Author's Note: From this prompt on the LJ Flashfic thread:
If MetroMan had survived the Death Ray, and he, Megamind, and Roxanne continued on with their lives as usual, could Megamind and Roxanne still have fallen in love?
Fair warning, I got a little bit 'Dr. Horrible' on this. So... yeah.
The dome of the fake observatory breaks open with a sharp crack, which Roxanne hears only dimly through the fuzzy cloud of knock-out gas that Minion has sprayed onto her face. He and Megamind are still making their escape, of course, but before she fades out completely, she sees the corner of a white cape, and feels a reassuring hand lower onto her shoulder.
"I've got you, Roxy," Metroman says, radiating valiance and justice and other bright, shiny things. As he always does.
"'Course you do," Roxanne slurs a little. Then her head slumps back, and with a sigh, she muses that at least she won't be awake for the rescue-flight. That's always kind of awkward, being carried in Metroman's arms. Though she is never ungrateful for the rescue. Especially since he isn't really all that beholden to come after her. That's just how good he is, the kind of hero he is, and even if she doesn't love him in the way that people thinks she does, Roxanne's quite fond of her knight in shining tights.
"Of course I do," he agrees. His voice sounds a little funny. Tired, almost, but that's ridiculous, because she's been watching him since the dedication ceremony started and he hasn't really exerted himself. Not by his standards, anyway. Her last thoughts are a brief flare of worry before the darkness closes in, and she falls unconscious. Again.
Metroman's birthday is on the 17th of December, according to estimations made by several pediatricians on how old he was when he arrived on Earth, and the date of his arrival. Though it isn't an official holiday, it may as well be. For most people, it's an occasion to look forward to. Metroman usually makes an appearance at City Hall to be presented with some medal or other, and every year a group of school children is chosen to present him with some pictures or poems or what-have-you that they've written, and the evening always ends with quite a show. Always. Because Megamind never fails to make an appearance on Metroman's birthday.
Roxanne wakes up that morning, makes herself breakfast, and puts on some of her more durable clothes for work. She doesn't have very long to wait, fortunately (it's always the worst when she spends all day expecting it) as she gets gassed almost as soon as she walks out of her door. The back seat of Megamind's invisible car is depressingly familiar. As is Minion's chipper greeting. "Good morning, Ms. Ritchi!"
Roxanne just sighs and goes with it. When she comes to again later, it's to the sound of voices whispering.
"Okay, okay, places – no, not that chair, the other-other chair…"
"…Got it… but before we begin, don't you want your birthday coco?"
"Later, Minion, later, we don't have time for that now!"
"I think she's waking up!"
"Oh! Sorry, sir."
Roxanne runs the conversation through her head. 'Birthday coco'? Huh. Unless she's grossly misjudging things, that kind of implies that Megamind's birthday is on the same day as Metroman's.
Actually, that makes sense. Everything else about them seems knotted together. The only thing that would fit more than the two of them having the same birthday would be the two of them having birthdays on the exact opposite dates of the year.
She is musing on this when her attention is diverted again. Fingers grip the bag over her head and pull. It smells vaguely of marshmallows, for some reason. As it comes free of her head, she shakes out her hair a little, and looks around. And up. And then up some more. The warehouse they're in is huge. Positively cavernous. It would probably need to be in order for Megamind to build that giant black suit of mechanical armor, with shoulder spikes and an enormous bubble-shaped cockpit that he's sat himself inside of. He's wearing a fancy cape for the occasion. When she catches sight of him, he spreads the monster-suit's arms and cackles evilly.
"So, Ms. Ritchi? Am I being predictable now?" he demands.
"Considering that this is the fifth gigantic robot suit I've seen you build? Yes," she replies automatically. The corners of Megamind's mouth twitch downwards. For some reason, it actually made her feel sort of bad, even though she's been playing the 'I'm-so-done-with-this' card in their banter for almost a year now. Maybe it's because the thought of birthday coco is still flitting through her mind. Which is silly. It's even sillier to feel bad over the fact that she's never thought to consider that her kidnapper might have a birthday. He's her kidnapper, and she's been going to therapy once a month for a few years now in an effort to avoid that whole Stockholm Syndrome thing. "I guess you do look sort of… menacing, though," she finds herself saying anyway.
The one little comment turns his disposition right around. He positively preens.
"Minion!" he booms. "Activate the ceiling hatch! Let's see if your beloved Metroman can handle all of this when I crash his little party!" Of course, he gestures dramatically to himself with both hands when he says 'all of this'.
Roxanne immediately retracts any sympathetic or possibly borderline fond thoughts she may have been harboring as he closes one gigantic mechanical hand around her, and launches them both out of the warehouse.
Metroman plants her on a nearby rooftop, tears the cockpit out of the suit, and calmly turns Megamind over to the authorities. Those actions aren't really surprising. But as he lowers Roxanne back down onto the sidewalk, she can't help but notice that something seems a little… off. He doesn't banter with Megamind. He doesn't try to assuage her non-existent fears. He just does it all, quietly, going through the motions and nodding once when she thanks him. Then he's gone again, heedless of the cheering, and she finds herself frowning after his wake.
The next kidnapping goes much the same way. And the next. And the next. Roxanne isn't sure what to make of it. Is it a new tactic, maybe? Is he trying to discourage Megamind by ignoring him a little bit? Or maybe, she thinks, maybe he's met someone. Someone he actually wants to be with, romantically. And he's trying to drop hints that he and Roxanne aren't dating, so that… what? So that someone else can get kidnapped in her stead? That doesn't even make sense, she has to admit. But something's going on. The matter hovers around the periphery of her thoughts as she goes through the options. Some kind of nefarious mind-control device? But, no, he's still doing what Metroman has always done, protecting the city and thwarting Megamind's plots. Maybe he's been replaced with a duplicate copy? Or another version of himself from a different dimension? She thinks about seeking him out and asking, but then she just thinks, what if she'd imagining it? There's nothing that says that he has to quip and banter and beam radiant smiles when he does his good deeds.
She's getting herself some lunch from the sandwich shop across the street when she feels herself getting yanked backwards, and then she blinks and finds herself staring into the interior of the invisible car. The tires squeal across the road as Minion hits the gas. She pauses, blinks, because there's no bag over her head, and besides, it's only been a few days since Megamind's last scheme. He doesn't usually stack them this closely. Then she sits up, and almost does a double-take, because she isn't alone in the back seat of the invisible car. Which is a first. The blue-skinned master villain himself is sitting on the seat beside her.
Roxanne stares at him. Minion is driving, she sees, but she can tell where they're going – cruising through the downtown traffic, weaving around other cars and pedestrians – and there's nary a whiff of knockout gas around.
"…This is a new approach," she observes. It occurs to her that she could possibly take Megamind in a fist fight. He's pretty skinny, and that one time she kicked him in the shin he crumpled like a damp newspaper.
"I, ah, I don't really have anything planned," he says, glancing sideways in a nervous fashion. "Well, I mean, obviously I have something planned," he then counters, scoffing, "but not right this minute. I mean, this kidnapping isn't a business kidnapping. It's a social kidnapping. If that makes sense."
For a long minute Roxanne just stares at him.
"Social kidnapping?" she parrots.
He nods almost frantically. "Yes, yes. We need to talk," he insists.
Seizing the opportunity, Roxanne smacks him. Hard. It's actually pretty satisfying, the way her palm hits his cheek with a loud thwack, and his head snaps back. Through the rearview mirror she sees Minion wince.
"I can't believe you!" she exclaims. "Do you honestly think that I want to talk to you? You just kidnapped me! Do you even comprehend how incredibly rude and inconvenient and annoying and not socially pleasant it is kidnap someone? I mean, really? You seriously think you can just pull over to the side of the street any old time, nab me, and have a polite conversation?"
With each word she says, Megamind's eyes seem to expand exponentially. One of his hands flutters just over his cheek. Roxanne is fuming.
"Let me out," she demands. Her insistence is met with silence. Leaning down, she pulls off one of her heels, and brandishes it threateningly. Megamind actually plasters himself against the door behind him. "Let me out right this second or I swear I will beat you senseless!"
"Sir?" Minion asks.
"Do as she says, Minion," Megamind replies, looking her up and down. "For now. I think."
The car pulls over. Roxanne isn't sure if she's surprised or not. On the one hand, she's not used to having her demands met in situations like this. On the other hand, she's usually tied up for those, and quite commonly unconscious as well. After a beat, she leans over, and pulls on the interior door handle. It opens with a soft click. Megamind is still leaning away from her, eyeing her shoe warily. She takes a risk and glances through the windows, noting where they've stopped. It's just a block away from her favorite park. Carefully, she moves to get out.
"Wait!" Megamind asks, extending one hand towards her.
For some reason, she waits. He worries his lower lip between his teeth.
"If I were to want to talk to you without, you know, kidnapping you…"
"Why would I want to talk to you?" she interrupts.
He flinches. Visibly. And whereas slapping him was definitely satisfying, for some reason, that one flinch is pretty much the opposite. That's the trouble with Megamind, she thinks. One moment he's the world's most annoying supervillain. The next, he's… something else. Something considerably more human than that.
Letting out a sharp breath through her nose, and quietly cursing at herself under her breath, Roxanne grabs her purse. She keeps one eye on her serial kidnapper as she pulls out one of her business cards, and hands it to him. "Fine," she says. "My work number's on here. You can call me during my lunch break, I guess."
He's got to be planning something. Scheming something. He's probably tricking her somehow, and she'll probably look back on this and admonish herself for being an idiot. But she actually does feel a little bit better when he takes the card from her, one of his gloves fingers accidentally brushing hers, his eyes scanning the words and numbers carefully. "I can?" he asks. "With a telophone?"
"That's usually how it's done," she agrees. When he looks back up at her, his stare makes her feel momentarily uncomfortable. Swallowing back any further comments, she gets out of the car, pulls her shoe back on, and hastily makes her escape.
It's the first one she hasn't needed Metroman's help for.
"Roxanne Ritchi, KMCP, Metro City News. Who am I speaking to?"
"…Ollo? Oh, I mean, 'hello'? Like that?" a hesitant voice replies from the other end. "This is Megamind." There's a slight cough. Both of her eyebrows fly up. "I mean, this is Megamind, Incredibly Handsome Criminal Genius and Master of All Villainy!"
She has to hold the phone away from her ear a little bit for the second time, because he shouts into the receiver. Well. At least it clears up any lingering doubts she might have about his identity. She hadn't been expecting him to actually phone her, though. She's not sure why. Maybe because the thought of him doing something as mundane as that just seems uncharacteristically normal of him.
"Uh-huh. Why are you yelling?" she asks.
There's a pause.
"…Dramatic effect?" Megamind suggests, and, amazingly, she finds herself swallowing back the urge to make any sort of amused sound. As if he'd guessed it somehow, though, she hears a note of indignation in his next comment. "I can't help it if I'm overflowing with such remarkable self-presence and barely contained evil that it damages your eardrums, Ms. Ritchi."
"Try," she dryly suggests. Then she leans back in her chair, folding her arms a little bit, not even noticing the small smile that's starting to creep up on her. Because it's not like she finds him entertaining or anything like that. She definitely doesn't enjoy ribbing him. That would be weird.
"Okay, you know what, these telophone things are really stupid. Why are they all in little glass boxes like this? It's really uncomfortable in here," he says instead, and it sounds like he's half talking to her, and half talking to someone else on the other end. There's the sound of shuffling and movement. She thinks she can make out Minion's voice in the background, and then there's a brief moment of muttering about moving elbows and what is that woman across the street staring at, hasn't she ever seen someone make a call before?
"You don't own a phone?" she says, despite the fact that she had just found the idea of him calling someone profoundly odd. There's a brief huff over the receiver.
"No. Why would I?" he replies. "There's nobody I'd ca… I mean, that's not important!" His voice snaps over his previous almost-admission, although both halves of the sentences are a little jarring. Roxanne swallows.
"Okay, then we'll get to brass tacks," she quickly suggests, sitting up and straightening herself out. Right. Phone call with a wanted criminal mastermind. "What do you want?"
She hopes it's not another interview. His last attempt at doing one with her had been the most one-sided game of verbal cat-and-mouse she'd ever played with anyone, and he'd wound up destroying the footage and dangling her over the good old alligator pit at the end of it.
"Okay, you have to understand that this is very unusual for me," Megamind says. "I mean I hear it happens to a lot of supervillains, that it's a natural part of the aging process. Time goes by, reactions aren't what they used to be. The spark goes out. Soon enough you're just going through the motions, and, well…"
Roxanne stares at her phone for a good couple of seconds. "Please tell me you did not phone me to ask about erectile dysfunction," she replies. Through the reflection on her computer monitor she sees Hal do a spit-take. Well, that'll teach him to listen in on her conversations. The man's a wealth of bad habits.
"Erectile… what! No! Nononononono, no, absolutely not, that's – okay, that's just wrong, there's nothing – I mean, it's none of your – um – not that I wouldn't – but, no! No!" Somehow, she can almost hear him blushing. "This is about Metroman!"
Just for kicks, she doesn't stop the first reply to occur to her from flying out of her mouth. "So you're calling me to ask about Metroman's erectile dysfunction?"
The squawking on the other end is almost definitely worth the odd looks from her coworkers. It goes on for long enough that the pay phone on the other end demands another quarter, at which point there's more cursing and shuffling, and finally Megamind declares one last and emphatic 'no'. Just to cement the deal. She listens to him suck in a deep breath on the other end of the line. It echoes a little bit over the receiver. When he talks again, he speaks very carefully, as though to avoid any further misunderstanding.
"Okay, look, you've noticed that he's been acting… weird, right?"
Some of her amusement fades away. Which makes her rather surreally aware of just how amused she had been a moment ago.
"Even if I had, why would I say anything to you about it?" she asks. "You're his archnemesis. I won't give you anything you can use against him." Is that his game? He thinks he can con some of Metroman's secrets out of her?
"No, you don't understand," he replies. "That's the point. Do you have any idea how bad it looks when your archnemesis is just phoning in all of your foiling? It's like he doesn't take me seriously anymore! I mean, what do I have to do to rile him up? Burn down half the city? I thought for sure that thing with the clone army would really get him, but nope. Nothin'. If I didn't know any better I'd think I'd replaced him with some robot copy or something."
"I know!" she finds herself saying before she can stymie the urge to agree. "What is with that?"
"Oh thank evil, it's not just me!" Megamind exclaims. "Seriously! Look, I hate to ask this. It's… you know, it's not really my place, but, well, have you two been…" he coughs delicately. There is a brief whispered exchange with Minon. Then he addresses her again. "Has there been 'trouble in paradise'?" he asks, quoting the phrase very pointedly.
"You think I'm the problem?" Roxanne replies, slumping a little. She isn't really hurt or offended or anything, but, well, it's never very nice to think that one might be the cause of woe and disinterest for a treasured icon of the city. Not to mention a friend-of-sorts.
"No!" Megamind blurts, much to her surprise. "Don't be ridiculous, of course it's not you. What am I thinking? I guess I'm just so caught up… is that gum? Seriously? Who uses a public telophone as a repository for their chewing gum? Now that's just unhy-gee-enic."
There's another shuffle. Then a sudden, unexpected snap, and a beep, and the dial tone kicks in. Roxanne listens to it for a few seconds, wondering what the heck had happened on the other end. It's probably better not to know, she decides, carefully hanging up, and most definitely not waiting for the rest of her break to see if he calls again.
He doesn't. Not until the next day, anyway.
"Sunlight!" the voice on the other end of the receiver blurts. Roxanne doesn't even bat an eyelash as she raises her sandwich and takes a bite out of it, leaning an elbow against the top of her desk.
"Of course, why didn't I think of that. It makes so much sense," she sarcastically replies.
"No, no, no, see, I've really got it figured out now," Megamind insists. She thinks she can hear the sound of machinery on the background. He's been phoning her all week, but this is the first time it sounds like he hasn't jammed himself into a telephone booth somewhere. She wonders if he actually bought himself a phone. How does a wanted criminal who lives in some hidden lair go about getting phone service, anyway? Is it a cellular or a landline? Probably the former. Then again, she thinks, he's likely just invented something that does the job of a phone and cut out the middleman. "I was going through several scientific journals on health and psychology and I found this article about something called 'S.A.D.'…"
"Seasonal Affective Disorder," she replies.
"Yes, yes that's it! Apparently some humans suffer from negative side-effects if they don't get enough sunlight, and I was thinking, Metroman has only been acting strange since I attempted to use my solar death ray on him. So perhaps he has the reverse condition! Perhaps his species reacts poorly to an excess of sunlight and suffers from emotional disorders and depression!"
Roxanne turns the idea over in her head. "Well, there's one problem that I can think of straight off the bat," she muses. "You didn't actually hit him with your 'death ray'. Remember?"
There's a pause.
"…Okay, so the theory might have a couple of small holes in it."
"Still, I mean, there's no reason why I shouldn't keep on with my plan to trap him in a dark room for twenty-four hours-"
She puts down the remains of her sandwich. Her palm makes an audible sound as it connects with her forehead. "How could you even pull that off? You've never been able to build something capable of trapping him!"
"Well, no, not yet. But I've hardly exhausted my wealth of ideas."
Roxanne rolls her eyes. "Whatever it is won't work," she insists.
"Will too times a million and six!"
"You don't even know that trapping him in the dark will do anything! Ugh. And you're probably going to grab me for this, aren't you?" she finds herself saying. "Typical."
There's a moment of silence from the other ends. It goes on for long enough that she finds herself wondering if he got disconnected again. But, no, she can still hear some of the noises in the background, and the distant rhythm of breathing. "That's it, isn't it?" Megamind says at length. He's gone somewhat quiet. It takes her aback. "I really am typical, aren't I? Predictable. Just like you said." He sighs. "That's why he doesn't care anymore. All my schemes, my ideas, my glorious plans… they're just boring now, aren't they?"
Roxanne blinks. She's never heard him sound like this before. "Maybe it's catching," she finds herself saying.
She frowns, unconsciously leaning a little closer to her phone. "Maybe it's catching. You sound like he does, these days. It's almost…" she revisits his earlier theory, surprised to find what could be a kernel of truth in it. "Despondent. Depressed. Like you're both getting tired of… of everything." Like they're getting sick of being tied to chairs and knocked unconscious and carried through the cold air, to the point where life is dragging, where it's hard to recall the last time they found something funny or bright or just simply joyful within it.
"Is it a viral condition?"
When she gives him her personal cell phone number, it's really more a matter of convenience than anything else. Her job puts her on the move quite a bit, and she tells herself that it's a good idea to keep tabs on him whenever possible, and not simply if she happens to be in the office at lunch time. He seems more inclined to tell her about what he's doing, what he's planning, and if she can have that kind of insight into the city's resident criminal mastermind… well, why shouldn't she?
It's not like she looks forward to talking to him or anything like that.
The phone ringing at two o'clock in the morning is what wakes her up. Blearily, Roxanne fumbles for it on the nightstand, nearly knocking over her alarm clock before she closes her fingers are around jangling cell.
"Hello?" she answers, dazed and mostly still asleep.
The voice which answers her is far too coherent and booming for two a.m., and she winces as it carries over the receiver. "Roxanne! Birds are amazing!" Megamind exclaims. "I'm watching this documentary on the PBS, and you should really be seeing this – there's this one bird, he's been collecting all of these colored rocks to build himself a little bird pyramid to try and attract his lady-friend, only this other bird keeps stealing rocks from him, and I'm pretty sure that my bird is going to mess up that other bird. Oh! Oh, it's happening how! Hang on, I'll call you back when it's over. Turn your television onto the PBS!"
There's a click, and then the phone goes quiet. Confused and not quite sure what just happened, Roxanne slumps back into her blankets, abandoning her cell phone to her pillow and drifting back into sleep.
What seems like two seconds later, the phone starts jangling again. She jerks away this time, inhaling sharply and blinking into the darkness, the buzzing by her ear shocking the hell out of her. When she figures out what's going on long enough to hit the 'talk' button again, Megamind starts up without any preamble.
"Are you watching?" he asks. "That other bird just got shooled. Ha! I always knew that fish were amazing but I never knew that birds had anything going on for them-"
"Megamind," she interrupts. "It's two o'clock in the morning. Why are you talking to me about birds?"
There's a pause.
"It's not… oh. Heh. It is two o'clock in the morning. Oops. I mean, actually, this bird thing on the PBS is very crucial to figuring out what's going on with Metroman, but it would probably take too long for me to explain how or why or, ha, even any way that it's at all connected to that. So. Um, maybe you should just go back to sleep and we'll talk about it later?"
Roxanne groans, perhaps mutters something about blue idiots, and clicks her phone off as she falls back against her mattress again. She shuts her eyes.
Dammit, she thinks after several more minutes. And now I'm awake. Great.
The darkened ceiling stares back at her. She tries for another solid ten minutes to go back to sleep, pouring herself a drink of water and curling back into her blankets again, but all to no avail. After a while she sighs and picks up the phone, hitting '6' on her speed dial.
"Yes! It's still on! But we've switched birds, now. There are parrots!"
With a sigh, she shuffles into her living room, and turns on her telelvision.
"To repeat, you did not actually hit him with your death ray," Roxanne insists, cradling the phone between her chin and shoulder as she goes through a few business e-mails. Her apartment is quiet, the purple evening light streaming in through the windows setting everything in a soft glow. "Your whole theory is based off of a misassumption. Now you're just being stubborn about it."
"You're just saying that because you're biased against evil plots," Megamind counters. "I could be planning any sort of diabolical scheme and you would think it was a bad idea. You're so picky!"
She makes a face. "I'm against evil plots because they are evil."
"Oh, drop it. Anyway, you're just trying to distract me from the fact that I'm right and you can't think of a good counter-argument." The phone slips a little, and she gives up the e-mails for a few minutes in favor of holding it properly. Her chair creaks as she leans back.
"Well we'll just see who's right when Metroman is locked in an Inescapable Room of Terror!"
She's struck by it, then, as he cackles on the other end of the line. She's enjoying her conversation with a criminal mastermind. She's talking and joking and laughing, really laughing, with someone who is planning on trapping one of her friends in some horrible device. Someone who has tried to kill the greatest, kindest being in the city countless times… and there has got to be something wrong with her. Because this just shouldn't be. Her throat tightens, and she sits very still, not really listening even as Megamind's evil laugh tapers off into silence, and then tentative repetitions of her name.
"I think I should go," she says quietly.
"Oh… alright," Megamind replies. "I'll see you soon."
It's only after she's hung up that she bothers to think about the implications of his farewell.
When she comes to and finds herself tied to what has to be the nine millionth chair of her life, she isn't even angry. Unaccountably miserable and frustrated, yes, but not really angry. Maybe it is catching, because she can barely muster up the energy to glare as Megamind goes through the motions, hovering in front of her in some kind of flying suit. There are domes and robots and Minion's manning what looks like a giant net-gun, but she's not really paying attention to the plot. It's elaborate and complex and will likely be foiled within the hour. She watches Megamind's face as he talks, and realizes that she's an idiot. All that Megamind really cares about is defeating Metroman. He only involves her because she's the bait, because he mistakenly thinks (just like the rest of the city) that they're an item. She let herself forget just who she was talking to every day, and now she's gone and done it, because when she looks at him, something in her chest clenches painfully.
"Are you alright?"
She blinks, and realizes that at some point during his monologuing he moved towards her. He fidgets a little bit, his eyes flicking up and down as he looks her over, his usual posing abandoned for a moment.
"What do you care?" she asks. He recoils, almost like she'd slapped him. "You kidnapped me again. So let's just get this over with."
He swallows, hard enough for her to see his throat bob. Then he straightens up, the walls slamming into place, and she looks away as he strides off. Back into full villain mode again. There's an unexpected edge to his voice now. It's almost defiant, and almost just a little bit frightened, too. He raises his hands when Metroman comes, and Minion fires the net-gun at the hero. Roxanne watches that, staring as the bright strands of blue, electrical light close around the white of his costume, tangling his cape and sending shadows scattering around the lair. Her eyes find his face, and understanding hits her all of a sudden.
It's the game. This… farce, between the three of them. Whatever's happened to him, he's as sick of it all as she is, now. He was just the first one to get there.
Metroman stretches his arms, and the energy net snaps off of him like twine. The pieces go flying. He's focused on Megamind, and so she's the one who sees it first, the stray piece of bright blue light filling up her vision before something white-hot and painful collides against her chest. She doesn't scream. She just lets out a shocked breath, and the chair falls back, tipping over towards the alligator pit. A saw blade narrowly misses her ear.
She feels a sharp spike of fear, and glimpses a set of snapping jaws before a black-clad hand catches her line of sight. Before she can even process it, it's replaced by a flurry of white, and she clenches her eyes shut against the pain as it spirals out in flurries from her chest. Something warm trickles down her stomach. There's a firm chest beneath her ear, gold embroidery by her eye, and the world flies past at astonishing speed as she hears Metroman's voice repeating reassurances to her. 'It's going to be alright, Roxy' over and over, until a pair of glass double-doors blow past them, and then he's shouting for help.
Everything about her feels heavy. Her arms, her legs, her head. Even the rise and fall of her lungs seems unusually sluggish and difficult, and it's all coated with a fuzzy haze of disorientation. Her throat itches. She tries to open her eyes, but the lids seem to be weighted down along with everything else. After a second she decides it's not worth it. There's something beeping nearby, anyway, and it doesn't take her long to puzzle out where she must be. Strangely, she feels disconnected from the whole situation. I got hurt, she knows, and she wonders how badly, but the fact that she's awake at all is probably a good sign. Right?
There's a voice talking to her. It's soft and quiet, and a little bit broken.
"-wouldn't tell me how you were doing. So I broke out. But I'll go back, I swear," the voice says, as she finally recognizes it. "I'm… I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I know this doesn't seem like much, but I really never meant for you to get hurt. I really didn't. He… Metroman's supposed to save you." He draws in a sharp breath. "That's how it's supposed to go. The villain captures the girl and the hero rescues her back. I've never been good at doing things the right way. I'm not… I hurt people, and it all goes wrong. I'm just designed to be bad. Except now I can't even do that well at being evil, because here I am, and all I think about is this, and I don't want to be responsible for this!" Ragged breaths. "This is all Metroman's fault! If he'd just been a little more careful, like he's supposed to be, then you never would have gotten hurt! What was he thinking, breaking that net apart like that? What was…"
Roxanne opens her eyes. The room is fairly dark, though there's still some light from the corridor and from the machines they've hooked her up to. Megamind is standing in the corner of the room. His head is bowed, and he looks very small, somehow, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and one of his less ostentatious capes. There's something white wrapped around one of his hands. Bandages?
"I'm sorry," he says again.
Her throat feels like sandpaper as she opens her mouth, licking her lips a little bit to try and moisten them. "I know," she croaks.
Megamind's head flies up. The whites of his eyes catch the light They glitter briefly with his movement. His mouth opens, then closes, then opens again, and she gets the distinct impression that he's going to run now. Maybe that would be a good thing. She feels so confused – about him, about this, about everything. Because it is his fault. There's no one else to blame. But she doesn't want him to go, either.
All that therapy for nothing.
But she's already sinking, falling back down into unconsciousness, and he's backing towards the doorway with escape obviously on his mind.
It's ridiculous, really, how much time she spends unconscious around him.
When the bandages on her chest come off, they leave behind a few scars that make her surprisingly self conscious. Intellectually, she thinks it's ridiculous. She was hurt. She's better. She should be grateful, and not worried a few marks on her chest. So she won't be able to wear anything low-cut on camera for the foreseeable future. It's not the end of the world. Of course, it doesn't help that the make-up team makes an excessive amount of fuss about it. Or that Hal 'accidentally' walks in on them (as he does from time to time) takes one look at her, and exclaims 'gross!' at the top of his lungs. He apologizes later, of course, not meeting her eye and hurrying away again afterwards, but the damage is already done.
She wonders if the station is going to switch her to off-camera work. It's not like she's renowned for her décolletage, but then again, television's a harsh mistress. Once the buzz of sympathy over her 'incident' wears off she knows she'll be on shakier ground. For now, though, she's almost drowning in well-wishes, with sympathy baskets and bouquets. The station wants to do a special on it. Roxanne feels absolutely zero inclination towards the idea, but she complies, keeping things mostly vague and limiting them to 'tragic accident' as much as she can. Because that's what it feels like to her. Like she fell off of a ladder, or slipped on some ice, even though she knows she ought to be angrier about it. But she just… isn't. Metroman didn't mean to hit her, and Megamind didn't plan for things to happen that way. Mostly, she's just hurt and worn out.
As the weeks go by, she becomes starkly aware of just how much her life has come to revolve around Megamind and Metroman and their battles. Not that she didn't know before, but never so clearly as when both of them abruptly stop speaking to her. Megamind goes quiet in his jail cell, and at first it seems like it's just same old, same old. She wonders if she didn't dream their conversation in the hospital. But Metroman seems to shrink from the public eye, too, until spotting the familiar white cape becomes a rare sigh. People seem to think that he must be spending time with her through her recovery. Roxanne knows better, of course. Even Hal avoids her, and she thinks that she really has got to find some actual friends, but she's not really in much shape to go and do that. After a month has gone by without even a peep from the prison, it's obvious that something is up.
She's almost relieved when she hears about the prison break. It's about time, she thinks, and then she stops herself, because having Megamind on the loose is not a good thing.
Nevertheless, she wonders what he'll be like when she sees him again. Subdued? Maybe a little more showy than usual, to compensate for things? Oddly, she isn't afraid of being kidnapped again. She doesn't think he'll make the same mistake twice.
And he doesn't. Because he doesn't kidnap her again. Roxanne hears about the fight from the station, and rushes out to film the combat, her heart hammering in her chest as she sees Megamind and Metroman fighting over city hall. The battle itself is rather vicious. Megamind's brought a contingent of giant brain bots with him, but they don't really stand up to Metroman. There's almost no banter. Megamind's expression is hard and sharp whenever he flies into view, and Metroman seems to have a grimace permanently etched onto his jaw, his blows grim and hard as they clash. The drones get smashed to pieces, but their lasers are shockingly effectively, ripping through the hero's cape and successfully setting his hair on fire once or twice. The punches from Megamind's suit actually stagger Metroman a little bit.
Roxanne feels like someone's turned her spine to ice as she watches it, reporting almost on autopilot. Eventually, Metroman rips Megamind out of his suit, and the match is over.
The next fight, however, is much the same. And the next. Soon enough Roxanne finds herself rushing to play catch-up, no longer the damsel, but every inch the reporter. The battles become increasingly brutal. The Metroman museum gets blown sky high, and the third fight does an incredible amount of structural damage to the city's main overpass. The gossip mongers all buzz about the escalation, and her lack of involvement. Most people seem to think that Metroman has delivered some kind of threat regarding her to Megamind. The romantics swoon.
She feels a growing sense of dread, creeping up and up with every day. She doesn't even know why, though. But she does. She feels the dread, and she also feels strangely… abandoned. One of the seedier tabloids puts out a piece on how Metroman has actually dumped her due to her scars, and it stings, largely because they print enormous pictures of her chest that someone from the hospital must have given them.
The next week, the tabloid's offices get smashed to bits during a fight between Megamind and Metroman.
Roxanne's not generally the drinking type, but that evening she pulls out a bottle of wine from the last Christmas party, drinks the whole thing, and engages in some good old-fashioned wallowing. She supposes, when it's all said and done, that even if she's still newscaster material, she doesn't make much of a damsel anymore.
"It'll be good for you," her mother insists, the cupboard cutlery clattering a little as she helps to pack it away. "Get away from all this for a while. Get your bearings back. It'll probably be good for your grandparents, too, having some company on the farm. I suppose they aren't getting any younger."
Roxanne makes a noncommittal sound of agreement. She's always liked her apartment. It seems wrong to leave it, to empty all of her things from it and just… go. She doesn't feel like she's making a new start, or getting a fresh perspective. Mostly she just feels strangely bereft. But everyone seems to agree that she needs the change, that she should get away, and her footing's too shaky for her to really say no. So she's going. And maybe her parents and coworkers and therapist are all right. Maybe this is what she needs, even if it doesn't feel like what she wants.
Because she doesn't even know what she wants, except maybe to stop watching Megamind and Metroman tear each other apart.
"It'll be good for you," he mother says again, with the sort of certainty that can only come from second-hand advice.
"You're probably right," Roxanne agrees, glancing through the glass doors of her balcony, staring at the city skyline. It's not forever, she tells herself. It's just a little change of pace. A little break, and then she'll be back, and who knows? Maybe everything else with straighten out while she's gone. The woman they've got to replace her on camera is beautiful and charismatic, and every inch as durable as she needs to be. Hal's already smitten, and her coworkers love her, so it isn't like she's leaving a whole lot behind.
The farm in autumn is beautiful. She hasn't been there since she was a teenager, helping her grandfather haul pumpkins and getting up to her knees in muck. Those are the parts she remembers the most, but when she gets there again, it hits her all at once – the burnt scent of wood smoke, the red and orange leaves fluttering all around, the sharp bite of cold, but not too cold. The tinny sound of truck doors slamming, and the large stretches of land that seem to go on for impossible distances, so sparse and uncluttered compared to the city. Her grandmother hugs her so tightly that she swears her ribs are going to break again, but it feels good. It feels like safety and peace, and while she had never been one to value those things to extremes, maybe she needs them now.
She's tense for the first couple of weeks. People stop her on the street, asking her questions. It takes a while for her to figure out that they aren't asking because they've seen her on television, but because the community's small enough that they know her grandparents, or even recognize her from when she was younger. Eventually she starts to fall into a rhythm, helping around the farm with this and that, reading, listening to the local gossip. She taps out a few articles on her laptop. The local newspaper is much, much smaller than the hectic world of KMCP, but they take an interest in her, and she finds that slowing down too much doesn't suit her. So she gets a job writing columns for them. She isn't much for getting back on television just yet, though they do ask her.
It's nice. It's a break, and she takes it, and then the days become weeks, and weeks become one month. Then two. Winter comes, and her mother thinks it would just be wonderful if she and her father went down to the farm and they spent the holidays all together.
Just like that, December 17th rolls around again.
Roxanne reads the numbers on the calendar and goes stock still, almost dropping the box of Christmas decorations she'd been helping bring down from the attic. Her mouth goes dry, and almost without thinking, she puts the box down at the foot of the stairs, goes into the living room, and turns on the old television set. Sure enough, the Metro City stations are all showing footage of Metroman's birthday celebrations. Looks like there's a parade this year. Her replacement beams at her from the screen, and re-reads the lines from a piece that Roxanne herself wrote a couple of years ago. Metroman himself seems a little scarce. He only seems to turn up in stock footage, at least until the part of the day where a gaggle of school children turn up to present him with their class projects. She does a double-take when she sees him.
His costume's changed. The cape is gone, and so are the tassels on his gloves and boots, which both look sturdier and more substantial than she recalls. The grey in his hair has multiplied exponentially, too, so that it's more silver than black now, and there are a few lines on his face that she's pretty certain are new, even with the lousy reception on her grandparents' television. It seems like such a dramatic change for just a few months to make. He smiles at the children, but the expression doesn't reach his eyes.
Roxanne plants herself cross-legged in front of the set, and watches. Her grandfather comes in and talks to her twice, but doesn't say much, and ultimately leaves her be. Her grandmother sits through some of it with her. She asks a few questions. Roxanne answers them as best she can, but it's surprisingly difficult to get the words out. Her lips seem to skip over the names 'Metroman' and 'Megamind', so that instead she finds herself saying things like 'hero' and 'villain', or 'that one' and 'the other'. There's a lot of repeat footage. Some of it features her, usually making some dry comment on the state of affairs, but those clips are fairly sparse. She wonders if they seem a little bit tasteless now.
It's evening before Megamind makes his expected appearance. But he shows up anyway, and when he does, an audible gasp escapes her.
He's piloting a robotic suit, but somehow, the suit seems different from the ones she's seen him in before. Sleeker. Meaner. The spikes on it are clearly not just for decoration, the serrated edges lining its gauntlets, catching hard against Metroman when the supervillain backhands him through the air. He's forgone his cape, too, though his black suit is darker than usual, and he still has a high collar. Those aren't the things that make her gasp, however. One of the news cameras gets a good shot of the inside of the suit once it's knocked to the pavement, and quite clearly displays Megamind's face for several minutes. It's gaunt. There are shadows under his cheekbones and eyes, and a wide, jagged scar runs the length of his skull.
Unconsciously, Roxanne finds herself pressing a hand over her heart. Her own skin still rough beneath her sweater.
Looking at that face, she thinks that maybe… there might really be no going back.
"He looks like quite a villain," her grandmother observes.
He never did before, she realizes.
Epilogue – Ten Years Later
They were born on the same day. She supposes it makes sense that they'd die on the same one, too. She suppose it's just destiny that the date was December 17th. Or maybe he planned it like that – he couldn't possibly have thought that he could survive an explosion capable of killing Metroman. Maybe that was the idea all along, to go down together. The news was somber, but kept highlighting the good fortune that, at least, no innocent bystanders had been caught in the blast. Roxanne's not much for the details. There's a huge memorial service dedicated to Metroman going on in Central Park right now. Half the city's turned out for it, droves of people dressed in black, but it's hard to escape the idea that all of those mourning admirers are just a little bit relieved as well.
She only sees one other person out here, though, at the old prison cemetery. He's an older man with a handlebar moustache and a long face, somber eyes staring out from underneath silver brows. The ashes are all kept in stone rows, little metal plaques naming the contents, marking each 'grave'. Someone's placed a cluster of little white flowers onto the shelf above the one in front of him. Somehow, though, she doesn't think they're from him. At her approach, he glances back towards her. There's a flash of recognition in his eyes.
"Didn't expect to see you here," he says, though there's no judgment in his tone.
Roxanne can't think of anything to say to that. She walks forward, wondering what they put on his grave marker. 'Megamind' is etched in tiny letters. No first name, no last. The dates trail underneath it. She thinks maybe that that was all that was meant to go on there, but someone with a laser cutter and some time has made an addition, carving out the words 'Incredibly Handsome Criminal Genius and Master of All Villainy' underneath. Minion, she thinks. But then again, maybe not. Ten years is a long time.
"I knew he was bad news the moment I laid eyes on him," the silver-haired man tells her. She can't seem to tear her eyes away from the plaque to look at him, though. "Too smart for his own good."
"Why aren't you screaming? Minion, why isn't she screaming?"
"Like this – AAAAHHH! Though that's a poor lady-scream."
"So, Ms. Ritchi? Am I being predictable now?"
"If I were to want to talk to you without, you know, kidnapping you…"
"…Ollo? Oh, I mean, 'hello'? Like that?"
"I'm so, so sorry. I know this doesn't seem like much, but I really never meant for you to get hurt."
With the gift of hindsight, she thinks that maybe 'knowing he was bad all along' had been the problem. Something tickles against the side of her neck. She raises one hand, swiping at it, and her fingers come away wet. Touching her cheeks, she realizes that they've been soaked in tears, spilling down her chin and dripping onto the front of her jacket. I regret, she thinks. She's not even sure which part of it all she's referring to. But it's true, and as the silver-haired man walks away, his footsteps hard against the frozen ground, she leans forward and presses one hand against the cold metal.
"I'm so, so sorry," she says, and she wonders if the words had felt as inadequate way back when he had said them to her, hiding in the shadowed corner of her hospital room. Then she falls, sinking to her knees, her head bowed as she cries for all that might have been.
But never was.