Duck stared at Indrid, incredulous. It was undeniably Indrid leaning against the doorframe, but he was just a little different. It was the kind of difference that five months of nearing the apocalypse makes: his hair was extra long but shaved on one side, his glasses were aviators instead of the original round ones, and he was wearing a leather jacket and fingerless gloves even though it was the middle of May.
Despite the inevitable crisis such a look would cause, Duck spoke first. “You’re alive.”
“Yes, and if you would like me to remain so we need to come up with some better plans. But first…” Indrid held out his hand.
Duck knew exactly what he wanted. Since… since Mt. Kepler’s collapse, Duck had been carrying Indrid’s glasses wherever he went, just in case. He pulled them out of his pocket and handed them over. Indrid swapped them out quickly, and his hair went back to the fluffy mane it had been before. The outfit and posture remained the same, not that Duck was complaining.
“Thank you. Alright, I know tensions are high right now, but I suggest we take a brief reprieve before we get down to planning,” Indrid said.
“We don’t have time for that,” Aubrey argued.
“Frankly, we’re already on borrowed time. A few hours will not make a difference, except that it will. It’s all very complicated, and I will explain it to you later. Seven o’clock sharp, here at the Cryptonomica,” Indrid said.
“I… are you sure that’s the best call? You don’t seem very good at time management, considering you’ve been gone over five months,” Leo retorted.
“I assure you I’ve thought everything through more than you could imagine, and more than I would have liked to. Besides, Thacker was gone for six years, and no one seems very mad at him,” Indrid said.
“Hey—” Leo started to stand up.
“No, he’s right, we’re being unfair. Besides, I’ve only been conscious for about, oh, two days. I think I’d like more time to adjust before I take on any more, uh, big projects,” Thacker intervened.
Aubrey stood up. “With the amount of stuff we need to do—”
“For the plan I already said needed work?” Indrid interrupted.
“Listen, can we just— let’s just take a few hours, sort of recollect our thoughts, maybe review some notes, do some training, get a snack, whatever,” Duck said.
“Duck Newton, you would let this man derail our planning?” Minerva asked.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” Duck said, “Right?”
“Would I have made such an entrance if I didn’t?” Indrid replied.
“I don’t know, maybe if you hadn’t been gone for five months I could have gotten to know you better and I’d have an answer,” Duck said. Just because he was on Indrid’s side didn’t mean he didn’t have doubts.
Indrid raised his eyebrow slightly. Duck tilted his head at him.
Indrid looked away first. “You heard the man. If you’d like to waste time here, that’s fine, it’s not going to help you any. Rest is key right now, unless you all want to be dragging ass during the final showdown.”
“Yeah, alright,” Barclay sighed, “We don’t have much to go on anyway. Might as well take care of ourselves.”
A chorus of grudging acceptance echoed through the room. Leo and Thacker were the first to file out, followed slowly (so they didn’t draw the FBI’s attention) by Barclay and Aubrey, and then Minerva decided that she would go with Leo, and then it was just Duck, Indrid, and Kirby.
“Go with Aubrey, you’re not doing yourself any favors sitting in a dark museum by yourself,” Indrid said to Kirby.
“I’m not leaving ‘til everyone’s out of here,” Kirby said.
“Alright, but I will know if you stay here,” Indrid said, “Oh, and I almost forgot, Billy is safe, he’s in my Winnebago if you want to go talk to him.”
“Really? Shit.” Kirby led the way out of the building.
Duck and Indrid followed, and Indrid handed over his key. “Don’t bother stealing it, I barely got it to drive me here in the first place.”
“I— thank you,” Kirby said. He took the key and hurried up the metal steps.
Indrid turned to Duck. “We’re going to your apartment.”
“Is that ‘cause you want to talk to me or because I’m the easiest to boss around?” Duck asked, already walking towards his truck.
“Is it being bossed around if you agree with me?” Indrid replied, getting into the passenger seat.
“You tell me,” Duck said, adjusting the rearview mirror.
Indrid smirked. “I do actually want to tell you, as you are arguably the most… what’s the word. Coherent,” Indrid said.
“I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not,” Duck said, “But I do think I’m the most observant. You’re starving, aren’t you?”
“Starving is a word that one might use,” Indrid said, looking out the window.
“How long since you last ate?” Duck asked, turning into the crowded parking lot of his apartment complex.
Indrid mumbled something incomprehensible.
“What was that?”
“Four— five days,” Indrid said.
“Jesus Christ, Indrid, what the fuck?” Duck looked over at him.
“In my defense, I don’t need to eat as often as humans,” Indrid said.
“You’re lying,” Duck said.
“I… am. See, this is why I’m staying with you and not anyone else. You’re very observant, as you said—”
“Come on, we’re getting you something to eat,” Duck said, getting out of the car.
Indrid followed him into the building and up the stairs. “It’s not the most important thing right now, Duck—”
“Seems pretty important to me,” Duck muttered, unlocking the door.
“Did you mean for that to sound as emotionally charged as it did?” Indrid asked.
“You’re trying to annoy me and it’s not gonna work,” Duck said. He blocked his cat Toaster from escaping and shut the door.
Indrid slid off his jacket and hung it up on the rack. “You are incredibly perceptive, even more so than I—”
“Flattery and seduction ain’t gonna do it either,” Duck said, washing his hands in the kitchen sink. “What things can you eat?”
“Anything,” Indrid said.
Duck looked at him. “Listen, I’m living with a vegetarian, a vegan, and the beefiest woman to ever exist. I got every kind of food you can get in small-town West Virginia and then some."
“Fruit, or liquid-based foods. I can eat other things though,” Indrid said.
“Alright, munch on this while I get you some soup,” Duck said, tossing Indrid an apricot.
Indrid caught it and sat down at the kitchen table. Duck vaguely wished that the place was cleaner, but then he remembered the state Indrid’s trailer had been in. He got out a can of soup and transferred it to a bowl to put in the microwave. Indrid was sitting almost perfectly still, staring at the wall and eating the apricot. Toaster was rubbing on his legs, but Indrid didn’t seem to notice.
“We can still have a conversation if you want,” Duck offered.
“Where do you want me to start?” Indrid replied.
“Where were you and what took you so long?” Duck asked.
“I was traveling around a lot of places, looking for solutions for the dying crystal,” Indrid explained, “I’m sorry I didn’t contact anyone here, but I honestly didn’t think you would care that much. And I didn’t come back until it was absolutely necessary because I was still looking for any kind of solution.”
“You didn’t find anything, I’m guessing,” Duck said.
“Unfortunately,” Indrid said.
The microwave beeped. Duck took it out and got a spoon, then presented the bowl to Indrid. “It’s hot.”
“Thank you,” Indrid said. He immediately spooned it into his mouth.
“Or do that, I guess,” Duck chuckled, sitting down across from Indrid. “So do you have anything else? Or is it just, like, fruitless searching?”
“I learned some interesting things about the crystal, but it would all mean nothing to you. I suppose I will have to talk with Janelle eventually,” Indrid sighed.
“You don’t like her?” Duck asked.
“It’s a long story.” Indrid took another hearty sip of his soup.
“But I’m not the only one who doesn’t like her, right? Okay, I thought I was just being judgy, but she gives off this rude ‘holier than thou’ vibe, even though last time I checked, she’s the one who ripped the mountain open,” Duck said.
Indrid laughed like a PTA mom who had just been told her archnemesis used eggs in her supposedly vegan brownies. “Yes, she’s always been like that. And I imagine she’ll be quite pissed at me for leaving Sylvain for so long.”
“Looks like it might’ve been the right call,” Duck said.
“I’m telling you, I don’t disappear for fun,” Indrid said.
“No, but you seemed like you were having fun reappearing,” Duck said.
“A moth can’t make a dramatic entrance every now and then?” Indrid said.
“Have you ever not made a dramatic entrance?” Duck raised an eyebrow.
“Some have been more dramatic than others,” Indrid shrugged. He was almost done with his soup.
“You need anything else to eat?” Duck asked.
“Not right now, thank you. I think there are some other things we should talk about, though,” Indrid said.
“What do you mean?” Duck frowned.
“Well, there was another reason I wanted to talk to you alone,” Indrid said, “Beyond your cooking skills, even.”
“Can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want those,” Duck snickered.
Indrid looked serious now. “Duck… I— I really like you. More than would make sense, given the circumstances. I suppose the higher you fly the harder you fall and all that."
Duck wasn't sure how to react. He didn't want to deter Indrid's affections, but he was pretty sure the man was delirious from sleep deprivation.
Indrid's face changed. "And obviously I don’t expect any kind of reciprocation. I mean, it’s been fairly clear that you’re attracted to me, but I don’t take that as any indicator of true feelings.”
Duck felt his face heating up. He looked down at the table. “I, well, I mean, I do actually like you, a solid amount considering how much we have talked, and, uh, yeah, I mean, if that’s something you want to pursue I’d definitely be down for that, uh…”
Indrid reached across the table and grabbed Duck’s hand. “I don’t want to rush you, but there is a bit of time sensitivity given the imminent end of the world.”
“No, I like you, I just— you probably heard some of the things I said about you while, uh, inebriated, and I just wanna say I’m sorry about all that,” Duck said.
“Don’t worry, Duck, your saying that you wanted me to ‘fuck you into armageddon’ by no means diminishes my feelings. I like an articulate man,” Indrid said. He started toying with Duck’s fingers.
Duck laughed. “And you're sure this confession isn't from low blood sugar and exhaustion?”
“If anything that would only make me more honest,” Indrid smiled, “And I do feel that I should be honest. I was… keeping an eye on you, while I traveled. Not like— I wasn’t surveilling you or anything. But somewhere in my mind I was making sure you were okay, and I knew that you being in danger would make me come back.”
“You didn’t come back during the last abomination,” Duck said.
“I know, and I regret that. I should have come back sooner, but I got— I got caught up, and while I’m sure it seemed like a long time the whole thing only lasted a couple days and I wouldn’t have made it in time,” Indrid said.
“I don’t blame you, you know that, right? Some people here are gonna be angry at you for not showing up sooner but I’m not one of them,” Duck said.
“I appreciate that,” Indrid said. He looked down at their tangled hands. Duck could see him fading.
“You need to sleep,” Duck inferred, “That’s why you made everyone go home.”
“Well, I couldn’t let everyone continue making bad plans while I dragged myself back to the physical plane,” Indrid said.
“Come on, you can take my bed. Everywhere else is taken anyway,” Duck said. He stood up and pulled Indrid up by their joined hands.
“Thank you, Duck. I mean that. I knew— I knew it was important to the strategy that I come back, but I didn’t realize how important it would be for myself,” Indrid said, taking Duck’s other hand too.
“I’m glad you came back,” Duck smiled, “And, I mean, I may not be the best strategizer, but I’ll be damned if I can’t take care of people. Hosting people here has been my main contribution to the ‘saving Sylvain’ effort, so you’re welcome to stay if you want.”
“I admit it is nicer than my Winnebago,” Indrid said, looking around. “Although I don’t know where I would sleep.”
“I already offered my bed,” Duck said, looking up at Indrid.
“As a more long term solution? Seems… sustainable,” Indrid said vaguely.
“Right now you do need to go in there and take a nap, that is non-negotiable,” Duck said.
“Anything is negotiable if you stall long enough,” Indrid said.
“You’re not gonna get me with that,” Duck said, “Go to sleep, I can see you collapsing on your feet.”
“Maybe you should carry me,” Indrid grinned.
“That is a dangerous game to play because I can and will. Aubrey can testify,” Duck said.
“Alright, threat considered,” Indrid said, “Wake me up before dinner, please.”
“Of course,” Duck said.
Quickly, Indrid kissed Duck on the cheek. He squeezed Duck’s hands once before letting go and walking away. Duck reached up and felt the spot where Indrid kissed him. Duck wasn’t one for romantic cliches, but it did feel like electricity was lingering there.
The door burst open. Aubrey traipsed in, followed by Minerva.
“Don’t let the cat out,” Duck warned.
Aubrey shut the door. “Where’s Indrid?”
“He’s asleep,” Duck said.
“In your bed?” Aubrey waggled her eyebrows.
“No, on the floor,” Duck replied sarcastically.
“You like him,” Aubrey teased.
“Yeah, we talked about that,” Duck said.
“Should we leave you two alone?” Minerva cut in.
“No, he really needs to rest,” Duck said.
“Well, I was gonna go hang out with Dani anyway, I was just checking in to see what was going on,” Aubrey said, walking back towards the door.
“I will also be going, to the theater. I will return in time for dinner,” Minerva said.
“See y’all later,” Duck said as the door shut.
He looked back down the hallway. The door was still half-open, and Toaster was peeking out to look at the front door. Duck sighed and walked over to the door.
“Indrid?” Duck said softly.
“Hm?” Came an even softer reply.
“Do you mind if I, uh, join you?” Duck asked.
“Of course,” Indrid said, “It’s your bed.”
“I’d be surprised if anything in this place is actually mine anymore,” Duck laughed. He got into the bed and left a reasonable amount of space between himself and Indrid.
“I don’t bite,” Indrid said, turning towards him. “Well, unless you want me to.”
Duck laughed and moved closer. “Maybe some other time.”
“I’m being too forward, aren’t I?” Indrid mumbled.
“Nah, I just suck at flirting back,” Duck said.
“It’s a tough skill to master,” Indrid said.
“Y’know what I am good at,” Duck said.
“What’s that?” Indrid grinned.
“Well…” Duck reached towards Indrid, who melted into the touch. “I’ve been told I’m great at cuddling.”
“Is that so,” Indrid smirked. He burrowed into Duck’s chest. “Hmm, I don’t know. I think you may need more practice.”
“Oh yeah? You wanna help me with that?” Duck asked, wrapping his arms around Indrid.
“I do,” Indrid said. He pressed his face into Duck’s neck and sighed. It was weird, because Indrid didn’t actually breathe. Duck figured that must be Indrid’s way of releasing tension.
“Y’know, you’re not too bad yourself,” Duck murmured.
Indrid didn’t respond. Duck smiled and smoothed his hand down Indrid’s back. Even with the end of the world approaching, Duck felt like he could stay in this moment forever. In a rare moment of optimism, he thought things might be just a little bit okay.