SOME WEEKS LATER…
"I don't know if this was the best idea Iris."
"Now really dear, how did you expect us to come out west and visit you?" Iris West asked, gently teasing her fiancé.
Barry took a moment to collect himself before entering into the argument once more. "Iris my dear, there is a very specific reason that this specific rail company asked for the presence of a lawman on this specific train. It's been robbed three times in the last two weeks by a reckless duo in flamboyant attire. I really don't think this train is anyplace for a lady and her nephew."
Said nephew was pressing his freckled face to the glass of the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of any robbers that may approach their train car. "Do you really think anyone'll rob us?" Wally asked eagerly.
"They may try, but I doubt they'll succeed with Barry looking after us," Iris said gently, regarding her nephew with open fondness.
With a forceful tug to the collar from his aunt, Wally reluctantly sat back in his seat, but continued shooting the occasional glance out the window. "I don't mean to slight you Mr. Allen, but you're just a normal lawman. If a couple of bandits really do show up with pistols firing, maybe that masked hero the Flash will show up! Wouldn't that be a sight?"
Iris looked much less enthused at the prospect than her young nephew, but she continued to indulge him. "It would certainly give me something to write home about, that's for sure."
Barry tried once more to convince Iris and Wally to leave the train at the next stop, where he had friends they could stay with until they could be safely conveyed to their destination, but Iris again refused, and there was no talking the young boy into leaving a train where real live bandits might actually try to rob and kill people, so Barry gave it up and went about his work. Much of the ride was dull, and truth be told he was more than a little grateful to have Iris there to talk to.
The excitement of the train ride very soon became monotony for poor Wally. It became clear to him that bandits were just about the only thing that could make a train ride very much fun, and though he kept his face pressed against the glass of the window, it was more to support his head while he dozed than to peer into the distance for train robbers.
Then, as he was just nodding off, he spotted a couple of specks in the distance. Startled, Wally leaned against his seat to see better, and then shook his aunt's arm. "Aunt Iris, Aunt Iris! There are men on horses out there and they're coming this way!"
Wally's words kicked up an absolute commotion on the train. All the finer looking folks started shouting with worry, a few of the less sensible looking for a way to leave the moving train, and a lady in a pink silk dress fainted.
Barry stuck his fingers in his mouth and let out a loud whistle. "Now that's enough of that! Gentlemen, ladies, kindly hide any valuables you may have on your person, remain calm, and please take your seats. I'll settle this." The passengers reluctantly retook their seats, and Barry left the car to go speak with the conductor.
Iris was in a flurry of excitement. "Here, Wally, take this bag for me and find some paper. I want you to help me take notes, okay partner?"
"Sure thing Aunt Iris."
One of the horsemen rode up close to their window. Wally's mouth hung open as he gawped at the strange looking man. He was wearing a long green coat with white buttons. It reminded Wally of something he'd once seen an actor wear. The man also had a wide brimmed hat and scraggly looking copper colored hair. He was dusty and messy and sun burned, but he looked like he was having more fun than anyone Wally could ever remember seeing.
The man noticed Wally staring at him and for a moment their eyes met. Wally was determined to hold the robber's gaze, even if he was a murderous bandit (no one at his school had ever stared down a murderous bandit before, and boy would the kids in Blue Valley get a kick out of hearing about this one!). Then the bandit smiled and winked at him.
Wally's heart sank. What kind of murderous bandit smiled and winked at little boys? Clearly he was going to have to give this story some work before he shared it with his classmates.
The robber nudged his horse, and then they shot out of view. Wally was so focused on the bandit that had rode under his window that he was taken by complete surprise when there was a thud from the roof of their train car.
Several of the passengers screamed, and the woman who had fainted, who had just revived, fainted again.
Iris gazed at the roof with a bemused look on her pretty face, the kind of look a more normal woman would have worn while inspecting yards of fabric she was considering for a new dress. "Well isn't that interesting. Wally, I do believe that other one is on top of the train."
"Are you going to write that down?"
"Already did partner. If you want to sell your stories to the paper then you've got to be quicker than that. I wonder where Barry went. He's supposed to be protecting us from these dangerous criminals."
The door to their car burst open, and the criminal that had winked at Wally appeared in the doorway. He tipped his hat to the terrified passengers with one hand, showed them his pistol with the other, and made his way confidently down the center aisle.
Up close he wasn't at all what Wally expected. He was too skinny, and the dust on his front probably only came from that very day's journey to the train. He was immaculately clean otherwise (he'd even cleaned under his nails!). "Aw, Aunt Iris, he's just a regular gentleman pretending to be a robber," Wally whispered, needing to share his disappointment.
"Hi folks. I don't suppose any of you have ever been in this particular situation before, so I'm disposed to tell you that this here is a hold up. Kindly put anything of value in this bag and things won't need to get any more exciting than they already are."
Wally crossed his arms over his chest and let out a loud 'hmph'. Iris tapped her foot impatiently against the floor of the car, wondering again where her fiancé was. "Honestly, Barry Allen has to be the slowest man alive."
Wally thought they might finally get some excitement when the robber stopped in front of his seat, but he merely tipped his hat again and continued on. Apparently he wasn't in the habit of robbing little boys and women travelling without a grown male companion. What a disappointment.
Then he saw the woman who had fainted. "Goodness, is she alright?"
"You've only scared her half to death!" her outraged husband shrieked.
"I'm so sorry! Here, I've got some smelling salts if you think they'll be of use!" The robber dug wildly through his pockets, secured the salts, and handed them off to the befuddled looking husband. After a moment's confused pause, he dutifully waved them under his wife's nose.
Wally slapped a hand to his forehead. This really was just too much. Before Iris could stop him, he charged out to the center aisle and ran right up to the crook.
"Excuse me sir, but you are the most abominable excuse for a blood thirsty bandit that a fella could ever see! This is not how you rob a train!"
The robber, far from being insulted or upset by Wally's outburst, regarded him with amusement. "It's worked out pretty well for me so far. But now you've got me curious. How would you go about robbing a train?"
"Well for starters you're supposed to shoot into the air so we know you'd actually kill us if we tried to stop you. Instead you're acting like you don't want to hurt anybody. If that's the case, then why should we give you our money?"
"Wally, get back here!" Iris hissed.
The robber turned his attention briefly to the angered looking woman, mistaking her rage for concern. "Don't worry ma'am, I'll return him to you the way I got him." He then turned back to Wally. "What's your name little fella?"
"Well it's nice to meet you Wally West. I'm Hartley, and I'm a little new at this bandit lifestyle myself, but one thing I learned real quick was that if you fire a whole lot of shots in the air then you run out of bullets right quick, and there's nothing worse than having to reload your pistol at an inopportune moment. That's why I make all my shots count."
"Oh." Well that made sense.
"Now, there might actually be a scuffle if my partner hasn't finished everything he's supposed to, so would you please take your seat and stay there? I'd hate for you to get caught up in the crossfire and end up hurt on my account."
"Alright, I guess. But only if you promise to make this robbery interesting. I gotta have something to say to my friends in Nebraska."
Hartley grinned. "I'm sure my partner will give you plenty to talk about." He went back to collecting valuables from the passengers, and Wally hopped back onto his seat.
Iris gave him a tap upside the head. "It's a wonder he didn't throw you off the train Wally."
"Oh come now Aunt Iris, can you really imagine that fella throwing anybody off a train?"
In full truthfulness, Iris was as surprised by the robber's gentle manner as anyone else on the train, but he was still a bandit and she didn't like him getting close to her nephew.
Three sharp raps sounded from the roof of the train. Hartley looked up, smiled, and threw his sack over his shoulder. "Well folks, that's my cue. It's been a pleasure. I hope you all have an excellent time when you get to your destination."
He started whistling as he walked for the end of the car he'd come in at, and he was just approaching Iris and Wally's seat when the door slammed open and a man in red appeared in a dizzying rush of movement. Wally jumped up in his seat and hollered. "It's the Flash! It's the Flash! This'll be the best story ever!"
Iris handed him his notes, a wry grin on her face. "You might need these partner."
Wally immediately dropped his pencil, hands flying to his face in wonder as the Flash sucker punched Hartley just as he'd been taking aim with his pistol. Hartley dropped the pistol, but he swiped the Flash's feet out from under him, and the two vibrantly clad men tumbled to the floor of the car. They wrestled with each other, fists flying, the Flash getting the better of Hartley with his superior size and strength.
Then Hartley reached into his sack, pulled out a flute, and bashed the Flash over the head. The Flash crumpled to the ground, landing in a heap in front of the panting crook. Hartley's hat had gotten lost during the fistfight, and his copper colored hair was sticking up at all different angles.
A scream from the front of the car brought everyone's attention to the doorway, where a pale blond head was suspended upside down. "Hart? What's taking so long? I gave the signal an age ago!"
"Where the blazes have you been Gio? That creep the Flash showed up!"
"As the plan involved me slowing the train enough for the horses to keep pace, I've been occupied doing just that!" The man, Gio apparently, flipped down from his perch and landed gracefully on his feet. He was wearing a coat like Hartley's, but in a deep blue with canary yellow stripes and a great silk tie in a clashing shade of orange.
"Are you alright?" Gio bent down in front of his partner, a frown of concern marring a face that was clearly meant for only emotions light and pleasant. Hartley's cheeks colored, but he nodded. "Just a split lip and some hurt pride. But I think we'd best be off, for the sake of the horses as much as our own."
"When you're right you're right. Let's go." Gio helped Hartley to his feet, and the two crooks ran for the car's exit.
Wally looked around at the other passengers, most of which were staring straight ahead with identical expressions of bewilderment on their faces. He jumped past his aunt and out to the center aisle again.
"Wally, for goodness sake!" Iris bellowed.
Wally jumped over the Flash's still form, jogged a few paces and reached his goal. He picked up Hartley's wide brimmed hat and popped it on his head. "How do I look Aunt Iris?"
"Like a hooligan, now get back here!" But Iris had left her seat as well. She bent down to examine the Flash, who had taken quite the nasty hit from that flute. Iris pulled back the man's hooded mask, and let out a startled cry. At first Wally thought it was because of all the blood matting the man's blond hair to his head, but it was recognition.
"Barry Allen you fool! You were going to let me marry you without telling me about your double life!"
Wally ran over to his aunt and unconscious soon to be uncle, holding the hat to his head as it was much too large for him and in danger of falling off. "Aunt Iris, you're still going to marry him right? He's a hero! I mean, I mean, he usually catches the crooks, and besides, no one at school has a masked hero for an uncle. Aunt Iris, please!"
Barry let out a groan and clutched at his head. "Urgh…what happened?" His eyes slowly fixed on his fiancée's face, and for a moment he smiled at her. Then his vision cleared a bit more and he took note of her expression. "Iris…dearest darling?"
"Dearest darling, hm? Barry Allen, you and I need to have a discussion."
And meanwhile, two riders were making their way into the distance.
Giovanni went into town the next morning to sell as many of their valuables as he could and place an order for a new hat with their tailor, Mr. Gambi. He stopped by the general store to get some ice for Hartley's jaw and decided to pick up a paper while he was at it.
He got back to their little house in high spirits. Hartley was sitting on the couch exactly as Giovanni had left him, wearing very little as a consequence of their post-train robbery activities and dozing peacefully. Giovanni leaned over the back of the couch and woke his man with a kiss. "Hey there darling. How's your jaw feeling?"
"Like a great nasty bruise. Did you bring the ice?" Hartley asked.
"Sure did. I picked up a paper too. You'll never guess what they're calling you now."
"Calling me? Why on earth is anyone calling me anything?" Hartley sat up straighter, interest clearly caught by Giovanni's words.
"You're known as the Piper now, on account of the way you bashed the Flash on the head with that instrument."
Hartley let out a startled laugh. "That's not bad. I suppose I could get used to that. But what will we call you?"
Giovanni dropped onto Hartley's lap, the ice forgotten as he leaned in for an affectionate brushing of his cheek against his partner's slender white throat. "I'm sure I'll get a handle of my own eventually." He placed a kiss on Hartley's throat, enjoying the shiver that followed it. "Now did you need that ice straight away?"
Hartley tangled his fingers in Giovanni's thick yellow hair, holding him right where he was. "Not in the least."