"Penny, Penny, Penny," I uttered shakily as I sunk down before her, looking from her injuries to her face. Her winter complexion had fallen sickly, her soft green eyes lost in shock. Her red hair had tumbled down, cascading slightly when it hit her shoulders, which were now limp. Her chest was tugged up and down quickly with her miniscule breaths. The stillness of her apart from that was antagonising.
And, there was the bloody shrapnel from my Death Ray, protruding from her chest and abdomen.
Her eyes connected with mine. "Billy?" She asked, breathlessly. The effort to speak was enormous on her part. Her lids were heavy, threatening to snap shut, extinguishing what light was left. I held her gaze then, because I knew she wanted to see me. A small question escaped her lips. "That you?"
"Penny? Hold on," I begged her, my eyes falling again to the shrapnel, and the crimson that pooled around it as I spoke. I looked around me once, knowing that she needed immediate care. Help that just wasn't available at the moment, with everyone cowering behind their chairs. I knew no one would come forward to save her from me. I had assured that. "Oh no, oh no, no, no, no, no, no…"
"Billy, are you alright?" Penny asked, her voice soft, distant. Her brow was creased, as though she were more concerned with my discomfort than her own. It pulled me back into that moment, not that I could've escaped it if I tried. It pulled my blue eyes back to her. She was so pale, her breaths now shaking her to the point of trembling. Penny was fading away from me.
"Hold on," I pled, though I could barely keep my own voice still. She was bleeding out right in front of me, and there wasn't anything I could do to save her. I had already abandoned all hope of miracles, but right then, I needed one, desperately.
"It's okay," she breathed, and her voice lightened there, a smile blossoming on her lips, ever so small. "It's okay…" She held my gaze, and I watched as she calmed down, her breaths becoming even. Her head, her hair, her lips, too pink for her beautiful palor, which was now too pale, too pale… there was relief in her dulling green gaze. "Captain Hammer… saved us..."
My eyes widened, jaw dropping. The flame went out in her gaze, and then nothing was left. Penny was gone. And it was all my fault.
My eyelids sprang open, heart rate rapid. I could feel the plush cushion of my mattress through the silk sheets below me, a direct contrast from the chaos in my mind. The room was dark, the sun having yet to rise. My head turned to the side, eyes finding the electric alarm clock on my bedside table. I still had two hours till my alarm. The air was silent, my king sized bed empty, apart from myself and my nightmares.
Working against gravity, I pulled myself up, propping myself on my palms. Through the darkness, I saw my old uniform, the one I was wearing when I started out my evil career, pulling minor heists, mere pranks in comparison to what I'd accomplished since hanging it up. I'd placed it there as a sort of display for my eyes only. It was a reminder of both how far I had come, and the reason why I could never return. The coat was white, silent, modest, and allowed me to pass into my chosen evil identity at the time.
I'm Dr. Horrible. I hold a PHD in horribleness.
I suppose I'd never really abandoned that title. I was still Dr. Horrible. I was just aiming not to be held back by ridiculous attachments anymore. Certain ideals no longer needed to be upheld and tended to. My dedication to them was decaying, having dropped dead months ago. It didn't matter who I'd been when I was Billy. When I slipped my metallic goggles down over my eyes, I was entirely Billy's creation. The final form of a perfect idea.
A decent doctor should never have a white coat on. I mean, think about it. It certainly isn't a show of reliability. A white doctor coat is like a blank sheet, unillustrated by all the expelled bodily fluids a patient always gives. A real doctor is there when others are suffering. A real doctor isn't afraid of a little blood. Over time, you'll find that the realest doctor is the one who realizes that some things have to get worse before they get better. One that wears a red coat, symbolizing his unfaltering ability to carry on with his work, no matter the task...
A real doctor is, in fact, deserving of a PHD in horribleness.
I propelled into the League headquarters, crimson coat fluttering just slightly behind me as I crossed the entrance to my seat. All the other members, excluding the Thoroughbred of Sin, were already seated at the rectangular table. Dead Bowie tilted his head to one side of him, his umber brown eyes finding me briefly before he looked back to Fake Thomas Jefferson with an amused smirk. Fury Leika glowered up at me from her seat, her dark irises large, hypnotic and scornful, just like every other day. "Well, look who decided to show up," she nearly spat. I cocked an eyebrow at her, straightening my spine.
"Professor Normal," I beckoned loosely, sitting beside him in my own open seat. The wannabe cyborg looked to me with a neighborly grin, his tone light, pleasant.
"Yes, Dr. Horrible?" The Professor was never the sort of man to hate blindly, if ever. Occasionally, I wondered how he even managed to get into the Evil League of Evil, though never in a belittling sense. More so just plain wonder.
My voice was steady, even. "At what time of day are the members of the ELE required to arrive at headquarters on weekdays?" The question passed my lips, my eyes never straying from Fury Leika's. We went through this every time that I showed up past the expected time.
"Well, it's considered standard courtesy to arrive at or before nine o'clock, but, as long as you're here before Bad Horse, you're in the clear." The whole way through, the Professor'd been grinning from ear to ear. Fury Leika groaned, rolling her eyes and folding her arms.
"Well, maybe it's time that we started enforcing the hours around here a bit more," she grumbled, squinting her gaze at me with great malice. The corner of my mouth rose in a small smirk as I exhaled a sigh of disbelief. Through my goggles, I peered at her, preparing to retaliate. I opened my lips, only to have Dead Bowie chuckle a comment of his own.
"I suspect you wouldn't be making as big a deal of this if Dr. Horrible was a woman." I turned my head to Dead Bowie, who watched Fury Leika with a charming light to his eyes. Fury Leika's gaze snapped over to the 80's rockstar.
"You know something Dead Bowie? You're right," she enunciated, venom boiling in her every breath. "Because if the Doctor were a woman, he'd probably BE ON TIME," she roared, hands clutching the table top. Her eyes were throwing daggers at Dead Bowie, whose grin merely widened.
"Guys, guys," Tie-Dye eased, putting up her hands. Her long hair was draped behind her shoulders as she looked from one to the other from across the table. "Everyone's here now. Bad Horse won't be here for like, another thirty minutes." She looked to Fury, whose armour fractured as she saw the only other female member toss in the towel. Tugging at her headband, Tie-Dye yawned, "The Doc probably didn't even mean to get here late."
Fury Leika rolled her eyes again, going on to turn her head away. I allowed my gaze to wander to all angles of the table, counting each member; to my left was Professor Normal, whose own dark goggles compensated for his receding brunette hairline. To his left was Dead Bowie, whose glittering blue ascot added to his appearance as much as the excessive blush adorning his cheekbones. Across from him sat Fury Leika, whose wavy ebony hair led down to her shoulders, contrasting from her white, albeit stained from radioactive toxicity, wedding gown. To her left was Fake Thomas Jefferson, who wore with his 18th century suit the same expression that I'd grown to detest in Captain Hammer not long beforehand; smugness. Constant smugness. To Fake Thomas Jefferson's left sat the final member at the table, Tie-Dye, whose upper face was covered by a metallic theater mask, her dark hair falling straight down, just past her shoulders. And then, across from her, sat me in my red coat. Doctor Horrible, the least recommended pediatrician for every case of health.
Catchphrases. Left and right, they just kept coming to me.
"I was absent due to a personal matter," I stated, and Fake Thomas Jefferson gave a wry smile, squinting his eyes.
"To think that you'd have personal matters, Doctor," he jested, on the verge of a hearty chuckle. It was funny, considering that I had recently become Mr. Popular among the evil community. Invited to every late night soirée for the last six months. Front page of every other newspaper about the end of times. Every man, woman and child of the planet earth knew my title, my face, my message. I was iconic.
Iconic people weren't usually fighting to get out of bed in the morning.
"Too many for my taste, anyway," I replied with a weak grin, which I maintained for only a moment before letting it slip away. I was trying, everyday, to ignore Billy. When you ignore bug bites, they fade away before you even notice their absence. Billy was an itch beneath my skin that I'd been desperately ignoring, neglecting, thinking he would just peel off of me and be gone. Clearly, a guilty conscious differs from a bug bite.
Just then, the large black door swooped open. The expressions dropped from our faces, except for Fake Thomas Jefferson, his grin only curving deeper as hoof prints echoed into the room, one clop at a time.
Later, after the morning meeting had concluded, I moved down the hallway towards the vending machines. I hadn't had breakfast that morning, and figured if I could tide myself over until lunch, I'd make it through the day.
The jet black hallway with burgundy trim lining the ceiling and floor had impressed me on my first day in the Evil League of Evil, but now, it was old hat. Turning the corner at the end of the walk, I found the vending machine, the water dispenser, and Dead Bowie, leaning against the glass window, covering my snack selection. I stopped short, only fractionally startled by his presence.
"Dead Bowie," I regarded, stiffening my spine. He watched me expectantly, a soft grin adorning his pale lips.
"Horrible," he said back to me in his British accent, his dark brown irises unmoving from a fixed point of my goggles. The pale blue circle he'd painted on his forehead was uninterrupted by creases. Dead Bowie was young, but older than me, presuming that he was the real David Bowie. Of course, he didn't really look like David Bowie. His hair, while exceptionally 80's, was not quite Bowie's famed locks. Their facial structures differed as well, the bridge of Dead Bowie's nose not as prudent as David Bowie's. I also had taken into account that the actual David Bowie currently lived in New York City with his wife and daughter. Still, if working with fake Thomas Jefferson had taught me anything, it was the tenacity harbored from self perception. If this man saw himself as the reanimated Bowie, who was I to argue?
"Can I get through?" I asked patiently, well aware of my empty stomach. Lays chips were good, but the bags were only about half full. If I wanted to make even a dent in this gnarly hunger, it'd have to be with a snack that was denser, like pretzels, or maybe Sunchips. My stomach gurgled, desperate for nourishment. I stared down the suave, smiling Bowie, trying to remember that I was two inches taller than him.
"Of course," he said, back rising off the machine, his eyes finding the floor as he took a step out of the way. I strode forward, eyes locking on the general brand pretzel bag near the top of the rows. 75 cents, A4? I withdrew a crisply folded one from my coat pocket, sliding Washington into the machine. "$1.00" appeared across the tiny black text box. "You overslept, then woke up, saw the clock and booked it in with minutes to spare," Bowie said in a lifting fashion, like he was guessing a sentence on Wheel of Fortune.
"Pardon?" I asked, thumb pausing over the A key. Bowie breathed a laugh, grabbing a paper cup from the dispenser, the entertained light not leaving his eyes.
"Your personal matters. I've concluded that all these late mornings must be the direct effect of some very late evenings." Dead Bowie's lips curved as he spoke, and I held in the urge to gulp, despite my suddenly parched throat. All those occasions spent staring at the ceiling, trying to forget her soft green eyes. I think Penny's very face may be the access point of a time rift. Anytime that I take her picture frame out from under my pillow, the next thing I know, hours have passed and the sun is peeking over the horizon. Bowie was right: my late nights made late mornings. I'd been tardy for work at least six times a month for the last 6 months. It was no wonder people were putting together theories.
"Well, you know me," I joked with a grin, pushing A, then, 4. The spring beneath the pretzel bag began turning, and the salty treat inched closer, agonizingly slow. I heard Bowie take a sip of water from his cup.
"Truthfully Doctor , I don't believe I do." He paused, took another sip of water. My pretzel bag finally reached the edge. I almost heard Dead Bowie's smile widening as the front of the bag fell forward against the glass, trapping it in place. I frowned, my eye twitching.
"That's the point, Dead Bowie. It's called a secret identity for a reason. You know Doctor Horrible, and trust me when I say that's who you'd rather know." Bowie could be so persistent sometimes. Couldn't he see I was having a crisis with the vending machine?
"Alright then, Doctor Horrible," he sighed, putting extra emphasis on my title. I didn't even turn to see his face... until I heard the crinkle of a bag.
I whipped around only to see Dead Bowie, dangling an unopened package of Graham Cracker Teddy Bears before my desperate blue eyes. "I've got a deal for you, then, and it involves you getting these crackers."
"You're trying to bribe me with Teddy Bear crackers?" My shoulders dropped slightly, an eyebrow rising above the other. He mirrored me, a single brow arching up, though his expression was a humored one.
"No. I'm cordially inviting you to come with me to a social gathering tonight. If you agree, you can have all these crackers, and you won't have to tend to your, personal matters. Whatever they may be." He tilted down his head, looking up at me.
It stung my pride to have such a direct arrow of truth pierce my armour. I realized in that instant that maybe, I'd been going to all of these evil parties because I wanted to get away from Billy. I blinked, furrowing my brow. "Dead Bowie and Doctor Horrible, showing up at anything together? Villains would talk."
Bowie laughed. "Way ahead of you. This isn't an evil soirée. It's lower level social engagement, deeper in the city." He waved the bag of crackers, the curve of his lips smooth as he tossed the paper cup, now empty, into the garbage. "We travel incognito. Casual attire, no goggles, less blush, and as I see it, we'll be unrecognizable to the people at the bottom."
I blinked again. "Why would I want to do something like that? Do you know how dangerous that sounds?"
Dead Bowie took one step towards me, holding out the cracker bag within dignified reaching distance. He stared up into my goggles, so close now, I feared he could actually see the consideration in my eyes. "The decision is always yours to make, Doctor. I'm just offering a new alternative to another freezing night alone."
Part of me began to react instantly, interpreting his quote as some kind of implication. But before my potential energy became kinetic, I heard it again in my mind, and scanned his eyes for validity. Of course he understood. He had no idea who I really was, but he knew I must have had a back story similar to his, whatever that was. Failure, betrayal, loss, every super villain had a past of suffrage. Perhaps he really was interested in learning about me, and since this was how he unwinded, he figured it could work for me, too.
...I sighed. "Okay, you win. I'll go with you. But, only because I have nothing better to do," I added, covering my trail.
Dead Bowie smiled softly at me, and quickly, he tugged open the cracker bag, holding it out even closer to me. A whiff of cinnamon lifted to the air. "Then it's settled," he chuckled. "We'll get out of work at 5 today, and then, we go home, get dressed in our casual best, and I'll meet you wherever you text me from. From there, I'll take you to the social gathering."
I plucked the bag away from him, glad to get my hands on it at last. The last time I spent this much time on social plans, there had been a cute redhead doing her laundry three washers down from me. For the third time, I blinked, a determination setting over me. "Okay, stranger. I'll see you then."
Bowie's lips parted into one wide grin.