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Six Weeks

Chapter Text

“This is a terrible idea.”

“You got any better ones, Duck?” Aubrey shot back. Barclay nodded in hesitant agreement.

“You’re telling me that we’re going to try to fit like 15 to 20 people in one apartment for, what, like a month? That’s a terrible idea.”

“Where else are we gonna go? The Lodge is under surveillance, the Hornet’s Nest is gone, and the Cryptonomica-“ Aubrey stopped, looking down at her hands. “I can’t- we can’t do that.” Duck tried to ignore how her voice cracked, but his heart broke at it.

Barclay sighed. “She’s right, Duck. You’re the only one of us with a home not under FBI control, and you could… probably fit all of us?”

“No, actually, I can’t. I have a two-bedroom apartment! For one person! And a cat!! I can’t fit a bunch a’ cryptids and also Aubrey and Minerva and a half-dead Thacker fella and me and Millie in a two-bedroom apartment!”

Aubrey couldn’t hide a snicker. “Millie?”

“Jane named her after the old Julie Andrews movie,” Duck explained with an eye roll.

“Holy shit, Thoroughly Modern Millie?! I love that movie!” Barclay exclaimed suddenly, coughing awkwardly at the surprised glances he got from Duck and Aubrey. “Okay, anyway… look, Duck, this isn’t negotiable, alright? We don’t have anywhere else.”

“Bull. There’s a Motel 6 just down the street.”

“That’s too close to topside. Not an option.”

“Just camp in the woods?”

“Christ, Duck, it won’t be for long!” Aubrey laughed in disbelief. “What are you so worried about?”

“Look, I just- I don’t get visitors often? It’s not very clean, or- or anything like that, and there’s no way I can feed all of you on cans of chili and ramen packets. And I-I don’t wanna make anyone uncomfortable, some of the Lodge folks don’t even know me, and now they’re just gonna stay at my place? And there’s only one bathroom! You’ll have us up ‘til one just with the showers! It just doesn’t make sense.” Duck concluded, running a hand through his hair.

Aubrey looked up suddenly, a sparkle of an idea in her eyes.

“What are you thinkin’, Aubrey?” Barclay asked, obviously glad that someone was finally making progress.

“Leo lives right next to you, right, Duck? You’ve got three apartments on your floor,” Aubrey reminded.

Duck’s eyes widened. “Absolutely not. We’re not gettin’ Leo and Mrs. Pearson into this! They didn’t sign up for this! I did, and I guess Leo kinda did, but- hell, Mrs. Pearson’s like seventy, she’s wayyy too old to deal with this. No way.”

“Okay, we don’t wanna disturb her, but Leo, at least? Maybe? Please, Duck, we wouldn’t ask this if it wasn’t the last resort, you know that.” Barclay pleaded.

Aubrey gives Duck an expectant look, with just a hint of the same “Duck, you better do as you’re told” glare his mother used to give him.

“GODDDD, FINE. Fine! You know what, just fuck me! Aubrey?”

“Yes, Duck?” Aubrey asked, raising an eyebrow and giving him a victorious grin- more like Jane would instead of his ma.

“You’re sleeping on the goddamn couch.”

Chapter Text

Dani and Jake are the first to arrive at the apartment, just a bit before the others. Dani is still recovering from her fit of madness- the bags under her eyes are obvious, and Duck knows that otherwise, she never would’ve let Jake carry her art supplies. Rather, the few he’d been able to salvage.

“It’s a shame, though, I lost quite a few of my finished sketchbooks,” she sighs as Jake plops the pile onto Duck’s kitchen table with a sigh of relief.

“Aw, I’m sorry, Dani. You- you work hard on those, it must be hard to think you might not see ‘em again.”

Dani lets out a breath, placing a covered basket she’s carrying onto the table as well. “It’s not fun, I’ll say that much.”

“I- can’t say I know how ya feel, but it doesn’t sound easy at all. It’s not- really not great,” he stutters, trying to sympathize.

“I’m just thankful Jake could grab this much,” Dani replies, sending Jake a smile.

The room falls into an awkward silence. Duck rocks on his heels, and Dani busies herself by taking an inventory of the supplies Jake managed to grab.

Jake finally pipes up, “Uhhhh, what’s your cat’s name?”

The aforementioned calico regards Jake with a swinging tail, pressed against Duck’s leg. Her yellow eyes narrow, regarding the new visitors in front of her and assessing if they’re worth her time. They apparently pass her test, as she stalks away after a moment.

“Oh, that’s Millie. She’s not really a people person. Hates me too. Only one she really likes is Jane, my lil’ sister,” Duck sighs.

“I’m sure she likes you more than it seems!” Dani reassures, trying for a smile. “Cats are… temperamental creatures, from what I’ve heard.”

Duck nods and looks back at Millie, now hitting the leaf of a houseplant with her paw. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

The door slams open suddenly as the apartment explodes with sound. Two people carrying Thacker, his arms draped over their shoulders, yell at each other as his form is knocked around.
Aubrey explains The Bachelorette to an often-interrupting Minerva. (Duck hears an out-of-context exclamation of, “Ah, so they eat the roses!”) Barclay is pointing people out to Hollis beside him, Keith trailing behind. Jake steps behind Duck without thinking.

“Alright, this isn’t gonna fly. EVERYONE SHUT THE HELL UP,” Duck yells, staring the crowd down.

They all quiet down except for Aubrey, who continues, “So they go to these places like Scotland, and they play rugby and shit, and the girl just watches! And she finds it ATTRACTIVE! Straight people are so-“ She finally looks up at a scowling Duck and her mouth clamps shut.

“Thanks. Listen, y’all can’t just come in here making a ruckus like that, okay? Other people live here besides me- er, you all too, now. I know you could just yell through the Lodge or wherever, but you’re gonna have t’use your inside voices. Some people here are probably still asleep, alright?”

Hollis mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “you’re not my dad”.

“Alright, those of you who’re stayin’ the night, or week, or month or whatever, just,,, pick a place, I guess? My room’s off-limits, couch is for Aubrey cuz I told her she was banished to it or whatever, but everythin’ else is fine.” The Lodge residents rush off to claim a place, armed with dollar-store blankets and a whole assortment of things as pillows. Duck’s gaze turns to the Hornets as Barclay excuses himself. “Hollis, tell me what’s goin’ on.”

Jake, thankful for Duck’s distraction of the Hornets, looks over at Dani, who sees his discomfort and suggests, “Guest bedroom?”
Jake grins. “Hell, yeah.”

Dani collapses on the twin bed as soon as they enter the room. Jake sets her things down on the nightstand and sits cross-legged on the foot of the bed.

“It feels… so good… to lie down,” she sighs, closing her eyes.

Jake smiles. “You can take a nap, you know.”

She opens one eye again. “You know I can’t nap.”

“First time for everything, dudette.”

She scoffs, sitting up and slapping Jake’s arm playfully.

“C’mon, I told you not to call me that.”

He slaps her back- a bit lighter, but she still winces a bit. “Oh, s-sorry. Still sore, dudette?”

She groans, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, a bit. Tackling a guy and going into a crazed state does that to you.” She laughs, then notices a figure standing at the door.

“Hey, Dani.” Aubrey’s tone is cold. Dani freezes.

“Oh, Aubrey. I-I didn’t- I didn’t mean that-“

“It’s-it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Really.” Aubrey’s smile is pained, but genuine. Dani returns it hesitantly.

“Sup, Aubs!” Jake says, standing up and holding up his fist.

Aubrey grins and returns the fist bump. “What up, Jake-man! How are you two settling in?”

“Pretty well! Oh, and Dani’s got someone who wants to see you!” Jake looks at Dani hopefully.

Dani is noticeably deflated, but she nods and hands Aubrey the basket.

“Oh my God, Dr. Harris Bonkers!” She cries, hugging the rabbit to her chest. He looks about as elated as a rabbit can look. “I thought he was- wow, thank you so much, Dani!” She goes in for a hug as Dani goes in for a high five, which morphs into a weird handshake-slash-side-hug that Jake finds almost unbearable to watch.

“Alright, hate to break up whatever the fuck that was, but Dani probably needs to take a nap or something. She’s still not feeling great.”

“Jake, I told you-“

Aubrey cuts in. “No, it’s fine. You probably need some quiet, either way. I’m-I really am glad to see you again. I-I couldn’t lose you too, Dani.”

Dani is blushing furiously. “I- uh. I’m glad you’re alright too, Aubrey. Really glad. Super mega glad.”

“I’ll be right there, Aubs,” Jake adds.

“Alright. Catch you on the flip side or… whatevs.” Aubrey shoots them both awkward half peace sign, half finger guns.

As soon as the door closes behind her, Dani lets out a pained laugh and collapses onto the bed. “That was a fucking nightmare.”

“It wasn’t any easier to watch,” Jake assures her.

“I’m not going to survive this… week? Month? Few months? Whatever. I’d literally rather go through anything besides this,” she groans into the pillow.

“It’ll get better, I’m sure!”

“I’m a complete disaster. I’m a complete gay disaster and I joked about Aubrey’s dead friend in front of her and then shook hands with her. I want to die. Seriously, if someone killed me right now I wouldn’t even be mad.”

“Either way,” Jake sighs, “this is gonna be a very weird few weeks.”

Chapter Text

Mrs. Pearson does not like people.

She would tell you that really, she just doesn’t like certain types of people, mostly adults. People who talk too much, people who talk too little, people who are rude, people who are too nice, people who make too much noise, people who are too quiet, et cetera.

So basically everyone.

Mrs. Pearson sees the world as guilty until proven slightly less guilty, and she is the judge and the jury. She makes it a fact to look at everyone she comes across with one eyebrow raised, silently judging their every move until she finds something she doesn’t like. People rarely get offended at her blunt observations, which tends to annoy her even more. No matter what, however, Mrs. Pearson is always direct but poised, polite to everyone she meets.

But Mrs. Pearson has never met someone like the weird man standing in front of her door, arguing with Duck Newton.

Her nurse storms right beside them, without noticing the conflict, muttering under her breath. Mrs. Pearson feels a bit of triumph at her annoyance. She was always so positive, it was practically suffocating.

The strange man and Duck look at her like deer caught in the headlights.

“Mr. Newton. Your shirt’s untucked.” She informs him. Duck sighs, but does tuck his shirt in. “And you oughta be a bit quieter, young man. Walkin’ around, yellin’ your personal business to the wind. I do hope y’all weren’t talking about anything too personal.”

“We-we didn’t mean any harm, ma’am.” The strange man replies, smiling sheepishly.

Duck clears his throat. “Barclay, this is Mrs. Pearson. She used t’ be the cotillion teacher here. I’ve known her for most of my life. And Mrs. Pearson, this is my friend Barclay. He’s… stayin’ with me for a bit.”

“C-cotillion?” Barclay asks, looking to Duck for clarification.

Mrs. Pearson jumps in before Duck can respond. “Cotillion, Barclay, is the study of etiquette. I taught the children of Kepler manners and poise for more than fifty years til’ I broke my foot and couldn’t dance myself.”

“Dance? Like-“

Duck looks even more sheepish now. “Yeah, uh, like ballroom dancing.”

Barclay pauses, looks between them, then bursts out laughing. “You- you taught Duck to ballroom dance? Duck Newton can ballroom dance?! You’re shittin’ me.”

“Language!” Mrs. Pearson chides him.

“Look, I-I was never any good at it-“ Duck defends.

“He truly wasn’t. His sister, however- a natural. Taught with me, too, until she graduated high school. One of my best students.” She smiles at the memory- Jane, always eager to help, always glad to aid someone.

Duck’s jaw set. “Yeah, meanwhile I couldn’t waltz without trippin’ over my own feet.”

“There’s always time to try again, Mr. Newton. My daughter still runs a few classes down at the country club-“

Duck chuckles. “No, thanks, Mrs. Pearson. I’m no more graceful now than I was in fifth grade.”

She sighs. “Always so polite. Too polite, some could say.”

“Thanks for the encouragement,” Duck says sarcastically.

Pretending not to notice, Mrs. Pearson turns to Barclay with a stern glare. “You, sir, could use some lessons. For example-“ She balances on her good leg and pulls Barclays shoulders up, “-better posture.”

“Ow,” he mutters.

“Back straight, shoulders back- but keep your shoulders high- head up. There, much better. I can give you my daughter’s address to enroll, if you’d like.”

Barclay looks positively miserable, shoulders now pulled to his ears, but he nods.

“Now, y’all must have better places to be, or arguments to continue for the entire town’s entertainment. Welcome to the building, Barclay. Good day.” She hobbles back into her apartment and shuts the door behind her.

“Nice meeting you!” Barclay calls through the door. Then, after, “Wow, she’s certainly... straight-forward.”

“That’s just how she is. She doesn’t mean any harm. Now, listen, about the Mama issue...”

She settles back on her couch, turns on Jeopardy, and laughs to herself.

And that night, walking through the hallway, she swears she can hear the steady sliding of someone’s feet from the apartment next door, mumbled “one, two, three”s, and the faint melody of a waltz.

Chapter Text

Jake considers himself an optimist. Everyone else considers Jake an optimist. This information isn’t new.

But Jake looks around the apartment at the tired and melancholy expressions and realizes that everyone needed a lot more optimism.

But not casual optimism, no. The sort of in-your-face, intense, best-friend-in-a-rom-com optimism that Jake definitely wasn’t good at but sure as hell could try.

First victim- Aubrey.

If he could cheer up Aubrey, he could cheer up the whole town and then some. Jake cautiously walks up to the couch, where Aubrey was staring into space, absent-mindedly petting Dr. Harris Bonkers.

She vaguely acknowledges his presence with a glace as he sits down beside her.

“Heyyy, ‘Ree!” He greets her. She smiles back at him.

“Hey, Jake.” Her voice is soft, and she doesn't even acknowledge her favorite nickname- not a good sign.

He contemplates a “how are you doing,” but decides against it. “So… I have an idea.”

“Okay?”

“How-how good are you at baking?”

She raises an eyebrow. “Baking?”

“Y-yeah! How good are you at it?”

“Never tried.”

He grins. “Neither have I. Let’s do it!”

Aubrey barks out a laugh, shaking her head. “Absolutely not.”

“Come onnnn, it’d be fun! We’ve all been moping around for days now, let’s put those sad vibes to use!”

“We’re going to burn down the building, Jake.”

“You can control fire. We couldn’t burn down the building if we tried.”

“We definitely could,” she snaps back suddenly. “I could.”

Jake remembers. “Oh, fuck. I’m- aw shit, that came out so wrong. I’m sorry, Aubrey. That was super not cool of me. I-I just want to help everyone have some fun, let out the tension, you know?” His voice becomes a mumble, “Sorry for cursing, too.”

She sighs. “No, it’s fine, Jake. Sorry I snapped at you. I just- I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask. Dani’s probably better at baking than I am. So’s Barclay, he’s literally a cook.”

“But I wanna do something with you!” Aubrey smiles at that. “Come on, Aubs, you’re one of my two best friends in the entire world and you could definitely use some cheering up! We can at least try, right? I’ll have Moira watch with the fire extinguisher, if you want.”

Aubrey considers that for a moment. Finally, she nods, carefully putting Dr. Harris Bonkers in the basket beside her. “Let’s do it.”

Jake lets out a whoop and stands up, hooking his arm in Aubrey’s and pulling her out the door. “I bet Leo’s got some frosting in his store, and I saw that Duck has cake mix way back in his fridge- This is gonna be so sick, Aubs, I can’t wait!”

The pure excitement in his tone leaves the apartment chuckling in his wake.

Jake and Aubrey return about an hour later, with not only icing, but all sorts of food spilling out of their arms. They laugh and talk wildly as they start the oven, make the cake, turn on the static-filled radio, and smile wider than they have in weeks. Some of the Lodge residents even offer to help, and as promised, Moira stands by with the fire extinguisher.

Dani leaves for the other room.

In the sudden excitement, only one person notices.

“Heyyy, Dani. You alright?” Barclay asks, sitting at the foot of the bed. Dani nods, then concedes and shakes her head, looking down at Dr Harris Bonkers perched on her knees. “So I thought. Do you wanna talk about it?”

She nods again. “I just-” Her voice breaks. She clears it and tries again. “I just… don’t know why they didn’t ask me to help. You know? It’s- It’s ‘sposed to be the three of us against the world!” A chorus of laughter from the other room visibly hits her.

“Hey, I get it. I’m literally the cooking guy. And they didn’t ask once about the icing portions. Not even once!” Dani chuckles. “But actually, Dani- I think Aubrey’s going through… a lot. Maybe Jake’s just trying to bring her out of her shell a bit? She's hardly talked since- you know.”

“I fucking know she’s going through a lot. Every fucking word, every look, it kills me. I know she doesn’t look at me or you or anything the same. I’ve noticed she’s still wearing black like a goddamn widow from the 1800s, and it sucks becasue I could always get to her, and now I can’t fucking get to her, because she thinks it’s all my fault, and I don’t wanna lose her Barclay, I- I can’t-” Barclay cuts her off with a Bigfoot-sized hug as she sobs into his shoulder, unaware how much she’s been holding in over the past few days. “It- I don’t think- It wasn’t my fault, Barclay.” She sounds so defeated, so pitiful. She’s not used to it.

“Shh, it’s alright, kiddo. It absolutely wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known what was gonna happen. And we all still love you. I still love you, and Aubrey and Jake definitely still love you, and they know you couldn’t have done anything about it. You’re still the-the Three Amigos, y’know?”

She lets out a small, shakey laugh. “You mean The Two Amigos Making Cake and The One Amigo Crying in the Other Room.”

Barclay lets out a chuckle that fills the room. “You needed to let it all out, I get it! We’ve all been through a lot recently, Dani, cut yourself some slack.”

“I know, I know.” She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand as he steps back. “Thanks, Barclay.”

“Anytime. Come on back outside whenever you’re ready. You could use some cake.” She sends him a smile as he walks out the door. It takes her a while, but eventually she follows him out.

And she has to blink a bit when she does.

The entire room seems to have just woken up after a long nap. At some point, Duck had come back from work, and he was currently thoroughly interrogating Jake about why there were eggshells in my fucking houseplants, Coolice. Jake was explaining through laughter that he had heard they were good for fertilization, as Duck retorted “not on the leaves!”. Moira was carefully cutting cake and distributing it, scolding a younger resident when they came back for thirds (“give someone else a chance! we don’t all have the metabolisms of wendigos!”). Aubrey was sitting on the table, in true bi fashion, talking animatedly with Leo and Minerva, who had also showed up pretty recently, apparently. The room wasn’t loud, but it wasn’t deathly quiet like it had been earlier. It was familiar. It felt like home again.

As Dani rubs her eyes and laughs at the scene unfolding in front of her, the aforementioned Aubrey walks up to her with another plate, holding a corner piece of the huge Funfetti cake.

“Hi.”

Dani jumps a bit. “Oh. Uh. Hey.”

They stare awkwardly for a solid five seconds before Aubrey asks, “Uh. Do you want some cake?” Dani hesitates. She’s still a bit mad that Jake and Aubrey went off alone without her, and accepting the cake would be admitting defeat. And Dani’s not sure she’s ready to stop being mad at them yet.

But she did love Funfetti and chocolate.

“It’s good. And vegan. I think? Jake saved the corner for you, too.” Dani internally sighs, her visions of a remorseful Aubrey saving the tantalizing corner piece for the love of her life, who she didn’t blame for anyone’s death, in the utmost romantic sacrifice fading before her eyes.

“Sure! It looks good.” Aubrey looks so glad she had accepted and almost hit Dani with the plate in her enthusiasm to give it to her.

“Forks are on the counter, Moira has napkins. I like how you did your hair today. Bye!” She makes a hasty exit, still kind of smiling to herself as Minerva gives her a very forceful high-five. (“did I do it right, friend Aubrey?”)

“What a dork,” Dani mutters fondly, still blushing from the hair comment, then walks over to help Jake out of whatever hole he was digging for himself with Duck.

She grabs a fork on the way there, and starts digging in.

She hates herself for it, but she eventually has to concede- that’s some really good cake.

Chapter Text

Duck wakes up to Barclay’s loud snores on the sleeping bag below his bed. He hears a page turn from the other room- Dani, assumably- and Moira’s quiet feet as she walks to the kitchen. Aubrey mutters something in her sleep as he walks out of his room to make coffee, and steps over a few other residents- including one whose anklet had fallen off in the night and was curled up in faun form- to start the coffee machine.

It’s amazing how quickly he adapts to things now, because he hardly bats an eye at any of it.

Surprisingly, the cramped apartment in the morning feels more like a home than it ever has before.

“Good morning, Duck,” Moira whispers, smiling at him as he nods at her and Dani.

“Mornin’. Did ya sleep well?” She nods back.

“I did, actually. The rain woke me up, though.”

Duck looks outside and tunes in to the patter of rain on the window. “Hunh, I hardly noticed.”

She smiles at him kindly. “It’s been a long week. I think most of us could sleep through a hurricane if given the chance.” He chuckles at that, and turns back to the coffee maker.

And then there’s a loud knock on the door.

Some of the residents stir as Duck and Moira share a panicked glance. Dani stands up and quickly begins helping the half-awoken Sylphs move into Duck’s room and the guest room. Moira shoos them along and closes the door behind her in the guest room as Dani closes the door to Duck’s room. Duck runs a hand through his hair, takes a deep breath, and answers the door.

“Good morning, Duck Newton. Thank goodness we found the right room, we already woke the woman next door.” A woman in a cloak with a scarf covering her pointed ears and light pink hair smiles up at Duck.

“Janelle, holy shit,” Duck breathes. “You scared the hell out of me- er, us. Where have you been?”

“Later, Mr. Newton. May we come in?” She gestures to her four compatriots, all also in cloaks and hats to cover their Sylvan features.

“Yeah, yeah. Wipe your feet.” She nods, and gestures the others in. “Hey, Aubs, your professor or whatever’s here,” he calls back into the guest room.

“I-I prefer mentor,” Janelle corrects quietly.
Aubrey steps out of the guest room with a yawn. Her red and orange dyed hair is messy and piled on top of her head, and her too-large shirt hangs to one side a bit. She blinks a few times and smiles sleepily at Janelle.

“Hey, Janie.” (Duck almost winces at his sister’s old nickname, and oh god he hopes his sister doesn’t get in the middle of this, and he needs to send her a message before just in case, and maybe he should just stop thinking for now.)

“Hello, Aubrey. I’m sorry to wake you and your party so early. We-“

Suddenly, one of Janelle’s students finally notices Aubrey, gasp, slap one of their friends, and bow deeply. The others follow suit. Janelle looks mildly embarrassed.

“Oh. Oh this is so weird. Okay.” Aubrey steps back, looking to Janelle for explanation.

“I apologize, Aubrey, I- my students can be a bit much, sometimes.” She offers sheepishly.

“The Bridging One! We’re not worthy of being in your presence,” one exclaims, just barely looking up at her.

“The Bridging- holy shit.”

“We’ve heard only the best about you! Your skills are much greater than any of ours,” another added.

“Is this how Harry Potter felt, like, all the time?” Aubrey asks, looking at Duck. He shrugs.

“Please do get a hold of yourselves. Aubrey is just like any of you,” Janelle chides the students, looking at them sternly and motioning for them to get up.

“Yeah, please for the love of God stop bowing. That’s super not necessary or appreciated at all, whatsoever.” The students reluctantly stand.
Janelle smoothes out her skirt. “That aside, Mr. Newton, we need somewhere to stay. If you can’t provide it… I’d say we’d inquire elsewhere, but there’s not really an elsewhere to inquire at,” She laughs awkwardly.

“Nooo, it’s no problem at all! What’s five more?” He yells. Maybe Sylvans don’t speak sarcasm, because Janelle just looks at him with a confused expression.

Aubrey sighs. “We might be a little booked right now, Janelle.”

“Just a BIT?! Just a TINY BIT, AUBREY?” Duck yells again.

“We’ll figure it out, though. Like, maybe you guys could stay somewhere near here?”

“Where else do you suggest, Aubrey?”

Aubrey exchanges a look with Duck that tells him exactly what her plans are- a kind of guilty, pleading glance.

“No.”

“Duck, come on, there’s five of them, and it’s raining outside, we can’t just kick them out-”

“Aubrey, it’s six in the goddamn AM, I’m not gonna-“

“Look at them! They’re staring at me like I’m some saint, and it’s rude to not offer them somewhere to stay. Especially when-”

“Uh, excuse me for interrupting, but mind clueing us in?” One of the students piped up.

Aubrey gives Duck another pleading look. He sighs.

 

“Morning, Leo,” Duck greets a few minutes later as a disgruntled Leo Turkesian opens the door.

“M-Mornin’, Duck. Why’re you knocking on my door at six in the AM on a Saturday?”

“Yeah, okay, exactly. Listen, we had some folks come in last night from God knows where, but- I mean, they’re Sylphs, they’re big into magic and also Aubrey apparently, and I’m already almost steppin’ on people everywhere at my place so… got room for five more?”

“Five?” Leo repeats in disbelief.

“Yeah, I know. But- five.”

Leo takes a second, runs a hand through his hair, pinches the bridge of his nose. “Fine. You know what? Fine. Just send ‘em over.”

“No, somethin’s obviously bothering you about it. Trust me, I’d keep ‘em at my place if I could, but-“

“No, I’m sure y’would, but Duck, I-I’m just not sure why I’m still doin’ this, you know?”

Duck sighs. “You know what, I wonder that myself sometimes. But then I think of my sister, my friends, my hometown-“

“That’s what you’re not gettin’, Duck, I don’t have that. My brothers won’t talk to me, a bunch of my friends aren’t… aren’t around anymore, I’m not from Kepler- I hardly know anyone here! I just have to step back before the you-know-what hits the fan and think about this- like, really think about it. What exactly am I fighting for anymore?”

Duck just looks at him for a second, shocked at the response, but before he can answer, another voice cuts in.

“LEO TURKESIAN, WE ARE OUT OF THE DELICIOUS AND STRANGE LIQUID YOU CALL MILK! WE MUST- DUCK NEWTON!” Minerva emerges from behind Leo, grinning at Duck. “PLEASE COME IN! I AM HAPPY TO SEE THAT YOU HAVE JOINED US! HOW FARES YOUR UNIT?”

Duck hesitantly steps into the apartment. “Hey, Minnie. Everyone’s doin’ just fine. I might be sending a few folks your way, please don’t scare ‘em off, alright?”

“I WOULD NEVER DO SUCH A THING, DUCK NEWTON! I KNOW MY FIGURE IS IMPOSING, BUT I WILL ATTEMPT TO, AS YOU SAY, ‘KEEP IT COOL’.”

Duck sighed. “Alright then. Actually, I did have a question.” Leo stiffened.

“OF COURSE, DUCK NEWTON. I WILL DO MY BEST TO ANSWER ANY QUERY YOU MAY HAVE.”

“What do you fight for?”

She pauses, wrings her hands, takes a few breaths.

“DUCK NEWTON, I HAVE MADE... MANY MISTAKES. I HAVE THE BLOOD OF MY PEOPLE ON MY HANDS, A SIN WHICH I CANNOT UNDO NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY. I SUPPOSE I FIGHT FOR ATONEMENT, DUCK NEWTON. I FIGHT FOR RECONCILIATION. THAT IS MY ONLY HOPE FOR SURVIVAL, THAT I MAY RECONCILE FOR WHAT I HAVE DONE TO MY PEOPLE AND FINALLY PUT THEIR SOULS TO PEACEFUL REST.”

Minerva sighed heavily, but then added, “BUT AN IMPORTANT PART OF THAT RECONCILIATION IS PREVENTING THE ATROCITIES I CREATED FROM EVER HAPPENING AGAIN. THIS WORLD AND ITS SISTER HAVE SO MANY INNOCENT SOULS, SO MANY WHO CAN DO GOOD. I FIGHT TO MAKE SURE THOSE SOULS CAN CREATE A WORLD BETTER THAN THE ONES WE SEE NOW, THE ONE I ENDORSED AND CREATED.”

She looks away, then shakes herself and looks questioningly at Duck. “WHY DO YOU ASK, DUCK NEWTON? ARE YOU CONCERNED OVER YOUR OWN MOTIVATION?”

“Just curious. Thanks for talkin’ to me about it, though, I really appreciate it.” Duck pauses for a second, then snaps his fingers. “Oh, Leo, I just had an idea. I know Aubrey’s not cool with usin’ the space just yet, but we could keep the newcomers in the Cryptonomica! Aw yeah, that’ll work. Don’t worry about it, Leo, I’ll-“

“We can take them, Duck.” Duck looks at Leo in surprise. “Yeah, we can take ‘em. Aubrey needs to be near the magic folks, right? And we all have to do our part. I guess I owe it to everyone who can't fight for themselves, like Minnie said.” Leo shoots him a smile. “Thanks, Duck.”

Minerva looks between them. “OBVIOUSLY I HAVE MISSED SOME INTERACTION OF IMPORTANCE.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll send ‘em over in a bit, alright?”

“Sounds good. Thanks, Duck,” Leo replies.

“YES, IT IS ALWAYS A RELIEF TO SEE THAT THE WHIMS OF BATTLE HAVE NOT TAKEN YOU YET!”

“I should really be thanking you, Leo. And I guess that’s sorta sweet in a way, Minerva, so thanks?”

“I’m glad I could-“

“I AM ALWAYS WILLING TO SUPPORT MY BROTHERS IN BATTLE! GOOD DAY, DUCK NEWTON!”

Duck sighs as the door closes behind him, running a hand through his hair.

Aubrey is waiting anxiously for him once he walks back into his apartment. “So?”

“He’ll take them. It took some talking over, but-“ He stops and looks around the room- truly looks.

Janelle and her students are sitting awkwardly on his couch. Every Sylvan is staying as far away as possible, with pointedly turned backs and sneers in their general direction. Dani mutters something to Jake, whose eyes momentarily widen and then glare at the five on the couch.

“Woah, okay. What happened?” Duck asks quietly.

“So. Okay. Apparently Janelle was pretty involved with the banishment process? Like, delivered the sentence. Basically. So most folks here are still pretty salty about that.”

Duck sighs, surveying the room again as a few Sylvans scoff in the general direction of a student who pulls out a book and begins reading. “Why am I not surprised?”