KBJones wrote an excellent fanfic called "I don't want to be alone tonight" (posted here on this site) in which the brainbots make a decision in chapter 8 regarding Roxanne all on their own, without any prompting or orders from their Daddy. It inspired me to use that idea (with her kind permission) and so I wrote about the brainbots having a little conference in this chapter. :)

Through the red haze she was dimly aware of people scuttling away from the immediate area, but that was a mere backdrop to her rage.

"What about the safeguards?" she snapped. "The invisi-shield?"

Puzzled by her anger his forehead wrinkled into a frown, but he rallied and took on the cocky attitude he usually adopted when he bantered with her. "Oh, that. That takes forever to set up." He rolled his eyes as if it was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard, which made her even angrier. "Don't worry, I recorded it. Splendid footage."

"I don't care about the fucking footage! You keep acting like this is still your big, stupid game of heroes and villains! Here's a news flash, if it'd gone wrong they wouldn't have thrown you in jail, they would've killed you!"

He smirked. "It all happened just as I predicted. Those army schmucks were putty in my hands. The presence of the cameras, the..."

"You throw yourself into these stupid situations with no regard for your safety! Don't you even care if Minion gets killed?"

It was a low blow but it wiped that smirk off his face. If he was still stuck in that silly charade he used to play with Metro Man, then by God she was going to shake him out of it.

He stiffened. For a second he was too shocked to say anything, and then his chest swelled with rage. No hint of banter remained in his manner. Shrapnel was imminent. "I'm sick of sitting on my ass waiting for them to throw us a bone!" he snapped. "It was time to act. Past time!"

"We were supposed to discuss it! You didn't even let me know what you were doing."

Off to the side Minion yanked the big curtain by the monitors closed, hiding them from the sight of the denizens, though not from their hearing, unfortunately.

Megamind clapped a hand to his head with a sneer. "So that's what was missing! Instructions from a bossy, know-it-all reporter! Next time there's an ambush I'll let you know two weeks in advance. What do you want, an office memo?"

"Oh, kiss my ass! I know the difference between an ambush and prancing up to a bunch of armed soldiers!"

"Goddamn right I pranced!" he roared, his face turning an unhealthy purple. "Strutted my stuff, and called them on their bullshit! I would've done a striptease if I thought it'd do any good!"

"Minion getting shot today wasn't exciting enough for you? Or a zombie chewing my arm off?"

"We can't live forever on store scraps! We'll be eating rats in a week! It's so fucking senseless! People are dying from the simplest things, just because they can't find a doctor, or even medicine! Even little babies that-" Megamind's face went from rage to stricken anguish in the space of a heartbeat. He sucked a long, harsh breath and doubled over as if he'd been shot.

The rest of Roxanne's retort flew out of her head as cold fear washed through her. "Megamind? What's wrong?"

He hunched over, shrunken and quiet, a dark shape outlined by the brightness of the monitor screens. The muted noises of the denizens filtered through the curtain, furtive footsteps and muffled coughs, as if everyone were tiptoeing around, trying their best to ignore the giant screaming fight.

She wanted to touch him, to slide her hands around his back and put a hand under his chin so she could tilt his face up, but the space between them was full of the terrible ringing echoes of their raised voices. She was afraid to move lest the air shatter.

Slowly Megamind straightened up, smoothing a hand down the lightning bolt on his chest, his face blank. He glanced at her but his gaze skittered away before meeting her eyes. "I'm not entirely...I'm... I think I'll retire."

He walked down the length of the curtain and slipped around the corner leading to their room.

Roxanne stared at the spot where he'd vanished, then turned to Minion, hovering anxiously in the background. "Miss Ritchi, I'm sorry," he said, twining his fingers together with a little metallic clinking. "I shouldn't have let that army confrontation happen. But I was upset, too."

She was very quiet after Minion finished telling her about recent events. She grabbed hold of Megamind's swivel chair, which a brainbot had been pushing along, and flopped down in it.

The brainbot, known as Kojak, swooped around uncertainly. It had been looking for Daddy to remind him to sit down again, but the 'bot wasn't quite sure what to do about Daddy's Hostage taking the chair.

Daddy's other guests could more or less be herded, but Miss Ritchi clearly was deserving of special treatment. She was the only other person who'd ever been allowed in the Lair before, and Daddy had assigned her camerabots and given her a workstation.

She and Daddy had been arguing, but strangely, he hadn't ordered them to tie her up. It was a little like when Daddy and Uncle Minion argued, though those fights usually didn't get so loud and they generally ended with Uncle Minion sighing hugely and groaning, "Oh, all right, Sir. Have it your way."

Kojak bowg-ed at a few of the other brainbots to get their opinions on the matter. They quickly decided that seizing her, biting her, or tipping her out of the chair was out of the question. That would be naughty.

Kojak directed a stern look at Spikeless, who tended to chomp on Daddy's fingers when overexcited. The 'bot lowered its eyestalk and bowg-ed contritely. [No, no biting Mommy.]

The other brainbots blinked at each other and let out a burst of startled bowgs. [Mommy? Require explanation.]

Spikeless quivered, embarrassed at being the center of scrutiny. [She is...belonging with Daddy now. They exhibit many common American bipedal mating customs. She sleeps in Daddy's room. They engage in much hugging and kissing, just as we have seen in many media outlets. She has ridden in the Chair with him.]

Kojak rumbled in satisfaction. [That is correct, she did ride in the Chair. Therefore, implicit permission. The Chair is now Miss Ritchi's as well.]

The other brainbots bowg-ed in agreement. That seemed to settle the Chair issue, though they weren't completely convinced of the analysis that Spikeless had done. Certainly the things Spikeless mentioned were very suggestive, but...

[Daddy and Uncle Minion sometimes sleep together,] Kojak argued. [They participate in forehead contact, playful wrestling, shoulder punches, and other affectionate touching.]

[But they do not kiss.]

They pondered this for a moment.

[Uncle Minion's teeth are too sharp,] a brainbot piped up.

Spikeless growled and snapped its jaws. [Immaterial! The lip contact between Daddy and Miss Ritchi is prolonged and is only conducted by romantic partners. And he perspires more.]

[There are many intruders. Daddy fights the cold people all the time.]

[There is an increase in sweat production when he is in her presence even when there is no danger,] Spikeless insisted.

Kojak turned to Miss Ritchi's camerabots.

Muybridge and Eastman blinked at each other and a sort of mental shrug flickered through their domes. [When Miss Ritchi discovered that Daddy wasn't in the Lair, audio analysis of her voice shows that it was higher than normal and her speech patterns contained qualities indicative of high tension, suggesting she felt distraught. She did not notice us,] Muybridge said, with a hint of sadness.

Eastman bumped Muybridge's dome reproachfully. [She will pet us later. She paced and walked about and hugged her own elbows, nonverbal cues of discomfort. When Daddy returned on Spider-bot she exhaled heavily and smiled, signs that she was relieved at his return. Before the shouting. But,] it continued, giving Spikeless a thoughtful look, [more observation is needed before a consensus can be reached.]

[Is there an increase in her perspiration when in Daddy's presence? And does it indicate fear or excitement?]

Another mental shrug. They hadn't paid attention.

The brainbots turned toward the silent figure in the Chair. They would need to observe Miss Ritchi a bit more before they could come to an agreement on the 'Mommy' title.

Nonetheless a muted excitement spread among them. They'd never had a Mommy in the family. More brainbots and brutebots flew in to join the huddle, then flew off again, and from neural network to neural network the discussion travelled among busy minds.

Minion puttered around the monitor area keeping an eye on the comm, and an eye on Miss Ritchi, of course. Jessica, who was scheduled to be on comm duty but had vacated the premises when the shouting started, peered around the curtain.

Minion smiled in reassurance and waved her over. Jessica crept back into the comm chair, throwing an anxious look at Miss Ritchi, but Miss Ritchi didn't look up.

He was torn between staying with Miss Ritchi and going to check on Sir, but decided that a little quiet time would be good for everybody. And the hardness in Miss Ritchi's eyes wasn't unlike the look on Sir's face right before he decided to confront the army.

Minion was feeling a little broody himself. He wished now that he had put down the zombie baby himself, but...well, he hadn't realized that Sir would take it so hard. He'd seemed able to handle it at the time and it wasn't like finishing off that little zombie was difficult. Not physically, anyway.

He drew back the curtain. Faces looked over expectantly from knots of people nearby, the henchmen, ex-cons, and prison guards grouped around Tony stuck to the chair, and another group on the other side of the Lair consisting mostly of Hank and the other cops.

They were still dividing themselves along enemy lines. Well, if the prison guards had managed to put aside their differences and bond with the ex-cons, maybe the cops would come around too. They'd have to learn to work together sooner or later.

Interestingly, Noelle was sticking close to Bernard, who was sticking close to Tony. On the wrong side of the law, as it were.

Police officer Hank, scowling at his wife Noelle, clearly didn't like that at all, though Noelle kept her back turned on him in mute defiance. She was also trying to keep her back turned on Jessica, her husband's lover. As the two people she was snubbing were on opposite sides, she looked as if she was trying to crawl into a shell.

Bernard, leaning against Tony's chair with his arms crossed, chuckled at something Tony said.

Minion blinked. Bernard had been pretty freaked out by that zombie baby, too, but now he wore a little smile and the corners of his eyes crinkled. Tony grinned widely and gave Bernard a little wink. A faint blush colored Bernard's cheeks.

Huh. Something's going on between those two, or I'm not a cyborg henchfish.

Noelle glanced at her rival, Jessica. It was only for a moment but such fury blazed in her eyes that Minion was surprised the air didn't catch fire.

Whoa, that wasn't going to end well. Minion recalled that Noelle was pretty handy at swinging a crowbar at zombies. A skill like that could easily transfer itself to other matters in one's life, and Minion wondered if it would help Noelle to have a friendly shoulder to cry on, or if she would resent any offer of help as an intrusion. She was friends with Bernard, he'd noticed, maybe Bernard could...

Tony called, "Sir? Sir?" a little more loudly, and at last Minion realized Tony was talking to him.

Minion made his face stern. Respect was all well and good but things could get a little confusing if these titles didn't get straightened out. "I'm not Sir. Sir's the only Sir. Got it?"

"Uh, yes, si-...Mister Minion. Um..."

"Just Minion's fine," he said.

"I have to go to the bathroom." Tony squirmed around to emphasize his point.

Minion tapped his chin, or at least made the approximate gesture and clicked his metal fingertip against his dome. Sir had said to leave Tony there until he healed, but clearly that had its drawbacks. Minion could have ordered the other henchmen to carry Tony to the bathroom and...assist him, but that brought on a number of other problems, not the least of which was simple physics.

Besides that, it would be cruel to force Tony to stay in that chair all night and day. I better have a talk with Sir about a lighter punishment.

"I'll let you loose, but when you're done you better get your butt right back in that chair until I can make it right with Sir. Be right back." Minion trundled off to find the acetone and WD-40 which would dissolve the glue.

As he passed the monitor station, Miss Ritchi pushed out of the swivel chair and walked toward him. Minion turned to her. "Yes, Miss Ritchi?"

"Minion, I need a favor."

"Whatever you need, Miss Ritchi," he said, briefly putting a hand on her shoulder.

"I want a meeting, but... it might seem a little odd."

"Miss Ritchi, look who I work for. Odd is my specialty." He smiled, but the grim expression on her face didn't change. He quit trying to lighten the mood. "What's it about?"

"I want people who have experience killing, or are trained for it."

Minion shifted his feet. Yikes. He hadn't expected this. "Uh, okay. What for?"

She stared at him, and gave herself a shake, pulling her thoughts out of the depths and putting a hand on his hairy forearm. "I'm not going on a rampage, don't worry. What I want is a list of volunteers for designated shooter."

It didn't take too long to gather people together, as most of the most likely candidates were nearby, though Minion still had to set Tony loose. A mixed assortment of cops, ex-cons, prison guards, and denizens with past military experience joined Roxanne in a distant corner of the Lair where they could talk about the sensitive subject in relative privacy.

Working with the brainbots, Minion pushed aside piles of folders and bulletin boards to make some space for people to sit on the floor. He set up monitors so the people at the water plant and the fire station could be included. All four of Hot Flash's henchmen were currently present, having tagged along back to the Lair, but Hot Flash appeared on screen to take a grudging interest. Firefighters crowded into the other screen.

Volunteers only, Roxanne insisted. And designated shooters would have to show a certain sympathy for family and friends of known zombies. A bedside manner, as it were. No cheering or fist pumping or anything of that nature, if, say, the parent, best friend, son or daughter of a zombified person had to witness their loved one getting gunned down.

She planned on being the first one on the list, even though she didn't have any formal training and had never so much as picked up a gun until a month ago, to show she was willing to take on this distasteful chore. But Minion took the pen out of her hand, which she had been nervously twirling around with her fingers, and said, "Excuse me, Miss Ritchi, but you're not qualified. By your own rules." And he looked at her so severely she was unable to protest.

So Minion was the first to sign up, which compelled the other henchmen to add their names. Most of the cops signed up, and some civilians with military service, including a few ex-cons, some of whom Roxanne suspected didn't have any actual training from an officially recognized authority, but probably had some real-world experience, though no questions were asked.

She didn't want to think about what sort of experience Minion had in this particular area, but then, she didn't need to know. The fact that Minion was a good friend and a fierce defender was enough for her.

Not everyone signed right away, some wanted time to think about it, but Roxanne felt that it was a good start.

As the meeting ended and people wandered off, Hot Flash spoke for the first time. "Damn, girl, I guess you're more than just a pretty face."

"Damn right," Roxanne said. "And the name's Roxanne."

Hot Flash stared at her with a wooden expression. Roxanne wondered if she'd antagonized the older woman, but she was too tired to care, and she stared right back.

A slow grin split Hot Flash's face, and Roxanne felt something like a real smile tug at her own mouth. She felt as if she'd joined a club. Hot Flash gave her a little nod, from one high-ranking woman to another.

Except Hot Flash wasn't supposed to be in any kind of position of power. The ex-supervillain's place in the new order of the city was still unclear, but Roxanne had a feeling that Hot Flash wasn't ready to retire yet, despite her words to the contrary.

Roxanne thought at one point during the meeting she'd noticed Hot Flash turn to the side to light up a cigarette, but she didn't see a lighter or a match.

Now, it might have been off-screen, but Roxanne made a mental note to keep an eye on the former supervillain.

Hot Flash coughed out a cloud of smoke and cleared her throat. "So when's the wedding?" she said with a smirk.

An outraged snort escaped before Roxanne could stop it. "Why? You gonna throw a bachelorette party?"

"I'm your gal."

Banter. What is it with supervillains and banter? To put an end to the conversation, Roxanne said, "We'll send a couple of gunmen over for security tonight."

After asking Minion to choose the security detail for the water plant, she went to find Megamind.

He wasn't in their room. Roxanne checked his private bathroom, the public restroom, and the lab, her uneasiness growing. If only she'd gone after him right away. If only she hadn't sat around planning that meeting, no matter how necessary, she'd know where he was.

A brainbot growled at her when she entered the lab, but she snapped, "Quit it," and the 'bot backed away. As she left the lab it nudged at her hand and 'bowg-ed' in an apologetic way, and for some reason sniffed at her armpit. Feeling a little guilty for snapping at it, she stroked its dome as she'd seen Megamind do and it wiggled happily like a dog, albeit a dog with a transparent, electricity-filled head.

As she strode past a row of beds where people were talking and playing cards, Pastor Mike appeared at her elbow. "Miss Ritchi, please, slow down," he gasped.

Roxanne ran her gaze around the Lair again, searching in vain for a distinctive blue head among the milling denizens. "Look, I'm kind of busy right now, pastor. Can we talk later?"

He wiped his sleeve across his forehead. "I know, I'm sorry, this'll only take a minute. Only, I was wondering, when you get around to it, when you talk to the Overlord, well, hopefully sooner rather than later, if you could..."

Roxanne ground her teeth. This always happened in interviews, too, or when she took questions from an audience. Whenever they promised to 'keep it short' or said 'I'll be brief' it was always anything but short or brief. "What is it?"

He wiped his head again. "Could you ask him to please not feed that unfortunate soul to the alligators?"

She stared at him, drawing a blank. Then it clicked. "Oh, the sniper." She clenched her hand into a fist.

"I fear it shows a callous disregard for human life," the pastor said, twisting his hands. "Or at least the... the bodily remains. The Overlord's actions toward rescuing citizens have been commendable, astoundingly so, given his claim to be evil. In fact, I'm beginning to question it, and I feel that threatening to feed people to alligators is...is a tad harsh. As for this dead man, surely there is an argument to be made for proper disposal of human remains, so that..."

"Pastor," Roxanne interrupted, "If you expect me to argue on your behalf, then first of all you will have to convince me that that bastard didn't get exactly what he deserved."

The pastor's mouth opened and closed a couple of times. He hadn't considered that she might approve of Megamind's methods, and Roxanne didn't have any more patience for standing around discussing ethical quandaries. She strode past him to continue her search.

"Well, do you think you could at least ask him to stop calling me padre?" came the pastor's plaintive voice.

But, damn it, aside from murderous snipers, Pastor Mike was right to raise concerns about the Lair rules. She probably should talk to Megamind about it.

Shoving people into pits to get devoured by savage beasts might be a time-honored tradition for supervillains and overlords alike, but despite being threatened with it herself in the old kidnapping days, she was certain that he'd never actually dropped anyone into the alligator pit.

Almost certain. Reasonably certain.

And even if he had, they probably deserved it, she thought defiantly.

Still, she didn't want to see Megamind become the kind of leader who'd put heads on spikes or anything like that. That kind of thing was just wrong. Megamind was better than that.

She heard the open-platform elevator coming down from the roof and she hurried over to it, but it was Gabby and Nina stepping off it, each with a blanket over her shoulder and whispering to each other. Roxanne began to turn away, but Gabby called to her.

"Oh! Miss Ritchi, are you looking for him? He's up there. We were..." She blushed. "Checking on the plants."

Nina rolled her eyes and slipped an arm around Gabby's waist. "Honey, enough with the plants. I don't think she cares. There's a couch in the greenhouse," she explained to Roxanne. "It's nice for some privacy at night. We heard the elevator, and found the Overlord pacing around the roof. I don't think he knew we were there until we came out of the greenhouse. Gabby said the plants were doing great, and he said, 'Wonderful. We'll have salad with our rat steaks.' No offense, Miss Ritchi, but I think he's losing it."

Roxanne nodded. This explained Nina's absence from the meeting. She'd been having some private time with her girlfriend. "I'll go talk to him. Nina, you were in boot camp, right?"

Nina's face went still. "Yeah. A few weeks."

"Go see Minion about the volunteer list. He'll explain, and you can decide if you can handle being on the roster."

"Yes, Miss Ritchi."

Roxanne took the elevator up to the roof, thinking about how nearly everyone was calling her Miss Ritchi, now, even people from her original refugee group. She hoped Pilar and Agnes didn't start.

She reached the roof, which was dominated by the greenhouse. She expected to find Megamind pacing around, but she had to walk around the greenhouse to find him curled up in its shadow, his back against the low wall that surrounded the roof, his arms wrapped around his knees and his head pressed into his forearms.

He looked up at the sound of her footsteps, then lowered his eyes. She slid down to sit next to him and leaned her back against the wall. It was so dark that his head and the spikes on his arms and shoulders appeared to be floating in blackness.

"Hey," she said.

"Ollo," he murmured, staring at his knees.

She hugged her stomach, letting her injured arm rest on the good one. "There's going to be a rotation. I asked for volunteers to take turns being the designated shooter to handle these hard cases. Minion and your four henchmen signed on, and the cops, and some others."

A flicker of surprise moved deep in Megamind's eyes.

She stared back levelly. "And you are not going to be on that list."

He shifted his weight but his arms stayed locked around his knees. "Doesn't seem fair. I should..."

"You shouldn't be the only one on the hook for every horrible situation that comes up," she said, more sharply than she intended.

Soft gray light shone on them through the top of the greenhouse and her night vision was good enough now so she could see his gloved hands tightening on his elbows. The spiked mantle on his shoulders moved as he heaved a sigh. The arm spikes had left a little row of indentations in his forehead.

She reached out and put her hand over his, the hand locked so tightly around his elbow, and struggled to find the right words. "All of this is too much for one person." She waved her other hand around, to indicate the vastness of the city. "Others can share the burden. The city needs you, Megamind, but I need you too." Her throat tightened and she blinked back tears.

What she was asking was that he save some of his energy for his own sake, and for her. For them. Because the city was a bottomless pit of need and he could give and give and give until he was utterly spent and nothing left but a hollow shell.

She would not let that happen.

His eyes shone in the gray light. "Roxanne," he whispered, and at last he uncurled, lowering his knees and shifting to face her, and he held her hand. "I..." He gulped and looked down at their joined hands. "I need you, too."

Her heart trembled inside her. The truth is, Megamind, I think I'm falling in love with you. Oh, God, she couldn't say that. Too much pressure. This was no time to get into a huge emotional examination of their feelings for each other, to cross examine him about what he really meant, or make demands about his intentions toward her, not when he was in such a state of exhaustion, not when he was so raw and stripped bare.

She wiped her eyes and wriggled around a bit, trying to get comfortable, but her shoulder felt sore from where it pressed against the unyielding concrete wall. "Want to sit somewhere else? I hear there's a couch in the greenhouse."

He nodded mutely and once they'd climbed to their feet, she took his hand and led him through the door.

Rows of seedlings in long troughs filled with water ran the length of the greenhouse. The couch was by the door. It was cool and misty.

She had him take off the spiked mantle and cape, but when it came to the gloves, he hesitated. "My hands got sweaty. I should wash."

"I don't mind."

One of his gloves made a clunk noise when it hit the floor. "What's that?"

He picked up the glove and held it out to show her a thin sheath about four inches long hidden between the spikes, where it would lie along his forearm. "Telescoping truncheon."

"Can I see?"

He drew it of its hiding place and, with a flick of his wrist, it shot out to a length of two feet. He swept it through the air, making swooshing sounds. "Great way to even the odds, in certain circumstances," he said, in something like his normal voice.

"Hm. I'll bet it is," she said.

He slashed it through the air again. "Kneecap. Collarbone. Elbow. Like that!" he said with a fierce grin, attacking an imaginary opponent, and she found herself admiring the easy way he handled the weapon, and how his uniform outlined his smooth biceps.

As if suddenly aware of the intensity of her gaze, he faltered, made a couple more little swishes with a shy smile, and folded it up. "Well, it's useful, anyway." He tucked the truncheon back into the sheath in the glove and self-consciously rubbed his palms on his thighs before sitting next to her.

"Closer," she said, beckoning. "Put your head on my shoulder. Now all those spikes are out of the way, I can hold you decently."

Once he was settled, with her leaning back against the armrest and his head on her shoulder with his arms around her, she asked, "You want to talk about it? If you want to. Even if you felt like crying."

She felt him shrug. "Oh, I don't know. I don't really feel much of anything right now. Numb."

"That's okay.'

They listened to the faint sounds of people moving about the Lair far below, and the soft sound of water trickling through the greenhouse. With his head nestled against her shoulder, his breath warmed a spot on her shirt. She had the urge to kiss the curve of his bald head which was so invitingly close, but the gesture seemed too motherly, and she did not feel motherly. She would very much like to comfort him another way.

Maybe after a little more talking...

"If you'd rather talk to Minion, I'll understand."

Again there was a little shrugging of his shoulders. "It's not that. I just... I've kind of pushed everything down. Probably cry later in the shower," he murmured into her shirt. "That's usually how it goes."

"Oh, yeah?" She stroked his arm.

He raised his head and smiled back. "Yeah, usually."

They stared at each other and Roxanne's breath quickened. She thought he was about to kiss her. There was a definite glint in his eye, and then it clouded over.

He tried to hide it, stretching up and kissing her anyway, but she could tell his heart wasn't in it. The rawness was still there, dragging him down.

His lips were pressed to hers, but it was mechanical. There were none of the sweet, shy, exploratory movements he'd shown in their last kissing sessions. Though her arms were around his shoulders, his hands braced against the cushions on either side of her as if preparing to leap away.

She felt like crying. He was trying to make himself go through the motions because he thought it was what she wanted.

And she did want it. Wanted him. But not like this. It felt... cruel, like it didn't matter to her that he was hurting, and it did matter to her a great deal.

She put her hand on his shoulder and gave him a little push. He pulled back and she could see the misery in his eyes. Gently she touched his cheek. "You're not really in the mood, are you." It wasn't a question.

He backed off her and sat up, leaning his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together, dejection in every line of his body. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

She ran a hand up and down his back, feeling the tightness in his long muscles. "You had an... unbelievably bad day, honey. I don't expect you to... to be ready to go at a moment's notice."

She kept rubbing his back and after a minute or so she felt some of the tension leave him and he risked a glance at her.

"Roxanne," he murmured. He rubbed his face, then let his hands fall into his lap in a hopeless way. "My... my head is kind of messed up right now. I feel like I'm in a really bad place, I don't think I can... no matter how much I want..." He swallowed. "You deserve...so much more. If I weren't so...so messed up..."

"Shh, it's all right, really it is," she said. Her heart gave a painful squeeze. "The last thing I want is... when you don't really feel like..."

"But I wanted you this morning," he blurted out.