Roy stood up from his chair and waved at the two people who just came into Murph’s Sports Bar. “Ollie! Dinah! Took you guys long enough. Hurry up! Chili-taste-test-a-palooza awaits!” He gestured exuberantly at the table he’d snagged for them.
Ollie took a seat across from his protégé and frowned judgmentally at the bowl in front of Roy. “Pass. That’s not chili, it’s hot tomato water.”
“You haven’t even tried it yet!”
Dinah looked at Roy’s bowl and smiled. “You must have liked it, Roy, your bowls almost empty.”
“I already ate two bowls waiting for you guys,” Roy admitted, not even trying to hide the fact that he was upset they had been a little late and forced him to fill his time with eating.
“Tell me you’re kidding.” Dinah shot a concerned look towards Oliver.
“Oh man.” Ollie grimaced, remembering another time when Roy had had far too much spice and it hadn’t gone well. “That’s gonna be rough on the ol’ tum-tum.”
“Yeah…” Roy hunched down in his seat, remembering the same instance as Ollie. “Some of us don’t have an iron gut.”
Ollie smiled smugly and patted his stomach. “Guts of steel, baby. Guts-o-steel.”
Roy rolled his eyes. “Whatever. You just aren’t as adventurous as I am.”
“Oh. Is that what they're calling it nowadays?” Ollie folded his arms across his chest. “I thought you learned not to test your tolerance for spicy food years ago. How old were you? Eleven? Almost twelve? Man, that was such a fun day. Remember when--”
Roy sucked in a breath and jumped up before leaning over to cover Ollie’s mouth. Dinah quickly snagged the glass of water out of the way to keep it from spilling amidst the jostling caused by Roy practically laying out on the table. “Okay! That’s enough! Yes I remember. Please no more story! Not with Dinah here...”
Ollie pulled the younger man’s wrist away from his mouth and laughed. “Oh, bug. You think she hasn’t heard that one already? That’s like, third date material and it happened right around the time we started going out. She’s known for over half your life, buddy.”
Roy flushed and flopped down, hitting his forehead on the table with a groan. “Nooooo.”
Dinah put the water back on the table and patted Roy on the back. “It’s okay, Roy. I thought it was adorable. Stupid? Maybe.” She smiled down at the young man. “But still adorable.”
“That’s not helping,” Roy mumbled into the table before he slithered back into his seat, crossing his arms and slouching back. The glare he was sending Oliver’s way could rival that of Batman. “You suck.”
Oliver shrugged. “It’s a father’s job to thoroughly embarrass their children. If you think I suck, I must have done at least one thing right.” His eyes crinkled as he smiled at the now grown man. “It’s honestly one of my fondest memories. Man. You were so small back then….”
“Ollie! Ollie! Look who I found.”
Oliver looked over from where he stood in a circle with two older men and saw Roy running towards him excitedly. “Excuse me, gentlemen.” As the boy cut through the crowd he saw that Roy was towing a smaller boy behind him. They slowed to a stop in front of him, panting lightly. “Hey, bug.” He smiled at his kid. Then he smiled at the other, “Well, well. If it isn’t Richard. What brings you to the west coast? Is Bruce here too?”
Dick pulled out of Roy’s grip and glared at the slightly older boy before turning to Oliver. “Just Dick is fine, Mr. Queen. Only Alfred calls me Richard and it’s usually cause I’m in trouble for something.” He pointed off toward the cocktail bar. “Bruce is over there, trapped talking to some lady. We’re gonna go get some snacks.”
Oliver nodded. “Ah. I see. Well don’t let me keep you. You’ll never get any taller if you two shrimps don’t eat.”
“Hey!” The boys said in unison, making Ollie laugh. He waved them off and went to go talk to Bruce about some...business.
“Your dad sucks.” Dick commented, shoving his hand into his jacket pockets.
“I know…” Roy facepalmed, and dragged his hand down until it pulled on his bottom lip. “He thinks he’s funny. It’s so embarrassing.”
Dick nodded. “I can see that. And to be fair, I think he’s kinda funny.” They stared after the weird adult wondering how in the world someone like him had ever become a superhero in the first place. Then after a minute, Dick patted Roy on the back and pushed him towards the food area. “Come on, Roy. I’m short and I’m hungry. Let’s go find food.”
They weaved in and out, ducking under the occasional tray held by the wandering waiters. Their noses took them to a long table draped in a white cloth with a gold trim. They walked up and inspected their options. As they walked around the table they noted that there was a section dedicated to salsa, bright red curry type dips, jalepeño poppers, buffalo wings, and what looked like spicy meatballs. Dick smiled mischievously.
“Hey, Roy. How are you with spicy foods?”
Roy shrugged slowly. “I’m...okay with it.” Then he narrowed his eyes. “Why?”
Dick’s smile widened. “I challenge you to a spicy food contest.”
Roy cringed and looked at the foods in front of them. He really didn’t want to eat that much spicy food. He could do salsa. But this one said “hot” and he normally didn’t stray from mild. “Ahh…”
“Come on, Roy! It’ll be fun!” Dick looped an arm up over his friend’s shoulders. “It probably won’t last that long. I’m not that great with spicy food either. Bruce doesn’t like it, so we never have it at home.”
“I dunno, Dick…”
Roy grimaced and bit his lip. “Ah, okay. But we should find water first. Or maybe some milk or something.”
“No time, compadre!” Dick pointed to three older teens heading their way, laughing and shoving each other playfully. “Quick. Grab a plate and load it up. There’s gonna be nothing left if we wait for those guys. They look like football players.”
Both boys grabbed plates and shoveled everything they could fit onto their plates before dashing off to an unoccupied area near a tree.
Dick looked down at the filled plates and nodded approvingly. “Well, this is probably more than enough.” He turned to Roy with a playful grin that showed of his missing canine.
Roy poked at his own loose back molar with his tongue. He didn’t have a lot of baby teeth left. Just three molars and one of his bottom cuspids. Dick was a little over a year and a half younger than him though, so he was on round two of toothlessness. “I’m ready when you are. Nice gap by the way.”
Dick smiled again and pulled his cheek away from the space to show it off. “I lost that one two days ago.” He then put his finger on the bottom canine on the opposite side to show the range of motion. “I think this ones gonna be next.” He then pointed to a molar and wiggled it. “Bruce thinks it’s gonna be this one. We have a bet. If I win, he has to take me camping.”
“Why don’t you just do the thing with the string? Want me to pull it out for you?”
Dick huffed. “No. I already said I was gonna try that and Bruce said that’s cheating. I’ve been eating sticky food though and I’ve only been chewing on this side. I’ve got this in the sleeping bag.”
Roy rolled his eyes and put a hand over his eyes. “Oh my gosh. Please tell me you didn’t just say that.”
“What?” Dick shrugged and chuckled. "I thought it was clever.”
“You’re worse than Ollie.”
Dick mulled that over. “I can accept that.”
They both then turned back to their food. Roy sat down cross-legged and Dick sat down in a W.
Roy raised an eyebrow. “How do you even sit like that?”
Dick looked down at his legs. “Uh….I dunno. It’s just how I sit sometimes. Oh! I can touch my feet to my head. Wanna see?”
Roy made a face. “No thanks. That sounds painful.”
“I think just seeing it would make my back hurt. Let’s just do this already. I can feel my mouth burning just thinking about eating this.”
“Oh, quit whining. So I say we time it. Whoever can eat the most in five minutes wins.”
Dick made a quick sweeping motion with his arms. “Wait! No! Whoever finishes their plate first!” He dropped his arms down into his lap with a sheepish grin. “I don’t have a watch.”
“Oh.” Roy looked at his wrists. “Yeah, me neither. Okay.”
Dick held up a finger. “Okay, ready? One...two...THREE!”
Both boys started shoving jalepeño poppers and then spicy meatballs into their mouths. When those were gone they both moved on to the buffalo wings. This was when they started to slow down. It was hard to get the meat off the bones and it was also more difficult because the heat inside their mouths and on their lips was starting to build. Both of them were turning pink in the face and Roy’s eyes were starting to water. He shook his head and put his head down for a breather.
He groaned watching Dick shove the last of his own wings into his mouth before moving on to the spicy looking curry dip. He stuffed the last of his wings into his mouth and tried to get the majority of the meat off of them. He felt like his brain was on fire and he breathed out of his mouth trying to cool off his lips.
Dick stopped after the first bite of spicy dip and blinked away a few tears. Roy saw Dick look over at his plate and with a sudden urgentness, he shoved the lesser of the two dips into this mouth. He grabbed some tortilla chips and scooped as much of the salsa as he could onto it before shoving it in his mouth and chewing. This one wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t a deep spicy like the other stuff. The only thing he had left was the curry. He looked at it and held back a sound of displeasure as he stuffed a pita full in his mouth. He felt like he’d eaten too fast, his mouth was on fire, and he was starting to get full. He looked down at the last pile of the curry forlornly.
That moment of hesitation ended up losing him the game. Dick jumped up and shouted, “Yes! I win! Ah...my mouth is on fire….”
Roy moaned and grabbed his abdomen. “Mine too, man. This was a bad idea. My stomach hurts.”
Dick looked over at his friend apologetically. “Yeah, not our best idea.” He stood up and held out a hand for Roy. “Come on. Let’s go find some water or something. If we can’t find anything, maybe we’ll resort to eating grass.”
Roy took Dick’s hand and pulled himself off the ground. “Pass on the grass. There’s water over where Ollie went earlier. And ice. I think I just want a bunch of ice.”
Dick nodded. “That sounds nice.”
The quickly dipped and dodged through the crowd, desperate for any sort of beverage that wasn’t bubbly. When they finally made it to the cocktail bar, the young bartender there took in the flushed faces and the red rim around their mouths from the buffalo sauce. He raised an eyebrow and poured them large glasses of water with plenty of ice, no questions asked. Then he handed them both napkins and pointed to the area around his own mouth.
They got the hint. And if the boys thought they had finished the food quickly, they practically inhaled the water and started munching on the ice. Roy was being more desperate about it than Dick was though.
“Hey, there you two are. We’ve been looking for you.” Both boys looked up at the man who spoke to them. Bruce was coming over with Oliver just off to his right.
“Hi, Bruce!” Dick smiled, waving at his adoptive father.
Bruce looked at them and saw red spots and chip crumbs on Dick’s lapel. “I take it, you found food, then?” He brushed the offending pieces of food off with the back of his hand and fixed the boy’s collar, making him blush.
“It’s okay, Dick. I’m just glad it’s not all over your face.”
“Er…” Dick looked back at the bartender out of the corner of his eye. The man just winked and started polishing glasses. “Right.”
Oliver looked at his own charge. The kid looked a little worse for wear. “How ya doing, kiddo?” He smiled, striding to his son’s side and putting his hand around the boy’s shoulders. Surprisingly, the red head leaned over into Oliver’s side and rested his head against the man’s rib cage. Oliver dropped his smile and gave Roy a gentle shake. “Hey, you alright, bug?”
Roy shook his head. “I don’t feel good.”
Oliver looked at Dick expectantly. The younger boy shrank down a little bit. “What did you guys eat? You didn’t touch the oysters, did you?”
Dick shook his head and Oliver sighed in relief. “We, uh, had a spicy contest?”
“Dick…” Bruce put a hand on his face like this was normal behavior for his kid. “I’m sorry, Oliver. Dick is competitive. He did something similar with Wally last week. He lost that one though.” He turned to Dick. “What all did you eat? How much?”
Dick looked up like he was thinking and started listing everything off. He made tick marks with his fingers as he explained, “Well we had a lot of poppers and then there were the meatballs and the curry and salsa and the wings took the longest, but the spiciest was the curry dip. I won, so I think I had more than he did but I feel okay.” He looked up at Bruce curiously, worry seeping into his childish features. “Is he sick? Did I make him sick? I didn’t mean to…”
“No, Dick. You didn’t make him sick.” Oliver reassured the ten year old. “He probably just has a stomach ache from eating too much too fast. Plus he’s not very good with spicy. He knows that already though, so I’m surprised he ate as much of it as you described.” Oliver moved his hand from Roy’s arm, curling the arm up and putting it on the boy’s head which was still tucked into his side. “He’s gonna be okay. And I think we learned a valuable lesson about not bending to peer pressure. Didn’t we?” Roy just moaned pathetically and hid his face even more. Oliver held his hand out to Bruce. “Well, I suppose I’ll take this as my queue to go home. It was nice seeing you both.”
Bruce shook the man’s hand. “You too, Oliver. Hope you feel better, Roy.”
Oliver waved at them one last time and pulled Roy along with him all the way back to the car.
He opened the front passenger side door and helped Roy get it. Roy immediately curled up on the seat and put his head on the center console.
“Ah-ah. No. You gotta sit up, buddy. And buckle up.” Roy let out a huff, but did as he was told. Oliver then shut the door and walked over to get in on the driver’s side. He started the car and sped off down the road. They weren’t that far from the Queen estate. Ten minute drive, fifteen minutes at most.
They were about five minutes into their trip home when Oliver heard a high-pitched moan come from his passenger. “You okay, bug?” He peeked over for a second before turning back to watch the road. Roy was breathing quickly and a second later he let out a distressed whine before fumbling with the door. Oliver pressed on the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road. He unlocked the doors and Roy threw the door open and tumbled out just in time to fall to his hands and knees as he emptied the contents of his stomach out on the dirt.
Oliver shut the car off and got out. He jogged over to Roy and squatted down next to him. He placed a warm hand on the now crying boy’s back and rubbed soothing circles across it as Roy threw up a second time. “There you go, champ. I bet you regret having that competition now, huh?” Oliver winced when Roy let out a dismal sob before dry heaving. Maybe he could have worded that better. But that’s what his father would have told him, so…whatcha gonna do?
They stayed there for a while, Roy dry heaving and Oliver rubbing his back, until Roy’s stomach eventually settled his body was quivering from the exertion. “You feel better, sunshine?” Roy shook his head, but he at least looked better to Oliver. “Well, we gotta get up. We’ll be home soon. Then you can go lie down.” He put his hands under Roy’s armpits and pulled him up. “There we go. Up and at ‘em. Good boy.”
The rest of the drive went by without a hitch. Oliver ended up giving Roy a piggy back inside and upstairs. He dropped him off at the bathroom to brush his teeth and then he guided him down the hall to the boy’s room.
Roy stopped just outside the room and turned, looking up at his adoptive father with pleading eyes. “Can I sleep in your bed?”
Oliver inhaled deeply, preparing to turn the boy down.
“Please? I still don’t feel good.” Roy looked down at his feet, ready for disappointment.
That killed Ollie. He let out the breath he was holding, defeated by this eleven year old. “Okay.” Roy looked up at him with the biggest, brightest green eyes he’d ever seen. “But just for tonight.”
Roy dove forward and hugged his mentor. “Thank you, Ollie. You’re the best.”
Oliver returned the hug, enveloping his boy with strong arms and lifting him up of the floor for a second. “Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome. Now come on, kid.” They went down the hall toward the master bedroom and he ruffled Roy’s hair. “Just be warned if you kick me, I’ll push you out of the bed.”
“I’m not a kid, Ollie. I don’t kick in my sleep,” Roy defended, sounding very much like the child he definitely still was. He pushed Oliver, trying to unbalance him. But the man was steadfast.
“My shins disagree, Roy.” Oliver stated. He then retaliated by poking Roy in the side and then the back of the neck a couple times, making the ticklish kid jolt.
“Ollie!” Roy griped, batting the invading hands away.
Ollie charged in with his shoulder and lifted Roy into it, carrying him the rest of the way before tossing him on the king bed. Roy let out an, “Oof!” and laughed tiredly before crawling under the covers.
Ollie climbed in next to him and put his arm around the boy’s torso, pulling him against his chest. “You were stupid today, but I love you, bug.”
He felt a smaller arm wind around his waist and he could hear the smile in Roy’s voice when he said, “I love you too, dad.”
A grown up Roy covered his very red face with his hands. “I hate you, Ollie.” He slammed his head on the table and hid his face in his arms trying to shield himself from everything around him.
Dinah was sitting next to him now and she ran a hand over the back of his head through the red strands. “It’s cute, Roy. You were so cute back then.”
Ollie nodded and laughed. “Yes. He was extremely cute. He was my dumb little bug.”
Roy groaned, flushing an even deeper shade of red. “Oh my God, Ollie. You are so embarrassing.”