Peering cautiously through the thick hedge, Bushroot looked to see if there were any obstacles between himself and the building he planned to break into. It was late in the evening, almost eight, but the area was not as dark as he would have preferred. With the ample outdoor lighting, it would never be dark enough to hide him entirely. Fortunately, his green plant-like skin and brown root-like legs made for almost perfect camouflage. Even his fluffy purple petal-hair could easily be mistaken for a flower on the bush to the random passerby, especially at night.
He felt anxious even being there. It was not that the area was unfamiliar; St. Canard University's campus was a place Bushroot knew like the back of his leaf-like hands. Between getting both his undergraduate and graduate degrees there, and working there as a researcher for a number of years after obtaining his doctorate, he could probably navigate the place blindfolded. That did not mean he was comfortable there, however. If anything, it made him anxious and irritable to even set a root at the place. Too many bad memories, bitter feelings, and resentful thoughts flooded his mind every time he found himself there. Thankfully, it was not often. However, the university's chemistry building had the honor of having the worst security of any laboratory in the city that also had the equipment and reagents he needed for his latest experiment, so a villainous shopping trip to it was a necessary evil.
At least it wasn't the botanical and food sciences building that he needed to get into, he mused, although it was not that much of a reassuring thought. Bushroot avoided that place, his old work lab, like it was infested with fungal plagues and grubs on general principle. The sight of it made whatever his equivalent of bile was rise, thinking about his last time there and dealing with Darkwing Duck and…
Focus, he told himself harshly, shaking the unpleasant chain of thought out of his mind. He knew that one of the evening classes would let out soon; the chemistry labs always ran on the same schedule, and they never had a lab class end later than the one that was almost over now. Once it let out and the window of the teaching lab went dark, it would be easy enough to grow a vine up the side of the building and slip in through the open window. The university was still too cheap to get central air in its older buildings, Bushroot noticed. The administrators only considered it a necessary upgrade when their offices were part of the equation. The more things change, the more they stay the same, he thought on a cynical note.
Students began to file out of the building, and Bushroot readied himself to make his move. He tensed where he hid, and the light in the target window went out. It was time. He was about to leave his spot in the bushes when he realized that a couple of students were still lingering outside. Great, he thought with aggravation. Didn't they have something better to do than hang around after class was over? He cast a nervous glance at the building, and hoped that whoever was locking up the lab would not close the windows before he had a chance to get in. While he could break them easily enough with help from his plant friends, he preferred to not leave obvious signs of breaking and entering behind or make noise that would attract security guards or police, or worse, Darkwing Duck. With such interference came a rushed and messy escape that might break the equipment he came for, and the last thing Bushroot wanted to have to do was steal it all over again somewhere else.
"So, do you want to study with me tonight?" he heard one of the students, a duck girl with curly light-colored hair, ask her companion, a short and rather nerdy-looking duck with an oversized beak. Bushroot tapped his root with impatience and wished they would converse somewhere else, preferably somewhere that was not ten feet from his hiding spot. There was no way he could move without being seen as long as they chatted there.
The male duck stuttered a little, and looked at the female with a shy and adoring smile. "Sure. That'd be great."
She smiled back at him. "I'm so glad I wound up with you for my chem lab partner, Marvin. I'd be so lost on some of this stuff without your help. I guess it's a good thing this isn't my major." She sighed. "Especially with those two creeps next to us being so distracting. I'm sure one of them grabbed my tail feathers when I was reaching into the drawer." Her voice took on a note of disgust. "Losers."
Although listening to student gossip was not how Bushroot planned to spend his evening, he could not help but roll his eyes a little at the girl's description as he overheard it. It seemed that idiots were an infestation common to all labs at St. Canard University.
"Tell me about it," the boy called Marvin replied with a groan. He shifted his backpack. "I'm sure the acid spill they 'accidentally' made on my notebook was no mistake, either. You'd think they'd have outgrown that stuff in high school."
You'd think they'd outgrow it after college, too, Bushroot thought as he remembered about two similar individuals from his own past. A dark look flickered through his eyes as he thought about them, but he pushed the memory aside and wished again that the two chatterboxes would move on.
The girl frowned. "All that beer from their frat parties probably soaked their brain cells. I guess it never occurred to them that some people in this place actually take their grades seriously." She sighed. "I guess that makes me a nerd. Oh well, at least I'll be a nerd with a job when I graduate."
Smiling back at her in a way that to anyone observing would have been obviously and hopelessly love-struck, Marvin said, "You're too pretty to be a nerd."
She laughed, flattered, but oblivious to the root of the admiration in his voice. "You're sweet. You really are a nice guy, you know that?"
Over in the hedges, Bushroot winced inwardly along with Marvin. Once upon a time, before he was a plant-mutant that women ran screaming from, a few had told him that he was a nice guy. None of them had ever dated him either, well, except for one that he thought might have, and that didn't end well. For a second, Marvin's crush almost reminded him of her. In a lab coat, glasses, and with darker hair…
Oh, I've really got to get out of this place, Bushroot thought unhappily.
Marvin was not as cynical as the hiding mutant plant-duck in the bushes, and he looked at his lab partner with bright and hopeful eyes. "Maybe we could, uh, study back at my place tonight? My roommate is working, so we'll be by ourselves."
"Sounds great. Let's head over." She looked over at the bushes, seemingly right at Bushroot, and he froze. "Now. I have a creepy feeling all of a sudden. Like we're being watched or something."
"I don't see anyone. Looks like everyone who wasn't at the symposium in the auditorium went home." Marvin shrugged, and the girl looked back at him, much to Bushroot's relief. "Unless you think the trees have eyes," he continued in a teasing voice.
"Oh, please," she replied with a light laugh. "We aren't even near the botanical sciences building. I'm surprised you buy into that dumb story."
Marvin gave a little smile as the two of them began to walk. "I don't, but I do think it's funny that so many people actually try to figure out which bushes they are."
"Like the university would've planted their corpses in some macabre landscape just to save a few bucks on shrubs. They don't even like people talking about that. One of my friends worked in that department on work study last fall, and Professor Aveshine told him that students who ask inappropriate questions about Dr. Bushroot get fed to experimental fly traps in the greenhouse." She let out an incredulous chortle, while Bushroot looked on irritably. In a better mood, hearing students gossip about his infamous attack on Dr. Gary and Dr. Larson might have amused him, but on edge as he already was, it only soured his mood further.
It's nice to know that even as a super-villain, I'm still a joke around here. Bushroot debated asking one of the oaks lining the road in front of the building to scare some respect into them, but he supposed that if they started screaming, that would just attract the exact kind of attention he did not want if he wanted to get what he came for. Fortunately, it never came to that, and both Marvin and his oblivious would-be girlfriend headed down the sidewalk, away from the building.
"Finally," Bushroot muttered, doing his best to try and not think about the things that eavesdropping on them had brought to the forefront of his mind. That was all long over now, and it was better if he did not think about it and left it behind. Nothing good ever came from dwelling on the past. Now that the coast was clear, Bushroot crept to the side of the chemistry building and sprouted a vine from the soil just under the window. He shimmied up it with barely a sound, and pulled the window open a little wider, just enough to allow his slender frame to slip in. The lab inside was still dark, and he noticed that the door leading to the hall was closed. It seemed that they had decided to leave the window cracked for ventilation when they locked up for the night. Well, at least he had gotten one small favor from the divine in this supply run, he supposed.
Bushroot eyed the shelves for the reagents he needed, and passed a few bottles to his vine. "Careful with those. If they break and spill on you, they'll burn," he warned in a gentle voice as the plant stealthily carried the stuff to the window. He was sorting through some of the solid compounds when he heard the door click. Instinctively he ducked down and hid behind one of the bench islands as he heard someone enter and the door shut behind them. The light remained off, however, which struck him as odd. Wouldn't security have turned it on? Did that mean someone else was breaking in to swipe stuff? Oh, great. It would figure that some other mad scientist has the same plan as me tonight. Creeping up to the edge of the bench, Bushroot peered around it to check out front end of the room.
To his surprise, it was not security that had come in, but what he guessed were two students. They were a bit older than the ones who had been outside, graduate level perhaps, one male and one female. It was hard to make out the details of their features in the darkened lab, but the male had a goose-like appearance while the girl was a duck. A duck in an extremely form-fitting and low-cut dark shirt that contrasted with her white feathers, and a mid-length flowing skirt that, while tasteful, still clung to her figure in an appealing way that Bushroot could not help but notice, especially when she bent over to pull a lab coat off of the chair. She slipped it on and giggled at her companion, fluffing her shoulder-length hair as she did so.
"You are crazy," the guy said, clearly meaning it as a complement as he grinned at her. It seemed that his glasses rose and fell with a suggestive raise of his eyebrows as he gave her an appreciative leer.
She pursed her beak and struck a provocative pose against the bench, her lab coat falling open in a suggestive way that fueled the imagination to run in all sorts of wrong ways. It reminded Bushroot of a hot summer day a few years back when a certain lab-mate of his had worn a short little pink dress to work to cope with the insufferably hot weather and the stuffy lab. Of course, the modest Dr. Rhoda Dendron had never strutted around so shamelessly—she was not that kind of woman—but if Bushroot had said that her attire that day had not inspired a rather naughty fantasy of her doing so just for him on overtime after hours, he would have been lying. Too bad those two morons spent the day leering at her and saying things that should've had them written up on sexual harassment charges for it, he remembered bitterly. Although Rhoda had chosen to be nice and not file a complaint about it, not wanting to cost anyone his job, she had also never worn something so provocative to work again, and Bushroot could not say he blamed her, even if he did think it was a shame.
The girl's giggle brought Bushroot's attention back to the present and the two students in the front of the room. The goose now had the duck, apparently his girlfriend, in his arms. "What if we get caught?"
"I'm a teaching assistant. I'm supposed to be in here straightening up after class. Nobody'll think twice." She kissed him. "Besides, it'll be hot."
"Chemistry turns you on, huh?" he teased back. "This is what I get for picking up girls in the library." He stroked her hair and nuzzled his beak against hers.
"At least you didn't get an English major," she whispered back. "Then you'd have to suffer through love poems and Drakespeare instead of," she nibbled the end of his beak, "our own personal chemistry. And we have a lot of that."
He eased her back against the teaching bench and kissed her again. "Does this mean I get to drag you to the office I work at some night, and do you in the master attorney's suite?"
"Maybe once you graduate," she teased him back, drawing her legs up around him as he climbed on top of her on the bench.
Bushroot watched the scene unfold with a mixture of fascination and frustration. Peeping at two horny students getting it on was not a part of his grand plan, but on the other hand, he could not up and leave without alerting them to his presence. True, he could be a gentle-plant and sit quietly, do his best to ignore them, and wait for it to be over, but then he'd still hear it, and since he was stuck there anyway…
A shoe flew back in his direction, landing next to the row of bench islands just in front of Bushroot. High heels, he noticed, obviously hers, and not the kind someone who worked in a lab all day would want to wear. Had she planned this thing like a date, he wondered incredulously, right before wondering where the girls like that were all the years he had been working in these labs as a student and then a researcher.
That led him once again to think about Rhoda. Oh, what he would not have given, once upon a time, to have her all over him like that in the lab, he thought as more articles of clothing were haphazardly discarded and the two of them writhed, smooching and giggling, on the countertop. Bushroot imagined the setting of his old lab in the botanical and food sciences building, and a cleared countertop on the south side of the room, facing the room's only window. He could almost see Rhoda laying back on it, smiling up at him, the moonlight reflected in her glasses…
Yeah, in my dreams, maybe. The wistful thought brought Bushroot back to reality. Even if she doesn't hate me after what happened, it's not like I'd ever have a chance with her even if I saw her again.
"My my," Bushroot heard the girl say in a sultry voice to her lover as she stroked him in a way that was rather obvious, even if the angle Bushroot was at precluded seeing any details. "Am I getting a positive reaction?"
Her boyfriend chuckled and kissed her neck hungrily. "Total magnetic attraction, baby."
She laughed. "That's more physics, you goof."
"Hey, I only had to take chem for non-science majors. Cut me a break. Beyond telling you that sodium chloride is table salt and baking soda is the same stuff that's in pool chemicals, it's over my head."
"Well, at least I know that if I'm a bad girl and get myself in trouble, I can count on your dazzling legal skills to get me out of jail free."
"Is inappropriate use of chemistry facilities against the law?"
"No, but I bet it'd get the professors to react explosively." She sat up and wriggled out of the lab coat, while he leaned over her to the sink just behind them. He turned on the faucet and, sticking his finger into the water stream, aimed and sprayed her right in the chest with it.
"Hey!" She giggled. "What kind of reaction are you going for there?"
With a leer he replied, "The wet t-shirt reaction."
She grabbed him and pulled him back toward her. "That's not in any chemistry textbook I've ever seen. Besides," she licked the edge of her beak suggestively and drew her hands along the soaked shirt as it clung to her cleavage, "I'm not wearing a t-shirt."
Bushroot then saw a flurry of feathery movement, and the shirt was flung across the room, landing squarely on the bench one row ahead of him. Now you're not, he thought with a grin as he strained to get a better look.
Her boyfriend's reaction mirrored the peeping Bushroot's. "Now you're not," he said, and she giggled in response, pulling her boyfriend back down on top of her. Bushroot felt increasingly guilty and ashamed of himself for continuing to watch, although not enough to stop doing it. Besides, he had to keep an eye on things to know when the coast was clear to leave, right?
The couple's talking gave way to more distracted noises, their bodies now doing all the talking for them. From where he was hidden, Bushroot could not see much other than them writhing together in the darkness, but their moans and gasps were loud enough to make it known exactly what they were doing and how much they were enjoying it. Bushroot's thoughts drifted back to Rhoda again, and he imagined that it was her on that lab bench and that he was the lucky one getting lucky with her. He wondered what it might have been like to have her kiss him like that, touch him like that, buck underneath him like that, and moan his name in sweet surrender…
Bushroot shifted, tensing his body and willing it not to sprout any embarrassing evening-wood limbs from thinking about that kind of thing, and a rueful smile crossed his beak. Even after all this time, it seemed that Rhoda still had an effect on him. Bushroot wondered how she was, and where she was. Had she ever secretly looked at him the way he had her so many times, before he became what he was now? Would she have been turned on by the thought of making love on a lab bench like that graduate student did? If so, would she have done it with him? Was she even still single, or had some other guy fallen in love with her and won her heart? If she was with someone else, Bushroot did not think he wanted to know.
The moans from the front of the lab grew louder and more impassioned, and Bushroot found himself breathing a bit faster, eyes closed, and imagining a very vivid scenario of himself with his flame from what now felt like so long ago.
It shattered in one bright flash. "Oh, my god!" A feminine voice that to the startled Bushroot, even sounded like Rhoda, shrieked from the doorway as the light snapped on. Instinctively Bushroot snapped his head back around the corner, out of sight from the front of the room, and waved wildly to his vine—still hanging out the window and holding some reagents—to stay still, lay low, and not attract any attention.
He heard embarrassed squeals and declarations from the couple caught, literally, with their pants down, and then a mad rustling of them attempting to grab something to cover themselves with while the woman in the doorway tried to compose herself. "This is a chemistry lab," she managed to say after a moment, her voice strained and obviously also embarrassed. "What are you doing? I mean, I know what you were doing, but what did you think you were doing, doing that here? This is university property! This is a teaching lab; anyone can walk in!"
Wow, she even still sounds like Rhoda, Bushroot thought as he listened. He then decided that he really needed to rethink his supply runs to the university, lax security or not.
"Apparently," the guy quipped back to the intruder, shuffling around to collect the rest of his clothes while his girlfriend explained.
"I was, ah, actually in charge of cleaning up the lab here after class," Bushroot heard her say in a flustered rush. "It's okay, really. We didn't break in. I was the TA for the last session. He was just keeping me company."
If I could find someone to help me buff my benches that way, my greenhouse would be so clean you'd think it belonged to Ammonia Pine, Bushroot thought wryly. Unable to contain his curiosity, he peeked around the corner. If nothing else, at least the naked students were a good enough diversion to keep anyone from noticing the hiding mutant plant-duck thief and his vine in the back.
Bushroot did a double-take, though, when he got a look at the woman that had walked in on them. No wonder she sounded like Rhoda! That is Rhoda! But what is she doing here, this time of night, in the chemistry building?
Folding her arms primly, Rhoda said, "I can imagine. But really… there are more appropriate places for that sort of thing." She raised an eyebrow. "Did you know that I could hear you all the way out in the hall by the auditorium?"
The girl made a startled noise and blushed. "You mean everyone in the symposium heard us?"
The symposium; that made sense. Bushroot recalled the students outside mentioning that, and he remembered that Rhoda often attended those kinds of events, as focused on her career as she was.
"No. That let out ten minutes ago," Bushroot watched her answer, confirming his guess. "I was talking to some colleagues out in the hall. That's when we heard you." She frowned. "I'm glad Dr. Addlefeather didn't come with me to see what was going on. The poor man has a heart condition, and I don't know how walking in on that would've affected him."
"I'm sorry," the girl said, giving Rhoda a desperate look. "Look, please don't tell Dr. Webwich about this. He'd freak out. I promise, in ten minutes we'll be gone and it'll all be clean, locked up, and ready for tomorrow's class like nothing ever happened."
Rhoda just nodded back to her, and the student and her boyfriend grabbed the last of their clothing and slipped off to the bathrooms down the hall to clean up, while Rhoda leaned back against a cabinet on the side of the room and sighed. "Unbelievable," she murmured, obviously thinking she was alone. "Just when you think you've seen everything… you find out you're wrong." A small smile turned the edges of her beak. "A chemistry teaching lab, of all places! Not that I haven't had the horny mad scientist fantasy once or twice myself, but there are much more private labs around if they're really into that kind of thing."
Bushroot's eyes widened where he crouched. Now that juicy tidbit almost made the delays and frustrations of the evening worth enduring. Rhoda has erotic mad scientist fantasies? Hmm, well I know a certain misunderstood mutant plant-duck who's been called that once or twice… He looked her over from where he hid, noting how pretty she was in the lilac-colored dress she wore and without her lab coat hiding her figure. Maybe there's a little hope after all…
Unaware that she was being watched, Rhoda noticed the open window in the back of the room. "Must've been too hot in here for them," she muttered dryly, and walked toward it. "Better close that before someone really does break in." As she crossed over in front of the bench that Bushroot was hiding behind, his mind raced as he tried to decide what to do and say when she spotted him. There was no way she would miss the vine that he had grown through the window, and no time to have it get out of the way without being seen. When she saw it, she stared first in puzzlement, and then in shock as her gaze followed the path it wove to the cabinets by where Bushroot was hiding. "What the—?"
Before she could finish her sentence, a leafy hand closed over Rhoda's beak, muffling a startled cry. Gently Bushroot turned her around from where he had sneaked up behind her. "Don't scream. Please."
Rhoda made a panicked noise and stared at Bushroot with a mixture of surprise and fright as he wrapped one of his vine arms securely around her waist and released her beak. "Reginald!" she gasped.
"Shh," he whispered, casting an anxious glance over his shoulder. "I won't hurt you. I'm just—I just needed a few things. I'm not here to hurt anyone, I promise. I'd have been gone already, but they kinda messed things up for me when they showed up." He waved his hand toward the front of the room in a flustered gesture. "Just let me leave quietly, please." An imploring look filled his blue eyes. "The same chance you gave them, that's all I want."
Rhoda nodded mutely in agreement, and Bushroot smiled at her, realizing that in that moment, he had her in a position much like he would have liked to hold her in a different circumstance. "Thank you." He let go of her and motioned to his vine, which curled its tendrils around the last of what he had come to steal before slithering out the window. He gave Rhoda a long look, studying her face and committing it to memory. For a moment, Bushroot felt just like poor Marvin out in the courtyard had, a feeling he remembered all too well from years past, all over again. "It's nice to see you," he told her with a bittersweet smile. "You still look great."
She stared back at him. "Thank you," was all she said, obviously at a loss for words herself.
"I've missed you, you know. I know you must hate me, but…" Bushroot's voice trailed off, and he looked at Rhoda with obvious regret. "I hope you're happy," he said finally, and backed toward the window, where his vine was still hanging and waiting for him to climb out on. "Goodbye." Unable to look at her any longer, he squeezed back out the window and started to climb down.
To his surprise, Rhoda's face appeared in the window above him. "Reginald?" Her voice was just above a whisper, and he looked up at her, but whatever she had been about to say seemed to elude her. She paused a moment before she spoke, staring down at him. "Be careful."
"I will." A faint smile formed on his beak.
"I don't hate you."
His smile broadened. "I'm glad."
Rhoda glanced over her shoulder. "They're back," she whispered, and then gave the window a tug. "Just closing this window," she called out behind her.
When she turned away, Bushroot slipped the rest of the way down the vine and touched the ground, and the vine came down in a fast coil behind him. It slithered off into the bushes, and he darted after it. Under the cover of darkness once more, Bushroot turned and looked back at the window, where Rhoda was now locking it, able to close it easily with the vine gone. For a moment, he could have sworn their eyes met, and she saw him right through the bushes. He smiled again. Perhaps St. Canard University should not be crossed off of his list of places to restock from just yet.