Duck couldn’t shake the feeling that he was missing something.
At first he tried to fill that emptiness by doubling down on his efforts to save the rainforest. Planting fifty trees became planting a hundred trees. Long days turned into long weeks; free time was a thing of the past.
It wasn’t enough. His life just wasn’t the way he wanted it to be, no matter how satisfying it was to rebuild the rainforest or rest after a hard day of work. Something was missing.
Duck and Minerva were watching the sun set over the horizon. They sat on the porch of the small cabin they were staying in, drinking lemonade the way Duck’s grandparents used to do. The memory gave him a bittersweet feeling.
“Wayne Newton,” Minerva said, voice uncharacteristically soft. “Is there something bothering you?”
His instinctive response was to say ‘no,’ but that was a blatant lie. “I figure there is,” he said eventually, picking a stray string off the edge of his shorts.
She placed her hand on top of his gently - he had taught her how to be gentle. “If you do not wish to share it, you do not have to. But I am here to listen.”
Then it clicked. The ache inside him was homesickness. The drive to do something, go somewhere - it was telling him to go back to Kepler.
“I think…” His voice trailed off as he struggled to form the right words. “I think we’ve done our part here, Minnie.”
“In the rainforest?” She looked concerned and confused.
“Yeah. Like, we been here for two years. We’ve planted thousands of trees, prob’ly. An’ there’s lots of people here doin’ the same thing. I know we made a difference here, an’ that’s satisfying. But I think I’m done.”
“But the Amazon hasn’t returned to its previous splendor, according to those leading this mission,” Minerva said. “You don’t want to fulfill your destiny here?”
Duck laughed. “None of that destiny crap anymore, honey. I didn’t come here ‘cause it was my destiny. I came here because I wanted to, an’ I thought I could make a difference. And I did, and it was great! But I think it’s time for me to go home.”
Minerva looked at her hands, rough from so much manual labor in rebuilding the rainforest. “What… what will I do, then?”
“Well, you can either stay here an’ keep helpin’, or you can go to Kepler with me,” Duck said, voice soft. “There ain’t no pressure to pick one way or the other.” He could hear the sincerity in his voice.
She was silent, thinking. “If there’s one thing my life has led me to, it’s you. Returning to Kepler would be my choice, as well.”
“Well, then we can tell the mission leaders tomorrow.” Duck stood up. “I’m gettin’ ready for bed.”
When Leo picked up Duck and Minerva from the airport, he had to give the old man a hug. “Ay, that’s enough,” Leo wheezed. “You’re real tough, I know that. Don’t mean you gotta crush the life outta me.”
“Sorry,” Duck laughed. “I’m jus’ glad to be back.”
Leo reached out for a handshake from Minerva, and she returned it with a broad grin. “Leo Tarkesian! Have you been keeping up with your training?”
“If goin’ to the gym counts, then yeah,” he said, rubbing his hand from where she had gripped it too strongly. “Let’s get you guys home. I bet you wanna see Daisy.”
It had been a long day with a lot of travelling. And there was still a lot to do. Leo dropped Duck and Minerva off at the nearest motel, where they planned to stay for at least a couple of days.
Duck needed to get an apartment again. All of his belongings were in a storage unit, waiting for the day he would return.
In the morning, he called his old landlord, and as luck would have it, his old apartment was up for lease. He signed the lease that day.
When he stepped into the familiar living room, it felt foreign to him. First of all, it needed to be vacuumed and cleared of cobwebs. But it looked so empty and sad without all of his belongings.
“First things first,” he said, clapping his hands together. “It’s time to start movin’ back in.”
A couple of days later, the apartment looked similar to how it did in the past. The furniture was all in place - he had Leo’s truck to thank for that - along with still-packed boxes of miscellaneous items.
Walking downstairs with Minerva, he knocked on Leo’s door. The man answered with a smile, knowing what he was there for.
“Daisy?” Duck called through the doorway. He grinned as a tabby cat trotted to the door with an inquisitive meow. “Who’s my little darlin’?” She got on her hind legs and leaned against his leg, purring.
“You can have ‘er back,” Leo said, smiling. “She missed you.”
“I mean, she’s kinda yours now, too,” Duck said, petting her with both hands. “I don’t wanna, like, steal her away.”
Leo waved off his concerns. “Take her. My stuff’s got enough cat hair on it.” His smile was fond as he looked down at the cat.
Duck scooped her up in his arms. “‘Nerva, will you help me get the cat stuff up to my apartment?”
“Of course, Wayne Newton!”
After Duck unpacked the scant belongings he had brought back from Brazil, he let out a deep breath. What had been familiar to him before now felt strangely alien. His old furniture and everything else in the apartment was simultaneously home and new to him.
“Well?” Minerva opened her suitcase, unsure. “Where should I keep my clothes?”
“We’ll have to get you a wardrobe or somethin’,” Duck said. “You can unpack in the guest room for now jus’ so you don’t have to dig through your suitcase every time you need somethin’.”
So Minerva did that. And she was relatively quiet the rest of the night, but Duck was too tired to ask about it, so they went to sleep without talking much more.
When Duck woke up, Minerva was already out of bed, even though it was only six in the morning. He walked into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and sleepy. “‘Nerva?”
“I’m in here,” she called out. She was sitting in the living room with her journal and a ballpoint pen.
He turned on another lamp. “What’re you doin’ up so early?”
“I suppose I’m nervous,” she said with an awkward smile. “I’ll be seeing Madeline again, won’t I?”
“Oh, yeah,” Duck realized. He’d forgotten that Minerva broke up with Mama before moving to Brazil with him. Yikes. “Uh, you don’t have to if y’don’t want to. I mean, you will eventually, but I figure if you wanna hide out here instead of visitin’ the lodge, that would be okay.”
“No, I do not wish to be rude,” Minerva sighed.
“We can visit the lodge later today, if you’d be okay with that,” Duck said. “I’d like to see all them again.”
“I think… I think I might stay behind and keep journaling,” Minerva said, uncharacteristically quiet. “I have some things on my mind that I’m not sure how to resolve.”
“Uh, alright. I’m jus’ gonna make breakfast, then. Lemme know if y’need anythin’.”
It wasn’t hard to get his old job as a ranger back. It took one phone call to his old supervisor, who redirected him to his new supervisor: Juno Divine. She had moved back to Kepler a year ago and apparently gotten a promotion. She gladly handed him his job back under the condition that he catch up with her over a cup of coffee.
After that phone call, Duck sat on the couch next to Minerva. She was still staring at her journal, hours later. “What’s on your mind?”
“Why are we dating?” she blurted out.
Duck blinked at her, then started laughing. “What?”
“Duck, I… coming back to Kepler has reminded me of what it was like dating Madeline, and… that was very different for me, compared to what we’re doing now.”
Duck sighed and leaned against the couch cushions, thinking. “I mean, I kinda felt like it was the natural conclusion for us. Like the whole destiny thing.”
“Yes, exactly,” she said, sounding relieved. “I’ve had fun, but honestly, Wayne Newton, I never got the butterflies from you.”
“Me, neither,” he said honestly. “I mean, we jus’ got real close as people, and I think I misread platonic intimacy as romantic intimacy…”
“We sleep in the same bed, but never even cuddle.”
“We don’t even kiss when we go on dates.” Duck started laughing again. “Goddamn, have we been this stupid?”
“We’ve dated for a year for no reason,” Minerva said, grinning. “Yes, I believe we have been stupid.”
Duck rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. “Guess we’re breaking up, honey.”
Minerva laughed. “I suppose we are.” She reached out her hand for a handshake. “That’s that, then.”
He returned it, bemused. “Is that a thing where you’re from?”
She nodded. “To show a lack of hostile feelings, yes.”
“Well,” Duck said, “do you want to go to the lodge?”
When they arrived at the lodge, it was a surprise to everybody except one person: Indrid Cold.
Mama gave Duck a bone-crushing hug. Then she tentatively opened her arms for a hug from Minerva, who actually picked her up and spun her around. “I’ve missed you, Madeline Cobb!”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, her face darkening with a blush. “C’mon. Let’s talk ‘bout this over coffee.” She led Minerva away to the kitchen, leaving Duck with the sylphs.
“So how was Brazil?” Barclay asked after giving Duck a hug.
“That must have been quite the adventure.” Moira floated over from the piano to sit on a nearby armchair.
“Yeah, it was cool,” Duck said, sitting down on the sofa beside Indrid. The seer gave him a crooked smile.
“It’s good to see you,” Indrid said softly. Something about it made his chest warm.
“Y-yeah, uh, good to see you too,” Duck replied, feeling strangely tongue-tied.
“I bet the rainforest is radical,” Jake said dreamily. “Tell us about it!”
So he did. He told them stories about working in the forest, about the local culture, about Minerva’s shenanigans.
The whole time, he was acutely aware of Indrid’s eyes on him.
When it was finally time for Duck and Minerva to leave, they waved goodbye as they stepped outside the lodge. It was only a couple of miles to Duck’s apartment, so they started walking in the sunshine in comfortable silence.
Eventually, Minerva spoke up. “Would you be offended if I started dating Madeline again?”
“Nah,” Duck said. He thought about it, and found that he was sincerely telling the truth. “That wouldn’t hurt my feelin’s. You should go for it.”
Minerva hummed thoughtfully. “Speaking of going for it… I saw the way Indrid looked at you. It seems I’m not the only one who won’t be single for long.”
Duck spluttered. “I- what! How can you- what do you-”
Minerva started laughing. “Relax, Wayne Newton. I was simply poking fun at you.”
“So where are you gonna live now?” Duck asked curiously. “You know you’re welcome to stay at my place. Hell, you won’t even have to share the guest room with Aubrey anymore.”
Minerva looked up at the sky. “Madeline offered me a room at the lodge,” she said finally. “I think I will take her up on that offer.”
“Oh, alright,” Duck said, surprised. “Guess I’ll be livin’ by myself for the first time in… two and a half years? Goddamn.”
“I’m sure you will enjoy your solitude,” Minerva told him with a smile.
“Yeah,” Duck agreed quietly.
After re-packing her things into her suitcase, Minerva walked back to the lodge with it under one arm, waving goodbye to Duck with the other. He smiled as she left.
It was going to be interesting living alone for once.
The first thing he did was unpack the box of DVDs and video games he had. Those had been a thing of the past, but now he suddenly had leisure time. He put in an old favorite nature documentary and went to the kitchen, making some popcorn.
He didn’t realize how much he missed his alone time. He smiled as he wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and relaxed into the couch.
Coming back to Kepler was a good idea.