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Metro City Zombie War

Chapter Text

 

Metro City was believed to be in the clear, well behind the line drawn just east of the Appalachians where the zombies first appeared. The combined forces of the US Army, several states’s national guards, and a number of superheroes, including Metro Man, had driven the zombies back even further. The news that New York City and Philadelphia were now zombie-free gave new hope to the nation that the threat was finally being eliminated. Fewer new contaminations were being reported.

Then an outbreak happened right in the middle of Louisville, Kentucky, within the safe zone. Four hundred people were killed and infected. Metro Man and a platoon of national guardsmen rushed to the disaster, burning out the nests. 

There was another outbreak in Bloomington, Indiana, as if, Roxanne thought, the infection was making its way north. Or someone was heading north, seeding disease as they went.

Without warning, zombies appeared in the middle of downtown Metro City. The police came out in riot gear and flamethrowers to deal with them. There were fewer than a dozen zombies, and all of them were destroyed. A thorough search of the building they’d been using as a nest was cordoned off.

Three days later two police officers died. Believing them to be infected with the zombie virus, the bodies were burned, but it was too late. More zombie nests appeared, scattered throughout the city. Pleas for help were sent out over the airwaves. Citizens were implored to stay in their homes, but thousands fled.

Roxanne reported diligently on the situation, and she was there when the first refugees came straggling back.

“They wouldn’t let us through,” a shaken man told her, holding his daughter close. 

Roxanne felt her breath catch in her throat. “Who?”

“The soldiers. They ordered us back. We’ve been cut off.”

Metro City had been quarantined. A lot of people had gotten out before the barricades went up, and Roxanne wondered what happened to them. Were they rounded up and forced into camps, like in Louisville?

Airplanes that attempted to take off from the airport were threatened to be shot down. Helicoptors from the hospital and the news stations were forced back by gunfire when they got too near the quarantine line. People who attempted to flee cross country were shot on sight. Canadian armed forces closed the border.

Then came the final insult: all communications to the outside were cut off. No phone calls could be made to anywhere outside the city limits, either by cell or landline, nor news broadcasts either.

Roxanne was made aware of it by the station manager. “We’ve been completely cut off,” he said, anger making his voice shake. “None of our signals are getting through. Even the internet’s out.”

It was only too clear that the government was determined to wipe out the zombie threat by whatever means possible. And so the refusal even to listen to cries for help, or let the doomed contact their loved ones. This was to ensure that no unnecessarily compassionate acts of heroism could occur.

They were condemning Metro City to death. An amputation of sorts, to protect the rest of the nation.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Roxanne attempted to get to her parents’s place on the east side, but couldn’t even get close. Traffic jams and pedestrians clogged the streets. 

She tried to back up her car to go back to the station, but a breakdown blocked her. Suddenly there were screams and people all fleeing in one direction. 

A slow-moving wave of zombies lurched down the street, winding their way between and over cars. Roxanne ran for it. 

She took cover in another apartment building, along with sixty-three others. Most of them lived there, the rest were like her, random strangers taking refuge.

For a while, they busied themselves with fortifying the windows and doors, but when the work was done, Roxanne was overcome with grief. What had happened at KMCP? To her parents?

She tried calling them on her cell, but the phone rang and rang with no answer. She kept trying anyway, until the battery went dead.

 - - - - - - - - - - -

The days dragged by and turned into weeks. The electricity went out early on, but they still had running water for some reason. The loss of electricity was a serious blow. The building became stifling in the summer heat. Nightfall brought new terrors. They conserved their flashlights and batteries for random attacks, and not just from zombies. One night they shot a man who tried to break in.

Several people, men mostly, had guns, and the rest were armed with whatever weapons they’d been able to find. Hank had several handguns, and he gave them to anyone who felt they could handle one, though he kept close track of the ammunition until he was satisfied that they’d learned how to handle them safely.

Aware that any of them could be killed or infected, the gun owners were teaching everyone twelve and up basic gun safety and instruction, so that almost anyone would be able to handle the weapons if worst came to worst. The opportunities for actual target practice were slim, though. Their ammunition dwindled by the day.

They took food and water from the abandoned apartments. She felt guilty about breaking into people’s homes, but not for long. It was depressing how quickly they deteriorated to unthinking vandalism. 

The able-bodied adults took turns going out to inspect the neighborhood, to try to get an idea for how bad the zombies were getting, and to raid stores. And to keep an eye on the other human refugees in the area, some of whom were predatory. Paranoia and suspicion ruled them, and Roxanne hated herself for it, but they couldn’t allow just anyone into their group. 

She’d prided herself on never judging anyone by their appearance, but now everyone looked suspicious. Those three men watching her and her friends making their way through the deserted streets, were they the ones who’d murdered those two women down the block? What about the men armed with rifles who had taken over the closest supermarket? Those guys had fired at them when they tried to talk to them.

Roxanne and her friends weren’t about to waste their bullets on pointless fights with other humans. They had to save it up for the zombies.

“Don’t waste time feeling sorry for everyone,” Hank had advised her.

“Better to be safe than sorry,” Pilar said, nodding. 

Over time they accepted a few more people into their group, but only if everyone else felt comfortable with them, and if they didn’t seem likely to commit violence against their fellow refugees. Roxanne, who had become sort an official spokeswoman, made it clear to newcomers that theft and other crimes would result in immediate expulsion.

In addition, the newcomers had to stay in a cordoned area for three days to see if they showed signs of infection.

Roxanne didn’t like this mini-quarantine, but the risk of infection was too great for them not to take this simple safety measure. It pained her that kindness and compassion had to be put in second place. 

The stench of rot was always present. The zombies were sloppy eaters. Sometimes they devoured their victims down to the bone, and sometimes they didn’t. Partially eaten bodies decomposed in the streets. Swarms of buzzing flies filled the air. Dogs and rats fed on the corpses, and sometimes became victims of the zombies as well. The terrible squealing of animals caught by zombies was almost as bad as the screaming of human victims. 

She got insomnia, and had nightmares whenever she did manage to close her eyes.

The new people made it three full days without showing signs of the zombie virus, and the group increased to eighty-one.

It often seemed to take a long time for zombies to figure out where the fresh food was. Days would go by without an attack, zombies shambling along the streets as if completely unaware of them, and then suddenly a group of them would get it into their rotting brains that living people were in the apartment building, and attack.

Again and again, they fought them off.

Roxanne and her companions had been lucky so far, having sustained only small raids. They’d seen a few massive zombie attacks on other refugees. There was no pattern to it, no way to predict how big a zombie mob would get.

They watched each other carefully for signs of the zombie virus. No one like to think about what it would mean if one of their number should get infected. They would have no choice but to kill the infected one.

Who would it be? The single mom? The widower from apartment 410? Or one of the kids?

 - - - - - - - - - - -

It was the wounded brainbot that gave Roxanne the idea of finding the Evil Lair.

It was alone, and must have had a malfunction because it was flying low and seemed unable to gain altitude. Zombies surrounded it, grabbing and swatting, and it fired on them a couple of times with its laser, which didn’t seem very strong either. Then a swarm of brainbots descended and ripped the zombies to shreds.

It was hideous to watch. Roxanne and her companions watched anyway, through cracks in the boards. It wasn’t really much worse than anything else they’d witnessed, and the brainbots’s efficiency was fascinating. The brainbots finished frying the brain of the last twitching zombie, picked up the injured brainbot, and flew away. 

The Lair. Megamind had weapons up the wazoo. He must be safe, inside his fortress. And they’d be safe there, too.

That’s what she was betting on, anyway. Unless he’d left the city. She bit her lip. They’d really be screwed if he had. If anyone could sneak past the soldiers’ blockade, then it was Megamind. But would brainbots still be flying around if he had gone? The ones who’d come to the rescue of the damaged one had looked pretty healthy, so far as she could tell, if ‘healthy’ was the right word to apply to brainbots. They didn’t look neglected, and she didn’t think he’d abandon his pets.

So here they were, tromping across the city, avoiding the zombies when they could, fighting them off when they had no choice. She actually had a fairly decent idea of what direction to head. He had to be somewhere in the industrial district, not too far from Lake Michigan. That still left a lot of miles to cover, but she felt they had to try. 

Her bet seemed to be paying off. Zombies grew fewer. The air and streets were cleaner. They saw squadrons of brainbots flying around more often. The brainbots ignored them, for the most part. Sometimes a few would come close, making their little bowg-bowg noises, before flying away again.

It took a few days, because they had to avoid the worst of the zombie nests, and they took the opportunity to loot a few stores. They got some more diapers and maxi pads from one place, and Jamal found a sawed-off shotgun behind the counter, with half a box of bullets.

 - - - - - - - 

No one really believed Megamind would let them in just because she asked nicely. They thought there’d be a price. And she was it.

  They didn’t have the bad taste to comment on it or criticize her. Or tell her not to do it, for that matter. The last zombie mob they’d witnessed had overrun the supermarket fortress, which had been the strongest human camp in the area. The guys with rifles hadn’t stood a chance. It had focused everyone’s mind pretty sharply on the fragility of their own situation. 

One evening (which turned out to be the last one of their cross-city trek) she and Agnes were coming back from finding a safe place to pee, when they overheard the others in the middle of a muted debate around the campfire.

“...not even human. Makes me sick,” one of the men muttered. She thought it was Hank, but wasn’t sure.

Roxanne stopped short. Agnes gave Roxanne an uneasy glance, but she stopped walking too.

“Who cares what he looks like, it’s degrading no matter what,” said Pilar.

“Not like we got much choice,” another man muttered. Roy, probably. 

“Yeah, since you’re not the one who has to do it,” snapped Pilar.

“Hey, I don’t wanna die out here,” he said defensively.

Kailey murmured, “I don’t see how she can lower herself to...”

“You should talk. Sneaking off with Roy every chance you get,” Noelle said.

“So what! Everybody’s doing it! Roy, are you going to let her talk to me like that?”

Pilar snorted. “Define ‘everybody’.”

“I think we all need to calm down and...”

“Even Hank!” Kailey cried. “Him and Jessica were...”

“That’s not true,” Hank sputtered, and Roxanne was close enough to see him shoot a panicked look at his wife, Noelle. “You must not have seen right.”

“We’re all gonna die anyway.”

“Who cares who’s screwing who?” 

“Shh! The kids’ll hear.”

“That’s just great!” Pilar shouted. “We gonna throw it all away and act like animals?”

They all began talking at once.

Roxanne walked toward them, stomping a little louder than necessary. She sat down next to Pilar. Everybody shut up. For a while there was only the sound of the crackling fire.

Pilar hugged her knees. “I think we should go back.” 

Several groans went up.

Pilar bristled. “I mean it,” she said, and put her hand on Roxanne’s shoulder. “We’ve done all right. Roxanne doesn’t have to...”

Roxanne said, “Summer’s not going to last forever.” She looked around the fire, at the strain on people’s faces. “And neither will our ammunition. Metro Man’s nowhere in sight.” She tightened her jaw as bitterness welled up inside her. She’d caught glimpses of him on the national news before the satellite and electricity cut out, but he gave no interviews, and he didn’t seem interested in offering an opinion about the fact that the authorities had condemned Metro City, his city, to death. 

At the mention of Metro Man, an angry muttering started up. The failure of the city’s Defender to appear had rankled everyone.

She swallowed and looked around at the others. Not many would meet her gaze. She said, “The Lair is our best hope of survival. I’ll do what it takes to get us in.”

Eventually there was a conversation about the food rations, and the three on first shift for guard duty went to their posts.

But, she thought, her heart sinking, if Megamind accepted her offer, making such a sordid deal in exhange for their survival, then she would have no respect left for him, and it meant he really was as wicked as everyone said he was.

She didn’t like that thought at all.

 - - - - - - - - - - 

The next day, four days after they began their trek, they rounded a corner and saw the brainbots.

These were definitely paying attention to them. They formed a line across the street, emitting a low-level hum that sounded like growls. Hank, Jamal, and some of the others hefted their guns.

“Don’t!” Roxanne snapped. “We want his help. We’re not going to get it if we shoot at them.” 

Besides, the brainbots could rip them to shreds as easily as they’d torn apart the zombies.

Roxanne walked closer to them, slowly, hands raised. She looked around at the brainbots, trying to see if there were any cameras. Their menacing red eyes glared at her and a couple of them edged closer. The growling went up another notch.

Roxanne stopped walking. “We need to talk to your master,” she said loudly. “It’s me, Roxanne. The kidnappee? I need to talk to...” She hesitated. “I need to talk to your Daddy.” 

She flushed a little, imagining the looks passing around her fellow refugees, but she kept her attention on the brainbots. Did they understand her? “Megamind, can you hear me? We could really use your help. If you...” She licked her lips. “If you care anything about me at all, you’ll help me, and my friends.”

There was no change in the brainbots. None of them flew off, or gave any sign that they understood her.

“Now what?” asked Pilar.

Roxanne looked around at the silent buildings. “Now, I guess we wait. Let’s set up camp.”

 - - - - - - - - - - - -

They didn’t have to wait too long, after all. People were arranging their sleeping places and spreading out their blankets and sleeping bags, when the sound of the hoverbike, a distant roar but getting closer, made them look up. Roxanne hurried outside, the others trailing after her.

There were two hoverbikes circling overhead. Minion had one too. Megamind circled once more, and Roxanne thought his gaze was fixed on her. She stared back, looking him in the eye. Help us, she thought at him, clenching her fists. Do the right thing.

Megamind touched down. He swung off the hoverbike and came toward them, his steps slow and deliberate. Minion landed too, and when the engine cut off there was silence, except for the sound of the gravel crunching under Megamind’s boots.

There were bags under his bloodshot eyes, and dust on his clothes. A corner of his cape had been torn off.  A few dirt streaks on the side of his head and a faint smear of ink on his nose suggested a hasty attempt at a wash. He never took his eyes off her.

“You’re alive,” he murmured. No evil smirk or attempt at wit, just a bewildered look. 

She shrugged. “Yeah. How ‘bout that.”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “You need help,” he said, then closed his eyes and shook his head as if irritated with himself. “Obviously,” he muttered.

Roxanne felt a little of the tension in her shoulders loosen. She’d been bracing herself to see him gloat and strut, pleased to have her in his evil clutches at last, and of her own free will, too. He ran his bewildered gaze over her companions.

“The city’s been quarantined,” she said.

“I know.” 

Roxanne’s hands felt sweaty. She was delaying. Of course he knew. The lack of banter was actually beginning to be a little unnerving. She wasn’t used to this quiet, dishevelled Megamind. “Will you help us? Let us stay in the Lair until the zombies are gone.”

“Stay in the Lair,” he repeated. “All of you?”

“Yeah. It’s a big place. Probably the safest in the city.”

He crossed his arms, and paced back and forth, head lowered in thought. Roxanne looked at Minion. He hadn’t spoken or moved since getting off the hoverbike, and his face was as grim as she’d ever seen it, but when he noticed her attention he managed a little smile before his eyes flickered back to his pacing boss.

Megamind rubbed the back of his head, a deep frown furrowing his brows. “Is there....is...” he said, then lapsed into silence again.

Roxanne struggled not to let her impatience show. She wondered for a moment if he’d gotten a head injury, but Minion didn’t seem overly concerned about him. It was weird, but she felt like she knew him well enough to see what the problem was. He probably never had anyone other than Minion in his Lair before. She didn’t want to badger him, but she thought about what she might say to help him make the right decision.

“I know this is hard, Megamind,” she said softly. “But our lives are on the line.”

Hank said, “Yeah, man, even you can’t be that selfish.”

Roxanne gritted her teeth and shot a glare at him. She’d told them to keep quiet and let her do the talking. 

Megamind stopped pacing. “And what will you do, officer, if I let you into my sanctuary? Hm?” And there it was, the evil smile was back on his blue face, an edge to his voice.

Roxanne drew a shuddering breath. Damn it. She’d forgotten Hank was a police officer. Megamind probably knew every cop in Metro City.

“Not like your hideout’s so secret anymore, anyway,” said Hank. “All we gotta do is keep walking here until...”

Megamind’s eyes widened. “Oh no, say it ain’t so. Did you hear that, Minion? We’d better hurry and move. We only have twelve years until the Metrocity PD finds the Lair again.”

Hank clenched his fists and stepped forward. 

Megamind stalked toward him, four brainbots swooping low on either side. Roxanne grabbed Megamind’s arm. “Stop it right now!” she shouted. She glared at each of them in turn. “Zombies have taken over! We don’t have time for a pissing contest!”

She faced Megamind. “We need your help. Please, Megamind.” 

He was still scowling at Hank.

She rubbed her free hand on her pants. What now? Tell him she’d make it worth his while? Her cheeks felt hot. She couldn’t talk to him here, not with everyone listening. “Can we talk privately?”

He finally looked at her, and his gaze softened a little. “That won’t be necessary, Miss Ritchi.” He made a gesture as if he was about to pat her hand, but he lowered his arm and walked away from her instead. “You can stay.” He nodded at them all.

A murmuring started up among the refugees.

“But not the cop,” he said, giving Hank a cool look. The excited murmuring stopped.

Roxanne cleared her throat. “Megamind...”

His face was hard. “No, Miss Ritchi, I won’t have troublemakers in my Lair. Not even for you.”

Noelle protested, “You have to let him in. He’ll die out here.”

“He’ll be safe enough. I’ll let him inside the wall just outside the Lair,” said Megamind. “My brainbots will protect him. I’ll even provide a tent. He should be fine if he stays within my realm.” He waved an arm at the neighborhood. “This entire peninsula is under my control. Probably the only zombie-free zone in the city.”

Roxanne looked around. She could tell they were by the lake, but hadn’t realized they were on a peninsula. She wondered how big it was.

“I’m staying with him,” said Noelle, setting her jaw. Their son and daughter looked alarmed.

Megamind shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

“Noelle, you got to go in,” Hank said. “Stay with the kids.” They began to have a whispered argument.

“Megamind,” Roxanne said, unwilling to let it drop. She came close to him. He crossed his arms and lifted his chin, frowning. She said, “Hank is a big reason why we survived. I’ll talk to him. Will you at least... oh I don’t know, put him on probation?”

He stared at her, and then a slow smile spread over his face. He pinched the bridge of his nose, his shoulders shaking with laughter. After several seconds he sighed and looked up. “What do  you think, Minion?” he asked, grinning. “Should I put this cop on probation?”

Minion also seemed amused. “Sounds good to me.”

“Okay, Hank. Be a good boy for two weeks, don’t piss me off again, and I’ll let you into the Lair.” Megamind rubbed his chin. “Now I have to figure out where to put everyone. Getting a little crowded.”

“I’m sure there’ll be room, Sir,” Minion said. “It’s not that crowded.”

“It is to me,” Megamind grumbled. He eyed the toddlers. “Do you think we’ve babyproofed the place enough?”

Roxanne blinked. “Wait. What? Crowded? There are others?”

A faint blush crept over Megamind’s cheeks. “Um. Yes. The others. I-I... rescued a few others. Um. Fifty-seven, all together.” He looked sheepish, as if embarrassed to have been caught doing a good deed. “I went out. I saw,” he said simply. “There were people, the zombies were trying to kill them. I saved them.” His hands fidgeted as if he didn’t know where to put them.

Tears came to her eyes and she covered her mouth. The other refugees looked as startled as she felt. All this time she thought he’d been holed up safe in his Lair, and who could blame him, plenty of people would have locked themselves away to escape the chaos and death. But he’d risked his life and opened up his home to rescue strangers. “Fifty-seven?” she whispered.

His eyes widened slightly and his eyebrows came together in an anxious grimace. He looked worried that she was going to scold him for not doing better. Then he straightened his shoulders and waved a hand around at the city. “There are so many,” he said, his voice sharp and defensive. “I’m trying. And the Lair almost got overrun by zombies. I had to build a wall, and reprogram the brainbots to kill zombies and protect humans, and let me tell you, that was a tricky algorithm, I haven’t had enough...”

Roxanne flung herself at him and wrapped her arms around his neck. He grunted and stumbled back a step.

“I can’t believe you did that,” she said, fighting back a sob. “I’m so proud of you.”

He stood still, apparently in shock, then his hands touched her back and gave her a tentative pat. She let him go and wiped her eyes. “Well, let us know when you’re ready,” she said.

A little half smile made his mouth crooked. “I guess I need to go back and...and...er...let the others know there are more coming.” He cleared his throat and addressed the rest of the group. “Does everyone have their own bedding?”

 

Chapter Text

 

The Lair was surrounded by a fresh concrete wall about ten feet high. That didn’t seem quite tall enough to Roxanne, but maybe he’d run out of building material. Somewhere there was a smell of burning, though she couldn’t see the source of it. Row upon row of brainbots lined the street, forming a nearly solid wall. 

Megamind said, “Walk up to the gate. The brainbots need to recognize you as friends, and know that you’re not zombies or looters.” With that he strode through the gauntlet.

Roxanne hesitated for a moment, then squared her shoulders and followed him, under the red stares of hundreds of glowing red eyes. There were some really big brainbots that she hadn’t seen before, as big as Volkwagen beetles. Through the shifting brainbots, she saw a metro bus with cracked windows and holes in the roof, parked by the gate.

Spider-Bot crawled along the top of the wall until it crouched right over the gate. Its multiple eyes quivered at them. A few people gasped. One of the kids started crying. Megamind half turned with a frown. “Spee-ider-Bot needs to get a look at you, too. Come, come, come!” He waved a hand impatiently. “Sun’s going down.”

Roxanne resisted the impulse to look over her shoulder to make sure the others were following. She had to show them that there was nothing to fear. She marched through the gate, right under Spider-Bot. Its servos whined softly and its eyes blinked at her. It made a little noise, as if it recognized her and was saying hello. She nodded at it. To her amusement, it shifted its legs around in an excited way and made the noise again, reminding her of a friendly dog so much that she smiled.

There was the Lair, a towering brown edifice. The wall made a courtyard around it, encompassing a few electrical poles. The hoverbikes were parked next to something that looked like a pontoon boat.

Agnes was suddenly at her elbow, trembling. “God, I hate spiders.”

Pilar was a little wild eyed, too. “Rox, I don’t know how you did that.”

Agnes shuddered. “Thought it was going to eat us.”

Roxanne put her arms around their shoulders. “It’s a robot, guys. It doesn’t eat.”

Pilar exhaled heavily. “Well, it could have chewed us up and spit us out or whatever.”

“Just think about how many zombies it can chew up,” Roxanne said, giving them a quick squeeze and letting go. 

Megamind’s original fifty-seven refugees came over to take a look at them, and Roxanne examined them too, wondering if she’d see anyone she knew. 

A man with frazzled graying hair came up to her. “I’m Kurt. Are you Roxanne Ritchi?” When she nodded, Kurt said, “My son Josh is an intern at KMCP. Do you know him?”

Roxanne’s heart sank. “Yes, but I haven’t been at the KMCP building since they announced the quarantine. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what’s happened there.” Kurt looked away, and Roxanne put a hand on his shoulder. He forced out a smile and turned abruptly, marching back to the Lair with his shoulders hunched.

Around her, people introduced themselves, shook hands, and exchanged news. 

“All right, newcomers, this way,” Megamind said loudly. “I need to make a run into the city before it gets dark. I’ve been informed that all we have left are baked beans and corn flakes.”

Roxanne and the others glanced at the sun, low enough that it just touched the tops of the buildings to the west of the Lair. All of them kept track of the daylight, dreading nightfall. The zombies were worse at night. 

Dark stains were splattered on the cement slabs that covered the ground. Old blood. Remnants of the zombie attack Megamind had mentioned. Roxanne looked at the wall. Brainbots drifted by on patrol, and the Spider-Bot continued its circuit around the wall. A little of the tension left her shoulders. For the first time in a long time, she began to feel safe.

The Lair entrance was an open garage door set into a smaller brick wall covered with graffiti. Megamind turned to face them. “You will surrender all weapons before entering. Hank, you’ll turn over your gun now.” Hank silently gave the gun to Minion. Roxanne handed over the .38. Minion gave her a quick smile and a wink before taking all of their weapons, the guns, baseball bats, and the hockey stick into a large metal cabinet a little ways down the corridor.

“In the unlikely event of zombies breaching the wall and getting past the ‘bots, your firearms will be returned to you,” said Megamind. “I have a number of laser rifles if you want to learn how to use those. Next training session is tomorrow. A number of people have expressed interest in going into the city to search for family and friends. I conduct semi-regular expeditions. You don’t have to go along, but if you do, I strongly recommend knowing how to use a gun.” 

It was the second time he’d talked about going ‘into the city’, as if the Lair was a separate unit, Roxanne noticed. She glanced at the wall again. Probably not such a bad distinction.

“Death faces us at every turn,” he said, beginning to pace back and forth. “The city’s darkest hour, consumed by unspeakable horror. Any one of us can be snatched away in the blink of an eye, devoured and left to rot. It is imperative we not let the hordes of hell prevail over...”

Minion coughed violently into his fist. 

Megamind shot him a dark look, and made a visible effort at reining in whatever else he was going to say. His mouth worked as if chewing over his words. “That is,” he said, talking through his teeth. “Best to be prepared for any eventuality. Hence... the...” He waved a hand around. “Training in firearms and hovercraft piloting. Just in case, simple precautions, nothing to worry about, I’m sure.”

He glowered at Minion as if daring him to interrupt again, but the henchfish appeared to be interested in the sky at the moment. 

Megamind clasped his hands behind his back and paced again. “Parts of the Lair are off limits. A conspicuous neon orange line marks the boundaries over which you may not cross, so don’t come crying to me if a brainbot bites your leg off.”

His brow furrowed as he looked at the three squirming toddlers in the group. Their parents hugged them defensively, but to Roxanne it just looked like  Megamind was deep in thought. 

“I may be able to rig up a safety fence to block off the restricted areas,” he said. “Or I could program the brainbots to simply return wayward children to the main floor instead of taking aggressive action. Until then, keep your kids close. The kitchen, bathroom, washing machine, and TV area are available for your use, though I hope you don’t expect much in the way of outside news or cable TV, since the feds have cut us off under their ‘dome of silence’.” He made air quotes with his fingers and his lip curled in a sneer. 

His pace turned into a stalk, his head jutting forward like a bull’s, and his face darkened. He chopped at the air, muttering to himself. “Barrage jamming, what a joke, I’ll show you a barrage, once I get the right frequency we’ll see who’s laughing then, smart guy, dare cut me off, you wretched little trumped up...”

For a few moments he seemed to have forgotten he had an audience, then he looked around and cleared his throat.

“Stay out of my room,” he said, raising his voice so it echoed off the wall. “If you must knock on my door, it had better be a real emergency. We’ve had some difficulty establishing what constitutes an actual, genuine, bona fie-dee emergency, so let me give you some examples. Zombies at the wall is an emergency. Fire is an emergency. Large amounts of blood is an emergency. Running out of hand lotion, needing a band-aid, and wanting a charger for your  phone so you can play games is not. Same for Minion’s room. So before you knock and disturb my hard-earned slumber, ask yourself, ‘do I really want to spend the rest of my existence as a little blue cube?’”

He made an about-face and began pacing the other way. “Your sleeping area is on the main floor. This isn’t a hotel. There are, however, a few private rooms for very specific purposes. These are only to be used if you need a short break from our close-quarters, all-out-in-the-open living. If you need time to yourself, go ahead and lock yourself in, but don’t hog the place. I’m not insensitive to the fact that many have suffered trauma and may want a quiet place to have a good cry or private talk or whatever, but I must insist on a time limit of two hours. 

“In addition, if any adults wish to pair off for that activity which is such a... for Pete’s sake, Minion, go clear your throat somewhere else!... such a great reliever of stress and source of bonding, then by all means, make use of the rooms. There are beds in each one, but change the sheets. Do not, I repeat, do NOT go traipsing around the Lair looking for a quiet corner to get intimate.”

Roxanne had to give him credit for being bluntly straightforward. She could feel the rising embarrasment around her as people shifted their weight and avoided looking at each other. An elderly lady in the original crowd of refugees crossed her arms with a frown, and said “Harrumph.” Megamind’s eye twitched, but otherwise he ignored her.

Roxanne bit her lip to hide her smile. The old lady was trouble. She wondered if Megamind banned her from the Lair, too.

“Chores!” he barked so suddenly that several people jumped, including Roxanne. “I’m not going to insist you slave away all the livelong day, but a couple of hours of busy work will keep everyone occupied and productive, and keep the living areas livable. Meals are served three times a day, but there will not be any snacks for anyone over the age of five, and only to keep the whining down. Minion’s in charge of the kitchen. Anyone caught stealing food will be dehydrated for two weeks. Except for Irina,” he said, nodding at a black woman in the crowd. “She’s pregnant and gets a free pass.”

Irina glanced around, alarmed at being singled out, and held a hand up to hide her face.

Megamind stopped pacing. “Anyone else pregnant? Breastfeeding? Medical problems? Well?” 

People shot nervous glances at each other. Kailey turned beet red.

Megamind rocked up onto the balls of his feet, visibly annoyed that no one was volunteering their private information on the spot.

Roxanne said, “How about I find out, and get that information to you later?”

“Fine. Fine. We’re in the middle of building new bathrooms, one for boys and one for girls, with shower stalls.” He eyed them. “And maybe we’ll need another one.”

Minion spoke up. “Actually I think we can expand on...”

“No more delays! We’re already stretched to the limit,” Megamind snapped. “All of us using one toilet is getting extremely trying. Just get the facilities up and running, we’ll figure out later if we need to expand. 

“Finally, I must address crime and punishment. Crimes against your fellow refugees will not be tolerated. Minor stuff like constantly shirking your assigned chores will get you two weeks of dehydration. Theft, fistfights, and looking at anyone in a creepy way are all grounds for expulsion. Physical assault, rape, attempted rape, murder, and attempted murder will be punished with death by alligator.”

“You have to feed anyone to the alligators yet?” asked Roxanne. She felt one of her eyebrows rise a little, almost of its own free will. He used to threaten her with alligators all the time, but she doubted that he’d ever actually thrown anyone into the pit.

The mention of the alligators had captured everyone’s attention, even people who had been drifting off during the lengthy speech. Eighty pairs of eyes swivelled toward her, and then back to Megamind.

Megamind glanced at her, raising one of his own eyebrows, and for a moment it was as if they shared a private joke. Then something grim flickered behind his eyes, and suddenly she had no problem believing that he would do exactly as he said, if anyone was stupid enough to commit a crime in his Lair. “That’s a negative, Miss Ritchi, I am happy to report.” 

“How about the other rules? Minor infringements?”

“Had a problem with one man who was spying on some of the women behind the curtain while they dressed. I generously gave him a second chance. He did it again. I had him collect his things and Minion escorted him out the gate.”

Hank shook his head. “You kicked him out just for that? The zombies’ll get him.”

Megamind snorted. “Your concern for the peeping tom is commendable.   He’s still somewhere in the neighborhood, outside the wall, if you want to track him down and a have a little heart-to-heart. The brainbots patrol this entire area, and attack any zombies that wander in. Minion, who has a softer heart than I, leaves food by the gate. It disappears regularly, so I assume he’s still alive.”

“That’s still kind of harsh, isn’t it?” Hank asked. “For just looking?”

Roxanne crossed her arms, wishing he would shut up already. This from the guy who’d shot a man dead who’d tried breaking into their lobby. 

Megamind strolled over and squared off in front of him. “What if this man had spied on your wife and daughter?”

“I’d beat the crap out of him.”

Megamind smiled thinly. “Oh, that’s physical assault, I’m afraid. I would’ve had to feed you to my alligators. Shame you weren’t here last week. They’re on half rations and could use the protein.”

For a moment it looked like Hank would offer a retort, and Roxanne wondered if she should intervene again, but Hank lowered his eyes.

Megamind watched him for a moment longer. “If you have a problem with how I keep the peace, flatfoot, then just say the word and you’re free to leave.” He gestured toward the gate. “Yes? No? Maybe?”

Hank swallowed. “I don’t have a problem,” he mumbled.

“Fantastic. That goes for everyone,” Megamind said, turning to the crowd. “No one is forced to stay. Living in my compound means being under my protection, and my rule. The gate is locked at sundown, but during the day, you may come and go as you wish.”

He put his hands behind his back again, jiggling them together. “Did I miss anything, Minion?”

“I think you covered most of it, Sir.”

“Make yourselves at home, newcomers.” He glanced at the sun. “Find out if anyone has any useful skills to add to our little group, will you, Minion?” 

People started trickling inside. Minion walked over to Megamind and they talked in a low murmur. Then Megamind put a hand on Minion’s big shoulder and Minion laid his dome against Megamind’s forehead. 

Roxanne looked away. She hadn’t expected such an intimate gesture and felt that she was intruding.

“You run into trouble, call me right away, Sir,” said Minion, straightening up again. 

Megamind nodded. “I know the drill, filet mignon.”

About half the crowd had wandered inside but Roxanne hung back. She wondered if Megamind knew what she had wanted to talk to him about in private. She felt ashamed that she’d thought he would even consider taking advantage of her in a time of crisis, or at any other time, for that matter. In all the years of kidnappings and sometimes outrageous flirting, she’d never once gotten that kind of slimeball vibe off him.

Whether or not he’d suspected she’d been trying to trade sex for safety, she felt she ought to talk to him and come clean, especially in light of his impromptu rescue mission. It was a side to him she’d never seen, this willingness to help others in need. She never would have guessed that under that massive ego and villainous posturing he had a conscience. 

She had misjudged him. She wouldn’t feel easy in her mind until she confessed, no matter how embarrassing it was. 

She steeled herself and began making her way through the people wandering around. The crowd had thinned quite a bit, but he was moving away from her across the courtyard. She’d better get his attention before he took off on the food run. 

She was blocked, however. The elderly lady who’d ‘harrumph-ed’ during Megamind’s speech marched up to him, lips set in a thin line, and whispered in his ear.

Megamind didn’t bother to lower his voice, or slow down. “Evil gods, Doris, if I were any more discrete, no one would know what the hell I was talking about,” he snapped. 

Doris was not to be put off, and continued to trot along. “But what kind of example are you setting? Think of the children.”

“I am thinking of the little dears. Do you want people giving a live demonstration on the facts of life in front of your grandkids? Besides, I don’t want to find anyone fooling around in my car again.”

He jabbed a finger at the remaining refugees going into the Lair. “Another thing,” he shouted after them. “The next person who goes into my car, touches my car, or even thinks about touching my car, will not only clean it thoroughly, they will be joining Hank on probation. Got that?” He scowled at their surprised looks before whirling his ragged cape around and striding away across the courtyard. Doris glared after him and pursed her lips in disapproval.

Two grizzled old guys wearing baggy sweat suits cackled at him as he went by. The short white guy with the cane said, “Man, that never gets old. Never thought I’d see you get hassled by an old lady that...”

Megamind growled, “Watch it, or I’ll tell her who ate the last of the fruit cocktail.”

The man’s grin was wiped off his face. “Hey, don’t get crazy, kid,” he muttered, shooting a nervous look at Doris. “I was only kiddin’ around.”  

The other old man, who was black and once had been quite tall but now had stooped shoulders, chuckled deep in his chest. 

The grizzled joker muttered, “Eh, shut up.”

“Did I say anything? I didn’t say nothin’, man.”

Kid? Roxanne’s curiosity was piqued, but then Megamind was speaking again.

“All right, I want three volunteers,” he said, his voice carrying across the courtyard. “Someone other than Nina, Tom, Sebastian, or Luis. At least one who can handle a firearm. Gabby, you feel up to driving?”

Gabby, who had bloodshot eyes and whose short hair stuck out from under a brown baseball cap, turned pale, but she gave a sort of nervous twitch of her shoulders that Megamind seemed to take for a yes.

“All right, who else?” Megamind hooked his thumbs in his belt.

There was a general shuffling, and eventually one man raised his hand. 

“One more.” Megamind said, but no one would meet his gaze.

Roxanne started to raise her hand, but Hank surprised her.

“I’ll go,” he said.

Megamind narrowed his eyes. “In a real hurry to get your gun back, aren’t you?”

Hank spread his hands. “I’ll go unarmed. I can haul and carry as good as the next guy.”

Megamind thought it over a moment longer, then shrugged and nodded.

Noelle grabbed Hank’s arm. “No! We just got here.”

“I’ve got to do something, Noelle,” he said. “All I can do here is sit on my butt. In a tent.”

Noelle shot Megamind a nervous look. 

Megamind rolled his eyes, “Relax, cop wife, if I wanted to kill your darling hubby he’d be dead already. All right, people, get aboard.”

Noelle did not look reassured as her husband got on the hovercraft with the city’s most notorious villain. Roxanne went to stand next to her. “I’m sure he’ll be fine, Noelle.”

Noelle looked at her with something like resentment, then marched into the Lair.

Roxanne stared after her, puzzled. What was that all about? 

Gabby started up the hovercraft’s engine and it rose into the air, dust surging out from under it as air was forced out of the slots, pummelling the ground.

Megamind glanced at Roxanne. 

Roxanne hesitated, then lifted her hand in farewell, but she was too slow. He’d turned away and didn’t see it. 

The hovercraft floated over the wall. Roxanne could see Megamind’s hand tighten on the railing. He was talking to Gabby, a few short, sharp words. Though his words were drowned out by the noise of the engine, he sounded exasperated. The hovercraft speeded up ever so slightly and drifted away down the street. A huge swarm of brainbots flew after it. 

That made her feel better. With that many brainbots they should be pretty well protected from zombies. She hoped they made it back before dark. Maybe she’d get a chance to talk to him later.

She went into the Lair.

The coolness was a welcome relief after the heat outside. It felt like air conditioning. He’d mentioned TV. He must still have electricity.

Minion pointed out the laundry room and bathroom, outside of which a line had formed. “You can put your things here,” he told her, indicating the wide open space of the main floor. “Pick a spot, any spot. We’ve got some extra clothes, if you want to change. Mostly sweatpants and stuff. Gotta get on the list, if you want to use the shower.”

The clothes were stacked on a table, and were brand new. Many of them still had tags on them, clearly the result of scavenging missions. She selected an oversized t-shirt that had some sort of pink-haired anime character on it, and sweat pants. She hadn’t changed clothes since she’d become a refugee in her own city. There was, however, no extra underwear. When she went on an expedition, that would be the first item on her list.

Sleeping bags and blankets marked the places where people had set up their personal spots. Outlines and oil stains on the floor showed that equipment had been shunted aside to make more room. Several huge, bulky objects sat under tarps along the walls.

“Minion, who are those men?” she asked, nodding at the two old men. They’d sat down on cots near the monitor station.

“Uncle Sid and Uncle Lenny. From the prison.”

Minion’s voice was curiously flat, but Roxanne didn’t press him for details. There was plenty of time to share horror stories.

She nodded toward the other side of the Lair, at shadowy doorways. “Those the... private rooms?”

Minion grimaced. “Yeah,” he muttered.

“And he really thinks they’re going to catch on.”

Minion’s look became even more pained. He glanced around, then leaned close to her. “I tried to make ‘em nice,” he whispered. “Added a couple of homey touches, new bedspreads and stuff, but I don’t think anyone wants to be seen going in there.”

“And all because of an ...incident with the invisible car?”

Minion rolled his eyes. “He was not happy, catching those two in his car. He was so mad he didn’t even yell. He just got really sarcastic.” Minion shuddered. “People are still sneaking around to find quiet corners, but they’re a lot more careful about it. Under the mechanical shark’s a favorite.” He waggled his eyebrows at one of the largest shapes along the wall. There was sort of a triangular cave opening made by the loose tarp which looked like it would provide pretty good cover for a couple who didn’t mind a little dust.

Roxanne put her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle. “A real love fest around here, huh?”

Minion waved his hands. “Eh, there’s only like three or four couples who paired off. But watch out you don’t step on somebody.”

Laughter bubbled up inside her and she pressed both hands over her mouth, but Minion was snickering too, and she was overtired and stressed out, and it felt good to laugh again, even at something so juvenile. Her stomach hurt from holding it in. For a full minute they giggled in near silence until they got themselves under control.

Roxanne looked up. Noelle and a few of the others had been staring at them, but they looked away quickly. The humor she’d felt died away. Now she was irritated. If some people had a problem with her being friends with Minion, they could suck it.

She turned her back on the room. “Maybe you better tell him that people don’t usually like to shout out their private information on the spot for all the world to hear.”

Minion groaned and clapped his hands to his dome. “I know, I should, I’ve been meaning to talk to him about that. At least I got him to stop going on and on about how we all could get killed any second.”

Roxanne grimaced. “Well, he does sort of have a point. Not exactly a morale booster, though, is it?”

“That’s just what I said, Miss Ritchi!” Minion said, nodding vigorously. “You want to teach people how to swim, I said, you gotta be patient and start them in the shallow end, not chuck ‘em off the pier! He’s trying to make sure everyone’s being taken care of, but he yells so much. So... is anyone in your group pregnant, or has a medical condition?”

Roxanne bit her lip, thinking of Kailey’s blush. She’d have to tactfully broach the subject. “Well, I know Brenda is still nursing her little girl. And Martin has high blood pressure, but I think he still has some pills for it.”

“We’ve got four diabetics, and Doris is taking eight different medications. We’re getting pretty worried, actually. The diabetics could run out of supplies soon. Lucky they had extra insulin on them when they were rescued. We went to a couple of pharmacies, but they were completely trashed, nothing usable.”

They stood there in sober thought for a moment. Minion brightened. “I’m sure it’ll all work out somehow.” He glanced around with a sly look. “Don’t tell anyone, but the brainbots are programmed to bring people back to the main floor, if anyone wanders over the orange line. Nobody’s gonna get their legs bitten off. He just says that to keep people out of the restricted areas. I’m gonna go see if there’s any rice left.”

Minion went off to the kitchen. 

Roxanne set up her blankets next to Pilar and Agnes. It seemed to her that they were giving her covert glances.

“What?” she snapped.

Pilar shrugged. “Nothing. You just seem real friendly with these guys.”

Roxanne crossed her arms. “If I wasn’t, we’d still be sitting in that lobby in the dark, waiting for zombies to break in.” Fighting off zombies by flashlight was everyone’s least favorite way to spend an evening.

Pilar raised her hands in a conciliatory way. “It’s just kind of surprising. You really not scared of him?” She nodded toward Minion, who had come out of the kitchen again. They watched as some of the kids hurried up to him, and one of them gave him a piece of paper with something scribbled on it in crayon. 

“Is that me and Sir?” Minion said. “Aw, you shouldn’t have.”

“I drew the brains!” a small boy shouted. 

“Nice,” Minion chuckled. He held up his metal fist and exchanged fist bumps with them. 

Agnes and Pilar exchanged looks, their eyebrows raised high. 

“Wow, those kids seem to like Minion,” Agnes said.

Roxanne smiled. “That doesn’t surprise me. He may be a scary henchfish, but he’s also one of the sweetest guys I know. Seriously. Once you get to know them, you’ll see they’re perfectly normal.” She hesitated, and honesty compelled her to add, “Well, mostly normal. I mean, Megamind can be pretty overbearing, but he can be such a dork, too.” She shook her head. “One time he got so excited telling me about his big plan for taking over the city, he almost landed in the alligator pit.” She chuckled at the memory. “He...what?”

They were staring at her with girlish glee. Agnes leaned close, “Wouldn’t have been too hard for you, would it, making a ...special deal with him?”

Roxanne felt a blush creeping up her neck and taking over her face.

Pilar whispered, “Ooo, girl, you’ve been holding out on us. You like him, don’t you?”

“Oh, so it’s not that degrading after all?” she hissed, but quietly. Noelle was busying herself with her kids’s sleeping bags, but the stiffness in the other woman’s back made Roxanne suspect she could hear them talking. 

Pilar flapped her hand, unembarrassed. “I just didn’t like thinking about you selling your ass.”

“You don’t care he’s an alien?” Roxanne said. 

Agnes and Pilar shook their heads, declared their complete unconcern about his alienness, and announced their undying loyalty and friendship to her.

The three of them put their heads together and lowered their voices even more. It was exciting, combing over the little details of her feelings and having a gossipy tell-all with her girlfriends, almost as if zombies weren’t out there eating people.

Agnes hugged herself in excitement. “Is there anything going on between you two? You can tell us. We won’t say anything.”

“No, no, I swear there isn’t.” 

“Bet there could be, if you wanted,” Agnes said. “You made him give in on the Hank issue.”

Roxanne clucked her tongue. “Yeah, I’m such a big influence, Hank’s sleeping outside.”

Pilar gave her a little swat. “Oh poor Hank. Don’t sell yourself short, Rox.” Her grin faded as she realized what she’d said and the other two looked at her. “Er, I didn’t mean actually... you know... sell....”

Roxanne patted her arm. “Don’t hurt yourself, Pilar. I know.”

“He listens to you. And I think he likes you back. You should have seen his face when you hugged him. You hear him? ‘That won’t be necessary, Miss Ritchi.’ That’s respect.” This was an important detail to Pilar, and to Agnes, who nodded in agreement.

Pilar brightened. “You think he’s turned good? Going out rescuing people.”

“Threatening to feed us to the alligators,” Roxanne muttered. 

Agnes sniffed. “I think he should have fed ‘em that peeping tom.”

“He’s been giving Hank a pretty hard time,” Roxanne said, and wondered what she was arguing about. Trying to argue herself out of something? Trying to find some additional excuse for her seedy assumptions about him, so she could stop feeling guilty about it?

She glanced at Noelle’s back. Hell, at least Hank was safe, a lot safer than where they’d been before. They were all a lot safer. Noelle’s attitude was starting to piss her off. They’d gotten along okay before. Was Noelle blaming her that her husband was outside? Angry that Roxanne had some influence over Megamind, and now Hank wasn’t the group’s leader anymore?

Roxanne recalled that Hank had been sneaking around with Jessica, and decided to cut Noelle a little slack. But not much. 

Pilar snorted. “They’re guys. They’re supposed to give each other a hard time.”

“He’s rescuing people, that makes him a hero in my book,” Agnes said. “Oh, look! The line’s shorter.” She got up. “I’m gonna go wait for the shower.” 

“Leave some hot water for us,” said Pilar. She took a thin blanket out of the backpack and gave it to Roxanne. She, Roxanne, and Agnes had been taking turns carrying the backpack that held their possessions, which mainly consisted of three dirty blankets, three toothbrushes, and feminine napkins. Roxanne couldn’t even remember the last time she’d had her period. If it had stopped because of hunger and extreme stress (it had stopped once before because of stress, back in her college days), that was all for the better, but she had a feeling it could start any day now, and was glad they had supplies. 

She spread out her blanket next to Pilar’s, lay down on her back with her hands under her head, and looked at the beams high in the Lair’s ceiling.

Roxanne scratched her head. She felt pretty grimy from the cross-city trek. At least at the apartment building people had been able to shower, in between zombie attacks, even if she always changed back into her increasingly grimy clothes. She hadn’t had the heart to rummage through other people’s clothing in the abandoned apartments. Taking food was one thing, but stealing their clothes was too ghoulish for her taste. 

She reached down to touch the t-shirt and pants she’d gotten with the tags still on, to reassure herself they were still there. At least these hadn’t belonged to anyone. For the moment she just wanted to lie there and not have to worry about washing up or anything else.

People walked around the Lair chatting, or performed various errands. The relaxed attitude of the original refugees seemed to be helping her group settle in. She could feel some of the overall tension ease.

She closed her eyes, then opened them again. Something worried her. She hadn’t let herself think about it, but it was in the back of her mind. What about a mini quarantine? Wasn’t Megamind worried about contamination?

She really ought to bring that up. It was very kind of Megamind to let everyone in, her group included, but he really should have isolated them for a while, to make sure no one carried the virus in among them. She knew her group was clean, or probably clean, but he couldn’t have known that.

Had he let them in freely because of her? Did he let in anyone who asked? He ought to set up a quarantine procedure.

Great. Now she felt guilty. Who was she to demand others get quarantined when she had gotten in so easily?

Chapter Text

 If he had to do it over again, he would have gone straight over to the site of her last broadcast to find her, but he’d just seen her on TV, announcing the shocking news of the quarantine. 

Quarantine! What the hell. Usually the feds couldn’t get their shit together enough to enforce a nationwide seat belt law. Congress, the President, and the army must have united in terror.

He’d just seen her. He thought she was safe, which is why he went to check on the prison. With chaos about to reign, prisoners would be at the top of the list of the abandoned and forgotten. He needed to see that the warden and his uncles were all right. 

 -  - - - - - - - - - -

Three weeks ago

All was quiet. There were no prisoners in the yard or guards on the wall, which didn’t necessarily mean anything. Because of the city-wide emergency they might have been in lock-down.

But as he and Minion took the hoverbikes around the building, his uneasiness jumped several notches when he saw there was no guard at the entrance. That was not nomal procedure. And the administration wing was dark. He began to go back to see if the warden’s car was in the parking lot when a movement caught his eye.

A white doctor’s coat had been jammed through a small window of the infirmary. It flapped in the breeze. The windows were small and made of translucent glass, extremely tough and almost impossible to break, but someone had put a lot of effort into knocking out two of the panes. As he watched, another pane jolted slightly, as if it had been struck from within. 

He brought the bike down. “Ollo,” he shouted into the opening. “Anyone there?”

  “Hey! Hey, yeah, we’re in here!” a man shouted. “Hey, there’s somebody...” There was a pounding of footsteps within, and then someone else screamed, “Get us out! For the love of God, get us out! They’re everywhere!”

“All right, just...look, would you...if you would be quiet for a... Christ,” Megamind growled. 

If the fool would just shut up for a minute...

There was a flurry of activity, more shouting, and the screamer was dragged back. Another man came to the window. “That you, kid?”

Megamind felt a relieved smile break out on his face. “Uncle Sid! Do you know if there’s a safe way in?”

“Can’t tell, the place is crawling. Oh, man, we didn’t think anybody was comin’! We’ve been taking turns knocking out the windows. Took almost all day to get the first one out.”

“Get everyone back. I’m going to make an opening.”

He listened as Sid shouted and cursed at everybody to get back. “Okay, kid, we’re back a ways.”

Megamind dehydrated a big chunk of the window and wall. The infirmary was dark, except for the emergency lights which lit up the ceiling and cast eerie shadows. The men hurried forward, an orderly, two guards, and several prisoners. 

“Minion and I will bring you down, one at a time.” He looked around. The road was deserted and zombie-free. It should be safe enough to...

One of the guards, howling, leaped at him. The man’s arm went around his neck, crushing him. Megamind braced his feet against the running board to keep from hurtling off into space. He could only spare one arm to try to loosen the grip. The hoverbike canted to the side and its engine whined as it adjusted for the unbalanced weight.

Minion was trying to pry off the man’s death grip, the men were shouting, the panicked guard was whimpering. At last, Minion steadied the hoverbike while the other guard pried his co-worker’s fingers off, then he and Uncle Lenny dragged him back inside and forced him to the floor.

Megamind straightened his collar. “Let’s try that again,” he said, glaring at the guard, who was now sobbing. “Can you give him a sedative?”

While the orderly hunted for a syringe, Megamind looked at the infirmary’s doors. It had been barricaded with nearly every piece of furniture in the place, but there was silence on the other side. Perhaps the zombies had been drawn away by easier prey.

They brought everyone outside, the hysterical guard slumped and drooling from the downer the orderly had shot into him. Fifteen men. There was another guard in the infirmary, who had died. “We don’t know why,” said Sid. “Happened a few hours ago. Enzo thinks it was a heart attack. Gave ‘im CPR, but...” He shrugged.

Megamind went to see for himself, not wanting to accidentally leave anyone behind. He took the trouble to peel off one of his gloves to check for a pulse. The man’s skin was cold.

“Minion, we have to see if there are any other survivors.”

Minion nodded. “I’m with you, Sir.” He got his plasma blaster out of the hatch. Megamind set his de-gun to ‘de-stroy’, and ordered six of the brainbots to come along. 

He blasted open the barricaded doors. The hallway beyond was empty. 

Nerves twanging, Megamind crept along the silent, empty halls. As they approached the first cell block, there was a a little hum in the air, which turned out to be someone weeping. It echoed through the vents.

That was definitely not a zombie. Zombies didn’t cry or talk or shout. The only sounds they made were wheezing, moaning noises as air moved in and out of their malfunctioning lungs.

He looked out into the open space of the cell block. The main lights were off, but a few emergency lights shone fitfully, casting huge shadows. His excellent night vision quickly let him see what had happened. He wished it didn’t. 

Every cell door was open, with dark shapes lying in them, zombies shuffling about, some of them hunched over, feeding. The soft squelching noises made him want to gag. More, smaller shapes lay scattered across the walkways, some of them unrecognizable lumps, others all too recognizable as a hand, a shin bone sticking out of a pant leg, a rib cage with strips of flesh dangling. Flies buzzed lazily. 

He glanced down. Someone’s dismembered jaw was at his feet.

He jerked back, bile rising in his throat.

Minion squeaked, “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

He shook his head, took slow, shallow breaths, and tried to still his shaking hands. “I’m not leaving anyone in here.”

Minion darted around inside his containment unit. “But can’t we go get help?”

“From who? Cops? Firefighters? The entire city’s in chaos. Nobody’s going to drop everything to come rescue a bunch of criminals. We are the help.”

The sobbing echoed, and he couldn’t pinpoint it. He peered around the corner and whispered, “I don’t see any zombies on this walkway. It looks like a lot of them are on the ground floor. They don’t move very fast. All we have to do is keep our heads, make sure we shoot them in their heads, and once they’re out of the way, we can rescue the survivors.”

He took one more shallow breath of the fetid air, wishing he had put on a surgical mask from the infirmary, but he didn’t want to go all the way back up there. He renewed his grip on the de-gun and steeled himself for what lay ahead. 

Minion whispered, “How about someone like Hitler?”

“What?”

“We’d leave someone like Hitler in here, right?”

Megamind stared at him. “Are you anticipating running into a space-time anomaly?”

“Well, I’m just saying. Oh, and Stalin.” Minion made a face. “That guy was awful.”

“Minion, this isn’t a philosophical debate! We don’t have time to question people about whether they’re worthy of getting rescued. I gave Stinson a ride down, didn’t I? And he’s an asshole. We are getting everyone out." He paused. "Except for Hitler. In the unlikely event we run into a break in the space-time continuum, shoot Hitler on the spot. But everyone else, yes, we get them out."

Iron-clad determined calm, that was his mask for today. True, it was a mask of calm over a sea of gibbering terror, but it held. 

He went onto the walkway and stepped over the... the lumps to the stairwell. It was no use keeping quiet, so he didn’t bother. Once the zombies were aware of their presence, they’d come to them anyway. Zombies felt no fear, so they didn’t run away and hide. It was best to take them down as soon as possible, and not wait for them to attack from behind.

On the ground floor, several zombies looked up from their feeding. One of them had just pulled something out of a dead prisoner’s chest cavity. 

Megamind stepped onto the stairs.

A zombie dropped on him.

He fell, crashing down the whole damn flight, the zombie trying to gnaw the back of his head, but the high collar got in its way. It managed to get a hand on his bare neck, scratching him. 

Clunk, bang, and roll, and the thing stunk to high heaven, but when they finally crashed to a halt, he managed to jam the de-gun under the zombie’s chin and fired. Its head exploded. 

He rolled away from its slack grip, stabbing pains in his side and his knee, he couldn’t stand. He had just enough time to realize he was surrounded and then THEY WERE ALL OVER HIM and he got a shot off, but he was shaking so badly the shot went wild, hitting one of the flourescent lights, which blew up, sending sparks everywhere.

He punched, but they felt no pain and they grabbed him, biting his arms. His bullet-proof uniform and spikes prevented them from tearing into his flesh but their crushing teeth hurt. He screamed and kicked wildly, and then Minion was there, roaring.

Minion clubbed them away with the blaster, and made a little space. Megamind got onto his other knee and opened fire.

At last, nothing moved but him, Minion, and the brainbots, who were flitting around uncertainly. The brainbots were programmed to drive attackers away, not to kill, and they had been terribly confused by the zombies, who did not react the way people usually reacted when shot by their painful little lasers.

He grabbed hold of the stairs and got to his feet, and tested his throbbing knee. Okay, he could stand now, nothing broken. He and Minion looked at the...Megamind swallowed hard ...splatter zone.

“I think I’d better turn the power down,” he muttered, adjusting the de-gun’s power level. “To a concentrated beam. So things don’t explode so... so badly...oh God, something’s trickling down my neck.”

He scrubbed at his neck in a frenzy, then lost it. He doubled over and vomited. Minion smoothed his back and held his cape out of the way. 

He straightened up and wiped his mouth. “Where the hell did that first one come from?”

Minion shrugged. “It must’ve been on the upper level. Maybe it figured dropping on you was fastest way down.”

More wheezing noises came from around the corner, and another zombie came shuffling into view, then another. Megamind straightened his shoulders and shot them, one by one. Minion’s blaster didn’t have a power reduction feature and would have caused more exploding, so he refrained from shooting, though he would have if any zombies got past Megamind.

It was unbelievably depressing, and nerve-wracking. They marched right into the line of fire, and he had to make head shots each and every time. The closer they got the harder it got, because he knew some of them.

The worst, the absolute worst, was Uncle Harry.

He called him by name, hoping that it was all a mistake, that he was really alive, or that he would recognize him, that the man he knew was still in there somewhere.

Uncle Harry did not stop, or respond to his voice. He merely kept lurching forward, his eyes burning with hunger, his face grey. 

Minion’s voice was thick. “Sir, he’s dead. You just... just have to stop hiim moving.”

So he did it, and then he had to hid his face against Minion’s arm for a while. Minion held his shoulder with his free hand and they stood motionless with grief for the man who had helped raise them, and had saved their lives more than once. After a time Megamind wiped his eyes and changed the de-gun’s setting. “I’m not leaving him here,” he said, and dehydrated the body. Minion stowed the cube in his side panel.

They moved on. They found the weeping prisoner who had barricaded himself in a crawl space, and found eight men trapped in a walk-in refrigerator. They searched the rest of the prison, ferreting out five more prisoners, one guard, and a seemingly endless parade of zombies, all of whom he ‘stopped from moving.’ The survivors kept crowding so closely they kept stepping on his heels until he threatened to dehydrate the lot of them.

Personal effects were scattered and trampled in the noisome floor. Torn uniforms of prisoners and guards. Newspapers, a scattered deck of cards. Photos. Wallets. A few books. Watches and jewelry and shoes, generally with limbs and fingers still attached. That stupid kewpie doll from Petro’s cell.

He could not understand how the carnage could have been so widespread, so quickly. How could hundreds of people suddenly drop dead?

He wondered if he’d see the warden shuffling toward him next... but none of the zombies wore street clothes or suits. They were all prisoners and guards.

Hundreds of zombies cropping up en masse? Not just here, but in other parts of the city. That wasn’t how the outbreaks originally started. Usually it was episodes of sickness, a few zombies here and there, spreading slowly but horrifically. Why so many, all at once? What had changed? Had the virus mutated?

And why were all the cells open? That made no sense either. If prisoners had started dying, what guard in their right mind would have opened them all at once? It would have made far more sense to keep them closed, and inspect prisoners one by one to make sure they hadn’t been zombified, freeing those who weren’t sick. And if a guard had gotten sick wouldn’t he have gone home, or to the hospital? Or not come to work at all?

A zombie couldn’t have gotten the cells open. Zombies were incapable of turning a simple doorknob. Even stairs gave them trouble, generally. That zombie that fell on his head was unusual, though later he discovered there were always a few who were capable of climbing even the sheer sides of buildings. But fortunately, that was about the extent of their motor skills. There was no way a zombie could have worked the complicated locks on the control panel for the cells, even swatting randomly at the buttons.

The administration wing was empty of people, corpses, and zombies. No signs of panic or disturbance. Papers and files were stacked on desks, neatly or haphazardly depending on individual filing discipline, but with every evidence that they expected to return to work. So, no office workers had been there, as far as he could tell. No warden. 

“When did this happen?” he asked them as they made their way to the front gate through the bloody halls. It felt like a singular event, rather than a gradual spread of contagion.

It had happened in the night. They woke up with splitting headaches and upset stomachs. There were dead men in the cells, dead guards in the corridors, and zombies who had once been prisoners and guards, getting down to feeding. 

“But when did people first start getting sick?” he asked.

No one had gotten sick, he was told. Yesterday things were fine. 

“The air was bad,” said one of the prisoners.

Megamind frowned. “Bad?”

He shook his head, looking embarrassed. “This morning, it seemed like the air was bad. I dunno. Any of you guys notice?”

The other survivors shrugged. “I thought something smelled funny. Like Vicks VapoRub,” someone said. 

Megamind’s frown deepened. “VapoRub?’

“But there was a lot of bad smells. Piss, and shit.”

The remaining guard scratched his head. “It was hard to think straight. I found J.D. in the control room. I think he opened the cells, before he collapsed. Maybe he thought he was giving the inmates a fighting chance.” 

They were all talking and didn’t hear the footsteps, until the dead guard they’d left in the infirmary came lurching around the corner. 

Minion gave a little yelp, and that was all it took to set the others off. The survivors, their nerves shot from having endured several hours of chewing, ripping sounds and wondering when they were next, screamed their heads off. Megamind narrowly avoided it himself, but rescuers were not supposed to freak out. 

He felt a little resentful about this. It would have been nice to join the hysteria and let somebody else take care of it while he screamed his damn head off too.

He raised the de-gun, and aimed carefully between the staring eyes. But there wasn’t a mark on him. He couldn’t have been infected. Could he?

He hadn’t examined the body very carefully. Maybe there was a bite or scratch hidden somewhere. Or had the virus mutated? If it had become airborne, they were screwed. Uncle Sid hadn’t mentioned any fever. A heart attack, they’d thought.

Had Megamind made a mistake? Had the guard really been alive, but with a pulse so slow he hadn’t felt it? No, the body had been cold. And the lips had been pale, as the blood drained away, the eyes sunken. The man shuffling toward him bore the unmistakable grey zombie sheen on his dark face. That grey sheen was always evident, no matter the person’s original skin color.

He pulled the trigger. The zombie silently crumpled to the floor with a hole burned neatly into its forehead and, perhaps most importantly, without exploding. 

When they came out, the shadows were stretched across the grass. He could hardly believe the sun was setting. They’d been inside for hours.

Looking around, he only saw Sid, Lenny, and the once-hysterical guard, who was now awake and curled up against the wall. The six brainbots he’d left to guard them flew over to greet him. 

“Where is everybody?” he asked, petting them.

Lenny said, “Stinson was getting restless, said he needed to get home, and one of the guys said, how ‘bout a lift? And he said sure, and they all got on the bus and left.”

Megamind was flabbergasted. “They all left?”

“Yep.”

“On the prison bus?”

“Only thing big enough, man.”

“Stinson the guard gave a bunch of prisoners a lift?”

Sid clucked his tongue. “Somethin’ wrong with your ears, kid? That’s what happened.”

“But...” Megamind didn’t know what he’d expected. For them to hang around? For what? Everyone had families they needed to get back to. Strange times were upon them. The old rules governing prisoners and guards no longer applied.

One of the prisoners raised a hand to get his attention. “Hey, man, I need to get going, too. My ma’s all alone. Can you give me a ride?”

“We can take the vans,” someone else piped up. “They keep the keys in the shed.”

The whole group hurried toward the parking lot. Megamind blasted the doors off the shed, and the keys were quickly located. The other guard said he was going to the northside, and gave a couple of prisoners a ride in his car.

Megamind watched the vans and the car disappear into the city, and he was left with Sid, Lenny, the last guard  who was now curled up on the grass with his arms wrapped around his knees, and two other prisoners, standing around like lost children. 

Megamind looked at his boots, which were rust-colored up to his ankles. More stains spattered his outfit. His skin itched and he felt like he needed about a thousand showers. 

He scanned the skyline. Army helicopters buzzed in the distance, but they were the only things in flight.

It was only then that he realized he was searching for Metro Man. The Defender of Metrocity must be here somewhere. Surely he had come to take care of the city in its darkest hour, even if he hadn’t come to save the prisoners. The hero must be busy elsewhere. But nowhere did he see a figure in white flying across the darkening sky. 

A great dread twisted his stomach. We are the help, he’d said. But that couldn’t be right. Were he and Minion really it?  They were supervillains. They didn’t save the day. That was insane.

He looked at his elderly uncles. Lenny and Sid, he knew, only had each other. The last guard and the remaining two prisoners were carefully avoiding eye contact. From the city came sounds of tires screeching, car alarms blaring, occasional gunshots, and faint screams.

“What were you in for?” he asked the two prisoners. 

“Possession of marijuana.” 

“Arson.”

He raised an eyebrow at marijuana man. “Just possession?” That was enough for a mandatory sentence, but he caught the scent of lying by omission.

The man shifted his weight. “Maybe a little dealing. And larceny,” he mumbled.

Megamind sighed. “I’m bringing you all to my Lair. If you set the place on fire or steal from me,” he said, glaring at them, including the guard, because who knew what trouble he would cause, “I’ll kill you. Don’t make me kill you.

“I assume you drove here,” he said to the guard. “You might as well follow us. We can’t pile everybody on the hoverbikes.” The man had a shriveled look. He ducked his head and his face reddened.

Megamind crossed his arms. “I can’t leave you here,” he said impatiently. “Look, you had a bad turn. But you’re better now, right? You don’t have to stay at the Lair. This is... temporary.” 

Or so he hoped.

Eventually, since the guard seemed unable to function, the arsonist took the keys and drove. Lenny and Sid rode in the back.

Before they left he had the brainbots take some soil samples from the prison grounds.

He should have dehydrated his guests for safe keeping, to keep the Lair’s location secret, but some part of him knew it was no use. His privacy was gone, as soon as he made the decision to let them in. 

 - - - - - - - - - - - - -

After bringing his guests to the Lair and instructing some brainbots to keep them from wandering around the place, he knew he had to find Roxanne, and the warden. 

The warden’s house was closer, so they went there first. The house was dark, and the car was gone from the garage. Where the hell was he? Had he tried to flee? Gone to find his wife? Megamind didn’t want to believe the old man would abandon the prisoners, but who wouldn’t want to get out of Metrocity at a time like this? Everybody else was trying to escape. 

He stormed through the house. Minion had taken a photo off the wall. It was a picture of the warden and his wife Joyce. “Leave it,” Megamind snapped. Everything was starting to piss him off. Minion hid the photo behind his back in a sullen kind of way but didn’t put it down.

Megamind threw up his hands. “Fine. Keep it in your room. Out of my sight.” He strode out onto the lawn. Night had fallen. The half moon shone, and with most of the city in blackout, the stars were bright, cold and distant. 

Most of the other houses in the neighborhood were abandoned, but a few lights shone behind drawn curtains. He went from house to house, pounding on the doors and scaring the hell out of people, but no one knew anything. After a terrified man almost shot him with a .45, he gave up and went to search for Roxanne.

They were in the heart of the city now, and it was bedlam. Traffic jams, people screaming at each other, zombies on the march. 

He searched her work place and found it deserted, except for a chubby red-headed fellow, who had been trapped on top of a news van by zombies. He had been completely hysterical, even after the zombies were blasted. So Megamind had dehydrated him and brought him along.

Roxanne’s apartment was dark. He searched the place anyway, but what did he expect, to find her in the closet? But maybe she’d been hurt, or frightened. Oh, right, he scolded himself in disgust. As if the bravest person he knew was hiding like a frightened child.

Was she lost out there in the dark? He wished that, just this once, she had been a little less brave.

He stood on the balcony and listened to the chaos of car alarms, gunshots, occasional screams. On a distant rooftop, someone had rigged up a search light. They must have hooked it up to a generator. They turned it on and off, flashing it into the sky. Morse code. 

P-L-E-A-S-E-H-E-L-P...P-L-E-A...

He got onto the hoverbike, heart thudding painfully in his chest. It’s supposed to be SOS, you idiots. Metro Mahn’s not here. You think your measly little personal message will bring him flying in?

He circled higher into the sky. He didn’t know what he was looking for. He didn’t know what to do.

A string of red and white lights stretched across the water. Coast Guard boats. The lights of the army barricade marched across the landscape. The city was surrounded.

In the no-man’s land the barricade had created, there was a sudden flare of a fireball. At this distance it was the size of a candle flame.

Minion gasped. “Did they just blow up a car?”

He felt as if a bucket of ice water had poured over his head. The army had just blown up a civilian vehicle. Someone had tried to ram the barricade. Frightened, foolish people trying to break out. 

He gunned the engine and flew toward the fire, the wind tearing moisture from his eyes, his cape whipping behind him. Little flashes of machine gun fire appeared. The soldiers were shining spotlights on the road to help their aim. With the wind in his ears, the massacre was taking place in silence.

He dodged around skyscapers, and then he was past the tallest buildings and in the open, getting closer, going as fast as he could. The deadly flashes stopped, but he could just see figures lying in the road.

Minion’s hoverbike cut across his path. He jerked the handles violently to stop a collision, and for a moment the two hoverbikes screamed through the night in formation, until their drivers brought them to a barely controlled halt. 

“What the hell are you doing?” he shouted.

“They’ve stopped shooting!” Minion shouted, equally furious. “It’s too late!”

Fuming, Megamind glared at the scene. The soldiers had stopped shooting because there was no left to shoot.

“It’s too late to help them,” Minion said. “You’d get yourself killed.”

Megamind shook with rage. “They killed some people trying to get out. Civilians. Ordinary people. They just killed them.”

“I know, Sir.”

“They can’t do that.”

Minion gazed at him solemnly. Wind whistled by them, there above the city. The helicopters inched across the skyline. The car fire burned in the spotlights. Much farther down the road in the dark, a number of headlights shone from parked cars. No one showed any inclination to drive closer to the kill zone.

He was acting foolishly. He wasn’t invulnerable. Despite the bullet-proofing qualities of his outfit, he wouldn’t survive a head-on confrontation with a line of machine guns. The hoverbike would explode, or he’d get shot in the head, or the force of the bullets could knock him off the bike.

“We have two choices, Minion,” he said. “Go back to the Lair, turn every ‘bot into a killing machine, and unleash them on these murderers.”

“I guess I wouldn’t say no to that, Sir. What’s the other option?”

“Continue what we started at the prison. Expand our rescue efforts, anad save this city.”

A fierce smile spread over Minion’s face. “That sounds like a great idea.”

The third option, to escape from the city themselves, remained unspoken. Megamind wouldn’t give it any serious consideration whatsoever.

The searchlight from a helicopter raked through the air near them, but the helicopter didn’t cross the barricade and the light was faint and weak with distance. Megamind’s hands tightened on the handlebars.

“Did you see that, Metro Mahn?” he shouted at the sky. “Did you? I did! Innocent people killed! How can you abandon them? How could you abandon Roxanne? What is wrong with you? The city’s darkest hour, and you’ve left it in the hands of... of ME?! SERIOUSLY? So this is how it’s going to be, is it? The powers-that-be say this is the law, and God knows you’ve got to obey the law don’t you? It may be a law, pushed through by those idiotic, panicking government dickwads, but it isn’t RIGHT!”

His throat hurt from screaming. “This is not the way to fight this plague! This is NOT THE WAY! I’m not going to turn my back! I’m not going to close my eyes! I’m going to save this city, and you can take your heroic virtue and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine!”

Chapter Text

 

The main problem with trying to rescue the citizens he’d terrorized for the past twenty years was getting past the mistrust. It was the look in their eyes, an ‘oh no, we’ve aleady got these killer zombies, not him too’ sort of look.

It didn’t hurt his feelings or anything like that, but it was a damned nuisance, fighting off zombies while shouting at a bunch of cowering citizens that he was there to help. Sometimes he’d turn around and find that the people had fled. Other times he’d offer to take them to his Lair and they’d shrink away and mumble gosh, don’t know, really have to be going, might have left the oven on must check on that, please don’t shoot us in the back. 

Sometimes, though, if a situation looked critical with zombies overrunning a place, and the victims were screaming and hysterical and not open to reason, he dehydrated them and scooped them up  just to get them the hell out of there.

It made them a lot easier to carry and saved a lot of tedious explanation, but he felt guilty about it. This was no way for a rescuer to behave, forcibly putting people into suspended animation. He knew it wasn’t right, and that he’d have to re-hydrate them sooner or later. He was not looking forward to it.

First of all they’d be just as hysterical. Second of all, there were a lot of them. Minion could talk about the spaciousness of the Lair all he liked, as far as Megamind was concerned it already felt oppressively overcrowded. Couldn’t even walk around in his comfy robe and slippers anymore. 

 - - - - - - - - - - - 

At last, after that first endless night, as the morning sun began to turn the sky gray, he finally found some people so desperate that even his Lair looked like a better alternative than getting eaten alive. He commandeered a bus to get them back. There were only nine but still too many for two hoverbikes. He suggested having the brainbots fly them back to the Lair, but the rescuees were already pretty freaked out by recent events and looked as if getting seized by brainbots and carried off might have severed their last link to sanity.  

Minion drove while the brainbots towed the extra hoverbike. It was slow going. There were abandoned and crashed cars blocking the way, dead bodies and more zombies, until at last he ordered the brainbots to pick up the bus and carry it. There were a few yelps from the passengers, but he was keeping an iron grip on his last nerve and had no energy for soothing.

He wanted to get back to damn Lair to make sure his other guests weren’t getting into his stuff. Uncle Lenny and Uncle Sid wouldn’t mess around with his things, but they were old and had probably gone to sleep by now. The other three were the unknown variables.

The brainbots punched holes in the roof to get a grip on it and soon were soaring through the air with it.

The closer they got to the Lair, the more zombies there were, but there weren’t any living people in the area that he had to protect. Most of the population had fled north and east, and he was so fucking tired and sick of the carnage he didn’t feel like blasting anyone else in the head, even if they were zombies.

The zombies were increasing, and there was a certain pattern to their movement. They were heading in one direction. To his horror, he realized where they must be going.

“Minion, they’re heading for the Lair! Hurry!” He opened the throttle and shot over the rooftops, through bands of sunlight. Zombies threaded their way through the streets of the peninsula.

He braked hard outside the Lair, where chaos reigned.

Zombies shuffled right through the holographic entrance. Brainbots zoomed around overhead, sometimes shooting at the zombies, sometimes picking them up and flying away with them to drop them several blocks away, in complete confusion that the zombies weren’t running away. They weren’t programmed to kill unless he or Minion gave a direct order.

The zombies had even pulled down some the brainbots and had smashed them, feeding on the organic cores. 

Megamind shouted, “Daddy’s here! Here, brainbots, here! Come to Daddy!” The confused brainbots surounded him in a pack. He raised his arm. Zombies lurched around, shuffled toward them. Men and women, young and old, all lifeless, all gray faces and gaping mouths.

He brought his arm down. “Now, kill, kill, kill!” 

The brainbots dove, jaws flashing. 

The bus arrived, brainbots setting it down with a jolt. “Protect the passengers!” he shouted at Minion. He flew toward the formerly secret entrance, blasting zombies in the doorway, and got in. He brought the hoverbike to a screeching halt in the bay, shot two more zombies, and broke into a run. “Uncle Lenny!” he shouted. “Uncle Sid! Where are you?”

A voice shouted up near the ceiling. But there was a body on the floor, with zombies crouched around it. A zombie lurched around the invisible car right behind him. He whirled and shot her in the chest. She swayed a little... no, it swayed, he couldn’t let any preconceived notions get in the way, this woman was dead. It lunged at him, and his next two shots got it in the eye and cheek, passing into the brain, fortunately, and it collapsed. 

With their now-familiar tenacity, several other zombies had lurched over. He was surrounded. Cold hands snatched at his cape. He leaped onto the hood of the car and scrambled onto the roof, aimed and fired again and again. “Brainbots!” he screamed. “KILL KILL KILL!” He kicked a hand grabbing at his ankle.

The zombies fell away as the brainbots dove in. 

He could see zombies attempting to lurch up the metal stairs to the catwalk. A few of them were almost at the top, where he could see the men in prison orange huddled. Megamind ordered two brainbots to fly him up. 

The arsonist, eyes wild, brandished one of the laser rifles. “What the fuck kind of gun is this?” he screamed. “Doesn’t even turn on.”

Megamind landed on the catwalk and shot a zombie. “That one’s not charged up,” he said, flushing.

“Thanks a lot, man,” the man said bitterly. “Big help. Guffin’s dead, he went nuts, tried to beat these fuckers with one of these stupid guns, you said we’d be safe here, you said we’d be safe!”

“Hey, you shut your mouth,” Lenny snapped. He also had an uncharged laser gun that he was using as a club. But even he was unable to completely keep reproach out of his voice. “How come they ain’t charged?”

The other man tangled his hands in his hair and curled up on the floor. “I don’t care, I don’t care,” he groaned.

Minion soon arrived, and together they dispatched the zombies. They conducted a sweep of the Lair to make sure there weren’t any more lurking in odd corners. 

Megamind trudged over to the dead guard. His stomach had been torn open and the stench was appalling. Megamind crouched down to close the staring eyes. 

The others wandered over, Minion, his uncles, the other two. “He saved our lives,” Sid said. “Gave us time to get up the stairs.”

The guard’s mouth lay open in a silent scream. He had been driven half-insane with fear, and Megamind had failed to protect him. He held that knowledge close, and embraced the pain of it. He would not fail again. 

He shot the corpse in the head. 

He looked up to see they were all staring at him in shock. Minion gasped, “Why...how could you....”

“His brain was intact. In a few hours he would have become a zombie.”

“Isn’t it kinda...disrespectful?” the junkie said nervously, rubbing his arms and glancing around. “I mean, we don’t know what’s goin’ on.”

Megamind heaved a huge sigh. “What. The hell. Are you talking about?” 

“This is like...I dunno... the Apocalypse or something,” he said. “God’s sending a message. We should respect the dead.”

“It seems to me that allowing a dead person to get up again as an unholy zombie is incredibly disrespectful.” He glared at the junkie, who blushed to the roots of his hair. 

“Oh,” he mumbled. “I guess so. Didn’t think of that.”

Minion shyly touched his shoulder. “Sorry, Sir. You’re right. You think we can let the others in? They’re still on the bus, but more zombies are coming. I think they’re coming this way ‘cause we’re the biggest source of life around here. We haven’t seen any other survivors for a while. Just us.”

“Yes. This side of 137th Street.” In his mind’s eye he could picture a map of the city, the Lair on its little spur of land, the old observatory just across the water, the prison off to the northwest. He lifted his hand. If one were to set off a bomb to release a gas, or a contagion, to affect as many people as possible, one would try to place it at a central spot. The wind was from the south, south-east last night...

“Sir?” Minion shook his arm.

He shook his head, blinking. “Yes?”

“The zombies? Coming this way?”

He shook his head again. It didn’t really help. He needed food, water, and about five thousand hours of sleep. 

“Get these bodies moved to the side,” he said to his uncles and the other two convicts. “I don’t have time to go around dehydrating them all right now. Enlist the help of the newcomers, if they are able-bodied. There are a few tarps over there. Come.” He gestured at Uncle Lenny and the arsonist.

They followed, the arsonist wringing his hands together. “Hey, I’m sorry about...  you know... I didn’t mean it, got kind of worked up...” 

“Never mind,” Megamind said, heading for the laser gun cabinet. “Clearly my Lair is not secure. You can help remedy that.” He got out a fully charged rifle and gave it to Uncle Lenny, then grabbed another for the other man. “Safety’s here, you pull this lever to... what’s the matter?” he snapped. 

The arsonist had paled. He licked his lips. “Um. I don’t know how to... I never shot a gun before. Not even a regular gun.”

Megamind felt his jaw tighten until he thought his teeth would crack. And yet, you still found breath to harangue me. He hissed out a breath between gritted teeth in an effort to remain calm. 

The responsibility was his. He had failed to protect his guests. He had not enabled them to defend themselves, and he hadn’t kept the zombies out. No one had ever breached the web of secrecy around his Lair, its best defense. He had been too complacent, assuming that since he’d kept mere human intruders out, that the same methods would work for zombies. “What is your name?”

“Arnold.”

“Well, Arnold, since another wave of zombies is on its way in about five seconds it’s not really the best time for a lesson, and I don’t feel like getting accidentally shot in the head. You’re on clean-up duty. But be prepared to learn, as soon as this attack is repelled.”

 - - - - - - - - - - - - 

The immediate need was for a wall, and no materials or time for building one, so he got five thousand of the brainbots and brutebots to unite and form a wall around the Lair, with one opening, in case he and Minion needed to beat a retreat, and also to give the zombies something to focus on, if they were even capable of that much strategy. They’d be easier targets if they were funneled into one direction.

The good thing about this wall was that it fought back. 

Of all the refugess, only Uncle Lenny had ever even held a gun before. Uncle Sid was a veteran of numerous street brawls, so Megamind gave him a baseball bat, for cracking skulls. Both men looked about ready to drop so Megamind put them in chairs by the wall opening, in case any zombies slipped past. 

Neither of the other two convicts had the violent frame of mind necessary for combat, nor any of the other guests. It took a lot of effort and training to overcome the squeamishness of deliberately assaulting strangers, even zombies. Generally people liked to at least be introduced. It was why the army had to break down new recruits, to get them into the right frame of mind to attack total strangers without question.

So it was him, Minion, two old men who were too tired to stand, and the brainbots, to which he had to give the verbal command to kill each and every time. Good grief.

There were going to be a lot of changes around the Lair, that was for damn sure.

The sun came up. The goddamn zombies kept coming, trying to come in and through and over the wall of ‘bots. Mostly the ‘bots seized them and held on until Megamind and Minion dispatched them. 

Megamind plodded back and forth, sweat trickling down his face and soaking his back, sun burning his head. Normally on days like this he’d be holed up in the Lair with the air conditioning on full blast. He examined every zombie, wondering if he’d see Roxanne. His heart cracked a little whenever he spotted a female zombie with short brown hair, and a sense of guilty relief whenever it turned out not to be her.

He tried not to think about her. He couldn’t help thinking about her. 

Her apartment was on the edge of... of whatever had happened. The event. If an ‘event’ had, in fact, occurred, if he wasn’t making up conspiracy theories in his head, borne of fatigue and paranoia.

There was a lull in activity, and he sent a few brainbots out on recognizance, to see how many more zombies were in the neighborhood. A movement from behind made him whirl. The junkie, Luke, stood several feet away, holding a plastic yellow pitcher. “Um, water, Mr. Megamind? It’s hot,” he added unnecessarily.

Megamind poured two glasses of water over his head, and drank three. He could see that just inside the gate, one of the new refugees, Doris, was giving water to Lenny and Sid.

She noticed him, and her frown deepened. “I should think you could provide your uncles with some shade. They’re wilting. They’re not young anymore, you know,” she said, as if she’d known them for years.

Megamind stared at her, fresh out of sarcasm. Doris had to be at least eighty herself, if one could judge by the wrinkles.

“Yeah, kid,” Sid called, grinning. “How about some foot massages while you’re at it?”

Doris turned on him. “Don’t think this will get you out of doing clean-up,” she said. “I expect all you men to pull your weight and not lounge around. I’m certainly not going to wait on you hand and foot.”

Megamind was mildly impressed. He hadn’t thought any of these sheep would show such initiative.

Luke sidled over to Minion. “You want some, er... fresh water? Or something?” 

Minion clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Say, thanks. Go get my fish flakes? I think I left ‘em by the monitor bank.”

At last the zombie surge seemed to be over. It was past noon, and Megamind felt like he was melting. The new refugees stood around, eyeballing the killing ground, clearly wondering if this place was really any safer than anywhere else.

Minion, fins drooping, said, “We gotta build a bigger incinerator. Outside, maybe.”

Flies were swarming. The need for clean-up was immediate, especially of the pile of dead outside the wall. “No, Minion. A crematorium.”

“What? Uh, yeah. Whatever you want to call it.”

Megamind looked down at a zombie, a boy of about fourteen. “What do you suppose his name was?” He crouched down and turned over the body, searching the pockets. “No ID. We’ll have to set up a morgue, for the unidentified dead.”

Minion blinked. “A morgue?”

“Won’t be a standard morgue. That would take up too much space, and we need to conserve energy, we can’t afford the amount of cooling it would need. Dehydration is the best solution. Until each person can be identified and given a proper burial, loved ones notified, that sort of thing.”

Minion gaped at him, and clapped his hands to his dome before he swept his arms around at the corpse-strewn ground. “Sir, there are hundreds of dead! Thousands out in the city, probably! Identify them? It’s impossible!” 

Megamind set the de-gun to dehydrate. “First we should have the refugees look at them. It’s just possible they will see someone they know.” He sighed. “We ought to have been doing this all along. So much to keep track of. None of these people asked for this. To die and turn into mindless zombies to feast on human flesh.”

He set his jaw. Minion was giving him the ol’ ‘let’s be reasonable’ look.

“Look. Sir. I know you’re trying to do the right thing, but don’t we have enough to do without... all that?”

“What if I died and they chucked my body into an incinerator?” He put his hands on his hips. “How would you feel?”

Minion stared at him with wide eyes, then his little body sagged. “Okay, okay. You made your point.”

“All of my citizens will be accounted for. All of them.”

 - - - - - - - - - 

He was itching to rescue more people but he badly needed rest, and he couldn’t go traipsing off to rescue more people if zombies ate his guests while he was out.

There were a number of things that needed to be done immediately, and preferably yesterday. He set the brainbots to scouring every building and scrap of land on the entire peninsula, to ensure there were no zombies lurking. The point at which the peninsula was attached to the mainland was the border, with permanent rotating squads of brainbots to keep out all intruders. The brainbots didn’t get tired, but eventually each would need some time to recharge. 

Minion went out to scrounge construction sites for materials to build a permanent wall. Megamind pressured the refugees into cleaning up the Lair. No one wanted to do it, but who the hell did? He didn’t like it either, hosing off all the blood and other fluids that did not bear looking at too closely, after the corpses were cleared away.

Then he did something that Minion probably wouldn’t have approved of. He slipped out and captured three zombies, to get an average temperature reading (fifty-four degrees fahrenheit), with a no-touch thermoscan thermometer. He considered keeping them caged, in case he needed them for future reference, then decided he was on pretty shaky ethical ground as it was, using dead bodies without anyone’s permission (certainly not theirs), even for such a minor detail. 

There were serious laws about using the dead for research, at least regular dead people. Regulations hadn’t gotten around to deciding whether the undead fell under the same category. He flaunted the law when it suited him, but this was different. This was downright icky. Besides, he didn’t want to have to look at those gray, wheezing, slowly decaying faces every day. He put them out of their misery and added them to the morgue.

He fitted fourteen brainbots with heat sensors and worked out the set of parameters that would enable them to recognize and kill zombies on sight, but to leave living humans alone. Soon he would outfit all of the ‘bots with the sensors, but that meant another excursion into the city for supplies, and hours of labor. The programming itself, now that he’d established the parameters for giving brainbots the license to kill, would be a simple matter of uploading it to the entire population, but the heat sensors would be crucial, so they didn’t kill every person on sight.

His eyes felt like they were lined with sand, his stomach had been threatening to devour itself for the last ten hours, and, as much as he’d been trying to ignore it, his hands were shaking. Folding up and collapsing was not going to inspire confidence in the refugees. 

He finished screwing the last panel back on, and sent the brainbot on its way. He rubbed his gritty eyes. Christ, he needed a shower. He was still covered in splatter from the excursion into the prison.

The Lair was quiet. The refugees were lying on whatever blankets Minion had scrounged up, sleeping, or at least curled up in the fetal position. He had found a couple of cots for Sid and Lenny, though Doris, another elderly person they’d rescued, was making a lot of noise about how she was certainly not going to be able to sleep on the rock-hard floor.

Megamind went to the bathroom and tried to turn the knob.

“Occupied!” an elderly female voice snapped. “I only got in here. I’m not well, you know, the facilities in this place...”

Megamind rolled his eyes. Had to wait to use his own bathroom, terrific. He trudged toward his lab, picking at the scum layer on his neck. Why in the hell did attackers always go for his neck? It was repulsive. There was an emergency shower in the lab, at least no one else was allowed...

His hand touched the raised scab on his neck. The zombie scratch. 

He stopped. His breathing seemed very loud, and part of some other world.  

He should have been horrifed, in despair, weeping, stumbling out to find Minion, but what he mostly felt was numb.

The strange thing was, and this could be the exhaustion talking, but with complete and utter certainty, he did not believe he was infected. He simply did not believe it.

He picked at the dried crust of sweat and zombie gunk, and went to look at his reflection in the stainless steel tabletop in the lab. Yeesh, he looked like a serial killer fresh off the job. His blood-shot eyes were hollowed out and wild-looking, and his outfit was crusted over with dirt and other unmentionables. Maybe this was the reason refugees shrank back.

It had been over twenty-four hours since he’d gotten scratched. It was a little early to be showing symptoms, but the scratch itself was healed up, which was normal for him since he healed so quickly, but this was not the normal course of the disease. From what he’d read, the site of infection should have been swollen and discolored.

Carefully he washed his neck. The scratch looked no different from any other superficial scratch. Peeling off his gloves, he took a blood sample.

After peering at it through the microscope, he went to ask his uncles for blood samples, since they were less likely to freak out about it.

And he summoned the brainbot with the soil samples.

Minion came in two hours later to make him go to bed.

“Testing for the zombie virus, my finny friend,” he said, in response to Minion’s questioning look. He sat back, stretching out his back. “Got scratched back in the prison. It seemed like...” He yawned. He really was tired.

Minion made a shuddering gasp. “Scratched? Oh no. Oh, Sir...”

Megamind waved his hand to interrupt him. “Don’t worry, Minion. It is not my destiny to perish and become a zombie.” He began to walk over to the wall to turn on the slide projector. “Here, take a look at...”

Minion shouted, “Don’t worry?!” Beakers rattled on the shelves.

Megamind whirled, startled. “Well, yes. Because...”

“Not your destiny?!” Minion shouted, his dorsals bristling. “You’ve been exposed to a virus that is one hundred percent lethal! One! Hundred! Percent! And you tell me not to worry because it’s not your destiny? Have you completely lost your oversized blue mind?”

Megamind slowly crossed his arms, transfixed. He had never seen that vein throb in Minion’s side before. 

“You’re pretty resilient, Sir, but you’re not immune to everything just because you hardly ever get sick, you almost died from the measles, remember that, the warden was so worried he slept on the floor, and I... I...” Minion clenched his fists, shaking, and shouted, “It’s a virus! It doesn’t care about destiny!” He let out a sob, and sank lower in his bowl, squeezing his eyes shut.

Megamind watched him for a moment. “Minion, I’m not infected,” he said quietly.

Minion’s eyes shot open. “Oh yeah? Prove it,” he snapped, but his scowl faded. “Wait. You... can prove it?”

Megamind reached for the switch and clicked on the screen to show the close-up of his blood cells. “This is a sample of my blood from two hours ago.” He enlarged the view, to show one odd, scraggly gray elongated bit, being slowly surrounded by a white blood cell. “That,” Megamind said, pointing at it, “is, I believe, the version of the zombie virus that has infected the city.”

They watched as the white blood cell enveloped the gray smudge and destroyed it.  

Megamind grinned. “Impressive, isn’t it?” he said smugly. “My superior physiology in action. Want to see the recording again?”

Minion stared at the screen. “The version. There are different versions?”

“As loathe as I am to admit it, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t have any examples of the original virus. I could have hacked into NIH to find out what it looks like, but now we’re cut off from the internet.” So galling, having to rely solely on what he had stored in his own databanks.

That was a problem for later. “The way this disease is spreading, it’s not behaving the same way as when it first appeared in North Carolina. But here.” He brought up the next slide. “Uncle Sid’s blood. He’s been exposed to the virus. His blood is riddled with it. He ought to have fallen ill with fever by now, but he hasn’t.” The little squiggles floated docilely next to the corpuscles. 

“I believe it lies dormant until death occurs. Then, if the brain is intact, the zombification process begins. To fully test this, I’d need a person who has been infected by this virus, and has recently died of non-zombie causes. All we’d have to do is tie up the corpse or put it in a cage, then wait to see what happens. Bit of an ethical quandry there, obviously. But it would explain why that guard in the prison ward, the one that died of a heart attack, turned into a zombie, even without having been touched by one.”

He gave Minion a grim look. “People don’t stay dead any longer. Whenever someone dies, for any reason, the brain must be destroyed, or they will rise again.”

“But, how did zombies appear? So many?”

“Simple, Minion. Someone killed them. They lay dead for a while, about four to six hours or so, the virus got to work, and boom, they rose as zombies. The soil samples from the prison grounds had extremely high levels of organophosphates. Nerve gas. Possibly sarin, or something equally nasty. A common ingredient in some nerve gases smells a lot like Vicks VapoRub, which one of the prisoners smelled. I could probably find out the location of ground zero, if I could spare any brainbots to take more soil samples. I’m not sure how important that is right now, other than to satisfy my own curiosity.”

Minion backed away from the screen. “Are you saying, someone infected the city with this virus, and then set off a nerve gas to....”

“To jump start the zombification process, yes,” he said grimly. “Most likely what happened in Bloomington and Louisville, too.”

“But that’s monstrous,” Minion whispered.

Megamind felt his mouth tighten into a thin line. “Monstrous about sums it up. But as you can see, I told you it wasn’t my destiny to become a zombie. Not to worry.”

There was a creak of metal as Minion’s hands dug into the edge of the table. His little face was screwed up and he seemed to be having some sort of internal struggle. Then he slumped within the containment unit and released his grip, leaving behind deep finger-shaped grooves. “Sorry about the table, Sir,” he muttered. “But the next time you have something important to tell me, could you please, please, not talk about destiny? Get to the facts right away? I don’t think my heart can take it.”

Megamind sniffed. “I only meant to reassure you, Minion, but if you insist.”

 - - - - - - - - - - 

The days dragged by. It took over a week to pour the cement and get the wall built. 

He returned to Miss Ritchi’s place again and again, even though he’d left a brainbot permanently stationed there. He couldn’t help but go look for himself.

He failed to get a hold of any of his contacts in the outside world. The frequency jamming was thorough, and incredibly effective. He wondered if the feds had designed it with the knowledge that they would be up against the evil genius of Metrocity. 

He wasn’t even sure who to contact, or how to make anyone believe that the terrible plague had evolved. 

Or been deliberately altered. It was an unusual virus indeed to become less lethal. Maybe they already knew, and still believed a total quarantine was the best solution.

The city became a ghost town. People were in hiding. As fuel ran out, cars and trucks were abandoned. Only zombies wandered the streets freely, though sometimes Megamind spotted small groups of people moving quickly and furtively, scavenging.

He rescued more people, made refugees in their own city. He took time to pick up the dead, a sickening, depressing job. He brought refugees back to their homes, looking for their lost families.

He and Minion made time to return to the prison, and recovered all the bodies. Time had not improved matters. It was beyond unspeakable. He wore a hazmat suit, and the stench still made him gag. 

He was never going to be able to eat pasta again. Or rice. Possibly any kind of meat. He had seen way too many intestines. Too many maggots. 

Megamind noticed that Minion had become less affected by the corpses, seeming to be able to gather the pitiful scattered body parts with a quiet dignity that Megamind envied. Maybe Minion’s predatory ancestry had helped him become immune to the sight of so much raw meat. 

He brought along a generator so they could operate one of the computers, and downloaded the inmate and employee list. Some of the corpses were in such bad shape, especially the ones he’d blown up with the de-stroy feature, they might never be identified even with dental records.

He used the computer in the warden’s office because... well, just because. Waiting for the download to finish up, he curled up on the floor in a corner, and stared out the window at the blue sky.

Minion pulled off the huge gloves, boots, and apron that protected his robot body from the gore, and stuffed them in his carryall. “Did you take the pictures?”

“What pictures?”

“The ones on the desk. There was one of you as a kid, one of his wife, and photos of Melanie and Sam, all grown up.”

“Fell on the floor or something.” 

Minion leaned down to look under the desk. “I don’t see them.”

“Who the hell cares?” Megamind snapped, temper fraying. “Why are you so obsessed with these trivialities?”

Minion stuck out his toothy jaw. “He’s my dad too,” he said, looking away.

Megamind felt like a heel. The warden had adopted them both, but Minion had never given any sign that he cared one way or another. Probably because Megamind had always been so sneering and dismissive of the warden’s efforts at parenting. This is my fault. Minion almost always follows my lead. Minion and the warden probably could have formed a closer bond if Megamind hadn’t been such a brat about the whole thing. Instead, to demonstrate loyalty to his beloved brother and friend, Minion had kept his distance. 

Megamind climbed to his feet. Minion tapped his fingertips together anxiously. “Um...”

Megamind held up his hand. “No, it’s all right. Of course he is,” he said gently. He rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat. “Now. So, then. You’re sure they were on the desk last time we were here?” 

“Positive.”

They searched the office, but there was no sign of the photos.

It had to have been the warden. Who else would walk through a building full of corpses just to remove a few photographs?

Though they had just gone through the whole prison, Megamind ordered the brainbots to conduct a full scan of the entire grounds to search for any signs of life. He paced restlessly out into the hall and back in again. He didn’t expect much, and he wasn’t disappointed. The scan was negative.

Minion sniffled a little. “I... I kinda hoped...” His voice trailed away.

Megamind patted his arm. “If he was here, filet mignon, he’s gone away again. He might still be alive. Or not. I can’t...” He raised his hands and let them fall again. “We’ll stop by his house again,” he said wearily. “But don’t expect much. I feel like...” He clamped his mouth shut, afraid to say the words. I feel like there’s no hope left. For any of us.

He didn’t know if it helped any, hope. But without hope, what was the point?

The brainbots set the charges. Megamind and Minion exchanged looks for a moment. He supposed he should say something. If ever there was a time for a grandiose speech, this was it, but he was not feeling it. He pressed the button. 

They watched the explosions from a safe distance, as the walls of their childhood home crumbled into rubble, and a cloud of dust rose into the air. There went the offices, the dining hall, the single ultra-maximum security cell with its cheerful cartoon critters.

No one would ever use the prison again. He could just see it happening, the authorities repurposing it for business as usual. He would come back one day and see that a memorial was built over it.

Pebbles of rubble pattered around them and the tail ends of  the shockwave rocked them slightly. It was over. Megamind began to turn the hoverbike, but Minion said, “Hey, look!”

A little green speck moved across the skyline. Megamind squinted at it suspiciously. “You, there. Fetch,” he ordered a brainbot. “Gently.”

They watched the brainbot fly away, becoming a speck itself. It swooped onto the first speck and snagged it. The brainbot darted back with a little robot clutched in its jaws, a drone with little propellers on the ends of its four arms, three of which were still whirring madly.

“A military drone. All right, my evil little cyborgs, listen up. Whenever  you see one of these, bring it to Daddy, intact.” He directed the brainbot to disable the other three propellers, then reached for it. “Let go, there’s a good... let go!” Megamind yanked it away. The brainbots quivered expectantly, hoping he would let them attack the new toy. He waggled his finger at them. “Ah ah ah. Intact, little ones. If you are good, and bring in enough, I’ll give you a few to play with later.”

“Is it transmitting?”

“Probably not. That would mean they’ve stopped the frequency jamming, and I don’t think they’ve stopped. It’s collecting information. Looking to see how quickly we fall over dead, maybe.” He frowned at the distant line of army vehicles, where there were little flurries of activity. The prison explosion had not gone unnoticed. Megamind made a few rude gestures at them before taking off.

 - - - - - - - - - -

A repeat visit to the warden’s house proved both fruitless and maddening. 

Because someone had been there, taken all the food from the kitchen and stuff from the bathroom, and carefully locked up the house again. If it wasn’t the warden, it was the politest looter he’d ever seen. Megamind left a note, telling the warden to come to the Lair, and drew a map. For good measure, he spray painted “COME TO THE LAIR. MAP IN HOUSE” on the front and back doors.

It occurred to him, belatedly, guiltily, that they should check on the mental ward at Metro City General to see if they could find his wife. If she was still there. Poor Joyce. Neither he nor Minion had given her any thought, but they hadn’t seen her in years. She had spent most of the last decade in and out of the hospital, suffering from clinical depression.

Metro City General was crawling with zombies. A scan of the hospital campus revealed no life forms larger than a rat.

He called up a larger squad of brainbots and went to more hospitals, knowing that if there were survivors, there would probably be an army of undead as well. But only at one did he find any survivors, four people who had been scavenging, gotten surrounded by zombies and trapped on the roof. As far as he could tell from the scattered bodies, a lot of doctors and nurses had perished trying to protect their patients.

 - - - - - - - -

People were so needy, for food, a change of clothes, toothpaste and toilet paper, and medicine, and on and on and on. They’d taken all the medications from the prison infirmary, something he should have done the first time, but the refrigerated ones, including the insulin, were, of course, ruined. He was still kicking himself for that.

In between excursions, he did what he could to train people on the guns and the hovercraft. He really needed to make more of those hovercrafts. Eventually he hoped some people would be capable enough of going into the city on their own, because they seriously needed more rescue groups.

It took a certain amount of shouting, but people managed to do their chores and show up for the lessons. Minion kept trying to get him to tone it down, but for God’s sakes, he had to keep it up. No room for shirking.

The adults took turns looking after the few children. Doris was surprisingly helpful in that department. 

He wished she would go back to being scared of him, though. She got into her head that he valued her input, and reported her disatisfaction with the Lair, the food, the lack of beds, and when was he going to do something about getting the TVs back on, she was missing her shows.

His pent-up reservoir of sarcasm overflowed. “Well, Doris. As soon as I reconfigure the antenna, increase the power levels of my transmitter to knock through the state-of-the-art jamming frequencies that are aimed at the city and appear to be configured precisely against my tech, which quite frankly I find very disturbing, then I can ask them to pretty please stop the quarantine, and then maybe they’ll say ‘well, all right, since you said please’, and then they’ll send in medical aid, fresh food, and candy bars, and let us watch the latest soaps again. In the meantime I’d like to concentrate on keeping everyone from getting eaten alive by the undead, starving to death, or getting dysentery. But I’ll be sure to get right on your little project right after that. Will that be soon enough for you?”

She’d sniffed and looked down her nose at him. “That’ll have to do.”

 - - - - - - - - 

The cube he’d stuck in his pocket fell out into a puddle, and that’s how he met Hal Schtewart, who surprisingly turned out to be Roxanne’s cameraman. His heart leaped with excitement, but his hopes were dashed. Hal didn’t know where she was either.

The irritating little man turned out to be a real piece of work, too. That peeping tom! And Megamind even gave the scumbag another chance! After the second incident Megamind decided to stop being so fucking understanding and kicked the bum out. He wasn’t going to stand for that shit. “Just looking” was never harmless. He’d been on the receiving end of leering, predatory looks when he was younger and more vulnerable. 

No woman, man, or child would be subject to any kind of harassment in his Lair, not while he lived and breathed.

 - - - - - - - - - - -

Every day brought some new horror, some new tragedy, bodies dismembered in strange ways. There were few children’s corpses, even fewer child zombies. The smaller the child, the more likely they were to be devoured whole.

Megamind feared he was losing his mind, especially after what happened to Sandy’s family. Her husband and two kids died in their house. The kids reanimated first, but weren’t strong enough to get at the nearest available brain, so they fed on the soft tissue. When their daddy became a zombie, most of his face was gone. 

Megamind could not let that poor woman see what had become of her husband and children. He killed the zombies right away, and dehydrated them. The photos on her smartphone was identification enough. There was no doubt these were her kids, but he had to take it on faith that the dead man was her husband. He showed her the wedding ring from his finger, and they had to assume that this was him. 

She asked to see them. He hesitantly said he didn’t think that was a good idea, and explained, a little, why it was so. She wept and thanked him, actually thanked him, which was worse than if she’d shouted at him. 

She had a surprising request, though. She didn’t want them cremated. “I want you to keep them in that morgue of yours. So you can show them. Show them what they did.”

He didn’t ask who she meant by ‘them.’ Whoever was responsible.

The images of that man and his children were burned into his memory. He tried to continue on as before. There was so, so, so much to do, but he couldn’t get out of bed. Despair anchored him to the mattress. He stayed in bed for two days. Fully dressed. It wasn’t very comfortable. The mantle made his shoulders and neck stiff, the spikes dug into him, the belt chafed, but it was all right. He didn’t deserve comfort.

Ghosts emerged from the shadows and stood silently in the corners. The dead, with holes that he himself had shot into their heads, stripped of flesh. 

He deserved their recrimination. Was he doing any good at all? His city was dying. His citizens were dying. He could no longer dismiss them as faceless drones. These needy, irritating, frightened people. 

Roxanne, Roxanne, where could she be? He wondered if Metro Man had snuck in and whisked her away. He didn’t believe for a second that she would have left of her own accord, but it was possible Metro Man might have defied the authorities and stolen her away in secret, in spite of her objections.

Megamind hoped so. At least she’d be alive. Or had she perished in pain and terror, as so many others had? 

He was so selfish. So many were in need and he couldn’t do anything but lie there like a lump, heart breaking for Roxanne, and wishing he was dead. Fifty-seven he’d taken in, and a few hundred more living souls still stuck away in the storage unit, awaiting rehydration, but he dreaded adding more to the Lair with food in short supply, and the facilities barely adequate. He was letting everyone down. He was letting Minion down. The tidal wave of need was too great. He was drowning.

Minion came in about halfway through the second day, and sat down on the floor next to the bed. Megamind pulled a pillow over his head.

“Oh, good. You’re alive. So, uh, we almost got the new bathrooms built. Want to come see?”

Megamind tightened his lips. It was hot under there, but he wasn’t coming out.

Metal squeaked as Minion shifted his weight. “Stalls, individual showers, ten sinks each. Could even get the water turned on tonight, if we work on it after supper.” 

Megamind felt the blankets being tugged away. He snatched them back, but Minion tsk-ed. “You didn’t even get undressed? When’s the last time you changed your clothes?”

“I changed,” Megamind muttered, burrowing in deeper.

“When, last week?” Minion started poking him in the arm. And kept poking.

“God damn it, knock it off!” Megamind shouted, clobbering him with the pillow. Minion grabbed it on the next swing and wrenched it away. He grabbed Megamind, scooped him up, and carried him out. “Time to get up,” the hendchfish said almost cheerfully.

Megamind was so shocked he couldn’t move for a second, then he began kicking and fighting for all he was worth. Minion anticipated his attempt to hit the override button on the robot suit’s chest and seized his wrist before Megamind could punch it, in a gentle, unbreakable grip.

“This is mutiny!” Megamind hissed, craning his neck around. As soon as Minion got around the next set of shelving, they’d be in the main refugee hangout, and everyone would see Minion carrying him around as if he was an invalid. “Let me go, or else I’ll...”

Abruptly Minion stopped and set him on his feet. “This is close enough. Take a look.”

Megamind took a moment to straighten his collar, and his lightning bolt, giving Minion the Glare of Extreme Death. Minion crossed his arms and gave a little nod toward the refugees. “Go on,” he said. “Look.”

Oh, fuck this. Trying to play on his heartstrings? Scowling, Megamind peered around the corner.

People stood around chatting, or folded clothes, or wandered about on small errands. Two of the men that had been working on the new bathrooms were talking over a set of blueprints. One of them walked away, saying. “I better sweep. Almost time to put the blankets down again.”

“Yeah, don’t wanna get dehydrated.” They chuckled. 

Actually chuckled. Megamind wasn’t sure if he should be angry about that or not. Did his threats carry no weight? Well, it was Upton’s turn to sweep the main floor, and he was, in fact, doing it.

One of the kids was pretending to be a zombie. Doris’s youngest granddaughter screamed and hid her face. Another boy clobbered the ‘zombie.’ “Quit it, you jerk! You’re scaring her!” 

Megamind looked up at the sound of the elevator. Three people brought it to the main floor, and stepped off it. “There any more hoses? We should ask Minion,” one woman said.

Megamind frowned. “What were they doing on the roof?”

“Setting up a hydroponic garden.”

Megamind nodded, slowly and reluctantly. “That was a good idea,” he muttered. 

“We can make a greenhouse, too.”

“One greenhouse? For the number of people that we’ll be bringing in, it’ll take more than that. What am I supposed to do, rip up the streets and start plowing?” He bristled at the prospect of yet more tiresome tasks, but now his mind was working. “Have they started anything yet?”

“Some tomato and lettuce seeds.”

“Is that all? If the average person needs 2,000 calories a day, it’s going to take a hell of lot more!”

“Well, it’s sort of a test run, to see...”

“No no no, no time for that, there’s hardly any growing season left, barely two months, three if September is unseasonably warm. Potatoes are the best bet. They’re slow-growing, but they’re dense and filling and a fairly decent source of most nutrients, even protein, even vitamin C. Entire populations have been built on potatoes.”

And fallen, as well. He chewed his thumbnail. They’d need to find as many varieties as possible, which might be difficult, but the city’s nurseries would probably have a few rarer ones in stock.

He gave Minion a suspicious look. He was sure Minion had been grinning a second ago, but now the henchfish was gazing stoically into the distance.

Megamind looked at the refugees again. Normal people doing semi-normal things, as normal as they could, in the strangeness of his Lair. 

“I don’t know if we’re doing any good at all, filet mignon. If any of it matters.”

Minion waved his hand. “It matters, Sir. It matters to them. That night we started the mission? I was so proud of you, Sir. For sticking by the city. We can make this work. We can do it.” Minion touched his back. “I know you miss her, Sir, I do, too. If you want to...”

A black wave of despair rose up within him and he jerked away. “Don’t,” he whispered. He choked on the words. Images of Roxanne had haunted him, the memory of her last broadcast, when he did not go to her immediately as he should have...

Minion hovered, hand still upraised. “I-I’m sorry, Sir, I thought it would help to talk...”

He shook his head violently, swayed and clenched his fists, and fought back the darkness. He was a hearbeat away from breaking, from curling up on the floor and weeping. He took a few breaths, and gradually the pain loosened its grip on his chest. “I thank you, Minion, but please don’t. I just. Can’t talk about her right now. Otherwise I’ll crawl right back into that bed again and never come out.” 

He glanced at Minion, and away again. He took a deep breath. “Undo all your hard work of getting me out of it,” he said, in an almost casual voice. He clutched the edge of his torn cape. “Someday, we can talk. But not right now.”

Minion put his hand around Megamind’s shoulder and Megamind leaned into him. Minion pressed his containment unit against the side of Megamind’s head and they stood in silence, reaffirming their bond and their unspoken pain, knowing that despite the grief and loss, they still had each other.

 - - - - - - - -

He went to do some work in the lab, to see if he could replicate one of Doris’s heart medications. But he kept thinking about how to get more people to safety, and how many he could squeeze onto the peninsula. He’d have to expand his territory onto the mainland and build more walls to keep the zombies out. Maybe dig a trench...his vision kept blurring, and at last he lay his head down to rest his eyes. 

Minion shook him, jostling him awake. Megamind tugged his cheek off the lab table, leaving behind a puddle of drool. 

“Sir, you have got to see this!” he shouted in his ear, and rushed to the door. “Come on, hurry!”

Megamind staggered off the stool, dragging his wrist over his face. “So what is it, fire, blood, or zombies?” A terrible thought loomed. “Irina’s not in labor, is she?” It was two months too soon, what would they do if...

“No, she’s all right, but you gotta come see. Hurry!”

Grumbling, and feeling like a large fluffy towel had replaced his brain, Megamind plodded after him. His mouth had a horrible cottonball taste, and his face was scratchy with three days’ worth of stubble. Minion danced ahead and led the way to the monitors, though he kept looking back, an excited grin splitting his face.

The refugees were talking in excited little clusters. They stepped back from Megamind’s scowl.

He growled, “Don’t see what’s so important that I have to get dragged out of my lab, you’ve been nagging me to get more sleep, and I finally start getting more sleep, and then you come bursting in, yammering some nonsense, I don’t see what’s so...”

Minion’s broad back moved out of his line of vision.

Megamind froze with a gasp.

Roxanne Ritchi was on the screens. Alive alive alive.

 

Chapter Text

 

Somehow he stayed standing despite the tidal wave of relief that washed over him at the sight of her. His mind reeling and buzzing, he made it through the next hour. There were things that had to be done, rules laid down, impertinent cops to be put in their place, that sort of thing. He kept an iron grip on his self control, outwardly the master of all he surveyed, inwardly quivering like a tree in a high wind.

He was terrified he might be hallucinating, but Minion could obviously see her, and the others. There she was, and sporting a .38 magnum on her belt, no less! Dirty and disheveled, like everyone else, still wearing the same blouse and no-nonsense brown slacks she’d been wearing for her last broadcast, and navy blue Converse tennis shoes. Those didn’t match her usual stylishness, but maybe she’d had them on standby when everything went all to hell.

He had almost been ready to face the terrible fact that he might never find her, or if he did, it would be her mortal remains. Now she was in his Lair, under his protection, having come to him --- him of all people!--- for help. Which wasn’t the least bit weird. Not at all weird. 

What did she think about all of this?

His villainous image was wrecked anyway, now he was some kind of anti-heroic volunteer boy scout or something, but somehow confessing that he’d let a bunch of faceless drones into his Lair, that he actually cared about these people... it was worlds colliding, identities shifting, boundaries changing, it was... it was MONUMENTAL, that’s what it was, and how was he supposed to act? 

Fifty-seven? she’d whispered. His stomach had twisted at the look on her face. Obviously he was making a complete cock-up of the situation. So few, so few rescued, the city was dying around him, but he was trying...

And then she’d thrown her arms around him.

Okay. What was up with that?

Mentally he gave himself a good solid kick. Wake UP, moron. Her beefcake boyfriend’s abandoned her, she doesn’t want to die, she’s desperate, why ELSE would she come to the Lair?

People did strange things when they were stressed out. She was undoubtedly regretting it. it was best if he ignored it, and didn’t bring it up again.

Goosebumps ran up his neck. If you care about me at all, she’d said. Which meant she possibly suspected his interest in her wasn’t entirely professional. Did she mean ‘care about’ as in ‘care about me since we’ve known each other for years and therefore you have a duty toward me as a colleague’?

Or did she mean ‘care about’ as in ‘care about me since you’re so obviously deeply and absolutely in love with me, what the hell is the matter with you, you sick bastard, what kind of man claims to be in love with his captive, I think we all know what kind of man that is, don’t we, but since I clearly have no other options if I don’t want to die horribly, may my friends and I stay in your Lair until the cavalry comes’?

He hadn’t wanted to leave the Lair again so soon, but their food stores were much too low, especially with the unexpected addition of another eighty-one people. He swayed slightly with the motion of the hovercraft. 

Roxanne had almost caught him looking at her as they took off. That was close. He’d have to be more careful. She certainly didn’t need him hovering around her. No doubt she felt it was bad enough that she had to come to the home of her kidnapper, without having to put up with unwanted...

A cloud of gnats pelted his head. He spat and swatted them away. “Gabby, could you please speed it up?” he snapped. “I think I saw a turtle race by.”

Gabby grimaced and sped up a notch. 

He suppressed a sigh. She was quite competent, actually, except for this tendency to go so slowly the engine threatened to stall.

He looked around, and into the barrel of Dean’s laser rifle. Dean was looking away over the landscape, the gun lying carelessly in his arms.

“Dean,” Megamind said carefully.

Dean glanced over, did a double-take, and quickly pulled the rifle up so it pointed at the sky.

Megamind raised an eyebrow. “Do you remember what I said about guns?”

Dean gulped. “Uhhh...”

“Keep the safety catch on,” Megamind said, reaching over and flicking the switch, “and always know where you’re aiming.” He glanced at Hank the Cop, who was watching the exchange. “Got anything to add?”

Hank shook his head and looked away. 

“You should. You’re going to be the new gun safety instructor,” Megamind said. “I’ll brief you tomorrow.” 

If he had to put up with a goddamn cop in his space, he was going to get some work out of him. Hank presumably had some experience with search and rescue, maybe even first aid. He’d break him in during the probation period.

His lips curled into a smile. Probation! Roxanne was a genius. He found any more cops, he’d put ‘em all on probation.

The hovercraft jolted, and he fell against the rail. “Ease the throttle forward smoothly,” he snapped. “Oh.” He brightened. He could feel the breeze now. The air was cooling as the sun set. “Well done, student pilot.”

Gabby’s face was pale. “Zombies,” she said, nodding off to the side.

Sure enough, a few zombies shuffled out of an alley. The hovercraft quickly left them behind. More zombies were visible, lurching aimlessly over the street. “Bring us a little higher,” Megamind said, and Gabby adjusted the altitude. Now they cruised along at ten feet above ground level. By the time a zombie might get it into its head to climb on a car or other structure to get at them, they’d be blocks away. Not good at thinking ahead, the average zombie.

There was a loud cawing and a sudden flurry of wings.

A flock of crows rose from a tree by the street. Zombies crouched over corpses, and looked up at the noise of the hovercraft. A car and pick-up truck lay smashed together in the middle of the road. 

The body of a man lay half out of a windshield. The top of his head was gone.

Gabby whimpered, Hank cursed, Dean made retching sounds. 

“Throw up over the side,” Megamind said without looking around. 

A sudden movement from a nearby building made everyone start. Zombies, as Megamind knew all too well, sometimes dropped on you from a height, if they happened to be in position.

Two vultures perched on a ledge next to them. One of them finished stretching its wings, shook out its feathers, and settled. They blinked their beady black eyes. Megamind counted ten, twelve, fifteen more circling high overhead, floating on the thermals. Another vulture on the ground hopped away from a zombie lurching at it. Flapping with slow heavy beats, it lifted off and made its way to another rooftop.

They stared at the vultures, and the crows in the trees, making the streets echo with their cawing. Megamind had a bizarre feeling of being on safari. (Come see the zombies in their natural habitat. To avoid being dragged out of your vehicle and eaten alive, please keep your limbs and head inside at all times...)

A change of wind brought a sudden gust of decay and they all gagged. Dean threw up again. 

Note to self: Dean has weak stomach. Better suited to duties around Lair. Megamind, hand clamped over his mouth and nose, dug under a seat for bandanas and cloth pieces, and handed them out. He should have done this sooner. He was not thinking clearly on two and a half hours of sleep over a five day period. 

They tied the cloths around their lower faces. “All right, let’s move on.” He eyed Gabby, who was leaning hard against the console and taking shallow breaths. “Need me to drive?”

She shook her head. “I’m all right. Where to?”

He pointed to the next corner.

They swooped around it and his eyes widened at the sight. A huge pile of zombies heaved and writhed against the side of a three story building. “- - - er’s Grocery” was all that was visible under the mass. When a new zombie approached the pile, it simply began stepping on the others. The ones on the top were almost at the roof. 

Dean groaned, “Mister Megamind, can we go back  now?”

“No!” Gabby snapped. “We have to search for survivors, right? Those zombies are after somebody, right?” Her eyes were fierce above the bandana.

Megamind felt a brief smile stretch his lips. “Indeed. Take us up, pilot.”

They rose above the roofline and saw the zombies’ quarry.

A knot of people huddled in the middle of the roof. Several held baseball bats and various other bits of wood and metal. There was no shelter. The only shade was caused by the shed that housed the roof’s entry door, but it was so close to the zombie pile trying to claw its way onto the roof, no one was near it. From the looks of the dust-streaked faces, and beet red in the case of the caucasians, they must have been trapped up there all day. 

A dead hand clawed at the roof. 

“Take down the ones on top,” Megamind said. Dean, to his credit, did his best, aiming and firing, scrupulously and badly, but it was enough. He and Megamind shot down the top of the pile, to give some breathing space.

Gabby brought the hovercraft down. Megamind stepped off, pulling the bandana down. Not that it would necessarily help, but he hoped it would show good will. The refugees drew back.

Megamind said to Hank. “Think you can do your friendly neighborhood cop schtick? And take off the bandana, you look like a damn outlaw.”

Hank nodded, and walked toward them with his hands raised. “Evenin’ folks. Need some help?”

A distant shout echoed. A block away, there was a frantic waving of arms from an office building. 

Interesting. This was the first time anyone had tried to flag them down. He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the setting sun. Several more people came to the windows, waving and shouting. “Heyyyy! Over here!”

There must be at least thirty. The hovercraft could hold twenty, maybe twenty-five in a real pinch. When he activated his comm the nearest unnoccupied brainbot immediately flew over, to open the line to Minion so he could tell him to bring the bus.

After sending the message with the address, map, and a reminder to bring enough brainbots to fly the bus over obstacles, he got the first little sunburned group herded onto the hovercraft, and brought them along to talk to the wavers. 

They had seen him go by a few times before, sometimes with ordinary people. Not knowing if he had captured citizens for some nefarious purpose, they had always hidden. Their situation had grown more and more desperate, and at last they were willing to take a chance on flagging him down, because it looked like he might be rescuing people.

So... was he? There to assist? Because frankly, by this point, getting drafted into a slave army was looking better all the time, if it meant living to see another day.

He deposited the sunburned group with them, told them to sit tight until Minion got there with the bus, and then he and his little semi-trained crew of scavengers went back to the grocery store.

The zombie pile hadn’t quite dissipated yet, though they seemed to have realized their prey had escaped, and the ones at the bottom were slowly disentangling from the pile-up. 

The zombies were mostly crowded around the front of the store, so it was a simple process of him and Hank dashing in the back. Megamind dehydrated everything left on the shelves and Hank scooped up the cubes, while Gabby and Dean kept an eye on the zombies. It was still a narrow escape. The brainbots helped keep the encroaching horde back long enough for them to make it back to the hovercraft.

 - - - - - - -

By the time Minion and Megamind got back with the new load of people, the sun had set and the stars shone brilliantly, a byproduct of the city-wide blackout.

Megamind held up a garbage bag full of cubes in triumph. “Good news,” he sang out. “We got Spam. Spa-a-a-a-am!”

There were a few good-natured boos and groans. Someone called out from the back, “Where’s my pizza?”

Megamind grinned and waved his arm with a get-outta-here gesture. “Ehh, you’re all a bunch of ingrates. The lot of you!” People chuckled.

“And we got coffee!” Gabby shouted with a smile. This got a much more enthusiastic response and a smattering of applause.

“As an added bonus,” Megamind announced, raising his voice above the growing din, “we now have a doctor in our ranks. Soon as she gets settled, rejuvenated, and otherwise oriented to the wonders of Lair living, she has agreed to setting up office hours.” He swept a hand toward the people straggling off the bus. “I give you our new chief of medical calamities, Dr. Plant. No relation to the famous Led Zeppelin musician, unfortunately, so don’t get your hopes up there.” 

A woman with gray-streaked brown hair cautiously raised her hand to identify herself to the crowd.

Megamind had the newbies walk by a huge group of assembled brainbots, and gave them a similar though much shorter speech about not causing trouble, or else it was alligator time. Roxanne worked her way to the front as politely as she could.

“I’m going out,” he said abruptly, and strode across the yard. 

Minion snapped, “No.”

“I’m taking a look at the border.”

“Sir, you need to rest. Let the brainbots...”

Megamind shot him such a glare that Minion took half a step back. The henchfish sighed. “Okay. How long?”

“I’ll be back when I get back.”

“But when?”

Megamind worked his jaw, irritated at a deadline. “Fifteen minutes.” He  turned back to the hovercraft.

Roxanne pressed her lips together. She wasn’t going to pass up another chance. She hurried over and climbed onto it. “Want some company?”

He stared at her blankly. “Oh. Who wants to...”

Roxanne made an exasperated noise. “I do, stupid!”

A purple blush spread over his cheeks and he clapped a hand to his forehead. “Yes. Right. Of...of course.” His brows were furrowed with the appalling realization that he hadn’t understood what she was talking about. 

Roxanne studied him. His five o’clock shadow and the dark marks under his eyes were even more pronounced. He looked dried out. “You know what, I think Minion’s right, you need to rest.”

“What I need is to wind down. I won’t be able to sleep for a while anyway. If at all.” He glanced around, then leaned toward her. “And I need a little space.”

“You...you need to be alone?”And here she was, intruding. She could understand that. He was used to it being just him and Minion, and now there were hordes of strangers around 24/7. 

His eyes widened and he waved his hands at her. “No, I didn’t mean I had to get away from... look, I don’t mind if you come along. Really.” He fidgeted with the torn edge of his cape. “I’m glad you’re here.” He grabbed the controls with a jerky movement. “Hang onto the rail.” 

They flew through the night, past the silent buildings and the abandoned observatory on its hill. The street lights were on here, Roxanne noticed, in Megamind’s territory. They flew over the brainbots guarding the border, and he touched down on the mainland side.

Several of the brainbots and huge brutebots floated over, making excited bowg-bowg noises. A brutebot rumbled “BOWG” and the noise made her bones vibrate. 

Megamind petted them, tugged playfully at some of their pincers, and cooed, “Yes, there’s my ee-vil babies. Yes, you are. Working so hard! Chewing up those nasty zombies, aren’t you? Back in line, you vicious little cyborgs, Daddy will visit each and every one of you.” 

Roxanne looked around. The street lights behind the brainbots contrasted with the total darkness in the rest of the city. “You have emergency generators?”

He pointed out a nondescript skinny pillar. “Windmills and disguised solar panels power the Lair. It was a simple matter to hook up the rest of the neighborhood.”

Roxanne frowned. “That doesn’t look like a windmill. Where are the blades?”

“It operates by vibrations. The wind makes the cylinder oscillate, transforming kinetic power into energy.”

Roxanne covered her mouth to keep from laughing. “Your Lair is powered by giant... vibrators. That’s uh...” she fought down the giggles. “Very interesting.”

Megamind’s face split into a huge grin and he began to laugh.“I will never... I can’t even... giant vibrators?” He sat down on the street abruptly, and curled up.

Roxanne held her stomach and doubled over. “That’s so. Juvenile!”

“You started it,” he gasped, and buried his face in his arms, shoulders shaking with laughter.

It took a while for them to get a hold of themselves. The ‘bots watched with curiosity. Eventually he was able to get up again, and they continued their stroll down the line of ‘bots. Megamind held a hand up, brushing his fingertips against each one.

Roxanne’s stomach hurt from laughing so much. She said, “Thanks for letting me...us...inside.”

He cleared his throat. “Sure. No problem.”

“Round the clock vigilance, I see.”

“Whenever we go out on an excursion, it stirs up the zombies. The noise attracts them. Usually takes a few hours for them to come by, but I like to see for myself that all is quiet.”

“So the brainbots will sound an alarm when zombies shuffle by?”

“Oh, yes.”

Roxanne rubbed her arms. Now that the sun was down there was a chill in the air. A low fog was drifting in from the lake. “They’re waiting for us to die, aren’t they,” she said flatly. He gave her a questioning look. ”The army,” she said.

He sighed. “It looks that way.”

“I knew it. When they cut off all communications with the outside world, I knew it,” she said, her voice low. Her jaw tightened. “Won’t even let us tell our stories. Like we’re supposed to shut the hell up, roll over, and die.” 

I’m surprised you didn’t escape, she thought, but it sounded accusatory somehow, as if she didn’t think he was capable of it, that the army had succeeded where the prison had failed. Or accusatory in another way: I never would have believed you’d stick around and help people.

“Why did you stay?” she asked.

It took him a long time to answer. “Because I had to,” he said. He raised his hands and let them fall again to his sides. “They blew up a car. They have been shooting people. I send brainbots out along the outskirts of the city to discourage people from trying to leave, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do or not, Who am I to prevent people from trying escape if they want to? Sure as hell isn’t anything to keep people here. But even if some slip through the quarantine, they’ll be on the run and have to hide their true citizenship, or they’ll be shot on sight.”

His face was stricken in the red and blue glow of the brainbots. “I stayed because no one else was helping. Especially not... not you-know-who.”

“Metro Man,” Roxanne muttered.

“But I’m no hero, Miss Ritchi,” he said in a harsh voice. “One should do good because it is the right thing to do, expecting no reward in return.”

“So what do you expect to get as a reward?”

He grimaced and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “People were dying. I had to do something. I decided that if the so-called do-gooders weren’t going to take care of the city, then I would. But I don’t know how. I’m making it up as I go along. And I’m doing it all wrong. I should have...” He gave a violent shake of his head. “Our city’s first responders, the police, the firefighters... I don’t even know what happened to them. Your pal Hank is the first living police officer I’ve seen. Minion and I, we saw one police station, it was completely overrun with zombies. There were no life signs, there were no... the hospitals... all those people... the prison.” 

He wrapped his arms tightly around his chest. “I have done everything wrong,” he said savagely. He swiped a hand so hard over his eyes that Roxanne was afraid that he’d cut himself on the spiked glove. “The wrong order of importance. If I hadn’t been trying to do everything myself, I would have rounded up the police and firefighters right away, gotten the hospitals surrounded with brainbots. Sooner or later we’ll come across people with life-threatening injuries, and I have almost no medical supplies! And only one doctor!” He clutched his head. “All I’ll be able to do is dehydrate the injured with the de-gun, but I can’t preserve everyone in a state of suspended animation forever, I wasn’t prepared, I haven’t been trained, I wasn’t ready!”

Roxanne stepped in  front of him, forcing him to stop, and grabbed his forearms, carefully avoiding the spikes. “None of us saw this coming. None of us!”

He took a few more shuddering breaths, and slowly lowered his arms.  Roxanne let him go and looked him in the eye. “You can’t keep beating yourself up over what you should have done. Right now there are a lot of people in your Lair that wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. I think you’re being too hard on yourself. What, you think you don’t have the right motivation or something?”

His eyes moved back and forth a little in their sockets, searching her eyes. “Should be helping people out of a... sense of duty. I’m not one of those people who puts others’ welfare above their own,” he muttered. “I don’t have a good...” He wrapped his arms around his chest. “I’m not good.”

Roxanne scoffed. “If you waited until you achieved sainthood before you went out and helped, we’d all be dead, Megamind. No offense.”

He looked startled, and then he gave her a bemused smile. “You have demonstrated once again, Miss Ritchi, your unique insight, delivered along with a swift kick to the ego.”

“There’s good in everyone, Megamind,” she said. I never believed you were evil anyway, she thought, but didn’t say. His actions proved it, but she thought it would be better if he realized it for himself. 

They continued walking, and reached the end of the brainbot line. The waters of Lake Michigan lapped the shore, sparkling in the starlight. The full moon was high and white.

They watched the waves for a little while, then began to walk back. Megamind’s wrist comm beeped, and Minion’s voice floated out. “Sir, It’s been way over fifteen minutes.”

Megamind raised the comm to his mouth. “I know, filet mignon. We’re heading back now.”

“Wait a minute,” she said. “All wireless communications are blocked, right? Nothing in or out of the city, or within the city, even. How are you communicating?”

“Brainbots,” he said, pointing at a brainbot hovering nearby. There were so many of them flitting around that Roxanne barely noticed them anymore.

“And?” she prompted, putting her hands on her hips as he continued to look at her with a slight smile. “That still doesn’t explain how.”

“This isn’t the first time someone’s tried to block my communications. Messages are converted from digital data into laser light, then transmitted by nearest available brainbot to a relay station.” He pointed down the street. “There’s one on that roof. The signals travel from ‘bot to station to ‘bot and back to my comm along their lines of sight. The comm converts the signal back to digital so the message can be played. I have relay stations set up all over the city, powered by solar cells.”

His face was a portrait in smugness. She reached out and wiped at the spot on the bridge of his nose. “You know you got ink on your face? You’ll have to wash.” He was very still, not moving a muscle. She smiled, and began to walk off. He hurried to catch up.

Roxanne glanced at him. “Are you really saving all the bodies? The zombies even?”

“Zombies are people too.”

“Aren’t you worried about infection?”

He clapped a hand to his forehead. “I knew I was forgetting something.” 

“What?”

“I make it a point to inform newcomers. The virus... it’s different now. Or at least the virus unleashed upon the city is different. It doesn’t kill outright. It lies dormant until the host dies of other causes, and then the zombification process begins.” He told her what he’d learned, how someone had infected the city and set off a nerve gas to kill hundreds, maybe thousands of people, to get the zombie hordes underway.

Roxanne gasped, “You have to tell someone!”

”I know. I plan on...”

“Right now! What about your fantastic tech? Can’t you break through? With your laser lights?”

“No one else is capable of receiving my laser signals. The technology I developed is custom made, it’s not compatible with...”

“You have to try harder!”

“I am! When I get a few spare moments, I’ll...”

“This is important. This could convince them to stop the quarantine!”

“Or maybe it won’t,” he snapped. 

She put her hands on her hips. “You need to try anyway! Try again. Try harder!”

“Before or after I work out the complex formulas to replicate all of Doris’s medications? Or the insulin? I’ve got four diabetics on my hands, more now, probably, and when the insulin runs out, they could fall into comas and die. Or when I’m scrounging for food or searching for survivors or keeping the zombies from breaking in?” 

He closed his eyes with a heavy sigh. “Miss Ritchi, I have every intention of breaking through the barrage jamming they are leveling against the city, but even if I do manage to get a hold of someone in power, do you really think they’ll listen to me? The Master of All Villainy?”

“Then I’ll talk to them.” Roxanne said. “You know what, I need to start recording my own broadcasts.”

“Can’t broadcast anything, Miss Ritchi, remember?”

“I’m going to make reports anyway. Record what’s happening, interview survivors. If I can find a camera. And when you break through their jamming, I’ll start broadcasting.”

Megamind tapped his fingers against his lips. “I like that idea,” he said with a sly smile. “Very subversive. I’ll assign you a few of my camerabots.”

She sighed. “For once I wish Hal was here. He was... is... a good cameraman.”

Megamind glanced at her. “I suppose I should tell you.”

“Oh no. You found him? He’s dead?”

“No. He was the peeping tom.”

“Oh, gaaaawwwd,” she groaned. “Why am I not surprised?” She wiped her hands down her face. “Do I have this... this virus? Do all of us?”

“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “Possibly. Probably. I could draw a little blood and run a test, to tell for sure. Though non-lethal, it’s highly contagious. Everyone I’ve tested so far has it.”

“So that’s why you haven’t bothered with your own quarantine. Everyone already probably has it.”

“Except for me and Minion.”

She nodded. “Oh, because of the...uh...”

He smiled. “The alien thing, yes. If anyone dies in the Lair, I’ll have to put a hole in their heads so they don’t rise again.”

They walked along, their feet crunching on bits of gravel. Crickets chirped.

She glanced at him. “I kind of need to apologize.”

“For what? I told you, you’re not intruding.”

She rubbed her elbow. “Well, no, not that. I kind of had the idea I’d have to...buy... our way into the Lair.”

“Oh? I guess that was a reasonable to assume I’d charge an entrance fee. You all pooled your spare change?”

She licked her lips. “It was me.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “You have some small fortune saved up for a good cause? Don’t know if you should be telling me this, Miss Ritchi. I might rob you.” He chuckled.

She chuckled too, nervously. She could easily let the whole thing slide, let him think she was talking about money. She really should just let it slide. “I meant...well, you know. I was the fee.” 

He gave her a quizzical look. 

Geez, did she have to spell it out? “You know. I was the fee. Me.”

His grin faded, his mouth slowly dropped open, and his eyes grew round as realization dawned. “You were going to... and you thought I would... how evil do you think I am?!” he sputtered.

“I don’t know, you’re the one who always goes on and on about how eeev-il you are!” she said defensively.

“That’s why you wanted to talk to me in private? To offer your... your...” He waved his hands. “Services?” 

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry. Especially after you’ve already taken people in, I was impressed.” He still looked dismayed, his mouth turning down at the corners and his eyebrows scrunched together. She said, “Are you mad? You’re insulted, aren’t you.”

“Oh, no, no, not at all,” he said quickly. “Really. I’m...amazed. I guess I must have done a remarkable job convincing you of my evilness.” Apparently he’d succeeded beyond his wildest imagings. He shouldn’t be surprised that Roxanne assumed he might take advantage of her desperate situation. There were plenty of unscrupulous criminals who would have demanded it of her.

She’d been prepared to share his bed. This thought caused a squeezing sensation in his chest and made his knees wobbly. 

Get it together, stupid, she was willing to endure your loathsome embrace as an alternative to horrific death, nothing more.

“I thought we...” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Had a sort of understanding. I mean... there’s certain lines not to be crossed. I’d never take advantage of a helpless... not that you’re helpless,” he added. “But I’m not that kind of guy! Even with all the...the...”

“Flirting,” she said.

“But, you know, as sort of a way to pass the time...” His voice faded to a mumble.

Roxanne put her hand on her forehead. “Hoo boy,” she muttered, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks. A way to pass the time. “So you were never really interested in me.”

“I didn’t say that,” he cried. “I am interested, I mean, I would have been interested, but I can’t very well... you know... you were taken. And tied up. I couldn’t just... That’s just wrong. I meant that for you flirting was a way to pass the time, and get back at me, using your feminine wiles, not that I blame you a bit, I’d have done the same thing in your position.”

“What, use your feminine wiles?”

He stared at her for a moment, then they both laughed. “Maybe my masculine wiles,” he chuckled, rolling his eyes. 

They walked to the hovercraft. He said, “Um, so was it?  Just a way to pass the time?” 

She gave him a long, considering look, then shrugged. “Eh. Maybe at first.”

His heart gave a frantic flutter. At first? How about now? Her feelings changed? Did she like him? Or at least not hate him? How could she possibly like someone who did what he had done to her? Perhaps she was being kind. Yes, that was probably it.

He had no right to expect anything more. The universe had granted him a great gift, Roxanne Ritchi alive and well, and he didn’t dare ask for more. But that damn ray of hope in his soul would not go away.

He could, at least, let her know a little bit about how much he cared. “When I couldn’t find you at work or your apartment, it was almost the end of me.”

She gave him a surprised look. “Oh. I didn’t know you tried to find me.”

“I needed to see you were safe.” His heart rate speeded up again. Oh no. He shouldn’t have said any of that. Now maybe she’d feel obligated to...to... well, he didn’t know what she might feel obligated to do. Get away from him as quickly as possible, maybe.

He could feel potential awkwardness descending. He’d better say something, quick. He straightened his shoulders, adopting a pseudo-evil air. “Sooo,” he said, smiling devilishly at her. “If only I’d held out a little longer to hear what you had to say, this night would be turning out quite a bit differently.” He waggled his eyebrows. “You’d be coming to my room.”

She laughed. “I might as well, everybody thinks I’m sleeping with you anyway.”

He burst out laughing. “Ahahahaha. Yeah. Might as well. Stupid, isn’t it? That’s funny. Talk about crazy. That’s a good one. Ah-heh.” He  managed to stop before he became a complete babbling idiot. 

Somehow he managed to get his voice back to normal. “Bed’s a little small, though. Twin size. I idon’t know why the smallest has to be a twin, why don’t they just call it a single?” That wasn’t too bad, a good transition to safer, noncontroversial ground.

“You really should get beds for everyone, you know. It ought to be easy. Dehydrate them from a hotel or something, bring them to the Lair.”

He flung his hands up. “I know, I will, It’s on my never ending, constantly expanding list of one thousand and one things to do! Once I get a few more hovercrafts built, a few more people trained in, there can be more expeditions. And beds. We do need more beds.”

 - - - - - - - - - 

Back at the Lair, most of the lights had been turned down, and the place was in semi-darkness. Many people were tucked away under blankets on the floor. A few parents were trying to get children to settle down. 

Megamind was accosted by Doris, who seemed to have something extremely urgent on her mind. Megamind cast one last, exasperated look at Roxanne before turning to the old woman with strained patience.

When Roxanne came out of the new bathroom, having finally gotten a shower (she folded her bra up in her old clothes to wash them tomorrow), she ran into Noelle. “Going to bed?” the other woman said with a sniff. Her eyes darted in the direction of Megamind’s room.

Roxanne felt her anger flare. How’s that for gratitude? Don’t give me those moralizing eyerolls. If it wasn’t for me, you and your kiddies would still be stuck in that lobby.

“Yes, Noelle, I am,” she said. “If you or your children need anything in the night, you know where to find me.” With that she strode across the floor to Megamind’s room and went in. She was glad Agnes and Pilar had konked out and didn’t see her. She could sneak back to her blankets before her friends noticed her absence. 

She leaned on the door and bit her lip. Okay, she was definitely trespassing. And for what? To rub it in Noelle’s face that...

Well, shit, she wasn’t even sure what kind of point she’d been trying to make. The other woman had just been so superior, and Roxanne couldn’t resist the urge to shock her. To prove that she wouldn’t be ruled by someone else’s judgmental attitude.

When she peeked out, Noelle walked past. Three aisles of industrial shelving away, but she’d see Roxanne creeping out.

Roxanne shut it quickly. Goddamn it, was Noelle spying on her? But no, it looked as though Noelle had been heading for the Lair entrance. To visit her cop hubby Hank in his tent, presumably.

Roxanne looked around the room. It was rather small, smaller than her own room at home, with a closet that was hanging open, a dresser, a desk covered with tools, and, yes, a twin bed with rumpled blankets. A plastic protective mat was under the desk. Both desk and mat were covered with burn marks and old stains.

She wandered around and looked at the bookshelf. What did a supervillain read to pass the time? There were manuals for different cars, and a lot of technical-looking books, some of them with titles in different languages, including... Cyrillic? Okay, so he apparently could read Russian. Interesting. 

A row of white and pink paperbacks caught her eye. She selected one, and put her hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. Love Comes to Sunrise Valley. Megamind had the entire Wild Flowers romance series. Maybe she could introduce him to something less tacky.

Kind of surprising there wasn’t a TV in here, though there was an elaborate radio set-up on the desk. No windows, either. A Lynyrd Skynyrd poster and four calendars on the walls, one with scenes of lighthouses, were the only decorations.

She sat on the chair, but it was rickety and made her back ache, so at last she straightened out the messy bed and lay on top of the blankets. She’d have to wait long enough to make sure Noelle had gone to her sleeping place.

A minute later she was fast asleep.

 - - - - - - - -

Megamind would have cut Doris off a lot sooner, but he was so tired all he could do was nod and occasionally grunt to show he was listening, and pray for a merciful death. 

He had completely lost track of the topic. He was nodding along when something she said broke through the fog. “Wait. What? Uncles? Who’s sleeping where?”

“I said that your uncles have taken over one of the... the private rooms.”

He sighed heavily. He really did not want to be having this conversation. “Isn’t it tiring, Doris, keeping track of everybody’s business?”

“Excuse me, I was only trying to...”

“Lenny and Sid are a couple, Doris. Been together for years.” He scowled. “What gives you the right to judge them? I have half a mind to...”

“Mister Megamind,” she broke in coldly. “My own dear brother was a homosexual. I resent that you are so quick to assume that I am as small-minded bigot.”

Megamind felt more exasperated than ever. “Then what, exactly, is the problem?”

She put her hands on her hips. “They are sleeping in there. Sleeping. That is against the rules. Your rules, I would like to remind you. You said no one was allowed to spend the night in those rooms, because it wouldn’t be fair to others. And they already have perfectly good cots out here.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I will talk to them in the morning. All right? Good enough?”

He smiled in a brittle way and fled before she could complain about something else. He didn’t want to know how she knew what Lenny and Sid were doing. He should probably dehydrate her for a while for being a pushy old snoop, but then her grandkids would be on their own, and he didn’t have the heart.

He went to his room, was surprised to see the light was on (I must have left it on, he thought), and stopped short at the sight of Roxanne lying in his bed.

With speed and precision, he stepped back out and shut the door. He stared at his hand, still gripping the doorknob.

What. How had. Had he. Somehow gotten turned around? Lost in his own Lair? Was this one of the private rooms? And Roxanne decided to take it over?

But those had full sized beds. His own bed was a twin. Or a single. Or whatever the fuck it was called. This was the right corridor, wasn’t it? There were the familiar shelves, three deep, leading to the main area and monitor station. There was the dynamite that...

Why was that still out? Minion should have stored that away in one of the safes. One of these damn kids would get a hold of it and blow the place up.

Once he’d established, based on solid, incontrovertible evidence, that he was, in fact, standing outside his own bedroom, he cautiously pushed open the door again.

Why was Roxanne lying on his bed? He replayed their conversation.

It had been a joke. They were joking about her staying in his room, he was certain. Or had been certain. Had he missed something? There was laughing, and camaraderie, and... well, he was joking. Had Roxanne...not understood? That seemed too ridiculous to be true, and yet, here she was. 

She could sleep anywhere she wanted as far as he was concerned, but...

Okay, this was too weird. He tiptoed out.

 - - - - - -

The knock at the door was so faint that Minion almost missed it. He put down the toothbrush he’d been using to clean some gunk out of his knee joint and went to the door. To his surprise it was Megamind. The knock had been so timid, very unlike Sir. He’d thought it was one of the guests.

“Oh, hi, Sir. What’s up?”

Megamind drifted in. “Filters working all right? No problems there?” He straightened the photo of the warden on the wall with a distracted air, and wandered over to the aquarium. 

Minion nodded. Strange time to bring it up. “Checked ‘em last week. They’re good.”

“Fine, fine.” Megamind drifted over to Minion’s table, leaned on it, and elbowed a copy of Fish Fancy magazine onto the floor. He scooped it up and  squared it up with the others. “How about your fish flakes? Well-stocked? I can save some Spam for you.”

“I think I got enough fish flakes for the next decade. And Spam’s too salty for me, Sir, thanks anyway.” Minion frowned. Sir knew that. 

Minion watched him absentmindedly pick up an extra robot arm and put it down again. “Did you need something, Sir? Only I was going to power down for a while.”

Megamind fidgeted with a stack of DVDs, squaring them up. “I don’t think I can go to bed. Um. Someone’s in it.”

Minion’s eyes widened. That was very strange. Who would be so brazen as to take over Megamind’s bed? Usually the guests were pretty careful about Sir’s personal space, especially after the invisible car incident. Megamind’s behavior was especially weird. Minion would have thought he’d be furious. Certainly he was capable of kicking an interloper out.

Maybe one of the toddlers had toddled in and fallen asleep. That must be it. He might be a villain, but he didn’t like making babies cry. “One of the kids? I’ll go get the little hoodlum, Sir, and bring ‘em back to...”

“No!” Megamind shouted. “No,” he said more calmly. “It’s Miss Ritchi.”

“Miss Ritchi.”

“Sleeping in my bed.”

“Oooo-kay.”

Megamind ran a hand over his head, shifted from foot to foot, and crossed his arms. “Why do you think she’s there?”

Minion looked at Sir’s worried face, and general air of anxiety. Whatever was going on, Minion decided he better stay out of it. “I’ve got an idea, Sir.”

“An idea.”

“Now, it’s kind of crazy...”

Megamind looked alarmed. “Er. All right.”

Minion leaned closer. “Why don’t you...”

“Yes? What?”

“...ask her,” he said, grinning. 

Megamind scowled. “Gee, thanks, Minion. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”  He stalked out of the room.

“Glad I could help, Sir,” he said cheerfully. “G’night!”

“You forgot to put the dynamite away,” Megamind snapped, and slammed the door.

 -  - - - - - - - -

Insufferable ichthyoid! Fat lot of help! Ask a simple question, get a sly look and a bunch of sass. ‘Why don’t you ask her’, ha ha, well, joke’s on you, you simple simian, she’s asleep, how’m I supposed to ask her when she’s asleep? Should have put that infuriating fish in his place long ago, wouldn’t have to put up with all this backtalk.

He strode to his room. Reminding himself firmly that it was his room and it was impossible to trespass in his own room, he went in. There she was, still sleeping on her side with her hands tucked under her cheek and her soft lips slightly parted. He listened to her quiet breathing and considered the logistics.

He felt grimy, but pajamas were out. He could go change in the bathroom, but somehow being in the same room with Roxanne with nothing but a thin layer of cotton protecting him from the situation made his knees wobbly again. So pajamas were a no go. He would sleep in his uniform again, no big deal. That’d give him two layers. He’d take off the gloves and spiked mantle, collar, cape, and holster, but that was it.

He circled the perimeter. He really, really needed to lie down, and the floor hadn't been vacuumed in weeks. She wasn’t taking up that much space, he could sort of lie down on the other side. That would be all right, wouldn’t it? If he kept his back to her?

She shivered and scrunched down a little more into the pillow. She was lying on top of the blankets. He reached out to tug one free so he could lay it over her, but hesitated. That might wake her up. She might even leave.

He stood there in miserable indecision. This was obviously a silly mistake. Her shoes were still on. She had stopped by to talk to him about another concern that had occurred to her and had fallen asleep while waiting for him to get done talking to Doris. She would be embarrassed. It would be so much worse if he were lying next to her. How could he even think it? He should wake her up.

But she looked so tired. Her hair had grown longer. He rubbed his jaw, wishing he’d shaved. They were all pretty scruffy looking these days. Carefully he brushed her bangs back from her eyes with his fingertips. She made a little ‘mm’ noise and he snatched his hand back. Maybe it’d be okay to let her sleep a little longer.

It was probably the last time she’d be in his room, let alone his bed.

All the spare blankets were in use. He went to the closet, got a clean cape, and gently spread it over her. Overhead light off, desk lamp on so the room wasn’t in total darkness, good enough.

He got another cape, wrapped up in it, and lay down on the floor.

Chapter Text

 

Roxanne moved her cheek against the pillow. There was a faint odor of sweat. Not unpleasant. A hint of musk, slightly salty, warm and oddly comforting. Familiar. She’d caught Megamind’s scent from time to time, despite the massive amounts of deoderant he slathered on, especially when one of his schemes was going up in flames. At times like that, his sweat held the sharp tang of panic, when Metro Man was moving in for the kill. Well, not literally kill, of course, but...

Roxanne’s eyes snapped open and her entire body stiffened out of pure embarrasment. Oh no, she’d fallen asleep in his bed. His actual bed. She was a genuine floozy. Marching into his room and taking it over. 

By cautiously turning her head, she could tell she was the bed’s only occupant. She’d suspected as much, as she didn’t feel the weight or the warmth of another body next to her, but it was a little bit disappointing.

She grimaced. Oh for Chrissakes, disappointing? She was lucky he hadn’t accepted her presence as an invitation. Very, very lucky. Imagine, if he had... had laid down beside her. And woken her with a gentle caress, like maybe put a hand over her waist. There’d be no need for words between them, and she could stop ...stop pretending to be good. Stop pretending not like him. Stop pretending to be unimpressed. Stop pretending to...

She pressed her knuckles against her teeth and forced her brain to quit it. Those damn romance novels must have infected her through osmosis. She struggled to make her feelings line up in neat, logical order appropriate to the situation, but it was an uphill battle. 

She peered out from under half closed eyelids and scanned the room. With no windows and the clock out of her range of vision, it was impossible to tell what time it was. Maybe she’d only dozed off for a couple of minutes, and he hadn’t even come in yet. 

But there was a blanket covering her, and she was sure she hadn’t pulled it over herself. The overhead light was off. Another light shone somewhere and the room was in partial darkness.

A soft snore rose from somewhere around ground level. Oh no, she’d made him sleep on the damn floor. She rolled onto her back and, feeling the silky fabric slide over her arms, realized that it wasn’t a blanket, it was his cape. He’d covered her with his own cape and laid on the floor.

Guilt burned within her, along with a certain amount of exasperation. It was touching, really, but good grief, how gentlemanly could you get? 

He should have woken her up and told her to go to her own sleeping spot, that’s what he should  have done. Roxanne rolled her eyes. Yeah, all his fault, sure, I’ll keep telling myself that.

She got up on one elbow to look down on the back of his large blue head, pillowed on the crook of his arm. One closed eye and his nose were visible. Another cape was bunched around his shoulders. His other hand rested on the floor by his face.

She hardly ever saw him without gloves. The long fingers ended in neatly trimmed nails. His gloves were probably why he had such nice hands. His expressive face was relaxed and peaceful.

Okay, what were her options here? She could lie there until he woke up and they could have an awkward conversation. Or she could sneak out to her own sleeping spot awaiting her and they could have an awkward conversation later. Or pretend it never happened.

She wrinkled her nose. No. Or, third option, she could wake him up now and have an awkward conversation. 

Well, why did it have to be awkward? They were all adults here. It bolstered her nerve, the reminder she was a grown up and not a blushing teenager. Anyway, it wasn’t embarrassing, it was an accident, her falling asleep. No big deal. Really.

She could see the digital clock on the dresser. It was 6:37. She swung her legs over the side, the mattress creaking noisily, but his breathing remained steady.

What should she say? she wondered as she padded around to where he lay. Here, you can have a turn sleeping in the bed? Ha, ha. Eh, why not? A little humor could only help.

She stepped around his booted feet and crouched by his side, reaching out to touch his shoulder. “Megamind,” she whispered. Nothing happened. 

She tried a more vigorous shake. “Hey, wake up. You want a turn on the...”

Megamind went from horizontal to vertical in a single bound. Roxanne flailed back and landed on her butt, too surprised to even yelp.

Megamind loomed over her, fists raised, breathing hard, eyes wild and unfocused. He stared at her, then blinked and lowered his hands. “Miss Ritchi,” he gasped. “Oh.” 

Roxanne muttered, “Good morning to you too.”

“I am so... so incredibly sorry,” he whispered. He held out his hand to help her to her feet.

“Guess that’ll teach me,” she muttered, taking his hand. “Better let sleeping villains lie.”

His eyebrows scrunched together and his teeth bared in a worried grimace as he hoisted her to her feet. “Are you hurt? Did I hit you? You need ice?”

“No, no, and no. I think I’ll live.”

He looked down at his hand, still holding hers. He snatched his hand away as if burned, leaving hers briefly suspended.

He darted past her and clicked on the overhead light. She squinted at the sudden brightness.

“Your shoes are on,” he blurted. “And so are mine.”

She wrapped her arms around her middle. “Y-e-es,” she said cautiously. “Yes, they are.”

“That proves that nothing happened,” he said, his voice turning breathy and desperate. “Isn’t that a thing? I thought that was a thing. Proof of, of, of, nothing happening.” His hands fluttered around as he struggled to give shape to the unexplainable.

Roxanne pondered this for a moment. That sounded vaguely familiar. Keep your shoes on, and your feet on the floor, some sort of cautionary guidelines. Straight out of a 1950’s guidebook for naive, impressionable girls.

But you could, in fact, manage to have in sex, and still keep your shoes on and your feet on the floor, with a certain amount of clothing moved out of the way.

By the way Megamind’s face and ears were turning lavendar, he was having similar thoughts on physics and the nature of hanky panky. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Um. Y-you. You’re not injured?”

“No, no. I’m fine.” Her butt cheek had throbbed a little bit, but was fine  now. “You always wake up like that?”

He huffed out a breath and shook his head. “No. I was so deeply asleep, and I forgot you were here. I hit Minion once like that. Hurt me a lot more than it did him, let me tell you.” The words came out in a rush and he clicked his teeth shut as if to keep any more from escaping. He glanced around and hopped to one side. “Want to leave?”

She tilted her head. “You asking me to go, or...”

A pained look appeared on his face. “No, but, I was standing in front of the door and blocking your path.”

“Megamind, would you relax?” she said, letting out an incredulous laugh. “I’m not panicking, or trying to escape! Look, everything’s fine, okay?”

His hunched shoulders slowly relaxed and the frantic quality left his face. His mouth twitched briefly into a smile, and he opened his mouth, but whatever he was about to say was lost. From outside the room there was a distant sound of voices and footsteps, coming closer.

He looked at her, and his mouth twitched into an apologetic smile, but it had overtones of grimness, too, as if he knew what sort of news was coming their way.

The knock sounded. “Sir, it’s zombies,” Minion said. “At the border. Are you decent?”

“All right, I’m coming.” Megamind walked over to the nightstand where  the de-gun holster lay, and buckled it around his waist. He picked up the cape from the floor and swept it around his shoulders as he crossed the room to get his spiked shoulder guards. “And of course I’m decent! We’re both decent!”

Roxanne watched his blue hands making neat, nimble movements, straightening the high collar, and clasping the whole get-up together with the decorative ‘M’ at the base of his throat. 

Megamind grumbled, “Am I decent. What kind of question is that. Nohting but decency as far as the eye can see.”

There was something incredibly cute and dorky about his huffiness. A fluttering under her ribcage made her hug her stomach again. She regretted that they hadn’t had more time to talk. Just when he’d been starting to calm down, too. She realized she was staring, but, well, she had to look at him, right? They had business to attend to. She tried for a less-stare-y, casual sort of gaze. “I’m going to need a camera. For reporting.”

She watched his blue hands disappear into the blackness of his gloves as he flexed them into the fingers. She could see the transformation taking place with each piece of clothing he put on. He no longer looked flustered and ready to bolt. His face was set with determination and focused on the tasks at hand. And yet his eyes remained fixed on her as she spoke.

“How about two?” he said. “One for close-ups, one for wide shots?”

She nodded. “Yeah. That’d be great.”

His gaze flickered to the bed. His cheeks colored and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, then he swept out, face carefully blank.

Roxanne looked. The blouse she’d balled up and held next to her last night had come undone, and her bra lay perkily on top of the wrinkled fabric. Oh, great. She scared him off.

She wasn’t going to make a broadcast wearing this t-shirt. The blouse, wrinkled and sweat-stained, would have to do. She wondered if Megamind could give her a lift to her apartment so she could get some clean clothes.

She locked the door so he didn’t accidentally barge in on her. If he interrupted her while she was changing, he’d probably self-combust.

She wished she had some deoderant or perfume or something, because the shirt reeked. A deoderant stick sat among the debris on Megamind’s desk, but no. She had intruded enough. 

Besides, Megamind noticed things like that. If she showed up smelling of his deoderant, he would know she had helped herself to one of his personal care items. He was annoyingly good about picking up little details. Or maybe just details concerning her.

Besides, everybody carried some natural stink on them these days. Toiletries were in short supply, as well as the opportunity to use them, so you just got used to being a member of the unwashed and breathed through your mouth. At least she’d gotten a shower last night.

She went out and, dodging around slumbering bodies on the floor, hurried into the bathroom to relieve her bladder. Someone was busy being sick in one of the stalls. She thought she recognized the pair of shoes on the end of the kneeling legs as belonging to Kailey. Hoo boy. Hope that’s not morning sickness. 

Two other tousle-haired women were at the sinks. They splashed water on their faces and one of them yanked her hair into a pony-tail on top of her head. That one stalked out without a word to Roxanne, but the other woman gave her a timid smile and said, “You get called to the front, too?”

Roxanne smiled back “Yeah, I guess so.” She and her fellow refugee came out and followed the sound of Megamind’s shouting to the other side of the Lair, where Minion was passing out rifles to a group of people, fidgeting and rubbing their eyes.

One man with torn-off sleeves dangled his rifle from one hand, swinging it idly back and forth. He sighed noisily. 

“Get that barrel up,” Megamind said, striding past him. The guy swung the rifle into the crook of his arm in an exaggerated way. He made a face at Megamind’s back.

Megamind snapped his fingers at the ceiling, where a cloud of brainbots hovered. “You two!”

Two brainbots swooped down and hovered on either side of her like bad-ass angels. 

“This is Muybridge and Eastman,” he said. “Give them instructions as you would your regular cameraman.” He handed her a wireless microphone. “Your voice will be recorded using light tech.” Minion trotted over with her handgun and she strapped the holster on.

“Move out!” Megamind strode down the hall with the swirl of a cape.

Just outside the entrance, Megamind slowed to a stop and stared at something on the ground. Roxanne, a few people behind, came up next to him to see what he was looking at. 

Hank snored under a sleeping bag by the wall, and he wasn’t alone. The red-haired woman curled up next to him was definitely not his wife. 

Roxanne shook her head. Their first night in a safe place, Hank gets it on with Jessica again. Seriously? No wonder Noelle felt like she had to keep an eye on him. And what the hell was Jessica thinking?

The defenders shuffled their feet, a few of them snickering. None of them had been part of Roxanne’s group of refugees and so had only met Hank yesterday, but word could get around that the guy sleeping outside had scored. Noelle would undoubtedly hear. 

“Wish I was a cop,” the sleeveless guy with a smirk. 

“Should have more privacy around here,” the pony-tailed woman muttered. 

Roxanne leaned toward Megamind, who was frowning at the sleeping couple. “Megamind, is there a way to be discrete about this?” 

Megamind gave her an unreadable look, then walked over and kicked Hank sharply in the ankle region. Hank yelped and jerked upright. Jessica’s eyes flew open. She gasped at the sight of the smirking crowd and yanked the sleeping bag over her face, almost giving them all an untrammeled view of the entire vista of Hank. He clutched the remainder over his lap.

“Rise and shine, copper!” Megamind said. “The zombies await. Minion’s got your gun. And for the love of all that’s ee-vil, put your pants on.” He turned to the defenders. “Get to the hovercraft. Give them some distance.”

Everyone hurried past, the sleeveless guy and a few others smirking and tittering. 

Roxanne climbed aboard with the other defenders while Megamind paced on the ground. Everyone watched with interest as, across the way, Hank tried to put both feet in one pants leg and fell over. The sleeping bag wriggled as Jessica struggled to get dressed undercover.

Roxanne leaned her elbows on the railing. “That’s your idea of discrete?” she said drily.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “You want his wife to catch him when she brings out breakfast? Though it would have been nice,” he said, giving Minion a pointed look, “if lover boy and his consort could have hidden their sordid affair in a tent.”

“It was moldy. He said he didn’t need it, long as it didn’t rain.”

“Jessica’s actually a pretty good shooter,” Roxanne said. 

Megamind paused in his pacing, then started up again. “Good to know, but she can have a turn at zombie killing next time. It’d be a good idea to separate the lovebirds for a bit. Wouldn’t it?” He frowned, and shook his head with a growl. “It’s giving me a headache. If Noelle kills them, at least I’ll have something for the alligators.” He shouted across the yard, “Move it, flatfoot, we don’t have all day!” 

Hank came at a jog, stuffing his shirt into his waistband. He didn’t look nearly as embarrassed as Roxanne thought he should. For a moment she wished Megamind had kicked him a lot harder, higher up.

 - - - - - - - - - 

At the border, a horde of brainbots were busy at work, biting zombies, shooting zombies, tearing zombies limb from limb. Bones cracked, zombies wheezed and groaned. The spider-bot was there too, leaping at one zombie after another, crushing them. Arms and legs and worse things lay on the pavement. Roxanne, heart hammering against her ribs, reminded herself that they didn’t feel pain. 

“We got out of bed for this?” muttered the sleeveless guy.

Muybridge, she’d discovered, could give her a countdown. In other circumstances, she would have been amused by the three pincers it held up so seriously in front of her, counting the seconds, but not with all those awful sounds of dismemberment in the background.

“This is Roxanne Ritchi, reporting from Metro City. Megamind is leading a group of brave men and women to meet the zombie threat. I’m given to understand that most of them are armed with laser rifles of his own design, though a few defenders, such as Officer Hank Gilmore, have more conventional handguns.” She wasn’t real keen to give that philanderer credit as a defender, but he was the only one there that she knew, and adding names to a report would increase interest. 

She turned sideways to keep an eye on the action. The bowg-ing of the ‘bots grew in intensity as they descended on a large group of zombies. None of the undead made it within a block of the border. 

Megamind paced back and forth, facing the carnage whichever way he turned. The sleeveless man yawned noisily. The defenders shifted their weight, and tapped their fingers on their guns, and watched Megamind, waiting for his signal. 

Megamind came to a halt. “Kevin,” he barked. “Front and center.”

The sleeveless guy stiffened, glanced around looking for help, then, finding none, slowly began walking to where Megamind stood, watching at the milling ‘bots.

“One of the defenders, Kevin, has been called forward,” Roxanne said quietly, feeling a little foolish about stating the obvious, but she had to. Sometimes pictures were unclear or footage was lost, and if you didn’t have the obvious statements, it was easy to lose the thread of a story. She was out of practice. 

Without her having to give an order, Muybridge pointed its little camera toward the shuffling figure.  

Megamind waved an arm around at the chaos. “What do you see, Kev?”

Kevin mumbled, “Your robots. Killing zombies.” He mumbled something else Roxanne couldn’t pick up.

Megamind raised an eyebrow at him. “Really? Here’s what I see.” He took a deep breath. “Brainbots! Brutebots! Fall back and regroup!” he bellowed. “Behind the line!”

Soon all the ‘bots had flown back, some of them breaking off in mid-attack. They crowded behind the defenders, bowg-ing and whining.

Roxanne stuck her microphone under her arm and drew her gun. “For some reason, Megamind has called off the brainbots,” she said, leaning her face down so the mic would pick up her voice. “Zombies are now coming this way.” She fumbled for the safety catch, “For some reason,” she repeated more loudly, “he has called off the defense.” Gun in one hand, mic in the other, her hands sweated.

“Here’s what I see,” Megamind said, pitching his voice to carry to all ears. “I see the ‘bots are disabled, and I am out of action, struck down in my prime.” He staggered, flinging an arm over his eyes. “Minion’s out of action too, clobbered by some... oh, I don’t know, a random meteor strike. Minion, stand down. You’re dead.”

Minion, who had hurried up with his own rifle, gaped at him, and hesitantly took a few steps back, fins trembling.

Roxanne backed up to press against the other open-mouthed defenders, sticking close to the brainbots and brutebots.  “The zombies are almost on us,” she said a little breathlessly into the mic. “But I’m sure Megamind won’t let his lesson get out of hand.”

Megamind ran his gaze over the defenders. “No one shoots without my express order. Anyone who opens fire without my say-so gets a week’s dehydration.”

“Sir-!” Minion cried.

Megamind wore a feral grin. “Even you, filet mignon. Stand down.”

“What?! Oh come on, Sir, isn’t that-”

Megamind shot him a warning look. Minion shut his mouth with a click.

Kevin started to back up, but Megamind grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him back with one hand. “Hold it right there, bucko. You are the last hope of your fellow survivors. What do you do?”

“Ah-ah-ah-ah... I...shoot them?” he squeaked.

“Boingo!” Megamind shouted. “Fire at will.”

Kevin hoisted the rifle up. Laser shots darted away like frightened birds.

“Head shots, Kevin, head shots,” Megamind said. Finally, finally, after much too long a time for Roxanne’s comfort, he drew the de-gun, taking out the zombies that Kevin missed, which was almost all of them.

“Several difficulties arise with zombies,” Megamind said, still pitching his voice to carry. “They feel no pain. Even when you shoot their legs off they keep on coming. Like that one, there. It might have been in that zombie pile-up yesterday, look at it, it’s half-trampled. But it’s crawling along, and both feet missing! What a trooper. Of course, a shot to the torso...” 

He paused to shoot three dangerously close zombies in their heads in quick succession. PEW-PEW-PEW went the de-gun. Kevin whimpered.

“A shot to the torso would stop a living human in his or her tracks. But not zombies! A head shot is the only sure way to stop them,” Megamind announced. “The torso is a larger target, and therefore easier to hit, the head is much smaller, and, now stay with me here, more difficult to hit. On account of being smaller. A head shot should be easier as a zombie gets closer, but here we find that another difficulty presents itself.”

Roxanne jammed the microphone into her belt so she could hold the gun with both hands. She wasn’t going to do any more recording until this stupid fucking lesson was over.

“The closer they get,” Megamind said, voice bouncing off the buildings, “the more terrifying they become.” He pointed with the de-gun. “You can see their faces. And they may even be people you know. You can see the rot. You can see the horrific injuries they have endured as they shuffle through unlife, getting hit by cars, falling from heights, clobbered by baseball bats wielded by terrified humans.”

He shot five more zombies. PEW-PEW-PEW-PEW-PEW. “The broken limbs, the torn skin, the occasional dangling eye... oh, look, that one’s dragging its own intestines. So your hands shake.” He tapped Kevin lightly on the wrist with the de-gun’s barrel. “Your shoulders hunch,” he said, tapping his shoulder. “Your knees get weak. And your aim gets progressively worse.”

Kevin, shaking like a palm tree in a hurricane, had a hopeless, glassy-eyed look. Wheezing zombies crowded the street, lurching, staggering, red mouths gaping.

Megamind ran a hard gaze over the defenders. “This. Is why. We practice,” he thundered. “This. Is why. I drag a select number of you out of your cozy blankets when the zombies attack. My ‘bots are a fantastic defense, but even they are not infallible. If they should fail, if Minion and I should perish, you will be on your own. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, all that crap. All right, people. Line up.”

Roxanne didn’t lower her gun until the nervous defenders had gotten in position on either side of the sagging Kevin and Megamind.

“Brainbots and brutebots, flank,” Megamind barked. He lifted his hand. “Oh, and try not to hit my ‘bots, if you don’t mind. Fire.”

Guns went off, the brainbots and brutebots dove.

Roxanne took out the mic and faced her camerabot. She was glad that her hand shook only a little. “Megamind has delivered a very... pointed lesson on the necessity of being prepared. One wonders if he might have gone too far.” She shot him a sharp look, wondering if he could even hear her over the noise. He glanced at her over his shoulder and gave her a grim smile.

 - - - - - - - - 

The sun was high by the time the zombies were mowed down. A few fluffy clouds and the cool wind coming off the lake gave some relief from the heat. Megamind dehydrated the corpses. Minion stored the cubes in a satchel. At last the streets were clear, leaving only a few smears of red.

They wandered back to the hovercraft. 

“Excellent work, Miss Ritchi,” he said, smiling.

She snorted. “I could have done without almost getting overrun by zombies, but other than that, yeah, went pretty well.” 

“So long as you got my good side.”

Minion muttered, “Wasn’t that lesson bit much, Sir? Kevin almost peed his pants.”

“Nonsense! It was motivational. He’s got enough energy to bitch and moan and make faces behind my back. I merely redirected it into a more worthwhile activity.”

The shade of the taller buildings cut the heat by a good five degrees.

Megamind called Hank over to walk beside him.  “After lunch I want you to assess all the newcomers. See which ones have firearms experience. If they don’t have any, see that they get it.”

“I don’t know how to work those laser rifles. And I’m almost out of ammo.”

“Minion will show you how they work. The firing range is in the basement.”

Hank nodded. “Okay, Overlord.”

Roxanne thought, Huh, that’s actually pretty appropriate. She chuckled, and looked over to Megamind to say so, but she was alone.

Megamind had stopped several paces behind her, mouth hanging open and eyes wide with shock.

In the next instant the shock disappeared under a mask of rage.

There must have been a secret signal that Roxanne missed, because suddenly Hank was surrounded by brainbots. The other defenders strolling along yelped and flattened themselves against the brick.

Megamind’s hands clenched into fists at his side, his eyes bright with fury. “Was that a joke?”

Yikes. Roxanne glanced at Minion for help in getting him calmed down, and was taken aback by the fierce expression on the henchfish’s face. She realized that Minion, whom she had always assumed was the more cool-headed of the two villains, didn’t like cops either. Something in the way he stuck out his toothy jaw and hefted the rifle made Roxanne suspect he wouldn’t interfere or even protest if Megamind gave the ‘kill’ order.

A chill ran through her. Megamind wouldn’t do that, would he? He was furious, but there was an inflection in his voice that she thought she recognized as hurt. 

Hank stood rigid within the circle of snarling ‘bots, his elbows clamped to his sides and his hands up by his chest. “N-no! Not... I didn’t... I wasn’t...that’s not what I... I didn’t mean...” He stammered to a stop.

Roxanne stuck her thumbs in her pockets. “You got to admit, it fits,” she said, and was amazed at how casual her voice sounded. 

Megamind’s eyes snapped toward her, and she was heartened to see a flicker of uncertainty. Uncertainty meant he was thinking, reassessing. She gazed calmly back and the fires of rage died down a little. He turned his glare back to Hank. “Explain,” he said, still in that cold voice.

Hank swallowed hard. “I wasn’t...wasn’t dissing you. Seriously. It’s ironic, kinda funny. Not funny ha-ha,” he added a little breathlessly as a muscle jumped in Megamind’s jaw. “I meant, funny strange. Strange-how-things-work-out kind of thing? You trying to take over the city for so long, and now you kinda have? So...Overlord.”

“Yeah,” Roxanne said, nodding. “Just what I was thinking. You’re the closest thing we’ve got to law and order in the city, Megamind. Sounds like Overlord business to me.”

Meamind searched her face as if trying to see if she was kidding. His brows were still drawn together but now he looked a good deal more puzzled than angry. 

Minion’s eyes grew round as he slowly drew in a deep gasp of wonder. “It’s a dream come true,” he whispered.

One of the defenders, a man with long scraggly hair, grinned. “Hey, yeah, man. You’re like really the Overlord now.” A few others chuckled and nodded.

Megamind glanced at the defenders, then over at the beaming Minion, who nodded encouragingly. Some of the angry stiffness left him. His fists relaxed and became hands again. “Well...that’s all right then,” he said. “I guess.”

He waved his hand, and the brainbots lowered their menacing arms, withdrew their lasers, and drifted away. Hank let out a long, slow breath. Megamind gave him another brief, suspicious look before turning on his heel and marching back to the hovercraft.

 - - - - - - - - - - -

After he deposited the cubes in the morgue and came out, the Overlord name was on everyone’s lips.

People acted as if they were proud of it. As if it was cool and hip and awesome. As if he hadn’t spent the last two decades bragging about becoming the Overlord and grinding them under his heel. Somehow the part about Hank nearly getting torn asunder for his effrontery was lost in the retelling. 

The Lair bustled. Children ran back and forth, shrieking. People put blankets away on shelves, sorted through belongings, borrowed dry towels, shampoo, laundry detergent. They called out across the Lair, greeting him cheerfully with “Hi, Overlord!” “Hey there, Overlord!” “Hey, Overlord, whasss-uuuppp!”

He didn’t smile or frown, and responded with curt nods bordering on rudeness, and they loved it.

What the fuck?

He checked to make sure his blueprints were safely locked away, and cast a glum look at the marker and crayon streaks on his drafting table. When he’d said it was okay for the kids to use any of his tables for arts and crafts, he hadn’t expected this. The amount of mess a person made, he decided, was inversely proportionate to their size. 

He peered at the table more closely. What was that... that sparkly dust? Glitter? He brushed at it but the tiny granules stuck to his glove.

Luke, ex-con and former pot-head only because there was no pot to be had, walked up with a hand held high. “Hey, Overlord, how’s it hangin’?”

Megamind’s glare froze Luke in  his tracks. Ice crystals formed in the air.

Luke’s smile wavered. He wheezed out a nervous chuckle and shoved his hand behind his back. “Okaaay, Overlord’s not a fan of the high five. Aheheh. Got it. No problemo.” He smiled madly and backed up. “Great, uh, talkin’ to you, Overlord.” He scuttled away.

Megamind brushed his hands off, but the glitter merely got spread around. Insidious, evil substance! He strode through the Lair, nerves twanging, ready to deliver his wrath upon the first person who exhibited any hint of mockery, regardless of age or gender. But no one appeared to be laughing at him, and no one tried to high-five him again. 

There was an unusual amount of cheer in the Lair, but it was a generalized sort of cheer.

What was this! As little as a month ago, he and Minion were the entirety of the Lair’s mood, he, Megamind, especially! Now all these others were stuffed into it, cluttering up the atmosphere with their moods and emotions and melodrama. 

Roxanne stood with her two friends, deep in conversation. As one woman, all three looked at him. His face grew hot under their combined gazes.

His jaw tightened, and, rather than walk by as had been his original plan, he walked up to them.

“Miss Ritchi. Pilar. Agnes.” He nodded at them.

Pilar’s and Agnes’ eyebrows shot up. “You know everybody’s names?” Agnes asked.

“I haven’t heard the names of all the newcomers yet, but I will learn them,” he said. “Miss Ritchi, we need to discuss another broadcast opportunity. In about ten minutes?”

“Sure,” she said. “Whenever you want.”

Her eyes were very bright. He could get lost in those eyes. For a few seconds the noise of the Lair faded. 

Pilar coughed. Flushing, he glanced at Roxanne’s buddies, but both of them were looking off into the distance.

Roxanne gave him a brief smile, her hand fluttering up to push a lock of hair behind her ear. “Sure. Whenever you want. I’m available.”

Oh my God, those ears. Did she do that on purpose? He swallowed and forced himself to meet her eyes. “All right, then. I-I mean, no, nothing else.” He frowned at Agnes, who appeared to be choking, then he left to find Minion.

They watched him stride away. Pilar said, “Nothing happened last night? For real?”

Roxanne was sure her face was crimson. “Of course nothing happened.” She tossed back her bangs and met their amused grins. “I told you, I didn’t mean to spend the night in there. It won’t happen again. What?” she snapped as her friends exchanged meaningful looks.

“I don’t think you should back off. Go back again tonight.”

“Seriously?! Waltz into his room and take over his bed again? Ha, very funny.”

“No, you don’t have to, you know, go all the way, but it’s probably a good idea to stake your claim. Lot of women around here.”

Agnes nodded. “Some might want to hook up with the Overlord.”

Pilar pointed with her chin. “And I don’t want to alarm you, but I’m pretty sure that chick over there checked him out when he walked by.”

Roxanne stiffened. Which one?” she muttered, looking around cautiously.

“The blonde with the swishy hair.”

Roxanne studied her out of the corner of her eye. Damn it, that woman did have long blonde hair that probably went ‘swish’ when she tossed her head. Roxanne felt her hackles rise, covered with spikes and ready to deliver bodily harm. She looked away and frowned at the floor. I can’t believe this. Am I going to get into some damn catfight? ‘Hands off, he’s mine’? How cliche can you get? But...I saw him first! I’m the one he kidnaps, the only one. Hell, I’ll bet that girl wouldn’t be looking at him like that if it weren’t for this zombie business. 

A hard little knot formed in her stomach. She knew nothing about his private life. She’d always assumed... he was such a dork in so many ways, she assumed he didn’t really have much experience with women. Dork he might be, but a very attractive one. 

Had other women noticed how attractive he really was? His athletic grace, his infectious excitement? Goddammit, why did he have to walk around in that skin-tight outfit all the time? Despite his bragging about being so incredibly handsome, she had chalked that up to his false bravado, and maybe even a hint of self-deprecation. 

Was he aware of how attractive he was?

He had become quite adept at flirting with her. Had he ever... flirted with anyone else?

The tidal wave of jealousy that washed over her almost took her breath away. She had no claim on him, really, and had no right to object if...

Pilar touched her arm. “Hey, look, maybe you could talk to him again? We were just teasing about staying in his room.”

“Yeah, I mean, we’re not gonna, like, dare you to go in there or anything,” said Agnes.

“Or judge you,” Pilar said. “Totally no judging here. But seriously, that woman gave him the ol’ up and down look.”

They were staring at her in concern. She nodded. “Thanks, guys. I know what I’m going to do.”

Chapter Text

 

Before blowing up the prison, they had scavenged the stoves from it. Too big for the Lair’s small kitchen, they sat outside it along the wall, contributing to the noise and chaos whenever mealtimes rolled around. Minion supervised the confused bustle of breakfast, which was more Spam and a huge vat of oatmeal.  

People ate in shifts, at folding tables or standing up or sitting on the floor, from prison trays. The trays had been clean so Megamind felt no qualms about taking them. It wasn’t as if the zombies had used them.

Minion’s face split into a big grin at the sight of him.“There he is, Mister Evil Overlord!” 

“Hi, Overlord!” chorused the group.

Doris gave a disapproving sniff, her eyes narrowing behind her horn-rimmed glasses. “Must it be Evil Overlord? It’s not the kind of example you should be setting, Mister Minion.”

“Oh, I guess we can leave off the ‘Evil’ part. You’re okay with that, right, Sir?”

Megamind grabbed Minion’s elbow. “Meeting. Now.”

He led the way back into the relative dark and quiet behind the stacks of spare car parts. “Everyone’s calling me Overlord.”

“I know, it’s so awesome. Isn’t it great?” Minion clutched his hands to his chest with glee. 

“Awesome? Great?” he sputtered. “How is it great?”

Minion’s toothy grin faded and he blinked at him. “But... but it’s what we’ve always wanted. They accept you as their Overlord. They like it.”

He snapped his fingers. “That’s it, that’s it exactly, you have hit the bull’s-eye on the nail. That’s what’s wrong! Overlord is a title of fear and intimidation.” He raised his black-gloved hand and closed it into a fist. “A title that shows my absolute supremacy over the populace. They’re not supposed to like it.”

Minion shook his little body back and forth. “But so what? You upset ‘cause that cop said it first?”

Megamind snarled, “Certainly doesn’t help! Now everybody’s walking around nudging each other in the ribs and chuckling, ‘oh ho ho, we’re all part of the club, aren’t we clever.’ This is intolerable.”

Roxanne stepped around the corner. “Boy, you really hate winning, don’t you?”

“That is not true,” he said huffily. “I merely dislike the... the cheapening of the Overlord name.” He crossed his arms over his chest, then, realizing that he was pouting, forced his arms down to his sides and tried to fix Roxanne a look of offended dignity. 

As usual, she failed to cower, and instead raised an eyebrow at him. “Cheapened? Really?”

He made a disgusted noise but he could feel the absurdity of his indignation creeping up on him. “It’s been downgraded to a mere nickname. Tossed so casually about.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Well, I guess you’ll have to order people to go back to calling you Mister Megamind, then.”

Megamind opened and shut his mouth. A strange stubbornness stole over him. He didn’t really want to tell them to stop calling him Overlord. The way people had greeted him, as if they were actually glad to see him for once, and not look at him with dread that he was going to shout at them or sic the brainbots on them.

Well. It wasn’t exactly disrespectful, was it? Making them stop... was it even possible? Or desirable? He had claimed the city as his own, as broken as it was. The city was his. Denying the title felt like a step back.

He couldn’t throw away the title he’d coveted for so many years, simply because it had been bestowed on him in such an unorthodox manner. He lifted his chin. “Very well, I accept.”

Roxanne sucked in her lips as if fighting back a laugh. “I’m so glad. Hope it’s not mandatory. ‘Cause I’m not calling you that.”

He scoffed. “And why not, Miss Ritchi?” Not that he was surprised. Leave it to Roxanne to stand against him.

“Someone’s gotta keep you humble. But you can call me Roxanne if you want. Especially if we’re going to be roommates.”

He stopped breathing.

Minion tapped his fingertips together. “Um, I’m gonna check on the... I’ve got to... there’s this... I’m gonna go.” He beat a hasty retreat.

She bit her lip. “Look, if you need your personal space, I’ll understand, but I’d kind of like to stay in your room, if that’s okay with you. For sleep,” she said, raising a hand as if to stop his questioning. “Like last night. Actual sleep.”

Megamind grabbed double handfuls of his cape. “Oh. Well, now. This is all very... Yes. Okay. I liked having you. Or not having you. Having you stay!” He was forced to breathe again, purely as a natural response of his respiratory system. “In the room! Not any other kind of having. 

He took another deep breath. “Having you stay in my room will be fine,” he said clearly and distinctly. His entire face felt like it had caught fire. “But wouldn’t you rather be with your friends? Because people talk. About things. Not that you care what anybody else thinks! Ha! I certainly don’t care. Unless you care. Anyone who besmirches your reputation will have me to answer to, you can bet on that, Miss Ritchi! Is this a punishment?” 

Oh, why didn’t he die before that came out of his mouth?

She tilted her head. “Having me in your room is a punishment?” 

He waved his hands. “No, no, that’s not what I meant.” If she got angry she might storm off and he would never be able to talk to her again. 

If she were in his room he wouldn’t be able to hide his feelings from her any longer and she’d get the hell away from him as fast as possible if she knew the pathetic depths of his desire, and even if he spent the rest of his life sleeping on the floor, sooner or later he was going to get a hard-on the size of Metro Tower, and she would catch him and that would send her on her way even quicker, and why was he such a dog? 

“I don’t know what you want. I just... I don’t understand why you want to stay in my room,” he said helplessly. A little surge of anger asserted itself, and he couldn’t keep it out of his voice. “And it is my room. I think I have a right to know.” She had to suspect the effect she had on him. Maybe she enjoyed torturing him.

Roxanne rubbed her hands on her pants. This was a lot scarier than she thought it would be, and a lot harder to say out loud. She never would have suggested such a thing normally, to move in with a man she wasn’t even dating, for crying out loud, but she felt like she was running out of time. There was no time for first dates or for doing things in an ordinary fashion, no time for going out once in a while and seeing if they clicked.

She already knew they clicked pretty damn good, at least at certain, very specific times

She could die tomorrow. Or he could. That thought made her throat tighten. She had to swallow in order to continue. 

“I want to get to know you better,” she said, her face reddening. “I don’t want to rush into anything, but there’s so much death, I’ve seen so many die that I don’t want to waste any more time playing games.” She closed her eyes. “Shit, I don’t think I’m saying this right. I’m trying to say, I like you.”

I’ve seen what you’ve done for this city, and what you’re trying to do, and I never truly believed you were evil. In fact, I might even be falling in love with you. But she couldn’t say that, talk about pressure.

“I want to get to know you better.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Damn it, I keep saying that. We’ve known each other for, what, five years?”

“Five and three-quarters.”

She huffed out a breathy laugh. “Right. And I don’t want you to think this is some kind of... oh, I don’t know what to call it. Last ditch effort to avoid death, or seeing you as an alternative to ... I don’t know. And, well, there’s a lot of competition out there.” Roxanne clapped a hand over her eyes. “Oh, fuck, why did I say that?” 

He shook his head, bewildered by the change in topic, and it didn’t help that his heart had started pounding when she said ‘I like you.’ He wasn’t sure he heard her correctly. “What kind of competition?”

She dragged her hand down her face and peered at him. “Other women. You know.”

“Ooo-kay. The other women in the Lair?” He cocked his head, a puzzled frown wrinkling his brows, and then he got it. “Oh. Like a shooting competition? That’s an excellent idea! I’ve noticed a few women seem rather nervous around firearms, a shooting contest might be just the thing. A different, less strenuous form of becoming familiar with weapons.” 

He tapped his chin and paced a few steps, excitement building as it unfolded in his mind. “Could be a welcome distraction from the zombie stress, too. There can be stationary and mobile targets, and prizes. Probably ought to have a contest for the men, too, they tend to have the opposite problem, acting like they know what they’re doing when they really don’t. Or would an open competition based purely on skill level rather than gender be best, what do you think, Miss Ritchi? Er, I mean, Roxanne?”

Using her first name was oddly gratifying. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach. There had been no rule against it, really, it was all part of the supervillain persona. Being excessively polite made it more ee-vil when you were dangling the victim over the alligator pit. 

He wondered why she was staring at him as if he’d lost his mind, but maybe he’d imagined it, because she coughed and looked away, and said, “Um, yeah, that’s.... yeah, we’ll have to work on that. Er... i guess what I’m trying to say is that whatever else happens, I want to see if... if there’s anything going on.” She pointed at herself and him a few times. “Anything here. Between us.” She sighed. “Well, that was eloquent,” she muttered. “But I want something real, not a ...a fling.”

A pleasant, trembly sort of warmth spread through him. She wanted to get to know him better? And not a fling. So there were some definite boundaries here, he could handle that. He felt a little more secure with rules in place. You had to have rules, even if you decided to break them. Not that he would break any of these rules, that was.... not right. Rules about theft and traffic signals was one thing, but this was quite another. So no flinging. 

She said, “And I think that for now we should not share a bed.”

He swallowed. “Right. Of course. Not...not sharing. Only reasonable.”

For now? So, a temporary arrangement, to be re-evaluated later?

He ought to be able to put up with some personal discomfort. Maybe if he got all hot and bothered, he could sneak off to the bathroom or something. There were ways for him to deal with embarrasing physical reactions. “Yes, I’d like that,” he said. “Okay.”

They looked at each other, and he wondered if a hug could be allowed. Because Roxanne was looking extremely soft and huggable at the moment.

He took a cautious step toward her and was emboldened when she raised her hands slightly. Was she anticipating a hug?

She must be! 

Oh, shit, he’d paused, now he was overthinking it, it was getting awkward, her smile was looking kind of shaky as if she sensed his panic, he’d better...

He took another quick step forward and put his arms around her shoulders. To his immense relief she slid her hands around his ribs and under his cape, to lay them against his back.

Though he held her lightly, he was sure she could feel his heart hammering. She warmed him clear through, in the coldness of the Lair.

He turned his face toward her and met her eyes. They were so close her features were blurry. She was breathing shallowly, quick little breaths.

Who was he kidding? He couldn’t leave it at a mere hug. He closed his eyes and kissed her soft lips. Too late, he realized he should have shaved, should have brushed his teeth, should have showered and been presentable before even thinking about embracing her. He was pretty sure his breath was okay, but...

Incredibly she didn’t shove him away out of disgust. Her hands slid up his back, flattening under his shoulder blades, just beneath the spiked mantle. 

Her lips parted a little, and closed again over his bottom lip. A tingle ran up his spine at the brush of her teeth. Ohmigodohmigod.

He could get to like this.

Sudden screams and shouts rent the air, along with the noise of a dozen over-excited brainbots.

The kiss broken, they stared at each other, breathing hard. Reluctantly he let her go. “What in the hell is going on out there?” he muttered.

They came out from behind the crates.

A swarm of brainbots flew around the main room in hot pursuit of something he couldn’t quite see, through the crowd of shouting, leaping, people. 

The horde of ‘bots suddenly turned in his direction. An orange cat with its ears flattened to its head and its tail frizzed out to twice its size shot out of the crowd, streaked across the floor, darted between his feet and disappeared. 

The brainbots flew toward him at a roar. He flung his arms over his head and shouted, “Heel! Heel! Heel, dammit!”

They swooped and swooshed wildly overhead before coming to a stop. Their eyestalks craned around him, trying to see their lost quarry. 

He shook his finger at them. “Get back to your stations! Back! Right now! Daddy is very cross with you. Very cross!” Eyestalks drooping, the dejected brainbots floated back to their assigned jobs. 

Roxanne straightened up from where she’d dived for the floor, brushing off her legs. “I think it went in there.”

He got down on one knee to peer into the darkness between the crates.

Two glowing green eyes looked back, part of a slightly lighter shadow huddled in the dark. Sharp little teeth appeared as it hissed.

“Is the poor thing all right?” Roxanne asked as she looked over his back.

“I think so. I’ll have to move about two thousand pounds of equipment to find out, though,” he grumbled. He stood up again and scowled at his guests. “All right, who brought that cat in here?”

 

Chapter Text

 Megamind walked toward the cat along the beam, high in the Lair’s ceiling, approximately three stories above his rubbernecking guests. He held out a greasy piece of Spam. “Nowhere left to run, you know,” he said. “But look, here’s a horrible piece of meat byproduct for you.”

Taffy the cat, for such was her name, gave him a baleful look, as if it was his fault she was stuck out there.

“Don’t blame me,” he said. “You could have run into the basement. Or was that too easy? Been a nice snack for the alligators.” 

The cat belonged to Doris’s grandchildren. April, the eldest, tried to coax Taffy out from behind the crates, but the cat would have none of it, and only slunk deeper back into the shadows. When Minion pushed one of the heavy pallets aside, she oiled away through some unseen tunnel and reappeared in the main room, where some dunderhead shouted, “There it is!” and lunged at her, sending her into a run again.

Another mad chase occured, this time with a large number of people in pursuit, until Megamind was ready to dehydrate everyone in the place. He settled for shouting at them to quit running around like idiots right now.

The cat bolted up the stairs to the catwalk, and without hesitation, leapt out onto one of the ceiling’s support beams and trotted along it until a crossbeam forced her to stop, and now here he was, stuck on a beam barely wider than the average bookshelf, clutching a greasy chunk of meat, trying to bag the stupid cat before she fell and went splat. Because at this height, he didn’t think landing on her feet would help much.

Her orange tail flicked more rapidly. She seemed to be getting agitated, so he stopped at a reasonably close distance and crouched down, holding out the Spam. 

Taffy walked over and sniffed at it. He resisted the urge to grab her. One wrong twist of his torso, he’d overbalance and plummet. “Come on, fleabag, don’t be a pain, come to papa.”

As if she were doing him a favor, she hunkered down and ate it, then sniffed at his hand to see if there was any more. She rubbed her chin over his knuckles, then looked at him and meowed.

He ran a hand over her back. “Think we gave ‘em enough of a show?” Carefully, he picked her up under her armpits and drew her close. She kicked for a couple of seconds until he got his other hand under her back legs and then she settled. 

He stood up and waved, to a smattering of applause. As he walked back, the cat began purring.

“Don’t expect me to fall for your cute act,” he muttered. “Rotten little troublemaker.”

Below on the ground, Roxanne had her eyes covered. “Tell me when it’s over.” 

Minion patted her shoulder. “It’s okay, Miss Ritchi, he’s got it. See?”

Roxanne lowered her hands, then immediately covered her eyes again. “Jesus, Minion, the only thing he’s holding onto is the cat!”

Minion glanced from Miss Ritchi to Sir, and shrugged. “He’s been up higher. You’ve seen him up on ledges and roofs and stuff. Way higher.”

Roxanne grimaced behind her hands. “That was different,” she muttered, feeling foolish. She couldn’t explain it, but watching Megamind stroll along a narrow beam as casually as if he were on a sidewalk was worse than all the times she’d seen him flying, falling, or shooting through the air during those failed battles. Then, there were brainbots around to catch him, or even Metro Man. Always some kind of safety valve or escape hatch. Or so she’d assumed.

This time he’d ordered the brainbots away, and she didn’t see any safety line. It was a spur-of-the-moment cat retrieval. 

“Why didn’t he dehydrate the cat?” she said. “She was stuck out there, an easy target.”

“He still would have had to go out to pick her up.”

“Or sent a brainbot.”

Minion was quiet for a few moments, thinking it over. “Well, yeah, but then she’d be a total maniac again when she got re-hydrated. Besides, this looks cooler. Walking the beam, daring cat rescue, people love that stuff. He figured he could do it, so... he did.” 

“Hmph,” Roxanne snorted. “Showmanship beats out common sense.” What was she going to do about it, scold him? She supposed she ought to trust him to know his abilities and limitations, but this sure looked like an unacceptable risk to her. Was this an example of typical male stupidity, or his aptitude for showing off? Or had he been in so many life-threatening situations that he was no longer a good judge of dangerous behavior? 

Minion touched her arm. “He’s on the catwalk now, Miss Ritchi. Behind the rail and everything.”

Roxanne exhaled.

Megamind came down, boots clanking on the stairs, and grinned at her. “Mission accomplished.”

“I hope you never have to do anything like that again,” she said. “You could have gone to get a rope.”

“What for, a lasso?”

Roxanne gave his shoulder a little shove. “You know what I mean.” And he did know what she meant, she could tell by his too-innocent smile. “Don’t think that little stunt impressed me.”

He pretended to be shocked, eyebrows shooting up and eyes widening. “I never gave it a moment’s thought, Miss Ritchi.”

He looked so comical she couldn’t help but smile. She held out her hand for the cat to sniff. “At least you both got down safely.” 

He couldn’t stop grinning. The cat purred and closed her eyes in contentment. Taffy didn’t seem to mind the spikes on his arms. Her fluffy body lay over the knobbly bits without any apparent discomfort.

The other guests crowded around, their eyes lit up as if they’d never seen a cat before. 

Unbelievable. People dying all over the place, everyone gets sappy over a damn cat.

Doris made her way through, using her sharp elbows as leverage, with two of the cat-smuggling grandchildren in tow. Gently but firmly, she pushed them toward Megamind. “What do we say?” she said.

Timmy and Chloe, staring at the ground, mumbled words that might have been “Thank you, Overlord.”

Doris gave Timmy a little nudge. “Um, can we have our cat back now?” he said, the words running together. Doris prodded him again. “Please,” he said even more quietly.

Megamind gave Doris a cold look. She smiled brightly back, daring him, just daring him to break the precious children’s hearts.

‘The cat has to go,’  was what he should say, but somehow he wasn’t saying it. But he had to, right away, rip the band-aid off and get it over with. He realized he was petting the cat’s back and made himself stop. 

This was impossible, he couldn’t have a cat running around the Lair, getting into things. But he hesitated, and Doris, that opportunistic evil old woman, moved in for the kill. “She went right over to you. She knew you were there to rescue her.”

He snorted. “It was the food. She came to me because of the food.”

“I think she likes you. Listen to that purr.”

“You do realize she will be a drain on our meat reserves? And that we could be eating cat food ourselves before long?”

“Oh, she won’t eat very much. Certainly less than your alligators.”

“What they eat isn’t fit for human consumption.” Especially if what they ended up eating WAS humans. It depended on if he caught any wrongdoers. 

“We went for a walk outside and she trotted right up to us. You could tell she was somebody’s pet. The children had... I mean have, two cats and a dog at... at home.” Doris’s glasses began to fog up. She stretched out a gnarled hand and petted Taffy’s head, her usual self-assured poise gone. Timmy ducked his head and wiped his eyes. Chloe hung on her grandma’s arm and stared at Megamind somberly.

Doris had two daughters and sons-in-law, the kids’s parents, and all were missing. Their homes had been empty, no people or pets to be found.

Megamind sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. “You’ll have to keep Taffy in a cage until I can get the brainbots to accept her presence without going nutso.” He handed the cat over, and Timmy enfolded her in his arms. The children’s faces broke into timid smiles. 

“But this is it! There will be no more pets,” he announced to the room.

Doris blew her nose on a tissue she’d fished from her pocket. “Once you get those nasty robots under control, Mr. Overlord, I’m sure there will be no trouble,” she said with a sniff.

 - - - - - - - 

He retreated to his now-private bathroom for a long overdue clean-up. As he shaved his goatee back into shape, he paused to examine his reflection.

He touched his lips. These lips had touched Roxanne’s. His life had irrevocably changed. He could still feel the tingle of the kiss, and he trembled at the memory of her teeth, lightly running over his lip.

He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes with a groan.

She’d just finished saying she thought they better sleep in separate places, implying that physical contact ought to be put on the ol’ back burner until later, and then he practically threw himself at her. She’d just gotten done saying...

Okay, don’t flip out, he told his reflection. His advances couldn’t have been that unwelcome. There was the ...the teeth thing, and he was one hundred percent certain that if Roxanne didn’t want him to kiss her then she would have made that very clear. Painfully clear, most likely.

He sat down on the toilet lid and put his head in his hands. Was he even any good at kissing? Did he dare ask?

He’d probably broken half a dozen relationship rules already, rules that any decent, proper, normal boyfriend would have known, those unspoken social rules that everybody knew, and she was probably wondering what the hell was wrong with him and regretting her decision to shack up with a freak. 

He pummeled his temples a couple of times, to shake free of the death spiral. If nothing else, he simply hadn’t had any time to screw things up. Give him a day or two, hell, give him a few more hours, he’d be sure to mess something up.

Roxanne was a straight talker. If she said that she liked him, then she meant it. It was a disservice to her honest, upright character to hunt for ulterior motives. Banter aside, Roxanne Ritchi did not mess around with people’s feelings. Not that he really doubted her, not really, but...

But why did she like him? He didn’t even like him. He was selfish and mean and ee-vil, always yelling at people and scaring them, and kidnapping her and tying her up. He was all kinds of wrong.

He’d better be careful not to take anything for granted. He knew she didn’t quite feel as strongly about him as he did about her, but he was okay with that. There was no reason to cause her distress or alarm over his insane desires.

Feeling fortified, he double-checked to make sure there wasn’t anything caught in his teeth and marched out to face the next crisis.

 - - - - - - - -

It turned out that there were no immediate disasters pending, so he assisted Roxanne in setting up her editing station. He already had the equipment she needed, so it was mainly a matter of providing her with her own work space. He hung a curtain to make a hideaway next to the monitors, an off-limits area so people wouldn’t be constantly peering over her shoulder.

He often kept the main curtain that divided the monitor station from the rest of the Lair partially closed for this reason. At least it cut down on traffic, and steered people in other directions, whenever he was struggling to find a shortwave frequency that hadn’t been blocked by the military.

His uncles’s cots were just on the other side of the curtain, though that didn’t always stop Uncle Sid from offering loud unwanted advice and making jokes about using carrier pigeons.

Damn, that’s right, he was supposed to talk to his uncles about moving into that private room. Since no one else seemed inclined to use the rooms anyway, he was willing to overlook it, except Doris would get on his case.

Roxanne nudged him with her elbow. “Hey, you okay in there?”

He chuckled apologetically. “Oh. Um. Just a lot on my mind.”

“Want to talk about it?” She leaned her hip against the table.

“I was just wondering why no one wants even temporary use of those rooms. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

She scratched the back of her neck. “We-e-ell, I might have heard a comment...”

“What?” he said, as she hesitated.

“Some people think that there might be cameras in there.”

His jaw dropped. “Seriously?! People think I’m...” He clapped a hand over his eyes. “I give up. People are crazy.”

“I was wondering if I could set up an interview space in one of them, bring in a few chairs, maybe move the bed out. I want to get as many interviews as possible, so people can tell their stories. Say, did you really have an idea for a newsworthy piece, or was that just an excuse to come over and talk to me in front of my friends?”

“Ummm,” he said, and rubbed his own neck and smiling ruefully. “Didn’t have a specific idea, not right that second, but I knew I’d come up with one pretty soon.”

“And have you come up with an idea?”

He nodded. “I want to collect the dead, who lie unburied in the no-man’s land.”

Her smile faded. “By the army barricades? That’s too dangerous. Megamind, they’ll shoot you.”

“Not if I do it the right way. I’ll take precautions. Not the usual show with fireworks and laserlights. I’d prefer that they don’t actually open fire, so I’ll be as unprovocative as possible. Wave the white flag of negotiation.”

“And you really think that will stop them from shooting.” She crossed her arms over her stomach, her voice hardening and chin lifting.

He crossed his arms, too, feeling defensive. “Guard duty is incredibly dull. No matter how highly charged the situation, boredom and carelessness creep in, especially if nothing’s happened for a long time. No one has tried to crash the barricade in weeks. And most soldiers are probably not very happy about being ordered to fire on fellow Americans. They may be unwilling to shoot, at least right away.”

“May be unwilling. That’s a big qualifier, Megamind.”

“This will be a great photo-op!”

“What, getting your head blown off?”

“I’ve spent a lifetime NOT getting my head blown off, Miss Ritchi,” he snapped. “I think I know what I’m doing.”

They stared at each other. Megamind looked away, feeling as though a hot rock had fallen into his stomach.

It would make such a fantastic news story, the new Overlord of Metrocity, showing his concern for all his citizenry by collecting the bodies of the unjustly slain. A stark contrast to the brutality of the army and the government that commanded them, a slap in the face to the ones in power, as well as a statement to the rest of the world that Metrocity was alive and kicking.

He could even make a plea for food and medical assistance, Maybe it would shame the government into doing what it should have done weeks ago. It wasn’t like he’d be swooping in with guns blazing.

He felt his chest constrict. He didn’t know why she was mad at him all of a sudden.

Oh no. He was totally screwing it up already. Just by being himself. He should have guessed. 

Was it too cold-hearted, collecting the bodies and describing it as a photo shoot? He did care that people had been killed, it pissed him off, but he just hadn’t had time to do anything for those poor souls left to rot on the highway, not when there were so many other things he had to do. 

Roxanne walked across the small space toward him and he tensed, certain that the next words out of her mouth would be, ‘This isn’t working, Megamind. I don’t think I like you that much after all.’

“Tell me you’re not doing this to impress me,” she said, her eyes searching his. 

He blinked. He hadn’t expected that. “No, of course not,” he said,  frowning. “I mean, well, maybe a little, but this.... this will work, I know it will. I could try to sneak close to retrieve the bodies under the cover of night, but quite frankly I think they’d be more likely to open fire if they discover someone sneaking around than if I walk up openly. They will be curious, they’ll want to find out what I have to say. And there will be very conspicuous camerabots visible.”

“They’re jamming us. And they know they’re preventing all signals from getting out.”

“Ah, but the presence of the cameras will make them uncertain. Has Megamind figured out a way to get around that pesky jamming, they will wonder? Are their actions even now being broadcast worldwide? Doubt and curiosity will be my friend.”

Roxanne reached for his hand and said, “I hope you have more precautions than that.”

His heart skipped a beat and he squeezed her hand. “Invisi-shield,” he said. “Should deflect bullets.”

She bit her lip. “I couldn’t stand it if you put yourself in danger just to impress me. I don’t want to lose you.”

Relief flooded through him and he seized her other hand. “Thank the evil gods,” he blurted, relief flooding through him. ‘I don’t want to lose you’ sang through his veins. “I thought you were about to break up with me.”

Roxanne let out an incredulous chuckle. He took a few moments to kick himself for several blunders. He said, “Um. I-I mean, if there was a relationship. To break. Then. Yeah, um.”

Merriment danced in her eyes. “Megamind, we kissed less than an hour ago. This was a little spat. You think I’d break up with you just because we had a disagreement?” She rubbed her thumbs over the backs of his gloved hands. 

He only just managed to stop himself from kissing her hands in gratitude. Why was he so needy? “I’m a little new at this,” he said, and mentally bludgeoned himself again. Oh real smooth, moron. Might as well have ‘virgin’ tattooed on my forehead. At least I could have turned a kiss on the hand into a suave gesture. 

Roxanne shrugged one shoulder. “I think disagreements are going to pop up once in a while. But hey, we’re used to that, right?”

He huffed out a breath, and the tightness in his shoulders went away. “Well, there’s no one else I’d rather argue with.” Oh, that was pretty good. Light, not too heavy, and perfectly, perfectly true. 

She smiled. “Me too.” She began to move a little and he sensed she was about to go back to her work station.

“May I kiss you?” he said quickly. “I may have taken.... you know, earlier... taken a liberty.” A hopelessly out-of-date old-fashioned virgin from the Wild Flowers series, he thought. There should be enough room on his giant head for the full tattoo.

She could have teased him for being a dork, and he would have totally deserved it, but instead she draped her arms over his shoulders. It felt quite natural to put his hands on her waist. 

She looked away for a moment, then back into his eyes again. “Do whatever you have to do to save the city. I trust you. But I expect full disclosure about your so-called precautions.” She raised her eyebrows and gave him a tremulous smile. “Get ready for more arguments, probably.”

He swallowed. “Full disclosure. Absolutely.” His gaze darted to her lips, and he felt that heart-hammering sensation of being pulled in as if by powerful planetary forces or supermagnets. But he didn’t want to assume...

Her gaze was gentle. “Megamind, you can kiss me whenever you want.” 

He angled his head toward her and their lips met. He even tried a little nibbling action of his own. Roxanne’s tongue darted out, quick and wet. Oh my.

Her warm body, soft and firm and curvy in all the right places, leaned against him. He wished, for once, that he wasn’t wearing gloves. He flattened his hands and ran them up her back, feeling the outline of her shoulder blades.

There was a distant crash, a raised voice. 

I will not look around, he thought furiously. Minion can handle it. Roxanne had stiffened a little in his arms, but she, too, seemed determined to ignore whatever melodrama was happening beyond the curtain. The crook of her arm went around his neck.

“I think he went in here,” a voice said. The curtain was jerked back. “Oh, I’m sorry!” the voice giggled.

Anger and frustration and embarrasment flooded him. He almost pulled away from Roxanne, but then defiance took over. He was through caring what people thought. 

He turned slightly to face the intruder, but he kept one arm wrapped around Roxanne’s waist. “Yes, Britney?” he said through his teeth.

Britney tossed her hair. “Um. The dishwasher sprung a leak, I think?”

“There’s three plumbers and at least one repairman around here, and I have to look at it? Where’s Minion?” 

Britney ran a hand through her hair. “I think he went to the basement? To check on something? Only Upton slipped in the water and, like, his leg’s broken or something?”

Megamind sighed. “I better go see what...” He stopped, startled by the look on Roxanne’s face.

Jaw tight and nostrils flaring, she stared at Britney with a hard, flinty look, as if she was about to issue the ‘kill’ order to one of her camerabots. 

But then she smiled at him, though the smile was brittle. “Yeah, you better go check.” She put both hands on the sides of his face and pulled him in for a firm kiss that left his knees weak, then she sat at the table and flicked on the screen with a sharp movement.

He had to catch his breath. He could feel every imprint of her fingers from where they’d lain on his jaw and cheeks. The tips of her fingers had brushed his throat, sending sparks pulsing right into his spine. He swallowed, looked once more at her stiff back, then strode out toward the kitchen, wondering if he’d made another mis-step.

 - - - - - - -

Britney! Roxanne seethed. Now she knew the hair-swisher’s name. She was really pretty, too, beauty pageant pretty, with a heart-shaped face and that long hair. Little, petite, shorter than Megamind, whereas Roxanne thought that if she and Megamind were bare-footed, she would top Megamind by a noticeable margin.

She purposely did not watch Megamind leave with Britney flouncing after him, because she was not an insecure, jealous person who felt the need to keep her man on a leash. She wasn’t in the habit of viewing other women as rivals. She was a feminist, damn it.

Oh. Her man. Her heart fluttered. She was Megamind’s girlfriend. She felt unbalanced and a little scared, quite frankly, because she didn’t trust herself. Though she kept talking about taking it slow, somehow she kept falling into his arms whenever they were alone.

But those eyes. Those vulnerable, hopeful, puppy-dog eyes. She’d seen many emotions on that expressive blue face over the years, but he’d never looked at her like that before. When he asked to kiss her, she hadn’t wanted to say no. She wanted him to hold her and kiss her and nuzzle and...

She pressed a hand to her overheated cheek. God, she had it bad. She’d  told him she liked him, but he hadn’t said it back. Which shouldn’t bother her. It really shouldn’t. Judging by his actions, he liked her, too. She remembered how he’d held her tight when Britney came barging in, and told herself that he couldn’t possibly be interested in anyone else.

 - - - - - -

As Megamind headed for the kitchen, the sensation of her touch lingering, he tried to shake the feeling that he’d done something wrong. Roxanne had assured him that they were, in fact, in a relationship, and not to let little disagreements make him think she was about to break it off over some little thing.

Was this a little thing? Probably. In fact, it didn’t seem like she’d been mad at him, so that was good.

Britney said, “Thanks for coming so quick, Overlord. You are so busy.”

He shrugged, wondering why she’d tagged along. 

Or maybe Roxanne just wasn’t into public displays of affection. Yes, that was probably it. He perked up a little. She was angry that someone had barged in on their private moment. He would be more discrete, it wasn’t like he was some kind of exhibitionist.

His insecurities, always looking for an opening, dug in their claws. Or maybe Roxanne just doesn’t want to be seen with YOU.

That one shot right into his heart, but incredibly he was able to strike back with a counter argument. Just because she doesn’t want to make out with me in front of the whole world means nothing! Clearly, she values privacy. Besides, she planted that last kiss on me right in front of a gawker, which proves that...

Britney touched his arm. “I love what you’ve done with your place.”

He moved his arm away, thinking she’d accidentally brushed against him. What kind of comment was that? Britney had only arrived recently, it wasn’t like she’d ever been in the Lair before. “Yeah, wall to wall refugees. Just what I’ve always wanted.”

She laughed, sudden and loud, and he flinched. “Oh, you’re so funny, Overlord.” And curled her hand around his elbow.

Once was an accident, but twice? He jerked his arm away and faced her. “Is there a problem? Did you trip?” he snapped.

She stepped back, eyes wide and startled. “Um. Yeah. Sorry.” She giggled, twirled a lock of hair around her finger, and tilted her head. “You need to relax.”

His frown deepened. This was the message so important that she needed to grab his arm? He didn’t care for that overly familiar knowing smirk she was giving him, either. “Well, maybe you need to learn how to walk.”

He stalked off, now thoroughly annoyed, because his pleasantly confused feelings concerning Roxanne’s touch had been sullied. It would probably be wrong to dehydrate every other human being in the Lair so he an Roxanne could have some quiet time, but he was giving it some serious consideration.

“Who’s hurt and where’s that damn doctor?” he snapped at the people loitering outside.

Dr. Plant came out of the kitchen. “The damn doctor is here,” she said calmly. “Upton hyperextended his knee. It’s not serious, but he needs to keep it iced and elevated, and he could use some ibuprofen. Where do you keep your medical supplies?”

“In my medicine cabinet. And I am all out of ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin.”

“I won’t be of much use without supplies.”

“Don’t you have anything? What about that giant bag you hauled in?”

“That was my purse,” she said frostily. “I’m not in the habit of carrying a pharmacy around on my back.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can see that a special expedition to gather medical supplies is in order, but now that you’re here, there’s another matter I need to address. How’s your patient?”

After Upton was made semi-comfortable on a floor mat, with his leg propped on pillows and an ice pack on his knee, Megamind brought Dr. Plant to the locked room that served as the morgue. 

“These are all dead bodies,” he said, waving his hand at the stacks on the shelves.

“And in Tupperware containers, I see,” she said.

“Best way to keep them dry so they don’t accidentally re-hydrate. Many were zombified, others were devoured, some of them more thoroughly than others. I need death certificates for them. Because from an objective standpoint it might not be good for me, legally speaking, if outside authorities invade my Lair and discover a bunch of corpses sitting in a storeroom.”

Dr. Plant nodded slowly, turning to look at the cubes. “Yes, I can see how that would be a concern.”

“In addition, everyone is searching for their lost friends and families. And some of them might already be here. If their faces are... presentable, then photos should be taken of them and displayed. In a catalog, maybe, or a computer database. Very few have identification.”

“Yes.” Dr. Plant nodded. “I will do my best to determine cause of death. The zombification process could make that difficult.” She frowned thoughtfully. “I’ll need some assistants, to take photographs and fill out death certificates.”

“Way ahead of you. Minion is hunting for likely candidates.”

Dr. Plant looked at the shelves again. “Maybe two certificates for each zombie. One for authentication of zombification, and one for actual cause of death.”

“Oh, that one will be easy enough,” Megamind said. “For zombies, it always comes down to brain damage.”

 - - - - - - -

He went back out, wondering what to tackle next. For once he was too tired to pace, so he dropped into his swivel chair and turned his back on the bustle of the room. When he was hidden by the high back of the chair, people were more reluctant to disturb him.

His brain buzzed from weariness and the emotional upheaval from his new romantic affiliation.

Imagine that! He was Roxanne Ritchi’s boyfriend. From behind the curtain came the click and tap of dials and switches as she worked, and the muffled sounds of her recordings. 

He wanted to sit quietly and let the reality sink in, the reality of her living presence and the miracle of their new relationship. He wanted to bask in the warmth of this wonderful, cozy, uplifting feeling, and think about those lovely smooching sessions, and when might be a good time to have another one, but the sheer number of pending disasters was overwhelming. 

Reluctantly he turned his mind toward the innumerable crises. Instead of flitting around on individual expeditions, picking up people here and there, it might be better to locate survivors, but let them stay where they were, if they were dug in. He could send the brainbots out on daily food deliveries. 

And where would these magical food supplies come from? He ought to start more rooftop gardens, and establish an outside link. No quarantine this big could possibly be completely sealed up. If there weren’t already a few black market pipelines by now he would be very surprised. The main problem was finding them. The chaos in the city was so extensive he had lost contact with his usual informers.

He also needed to maintain what was left of the city’s infrastucture. Since they still had water, there must be some extremely dedicated employees at the water treatment plant. And what about the other side of the equation, the sewage treatment plant? They’d really be up the creek if that konked out.

Aaargh, he needed to get to one of the hospitals, too, or a medical supply store, for Dr. Plant. A lot of plants needed looking after, ha! 

It was while he was sitting there rocking in the chair and trying to decide which way to jump, that Minion came over to him with candidates for employment. Noelle trailed sullenly in his wake, along with another new arrival who had come with the group he’d rescued from the rooftop the night before, a man with an equally sullen face and wire glasses, dark blond hair hanging limp over his forehead, and a ragged beard, as so many men had these days.

“Good news, Sir!” Minion said. “Noelle used to be a photographer for the police department. That’s how she met her husband, there was this murder, her very first, well, not hers, you know, she didn’t do it,” Minion chuckled. “But she was called in and that’s how she met Hank, because...”

“Great. Fine. Good job, Minion,” Megamind said briskly. “Not squeamish, then.”

Noelle shrugged. “I’ve seen lots of dead bodies, even before the zombies. But what’s the procedure? We just need a little water to re-hydrate them, but then you’ll have to dehydrate them all again.”

He pushed to his feet and walked over to the cabinet. “This is my original de-gun,” he said, bringing it out. Not with the original binky power source, though, that was safely housed in his current de-gun. “It has a single function, dehydration. After Dr. Plant’s done her exam, you’ve photographed the face, and an attempt has been made to ID the person, she will dehydrate the corpse again.”

He locked the little de-gun up again. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he detected a gleam in Noelle’s eye.

Perhaps a warning was unnecessary, but...

“It’ll be coded to respond to Dr. Plant’s fingerprint signature. And only Dr. Plant’s,” he said, directing his remarks to both Noelle and the sullen man, and to anyone else who was in earshot.

No sense antagonizing Noelle by singling her out, but if he could think of how useful the de-gun would be to quietly remove someone from the picture, then so could any other reasonably bright person. Noelle might have a very big grudge against her hubby. And against Jessica, her hubby’s girlfriend.

He still did not feel at ease with sharing his tech. Some of it was very dangerous in careless or untrained hands. The de-guns were special, more personal than the laser rifles, and so, so easy to misuse. He didn’t have any particular reason to trust Dr. Plant either, for that matter, but keeping it down to one user would make it simpler.

“Now, who’s this, and what’s his specialty?” 

“This is Barry,” Minion said.

“Bernard,” Bernard muttered.

“Oh, right, sorry. He worked at the DMV for a while, and in the archives of the Metro County Historical Society. So he’s got lots of experience with paperwork.”

“Not death certificates,” Bernard said. “Like I said.”

“As long as you can keep things organized and fill in the blanks, that’s all I require,” Megamind said. 

Bernard narrowed his eyes, and Megamind stared back with a stony gaze of his own. Bernard seemed to be expecting some additional response. “Anything else?” Megamind said, a little too sharply.

“It’s the beard, isn’t it? I don’t usually have a beard.” Bernard crossed his arms. “You don’t know who I am, do you? Either of you?” 

Minion glanced at Megamind. “Uhhh, should we?”

“Don’t keep us in suspense,” Megamind said.

“Bernard Jacobs,”  he said. His brow wrinkled even more when Megamind failed to shout in amazement.

Bernard gave a disgusted snort. “The foremost authority on... well, on you, and every other supervillain in the tri-state area.”

Megamind allowed a skeptical eyebrow to rise slightly. “You’re the expert on me. As in, all things Megamind.”

“Yeah!” Bernard cried, flinging out his hands. “Two articles published in Meta-Powers Quarterly? My blog, ‘The Alien Among Us’?”

“Never heard of it.”

Bernard shook his head. “With your ego, you seriously can’t expect me to believe you haven’t been following all the articles and posts that have been written about you over the years.”

“Once I vanquish the zombies and get the city back on its feet I’ll be sure to look up this blog of yours, Bernard, first thing. Minion will get you set up with a serviceable laptop and software. You found a decent camera for Noelle? Good. Printer’s over there.” 

Minion said, “Here, eat this, Sir,”  and held out a container and a water bottle. “You missed breakfast.”

For one stomach-turning moment, Megamind thought there was a zombie cube in the Tupperware, then he blinked, and it became a sandwich. “Ah, sustenance,” he said a little too heartily, and grabbed the container and bottle with hands that shook just a little.

Light-headed, he went back to the monitor station. He mustn’t let it overwhelm him. He had to be strong. He’d give himself five more minutes to rest, then he’d put together a crew to accompany him to the city.

Bernard had followed him. “Can I just say something? You need to be better organized.”

Megamind, who had been about to sit down again, paused with his hand on the arm of the chair, and turned slowly.

Minion coughed. “Uh, hey, Bernard, let’s get you started on...”

“No, no, I want to hear what Bernard has to say,” Megamind said. A feral smile stretched out his lips. “What, exactly, needs organizing?”

“The brainbots, for one thing. Do you have to recall them every time you let a new group in? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have one brainbot take a snapshot of each person and relay that information to the others?”

Megamind felt his entire face stiffen. “It’s not as simple as you think, Bernard,” he said through his teeth. “The brainbots aren’t used to hordes of people flocking into the Lair. They need time to get used to the idea.”

It really was inefficient, and he had been planning on changing his methods to one very similar to what Bernard had just proposed, now that the brainbots and brutebots appeared to have adjusted to the crowds, but he was damned if he’d let this know-it-all think it was his idea. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, the chores roster. Hardly anyone knows who’s on what job until you or Minion tells them. I’ve heard several arguments about whose turn it is to clean the restrooms and whose turn to clean the sleeping areas. And this guard duty. They say you’ve got some kind of rotation going, but nobody knows when they’re on it until you start yelling at them. It’s confusing. Who was called up for duty at the last zombie attack? Who...”

Megamind interrupted. “Kevin, Nina, Riley, Georgia, Hank, Midori, Luke, Alice, Kurt, and Upton.”

“Well, okay, but what about the time before the last...”

“That would be Bonnie, Lenny, Sid, Luis, Gabby, Alex, Paula, and Arnold. Want to know the list for the time before that?”

Bernard blinked at him, and cleared his throat in mild embarrassment. “Oh yeah. Eidetic memory.”

“Very good, Bernard. You’re the expert.”

Bernard flushed. “But my point is, no one else can keep track of when they’re expected on the frontline. It’s stressful, not knowing. If you had a chores roster posted somewhere...”

Megamind waved his hand. “Oh, fine. You get everybody’s name, and write it up. Guess you’re the sub-manager, answerable to Minion.”

“And what’s the pay?”

“Excuse me?”

“How much are you going to pay me?”

Megamind’s brows slowly drew together. “We’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and you want a paycheck.”

Bernard pushed his glasses up his nose. “Money still works, doesn’t it?”

Megamind was about to tell him where he could shove it, but several people around the room had stopped what they were doing and were listening to the exchange. There was the sound of the curtain drawing back, and he looked over his shoulder. Roxanne was watching. As he met her gaze she shrugged one shoulder as if to say ‘it’s up to you, buddy.’

“If he’s getting paid, I should be too,” Noelle said indignantly.

Megamind gave Bernard a sour look. Just moved in and already sowing dissension. 

If he refused outright, it would look like he was being a cheapskate, or else people would start to look at his rescue mission as recruitment into a slave army after all.

He took a deep breath. “Think about this carefully,” he said. “The banks are closed. Sure, I could break in, take the money, and dole it out, but what then? Where are you going to keep it? Hide it in your blankets? Under a convenient rock by the wall? I’m not going to waste time, people, or energy on keeping the banks running.”

People glanced at each other, their hopeful faces becoming somber.

Even Bernard looked crestfallen. “Oh. Well, I... I’ll take an IOU, then. For when things get back to normal.” He sniffed. “I trust it’ll be soon.”

Megamind felt his lip curl. “You’re not related to Doris Haggerty by any chance are you?” 

“Who?”

“Never mind.” He propped his elbow on one hand and cupped his chin with the other. I doubt that anything will ever get back to normal, he thought, but he didn’t say it. It sounded like one of those morale-crushers that Minion was always warning him about. It was painful sometimes, seeing how desperately people wanted things back to normal. Hell, he did too, if it came to that.

He glanced at Roxanne and she smiled.

He blushed. There were maybe a few things he hoped didn’t change back.

He turned to address the room at large. Practically everyone had sidled over to get within hearing range. Rumors of possible paychecks had spread through the place quicker than the virus. “If these IOUs are issued, and I’m not promising anything, then there will also be deductions for room and board. And nobody is going to get paid for chores. And maybe I’ll even take out a few taxes,” he added, in a sudden surge of inspiration. 

He smiled ee-villy. Ooo, it felt good being the Overlord.

Minion scratched his dome. “Isn’t that like... taxing yourself? It’s not like there’s outside revenue coming in. It’d be like...”

“Don’t ruin the moment,” Megamind snapped. “Some day there will be real taxes again, once the city reconnects to the outside world and we get the economy kicked into gear. So there.”

One of the guests made his way over to Minion and said something to him in a low, urgent voice, but Bernard was talking again. 

“I have some other ideas for improvements,” Bernard  said. “I’d like to set up a meeting so I can present my ideas.” He pulled a notebook out of his inner pocket and flipped it open. “What’s your schedule like? How about we plan a...”

“Hold it right there, Poindexter,” Megamind said. “In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have an office, there aren’t any cubicles, and suprisingly, no human resources department. I’m not going to get tied up in meetings where we sit around looking at slide presentations, because, once again, I would like to bring it to your attention that we are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. If you want to fill your days with schedules and duty rosters and spreadsheets, go right ahead, but don’t think for one second,” he growled, and jabbed a finger at Bernard, “that you can tie me up with red tape. It’s a complete waste of time.”

Bernard stood stiffly, unmoving, then he pressed his lips together in a thin line and closed the notebook. “Fine,” he said with another Doris-like sniff. “How about a suggestion box? It’s the least that...”

“Over your dead body. Your job will be to work with Noelle and Dr. Plant, and fill out those certificates. And get your duty roster started. Don’t pester me with these petty details. IOUs are going to have to wait until I can decide how much should be paid for each job. I’m not getting paid, does anyone ever think of that?” 

He rounded on Minion, who had been hovering anxiously at his shoulder. “Other than Bernard, nothing terrible has happened for the past five minutes, so we’re overdue. What is it?”

“Sir, there’s no water. Turn on the taps, nothing happens. And...”

“Oh, great. There’s an ‘and.’” Megamind strode across the room. “I want four people with firearms experience ready to go to the water treatment plant, now! So what’s the ‘and’ part, Minion?”

“The sewer might have backed up.”

“Of course it has.”

Chapter Text

Blackened skeletons littered the ground around the water treatment plant, some of them headless. Dead trees creaked. A number of burned-out cars had been put up as a rough barricade. At least one of the cars had exploded.

Megamind and Minion exchanged dark looks. “Hot Flash,” Megamind said. “Wonder if the rest of the Doom Syndicate is holed up in there?” He stroked his chin. “This may require some diplomacy.”

“Gotcha.” Minion clicked the safety off his blaster. “Okay, you wanna take the front? I’ll sneak around back with the smoke bombs and a couple of...”

“No, Minion, I meant real diplomacy,” he snapped.

“Seriously? With the Doom Syndicate?”

“It may not be all of them. Besides, there are civilians in there. I doubt that Hot Flash and her gang know anything about keeping the plant running.”

“Destruction Worker might.”

“They’re not the sort of group that rallies ‘round each other in times of trouble. I’ll bet when chaos fell, it was every gang for itself.”

“Well, I just hope you’re not planning on whisking them back to the Lair,” Minion huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.  He gave him a sharp look. “You’re not, are you?”

Roxanne said, “Shouldn’t think we’d have to. Besides, we have to keep the plant running. Could you trust them to defend the place?”

“Possibly. Depends,” Megamind said, his heart fluttering at her use of the word ‘we’. She thought of them, of her and him, as ‘we’. He liked the sound of that. “It would put them to good use for once.”

“And keeps them away from the Lair,” Roxanne added.

“Great time to officially become Evil Queen, my dear.” 

She laughed. “I don’t see anything particularly eee-vil about this plan.”

“Isn’t it? It’s strong-arming a gang of villains to do our bidding, and eminently practical.”

“Yeah, like Machiavelli.”

Megamind raised an eyebrow. “It is far safer to be feared than loved.”

“Ha.” Roxanne tossed her bangs back. “Everyone knows that one. ‘It is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares, and a lion to terrify the wolves’.”

Megamind drew in a sharp breath. “You’ve read The Prince.” Evil gods, there was no end to her brilliance.

The saucy lift of her chin, her bright eyes and knowing smile beckoned to him. He forgot everything he’d told himself about public displays of affection and took half a step toward her, intending to give her the kiss of all kisses.

Minion waved a hand in front of his face. “Sir, the plant? The Doom Syndicate?”

Megamind shot him a glare, then remembered the other people on the hovercraft. Everyone was suddenly busy checking their rifles and looking off into the distance. He coughed and turned away, clasping his hands behind his back. “Are your cameras ready, Miss Ritchi?” He called the brainbots forward.

Roxanne’s cheeks were pink. She gripped the rail of the hovercraft as if to anchor herself there. “Yeah, I’m ready. You expecting a fight?”

“As long as I show I’m stronger than anyone in there, hopefully not.”

He studied his fidgeting crew of refugees. If it really did come to a fight, he didn’t want them getting mixed up in it. They were getting better at killing zombies, but facing battle-hardened supervillains was an entirely different matter. “Stay back. If I tell you to retreat, I want everyone to get on the hovercraft and go back to that 7-Eleven we passed, wait for me there. Watch for zombies. And yes, you can shoot the zombies,” he said as a couple of people raised their hands. “Brainbot squad 2 will assist you. Squad 1 is with me. Roxanne, could you stay back too? I think I’ll have better luck if Hot Flash doesn’t have a camera in her face.”

“Right. I’ll do the shot from over here.”

Once everyone was in position, he strode down the sidewalk with Minion at his back, hoping he wasn’t going to have to deal with the entire Syndicate. Hot Flash was not too bad, as long as you kept an eye on her. She had tried to kill him once or twice, but always in a very honest and straightforward way. 

But Destruction Worker? Backstabbing lout. Lady Doppler? Well, she’d probably flown out of town before the army got the barricades up. 

Psycho Delic? Ucch.

Megamind just might have to kill someone today.

Faces peered out from a second story window. One turned and spoke urgently to someone deeper within the room.

Roxanne spoke in a low voice into her mic, describing the scene, talking about the importance of the water treatment plant and speculating on the courage of those who were responsible for keeping it running.  

He itched to bring out the boombox. This was the perfect situation for some grand entrance music. All hail the Overlord!

Unfortunately, that much noise would draw in every zombie this side of Knox Street. 

The shattered glass door in the entrance, which had been reinforced with sheets of wood, opened. A portly, balding man cautiously stepped outside, hugging a clipboard to his chest. He tiptoed over a charred skeleton and made his way down the sidewalk. The lobby behind him filled up with more refugees of all ages. Faces crowded at the windows. Some children appeared on the roof, the better to see.

One man who had shouldered through the front door looked a little out of place. His eyes were hard and calculating, and they went wide at the sight of Megamind striding up the walk.

Henchman, Megamind decided. He didn’t recognize this one, but he looked the sort that Hot Flash liked to keep around, square-jawed, muscular physique, just bright enough to tell left from right. Two little girls clung to his legs. His offspring, probably. Hot Flash had gone to the trouble of gathering the families of her lackeys. Very decent of her, and a good way to ensure they didn’t go AWOL.

The henchman glanced around, at a loss with no one to tell him what to do. Another henchman appeared, gaping at the visitors. Megamind recognized that one. Definitely Hot Flash’s.

Megamind sketched a salute. “Afternoon, gents. Tell Hot Flash that the Overlord is here to see her.” The wind caught his cape, flaring it out to the side, not too high or snappy, just right.

After a brief, whispered conference, Henchman Number One shuffled back into the building, hampered by the kids stuck to his legs. Henchman Two took over guard duty, though he didn’t look too happy, being the only thing standing between his boss and Megamind, Minion, and fifty brainbots.

The clipboard man had been looking anxiously between the henchmen and Megamind, his head moving back and forth as if at a tennis match played with hand grenades. After the henchman scurried inside, he cleared his throat. “Um, can I help you?”

What would the mayor do? Megamind smiled and decided to pour on the civic charm. “You already have, citizen. You and all of your hardworking employees have been of unfathomable help to the people of this city.” He held out his hand.

Dazed, the man grasped the black-gloved hand. “Oh? Thank you? Just doing our jobs?” 

“Don’t be so modest.” Megamind put his other hand on top for the double handshake of sincerity before letting go. “By your actions, you’ve saved many lives. And you are...?”

The man wiped his brow with his wrist. “Thank you, sir...Overlord... Sir Overlord. Just doing our jobs as best we can. Rueben Eisenberg, I’m director of operations. Um. We brought our families? If that’s all right?”

Megamind nodded. “You did what you had to, of course, to protect your loved ones. How many supervillains have taken refuge here?” 

“Just Hot Flash, and her... her folks. There won’t be any trouble, will there?”

“That depends. Has she and her gang behaved violently toward you or your people?”

Rueben’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times. “Oh, no, sir. Not against us, no.” He fell silent when Hot Flash came out.

A gray blanket hung from her shoulders. Her once-spikey red hair lay in limp strands around her ears and deep shadows made grooves in her sunken cheeks. 

She shrugged the blanket off and marched down the walk, lips pressed together in a thin line. Her right-hand minion Irwin scooped up the blanket and hurried after her. Three henchmen trotted out too, the one man finally having shed the kids.

Rueben fiddled with the clipboard. “She protected us. From the zombies. We’d have been goners. We...”

“If she doesn’t start anything, I won’t,” Megamind said. “But I must ask you not to interfere. Stand aside.” 

Rueben sidled onto the burned lawn, taking wide steps to avoid stepping on the bones.

Hot Flash came to a stop and glared at him from under her bangs. She had lost so much weight that her clothes hung loose, as if she suffered some wasting disease. Her leather jacket had slipped off one skeletal shoulder. Irwin tried to tug it back in place but Hot Flash shoved him away with her elbow. “What do you want?” she said in her harsh smoker’s voice.

Megamind kept one hand casually on his belt, close to the de-gun. “I came to see the conditions here. The water treatment for the city is invaluable. The workers are to be credited for their hard work in keeping the plant operational.” He gestured at the charred landscape. “And you, as well, with saving their lives. You’ve been busy, I see.”

She had done her part, after all, and it was only fair to acknowledge her efforts, even if she had acted out of pure self-interest. He didn’t expect gratitude or fawning.

In fact, he expected her to sneer something like, ‘yeah, that’s right, I fought off a bunch of zombies just for you’, or ‘so you’re Overlord of this dump? Ha, you deserve it’ or other words to that effect. Sarcastic put-downs were the usual method of communication among supervillains.

She merely looked at him with dull eyes, then ran her gaze around Minion, the brainbots, and at his, for want of a better word, troops. A flicker of surprise passed over her face at the sight of Roxanne, but she still didn’t say anything. Not a single ‘guess even alien freaks get lucky once in a while’ passed her lips.

Megamind said, “Where’s the rest of the Syndicate?”

She made an irritated gesture. “Fuck if I know.”

“As Overlord I am in a position to offer you support.”

“As long as I kiss your ass?”

He raised an eyebrow. “A simple ‘yes’ will do. I’ll even settle for a ‘yeah, whatever.’”

She frowned, and looked at his motley crew again. “You really ruling the city? Like, in charge of the cops, shit like that?”

“Making sure people get fed, giving them a safe place to sleep, cleaning up corpses, the daily routine. And only one cop at the moment, and his character leaves something to be desired, but it can’t be helped.”

“Huh. Always thought if you ever took over the city you’d loot the place and let everybody go hang.”

He could feel his hackles rising. “I am here to keep the plant running. I won’t let you or anyone else get in my way, so you had better....”

He stopped the ee-vil tirade before it went too far.  “Let me rephrase that,” he said in more conciliatory tones. If she refused, then he’d bring the hammer down and drive her out. “I will give you assistance in defending it. Food, medical help, ammunition. We can discuss whatever you...”

“I’m tired,” Hot Flash said, and folded up her legs and sat down on the ash-covered sidewalk. 

Megamind’s mouth fell open a little. He shut it. Ooo-kay, this was... a little out of character.

Her gang stared at her in astonishment. 

“Irwin, gimme a cigarette,” she said.

Irwin got a pack out of his pocket and gave her one.

Hot Flash snapped her fingers at him. “And a light.”

Her gang gasped in horror. “Boss,” one of them cried.

“Shut up,” Hot Flash said wearily. “I’m sick of this. Everybody’s out of ammo. Irwin, what’d I just say?”

Irwin fumbled for a book of matches and lit it for her with shaking hands.

Hot Flash took a long drag and closed her eyes. “Need a minute with my gang, Overlord. Do you mind?”

Megamind and Minion went back to the hovercraft.

Roxanne switched off the mic as they approached. “What’s happening, guys?”

“She admitted her men are out of ammunition. And she sat down and asked for a light,” Megamind said. 

“I don’t get it.”

“Hot Flash asked for a light. Hot Flash. And there wasn’t any fire in her hair. She usually flames up a little to show off.”

Roxanne glanced at one of Metro City’s most infamous crime bosses, sitting among the ashes, her gang crouched around her. “Her powers are gone? How?”

“Could be injury, extreme overuse, trauma, illness. Or all of them put together. It could be temporary, but...” He shrugged.

“What does this mean?”

Megamind glanced over at them too. “She’s given up.”

The gang had shuffled into a loose ring behind Hot Flash, looking glum. Megamind nodded at Minion, and they walked back over. 

“Got a favor to ask,” Hot Flash said. “I’d appreciate it if you hired my guys. I got nothin’ anymore. I’m burnt out. In more ways than one.”

Megamind crouched down, resting an elbow on one knee. He wished that Hot Flash had chosen a shadier spot to have her meltdown. The humidity was almost unbearable today, and the heat from the baked ground wafted up so he felt he was getting roasted from both above and below. 

She must have been cold. The blanket was wrapped tight around her shoulders again.

“How’d it happen?” he asked.

She was silent for a few moments, watching the cigarette smoke drift away. “Know what happens when you set a zombie on fire?”

“Because zombies feel no pain, I’m guessing that they don’t run away screaming. And since the human body contains a huge volume of water, they take a very long time to burn.”

“That’s right. The motherfuckers just keep coming. Except now they’re on fucking fire.” The lines of weariness on her face deepened. “I had to turn up the heat. A lot. So much. Over and over, concentrate my flame, burn their brains in their skulls. Only way.”  

She looked at him. “I’m done.”

He nodded in understanding, but didn’t insult her by offering sympathy. She wouldn’t accept it anyway. 

On to business. He stood up. “All right. If they’re willing, I’ll take them on.” He looked each one in the eye. “Whatever Hot Flash is paying you, I’ll match it, but you might not see any actual cash until this wretched quarantine is over.”

One of the henchmen hesitantly raised his hand. “There a dental plan, Overlord?”

Megamind looked at him for a moment, then shrugged. “Sure. Why not? If any dentists survived. You and your families will be provided for.”

The henchman huffed out a breath. “Wow, that’s a relief! I got two little girls, the cutest...” His voice trailed away under Megamind’s lowering brows.

“Can we have the meet-and-greet later? That okay with you?” Megamind said. The man nodded briskly, but kept his mouth shut.

Megamind continued. “Don’t expect any perks just because I’m your boss. We’re in survival mode, here. There will be no bribes, and no fleecing, milking, bleeding, or otherwise exploiting the citizens for food, money, sex, or anything else. Minion’s my right-hand man and your superior, that goes without saying. Anybody steps out of line, he’s alligator feed. You’ll work security. You don’t like these terms, take a hike.”

The henchmen mumbled a little chorus of “Yes, sir.”

“This all of them?” he asked.

Hot Flash said, “Four henchmen. And Irwin. All that’s left. Two of ‘em got girlfriends. Five kids.”

Irwin blurted, “I’m staying with Ms. Hot Flash.” He defiantly stuck out his nonexistent chin.

Hot Flash gave him an annoyed look. “Irwin, if you don’t...”

Megamind broke in. “I wouldn’t dream of taking your personal toady away from you.“ He ran a cold gaze over the little man. “I have more than enough boot-lickers crowding around me, thank you very much.”

Irwin beamed. Hot Flash was too weary to protest and went back to staring glumly at the cigarette.

He caught Minion’s sideways glance, and saw the question in his friend’s eye. He shook his head and grimaced a little, as a promise to explain later. Megamind and the other supervillain would never be friends, but she was trying to do the right thing for her people, and he respected that. He didn’t want to leave her all alone, with no one. It felt... wrong.

Hot Flash needed a minion. Having Irwin to kick around would give her someone to live for. He wondered what had happened to her latest boyfriend, but it was probably best not to ask.

Megamind asked, “Where’s the fourth one?”

“Tony got hurt,” Hot Flash said. “Leg torn up by a zombie. We tossed him some bandages and he crawled in there.” She nodded at a service shed on the corner of the property. “Guess we just have to wait and see if he turns zombie. Should know by tomorrow, it’s been almost three days.”

“It’s no use isolating him,” Megamind said. “This is a variant of the original virus. It lies dormant until the victim dies of other causes, and only then does the zombification process begin. So long as he stays alive, he won’t become a zombie at all... is something wrong?”

Hot Flash had gone so pale he thought she would faint. 

“That for real?” Hot Flash said, her words grating through her teeth. “That some sick joke? I swear I’ll fry you.” She used Irwin’s arm to stumble to her feet. A wisp of smoke curled out of her ear and went out. It was almost funny.

Megamind held up his hands. “No joke. I’ll admit that carrying a dormant virus is nothing to cheer about, but still. Better than the alternative. Isn’t it?”

Hot Flash jabbed a finger in Roxanne’s direction. “Tell your little girlfriend to turn off the cameras.”

He turned to Roxanne, giving her a cut-off signal, pleading with his eyes, as politely as possible. To his relief, she did so, and he mouthed ‘thank you.’

Hot Flash was breathing hard. “Josh. He got bit. He thought...we all thought...” Tears ran down her sunken cheeks. “He said he wasn’t gonna wait to get sick and die. He...  Josh.” Her voice broke and she covered her face with her hands.

Irwin put his hand on her shoulder. “He shot himself.”

 - - - - - - - - - 

Tony was still alive, though being in the hot shed had almost cooked him. His leg didn’t even look too bad. Megamind had him loaded onto the hovercraft to take him back to the doctor. 

Next, Megamind ordered everyone out of the plant and conducted a sweep to make sure there were no more supervillains or henchmen lurking in ambush. Hot Flash was deep in grief for her boyfriend and probably telling the truth, but he hadn’t survived this long by trotting innocently into a building occupied by a rival without making sure it was secure.

On his inspection, Rueben accompanied him. “We were running the back-up generators for the pumps,” the director said, “but the diesel ran out.”

“Diesel?” Megamind said. “Regular old diesel? I’ll have the brainbots siphon fuel from abandoned trucks. And the metro bus fuelling stations, those are not well known, there may be some there.”

“That’ll give us a few more days, but what happens when they can’t find anymore?”

Megamind walked past the silent, looming pumps, storage units, and filter systems, and went outside to where the lake lapped against a canal wall. 

A short distance away, he spotted a grey slab, like a helicopter landing pad. “A few years back, there was a push to switch the plant over to alternative energy, wasn’t there?”

“Oh yeah,” Rueben said, nodding at the slab of concrete. “They got the foundation poured for the windmill and had the underground cables laid, but the funding dried up. Why? Do you...” he chuckled. “have an extra windmill lying around?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Oh.”

 - - - - - - -

One of Reuben’s employees had worked for the sewage treatment plant.

“Now, you got yerself a few more problems, there,” the sewage man said. “The pumps at the sewage plant run on back-up generators too, and obviously they ran outta gas too. You could stick a windmill there, but there wasn’t no foundation, and no cables. It’d have to be completely from scratch.”

Megamind shrugged. “Okay, a little more work, but doable. I don’t see it as too much of a...”

“And besides the main plant,” the man interrupted cheerfully, “there’s ten pumping stations around the city, which keeps the sewage moving to the plant for treatment. They must have finally bit the dust by now, if it’s backin’ up at your lair like you say. You gotta get those runnin’, too.”

Megamind rubbed his eyes. “Ten stations, plus the plant. What else?”

The man became more gleeful with every piece of bad news. “The lines gotta be pretty clogged by now, so crews are going to have to go around to each station, go into the sewers, and manually open up the sluice valves to get ‘em clear. Otherwise, the pumps could break down completely under the pressure.”

“This has to be done for all ten stations.”

The man beamed. “You got it, Overlord! Oh, and they probably ran out of chemicals for the actual, you know, treatment. Better look into that. Otherwise you’re gonna get raw sewage pumped right into the lake. Like what happened back in ‘77, hoo boy, I think twenty people got sick, the city got sued and everything.” He shook his head. “Man, what a time.”

Megamind turned a weary face to Reuben. “How about you? What chemicals do you need for purification?”

“Oh, we’ve got that covered, we produce chlorine right here on site. Simple process of electrolyzing salt solutions.”

Megamind exhaled heavily. “At least that’s some good news.”

“It’s the filters we need to replace. They’re so clogged I’m amazed they lasted this long.”

 - - -  - - - - - - - -

Minion went with the brainbots to make sure they didn’t take fuel from any trucks that were still in use. The brainbots wouldn’t be able to make that kind of nuanced judgment. Megamind didn’t want to steal gas from survivors.

Megamind had Reuben look into the possibility of somehow getting the filters cleaned. He left Hot Flash’s gang (he supposed he ought to start thinking of them as his henchmen now, which was weird; the only henchman he’d ever had was Minion) with a couple of rifles to guard the plant, promising to send back food and more rifles, and to set up a communications system. Hot Flash disappeared to an inner room somewhere and he let her be. 

Maybe he ought to drop leaflets over the city, explaining the nature of the virus, to convince people that even if they got bitten or scratched, it wouldn’t automatically make them into zombies. Hopefully it would stop any more unnecessary suicides.

Megamind stopped at a mattress warehouse and dehydrated the entire inventory, then did the same for a motel. People would finally have beds.

A water bottling plant was his last stop. He took about half their inventory, and left the rest for scavengers. He hoped to get the water back for the city soon, but who knew what difficulties would pop up?

They headed back to the peninsula. 

Purple clouds lined the horizen, over the lake in the west. A cold front was moving in, thank all that was evil. The coast guard boats were toys in the distance. I hope their stupid boats get swept away in the storm, he thought sourly. A hot breeze had begun to blow, pushed ahead of the front. 

“Looks like tornado weather,” Roxanne said. “I hope it misses us.”

“Only if our luck changes,” he muttered. He leaned heavily against the rail and hugged his chest. He hoped the crossed arms gave him a commanding air, but he probably looked like a hunchback. He was only standing because his knees were locked into place.

“We’ll be back soon,” Roxanne said. “Then you can rest for a while.  And the water will probably get back on before too long.”

He glanced at her. Despite her casual words, faint lines marked her brows.

“I’m fine,” he said.

Roxanne’s frown deepened and it looked as if she was going to argue with him, but instead she tilted her head. “Hear that? Sounds like a child.”

Megamind listened. It was a child crying, not too far off, cutting through the hovercraft’s motor in a thin thread of sound.

They aproached the peninsula, and saw the crowd milling around in front of the brainbots guarding the border.

More newcomers, and some of his own established guests. 

“What the hell’s going on?” he snapped, hopping off the craft before it even came to a complete stop. He had to shout to be heard over the screeching. “Why are you all hanging around out here? Isn’t that Brenda’s daughter? Like a goddamn zombie dinner bell!”

Doris marched up, red-faced. “Mister Overlord, I have repeatedly asked you to watch your language! Your robots won’t let the new people in!” She shook a furious finger at him. “They came here for help, and because of your bad, bad robots, we had to come out here, to make sure they were protected.”

Hank and several others held up their guns helpfully, to demonstrate how well they were doing their jobs.

“But why bring the kid out?” he said, nodding at the little girl, who, though being gently jostled in Sandy’s arms, was very unhappy and wanted her mother, and was letting every zombie in the city know it. 

“She came with Brenda. We thought she’d be a little happier if she were close to her mother, but Brenda is... is busy.”

He ground his teeth. “Doing what?” 

“The newcomers had two babies with them, and they were crying. They’d run out of formula, you see. And because you obviously didn’t have the sense to stock any, and we had no way to quiet the poor things, Brenda, well, she is helping. Nursing them. She’s round the corner there, for shade and privacy.”

He was taken aback. “What, both of them? How is that possib... no, don’t answer that,” he said quickly, as Doris gave him a pointed look. “I know, I know, I get it, all right? Just....there’s a lot happening right now.” 

Thankfully, Doris shut up and did not give him an anatomy lesson. 

He rubbed his temples. “Sandy, would you please take Brenda’s daughter back to the Lair before she brings a zombie horde down on us? Thank you.” The brainbots, recognizing the two as Daddy’s guests, parted to let them through. 

Megamind ordered the ‘bots to let in the new people. “These others are Daddy’s guests, too. All of them,” he said shortly. 

“Walk in,” he snapped at the newcomers, waving his arm impatiently. “Come on, that’s right. Move your feet.” He was being too sharp, but he was sick of the nervous fidgeting. He was stressed and pissy and worn out, and he was absolutely melting in this damn muggy sunshine, and the day wasn’t over yet.

Roxanne moved to his side. “The Lair’s several blocks that way,” she said, smiling and pointing. “Come with me.” She gave him a little nod and touched his arm as she went by, as if to say, I’ve got this, it’s not ALL on your shoulders. 

He heaved a deep breath and felt some of his needless rage drain away. He watched her walk away for a few moments, wishing he was going with her, wishing he could seize her and Minion and fly far, far away from this place, away from the crowds, away from the desperation and suffering.

The madness passed, and he went to load up Brenda, the babies, and the babies’ mothers onto the hovercraft. Doris was already taking care of it, kicking the other refugees off so there’d be room. “It’s not that far to walk,” she snapped. “No, that man can stay on, his leg’s hurt.”

One small group was still hanging back. A man took off his baseball cap as Megamind walked over to them. “We don’t want to be any trouble,” the man said, “but we just thought, if you could sell us a little food, we....”

Megamind, who had found another serving of calm thanks to Roxanne, was able to respond quietly. “Yes, yes, there’s food, we can talk about that at the Lair.”

“It’s just that we found your map.”

“Map?”

The man fished out a piece of paper. Megamind unfolded it. It was a copy of the map he’d left in the warden’s house. These people would’ve had to break in to get it.

The man twisted his hat. “We know it wasn’t meant for us, but we thought...see, we got some money, to pay for any extra food you got. And water. I left the original there, in case your friend comes back. We closed up when we left, but the lock’s broken. I’m sorry. We didn’t know what else to do.”

Megamind stared at the wrinkled paper, his head buzzing. He hadn’t thought about the warden in so long. Now his chest was tight and his stomach felt funny. 

It didn’t matter. Didn’t matter. 

He swallowed hard and was relieved his voice was steady. “It’s all right. These are bad times. I did paint ‘Come to the Lair’ on the house, didn’t I? Keep your money. It’s free. Come in.”

“Well, we thought we’d take food back to the station. ‘Cause there’s...”

Megamind’s head snapped around. “Station,” he said sharply. “What kind of station?”

The man took a step back, startled. “Fire station.”

“Are there firefighters?” Megamind shouted, raising his hands.

“Well, yeah. I’m a firefighter.”

“Thank all the evil gods in heaven!” Megamind rolled his eyes skyward and clasped his hands together. “I’ve been looking all over the place for you guys!” He grabbed the man’s shoulders. “Any police officers? Medics? Other emergency personnel? Where’re you located?”

“Two cops! A lady ambulance driver!” the man yelped. “We’re on the corner of 45th and Culver.”

Megamind punched at the sky. “Hot damn! Get in here, you! None of you are going back until you’re armed to the teeth and we get a comm system set up.”

Megamind practically danced over to the hovercraft. 45th and Culver, that was only five blocks away! He’d expand his territory, get the streets cleared for traffic if anyone still had a car that worked, set up guardhouses, safe houses, patrols....

“Everyone aboard?” he said cheerfully. 

Brenda was still nursing one of the babies. 

Face flushing, he turned his back. He snarled at the wounded henchman, “Close your eyes!”

“I ain’t lookin’, sir, I ain’t!” the man said desperately. “I got ‘em covered!”

“Well...cover them more,” he snapped.

“Coming aboard?” Doris said in a very smug tone.

His lip curled. Old bat. He supposed he better ride along to make sure the henchman behaved. The only other person on the hovercraft was Gabby, the pilot. Growling wordlessly, he climbed up, keeping his face turned.

One of the new mothers whispered something to Doris.

Doris snorted. “Oh, don’t worry about him. I’ve been living here for almost a month and he hasn’t thrown a single person to the alligators. Not a single one.”

It was difficult to glare at her with peripheral vision but he did his best. “That’s because living with you, Doris, is so much worse than any alligator.”

 

Chapter Text

Megamind called the doctor to deal with the new babies and mothers and wounded henchman, appointed someone to distribute the water bottles, ordered some brainbots to go out and find some portable toilets (the bathrooms, he was informed, were, like, really bad now).

Then he gave approval to a ‘Have you seen me?’ banner, gave someone else permission to put up a clothesline, fielded twenty questions about whether or not the water was back on, promised several other people that yes there would be another search and rescue operation for their loved ones but not just yet please be patient, and finally escaped to his bedroom.

He piled the dehydrated mattress cubes on his desk for Minion to sort out later. With a groan he flopped over the air vent in the floor, letting the coldness wash over him until his undersuit dried out and peeled away from his tortured skin. Whoever invented air conditioning was a saint.

The last few conversations caught up with him. Clothesline? What happened to the dryer? How the hell was anybody washing clothes? 

He might have to kick everyone out temporarily so he could rebuild the interior. The walls were high enough for three stories of private rooms. People could finally have a little space to call their own, or at least a little space they only had to share with a few others instead of the entire population of the Lair. 

He could hear the sounds of more people shuffling in. The noise level went up as the newbies asked questions, established guests gave directions, and everyone milled about like bewildered cattle. Once in a while Taffy the cat let out a piercing meow, asking to be let out of the box they’d put her in.

He cocked his head, listening for Roxanne’s voice, but he couldn’t make her out through the murmuring.

A blood-curdling shriek echoed off the rafters. 

It shot straight into his hindbrain, down his spine, and into his legs. He leaped up and bolted out the door, drawing the de-gun as he ran, dodging small children, then skidded to a halt by the clothing distribution center (aka the extra card table).

Irina was locked in the embrace of a large man, both of them crying their eyes out.

Megamind looked around wildly. No blood, no zombies. “What happened? Who’s dead?”

Roxanne put her hand on his arm, making him lower the de-gun. “I think you can put that away.”

He holstered it and tried to get his heart out of his throat. “But what’s the matter?” 

“Offhand, I’d say it’s a reunion.” She was smiling, but tears shone in her eyes. She put her hand on his back, her gaze on the weeping couple. “I should be getting this on tape. I wonder if I can get an interview.” Abruptly she stepped back, wiping her eyes. “God, I’m so awul. Once a reporter, always a reporter, I guess,” she said with a shaky laugh.

Impulsively he seized her hand. “You’re a great reporter,” he said. And then stood there staring at her like an idiot.

Before he could untie his tongue, Irina and the man had come over to them. “This is my husband, Gil. Gil, this is the Overlord,” Irina said, pointing at Megamind, as if there were any doubt who she was talking about.

Gil stuck out his hand, but when Megamind took it, the man pulled him into a crushing embrace. “Thank you, mister. Thank you,” Gil said in a shaky voice. “I love you, man. I never thought I’d see her again.” 

“Uh. Yes. Right,” Megamind said, tentatively patting the other man’s back. 

Irina seized Megamind next, planting a tear-soaked kiss on his cheek. “God bless you, Overlord,” she said, and hugged him even harder.

Now there was a sentence he never expected to hear. His ears burned. He could’ve sworn he felt Irina’s baby kick. Her shoulders seemed to be the only safe place to put his hands. This was kind of long hug, wasn’t it? Would it be rude to push a pregnant lady off him?

“Excuse me, Irina,” Roxanne said. “Would you and your husband agree to an interview?”

Irina turned to Roxanne with a happy smile. Roxanne gave him a little nod and he knew it was time to go. They both had work to do. 

Megamind cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “All mechanics, repairpersons, and anyone with any industrial skills whatsoever, report to the front of the Lair at once. If I’m going into the sewers, I’m not going alone!”

 - - - - - - -

The neighborhood around the nearest pumping station was deserted, except for a dead dog that was too badly decomposed to be fed to the alligators. A few abandoned cars and the litter tossed around by the wind made Megamind feel as if they were the only people in the city. 

A school bus was parked next to the pumping station. He inspected it, de-gun at the ready, prepared for the sight of zombie children lurching up from the seats and dreading it, but fortunately the bus was empty.

Except for a child’s pink backpack trampled into the floor, with a brown footprint on it, which might have been dried blood. The emergency exit hung open, creaking in the wind. No clues as to who had left the bus there, or how many people were on it, or what had happened to them. Just another tragedy, a mystery that would probably never be solved.

He joined the crew looking into the open manhole. The rungs of the ladder disappeared into sluggish water.

“Oh, yeah,” said the sewage man, scratching his beard. “The pumps that keep the service tunnels from flooding musta stopped. We’re gonna have to wait for the water lines to come back on.”

“Wait. What?” Megamind rubbed his temples. “I thought water was the problem.” His headache was worse than before, and it wasn’t helped by that damn bus staring at him. He glared at the empty windows.

“They’re hydraulic pumps.”

“So what do they run on? Diesel?” There was probably some left in the bus’s tank, come to think of it, that was useful.

There was a little silence. The crew glanced at each other. “The pumps are powered by water,”  said the sewer man carefully. “On account of they’re hydraulic. They’re hooked up to the city’s water system, so if that goes off, then they stop, too.”

A hot blush spread over Megamind’s face. “I meant... how long will it take for the tunnels to clear when the pumps are working again?”

 - - - - - - - - -

It would take many hours for them to drain, even if Minion got the water running again immediately. They went back to the Lair.

Megamind was shaken by his mental lapse. Completely blanking on what hydraulic meant. Christ! That damn bus had distracted him. What the fuck had it been doing there, anyway? School had let out for the summer long before the quarantine, hadn’t it?

Well, there was too much to do, and not enough time to do it. People were counting on him. He’d just have to do what he’d always done.

Power through.

He went to the computers to figure out which brainbots were doing what, and where they were doing it. It infuriated him, having to resort to the computer to make sure he didn’t make a mistake. Normally he knew the exact location and assignment for each brainbot, but currently he was having trouble keeping track of them.

Dr. Plant appeared at his side. “One of the new babies is dangerously dehydrated. Since we don’t have any I.V.s, Brenda will have to nurse him at frequent intervals. Since she’s breastfeeding for three, she must be monitored closely. We have to make sure she gets plenty of food and water.”

Megamind huffed out a breath. “Can’t the other mothers... you know... start producing again?”

“No. Once the milk dries up, it’s gone. I strongly recommend finding some formula as soon as you can. It’ll take the load off her. And could we get to a hospital soon? Or my clinic? Even if you could loan me a car...”

“Most streets are crap right now. Full of garbage and abandoned cars,” he said shortly. “Once you get close to Main, you’ll have to turn around and come back anyway. That reminds me.” He stopped and called out to the room. “The hovercraft blueprints! Who’s got them?”

One of the mechanics waved across the way, and Megamind headed over. 

Doris, aaargh, not Doris again, bustled up, with some pasty-faced person trotting along behind her.

“Overlord, this is Pastor Mike,” she said, eyes shining.

“Fascinating.” Megamind kept walking. “Can he do anything useful?” 

Doris gasped, but he had no time for one of her outraged speeches.

The mechanic met him halfway. Megamind said, “Get the welding equipment out, and those tool trolleys.” He pointed them out by the invisible car. “We’ll start dismantling the mechanical shark tonight and begin the framework.”

Pastor Mike coughed gently. “Actually, I have a degree in counseling. I’m trained for helping people cope with trauma.”

Megamind sized the man up. He was skinny but had a jowly face, which made him look like he’d been squeezed into his pastoral collar. Not someone Megamind would want to confide in, but he supposed the garb was comforting to some people. “You’ve come to the right place, padre. Take your pick. Plenty of trauma.”

“Uh, thank you. Actually, I’ve already spoken with a few folks who...”

“Then what the hell are you pestering me about it for?” Megamind snapped. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

The pastor gave him a mournful look. “Well, I thought it a good idea to meet, so that we could discuss...”

Megamind spotted Bernard heading toward him, carrying a stack of printouts. He waved an impatient hand. “Yes, yes, whatever it is, I’m sure it’s fine. Set up a newsletter, run your little prayer group, just do it quietly.” He took a few steps away to end the conversation. 

Somewhere Bernard had found a razor. It must have been a dull one, as bits of tissue were stuck to his newly shaven face. “You seriously let in more people? I barely got started on the death certificates. What do you want first, the ID’s for the dead or a comprehensive list of Lair members?”

“Members? What is this, a country club?”

“Well, what do you want to call...” Bernard waved a hand around at the crowds. “...all of us?” 

“Denizens. Lairs have denizens. Get everyone’s name, age, health concerns, relations, et cetera.”

Bernard sighed heavily, rolled his eyes, and muttered something about only having two hands, which Megamind ignored. He turned over a page on the stack to reveal a small photo of a dead person stapled in the corner. “You were in the morgue?” 

Bernard’s eyes widened. “Are you crazy? I don’t go in there. Noelle brought out some notes, I typed ‘em up, attached the photos.” He shuddered. “I don’t want to see any more dead bodies. The photos are bad enough.”

While they were talking, another one of the newcomers had approached, clutching several shirts from the extras table. “These are from my store,” he said, voice rising. “You looted my store!”

Megamind grimaced and scratched his head. "Oh. This is awkward. But, to be fair, I thought whoever owned the place might be dead.”

“Well, I’m not!”

Megamind put on his servant-of-the-public face. It had worked pretty well at the water plant. “See it as providing a valuable service. Some people were covered in vomit and zombie guts. They had to change into something. Don’t you feel better knowing you helped out? However unwittingly?”

“No! You know how much the mall charges for rent?”

Megamind decided to delegate. He seized Bernard’s arm and pulled him in front of the indignant store owner. “Here, take it up with my complaint department.”

“Hey-what?-wait-” Bernard said.

“I’ll pay,” Megamind hissed in his ear. “Three hundred metros a week. And remember,” he continued, as Bernard opened his mouth to protest, “that includes room, board, and protection from getting eaten alive by the undead. And you’re living in the Lair of a supervillain. Just think what this’ll do for your blog. You can’t tell me that hasn’t occurred to you.” 

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed more refugees drifting over, clearly with anxious questions to ask. “Keep these people occupied.”

Bernard still looked unhappy, but sullen ambition gleamed in his eye. “Okay,” he muttered.

As Megamind made his escape, he heard Bernard say, “You have insurance, don’t you?”

 - - - - - - - - -

Megamind gathered a brainbot crew to bring out one of the wind turbines. Minion had called and said he expected the generators at the water plant to be operational soon, but Megamind wanted the turbine in place.

The heat smacked him like a hammer as he left the Lair. It was like breathing hot cotton.

Several mechanics had come along to assist and observe. He led the way to the secret shed down the street. Purple storm clouds inched across the sky, reaching for the blazing sun. Thunder rumbled faintly.

It was the hottest part of the day and heat boiled off the concrete. Damn it, damn it, damn it all to fucking hell, he’d forgotten to grab a water bottle.

He directed the ‘bots to unlock the shed. More of a hangar, really. 

“Wow, it’s really hot out,” Gabby said. “Can we wait in the shade?”

He flapped a hand at them. “Go ahead.” He leaned on his knees, taking shallow breaths, his headache pulsing through his skull.

“Aren’t you coming, Overlord? I really think you should come, too.”

He scowled at her. “In a second.”

A loud crash made him straighten up abruptly, but it was just the heavy door getting flung open a little too hard by the brainbots.

Dizziness washed over him and the ground tilted. Ooooh, that’s not good. Stood up too fast. He took three steps to the right before his knees buckled. 

Somebody yelled, “Oh, shit! Somebody catch him! He’s...”

The lights went out.

 - - - - - - - - - -

When he opened his eyes, he was floating in the lake, his head pillowed on someone’s lap. Waves lapped at the shore. 

Gabby was shoveling water down the front of his shirt. He hissed in a breath as another arctic handful hit his chest. ‘That’s cold, you imbecile, stop that at once,’ was what he meant to say, but his mouth wasn’t working properly, so what came out was a wordless groan. 

“Hey, he’s awake,” Gabby cried. “He’s awake!”

More people waded close, expressing their relief. Smiling faces hovered over him, along with a few brainbots. One of the ‘bots flew down, and he held up a hand. For the first time realized his gloves had been stripped off. The brainbot put out a pincer and squeezed his fingers, bowging in an anxious tone. Word would spread among the brainbots, settling their fears, though Minion would have been alerted by his collapse by now. The loyal henchfish was probably racing back.

“Whoa, dude! We thought you were a goner,” a voice said over his head.

The brief hope that he was lying in Roxanne’s lap dissipated. He squinted up at Luke. Who was bare-chested. 

“Okay, go ahead and let me drown,” he mumbled.

“Classic Overlord,” Luke said cheerfully. “Sarcasm.” He took the wet cloth off Megamind’s head, dunked it in the lake again, and put it back on his forehead.

Megamind swiped at the water running into his eyes. “What do you mean sarcasm?” For some reason this was a big hit. Everyone laughed.

A terrible thought struck him. He touched the cloth on his head. “Is this your shirt?” 

“You got it, man. Gabby said we had to get your skin wet, and you got like twenty layers on and we couldn’t find the zipper. So I got my shirt off, and boom!”

Megamind pulled it off and struggled to sit up. “Going back to the Lair,” he said, with as much dignity as he could muster while flailing about in knee-deep water. No cape, no gloves, he was lucky he still had his damn boots, he felt half-naked.

“Where’s my de-gun?” he cried, grabbing at the empty holster. Another wave of dizziness flooded him and he would have fallen if Luke hadn’t grabbed him.

“Tyler’s got it,” Gabby said. “We thought maybe it wasn’t supposed to get wet.”

Two of the men made a seat with their arms and carried him back to the Lair. Slightly more dignified than being carried in someone’s arms like a baby, but barely. Megamind kept his gaze fixed on his knees as they passed into the coolness of the Lair, ignoring the worried murmurs that sprang up.

He cringed internally when he heard one of Roxanne’s friends calling for her. There was no escaping the humiliation. He should have told them to use the back entrance.

“Hey, wait,” Luke called, running up with garbage bags. “Lemme go in first. The bed’ll get wet.” He disappeared into the bedroom. 

They edged him sideways through the door. Luke finished laying the plastic over the bed and Megamind lay down, leaking water. The room was crowded with several concerned citizens while others peered in. 

“Get your boots off, Overlord?” said Luke.

Megamind jerked his foot out of his hands. “Go away. Put a shirt on.”

Dr. Plant squeezed in, closely followed by Britney, of all people. He let the doctor feel his forehead and bother him with questions. Yes, he'd had a headache. Sweating? Buckets. No nausea or vomiting, but he'd felt light-headed, smartly followed by passing out.

“Heat exhaustion,” the doctor announced. "You’ve been running around in 95 degree heat, suffocating humidity, in a close-fitting black outfit. I’m amazed you didn’t pass out sooner.” She looked around. “Could we clear the room, please?” She made shooing motions and began ushering people out.

Britney took over the space the doctor had vacated, kneeling by the bed. He pulled back against the pillow, feeling a sudden urge to yank the blankets up. She was starting to creep him out. 

She smiled gently. “You really need to take better care of yourself. I could help. Do you need a personal assistant?” She laid her fingers on his upper arm. 

“I have Minion.” He pushed her hand away. “Stop that. Everyone quit touching me right now!”

Roxanne came in. At the sight of Britney she stopped short. Her face stiffened.

The two women locked gazes. Around them, people slowed on their way out, watching them from of the corners of their eyes.

“Hi,” Britney said. “I’m here to help. Whatever you need, let me know and I’ll take care of it for you.”

Roxanne stared at her. And then she smiled, sharp and bright. “You are forgetting your place, Britney."

Britney’s smile vanished. “What?” she said, blinking. 

Chuckling, Roxanne shook her head. “Oh, I see. You don't understand. What I meant was, get out of my room.”

Megamind drew a careful breath. With her chin raised and eyes flashing, she looked so magnificently ee-vil he didn’t dare move in case he broke the spell.

Frowning, Britney looked from her to Megamind. “Your room? But...”

“Now,” Roxanne said.

Megamind almost hoped Britney would refuse so he could see what Roxanne would do next. But confusion over Roxanne’s declaration along with that terrible smile sent Britney scurrying on her way.

The others hurried out as well. The doctor was the last to leave.

“Dunking you in the lake may have saved your life," she said. "Heat exhaustion can quickly become heat stroke, which is far more dangerous. It can happen again, much more quickly when you’re susceptible, which you will be for some time. Drink lots of water. Stay out of the sun. I recommend a week’s bedrest.”

“A week?!” Megamind shouted, sitting up. The room spun. He grabbed the bed to keep from falling out of it.

Dr. Plant and Roxanne eased him back down again. “Megamind, you’re no good to anyone dead,” Roxanne said. “Just rest. For today. See how you feel tomorrow.”

The doctor nodded. “If you need me, I’ll either be in the morgue or in my sleeping space, by that big unicorn head.”

“The Equestrinator,” he said. “How come nobody ever gets it right?”

“I think it’s the pink horn,” Roxanne said. She closed the door behind the doctor, and walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. “If you wanted to get me alone, you could have done it a little less dramatically.”

He rolled over, too embarrassed to face her. “Didn’t plan to fall on my face.”

“I know.”

“I’m a super-fast healer, you know.”

“Yes, you are.”

“And now you’re humoring me,” he complained.

“You’re trying to start a fight. Not gonna work.” She patted his arm. 

The door banged open and Minion rushed in. He took Megamind’s  hand in both of his big ones, forehead creased with worry. After Megamind assured him he would live, Minion said, “Don’t scare me like that. You push yourself too hard. And you don’t rest enough. And...”

“You don’t get enough rest, either,” Megamind said.

“That’s different. I’m not likely to get overheated.” He sighed and shook his little body. “Well, how’d it go with the sewers?”

Megamind told him about the flooded service tunnels. “Might as well wait until tomorrow. We’ll have to use the port-a-potties until then. I’ll just rest up until my big debut.”

“Your what?”

“The photo-op. The exchange of pleasantries with the army, my grand revelation to the world as Overlord.”

Roxanne and Minion glanced at each other.

“We’ll discuss it tomorrow,” Roxanne said.

“Fine. Tomorrow then.” He caught those looks they were giving each other. If they thought he was going to let himself be taken in by all this coddling and fussing, they could think again.

 - - - - - - - -

Roxanne left so Minion could get Megamind cleaned up and changed.

Several people were hanging out in the corridor, waiting for an update. She assured them the Overlord was resting, and then, because they seemed to need something to do, she asked them to bring him some food and water. 

She made her way to a secluded area between some shelves and slid down to the floor, wrapping her arms around her stomach.

The panic that had risen within her when Agnes came running with news of Megamind’s collapse was a small hard knot in her chest. She’d barely had time to acknowledge the fear before being confronted by the sight of Britney leaning over him like a damn vampire. 

She pressed a shaky hand over her mouth. He’s going to be all right. He overdid it, but he’s going to be okay. She took several deep breaths, listening to the bustle of the Lair. 

Pilar peeked around the corner. “You okay?”

Roxanne sighed. “Yeah, I think I just needed a little time to process.”

“You mean your boyfriend passing out, or that chick practically climbing into bed with him?”

Roxanne gasped. “She wasn’t that bad. Geez. It’s all over the Lair, isn’t it?”

Agnes and Pilar slipped into the narrow space and sat down across from her, hugging their knees. “No secrets around here,” Agnes said with a grin. “Everyone’s talking about how you threw her out on her butt, too.”

Roxanne bit her lip, pleased. “I hope they don’t talk in front of her, though. It might spur her on.”

Pilar shrugged. “Well, she might have heard people talking.”

“She’s got no shame,” Agnes said. “I’d keep an eye on him, if I were you. Especially when he’s laid up.”

He was sleeping heavily when she checked on him. She smiled at the hazmat symbols on his pajamas. 

She was supposed to be conducting more interviews, but found herself reluctant to leave Megamind alone, with Britney on the prowl. Minion had other chores to finish.

It would be too weird to ask her friends to guard Megamind, so she asked his uncles, Lenny and Sid, to take turns sitting with him. 

“We won’t let anyone bother ‘im, honey. Especially not no blonde chicks,” Uncle Sid said with a wink.

“Overlord should have bodyguards anyway,” Uncle Lenny said. He ran a stony look around the Lair. “Real bodyguards, not us old farts.”

 - - - - - - - - -

Roxanne went back to her interviews. After the happy interview wiith Irina and Gil, the other three people she spoke with had far more tragic stories to tell. Having them relive their trauma and grief left Roxanne emotionally drained.

It was evening. Supper had ended. Rain pattered on the roof and flashes of lightning flickered in the Lair’s high windows. Thunder crashed. Children ran around the darkened corridors, waving flashlights at each other. 

“Five more minutes,” Doris called. “Then we put them away. Don’t want to waste the batteries.” 

Lenny and Sid were standing in the corridor, looking uncomfortable. Megamind was up and out of bed arguing with Minion, by the closet with one of his villainous outfits in hand. “I’m going,” Megamind said.

“Sir, I can handle this. Please go back to bed.”

“Zombies at the border. It’s time to defend!” Megamind said, drawing himself up as Roxanne came in. His eyes were sunken and his hands shook slightly, but righteous indignation poured off him. “I’m going.”

“No, you won’t,” Minion snapped.

“Yes, I will. I am feeling much, much better.”

Roxanne said, “Megamind, go lie down or else.”

“Or else what?” he said with a sneer.

“Or else I’ll have Doris come in here and lecture you on proper rest and hydration.”

He stiffened. “You’re bluffing.”

“Try me.”

They glared at each other. Megamind worked his jaw, and then, with quick, angry movements, he put the outfit away, shut the closet door, and went back to bed, yanking the covers up to his chin and turning his back on them.

Minion watched him, then leaned toward Roxanne. “Please stay forever,” he murmured. More loudly he announced, “I’ll let you know how it goes, Sir.” 

“Don’t get electrocuted,” Megamind said, without turning around. “And check on the fire station.”

Minion stopped at the door. “What fire station?”

Megamind rolled over. “Some people took refuge in the 45th Street station. They came here for help. Must have gone back by now.” He flung back the covers. “How about I just...”

“Lie down!” Roxanne and Minion said. 

Megamind flopped onto his back and glared at the ceiling, crossing his arms in a huff. “Ganging up on me. Should be against the law,” he grumbled. “Ganging up on the Overlord is against the law,” he shouted at Minion’s back.

Roxanne sat gingerly on the rickety chair, and listened to the rain for a while. She looked at the bookshelf. “Mind if I read your books?”

Megamind grumbled something that might have included ‘go ahead,’ and she picked up the first volume of the Wild Flower romance series.

 - - - - - - -

Megamind tossed and turned, curling up in a ball, moving from one side to the other, and lying on his back again. “Zombie attack in the middle of a thunderstorm,” he said plaintively. “And I’m not there.” 

“Mm-hm.” Roxanne didn’t look up from the book. It was really pretty   good. There was an actual plot. She stretched her back. The story was almost good enough to make her forget how uncomfortable the damn chair was. Leaning against the desk helped.

He wriggled around again, kicking at the bedclothes. “I was made for zombie attacks in thunderstorms.”

Thunder boomed again, so loudly it made the walls vibrate. The cat wailed thin little heartbreaking cries.

Megamind rolled his head around on the pillow. “Look, I can at least work an all-clear order to the ‘bots to recognize the cat as a guest. Then they can let her out of the box. I can do it from bed with the laptop.”

Roxanne fetched it for him out of the desk drawer. She went back to the book and occasionally watched him work, fingers typing away. 

“You know, this isn’t half bad,” she said.

He glanced at her, then did a double take, not having noticed before, in the midst of his own agony, her selection of reading material. He hunched over the keyboard again, as if he hoped the books would cease to exist if he refused to acknowledge them.

“Nothing to be embarrassed about,” she said, without looking up. 

“’M not,” he muttered. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“Okay.” She turned the page. She decided not to remind him that half the Lair had been in his room recently, and someone else might have noticed the row of pink books. She turned the page. The heroine actually had a personality. The hero was also, surprisingly, not a hypermasculine jerk. But maybe the few romance novels she’d read weren’t good representations of the genre.

He finished up his work shortly before Minion came back. Raindrops glistened on his gorilla fur.

Megamind stretched and grinned in triumph. “Tell them to release Taffy from her imprisonment. There shouldn’t be any problems with the brainbots now.”

Minion smiled. “That’s great, Sir.” His fins and dorsal spines drooped, and his eyes looked puffy. He made his report. The zombie attack had been a small one. They’d brought back the corpses and dehydrated them, and visited the fire station.

“They look pretty well dug in, Sir. It doesn’t even look like anyone’s living there. Gave ‘em a comm, gave one to the folks at the water plant, too.” He yawned. “You need anything else, Sir? You, Miss Ritchi?”

He pressed his forehead to Megamind’s, and then to Roxanne’s surprise he came over to her and began to lean over. Then he stopped and straightened up quickly, his half-closed eyes opening wide. “Oh, I didn’t mean to... sorry, Miss Ritchi, I... see, Sir and I, we usually... I didn’t mean to impose...” A faint green blush spread over his face.

Roxanne put her hand on his forearm. “No, you’re not imposing, Minion. I was just a little surprised. It seems like... kind of a private thing, from what I’ve seen. The forehead touch.”

Minion glanced at Megamind as if checking to see if it was all right. Megamind shrugged and nodded. 

Minion twiddled his fingers together. “I...I guess I... kind of feel like you’re family.”

“In that case I’m honored.” She tugged at Minion’s arm, who obligingly leaned down, and she pressed her forehead to the coolness of the containment unit. 

Minion grinned, pleased. “G’night, Miss Ritchi. Sir.”

“What does this mean?” she asked, once Minion had gone.

“Means we’re married now.”

Roxanne lunged at him. He flung up his arms. “I was kidding! I’m an invalid! No hitting!”

 - - - - - - -

Roxanne went to brush her teeth. When she came back, Megamind was arranging a blanket on the floor.

“Thanks, Megamind, I’m beat.” She blinked as he lay down on it. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Bed’s yours. Couple of damp spots around the edges, but it’s pretty good.”

“Megamind, you fainted today.”

“A little incident, that’s all.”

“You are not sleeping on the floor.”

“It’s my floor, and my bed, and I’ll sleep where I want.”

“I had the bed last night. It’s your turn.”

He curled up and closed his eyes.

She put her hands on her hips. “Get back in that bed right now!”

“You can’t make me. And don’t bother threatening me with Doris again, I know for a fact she’s asleep.”

“Well, I’m not sleeping there.”

Jaw clenched, she pulled the last blanket off the bed and clicked off the overhead light, leaving the desk lamp on. She spread the blanket on the floor and lay down in the semi-darkness.

“So nobody gets the bed?” he said incredulously.

She turned her back on him. She could tell he was still staring at her, propped up on one elbow, but she didn’t answer. After a few moments, he lay back down again.

They lay in angry silence for several minutes. The rain stopped. A baby cried in the distance, and then quieted. 

I am not turning around, she thought furiously. Stubborn idiot. 

The absurdity of it made tears spring to her eyes. The entire city turned into a giant prison, people suffering and dying out in the dark, her friends and co-workers missing, her parents missing, and they were playing these stupid games.

  She sniffled. Megamind rolled over and she could feel his uncertainty, a disturbance in the air. 

At last he said, “Are you all right?”

She wiped her nose on her wrist. “Just thinking.”

There was another pause, though shorter than the last one. “Want to talk about it?”

She looked over her shoulder. He lay on his back with his hands clasped over his belly. His eyes darted to her, then went back to the ceiling.

“I’m just out of sorts,” she said, lying on her back, too. Their elbows almost touched. “It’s what everyone’s going through. Nothing special.”

“But what are you going through?”

She bit her lip. “I’m thinking about my friends, and where are they now? My brother and sister, wondering if I’ll ever see them again.”

“They live here?”

“No. My sister’s in Florida. Brother’s in San Francisco.” She tangled her fingers in the blanket. “But my parents live in town.” She wiped her face. “I couldn’t get a hold of them.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to help you look for them.”

She drew a shuddering breath. “Thanks. Feel a little guilty. Like my family’s gotten bumped to the top of your missing-persons list.”

“It’s been a while since my last real search and rescue expedition. High time for another one.”

She felt lonely and miserable, and, well, they were officially dating. And sharing a sleeping space. So much for her rules. “Will you hold me?”

He stared at her, eyes wide in the dark. “Um, okay.” 

She remembered how he’d snapped at everyone to quit touching him. She bit her lip. “I mean, if you want to. Maybe you’re touched out.”

He chuckled, his face twitching into a nervous smile. “Oh. Yeah, I’m not used to so much grabbyness. Usually in the past, people have avoided touching me, unless they had to. Like doctors, in the emergency room. Or people who intended to hurt me. So I... I guess I’m a little... I tend to avoid it. Discourage it.”

“We don’t have to...”

“But I don’t mind if you want to,” he said hastily. “I mean, I’d like that, I think. I mean, I’m sure I will, I just...” His voice sounded a little panicky. He rubbed his eyes. “Um. You know when I said I was new at this? I am, like, really new. At all of it. That sounds stupid. But I have literally never had a girlfriend before, in any way, shape, or form. I’m not used to... to affectionate romantic touching.”

“You asking for a few pointers?”

“Exactly,” he said, sounding relieved. “So if you could, sort of, give me a hint once in a while? If I get too... too standoffish? Say, if you needed a hug but I didn’t pick up on it. Or, conversely, if I get too clingy or pushy or there’s inappropriate hand-holding, or...you know. Anything.”

“I’ll try to remember you’re not a mind-reader,” she said with a smile. “You’ve really thought a lot about this.”

“Overthinking’s my hidden power.”

It was her turn to chuckle. “So far you’ve been doing fine with boundaries. I don’t mind a little public hand-holding. This goes both ways, you know. If you’re not comfortable with something I’m doing, you need to tell me, okay?”

His gaze dropped to his hands before returning to her. He nodded.

“Sure you’re okay with holding me now?" she said. "I don’t want anything else.”

“Completely okay.” He tapped his thumbs together. “Do I... I lie flat here, or...?”

“Yeah. Hold your left arm out so I can put my head on your shoulder.”

He looked a little startled when she slipped under his blanket, as if he hadn't quite realized what holding her would involve, but he wrapped his arms around her immediately when she lay down. She put her hand over his other shoulder. After some shifting around, they got comfortable.

She was tempted to run her hand over his chest, just a little, but decided it would be too much of a mixed signal, given current parameters.

Oh, wow, I’m more scientific already, she thought dryly.

He rubbed her shoulder. “Is this helping?”

“Immensely.” She gave him a little squeeze. She'd enjoyed their earlier embraces, but he'd been fully armored and the spikes, while not actually sharp, had required her to be careful as to how hard she could hug him. He was much cuddlier in his PJs. “How about you? You have other uncles?”

“There was another at the prison, Uncle Harry. He was a zombie. There was only one way to end it.”

She lifted her head to look at him. “That must have been awful.”

He closed his eyes against inner pain. “I’ve shot so many zombies. Sometimes I forget they used to be people. Or I try to forget, because I think it’ll make it easier to pop them off. And then I’ll see they’re still wearing jewelry or make-up, or a shirt with their favorite basketball team on it. And I’ll remember that somebody turned them into monsters. Someone created this virus.” One of his hands tightened into a fist, and then he sighed and relaxed.

“But in a way,” he said slowly, as if feeling his way, “In a way, it says something about the existence of the soul, doesn’t it? Because even though the body is still moving, the person that they were is gone. To another, better place, I hope.” He made an exasperated noise in his throat and lifted his hands. “And... and I don’t know what I’m trying to say. What are we staying alive for, anyway?”

“For each other, I think,” Roxanne said. “I think we’re staying alive for each other. Not just you and me. All of us.”

He was silent for a little while. “Even assholes?”

She burst out laughing, and pressed her face into his pajama shirt, her body shaking with laughter. Giggling, she got up on her elbow to look at his grinning face. “I admit there may be exceptions, but I believe my theory has merit.”

“You could be on to something there,” he said as she settled down onto him again. “Any place I see overrun by zombies, I don’t want to leave anyone behind.”

“Well, there you go, then,” she said, yawning. She wasn’t sure if what she’d said was completely true. You couldn’t live your life entirely for others, of course. You had to have your own existence. But other people could help bring meaning to that existence. 

She yawned again. She’d be more coherent in the morning.

 - - - - - - -

He struggled to stay awake just a little longer so he could enjoy this glorious feeling of Roxanne sleeping on his chest and shoulder, and his arms around her with her hair soft on his cheek. He would cherish every touch, every gesture. She was worried she might make him uncomfortable? As if!

Though her reading his copy of Wild Irish Rose was more than a little embarrassing. When she was in the bathroom he'd been tempted to take a quick peek at it to see how far she'd gotten. She'd left it lying open facedown on the desk...but what if she was reading one of the...the steamier passages? He didn't think he could handle it. 

So here they were, lying on the hard floor. Their argument seemed so ridiculous now, but it was too much trouble to wake her up and move to the bed.

On the floor like everybody else, he thought, only now remembering the dehydrated mattresses sitting on the desk, lending their glow to the half-light. They’d have to get them sorted tomorrow.

Rats, he’d forgotten to tell her how he’d admired her deft handling of Britney. Roxanne had shown some excellent Evil Queen material right there. As he drifted into sleep, he wondered why Roxanne had taken such a dislike to her.

 

Chapter Text

Zombies shuffled into the Lair in a trickle, a river, a flood. Dead, sad eyes stared at him accusingly, faces of people he knew, his uncles, Gabby, Luke, Bernard, Doris and her grandkids... the warden who, bizarrely, lifted his hand in salute...

Disembodied wails echoed off the walls and into his ears. His own panicked, high-pitched whimpering wasn't enough to drown them out.

Megamind scrabbled at a wall that had turned into mud, trying to climb, trying to pull up Minion and Roxanne after him, but it was impossible, every time he got one of them pulled up the other would start to slide back, back into the muck and the clawing hands of the zombies.

His arm sank into the wall up to the elbow. Something grabbed him and he opened his mouth to scream but terror choked him. The zombies were under the mud, they were everywhere, there was no escape. He struggled, but his feet couldn't find anything solid to dig in to, and as the thing began to drag him under...


- - - - -


He woke up. His heart pounded in his throat and every muscle was constricted with terror. The dream had felt so real he could almost taste the mud.

Roxanne slept beside him, safe, perfectly safe, her breathing deep and even. No doubt Minion slept peacefully in his tank.

Slowly, slowly, he relaxed. His breath stopped racing in and out of his lungs and his heart stopped thundering in his chest, leaving him to wonder why his left arm hurt so abominably. Looking down he saw that Roxanne had shifted, and was putting a painful amount of weight on his elbow. He gently extracted it from under Roxanne's head, letting her slip onto the pillow. She muttered in her sleep, then rolled onto her other side. He rolled over too, and massaged his arm to get some life back into it.

More fences needed to be built, around the water plant, the sewage treatment plant, and the fire station. That was a start. More safe zones, with entire neighborhoods walled in, and patrols of humans and brainbots to ensure they were zombie-free.

Was this their future? For everyone to live behind walls, unable to go anywhere unless they were armed? Regular call-outs to bring out the dead before they got up and walked out on their own?

The thought depressed him. He'd spent his entire life escaping prison, and now the whole city was going to be full of prisons. And he would be the warden.

His arm was better so he rolled over and, after some hesitation, edged closer to Roxanne so he could drape his right arm over her, and folded his other, still tingling arm against his chest. He wanted to kiss her neck, but didn't think her injunction to kiss her extended to the times when she slept.

She heaved a little sigh and wriggled back against him.

Greatly daring, he tightened his arm around her, tucking his hand under her ribs. His scrunched left arm tingled a little and he moved it around enough to get it into a comfortable position between her back and his chest. Her bottom pressed against him and the backs of her thighs were against his, and they were folded together. What did they call it, spooning?

He rested his cheek between her shoulder blades and inhaled her scent, warm and organic. This was nice. Really nice. But he couldn't rest, and couldn't get back to sleep. The horror of the nightmare clung to him like smoke. His thoughts had woken up and were pestering him.

People were suffering. People were dying out there. And he was lounging around, cuddling. He huffed out a breath. The universe was playing a cruel, cruel game, giving him the girl of his dreams and the city he'd longed to rule for so long, and he couldn't enjoy any of it.

Now he had to go to the bathroom. He crawled out from under the covers and stood up carefully. No dizziness, that was good. It was almost 5:00. Quietly he collected a semi-clean outfit from the closet and hunted down his damp boots and de-gun. He couldn't find his slippers, and where had Minion put his gloves? There were more in the dresser, but the drawers would squeak, and that might wake up Roxanne. He decided to leave them off, and slipped out the door.

And immediately tripped over someone lying in the corridor. He flung out an arm to keep from crashing into the wall and the de-gun clattered to the floor.

The man sat up, cursing. “Why don't you watch where yer goin', you stupid...” In the dim light his face transformed into bug-eyed fear. “Oh shit, I'm sorry, boss, I didn't know it was you!”

It was Tony, the wounded henchman he'd carted in yesterday. “Keep your voice down,” Megamind hissed, picking up the de-gun and regathering his clothes into a bundle. “What the hell are you doing out here?”

Tony struggled up onto one foot, favoring his hurt leg. “Your uncles, sir. They told me to keep an eye on you, or they’d mess me up. I’m the new bodyguard, sir.”

Megamind ran a hand over his eyes. “Oh for the love of... What are you going to do, hit attackers with your cane?”

Tony looked worried. “I don’t got a cane. You want I should get one?”

“Go sleep somewhere else."

He turned to leave. Tony hobbled after him.

Megamind stopped short. “What are you doing?”

“Comin' with you, boss.”

“I don’t need a bodyguard. Beat it.”

“Yer uncle Lenny, he was real clear. He’s got this big-ass razor. Said he'd cut me. Please, boss.” Tony glanced over his shoulder as if he thought Lenny might have snuck up behind him.

“No offense, Tony, but if you're that scared of a couple of old men, it's not exactly a ringing endorsement of your abilities.”

“But they're your uncles. I thought maybe I oughta do what they say, or you might mess me up, boss. And you was in bed, didn't think I should ask. They didn't have to pull a razor on me, neither,” he muttered to himself in a self-pitying way.

Megamind rolled his eyes and waved impatiently at him to follow. He made so much noise Megamind slowed down so he wouldn't wake up the whole Lair.

One of the refugee dads was walking back and forth between the rows with a toddler draped over his shoulder.

“Hard to get 'em down, isn't it?” Megamind said. He jerked a thumb at the hobbling henchman. “Got my own.”

The dad eyed him, and then went in the other direction, the toddler watching somberly as she was carried away.

“Was that a joke, boss?” Tony said.

“Apparently not.”

He took another step. A sharp stab of pain in the arch of his foot made him leap sideways into a tool trolley with a crash. Up and down the Lair, heads lifted from blankets.

Megamind hissed in pain. “What the fuck?” Legos were scattered over the floor, spilling out of a plastic bucket.

“Legos, boss,” Tony said helpfully.

Megamind turned the cheery yellow square over in his fingers. “Like stepping on a caltrop,” he growled, and tossed it down. The damn thing made a loud tink noise hitting the floor. More people glanced up, blinking sleepily. He hurried on his way, keeping an eye out for more kids' toys.

Though his personal bathroom was just about unusable and reeked, he used it anyway, while Tony waited outside. There was more room to change clothes in there than in a port-a-potty. Minion should be able to get the sewer pumps back on again soon.

While he shaved, he thought about his list of duties. There were plenty of things to do inside the Lair. He suspected that last night's storm had ended the heat wave, but he decided, with extreme reluctance, that he better at least take some of the doctor's advice. Staying out of the sun for a couple of days was probably a good idea. There was a heaviness in his limbs and a funny 'ping' sensation behind his eyes when he turned his head too quickly, and the memory of the awful fainting spell brought back a hot embarrassment.

And he'd acted like an ungrateful ass. Having people around who gave a damn whether he lived or died was a new, uncomfortable feeling.

A baby cried in the distance, its wails getting more and more insistent, then fading as its caretaker moved farther away.

Formula. They had to find formula. He'd caught a glimpse of Brenda last night, the sole source of human milk and pressed into round-the-clock nursing service, looking extremely harassed, wolfing down leftover Spam and bottled water while the other mothers tried to comfort their crying babies. There must be some formula left in this godforsaken town somewhere. Or he could locate more nursing mothers. He imagined going door to door, asking if any were available.

He had to do more delegating, pronto. More hovercraft, and electric cars. There were bound to be a few in the sale lots. Biodiesel. There was plenty of used-up cooking oil sitting idle in restaurants, he could transform a few vehicles.

He brushed his teeth vigorously, remembering the dream-mud.

Then there were the informational flyers, and he really ought to get the brainbots to start clearing the streets of garbage, wrecks, and bodies, set up human patrols. They needed to check on Egman's fishery as a potential food source, get those walls built, raid all the remaining home improvement centers, tear down abandoned buildings for girders and brick.

Mind buzzing with possibilities, he finished shaving and went to the monitor station. The big curtain was drawn across it so his activity shouldn't bother the denizens.

Tony sat down noisily in a nearby chair. Megamind said, “I really don't need a bodyguard. Go back to sleep. Not outside my room.”

“But I'm good at it, really, boss. I used to do the guarding for Ms. Hot Flash. I'll stick closer to the wall so's you and your lady don't trip on me. And I'm real discretionary, too, boss. I don't repeat nothin' I hear.”

Megamind stiffened. “What did you hear?” he said, eyes narrowing.

“Not much, boss, just how you might want a hint if she wants a hug, and she don't mind holdin' your hand, and...” His voice faded under the weight of Megamind's glare.

“You,” Megamind said coldly. “Will lie down there.” He pointed. “Under that exit sign. Go back to sleep.”

“But that's almost at the end of the building,” Tony said, his face pinched with worry. “Yer Uncle Lenny might...”

“Go,” Megamind said between his teeth. Only after Tony slumped by the wall did Megamind lower his arm and turn back to the monitors.


- - - - -


Roxanne awakened to the gentle strains of a guitar. Somewhere, a woman warbled the first verse of “Amazing Grace” with more enthusiasm than skill.

The pillow beside her was empty. Why am I not surprised? She was, however, disappointed. It would have been nice to wake up next to him. She suspected that getting Megamind to stay put in one place long enough to recover from illness or injury was a full-time job. Minion probably had to tie him down. She straightened her rumpled clothes and went out.

A man loomed suddenly, holding aloft a stick. “Found one, miss,” the man said happily.

“Okay,” Roxanne said, eyeing the stick. It appeared to be half a broomstick. “That's good. And that's for...?”

“A cane, miss,” he said, lowering the stick and leaning on it. “Want me to come with?”

“No, I don't think so,” she said cautiously. The way was clear, she could kick him in the shin and make a run for it. Then the clouds parted and she remembered where she'd seen him before. “You're Tony, right?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry, miss, I shoulda said. I'm the bodyguard, miss.”

She exhaled, then frowned. “Wait. He's making you work, with that injury?”

“It was his uncles' idea, miss.”

Roxanne let Tony limp after her while she went to the bathroom. After borrowing some toothpaste from Pilar, she made a quick dash to a sink in the suffocatingly smelly bathroom, scrubbed her teeth and tongue with her finger (having lost her toothbrush), and went to look for Megamind.

Bernard was taping a poster to the side of a metal cabinet.

          Women's Shooting Contest!
Prizes! Trophies! Win the Esteem of Your Peers!
    Grand Prizes: Brand New Electric Car
                             and
Personal Brainbot Attendant for One Week!
                       Enter Now!
          See Bernard for details.


“Electric car, huh?” she said.

“Pretty sure he stole it,” Bernard said. “The brutebots have been carrying them in all morning. There's ten, last time I checked.”

“It's not stealing. It's scavenging,” Roxanne said.

“Whatever,” he muttered. With great weariness, as if she were wasting his time, he pulled out a pen and notebook. “You entering?”

“The shooting contest? I'll think about it.” She gave Bernard's red-rimmed eyes a closer look. “You feeling all right?”

He put the notebook away, his lips pressed thin. “The Overlord got me up at dawn. So, no.”

She looked around the huge room, but didn't see Megamind among the sea of people. Agnes told her she'd seen Megamind heading for the front of the building, so that's where Roxanne went.

As Overlord, did Megamind truly own everything in the city? She wondered. The companies? Private property? The federal banks? If so, then he wasn't really stealing, if you looked at it in that way, though the U.S. government would have something to say about the banks. She wasn't too concerned about it, really, as it didn't matter at this point, but it was bound to get a lot more interesting when the quarantine ended and people tried to regain their lost property.

She found Megamind talking to a group of mechanics, next to the skeleton of the new hovercraft.

Megamind exuded an air of sheepishness which got even worse when he noticed her approach. His cheekbones were dark pink. He glanced at her with an agonized look, then turned back to the mechanics. She recognized Gabby, and Luke, whom Megamind often referred to as a pot-head, and several others who had helped carry Megamind in. Uncle Lenny and Uncle Sid watched with interest.

She held back a little, though in this open space there wasn’t any way to pretend that she hadn’t heard, so she just hung back and waited for Megamind to finish his speech.

Megamind said, “I’m well aware of how insufferable I can be, or so Minion tells me, and, uum...” he rubbed the back of his neck. “What I’m trying... what I’m... I’m just...” He took a deep breath like a man about to plunge into deep water. “Thank you. If it wasn’t for your quick action I might not be here today. So!” he said briskly, clasping his hands behind his back. “If there’s any way I can repay you. Be happy to oblige. Within reason.”

There was a little shuffling among the group, a few embarrassed glances. Gabby spoke up. “You saved my life, Overlord. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. I guess I don’t need anything.”

“Yeah,” a large man rumbled. “Me too. Just think of it as returning the favor.”

There was a murmur of agreement. Megamind’s cheeks became even darker pink. He coughed into his fist. “Right, right.”

“I could go for some beer,” someone called from the back. The group chuckled.

“Yeah, let's save the brewery next.”

“Hell, I'll volunteer,” another said cheerfully.

“Can I set up a still?” Luke said, grinning.

Megamind looked startled for a moment by the laughter, then he grinned. “As long as I get the first pint.” With some more ribbing, the mechanics got back to work.

Roxanne heard the soft rattling of small metal wheels. She looked over her shoulder. A brainbot pushed Megamind's high-backed swivel chair toward them. Taffy the cat lay on it, looking around brightly, her orange tail swishing. The brainbot brought the chair to Megamind, who scooped Taffy up and fell heavily into the seat with a sigh.

“How’re you feeling?” she asked.

“Doing very well,” he said.

“You sure you should be up and about?”

“I couldn't sleep,” he said, stroking the cat. Two of Doris's grandkids hovered nearby, shifting their weight from foot to foot, working up the nerve to come closer. He glanced at them, then set the cat on the floor. Taffy jumped back into his lap. He flushed. “Get out of here, you're being hailed,” he muttered, pushing her off and giving her a little shove with his foot. She twitched her tail, then padded over to the kids.

He sighed and leaned back, closing his eyes. “She likes the chair. I have to keep kicking her off.”

Roxanne smiled. “Mm-hm. You're sure you're okay?”

He dipped his head in the affirmative. “I'm not...one hundred percent,” he said slowly, the corners of his mouth turned down as if disappointed at how his body had let him down. “I sit every twenty minutes whether I need it or not. I'm being ridiculously cautious.”

Bernard walked up with a stack of papers in his arms and cleared his throat loudly.

Megamind looked up. “The information pamphlet? Here,” he said, taking the stack and handing it to Roxanne. “The leaflet informing the citizenry of the evolved nature of the virus. And directions to the Lair, should they need assistance and are able to make the journey.”

She thumbed through the sheaf, fanning the pages out. And there were a lot of pages.

“In addition, there'll be a squad of messenger 'bots, so citizens can flag brainbots down and send a call to me for help. If anyone dares. Getting people to trust them could be a problem.” He chewed his lip. “Maybe I should stress that emergency services will come to the rescue. Do you think if we paint the 'bots bright orange they'll look less threatening?”

“I think you might want to be a little more concise.”

“Concise?”

“Get it down to one page.”

He drew back. “One page? One?”

“Sweetie, I've read shorter novels.”

“But what about this part?” he said, getting up and pointing at the relevent passage. “About the virus’s unique structure that makes use of a chemical process that enables it to hibernate until the host body reaches a specific temperature? That'll take at least three and a half.”

“But is that something that the average citizen really needs to know?”

“Knowledge is power.”

“Look, here’s what we’ll do. Get a one-page leaflet prepared that we can send out with the most basic information they need to know now, and keep copies of the booklet on hand for anyone who wants to know more. Besides, we need to ration our paper, don’t we?”

Megamind took back the papers and sat down again, glumly looking at each page as if each one was a precious jewel. “I guess,” he muttered, frowning.

“Could hardly understand. Talked too fast, and there was too much medical jargon. Then you pushed me off the computer,” Bernard complained. “I don’t know why you even bothered waking me up.”

“Bernard, make ten copies of the novel.” He glanced up at her as if to make sure she noticed he'd adopted her phrase. “I'll have a short, concise flyer ready before noon.”

Bernard slouched off.

“Hey, how's the new bodyguard workin' out, kid?” Uncle Sid grinned.

“Thanks a lot,” Megamind said, shooting a look at Tony, who was hovering some distance away. “An injured bodyguard I don't need and never asked for.”

“He needed the work. Don't take much to keep an eye on your door, does it?”

The opening chords to a jauntier song floated out from behind the generator, behind which the unseen musician was practicing with gusto.

Megamind growled, “If I hear “This Little Light of Mine” one more time, I'll break that guitar. Tony, go tell her that practice time's over.”

“Yes, sir!” Tony said, grinning and cracking his knuckles. He hitched his makeshift cane around.

Megamind stared after him as he hobbled away, then shouted, “Politely. Do not break the guitar.”

“So we've got a musician,” Roxanne said.

“Pastor Mike's wife,” Megamind said. “She knows three songs. And now I know them, too. Forever and ever. I'm shipping Tony back to the plant. I don't need a bodyguard who so recently worked for one of my opponents. What happens if Hot Flash gets her powers back and decides she's not that washed up after all? See any conflict of interest here?”

Uncle Lenny waved a hand, brushing off the protest. “He's got that code. All those henchmen gotta go by that code.”

“Code?” Roxanne asked.

“Henchman's code,” Megamind said. “Undying loyalty to the boss, until employment is transferred, or the boss kicks you out, or the underground hideout goes up in flames taking the boss with it, whatever comes first. But I don't want him sleeping outside my door, listening.”

Roxanne stiffened. “He heard? Our...our talk?

Megamind nodded. “Every word.” He glared at his uncles. Roxanne put her hands on her hips.

Sid and Lenny were unmoved by their combined outrage. “You want my advice...” Uncle Sid said.

“No,” Megamind said.

“You want my advice,” Sid repeated doggedly, “you bring all them henchmen here, away from their old boss. Get 'em used to taking orders from you.”

“Seems like certain people around here only take orders when they feel like it,” Megamind said. “Didn't I say the private rooms were for temporary use?”

Lenny shrugged his big shoulders. “First time in a long time we had any real privacy, Blue.”

Sid pulled a long face. “Yeah, you wouldn't kick your ol' uncles out of their room? We're just gettin' settled."

“Got the new curtains and all.”

Sid batted his eyes at Lenny. “Second honeymoon and that.” Lenny swatted him on the butt and they both laughed.

Megamind rubbed his eyes. “Okay. Just. Okay. Enough. Jesus. Keep the damn room.”

Minion hurried up to them in a flurry of agitation. “It's after nine. Why didn't anyone wake me up?”

“You need your rest too, filet mignon,” Megamind said. He was about to say something else, but Minion broke in.

“How long have you been up?” he cried. “You need to take it easy, get more rest!”

Megamind pushed himself back and forth in the chair. “I'm sitting down,” he said mildly, his fingers laced together over his stomach. “Doesn't this count as resting?”

Minion's mouth opened and shut a couple of times, and then he deflated, his fins sagging. “Oh. Yeah, I guess. You could at least put on a t-shirt.”

“I'm not traipsing around in public with naked arms.”

“We're in the Lair.”

“And the public is in it.”

Minion flung up his hands. “You have to be careful not to get overheated.”

Roxanne put her hand on Minion's hairy forearm. “It's pretty cool in here, Minion. I don't think there's too much danger of that as long as he stays inside.”

“That's right,” Megamind sniffed. “And outside, it is a positively chilly 58 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat wave's over.”

“But you're supposed to be in bed. The doctor said for a week.” He spun in his bowl, as if searching for her so she could back him up.

“I think we all know that's not going to happen,” Megamind said, steepling his fingers, smug that Roxanne had taken his side. “How about you assemble that crew and get the sewer pumps working? I'll be stationed at the monitors, sitting quietly, awaiting your progress report.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Roxanne said. “Except I'll be the one on monitor duty. You'll be in your room.”

Megamind's smile vanished. “But-”

“That sounds perfect,” Minion said quickly. “Let's go, Sir.”

Megamind's gaze darted from Roxanne to Minion. “Fine,” he said, crossing his arms, wiggling more firmly into the chair's black leather. “Push me back.”

Minion scoffed. “You're that tired?”

“I must be, everybody keeps insisting,” Megamind said, sticking out his jaw. He cast a sideways look at Roxanne, and gave her a sly grin. “Need a lift?”

There was a stunned silence. Lenny and Sid stared. Roxanne drew in a breath. She studied his face, the smirk, the challenging tilt of his eyebrow. It's a dare. He's being childish and...and, oh hell, why not?

“Don't mind if I do,” she said, and slid onto Megamind's lap, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, lightly, mindful of the spikes. Megamind's eyes widened briefly with surprise and then a wide smile spread over his face.

She looked up at Minion. “Well? We're ready.”

“Yeah, wheel us back.” Megamind said cheerfully.

“You guys are weird,” Minion muttered, but he began pushing the swivel chair across the floor. The mechanics and welders stopped work to watch them trundle by. Someone let out a low whistle. Though she felt her cheeks heat up, Roxanne gazed calmly ahead with a casual smile, as if this was a perfectly ordinary way to travel. The little wheels squeaked.

“Through the whole Lair, then?” Minion said with sarcastic cheer. “Give everyone a good look?”

“Nonsense,” Megamind said airily. “Go behind the shelving as soon as convenient. No need to make a spectacle.”

Roxanne lowered one hand to rest on the blue hand wrapped around her waist. She was glad he'd left off the long gloves, as there were fewer spikes to deal with. His other arm was clamped to the armrest to keep them from getting pitched onto the floor.


She shared a glance with him. He arched an eyebrow at her and she had to look away before she broke into undignified giggles. His thumb stroked her side.

They passed into the main room. Minion cut across to the corridor lined with shelves, but not before several people did double takes, including Britney, Roxanne noticed with malicious glee. They went behind the shelves and were hidden from general view.

The air felt electric and she was feeling good. From long practice with romantic entanglements, she could sense where this was headed. This was the kind of silly bonding moment that could lead straight to the bedroom. Which was, of course, where they were headed.

Down, girl, she chided herself. He collapsed yesterday, remember that? The almost-got-heat-stroke thing? Yeah, that. Besides, I can't ditch Minion. He's expecting a little support while he's out there working to get the city operational. Her cheeks heated up again, this time with shame. She shouldn't be thinking about fooling around. Maybe later tonight, maybe...

Megamind squirmed. She glanced at him and caught a look of discomfort a split second before he smoothed it over with a smile again. “You okay?”

“Yes, of course, why wouldn't I be?” His knuckles on the armrest were white.

“Here we are,” Minion said.

Roxanne hopped up. “Yep, here we are,” she said, with a nervous chuckle. “See you later.”

“Yep, see you,” Megamind said. He rushed into the room and slammed the door.

Minion tsk-ed. “You're welcome.”

Roxanne stared at the closed door, then spun on her heel and walked away, Minion trotting after her.

“It's real easy, Miss Ritchi,” Minion said. “I'll show you the comm.”

“Good, good,” she said, rubbing her arms. It was stupid to feel hurt. She hadn't really been planning on following him in there. He needed rest. It was good that she'd talked herself out of it.

“When you get the chance, think you could call the folks at the fire station and the water plant? See how they're doing, if they need anything?” Minion said.

“Oh, sure. No problem.” But he'd practically run away from her. What was up with that? She bit her lip. Had she come on too strong? But so what, he was the one who dared me to sit with him, she thought with a flash of anger. And he'd seemed fine with it, but was she too... too heavy?

That couldn't be right. He was a lot stronger than he looked. Once during a kidnapping he'd picked her up and the chair to which she was tied, and all but ran into another room to get her away from an unexpected flood of acid.

“Miss Ritchi?”

She shook her head. “Oh. Sorry. What was that?”

“I said if you can, maybe find some more people to work the comm?” Minion said. “Because maybe we should have someone stationed there all the time, in case of emergency.”

“Yeah, sure, we definitely should do that.”

They walked in silence to the monitors. Minion showed her the controls, then said, “I think he's pretty tired, Miss Ritchi. He probably felt like he was about to pass out again or something. And he doesn't want you to see him like that. He's so...” Minion rolled his eyes and waved his hands.

Roxanne smiled, and felt some of the tightness leave her shoulders. “Thanks, Minion. Yeah, you're right, he's not up to full strength yet.” She pushed her bangs out of her eyes, wishing for either a barrette or a haircut. He wasn't well, that was all.


- - - - - - - -


Megamind stood in the middle of the room with his hands over his mouth. I can't believe I did that. He hadn't really expected her to accept his offer, for evil's sake! He'd said the first thing that popped into his head because he was mad that everybody was telling him what to do. Minion scolding, Sid and Lenny lecturing. The brazen offer of a ride was meant to shock and annoy.

He thought she'd laugh it off, or scold him or something. Some form of snide comeback. When she slid onto his lap, for a few heady seconds he thought he must be hallucinating. If he was, it was a damn good hallucination.

At first, it had gone well. They'd been sharing a moment! A ridiculous, silly moment. When she'd met his gaze and had to suck in her lips to keep from laughing he felt like they were a real couple sharing a secret joke.

He could feel the warmth of her arm through his collar. She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and the urge to kiss the heck out of her became almost overwhelming. To kiss that lovely pink earlobe, for example. It was right there. Not to mention the sweep of her neck and the line of her clavicle, so teasingly, slightly exposed by the disarray of her collar.

Getting Roxanne into the swivel chair with him was a long-time fantasy, and his body was trying to cash in. His clothes felt too tight. The jolting of the chair as the wheels caught in seams and cracks wasn't helping, either. The hand he'd kept around her waist felt hot, and the way her hip flared out just below his fingertips invited to be explored.

In an extremely casual and not-at-all-noticeable way, he'd tried to shift to the side so she wasn't sitting right on his lap, which was pretty much physically impossible. Nothing had been happening yet, but he recognized the signs. The heat in his pelvis was growing unmanageable, and he was so relieved when they got to the bedroom that he... he...

Slammed the door in her face.

He shuffled over to the nearest blank spot on the wall and thumped his head against it for a while. Idiot, idiot. What better way to show a woman you cared than by running away as if she had the plague?

The rumpled blankets still lay on the floor in a forlorn heap. She wasn't going to want to share a bed with him tonight, of that he was certain.

He was just so used to hiding his true feelings. It had seemed like the only logical course of action was to flee before she noticed his arousal. Besides, what was he going to do, tell her to ditch Minion? Carry her into the room so they could make out? She would've told him to get his mind out of the gutter. Now was not the time for fooling around.

Oh, who was he kidding, he was scared. Flat-out scared. He wasn't even sure what he was afraid of, exactly, but part of it was fear that she'd reject him. And not just for this one time, but reject him utterly, and refuse to have anything more to do with him. Women always got turned off when men pushed things too far, too early. There were entire movies dedicated to the subject.

He was afraid, as simple as that. God, he was pathetic. He, Megamind, who laughed in the face of danger and challenged the gods, fate, and death itself, had panicked.

He lay on the mattress, kicked off his boots, and shucked off the accessories, but he was too wound up to rest. Disgusted with himself, he reached into his pants. At least afterwards he should be able to sleep.


- - - - - - -


Minion called to report that the first sewer pump had been successfully restarted, and that the Lair should be experiencing some relief soon. The second pump was also restarted without incident, and there was a little more good news; Minion found an ambulance, and a sports rehabilitation clinic. He and the crew cleaned up on crutches, canes, bandages and splints, implements for stitches, and triple-strength Tylenol.

“We're starting to draw a lot of zombie attention, though,” he said grimly. “They've been trailing us ever since we came out of the second tunnel. The brainbots are keeping them back, but I don't think we can stop to do much more foraging.”

“Yes, better get the other pumps going,” Roxanne said. “Stay safe.”

“We're gonna fly ahead of them. Way ahead,” Minion said. “Try to shake them, get some distance. I want more breathing space. Don't want to end up fighting zombies just to get out of the manhole.”

“Good idea.” Roxanne frowned. “Is somebody hurt? I hear crying.” All she could see onscreen was Minion's face and scenery passing by, but there was some high-pitched whimpering coming from somewhere, cutting through the hum of the motor.

He grimaced and glanced over his shoulder. “That's Arnold. He's not hurt, but there was kind of... an incident. In the last tunnel,” he whispered. “We were heading out, and...well, a leg floated by. He's freaking out.”

Roxanne swallowed. “Ugh. Poor guy. Do you want to bring him back?”

“I'd like to,” Minion sighed. “But I feel like we should keep going. I want to keep up the momentum. I think Arnold'll be all right as long as he stays with the hovercraft. He's not going down any more tunnels.”

Minion signed off. Roxanne thought about going to check on Megamind, or maybe taking a look at her recordings again, but there was a lot of shouting coming from somewhere in the Lair. She sighed and went to see what that was all about.

She found Dr. Plant and a number of other people trying to calm down a wild-eyed man.

Dr. Plant rounded on her. “What's the meaning of this?” she shouted.

“How should I know?” Roxanne said. “I don't even know who that is.”

“He was in the morgue, dehydrated,” Dr. Plant said. “Noelle and I were doing some I.D. work, and then...”

“The zombies!” the stranger cried. “Where's my wife? Who are you people?”

“Be quiet,” Noelle snapped. She scowled at Roxanne. “How many more prisoners does our Overlord have?”

Roxanne bristled at the accusation, then took a deep breath. Shouting back at Noelle would only make things worse. “Everyone needs to calm down. I'll go get him. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation.”

When she fetched him from his room, blinking sleep out of his eyes, he was quiet and subdued, and kept shooting her nervous looks. She tried to smile reassuringly at him to show that she understood, though the door-slamming had startled her, it wasn't a big deal, really, but for some reason he was unable to meet her gaze. She suppressed a sigh. They'd have to talk later.

Megamind explained to everyone about his first night of rescue work. “Zombies were breaking down your door, remember?” he said to the strange man, who had plastered himself against a wall.

The man goggled at him. “Remember them? Hell, yeah! They were all over the place. But how did I get here?”

“To you, it seems like only a minute ago. Look, everyone was screaming, none of you were listening, I had to get you out of there. So, uh...” he grinned apologetically. “Zap, zap, and the brainbots scooped you up and away.”

“Oh my God,” the man whispered. “How long have I been a cube? Please, just tell me where my family is. Did you save everyone?”

“Yes, of course, I just have to remember where I put them.” Megamind hurried into the morgue, followed by Roxanne and Dr. Plant.

“You could have warned me,” Dr. Plant snapped. “How long have you been hiding people in here?"

“Only about a month. I had to put them somewhere,” Megamind retorted, pushing cubes around. “These cubes aren't even in Tupperware. The corpses are all over on those shelves, in Tupperware.”

The doctor flung up her arms and let them fall again. “That little detail might have been good to know. I think I had a minor stroke when that man jumped up. Thought he was a zombie that didn't get properly killed. Noelle almost cracked him over the head with the crowbar.”

“You've got a crowbar in here?”

“Yes! In case a zombie didn't get properly killed, I just explained. When, exactly, were you planning on freeing these poor people?”

“I did save their lives, you know,” Megamind said. “And I didn't want to rehydrate them en masse. Imagine that hysterical survivor, multiplied by one hundred seventy-two.”

They looked at each other. Megamind stared at the cubes in his hands in a helpless sort of way.

Roxanne said, “Do you remember which ones are that man's family?”

“Uhhh...” Megamind turned over the cubes as if searching for clues. “Normally, I would, but... There was...a lot of confusion, running in and out, that sort of thing... I might have mixed up some of them.”

Dr. Plant rubbed her hands down her face. “I'm going to need more coffee. Let's get the pastor over here, and that medic at the station.”

Roxanne nodded. “The firefighters, too, in their gear, and the police officers. Their presence will help.”

“We can rehydrate them outside,” Megamind said. “Out under the sun, the open sky, it's really quite nice out.”


- - - - - - - -


After a short debate, they decided to bite the bullet and rehydrate everyone. Roxanne found the next few hours to be very trying. Having to constantly reassure each group of newly-rehydrated “guests” that they were safe, and Megamind had only meant to save them was exhausting. The pastor and the emergency personnel did help, or at least gave them a target for their hysteria.

Better them than me, Roxanne thought with a trace of guilt, as she watched a sobbing woman fling herself at one of the uniformed cops and cling to him as if he was her last hope. Roxanne was a sympathetic person, and usually was happy to lend an ear, but at the moment her emotional reserves felt quite low. She had to remind herself that, after all, as far as the new people were concerned, it was still the very first night of the quarantine, and the horror was fresh in their minds.

She was mainly standing by to help explain the situation to them once they'd calmed down, to direct them to the Lair, to the bathrooms (or port-a-potties), to clean clothes and food. Some people confronted her, demanding to know when Metro Man was going to show up.

“He's not here. Megamind is,” she said, in no mood to mince words. “He's the one who saved you, and he's going to save this city.” A bit grandiose, perhaps, but by God she was going to make sure everyone knew who the real hero was.

Megamind sat in the swivel chair in the shade of the building, scowling with his chin on his fist. His presence brought alarm at first, but after a while his lack of activity, villainous or otherwise, seemed to convince the new refugees that he didn't necessarily mean them any harm right at that very moment. Gradually calm and order began to emerge. Nonetheless, all the racket made her teeth ache.

Roxanne felt like she needed a break. The afternoon had grown warm, though without the suffocating heat of the previous days, and a cool wind blew off the lake. She walked out through the gate, stopping to pat Spider-bot on the leg, then continued on down to the water a block away.

Doris sat on a broken retaining wall a ways down the beach, her grandchildren and other assorted kids running around shouting. One of them, Billy, she thought, stood ankle deep in the water with a fishing rod. A few older kids wandered aimlessly, or played with the younger ones.

Roxanne sat down by the same wall, some distance away. It was relaxing, just watching kids goof off.

A shadow fell over her. “Roxie?”

She squinted up. “Oh! Hal!” She scrambled to her feet. “Good to see you.”

Though she wasn't actually glad to see him. The words had flown out automatically, because that's what you said to a co-worker whom you hadn't seen since the zombie apocalypse started. She especially didn't feel like talking to him after hearing why he'd gotten booted out of the Lair.

“Oh, it's really great to see you, too!” Hal said, stepping toward her, arms out. “You're alive!”

She stepped back quickly, holding up her hand. “No, that's okay, I'm fine, I don't need a hug.” Gaah, I'm such a coward, she berated herself. You're a creep, Hal, and I don't want to hug you. That's what she should have said.

But she'd fallen into her old habits of dealing with Hal, of pretending not to notice his advances, so she had to stand there smiling and acting like nothing was wrong, though she found she was wishing she'd brought her gun. “I'm okay.” She wrapped her arms around her middle and half turned away.

His face fell, and he let his hands fall to his sides. “So, uh, what're you doing here? You get 'rescued'?” He made air quotes with his fingers.

There was a nasty tone to his voice. “Mm-hm. Rescued. By the Overlord.”

Hal's face became sullen. “Overlord,” he snorted. He picked up a rock and threw it toward the water. It fell short, bouncing on the dirt. “So he's got a fancy new nickname. Must be nice, living in the Lair. It's so boring out here. And Minion didn't give me nothin' but beans for the last two days. Sucks.”

“Well, maybe if you could find a way to show him you won't spy on people anymore, he'll let you back in.”

“I wasn't spying, I was just looking,” Hal muttered, kicking a rock. “Wasn't even a big deal, it was an accident. Didn't see anything anyway.”

Roxanne pressed her lips together and watched the kids. Billy tugged hard on his fishing rod, making it bend, but the line had gotten caught on something. He took his shoes off, then waded into the water, running his hands along the line. Doris was waving her hand at the other children, her high piping voice expressing concern.

Roxanne didn't think Doris had noticed Billy going into the water. Was it safe around here? There might be a drop-off. She began to walk in that direction, thinking of telling Billy to come back in.

“Hey, I know,” Hal said, snapping his fingers. “You could put in a good word for me, Roxie. You know, 'cuz we're friends? That's what friends do.”

She was afraid of that. “That's not how it works, Hal. You're assuming I want a peeping Tom in the Lair.”

Hal stuck out his lip. “I'm tellin' you, I didn't see anything anyway. He's the villain. What's he up to, huh? That's what I want to know. Bet he's worse.”

Roxanne walked a little faster. No, he's not. He doesn't make creepy unwanted advances.

Doris had noticed Billy wading in, and was shrilly telling him to be careful. Though it was no longer necessary for Roxanne to keep an eye on Billy now that his guardian had spotted him, Roxanne felt a need for company, someone other than Hal, so she continued to head over to Doris.

A big fish broke the water's surface. Roxanne shaded her eyes against the glare of sunlight on the waves. It hadn't dived down, was it a turtle?

In the next second things happened very quickly, with a suddenness that froze the breath in her lungs.

The realization that it wasn't a fish.

That it was a zombie, rising up.

Yanking Billy off his feet, pulling him down.

Chapter Text

When a zombie seizes a victim, it has a couple of options. It either begins tearing off pieces of flesh immediately, or it pounds the victim against the nearest hard surface to crack the skull and get to the brain. This was the method the current zombie was using, though it hadn't figured out yet that water wasn't hard enough to get the job done.

It lifted Billy up and slammed him down, watched the little boy struggle, then did it again, water going up with a great crash.

Doris shrieked, “Help! Help!” Her thin voice blew away on the wind.

Roxanne ran toward the kids, shouting at Hal over her shoulder. “Go to the Lair! Get help!”

She shouted for help, too, but like Doris's, her voice was shredded by the wind. She could just see the edge of the Lair's roof from here, behind other buildings, and there wasn't a brainbot in sight.

The children were standing around in shock. She grabbed two of the older teens and gave them a hard shake. “Go get help!” she shouted in their stunned faces. They backed up and ran.

Doris snatched up a piece of driftwood and splashed into the lake.

“Doris, come back!” Roxanne shouted. “That's not going to do any good!” The old woman ignored her and kept plowing ahead into the waves.

Roxanne wanted something more solid than a dried out stick. She snatched up a piece of cement from the crumbling wall, a little bigger than her fist and with a good, hard corner on it.

Hal, she could see at a glance, hadn't moved, except to get further away from the water. A surge of anger went through her but she wasn't wasting any more time on him. The kids would sound the alarm.

One of the older boys ran into the lake. Billy's older brother Keshawn, she thought, about fourteen years old. He took his grandma's sleeve and tried to pull her back, but she jerked away and continued plowing ahead, her face set with determination.

Roxanne ground her teeth and splashed past them. She would reach Billy and the zombie first. She yelped as something snagged at her ankle, but it was thin and wiry, it must be the fishing line.

The zombie realized that it wasn't getting any results and was lurching toward shore, dragging Billy under the water. The boy's struggles grew wilder as he tried to get free, tried to find air.

Fighting panic, she waded deeper and to the side to keep out of the zombie's reach and so she wouldn't get kicked by Billy's thrashing legs. Waves dragged at her thighs, then her waist. The zombie held the boy in its right hand. She could see the shirt bunched in its fist. If she attacked from that side, if it continued to ignore her, if she could hit it hard enough, if it didn't grab her... That was a lot of 'ifs'.

The zombie headed for the beach, intent on finding solid ground, water getting pushed ahead of its massive torso. He had been a big man in life, with shoulders wider than Minion's, and still wore the remains of red striped pajamas. A gold earring stud winked as it caught the sun.

Its face was a ruin, with only one eye and no nose. The other eye socket glistened pinkly, and the holes in its face were gaping pits. The zombie began to turn toward her.

Keshawn shouted, “Hey, hey! Over here!” and waved his arms. The zombie's remaining eye rolled toward the older boy. For the moment its attention was focused on Keshawn and Doris, who kept struggling toward them with her little stick.

Roxanne splashed up, almost getting kicked by Billy, but his struggles were weaker. His mouth opened and closed, his face distorted by the water.

For a split second she didn't know if she should try to hold his head up or attack the zombie, then she made her decision. Killing the zombie would take care of both problems. Two birds, one stone, the thought flitted through her mind.

Choking as the zombie's stench washed over her, she grabbed the ripped pajama collar to steady herself and smashed it in the temple with the cement chunk.

Again! Again! And again! Making good use of the corner. Again!

Hitting the exact same place over and over again is difficult, as any lumberjack could affirm, but Roxanne got some good blows in on roughly the same spot, and she was rewarded with the sickening crack of bone. A few more hits, she'd be hitting brain and the zombie would finally die.

The zombie reached over its shoulder and grabbed her descending wrist. It dragged her around front.

Fuckfuckfuck.

Doris attacked, breaking the stick over its head. She kept hitting it with the stub. “You stop that right now!” she screamed.

Keshawn, who didn't have any type of weapon, tried to get his brother's head up. The zombie pulled Billy against itself in a 'no, you can't have my food' gesture that was almost childish. At least Billy's face was above water now, but his eyes were closed and his head lolled. Roxanne couldn't tell if he was breathing or not.

Roxanne, her wrist in the zombie's grip, managed to transfer the cement chunk to her left hand. She got in one good blow to its forehead.

It sank its teeth into the underside of her forearm. She screamed and lost her weapon. It shook its head, trying to tear off a piece. Roxanne hit at the terrible face but she might as well have been hitting a side of beef.

Shadows flitted across the water. Brainbots bowg-ed and snapped. Someone landed next to her with a splash. Megamind.

He aimed at the side of the zombie's head with the de-gun held in both hands, focusing on the target.

The zombie shook her again. Pain lanced through her arm and shot up her elbow. She screamed again. The landscape wobbled.

“Shoot it! What are you waiting for?” Doris screamed.

Because of the zombie's movements Roxanne suspected Megamind didn't have a clear shot. He has to get it right or he might end up shooting my arm off so don't distract him, goddamn it! Roxanne wanted to yell at her but she was in too much pain.

It could only have taken a couple of seconds for Megamind to see an opening, but it felt like forever. The zombie paused its frenzied shaking. Megamind fired. She shut her eyes against the red droplets and pieces of skull. The teeth in her arm let go as the huge body sank into the waves.

Megamind put an arm around her but he addressed his words to Keshawn, who was holding Billy's limp form. “Let the brainbots take him,” he said. “They'll get him to shore faster.”

“I can't,” Keshawn said hoarsely. “Tangled up.”

The fishing line had insidiously looped itself around Keshawn, Billy, Doris, and the zombie, as well as Roxanne's ankle. Megamind took a jackknife from some hidden pocket and dove under to cut the line away.

She cradled her bleeding arm. Gray brain matter bobbed on the bloody water. There was a brief tug at her leg, and then Megamind waded over to free the others.

Her shivering grew more violent. Blood from her arm mingling with the water turned her blouse pink. Streaks of gray and red covered her shoulder. That's it for this blouse. I wonder if brains stain? she thought fuzzily, and her knees began to buckle. It was so fucking stupid, she was going to drown in waist-deep water because her stupid knees were giving out.

And then Megamind was there again, holding her up under her good shoulder. “S-sorry,” she stammered, teeth clattering together. She felt like she was letting down the team.

Megamind made a scoffing noise in his throat. “Are you kidding me? You're still conscious, which is better than I did yesterday. Let's get out of this zombie-infested water, shall we?”

The brainbots were carrying Billy in. Others swooped down to collect Keshawn and Doris.

Megamind looked at Roxanne's arm. It was possible her shoulder was dislocated. The brainbots might have trouble picking her up without hurting her, as they were used to grabbing people under the arms. He should train some to use a stretcher. “It might hurt when I pick you up, but I'll try to...”

“W-w-walk,” she said. The moment of weakness had passed and she had her pride. She didn't want to get carried in if she could help it. She began putting one foot in front of the other.

Megamind was by her side, warming her. He kept one arm around her waist and one hand under her uninjured elbow. “Okay. No problem. Getting shallower all the time. We'll see any zombies if they come lurching out of the depths, though I worry more about the zombies. What happens if you finish them all off? Won't leave any for me.”

She felt a snort of amusement come out of her. “L-l-lucky for you. 'M here. Protect you.”

“Ah, I knew I was in good hands. Honestly, Miss Ritchi, if I'm not careful you'll take over and put me out of work. There'll be a medal in this for you, wait and see."

Megamind's encouraging banter trailed off and he fell silent as they waded onto the shore.

A firefighter was performing CPR on Billy, surrounded at a respectful distance by the other refugees. He stopped to check his pulse, then began mouth to mouth resuscitation again. Doris had both hands clamped over her mouth to stifle her crying, a blanket around her shoulders. Keshawn curled up on the beach in an oversized beach towel, his head buried in his hands.

Dr. Plant reached out to Roxanne. “Can I have another blanket here?” she said in hushed tones. “Or a towel?”

One of the denizens brought over another towel. Roxanne stumbled past the crowd to the low retaining wall and sat down on it, shivering violently. Megamind backed away to give the doctor some room. Agnes and Pilar hovered nearby anxiously.

Billy was hidden behind a forest of legs. Everyone was deathly quiet, a few people in back talking in whispers.

Megamind paced to the lake's edge, his face grim. He murmured to the brainbots, and a few more swooped in, then more and more, lining up down the beach and disappearing around the bend, to guard the entire shoreline.

The doctor turned her arm over gently. Several small gouges marked her forearm. There were scrapes where the zombie's teeth had torn as it fell. Her arm was swelling and the skin was darkening.

“Some torn muscle. Bruising. A few of these could use a stitch or two,” the doctor murmured. She called to the medic. “Julie?”

The medic came over with a kit and they began discussing stitches versus butterfly bandaids which could be enough to close some of the wounds.

There was a sudden choking noise and the sound of someone being very sick. Relieved exclamations and sighs broke out. Billy was alive. Amazingly, at least to Roxanne, he asked for his fishing rod. Tears ran down her cheeks and she wiped them with the heel of her hand.

Pilar was crying, too. “He made it, Roxanne,” she sniffed, crouching by her and patting her knee.

“A little more room please,” Dr. Plant said with strained patience. “Unless all of you would like stitches?”

Roxanne said, “Minion said he'd found some medical supplies. Maybe anesthetics, too.” They decided that waiting for Minion to come back wouldn't harm anything, as long as he came back soon. The medic sprayed the bite marks with antiseptic, covered her arm with soft padding, and secured it with tape.

Megamind had been hovering, waiting for them to get done so he could sit next to her. “That was incredibly brave.”

“Guess it thought I'd be a bigger meal,” she said, pushing her damp hair off her forehead.

He put his hand on her back. “Billy could have died, maybe Keshawn, too. Doris, definitely. Her and that little stick.” He shook his head. “Who knows what would have happened if you hadn't charged?"

His eyes moved over her face. “You've got bits of... er... you know. Bits on you.” He took an edge of his damp cape and wiped her cheek.

“Zombie bits,” she murmured.

He smiled ruefully. “Yeah.” He rubbed at her face and hair a little more. “Not coming out of your hair very well.” Gingerly he plucked a piece of something out of her hair that she didn't want to look at, and flicked it away.

She groaned, “Uccgh. Yuck. Can you hold me for a little while?”

“Oh! Oh, of course.” He put his arm around her waist and lay his head against her.

“Sorry,” she said. “I'm kind of gross.”

“Heh. The mess is mostly on the other side anyway.”

Someone shouted, “There's another one!”

Guns crackled and laser rifles flashed as several people opened fire into the lake. The zombie didn't stand a chance.

It was easy to tell who the newly rehydrated citizens were. They were the ones who gasped and shrank back from the water.

The Lair denizens, on the other hand, looked alert but unfazed. They milled up and down the shore, scanning the waves for more zombies, letting the ones with the guns and laser rifles get to the front. One man waded in to collect Billy's fishing rod after a quick look around and gave it back to him, who was sitting up now.

Brainbots carried in both zombies, setting the big one a little too close to Roxanne for her comfort. It didn't have much of a head left. She felt her body tense up.

Megamind didn't state the obvious and assure her it was dead, or tell her she was being silly. He gave her a gentle squeeze, then stood up and dehydrated the zombies, and had a brainbot take them away.

He looked up and down the shore, frowning. His eyes softened with regret when they met hers again. “Roxanne, I... I have to go.”

“I know. Foreheads?”

He understood, of course, and leaned over to put his forehead against hers, closing his eyes. He cupped her chin and stroked her cheek with his thumb. He still wasn't wearing any gloves, and she was glad for that. A shuddering breath run through him. Tears welled in the corners of his eyes. She stuck her too-cold hand out of the towel and touched his cheek. He clasped it, turning his mouth into her palm and kissing it.

Then he was gone, hurrying away to deal with the threat. He went down the beach, calling for volunteers for search parties. One of the recently rehydrated newcomers chose that moment to approach one of the cops and demand to be returned to their home.

Roxanne rubbed her temples as the argument escalated. Maybe Megamind should dehydrate them all again.

A gun went off, making her jump. Someone had shot into the sky.

“Hey!” Megamind roared. He strode through the crowd. People scrambled to get out of his way. “What do you think you're doing?”

“Just vultures,” the unlucky man stammered. “Stupid vultures. They're disgusting.”

“They're innocent birds,” Megamind snapped. He glared at the denizens. “They're only doing what comes naturally. None of this is their fault. I better not catch anybody shooting at vultures or any other birds again.”

He looked at the vultures drifting in circles overhead. “They're almost right over us. Something else may be dead around here. Zombies could have come ashore anywhere along the peninsula. We need to sweep the entire safe zone.” He went into a huddle with the firefighters and police officers to discuss tactics.

Doris came over to thank Roxanne and pat her on the hand. She wore several rings and the vigorous patting made Roxanne's hand feel bruised but the old woman was so overcome with emotion that Roxanne had to grin and bear it.

“You're such a good girl,” Doris said, her glasses fogging up and her thin mouth quivering. She wagged her finger. “It doesn't matter what anyone says. Don't you listen to them.”

“Er. Okay. I won't,” Roxanne said.

Doris gave her knuckles another hearty whack before shepherding her grandchildren back to the Lair. Billy held his fishing rod close. A few other denizens headed back to the Lair as well, while others, Roxanne was happy to see, took it upon themselves to talk with the new people and explain how dangerous the city had become.

Roxanne turned to Agnes. “Sooo, just out of curiosity, what am I supposed to be not listening to?”

Agnes grimaced. “Oh, you know how people talk. Just gossip.”

“My shacking up with Megamind?”

“Just Britney and a couple others, and who cares what they think?” Agnes flapped her hand, dismissing Britney and her friends to oblivion where they belonged. “Pilar told her off, told her she was just jealous that she wasn't in your shoes.” Agnes laughed. “She sure didn't like that!”

Roxanne watched the waves lapping the shore, and wondered how many more zombies were shuffling around in the depths. Soon she ought to get some dry clothes, but the effort of finding dry underwear was too much to contemplate at the moment. She wished she could go back to her apartment and get her clothes. She didn't think it was all that far away, only a few minutes by car, but who knew what shape the streets were in? And the elevators were out. She wondered how high the hovercraft could fly.

Keeping the safe zone zombie-free was more important than commandeering a hovercraft to get her things. She was willing to bet Megamind would bring her on the hoverbike, if she asked. She sighed. Maybe later.

Pilar had volunteered to help search. Agnes sat with her to keep her company. The police officers were calling out instructions to the groups.

The rush of adrenaline gone, she felt drained. She lifted the edge of the towel to look at the bandage. The image of the zombie's ruined face floated before her mind's eye, but she felt nothing. Even the memory of its teeth produced no response in her, as if it had happened to someone else. She knew it'd hit her later, how she almost became a piece of meat.

There was a movement out of the corner of her eye. Hal walked toward her, radiating indignation, a sullen look on his face.

She stiffened. She should get up and walk away, maybe stand next to Megamind. Hal wouldn't dare approach her.

Her hands bunched into fists. She wasn't going to run away from Hal and go hide behind her boyfriend, damn it.

Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she looked Hal in the eye. “What do you want?” she demanded when he got close enough.

His steps faltered and he slowed to a stop, put off by her challenge, but he rallied. “So you're all lovey-dovey with him now, huh? I saw you together,” he said accusingly. “Everybody saw.”

She almost laughed. Seriously? Does he think I should be ashamed? “That's none of your business.”

“But, like, he's not even human. What are you, sick? I mean, I'm not gonna judge you or anything, but I don't get why you won't put in a good word for me. It's like, what are you, too good for your old friends?”

“You have a problem with Megamind, and yet, you just can't wait to get back into his Lair.” Roxanne scoffed. “But that's where all the girls are, right?”

Agnes looked back and forth between the two of them. She hadn't met Hal, and was taken aback by this sudden confrontation.

Hal came closer, so Roxanne had to look up. “I wasn't hurting anybody! You're just stuck-up. You should talk. What about those kidnappings, huh? Those even real? Or maybe you like sick games. How long you been screwing him?”

“Don't talk to me any more,” Roxanne said, and stood up to leave.

“Hey, why can't you...” Hal grabbed her arm.

The pain was intense. She shrieked. Hal let go immediately and stepped back, the ugly look on his face turning to fear.

Agnes shouted, “What the hell's wrong with you?”

Roxanne cradled her throbbing arm and cursed long and loud.

Hal shrank back further, hands raised. “Whoa. Hold on. I didn't know. I didn't know you were hurt.”

“You must have seen it bite me,” Roxanne said. Her voice was more shrill than she would have liked, but she carried on, venting her anger and frustration. “You were standing right there. You could have at least gone for help. Or even taken the kids away so they didn't have to watch a little boy get attacked. You just stood there. You...”

Hal's eyes were wide and terrified, but he wasn't looking at her. He scuttled back, covered his head, and screamed, “Not the face! Not the face!”

Megamind shot past Roxanne in a blur of black and landed on him. Two sharp blows came in quick succession, one to the torso, one to the jaw. Hal landed in the dirt.

“Don't!” Roxanne cried. Megamind looked like he was going to kill him.

Hal curled up into a ball, whimpering. Megamind stood over him with raised fists, trembling as if he would like to continue, but then he lowered his hands and walked back to Roxanne. “He hurt you?”

She exhaled, not even realizing she'd been holding her breath, and shook her head. “Grabbed my arm. Honestly, I don't think he meant to.” She stopped. Hal hadn't meant to what? Hadn't meant to make her scream, certainly, or draw attention to himself.

Megamind cocked his head. “But he laid hands on you. That wasn't an accident.” In his expression there was a veiled wrath, ready to be unleashed. She only had to say the word.

Her mouth went dry, thinking about alligators snapping and lunging. “No. Don't do it. He is not worth it,” she said. “He really isn't.”

Megamind's eyes searched her face. Some of the tension left him and the corner of his mouth twitched up into a faint smile. “As you wish.”

She huffed out a little laugh. “Oh, do you?”

“Do I what?”

She rubbed her face. “Um. It's just...you see... 'As you wish' is from this movie, The Princess Bride. It's nothing. Uh, maybe you could do something about that?”

She nodded in Hal's direction. Several people had drifted over to Hal, who'd gone quiet, his eyes darting around at them when he realized he was surrounded.

The predatory expressions on their faces chilled her. Even Hank the cop had joined the blossoming mob. Even Luke, jovial, dopey Luke, wore an expectant grin. Tony jabbed Hal with his cane, making him yelp.

“Back off,” Megamind said, striding toward them. “Let him be.”

They backed away a little and some of the sinister atmosphere dissipated as Megamind talked to Hal. “We'll be conducting a sweep of the entire area for zombies, including your place, wherever it is. If you see anything suspicious, tell someone, unless you'd like zombies knocking on your door. Other than that, you make damn sure to stay out of my sight."

Hal climbed slowly to his feet. “What about my stuff? You're not gonna take my stuff, are you?”

Megamind's lip twitched and his hands clenched into fists again.

Roxanne closed her eyes. Maybe Hal really was too stupid to live.

Megamind took a deep breath and regained control. “I'm not interested in your stuff,” he said in a very cold voice. “The important thing to take away here is to stay out of my sight or I'll kick your ass."

Hal finally seemed to realize his life might possibly be hanging by a thread. With a last frightened look at the almost-mob, he scuttled away.

Tony and Luke began to stroll after him, casual-like.

“Get back here. Leave him alone,” Megamind snapped. “We have bigger things to worry about.”

 

Chapter Text

The first thing he did, even though it might have been selfish, was to send two brainbots to get him a new outfit, because he didn't feel like trudging around the entire safe zone in wet clothes and squelching boots. A quick change behind the portable wardrobe curtain and he was ready to go.

The zombies had a nest. Already established an actual nest in the safe zone. In his safe zone.

Eight zombies standing around in an old boat house at the tip of the peninsula. Most of the zombies were dry, or only slightly damp, so they must have tramped out of the lake some time ago, even before the rainstorm.

They were called nests for convenience, merely being places where zombies gathered for no particular reason, at least for no reason that anyone had been able to discover. In a nest they usually just stood around staring at the walls or each other or nothing, though sometimes they carried back pieces of their victims to feed on, until something fired in what was left of their brains and sent them on the hunt again.

Were they communicating in some way? Resting? Or did some faint memory of companionship remain which compelled them to seek out others of their kind? Could zombies get lonely?

The brainbots guarding the waterline found and destroyed three zombies on another beach, who were skeletonizing a dead horse. Where the horse came from was anybody's guess, most likely the racetrack or the riding academy. The zombies were still wet, so they must have come out of the lake very recently, like the one that attacked Roxanne and Billy.

The memory of it sent a dagger of hot ice through his heart. Roxanne screaming, the zombie biting her arm and whipping its head back and forth, Billy hanging limp from its hands, Doris flapping around. A scream had threatened to tear out of him, too, but he didn't, he couldn't, he had to fucking stay calm...

....the world had narrowed to a window frame with the zombie's thrashing head at the center, and he had to wait for the right moment so he didn't slice off Roxanne's hand with the shot. Two point four seconds of living hell---she was in pain, she was hurting, he had to stop it!-- before he got the spit second he needed.

Megamind shuddered in the sunlight and remembered to breathe again. Billy had survived. A child under his protection had been viciously attacked and that grated on him, but at least the boy was safe now. Roxanne was safe. The yearning to go to her was a dull ache that went into his bones. What he really wanted to do was take Roxanne to his room, curl up around her, and hold her for the rest of his life. If only he had gotten to the beach faster somehow, but he couldn't have gotten there any quicker, unless he miraculously developed the ability to go back in time and be there five minutes before the attack.

He pulled his thoughts back to the security sweep, and directed the brainbots to keep watch from above while the search party went through another building. When they came out again, two of them, Tony and Hank, were arguing in low, heated voices.

“Find any zombies, gentlemen?” Megamind said, breaking in.

Hank shot another poisonous look at Tony. “No, nothing here, Overlord. I think we should...”

Tony burst out, “Overlord, how come I gotta take orders from this cop?”

“You think you can handle a search party?” Hank said with a sneer.

“We been doing okay so far.”

“What do you mean 'we', henchie? You just got here like five seconds ago.”

Luke chimed in, “Well, I been here since the first day, man, and we didn't need no pigs tellin' us what to do. Right, Overlord?”

Hank curled his lip. “Jesus, you do anything besides kiss ass, junkie? Yeah, that's right, I know you. Gordon and Perks arrested you last year. And you were crying for mommy.”

“Not cool, dude,” Luke muttered.

Tony dropped his cane and lunged at Hank.

Megamind watched wearily for a few moments as they rolled around in the dirt, then snapped his fingers for the brainbots.

“I could have you dropped in the lake,” he said conversationally when they were spread-eagled in mid-air. “Seeing you try to get past the 'bots guarding the shore would be entertaining.” A couple of the other cops were rushing over, clearly determined to help out their fellow police officer. Megamind glared them to a standstill.

The fight seemed to have gone out of Hank and Tony, so Megamind had the brainbots drop them. He ran a steely gaze over the rest of the group. “We're not playing cops and robbers. We're not going to start up any stupid feuds, or get all bent out of shape over what somebody did to somebody else ten years ago. Because when the dust settles we'll still have the same damn problem we had before. How to stay alive.”

Hal emerged from a side door, glanced around, and caught sight of Megamind. Ducking his head, he scuttled away.

Megamind's nostrils flared and his jaw tightened. I should have let them beat up Hal after all. It would have been a bonding experience. He shook his head, reluctantly letting go of the idea. The time had passed. Besides, Roxanne would probably find out and Megamind didn't want to go against her wishes. But if that little cockroach ever bothered her again, there would be no more mercy.

He tried to make his quarreling denizens bond another way. “Everybody form up two lines and shake hands.”

After some grumbling, they did, officers on one side and ex-cons on the other. It went reasonably well, though Tony and Hank got into a hand-crushing contest and had to be separated again.

Megamind took his new henchman aside. “The cops have the most experience with these kinds of searches, Tony. And the firefighters, and I don't see you getting up in their faces. What the hell are you doing out here, anyway? If you don't rest that leg it'll never get better.”

Tony shrugged his big shoulders, his face mournful. “Just trying to help. I shoulda been there, boss. For Miss Ritchi.”

“No one expected it,” Megamind said. “Not even me. Go back to the Lair and take it easy.”

- - - - - - -

“There,” Dr. Plant said, wrapping up Roxanne's arm again. “All done. Keep the stitches dry. We should take them out in about a week. Why don't you go lie down for a while?”

Roxanne went to bed, feeling vaguely resentful about being sent to her room like a little girl. She lay back and hugged a pillow, wishing Megamind was there. She touched her palm, and imagined she could feel the imprint of his lips where he'd kissed her. There had been tears in his eyes, quickly hidden, but she'd seen.

Warmth blossomed in her chest as her heart sped up. She wished... she wished she could have responded more... more strongly. But she was numb from trauma, unable to do more than touch his cheek in acknowledgement. At least she'd done that.

The encounter with her former cameraman had left a bad taste in her mouth. He had the nerve to judge her? Fuck him. She spent a few nasty moments indulging in a little fantasy of having a quiet talk with Megamind about throwing Hal to the alligators after all. At the time it had seemed way too extreme, but she was beginning to warm up to the idea.

She squirmed around on the bed for a little longer but she couldn't get comfortable, and her arm was beginning to sting. The topical anesthetic had barely done the job and had worn off already. The hell with it. She wasn't going to lie around waiting for Megamind to get home, so she got up.

The distant sound of a hovercraft motor revving drew her to the entrance. Gabby and the other mechanics were guiding the big vehicle out the double doors, under Minion's watchful eye.

“We're taking a test run,” he said when she asked. “Gonna take some of the newcomers to the fire station, take some food, and a communicator. We're gonna take this car over, too, so they have a working vehicle.” He gestured at an electric Chevy.

“They can't plug it in.”

“Yeah, but it'll work for a while. We're still figuring out how to get them power.”

“You're not using the hovercraft for the search?”

“Nah. Brainbots are taking visuals from above, people on the ground.”

Roxanne ran a thoughtful gaze over the idling hovercraft. “I think a fire station would provide some good viewing for my broadcast. Mind if I tag along?”

- - - - - - - - -

Megamind and the first search party plodded back to the Lair. Search party two was almost done with the sweep of the other half of the peninsula and hadn't found any more zombies, and it wasn't likely any more would be discovered. The eastern half of the peninsula was much more heavily traveled than the other end. Brainbots or refugees would probably have spotted any zombies before now, unless there was a nest up in the abandoned observatory or something.

He trusted it would be taken care of. He had to trust them, as he couldn't keep doing everything himself.

He ended Hank's probation. After all, the other cops were wandering in and out freely, and as he'd declared himself, this was no time for petty grudges.

As soon as they entered the Lair, Jessica pulled Hank away behind the shelving. They didn't see Hank's wife Noelle, who was watching from the other end of the room. When they disappeared into the shadows she stopped dead in her tracks, her face turning to stone.

I probably should do something about that, Megamind thought. But really, it wasn't any of his business, he wasn't a chaperone. Still, he might have a little word with Hank to be more discrete, since he clearly didn't know how to treat his wife right.

It wasn't very hot out today, but he was sweating more heavily than he should have, and that irritating 'ping' sensation in his head had come back, so he figured he'd better lie down for a while.

Pastor Mike accosted him before he could slip away, falling into step as Megamind fled toward his bedroom. He couldn't help noticing the man held a paper that looked suspiciously like a to-do list. Megamind fought the urge to run. He supposed he'd better find out what insidious plans the weird little man had for the Lair.

The pastor cleared his throat. “Firstly, I've been meaning to ask if it's all right with you to hold services for the missing, and could you say a few words? Some...some encouraging speech? As our leader, it could be uplifting.”

Megamind gave him a dark look.

“Would be uplifting,” the pastor hastily amended.

“So long as you make an effort to include people of Jewish, Muslim, and/or Buddhist faiths, I think I can come up with something.”

“One request? Could you maybe, as a favor to me, possibly you... would not invoke...evil...evil gods?”

Megamind raised an eyebrow at the worry on the pastor's face. Then he smiled brightly. “All right, padre, just for you. But you owe me one.”

Pastor Mike let out a nervous whinnying sort of laugh and took refuge in his paper. “I was thinking that, to save time, well, it's awful to say, but nonetheless, I'd also perform the service for the poor man along with the others who've passed on. If we find his loved ones later, then we can...”

Megamind stopped short. “What poor man?”

Pastor Mike blinked at him. “Oh, you haven't... Well, he was found an hour ago. Dead, I suppose it goes without saying. In the bathroom. The doctor thought it could have been a heart attack, but she wouldn't be able to tell without an autopsy. Natural causes, anyway, she thought.”

Megamind's hand automatically went to the de-gun. “Has the brain been destroyed? Where's the body?”

Pastor Mike's eyes were big. “Surely there's a less drastic way to...”

“Where,” Megamind said. “Is he.”

Silently the pastor pointed to the morgue. Megamind strode down the corridor, the pastor gabbling about unnecessary desecration.

“Pastor Mike, I'm sure a less drastic way can be found, but I'm not going to experiment just now. A little short on time, resources, and patience. Anyone know his name?” he said to the doctor who had come out of the morgue.

Dr. Plant held up a driver's license. “Martin Finney, age seventy-five.”

“Might I say a few words over the poor man, Overlord?” the pastor said. “Before you...” He made a fluttering motion with his hands at his own head, which apparently was supposed to represent putting a shot through the skull.

Megamind didn't see what difference it made, but maybe the pastor was squeamish. “Better hurry before he wakes up.”

The pastor gulped and tiptoed into the morgue.

“It'll be at least four hours before we have to worry about that,” Dr. Plant said.

“Oh, a little harmless fun,” Megamind said.

“What exactly happens when someone is dehydrated?” she asked. “They're in suspended animation, aren't they? Unchanging?”

“That's right.”

“So if someone had a medical problem, we could dehydrate them and they'd be safe? Until we got them proper treatment?”

“Who'd you have in mind?”

“The diabetics. There's no more insulin. Unless you've found another source?”

“No. If I had the right ingredients, I could synthesize it in the lab.” But he didn't, so he couldn't. “Who else?”

“Doris Haggerty. She ran out of medication over a week ago. I don't know what'll kill her first, a heart attack or a stroke. I only found out because I caught her going through Martin's belongings.”

- - - - - - - - -

“I'm not one to cause trouble, I'm sure,” Doris said. She sat on the edge of one of the new beds, with Taffy the cat purring on her lap. Her hands trembled as they stroked her orange fur. “I only... only took a peek, to see if there was any left, he had the same heart pills as me.” She gave them a look made of equal parts shame and defiance. “Well, he won't need them anymore.”

“Relax, Doris, I'm not going to banish you,” Megamind said. “First of all, you never actually stole anything. Secondly, it was obviously an act of desperation. I'm not such a bastard I'd kick you out for that.”

Dr. Plant said. “But without your meds, you're living on borrowed time. I strongly recommend you be dehydrated until we can get refills. We need to find someone to look after your grandchildren. Do you know of anyone who could...”

“I'll be the one looking after them, because I'm not going.”

The doctor gave this some thought. “Technically you wouldn't be going anywhere. You would be... asleep for a little while.”

“But I won't know what's going on.” Doris pressed her lips together. “Does it...” Her voice trailed away.

Dr. Plant laid a hand on her arm. “It doesn't hurt a bit. Right?” she said, looking up at him with an expression that suggested that even if it did, he'd better lie.

“Not at all,” he said. “For you it'll seem as if no time at all has passed.” He narrowed his eyes and let his mouth turn up into a grin. “Not getting soft on me, are you, Doris?”

She stiffened and her back became ramrod straight. “I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. And I will thank you to stop humoring me.”

“Perish the thought. I would never, ever, use humor as a coping mechanism.”

She glowered at him. “Will the cable be on by the time I'm... I'm back?”

“I'll do my best.”

She looked down at Taffy again. “Can it be in the morning? I want to make sure you've found someone suitable to look after them. Keshawn and April are so good with their brothers and sisters. But they're so young.”

“We'll find someone to your liking.”

“Thank you. I shouldn't have been going through that man's things, but I don't like to be a bother.” She fixed Megamind with a severe look. “I should have known you wouldn't follow through on your so-called punishments. You even let that Hal person off. Too easily, if you ask me.”

Megamind's mouth fell open. For a moment he was speechless, and then a long, slow laugh rolled out of him. “Doris, Doris, Doris.” Still chuckling, he picked up her hand and patted it. “Don't ever change.”

She was so astonished she didn't pull away.

- - - - - - - - -

The doctor went around to explain things to the diabetics and put their fears at ease. Some people didn't want to be stored in the morgue, even if they were glowing cubes without awareness. No one wanted to be dehydrated, naturally, but no one wanted to fall into a diabetic coma, either. Dr. Plant promised to properly label them and store them in the 'clinic,' the southeast corner of the Lair enclosed by curtains.

It was bizarre, almost as if he were lining people up to be executed, except their lives would be preserved instead. Nonetheless, there were a few tears and hugs from loved ones before he and the doctor escorted the patients behind the clinic's curtain. It... seemed more tactful, somehow, to have a bit of ceremony about it.

Most people wanted the doctor to dehydrate them with the little de-gun, which apparently looked less scary. Megamind had the feeling they were worried if he did it, he might accidentally use the wrong setting.

He plodded back across the Lair, sensing the mild gloom that had descended on the place. There were still the ambient noises of approximately three hundred people moving about, coughing and dropping things, shoving mattresses into place and scolding the kids to quit jumping on the beds, but it was muted. The dehydrated ones left holes in the social fabric.

Brainbots flew back to recharge. New brainbots took over guard duty. Brainbot and brutebot crews cleared the immediate streets of abandoned cars and wrecked vehicles, garbage, and collected bodies, clearing the routes to the fire station and the water treatment plant, three miles away. Megamind took note of the garbage. It showed where survivors might be hiding.

Brainbots were set to fishing with nets taken from trawlers, though they hadn't caught much yet.

Minion made his report. “We got five of the sewer pumps restarted, Sir. We'll go out one more time, 'cuz I think we can do two more before nightfall. The guys are about done in.”

Megamind finished off a glass of water, feeling that something was missing. Then he realized. “The babies stopped crying. You use the forget-me stick on them?”

“Ha, good one, Sir, but no. Found a grocery warehouse, they had formula. And diapers!”

“Thank the evil gods,” Megamind said with great feeling. It was incredible how many diapers these infants went through.

Megamind finally went to his room. He expected Roxanne to be resting, but she wasn't there. He went out again. “Have you seen Miss Ritchi?” he asked Bernard.

“I think she went with Gabby.”

Megamind felt unable to come to grips with the simple statement. “Went? With Gabby? Went where?”

“The fire station.”

“By themselves?” he snapped. “Are they armed? Who said they could go?”

Bernard took a step back, holding a stack of leaflets to his chest. He'd been on the beach when Megamind attacked Hal, and Bernard's theory that Megamind was a physical coward who hid behind gadgets and weaponry had taken a serious blow. He'd written some very well-received articles on the subject, which he was now hoping Megamind never heard about. “Well, some other people went, too. I think everybody had guns, and I think she took her camerabots.”

“You think. You think!?” Megamind snapped. “Did she or didn't she?”

Minion touched his arm. “Sir, it's okay. I sent a squad of brainbots with them. And Tony, and some others.”

Megamind unclenched his fist. “How could you let her go?”

Minion gave him a surprised look. “Whaddaya mean 'let'?”

Megamind swept back and forth in front of the monitors, struggling with the concept of forbidding Roxanne to do something. Try as he might, he couldn't quite make it work.

Minion said, “I checked the border and there weren't any zombies visible. The streets are about as safe as they can be right now. It's only a few blocks outside the zone.”

“You should have insisted she lie down and recuperate.”

“She lay down for a while, but she said she needed to do something. She said she might as well report on other hideouts. A fire station'll make good viewing.”

Megamind could understand that feeling. And she hadn't simply taken off without telling anyone, after all, she'd taken as many reasonable precautions as could be expected. Being on a hovercraft, she was safer than people on the ground. “Fine. Guess I'm not the only bad patient around here. Got the leaflets ready to go?”

Bernard handed them over quickly and Megamind delivered them to the brainbots.

He sent them off over the skies of Metrocity and went back inside to flop into his swivel chair, to idly search his data banks for The Princess Bride. There was nothing but a short description in a catalogue of movie reviews he'd downloaded. Some silly farce set in a fantasy world, not really his kind of thing.

Noelle passed by on her way to deliver more photos to Bernard.

“Hey, Princess Bride,” she said, glancing at the screen. Her perpetually somber face broke into a grin.

Over at his table, Bernard bolted upright. “Hello! My name is...

“Inigo Montoya,” Noelle said, in the most atrocious Spanish accent Megamind had ever heard. “You killed my father...”

“Prepare to die!” both of them chorused, then doubled over laughing.

Megamind looked at them suspiciously. The two sourest people in the Lair, giggling over an old movie as if it had hidden depths. Weird. And he'd inadvertently quoted from it. Roxanne's face had brightened at his words, as if hearing a line from a familiar song.

Noelle and Bernard were having an animated conversation about shrieking eels and cliffs of insanity, of all things. He filed 'cliffs of insanity' away for exploration as a possible evil plot, if he ever got back to the good old days of supervillainy.

Megamind sidled over, feeling as if he was interrupting a secret meeting. Bernard's face closed off at his approach and he hunched back over his laptop. Strange, but the irritating man had been a lot less snarky lately. Megamind briefly wondered what was wrong, then decided not to question his good luck.

Megamind cleared his throat. “You guys know what 'As you wish' means?”

Bernard perked up again and Noelle drew such a sharp gasp that Megamind almost jumped.

“That is one of my all-time favorite lines,” she gushed.

“Westley can say that to me anytime,” Bernard said, rolling his eyes.

“Me, too.”

“He looks so damn good in that mask. And the sword fight with Inigo?”

“Oh, don't get me started. But I think I liked the battle of wits even better.”

“Yeah, the Sicilian, he...”

“So what does it mean?” Megamind snapped. Good grief, he'd say anything at this point to stop the cult-like recitation.

Noelle said, “It means 'I love you.' A code between Westley and Buttercup, his one true love.”

- - - - - - - -

Brainbots taped up huge posters describing the nature of the virus. Leaflets with the same information rained gently over the city, all bearing the Overlord's name.

Some of them caught in a high wind, flew over the quarantine line, and drifted down among the soldiers.

- - - - - - -

Roxanne could see that the fire station was fairly well fortified against attack, but a small squad of brainbots had come along to stay, to bolster security. About seventy people had taken refuge there, and while Roxanne was taking a tour and talking to survivors, a new group of twenty desperate people appeared at the garage doors.

Zombies were on their heels.

The brainbots immediately dove at the zombies to rip them apart, sending the refugees into a screaming huddle. Someone took a swing at a brainbot with a baseball bat, others pulled out guns, and it took a lot of shouting on the denizens' part before the panicking newcomers realized the brainbots weren't attacking them.

Roxanne and the others headed back to the Lair with a bonus load of four police officers who had come with the new group. They were from the north side of town, drawn by the lights of Megamind's safe zone. Crossing over miles of zombie-infested streets had left them exhausted, but when they heard about the new Overlord, they decided it'd be a good idea to report to him.

- - - - - -

People looked at the photos hung on the “Have you seen me?” banner, and made copies of their own photos of missing loved ones. Others scrolled through the growing digital catalog of the deceased. Four of his many monitors had been placed off to the side of the Lair for this purpose.

Roxanne's repeated treks outside had sparked off other journeys. If it was safe enough for the Overlord's girlfriend, it was safe enough for them. In any case people were tired of huddling behind walls, and were prepared to head out in search of the missing, to check on their homes, to try to reclaim their cars.

The newly rehydrated were the most eager to take off, maybe because they didn't truly understand what they were getting into. As long as people went in groups and were properly armed, he let them borrow the electric cars, if the distance they planned to travel was more than a mile. It was late afternoon, and the sun gilded the buildings orange. Despite his intention to lead more expeditions, he was too overwhelmed with the many things that needed his attention.

They completed the sweep of the peninsula, including the observatory on its hill, and didn't find any more zombies, though the brainbots guarding the shoreline caught and killed another one.

He would have to put up a wall along the entire perimeter to free up the brainbots, though he didn't like the idea of being cut off from the water. It felt claustrophobic.

Which reminded him to go down to his mini-submarine bay, accessible by a tunnel in the basement. It was secure. No zombies had been sucked into the valve intake or gotten into the loading chamber.

Docks and gates would have to be included in the wall. Building materials would be a problem. He'd already earmarked the last of the cement for a wall around the water treatment plant, so that would need to be done soon, and brainbots were erecting a wall of posts and wire for the fire station. Soon he'd have to start dismantling abandoned buildings for materials.

As a stopgap, he put up a nine-foot high wire fence, with barbed wire at the top, cutting the tip of the peninsula off from the rest of the safe zone and making it a no-man's land. The zone now had an eastern border and a western border.

Until he could get a wall up around the whole peninsula, it would have to do for now. Brainbots and brutebots continued to keep their glowing red eyes on the remainder of the shoreline and he set them to scour the no-man's land on a daily basis, to rout out any zombies that might have wandered ashore.

He set up an emergency comm on the western border that faced the city so if new refugees appeared they could ring for help from the Lair and someone could let them past the 'bots. He should set up a guard station and have a roster of people to keep watch round-the-clock.

Some of the newcomers were leery of the Lair and wanted to check out other buildings in the safe zone, which was fine by him. The Lair was getting more crowded and smellier all the time. With a warning to watch out for Hal, he let them go.

He returned from checking on the construction of the new border wall to find that Roxanne had come back. He felt a hot blush start at his collar and work its way up.

As he absent-mindedly greeted the new, wary police officers his mind was occupied with another matter entirely.

She knew what 'as you wish' meant. And now he knew. And if he ever used the phrase again, she would know that he knew, and he didn't know how she'd take it. Would she like it? Be flattered? Worry about hurting his feelings because she wouldn't be able to say it back?

Would things get weird? He couldn't stand it if things got weird again, he would just die, they'd only just gotten over the weirdness of when he held her on his lap and then ruined it all by panicking and slamming the door in her face. Amazing how a zombie attack put things in perspective.

Good God, had he carried her in the swivel chair only that morning? It seemed a very long time ago. Could he somehow make it into a light-hearted, no-pressure joke? He couldn't just blurt it out any old way, it had to be in response to a request, and...

Roxanne frowned, a little furrow appearing between her beautiful brows. “You all right?”

“Yes,” he squeaked. Aargh, he'd been standing there staring at her. “Ahem. Yes,” he said in a more normal voice.

The cops looked at each other. “What do you want us to do, sir?”

“There should regular patrols again in the city. Might as well start with the route between here and the fire station. Meet with the other officers, come up with a plan, deputize some extra people. And you'll be working with my henchmen, too, so play nice.”

He followed Roxanne into her work station. “How's the arm?”

“Eh. It's fine.” She plopped into her work chair. “God, I cannot handle editing all this right now. I'd like to go to my apartment, if you don't mind I borrow a hovercraft.” She plucked at her t-shirt. “I appreciate the change of clothes, but I'd really like some of my own. I don't think my place is too far.”

“Twenty blocks,” he said promptly.

She chuckled. “Heh. You would know, Mr. Kidnapper.”

He grinned like an idiot and clutched at his cape. He really ought to say something, something casual and not-at-all weird, but fortunately Roxanne had gotten up again before he could say anything foolish.

“I'll bring any food that's still salvageable,” she said. “And I want to check to see if anyone is in trouble there,” she said. Her eyes searched his, and the little furrow reappeared. “Sooo. What do you think?”

A request!

He trembled over the void, took a deep breath, then deflated. “Of... of course. Certainly. Yeah. Bring gunmen. Or gunwomen. Gunners. Yeah.”

- - - - - - - -

Minion pointed. “Down that block, Thao.” The pilot shifted the controls and moved the hovercraft where Minion indicated. The next sewer pump was coming up, and Minion knew the crew was more than ready to call it a day. They'd found zombies in the last tunnel, eating rats. Honestly, they got in everywhere.

He saw some people waving from a window of a motel and recognized them. “Hey, I know those guys.” They were some of the men that he and Sir had rescued from the prison. Minion waved back. “Hi, guys! You need some...”

Minion's voice trailed away. It didn't look like they were waving at him for help. They were trying to warn him off.

One of the men in the window made big sweeping motions to the side, shouting, “Go! Get away, get back! Sniper!” He pointed frantically down.

Down? Snipers usually tried to get up high, but the man's gestures indicated the sniper was on a lower level of the four story building. Minion touched Thao's arm. “Swing around this corner, quick.”

Minion scanned the bank of windows, silvered by the afternoon sun. Now where would...

A glint of light from ground floor. Gun barrel.

“Everybody down,” Minion said sharply, and a bullet punched him in his gorilla chest. 

Chapter Text

Minion jerked back from the bullet's impact and sat down heavily.

The crew yelled and hit the floor. Minion looked at the hole in his left pectoral. “Aw, man, this is my best suit,” he muttered.

Wendell, their main sewer expert, slumped against Minion's shoulder, whimpering in pain. Minion gathered him into his arms and stared in horror at the blood spreading over the man's shirt.

“I think the hovercraft got hit,” Thao cried. He was trying to steer from under the dashboard. The hovercraft was definitely listing. People yelped and clutched at the tilting floor.

More bullets pinged off the hull. The brainbots and the two brutebots swooped close in a solid mass, shielding the hovercraft from the hotel. Some of them fired back with their lasers in a sweeping motion. The bullets stopped.

Minion could see that Thao was starting to lose it, even with the brainbots covering them. “Take Wendell,” he cried at the others. Two of the crew took him out of Minion's lap.

Minion crawled to the controls. “Okay, let go now.” Thao snatched his hands away. Minion got the steering wheel straightened out and peeked over the edge.

The brainbots paused in their laser fire. Almost immediately the sniper opened fire again. One brainbot got hit and spun into the hovercraft, sending up sparks. Two more went down, dropping silently out of the air.

The brainbots sent down another barrage.

“Damn it,” Minion snapped. The hovercraft was still listing, though not as badly as before. “Keep firing, guys! Keep it up.”

Nina, who had some army training, struggled to aim a laser rifle over the rail. “Can't you get straightened out? I can't see.”

“No, it's no good, just let the brainbots cover us.”

A brutebot bumped into the hovercraft, rumbling deep within its dome mournfully. Minion knew it must have been hit, too, by the way it was weaving back and forth. He eased the hovercraft around the corner and brought it to within a foot of the ground before it dropped. People yelped as it jolted to a stop.

“Everybody out,” Minion said. “Get behind it.” He glanced back at the motel, still visible across the street. The shooting had stopped so they were probably out of the line of fire, but the sniper could go to another window and start up again.

Seventeen brainbots left and one functional brutebot. Now that the hovercraft was safely on the ground, the 'bots swarmed around Minion anxiously. “Good 'bots, you're such good 'bots,” Minion said, patting them. Some of them had cracked domes and a few were leaking.

Crouching low he hurried over to the other brutebot, lying in the mouth of the alley. It rumbled at him and lifted one of its huge tentacles. Hydraulic fluid pooled under it.

He patted it, making purple lightning flash inside it. “Good brutebot, such a good 'bot, Corduroy. Gonna get you fixed up, okay?” The 'bots didn't feel pain, but they felt sad when they got so damaged they couldn't fly or move. Corduroy was going to get extra play time with the wrench if Minion had anything to say about it.

Minion crouched low to make his way back to the crew. The damaged brutebot and the hovercraft made good cover, so long as they kept their heads down.

Wendell breathed in short panting gasps. He nodded at Minion with a safisfied look. “Knew this would happen. It's always somethin'. Bet I'll be dead before night. You'll see.”

“It's his arm,” one of the men said, holding a semi-clean rag to the wound.

Wendell frowned. “I'll bet the bone's shattered.”

His caretaker peered at it. “Uhhhh, I dunno, could be just the muscle.”

“Yeah, well, bet they'll have to amputate!” Wendell said indignantly.

“You could send the robots in,” one of the crew said. “Get that son of a bitch.”

“I don't know who's in there,” Minion said. “Innocent people could be trapped on the ground floor, too.”

“We don't know how many shooters there are,” Nina said.

Minion nodded. “Right. Besides that, we...”

Thao tugged at Minion's arm and pointed. “Look.”

A zombie lurched toward them. Another appeared, coming out of an apartment building. Then another.

“The other reason I don't want to send the brainbots off,” Minion said. “Nice to have a buffer.” He clicked on his comm. “Sir, we're in some deep shit. Hovercraft got shot down by a sniper, maybe more than one. Wendell got shot, too. We're gonna need back-up.”

He felt air on his spines and water lapped against his back. What the...?

He looked up. The water level in his dome had fallen. The bullet must have punctured the lower part of the containment unit within the suit. Sure enough, water trickled down his torso and soaked his leg fur. “You might wanna hurry, Sir. I sprung a leak.”

- - - - - -

Megamind came with five hundred brainbots, fifty brutebots, and a mixed group of cops, denizens, and Uncle Lenny. (Uncle Sid's knee was acting up again so he stayed at the Lair.) Minion had warned him about the civilians, otherwise he might have laid waste to the entire first floor.
Flying in from the back of the alley to stay out of sight of the sniper, he plucked Minion and the crew away from the growing crowd of zombies and transferred them to a rooftop a safe distance away from the hotel.

Wendell had lost a lot of blood but seemed to be stable. Megamind gave him the option of being dehydrated until they got back to the Lair but Wendell didn't want to miss any other disasters that might happen.

Megamind put Minion into his spare robot suit. Then it was time for a good long forehead press, placing his hands on either side of Minion's containment unit and getting his breath back. “You're sure you're all right?”

Minion placed a big hand over his gloved one. “Right as rain, Sir.”

“Because I don't know how many narrow escapes with losing my loved ones I can stand in one day.”

“I'm not going anywhere, Sir.” A little furrow appeared on Minion's brow. “I wish my castle hadn't gotten wrecked. It got cracked right in half.”

“He's going to pay for that. And you, my fine fish, aren't so easily replaced.”

Megamind turned his attention back to the hotel. After a careful sweep with infrared goggles and heat sensors he determined the only one person on the first floor was the sniper.

There were zombies on the second floor. He counted ten of them, feeding on a few bodies. As he scanned the place, a zombie bashed out a window and made exploratory movements to climb out.

The upper two floors were crammed with people. The word 'sardines' sprang to mind.

He consulted with his motley group. “What do you make of this place?”

“It's so weird,” Minion said. “Zombies on second floor but nowhere else?”

“You gonna kill him?” one of the cops asked, an eager glint in his eye.

Megamind regarded him with distaste. So he was one of those kinds of cops. “I'm going to talk to him,” Megamind said. “Find out why he was shooting at Minion. Then I'll decide.”

He didn't fuck around negotiating, but sent in two brutebots fortified with heavy armor and quick-moving stealthbots. These had black opaque domes made of soft polymer and collapsible metal skeletons, combining strength and flexibility. They could squeeze through small openings and also turn invisible, which they now did. He and Minion tracked their progress on screens projecting from their wrist comms.

There the bastard was, lurking in a side window.

A gunshot sounded in the back of the building, where he'd sent brainbots to watch the exits. “What's happening?”

Minion checked his screen. “A brainbot tried a door. But nobody's there.”

“Could be booby trapped. Tell them to hang back, don't touch any more doors.”

The brutebots crashed through the lobby doors, sending shards of glass everywhere. The sniper opened fire. Bullets pinged and ricocheted off their heavy armor. Stealthbots slipped in through a side window. There was a brief scream, another flurry of shots, then silence.

“Got 'im,” Minion said with satisfaction.

Four stealthbots flew out through the ruined doors, the struggling man clutched securely in their pincers.

So this was it. This was the test.

Death had...happened, sometimes, with his life or Minion's on the line during those bad moments when he and some other bastard were fighting over control of the gun or shiv or what have you. Megamind made sure he and Minion were the ones standing by the end of it.

This was a whole different kettle of monkeys. Killing in a fight when it was either you or him was one thing. This was a prisoner, tied and helpless. Hauling him off into a dark alley and shooting him in the head went completely against his usual mode of operation. It was so crude. Unstylish.

But he was the Overlord. It'd be an execution.

Without trial?

He scowled at the cops, who shrank back. No help there. They wouldn't try to stop him. That one particular cop, he had a faint smile on his face like a hunting dog about to leap, he'd probably join right in.

The sniper could have killed Minion or Wendell. Megamind had to take that into account. By the rules he'd laid down himself, the sniper had forfeited his life.

How should this go? Question the prisoner, then... then assign a shooter, he supposed. He could order Minion to do it. If he ordered a cop to do it...well, clearly there was one who was chomping at the bit, but the idea of cops killing prisoners made his jaw clench. Cops weren't supposed to do that shit. He despised crooked cops as much as he despised any other common murderer. Maybe even more so. Cops had taken an oath to uphold the law.

He might have to take Minion aside for a conference. He glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes. There was no real malice in Minion's features for this jerkwad who'd just been shooting at him, nor did he look unduly troubled by the prospect of possibly killing the bastard. The faithful henchfish had faced the same hard choices as Megamind at times, when at last it was kill or be killed, or watch someone you love get killed. Minion never hesitated, but he never seemed to suffer the residual guilt that Megamind did. Still, he didn't like the idea of straight up ordering Minion to pull the trigger.

I'll have to do it. But from some place deep within, another thought surfaced that stirred uneasiness in his heart. What would Roxanne think? He wasn't sure he face her with blood on his hands. Killing a prisoner wasn't just against the law. It was bad.

With a sinking sensation he realized he'd made a terrible mistake and broken one of the primary rules of supervillainy. He'd issued a threat which he might not be able to fulfill. There were plenty of threats against Metro Man he'd tried to fulfill, but failing to kill Metro Man was expected. The important thing was the attempt.

He'd already let two grievous offenses slide. He should've dragged Hal off right away, but he let Roxanne talk him out of it. Tony and Hank had gotten into a scuffle, but Tony had thrown the first blow which technically was assault, and should have earned him a one-way ticket to the pit. He had to think about what kind of overlord he was going to be.

Damn Metro Man to the nethermost hell! Leaving the city in his hands and forcing him into these sticky moral dilemmas.

The stealthbots had almost reached the roof. The sniper locked gazes with Megamind and bared his teeth in a savage grin. A grenade pin dangled from his fingers.

“Grenade!” Megamind shouted, hitting the tar and covering his head. “Throw him up! STRAIGHT UP!” he shouted at the 'bots.

The explosion pressed him to the roof. A few more seconds of ear-ringing silence followed, and then there were several wet thuds on the street below.

Megamind lifted his head. People were carefully getting to their feet around him. Megamind called the shaken stealthbots over to him. “There, there my ee-vil little babies,” he murmured, relieved to see all four were unharmed. “You did a good job. Such good 'bots."

The brainbots lowered him to the street while the others coasted down on the second hovercraft. They walked over to the pathetic remains, which covered rather a wide area.

“Why'd he do it?” Minion asked.

“He was dead anyway, he knew it,” the trigger happy cop said.

“I'll be the judge of who's dead, ” Megamind said. “It's not for you to decide, officer. Ever.”

The cop's grin faded. Megamind could almost see the thoughts whirling around in the man's brutish little mind. But you said anyone who committed murder or attempted murder was gonna get thrown to the alligators, you said so yourself. If he said that out loud it would confirm he was a dirty, rotten, crooked cop with no better morals than the thugs he was supposed to be protecting the public from, so of course he didn't say anything of the sort.

The tight-lipped faces of the other cops suggested they knew anyway, even though they'd never rat him out. Cops. Just another gang, only with better funding.

Zombies were still coming from all corners, shuffling their way up and down the street, lurching through the alleys, drawn by the noise of the guns, the shouting, and the sniper's last, suicidal explosion. The 'bots formed a loose wall around the perimeter to keep them at bay. The zombies hadn't turned into a horde yet, but it was only a matter of time.

He frowned at the remains. His statement that he'd decide who was dead was a little ridiculous, given the circumstances. Nobody was deader than this guy, no matter what he proclaimed but hopefully he'd made it clear where the power of life and death lay. He wouldn't have his police force running around executing people on their own.

Despite the messiness of the explosion, the sniper's head was still intact. He wondered briefly if the head would become a zombie all on its own even without the rest of the body attached, and decided he didn't want to know. He did the final shot and gave orders to the brainbots to collect the scattered remains.

They disabled the booby traps and exterminated the zombies on the second floor, including the one that was making a determined effort to climb up to the third floor. They cleared away the barricades to free the people trapped on the upper floors.

He greeted the ex-cons who'd warned Minion about the sniper, discovering the rest of the surviving prisoners were there as well, along with the last two night guards. He felt weirdly happy even though he barely knew them, as if they were long-lost relatives. Most of them knew how to handle themselves in tight corners, or had learned fast, a welcome addition to the growing number of denizens.

There had been two groups of ex-cons and guards, who had commandeered different prison vehicles. The two groups ran into each other some time later at the Sunshine Manor nursing home, to collect elderly parents. All but three of the staff were gone so the ex-cons and guards decided to adopt them, and moved in as caretakers and defenders. Despite their best efforts, some of the frailer residents passed away, as medicine was used up, oxygen tanks ran out, and the air conditioning failed.

It was a nasty shock to find them up and about again some hours later, shuffling through the halls and smashing down doors with new undead strength, trying to eat people with toothless mouths.

They made the decision to move to the hotel a few blocks away, which looked to be more easily defendable against outside attack. It had taken hours to get all the residents with their wheelchairs and walkers transferred, using the last of the fuel in the prison bus and vans. They sweated through the summer heat and in terror that zombies would cut them off en route, but they made it, and it seemed to be the right decision.

Until the sniper happened.

In a manager's office, Megamind heard the tale.

“He took over yesterday,” said one of the ex-cons. “Started shooting people on the second floor. We came down to see what was up. Thought zombies were comin' in and he needed help. I don't know how many he shot. Thirteen, fourteen? We got forced back. It was one of them army guys.”

Megamind's eyebrows shot up. “Army guys? How many?”

“Five of 'em. Kept to themselves, wouldn't talk to us. I think they're incognito, if you know what I mean.” He tapped his nose.

“Bet they're spies,” another ex-con said.

“I told you we shoulda offed 'em,” the first ex-con muttered.

Stinson, one of the guards, objected. “You can't go around doin' that. They weren't bothering anybody. Well, 'til just, like, recently. And it was just one of them.”

Megamind's head was starting to spin. “Wait. Spies? They were out of uniform? How do you know they're soldiers?”

“They had military style watches,” Stinson said. “One of 'em had dog tags. He came up the stairs, came back with food or something. I asked him what branch of the service he's in, and he got all wide eyed and ran back in his room.” He sniffed. “Dumbass probably a buck private just got done with basic training. They're usually showing off their...”

The man's voice trailed away as he looked over Megamind's shoulder.

Megamind turned.

Out the window, a knotted rope of bedsheets appeared, trembling slightly. A pair of combat boots appeared next, then the rest of the man they were attached to. Apart from the combat boots, which didn't mean much as a number of people wore them, including Hot Flash, nothing else about him really screamed military, unless it was the practiced way he scanned the alley and the handgun on his belt.

“That him?” Megamind said.

“Yeah.”

“Show of weapons, people.” Cops and ex-cons alike hastened to obey. On either side of him there was the click and ratchet of guns drawn and readied.

The alleged soldier looked up and down the alley. His double take when he caught sight of a dozen guns trained on him through the glass was priceless.

Megamind waved and treated him to an ee-vil smile.

Several emotions ran over the man's face as he tried to make up his mind whether to bolt or grab his gun, but at last he realized surrender was the only option. Slowly he raised his hands.

“Brainbots,” Megamind said into his comm, “back of building. Disarm and capture.”

- - - - - - - -

The remaining three surrendered quickly. Getting pounced on by a hundred growling brainbots tended to do that to people.

Megamind had them brought around to the ruined front doors. One of the sniper's bloody boots had landed almost in the entryway and he took a righteous sort of ee-vil pleasure at how quickly they averted their eyes from it.

He would evacuate the hotel. With the front doors smashed it would be difficult to defend for even one more night. Besides, no one wanted to try to reclaim the second floor, where zombies had fed. The sniper might have hidden other nasty surprises around the place. Another good reason to evacuate.

The cops lined up the prisoners against the wall and frisked them while other cops searched the soldiers' rooms. Megamind sent two brainbots to sweep for surveillance equipment and to sniff out bombs. One man had a money belt containing an enormous amount of cash, but none of them had any IDs whatsoever. No licenses or credit cards.

The police officers triumphantly brought him a set of dog tags they'd dug out of a wastebasket. Neither they nor the brainbots found any surveillance equipment or bombs. Or grenades.

Something bumped into the back of Megamind's knees. He turned to see that a brainbot had dutifully brought his swivel chair all the way from the Lair, to make sure he kept to his routine of sitting down every twenty minutes.

Minion, well-practiced in the art of presentation, made a big show of setting it up just right on the walk-up to the hotel so Megamind would have a good view of the prisoners.

“All set, Overlord,” Minion said with a sweep of his arm.

Satisfied, he made himself comfortable, steepling his fingers and studying his prisoners. Three young men, one older. Two of them definitely giving off a military-ish vibe, the third not so much, though he might have been a clerk or something. The older man had the pinkest skin Megamind had ever seen, and a round face and belly, with white bushy eyebrows, reminding him of a pink snowman.

Megamind lifted the dog tags. “Which one of you is Private Gregory Becker?”

The presumed Private Becker flushed. The other military-type who had a square jaw shot a glare at him.

“Yes, I agree, not very smart,” Megamind said, “throwing it in the trash. Should have tossed it in the alley. A little harder to pin on you.” He frowned thoughtfully. “Are spies covered by the Geneva Convention, Minion?”

“Bet they aren't, Sir.”

“We're not spies,” the clerkish one burst out.

Megamind drew back. “You're not? Well, that's a relief.”

The square jawed soldier-type glowered but the clerk didn't seem to notice. “How'd we get information out anyway? Everything's blocked,” he said.

“You could get a signal out, if it was prearranged for a specific frequency to be open at a particular time. Or even a good old fashioned letter, delivered to a certain spot.” He watched the worry grow in the clerk's face. His outrage appeared to be real; the man seemed truly surprised at the spying accusation, but you never knew.

Megamind said, “Care to explain why none of you, save Becker here, have any ID?”

Square Jaw swallowed. “Army's not too popular around here these days. Seemed safer to go without.”

“What a sensible explanation. Which still doesn't explain why none of you has even a library card to his name.”

Brainbots roared down the street, cutting down another group of zombies.

Megamind glanced at the carnage. “I think we're getting a little short on time so I'll be blunt. Why'd the army send you into my fair city?”

Square Jaw said, “Not with the army. Not anymore. We're AWOL.”

“Is that so? Hate to tell you this, but you ran the wrong way. This isn't Detroit.” He tapped his fingertips together. “Why the shooting spree?”

“We don't know. He snapped.”

The ex-con spoke up. “I heard him yell, 'you want zombies, I'll give you zombies.'”

Uncle Lenny cracked his knuckles. “You want we should talk to these guys in private, Blue? We'll get something out of 'em.”

“Oh, let's keep things friendly a little longer. So his goal was to kill people and let them turn into zombies? Presumably? Very interesting that he seemed to know how the new virus works. I only sent out the flyers a few hours ago.”

“Flyers?” 

“Anybody have... ah, thank you, Minion.” He brandished the paper. “A little informational piece describing how this new virus works, with my name on it so people know who to come to for help or complain to, that sort of thing.”

He studied their faces. “But of course you've all been trapped in the hotel since yesterday, so you didn't see it yet. Hence my comment that it's very interesting your buddy figured out all on his own how the new virus is playing merry hell with our lives even though it's not actually fatal.”

Square Jaw licked his lips. “Yeah. It-it's obvious. You just gotta look and see what's happening. Nobody's getting sick, not really. At least not with the zombie virus. Don't take a genius to... I mean, no offense, but...”

Megamind waved a hand airily. “None taken. And you're quite right. Simple observation could have given you clues. Your name, please.”

His eyes flickered. “Bill Hanson. This is my dad, Bob."

The supposed Bob gave him a sour look.

Megamind raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't he talk?"

"Of course I can talk," Bob snapped.

"He's got Alzheimer's," Bill said.

Bob's bushy eyebrows just about leapt off his round pink forehead. He sputtered something under his breath, then stuck his lip out like a pouting toddler. Young Bill's face shone more sweatily than it had before, though the air was cooling off with night approaching.

That was...interesting. Another lie? Or the old man didn't like his son talking about his condition? "My condolences," Megamind said, inclining his head. "Terrible disease. Let's hear the last man's name. Or do you want to answer for him, too?"

The clerk shot a nervous glance at Bill as if for permission. "Clarence Nesbitt," he mumbled.

"Splendid," Megamind said, “Now, I never got an answer to my first question. Do I need to leave you alone with Uncle Lenny after all? Why are you in my city?”

“I came to get my father,” said Bill. “Heard about the quarantine, so I came here to get him out before they closed everything off but we got trapped along with everybody else." 

"So kind of your friends to join you in exile. You all must be very close. For the time being, you'll be detained until I can figure out what to do with you.”

The elder Hanson's eyebrows drew together into a solid bristling mass. “Now see here, are we under arrest? You can't hold us against our will.”

“Actually, Mr. Hanson, I think I can.”

“That's Dr. Hanson.”

“Oh, really? We could use another doctor. That is, if you would consider...”

“I'm not that kind of doctor,” Dr. Bob Hanson said testily. “And if you think for one second that I...”

“Dad,” Bill snapped. He glared at his father and the old man subsided into grumbling again. Bill turned to Megamind. “He's not well, sir. Don't hold it against him. His memory comes and goes. He's not reliable.”

Megamind gave himself a mental shrug. It had just been an idea. He wasn't sure he'd trust a doctor forced to work against his will anyway, especially one with a deteriorating memory.

If that was, in fact, the case. There might have been grains of truth in the story young Bill was spinning, but something about it didn't smell right.

“Let's get back to formal charges. It amuses me. Officers? Perhaps you could help me out here.”

They glanced at each other, and Megamind thought he sensed relief moving through their ranks, maybe because the Overlord wasn't immediately handing out executions. After learning of the people that the sniper had killed in the hotel, Megamind felt that he would've had no other choice but to make good on his threat. Dehydrating him until a trial could be arranged would have been too good for him. At least the vile criminal would help keep the alligators fed.

“Stealing bedsheets,” one of the cops volunteered.

“Possession of some damn big guns without a license.”

“Loitering in an alley and exiting a hotel without paying the bill.”

“There, proper charges, nice and legal,” Megamind said.

His wrist comm crackled, and a nervous voice said, “Hello? Hello? Is this the right button?”

Another voice interjected, “I thought it was this one.”

“No, that's the intercom. Right?” The voices began arguing and talking over each other.

Megamind sighed and spoke into the comm. “Overlord here. Who's this?”

There were muffled whispers, then the first voice cleared his throat. “This is Kevin. Um. It's...well... We got a call from Hot Flash. At the water plant. There's a zombie."

“A zombie. As in, one zombie? Is this a problem? Tell her to shoot it in the head with one of the many guns I've provided and I'll send a brainbot to collect the corpse.”

“But it's...kinda little.”

Megamind was about to make another smart remark, but there was an undertone in Kevin's voice that stopped him. “I'm going to need a few more details.”

“It's a baby."

Megamind rubbed his forehead. Shit.

Kevin coughed. “And there's a mom.”

“And she's...still alive?”

“Yes, sir, and she don't seem to understand that the kid's dead, you know?”

- - - - -

Her apartment building was quiet as a grave. Roxanne went around to the other apartments on her floor but no one answered her knocking. The other denizens asked if they could search them.

Her first reaction was to refuse, but she checked her anger. They couldn't afford to pass up any food or other supplies they might need. She couldn't bear to watch, however, as they broke down the doors and rummaged through the belongings of people who might not be coming back.

What if some of them had merely been delayed, as she had been? They'd come back to ransacked apartments. She left flyers and maps to the Lair in every place they visited, and promised herself to send brainbots every day to see if anyone had returned.

Roxanne packed up as many clothes as she could squeeze into a suitcase and took everything even remotely useful from the bathroom. Gabby went to the kitchen and bagged up all the non-perishable food items.

“This is a nice place, Miss Ritchi,” Gabby said.

Roxanne ran her hand over the back of her couch, feeling the weight of the darkened apartment. It was just as she'd left it all those weeks ago, only dustier.

She took one last look at her photos on the wall, her bookshelf, her cozy kitchen. Wiping her nose with a tissue, she picked up the suitcase and went out to the hovercraft.

As the hovercraft, loaded with towels, bedding, food, and the random contents of medicine cabinets, floated down toward street level, the sound of a diesel truck backfiring caught their attention. Vehicles that were still operational were getting rarer.

“Let's see who it is,” Roxanne said. “Maybe they need help.”

The men in the truck, however, didn't appear inclined to stop. Roxanne caught a glimpse of wide-eyed faces, and then the truck fishtailed as the tires squealed.

“Hey, those are Destruction Worker's goons,” Tony shouted. He grabbed a laser rifle.

Roxanne shoved the gun barrel to the side. “What the hell are you doing?”

“But, miss, they're sittin' ducks!”

“So you're going to just shoot them?” Roxanne snapped.

Tony shuffled his feet. “Well...can't I shoot at them a little?”

“No. Besides, they're leaving.”

The truck disappeared around a corner.

- - - - - - - -

“Is he following us? He comin' after us?”

“I'm telling you, it's not Megamind. I didn't see him.”

“Of course it was him, who else has fuckin' hovercraft? And fuckin' brainbots? And that was Roxanne Ritchi there.”

“Maybe she stole his stuff.”

“Don't be a fuckin' moron. The blue man probably moved on her as soon as he saw Metro Man wasn't coming back.”

“Struger seen Megamind a couple of days ago, riding around with a bunch of people. He must've hired them or something.”

“He's got brainbots all around the water plant. He took that over, no problem.”

“So how come Hot Flash is still there, then?”

“He must of, like, got her to swear allegiance or something. I think I saw Tony Pirelli back there.”

“She's gonna pay for turnin' her back on the Doom Syndicate. Just you wait.”

“Hey, Leroy, who you rather go up against? The army, Hot Flash, or Megamind?”

“Who the fuck cares? Destruction Worker's gonna decide. Let's get this stuff back, he's hungry.”

Chapter Text

The metro bus, powered by brainbots, shuttled the hotel refugees to the Lair while Megamind called for the doctor, the pastor, and Bernard to put together an armed escort and meet him at the water treatment plant. The brainbots had been busy getting abandoned cars and other debris off the streets near the safe zone so the route should be clear.

He needed the doctor to make a definite diagnosis, the pastor to possibly handle the mother, and Bernard to fill out the paperwork, and Megamind was feeling a great need for proper paperwork.

Though no amount of documentation would ever truly be enough to soothe his conscience.

- - - - - - -

Reuben, the plant director, met Megamind when he arrived, along with Hot Flash, who seemed unable to give up the reins of leadership easily. Once a boss, always a boss.

They filled him in on the situation and introduced him to the baby's father, who looked like he'd fallen into the lowest pit of hell and might never find his way out. He said that the baby had been sick with fever and died two days ago. More than enough time for zombification.

Megamind took a deep breath and stepped into the employee break room. Minion ducked under the door frame, followed by his entourage, Pastor Mike, the doctor, Bernard, and the witnesses. Having witnesses was the doctor's idea. Reuben had stepped up, and two other people whose names he hadn't caught, but were presumably citizens of good standing.

They would all need to be in agreement on the status of the child before Megamind took action.

The woman sat on the floor by an empty vending machine, holding onto a large red cooler. The lid was strapped down with duct tape. Humming an off-pitch tune, she stared at a spot on the wall, or perhaps was focusing on whatever was in her mind.

Something inside the cooler thumped and scratched.

The woman's head turned jerkily around as they filed in, until her gaze settled on Megamind.

“Are you the doctor?” she asked. Her bare, dirty feet tapped restlessly on the linoleum.

Dr. Plant cleared her throat. “That's Megamind. Do you know who he is?”

The woman's forehead wrinkled. “So he's not the doctor?”

Dr. Plant gave up. “I'm the doctor.”

The woman twitched and clawed at her neck, whispering to herself, then announced, loudly, “Wendy's sick. Real sick.”

Pastor Mike took a careful step toward her. “What's your name?”

“Kelly.”

Dr. Plant made soothing noises as she walked around the tables toward her, followed by the pastor. “I'm going to examine your daughter, is that all right, Kelly? You have other children?”

Kelly tightened her grip on the cooler, which had given a sudden lurch. “Yes, three more. Wendy's my baby. Her birthday was last week!” she shouted. Her lips stretched back over her teeth and a bizarre wheeze came out of her that might have been laughter.

“Oh, um. That's nice.”

Megamind felt that he was doing a pretty good job of not running out of the room screaming. He glanced at the others to see how they were holding up. Minion was mournful but stoic. The witnesses' horrified attention was riveted on the cooler. One of them put a hand on the wall to steady herself, but otherwise the three of them seemed determined to see it through.

Bernard was the worst off. Hugging the laptop to his chest, he pressed against a wall as if trying to pass through it and his face bore a waxy resemblance to a corpse.

Megamind took pity on him. “Wait in the hall,” he said quietly.

Bernard fled the room.

Dr. Plant and the pastor were trying to persuade Kelly to let go of the cooler.

Turning his back for cover, Megamind switched the setting on the de-gun. He would take care of the mother first. There was no psych ward, no sedatives, and no psychiatric care other than Pastor Mike's family counseling, and Megamind didn't think that was going to cut it here.

Kelly glared at him as he crossed the room toward her. He half expected her to growl. Keeping his tone light he said, “Will you stand over there with Minion, please? I promise no harm will come to your daughter.”

Kelly's eyes burned into him. Like the lying son of a bitch he was, he held her gaze. At last, very reluctantly, she let Minion take her aside.

He and Minion exchanged glances, and the henchfish stepped back, allowing Megamind to dehydrate her.

He picked up the cube from the floor and when he straightened again, he caught Pastor Mike staring at him. The pastor looked away.

“You disapprove,” Megamind said.

Pastor Mike shifted his weight. “I...I understand,” he murmured. “But I wish it wasn't necessary. She needs help, not...” His voice trailed away.

“I wish the same, padre.” He got out the jackknife to cut away the tape. “Are we ready?”

- - - - - - -

Dr. Plant insisted on taking its temperature, to make absolutely sure, so there would be no doubt, as if physical appearance wasn't enough. All witnesses agreed it was a zombie, Dr. Plant shakily adding her voice to the consensus...

He'd destroyed child zombies before, but never one so little.

After it was all over he drifted down the hallway, Minion falling into step at his shoulder.

Hot Flash slumped in a folding chair down the hall, a lumpy hand-rolled cigarette dangling from her mouth. Irwin leaned against the wall by her side. She watched Megamind approach, then heaved herself to her feet. “Here,” she said, shoving something at him.

Megamind stared at her. Hot Flash shook the object in her hand, making a sloshy noise. “Here, take it already,” she growled out of the corner of her mouth.

He focused on the flask.

Minion said, “I don't think that's-”

Megamind took it and had a swig. The liquor stripped a layer of cells off his throat lining as it went down and the pain was almost enough to blot out the images burned into his brain.

Probably wasn't a good idea to accept a drink from a former enemy, come to that. It was a warning sign he should have heeded that he was too worked up.

He raised the flask again.

“Hey, gimme it.” Hot Flash grabbed it back. “Don't hog it all.” She sneered at Minion's frown. “Take it easy, fish boy. It's not poisoned.” She took a drink and wiped her mouth. “I didn't sign up for this crap,” she muttered. “I wanna know why you haven't taken my henchmen yet.”

He rubbed his eyes. “Taken them where?” Aargh, that booze. His stomach was already complaining.

“To your damn Lair. Their families, too. I'm sick of lookin' at 'em.”

He dropped his hands and studied her. Her henchmen were painful reminders of what she'd lost. She could still be a formidable crime boss, except that she'd lost the taste for it along with her powers, though it was clear she found it hard to give up leadership completely. She was the one who'd called the Lair about the crisis.

“The plant needs protection,” he said. “They should stay here.”

“Send over some different gunmen, then.”

“I'll consider it.”

Hot Flash stiffened.

The father of the dead baby shuffled toward them. Megamind tensed, not knowing what kind of reaction the man would have for the supervillain who'd ended his daughter's existence.

Minion moved around so he stood slightly in front of Megamind.

The man's hollow eyes moved blearily from Minion to Megamind and he shuffled to a halt. “Thank you. Thank you for help...help...” Slowly his face grew pinched and he crumpled to the floor, weeping.

Megamind stared at him, then strode away. He passed by other hallways grown more crowded with new arrivals claiming spaces for sleep and for their bags of clothes, staking out their little territories, frightened of the zombies outside, fearful of the other refugees, shrinking away from the Overlord as he swept by.

He crossed the lobby and went outside, flinging the door back so it banged against the wall.

The prison bus sat in the scant shade of one of the dead trees. The four prisoners sat on it, guarded by three police officers and three ex-cons, an even mix. He'd wanted to keep an eye on them, and there weren't any cells at the Lair, so he'd brought them along. He still didn't know what to do with them. Maybe he'd dangle them in cages over the alligator pit. No reason they had to be comfortable.

He paced a circle over the burned grass, a slow roar building in his gut like a funnel cloud.

Coast guard boats crawled back and forth on the lake's horizon. Megamind turned slowly, running his gaze over the city. Out beyond the buildings, the army sat on its collective ass. Doing nothing.

It was impossible to keep going day after day on a never-ending diet of rage, but Megamind felt that he'd passed through rage and come out the other side into some new emotion he didn't even have words for.

He would have to stop soon. But not yet. If he tried to rest now he'd begin an inexorable slide into madness and not even Minion's love would be able to bring him back. Not even Roxanne's...concern.

(Did she love him? Could she ever love him? It was too much to bear thinking about. )

He was still a supervillain, damn it, and now he was going to do what he did best: confront an overwhelmingly powerful foe with nothing but his wits, his 'bots, and his kick-ass disregard for life and limb.

Minion took a step back from his smile. “Er, you all right, Sir?”

“Prepare some entrance music,” Megamind said. “It's time the army and I had a little talk.”

“Okay, just let me go find the invisi-shield, I think we stored it in...”

“No time for that. We're going now.”

- - - - - - - -

Music thundered over the deserted landscape of Highway 81. Two brainbots led the way, waving huge white bedsheets. Four more brainbots carrying large clunky cameras soared back and forth, shooting the scene from all angles and aiming the lenses at the army troops.

The chorus blared out.

Now you're messin' with a...Son of a BI-ITCH! (now you're messin' with a sonovabitch)

Megamind directed Spee-ider-bot down the middle of the highway, with the giant holographic image of his head projected directly above. Brainbots and brutebots filled the sky behind him and a guard drove the prison bus in his wake. On the bus, Minion stood next to the driver and spoke into Megamind's earpiece. “I'd say stop about fifty yards back from the truck,” he said. “That should be close enough. Don't want 'em to start shooting.”

As instructed, he stopped Spee-ider-bot fifty yards short of the burned out husk of the truck. The same truck he'd seen from a distance the first night of the quarantine, getting blown up.

He nudged Spee-ider-bot a few steps closer. “Who's in charge here? The Overlord of Metrocity would like to speak with them.” His voice boomed out of the hologram's mouth, echoing across the land.

Soldiers milled behind the barricade down the road, until one figure edged to the front and lifted a tiny megaphone. After a loud screech and a burst of static, a crackly voice said, “No one's allowed past the quarantine line. Please stand back before we're...”

“That's not what I asked, fool.” Megamind's amplified voice overrode him. “I asked who was in charge.”

“Sir,” Minion said through his teeth. “There's a lot of guns. I would really like you to tone down the arrogance a little.”

“You're talking to Major Rutherford," came the crackly response.

“I want to collect the bodies of my citizens. That okay with you?” He held out a hand toward the truck and the skeletons lying around and inside it. “I'd appreciate it if you didn't shoot at us while we complete out task.”

The major's head turned this way and that as he talked with the soldiers on either side of him. There was a shrugging of shoulders. He lifted the megaphone again. “What about those robots?”

“My pets. Brought them along for a little exercise.”

Major Rutherford and the soldiers eyed the gently undulating swarm, bristling with bear trap jaws and spikes and lasers. Quiet, but waiting for their master's command.

“Go ahead,” the major said.

Megamind gestured at his volunteers. The prison bus moved forward cautiously until it drew level with the truck.. Two henchmen, two police officers, and a few other denizens came down the steps. With the help of the brainbots, and equipped with hooks and heavy gloves, they began collecting the five bodies into body bags.

The 'bots drifted overhead like a cross section of toothy undersea wildlife, glowing blue and red, making the air vibrate with their humming.

On the soldiers' side a humvee with a .50 caliber Browning M2 machine gun on its roof rolled up to the barricade.

The atmosphere was thick with everyone not shooting each other.

Megamind wished Roxanne was there to see him in action. He imagined her directing the camerabots to get the best angles, and doing her spiel, perhaps throwing in a few pointed, sarcastic comments about his performance. He loved that.

A little late to call her over to join in, unfortunately. He turned his attention back to Major Rutherford. “Since you've cut off all TV and radio signals, I'd like a some information. How long will the quarantine last?”

“I'm not authorized to give out that information,” the major said in a flat voice.

Megamind raised an eyebrow. Not authorized? Possibly double-speak for 'no one's told me jack shit.' Out loud he said, “On behalf of the city, I request that the electricity be turned back on. The power plant shut down quite some time ago, as I'm sure you've noticed, and we don't have the means to get it started again. It would be a simple matter to reroute power from the grid that serves the adjacent counties. I'll gladly foot the bill for the time being, if you arrange for me to transfer my bank numbers on a secure line,”

He didn't think they'd agree to it or even have any real influence with the electric company, but it didn't hurt to ask. Besides, his generous offer was getting filmed. Once again, the distant figure consulted with others. Megamind got the sense that they couldn't quite believe their ears. He waited, letting Spee-ider-bot amble back and forth as it wanted, its legs casting long shadows as it moved across the landscape. The sun was a red disk sinking into the lake.

“Here's an easier one,” Megamind said. “We're running out of food. When can we expect relief packages? I'll help distribute them.”

Guilty silence greeted this request.

Megamind drummed his fingers on the control panel. “So when can I tell my citizens to expect life-saving food and medical supplies?”

“I don't know of any plan to provide supplies.” The major cleared his throat and changed the subject. “Megamind, I have some leaflets here that...”

“Lord Megamind,” Megamind interrupted.

“What?”

“I insist on the proper title. You may call me Lord Megamind, or Overlord.”

There was a longer silence, during which Minion cursed quietly in his ear.

The major's voice, when it spoke again, was rather cold. “Lord Megamind, there're some leaflets here that make a number of unsubstantiated claims. I have to warn you that propaganda that disturbs the peace and incites panic in the population is a serious crime, punishable by a...”

“It's not designed,” Megamind turned up the volume so that his voice echoed off buildings half a mile away. “To set off panic. It's the honest, unvarnished truth. There's been one suicide that I know of precisely because of misinformation. For my citizens to realize that contracting the virus is not an automatic death sentence will, I hope, prevent further tragedies. Surely you don't want to see even more innocent Americans killed. The world is watching.” Megamind cast a significant look at one of the camerabots.

“How about you give us back our drones?” Rutherford snapped.

It was so cute, the way he kept trying to seize control. Megamind smiled. Overhead, his giant teeth flashed almost as brightly as his eyes. “Drones? You mean those funny little toy helicoptors that've been invading the privacy of my citizens? Those drones? Haven't seen any,” he said briskly. “But I'll be sure to keep an eye out for them. Incidentally, on that note...” He gestured for the prisoners to be brought forward.

Their guards prodded them off the bus to stand in the highway. Megamind had a camerabot project their images into the sky next to his own, though the prisoners kept their heads down, trying to hide their identities.

“Let's say I happen to find some army-related trifles lying around unattended and return them to you. What'll you give me? Because I could really go for twenty thousand pounds of non-perishable food and a M.A.S.H. unit or two. Our hospitals are a mess.”

“Anyone who goes into the city is subject to the quarantine,” Rutherford said.

“Guess it works both ways, then. Everyone and anything in this city is subject to my rule, to be dealt with however I see fit.” With that he drew the de-gun to de-hydrate the prisoners, starting with Private Becker. Becker shrieked a little, thinking he was about to get snuffed, and then he was cubed.

Dr. Bob's pink face turned red. “How dare you!” he shouted.

Megamind shot and dehydrated the next two, making Dr. Bob's eyebrows bristle with fury. He shouted, “You have no idea who you're dealing...” And then Megamind shot him, cutting off the tirade. Minion picked up the cubes and put them in a fanny pack.

Megamind holstered the de-gun as Spee-ider-bot danced around. “Maybe I'll make them into a necklace. Major Rutherford, if you could pass on my requests for food and medical supplies I'd be most grateful. You have my number? What a silly question, you're blocking me, of course you do. Oh, and one more thing. Just a little tidbit you might find interesting. Your stupid quarantine doesn't work. Zombies are walking on the lakebed.”

“That's not possible. Zombies don't go into water more than three feet deep, everybody knows that.”

“These do, fool,” Megamind said. “Open your damn eyes. They've learned a new trick. Some of them came out of the lake right by my Lair. They could wander into Chicago, Duluth, Canada, or anywhere along the thousands of miles of wilderness lakeshore, if they haven't already.”

- - - - - - -

Mission accomplished, Megamind sent Spee-ider-bot leaping ahead into the city, bouncing from street to building and back again, while the prison bus followed along as best it could. "That went rather well, wouldn't you say, Minion?"

"Sir," said Minion through the comm, "I hate to burst your bubble, but you never actually said who those prisoners were."

"I most certainly did."

"Pretty sure you didn't."

"Ah, but I implied it. Very, very strongly."

"Yeah, but..."

"They were included in my 'army-related trifles' comment."

"Well, I guess so, but don't you think it looked like you just dehydrated a bunch of random guys?"

"Don't be ridiculous, filet mignon. Couldn't be clearer. Splashed their images up there for everyone to see, they'll figure it out. It's hardly my fault if they can't keep track of their soldiers."

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

When Roxanne got back, the Lair was in a certain amount of chaos from yet another infusion of refugees. 

“They're from a hotel,” Pilar informed her. “About a hundred of them. There was a sniper, and Minion got shot....”

Roxanne gasped.

“In the suit,” Pilar said hastily. “His robot suit. He had to replace it, but I'm sure he's okay. That sewer man got hurt, too.” She looked around. “Our Overlord must've found a nursing home, too.”

“But, the sniper?”

“Blew him to bits, is what I heard.” Pilar lowered her voice. “Martin Finney died a little while ago.”

“Oh no. Oh, that's too bad,” Roxanne said, trying to sound sympathetic, and she was sorry that the old widower from her group passed away, she really was, but quite frankly she was more worried about Megamind and Minion.

“And I heard Doris tried to steal his pills, so she's getting dehydrated,” Agnes said.

“Oh. Oh?” Better than getting kicked out, Roxanne supposed, but... “She's really getting dehydrated?”

“Oh, not for stealing. At least...” Agnes's brow furrowed. “I don't think it's for stealing. I think it's so she doesn't croak.”

Roxanne stopped and stared at the bullet-riddled hovercraft in the mechanic's bay, then hurried into the Lair to find Megamind. “But they're all right, aren't they?”

“Yeah, I guess so. They're not back yet,” Pilar said.

“Not back yet? Where'd they go? I thought you went with him.”

“I just went with the search parties, you know? After that giant zombie came out of the lake and almost got you and Billy. Then there was that emergency call from Minion, and the Overlord took off with about a million brainbots. That's all I know.”

Roxanne ran her hand through her hair. Her scalp itched. It still felt like there might be zombie in it. She wanted to wash it again, but was too agitated to bother with it just then.

She dumped her suitcases in their room, and sat on the edge of the bed, cradling her sore arm. The bite marks stung, and her elbow and shoulder ached. She could call him, but she didn't want to be a worrywart. He was probably rescuing more people, that must be it. Yeah, he must be busy, and she wasn't going to take over the comm demanding to know where he was and when he'd be back.

She went out to the courtyard to pace. Something under one of the wall lights caught her eye and she made her way over to it. An off-white ten-foot long banner had been strung up with rope, with colorful markers on strings along the bottom of it. It was half covered with names and messages, and some prayers. Bouquets of dandelions, purple thistles, and other weedy flowers lay at the base of the wall.

'RIP' featured prominently, but there were more personal messages as well. 'Wall of the Dead' had been written across the top, though 'the Dead' had been crossed out and 'Memories' written underneath it. That had also been crossed out, and 'the Dead' written underneath that. Roxanne decided she'd come back tomorrow to see if the 'Memories' person would keep up the war of words.

She ran her fingers along the strings. She'd brought back photos of her parents from the apartment, but hadn't put them on the 'Have You Seen Me' banner in the Lair yet. Someday she might have to put their names on this banner, whatever the duelling labelers decided it would be called.

Roxanne whirled at the sound of tires on gravel. Two electric cars came through the gate, which was still open despite the lateness of the hour, and parked to one side. Of the several people who got out, armed for zombies, three were Bernard, the doctor, and the pastor.

She wondered where they'd been, and began to walk across the yard to talk to them. Maybe she should get her own minion to keep her informed, so she'd know what the hell was going on.

“Excuse me, dear.” A little old lady in a wheelchair pushing herself along with her feet came into her path. “Excuse me,” she said again with a smile. “Have you seen Mad Dog?”

“Uh...Mad Dog?” Roxanne said.

“Mad Dog Munster. He usually helps me find the bathroom. He was in prison, you know. He has a tattoo of a skull with a snake crawling through it. Right on his chest.”

“Really. I didn't know that,” Roxanne said weakly. She looked around for her quarry, but Bernard and the others were disappearing into the Lair.

“I'll help you find him.”

“Oh, thank you, dear.”

Roxanne wheeled her inside. Once she got the wheelchair moving, she found that she could push it mostly with her undamaged arm.

Doris's shrill voice cut through the din. “You may be the Overlord's uncle, Mr. Bauerman, but you have to wait your turn for the laundry like everyone else!”

The old woman turned to give Roxanne a look of utmost horror. “Oh my God, is that...” Her voice fell to a whisper. “Doris Haggerty?”

“Yes, but don't worry. She's getting dehydrated in the morning.”

The old woman crossed herself vigorously. “Thank God.”

After helping the old woman find Mad Dog, she decided she'd waited long enough for Megamind, and headed for the monitors to call him. But once again she was distracted, this time by the sight of Bernard curled up under his desk.

“Tough day?”

“Someone took my spot,” he murmured. “My blankets. Wasn't a great spot, but it was my spot. Geez. Some people.”

Roxanne exhaled and ran a hand through her hair. “Oh. Well, Bernard, did you tell them you were sleeping there?”

“No. What's the point?”

“I'll help you get your spot back, okay? It's probably a misunderstanding. But, I couldn't help noticing you went somewhere.” She really wasn't very good at comforting people. Dang it. Her main goal in talking to Bernard was to satisfy her curiosity.

“Only 'cuz he made me,” he said sullenly. “I don't see why I have to do all the paperwork around here.”

Before she could coax more out of him, there was a riot of noise from the entrance. Several people cheered as Megamind rode in on Spider-bot and Roxanne felt a relieved smile spread over her face.

“Honey, I'm ho-o-o-ome,” he shouted. Spider-bot threaded its way through the crowd and around beds, coming to a stop next to her. Megamind slid down one of its legs and she held out her arms. Slipping his hands around her waist, he planted a quick kiss on her lips, and then she caught a whiff of alcohol on his breath.

More denizens cheered. From the back rose a brief howl. Megamind pulled her close and kissed her again, longer and more deeply. Roxanne would have enjoyed it more, except that his entire body vibrated with tension, like a guitar string wound too tightly. “Everything okay?” she said, when they stopped for breath.

“Never better. A question for you, my darling,” he said with a strange, bright smile. “Did you order Tony to go to your apartment with you?”

“No, he kind of just came along.”

“Good, good. Good to know.” He released her and bellowed, “Tony!”

Tony nervously shuffled through the crowd while Megamind clicked through the de-gun settings.

Megamind snapped his fingers at Bernard, who had crawled out to see the commotion. “Bring me a chair.”

Bernard brought over another desk chair.

“Sit,” Megamind said.

Tony slowly reached for the arms and lowered his seat into the chair.

Megamind fired. Tony flinched as two glowing blobs hit his arms. When the glow faded, he was stuck to the armrests by glue.

“The next time I give you a direct order, I expect to be obeyed, henchman,” Megamind said. “You'll sit there until your damn leg either heals or falls off, whichever comes first.”

He spun on his heel and marched over to Doris. Grinning, Megamind whipped a cube out of his inner pocket and held it up in front of her face. “This, my dear Mrs. Haggerty, is a sniper, a foul murderer. He will be the first victim of my alligators, to be fed to them at the very next feeding. What do you have to say about that?”

Doris's eyes narrowed. “Alive?” she said.

“Quite dead. In pieces, actually. Minion won't even need the bone saw. Here.” He tossed the cube at Minion. People reared back as it soared overhead into Minion's hands. “Take care of that, will you?"

His manic grin turned to her again. “Miss Ritchi, I have some footage for you, all about my glorious encounter with our friends in the military.” With a sweep of his cape he strode toward the editing area.

Roxanne's breath froze in her lungs. As so often happened when she got frightened, she also got angry. Lunging forward she grabbed his elbow, spinning him around, and at last his ferocious smile wavered. He stared at her, wide-eyed and startled.

She shouted, “You confronted them now? What the hell were you thinking?”

Chapter Text

 

Through the red haze she was dimly aware of people scuttling away from the immediate area, but that was a mere backdrop to her rage.

“What about the safeguards?” she snapped. “The invisi-shield?"

Puzzled by her anger, his forehead wrinkled into a frown, but he rallied and took on the cocky attitude he usually adopted when he bantered with her. “Oh, that. That takes forever to set up.” He rolled his eyes as if it was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard, which made her even angrier. “Don't worry, I recorded it. Splendid footage.”

“I don't care about the fucking footage! You keep acting like this is still your big, stupid game of heroes and villains! Here's a news flash, if it'd gone wrong they wouldn't have thrown you in jail, they would've killed you!”

He smirked. “It all happened just as I foretold. Those army schmucks were putty in my hands. The presence of the cameras, the...”

“You throw yourself into these stupid situations with no regard for your safety! Don't you even care if Minion gets killed?”

It was a low blow but it wiped that smirk off his face. If he was still stuck in that silly charade he used to play with Metro Man, then by God she was going to shake him out of it.

He stiffened. For a second he was too shocked to say anything, and then his chest swelled with rage. No hint of banter remained in his manner. Shrapnel was imminent. “I'm sick of sitting on my ass waiting for them to throw us a bone!” he snapped. “It was time to act. Past time!”

“We were supposed to discuss it! You didn't even let me know what you were doing.”

Off to the side Minion yanked the curtain closed, hiding them from the sight of the denizens, though not from their hearing, unfortunately.

Megamind clapped a hand to his head with a sarcastic sneer. “So that's what was missing! Instructions from a bossy, know-it-all reporter! Next time there's an ambush I'll let you know two weeks in advance. What do you want, an office memo?”

“Oh, kiss my ass! I know the difference between an ambush and prancing up to a bunch of armed soldiers!”

“Goddamn right I pranced!” he roared, his face turning an unhealthy purple. “Strutted my stuff, thank you very much, and called them on their bullshit! I would've done a striptease if I thought it'd do any good!"

“Minion getting shot today wasn't exciting enough for you? Or a zombie chewing my arm off?”

“We can't live forever on store scraps! We'll be eating rats in a week! It's so fucking senseless! People are dying out there! From the simplest things, just because they can't find a doctor, or even medicine! Even little babies that-” Megamind's face went from anger to stricken anguish in the space of a heartbeat. He sucked a long, harsh breath and doubled over as if he'd been shot.

The rest of Roxanne's retort flew out of her head as cold fear washed through her. “Megamind? What's wrong?”

He hunched over, shrunken and quiet, a dark shape outlined by the brightness of the monitor screens. The muted noises of the denizens filtered through the curtain, furtive footsteps and muffled coughs, as if everyone were tiptoeing around, trying their best to ignore the giant screaming fight.

She wanted to touch him, to slide her hands around his back and put a hand under his chin so she could tilt his face up, but the space between them was full of the terrible ringing echoes of their raised voices. She was afraid to move lest the air shatter.

Slowly Megamind straightened up, smoothing a hand down the lightning bolt on his chest, his face blank. He glanced at her but his gaze skittered away before meeting her eyes. “I'm not entirely...I'm... I think I'll retire.”

He walked down the length of the curtain and slipped around the corner leading to their room.

Roxanne stared at the spot where he'd vanished, then turned to Minion, hovering anxiously in the background. “Miss Ritchi, I'm sorry,” he said, twining his fingers together with a little metallic clinking. “I shouldn't have let that army confrontation happen. But I was upset, too.”

- - - - - - - - - -

She was very quiet after Minion finished telling her about recent events. She grabbed hold of Megamind's swivel chair, which a brainbot had been pushing along, and flopped down in it.

The brainbot, known as Kojak, swooped around uncertainly. It had been looking for Daddy to remind him to sit down again, but the 'bot wasn't quite sure what to do about Daddy's Hostage taking the chair.

Daddy's other guests could more or less be herded, but Miss Ritchi clearly was deserving of special treatment. She was the only other person who'd ever been allowed in the Lair before, and now Daddy had assigned her camerabots and given her a workstation.

She and Daddy had been arguing, but strangely, he hadn't ordered them to tie her up. It was a little like when Daddy and Uncle Minion argued, though those fights usually didn't get so loud and they generally ended with Uncle Minion sighing hugely and groaning, “Oh, all right, Sir. Have it your way.”

Kojak bowg-ed at a few of the other brainbots to get their opinions on the matter. They quickly decided that seizing her, biting her, or tipping her out of the chair was out of the question. That would be naughty.

Kojak directed a stern look at Spikeless, who tended to chomp on Daddy's fingers when overexcited. The 'bot lowered its eyestalk and bowg-ed contritely. <No, no biting Mommy.>

The other brainbots blinked at each other and let out a burst of startled bowgs. <Mommy? Require explanation.>

Spikeless quivered, embarrassed at being the center of scrutiny. <She is...belonging with Daddy now. They exhibit many common American bipedal mating customs. She sleeps in Daddy's room. They engage in much hugging and kissing, just as we have seen in many media outlets. She has ridden in the Chair with him.>

Kojak rumbled in satisfaction. <That is correct, she did ride in the Chair. Therefore, implicit permission. The Chair is now Miss Ritchi's as well.>

The other brainbots bowg-ed in agreement. That seemed to settle the Chair issue, though they weren't completely convinced of the analysis that Spikeless had done. Certainly the things Spikeless mentioned were very suggestive, but...

<Daddy and Uncle Minion sometimes sleep together,> Kojak argued. <They participate in forehead contact, playful wrestling, shoulder punches, and other affectionate touching.>

<But they do not kiss.>

They pondered this for a moment.

<Uncle Minion's teeth are too sharp,> a brainbot piped up.

Spikeless growled and snapped its jaws. <Immaterial! The lip contact between Daddy and Miss Ritchi is prolonged and is only conducted by romantic partners. And he perspires more.>

<There are many intruders. Daddy fights the cold people all the time.>

<There is an increase in sweat production when he is in her presence even when there is no danger,> Spikeless insisted.

Kojak turned to Miss Ritchi's camerabots.

Muybridge and Eastman blinked at each other and a sort of mental shrug flickered through their domes. <When Miss Ritchi discovered that Daddy wasn't in the Lair, audio analysis of her voice shows that it was higher than normal and her speech patterns contained qualities indicative of high tension, suggesting she felt distraught. She did not notice us,> Muybridge said, with a hint of sadness.

Eastman bumped Muybridge's dome reproachfully. <She will pet us later. She paced and walked about and hugged her own elbows, nonverbal cues of discomfort. When Daddy returned on Spider-bot she exhaled heavily and smiled, signs that she was relieved at his return. Before the shouting. But,> it continued, giving Spikeless a thoughtful look, <more observation is needed before a consensus can be reached.>

<Is there an increase in her perspiration when in Daddy's presence? And does it indicate fear or excitement?>

Another mental shrug. They hadn't paid attention.

The brainbots turned toward the silent figure in the Chair. They would need to observe Miss Ritchi a bit more before they could come to an agreement on the 'Mommy' title.

Nonetheless a muted excitement spread among them. They'd never had a Mommy in the family. More brainbots and brutebots flew in to join the huddle, then flew off again, and from neural network to neural network the discussion travelled among busy minds.

- - - - - - - -

Minion puttered around the monitor area keeping an eye on the comm, and an eye on Miss Ritchi, of course. Jessica, who was scheduled to be on comm duty but had vacated the premises when the shouting started, peered around the curtain.

Minion smiled in reassurance and waved her over. Jessica crept back into the comm chair, throwing an anxious glance at the silent figure brooding in the swivel chair, but Miss Ritchi didn't look up.

He was torn between staying with Miss Ritchi and going to check on Sir, but decided that a little quiet time would be good for everybody. And the hardness in Miss Ritchi's eyes wasn't unlike the look on Sir's face right before he decided to confront the army.

Minion was feeling a little broody himself. He wished now that he had put down the zombie baby himself, but...well, he hadn't realized that Sir would take it so hard. Sir had seemed able to handle it at the time, it wasn't like finishing off that little zombie was difficult. Not physically, anyway.

He drew back the curtain. Faces looked over expectantly from knots of people nearby, the henchmen, ex-cons, and prison guards grouped around Tony stuck to the chair, and another group on the other side of the Lair consisting mostly of Hank and the other cops.

They were still dividing themselves along enemy lines. Well, if the prison guards had managed to put aside their differences and bond with the ex-cons, maybe the cops would come around too. They'd have to learn to work together sooner or later.

Interestingly, Noelle was sticking close to Bernard, who was sticking close to Tony. On the wrong side of the law, as it were.

Police officer Hank, scowling at his wife Noelle, clearly didn't like that at all, though Noelle kept her back turned on him in mute defiance. She was also trying to keep her back turned on Jessica, her husband's lover. As the two people she was snubbing were on opposite sides, she looked as if she was trying to crawl into a shell.

Bernard, leaning against Tony's chair with his arms crossed, chuckled at something Tony said.

Minion blinked. Bernard had been pretty freaked out by that zombie baby, too, but now he wore a little smile and the corners of his eyes crinkled. Tony grinned widely and gave Bernard a little wink. A faint blush colored Bernard's cheeks.

Huh. Something's going on between those two, or I'm not a cyborg henchfish.

Noelle glanced at her rival, Jessica. It was only for a moment but such fury blazed in her eyes that Minion was surprised the air didn't catch fire.

Whoa, that wasn't going to end well. Minion recalled that Noelle was pretty handy at swinging a crowbar at zombies. A skill like that could easily transfer itself to other matters in one's life, and Minion wondered if it would help Noelle to have a friendly shoulder to cry on, or if she would resent any offer of help as an intrusion. She was friends with Bernard, he'd noticed, maybe Bernard could...

Tony called,”Sir? Sir?” a little more loudly, and at last Minion realized Tony was talking to him.

Minion made his face stern. Respect was all well and good but things could get a little confusing if these titles didn't get straightened out. “I'm not Sir. Sir's the only Sir. Got it?”

“Uh, yes, si-...Mister Minion. Um...”

“Just Minion's fine,” he said.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” Tony squirmed around to emphasize his point.

Minion tapped his chin, or at least made the approximate gesture and clicked his metal fingertip against his dome. Sir had said to leave Tony there until he healed, but clearly that had its drawbacks. Minion could have ordered the other henchmen to carry Tony to the bathroom and...assist him, but that brought on a number of other problems, not the least of which was simple physics.

Besides that, it would be cruel to force Tony to stay in that chair all night and day. I better have a talk with Sir about a lighter punishment.
“I'll let you loose, but when you're done you better get your butt right back in that chair until I can make it right with Sir. Be right back.” Minion trundled off to find the acetone and WD-40 which would dissolve the glue.

As he passed the monitor station, Miss Ritchi pushed out of the swivel chair and walked toward him. Minion turned to her. “Yes, Miss Ritchi?”

“Minion, I need a favor.”

“Whatever you need, Miss Ritchi,” he said, briefly putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I want a meeting, but... it might seem a little odd.”

“Miss Ritchi, look who I work for. Odd is my specialty.” He smiled, but the grim expression on her face didn't change. He quit trying to lighten the mood. “What's it about?”

“I want people who have experience killing, or are trained for it.”

Minion shifted his feet. Yikes. He hadn't expected this. “Uh, okay. What for?”

She stared at him, and gave herself a shake, pulling her thoughts out of the depths and putting a hand on his hairy forearm. “I'm not going on a rampage, don't worry. What I want is a list of volunteers for designated shooter.”

- - - - - - - -

It didn't take too long to gather people together, as most of the likely candidates were nearby, though Minion still had to set Tony loose. A mixed assortment of cops, ex-cons, prison guards, and denizens with past military experience joined Roxanne in a distant corner of the Lair, where they could talk about the sensitive subject in relative privacy.

Working with the brainbots, Minion pushed aside piles of folders and bulletin boards to make some space for people to sit on the floor. He set up monitors so the people at the water plant and the fire station could be included. All four of Hot Flash's henchmen were currently present, having tagged along back to the Lair, but Hot Flash appeared on screen to take a grudging interest. Firefighters crowded into the other screen.

Volunteers only, Roxanne insisted. And designated shooters would have to show a certain sympathy for family and friends of known zombies. A bedside manner, as it were. No cheering or fist pumping or anything of that nature, if, say, the parent, best friend, son or daughter of a zombified person had to witness their loved one getting gunned down.

She planned on being the first one on the list, even though she didn't have any formal training and had never so much as picked up a gun until a month ago, to show she was willing to take on this distasteful chore. But Minion took the pen out of her hand, which she had been nervously twirling around with her fingers, and said, “Excuse me, Miss Ritchi, but you're not qualified. By your own rules.” And he looked at her so severely she was unable to protest.

So Minion was the first to sign up, which compelled the other henchmen to add their names. Most of the cops signed up, and some civilians with military service, including a few ex-cons, some of whom Roxanne suspected didn't have any actual training from an officially recognized authority, but probably had some real-world experience, though no questions were asked.

She didn't want to think about what sort of experience Minion had in this particular area, but then, she didn't need to know. The fact that Minion was a good friend and a fierce defender was enough for her.

Not everyone signed right away, some wanted time to think about it, but Roxanne felt that it was a good start.

As the meeting ended and people wandered off, Hot Flash spoke for the first time. “Damn, girl, I guess you're more than just a pretty face.”

“Damn right,” Roxanne said. “And the name's Roxanne.”

Hot Flash stared at her with a wooden expression. Roxanne wondered if she'd antagonized the older woman, but she was too tired to care, and she stared right back.

A slow grin split Hot Flash's face, and Roxanne felt something like a real smile tug at her own mouth. She felt as if she'd joined a club. Hot Flash gave her a little nod, from one high-ranking woman to another.

Except Hot Flash wasn't supposed to be in any kind of position of power. The ex-supervillain's place in the new order of the city was still unclear, but Roxanne had a feeling that Hot Flash wasn't ready to retire yet, despite her words to the contrary.

Roxanne thought at one point during the meeting she'd noticed Hot Flash turn to the side to light up a cigarette, but Roxanne didn't see a lighter or a match.

Now, it might have been off-screen, but Roxanne made a mental note to keep an eye on the former supervillain.

Hot Flash coughed out a cloud of smoke and cleared her throat. “So when's the wedding?” she said with a smirk.

An outraged snort escaped before Roxanne could stop it. “Why? You gonna throw a bachelorette party?”

“I'm your gal.”

Banter. What is it with supervillains and banter? To put an end to the conversation, Roxanne said, “We'll send a couple of gunmen over for security tonight.”

After asking Minion to choose the security detail for the water plant, she went to find Megamind.

He wasn't in their room. Roxanne checked his private bathroom, the public restroom, and the lab, her uneasiness growing. If only she'd gone after him right away. If only she hadn't sat around planning that meeting, no matter how necessary, she'd know where he was.

A brainbot growled at her when she entered the lab, but she snapped, “Quit it,” and the 'bot backed away. As she left the lab it nudged at her hand and 'bowg-ed' in an apologetic way, and for some reason sniffed at her armpit. Feeling a little guilty for snapping at it, she stroked its dome as she'd seen Megamind do and it wiggled happily like a dog, albeit a dog with a transparent, electricity-filled head.

As she strode past a row of beds where people were talking and playing cards, Pastor Mike appeared at her elbow. “Miss Ritchi, please, slow down,” he gasped.

Roxanne ran her gaze around the Lair again, searching in vain for a distinctive blue head among the milling denizens. “Look, I'm kind of busy right now, pastor. Can we talk later?”

He wiped his sleeve across his forehead. “I know, I'm sorry, this'll only take a minute. Only, I was wondering, when you get around to it, when you talk to the Overlord, well, hopefully sooner rather than later, if you could...”

Roxanne ground her teeth. This always happened in interviews, too, or when she took questions from an audience. Whenever they promised to 'keep it short' or said 'I'll be brief' it was always anything but short or brief. “What is it?” 

He wiped his head again. “Could you ask him to please not feed that unfortunate soul to the alligators?”

She stared at him, drawing a blank. Then it clicked. “Oh, the sniper.” She clenched her hand into a fist.

“I fear it shows a callous disregard for human life,” the pastor said, twisting his hands. “Or at least the... the bodily remains. The Overlord's actions toward rescuing citizens have been commendable, astoundingly so, given his claim to be evil. In fact, I'm beginning to question it, and I feel that threatening to feed people to alligators is...is a tad harsh. As for this dead man, surely there is an argument to be made for proper disposal of human remains, so that...”

“Pastor,” Roxanne interrupted, “If you expect me to argue on your behalf, then first of all you'll have to convince me that that bastard didn't get exactly what he deserved.”

The pastor's mouth opened and closed a couple of times. He hadn't considered that she might approve of Megamind's methods, and Roxanne didn't have any more patience for standing around discussing ethical quandaries. She strode past him to continue her search.

“Well, do you think you could at least ask him to stop calling me padre?” came the pastor's plaintive voice.

But, damn it, aside from murderous snipers, Pastor Mike was right to raise concerns about the Lair rules. She probably should talk to Megamind about it.

Shoving people into pits to get devoured by savage beasts might be a time-honored tradition for supervillains and overlords alike, but despite being threatened with it herself in the old kidnapping days, she was certain that he'd never actually dropped anyone into the alligator pit.

Almost certain. Reasonably certain.

And even if he had, they probably deserved it, she thought defiantly.

Still, she didn't want to see Megamind become the kind of leader who'd put heads on spikes or anything like that. That kind of thing was just wrong. Megamind was better than that.

She heard the open-platform elevator coming down from the roof and she hurried over to it, but it was Gabby and Nina stepping off it, each with a blanket over her shoulder and whispering to each other. Roxanne began to turn away, but Gabby called to her.

“Oh! Miss Ritchi, are you looking for him? He's up there. We were...” She blushed. “Checking on the plants.”

Nina rolled her eyes and slipped an arm around Gabby's waist. “Honey, enough with the plants. I don't think she cares. There's a couch in the greenhouse,” she explained to Roxanne. “It's nice for some privacy at night. We heard the elevator, and found the Overlord was pacing around the roof. I don't think he knew we were there until we came out of the greenhouse. Gabby said the plants were doing great, and he said, 'Wonderful. We'll have salad with our rat steaks.' No offense, Miss Ritchi, but I think he's losing it.”

Roxanne nodded. This explained Nina's absence from the meeting. She'd been having some private time with her girlfriend. “I'll go talk to him. Nina, you were in boot camp, right?”

Nina's face went still. “Yeah. A few weeks.”

“Go see Minion about the volunteer list. He'll explain, and you can decide if you can handle being on the roster.”

“Yes, Miss Ritchi.”

Roxanne took the elevator up to the roof, thinking about how nearly everyone was calling her Miss Ritchi, now, even people from her original refugee group. She hoped Pilar and Agnes didn't start.

She reached the roof, which was dominated by the greenhouse. She expected to find Megamind pacing around, but she had to walk around the greenhouse to find Megamind curled up in its shadow, his back against the low wall that surrounded the roof, his arms wrapped around his knees and his head pressed into his forearms.

He looked up at the sound of her footsteps, then lowered his eyes. She slid down to sit next to him and leaned her back against the wall. It was so dark that his head and the spikes on his arms and shoulders appeared to be floating in blackness.

“Hey,” she said.

“Ollo,” he murmured, staring at his knees.

She hugged her stomach, letting her injured arm rest on the good one. “There's going to be a rotation. I asked for volunteers to take turns being the designated shooter to handle these hard cases. Minion and your four henchmen signed on, and the cops, and some others.”

A flicker of surprise moved deep in Megamind's eyes.

She stared back levelly. “And you are not going to be on that list.”

He shifted his weight but his arms stayed locked around his knees. “Doesn't seem fair. I should...”

“What's not fair is you being the only one on the hook for every horrible situation that comes up,” she said, more sharply than she intended.

Soft gray light shone on them through the top of the greenhouse and her night vision was good enough now so she could see his gloved hands tightening on his elbows. The spiked mantle on his shoulders moved as he heaved a sigh. The arm spikes had left a little row of indentations in his forehead.

She reached out and put her hand over his, the hand locked so tightly around his elbow, and struggled to find the right words. “All of this is too much for one person.” She waved her other hand around, to indicate the vastness of the city. “Others can share the burden. The city needs you, Megamind, but I need you too.” Her throat tightened and she blinked back tears.

What she was asking, she realized, was that he save some of his energy for his own sake, and for her. For them. Because the city was a bottomless pit of need and he could give and give and give until he was utterly spent and nothing but an empty shell remained.

She would not let that happen.

His eyes shone in the gray light. “Roxanne,” he whispered, and at last he uncurled, lowering his knees and shifting to face her, and he held her hand. “I...” He gulped and looked down at their joined hands. “I need you, too.”

Her heart trembled inside her. The truth is, Megamind, I think I'm falling in love with you. Oh, God, she couldn't say that. Too much pressure. This was no time to get into a huge emotional examination of their feelings for each other, to cross examine him about what he really meant, or make demands about his intentions toward her, not when he was in such a state of exhaustion, not when he was so raw and stripped bare.

She wiped her eyes and wriggled around a bit, trying to get comfortable, but her shoulder felt sore from where it pressed against the unyielding concrete wall. “Want to sit somewhere else? I hear there's a couch in the greenhouse.”

He nodded mutely and once they'd climbed to their feet, she took his hand and led him through the door.

Rows of seedlings in long troughs filled with water ran the length of the greenhouse. The couch was by the door. It was cool and misty.

She had him take off the spiked mantle and cape, but when it came to the gloves, he hesitated. “My hands got sweaty. I should wash.”

“I don't mind.”

One of his gloves made a clunk noise when it hit the floor. “What's that?”

He picked up the glove and held it out to show her a thin sheath about four inches long, hidden between the spikes, where it would lie along his forearm. “Retractable truncheon.”

“Can I see?”

He drew it of its hiding place and, with a flick of his wrist, it shot out to a length of two feet. He swept it through the air, making swooshing sounds. “Great way to even the odds, in certain circumstances,” he said, in something like his normal voice.

“Hm. I'll bet it is,” she said.

He slashed it through the air again. “Kneecap. Collarbone. Elbow. Like that!” he said with a fierce grin, attacking an imaginary opponent, and she found herself admiring the easy way he handled the weapon, and the way his uniform outlined his smooth biceps.

As if suddenly aware of the intensity of her gaze, he faltered, made a couple more half-hearted movements, and folded it up. “Well, it's useful, anyway.” He tucked the truncheon back into the sheath in the glove and self-consciously rubbed his palms on his thighs before sitting next to her.

“Closer,” she said, beckoning. “Put your head on my shoulder. Now all those spikes are out of the way, I can hold you decently.”

Once he was settled, with her leaning back and his arms wrapped around her waist and his head on her shoulder, she asked, “You want to talk about it? If you want to. Even if you felt like crying.”

She felt him shrug. “Oh, I don't know. I don't really feel much of anything right now. Numb.”

“That's okay."

They listened to the faint sounds of people moving about the Lair far below, and the soft sound of water trickling through the greenhouse. With his head nestled against her shoulder, his breath warmed a spot on her shirt. She had the urge to kiss the curve of his bald head which was so invitingly close, but the gesture seemed too motherly, and she did not feel motherly. She would very much like to comfort him another way.

Maybe after a little more talking...

“If you'd rather talk to Minion, I'll understand.”

Again there was a little shrugging of his shoulders. “It's not that. I just... I've kind of pushed everything down. Probably cry later in the shower,” he murmured into her shirt. “That's usually how it goes.”

“Oh, yeah?” She stroked his arm.

He raised his head and smiled back. “Yeah, usually.”

They stared at each other and Roxanne's breath quickened. She thought he was about to kiss her. There was a definite glint in his eye, and then it clouded over.

He tried to hide it, stretching up and kissing her anyway, but she could tell his heart wasn't in it. The rawness was still there, dragging him down.

His lips were pressed to hers, but it was mechanical. There were none of the sweet, shy, exploratory movements he'd shown in their last kissing sessions. Though her arms were around his shoulders, his hands braced against the cushions on either side of her as if he was on the verge of leaping away.

She felt like crying. He was trying to make himself go through the motions because he thought it was what she wanted.

And she did want it. Wanted him. But not like this. It felt... cruel, like it didn't matter to her that he was hurting, and it did matter to her a great deal.

She put her hand on his shoulder and gave him a little push. He pulled back and she could see the misery in his eyes. Gently she touched his cheek with her fingertips. “You're not really in the mood, are you.” It wasn't a question.

He backed off her and sat up, leaning his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. “I don't know what's wrong with me.”

She ran a hand up and down his back, feeling the tightness in his long muscles. “You had an... unbelievably bad day, honey. I don't expect you to... to be ready to go at a moment's notice.”

She kept rubbing his back and after a minute or so she felt some of the tension leave him and he risked a glance at her.

“Roxanne,” he murmured. He rubbed his face, then let his hands fall into his lap in a hopeless way. “My... my head is kind of messed up right now. I feel like I'm in a really bad place, I don't think I can... no matter how much I want...” He swallowed. “You deserve...so much more. If I weren't so...so messed up...”

“Shh, it's all right, really it is,” she said. Her heart gave a painful squeeze. “The last thing I want is... when you don't really feel like...”

“But I wanted you this morning,” he blurted out.

- - - - -

To be continued...

Chapter Text


Megamind's face burned with mortification. That was NOT what he'd meant to say. Maybe it was the stress, or the exhaustion, or....

The flask! Could've been the booze. Had Hot Flash spiked it? I'm going to kill her. Then again, he could get pretty loopy on liquor, especially on an empty stomach. He didn't remember the last time he ate, why had Minion let him go so long without eating? What the hell was the matter with everybody?

Roxanne's eyes were wide and startled, and he struggled to get control of his panicking thoughts and his raging desire to find someone to blame for his own idiocy.

“I...I mean, you're very attractive. I mean, you're hot. No! What I meant was, it's not you, it's me.”

She arched an eyebrow at him.

He flapped his hands, grimacing madly. “That's not...I shouldn't've... It's a terrible cliche, but it really is me!”

His voice rose in pitch until it was an octave higher than when he started. “There's nothing wrong with you. I'm the one that's a mess. A perfectly healthy autonomous woman in touch with her own needs and desires has every right to expect a similar response from...”

Roxanne grabbed his hands. “Megamind, you're spiraling,” she said. “I'm telling you, it's all right.”

She smiled, warm and understanding. She seemed amused and... possibly flattered? In the dim light it was hard to tell, but he thought there was a soft blush on her cheeks. Her warm hands and cooler fingertips were soothing. Her palm cradled his bony knuckles while she rubbed her thumb over the back of the other. He relaxed, relieved that he'd gotten his mouth to shut off, and flopped back with a heavy exhalation and she sat back, too, laying her head on the back of the couch.

“It's possible we're going a little too fast,” Roxanne said, pushing her hair behind her ear. “I wish we could get a break and go on a date.”

“Me, too,” he said, with feeling. “A real date. Like normal people.”

“Dinner at a great restaurant.”

“See a movie.”

“Bike rides in the park.”

“Uh, yeah.” Drat. He didn't know how to ride a bike.

She sighed and closed her eyes. “Hell, lounging around in sweats with a pizza and a DVD sounds pretty good right now. Get to know each other a little better.”

He tilted his head. “But we kind of.... know each other already, though, right?”

“Well, yeah, but only in a kidnapper/kidnappee-who-refuses-to-play-the-victim kind of way.” She smirked.

“There must be an easier way to say that.”

“The word hasn't been invented yet.”

“Too true,” he chuckled. He chewed his lip, trying to think of what other normal things normal couples did. “Or...a walk on the beach?” He sat up on the edge of the cushion. “Hey, we could go for a walk right now, if you want. Plenty of shoreline.”

Her eyes snapped open. “Uh, yeah. Maybe,” she said faintly, frowning at the ceiling.

Consternation flooded through him and he blushed. “I mean...well... Not the beach where you were viciously attacked today,” he said. “Definitely not there. But the south shore actually has quite a nice old boardwalk.”

She turned her head toward him. “And watch the zombies glide up through the water?”

“While the brainbots swoop in and tear them apart,” he said, and rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Fun times.” Exhaustion, which had been momentarily swallowed by his enthusiasm, came crashing back and he sagged.

“You're too tired, anyway. And so am I. We can figure out something later.” She rubbed the back of her neck in a slow, thoughtful way, smiling ruefully at the rows of seedlings lining the greenhouse.

He swallowed and looked away. The unconscious, innocent gesture on her part sent nervous sparks up his spine.

Women sometimes touched themselves when they wanted someone else to touch them. He'd read that somewhere.

He lifted his hand to... to stroke her arm, but stopped. A little smudge of blood was visible on the large bandaid on her forearm. Silently he pummeled himself again. Idiot.

Walk on the beach?

God, no, she wouldn't want to go to the beach.

Gently he reached out and touched her wrist with the backs of his fingers. “You've had an unbelievably bad day, too,” he murmured, half apology, half sort of an opening to encourage her to talk, too, if she wanted.

Her soft smile faded away and the corners of her mouth turned down. “Megamind, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean any of it.”

Sorrow washed through him, and he gathered her into his arms and pulled her close, settling her head into the crook between his neck and shoulder. He slipped his right arm around her waist, careful to not touch her hurt arm too much.

“It's all right, please don't be sad, I deserved it.” He wanted to call her sweetheart and dearest and love of my life but was afraid that once he started he wouldn't be able to stop.

I need you, I want you, I love you. Two out of three wasn't bad, but aaargh, he was a total coward, he couldn't say the last of it. What, he could tell her he wanted to have sex with her but not that he loved her? Where was the sense in that?

It just...didn't feel like the right time.

When was the right time? Was there ever a right time? It'd been a long day and he was wrecked, pure and simple.

But oh, how wonderful was this, to hold each other and soothe the hurts they'd inflicted on each other. She was letting him touch her and hold her and... and they were talking, really talking about things.

So this was love, too. Not only the butterflies in the stomach and helpless yearning and desire, but this. This talking and sharing.

“You don't deserve to get yelled at,” she said. “Don't say that.”

“But we had an understanding that I'd at least clue you in on when I'd take action. And I plowed ahead anyway. I didn't mean what I said, either. 'Know-it-all' was a cheap shot.” He grimaced, ashamed of himself. “I happen to love your brilliance. All the better to become Evil Queen.”

She let out an undignified snort. “Don't trot me off to the altar yet. Geez.”

“Yet? So, it could potentially, possibly be a...”

“Megamind,” she said, her voice almost a growl.

“Okay, I'll quit it.” Warm little sparks danced in his chest. He gave her a little squeeze and nuzzled her head, her hair tickling his nose. Intriguing. Lightly he moved his face back and forth, feeling the sensation of individual hairs brushing over his cheek and lips. “I wished you were there at the barricade. So you could see me in action.”

“Yeah. You know, maybe I was a little mad, too, that I missed out on that scoop! I like how you keep fighting. How you never give up.”

That made him pause his nuzzling. “Really?”

“Yeah, really.”

“I thought that irritated you. My perseverance.”

“Eh.” She shrugged and nestled into his neck again. “You've got a lot of energy. Your crazy plans to defeat Metro Man. That was just you constantly throwing yourself at a brick wall. I didn't like seeing you get hurt.”

“Since when? You always seemed pretty relieved when your lover boy came to free you.”

She sat up so she could face him. “Because it meant I was going to get out of those damn ropes,” she said sharply. “I did not like that.” Her teeth came together with a click as she bit off the last word.

He bit his lip and twiddled his fingers together. “I suppose,” he said, “that now might be a good time to apologize for kidnapping you?”

“Yeah. Was that it?” She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms to form an impassable barrier. “Because I'm not impressed.”

He slid off the couch onto his knees. Carefully, watching for adverse reactions, he drew out one of her hands and cradled it in his own. “Miss Ritchi, I most humbly beg your pardon for repeatedly kidnapping you, tying you up, and putting you in countless death traps. Will you forgive me?”

“And terrorizing the city?”

“Yes, and that.”

“How about when you crashed the family reunion at my mom's and kidnapped me right in front of everybody? Because that was incredibly humiliating. My aunt Tina and her stupid son, Brandon, still won't shut up about it.”

“Of...of course. Very sorry about that, too.” Uh oh. She had him where she wanted him. If she was going to run down the list of his evil acts, this would take a while.

Imperiously she studied him from under her lashes, and then relented, her stern face relaxing into a smile. “All right. Apology accepted. God, you look like you're worried I won't forgive you. Get up already.”

Grinning, he got up and, after brushing off his knees, resumed his seat and raised his arms to invite her into his embrace again.

But she clasped her hands together in her lap. She seemed to steel herself against an inner conflict, then took a deep breath. “And he wasn't, you know.”

“Wasn't what?”

“Metro Man wasn't my lover boy. We were never a couple.”

He gasped. “You're kidding! Seriously? Why didn't you tell me?”

“Oh, like you would've believed me. You would've thought I was trying to get out of being your number one victim.”

She scoffed at his slack-jawed expression. “It was something everyone assumed, and we played along. Great for ratings. You know how it is. But he wasn't really my type.”

“I thought he was every woman's type.”

“Not mine.” Her eyes flashed. “Especially now.” With determination, she settled firmly back into the circle of his arms. “I don't even want to talk about him anymore.”

He didn't want to talk about Metro Man, either, and he pressed his cheek into her hair again. Ooo, the hair tickled his nose, too.

“What are you doing?”

He froze. “Oh. Um. Your...your hair. I guess I was...feeling it. It's such a new sensation. I didn't really appreciate it before. Um. Is that weird?”

She chuckled, sending a pleasant tremor through him. “No, not at all.”

“And it smells so nice.”

“It should. I washed it twice to get that zombie gunk out.” She tossed her head irritably. “Ucch, my bangs keep falling in my face. I lost my barrette.”

“Why don't you have Britney give you a trim?” Megamind said. “I'm sure she'd be happy to. She's a hair stylist.”

Roxanne became very still in his arms. “No, I don't think so.”

“Why not? I'm sure we could rustle up some scissors.”

Roxanne gave out a little sigh that sounded oddly aggravated. He had a feeling that something wasn't quite right, but what exactly was wrong, he couldn't say.

“Is Britney bothering you?” he asked.

“Why do you say that?” she said, a bit sharply, he thought.

He shifted in his seat, feeling more confused than ever, and he wished he hadn't said anything. It felt like another argument was about to happen, and he didn't even know why. “I guess I... well... Want me to kick her out of the Lair?”

“What? No,” she said, shocked. Then, cautiously, as if trying out the idea, “You'd do that for me?”

“Sure. She could find another perfectly good floor to sleep on somewhere else in the safe zone.” He wrinkled his nose in distaste, thinking of Hal. “I suppose I'd give her a taser and see to it that she has a lock on whatever door she sleeps behind, so... yes, if she's that much of a...”

“Er, no, I'd hate to have her run into Hal. She can stay.” She turned her face up to his, stretched up, and gave him a soft kiss. “Thanks for the offer, though.”

She snuggled back in his arms and he hugged her close, feeling like his heart was full of sunshine. It was good of her to be concerned for Britney's safety, even if she didn't like her. Roxanne truly had a noble heart and mind. Despite her sharp tongue she cared about the welfare of others, and he believed she felt as strong a loyalty for this city, for all its faults, as much as he did.

He was just glad there hadn't been another argument because he would have had no idea how to apologize for it.

After a minute or two of quiet bliss, Roxanne said, “Still can't break through the frequency jamming?”

“No. I might have to sneak out to the jamming towers and disable each one individually.”

“Or you could use a really big piece of metal.”

He cocked his head speculatively as she clearly had an idea, and looked rather smug about it, too. “Such as?”

“Railroad tracks,” she said. “Hook a line up to a track. Signals travel a lot farther through metal than through air. The signal will be broadcast all along the track for a good two hundred miles or so, and will be carried well outside the range of the jamming towers. A radio station on the east coast tried it a few years ago, and the authorities made them stop because the transmission was so powerful it was interfering with other communications.”

He tapped his chin. “That...would work. Except they might blow up the track.” But his mind was already buzzing with possibilities. Blowing up the tracks was a pretty drastic response, they'd probably be reluctant to damage infrastructure. What's more, there were at least three tracks he knew of that went outside the city limits. If one track was disabled, there was always another.

“They won't be able to tell how the signals are getting out. But even if they did, the railroad companies are still a powerful national business. The army won't dare blow up the tracks. Even if they do, well, then, we'll find another way.”

“I was thinking much the same, Miss Ritchi. I love it when you're devilish.”

“You would,” she said, eyes dancing with merriment. “You need to make a public service announcement. An official call for aid.”

“But I already did. Remember? You were just yelling at me about it a little while ago.”

She sat up and flapped her hand with only a trace amount of guilt, all but vibrating with new energy. “Yeah, yeah, and I'm sure it was very villainous. This one will be for civilians. In a mayoral way. A little bit less confrontational. But serious, somber. Damn, maybe we should do it in the morning, so there'll be shots of citizens in the background. The hustle and bustle of the rescue efforts. I'll write you a script.”

They made their way downstairs, but once Roxanne took over Bernard's desk (nudging Bernard aside, as he seemed to be sleeping under it) and began scribbling away, someone came along and dropped a couple of twenty pound weights on his eyelids. He dropped into the swivel chair and sank into oblivion.

After some time, Minion nudged him in the elbow and said, “I let Tony loose, Sir. He had to take a leak. And I made sure there were guards on the border. Round the clock human watchers, to help out the brainbots. One cop, one henchman. Sir?”

Megamind squinted up at him. The words made no sense and he lowered his head again.

Minion sighed. “Okay, off to bed with you, Sir. Miss Ritchi's brushing her teeth.” He hoisted him to his feet and the Overlord stumbled off to bed.

Even when Roxanne curled up against his back, he barely stirred.

- - - - -

After midnight, the clouds parted. The moon gilded the tents and jeeps white, and made the armor of the superheroine known as Silver Knight sparkle. She strode through the army encampment in righteous fury, a flyer from the self-proclaimed Overlord of Metro City in her fist.

Metro City. The little spit of land inhabited by the supervillain Megamind was as brightly lit as ever, a sliver of light against the black hulk of the city.

Beacons against the night.

Only the lights had spread since the last time she'd visited the stricken city, she was sure of it. Megamind had obviously connected at least two more streets to his electrical grid, and another oasis of lights had appeared a mile away from Megamind's Evil Lair, which, a soldier had whispered to her, they thought might be the water treatment plant.

It was hard to say. They hadn't gotten any real intel, except from satellite photos, for weeks. The brainbots kept eating the drones.

But why bother connecting other parts of the city to his grid if the population was dying off? There was no point, unless Megamind had gone truly mad.

The fact of Megamind's survival was proof that his alien biology was not susceptible to the virus, fair enough, but quite frankly she'd never been wholly convinced that the army and its supportive superheroes had successfully contained the supervillain. Megamind was a master of escape. So why hadn't he made an escape attempt? Maybe he really was insane, and too stubborn to abandon the city.

But sending out flyers? Well, she supposed a madman might get it into his head to pretend the citizenry still existed. Except the text was perfectly coherent, hardly the ramblings and pompous declarations of a self-absorbed madman.

And its assertions chilled her to the bone.

Not fatal. The virus had changed.

She'd just been in Chicago to investigate rumors of a zombie sighting, that the darn thing had lurched right out of the lake, which made no sense at all. Everyone knew zombies didn't go into water more than three feet deep. A lot of cities and towns were investing in moats for this very reason, but maybe it would all be a wasted expenditure, if the zombies really had somehow figured out water posed no barrier to those who didn't need to breathe.

She'd been treated with outright hostility from Chicago's mayor, the city council, and the police force, all of whom denied that there had been any zombie. The League of Heroes must have heard wrong, she was told.

Even the city's super-powered Defender, Apex, was cold and distant, backing up everything the city authorities claimed. No, there was no zombie. Had never been a zombie. Chicago was clean of the virus.

And so, no need for a quarantine. He said it in such a way that she got the feeling an attempt to quarantine the city would lead to complete rebellion.

Their hostility was palpable, and she felt lucky to get out of Chicago in one piece.

And now this.

She marched up to the trailer that served as army headquarters. The soldiers guarding the door glanced at her, but didn't make any attempt to stop her.

She flung the door back with a crash.

Four men looked up. Major Rutherford standing by a projector, and the two other superheroes from the League, Powerhouse and Stratego, and Stratego's sidekick Rook.

Her colleagues. The ones she trusted. The ones hiding things from her.

The video projected onto the screen showed a still of a video. The corner of a humvee and the back of a helmeted soldier's head. And beyond that, some little ways down the deserted highway, Megamind on the Spider-bot with a swarm of brainbots with evil glowing eyes. Images of four men, strangers to her, were projected above his head.

The hulk of a burned out SUV was visible between the Spider-bot's legs, and three people with a gray body bag. Further back, another vehicle was just visible on the road.

With long practice of taking in the sweep of a battlefield at a glance, she observed all this, including the tiny glint of metal onscreen which might have been a police badge hanging from the neck of one of the people lifting the body bag, before Rutherford clicked off the screen.

“So there are survivors,” she said.

“Not so loud,” Powerhouse growled. He went past her and slammed the door shut, making the trailer rock on its foundations.

She held up the flyer. “I think the secret's out. I'd like to know when you were going to tell me that little detail.”

Stratego winced. “We meant to inform you once we finished assessing the...”

“This flyer,” she said. “This flyer is clearly a public service announcement. How many?”

“Sil, maybe you ought to sit down.”

“How many people,” she thundered, “have we trapped inside? With hordes of zombies?”

“Didn't seem to bother you before,” Powerhouse said.

She whirled, her anger flowing through her veins white-hot. Her hand dropped to the hilt of her Sword of Justice. “Say that again,” she said.

Scowling, Powerhouse said, "You're not focussed on the real problem. As usual. This supervillain takin' over is the..."

Stratego snapped. “Enough of this! Both of you, sit down.”

Powerhouse brushed past her to go back to the table but he didn't take his chair again. Silver Knight remained standing, but she let go of the sword hilt.

She said, “I was told, you told me, in fact, that the virus was so vicious that it would burn through the population in as little as seven days. That there was only one way to stop it from consuming the nation, nay, even the entire planet. That a complete quarantine of the three infected cities was our only hope, no matter how distasteful the action. And now what are you going to tell me?” She laughed without humor. “That we might have made a mistake? It's been weeks. People are still alive in there! They must be starving. We need to end the quarantine immediately.”

Powerhouse groaned and rolled his eyes. “Told you,” he said to Stratego.

“These are delicate matters, Sil. And your sense of justice is a little... too strong. We need clear heads to make decisions.”

“Him? A clear head?” Silver Knight said, pointing at Powerhouse.

“In any case,” Stratego said loudly as Powerhouse bristled, “only Congress can authorize an end to the quarantine.”

“But if this is true, then the virus isn't fatal.”

“How could Megamind possibly have determined that? Whatever his methods, he's no medical doctor. Even if it's true, think about it for a minute. Think about how it'll warp society if this virus gets out. You'd have to stand at Grandma's deathbed with a rifle to make sure she stays down. It'd be standard procedure at morgues and hospices. Might as well forget about forensics. How can police solve murders if the victims get up and leave the scene?" He paused to let his words sink in.

Silver Knight thought about Apex. He'd lied to her face about the zombie sighting in Chicago, she was sure of it. But she had no proof and she wasn't going to share her misgivings with Stratego. Not anymore. It might be too late to contain the virus in any case.

“We've begun tests on the Louisville population," he continued. "The National Institute of Health and V-Tech Labs are on the job. Should take about eight weeks or so. They'll find out whether or not this virus has truly evolved, and once we have the results, we'll have a better idea for how to proceed.”

“You want to wait another eight weeks before you'll even consider sending in food aid? Why?” She couldn't wrap her head around his cruelty. I never should have agreed to support the quarantine. I knew it was heartless. Not the sort of thing that heroes should agree to. It's become a slippery slope of 'for the good of the nation, we must make sacrifices.' Only we're not the ones being sacrificed.

“We can't simply do nothing! Food and medicine are being delivered to Louisville, I don't understand why...”

“Supplies are being sent to the Louisville camps,” Stratego said. “In a controlled environment. Megamind's brainbots are everywhere. Any aid we send into the city will most likely be either confiscated or destroyed. He could re-sell it to the citizens to make a profit or use it to force people to do his bidding. It would be a waste of resources. Imagine how the press would present it. We're getting hammered by the media, Sil. They'll present it as another example of the League's incompetence. We may even be accused of aiding a supervillain.”

Anger rose in her again, a cold, silent fury that filled the room. “People are facing starvation, and you worry about our image."

Stratego's cowled face was taut with anger of his own. “There are other important considerations. Our food supply isn't as... robust as most people think it is.”

“Are you saying we're facing a shortage? The United States?” She almost laughed. “Our national grain reserves alone are enough to...”

“They were liquidated five years ago,” he interrupted. “Seen as redundant and sold. The money was funneled into more lucrative projects.”

He sighed at her shocked expression. “It barely made a dent in the business section. At the time, no one cared. World trade was so good, and, as you said, this is the United States. Famine doesn't happen here. Or so it's long been believed. You know China and Argentina have halted trade with us until we ensure the virus won't spread to their shores. And California is threatening secession.”

“What? When?” California produced over seventy percent of the nation's produce. Secession?

“Since they started erecting checkpoints along the state line. Announced it an hour ago.” He leaned on the table and held his forefinger and thumb close together. “Our country is this close to fragmenting. We must show a united front, Sil.”

She narrowed her eyes. He hadn't informed her of this secret meeting, nor notified her of Megamind's takeover of the city. Her head was spinning, but she no longer trusted him or his information.

“We ought to see what Metro Man and the other League members have to say about this do-nothing plan of yours,” she said, and began to stride out.

“I have complete authority to act on the League's behalf. To offer assistance to the military in whatever capacity they need, and right now, this is what's needed. To contain this new threat.”

Rook stepped in front of  the door. Powerhouse shifted his stance. There was a dangerous silence. For the first time, Silver Knight realized that Powerhouse, Stratego, and Rook all owed their superpowers to U.S. military programs.

And she did not.

She dropped her hand on her sword hilt. “If you mean to stop me, go ahead and try.”

“Rook, come on,” Stratego snapped. “Step back.” He glanced at Rutherford, who was gaping at this breakdown among the heroes, and waved his hands impatiently at Powerhouse to stand down.

He only intervened when it was clear I was prepared to fight my way out, she thought scornfully. She wondered if it would have gone differently if Rutherford hadn't been there.

Stratego put his hands behind his back and took a few steps closer. “I'm sorry, they're overzealous. Just a few more minutes of your time. Please.”

Slowly she moved her hand away from her weapon and, at last, gave him a little nod. She at least could honor courtesy, would pay respect to those who showed respect.

Stratego said, “We can't bother Metro Man with something he can't do anything about. Besides, we need his help in dealing with the Robber Barons. We need that oil.” 

Many of the League heroes, including Metro Man, were up to their eyeballs in containing the Robber Barons, who had taken control of southern Texas and its crucial oil refineries.

She felt a moment of disorientation, as if something had brushed across the back of her mind, and she shook her head. Of course it would be selfish of her to call them away to deal with the problems of one city. Of course it would.

She blinked and cast her gaze around the room, feeling slightly dizzy, and then Stratego''s cool voice, clear and steady, captured her attention again. “I understand your concerns, Silver Knight,” he said quietly, looking deep into her eyes. “But the fate of our country is in the balance. Rest assured that Metro City will be dealt with, in good time.”

“Yes, of course. The fate of our country is at stake.” She bit her lip, feeling vaguely embarrassed for failing to understand Stratego's motives. Of course he was acting for the good of the nation. Of course.

She said, “I'll start my patrol. To show we're still on the job.”

Stratego nodded gravely. “It's important to keep up morale. The League appreciates your dedication.”

“I'll go, too,” Powerhouse said. “We can...”

“No,” Stratego snapped.

Silver Knight rocked back on her heels, feeling as if a needle had passed through her head.

Stratego glanced at her. “I mean, yes, by all means, go out on patrol, but maybe you should check on the guards at the barricades. The men could use some cheering up."

Silver Knight rubbed her temple. The pain had departed as quickly as it came, thank goodness, and she turned to go.

Stratego called to her and she paused on the threshold. “If you have any more concerns, come see me right away," he said.

After Powerhouse had also left, Major Rutherford turned on the video again and they somberly regarded the holographic images of Megamind's prisoners. “I'll run this through our database,” Rutherford said. “See if they're really part of the army.”

Stratego waved his hand. “Don't trouble yourself. Megamind was making it up on the fly, manufacturing hostages in an attempt to coerce supplies out of you. They're probably not associated with the military at all. I'll run it through the League database, see if we can identify them.”

Rutherford shrugged and plodded off to his quarters.

“Why didn't you want Silver Knight and Powerhouse to patrol together?” Rook asked.

Stratego snorted. “Are you kidding? He makes her so mad she'll start thinking for herself again. I can't keep planting suggestions or she'll really start rebelling, and I'll lose all influence over her.” Gingerly he sank into one of the chairs, feeling like he could sleep for a week.

His influence over Powerhouse didn't take much effort, as the muscle-bound hero was mostly on the army's side anyway, but using his psychic influence over the strong-willed Silver Knight exhausted him. He had a reputation as a brilliant strategist and negotiator, and usually his verbal skills were enough. But sometimes a little psychic persuasion was necessary to achieve the desired results.

His psychic power, subtle and known only to a few, was a gift from the military, along with increased stamina, greater-than-average strength, and a body that looked great in spandex.

He couldn't achieve utter control over a person, but he could persuade, he could shift a person's perspective, get them to see the light, or at least the light he allowed to get through.

And it would wear off over time, which is why he planted the suggestion in Silver Knight's mind to come talk to him when she started having doubts so he could talk some sense into her again.

“Who do you think those prisoners were?” Rook asked. “Megamind seemed to really think he had a hold of somebody important.”

Stratego stopped rubbing his temples and took a harder look at his sidekick. That wasn't the kind of question Rook normally asked. And had there been a note of accusation in the kid's voice?

“Rook, how about you get me a wet washcloth. I've  got a headache,” he said. He should be alone when he talked to Iron Eagle anyway, and when the door closed behind his sidekick, he reached for his comm. “Hey, Eagle. Found your father, and your brother, too. Now, for the bad news...”

- - - - -

Megamind slept like the dead, or at least like the dead used to sleep, until morning.

He was awakened by a sharp rap at the door and coldness at his back. Roxanne had left, but maybe she'd just gone to the bathroom and would be back soon, or maybe...

The knock sounded again, managing to sound both impatient and peevish. He staggered to the door and, remembering just in time that he was in pajamas, hid behind it and opened it a crack.

Doris stood there, prim and proper, with a plastic rain hood covering her gray hair, jacket buttoned up to her neck, and her purse in a white-knuckled grip. A bulging wicker bag sat next to her feet.

This was definitely not how he'd hoped to begin the day.

Megamind studied her for a moment. “You know, Doris, you're not actually going anywhere. Not as such.”

“From your perspective, maybe,” she said with a sniff. “I'm not leaving anything behind for people to paw through. You can dehydrate my things along with me, can't you?"

“I guess so.” He rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand. “I can't tell you how flattered I am that you've chosen me to dehydrate you. Separation anxiety?”

“I didn't come here for smart remarks.” She hesitated, then drew herself up, fixing him with her usual expression of disapproval, though seasoned by a touch of nervousness. “I would consider it a great personal favor if you became guardian of my grandchildren."

 

Chapter Text

“Come again?” Maybe he hadn't heard right.

“Well, I don't expect you to raise them yourself.”

“Why not?” he said, feeling insulted. She didn't have to say it so scornfully.

“I'd consider it a great personal favor if you see to it that they have loving homes.” She sniffed. “This would be easier if you were married instead of living in sin, but these are difficult times. You're their best chance of survival.”

He struggled to find words to dissuade her, or to try to explain that technically there hadn't really been any sinning yet, which was even more impossible, and at last he heaved a heavy sigh. “Minion will look after them, too.”

She blinked, startled, and then a warm smile spread across her face. “Oh, Mister Minion, of course! That will be fine. Just fine.”

Her customary frown returned and she waggled her finger at him. “But don't let them join any gangs. Or teach them to steal cars and pick pockets.”

“Gosh, I'll try.”

They walked in silence across the Lair, surrounded by the sleepy conversations and crashing pans of morning.

She stopped by her grandkids, who were, amazingly, sitting all together on the floor by the beds. Megamind hadn't seen them so quiet since they first arrived.

Irina and Gil had agreed to keep an eye on them. Doris reminded the children to behave themselves, and left special instructions to the two oldest ones to be useful and help Irina as much as possible, as she was expecting the baby any day now...

Not too soon, Megamind hoped fervently. He looked at the children's somber faces. Keshawn's face wavering between teenage nonchalance and nervousness, and then there was April, Leean, Billy, Timmy, and Chloe. Cousins and siblings jumbled together. They weren't orphans yet, technically. Doris would be rehydrated in the future, once he got this medicine business figured out, and who knew? Maybe he'd discover what had happened to their parents.

Nonetheless there was a heavy cloud over Megamind and Doris as they continued on to the clinic. There had been real fear and even a hint of accusation in the faces of the younger kids. Doris had done her best, but to them it felt as if she were abandoning them.

Chloe hid under one of the beds and refused to come out to say good-bye to her grandmother, despite coaxing from Irina and promises from her cousin Timmy that she'd get extra playtime with Taffy the cat.

Doris kept her face carefully neutral, said she'd be back as soon as possible.

“You're doing the right thing,” Megamind said. “The chance of you dropping dead from your heart condition is too great."

“I'll thank you not to tell me something I don't already know,” she said peevishly.

Doris wiped her nose, stuffed the tissue into her sleeve, and announced that she was ready.

Dr. Plant shot her with the little de-gun and put the cube into a plastic baggie. “We're out of tupperware,” she said.

He sighed, dragged folding chair closer with his foot, and dropped into it.

Dr. Plant sat down, too, cradling a plastic glass with what smelled like the last dregs of the coffee pot. Megamind never touched the stuff himself, as it tended to fling him into uncontrollable mental activity and frenzied note writing, notes that were unintelligible to anyone but beings from another dimension.

Wendell lay sweating and pale on a cot, blood staining the bandage.

Dr. Plant winced. “My back. I think I was better off sleeping on the floor instead of that lumpy mattress.” She glanced at her patient and leaned closer to Megamind. “He's in a lot of pain. Groaned all night. Are there any other buildings we can use as a clinic?”

“You want to leave the Lair?”

“The... noise he makes is disturbing to other people. And Wendell feels like a burden. Besides, the mechanics always make such a racket.” She nodded towards the bay, where the agonized squeal of metal getting cut briefly overwhelmed all other sound.

After the noise died away, she continued. “Housing patients with the healthy contributes to overall stress levels in everybody.”

“Wouldn't isolation be demoralizing for him?”

“There'll be other patients, sooner or later.” She was lost in thought for a moment. “If I had a budget,” she said, speaking carefully and trying not to sound too hopeful, “then I could possibly hire some staff. People to serve as helpers, orderlies. Julie could give them training in patient transfer, basic care.”

Julie, Julie, who was... The name clicked into place. The medic. “I'll send people to check the safe zone for a place,” he said. He drummed his fingers on his knees. Buildings for a clinic, and for more housing. And maybe for an orphanage.

Doris's grandkids were the tip of the iceberg. Technically they weren't really orphans, not yet, not until he figured out what had happened to their parents. But they were as good as.

More would be coming.

They'd be deep in hiding. Of course, everyone had learned to hide as a matter of survival, but frightened children would really burrow in, especially with so many more dangers from which to hide, and not just zombies.

All the groups that had come to the safe zone consisted of adults, or mixed groups of adults and children. Children by themselves were unlikely to make a such perilous trek, with safety so uncertain and no idea what to expect from the adults to whom they'd be going for help.

His fists clenched and he half got up from his seat before settling again. He wanted to leap up right now and scour every nook and cranny, every building down to the last cubby hole.

He'd make it a good place for orphans, too, an actual home, with warm and loving caretakers, not some damn great building with locks and grey dorms.

There was the sound of men's voices approaching and Bernard came around the white sheet that served as a curtain. He stopped chuckling at the sight of Megamind.

Tony limped into view next, holding a plastic cup from which steam rose. “Hey, doc, I found some that's fresh. It's instant, I hope that's....” He also stopped short at the sight of Megamind, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Boss, I swear I was gonna sit down again right away, right after this, and the doc looked at my leg, she said another day or two and I could have light exercise, Mister Minion, he got the glue off.”

Megamind said, “All right.”

Tony, his eyes still squeezed shut, cautiously opened one a crack. “All right?”

“Yes, it's all right.”

“You're not gonna beat me up?”

Bernard's eyes widened. “What?”

“S'okay, Bernard.” Tony shrugged stoically. “Goes with the territory.”

“Goes with the...oh, come on,” Bernard cried. “You can't have seriously expected him to sit in that chair all night. And now you're going to punish him?”

Megamind propped his chin in his hand. “No.”

Bernard blinked and seemed to deflate. “Oh. Okay.”

Tony's eyes were wary. “Not even a little?”

“No,” Megamind said. Pushing himself to his feet, he nodded at the doctor. “I'll survey possible sites."

Megamind headed toward the monitors, threading his way between the beds, refugees, and piles of clothes, toys, and other mysterious personal belongings. His heart lifted at the sight of Roxanne, surrounded by a group of her friends. Feminine laughter rang out.

Small children ran in circles around people's legs, the closest anyone would get to a perpetual motion machine.

Someone spotted him, there was a flurry of people scattering, and somehow he was alone with Roxanne, except for Bernard, who had followed him back and become engrossed in his laptop.

Megamind glanced around at the sudden space, perplexed by the speed with which people had scurried away. He'd thought they were getting used to him. “I frightened everyone away, didn't I?”

Roxanne pushed her hair out of her eyes. “Oh, no, it's okay. They're... they're really busy.”

He rubbed his neck. “Um. Sleep okay?”

“Yeah. I did.” She cleared her throat. “You?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I did.” Wow, her eyes sure did sparkle. She'd put on makeup, mascara, lipstick, the works, though the foundation hid her freckles, which was a shame.

She said, “Did you have...?”

At the same time he asked, “So you got the...oh, sorry.”

“It's all right.” She chuckled. “We both started at the same...you go first.”

He plucked at his cape. “Oh, I...I just wondered if... you got your makeup from your apartment. But. Obviously you...you did, so... but you look lovely without it. I mean, the natural look is...is...”

She ran her fingers through her hair. “You like me better without it?”

“No. It's just different,” he said quickly. “You know. Um. Both ways are...” He began to sweat, feeling his stomach clench into a knot. “Either way is fine. Makeup, or, or, or, no makeup.”

“So I didn't fool you?” Her eyes crinkled as she smiled.

“No,” he said cautiously. “Fool me?”

She flapped her hand. “It's this idea that some guys have about women. That women wear make-up to 'fool' them into...hell, I'm not even sure. Into thinking a woman isn't really as beautiful without make-up, so she's 'tricked' them into being attracted to her.”

“Seriously? Tricked?” He rolled his eyes. “Well, I, for one, was so disappointed to find out your eyelids weren't really 'Crystal Blue,' and your lips weren't really 'Dusky Rose.' Whoever thinks that must be a moron.” He chuckled.

Roxanne laughed too, and cocked her head, and her smile became mischievous, though with a hint of dagger. “You know a lot about my make-up. Been through my purse?”

He waved his hands in a mea culpa sort of way. “I've seen those items on your table. Read the labels, that's all.”

Which was true enough, but...

He felt compelled to confess. “I think...in some of the earlier kidnappings, I might have, you know, rummaged around a little. Just in case you had a wire or a tracking device.”

He fingered his cape, feeling unaccustomed, sudden guilt about the countless times he'd invaded her privacy. He straightened up. “I'll never do it again,” he announced.

Roxanne nodded and her gaze softened. “Thanks. I appreciate that. Haven't seen you in eyeliner for a long time. I always thought that was pretty striking.”

He snapped his fingers. “That's right, it's been ages! I should have been made up yesterday! Perfect opportunity for the cameras.”

“Eh. You look pretty good without make-up, too.”

Megamind felt a foolish grin stretch out his lips and he barely stopped from giggling.

Bernard muttered, “Oh my God, get a room.”

Megamind shot a glare at him, but Bernard stared steadily at his keyboard. Roxanne choked back a strained laugh and shoved her hair out of her eyes.

How he wished he could take her out to breakfast at a quaint little coffee shop! Offering her a bowl of mush and a stroll around the zombie-infested beach was about the best he could do at the moment.

“Do you know if Minion took a crew out?”

“Mm-hm. He said they should be able to get the rest of the pumps started. As long as nobody else shot them down.”

“Heh. Precisely.” He nodded vigorously, and had to force himself to stop. Geez, calm down. Don't get all spazzy. He drew himself up. “Well, I guess it's...”

“...time to get back to work,” Roxanne said. She nodded past his shoulder. “I think some people are waiting. There's a line.”

A group of assorted denizens had accumulated behind him. When he made eye contact, they shuffled closer with airs of hopeful expectation.

“Megamind,” Roxanne called.

He bounded back to her. “Yeah! I'm here.”

“Can we get that official announcement recorded? Should only take five minutes.”

It took about three times as long, as such things usually did, mainly because he kept getting lost in Roxanne's eyes and losing his place on the cue cards.

But at last it was done, and he went off to deal with the host of supplicants.

- - - - -

A huge map of the city hung from a wall in the Lair. The little spur of land that signified Megamind's safe zone was outlined in green, indicating it was zombie-free, barring the occasional rogue zombie that might wander in through a hole in the wall that Megamind was erecting around the shoreline. The entire peninsula would be encompassed, including the tip, which had been closed off since the zombie dragged little Billy into the lake.

A larger, ragged shape, outlined in yellow, indicated the adjacent area which was more or less under his control, with far fewer zombies than the rest of the city owing to his irregular patrols, but by no means zombie free. Hell, there could be dozens of zombie nests. That was the trouble with zombies. You could kill all the ones that shuffled into the light, think you were in the clear, and then weeks later, sometimes even months, another batch of them would come lurching out of a nest from some abandoned basement you didn't even know about.

Which was why the rescue and recovery efforts were concentrating on sweeping every single building in the yellow zone, every apartment complex and office block, every skyscraper and mom n' pop corner store. They'd find more survivors, undoubtedly. If they wanted to come to the safe zone, they were to be given transportation. If they wanted to stay put, more power to them. No garage, basement, attic, shed, or doghouse would be left unturned, and rescuers would make a special effort to locate children who were fending for themselves.

The rest of the city, by far the largest chunk of the map, was in red. No electricity, zombies roaming at will, pockets of humanity barricading themselves against threats both living and dead.

He designated three people to coordinate rescue efforts, a police lieutenant, a veteran firefighter, and a city hall administrator.

He assigned another set of people to canvas the safe zone for buildings that would be suitable for housing, for a clinic, and for a children's home. He sent a team of brainbots off to find supplies to fence off the waterline, including, but not limited to, dismantling abandonded buildings.

Two more zombies staggered out onto the shoreline, but were stopped by the brainbots.

After he dehydrated the dead zombies and sent them to the morgue, he took a stroll around the safe zone to see what was happening, trailed by one of his new henchmen, Rupert.

A new little group of refugees were cautiously checking out the old fireworks factory, where the surveyors were inspecting it for habitation.
“Lucky for you, you'll get first pick of the floor space,” he said. “Come to the Lair and we'll scrounge up some beds.”

They stared at him, then fumbled in their pockets, pulling out flyers. “Got one for everybody,” a woman said anxiously, shoving a flyer at him.

“Uh, okay,” he said, frowning a little.

“For the kids, too.” She tugged at a little girl's hand. “Emmy, show him your ticket.”

“Wait, wait.” He held up his hands. “Hold on there. These are just maps and information. That's it. They're not tickets. You picked them up off the street, yes?” He looked around at their confused faces. “It's all right, that's exactly what I intended when I distributed them.”

“So, they really are free?” one man asked.

“Yes, really.”

“Because this one guy said he'd sell us some, twenty metros each. Only we said no, thanks, we already had 'em, and then he said we needed a stamp, to authenticate them. Five metros for each stamp, or dollars, if we had any.” The man showed his flyer.

A red stamp was smeared across one corner, and that hadn't been part of the original design. The words 'Admit One' were just visible.

His jaw tightened and he handed it back. “Getting it stamped isn't necessary, either.”

The man frowned. “That jerk! We paid him...” He huffed out a breath and turned to a woman who'd come to his side. “Can you believe this, Trudy?”

“Son of a...” She stared at the flyer in disbelief.

Megamind asked, “Where was this man located?”

“In back of a grocery. There were two or three guys. Was it the Red Owl store? Yeah, think it was.” Heads nodded in agreement. “Over on Kendall and 50th.”

Megamind pressed his lips together and stalked away. Several blocks from the safe zone's border, but well within the semi-safe yellow zone.

As he came out into the sunshine, the three rescue coordinators were having a vigorous argument, but they broke off as he came out of the building and rushed him en masse. “Overlord! Mister Overlord!”

He tensed. Oh evil gods, what now?

Rupert straightened up from his slouch by an outer wall and stepped in front of them. “Shaddup!” he shouted.

They skidded to a halt and shut up.

Rupert scowled around as if to make sure they'd behave themselves, then looked over his shoulder. “You want I should disperse 'em, Overlord?”

Megamind raised an appreciative eyebrow. “No, I'll talk with them. But one at a time,” he said, as they all looked like they were about to start talking at once.

Rupert stepped to the side and Megamind pointed at the cop. “You. Hinkley. Go.”

Lieutenant Mary Hinkley took a deep breath, visibly growing taller at getting to be picked first, and ripped off a salute that almost took out the administrator's eye. “Sir, I really don't know if it's a good idea to let civilians conduct their own rescue operations. I thought we'd decided on focused, methodical sweeps, starting with the neighborhoods in the yellow zone and working our way outward.”

Megamind clasped his hands behind his back. “People need to feel like they're doing something, not sitting idle. In addition, they'll scavenge as they go along, and they'll report on stores that still have goods, as well as locating pockets of other survivors.”

“But they'll get into trouble and have to get rescued themselves,” the firefighter captain said, adjusting his cap. “It'll disrupt our operations.”

“Your concern is noted. More refugees are ariving every day. I can either expend the limited energies of my brainbots, police officers, and henchmen on keeping them from leaving, effectively turning the safe zone into a growing powder keg of resentment and frustration, or I can allow for some freedom of movement. How many denizens would you say have gathered the courage to arm themselves and brave the city?”

Hinkley frowned in thought. “About five, I think.”

“Out of how many?”

“Uh...”

“By my last count, there are nine hundred and seventeen refugees in the safe zone. Even the ones who were recently reconstituted from the cubes no longer show much eagerness in leaving. Usually I've had to force people to go on expeditions. Fortunately, with the growing number of officers and other first responders, I don't have to do that anymore.”

“But there are other safety concerns,” she said. “How will we know who's really a refugee and who's an opportunist looking for victims to rob?”

“What do you suggest? That we interrogate everyone about their criminal background before they enter? My brainbots take photographs of every person who comes and goes. No system is perfect, but if anyone commits a crime there's a pretty good chance I'll identify them."

Her jaw fell open. “But...but isn't that kind of...invasive? Without their knowledge?”

He tilted his head. “Why, yes. Yes, it is.”

The administrator, who had been seething, exploded, “They locked me in a closet for two hours!”

Do you think that was long enough? Megamind thought uncontrollably. For a brief, undignified moment, he nearly burst out laughing. He'd sensed the administrator was the sort of fussy paper-pusher that he himself might have wanted to prank, once upon a time. He bit his lip and fought down the hysteria, and pressed his fist to his mouth before he tried to speak. “Dare I ask why?” he asked, voice quivering only slightly.

Hinkley and the firefighter looked indignant. “Well, we didn't have much choice,” Hinkley said defensively.

“Driving us crazy,” the firefighter protested. “Keeps wanting all these forms, in triplicate.”

The administrator crossed his arms. “How else can we keep track?”

“We are keeping track!” Hinkley snapped. “We have to keep it simple, not waste time filling out all these...”

“Waste of time!” yelled the administrator. “I've been assistant planning director for ten years! You'll change your tune when....”

“Even driving your secretary nuts, Overlord,” the firefighter cried. “He was...”

“Silence!” Megamind shouted. They subsided, grumbling.

Megamind pointed at the administrator. “You're off the rescue triage. You're now assistant secretary. Oh, don't gape like that, Bernard could use the help. Report to him at once.” He raised a hand in a questioning gesture at the remaining two. “Simple enough?”

They nodded, mollified.

Megamind turned to go, and almost bumped into an anxious Luke.

Luke blurted, “Can I be a henchman?”

Megamind looked him up and down. At first glance, Luke's tall, gangly demeanor said 'goofball' more than 'fearsome thug.' Still, he was biddable, an ex-con, and generally sprang to help wherever help was needed, so he was no slouch. What's more, he had helped carry the Overlord to the lake that awful day of the fainting spell and had joined the mob against Hal, though that didn't prove much. It didn't take hardly any effort at all to let yourself get sucked into a mob.

Nonetheless, Megamind felt inclined to give him a chance. “All right, I'll give you a trial run. So long as Minion approves. Oh, hold on.” He'd almost forgotten. “Rupert, get Hinkley back here. I want you, Luke, and two cops to go to the Red Owl store on Kendall and 50th. Someone's selling bogus tickets to the safe zone. Capture them and bring them round back of the Lair.”

When he found these profiteers, he'd make them eat those so-called tickets.

- - - - -

He saw to it that the gardeners had what they needed to start up some more garden boxes. They got to work with enthusiasm, trekking out to the open hillside that led up to the abandoned observatory, but Megamind knew there was no way they'd get enough plants started. They'd started too late, food was getting eaten faster than they could replace it.

Unless the thrice-damned army suddenly grew a conscience and showered them with canned goods, he would have to breach the quarantine and get some food himself. Now, should he do it by air or by water?

There would also be a... and he could hardly believe he was even considering it... a police station in the safe zone. Another police station on the mainland was close enough to revitalize, once the zombies and other human remains were cleared out of it.

He painted a squad of brainbots orange and primed them on rescue protocol.

In a few short hours, he cobbled together a mobile energy fence, with light pilings easy to handle and set up anywhere that rescuers needed to cordone off in order to evacuate citizens trapped in buildings, and demonstrated its features to the rescue teams.

Zombies, it turned out, could be temporarily paralyzed by electric shock. The energy fence kept them at bay. He captured a real zombie to demonstrate. Zombies could also be briefly stopped by tasers, interestingly enough. Tasers were much safer to hand out to the denizens and the citizens of the rest of the city, once he got hold of enough of them, leaving the guns and laser rifles for those trained in their use.

He met with Roxanne, and together they went into the yellow zone to a railroad crossing and erected a large shed large enough to hold the transmitter, a table and a couple of chairs. The shed would offer protection from the weather, bored vandalizers, and rampaging zombies.

He hooked up the transmitter to the tracks, and put protective flaps over the cables running along the ground. Roxanne flipped the switch.

“Okay,” she said, inspecting the dials. “That's it. We're broadcasting on FM radio, and channels 8 and 16. For a good two hundred miles around, I imagine. I'm still not sure it's a good idea to hijack channel 8.”

“It's your channel. Well, KMCP's.”

“Yeah, but a national chain probably took over. They're not going to like it. The TV people as well as the public.”

“We stole back what is rightfully ours.”

They looked at the dials and the monitor, showing footage of Roxanne introducing her first interview. Megamind had wanted to show a horrific battle against zombies right away to grab people's attention, but Roxanne argued for a quieter start. As people tuned in, they'd see plenty of action anyway. She'd edited out as much gore as possible, and included warnings about viewer discretion.

They looked at the quietly humming machinery. “Kind of anti-climactic, isn't it?” Megamind said.

“I hope we get the right response," she said, her voice grim.

- - - - -

Back at the Lair he got a call was from an agitated Hot Flash. “Remember that little baby zombie from yesterday? Remember?”

“How can I forget? Your point?”

“Now the dad's sick with a fever, and one of his other kids, too. We don't know what's wrong with 'em. Everyone's freaking out, they want the whole family kicked out.”

Megamind cursed, and went to see Dr. Plant.

She dragged a hand through her hair. “Damn it, damn it, damn it, I should have asked more questions. Better quarantine them. There're plenty of other diseases to worry about.”

“Any idea what it could be?”

“Influenza, a norovirus, hell, could be cholera for all I know. Which can be transmitted through water. Get them out of the water treatment plant. Better yet, remove everyone from the plant who isn't essential personnel.”

There were over a hundred people taking refuge at the plant. It would take time to transfer them. First off, he corralled a few denizens to help the doctor set up a decent quarantine house in a little office by one of the piers, and made sure she had a hovercraft at her disposal to go collect them when it was ready.

- - - - - - - -

He procured a street cleaning machine from the city's maintenance yard and several barrels of bleach, and left it to the mechanics to find someone who knew how to operate it safely.

The family of the baby zombie hadn't been in the water treatment plant for very long. Whatever illness they'd picked up had come from outside it, most likely. With the amount of garbage and human remains lying around the streets, it was only a matter of time before some other disease broke out.

Step one, clear a city block of trash and collect the body parts. Step two, scrub the street with bleach. It would help cut down on at least some diseases. San Diego had dealt with an outbreak of hepatitis among its homeless population in this way.

- - - - -

He inspected the nets of the fishing 'bots, but their most significant catches were, so far, a Seabring convertible, a rusty toilet, and another water-logged zombie.

Minion returned, reporting that all sewer pumps were successfully reactivated, and another colony of refugees was living at the sewage plant, which wasn't so surprising. The sewage treatment compound was enormous and had a high fence around most of it to discourage trespassers.

- - - - - -

The henchmen and the cops returned from the Red Owl empty-handed. “We found it easy enough, there was a line outside. But somebody said we were cuttin' in line, and they started shoutin' at us, and...” Rupert cast a helpless look at the police officers.

One of them cleared his throat. “The perpetrators escaped out the back, sir.”

“Did you see how many? See their faces? Anything?” Megamind asked.

They shook their heads.

"Might've helped if you'd given us some of your robots," the other cop said, staring straight at him. "Sir."

Megamind stared back, feeling his hackles rise. A reasonable request, but not when issued in that tone. This was the trigger-happy cop, the one who was so keen to see the alligators fed. "I didn't realize a few mangy ticket-sellers were too much for you to handle, Officer Langer. No wonder you never made sergeant."

Langer flushed and lowered his eyes.

 Megamind clasped his hands behind his back. “They'll set up shop somewhere else. Just have to wait for them to resurface. Talk to the new refugees, maybe they...” He paused at the looks on their faces. “You brought back the people who were waiting in line, didn't you?”

The four men were busy inspecting the floor and ceiling. Luke rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, when we came out of the store there were a couple of zombies comin' up  the..." He stammered to a halt under Megamind's astonished glare.

"And you left them there?" he snapped. "With zombies starting to gather?"

Rupert raised his hands. "They took off, boss. They scattered." He shrugged, and glanced at his cohorts for moral support. "I dunno, they looked like they could take care of themselves."

Megamind sighed heavily. He hadn't sent his troops to rescue anyone, but he'd assumed it went without saying that they'd offer to help any citizens that happened to be around.

Well, anyone who'd survived this long could probably survive a  little longer. "Go back anyway. See if anyone's still hanging about, offer them a ride to the safe zone. Talk to the people in the fireworks factory, too. They might have more information."

Megamind summoned Bernard and had him make more copies of the flyers. Many more copies, with “FREE ADMISSION” displayed prominently across the top so it couldn't be missed. He'd flood the market and ruin the monetary potential.

- - - - - - -

One thing that couldn't wait any longer was a hospital run. A few more medical personnel had wandered into the safe zone, and they were going to need whatever supplies they could scrounge up from the overrun hospitals.

He couldn't leave this chore to the denizens alone.

He just. He could not.

That small, rock-like determination inside him, the thing that drove him to defy whatever the universe threw at him, that driving force sneered at the horror. This all you got? You won't deter me.

He would face his opponent, he knew there was an opponent somewhere. He could feel it in his bones, though he didn't know who it was. Not yet.

It was whoever had created this virus and unleashed it on his city. Whoever they were, they would pay.

Roxanne had shown him that he mustn't push himself too hard so he would conserve his energy, but push forward he must. He would use the fear and despair, and he would turn it into anger when the time was right. He would witness the horror and avenge his citizens.

There would be a reckoning. There would be rev-ahnge.

The hospital was worse than the prison. They didn't even finish a sweep through one wing of the place but hurried through, making brief stops on several floors, avoiding zombies when they could, shooting them when they had to. Despite his determination, there were limits to his psychological strength, and he hadn't the heart to force the crew to investigate too far into the darkened hallways. They wanted to do their part, but he could feel their muted terror, and knew he mustn't push them beyond their limits, either.

The empty, stained cribs and incubators in the maternity ward shook him, and he could see it taking a similar toll on the rest of the salvage crew, some of whom were seasoned firefighters and cops, veterans of tragedy.

Babies got devoured entirely, their soft bones offering no resistance. What remained of the adults did not bear close inspection, or else you got to wondering who were the nurses or the doctors or the unfortunate mothers.

They needed supplies, and weren't in a position to be picky. The incubators, hospital beds, sheets, and a number of other things could be sanitized with bleach. If they weren't too ripped up, he dehydrated them, along with supplies locked away in cabinets, syringes, IV bags, plastic-wrapped needles, a treasure-trove of pills.

It was with great relief that he and the crew returned to the Lair and unloaded the dehydrated cargo for the medical people to sort out. The medication, especially, would take a long time to organize. It'd be a damn tragedy if the wrong medicines or dosages were distributed.

As he went to take a shower, he stopped short at the sound of a brief scream, followed by what sounded suspiciously like someone getting their head smacked repeatedly against a metal cabinet.

It came from the mechanic's bay.

He strode across the Lair on wings of darkness and flung back the door. It crashed against the wall.

Everyone looked around, shocked into stillness,  the crowd that inevitably gathered whenever there was a disturbance, and the people within the semi-circle, presumably the cause of the ruckus.

They'd frozen into a tableau.

Hank in the act of crouching next to his lover Jessica, who was holding her head, next to a metal cabinet with, yes, a brand new dent in it.

A furious Noelle, Hank's wife, almost against the wall, and Bernard, who had a hand on her shoulder as if to hold her back.

Chapter Text

 Megamind's steps rang loud in the silence as he stepped over the threshold.

The crowd backed away, leaving the alleged combatants frozen at the center of a widening ring, while brainbots floated closer to attend, waiting for his command.

He glanced down at his clothing. His boots and tunic were edged with new streaks, thanks to the recent hospital run. The dead didn't bleed, but they made a mess when destroyed. Brain fluid and the like. Avoiding it was impossible.

Megamind paced a few deliberate steps across the floor, then stopped and, clasping his hands behind his back, faced them all. “All right, who wants to start?”

Jessica announced, “I tripped!”

All eyes turned to her in surprise.

Megamind arched an eyebrow. O-o-okay. Interesting. He wouldn't have expected the injured party to make such a statement.

He glanced at Noelle, presumably the assailant. She looked as surprised as everyone else.

Hank glanced at his wife Noelle, then back at Jessica. “But...she...you... tripped?”

Jessica gave him a hard look. “I tripped,” she said through clenched teeth.

Bernard's eyes darted over to his friend Noelle, a warning look. "Yeah, that's right. Tripped."

Megamind pursed his lips. “That true, Noelle?”

Noelle tore her astonished gaze from Jessica to look at him. Her mouth opened but no sound came out. She shut her mouth again and set her lips in a thin line.

He waited expectantly, but Noelle glared at the floor in stubborn silence.

“Oh, come now,” Megamind said. “I think the next line would be obvious. 'Yes, Overlord, that's exactly what happened!' or words to that effect. Honestly, it's not rocket science.” He smiled ee-villy, rocking up onto the balls of his feet.

Worried faces stared back at him.

He sighed heavily. Who could blame them?

“And everyone came running over to help. Splendid!” Megamind said.

He paused. There was a sullen, anxious air exuded by the watching crowd, as well as an odd, barely audible grumble. People were listening. No one particularly wanted to see a woman get dragged off to the alligators, and yet there was a sense that something had to happen.

I can't believe I miss Metro Man, that lousy bastard. The good old days when I would do something bad and he would come after me.

There was no one to keep him in line anymore, not really. No one except himself

Damn it. He was going to have to do the responsible thing. It just wouldn't be any fun, dragging some hapless soul off to the alligators.

He said, “I really hate to do this, but...”

“Oh, no!” Jessica cried. She held up her hands. “Don't do it! It was all my fault. Don't kill her! Noelle, I am so, so sorry. It'll never happen again, I mean it. I know you don't believe me, but we're through.”

Hank's jaw dropped. “What? But. Jessica.”

She shook her head. “It's over, Hank.” She turned to walk away, hugging her arms.

“Not so fast,” Megamind said. “I didn't give you permission to leave.”

She froze, eyes wide and startled. All eyes swivelled back to him. Oh, there's more drama, let's see what happens next.

The public fizzling of Hank's illicit affair was juicy stuff, but he needed to make the announcement.

“I'm altering the death penalty,” Megamind said. “It'll be as needed only, not an automatic death sentence, depending on the severity of the crime and what kind of mood I'm in. Hank, you've performed admirable work as a police officer under very trying circumstances, but you're going to have to find someplace else to live. Get out.”

Hank blinked. This wasn't something he'd expected. “What? That's not fair. What did I do?”

“You really want to go there? It'd be less inflammatory all around if you found living quarters away from your...” Megamind made a circling motion with his hand. “...complicated social life. There are plenty of empty buildings in the safe zone, I'm sure you'll find another berth. Now get out before I have the brainbots drag you out.”

Hank drew himself up as if he would argue more, then his shoulders slumped and he shuffled away.

Megamind had a quiet word with Noelle. “One moment.” He stood at a ninety degree angle to defuse the situation and stared at a spot on the wall. “You perform a valuable service with photographing the dead, but I have to warn you. If Jessica has any more 'accidents,' I won't hesitate to throw you in a cell. It will be extremely boring.”

Noelle made a feeble protest. “But I didn't...”

He turned his head to look her in the eye. “Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” she muttered.

Pastor Mike fell into step as Megamind stalked away. “Very glad to hear that, Overlord,” he said, beaming. “But it's a shame. Hank surely must shoulder some of the responsibility.”

“That's why I kicked him out. What else do you want me to do, padre?” Megamind said wearily. “Stone him for adultery?”

“Well, no, certainly not. Policing the morals of a community...well, it's hardly... it's uh, um...”

“Precisely 'uh um'. Have you gotten the task force ready, Minion?” Minion had approached while they were talking.

“Yes, Sir, I think I've found the likely candidates. Sneaky bastards, Sir, just like you wanted.” Minion chewed his lip. “Sir, you really think this is a good idea?”

“Food is our biggest weak point, Minion. We have to establish a supply line. The army will provide, Minion, voluntarily or no. In addition, I plan to collect food already owed to wholesalers in the city. Bought and paid for, but never delivered. If it hasn't been resold or shipped back, it'll still be at the distribution center in Chicago.”

The military routinely misplaced millions of dollars' worth of equipment, weapons, and supplies every year, 'misplaced' being the term for goods that some clever soldier or officer somewhere along the line had found a buyer for. Megamind planned on tapping into this enterprise.

He chewed the inside of his cheek. He hadn't gotten around to notifying Roxanne of his intentions, and he ran his gaze around the refugees moving about the open floor of the Lair, but didn't see her. She must still be filming the reclaiming of the police station from the zombies. Well, he would tell her the next time he saw her. He just hoped she didn't try to talk him out of it.

Minion wouldn't like what he had planned, either, but his mind was made up. It wasn't the mission so much as the fact that he was leaving Minion behind.

He'd almost lost both Minion and Roxanne in one day. The thought of taking Minion along on a potentially dangerous mission was making his stomach tie itself in knots. While Minion might run into danger here within the city-- the sniper was proof of that-- Megamind also wanted him to look after the citizens. And to look after Roxanne, though he was certain she would bristle at the notion that she needed looking after.

Once he got past the jamming towers, he would hack into the internet to find out which companies owed goods to Metrocity's businesses, and then he would simply go collect them. Food. Pharmaceuticals. Definitely a MASH unit, and the army could damn well order themselves another. Fuel for the power plant and its substations, to get the city's lights back on, though he planned to make Metrocity independent of outside fuel sources as soon as he could get the...

He closed his eyes briefly, the enormity of the tasks before him flooding him with weariness.

Minion took hold of his elbow. “Right this way, Sir.”

Megamind allowed Minion to steer him toward his room.

“That's it, Sir, just a little further,” Minion crooned. “A nice little rest.”

“A temporary rest, before the midnight excursion,” he corrected, giving Minion what he hoped was a sharp look.

There was a slight pause. “Yeah. Uh, right. Before the excursion.”

Megamind huffed out a breath. “Do not let me sleep through the deadline.”

“All right, all right.”

“Because I wasn't kidding about eating rats within a week. With so many more refugees coming, it's even more crucial we get a pipeline established.”

When they got to the room, Megamind looked at the bed, eyed his spattered uniform, and settled himself carefully on the chair. He watched dully as Minion knelt to take off his boots. Words of protest that he could do it himself were on the tip of his tongue but seemed unable to come out of his mouth, especially when the first boot came off. A groan of relief escaped from him despite his effort to hold it back.

A good four hours of sleep. It wasn't enough but it would do for the time being. Once past the barricade, he and his task force could set up a hideout, and he could rest a little more before dawn.

Minion divested him of belt and gun holster, and swiftly stripped off his stinking outer layer to stuff it into a laundry bag, leaving him in his long-sleeved black undergarments. Megamind was settling back on the mattress when Rupert cautiously stuck his head inside the partially open door.

He nodded at Megamind. “Hey, Overlord, sir.” Then he addressed Minion. “Almost got the guys ready, Minion.”

“Thanks, Rupert.”

Megamind squinted at him. “For what?”

Minion closed the closet and turned around. “Little excursion, Sir. Routine. Won't take long.”

Megamind nodded and lay back, draping his arm over his eyes. “All right. Whatever it is, I'm sure you can handle it.”

“That's right, Sir, you just rest now.”

“Yeah, boss, we can handle it,” Rupert piped up. “Besides, Destruction Worker's long gone.”

Megamind's eyes snapped open and he sat up.

Minion shot a furious, bare-toothed scowl at Rupert, who cringed, and then the henchfish gave Megamind an abashed look. “Destruction Worker seems to have robbed a bank, Sir. There might've been some injuries. 'Cause people were living there...”

He huffed out an aggravated sigh as Megamind threw back the covers and sat up. “Sir, we can handle it. Really. You don't need to...”

“Prepare the hovercraft, Minion,” he said, pushing past Minion to reach the closet.

- - - - - - - -

Megamind stared at the gaping hole where a wall used to be. The cops and henchmen had set up an energy fence around the bank to keep back any zombies that might wander in to complicate the situation, while Dr. Plant, Julie and other medics attended to the wounded.

A child wailed without ceasing. Megamind tried to shut out the sound. There wasn't much help he could offer, Dr. Plant had her own de-gun in any case, for those they were unable to provide proper care for, with their limited supplies.

Megamind ground his teeth. He no longer felt tired, exactly, but he walked within a fuzzy cloud that slowed time down, in which, when he spoke, there was a couple of seconds of lag time for words he wanted to say formed in his brain to reach his mouth, and again for words that others spoke to make the same journey back and make sense.

But the anger was there, burning steady. Why now? What was Destruction Worker's game? With any luck the sorry son of a bitch would try to crash the barricade and the soldiers would kill him. Save Megamind the trouble.

Minion said, “Destruction Worker wasn't here too long ago. Two people inside were killed. A bunch of people were living in there. He and his thugs busted in through the lobby and blew open the safe. He wasn't too careful about keeping anyone a safe distance away.”

Megamind stood aside as two firefighters carried a woman out on a stretcher. “So he stole the money and took off.”

The newly-created sniffer 'bots returned with mournful bowgs, having failed to pick up Destruction Worker's trail. He wasn't surprised, as he'd never sent them on such a mission before and the tech was so new.

He eyed an exposed beam. The damaged wall groaned and a small shower of plaster fell, making him, Minion, and the henchman Rupert step back. “Let's get these people back to the safe zone,” Megamind said. “Any more?”

“There's one lady upstairs.” A cop pointed to the upper level. “Says she won't go.”

Megamind clucked his tongue. “She can't stay here.” He set his de-gun to dehydrate and headed for the stairs. “The structural integrity of the building's compromised. And zombies could waltz in through that hole in the wall easily.”

He went to a closed office door, behind which voices were raised. One of the voices sounded like it was trying very hard to be reasonable, while the other voice was anything but.

The unreasonable voice became a furious shout. “I'm not going anywhere with him!”

Megamind stopped dead in his tracks.

He would have gladly confronted a thousand zombies with nothing but a wooden ruler at that moment rather than go into that room.

Just when I got rid of Doris Haggerty, he thought in defeat. The universe sees fit to deliver me another old woman who hates my guts.

He felt vaguely guilty for thinking it, as the mother of his beloved Roxanne was, he thought, only about fifty-five or so, and indeed had many justifiable reasons for hating Megamind. Couldn't blame her, he'd behaved quite evilly, now here were the consequences.

She was alive, that was the important thing, and Roxanne's father might be behind that door as well.

Rupert, who'd been sticking close to Megamind in his attempt to avoid Minion's wrath as long as possible, asked, “What's the matter, boss?”

Megamind rubbed his hands into his eyes. “This is...happy news. Very happy.”

“You don't look very happy, boss.”

“I mean to say, it's a very happy circumstance for Miss Ritchi. I believe that's her missing mother.”

“Oh, yeah?” Rupert's forehead wrinkled. “Oh.” His eyes widened and his mouth fell open as the thought hit. “Ohhh!” His face contorted into a sympathetic grimace. “And you're worried 'cause of all them kidnappings. She might be kinda mad at you, boss. Especially now yer shacking up with her daughter.”

“Thank you, Rupert,” Megamind said. “That was a very succinct analysis.”

Megamind debated with himself about dehydrating the woman anyway, then he blew out a breath through his lips. Might as well get it over with.
He holstered the de-gun and trudged to the door, rapping on it with his knuckles.

A middle-aged woman, unknown to him, opened it and gasped.

Elaine Ritchi, Roxanne's mother, stood on the other side of a desk. Her nostrils flared, her jaw stuck out, and then she turned her back on him.

There was a portly balding man there as well, eyes big at the sight of the Overlord, but he wasn't Roxanne's father. Megamind last saw Roxanne's parents about...what was it, two years ago? When he swooped in and kidnapped Roxanne at a family get-together of some sort in the backyard of her parents's house.

“May I come in?” he asked.

The woman standing petrified shook herself, glanced at the man, then at Elaine Ritchi, then back at Megamind. She stepped back.

Megamind's boots were noiseless on the carpet. He tried out a couple of opening remarks in his head, but nothing seemed quite right, not against the formidable wall of Mrs. Ritchi's angry back.

There was only one thing he could say, really. “Mrs. Ritchi, Roxanne is alive.”

Mrs. Ritchi's head snapped around to shoot him a shocked look, before the rest of her followed. For a second he thought she was going to throw the desk lamp at him. “How can you be so cruel?” she said, her voice breaking.

“Mrs. Ritchi, I have no reason to lie. Please, allow me to take you to her.” He held his hand out toward the open door in a gesture of invitation, but as she continued to scowl, unbudged, he let his arm drop. Too exhausted to make any further effort, he left the room.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mrs. Ritchi came out to follow him.

As he made his way to the hovercraft with Mrs. Ritchi's eyes boring holes into the back of his head, he decided that now was not the time to inform her of her daughter's new relationship status.

- - - - -

Iron Eagle leaned toward the screen. “No one else knows of this?” Unable to visit Metro City in person, this videochat was the next best thing.

“No,” Stratego said, shaking his head.

“But we have no idea where Megamind is holding them.”

“As suspended-animation cubes, Megamind could hide them away in an almost infinite number of places.”

“But he doesn't know their true identities, or their...role in the crisis.” Iron Eagle heaved a sigh. “Thank God for small favors.”

“I suggest we start negotiations for...”

“No!”

Stratego blinked and leaned back in his chair. “It's the simplest way. He's already offered to trade them for essential supplies.”

“We can't bargain with a villain. No deals.”

“But surely that's...”

“If he finds out who he has in his evil clutches, do you really think he'll let them go?”

Stratego huffed out a breath. “He's in dire straits, as much as anyone else trapped in the city. His resources are the most extensive, by far, but he can't hold out forever. Satellite photos show an increasing movement of citizens toward his territory, and with that many people flocking to him for help, he's going to need...”

“Oh, come off it, Stratego, we both know he's not really trapped. Getting past the military blockade would be a cakewalk for him. What's his game? Why is he staying? Clearly he values power above all else, to lord it over a desperate citizenry. He's surrounded himself with human shields to forestall any attempt to use military force against him.” Iron Eagle snorted and shook his head. “Gotta give him credit.”

Stratego, despite long years of cynicism and serving as a security consultant for various heroes, military groups, and governments, was momentarily speechless.

Iron Eagle snorted again at his expression. “I can't believe that never occurred to you, Stratego.”

“It never occurred to me that attacking an American city was actually one of the options,” Stratego said, voice growing sharp.

Iron Eagle had the grace to look uncomfortable. “I only meant to confine our main attack to his territory.”

“Have you brought it up with the League?”

Iron Eagle flapped an impatient hand. “Are you kidding? We'd have to call an official meeting, and that means Metro Man. Besides, the League probably would spend the next fifty years arguing about whether to use the military anyway. I want to keep this on the down-low. You know?”
There was a brief silence. “You owe me, Stratego.”

Stratego heaved a sigh. “All right, all right. No League. But Powerhouse and Silver Knight know.”

Iron Eagle worked his jaw. “Silver Knight could be a problem. What about your sidekick?”

“Rook's always been a team player, don't worry about him.”

“Send in a task force to scout his terrain and infiltrate the Lair if possible,” Iron Eagle said.

“What about the virus?” It would be hard to find volunteers willing to risk infection. And besides that, Stratego wasn't too thrilled about the possibility of a task force carrying the virus out with them.

“Might very well be too late,” Iron Eagle said. “This sleeper version...”

“So there is another type. How many are there?”

“Only the two.”

“And you're sure about that? Really sure?” Stratego got up, almost knocking the chair over. “Darn it, Eagle, what the heck was your father thinking? It wasn't meant to be used this way!”

“Get a hold of yourself!” Iron Eagle was standing, too, his hands raised to grip the screen as if he wanted to take hold of Stratego and shake some sense into him.

Stratego paced back and forth. This situation threatened to turn into an outright debacle, with too many variables at play, and he wasn't sure how long they'd be able to hold on to the unraveling threads.

Iron Eagle's eyes pierced him. “Are you still a team player, Stratego? Are you?”

Stratego wiped his hand over his mouth and came to a halt in front of the monitor. “Yeah. Of course I am. I just...”

“Good. Then see about that task force.” Iron Eagle signed off.

Chapter Text

Megamind stayed back as Roxanne ran to her mother, both of them weeping and holding on to each other for dear life.

Quietly, he slipped away to his room--to their room--and lay down, feeling the numbness of exhaustion, but he was unable to sleep.
Finding Roxanne's mother alive was a good thing, of course, but that left her father still unaccounted for, and he hadn't nearly enough nerve to ask Mrs. Ritchi what had happened to her husband. Not on top of the impending revelation of her daughter's new status with her kidnapper.

Former kidnapper.

He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. From a parental perspective, indeed, from a number of perspectives, it sounded sleazy as hell.

It had all been a grand game, the kidnapping of the damsel, the challenging of the mighty hero, followed by epic battle. He hadn't meant any harm, not to Roxanne in any case, but one could hardly expect Mrs. Ritchi to shrug it off and be okay with it.

Mrs. Ritchi probably thought he'd coerced Roxanne into sharing his bed, or even worse, that he...

Evil gods, he couldn't bear thinking any more about what Mrs. Ritchi was thinking. Roxanne would tell her the truth, and the older woman would either believe her, or not.

He could think of no better course of action than to keep out of Mrs. Ritchi's sight to let her come to terms with the matter. Perhaps it was just as well that he was going out of town for a few days.

The alternative pressing matter, one which arguably was of more importance to the city at large and probably should have been uppermost in his mind, was Destruction Worker.

What on earth was that contemptible halfwit doing? A cash grab, obviously, but for what?

Destruction Worker's last battle against Metro Man last year hadn't gone well, indeed, it left the other villain's operations in ruins.

Possibly Destruction Worker was attempting to revamp his illegal gambling dens. Zombie apocalypse or not, people were still people and could only take so much mind-numbing terror before they started looking for distractions, especially with TV down and the movie theaters closed.

Money, as Bernard once shrewdly noted, still worked. Megamind could foresee a bartering economy gaining prominence at some point, but for the time being, people, being people, clung to what was familiar.

And Destruction Worker most definitely would have both the means and the ability to build defenses against zombies.

He would question Hot Flash. She might have some idea of Destruction Worker's agenda.

Perhaps the Doom Syndicate had made an attempt to pull together in this time of crisis, and had fallen out with each other, which might also have helped Hot Flash along on her road to burn-out. She wouldn't necessarily volunteer that information.

He had no recollection of falling asleep.

One minute he was conscious, the next minute, Minion was apologetically shaking his shoulder. “We're ready to go, Sir.”

“No, Minion,” Megamind said, drawing himself up to his full height. “I am ready to go. You will stay here.”

- - - - -

Eventually the tears and the hysteria tapered off, and Roxanne, her mind racing ahead, was anticipating her mother's questions.

Best to tell her right away that she and Megamind were a couple.

Which she did. As if from a distance, she watched her mother's eyes grow round with dismay, but to her surprise, instead of peppering her with questions, Mom simply heaved a sigh and stared off into the distance across the noisy Lair.

“What happened to your arm?" she asked. "One of his death traps, I suppose.”

“No, Mom, he doesn't do death traps anymore. A zombie bit me. But it's healing, I'll be fine."

Her bitten arm had been aching for some time, all the way up to her shoulder and neck, and she could feel a headache coming on. She rubbed her temple.

Mom fidgeted with Roxanne's hair, smoothing it back. “You need a trim," she muttered, then bit her lip. "Is it...consensual? I mean...with him? Because if...”

Roxanne reached out and gripped her forearm. “Yes, it's entirely consensual. You don't have to worry.”

Mom puffed out a sigh and her shoulders relaxed a little, but she frowned as she ran her eyes over the bustling Lair.

“But is this really what you want, Roxanne?” she asked in a low voice, leaning close as if afraid of being overheard. “I don't understand what he's doing. He's been trying to destroy the city for years but now he's trying to save it?”

“Not destroy, Mom, but become its ruler. And he succeeded. I guess.”

“What does that make you?” Her mother's worried eyes searched hers.

Roxanne opened her mouth, but shut it again. Well, if he's the Overlord, I guess I'm his...consort? Queen? Either title sounded pretentious.

“Just about everyone calls me Miss Ritchi. I'm sort of a...co-ruler,” she said briskly, hoping her mother would drop it. Truthfully a part of her was uneasy with the idea. She'd never been particularly interested in public office, and she was sure that Megamind never had been, either. Not as such.

They'd never discussed it, but she suspected that his regular declarations of becoming Overlord had simply been part of the supervillain package, along with the grandstanding and outlandish outfits.

Actually becoming the ruler of the city was another matter entirely. He took leadership because someone had to. And Roxanne supposed that some of it was bound to rub off on her whether she liked it or not.

She steeled herself for the question niggling at her, a question she was dreading. “Mom, what happened to Dad?”

Mom's face became carefully blank and she cleared her throat. “He's fine. I imagine.”

Not an answer Roxanne was expecting. “What...”

“He's in Los Angeles. Or near there. In California.”

Roxanne felt completely lost. They didn't know anyone in California.

Mom cleared her throat again. “He left before the quarantine.”

“Before the...” Roxanne shook her head. “Mom, you have to tell me. What happened?”

She sighed in an exasperated way. “Well, Roxanne, he... he's at a religious camp.”

Her mother made a face and flapped her hand as if wanting to sweep away the very notion. “He wanted me to come along, but it's absolute nonsense, Roxanne. One of those Rapture groups. The dead are rising so they think their savior is going to come around and judge everybody or something like that.”

“A cult! Dad's at some cult camp out in Los Angeles?”

“Near Los Angeles.”

“When in the world did he...?” She shook her hair out of her eyes. The thought of her dour father getting sucked into a cult was unthinkable. Dad never even went to church unless Mom asked him to go. “Why didn't you tell me this was happening, Mom?”

“I didn't think it'd last, Roxanne, I thought it was just one of his phases. You know how he's always reading. Remember when he was sure going to Tibet and becoming a monk was the thing to do? Then about a week before the army closed off the city, he tells me he's got two Amtrak tickets and we have to go now before it's too late. I told him no way was I getting involved in some ridiculous scheme like this.”

Mom looked at her hands lying in her lap. “I never thought he'd go through with it. Or maybe he'd get it out of his system and come back. Then the quarantine happened. I went to the Meyers' place and the three of us went to pick up Miss Holly and her foster children and we all went to my bank.”

She shook herself, and gave Roxanne a brightly determined smile. “You know, I think I could use a shower after all. Where are the facilities again?”

Roxanne made sure Mom got a dry towel and soap, and left her friends Pilar and Agnes to keep her company. She also located her mom's neighbors to talk to them and see that they were all right.

She was glad Mom had her neighbors to turn to in this crisis. That's often how it worked now, groups of people banding together and finding shelter, looking out for one another.

Satisfied that they were settled in, she went to find Megamind.

Strange how personal matters could turn a person's world upside down as thoroughly as a zombie invasion.

She needed Megamind. She just wanted to lie in bed with him and not think about much of anything for a while. Her mother was alive and safe, and that would do for now. They could sleep and finally get some rest.

As she approached the room, she could hear Megamind and Minion talking. She didn't think anything of it until Megamind's voice rose.

“Minion, please,” he said, a desperate edge to his voice. “I can't fight both of you.”

Minion let out an odd strangled noise. Megamind heaved a sigh, and began talking in a steady murmur, in a language she didn't know.

She stood frozen in the corridor for a little longer, dread rising within her. Forcing her feet to move, she strode forward and went in, closing the door behind her.

They had, indeed been touching foreheads, but they drew apart from each other as Roxanne entered.

“What's going on?” she asked.

Minion looked away. Megamind gazed back somberly as he stepped toward her. “Roxanne,” he said in a low voice, reaching for her.

She pressed her lips together in a thin line and crossed her arms, already not liking where this was heading.

He let his hands fall to his sides. “I'm heading outside the quarantine. Food is imperative, and I will collect those materials that are owed to Metrocity.”

It was as if a fist closed around her throat. “How long will you be gone?”

“Two days, by my best estimate.”

She nodded and took a deep breath. It wasn't like she hadn't suspected this was coming. “Take care of him, Minion.”

The nervous flutter of Minion's fins and the twitch of his toothy jaw gave off a guilty vibe.

Roxanne gritted her teeth. “Tell me.”

“He's staying here. To look after things.”

“To look after me, you mean."

“Yes. And everyone else.” His eyes held hers, steady.

“And you're going to let him,” she said to Minion, unable to keep the accusatory tone out of her voice.

“Some others're going,” he mumbled. “Henchmen. One of the prison guards. And Nina, 'cuz she knows her way around army bases.”

She regarded them as they stood there, Minion at Megamind's shoulder.

They had been together all their lives, always had each other's backs, and right now they were united against any angry retort she could come up with.

But that didn't mean she would automatically agree without comment to whatever decision they decided upon.

“I want to know why,” she said.

Megamind's face was a picture, his brows wrinkling and reforming into different patterns as he struggled to put into words his feelings. “My heart,” he said, pressing his hand flat to his chest. “You two are... pieces of my heart. I almost lost both of you in one day. I need both of you here, in relative safety.”

“So Minion can look after me, is that it?” She was unable to feel very angry about it.

“That's right.” His eyes burned into her. “And this city needs someone in charge. Minion will help you.”

For a moment she felt dizzy and swayed where she stood.

Oh.

She would be in charge. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Henry the Fourth Part Two, came the well-remembered line from her college Shakespeare class.

Minion stirred, shifted his weight. “You care about this city, Miss Ritchi. As much as he does. We'll keep doing what we've been doing, holding down the fort basically. And Sir can be...you know...'resting' or 'working on secret projects.'” He made air quotes.

She frowned. “So it's not going to be common knowledge that you're gone? I don't know if that's...”

“Oh, it'll be fine,” Megamind interrupted. “Minion can put in an appearance as me once in a while. He has his own disguise generator, as part of his wrist comm.”

“Is that really a good idea?”

“Better than telling everyone their Overlord has taken off for a few days. Think of the consternation it would cause among the denizens. Why, there might be panic.”

Roxanne doubted that there would be panic, but the anxiety curling in her stomach was for him, and the dangers he would undoubtedly face. Having Minion impersonate Megamind once in a while out of some slightly skewed judgment, well, it wasn't an argument she felt like having, not when he was about to leave.

She put her arms around him, draping her injured arm lightly over him while hugging him tight with the other, striving to memorize the feel of his narrow back, the curve of his cheek and angle of his jaw against her face. “Come back safe,” she whispered.

He squeezed her, firm and warm. “Always,” he said hoarsely.

Roxanne, Minion, Nina's girlfriend Gabby, and the wife of one of the men gathered on the roof next to the greenhouse to see the scavenging party off.

Megamind dehydrated his co-conspirators, put them in his pocket, and walked to the stealthbots. He looked over his shoulder, his eyes meeting Minion's and then hers one last time before he stepped into the invisibility field and disappeared. There was a whisper of machinery as the stealthbots lifted off that she would have missed if she hadn't been listening for it, and then silence.

Megamind and his little task force had gone.

- - - - -

Despite her exhaustion, Roxanne barely slept the rest of the night.

She staggered from bed around dawn, checked on her mother, chatted with her friends, talked with various members of the police, the henchmen.

No new refugees arrived over night, which wasn't surprising, but there could be more now it was daylight.

She called the water treatment plant to see how they were doing, checked the fire station, checked the progress of the ad hoc police station a block down from the Lair. While she knew what she was doing was necessary, she felt superfluous, as everything seemed to be proceeding as normally as could be expected. 

The brainbots continued to stoically erect the wall around the peninsula, a great jigsaw puzzle of a wall made of girders, bricks, concrete, and occasional oddities. Roxanne spotted a park bench crammed into one spot, and in another place the top of a dining room table, secured with fresh cement, filled another gap. The brainbots were resourceful.

She prepared another round of interviews, and added more names of the dead to their broadcasts, all the while feeling as if she were shouting into an uncaring void. 

On the lookout for Destruction Worker, Minion and a small horde of brainbots accompanied her to the broadcast shed by the railroad tracks. He insisted on going with her whenever she left the safe zone, even for short trips. 

A possible attack from Destruction Worker wasn't really on her mind, though. She was sure Minion and the 'bots could handle him.

She couldn't shake the worry that Megamind might be tempted to cause mischief among the soldiers at the barricades, or even outright attack them, so she asked Gabby to take her on a hovercraft for a brief visit to the perimeter.

Gabby was as eager to go as Roxanne, and she remembered that Gabby was anxious for Nina. Though they couldn't possibly get a glimpse of their loved ones, somehow it felt better having something to do, even if it was only to scowl at the army.

Roxanne shaded her eyes against the sun's glare and squinted across the no man's land.

There was no change at any of the distant barricades as far as she could tell, no flurries of activity, no alarms or smoke or gunfire, so she supposed that was good.

What the outer world's reaction would be when it was discovered that a small cadre of infected citizens from a quarantined city were at large and possibly spreading contagion, she had no idea.

It tied her stomach in knots.

At midnight she and Minion went up to the roof to meet with returning stealthbots bearing sacks of dehydrated cubes.

They read the hastily scribbled note Megamind provided. '15,000 pounds of MREs and other rations. MASH unit. Re-hydrate in largest open area available,' and another note written on the back of an order form for spare parts for a jeep,

'Situation sickeningly normal, except for army checkpoints on highway. However, getting to Chicago docks problematic. Word is that Chicago making bid to become isolated city-state, Apex backing them. Might need extra day.'

Roxanne met Minion's worried gaze over the paper. “Has he ever confronted Apex before?” she asked. She didn't know much about the hero who was Defender of Chicago, other than that he was a weapons expert.

Minion shook his head. “No, but he'll be fine. It'll be fine.”

“Minion,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. "What aren't you telling me?"

“No, really, I'm sure he'll be all right! It's...well, for a while, I just feel like Sir's been spoiling for a fight. I hope he doesn't give in to temptation. But I'm sure he won't,” he added quickly.

So her uneasiness hadn't been for nothing. Given the opportunity, Megamind might decide a brief return to the good old days of fighting a hero would be time well spent. She flung her hands up in the air. “Ugh, I knew you should have gone with him.”

But invading Chicago needed to be done, if that's where the supplies owed to Metro City were being stored. She hoped Megamind invaded quietly.

- - - - -

She wondered how in the hell Minion would explain the sudden arrival of boxes and bags stamped with 'U.S. ARMY' all over them, but he simply announced that the Overlord had opened a supply line. Other than a few puzzled glances exchanged among the henchmen and cops, people seemed satisfied.

“How long's that explanation going to last?” Roxanne asked him when they were alone. “Because there isn't actually a supply line.”

“But there will be one, Miss Ritchi,” Minion said, holding up a huge finger. “Soon. Very soon.”

- - - - -

The simple fact that Megamind had left her in charge weighed on her, although nothing had really changed in the routine of the Lair or the safe zone, except for the usual headaches of accommodating the steadily growing numbers of refugees.

Even the zombies were laying low.

But the knowledge that Megamind wasn't there to back her up made her shoulders tight, and she had to consciously allow her muscles to relax.

Had he and his task force found a good place to hide? To rest? Blending in wouldn't necessarily be a problem, not with Megamind's disguise generator, but they'd need a safe place to rest, to hide from nosy authorities.

Could he really trust the people he'd brought with him? Would they desert him now that they were free of the city?

She kicked herself for not thinking of that sooner, and she wished again that she'd insisted Minion go along. Minion would never leave Megamind's side, and he could've helped keep Megamind's task force in line, if need be.

- - - - - -

Later that day, Roxanne went around a corner and stopped short at the sight of Dr. Plant deep in discussion...

...with Megamind.

Her heart leaped but she stifled the gasp that threatened to come out of her.

It wasn't Megamind. Of course. He wasn't due back yet.

It was Minion using the disguise generator, and this was confirmed when 'Megamind' motioned her over.

Despite the sweeping gesture, which had Megamind written all over it, the eyes that turned to her were the warm, slightly nervous brown eyes of Minion.

“Ah, Miss Ritchi,” he said.

The voice was also flawless, and the inflection, albeit just a bit exaggerated. She sucked in her lip to hide her amusement, and wondered how she would fare if she tried to imitate Megamind as Minion was doing.

“Grave news, Miss Ritchi,” Minion said.

No, Megamind. She must think of him as Megamind. It amazed her, however, that no one else was fooled. Now that she knew it was Minion, it was difficult not to see it.

Dr. Plant turned toward her, clearly disturbed, and that squelched any more amusement on Roxanne's part.

“Typhus,” she said. “The zombie baby died of typhus. I examined the body."

"What's the treatment?" Roxanne asked.

"Doxycycline, which the MASH unit was stocked with, fortunately, and we've begun treating the rest of the child's family. The disease flourished in crowded, unsanitary conditions. We need to keep an eye out for more outbreaks, especially with the folks at the water treatment plant."

"We better notify Hot Flash," Roxanne said. "Symptoms?"

"Sudden onset of fever, headache. A rash develops in five to seven days, starting on the torso. Fatalities are typically high, and spread by body lice."

Roxanne did her best to smile reassuringly back at the doctor. “Excuse us a moment, doctor,” she said, and seized the elbow of the pseudo-Overlord, pulling him off to the side.

Some part of her mind boggled at the very real feeling of Megamind's leather-clad elbow under her hand rather than Minion's huge hairy arm.
And how does the disguise generator make him shorter? she wondered, but pushed aside her curiosity.

Once they were around the corner, she demanded in as loud a whisper as she dared. “Do you really think that was a good idea? Pretending to be Megamind?"

“Well, sure, Miss Ritchi. I've done it before,” he said, smiling brightly. “The doctor wanted to talk to the boss, said it was urgent, and there ya go. She's happy, I'm happy, we're all happy. Well, except for the whole, you know, typhus thing."

- - - - -

The next morning, Minion was overseeing the brainbots installing a biodiesel fuel engine into a semi-truck when there was a shout.

He looked up.

Tony, recently liberated from his cane as his leg had healed up enough, called out again. “Overlord! Anybody seen 'im?”

Denizens shrugged and shook their heads, and Tony hurried over to Minion. “Minion, where's the boss? He ain't in his room.”

Minion barely stopped himself from saying 'he's resting', which had become his go-to response over the past couple of days. “Oh, he must've stepped out.”

“Can you call him? On that?” he asked, pointing agitatedly at the comm on Minion's wrist.

“He's pretty busy,” Minion said, scowling. Internally, however, he felt alarmed at Tony's agitation. Several people were drifting over, wondering at the disturbance, including a few cops, Rupert the henchman, and Luke, probationary henchman.

“Psycho Delic's at the border!” Tony cried. “Says he wants to talk to the Overlord.”

Oh shit.

Minion bristled. “He attacked?”

“No, just said he wants to talk. Only the Overlord. Want us to shoot him?”

“'Scuse me a sec,” Minion said, hurrying away into the Lair and away from the staring crowd. For the look of the thing he pretended to speak into his comm.

- - - - -

And so it was that the Overlord flew to the border of the safe zone on a hoverbike, with extra brainbots overhead, and armed henchmen and cops jogging up from behind as backup.

Minion set down next the fidgeting guards, feeling he'd done a pretty decent entrance.

He strode past the growling brutebots hovering in a half circle by the abandoned real estate office across the safe zone's border.

Psycho Delic and half a dozen men were backed against the wall, hands raised.

All of them, Minion noticed, armed to the teeth but bedraggled and shabby. One man slumped against the wall, sweating, eyes closed, a dirty bandage tied inexpertly around the hand he hugged to his chest.

Almost against his will, Minion felt a twinge of sympathy.

He did his best to harden his heart and fixed Psycho Delic with a haughty glare. “Well, here I am. As requested.”

Psycho Delic slowly lifted his head and looked at him from under his hat brim, his glowing red eyes muted and hollowed within his purple face. Carefully, he took his hat off his head and held it in both hands, taking a cautious step forward while his eyes darted around at the multitude of 'bots.

“Hey, Overlord,” he said hoarsely, and ducked his head and hunched his shoulders.

With some amazement, Minion realized he'd just bowed. Psycho Delic's trenchcoat lay on the ground, showing how the purple man's red button-up shirt swung loose over his skeletal frame.

At an impatient signal from Psycho Delic, his men began to reach for their belts and pockets.

“Hold it,” Minion snapped. The bots' snarling went up a notch. The cops and henchmen raised their weapons.

But Psycho Delic's men were holding up their hands again, revolvers held slack and upside down. Despite the increased sweating and darting eyes, it was clear they were surrendering.

Psycho Delic had his hands raised, too, had dropped his purple hat. He licked his lips. “Need sanctuary,” he muttered, in a tone that was almost deferential.

Minion narrowed his eyes, his Megamind mask adopting the same look of skepticism. “Drop 'em.”

The weapons clattered to the ground.

Psycho Delic tried to adopt what was probably meant as a pleading expression, but he wasn't very good at it, managing more of a resentful, sullen look instead.

“So you want sanctuary,” Minion said, to buy time. What would Sir do? Minion hadn't expected this.

“Look, Megamind.” Psycho Delic opened and closed his mouth. “Uh. Overlord,” he amended, ducking his head again. “I need help. Can't touch these fucking zombies, my smoke don't work on 'em at all. They don't feel nothin.' Almost out of ammo. Haven't eaten for....”

He pressed his thin lips together, as if angry at his own wheedling voice, and he shuffled closer, turning his hat around like a steering wheel in his hands. Desperation oozed off him.

“Look, I know you got morals and shit like that. I promise there won't be any trouble. I'll do whatever you want, just let us stay.” His eyes darted around. “If any of my guys steps outta line, I'll cut off their balls myself.” He turned a savage scowl on his henchmen.

Minion worked his jaw.

Psycho Delic blinked rapidly, became more agitated. “Please,” he whispered. “Jesus Christ, waddya want? I got some money, it's in a locker at the Greyhound station on 67th, you can have it. I got nothing else. My girls're gone, you never wanted to sleep with 'em anyway, drugs are...”

“Drugs!” Minion shouted.

Psycho Delic was startled into silence.

Minion coughed. “Uh, I mean, yeah, maybe you could be of help. We need medicine. Real medicine, not meth," he said, fixing the other villain with a stern look.

This might be a mistake. For a split second, it seemed as if one problem had been resolved, but already Minion was having second thoughts about using anything procured by Psycho Delic.

Psycho Delic's face broke into a relieved smile. “Yeah. Sure. Medicine. I'll figure something out. You need me for anything, I'm your man."

The smile turned into a leer as, a dealer to his core, Psycho Delic edged closer and said in a conspiratorial murmur, "But seriously, when I'm back on my feet, I can sniff out the goods, if you know what I mean. No problemo, Overlord. Whole city's goin' to pot, but I can..."

His voice faded as he peered at the Overlord's eyes more closely, his eyebrows pinching together. “What's wrong with your eyes? You wearing contacts?”

Minion whirled. “Take their weapons,” he ordered the astonished henchmen. “Find them a place. Not in the Lair.”

As he strode to the hoverbike, Minion glanced back over his shoulder.

Psycho Delic watched him, his skeletal features developing into a sly grin, a knowing gleam in his red eyes.

A warm flush passed over Minion's cheeks and set his fins a-quiver as he got on the hoverbike and flew back to the Lair.

Damn, damn, damn! He shouldn't have let Psycho Delic get so close. But Minion let his empathy get the better of him. He'd never seen Psycho Delic so pathetically submissive before, the other villain must've had a tough time of it, to come crawling to Sir for help, and one of his men was injured, and...

Minion set down in the courtyard and leaped off the bike with a frustrated growl, startling several denizens hanging up laundry.

Psycho Delic knew.

The other villain couldn't have known it was a hard-light hologram projected over Minion, but he wasn't stupid, either.

Psycho Delic knew that whoever he'd been talking to, it wasn't Megamind.

Chapter Text

Finding a group of citizens trapped by zombies under a highway underpass, Roxanne sent a call to Minion to bring reinforcements, and when the zombies were eliminated and the refugees were clambering onto the hovercraft, it was then that Minion, shame-faced, told her about Psycho Delic.

Roxanne rubbed her temples. “I thought you said you'd impersonated Megamind before.”

“Yeah, for, you know, little stretches. Here and there.” His fins drooped. “I'm really sorry, Miss Ritchi. Negotiating's hard.”

Minion looked so dejected that Roxanne patted his big hairy arm.

He cleared his throat. “There's one other thing.”

“What?” she asked warily.

“I think he figured out I wasn't Sir.”

Minion explained, and she huffed out a long breath. “Okay. He doesn't have any proof. His word against ours.”

“Could cause trouble if he spreads it around.”

She nodded. She could imagine the spin Psycho Delic would put on it, the Overlord taking off who knew where, abandoning his post, and wouldn't it be a better idea to have a strong man in charge, say, someone like Psycho Delic?

Perhaps she should drive him and his thugs out immediately, before they had a chance to cause trouble, but doing such a thing seemed unfair.

They hadn't really done anything wrong, and yet, did it matter when it was Psycho Delic?

Well, shit. Just her luck she had to be a decent person, but she decided she might as well talk to the lousy bastard first. Kicking him out was almost worse than keeping him in the safe zone where they could keep an eye on him.

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” she muttered to herself.

“What was that, Miss Ritchi?”

“Oh, nothing. You took their weapons?”

“Absolutely, Miss Ritchi.” He swam in a nervous circle. “You know what, best thing is to avoid him. Yeah. Sir'll be back soon. He can deal with him.”

Roxanne put her hands on her hips and idly watched a different pack of zombies shuffling away on the other side of the freeway. Probably drawn by the scent of the soldiers at a not-too-distant barricade.

Which was fine by her. Let them get attacked by the damn zombies for once.

She said, “I'm going to have a little talk with him.”

Minion's eyes widened, shocked. “You can't do that!”

“I don't see why not."

- - - - -

She brought an entourage, naturally, comandeering an electric truck for the henchmen and cops backing her up.

All three hovercraft were being used in search and rescue efforts, so she rode with Minion driving Spider-Bot.

Minion was tense and a little flustered. “Got your sidearm?”

“Yes, Minion,” she said calmly.

“Keep your 'bots close. Hear that, Muybridge? Eastman?” He turned to fix the camerabots with a stern look. “Stick close to Mommy.”

“Mommy?” she said, her eyebrows shooting up.

Minion cleared his throat. “Um. Yeah. The brainbots. They decided...they think...they call you Mommy now.”

She stared at him, then chuckled and shook her head, gesturing at her 'bots to come closer so she could pet them. “Well, that confirms it. I'm officially the queen.”

She and her hodgepodge of assorted muscle approached the rundown building at the other end of the peninsula where Psycho Delic had taken up residence. Spider-Bot crouched to let Minion disembark, and he assisted her own slightly less graceful climb down the 'bot's jointed leg.

Almost as soon as she touched the ground, she came face to face with Hal.

Startled, she took a step back, bumping into Minion.

“Hey, Roxie,” Hal said with a sneer, face flushed and sunburned. “Come to beg for forgiveness, huh?”

“Hardly. Move it.”

“Oh, you think you're hot shit, huh?” he said, swaying. “You think you're the goddam queen. You think you're some kinda...some kinda fuckin' queen, instead of some...”

His venomous words rapidly devolved into barely comprehensible expletives which momentarily stunned her. He was clearly drunk. Or high. At least that explained his idiotic bravery, marching right up to her with Minion and the Spider-Bot towering next to her, not to mention the growling brainbots.

Fuck this. She was on her way to talk to a supervillain, not to trade insults with this scumbag.

Feeling ridiculously imperious, she said, “Minion, get him out of my way.”

Minion grinned wide. “With pleasure, Miss Ritchi.”

Hal stumbled back an awkward step as Minion lunged for him, and made an attempt to run as others in the entourage followed Minion's lead and rushed forward to flank him. He whirled around, but Muybridge nipped his foot, making him trip. Lieutenant Hinkley pounced, twisting his arms behind his back while he screeched.

“Anybody got a gag?” Hinkley shouted over the noise. One of the henchmen handed her a rag from his pocket and she stuffed into Hal's mouth.

A burst of laughter from the entrance to the building alerted Roxanne to the fact that there was an audience.

Psycho Delic and his cronies stood within the shadows, watching the show. “Guess the Overlord's gal don't need no help.” He cackled again.

He took a drag from a cigarette, and Roxanne remembered a warning regarding the villain. Sometimes Psycho Delic used cigarettes as cover for the purple smoke he could emit at will, to drug, to stupefy, to incapacitate.

He blew out a stream of smoke. “Some random chick won't do for the Overlord, right?” His lips stretched into an evil leer. “Or whoever that was.”

Roxanne felt herself stiffen. Minion leaned down to her ear and said in a stage whisper. “Just give the order, we'll stuff 'em in the cells.”

Roxanne waved him off, irritated with herself for hesitating so that Minion felt he had to intervene.

Roxanne stepped forward, smiling brightly as she'd done a million times before, with her camerabots zipping around her.

Just another interview. Why had she been worried? She was going to report the hell out of this, though at the first sign of purple smoke she fully planned to throw dignity aside and scream her head off.

“Walk with me,” she said to Psycho Delic. “Leave your men. And put out that cigarette.”

She turned to walk across the weedy yellow lawn between the building and parking lot, as if she fully expected him to follow.

She resisted the urge to look over her shoulder, although there were a few sweat-inducing moments where she wasn't sure Psycho Delic would follow along, and she'd look pretty damn stupid if she had to walk back to talk with him, but soon she heard the soft rustle of grass as someone fell into step beside her.

Psycho Delic was still smiling, and he had indeed gotten rid of the cigarette, but there was a hardness in his red eyes and insolence to his swagger, male resentment wafting off him like smoke.

Oh, he didn't like this at all, some chick telling him what to do. It was that kind of vibe. Well, she'd dealt with plenty of misogynistic assholes in her time, nothing new.

From somewhat further behind, Minion gave a little cough. He'd followed at a discreet distance, and Roxanne couldn't fault him for caution.

They stopped short of the baking heat of the asphalt.

“So what brings you here? I'm interested in your plans.” She resisted the urge to cross her arms, though in truth she missed the small protective barrier a microphone would have afforded her. She settled for hooking a thumb in her belt.

Psycho Delic's eyes glinted with equal parts amusement and malevolence. “Plans?” he said innocently.

Roxanne maintained her easy smile. The hell with being coy. “Thinking about maybe taking over or...”

Psycho Delic waved his hands. “Hold on there, sister. I ain't no Overlord. I'm more of a behind the scenes kinda guy.”

He leaned close and she made herself to stay where she was though her back tightened. “You can trust me. What's really goin' on? I may not be a bona fide genius, but...” His eyes darted around in mock conspiracy, as if sharing a joke. “That wasn't Megamind who let me in.”

“Really,” she said. She wasn't going to deny it, especially since she didn't believe it was particularly sensitive information anyway. Megamind and Minion probably wanted to keep the news of Megamind's absence a secret merely out of long habit of being sneaky, in her opinion.

Psycho Delic straightened, his grin smug, believing he'd scored a point. “So, he get hurt? Or...worse?”

Now her nonchalance was growing a bit forced, but she continued to meet his gaze. Damned if she was going to let this villain upset her.

“I assure you, the Overlord is alive and well,” she said evenly.

Psycho Delic chuckled. “Uh-huh. Now, I know how it is. You're doing your best to keep it together while the blue man is, uh, indisposed, shall we say?” He paused as he drew a battered cigarette package out of an inner pocket.

“I didn't give you permission to smoke,” she said. Out of the corner of her eye Minion took half a step closer.

He cocked his head, studying her, glanced at Minion, then tucked the package away again with a mocking bow. “I do beg your pardon. Habit. It must be hard, being a little lady in charge all alone.”

To her utter horror, he patted her shoulder.

She reacted immediately, smacking his arm away. Her view of the villain was blocked as Minion, growling, got between them.

She clenched her fists, resisted the urge to scrub at the spot where he touched her. His chemicals could penetrate skin. Could they get through the fabric of her t-shirt?

Minion turned sideways to regard her with a worried frown. “You all right? Where did he...?”

“Here,” she murmured, tapping her shoulder. The purple man's fingers hadn't brushed against her bare neck, though she shuddered at the thought. Minion's tense expression eased, and she relaxed too as he murmured that she'd be all right. If anyone knew how Psycho Delic's concoctions worked, it would be Minion, and Megamind.

Anger rising, she pushed past Minion to face the villain again, fists clenched.

Psycho Delic blinked innocently at her, as if he couldn't believe anyone would think badly of him. “Now, I don't like to make trouble, but don't people deserve to know the truth?”

“And you'll keep quiet in exchange for...?” She left the question hang in the air unfinished.

“Extra food, some booze, maybe a few gals what ain't too picky. I'm a simple man, Miss Ritchi.”

“I see. Is that all?”

“Who knows. Might want to start up my old businesses again. Real discreet, like. Long as the local fuzz looks the other way once in a while. You'd be okay with that, right?”

Was he kidding? Did he really think she would be cowed so easily? Her anger turned cold as she drew herself up.

“Minion, grab his arm.”

Both of them stared at her in surprise. Minion recovered first, lunging at Psycho Delic as the villain backpedaled, to haul him in again.

Minion shot her a warning look, and she took a few paces back, hopefully far enough to be able to escape any purple smoke coming her way. It also helped that the wind was at her back. It'd be tough for Psycho Delic to smoke her upwind.

“What the fuck?” Psycho Delic spat, hat askew, mouth twisted in fury.

“Break one of his fingers,” she said, and was amazed that she sounded so calm.

Minion was less surprised this time. “Which one?” he asked, with a very disturbing smile.

“A-any. Doesn't matter.” She swallowed, angry at the nervous stutter, determined not to let it happen again. Power coursed through her veins, along with the unsettling knowledge that Minion must have done this before, or something like it.

No backing down now.

Psycho Delic must have seen the hardness in her eyes, because his snarling face changed to alarm. “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” he shouted, clawing at Minion's unyielding grip. Purple smoke puffed out of sleeves, but erratically, fuelled by fear rather than purpose.

Roxanne raised her hand and Minion paused, keeping hold of one purple pinkie.

Psycho Delic licked his lips. “I might've...misspoke.”

“About what?”

He grimaced. “I won't be no trouble.”

“Be more precise,” she said, her voice cold.

He squirmed, and at last said, as if his voice were being squeezed along with his hand, “No drugs, won't recruit no girls.”

“Or guys. Is Hal one of yours?”

A cagey look came over him as he grimaced and shrugged, maybe not sure if he'd be held responsible for Hal's verbal attack. She didn't particularly care about Hal, but she supposed she cared a little bit that he'd gotten sucked into this villain's gang, if only because a doped-up Hal would be an even bigger pain to deal with.

“No more recruiting,” she said. “You're gang's big enough.”

She studied him a little longer. “Go ahead and tell everybody in the safe zone Megamind is out. I really don't care, because he will be back. Very shortly. You'll get your rations, you and your men can stay, but the Overlord, I'm sure, will find better uses for you than running prostitution rings or selling drugs. And don't forget, you're responsible for anything your henchmen do. Clear?”

“I guess,” he muttered.

“Yes, ma'am,” she prompted.

His expression turned murderous, but Minion must have tightened his hold because he grimaced and shut his eyes. “Yes, ma'am,” he ground out through his teeth.

She nodded at Minion and the henchfish let go of him.

Psycho Delic hugged his hand to his chest, sullen and breathing hard, his eyes shooting daggers at her.

She smiled sweetly. “Megamind's going to hear that you laid hands on me. The last man who did that regretted it.”

With satisfaction she watched Psycho Delic's scowl take on overtones of worry as his eyes darted to the side, half expecting the Overlord to materialize out of thin air.

Which he could very well do, eventually, she reminded herself firmly, if he came to confront Psycho Delic in the invisible car.

Megamind was coming back. She refused to think of any alternative.

She strode back to where Spider-Bot and her entourage faced off against Psycho Delic's shabby little gang, Minion a reassuring presence at her side.

- - - - - - -

As much as Roxanne would've liked a breather after the encounter with Psycho Delic, the demands of the day escalated, becoming considerably more lively than the previous three combined.

Tree branches had blown down across several streets during the last storm that needed to be removed to allow foot traffic and vehicles to travel to and from the green and yellow zones.

More refugees filtered in, needing food, gas for their cars, tools, weapons, medical attention, diapers, flashlights, batteries, and countless other necessities.

Some begged for help in rescuing relatives and neighbors who were incapable of making the trek, or for ways to make their homes safer. Minion sent a crew of brainbots to audit the local hardware and home improvement centers for fencing and reinforced doors.

A woman gave birth in a broken down van just outside the yellow zone, fortuitously rescued by firefighters from zombies drawn by the smell of blood and other fluids. Two more women had babies in more favorable circumstances at the clinic/MASH unit.

No one seemed to have time to do a proper inventory of the medicines on hand, and there still was no insulin. Twelve more diabetics were dehydrated and carefully stored away, three of them children, and Roxanne hoped Megamind got his hands on a supply.
The family quarantined with typhus were on the road to recovery, at least.

The wall continued to go up steadily around the peninsula, made of a hodge podge of chain link fences, girders, broken concrete meticulously fitted together by the tireless 'bots. Barbed wire lined the top to snag any zombies that managed to make the climb.

As she watched Doris's grandkids and a gaggle of other youngsters milling about a section of chainlink fence, chucking rocks through the links to see who could hit the waves lapping the shore, Roxanne regretted the necessity cutting off the peninsula from the lake. Still plenty of open shoreline, though, along the rest of the city.

The safe zone was gradually filling up as people took over empty buildings, or put up their own tents and shacks. Whenever a group of people insisted on going back to their homes rather than stay, Roxanne was secretly relieved.

Roxanne eyed their dwindling supplies and gave instructions to scout for as yet untapped grocery stores, warehouses, gas stations, and empty houses, with stern reminders that there was to be no strongarming of survivors.

And people brought their pets, too, dogs and cats and parrots, and two very rambunctious ferrets, adding to the general chaos.

Roxanne, head filled with nightmare visions of frightened, overstressed animals accidentally biting people, and not wanting the spectre of rabies to complicate the situation, insisted on enforcing leash laws and brought cages from a humane society for the cats and ferrets, feeling like a monster caging up innocent creatures.

As unfair as it was, she didn't let any more pets into the Lair. Taffy the cat calmly continued to reign supreme, the sole pet allowed to roam free.

In one memorable case, a man in a dirty but expensive three-piece suit arrived to demand a security detail to guard his mansion and invaluable art collection.

Roxanne got into a fruitless hour-long argument over the matter, making her head hurt and her arm ache all the way up to her shoulder, until she ended the matter by ordering Tony and Rupert to kick him out.

Later, after her temper cooled, she tracked down two cops who weren't too exhausted from searching for survivors to go take a look at the guy's mansion, figuring she would find out how much food he had squirreled away. She sternly reminded herself of her own 'no strongarming of survivors' rule, but she would make some pointed remarks to the man about sharing with the community, perhaps in exchange for a few brainbots to patrol his grounds once in a while.

She liked art. Was perfectly willing to preserve the cultural aspects of the city. She would, however, prefer not to have a pompous ass throw demands in her face about the importance of protecting his personal collection.

She'd been wanting to take a closer look at the city's libraries and museums to see what sort of shape they were in, maybe even find a way to staff them so people would at least have a few options for leisure, if it could be managed to secure them from zombies and looters.

Pastor Mike was pushing for a talent show or a movie night, no matter how silly, as relief from the terror that ruled their days. It seemed ridiculous when he first brought it up, but she was beginning to wish for some distractions herself, some relief from the anxiety over Megamind, which she pushed to the back of her mind out of self preservation and so she could function without hiding in bed all day curled up around a pillow.

It was always there, a tightness in her stomach and an anxious background hum in her thoughts. Was he getting any sleep at all? Enough to eat? Or was he being hounded by soldiers, police, and superheroes, unable to find a safe place to lay his head?

When he got back she was going to tie him to the bed if need be, to get him some rest.

- - - - -

Midnight came.

Megamind didn't.

No messages from a brainbot, nothing.

Roxanne spent a sleepless night on the roof, Pilar and Agnes waiting with her. She told them to go back down into the Lair to get some sleep, but instead they fetched blankets and made themselves as comfortable, or as comfortable as anyone could get on a hard roof. Roxanne eventually lay down too, and dozed off just before dawn.

Minion was grim and silent, but, more used to the uncertainty of Megamind's coming and going, and, perhaps more wisely, he was unwilling to let himself be consumed by worry, he left occasionally to see that all was secure and to attend to other matters.

Roxanne eventually lay down next to her friends and dozed off just before dawn.

She stood, stretching out the kinks and feeling slightly bruised from lying on the hard roof, and groggily looked out at the lake.

Pilar was just coming back up the elevator. She brought three plastic cups.

“Tea,” she muttered, eyes puffy from poor sleep, and handed them to Roxanne and Agnes.

She watched the sunlight dappling the waves for a while, too tired to feel much of anything, and at last steeled herself to go downstairs and face the demands of another day.

A flash of light in the blue distance caught her eye.

Many flashes.

She leaned against the roof's wall, shading her eyes.

Far away a dark mass surged across the water, surrounded by a flock of...

Could have been seagulls around that ship, but not glittering in the sun like that.

A cloud of brainbots, tiny with distance, darted and soared around the ship. It was a huge ship, too, charging through the line of coast guard boats, tossing them aside like toys.

Fierce joy propelled her downstairs, her friends excitedly chattering.

- - - - - -

The freighter was too big for any of the docks around the peninsula, and Roxanne, Minion and a growing crowd hurried out of the safe zone and down the shore to the nearest port that could handle the ship.

For a time Roxanne was too busy shouting at some of the first responders to keep an eye out for zombies before she shoved her way to the front of the crowd.

It took a long time for the freighter to slow down, especially at the speed it had been going, and to ponderously ease into port.

The brainbots were going nuts, more and more of them gathering to mingle with the 'bots that had gone with Daddy on the mission, to make one enormous flock swooping and soaring around the ship.

Roxanne shaded her hand against the sun and peered upward, but while others in the salvage mission shouted and waved from the deck at the people on shore, she didn't see Megamind among them.

After about fifty years by Roxanne's count the brutebots got the freighter tethered securely with ropes thicker than Roxanne's body and the gangplank lowered.

A great noise rose from the crowd, more of a roar than a cheer that made Roxanne's hair stand on end, but fortunately Minion anticipated there might be some overexcitement, and more brutebots lumbered into position, keeping people from rushing the gangplank.

Minion shouted at people to leave it to the salvage crews to find out exactly what supplies were on the ship, and then he would need volunteers to get them loaded on the trucks to bring to the safe zone.

Roxanne was dimly aware that she really ought to help take charge of some of these details, she was being horribly derelict in her duty, but all she could do was crane her neck, searching for the one person she didn't see at the rail of the deck.

She pushed forward, barely aware of a henchman shoving people out of her way, determined to search the entire ship if need be, but Minion seized her shoulder, gently yet implacably stopping her advance.

“Wait, there he is,” he said breathlessly.

And there was Megamind, coming down the gangplank, grinning broadly and with four days' stubble making him look too damn roguish by far, cape missing, and as he staggered ashore Roxanne had her arms around him, and he embraced her in return, his wiry body leaning against her, and a sob that had been kept inside for far too long broke out of her.

She clung to him, and truthfully he seriously needed a shower, the odor of burnt metal and ozone mingled with his sweat stung her nostrils, but damned if she was going to let go of him anytime soon, with his hands flat on her back and the feel of his chest rising and falling.

He was the one to pull back slightly, to dreamily smile upon her fondly and said...

...something in a completely unfamiliar language.

Minion placed a large hand on Megamind's shoulder and leaned down to speak into his ear. “Sir, that's Russian.”

Megamind stared up at Minion, and Roxanne could swear she could see thoughts flickering through his eyes like flashes of light.

Megamind blinked. “So I am,” he said, frowning. “Wow. That was. Just. WOW!”

Laughing hysterically, he staggered off to the side, grinning maniacally. “That was just. Just weird."

He staggered sideways in the opposite direction to run into Minion's chest, and sagged against him. “Wasn't that weird, Minion? Just like that one time Psycho Delic shot me full of whatchacallit. Smoke. Drugs. Thing. Hell of a thing, Roxanne, I was switching languages, back, forth, back, forth, Spanish, Polish, Cantonese, Russian! Think he's somewhere nearby, Minion?"

Luke piped up. “But boss, don't you remember? Psycho Delic is...”

Roxanne's savage glare shut him up and Luke stood there blinking and confused.

She turned her silent fury on the crowd around her, effectively shutting down any more attempts to start up lengthy conversations.
Uncle Lenny and Uncle Sid and a number of others looked like they had questions, but they stepped back under the force of her determination.

Megamind began to turn to Luke with a puzzled frown, clearly about to ask for clarification.

“What are your orders, Sir?” Minion asked loudly, capturing Megamind's attention again.

“Food supplies owed to Metrocity stores are below decks. Medicines. Insulin. The barrels with the chemicals for the sewage plant are stowed away separately in the prow. Unload the lot. I ordered solar arrays for five buildings from Syntech Industries, be ready to send 'bots to pick them up from Detroit.”

“Not Chicago?”

Megamind laughed merrily. “Chicago's not too friendly at the moment.” His face curled into a sneer. “League of Heroes my ass. Ha!” He made a rude gesture out at the lake. “Brainbots! Brutebots! Quit screwing around and set up patrols half a mile offshore.”

Minion frowned, pivoting in his containment unit. “Uh oh. Expecting trouble?”

Megamind flapped his arm dismissively. “Merely a precaution. Stratego, Silver Knight, and Powerhouse are helping enforce the quarantine.”

“Not to worry, filet mignon,” Megamind said, teeth flashing in a triumphant grin. “I took the starter motor out of their superjet. They won't be following anytime soon, if they even have the nerve to break the quarantine.”

“Come with me,” Roxanne said, in a tone that brooked no argument.

People were pushing closer in their excitement, and the wife of one of Megamind's secret scavenging crew flung herself at her husband as he shakily came down the gangplank.

As greetings flew back and forth, Roxanne knew it was a matter of time before certain people began to ask inconvenient questions about where, exactly, the Overlord had been the last few days, and if he was off in Chicago yesterday then who let Psycho Delic in?

The police lieutenant, Hinkley, looked particularly suspicious, but Roxanne wasn't going to answer inconvenient questions right now, and she sure as hell wasn't going to let Megamind get trapped in question-and-answer session, either.

The dock was crowded with gawking refugees, forcing her to slow down despite her efforts. It made her want to scream. She kept a tight grip on Megamind's elbow and kept walking, but progress was slowed by the mass of people.

Minion barked out a sharp order that she didn't quite hear, and a brutebot descended right in front of her. People leapt aside with yelps.

It drifted inexorably toward the Lair and Roxanne followed hard behind, with Minion, two cops, and a henchman flanking her and Megamind.

“Tomorrow at 11 pm pronto, go to these coordinates,” Megamind said to Minion, hauling on Roxanne's arm as he feverishly tapped on a holographic screen emanating from his wrist comm. “By county road 127, Granite Drive exit, grey pole shed, meet our new army contact, Corporal Chadwick, who has promised two thousand yards of fiber optic cable, fifty folding cots, a case of hand-rechargeable flashlights, and a partridge in a pear tree.

He paused. “I'm kidding about the partridge. I already paid him, so if he tries to squeeze any more money out of you, you have my permission to blow his head off, the greedy bastard.”

He stopped walking abruptly, planting his heels so Roxanne was yanked back, and he twisted to shout at everyone within earshot, “Do not eat the chickens.”

“Chickens?” Minion said weakly. “Real live chickens?”

“Egg-layers. In the wheelhouse. Build some coops or put 'em on leashes or whatever you do with chickens.”

He frowned and scratched his head. “Wait a minute. Was it Chadwick or Chessfield? Been meeting so many new people lately I...”

Roxanne seized his face with both hands. “Megamind,” she said sharply.

He stared at her, startled, and she took a breath, resisting the almost unbearable urge to stroke his cheeks and run her hands all over his gorgeous head and neck, and went on in a calmer voice. “Megamind, everything's taken care of. You need to come with me, now.”

He blinked, nodded, and to her relief walked away from the crowded docks with her without any more shouting or instructions.

There was a short wait while Minion summoned a hovercraft to bring them back to the Lair.

Roxanne kept a tight hold on Megamind, marching directly for their bedroom, not stopping when her mother called to her.

Megamind obligingly went with her without a peep of protest, banter, or witticism about how desperately Roxanne must want to get him alone, which convinced her more than anything else about how weary he must be.

Sure enough, as soon as she closed the door, she turned to see him fall face first onto the bed, asleep, she was certain, before his head hit the pillow.

She realized two tears were running down her cheeks. She swiped them away, drew a shuddering breath, and went to the bed, having some idea of getting the spiked mantle and belt off, but there didn't seem to be any way to do it without disturbing him and her hands were all thumbs, and she fidgeted uselessly with the blankets, until she felt a soft touch on her shoulder.

Minion gently pushed her aside. “I got this, Miss Ritchi,” he whispered.

She watched dully, hugging her elbows, then flushed and turned away when she realized he intended to strip Megamind completely.

She was unable to keep from watching from the corner of her eye, though, as Minion carefully lifted Megamind's arms, moved his legs, turned him to one side then the other as he searched for injuries, but apart from the scrape across his ribs and a bruise on his shoulder, the Overlord appeared to be unharmed.

Megamind slept through it, and Roxanne got the sense that Minion had conducted such examinations before.

She left when Minion called for a brainbot to bring soap and water, and she hovered outside the room during the sponge bath, until Minion announced she could come back in.

Megamind was decently covered in a t-shirt and pajama pants, and she felt no shame in immediately going to him to crawl into the bed and curl herself around him, her arms snaking in around his chest so she could rest her cheek between his shoulderblades.

Minion went out, but soon returned carrying an enclosed fishbowl, and Roxanne watched as an opening appeared in it and Minion hopped out of his robot suit and into the smaller containment unit with a small splash. The robot hands lowered Minion into Megamind's arms, and then stood silent and vigilant next to the bed.

Megamind tucked one of his arms around the containment unit and Minion let out a little shuddering sigh.

The three of them lay curled up, together again at last.

Chapter Text

Much as Roxanne would have liked, she couldn't stay wrapped around Megamind forever. She dozed fitfully, awakening when Minion excused himself quietly, and she watched as the huge hands of the robot suit picked up Minion from Megamind's limp arms and deposited the henchfish back into the habitat atop it and walk out.

Somewhere around three in the afternoon she kissed Megamind on the temple and went out to see what was happening for herself.

The salvage crew were still doing inventory on the cargo, and someone had unrolled a bale of chicken wire to form a rough pen for the chickens off to one side of the Lair's courtyard, far away from the hovercraft landing pad and with plenty of shade, she was pleased to note. The chickens seemed quite content with their new home, and several children were milling around the pen and were watching them with interest, under the watchful gaze of a brainbot.

She wondered how they were going to fairly distribute the eggs, when she saw Hot Flash's minion Irwin scuttling across the courtyard of the Lair.

Scuttling was probably not a very kind descriptor, but it was the word that sprang most easily to mind for the little man, as he ducked through the crowd clutching a plastic bag with boxy items, shoulders hunched and an anxious expression that, from what little Roxanne had seen of him, was permanently etched on his face. Every few seconds he looked over his shoulder to cajole, a lanky young man swaggering in his wake, hands stuffed in his pockets and contriving to look bored with life.

Morbid curiosity and a sneaking suspicion had Roxanne following after them.
Irwin scuttled towards the side of the Lair, and Hot Flash, who was slouching against the wall talking to...

Roxanne stopped short.

That was her mother. Hot Flash was chatting with her mother.

As she watched, Irwin turned to speak anxiously to his travelling companion, flapping his hands, and the guy glanced at Hot Flash, then strolled over to lean against another part of the wall a number of yards away, as if it were his own idea to simply hang out by the Lair with nothing to do.

Hot Flash was still seemed engrossed in her conversation with Elaine Ritchi and gave off the impression of being unaware of either Irwin or his companion, though Roxanne was sure none of it had escaped her notice.

Roxanne's mother talked animatedly, but in a low voice so that Roxanne couldn't quite make out what she was saying.

Irwin trotted up to Hot Flash and hovered discretely at Hot Flash's shoulder. After a few moments, the boss deigned to notice him, and she glanced at the bag he offered up for inspection. “I couldn't find much, Ms. Hot Flash,” he murmured apologetically, while she rifled through it, taking out a partly empty package of cigarellos for inspection. “But I think I will have a lead on those Marlboros by tonight."

“Hm.” Hot Flash wrinkled her nose as she rifled through the bag a little longer, then absent-mindedly patted Irwin on the cheek. “All right. Good enough.” Irwin beamed happily, then, blinking and looking around anxiously, he leaned in again to whisper urgently in Hot Flash's ear.

Hot Flash threw him a sharp look and straightened up, shoulders snapping back and eyes widening with anger as she pushed off the wall to face Roxanne. “That psycho's here?”

“He asked for sanctuary. He got it,” Roxanne said sharply. She had a feeling she knew who Hot Flash was talking about. “It's under control.”

Hot Flash stared at her, mouth hanging open, then shook her head with a humorless chuckle. “I hope you know what you're doing. You want my advice? Shoot him in the head now and save some trouble.”

“That won't be necessary,” Roxanne said, sounding just a little too prim.

Elaine Ritchi looked from her daughter to Hot Flash and back again, bewildered. “What? What psycho? Roxanne, are we...”

Hot Flash laid a hand on her forearm. “Don't worry about it, Laney.”

Roxanne's eyebrows shot up. Laney?

Her mother sighed and gave Hot Flash a long-suffering smile, as if to commiserate with her about impossible daughters. “Well, I hope so, Trudy. If you say so.”

Roxanne's mouth fell open. TRUDY? She must have fallen into an alternate universe, some bizarre world where her strait-laced mother had somehow become pals with a supervillain.

Hot Flash blew a thin stream of smoke, perhaps enjoying Roxanne's consternation just a bit too much. “Just talkin', yer highness. Girl stuff. We're gonna go out on the town sometime. What's left of it. Right, Laney?”

To Roxanne's utter horror, her mother let out a girlish giggle and covered her mouth with her hand, a faint blush coloring her cheekbones. “Oh, I don't know about that.”

Her smile faded and became a frown, her eyes darting back and forth, and her face tightening, and Roxanne wished Hot Flash hadn't said 'your highness.' An unwelcome reminder to her mother of who her daughter had gotten herself involved with.

Elaine appeared torn between continuing to talk with her new friend and scolding her daughter about her new beau. Roxanne could see it, her mother's features shifting into lines of disapproval and concern.

Hot Flash took a moment to watch the emotions war across Elaine's face. “Well, you change your mind, let me know. Irwin'll scare up someone for you, too.”

“Trudy, you are too much,” Elaine said, and giggled again.

After Hot Flash had excused herself and strolled off with her arm curled around the admittedly generous biceps of the young man Irwin had apparently purloined for her, Roxanne rounded on her mother. “Mom, you do know who that was, don't you?”

“Yes, dear. Gertrude McCall. But she prefers Trudy.”

“Mom, that's Hot Flash!"

"Well, she said I may call her Trudy," Elaine said with a sniff. "She seems very nice. For a villain."

Roxanne opened her mouth to protest, then stopped, biting back a protest, hearing the dare in her mother's pointed comment. 

It was just...this was her mother. Her mother didn't hang out with supervillains.

Roxanne struggled to find something helpful to say, feeling absurdly as if their roles had been flip-flopped so that she was the one who needed to advise her mother to make good life choices, then realized the futility of it.

Elaine lifted her chin, as if she could read Roxanne's thoughts, and reached out to pat her shoulder. "Don't worry, dear. I can look after myself."

- - - - -

Later, Roxanne saw Hank out on the street in earnest conversation with his estranged wife Noelle, but she stood there tight-lipped and arms crossed, shaking her head, and when he tentatively touched her elbow, she jerked her arm away and stormed off, wiping her eyes.

Roxanne looked away. She'd never seen Noelle cry before. Usually Noelle was more likely to take a crowbar to her troubles, but her husband was her weakness. Roxanne wondered if she would take Hank back, or if Noelle had finally had enough of his philandering.

Hank looked stricken as he wandered away. Roxanne noticed Jessica, Hank's ex-lover, watching him from around the corner of the Lair wall.

Roxanne rolled her eyes. Good grief. If Jessica went to comfort Hank it was going to start up that ridiculous love triangle again, but it really wasn't any of her business. So far as she knew, the three people involved continued to show up to do the work they'd signed up for, Hank going on salvage and rescue missions, Noelle continuing to photograph the dead and enter the images into the database, Jessica working on communications, so Roxanne supposed they all would have to just keep on keeping on.

The rescue efforts continued. New refugees continued to trickle in. One intrepid group arrived on bicycles, hauling trailers stuffed with children, belongings, and a very cranky old man.

Uncle Lenny and Uncle Sid were indignant that Megamind hadn't included them in the salvage mission, and wanted Roxanne to tell him that in no uncertain terms once he woke up.

Nina was enthralling people with the tale of how they'd gotten out of Chicago, with, Roxanne was fairly certain, some embellishment, while the others on the mission looked on, grinning. Roxanne caught the thrilling conclusion.

“...ready to go,” Nina said, her voice rising in intensity, “when Apex showed up, armed to the teeth. He was like, 'stand down, villain,' and the Overlord was like, 'I am here to claim what is rightfully ours,' and Apex was like 'you're not going anywhere,' and the Overlord said 'here's the receipts' and a brainbot flew them over to him, and you should've seen the look on Apex's face! Then he was gonna board the ship but the Overlord said 'fat chance' and whipped his cape off and threw it over Apex's head then the bombs went off and they were too busy fighting the fire to chase us and when we goin' across the lake, the Overlord flew ahead and did something to Stratego's superjet...and...”

Nina paused for breath while her audience nudged each other excitedly, laughing and high-fiving each other as if they'd all been there.

“And here we are,” she said, grinning and throwing her hands up in the air, which got a happy cheer and a general friendly mob surging in to shake her hand and those of her cohorts.

Roxanne slipped away, unnoticed. She was glad it had gone well, but she couldn't help wondering how the heroes would respond to Megamind's defiance.

- - - - - -

More people were making the trek to the safe zone, dragging or carrying or rolling along more victims of zombie attacks, injured friends, relatives, neighbors, some of them with such severe wounds Roxanne was amazed they were still breathing.

Covered with bandages darkened by dirt and blood, moaning, or staring sightlessly at the sky, limbs missing, blankets and sheets draped over them hiding the unspeakable injuries.

The other refugees gave them a wide berth, and sent them straight to the clinic.

- - - - - - -

Roxanne waited by the comm while Minion went to meet with their new army contact handing over some illicit goods, at 11 pm on the dot as Megamind had arranged.

The contact was late, and Roxanne sweated along with Minion (who didn't really sweat, of course. What did an alien fish do? Fidget?) wondering if it was a trap, a prelude to an attack, or simply a no show. Maybe Megamind shouldn't have paid the guy in advance, but he hadn't exactly been operating at peak efficiency when he made the deal.

 

 


Minion returned with the promised goods, and retired to his own room, telling her she ought to do the same.

Roxanne went to bed, slipping under the covers with Megamind, who must have slept a good seventeen hours by now and showed no signs of stopping, but she lay awake in the half dark, reluctant to turn off the desk lamp.

She was too agitated to sleep, the ghastly images of the worst of the wounded rising in her mind's eye now that she was no longer rushing around.

Never before had the phrase 'worse than death' been brought into such stark clarity. What good was it to rescue people from the grip of zombies if they suffered such horrific injuries? And some of them died anyway, from shock and blood loss.

She found herself wondering at what point during a zombie attack it would be better to let them claim their victim. Surely it would be a mercy.

Might even be an algorithm of some sort for calculating that eventuality, she thought, number of bites sustained, amount of blood lost, some external cues.

A cold sweat broke out on her forehead as she clenched her fists into the blanket. That was truly insane. She was going insane. How could she even think something like that, what absolute fuckery, even thinking about letting zombies finish the job once they got started?

She hated that the thought had even entered her head. Hated, for a few violent moments, everyone in this damn country that was complicit in making them suffer so, the short-sighted government, the stupid fucking military.

Megamind woke abruptly, turned groggy eyes toward her. “Roxanne?” he asked, his voice thick with sleep. “You all right?”

She sucked in a deep breath, only then realizing how loudly her short, angry breathing was, appalled at herself for disturbing him. “God, I'm so sorry, Megamind. I woke you up. Yeah, I'm fine. It's nothing.”

With a groan he levered himself upright. “I think we both know that's not true. But I seriously need the bathroom. I'll be right back.”

When he came back, she had composed herself, the surge of rage left her empty and bleak. The light from the doorway outlined him for a few moments as he had a few words with whoever was on duty by the door, then he stepped in and the room became dark again.

She heard him shuffling to the desk and the click of the lamp brought a mellow half-light to the room. He climbed back in to lie on his side and tucked his hands under his cheek to regard her steadily. “Okay. Spill it. You gonna fill me in?”

She made a half-assed attempt to demur, but he scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I'm just going to keep staring at you until you give in, you know,” he said in a singsong voice. “Wear you down. Be a total pain. You know I will, so you might as well surrender now, Miss Ritchi.”
She could feel the corner of her mouth trying to smile in spite of herself. “Ugh, where to start?”

She wiped a corner of her eye. She absolutely did not want to simply start listing the terrible things she'd seen, and so she settled for a generality. “All this suffering is overwhelming. I worry sometimes I'm getting desensitized, or hardened. It was just...really hard. You being gone. ”

He blew out a breath so she felt a little puff of air on her chin. “I missed you, too.” He gave her a little smile.

They lay quietly for a while, and she wondered if he'd drift off to sleep again, but his puffy eyes moved back and forth a little. They were so close she could feel his breath, little puffs of air in the shared space between them.

With a wry twist of thought, she remembered how she first came to the safe zone, fumbling about for some way to get her and her group inside, by selling herself to him if necessary.

She ought to have known better. Of all the times he'd kidnapped her, gloated and bragged and strode around like the most lowdown of vaudeville villains, he'd never once laid a hand wrong. Neither by word nor deed had he ever made her feel unsafe. Not in that way. Though she would definitely have preferred fewer bombs and giant hammers aimed at her head.

He had occasionally given her the once-over, quick, furtive glances. She wasn't ignorant of his interest.

Hell, she'd looked him over, too, figuring she might as well get her jollies, if he insisted on prancing around in front of her in those skintight suits, and inconveniencing her with those ridiculous death traps.

All this time she'd been in the Lair he'd been wary, and so careful about boundaries, waiting for her to tell him it was okay to touch her, to kiss her.

Roxanne really didn't feel like talking just then. She knew exactly what she wanted to do with him, and felt vaguely ashamed of herself.

Survivor's guilt? Could be. Shame for being alive, for wanting something so basic.
She bunched her hands into fists again, this time in an effort to restrain herself.

He continued to stare at her, his eyes roving over her face, and kept looking at her mouth.
She licked her lips. His eyes sharpened.

She could feel a blush creeping up her neck, along with a heavy warmth growing low in her belly.

Only one thing left to take care of. Which she had.

She rolled out of bed and went to her pile of belongings next to the bookshelf, returning to the bed with a package of condoms that she'd gotten from a gas station.

He watched her avidly, staring as she returned to the bed, his eyebrows rising when he realized what she was carrying.

She climbed back in but didn't lie down right away, and cleared her throat. “Do you want to have sex?”

She met his gaze, ignored the blush rushing up her neck. There. That should be strightforward enough.

“God, yes,” he burst out, and she couldn't have said who lunged at who first. They came together, wrapping their arms around each other, his strong, slender arms running up and down the back of her t-shirt while she slid her hands around his waist, tugging up the hem of his pajama top.

He gasped into her mouth at the first slide of her palms over his bare skin, and dug one hand into the hair on the back of her head, running his other hand up and down her back, and they kissed and they kissed.

She hooked her leg over his skinny hip and the growing hardness there. Helplessly he rocked against her and her mind went blank for several pleasant moments.

He drew his head back and panted, “Can I look at you?”

They were already practically touching everywhere, no space between them, but she nodded. No time for sarcasm, for crying out loud, and besides, she wanted to get a look at him, too.

Oh God, this was really happening. “Let's take our shirts off.”

He withdrew far enough so he could kneel on the bed and stripped off his shirt in one smooth movement.

Roxanne sat up to wriggle out of her own shirt, but a sudden horrifying thought caused her arms to clamp to her sides almost of their own accord. “Shit.”

He blinked at her, startled. He'd been about to drop his shirt onto the floor, but now he clutched it to his chest, eyes wide and panicky. “What? What is it?”

Her face flamed, with more embarrassment than passion, now. She grimaced. “I haven't...haven't shaved.” It'd been weeks. She felt hairy as an ape.

Megamind blinked. “Shaved?” he repeated, glancing up and down, searching for clues, his alarm mixed with confusion.

“Yes,” she said, in some exasperation. “My, you know, armpits. Legs.”

Understanding dawned and his face relaxed and his shoulders sagged as he exhaled, clearly relieved. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought you came to your senses. Don't worry about it, I have body hair, too.”

“It's different for men, and you damn well know it,” she said testily, chagrined about the entire situation. She frowned. “What do you mean, came to my senses?”

He shrugged one bare blue shoulder. “Well. You know. Just...I don't know.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I never thought you'd be here. With me. Wanting to...do this?”

She clucked her tongue, and felt the tightness in her back relax a little. “Megamind, I've been wanting to do this with you for a while, now. I like you a lot, and you really are incredibly handsome.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, noting the way he bit his lip to fight back a shy smile, the way he ducked his head. “I really don't think you understand just how good looking you are, especially in that suit.” She tsked. “You've bragged about it often enough. What happened to the incredibly handsome Master of All Villainy?”

One corner of his mouth quirked up in a pleased, shy smile and he rubbed the back of his neck again. “Oh, you know. Showmanship. Have to sell the image.” The shirt in his grip lowered a little more. “Do you really think I'm handsome?” he asked shyly.

She might have made a sarcastic, cutting remark, but he looked so vulnerable that she didn't dare. “Yes,” she said simply, reaching over to touch his face, letting her thumb brush over the corner of his mouth.

He inhaled and leaned into her hand, eyes closing and throat working as he swallowed, and it occurred to Roxanne that maybe she ought to be a little more considerate of his boundaries, too.

“Can I?” she asked, moving her hand to gesture at the shirt bunched in his fist.

He swallowed again, soundlessly, then nodded, and she gently pushed the shirt aside, to drink in the sight of his slender chest and the thin smattering of black hair across his pectorals, the slightly darker nipples, his skinny waist and the sweep of his stomach.

His eyebrows wrinkled together as he tilted his head thoughtfully. “For what it's worth, it doesn't bother me. I am entirely neutral on the subject of body hair.”

“Well, I don't feel very sexy.” She snorted and shook her head, abashed that she'd spoiled the mood.

He edged closer, tossing his shirt aside and rising up on his knees and bringing his face close to hers. “I'll bet you have the most beautiful armpit hair in the world,” he said in a low voice.

She burst out laughing, feeling her cheeks heat ridiculously, but nonetheless relieved the mood had shifted more to what they'd had a few minutes ago. “You're just saying that to get laid.”

“I am completely serious and without any ulterior motives whatsoever,” he said haughtily, and his lips tugged up into a grin.

He leaned in a gave her a quick kiss. “Please don't tell me you're going to run off and shave,” he begged. Again he kissed her, a little longer. “Please. You got to look at me, I was hoping you would return the favor.”

His voice was pitched low and flirtatious by the end of the sentence, and he quirked his eyebrow suggestively, exaggeratedly, and she let out a completely undignified snort, feeling herself blush.

“Fair's fair,” she said lightly, but inside her stomach fluttered with nerves. God, what was this, it wasn't like she hadn't done this before, but it'd been a long time, and there was the extra body hair (no, not extra, it was just natural, it was shaving that was the unnatural thing), and this was Megamind.

Whom she really, really liked. It was suddenly a little disconcerting how much she liked him and wanted him to like her. Wanted to be worthy of the almost absurd amount of adoration he seemed to harbor for her.

Maybe it was because of his inexperience. Maybe if he...

No, she wasn't going to torture herself with 'maybe's'.

Roxanne sat back and stripped off her shirt, lowering her arms as quickly as possible.
He lifted a tentative hand, looking at her questioningly. She nodded, and he reached out, slipped one bra strap off her shoulder. She expected him to pull it down all the way to expose her breast, but he simply let the strap hang loose, and he leaned in to kiss her bared shoulder.

He was cautious, almost revenant in his movements, and at the touch of his lips a tingle ran across Roxanne's skin, set her nerve endings on fire. Her nipples were definitely hardening and he hadn't even gone there yet.

His hand had slipped around her waist, his long fingers warm.

Well, if he needed a little more encouragement, she was more than ready to give it to him, and she reached behind herself to unclasp the bra, pulling it off.

He backed away slightly, his nostrils flaring and eyes gleaming in the lamplight. She felt her breath catch, knew damn well her chest was rising and falling, might not have been planned, but God, she wanted his touch on her now, right now.

He bore her down into the mattress, and it became a mad scramble to see who could get out of their remaining clothes faster.

Roxanne got hung up in her underwear and pants mainly because he was on top of her and in the way, and then they were staring wide-eyed and panting into each other's faces, his erection pressed hard against the crease of her hip.

She was close, so close, to wrapping her legs around him and drawing him in, to guide him into her, they'd do it hot and fast, just like she wanted.

She remembered that it was his first time, and besides, the recollection of her hairy legs cooled her ardor a little, and she felt abruptly shy.

He looked at her in wonder, and his hands came up to frame her face, even as one of his thighs settled between her own, to press against her sex. “Is this all right?” he whispered, stroking one of her cheeks with his thumb.

Her hands trailed up and down his long back, but she stopped short of grabbing his ass. She could afford to go a little slower, even if heat was roaring through her. “More than all right,” she murmured. “Feels good.”

He groaned, closing his eyes and grinding against her. “Yes,” he groaned. “God, yes, so good. Do you...do you like it?” His hips stilled and his eyebrows knitted together worriedly.
She took hold of one of his hands and drew it down between them. “Here. Feel me here.”

She guided him into a gentle stroking of the spot between her thighs, the little bundle of nerves that sent fresh heat flooding her, his fingertips moving over the wetness. “See? You make me wet.”

It was difficult to tell in the half light of the room but she was sure he was blushing and he swallowed hard. He lowered his head to her breast, gave the nipple a tentative lick, making her breath hitch. She would like more of that.

“That's it,” she breathed, sliding one hand around the back of his smooth head. “Keep going.”

“You'll let me know if I do something you don't like?” he said in a hoarse voice.

God, they were both trembling. “Megs, believe me, you'll be the first to know. Kiss me,” she said, and proceeded to do so herself, lifting her head to seize his mouth with her own.

He rocked against her, still stroking over her cleft, and lowered his mouth to her breast, sucking. and she moaned into his mouth, “Now, take me, now.”

Pupils blown wide, he rose up to see what he was doing, and after fumbling to get the condom on, he guided himself into her.

She exhaled. He rocked his hips back and forth, looking down at where their bodies joined, and she squeezed around him.

He gasped, his eyes widening for a moment before closing in ecstacy and he groaned.

“Oh my God. You're...” He swallowed thickly. “I was aware of the muscles that make up the pelvic floor but didn't realize...”

Said in such a breathless voice of wonder that she couldn't quite hold back a brief huff of laughter. Only Megamind could make such a clinical observation sound sexy. “Yeah, that's right,” she said, running her hands over his sides and up the flat planes of his shoulderblades, enjoying the feel of his smooth flanks moving between her thighs. “I'm going to show you all kinds of...” She broke off with a gasp.

He was breathing harder, bracing himself on his elbows, his eyes piercing hers. She arched her back to press her breasts against him a little more.

“Oh my God,” he whispered, and his body thrust against her in a steady rhythm, faster, his eyes wide.

“That's it, Megs,” she murmured, squeezing around him. “Go on, baby. Let me see you come.”

Almost immediately his body went taut and his mouth fell open as he head leaned back, pulsing into her, and then his head fell forward and he muffled a groan against her shoulder.

She stroked his back, holding him close, her legs still firm around him while his panting slowed and he relaxed on top of her in a boneless heap, and she could feel him softening within her. With another quiet groan he slid to the side and wrapped an arm around her waist. She cuddled close to him and gave him a brief kiss, and he responded, lifting his face to hers, to give her more quick little kisses, warm and sweet.

The pulse of her blood was still going strong, but she tried to ignore it. This was enough. Time enough for him to learn how to pleasure her more, later.

Apparently he was more sensitive to her mood than she realized. He lifted his head. “Did you...come?” he asked uncertainly.

“Well, no,” she admitted. “But that's okay.”
His eyes flickered over her face. “Do you...want to show me? How it's, you know, done?”

A new heat spread over her cheeks. “Oh, I don't know.” God, she'd never really let any of her previous lovers watch her do that before. But none of them had ever seemed very interested, either.

Maybe that was part of the problem, she thought grimly.

“I'll do whatever you want,” he said sincerely. “Or...not do anything, if that's what you want. And if it's...I don't know...not the right time or something, you can stop.”

He looked anxious, but eager to please, and after a little more hesitation, she settled onto her back. “Well, okay. But...but don't talk. Or touch me. I think...I might close my eyes?” God, this was nerve-wracking.

He held up his hand solemnly. “Not a peep. I promise.”

So she closed her eyes. Somehow she found she could relax into it if she could pretend he wasn't watching her.

She touched herself, one hand stroking her clitoris while her other hand got busy tweaking one of her nipples, and he was as good as his word, and didn't talk or try to touch her, which she was sure would have distracted her, and she worried briefly that he might feel insulted or something, that she didn't want him to touch her just then, but it didn't take very long for her to climax, their recent lovemaking had primed her most deliciously, and she came, gasping, then opened her eyes and reached for him.

“Come here,” she said, and to her delight he was hard again and had been stroking himself, but he'd been so quiet.

Somehow the thought was such a turn-on she drew him inside her.

It was quick and hot, with little of the quiet reverence as before, but just right, and she lightly nipped at his neck to spur him on, and he again muffled a cry against her shoulder.

They lay breathlessly tangled together, her forehead pressed against his temple. “That was,” he swallowed hard. “Quick.”

She felt a low chuckle rise out of her at the almost-question in his voice. “I loved it,” she assured him. “Just what I wanted.” She leaned up to kiss the corner of his mouth and he grinned, wide and showing every tooth, skin crinkling at the corners of his eyes, looking very pleased with himself.

“But I think I'm ahead of the game, so to speak,” he said wryly, and his hand began to travel down her body. “Want me to...”

She grabbed his wrist. “No! I mean, that was so good, Megs, believe me, but I feel like if you touch my clit now I'll explode. I'm overstimulated.”

“Oh. Well, we wouldn't want any unnecessary explosions. But my goodness,” he said in a voice of quiet wonder. “You really do get wet.”

She couldn't help but chuckle, giggling helplessly against him for a few moments. “You sound so surprised.”

She tossed a significant glance toward his bookshelf, where the row of romance novels were in view. He smiled sheepishly, squiriming a little with embarrassment.

“You must have read about it,” she said.

“Yes, I suppose,” he hedged. “It's certainly... different... having a...a live performance, as it were.”

She laughed, looking up at his face. “Performance? What, you think that was faked?”

He was briefly alarmed, but relaxed when he realized she was teasing. “Oh, you know what I mean. That wasn't the right word. Um. Example?” He scrunched up his nose. “Too clinical. Miss Ritchi, you have completely wrecked my vocabulary.”

She leaned up on one elbow to press a kiss to his lips. “Just one of my many skills.”

He wrapped his arms around her again as she nestled into the crook of his neck. There was a little silence, but the air turned heavy with unspoken thoughts, and Roxanne felt some irritation at the pressing matters that were currently settling around them. She would have liked to linger in bed longer without worries or concerns, but there was a city to take care of.

“Hot Flash got her powers back. And she's been palling around with my mother. Just a heads up.”

He hummed a little, and seemed to be taking some time wrapping his head around this piece of news, his hand idly stroking her back. “Are they planning a coup?” he asked.

She snorted with laughter and rubbed her eyes. “Don't give them any ideas.” She bit her lip, and then told him the worst of it. “There's more,” she said, and he gave her an inquisitive look, wary.

“I get the feeling I'm not going to like this.”

“Um. Well...” She told him about how Psycho Delic came to be living in the safe zone.

To say it killed the mood was an understatement.