This fanfic is a true collaborative effort by greenygal and I. It's also an incredibly geeky exhibition of our obsession with characterisation, continuity, and old comics :-). We will warn you ahead of time that, despite the title, it does not contain hot porn :-).
The fic is set in some indeterminable time later in Countdown, when Piper and Trickster have managed to become un-handcuffed but are still stuck together. Whether this time will actually happen, we don't know, but we're hazarding a guess. We actually started it before Countdown came out, so it doesn't do anything but briefly touch on any of the plots from the series.
Thanks to caiacomica, thekeet and my friend S for looking through the fic and being beta readers. Feedback of all lengths and all types, critical or rambling, will be deeply appreciated. We've spent way too much time on this thing :-).
37 degrees Celsius / 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit
It was half a mile at most, and the landscape was, if not entirely easy to negotiate, at least nothing that a decent hiker couldn't manage. To Hartley Rathaway, however, it felt like miles. Not because he was mostly unfamiliar with the territory (although that was true). Not because there were half a dozen very bad people with guns behind them (although there were). No, the trip was mostly excruciating because of James Jesse, or more specifically, the bullet lodged in James Jesse's back.
It had been a terrible risk, they both knew that. But for the last six months, the two former (current? Possible? Even they weren't sure any more) criminals also known as the Trickster and the Pied Piper had been on the run from villains, heroes and even people who didn't much care either way. They were desperate, and terrible risks--even ones that led them into a dangerous villain's hideout in search of evidence that might not even be there--looked far more attractive when you had little to lose.
But it had all gone to hell and they'd escaped only by the skin of their teeth, throwing themselves into the battered pickup truck that Trickster had procured several days ago and driving in a way that was almost certainly not approved by the manufacturers. They'd just dared to hope that they'd lost their pursuers, when the truck finally juddered to a halt under the pressure of one too many tight corners and, more importantly, bullet holes.
They'd left it in a clearing and had staggered the rest of the way back to the crude shack they'd been using as an outpost on foot. Blood dripped out from the crudely improvised bandage on Trickster's back, and it was only pure adrenaline that was keeping him upright. Piper supported him awkwardly. They didn't talk, didn't communicate. They fled; it was difficult enough to do that.
And then the shack loomed in front of them, and they fell upon the door with relief.
Trickster sagged against the wall. "We'd better have lost them by now."
Piper fumbled in his pocket for the keys, wondering why he'd even bothered locking the damn thing in the first place. They were literally in the middle of nowhere, after all. The only ones within thirty miles of the place were the people who were currently trying to kill them, and if they knew about the shack a beat-up wooden door was hardly going to keep them out. Stupid, stupid. He bit his lip. Focus. Answer the question. "If we hadn't, we'd be dead. They didn't strike me as the subtle type."
"They'll send out search parties to look..."
"We lost them a while back, and this place is in the middle of the woods. They won't find us. And I'll put the distraction field up; even if they come this way they'll never notice."
"If it works."
The key finally slid into the lock. "It works fine!"
Trickster made a face. "Are you going to get the door open? I'm bleeding here!"
"Next time, duck faster." The door sprung open finally, and Piper half-dragged his injured companion into the room and onto the battered old sofa that sat up against one wall.
Trickster grimaced as icicles of pain darted from the wound in his back, but he couldn't let the insult slide. "Or maybe you could keep your shield up? You've gotta get better power packs. You don't see my shoes giving out mid-air."
"Steal me some better equipment to work with and we'll talk. This isn't exactly an electronics lab, you know," Piper responded, but he wasn't really paying attention. He settled down next to Trickster, bracing himself. Stupid, really. He wasn't the one with the bloody mess on his back, he was only the one that had to look at it. "Turn around, let me see."
"It's more fun to steal your own. You should try it some time." He moved around a little. "And I don't suppose you've managed to get a medical degree in between being the Flash's bestest friend and filling in your application for sainthood."
Piper frowned, irritated. "None of the above these days. Unfortunately for both of us I'm all you've got." He pulled up the shirt to take a look and blew out a breath. "Ouch."
Trickster's tone was light, but then, it was rarely anything else. "Better than a kick in the head from the Flash." Still, he winced as Piper reached forward to touch the wound, and his voice became fractionally more...broken. "Or not. Actually not."
Piper bit his lip. "The bleeding's not too bad; I don't think it'll need stitches. Hopefully. The bullet's still there, though. Lodged against your shoulder blade. Might have been a ricochet, or just a bad shot, or... I'm going to have to get it out. It'll get infected."
Trickster looked pained and closed his eyes briefly. "Is there anyone we can contact...?"
"It's dark, the truck needs fixing, the nearest hospital's ten hours away and if we go there they'll arrest both of us. And even if we had someone to call, we can't use the phone; we're too close to the bad guys and they'll be monitoring transmissions. Look, I wish there was--"
"Okay! Okay. Just...have we got a first aid kit? At least? Please?"
Piper tore his eyes away from the wound. First aid kit. Right. Because there really was no one who could help them right now, and he was going to have to... Jesus. Dammit. Focus. "I think I saw one in the bin over there; let me see."
Trickster snorted. "Right; and I'm sure it's well stocked with top of the range goods and certainly doesn't contain moth-eaten bandages and a bunch of medications made when the Beatles were topping the charts."
Piper winced as he looked at the kit. It was...inadequate at best. "All that's missing is a bullet for you to bite on."
"You have no appreciation of the concept of bluffing, do you? Oh, I know. You could dig this bullet out and I could bite on that. Problem solved!" An undertone of desperation laced Trickster's every word now, and he was beginning to look very pale. The temporary burst of adrenaline that had aided their escape was disappearing like the wind, and the pain had turned to daggers.
Piper carefully tried to hide the panic in his own voice. "Not much point in bluffing under the circumstances, Tricks. Unless I just hit you over the head with this--" he lifted the kit slightly "--first."
"Or how about you just use a mallet like the old days? Or maybe you could just get this over and done with and stop screwing around."
Piper blinked, and then breathed in, his expression set. Still, he couldn't keep a slight shakiness out of his voice. "Right. Sorry."
He dug into the first aid kit. Close to the bottom he found a battered six-pack of aspirin. "At least we have some painkillers."
Trickster shook his head. "They've been there forever. Probably already broken down. Forget what it turns into. Some kinda stomachachy thing, I think. I was...was trying to use it to make this stuff that explodes once but..." Trickster grimaced and trailed off vaguely.
Piper had known his companion for long enough to not be surprised at such revelations, bizarre as they might be. "Remind me to stay away from your medicine cabinet." He paused to consider this. "Or anything else you've ever touched." Still, he was probably right about how out of date the medication was. Damn.
Okay, next step then. Tweezers. Tweezers could be used to dig out the bits of bullets, but they'd need to be sterilised. Use the gas oven in the corner. Boil water. Add tweezers. Wait for a bit--except now he's bleeding through the improvised bandage. Double damn. Okay, get out proper bandage; apply it while the water is boiling...
His patient had gone completely white. "Ah! Ngh. That...you need to clean it or something... Is there anything...? And the bullet... Please tell me you're not digging the bullet out with kitchen cutlery..."
He laid a hand on Trickster's unwounded shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture. "I just don't want you bleeding all over the couch while I sterilize the thirty-year-old tweezers, that's all. We have enough problems already."
Trickster looked marginally less horrified. "Oh. Good. Great. Not bleeding is good." Bandage applied, he twisted slightly and leaned against the couch on his side, avoiding the bad area. "See, this...? This is why it was easier to fight the good guys. I mean, yes, they kick you in the head, but they don't shoot you. They even make sure you get to the hospital safely--albeit in handcuffs. There's consideration there, though. You've gotta admire that in a nemesis."
"I remember." Oddly, Piper found himself smiling a little as he said it. The old days had been...simpler, if nothing else.
Trickster's rambling voice broke into his memories. "Of course, it's hard to tell what they'll do nowadays." He leaned more heavily onto the couch. "I mean... They all decide to change to be all dark and gritty and it's...well." His expression was openly pained. "Maybe they...is that water ready yet?"
"A little longer. Just hold on." He glanced back at Trickster and frowned. In a deliberately brisk tone, he added, "Anyway, you should talk about changing. One of these days you'll have to tell me what you were doing at the FBI."
Trickster attempted a shrug. "You know what I was doing at the FBI. It was all completely above board. I...I..." Abruptly the colour drained from his face and he crumpled into the sofa, shaking.
Piper felt a surge of panic. "Trickster? Trickster!" He hurried from the kitchen area. "You still with me here?"
Trickster blinked at him sideways from the sofa, his mouth moving for several seconds before he managed to get anything out. "I... I can't. It just kind of... It's spinning."
And now he looked distinctly grey, and several warning bells were going off in Piper's head. "Dammit," he muttered under his breath. Shock. How did you treat shock?
He dug around and managed to locate a moth-eaten blanket. Keep him warm. He remembered that was important.
Trickster twitched as Piper tucked it around his body. "I'll be... I'm okay. Just leave it. I can do it myself!"
"And then you'll get up and dance a jig. Look, you were shot, you're in shock, so for once in your life keep quiet and let someone else work."
"I...I'm okay... Okay. Just...kind of hit me. I... Getting shot really really burns. Action movies have been lying to us. Dammit. Stupid hands won't stop shaking..."
Action movies. For heaven's sake. "Movies lie? Who knew? Just keep still and breathe. You aren't going to have to lift any wallets for a while yet."
"'s shock, I know." Trickster bit his lip, his face twisted in pain. "This is worse than breaking a bone. Why is this worse than breaking a bone? It's a whole bone, for god's sake. This is just a bit of metal...that went fast...with a lot of gunpowder and hotness and, and..."
And now he was just babbling. "I'm not a biologist. It hurts a lot, that's all." Piper hesitated and bit his lip. He wouldn't have suggested this under most circumstances, but these...weren't most circumstances. "But it doesn't have to." He glanced involuntarily down at his flute, still attached to his belt.
Trickster missed the look. "You got a truckload of brandy?"
He smiled slightly, involuntarily. "No. But I can use my music--"
Through the pain, the expression on Trickster's face twitched ever so briefly with panic, and then settled into stone. "Don't even try it."
"Trickster." Piper's expression was serious. "As much as it hurts right now, it's going to hurt a lot more once I start poking into that hole in your back to try and take a chunk of metal out of it. Do you really want to have to go through that without even any painkillers? This way, you'll wake up afterwards and never know anything about it."
Trickster's expression was closed. "Yeah, well it turns out I'm just in the mood for a refreshing bout of agony today. Water boiled?"
Piper looked exasperated. "Will you just be sensible? You'd let me give you drugs if we had them. This isn't any different."
"You spent about fifteen hours of last week talking to rats and you're telling me to be sensible?"
Piper glared. "They're better company than you. And a lot smarter."
"Bet you're saying that to the men in white coats as they drag you...you get dragged... Look, just...just get the damn tweezers and get it over with. Just get it out of me and stop talking, okay?!"
"Fine!" Still glaring, he got up and moved over to the stove, muttering under his breath. "Serves you right."
Okay. The patient's an idiot and the tweezers are sterilised. And this is going to be even more difficult on a two-seater sofa, so moving him over to the bed is probably the best idea...
Trickster accepted help to get over to the bed without complaint, then reluctantly accepted more help when efforts to remove his shirt with shaking hands were futile. He flinched a little as it was pulled off and half-flopped onto his chest on the bed, unable to avoid a groan of pain. "Make it quick. Please?"
Piper laid a hand briefly on his wrist, and then picked up the tweezers. "I'll do my best. Try to hold still."
"Yeah. Right." His voice was bleak as he put his head down and braced himself for the agony.
For the next twenty minutes, the only sounds coming from the shack were muffled screams.