"Dr. Horrible's rampage through Los Angeles continued unchecked today as yet another bank was attacked--"
Anne Steele looked up from her microwave dinner with a frown, then reached for the remote control and shut the television off. She'd made a habit over the last few years of catching the local news at least once a day, usually over a meal when she got home from the East Hills Teen Center, but ever since Penny had been killed she'd found it more and more difficult to listen to.
It was hard enough in this town to find anyone willing to give to those less fortunate; Penny Lesse had been one of the rare few who'd gone beyond the occasional donation of cash or worn clothes to regularly spend her valuable time with those in need. She'd worked more often at the smaller Caring Hands shelter across town than with Anne's kids at East Hills, but she'd been around enough for Anne to get to know the struggling, sensitive soul under the sweet, optimistic surface. Anne had counted the red-haired young woman among her few real friends.
Unfortunately, Anne's friends had a tendency to get themselves killed in the perpetual struggle against the darkness that stained their city, and Penny had proven to be no exception. Anne had hoped things would change for the better after Charles Gunn and his friends had died taking down the Circle of the Black Thorn, and for awhile perhaps they had; but the rubble of the Wolfram and Hart building had barely settled before another organization called the Evil League of Evil had sprung up to replace it. It had only been a matter of time before someone Anne knew ran up against one of the new heroes and villains causing havoc in the city, and poor Penny had been the one to draw the short straw.
Anne missed working with her; she missed gossiping about the cute boy Penny had met at the Laundromat; she missed talking about the people they'd helped, the small miracles they coaxed every day from building blocks as simple as clean blankets and bowls of soup. It burned her that after all the work Penny had done to open up the new shelter, the Mayor had spent all the funds meant to run it on a lavish funeral for her instead. Penny would have been furious to see the windows boarded up on that much-needed building in favor of the marble angel that now arched up over her tombstone.
Anne didn't know why the Mayor had bothered, anyway; it wasn't as though Captain Hammer had even attended the funeral. The paparazzi had been staking out her grave for weeks now, hoping to catch him there, but that douchebag of a hero hadn't even sent flowers. The newscasters might have bought into the idea that Hammer was still too prostrate with grief to be seen in public, but Anne had heard enough about his reputation to know better. Whatever he'd been up to lately, it hadn't been that.
And that was a shame. The city needed its heroes. As role models; as symbols to have pride in; as examples to lead the way. Over the last few years, superheroes like Captain Hammer had taken up that role, becoming the kind of positive public example that Slayers like Buffy would never have the chance to be. And with that kind of weight on his shoulders-- there was no way Hammer could justify staying out of the public eye, not with the way Dr. Horrible was tearing things up in his absence. Penny's memory deserved better.
At least he was bothering to help out after each attack; Anne would give him that. Every time Dr. Horrible robbed another bank or stole a shipment of Wonderflonium, a large wad of cash showed up in their donation box with an anonymous note dedicated "in remembrance of Penny Lesse". Who else could the money be coming from? In her opinion, it was the least that Hammer could do to make up for how rude he'd been, and for his share of the responsibility for what was going on. He'd always stopped Dr. Horrible before; why wasn't he stopping him now?
Anne sighed and took her dishes to the sink, then grabbed her I.D. and keys from the entry table and slipped them back into her pockets. Hopefully she'd have a chance to ask him that later; when the "anonymous" donor showed up tonight, she was going to be hiding near the donations box, waiting for him.
She wasn't going to turn the money down; whatever the source, whatever blood might be on it, she never had before. But someone had to give that overgrown boy a talking to... and it might as well be her.
Billy threaded his way slowly through the streets of Los Angeles, an envelope full of cash wadded up in one hand. The sun had already set and he wasn't exactly strolling through the most hospitable neighborhood in town, but he wasn't worried. There was very little he bothered to worry about anymore, least of all his own life.
Besides, half the cops and criminals in the city recognized him from his blogs now; he doubted he'd get attacked. At least, that was the argument he'd used on Moist; and as far as the rest of the League was concerned, Dr. Horrible was out incognito observing the effects of the havoc wrought on the city and clearing his Mad Scientist brain. The last thing Billy needed was for the rest of the League to discover the truth; his position at the high table was tenuous enough as it was. If it became public knowledge that he hadn't committed the murder they'd accepted him for, or even that he regretted it, he'd was sure he'd be getting another memo-- fatal, this time-- from Bad Horse.
It was ridiculous of him to be taking this risk at all. He was a member of the Evil League of Evil; one never saw Fake Thomas Jefferson striding around in clothes less than two hundred years out of date, or Professor Normal taking off his mechanical sideburns to send gifts to the university he'd worked for before they'd discovered just what it was he did with his lab space. Dr. Horrible had proved his reach did not exceed his grasp; he had every thing he'd ever wanted, and all that remained was to build his power until there was no one left to challenge him.
Still, sometimes in those quiet, interstitial moments when Dr. Horrible's lab coat and gloves lay empty over the back of a chair--
hail to the king
--and Billy's blue jeans and hoodie were still in their drawer--
won't feel a thing
--he looked in the mirror and knew: there would be no point to it all if he didn't do this. If he lost track of where he'd come from, if he forgot his goals; if Penny went down in history as just another object, a prize a lonely geek had lost to a hated rival and a stepping-stone an evil scientist had smashed on his way to power, then how was he any different from those he'd vowed all his life to overturn? It wasn't the world's status quo he needed to be worrying about; it was his own.
He didn't know who that pale, nameless man in the mirror was yet, but he did have a point. Something would have to give, sooner or later. But in the meantime….
He'd already left an envelope at the old Caring Hands shelter that evening; hopefully, they'd have enough soon to reopen the new shelter his impromptu press release had closed. A stop at the East Hills Teen Center would finish off his distribution of the day's take. Someone at Caring Hands-- who obviously needed to have her eyes checked because she'd apparently thought he was a homeless teen himself-- had seen him nearby one evening after he'd dropped off the proceeds of his latest heist and directed him over to "the youth center young Penny used to help at; they miss her there too, poor dears."
Billy hadn't been inside, and didn't expect to. The donations slot out front was as far as he needed to go.
He glanced over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching, then crossed the street and slid the envelope through the slot. He'd just heard it drop to the floor inside and was turning to go, mission accomplished, when he belatedly noticed something very out of place: there was a person inside, staring at him through the glass, reaching for the doorknob on the other side.
Crap, he thought, blinking as a light snapped on and a blonde woman with intense eyes opened the door in front of him. Her mouth was already open, as though on the verge of saying something-- but then she paused, staring at him with a startled expression.
"What-- who are you?" she asked, kneeling to pick up the envelope without breaking her stare. She glanced down at it for a second, scanning over the message written on the outside-- "in remembrance of Penny Lesse," just like the other ones he'd left-- then shook her head and frowned at him. "I was expecting Captain Hammer."
Billy gaped back at her for a moment, forgetting his panic in the face of her completely unjust statement. "No! Are you kidding? Of course I'm not Captain Hammer. I'm-- I'm--" not Dr. Horrible at the moment, he thought, wilting-- "uh, Billy."
"Billy?" Arched eyebrows flew up as she stared at him. "As in Penny's laundry buddy, Billy? But where did you get all this--" She gestured with the envelope of money, then paused, her gaze freezing somewhere in the vicinity of his hair.
Billy ran a hand nervously over the top of his head, and realized he'd missed something else that day: his hair was still spiked up in its Dr. Horrible 'do, blond tips sticking out every which way. "Uh, I can explain--"
She seemed to regain her nerve at that, and her frown grew even fiercer. "You're Dr. Horrible?" she said, angrily. "What, was that a game to you? All those months at Penny's Laundromat, and then that heist, throwing her in Captain Hammer's way-- were you setting her up, all that time? Just so you could kill the hero's girlfriend? And you think you can make up for taking her away from us with money?"
"What? No!" He spluttered, floored by her accusation, upset enough to completely forget about keeping up appearances. "You think I wanted her to date Captain Hammer? You think I wanted her dead? I wanted to give her Australia! If he hadn't pulled that trigger--" He stopped there, clenching his fists. If anyone from the League had overheard that, he was dead, but this woman...!
"If he hadn't pulled that trigger?" she said, watching him with narrowed eyes and a stern jaw.
"I--" he faltered, blinking at her. Maybe he should have come down here in his full Dr. Horrible gear after all and pretended to be casing the place or something; it was much easier to face down the public with his Evil armor around him.
She stared at him a moment longer, then suddenly snorted. "I was just thinking when I came down here that someone had to give that overgrown boy a talking to, and it might as well be me." She smiled, lopsidedly. "Looks like I had the wrong boy, but the right idea. Hi; my name is Anne."
Then she held out her hand.
Billy stared at it a moment, uncomprehending. This woman-- she didn't fear him; she was angry at him; but now she wanted to help him?
--grief replaced with pity for a city barely coping--
Awkwardly, he reached back, thinking of Penny.
And unexpectedly found himself on solid ground.