Date: January 29th, 2025 Location: Hotshot Bar & Grill-- Blüdhaven, New Jersey
Richard arrived at Hotshot with a sigh. He took a seat at the bar to make himself easy to find and tried to keep his heart from racing. He’d put on the pants, and while they didn’t have anything obscene like strips of mesh down either side, he didn’t think they were much better. They clung to his thighs and maybe if he’d ridden a bike here it would have been fine, but he’d driven his normal little sedan. The stupid shirt and vest combination that had come with the pants felt more like saran wrap and everything just felt like he was putting himself on display for attention rather than entertainment.
He shuddered at the thought.
You just command so much attention, Barbara had told him with a withering sigh, And it was nice to just be the center of it for once.
“Hello,” the bartender said, “Can I get you a drink?”
“Whiskey,” Richard said easily, “A triple.”
“Oh?” the man asked and pulled out a tumbler, “You had a hard day?”
“First date,” he said.
“Nerves?” he asked and slid the glass across to him.
“Something like that—“
“Jesus, what did they feed that guy?”
He swallowed and turned to watch as Ciaran walked into the building. As with the first time that he saw Ciaran, he couldn’t even disagree with the sentiment. Ciaran was large, muscular, tall, leaning far closer to Superman in build than most would think possible. He took hold of his glass as Ciaran walked toward him.
“Nice to see you, Richard,” Ciaran said.
Richard hoped his smile was more confident and less horrified as Ciaran climbed into the seat beside him.
“Can we eat at the bar?” Ciaran asked.
“Of course, I’ll get you two menus.”
Ciaran smiled and turned to him, “Had a rough day?”
“Not… exactly,” Richard sighed as he swirled his drink, “I’m just a bit nervous.”
“Oh?” Ciaran asked, “A triple’s worth of nervous?”
He smiled, “You could say that.”
Ciaran chuckled, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
The bartender poured another glass, and before Richard realized it, they were ordering an appetizer and Ciaran was talking about his day with his students. He’s sure that he responds appropriately. He knows he does, but he can’t stop the rising feeling of terror in his chest.
Oh god, what was he doing? On this date, in these stupid pants that clung more than covered like he was a rent boy or something.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been accused of being a whore before. He certainly felt it. Someone had said something as he entered, a woman he thought about the fit of his pants. Maybe it was a man.
What was he doing here talking to Ciaran Macken who seemed to not only have his life together but was dressed immaculately? There was nothing about what Ciaran was wearing that said anything but “well-dressed”. He should have just gone with his regular jeans and not listened to Koriand’r or Artemis.
Their gazes met and he really hoped that his smile didn’t betray the mounting terror in his chest.
How much whiskey had he had?
He glanced to his glass and found it still mostly full. Had the bartender been topping him off? Had he been drinking or was he just holding the glass for something like stability and calm?
He bet Ciaran had simply been enjoying his whiskey rather than finding some sort of bravery from it. He’d known from the way his students had looked at Ciaran that he was a man who exercised a certain amount of control over every interaction just by virtue of his presence. He hadn’t seemed to use his size to intimidate so much as allow it to portray—
“Are you alright,” Ciaran asked popping a bar nut in his mouth, “You seem… a little out of it.”
“Oh, yeah. I just… I was…” Richard lowered his head.
Ciaran chuckled, “You could have just said no.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Richard do something. Say something? What the fuck are you doing?
“No… what?” Ciaran asked.
“I-I… It’s not that I—I mean I—“He shut his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut to try and get a grip on what he was trying to say.
What was he trying to say? What could he say to make this okay?
You’re fucking this up.
You’re such a fuck up.
Irresponsible, useless, failure—shut up!
He gasped at the warmth of Ciaran’s hand on his. Their gazes met and Ciaran’s warm brown eyes searched his. He couldn’t breathe, the strength of those eyes, the way they seemed to pierce through him it shook him.
Useless, scatterbrained—you’re so fucked up that it’s written all over your stupid, ugly face.
At least you have a nice body, maybe that’ll be enough to distract him for a while.
At least you won’t get close enough to think about marriage this time around. It’s not like—
“Breathe, Richard,” Ciaran said and Richard released the breath that he hadn’t realized he was holding, “Again.”
The burning in his chest eased as he forced another breath through his lungs.
“Now that you aren’t going to pass out from lack of oxygen,” Ciaran said, “Maybe you want to talk about why you’re so anxious?”
“I… I look cheap.”
Ciaran’s eyes widened, “I’m sorry?”
“I… I’m— You’re so fucking put together and smart and clearly attractive. I’m a fucking mess in pants that are probably so tight they’re about to rip because I couldn’t make a fucking decision about what to wear on this date because I wanted to make a good impression, but I just ended up looking cheap. I don’t even know how much alcohol I’ve had. I’m not a drunk I swear, I just– I mean, it didn’t take much for me to– but I—I shouldn’t have listened to my friends’ advice and just—And god, now I’m rambling and you probably think I’m fucking crazy. What the—“
He shut his mouth with a click as his cheeks heated and he registered the surprised look on Ciaran’s face. Richard swallowed and looked away.
“I-I… I should go,” Richard said and fumbled for his wallet, “I think I’ve made enough of a fool of myself for the century. I don’t know why I thought I could do this. I’m such a fucking idiot—“
“Sit,” Ciaran said with an edge to his voice that made him sit down and keep his mouth shut as Ciaran slid his glass across the bar to him and Richard made a not to never return to Hotshot as no doubt the bartender thought he was fucking crazy.
Richard took the glass hesitantly, but Ciaran remained looking at him until he lifted the glass to drink.
“You’re nervous,” Ciaran said, “Clearly. I can’t begin to guess why, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that you’re drinking and wearing what you’re wearing.”
Richard nodded and lowered the glass.
“Drink the rest of it.”
Richard drank it and set the glass aside.
“Now,” Ciaran said, “Let’s clear a few things up. You don’t look cheap. You just finished your first glass of whiskey, and you’re certainly making an impression.”
“Now, if this was going to stress you out this much, I would have rather you not come out tonight,” Ciaran said, “We’re supposed to be having a good time. You look like you’re about to pass out.”
“Sorry,” Richard said, “I…Let’s just say I have anxiety issues and leave it at that.”
Ciaran grinned, “I figured. For now, let’s say that I like the way you look in your clothes, and I’m not nearly as well put together as you think that I am.”
Richard swallowed and Ciaran squeezed his hand, “Relax, Richard. Just relax.”
He nodded and forced the meditative rhythm he knows for panic but hardly ever used. The adrenaline in the field was always an advantage. Here, at a bar, he wasn’t sure if there was any good being nervous about anything.
“Tell me about something that doesn’t make you nervous,” Ciaran said sipping from his tumbler and looking at the menu.
His lips twitched and he considered saying something rather generic. Something acceptable, but he couldn’t find the words to do so. Instead, what he was shocked him at how honest it was.
Ciaran’s eyes lit up, “Skydiving, huh? Ever try base jumping?”
Richard skipped up the steps of his apartment, half sure that they would give out beneath him, but he didn’t mind it. His date had been at six o’clock. It was now close to midnight, and his heart was fluttering. He laughed and sprung up the steps to his apartment. He walked to his bedroom and flopped across the bed, exhausted, exhilarated and confident.
Ciaran had taken his meltdown in stride, calmed him down, and didn’t draw any attention to it.
Hell, he had an invitation to go to the Blüdhaven Carnival as in a few weeks.
You’re sure about this? Richard asked as they walked outside and stood in front of the building.
I’ve dealt with worse dates than someone almost having a panic attack, Ciaran said, Surprisingly, it will take a lot more than anxiety to scare me off, Richard.
Richard smiled, soft a shy as he pressed his pillow to his chest and reveled in the warm feeling filling him at the thought. He’d been honest about every part. Ther had been no subterfuge or half-truths about himself, about Richard as the last flying Grayson or anything else and Ciaran had seemed more interested in learning more and exploring Richard than Richard Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s former ward.
It had been a relief and a little terrifying, but the way Ciaran had looked at him at the end of the date had made his toes curl and his stomach flip.
His phone buzzed and buzzed again.
Wally: How’d your date go?
Artemis: Are you doing something I would do right now?
He snorted as it buzzed again.
Kori’: How did it go?
He smiled and added them all into one message, It went great. Minor meltdown, but we have another date in a couple weeks… I’m never wearing these pants again.
He sighed and relaxed back as his phone buzzed three times in quick succession.
Artemis: You’re not doing something right. And yeah, you will.
Wally: It wasn’t the pants, Richard. Are you okay?
Kori’: You will. The Crown of Tamaran demands it.