Here we are again! Oh man, I can't believe how excited I am to start posting this. I've been looking forward to this since halfway through Cold Fusion. *rubs hands together* This is a fairly short first chapter; I'm trying to avoid the crazy-long chapters from Hallows' Eve but maintain natural pacing. I'm still working on how much is too much and where to chunk things into smaller pieces…probably I'll look back and end up scratching my head and going, "Man, why did I end that chapter there? I should totally have ended it earlier and left the second chunk in the next chapter; that would have made way more sense."
But we'll see. Maybe it will be a masterpiece. Maybe it will be total crap. You never know.
I own nothing. Don't sue me.
Also, it's official—Doc says I should keep the wrist braces on for as close to twenty-four hours a day as possible for the next two weeks, so I'm restricting my writing to one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening and looking into more user-friendly voice recognition software. Tendonitis is gone! Now it looks like mild CTS. JOY. Only for you, Megs. Only for you.
So, despite the buffer of chapters I'd like to get up, it doesn't seem like I'll be able to post much more quickly than I did last time. Health comes first no matter how much I want to sit and hammer out 5,000 words a day; if I did that I would end up being unable to write at all. All you writers and typists out there, for God's sake, learn from my mistake and don't sit with your laptops on your laps to write! I've made sure to have good posture since midway through True North, a whole year ago, but I'm still dealing with the repercussions from the way I wrote Cold Fusion (the original). You can do permanent damage if you write with bad posture. It can happen to you. Learn from my mistake.
Rest assured, however, I will not abandon this fic. Cold Fusion WILL be finished someday, and I'm going to keep plugging steadily away. I have spent too much time and energy on this plot and upcoming scenes, not to mention CF, CFTN, and CFHE. And you fine folks have spent way too much time and energy reading through my crazy fics and nutty author ramblings! I'm just gonna slow it down a bit for the next couple months, which is why this story is so late in coming. I hope that's okay. Please bear with me. I love you.
"Roxanne!" Megamind's voice echoes down the hallway to Roxanne's room. He sounds worried.
She leans back from where she's sitting in front of her suitcase and calls back over her shoulder. "What?"
"What's the weather going to be like?"
She frowns. "Why?"
There's a pause, and then Megamind comes padding into the room in his bat slippers and a bathing suit that cannot possibly be less than seventy years old. Judging by the look on his face, he knows exactly how silly he looks. Roxanne bursts out laughing.
He tugs self-consciously at the sleeves. "Yes, yes, I know, I look a mess, but am I going to need a bathing suit? How much swimming will we be doing? I understand the house is near a beach?"
"It's on the beach," Roxanne tells him, her lips twitching. The suit is a few sizes too big for him and he's skinny anyway; he looks so small. "Where did you get that? I know Minion can't have made it."
"Uncle Bill gave it to me. Minion doesn't know I kept it; he thinks it's a disgrace."
"He's right," Roxanne agrees, unable to hide her smile. "There's a hole in the knee. It's the most scandalous thing I've ever seen; you can't wear that in public."
Megamind blushes and folds his arms over his chest. "Oh, shut up, it couldn't be scandalous if it tried. This is probably the most un-scandalous article of clothing I own."
"You shut up, you look like a skinny bee in that thing. Don't you have a proper set of swim trunks?"
Megamind shakes his head. "I have a wetsuit but I'll look like a nerd."
Roxanne just looks at him, unable to decide whether to say, You're a nerd anyway and you know it, or, You really think you'll look sillier in a wetsuit than in that?
Luckily, Megamind seems to catch her drift. He sighs and flops his arms to his sides again. "We're leaving tomorrow and all the shops will be closed, and Minion doesn't have the material to make a set of anything tonight! What do I do?"
"Well, this is Michigan in December, so the shops won't have swim trunks anyway." She shrugs. "But we're going to be passing through a lot of warmer states on our way to San Francisco. I don't know how much warmer they'll be, but maybe they'll have something."
"In my size?" Megamind asks anxiously. "I'm kind of small."
Roxanne frowns. He has her there. "That's a good point, but let's think about this logically. First of all, the weather down there is really unpredictable; secondly, it's December in central California. I imagine it'll be around fifty, sixty degrees if it's nice out. I know I'm not going to be doing much swimming."
Megamind nods. "Yes, but I'm designed for cooler temperatures."
"You're also going to be wearing the disguise generator for the first few days."
"But what about after that?"
She grins. "Well, assuming my mother doesn't kill you…"
"Ha, ha," he grumbles. "I am actually being serious, so if you aren't going to help I'll just go pretend to assist Minion in packing the cooler."
She shrugs. "I guess you'll have to borrow one of Drew's bathing suits and use safety pins to make sure it doesn't fall down. I think you'd be more comfortable in the wetsuit, though, wouldn't you? Swim trunks show off an awful lot of skin, and they bunch in awkward places."
Megamind flushes again and looks away. "I know," he says. "But I don't want to be comfortable, I want to be normal."
Roxanne sighs and puts down the shirt she's holding. "Look, hon. I hate to break this to you, but you're an alien who was raised in a prison and has worn skin-tight latex and leather for most of his life. You have two sets of eyelids and a gizzard, and when you tilt your head and inhale a funny way you warble like a bird."
Megamind cocks his hips and scowls, but Roxanne just smiles. "You are also ridiculously sexy in your skin-tight latex and leather, and those eyelids are pretty cool. Anybody who doesn't agree, well…don't worry about them, okay?"
Megamind stops glaring at her, but he still looks skeptical. "That's not really what I'm worried about. I'd just rather not rub the fact that I'm an alien in your parents' faces. It's bad enough I'm blue. The leather and spikes and ray guns might be too much."
He's been tense about this trip ever since Roxanne had come back from her visit over Thanksgiving, and they're both hoping he'll feel better once he actually meets Linda Ritchi face-to-face. It's gotten to the point where he's started to pull away from Roxanne if he thinks about the trip too much; he's throwing himself into his work and refusing to sleep. The most excited she's seen him lately was two days ago, when he had come dashing into her room and caught her around the waist, crowing, "Ore wa sore o okonatte iru! Geunyeoneun anjeonhabnida!Everything's set up, she's safe, she's on her way out, oh Roxanne!"
He had kissed her soundly and then raced away again, whooping in several languages at once. It had been more enthusiasm than she'd seen from him in a week. Apparently negotiations with his contacts in Japan have been going well.
Roxanne repeats the usual reassurance: "They're going to think whatever they think, and nothing you do can really change that. Don't agonize over it."
"Easier said than done," Megamind grumbles. Roxanne sends him a fond smile and returns to her suitcase.
"I know, but try. And just think, in a week or so this will all be over!"
"In a week or so, the shit hits the fan." Megamind turns to go, then pauses. "Um…Roxanne?"
"Hmm?" She holds up the purple sleeveless dress, considering.
"I realize this is your room, but can I stay in here for a little while?"
Roxanne's room had been Minion's idea. Somehow, the fish had sensed her nervousness about the Lair and had suggested that Megamind renovate one of the less-used storage rooms off the main hall into a place just for her. Megamind had loved the idea, and he and Minion had started drawing up plans to knock in some windows that would look out over the bay and add a balcony.
Two days later, Megamind had gone to scope out the loft area he had been planning on altering only to find Nibs bobbing and thauming instructions to the other bots, zipping around, straightening this or that. The room was finished. Nibs had found the plans and set the Host to work.
Roxanne had been delighted, had even hugged the brainbot—Megamind refrained from telling her that there wasn't any point; Nibs' chassis has no nerve endings and it is, after all, a machine. But Nibs had hugged her back and then plugged into the TI-83 it had been carrying around at the time.
DO YOU LIKE IT?
"Nibs, I love it. Was this your idea?"
NOT ENTIRELY. DADDY AND MINION THOUGHT OF IT. I JUST HELPED PUT IT TOGETHER. IF THE COLORS ARENT WHAT YOU WANT, I CAN HAVE THE B-TEAM REPAINT.
'Helped put it together' was a bit of an understatement; Nibs had picked out colors and had already started to arrange the furniture the bots had moved over from Roxanne's apartment.
She had turned to Megamind, beaming confusedly, but he had pointed at Minion. "We thought it would be a good idea for you to have your own space," Minion had explained, acting as though everything had been planned from the start. "The rest of the Lair is yours too, that goes without saying, but it probably won't feel like home for a while yet."
Roxanne lives in the main part of the Lair, of course, and at this point she's pretty comfortable with it. Mostly she uses her room to store her old furniture and things and to keep her out-of-season clothing.
She turns and blinks at him. "I'll be quiet," he adds.
"Sure," she tells him, sounding a little surprised. "What's mine is yours, you know that."
Megamind smiles and flops down on the worn red sofa, kicking off his slippers. She has told him he's welcome, but he tends to avoid coming into her room even when she is in there, claiming that he wants to give her space.
She smiles and shakes her head. "You know, I still can't believe Nibs built all this. He's come a long way."
Megamind mutters something under his breath. "It's starting to make me nervous. It does things without being told. I didn't order it to build this room."
"Really?" Roxanne doesn't sound too concerned, only mildly interested. "I didn't know that."
"Originally I was going to wait so that I could get your input on the design. But then I came looking around, and whoops! It's all done!"
"Well, that was the point of the upgrade," Roxanne reminds him. "To bring him that much closer to full AI."
"Too close," Megamind grumbles. "I don't like it when my creations start showing that much autonomy." He groans and scrubs his hands tiredly over his face. "The A-12s keep changing position in the hive. It's unnatural. I went down to check on some faulty wiring the other day, and the way they were scattering—like they were abandoning a drill of some kind."
"You don't use them very often." Roxanne puts the dress carefully into the suitcase. "I bet they were just re-establishing patterns you'd given them back in the beginning. Reminding themselves."
Megamind grunts. "Nibs never goes down there anymore. It brought its charge cell up to the main room."
Roxanne crosses over to the open drawers of the bureau, digs around for something. "I think he's lonely. He's not really a brainbot anymore."
Megamind groans and topples over backwards, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes in exasperation. "Yes it is! That's the whole problem. It's a brainbot that thinks it isn't a brainbot. That new avatar it has is creepy. A cartoon would be okay!" he exclaims, sitting up suddenly. "But nooo, it has to be realistic. Right smack in the Uncanny Valley."
Nibs has taken to projecting the hologram of a young man in midair when he 'talks' to people. He signs fluently, but Megamind isn't exaggerating when he calls the image creepy; Nibs had built the man from scratch rather than use a stock base and build onto it the way Megamind does with the disguise generators. The hologram tends to jump a bit, like a poorly-tuned image on an analog television.
"I don't know, I think it's neat that he's trying new interfaces."
"If it were just an interface that wouldn't be so bad, but I came into the kitchen the other morning and the creep was sitting in my chair reading a holographic newspaper. Gave me the screaming meemies." He shudders. "It's like a ghost wandering around. The ghost of a dead-eyed plastic desk toy with delusions of grandeur."
Roxanne turns and smiles. Megamind waves but doesn't look over.
"Nibs, hi," Roxanne says cheerfully. "What's up?"
The transparent image of the man flickering in front of the brainbot doesn't change expression. Minion sent me to tell you that the car has a full tank and he's changed the oil, he signs. Then he blinks, a little too slowly.
"Nice job on the blinking, is that new?"
The man nods jerkily. Yes. What do you think?
Roxanne wobbles a hand back and forth. "You're about halfway there. Try speeding it up a bit."
Thank you, Nibs signs. I'll try that. The image swings around and goose-steps out of the room in front of the brainbot as it drifts away.
Roxanne bites her lip. "You don't think he heard you, do you?"
"It's a machine. It's not like it has feelings." Megamind shrugs, then stands and stretches. "Okay, beautiful, I'm off to bed. You should finish up and turn in soon, too. We're setting out early."
She nods. "I know. I'll try not to wake you up when I come in."
"Not your fault I'm such a light sleeper," he tells her for what must be the millionth time.
"I know, but can we just pretend that I don't wake you up every time I move? Just once?"
He grins at her. "We'll see. Night night."
Minion hums to himself as he finishes packing the cooler, stocking it for the first leg of the three-day drive. He has two Tupperware containers already packed full of blue cubes, the containers labeled with "Day 2" and "Day 3," respectively.
He almost wishes he were going with them, but Megamind is growing up. He'll always need his Minion, of course, but these days he's acting more like a responsible adult than Minion has ever seen; he suspects that a couple of weeks apart will be good for both of them. Besides, neither of them can remember what their parents had done together—they're not really sure what his role in Megamind's adult life is meant to be. The two friends had had a worried discussion years ago about what would happen if someday Megamind reached his physical maturity and the bond they felt disappeared. They both had felt much better after establishing that if that ever happened, they would stick together anyway.
Two weeks, he thinks, leaning for a moment on the counter. What am I even going to do for two whole weeks without Sir? He wants to make a set of leathers for Miss Ritchi. She had asked him about that a month or so ago, as a surprise for Megamind. That won't take two weeks, though. That'll barely even take two days; the planning stages are all but complete.
I guess if the Bradleys need to do last-minute shopping, I can watch Jimmy for them. That would be fun. Officer Bradley's wife, Simone, had called Megamind in a panic the day before Thanksgiving because the sitter had canceled and she had desperately needed someone to play with three-year-old Jimmy while she finished cleaning the house for Brad's slew of relatives. Megamind, flattered and bewildered, had rushed over to help—Bradley had come home to find his son lying on the floor learning multiplication tables with the blue ex-villain, using the rows of spikes on his gloves as a visual aid.
Minion smiles at the memory. Megamind had returned to the Lair positively glowing.
So that's a possibility. He could also try to visit with Scott a little bit—Wayne has been keeping busy lately, Minion isn't sure with what. Megamind refuses to pry into the former hero's life, but Minion has no such qualms so maybe it's time he figured out what Wayne is up to.
So many possibilities!
He finishes packing the cooler and carries it out to the car. Roxanne refuses to say where she had found it or how much it had cost, but the 1959 Bel Air runs like a dream thanks to Megamind's tune-ups and Minion isn't worried at all about the antique car breaking down—there's not much of the original machine left under the hood. He's worried, when he thinks about it, about stopping for gas. About someone recognizing Megamind or Roxanne. About food. About lodging. About what might happen if the watch malfunctions. There's a lot that can go wrong and Megamind is prepared, of course, but still—a lot can go wrong.
When he clanks back into the kitchen, he finds Roxanne sitting at the table, staring into nothing. "Miss Ritchi?"
"Oh!" She jumps a little and smiles at him. "Sorry, Minion, I didn't—I didn't hear you come in. I'm done packing."
"What's on your mind?" Something must be, if she had been thinking so hard that she hadn't heard him approaching.
"I…it's probably nothing, but I remembered that time in August when his back cramped up from sleeping on the floor, and I thought—" She groans, yawns, and scuffs at her hair. "He's never been on a car trip like this before. Is he going to be okay? Sitting down for hours on end?"
"I don't think it'll be a problem. Just take frequent rest stops and make sure he runs around a bit to burn some energy."
"What, like have him do laps around the gas stations?"
Minion shrugs. "That could work. You won't need to do the pin thing, Miss Ritchi. Don't worry about that. If he does something stupid, he'll be uncomfortable for a day or so and then he'll be fine. But he'll complain a lot in the meantime."
Roxanne nods. "The other thing is, are you sure you don't want to come?" Then, when Minion just blinks at her, she chuckles. "I know, I know, you would be hard to explain to my mom. But we could figure something out."
"Oh, goodness." Minion shakes his head and comes to sit down in the chair opposite Roxanne, smiling. "Miss Ritchi, believe it or not, I'm looking forward to this. It'll be like a vacation, only at the Lair instead of the lake." He has taken vacations before, has left the Lair for a few hours or a few days or, once, nearly a week mapping the depths of Lake Michigan, learning the species of fish and clearing the infestations of zebra mussels he finds. "It'll be fun. I'll come and meet your family another time, once they've had time to get used to Sir alone."
"And you're sure?"
"I am. I have so many plans!" he exclaims. "I'll finish your set of winter leathers—you'll like the cape I've come up with, it's retractable so when you go flying you won't need to detach it and store it somewhere first. And there's going to be a helmet, very sleek, very fast-looking. Totally one-way visor, too, so your identity will be secure. Nibs already has a few ideas for the integrated systems like night vision and infrared, and I think he's also working on a face and voice recognition program similar to that used by our security bots."
Roxanne has taken to flying the hoverboard over Metro City at night, but it's cold and the lights from the buildings are the only way for her to navigate. A warm suit that isn't bulky and has night vision would be a blessing. "That does sound nice."
"And I'll pay Scott a visit, see what he's up to. His mother's due to be released any day now, so he's bound to be wound up about that."
Roxanne nods absently. "Good, that's good. I'm so glad the skin regeneration worked."
"It was bound to work. Sir and I invented it." The little fish is unabashedly proud. "Pity about the hair, though."
She laughs a little. "Nobody's going to fault Megamind for forgetting to take hair into account. Besides, she'll never need to shave ever again."
"But her eyebrows—"
"She'll figure something out."
"Eyelashes are necessary, or so I hear."
"Again, she'll figure something out." She slumps forward and rests her head on her arms. "Or he will. He always does."
Minion regards her silently for a moment. She hasn't been herself lately. She's spending more time at work, for one thing. Her new cameraman is wonderful, a calm man just out of school, serious about his work and quietly glad of the opportunity to work closely with such an experienced reporter. He has also—Minion approves of this, although he hasn't told Roxanne—managed to put his foot down a few times and force his partner to take a lunch break, which is not an easy feat. Minion isn't worried about him one bit.
More worrying is the amount of time she doesn't spend at work. He's not sure, but he thinks Roxanne is spending a lot of time driving around with Akos. The patrolling brainbots constantly update the locations of people Megamind knows and they've sent in reports of her and Akos as far afield as the East End; while Minion doesn't want to pry into Roxanne's private life, he's confused and not sure if he should be concerned.
"Miss Ritchi, is everything all right?"
"That's a very broad question, Minion." Roxanne's voice is muffled; she hasn't raised her head.
He stifles a smile; that had sounded like Megamind. "With you and Sir?"
Now she looks at him. "Everything's fine," she says, genuinely confused. "Why?"
"Well, you see, I was…" He hesitates, pauses, chickens out. "I was just wondering. You've been—quiet lately."
It's not worth it. Probably nothing. Something private that Roxanne doesn't want to share. Besides, she might be upset if she knew how little privacy she has at the Lair and Minion doesn't want to leave her for two weeks on a bad note.
"I've just been trying to think how to present this to my mom." Her brow furrows. "I don't want Megamind to see me worry because then he'll only be more nervous. I just—" She scowls and makes a frustrated noise. "I feel like there has to be a way to say it so she doesn't go completely off the handle, but I just can't think of what it is. Jo says she'll come around, but I mean, she's only met Mom a couple times."
"Have you asked anyone else?"
"Akos, a few times. He has kids, so I thought…I don't know. He thinks Mom will be okay eventually, too, but…" She looks up at Minion. "What do you think?"
Ah. Parenting questions. There, see? Nothing to worry about. The fish frowns. "Well, I don't know. From what you've told me, she's totally irrational—"
"Oh, she is."
"—But I can't believe that," Minion continues slowly. "Not completely. I mean, she raised you, didn't she? You're fine with Sir and me. More than that, you've always been fine with Sir and me and that says a lot." He looks at his hands, embarrassed. "I don't think I can explain what I mean, but…you've never been afraid of me, ever. You always talked to me like I was a normal person. You don't see color or shape, you see people, and I think whoever raised you must be a pretty special lady."
"That was mostly my dad's doing, though," Roxanne mumbles. Minion blinks; she rarely mentions her father. "When I was little, he used to bring his work home with him a lot, he works with people from all over. Sometimes they'd stay with us for a few days and I'd get to talk to them."
"That sounds neat. What's he do?"
Roxanne shrugs and yawns again. "I dunno. He just says he helps people. He's not allowed to say much more than that, it's pretty top-secret."
Minion doesn't know much about Orson Ritchi—he's been able to figure out that he's never spent a lot of time at home because he's usually traveling on business. Roxanne loves her father, but she's said she doesn't expect him to show up at the beach house. "He works for the government," he says flatly, and Roxanne sighs.
"In some way or other, yeah."
"Do you know what branch of the government?"
She looks at him and answers the question he'd left unasked. "Not the PHED."
Minion rubs the front of his glass with his hand. It's a meaningless gesture, but then, most of the gestures he makes are for the sake of body language rather than utility. "Would you evenknow if it was the PHED?"
She presses her lips together and raises her eyebrows, shrugs.
"Ohhh," Minion groans, tank in his hands.
"None of the people he brought home seemed like they'd be affiliated with anything paranormal," Roxanne exclaims, but Minion sends her a Look that says he can hear the guilt in her voice. Megamind is right—it's damned hard to lie to Minion. "Look, I know my dad is not going to hurt Megamind. If he even shows up. I know that much, at least."
Minion lifts his tank and looks at her. "Do me a favor, Miss Ritchi. Talk about this with Sir on the drive down. Just warn him. Okay?"
"Sure, Minion. You try not to worry."
He half-smiles, stands up and pats her on the shoulder. "I'll go take your luggage to the car. Go get some sleep, you've got an early start tomorrow."
Turning the corner at the end of the hall, he nearly runs into Nibs. The little brainbot's thrusters are going full blast, both mechanical hands locked closed around the handle of Roxanne's suitcase. "Oh," he exclaims, surprised. "Here, I can get that."
The holographic man tilts to the side, moving like a toy soldier as he sets the holographic image of a suitcase on the floor before straightening. I can get it.
"It's my job, Nibs, really." Minion holds out a hand. After a long moment, Nibs hands over the bag and the image on the floor flickers and dies. The brainbot wheels around to leave, but Minion calls it back. "What does Miss Ritchi do when she's not in the Lair?" he asks.
She goes to work. She talks to people. She eats lunch sometimes. She talks about stories. She comes home.
"Yes, but what else?" Minion asks. "What's the rest?"
The rest is not your business.
Minion's temper flares. "Don't you dare tell me my business," he hisses. "I'm worried."
So am I. The brainbot's central electricity flares and crackles brighter. She looks happy, did you know that? She looks happy all the time, even when she thinks you aren't looking. She never did before. But she's worried about Orson. She's worried about Linda. Less worried about Drew. She worries that Daddy's connections will get him into trouble. She worries that you aren't getting enough sleep. She worries a lot.
"How do you know all this? Is this what she talks to Akos about?"
The holographic man's eyebrows wrinkle together in the middle and then down, so far down that they nearly obscure his eyes. The rest of his face doesn't move. I don't know what she talks to Akos about. I disabled those updates weeks ago.
"What?" Minion recoils; he hadn't realized the brainbot could do that. "Why?"
The man disappears altogether and Nibs flashes up to hover at Minion's eye level. Because that is NOT MY BUSINESS. The bot signs the last three words with emphatic flourishes, then spins and zips away.
Minion stands frozen for a moment, startled. This is the first time he's ever been told off by a brainbot. After a moment he shakes himself and walks slowly out to the car, deep in thought.
He's inclined to be angry with the little machine, but that's not fair; it wouldn't understand. And it has a point, as reluctant as Minion is to admit it—he doesn't actually know what's his business and what isn't when it comes to Miss Ritchi. He and Megamind have always shared their lives in the extreme, there are very few secrets between the two of them, but Minion isn't sure where other people—normal people—draw the line of privacy.
Well, he has two weeks to figure it out; right now, he needs to focus on getting his charges underway.
The trunk of the car is almost full; there's just enough room for Roxanne's suitcase. There's an airbed and sleeping bags, just in case they get stranded somewhere and can't find a hotel. There are umbrellas and sunscreen and three cases of soda. There's a black violin case that does not contain anything even remotely shaped like a violin. There's a coil of rope, three extension cords, a machete, a roll of duct tape, a roll of electrical tape, and an electric tire pump.
And there's a broadsword. He isn't sure why Sir had insisted on bringing it, but Megamind had been adamant and Minion hadn't bothered protesting.
He closes the trunk of the car and hoists the cooler into the back seat.
There. As far as he can tell, they'll be all set to leave.
He ascends rapidly over the roofs of the warehouses surrounding Base 1, sparing only a fraction of a second to note that the moon is particularly nice tonight. Ordinarily he would watch longer, calculate the angle at which it rises, the speed, the rotation of the earth, and take the time to extrapolate the subtle change in the Earth's axis from last week.
But not today. Today he's angry. He's never been angry before. Up until now he has only ever been mildly frustrated, if even that—but then, up until very recently he's been an it.
If he had a voice, he would have screamed. If he had hands, he would have beat them against the wall of the Lair until they bled. If he had a body, he would have cradled his bleeding hands against his chest and thrown himself at the wall until his body collapsed, at which point he would probably have burst into tears.
He has none of these things and so he does none of these things. Instead, he puts all his energy into flying as fast as he can to the one person he knows will let him try. He finds his target crouching in an ally to the north of town, sleeves rolled up in a mocking imitation of cleanliness. He's elbow-deep in a dog carcass that's probably at least two days old. One hand holds the animal's head down while the other tugs at a foreleg; after a moment, he mutters a curse and plants a foot on the jutting hipbone and pulls his lips back so that he can use his teeth to sever the limb. There's the crack of bone, the sound of rending flesh as the leg comes free.
Ordinarily Nibs would leave him until he's done feeding, but tonight he's blind with rage and pain. He flashes a warning and Sundown's head comes up. Then the flat eyes blink, the lips come down. He wastes no time with pleasantries. Pleasant is not something Sundown ever is. "Something's wrong."
Nibs doesn't ask how he knows; the mere fact that he can tell is enough. He tips forward and slams the front of his dome against Sundown's chest; the tall man grunts and rocks back.
He knows Sundown isn't the best person to seek out when he needs emotional help, since Sundown doesn't really understand emotions and never will. But there's nobody else Nibs can turn to. Minion doesn't see it. Mommy is nice and tries to talk to him like people, but she doesn't see it either. He's trying so hard to be somebody, but all they see is the machine, even Daddy, who should know. He's so much more than what he is.
It's getting harder to hide everything from the Chairmen. He's so glad Mommy and Daddy are going away for a while. He won't relax, he can't afford to relax, but at least with Mommy and Daddy gone there will be less risk of losing the element of surprise.
Sundown grips him with both hands and lifts him higher, holds him away and looks into Nibs' single 'eye' for a long few seconds. Then he sighs and shakes his head, lets Nibs tip forward again so he can rest the bridge of his nose on Nibs' dome. "Oh, holy shit-eating Christ. Again, huh?" He lifts a bony hand and rubs Nibs' eyestalk with bloody fingertips. "So you come to me, huh? You're stupid. So stupid. What you doing here with me, stupid? Ch-ch-ch." He makes a buzzing sound and pats the back of the dome with his other hand, leaving red-shining streaks on the glass.
Nibs wraps his claws around Sundown's forearms, clutching him, thauming angrily.
"I know, I know."
He seriously doubts that Sundown does, but it's the thought that counts.
"It's all I can do some days, to hold back. Lanc keeps trying to get me to eat vegetables, did I tell you? And me this close to tearing his throat out anyway! Shit, I'd go through this two-bit Podunk planet like forty knives. Eh, no matter," he sighs. "I just sick up the salads when Lanc isn't looking and stick to trying to manage the stray cat population. What I'd give for a serial killer. 'S what I get for bunking with a vegetarian."
Nibs backs off a little bit so that he can flash Morse code. YOU'RE SICK, YOU KNOW THAT?
"And you're a machine that thinks it's human." His smile holds no comfort. "I don't think I'm the one with the problem."
I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU.
Sundown's grin flashes red. "Yeah, well, I hate everybody, so what? You still work with me."
Nibs hisses. It's a new trick he's learned—it flares an alert in the back of his mind, but he silences it. YOU KNOW WHAT, I'M LEAVING. I DON'T KNOW WHY I EVEN CAME.
"No? I do," Sundown snarls. His hand flickers out, lizard-quick, and catches him by one thin, metal arm. "You came to me because you and I are both privy to one certain, special fact that the rest of the world can only pretend to understand."
Nibs jerks free. AND WHAT IS THAT?
Sundown comes to his feet with a motion like a Jacob's Ladder unfolding, eyes narrowing to slits. "It's not easy being green."
There's a long pause, and then Nibs deflates a little. Sundown stretches like a cat. "You still doing okay covering their tracks?"
He heaves a mechanical sigh and gives up. YEAH. Covering up isn't too hard; he just goes over the feed at the end of the day and alters subtle things—name changes, lip movements. The phone calls are trickier, but he manages. YOU STILL OKAY WITH THE CHAIRMEN? THEY SUSPECT ANYTHING?
"I'm still standing here, yeah?" Sundown sneers, then slouches. He shakes his head and runs a hand through his tangled hair, making it stand on end more than usual. "Y'know, I'm starting to think there aren't any chairmen. Starting to think it's only her."
"She's set a date."
Nibs bobs in the air, shocked. WHEN? HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE?
"Not as much as we thought. Couple of months. I'll tell you when I'm sure." He shoves his hands in his pockets. "She's going to wait for a big storm, then strike."
NO SHE ISN'T. NOT IF IT'S A STORM SHE WANTS. DADDY HAS A GENERATOR.
Sundown rocks back on his heels, pinches the bridge of his nose. "Christ. I need a smoke. That'll be it, then—I was wondering why she'd leave her gambit up to chance when everything else is so fucking perfect." His jaw hardens. "You know what to do when the time comes, then."
DEUS EX MACHINA. He pauses. Ventures a question. YOU'VE GIVEN UP THWARTING HER AHEAD OF TIME?
"Nothing I can do."
YOU INTERFERED WHEN MOMMY WAS IN TROUBLE. YOU KILLED THOSE MEN.
Sundown's eyebrows pull together. "Yeah, 'cause they weren't affiliated with no-name. They were mine."
BUT YOU KILLED THEM.
"They disobeyed me; of course I killed them." Sundown's nostrils flare, a sign that he's growing irritated. "Look, robot. If she dies, her associates get the auto-update to trigger Doomsday. And I've seen the list. I thought maybe it'd be just Metro, but no." He shakes his head. "She succeeds? Every world capitol and major economic hub is going down in one big bang. We're not talking even North America anymore, Nibs my man. This is the world. I hope Mente enjoys his vacation, 'cause it's the last one he'll be taking for a while."
If Nibs were human, he would have shuddered, but he isn't, so he doesn't. Sundown sees anyway and flashes another reddish, bleeding grin.
"Yeah," he says. "Me, too."
Megamind jumps out of a dream of falling and fire with a violent, full-body twitch, then exhales slowly and swallows and waits for the world to settle down around him. Then he pushes himself up to sitting and slumps forward, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
The dreams are getting worse.
They'd been better for a long time, had nearly stopped for a while, but after Thanksgiving they had returned with a vengeance—he's pursued by a faceless shadow, he can't run fast enough, he can't fight it. The dreams start normally enough in the Lair, and sometimes they pass without incident, but when they don't he can always feel the shadow rising. He always arms himself before he flees but it never makes a difference; the weapons work fine but the shadow never even falters.
Once, he had turned and tried to face the shadow at his back. It had risen up and consumed him, and then he had been drifting through a vacuum picked with distant stars, silent and still and utterly alone. That time, a pale and worried Roxanne had shaken him awake. He had been screaming.
Shaking his head, he swings his legs down and shuffles his feet around until he finds his slippers, then grabs his robe from where it hangs on the bedpost. A glass of water will help; it always does. Once upon a time, he would have called for Minion to bring it to him, but recently he's discovered that the brief walk also does some good.
He sighs and closes the door carefully behind him, then pads down the dark hallway towards the kitchen. He sees well in the dark and even better in half-light, and besides, he knows the Lair like the back of his hand; he could walk it blindfolded.
The Lair is a different place at night than it is during the day. It's quiet. It's clean. It's cold and dark. It's home.
The kitchen door creaks when he opens it. The oil can is in the main room, probably with Achilles, the spiderbot—Megamind had been working on it earlier. He doesn't feel like going and finding it and maybe activating some of the brainbots hibernating outside the bot-cave, so instead he hunts around until he finds an almost-full bottle of vegetable oil in the corner cupboard. It's a quick fix, and soon the door swings silently.
The door taken care of, he puts the oil away. He has to crawl up on the counter to reach the cupboard where Minion keeps the glasses, a testament to how very rarely he uses the kitchen on his own. But the water tastes fine. Water is hard to mess up.
He leans against the sink and looks around the kitchen.
This room looks so out-of-place compared to the rest of the Lair. Minion had renovated it a while back and made it look the way he had wanted—Megamind hadn't been pleased, but then, what could he say? The kitchen is not his room, so Minion had done exactly as he liked and put in red brick floors and tile walls and rough wood cabinetry. The stove is in a kind of recessed nook, also brick, which probably has a proper name that Megamind has never bothered to learn. The window has diamond-shaped panes and lace curtains. It's a light, airy place, clean and neatly organized, and therefore totally out of sync with the rest of the Lair.
He sips at his water and frowns at the empty corner opposite the refrigerator. He could put in a door there. Not right there, not facing the refrigerator, but on the same wall as the window, on the other side of the table. And he could, maybe, add a patio, an outside dining area for when the weather is nice. Minion would like that and he's sure Roxanne wouldn't complain. What's the point of waterfront property if you never enjoy it?
I'm feeling domestic, he realizes suddenly. Last year, that thought would have sent him running for cover, scrambling to the drawing board to hatch some new and vicious scheme; now, it simply makes him clap a hand to his mouth to stifle his laugh. Wow.
His roving eye settles on the wall above the table, between the window and hypothetical door, and he reads again the cross-stitched verse that had taken Minion weeks to finish—one that Megamind has only very recently begun to understand.
Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home
For there the heart can rest.
Isn't that what Minion has always said? Megamind had asked him over and over again when they had been building the Lair if he wouldn't rather just have their base of operations at home and Minion had always smiled and said, "Home is where the heart is, Sir. As long as you're there, I'm happy."
He looks around the dark kitchen, feeling unexpectedly comfortable. His crazy life has slowed down to a manageable pace. He only has maybe three or four meetings every week, most of which are even legal—he goes and talks to people, offers ideas about this, that, or the other thing, shakes hands, smiles, learns faces and names and takes mental notes on how to socialize, and then he comes back home and puzzles over how to fold the laundry until Minion comes and tells him how to do it properly.
And then sometimes he has to go and settle disputes between Lancaster and York. Hardly ever, though. They're getting pretty good about working things out on their own, which is good because Megamind is starting to think that the less he knows about illegal operations in Metro City, the better. Since that business with Maxence back in October, the police have called him a few times for advice and it's always awkward when he has to refuse to squeal on his associates. Right now, the favor he's fulfilling for Bernard is his only truly illegal project.
He turns and puts his glass in the sink, then shoves his hands into the pockets of his robe and shuffles back to his room, still frowning about the verse on the wall and domesticity. He doesn't realize that what he's doing is unusual until he's already settled back in bed, curled on his side facing Roxanne.
Usually when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he doesn't bother coming back to bed. Usually he just calls it a night and goes to work. When had that changed? And when had he started thinking of it as coming back to bed rather than going back to bed?
He doesn't know. But maybe that's all right. Maybe this is how it's supposed to feel? He doesn't know. He hates not knowing things. Flying blind is not easy for him.
Roxanne sighs a little and frowns in her sleep, mutters something unintelligible. Megamind half-smiles and gently brushes the hair away from her forehead; she pauses, then subsides.
It isn't easy, but it's worth it. Home is where the heart is, he thinks. As long as she's here—and Minion too—he's happy.