Duck paces his bedroom back and forth, running his hands through his longish dark hair, jabbering panickily while Leo Tarkesian, one of his closest friends and fellow Chosen, sits on his bed.
‘I-I-I… fuck, man! Look, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna, but what if she says no? What if that wasn’t a thing on Mir- Miravi-‘
‘Miralaviniax Orbital Body 5,’ Leo says, tired. They’ve been over the name many times - it’s not that Duck doesn’t remember it (beneath that mild West Virginian accent lies a pretty sharp tongue and mind) but that he can hardly say the name.
‘That’s the fuckin’ one! What if- aw man, Leo, I don’t know what to do!’
Leo rubs his stubbly face. Duck paces the room so fiercely that he might just wear a hole in the carpet. From the cracked-open window, the various sounds of the Amazon Rainforest trickle in, squawks and laughter and the weight of humidity like Leo’s never felt before.
Brazil! It’s still kind of hard for him to wrap his head around the fact that he and the rest of the Chosen (and also pretty much everyone from Amnesty Lodge) are here, helping out with replanting the Amazon and getting together for their annual meet-up. That was the cover story, anyway. Of course, the annual meet-up was going to happen, but the reason it was happening now was simple:
Duck was scared. Scratch that, he was terrified. The great Wayne Newton, who wielded Beacon, who saved the world along with his friends so many times - he was absolutely losing it. Why? Because he was going to propose to Minerva.
Of course, the second Leo and the gang heard that, they packed up and flew over to Brazil almost immediately. From what they could make out over the glitchy Discord audio, Duck was going out of his mind with terror. And who could blame him? Minerva, the six-foot-tall alien warrior woman with a voice that filled the room and an endearingly blunt honesty - well now, that certainly wasn’t someone you met every day. Duck wanted desperately to be with her, but at the same time, he was terrified of losing her. If he made the wrong choice, if he pushed her away - Leo thought he might never forgive himself. So of course, he had to help.
‘Man, can’t you use your- your sight thingy? Power? Can’t you use that to help me out here? You can see the future, Leo! Ya gotta tell me what’s going to happen!’ Duck gestures wildly at the round red spectacles that sit haphazardly on Leo’s head - a gift from Indrid Cold, your friendly neighbourhood Mothman and court seer.
Leo rubs his temples and sighs.
‘Duck, you know I’m not good enough to see a couple of hours ahead clearly - hell, if I see a couple of minutes ahead, that’s a win! And even if I was good enough, the future is… it’s liquid, sort of. It changes, Duck, all the time. If I told you what’s gonna happen, well, it might not!’
Duck sighs, stopping in his tracks, and nods resignedly. ‘Yeah, I know. I know. But what if-‘
You have got to get over this, buddy! Minerva loves you, and you love her. I don’t doubt it for a second that she won’t say yes. So stop what-iffing and get your ass out there! We still have trees to plant today, in case you forgot or something.’
Leo cracks a grin, and Duck’s shoulders slump in relief. For now, at least, the forest ranger’s worries have eased. Some good old work with the earth under his nails and the saplings in his hands will calm him down, Leo knows. So he stands up (Duck’s rickety, cheap bed creaking in protest), picks up Duck’s hat from the dresser, and plonks it down solidly on his friend’s head.
Duck laughs, adjusting his most prized possession, and strides off through the door, the easy candle-flame warmth back in his eyes. Leo lingers a moment, thinking about his friends - well, if he wanted to be sappy (and also accurate) his family - and the futures that lie ahead for them all.
He slips the red-tinted glasses back onto his nose, and Leo Tarkesian, Chosen One and court seer-in-training grins.
For the rest of the day, Duck works. It’s good work, the feeling of the new trees nestled in his palms almost otherworldly, the satisfaction whenever he smooths the soil over the roots of a sapling immense. But the anxiety lurking in the back of his mind still speaks to him, and surprise surprise, it speaks in the voice of Beacon.
Mmmmwayne Newton, the sword hums in his head. Duck scowls and tries to ignore it, watering a young sapling with care and precision.
Wayne Newton, the sword drawls again. God, how that voice gets on his nerves. Like nails on a chalkboard.
She’s not going to say yes, Wayne Newton. Why would she - warrior, queen, the best and most brilliant person you’ve ever met - want to stay with you?
Duck doesn’t answer. He doesn’t want to get into an argument with himself, not now. Plus, it’s just plain old weird!
You know I’m right, Wayne Newton. You know she’ll say no. So why bother doing it at all if you’re only going to mess it up? the sword purrs. Duck grits his teeth, moving onto the next sapling, imagining the soil is burying this frustrating voice in the back of his head.
Thankfully, Juno saves him before he can spiral downwards any further.
‘Hey, Juno. What is it?’
‘You’ve been working all day now. Your shift is over. You can go home. Let us take over, if you know what I’m saying.’ Juno winks exaggeratedly. Duck rolls his eyes, smiles, and gets to his feet, his back aching in protest.
‘Thanks, Juno. Really. Look, about the plan-‘
‘I know, Duck. We all know, Duck. You made us memorise it twenty-three times, Duck.’ Juno lays a hand on his shoulder and tilts her head to the side.
‘You okay? I mean, this is it!’
Duck lets out a long breath. ‘Well thanks for reminding me, Juno. Not like I haven’t spent the entire day terrified or nothin’.’
Juno laughs a little. ‘You’ll do fine, Duck. Just remember: don’t go startin’ any fires, okay? This poor rainforest’s had enough of that shit.’
Duck chuckles and brushes her hand off his shoulder, setting off for the comfort of his apartment. ‘I know, Juno! I’m many things, and Aubrey Little ain’t one of them. See you soon!’
‘Bye, Duck! Don’t worry!’
‘I make no promises!’
He spends the rest of the evening preparing. He knows that if all is going according to the Plan, then Dani and Vincent will be keeping Minerva busy while he, Aubrey, the Chosen Gang and Thacker prepare. The first problem is what to wear. Should he go overly formal, black tie and suit? Nah. Too proper - she’d know something was up right away. And, of course, wearing a suit and tie? In the Amazon Rainforest? Please.
Maybe he should just wear his normal clothes instead - plain shoes, shirt and shorts, maybe with a jacket if the night was really cold. No. Too informal, not… not good enough.
Duck grits his teeth in frustration. Who knew choosing clothes was so hard? He had never been all that fussed about the things, but when it comes to this… he wants to get it perfect. Eventually he decides on his old Kepler forest ranger uniform - it’s neat and tidy enough, but more him than a suit. Duck spends plenty more time than usual in the shower, scrubbing every bit of dirt and sweat free from his skin and lathering his grey-and-black hair until it shines. Afterwards he brushes his teeth for good measure. He tries, then, to dry his hair as quickly as possible without the use of a hair-dryer (one of the little things he forgot to bring over, frustratingly) and brushes it fiercely until it hangs, tamed, loosely around his face and neck.
‘Yeah? Who is it?’ he calls, hopping around the room while trying to pull on his trousers. ‘Gimme a second!’
‘It’s, uh, it’s Doctor Sarah Drake? Duck, you got five minutes before you have to head out. Dani and Vincent are trying to keep Minerva occupied, but we haven’t got long.’
‘Shit!’ Duck hollers as he trips over. When did that happen? Where did all the time go? Hurriedly, he makes sure he looks all right in the mirror, checks for any stray hairs or spots he missed (there are none), picks up an innocuous velvet box and runs for the door. He pauses before he opens it, glancing at his hat on the dresser. Then he shakes his head, grins, takes a deep breath, and opens the door.
‘Where are we going, Duck Newton? I was not made aware that we must plant trees in the night-time now! Have the other rangers been notified of this change?’ Minerva’s voice echoes through the rainforest. Duck shrugs his shoulders, nimbly stepping over a thick tree root while she strides on behind him.
‘You- you’ll see, Minnie. We ain’t got long now, I promise. Just give me a minute,’ he mutters, searching for the clearing by the river. At least that wasn't really a lie, so for once he doesn't stutter and trip over his words like normal. They should be there by now. Has he taken a wrong turn? Has he got them lost? Oh God. If he messes this up…
Calm down, man. Take it easy. Deep breaths. We’re gonna be fine, Duck reassures himself. We’re gonna be fine.
And thankfully, they are. In the distance, maybe fifty or so feet away, is the clearing. One electric candle sits in the centre of the table - no arson in the Amazon, thank you very much - a lantern, glowing cheerfully in the gloom. Duck turns back to Minerva, and when she grins, her eyes light up as much as the electric-blue tattoos on her head.
‘Race you, Duck Newton!’ Minerva says, and then she’s off.
‘Hey, no fair! Minerva, wait up!’ Duck breaks into a run after her, and though he tries his best, it’s clear that she’s already won. Just as he’s building up some serious speed, Minerva stops, and Duck nearly crashes straight into her.
‘Duck Newton… is this…?’
‘Surprise!’ he pants, brushing the askew hairs from his face and leaning over onto his knees. ‘Damn, Minerva, you run fast.’
‘I train, Duck Newton! As do you! But that is not important right now. What’s important is that… is this for us?’ she asks, her large grey eyes lighting up with hope and joy. Duck had heard about hearts squeezing before, but he never truly understood it until after he met Minerva. Now that feeling was as familiar (and about as frequent) as breathing.
‘No, it’s for the animals,’ he jokes, then pulls her chair out from under the table. ‘Have a seat, honey.’
Minerva grins broadly and sits, looking down at the food before her. It’s still steaming hot (but just cool enough to eat) and silently, Duck thanks Aubrey with all his heart.
‘Well, Duck Newton? Let’s dig in!’
The dinner is wonderful. Barclay, of course, prepared it - Thacker offered, but Duck declined almost immediately. As great as the old explorer was, a feast of gorp didn’t sound like the perfect meal for a proposal, and as for beef jerky…
Duck shivers - even the thought of that disgusting stuff is almost too much to bear. Up above, the moon shines broadly. It’s a waning gibbous, Duck thinks, or maybe a waxing gibbous - he can never tell the difference. Water flows in the distance, various creatures click and squeak and sing in the darkness, and the electric candle casts a golden glow over the scene. He and Minerva talk. A lot. From things as simple as what the bird singing in the trees could be to stupid far-fetched theories about Earth having its own spirit, like Sylvain. It’s fun, and light-hearted, and eventually, the meal is finished. Dread that has been welling up in Duck’s stomach explodes through his nervous system, pinning him to his seat. He can feel his hands begin to tremble, his body begin to sweat. But Duck forces himself through it. He has to do it. No turning back now.
Slowly, cautiously, praying to any god that might be listening, Duck gets to his feet. Minerva moves to stand but he waves her down, taking a deep breath. Then he looks her in the eyes.
‘Minerva. I… I have something which I’d like to ask you. Something which I’ve wanted to ask you for a very long time. You see, Minerva… I love you. At first, when I was just a stupid kid, you were… I don’t know. The representation of what life had in store for me. All the things that people wanted me to do, the jobs I could’ve got, the degrees, the friends, the partners. All that responsibility, and now I had to save the world? No thanks. So I shut you out. I ran away. It was a cowardly thing to do, and I’m sorry. But later on, we met again. And that time, I didn’t run, and thank God for that because you, Minerva… I can’t run from you. I don’t want to, because you complete me. You help me grow, Minerva, you help me grow every second that I’m with you, and I hope that I do the same.’
He takes a deep breath. Now’s the moment. Do it, Duck. Do it, Wayne. It’s now or never.
Shakily, he gets down onto one knee, and pulls out the velvet box.
Minerva sits frozen in her seat, her face open and honest. There is happiness there, Duck can see, and love, but mostly… it’s confusion. His gut is steadily dropping through his body and into the floor, but he just manages to click open the box. Minerva gasps, and he smiles nervously. His face is red. He can feel it. Oh God, his ears are burning. Oh no. Come on, let’s do this. Just say it, man!
‘Min- Mine- ah, fuck, goddammit, Minerva. Minerva, will you… uh… hey Minnie? Will you marry me?’
For a moment, the rainforest is completely silent. Not a cricket hums, not a bird sings. The water stops flowing, waiting to hear the reply with bated breath. Then Minerva gets to her feet, her face impassive and neutral, and Duck bows his head. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit! He’s done it all wrong, he’s messed it up, god damn it! He’s messed it up, he’s failed, she hates him, he knows it. His head begins to pound as tears well up behind his eyes. Then, suddenly, a large warm hand takes his own free one, and Minerva tips Duck’s chin up with her other hand to look at her. She smiles softly, and Duck bites his tongue.
‘On your feet, Wayne. I’ve knighted you once before, you know, and I don’t think it’s possible for me to do it again.’
Swallowing hastily, apologies stacking up on his tongue, Duck stands and opens his mouth. Minerva places a finger to his lips and grins that wide, flashlight-bright Minerva grin.
‘I have to say, this is not at all the way proposals were done on my home planet.’ And then she plucks the box from Duck’s hand and slips the ring - a simple golden band, etched with a beautifully intricate bee - onto her ring finger. Then she chucks the box behind her, much to Duck’s sudden dismay, and picks him up, much to his sudden delight.
‘But you know what? I think I like Earth’s customs better.’
In the depths of the Amazon Rainforest, the swordswoman and the forest ranger kiss, and the moonlight glints off of the golden ring on her finger.