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Echoes in a Lonely World

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He’s stopped updating his blog.

There’s nothing he wants to say anymore, and now that he’s in the Evil League of Evil, it doesn’t seem appropriate to have all his evil plans available to the public. Not that it’d been appropriate before, but at least back then, no one cared. People care now. He’s not sure he likes it, this increased attention to his every action.

He doesn’t know what to do with himself now -- most of his plans are meaningless without her. Does he really want to rule the world if she’s not there to see it? Does it even matter how many banks he robs? Well, yes, apparently, because there’s a schedule and he has to keep up appearances if he wants to stay in the League, but it’s not the same. Besides, there’s no fun in robbing a bank when no one fights back.

And the League! He doesn’t even want to think about the League, because there’s only so much bureaucracy he can stand before he starts fantasizing about killing them all in wildly creative ways that aren’t even possible. It’s like being in high school all over again, but worse because he can’t even tell himself it’ll be over in four years.

Also, Dead Bowie keeps looking at him. It’s kind of… creepy.

On the bright side, Captain Hammer’s due back in town (out of therapy, the tabloids claim) in three days.

Dr. Horrible’s newest invention will be ready for testing in five.

The thought makes him feel better.

--

Dr. Horrible carries his device (it doesn’t have a name yet, but he’s been mentally referring to it as "That Empathy Thing") with him on heists for a week and a half before Captain Hammer finally shows up.

"Stop right there, Doctor Horrible!" Hammer calls as he crashes through the wall of the bank, leaving it a pile of rubble.

Horrible laughs, evilly (he’s had a lot of time to practice), and brandishes the Cyclops Ray (the beam isn’t red, but it acts basically the same) mounted on his forearm at Hammer. "Captain Hammer, my arch nemesis. Don’t you remember what happened the last time you tried to stop me?"

Doubt enters Captain Hammer’s eyes, and Horrible’s sure he’s not imagining the momentary hesitation before Hammer poses, putting his hands on his hips and pushing his chest forward. "Merely a fluke. You have reigned over this city for long enough, Horrible, and I’m going to enjoy stopping this bank robbery."

It’s already stopped. Instead of piling money bags onto the counter, the tellers and hostages are watching his and Hammer’s epic showdown. Which means that the police are going to have enough time to show up, and they’ll have guns, and Horrible still hasn’t gotten that invulnerability field working yet and most of his devices don’t have a very long range…

When he activates the Cyclops Ray, it bounces off of Hammer’s chest as wholly as if it’d struck a mirror. Horrible barely manages to duck from the ricochet in time, letting it dissipate harmlessly against the wall. Hammer does not look impressed. It’s at about this time that Hammer punches him in the face.

The empathy thing’s in his pocket, and by the time he gets it into his hand, Hammer’s punched him twice more, in approximately the same spot. His vision is starting to gray out around the edges, and he tastes blood on the inside of his mouth. Horrible pulls the trigger and prepares his victory monologue as the bright blue goo sprays onto Hammer’s chest.

For three seconds (the three seconds it takes Hammer to notice, snatch the device out of his hands, and smash it into a million pieces), nothing happens, and Dr. Horrible braces himself with resignation for yet another beating at the hands of Captain Hammer.

Then, Hammer makes a cry that sounds a lot like a cat being skinned alive and drops to the floor, clutching his face and blubbering like a baby. It looks a lot it had when the malfunctioning Death Ray had exploded on him (only this time his heart doesn’t feel like it’s being ripped out of his chest, because she’s not dying anymore). He can only make out snatches of what Hammer’s saying, but the words "pain", "again", and "why" come in loud and clear.

"It worked? I mean, of course it worked!" The citizens in the bank are staring at him in shock, and Horrible snaps his fingers (well, sort of; it’s hard to snap while gloved, so it looks like he’s just rubbing his fingers together) imperiously.

"Okay," he announces, suppressing a wince as it causes the mass of pain that is the right half of his face to attack his brain in protest. Behind him, Hammer screams like a girl. "Show’s over. Put the rest of the money in the truck and no one else has to get hurt."

They do. No one else gets hurt.

On his way out, he kicks Hammer as hard as he can; it feels like kicking a brick wall. He’s pretty sure he’s stubbed his toe, too.

Hammer doesn’t seem to notice.

--

Billy spends most of his free time inside now -- not that he didn’t before, working on his latest project or updating his blog, but now whenever he goes outside he’s usually wearing his uniform and terrorizing the populace. He’s sort of forgotten how it feels to be Billy, instead of Dr. Horrible.

The thought should frighten him, but it doesn’t. He doesn’t feel much of anything about it, and that frightens him.

But right now he’s really, really craving a burger. And fries, the greasy salty kind only available at cheap fast-food joints that don’t believe in health codes.

How cool would it be for Dr. Horrible to show up at a McBurger’s and pay for lunch with his own money (well, the bank’s money)? He wonders if they’d refuse to serve him, and what he’d do if that happened. Maybe he’d blast open one of the walls, or threaten to kill the cashiers. Maybe he’d just take what he wanted and leave. Maybe they’d barely look twice at him, and he’d sit at one of the tables to eat his lunch while all the other patrons stared at him in fear. Maybe one of them would be a fan, and want his autograph.

But they’d all recognize him.

Does he really want that?

In the end, it’s Billy who smoothes down his hair with his fingers and a handful of hot water, shrugs into his second-favorite hoodie, stuffs a few crumpled bills into his pocket, and goes for a walk.

It’s a nice day out. The sky is blue, the breeze is just gentle enough to be pleasant, and he can’t hate everything all the time, so almost against his will, Billy feels his mood lightening. A jogger smiles at him as she passes him, and he finds himself smiling back.

She might be gone now, but that just means she doesn’t have to see what he’s become.

Wearing the goggles always leaves stupid-looking imprints on his head, and while the red lab coat looks nice, it’s stiff and uncomfortable. He only wears them when he has to be seen by someone. He’s comfortable now, in his familiar, worn clothes where everything fits and nothing needs breaking in. No one gives him a second glance, and no one shies away from him.

No one’s afraid of him. He’s just one of them.

He doesn’t realize how much he’s missed that, until now.

Unfortunately, the nice day is ruined when he bumps, literally, into a broad chest right outside the entrance to McBurger’s. An all-too-familiar voice drawls contemptuously, "Hello, Billy."

"Captain Hammer!" Great, the world just had to make his day as bad as humanly possible. That’s what he gets for optimism. "What a coincidence. Well, I’m just going to get something to eat so if you can excuse me --" He makes a dash for the front door, but Hammer grabs the back of his jacket before he can get any further.

"What dark deeds are you planning on doing now, Doctor? Going to poison the hamburgers? Turn all the sodas into Diet Coke? Brainwash the cashiers and make them do your evil bidding?"

"No," he grits out between clenched teeth. Billy sinks down and Dr. Horrible rises to the surface. "I’m going to go in there, I’m going to give them my money, and they’re going to give me my lunch. And then I am going to eat it, and then I am going to go away. You should try it sometime, especially the going away part."

Hammer laughs. "Captain Hammer doesn’t run away from anything. I’m too devilishly handsome for that," he continues, and lets go of Billy to run a hand through his hair.

Aside from Hammer, no one else has made the connection between Billy and Dr. Horrible (how stupid are these people, anyways, he wonders in disgust). Like neater hair and some goggles really make him look that different. Is the whole world blind?

But it works to his favor, because when he darts into the McBurger’s and gets in line, he can see Captain Hammer hesitate. He might be allowed to beat up Dr. Horrible whenever he wants to, but smashing Billy’s face in would gather some strange looks.

So Billy gets his bacon burger and fries without any problems. No one connects him to the super villain on the front page of the newspaper (the bank robbery had been a huge success ), and he’s perfectly content to be left in peace.

A tray drops loudly across the table from him as Captain Hammer sits down.

Billy scowls. "What do you want, Hammer? You’re--" he breaks off, casting surreptitious looks throughout the room. Hasn’t Hammer heard of a secret identity before? "Leave me alone. People are going to stare!"

"They’re not staring at you, they’re staring at me. And who can blame them?" Hammer smiles brightly at a girl sitting a few tables away. His teeth sparkle in the light, and she swoons. Billy gives up the situation as doomed. Maybe if he finishes eating quickly enough, he can get away before Hammer’s done.

Except that, while he’s still craving a burger and fries, he’s also feeling kind of full. And hungry, at the same time. He’s pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen, and an oh shit feeling builds in the back of his mind, because Hammer’s got the exact same order as he does -- and by the way, Billy doesn’t even like bacon burgers.

Hammer takes a bite of his food, the nagging craving in his gut goes away, and Billy lets his forehead thud onto the table. Shit.

Hammer flinches. "Ow. Ow?"

Billy bangs his head on the table again. Hammer makes a pained noise and it makes Billy feel a little bit better, so he does it again, bumping his head repeatedly on the table to punctuate his words. Hammer flinches in time with the thuds. Well, that’s just great. "Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. Freaking prototypes. I knew I should have--"

His forehead hits something warm, and soft, and smelling faintly of leather -- the palm of Captain Hammer’s glove. "I knew you were doing this to me! Make it stop!" Hammer hisses across the table, but his hand is surprisingly gentle as it cups Billy’s forehead. He didn’t know Hammer knew the meaning of the word gentle.

Billy twitches, his black eye bumps something, and Hammer howls in pain. The other patrons turn and stare; he pulls away and smiles weakly at them. Out of the corner of his mouth, he mutters, "I would, but you smashed my deployment device into pieces."

"If you don’t undo it, I’ll…" Hammer trails off uncertainly.

Billy laughs harshly. "You’ll what, hit me? That’s the whole point of the empathy goo -- any pain I feel, you’ll feel too."

Except that the empathy device goop stuff splashed onto him too -- he remembers the splotch of purple where it soaked into his lab coat, and what was supposed to be a one-way pain-only connection is now… not. He’s got no interest in being psychically connected to Captain Hammer for God knows how long, and if he doesn’t get rid of the connection soon, there’s no guessing how it might backfire in some wildly unfunny way.

Hammer’s squinting at him.

"What?"

"If you don’t undo it, I’m going to tell everyone that you’re Doctor Horrible. And they’ll believe me, because I’m Captain Hammer. Are you gonna eat that?"

They probably would believe it too. People believe anything a super hero says. It makes him sick. He pushes his half-eaten burger across the table in disgust, and Hammer snatches it up with an expression of smug entitlement. "Fine. I’ll work on it."

Hammer follows him out when he leaves.

"What? What do you want now?" It comes out more plaintive than threatening, and Billy quickens his strides. Hammer keeps up effortlessly.

"I’m keeping an eye on you. Gonna make sure you don’t do anything dastardly."

"Pfft. Like you can even spell ‘dastardly’."

"I don’t need to know how to spell it. I just need to know how to bash your face in," Hammer growls, and hits him in the face. For someone so big and hulking, he moves awfully fast.

He drops awfully fast too, and while Billy’s still blinking through the flashy bits in his vision (bruises suck), Hammer’s clutching his head and on the floor. "Oh, come on," Billy says in exasperation. "You didn’t even hit me that hard."

Hammer’s put him in the emergency room before; exacerbating a black eye and bruised cheekbone is barely anything in comparison. At least this time he doesn’t have to explain to his doctor that no, no one is abusing him, and no, he doesn’t need to talk to someone about it.

"But it hurts. So much!" But Hammer gets up pretty fast after the initial shock wears off, looking around to make sure no one’s seen his latest humiliation. Aside from a stray goose, there’s no one around. Billy’s chosen the scenic route home.

"Do you know where I live?" He asks, apropos of nothing.

"Don’t you know where you live?"

If he could, he would strangle Hammer right now. "Of course I do. I want to know if you do."

"Why? And why do I feel so annoyed right now? Captain Hammer doesn’t feel annoyance, only righteous anger." Hammer’s frowning to himself, and Billy can literally feel the confusion echoing through him. It’s really, really weird.

"Okay, never mind. I’m going home. You go away."

Captain Hammer doesn’t go away. "Leading me to your evil lair, I see."

"I’m going home to fix this. If you’re not going to go away, I guess you can follow me." Getting rid of Hammer would be too much effort, and Billy’s distracted by the mental inventory he’s doing, trying to remember if he even has enough supplies to work on a cure.

--

"Just, uh, stay there for a minute," Billy orders (uselessly, because Hammer’s already stepping in and looking around like he owns the place), and runs quickly to make sure nothing’s out that a super hero can’t see.

He tosses a book (Henching and You: How to Get the Most out of Sidekickery) into Moist’s room and pulls the door shut, but everything else seems to be safe -- most of his stuff is in his secret lair or his bedroom; he’s never been a messy roommate.

He also takes the time to call Moist and explain, very circumspectly, that he should probably stay with Hourglass or someone else for a little while, because there was a thing and it backfired and now Captain Hammer is sort of over at their place.

Yeah, that conversation sucked.

When he gets back, Hammer’s looking at the bottles of chemicals lined up next to the table. He looks up when Billy gets near. "Why is this place so small?"

"The government doesn’t give me a mansion on the edge of the city and pay all my bills. Besides, it takes a lot of money to build things."

Hammer claps his hands together. "Okay. I have infiltrated your evil lair." He throws his arms wide open. "Fix me!"

"I’m working on it," Billy scowls. "I’d be working faster if you hadn’t destroyed my entire stock of empathy goo. Now I have to remake it from scratch. Go sit somewhere and don’t break anything. Watch TV or something."

The red lab coat’s stained so Billy puts his old uniform on over his street clothes. When he comes out of his room, Hammer makes a face at him. "Why’d you have to turn evil again? I liked you more when you’re not… you."

Billy -- Dr. Horrible -- rolls his eyes, even though Hammer can’t see it through his goggles. "They’re not just to show I’m evil. They’re protective. Besides, this is my less-evil uniform. See? It’s white. You spilled empathy goo on my really evil one."

Hammer’s still watching him as he gets set up, pulling out the necessary beakers and jars. Dr. Horrible ignores him, and as he starts work, he dimly notices the TV turning on in the background. He doesn’t care until he starts laughing in time with Hammer’s loud guffaws.

He spills half a beaker of lithium ions (and has more near misses than he can count) all over his gloves before he snaps. "Can’t you watch something else? Every time you laugh, it makes me laugh."

"I guess I’m just a funny guy, huh."

After rinsing his hands in plenty of water, Horrible starts screwing tops back on jars and setting aside the instruments that can’t be washed in the sink. "No, it’s because we’re psychically bonded together because something went wrong with the Empathy Ray."

"I thought it was a goo."

"It was going to be a ray. I’m still working on the ray part. Don’t touch that!"

Hammer pulls his hand back sheepishly. He’d been reaching for a squarish jar with a slash drawn on the front in black sharpie. "I was only gonna take a look."

"Yeah, well, you can look at something that doesn’t explode when shaken. I’ll have to make the empathy goo when you’re sleeping or something." He can work on the theory for reversing it now, while Hammer’s awake, where the worst that can happen is for him to accidentally stab himself with a pencil.

The theory part goes better, even if he has to do his work on the couch next to Hammer (like he’d ever leave Captain Hammer unsupervised in his apartment). He fills page after page of lined paper with the numerical expansion of the empathy project, scribbling over his errors and circling with a highlighter anything that looks practically useful. This is why he has a white board, he thinks. He’s making real progress by the time his eyelids are drooping and he’s on his third coffee of the night.

…Oh, right. Horrible shoves the fourth cup into Hammer’s hands. Hammer shoves the dark blue mug back after taking only one sip. His nose wrinkles in disgust. "I only drink lattes."

"There’s milk in the fridge and a microwave in the kitchen. I’m trying to work, and you’re being… sleepy. Stop being sleepy."

"It’s late. I’m going to get my beauty rest. Not that I need it." With that, Hammer stands up, stretching, and Horrible’s gaze is momentarily caught by the flash of pale skin between Hammer’s T-shirt and his belt.

When Hammer leaves, Horrible takes the time to do laundry -- both his uniforms, which double as lab gear, are dirty. He tosses the goggles on top of the washing machine (one of the first purchases he’d made after getting into the ELE) to make sure he doesn’t lose them, and rubs the deep indentations that encircle his eyes.

Two more coffees make him jittery, but he’s still having trouble keeping his eyes open, and he gives up on working as soon as his clothes come warm and fresh-smelling out of the dryer.

If he doesn’t fix this thing soon, he decides, the cognitive dissonance will probably make his head explode.

--

Some asshole’s banging on his door, but Dr. Horrible’s wrist-deep in empathy goo. Literally.

"Go away!"

The banging continues, and Horrible notices the sensation of repetitive thuds against the palm of his hand just as Captain Hammer shouts, "Open the door, Doctor Horrible! Or else I’m going to knock it down!"

He’d do it, too.

"Fine, fine, give me a minute," he calls, and strips off his gloves. The gloves go on a clear spot on the table, and he pushes his goggles up so he can see better. "Don’t call me Doctor Horrible here! The neighbors don’t know I’m Doctor Horrible," he hisses when he opens the door.

Captain Hammer’s holding a bag of take-out, and it smells amazing. He offers it to Billy. "Then what do they call you?"

Wait, what? Is this for me? Really? There is a quick wordless exchange where Billy points at himself and looks confused, and Hammer nods and looks confused at his confusion, and Billy tries very hard not to let his reflexive gratefulness show, before he realizes that he’s been asked a question.

"What?"

"If the neighbors don’t call you Doctor Horrible, what do they call you?" Hammer’s staring at him, close enough to punch him; Billy has to fight the urge to cringe.

"Um… Mrs. Reynolds just calls me Billy." He hesitates. "And, uh, thanks for the food. I haven’t eaten yet."

"I know." Hammer’s still looking at him, at his face, and for once Hammer doesn’t look like he’s too busy being a narcissist to notice that other people exist. Which, wow, was that even possible? Without the smarminess that makes Billy want to hurl, he even looks hot. If he looked like that all the time, Billy thinks, maybe I wouldn’t hate him so much.

A touch on his face makes Billy jump backwards. "What!?"

Hammer grabs him by the jaw, tightly, and a part of Billy relaxes anyways because the smarmy smugness is back, and at least that’s familiar. He’s released a second later, and Hammer strokes his own chin with the same hand that had been grabbing Billy. "I could feel that on my face."

"Um, that’s not good."


--

He stuffs his face with fried rice and kung pao chicken straight from the carton, while trying to explain stuff like rates of change and rates of rates of change (double derivative if you plot the points of increased empathy by time, not that it matters because Hammer’s clearly more interested in how blue the goo is than in when the changes might taper off).

"Hey, can you touch something for me?"

"What needs touching with my awesome hands of… awesomeness?"

Billy rolls his eyes. "I don’t care. Anything." Hammer presses his palms against the couch’s armrest. Billy doesn’t feel anything in his hands aside from a pair of disposable wooden chopsticks and the carton of fried rice. "Try taking off your gloves first."

"I don’t take off my gloves. They’re part of the uniform."

"So?"

"So I can’t take them off."

"I took off mine," Billy points out.

"You’re not a very good super villain."

"What? I’m a great super villain! I’m… I’m all evil and stuff. I rob banks, and scare little old ladies, and blow up buildings."

"Your name’s Billy. People with names like Billy can’t be evil."

"That’s stupid. Of course they can. Besides, my super villain name is Doctor Horrible. I have a PhD in horribleness. But, gloves." He motions at Hammer’s gloves with his chopsticks. "You have to take them off."

Hammer sighs loudly and takes them off. "Fine." Hammer grabs the armrest again, and this time, Billy can feel the texture of the couch against his palm, soft and velvety.

That’s really not a good sign, because sure, it might start out with pain and hunger, but now it’s segueing into touch, and what’s next? Movement? Sight? If he concentrates, Billy can feel a vague… awareness of Hammer, like everything Hammer feels is being overlapped onto him. He knows when Hammer puts his gloves back on without having to look.

If he starts seeing what Hammer sees, finding a cure’s going to be damn near impossible.

"This is getting too weird for me," Hammer declares. "I like the easy things in life. Like girls. Have fun eating all by yourself, Doctor. I’m going to find myself some company." A pause. "Girl company. Like at a bar. Chicks dig the Hammer."

"You can’t do that!"

"Why not?"

"Because, you moron, I feel what you feel. If you, you know, with a girl," Billy says, and he’s already blushing, "I’ll know."

"That is disturbing," Hammer says with the heavy intonation of someone saying something profound; Billy wants to hit him. It’d probably just bruise his hand. "I guess I’ll just have to stay here, then."

"Whatever." He’s not hungry anymore, and Hammer’s brought him way too much food for just one meal, so he sticks the leftovers in his fridge, next to a half-finished gallon of orange juice and in front of a Tupperware container of Moist’s that’s been in there for way too long. It’s starting to turn green. "I’m going back to work. Don’t break anything."

"Work? What work?"

Billy pulls his goggles back on. "Fixing the empathy thing, remember? It’s not like I can just snap my fingers and it’ll go away. I have to do research. Experiment."

"Is that what super villains do? I usually just show up and hit things."

Billy ignores him.

--

Hammer’s not terribly annoying to put up with when he’s not laughing like a buffoon at the television set, until Billy realizes that he’s on his computer and reading through all his emails.

"Hey! How did you -- you can’t -- that’s private."

Hammer spins in circles in the computer chair until it comes to a slow stop facing him. He’s pouting. "Who’s Johnny Snow? I thought I was your arch-nemesis."

"You are. Johnny Snow’s just some guy who used to read my blog," Billy explains, glaring at the computer screen and trying to log himself out of his email with sheer force of will (it doesn’t work). "Don’t -- stop that," he says, as Hammer clicks through to another email.

"Why’d you stop updating your blog? You don’t put stuff on it, anymore." Hammer’s voice sounds different than he’s used to hearing, and for a moment, Billy’s afraid he’s being serious.

His current modifications to the empathy goo will need to set for a day or two before he can test it, so now is as good a time to clean up as any. Plus, he doesn’t like wearing the lab coat for too long, or the goggles; it’s… weird, being in "uniform" for so long. Or maybe it’s just weird to him; Fake Thomas Jefferson doesn’t have a secret identity, and neither does Bad Horse or Fury Leika.

Secretly, he thinks that might be because Fury Leika’s kinda crazy.

He quickly drops his gloves in a bowl of solution for cleaning, and hooks the goggles on the edge of the table, and he’s just started to pull open the lab coat when he realizes that Hammer’s twisted around in his chair and is staring at him.

"What?"

"Nothing," Hammer replies quickly, and averts his gaze, and when the warmth rushes to his cheeks, Billy realizes that Hammer’s blushing. What the hell?

"What?" Billy repeats dumbly, but logging Hammer out of his email is more important, so he just drops his lab coat on the ground and shoves Hammer out of the way; it’s a bit like trying to muscle past something very large and very immobile. "Look, I mean it when I say private. It’s personal. You can’t just go around reading it."

Hammer pushes him back, but not very hard, and it only takes Billy a couple moments to grab the mouse and log himself out. "Personal? Planning to blow up a hospital is personal? I can’t let you kill so many innocent lives, Doctor."

"Hey! That was confidential information!" Billy protests, but in all honesty, he’d rather Hammer read the stupid offers Bad Horse makes him than the mortifying emails from his fans (he still can’t believe he has fans -- what part of evil don’t they understand?), or the really, really depressing emails from his mother, which are equal parts disapproval and concern. "How did you even get into the computer? It has a password."

"Your password’s penny."

Oh. Right.

Billy tries to shrug it off and draw away, but Hammer grabs him. His hand is large enough that the glove completely encircles his wrist. "I just didn’t get around to changing it," he mutters, staring intently at the ground.

"You don’t want to blow up the hospital," Hammer says slowly, seriously, and with an undertone of something that comes very close to actual anger and not the superiority or irritation that Billy’s used to.

And, okay, so on occasion Billy’s thought that Hammer couldn’t possibly be as much of a self-centered moron as he acts, but he’s never actually believed it. He almost believes it now, because Hammer’s looking at him, intently, as if he actually sees through the layer of Doctor Horrible and into Billy, and he’s never once done that before.

"No. I don’t," Billy agrees. He isn’t -- he doesn’t kill people. He’s not one of those psychos at the ELE who thinks slaughtering people who can’t fight back is a good idea of sport. He’s never been that, and he doesn’t want to be.

"If you do it, I’ll stop you. Even if you’re, you know," Hammer motions between them. "Even if we’re still like this. You won’t stop me that easily."

Billy can feel the slight tightening in his chest that means fear, but he knows it isn’t his own. He snorts in derision to dispel the mood, which is starting to make him nervous. "Please, you have no pain tolerance. After one punch, you’ll be lying on the floor and crying again. Besides, I wasn’t going to help them. They don’t need me, and even if they did, I’m a member, not a minion. I don’t follow anyone’s orders."

Hammer’s hand is still around his wrist, tightening. "Promise."

"Um, okay." Billy says, and begins to get nervous. "You’re hurting my wrist now."

"Only a little bit," Hammer replies. "It feels good, though, doesn’t it?"

Not really, because Billy is well acquainted with pain and tries to avoid it as often as he can, except that he’s starting to get turned on anyways. The slow heat of arousal curls in his belly, and when he tries twisting his wrist (it doesn’t move, but the bones in his wrist grind together painfully), Hammer groans and Billy’s pants feel suddenly much too tight.

Oh. Oh.

Something must have shown in his face, because Hammer lets go of Billy as if he’d been burned, and Billy knows that the shame and horror that claws in his chest and crawls up his throat as quick as drowning isn’t his own, because he’s not ashamed of himself. He hasn’t been ashamed of any part of himself for a long, long time, not since he’d become a super villain and told the world that it could go fuck itself if it didn’t like him.

"I’m going to go now," Hammer says quickly, not meeting Billy’s eyes, and starts to leave. This time Billy’s the one to do the grabbing, and his fingers curl into the back of one of Hammer’s gloves, nails digging into the supple leather.

"Wait! It’s -- It’s okay." He’s not sure what to say -- he’s not good with words at the best of times, and how is he supposed to deal with Hammer’s freak out over being a masochist or something? But no one should have to feel that way, not even his worst enemy.

Hammer levels an unamused glare at him. "No it’s not. I’m not a pervert. I’m Captain Hammer. There’s no place for perverts in the Justice League of Justice. Whatever you thought you felt, you didn’t."

"You’re not even in the Justice League of Justice!" Billy points out, confused and frustrated and too caught up in the swirl of emotions to pull out what’s him from what’s Hammer. "Who cares what they think?"

"I have to be! You joined the Evil League of Evil!"

"So what? I think they’re morons! You’re still my nemesis!"

"Until I’m not good enough! Until someone better comes along, and you get a real super hero! Someone who’s not a coward!"

Billy blinks, and the fight drains out of him, because the fear of not being good enough is a familiar one. "I don’t think you’re a coward," he says gently, but Hammer’s lip is curling in disgust, and maybe now isn’t the best time to be lying to him, because he does think Hammer’s a coward. "Okay, maybe I do. But I don’t want a new arch-nemesis."

"Yeah, because then you won’t win all the time," Hammer pouts, and sits heavily down on the couch, arms crossed defensively over his chest.

It’s hard to not feel sympathetic, when Billy can feel the genuine pain and agitation echoing through their temporary (please dear God let it be temporary) bond. "You used to defeat me all the time," he points out. "You’ve dislocated my shoulder more times than I can count, and you’ve even sent me to the ER a few times. Besides, you shouldn’t, y’know, hate yourself or anything."

"Why not? I’m pathetic. All the super heroes in the Justice League of Justice think I’m an idiot, anyways. You think I’m an idiot."

This is true.

"I think everyone in the Justice League of Justice is an idiot." With so many huge egos, Billy’s not even sure how any of them get anything done. But considering the last E.L.E. meeting ended up turning into a fight between Dead Bowie and Fake Thomas Jefferson over Bad Horse’s favor, he’s not sure he has the right to complain. "You don’t have to be pathetic about it."

"Easy for you to say. You have fan mail. I almost never get fan mail anymore. I’d probably get hate mail if they knew the other stuff. It’s not how super heroes are supposed to be."

This is also true.

"Does it even matter? Why do you care what they think about you?" People were all morons anyways, trapped in their own little lives while the world crumpled around them, not even caring until it affected them directly. He hated them all.

"Because I do. Not that it’s your business. Stay out of it. Just… Just fix this, Horrible," Hammer demands, jaw clenching and muscles tensing.

Hammer storms out and Billy lets his head drop into his hands.

The last thing he wants is to play therapist to Captain Hammer during an identity crisis.

--

One of the reasons Billy’s a good super villain is because he finds it incredibly easy to get caught up in his work, and he’s never (rarely) thought twice about putting everything else on hold so he could focus entirely on building his newest weapon or device.

It feels good. It feels right, and he loves losing himself in his work, focusing on one problem so strongly that everything else blurred out of the way and became immaterial. No matter what he says, it’s not about taking, or scaring, or ruling.

It’s about making, where the only limits are his own.

--

Hammer goes away and only comes back when Horrible’s done, called by the surge of triumphant pride that soars through his body and makes him feel like he can fly. He’s never felt anything like it before; if it’s always like this, he can see why Horrible does what he does. Hitting criminals is fun, but it’s not that fun.

"Horr --", he begins to shout, but stops, because an old, wrinkly lady is looking at him suspiciously, narrow-eyed, and it makes him feel lower than low. She doesn’t like him. He hates when people don’t like him. "Sorry," he lies charmingly, and smiles at her. "We’re friends."

She sniffs disapprovingly; old people never respect him the way they should. "Well, you can just keep your voice down, young man. My cats are sleeping. And tell Billy that my garden needs weeding again. He does it so much better than I can, so tell him to let me know when he’ll come by, and I’ll have a fresh plate of cookies waiting for him."

"I’m Captain Hammer. I don’t deliver messages to -- "

The door opens and Doctor Horrible pokes his head out. "Hammer. What a pleasant surprise," sounding as if it’s anything but. "Why don’t you come in now before you say anything else. Hi, Mrs. Reynolds, it’s nice to see you again."

Hammer lets Horrible pull him inside.

"You weed her gardens? But she’s old and ugly."

Horrible ignores him. "I’ve got the anti-empathy goo ready now. I put them in order of which ones were most likely to work. All we have to do is touch them and if everything goes according to plan, things should go back to normal. Ready?"

All he has to do is touch the stuff (on the desk, three little dishes of a grainy, purple paste) and this whole thing will go away. The easiest way to avoid something he wants to avoid is to act like it never happened, and this will make that easy for him.

And then he can be back to his old self, and never feel pain again, and never have to know what someone else is feeling. He can be himself again, and sooner or later the Justice League of Justice will come to him and ask him to join them, and he will be able to because he’s followed all the rules in the Superhero’s Handbook, and he’ll be someone they can be proud of.

And the Mayor will be proud of him too and people will love him and no one’s ever going to think he’s a loser or an idiot again.

Hammer hesitates.

He wants…

Horrible’s looking expectantly at him, and Hammer remembers what it feels like to not be strong, and what it’s like to be held and unable to get free. Being trapped is nothing like doing the trapping, and as soon as he lets Horrible fix this, he’s never going to feel it again, and they’re never going to talk about it again.

Never is a very long time.

He takes off his gloves and wraps a hand around Horrible’s bicep, slowly.

--

Billy’s pretty sure there’s an evil super villain rule that says he’s not allowed to sleep with his arch-nemesis, no matter how hot it’d be or whether or not he actually wants to. He’s also pretty sure that, as a super villain, he doesn’t have to follow anyone’s rules. What’re they going to do? Kick him out? Pssh! Like he cares.

"You really have a thing for this, don’t you?" Billy murmurs, looking at the way the fingers of Hammer’s bare hand are curled around his red sleeve, and the focused intensity of Hammer’s eyes, who’s staring like he can’t drag his gaze away.

Hammer licks his lips, and his grip tightens until it hurts, just a little, just enough to feel good. Billy can feel the echo of warmth, muscle, against his open palm, and his pulse (or is it Hammer’s?) is pounding in his ears. He wants, desire building in him, slow and as unstoppable as the tide.

Slowly, deliberately, Billy brings his hand to his shoulder, popping open the buttons holding his lab coat closed with small, dexterous movements. The coat falls to the floor, and Hammer runs a hand down Billy’s bare arm, raising goose bumps, stopping only when he has a tight grip on Billy’s wrist. Hammer’s fingertips are remarkably sensitive, and he can feel his pulse flutter against them.

He doesn’t meet Hammer’s eyes, focuses instead on the quick rise and fall of Hammer’s broad chest, and presses his hand flat against it. It yields, just barely, and he can feel the pressure of his hand against his chest. He pushes harder, digging his fingertips in, and after a moment, it’s like pushing against a wall. The pressure against his chest levels off before he can really feel it, nerves hitting a limit Billy’s never met before, going dull.

"Is this how you can’t feel pain?"

"Yes," Hammer breathes, and he’s much closer than Billy’s realized. His voice is right there, tickling his ear and sending heat onto the sensitive patch of skin behind it, and Billy twitches, trying to dodge away, but he only manages to trip over himself and land heavily on the floor.

His face warms with embarrassment, but Hammer doesn’t seem to notice, because he’s too busy being ridiculously turned on by the novelty of landing on the ground and having it hurt. Hammer kneels over him and slides a large, warm hand up the back of Billy’s shirt.

"Can I? Can we?" Hammer pleads, and presses his mouth, soft and wet, against the line of his jaw.

"Yeah," Billy groans and lets his head fall back. "Okay."

--

What happens next is basically the weirdest sex Billy’s ever had. Not that he has a lot of weird sex, or even that much sex in general, if he has to be completely honest, but this is definitely weird, because it’s like he’s the both of them, him and Hammer at the same time, and it’s also pretty weird that Hammer really likes to be hurt and is enjoying it through him.

But not bad, because it feels really, amazingly, surprisingly good, and he’s pretty sure that’s because they’re stuck in a positive feedback loop, his pleasure bouncing to Hammer and back again, stronger each time, and there’s a voice in the back of his head that whispers to him, He can’t break duratonium, pure duratonium if you wanted to hold him down, tie him down, make him beg like you want him to. Like he wants you to.

When they’re finished and Billy’s digging through the drawers in his bedroom for a fresh change of clothes, Hammer says to his back, "You can’t tell anyone we did this."

The somberness of his voice makes Billy that much more sarcastic. "Yeah, because I really want to tell people that I just had sex with Captain Hammer. Why would I tell anyone? Who would I tell?"

"Hey, it’s an honor to sleep with Captain Hammer. Captain Hammer’s a sexy man," Hammer protests, and the rustling behind him indicates that he’s gathering his clothes too.

"Captain Hammer has secret fantasies about being tied down during sex," is his flippant retort, and the sudden, dead silence proves that he’s right.

"Don’t tell. Please," and it’s infused with an urgency that makes Billy’s stomach clench, because does Hammer really expect that little of him?

"I won’t. I don’t spread rumors about people."

"Not even about people you hate?"

When Billy turns around, Hammer’s fully dressed (save for the gloves, which are on the floor… somewhere). His normally perfect hair is disheveled from having Billy’s fingers in it, but aside from that, nothing’s changed, except for his face, which still holds that same serious sincerity that makes him look like an entirely different person.

"I don’t hate you," he says honestly.

--

The third antidote they try is the right one. When Billy dabs it on the back of his hand, Hammer’s presence falls away and he’s only himself again. Hammer does the same; Billy doesn’t know how it felt.

"I guess that’s it, then," He says, and shuffles awkwardly in place. He’s sore in interesting places, and the room smells like sex.

Hammer keeps staring at Billy’s neck; there’s a hickey there, just above the base of his throat. Billy knows without having to see it, because Hammer spent five minutes putting it there, sucking and biting on the sensitive skin.

When Hammer realizes that Billy’s watching him stare, he looks as uncomfortable as Billy feels. "Yeah. So I’m gonna," he jerks his head towards the door. "Go be super now."

"Right," Billy says, and then Hammer’s gone.

--

As it turns out, Doctor Horrible is expected to make an appearance at the detonation of the hospital, despite his protests that a) he doesn’t want to, and b) it’s stupid to end lives for no reason, so he ends up loitering on the roof of the hospital anyways, hands in the pockets of his lab coat and wondering just how angry Bad Horse would be, really, if he knocked Fake Thomas Jefferson out and disarmed the bomb.

He’s almost pathetically grateful when Captain Hammer shows up. None of the other heroes have.

"You’re not blowing up any hospitals on my watch, Doctor," Hammer declares loudly, and starts knocking down henchmen like flies. They stay down after one hit; Jefferson’s henchmen were chosen for their looks, not their skills. Horrible didn’t bring any henchmen of his own to this one.

"It was his idea." He points to Fake Thomas Jefferson. "Feel free to stop him first. I won’t get in your way."

Hammer looks at him suspiciously, but when Horrible just shrugs and shows the hero his empty hands and his wrists with no gun attached, Hammer wastes no time in bashing Fake Thomas Jefferson’s face in.

When he’s not the one getting hit, it’s surprisingly enjoyable to watch. By the time Fake Thomas Jefferson has stopped shouting threats and started whimpering for his mommy, Horrible has successfully dismantled the bomb and slipped all the useful components into a pocket. Duratonium’s not easy to come by, after all.

"Traitor," Fake Thomas Jefferson hisses at Horrible when Captain Hammer finally drops him, bleeding and semi-conscious, onto the ground. "I’ll see you out of the League for this."

"Like I care," Horrible scoffs.

He doesn’t want to be in the League anymore. All they do is sit around and take turns sucking up to Bad Horse, pulling stupid stunts to impress a leader who doesn’t even have plans on what to do after they take over the world.

There’s no plans, no goals, just "Let’s end innocent lives", and "Let’s abuse our power" -- which, okay, Horrible’s not opposed to abusing his power or anything, but there has to be a greater goal in mind than just mindless hedonism. The Evil League of Evil is day after day after day of going in circles, and he hates it.

Besides, if Bad Horse takes over the world, Doctor Horrible’s not going to be the one to rule it. He’s not stupid. He’s not even a contender for the Vice President position, and he sucks at popularity contests, even ones between super villains (and hadn’t that been disappointing to find out). The ELE has nothing to offer him, except for fame, and he doesn’t care about fame.

If he really wants to change the world, he thinks, he’s going to have to do it himself, and he’s going to have to crush the ELE beneath his boots first.

Captain Hammer’s been quiet for an awfully long time, which is never a good sign, but when Horrible looks at him, Hammer’s merely watching him in what looks like confusion.

"What?"

"You just helped me defeat a member of the Evil League of Evil, and saved the lives of dozens of innocent townsfolk."

"Only because he’s pathetic. They’re pathetic. They’re antiquated, spoiled into complacency by living a life of luxury. I don’t need them. I can be so much more, without them to hold me back. Mark my words! I quit the Evil League of Evil, because they’re not evil enough for me! From now on, I’m going to go my own way, do my own thing!

"I’m going to change the world (by force), and if they’re not going to help me, then I’ll just stomp them into the dirt with everything else. Like, the government, and..." he’s running out of monologue -- this isn’t a speech he’s practiced, or even considered before, and he wishes he’d had time to write it down before saying it out loud. "And stuff. And they’re going to, um, rue the day that they reject -- uh, rue the day that I left them. Right."

"Are you going to defeat the rest of the Evil League of Evil?"

"I think I have to," he admits reluctantly. If he doesn’t, they’ll probably kill him. They might kill him even if he does. "Or they’re going to go after me. Is it too late for me to take back what I said?"

One look at Fake Thomas Jefferson’s absolutely livid features says that yes, it is much too late for him to change his mind.

"Your name can’t be Doctor Horrible if you’re going to be a super hero," Hammer says, and wait, what?

"Wait, what? I’m not a super hero. I’m a super villain. I’m the bad guy."

"You just said you were going to defeat the Evil League of Evil. The Justice League of Justice hasn’t even done that," Hammer points out. One of the henchmen starts to lift herself from the ground; Hammer knocks her out with one hit.

"But I’m doing it for an evil cause," Horrible protests, and besides, he likes his name. He’d spent a lot of time in high school deciding it, and it had, you know, sentimental value now. "Besides," he adds darkly, "I think the Justice League of Justice doesn’t really want to defeat them. They just like to have skirmishes every once in a while so the government will be impressed and keep wasting all its tax dollars on a bunch of narcissistic jerks, instead of investing money into a proper police force or better security.

"You don’t really think you’re worth a private jet, do you? Wait, don’t answer that, I’ll tell you. You’re not. That money could have been spent on investigating police corruption, or upgrading to electronic voting machines, or funding an increase in teachers’ salaries, but instead it’s spent buying a fancy jet you don’t even fly and building statues of people who don’t deserve it."

But now Horrible is definitely getting off topic. He lifts his chin in defiance. "Anyways, that’s why I’m evil. Once I defeat the Evil League of Evil, I’m going to destroy the Justice League of Justice, and then I’m going to take over the world and bend it to my evil will."

He laughs, evilly. "But first, I have to get you out of my way so I can make my escape."

Hammer steps aside without a struggle (which is a good thing, because Horrible’s pretty much unarmed, and he’s been wondering how he was going to get past his nemesis when said nemesis can now bash his head in without consequences). "There’s a fire exit over here, if you want to escape unscathed, since you did help save the hospital. The police will be here any minute now, to congratulate me on a job well done."

Horrible knows luck when he sees it. He climbs down the fire escape, pausing every few steps to make sure his lab coat doesn’t get caught on it. "And when they see you, they’ll want to give you an award again," he mutters bitterly, "and maybe a ceremony, where you’ll get to be fawned over by people who don’t give a damn about the doctors who are going to be pulling overtime to treat all the guards and nurses Fake Thomas Jefferson shot on our way up here."

After a moment, Captain Hammer follows him down.