Niall doesn't know why he's chosen to do this with his life; he's just always wanted to be an evil genius, ever since he was a kid. No one ever told him No, or discouraged him in any way. Left thus to his own devices, he started to - well, he didn't read, because he hates reading, but he watched a lot of documentaries and educational videos about astrophysics and nanochemistry and neurobiology - but yeah, he learned as much as he could about as many different things as he could. Niall doesn't like to say this, but. He is kind of a genius.
"Are you holding mock daytime talk show interviews in your head again?"
Harry is his assistant. Harry is beautiful. They met at Cambridge, Harry studying classics and Niall studying molecular genetics. It was his third degree. Yes, they're very happy together. Harry has always been incredibly supportive. Without him, Niall wouldn't be the evil genius he is today.
Niall drags himself away from the brightly lit studio in his head and back into the equally bright - but cold-bright, not tv-bright - lab.
"I ask because I think your thing's done."
"cDNA amplification," he murmurs.
"I don't care."
Niall isn't all that bothered either, to be honest. This is the boring part, the making primers and designing viral vectors and the endless, standard testing. But if he ever wants those glow-in-the-dark scorpion servants, it's got to be done.
"Break for lunch?" he asks, and Harry beams.
Technically you're not supposed to eat in the lab, Niall knows, but it's his lab, so. Besides, he's pretty sure he has some sort of freakish resistance to chemical injury. He used to deliberately spill things on himself in hopes of causing an exciting, super-power-giving mutation. He's only ever gotten a rash, and even that was just the one time. He doesn't know how that spider got so lucky.
Harry makes lemonade. They have bacon sandwiches and trade kisses over the centrifuge and Niall gets crumbs in his agarose gel but whatever, he'll just run it again tomorrow.
Niall always feels a bit lazy after lunch, especially if he knows there's not going to be any explosions or even good results, so he proposes a race across the lab in lieu of actual work. They're sliding between safety cabinets on their ergonomic wheely chairs when a light flashes blue in the corner of the room. It's the doorbell; Niall set it up because it's hard to hear the actual doorbell this far underground, and sometimes he and Harry like to put on music and have tiny dance parties and then it's pretty much impossible.
"I'll get it," says Harry, and he slides open the glass door and wheels his way down the corridor. Niall spins in circles and marvels at the smoothness of the custom polymer floor. The way the chair glides across it is amazing. Well worth that month of development.
When Harry comes back he's still in the chair, but he's got Liam sitting on his lap. Liam looks a bit uncomfortable.
I met Liam at University, too. We were both taking a neuropsychopharmacology class. It was sort of boring. I fell asleep and had to borrow his notes.
No, that's a terrible answer - Niall won't say that. And why would the interviewer ask about Liam, anyway? He is Niall's best friend - maybe some day Niall will be famous enough that people will want to know about more than just him and his immediate family and Harry? Maybe they will ask. It's better to be prepared.
I met Liam at University. He was getting his master's in psychology. He's my best friend who I don't sleep with.
"Hi Niall!" Liam smiles warmly and Niall grabs him into a hug, which Harry joins in on.
"Liam! I forgot you were coming, I'm so sorry!"
"I forgot too," says Harry. "Sorry Liam, it's been really busy these past few weeks. We had a bit of trouble with a radioactive spider."
"No problem. Harry, you more than made up for it by wheeling me all the way here. Er, thanks for that."
"It seemed like something a good host would do."
"Please, never again."
It's nice having Liam around. They saw each other a few months ago, but there's a lot to catch up on. Niall's completed seventeen new projects ("Oh! Let me tell you about my paralysis ray! It can reverse certain types of spinal cord damage." - "Have you thought about calling it something else?"), Harry's got his pilot's license ("But no plane," he says, staring mournfully at Niall) and Liam's thinking of proposing to Danielle ("I'm almost sure she'll say yes, but what if I'm deluding myself? What if my whole life with her has been nothing but my own stalkerish fantasy?" - "She's very obliging if that's the case, Niall and I have met her loads of times and she's always played along").
Liam buys Jammy Dodgers for them to eat while they wheel and dance around the lab and he's the best person to watch Jeremy Kyle with, able to predict with eerie accuracy what the guests are going to say and do. ("But that's not really the psychology thing, I just watch a lot of Jeremy Kyle.")
After all of half a day they fall into a comfortable groove of biscuit eating and tv watching. (Niall installs a projector, so now they can do both in the lab and he can pretend to continue to work. He will almost definitely get rid of it once Liam's gone.)
It's like being back at university, except they're grown ups now, and have to do taxes and things.
"What taxes?" asks Harry.
Liam laughs at what he assumes is Harry's joke. Niall looks as baffled as Harry.
"I'm pretty sure that's your job," he says, leaning over to poke Harry with a pipette. "You're a terrible assistant."
"I'm not an assistant!" says Harry, outraged. "I'm working on Minoan translations for my Doctoral thesis! And I'm legally a pilot."
Liam pats him on the arm and Niall murmurs, "but you're so pretty."
"Some day I'm going to leave you for someone who doesn't demean and objectify me," Harry sighs.
Niall knows he would never. "Hand me the erlenmeyer, babe?"
"It's a conical flask. Calling it an erlenmeyer makes you sound like a dick."
The flask appears by his elbow anyway.
Two days into Liam's visit, their comfortable groove is interrupted when Niall discovers he's eaten the last party ring and there are no more biscuits of any description (Well, except for rich tea, but they barely count. Liam can have those) left in the house.
It's disrupted again by the blue flashing that means someone's at the door.
"I'll get it," says Harry.
He's back not two minutes later.
"Who was it?"
"A couple of weirdos. Or a weirdo and his minder, maybe. I didn't answer."
Three minutes later they hear a crash.
They take the secret elevator - ostensibly installed for these sorts of situations (in actuality installed after an evening of extremely drunken internet shopping) - up to the living room in the main house. It stops silently behind the fireplace and the three of them press their ears to the door. There are voices murmuring and the occasional laugh. The voices get quieter, probably as the owners move to explore the rest of the house, Niall thinks.
Liam lets out a heavy sigh. "Burglars, d'you think?" he asks, peering at Harry and Niall.
"Too noisy for burglars," says Harry with a shake of his head.
Niall tugs at the collar of his t-shirt and makes a strangled sound. The elevator is not meant for three people.
"Niall? Are you ok? Should I open the door?"
"Hey Niall, remember what we did the last time we were in here?"
Liam trips over Niall's feet in his haste to get to get to the door. He fumbles with the buttons and the front of the elevator slides open to reveal brick wall and the back of the fireplace. Liam stops, dumbfounded.
"You have to crawl through," says Harry, helpfully. "We were going to get one where the whole wall slides open but that would've cost a lot more and we wanted to go on one of those Richard Branson anti-gravity flights."
One by one they climb through the fireplace and into the living room as quietly as possible. The house seems totally silent and the room looks normal enough. In the corridor they see the front door leaning crumpled against the coat rack and exchange wide eyed what on earth? looks.
Further down the hall they find the door to the basement is open and Harry insists he left it closed, so the intruders must have gone that way.
The basement leads to one place only.
It's a good five minutes of stairs and decontamination chamber and long, sterile(ish) corridors before whoever it is reaches the lab, so Harry suggests they head back down in the lift and cut them off before they get to any of Niall's inventions, which is presumably what they're after.
"Does it have to be the elevator?" pleads Liam.
"We can take the slide?"
The slide is not a drunken purchase, but actually something Niall and Harry had both wanted growing up and that they had installed as soon as they could afford it. It wouldn't be unfair to say that their shared dream of avoiding stairs in favor of colored fiberglass tubing is what they bonded over when they first met. It was love at first sight; the slide dream confirmed it.
In the lab Niall grabs one of his ray guns (Tickle gun? Nano-cauterisation ray? He's not sure, he ran out of colors to code with, so they're both purple) and holds it behind his back just as they hear voices approaching.
The two boys ("It's the weirdos from before!" Harry whispers) on the other side of the glass stop dead when they see them, before the shorter one lunges forward and delivers a solid kick to the sliding door.
As glass is won't to do when hit, it shatters.
The boys step towards them, crushing it underfoot. The shorter one is wearing a stripy t-shirt and bright red trousers, with a genuinely professional-looking matching red cape slung about his shoulders. The other one is clad from head to toe in what Harry would call varying shades of charcoal (What Niall would indiscriminately call black) - black t-shirt, black skinny jeans, black boots, black leather jacket and a black look on his face. The pair look utterly mismatched, but they also look really, really good. Niall's mentally debating the idea of getting himself some sort of cape, when Harry's voice cuts into his musings.
"Um. You guys are going to have to pay for all of these doors."
The shorter one waves his hand dismissively and clears his throat, as though he's preparing to give a lengthy speech. Niall's finger finds the trigger of his ray gun, but he's never been one to shoot first and ask questions later and besides, neither of them looks particularly threatening in spite of what they've done to his doors, so he decides it can't hurt to hear what they have to say.
"Mortals!" the boy proclaims. "Hear ye, hear ye. I am The Tomo and this is The Avenging Angel-"
"No." The other boy's scowl becomes more pronounced. "If you have to call me anything, it's just Z."
"But I told you we can't use that," The Tomo explains earnestly. "It's copyrighted, there's that whole Zorro thing. And it'll confuse the public, we need to maintain a strong brand identity."
"Louis, will you give it a fucking rest. Please." Z sees Louis opening his mouth and intercepts with "...and don't give me shit about revealing your 'secret identity', you've got your name written on the insides of your shoes."
Louis looks aghast, but quickly recovers. He throws out his arms dramatically (Z facepalms) and says "We're here to speak with The Destroyer of Nature."
The pause that follows is extremely protracted.
"Oh, come on! One of you three tried to destroy the entire local countryside using tiny genetically-engineered abominations! It was in the paper!"
"Oh, that's me!!" says Niall "Only it wasn't quite like that - somehow a spider got into the lab and climbed into the bin with all the radioactive contaminants and I didn't want to kill it, and I thought 'Well, what are the chances of anything bad happening? Almost zero' - but they weren't, really, when I sat down and worked it out later they were actually quite a bit higher than zero - so I let it loose outside and. Well. You know the rest."
The rest being the partial destruction of the surrounding ecosystem (Niall still thinks it's sort of cool that they had eagles for a while) and the frantic search for said spider (Niall said he caught it by tracking its radioactive signature but really Harry whacked one of the bathroom spiders with a rolled up newspaper and they showed it to the man from the Environment Agency when he came to check) and the subsequent government inquiry.
Louis looks slightly crestfallen. "So it was an accident? But your website..."
Harry tsks. "I told you to take down that website. It's asking for trouble, and it's false advertising."
Niall looks outraged. "False advertising?! I am a genius and I - "
"But you're not evil," says Harry firmly.
Niall opens his mouth to protest but is yet again interrupted.
"Then how do you explain this??" asks Louis, rather aggressively, whipping back his cape to reveal a gaudy, gold trophy studded with pink heart-shaped gemstones, the words 'Number One Evil Genius' engraved across the middle.
Z looks mortified and Liam starts laughing so hard that it sounds like he's choking.
"Are you actually being serious right now? I gave that to Niall for his birthday. It's a joke, why do you think it's covered in hearts?"
"I wouldn't know," says Louis, clearly still suspicious, "why is it covered in hearts?"
"Because I love him," says Harry sharply. His expression softens when he looks at Niall, and he winks at him and blows him a kiss.
Louis' eyes mist over. "Aw, that's so sweet. Zayn, did you hear-"
Still holding it behind his back, Niall lays the ray gun down on an equipment trolley and reaches for the trophy.
"I'd appreciate that back."
Louis hands it to him, looking suitably abashed.
"So definitely not evil?"
"Nope, he's really not," says Harry. "I'm sorry you had to come all this way for nothing. Do you want to maybe have some tea? I can hang your cape up for you?"
Zayn looks a bit nonplussed but Louis smiles cheerfully enough and says, "That'd be brilliant, thanks love," so Harry slopes off to make tea, tangling a hand in Niall's hair on his way out.
There's a bit of an awkward pause once he's gone, during which Zayn's eyes roam the lab with great mistrust and Louis surreptitiously licks at a stain on the bench.
Liam and Niall stare and Louis looks sheepish.
"Hmm, I thought maybe it would give me extra powers," he says.
Niall wonders if Louis is a genius too.
"I think that's just methylene blue," says Niall. "If you drink enough, your pee'll come out blue."
"Ooh, do you have any more??"
Zayn looks beyond disgusted.
"So, what made you want to become an evil genius?" Zayn asks with narrowed eyes, hostility obvious in his voice.
"Dunno really, just something I've always wanted to do." Niall gives his standard answer. "What made you guys want to be superheroes? You are superheroes right? The capes-"
"We are! We're a handsome, crime fighting duo!"
"It seemed the obvious career choice," says Zayn, rolling his eyes. "What with the superpowers and all."
"Superpowers?" asks Harry as he carefully steps over the glass with a tea tray in his arms.
"Yup," says Louis, reaching for the tea pot. Liam swats his hands away.
"I'll be mother. Say 'when'."
He fills everyone's cups and they settle into chairs or onto clean patches of bench or, in Louis' case, atop one of the centrifuges ("I find the vibrations quite pleasant"). Liam and Niall help themselves to sugar from the sugar beaker but the others decline. The sugar beaker's right next to the potassium chloride beaker and they do look sort of similar, now that Niall thinks about it, but there haven't been any accidents yet, and besides, three teaspoons of either is a very survivable dose.
"So," says Harry. "Superpowers."
"I've got your standard stuff - superstrength; invulnerability, to a degree; superspeed. I can't fly though."
"How about you Zayn?"
"Zayn can kill people with his mind."
If facial expressions are anything to go by, Zayn's currently using his power on Louis.
"I wish you wouldn't say it like that, it's not-" He struggles to find the right words, gives up. "Yes, I can, but I wouldn't I mean I have but I didn't - it's a horrible power," he finishes lamely.
Niall feels a spike of sadness. It certainly sounds horrible; even Harry, who can easily kill a spider in cold blood, looks sympathetic.
And that's when Niall has an idea. He's an evil genius, no matter what Harry says. But surely a truly evil genius wouldn't play by any sort of rules. An evil genius would do whatever he wanted, even if his peers disapproved and it didn't mesh with the way society thought evil geniuses should behave.
In a way, an act of good - the ultimate rule break, when it comes to being evil - would be the most evil thing he could do.
"Maybe I can help."
He gathers baseline data. That's usually the boring part, but Zayn's a human subject and he can talk, even if he doesn't most of the time, and he looks hopeful when Niall prods him and he hums as Niall attaches electrodes.
"Don't worry, it's totally painless. Your hair will look like crap when it's finished, though, and the gel is murder to wash out."
Zayn looks like he might throw up.
Niall's got loads of friends - he regularly holds lengthy text conversations with their postman - but you can never have too many, and he likes Zayn and Louis and he'd like them to stick around. Besides, he wants to do he best he can and gathering good data takes time.
It becomes so that Zayn swings by between missions, let's Niall take blood samples and stick the electrode cap onto his head (the second time he drops in, Zayn brings shampoo and conditioner which he leaves in the lab 'for next time') before heading out to fight crime again, or - if it's a slow day - before heading upstairs and flopping on the sofa next to Liam and watching whatever's on channel five.
Louis hangs around too, because they're a duo and something about brand integrity and he eats all the best biscuits but he also carries the new fMRI machine into the lab for Niall so it's sort of forgivable.
Niall runs microarrays. There are a couple of genes overexpressed, and maybe a few novel non-coding RNAs which could maybe account for something. He resigns himself to knockout studies (He hates those. Mice are too cute, even if they do bite - he'd felt compelled to set the last lot free, in a dramatic re-enactment of the scene from E.T., and they'd established a colony in the attic. Harry went out and bought dollhouses and now there's a whole town up there - Hunca Munca was elected Mayor in the last election - and they get the occasional misspelled note asking for more real estate left on their pillows) because the physical data aren't turning up anything useful.
Niall can't find anything at all unusual about Zayn's brainwaves - his EEG is totally normal and Niall is stumped.
Until Louis mentions Zayn's narcolepsy.
Niall does a double take. "Wait, what?"
"What do you mean 'what?', haven't you noticed him passing out all over the place?"
And actually, now that he thinks about it, maybe narcolepsy isn't the worst explanation for all those times Zayn had fallen silent and closed his eyes mid conversation. Niall just thought he was the quiet type and that maybe he found all the machines stressful and liked to picture himself on a Mediterranean island rather than in an underground lab getting a CT scan.
"It's fucking inconvenient to be honest, there was this one time where we were being interviewed-"
Niall's not really listening though, because Zayn's got narcolepsy and a normal EEG, and that's not normal at all.
"It's not brain surgery, it's a subcutaneous chip that will alter the surface cortical neuronal oscillation frequency."
"Harry, translate?" pleads Louis.
"It's a thing that goes under your skin. It'll change your brainwaves."
"And now it all makes sense." Louis pauses. "Well, sort of. A+ assistantship, Harold."
"Not an assistant, Louis."
"What, so no more narcolepsy?" asks Zayn.
Niall shakes his head. "The chip will only kick in when the frequency reaches that which would normally enable you to...you know. But there are pills and stuff for narcolepsy."
"Yeah, I know. Not a fan." He waves his hand, dismissing the subject. "So what'll happen instead? With the brainwaves, I mean."
Niall grins. "What do you want to be able to do?"
"Oh! Make them pee themselves!"
"For fuck's sake, Louis, I'm not going to make people piss themselves. Don't be so fucking crass."
Liam manages to convey 'pot, kettle' by coughing just once.
Zayn's mouth twists up and he closes his eyes. They all fall silent for a minute, watching him think.
"I don't know, maybe confuse them or make them forget that they want to do evil or something. I don't want to do any lasting damage. Nothing too intrusive."
It would be possible - although difficult - to mess with memory, Niall thinks. Zayn's power has more of a generalized effect and this would require specifically targeting certain brain regions, but-
"Make them think of kittens."
They all turn to stare at Liam.
"What? Studies have shown that violent impulses do diminish upon exposure to certain stimuli."
"Like pictures of kittens."
Liam points a finger at Harry. "Bingo"
"Don't say 'bingo'."
Zayn looks unsure. "Does it have to be kittens? Couldn't it be walruses or something? They're cute too."
"That is the second most incorrect thing I have ever heard," says Harry.
If Zayn looks unsure, Louis looks even more so. "I don't know, 'I make people see kittens' sounds weird to be honest. It's going to sound weird in interviews."
It does sound weird in interviews. Louis and Zayn give a lot of them in the week following the debut of Zayn's new powers.
"I also get a lot of really intense emails from cat lovers," Zayn reveals over tea.
"And someone made a mashup of our interviews and that eHarmony cat lady video."
Niall takes a guilty sip of tea and tries not to look at Harry.
Zayn and Louis haven't stopped coming around and Niall's glad. Liam's gone back home, with the promise of visiting again soon, maybe permanently. ("Danielle wants to move, anyway, and this area's got really low crime rates.")
Things settle down a bit following his departure. Harry gets back to properly writing his thesis, Niall returns to his usual work and Louis and Zayn continue with their crime fighting and public appearances.
Niall sets up a league of evil but tracking down people worthy of joining proves difficult. There just aren't that many evil people out there who are fun to hang out with. He's not too disappointed, to be honest - sometimes he even catches himself thinking that maybe being evil's a bit overrated.
One Wednesday Zayn swings by, asks if he's got 'A ray gun or something, Destructinator the Evil emailed us last night to say he's gonna be starting something'. (Niall had looked into Destructinator the Evil, for league purposes. He seems like sort of an aimless idiot and a few months ago he accidentally wrecked the only local swimming pool with a flume.) Niall feels no qualms about offering Zayn the tickle ray.
Pictures of Destructinator the Evil, clearly defeated and writhing on the ground in agony (Zayn standing behind him with a what the fuck? look on his face) are all over the news the next day. (If Niall neglected to mention that the tickle ray was named based on the acronym Tonic Inhibition of Ca2+/K+ channels on Lateral nerve Endings (causes loss of motor control and an intense burning sensation!) it's only because it was too obvious to do so.)
After that Zayn and Louis come by asking for equipment as well as tea and Niall thinks maybe he doesn't need a league, if he's got this instead.
Zayn and Louis are doing better than ever, as evidenced by the myriad photo shoots of the two of them adorned with kittens which continue to appear online and in glossy magazines ("There's something about attractive young men holding animals that the public really enjoys"), even if Louis does grouch about Zayn's misuse of his power ("He soothes me with abyssinians and tortures me with sphynxes").
Liam proposes to Danielle and then spends three months planning the seating arrangements for the reception ("This level of understanding of the human psyche is a curse").
Niall builds Harry a plane and then buys him one when Harry refuses to pilot the custom-made craft ("I don't care how much of a genius you are, you asked me to explain how planes work and then stopped me after thirty seconds, saying 'So it's pretty much like magic') and they fly to Crete so that Harry can do research for his thesis and Niall can distract him.
They leave Zayn and Louis to house sit and guard Niall's lab. His luminescent scorpion servants are now totally functional, and he instructs them to send an email should anything terrible happen while he's away.
They send a total of thirty six messages over the seven days, but Niall uses an email client and he doesn't realize scorpion mail gets filtered into his spam folder until two months after their return.