Poor Little Rich Boy
He checked himself, double-checked himself. His hair was perfectly coiffed, his suit was perfectly buttoned and perfectly neat, and he was perfectly prepared, mentally, for the show he was about to put on. However, it never hurt to be careful, so he turned to the butler who was to escort him outside and asked,
"How do I look, Edward?"
"Very good, Master Hartley. The Master and Missus should be pleased." Thus assured, Hartley nodded, and the butler led him into the grand hall and to his parents. Predictably, both of them were impeccably dressed as well, and his mother was clinging to his father in an affectionate manner. For all the world, they looked like a loving couple, but Hartley knew better. He had heard the vicious rumors the maids and footmen told about his father's rendezvous (with his hearing, it was impossible not to overhear), and he had certainly heard the squabbles the two of them had behind closed doors when they thought no one could hear-and maybe no one could-no one but him. If they hadn't been in love with each others' money, if they hadn't been afraid that a divorce would lower their reputation amongst their business partners, they would have divorced long ago.
"I trust that you are prepared to make a good showing for our guests and the press," his father said. It was definitely a statement, not a question.
"Of course, sir," Hartley replied. There was nothing else to say. With that, he and his parents left their house and walked into their veranda, where Hartley was immediately blinded by flashing lights. This had happened enough times that he was fairly used to it, so instead he simply put on his happiest smile and acted like he was thrilled to be at this soiree. After about two minutes, his father smiled at him (for the benefit of the cameras).
"Happy sixteenth birthday, son," he said warmly.
"Thank you, father. This soiree is better than I could have imagined," Hartley replied politely. He hated his parents' soirees, but it would never do to let the public know. His mother leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
"I can't believe my little boy is already sixteen," she said, in her best "sad parent" voice. Hartley forced a laugh.
"I suppose it had to happen eventually," he replied.
"That it did, and your mother and I were prepared for it. Because you are sixteen now, we decided to purchase you your own private plane," his father said. This time, Hartley didn't have to feign his excitement (or his surprise).
"Really? Thank you!" he exclaimed. Did this mean that they were finally going to let him out of the house on his own?
"You are quite welcome, son," his father replied. Then he pulled Hartley into a hug and whispered,
"If you expect to keep possession of the plane, I expect you to tell me every time you leave the house with it, where you are going, when you are returning, and who you are planning to meet with. Furthermore, you must have at least four chaperones with you no matter where you go, and I must know who they are before you leave. If you fail to do this, I will take the plane back, and you will be subject to an 8:30 PM curfew." The two broke apart, and Hartley's excitement vanished. There went his hope of finally being able to learn about the world outside of his parents' social circle. However, he couldn't reveal his disappointment, so he forced a smile back on his face and said,
"Thank you again, mother and father. You're terrific." After three more minutes of smiling and saying generically excited things for the cameras, Hartley finally got a reprieve, in the form of a loud splash. Bruce Wayne, Gotham City's most eligible bachelor (and most notorious playboy), had apparently had one too many glasses of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru and had fallen into the fountain in a rather spectacular fashion, thereby attracting the attention of all the cameras and allowing Hartley to stop smiling and pretending to be happy.
"Am I excused yet, sir?" he asked his father.
"No, you are not. Your birthday is a big opportunity for us to network, and you need to be here for us to do so. This is for your future, son," his father replied.
"You mean it's for your wallet," Hartley muttered.
"What was that, son?"
"Nothing," Hartley said quickly. The last thing he wanted was to make his father angry at him. His father frowned.
"See that it stays that way." Hartley started to give his father an assurance that it would when a loud burst of laughter came from the press as Bruce Wayne attempted to get out of the fountain, only to slip and fall back into the water. Hartley would have been mortified if he had been in that situation, but Bruce Wayne simply stood back up a second time and got out of the fountain, laughing and waving at the cameras.
"That Wayne is so crass," his mother sniffed disapprovingly.
"Well, what can you expect? He's new money. They're all like that," his father replied. However, their conversation about the flaws of new money people was cut short when the reporters, who were no longer being distracted by the entertainment provided by Bruce Wayne, turned their cameras back to them. Hartley and his parents immediately turned their smiles back on for the cameras, and led him towards another family, whom Hartley recognized as Mr., Mrs., and Kathryn Kendell, the wealthy owners of a fast food chain (Hartley couldn't remember which one).
"Hartley, now that you're getting close to adulthood, your father and I have decided, along with Mr. and Mrs. Kendell, that you and Kathryn should start dating." Hartley was so shocked (and mildly terrified) that he almost dropped his act. Although his father had not said it, he knew that "dating" meant that his parents were planning for him to marry Kathryn once he finished college-and Kathryn was the most shallow, vain, and spoiled girl in his parents' entire social circle. Why had they picked her? (If he had been braver, he might have wondered why he didn't get a say, but he had always known that his parents were going to decide who he married, just as his grandparents had decided that his parents were going to marry each other. It was just how things were done.) However, he couldn't say anything in front of the TV cameras, so instead he just smiled and tried to act like he was excited about the prospect of dating the girl. After a few minutes of small talk between him, Kathryn, and their parents, the news cameras finally lost interest in them and went off to film more of Bruce Wayne, who had evidently brought two dates to the soiree and was now trying to prevent a fight between them. As soon as the cameras were off, Hartley frowned and said,
"Sir, I….I'm not sure I'm ready for a serious relationship."
"Don't be ridiculous, Hartley. Your mother and I were dating by the time we were your age. You will be fine. And besides, we and the Kendells both stand to benefit from a marriage between you and their charming daughter, so you need to cooperate with our plans," his father said. Hartley winced. He really didn't want to date (let alone marry!) Kathryn Kendell.
"But sir….I don't think that Kathryn and I are compatible," Hartley replied.
"You're too young to know whether you're compatible with her or not, son. That's why we arranged this relationship," his mother said.
"What does Kathryn think about it?" Hartley asked. He was almost afraid to know the answer, but maybe she felt the same way about him as he did about her.
"I love the idea. Why do you think I had Daddy set this up with your parents in the first place? You're adorable, and you've got so much money. I've had a crush on you for a really long time," Kathryn said. Hartley had to resist the urge to groan. Why had she had to choose him?
"See, Hartley? This will work out perfectly," his mother said, and his father whispered,
"Besides, we're lucky that we were able to arrange a marriage for you with anyone, given your….defect." Hartley frowned, knowing that his father was talking about the fact that he was almost stone deaf without his highly advanced hearing aids, and wished, not for the first time, that his parents would stop blaming him for something so utterly out of his control.
"Rachel, Osgood, why don't we leave our two lovebirds alone together? No romance can bloom with us old-timers around," Mr. Kendell said.
"If you think that it will help, of course," his mother said. With that, his parents and the Kendells walked to another part of the veranda, and he was left with Kathryn. As soon as his parents were no longer watching him, he said,
"I think I see a member of the Fall Out Boys," and bolted into the gardens as soon as she looked away, where, much to his surprise, he found Bruce Wayne.
"Hello, Hartley. What are you doing here?" the man asked, sounding remarkably sober for a man who was so drunk that he had tripped into a fountain.
"Hello, Mr. Wayne. I'm...well….I'm trying to avoid the girlfriend my parents picked out for me. What are you doing here?"
"Hiding from my girlfriends. I managed to get them to stop hating each other, but now they both hate me, and, well, I thought it would be wise to hide for a bit until they cool off. Did your parents really choose a girlfriend for you?"
"Yes. I know it is traditional, but…..I do wish they had chosen someone other than Kathryn Kendell. We're so very different, and I don't think we'd be happy together," Hartley replied.
"Is that your polite way of saying that she's a selfish brat?" Bruce Wayne asked. Hartley almost laughed, but stopped himself. He had to try to think well of the girl who would probably be his wife (whether he liked it or not).
"It wouldn't hurt her to learn a few more manners," he admitted. Bruce laughed.
"No wonder your parents like her. They're just as stuck up, arrogant, and pretentious as she is-no offense," he said. Maybe he was drunk after all…...although Hartley had to admit Bruce had a point about his parents' personalities.
"None taken. You did a nice dive earlier," Hartley said. Bruce Wayne laughed.
"Thanks. Happy birthday, kid," he replied. Hartley smiled.
"Thank you." However, before their conversation could continue, Hartley's very angry parents stormed into the garden.
"Hartley Robert Rathaway, you are grounded! Abandoning Kathryn like that was unspeakably rude and inappropriate, and you hurt her feelings badly. We're just lucky her parents didn't decide to leave. You are going to your room, young man, and you are staying there until I say otherwise," his father said. Hartley sighed, knowing from experience what this meant. His father clapped his hands, and one of the security guards arrived and led him off towards his room.
"If you ever need someone to talk to at the next soiree, find me, Hartley!" Bruce Wayne yelled. Hartley appreciated the sentiment, but he was dragged out of the man's hearing range before he could tell him so. About three minutes later, the security guard pushed him into his room and locked him inside. Hartley kicked the door in frustration, but he knew that he was trapped. His room was a good sixty feet off the ground, so he couldn't leave via the window, and his door was made of solid cypress wood. He was going to be staying here until his father let him out, which, if the pattern established the last time held, would be about three days from now. After about an hour of fuming, he pulled out his flute and started to play, with his frustration adding strength to the song. He spent the rest of his birthday alternately seething, trying not to cry, and playing his instruments, all while trapped in his room. His father did have one of the servants bring him dinner, but the person who brought it to him did not speak to him, and neither did the guard by the door. After eating, he fell asleep at nine, utterly exhausted by the emotions of the day. He was woken at about three AM by a loud crashing sound. If he hadn't known better, he would have said that someone was in his room. He looked around in confusion, but was unable to make out anything in the dark, so he got out of his bed and started fumbling around to see what had made the noise-only to see that his window was open. Hartley knew he hadn't opened it, so how had it been opened? His room was several stories off the ground and, even if someone had managed to get a tall enough ladder, the grounds of his estate were literally crawling with guards, most of whom were as well trained-or better trained-than police officers. There was no way anyone could have gotten to his window in order to open it-and yet, it was wide open. While he was staring at the window in confusion, he felt someone-it was definitely a person-bump into him. He was about to scream when the person exclaimed,
"Darn! Darn, darn, double darn! Why did I have to pick a bedroom? Of all the rotten luck! I went through all this work to pull off this trick, and then I give myself away by walking into a bedroom!" The person's voice was high and squeaky, and Hartley started to wonder if he was dreaming or going crazy. There was no way that a squeaky-voiced person, roughly his size, had managed to get into his room when it was sixty feet off the ground. It had to be a dream.
"W-who are you?" Hartley asked, trying to sound less afraid than he was. The other person seemed to turn on a flashlight, because suddenly Hartley could see that the intruder was a boy about his age, with blonde hair, blue eyes, a garish mess of a leotard, an odd-looking mask, a huge blue cape, and powder-blue shoes. In short, he was the least threatening home invader ever.
"Leaving," the kid replied.
"Wait! H-how did you get in here? The estate is crawling with guards, and my room is sixty feet off the ground!" Hartley demanded. The kid stopped in his tracks and actually smiled slightly.
"I invented a pair of shoes that let me walk on air," he said proudly. Hartley looked at him skeptically. There was no way that anyone with such a terrible fashion sense had invented technology that could revolutionize the globe-was there?
"I'll believe it when I see it," he said. The other boy clicked his heels together, and suddenly he was levitating a good six feet off the ground. Hartley gasped.
"See? Airwalkers," the boy said proudly. Hartley just nodded, dumbfounded. This kid had invented shoes that defied gravity, and he was using them to break and enter?
"A-are you going to hurt me?" he asked quietly. The boy didn't look (or sound) dangerous, but you never knew. Maybe he was older than he looked and was actually a serial killer or something. The other boy looked hurt by the accusation.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I'm a con man, not a butcher. In fact, you weren't even supposed to see me-I was trying to find an unoccupied room and just thought that no one was in it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really have to go. It was nice meeting you, though," he said. He started to walk toward the window, and suddenly Hartley had an idea. It was totally insane, but it would be the perfect way to see the world that existed outside of his parents' social circle, and to get back at his parents for micromanaging his entire life.
"Take me with you," he said, sounding braver than he felt.
"What?" the other boy asked, clearly having been taken off guard by the request.
"Take me with you. If you don't, I will make a racket and attract the security guards," Hartley repeated. The small, rational part of his brain was telling him that this was a terrible idea, but he ignored it. He was tired of his parents and even more tired of being a Rathaway, and he just wanted to get away from it all, to go somewhere that didn't expect him to perform all the time.
"Okay, okay, you can come with. I hope you aren't afraid of heights," the intruder said. He took off one of his airwalker shoes and handed it to Hartley, who put it on. Hartley then grabbed the boy's hand and hung on tightly to him as they started walking out the window. Before they got five feet out the window, however, Hartley looked down-and immediately wished that he hadn't. The ground was terrifyingly far away.
"Are you sure you aren't afraid of heights? You look a little green," the boy asked.
"I'm fine," Hartley lied in a timorous voice as he swallowed his vomit.
"I can always take you back if you're too afraid to go on," the boy said mockingly. Hartley frowned. He couldn't admit to being scared now.
"I told you, I am fine!"
"Just making sure," the boy replied. Ten minutes of relative silence ensued as they continued to walk. The boy, evidently used to heights, whistled merrily, while Hartley berated himself for thinking that this was a good idea and tried not to faint, vomit, or think about how far he would fall if the boy dropped him or the airwalker shoe malfunctioned.
"You know, if we're going to be hanging out together, we should probably get to know a little about each other, don't you think?" the boy said suddenly. Hartley nodded. Maybe talking would distract him from how far off the ground they were.
"All right. Do you want to begin, or should I?" he replied quietly.
"I will! I'm the Trickster, but since we're friends now, you can call me James Jesse. That's my real name. I used to be a tightrope walker and an acrobat in the circus, which-trust me-is a lot more interesting than working for snobby rich people like the Rathaways, and now I'm the best con man who ever lived and I get to fight the Flash. It's a lot of fun," the boy said.
"Working for the Rathaways?" Hartley asked in confusion. Had this kid-James- been one of his parents' servants at some point in between traveling with a circus and becoming a con man?
"Yeah. Why would you have been in their mansion if you don't work for them?" Hartley stared at him in shock. James thought that he was a servant?
"Because I am their son," Hartley replied. This time, it was James' turn to stare in shock.
"You're Hartley Rathaway?" he squeaked.
"Yes," Hartley replied.
"Are you crazy? Your parents are gonna think I kidnapped you, and they're gonna send every cop in the country after us!"
"I….I didn't think about that," Hartley said weakly. James' arrival and the subsequent craziness had made him almost forget who he was, but now the reality came crashing down around him again. He was the heir to the fourth or fifth largest fortune in the world. No one would believe that he had voluntarily decided to leave his mansion, his servants, his apparently loving parents, his fine education, and his private jet in order to spend time with a crazy-looking teenage (was he a teenager?) burglar who was also a self-proclaimed con artist. If he hadn't just done it, even HE wouldn't have believed it. The media (and his parents, and the police) were definitely going to think that this boy had kidnapped him. Why was he so stupid?
"Yeah, I figured that out on my own. I'm taking you home before they figure out that you're gone," James replied. Hartley frowned. True, he didn't want to be the reason that James was arrested for kidnapping, but he didn't want to go back to being a prisoner in his own home, either. This was probably his only chance to live even a few days as anything but his parents' puppet, and he didn't want to give that chance up.
"I'm not going to let you take me back home. If you want to drop me off somewhere and go off on your own so that you don't get accused of kidnapping, that's fine, but I am not going back home until my parents drag me back there," he said.
"Give me a break, Richie Rich. You live in a mansion, your family employs a hundred servants, you've had the best education money can buy, you've been to at least ten different countries, and your parents just got you a plane for your sixteenth birthday. Your life can't be that bad," James scoffed. Hartley laughed weakly.
"Oh, really? My parents are obsessed with molding me into the "perfect heir"-or at least, as close as they can get given the fact that I'm deaf, which, by the way, they have made clear is a sign that I am defective. My father has already chosen my college, my major, my minor, my roommate, the jobs that I will get after college, and my wife. You heard about one of his birthday gifts to me. The other was my betrothal in all but name to a spoiled, selfish girl that I honestly cannot stand. Neither he nor my mother asked my opinion about any of this, although, considering the fact that they talk to me about once a month, maybe that isn't surprising. I've spent my entire life being told what to wear, what to do, where to go, and what to think by them, and I am tired of it-all of it! I'm tired of never being able to leave my room without a chaperone, I'm tired of having all my decisions made for me, and I'm really, really tired of being a Rathaway. Do you still think my life can't be that bad? Trust me, you have no idea how bad it is!"
"You have your own plane, your own golf course, your own tennis courts, two Olympic-sized pools, and a professional chef, and you're going to inherit 15 billion dollars. Forgive me if I'm less than convinced that your life is bad," James replied.
"I spent most of my birthday locked in my room by my own father! If you hadn't broken in, I probably would have been in there for three days!" James looked at him in surprise.
"Your dad locked you in your room? What did you do, attack someone?"
"No. I lied to the girl that they have decided I will marry to get away from her. Father was most displeased. He said that I had hurt her feelings and jeopardized their relationship with her parents, and so he had me locked in my room. It is his usual method for punishing my, ah, "unseemly displays" of rudeness," Hartley replied.
"He's done it more than once?" James sounded a tad appalled, though Hartley wasn't sure why. It wasn't as though his father was hitting him or anything.
"Yes. Usually it lasts about three days, although there was one time that it lasted for a full week, when I was 14 and told him that I didn't want to go to his old college," Hartley replied. He was aware that his parents would be furious if they knew that he was revealing so many secrets to a complete stranger, but he was so frustrated with them that he didn't care.
"Does he feed you?" James asked.
"Of course he feeds me. He wouldn't want his only heir to starve," Hartley replied.
"Okay, okay, I give. Your life sounds pretty bad," James admitted. Hartley began to reiterate his refusal to return home when he was interrupted by a yawn.
"You know, why don't we discuss this more tomorrow-er, later today? I don't want you to fall asleep while we're a hundred feet off the ground, and we're pretty close to one of my hideouts, anyway," James said. Hartley looked at him oddly.
"What happened to (here a large yawn interrupted him) not wanting my parents to think I kidnapped you?" James shrugged.
"Well, if even half of what you told me is true, you need a friend, and besides, you're way safer with me than you would be on your own. I'd rather be accused of kidnapping than murder. Oh, and you should probably prepare for descent. My hideout's right in that clearing," he replied. Ten minutes later, he and Hartley were back on solid ground, much to Hartley's relief. James then led him to what appeared to be a trailer home painted in fluorescent green and pepto-bismol pink.
"I was under the impression that hideouts were supposed to be easy to miss," Hartley said. James smiled.
"Would you expect a supervillain to hide out in a green and pink trailer home?" Hartley had to admit that James had a point, even if he thought that his description of himself as a super villain was a tad exaggerated. James opened the door to the trailer and led Hartley inside. The walls were painted with blue and yellow stripes, and yo-yos, hula hoops, dart guns, and unicycles were strewn around the floor.
"You can sleep on my couch," James said. He gestured at a lime-green lump in the middle of the room. Hartley didn't particularly want to sleep on the ratty piece of furniture, but he was so tired that he collapsed on it anyway, and was dead to the world after only a few seconds. He was woken at 9:00 AM by his new companion.
"Good morning, sleepyhead. We're on the news," James told him.
"Gimme five more minutes," Hartley mumbled. He had never had a more uncomfortable night, and he was not at all ready to wake up.
"Look, Richie Rich, I know you're not used to getting up early, but if you want to avoid going back home, we're gonna have to go. Your parents have figured out that you're not at home, and because people know that I'm in the area, they think that I kidnapped you, just like I said they would. We're just lucky the Flash is off with the Justice League fighting aliens right now. If he was here, you'd already be back home." Now Hartley was wide awake, and he jumped to his feet, only for a red-and-yellow blur to appear and solidify into what looked like the Flash, if the Flash had been under five feet tall.
"You're under arrest!" James grinned, apparently familiar with the new arrival.
"Why, if it isn't little Baby Flash!" he exclaimed. "Baby Flash" scowled.
"That's not my name, and you are in trouble," he said.
"Um, who are you?" Hartley asked. Not Baby Flash smiled.
"I'm Kid Flash, and I'm here to rescue you," he said. Hartley looked at James in confusion. He hadn't heard of any "Kid Flash." James grinned.
"Hartley, this is Baby Flash. He's Flash's sidekick, and he has all of his powers. Baby Flash, this is Hartley Rathaway. He's rich," he said cheerfully.
"Hi," Hartley said, not really knowing what else to say.
"Are you okay, Mr. Rathaway? Has he hurt you?"
"Call me Hartley. Mr. Rathaway is my father," Hartley replied. Kid Flash smiled.
"All right. Hartley, then. It sounds like you're okay, so let's get you home," he said, before Hartley could continue.
"Wait!" Hartley exclaimed. The boy looked at him in surprise.
"What's the matter? Don't you want to get home?" he asked.
"No, I don't. I wasn't kidnapped-I ran away," Hartley replied quietly. He knew that the boy superhero probably wouldn't believe him, but he had to at least try to convince him that he hadn't been taken from his house against his will. Sure enough, Kid Flash frowned and glared at James.
"Undo your mind control, Trickster-now!" he demanded. It would have been a lot more persuasive, Hartley thought, if it hadn't come from a boy who was nearly two heads shorter than both of them. How old was Kid Flash, anyway?
"Aww, you're so cute when you're angry," James said.
"I said undo the mind control! And I am not cute!" Hartley sighed.
"Kid Flash, I appreciate your concern, I really do, but I am not under mind control. I ran away because I am tired of being a Rathaway, and this is my only chance to experience some freedom," he insisted. Kid Flash looked at him skeptically, and then glared at James again.
"Trickster, I'm not kidding. Undo the mind control, or else," he said firmly. James laughed.
"First of all, that's the least intimidating threat ever. Second, I'm not mind controlling him. Mind controlling is Mirror Master's thing, not mine. And even if I could mind control people, which, by the way, I can't, how stupid would I have to be to mind control one of the most famous billionaires on the planet? Even if that WASN'T totally unoriginal, it would be an awful trick. Nobody would ever believe that Hartley Rathaway had voluntarily left his mansion to pal around with me. Heck, I barely believe it, and it's true! Face it, kid, your own assumption that I hypnotized him makes it clear that I didn't do anything of the sort. I'm an artist, not a hack," he said.
"Then why is he here?" Kid Flash asked.
"He just told you: he's tired of his life," James replied cheerfully.
"How could anyone get tired of getting to travel the globe and live in a mansion?"
"I'm not tired of that, exactly. I'm tired of my parents controlling every aspect of my life. I just spent the majority of my sixteenth birthday locked in my room because I felt uncomfortable about their betrothing me to a spoiled, selfish brat, and I want to get away from them for awhile. I know that I cannot stay away forever, but I would very much appreciate it if you would let me stay away for a few days," Hartley replied. To his surprise, Kid Flash looked sympathetic.
"Your parents sound about as much fun as mine. My parents yell at me all the time, too. They say I'm naive and complain about how I always have my head in the clouds and say that I need to grow up and face reality. My dad even threatened to send me to military school once. If I didn't have Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris, I don't know what I'd do. Go crazy, probably. I mean, it wouldn't be so bad if they just yelled at me, but they yell at each other, too. I kind of thought that when they got divorced, the fighting would stop, but instead they just fight over the phone and try to use me as a go-between to deliver nasty messages. I never actually give them, but I still have to hear them all. Do your parents fight?"
"Not often," James replied. Hartley rolled his eyes.
"I wasn't asking you," Kid Flash said, sounding annoyed. James just laughed.
"You're so fun to mess with, Baby Flash." Kid Flash glared at him and turned back to Hartley.
"Well?" he asked. Hartley smiled weakly.
"They do not fight in public the way your parents do; that would be detrimental to their public image. Nor do they fight in front of me. However, my hearing is abnormally sharp, so I have heard them fighting behind closed doors, and as such, I know that they are not so fond of each other as they pretend to be. It is quite disconcerting," Hartley admitted.
"Well, I totally get why you ran away, but I also think that you didn't think out your plan all that well. The streets are really dangerous for teenagers, and you've probably never been outside your estate without chaperones and guards. You don't know the first thing about defending yourself," Kid Flash said. Hartley frowned. He knew that the boy had a very good point, but he also knew that he wasn't going to voluntarily give up his freedom, which would only last for a few days in any case. It wasn't as though he was planning to leave his home and his parents for good. He just wanted to prove that he was capable of making his own decisions and controlling at least some parts of his own life; and to experience what it was like to not be a Rathaway for a while.
"You're too cautious, Baby Flash. I'm only seventeen, and I've been surviving on the streets just fine. If you keep your wits about you, running away isn't that dangerous," James said. Kid Flash shook his head.
"Trickster, you grew up in the circus, so you're used to traveling and taking calculated risks. Your IQ is practically in the genius range-I mean, you invented shoes that let you walk on air at 13- and you're also armed with your stupid trick gadgets. You're way more capable of taking care of yourself than the average teenager, if you even actually are one," he said.
"Now, Baby Flash, if you can be a pint-sized superhero at eight, I can be a supervillain at seventeen. There's no reason for you to assume I'm lying about my age," James replied condescendingly. Kid Flash scowled.
"I'm twelve, not eight!" he exclaimed petulantly.
"Whatever. Eight or twelve, you're still not even a teenager, so my point stands." Hartley stared at the boy. He was only twelve?
"Doesn't the Flash fight gangsters?" he asked.
"Yeah. Duh," Kid Flash replied. (There were few things more insulting than having one's intelligence called into question by a twelve-year-old in red pajamas.)
"Do you help him with that?"
"Of course! Why?"
"Because I am curious as to why in the world, if you are only twelve, the Flash allows you to fight heavily armed gang members. Isn't that some form of child endangerment?"
"I have super speed, Hartley. No gangster could hit me. Besides, if Flash didn't allow me to fight them, I'd just sneak out and do it on my own. I'm not gonna let being a kid stop me from taking down the bad guys!" Kid Flash replied. Hartley couldn't help smiling. The boy's enthusiasm was infectious.
"Fair enough," he conceded.
"Okay, so now that you know why I'm a superhero, can we get back to the subject of how it's a bad idea for you to run away from home?"
"I'm not running away from home. "Running away" implies that I am not coming back. I fully intend to return home. I just want to be able to live like a normal person for a few days before I go back to my life as the heir to the Rathaway empire for good," Hartley replied. Kid Flash looked conflicted for a few seconds, and then he beamed.
"I want to keep you safe, and you want to be a normal kid for a day. So how about you and I, and Trickster, I guess, tour the city together? I can make sure that you don't get attacked by someone and make sure that Trickster behaves himself, and you can do whatever it is that you want to do," he said. Hartley frowned slightly. On the one hand, Kid Flash was cute and fairly amusing, and his idea had merit, but, on the other hand, his idea of independence definitely did not involve being chaperoned by a twelve-year-old. Before he could respond, however, James responded for him.
"Sorry, Baby Flash. You can't come with us. I know that you wanna play with the big kids, but we'll be staying out way past your bedtime," he said. Kid Flash just smiled wider.
"Well, if I can't come with you, I'll have to take you back home and take the Trickster to jail," he said. Hartley and James exchanged a look.
"All right, all right, you win," James said quickly.
"Great! So where are we going?" Kid Flash asked.
"Somewhere my parents would never want me to go," Hartley replied firmly.
"So, your kitchen?" James asked.
"No, not my kitchen," Hartley said wearily. While it was true that his parents would probably have a fit if he went to the kitchen where the servants worked, he wanted to stay as far away from the Rathaway estate as possible.
"Your parents don't allow you in the kitchen?" Kid Flash asked, obviously confused.
"Your parents let you in the kitchen?"
"Of course! Why wouldn't they?" Before Hartley could answer the question, James butted in again, something which was becoming rather irritating.
"Let me explain things to you, Baby Flash. You see, Hartley's parents are obnoxiously wealthy, so they don't make food for themselves. Instead, they hire people to cook for them, and, being rich snobs, they would never want their precious heir to interact with their servants and possibly-horror of horrors!-start to sympathise with them. Therefore, in order to prevent him talking to them in any meaningful way, they've forbidden him from going there," he said.
"James, I am perfectly capable of speaking for myself," Hartley said.
"But I'm right, aren't I?" Hartley sighed wearily.
"Yes, you are," he said quietly. Maybe James' claims of being a master con artist were less exaggerated than he had thought. Mentally speaking, the self-proclaimed supervillain was running rings around both him and Kid Flash.
"The more I hear about your parents, the more I understand why you wanted to run away. Are they really that full of themselves?" Kid Flash asked, apparently stunned.
"Yes, they are. Although, to be extremely fair to them, I really don't know if they're any worse than anyone else in high society. From what I've seen at my parents' soirees, arrogance and a lack of basic human decency towards the hired help are endemic amongst the extremely wealthy. And I am not running away," Hartley replied quietly.
"Endemic?" Kid Flash asked, sounding confused.
"Very common," Hartley emended. He'd forgotten that the person to whom he was speaking was a twelve-year-old who had been denied the advantage of what his father called a classical education, which, as far as Hartley could tell, mainly meant learning how to speak and read Spanish, French, German, Italian, Mandarian Chinese, Latin, and Japanese, how to travel, how to ride horses, and how to become a pretentious snob.
"Oh. Yuck," Kid Flash replied.
"We could go to Hawaii," James suggested.
"I've already been there. Um, four times," Hartley said.
"I haven't," James replied.
"Trickster, the only reason you're even getting to come along is because I want to keep an eye on you for the Flash. If Hartley doesn't want to go to Hawaii, then we're not going to Hawaii," Kid Flash said.
"Spoilsport. How about Las Vegas?"
"No way. Uncle Ba-I mean, the Flash, whose secret identity I definitely don't know- says that Las Vegas isn't appropriate for kids," Kid Flash replied.
"Besides, I've already been there, too. Twice," Hartley added.
"You two are tough customers. All right, how about England? We could ride that giant Ferris Wheel and visit Buckingham Palace and see that place where people's heads got chopped off!"
"I've-" Hartley began.
"You've already been there. I know! How many times, Richy Rich?" James snapped. Hartley flushed.
"Um, six," he mumbled.
"Be quiet and let Hartley decide, Trickster!" Kid Flash exclaimed.
"Okay, okay, I'll let Richy Rich decide for himself. You don't have to bite my head off," James replied. He fell silent, and Hartley made his decision.
"Could you maybe take me to a park?" Hartley asked.
"A park?" Kid Flash and James echoed.
"Yes. I...I want to see what it's like to be a normal kid, and from what I've seen on TV, that's what normal kids do. Besides, my parents would never let me go to a park that normal kids use, so it fulfills my desire to go somewhere that my parents don't want me to go too," Hartley replied.
"Okay. One park, coming up!" Kid Flash exclaimed, and before Hartley could even blink, he, James, and Kid Flash were standing near a playground, one that was located in, if the sign was to be trusted, "Jay Garrick Park". Hartley expected James to start complaining about going to a park rather than Las Vegas, but instead he beamed and made a beeline for the monkey bars. Kid Flash smiled, too...and was immediately swamped by small children.
"Can I have your autograph?"
"How fast can you really run?"
"Is the Flash here?"
"Who's your friend?"
"Is he a superhero, too?" Kid Flash's grin widened.
"Hi, kids! I'm gonna answer your questions one at a time, okay?"
"Okay!" the children chorused.
"First, yes, you can all have my autograph." Less than five seconds later, all the children were holding autographed papers.
"Second, I can run faster than the speed of light. Flash Fact: that's 299,792,458 meters per second! At least, that's what the Flash says. Third, Flash isn't here right now, but I promise that he will come here soon. Fourth, my friend's name is Hartley. He's not a superhero, but he is very nice." Hartley smiled and waved at the children.
"Hello. It's nice to meet you," Hartley replied, and he meant it. The children dispersed soon afterwards, but Hartley didn't mind. They all thought he was just an ordinary teenager. It was kind of nice to be anonymous.
"Want us to show you how to use the playground, Richy Rich?" James yelled from his seat on top of the monkey bars. Hartley nodded.
"Absolutely. If I'm going to be a normal kid for a day, I need to learn how to act like one."
Three hours later, Hartley had mastered everything on the playground except the monkey bars, learned the names, ages, favorite colors, and life stories of six kids, and been spun so fast on the tire swing that he had vomited (Kid Flash had been a little over enthusiastic). He could also honestly say that he'd never had more fun in his life.
"I'm sorry for making you vomit," Kid Flash said. Hartley smiled.
"Don't worry about it. I've always hated this suit, anyways. It itches like you wouldn't believe," he said. Then his stomach growled, and he blushed.
"I guess I'm a little hungry." James, who had been doing an extremely painful-looking
exercise routine on the bar the swings were attached to, dropped to the ground, walked over to them, and grinned.
"Me, too, Richie Rich. Where do you want to go?" he asked.
"I don't know," Hartley replied. He knew that neither James nor Kid Flash was likely to be
able to afford the restaurants he usually went to with his parents, and he had never tried fast food, so he didn't know what might be to his tastes.
"I know a great Italian place," James suggested. Kid Flash frowned at him.
"I don't have enough money for a sit-down restaurant, and I don't trust you enough to
believe that you wouldn't spend stolen money," he said. James just grinned wider.
"Money won't be a problem, Baby Flash. My Zia-that is, my Aunt- Caternia owns the
restaurant, and she nevers charges famiglia," he said.
"I do like Italian food," Hartley added quietly. Kid Flash frowned.
"Well, if you're sure….all right, give me the directions," he said. James complied, and a
few seconds later, they were standing in front of a small but homey-looking restaurant, with a sign that read "Famiglia, Amici, e Buon Cibo". They walked inside, and, sure enough, a woman rushed from what appeared to be the kitchen and gave James an enormous hug.
"Giovanni! It's been so long since I've seen you! How are your cara madre and mio
fratello Alessandro?" she asked.
"Madre and Padre are doing well. Dad still talks about how much he misses his favorite
sister, but they're glad that your business has been doing well," James replied. His aunt beamed.
"Giovanni?" Hartley asked.
"Long story," James replied.
"So, who are your friends, il mio piccolo piantagrane?" Hartley wasn't surprised that
James had gotten a nickname like "little troublemaker". He'd only known him for about 15 hours, and he'd proven capable of causing more trouble than anyone Hartley had ever met.
"The kid in the suit is named Hartley, and the boy in the red PJs is Kid Flash. Hartley, Kid
Flash, it is my pleasure to introduce you to my Zia Caternia," James replied.
"Hi," Kid Flash said.
"Chao," Hartley added, glad that his lessons in Italian were proving useful for something.
"Chao, ragazzi. It's very nice to meet you both. Are you three here for food?" James' aunt
"Yes," James replied. His aunt grinned again, and she led them to a table.
"This way, this way. Siediti! Rendetevi comodi-make yourselves comfortable! A waitress
will be out for you shortly," she said. A few minutes later, a waitress promptly arrived, handed them their menus, and took their drink orders.
"I like your aunt," Hartley said to James as he leafed through the menu.
"I like her, too. It's too bad she has such a...a…"
"Scoundrel? Crook? Swindler? Trickster?" James suggested.
"Yeah, all of those-for a nephew," Kid Flash said.
"Do me a favor and keep that quiet, okay? It would break her heart if she found out,"
James replied. Kid Flash nodded.
"If she's managed not to find out by now, I'm not going to hurt her by telling her. She's
really nice," he said.
"Thanks, Baby Flash," James replied, actually sounding sincere. A few minutes later, the
the waitress returned with their drinks and took their orders, Hartley deliberately going for one of the cheapest items on the menu. No matter who was paying for it, he didn't want to cause them any financial strain. Twenty minutes of small talk, most of it revolving around teaching some Italian to Kid Flash, later, the food arrived. The three promptly dug in, and Hartley was pleased to learn that James was right-the food was delicious. As soon as they were finished eating, James' aunt came to their table.
"Did you like the food?" she asked.
"Of course, Zia Catalina. You're the best cook this side of Italy," James replied, and Hartley and Kid Flash nodded their agreement. His aunt grinned.
"I'm so happy you enjoyed it! No cost for my nipote and his friends, of course," she said.
"Are you sure, ma'am? I've got enough money to pay for it," Kid Flash said.
"Grazie per l'offerta, but I'm quite sure I don't want your money, piccolo. Making good
food for my famiglia and our friends is reward enough for me," James' aunt replied.
"Thanks, Zia Catalina."
"Thank you, ma'am," Kid Flash said.
"Grazie, signora," Hartley added.
"Prego. Addio, ragazzi. Stay safe!"
"Bye, Zia Catalina!" James exclaimed. He gave his aunt one last hug, and then he, Hartley,
and Kid Flash left the restaurant...only for them to be approached by two grown men as soon as they were out of sight of the building. Kid Flash scowled, and James looked very annoyed. Hartley, for his part, felt more than a little nervous. Who were these men? One looked like he could be a movie star, with thick, wavy brown hair and broad shoulders, while the other, although tall, was also stocky and homely, and was wearing a strange set of blue sunglasses on his head.
"Hey, Trickster. Where've you been?" Movie Star asked casually. Hartley noticed that he
was holding a cigarette in one of his hands.
"Oh, you know...playing with toys, plotting new tricks, giving my airwalkers a good
workout...the usual," James replied, equally casually. Movie Star pulled a lighter out of his pants pocket, lit up his cigarette, put it to his lips, and then blew out a puff of smoke.
"And what is Kid Flash doing with you, exactly?" This question, a much more abrasive
one, came from Blue Sunglasses.
"Knock, knock," James replied. Blue Sunglasses swore, and Hartley and Kid Flash both
winced. Movie Star blew another puff of smoke.
"This ain't the time for your stupid antics, Trickster!"
"Knock, knock!" James repeated.
"Fine. Who's. There," Blue Sunglasses replied flatly.
"Nonya," James said.
"Nonya who?" Blue Sunglasses asked, clearly very irritated.
"Nonya business!" James exclaimed. Then he cracked up laughing. Blue Sunglasses glared
at him, and Hartley started backing away. This guy seemed like someone no one should want to cross; similar to his father, but with worse clothes.
"Easy, Len. No need to blow this out of proportion. Trickster does weird stuff all the time.
Him running around the city with Kid Flash for no reason is probably the least weird thing he's done since we've met him," Movie Star said calmly. Blue Sunglasses, apparently named "Len", growled.
"It's not the "weird" part that bothers me, Scudder. It's the part where he's runnin' around
with the sidekick of our enemy! You think the Flash don't keep track of where his sidekick is?" he exclaimed. Hartley turned to James and Kid Flash.
"Who are these two?" James sighed, and Kid Flash frowned.
"Len Snart and Sam Scudder. They're the biggest killjoys I know," James replied.
"And they're also Captain Cold and the Mirror Master!"
"You actually are a supervillain?" Hartley asked James. True, James was clearly far too
smart for anyone else's good, and he had all of the fashion sense of a clown, but the fact that he was apparently on a first-name basis with two men as infamous as Captain Cold and the Mirror Master was the first definitive evidence Hartley had that James hadn't been exaggerating his own notoriety.
"Yeah. Baby Flash and I both already told you that, Richie Rich," James replied.
"I thought you were exaggerating."
"Honestly, I'm less curious as to why Trickster is hanging out with Kid Flash and more
curious as to who the third kid is," Movie Star, who was apparently the Mirror Master, said.
"You've got a point, Scudder. That kid definitely ain't from around here," Captain Cold
replied. The Mirror Master blew another puff of smoke.
"What's your name, kid?" he asked.
"H-Hartley." Hartley hated to admit it, but he kind of wanted to go home now. Captain
"Hartley? What kinda name is "Hartley"?" he asked.
"I was named after my grandfather...because my father hates me. At least, that's the only
explanation I can think of for why he gave me such an awful name," Hartley replied. Captain Cold actually smiled (although it kind of looked like a smirk).
"I can sympathize, kid. I got stuck with the handle "Leonard Snart", so I get how much it
sucks to have a cruddy name," he said. At this point, Captain Cold and the Mirror Master were joined by a third man. This one was tall and lanky, with a mop of black hair, and looked as though he might be of Hispanic descent. He was also wearing a jacket over top of a green t-shirt. Kid Flash tensed up further, prompting Hartley to do the same. If Kid Flash recognized him, then the man was probably not good news.
"Why is the Trickster hanging out with Kid Flash?" the man asked. His voice was nasally
and a tad high-pitched for a fully-grown man.
"It's the Trickster. Why does he do anything?" the Mirror Master replied.
"Point taken. But I don't like having Kid Flash around. He's a superhero magnet." The man pulled a cigarette out of his jacket pocket.
"Look guys, I've got things under control. As long as Hartley here is with me, Kid Flash isn't gonna be calling in any other superheroes," James said.
"How do you know?" Captain Cold barked.
"A magician never reveals his secrets, Captain. Let's just say that for once we have a common interest," James replied. At this, the lanky man seemed to relax.
"You got a light, Sam?" he asked.
"Sure," the Mirror Master replied. He tossed his lighter to the lanky man, who promptly lit his cigarette and started smoking. Hartley coughed. He hated cigarette smoke. Although it was generally frowned upon by his parents' friends, there were still a few older men who were powerful enough to get away with smoking at gatherings, and he had never enjoyed having to talk to them for precisely this reason.
"Who's this?" he asked, pointing at the lanky man.
"Mark Mardon," James replied.
"The Weather Wizard," Kid Flash added. Hartley sighed. Of course. Another supervillain. That being said, if he survived this, he would have definite proof that he could handle himself without supervision, so maybe there was a silver lining to the situation.
"Impressed? You should be," the Weather Wizard said. James just shook his head and smiled.
"Mark acts like he's hot stuff, but he's not nearly as cool as he thinks he is," he whispered to Hartley. Hartley wasn't sure exactly how to react to that.
"Can you actually create tornadoes?" The newspapers claimed that the Weather Wizard was capable of doing something like that, but Hartley wasn't sure how much of that claim was based in fact and how much was exaggeration for the sake of selling papers.
"Of course. You wanna see?" the Weather Wizard replied.
"NO!" Kid Flash and Captain Cold exclaimed in unison.
"Fine. I'll just make a rain cloud instead," the Weather Wizard said. He pulled out what appeared to be a long metal rod, waved it, and, astonishingly, it immediately started to rain in spite of the fact that the sky had been completely blue before he'd waved the wand. He then waved the wand again, and the rain immediately stopped.
"Neat trick Mardon has, huh?" Mirror Master asked.
"Quite," Hartley replied, still mildly stunned by what he'd just witnessed.
"You should see what I can do with my mirror tech some time."
"Well, it's been nice talking to you guys, but me, Baby Flash, and Richie Rich-" James began.
"Wait a minute. You said your name was Hartley. You wouldn't happen to be Hartley Rathaway, would you?" Captain Cold asked. James, Hartley, and Kid Flash all froze nervously. The last thing Hartley wanted was for three adult supervillains to know that he was the heir to the most successful publishing company in the world, but he didn't know how else James could explain the nickname he'd given to him. Before Hartley could react, Captain Cold pulled out his cold gun and froze Kid Flash to the ground.
"Well, well, well. I ain't got a clue how you managed it, Trickster, but you managed to find the son of the only billionaire in Central City. What's he doing away from home?" Cold asked.
"I...I ran away. Kind of," Hartley replied.
"You ran away from a mansion? What kind of moron runs away from a mansion?"
"I wasn't running away from the mansion. I was running away from my parents. They control everything about my life, and I'm sick of not being able to make my own choices," Hartley replied.
"They also lock him in his room when he disagrees with the choices they make for him. They may be richer than Croesus, but they don't sound like much fun," James added.
"In that case, maybe he can help us out. If we pretend we kidnapped him, I bet his folks would pony up a lot of money to get him back," the Weather Wizard said.
"And it would bring the Flash and the police down on our heads. No go," Captain Cold replied. Hartley felt relieved. The last thing he wanted was to be sort-of kidnapped.
"Besides, I don't want to go back home yet," Hartley added, hoping that either James or Kid Flash would be able to come up with a way to enable them to escape this situation.
"Cold's right, Mardon. Kidnapping's too risky," Mirror Master said.
"Are you guys crazy? The kid's a gold mine! Isn't that worth a little risk?" the Weather Wizard asked.
"'The kid' can hear you, and has no particular desire to be used as a tool in a money-making scheme. As much as I'd love to see my parents lose some money, I'm not going to be returned to their control just so you can make a profit...especially since it would put James in danger of getting in trouble," Hartley said, sounding braver than he felt.
"Besides, I took Hartley out to give him some fun, not to have you use him in a kidnapping scheme, Marky-Mark," James added.
"No kidnapping, Mark. That's final," Captain Cold barked.
"Okay, okay. It was just a suggestion," the Weather Wizard muttered.
"See you around, James," the Mirror Master said. With that, he, the Weather Wizard, and Captain Cold walked off, and James, Hartley, and Kid Flash all breathed a sigh of relief. Hartley never wanted to meet James' friends again.
After the three supervillains walked away, James smiled sheepishly as Kid Flash broke the ice around his legs.
"Well, that was interesting," he said.
"I suppose that's one way of putting it," Hartley replied, still stunned by the fact that he'd met three of the most infamous criminals in Central City.
"Sorry about those killjoys showing up. If I'd known my coworkers were around here, I would've suggested someplace else for lunch. I didn't want them messing around with my fun any more than you and Baby Flash wanted to meet them," James said. Kid Flash frowned.
"How can you be so calm about this? Your 'coworkers' could've put Hartley in danger!" he exclaimed. James laughed.
"Richie Rich? In danger? From those stick-in-the-muds? You've gotta be kidding, Baby Flash! Sam and Len would never hurt a kid!" he exclaimed.
"The Weather Wizard wanted to kidnap him!"
"No, he didn't. He just wanted to pretend he had to get money from his parents. That's totally different. You don't think I'd work with someone who'd hurt kids, do you?"
"Maybe not deliberately-but Captain Cold? Weather Wizard? The Mirror Master? Those guys are bad news, Trickster. If they thought they could get money from hurting a kid without getting caught, they might do it," Kid Flash said.
"Look, Baby Flash. I'm an excellent con artist-and that means I'm also an expert at reading people. If those guys were the type to hurt kids, I'd know. They aren't dangerous-at least, no more dangerous than I am," James insisted.
"In speaking of "kids", do your...friends...know that you're a kid?" Hartley asked.
"As far as Len's concerned, I'm 19. The first time we worked together, he said that he thought I looked really young, and that he wanted to make sure that he wasn't working with a kid. So I lied and said that I was an adult to make sure that he didn't use it as an excuse to chase me off and take all the loot for himself. The other guys...I dunno. I assume they think I'm an adult, but I don't really know. Either way, I'm not about to tell them otherwise," James replied.
"Wait… you really are 17?"" Kid Flash asked.
"Yes. Why?" James asked.
"Because your records say you're 19. It's why you went to jail and not to juvie when the Flash arrested you last year," Kid Flash replied. James looked puzzled for a moment, and then smiled.
"Oh, that! I know why that happened. It's a funny story, really-fitting of the Trickster, if I do say so myself. You see, because I grew up in a circus, my family moved around a lot, and I was born on the road. My parents called the records office to get my birth certificate, and we didn't realize until years later that somebody had printed the month and the year wrong and had me down as being born two years and four months before I actually was. Since I was being homeschooled anyway, there wasn't a big impetus for us to change it, so I guess we must've just never actually gotten around to getting it fixed." James explained.
"You didn't think it was strange that you were being tried as an adult at 16?" Kid Flash asked.
"Not really. I was calling myself a supervillain, after all. I figured they were trying me as an adult because of my airwalkers and my costume. I can't believe it was because we forgot to fix my birth certificate. I tricked the legal system without even meaning to! That's hilarious!" James exclaimed. Hartley stared at him in shock. If he had been arrested for something and then tried as an adult because of a mistake in his birth certificate, he would have been furious, but James seemed to find it amusing. He was never going to understand James. He was as just tricky to understand as his supervillain name implied he would be.
"This is awful! The Flash thinks you're an adult! I've got to tell him about-" Kid Flash began. Suddenly, a red blur appeared in Hartley's vision and solidified into someone Hartley had never expected to meet in person: the Flash himself!
"From what I've heard, there's a lot you need to tell me about, Kid Flash. Let's start with why you haven't returned Hartley Rathaway to his parents yet. They're worried sick about him."
"Flash, I-" Kid Flash began.
"Aww, don't blame Baby Flash. It wasn't his fault," James interrupted. Flash's frown deepened.
"Trickster! Kidnapping is bad enough already, but if you've added brainwashing on top of it-" he said angrily. James just laughed.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! All I said that it wasn't Baby Flash's fault. I never said it was mine."
"Trickster, you're already in a serious amount of trouble. If you don't want things to get worse, I would advise you to stop playing games."
"Wait! Mr. Flash, it isn't James' fault or Kid Flash's fault. It's mine. James did break into my house, but it wasn't to kidnap me. We ran into each other by accident, and I asked him to take me with him. I haven't been kidnapped-I'm running away. Kind of," Hartley said quickly. He didn't want James or Kid Flash to get into trouble because of his choices.
"Running away? Why would-"
"Why would the son of the billionaire publishing magnates run away from home? Because my parents have planned out my entire life for me without ever once asking me if it's what I want. Because they see me as defective because I was born deaf-"
"You were born deaf?" Flash and Kid Flash asked in unison.
"Yes. My parents couldn't stand the thought of having a defective heir, so they paid billions of dollars to have me 'fixed'...and they made sure that the news never caught wind of it. Even after they "fixed" me, though, they've made it clear that I'm still not good enough for them. They've picked my college, my major, my minor, and my future spouse without even asking me about it, and when I try to argue with them about it, my father locks me in my room and doesn't let me out until I give in. I'm sick of being their son. I'm sick of only being loved because I'm their heir. And I'm sick of never being able to control my life! I ran away so I could get a taste of what it's like to be a normal kid for once! All Trickster and Kid Flash did was help me do it," Hartley explained.
"I was going to take him home when I found him, Flash, honest...but then he told me about his folks and how they're never happy with him or each other and how they locked him in a closet on his birthday and how he just wanted to not be under their control for just one day. I...I just wanted to help him have fun," Kid Flash added. Flash shook his head sadly.
"That explains a lot about the conversation I just had with your parents, Hartley. I thought the way they were talking about you as their heir seemed odd, but I just chalked it up to them being worried. But given what you've said, I can guess that it was really because they don't care about you nearly as much as they care about what you mean for their future," he said.
"Please don't get mad at Kid Flash or James. Neither of them did anything bad to me. In fact, I've had more fun hanging out with them than I can remember having...ever," Hartley said. He meant it, too. Despite only having known the other boys for less than a day, he already felt closer to them than he did to his own parents. The Flash gave James an odd look.
"While Hartley being a runaway does explain why you never asked for a ransom, it doesn't explain why you decided to help him do it, nor why you continued to stick around after Kid Flash showed up. Why in the world didn't you leave him? You weren't making a profit off him," he asked. A wide grin spread across James' face.
"Because I like him. Duh. Just because I'm a supervillain doesn't mean I can't like someone and want to hang out with him, does it?" he replied.
"Why would an adult supervillain enjoy spending time with a sheltered teenage boy?"
"Two reasons. First, him being sheltered means he's adorably naive, and I get a good laugh out of that. Second, I'm only a year older than Richie Rich here. There was a mix-up when my birth certificate was made, and it lists me as two years older than I actually am. My parents and I found that out a couple years back, and I guess we just never got around to fixing it. I wasn't kidding when I told the court that I was a child at heart," James replied. Flash's mouth dropped open.
"You're only seventeen?" he exclaimed.
"Chronologically, yes. Legally, no," James replied.
"Mentally, definitely not," Kid Flash muttered.
"You're one to talk, Mr. Hasn't-Hit-Puberty."
"I have too hit puberty!"
"Sure you have, Baby Flash. Sure you have."
"Quiet!" Flash exclaimed. James and Kid Flash fell silent.
"Thank you. Why in the world didn't you tell anyone that you were only 16 at your trial?" the Flash asked James.
"I thought they knew. I didn't realize that we still hadn't fixed my birth certificate until Baby Flash there told me that my record lists me as 19," James replied.
"Is there anyone who can confirm your real age?" Flash asked.
"My parents, my nonna, my zii and zie, my cousins, the other people in the circus…" The Flash nodded and disappeared.
"Well, I don't know what that was all about, but I think I'll be leaving. It was great spending time with you two-especially you, Richie Rich. Don't let your folks get you down, okay?"
"Wait. Where are you going?"
"Away...before I get arrested for breaking and entering. It was nice to meet you, Hartley….and hey, maybe we'll see each other again someday. Bye!" James replied, pulling something out of his pocket as he did so. Just as Kid Flash started to move on him, he threw the thing at the ground, and it exploded in a mass of colorful glitter, smoke, and streamers. By the time everything cleared up, the Trickster was long gone.
"Darn! He got away again! I'm never gonna be able to become a superhero at this rate. This is the second time today I've let a villain get away!" Kid Flash exclaimed. Hartley smiled at him.
"You're only 12. I'm sure if you keep practicing, you'll be at least as good as the Flash by the time you're an adult," he said.
"You think so?" Kid Flash asked hopefully.
"I know so. You're already incredibly fast. With a little more experience, you'll be a formidable opponent for anyone...even someone as tricky as James," he said.
"And I'm sure someone as kind and smart as you are will find a way to break out from under your parents' thumb," Kid Flash replied. Hartley personally doubted that, but after the crazy day he'd been through...who knew what might happen next. Maybe he really would be able to become his own person instead of just his parents' puppet.
"Thanks," Hartley said. At this point, the Flash returned.
"All right, Trickster. Your legal age now matches your biological...where's the Trickster?"
"He got away. I'm really sorry, Flash! I tried to stop him, but-"
"No need to apologize, Kid Flash. The Trickster may be younger than I ever dreamed, but he's been able to outsmart even me before. The fact that he was able to trick you is nothing to be ashamed of. We'll just have to track him down later. But first, let's get Hartley home," Flash said. Hartley sighed.
"I suppose I've had my day as a normal kid. You...you can take me home," he said quietly. His parents were going to be furious with him for doing this, but getting to know Kid Flash and James would make it all worth it.
"Hartley, I may be taking you home, but I'm not going to abandon you. I'm contacting CPS as soon as possible. What your parents are doing to you is unacceptable," Flash said.
"Thank you, sir," Hartley replied. He knew that CPS would take one look at the mansion and his fine clothes and his tutors and dismiss any charges of child abuse out of hand, but he appreciated the thought anyway. Kid Flash handed him a sheet of paper.
"And here's my phone number if you need someone to talk to," he said.
"Thank you, Kid Flash," Hartley replied. Again, he appreciated the thought, but it was pointless. His parents would never allow him to call someone they didn't know...especially after the stunt he had just pulled. With that, there was a rush, and Hartley found himself in the sitting room of his parents' mansion, facing his parents, both of whom looked very upset.
"I've found your prodigal son, Mr. and Mrs. Rathaway. I'd advise you to think about why he went missing. In my experience, happy children don't run away from home," Flash said.
"What do you mean? Our heir was kidnapped by a supervillain!" Hartley's mother asked angrily.
"No, I wasn't. I...I ran away with him," Hartley replied quietly. He didn't want his parents to become angry at the Flash and risk having them ruin the superhero's reputation.
"You did what?" Hartley's father exclaimed.
"Your son was unhappy enough at home that he chose to run away with a juvenile delinquent-your "supervillain" is only 17 years old-just so that he could have one day to make choices for himself. You and your wife should figure out why that is. And if I find out that either of you have laid a hand on him for this...I will make sure that you face justice for it," the Flash said. With that, he ran out of the room and had disappeared from the estate entirely in the time it took to blink. Hartley's father scowled.
"Go to your room, Hartley. We'll talk more about this later," he barked. Hartley sighed, but obeyed. Time to get used to being a puppet again. As he walked to his room, he could hear his parents fuming about "the nerve of that so-called hero". As he entered his room, he shook his head wearily, stuck his hand in his pocket..and felt something. Curious, he pulled it out to discover what looked like a wadded up napkin. He unfolded it to find what looked like a computer chip...and a note from James. Dear Richie Rich: I told you that I don't do mind control. I don't. It's not funny enough, and I've never been able to get the hang of it. But I think you can. You've had the best education money can buy, so I bet you'll be able to figure out this mind-control doohickey the Mirror Master's been trying to perfect. Maybe it'll help you get some control over your life. Your friend, J.J. (the Trickster). Hartley was stunned. How had James gotten this into his pocket? And how could a mind control device help him get control over his life? Even discounting the dodgy ethics behind such an idea, how would he ever be able to use it? It was just ridiculous. He set the chip on the table near his bed, picked up his flute, and began to play. Music was probably the only thing he was ever going to be able to control.