He felt a hand on his shoulder
"Doctor H?" An excitable voice piped up from behind him. He turned slowly around, swivelling the chair away from the computer, managing to break contact with the intrusive hand.
"Doctor H! It is you!"
"Charlie James." He said wearily. Yes, he knew the man.
"Wow, You remembered!" Charlie said, grinning. Of course he remembered! He remembered everything. That was his curse. Now if only they didn't remember him!
"I haven't seen you in… over ten years!" Charlie continued.
"More like fourteen," he said softly, with an undercurrent of sarcasm. You'd have thought that everything that had happened, he'd have changed beyond imagining. But people like Charlie always recognised him. If only they didn't! But he guessed it was hard to forget being treated by a sixteen year-old doctor. He shook himself. "It's good to see you, Charlie. You're doing well?"
"Yeah, the liver's fine! You? Gaaad, Doctor H! I can't believe it! And all grown up," Charlie winked at him, just about to launch into an ill-conceived string of banter when someone called him from across the coffee shop. The man laughed and stuck out his hand.
"I'll see you around, Doc?" Charlie said, grinning over his shoulder as he walked away.
"Not if I see you first," he muttered, eye twitching slightly. If only they didn't recognise him...
Why had he come back to LA? If he hadn't, he wouldn't be a slave to his own memories - things he thought he'd buried ten years ago when he'd finally escaped to New York.
If he hadn't come back to LA, he wouldn't feel this pain. A sixteen-year-old's pain.
If only Vinnie hadn't been shot and killed in that convenience store…
If only they hadn't lost his Mom to breast cancer in '89…
If only he hadn't lost his own mind that thanksgiving…
And it all seemed so long ago…
"You don't look much like a drug dealer?" said someone beside him, making him start: A woman's voice. He looked around and sat next to him was a beautiful young girl with deep mahogany skin and curls of ebony hair hanging in heavy black ringlets to frame her face. "So I suppose the "H" doesn't stand for heroin?" She laughed; a rich, throaty laugh.
He tried to smile. He tried not to stare at her. He may not be sixteen again but no one seemed to have told his hormones about it.
"So what does it stand for? The H?" She said, slowing her speech as if talking to a particularly stupid child.
"Horrible!" He blurted. Then he tried to grin, charmingly. He seemed to have completely lost the knack? When had that happened. People used to think he was cute. Cute and charming. "The H… It stands for Horrible."
She laughed at that. "Doctor Horrible?"
"It's an alias…" He said, weakly. "Like… Bad Horse?"
"I hate to tell you, honey," She said. "But Bad Horse really is a Horse." She winked at him.
"Well, ha… Snakebite isn't really a snake!" She was just being facetious now. But it was kind of sweet.
"And you're not really a Doctor are you?"
"I have a PHD!" He blurted. Actually, he had a slew of degrees - collected over a number of years studying (and starving) in NYC. He'd taken to engineering and physics, the eternal student, trying to make sense of machines when people failed to make any sense at all.
"Okaaaay," She continued, "but you're not that horrible?" She actually winked at him. "I can tell."
"I am quite horrible…" Why couldn't he just relax and just talk to this girl? Jeez, when had he turned into a dork? He swallowed. Perhaps the funeral that morning had taken more out of him that he'd thought? "And now you know my secret alias, what am I going to do?"
"Well…" She narrowed her eyes slyly. "You could kill me! Or I could tell you mine…" She leaned in close and whispered in his ear. "It's Conflict Diamond…"
He flinched. "No way…" He said, eyes wide with amazement. "Really? You're not shitting me?"
"I'm not shitting you," She said, calmly.
He'd heard of her, of course. He'd read everything he could get his hands on about the heroes and villains of LA - the Evil League of Evil, the Henchman's Union, The Superhero collective, everything! Conflict Diamond? He couldn't believe he'd actually met one of them!
"Cool… " He grinned more readily. "I'm a huge fan."
She giggled. "Now I have one! I've taken a lot of care not to be recognised. Unlike some people I could mention." She grimaced. "Some of them even have fan clubs…"
He nodded firmly. When he'd avidly followed the events in LA, he'd found himself coming down more and more on the side of the Villains. The Heroes were so… smug… so self-satisfied. They surrounded themselves with fame and adoration and hangers-on. They never tried to change anything! Couldn't they see that the world was a mess? It world had been a mess for such a long, long time. Here, with Conflict Diamond, he felt a spark inside him that he hadn't felt in so many years. He felt sixteen again. "It seems like we're on the same side," He said.
"It does…" She looked away a moment. "Look, I've got a half hour if you want to talk? Shall I get you a coffee, Doctor Horrible?"
He laughed. "Yes. Yes, please."
"That's quite a mouthful. Perhaps you should tell me your real name?" She must have caught the look of horror in his eyes and misinterpreted it. "Okay, just your first name? That's fairly anonymous isn't it?"
If only, he thought. Although he hadn't gone by his real name in years. Doogie… Yet another thing about him that was just too recognisable.
If only his parents had called him something normal. Like Michael. Or John. Or William.
"Billy," he blurted. "Billy… is my name."
"Joanna," she said, holding out her hand. "It's good to meet you, Billy." She grinned widely, her teeth very white against her ruby lips. "Welcome Billy. Welcome to the world of evil…"