"Dreams are easy to achieve
If hope is all I'm hoping to be.
Anytime you're hurt there's one
Who has it worse around
And every drop of rain
Will keep you growing
Seeds you're sowing in the ground.
So keep your head up, Billy buddy…"
Penny's hand rested on Billy's face lightly. She was looking directly into his eyes, suddenly wondering if she'd ever really done that before. He was looking at her with such intensity, his blue eyes wide and desperate. His mouth was slightly parted, his breath panting. As surprised as Penny was to see this expression of longing on Billy's face, she was more surprised when she realized her lips were parted too, and that her expression matched his. She had moved towards him while she studied him and he had leaned forward too.
Without thinking, she let herself lean closer until she could feel his breath on her face. Their eyes were still locked and Penny wondered for a moment if Billy was going to run away from her. But the panic she'd glimpsed in his eyes disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and then he was kissing her.
His lips met hers lightly, tentatively. Something in Penny sparked and she pressed forward, kissing him back. Billy's hand was on the back of her neck now as the kiss deepened. All thought had stopped in Penny's mind and all she knew was that this was good, it made her feel good, and she wanted it.
Until she shifted and her eyes flickered to the window of the Laundromat for a second. Captain Hammer! She jerked back and stood up in one motion, causing Billy to make a noise that sounded like "Mwuoh?" and nearly fall on his face. He looked at her, stunned.
"He…" Penny was pointing at the door. "He…Hammer," she managed to get out. Instantly, Billy was on his feet.
"What? Here?" he shouted at her. Penny opened her mouth to reply and then Captain Hammer was in the doorway. He was standing directly behind Billy, who did not make a move to turn around.
"Oh," began Penny. She tried to sound thrilled to see him. "Hi! Umm, Billy, this is Captain Hammer."
"Oh, Billy, the laundry buddy! Well, it is very nice to meet you." Captain Hammer said.
Billy finally turned, head down. "We're meeting now for the first time," he stammered, blinking rapidly. Penny looked back and forth between them nervously as the introductions progressed. When Hammer dropped his big news about the shelter, she almost missed it.
"Oh my god!" She couldn't quite meet Billy's eyes as he congratulated her, but she forced herself to look at Captain Hammer as she thanked him. He pulled her into a kiss but Penny pulled back quickly as she heard the ding of her laundry. Saved by the ding, she thought. Penny's head whirled in confusion as she hurried away. Here was Captain Hammer and he was being so… heroic and getting the building for the homeless shelter and he was really sweet and she was so grateful. But, Billy. That kiss, that was… something. She didn't know what it meant. She didn't know why she suddenly felt so drawn to him. Attracted, even. This is ridiculous. I'm dating Captain Hammer, aren't I? Yes, she told herself, you are. Billy, that was just a moment. A thing. Breathe, girl. She stared into her laundry basket and took a deep breath before forcing herself back to Hammer's side.
As she let Hammer steer her out the door, she looked back at Billy first once and then a second time. Their eyes met then, but his were empty. Totally blank. She sent him a look of concern, trying to tell him something, not entirely sure what. Not entirely sure of anything anymore.
Billy stood, staring blankly after Penny and Hammer as they walked away. His right hand gripped the edge of the washer, knuckles white. He remained stock still as a feeling started to build within him. A desire. The desire to kill Captain Hammer. Preferably slowly and painfully. The whole plan appeared before him then, the perfection of it. He could kill so many birds with one stone. One sharp, heavy stone thrown straight at the skull of a hulking freak of nature who called himself Hammer. An evil smile slipped slowly onto his face, and then froze. Penny. His expression twisted into something that was neither a smile or a frown.
He watched her hair get caught in the breeze and lift behind her. Love your hair, he thought. He saw Penny's face as she had looked back over her shoulder at him. Felt her lips against his, her hair under his hand. No, he decided. He doesn't get to have her. I won't let him hurt her. And he rushed out of the laundromat after them, leaving his wet clothes behind him.
Billy rounded the corner just in time to see Hammer holding a car door open for Penny at the end of the block. She got in to Hammer's show-offy sports car and Hammer smirked as he walked around to the driver's side door. Another wave of hate passed through Billy, along with vague panic.
"Damn!" he muttered to himself, "I really need to get a car." The engine of the Hamm-Car or whatever roared as Billy looked frantically up and down the street. His eyes settled on a telephone repair van parked across the street. Perfect. He ran to it, broke the small vent window on the driver's side with an elbow (OW. Ow, ow, ow.) and reached carefully inside to unlock he van. It took him only slightly longer than he hoped to break open the steering column and jumpstart the van (being a villain in LA without a car meant you acquired certain specific skills). He peeled out into the street and took off as fast as possible in the direction Hammer and Penny had gone. When he turned the corner, he could just make out the bright yellow of Hammer's car and he grinned. He had to stop Penny from making a huge mistake that she would definitely regret. He wasn't sure how he would accomplish that, but following them was only step one. He would come up with steps two, three, and twelve soon, he was confident. Finding out the location of Captain Hammer's secret base was pure gravy. And then he laughed, reasonably evilly.
"And this is the Hamm-Jet!" announced Captain Hammer, stroking a gloved hand along the yellow and black plane. Penny tried to look impressed. She'd been at his place for at least an hour and she was starting to be bored by the Captain's toys. No, that was a lie. She had been starting to be bored by them after fifteen minutes. Now she was plotting her escape. She tried to interrupt Hammer's monologue of the plane's features, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her up the stairs into the plane. The interior was lush, mostly black, and mostly leather. Penny couldn't help the face she made. What is this, the S&M Jet? she thought and then suppressed her giggle.
"…it even has a bed in the back." Hammer gestured with a flourish. "Never know when that'll come in handy." He flopped down on the bed that Penny was relieved to see was not covered in black leather and gave it a smack. This seemed to be a signal and Penny hesitantly moved towards the bed and sat on the edge. Hammer wrapped his hand around her arm and tugged her down next to him. He started to kiss her, sliding on top of her. Penny responded halfheartedly, trying to soften the kiss, but he pressed her harder. They struggled in that way for a while, Penny reaching for sweetness and Hammer pushing for more. Then his hand slid under her shirt and over her bra and Penny finally pushed him away. He resisted for a second before letting her get out from under him.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"Just. I'm not sure, yet, you know?" said Penny, straightening her shirt. "I mean, things are just moving a little fast, and I've made mistakes before by getting in too fast, and I'd just like to slow down, ok?"
Captain Hammer looked at her for a moment. "Yeah, sure, of course. Slow. I can do slow." He reached for her again and moved to kiss her. Penny held up her hand in front of his face.
"Wait. I just realized. I don't even know your real name. I can't keep calling you Captain Hammer, can I?" Penny thought this was a reasonable objection and she couldn't believe it had only just occurred to her.
"Oh. Well," he began, "You know, I can't have people knowing my name. It's not safe. I have enemies."
"But everybody knows who you are. It's not like you're hiding. What would it hurt if you told me your first name?" Captain Hammer squirmed and frowned.
"I just can't tell you. I mean it about the enemies. They might come after you if you knew more about me." Hammer paused, seeming to think about something. "You know Dr. Horrible?"
"Was that the guy who almost ran me over with the van? I didn't really see him."
"Yes, him." He looked at Penny seriously. "I didn't want to tell you this, but I have reason to believe he might be looking for you."
"Yes. I'm sorry, Penny, but it might be better if you stay here with me until I can catch the jerk and put him away. Well, not here, in the plane. In my house. Not in the hangar. Unless you want to."
"What? No," Penny shook her head. "I don't want to stay in the plane. Or in your house. What about the shelter? I've got so much to do! And why do you think this guy's after me anyway?"
"Oh, this guy. Well, he might be. He's really bad, you know. And he hates me."
"That's it? He might be?" Penny was getting a feeling in her stomach. A sick feeling. She'd learned the hard way to trust her gut and right now her gut was telling her she was being played. "You don't have any actual reason?"
"He…he has a blog!" Hammer announced.
"Yes, and he talks about all his evil plans. I don't always catch it, due to the heroing keeping me so busy, but some things he's said make me concerned."
"An evil villain with a blog?" Penny's stomach wasn't convinced.
"Mmm-hmm. Now, come on, let's go back into the living room and talk about it, open some wine…" Hammer started to lead her out of the plane.
"You know what? I think I need to go home," said Penny as they approached door of the hangar. "I'm not feeling too well."
"Oh. But Dr. Horrible…."
"I'll be fine." Her hand was on the doorknob. He grabbed her wrist.
"Let me drive you home."
Penny looked at the Captain's large gloved hand on her wrist and she was afraid. She was sure she was being irrational, but part of her was screaming at her to get away from him. "That's ok. I'll take the bus. I saw a bus stop down the road. I can walk. Really." And she turned the knob and pushed past him, heading swiftly for the street. Penny was surprised when he didn't follow her, but she forced herself not to look back. She didn't really know why her heart was beating so fast and why it felt like she'd just escaped from danger. You're being an idiot, she told herself. But part of her wondered if she was really being smart. She pulled her sweater more tightly around herself and continued down the street towards the bus stop.
Billy had pulled the telephone repair van into a spot just across the street from Hammer's large house which sat behind a wrought iron fence. He pulled his goggles from his bag and put them on, using the zoom function (luckily he had made them from an old pair of binoculars) to watch Penny and Hammer get out of his car and go into the house.
"Balls," he cursed as they were lost from sight. He thought furiously. The house was set back from the road and trees blocked his view of most of the windows. Next to the house was a large grey metal structure that looked like a warehouse. Or a hangar for a jet, he thought glumly. Unfortunately, he had failed to formulate a coherent plan on his way over. He didn't have any of his tools or inventions. All he had was the small messenger bag containing his lab coat, gloves, and goggles. What was he going to do? Storm inside and demand that Hammer unhand the girl? A sadly familiar feeling of helplessness overwhelmed Billy for a moment. He glanced back at the house and saw Hammer leading Penny out a back door and across the lawn to the hangar. He whimpered. He went into the back of the van and catalogued its contents. Some cable, scattered spare parts, and various tools littered the floor. He rummaged through the piles, selecting some bits and tools and sliding them into his bag.
Some time later Billy exited the van from the back holding a bulky contraption that included a large battery, a coil of wires and cable, and a rusty bolt cutter. He scurried across the street to the iron fence surrounding Hammer's property. He inspected the perimeter, on the lookout for cameras or other security measures. He couldn't see any. He smirked. Naturally the moron doesn't have security with the size of his ego. Time to cut that ego down to size with my new Electro-claw. He paused. Work on the name later.
He positioned the bolt cutter around one of the bars and, shifting the contraption awkwardly, connected two wires with his left hand. Nothing happened. He cursed and lowered the whole thing to the ground to rewire it.
After a quarter of an hour, he tried again. The bar broke with a clunk. Billy grinned. He continued to work on the bars, grunting and swearing. Finally he had made a hole in the fence large enough to squeeze through. He stashed the Electro-claw in a nearby bush and crept stealthily though the trees towards the hangar. He was at the corner of the large building when the door flew open.
He heard Penny's voice, "…can walk. Really." And then there she was, heading down the path to the gate in the fence at a near-run. Billy crouched down behind the building, relief flooding his veins. She was leaving. He saw Hammer start to walk after her and then stop, hands clenched into fists. What had he done to her? Once again Billy felt the desire to put an end to Captain Hammer rise up in him. He blinked and tried to swallow it down. He didn't have the means at the moment and Penny was more important. He watched her reach the sidewalk and turn towards the main road. Billy peeked around the corner again to check on his nemesis. Captain Hammer had turned towards the house and as Billy watched he went inside and slammed the door. Billy snickered. Then he turned back to the road and made his way back to his gap in the fence as quickly as he could. Penny passed it by without a glance, her head down, her arms wrapped around her. Billy waited until she'd gone several feet and then ran across the street to his van as quietly as he could. He jumped in and started the van, pulling out to follow Penny.
As the van approached her, Penny looked around suspiciously. Billy decided he had to act. This is my moment, he told himself. He pulled the van alongside her and rolled down the window. Penny drew back from the road, startled. "Penny, it's me. It's Billy. It's ok."
"Billy?" She took a hesitant step closer to the beat-up van. "What are you doing here?" Billy leaned further out of the window so she could see it was really him.
"I…I was just…working," he said lamely. "Telephone line repair, see?" He gestured to the van.
"You repair telephone lines."
"And you just happened to be working in Captain Hammer's neighborhood?"
"Umm, yup?" Billy was blinking again and he shook his head to try and make himself stop.
"What if I don't believe you?" asked Penny.
"Then. . . you would let me give you a ride home so I could explain it?" he offered. Penny looked at him for a really long time, while Billy held his breath.
"Promise it's just a ride, nothing else," ordered Penny finally. Billy took in a much needed lungful of air.
"Yes, yes, absolutely. Just a ride. Promise. I swear," he paused and she still looked hesitant. "Look, I just wanted to make sure you were ok. Really. That's why I'm here." Apparently Penny could sense his sincerity because she moved around to the passenger side of the van. Billy's heart pounded and he struggled to control his breathing. He turned to her as she climbed into the passenger seat and then suddenly he lunged to move his bag with the goggles still poking out the top out of her way. He shoved the goggles inside the bag and threw it into the back where it landed with a crash. Penny gave him a questioning look.
"Got enough room?" he asked and laughed nervously.
"Yeah," she answered. She still looked nervous, and Billy opened his mouth to say something reassuring, but couldn't think of anything, so he closed it again. Then he opened it.
"Are you ok? He didn't hurt you or anything, did he?" Ok, so he hadn't intended for the question to come out that intensely.
"No. No. I'm fine," said Penny. "I'm fine."
"Sure? Cause you seem, umm, scared?"
"No, no, I'm just feeling a little weird, really," she confessed. "Are you going to drive?"
"Oh, right, yeah." Billy pulled out and headed back into town. He looked straight ahead, afraid that if he looked at Penny he wouldn't be able to stop and he'd kill them both in a bloody collision.
"You're not really a telephone repair guy, are you?" Penny asked after a while.
"So where did you get the van?"
"Borrowed it. From a friend. Cause I don't have a car," he finished apologetically.
"Oh. And what are you doing here?" Billy swallowed.
"I…I followed you," he admitted. He shot her a quick apologetic look.
"It was…look, he is not a good guy, ok? Captain Hammer. He said some things. Today. At the laundromat. And I didn't want you to…to…do anything you'd regret…and didn't want you to get hurt and he's just…an ASS, ok?" Billy finished, his nostrils flaring. He glanced at Penny. She looked thoughtful.
"What things? What did he say?" she asked after a pause.
"Oh, umm, he said he was going to…you know, and show you his jet and you would…you know, and he said his hammer was his penis." Billy winced and nearly swerved into a convertible on his left.
"His…what?' exclaimed Penny. "He actually said that?"
"Yes. He did. See? Can't you see?" demanded Billy. "He saw I…l…liked you and he told me what he was going to do. With you."
"So you borrowed your friend's van and followed us? And then what were you going to do?"
"I don't know. I didn't think ahead. I just wanted to make sure you were safe."
Penny was quiet for a moment. "Thanks, Billy," she said and smiled at him. "That's really sweet." Billy felt lost in her smile until she suddenly squealed and reached across him to grab the wheel to prevent them from running off the road.
"Oops. I'd better just watch the road. Right," said Billy. He drove on in silence and Penny seemed lost in thought herself. Don't screw this up, don't screw this up, Billy repeated to himself over and over like a mantra. As he approached Penny's neighborhood he remembered at the last minute to ask for directions to her place. He didn't need to seem like any more of a stalker than he already did. Or as much of a stalker as he actually was.
Billy pulled up in front of Penny's place and turned off the engine. He took a deep breath and then turned to look at her. She looked back at him soberly for a moment and then a smile broke across her face. Billy smiled back.
"Thanks, Billy. For the ride, and for looking out for me," she paused, her hand on the door. "It seems I'm not too great at picking men. I don't know why I should be surprised, I've never been good at that."
Billy frowned. "Are you sure you're ok? He did something, didn't he?" Penny shook her head.
"Not really. He just…I think you're right. He's a jerk." Penny said this with the air of coming to a decision. She smiled at Billy again. "Anyway, I guess I should go."
"If you want. Unless, you want to talk more?" Billy tried to act casual. He did not feel casual, at all.
Penny hesitated, seeming to consider something. "Have you ever heard of Dr. Horrible?" she asked.
"What?" Billy was afraid his heart had stopped. And then it apparently wanted to make up for lost time and started pounding so loud he was certain he had misheard her. "What are you talking about?"
"Dr. Horrible?" she repeated. Billy had to refrain from answering her with 'Yes.' "It's just something Captain Hammer said."
"What did he say?" asked Billy through clenched teeth.
"Oh, I think he was lying or something, but Dr. Horrible's this enemy of his, I guess, and he said he thought he might be after me."
"After you?" Billy was proud his voice only cracked a little.
"Yeah, I don't know. He wouldn't give me a reason and I think he was just trying to get me to spend the night." Penny sighed. "I just don't know whether I should be worried or not."
Billy coughed and cleared his throat. "Oh, I don't think you should be worried. I think you're right, he was just trying to scare you. I'm pretty sure Dr. Horrible doesn't hurt people." Yet, he added to himself.
"Really? So you know about him?"
"A little. I think he's just trying to fight the system, and if Captain Hammer didn't keep stopping him he might actually do some good." Penny was looking at him strangely. "Or maybe not. But, I've never heard of him killing anyone or even hurting anyone." Idiot. You could have talked your way upstairs if she was too scared to stay alone.
"Good. I hope you're right about him." Penny opened the van door.
"Trust me," he said. She looked back at him and smiled.
"I think I do," she said and she got out and closed the door. "Goodnight."
"'Night," said Billy with a wave. He watched her walk around the van towards the building. "Hey, wait!" he called to her.
"Yeah?" She turned, her key in hand.
"You want to go somewhere, sometime? To eat, or something?" Billy stammered and blinked. Penny gave a small smile.
"Yeah, I would like that," she said. "Call me."
"Ok," said Billy.
"Don't you need my number?"
"Oh, yeah, right, of course I would. I mean, do." Penny told it to him and he fumbled with his phone, pretending to enter her number in. He already had her number in his phone, even though he had never dialed it. He changed her name in his address book from P to Penny and then he put a smiley face after it. He realized it wasn't a very evil thing to do, but he couldn't help it. He couldn't stop smiling and apparently he needed to express his feelings in emoticons. At least it's not a heart, he told himself. He was pretty sure the League frowned on emoticons.
"Ok. So, umm, talk to you tomorrow?" he asked.
"Yeah, sounds good. Bye." Penny waved again, and this time Billy let her go inside. He waited until the light came on in her window. And then he waited some more, afraid Captain Hammer might decide to pay her a visit. After a couple of hours of watching her window (her light was still on and he couldn't decide if this was a good sign or bad) he realized he was sitting on a public street in a stolen vehicle. He reluctantly left to ditch the van. When he finally made his way back to Penny's place, her light was out. At first he panicked, afraid something had happened to her. He snuck up to her kitchen window. Everything looked normal. Then he checked the bedroom window. Curtains hung in front of the window, but they were sheer. Billy fished his goggles out of his bag and put them on, turning on the infrared. He could see her form in bed, with no sign of anyone else around. He turned away from the window and removed his goggles. Ok, time to go home.
The first light of dawn was rising over the buildings in the east when Billy started to walk home.