Billy thought that this was better.
He could feel the past few weeks stretching out behind him, fogged with cotton-candy lithium. His nights had been exhausting and sleepless, his days greyed out by brightly-colored pills with names like Amitriptyline and Biperidon and Valium.
This place, this facility, this asylum - it wasn't as scary is it's reputation would suggest. At least, not to its pharmaceutical-zombie patients.
This huge gothic mansion held no ghosts of residents past, had no sieges or breakouts. And the inmates never, ever were allowed to take over.
And so what if he couldn't feel his toes? And his fingers tingled? And he felt sick all the time but he couldn't go to the bathroom? The whirling chaos in his brain had finally stilled enough for him to hear the outside world. That is, if he pulled back the hood of his sweater long enough to listen.
Billy reached out for his slowly-cooling tea and his skinny wrist emerged briefly from his woollen sleeve, exposing pale skin, criss-crossed by bunched scars - some faded to while, others pink and raw. He hurriedly pulled back, body curling protectively around the cup he now held, bending in on itself. Billy wasn't exactly a small guy - at over six feet tall, he could tower over some of the doctors and nurses if he wished to. But he bent and crouched and faded into the background. He was nervy around people and he didn't like to go outside, not even in the fall, not even when the leaves on the trees outside the mansion were turning to fiery red and gold.
Billy was nervy around people.
But today was Thursday, visitors day, and sometimes he got visited. It was something to look forward to after his daily therapy session. Dr Fine said he was getting better, that he was highly functional, although the doctor never told him compared to what. But anyways, Billy knew that he'd never get out of this place, not after His Crime. That sort of thing can never be forgiven or forgotten. Billy wasn't sure what the specifics of His Crime were but the restriction was okay by him. He didn't want to leave.
There was a time when he's gotten so many visitors. Singing telegrams, people in colorful clothing - a stream of incredible characters with fantastic, marvellous stories to tell him. But over the months those visitors had given up on him, one by one, until only a couple remained.
Billy got up from the armchair and made his way dutifully to Dr Fine's room. Pressing his palm against the door to open it, he shuffled over to the couch, sitting down on it.
"How are you today, William?" Fine asked him in his gentle, soothing voice. It was the same every day, which suited Billy. He didn't cope well with change.
He mumbled something vague and reassuring in reply.
"Today we're going to talk about what happened to you after you graduated," Fine said, leaning back in his chair and smiling his shrink's smile, steepling his fingers beneath his chin.
Fine consulted his clipboard. "It seems that you disappeared for a few years. There's no record of you drawing on social security, you didn't pay any taxes. What did you do?"
"I got b-by," Billy said.
"How?" Fine probed, waiting for a full minute for Billy to answer him.
"I invented things." Billy finally said.
"Hmm," Fine nodded. "And what medication were you taking during that time?"
Billy blinked. "W-what?"
"For your condition?" Fine asked him. "What Doctor were you-?"
Billy blinked again. His thoughts were moving sluggishly and colliding, like iceburgs in a frosty ocean. "What Doctor was he?" Out of the corner of his eye he could have sworn he saw someone walk by Dr Fine's door with a flash of white coat. But no one wore white coats here. They were a different kind of doctor. Mind doctors-
"Bad Horse, Bad Horse, Bad Horse, he's bad,
He saw the news to-day-ay
That you have gone insane
The Docs in the asylum gonna fry your brain
It's so extraordinary, we thinks that it's a shame
There's no way out
Except by force
We'll come and get you, signed
But they never did come get him, and Billy hadn't invented anything in a long, long time.
Again, out of the corner of his eye, he swore he saw another flash of white, and when he looked down at his hands, just for an instant, they were smeared in red. Blood. Just like the day she died. The day Penny died and every else started.
"What are you thinking about, Billy?"
"I d-don't know," the words tumbled and stuttered from his lips. "My Crime."
Fine let out a long, exasperated breath. "Billy, do you know why you're here?"
Billy shook his head.
"Do you know what your crime was?"
Billy sighed. "Something horrible."
Fine shook his head, his lips pinched. "I really thought we were making progress, William. But if you keep insisting on blocking things out, you're going to end up back at square one." He tapped his pencil against his large, wooden desk. "You can do this. All you have to do is make up your mind to work with me and you can get well." When Billy was unresponsive, Dr Fine sat up in his seat. "Look, I'll adjust your meds for today. But nothing bad is going to happen to you. Opening up to me, to us, is the only way for you to start to get well."
Start to get well?
What if he didn't want to? Living in this fog was perfectly okay by him.
Billy thought this was brighter, sharper, more terrifying.
He woke up the next morning, after tossing and turning all night, and his brain burned with symbols and diagrams and equations. He spent his entire morning staring intently at anything mechanical around him - a radio, the computer at the nurse's station, a microwave oven in the day room. His mind laid out elaborate plans, ways to... do something. Take over this place, break out of the restrictions and the dull routine.
By lunchtime he was climbing the walls. Almost literally.
Because he smiled at the girls in the kitchen, because he was a "nice guy", because he was polite, he managed to steal a few items and squirrel them away in his bedroom.
It was Thursday today. Visitor's day. Sometimes he got visitors.
So Billy worked quickly, precisely, fashioning a crude, homemade, ray gun. It reminded him of something - the old days, the days before Penny and Captain Hammer. The days before His Crime. When he'd- he'd-
When everything had been home made.
Later, when he'd got the lab and the fame and the cash and the red coat, things had come easy. He's had money and connections and there had been so many parties. Everything he'd invented looked super-sleek and professional. Death had come in silver-coated tubes and bright, neon-colored controlled systems. He didn't have to hide anymore because everyone accepted that he was evil - it was out in the world.
It had been a whirligig of joyous, euphoric disaster until it had all come crashing down.
Weirdly, as he was connecting a power supply to his new, improved Death Ray, Dr Fine's words came back to Billy.
"And what medication were you taking during that time?"
Billy blinked. He had a flash - like the white coat, like the blood on his hands - of a row of pills laid out atop the counter in his old studio apartment, so long ago. The one he'd shared with his friend and henchman, Moist.
Rows of pills in different colors. Rows of pills he'd flushed down the toilet.
"Paranoid schizophrenic, bipolar disorder, delusions, visions, hallucinations..."
Billy clamped his hands over his ears. No wonder they thought he was insane. He remembered, sometimes, when his shattered mind let him, the day they'd finally caught him. They'd torn the goggles from his eyes and he'd fought and fought to get them back, not stopping, even when the policemen had broken both his arms. He'd fought them, because behind the goggles was all he knew how to be. It had been so long since he'd seen daylight.
No wonder they'd thought he was insane.
Now he couldn't remember what it was like to feel a rage like that. He couldn't remember what it was like to feel Penny's loss, or Captain Hammer's punches, or the humiliation of rejection after rejection by the League. Billy couldn't even remember what it was like to cry.
Had he ever cried? Even when Penny had died in his arms and Hammer had lain there, squealing like a pig?
That evening, just before all the patients were due to get their nightly sedatives, Billy struck.
First, he darted into the staff room and found an old, white, Doctor's coat. It buttoned up the front and had no caduceus on the pocket but other than that it was serviceable. He'd have to go without the goggles.
Then he grabbed one of the nurses and stuck the Death Ray under her chin, his finger on the trigger.
They tried to calm down the other patients but there was a good deal of screaming and menacing by the orderlies until Billy shifted his grip and moved his Gun, so that it was pointing right in her face, right in front of her left eye. He could hear a noise like "Meep... eeep... pllleeep!" reverberating across his shoulder where he held her, but he didn't let go.
Bad Horse had never come to bust him out because he expected-
He expected Dr Horrible to do it himself!
"Stand back!" Billy shouted, authoritatively, with none of his usual nervous stammer. "Stand back or the Nurse Dies!"
He stood tall, tilted back his head and let out an Evil Laugh.
These people, they were utterly ridiculous. These people couldn't stand in his way. They'd seen His Crime. They knew what he was capable of.
The orderlies quickly backed away and Dr Fine appeared, pushing his way through the crowd.
"Don't you know who I am!" Billy's voice rang out, loud and clear. "I am Doctor Horrible! I have a PhD in Horrible-ness!" He laughed, long and hard, exercising his lungs. It felt So Good. It felt Right.
"Billy-" Dr Fine said, holding up his hand.
"Stay back!" Billy ordered him, brandishing his Death Ray in front of him. "I'm Doctor Horrible! I didn't spend three years in the Evil League of Evil for people to call me that! You say it again and I'll fire!"
But Dr Fine simply shook his head.
Billy's finger squeezed the trigger but nothing happened except that a shock of pain zinged through his hand. Damn! Damn this homemade crap! Always backfiring!
"Billy, listen to me... Please?" Dr Fine said desperately as Billy swung the gun back at the nurse's throat.
"No. No, I'm DONE talking and listening because that's all you EVER DO! I'm going to ACT, you hear me? I'm never getting out of here unless I-"
"DON'T CALL ME THAT!" Billy screamed.
"There is no Doctor Horrible!" Dr Fine said gently, his tone a stark contrast to Billy's hysterical cry.
Silence descended on the day room.
"You invented Doctor Horrible. You constructed this elaborate story to cushion your mind against a terrible trauma. Three years ago, you went out on a date with a girl, Penny Mitchum. She was raped and brutally murdered in front of you. You met Penny through an online game and it was only your second date. Billy, Dr Horrible isn't real. I know that you know that it's true."
"No-!" Billy said, shaking his head. He looked across at his hand and for a moment, just a moment, what it was holding seemed not to be a Death Ray at all, but a shard of glass that had sliced into his palm. Crimson droplets slid across the reflective surface and dripped silently on to the floor. "Penny - I killed her! It was my fault. The Death ray backfired! It always backfires!"
But there was no Death Ray - just a shard of glass, an inch from the poor, terrified nurse's eye.
"There is no Doctor Horrible," Fine insisted. "No Evil League of Evil, no Bad Horse. Captain Hammer was a name you gave the man who murdered your girlfriend and beat you unconscious, leaving you for dead. Penny Mitchum's ex-boyfriend..."
"Billy, put down the glass. Please..."
Dr Fine had tears in his eyes.
Dr Fine was crying.
Billy had forgotten how to cry. He'd forgotten what it felt like to cry. He brought up the shard of glass in one, violent movement and plunged it deep into his neck, under his left ear, severing the carotid artery, blood spurting against his finger as the orderlies tries to remove the glass.
"No..." Billy murmured, because everything was too sharp, too bright, more terrifying.
Billy knew that this was better.
And he didn't feel a thing.