C is for Coffee
by Merlin Missy and Dotfic
Characters are the property of DC Comics/Warner Bros. animation. You know the drill.
Thanks and fic to evilittletwit for the read-through.
"Just fifteen minutes, maybe half an hour tops."
"If he wanted to visit with me, he'd ask."
"He wouldn't, because you don't give him an opening to ask. He's probably afraid to."
"Sure he is. He's his own hero with his own city to protect. He's developing quite a rep. Big and bad and scary. He wants your approval, and can't admit it, and that's making him resent you all the more."
"You sound like you're speaking from experience."
"Maybe I am. Listen, you and I understand how this works. No one else in the League does, because they haven't tried to do what we did."
"Maybe it's better not to."
"You don't mean that. Tell me honestly, that the loneliness was better. That you feel you have nothing to teach anyone. Ah-ha! See! You can't answer that, because you know I'm right, Bats. You miss him. Why else would you take on another one?"
"It's just coffee."
"I don't think so."
"Huh. Look at that. 'Injury sustained—'"
"Stop what? You're the one who pulled up the file on the mission. So. Your boy's injured too. I guess we both feel the guilt. We're the ones who dragged them into this business in the first place."
"It was their choice. They — "
"'Came to me.' So you say. That's why you were the one who finally talked yours into becoming reserve when he turned the League down two years running."
"Glare all you want. It's truth. Come with me, sit down, you can have your coffee without sugar or milk, as dark and bitter as you want."
"I have work to do."
"I'm not sure this is the best idea." Nightwing looked around the cafeteria uncomfortably.
"It'll be fine. We're reserve League, we eat in the canteen like everyone else." Speedy pushed past him and grabbed a table. Nightwing reluctantly sat down. Both men had matching green trays with coffee and a cherry danish. Speedy had also grabbed a candy bar.
Speedy picked up his coffee and tried to yank the lid off with his good hand. Nightwing watched him for a moment, then pulled it from his friend's hands and easily removed the lid. "You want all this?" he asked, pointing to the sugar packets and creamer on Speedy's tray.
Speedy nodded. "Thanks."
Nightwing added the sugar and cream, saying, "You better not have invited me here just to be your coffee boy."
"Hey, I tip well," said Speedy, and he took back his drink. Gypsy, Ice and Fire walked into the canteen together, passing close to their table and giggling as they walked by. "Have you seen Wally?"
"I heard he's in Madagascar with Supergirl." Nightwing shrugged.
"Boys!" came Green Arrow's booming voice. "Fancy meeting you here!" Speedy flinched, and slowly turned around.
Arrow grinned at him. "Mind if we sit down?"
Nightwing tensed at the 'we' and did not uncoil when Batman took a chair beside him. Arrow sat to Speedy's other side, grinning broadly.
Arrow said, "We thought we might find you both here after you were let out of the infirmary."
"We're just getting a quick snack," said Speedy.
Nightwing took a look at his own tray, then picked up the danish and took a bite.
"You call this food?" Arrow asked, clearly disgusted. "I hate to think what you're eating these days. And you know what chocolate does to your complexion!"
"Ollie!" Speedy hissed.
Nightwing twitched, then adjusted his mask to accommodate the bandage over his eye.
Arrow put up his hands. "I'm just saying. None of my business, I'm sure. If you want to damage your body with all that extra processed sugar, it's no concern of mine. But you know how much I paid for the dermatologist." This last sentence carried through the cafeteria, just as the three women emerged from the kitchen area, glancing over to where they sat.
Speedy put his head on the table, then leaned over to Nightwing. "You'll kill me now, right?"
"Consider it a suicide pact." Nightwing patted him gingerly on his injured shoulder.
Speedy winced at the touch. Instantly, Arrow went from patronizing to paternal. "How's your arm? I asked the doctors what they thought, and you need to be resting it. Have you taken your first dose of painkillers?"
"It's fine, and yes." Speedy glared at him through the mask, and took a savage bite out of his danish. The candy bar remained untouched.
After adjusting his mask again, Nightwing took a swallow of coffee. He grimaced, and reached for three packets of sugar.
Batman asked, "How's the eye?"
Arrow continued: "You're going to need some recovery time. You should come back with me to my place. Your apartment is a mess."
"You haven't been there in months!"
"Is it a mess?"
"That's not the point!" Speedy crumpled up his napkin and threw it onto his tray as if napkins made loud noises. "It's my apartment. M-i-n-e. My business."
"It's my business when it comes to your well-being." Green Arrow curled his hand into a fist where it rested on the table. "Do you have anything in your fridge other than sour milk and leftover pizza conducting mad-scientist experiments on itself?"
Nightwing added a fourth packet of sugar to his coffee cup. Meanwhile, Batman took several long, slow swallows of his coffee. He hadn't added any sugar in his.
"I eat just fine," Speedy muttered, and looked across the table at Nightwing.
"So, did you guys check out the new training room on the seventh floor?" Nightwing said loudly. "It's got a laser-shot simulator that mimicks realtime combat conditions. My score's been pretty good if I say so myself."
"I've been through the course. It's too easy," Batman said.
Nightwing poked at the empty sugar packets on his tray. He finished the last bite of his danish. Batman took another drink of coffee.
"I haven't had a chance to get in there yet," said Speedy.
Green Arrow said, "After your shoulder heals up, you and I can go by to try it out."
Instead of answering, Speedy made a point of chewing his food very slowly. He shifted his chair a little so that he faced Nightwing more. "I ran into Garth last week. He told me about that case the two of you worked on together with the diamond smugglers."
Nightwing perked up. "Yeah, that was great. We followed them for weeks and eventually traced the ownership of the shipping lines the smugglers were using, and found out it was ... "
"Meso-Tamic," Batman said. "Some of the diamonds made it to Gotham. The distribution was Meso-Tamic's standard M.O."
Speedy looked at Nightwing. "Garth said you rounded up most of the ring."
"That's right," said Nightwing.
Batman said, "You missed the ringleader."
"No we didn't."
"James Wyant." Batman took another sip of his coffee. "He's the silent partner in the company. You wouldn't have found his name on the records."
"Wyant?" Arrow asked. "Wait, Jim Wyant? From PharmEd? I've been trying to get dirt on him for months."
"So was I," said Batman. "I was working through my network to get a solid connection between Wyant and the diamond smugglers. Then Aqualad brought in the smugglers, and the leads evaporated."
Nightwing pushed his chair back from the table. The movement made him wince. He put his hand to the bandage on his forehead.
Batman's gloved hand twitched where it rested on the table. Only Arrow noticed.
"Yo, Bats," Arrow said. "You can't blame the kids for stepping on your toes if they didn't know you were working on the case."
The glare that went across the table was sharp as a batarang's edge.
"There was that one time, Speedy, you remember, just after your twelfth birthday, you decided you were going to take down that chop shop all by yourself."
"Arrow, no, not that story." Speedy put his hand to his face. "Please." His voice was muffled.
"What? It's a great story!"
"Which you've only told three hundred and forty-seven times."
"Nightwing and Batman haven't heard it."
"And they aren't going to," Speedy said, his voice clipped.
Nightwing touched his bandage again.
"You okay?" Batman said.
"I told you, I'm fine." He lowered his hand quickly and began picking danish crumbs off his plate. He began eyeing Speedy's plate, which still had half a danish on it. Plus, Speedy hadn't eaten his candy bar yet.
Speedy noticed and rapidly ate the rest of his danish in one bite, then ripped open the candy bar and bit into it.
"Nothing but calories. Kid, you're young. If you don't start taking care of your body now, by the time you're my age ... "
"Shut UP," said Speedy, his mouth full.
"What did you say?" Arrow's voice rose.
Nightwing sank a little bit in his chair. Batman sat very still.
"You heard me."
"I was hoping I hadn't. There's no call for you--"
"Why can't you just let things be Ol--Arrow? Why do you have to pick-pick-pick all the damn time?"
"I don't. I'm just concerned."
"Well, it's annoying."
"It's annoying that I worry about you?"
"No! It's just ... Oh, forget it." Speedy finished his candy bar and let the brown wrapper lie crumpled forlornly on his tray.
Folding his arms, Nightwing stared at a spot just above Speedy's mussed red hair, face oddly expressionless.
"'m sorry," Speedy said, almost incomprehensible, eyes down on his now empty plate. "About the shut-up thing."
"Yeah. Well." Arrow went red in the face. "Sorry if I'm mother henning you."
"Again." The two of them didn't quite look at each other, and didn't quite look away.
The scrape of Batman's chair back made the other three jerk. "I have things to do."
Nightwing shot to his feet like he'd been electrified. Arrow and Speedy took longer to stand, still not exactly looking at each other. Arrow broke first, placing a careful hand on Speedy's uninjured shoulder. "Can we talk a minute? Alone?"
"Fine," Speedy sighed. He looked at Nightwing. "Talk to you later, buddy?"
"I'll call you. Same number as before?"
"Yeah." Speedy waved and followed Arrow out of the cafeteria.
The cafeteria was almost empty. Nightwing and Batman stood in silence for a moment.
"I should go. Have to get back to Bludhaven," said Nightwing. He turned away.
It was unlikely anyone else could have heard. Still, the usage of his given name in this setting brought Nightwing up short in surprise. He turned back.
"How are you really?" Batman asked.
Nightwing stared at him a moment. Then a slow smile spread across his face, lifting his eyemask. "Really? I'm doing okay. I'm managing. No, more than managing. I'm doing what I want to be doing."
"Good." That seemed to be the end of the conversation, but then Batman added, "Make sure you get that cut checked one more time before you leave."
Then he walked away in one direction, Nightwing in another.