“I’m not saying that opening a new homeless shelter is a bad thing,” Steve said, frowning slightly as he watched the news report coming in live from Los Angeles. “I’m just saying that maybe this Captain Hammer fella shouldn’t be the reason they’re opening it in the first place.”
Tony was busy messing around with his Starkphone, but still nodded in absent agreement. “And now you know why I live in Malibu and avoid the City like I’ll catch the plague if I visit,” he replied.
Thor shot a glare at his teammates before returning his attention to the screen. Clint and Natasha exchanged an amused look even as they did likewise; Bruce was busy in his half of Tony’s workshop and was planning to catch the highlights from his teammates once the press conference was over.
“Justice has a name,” the mayor of L.A. was saying on the screen. “And the name that it has, besides justice—” here Natasha gave a very unladylike snort “—is Captain Hammer.” At the introduction, a man with nearly as much muscle as Steve and Thor stood and moved to the podium. Clint very nearly asked how a T-shirt with a hammer on it and a pair of leather gloves was a costume, but kept his opinion to himself.
“I hate the homeless,” Captain Hammer said, immediately adding, “—ness problem that has – I don’t need tiny cue cards.”
“I don’t think his girlfriend likes that very much,” Steve remarked, catching a glimpse of the pretty redhead on the stage looking stunned.
Captain Hammer was still talking: “I mean, I’m not the only hero here tonight. Every one of you is a hero, too. I mean, yeah, it’s not too noble when you have to beg for food. But hey, Lassie does that all the time and it always works out for her!”
Thor blinked and turned to Tony, who had stopped surfing on his Starkphone at this point and was staring at the television. “Am I mistaken, or did this Captain Hammer just compare those without a home to that dog that appears on the cable network late at night?”
“Yes, Thor,” the billionaire replied absently, “he did.”
“And, really, you folks aren’t homeless. Because home is where the heart is, so your real home’s in your chest.”
“This guy’s a first-class idiot,” Clint found himself saying, and immediately flinched. When the expected slap didn’t come, he glanced over to see Natasha nodding in agreement and counting backward from twenty in Russian. Apparently, she wasn’t overly impressed with Hammer herself.
“Everyone has their own villains to face, you know? And so what if they aren’t as cool as mine, it’s totally okay to know your place,” Captain Hammer was still talking, and continuing to leave the assembled Avengers not impressed. “So, yeah, I thank my girlfriend, Penny – yeah, we totally had sex—”
Before anyone realized it was happening, Mjolnir was in Thor’s hand and he was headed for the door.
“Where the hell’re you going?” Clint asked, still startled by just how damned fast the Asgardian could summon his weapon of choice.
“I am going to this city of angels to have a discussion with Captain Hammer on how to treat a lady, which includes not speaking of such things in a public setting,” the blond growled, turning to continue his journey...
...only to be herded back into the room by Coulson. “No one is going to Los Angeles,” the SHIELD liaison said in his usual calm-yet-badass manner (Tony was positive the man had a patent pending on that tone of voice). “This isn’t a SHIELD matter, so we aren’t authorized to take action no matter how many of us would like to taze Mister Hammer.”
“For the record,” Natasha spoke up, “I was going to go along with Thor, if you happen to change your mind.”
“I’m poverty’s new sheriff, and I’m bashing in the slums, you know?”
“This is a train wreck. Does anyone want some popcorn?”
Every eye in the room turned to the other end of the second couch to find Loki, dressed in a green button-down shirt and black jeans, perched on the cushion and holding out a bowl of the aforementioned popcorn, eyes riveted to the television screen.
“When did you arrive, brother?” Thor asked, apparently forgetting about his aborted trip to Los Angeles for the moment.
Loki replied, “Right around the we totally had sex part,” his voice becoming a perfect mimicry of Captain Hammer for the quote. “Then I teleported back out to get this popcorn and came right back. So... does anyone want some?”
“And so, yeah. Everyone’s a hero in their own—”
There was an odd sound from the television, a sort of fizzle and zap, coinciding with Captain Hammer’s abrupt silence. The Avengers, their liaison, and their personal villain-slash-nuisance whirled back to the screen just in time for a low, stereotypically villainous laugh to sound. The camera blurred for a moment as the operator turned to catch the source of the laughter.
“Okay, so,” Tony asked slowly, “who’s the kid in the science gear?”
Coulson had one hand on his phone, but didn’t move otherwise. “Our field agent in L.A. has given us the identities of several B-and-C-list-level villains who could be a potential problem in the future. That’s Doctor Horrible; he’s at the top of the B-list.”
“We have a B-list?” Clint asked, watching the white-clad figure on the screen make his way slowly towards the stage.
“Your A-list is Loki.”
“I knew you loved me, Agent Coulson.”
By this point, Tony was distracted by the weapon sitting up on the platform Horrible had jumped down from. “Is that a—JARVIS, freeze ray schematics, now, if you would?”
“That would be in violation of Doctor Horrible's privacy, sir,” JARVIS responded immediately. “However, since you're going to keep asking anyway, I'll have the information requested momentarily. His firewalls are terrible,” the A.I. added even as the requested schematics appeared on the glass coffee table that Clint had his feet resting on. Tony immediately knocked the archer's feet down and bent over to review the information.
“Not too bad,” Tony muttered, already lost in the world of innovative tech. “Shoddy materials, though, probably had to work with whatever he could dig up, poor kid.”
“You realize you're talking about a potential supervillain,” Natasha said, turning her attention from the screen for a moment.
“Still a kid,” the billionaire replied absently. “Okay, what's your power source...? Looks like Wonderflonium...”
“I hope he doesn't drop it, in that case.”
Tony nearly jumped out of his skin and whipped his head around to find that Bruce had apparently wandered in while he was lost in the schematics. “I am going to put a bell on you,” he threatened.
Bruce just shrugged. “Sorry,” he replied, not sounding the least bit remorseful. “Still, Wonderflonium is incredibly volatile. I'm surprised he was able to work with it in this sort of capacity. Why doesn't he work for you, Tony?”
“I'm asking myself the same thing, Bruce.”
“Look at these people,” Horrible was saying, voice almost soothing. “I’ll never cease to be amazed at how the sheep show up for the slaughter.”
Natasha looked ready to hit the door. “Does the file on him say anything about violent tendencies?”
“No,” Coulson replied, “for all intents and purposes, he’s generally noted as a near-pacifist.”
“I wonder why they can’t see what I see. Why can’t they hear your lies, Captain? I do believe your disguise is slipping.” Horrible turned to face the audience, all of whom were just sitting and watching in silence. “Now that your savior can’t do anything, you’re beginning to fear me, aren’t you? But are you really even hearing me? Society is slipping away, so...”
By this point, the villain had returned to the pedestal he’d been hidden on, apparently having removed the statue of Captain Hammer that had originally been there. He pulled a gun of some sort from beneath the discarded sheet and fired it into the air.
“Go ahead and run!” he shouted, firing again over the screams as people started to flee. “Tell everyone that it was horrible! Spread the word on your blogs: heroes are over with! Captain Hammer is just another in a long line of disappointments for you! I’m going to change the world, starting right now!”
Steve blinked slowly. “Is he... is he clearing the room?” When the other Avengers (and Loki) looked at him in confusion, he clarified, “It seems to me less like he’s getting rid of witnesses and more like he’s clearing out any innocent bystanders.”
“It does look that way,” Bruce admitted, narrowing his eyes on the weapon that Horrible was firing into the air. “JARVIS, can you do a quick scan on that gun for us, please?”
“Certainly, Doctor Banner,” the A.I. responded, performing a holographic scan and displaying the information on the coffee table in place of the freeze ray schematics. “It appears that this new weapon contains Wonderflonium as well.”
On the screen, Horrible glanced around the room. “No sign of Penny, thankfully. I don't want her to have to see this.”
“And now he's worrying about whether Hammer's girl is there or not?” Tony asked, frowning at the television. “Kid's sounding more and more like a misguided vigilante than a villain to me.”
Coulson still had one hand on his phone, but he was now frowning as well. “Even so, Mister Hammer is on the list of known heroes operating in California. An assassination will propel Doctor Horrible to the A-list.”
“I don't share my things well,” Loki said, eyes once again glued to the television. “But I agree with Anthony; he doesn't strike me as particularly wicked.”
By this point, Horrible had returned to the stage; the camera hadn't shifted since everyone but a few determined journalists had run from the room, and the Avengers plus two could see a woman frantically scribbling away at a notepad in one corner of the screen. “This is going to be messy—come on, Billy, head up. This isn't the time to show mercy, especially to this joke of a hero.”
“Who the fuck is Billy?” Clint found himself asking. “Is Horrible Billy? Is he talking to himself now?”
“Wait a minute— I remember where I've seen that guy before!” Tony shouted abruptly. When everyone turned to look at him, he added, “I follow his blog. He's been talking for months about the Evil League of Evil and wanting to join up, and his last broadcast was interrupted by a communiqué from the ELE insisting that the only way in was for him to kill someone.”
There was silence for a moment before Natasha cattily remarked, “Then he couldn't have chosen a nicer guy to bump off.” When Coulson shot her a look, she smirked. “What? I don't like the macho jackass.”
“Here goes no mercy,” Horrible said almost to himself, hefting his gun and aiming at Captain Hammer. Less than a second later, there came an odd whiring sound from off-screen in the direction of the freeze ray.
In hindsight, it was almost funny. At exactly the same time, Bruce, Tony, and Horrible remarked, “That's not a good sound.”
No sooner than the words were out, Captain Hammer was moving again. He immediately punched Horrible, knocking the villain off stage and the gun from his hand. The camera shook for a second, probably from the force of the Horrible hitting the floor, and both the resident scientists leaned towards the screen.
“Where's the gun?” Tony demanded, scanning every quadrant of the screen.
“Did it bounce any?” Bruce added, likewise trying to track the weapon.
“There!” A long finger tipped with a black lacquered nail reached out to tap the television lightly before Loki sat back once more. “I don't think it's supposed to be sparking like that, is it?”
“—way,” was the first word out of Hammer's mouth, because apparently it was important for him to finish what he'd been saying prior to being frozen in time. He bent down to pick up the sparking gun and placed one foot on Horrible's chest. “Oh, a death ray, huh? Looks like Doctor Horrible is moving up in the world. Let's see if this one works any better than your last one, huh?”
Doctor Horrible's eyes widened, as he'd just noticed the same thing the Avengers and Loki had seen. “Don't!” he said, looking around at the people who were still in the room. Steve had the very bad feeling that he was trying to warn the reporters who hadn't rushed off previously, and that his words would go ignored.
“I don't have time for your warnings,” Hammer said coldly.
Coulson's phone was immediately in hand, and the man turned away from the television to have a quick conversation with Colonel Fury. “Are you watching the news, sir? Yes, sir. I think this is about to become a SHIELD matter, and not because of Doctor Horrible.” He paused a moment before saying, “Understood, sir,” and then hung up just in time to catch the last of Hammer's words.
“Say hello to Saint Peter, or whoever is it who has his job in hell.”
“Cerberus?” Tony ventured to guess, trying to add some levity to the situation.
“Hella?” came from Thor and Loki, who exchanged a tight smile before turning their attention back to the screen.
Captain Hammer glowered down at Horrible and pulled the trigger on the death ray. Rather than fire, the gun exploded in the so-called hero's hand. The resulting shockwave sent Hammer flying backwards towards the stage, a bit of shrapnel hitting the unattended news camera and knocking it to the ground. The Avengers and company immediately tilted their heads sideways before they realized what they were doing and straightened back up.
In spite of the camera's fall, it remained at an angle to catch Captain Hammer curled up on the floor, several reporters who had taken minor hits from the debris, Doctor Horrible appearing slightly singed but otherwise unharmed, and Hammer's girlfriend crumpled against a wall with a large shard from the destroyed death ray imbedded in her abdomen.
“Holy shit,” Clint managed to get out, shocked at the level of destruction caused by someone who could in other circumstances have been one of their own.
“Mama! Someone maternal!” Captain Hammer was moaning now, apparently oblivious to anything but his own situation. “I think—I think I'm in pain! I think this is what pain feels like!” The disgraced hero staggered to his feet and rushed for the door, shoving aside a reporter who'd just managed to get to her feet with a snarled, “Get out of my way!”
“Did the dishonorable Captain just push an injured lady in distress in order to run away?” Thor asked, appalled at the act of callousness.
“Aye, brother,” Loki responded, green eyes sparking with malice. “He did indeed. I find myself wishing to pay this Captain Hammer a... special, personal visit.”
“Let SHIELD deal with him,” Coulson ordered, seeming to ignore the fact that Loki wasn't technically under his jurisdiction. In any other situation, the assembled Avengers would have been surprised as how quickly their favorite nuisance backed down at the command.
Doctor Horrible slowly got to his feet and brushed himself off, looking around the room with pained eyes. It didn't appear that he was physically harmed himself, more like he was empathetic to those people who hadn't escaped unscathed. His gaze fell on Hammer's girlfriend, Penny, and he froze for a moment before rushing over to her side.
The camera was too far away to pick up what the two were saying to one another, but Loki and Thor were both riveted to the action. Bruce frowned slightly before asking, “Can you two hear what's going on?”
Thor nodded, but it was Loki who spoke, his voice shifting to a woman's: “Billy, is that you?”
Thor spoke next, apparently parroting Horrible's words: “Penny, oh no. I'll get help, just stay still, okay?”
“It's okay, Billy. It's okay,” Loki picked up again, still speaking in what was apparently Penny's voice. “Captain Hammer will save us.” On the screen, the woman seemed to tense for a moment before going limp. Both aliens looked to one another before the Jotun quietly said in his own voice, “She's gone.”
On the screen, reporters who hadn't been in the room began to slip back in, a couple photographers snapping shots of the destruction; Horrible was still crouched by Penny's body, looking for all the world like he'd just lost his best friend. Tony's eyes narrowed and he pulled out his Starkphone again, opening a link to Horrible's blog and beginning a trace on his IP address. If his assumptions were right, Doctor Horrible or Billy or whatever his name was had just lost his best friend and number one crush in one fell swoop.
“Doctor Horrible,” one of the returning reporters asked as someone finally picked the camera back up and focused it onto the wall where the villain was slumped, “why did you kill her?”
Natasha exploded. A string of furious Russian came from the Black Widow, and she stood abruptly to begin pacing the room in tight circles. Loki likewise looked infuriated, but he remained seated and dug his fingernails into the arm of Tony's very expensive sofa in order to keep from teleporting to L.A. and showing those moronic reporters what a real supervillain was capable of.
“Where the fuck have those guys been?” Clint snarled, waving a hand at the television. “They could ask anyone in that room what happened, but they're just assuming that the designated bad guy is responsible! What the fuck?”
“SHIELD will take care of everything,” Coulson said calmly, but everyone could tell he was just barely keeping his own temper in check. “Our agent in L.A. is already in place to take Doctor Horrible into protective custody, along with anyone he may want to join him. She'll have him back at headquarters within the next hour. She has a knack for timing.”
On the screen, Doctor Horrible had managed to get to his feet and moved to gather Penny in his arms. He placed the body carefully on one of the stretchers that the EMTs had arrived with before a tiny blonde woman caught his arm and pulled him down to speak quietly in his ear. Horrible nodded absently and let himself be lead out of room, not even hearing the reporters who kept calling questions to him.
Coulson continued, “Loki, would you mind doing us a favor and checking out this ELE we keep hearing about? They might not be too thrilled with SHIELD taking a potential inductee into custody, and I would prefer to avoid a confrontation if at all possible for the time being.”
“Will I receive compensation for my time?” the Jotun asked even as he stood and cracked his knuckles, giving every indication to the one who'd known him longest that he was ready to attend to the task even without a response.
“You'll probably get a consulting fee,” Tony replied absently, still doing his IP search and getting closer to a real name and physical address. “And if they don't, I'll pay you for your time.”
“Everyone else,” Coulson continued, even as Loki vanished from the room and Tony returned his full attention to his task, “we'll take this as it comes. Captain Hammer will be dealt with accordingly. He's on SHIELD's radar now, and not in a positive way.”