A/N: I wrote this on a 2:00am inspiration many years ago, and unless/until another Dr Horrible episode comes out, I don't see that I will write any more in this story, as I quite like it how it is. However, a while ago, reviewer Jade Rozes inspired me to make it a little better. So below is the updated version, which is just a little more detailed than the last. Enjoy.
Two years it had taken. Two years of therapy, of babbling inanely about his childhood and his insecurities on a plush crimson sofa to a marginally interested, overweight man with a notebook. Two years of slowly recuperating, of taking tiny steps to work up his confidence: first rescuing cats out of trees and helping old ladies cross the street, then stopping bored teenagers from shoplifting cigarettes, and so on, always with that creeping, cringing horror in the back of his mind. The Guild monitored his progress, of course, and paid for his therapy, even though officially he was simply on extended leave. The Heroes Guild always looked after its own—even if he was a cowering, spineless shadow of his former brazen glory.
The incident four months ago had nearly thrown him back to square one. His therapist, Dr Stevens, and his Guild councilor, The Pulverizer, had decided it was time for him to take the next step and try to stop a violent crime. He hadn't faced weapons—or any sort of genuine opposition, for that matter—since his first and only great defeat, his first face-to-face meeting with real pain and the reality of his own not-indestructibility, no matter what the Guild Register said of his powers. But Dr Stevens and The Pulverizer agreed that he was ready, that he could face his new-found fear and fight through to the other side—as well as the small matter that the Guild was getting impatient, and would withdraw their funds if he didn't show significant progress by the two-year mark. Sure, the Guild looked after its own—as long as its own pulled their own weight, fought for truth and justice, and, of course, didn't overdraw the coffers.
This had almost made his ruin complete. It started easily enough. He strolled through the city streets, tall and proud like he had practiced so many times striding back and forth through Dr Stevens' expansive office—although in the office he hadn't had to so determinedly ignore the whispers, the stares, and worst of all, the shamefaced refusal to acknowledge his presence. The cheers, the waves, the adoring fans, the beautiful women—all gone. Or still there, just no longer for him. It was his job to take it all back.
The sound of smashing glass caught his ear, then a shrill, whooping alarm. He froze on the sidewalk. Two instincts wrestled within him, grappling for supremacy. One, his old, bold superhero instinct, shouted at him to run towards the sound, waving its arms rippling with superhero muscles and bellowing like an ox. The other—the new one, the source of all his shame and terror, begoggled and lab-coated—yelled shrilly at him to run, to get away, before pain struck again. It took him a moment to notice that the people around him were frozen, staring at him, waiting for him to decide. He hesitated—then Hero Instinct, galvanized by his old buddy Ego, crushed the Fear Instinct and he raced, somewhat reluctantly, towards the break-in. The passersby simply watched him go, then turned away, shaking their heads.
He approached the scene: a bank, a small branch of a new chain just opening in the neighborhood. As he drew near, two guys in black ski masks, put together no bigger than him, burst out through the front door and bolted for a van hurtling around the corner just down the street. He had no choice—it was now or never.
He leapt between the robbers and the van, making them come to a screeching halt. The two men now found themselves staring at a well-muscled chest, emblazoned with a hammer haloed in gold. They looked up to his face.
He didn't really remember what he had said: something clever, it must have been, something snide, something superheroic. It didn't matter, because they both had guns. Two years ago, this wouldn't have bothered him much. Now it made a world of difference. He couldn't back down now; Ego and Hero Instinct were hollering in his ears so he could hardly hear the scoffing of the criminals as they laughed at him.
He clenched his fists and made himself take a step forward.
He had awoken curled up in a ball in a hospital bed, a few Band-aids stuck on his chest where the bullets had bounced off. That hadn't mattered. He had felt the pain, as surely as if—
As if a ray gun had exploded in his hand.
The Pulverizer was ready to give up, but Dr Stevens—who was getting quite handsomely paid for such a difficult case—insisted on continuing the treatment, confident that they'd have a breakthrough. And Captain Hammer, in his humiliation, had determined to press on as well. He'd never had to work for anything in his life before, so perseverance had never been very important, but now he knew he'd have to learn if he ever wanted his life back. He would have to face his fear, and his pain, and his fear of pain, if he were to ever have the cheering crowds and adoring women fawning over him again.
And that meant facing Dr Horrible.
It had taken two years to come up with the perfect plan. It had taken that long because perfection was a long time in coming, and because the target of the plan was in seclusion, undergoing therapy, closely guarded by Guild secrecy. Now that the target was beginning to reemerge, the time was drawing nigh to put everything into motion.
It had been two years since the world had fallen apart, and after two years, it was high time for the one rectifiable mistake to be corrected. He had it all planned, but now that it was the eve of the event he had worked so hard for, he found himself plagued by doubts. Was this really what he wanted? Would this make it better? Yes, he told himself, it is, it will, enough times until he convinced himself.
The incident at the bank had nearly ruined everything. Lackeys of a low-level villain, stealing funds for some ridiculous life-sucking-mind-control-hypnotic-wave garbage! They had nearly destroyed everything he had worked towards when they'd fired at the unstable hero. Despite that, he had faith in his target's stupidity and arrogance, and in the Guild's obsession with their public image. As for the League—they'd agreed to let this be his show. He was going to give them something spectacular, although perhaps not quite what they were expecting.
At first, he had explored the idea of finding some way to bring her back. The freeze ray had been a huge breakthrough: he had actually succeeded, in a very localized area for a brief interval, in making time stop—and furthermore, the universe had not come apart at the seams, no black holes had erupted, no shattering of the space-time continuum. Those had been possibilities, if rather far-fetched ones, from the beginning of his calculations, and whenever he mentioned them, his friends had always seemed to be most concerned with those. To him, though, such prospects had never seemed all that important. First, because anything would have been worth the time to find the right words to talk to her; then, the rush of hate-filled adrenaline had swept everything else out of consideration. Now, having proven that the device did indeed work and would not in fact be the end of the universe, he was tempted to modify it further, to go back in time and change…something.
He had done the calculations over and over, carefully away from the League's prying eyes, and the results were always the same: it wasn't possible. Creating a static temporal field was one thing; reversing and changing the time stream retroactively would be disastrous for the fabric of reality. Or the ray might just explode, and being incinerated down to his constituent atoms was not part of his plans. Still, every day he caught himself thinking if only, if only…He quashed those thoughts immediately; to entertain them would be to sink into a stupor of bitter regret that he'd never surface from.
He had also toyed briefly—usually around an hour before dawn, when he was so thoroughly sloshed that he couldn't tell if he was conscious or having a nightmare—with the idea of bringing her back some other way: real mad-doctor stuff. Any sober daylight consideration dismissed the idea out of hand. She was gone, a void in his life, but trying to bring her back would make it so much worse—a hundred times more if, by some twisted curse or miracle, he succeeded in any way. The possibilities were too gruesome, and at any length, his Ph.D. was in horribleness, not in necromancy.
That left him with the situation he found himself in now. She was gone, far into the darkness beyond his reach. He had to live with that, had to adapt, had to remind himself every morning and wait for the icy nausea to pass. He had been over every moment a thousand times, replaying each second from the day of the heist to the ambulance doors shutting her lifeless form away from him forever. He had calculated cause and effect, probabilities, continuities, and out of the whole mess, there was just one mistake, one moment, that could still now be rectified. It was to this that he now set all his time and energy. The League let him have everything he needed, considering that his goals benefited them as well. That meant he didn't have to blackmail or steal it from anyone, but either way there was no stopping him now. Everything had been thoroughly prepared, down to the tiniest detail. The only remaining variable was assuring that his target would arrive in the right place at the right time.
Which was why he had sent an invitation.
Captain Hammer was nervous.
Two years ago this would have been a very alien feeling, but in the time since he had felt it far too often. He hated the clamminess of his palms, the nauseous twisting in his gut, the panicked pounding of his heart in his ears.
Of course it was a trap. All three of them—him, Dr Stevens, and the ever-eloquent Pulverizer—had known that from the moment they heard the challenge that Hammer's nemesis had sent to every television and radio station in the region. Nevertheless, his two advisers had convinced him that this would be the final step, the last great hurdle, that he had to cross before he could reclaim the adulation that was rightfully his. They had explained to him again about his strength and invulnerability, how he had nothing to fear. They pointed out that he couldn't back down from a public challenge and ever hope to regain his former glory. They reminded him of the hundreds of times he had triumphed in the past. He'd made himself believe them.
He had arrived at the meeting site confident and self-assured, waving and smiling at the cameras trained on his face. He couldn't quite squash down the niggling voice of doubt, but he could hardly back down now. He'd put on his bravest face, his most swashbuckling manner and his boldest, most dashing superhero grin and strode into the abandoned building as the flicker and flash of the swarming press haloed him in light.
He couldn't believe he had been so stupid.
The moment he stepped through the doorway, he felt a shiver of icy cold slither down his spine and a flicker of electric blue in the corners of his eyes, but worse was the sudden and absolute silence. The shouting of the gathered spectators outside made not a single echo in the dimly lit warehouse. Frowning, hesitating, he glanced over his shoulder. The open doorway was distorted, as if made of a warped pane of glass, and no movement or light was visible outside. He swallowed, clenched his fists, reminded himself that he had to do this.
He took a few steps into the warehouse. His boots clunked heavily on the floor, the only sound besides his ragged breathing. He swallowed again, working up the courage to shout a challenge.
A blast of red light hit him from nowhere, from all sides; he barely felt the impact, only a tingle on his skin—but suddenly in his mind he was two years younger, holding a short-circuiting ray gun, foolishly and smugly pulling the trigger, screaming as the agony of the blast tore through his hands and exploded against his chest—
He woke up seconds, hours later; it didn't make much difference anymore. He thought that perhaps time didn't exist in this dim concrete hell at all. He realized that he was bound so tightly that he was unable to move; the memory of pain haunted him, kept him from breaking free. If Captain Hammer believed in the poetic irony of life, he might have found it amusing. Having no appreciation for such things, all he could focus on was his former punching bag—the embodiment of his shrill-voiced, much-loathed fear instinct, large as life in black and bloody crimson—as he approached. It took Hammer a few moments to discover what was odd about the situation, besides the fact that the odds were, for once, reversed. Then he realized: the grim, threatening silence. Dr Horrible didn't laugh or cackle, didn't gloat, as a lab-coated mad-scientist supervillain should. That thick, accusing silence was worse than anything he could have said. Inexplicably, Hammer felt shame settle on his shoulders, weighing him down.
Dr Horrible stopped before his nemesis. The two men surveyed each other for a long, tense moment: one trapped in steel claws, the other carrying a large black weapon in his gloved hands.
"They always monologue, have you noticed that?" Dr Horrible said suddenly, his voice echoing harshly in the barren warehouse. "Supervillains, that is. Right before they finish off the hero, they feel compelled to give a grandiose speech about their unstoppable plans and their misunderstood genius."
Captain Hammer blinked a few times. Whatever horror he had been expecting, this was not it. He cast his mind back, ignoring the obnoxiously reverberating words finish off the hero, to the catchphrases that all superhero initiates were required to learn for general use in supervillain confrontations. "You'll never get away with this, I'll see to that," he blustered in his best fearless-superhero voice. Get away with what, exactly, didn't seem to be very important a point to consider.
Dr Horrible ignored him entirely. "It gives the hero enough time to figure out an escape and get free. All this time they just give away, and you know what they actually say?"
There was a long pause, and Hammer thought Dr Horrible might actually be waiting for an answer. He started to wonder if this whole time he'd been afraid of a wraith. Despite the ominous get-up, the doctor seemed more unhinged than evil. His panic subsided somewhat, and he flexed his muscles as stealthily as he could; the steel bands gave a little, painlessly. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth—he'd need a few seconds, but then he could burst free and be rid of doctor and fear forever. "Your mind games don't work on me, Doctor. Why don't you tell me?" he said, buying time.
The muzzle of the death ray jabbed into his chest and he froze. The gun hummed ominously, not sparking or short-circuiting but preparing to fire. With effort, Hammer tore his eyes away from it and looked up at his nemesis: into reflective black shields and not a trace of human emotion in that face.
"They say," Dr Horrible intoned, his voice raw and bitter and breaking with the strain of too much pain and hatred and consuming darkness, "nothing worth hearing."
And without hesitation he pulled the trigger.