Megamind glared at the front page headlines of the day's newspaper. His hands were tight enough around the edges to crinkle the newsprint, and his expression was wide-eyed with disbelief, nostrils flaring ever-so-slightly and jaw tightly clenched. From where he'd been handing the breakfast wrappers off to the brain bots, Minion paused, abruptly concerned. That was the boss' angry face. Not his 'mwahaha, I am so evil and have contrived of something brilliantly devious' face, his actual angry face. Suddenly, he found himself wishing that he'd looked at the paper properly before bringing it inside. The news was a daily part of their routine. It was good for keeping track of Metroman's activities; and since he featured pretty prominently in it, too, the boss liked to keep abreast of it all in case they got a new addition for the scrapbook.
What could have gone wrong? Minion wracked his mind for the possibilities, fins flaring. A damaging article? Some new anti-super-villain defensive measure? Was Metroman getting shot into space again? Actually, it probably wasn't the last one, because then the boss would be shouting for Minion to gather the bots and get the computer systems booted and they'd probably be working on a plan to sabotage the shuttle before he could say 'foregone conclusion'. But it had to be something bad to get him looking like… well, that.
"Unacceptable," Megamind snapped, suddenly slamming the paper down on top of the table and spreading one dark gloved hand over top of it. Minion tried to angle himself to the see the page better, but all he could make out was the face of an unfamiliar, generically pretty sort of woman. "That is unacceptable! I won't stand for it!"
"Sir?" Minion asked.
The boss whirled away, his hands clenched tightly into fists, and started pacing the length of the room. Seizing his opportunity, Minion grabbed the paper and read it as quickly as his aquatic eyes were able to. A New Woman in Metroman's Arms? the headline asked in bold, dark print. Underneath it was the full photo, prominently featuring the lady he'd seen. She was standing next to Metroman, he realized, looking a little windswept, with one hand on his shoulder and the other knocking away a blonde curl. Metroman was holding on to her waist. Turning his gaze to the article, Minion learned that the 'mystery woman' had been spotted with Metroman the day before, and sources claimed that they had been flirting excessively. It was mostly speculation, but anything involving Metroman tended to make the front page, given that he was the city's most popular resident. Much to their mutual disdain, of course.
"This is definitely inconvenient, sir, I agree. He could have at least given us some kind of notice that we were going to have to start abducting a completely different woman!" he said.
Megamind didn't seem to be listening, however. He'd paced to the far side of the room, leaning against the wall and adopting his 'thinking scowl', arms folded over his chest and brows furrowed in stubborn displeasure. Then he exploded.
"That idiot!" he spat. "Where does he get his tastes from, I ask you? Where? First he dyed those garish grey streaks into his hair, and then he started putting those ridiculous tassels on his gloves and boots-"
"They do make him look like a bad Elvis impersonator," Minion dutifully agreed.
"-and now he's gone and replaced Roxanne Ritchi with this… this… tart!" Reaching over, the boss grabbed the paper out of his hand and waved it around for dramatic effect. "Just look at her, Minion! She probably doesn't even have two brain cells to rub together in that sycophantic little head of hers. Giggling and petting her hair! What kind of a man trades in a Roxanne for a… a Bambi? It's ridiculous! It's laughable! It's offensive!" He shook the paper one more time for emphasis. Minion nodded, though he wasn't really sure where they were supposed to be going with this. "I mean, how can he expect to hold up his own standards when he goes around two-timing the most beloved reporter in Metrocity? He can't look bad. If he looks bad then that makes us look good, Minion!"
"You're right, sir, it's completely unacceptable." He was starting to think that the boss had just woken up in a bad mood. It was probably indigestion. He shouldn't have eaten all that chili last night, Minion had known from the beginning that only disaster would come from it.
"We have to do something about this," Megamind concluded.
Minion blinked. Now, it was a fact that the boss was considerably more intelligent than he was. The boss was considerably more intelligent than everyone, Minion was proud to say, but no matter how he wracked his own vastly inferior brain, he couldn't quite get around to seeing what they could do about Metroman's romantic inclinations. "Um. What did you have in mind, sir?" he ventured.
The boss paused in that way that meant that he hadn't actually hammered out a plan yet, but was probably doing so right then, just on the spot.
"We…" he began, curling one hand into a fist around the newspaper. "We are going to kidnap Roxanne Ritchi!"
"Right you are, sir! That's a brilliant idea," Minion replied, smiling encouragingly. It was amazing how many problems could apparently be solved by kidnapping Roxanne Ritchi. Even ones that, by all appearances, had absolutely nothing to do with her. "Um. Forgive my ignorance, but, how exactly is that going to fix things?"
But the boss had clearly developed his plan, because he tented his fingers and grinned malevolently. "It's simple, Minion. Metroman is clearly going through some sort of 'wandering eye' phase of his existence, perhaps attempting to relive some juvenile conquests, falling for the charms of an unfamiliar piece of eye-candy. It's a passing fancy. But once we place his beloved Roxanne in a situation of genuine peril, surely he will recall his true feelings for her and come running to her rescue! It's foolproof!" Megamind insisted. "Everybody wins. They get back together, Metroman's squeaky-clean image is restored with only one faded blemish to be forgotten in the annals of history, and you and I don't have to learn the habits, name, place of employment, and shool records of some completely irrelevant local… harlot."
Minion brightened. Oh. Well, that made sense. Everyone knew that rescuing people made them fall in love with you, after all, and so if Metroman rescued Roxanne Ritchi again, they'd get back together and the boss could stop worrying about it. There was a reason he was the henchman and the boss was the boss, after all. Bobbing resolutely in his water sphere, Minion turned. "I'll get the almost-invisible car ready," he agreed. "When should we snatch her?"
Megamind turned an eye towards the clock. "Hmm, let's see. Ten a.m., Monday, she's probably at the news building – her lunch break's in an hour and a half… eh, we'll give it two hours. Let her eat," he decided. Then he raised his fingers to his mouth and whistled. The brain bots swarmed. "Alright babies, daddy needs you to ready the lair! Let's get the traps set up and bring in the good chair. Boot up the computers, Minion, I need to set up our bait! And fetch me my Midnight Tempest cloak!"
"Will do, sir!"
When Roxanne walked into the news room on Monday morning, she thought, for a moment, that someone had died.
All activity stopped as soon as she came into view. Considering how much activity generally went on, that was saying something, and Roxanne felt a trill of apprehension as she took in all of the somber eyes that fixed upon her. Her coworkers all wore varying expressions of sorrow, disappointment, sympathy, or confusion. Over by the water cooler, Ben and Randy both flinched. A high-pitched whining sound started up, and for a second Roxanne was worried that it was a bomb or that some of the pipes were on the verge of exploding, until she just realized it was one of the weather girls – Laurie. Or possibly Mary. Either way, she figured it out when the other woman nearly bowled her over, weeping buckets and almost wrenching her head off of her neck in her haste to hug her.
"Oh, Roxy!" she wailed.
Tentatively, Roxanne patted her on the back. She gave the rest of her coworkers a bewildered look, which only seemed to make the palpable awkwardness skyrocket to ridiculous levels.
"When I read it, I just couldn't believe it, I thought it had to be a fake! But-but the way he was looking at her in the photograph…! Oh, oh Roxy, why didn't you tell us? It's just devastating!" Laurie/Mary continued to wail. Lost as she was, Roxanne warred between being more concerned at what was going on – and why she was apparently in the middle of it – and whether or not her shirt was getting rumpled.
"Okay, you've lost me," she admitted. "What am I supposed to know?"
Before anyone could answer her, Hal's harsh tones broke in over the sounds of crying as he came up beside her, grinning like the cat who'd caught the canary. "I knew it! I knew it! What did I tell you guys? You can't trust dudes like Metroman, Roxanne, the fame goes straight to their heads," he sauntered over, running one hand through his considerable mass of orange hair. "What you need to find is a good, reliable, regular guy. Someone who's around a lot, you know-"
"Oh, shut up, Hal!" Laurie/Mary snapped. "Can't you see she's in pain?"
That's just my eardrums, Roxanne thought, but she resumed her attempts at comforting back-pats as the wailing started up again.
"Why am I supposed to be in pain? What's going on? Fellas? Ladies? C'mon, someone throw me a bone here," she asked, exasperation leaking into her voice. But it was hard for anyone to hear her over the choked sobs and whines emanating from her shoulder.
In the end it took about half an hour before Ned thankfully thrust a copy of the day's paper under her nose, one of their rival publications, and she finally found out. The relief she felt – oh, so this was why they were all worked up! – bubbled through her chest, and before she could stop herself, she laughed out loud. Which turned out to be a bad idea, because then Laurie/Mary shrieked that she was hysterical, and before she knew it she'd been ushered to her desk with a paper cup of water and more heartfelt sympathies than she could shake a stick at. Everyone had an opinion. It seemed impossible for her to get any work done because roughly half of her coworkers felt the need to stop by and assure her that they thought it was fake, or that they just couldn't believe Metroman would stoop so low, or to even give her condescending advice on what she should do to her hair or her clothes or her manner in order to win him back.
I never had or wanted him in the first place, she thought with frustration, and managed to actually fend off the next few would-be consolers through glower power alone.
"This is ridiculous," she muttered to herself. The truly mind-boggling part of it was, though, that even if she had been dating Metroman, the picture and comments in the paper were quite probably nothing. Her own 'relationship' with Metroman had gotten started much the same way, via a candid shot taken after he'd saved her during one of Megamind's ill-fated bank heists. The rescue had been nothing special. He'd been pulling everyone out of the building, saving them from some collapsing rubble, and she was just unlucky enough to be the last one he pulled loose before the police turned up to escort Megamind to prison. In her nervousness she'd actually babbled to him that she was a budding news reporter.
The next thing she knew, the papers were circulating pictures of her and him, and he was offering her exclusive interview rights. When she asked him why he picked her he just said it was because she 'seemed honest'.
And that was it. They'd never gone on a date, definitely never kissed, and while she was starting to think of him as something of a friend, outside of disasters and interviews they never even saw each other. She wouldn't lie. Spending time with the city's hero was kind of a rush. But not in the way that some of her coworkers seemed to think – as good and brave and noble an icon of justice as Metroman was, he just wasn't for her. He probably wasn't for anyone who didn't have super-strength and their own initials stitched onto the front of their clothes.
By the time her lunch break rolled around, she couldn't wait to be rid of the office environment. She found herself wishing desperately that it had been a day for field work, but it was a slow news week. Ordinarily that would mean she could expect another kidnapping attempt soon, because it had been too quiet around the Megamind front – but that thought actually perked her up a little bit. Hey. Hey. If the entire city was convinced that some other woman was Metroman's girlfriend now, maybe that would get her out of her obligatory damsel duties! That might almost make up for the morning she'd had, if she could go to sleep that night thinking that she'd never have to wake up in some cold warehouse full of death traps and flame-throwers again in her life.
She tried to keep hold of that optimist train of thought as she grabbed some lunch from one of the vending machines and headed for her usual break spot. A shouting voice halted her.
"Somebody stop Roxanne! She's heading for the balcony!"
There was a flurry of activity at that, shouts and admonishments and Laurie/Mary hanging onto her arm and wailing some more, and she rolled her eyes and threw her free arm up into the air in frustration.
"Don't do it, Roxanne!"
"Yeah, Metroman might not catch you this time!"
"Shut up, Randy, that isn't helping!"
Various voices clamored around her until she finally snapped. "Alright! Alright! That's it!" she yelled, shrugging Laurie/Mary off and retreating until she'd put some space between herself and her insane – utterly insane – coworkers. "All of you just need to back off and get a grip! I'm just going outside to eat my lunch. Like I always do. Every day. C'mon, you guys, do you really think I'd start throwing myself off of buildings just because some paper printed a picture of Metroman with another woman?" she demanded.
Confirmation lay in the stretch of silence which followed. Brandishing her lunch like a shield, Roxanne decided to go and eat outside – on the ground floor, because the crazies were still blockading the balcony – and pretend for a few quiet minutes that her life was normal.
That was becoming a preferred fantasy of hers.
There were a few faded white picnic tables on a stretch of grass to the left of the building. Roxanne made her way there, ignoring the glances from a few people in Editing who were on their smoke break, and settled in to watch the pigeons and nearby traffic as she ate her cardboard sandwich. Food of the ill-prepared. She'd thought she'd bought more freezer Panini's than she actually had, and hadn't realized it until she'd gone to grab one that morning and gotten a hand full of year-old peas instead. A great start to a terrific morning. She picked at her food, and idly wondered what it would be like to just be a reporter again for a while. To watch some other woman get kidnapped by Megamind and rescued by Metroman, standing on the sidelines with Hal and just having to film it, talk the audience through it, rather than having to play a chief role in it herself.
Hope she likes alligators, she thought, wondering how her poor replacement would fare under the strain of bi-monthly abductions. It could be pretty stressful at first.
She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn't even notice the bag until it was over her head, a familiar weight closing around her torso and dragging her back, away from the picnic table and swiftly across some distance. She was thrown onto a familiar leather back seat. There was the sound of the door clicking shut behind her, the scent of potatoes lingering around the coarse material of the sack, the roar of an engine starting underneath her side.
"What?" she demanded, her voice muffled to the point of indecipherability. "What? Seriously? Oh, you have got be kidding me! No! No! Come on, doesn't he read the news?" she demanded.
The last part must have been fairly coherent, because Minion's voice cheerfully replied:
"Of course he does, Miss Ritchi! That's why you're here!"
By the time the bag came off of Roxanne Ritchi's head, Megamind was already well in place. He'd decided to go for a slightly more menacing look this particular round, standing on a high parapet just one level above her, with his dark cape billowing in the artificially created wind and his expression fixed in a suitably villainous look of intimidation. He'd also decided to try something new with his eyebrows. He wasn't sure how well it worked, though, because when Roxanne looked up at him, all she did was start snapping.
"Why are you kidnapping me?" she demanded, which was a question she hadn't asked him since the first time. "Didn't you see the paper? I'm not Metroman's 'girlfriend' anymore! What did you do, plan this out a week ago and then decide it was too late to swap victims?"
"Actually, we only just came up with it this morning!" Minion cheerfully informed her from his place beside the decorative Vat of Evil Bubbling Green Stuff.
"Minion!" Megamind snapped. Roxanne didn't need to know how slap-dash this current effort was. Then he turned back to the main subject of the day's event. "Oh ho, you'd like me to believe that, wouldn't you?" he sneered. "Don't think I'm not on to your little plot. Trying to convince me that Metroman has a new woman in his life in order to throw me off the scent! Well I'm not falling for it!" Actually, he was fairly certain that this wasn't the case – or was it? – but, well, 'never tell the truth when a lie will do', as the saying went. He raised his hands, and with a magnificently evil flourish, clapped.
One of the brain bots zipped over and leveled a ray gun at Roxanne.
There was a long moment of silence. Megamind optimistically decided to assume it was terror-inspired.
Roxanne raised her eyebrows at the bot. "Really? That's it? No piranhas or chainsaws or man-sized venus flytraps?" she asked him, clearly unimpressed. He bristled.
"There is something to be said for the subtle approach, Miss Ritchi," he replied, even as he internally flinched. She was right, of course, that was incredibly understated and far too dull for a proper death trap, but he was working off the cuff. The actual kidnapping site he'd been getting ready for the past few weeks wouldn't be ready until Friday, and that was if they worked around the clock. Far too much time to let Metroman fly around getting attached to some new woman.
Roxanne gave him a look of pure incredulity. "Since when has that been your motto?" she asked, looking him up very pointedly up and down.
"Enough!" Megamind snapped. "Your pleas have fallen upon deaf ears, I'm afraid. Unless Metroman is here by the stroke of three p.m. your fate will be sealed!"
There, he decided, as Roxanne slumped against her chair in resignation. Now all he had to do was sit back and wait.
"Got any fours?" Roxanne asked, shifting a little bit on her chair and looking at the cards spread out in her lap. Minion was obliging her by not peaking.
"Go fish!" he said. Then he laughed. "I swear that just tickles me, every time. I say 'go fish' but I'm a fish!" He reached over and plucked a card off of the top of the deck, and closed his eyes briefly as he placed it face-up on Roxanne's lap.
Meanwhile Megamind drummed his fingers against the parapet's railing, slumped halfway over it as the brain bot holding the ray gun on Roxanne bobbed tiredly in the air. He checked his watch again. The letters '3:14' blinked accusingly back up at him. 3:14. 3:14. He was fourteen minutes late. Megamind scowled, wondering for the hundredth time if Metroman had somehow failed to receive his message. But between the televised ransom note, the skywriting, and screen he'd briefly high-jacked in the city's square, he didn't see how that was even possible.
"Are you doing something new with your hair?" Minion asked. "Sevens."
Roxanne obligingly leaned down and nudged a seven onto the floor with her nose. "Sort of. I tried a new shampoo. It's supposed to add volume but I think it makes me look a little puff-headed."
"Well, I didn't want to say anything, but now that you've mentioned it…"
Megamind pushed himself back from the railing and stormed into the computer room, twirling his cape pointedly behind himself and calling up the news feeds on the nearest monitor. This was ridiculous. This whole thing, from start to finish, completely and utterly ridiculous. Just what did Metroman think he was doing? Half the city had better be going up in a ball of fiery death, because otherwise there was no excuse…
Twenty-seven stations later there wasn't even so much as a blip on the radar regarding Metrocity's prized hero.
Megamind checked his watch again. 3:48. Then he looked over at Roxanne's cards.
"You're cheating!" she accused with a scowl.
He rolled his eyes. "Of course I'm cheating. I'm bad. Cheating is what bad people do!" he explained, before claiming one of her tens. Minion looked anxiously between them while Roxanne sighed and slumped her head against the back of her chair.
"Where is he?" she demanded of the ceiling.
Megamind threw his hands up into the air. "I don't know! Probably out with that new dime-store hussy of his! That cheap tramp!" He wasn't sure if he was calling Metroman a cheap tramp, or his new girlfriend a cheap tramp. Possibly both.
"Anyone have any nines?" Minion asked.
"Dime-store hussy?" Roxanne parroted with a baffled look, while he glared at Minion, who immediately backpedaled and changed his request from nines to threes.
"Well obviously," he replied.
The clock had just ticked over to 4:00 and Megamind was stamping Roxanne's Frequent Kidnapping Card for her when half of the ceiling blew out, and a white-clad figure descended towards them in a cloud of pulverized mortar.
"Never fear, Roxanne, help is here!"
Roxanne sighed. Megamind scowled and threw his hands up in the air. "Finally," he snapped. "It's about freaking time! You're an hour late! Do you have any idea how dead she would be if it weren't for all those unfortunate laser gun malfunctions? She would be so dead, there would only be a little sparking skeleton in like a dress or something left over! I am a dangerous menace to society and you left her in my dastardly clutches for sixty whole minutes!"
Metroman blinked. He lifted up one of his hands and pulled the glove back a little bit, checking narrow watch strapped underneath it. "Oh. Wow," he said, blinking. "Wow. I really am late." He laughed. Megamind clenched his fists. "Sorry, Roxy. I guess I must have lost track of the time. That's a first, huh?"
"Don't worry about it," Roxanne replied. "I'm sure whatever you were doing was important. Was there some sort of emergency?" she asked, with heartbreaking sincerity.
"Oh, Roxanne," Megamind sighed. "Poor, naïve, oblivious Roxanne."
She glared at him.
He gestured sharply towards Metroman, who really deserved more of the glaring right then, in his personal opinion. "Clearly he was out cavorting with his new lady friend!" he snapped.
Metroman looked at him like he'd grown another head at that, but Megamind wasn't in the mood for any of his playing innocent. He grabbed the laser gun away from the nearby brain bot, flipped the setting to on, and aimed at the flying not-so-goody-two-shoes' chest. Rapidly pumping the trigger caused a spray of caustic energy to burst forth and go bouncing off of his target's chest. Behind him, Minion hurried over to his station by the decorative vats, and turned on their hastily constructed… actually, he couldn't remember what that gun was supposed to do. He'd pulled it out of storage because he needed something quick and it looked pretty menacing, and could be easily installed into the wall. There was a whirr and a clack and then the nozzle of the weapon was aimed at Metroman's skull.
A slew of neon blue tennis balls erupted out of the end and went bouncing off of his forehead.
Oh. Right. It was that gun. Whoops.
"Lady friend?" Metroman asked, completely ignoring the tennis balls in favor of just floating there, looking confused. Roxanne raised her eyebrows and mouthed 'tennis balls?' at Megamind, and he did his best to pretend that he was too busy being evil and sinister and menacing to notice. "What lady friend? I was just practicing my guit… uh, I mean, I was over in Asia stopping a rockslide. You know. Part of that whole 'International Hero Exchange' thing." Metroman coughed a little into his hand, his deceit written all over him in the shameful way his eyes refused to stay fixed on either of them. The two-timer. Megamind kept shooting until his ray gun was out of charge, lighting up the room with the reflected glow of his tragically ineffective violence.
"Well, you're a busy man, these things happen. Can I go now?" Roxanne asked.
Minion decided to pipe up then, as Megamind moved to see if he could get the big gun to fire off something more volatile that tennis balls. Probably not, but it was worth a try. "But what about the paper?" his henchman asked, producing a copy of the day's news from one of his suits compartments and holding it up. Metroman squinted in that way that implied he was using his super vision.
"…You mean the woman from yesterday's traffic accident? I managed to pull her free of her car after her brakes gave out. I would have just stopped the car altogether, but then she'd have gotten whiplash," he said. "What does that have to do with anything?"
There was a long, long pause.
Megamind marched over to Minion and swept the paper out of his hand. He glowered at the picture again. Upon a seventeenth viewing, he supposed he could see how the look of adulation in the woman's eyes could also be gratitude at a rescue well implemented. And the pose might have been a romantic embrace after a thrilling flight through Metrocity, or it could also have been the usual way Metroman put people down after he'd just lifted them out of some sort of disaster. And actually, when he looked at it now, it was only the fact that the woman was pretty that gave any indication that something besides the ordinary was going on.
"Really?" Roxanne sighed, and by some strange fluke sounded almost disappointed.
On that note the main gun ran out of tennis balls at last, winding down with a low whirr and one final, coughing exhalation that sent a tennis ball wide. Minion shouted a warning a moment too late for Megamind to duck, and the last thing he saw was a blur of neon blue before it collided with his temple and knocked him flat, the room spinning, Minion calling for a retreat as Metroman hovered and Roxanne muttered something about how it was still better than spending the day with some woman called Laurie weeping onto her shirt.
When he opened his eyes again, he inhaled the familiar tang of the prison's air filters and disinfectants. He was slumped into his usual chair, the room around painted in happy rainbow pastels, and his preferred clothing ensemble replaced with the standard bright orange jumpsuit. He sighed, and then winced, gingerly prodding at the bruise on his forehead. All told, it was a shame that he'd gone and done something so poorly put together like that, rather than going with the considerably more impressive bout he'd had planned for the weekend. He waited for the familiar pang of failure to hit him, along with an extra kick of disappointment – it was always the most annoying when he wound up unintentionally thwarting himself – but it didn't come.
Frowning a little, Megamind pushed himself properly upright in his chair and blinked past the lingering haze of his headache. Granted, he supposed, things could have gone much better, and he'd been working with some misinformation (in retrospect in was easier to believe that the whole thing was a misunderstanding than that Mr. Knight-in-Shining Armour would actually cheat on someone, let alone someone like Roxanne Ritchi) but ultimately he could also, in a way, conclude that it had been a sort-of success. The fiasco of the other woman was a non-issue now. He and Minion wouldn't have to track down some new strumpet and waste time learning her routine, which would have been highly inconvenient and time-consuming and especially annoying if it really had been the start of some girlfriend-hopping trend in Metroman.
Metroman was still dating Roxanne. Which meant that, as soon as he got back out of prison again, Megamind would still be kidnapping Roxanne.
He was almost tempted to call that one a victory.