Everyone knew who Hartley Rathaway was. After all, the Rathaway's were one of the few big name rich families in the Keystone area. They were old money, older than most of the town. They were like Keystone and Central City's version of the Rochester's. Almost everyone knew what the Rathaway's looked like too, their faces made the Society pages in the newspaper, sometimes the front page, they had dedicated everything from public parks to office buildings to boats. Hartley was generally just a lurking figure behind them in those kind of pictures, but he made the front page of less reputable news sources.
Hartley Rathaway, troubled teen.
He'd been kicked out of all the private schools in Keystone, which was what had gotten him sent to Keystone high. His parents might view it as their last ditch effort to get their son through high school, but everyone else figured it was some sort of karmic punishment for being born into a family with so much money.
Hartley figured that being born deaf should have been enough but no…
"Hey, Geoff, is that who I think it is?" Dan, captain of the football team and quarterback, nudged his friend, Geoff. The two athletes were leaning against their lockers like they hadn't a care in the world. They probably didn't, football season had barely begun but they were already getting free passes from teachers simply because Keystone High's prize football team just had to win the State championship. Hartley hunched his shoulders and attempted to ignore them. If he hadn't needed the notes in his locker he would have just turned around and headed for the exit. There wasn't anyone in the hallway but the three of them, and it was late enough after school that half the teacher's had already gone home.
Hartley had stayed late in order to get some practice with the newest adjustment to his pipes. He couldn't, wouldn't, practice at home, there was too much danger of Jerrie or his parents walking in on him. If Jerrie did it… well, Hartley knew she would not turn him in, but his little sister was absolutely no good at keeping secrets. She didn't understand secrets.
His parents would probably send him away to Breedmore Correctional Institute.
"I think it is, Dan." Geoff was a running back, not the biggest of guys but he was at least six inches taller than Hartley and about twice as wide. "Hey, hey Hartley, what're you doing here so late?"
Harley pretended not to hear them as he spun the dial for his locker. If he got what he wanted fast enough… he couldn't out run them, but maybe he could out think them. His pipes were in his bag, if he got them out…
Geoff grabbed the half-open locker door and yanked it out of Hartley's grasp, slamming it open against the other lockers. Hartley flinched.
"I asked you a question, whatcha doing here so late?"
Dan laughed, loudly, like a hyena, or some sick twisted Arkham inmate. "You forget, Geoff, Hartley's half deaf! You need to talk louder!"
"I can hear-" Hartley began to say, only to be cut off by Geoff.
"I did forget, Dan! SO HARTLEY!" Hartley winced but there was nowhere to go with one of Geoff's hands clamped on his shoulder and the football player shouting loudly into his ear. Hartley's implants didn't squeal like normal hearing aids, instead they just sent the noise straight to Hartley's brain.
"CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?"
The idiots snickered, like that was the funniest thing they'd ever heard.
"Yes." Hartley gritted his teeth and dug his nails into his palms. The headache behind his eyes was striking fast and vicious, promising to be an extremely painful migraine by the time Hartley got home. If he was lucky he'd only have a few bruises to go along with the headache. "I can hear you now, Geoff."
Thick, calloused hands 'patted' Hartley on the back, forcing him bodily against the rows of lockers.
"I'm glad to hear that, Hartley, really glad. I mean, if you couldn't hear me, how could you answer my questions, right Dan?" Dan shouted his agreement, making Hartley wince again. "And I just want to ask what you're doing here so late."
"I was practicing." Hartley twitched his shoulders and grabbed his notes. Great, he had what he needed, now he just needed to make an escape. At least that's what Hartley thought until the notes were smacked out of his hands by Dan.
"Really?" Dan sneered. "Practicing what? Cocksucking?" Hartley didn't need his notes badly enough to get on his knees and pick them up, not after a comment like that. He closed his locker and turned to go, but Dan grabbed him and slammed him back up against the lockers, his fist slamming into Hartley's solar plexis.
"Aw, c'mon Hart! Don't leave!" Geoff kicked his legs out from under him and Dan let go, causing Hartley to crumple to the floor on top of his notes, curled up in pain. "We're just asking you a few questions!" A swift kick and Hartley slid backwards to hit the lower rung of lockers, his head knocked painfully against one of the locks.
"And you haven't answered any of them yet." Dan yanked Hartley up by his ponytail. "So stick around."
Hartley knew he should have cut his hair.
Wally liked the chemistry teacher at Keystone High. Sure, the rest of his teachers sucked, but the Chemistry teacher was also the teacher in charge of the Chemistry club and a big fan of Wally's uncle Barry. Not even a fan of him as the Flash, because Wally wouldn't be able to cash in on that, but a fan of Barry's work as a forensic scientist. That meant that the teacher didn't really mind that the Chemistry club was basically Wally, a handful of ghost members who showed up when pizza was involved, and this girl named Frankie who was actually kind of creepy. Not that she wasn't a nice girl, she was, and she was also kind of pretty, but she had these braces and she tended to short out computers. Wally'd flirted with her like once, and then she'd flirted back… and then she'd started showing up after his classes and had joined the chemistry club.
It was a little creepy.
Wally was avoiding Frankie following him home by taking the long way around the school. Once he got outside he'd be able to super-speed it anyway, though Wally didn't like to do that because it put a lot of strain on his clothes. The Kid Flash uniform was built to handle super-speed, Levi's jeans were not.
"C'mon, fag, is that all you've got?" Wally froze just around the corner the shouting was coming from. He hadn't been paying a lot of attention but that… that didn't sound good. Now that definitely had his attention. "He's not even putting up a fight, is he Geoff, weak little limp wristed piece of-"
"Hey!" Wally stepped out into the hallway. He could see a crumpled floor on the floor and two football players standing over it. A quick glance made Wally think that it was a girl on the ground, but a second glance and Wally realized that it was Hartley Rathaway.
The long red hair and the skinny jeans had just confused him for a minute.
"I'm calling the cops! This is assault!" That would, of course, have required that Wally have his cellphone on him.
"You a fag too, West?" Dan sneered, but he looked at least a little less sure. Hartley wasn't moving and Wally had a brief panic attack. What if it was more than assault? What if it was murder? Wally wasn't dressed as Kid Flash, though he could change that quickly.
Heh, change quickly.
"At least I'm not a bigot!" Wally fished around in his backpack and, oh hey, he did have his cellphone on him! He pulled it out and began to punch 911.
"Fucker!" Geoff stepped over Hartley's limp body and raced down the hallway towards Wally. "Dan, c'mon, we gotta stop him!" Dan was a few steps behind Wally. Wally turned and ran. He was sure to run slow enough so that Dan and Geoff would be able to keep just out of reach, at least until he passed the front office, then he turned a corner and put on a burst of speed, bypassing the entrance to the school and instead speeding up the stairs at the end of the hallway back to the second floor. He then raced back to Hartley, making sure to slow down to a normal run before he turned the corner.
"Hartley!" That was such a ridiculous name, had his parents wanted him to get picked on? Wally dropped to his knees and reached out to touch the older student's shoulders.
"Don't shout." The other redhead carefully picked himself up and leaned back against the lockers. He winced and brought a hand to the back of his head, when his hand came away his fingers were sticky with blood. "I have a headache."
"Let me call an ambulance…" Wally was back to dialing 911, and really for such a short number he shouldn't be having so much trouble. This time Hartley had snatched away the phone before Wally could even get the 9-1 in.
"Don't want to call the police." Hartley stated snappily. "It'll just cause trouble for my parents." Slowly, Hartley pushed himself to his feet. He wobbled though, and Wally was standing at his side before either of them had blinked. Which, oops, would not be a good thing, except he was pretty sure Hartley had a concussion anyway. "I need… you're Wally West, right? The science whiz?"
Grinning at being recognized wasn't exactly hard, though Wally probably shouldn't have been so happy about it, but hey, when you win the State Wide Science Fair for two years in a row you should get recognized, right? "That's me! And, uh, you're Hartley Rathaway."
Hartley smoothed back a few strands of hair that had escaped his pony tail during the beating. His smile was nice, if a bit bloody, and he held out a hand to Wally. "I don't really need an introduction. Thanks for saving me from… more of that."
Shaking Hartley's hand wasn't a hardship, and once Wally had a grip on him he didn't intend to let go, especially not with the way Hartley was wobbling "I'm faster than those guys any day of the week… if you don't want to call 911, can I at least help you get home?"
"I…" Hartley wobbled some more. "Could you help me pick up my notes?"
Then he fainted into Wally's waiting arms.
When Hartley woke up he could admit his surprise. Oh, he wasn't surprised to find himself at the hospital, he wasn't even surprised that he was in an examination room already, though it couldn't have been that long since he had gotten to the hospital (Keystone General was at least a half an hour car ride though if it had been in an ambulance the ride might have been shortened), what Hartley was surprised by was the red headed freckled face hovering in his vision. "You're awake! Okay, that's good, I, uh, told the nurse's I was your cousin so they'd let me stick around, can you stick to that story?"
Dumbfounded, Hartley nodded.
The next few hours were an unpleasant blur. Hartley was poked, prodded, pinched, punctured, x-rayed, bandaged, and then questioned. By the time his parents showed up Hartley had told the police that he'd fallen down the school's stairs (they hadn't bought it) and Wally had found him. (Wally had made an upset noise when Piper had said that, which hadn't really helped Piper's case.) Wally had come clean about not being Hartley's cousin, but neither the nurses nor the police were in any hurry to usher Wally out of the room, especially not after Hartley had grabbed Wally and said he didn't want him to leave. After all, Hartley would be staying in the Doris Rathaway Pediatric Wing when the doctors were done with him.
"We'd like him to stay overnight." The doctor was saying to Mr. and Mrs. Rathaway. Hartley stared up at the ceiling and tried to keep awake. It had been a long day, and they'd probably slipped something into his IV to help him overcome the cracked ribs, broken arm, and sprained ankle. Hartley was just glad he'd gotten out of everything without a serious head injury, sure he was bleeding, but it was barely a scratch. There also didn't seem to be any internal bleeding, but the doctors were keeping him overnight anyway.
"Oh man." Wally checked his watch and then pulled a cellphone out of his pants pocket. He glanced around the room nervously and Hartley watched him, curious. Wally West wasn't exactly a well-known face around the school, not as well-known as Dan and Geoff were, but his science experiment from last year's fair had caught the attention of one of the Rogues, James Jesse, aka the Trickster. Hartley hadn't really cared, but Trickster had cackled about it for weeks before he'd used Wally's research on gravity and electromagnetism to pull off a heist. It wasn't really Piper's thing (oh, science was alright but electromagnetism wasn't exactly useful when applied to music) but Hartley'd remembered the name and face anyway.
"Don't have a signal?" Hartley questioned as Wally wandered around the room with his phone lifted up.
"It's probably all the equipment." The younger man flipped his phone open and then closed. "I'm not supposed to use a cell-phone in a hospital anyway . Um, I guess I should get going."
Hartley glanced at his parents standing outside the room talking to the doctors. The last thing he wanted was to be left alone with them… but it was probably better than having any dirty laundry aired in front of the underclassman. "Thanks for calling for an ambulance, West. I'll see you around."
A guilty look flashed across Wally's face but before Hartley could do more than notice it Wally was out the door. He mumbled a few words to Hartley's parents, who looked both relieved and confused, and then walked down the hallway. Hartley stared up at the ceiling of his hospital room and… stewed. He wasn't sure why, but now that he thought about it… Wally's voice had been familiar.
It wasn't just because of the science fair thing, Piper was sure of it. Had he heard Wally sing, maybe? No, Wally wasn't a member of the Glee club. Was it something else? A speech? …maybe, but it was more familiar than having heard a classmate talk now and again. It was like…
"Hartley." His mother placed a warm, dry hand over his. Her hands were always so smooth on one side, while the other was rough. She battled constantly with dry skin going through expensive designer lotion after expensive designer lotion. It was tough not flinching away. He and his parents… weren't touchy people.
His mother withdrew her hand, looking hurt, before she spoke again. "Hartley, the policeman said you claimed to fall down the stairs, is that true?"
Doubt swirled through her voice and Hartley had to suppress a scowl. Instead he just frowned at his mother while his father leaned against the opposite wall and frowned back at him. If it hadn't been for hospital rules Hartley knew his father would be smoking.
"You've already made up your mind." Piper wanted to shrug, but it hurt too much, instead he looked away. "So why are you even bothering to ask, mom?" He heard more than felt his mother flinch, her starched suit jacket rustled, and her shoulders hit the back of the hospital chair with two soft 'whuffs' while the chair squeaked, ever so slightly. To Hartley it was as loud as a shout.
Most people wouldn't even have noticed.
"It was that Earl wasn't it?" His mother asked, no, demanded. "I've told you before he's no good-"
"It wasn't Earl!" If Hartley was a less controlled person he would have tossed his pillow at the wall, or possibly have attempted to stifle himself with it. As it was he merely curled the fingers of his good hand into the scratchy fabric of the hospital bedding. "I fell down the stairs. That's what happened."
His mother pressed her lips together in a thin line; the edges of her eyes looked pinched. Hartley knew that look, he'd known that look since he was five and had started to realize that he and his parents wouldn't always agree on things. His father was muttering under his breath, his fingers twitching slightly. Hartley didn't realize it, but he was mirroring his mother's expression.
"I'm tired." He said, even though it wasn't that late, as he lay back on the bed though Hartley found that he was tired. Maybe there was something in his I.V. or maybe getting beaten up had something to do with it. Piper didn't remember feeling this tired after a fight with the Flash though…
But those generally were a lot less… physical.
Piper turned his face away from his parents and yawned.
You know your life is messed up when fighting a superhero is less painful than dealing with schoolmates.
Fridays were both Wally's favorite day of the week and the day he hated the most. While Mondays were just depressing and Tuesdays were worse, Fridays seemed to stretch on forever. By the last period of the day (English, it always had to be English) Wally was jiggling nervously in his seat, his foot tapping on the ground fast enough that it was practically a vibration. Wally had accidentally blown things up before by vibrating nervously. There was also a teacher who he used to regularly give migraines because of the buzzing noise of his fidgeting. This Friday was different. Wally was still filled with nervous energy but he was also distracted.
Since yesterday Wally had not been able to think about anything but Hartley Rathaway's attack. He'd talked to his parents about it… but as worried as they were for Wally's classmate they hadn't been there, they hadn't seen it, and more importantly they weren't heroes. Barry was busy wrapping up a case with the police (the life of a forensic scientist and all that) so while he had taken Wally's call he had been busy and it was not an emergency so Wally did not want to bother his uncle.
He just wasn't sure what to do.
He knew Hartley was gay, or… well, okay, he was pretty sure Hartley was gay. It wasn't like the other redhead had come out to him directly or anything but everyone at Keystone sort of 'knew' that Hartley Rathaway was gay. Was that homophobic? Probably a little. Wally didn't think there was anything wrong with being gay, he was all about, uh, freedom of expression and open sexuality and all that. After all, he was crushing hard on an alien. Miss M. wasn't even the same species as him, that was way weirder than liking the same gender.
Wally was pretty sure Hartley, and okay, seriously, Wally needed to have a talk with Hartley's parents about that name, had gotten kicked out of one of those fancy private schools because he was homosexual. There had been tabloids…
"Wallace!" A hand smacked down on top of Wally's desk which shocked Wally out of his contemplation and actually sent him tumbling out of his chair. He half expected his classmates to laugh at his antics before he realized that the room was empty except for him and Mister Graff. The older teacher pushed his glasses up his nose and gave Wally a look down his slightly crooked nose. "I realize you find my class boring, but I would appreciate it if you would not be so obvious about the fact you fall asleep with your eyes open."
"I wasn't…" Wally picked himself up and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. He glanced quickly at the clock hanging above the door and winced. Oooh man, ten minutes of space out? "Uh, I was just thinking about…" What had they been talking about in class again?
"About getting out of here." Mr. Graff began gathering things on his desk and nodded in the direction of the door. "Even teachers count the days till the weekend, Mister West."
Given leave to flee, Wally did so as quickly as 'humanly' possible. He stopped at his locker to grab his things and then trickled out of the school with the rest of the late leavers. Once he was out of sight of the general populace Wally sped home to change into his Kid Flash outfit and drop off his school bags (he could do all of his homework Sunday!) before he began his run to Mount Justice.
He took the long route just so he could have some time to think.
What was he supposed to do? Rath had lied to the police, he'd made it clear that he didn't want to talk about the attack, much less pursue legal routes.
Rath was an awful nickname.
H.R.? No, that was worse.
Wally ran over a bridge instead of risking a river bloated with melted snow and recent rainfall.
Hart was a good nickname.
"Okay, Hart it is."
"Hart what is?"
"Holy-!" Wally fell over gracelessly, his knees and shoulders hitting the wet grass and he flipped over to face whoever it was who had surprised him. He probably should have expected someone to be hanging out around the entrance of Mount Justice it was just… well, he hadn't been paying attention. "Holy crap, Robin." The shorter, younger hero smirked while Wally dusted himself off. Thankfully the costume was resistant to grass stains. If it wasn't he'd be covered in green all the time and people would get him and Artemis confused. "You could give me a heart attack or something. One day you totally will give someone a heart attack."
"Been there, done that, actually." Robin easily flipped onto his hands and stared at Wally from upside down. "There was this one mobster…" Then he was back on his feet. "Well, let's just say it's a good thing Batman carries around a spare defibrillator. So, back to my original question, Hart what?"
Wally rubbed the back of his head and started walking towards the holographically disguised entrance. "There's this guy at my school, Hartley Rathaway, I was trying to come up with a nickname for him."
"Hartley Rathaway?" Robin questioned, trotting a little to keep up with Wally. They were announced by the computer but not greeted by anyone so they started walking for the lounge area of Mount Justice. "Of the Central City Rathaway's?"
"…yeah?" Wally frowned at Robin and stopped walking, they stood in the middle of the hallway, close enough to hear that someone was watching the TV but not close enough to hear what show was on. "You know him?"
"I know enough about Hartley Rathaway to know he probably won't like any nickname you come up with." Robin snorted and twitched his shoulders, the twitch that Robin only used when he'd been personally insulted by the person in question. It was the 'Catwoman called me short' twitch, or the 'Killer Croc called me twiggy' twitch, it was not the 'I know this guy from newspaper clippings' twitch. "He's pretty standoffish."
"Well, he did used to be deaf, dude." Wally wasn't sure why he found himself defending Hartley. "I mean, didn't he? That's what I heard anyway, and then some guy cured it… and he's not that bad. I mean, he didn't seem that bad…"
Behind the mask Robin's eyes were narrowed and Wally found himself sweating, just a little bit, under his collar.
"Kid Flash, Robin." Batman's voice was short and it shook the two of them out of their silent standoff. "There is a mission."
Wally had never been happier to hear those words.
Hartley wasn't surprised at all when he opened his eyes to find someone else in the room. His parents had fought to stay at the hospital and the nurses had moved Piper to a room which had a couch and another bed in it where his parents were now safely ensconced. They slept the fitful sleep of the worried and uncomfortable and had woken several times to wander the room, but those weren't the people in the room that Piper had sensed. Piper glanced around the room, almost but not totally surprised when he saw his parents were gone. He had half expected Captain Cold to freeze them or something, although that might have endangered Piper's secret identity.
"They stepped out, the cops wanted to talk to them about something." Cold's smirk did say that that 'something' had been his fault, but other than that he didn't provide any more information.
"Did you want something?" Piper winced at how he sounded, tired and croaky. He reached for the water at the side of the bed and winced when his ribs ached and he jostled his broken arm. Cold snorted and poured water into one of the small paper cups and handed it to him. "Thank you."
"Rogues don't get laid up without The Flash around, kid," And oh, okay, this? This was not a conversation Piper wanted to be having. "What happened."
When Len Snart, aka Captain Cold, asked you a question… it wasn't ever really a question. Not when you were a Rogue. When you were a Rogue and Captain Cold wanted to know something, you told him, or else.
"I fell down the-" Cold's cold gun didn't make a whine audible to most people but Piper? Piper could hear it. Breaking out in a cold sweat at the sound of it was so cliché, but Piper… well, he did. "It's really none of your business."
The gun whined again as it was shut down and Len stood. Hartley tried not to visibly show signs of discomfort or pain as he tipped is head back to keep a steady gaze on Captain Cold's shadowed face.
"You're a Rogue, kid, and the Rogues take care of their own."
Then Captain Cold left, not fading into the shadows like a super-villain, but out the door with his parka pulled over his head. Piper watched him go and shook his head. He wasn't sure he'd ever understand how the rest of the Rogues worked. They weren't a family, but they were closer than a group of villains should be, and they had… strange rules. Not the 'no killing the superhero' rule, that one made a lot of sense, and the anti-drug rule also made sense. Okay, so the rules weren't strange, it was just the general idea. They took a lot of pride in being The Flash's Rogues, even if they didn't particularly care for the Flash.
Kid Flash wasn't bad though.
Kid Flash… Piper closed his eyes and squirmed slightly. There was something about Kid Flash that, suddenly, seemed familiar. What was it…?
Hartley let his eyes fall closed and fell asleep to the worried whispering of his parents as they both slipped back into his hospital room. The next time he awoke was when the nurses changed his IV at about six in the morning. He woke with a fuzzy mouth and the fading remnants of a dream where Kid Flash, Captain Cold, and his parents were trapped in his school with him while the murderer from Scream killed them off one by one. It left him shaky and unwilling to fall back asleep, no matter how early it was. It was not all that hard to keep himself awake, even though he did not want to turn on the lights or the television and end up waking his parents Piper could listen to what was going on in the rest of the hospital, or at least the surrounding area. In the room next to Piper's someone was snoring, and while the nurse's treads were soft their breathing was loud.
When the food tray came around Piper listened as it rolled down the hallway, the front left wheel squeaked and rattled every few feet.
The breakfast served was bland, half cooked, and hardly palatable, and it was hard eating with his left hand, his mother fluttered uselessly while his father grumbled into his first cup of coffee (too hot and strong enough to melt holes in the floor) and the first few hours of Sunday were spent absolutely uncomfortably until Piper's parents went to get the paperwork for his release. Then Piper could at least turn on the television without worrying about what his parents would say or think.
"-reports of Captain Cold attacking police officers at Keystone General last night-"
Hartley quickly changed the channel.
Wally checked in with Hartley's homeroom teacher on Monday and wasn't surprised to find out that the older teen wasn't there. He was surprised to find out the teacher had no idea what had happened to Hartley, but then again, Keystone and Central City were big cities that pretended to be small towns, it meant that gossip didn't always travel as fast as expected. What the teachers did know was that Hartley was staying home after an accident… which was probably what Hartley wanted them to think, and probably what the Rathaways would continue to tell people. After all, rich people didn't like bad press, right? And the Rathaways were rich…
"Should I get him a fruit basket?" Wally paced in front of his Aunt Iris. "I mean, I don't want to be insulting or anything. It's not like I'm calling him fruity, I mean, I'm pretty sure he's gay, everyone's pretty sure he's gay, and that's why he was attacked, but I don't want to, you know, insult him." He dragged his fingers through his hair and glanced desperately at his amused looking aunt. "It's not an insult if I get him a fruit basket, is it?"
"No-" Iris began, but Wally had returned to pacing and ranting.
"Though, he could probably buy his own fruit basket, and he's out of the hospital now, does that mean I shouldn't buy a fruit basket? What about a card, oh man, I should definitely buy him a get well card, shouldn't I?"
"But I don't know if he'd like one, I mean, sure, what kind of person doesn't like cards? But some people are really weird and I don't want to insult him. Maybe a muffin basket? But then he might be like 'well why didn't you get me a fruit basket', Aunt Iris, what if he prefers fruit to muffins and I get him the wrong one?!"
"Wally," One stressed word from his aunt and a foot thrust into the path of his pacing forced Wally to stop. "I think you should go buy your friend a card, a nice one and then you should go visit your friend. I'm sure he doesn't need a fruit basket but he would probably appreciate company and for you to bring him that homework you got from his teachers." Wally pulled a face, no one liked homework, but when the teachers had asked if Wally would take it to Hartley he couldn't exactly say no. "You can go run to the drug store to get the card and I'll go get my keys. I'll drop you off at the Rathaways."
He flashed over to give his aunt a kiss on the cheek, "Thanks, Aunt Iris," before he bolted out the door and down the street. He was sure to slow down once he got within view of the drug store but it was hard. He was nervous, way too nervous for such a simple task, but he'd been worrying about Hartley all weekend. The mission (computer stuff was boring) had eaten up a lot of his weekend with Young Justice and by the time he got home on Sunday it was way too late to be visiting anyone, and obviously he'd had to go to school Monday, which had just given him hours and hours (that felt like days) to stew and worry. Wally hadn't seen Dan or Geoff all day… and that was probably for the best.
He wasn't sure what he would do if he did see the two bullies.
Picking out a card proved to be the hardest part. There were all kinds of different get well cards, not to mention blank cards or spiritual ones. Wally passed over the spiritual ones, he figured Piper wouldn't like those, and instead spent several minutes flipping one singing get well card open and then another. Eventually he was standing there debating between a generic card with flowers, or a singing card that played the first few bars of the unofficial Flash TV series when opened up.
There was no question about it, really.
Wally paid for the Flash card and walked until he was out of sight before speeding back to his aunt's.
"What took you so long?" Iris questioned as she locked the door.
"I had to pick the right card." Wally's foot tapped impatiently as he stood next to his Aunt Iris' car. He'd prefer to run over, but he could see why his aunt would want to drive him. Secret Identities and all that… plus the Rathaways probably lived like, really far out or something.
After a car ride which was interminably long (maybe about 30/40 minutes) Iris drove up the high fence that surrounded the Rathaway mansion*. It wasn't really a fence it was more like a wall and it was rather out of place in the suburban neighborhood the Rathaways resided in, then again, the glass and brick house was also out of place with the rather normal neo-eclectic houses that filled the rest of the neighborhood.
"I guess we should announce ourselves." Iris stated, bemused. She made a move to turn off the car but Wally stopped her.
"I'll do it, I mean, I met them." He hopped out of the car before Iris could say yes or no and walked up to the little voice box on the side of the gate. He pressed the little black button and eyed the fence while he waited for a response.
He wondered why the Rathaways felt the need for a chain link fence topped with barb wire. They did have a lot of land to protect (the fence seemed to go around a plot five times the size of the rest of the neighborhoods which were large even for suburban Keystone McMansions) and were a rich family but… it seemed overkill, because really, out of prisons or correctional homes or housing provided by amusement parks where did you find barbed wire in a residential area?
Bzzz-kk. "Hello? Who is it?" Wally had a brief moment where he forgot everything and almost introduced himself as Kid Flash. That would have been embarrassing.
"Wally, er, Wally West? I go to school with Hart-er, Hartley. I wanted to see how he's doing? And uh, drop off his homework?" There was a short pause and Wally fumbled for more words. "I helped get him to the hospital?"
A crackle of static over the intercom and then the voice again. "Drive up to the front of the house, Mister West, I will inform Master Hartley that he has company." Wally stared at the intercom for a second longer but then the gate was pulling back and Wally rushed (normal speed, Wally, normal speed) to climb back into his aunt's car.
"I think they have a butler." Wally hissed at his aunt who was probably glad that her car was a stick shift just so she did not have to worry about Wally clinging to her arm. "Or a maid, it was hard to tell."
"The Rathaways are old money, Wally." Iris steered the car slowly up the driveway. "I wouldn't be surprised if they had a butler and more than one maid." She reached the front of the house and put the car into park. "Do you want me to wait here?" Wally glanced at the big big house that was just waiting for a supervillain to shatter all of its windows and then back to his aunt and then back to the big house and then back to his aunt.
"I think I'll be fine?" When Iris looked unsure Wally gathered up his stuff and hastily reassured her. "I'll be fine! I mean, I have my phone, I'll call you if things go south or I'll call my mom for a ride. I mean, generally I'd run but, secret identity and all." There was a maid standing in the doorway now complete with black dress and white apron. Wally didn't know those kind of maids actually existed in reality. He zipped his bookbag shut after checking that he had all of his homework and kissed his aunt quickly on the cheek. "Bye, Aunt Iris!"
Then he shut the door to his aunt's car and turned to look at the Rathaway mansion. Past the maid he could see an antechamber filled with expensive and probably breakable things.
*For reference, I am referring to the house seen in Flash #32 instead of the one shown in Flash #174 and later even though the house seen in 174 is prettier.
Hartley… really wasn't sure what to think about Wally West. On the one hand, he was obviously a smart kid, on the other hand he was… well, childish and apparently a Flash fan. The little card bleated out a tiny rendition of the worst theme song ever (fitting since the Flash was… well, the Flash) and the card even had a little pop up Flash that waggled a bit when Piper moved the card. If Piper had been given the card by any of the Rogues it would have obscenities scrawled on it but coming from Wally it was… sincere.
"Thanks." Hartley closed it, then opened it up again. The tiny song was kind of catchy actually and with a few modulations… Yes, with a few modulations Piper could definitely use the Flash's theme song, and if he could manage to get into the circuitry of the card… well, not this card. Piper was going to need to pick up a few copies of it so he could be sure to get it right.
Plus, this card was for him.
"I guess you're a Flash fan, huh?" Hartley sets the card aside and glances at Wally. Wally, Wallace West (he's probably got a middle name in there somewhere) is bright eyed and… well, Piper is sure that he could be referred to as 'bushy tailed' as well. He's young and fresh faced and innocent looking, with red hair and big green eyes and a spattering of freckles over the bridge of his nose. He is the exact opposite of anything Piper would ever consider his 'type' but he's… cute enough, he supposes. Wally'd probably make some woman a happy husband someday.
"Is there anyone in Kesytone or Central who isn't?" Wally was practically vibrating in his chair. "I used to be the President of the Flash Fan club in my old town before my parents moved here. The fanclub here is way too big to do that though, the competition to be president is ridiculous!"
Hartley wasn't really sure what he was supposed to say to that. 'Really?' or 'you have to be joking.' Sounded so condescending. "I don't think the Flash would approve of killer competitions." And wow, wow, did he really just say that? Some days he was so embarrassed by the words that came out of his mouth. Half of the quips he came up with while fighting the Flash embarrassed him, after all.
Wally laughed though, so it made Hartley feel a little bit better.
They were both seated in the area of the house that his parents referred to as the 'morning room'. In the morning it got a lot of sun and was quite pleasant but Piper actually preferred it at night, the reason why was because of the piano situated in the corner and the fact that his parents never used the room past noon.
While his parents kept each piano in the house (there were four) perfectly tuned no one but Piper and one of the maids ever used them and when Piper played his parents complained. Jerrie liked to listen, but Piper could admit that his musical skills did not lay in making music, just in using it for his own means. Still, he enjoyed playing, he could hear things in the music (even as badly played as he played it) that others could.
Jerrie liked listening sometimes.
"So, how're all of your…" Wally waved a hand up and down then down and up. "And why didn't you tell the police?"
"They're, I'm, fine." A pregnant pause while Hartley found himself faced with a surprisingly powerful glare. He almost felt guilty. "They're football players, I'm a-" the word twisted Hartley's mouth, the community was 'reclaiming' it, supposedly, but since his last meeting with the word had been at the hands and feet of his attackers it tasted sour to him, "-fag. I don't want to have to deal with testifying or the police or the Twinkie defense." It didn't matter how rich his parents were or how right he would be for prosecuting the bullies, he didn't want the media attention.
For one thing, it's not like he wore a lot of protection over his face when he was the Pied Piper.
For another, there were far more poetic means of revenge available to him.
"But they should go to jail, they could attack you again, or maybe they'll hurt someone else-"
"Hartley?" A soft voice question from the doorway. Wally stopped his tirade by biting down on his lip and Hartley was grateful. The last thing he wanted was for Jerrie to hear anything.
Getting up was hard, it was more awkward than painful, but his sprained ankle gave a twinge when he put pressure on it to avoid moving his arm. Jerrie hung in the half open doorway, her hand tight on the doorknob. When Jerrie was born Piper could admit that he'd been spitefully glad. His parents had made such a fuss over his disability and here was his precious sister (his replacement) who wasn't as perfect as they'd hoped either. That had been when he was young and stupid and now he couldn't even believe he would think such a thing.
"Did you want something Jerrie?"
Jerrie glanced between him and Wally. Her eyes were big, too big for her thin face, and the sunlight from the hallway caught in the wisps of strawberry blonde that framed her face.
The hair was a family trait.
"Can I meet your friend?"
"Sure, c'mon in." Jerrie entered the room slowly, veering to Hartley's side when Wally took a step forward and held out his hand. He placed his hand on her shoulder and edged her out from behind him. If he could have, he'd have gone down on one knee or squatted down beside her, but his ankle shivered and his bruises ached at the thought. "Jerrie, this is Wally West, he goes to my school."
Jerrie gave Wally a solemn look and Wally, who seemed mindful of how shy she was, did go down on one knee in front of her. Then he gave her a grin so bright it could give a supernova a run for its money. It was followed by a silly face, Wally crossing his eyes and making an exaggerated frown and giving himself moose ears with his fingers. Jerrie smiled, just a little, and held out her hand. Wally dropped the funny face to give her a very serious handshake.
"Mummy and daddy are taking me to my doctor's appointment." Jerrie said solemnly when the meet and greet finished. "I wanted to say goodbye." She leaned up and Hartley leaned down (ribs aching) and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. It was their goodbye ritual, her kissing him on the cheek followed by him brushing her hair behind her right ear. "Goodbye, Hartley. Don't fall down anymore stairs."
She left the room faster than she had entered it, but not by much. Hartley watched her go and knew he had one of those dopey big brother expressions on his face, the kind you wore when your little sibling was being cute and not when they were being royal pains.
"I didn't know you had a little sister." Wally stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned back on his heels.
"You don't actually know a lot about me." Hartley eased himself back down onto the fainting couch. He hated calling it that, but sofa and chaise would be utterly inaccurate and despite despising the control the patriarchy had over women in the Victorian age he could at least honor the pain they went through. He could not possibly imagine what would drive women to wear corsets so tight that they would pass out from simple exertions, but he supposed that was the price of being fashionable. Plenty of people, women and men, did stupider things in the modern age in order to fit in or appear desirable and were just as obsessed with being skinny. Just last month Hartley himself had fretted about a few extra pounds and whether he'd still be able to wear his polka dots without looking fat.
But he did run around in polka dots and tights regularly, so he felt he was entitled.
"No, I guess I don't." Wally's whole body wilted and Hartley felt bad. "I mean, we did just meet, I guess."
"It's not a bad thing." This was why he didn't have any friends outside the Rogues, wasn't it? And even the Rogues weren't really… well, they weren't friends, they were just… Rogues. "It means we can get to know each other without preconceived notions about one another." Except that Hartley already assumed that Wally assumed that he was gay… which, okay, he was and he was out, but it was still a preconceived notion.
"Should we go through the trouble of reintroducing ourselves?" Wally questioned with a grin. He bounced over to Hartley's seat and stuck his hand out. "Hi! I'm Wally West, I like chemistry and ice-cream and one day I want to be a forensic scientist."
The last part of the sentence almost threw Piper off. A forensic scientist? A cop? But still, Wally was young, a highschooler like Piper, and how often did one's dreams for a future career actually come true? Piper returned the handshake and the smile.
"Hi, I'm Hartley Rathaway, and I like music and sushi and I'd like to be a musician."
And for some reason, they both laughed.
Running to Star City was easy, it was easier than running to Mount Justice although Wally tended to get a little sidetracked when he was halfway there. There was a little fresh fruit and vegetable stand which had the best pies and jams. Wally liked stop in and top himself off. The speed force could use up a lot of energy, Wally had to make sure he ate enough to keep up with his metabolism. When he'd first gotten speedster powers he hadn't liked eating every time his body demanded it because he was worried about his parents’ check book. That was why Wally liked saving restaurants or bakeries, if they people working there were meta-friendly they tended to give Kid Flash a pass.
It meant Wally could grab food when he needed it.
Running to Star City was the easy part, the hard part was when Wally hit the city limits. Star City might not have been Gotham, with its labyrinthine streets, gritty lighting, and insane muggers (you had to be insane if you were going to try to mug someone when Batman might be around) but the bizarre maze of its suburbs and the fact that every street name got repeated at least five times in at least six different areas of the same city (only occasionally with a West, East, North, or South tacked on) made it hard to find your way on a map. Wally didn't need a nap but he still tended to get lost. Things in Star City curved, alright?
Like the flight of an arrow.
Which was a really gay analogy to make.
But at least he didn't say it curved like an erect-
"Are you going to stand there all day staring," Roy dangled off the end of a Star City fire escape before he dropped to the ground and bent to tie up two drug dealers that Wally had helped him knock out. Not like Red Arrow needed the help but Wally was happy to give it and… oh, he'd spaced out again.
"I have a lot on my mind." Wally zipped over in time to add an extra knot to the wriggling dealers before he had to hasten to catch up to an already leaving Red Arrow. The Star City police were on their way, their high pitched klaxons leading the way, and Red Arrow wasn't in any hurry to meet them. Wally followed Roy up a building (okay, Roy climbed the building and Wally ran up it and waited at the top) and then followed Roy's zig-zagging path over rooftops and through alleys and eventually into the basement of an abandoned theatre.
"Cool." Wally zipped around the sizable room, inspecting each table full of stuff as he went, before coming to a halt in front of Roy who was stripping off his quiver. "Is this your-"
"If you say Arrow Cave I will drop you where you stand." It wasn't really possible for people like Wally to glare through masks (he'd tried, it hadn't worked, Mirror Master had laughed at him) and a big point of his suit was to make him look guileless and an attractive target (better than civilians and it gave uncle Barry time to work) but people like Roy (and occasionally Dick and DEFINITELY Batman) made the glaring thing work. Right now he was glaring at Wally like he meant his threat.
"…Uh." Wally rubbed at his exposed hair. "Okay, I have nothing but ArrowCave." Roy made a motion to pull out an arrow and Wally darted back. "So this is your secret base?"
"It's not really a secret." Roy dropped his quiver onto a nearby table and his bow followed it, then an odd assortment of projectiles (small knives to smoke bombs to what looked like superballs) and finally Roy picked a small bottle of spray solvent off the table, sprayed his mask, and once the solvent had done its duty, pealed his mask off and set it on the table. "Dinah knows, Kaldur knows, and now you know. Not really a secret."
"Dude, it's totally a secret." This was probably the first time Wally had ever seen Roy without a mask on. It was… weird. Roy had a line of grit outlining where the mask had been and his skin was oddly pale under it. "I mean, Rob doesn't know, so it's a secret."
Roy frowned and it crinkled the skin at the corners of his eyes. "He probably does, I think he's tracking my bank records."
Wally knew Dick was tracking Roy's bank records, so a brief moment of awkward silence followed that remark. It was brief enough that Wally had only moved into thumb twiddling before Roy spoke again.
"What did you want?"
Okay, Wally could do this. It was what he'd come here to do. "I'm not really good at making friends as a, you know, civilian." Roy snorted, which showed how he felt about such an idea, and he went about taking off his armor. The Red Arrow uniform wasn't Batman's but it did have body armor… not on Roy's bare arms, however, which Roy should probably protect since arms are like, an archer's lifeblood. "Shut up, I'm amazing at making friends as Kid Flash! Anyway, so, there's this other guy at school, he's like, a junior. He's your age but there's been trouble and…"
Roy was giving him a look.
"Okay, so, he got attacked at school because he's gay but he doesn't want to tell the copsandIdon'tknowwhatodoaboutit!"
The last part came out in one big rush that would have left a normal person gasping for air, Wally had taken quick breaths in between each word that no one but a speedster would notice. There was a hushed silence (okay, more of an awkward silence but they'd already had an awkward silence and Wally figured if he made two awkward silences in, like, ten minutes, well it was probably saying something about his conversational skills that he did not want to acknowledge) before Roy's forehead furrowed and his eyes narrowed.
The Red Arrow Glare wasn't as scary without the mask.
"What are you asking me for?"
"Well, because you're-" Wally waved a hand to encompass the whole package. He drifted off when Roy's eyes got even narrower (could he even still see Wally?) and the glare doubled in strength. What had he said wrong?
Roy's fingers twitched and for a second it looked like he was going to grab his arrows off the table and start throwing them at Wally's head. "Because I'm what."
"Because you're older! I mean, you're Hartley's age, and I can't ask The Flash because I know what he'd say." His uncle was a nice guy but he could be kind of judgmental sometimes. Barry would tell him that he should report the crime if Piper wouldn't. "And you have parent issues and I think Hart does too because I never saw his parents when I went to visit and it's this big house but I did meet his sister…" Roy had stopped glaring but his right eyelid was twitching slightly as were his fingers. "Sorry, I'll stop now."
"So you're asking me for advice because I'm older," Roy took a step forward, Wally took a step back, "because I have issues with Green Arrow," another step forward, another step back, "because you know your mentor too well and you don't want to take his advice," two steps forward, two steps back, "and not because you think I'm gay."
"Well, no." Wally had his back up against the wall now and was forced to tip his head back to meet Roy's eyes. Roy was tall, tall and built, with thick arms that could lock you in like a cage which was what they were doing to Wally now. "I mean…" Deep down, Wally was a small town boy still, it was different dealing with a close friend who might be gay… especially when they were so close. "Are you?"
And so attractive.
Had he thought that?
"No." Roy smirked a little and let his arms fall to his side when he took a step back. "Bi, yeah, gay, no." Then Roy walked back across the room and pulled on a black t-shirt. "Now let me give you some advice…"
Going back to school wasn't the hard part, Piper thought it might be, thought that he might have problems walking the halls where he had been attacked; Wally certainly had thought that Hartley would have those problems. Hartley had never seen a more solicitous underclassmen, the other redhead had been waiting on the front steps when Hartley had arrived at school and Wally had helped him carry his things to his locker and then carry the books he needed for class into the classroom, then he had shown up after every class Hartley had (except for when Piper went to lunch, Wally had study hall at that point and it was on the other side of the building) and helped him between classrooms.
Hartley was glad he only had one class with Geoff and Dan, Bio II, his second to last class. It was not because he had trouble being in the same room as his attackers (they were on the other side of the room, too far for them to flick frog guts or anything else at him) but because Wally had glared at the two football players like he would have liked nothing better than to denounce them in front of the entire class. Piper had already begun a plan for revenge.
A plan he couldn't initiate with Wally showing up to escort him to and from each class and then down to the car waiting outside every day. It took around a week and a half before something happened that pulled Wally away. That Wednesday Hartley's cellphone buzzed with a hurried apology from Wally just as he was leaving his last class.
'Sorry, can't make it today, something came up, be safe!'
Piper smiled at his cellphone then headed for the band room. On the way to the room he was sure to pass by the classroom where Geoff and Dan spent most of their time hiding out. He knew it wouldn't take much to get them to come after him, both boys had been getting twitchier and twitchier the longer Hartley sat in the room and no one was arrested or questioned. Thankfully they hadn't tried to do anything stupid like attack Wally or go after Hartley again… Well, not until now. And now… it wasn't Hartley they were going to find.
The lockers in the band room were all held closed by combination locks, at least those that held expensive instruments. Piper braced the lock against the locker and flicked easily through the numbers he knew by heart before he clicked it open. He then pulled out several bright pieces of piping out of the locker. To anyone not looking at them seriously the pieces appeared to be from all different instruments, a bit of a cornet here, parts of a flute or a clarinet there, but someone looking a little closer would be able to tell that the pieces were obviously modified and were meant to all fit together. Only Piper knew how they all did however. It took him seconds to put together his second best pipe, which was seconds longer than it should have, no wonder Cold hadn't contacted him about any jobs. He had left his best pipes at home, not wanting to carry them around with him after the attack because he hardly wanted to be caught with them and he was sure that if Wally found them Wally would have questions. He had learned over their short friendship that Wally was both inquisitive about everything and absolutely obsessed with the Flash, he was sure that Wally would be able to identify the Pied Piper's favorite instruments.
"There he is." The band room doors swung open and Piper wasn't surprised at all to see that Geoff and Dan had brought friends "It's time we had a little chat, Rat-a-way."
The sad thing was, Piper thought as he began to play, was that Geoff probably thought he was being clever.
Wally was sure that his friends would have called him out on the fact that he was being over-protective, Robin certainly would have, and maybe he was acting a bit neurotic, but Hart was the first friend he'd made in years outside of superhero circles. Kid Flash was likable, a little clumsy, but good-hearted and funny. Wally West was considered, by most, to be just plain weird. It was not a secret identity thing Wally was just… well, he was weird, but when you were a superhero you were allowed to be a little weird, when you were a teenage boy you apparently weren't.
Plus, Hart'd been attacked before right? Wally was allowed to be worried.
It looked like he hadn't needed to though.
"I heard that they went streaking through the Principal's prize roses." One of the girls passing Wally on her way into the school giggled to the girl next to her.
"Yeah, well, I heard they're being placed into witness protection for seeing some big Supervillain crime." The girl next to her responded
"No way!" The two girls continued to chatter inside the school but they were far enough waway that Wally couldn't overhear. He didn't need to wonder who they were talking about anyway, all anyone had been chatting about was Greg and Dan's sudden disappearance. Everyone had theories although no one seemed to know the truth. It wasn't like Greg and Dan had disappeared even just that they weren't going to be coming to school anymore.
Wally wasn't even sure he could formulate a theory, a sudden change of heart was unlikely, blackmail was but he didn't think Hart would go for that and he was pretty sure Greg and Dan wouldn't have caved easily. Not easily enough to suddenly leave in one day.
Wally made a note to check in on Greg and Dan's families. Maybe there had been super-villain trouble.
"Morning, Wally." Hart had ditched the crutches and was limping up the handicap ramp. Wally gave his ankle a look which Hartley ignored. Instead he smiled slightly at Wally, just like he always did. One of the things Wally had noticed was that Hart rarely grinned or even full blown smiled, generally it was a little smirk or a half-cocked smile that lingered for hours. "So what happened yesterday?"
Heatwave decided to melt down an armored car for its spare parts. was what Wally stopped himself from saying. He just felt so comfortable with Hart, like he should be able to tell him about this stuff, but Hartley was a civilian. Instead Wally smiled awkwardly and rubbed the back of his head while shifting from foot to foot. The morning crowd continued to pass by them in groups of twos or threes. "I have this, well, I guess he's sort of an Uncle. He's an old family friend and he's getting a little old but he's really stubborn. Sometimes Jay decides he's going to do a project that he shouldn't do on his own and so Joan calls me and I rush over to their house as fast as I can. We're all trying to keep him from a heart attack." That wasn't necessarily a lie, it was like a white lie. No one wanted Jay to have a heart attack and Wally DID rush over when Jay tried to tackle a project that was too big for him.
Like last month when the Fiddler showed up wanting revenge, or that time last year when half of the old JSA ended up mind controlled and Jay needed to be stopped before he killed someone.
"That's…" Hartley hesitated and started to walk past Wally into the school building. "Interesting?"
"Not really." Wally trotted alongside of Hartley. It was easy for him to keep up with the other teen's limping tread; it was slowing down to make sure that Hartley kept up that was the problem. "Not nearly as interesting as what everyone's talking about this morning." Hart shot Wally an interested look as they pushed through the crowded hallways but Wally waited until they reached Hartley's locker to tell him. "Geoff and Dan are gone!"
Hartley almost dropped his books, Wally had to reach out to make sure the other redhead's backpack didn't tumble onto the floor and spill everywhere. The first bell started to ring (the one that warned students they had another five minutes to get to class before they were late) and Wally pushed the backpack into the locker and patted Hartley on the back.
"I'll see you after class, okay, Hart? Later!" Wally then rushed off to put his own unneeded books away, his attention on speeding through the crowd without speeding through the crowd.
It meant he missed Hartley's badly hidden full blown grin.
He supposes he shouldn't have been all that surprised when one of the Rogues showed up outside of his school. Well, no, as he'd been told before the Rogues were not an after school support group, they were villains, but the Rogues were also family. It was funny how Captain Cold discouraged and encouraged the notion of the Rogues as a family at the same time. Captain Cold had visited him on his sick bed, so Piper had known that news of his injuries and why he wasn't showing up to keep the minutes of their dastardly meetings would have gotten around. He was still waiting for Fury to show up and wish him well, but he was sure his boyfriend would show up eventually.
The girls were tittering, which wasn't unusual when an attractive older guy ended up sitting on a motorcycle in front of the school gates waiting for someone. Generally the attractive older guy was a brother or a cousin rarely was he a boyfriend.
James Jesse didn't even need the motorcycle, although he was wearing a leather jacket. He had one foot propped up on the low wall that ran around the school and both hands stuck into his jacket's pockets. Piper did a quick check to see if James had patches of his hair dyed vibrant colors and was relieved to see it wasn't so. Sometimes, generally when he was off his meds, James forgot to wash out the dye after a job or he put it on despite not planning to put on the suit.
"Hey, you!" James grinned and pushed himself off the wall, walking over to Piper like he was walking on air. (He wasn't, he was walking on the ground, Piper checked.) Hartley glanced from James to Wally, who had yet to leave his side. "Oh, hey, friend of my friend, I'm James."
Hartley glanced at Wally and nervously cleared his throat. Wally didn't look phased or shocked or uncomfortable, in fact he was smiling back at James. Piper wasn't surprised; James was wearing his best conman smile, the kind that got old ladies to hand over their jewelry and police officers to turn over their keys. People trusted that smile, or they trusted that they couldn't trust that smile so they trusted it. Some days it was hard to tell.
"Hi!" Wally stuck out a hand, then hastily readjusted his extremely full backpack so that it didn't slip off his shoulders, then he re-stuck out his hand. "I'm Wally."
"I'm James." James repeated, making Wally smile a bit more. If Wally had been a girl he'd probably have been giggling. Hartley resisted the urge to kick James in the ankle, mainly because it would have hurt him more than James. After a day without crutches his sprained ankle ached and he wanted to get home to take his painkillers and possibly a nap.
"Now that everyone's introduced." Hartley waited until the two had shaken hands. The crowd of students leaving was beginning to break up, becoming patchy as rush hour faded to stragglers, still the students leaving gave the three of them odd looks. "Can we go? James, this isn't a good time… Maybe next time you should call."
James looked hurt, he widened his eyes and even clutched his hand to his chest. Piper was seriously reconsidering the 'Rogues don't kill other Rogues' rule. James was asking for it. "But Hartley, I just wanted to ask if you wanted to go to icecream. We haven't seen each other in so long. I'll even let you bring your new friend, who you have obviously used to replace me, and I'll pay. What do you say, Hartley my harty?"
"No pirate talk." Piper limped in the direction of the car his parents had taken to sending for him. "And I'll ask James for a ride, is that alright," He paused and slanted the Trickster a look. "James?"
"Arrr." James slung an arm around Wally's shoulders and smiled at the younger man who smiled hesitantly back. Wally seemed amused by James but also thrown off by the older man's cheerful and abrasive personality. "C'mon, scallywag, let's make Piper walk the plank."
Hartley froze halfway into the car. "Piper?" Wally questioned James.
"It's a nickname." Piper did his best not to growl as he completed the act of climbing into the backseat. He was going to blow James a sweet little lullaby later. Something to give his friend nightmares. "Get in you two."
Wally and James both climbed into the back seat, James in the middle, cheerfully smashing Piper up against the driver's side door. "It's because of how badly he sings, ever heard him? His pipes could shatter glass!"
Wally laughed and, minor crisis averted, Piper told the driver to head towards Jillian's Frozen Custard shop. It was his favorite and while it was a little on the expensive side he was sure that James could handle the bill. There had been that bank heist last week.
Wally wasn't sure if he liked James.
Oh, he liked James. It seemed like liking the blond was something everyone did. People smiled at James, the girl behind the counter had giggled, and people outside of the window nodded or waved at James as they passed by. There was something fishy about a guy who was friendly acquaintances with everyone. There was also something about the way he talked, like there was another level to what he was saying that Wally didn't understand.
Though Hart ('Piper') seemed to, every now and then a pained looked would cross James' face, like someone had kicked him under the table. It suddenly made sense why Hartley had decided to sit next to him.
Although, maybe the arm James had sling across Hart's shoulders had something to do with it too.
"Are you two dating?" Wally blurted out, his mouth faster than his brain or the rest of his body, the hands slapping across his mouth reached it a second too late. Hartley stared across the booth at Wally like he was insane which he probably was, he should ask his Uncle if he knew some handy dandy psychotherapists. James, however, was smirking at Wally like he'd been expecting the question.
"Nah," James stretched his other arm out dramatically over the back of the booth while he patted Hart's shoulder with the hand resting on it. Hartley looked disgruntled and shoved the arm off but James put it back on. "Piper's got worse taste than that. He's dating this guy named-"
"Earl." Piper cut in quickly. "And don't say anything bad about Earl, he's a better boyfriend than you would ever be."
It was one of those arguments that you knew had been repeated more than once and left bystanders feeling like they were watching a tennis match. Wally glanced back and forth between Hartley and James as they bickered. James was prettier, Hartley liked guys who looked like guys, James had a sense of humor, so did Earl, Earl was a jerk and had a temper, he was not and he did not!
It was almost a relief when Wally's phone buzzed in his pocket. Hart and James were busy bickering so he surreptitiously pulled it out and checked his text messages.
Mirror Master at Carnival need backup ASAP
"Uh," Wally spoke up, breaking in somewhere around 'Earl knows how to read!'. Hartley turned to look at him while James kept making faces at Hart. "I gotta go, uh, family emergency." He needed to come up with better lies but it wasn't like he generally had friends he needed to lie to. "Okay, so, I'll see you tomorrow, Hart!"
"Bye!" Hartley had to shout to be heard, Wally had slipped out of the booth and was rushing out the door, waving distractedly. Wally ran, at a normal pace, to a nearby alley, then he triggered his ring.
And Kid Flash rushed in the opposite direction, past the ice-cream store, towards where the Flash needed his help.
After Wally left Hartley moved to the other side of the booth, hobbled really, and he gave James a look. A very seriously, mildly pissed off, aggravated look. It wasn't the kind of look the Trickster generally got from the Pied Piper although Piper wasn't above kicking or hitting or glaring at him during a job if he goofed off. Out of uniform though the two of them were generally pretty friendly. Trickster liked Piper. Piper didn't close him out of the conversation, didn't treat him like he was a second rate villain just because he was more into gags than he was into ganging up.
"Are you on your meds?" Piper asked, eyes narrowed and his eyebrows furrowed. It wasn't an unusual question, when James was chilling with Piper the answer was usually 'no', and then one way or another, by hook or by crook, Trickster ended up back on his medication and possibly locked up in a ward somewhere.
Surprisingly, the answer this time was 'yes'. "Yes." James spread out over the booth now that he had it all to himself. Piper had left a firm little indent in the spot next to him, it was still a little warm. "Daily doses! I just wanted to check up on you, you know, see how you're doing."
A brilliant scarlet and orange blur raced past the window, setting off a few car alarms and starting a flock of birds into flight. Onlookers pointed, cameras snapped and flared seconds too late. James turned to give the window a long inquisitive stare.
Ah, so he'd been right.
"I'm fine." Piper pushed an empty sundae cup around, leaving sticky streaks on the table. "I'm healing alright and I'll be ready for… anything soon enough."
"It's not always about the job, Piper!" Trickster pulled a yo-yo out of his pocket and idly began spinning it, out and in. The rhythmic pull and flex helped him think. Occasionally he flicked it across the table so it whizzed near Piper's ear. Piper scowled, his glare promising painful retribution when he had his pipes or even a half empty glass of water and a wet finger. "Has Earl come to visit? I bet he'd want to know all about your new friend. I bet Len would too."
Confusion spread across Piper's ungirly but still occasionally cute features. "Earl's been busy. He's planning some… things." Heists. "Why would he want to know about Wally? He's a nice guy but he's not that important."
"You're serious?" Trickster stared at Piper's face. He'd thought that maybe something was going on… not that kind of something, more like Piper plotting or putting on the goody-goody act like he did for his parents and the general populace. But no, Piper honestly didn't know… and he'd been worried about James meeting Wally because James was a Rogue, not because Wally was... "You haven't figured out he's-" Trickster dropped his voice down so it was low enough no one but Piper would hear him, "Kid Flash?"
"What?!" Piper squawked loudly, causing a few of the casual icecream smeared patrons to give their table a long look. James smiled innocently at them, Hartley ducked his head and flushed hotly. "What are you- you can't be- you think he's-"
There was a pause and when Piper lifted his head it really was the Pied Piper looking back at Trickster, not just Hartley Rathaway occasionally called Henry when undercover.
"He did outrun two football players in a matter of minutes." Piper tapped on the side of his sundae glass with his spoon. Tap tap… tap tap tap… tap tap, tinkle, tap… "If the paramedics had needed to get up the stairs to fetch me they'd have known I hadn't fallen down any." Tap tap… tap tap tap… tap tap, tinkle, tap… "Didn't you say that Kid Flash managed to take apart your electromagnetic machine in seconds?"
Trickster nodded his head slowly. He was starting to feel a little sleepy, all that icecream… "I figured he went to school with the West," Tap tap… tap tap tap.. "West kid." He yawned.
Tap tap, tinkle, tap…
"Oh, sorry." Piper let the spoon clatter onto the table top. A roomful of half-asleep people jerked suddenly before glancing around, uncomfortable with the thought that someone else had seen them almost doze off. James shook his head and grinned.
"No big. So, any other suspicious circumstances?"
"I knew he sounded familiar, but I'd have to hear Kid Flash again to be sure. He was always at my classrooms just as I got out. I might not be the fastest guy right now but that still means he'd have to rush from his class to mine in two minutes, and then he'd have to get to his classes without being late." It was a lot of coincidence, really, even James could see that but James had an eye for faces, he never forgot one. That spattering of freckles across Wally West's nose was just the right size to be hidden by Kid Flash's cowl, add in green eyes and red hair… "He left school early yesterday, wasn't Mick…"
"Good old armored car heist." James nodded. He picked up their empty glasses and motioned at the plastic bucket marked 'dirty dishes only'. "Want to call your driver? Except I know that there's something extra special going down at the carnival."
Piper looked like he was giving it some thought, it didn't take much to figure out who would be at a carnival. Carnivals meant funhouses which meant mirrors which meant Mirror Master. "It would probably be over before we got there." The two of them walked silently to the door after dropping off their dishes, James paused to wave goodbye to the nice ladies behind the counter. "I don't think I'm ready to go home yet." Piper mused to empty air, empty air and James' listening ear, anyway. "Do you have some time?"
"Plenty of time." He slung an arm over Piper's shoulder again, careful not to bump too forcefully into his bruised and battered friend. Maybe he could convince Piper to spill the beans on who had felt his face decided needed to be rearranged, but he was sure Piper had already taken care of that problem. Revenge was a dish best served piping hot… if it got too cold it started to curdle.
Len leaned back against the bar, the lip of his beer bottle warm against his lips. He wasn't a metahuman, not like that Icicle kid, it wasn't like his beer was going to stay cold and while he could use his cold gun on beer it was a waste of the battery pack. Roy was crashed out on the ratty couch, one arm thrown over his eyes with his visor dangling from his fingers. Days like today when Roy wore civilian clothes you could really tell he was color blind. Cold wasn't sure who had told Roy that the sweater he was wearing matched his pants, although maybe what Roy hadn't been told was the fact that he was wearing bright red jeans instead of normal ones. Cold sipped his beer and wondered how the hell he'd run up as part of some sort of technological halfway house. He blames The Flash and maybe his little sidekick for inspiring the handful of teenage villains in the Rogues. Cold at least had tried the life of upstanding citizen, a life he was pretty sure none of the kids would even attempt. Rainbow Raider (and why hadn't they told the kid that he should probably change their name) was too angry at the world because he was color blind (kid needed counseling or something), Trickster was… he had too much fun being the Trickster as well as the fact that without medication he slipped right back into the criminal mold, and Piper was one of those idealistic criminals who fought for causes no one else cared about or understood and went about it completely on the wrong side of the law.
Not that Cold cared, he had a few kids to grease the wheels of their scores and that was all that mattered.
The door to the 'hideout' (he refused to call it a clubhouse) opened and shut and Scudder stomped inside, the rain from the thunderstorm that had burst an hour ago and kept raining dripped off of his coat. For once Weather Wizard wasn't to blame either, although when Mark instituted a storm he cleaned up after himself, or The Flash cleaned up for him. "You manage to keep anything?" It was obvious from the mild bruise on Scudder's face and the way he was moving that he'd had an altercation with the Flash and had barely managed to get away with the money.
"Not much." Scudder tossed a bag onto the bar top and then dragged his wet coat off. "Goddamn Flash." Then Mirror Master belatedly fished in the coat for something before tossing it at the sleeping Rogue o on the couch. A small, damp rainbow teddy bear bounced off Roy's elbow and lay on his stomach. Roy muttered something under his breath and rolled over, squishing the teddy bear between his chest and the back of the couch. "I'd have gotten away if it wasn't for the Kid."
Cold cracked open the beer fridge and handed Sam a cold bottle before he pried the top off of another drink. "Things were easier before the Kid." Now heists had to have at least two Rogues operating in order for a 50% chance of getting away clean, much less hope of keeping their spoils. Still, Cold liked the Kid, he kept the Flash from putting any of them straight in a hospital bed. "I got enough for the next beer run, that's it."
Which meant he hadn't got away with much at all. Cold wasn't the type to sigh but his stomach grumbled, the damn ulcer better not start acting up again. Len had enough on his plate as it was. "We'll get everyone together for a big heist next week. The Pied Piper should be back on his feet to run interference." He wasn't always useful in a fight but Piper could mind control a room full of people like no other. All of the Rogues were good with technology so they didn't need someone to handle electronics but most of them were flashy (no pun intended), Rainbow Raider blew in on a rainbow, Cold tended to fire his cold gun frequently, Heatwave was off his rocker and so was the Trickster. Sam and Hartley were the only two Rogues who really had a handle on stealth and the two of them tended to toss it away for flashy (NO PUNS) gimmicks anyway. Hell if Cold knew why.
(Except, obviously, he did.)
Scudder leaned his elbows against the bar's top and took a deep drink of the cold beer. "I hear that someone else has some heists planned for next week." Cold took a drink and waited for more information, he nodded at Sam to show he was listening. While Keystone and Central were the Rogues' territory they allowed other 'villains' and thieves to operate on their turf, it wasn't like there wasn't enough wealth to go around, and it certainly wasn't like the Flash minded giving the spare super-villain a beat-down or two. There were other operators in Keystone and Central, generally lone operators, and the Rogues discouraged most heavy organized crime. Cold didn't like drugs, didn't like them at all, and he didn't like systems that prayed on women and children so Central City had the lowest rate of prostitution in the country.
"It's Fury." Scudder waved the beer bottle in the air. "He's got some sort of line up on a couple of banks."
It was the way Mirror Master said it that tipped Cold off. He didn't think the younger man was going to be able to pull off his crime spree. Cold agreed, Fury and Piper worked well together but it was obvious that Piper was the only reason Fury wasn't punching mall security in the face and getting tazered. They kept an eye on Fury out of respect for Piper, the man wasn't a Rogue and no way in hell was Cold going to bring him in as a Rogue. Rogues were broken but they were team players. Fury was not.
Plus, Trickster hated him. Trickster pranked people he liked, Cold was sure that having someone he disliked around would make Cold ice both of them.
"We'll lay low then." Cold finished off his beer and set the second empty bottle next to the first. After a few swallows Scudder's bottle joined his line. "Plan for next month."
On the couch, Roy murmured something soft and low, his arms wrapping around the damp stuffed animal.
It's been two weeks since Wally met 'James' and he's starting to get suspicious. Like, seriously suspicious. First off, the next time he saw Hartley he'd gotten sort of… uptight, like coiled spring uptight, and totally weird. Wally had figured it was something he'd said or something, maybe that stupid (stupid) question he'd asked about whether Hart and James were dating and then he'd rushed off and so maybe Hart thought he was like Dan or Geoff. Wally had waited but the weird uptightness didn't go away. It was not like Hartley avoided him, in fact the other redhead seemed to be spending more time with him. They talked more after classes and he offered Wally ride and sometimes Wally even took them, even though he was faster than a car and he liked to run after school. But their conversations were…
They were just weird.
Plus, James. And the pet name 'Piper' and… and then last week there'd been the bank heists. The Flash had heard the call go out over the police frequencies and had contacted Wally. When they got there they had found a bank vault with its door ripped off and a strong man a few years older than Wally (maybe college age) stuffing money into a bag. The security had been lying on the floor looking broken and bloody and those civilians who couldn't run off had been cringing along the edges of the walls.
The thing was, Fury generally worked with the Pied Piper. Now and then he pulled a solo job but generally? There was a hypnotizing musician somewhere around charming people out of their wallets or jewelry or lock box combinations. Piper was one of the Rogues that they'd never managed to lock up. But the most recent of Fury's heists (all easily identifiable, I mean, when you wore a colorful costume you got identified) had been solo.
Just like the bank vault.
Wally had been a little distracted, he could admit it, which is why it was embarrassing how quickly he and Barry took down Fury.
AKA – Earl Povich.
Earl who worked with the Pied Piper. Hartley who was called Piper by 'James' which was an alias of the Trickster. Hartley who had been injured, the Pied Piper who had been M.I.A., Hartley whose attackers had vanished for mysterious reasons, the Pied Piper who could charm people into doing what he wanted…
"Things would have gone faster if you'd just let me do it." Robin muttered around the plastic spoon hanging half out of his mouth. "Computers are my specialty." They were sitting in front of one of the holographic screens for Mt. Justice's computer system eating ice-cream from Dick's favorite ice-cream shop. Wally had made the trip to Cleveland just so he could bribe Dick with it and he'd been super careful not to spill a drop of anything.
"I want you here if I need anything hacked," Wally rolled his eyes and flicked at the plastic spoon sitting in his empty ice-cream cup. Sugar always helped him think, supposedly, but he couldn't think this problem through, he couldn't be objective and he was almost ready to ask Dick for advice but he didn't want Dick to know everything. Not until he had everything figured out, anyway. Dick already didn't like Hartley and why Wally would never know but the other teen was biased. "…and, you know…" Wally flicked his spoon again, "moral support. It's not every day I find out that one of my friends might be a supervillain."
"…" Superboy's presence, even when he was silent, was like an ominous rolling wave of Supey angst. Wally glanced over his shoulder at the muscled clone. "Who is a supervillain?"
"Uh." Because, okay, so Superboy lived there and so did Miss M…
"I’m not!" Miss Martian floated in over Superboy's shoulder, stopping for a minute to ruffle his hair before she landed on the ground behind Robin and Wally. "Why're we looking up supervillains. Has someone been mindcontrolled? I can help!"
"No one's being mindcontrolled!" He had to get everyone out of the room pronto. Rob, of course, was snickering into his sundae and being no help at all thank you very much! Waving his arms to attract the attention of his teammates (and hopefully distract them from the rudimentary search already up on the holographic screen) Wally attempted to come up with some sort of plausible denial. "I mean, c'mon, if someone was being mindcontrolled into being a supervillain I wouldn't look it up here, would I? I mean, anyone of us could be a supervillain!"
That was, of course, when Kaldur and Artemis entered the room. Aqualad stopped short and turned to look at Wally. "Who told you about the mole?"
Which was, of course, when it all went to hell.
Piper might still be avoiding Wally but he couldn't keep himself away when he saw the other boy limping around in a hospital boot. They might potentially be life-long enemies doomed to lock horns in the most tragic of battles between the forces of good and evil but… he was spending too much time around James, he was starting to hear him in his head. Hearing James was never a good thing. "Wally," Piper himself was finally (finally) free of the casts and wraps that had restricted his movement while his body had slowly healed, now he was able to jog over to Wally who was the one awkwardly shoving crutches under his arm pits as he pushed himself out of his aunt's car. "Good morning, Mrs. Allen." It never hurt anyone to be polite.
"Morning, Hartley. Wally, I'll be by after school to pick you up, alright? You can come to the newsroom with me!"
"I can watch myself." Wally groused, wobbling a little on his crutches. "I'm not a baby, Aunt Iris." Piper put a hand on Wally's shoulder to help support him and earned a smile almost as wobbly as Wally.
"We'll talk about it this afternoon." Iris waved at the two of them before she drove off, the spot her car had occupied was quickly filled by another parent dropping off a student.
"What happened to you?" Piper asked, he debated briefly offering to help carry Wally's books but… he and James had been reviewing footage and tapes. Wally's voice was a dead-on ringer for Kid Flash's. There was no doubt that Wally had to be Kid Flash… or he had some sort of clone or a twin wandering around fighting crime. Piper stuck one hand in his pocket and adjusted his backpack. He didn't need to worry, Wally didn't even bother to ask or to look at Hartley for help. It almost hurt.
"There was…" Wally sighed, glanced at Hartley, and then glanced down at the ground as he awkwardly maneuvered on his crutches. "There was sort of a fight? Uh, a big blow up with my friends. One of th- well, sort of the guy- our coach, sort of our coach. He uh, went AWOL and everything went FUBAR. I got kind of hurt in the chaos." This time Wally's eyes stayed on Hartley and he smirked, just a little. "I fell down some stairs."
The tone was all Kid Flash but the face… it was Wally, dammit.
Maybe the Flash trap was a bad idea…
"You didn't buy that excuse when I used it." Hartley protested and he held the door open for Wally. It was weird being the helpful guy instead of the guy who needed help. The hallway bustle wasn't any better than when he'd been injured but at least now he could stand on his own two feet, Wally looked shocked by the force of the bumps he was receiving.
"That's because I was there, duh. And I actually did fall down some stairs!" When they get to his locked Wally rests one crutch against the wall and rubs his shoulder. "It's not broken or anything, or, it might be, but if it is it's a really small break and I have some over-protective family members. I'll take the boot off tomorrow and I bet it'll be good as new."
"Being Kid Flash comes with some benefits, huh?"
Oh shit, oh shit.
Was that outloud?
Wally starts to laugh but the sound if cut off abruptly as his mind actually catches up to what Piper said. It takes a second but it seems impossibly long to Piper and it must seem even longer to Wally before the other teen raises his eyes.
They're so green and Piper has no idea why he didn't see it before he got in over his head, before he started to like Wally, before Wally became his friend. He doesn't have a lot of those and this confrontation is going to hurt.
It's inevitable now.
There's a tightening to Wally's mouth and if Piper focuses (and he does) he can hear the pick-up in the beat of Wally's heart. Then the noise of the hallway slams back in and Wally slams the door to his locker open, Hartley winces.
"Well, it doesn't have the kickbacks being a supervillain does," And that's it, it's all out, they both know then, "but it has its good points." They lock eyes again, neither looking away, and Piper knows that neither was truly prepared to admit what needed to happen now. What did you do when you found out your friend was a supervillain when you were a superhero? The TV shows and comic books never covered that, you were always on one side or the other and you stuck with your own kind. How could they even claim to be friends when they knew…
The bell rang for class.
"We need to talk." Piper said, before the crowd of students rushing to moldy smelling classrooms could pick him up and carry him along in the current. "After school, I'll… I'll be here."
Wally dropped his gaze to the books in his locker and shrugged. The last Piper saw of him before he had to turn and hurry off was slumped shoulders and a drooped head.
Wally was practically hyperventilating by lunch time. It took all of his self-control (and the fact that cutting class would get him lectured) not to just skiv off and bolt to Gotham or Star City. Roy would know what to do, right? And Dick was so seriously OCD about his secret identity he probably had loads of back up plans just in case one of his classmates had turned out to be a villain and had then uncovered his secret identity. There were probably like, Bat-stand-in-dummies or something, just in case of emergencies like this. Still, Wally was pretty sure that Dick wouldn't be pleased if he just showed up at Gotham Prep and Roy wouldn't really be any help (Wally's phone conversations with Roy since the, uh, unveiling of Roy's sexuality really hadn't been helpful at ALL but Wally had enjoyed them) and if Wally told Uncle Barry he'd probably want to lock Pi- Hartley up!
Piper was so much easier to say and think than Hartley.
"C'mon, c'mon!" Wally whispered under his breath as he paced on the roof. The roof was off limits to students but Wally had found that none of the staff ever used it either, one crash course in lock-picking later and he'd never had a problem with opening the emergency exit that led to the roof and he had the place all to himself when he needed time to pace at super-speed. Now he couldn't even pace because of the crutches and all he could do was limp around and flail helplessly, maybe if he flailed fast enough he'd make a twister that would pick the school up and carry it off. That would save him a lot of trouble… but causing his school to be sucked up and destroyed in a natural disaster during class hours would probably earn him instant status as a super villain from the casualties alone.
'You've reached Dick Grayson's cellphone, please leave a message after the beep. Beep!'
"Dick! C'mon! It's, it's me, look, I've got a problem and I don't even know if I can talk to you about it on your phone, okay? Call me back… pronto, man!"
Wally slumped down to lie flat on the rough roof, it was warmed faintly by the Central City sun and there was a nice breeze. Sometimes Wally came up to the rough just to chill. It wasn't hard to get away during lunch time or free study, he wasn't popular… like, at all. There was Frankie, sure, but she was really more of a stalker than a friend and Wally couldn't really talk to her at all. She always agreed with him… always and when he paid too much attention to her she started to follow him around and that was going to get his Secret ID blown one of these days. You know, if Hartley didn't decide to blow the lid off that can of worms himself.
How could have been so blind?
The Pied Piper didn't even wear a mask.
Wally groaned. His life was a mess, his second best friend was a super-villain, his best friend wasn't answering his phone, what was a teenage superhero to do?
The theme for the game Angry Birds began to play and Wally scrambled to open his phone and press it to his ear. "Dick," he pleaded breathlessly.
"I've got ten minutes before my trip to the bathroom becomes suspiciously long and trust me I have enough suspicious trips from my night job without adding in day time escapades. What's up, Wally?"
"It's about… about that thing, you know? The one we were talking about before." Wally rubbed a hand over his eyes. Was the line secure? Probably not, did it matter? Who knew!
"Before the stuff with Red went down. It's alright, Wally, no one's going to overhear anything said on this line. So, is this about… Rathaway and the Pied Piper?" Dick always had a tone when he talked about Hartley. Wally still didn't understand it but he was kind of starting to… get used to it, he guessed. Still didn't get it, though, besides the whole villain thing Piper was a great guy!
Hartley. Hartley was a great guy.
"He is, I mean, he totally confirmed it before school today andheknowsaboutme!" The last part came out in a rush all at once.
"What did you say?"
"He knows about meeeeeeeeeeee." Wally whined. He couldn't believe it. Of course the one friend he made at school was a villain! He was also really fun to hang out with, a good older brother, and a fellow redhead but… "He knows I'm Kid Flash and he wants to meet up after school. What am I supposed to do?"
He'd arrested Piper's boyfriend! If Fury was the same Earl, anyway, he probably was. How many 'Earls' could Hartley hang around?
"Whoa, whoa, whoa? He knows? Your secret identity? Wally, you have to get out of there, there's no telling what he'll do." Dick took a deep breath. "Under no circumstances are you to meet with him."
That was Dick's 'I can be in charge if I need to be I'm bitty Batman hear me roar' voice. He'd probably grow into that but right not it was ignorable. Now if it was Kaldur giving the orders… "It's just Hart. He probably just wants to divide a line down the school. You stay on that side I stay on mine and no secret identities will be mentioned ever again." A guy could hope, right?
"Wally, I said-"
The lunch bell rang and Wally sat up quickly. He was going to have to really push it to make it to class while on crutches. "I have to go Dick, I'll call you after school. Bye!" Wally ended the call and turned his phone on silent before he struggled up onto the crutches and limped to the door. Hartley was his friend, even if he was a super-villain he wouldn't do anything too nasty to Wally. The Pied Piper wasn't really the kind of villain who got nasty.
Because the Pied Piper was Hartley and Hartley was a good guy.
Buoyed up by this rising bubble of self-delusion Wally floated through the rest of his classes (that might also have been the handful of pain killers he quickly downed in the boy's locker room along with half a bottle of Gatorade which really wasn't enough on an empty stomach especially for a speedster). The bubble of delusion (and the painkillers) were starting to wear off by the end of the day though (and hunger was starting to set in) so Wally approached his locker warily. Hartley wasn't there though and Wally was able to get his backpack together in peace.
When he turned around Hartley was standing with a get well card similar to the one that Wally had given him at the start of all this trouble.
"Here." It was instinct to take the thrust forward card and stupidity, hope, and blind trust that led Wally to flip it open.
He'd forgotten that the card played music and hadn't even considered the idea that the music could be tampered with. The last thing he remembered was the tiny trilling of the Flash theme song beginning to play and the heavy weight of his cell-phone in his pocket.
Hartley was freaking out. It wasn't a silent freak out, it had been a silent freak out thirty minutes ago when he requested that Wally follow him, it stayed a silent freak out up until he had Wally tied haphazardly to a chair (he was good at tying people to chairs but he was freaking out okay?) at the location where they had been building the 'Flash Trap' which would have been ready in about two weeks. In two weeks, which was definitely not 'today' and certainly not 'right this minute' and he… had no idea what to do with Wally anyway. The idea of trapping Kid Flash and interrogating him to find out his secret identity had been appealing at first, especially since Piper had been sure that Wally had been leading him on, and while Wally saying out loud that he thought Hartley was the Pied Piper had sort of cemented it had taken about five minutes for Hartley to realize that Wally would never, ever, have been able to play him for so much time without him noticing.
And planning to capture Kid Flash was different than tying your only friend to a chair, even if they were the same person.
"Awww, you caught him all on your own!" James was half dressed in his costume, glitter sprinkled from his hair which was streaked with a vibrant purple. He was wearing the striped pants but instead of the ridiculous and ill-conceived top he was wearing a t-shirt with a faded band logo on it. "Piper, you never let me have any fun."
"I let you have all the fun." Piper pointed at the elaborate trap they had been building. It looked like some gigantic version of Mouse Trap except on steroids and loaded with traps that would maim anyone who wasn't meta-human. It was still in pieces so that they would be able to move it out into the city when the time came but there were parts of it which could be activated without it being connected to the whole. "You got to put in your slimer, didn't you?"
Whatever fool had let James watch Nickelodeon, Piper hoped they were rotting in slimy hell.
"That's not the same." James bounced from one foot to the next and circled Wally. The tinny and actually quite annoying at this point, melody of the card continued to play from where it lay open on Wally's lap. Piper was impressed that the battery inside had lasted this long. "Can we break the hypnosis?"
"Just close the card." The Trickster snatched the card off of Wally's lap and closed it before sliding it across the floor in Piper's direction. A normal person coming off Piper's hypnosis was a little sluggish at first, Wally blinked once at was then wide eyed and alert.
"…" And silent.
Hartley shuffled his feet. The silence stretched on, which was surprising since James looked like he wanted to start laughing. Piper had expected him to start monologuing. Eventually it was Piper who broke the silence (he could not stand silence).
"What was I supposed to do?" He asked, louder than he had meant to, his voice echoed in the rafters and a flock of birds took flight on the other side of the building. "You knew who I was, you were probably going to change into your costume and arrest me."
"You could have trusted me." Wally stated. "Like I trusted you!"
Which… was a valid point. Wally had just taken the card. He hadn't even thought about it or anything he'd just… taken it. Piper shuffled again and tried not to follow James with his eyes when the Trickster bounced off. James could be getting anything, a glass of water or one of his exploding rubber chickens, and more importantly he was leaving him alone with Wally. Hartley did not want to be left alone with Wally.
"I'm a bad guy." It was important to establish this point. "B-A-D. That means that you shouldn't trust me and I'm not supposed to trust anyone!" Who weren't Rogues. Rogues trusted each other. "And I did trust you! But then you turned out to be-" Well, okay, Kid Flash wasn't his worst enemy, the Flash was. K.F. could be trusted not to kick a guy when he was doing (even if they were faking) the Flash tended to take any weakness as something to exploit. The jerk. "The Flash's sidekick!"
James reappeared with an armload of chip bags. He dumped them on the ground by Wally's feet and opened one up with a loud POP before he grabbed a handful and offered it to Wally. Both redheads stared.
"…what?" The trickster glanced between Piper and Wally and then popped a few chips into his mouth, he chewed dramatically and swallowed before showing off his empty mouth. "Bleh, it's not like they're poisoned! Just cheddar." He ate another handful before offering the bag to Piper (who shook his head) and again to Wally.
"I can't eat it on my own." Wally muttered while his stomach growled. "Someone tied my hands behind my back."
"Like it would hold you if you really wanted." He'd seen what Kid Flash could do in a trap, ropes tied with crappy knots shouldn't even be a problem.
"Well, I'm trying to show that you can trust me." Wally snapped before he rubbed his arms back and forth and caused a section of the rope to burst into flames. He yanked the weakened rope apart and let the faintly smoldering coils drop around the chair in a circle. Then he took a handful of orange powder covered chips and ate them slowly and deliberately. And then, he licked his fingers.
Piper facepalmed about five seconds into this slow deliberate performance. "Okay, I get the point, you're not going to zoom off."
"Thank you," Wally snarked, and took another handful of potato chips which he wolfed down, "for trusting me."
"Seriously, Piper." James chomped down on a handful of chips, littering the front of his shirt with cheddar dust and bits of potato chips. "You have trust issues. Hey, maybe you could schedule a meeting with my therapist! She's all about the trust stuff, last week she made me do trust falls."
"I don't know if trust falls are going to help." Wally crossed his arms and smeared cheese dust over one elbow. "I mean, he kidnapped me and he tied me up." And he was a super-villain who did things like rob banks and hypnotize people, Piper was sure that Wally wasn't mentioning that just so they didn't point out that Wally was a superhero who should have known better. At least Piper would have thought so, maybe that's why Wally didn't have any friends. Hartley winced, he didn't have any friends besides Wally either… well, James, but that was a Rogues thing, and sometimes Roy but again, Rogues, and then… boyfriends didn't really count. Boyfriends were different.
"I dropped my therapist, anyway." With the bag of chips finished Trickster opened the next one (sour cream and onion) and offered it to Wally. Since sour cream and onion was his favorite Piper stomped over and snatched the bag away before either of the other two teenagers could have some. "Hey!"
"I paid for all of the chips anyway." Piper dropped onto the ground next to Wally's chair and carefully grabbed a handful of potato chips. He was not the kind of guy to be sloppy, like Wally and James, they opened up another bag (plain and ruffled this time) and shared it between them while he hogged his sour cream and onion. "So… what are we going to do now?"
Because really, he had no plan. He'd had a plan but it had been ruined by his freak out and way too early kidnapping. Wally shrugged, showing he had no plan either, and James… looked hopeful.
"We can turn on the sli-"
Piper cut him off. "No."
"What's the sli-" Wally started to ask before Piper cut him off as well.
"No, you don't want to know, don't ask." Wally and James both deflated slightly and Piper sighed. All he had to do was get through a few more months till graduation. He'd graduate and then go to college and probably give up being a super-villain because college was supposed to be hard and maybe he'd have graduated college and ended up in dead-end job and then gone back to it… still, life would have been so much easier if he had never been attacked. "We could… pretend we didn't know?"
"That could work…" Wally thought about it for a second, "except I'm kind of an open book to, uh, The Flash and he'd ask me something and I'd lie and he'd know and then he'd yell at me and arrest you. Plus I sort of- oh shit, Robin!" There was a flurry of activity as Wally simultaneously pulled his phone out, bolted out of the chair, and then sat back in the chair while he checked his messages. Piper was kicking himself for not checking Wally for a cellphone and having him turn it off. "Pick up, pick up…"
"Who do you think he's calling?" Trickster asked in an exaggerated stage whisper.
"Robin," Piper didn't bother to lower his voice. "I think maybe as in 'Batman and'." Which… oh, wow, that was a nasty thought. Cold would kill him if Batman stopped by Keystone. 'Don't mess with Gotham 'was Rogue Rule number… thirty-two?
"He's not picking up." Wally flipped his phone between his hands. "Which means he's probably on his way, which means he might be in the air right now or he could have landed depending on when he decided to come. Which means…"
"You two have to figure this thing out quickly." James was firm, which was an odd tone coming from him. "I've watched Piper tear himself up since I told him you were Kid Flash and you seem like a decent person so if Piper has to hypnotize you into forgetting and then I give him amnesia with my amnesia stick-"
"Which doesn't actually work." Piper felt he had to point out.
"-then so be it. Piper's the best bad guy there is! He doesn't even keep any of the money!"
Wally glanced at Piper, then to James, and then back to Piper, his eyes wide. "What? Is he talking about… laundering?"
Because of course you had to launder the money and of course Kid Flash would know about it. Piper shifted his legs around and stood up. "Not, uh, no not really. But I keep some of the money!"
"Pffft. To pay for repairs to your costume or instruments or to invent stuff, that doesn't count as keeping it. All the rest goes to charity."
He was going to kill James! If he'd actually cared about his reputation, anyway.
"That's not true! Earl convinced me to spend some on an expensive dinner once!" Once, and he'd felt guilty and over-tipped and then dumped the entirety of his next percentage of a haul straight into the poor box. It had been a nice night out, even if Hartley had felt conspicuous and a little uncomfortable about it. Earl had expensive tastes but the kind of expensive tastes that would have had Hartley's parents coughing about 'new money'.
"And that's why I think Earl is a bad influence." Trickster said in an aside to Wally. Piper took a breath defend Earl (again) even though… well, Earl had sort of let loose on his last heist and it hadn't ended well. Hartley didn't even feel mad at Wally about that. It had been a stupid plan and he was more mad at Earl for not waiting (like he had asked and asked and asked over the phone) for him.
There was a crash from outside of the warehouse and then a sound like thunder as the door was pulled open against its will. Hartley was positive he'd locked that and from the look on James' face so was he. Wally had a familiar look on his face, the kind of look that Piper was sure he'd have seen on Kid Flash's face if he didn't wear a mask.
"Honey, I'm home."
There was a flash of confusion across Wally's face (obviously he'd been expecting Robin) and the Trickster's shoulders slumped, but Hartley hardly noticed. A wide grin split his face and he bolted towards the tall figure stepping past the bits and pieces of the Flash trap and into Hartley's field of vision.
Hartley didn't even think about Wally or James until he had his arms wrapped around Earl and he was being squeezed in a bear hug. The fact that Earl needed a shower and looked like he hadn't shaved in two days didn't faze Piper, it was the swift beat of Earl's heart and the realization that his boyfriend had broken out of jail that made him remember that he had Kid Flash in the room and his boyfriend had broken out of jail. Not only that but Earl was a violent offender and… wait, how had he known about the warehouse? He hadn't told Earl about the Flash trap and the warehouse had been one of James' hideouts, but Piper's. "Earl?"
Earl squeezed him before letting him go. It hadn't been a painful squeeze, Earl would never hurt Piper, but it did remind Piper that if any fighting went on… not that he would let it. Wally was hurt. If it came down to it he'd just have to hypnotize them both. They’d forgive him eventually, right?
“Letting the nut pick your brain, Piper? You shouldn’t listen to anything he says, it’ll only get you arrested.”
It took Piper a second.
“James?!” He whirled around to level James with a confused look, the Trickster had shifted so that Wally was acting as a protective shield. Wally was glancing back between James, Earl, and Piper, his eyes flicking from one to the other at a pace still distinguishable to the human eye. Breath caught in his throat Piper wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, scream maybe, pull his hair out too, stop time and make everyone he cared about get away from each other before someone got hurt.
“You did what?”
“He was going to get arrested anyway!” James wasn’t moving from behind Wally for which Piper was grateful. If James moved Earl might chase and Wally would probably try to stop him. “He’d have done it whether he thought Cold would back him up or not!”
The sirens were getting closer. “There’s no time to argue about this.” Piper shoved at Earl’s chest and nodded towards the door. “I’ll cover you but you have to leave-“
Earl pushed back, hard enough that Piper rocked back on his heels, and then began striding towards Wally and James. James started a hasty retreat, not towards the other side of the warehouse but over towards where his equipment was stored. “Not until I’ve smashed that little twerp’s fa-“ A batarang and a line wrapped itself around Earl’s wrist, there was a moment of confused silence from everyone before the line was pulled taught and then just pulled on. Wally had his Kid Flash goggles on, James was diving for the snot gun and Earl yanked on the cord.
Robin tumbled out of the rafters to land on his feet equidistant between Piper and Earl.
Heavy breathing, approaching sirens, and the creaking of the warehouse, Piper held his breath and could hear it all, he could hear the pounding of heart beats, the sound of James’ scratching on wood, the fast hummingbird like quality of Wally’s foot tapping ever so slightly on the ground, the click of a button being pressed and the scrape of an armored glove over metal.
“Fury, down!” Piper shouted just as Robin let the batarang go. Earl did duck but whether Robin had aimed to miss or had expected this Piper didn’t know. The batarang lodged itself into the wall of the slimer.
When Wally’s in the zone everything seems to happen in slow motion. The slime seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace across the floor, Fury was the closest to it, he turned to stare at the approaching green goo, his head moving slower than the slime. Wally wrapped a hand around Dick’s waist, Dick moving slowly to fire a grapple into the ceiling. Wally looked over at Piper.
Then time sped back up and he and Dick were safely ensconced in the dusty, cobweb covered rafters of the old warehouse. The goo had reached Fury and was rushing past him to Piper and the Trickster. The Trickster scrambled on top of his table covered in junk (weaponry and bits of machinery and electronics but from far away they looked like junk) but the goo swamped Piper, thick and green and ankle deep. Fury was still struggling against it, his feet pulled away from the goo with a squelch and a sucking sound but when he put his foot back down for another step he was not so lucky.
“Don’t fight it!” Piper said, despite the fact that he too had taken a step. Wally glanced at Robin who shrugged, he didn’t have a clue what the goo was. Of course not, he’d just shown up. If he could get a sample to analyze… Naw, that would take too long. “It’ll harden quicker if you do.”
The goo had reached the other wall and began to cover bits of the Trickster and Piper’s equipment. It was slowing down, spreading out, but was still ankle deep in most of the room.
“Trickster, is that stuff dangerous?” Wally turned to shout down at James. Robin made a sound of disgust.
“It’s supposed to immobilize!” James shouted up at him, he poked at the goo with the snot gun and didn’t look surprised when he didn’t get the snot gun back. “It’ll harden fully in about five minutes.”
“And then what.” Fury snarled, the goo stretched like gum on a sidewalk when he took a long step, it squelched and even squealed in complaint when he took another. His face was screwed up in concentration. “Then you leave me and Piper for the cops, huh? You little shit.” Another step and this time he was level with Piper. “Teaming up with heroes against your own kind.”
“Earl.” Wally was starting to hate that name, especially the way Hartley said it. Piper couldn’t quite grab at Earl’s arm, though he made the attempt and then wobbled in the slime. “James isn’t teaming up with anyone! I brought Kid Flash here.”
The goo stretched up to Fury’s knees now in slimy clutching strands, every attempt to lift his feet made him go red and grunt. Piper’s pronouncement didn’t stop him at all, in fact it seemed like it gave him more energy. “Stop covering for him, Piper. He’s going to-” another grunt and this time his leg wouldn’t lift from the goo. “Get what he deserves.”
“The police are going to be here soon.” Dick said to Wally, quietly enough and carefully enough that Wally was the only one who heard. It was true that the sirens were getting closer. Dick brought up his wrist compute and pointed at the glowing dots moving closer to the warehouse. “I’d say three minutes, tops.”
Wally chewed his bottom lip. “Piper!”
“I heard!” Piper shouted back and, oh right, Piper had super-hearing, or something similar. Wally should really ask him, Uncle Barry had never been too sure what Piper’s powers actually were beyond the fact he could induce hypnosis through the use of music. “James, get out of here, the cops are going to get here any seco-”
“I’m not leaving you.” The Trickster interrupted.
“It’s like a Supervillain soap opera.” Dick muttered under his breath.
Fury roared and leaped at James, the strands of goo around his legs snapped. Dick dropped off of the beam, his grip still on his grapple, and swung towards the Trickster. “Robin!” Which left Wally stranded on the rafters. It was all happening so fast.
Dick grabbed the Trickster and then pushed off the wall, James held tightly onto Dick’s waist as they swung past Earl. Earl hit the table, which broke, and then he hit the wall. Wally wasn’t sure how super-strength worked but however it did, Earl was using it, he went through the wall, then crashed onto the pavement, the lingering goo trapped his hands and knees against the pavement.
“Wally.” Piper spoke quickly. “You have to get out of here, if you can take James…” Dick had swung back into the rafters and set the Trickster down, James was clinging to the rafters for dear life. Since Wally had seen the Trickster literally walk on air he wasn’t sure why the teen seemed scared of heights. “I’d appreciate it.”
“The cops are going to come in here and find you.” Was all Wally could think to say. No matter what he did now someone wasn’t going to approve. If he let James off, Uncle Barry wouldn’t approve, Dick wouldn’t approve, if he left James… well, he might lose Piper’s friendship permanently. “It’s not going to take much-“
Piper motioned to his trapped ankles and then he shrugged. “It’s my turn to pay the Piper.”
Everyone in the rafters winced at the pun. Outside the warehouse the sirens came to a halt and people started shouting, the police had arrived.
Piper smiled at him. “Just be sure to bring me my homework.”
Epilogue (a few years in the future)
Wally’s knee jiggled awkwardly while he waited. As Kid Flash (he was definitely too old for the Kid part now but what else was he going to call himself?) he could probably zip into the jail or at least past security. He’d been instructed (scolded) to wait outside though so there he waited.
The doors to the prison opened and one shaggy looking redhead (skinny as a rail and that was definitely the first thing Wally was fixing, he was going to buy Piper some pie or something,) wandered out blinking in the light of freedom. Good behavior, a few words from the Flash here and there, and the kind of lawyers only the filthy rich (IE Hartley’s parents) could buy had lead to a short sentence.
“Wally!” Piper waved at him and strolled over. There was a quiet confidence to Piper now, something he hadn’t had back in High School but Wally had watched grow over infrequent visitations and the occasional meta-human break out that Piper had helped quell from the inside. “Thanks for the lift.”
Wally nodded back at the fixer-upper he was driving around. On his own he didn’t really need it but his secret identity did. That and it was both good for practicing his skills and it was good for under-cover work. No one looked twice at a guy tinkering with a beat up looking junker! “No problem, Hart. I’m just glad you’re finally out.”
Piper smiled at him and then squinted up at the sun. “Me too.”