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Bright-Eyed, Tireless One

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Duck’s just stared into yet another alien world, one that apparently wants to start a war between his own world and Sylvain, and that’s not even the scariest part of this whole mess. The thing that scares him most is Minerva’s reaction to it.

He’s never thought of her as omniscient or infallible. She chose him, after all, and that alone shows a serious lack of judgment. What she is is larger than life. Literally, sure, but she’s also loud and enthusiastic and straightforward. Even something as simple as apologizing for an argument comes with a dramatic backstory.

So for her to be so visibly stunned by something? To turn to him for answers for a change? It’s unsettling, to say the least.

Well, maybe he’s just being dramatic. He just had a wormhole tear its way out of his brain, then stared into two different sources of intense light. He’s lucky he can maintain a coherent train of thought at the moment.

He’s so out of it, it takes him a second to understand why Minerva is reaching out to him. He helps her up, though maybe he’s forgotten what Chosen One strength is like over the past two months, because he doesn’t feel any of her weight.

“I am not quite sure what that was, my friend,” Minerva says. Her hand is still clasped around his. “But I assume that they know who we are. And hopefully now, Duck Newton, now they know what we’re capable of.”

She lets go of his hand. Duck nods, because really, how else do you respond to a pronouncement like that? They stare at the stars together in silence, wondering if the bright world they’d seen is somewhere out there.

“Shit,” Duck says. “We need to go check on Leo.”

Minerva laughs. “I would not worry about him. Just as your abilities will have returned with my arrival, so too will Leo Tarkesian’s. He will not be defeated by something as trivial as an automobile accident!”

“Yeah, sure, but he’s probably not thrilled about it, either.” Duck walks to the edge of the telescope and looks down, trying to decide if he’ll need Beacon to get back down.

Minerva steps past him and jumps to the ground. She turns back to look at him expectantly, and now he just feels silly. At least he hadn’t tried anything yet. The last thing he needs is to give Beacon another thing to complain about when he decides they’re out of danger.

They run over to where Sarah and Leo are standing, Duck as much for the pleasure of running without wheezing again as for the sake of speed. The abomination is finally dead. The threat is gone.

He’s content to hang back and wait for a break in the conversation, but Minerva has no such compunctions. She walks right up to Leo and gives him a hearty thump on the back. He winces, but Minerva doesn’t seem concerned. “Well done, Leo Tarkesian! That was an incredible show of bravery, and it has certainly paid off. I am quite impressed.

She turns to Sarah, who looks a little dazed, and takes her hands in her massive ones. It’s hard to tell with the sun this low, but Duck thinks Sarah might be blushing. “And you, Sarah Drake! You accepted your destiny with remarkable speed and grace. I could not have done this without your prompt cooperation, and for that, I thank you.”

Duck gets the distinct feeling that he’s being insulted. Minerva’s face is open and earnest, though, exactly the way Duck had always pictured it. It’s hard to read any malice in it.

He’s struck yet again by the fact that Minerva is here, a physical presence he can no longer ignore or convince himself isn’t real. He’s sure that will annoy him later. For now, he’s just so glad to see her again.

“So!” she says, starling Duck out of his reverie. From the looks of things, Sarah and Leo were equally unprepared. “We have all fought valiantly today, and now it is time for rest. Unfortunately…” And here she looks sheepish, though it’s not enough to kill her enthusiasm. “Well, seeing as I have severed ties with my planet, I am currently what you could consider homeless. So if one of you would be so generous as to lend me a place to sleep, I would greatly appreciate it!”

Sarah looks uncomfortable, and Duck figures this is as good a time as any to step in. “All right, how about this. Sarah, I know this is a lot to take in, so why don’t you go home and rest. We can talk about it in the morning.” That should give Duck time to figure out how much they’re telling her, and her enough time to have any alien-induced freak out she may have planned.

“Meanwhile, since I’m pretty sure Leo’s truck is a lost cause, I can take him and Minnie back to the apartment complex.” Minerva frowns, but if she’s going to be passive-aggressive at him even now that he’s embraced his destiny or whatever, she can handle a damn nickname.

Sarah nods. “I… yeah, that sounds good. I guess I’ll call you? Or, wait, I don’t have your phone number…”

Leo steps in to give her a number before Duck’s managed to remember his. He’d be more embarrassed about it if it wasn’t going to spare him an early morning phone call. Goodbyes are exchanged, albeit vague and distracted ones, and then Sarah is heading for the staff parking lot.

“Do you need to grab anything before we go?” Duck asks. “I mean, the last time I saw your truck, it was on fire, but…”

Leo gives a quiet exhalation that could either be a laugh or a sigh. “I’m pretty sure if we don’t get going know, we’ll get stopped by the police, and I don’t think any of us have a good enough lie to cover all this.”

Duck can’t argue with that. He leads them back to his car without any further delay.

The car ride back is about as awkward as you would expect. Duck’s driving, of course, and it’s clear that Minerva won’t fit in the passenger seat. She ends up sort of splayed across the entire back seat, a position that can’t be comfortable in her armor. She refuses to complain, though. That leaves Leo in the passenger seat, alternately clutching the safety handle and trying to act casual. Duck can’t really blame him. Crashing your car knowing you were about to die probably does a number on you.

It does mean that he’s not really up to carrying on a conversation. Duck is left to fend for himself, fielding Minerva’s questions about their training over the past two months and the nature of their latest hunt and why Leo has a jetpack. He gives vague half-answers and pretends to be concentrating on the road.

They make good time, at least. They pass fewer police vehicles than he would have expected. That probably means that some other crazy thing has happened, but Duck killed the abomination, so it can’t be that bad. He’s almost relieved, frankly. Distracted cops mean no one hassles them about Minerva’s inability to wear a seatbelt.

Once they’re in the hallway between Duck’s apartment and Leo’s, even Minerva falls quiet, that embarrassed look back on her face. It’s just as well. It’s earlier than Duck had thought, only barely seven, and he doesn’t want to have to explain to Mrs. Pearson why there’s a giant lady with a sword in the hallway.

“You’ve done a lot today, Duck,” Leo says at last. “I don’t think anyone could blame you if you just wanted to go inside and crash. I can make room for Minerva at my place.”

Duck considers it, he really does. Going inside and crashing sounds perfect right about now. But Leo is injured, and probably still a little surprised to be alive. He could use a break. As for Duck, the novelty of having Minerva around is enough to outweigh his ingrained aversion to volunteering for things.

“Nah, man, it’s fine,” he says. “If she’s all right with it, I’d be happy to have her.”

Minerva breaks out into a big grin. “Many thanks, Duck Newton!”

“Yeah, now that other people can hear you, you’re definitely going to have to turn that down,” Duck says. “But sure, no problem. Night, Leo.”

“Good night, Duck,” Leo says. “I’ll come let you know when Dr. Drake calls, I guess.”

“Great.” That’s definitely what Duck wants to be thinking about right now.

“Good night, Leo Tarkesian!” Minerva says. The exclamation point is still obvious in her tone, but she has quieted down a little, which is more than Duck was expecting.

He lets her into the apartment and goes straight to feed his cat. Minerva hovers behind him curiously, so he feels obliged to explain, “It’s kind of ingrained at this point. If I don’t feed her as soon as I get in, I know I’m going to forget, and then I wake up at two in the morning with a face full of angry cat.”

“Ah,” Minerva says knowingly. “That does sound troublesome.”

Does Minerva actually know what a cat is? Duck can’t tell. Either way, she’ll figure it out once Fig emerges from where she’s hiding.

He uncurls Beacon and puts it up on a shelf in the closet. It complains as soon as it does, of course. “Minerva, it’s good to see you again. I don’t suppose you’re here to retrieve me from this oaf? That you’ve found another, more worthy wielder for my awesome powers? Perhaps even someone who won’t delight in smashing me into metal objects, though I understand that that is asking quite a lot.”

“Hello, Beacon,” Minerva says, wandering into Duck’s living room. “We can talk about… that… at some other time, all right?”

Her obvious dismissal is enough to shut Beacon up, and Duck thinks that this entire evening might have been worth it just for that. He reconsiders when he sees the way Minerva is observing the space with obvious interest. Looking at it with a stranger’s eye, his apartment is kind of a disaster.

Look, he’s been busy fighting monsters and trying not to think about his sudden and terrifying vulnerability. He wasn’t expecting to have guests over.

“Hey,” he says. “I’m going to go make dinner. Could you maybe stop poking around in my things?”

“Of course!” She lowers herself to the floor and looks under his couch. “I will do my best to preserve your privacy for as long as I am taking advantage of your hospitality.”

That’s probably the best Duck is going to get, so he heads to the kitchen, trying not to think about it. Minerva has definitely seen worse from him.

He’s going through his cupboards when he realizes the flaw in his dinner plans: he has basically no groceries. He’s used to having Leo deliver them while he’s occupied with Pine Guard business, but Leo’s been understandably preoccupied lately.

Duck ends up settling for instant ramen. This is Minerva’s first meal on Earth, so it’s not like she has a point of reference to know how cheap it is.

He puts it in the microwave and thinks about where she can sleep. Neither his bed or his couch are designed for eight-foot tall warriors. He’s not going to make her sleep on the floor, though, even if the nonchalant way she’d described being buried in rubble suggests that she wouldn’t complain. That’s all the more reason not to, at least in his mind.

The microwave beeps. He’s struck yet again by how absurd his life has become, contemplating aliens and dead worlds as he makes instant noodles.

Whatever. He’ll take the couch, and Minerva can figure out the best way to use his bed, and they’ll be fine.

He mixes in the flavoring packets and takes the bowls to the living room. To his surprise, Minerva is sitting calmly on the couch. She’s cradling Fig in her arms, looking absolutely delighted. Fig looks more or less resigned to her fate.

He clears his throat. Minerva looks up, her expression almost guilty. Duck pretends not to notice. “I, uh… I was thinking we could eat outside?” It’s a blatant excuse to distract her from how messy his apartment is, but the moon’s probably risen by now, so it should be a pretty night.

Minerva nods. “An excellent idea.” She hesitates for just a moment before setting Fig down and following Duck outside.

There aren’t that many places to sit around the complex, especially if you’re hoping not to be seen from the road. They end up in the parking lot where Duck used to come to train with Minerva. The thought that they’re coming back makes Duck smile to himself. Minerva smiles back, a little hesitantly, clearly unsure of the context.

“Well, it’s not exactly fine dining or anything, but here you go,” Duck says.

Minerva takes her bowl and drinks from it before Duck can hand her a fork. “This is quite salty,” she comments.

“I mean, yeah,” Duck says. “That’s ramen for you.” He shrugs and digs into his own bowl.

Minerva makes appreciative noises as she eats, but she doesn’t try to maintain a conversation. Duck is more than content with that. He can sit and stare at the sky and not think about what’s out there for once.

It doesn’t last, of course. He’s just finishing his meal when a red storm rolls across the sky, followed shortly by the sound of a deafening crash.