Hey, readers! This oneshot references the episodes 'Mousezilla,' 'Coupon Madness,' 'House Arrest,' 'One Last Sandwich,' 'Mr. Big's Mini-Golf,''Dr. Three-Brains,' and 'Meat with A Side of Cute.'…Oh, and 'Mission: Match-Up' from Sonic X. More on that later. XP

Foreword:

I find it kind of ironic that I'm writing a whole series of oneshots shipping Becky and Tobey, and the one I'm posting at Valentine's Day just happens to be one that is barely even romantic. :P What can I say? This is just how the cookie crumbled. If Valentine's Day wasn't so darn early in the year, I might've had a better chance. Watch the one for Halloween end up super-mushy. XP

The theme of this oneshot was suggested by macook, and the story takes place probably a few days or so after 'Badinage.' Enjoy! :)


Cajole [kuh-johl] – to persuade by flattery or promises; wheedle; coax.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"Hey, I finally get to open a chapter!" exclaimed the Narrator, adding under his breath, "It's about time." He cleared his throat. "One portentous day, in a familiar seedy motel on the outskirts of town, an impromptu gathering of the Evil Villains Association is hard at work conspiring to… eat—lunch?"

Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy hunched listlessly in his seat, scrutinizing a tray full of sorry-looking tacos. He fingered one of them and sighed, his cheek leaning against his fist. "Man, I hate when Lady Redundant Woman is in charge of the food. She always gets all the same thing."

"Why, that is false, incorrect, and untrue," argued the offended villainess who was still setting out matching trays of food at Chuck's table. "I got tacos from 27 different restaurants."

"You could've at least got me a quesadilla," grumbled Dr. Two-Brains, who sat across from Chuck and was digging around inside a taco with his fingers. He added under his breath, "There's barely any cheese on these."

Another clone came along to back up the first and indignantly folded her arms. "You should be happy you got food at all! I'll have you know, comprehend, and be aware that I had to fight WordGirl when I went to get lunch today."

The Butcher stopped in the middle of pumping extra ground beef into his taco, frowning as if in surprise. "Wait, WordGirl? I thought she moved to another planet or sumthin'."

At that, Chuck jumped to his feet. "Oh! That's my cue." He rushed up to the podium and whacked the gavel a few times, briskly calling out, "Order! Order!"

"I'll have a foot-long meatball sub!" shouted a voice from the back of the room as a corresponding yellow-gloved hand shot up.

"Oh, very funny, Rope Guy," Chuck muttered with a roll of his eyes. "Anyway, as I'm sure you're all aware, last month I was informed by WordGirl that she was planning to leave Earth and return to her home planet Lexicon. Well, a few days ago I received this letter from her explaining that she's back and won't be moving after all."

He held up a red envelope with a yellow seal in the shape of a star, and an annoyed murmuring broke out across the room. Some of the villains seemed upset. Others seemed relieved. Still others seemed to be feigning one while feeling the other.

Miss Question scoffed. "You mean after we were all nice enough to suspend our villainous activities so she could have a nice farewell, she's not even leaving?"

"That's just rude," grumbled a nearby clone.

"And it's also inconsiderate," griped another.

"And it's also impolite," bellyached a third.

"Now, calm down, everyone," Chuck implored. "Let me read the letter, okay?"

The room went silent as he opened the envelope. He pulled out a single neatly-folded sheet of paper, cleared his throat, and proceeded to read the contents aloud. "'Dear Villains, I'd like to thank you all for postponing (that means putting off until later) your capers and evil schemes while I was preparing to relocate (that means go someplace else). That meant a lot to me, and it made the weeks before my trip a lot easier.'"

"Aw, isn't that sweet?" commented Granny May.

Chuck cleared his throat again, louder this time, and continued with the letter. "'I hope it doesn't annoy you too much to learn that I am back in town, and I won't be going to Lexicon after all. The details are a secret, but let's just say that something went terribly wrong during the trip and the whole thing ended up being a very traumatic experience. To make a long story short, I realized that my home is here on earth, and I don't plan on leaving again.'"

Someone gave a loud cheer. Then all was quiet once more as Chuck read the letter's closing sentiment. "'I hope to see each and every one of you many more times in the future—even if it's only in battle—and I hope that you all feel the same. Sincerely, WordGirl'"

Chuck looked up from the letter to see a hotel lobby full of hardened criminals all looking completely tenderized.

The Butcher sniffled and mumbled through a sob, "That was beautiful."

"Wasn't it, though?" Miss Question responded, holding a hand to her chest.

There was now only one Lady Redundant Woman in the room—the clones had all dissipated as the paper grew soggy from their own tears—and she somberly wiped her eyes. "I was touched… and moved… and also stirred."

Swept up in the emotion of the moment, Chuck raised up his arms and shouted from the podium, "Everyone, do we have the nicest superhero in the world or what?"

The room broke into a cheer of agreement.

Chuck grinned from ear to ear. "Oh, yeah! And now that she's back and we don't need to postpone our evil schemes anymore, I know the perfect project to break us all back into the crime scene!"

"Oh yeah? What's that?" asked Miss Question.

Chuck rubbed his hands together and cackled menacingly.

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"The next day, at the McCallister house," announced the Narrator. "Tobey and Becky are sitting in the living room playing a friendly game of 'By Jove, You've Wrecked My Robot.'"

"Red two," Tobey guessed.

"Nope," said Becky. Green three?"

"Ha! Miss," said Tobey.

Becky looked past Tobey and noticed his mother sitting in the corner with an open book in her lap. She wasn't reading it, though. She was watching their game with a soft, endearing smile on her face. When their eyes met, her smile vanished and she turned quickly back to her book.

Becky turned her own attention back to the game, flushing with embarrassment. At the same time, though, it made her feel strangely happy.

The doorbell rang, and Tobey started to get up.

"I'll get it, Dear," said Mrs. McCallister, putting down her book.

"Oh, thanks," Tobey said as his mother stepped out of the room.

"Purple five," said Tobey.

"By Jove, you've wrecked my robot!" Becky announced dramatically.

"Yes!" Tobey said with a victorious pump of his fist. "I believe that ties us up, no?"

"At least until I make my move."

"Hmm. Cocky today, aren't we, my dear?" Tobey playfully accused, flopping over to British.

"Bad company corrupts good character, I suppose," quoted Becky.

"Ha ha," Tobey muttered flatly.

Mrs. McCallister poked her head back into the room, her expression bemused, and said, "Tobey, it's for you."

Tobey looked puzzled, then shrugged and got to his feet. Becky did as well, and they followed her to the front of the house. Becky gasped in surprise when they arrived to find The Butcher, Granny May, Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy, and Dr. Two-Brains all standing together on the porch, smiling.

The Butcher was holding up what looked like a framed certificate in one hand, and in the other was a plain sheet of paper. He cleared his throat and looked at the paper, apparently reading from it as he loudly proclaimed, "Theodore Tobey McCallister Aye Aye Aye."

He paused, frowning as he turned the paper upside-down and scratched the side of his head. Dr. Two-Brains made an exasperated face and whispered something in his ear.

"Oh, 'The Third!'" The Butcher exclaimed. "That's spelled III? How's that for a weird pronuncification?"

"Just keep reading," Two-Brains instructed irritably.

The Butcher cleared his throat again and continued. "On beehayelf of the members of the Evil Villains Association, I hairabee reward you this cerkifatit of achaivuhment in rekugniteeyun of your five years' service to the cows of villainy."

He smiled proudly while the other three villains stared at him in disbelief.

When the silence was starting to become awkward, Tobey said, "Um… what?"

"I don't even know where to begin correcting that sentence," Becky murmured.

"He wanted to do the honors," sighed Two-Brains, "and we figured he'd be okay if he was actually reading the words." He glared at The Butcher, who smiled sheepishly.

"So much for that," Granny May muttered under her breath.

"Sorry," the Butcher said, rubbing the back of his head. "Guess I shoulda rehearsed."

"Anyway," Chuck cut in, "we just wanted to recognize you for all the diabolical feats you accomplished as a villain."

"Three years, and over ten billion dollars in property damage!" added Dr. Two-Brains.

Becky gasped and Tobey flinched. He glanced over at her with a shameful, pleading look on his face, as if to say 'I had no idea it was that much. Do you still like me?'

"Oh my," murmured Mrs. McCallister.

"That has to be a—high estimate… right?" Tobey stuttered hopefully.

Misunderstanding his hopes, Chuck exacerbated the awkwardness by saying, "Well, technically, you clocked out after four years and eight months of official villain status—"

"However," Dr. Two-Brains inserted, "we found a loophole in the rules—"

"Thanks to you yours truly!" Granny May interrupted.

"Right," Two-Brains articulated, crossing his arms down at her. Turning back to Tobey, he concluded, "And we were able to get you credit for the months before you started terrorizing the city when you were just being a jerk to your classmates."

"I was nine," Tobey pointed out.

"Believe me, it wasn't easy," said Chuck.

"But for you, kid," offered the doc, "it was worth it."

"No need to thank us," said the Butcher. "Just giving credit where it's due."

Tobey looked like he was about to pop a blood vessel, so Becky stepped forward to try and help him out. "Look, I'm sure Tobey appreciates the gesture, but I really don't think he wants to be recognized for—"

The Butcher gasped. "Omigosh! Tobey, is this your new girlfriend?!"

Tobey snatched a nervous glance at Becky and hesitantly drawled, "Yes…"

The foursome barged in all at once and swarmed Becky so fast that she could scarcely react.

"Well," Mrs. McCallister said, " I suppose I'll go and get some refreshments." And just like that, she was gone.

"Oh, isn't she a doll!" Granny May said, pinching Becky on the cheek. She squinted and mumbled the addendum, "A rather plain-looking doll, though."

"I beg your pardon!" Tobey blasted.

Butcher shook her hand hard. "Congraddleations! Tobey's a great guy! Not exactly a good guy, but a great guy."

"In case you've all forgotten," Tobey grumbled, "I am standing right here."

Dr. Two-Brains put a hand to his chin and looked Becky over with a scrutinizing eye. "I dunno, Tobey," he muttered skeptically, "she seems a bit normal for you. You sure she's not distinctly lacking in… superpowers or something?"

Becky glared and balled up her fists.

"Come to think of it," Granny May observed, "she does seem a bit dull compared to Tobey's last girlfriend."

"His last girlfriend?" Becky exclaimed.

"Oh, you know," Granny May said, smiling casually. "That witty young superheroine with the pet hamster."

"WordGirl was never my girlfriend!" Tobey bellowed, his face flaming.

Granny May rolled her eyes. "Could've fooled me."

"That does it!"

Tobey marched over and started yelling at the three offending villains. Poor stunned Becky quickly lost track of what he was saying.

"Hey, I know you!" said the one criminal being spared Tobey's wrath, and Becky looked up to see Chuck pointing at her.

"No you don't," she insisted, waving her hands in denial. "How could you possibly—?"

"Becky Botsford, right?" he said. "I stayed at your house once while my jail cell was being painted."

"Oh… right!" Becky relaxed and resisted the urge to sigh in relief. She'd gotten so used to having to brush off a connection between her and WordGirl, she'd started doing it automatically.

He moved in a little closer to her and whispered discreetly around the back of his hand, "Soooo… you sure you're all right playing second-fiddle to WordGirl?"

"Huh?" she responded, prickling at the question for reasons she didn't quite know. "What are you talking about? I am not playing second-fiddle to WordGirl!"

Chuck shrugged. "I don't know… Tobey did have a mighty-big crush on her. I don't think I remember him even mentioning you before."

The comment stung. "Well… I…"

"Besides, he can be a bit… a bit… Oh, what's the word? It sounded like 'pickles.'"

"You mean fickle?" Becky supplied. "It means changing frequently, especially in loyalties, interests, or… affection."

"Wow, not bad," Chuck complimented with a nod. "No wonder Tobey likes you. You're a lot like WordGirl. Anyway, yes, he can be a bit fickle. This isn't the first time he's changed his mind about being a villain, after all." He averted his eyes and added something in a mumbling whisper that sounded like, "and it probably won't be the last."

"What was that?" Becky asked.

"I'm just saying, you seem like a ruly, responsible, reliable kid. You sure Tobey is—stable enough for you?"

He pointed a thumb at Tobey, who was still screaming at his house guests. "For the last time, I don't want your certificate of regrets haunting my wall for the rest of my life!"

The Butcher gasped. "Tobey, how can you say that?"

"Quite easily, I assure you," Tobey fumed, arms crossed tightly in front of him.

Presently his mother returned with a tray of teacups. It was clear from her expression that she was concerned. Managing an accommodating smile and a cordial tone, she calmly suggested, "Perhaps you four should take your tea for the road. Tobey and Becky are in the middle of a game, you see."

"Say no more, we'll get out of your hair," said Dr. Two-Brains, turning to Tobey. "But first, I want Tobey to have my March issue of Modern Villain Monthly. I heard you canceled your subscription, but this is one you shouldn't miss. Mech suit edition." He suggestively elbowed Tobey, who just glared at him.

"And just so you know," said The Butcher, waving a sale ad in Tobey's face, "there's a sale this Saturday at Lair Depot. 80% off all robotic compotents!"

"And here, sweetie," Granny cut in, "have a coupon for a free item of any value from any store in the city when you buy a gumball. I printed it just for you." She reached out to pinch his cheek, but he ducked out of the way just in time.

"Well, thank you for visiting. It was nice having you. Goodbye!" Mrs. McCallister said brusquely as she rounded up the villains and shoved them out the door. She then folded her arms just like Tobey, and Becky was treated to the sight of the mother and son glaring together at the door with matching postures and expressions.

Before she could giggle with pleasure, though, the magazine, sale ad, and coupon slid one by one through the mail slot and fell to the floor. To Becky's dismay, Tobey stepped over and picked them up.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"That evening," explained the Narrator, "after their game is over and Becky has gone home, Tobey is up in his bedroom reflecting on the day's strange events."

"Do you have to do that every scene?" Tobey complained, sitting on his bed.

"Don't take this from me, man!" the Narrator said. "It's all I've got!"

Tobey rolled his eyes, but indeed continued pondering his bizarre visit from the villains.

What was that all about? he wondered, trying to sort through his mixed feelings about the whole thing. Although the villains' visit had veered off into embarrassing and aggravating territory, Tobey couldn't deny that he'd been happy, at least at first, to see them.

He started absently looking through the magazine Dr. Two-Brains had given him, skimming through ads and articles that said things like, 'Build a Badder You,' 'Wreck One Get One Free,' and such. Before long he found himself perusing the sale ad from The Butcher, and his eyes bugged when he saw the prices. They were incredible—a fraction of retail. He bit his lip and struggled with a newfound dilemma.

It's only parts, he thought. There's nothing inherently villainous about those.

However, he ultimately decided against it, thinking of how Becky would likely react if she found out. Plus, considering the stigma of his past, it was probably best if he didn't associate himself with anything associated with villainy. Besides, he didn't exactly deserve to get his parts at such a steep discount—not with ten billion dollars in property damage on his rap sheet. He sighed, dropped the gifts in his wastebasket, and lay down on his bed.

"What a day," he murmured absently, closing his eyes.

"Tobester! Wham's up?" a gravelly, inarticulate voice blasted out of nowhere. Tobey yelped in surprise and sprang up to see The Whammer smiling giddily, his upper half sticking inside the room through the open window.

"Whammer?" Tobey exclaimed. "What are you doing in my window?! And did you just call me a toaster?"

The Whammer heaved himself up onto the windowsill and toned down his voice just a little as he said, "Listen, Tobester. The Whammer knows you're tryin' ta go straight, and The Whammer totally respects that." He closed his eyes and paused for just a moment, then bounced right back to his usual explosive energy and added, "But before ya do! How 'bout we team up and wham one last building? YEAH!"

Tobey was speechless for a moment, just staring at his uninvited and quite unexpected visitor. Finally he shook his head and said, "While I'm impressed you actually managed to use your word properly for once, I'm not interested."

He left his bed and moved toward the window to close it, but The Whammer spread out a forbidding hand. Tobey hadn't thought it was possible for his goofy grin to spread any farther across his face. "Aw, wham on, it'll be totally wham! You've never teamed up with the Whammer before!"

"And I regret that even less now that I did two years ago, but in case you missed the memo, I'm not a villain anymore."

"Don't you wanna go out with a wham?"

"No thank you, good day."

He pushed The Whammer out the window and quickly shut it, then watched him head back down the street looking disappointed.

What was that all about? Tobey wondered for the second time that day.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"The next day," said the Narrator.

Tobey growled and tightened his grip on the straps of his backpack as Miss Question, hovering along beside him, asked for the hundredth time, "Are you positive you're sure?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, YES!" Tobey insisted. "I am completely, totally, absolutely, irrevocably sure!"

The villainess had caught him on his way to Becky's house and had been buzzing around him like a pesky insect ever since. It was taking all his willpower not to pull out his pocket supercomputer, summon his biggest robot, and have it crush her little hoverboard into metallic dust.

"Irrevocably? Don't you think that's a bit melodramatic?" she persisted, much to Tobey's deepening annoyance. "I mean, have you carefully considered the long-term consequences of quitting villainy for good?"

Tobey glared at her and muttered through grit teeth, "Keep talking and you'll have some 'long-term consequences' of your own to worry about."

He turned decidedly away from her, sticking his nose in the air and marching resolutely up the driveway of the Botsford house.

"Oh, this is your girlfriend's house, right?" Miss Question asked, infuriatingly undeterred. "Are you going on a date?"

Tobey had reached the front door, but paused to shoot his interrogator a hot frown. It was none of her business, of course, but he didn't want her presuming things that weren't true. "For your information, Miss Nosy, we are going to the library to study."

He rang the doorbell, and it opened almost instantly to Becky's smiling face as Miss Question blurted out, "Ahhh, study date, huh?"

"Go AWAY!" Tobey screamed, whirling furiously on the villainess.

He saw Becky flinch out of the corner of his eye.

"Touchy much?" Miss Question pouted, and with that, she flew away.

Tobey groaned as he turned back to Becky with a still aggravated but greatly softened expression.

"What was that about?" Becky asked, looking off in the direction Miss Question had flown.

"How should I know?" Tobey blasted, turning off his accent and throwing up his arms. Annoyed with himself for answering with a question, he folded his arms and quickly added, "She just appeared while I was walking here and wouldn't leave me alone! Kept asking me if I was sure I didn't want to be evil anymore. I even caught her trying to use her powers on me once or—"

"Look out!" Becky exclaimed, grabbing Tobey by the arms and pulling him inside the house. He glanced behind him just in time to see a beam of hypnosis-inducing question marks collide harmlessly with the door post.

The two cautiously poked their heads out the door and Tobey shot daggers across the driveway at Miss Question, who was poking her own head out from behind Mr. Botsford's car.

"You see? Like that!" Tobey barked at Becky, though she clearly wasn't his target, "She just won't take a hint!"

"Well, can you blame me?" Miss Question retorted.

"YES!" shouted Tobey. "Yes, I can!"

« « « « « ж » » » » »

Becky's anxiety must have been showing on her face, because when they arrived at the library Tobey asked, "Are you okay?"

She looked up from the ground and saw concern in his eyes. In an effort to ease his mind, she put on a smile. "I'm fine. It's nothing."

It really was nothing. Why should she be feeling disconcerted, anyway? She was well aware of Tobey's past, and he had more than proven it was behind him. Sure, a million reminders of it were coming simultaneously out of nowhere, but that was no reason for her to be worried… right?

Still, Chuck's words kept coming back to her, and though she wasn't sure why, she couldn't help being unsettled by them.

Tobey didn't look convinced that she was 'fine,' but he didn't press the issue, and they walked together to a table near the nonfiction section.

Becky pulled her history textbook from her backpack and dove right into it without looking up at Tobey. She could tell he was looking at her, though, and he did so for a long, awkward moment while she tried to pretend she didn't notice. Finally, he pulled out one of his own books and they proceeded to read in silence while Becky desperately wished for something to dispel the dark cloud hanging over them.

She got her wish a moment later when Miss Dewey came by and smilingly greeted, "Becky! I wasn't expecting to see you in here for a long time. Weren't you going to study overseas?"

Becky was disoriented by the question for only a moment before she remembered that had been the cover story for her canceled journey to Lexicon. "Oh, right, um… I had a change of heart. I realized at the last minute that I could never live so far away from all the important people in my life."

It was true enough, and she smiled up at Tobey as she said it. He smiled back, and the dark cloud was gone. Thank you, Miss Dewey.

"Oh, I'm so glad to hear that," the librarian said enthusiastically, careful to keep her volume at an appropriate level. She turned to Tobey and said with a subtle wink, "I'm sure you were pretty glad too, huh?"

"Was I ever," he murmured, sounding completely sincere despite his fake accent.

Miss Dewey chuckled and casually asked, "So, what else is new with you two?"

Tobey beamed expectantly at Becky and looked like he was biting his tongue to keep from blurting something out.

Becky smiled, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and averted her eyes. "Actually," she said gingerly, "We're, um… together now."

Miss Dewey's eyes widened and an open-mouthed smile played gleefully across her face. Her fists flew up to her shoulders, trembling with excitement.

"Oh my goodness, I'm so happy for you!" she exclaimed in the most yell-like rendition of a whisper Becky had ever heard. She turned to Tobey and vigorously shook his hand in both of hers. "Congratulations! Becky is a treasure, an absolute treasure! You'll treasure her, won't you?"

"Absolutely!" Tobey answered without hesitation, still beaming. He cast a fond gaze at Becky, and a rush of warm affection swept over her.

Seriously, what was I worried about?

"Well, I'll let you get back to your books now," Miss Dewey said, waving as she walked away.

"Bye, Miss Dewey," Becky whisper-yelled after her.

Tobey shot her a playful frown. At a volume easily comparable to her own, he whisper-shouted, "Keep your voice down! We're in a library."

Becky clapped a hand over her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud.

"Hey! I thought I recognized a familiar voice," chattered a familiar voice. Becky's high spirits plummeted when none other than Victoria Best sauntered over, wearing a sharp designer outfit and a confident smile. "Tobey McCallister! Haven't seen you around in a while."

It was a small condolence to Becky that Tobey's mood seemed to have soured as much and as quickly as her own. He crossed his arms and brashly replied, "Indeed. In fact, I don't believe I've ever seen you in the library before. You actually read?"

"Of course! I'm the best at reading," Victoria affirmed, apparently missing the insulting subtext of his tone. She flicked her wrist dismissively, jingling a charm bracelet laden with tiny silver trophies, medals, and prize ribbons.

Victoria Best was as annoying as ever, but Becky had to acknowledge that she'd made the transition to high school a lot more smoothly than Becky had. She had a sharp fashion sense and, annoyance notwithstanding, she really was quite pretty. Her confident, aggressive personality had won her the title of class president, which had done nothing to quell her irrational confidence that she was the best at everything. Even the fact that she was a part-time villain had lent her freshman persona a sort of dangerous mystique that had ironically served to make her even more popular.

Meanwhile Becky, as always, languished in obscurity as the mild-mannered bookworm who hardly anyone noticed unless she was in costume as WordGirl.

Life was so unfair.

Victoria quite impertinently pulled a chair over from the opposite end of the table, set it right beside Tobey's, and sat down. She smiled and began twirling the blue ribbon at the end of her side-sweeping French braid. "So, Tobey, I heard this ridiculous rumor that you'd quit being a villain."

"A ridiculously dated rumor," said Tobey with a roll of his eyes. "I quit being a villain two years ago."

Victoria gasp exaggeratedly. "Why would you do that?"

Becky crossed her arms and piped up. "Maybe because he realized that being a villain would eventually ruin his life?"

Victoria looked up at Becky like she'd just realized she was there. With a patronizing smile and a dismissive laugh, she flippantly argued, "Oh, that's just silly! I'm still a villain, and as you can see, I am doing just fine."

She stood and pirouetted to illustrate her point, then stuck a finger in the air and added, "No! Better than fine, actually. I'm doing the best!"

Tobey yawned and curtly drawled, "Yes, well, I hear the long-term consequences of being a villain are a lot worse if you're a competent one."

Apparently Victoria didn't know what 'competent' meant, because she again failed to recognize Tobey's comment as an insult. She returned to her seat beside him and wistfully said, "Well, I sure hope you change your mind." She leaned in close to Tobey and placed a hand on his shoulder, adding in a flattering voice, "Just so you know, I always thought you were the second best villain."

Becky tightened her fists in her lap and seethed. To her further frustration, instead of brushing Victoria off, Tobey happily said, "Why, thank you!"

Becky glared at him and loudly cleared her throat.

Tobey's eyes flew to her and his expression instantly became repentant. "I mean—wait a minute, the second best?"

He swatted away Victoria's hand and shot her an appropriate frown. Becky sighed. Better late than never, I guess.

"Well, naturally I was the best," Victoria said.

Tobey snorted and crossed his arms. "Well, if you're trying to get me to change my mind, you're not doing the best job."

"Oh, no, no, no, no, no," Victoria corrected, raising her voice and shaking her head. "I always do the best job. I'm the best! Always!"

She leaped to her feet and pumped her arms in the air.

To Becky's profound relief, Miss Dewey came by, arms crossed, and frowned sternly at Victoria. "Miss, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

Becky smiled victoriously and moved her own chair closer to Tobey's.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"Later that day…" announced the Narrator.

"Becky, I can tell something is bothering you."

Tobey broke the silence with this observation as he was walking her home from the library. Becky wished she was surprised.

"I'm fine, Tobey," she said listlessly, eyes still trained on the ground, "Really. It's just…" She paused to sigh, then looked up and met his searching eyes. "All these villains showing up out of nowhere trying to lure you back to the dark side isn't exactly heartwarming."

"I know, right?" Tobey agreed, sounding more annoyed than disturbed. "It's almost like there's a conspiracy to—"

"NOCAN!" shouted a loud, boisterous voice, and Becky looked up to see Nocan the Contrarian standing in the road ahead of them.

"Oh, you've gotta be kidding," Becky murmured, dropping her face into her palm.

Nocan charged Tobey so suddenly that Tobey stepped back, but he stopped just short of running him over and instead picked him up by the collar of his Space Camp T-shirt. Before Becky could even react he had used his free hand to haphazardly bedeck Tobey in a red cape, a pair of aviator goggles, and a blue helmet with wings on the sides. He then let go of Tobey and let him drop to the ground. Tobey flailed and teetered a bit as his feet met the pavement, but he just barely managed to stay standing. The new clothing items from Nocan looked like they'd been snagged from a costume shop, and they hung so askew on Tobey's body that Becky couldn't completely hold in a laugh. Tobey frowned at her, though only half his expression was visible around the crooked goggles and over-sized helmet.

"Um," Tobey muttered, pulling off the goggles and looking them over with confused disgust. "Might I ask what on God's green earth that was all about?"

Nocan pulled out what looked like a rolled-up newspaper and brandished it like a sword. "Daily Rag say 'make Tobey villain?' NO! Make Tobey hero! NOCAN!"

He pulled out a hammer and dropped it into Tobey's hands, causing him to fall to the ground with the weight of it.

"What?!" Becky exclaimed. "Let me see that!"

She reached for the paper, but Nocan pulled it out of her reach. "Let you see? NO! Not let you see!"

Becky pursed her lips and growled, "What I meant to say was, 'keep it away from me, I don't want to touch it!'"

"NOCAN!"

He flung the paper at her and it slapped her in the face. She pulled it off and began frantically scanning its contents. Sure enough, it was a copy of yesterday's edition of The Daily Rag, and a very disagreeable headline jumped out at her from the right-hand margin.

"What?" she murmured in disbelief as she read.

"What is it?" Tobey tried to come over, but tripped on his cape and fell once more on his face. Becky paid him no mind—just kept staring at the bold-lettered advertisement with a slack jaw. By the time Tobey had stripped off his 'hero' suit and stumbled grumbling to her side, she had already crushed it back into a roll so tight, it probably could've worked as a sword.

"Oh, he is going to hear it for this," she seethed, marching off in a huff.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"Moments later," announced the Narrator, "In the editorial office of The Daily Rag…"

The door burst off its hinges and fell flat on the floor with a loud slam. A few items fell off the nearest shelf as Becky marched indignantly into the room, holding up the paper she'd gotten from Nocan.

"Scoops, what is this?" she vociferated, her voice tinged with both fierce anger and cutting disappointment.

Scoops cowered near the floor with nothing but his flimsy desk standing between him and Becky's wrath. He grasped the edge of the desk with one hand and pointed weakly into the air with the other, managing a sheepish smile. "I knew you were gonna ask about that, and before you say anything, I have a really good explanation!"

"Yeah?" Becky muttered incredulously, crossing her arms.

Scoops swallowed and climbed into his chair, then blurted out, "The guy who commissioned the ad was very persuasive… and might've been using mind-control… That's just a theory, though."

Becky heaved a flustered sigh. "Scoops, how could you? For crying out loud, this is a contest to turn Tobey back into a villain!"

No wonder Tobey was being bombarded by illicit invitations from his former associates! There was a $10,000 prize for the villain who successfully converted him back to the side of evil!

"Look, I knew Tobey wouldn't actually do it," said Scoops. Then he confidently and unsettlingly added, "and if he does then he's a loser… and you should dump him."

Becky's objection died in her throat. As always, Scoops's words were brutally frank and smacked of unpleasant yet undeniable truth. Whatever the outcome of this 'contest,' he certainly wouldn't be the one to blame. If Tobey really was the changed person she wanted to believe he was, no temptation could draw him away from her and back to villainy. But that realization should be a comfort, not a worry… shouldn't it?

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"That evening at the Botsford house," said the Narrator, "Something is definitely eating Becky."

Becky wandered morosely into her room and flopped onto her bed with a sigh. Bob waddled in after her, chittering with concern. He hopped up onto the bed beside her and patted her arm. She looked up into his concerned eyes, sighed, and closed her own.

"I don't know, Bob," she admitted, frustration building within her. "I don't know what's wrong. I don't even know if anything is wrong. I'm just… perturbed."

Bob squeaked a tentative inquiry, and Becky replied, "Perturbed means agitated or deeply bothered—you know, feeling like something isn't right."

Bob moaned somberly.

"I don't know… It's probably noth—"

Fearful screams assaulted her ears from deep in the city, one of which distinctly said, "ROBOT!"

Becky shuddered. "Oh, no…"

She jetted off without even changing into WordGirl. A loud screech got her attention, and she noticed poor Bob whipping about in her wake, barely hanging onto her ankle. She stopped for half a second—long enough to give him a brisk apology and a chance to get on her back, and she was off again. He yelled a reminder about her clothes, and she transformed into WordGirl midair, milliseconds before she arrived in the center of town. There, in plain sight, a giant robot was wreaking havoc. The teenage boy standing on its shoulder was unmistakable.

"Tobey!" she screamed vehemently as she zipped right in front of him. She said no more, however, once she got a good look at him.

Tobey's face was expressionless and his eyes glazed over. He repeatedly pressed a button on the remote in his hand, and he sounded like one of his robots when he said, "I will destroy the city. Mu ha ha."

WordGirl blinked, then slowly turned her head to stare blankly at Captain Huggyface. He stared blankly back, and then they both turned to stare blankly at Tobey.

What was it Scoops said about the guy who commissioned the contest ad?

"Mr. Big?"

"What?" Tobey asked in his robot voice, and she now noticed that his British accent was a lot less convincing than usual. "I am not Mr. Big. I am Theodore Tobey Mc—"

"Oh, come ON, Mr. Big," WordGirl shouted, angrily clenching her fists. "I know you've got Tobey under mind control! Where are you? Show yourself!"

She listened carefully with her super-hearing, tuning in to the sound of Mr. Big's voice and ignoring Tobey's when he mechanically blathered out another denial. She heard it, coming from inside the giant robot.

With one furious swipe, she ripped off the front of the robot's chest, revealing a little control room inside. In a small swivel chair surrounded by little monitors sat Mr. Big. He had a microphone in his hand, which he quickly hid behind his back as he smiled innocently at her.

"Oh! WordGirl!" he exclaimed in a painfully bad British accent. He caught himself, cleared his throat, and continued in his normal voice. "I mean, WordGirl! Thank goodness you're here! As you can clearly see, I've been kidnapped—by a kid. I've been wronged. Thank you for catching the villainwho did this."

Huggy growled and folded his arms.

"Oh, give it a rest, already!" bellowed WordGirl. "You're caught, red-handed, end of story!"

"Fine," Mr. Big conceded, "But it doesn't matter! Tobey returned to villainy, so I win!"

"You realize it doesn't count as turning him back into a villain if he doesn't do it of his own volition, don't you?"

Mr. Big frowned defensively and held up a copy of the Daily Rag, pointing at the contest ad. "No, it just says that he has to return to villainy. It doesn't say it has to be willingly. Therefore I—win the contest."

"Aren't you the one sponsoring the contest?" snapped WordGirl.

"Am I?" Mr. Big looked genuinely confused. He pulled out his cell phone and held it to his ear. "Leslie, did I sponsor a contest? … I did?"

Huggy heaved an exasperated moan and WordGirl pinched the bridge of her nose.

"Oh, well," Mr. Big babbled, still optimistic as he pocketed his phone. "I won my own contest, and I don't think that's ever been done before, so it's still a win for me. Muhaha!"

"Just turn off the mind control, already," WordGirl muttered lethargically.

"All right, all right."

Mr. Big pushed a button on the control panel in front of him, and WordGirl looked to Tobey to see that he indeed had been released. He blinked a few times and shook his head, looking dazed.

"What?" he murmured, rubbing his forehead. "Where am I?" He gasped and grabbed hold of his robot's neck when he looked down and saw the city sprawled out almost half a mile below him.

"It's okay, Tobey," WordGirl said reassuringly, softening her tone for his sake. She reached inside the robot and grabbed Mr. Big by the back of his suit, then pulled him out into the open air and held him up for Tobey to see. "Mr. Big-Pain-in-the-Neck here was just trying to win his own contest."

Tobey's expression screwed up into a furious scowl. "You used mind control on me?! You're not allowed to use mind-control on other villains!"

"True," Mr. Big conceded, smugly folding his arms. "But you aren't a villain now, so that rule doesn't apply."

"Well, if I'm not a villain now, then you didn't succeed!" Tobey snapped back.

Mister Big smiled and pointed a finger in the air, but retracted it and dropped the smile before he could manage a retort.

WordGirl heaved a tired sigh. "You know what? I don't even care anymore. You're just going to jail and that's the end of it."

"What? Me?" whined Mr. Big. "But Tobey was the one wrecking the city!"

"Mind control doesn't count! If it did, I'd have to arrest everyone in the city every time you pulled one of these stunts!"

Mister Big chuckled with amusement and innocently fingered one cheek. "Boy, wouldn't that be funny."

Two teens and a monkey all shot the same glare at him.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"Later that evening, at the Botsford House," the Narrator said, holding in a chuckle.

"You're sure you're okay?" Becky asked, cradling the phone worriedly next to her ear. She was huddled on the floor in the hall, back to the wall just below where the phone jack hung.

"Yes, I'm fine," Tobey sighed. "There are advantages to being an honorary member of the Botsford family, after all. I've got the district attorney and the local superhero on my side."

Becky smiled tenderly, relieved that he wasn't there to see what a mess she was. The events of the past couple days had really done a number on her composure. It didn't take much to shake her feelings right now—for good or ill.

"Tobey," she ventured, feeling weak and vulnerable.

"Yeah?" he said.

Becky took a deep breath, steadied her nerves the best she could, and softly said, "You don't… miss being a villain, do you?"

"Why would I?" Tobey answered without hesitation. "I have you now."

Becky's breath caught in her throat. Heart pounding, she covered the receiver to keep Tobey from hearing the pathetic little noises she made while struggling to get ahold of herself. No… it really didn't take much to unravel her anymore.

"Becky?" Tobey asked.

"Yeah, I'm here," Becky said, removing her hand from the receiver and speaking as evenly as possible. She forced a chuckle and jokingly muttered, "Just wondering what kind of hare-brained scheme the next villain will come up with to turn you."

Tobey groaned. "Well, whatever it is, it can't be worse than that nonsense Mr. Big tried to—"

Thump!

The line went silent.

"Tobey?" Becky asked worriedly. "Tobey?!"

Five seconds later she was in Tobey's room as WordGirl. She found him on his knees facing away from her with the phone laying on the floor to his left. To his right was a conspicuously out-of-place baseball bat.

"Tobey?" she murmured.

She started to move toward him, but paused when he suddenly whirled around to face her, his movements abrupt and unnatural. He was wearing a pair of horn-rimmed glasses which she'd never seen before, and his eyes were suddenly very big and very dark—as if they'd been scribbled across the lenses in black marker.

Suddenly, he—floated up onto his feet?

"WordGirl!" he exclaimed in an even worse British accent than Mr. Big's.

Now, WordGirl knew that Tobey was far from consistent in the vocal department, but she'd never heard him sound so… different. He pointed a finger that was somehow completely lifeless despite the force with which he'd whipped it at her, and shrilly added, "My arch nemesis!"

WordGirl stared at him for a moment, too flabbergasted to react properly.

"Don't look so shocked," said 'Tobey,' his left arm falling limp at his side as his right shot into the air. "You had this coming, WordGirl! You can't keep a good villain like me down forever!"

While he spoke, his head kept flopping down to his chest, then righting itself, and WordGirl noticed that his feet only seemed to be touching the floor half the time. She wondered if this was how Red Riding Hood would have felt… if the wolf dressed as her grandmother had been twitching around like a fish out of water, that is.

"Um… Tobey?" she finally uttered. "You don't seem… like yourself."

"Uh-oh, was that wrong?" said the voice, which sounded familiar in the sudden absence of a fake accent. "I mean, uh—Soon I will have you for myself! Hahahaha!"

"Uh-huh," WordGirl mumbled, eyes closed halfway to show her skepticism.

"Prepare yourself, WordGirl! For I have the ultimate plan to destroy the city once and for all! Uh—"

Tobey flopped onto the floor like a wet noodle, then jerked back up with a remote in his hand—one that WordGirl fortunately recognized.

"Uh—AH HA!" he said, sticking out his lifeless finger again. "Take this!"

He tried to press the button on the remote, but his finger missed. Then his head slumped down and hit it instead. WordGirl couldn't help but giggle and look knowingly to the box-shaped robot in the corner that hummed to life and hovered over to her. The robot opened up its front compartment, reached inside with its tiny claws, and pulled out her favorite flavor of popsicle.

"Thank you, Fridgeratron," WordGirl said, gladly taking the treat. The robot dipped forward in acknowledgment, then turned around and offered a popsicle to Tobey.

"Oh, thank you!"

And with that Tobey collapsed in a heap on the floor, leaving a green popsicle floating in midair where his hand had been. After an awkward silence, the voice muttered, "Oh… fudgesicle."

WordGirl just stared and started licking her popsicle.

Finally, the expected visage of Invisi-Bill faded into view, holding the green popsicle and standing over Tobey's unconscious body. "Okay, you got me," he said, raising his free hand in surrender. "But can I keep the ice cream?"

« … »

The Narrator sniggered and snorted, barely holding in his laughter as he struggled out the words, "Even later that evening…"

Tobey sat on the couch in his living room holding a box of popsicles to his head, glaring intensely at nothing in particular.

"Well," he muttered, using his British accent even though Becky was the only one there, "this has officially transcended the realm of 'ridiculous' and proceeded straight into the unholy region of 'sheer insanity.'"

Becky shrugged weakly and said in a pathetic attempt at optimism, "Well, they have to be almost out of ideas by now, right?"

Tobey looked dubiously up at her, and the Narrator snickered.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

"The next day," announced the Narrator, "Tobey bravely strikes out into the city to confront a villain populace that is 'almost out of ideas.'"

"You think you're so funny, don't you?" Tobey grumbled sardonically at the sky. There was a bump on his head the size of a goose egg and needless to say, he wasn't in the best mood.

Across the street on his right, Big Left Hand Guy waved at him and called out, "Hey, Tobey! Need a hand with any villainous schemes?"

Tobey ignored him.

A little way down the block, The Coach rushed out of a building and said, "Tobey! Come try out my new course—'Getting Back Your Lost Evil Mojo!'"

Tobey ignored him as well.

A deranged-looking man in glasses and a ponytail hopped out in front him wearing a shirt with Dr. Two-Brains' mouse insignia on it and doing a really bad approximation of an evil laugh. He had three plastic brains taped onto his head—one on top and one on either side—making him look like some freaky club-headed alien.

He dropped a pair of magazines into Tobey's stunned hands and then pumped his arms in the air. "Ha! Dr. Two-Brains gave you one magazine, but I gave you two magazines!"

"Who are you?" Tobey asked, "Kid Math's weird uncle?"

"No!" the man snapped indignantly, "I'm Dr. Four-Brains!"

Tobey rolled his eyes and kept walking.

At the turn of the next bend, Tobey found a tiny orange kitten sitting right in his path. It was wearing a wee little paper hat and had a sign hanging around its neck that read, 'Pretty please be evil again?'

Tobey sighed, too annoyed to be moved by its adorableness, and passed it by.

Not half a block later, he spotted The Learnerer perched awkwardly atop a recycle bin, holding up a pair of binoculars that were trained on Tobey even though he was close enough that he certainly didn't need them.

"What are you doing?" he grumbled, hoping he wouldn't regret asking.

"I'm studyinging you," said The Learnerer. He pointed informatively in the air while keeping his face planted decidedly in the binoculars. "Once I have enough knowledge to formulate a plan, I'll make my move and become the winnerer of the contest!"

Tobey made a face and shook his head. The Learnerer's binoculars followed him closely as he walked right up to the recycle bin and tossed in the magazines that Kid Math's weird uncle had given him. "Good luck with that," he muttered sarcastically as he continued on his way.

He glanced behind him once he reached the end of the street, then glanced quickly around and made a run for it. He ducked into the nearest dark alley, clambered up a fire escape, dashed across a rooftop, and dropped down on top of a dumpster on the other side. Panting from the effort, he huddled quietly behind the dumpster, waiting to see if anyone had managed to follow him. After all was quiet for a few minutes, he cautiously crept out.

"Aha!" shouted an unwelcome voice, and Tobey shot a fierce frown behind him at The Amazing Rope Guy.

"I got you," the villain said, swinging a lasso over his head. He threw it at Tobey, and it dropped harmlessly on the ground at his feet.

With one eyebrow raised in derision, Tobey looked slowly up from the sad lasso to its even sadder master. The Amazing Rope Guy slumped his shoulders and softly moaned, "Ohh. Man."

He was so pathetic, Tobey couldn't even summon enough frustration to be mad at him. "Okay, I'll bite," Tobey sighed. "What was that supposed to accomplish?"

"Uh… I was supposed to try and kidnap you.

"Wow," Tobey muttered, sounding less than awed. "They put you in charge of that?"

"I know, right?" Rope Guy agreed, much to Tobey's surprise. He let his arms flop listlessly at his sides and muttered, "They're really getting desperate."

In spite of himself, Tobey actually smiled at him. Apparently, The Amazing Rope Guy wasn't bad at everything. This was the first attempt on his future that had actually amused Tobey.

Rope Guy groaned morosely. "I hate peer pressure."

"You should just ignore it," Tobey advised. "That's what I do."

"And you're real good at it, too, if you don't mind me sayin' so."

"Thank you!"

"So… you're not gonna call WordGirl to take me to jail, are you?"

Tobey shrugged. "As far as I can see, you haven't successfully committed any crimes."

"Hey, thanks!" he sheepishly averted his eyes and added, "Um… since you're being so nice, do you think I could get a picture of you doing your evil laugh or something to show the guys back at the EVA?"

"Don't press your luck," Tobey teased. He turned to leave, and promptly tripped on the downed lasso and fell on his face.

"Hey, it worked!" Amazing Rope Guy exclaimed, quickly changing his tone as he added, "I mean, you okay?"

Tobey groaned in reply.

« « « « « ж » » » » »

The Narrator panted and asked in a hoarse voice, "Are we close to the end yet? Man, I don't know how many more scene intros I have in me… I might lose my voice, or even… just start repeating myself…" He cleared his throat and announced professionally, "As the afternoon draws to a close, Tobey approaches his house in a bad state."

Tobey approached his house in a bad state—an aggravated mess of tense muscles and frazzled nerves, at the end of an almost imperceptibly short fuse. He looked up from the sidewalk and let out a long sigh. He needed to compose himself before going inside, lest he snap at his mother and make even more trouble for—

He stopped in his tracks at the sight the girl standing on his front porch.

"Becky?" he said, and she froze just shy of knocking on the door. She turned around to look at him with an expression that seemed sad, but she quickly put on a smile and bashfully said, "Hey… Tobey. I just thought I'd come by and check on you—I mean see how you're doing!"

She averted her eyes and bit her lip, as though worried that she'd said the wrong thing. Tobey didn't have the energy to wonder about this, though. He was just glad to know that she cared so much. He smiled, feeling the tension melt out of him as he rushed toward her and threw his arms around her. She flinched in surprise.

"You're a sight for sore eyes," he said quietly, savoring the soft touch of her hair against his cheek.

Becky made a faint gasp-like noise, then relaxed in his arms and hugged him back. She made no reply until a moment later, when she tensed and nervously murmured, "Speaking of sights…"

Tobey cringed, reluctantly pulled away from her, and looked back in the direction she was facing. There, behind the picket fence surrounding his front yard, a throng of villains had gathered with inexplicable speed. They were holding up signs that said things like 'Make Tobey Bad Again' and 'Once A Villain, Always A Villain.' No sooner than he'd set eyes on them, they began shouting, murmuring, and pumping their signs in the air.

Tobey's face screwed up with rage. "What is WRONG with you people?!" he screamed, stamping a foot and balling his fists at his sides. "Why can't you just leave me be and get on with your own villainous pursuits?!"

He realized now that he'd made a mistake by pointing out that Mr. Big hadn't legitimately won his own contest. If he'd let the man think he'd won, the freak show might've ended right there.

"ARRGH! Ye can't hide from destiny," shouted Captain Tangent, shaking his hook at Tobey. He continued to drone on, but Tobey was far too angry to pay him any attention. He gritted his teeth hard, and the last feeble strand of self-restraint inside him snapped like a toothpick.

"Okay, fine," he yelled, interrupting the would-be pirate. "If I destroy one last building, will you all leave me alone?"

« … »

Becky's jaw went slack, and she gaped at Tobey. "What?!"

She couldn't have heard him right… He would never…

"Oh, absolutely!" cheered one Lady Redundant Woman.

"Definitely!" agreed another.

"Indubitably!" affirmed a third.

"Okay then," Tobey whispered with a menacing glint in his eye. He pulled his computer from his pocket and entered a command. Bob gave a nervous moan, looking up at him.

Becky's heart began to race with anxiety, She reached out and grasped his arm, looking earnestly into his eyes. "Tobey, you can't!"

He returned her fearful gaze with a composed scowl, though it didn't seem directed at her, and coolly said, "Not to worry, my dear. Everything is under control."

The ground began to shake, and then came the familiar metallic sounds of a giant robot's stride as it approached. Becky looked up to see the enormous cylindrical body looming over her, a dark silhouette against the waning sunlight. She swallowed, her heart sinking into her stomach. It had been a long time since she'd seen one of those things and actually felt scared.

The robot reached its right hand down to the ground, placing it next to Tobey like a platform. Tobey didn't hesitate to climb on, and the robot lifted him up onto its shoulder. Below, Bob hopped urgently up and down, flailing his arms and shrieking in protest.

"All right, then! Off we go!" Tobey pushed a button on his computer, and the robot set off. Its booming footsteps cut a path toward some unknown target. The villains cheered and ran after it. Bob chittered nervously and pointed in the direction they'd all gone. Becky stood there frozen in shock, eyes fixed on the robot receding into the distance.

No… This can't be happening…

Finally, a tug on her left arm snapped her out of it, and she looked down at Bob, who stared meaningfully up at her, already dressed as Captain Huggyface.

Becky shook her head, trying to get ahold of herself. "You're right, Huggy," she said, picking him up and jumping into the bushes. She transformed into WordGirl without calling out her signature catchphrase and took to the skies.

"Tobey what are you doing?" she cried out, flying up beside him as he rode on his robot's shoulder. The whole situation was eerily reminiscent of the time near the end of his villain days when he'd gone to destroy Megahard Industries and she'd narrowly managed to talk him out of it.

"Teaching the villains a lesson," Tobey replied earnestly in his real voice.

"By agreeing to smash a building?!" WordGirl shouted, frowning indignantly at him.

"Indeed," Tobey said confidently, eyes fixed ahead. "Just one building."

"Tobey, that doesn't make any sense!" WordGirl shouted, fists clenched in frustration.

Tobey turned to face her with a sly smile on his face. "It does if I destroy the right building."

WordGirl blinked, and for the first time, it occurred to her that they were heading out of the city, not into it. She looked ahead, presumably at the robot's destination, and saw a somewhat dilapidated motel with a large sign outside that read, "Villains Welcome."

"I'll cover the cost of the property damages," Tobey promised. "All of them. I'm smart enough. I'll figure out a way."

Speechless, WordGirl just stared at him for a long moment. His narrowed eyes were fixed ahead, and his face was a picture of determination. Determination—for the first time in years to destroy a building, and for the first time in his life to pay for it afterward. She knew that she should probably still be trying to stop him, but she had lost all will to act against him. Her heart was welling up with blended feelings of respect, affection, and even a little shame. It suddenly seemed ridiculous that she had actually doubted him.

Bob chirped approvingly and gave Tobey a thumbs-up, which Tobey returned in kind.

Once again, he had proven himself. Amid an onslaught of effort to shake his standing, he had stalwartly refused to return to villainy. He'd even resolved to pay back over ten billion dollars in property damage. Steeped as she was in a flood of renewed faith in him, WordGirl was absolutely confident that he would succeed in that endeavor. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and tell him how proud she was, but she restrained herself, remembering that she was in costume. It would not do for WordGirl to be seen hugging Tobey McCallister—particularly as he was on his way to wreck a building.

Her blissful moment of contemplation came to an abrupt end as the sound of a giant metal foot smashing through a roof ripped through the air. Just like that, the villains' 'convention center' was completely destroyed. Walls caved in around the giant foot that had smashed in the ceiling, and the 'Welcome Villains' sign fell over on its face.

The crowd of villains quieted in shock when they arrived, dropping their signs, their jaws, and any further attempts to coerce their former colleague.

"Tobey, why would you do that?" wailed The Butcher, approaching from near the hotel rather than from town. He was accompanied by Chuck, Granny May, and Dr. Two-Brains—the same group that had shown up the other day to present Tobey with his certificate of achievement. WordGirl realized suddenly that they hadn't been part of the protesting mob.

"Yeah," Granny May shouted, waving her purse angrily up at the robot. "What's the big idea?"

"What if we'd been in there?" yelled Chuck, hands on his hips.

"You're lucky we conveniently stepped out for some fresh air all at the same time!" Two-Brains bellowed, cupping his hands over his mouth. "Why, I've got half a couple of minds to—"

"SILENCE!" Tobey screamed at the top of his lungs, pointing angrily down at them. "If you can't respect the decision of a fellow villain to cut his ties with you, you don't deserve a place to meet! I haven't had a moment's peace in days! I've been interrupted, stalked, spied on, and even mind controlled. That, my former friends, is harassment! I won't stand for it any longer!"

Tobey finished, and the air went quiet. The villains on both sides of the robot looked up at Tobey with remorseful expressions, and a few of them averted their eyes.

"Gosh," said Invisi-Bill, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck, "We didn't realize we were bothering you that much."

"Oh, you didn't, did you?" Tobey fumed down at him with crossed arms. "You didn't realize that whacking me on the back of the head with a baseball bat would bother me?!"

"Sorry, Tobey," Chuck said shamefully. "It's my fault. I honestly didn't mean for it to get so out of hand. I just pitched the idea and then Seymour Orlando Smooth put a bunch of money on the table, and then it turned into this big competition. I don't even know where he got all that money."

"Oh, I know where he got the money," WordGirl inserted. She shot a reprimanding look down at Mr. Big, who whistled innocently and began shuffling off to the side.

"Why, though?" Tobey demanded. "What is it to you whether I'm a villain or not?"

Chuck shrugged and touched his index fingers together, looking dejected as he attempted to explain. "It's just that… when I found out WordGirl was leaving the Earth, it got me thinking about people, and…" He trailed off, sighed, then looked up at Tobey and WordGirl. "Well, you get used to people, ya know?"

At that he looked down again, his hooked-together index fingers fidgeting in front of him. "Even if you don't like 'em, you just get used to them being there, and if all of a sudden they're not there, it makes you kinda sad… and you start to wonder why you didn't pay more attention to 'em when they were there."

WordGirl felt a pang in her chest. Chuck looked so childlike and vulnerable that even Tobey softened. The villains in the throng had migrated toward the wreckage of the motel to join the other four, and a few of them nodded sadly in agreement with Chuck.

"But… I haven't been a villain for two years," Tobey pointed out, and WordGirl could tell he was struggling to hang onto his anger. "Why now all of a sudden are you all noticing that I'm not there?"

"We didn't think you were leavin' fer good back then," said the Butcher.

"We all thought you'd get tired a whammin' good and wham on back like you whammed that other time."

"Yeah, even I've done that before," Chuck added. "But then out of nowhere, you were suddenly going steady with Becky Botsford! I mean, don't get me wrong. I've met her. She's a real sweet little gal."

WordGirl smiled and her right hand reflexively raised to her heart. She kept wondering if she should step in and say something, but she had a strong instinct that this was something Tobey needed to work out himself.

"But that was what made us realize that you were serious about quitting," said one of Dr. Two-Brains' henchmen. "We figured if you'd even given up on your thing for WordGirl, you were never comin' back to being a villain."

The other henchman nodded woefully and wiped his eye.

WordGirl looked up at Tobey and saw that the frown was completely gone from his face.

"I… I don't know what to say," he mumbled at last. "I didn't think any of you actually cared about me."

"We do!" shouted a voice in the crowd, followed by another that said, "We miss you, Tobey!"

A somber cheer rose up from the gathering below, and WordGirl felt a sharp tug on her heartstrings. She couldn't help but feel moved by this surprising display of affection from the villains, and after Tobey had destroyed their motel, no less! But the dark worry also rose up—the horrible, relentless fear of discovering what Tobey loved more than her. Swallowing hard to banish the lump forming in her throat, she turned to Tobey and tried—and failed—to say his name, and call his attention back to her.

Not having a single word, she just stared at the conflicted look on his face, feeling helpless as he heart sank slowly into her stomach.

Finally, Tobey pushed a button on his computer, and the robot raised up a hand. He stepped onto it, and let it lower him down to the ground, where he stepped off to join the crowd of villains. WordGirl started to drift after him, but Huggy pulled on her shoulder, signaling her to stop. He looked her in the eyes and told her to wait.

"But I can't come back," Tobey shouted fervently. There was no anger in his voice, but no indecision either. "I've chosen my path, and I'm happy. I'm happier now than I ever was as a villain… I'm sorry."

WordGirl's heart leaped from her stomach straight up into her head, and she nearly lost her grip on sense and reason. Huggy shrieked forbiddingly as she once again moved to tackle Tobey with that hug, and she shied back just in time, chuckling sheepishly as her sidekick frowned at her.

At long last, she felt like she understood… Being a former villain wasn't something Tobey could just smash to pieces like a building. It was an important part of him. A bad part, maybe—a part he was right to leave behind—but important nonetheless. He couldn't simply walk away from it and act like it never happened.

She'd always wanted him to cut himself off from villainy completely and distance himself from any influence that even reminded of it. When he stopped being a villain, she'd never encouraged him to say his farewells to the other villains or try to leave things on a good note. That wasn't wrong, but she realized now that it wasn't quite right, either. Tobey's struggle as a villain to decide between right and wrong had helped to mold him into the amazing person he was. It wasn't something that should just be swept under the rug and forgotten. What he needed wasn't distance, but closure.

The villains below hung their heads and a few of them sighed in resignation.

"We understand," said Chuck. "But I don't want us to go our separate ways with hard feelings. Is there any way we can make it up to you after what we did?"

Tobey grinned softly and said, "Just promise to announce yourselves before showing up at my house from now on, and we'll call it even."

"Deal," said The Butcher, grabbing Tobey's hand and shaking it firmly.

"Are you sure you don't want this certificate of achievement?" asked Dr. Two-Brains, pulling out the certificate they'd tried to give him back when this whole mess started. "It doesn't have to be a pat on the back for having been evil, you know. Think of it as a going-away present."

"Yeah," said Chuck. "How about this?"

He took the certificate from Two-Brains, pulled a mustard-yellow pen from his pocket, and stuck his tongue out as he doodled something on the certificate. "There," he said, holding the certificate up for Tobey to see. WordGirl took the excuse to float closer to Tobey, and the two of them read the certificate side-by-side. Chuck had crossed out a single word and penned in a different word above it. Now the bold lettering across the top of the paper read, 'Certificate of Completion.'

"WordGirl," Tobey said, eyes still fixed on the paper. "Would you mind defining 'completion?'"

WordGirl smiled gratefully at his ploy to include her, and chose her words purposefully as she said, "Completion means the conclusion or fulfillment of something."

Tobey smiled. "Very well," he said, "I accept."

The sun began to set behind the wreckage of the old motel, and everyone cheered as Tobey took hold of his going-away present. Everyone… including Becky.

« ... »

My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them.

Proverbs 1:10


Author's Notes:

*pants* Darn it, muse, I said I didn't have time to do any more of those 10k oneshots! DX I need a break… Too bad the clock's already ticking for the next letter of the alphabet. Oy, I see why more people don't do this. #_# On the flip side, I really enjoyed writing this! Sure had enough fun coming up with crackpot scenarios, didn't I? None of theme were more ridiculous than what we occasionally saw in the actual show, though, so I don't feel too bad. :P

- Murphy's Law of Fasting— My church does a fast every year, and a very popular observation of this that we all like to joke about is how as soon as you're fasting there's suddenly free food everywhere. :P I've experienced this phenomenon more than once myself, and I'm sure it loosely inspired the subject matter of this story. ;)

- Character(ization) Overload— I have never worked with that many established characters across such a short work. #_# Hopefully I didn't make any of them too OOC. I tried my very best, of course, but since many of the villains who found their way into this story are characters I've never written before, I don't know how well I nailed their personalities. The Whammer, for example, has this way of getting his meaning across even though his words don't make a lick of sense, and my constructed, logical brain found it very difficult to emulate such a strange trait. :{

-'Convention Center'— The 'seedy motel' I had the villains convene in is supposed to be the same one shown at the beginning of 'Mousezilla.'

- Free Anything with the Purchase of a Gumball— The 'coupon' Granny May gives to Tobey is a reference to 'Coupon Madness,' an episode where her evil scheme was to print fake coupons that gave her ridiculously expensive things for free.

- Chuck Knows Becky— This was established in 'House Arrest' when Chuck stayed with the Botsfords while his jail cell was being painted.

- Tobester— As silly as this nickname is, I feel I have ample justification for using it. First of all, it's the The Whammer. Second, I thought it was kinda perfect in Tobey's case since his name actually ends in 'ster.' And lastly, since one of The Whammer's signature quirks is his laughably inarticulate manner of speaking, I had the perfect opportunity to have Tobey mishear him and think that he'd been called a toaster. XP

- Wham!— The Whammer's attempt to lure Tobey back to villainy is a loose reference to 'One Last Sandwich,' the episode where Whammer used this very tactic successfully on Chuck. This is also one of two episodes Chuck is referring to in the last scene when he mentions having quit and returned to villainy—the other being 'Chuck the Nice Pencil-Selling Guy.'

- Do I know you?— By way of description, I ended up inferring that Tobey has never met Glen Furlblam. I don't know how well that fits in with the established canon, but it made sense to me, and I figure it doesn't really matter much either way. Glen's dumb little cameo, by the way, was paying homage to 'Dr. Three-Brains,' the episode that had Glen running around with two plastic brains stuck to his head trying to outdo Dr. Two-Brains in progressively ridiculous ways.

- No Using Mind Control on Other Villains— This rule was stated in 'Mr. Big's Mini-Golf,' and it was mentioned that the rule had been created specifically because of Mr. Big. :P

- Invisi-Bill's Plan— Sadly, I can't take ANY credit for this idea. I lifted it right from episode 65 of Sonic X. All except the part where the button getting pressed by his head smacking into it. That I lifted from 'Half-Life: Full-Life Consequences: Free Man' on Youtube. Yeah, I know this makes me a ripoff artist, but it was just too funny to not use! X)

- Li'l Mittens— The kitten with the sign, in case anyone hasn't seen 'Meat with A Side of Cute,' is an adorable little stray who The Butcher temporarily adopted as a sidekick. I have no idea if The Butcher put him up to recruiting Tobey or if he was somehow acting on his own, but the idea of having him make an appearance was to tempting to resist. Too bad his kitty powers didn't work as well on Tobey as they did on WordGirl. XP

- Tobey's Computer— Part of the post-canon history I established back in Time to Go Home was that Tobey doesn't use remotes for his robots much anymore, having realized that it's far more efficient to have all the controls in one place. Thus, in my headcanon, he now has a pocket-sized supercomputer which he can use to control any robot he wishes via different installed programs. He still has all the remotes from before, though, and does use them occasionally.

- Theme Song: "Pressure" by Jump 5— This is basically Tobey's stance on returning to villainy, albeit more kindly worded than it would've been if he'd written it. ;P