Title: Calculated Risks
Author: DC Luder
Summary: "First, players should control entire continents to get the bonus reinforcement armies…" Dick, Tim and Damian share an afternoon together.
Infringements: All recognizable and related characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
"Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together."
Vincent Van Gogh
It was a good idea.
"Grayson… Certainly there are better ways to waste my time."
It was a great idea.
"I hate to say it, but I'm with Damian on this."
It was going to be fun.
"Just… give it a chance."
Whether they wanted it to be or not.
"I think I would prefer sea salt in my eyes."
"I could help you with that, Damian."
"Enough, you two," I cut in.
It had been an unnaturally quiet week, one that had been punctuated with cold, rainy weather. The weekend had brought an unforeseen surprise in that Tim had returned to Gotham for a brief layover in order to restock his supplies and make a few public appearances. Since Bruce's return, I had seen very little of either of my former allies and the promise of one being in town, however brief, had me scheming. So much had changed over the course of the last year that I had no intention on passing up a chance to spend time with my little bro.
Tim had called shortly before I had set out for patrols the previous night. While I was suiting up, he had been aboard a WE Gulfstream. It had been a brief chat, down to business and too factual for my taste. He had given me his estimated time of arrival around four in the morning and his tentative schedule for the five days he planned on being in town. Although he had tried not to, he had done a poor job remaining casual and ended up speaking methodically and with as little emotion as possible. Losing and gaining Bruce so suddenly had changed us all, but there was no questioning that it had affected Tim the hardest. Since he had first put a mask on, there had been nothing but tragedy in his life, both as Tim Drake and as Robin.
Still in his teens and yet he was as much an adult as I, if not more so.
I had offered him to stay with us, and he had hesitated before asking, "At the penthouse?"
"Yeah… we can order in some takeout, catch up, annoy Alfred…"
He had paused again before speaking with forced enthusiasm, "Yeah, sounds fun."
Although I had informed Alfred of our inbound visitor, I had waited to tell Damian until we had nearly completed patrols. The goal had been to tire him out with fast-paced rooftop hopping and traveling by foot and grapple despite the weather. My plan had little impact on his young and relentless mind and body. By three in the morning, I was nearly spent but he seemed ready for action, calling me weak for implementing a five minute break.
He had tapped his foot impatiently while pointing out, "We have the remainder of Chelsea to patrol."
"Chelsea isn't going anywhere," I had smirked. I often forgot that once upon a time, I had been an eleven-year-old ball of energy. But where I had to tolerate Damian's off remarks, Bruce had to bare the brunt of my quirky commentary. I honestly wasn't sure which was worse.
He had taken the news better than I had anticipated. Damian had finally grown out of the "Death to Drake" phase, but it would be a long time before they would ever truly be civil. Bruce being back had helped considerably, so had Tim being dispatched all over the world. Some point, in the distant future, I hoped they would be able to forgive and forget. Maybe some brainwashing was in order…
"Let me guess, he's going to stay with us," Damian had glared down at the street twenty stories below.
"Yes, he is. Only for a few days."
"Good. As long as he doesn't overstay his welcome."
I had waited for him to look up at me before reminding him, "He is and will always be welcome. Tim is Family, Damian."
His gaze had fallen once more as he muttered, "Very well. But he's not sleeping in my room."
Patrols and work done in the bunker, we had made it up to the Penthouse shortly after five, not long after Tim had arrived from the airport. After spending nearly eight accumulated hours in the air while navigating home from Berlin, he had looked exhausted. Then again, Bruce had been running him ragged with work, missions he knew Tim had been capable of and willing to do. As expected, Tim had been sitting at the glossy island counter in the open kitchen, a nearly empty plate before him with Alfred standing by.
The faint aroma of pork tenderloin and garlic potatoes still in the air had me announcing our presence with, "Hope you have room for dessert, Alfred made marble cheesecake."
Tim had a grin on his face as he had hopped down, "There's always room for dessert."
I had jumped up onto the elevated floor before wrapping my arms around him, patting his back roughly, "Good to see you, bro."
By the time I had let him go, Damian had joined us in the kitchen, eyeing Tim coolly. His face had softened slightly before he had said, "Drake."
"Damian," Tim had offered with a smirk.
I had put a hand on Tim's shoulder before asking, "So, how've you been? I can hardly keep tabs on Where in the World is Tim Drake?."
Tim had opened his mouth to reply but Alfred had interrupted him, "I believe there will be plenty of time to socialize later… As the only voice of reason in this household, you all are in need of a good night's sleep."
I had nodded while letting go of Tim, "Of course… Bet jet lag isn't helping, either."
Nodding, Tim had pushed the stool in, "Yeah, it's almost eleven in the morning in Berlin… Definitely past my bedtime."
"If you desire, Drake, I can arrange for a night light."
We had looked to Damian, shocked not by what he had said, but how he had said it. Whenever he delivered his customary insults, there was always a slight tone of entitlement, his desire to demonstrate his superiority on every level. His voice had instead been light, borderline amiable, which matched the smirk on his lips.
Before stepping out of the kitchen, Tim had countered in kind, "No… I'd hate to take it away from you, leave you unprotected from the boogeyman."
So far, so good, I had mused, following them towards the bedrooms on the main floor.
Exhausted, I had fallen asleep relatively quickly, the black out drapes keeping the approaching sunrise and glistening skyscrapers out of sight and out of mind. Knowing Tim would likely sleep away the day given the rare opportunity, I had treated myself to an additional two hours. Rain softly falling outside the floor to ceiling windows and buried beneath a mountain of blankets and pillows, I had snored the morning away in downy bliss.
Alfred had finally rapped on my door around one in the afternoon, loudly announcing his disgust, "Honestly, Master Dick..."
I had peeked out from under a pillow before muttering, "Are they killing each other?"
Alfred had sighed, "No, sir… Master Tim was going to… order pizza. He desired to know your specifications."
Smirking, I had pushed myself to sit up, "Tell him… the Mighty Muffuletta."
He had paused before turning slowly, "Very well, sir…"
I had showered and dressed in record time, stepping out onto the cold marble floors of the penthouse in bare feet. I had been pleased to find that the massive panes of windows revealed that the city had finally traded its gray skies for blue. Another unexpected surprise had been finding Tim and Damian in the den, not smothering one another with pillows or using broken legs of the end tables to bash each others' skulls. Instead, they were both seated on the couch together, hunkered over a laptop on the coffee table.
"Do I even want to know?" I had asked while stepping into the room.
Tim had glanced back at me but Damian had kept his eyes on the screen while saying, "Do you realize the caloric intake of just one of these slices?"
"And it's worth every mile you have to run to burn it off," Tim had stated as he looked back at the laptop.
I had peered over their shoulders to see that Tim had brought up the website for Tony's Trattoria, the best pizza place east of the Westward Bridge. I honestly could not count the number of times Tim and I had snuck in for a late night slice while the clerk was on a bathroom break, leaving exact change in the register and an ample tip in the glass jar. Thinking of wearing a very different mask and living in a very different time made me smile.
I had taken a seat on the other side of Damian, my mouth watering at the very image of the Mighty Muffuletta on the screen. It had always been a favorite of mine, offering pimento stuffed olives, pepperoni, onions, ham, salami and melted provolone in every bite. Growing up in Bristol had made it a sought after treat, and moving to Bludhaven and later to New York City had made it practically an annual indulgence. Living in midtown, I could have had it every week, but opted to only treat myself to a few slices every once in a while. In private.
My love affair with the pizza would have been hard to explain to Damian, let alone Alfred.
But Tim, he had understood.
"It looks awful," Damian had leaned back into the couch.
"Looks can be deceiving, wait until you smell it… taste it…" I had sighed dreamily.
"It is food, Grayson. I know it is difficult, but do try to control yourself."
I had sighed, "Someday, you'll understand."
"I'd rather not," Damian had countered, getting to his feet.
As he had walked away, I had offered, "They say how long it would be?"
Picking the laptop off of the table, Tim had replied, "Another fifteen minutes."
"Well, I'll go get it. Think some Zesti is in fridge, hidden in the cheese drawer."
"Not in the crisper?"
Shaking my head, "No… I change it every week now, keep Alfred on his toes. Even have one or two in the microwave."
Tim had laughed at that, "He certainly would never find them there."
After a moment of watching his fingers fly over the keyboard, I had asked, "So, how goes the globe trotting business?"
"Not bad," he had paused verbally and physically in order to look over, "I… I visited Cass."
Much like Tim, Cassandra's life had also dramatically changed with Bruce's apparent death. She had shed the guise of Batgirl, giving the role to Stephanie Brown in order to take to the open road. At the time, I had thought it was her once more leaving our Family for her own purposes, but I had been relieved to discover that not only had Tim been in contact with her, that she had been doing what she could to look for our lost mentor.
With Bruce's return, it had been lurking in all of our minds whether or not she would reclaim her mantle. Tim had taken the initiative to find out for himself.
"How'd that go?" I had asked.
"Good… I mean… I gave her the suit back… she…" he had sighed, his fingers stilling, "She just needs more time, you know. She's doing good work in Hong Kong. Making a difference. She seems happy… well, happy for Cass."
"As long as she knows," I had replied, "She's still one of us. No matter how far she tries to run. No matter what happens… Same for you."
He had glanced over at me, "Sorry… a mushy Batman is a bit much…" I had smacked the back of his head and he had nodded, "That's better." After a beat, he had asked, "So… quid pro quo… how goes it in Gotham?"
"Not bad…" I had mimicked his answer, "Think I've finally gotten used to the cape… and Damian… he's succumbing to the charm of being Robin. Every once in a while, he makes these little quips and I swear, it's like going back in time, seeing myself behind that mask."
"That's good… Robin isn't meant to be scarier than Batman."
"This is true," I had paused before asking, "Bruce still in Tokyo?"
Tim had cleared his throat, "He said they were wrapping things up… has a guy on a three month probation period. I'm supposed to go check in on him in a few weeks."
"Is he any good?"
"If Bruce gave him the okay, I would say yes. He's young… he did all of the fighting and physical work for Mr. Unknown. He went to some serious lengths to prove himself after a rough start… even faked his own death."
"A man after Bruce's own heart… Speaking of going after Bruce's heart, I still can't believe Selina went with him."
Tim had laughed at that, "Yeah right… It's like a twisted, masked honeymoon."
I had found myself starting to giggle, "It's just… so wrong."
"And yet so right…" he had added while closing the laptop, "At least she's there to watch his back."
Nodding, I had snickered, "Among other things."
He had made a painful sound before moaning, "Or we could not talk about that before eating…"
Getting to my feet, I had pointed out, "Hey, you can't set me up like that."
As he stood, Tim had admitted, "You're right, guess I'm out of practice."
Leaving him, I had made the long elevator ride down to the lobby, making it to the ground floor just as a dazed and overwhelmed young man passed through the revolving doors. I had jogged over, paid for two pizzas and a box of garlic sticks before tipping him enough to draw his attention from the three-story tall ceiling. I had to battle temptation and my growling stomach on the ride back up, finally giving in and treating myself to a small piece of bread.
Arriving back at the penthouse, I had quickly kicked my shoes off, leaving them where I had found them by the door. Despite the informal meal, Alfred had already made place settings for three at the marble counter, including linen napkins delicately folded and secured in glossy silver rings. Tragically, they would either be completely neglected or stained with grease.
"Best get out here before I eat it all," I had called out as I set the boxes down.
Tim and Damian had quickly joined me, walking from opposite halls. While I dished out the goods, Tim had unearthed the soda from the refrigerator, pouring one for Damian even though he protested. I had pointed out that the feast was not complete without cola, and he had actually rolled his eyes at me. Maybe Bruce could take him for his teenage years…
We had dined at the counter, shop talk predominating the conversation. Alfred had appeared briefly to ascertain our progress and upon seeing the cheesy, greasy mess, he had promptly about-faced and left. Tim had joked that we were practically committing a culinary felony, one far too gruesome for the gentleman's gentleman to bare witness to.
"What do you think, Damian?" I had asked before popping back an olive.
He had been tentative at first, but had managed to eat two slices without complaint. After wiping his mouth, he had admitted, "It's a bit greasy. But more flavorful than I had expected."
"So you like it?" I had pushed.
"I didn't say that."
"Of course you didn't," I had smirked.
To make amends, I had done what I could to clean up, rinsing dishes before loading the dishwasher and wiping down the countertops. Between the three of us, we had polished off one of the large pizzas and a third of another, leaving our stomachs full and our reserves of ambition empty. Trekking back to the den, we had taken seats on three separate pieces of furniture.
That was when inspiration had struck.
"You think we're combative sitting in the same room… and you want us to play Risk?"
"Come on, it'll be fun," I tired to further promote my idea. It was a great way to kill a few hours and to enjoy company of my far too absent ally. I had already retrieved the board game set from the master bedroom, a collector's piece that was one of only one thousand made. The purchase had set me back over nine-hundred dollars, and had yet to be played. A travesty if I had ever heard of one.
Damian, who never had the luxury of playing one of the most equally loved and loathed games in the histories, was reading the instructions. Despite the fact that neither had actually agreed to play, I was already busy setting up the board and taking the plastic wrapping off of the game piece containers and decks of cards. When I tossed the bag of dice at Tim, he shook his head, "Seriously?"
As Tim's protests continued, Damian's seemed to wane. He set the booklet down and announced, "I will be black."
"What about me?" I asked.
"Easy, you will be blue. Drake will be red."
Tim nearly voiced his stagnant position once more, but then sighed, "Fine. I'll be red."
"A game of global domination," Damian's lips twitched into a smirk, "This really will be a test of fortitude and intellect."
"You do realize it's mostly luck, relying on how the dice roll, how your cards come into play…" I pointed out.
"T-t," Damian started to count out his pieces, "It's strategy. Obviously the ideal starting point is Australia, South America being a close second."
I agreed and then said, "Unless you're playing Lord of the Rings Risk. Then go for Mordor."
They both stared at me in silence.
As with any game of Risk, it started slow as deployments were made, attacks defused and infantryman were relocated. Unlike with any game of Risk, there were three highly developed and trained minds behind the little metal pieces. Each and every move and roll of the dice was calibrated to the nth degree. At one point, when the tension was growing thick, I joked, "At least Bruce isn't here…"
"Why do you say that?" Damian asked as he increased his forces in Peru in order to prepare for a trans-Atlantic assault on Tim's holdings in Africa.
"First of all, he would have been black," Tim smirked.
"This is true, and he would be the one dominating North and South America."
"Then consider me acting in my father's stead," Damian motioned to the countless black pieces covering the Americas. He had all but pushed me out, leaving me only two territories with Alaska and Alberta. When he had defeated my other claims twenty minutes earlier, he had snickered deviously, "Hope you like the cold, Grayson."
As frightening as the look on his face had been, it was even more unnerving that he was enjoying himself whilst taking over the world.
I further pointed out the downfall of Bruce theoretically playing with us, "Also, he is the king of rolling dice. I watched him play craps for two hours straight at a charity casino function once… Man could roll any number he wanted to."
"Well, so can I," Damian announced.
"So we've learned," Tim sighed before reaching for two of the dice, "All right, let's get this massacre over with."
"I'm not attacking you, Drake… not yet." His icy blue eyes locked in on me, "I'm going to put Grayson out of his misery first."
While talking, I had failed to notice that Damian had also increased his forces in the Yukon and had done the same around my mere holdings in Asia.
I had less than fifteen infantrymen left on the board and he easily had five times as many, waiting with baited breath.
"No… you wouldn't."
"Oh, yes. I would."
"But…" I stammered, "This was supposed to be… fun… bonding time."
"And it has been. I feel we should play more often," Damian took the dice from Tim and handed them to me.
"And… I bought pizza."
Four minutes later, Damian had conquered the Americas and I was listlessly putting my blue pieces back into their container. Tim offered his condolences, vowing to fight on in my honor. Damian offered that next time, we could play Lord of the Rings Risk and I muttered, "I'll banish you to the Shire."
In the hour since the start of the game, the grandson of Ra's al Ghul had taken control of the New World, defeating Batman, with a smile on his face.
Needing to stretch my legs, I rose from the couch as Tim began his turn, narrowly defending his control of Africa. Making a trek to the kitchen, I wasn't surprised to find Alfred taking an inventory. I greeted him and asked, "Hey, mind if we polish off the cheesecake?"
"Not in the least, Master Dick. Although, it is somewhat alarming that it hasn't been devoured yet."
"Well, we've been busy… Tim and I are teaching Damian how to play Risk," I explained as I retrieved a bottle of water for Damian and the last two sodas for myself and Tim.
Alfred quietly closed a cupboard door before asking, "Oh, really?"
"Yeah, he's already bested me. It's up to Tim now to save the world."
After a moment, Alfred smiled softly and when I asked what was so amusing, his smile only grew, "Master Dick… there was no need to teach Master Damian how to play the game."
"Why, because it's in his blood?"
"No, sir… because I have played the game with him a number of times… as a way to incorporate his competitive nature into his studies."
"You're kidding me? He said he… He read the rule book cover to cover…" I looked towards the den, barely able to see the top of Damian's head from the over the top of the couch, "That little pre-pubescent punk… He's in for it now…"
When I went to leave, I felt Alfred's hand on my forearm, turning me to look at him, "Sir, if I may… His agreeing to participate, his obvious enjoyment of the activity, his willingness to spend time with Master Tim… They are behaviors that need to be rewarded, not penalized."
Like Bruce, Alfred was always right.
Returning with the drinks, I found that Tim was holding his own and that Damian was fighting back a smile that was less devilish and more childish. I watched on, cheering on my young partner to Tim's dismay. As the game hit the three hour mark, I had left momentarily to retrieve the remnants of the pizza and the cheesecake, making it back to the living room to see Alfred had joined to support our Tim's efforts.
Most nights, around six-thirty, Damian and I would head down to the bunker in order to prepare for patrols
That night, we didn't make it until nearly seven-twenty.
And, to my utter surprise and Alfred's delight, we didn't head out until after Damian and Tim had agreed on a temporary stalemate.
"To be continued, Drake," Damian had offered his hand.
Tim had smiled before taking it, "You're on."