeah, literally everybody knows it, Dickface.” Jason interrupts him, knowing the constellations up there by heart.

“Ah, yes, Jaybird? Tell me something I don’t know. Pretend I’m a hot girl you want to impress.” Dick pretends to move his imaginary long hair to the side and Jason lets out a snort, wrinkling his face. “C’mon, impress me with your wisdom!”

“Todd, a wise man? I beg to differ.” Damian says with a mocking smirk. Jason clears his throat, settling the collar of his imaginary shirt and combing his hair back.

“Seeing the stars is like making a journey back in time, ya know?” He begins to say, telling one of his favorite stories since forever. “When we see a starry night just like we are now, what we are seeing is not how we perceive it in the present, but actually how it was in the past. The light that reaches our eyes from the stars, takes a long time to reach us; for many of them, who are very far away, their light takes many millions of years. Some objects may have already disappeared, but we are still seeing their light, which was emitted before they were extinguished. So yeah, a journey through time.” There’s a quiet silence and then Dick whistles, Jason puts a hand on his chest, not at all jumping.

“Oh Little Wing, I love to see you again being that nerdy who could cite all the constellations by memory and who liked to read me out loud.” Dick pretends to wipe a tear from his eye and Jason chuckles, glad the night hides his rosy cheeks. “I love your voice narrating something you’re passionate about, and how it makes your eyes light up.”

“Knock it off, man,” Jason mumbles shyly.

“It’s the absolute truth, maybe I say it too often or maybe not, but I’m very proud of you, I really am. Of both of you.” Dick says softly. “And if I could go back in time and change things, I think I wouldn’t. I know it’s selfish, and that at home they must be worried sick, and I miss them too and I would love for them to be here with us. But this, this is great,” The blue-eyed murmurs, making a gesture of their surroundings. “I feel terrible saying it, but for once I feel light on my back. Like I can breathe better, you know? Like everything looks clearer. And I don’t know if that makes me a shitty, selfish person.”

“You are not selfish for once in your life put yourself first,” Damian says, stealing Jason’s words from the tip of his tongue. “You are human, and you feel, and you bleed, and you fall just like the rest of us. See? That is what I resent, Richard. That you feel like you are a bad person for thinking about your welfare before others, always willing to put yourself as the bridge so that everyone can get to the other side. Believe me, I deeply admire you for being so noble, but you must understand that you don’t need to always be everyone’s rock. You don’t need to always be the perfect brother, the perfect son, the perfect hero. Being a good person is enough, and you, you already are, brother.” If Dick was ugly crying and with boogers on his face, no one said anything about it.

“Yeah, yeah, everything he said,” Jason says nonchalantly though he can’t hide the little smile from his face.

“I love you two so much!” Dick mumbles wiping the tears away with his hand.

“I love you too you big pain in the ass.” That was Jason being sappy, yup. But the flow of warmth couldn’t be mistaken.  

“Your feelings are mutual, Grayson.” Damian acknowledged with an authentic smile. There’s a comfortable 5-minute silence and then the blue-eyed sharply cuts it.

“I have a question though.”

“What?” Jason suspiciously squints at him.

“Do you know why did the police arrested the star?”

“Oh, no.” Here we go. “Why?”

“Because it was a shooting star, duh.”

 

_____________

 

 

Honestly, it had been a little naïve to believe that everything was gonna stay great. Things didn’t work that way. History kept repeating itself, reminding Jason that life wasn’t fair. And why should be? One morning Dick was fine, and by night he had already fallen ill.

At first, everything seemed to be going well with Dick’s wound. The wound looked grotesque, yes, burnt skin and all, but there was no more bleeding. Damian had gotten some plants that had seemed to help with the infection a bit. Dick didn’t seem uncomfortable or with any apparent discomfort, his humor was as bad as ever, his demeanor fussy as ever. But as time went by—seven days already—Jason began to notice the second red flag, and by then there wasn’t much he could do. Dick began to show poor appetite, to the point where he didn’t want to eat anything at all. Damian was in charge of basically feeding him when Dick refused to open his mouth, arguing that he could no longer eat fish. (Jason’s traps continued without catching anything) All he did now was sleep, curled up in a tiny ball in his corner, without wanting to go out nor the desire to do anything. Seeing Dick so still was so wrong for so many reasons, it ruffled all Jason’s feathers. Then the throwing up started, as well as the coughing fits, leaving Dick weak and panting. The color of his skin lost glow again, returning to that ash tone. His skin was warm and sweaty to the contact, with chills making him chatter his teeth. The infection was on his beak, and if Dick wasn’t given antibiotics ASAP...

Seeing Dick in this state felt like a kick in the gut, even more knowing that once again he was useless in this situation. Jason could fight pirates, could end a drug trafficking ring without sweating, and he could even dodge fucking bullets, but he wasn’t a fucking doctor, despite his high knowledge in the field. He couldn’t do anything against something so insignificantly small that was infecting Dick. It was so frustrating, so unfair.

He carded his large fingers through Dick’s hair, trying to deeply ignore the sound of Dick’s laborious breathing and the way his pupils were glazy again. Damian was pacing back and forth in a passive-aggressively way around the cave, his shoulders tense and his eyes hard.

 

“Hey, are you with me?” Goldie nods softly and Jason gives a sigh. “How about some water? Do you want some?” Jason mumbles, touching Dick’s forehead, noticing hot skin and despite that, Dick was shivering. The blue-eyed shakes his head slowly, closing his eyes. “Can you keep your eyes open? For me, please? Dickface?” He asks in an almost pleading tone. Dick seems to gather a super-human effort to open his eyes and finally stare hazily at him.

“Mm-hmm?” But Dick was too confused, which meant something very, very bad was taking place.

“Can you tell me something, anything?”

“W-why?” Jason didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that innocent question. Having to ask Dick to talk was just wrong, he never keep his mouth shut, not even in his worst moments.

“Cuz I need you to keep talking to make sure everything’s fine, jackass! You can talk to me about anything. Fuck, if you want to talk about Disney do it, but please tell me something.”

“I can’t think of a-anything right n-now. Sorry—”

Fine. Do you want me to talk about something?” Dick nods closing his eyes and Jason steels himself, telling him about his favorite novel and why he chose it as his favorite. He talks and talks until Dick’s head rolls sideways and he seems to doze out. Jason checks his pulse again, feeling his stomach sink deeper. The sound of Dick’s heavy breathing was only slightly muffled by the sound of Damian’s bare feet on the cave floor.

“This cannot be happening. Richard was already feeling better; how did this developed so fast? I do not understand, Todd. Everything was supposed to be going well, not slowly getting worse again!” Damian snaps sharply. “I honestly do not understand…”

“Damian—”

“We did everything by the book, Richard was eating well, his sense of humor was intact, he could even stand on his own!” Damian was having a fucking meltdown, that was obvious, but Jason had no fucking idea what to do. Goldie was always the one who knew what to do, but now Jason had to improvise. “What did we do wrong? How have l failed?”

“Shit happens, okay?” Jason yells and that seems to momentarily catch the attention of the dwarf. “We did the best we could, but sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there are things that are out of our control. No one is to blame, okay? You did the best you—”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence! I refuse to believe that there are things beyond our control. I have not yet given my best, neither did Richard. You are not giving him enough credit. You don’t know anything about each and every one of our adventures together, the thousands of times he has overcome obstacles that no one else can achieve! Have you not understood anything, Todd?”

“Oh, trust me, I understand, brat. Don’t you think that I haven’t wished myself with all my being for things to be fine just because I asked for it? I’m sorry to break your bubble, but life isn’t like that!” He says bitterly. “Don’t you think I didn’t implore to heaven not to die in that warehouse blown apart? Shocker, it still happened! It didn’t matter how much I pleaded. Not everything is possible... Life’s a bitch, whether you like it or not.” He ends saying tiredly and hurt.

“I don’t believe in such things. It doesn’t matter whatever you or Father say. There’s always hope, and I’ll stick with that because Grayson has proven it to me with facts again and again.” Jason waves him off. Both remain in a tense silence for several minutes. Each on their own world until Dick breaks the silence with a pitiful cough. Jason rubs a hand across his face and then after considering it for a moment, with extreme care begins to push aside Dick’s shirt and the makeshift bandage to check the gunshot wound. Dick had been complaining that the wound was hurting again, so he already had an idea how it would look, but it didn’t hurt to confirm it. And indeed, the wound looked very bad. It had a yellow-greenish secretion pouring out that wasn’t okay at all. Around the wound there were red lines along with inflammation around the area. Dick had the signs and symptoms of sepsis, and if he didn’t get fucking medical attention, he could have septic shock, which, fuck. Damian at some point had stopped spinning around like a madman to kneel beside him, letting out a gasp. Jason gives him a thoughtful look.

“It’s much worse than I thought. Doesn’t look good Danes.” The nickname comes without permission, but both brush it off.

“I wish we had something to wash the wound with. We’ve tried to keep it clean, but I can see it was no enough.”

“It’s useless anyway, the infection is already in his blood. There’s not much we can do now.”

“Don’t say that,” Damian growls and Jason just bites his tongue to not bicker. The demon helps him to put the bandages on his place and then he brushes softly away some black strands out of Dick’s face. “How about I go look for more medicinal plants? Can they help?” Jason was about to say something harsh about the plants but one look at Damian’s shaky hands and he reconsiders it. Damian was too on edge, he needed to do something to keep his mind busy.

“Sure.”

Damian holds Dick’s hand giving a soft squeeze. Thousands of emotions passed through his face, his tearful, tired green eyes stared at the blue-eyed sorrowfully. “I’ll be right back, Richard, okay?” But Dick was too out of it to answer, Damian swallows hard and then he gets up to the exit of the cave, standing there, hesitant. Jason ignores the knot in his own throat.

“C’mon, go,” Once Damian’s steps fade away, Jason allows himself a moment of weakness and takes Dick’s hand in his large one, looking intently at Dick’s face. His face was lax, all evidence of any sort of distress having melted away once he closed his eyes. Lying there, he looked so fragile. A word that didn’t fit with his always indestructible character. Clearing his throat, Jason decides to open his heart. “Goldie, I know it seems like 99% of the time I can’t stand you. You just drive me crazy, man. But I also kinda enjoy hearing you talk, and I even like being in your company despite your shitty sense of humor. The truth is— if I’m honest, I rather have you in my life than not. I never say it and maybe I should do it more often, but… you are really important to me,” Jason furiously wipes the tears that were definitely not slipping from his eyes. “Damian needs you. And I also need you, you big stupid idiot. So you better not leave us, okay? I can’t possibly be the big brother of those idiots without your help, Dickiebird. Fight, fight for us, you asshole!” Jason takes a moment to let out his tears without feeling ashamed and then he takes a deep breath. Carefully, he begins to leave Dick’s hand on his chest but a soft squeeze stops him dead on his tracks. “Dickie?”

“J-Jay?”

“I’m right here,” But he cannot say anything else when a coughing fit takes over, leaving Dick breathless for a moment. Jason begins to massage with his free Dick’s congested chest. “You’re okay. Take deep breaths.” After a few minutes, the acrobat finishes coughing and he carefully opens his eyes to stare at him blankly.

“Y-you crying?” Damn right I am.

“No, of course not. I got something in my eye.” He whispers instead.

“Where’s B’ce—?” Jason shakes his head softly.

“B is not here Dick. You think the man could have survived without Alfred for more than a day out here?”

“N-not really,” Dick manages a little pitiful tug upwards on his blue lips but then he frowns. “I— I’m so sorry… I was s-supposed to be just m-me and I dragged y-you both into this and now I’m gonna—” But he couldn’t keep talking when a heartbroken sob leaves his mouth. Jason closes his eyes feeling as if someone was literally smashing his heart. It hurt too much. But Dick needed him, he needed that push that Jason could give him.

“Shuu, hey, this isn’t your fault. Trust me, if I could change places I would do it in a heartbeat. I would give everything to make you feel better. But I can only hold your hand and tell you to just hold on a little longer, okay? I got you, Dickie.” The blue-eyed nods softly but says nothing else. Both remain silent until Dick falls asleep again, but this time the expression of pain stays on his face. Jason wipes away the damn tears off his face. Where the fuck was that brat? Did he go to the end of the world for a fucking plant? Jason was about to curse out loud when a sound caught his attention. A voice screaming his name, Damian screaming his name. Jason goes on alert right away, immediately thinking that a black panther was half-eating the demon when the unmistakable sound of a helicopter is heard over the lapping of the waves. There wasn’t time to think if it was just an illusion or a false alarm when Jason was already jumping like a spring, placing Dick’s hand slowly on his chest and snatching the lighter he had managed to fix from near his boots. He cast one last glance towards Goldie before sprinting into the jungle. Jason shouts Damian’s name and then he bumps into the kid, both running towards the beach while dodging obstacles as if the devil himself were on their heels.

“Do you have the lighter?”

“Of course, idiot!”

“Then run faster, Todd!”

“I know what I’m doin’ you fucker!” Good thing the beach wasn’t far away, so in no time both reach the shore, discerning in the distance two helicopters flying only meters above sea level. Jason makes a flip when he touches the sand and kneels down over the campfire they had previously prepared with many palm leaves and weeds that produced a lot of smoke when burned. Once there, he brings the lighter closer to the leaves, careful that the wind didn’t extinguish the flame. Of course, that was the perfect time for the lighter to not work again. “Goddammit, you’ve got to be fucking kidding!” Jason yells as he keeps trying to make it work. He just needed a damn spark. Jason looks at the helicopters and then back to the lighter, feeling the sweat sliding down his face. “Go on, damn it!” A few more attempts and then the spark occurs, Jason carefully brings it closer to the leaves, the leaves doing their work and producing smoke that rises to the sky. Jason begins to cough but with a shit-eating grin. Looking behind him, he finds Damian’s face with an equal grin. Jason throws the lighter at him and motions to the other campfire. “Your turn, Baby Bat.”

“Got it.” Everything that happened next seemed to happen like a video in fast motion. A time later, the first helicopter was flying over them. Jason was kneeling on the white sand, his hair flying in all directions. Then the rescue team was on them, bombarding them with questions and then barking orders. A paramedic was examining his sunburned face and Jason was being pulled into the helicopter, Jason babbling about Goldie. Someone was trying to make him sit on a stretcher and Jason was putting up a fight. And then a team of paramedics came out of the jungle carrying Dick on a stretcher, Damian right next to them, giving his own diagnosis and answering the doctor’s questions without wavering. Jason wanted to go with them, but a paramedic was trying to make him understand that only one person could go with Goldie. The last thing he saw was someone putting an oxygen mask over Dick’s face and closing the helicopter door. ‘Your friend will be fine, I promise’ The paramedic still checking his vital signs said and Jason believed her, finally sitting on the stretcher and letting them slide-close the door.

 

 

_____________

 

 

 

Returning back to the civilization had been like a roller-coaster ride.

Jason had experienced a rush of adrenaline taking the first step out of the helicopter, his senses sharpening on their own accord, his ears buzzing with the pounding of his heart. The moment of touching solid land, it had been as if a switch had been turned on. Jason had put a stuck-up stance, tryin’ to hide the storm of emotions that were taking place inside him. There were so many mixed feelings blooming on his chest, threatening with making him lose his shit. Of course, if Jason had learned something over the years, it had been to compact his feelings either to discard them or deal with them later. Never show your weaknesses to the public, keep your chin up.

A tiny part of him still felt like this was a dream—fake, fake, fake—But his analytical side, his ‘detective’ side were taking all the facts and sensations around him to slap him in the face and make him address the situation straight on; this was freaking real. They had been transferred to the Ta’aone Hospital in Tahiti. A trip back to the United States would take time, time that Dick didn’t have. Once on the ground, a team of doctors had taken Dick into the hall and since then Jason hadn’t seen him again. He was barely assimilating their return to the real world when he’d been bombarded once again with questions and medical tests, interviews with agents and even a fucking psychologist. All of them asking the same fucking question: ‘Could you tell us what happened? Remember to not leave out anything!’

After all the cacophony of voices making him tell over and over the same story, Jason had been confined to a hospital room where he finally got his bearings. Taking a shower under the spray of water was something Jason was never going to take for granted anymore, hell, not even clean socks were to be taken for granted now on. Being able to use shampoo and soap and brush his teeth was fucking wonderful. Sometime later a nurse had brought him a sandwich and a yoghurt, giving him a pitiful look when she left. Jason had hated it more than the infuriating itching on his skin, then he understood why, though.

The first time Jason looked in the mirror, he was honestly surprised. Now he understood all of Dick’s taunts about looking like a lobster. His face was red, literally red and with a much darker skin tone in the rest of his body. The freckles scattered around the bridge of his nose were more prominent now, and his hair was longer than he would normally have with that white strand making itself present again. With the beard unshaven, Jason looked older, his eyes older than a 24-year-old would be allowed to resemble. He had been given a pair of slippers, pants and a simple white T-shirt. Wearing clothes again was just weird, everything was just weird. What was he was supposed to do now? Sit on his ass and expect not to hear bad news? Being in a hospital made it somehow worse, knowing that death was lurking around every corner. But that was just a prejudice, Jason knew that death was everywhere, not just wandering over white corridors. Nonetheless, he hadn’t been able to eat, not really. He couldn’t meditate, he couldn’t take a nap. His mind was elsewhere; under palm trees and over smooth white sand. At some point, Jason decided to not think about nothing concise, preferring to keep his mind blank. He was just finishing shaving when he heard a knock on the door. With casual steps and a towel cleaning the last of the shaving foam, Jason opens the door, expecting a nurse or something.

 

“Jason!” There instead a pair of blue eyes were looking at him open-mounded. He doesn’t have time to say anything when a mass of pale skin and black hair launches at him, wrapping him in pointy arms. After several seconds of bewilderment, Jason returns the hug.

“Timbo.” He whispers in Tim’s hair.

“Are you okay? Oh my God! They barely let us see you because we had to prove somehow that we were related and—” Jason hears steps approaching in the hallway and a second after a pair of brown eyes connect with his, accompanied by a mirthful quirk on her lips. Jason smiles warmly at Cass, who instead, touches Tim’s shoulder and signs to him ‘Perhaps not now, later.’ Tim stops his babble and finally stops crushing the life out of him. Jason tousles the hair of the 20-year-old boy and then he hugs Cass next, enjoying her warm embrace. She guides him back into the room to settle down. Jason and Tim in the hospital bed and Cass takes a chair to sit in front of them. She hands him a take-out bag with a smile and Jason can recognize the smell right away. His mouth stars watering.  

“No way…” Jason feels his eyes sparkling when he pulls out a container with two perfect chilli-dogs and French fries.

“We figured anything would be good, but maybe you’d miss this more. We considered that hospital food is usually not so… you know. They may not be from your usual food stand, but I guess they taste better than coconuts, huh?”

“We brought you soda as well.” Cass smiles holding the container for him. Hearing Cass said something fills him with unexpected warmth, realizing how much he missed them.

“Oh shit, thank you!” Jason says already halfway chewing his first chilli dog, to hell with manners. Maybe he looked like a madman not taking a breath between each bite, but who could really blame him?

“A nurse gave us your brief medical report, but everything okay with you? Plus the burnt face,” Tim frowns, looking rudely at his face and to the handprints almost completely faded on his neck. “And something about an old concussion, huh?” He had been given a full check-up and they had administered him through IV some fluids and vitamins he lost during the course of the whole ‘stranded situation’. His medical report indicated indeed his old concussion, second-degree burns on his face and upper body, and a slight degree of dehydration, but it was nothing that a few days of rest, lots of water and some ointments wouldn’t solve. 

“Oh, don’t even try it. Dick’s already spent every joke he’s ever had on my face,” Jason takes a sip of his soda closing his eyes. He already had in mind what he needed next, a big cup of black coffee. “But whatever, I’m just fine. We didn’t have to eat each other so I guess we did pretty well.” Everyone laughs briefly, but the atmosphere turns a little gloomy then.

“Are you sure everything’s okay? I imagined you were going to be more shaken, I mean… you been through some deep shit, and yet you are awfully calm. I honestly pictured you spreading Bloody Mary across the hospital, breaking stuff or something. Instead, you seem— serene,” Tim admits and Cass just takes his hand with a too-knowing look. Jason squeezes it back, looking into the floor. “Mentally are you really okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Jason admits because honestly, he felt okay. Still pretty out of place though with eating fancy stuff, wearing comfortable clothes, and sleeping in a bed that felt made of clouds, but maybe that was to be expected. The weirdest thing though was missing the company of two dummies like he never thought he would. Speaking about two idiots. Once Jason finished the rest of his meal, he wipes his mouth with a napkin, getting serious himself for the first time. “Where are Dick and Damian? Any news about Dickie?” He hadn’t seen Damian since that last time on the beach, a day ago? Shit, time felt so abstract right now. He hadn’t heard anything from Dick either.

“Damian is fine, he was assigned his own room but the demon chose to stay in the waiting room outside Dick’s room. There is no one who can separate them, as you already know. Bruce is with him as well,” Jason tries not to show any reaction with the name of the old man, but the way Tim and Cass shift in their seats indicates that they both noticed the change in the mood. The dark-haired clears his throat. “As for Dick, we don’t know much yet. We just know that he’s in the ICU and that they gave him a blood transfusion, you know, for blood loss. Though apparently, the worst already happened.”

“What do you mean by that?” Tim looks the other way and Cass just squeezes his hand harder. “Timmy?”

“Bruce didn’t want to tell us, but I kinda… overheard someone say that they almost lose him on the way here,” Tim mumbles quietly and when he reads his expression he is quick to add. “But don’t worry! I looked into the hospital staff and reviews and I read that they have excellent doctors. He isn’t of the woods yet, but Dick is in good hands.” Jason feels the weight on his shoulders lessen a little.

“He better. I didn’t swim miles to get to that island for Dick to go so easy on me. He’s crazy if he thinks he can pull out something like that.” He sighs dramatically.

“I don’t wanna be so prying… but how did you guys—” Jason already saw the question coming and he just cuts him off.

“I don’t wanna talk about it just yet,” For some reason, talking about it seem rather personal. “Though I assume this isn’t just a social visit, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” Jason puts his hands on his lap, trying not to make them fists. “What happened with the ship? The passengers, are they—?

“The passengers and the crew are okay, Jay. Actually, some of them are here under medical review with gunshot wounds, but nothing critical. The captain was in bad shape but his diagnosis has improved drastically. So regarding them, there’s nothing to worry about.”

“That’s good to hear,” He scratches the back of his neck, feeling another weight shrink from his shoulders. “Which leads to my next question, why did it take so freaking long to find us?” Jason had tried to go for subtle, instead, his tone came out blunter.

“Okay, first of all, on behalf of the whole family I want to say sorry. It was never our intention to take so long, we actually never thought than a three-person search would get so complicated—”

“You know, that doesn’t matter anymore. I mean, it would have been great if you had found us a day or two earlier, so Dick wouldn’t have been so on the line. But we’re already here, and Dick’s gonna be fine, so…”

“I know, but I just wanted to apologize. Maybe if I had done things differently, or had acted differently, the search would have been faster. But I’m glad the three of you are alive. The rescue team was quite uncertain with finding you at all. And I don’t blame them, I mean… the chances of surviving in the open sea, with an injured person, and without a lifeboat—”

“That means we beat the stats, huh. How surprised is the media? Heck, how surprised were you?” Tim makes a gesture as if his brains were blowing up, causing Cass to laugh.

“Mind-blowing! You guys just defied the nature’s laws!”

“You mean Murphy’s law rather, no? Dick must have some deal with the devil or something.” Tim smirks and then his face turns stern.

“I must admit that for a moment I thought you weren’t gonna make it, those were some dark hours. Then Cass just said, ‘They’re bats, they can make it’ and that lifted our spirits,” Tim nudges softly Cass shoulder. “By the way, Bruce really went nuts, even if he denies everything. He made calls left and right, he hired an elite search team when the authorities wanted to stop the search due to the very low probability of success. The city almost collapsed when they found out that two princes of Gotham were lost.”

“An overreaction, if I might say,” Jason rolls his eyes out of habit. “Whatever, I’m just glad this fucking mess is almost over. I can’t wait to get back to Gotham and get away from the media and those rich pricks. I don’t wanna know how much my intellect diminished for this damn ‘holidays’,” When Tim doesn’t answer immediately, and Cass doesn’t smirk, Jason raises his eyebrow questioningly. “Now what?”

“I’d like to say that this is the conclusion… but we’re far from over.”

“You have one minute to fucking explain, Replacement.” Someone should give him an award for the way he got defensive so quickly.

“Well, it’s… complicated.” Tim had that face that stated that what he was going to say next, he wouldn’t like it.

“Define complicated.”

“Like really complicated.”

“It can’t be more complicated than what we went through. Just talk.” Tim takes a handful of air before beginning to explain.

“Okay, the FBI raided the ship due to two calls; one from an unknown number (meaning the Bat) and another from the Bridge (that would be Kai Beck) Reports described a shootout taking place when the authorities intercepted the ship. Uncommonly, the arrest process was said to be without major complications. Someone reported that most of the pirates were already seriously injured and showing signs of a recent fight. Some crooks appealed that among the passengers there was a crime-fighter or something of the sorts that attacked them first and then vanished amongst the detonation of an explosive. Sounds familiar, Jason?”

“Nope,” Tim squints his eyes accusingly at him. “Haven’t heard anything bout that.”

“Good thing that at the moment the issue wasn’t taken more seriously, nor that for now, nobody is asking too many questions, but what’s gonna happen if someone starts talking? What if your name comes up? How are we going to deal with that?”

“It won’t happen,” Jason replies without hesitation.

“You’re rather overconfident, Jay. Care to explain why?” There’s something in his tone that makes Jason’s feathers ruffle.

“This doesn’t concern you, Replacement. It’s my shit, I’ll take care of whatever happens. Got it?” Tim sighs heavily but then he nods vaguely. Jason thinks he’s going to drop it, but of course, he doesn’t.

“As you probably know, Bruce isn’t happy—”

“Remind me of a single time where the man has been happy!? Dick is more likely to grow wings than Bruce being happy with something I fucking do!”

“Not true.” Cass whispers and Jason shakes his head.

Well,” Tim says with a clenched jaw. “I just want to warn you that Bruce has been insufferable these past days. But you know him, it’s just a cover to hide how really worried he was about you.”

“Whatever. Carry on with what you were saying.” He growls.

“Right, the raid was pretty much successful and the implicated are being processed and ready to face trial. Everything they stole and the many money accounts are being frozen and ready for an investigation. How? Well, I sent them myself the limited data Dick managed to send us from the encrypted thumb drive. How have they gotten their hands on further information? I have no idea, but I’ll find out soon. I do know for a fact that most of the pirates’ sentences will be long depending on their criminal record and the severity of their crimes committed during the year. Interestingly, the Cruiser company is now suffering from a large number of demands not only from passengers but also from the authorities due to the alliance with the pirates themselves, since there was a security guard who was among those arrested, not to mention how they were able to get the high-caliber weapons into the cruiser without the greatest of problems, and—”

“You can get to the fucking point?” Jason cuts him off sharply, the words cold and threatening. “The only thing that I care about right now is to hear that the motherfucker of Aleksander is under bars,” At Tim’s lack of response, Jason feels the anger spiking. “Tim, answer the fucking question. What about Aleksander!?” Both Tim and Cass look at each other and Jason clenches his jaw. Already knowing the answer.

“He went AWOL.”

 

_____________

 

 

It was understandable to say that Jason was like a volcano about to explode. He was freaking vivid. He nearly destroyed the whole hospital room, his sight clouding green. Tim and Cass had decided to give him some space to calm down, but how was Jason supposed to calm down? Both Aleksander and Mila were on the run, maybe right now hundreds of thousands of miles out of reach. He knew too-well guys like Aleksander, he was the kind of people who disappeared without a trace; without a single footprint to follow, not a sole piece of evidence to find. The way he had fooled Batman himself spoke volumes for the kind of man Aleksander was. A walking danger.

The Pit had been murmuring, reminding him that he failed, that he fucked up everything. A part of him was determined to take the next flight away from this island to start his manhunt as soon as possible. But another part of him knew he couldn’t possibly leave knowing that Dick was still in the ICU, debating for his life between four white walls. Despite the internal debate, all he had needed was a peek through the glass to see Dick connected to so many machines and the decision had already been made. Family came first. When the self-loathing had become tiresome, getting angry at someone else had been the most predictable thing to do, always angry against someone else. Anger being the force that moved him, because being angry didn’t allow him to feel vulnerable. It wasn’t until Jason was yelling for explanations about why they weren’t out looking for Aleksander and why they had aborted the search that Cass had touched his shoulder and with those big, wise eyes she had said; ‘Because you come first before everything else’ and just like that the fight had left Jason. She was right. Dick had been hanging by a thread, barely succeeding with the simple task of breathing. Maybe a minute later and he wouldn’t have made it at all. Now wasn’t time to demand explications, not when Jason had been on the phone with Alfred telling the old man to not worry, that Dick would be fine and that he didn’t have to fly here. Not when he heard Tim on the phone with Babs and Steph trying to comfort them. Those days were hard days for the family.

Once Jason had tamed all the raging feelings stuck in his chest, he received the answers he wanted.  

According to Tim’s explanation, the night where everything happened, Batman and Orphan had tracked down the GPS on Dick’s stolen ring, and deducing that the best way to catch them was intercepting the boat in which they escaped before it even touched port. But surprise, surprise, because instead of catching the man in question red-handed, they ran into an empty boat sailing on autopilot and the diamond ring lying on the floor. No sign of how the hell Aleksander and Mila had disappeared nor how the hell they found out about the GPS. By the time they both had realized they had been fooled, it was too late. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, Tim had been waiting in the cave for any news when a completely unexpected call had taken place. Kai Beck had communicated directly to the Wayne household, and upon not finding Bruce, Alfred had received the anguished message; Kai had seen Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne and an unknown young man named Jason in the middle of a shooting, but had found himself unable to help them in any way occupied with his own issues. Once everything was under control, he feared the worst upon finding a pool of blood and a worn jacket on the ground zero. Kai was more or less giving his condolences to the family, but upon searching the whole ship there was no sign of their bodies, which made him consider that maybe they were alive and that they had fallen overboard. Kai Beck had promised to help in whatever way he could with the search, and from there the rest was history. Thanks to Kai’s call they were able to provide evidence and speed up the process for their rescue, so Jason now owed him a damn cold beer.

With Dick still interned in the ICU, no one had been really in a hurry to go back to Gotham. Jason had found himself spending most of his time in a hotel room right across from the hospital, not being able to fully relax until they were given thumbs up on Dick’s condition. According to Tim, at least Dick was reacting well to the antibiotics and the breathing tube had already been removed due to his pleasant improvement. With the hotel’s Wi-Fi and Tim’s borrowed laptop, the two of them had spent long hours trying to do their research from Tahiti, gathering information from afar, inspecting security cameras, police reports, consulting with trusted contacts from the Red Hood. Obviously, it wasn’t the same as doing it in the flesh, but at least they were picking up some loose ends.

 

_____________

 

 

Seven days after returning back to the civilization, Dick was finally out of the ICU. He had been transferred to a private wing (Daddy’s money benefits) once the sepsis had been put under control with the administration of antibiotics and liquids. When Dick had arrived at the hospital, he had been in critical condition, already presenting insufficiency in some organs, which came to precipitate him in a septic shock that almost stopped his heart. They had managed to stabilize him just in time, the lucky son of a bitch. Maybe in a few more days they could transfer him back to Gotham, or so he heard. Jason had barely spoken with Damian, the boy absolutely not separating from Dick’s door. And with Bruce, uh, he was avoiding him like the plague. The eventual argument couldn’t be prolonged any longer though, unless they wanted the proportions of the fight to be unimaginable. That’s why once Tim and Cass had spent all morning with Dickie, it was Jason’s turn. Whatever was gonna happen, Jason was ready. Whether a physical fight happened or he was kicked out of the family, he was willing to endure the consequences.

Jason knocks twice on the white wooden door and hears Bruce’s gruff voice telling him that he could come in—such good start, dammit—Jason steels himself and he opens the door. The first thing that comes to his senses is the smell of clean and sanitized, and flowers? Yeah, flowers. There was an endless array of fancy floral arrangements and balloons littered everywhere that made the Twinkie in his hands feel ridiculous. The room was a private one and big enough to tuck in the whole family. He steps into the room and the first thing that steals his attention is the occupant of the hospital bed. Dick lay in bed connected to a few machines, but not at all alarming as the first time he saw him. The only striking thing being the nasal cannula, and of course the kidney dialysis. Jason was tempted to approach the bed and take his hand, but for now, any kind of contact was forbidden. With his state of health, any bug he could catch could be highly dangerous with his defenses so low. Not to mention the human wall that Bruce had become on Dick’s bed, almost shielding him from his eyes.

 

“Jason.” Bruce finally acknowledges him with his standard Bat-tone. He looked as if he had aged 10 fucking years, with long dark bags under his eyes, and Jason swore he could see new grey hairs. But there he was, sitting on Dick’s right with an upright and noticeably stiff posture.

“Bruce,” He snaps the name in a cold tone. “Brat.” The tone comes out strangely less sharp, and Damian’s green eyes stare at him for a couple of seconds before nodding in his direction. He was sitting to Dick’s left, his posture relaxed and although he looked freaking tired, he seemed in good spirits now that he could finally be near his big brother. If Jason’s eyes weren’t playing tricks on him, he could swear he’d seen Damian’s shoulders relax more with his arrival.

“Todd, you look like shit.” Jason unwittingly snorts, feeling that familiarity with the dwarf after so much time spend together.

“Geez, thanks Baby Bat, good to see you too,” Jason picks up Dick’s medical chart, humming to himself. “So how’s Dickface doing?” The question seemed right to break the ice, even if Tim had already told him a thousand times about his favorable prognosis. Goldie indeed looked so much better, with rosy cheeks and clean hair. He seemed peaceful in his sleep. Jason wanted so bad to get close and run his fingers through his hair, but not with Bruce giving him that look.

“He’s on the path to recovery. You just missed him awake, though. He spent a long time chatting with Cain and Drake. Evidently, that drained his energy.”

“So what’s the prognostic? He will return to his usual insufferable self?” Jason mumbles as he sits carefully near Dick’s feet, turning his back on Bruce.

“Nurses claim he was hilarious when he regained consciousness the first time, he even tried to flirt with them. So answering your question, yes, Richard will return to his old self. The medics predict a full recovery, and perhaps in two more days, depending on his progress, we can go home.” Jason nodded vaguely, but he could feel the change in his mood. They both maintain a small talk about banal things while Bruce was just shifting his eyes from one to the other, maybe expecting an argument between them. It didn’t happen. At this point, the two were already quite coupled with the company of the other. It seemed that the effect of the island continued to linger on them, for now. Predictably though, he can only tolerate 5 more minutes with Bruce burning holes in his skull with the power of his eyes when Jason finally snaps.

“I have something on my face or what?” He snarls at Bruce’s impassive face. At that, the old man dropped the act of being polite. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers, as if what he was about to say were physically hard to say.

“We need to talk, Jason.” Oh, no, he knew that tone. ‘We need to talk’ meant the exact opposite.

“And what do you want to talk about, B?” He refused to be the first to cast the first stone, Jason was going to let the other man start the conflict. “About the weather, or maybe about politics?” Bruce sighs heavily before speaking, trying to hide the anger slipping through his cracks.

“This is exactly what I wanted to avoid. You’re already on the defensive and we haven’t even said anything. Is that what it is? Can’t we just talk for once without immediately going for our throats?” Apparently not. Jason leaves Dick’s Twinkie on the bed, not wanting to smash it with his fists.

“Oh, we can definitely have a civilized conversation, the thing is that neither of us has the ability to keep it that way. Either I say something you don’t like and you start scolding me, or you say something stupid that makes me angry. Get it, old man, you and I will never agree on anything.”

“Perhaps you are right, however, we do not have to agree in order to work together, isn’t it? And if I remember correctly, that is something we have maintained for a really long time. I don’t see why we should go back to the beginning, nor why we should stumble upon the same rocks.” With that, Jason stands up, facing Bruce face to face.

“If you’re angry, just say it, but these metaphors you’re making are just giving me a headache. Can’t we just go to the point where you tell me you’re upset and I tell you I don’t give a shit?” He growls fiercely.

“And tell me, Jason, what’s the point of doing that, when you and I know that in a week or perhaps a month we’ll have the same argument again? I’ll tell you my observations and you’ll just turn a deaf ear, again and again. This time I want you to know how upset I am with what happened. Not only because you disobeyed direct orders, which, by the way, you had agreed to from the beginning. No, that’s not what makes me mad, what really bothers me are the consequences of what you did and that we still don’t know their severity just yet,” The facade was slipping bit by bit, and Jason was beginning to glimpse Batman more than Bruce Wayne. “You attacked the pirates when I explicitly told you not to, it was an undercover mission, and you knew it! You knew perfectly well what was at stake and yet, you did not stop for a second to meditate on your decisions!”

“How easy it is to point a finger at someone and judge without knowing the whole picture. You weren’t fucking there, I had to make a decision based on what was happenin’ at the fucking time!” He yells this time, not caring that the walls might be thin. “I knew the consequences, yes, I knew things could go wrong, yes, but if I hadn’t done what I did things might have gotten even darker. We would have died anyway, Bruce, don’t you have enough blood on your hands already!?” This time Bruce rises to be at the same height as him. A prick of pain crosses his features but as fast as it came it leaves, being replaced by Batman’s stone-faced mask. Any other man would have been already on their knees before the intensity of those razor-sharp eyes, but Jason wasn’t any man. He was the Red fucking Hood, someone who did not kneel before anyone, not even death itself.

“And how can you claim that?” Bruce growls ignoring his last words, fucking typical. “Neither you nor I can see the future, we can only anticipate it. I can only see a man who rushed to make decisions and when it was too late, he had to improvise. Improvise putting at risk the mission, innocent civilians, and even his own brothers.” Jason lets out a bitter laugh, enjoying how Bruce reacts to the sound.

“With you it’s always that, isn’t it, Bruce? The fucking mission always first, your little soldiers come after. It seems that following the rules is more important than having your own judgment!” He spites the words with venom and he ignores the way Bruce seems to flinch. “Guess what? When I realized we were in danger I chose to risk stopping them and prevent them from killing us. I’d already be dead if it weren’t for them realizing I was tied to you in some way, but if it weren’t for that I’d be 10 feet underwater by now! I couldn’t just let something happen to Dick or Damian if I wasn’t there to fucking protect them. So don’t you dare suggest that at some point I gave a fuck about their lives and I was only pursuing my own revenge!” Bruce clenches his jaw but stays still for a moment.

“If you are going to continue fighting, do it outside so you don’t disturb Richard.” Damian threatens and they both lay eyes on Goldie. Dick’s hand twitches and the blue-eyed mutters something in his dreams, a strand of black hair falls on his face gently, giving him a sweet touch. Involuntarily, Jason feels a tug upward of his lips, momentary forgetting what he was fighting about. When Bruce lets out a sigh again, Jason can see Bruce’s face soften as well. The three remain silent until Dick seems to doze out again. It seemed that Goldie knew how to stop fights even in his sleep, the bastard.

“You know well that things have changed, Jason,” Bruce begins to say, his tone much calmer, he sits heavily back on the chair. “I’ve tried to change, tried to leave bad habits in the closet. I never said I cared more about the mission than about your lives. And if it seems that I did it, you have to understand that I am not doing it on purpose. You said it once, we’re bad at communicating, and I’m tired that none of us can say what we really meant. I don’t know how to make you understand that more than upset I was… concerned, concerned that my three sons were going to be found dead over the ocean when I was chasing a villain and wondering what I was doing there and not trying to find you instead. That’s why we aborted the search, to focus on you.” Bruce says, rubbing a hand over his face.

“Trust me, I can see the irony here, and what I’m about to say is quite contradictory, but for once I wish you’d continued chasing Aleksander.” He admits quietly, suddenly feeling exhausted, and Damian has the nerve to snort.

“And why is that? Because you want to make him pay? You want revenge?” Bruce looks at him carefully.

“The thing is, you didn’t meet Aleksander in person, Bruce. You didn’t look into his eyes and saw all the shit that he was capable of. You didn’t see how he shot someone in cold blood, and of course, you didn’t see how he wandered his eyes through Dick. Everything went wrong the moment we underestimated the pirates and therefore Aleksander. The fact that he and his daughter escaped from you speak a lot of how dangerous he genuinely is,” Jason allows his voice to sound wide open, and Bruce reacts at the tone. “But even if I have a hard time admitting it, you didn’t know that. We both made decisions based on what was presented at the time, even if maybe wasn’t what we were supposed to do. Can you see my point or are you going to ignore it?”

“I can see your point,” Bruce says, but his shoulders were still tense, he still didn’t seem really convinced that they were reaching an agreement. Honestly, not even Jason was sure, but for some reason they had to.

“There is a but there, isn’t it?” Jason mumbles. “Look, maybe you’re just waiting for me to accept that I was wrong and that you’re right. And if you’re expecting that, then keep doing it because I’m not gonna say I’m sorry. Maybe I should have done things differently, yeah, maybe I should have considered better my options, hell yeah. I take full responsibility for my actions, but I don’t regret what I did. And I’d do it again and again.”

“Even with Dick in this condition?” Jason lowers his gaze for a second, trying not to take it to heart. Someone clears his throat and Damian raises his chin pridefully.

“Father, Todd wasn’t the one who fired that gun. We were in the middle of a shooting and Grayson, being the self-sacrificing idiot he is, tried to protect me from the projectiles. I am not defending Todd’s actions by no means, but the fact that Grayson was hurt is not entirely Todd’s fault.” He and Bruce stare at Damian as if a second head has grown out of him and the demon crosses his arms around his chest. “Why those looks? I am just presenting my point of view. Mind your business.” Jason gives a grateful look to Damian and the 18-year-old turns the other way with rosy cheeks. When Bruce seems to recover from the surprise, he speaks carefully.

“Look, Jason, I know I wasn’t there and I can’t put myself in your shoes to understand your reasons. But that’s why I sent you in the first place. I knew what you are capable of, both good and bad, and I knew how fully qualified you are to deal with any situation—”

“But I’m also human!” The words come out softer than Jason intended. “And I can be wrong, and I can make bad decisions, and I can screw things up.” And strangely enough, that keeps Bruce quiet. There is a heavy silence of a couple of seconds before Bruce speaks again.

“I think sometimes I expect so much from you that I don’t consider my own faults and wrongs.” Jason blinks perplexed at Bruce, waiting for the counterpart or some other argument, but it never comes. He and Damian share a look and Bruce continues. “And if I recall correctly, the doctors said whoever took care of Dick’s wound on the island, saved his life. I haven’t made the effort to acknowledge that to you, nor everything Damian told me you did for them back there. You took care of them.” Bruce looks him in the eyes and there’s something honest about his gaze that makes Jason shift uncomfortable on his spot. “Perhaps we are far from being able to reach an agreement, and from me to fully accept what you did and vice versa. Thought now I can better understand your actions, and I hope you have been able to do with mine. We have a long way to go, but perhaps we are closer to establish common ground.”

“Common ground as in…?” He raises an eyebrow.

“Join forces to capture Aleksander, together.” Jason ponders his next words for a moment, having already thought them a while ago.

“I’m not totally against joining forces to go after him, but this time, I feel like it’s something I need to do on my own, you know?” When Bruce was about to interrupt him, he hurries to finish. “I’m not blinded by revenge, nor I’m trying to be reckless. But he and I have unfinished business, things that I can’t stop thinking about in my head. I’m not saying I don’t want your help, but I think doing this alone, at least until Dick fully recovers, would do me good. I need some… space.”

“We are stronger when we are together.” 

“Yeah, but I want to make things right. I need answers, and I want closure, and the only way I’m gonna get that, is doing it on my own.” There is a long silence in which Jason is sure Bruce will say no, but then something in his eyes tell Jason that he won. No way.

“We’ll talk about it later. But theoretically speaking, if you do it, you’ll be in touch at all times. And you’ll let us intervene in case it’s necessary, deal?” Bruce could look as sulky as he wanted, but Jason could see the tiny smile he was trying to hide.

“Deal,” Feeling Damian’s watchful gaze upon him, and guessing what he was thinking, Jason smirks at him. “Don’t worry, Baby Bat, I’ll leave you a piece of Aleksander when I put my hands on him. Dickie’s gonna need you here with him, so you can’t go with me.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, Todd!” Damian growls throwing a pillow at his face.

“And we’re back to normal.”

 

For now, Jason still didn’t have to worry about the mission coming, nor the time it would take to hunt Aleksander and Mila. For now, Jason could sit on the hospital bed and wait for Dick to wake up and eat his Twinkie. Later, Jason would take a flight away from Tahiti and be on another continent hundreds of thousands of miles away. Later, he would find an unexpected ally along the way. But not now. Yeah, maybe everything was gonna change and the three would continue with their lives and their ways would be parted once again. This experience becoming one more anecdote for Christmas. But those nights sitting around the fire would prevail forever. It didn’t matter that things were back to normal; Jason would forever have the memory of those foreign stars over a clear sky.