This is the third fic in the conversation series, thus it won't make a huge amount of sense if you haven't read the first two. They're available at http://www.fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=103285 and are generally fairly short and, I'm told, amusing :-).

Disclaimer: Piper, Trickster and the Flash are DC's. This is for entertainment value only.

Much thankfulness to Carmen Williams, who is really a very good beta reader :-).


A Brief Conversation Between Antagonists...

James Jesse carefully picked up the measuring spoon and gently poured the contents into the bowl. It wouldn't do to get the measurements wrong; all kinds of disastrous things might happen. He looked anxiously at the gently fizzing liquid and, when nothing exploded, gave a sigh of relief. Then, with a smile of satisfaction, he turned around and promptly bumped into Wally West.

The world's fastest man was standing with his arms crossed and a look on his face that said "I don't like you and would relish the chance to beat you severely around the head", with rather amazing clarity. He was also not wearing the costume, which said "This isn't superhero business, this is *personal*", with just as much clarity. Most people would look worried and back away at this point, but James liked to think that he was, if not smarter than that, then at least more prepared. After all, people were *always* looking ticked off at him, it was just that usually they were looking ticked off at his departing back. The man who cheerfully called himself the Trickster was a very big fan of the old adage "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day", but was even more a fan of the lesser known saying "He who runs away before there *is* a fight is generally happier all round". Still, if it came down to a confrontation he was very good at improvising.

The first thing he did was smile widely. He'd found that people tended to find that disarming. Then he said in a terribly cheerful voice, "You know, I'm almost certain that my house has a door."

The Flash didn't budge. "Had a door. Currently it's in your garden with a dismantled alarm on top. "

"And there was that wonderful security system that I rigged up..."

"Oh, is *that* what it was?"

"I had that cool mounted crossbow with the tranq darts!"

"Which I avoided and dismantled."

"And the buckets of glue rigged on the doors..."

"I emptied them on some patch of weeds. Think of it as saving money on Zero."

"What about the gas jets in the ceiling fan?"

"You honestly think you can put *me* down with gas?"

"So you're basically saying that out of the whole set-up, not *one* thing managed to touch you..."

"Yes. No wait, that's not quite true. I did get slightly dampened by your sprinkler system, but since I think that was probably because the gas set off your smoke alarms, I doubt it counts."

James sighed and let his smile fade ever so slightly. "Wally, why are you here?"

"We need to have a talk."

"You couldn't have knocked for that?"

"I've been knocking all week. Oddly enough, you never seem to be home."

"Really? Gosh. So, fine then, a talk. How about that weather late...acck!"

In between eyeblinks he suddenly found himself pushed very harshly against the wall by a very annoyed looking speedster.

"Don't piss me off, Trickster. Really don't."

"Ahh, I see. Obviously you're using the rare Scandinavian version of the word 'talk', which means 'shove against wall and scream in face'. You'll find the Germans use that a lot in old war films..."

That earned him another shove. Damn his exemplary sense of sarcasm.

"Piper," Wally's voice was cold, "Is a very good friend of mine. He's one of my *best* friends. I don't want to see him get hurt."

"Well that's nice, I don't want to see him get hurt either."

"I find that hard to believe."

"What, you think you saw me beating him over the head with a baseball bat or something?"

"I'm not talking about physically hurting him! Piper... Piper's gone through more in this last year than *anyone* should have to go through. He's still hurting inside, and I want to make damn sure that he isn't going to get hurt again."

"Funny, I thought I was being particularly friendly to him lately. I even got him a parrot and everything!"

"How 'friendly' you're being is exactly what we need to talk about!"

"It's bad to be friendly?" James smiled brightly at the look of frustration on Wally's face. God, this was just classic. The guy couldn't just say it could he? It was times like this that he remembered why he'd become a Rogue in the first place. It was just *fun*.

"Look... I'm just saying... Piper is in a very vulnerable position at the moment!"

And how could he possibly resist a line like that? "Oh, he's been in *lots* of vulnerable positions lately."

Wally went a very interesting shade of red, and somehow James found himself once more slammed painfully against the wall. "All right, that's... That's just..." The Flash's gaze could have bored holes in titanium. "You think this is funny? Don't you? You think it's funny to screw around with people's heads? Hartley's practically the walking wounded, he's depressed as all hell and you think it's funny to screw around with him!"

Okay, so it was a lot more fun without the injuries. And here was a good example of why he *stopped* being a rogue. "Screwing around with him? Is *that* what I'm doing?"

"Shut up with the stupid innuendo!"

"I thought I was being witty!"

"You're not witty! You're not funny! You're an untrustworthy bastard who's never done a thing in his life for anyone but himself. I am not going to let you smash my friend's heart to pieces because you think it's funny! Because you want to see if you can get away with... with being with the Flash's best friend for a laugh! With *using* him for your own self-gratification when he's trying desperately to see something, *anything* positive to *live* for! Don't you see what you're doing? Don't you even care, you smug bastard?"

James blinked and the smile slipped again, just fractionally. Jesus, was that honestly what Wally thought he was... For God's sake...

"Well?" The Flash tightened his hands painfully.

Okay, this was just getting out of hand... "Never done a thing in his life for anyone else? Funny, and here I thought I'd saved the world. I'm sure it would have been such a *fun* place with Neron in charge."

"And why did you do it? Because you actually give a damn, or because it was fun to outwit the devil? Did you honestly sit there thinking that you needed to help everyone? Did you take it *seriously*?"

"Do you think I *didn't*? Geez, you really don't have a high opinion of me, do you?"

"Why the hell should I? Since when have you showed the slightest sign of giving a damn about anyone but yourself? You wouldn't even be working for the good guys if you weren't so afraid of Neron's revenge if you end up in Hell! With an excuse like that, how can anyone take your amazing change of heart seriously?"

"Oh for Christ's sake... Let me go!"

"Try and make me. Or tell me that you're going to leave this town and stay the hell away from Piper. Either one sounds good to me."

The Trickster didn't show anger. The Trickster smiled through anything. And the smile was still there; it was just wearing very thin indeed.

"I'm not sleeping with Piper, Wally. Piper doesn't *want* to sleep with me. Although with the amount of grappling and fondling you're doing at the moment, I'm beginning to think *you* do."

That did it. For all the friendship and tolerance Wally displayed, deep down he still had that wonderful macho heterosexuality that caused him to jump back a mile at the insinuation. Okay, freedom. That was the first step. Now he really *did* have to talk to the idiot.

The idiot was still looking pretty pissed. "Give me one good reason why I should believe you."

"Why do *I* have to explain this? You said Piper was your friend; don't you think it would have been a good idea to ask *him* what was going on?"

"Piper's not thinking straight at the moment..."

"Yes, because depression does tend to drop the IQ to sub-human levels."

"Shut up! I don't want to worry him."

"And you don't want him to get mad at you for interfering with his love life. Not to mention that you don't like mentioning the whole love life thing in the first place... Little uncomfortable there?"

"*What*? How dare you... I do not believe this. I don't believe that you have the nerve to accuse me of coming here because I'm stupid, or a bigot, or an interfering... I'm here because I'm worried about my friend, and that's the *only* reason I'm here. I'm here because I don't want to upset him, because I want him to actually be *happy* again instead of walking through life like a zombie..."

"Good. Then we want exactly the same thing."

"You..."

"Okay, now I think it's time for *you* to shut up. I'm not sleeping with Piper. It was a joke, for heaven's sake! I *know* he's going through hell at the moment and only an utter bastard would try to take advantage of that. I spend time with him because I'm trying to help him. I spend time with him because I want to see him *laugh* again."

"So what, you just like the challenge? Is that it?"

"You know, if I wasn't the calm and genteel person that I am, I probably would have punched you in the face for that."

"Oh come on. I think your record speaks for itself when it comes to your own selfishness. You're a con artist! You *admit* it!"

"Damn right! I'm good at it, too. And I'm not going to apologise for that, so please don't even bother asking. Is there some clause somewhere that says the terms 'con artist' and 'good friend' are mutually exclusive?"

"Since the definition of 'con artist' is someone who goes around ruthlessly manipulating people..."

"Only people who deserve it..."

"And who deserves it? Do I deserve it, just for trying to be Hartley's friend?"

"Not every kind of manipulation is some kind of horrific crime, Flash. Haven't you ever been to a magic show? Being manipulated is what you're *there* for. A joke is a form of manipulation. It twists your expectations until you can't help seeing the humour in it..."

"You'll excuse me if I *don't* see the..."

"Oh for... I *know* when I'm going too far, West. I *have* a line I won't cross. I'm not the *Joker*!"

They glared at each other for a few seconds. Wally couldn't help but notice that somewhere in the last conversation the Trickster had managed to lose the grin, which was both slightly creepy and... well, he had to be serious, didn't he? The Flash took a deep breath and said tightly, "I don't see why you even feel the need for all the manipulation in the first place. What can you possibly *get* out of it?"

"I don't see why you even feel the need for all the super heroics in the first place. What can *you* possibly get out of it?"

"I help people! I save *lives*."

"So do I. And I do it in my own way. And I have *fun*. And yes, it's a challenge. *Life's* a challenge. That's what makes it so damn great! I'm playing to an archetype, one that's lasted for thousands of years! Someone's got to continue the tradition!"

"And you're quite *happy* to base your entire existence on an archetype?"

He laughed at that. "Why not? Wally, I've based my entire existence on an archetype from the day I named myself and no, I don't regret it. Back then I worked on the bad side, now I'm good to even it up. After all, balance is what Tricksters are all about, isn't it? Besides, you're one to talk. You've got 'Romantic hero' written all over you. Led back through time by the love of your wife? Good grief!"

Wally stared at the man with a raven's mind and coyote's grin and suddenly felt very tired. "A joke?"

"I thought it was funny. And hell, so did he. He was completely appalled but he thought it was hilarious! The look on your face!"

And maybe that's why he'd never really liked the Trickster. He never *could* get his jokes. "Did it work?"

"Huh?"

"Did you get him to laugh?"

"I got him to smile. It's a start."

"And you're going to keep trying to make him smile?"

The look in James Jesse's eyes was completely serious. "Piper's a good guy, Wally. A much better guy than me, a much better guy than anyone who ever came out of the rogue's gallery. He didn't *deserve* this. But bad things happen to the good guys all the time. That's how the world is, and all we can do is try to make it right again." He smiled faintly. "You've got to laugh."

There was another silence, but this time there was no malice behind it. Just a simple resignation from two people who would in all probability never be friends, but at least understood each other enough not to be enemies.

Still, he had to ask...

"So... It *was* all a joke. I mean you were never really interested in..."

The grin was back. "Interested in?"

"I mean you're not actually... You never..." The Flash stared at the Trickster. The Trickster grinned back. And the Flash sighed. There was absolutely no way he was going to get an answer to that. "Forget it."

"And what about you?"

"*What*!? I'm *married*, I'm married and I'm *really* not..."

He sounded amused. "I was talking hypothetically here. Seriously. If you were gay... Would you want to be with him? In a relationship, I mean..."

A raised eyebrow. And then... "In a heartbeat. Because he's a good man."

"He is, isn't he?"

"Yeah." Wally sighed and shook his head. "So, what *are* you making there, anyway?"

"Bubble mixture."

"*Bubble* mixture?" He stuck a finger in the gelatinous concoction that James had been working on when he'd shown up.

"Ah, I'd be careful with that."

He swirled his finger around a little. "Why? I'll contaminate it?"

"No, it's just that it's highly explosive."

He stopped dead and then carefully withdrew his finger. "You're making explosive bubble... No. You know what? I'm not even going to ask. I'm just going to..." He trailed off as a figure appeared in the doorway.

"Ah, James? Your door appears to be lying in your gard... Wally?"

"Hi Piper."

"What are you... wait a second. Are you the one who dismantled the security system?"

"Well yes. That... that was..."

James beamed and bounced in front of Hartley. "Hi Pipes! Right on time! The Flash was just going and I'm sure he'll put the door back when he leaves, won't you Wally?" He gave Wally a challenging look, and the Flash decided that he'd had enough arguments for today.

"Yes, that's right. I was just... we were just having a small talk."

Piper was looking slightly disbelieving. "You came over *here* for a small talk?"

"He's a lonely man, Hart. You really should spend more time with him."

"But..."

"Nice to see you Flash! Please feel free to come over and test out my security at any time!"

"Oh... yes, and there was that. Look, Hart, I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

Piper was still looking at him in mild disbelief. "Riiight. See you too."

There was a brief rush of air and the Flash was gone.

Piper shook his head. "Okay, you want to tell me what that was all about?"

"What what was all about?"

"It was that stupid story you had him believing, wasn't it?"

"I can neither confirm nor deny that accusation."

"Sure you can't." He sighed. "Did he really dismantle the whole security system?"

"Fraid so."

"The crossbow?"

"Pulled apart."

"The glue?"

"Currently doing horrible things to my weeds."

"Uh huh. What about the sprinkler system?"

The Trickster looked completely innocent. "Sprinkler system?"

Piper narrowed his eyes. "The sprinkler system. The sprinkler system that you had specially installed, with the nice liquid that goes on clear and then turns bright pink after an hour or two so the thief can be easily identified if they get away. *That* sprinkler system."

"I had that on? Really? Gosh. I guess I must have forgotten to mention that to Wally."

"You didn't..."

"Still, I'm sure he'll come running back here for my help when he realises what's going on!"

"Right back here..."

"Absolutely!" He gave a radiant grin. "So, I was figuring we go to the movies first, then we skip around the local shops for a bit, then go for ice cream. Even the Flash won't be able to find us *straight* away!"

And Piper smiled. "You really are a bastard, aren't you?"

The Trickster grabbed a coat and led the way outside. "Nah..."

He carefully locked the restored door. "I'm just a *really* good archetype."


**************

The End? Not likely...


Blinky the Tree Frog
http://homepages.picknowl.com.au/syntax/