Chapter 10: Be free, my beautiful dove

I relaxed languidly on the park bench, taking in the orange and violet clouds as the setting sun turned the glass and steel skyline into towers of shimmering gold. It had been ages since I was able to enjoy this view. And with the way things had been, I had worried that sights like this would be lost to me forever. Yet, through all the torment and tribulations of the past month and a half, a miracle had occurred.

Well, calling it a "miracle" would imply divine intervention, and while I was certain some kind of intervention had occurred, I was suspecting a more humble sort.

I looked over to Bernard, who was slightly reclined with his arms draped over the back of the bench, gaping at the scene before us as if he couldn't believe it was real. It made me feel a little giddy inside seeing him enjoy this place as much as I did, and that I was able to show it to him in its original untarnished beauty.

"So, how do you like my special spot?" I wondered, lacing my fingers around one knee and cocking my head at him. From reading his expression there really had been no need to ask that question, but I just wanted to hear him say something. His overly-dramatic opinions of everything and funny way of stringing words together never failed to put a smile on my face.

"Ohhh, it's even better than a window," he moaned wistfully, not taking his eyes off the glowing cityscape. "I've looked out over the city countless times, but I've never really... looked at it before." He let out a soft sigh, his eyebrows lowering in a more somber expression. "With all the battles with Metro Man, it was difficult to see it as anything more than a staging ground. Buildings would get destroyed so regularly, it felt like it didn't even matter. But this..." he raised his hand to indicate the glistening skyline, "... falling to ruin... it seems like such a waste."

I let out a happy little hum as I smiled up at him. "Hmm, yeah, it definitely looks a lot better now that it's gotten a good cleaning." Raising a leering eyebrow, I playfully accused, "Now I wonder who might have been responsible for that."

Bernard darted his eyes towards me once uncomfortably, then continued to look out over the city as if he was deep in thought. Once my prodding stare wore him down enough, he finally gulped and suggested, "Mmmmmmmmmaybe it was Megamind who cleaned it all up?"

Pull the other one. I let out a barked laugh and gave him a friendly shove on the shoulder. "Come on, Bernard, I'm asking seriously! The entire city was cleaned up overnight! That would take someone of amazing means and competence, extreme dedication, an entire army of assistants..."

"Yup, sounds like Megamind all right," Bernard repeated, bobbing his head. I gaped at him as he continued to enjoy the view as if his answer made perfect sense and required no further explanation. Finally, he glanced back at me and wondered, "What?" Oh, come on, seriously? Bernard shrugged and explained, "I'm not saying that he's taken up a hobby of trash collection, but I'm sure a person of his intellect appreciates order and neatness." He chopped the side of his hand into his palm as he straightened his shoulders seriously. "Everything in its place."

I turned my eyes away and contemplated this. "So, instead of turning over a new leaf, you think that this cleanup might be a part of Megamind's master plan? Like washing your neck for the executioner? Dressing a bird for the roast?"

"Why are you reading so much negativity into this?" Bernard wondered, sounding almost offended. "You've always said aggravating things, but they were aggravating because they were overly-confident and optimistic. Now it's like you've fallen completely the other direction."

I rubbed my forehead and drew my fingers out through my bangs. "Yeah, well... seeing a guy you used to consider harmless gloating over the charred skeleton of your friend can change your perspective on things." I let out a sigh and hunched over my legs, clasping my hands. "I'm sorry... for being such a downer. I just... I want to believe that things will be okay. With all my heart, I really do. But if even Metro Man couldn't save us from this, then I... I just can't."

"What would it take?" Bernard asked seriously. I turned my head to look up at him, brows furrowed, not understanding the question. He leaned towards me and repeated, "What would it take for you to believe in heroes again? To go back to being that confident Roxanne I always admired?"

My face flushed, my breath caught in my throat. Was he serious? He was asking like he had the power to do something about it, but he'd already indirectly denied any responsibility for the city's cleanup. Did he want me to voice my concerns so that perhaps someone could hear them? I couldn't fathom what he was trying to get at, but if he wanted to know, so be it. "I just... wish everything could get put back the way it was," I admitted.

"When the world was perfect and rosy?" he wondered.

Well, not quite. "The way things were" still involved me getting kidnapped more often than I'd like (the ideal number would be zero) and Megamind and Metro Man disrupting the city with their ritual squabbles. Still, though... "It was good enough," was the best I could call it.

"Iiii think things might be slowly headed in that direction," Bernard said, his eyes turned up with a hinting tone in his voice.

I cocked an eyebrow at him. "You know something," I concluded.

"Of course. In fact, I know many things. Comes with the territory of being a supergenius, after all," he replied.

My face scrunched up, but I couldn't help it. I laughed. Somehow, he'd gotten through my defenses once again, and honestly, I did not mind. This weight of paranoia on my heart that Megamind would just unexpectedly show up and stab me in the back was unbearable. I wanted Bernard to be right. I wanted to believe in heroes again. But it was going to take a lot more than a stealth litter pickup to convince me.

The evenings of the next few weeks were spent on the laborious task of attempting to recreate the entire setup of Megamind's Idea Wall in the confines of my own apartment. Bernard's seemingly innocuous assertion that everything in Megamind's Lair "had its place" made me wonder if the positioning of the papers in relation to each other in 3-D space gave any clue as to their meaning.

Unfortunately, while I'd had the time to snap pictures that I was pretty sure included the totality of his scrawlings, I didn't have enough to accurately judge where one section hung in relation to another. It was frustrating, to be certain, but I was up to the challenge. It meant that I would have to figure out the plot's organizational structure on my own instead of simply having it presented to me, meaning that I'd be able to pick up hints as to his thought process that I likely wouldn't if I was merely copying a diagram.

"So, that's what I'm thinking," I finished explaining the above thought process to Bernard as he stood blankly staring at the mobile of papers surrounding him. I clipped one more piece to a suspended clothespin and wondered, "Does this sound... at all reasonable to you? Please don't tell me I'm crazy."

"Oh, no, not crazy..." he assured, rubbing a hand over his cheek and glancing through my handiwork. "Just..." he let his hands drop and sighed. "Roxanne, don't you think you're becoming a bit obsessive about this?"

"I have to be just as obsessive as he is if I want a chance of getting ahead of him," I reasoned. "He's plotting something evil, and even if I can't stop him, I can at least go on the air and warn everyone beforehand. It's the least I can do!"

"Well, what if this plot is something bad... but in a good way?" he suggested. "Who knows, maybe it's something that will end up making the city a better place."

"Or maybe it will make the city a crater," I quipped back.

"Or maybe you're looking at this completely irrationally!" he retorted, a desperate, pleading glint in his eyes. I froze, unaccustomed to that volume of outburst from him. We stood in silence a moment, Bernard's shoulders heaving slightly.

Bernard was the one who finally broke the silence again, swallowing awkwardly before whispering, "Sometimes the world isn't as dark and cruel as you think it is, if only you'd open yourself to that possibility."

I looked at him quizzically, not sure if I understood what he was trying to imply. Before I could ask for clarification, though, his watch beeped and he brought his wrist up to look at it. "Ooh, perfect timing. Roxanne, I think we've had enough 'plotting' for today and now would be an excellent time for a little outing."

"Outing?" I questioned as he pushed me towards the door. "But... we just got all these hung, now it's time to start the analysis..."

"Oh, but I anticipate this outing will prove to be inspiring," he responded.

"What? Why? Bernard, where are we going?" But I couldn't protest any longer as herded me down the hall to whatever destination he had in mind.

"Really, Bernard, what is this all about?" I couldn't help but giggle at our current situation, though. He'd insisted I close my eyes once we got out of the car as he led me down the sidewalk to wherever we were going. He'd finally resorted to using his hands to blind me as he led me up some steps and into a building, but I still couldn't discern where we were. Wherever it was, it smelled clean, spacious, and had a soft white glow all around.

Bernard slowly removed his hands, and as my vision came back into focus, I saw that he'd taken me to the Metro Museum of Art. It had been ransacked dry months ago but now... "They're all back..." I gasped, spreading my arms and spinning to take it all in, paintings and sculptures now filling the once-barren walls. "But how... why...?"

Bernard folded his hands behind his back and shrugged. "Maybe Megamind isn't so bad after all." I raised a curious eyebrow at him, but in all honesty, I was having a hard time coming up with an alternative explanation. True, Megamind had no need for an art collection, but to then return it to the city...? Was the gesture really as innocuous as Bernard had suggested?

Well, either way, another piece of Metro City that had been destroyed in the aftermath of that fateful day had been restored. He'd promised me an "outing" that would make me feel better, and it certainly lived up to the hype. It was like everything was slowly piecing back together... going back to normal... and I hadn't had to lift a finger.

Maybe... he was right. Maybe I was wearing myself down too hard over this. All my doom and gloom outlooks, and the public services had resumed operation, the city had been cleaned, the stolen goods returned, all right under my nose. And I'd been treating that like it didn't make a difference.

I led Bernard to the displays, wondering, "But still, why do you think Megamind would return these? These are priceless works of art and he just... gave them back with no ultimatum."

Bernard glanced over the collection on the wall and muttered, "Yes, yes, I'm sure he had a lot of use for pictures of obese naked people frolicking through forests and fields."

I giggled, having not really expected he'd have a keen eye for art. "Okay, well, what about this one?" I said, motioning to a piece of abstract art. "What does this look like to you?"

"It's... a bunch of colored shapes and swirls," he observed. He glanced around the frame and noted, "There's no tag on it, so how are you supposed to tell what it is?"

I folded my hands behind my back and rocked on my feet, smiling. "Well, I guess that's the nice thing about art. No one can tell you the right way to interpret it. You're free to give it whatever meaning you want."

He looked at me with a somewhat confused expression, then went back to examining the painting with a cocked head. I stepped forward and explained, "I think this part looks like the sun rising over the earth, and this piece over here is the moon." I looked up to him and wondered, "What do you think it looks like?"

He furrowed his eyes at the painting again and repeated, "The sun and the earth... but that's only the one corner. There's these red and blue swirly things and something that looks like a chili pepper, how do they figure in to your interpretation? You're just picking out the one piece you can shape into something that conforms to what you can easily recognize and discarding the rest." He spread his arms to the painting and declared, "It's a chili pepper with its hair on fire seated dejectedly on a slice of squash in the middle of the ocean, being pushed out to sea by a giant blueberry on the sand dune with a pineapple slice and cherry on its head."

I was about to commend him for his original interpretation when he clenched his fists and declared, "They shun the chili pepper because he is not a fruit like them! He is bold and spicy, while they are soft and sweet, and they said to him, 'No, chili pepper! You are being shipped away to prison because we cannot stand your spiciness! The giant blueberry is king here because he wears the golden pineapple crown. With a cherry on top!'" Bernard almost gave out a heartfelt sob as he turned back to me. "A cherry! They never gave the chili pepper a cherry! Not one!"

I stood in shocked silence at his sudden enthusiasm for the painting. I examined it, rubbing my finger over my lip in an attempt to see what he saw. He was right, there was definitely more there than the "safe" interpretation of the sun, earth, and moon that I'd had. I didn't know what more I could add to his critique, so smiled and shrugged, saying, "Well, if it makes the chili feel any better, there is such a thing as a cherry pepper."

It was well after dark by the time I got home, but I was contentedly exhausted from my day. The restored museum, the clean streets, the police returned to their beats... going out with Bernard was like walking into this foreign world full of... normalcy. Safety. Given my life up until now, I wondered if I would someday bore of it.

Was my irritability as of late some kind of withdrawal symptom? I had the normal, uneventful life that I'd always wanted, where all the drama was, admittedly, of my own making. Megamind had been strangely silent for months, aside from the gradual restoration of the city which Bernard seemed to think was his doing.

Really, the only hard evidence that Megamind even still existed was the collage of papers hanging from my ceiling, a plot yet to be hatched concealed somewhere within the jumble. It was the only thing left staring me in the face, telling me that I couldn't relax just yet.

I sighed in tired frustration, pulling a piece of paper from its clip and examining it blurrily. Bernard had effortlessly combined all the disjointed images in that abstract painting and drawn some kind of meaning out of all of it, but that meaning belonged to him alone. I could jumble these pieces around at will and potentially come up with some sort of crazy story to string them all together, but unlike art, this plot had a predetermined correct interpretation.

Where do I even start, though? I'd read all those psychological studies, police records, and conspiracy theories, but all I'd really been able to garner from all that was that Megamind was a terrible person, and always had been. Unfortunately, that information had failed to produce any leads.

So what about my experiences with him? I'd spent more time with him personally than all of those authors combined. If I could put that together with what I'd read, maybe it would help me see the bigger picture. Look at the whole instead of just the pieces.

I closed my eyes and attempted to envision Megamind in my head. What was he doing? What was his thought process that led up to the creation of this convoluted plot?

From the blackness, a form began to take shape. Blue and black and dimly lit, I saw a figure hunched over a desk, scribbling seriously on page after page, tossing the completed pages in a pile around him on the floor. It was a heavy, brooding scene before me, and it tugged at my heart to see that this was what Megamind had become.

It... was Megamind, wasn't it? His skin was blue, who else could it be? But as I peered at the image in my mind, I saw that it lacked a face. Why couldn't I remember his face? I'd seen him enough, I knew what he looked like, yet for some reason my mind was unable to attach his face to this hunched, glowering figure.

"Who is that supposed to be?" came a voice from the darkness. I stiffened and looked around, and finally spotted another figure of Megamind hanging above me, as if seated on an invisible ledge. This Megamind, however, had a face, and he was looking down at me curiously.

"It's... it's you," I explained. "It's what you became after you killed Metro Man." I tried my best to sound convincing, but even I was having a hard time being certain of myself.

Megamind jumped down from his perch and landed lightly on his feet before me, his cape swirling about his body. I took a step back as he straightened, but he made no move towards me. "Oh, that's me, is it?" he wondered, folding his arms behind his back and strutting a slow circle around me. "Is that me, or merely an apparition of me born solely of your own fears?"

I swallowed uneasily as he stopped beside the faceless rendition of himself, still tirelessly scratching away at his evil schemes. It was true that I'd never actually seen Megamind behave in the way that my mind was projecting. I'd merely... assumed the worst and defaulted to the most horrible, evil, terrifying thing I could imagine, multiplied by six. And it was what I had imagined that I had been basing all my assumptions on.

The brooding Megamind faded away into the darkness. The slate was blank. But where do I start from here?

The remaining Megamind nodded his head in satisfaction and turned back to me. "Your memories of me may not paint the picture you expect, but you can't simply discard them because they're inconvenient to your narrative. Look at everything, and it will all come together." He extended a hand to me and beckoned, "Let me show you." I regarded him hesitantly, my hand twitching, but not rising to meet his. He repeated the gesture, more firmly this time, but his voice more pleading. "Let me show you..."

Once upon a time, I'd trusted him. I would have refused this gesture then, too, but only out of principle, not because I thought he would hurt me. And not because... I wasn't interested in what he had to show me. It was just business. If he was going to go around kidnapping me, I had no obligation to humor any of his requests.

But this wasn't a kidnapping. If anything, I'd kidnapped him, dragging him into my own head to demand he reveal his secrets. And now he was beckoning me, telling me he'd show me. I just had to take that step. To trust him.

Tentatively, I reached out and took his hand. His gloved fingers immediately closed around mine, and he responded with a satisfied, yet excited grin. I allowed myself the smallest reservations about his intentions, but suddenly the darkness lifted like a curtain, pulling back to reveal the interior of Megamind's lair, the light from the overhead lamps and dusty windows downright dazzling by comparison. Instead of the dim, dingy, cold colors of my previous vision, this place glowed with oranges, yellows, and whites. The papers hanging from his idea wall suddenly swarmed me like a mass of butterflies, causing me to lose sight of Megamind in the commotion. There was nothing threatening about this onslaught, though, as it felt more akin to being caught in an autumn breeze amidst a flurry of multicolored leaves.

The papers parted and Megamind came racing through atop a rolling ladder, snatching up a sheet from the air and flourishing it over his head. "When you're planning big, you've got to think on your feet!" He snapped the paper in place on a string suspended from the ceiling before whirling the ladder around and diving for the next sheet. "Lay out your template and fill in the blanks!" He bent over backwards to catch another piece before hanging it off to the side. "Make it flexible!"

I reached for a page in front of me and looked around examining the empty spaces as he continued to dart around the area seemingly haphazardly, hanging papers in a fashion that appeared completely random. But as I was trying to make sense of it, he whizzed on by and plucked the sheet from my hand and hung it on a free clip without even looking. "Too slow, Miss Ritchi! You're overthinking things!"

"Hey!" I let out a slightly annoyed, but somewhat amused snort and grabbed another page. Okay, then, if I'm not supposed to think about it... I attached the page to the nearest free clip, but was immediately caught from behind. I let out a surprised yelp as Megamind had traded his ladder for his padded desk chair, and had pulled me up to stand on the seat with him as he continued his skate across the room.

"A fine line exists between overthinking and not thinking whatsoever, Miss Ritchi," he explained as he removed the page I'd just hung. "There are things you know in your heart without having to think. For instance!" He pushed the paper back into my hand, then took my wrist and pointed my arm at an empty hanger. "Is the city in the worst state it's ever been?"

"Well, no..." I admitted, tentatively hanging the paper where he'd indicated. "But there's still- ah!" He spun the chair, forcing me to hold onto him to keep from getting flung off.

He plucked another page between two fingers, then clasped my hand with the same hand and stretched out my arm as we continued to spin in some strange desk chair tango. "And have I ever threatened you with any honest harm?"

"Even if you did, it would never work," I quipped back with a smirk. I hung the page myself while still keeping an eye on him, his eyebrow raised in that familiar seductive way. "And..." I continued, reaching out to snatch a page on my own as our spinning slowed, one of his hands at my waist and the other at my shoulder, "No matter what you do, someone will always be there to reign you in."

The chair came to a rest, and the two of us stood amidst the kaleidoscope of gently swaying colored papers. He looked me in the eye and grinned softly, saying, "I think someone already has." His hand on my shoulder slowly slid to my back as he leaned towards me. "It's true, I've changed, Miss Ritchi, but not in the way you've been fearing..."

I blinked dreamily, closing my eyes and allowing him to close the gap between us, lightly placing a hand on his chest as-

Wait, what the HELL am I doing?

I shot up awake, panting and brushing my hair out of my face. The dizzying array of pages were still strung before me, but I was alone, in my own apartment, passed out on the sofa with a jumbled assortment of papers laying on top of me. I shook my head, trying to clear away the unwelcome images that had resurfaced in my subconscious.

... Resurfaced. Yeah, okay, so maybe I'd had a few "Megamind fantasies" back in the day when it was all a game and he was funny and harmless. But certain events had caused those thoughts of him to become heavily suppressed, replaced by manufactured thoughts whose purpose was to deny that I'd ever felt positively about him. Caring about a supervillain was horribly inappropriate, after all.

And like most inappropriate things, it had also felt damn refreshing.