Okay, this isn't really an actual story, it's just a bizarre little scene I felt the compulsion to write down. For those who read it, this is set after the current nasty rogues storyline that's upcoming in the Flash. No I don't know what's going to happen, so I've substituted a few guesses plus general evasiveness. Whatever happens, poor Piper's going to need a good friend. Even one like this…
A Brief Conversation between Friends…
Hartley Rathaway woke up, and there was a parrot looking at him.
He stared at it.
It scratched its head and then leaned forward and solemnly said "Hello".
He stared at it some more, and then ever so carefully propped himself up on the couch, took a deep breath, and yelled.
The parrot looked faintly startled and fluttered back. And James Jesse came out of the kitchen, smiling and holding a bowl.
"You knew I was here! Am I becoming predictable or what?"
The smiling wasn't a terribly unusual thing, because the man otherwise known as the Trickster was not often seen without a large silly grin on his face. He liked to say it made people underestimate him, which may or may not be true, but it had to be said that it was certainly disarming. The bowl was strange, but there was probably an explanation for it somewhere. The fact that he'd just come out of Hartley's kitchen was actually rather worrying, especially because Hartley was fairly certain that the Trickster hadn't been in his kitchen or indeed in any other part of the house when he'd fallen asleep. Right now though, the parrot was what he really wanted an explanation for.
He got it without even asking. James pulled a muck-incrusted spoon from his bowl and looked pleased with himself.
"Bought you a pet," he said.
"You did what?"
"I got you a pet. It took a bit of thinking, I have to say. At first I was going to get a kitten or something, but then I thought, what is it that Piper likes best? They say you have to get pets that suit the owner's personality, so I thought…"
"Isn't that an African Grey? Aren't they really rare around here?" Hartley, who was also intermittently known by the alias of Piper (super villian turned general good guy extraordinaire), rubbed his eyes. He wasn't sure whether tiredness was the reason he was having trouble figuring this out, or whether it was just a really weird conversation. He did, however, suspect the latter.
"Heck yeah! Had a hell of a time getting it. Anyway, I read this book that said African Greys are the high intellects of the parrot world, so I thought - intelligent and it makes tons of sound! Just right for my old buddy! And there you have it!" He stabbed the spoon back into the bowl with an air of finality.
Piper blinked. He wasn't sure what to say.
"Well gee, don't say thank you or anything!"
"I'm just trying to figure out when I insinuated to you that I even wanted a pet."
"You didn't, stupid! It's a present to help you out. They say pets are amazing in times of stress."
Piper tensed ever so slightly and spoke in a voice that was distinctly flat. "I'm not under stress, Jesse."
"Well, of course not. After everything you've been through…"
"Been through being the operative word. It's over and I'm just fine…"
The Trickster's smile slipped minutely. "They had you locked up and tortured, Hart."
"Which is just physical damage and I'm great now, thankyou."
"Except for the fact that you're still thin as a rake. Seriously, have you been eating much at all lately?"
"I'm eating fine. Linda and Wally are making sure of it. Look for god's sake…"
"There was that Joker Venom thing as well…"
"Lots of people had to deal with that!"
"Piper, he forced you to murder your own pare…"
"Will you please just SHUT UP?"
The parrot did another tumble backwards as Hartley abruptly sprung up and glared at the man standing across the room.
The Trickster raised an eyebrow. "Well gee, you *seem* fine."
"I told you to shut up. Do you really think bringing this up is going to help anything? For god's sake, I want to forget, not be constantly reminded of… of…"
"There's healthy psychological reasoning for you."
There was an uneasy silence. Piper sat back on the couch and pulled his knees to his chin, winding his arms around both legs.
After a while, he said, "Don't you need a bird licence to keep an African Grey?"
"You've got a licence. You applied for it two weeks ago and picked it up yesterday on your way home from the shops."
He got a look for that. "Gosh, that was forethoughtful of me."
"That's you. A forethoughtful kind of guy."
"Can it say anything other than Hello?"
"If it's in the mood. I think you frightened it. It's a he, by the way. His name's Gip."
The parrot perked up at its name. "Gip's a parrot", he said helpfully.
"He would have been pretty expensive." Piper frowned slightly and looked at the Trickster with a vague air of suspicion.
His look was completely guileless. "Oh, he would have been, definitely."
He let it slide for now. "Can I ask what you've got in that bowl?"
"Muffins. Or at least what will be muffins. They're in the pre-muffin stage at the moment."
"Okay, can I ask why you're in my house, with a parrot, baking muffins at 10.00am in the morning without me having actually let you in?" The irritation was creeping back into Hartley's voice now that he'd found something that he could safely be irritated at without having to bring up ugly thoughts.
"I didn't want to wake you. And I've done it before."
"When we were rogues! That was the kind of thing you did back then."
"Oh, you're just no fun anymore." The Trickster stuck a finger in his muffin mixture and carefully tasted.
"It's not about fun. It's about privacy! There might be things I don't want you to know…"
"Like how you fell asleep on the couch watching monster movies because you couldn't get to sleep properly in bed."
"Don't tell me you were there when I fell asleep!"
"Actually I just guessed that. And I'm guessing you couldn't sleep because of all the nightmares you've been having."
Piper's look could have burnt a hole into any other man. "I am not having nightmares."
"Like heck you aren't! You were screaming the house down the other day!"
"You've been spying on me?"
"I was borrowing a cup of milk! And it was 1 o'clock and I didn't want to wake you!"
"You picked my lock!"
"I never did! I used the spare key you gave me!"
"I didn't give you any spare key!"
Trickster frowned and pretended to look mystified. "Really? Wonder where that came from then…"
"I don't believe this…"
"Hart, I'm worried about you. Lots of people are worried about you…" He frowned again. "Hart?"
Hartley was staring at Gip. "Is that parrot counting my CD collection?"
Trickster looked over to the cabinet where Gip had gotten to 21 and was carefully moving over to count 22 in a croaky voice. "Oh yeah, " he remarked. "He can count too. Also does some addition and subtraction, I believe."
"Where on earth did he learn that?"
"Oh I don't know, probably picked it up at the lab."
Piper was past even looking incredulous. "You stole him from a laboratory?"
"Piper, they were mistreating him. He had to count like that for their studies; otherwise the bastards wouldn't even feed him. And they kept him in this tiny cage all day…"
"You're looking mad again. Sounding too familiar?"
There was another silence. Then Hartley leant forward and held out a hand. "Hello Gip."
Gip stopped counting and looked at the hand warily. "Four score and seven Gip's ago, Gip wants a cracker."
He frowned. "I haven't got any food for him."
"Sure you do. It's in your top right hand laundry cupboard where you always keep it."
"I don't… Oh never mind. I think I'll keep him. Hang on, I'll be back in a sec."
The Trickster watched him hustle away and grinned at Gip. "I think he'll be okay eventually."
"Everything's okay with crackers."
He snickered and looked at his muffin mix. "Ain't that the truth. I think these need doing now."
And he gave the mixture a few extra beats and wandered back to the kitchen.
Hope you guys enjoy it. Feedback is welcomed :-).
Oh, and yes, African Greys are that smart. Labs have taught them to count and do sums, and their vocabularies can be huge :-).