Author's Note: Almost a week before Thanksgiving, but happily not too late, I now give you the end of this not-so-little story, with my deepest thanks to all who have been reading and reviewing along the way. As this is not an end for our characters but just a beginning, so this is certainly not the end of the tales I have to tell in this universe. Aside from the already in-progress "Pin Up Boy" (the next chapter of which is coming along nicely and should be up soon), I definitely have other stories in mind, and will be writing them as soon as the Muse and Real Life allows. I also want to offer my thanks once again to everyone who has kept my husband and myself in their thoughts and prayers over the past few months. Bless you all!
Beginning of Creation
Imagination is the beginning of creation.
You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine,
and at last you create what you will.
George Bernard Shaw
The next morning, Roxanne awoke to the pleasant sensations of being cuddled by her still-sleeping husband — who at the moment was simply asleep, not under the induced slumber of the Teacher. When they'd gone to bed, she'd been fascinated by the sight of the beautifully filigreed band softly glowing across Megamind's brow as it led him into a state where he would learn all that the tiny gem at its center had to offer. She had no idea when the session had completed, since despite her determined effort to stay awake until he was finished, she'd drifted off, exhausted after the stressful day. He'd apparently been very careful to not waken her, and from the happy look on his face, he'd been pleased by what he'd learned.
"It's not as dreadful as I'd been afraid it might be," he told her and Minion over breakfast, which Madeleine and her kitchen helper bots had prepared and served. "None of the Natoshi'ana were emotionless walking computers — as a matter of fact, they were all a lot like me, both physically and in personality. Short, thin, extra-big head, hyperactive, excitable, the works. Even once my people understood why they were that way and what to expect, they were usually nightmares for their parents and teachers and caretakers, until they were old enough to begin to settle into their mature bodies. Having guides and instructors who knew what to expect helped, but only so much. The hyperactivity came from the extremely elevated brain and hormonal activity during their physical development. Trying to control it through drugs or other artificial means had very negative effects, so people around them just learned to live with them as they were, until their brains grew up and finally started working properly."
He laughed brightly, genuinely amused by the entire idea. "I wish they'd at least sent some kind of a note to warn you about all this, Minion, I know you thought I was pretty much out of control and maybe losing my mind, sometimes!"
The ichthyoid flittered his fins and burbled for a moment in chagrin. "Now, sir, you know that's not true!" he protested, a bit feebly since it wasn't entirely so. "It's just that sometimes, you had a lot of energy and got so excited about ideas you had and things you were doing, I was afraid you might hurt yourself... or something."
Megamind's eyes rolled dramatically, but he was still smiling broadly. "Or something," was his concession. "I don't suppose there was a lot you could've done about it, anyway, since my problem, if it really was a problem, wasn't what Earth doctors call hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder or anything like that. It wasn't a neurological disorder caused by defective genes, it was my brain growing the way it was supposed to grow and develop — it just took a lot longer than anyone here would expect. If they'd tried to 'correct' it, it could've wound up doing much more harm than good."
Roxanne made a soft sound of sympathy. "I know, that's a horrible thing to see," she said softly, winning a curious look from both her husband and ersatz brother-in-law. She explained. "I had a cousin who got smacked with the hyperactive label when he was young. My aunt was so embarrassed by his behavior — even though he wasn't really all that bad, he just had a lot of energy and was sometimes forgetful — she dragged him to doctor after doctor, looking for a 'cure.' She didn't bother to tell every new doctor what prescriptions the other ones had given Kyle, she just wanted to hit some miracle combination that would make him behave the way she wanted. It turns out that a lot of the drugs were contraindicated, he should never have been taking them at the same time, but Aunt Louise got what she wanted. The drugs caused Kyle so much permanent physical damage, he wound up institutionalized. And all that was really wrong with him was a glandular disorder that could've been treated with one simple drug, if Louise hadn't been so determined to make him 'behave properly.' She crippled her own son because she wasn't willing to be inconvenienced by something that wasn't his fault."
She closed her eyes as she shuddered at the memory, opening them when she felt a warm hand reassuringly grip her own. She saw Megamind's concerned blue face watching her, and gave him a small, loving smile. "I would've hated to see that happen to anyone else, especially you, Mykaal. Sometimes, I have to wonder if some of the things people call diseases and disorders are really nothing more than genuinely special gifts that 'normal' people don't want to bother learning to accept. It was hard enough to watch what happened to my cousin; I couldn't bear to see it happen to a child of my own."
Megamind's face suddenly went very still. He let go of his wife's hand for a moment, then gingerly closed his fingers around hers again, more tentatively. "Ah... Yeah, that's something else I should mention. About children. We... um... we aren't going to have to worry about accidents or needing to change our minds about any decisions we've made. For one thing, with my people, their reproductive systems had evolved to the point that it wasn't possible for conception to occur unless both members of a couple were fully mature and not only consenting, but actively wanted a child. If one or the other didn't or had any serious doubts, they wouldn't conceive. I suppose it sounds awful to you, too clinical or something, but it did have the effect of assuring that every child born to the Ayalthans was truly wanted by both parents."
Roxanne's eyes had gone wide as she listened, almost shocked at first but then becoming more gentle. "If things were like that here on Earth, I think we humans would go extinct in just a few generations, out of fear of commitment, if nothing else. So, are you telling me you have serious doubts about having children, and that's why I've never gotten pregnant? Because if you are, I have to remind you that I've had doubts, too."
He nodded. "I know, and I guess that is part of what I'm saying — but it's not all of it. That might have been the reason, with anyone else from my planet. But the Natoshi'ana were all significant mutations, barely viable to begin with. In a reproductive sense, it would take only a tiny alteration to turn what's positive about their gene structure into a terrible but very viable defect that results in dreadful handicaps rather than amazing abilities. Whatever causes a Great One to be conceived appears to make sure that such a thing can't happen. If they manage to survive and reach maturity, they can't pass on their genes."
Both Roxanne and the quietly listening Minion gasped as the implication registered. "You're sterile?" she asked with quiet sympathy, since this was the kind of news no one ever enjoyed hearing.
Megamind waggled one hand. "In the usual direct manner, yes, my genes won't allow for conception in an ordinary way. If we really wanted to have children, it'd be possible to correct the defect in vitro before conception, and the result would be a normal Ayalthan/Terran hybrid embryo — which would be surprisingly possible even without lab intervention, with an ordinary Ayalthan parent. But it turns out that none of the Natoshi'ana had blood offspring. Two adopted children, but most were so involved in the lives of so many people, both young and old, that it was as if the entire world was a part of their family."
The reporter's eyes narrowed in a slight frown as she considered what he'd said, very intensely. "Do you mean that being what you are will eventually also mean that you'll wind up... belonging to the whole world?"
Megamind could be dense about a great many things, but for once, he immediately picked up on exactly what she wasn't saying. "Oh — oh! No, no, not like that, I could never, ever, ever let go of you, Roxanne, or you, Minion! The Natoshi'ana did sort of wind up belonging to the world through the things they did and created and discovered, and they often had more direct involvement in the lives of a lot of people — but I'm already doing that, by being the city's Defender, and helping people in other parts of the state, and the country. What I meant was that the Great Ones usually didn't feel that not having offspring of their own was something lacking in their lives because they had many, many other compensations that were just as emotionally fulfilling. And all of them, all of them, had a life partner of some sort, as well as close friends — and those relationships weren't only precious to them, they were vital, as much as having air to breathe!"
His vivid green eyes shifted from Roxanne to Minion, glowing with excitement. "So you see, Minion, just being there for me all these years did something as critical for my survival as what you did when you helped my mother carry me to term, something much more important than knowing why I acted so hyper. You grounded me, gave me something and someone outside myself to care about, to keep my feet on the ground even when I acted like a selfish git with my head off in the clouds, or in orbit. You gave me a vital emotional focus, so that my wild intellectual capacity didn't wind up with me inventing something that would kill me!
"And Roxanne!" he added, turning to her so suddenly, she jumped a little in her chair. "Haven't you said that ever since I gave up being evil, I've grown up and calmed down enough to stop being such a habitual loser? That was all because of you, because you gave me another kind of connection to a person who's become so important to me, I can't imagine life without you as my wife, any more than I can imagine life without Minion as my friend and brother. Minion helped me learn to focus; you helped me to grow, as a person. Do you see what I mean?" His gaze flicked back and forth between the two. "Please tell me you understand, that this makes sense to you!" He was all but begging, to both of them.
"I do understand, sir," Minion said without more than a moment's pause. "It might've been more difficult if you hadn't let me use the Teacher yesterday to see the things about what happened to our world and why we were both chosen to be saved, but I do understand now. You're right, this is a lot like what I did to help you when I was just a baby myself."
The ichthyoid chuckled. "Before I saw it, I had trouble quite believing it because I couldn't remember, but after, I could feel how right it all was. You're an amazing person, sir, even if you sometimes do things and behave in ways that leave my head spinning, and if I can help be an anchor for you just by being your friend...! Of course I understand it, and I'll be very honored to keep on doing whatever I can."
"That's right," Roxanne said with a nod, turning her hand to close her fingers around her husband's blue ones. "I've always thought there was something about you that was different from ordinary humans but at the same time was even more human than anyone I've ever known. It confused the heck out of me for years, because it made no sense whatsoever, since you were obviously alien! But it makes perfect sense now."
She stroked the back of his hand with her thumb, caressing the soft blue skin that was so different from her own, and yet so very much the same, despite its color. "Your people need love and kindness and a sense of belonging and purpose just the same as mine — probably even more so because you feel things so much more strongly. Having friends is one sort of belonging, having family is another, and having a spouse or a life partner or whatever you want to call it is yet another. I can't give you back your family, but I can give you that last kind of connection — and I'm very happy that I was the person you wanted. So to answer your question: yes, Mykaal, I understand, and thank you for putting my fears to rest. I know you'd never abandon me, but I was a little bit afraid that this whole Great One thing would get to be so big, I'd have to fight for my place in your life."
The green eyes watching her so raptly softened even as they became fiercely protective. "Never, absolutely never! If I'm going to continue these studies, even slowly, I'll need you more than ever, so anyone or anything that tries to make itself more important will find itself getting kicked into the back seat! That's the emergency brake on this whole thing, and why close relationships are such a vital part of it. No Natoshi'ana ever gave up a single person in favor of whatever work they were doing, we can't. Work may provide things to do with your life, but the people you love are life."
Megamind suddenly found himself the focus of two very startled gazes. "Wow," Minion managed to say first. "That's very profound, sir. Do you really believe that, or was it something in what you learned last night?"
His ward tried not to feel affronted, but couldn't quite avoid it entirely. "Of course I believe it, why would I be trying to explain it to you if I didn't? This isn't exactly my usual topic for conversation!"
While Roxanne tried to smother a giggle at this reaction, Minion conceded the point. "I suppose not," he said in a conciliatory manner. "Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to be rude."
"Give the fish a break," his wife suggested, teasing. "This isn't exactly the kind of situation any of us thought we'd ever find ourselves in. It's a lot easier to think life's going to go on rolling along the way it always has than to change so suddenly, and dramatically."
As abruptly as he'd turned testy, Megamind became amiable again. "That's true. I'm sorry, Minion, I shouldn't've snapped. That really was more profound than most of what comes out of my mouth!"
The piscine smiled, pleased to have gotten such a ready apology, and relieved by the return of his friend's more cheerful demeanor. "It's okay, sir, I know how it feels now to wake up and have things in your head that weren't there when you settled down to go to sleep! It does take a while for everything to sort itself out. But it's not scary, Mrs. Roxanne," he added for her benefit, since she was planning to use the Teacher tonight. "It's sort of like you sat up all night studying and watching movies and surfing the Internet, but you remember everything about all three, and you're not the least bit tired. There were times when I was trying to learn new things to help Sir when I wished it could've been so easy!"
"And I could've used that during college," the reporter said wryly as she motioned for one of the kitchen bots to come refill her coffee cup. "Someday, you should see if there's a way to reproduce this kind of teaching technology, hon," she suggested to Megamind, who was back to digging into his breakfast with great gusto. "I know you've said these other data gems were all locked so only you can access them, but if new ones could be made so that anyone could use them, it could completely change the way education works — and how much it costs."
The ex-villain considered this as he finished a mouthful of muffin and scrambled eggs. "Eventually," he said when his mouth was empty. "It would need for me to learn a lot of other things first, and the initial cost would be fairly expensive — for the new system, not for the students. That would probably be a bigger obstacle, changing the way things are done and getting people whose income is entrenched in the current means and methods of education to accept this as a good thing. But that's a long way off," he concluded with a sigh, waving his fork before using it to spear a piece of fresh fruit. "Unless you've changed your mind and want me to rush ahead as fast as I can." He said that impishly, eyes twinkling.
Roxanne took a long drink of her coffee before rising to the challenge. "Is that what you want, now that you know all about what you are?"
Megamind made a dramatic show of thinking about it, then ended with a simple shake of his head. "No, especially not now. The only times that anything good came out of a Natoshi'ana doing that was when there was some sort of of major, immediate crisis that they could do something to avert and others couldn't. Allowing their latent talents to develop at their natural pace helped them to make the best use of them, for themselves and everyone else. That's what I want to do."
"And you're positive you don't want to just devote your time and your life to studying all the things your people sent with you?"
The blue genius now made a most eloquent face that would have been perfectly at home on a five-year-old with a sweet tooth asked if he wanted a plate of Brussels sprouts. "Why? I don't want to become a hermit, just learning, studying, researching, developing, all the time, every day — that's boring! I want to keep doing everything I'm already doing, and just add this in when I can. It's not necessary to devote all my life to it — as a matter of fact, none of the other Natoshi'ana did. By the time they reached maturity, they had a good idea of what their interests and the real needs of the world were, and they did what they could to satisfy both. Which was always an awful lot! They had education ministers watching them as they grew up so they could prepare things for them and have them ready when the time was right."
"But you didn't have that," Minion said, rather sadly. "I couldn't do any of that for you, and the schools weren't much help."
But Megamind's shrug was unperturbed. "I suppose I am in a different situation, but that's not your fault, and I don't think it'll matter, in the long run. It might take me a little longer to sift through all those crystals and find out everything I have at my disposal, and figure out everything I really want to learn, but I like to look at it as an adventure, a treasure hunt, discovering new worlds!"
He waved his half-eaten slice of bacon for emphasis as he made the eager declaration, then stuffed it into his mouth and went back to attacking the last of his meal. "Besides, I haven't exactly been living with my head buried in the sand. I know what kinds of serious problems the world is having, and I've already had ideas about how to help. Finding things I can study to help me actually do what I've imagined will be almost like a miracle. I'd been expecting that I'd have to start entirely from scratch and invent entire new branches of technology and science. Not that I couldn't, but having a better foundation to give me a head start will let me do more."
He spoke with great and earnest enthusiasm, which brought a warm smile to Roxanne's face, and a look of wistful pride to Minion's. She said what they were both thinking. "After so many years of failing, that would be something like a miracle. Not that you can finally succeed, but that you can find a way to make up for all the years when you had to make do with next to nothing and figure out everything on your own. A lot of people never get a second chance like that."
As his mouth was full of his last bites of toast and jam, Megamind couldn't answer, but the abashed flush that colored his cheeks and ears was an answer of its own. "A third chance," he admitted shyly when he'd swallowed. "You gave me my second chance, Roxanne. Or maybe my thousandth," he speculated, his eyes shifting to Minion. "I wouldn't have survived without your help, and you've given me another chance over and over, when other people might've just walked out and left me to fend for myself."
"We're brothers, sir," the ichthyoid said, the statement simple but intensely heartfelt. "I've felt closer to you than I did to my own sisters, and I promised your parents and my mother that I'd help you even before you were born. Any time I would even think about breaking my promise, it felt awful, and the one time I actually did walk out on you..." He shuddered, his entirely little body shivering inside his habitat. "Well, let's just say that I never want to feel that horrible again. It was absolutely the worst night of my life!" The apologetic tremble in the fish's voice was just coming perilous close to his version of tears.
The ex-villain's lower lip wibbled a bit as he smiled at his guardian/brother; his eyes had misted over and he had just opened his mouth to say nothing more than, "Oh, Tori...!" when a loud and rather rude honking noise interrupted.
"Okay, guys," Roxanne piped up, having just blown her nose in her napkin, using a clean corner of it to dab at the tears leaking from her eyes, despite her effort to keep them unshed. "I think we're all getting just a wee bit too mushy, here."
"Oh, yes!" "Right, right!" the two aliens agreed in chorus, Minion harrumphing to clear his throat and Megamind quickly rubbing at one eye, as if flicking away an errant bit of dust. It was really too early in the day to turn on the waterworks.
The reformed villain leaned over to give his wife a quick peck on the cheek. "Sorry," he apologized with his brightest and most charming grin, "but I think you just got a mild first-hand example of the sappier side of our strong emotionalism. I hope it was reassuring."
Roxanne stopped wiping her eyes to blink in confusion. "Reassuring? Why should the two of you starting to wallow in bromance be reassuring?"
He gestured broadly, flinging both arms wide and very nearly smacking one of the kitchen helper brainbots who were clearing away the dirty dishes. "Because if you took it and toned it down by half or more, I'd still be a pretty miserable sack of over-emotional mush. I'd have to just about die to turn into some kind of a cold and emotionless living supercomputer!"
He said it with such over-the-top histrionics, Roxanne burst out laughing, remembering all the melodrama of her many kidnappings. "I guess that's true," she finally managed to gasp out, now wiping away tears of mirth rather than mush. "Oh, sweetie, I always suspected that being with you would be one heck of a wild ride, though it's turning out to be a little wilder than I ever expected! Just promise me that if you see any new twists coming, you'll try to give me a little warning so I can fasten my seatbelt, okay?"
Megamind's broad smile turned mischievous. "I'll let you know as soon as I do," he vowed. "Though that might turn out to be only a five second warning."
Given how mercurial Megamind's life had been from the very beginning and how their entire world felt as if it had turned upside down or inside out in just a few days, they all knew that the joke might well be on them when it turned out to be true. Yet they laughed nonetheless, happy and relieved simply to know that this newest change to come into their lives was nothing to fear. It ended nothing but a chapter in the larger book of life, and they had only to turn the page and read on to discover what new and unpredictable wonders and mysteries might lie ahead.
And so it was that three days later, the members of their little family gathered together in the seldom used formal dining room of the Lair's living quarters to celebrate a Thanksgiving on which they all had some reason to be grateful. Minion had spent the last two days teaming up with Madeleine and her helpers to prepare a sumptuous feast, to which they had invited a small but rather unusual assortment of guests.
Wayne had come, bringing with him his mother, who hadn't felt right celebrating the day as she typically might at home, now that her husband was gone. So far, there had been a lot of talk and heated debate in the aftermath of Wayne's confession at the beginning of the week, but for the most part, it had gone as Roxanne predicted. Most people were willing to forgive Wayne the sins of his past so long as he made some effort to make things right in the present, and those who held stronger and more negative opinions would have their chance to be heard and have their feelings weighed in the balance when the official hearing was held in two weeks.
The other guests included Bernard Jennings, the curator of Megamind's museum, as he had no family with whom to share the holiday, and no other friends who had thought to ask him. Retired warden Ralph Thurmer and his wife Emily usually spent the holiday with their children and grandchildren, but this year, their family had decided to delay the celebration until Sunday, when their son Elliot would return from a long overseas tour of duty with his Army unit. And Kim and Ken Akiyama, Roxanne's best friend and her husband, frequently spent their holidays traveling to be with their relatives, but had decided to spend this year at home when they'd been invited to share it with their most unusual friends, who had asked them to be a part of this tiny but very unique extended family.
With the exception of Wayne, none of these people had ever been inside the Lair's hidden living quarters before, and when given a tour by their hosts, all had been suitably impressed and astonished. That Megamind might have a fascination with architecture and design had never occurred to any of them — save perhaps Warden Thurmer, who had lived through all of young Blue's bursts of interest as he ripped his way through every scrap of reading and educational material he could get his hands on both before and after his expulsion from school. That he had used that fascination to build himself a beautiful and comfortable home inside the shell of the same old power plant that concealed his Lair came as something of a shock — until they realized that it was a fitting metaphor for Megamind himself, who had hidden the good person he was inside the shell of the villain, protecting something beautiful from discovery and harm by concealing it under a veneer of ugliness.
After the tour, they gathered in the central living room to talk and laugh, having been banned from the kitchen by Minion and Madeleine, though a few of the brainbots who could be trusted not to act up in front of guests came and served them drinks and the hors d'oeuvres that had been prepared. Though the ichthyoid was in the kitchen, overseeing the final dinner preparations, he would join them when it was time to sit down at the table for the feast.
Conversation eventually turned to the recent incident at the prison and Wayne's interview, which finally led to the revelation of what Megamind had discovered in his escape pod in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the message from his father, the devices containing the amassed knowledge and arts of their civilization, and the revelations of why he, Minion, and Wayne had been the last survivors of their kinds. Roxanne had indeed taken her turn to learn these things on Monday night, and she was able to help in the telling, which they kept as brief as possible. For Wayne's sake, they glossed over his father's part in the tragedy, but knowing of it and in his renewed spirit of integrity, Wayne himself mentioned it. Those listening were surprised and intrigued and more than slightly amazed by it all — the proof of which was shown in the devices that contained and transmitted the information — and ultimately, they were accepting.
To everyone's surprise, the first to speak was Lady Scott, who was dabbing at her eyes with a lace-edged handkerchief. "I've always wanted to know more about how my little boy happened to come to me," she said without the slightest trace of anger or disbelief.
Just about everyone looked at her with shock — except for Bernard, who required the direct application of a high voltage line to show any sign of something so non-snarky. They'd all anticipated either denial or stony silence from the woman, but ever since the death of Lord Scott, Elizabeth Scott was surprising all who knew her by returning to the woman she'd once been, prior to her life with a demanding, controlling, but emotionally apathetic husband. Still, Wayne goggled at her in his own disbelief. "You've always said I was your 'special Christmas present,' Mom," he pointed out.
She snorted delicately. "Wayne, dear, do give me some credit for not being a complete ninny! Your father may have taken my little joke and run with it because he hated seeming ignorant and foolish, but I do know you can't go pick out a baby like a puppy at the pound, wrap him up, and put him under the tree! No, I saw your little pod and how strong you were, and when you started to fly, I had my suspicions. But you were such a good little boy, I couldn't understand how anyone would send you away. I always had a secret fear that someday, your real parents would come to take you home, and I did love you so — too much, I'm afraid. Now, I'm glad to know the truth — though I am sorry that you lost everything in such a dreadful way — all three of you," she added, giving Megamind a tentative smile and nodding toward the kitchen where Minion was busily at work. "I wish they could've sent some sort of note with all of you, explaining things — but then, they didn't know our language, did they? And I suppose they had rather a lot of more important things on their minds."
Megamind rolled his eyes and was about to say that his people, at least, did know the languages of Earth, but they hadn't known exactly where his pod would land, and knowing of the world's many severe political tensions, they didn't want to risk him being rejected because he had accidentally been sent with a message in the language of an enemy. Roxanne elbowed him slightly, shushing him. "They certainly did," the reporter said with a polite smile for Lady Scott. "It honestly amazes me that they were able to keep it together and function well enough to send these three to safety. I shudder to think what might happen here if people actually knew for certain that the world was going to end rather horribly in only a few months."
"It'd be business as usual," Bernard opined in a voice so dry, one could almost feel the dust settling like snow. "Some nut cases would go crazy, trying to make sure they survived — though why they don't get that end means end, I'll never know — and the rest of the people wouldn't believe it until it actually happened. Are you sure the things you saw are for real? Our tech isn't even as good as Megamind's, and we can still manage some pretty convincing CGI effects."
"It isn't a movie or a projection," the blue genius said with another look of exasperation. "It's directly input to the brain via a sophisticated neural communications system. There's no photography to be faked."
"And before you ask," Roxanne added when the curator opened his mouth and she just knew what was about to come out, "it's not a mind controller, just an information processor. It's almost like living through the events, not merely seeing recordings of them, and somehow, it just feels right. I mean, you can tell that it's not just a story or an exaggeration or a lie."
"That was one of the necessary functions of the system," her husband confirmed, "to keep what was intended to be educational from being used as means of delivering twisted propaganda. My people had been peaceful for thousands of years, but we did have our nasty warlike phase a long time ago. That was the life's work of the first Natoshi'ana, actually, improving parts of our technology so that history would never again be rewritten by the victors, or anyone else. When all that remains is the naked truth, it teaches the kind of humility that makes warfare very unappealing. Not that there was never any more fighting or competition among us, but it always remained on a very personal level — like you and me, Wayne."
His ex-rival smiled wryly. "I was about to say something about that. But I guess that if you completely get rid of competition and ambition, there's not much of a reason to strive for something better, to discover new things."
Warden Thurmer snorted. "And with you having superpowers and Mykaal having super-intelligence, the competition was just sort of doomed to get out of hand." He smiled warmly at his ersatz son. "I always knew you were something special, even when you were six months old and hell on two little blue feet. I can't say I enjoyed watching the results of a lot of your 'growing pains,' but I'm glad to know that there was a reason behind it — and I'm even more glad to know that you'll finally put all your talents to good use. That is what you're planning to do, isn't it?"
Megamind nodded vigorously. "Oh, yes, sir, absolutely! That's what I've been trying to do for over three years, now, and this should help me find more efficient and effective ways to do it — and so many other things! Just last night, I was thinking about your handicapped son and Roxanne's cousin, and it occurred to me that there are things that can be done to help them, to... repair the damage, if that doesn't make it sound too mechanical, that is," he added with a faint lavender-pink flush.
At the wide-eyed looks he was being given from everyone in the room, even Bernard, he hurriedly explained. "I mean, I'm not talking about putting people up on the rack to do maintenance work, but I do know things about both physiology and self-repairing systems, and I suddenly started to see commonalities among all the necessary functions, how it actually would be possible to invent temporary cybernetics that would begin by compensating for the damaged or malformed organics while the body's cellular generation and other autonomous systems are stimulated to a state of accelerated regeneration, so that by the end of the cybernetic device's effective functionality, it could be removed because it would no longer be needed, the body having effectively healed and regenerated itself! I—"
The ex-villain abruptly became aware of the way he was being looked at by everyone, including his wife. He gulped. "Um... ah... of—of course, I guess I really don't know for sure, yet, I didn't mean to offend anyone, but I... ah... I just meant..."
Roxanne put an effective end to his babble-fit suddenly turned uneasy and nervous with a brief gentle kiss and hug. "It's okay, sweetie, I don't think anyone was offended, just surprised."
"Were you on the level about being able to do that sort of thing?" Bernard asked, for once in a normal and genuinely interested voice. "I think just about everyone must know at least one person with some sort of severe handicap — I have at least three friends with serious conditions the medical community can barely help, much less cure. This isn't some kind of bad joke, is it?"
Megamind scowled, offended. "No, what kind of an inhuman monster do you think I am?" he demanded tersely. "That'd be a totally sick joke, and I wouldn't even think it!"
Roxanne patted his arm to soothe him. "Down, tiger, it's just Bernard. You know he has all the tact of a rusty nail, don't let him spoil the party. And Mykaal's right," she added to the bespectacled curator, her expression smiling but stern. "He wouldn't ever joke about something like that. It's not only rude and tasteless, it's unheroic."
Ken Akiyama, who had liked Megamind even when the rest of the city was convinced of his evilness, smirked. "Say you're sorry for being an insensitive jerk, Jennings, or you'll probably wind up eating with the brainbots — and I don't know about you, but whatever's cooking smells way too good to pass up!"
Like most anyone, Bernard didn't like being ganged up on, but even he had to admit, privately, that he might've been a mite out of line. "Sorry," he said, a bit on the curt side but not begrudgingly. "It's just that I'm kind of tired of hearing researchers always saying they're on the verge of curing something and then never delivering. Makes me think they don't want people cured, just kept alive enough and sick enough to be constantly giving 'em business." It was a cynical attitude, but not entirely without reason. As a reporter, Roxanne had done investigations into corruption in the health care and insurance industries, and knew that Bernard had some justification for feeling as he did.
Warden Thurmer used the momentary pause in the conversation as his opening to veer its course into safer waters. "Is this a little example of what happened when you tripped the security systems and blew the power in the entire isolation wing of the prison last Saturday?" he asked Megamind, smiling with good-natured amusement.
That won a bark of laughter from Roxanne. "No, he just walked through the door to his old cell! If he'd been in the middle of one of his babble fits, he probably would've taken out power on the entire east side of the city!"
Though her remarks made her husband's embarrassed blush return, it also made him smile, albeit crookedly. "I really didn't expect that to happen," he confessed. "I did make a few tweaks to improve the system, but I didn't think it would do that! I went back and made sure everything was fixed on Tuesday — not that Hal Stewart actually needs that level of security, but if someone who does comes along, the cell will be much more effective."
"So there's no possibility that the powers he had could come back?" Kim Akiyama, a legal researcher, asked, curious. Her current job involved finance rather than criminal law, but the bank she'd worked for had been hit twice during Megamind's days as Evil Overlord, first by Megamind, who had done little damage to the place, hadn't hurt a fly, and had eventually returned the money he'd taken, and then by Stewart, who had done considerable damage, hadn't returned a dime, and had seriously hurt and killed a number of the bank's employees and patrons. Like many other city residents, she was concerned by occasional rumors that claimed the self-misnamed "Tighten" would spontaneously regain his terrifying powers.
But Megamind shook his head. "Not a chance. At this point, the possibility is less than one tenth of a percent, and I'm already working on ways to make that possibility absolute zero. Right now, keeping him in isolation is a kindness to the guards and the other inmates. He has all the social graces and personal hygiene of a dung beetle. I'm glad Warden Alvarez had the foresight to have his cell sanitized before I got there, or I might've passed out from the stench, not the knockout gas."
Roxanne scolded him for exaggerating, but only with a half-playful swat, since she had pretty much the same opinion of Hal. Just then, Minion appeared from the corridor to the kitchen, resplendent in a new apron that Roxanne had had made for him when they'd made the plans to invite others to the Lair for Thanksgiving. Solid black, it bore the boldly imprinted message, BE NICE TO ME OR I'LL POISSON YOUR FOOD. The linguistic pun was something she couldn't resist after they'd been discussing possibilities for the menu, and the subject of the French word for fish being so similar to "poison" came up while Roxanne was flipping through one of his myriad cookbooks and recipe collections. Minion had gotten a big laugh out of it, saying that if he prepared fish the only way he really enjoyed it, all the guests would be swimming in their counter-current pool, trying to catch their meals in their teeth while it was alive and still wriggling.
"Dinner's just about ready," he announced cheerfully. "So unless everyone's stuffed from the hors d'ouvres, we can move into the dining room."
"Aren't you going to be eating with us?" Emily Thurmer asked, not wanting the ichthyoid to feel left out. She'd always liked young Blue's unusual guardian and companion, and she hated it when people thought of him as nothing more than Megamind's animal servant.
She was glad when Minion responded with a ready, "Of course, Mrs. Thurmer! This is just the first time we've had so many people here for dinner — or anything, really! — and we've used the dining room so little, I wanted to make sure all the brainbots got everything just right."
Kim gave the cyber-bodied fish a bright smile. "You're just what every woman's looking for, Minion, a guy who cooks, cleans, sews, knows how to be a perfect gentleman, has a sense of humor, and can fix her car to boot. If you're interested, I have a sister who could use someone like you in her life..."
In the three years since Roxanne and Megamind had started dating and the aliens had met and become acquainted with more of the reporter's local friends, this had become a comfortable banter between Kim and Minion, with her always extolling his virtues and trying to set him up with one of her female friends or relatives. And as he always did, he laughed it off, declared that his life was too full of excitement already, and that was that. He let Roxanne and Megamind lead the others to the appropriate room while he ducked back into the kitchen to give a few last orders to the brainbots who would be serving and to shuck off his new apron to be presentable for dinner.
Roxanne had left the matter of setting up and decorating the dining room to the boys, given that she claimed no expertise whatsoever when it came to design and interior decorating. She'd been a little afraid that her husband's flamboyant sense of presentation would lead to some kind of Nightmare Before Thanksgiving ambience, but she needn't have worried. Both of them actually had a good design sense, and they knew that what was appropriate for one's job as a hero — or a villain — was out of place for an occasion such as this, at home with friends and loved ones.
Roxanne really had no idea which of them had done what, but in the end, it didn't matter, even if the brainbots had done it all after being told to watch Martha Stewart shows for a month. The room was elegant, the table beautifully set, and all the delicious scents wafting from the connecting door to the kitchen had everyone eagerly looking for their places. The place cards were Minion's idea, Roxanne was sure, though the handwriting on them was plainly Megamind's. When it came to presentation, her husband could be as much of a sucker for tradition as his old friend and guardian.
The guests were all suitably impressed with the dining room and its decoration for the harvest holiday, even Wayne, who was the only one to have seen the room before. And though she recognized the blue hero's script on the cards, Roxanne was sure Minion was primarily responsible for deciding who should sit where. The seating had been arranged so that Megamind was at the head of the table and Wayne at the foot, an amusing little nod to their former rivalry that was slowly becoming a more solid friendship. Roxanne sat to her husband's right with the Akiyamas and Lady Scott seated on that side of the table; Minion's place was to his left, with the Thurmers and Bernard beside him. When they were all seated, the brainbot servers streamed in from the kitchen, taking up their assigned positions and awaiting the signal to begin doing their tasks.
Earlier in the week, after Roxanne had had her turn with the Teacher, she had discussed some of the intriguing glimpses of Ayalthan customs that she'd seen with Megamind, which had led to her telling him of her favorite traditions for Thanksgiving. Aside from the feasting aspect that so many people enjoyed, she had memories from her early childhood, when her grandparents had still been alive and her parents had at least gotten along reasonably well. Holidays with either set of grandparents was much more pleasant than with her parents alone, as the two couples had been genuinely nice people. Both had had the tradition of taking a moment just before the big meal, not specifically to pray, but to mention something for which they'd been thankful during the past year. Sometimes, the entire family would take turns, each person offering their bit of gratitude; other times, it was only the head of whichever household they were in doing the speaking.
When she mentioned this, Megamind remembered how on each of the past two Thanksgivings, which they'd spent with Roxanne, she'd asked to have a moment to do just this before they began the meal. The first year had been at Roxanne's apartment, but the second year had been at the Lair, and as the nominal head of the household, Megamind realized that he should have been the one to speak. She'd tried to dismiss his embarrassment by reminding him that this was a tradition of her family, not a universal thing, and she hadn't ever told him of it before. Now that he knew, he was adamant about doing his part to fulfill her custom properly — until the moment actually arrived, and he felt everyone else looking at him for some sign of what to do next.
He started to panic, suddenly feeling very unsure of his ability to do this without seeming foolish, despite the fact that he'd completely thought through what he wanted to say — until he felt Roxanne's hand settle atop his where it was resting on the table. Green eyes met blue, she gave him a reassuring little smile and nod, and he instantly felt himself able to breathe again. He smiled his thanks for her support, then turned back to their guests with a slightly shy confidence.
"As much as I know about things like science and math and inventing, I'm... not very knowledgeable when it comes to a lot of things other people take for granted, like social customs," he admitted, quickly amending, "and that's not your fault, Warden. You did the best things you could think of to protect me from being exploited and hurt by the unscrupulous, and if I didn't make the most of the chances I did have to learn such things... it's not your fault, either, Wayne, so quit hanging your head like that, I know you're not praying!
"My point is just that things happened the way they happened, and bad as my past might've been in some ways, it wasn't entirely awful. I'm still here, I'm alive, I have good friends, a fantastic brother, the most beautiful and perfect wife in the universe, work that gives me a real sense of purpose and belonging, and now a new kind of future to look forward to, something I never could've imagined possible. It's almost overwhelming, realizing just how much I have now when for so long, it felt like I had almost nothing, and even less to look forward to."
He paused long enough to take a deep, steadying breath, not having anticipated the rise of emotions that came with saying such things out loud. "So this is a custom of Roxanne's, that before beginning the dinner on Thanksgiving, the head of the household would tell of something that had happened that year for which they were grateful. And I realized that even though she and Minion — Ootori — and I are equals as far as I'm concerned, this is the house and home I designed and built with my own hands, so this year at least, I should really be the one to speak."
He chuckled ruefully. "The problem is, so much has happened to me during this last year, it's almost impossible for me to decide which thing I'm most grateful for — almost."
He lifted Roxanne's hand that was covering his own, kissed the back of it, then shifted his own hand so that they were holding each other's, his eyes fixed on his beautiful wife as he spoke again. "Almost exactly three months ago, you made what I'd thought was an impossible dream come true when you married me. I've been so alone for so much of my life, the thought that you willingly and happily chose to spend the rest of it with me is going to be the one thing I'm most grateful for, every year from now on." Roxanne's cheeks flushed a deeper pink, knowing just how sincerely he meant it, but her eyes sparkled with her smile of loving gratitude for such a compliment.
Mission accomplished in getting that much said, Megamind looked again to their guests and Minion, now feeling more confident. "But I'm also grateful for the fact that finally, this big, empty room and long, empty table that I built years ago on some kind of foolishly hopeful whim that someday, it might actually be used finally is being used, by people I'm grateful to have in my life. The loneliness of never fitting in, never feeling normal, never feeling accepted is gone today, because I've finally found a place to fit in, a way to feel my own sort of normalcy, and good people who accept me as I am. That's all I've ever really wanted — I think it's all anyone ever really wants, and I want to thank all of you for helping me get to this place.
"And I should also thank what my people sometimes called the Guiding Power, the designer of the universe that they believed lays out the choices of our lives like bright pebbles along the path. We choose for ourselves, by ourselves, which ones we want to pick up, to keep or toss aside. I seem to have picked up a lot of the bad ones along the way, but thanks to all of you, I know how to make better choices, now. I'm grateful, to you, to the Power, to anything and anyone who helped me make it to this place in my life, and gives me new opportunities every day to make the future even better. And lastly, I'm most grateful of all for my parents, who might have died decades ago, but who made their last act giving me the chance to live."
"Amen," the deep voice of Warden Thurmer said softly but reverently, acknowledging that his blue "son's" words were as much a prayer of thanks as an expression of simple gratitude. His word was echoed around the table, with many a soft sniffle and wiped eye and half-successful attempt to hide the emotions that had been stirred up.
Minion chose that moment to take his ward's free hand to squeeze it ever so gently in wordless approval; Roxanne did the same — and suddenly, hands were being clasped all about the table, not even the cynical Bernard refusing to share in a brief moment of common gratitude and thanks. Then the moment passed, hands were released, and Megamind nodded to the brainbots to begin serving the meal, which commenced with laughter and joy.
And in the Place Beyond where only the Now exists, the essence of two who had been watching over this world with caring and hope, tied in their brightness of being to the essence of their dazzling son, watched as he at long last truly came into his own, and smiled.
Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness.