Why this fic happened: Because after reading "So How's Tricks", rabbit wanted to know what happened. 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. . . .
Why this fic happened: Because after reading "So How's Tricks", rabbit wanted to know what happened.
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.
When our time is up...
When our lives are done...
Will we say we've had our fun?
Will we make our mark this time–?
Will we always say we tried-?
STANDING ON THE ROOFTOPS
EVERYBODY SCREAM YOUR HEART OUT
STANDING ON THE ROOFTOPS
EVERYBODY SCREAM YOUR HEART OUT
STANDING ON THE ROOFTOPS
EVERYBODY SCREAM YOUR HEART OUT
THIS IS ALL WE GOT NOW
I finally find the damn remote and change the channel.
To more cheering New Year's Eve crowds,
thousands and thousands of people
thronging the streets around the world.
But at least this station's not playing that song: Rooftops by the Lostprophets. The song that Ed "Gopher" Bloomberg used as the soundtrack to the video montage that plays on James Jesse's tombstone when you push the little orange button.
I wanted it to be a big orange button, but the Keystone officials wouldn't allow it. I was sick of arguing and I gave in on that one, and after a week's worth of fighting they gave in and did the right thing and agreed to let the bloody hand puppet be interred. Once they were sure it wasn't a bomb or loaded with laughing gas or going to inflate to the size of a parade float or something...
Once I broke down in tears and Wally finally stepped forward and told them all in that self-righteous tone of his that for God's sake it's only a puppet, it doesn't do anything, the Trickster's dead—
So he took his place on Rogues' Row, far away from the final resting place of Bart Allen. I made sure he ended up high atop the hill, where the sun would shine on him. On poor little beat-up "JJ" with his bloodstained stripes and his frayed grin. It was the best I could do: I had to leave the Trickster's body in the desert, where the animals must have gotten to it... and I lost his hand on Apokolips, which I reduced to dust.
I did the best I could, for you, James–
The tombstone's an alphabet block –J is for James and Jesse and Jests– carved out of imported picture marble, a beautiful piece with wide stripes of variegated color. It cost a fortune but he deserved only the best. And Gopher did a great job with that montage. Because Gopher cared. Like almost nobody else did... except me.
God, I'm drunk. And not nearly drunk enough. Everybody's grieving prayer, I guess. Swallowing a knot in my throat, I chase it down with more champagne.
When I shut my eyes I can see him: the Trickster, tumbling
through midair, cape swirling, grin gleaming, fireworks
forming a dazzling backdrop as he does a triple-flip onto nothing
and the crowd on the rooftops lets out a shriek but can't stop watching
from between tightlaced fingers...
Ed did a great job with that video.
So great I could only watch it once.
I raise my glass to absent friends as I stare at all the stupid shouting people on the TV
and I feel very, very alone.
There's a lot to do in San Francisco on New Year's Eve. I had options.
In a crowd of thousands, nobody would care (or even notice) that I'm a supposedly reformed supervillain... who supposedly didn't kill the Flash. (But I was there, and I'm a Rogue, even if the others never really liked me much, so... )
You're supposed to be able to start over, at the New Year.
You're supposed to be able to start over on any day, in America.
San Francisco seemed like a good idea... I thought I'd find some acceptance, at least. Maybe even a little peace. At least a little café where I could sit in the shadows and sip chai tea and try to ease my troubled mind...
Word spreads fast when you're a celebrity. It spreads like wildfire when you're an infamous celebrity. And after my involvement in that disastrous end to Bart Allen's life...
...let's just say I'm no longer the beloved poster boy I used to be, around here. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
I don't care. Yes I do.I just want to live my life.
Whatever that means.
Whatever that means when I'm the living vessel of the Anti-Life Equation,
what the hell does that mean-?
Answer: Hartley just can't catch a fucking break.
Not from one end of this life to the other.
So here I am sitting here with the TV still on even though I despise the mass media and I'm sickened by the endless shots of shrieking revelers crowding around the camera like moths clustering around a flame... 200 channels filled with reeling footage of what looks like everybody in the world out there reeling drunk, partying like it's 1999... while I'm sitting here with my uncommunicative and undemonstrative date: a rapidly-emptying bottle of Champagne.
"At least you put out," I tell the bottle approvingly.
My own words sound huge in this empty house.
Even the rats have run off to join the World Dance Party.
And I can't blame them. I'm not liking my own company, at this point.
You're particularly pathetic, tonight, Piper.
But I know so, and that makes it O.K.
Just tonight. After all, it's a festive occasion.
...sshyeah, right. A festive occasion upon which we all get to sit staring into the Abyss that's where our lives used to be... and we get to think about all that's happened, and all that's yet to come...
No wonder so many people ran screaming out their front doors,
into the shouting crowds. Hysteria is so much more bearable
when it's shared...
I seize hold of my only friend and top off my glass again, right to the brim.
And glare at the half-full bottle, and tell it the ugly truth:
"You're going to die tonight."
Yeah, feel it, baby, I'm just drunk with the power.
Because I'm Hartley Rathaway, deadly expression of the Anti-life Equation...
and WHAT the HELL is that anyway?!
Nobody I can ask: I blew their whole fucking planet to smithereens.
Especially that creep who killed Trickster.
So tell me, if I can destroy an entire planet now, why can't I get a date for New Year's–?
Asked and answered, your honor. Most people– who aren't thrillseeking freaks or out to save my soul– have "reallygottarun" and don't have the time to sit down and have a cup of coffee with A Reformed Supervillain. And since nobody seems to quite believe that I didn't kill the Flash, my social opportunities are like less than zero.
Well, I wanted some peace. Some time to think.
Sure, that's always a good idea. Dwell on everything
until you make yourself a complete wreck again.
I'm not going to do that, this time.
And it's not like there aren't plenty of other people sitting alone tonight... staring at their TV staring back at them, drinking determinedly, intent upon starting the New Year with a head full of pain that'll drown out the regrets...
A crackling burst of sound startles me.
...Fireworks already? They're too early–
—and I shouldn't be able to hear them through the sonic shields around the house–
–and I live alone and there's nobody around. SHIT.
Should've known... my date for New Year's is some jumped-up jerk who's gonna try and take me OUT–
—if it's Deadshot I'm gonna blow his head off, I so fucking AM–
I'm off the couch, halfway up the stairs–
not too drunk
–flute in hand, pelting towards a strategic window, when I realize what I'm hearing is a bass beat rolling like thunder.
What the Hell–?
– that's U2. Off the Pop album.
Bono starts crooning in that sultry come-on mumble:
Take these hands they're good for nothing
You know these hands never worked a day
Take these boots they're going nowhere
You know these boots don't want to stray
You got my head filled with songs
You got my shoelaces undone
Take my shirt go on take it off me
You can tear it up
If you can tear me down
DO YOU FEEL LOVED?
DO YOU FEEL LOVED?
When I look out the window I scream.
There's a man standing in midair, ten feet away from me. Blond, bearded, slightly scruffy-looking in a battered denim jacket, striped shirt, faded jeans, scuffed cowboy boots. Holding up a boombox. It's braced into his grasp because he's only got one hand. I feel faint. He looks like he did when I last saw him except cleaned up and there's no blood–
I grab the windowsill as my knees buckle. I will not faint–
...and if I'm losing my mind I won't mind...
If this is some kind of trick— but WHO ELSE would, COULD, pull off this trick?!
Bono goes on invitingly, conspiratorially:
Take the colours of my imagination
Take this scent hanging in the air
I feel like– I'm going to break apart–
Take this tangle of a conversation
And turn it into your own prayer
–and when I do I scream at him:"Oh Jesus Christ James if it IS you then get in here–!"
While I heave the window open he walks across thin air to reach me
it has to be him has to be
and hands me the boombox.
I take it and wonder if it'll explode and cover me with goo and I don't care. Fumbling I somehow find the switch, turn it off.In the sudden absence of music I can hear him breathing
as he climbs over the windowsill.
He's breathing too hard, too fast, standing on the landing, now, looking at me.
He hasn't got his mask on.
I can see where it was, where the reinforced fabric protected his eyes from the spraying gravel while Deadshot dragged him through the train bed. His eyes are that very bright blue like a Kansas sky and his pupils look huge in the twilight of the stairwell lamps. One side of his face is a tangle of scars, so many I can't count them, so many they make a texture like one of those walls with the threads mixed into the plaster and they furrow his beard and scraggle down his neck to vanish beneath his shirt.
I look down at his left hand which isn't there. Just a pinned-up sleeve.
I make myself look up, guiltily, into his eyes. He's a little taller than me, a few inches more so because he's standing on air.
I'm shaking. Damn. I have to find my voice. I look down, see the boombox I'm clutching, and look up sharply as I snap: "That was... foolish."
"You know it," he agrees with a self-congratulatory smile.
"You waltzed right through all my defenses– I could have— " I could have killed you–
"But you didn't," he points out, reasonably, "because you don't want me to be dead."
"I– God, no– " I'm going to lose it. Going to start crying. Dammit–
I make one last try at a saving rage, throw the boombox aside as I scream at him: "James, why are you here-?!"
He goes very still. Doesn't say anything.
That's when I realize that he hasn't got his mask on.
Not any of them.
I'm speechless with surprise, with the realization that I didn't imagine it–
No I didn't. I heard him shout his last words, drawing Deadshot's attention, drawing his fire:
NO! NOT HIM! NOT NOW!
And now the Trickster's speechless and that can't last, and so I ask him very kindly: "So... what now?"
The sounds of my voice seem to wake him from some reverie or daze. He looks at me, and takes a long, deep breath. And then he says, slowly, in that inimitable Midway drawl, brassy as Cagney and sultry as Dean: "You shouldn't be drinking alone on New Year's Eve, Hartley."
This is true.
I tell him, "I couldn't get a date."
"So you're not seeing anybody."
He lets out his breath as carefully as if he's defusing a bomb. Rakes his remaining hand through his hair which is more white than gold now, like it was the last time I saw him alive. Still holding fast to my gaze he takes another deep swift breath so he can say in that snappy, always-certain carny bark: "That's good. 'Cause I came back from the dead to tell you that I love you."
I can hear his heart pounding in the stillness.
I wonder if he can hear mine. I kind of hope he can.
I finally realize I'm waiting for him to disappear.
And then I have to ask and my voice is shaking: "Are you staying–?"
"Are you asking-?"
"Yeah." I reach for him.
He's right here with all the masks cast aside and no resistance offered as he watches me while I pull him down and kiss him.
He tastes like cotton candy and beer. Of course he does.
Fireworks light the sky outside, paint it every color of the rainbow, paint us too in their glorious hues as we fall apart, panting. We could hear the crackling bursts if we went out past the gate. Watching them's enough.
I glance sideways at him, find him watching me. Watching my reaction. So I have to say, with an appreciative smile, "You timed it just right."
He grins and I thank God for it. "I've got a reputation to uphold." His grin widens, as he says gleefully, "Just like I've always said, Hartley... you screw with me, there's gonna be some fireworks."
Now I'm grinning. "Yeah-?"
I have to laugh. "Oh, I do." And I'm feeling better than I have in what feels like forever, and so bravely I tell him: "I'm game."
"Atta boy," he says softly, approvingly, and then gives me that big bright grin again. And a wink. "Race ya to the bedroom."
I'm drunk and he doesn't know where it is. Odds are even. "You're on."
I let him win.