There were several ways of performing evil plans without detection from the local authorities, though that wasn't too hard considering most of them just sat around eating doughnuts and waiting from Captain Hammer to leap in from some rooftop. However, it was significantly harder to conceal evil plans from sweetly smiling girlfriends who had started bringing over dinners smelling suspiciously of cumin.
Not that Billy took much issue with Penny's silent reminder that she was expecting him to be on his best behaviour. It was...kind of nice that she spent so much time fussing over him. And the food was nice too. Nice in the way that it lasted for a few breakfasts and lunches, enough even for Moist.
Billy's right eye twitched nervously as a prickle of guilt trickled down the back of his neck. He coughed loudly and rummaged around in his bag, whipping out the cylindrical controlling device. Another anxious glance skirted around the alley before Billy tossed the device towards the van. Any moment now, he'd have pulled off a piss easy heist and be well on the way to finally quashing Captain Hammer, corporate tool, for good.
And maybe even freeze Johnny Snow into an ice sculpture, except without the ice.
Penny wouldn't like that, a nasty little voice twittered from behind one ear.
“Man's gotta do...” Billy muttered defiantly in response.
No more cumin curry dinners for you.
“But I don't even like curry. Wait – why am I even arguing with myself? Focus. Van. Wonderflonium. Evil League of Evil.”
Anything she makes tastes good anyway.
“Discussion is closed, moment has passed. Shut up, I'm trying to concentrate. Van. Wonder – ”
“Hey Billy!” piped up a disturbingly familiar voice from behind him.
“Wonderful-nium!” Billy finished hastily, spinning around, “Wonderful. To, uh, see you, Penny. So whatcha doing? Obviously something, because I'm not doing anything myself and – sooo, that brings me back to what you're doing.”
Penny smiled her brilliant smile at him, which only made his eyes start watering even more. She held up her clipboard and reminded him, “I told you I was collecting signatures for the petition today. You said you would sign.”
“Sign. Right. Yes. Give me a pen.”
Blinking rapidly, he fumbled for the pen and scribbled his name and details. His nostrils flared as her hair lashed across his face and he sighed. Her hair always smelled so good, so distracting. While it might be nice to stand there sniffing like an idiot, there were things to do. Vans to plunder, posers in parkers to demean.
Maybe just another few seconds...
His control bleeped insistently. Billy drew back, glancing over his shoulder. Perspiration made his fingers slide and weave across the screen display. Peeking down at his girlfriend, he saw the creases drawing across her forehead.
“What are you doing?” she asked, with that deceptively sweet tone.
“I'm, uh, texting. Texting Moist, that is. Yeah, he wants to come over and...and read his copy Half-Blood Prince again.”
“Your phone doesn't look anything like that.”
Billy nibbled on the inside of his cheek. “It's new. Like one of those iPhone things.”
A sharp bleep interrupted him. Time to focus. The League was watching. Billy turned unapologetically away from Penny and thumbed the gas. The van spluttered to life and took off down the street. Every sound muted around him until he could focus on was the van. He jerked, startled, when a hand closed over the device and ripped it away from him.
“You lied to me.” Penny sighed. “What is this really for?”
Billy wished she would start yelling at him. He hated when she used the quiet voice – it left an acric taste lingering under his tongue. But he couldn't keep on with this conversation while she held the control to the van, which had started squealing over onto the wrong side of the road.
“Uh, Penny, do you think you could give that back for a sec...”
Her eyes were sad. “I want to believe you can change, I know you can change. And it's not such a big deal if you're up to something – it's just the lying that I can't handle.”
“I need it back right now!” he burst out.
Billy seized her elbow and wrestled the control away from her, spinning to check where the van was headed. He gulped. “Well, that's not good...”
Any lesser villain might have keeled over and howled at the sight of an oncoming van, especially with a very big, very solid brick wall behind them. Billy prided himself on being of a higher calibre, though the idea of panic did enter his thought process briefly when the “brake” button didn't work. He was just considering turning back to Penny and saying something both apologetic and noble when his feet left the ground.
The next time he noticed his feet, they were sticking up in the air and walking on a bright blue sky. Huh, well that wasn’t something he saw everyday. Staring up at the one lone fluffy cloud, Billy wondered if he should be doing something. Something nagging and important…
“Penny! Are you alright?” he demanded, wriggling up from squashy black bags that began to leave a suspicious stench floating around his awareness.
His hand fastened on her arm and he shoved one of the bags away from her face. Penny coughed as she sat up, but her eyes looked past Billy’s face. An unpleasant thrill of horror raced through Billy as he felt a cold shadow descend upon him. Bending back his head to observe the source of it, he swallowed several large possibly boulder-shaped rocks down his throat. He wheezed. He might have even flailed. But don’t tell that one to your friends.
“I can’t thank you enough!” Penny was exclaiming giddily, leaning on Billy’s shoulder to stand up, “I don’t know what would have happened if you haven’t come along.”
Billy scrambled to his own feet and found himself uncomfortably nose-to-chest with his arch nemesis, though it was more like nose-to-stupid-hammer-design. Glaring at the hammer picture in front of him, he took a very big step backwards. He gave the hero his most simmering glare.
“They’d have had to scrape you off the wall if I hadn’t come along,” chortled Captain Hammer a touch too cheerfully.
He then lifted up his chin and caught the breeze perfectly in his hair. Billy gagged, then realised it wasn’t entirely the presence of Captain Hammer that was affecting him. He peered down at the squashy bags again. Scowling even further, Billy protested gallantly (he rather thought it sounded like that), “You threw her in the garbage!”
Not that Penny and her clothes looked anything but flawless as always, but still. He had the right to intercede on her behalf, or defend her honour, or something. Tendrils of slime began to ooze down his nose. Reaching up to pat the disturbing substance now quivering on the crown of his head, Billy fought the urge to hurl his breakfast over the ground. It wasn’t even the smell that bothered him.
No, it was the abject humiliation that Captain Hammer always had to make sure he suffered…
“Is this man bothering you?” Hammer asked Penny casually.
“Not anymore," she replied flatly.
Billy’s ribs suddenly ached as though someone had punched them. He winced and rubbed his chest. That hurt. How could she say something like that? Anxiously, he sought her gaze, but her eyes blankly stared back at him, devoid of anything. Crystals of ice stabbed inside his stomach in a way entirely new to him.
He was afraid! He couldn’t afford to be afraid, but if she never spoke to him again – if she never wanted to see him – or cook for him – or make sure he didn’t do something really stupid...Billy stamped impatiently and brought his focus back outside to the real world.
“Are you listening to me?” he found himself snarling. “You threw her in the garbage, and you should be apologising right now!”
Captain Hammer’s infuriating grin turned onto him. “Not right now, I’m in the middle of something.”
Billy scuttled forward a step, pausing when his foot crunched on something. Hammer looked down. Billy looked down. His goggles, thrown clear from his bag, had fallen on the ground. That might have been innocuous enough, but most of the contents form the bag now made a puddle of clothes. The kind of clothes that only a villain on the fast track to the big leagues would be wearing.
“Well, well, Dr Horrible,” Hammer drawled gleefully. “I almost didn’t recognise you cunningly disguised as a civilian. I should have known that foul stench wafting towards me belong to you.”
Billy clenched his fists. “Oh yeah? You sure you remembered to have a shower this morning?”
Captain Hammer snorted, shoving out a gloved fist to close around Billy’s windpipe. “Maybe I should knock some humility back into you.”
Stars jumped out in front of Billy’s eyes as he was thrown against the wall. Ow, well he was pretty sure his ribs were actually broken this time. Shaking his head, he glanced to Penny desperately, but she wasn’t looking at him. She had eyes only for that revolting monstrosity, advancing upon his victim much as Bad Horse would advance upon a fresh patch of grass.
“Oh, Captain Hammer, thank you,” Penny babbled. “Do you think you could escort me home? I’m afraid to go alone.”
Hammer halted his step immediately and turned to look her up and down. He nodded approvingly. “Sure thing, sweet-cakes. This piece of garbage won’t be bothering you again.”
Holding his chest, wheezing and glaring murderously down the alley way as their shapes disappeared around the corner, Billy painfully got to his knees. Focus was most definitely out the window, but if he tried hard enough – no! That – that tool had just taken off with his girlfriend! A black rage swelled up in his heart. He clenched bricks and mortar between his fingers and clawed his way up so that he could stand.
“Penny, how could you?” he managed breathlessly. “How could you…”
This was downright horrible on so many levels. Garbage, he could deal with that, but hopefully with a peg on his nose. Even the undignified flight into a wall could be forgotten, perhaps even repeated. But Penny, that was different. That was trampling all over his territory. Billy growled and started forward angrily, but stopped as the ache in his ribs intensified.
After some consideration, he reached down to gather up his belongings, and limped valiantly back to his flat with the case of Wonderflonium tucked under his arm.
Cold, musty air greeted him when he stumbled into his flat and he breathed as deeply as he could without his chest tightening painfully. Finally, at least something he could trust. Taking wobbly steps across the room, he took a moment to set the Wonderflonium down before collapsing into his sofa, dumping his possessions all over the floor. The mess would start to bother him in a few seconds, but not now. Because right now what he needed was that cool air in his lungs and something strong enough to dope him into the next century.
“Oh my God, Billy, where have you been?”
“And now I’ve started to have auditory hallucinations,” Billy announced rather calmly. “Just great. Wait ‘til the League hears about this one.”
A concerned face, framed by the gorgeous red hair he still fantasised about burrowing his nose into, hovered over him. Frowning as Penny’s features swam into view, Billy opened his mouth to continue rambling, but fell silent. Huh, this was unexpected. He yelped as Penny threw herself into his arms and greeted him with enthusiastic kisses.
“Can’t…breathe…ow…” he wheezed against her lips.
Penny pulled off immediately, ghosting her fingers over his forehead before curling around his neck. The pressure against his skin made Billy relax and he gazed up at her helplessly. He whispered happily, “You came for me.”
“I thought he was going to kill you.” Penny’s voice trembled. “I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just sort of did the first half-decent idea that came to mind. Don’t worry, nothing happened between us.”
Billy beamed and delivered his most rare compliment. “You…are a genius.”
Her free hand pushed down on his chest. He whimpered. Manfully. Or at least, tried to anyway. He probably could have managed to make it sound better, but God that hurt. Penny lifted her fingers, and she certainly wasn’t smiling. “I trust you, I fear for you. I would do anything for you, but I will not let you lie to me. Please. I think I deserve to know the truth.”
“I needed Wonderflonium…for my freeze ray,” Billy explained feebly.
“The League…they’re watching. I maybe, sort of, might have sent an application form. Now I have to prove myself or they won’t even sneeze in my direction.”
“They replied?” Penny asked, surprised.
“Yeah, my application was strong this year…” Billy smiled a little.
Blowing out a weary breath, Penny shook her head and leaned down to cover his smile with a kiss, softer and slower this time. It was barely for a few teasing seconds, but Billy warmed to her, sliding his hand over hers. “Forgive me?”
“This is your dream, Billy,” she told him a little sadly. “And if the human race has nothing to dream for, then what are we doing here? I can’t say I agree with you trying to impress the Thoroughbred of Sin, but if it makes you happy…then I guess I’ll be happy for you. But no more lies, okay?”
“Agreed,” Billy answered eagerly.
She could have probably made him say anything right then. Smiling up at her and taking in her radiant beauty, Billy almost could forget about his ribs. Almost. Seeing his wince, Penny pried him off the sofa, telling him sternly, “We should get you to the hospital.”
“Penny…” he hesitated.
She slid her arm carefully around his waist and nodded encouragingly. Keeping his eyes on the rather fascinating patch of air next to her ear, Billy continued, “When I thought you were…were, you know, I felt sick. Like…something rising up inside me. Something wrong. It felt like I could have hurt…someone.”
Penny accepted this with a small, worried twitch of her lips. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here for you. And I know you. You’d never hurt anyone.”
Except maybe you, Billy thought uneasily.
“Yes?” He jumped at the welcome distraction from his thoughts.
“Maybe you should have a shower first.”
A droplet of slime peeled off his nose and landed somewhere around their feet.
“You know what,” he mumbled. “That doesn’t sound half-bad.”
Billy had the distinct feeling that he needed to scrub something more than just garbage from his skin.