This is a sequel to an earlier fic of mine called, oddly enough "A Brief Conversation Between Friends...". This will probably make marginally more sense if you read that first ( It's archived here or at ). Don't worry, it's very short and I've been told it's quite good. In any case, the sequel is a tad more angsty than the original, but it's still not entirely serious because, hey, it's got the Trickster in it.

Disclaimer: Trickster and Piper aren't mine. No money being made. Don't sue. Enjoy.

A Longer Conversation Between Friends

The dark figure moved silently and softly through the dark room. He was good, he knew he was good (in fact he often said so, loudly and annoyingly at times), and it was quite possible that he would have gone without detection if there hadn't been someone even more undetectable watching him. The figure had made his way past the lounge suite and was almost in the kitchen when he heard the voice.

It was a very soft voice, so James Jesse (the man intermittently known as the Trickster) only jumped very slightly when it whispered,

"...intruder alert, intruder alert..."

James blinked, and for a second felt faintly worried. Then recognition dawned and he grinned and stepped forward.

"Hey Gip, hello! Who's a good parrot then?"

"Hello intruder alert", said the small grey bird politely.

"You know, that might actually work better if didn't say it as if you were in a library."

"Night time is for sleeping." Said the parrot conversationally.

"Ahh, teaching you to keep it down, was he? Well that kinda backfired didn't it?"

"...alert intru..." Gip started and then jumped back as someone upstairs suddenly shouted.

James frowned and looked slightly worried.

"Wonderful, he's having nightmares again. This is getting repetitive."

"I want to ride my bicycle", said Gip cheerfully.

"Don't we all. You know what his real problem is? He won't let anyone help because he's so used to being the one who's helping everyone else. Very irritating."

The shouting upstairs calmed down into a vague whimpering and he winced. "Ouch, it must be a bad one. Okay, so I have a problem here now..."

"I want to alert my intruders..."

"...I could go up there, wake him up, and stop him having what sounds like a pretty horrific nightmare. Problem being of course, that I'd then have to admit that I broke into his house again under the fairly ludicrous premise of borrowing his umbrella."

Gip looked at him sagely. "I am the champion, my friend."

"Or I could just forget that and sit here and listen while he..."

What sounded like a sob echoed down from upstairs.

James sighed. "Okay, I think I'd better go and wake him. Needed to talk to him anyway, so why not at half past five in the morning?"

He patted Gip on the head and said fondly, "No offence there, Gip, but you really need to work on the whole guard-bird thing, you know..."

"Gip will rock you!"

"And has he been feeding you his Queen records or what? Geez..."


Hartley Rathaway jolted awake suddenly and stared wildly at the ceiling. The coils of a particularly unpleasant dream involving him in a soundless alleyway, methodically shooting down homeless people while silently screaming that he was sorry, still clung to his thoughts. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Nothing to worry about. Just another dream. Like you haven't had enough of those lately. What woke him from this one, anyway? It felt like he'd been jostled or...

Frowning, he turned to the side. James Jesse smiled sweetly back at him.

"So, was it good for you too?"

He stared numbly at the Trickster for all of two seconds more and then screamed and threw himself out of the bed. What the hell... What just... Wait a second...

Carefully, and with a great deal more composure, he pulled himself up. James was sitting on his bed, wearing a strange expression that looked like it was half worry and half amusement. He felt a sudden stab of infuriation.

"You utter, utter bastard."

"Geez, what's that for?"

"What the hell are you doing here?! It's five thirty in the morning and I wake up and you're sitting right next to me and... and I almost thought..."

"Well, jeez, am I that repugnant?"

Surprisingly, his flailing brain managed to produce just the right insult for the moment. "What do you think I was having the nightmare about?"

"Owww, cheap shot."

"You're talking to me about cheap shots..."

"Hey, weird shocks are good for nightmares. Gets your mind distracted by something else, helps you to forget it."

"I don't need your help! And I'm asking again, what the hell are you doing here?!"

"Waking you up from one of the nightmares that you don't need help for, what does it look like?"

"What are you doing in my house?!"

"Ahhh, now here's where I regale you with my amusing umbrella story..."

"Get out!"

"Geez, Piper, I'm sorry, okay? I admit, I broke in, but you were really screaming there, you know?"

"I mean it! Just go!" He pulled himself to his feet, fumbled over to the stereo and slammed in a disc with a particularly violent opera on it. He needed very badly to hear some music, needed to lose himself, and lose the annoying 'buddy' who wouldn't go away and wouldn't stop being there and kept intruding on everything that was his and just...

Why wouldn't he just go away, for god's sake?

Leaning forward, he rested his head against one of the enormous speakers that decorated the bedroom. The baseline throbbed in time with his heartbeat, and he took a deep, shuddering breath. His hands were shaking. He was shaking. The vestiges of the nightmare slowly faded around the edges and he tried desperately to push them away. Deep breaths, take deep breaths and when you turn around your irritating so-called friend will be gone.

He turned around. His irritating so-called friend wasn't gone. Not only was said friend not gone, he was also rummaging idly through the closet.

Irritation flared. "Hey, get out of there!"

"I'm just looking! Hey, cool, I've found your secret stash! Chocolate peanuts! Can I have some?"

Hartley gave him a look that could freeze hell. "Help yourself."

The Trickster cheerfully chose to ignore the dripping sarcasm and dug in. Then he lifted Piper's remote, turned the music down to an acceptable level and casually settled down on the bed. Hartley stared helplessly. He had the terrible feeling that he'd totally lost control of events. It was a feeling that he got a lot around James Jesse.

"So, what was it about?"

"What was what about?"

"The obviously amazingly cheerful dream that I interrupted..."

"The obviously amazingly cheerful dream that I can deal with perfectly fine myself. God, you don't have any sense of other people's personal space, do you?"

"Personal space? Wasn't that some kind of horror film or something?"

"Shut up! It's not a joke!"

For just the smallest second James gave him a look that was almost serious. It was... disconcerting.

"Trust me, Pipes, you're never going to feel any better if you don't get your sense of humour back."

"I've already told you, I'm fine! I'm coping perfectly okay! Okay, yes, I have the occasional nightmare! Everyone has the occasional nightmare! For god's sake, what do I have to say to make you believe me?"

"It's not what you're saying that I'm worried about..."

"And what am I doing that's so damn worrying? Listening to music? Gee, break out the shrinks there! What a bizarre habit that is..."

He stopped talking abruptly as the expression on James' face turned into something that was definitely serious.

"Hart, I'm a con artist. I'm a good con artist, and you know that. I've spent all my life reading people's body language. I know when people are happy. I know when people are coping well. And when I look at you that isn't what I see. Do you want to know what I see?"

He stared helplessly.

"I see misery and terror, Hart. And I don't see it fading. I see it being boxed up, and I see you feeling worse and worse, and I have a horrible feeling that one day it'll all get too much and the only way I'll see you is by sitting by your gravestone."

There would have been complete silence if the opera wasn't still playing softly in the background. Piper was really, incredibly grateful that it was there. Carefully, he sat down on the edge of the bed.

James turned and offered him a peanut. "So. What was it about?"

He stared at his hands, suddenly feeling like he was three years old. No, not three. At three he hadn't had the operation, he was still completely deaf. At three the world was silent...


"Just quiet?"

"Quiet and me doing horrible things to people. Sometimes it's like that. Sometimes there isn't even that. There's just the quiet..."

"How often?"

"Very often. I... don't get much sleep."

"I kinda thought it was a huge coincidence that you just happened to be having nightmares every time I popped around."

He managed a watery smile. "Didn't think the two were connected at all?"

"Nightmares about fuzzy old me? Never happen..."


"Okay, so it's pretty obvious what might be causing them. Let me make a list:" James counted off on his fingers. "Killing your parents while hypnotised by an asshole with too many mirrors. Joker Venom. Locked up in hellhole of a prison. Tortured by sadistic warden. Brief fugitive period, am I forgetting anything?"

Hartley winced and folded his arms tightly around his body. "If there is I don't want to hear it."

"You still worried that Mirror Master's on the loose?"

"I... a bit, yes."

"Maybe you should beef up your security system. Just for peace of mind."

"I guess so."

"Call me around, I'll help. After all, I'm apparently the expert now. Several dozen FBI agents can't be wrong!"

"I still can't believe you're actually working for the agency..."

"Are you kidding? I was destined for this job!"

"Uh huh."

"In any case, on to your parents..."

"I know it wasn't my fault, okay? I'm not blaming myself I..." He shut his eyes tightly. "It was McCullough's fault. And so help me god, if I ever get near him with a sound gun..."

"Would you? Kill him?"

"I... I'd... No."

"Good. There are other ways to make people pay. Trust me, if I ever find the bastard he'll know every one."

"I... thankyou."

"Okay, so you're relatively together on those things. As together as you can be. Next item on the agenda, what happened in Iron Heights..."

He winced again. "You know, about now I really wish you'd crack some kind of joke. This whole serious thing is just... weird..."

"Man walks into a bar. 'Ouch', he says."

A withering look. "That's really appalling."

"Thankyou folks, I'm available all week!"

"And now that I think about it, what you said back then about 'when you pop around'..."

"Oh it's only occasionally... Whenever I need to borrow something..."

"Occasionally you break in at 1am and borrow things from me."

"Very occasionally."

"Great, wonderful. What if someone sees you? Don't you think they're wondering what the heck you're doing here? I mean geez, if Wally caught you he'd pummel you..."

"Ah, no one's up at night around here. You've got one of the quiet bits of the city. And don't worry about Wally, he thinks we're sleeping together."

"It's not that quiet..." He stopped short as his brain registered the last sentence. "Wally thinks we're what?"

"Doing the horizontal mambo. Didn't look too thrilled with the idea, either. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that he thinks I'm a devious unscrupulous bastard who he wouldn't trust with his worst enemy, never mind his best friend..."

"Why does Wally think we're sleeping together?"

James managed a look of innocent bewilderment. "Goodness knows. I've no idea how he would have got that impression..."

Piper narrowed his eyes. "Explain."

"Well, it was last Thursday when you invited me over to help you do those last adjustments on that new electronic pipe thingy you were working on. As you know, I left late 'cause it took so long, and I happened to find Wally doing a quick check up on you just before he headed home. And so he asks me what I'm doing at your place at this time of night and I told him that I was fiddling with your flute and for some reason I guess he might have possibly taken that the wrong way..."

"And you didn't tell him otherwise!!?"

The Trickster gave a broad grin that reminded him alarmingly of the Cheshire Cat. "What, and spoil a jape like that? Are you nuts?"

"Oh god, Wally must be going insane. No wonder he's been over so often in the last few days..."

"Ah, he'll get over it." James smiled and then continued casually. "So, what happened at Iron Heights that was so bad you had to change the subject on me?"

Piper's face closed abruptly. "What do you mean?"

"Wow. Hartley Rathaway, speediest mood changes in the West!"

"Yeah, very funny. Great."


"What is there to say that you don't already know? He... Wolfe hated me. I was the one that got away, and he was determined to make me pay for that. He had me beaten up. He left me without food and water for days. He tortured me. It was bad. The end."

"Interesting. So why is it you're happy to mention that, but you won't mention the device he had stuck outside your cell?"

Hartley froze, staring at his visitor in disbelief. "How... How did you know about that?"

"I know everything."

"But I... but he..."

"What was it?"

"It's stupid."

"It's obviously causing you a hell of a lot of distress."

"It shouldn't."

"But it is. Why?"

He stared at his hands. Suddenly they seemed amazingly interesting.

"Look, Hart. I don't think you can possibly humiliate yourself more than you already have, so what's to lose?"

"Oh great, that's such an incentive."

"Ain't it though. Talk."

"It was... it was an experimental device. He got it off some scientists from Star Labs, I think. It was... It reverses sound waves back onto to each other. It..."

The Trickster nodded in understanding. "It was a sound nullifier."

"It was silence!"

James waited.

"...It was part of my punishment. When I did anything Wolfe deemed wrong, or just when he was feeling sadistic he just..."

"Turned it on and left you in silence?"

Piper frowned and pounded his hand into the pillow. "It wasn't just silence! Silence is bad, but you can still hear the ringing in your ears and the blood in your veins. This! This was just... it was too quiet ! It was dead, dead quiet and he just left me there for days and... I was screaming and I couldn't even hear myself!"

He slammed his head back against the wall and squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears escaping. "It was deafness, just like when I was a kid. I couldn't stand it. And I was so damn scared that he was going to come and turn it off and it would still be silent... It's so stupid. He bashed the living daylights out of me and I wasn't scared. But when he did this... I was so terrified..."

"He knew your background, Hart. He knew it would have that effect, that's why he did it. He's an asshole."

"But it was just silence! Wally wouldn't even bat an eyelid..."

"You ain't Wally, Pipes. There's the whole sleeping with women thing for a start..."

"You know what I mean! I shouldn't have been so afraid... And I... I definitely shouldn't still be afraid..."

"But you are."

"I keep having these stupid thoughts. You know he disappeared after they exposed what he had done. He's... he's still out there and they never found the stupid... fucking thing and I keep thinking that he's going to turn up here with it and... I don't know... Implant it in my brain or something. Make it permanent. I know it's stupid. The logical part of my brain keeps insisting it's stupid but I just... can't..."


"It's like my head's a scratched record that keeps going over and over the same stupid thoughts. It's horrible and I feel like shit and there's not a damn thing that I can do about it, and there's nothing you can do either so..."


"I don't know why the hell you're making me tell you about it because all it's doing is making me feel so much worse..."


"What?" He jerked his head up, scowling in irritation.

The Trickster was holding out a hand. In it was a small, round, electronic device.

He stared at it in disbelief.

"...where... where did you find that?"

"They didn't search Wolfe's old place as well as they thought they did. I decided to have a second peek myself yesterday and came across it stuffed in a plastic bag up the chimney. Once I realised what it was things suddenly became pretty clear..."

"You had it... You knew. Why the hell did make me pour my heart out..."

"Would you have said as much as you did if I'd just come out with it?"

"That's a bad thing?"

"Call it therapy, Hart. Trust me, bottling things up is a very bad thing. Besides..." Another grin. "You know me. I've gotta know everything..."


"So... You wanna do the honours?"

Hartley looked at him, and then very deliberately picked up the nullifier, very deliberately picked up one of his sound guns from the desk and then very deliberately blew it into a thousand pieces. It was extremely satisfying.

"There, doesn't that feel better?"

This time the smile was far less watery, and far more sincere. He felt... relieved. Really, enormously relieved. "Thank you."

"And you said I was a bastard!"

"You are a bastard, but thank you anyway."

"That's gratitude for you. Honestly..."

"What time is it?"

"Half past six, I think! Just in time for an early breakfast! Doesn't time fly when you're pouring your soul out in a gut wrenching confession?"


"So, you up for Pop Tarts? I saw some in your cupboards before."

"My cupboards?"

"Race you to the kitchen! Hey, you want your peanuts back?"

He looked at the almost empty packet. "I think you can keep them."

"Thanks! Oh, and I could use that umbrella I came here for too..."

Piper sighed and shook his head, and then followed down to the kitchen. It looked like the Trickster was back to his normal, supremely irritating self...

Oddly enough, it actually felt reassuring.


An hour later...

James whistled as he let himself out of Hartley's gate. All in all, he decided, that had gone remarkably well. A successful mission all round! Turning around, he came face to face with Wally and Linda West, carrying a package that looked suspiciously like fresh-from-the-bakery breakfast muffins.

Struck by a sudden idea, he grinned widely at them. "Hi folks! Nice to see you! You'll have to excuse me if I look a bit tired, I've been in Hartley's bedroom eating his nuts all night. You can go see him now but be gentle, he did spend most of last night yelling. Bye!"

Then he turned and walked rapidly away. After all, he reasoned, it was probably a good idea to get as much distance as possible before the screaming started.