A/N: Wrote this first chapter almost a year ago and posted it in a collection of oneshots, but I'm planning to write a couple more chapters for this so I'm posting it separately.
During his first two years of college, Tobey's thoughts often drifted back to Wordgirl. He couldn't help it, not when she still made headlines weekly (even though he'd moved to a different city) for taking down some wannabe villain in a suit straight out of the comic book reject pile. Villains nowadays just didn't understand class - but then again, neither had he.
There were a lot of things he hadn't understood, back during his villain days.
Some days he dreamed up scenarios of meeting her again. Maybe he'd take some robots out for a spontaneous battle, ending with them reminiscing over the good old days instead of fighting. Maybe he'd stumble into danger and she'd save him during some fight with a villain he's never met, and she'd check on him afterwards to make sure he was okay. Maybe he'd be up late working in his dorm, or in the lab, and she'd knock on the window, and he'd let her in and they'd just… talk. Talk about how she's doing now, talk about how Two-Brains and the rest are doing, talk about what the heck had been between them - if she thought there had been anything at all. Talk about how much of a brat he'd been. Talk about how much she meant to him. Talk about anything and everything that could never be said between enemies.
Other days he hoped that he'd never see her face again. Sometimes it was out of anger; anger at her for mocking him and leading him in circles once she got older, anger at her for winning a game that he'd forced her to play in the first place. Sometimes it was out of shame; shame of how little he'd cared for her feelings, how far he'd gone to try and destroy her privacy. As time went on, more and more days were just filled with shame.
During his third year of college, Tobey forced himself to stop looking at newspapers. He got new glasses and started to drop his accent, first around friends, then occasionally around professors.
During his fourth year of college, the compulsion to think of Wordgirl finally faded from a deafening cacophony to a background hum. It was his senior year of college, after all - engineering classes and preparing to start his own business were more than enough distraction to keep him in the moment. He wasn't exactly sure how his spring break managed to be free; despite how tempting it was to fill it with more work, he decided to finally accept his mother's invitation and visit Fair City for the first time in years.
During her first two years of college, Becky often considered quitting. It turned out that being a full-time college student and full-time superhero was exhausting, even for someone with super-speed. Nevertheless, she pulled through. It helped that as time went on, some of the major supervillains either stepped down or drifted away from crime - the Butcher got bored, Two-Brains gave up crimes that his mouse brain didn't deem 'necessary', Mr. Big lost Leslie and couldn't pull off schemes nearly as effective and nefarious. Lady Redundant Woman and Miss Question quit entirely as their non-criminal jobs offered tempting promotions, and Tobey went to college. The villains that tried to replace them would've been difficult to manage when she was younger, but by age eighteen there was no new villain that could give her a run for her money.
In some ways it was nice, being away from Fair City. She'd notified her university of her superhero status, and was allowed to leave classes when necessary to zip over and stop crimes. Despite her frequent visits on hero business, she found herself visiting Fair City for leisure less and less often. At first she visited her family on weekends, then on holidays. By the end of her second year she'd picked up internships, and couldn't make it back to see her family the entire summer.
During her third year of college, Becky found her thoughts drifting back to her past more and more often, but without the tinge of fondness that had colored the memories. She watched footage of her battles at twelve, eleven, ten, and flinched every time she was slammed into the ground. She found old pictures of Boxleitner in her university's library, happy and hopeful as a graduate student, and she'd cried for him for the first time in her life. She began to wonder how she'd ever dismissed Tobey's terrible behavior towards her when he was a kid, but also… she began to wonder how long before he'd given up villainy had that terrible behavior stopped. All of it blurred together into a competitive, vindictive, thrilling mess which two petty, ambitious enemies had fallen into and two decent almost-friends had stumbled out of.
She pulled back a bit, mellowed out, saved her hero-villain banter for the ones she knew well and took care of the rest with disinterested duty. She'd given so much of her life to fighting crime, and she needed a reprieve if she was going to make a career out of it.
During her fourth year of college, Becky started to feel as if she was really getting the hang of life. She saved the Earth from another meteor, published her first (short) book, returned to crimefighting with renewed vigor, acted as bridesmaid during Violet's and Scoops's wedding. She made plans to reveal her identity to her parents over spring break, and despite how nerve-wracking the thought was, when the week arrived she packed her bags and drove to Fair City.
It turned out that having the bird's eye view of Fair City memorized did little to help one navigate the city at ground level. What Tobey had meant to be one detour through the city had turned into him passing city hall three times and looping through entirely unfamiliar territory twice. This was what he got for refusing to buy commercial technology in lieu of building his own device, without actually setting aside time to build it. Unfortunately he didn't bring the supplies necessary for a GPS device.
Tobey eventually admitted defeat and pulled over next to the city library. He'd surely be able to look up directions there, and hadn't a cafe opened up in the library right before he graduated? A coffee would be extremely welcome at the moment -
Lost in thought, he didn't even notice the stack of books exiting the same door that he meant to enter through. They collided, hard, and Tobey nearly lost his balance; the other person fared no better, as their books scattered all over the ground. Tobey instinctively bent down to start collecting books, and the other person did the same. "Ugh, I'm sorry," she said. "It's been such a long day."
"No worries. I haven't had such a great day my… self." Tobey's voice trailed off as he finally looked up at the person. He'd forgotten many of the names and faces of his high school classmates, but apparently the memory of Becky Botsford was as stubborn as the girl herself had always been. "Uh. Hello again, Becky."
She looked up abruptly, eyebrows shooting up into her bangs. "Tobey? Wow, uh. Hey."
Tobey awkwardly held out the books he'd collected. "Fancy seeing you here," he said, accent starting to slip back in automatically.
"Same to you. You visiting for spring break?"
Tobey smiled wryly. "I'm trying to, but I haven't actually made it to my mother's house yet. It's surprisingly easy to get lost in this city when you're used to seeing it from above."
Becky let out a small chuckle. "Isn't it?" she said, then dropped her smile and winced. "I mean, I'd imagine that it would be. I wouldn't actually know, obviously, so I was just asking."
Becky sighed. "Well, this has been great, but I should get these to my car." She moved to stand, and before Tobey could ask if she needed help - because wow, that was a lot of books - she'd already straightened to her full height.
It didn't feel right, ending it like this. He decided to ask anyway. "Do you want help getting them to your car? There's a lot of steps along the way."
Becky shifted her weight, hesitating. "If you really don't mind, it would be great if you could just… carry enough so I can see over them."
"Just those few?"
"Yep, I've got the rest."
Tobey obliged, and they made their way towards the street parking. "So, what brings you to the library here? I thought you were going to a school in Middletown."
She glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. "I'm surprised you remember."
"I am too."
"Well, I'm visiting my parents, and I haven't been back here in a really long time. I just wanted to see how much everything has changed, I guess."
"So you got books?"
Becky rolled her eyes, and he couldn't believe he had forgotten exactly how she did it. "Oh, come on. As if anyone walks into a library and doesn't check out as many books as possible."
Becky finally stopped next to a small teal car. She shifted the pile of books to one hand as she took out a key and unlocked her car with the other. "We can just pile them into the trunk," she said. He waited for her to open it, then followed suit as she stacked them all neatly across the trunk's floor.
"So what were you going to the library for?"
"A map," he admitted. "I honestly cannot remember how to get to my mother's house."
Becky laughed, and something in his chest twinged at the familiar snort mixed in. "Well, I'd offer you a ride, but you probably wouldn't want to leave your car here - unless it can transform into a robot and follow us."
He met her amused expression with a flat one. "It doesn't, and yes, I'd rather not."
"Hm." Her eyes drifted back to the library behind him. "Have you been to the library's cafe yet?"
Tobey shook his head. "I was thinking of visiting it for the first time today, actually."
Becky nodded. "I… wouldn't mind having some coffee right now," she said slowly.
He smiled a little. "Neither would I."