Duncan Dewey isn't sure why he's here.
It's a mental asylum, for goodness' sakes. Everything is muted and dull and dim, and the only light comes in through the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. He isn't complaining, of course; he knows that it's all for the benefit of the patients. Criminal masterminds, evil geniuses, people who just want to watch the world burn. Horrible people, who had to be contained by concrete walls and straitjackets, for their benefit and that of everyone else. People who would hurt him if they had the chance.
He shouldn't have arranged a visit. He shouldn't be here.
But should Heathcliff?
That's the question that has been bothering him, plucking at his conscience, keeping him up at all hours of the night. Heathcliff isn't a bad person. He doesn't deserve to be locked up, kept away from his family, kept in this place with these people.
Duncan wants to apologize. That's why he's here.
As a guard guides Duncan to the visiting room, they pass by a couple of people walking together. It's another guard, escorting another villain. They make eye contact, and the villain recognizes him.
"Hello there, nerd boy," Saxon Trace snarls, and suddenly Duncan feels like a deer in the headlights.
Saxon Trace - also known as the Cutie-Pie Killer - is one of the higher-threats that he and the team have had to deal with. He used to live in Arlington, in Julio's neighborhood. He had been behind the murders of at least four little girls. And he had tried to make Matilda the fifth. He hadn't known that he was targeting a trained spy; if he had, he might not have followed her to the Playground. He might not have brought chloroform and his signature weapon. He might not have been caught...
But he had been caught. He's here. He deserves to be here.
"Mr. Trace, it would be in your best interests to not harm this visitor," the guard escorting Duncan warns. His voice is gruff, but at the moment it sounds wonderful.
Trace rolls his eyes but doesn't object. "I'm not going to hurt him," he says. Then, to Duncan: "How's your little girlfriend doing? I hope our... playtime hasn't affected her more than I intended?"
Duncan looks at the floor. Trace begins to laugh that stupid laugh supervillains like, and his guard pulls him away. In a moment the killer is out of sight and Duncan has arrived at the visitor's room.
It's dusty. Considering that most of the prisoners here have been officially unpersoned - the public would never believe what these criminals have done - it makes sense that they do not get many visitors. Government agents, maybe, sometimes, to find out if the prisoners have any other evil plans that need to be compromised, or if they're behind new threats with similar ideas. Ms. Holiday used to do interviews like that, before she was assigned to NERDS. Duncan wonders if she's come here to talk to Heathcliff. He's vaguely confused that he can't remember any mention of her doing so.
But he doesn't have any time to puzzle over it, because at that moment Heathcliff is brought in.
The guards are obviously not used to dealing with children. They push him in with a little more force than necessary, especially since he's in a straitjacket and can't catch himself from falling. Duncan reaches out to help him up, but Heathcliff snaps at him, and one of the guards picks him up instead and sets him down in a chair.
All but one of the guards leave. The one is standing just inside the door, looking away. He's there to make sure this visit does not result in violence. Duncan doesn't think he'll be necessary, but safety measures tend to be there for a reason.
He turns and smiles at his friend - no, the boy who used to be his friend. "Hello. How are you doing?"
Heathcliff's face is red, and he's scowling. Duncan doesn't know what he's going to say. Heathcliff is just the type to try mind games, to manipulate, to disturb and annoy and upset. But at the same time, he looks like he's about to explode.
Finally Heathcliff takes a deep breath. His next words are technically a question, but the way he says it isn't. "Are we going to discuss why I'm here."
When he talks, it's a lot harder to ignore the huge gap in his mouth.
"No, um, actually, I... I'm sorry for knocking out your teeth," Duncan says, "but you were trying to take over the world and at that point it was the only thing I could do-"
"It wasn't necessary. You just wanted to make me powerless. To watch me in pain so that you could feel a little bit better about yourself!" He's angry. His voice is rising. "Do you know what kind of person does that, Duncan? A bully! You're a bully!"
Clearly his speech is supposed to affect Duncan on an emotional level, but Heathcliff is going through the rant at such a high speed that there's no time for the words to sink in. In fact, the effect is something like Flinch with a bag of marshmallows. Combined with the lisp caused by his lack of front teeth, it's actually kind of funny.
The tantrum also confirms Duncan's belief that Heathcliff is just spoiled, not insane. He's not the type to hurt people if it isn't necessary. He's not a psychopath. He doesn't need to be in a mental hospital.
"Are you doing alright here?" Duncan asks, interrupting.
Heathcliff stops. He does not seem at all pleased that his lecture has been dismissed so easily. "Oh, I'm doing fine. Chucky Swiller is such an excellent roommate. Did you know that he must pick his nose eight times a day or else the sky will fall? The voices in his head told him so."
"I didn't know that."
"I know." Back on topic. "Well, you might not have to stay here, you know. If we can prove that you're sane -"
"You'll give me my upgrades and take me back on the team?" He still sounds angry, but at least he's smiling a bit now.
Duncan nods, a bit reluctantly, but still a nod. "It hasn't been the same without you."
"Gluestick, Gluestick, Gluestick." Heathcliff clicks his tongue as if talking to a particularly obtuse child. "The team betrayed me. You betrayed me. As long as the NERDS are going to sit back and let the bullies rule the world, I'll never call myself one of them." He licks his lips. "Though I would like my upgrades back, as soon as possible, please."
"I can't... I can't do that."
Heathcliff glares at him, then pouts and turns to the wall. They sit in silence. The visit will be over in twenty minutes - the prison officials thought that for two kids half an hour was a reasonable time - it really isn't, not if Heathcliff decides to waste it with false accusations and the silent treatment.
As Duncan struggles to figure out what to say, Heathcliff does it for him. "Why did you come?"
He's making eye contact now, squirming a bit in the straitjacket. "I mean, you're just the type to feel guilty and want to apologize, but... why you?"
"You mean... why not someone else?"
He nods. "I never thought you would take the initiative to set up a visit. You just mull over things. You don't do anything about them." He leans back. If his hands weren't tied he would probably be resting his chin on them. He runs his tongue through the gap in his teeth again. "Ms. Holiday hasn't come yet, but to be honest, she's not the one I'm waiting for."
Then who? Duncan doesn't know if he should ask. Probably one of his old classmates. Flinch and Matilda are obviously out. Jackson, maybe? No, Heathcliff isn't dumb enough to think that Jackson would come voluntarily. And it couldn't be Ruby. Ruby pushed him off a cliff. She's not feeling very charitable towards him right now. But she was always the closest to Heathcliff when he was on the team...
Upon hearing his name, Duncan snaps to attention.
"Welcome back to reality. I've been waiting for you." Heathcliff says dryly. He's staring at him, mouth pressed in a line, eyebrow cocked. Duncan has seen that expression before. It's the same look suspects take when they're afraid they've let something slip.
"Sorry, I kinda zoned out there."
"Good to know. So, as I was saying, I'm expecting someone else." He puts the Cheshire cat smile back on. It's a good smile, because it doesn't show his teeth. "And once they come, I will begin my next plan to take over the world." He closes his eyes, imagining. "I guess it's only fair that I warn you that I will be using Matilda to do it."
Duncan jumps, catching the attention of the guard. "What?"
Heathcliff smirks and looks at the ceiling. This is the reaction he's been aiming for. "Matilda Choi is a very tough little girl. Oh, I'm sorry, little tomboy. The rest of my enemies will be disposed of through violent and bloody means, but not her. I can't help but think she would enjoy going out in a fight." His voice is falsely cheery, with emphasis on all the right words, and Duncan wonders how many times he's rehearsed it. "So I've come up with something fitting for someone like her- I use her to get my upgrades back, kill you all and make her watch, and then force her to be my personal cheerleader.Perfect, hm?"
When he doesn't answer, Heathcliff tries again. "So? What do you think?"
Duncan blinks, glances at the guard. He holds up two fingers. This visit will be over in two minutes.
"I'm not coming back here again."
As he's being led to the front door, Duncan reflects.
His former friend doesn't seem to want to be released - at least, he doesn't want to try to make things like they used to be. He's already got another evil plan in motion somewhere. And he seemed pretty adamant when he called the NERDS his enemies.
But he doesn't deserve to be here.
The place doesn't seem to have hurt Heathcliff at all - in fact, he seemed bored. He's been here for almost a month. If people like Saxon Trace were able to get to him, he'd be in a lot worse shape than he was.
It can't be that bad, here.
And that's another load off of Duncan's conscience.