“Excuse me one sec, Trish. I’m sorry, just one sec.” Piper put his hand over the phone and then turned around and yelled at the room in general. “Will you assholes shut up for five minutes?!”
The assembled Rogues started hurling disparaging comments his way, including a goodly amount of digs on his sexual preference. Then Len whapped Sam upside the head with his absolute zero gun hard enough to send the man to the ground. “Hartley’s the only one of us working right now so shut your traps!”
“Thank you, Len.”
“Not a problem, kid.”
Piper got back on the phone. “So sorry for the interruption. You were just about to tell me what time you need the shipment? Mm hm…and we’re heading to the third gate, right? Which parking lot do you think would be easiest?” Piper snapped his fingers at an oblivious Mick until he had the sense to hand him a napkin and pen. He started furiously scribbling down information as soon as the pen was in his hand. “Oh…I know, but we’ve never delivered there before and I’m new to the area…It’d be all kinds of embarrassing to get lost on my first day…thank you so much, hon. You’ve been a wonderful help. Mm hm. Bye.”
Piper hung up and then swiveled his stool around. He rolled his eyes at the room at large. “Less than five minutes. Was that so hard?”
Digger hit him in the face with a crushed beer can. Piper wiped away the splashes of particularly fragrant cheap beer and scowled. “You’re all assholes.”
“Yep!” James said cheerfully, toasting cheap plastic cups with Sam. The Mirror Master was holding an icepack against the back of his head where Len had struck him (but at least their leader had also deigned to make him the icepack). “Assholes we may be, but you still got the job done anyway. Round of applause for Piper everyone!”
Piper flipped them off while they applauded ironically. He crossed the room and handed the napkin he’d taken notes on to Len. “The poor thing actually gave me the drop schedule for the entire day, plus the locations of cameras and the security guards’ schedules.”
Len let out an impressed whistle. “Can you hypnotize people over the phone?”
“I didn’t need to, that’s the sad part. I just acted nervous and kept complimenting her. The girl sounded a bit insecure. You don’t think she’s going to get fired when we rob the special exhibition, do you?”
“I should hope so. Those are valuable artifacts we’re ripping off,” Mark said, coming up behind them to lean over Len’s shoulder and peer at the schedule. Len flinched away from the sudden contact, and the gangly Rogue almost toppled over. He righted himself and turned his attention to Piper. “Hartley, we’re talking about irreplaceable pieces of American history that the public will lose access to forever once we selfishly fence them to be sold for the joy of a sketchy private collector. We are very, very bad people.”
Len grabbed the can of beer out of Mark’s hand, crushed it, and tossed it in the general direction of their seldom used trash can. “I’m cutting you off for tonight, Mardon. I think you’ve had enough.”
“Hey, you may be our team leader, but that doesn’t mean you get to tell us when to stop drinking.”
“He’s used his authority to get Digger to stop when he gets all touchy feely before,” Piper reminded him.
“Touché.” Mark saluted the captain, then stumbled his way back to the couch.
Piper reclaimed his stool and started in on his next task; making notes on the maps the museum supplied to visitors. He hit a small snag though. “Len, these are all really out of date.”
“That’s just what Roscoe gave me.”
“Yeah, well apparently he hasn’t actually been to the Central City Museum of American History in seven years. They change their exhibitions up all the time. We can’t rely on these.”
“Shit.” Len frowned and walked back over to Piper to look the maps over. “Can you just get new ones?”
“Sure. But the museum’s already closed for the day, and they’re not open tomorrow-”
“I know, that’s why we’re hitting it-”
“So I can’t get a new map for two days,” Piper explained. “I’m certainly not breaking and entering just to steal maps. We’ll have to push it back to next week. You know, unless you want to bust in without knowing where anything is.”
Len seemed to be in the throes of some internal struggle. Doubtless he wanted to pull off the lucrative heist as quickly as possible; that way he wouldn’t have to assemble the volatile mix of men for a planning session about ‘fruity shit’ very few of them understood, but were likely to whine about. When they bitched about the high class museum pieces they ran the risk of offending Roscoe, Piper, and sometimes even Mark; the only Rogues with intellectual pretensions. And if any of the Rogues with intellectual pretensions ranted about how much they enjoyed the objects they were stealing, they ran the risk of inviting offense from the more blue collar Rogues, who could give less than a shit about some Civil War general’s hat (unless it was a particularly cool looking hat).
“Fine! Push it back a week. But take someone with you and case the place while you’re getting the maps, okay?”
Piper considered. “Actually, I wouldn’t mind touring the exhibit while it’s still installed. Taking the tour might be a little fun.”
Len got the rest of the Rogues’ attention by firing into the air, and consequently coating the ceiling fan in ice. “The heist is being pushed back a week. Piper’s going to the museum to case the place. Who’s going with him?”
“Ya mean who’s taking the nance on a date?” Digger asked loudly.
He and Sam laughed at that, while James let out an enthusiastic “Not it!”
Mick rolled his eyes, but he wasn’t volunteering either. Piper could feel his face flushing. “It’s not a date; it’s work!”
“Convenient excuse, that,” James said dubiously. “Sorry, ain’t no freaking way I’m touring a museum with a gay guy. No girl in the world would believe I was straight after that.”
“And we all know what a problem you’re having with that too,” Mark spoke up. “Tone down the flamboyance of your costume a little before you start worrying about being seen alone with Piper.”
“Excuse me,” Piper snapped, and some of the guys tensed, ready for a preachy rant of some kind. “I’m sorry, but every self-respecting gay man I know knows not to wear vertical striped pants. And might I add, we’re all envisioning a scenario where I wouldn’t be mortified to have people think I was on a date with one of you. We’re much more likely to run into someone I know at the museum than anyone any of you know.”
The guys broke out into loud guffaws at that, except James, who was too busy quietly muttering about how there was nothing wrong with vertical stripes. A guy had to be confident to wear pants like his.
“Oh come on kid, at least one of us has to be your type,” Mick said.
“Mm, because we’re such a diverse bunch. The full range of humanity is represented right in this very room.”
“Was that sarcasm?”
“Yes Mick, that was sarcasm.” Piper rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. So far he felt like he was coming off on top in what was potentially an awkward exchange.
Len smacked a hand to his face. “Mardon, you case the museum with Piper. You said you were interested in this stuff anyway.”
Mark attempted to sit up straighter, lost balance, and fell onto the floor. “Oof. Hey! Hey, I don’t wanna go on a date with a queer!”
Piper’s smile fell. “It’s not a date! We’re just casing the place for business. God, like I’d want to!”
“Pfft. If you had half a chance you’d jump all over this,” Mark returned, waving an arm over his body. He was still sprawled on the filthy floor of their hideout, and as he’d spilled his beer as he’d fallen, the overpowering stench of his damp green costume wasn’t exactly contributing to his argument.
Piper scowled. “Oh yes, falling down drunk is exactly my type.”
Truth be told, Mark actually somehow managed to look extremely fuckable while also being falling down drunk (his disheveled costume was showing even more of his lightly muscled torso than usual and his hair was tousled in a highly attractive manner), but Piper wasn’t about to tell the smug bastard that. The first thing that Piper had noticed about Mark was that he was exceptionally attractive: lean bodied, rakish smile, wild black hair that fell into his dark eyes just right…he actually was completely Piper’s type.
Unfortunately, the second thing he’d noticed about Mark was that he was also an asshole. If Piper was going to indulge in a crush on any of the Rogues (which he wasn’t letting himself do, since they were all straight and obnoxious about it), it would have been on James or Mick. James was a little younger than Hartley, and a very pretty pretty-boy at that, while Mick was handsome despite some burn scars, with a broad, muscular build. And they were both more genial than Mark (as long as Mick wasn’t having an episode).
“Y’know what I mean,” Mark insisted. “If you thought you could, you’d so tap this.”
Piper shook his head. “Sorry, not interested. And please get that out of your system before we case the museum together in what will not, in fact, be a date.”
Unfortunately for Piper, inspecting the museum did feel an awful lot like a date.
They met in the lobby by the coat check, and as Piper had already snuck enough maps and guides for all the Rogues and stuffed them in his bag, all they really had to do was tour the museum.
Probably in an effort to fit in with the museum crowd, Mark had made an attempt to dress better than he usually did. He was wearing a button down dress shirt with a nice pair of slacks (Piper figured he must have bought them for the day specially, since he couldn’t recall ever seeing Mark in anything but ripped and/or stained jeans or his Wizard costume), and he’d groomed his hair into some semblance of order. If he didn’t look so uncomfortable in the still-quite-casual nice clothes, he’d have looked handsome in an unusually sophisticated sort of way.
Piper, being the type of nerdish Rogue who spent a lot of downtime in pretentious intellectual places like museums, didn’t feel the need to put on airs about it. He was wearing artfully ripped jeans with a baggy sweater, his hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. He figured he probably looked like one of the college kids touring the new exhibits for a class assignment.
“I should have brought a sketch pad,” Piper muttered.
“Hm? Why?” Mark asked. Piper was a little surprised he’d been listening to him.
“Oh, um, to blend in with the college kids.” Piper waved a hand to indicate a nearby girl with badly dyed pink hair and a clashing magenta skirt. “The art students are here to study the Winslow Homers, methinks.”
“Aren’t we a little old to pose as college kids?” Mark asked.
Piper shrugged. “Not really. I’m at the older end of undergrad, which is even more convincing if I didn’t go right to college after high school, or if I transferred or changed majors or something, and you could be a grad student. You could be the TA running my undergrad class…”
“The hell’s a TA?”
“Teaching assistant. They’re graduate students that do all the work for professors that are too important to actually teach,” Piper explained.
“Oh yeah. I think I remember Clyde complaining about that once. He breezed through college in half the time it takes a normal person, so my perspective on this is kinda bad. So wait, you’re saying we should pretend I’m your teacher?”
“Hm…it is a little problematic, isn’t it?” Piper said with a sigh. He pretended to brighten at a new thought. “How’s this for our scenario? You’re a grad student yes, but you’ve only gotten as far as you have by sleeping your way through the university. And I’m about to discover that you actually know next to nothing about your subject despite your seemingly impressive credentials.”
“Well I’ll just have to find a way to shut you up about that. Can’t let you rat me out before I get my doctorate,” Mark joked back.
“I guess you’ll have to convince our professor to pass me even though I’m blowing off all my work,” Piper said. A bit of wall text on nineteenth century parlor music and the Good Death caught his eye so he wandered over to investigate it, figuring their joke was just about carried through.
Mark sidled up next to him, leaning close enough to Piper that their arms were brushing against each other. He spoke next to Piper’s ear in a low voice so that an elderly couple standing nearby wouldn’t hear him. Incidentally, it also sent a shiver up Piper’s spine. “So if we’re both dodging all of the real work, why are we touring the museum?”
Piper laughed and edged away a little. “Because we’re going to rob it blind, now come on. Let’s get back to work.”
It took some effort to keep his mind on the job at hand. Piper kept sneaking looks at Mark when he thought the other Rogue was too distracted to notice. He’d never really interacted with him in this kind of setting before. Mark was surprisingly thoughtful. He was reading a lot of the labels and wall text, and commenting on the paintings and objects displayed with a surprising amount of knowledge and insight.
Piper had guessed there was an impressive brain ratting around somewhere under the messy black hair, but he’d only ever seen it shushed with enough beer to give an average man alcohol poisoning. Mark Mardon in a museum was quite a different beast.
Maybe he was as cute as James or Mick...
Perhaps Mark was thinking along similar lines, because when they were sharing an overpriced lunch together in the museum café he asked an odd, yet not entirely unexpected question. “So Hartley, how’d you know you were queer?”
Piper narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out if it was what he thought that prompted the question. Mark was impatiently waiting for an answer though, so he reluctantly gave his rote response. “I don’t know; I just did. How did you know you were straight?”
“I’ve always liked girls.”
“There you go. It’s the same for gays.”
Mark shook his head. “A lot of guys struggle with it though.”
“They struggle with accepting it. They always really know they actually like guys. At least, that’s how I’m pretty sure it works,” Piper said. “I wouldn’t know, since I never really had a problem with being gay. I realized I was, accepted it, and moved on.”
“Did your family freak?”
Mark seemed to be waiting for some kind of elaboration. Piper pointedly took a bite of his vegetable and goat cheese sandwich.
“What did they do?” Mark prodded.
Piper stalled again by taking a sip of water. “Dad blew up. Said he wished I’d never been born. Mom cried a lot and said I was killing her. Then I stole a bunch of money and took off. I’ve barely seen them since, and every time they’ve said pretty much the same bullshit. As far as I can tell they don’t miss me at all. What about your parents?”
“We’re not talking about my parents.”
“Then let’s not talk about mine.”
Mark sighed. “I was just wondering. So you don’t…wish you were straight?”
Piper shook his head. “I like who I am.”
They ate in silence for a few awkward minutes. Piper knew he was the only openly gay man any of the Rogues talked to on a regular basis. In fact, he was probably the only openly gay man any of them even knew. So far Sam and Mick had both asked him a couple of casual questions about what it was like being gay, and as far as Piper could tell nothing had been driving them besides honest curiosity. But a few of his acquaintances in the past had been driven by more than that, and he couldn’t tell yet if Mark was one of them.
He was still musing over that when Mark spoke again. “Me too.”
“I like who you are too,” Mark clarified.
Piper quirked an eyebrow. He decided to put Mark in the latter category. “Something you want to tell me, Mark?”
He sighed. “Look…I don’t think I’m gay. I like girls, like a lot, and I’ve never had any problems there, but…I’ve been thinking about you a little bit lately. Seems like if a guy was into guys, you’d be a catch.”
“I like to think so.”
Mark smirked. “Well I know I’m a catch. So…wanna mess around?”
“Not even a little bit, no.”
Mark’s face fell. Clearly, he’d been expecting Piper to jump at the opportunity. “What? Why not?”
Piper pretended to consider. “Because you’re a narcissistic man-child who has degraded my sexuality since we met, we work together on a regular basis, you’re probably actually straight and just a little confused, and I’m just not interested.”
Mark gaped at him. “Kay, ouch. I mean yeah, I’ve said some crap to you, but you give it right back. And so what if we work together? I said mess around, not friggin’ get married.”
Piper shrugged. “I think it’s a bad idea. I am flattered though.” Which was true enough. If Mark was feeling a little bicurious he’d certainly have his pick for experimenting. The man was handsome, especially while sober, and if his potential partner was ignorant of his dubious mental health then catching his attention would seem like incredible good luck.
Mark lowered his voice and leaned closer, elbows resting on the table. Piper indulged him and leaned forward a bit too. “Look, Hartley, this is going to drive me crazy. I just need to know if I’m part queer or not, and you’re the only gay guy I know. How else am I supposed to check if we don’t sleep together?”
Piper rolled his eyes. “You’re a smart boy. I’m sure you’ll think of something.” He stood up to leave and Mark grabbed his wrist.
“Hey, come on. You gotta help me out with this.”
“I don’t have to do anything,” Piper said, pulling his wrist out of Mark’s grasp. “There’s no rule that says a gay friend automatically has to help his straight friends whenever they’re feeling bicurious. And I’m certainly not under any obligation to sleep with you just because you want me to.”
“Bye Mark. I’ll call Len and let him know we got everything we need.” He had the feeling he was leaving a frustrated Weather Wizard behind him, but at the moment Piper wasn’t particularly fussed.
The hot bad boys couldn’t get everything they wanted, after all.
Piper wondered if things would be weird the next time he saw Mark. He didn’t get the chance to find out until their last planning session before the museum robbery.
The guy was a little distant with him, but they were busy firming up their plans, so Piper could only pay so much attention to him. He certainly wasn’t concerned; it’s not like he’d be crying himself to sleep at night if Mark Mardon was angry with him.
Whenever the Rogues all got together they inevitably got drunk. And when they got drunk they got obnoxious. And when they got obnoxious at least one of them found a way to unintentionally poke one of Piper’s emotional scars. He had to keep his guard up, keep his temper in check. Otherwise he’d lose this, and he didn’t really have anything going for him other than the Rogues.
Piper was lucky this time though. It didn’t take long to go over the plans and distribute the maps, and before he knew it everyone was changed into their costumes and ready to go. They’d only had the chance to down a beer or two apiece, so there was even a chance that the heist might go smoothly.
Digger had acquired some nondescript white vans for them to use for the heist (something Len had chewed him out for, because in a city like Cental, nondescript white vans were terribly conspicuous) and they were dividing into smaller groups to leave for the museum. Mark started straying towards Piper’s direction. Avoiding his gaze, Piper picked up his step and climbed into a van after James and Mick instead.
He was almost able to ignore the excited little thrill he got when he closed the door in Mark’s face.
“Hey Piper, c’mere!” James ran up behind him while he was in the process of removing an excessively large, extremely heavy oil painting with an unnecessarily cumbersome gilt frame from the wall. Sam had the other end, and the both of them all but growled at the flaky younger crook.
“Not now, Tricks!” Piper snapped.
“But you gotta see this! Hm…you don’t really have the upper body strength to get that out to the van anyway. Hey Len, why don’t you take it?” James started waving Len over, and Piper wanted to whap him.
“I can carry it!” Even if he’d have a hard time doing it…
Len abandoned his post by the entrance of the wing, eyeing James with patronizing interest. For whatever reason, the eldest and youngest of the Rogues were pretty good friends despite having vastly different temperaments.
“Hey Len, would you mind carrying this thing down to the van so I can steal Piper for a minute?”
Len scowled. “Why’re you trying to lug that thing down anyway, Piper? You’re a friggin’ twig! Let go of it before you drop it.”
“Shut up both of you, I’ve got this!” Piper ground out.
“Then you should start walking,” Sam snapped, also clearly straining under the weight of the massive painting.
Len came up behind Piper and grabbed the frame. He pushed Piper out of the way and started walking purposefully towards the ward’s exit with long, powerful strides. Sam was hard pressed to keep up with him.
Piper frowned after them, feeling insulted. “I could have done it.”
“And now you don’t have to. Now come on!” James grabbed Piper’s arm and dragged him through an archway, around a few corners, and out to a hallway and stairwell he was sure museum patrons weren’t supposed to use.
“Tricks, where the hell are we going?”
“You’ll see in a sec! It’s pretty spectacular. Well, for someone like you anyway.”
Piper iced over at that. Just what the hell did he mean someone like Piper?
And then the Trickster gleefully shoved Piper into a storage room full to bursting with antique instruments. Piper finally realized he wasn’t being insulted. “Oh holy Handel, will you look at all that?” He walked over to a harpsichord decorated with elaborate gilding and romantic landscape scenes. Piper ran his hand appreciatively over the frame, and then brushed his fingers lightly over the keys.
“Yeah, I think it’s their next special exhibit or something. Anyway, I thought you’d want to at least see it. I don’t think we have enough room to take the funky looking piano, but we can probably squeeze a few of those flutes and horns into the van with us.”
“It’s not a piano James, it’s…” Piper gave himself a little shake, lest he end up lecturing. “James, thank you. You really didn’t have to come and show me this.”
“Yeah, but it’s your thing and you appreciate it. Now c’mon, we’ve gotta be quick or Len will bite our heads off. Pick out what you really want and I’ll carry as many instruments as I can.”
“Alright…” Piper strolled between rows and rows of beautiful instruments, wondering if he’d ever have an opportunity like this again. He tried a few flutes, but settled on a maple and brass walking stick fife that he thought would make a whimsical addition to a civilian disguise. There was a beautiful rosewood flute from the same period next to it, so he snatched that right up as well. An eighteenth century cittern finished his armload, and he instructed James to grab a banjo detailed with mother of pearl and ivory, and a nineteenth century Dital harp.
“Oh James, thank you so much for showing me these!” He couldn’t help gushing just a little, even though it was fairly obvious he was making the other Rogue uncomfortable.
James was blushing little, but still smiling. “Not a problem. You’re the one who pointed out the antique carousel horses to me that one time, and don’t they make the coolest kitchen chairs you’ve ever seen? Just returning the favor.”
Piper looked down at the walking stick fife, which was his new favorite instrument, and wondered if it would be feasible to come back for that harpsichord in another heist. The museum was likely going to increase their security after this one though…damn. If only he’d known they were hiding a room full of glorious old instruments.
They burst through a staff entrance into one of the permanent exhibits, and both Rogues’ expressions turned horror struck as an alarm blared. “Shit! That door must have tripped it!”
“Maybe it wasn’t us,” James said hopefully. Piper, still grateful for having his attention turned to the instruments he was clutching, declined from saying what he thought about that.
However, his gratitude wasn’t going to hold out if the beautiful instruments were snatched away from him by the scarlet speedster. “Come on, let’s get these to the van and get out of here!”
They ran through the exhibit hall, down another stairwell, and came out by the shipping entrance the Rogues had parked their vans in front of. Mick and Sam were struggling to load another monstrous canvas when Piper and James came running up to them. “We hit an alarm!” Piper gasped. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Fuck. The van’s only half full. Cold’s not going to be happy,” Sam said.
Mick looked hopeful. “You think we should leave this thing behind? I mean, if we’ve got to make a quick exit then it’s not worth throwing out our backs trying to get it in the van, right?”
Sam rolled his eyes and continued the struggle to get the painting into the van. Piper loaded the cittern and the rosewood flute, got a secure grip on the fife, and then raced back into the museum. He heard James drop his armload of instruments into the van less delicately than Piper would have liked, and then pixie shoes hitting pavement as the other Rogue raced after him.
“Hey, where are you going?!”
“Back in! The others are still in there and they might need back up if Flash comes to investigate.”
“Well yeah, but-” he stopped talking when Piper disappeared through a doorway. “Fucking idiot.”
The Flash did end up running into the museum to investigate the source of the commotion, and from there things dissolved into an uneven battle. This particular heist had been planned for profit only, not to hassle their nemesis, and therefore the time they’d spent preparing for a battle with the Flash had been minimal; most of the planning had been on how to avoid him. They weren’t fighting in an organized fashion, which meant they weren’t fighting well.
Piper did like the way his new fife handled though. He was able to hypnotize Flash into running into a wall, which gave Len the chance to grab his cold gun from where Flash had thrown it. Unfortunately, it turned the Flash’s attention on him.
“Jump on my back!” James yelled. Piper did so unthinkingly, and James jumped into the air. He blew out a skylight with a weighted yo-yo, and then the two were heading for the open sky. “Cover us, okay?!”
Piper craned his neck around, trying to see under them and back into the museum, but the angle was all wrong and James’ flapping cape wasn’t helping. He didn’t see the improvised projectiles Flash had thrown at James’ shoes until it was impossible to deflect them.
The pieces of glass hit their mark and the two crooks immediately lost several feet. “Shit!” James yelled. He desperately kicked his feet together, but the shoes only made a terrible whining noise. Then his legs started violently shaking, pitching them back and forth.
Piper lost his grip on James. For a second he had a hand on the man’s cape, and then he was falling.
The roof of the museum was rushing up at him so fast, too fast. Where was the Flash? What the hell was his brilliant plan? Piper and James were going to die! What the hell kind of superhero was that asshole?
Then Piper was caught up in a strong gust of wind. For a minute everything was rushing and frenzied movement that he couldn’t even think of resisting. There was a clap of thunder, a sudden sheet of icy rain that disappeared as soon as it had come, and then Piper fell into a pile of mud. He had a vague idea of where he was. Unless he was mistaken, he’d been flown to a park on the other side of town from the museum.
Mark touched down in front of him, looking thoroughly unconcerned about the hectic journey via windstorm. His arm was bleeding though, which made Piper feel a bit better about being face down in the mud in front of him.
He had a new appreciation for the state of Mark’s hair. He’d never given much thought to the experience of traveling in winds strong enough to lift a man.
“Are you okay, Hartley?” Mark asked as he crouched down in front of Piper.
Piper gaped up at him, trying his best to fix his eyes on a single point while being dizzier than he’d ever felt in his life. “I feel sick.”
“Sorry about that, but I figured it was better than letting you hit the ground.”
That was certainly true, but he still felt like throwing up. Piper dropped his forehead onto his arm and groaned.
“C’mon, we can’t stay here.” Mark helped Piper to his feet. “I’ve got a base near here I can fly us to. Just close your eyes and hang on.”
Piper slung an arm around Mark’s shoulders and buried his face in the man’s neck. He took a shuddering breath and prepared himself for the resumption of the dizzying winds. He cringed and bore it as best he could, and a few minutes later they were standing in front of a shabby looking summer house, Piper leaning heavily against Mark.
“I’ve got vertigo medication inside if you need it,” Mark offered. As Mark himself seemed perfectly comfortable about commuting via twister, Piper had to wonder about that a little.
“I’m just going to lay down for a bit if that’s okay.”
The summer house looked perfectly unassuming from the outside, but inside it was a typical villain lair. There was equipment and spare costumes all over the hard metal surfaces, and the door was heavily alarmed, meaning stray teenagers would not be sneaking in for impromptu partying.
Mark helped Piper to a room off the side, which was in the spirit of a summer cottage. Piper dropped onto a daybed, and Mark threw a crocheted blanket over him then left, shutting the door behind him.
Piper dozed for a little while. When the dizziness wore off he got up and started for the main room. As he passed a dresser he caught his reflection in its mirror and stopped in his tracks.
His long orange hair was mostly stuck out at an angle, caked with dried mud that was helping to hold it in place. His tunic had ripped down the front. He’d lost a sleeve entirely as well as a shoe, and there were runs all over his tights.
Scowling, Piper went to find his host.
Mark was in the main room sitting on a stool in front of some kind of control console. He’d taken off his mask and his shirt and was in the process of bandaging the cut on his bicep. Piper’s eyes quickly raked over the attractive half naked man while he was distracted, then he gave himself a little shake and forced his eyes on Mark’s face.
He wasn’t sure what to think about Mark anymore. Mark had started out as one of the most outspokenly homophobic of the group; he’d been vehement about not wanting a gay guy checking him out even though his costume had a plunging neckline and his non-work clothes were clingy. If he really was questioning his sexuality, it was probably tormenting him.
And Piper was starting to feel tempted by the lanky brunette. There was something about that disaffected and rebellious bad boy attitude…
Of course, he recognized that something perfectly, and that scared him into being cautious.
“Need any help?”
Mark shook his head. “I got this. I was listening to the radio. A bunch of the guys got taken in, but Len got away clean. I’m gonna get in touch with him later and see if we’re doing a jailbreak or letting the guys fend for themselves.”
“I think we should break them out, but not necessarily tonight.”
Mark grinned. “You look like you could use some time to recover from the excitement.”
Piper flipped him off and he laughed. “Can I use your shower?”
“Down the hall on the left.”
It took at least half an hour to get the gunk out of his hair. Thankfully, Mark had the products to help. Piper was still in the shower trying to untangle and clean his hair, regretting the fact that it was halfway down his back, when there was a rap on the door.
“Hey Hartley! You didn’t drown in there, did you?”
“Sorry! My hair is driving me nuts!”
Mark opened the door and walked right in. Piper jumped, slipped, and fell onto the bottom of the tub. Mark peeled back the shower curtain and stared down at him. “Are you okay?”
“I am naked in here,” Piper snapped, sitting up as carefully as possible and trying to defend his modesty with the careful placement of his knees.
“I figured.” Mark turned off the water and sat down on the edge of the tub. “I have some experience with windblown hair. Want some help?”
“Sure. Can you pass me a towel though?”
Mark tossed one on his lap, picked up a brush, and started strategically brushing Piper’s hair, occasionally spritzing product and massaging it through the increasingly smoother coppery strands. His long fingers combed up through Piper’s hair and then gently massaged his scalp. He picked the brush back up and made another pass. Piper shifted the towel a few times in an attempt to hide the physical evidence of the effect Mark stroking his hair was having on him.
He bit his lip, wondering how he’d hide that issue when it was time to stand up.
“So you know, this is why I don’t let my hair get past my chin.”
“Shame. I think long hair would suit you,” Piper said carefully, testing the waters. Mark didn’t seem offended by the compliment though.
“Yeah, I used to have it long when I was in high school. I didn’t keep it very clean though.”
“High school boys are grody. At least you grew out of it. The rest of the guys…”
“I use the wand to kick up gentle breezes when I need it. If you ever want to get away from the stink of unwashed, unlaundered sweaty asshole, just stand near me during poker nights and planning sessions from now on.”
Piper laughed. “Good to know. James actually has some gimmicks to help with our collective stench too. Oh geeze, I hope he’s okay. You didn’t happen to see if Tricks made it back to the ground in one piece did you?”
“Didn’t notice,” Mark answered nonchalantly.
Piper frowned at that. “Couldn’t you have just caught him up in the windstorm t-ow!” Mark had snagged his hair and he flinched away.
“I’m sure Trickster’s fine,” Mark answered, sounding a bit sour about the prospect. Which was just odd; Mark and James weren’t best friends or anything, but as far as Piper had seen they’d always gotten along well enough.
The thing was, Piper was pretty decent friends with Trickster (whenever he wasn’t acting particularly obnoxious, anyway) and he was concerned about his friend’s well-being. “Alright, whatever. I like the kid. I’d just like to know if he was splattered or not.”
“It would have been on the radio if he’d plummeted to his death, I’m sure. You’re all set.”
“Thanks.” Piper ran a hand through his hair, which felt amazingly soft and silky from whatever Mark had used to tame it into order.
Mark remained sitting on the edge of the tub. Piper wasn’t sure what to do, but he was starting to feel uncomfortable. He settled on wrapping the towel more securely around his hips and standing up. “Do you have any spare clothes or should I put the mutilated costume back on?”
“I’ve got clothes.” Mark finally got up and led Piper to a second bedroom that was much better furnished than the first. Piper hovered in the doorway, feeling ridiculously out of place and oddly nervous about Mark’s weird behavior. Mark tossed him a t-shirt and some sweatpants. He was digging through a sock drawer when he suddenly stopped and turned to look at Piper.
His gaze was intense, uncomfortably so.
But god did he have a gorgeous face. Beautiful bone structure really. Well defined, high cheekbones and a fine nose (something Hartley both admired and was bitterly jealous of in turns).
“Fuck it.” Mark crossed the room in three long strides, grabbed Piper by the waist, and pulled him into a heated kiss. He kept his strong, lean hands pressed tight around Hartley’s hips while he claimed his mouth with bruising force.
Piper planted his hands on Mark’s chest, initially intending to push the guy away, but unable to follow through with it. He didn’t so much return the kiss as allow Mark to kiss him, but that was apparently enough for the other super criminal (and it still felt amazing to Piper). Then one of the hands locked on his hipbone started to move, taking the towel with it.
Instinctually, Piper kneed him in the groin and Mark fell over gasping while Piper straightened the towel.
“Uh…uh…shit, I’m sorry, Mark. Are you alright?”
Mark let out a pained whimper, glaring up at Piper from where he was spluttering on the floorboards. “Just take the clothes and get the fuck out of my base.”
“S-sorry,” Piper repeated. He did as instructed and grabbed the t-shirt and sweats, then ran from the room. He was hastily pulling on the clothes in the main room when he heard Mark groan and mutter, “Fucking tease.”
Mark skipped out on the jailbreak, and Piper skipped out on the next few poker nights, so he didn’t see the other Rogue again until the next time they planned a heist. Piper wasn’t sure what to expect. He was hoping that Mark would pretend nothing odd had happened, figuring that was the best case scenario.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Mark didn’t give him shit for kneeing him in the junk, but he was annoyingly flirty, albeit quietly. Nobody else picked up on Mark’s odd behavior, but they did seem to notice Piper’s reactions; Mick asked Piper why he kept turning red, and James expressed some concern over how jumpy Piper had gotten.
At the end of the night, when everyone started going their separate ways, Piper grabbed Mark by the elbow and yanked him outside so that they were standing alone by the dumpster in the back. “Just what in the hell are you trying to do to me?” Piper demanded in a low whisper.
Mark grinned. “I’d thought it was obvious.”
“I’m not going to sleep with you.”
“Not even if I ask nice? I’ll buy you dinner first and everything.”
Piper narrowed his eyes into what he hoped was a strong glare. “Absolutely not. Where the fuck is this coming from? Last month you freaked out on me if I held eye contact with you for too long.”
Mark shrugged. “I told you before, I realized I was attracted to you and my curiosity is trumping the stigma. I mean, it’s not like you’d tell anyone. You said you respected guys who are closeted.”
“I respect their choice to remain in the closet, but I don’t date them.” He’d tried dating a closet-case once, and it had been awkward, uncomfortable, and horrendous for his self-esteem.
“Well I’m not interested in dating you either. I just want to fuck.”
“Again, no. Now will you stop all the flirting and groping? I gave you an answer.”
“Yeah, but I don’t like it. I’m trying to renegotiate something better,” Mark returned.
“I’m not changing my mind on this, now leave me alone.” Piper turned on his heel and stomped off to his car, irritated with Mark’s stubbornness. He was pretty sure that not only was Mark going to keep up the quiet flirtation, but that he’d found Piper’s indignation cute, which wasn’t what he’d been going for.
He was confirmed in that belief when Mark cheerfully waved at him and blew him a kiss as he drove away.
The heist they’d planned turned out almost the same as the museum robbery. Things started out strong, but then someone tripped an alarm and the Flash showed up and pantsed them. The last thing Piper remembered about the failed robbery was a yellow gloved fist heading for his face, then he woke up in a strange place with a splitting head ache.
“M-Mark?” Piper blinked a few times, trying to get his eyes to focus. His vision was swimming, and the only thing he could see was Mark. The guy looked uncharacteristically concerned.
“You okay, Hartley? Flash tapped you pretty good.”
“I guess.” Piper sat up and gingerly rubbed at his face. He could feel a brilliant bruise blooming on his jaw. He realized they were sitting in an apartment, not the hideout, and guessed that Mark had saved him again. He supposed it was better than winding up in Iron Heights, but he still didn’t want it to become a habit.
Piper was lying on an old futon and Mark was sitting on a folding chair next to him fiddling with an icepack. Mark had changed out of his Weather Wizard costume in favor of a thin t-shirt (a Clash t-shirt, Piper noted, feeling very little surprise about the other man’s taste in music) and ripped jeans. His feet were bare, but that couldn’t be causing him much discomfort as there was so much shit between him and the cold floorboards that he’d never feel them.
He didn’t have a scratch on him, the jerk.
Piper leaned back against the futon and groaned. His head was killing him. Mark gently patted the icepack against Piper’s jaw. “Want me to grab you some painkillers?”
“Yes please,” Piper ground out. “What happened after Flash knocked me out?”
“We kind of scattered.” Mark pushed onto his feet and started for a narrow hallway. “Flash got Digger and Tricks to Iron Heights, I know that much for sure. Might have gotten Sam or Roscoe too, I couldn’t see them too clearly. Pretty sure it was someone with dark hair though. I just grabbed you and ran for it. Len called a meeting for tonight so we can plan yet another jailbreak.”
Now that Piper was feeling a bit more alert he was able to look around and take in his surroundings. He’d expected to find himself in another hideout, but it looked like he was in Mark’s home.
The room was a gigantic open-plan, encompassing a living area, a bedroom (the futon was surrounded by dirty clothes and seemed to be where Mark slept), and a kitchen. There were old paperbacks on every available surface, and overflowing bookshelves surrounding the couch. The best thing about the apartment was the windows. Two of the walls were almost completely glass, giving Mark a spectacular view of Central City.
Mark was back in a moment with a bottle of pills and a lukewarm energy drink. Piper sat up to swallow the pill, again patting along his head. “Thanks. And thanks for grabbing me too. You don’t have to keep doing that for me, you know.”
“I know. Course you might want to kill the temptation for me by going a full heist without fucking up.”
Piper felt his face get warm. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
“I’m not. I’d never get the chance to see you alone without the scarlet dipshit providing me with these opportunities, apparently. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to have you in my debt.”
Piper rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to get a date just because you keep saving me from an afternoon in Iron Heights.”
“Oh come on!” Mark yelled, and Piper winced and rubbed at his head. Mark frowned apologetically and lowered his voice. “Besides, I’m not talking about a date.”
His face definitely got warmer at that. Mark was practically leering at him. Piper broke eye contact and trained his gaze on his fidgety hands. “I told you already, I don’t sleep with my friends.”
“Well why not?”
“Because it’s bad for a friendship. Plus we work together, Mark. Can you imagine how awkward things would get?”
“No,” Mark answered defiantly. “If it’s bad sex, it’s bad sex, and we’ll laugh about it. If it’s good then it’s good. No problem. I’m telling you, friends with benefits is a wonderful arrangement.”
Piper let out an exasperated breath. “Up until a few weeks ago and some really uncomfortable passes at me, you were a devoutly professed heterosexual.”
“Yeah, I thought so. But then I started noticing how cute you were.” Mark reached out a hand and brushed it through Piper’s hair. He’d certainly kissed like he’d meant it. Piper thought back on the intensity of that kiss, of having Mark pressed up against him so close that he could feel the heat of his body…he really should move and knock that hand away from his face, but he let Mark run his thumb over his cheekbone.
He locked eyes with Mark, hoping his expression was at least a little skeptical, though he knew he was probably obviously flustered. “You’re actually really attractive Hartley, and noticing has been driving me crazy.”
“You really mean it, don’t you?” Piper asked, bewildered. He’d been sure that this was just a stupid whim and that Mark would move on when he got bored. But when Mark nodded, his dark eyes were transparently sincere.
“I think you’re beautiful.”
“Right now?” Piper asked with a startled laugh that thankfully lightened the mood a little. They were leaning really close together, and he couldn’t stop sneaking looks at Mark’s enticing lips. “You think I’m beautiful while I’m wearing a ripped, ridiculous costume with a huge bruise on my face?”
“Well you could always lose the costume. Might be a bit of an improvement, actually,” Mark said, with a look that was inarguably a leer. Then he leaned in for the kiss, and oh did Piper believe him. Mark coaxed Piper’s lips apart and sucked Piper’s lower lip into his mouth, teasing it with his tongue. He explored Piper’s mouth with languid strokes, and it was the sound of his own moans that woke Hartley up enough to make him break the kiss.
Mark looked a bit dazed himself. His eyes were half-lidded and his hands were clenched in Piper’s hair. “That was…”
“A bad idea.” Piper pushed away from Mark and picked the icepack up, mostly to give his hands something to do so he’d stop fidgeting. Mark let out an impatient breath and scrubbed a hand through his hair.
“Come on, Hartley. You know that felt good.”
“It did. And you are very handsome, Mark. Really, I’m flattered.”
“Will you stop ‘handling’ me and tell me what the real problem is?”
It probably would be easier in the long run. Mark had already shown much more tenacity than Piper expected, and he wasn’t accepting the perfectly valid surface reasons for Piper’s refusal.
“I’m coming off of a bad relationship and I don’t want to get involved in anything for a little while.” There, like pulling off a Band-Aid.
In many ways, Mark reminded Piper of his ex. Earl’s temper was more explosive than Mark’s, but Mark’s quiet anger was fueled by the same emotional instability. The disdain and the overcompensating “arrogance” that was meant to cover low self-worth were from the same playbook too.
Mark crawled forward on the futon, invading Piper’s personal space yet again. And yet again, Piper didn’t move away. “But Piper, I’m not looking for a relationship.”
“I’ve never done friends with benefits before. I just don’t see how messy emotional strings wouldn’t attach. Sex is so intimate.”
“So you never sleep with a guy just because he’s hot?”
Piper had done it a few times, but not nearly as often as some of the other guys he knew. “I’ve never slept with a friend just because they were hot.”
“I’ll be gentle,” Mark teased.
“Please. You won’t even know what you’re doing.”
“Hey! Just because I’ve never fucked a guy before doesn’t mean I’ll be bad at it!”
Piper rolled his eyes. “Actually, that’s exactly what it means. There’s a bit of a learning curve here.”
“I’m sure you’re a good teacher, and this is something I can be a very motivated pupil for.”
Piper rubbed his eyes and sighed. “How do I get you to drop this?”
Piper glared at him. “Yes I do. I’m leaving.” He got up and started for the door, a bit surprised when Mark only lounged on the futon without making any move to stop him. Then he caught one of his green pixie shoes in a stray bit of junk on the floor and almost fell on his face. Piper belatedly realized the significance of wearing a battle-torn brightly colored costume while in a strange part of town with no transportation.
Mark threw his head back and laughed. “You look cute when you’re all flustered and outraged!”
“Oh shut the fuck up! I’m still leaving.” Piper kicked his shoes off, dug a pair of Mark’s out from a pile of laundry, and pulled them on. Mark’s feet were a couple sizes larger than his, but he didn’t care. He pulled Mark’s bulky leather coat on over his tattered costume, flipped him the bird, and left.
Again, he was surprised that Mark didn’t stop him. Mark wore that coat almost everywhere when he wasn’t in costume.
He got a lot of funny looks while he made his way home. In hindsight it was a blessing he wasn’t picked up by the cops.
Piper sat out the jailbreak, choosing to camp out in his living room in comfy PJs with a new book and some Handel playing instead. He was stressed, his head was still throbbing, and he’d decided he needed a night off.
He nodded off at some point and was rudely jarred to wakefulness by his security alarm going off around two am. Piper jumped to his feet, grabbed a pipe he’d stashed under his couch cushion, and dashed into the front hall to investigate.
He stopped in his tracks when he recognized Mark standing frozen in the doorway, clad in street clothes with a bag slung over his shoulder. He was frozen because Piper’s alarm was a musical one that hypnotized intruders into immobility. Piper took it down, then blew a few notes on his pipe. Mark blinked a few times and slowly flexed his limbs.
“Paranoid much?” he asked.
Piper scowled. “You can’t just prowl around my place at two in the goddamn morning. I’m a supervillain; I protect myself.”
“The others don’t.”
“And their stupidity and negligence is their own choice.” Piper shut the door, yawned, and walked towards his living room. “Take your shoes off!” he yelled over his shoulder.
Mark joined him in the living room a few minutes later, obediently barefoot. Piper was lounging on his couch again, so Mark sat on the arm of his chair. He took out a pack of cigarettes, but stopped when he caught the look on his reluctant host’s face.
“You’re not smoking in my home.”
“Kay…” Mark put the cigarettes back in his pocket.
“So what the hell are you doing here?”
“I want my stuff back. You have my coat and my shoes.”
Piper scowled. “You need them right now? Right this second?”
Mark shrugged. “I was in the area.”
Piper shook his head. “Unbelievable.” Still, he got up and went to the kitchen where Mark’s clothes were packed away in a shopping bag, waiting to go to the hideout with Piper for Friday night’s poker game. This must have been why Mark had let him go; so he could show up unexpectedly to reclaim his belongings and work in a little more sexual harassment.
When Piper got back to the living room he found Mark flipping through his abandoned book. Piper had intended to toss the bag at him, but he stopped in his tracks at the sight of a handsome man skimming a book on green living. It wasn’t something he’d ever expected to see in his home.
Mark glanced up at Piper over the rim of the book. He looked amused. “How can you read this without falling asleep?”
Well that certainly made the sight less sexy. Piper decided not to mention the fact that he actually had fallen asleep while reading it. “It’s well written.”
Mark shrugged. “This just seems like more work to me. I’d unwind with a good story, myself.”
“I prefer nonfiction. I do like reading novels every now and again, but participating in this sort of discourse, remaining up to date on current issues, that has an appeal to me.”
“Eh, to each his own. Do you mind if I…?”
It took Piper a moment to figure out what Mark was asking. Helpfully, he was motioning to one of Piper’s many overflowing bookcases. “Oh. Go right ahead.”
Mark walked in front of the shelves, scanning the books with his eyes and running his fingers along the spines. “I’ve never known anyone with such full bookshelves before.”
“It’s not like I’ve read them all,” Piper said, a bit flustered. “I acquire books much more quickly than I can read them.”
Mark smirked. “I bet it takes longer to read through rants on gender and sexuality than it does a good volume of Twain.”
Piper made an iffy motion with his hand. “Depends who’s writing and compiling it. I’ll probably never finish Gay American History, but I did Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities in two sittings.”
Mark nodded distantly, eyes still on the books. Finally, he picked up the bags of clothes (the one he’d shown up with had his costume in it) and started for the front door. “Thanks for letting me in, Piper. I’ll see you later.”
Piper watched him go in some surprise. “Bye.”
He tried to tell himself that he wasn’t disappointed by the lack of sexual harassment.
Later that week, Piper came home to find two handsome leather bound books on his coffee table with a quickly scrawled note sitting on them:
Your bookshelf needs some work. Every home needs at least Huckleberry Finn to be complete, and I just think Candide is up your alley.
Smiling, Piper sat down, cracked open Candide and Other Works, and finished it in one sitting.
Over the next couple of weeks Piper’s bookshelves gathered quite a lot of new material; the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Hobbit, Things Fall Apart, Dracula, and of course, everything Mark Twain had ever written.
Piper returned the favor by leaving nonfiction books in Mark’s apartment, starting with biographies and literary critiques of Mark Twain, but expanding to include subjects he thought Mark might enjoy; Civil War histories, studies of climate change, a history of Central City. Eventually he bought a book celebrating the Flash from the museum and filled it with nasty commentary and clippings of their successful heists that the book conveniently forgot to mention.
And Mark was still flirting with him in person. The notes left with the books were getting racy enough, but when Mark covertly rested his hand on the small of his back, or held his gaze just a bit too long…Piper was hard pressed to remember that he didn’t actually want to sleep with the man.
‘Oh quit lying. You want to fuck his brains out,’ Piper thought to himself one night in the hideout. Or have his brains fucked out. Really, he wasn’t that particular.
He was watching the others play cards, and his eyes kept wandering to Mark. Piper watched as Mark dealt a hand, stuck on the fluid movement of his elegant hands as he shuffled and distributed the cards.
Piper noticed that his mouth was hanging open, and he quickly averted his gaze, schooling his expression into some semblance of calm. But his imagination was rife with scenarios of those strong hands on his body, grasping his hips as Mark left a trail of bruising kisses down his throat…
Shit. This was becoming more of a problem than Piper had even realized.
He headed home earlier than was usual for him that night, sure no one noticed. Of course he missed Len watching him leave out of the corner of his eye. And Mark had no idea why Len was being more of a bastard to him than usual for every hand after that.
James might have had some idea, but he kept it to himself.
The situation with Mark and Piper was starting to bother Len. He’d first noticed Mark trying to slime his way into Hartley’s tights about a month before the poker night, and had initially found it amusing (albeit surprising; he’d thought Mardon was straight). Seeing the kid continually reject Mardon’s advances, much to the cocky asshole’s annoyance, was a friggin’ hoot.
But it looked like Piper was starting to crack, and that was much less amusing. Len had no interest in having two of his Rogues date. That kind of conflict was exactly why there were no women in the Rogues (well, that and the fact that no dame was stupid enough to get within groping range of them).
He resolved to keep his eye on the two young men and keep his mouth shut. Well, for the moment, anyway…
Piper was in a fantastic mood Sunday afternoon when he got home from the latest Rogues group heist. Not only had the heist been lucrative, but it had gone smoothly (for once). He had a big bag of money, and he didn’t have to spend half the week recovering from a Flash beat down.
Needless to say, the press wasn’t covering the robbery very well. Piper was beginning to suspect that Picture News’ ace reporter had some sort of emotional investment in the scarlet dildo, based on the obvious bias in her reporting.
Piper whistled cheerfully while he locked the door behind him and turned his sound traps back on. He was looking forward to a relaxing night in. He’d probably spend it curled up on the couch with whatever new gem Mark had left for him.
But when he got to the living room his coffee table was empty. Piper did a quick check of his house and was surprised to find no new books. It was the first time in weeks.
Unsettled by the level of his disappointment, he sat down to watch a documentary instead.
Not only did the books stop appearing in Piper’s living room, but Mark stopped showing up for team ups. Piper’s first impulse was to go to the other man’s home to find out what was wrong, but he resisted it. Mark was doing this on purpose, and Piper refused to take the bait.
But the longer Mark stayed away the more Piper realized how much he missed the attention.
He wasn’t feeling proud of himself at all when he wasted half a Friday morning picking out a seemingly casual but highly flattering outfit, following it up by grooming his hair into the most careful messy ponytail he’d ever made. Sure that he looked good, Piper set out for Mark’s apartment with Ken Burns’ Mark Twain under his arm.
Mark was annoyingly smug looking when he answered the door. He leaned against the frame, eyes raking Piper over in a way that could only be described as indecent, smooth black hair falling into his wicked eyes. “Hey there, Hartley,” he drawled. “Miss me?”
“Oh shut up.” Piper pushed past him and strode confidently into the main room. He felt a small thrill of satisfaction when he noticed the books he’d been leaving for Mark arranged carefully around his bed, quite a few with crumpled receipts and shopping lists shoved in them as bookmarks.
Then he was spun around from behind and pressed against a hard, leanly muscled body. Piper didn’t resist at all when Mark tangled his fingers in his intentionally messy ponytail and crushed their mouths together. He dug his fingers into Mark’s t-shirt and moaned his appreciation.
He still realized that this was a very bad idea. Mark hadn’t become any more stable or less angry from flirting through books. But Piper never had been very good at taking care of himself either.
He let himself fall against Mark’s futon without protest.
They actually did end up watching the documentary. Well, kind of. Mark put it on, but then they continued wantonly screwing on the futon and Piper only caught a few words here and there whenever he stopped to recover his breath.
Some hours later he was naked, sticky, and honestly a little ashamed, with an equally naked and sticky brunette draped over him.
Piper was also incredibly sore, as Mark was a bit rougher than he was used to (and this coming from the man who’d dated a supervillain named Fury). He decided it wasn’t a bad thing though. A few bruises and an aching backside were nothing compared to getting punched out by the Flash on a semi-regular basis, and there was something satisfying about these particular aches.
“We’re going to keep doing that, right?” Mark asked, sounding as breathless as he was.
Piper frowned. He tried to push up onto his elbow, but his skinny arm was too shaky to support his weight and he fell back against the cheap mattress. Mark rolled off of him and turned onto his side so that they were facing each other.
“I thought you didn’t want to date,” Piper said.
“I don’t,” Mark returned. “I want to do a friends with benefits thing.”
“You’ve spent weeks romancing me. You do realize that, don’t you?”
“Mm hm. To get in your pants, and look, it worked.” He reached down and gave Piper’s sore ass a squeeze. “Hartley, I promise, I really do have no interest in dating you. Or anyone, really. Not at the moment. I make a terrible boyfriend and I like you too much to subject you to that.”
“I…I’ve never done friends with benefits before,” Piper murmured. “I don’t know, Mark. I get attached rather easily. This is a terrible idea.”
“Just don’t overthink it. You like sex, don’t you?” Mark asked, and Piper reluctantly nodded. “And you definitely liked sex with me. Oh come on, you were going nuts. Don’t you dare lie to me and tell me you didn’t like it.”
Piper smirked. “Not that your ego needs the stoking, but fine…you weren’t terrible. I swear, there is supposed to be a learning curve.”
Mark leaned forward and placed a wet kiss on his neck. “Luckily you got me interested in nonfiction. I did a little research.”
“Ah.” Piper considered him. “So you’ve been collecting gay porn to impress me?”
“…don’t say it like that.”
Piper laughed, and accepted it when Mark maneuvered them into cuddling-position. Piper curled into Mark’s bigger spoon while the wiry supervillain threw a blanket over them and reached for the remote. “I’m going to restart the documentary. I hope you don’t mind, but I haven’t caught a word so far and it looked pretty good.”
“That’s fine. How far do you think we’ll get this time?” Piper asked.
Mark trailed a hand down Piper’s side, pressing down and smirking when he felt Piper flinch in response to the pressure against fresh, finger shaped bruises. “Somehow I’m not too concerned.”
The Rogues met up again Saturday night, generally in good moods. A few of them had pulled off successful solo heists during the week, so there was back slapping, and Flash bashing, and freely flowing alcohol.
Len took a look at his coworkers and decided they weren’t going to accomplish shit that night. He took out a deck of cards, sat down at the table, and waited for everyone to respond to his tacit approval for goofing off. Before long he was dealing the cards to Digger, Sam, James, and Mick while Roscoe sniffed disdainfully and went to sit on the couch by himself to think deep, intellectual thoughts.
To Len’s dismay, Mark and Piper walked in together at least two hours after everyone else had wandered in. They traded a long stare with matching small smiles before Mark joined the game at the table while Piper slunk off to grab a soda from the mini fridge in the back.
Son of a fucking bitch.