The first time around, the League didn't accept his application. They turned him down with the first phone call.
The first time around, he never developed the Freeze Ray. He took five years to even begin to work with time manipulation theory, and that was only for one purpose. He'd had no time for tricky little gadgets that affected someone else's personal time-space. All he'd had to change was his own.
The first time around, he met Penny when she was trying to get people to sign her petition. He'd signed it, and stumbled through their first conversation, and he'd had nothing to distract him from talking to her.
The first time around, she'd never met Hammer. Hammer had been for her a celebrity, a figure in the distance, and eventually an enemy, the one who abused her lover.
The first time around, she'd never died.
He knows her laundry schedule by heart, and what Laundromat she goes to, because after they'd gotten married they'd gone and done it together twice a week. But he can't talk to her before they're supposed to meet, and even going to the Laundromat is changing things he's not supposed to change. But he can't stop himself; he has to see her. It's the longest time he's spent without her since before they met, and the twice-weekly glimpses of her hurt as much as they heal.
He has to get a picture of her, or he's going to go insane, but she doesn't know him yet. Instead of a picture of them both in lab coats, messy with chemical dyes and trying not to laugh, it's a shot from between the branches of a tree, a picture she doesn't know he's taken.
It's harder than he realizes to speak to her this time around, for more reasons than he can count. There's the shock, of course, because this isn't the day they're supposed to meet. But the first time around, he wasn't in this alleyway, because he hadn't needed the Wonderflonium, because he wasn't making a Freeze Ray.
There is, too, the inexpressible frustration of trying to treat the one person he knows better than anyone else in the world like a stranger. Of trying to pretend away every conversation had in whispers, every time he's held her in his arms, every time they said "I love you."
And there is, of course, the fact that he can't talk to her. Not now. Not here. He has to get the Wonderflonium, because he has to get into the League. If he doesn't get into the League it all goes to hell. He's seen that already and doesn't want to see it again.
When she meets Hammer, he hopes it won't come to anything. And knows better, because he knows what she was like when they first met. How she managed to pull up insecurity from who-knows-where, despite the fact that feeling insecure around Billy is like feeling guilty around a murderer.
Murderer. God. The first time around, he never…
Hammer's seduction of her stabs through his heart like a chipped and rusty knife. The first time around, she hated the grand buffoon. The first time around, she stood between him and Billy no matter what it took. The first time around, she crooned over Billy's every bruise and broken bone, and held his hand in the hospital.
It's not surprising, either, that the thought of his wife – but not his wife, not this time around – with another man makes him just a little infuriated. It's not surprising that the thought of his wife with Hammer makes him want to… kill.
He never was a murderer, the first time around.