Professor Venomous was soaring.
In the literal sense, yes. He stood on top of Lord Boxman’s desk, feet braced apart and knees held soft enough to accommodate occasional turbulence as the airborne office furniture navigated a cloud or updraft; he trusted the rubber soles of his shoes to keep him on top of the polished wood surface more than he did his Scotchguard-slippery dress pants. Below the desk… oh, maybe 5,000 feet to the ground. Venomous tried not to think about it.
Instead, he focused on immediate sensations. The unsteady light of the moon, blasted into pieces not an hour before, fractured chunks rotating steady and slow as clock-hands in the vacuum of space. The chilly caress of wind through the holes in his ash-stained shirt. The tang of spiked party punch still lingering on his tongue. A radiant warmth at his fingertips, the tactile memory of Boxman’s fingers touching his own as he had handed over the bio-chip in its tidy snake-emblazoned case. Adrenaline still flowing through his veins: first, from the dizzying surge that had gripped him as he had watched Boxman destroy Billiam Milliam’s yacht; and then, from when he had thrown off his inhibitions and reached out to Boxman, handing over the bio-chip that had been burning a hole in his pocket for weeks, taking the step that he had been avoiding for months. That was the other reason he was soaring. Figuratively.
Boxman trusted his butt a lot more than Venomous did his own, apparently. He sat confidently on the leading edge of the desk, human fingertips resting lightly against its surface. In his bird-hand he held the little case, open, close to his face, peering in at the bio-chip. He tilted it this-way-and-that, but didn’t remove the chip, or even touch it; probably a good idea, at this height, with this cross-wind. Venomous couldn’t see his face.
Box had been so eager when he had reached out for the case, had first grasped it while gazing bright-eyed at Venomous, cackling; he had been downright giddy. After making him wait so long, Venomous had expected the gesture of trust to be recognized for the romantic overture it was, to be returned tenfold. “Tell me everything,” Venomous had said; and Boxman had. But now that he’d run through the technical aspects of his “science project”, Boxman had gone quiet, withdrawn—it was disconcerting.
Venomous cleared his throat, more for the effect than out of necessity.
“Sooo... you like it?”
Boxman picked up his head; the feathers on his arm fluffed and settled. “Bwuah?” His startled little cluck was almost drowned out by the thrum of the desk’s motors.
“The bio-chip,” Venomous prompted. “Don’t you think it’ll be a good fit?”
“Like it!?” There was that full-throated answer Venomous had expected, had hoped for; though Boxman still faced ahead, away from him. “P.V.,” he emphasized each initial as if it were spelled with a string of eee’s, “It’s perfect. I’m so excited I could almost kiss you, eheh.”
“I wish you would.”
Venomous surprised himself. He hadn’t meant to sound so eager. He hadn’t expected to sound so sure.
Box’s shoulders rose to his ears; he held still for a breathless moment. He didn’t turn around. He simply closed the bio-chip’s case, placed it on the desk next to him, and then patted the desk twice, haltingly. The desk began its descent.
It wasn’t the smoothest of landings. Not that Venomous had much of a frame of reference; given the way Box piloted his own body sometimes, he wouldn’t have been surprised if the desk crashed on the regular. He just knew that his stomach, already clenching with uncertainty, hadn’t benefited from that first plunging drop in altitude. And he didn’t need any more rips in his shirt, or twigs in his hair, and now he had them. He’d had to drop to a crouch to keep from falling right off the desktop; when the desk planted itself on the forest floor, Venomous sat, dangling his legs over the side.
As soon as four wooden legs touched the ground, Boxman climbed onto his own feet. He shifted from one foot to the other… no, now that they were on a steady surface, Venomous could see that he was actually swaying, almost weaving. That punch they’d been drinking. Venomous remembered seeing Boxman draped across the buffet table, the entire punchbowl tilted to pour into his gullet. A thought hit him… Chugging that alcohol hadn’t been an act of selfishness, or just a way to aggravate the other villains, but an intentional step that had facilitated everything he did afterwards, a strategy for being able to act as shamelessly as possible.
Boxman turned, eyes wide, brows drawn down, mouth set in a frown. He was… exasperated? No, determined? No, livid? Expressions blazed across his face, like the flames that had eaten the carcass of the yacht. He squealed in a voice like a screw being stripped of its thread, “What gives?”
Venomous was stunned into silence.
“I just don’t get it,” Boxman continued, his voice still strained but at least back in its normal range, no longer bone-scratchingly shrill. “You said I was ‘inane.’” He lifted both hands and crooked his fingers into air-quotes, his voice going woobly in imitation. “You said I couldn’t come to your party. You didn’t want to come to my factory. You didn’t want me to go to your lab. You didn’t want me around at all! So… so…” His expression slid from anger into anguish, blended with bewilderment, “What happened?”
“You changed my mind.” The words sprang out of Venomous instantly. He examined the phrase as it hung in the air; there was much more he could say… but not now. That was accurate, that was good.
Boxman burst into tears. His chest heaved, his crooked teeth bared in an unselfconscious grimace, tears gushing from his eyes.
Venomous stood, innards twisting with confusion and a feeling foreign to villains of his status, guilt. He started to move his hand, awkwardly; then let it drop to his side. He felt an urge to do something very uncharacteristic indeed, and gave it a go. “Box, I… I’ve upset you, I’m… s… sohr… I didn’t intend that.”
Boxman shook his head, flinging teardrops into the underbrush. “mmNOT upset.”
“You’re not… you’re not crying because you’re upset?”
Boxman unleashed a string of inarticulate burbling that sounded like agreement.
“Are you crying because…” It felt maudlin to say, and even worse to hope for… but Cob knew, Boxman had a vast capacity for corny dramatics, “… because you’re happy?”
Boxman shook his head—negative. Oh, okay. That smarted a bit.
“It’s just… It’s just that…” Boxman wheezed, tears still streaming down his face.
Venomous’ next thought replaced his frown with a half-smirk, despite his lingering guilt. “Are you crying because you’re drunk?”
Boxman nodded. Then he tugged a corner of his torn, grimy tank-top up over his face and swabbed at his eyes.
“Oh for Cob’s sake, Box, don’t… here,” Venomous muttered, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and handing it over.
Boxman quieted immediately, dabbing the square at his eyes with a sudden delicacy. Venomous waited patiently, watching him, until eyes dry and handkerchief soggy, Boxman stared at it crumpled in the palm of his hand. He opened a desk drawer and dropped it in, with a hasty and embarrassed mutter, “Gonna launder that, eheh.”
Then he looked at Venomous. If his expression had been hard to read before, now the turmoil had cleared. His face reflected a spectrum of emotions, one overlapping the other, but they were plain enough: timidity, desire, mustered courage, determination.
Venomous sat in anticipation, legs dangling still over the side of the desk. He knew how to exert power over a person; he knew words to say, gestures to make, glances and glares to direct, that could make a person quiver with fear, or attraction. Others tried the same tactics on him. It was all a part of the business. But with Boxman, things were different. Boxman didn’t need to try to manipulate Venomous—in fact, he couldn’t have if he had tried—all he needed to do was be himself, and Venomous was mesmerized. And it went both ways; that had been clear since the moment Venomous had walked through the door of Boxmore. Venomous had never before been able to exert such influence without making any effort at all. Under the chilly crepuscular shadow of the forest canopy, Boxman was blushing hotly, his face was aglow. He was transfixed, and all Venomous had to do… was sit still.
Boxman took a step, and then another, so carefully his feet made barely a sound against the desktop. Then he was standing directly beside Venomous, looking down at him. Ven tilted his face upwards, a hint of a smile of invitation gracing his lips.
Boxman cupped Venomous’ face in his hands. He hesitated one moment more, snaggletooth biting at his lower lip. He lowered his face, hesitantly.
He touched Venomous’ lips with his own.
It was such a simple kiss. So gentle. But it sent a sweet warmth sluicing through Venomous’ veins, from the top of his head all the way to his toes. From the way Boxman’s breathing sped up, he felt the same.
Suddenly, it was more. Boxman’s kiss deepened, became hungry. Venomous reached up and around his back, pulling him closer, pulling him downwards. Boxman’s avian hand slid from Venomous’ jawline to tangle in the long hair at the nape of his neck; feeling the pull, Venomous groaned against Boxman’s mouth. His fingers tightened, nails digging into Boxman’s back… Boxman’s human hand reached to Venomous’ torso, scrabbling at his shirt, inching it up and out of his belt to expose his belly… Venomous almost reached to help him get the shirt off, this was happening, this was finally happening…
WAIT. This wasn’t right. Not now, not like this.
Venomous pushed Boxman away.
Open-mouthed, panting, Boxman looked slightly hurt, definitely confused. His eyes were unfocused, glazed with passion… no, his eyes were glazed with intoxication.
“Box,” Venomous said, still holding him close, but not too close, “We should slow down. You’re still drunk.”
Boxman blinked at him, bewildered. Then he squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them, they had regained focus. “Ah,” was all he said.
Venomous pulled him down into another kiss, but this time well-mannered, with careful intention. Boxman’s lips were soft; he was so soft, he was so cute, and yet he was so strong and aggressive with the heroes—how was it possible?
This time Boxman pushed Venomous away. He was making an inarticulate whine of distress deep in his throat.
“What?” Venomous asked, alarmed.
“The other villains,” Boxman wheezed. “You heard what they said.”
“What… when?” Venomous wasn’t concentrating on Boxman’s words; just watching his lips.
“On the yacht.” Boxman’s tone was suddenly harsh again, and it snapped Venomous back to the present. He had stood right there on the deck, listening, seeing everything. He knew exactly what the other villains had said to Boxman.
You’re not one of us.
Your superpower must be failure… it’s the only thing you’re good at.
“You don’t care what the other villains say,” Venomous hissed, with more than a tinge of frustration, despite himself.
“I don’t care what they say about me,” Boxman retorted. He didn’t need to say more. His pointed look at Venomous, the concerned incline of his eyebrows, said enough.
Venomous grimaced. “I don’t care what they say about me, either.”
Boxman gave him a look that was a bit like disappointment and a bit like pity. Venomous was an accomplished liar, but even he couldn’t sell that one.
Venomous huffed through his nose, ran a hand through his hair. He’d really rather still be making out; but it was true, there were things that needed to be said.
“Don’t you remember what I said? When I gave you the bio-chip?” He pointed up towards the sky. “I said that I love your dedication to crushing the plaza heroes. I love your whole attitude. I loved the way you made all the other villains puke and cry.”
Boxman tilted his head bashfully and blushed furiously, getting redder by increments every time Venomous said the word love.
Venomous grinned. “Look. My own situation? That’s on me. I’ll deal with my friends. I’ll deal with my business partners. I’ll deal with Fink. You shouldn’t worry about it.”
At the mention of Fink, Boxman’s eyes widened, and a nervous drop of sweat beaded at his temple. “…the children.”
Boxman cringed. “The bots. That whole… closet-busting thing… I know it looked great on the outside, but on the inside? Woo. Things in the factory were real hairy there for a while. Ernesto asked so many questions.” Boxman’s face went dark as he repeated, “So. Many. Questions.” He perked up again and gestured with his avian hand. “Darrell was upset. Thought I wouldn’t value his line anymore. That boy just does not deal well with change. Kept on getting distracted on the assembly line, messing up the work. And Shannon. She was all, Oooh Daddy, when are you going to get a boyfriend? Raymond wasn’t any better. And Jethro was the worst, he was all, I AM JETHRO.” He stuck out his tongue, frowning. Then he sighed. “I gotta admit, it wasn’t easy. And now, to tell them I’m starting a relationship…”
He looked at Venomous, suddenly, complexion even more green than usual. “We are. Starting a relationship. Isn’t that… is that what’s happening here?”
Venomous lowered his kohl-lined eyelids, inclined his head.
Boxman gestured to him, both palms open. “SEE. A relationship. Pfft! As if know how these things work!”
“But we do know how a business relationship works, you and me,” Venomous said.
Boxman rotated his avian hand at the wrist, mouth quirked in an Eh. “I can’t say I’ve been terribly good at those. In fact…” His hand stilled, and his lips pursed in sudden thought. He directed a glare at Venomous. “We only met because you wanted to break up with me. Remember?”
“Can’t say I’ve had a lot of luck with other business relationships, either,” Boxman sighed.
“Fair enough,” Venomous shrugged. “We’ll figure out the business part together. You do still owe me those thousand robots.” He winked. “As for our other relationship… we’ll take it step by step.” Another thought occurred to him, and he held up a hand in an easy, open-palmed gesture. “Do you remember what I said to you? That time you asked me for advice on coming out? Your personal business is your business.” He placed his hand on Boxman’s shoulder; this time, the gesture happened smoothly, naturally. “We don’t have to tell anybody—not until we want to, anyway.”
Boxman placed his own hand atop Venomous’, looking steadier than he had all night.
High on his own monologuing, Venomous drove his point home. “You’re fearless. And I am in awe. I’m worried about how others see me; it’s true. I’m going to work on being fearless, too.”
Boxman gripped his hand, chuckling deep in his throat, smiling blissfully.
Boxman’s joy was the one mood that Venomous enjoyed seeing even more than Boxman’s rage; and he had witnessed it so much more rarely.
He was in a rare mood himself. He didn’t know what the future would bring; he was no longer in control of the situation he was in. He was out on a limb, lost at sea, and any number of other inane clichés. And that was just fine with him.