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"No," Roxanne says, the instant the kidnapping sack is pulled off her head.

Minion freezes with his arm in mid-air. "No?"

"No!" she snaps, and kicks out against the ropes binding her ankles. "My birthday is tomorrow, damnit! Why am I here right now! You always kidnap me on my birthday—"

"Uh," Minion says, eyes wide. He glances around the darkened staging area of the evil lair. "Well, we thought..." There's a hiss from somewhere behind his bulky robot suit. "I thought... that since your birthday falls on a Saturday this year, you might want to... spend it with your friends? And not have to worry about a kidnapping? So we— I decided to grab you the day before, so you could have your schedule free and clear for tomorrow?"

"The birthday kidnapping is traditional," she snarls with all her teeth. Minion recoils so hard he bonks against the back wall of his fishbowl.

Roxanne lets out a long, ragged sigh, closes her eyes, and drops her head. "Sorry. I'm sorry, Minion. That was— really thoughtful of you. I'm grateful for the gesture. But today..."

Minion's robot feet stomp a little bit closer to her. He peers down at her face. "Is everything okay, Ms. Ritchi? Are you feeling unwell?"

"I had a... a medical appointment." Roxanne's voice is low and flat. "It was at 4:30, so the office is definitely closed by now. There'll be a no-show fee, and... I don't think I'll be able to reschedule anytime soon."

Minion's fanged jaw falls open. "Ms. Ritchi, I did check the calendar first! There wasn't anything in there about a doctor's appointment—"

"Calendar? What?"

Ah, there he is. That familiar, theatrical, richly indignant voice. No one else in Metro City pronounces the "h" in What.

Megamind emerges from Minion's shadow with a scowl, cape swirling around his ankles, one long lean arm outflung. "We're in the business of supervillainy, Minion, in case you'd forgotten! I didn't hire you to— to dance to our damsel's maidenly whims!"

"Well, no, sir. You didn't hire me at all."

"Not a maiden," Roxanne adds.

Megamind gestures with an imperious hand. "Explain yourselves. Both of you. This instant."

"Well, sir," Minion begins, glancing at Roxanne, "for the sake of efficiency, and sustainability, and smoother execution of all our evil plots going forward, Ms. Ritchi and I, we, uh, decided... to..." He leans over to her with a whirr of actuators, and whispers: "Ms. Ritchi, some backup, please?"

"Minion and I have a shared Google calendar so I can put in blackout dates for doctor's appointments, weddings, important work stuff, things like that. But I didn't put in a blackout request for the appointment today because you always kidnap me on my birthday so I thought the day before would be safe, damnit. Can you please untie me now?" Roxanne twists around in the seat of her kidnapping chair.

Megamind splutters "You agreed to give her blackout dates?" at the same time Minion says, aghast, "Ms. Ritchi, that's what the calendar is for— We always prioritize your healthcare needs—"

"Well, it wasn't a, um. Doctor-doctor. More like... cosmetic?" Roxanne's mouth twists. "I felt weird about putting it in the... it's not, you know. Medically necessary, or even medically advisable, but... I, uh..."

Minion flutters his fins at her in concern. Megamind folds his arms, disgruntled.

"Look. I know it's misogynistic garbage and I shouldn't participate in it." She glares down at the polished concrete floor to avoid their eyes. "I know. I know that everyone gets older, and that I shouldn't have to pay money for someone to— to stick knives and needles into my face just so I can pretend otherwise. It's not even safe, people can go blind, it happened to a woman in Ann Arbor last year— I know I shouldn't just roll over and take it. I know I should make a stand. And I also know that if I do, no one's going to say, 'Oh wow, Roxanne Ritchi, she's so brave, what an inspiration.'"

She swallows. Then yanks against her ropes in a sudden, useless fury. "They're going to say— 'Roxanne Ritchi? Who's that? Never heard of her.'"

Silence.

She breathes hard, and stares a hole through the floor of the lair, and mentally dares all of Megamind's half-finished basement frankenbots to rise up and throw off their dustcloths and come screaming up the stairs to kill her right now. Better that than to endure his scorn, his judgment. His laughter. His baffled incomprehension.

If she has to explain to two aliens— two men, even worse— the silent cage of unspoken rules and expectations that she carries with her everywhere she goes, the cage that feels like it's getting narrower with every passing year—

In her periphery, she's aware of Minion and Megamind turning to look at each other. Some sort of signal must be exchanged, because Minion pats her gently on the shoulder before clanking off towards the kitchen, and Megamind... just lets out a long, quiet sigh.

He steps in close, his expressive face blank, no theatrics, no teasing. He leans over her. A brief tug. Then the cord at her wrists unravels in a fluid spill and slaps down onto the floor.

She stares at her own bare hands in surprise, and then at him.

Megamind pulls his wheely villain chair over, and sits down in front of her, and rests his elbows on his knees, and says nothing.

Roxanne rubs her wrists and hugs her arms around herself.

"You did me a favor, really," she mumbles, into the dark hush of the room. "I didn't want to go through with it." She still can't quite meet his gaze. "Sorry I got mad."

Megamind looks at her for a moment.

His voice, when he finally speaks, is low and even. "Be mad."

Roxanne swallows again.

"...I'm thirty-five," she says. "I mean. I will be, tomorrow."

"Thirty-seven," he replies.

"Really? You're so—" She gestures. The boundless energy, the rock 'n roll. The baby face that his goatee only barely manages to counterbalance.

"Really," Megamind replies, and leans back in his chair. "I know the rules are very different for men. And for blue alien supervillains. But if it helps, I think about these things too." He makes a little, tired, circular motion with one hand. "Aging. Staying... relevant. Keeping the lights on."

Distant clomping footsteps and rattles of dishware echo from the kitchen hallway.

She's seen Megamind on off days, before. He's been kidnapping her for his semi-weekly evil plots for years; she's seen him exhausted, sick, grumpy, frazzled, completely encased in rapid-set expanding spray foam (just once, but she tries not to let him forget it). She's never seen him off the way he is right now.

No performance, no puns. No reminders of his eeeevil nature. It's unnerving, watching him sit still and breathe and admit to being anxious about the future. Who would have thought there was this quiet, vulnerable person buried under all the cameras and cloaks and cackling—

Oh, she realizes, sitting up straighter. This is a performance, too. Performance to make Roxanne Ritchi feel less alone.

He's giving her space to get her head back in the game, and then... the show must go on.

"I've always admired your command over your image," Roxanne murmurs. "One media professional to another."

"Thank you for noticing," Megamind says, with a little flourish of cape. She flashes him a thin smile.

"Tea's ready!" Minion announces from the doorway. He presses a cup and saucer into Roxanne's hands. "Chamomile, mint, and fresh lemon balm. Very soothing."

"I usually prefer to stay upset and pissed off," Roxanne says, but she takes it anyway, and accepts a little sugar cookie from the decorative plate he holds out. "Thank you, Minion." She meets his eyes. "Really. Sorry for yelling."

Minion rewards her with a fanged fishy grin before clanking over to Megamind with a chipped purple mug that says WORLD'S BEST DAD and an extra eight cookies.

Another moment of telepathic communication passes between the two. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything," Minion says— to Megamind? Or to her? She can't quite tell— and he trundles off.

Silence. She takes a sip. The tea is nice.

"Would you like a brainbot to hold?" Megamind says, after a moment. "I've programmed them with a purring frequency. They're warm, and they enjoy sitting in laps. It would be no trouble."

He's been awfully accommodating so far, but really? She raises an eyebrow over the rim of her teacup. "Won't you need them for today's evil plot?"

Megamind makes an airy gesture. "Oh, I'm not really feeling it anymore, you know? The weather."

It's been beautiful all week. Roxanne hides her astonishment behind another long sip of tea.

Megamind dunks a cookie into his mug with a delicate flick of finger and thumb. "If I may be so bold as to ask... What were you going to have done at your appointment, today?"

Roxanne sets her cup down against its saucer. "Oh, um. Some dermal fillers. And botox." She rubs at a spot between her brows. "It heals quickly, so I wouldn't have to take any time off. I had a consultation last week, and... they said, uh, that that would be a good start, before getting more..." She lets out a breath. "Invasive."

He just nods. She can't detect a hint of judgment in his steady, glass-green gaze.

"They said—" Why can't she stop talking? "The doctor said she was surprised I'd waited this long. That most of our TV newscasters started coming in to see her during their twenties. She— she was really nice to me, and she obviously knows what she's talking about, and no one said anything bad about the way I look, but— just— it just feels like..."

"Like you're not measuring up?" he offers.

"Yeah."

"Like you're being judged and found wanting for something about your nature, something about the way you were made, that you have no real control over?"

"Yes," she says, leaning forward in her seat.

"Like the standards that you're apparently failing to meet were awful, unfair, bullshit standards to begin with, but no one else seems willing to admit that, and it makes you so furious that you just want to— want to— raze the entire city to the ground and set the ruins on fire?"

"Yes," she says again.

"Sorry," Megamind says, eyebrows arched. "Can't relate."

Roxanne snort-laughs and sloshes tea into her saucer.

He settles back in his villain chair, a little pink-cheeked.

She's starting to think that maybe— just maybe— he isn't being entirely performative.

"I like being live on camera," Roxanne says, after a moment. "I like the energy. I like scrambling out the door to get on location. I like chasing people down for man-on-the-street interviews, seeing which direction to dig with the questions. I like figuring out how to frame the story on the fly."

"Yes," Megamind says, quietly. "You're brilliant at that."

"And I want to keep doing it. But I'm getting older, and the cameras are getting sharper, and our stupid society is staying the same." Roxanne munches spitefully on her sugar cookie. It's delicious. "Why are you doing the thing with your hands?"

"What?" He blinks.

"Your evil plotting fingers thing." She puts her teacup in her lap to demonstrate.

"Oh." Megamind glances down at his hands, and folds them together. "I, uh. So. Hypothetically. Say that a charismatic, dangerous supervillain were to have a large stockpile of... various toxins and poisons and things. As any supervillain should."

"Right," Roxanne says, watching him. "Hypothetically."

"And that some of that stockpile might include fresh, manufacturer-sealed preparations of the botulinum toxin. Quite a lot of it, actually. And the requisite hypodermic needles, and so on."

Roxanne stares.

"Hypothetically," she says. "Is this supervillain offering?"

"You forgot to say charismatic and dangerous," he says. "But hypothetically? Yes."

Roxanne chews on her lip and looks at him.

Then she drains her teacup, and sets it down on the floor with a clink. "Yeah, all right."

Megamind blinks. A slow smile breaks over his face. "Really?"

What does it say about her warped feminism that it feels so much easier to submit to Evil cosmetic intervention?

"Yeah. Really." Roxanne lifts her chin, and smiles back at him. "Do your worst."


He won't untie her ankles. "Can't have you wandering about the lair unsupervised, Ms. Ritchi." A black-gloved finger waggles under her nose. "I know what you're like."

She scowls at him, but it only improves his mood. He's practically bouncing.

"Just stay put like a good damsel while I get everything ready for you, okay? LIGHTS!" he shouts, gesturing to a trio of brainbots floating in the corner. They swoop in and start tugging at the ceiling-mounted studio floodlights, clamping down on the armatures with their stainless steel teeth, making little growling rrrr noises.

"Lower, lower... a touch lower— tiny bit— Okay, that's good! Very good, thank you RX-81, thank you Penelope, thank you Donut. You stay here and keep an eye on Ms. Ritchi, Daddy will be right back—"

Megamind darts off, cape flapping behind him, yelling for Minion.

Silence. The bots hover uncertainly near the ceiling and peer down at her. Roxanne fidgets in her seat. She glances around the stagey backdrop of his Evil Lair, taking in the little blinky LEDs, the useless toggle switches and dials, the yellowed old CRT displays glowing with static. The stupid giant tesla coils humming away in the darkness. The motley array of beakers and borosilicate flasks bubbling over gas burners, filled with what she's pretty sure is food coloring mixed in water.

Then she considers the production-grade array of studio lights looming directly overhead, affixed to their custom-welded, multi-jointed, extendable mounts. The heavy-duty power cords laid down along the concrete floor, with careful stripes of gaffer tape and glow-in-the-dark spot markers. The three ARRI Alexa cameras chained by SDI cables to their monitors, and by USB cables to each other, and to a sleek steel-gray laptop.

Squeaky wheel noises echo from the darkened hall to the left. It sounds like a slow-moving flock of bats. The squeaks get louder and louder, and then Megamind emerges into the light, carrying a flat steel tray and dragging a massive, loungey-looking padded chair, upholstered in institutional beige fabric. It's sitting on a big square metal base, with levers and switches along the side—

Oh, it's a dentist's chair. Of course he has a dentist's chair. Frankly, Roxanne's surprised one hasn't made an appearance in an evil plot before now. She can just imagine the sort of havoc he and Minion would wreak, screaming down the streets with a giant drill at 250,000 RPM, making godawful tooth puns left and right, and— ahaha— oh they should definitely hose down city hall with a giant waterpik, and menace her with those white suction tube thingies—

Megamind pushes closer, and Roxanne's evil daydream stutters to a halt.

His dentist's chair has black leather ankle cuffs attached to the seat.

That's, uh. Very. Hmm. There's cuffs bolted to the armrests, too. The leather is thick and lustrous. Shiny. A wild mismatch with the clinical beige upholstery.

Roxanne regrets that being tied up means she can't lean back and cross her legs at him. But she does stare, and rest her chin on her hand in a very deliberate way, and leverage the full force of her raised eyebrow.

Megamind notices the direction of her gaze. The tips of his ears go pink. He brushes imaginary dust off the seat. "We'll, just. Ignore those for today. Since it's your almost-birthday. And since this—" He makes a little back-and-forth gesture between the two of them— "is extremely voluntary. Not part of the kidnapping at all. Totally different, and so very, very voluntary. Isn't it?" he adds, desperately, and she smothers a laugh, and nods.

He nods back, relieved, and drops to one knee before her. The ropes slip off. Roxanne says nothing, just leans back and drapes an arm over her backrest, stretching her legs out, sliding them against each other with a whisper of skin against skin. She gazes down at him with a languid, meaningful look.

He flushes lavender and turns away in a whirl of cape to go fiddle with the exam chair.

She smirks behind his back. Too easy.

Roxanne inspects the tray table he's set up. Little glass vials sealed with holographic silver stickers. Blank white paper and a paperweight. A nail buffing block, oddly enough, plus cotton gauze, alcohol, bandage scissors. Some unidentifiable things in skinny sterile white wrappers, pushed off to one side.

"Why do you have your own supply of botox," Roxanne says, after a minute of watching him flit around and arrange and re-arrange everything just so. "Deadly nightshade or rattlesnake venom, I mean, sure, but... botox?"

"Oh, you know," Megamind says vaguely, and waves a hand. "High-potency paralytic. Useful for a wide variety of situations."

Which isn't really reassuring.

But she's not worried. He won't hurt her. He wouldn't have offered to do this if hurting her was even a possibility.

Maybe she shouldn't have such absolute confidence in the abilities and the intentions of a man who regularly subjects her to elaborate, experimental, bespoke deathtraps, but...

Listen, Roxanne tells her inner voice (it sounds a lot like her mom): She's a reporter. She has great instincts. Even when his deathtraps go catastrophically wrong, she's never the one endangered.

...Which is a bit peculiar, actually, now that she's considering it.

Maybe her local supervillain really does value her, Roxanne muses, trying on the idea for size; her, specifically, over any other damsel he could have chosen. What if he likes her composure, her wit, her caustic color commentary, her refusal to be impressed? He makes such a fuss about getting her to scream, when he could have anyone he wanted—

But he still could. At any time. Because this isn't about her, is it? It's never been about her; it's about Megamind versus Metro Man and their whole convoluted, codependent, super... thing. Roxanne just got lucky enough to land the accessory slot. Along with the associated boost to viewer ratings and name recognition.

Fine. She's still not worried. Megamind won't do anything to mess up her face, because he's good with his hands, and because he hates messing up, and because kidnapping a reporter guarantees him a better class of media coverage, and because he seems to think Wayne has a thing for her (ha), which makes her a two-for one package deal when it comes to baiting Wayne with the whole Snidely Whiplash routine and getting their fights aired on live TV. Roxanne's just... Megamind's co-worker, kind of, after a fashion. It's not about her.

She takes a deep breath, and releases it. None of this has ever been about her. And that's fine. She'll ride the wave as long as she can— both with Megamind, and with her on-camera career. That's why she booked the damn not-really-a-doctor's appointment in the first place. That’s why she’s still sitting here.

Megamind extends his hand to her, palm up, bowing with a vampiric swish of cape. "If you will, Ms. Ritchi?"

Roxanne stands, slowly, and slides her fingers into his waiting hand.

She feels him jolt, and has to hide her smile. Goober. If he wanted to play the suave seducer with her, he should have come prepared for it to work.

He ushers her up into the tall exam chair. The wrist cuffs are buckled backwards, now, so that they wrap flat around the armrests; the ankle cuffs are still intact and open, but she just settles her legs to the inside of them, while he clears his throat and pretends not to notice.

Megamind directs her to lie back and get settled, and then lowers the backrest with a vwrrr of hydraulics, until she's nearly flat.

"Okay? Comfortable?" he says, peering down at her, a concerned little wrinkle in his brow. His eyes are moss green in the low light.

"Yes," she says. You nerd, she thinks. God, she wants to shove him into a locker. Stop being so delicate with me. You're a supervillain. He should be cackling and slamming the bars of the cage shut around her right now. He should be carving her up and electrocuting her and laughing to the music of her screams. He should be scrambling her DNA and turning her into a hideous were-monster and setting her loose to devour her co-workers on live TV. Not getting awkward about her ankles.

If Roxanne fluttered her eyelashes and said something like Now you have me at your mercy, he'd probably hyperventilate.

"I'm going to turn on the lights," Megamind says, in a warning sort of tone.

"Okay," she says, absently— then yelps as a wall of burning white slams into her retinas. She squeezes her eyes shut. Her whole brain is wallpapered with dancing purple afterimages. "Jesus!"

"I need it bright to see fine detail," he says apologetically. "Alien thing."

"Nngh. That's. Interesting to know." She puts her forearm over her face. Even through the red haze of her eyelids, it's still punishing. Like standing twelve feet from the surface of a star.

"I have not, however, been blessed with x-ray vision," Megamind says gently, and lifts her forearm away. "Can you bear with it?"

Roxanne exhales. "Yes." At least the afterimages will give her something else to concentrate on while he's sticking needles in her face.

"Good." He pats her arm. "Perhaps I... should have been more specific."

"No," she says, blindly waving a hand. "I should have been paying better attention. Human thing. I'll be fine. Don't worry."

He's quiet, after that.

Switching out for rattlesnake venom, after all? Starting the countdown timer on the hidden bomb? Roxanne settles back, unconcerned, and watches glowing blobs morph and swirl and slowly fade behind her eyelids.

He really does have her at his mercy, now that she's realized how much she trusts him.

"If you end up paralyzing me I will be very upset," she murmurs into the silence.

Megamind makes a little noise of amusement from somewhere off to her left. "Your face and your fury are both formidable, Ms. Ritchi. I wouldn't dare risk either one."

Her eyes stop stinging, finally. Her awareness pulls back from the bright red curtain of her eyelids, and tunes in to her ears instead.

The clink and rattle of the objects on his stainless steel tray. The soft creaking of leather and swish of his cape as he shifts his weight. The little growls and squeaks and bonks of the brainbots nesting high overhead. The hum of distant machinery. An air compressor makes a shuddering noise and then shuts off with a final, gusty sigh. The quiet in its wake feels cavernous.

She barely hears any movement— he's as silent as a cat when he wants to be— but somehow she knows he's standing close to her, now. Some sort of change in the way the air feels on her face and hands, some nebulous shift as the ambient sound of the room bends around his body. A phantom warmth against her bare arm.

She imagines the needle, poised and wet and shining in his slim, black-gloved hand. She swallows.

"Nervous?" Megamind murmurs next to her ear, voice low and silver-smooth, and Roxanne jumps.

She cracks one eye open to look at him against the nuclear glare of the lights. He's smiling. It's a soft, sly little thing, nothing like his usual, maniacal, showstopping grin— a jewel thief's smile, rich in the knowledge that he's about to nab something precious.

"Never," Roxanne replies with a manufactured calm, and closes her eyes again so she doesn't have to look at his lips anymore.

He chuckles.

Stripes of shadow flicker over her eyelids as he moves. She has to suppress the urge to flinch. She does flinch when his smooth cool fingertips touch her forehead, damn it, but instead of making fun of her he just leaves them resting there for a moment. Then, after she's remembered to breathe, he starts moving. He presses gently into her skin, rubbing little circles over her browbone, along her hairline, over the beginnings of an offending wrinkle between her brows. Seeing how her skin responds, maybe? Testing the thickness? The elasticity?

His thumb caresses her temple. Just steadying his hand, she thinks, fighting her traitorous heart rate back down; his fingers are still busy mapping out those inquisitive, scientific little circles all over. But it feels like—

"You have beautiful skin," he says quietly.

"So do you," she whispers, before she can think better of it.

He snorts and moves away.

Damn it.

Something clinks against the tray. A pop, and a brief tapping sound. A rustle, followed by a long, soft slide of leather against leather. A glove coming off? A glug of liquid.

Cold wet cloth scrubs over her forehead. The burn of evaporating alcohol hits her nose a moment later.

Four delicate fingers fold back down over her brow, one by one. They feel warmer this time, rougher. Her eyelids twitch.

"Frown for me," he says.

"What?"

"Scrunch up your face. Get angry. Pretend— pretend I've just done something horribly annoying. You won't have to try very hard."

She hates it whenever he gets self-deprecating. It feels— sour, somehow. Fundamentally wrong—

"Perfect," he says, "just like that."

Quick, darting, symmetrical little strokes brush between her brows and radiate outwards.

"What are you doing," she murmurs.

"Marking the injection sites. Keep frowning, Ms. Ritchi— All right, done. Now raise your eyebrows, as high as they can go— higher than that—" Seven little dots along her hairline. "Good. You can relax."

"...Where did you learn all this?" Letting a supervillain stick poison needles in her face was one thing, but his professional bedside manner is throwing her right off a cliff.

"Internet," he says, easily, and then before she's decided how worried she ought to feel, "Also, one of my uncles is a type 1 diabetic. Insulin injections use the same kind of syringe."

"Huh," Roxanne says, for lack of a wittier response. And then: "Uncles?"

"In the prison, where I grew up." He smooths his warm hand over her forehead, brushing back towards her hairline, then does it again. It feels like being petted. "They took care of me, so I try to take care of them, when I can."

"Huh," she murmurs again. She's learning all kinds of things, today.

Pet. Pet. Pet.

"Gil always says I have the softest touch." Megamind sounds quietly proud. "Says it never even stings."

It's amazing how relaxed Roxanne feels right now, draped over her supervillain's torture chair under a blazing array of studio lights, as boneless and unconcerned as if she were stretched out on a beach towel at the lakefront. His LED softboxes aren't warm, not like sunlight would be— but he's leaning so close, his forearms bracketing her face, and she swears she can feel the heat radiating off his body, just like she feels his fingers stroking over her hair, his breath against her skin, the low notes of his voice thrumming through the hollow of her rib cage.

"Tell Gil I agree with him," she mumbles. Her speech sounds blurred, drowsy. He smells like warm leather and motor oil and sea salt. She wants to tip her cheek into the palm of his hand.

Megamind pulls back with a screech of chair wheel and a snap of cold air. "Right! Okay. Let's— let's get this show on the road, shall we?"

She opens her eyes to look at him, reflexively, frowning, but the light scours her; she has to squeeze her eyelids shut again before she gets anything more than an impression of fine-boned blue hands, and a slim clear tube.

Plastic rustles. A piece of hollow-sounding something, a pen cap, maybe, tiks against the floor. Glass taps on metal.

A shadow moves over her eyes. The air changes; he's standing close again. Cool strong fingers pinch the skin between her brows, and he gives her no warning at all before the needle slides in.

Not that she can really... feel it. There was the tiniest dot of maybe-pain, and then— nothing much. A brief sensation of pressure, and then coldness, and a strange bubbling sound that travels out through her bones up to her eardrums— and then his fingers are on her, firmly rubbing in circles, the shadow cast by his hand plunging her into soft green-tinged darkness— so the needle must be gone from her skin already.

He stops rubbing after a few seconds. There's a scritchy noise, like pen on paper, a foot or so away from her head, where the tray table is. Then the shadow falls over her again, and he pinches a spot on her forehead a centimeter or so to the left of the first one, and then... nothing. Bubbles. Vague coldness. Rubbing.

"Does it hurt?" he says softly.

"Not at all," she says, in wonder.

"Good."

It's fast. He zips through each of her marked spots like they're on an assembly line. The scratchy pen-and-paper noise repeats each time. "What is that," she asks, finally.

The noise stops. "I'm honing the needle."

"What. Like a knife?"

"Steel is softer— and skin harder— than you might think, Ms. Ritchi. If you could see how mangled the tip gets after even one injection— I'm horrified this isn't standard practice." Another gentle pinch. Coldness. Rubbing. "The prison medical staff weren't... the most generous or consistent about giving my uncle fresh needles. We had to make do. Ended up for the best, though, in a way; now I've got things set up so he doesn't have to rely on them at all."

"Things?"

"Things," he repeats, firmly, and that's the end of that.

She wishes Minion were here. He'd be thrilled to explain in detail— at least up until Megamind shrieked about secrets and cut him off.

Gotta try anyway. Roxanne keeps her voice low and soft. "Were they inconsistent with the insulin, too?"

His fingers pause.

"They were laughing at him as he seized on the floor."

She lets out her breath.

"...I'm so sorry."

"Yes, well. Only human of them," he says, in a horrible, careless way. His hand leaves her skin. "They didn't have much else in there to keep them entertained."

Clinks and rattles and soft rustling noises. Roxanne lies still, and thinks furiously.

Long-form would be ideal, for maximum impact. Four 23-minute spots, spaced out over a week, documentary style, about half of it taped interviews— inmates, their family members, former guards, current guards if she can persuade any to report anonymously. But exposés aren't her usual wheelhouse. And even if she could secure the airtime and funding and extra manpower for production and editing, DaShawn and Valerie might get suspicious she's trying to move in on their territory—

"Oh— good," Megamind says, "I was going to tell you to frown again. Wiggle your eyebrows, too. It helps distribute the toxin into the muscle."

...It's too hard to stay pissed-off and strategic while she's doing the wave with her eyebrows. Roxanne puts a mental pin in her plotting.

"You're done," he says, and whistles a short sharp note. The supernova floodlights click off. Roxanne opens her eyes, and blinks; everything is dark and blurry, and tinted deep green, like she's woken up underwater.

Megamind grasps her elbow gently, and helps her sit up. Her focus sharpens with each blink. "It should take full effect in about a week, and wear off slowly over the next four months. Don't rub the area or try to move your face any more than normal from now on. Don't lie down or bend over for the next few hours. If you notice any dizziness, headaches, or vision problems, you can... uh..."

"Scream?" Roxanne suggests, dry as dust.

Megamind scowls at her. "I... will acquire a cellular telephone." He pronounces it te-LAY-fone. "You may have the number. For emergency purposes."

Weirdo, she thinks fondly, and swings her legs over the side of his torture chair. "Thanks."

He tilts his head to one side, watching her. The long black gloves are already back on. Shame.

"You are..." He clears his throat. "You are beautiful, Ms. Ritchi. You will be for quite some time. I understand your concerns, but you're more than just your face. Your voice, the way you carry yourself— I don't think the cameras will ever get tired of you."

She looks at him.

He meets her eyes for an instant— then glances away, posture stiff and embarrassed. "Just— if it helps. One media professional to another."

Roxanne bites her lip, trying to contain the huge smile threatening to burst into bloom. "Thank you, Megamind. That... That means a lot to me."

A rusty chuckle. "I try."

He really does. She knows.

The camera loves him more than anyone— and she's one of the only people who gets to see just how hard he works for it.

She'd rather he leveraged his talents in a different direction, obviously, one with less property damage and terror and screaming. His brainbots alone are a breathtaking creation; they could help the fire department, the coast guard, they could perform search and rescue operations, they could totally revolutionize the concept of service animals— there are so many things he could do, if only he decided to try—

—But then, that's true for her too, isn't it?

Roxanne could stand to leverage her talents a little bit, herself. She could branch out and explore her options, instead of panicking about her forehead lines and throwing stones at him from glass newsrooms. She could find a way to pivot their codependent super battle-of-the-week into pieces highlighting the different neighborhoods they fight in. She could look into the shady shell corporations that seem to own an awful lot of the buildings that they damage. She could do things, instead of just lying down and accepting her fate as an accessory. Instead of telling herself it's not her place to try anything different.

So, yeah. Maybe a long docu-series about human rights violations in Metro City's prisons isn't in her usual wheelhouse— but there's absolutely nothing stopping her from pitching it to DaShawn and Val.

Maybe fate has chosen her to be a good-looking terrier, always on the move, chasing down the citizenry to get the word on the street— but there's nothing stopping her from, say, dangling a particular bit of pre-planned bait. Tilting the frame to show what's been kept out of the picture. Performing a little light stage magic. She's learned from the worst, after all.

Ahh, she wants to hug him. Too bad he'd keel over on the spot if she tried. Plus there's the shoulder spikes to consider.

"Thank you," Roxanne says again, and takes Megamind's hand in hers. "This was a really, really good birthday present."

"Really?" His eyes are huge. What a ridiculous man.

"Really," she says, smiling. "Let's do this again sometime."

"We will. In four months. You have to get it touched up every four to six months, Ms. Ritchi, that's how botox wor—"

"It was a joke, Megamind."


Minion drops her off at her place with a tupperware full of potato and leek soup and a thick slice of chocolate frosted birthday cake.

A day later, Roxanne Ritchi is officially thirty-five years old, single, still in her pajamas at 2pm, eating leftover takeout straight out of the container and working from home on the weekend, and she feels great about all of it.

Her laptop dings with a new email alert, and she alt-tabs over from her pitch outline. It's from a spoofed address; the subject line is blank. There's a 10-digit number in the body.

She types the number into her phone, and sends a text:

the calendar's made literally all our lives better and easier, jsyk. youre not allowed to yell at minion

Her phone bleeps almost immediately:

I believe I said this number was for Emergency Purposes Only, Ms. Ritchi.

Followed by, in rapid succession:

I won't yell.
What does jsyk mean?
and then
Disregard previous. I have deciphered your arcane code.

She rolls her eyes, and grins, and saves his contact under "Goober."

Then Roxanne Ritchi gets back to work.