Why this fic happened: Jinx has been a Trickster fan for 25 years. Canonically speaking, Jesse wouldn't shut up even when he was dead. This is the natural result of those facts' convergence, and rabbit thought it should be shared.
Disclaimer (cribbed from fanzing): All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are ™ DC Comics, Inc. DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
Let's play Twister,
Let's play Risk,
I'll see you in Heaven
If you make the List...
"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." –Jorge Luis Borges
So... How's Tricks?
Oh... life is bigger...
It's bigger than you,
And you are not me,
The lengths that I will go to...
I can't get that R.E.M. song out of my head. I might be panicking. Or that bullet might have jammed the "play" switch on inside my brain... while it was turning it to porridge.
Focus. Whatever's going on, you're not done yet.
My name is James Jesse, né Giovanni Giuseppe , known worldwide as the Trickster, the most daring and unpredictable foe the Flash ever faced.
Oh, and once I tricked the Devil and saved the whole world.
And I just died saving Hartley.
Easiest thing in the world to do. One quick swing back up, just like on the trapeze: ride the arc, time it just so– and die in a hail of bullets.
Thank God they missed him.
I'd hate to think I died in vain.
And I would like to thank God, if He (or She, or They) show/s up here.
Don't know where "Here" is, don't know how I got here... Last time that was true, I was in Hell and hadn't realized it yet.
But I don't think that Neron would keep me waiting in a library.
And I'm really hoping Borges was right.
This place is all gray and vast. I can't see any end to the room. Just shelves and shelves and shelves and shelves of books in all directions, rising higher than my eyes can follow. It's like L-Space... I can see scrolls way, way up above me... then lower down there are handbound books, and then mass-market editions and what looks like every Dummies book ever printed... and then right within easy reach are discs and jump drives, kazillions of 'em, piled up in bins that unfortunately aren't labeled.
But there's a slick-looking laptop standing open on the table beside me.
And nobody's come looking for me yet.
I wonder if it's an index.
I wonder if it's The Index.
I wonder if Saint Peter's gone online?
Maybe nowadays you have to fill out an E-pplication to get into Heaven.
I go around the table and look at the screen. Big screen, the kind you use for gaming.
Uh-oh. That's me, in living color.
While I'm staring at the screen a video montage starts running. I guess it's the newfangled version of my entire life flashing (HA!) before my eyes.
I so want this on my tombstone, like those ones they have in Hollywood. It'll be the most amazing thing the Keystone cemetery has ever seen. People will call it an eyesore, and the writing on the stone will tell 'em from me: DON'T JUST STAND THERE GAWPING – GET A LIFE!
Gopher will take care of it. He'll do a great job.
He's a good kid. He'll be OK.
I don't know about Hartley, though.
The screen's frozen. There I am, twisting in midair: James Jesse, The World's Greatest Dying Aerialist, being perforated by about two dozen bullets.
That loser Deadshot probably hunts rabbits the same way, turns 'em into little heaps of lint. Bunnykiller. Psycho sadist freak.
And when that sick sonofabitch finally gets his ass fried and lands in Hell with all the other good little psychokillers, Neron will probably give him milk and cookies every night before bed.
I hope he's lactose intolerant. Gluten intolerant, too. Let him sleep the fragmented sleep of the damned...
I wonder how Hartley's doing?
He's not wrapped too tight. Our scenic road trip's been hard on him.
He's on his own now.
I wonder where everyone is-?
I mean, this isn't Hell... unless I can't touch the stuff on the shelves...
OK, so, this isn't Hell. And I know it's tough to get into Heaven – the original Gated Community – but... shouldn't there be someone around? A tour guide? Welcoming Committee members, with a big angel food cake covered in coconut shreds? An orangutan?
You'd think at least Barry Allen would have the courtesy to show up.
Yeah, he'd just love being the one to explain to me How Heaven Works, rules and regs, showers every other day, don't stir up trouble amongst the other inmates.
God, if that sonofabitch Warden Finster could see me now...
Whaddaya know! I didn't come to a bad end.
Sometimes I even amaze myself...
...like when I really had to realize, no doubt
about it and no way out (which is funny, really)
... that I'd slipped off my guidewire
and fallen in love.
It's not a mystery why. I've never spent that much time stuck with another person in all my life. 24/7 constant togetherness. What a nightmare.
I figured he'd lose it before I did. I was wrong. No points to me. Game over, 50-love.
I figured I could dump him somewhere... with the Batman, or the Flash... but Hartley's a genuine artiste, complete with a head full of romantic notions and a noble soul... and he wouldn't quit.
He wouldn't give up on me.
Shock of my life. And I don't mean the zap cuffs.
And I was really nasty to him, too... tried like hell to get him to quit, but he is one stubborn guy.
One really great guy.
And I didn't know how to tell him that. I tried, that last evening on the train. But – how funny is this? – I couldn't think of what to say. Just sat there staring at him, like a rube dazzled by the show, like I'd never seen anything like him before...
Thank God that moron Deadshot attacked us, so I could get shot down before I died of embarrassment...
It's too quiet here.
Hartley would hate that.
And I can't decide if I want him to live
even if he's got to tough his way through
God-knows-what-more perils and horrors
...or if I'm just going to sit down
at this table and wait for him.
For however long it takes.
Maybe I'll think of what to say to him,
so I won't be just staring stupidly
into his eyes...
Life is funny.
And the joke's on me.
I pull out a chair and sit down.
This place is too quiet. Too clean.
On the upside, my uniform's not filthy anymore.
We stank like a pair of goats that had rolled in toxic waste, and we were instantly recognizable even from a distance, but Piper and I agreed: If they're gonna try to kill us, we're gonna make it hard for them... and if we've gotta go, we are sure as Hell gonna die with our boots and masks on.
I would've liked applause.
I would've liked to not be dead.
I would like to get this R.E.M. song out of my head. You'd think it would have leaked out along with my brains and all that blood...
I can't think how I'm going to explain to God why I'm here with "Losing My Religion" looping through my skull. If I still have a skull. As if I ever had any religion...
The laptop screen's started the show again.
That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight...
Maybe I'm in... whaddizit... Limbo. Maybe I'm doomed to watch my Dailies for an eternity...
Maybe I'm not done yet. Maybe I'm waiting for Hartley.
Together again... we'll have a gay old time...
We could have some laughs... we could have...
Suddenly there's a man sitting opposite me but it's not Hartley
and it's not Neron
it's a gray-haired businessman, looks maybe Navajo, with a long-nosed, clever face; he's wearing this season's gray Armani, Bluetooth, Rolex, Blackberry... the works.
Uh-oh. Shoulda seen this one coming, James.
He smirks at me, challenging me: "So, you arrogant, yellow-haired bastard, are you finished?"
I get a choice-?
I give him a big shiny grin, say boldly: "Not by a long shot."
And he grins back at me, says, "Atta boy."
He leans forward and spins the laptop 'round to face him. Types something. Studies the screen, and laughs.
I've heard those same giddy yelps in the night, while I was camping out in the badlands after breaking out of prison (again). Digger used to hate the howling chorus, called 'em bloody dingoes and chucked boomerangs into the darkness... but I always used to wonder where the party was, until I dropped off to sleep with that hysterical lullaby in my ears.
Somehow it always made me feel at home. Not that I ever really had a home; I grew up on the road.
And I never really fit in with my family... something about being the youngest of seven and the only one who was canary-blond like Mom...
Never really fit in with the Rogues either. Not quite.
Kinda like Hartley.
"You do kinda like him," says my companion sagely, raising his gaze over the edge of the laptop to study me. His eyes are the color of wildflower honey.
I know instinctively that now is not the time to lie.
So I meet his gaze and I say, "I died taking a hail of bullets for him. Trust me, I'm not that noble... only time I pull a stunt like that, is when I've got everything to lose. Like when I saved the whole world from becoming Satan's playground." I have to smile at that memory. The look on his face–
My companion's looking at me closely, waiting to see if I'll bluff or fold.
I play the hand I've got left. (Wait– it's the right that I've got left.) That's right. I find a smile (I've usually got one handy) and slap it on as I say, "The way I figure it, I'd already lost my mind... and lost my heart... and the only things left to lose were hope, and Hartley. And I wasn't willing to give up on either one of 'em."
He looks me dead in the eyes and asks, "Do you love him?"
Present tense. Active verb. Implying life.
I look him dead in the eyes and I take a deep breath (another good sign) and I say, "Yes."
He grins at me. Uh-oh. I know that look. It's the same one I get, when I know I've won the game.
Then he says to me, "Atta boy."
And then he starts talking, almost chanting: "One day as he was walking along, the World's Greatest Living Aerialist fell in love and died of the resultant injuries."
I have to say, with a defiant smile: "There are worse epitaphs."
His grin is like a fence. It fills my vision, somehow, like pearly gates. Oh, boy, here we go–
I'm out of my chair like a shot. (Like I've been shot-?) Standing well away from the laptop on the table and saying with a guncrack in my voice like Cagney, "I ain't done yet."
"Oh-?" he says, watching me with his eyebrows raised. "The joke's not over?"
"No. No it's not. I'm not." I think there's a twinkle in his eyes. I hope so. I have no idea what I'm doing but I know it's the right thing as I say: "There are worse epitaphs, but there are way better punchlines." I'm sure of it.
"Not many," he says. "And you've had a good run."
"Wait'll you see my next trick."
I feel like I'm onstage. Auditioning. For the role of my life.
I should be able to feel the blood singing through my veins but I don't. My heart's not pumping. My wounds aren't hurting. But none of that matters right now.
He's watching me, like I'm a rabbit quivering in a briar patch.
I don't know which way to jump.
Yes I do.
I take a deep breath (and why that works, I don't know), summon up my best and brightest carny bark to ask my newfound friend: "Say, Old Man, can you tell me where I might find Hartley Rathaway, a.k.a. the Pied Piper, right now?"
There are a whole lot of teeth in his smile.
Then he answers, "San Francisco."
My heart lurches and I may be praying now: Please–
I have to ask, "Is he alive?"
My heart lurches again, like it's a motor trying to turn over. C'mon c'mon c'mon...
I give it my best shot: "Will you please use your very impressive and far-too-often-underestimated skills to mend the damage the bullets did to me, and... and whatever happened to my hand..." I can't remember "...and restore me to life, so I can go back to California and find Hartley Rathaway... and make a complete Fool of myself by telling him I love him?"
He grins because I've broken cover at last.
I grin because I'm gritting my teeth against the most eerie chest pains ever.
This must be how the Grinch felt when his heart grew up–
Naturally, the old man asks: "What will you give me if I do these things for you?"
I turn my grin all the way up, and I promise with pure Hollywood optimism and the whole of my juddering heart: "That rarest of spectacles– a sequel that's better than the original."
He throws back his head and laughs, that high thrilling howl.
Then he says, "All right, you arrogant pup. Let's see how great a Fool you can be."
And under my feet a trapdoor opens.
I let out a scream that turns into my own shrill howl as I fall about twelve feet and crash down onto very hard dusty ground. No smell of brimstone. Incredible array of smells: cactus and donkey and water and–
–as I pick myself up, carefully, I have to find my balance on three paws.
I have to laugh. It is funny.
My yipping echoes across the desert. There's endless space around me. Stars spilled like sugar overhead. Some of the Old Man's finest work.
Of course the trapdoor's gone.
I shake off my daze, study the stars and point myself West, and start walking, to see what I can find.
I travel by night. Sleep during the day under scrub, once I've cleared out the resident lizards and snakes, which I learn to eat because I've never heard of reptiles getting rabies or bubonic plague. When I dream I'm sitting around a roaring campfire, talking to the Old Man and the others.
It really is a party. We have a lot of laughs.
And I belong with them... but...
because I am like all the others, I can't stay too long.
None of us can. Things to do. Places to go.
Mischief to manage. And miles and miles to go
before I take that long dirt nap...
It takes me almost two weeks to find a city. Just a few hours later, I learn the trick of changing back into a man, while I'm scrambling up and over a charmingly latticeworked garden wall while a drunken teenager shoots at me with a twelve-gauge. Welcome to blissful Suburbia–
While I'm hiding behind an ornamental cluster of prickly pears, I think it's completely unfair that Sirius Black gets to stay in his filthy prison robes when he changes back and forth. And I think it's A Bad Thing that I'm buck naked in the middle of the night in a nicely-landscaped neighborhood.
I so don't want to have to explain this to the cops. And for all I know, I'm still Public Enemy Number One.
So I have to figure out how to change back.
And back again. And then back into a coyote. Good.
It's easy. And it's kind of cool to have actual powers.
Boy, won't someone be surprised, someday...
When the sun comes up it finds me wrapped in trash bags and waiting on the steps of the local Sally Army, with my scarred face (yup, I'm a mess) and my shaggy mane (that's more milk than honey, since I haven't dyed it in forever) and my sob story about getting rolled and couldja help out a guy who had a rough time in the desert-?
They take me for a vet, treat me like a mad prince.
I make them happy by helping 'em out for a few days, while I get my bearings and learn the city.
Then it's right back to business as usual: get some money, get some wheels, get outta here.
Get going. Riding into the sunset.
Into the Great Unknown. I've never been in love like this before. It's constant. It bothers me. Kind of like the fleas, it's everywhere all at once and it's got me jumpy so I can't settle.
But I can't bail on this scene, because... because I can't. Because Hartley wouldn't quit on me. Because I told the Old Man I would do this and it's all I can think to do.
And Hartley's all alone.
...I think. Maybe he's already found a friend.
...but he'll never find better than me.
I know so.
Even if he deserves better than me and probably he does...
we're still Rogues.
Which makes me the best he's ever gonna get.
And that's a promise too.
I'm getting tangled up in my own thoughts. Not good. It's tricky enough driving with one hand; good thing I had all that practice during that shoot with Jackie Chan. Gotta be careful, though... don't wanna waste time being pulled over. That would require some serious 'splainin'... and even though I may not be Wanted Dead or Alive anymore, I haven't got a single license on me. Not even a dog tag. I'll have to fix that, at the next stop. Which is Vegas, where I've got a workshop and plenty of funds available.
I check that the cruise control's engaged, steer with my knees while I turn on the radio. I'm getting like Hartley, gotta have some sound around me...
Of course it's R.E.M.
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try...