A/N: This chapter is a build-up for the storyline Presidential race from issues 120 and 121 of the second Flash series by Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn, Paul Ryan and John Nyberg. And let me tell you all how happy I am that Piper's canon boyfriend has the same first name as Trickster. Hopefully this chapter isn't nearly as annoying to read as it was to write...
"Well I'm moving to Canada."
"Nope," Wally said flatly. "You're not allowed."
Piper defiantly crossed his arms across his chest. "According to the latest polls, Cartwright actually stands a chance of being elected, even though he's a third party candidate running on a platform of the most vitrolic, hateful and ignorant social politics I've ever encountered. The fact that this man has an actual chance at the White House killed what little faith I had left in the American people. I'm moving to Canada, and you're not going to stop me."
"Yeah dude, I am. I need you here," Wally said simply. "You can go, but I'll just bring you back again. As many times as I need to, over and over." He calmly took a few bites of his fried rice, the superspeed motions of his chopsticks contrasting eerily with his deadpan expression.
"Plus I'm not moving to Canada," James said quietly. He reached over and squeezed Piper's knee, then reached for a different carton of chinese food on the coffee table.
Piper scowled, and slid down lower on the couch.
The two couples were gathered at Wally and Linda's for a casual couples thing, something they attempted to do once or twice a week and usually succeeded in accomplishing maybe once a month (Wally and Piper usually got called off for superheroics, Linda followed their exploits and usually had a new story by the end of the night, and James balanced his check book and planned his budget for the week until they got back).
Linda rolled her eyes. "Quit being so dramatic Hartley. You know, there are some redeeming factors in our political system, chief among them being your ability to get out there and do something about it if you're upset."
"Quit your bitching and go campaign for a candidate you support," Linda said.
Piper let out a melodramatic sigh. "But I don't support any of them!"
"That's true. He's even bitching about the socialist candidate," James said.
"Eh, it's not like he's got a chance anyway." Wally frowned thoughtfully at the TV, which they'd muted after Piper's first rant. "Cartwright though...that is kinda scary."
"Piper, if you're not going to get involved then you're not allowed to complain," Linda decided.
Wally brightened at that. "Sounds good to me."
"All in favor say aye," James said. Three "ayes" were heard, and Piper grumbled under his breath. "Aw sweetie, I'm sorry we're all picking on you, but you're really bringing down the couples dinner."
"It's our fault. We're the ones who let him put on CNN," Linda said with a smirk. "Next time we'll know better."
Piper grumpily set his carton on the coffee table, got up, and walked out of the room in a huff.
Linda looked between Wally and James, who were both eating and looking utterly unconcerned. "Did we go too far? Should someone go talk to him?" To her surprise, Wally and James both put their fingers on their noses.
Wally was, as expected, the first to do so.
"You know, either you're not allowed to use superspeed or we need to come up with a different way to decide this," James grumbled.
Wally laughed. "I am not giving up the nose game."
Linda scowled. "You're both being really insensitive. Hartley looked like he was actually upset. You're supposed to be his best friend and you're supposed to be his boyfriend. Is this really how you want to respond?"
James smiled meekly at her. "Linda, hon...I love Hart to death, but you must have noticed that he's a wee bit...dramatic." Wally snorted at that. "Believe me, even if it was Wally to go out there and talk to him right now, I'd still be talking to him later. Hell, we'll be talking about this later on no matter what. Don't worry though, I'll take care of my sweetie. I've already been working on this Cartwright situation for a few days."
"Really?" Linda asked. "What are you doing?"
"I'll let you know if it checks out." He got up and followed after his melodramatic boyfriend. Piper wasn't in the kitchen, which was the way he'd been heading, so James poked his head out the backdoor and found Piper sitting in the yard with his chin in his hands. "Hey Piper. So...sorry we all ganged up on you."
"It's okay, we have that dynamic as a group. I just wanted a minute away from the TV."
"You're the one who wanted to get an update on the election though."
"I know it's just...urgh. Doesn't this scare you at all?"
James shrugged. "Not really. I mean, however well Cartwright's doing in the polls, I don't think he'll actually be elected. And even if he was...our system has some safeguards in place to keep him from messing with our individual liberties all that much. He might block marriage, but I don't think he can really do much else. It won't change our day to day lives all that much."
Piper shuddered. "The fact that he has this much support means a lot of people don't think we deserve the same basic rights as everyone else. That's...that's the type of spirit that had me living out of a car when I was a kid. I just...I just don't like being confronted with the rest of the world judging me quite so blatantly. It would be different if Cartwright was appealing to other things, but he's really sticking to 'marriage between a man and a woman', 'keep the gays out of our schools' and all that other bullshit."
James wrapped a comforting arm around Piper and gave him a squeeze. "On the plus side, we both know he's powered by bullshit. And I think a lot of people agree with us. But sweetie, Linda's right. If you're this upset, we should get involved in the election."
Piper rolled his eyes. "So who do you support?"
"I've found a lesser of the evils that I'm going to vote for, but there actually is an anti-Cartwright/O'Neil campaign too. You don't have to be pushing for a particular candidate. These guys are just spreading the word that Cartwright is a ginormous, ignorant, bigoted douchebag. My friend Jesse started it up. I'm gonna swing by the campaign headquarters after work tomorrow. You wanna tag along?"
"I'll...check it out."
Fridays had been declared dress down days at James' office, and he decided to take advantage of this to grab an extra twenty minutes of sleep in the morning. When he couldn't justify hitting the snooze button one more time, he rolled out of bed, pulled on jeans and one of Piper's t-shirts that had been left on an armchair, and stumbled out the door with briefcase in hand and in need of a caffeine fix.
It wasn't until he got an odd look at the Sundollars that he noticed what was on his borrowed shirt; it was a particularly provocative Eddie Izzard t-shirt (well...it actually wasn't that provocative for a drag comedian, but it was certainly more provocative than what he would have liked for work attire).
"Shit," James muttered, staring down at the image of a heavily made up man with killer heels emblazoned on his chest. He didn't have enough time to go home and change.
He ended up calling Piper and begging him to swing by his work with a new shirt (it took a while to get Piper to agree to it; he wasn't fully coherent before noon on most days), and decided to just sit in his cubicle and keep his head down until Piper showed up. If he was lucky, no one would notice.
James walked through the office with his briefcase clutched to his chest, tersely nodding at some of his coworkers as he made his way to his desk. A few people gave him odd looks, but almost everyone ignored him.
Pretty much everyone but Zach. James found Zach to be one of the most grating people in the office to be around, not least of which because, despite James' clearly stated preference, Zach insisted on calling him Jimmy.
"Hello Zachary." It was childish, but James responded in kind. He barely looked at the other man as he edged by to get to his desk.
James was barely in his seat before Zach planted his elbows on the desk right where James had been about to set his coffee. He rested his chin in his hands and smiled at James, which was more than a little creepy. Behavior like that made James wonder if maybe Zach had some kind of slight mental condition that impaired him socially.
"So, I heard you got Davey in trouble. That wasn't very nice Jimmy."
"Yes, well, Davey's never been terribly nice to me. I was just trying to get him to stop." James irritably set his coffee in an awkward spot on his desk and opened his briefcase, hoping Zach would get the hint and leave.
"Dave was just trying to help you, you know," Zach pressed.
James' hands were starting to shake. David Jarvis had been responsible not only for the pamphlets on his desk, but also harassing phone calls to James' clients, making sure everyone knew that not only was this particular architect queer (and thus morally deviant in David's lingo) but also dating an unstable supervillain (nevermind that Piper was reformed and perfectly mentally healthy at this point). Since Jarvis had been spoken to (not fired, not suspended, not even written up, just spoken to), James had had a much easier time getting jobs.
"I mean, your clients have a right to know who they're really dealing with. And if they don't like it, it kinda tells you something, don't you think?" Zach asked.
James finally looked up at him, tight lipped and with narrowed eyes. His stomach did a flip when he noticed what Zach had worn to the office for dressdown day. It was a Cartwright t-shirt.
Zach smiled at him, stood up, and waved over at his cubicle, which was decked out in Cartwright/O'Neil propaganda. "I see you noticed my shirt. Want a campaign button Jimmy?"
James bit his lip so hard it bled. It took him a minute to find a retort that wouldn't get him fired. "I-I've got a lot of w-work to get done. Zachary."
"Right. Well, better get going on that." Zach whistled as he walked back over to his desk. As far as James could tell, he hadn't noticed the Eddie Izzard shirt.
As soon as Zach was out of earshot, James picked up the phone and frantically dialed Piper.
"I was just about to leave, I'm sorry. I move slow in the mornings," Piper whined defensively, as soon as he picked up.
"No, sweetie it's okay. I don't need the shirt anymore. You should..." James' eyes lingered on a particularly large poster of Cartwright that had been taped up by the water cooler. "You should just go back to bed. I'm fine."
"Jay, I don't want you to get harassed at work. I don't mind swinging by with the t-shirt, really."
A wobbly smile found its way on James' face. Mostly he hated when people shortened his name, but when Piper did it...(plus he didn't use Jimmy).
"I promise, I'm fine."
"You were really freaking out like less than five minutes ago. What happened?" Piper asked. He sounded really concerned, and James felt bad for worrying him.
"Nothing big. I'll tell you about it later."
"Can I still meet you for lunch today?"
"Of course." James figured with a morning like this, he was really going to need the pick-me-up he got from seeing his boyfriend.
"Okay great. I'll see you later Jay."
James hung up, tapped his fingers against his leg nervously for a few minutes, and then decided it was time to actually get down to work. He opened his desk drawer to find a pen and slammed it shut again as soon as he saw the contents.
It had been filled to bursting with pamplets on Cartwright's ten ways the radical left is turning your children gay with sex education.
"I've gotta find a new job."
James Jesse glanced with distaste at the bland ass office building the object of his affection's current sweetheart worked at. He contemplated the boring brick facade and the orderly rows of windows, and wondered why a building full of architects, graphic designers and interior decoraters didn't look a bit more imaginative. It didn't really speak well of their abilities.
'Alright Jesse, you're not here to critique the surroundings,' James thought to himself. He was there because he was whipped, something he knew full well, though the knowledge didn't make it go down any easier. Whipped by a man he wasn't even dating.
Piper had called him, saying he was upset about James-the-wiener, which had gotten James' hopes up. He'd feigned being a sympathetic listener, all the while wondering how soon would be too soon to ask Piper out again, and in the process hadn't listened very closely at all. Then Piper had asked him for a favor, and like a lovesick teenager, he'd responded without knowing what Piper wanted him to do.
And now he was delivering a change of clothes, a love note, and a coffee roll from the couple's favorite bakery to his rival. It was thoroughly unfair.
Though it did make James wonder if maybe this was his payback for all the times he'd inwardly gloated about dating Piper back when James-the-wiener had been pining for him from a distance. He did not appreciate the role reversal.
James glanced down at the scrawled instructions on his hand, then took the elevator up to James-the-wiener's floor. It took him a few minutes to find the appropriate cubicle, but before he was even halfway across the room he fully understood why the wiener had insisted Piper not come visit him at work.
"Hey Wiener. Didn't realize you worked in a Cartwright campaign headquaters."
James-the-architect jumped, then looked behind him where James was leaning against his cubicle wall. James held out the bag containing Piper's care package, then frowned when he saw the t-shirt his rival was wearing. "I bought Piper that shirt."
"He didn't mention that." The wiener picked at the fabric, a look of distaste on his face. "Well I won't be wearing this again."
"Wonderful. Look, Piper asked me drop this shit off for you. Will you just take the damn bag so I can leave?"
The wiener hesitantly grabbed the bag, looking a bit reluctant to do so, which kind of made James wish he had thought to gimmick up the care package. He opened it, and was visibly reassured by the note on top, obviously written in Piper's messy scrawl. He glanced up at James, frowning. "I didn't realize Piper was still friends with you."
"That a problem?"
"I hope not. James, I don't-there's no reason for us not to get along, right?" He looked hopeful. It was cute and kind of sad.
"Of course we're not going to get along. You're sleeping with the man I'm in love with. C'mon Wiener, I thought you were smarter than that."
His face flushed a little at James' words, but he gave no other visible indication of being upset. "We could be mature adults and just accept the fact that we're both important to Hartley. God only knows why, but we are."
"You know pipsqueak, I couldn't agree more. I just can't fathom what it is Piper sees in you. Just more of his eccentricity, I guess." That one got Wiener's hands shaking. James knew that this was stupid, and that immature barely began to cover it, and that Piper would probably hear about it later and be pissed, but really it was Piper's own stupid fault for sending his smitten ex to talk to his current boyfriend.
"Hey Jimmy, who's your visitor?" The guy from the Cartwright cubicle called.
"Jimmy?" James asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"No, don't even."
James looked over at the dingus in the Cartwright shirt, then down at the skinny little architect who looked like he was going to snap. Suddenly even he felt bad, and his current fantasy of choice involved strapping James-the-wiener to a Wile E Coyote rocket while he and Piper rode off into the sunset.
The dingus walked over to them and leaned against the cubicle wall. "Heya Jimmy," he greeted. He nodded towards James. "Hey. Nice hair."
James flipped his ponytail at him. "I'm rather fond of it."
"So you a butt pirate too?"
James' eyebrows shot up. He turned to look at the other James. "Did he really just ask that?"
"And you work here? Like five days a week, you show up here and put up with this shit?"
"And...you don't regret being out of the closet?" James pressed.
Other-James looked at him like he was crazy. "Of course not."
Well that was probably what Piper saw in him.
"Hm. Okay." He turned to the dingus. "Just so you know, I'm not affiliated with this guy. In fact, I don't even like him."
"Okay..." Dingus looked confused, which was what James was going for. Then he punched the guy in the face.
Not only did Dingus go down, he took out a cubicle wall with him.
Heads popped around cubicle walls all around the office. Other-James was sitting in his desk chair with his hands clamped on the arm rests, looking terrified, while Dingus groaned and clutched at his face.
James grinned and waved at the room. "Remember, not affiliated with this guy!" Then he clicked on his flying shoes, raced over to the convenient wall of evenly placed windows, popped one open and took his leave.
James ended up missing his lunch break, so Piper didn't end up seeing him until the end of the day, when they were supposed to head down to the anti-Cartwright/O'Neil campaign headquarters together. He waited on a bench outside James' building, and noticed that an awful lot of James' coworkers were giving him funny looks as they left.
James finally showed up, looking very harassed and still wearing the Eddie Izzard t-shirt.
Piper smiled at him, hoping it was a placating gesture. When James continued to look like a healthy mix between exhaustion and irritation, he decided a compliment wouldn't hurt. "Hey Jay...I love seeing you in my clothes. You look hot-what?"
"You never told me other-James bought you this shirt."
"He...oh, right. He did, didn't he? He mentioned that?"
James snorted. "Ya huh. He mentioned that. Right before he assaulted one of my coworkers. Why the hell did you send that weirdo to my office?"
Piper frowned. "Because you forbade me from visiting you and I was worried and it...seemed like a better idea at the time. I'm sorry James. I couldn't get ahold of Wally or Linda."
James sat down next to him on the bench and dropped his head into his hands, long fingers digging into his soft brown hair. Piper winced. "I'm sorry you had such a lousy day. I was trying to make it better, I promise. We can just head back to one of our apartments if you'd rather...I mean, we don't have to go to the campaign thing tonight."
James looked up at him, steely determination in his eyes. "Hon, I've had the day from hell both because of your bad judgment in sending a loon like the Trickster to my office, but mostly because my office is full of homophobic bastards who don't respect me. We're going to that meeting, and we're going to be as gay as we damn well want, and we're going to figure out a way to kill every political ambition Jacob Cartwright and anyone like him has ever had."
Piper inhaled sharply. "Oh Jay, I am so in love with you right now."
James squeezed his hand back. "I love you too Hart. Now let's get some constitutional protection on that."