“Wait, wait, wait. You just told him?! Just like that?!”
Minerva shrugs her broad shoulders, peeling back the dark rind of a pudding fruit Aubrey had brought and taking a slurp. Butterscotch! Minerva abruptly tips the fruit up, taking a bigger slurp as Aubrey cackles. “Wayne Newton has always deserved my honesty,” she eventually replies in her bold and earnest manner. A trail of the creamy pudding slips over the edge of the rine, but Minerva snags it with a finger before it can fall onto her black leggings or the blue flannel shirt she has tied into a crop top. She glances around for Duck while she licks the pudding off her fingertip and finds him kept busy talking about his model boats with Leo and Thacker. Mama plucks a particular ship from a shelf to examine the detailing, and then interrupts whatever Duck is saying to ask about it. Minerva smiles. “Besides, Aubrey Little, you did not witness how red his face was at the time. It is remarkably difficult to not desire to kiss him when he looks so flustered.”
Aubrey snorts from her perch in Dani’s lap, one booted foot crossed over the other. “Yeah, no, the rest of us resist just fine,” she teases, leaning against Dani, who has found herself happily sinking into Duck’s worn out green couch. Dani mumbles something with a wide smile about men not even being on her menu and Aubrey snorts again. “So go on, what happened next?”
Minerva hides her grin behind the pudding fruit, taking another slurp of the warm brown food. Evidently this discussion of relationships is a cultural pastime, and she is more than happy to attempt such a thing. “Wayne Newton immediately became incapable of forming proper sentences-” Dani starts to giggle “-but he did grant me permission before I kissed him.”
“Consent is very important,” Aubrey agrees with a nod, orange eyes bright as she beams at Minerva. Minerva typically enjoys Aubrey and Dani’s company, impossibly fond of them after being roommates with Aubrey for a brief time. But she senses that Aubrey is enjoying this conversation a bit more than usual, just as she is. Duck had certainly groaned over the possibility of their companions gushing over their new relationship, but personally Minerva is delighted by the experience. “And now you’ve been dating for what, a couple months?”
“Yes, Aubrey Little. Next Friday we will have been courting for three months.”
“Duck really wanted to take his time telling us, huh?”
There’s a moment of quiet after that. Minerva knows there is no malice in Aubrey’s voice when she says it, can still see the friendly smile on her face, but she feels the need to reassure the spellcaster nevertheless. “Wayne Newton only wished to enjoy this relationship between just the two of us for a while. I swear to you it was not intended as a sleight against any of you.”
Dani puts a hand up placatingly. “We know. It’s okay. It’s very Duck of him, and given all the crazy stuff that’s happened, I think it’s more than fair.”
Aubrey nods. “Yeah, for sure. Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. Though, can I ask one more question? Just a small one. Just me being nosy, but I gotta know.”
“Of course, Aubrey Little.” Minerva takes another small sip of the butterscotch pudding and mentally notes that it is already almost gone. Hopefully Aubrey will not mind if she eats a few more.
“Do you… always call him Wayne Newton?”
That makes Minerva pause. This feels very much like when she mentioned to Duck that she still carried an assortment of knives everywhere she went since the Zweihander was so suspicious, like the answer she believes is perfectly normal will be seen as very odd from an outside perspective. “He did inform me that I could call him by that name.”
Aubrey shakes her gloved hands. “No, no, yeah, I get that. Which, okay, that is still weird. I mean, it’s hilarious. But like, his name is Wayne? Wayne? And just-- right, never mind. I just mean… you always call him by his full name, you know? Is Wayne Newton like… your pet name for him?”
Minerva laughs, full and warm. “I assure you I do not view Wayne Newton as a pet! The only pet name I use would be that of Pumpkin Newton.” And Pumpkin Newton is a marvelous showcase of Earth’s animal kingdom and all it has to offer as far as Minerva is concerned. Even now the plump orange tabby makes her rounds, plopping down beside the legs of their many visitors and chirping in her low and disgruntled way, demanding pets. Juno in particular can’t seem to say no to her, often completely forgetting she is talking to Sarah about Duck’s video game collection - he possesses neither The Sims nor any of the Mass Effect series, which they’ve both agreed is a crime - in favor of petting the insistent feline.
“I mean pet name as in nickname. Like, for someone you like? Like how he calls you ‘honey’.”
“Oh! No, Wayne Newton is simply his proper name, and I want to be sure everyone knows which Wayne I am speaking of, as it is my understanding that there are many Waynes on your planet,” Minerva explains easily. “In truth, I have attempted many ‘pet names’ as you call it on him, but none of them feel… correct.” Aubrey and Dani cock their heads to one side, eerily synchronized in a way Duck might describe as uncanny, but Minerva sees it as a manifestation of their ever-strengthening bond. “On my home planet, we did not often verbally communicate due to our psychic links allowing us to transmit our emotions and ideas,” she elaborates. “We had our given names, but any additional affection was usually transmitted through those links or displayed visually.”
“Ohhhhhhh. So your planet was drowning in PDA, huh?”
Minerva blinks and stares back. “PDA?” she parrots back.
“Public displays of affection,” Dani supplies, playing with red and orange hair at the nape of Aubrey’s neck as an accidental example. “Like holding hands, or kissing each other.” Aubrey happily demonstrates too, turning her head to press a kiss to Dani’s jaw.
The concept clicks in Minerva’s head and she straightens. “Ah, I understand. Yes, PDA, as you call it, was very popular on my planet. As pet names are still a bit strange to me, I have a tendency to perform PDA to differentiate my relationship with Wayne Newton from my relationships with other humans. I particularly enjoy wrapping my arm around his shoulders and pulling him against me.” A dreamy sigh escapes her as she glances over at Duck once more, taking a long sip from the pudding fruit that kills it off without her noticing. “He is the perfect height,” she murmurs loud enough for her friends to hear and grin at each other goofily. The perfect height, evidently, is 5 feet and 8 inches, a grand total of 11 inches shorter than Minerva. Their reactions lead Minerva to believe that perhaps that height difference is not ideal to others, but she can’t account for their taste. Her partner is smaller, and she adores him that way. It in no way lessens her respect for him and her admiration of what he can do, but it is certainly nice for holding him. “Though I do wish I knew more culturally acceptable forms. On my home planet, there were dozens of physical actions that were appropriate to perform in front of others that still demonstrated romantic intimacy. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with nearly as many here.”
Aubrey shoots up in Dani’s lap, leaning forward to bring her face within inches of Minerva’s. “Minerva,” she starts off, voice low as her mouth slowly curls into a smirk. “Have you ever heard of goosing?”
- - - - -
Duck has absolutely no reason to think anything will go sideways at this get together. After spending two months in Brazil, Sarah had reached out to them saying that a portal had been opened, and that everyone wanted to get together as soon as possible. Duck and Minerva and Juno were by no means done with helping the reforestation efforts, but even the three months apart from Aubrey and Thacker had been… harder than Duck wanted to admit. He had Jane and his parents but boy, saying goodbye to most of his second family like that had been rough.
Kirby had unearthed an unaired episode of Saturday Night Dead. Duck and Aubrey had a long, quiet moment to themselves in the Cryptonomica when the credits rolled. There was crying and blubbering and broken things that Aubrey magically fixed through the tears and a good, wet laugh over the George Clooney oscar Ned had so carefully kept hidden in his sanctum. And after the tears dried came the party at Amnesty as everyone reunited, a hike up to the blasted remains of the archway, a day of helping Aubrey and Dani restock on some good old earth supplies because Jinelle drew the line at Aubrey making trees that grew Eggo waffles. She had to buy all the buttermilk ones she could get her hands on while she was visiting.
And then came this idea to have a bit of a more private get together if everyone was planning to stay a few days more. Sarah had kept Duck’s apartment clean for him, looking after Pumpkin and watering the singular aloe plant that lived on his window sill, which apparently meant it was party-ready and Duck was suddenly hosting a… bash? Was it worthy of being called a bash?
Whatever it is, it’s nice. It’s… it’s real nice, actually, loathe as Duck is to admit it. They were all tied to that destiny of his that he’d been so set on avoiding, but now he can’t look back on their time together with anything but love, and being apart from them had set him pining real hard, even as he busied himself hauling logs and clearing debris. So… so maybe it’s more than a little nice to have a few too many people crammed into his apartment, flipping channels on his television and rifling through his video game collection and giving Pumpkin enough attention to have her think she’s queen of everything. Duck was itching to get back to Brazil after the get together in Amnesty Lodge, but Minerva had reminded him in that gentle way that still surprised him that the work would be there in a few days. They had at least a little time, and he had earned a rest. Hadn’t they all?
So he happily trades naval fun facts for stories about New Kepler City… Town… Ville? Frankly he isn’t sure what name Thacker’s settled on, but Thacker’s in love with the place and the Sylvans that he meets - even if only for a moment. He mentions a young woman who’s chosen to stay a bit longer than the others. Duck listens to what she’s like, and yeah, he wonders about her a little long, thinking about why he feels there’s something he should know but doesn’t.
No. It’s okay. He doesn’t have to know. The chosen work is done, Beacon’s terrorizing digitized aliens; if Duck doesn’t know everything anymore, the world won’t die because of it.
Mama’s teasing Thacker about rebuilding his old bivouac - “So what you’re telling me, Thacker, is that you’ve just created the Sylvan edition of your human job?” - when Duck senses a larger than life presence approach from behind. Duck doesn’t need to glance over his shoulder to know Minerva is standing there, no doubt beaming with those true blue eyes of hers, but he looks anyway because he wants to. Because she’s Minerva, and who is he to resist her?
“Hey hon. You all caught up on Aubrey’s gossip already?”
Minerva huffs a laugh. “Surely you know that you and I were actually the popular gossip in Aubrey Little’s eyes,” Minerva points out, settling an arm around Duck’s shoulders. Duck’s never dated anyone tall enough to use him as an arm shelf like this, but he always figured he’d feel like a piece of furniture if it ever happened.
Instead he feels loved, her arm a pleasant, warm weight around him.
“Figured as much,” he mutters with a fond roll of his eyes. “Did she happen to mention any other food she was missin’ from earth? Anything else before her and Dani head off tomorrow?”
“I believe she did joke about desiring a divided bread. Perhaps she was suggesting she wanted a waffle before she left.”
“She already bought out Leo’s old store, didn’t she?”
“You know Aubrey Little better than I. Does she seem the sort to use her own supply when she could use somebody else’s? Or to wait until she gets back to Sylvain and eat her own?” Minerva proposes with a smile.
Duck hums. “Yeah, you got me there. I got a couple left in the freezer. Bet I could pop some in the toaster before this shindig winds down.”
“I can put the waffles in, Wayne Newton. You are having a great conversation with friends.”
Duck rests his head against her shoulder for a moment, glancing up at her with what might have been intended as a chastising look if he meant even an ounce of it. “Naw, you haven’t gotten to enjoy a lot of Earth parties yet. Lemme play host, you have a good party.” There’s an appreciative twinkle in her eyes as he says it, and he smiles up at her before turning to head towards the kitchen.
And then something pinches his ass.
His eyes fly wide open and stick to the first thing he sees as he registers what just happened. The first thing happens to be Aubrey’s face, attached to her head and body situated in front of the toaster where she has already set to making and plating herself some of the aforementioned waffles. Duck then whirls to find out what pinched him, and he finds Minerva looking quite pleased with herself, teeth glinting in the light as she smiles. “I do believe I got you, as it were, Wayne Newton,” she croons. That alone is a lot to unpack because he’s pretty sure she’s successfully managed another goof. But it’s not just that.
Minerva goosed him.
Minerva had goosed him! How did she even know what that was? Who taught her? Who would have done such a--
Duck spins around again, this time to stare gobsmacked at Aubrey as she starts to giggle. Call it chosen intuition, gut feeling or what have you, but Duck knows this whole thing is connected to her. There’s no way she’s grinning open-mouthed at him like that just because.
“Duck!” she suddenly shouts.
Duck points a finger at her as if that will do anything. “Aubrey, I swear-”
“Aubrey,” he tries again, desperate to come off stern and at least a little intimidating despite the blush on his face. He fails quite spectacularly, face red as he splutters.
“Goose!” she blurts out, shrill and utterly delighted. Aubrey promptly collapses against Dani, cackling her head off and holding her stomach like it just might fall right out of her. That’d be a shame. She hadn’t even eaten the waffles yet.
Dani and Juno and Leo are chuckling too, the absolute traitors, the whole lot of ‘em, and clearly the others are just barely holding it in. Minerva beams, her eyes somehow a brighter blue and her smile soft and toothy. Despite himself Duck can feel his cheeks heating up. She’s too amazing and she has a category 5 hurricane for a personality that he’d be glad to get hit by and Christ, he isn't even mad. He wants to be. He wants to want Aubrey to be a little sorry for embarrassing him with her shenanigans, but he doesn’t. Mostly he’s just mortified that Aubrey has made him realize he’s into Minerva pinching his ass, and all because she thought of the worst pun in the history of anything and everything.
This is just great. That’s really not a thing Duck wanted to figure out in front of Mama and Juno and Leo and- Jesus, what a day.
“Au-Aubrey, I’m gonna hafta uninvite you from about everything. All of it. Whole nine yards. Never forgiven,” he tries to insist, hopelessly looking up at the ceiling, red faced and grinning like an idiot because he doesn’t mean a lick of it and he wants to bask in this moment a little longer. Mama, Leo, Aubrey… they were all worried how he’d be, the one to choose Earth and not have a chosen destiny anymore, the one who abruptly moved across the world and was dating his former alien mentor. But now, he hears their laughter and knows they’re not laughing at him and the ridiculous situation he has found himself in.
They’re still definitely laughing; there’s no arguing that. But it’s more in celebration of the life he’s made for himself, the connections he once fought to sever and now has carefully tended to and cherishes.
“Was that not alright, Wayne Newton?” Minerva asks, happy expression slipping right off her face. She’s concerned, and Duck appreciates it. Lord knows Aubrey looks nothing but pleased as her and Dani stuff their faces with waffles. “I had asked about new forms of PDA, and Aubrey Little suggested this one, but if it has made you uncomfortable in any way I wish to apologize and promise to never repeat it.”
“Lord, ‘Nerva, no, it’s alright, just, please--” Duck laughs, the situation too hilarious for him not to. “Just promise me you won’t do that in front of strangers, or like, Pastor Pat. I might just up and die.”
Minerva hums, still smiling as she tucks her chin into his hair. “Of course, Wayne Newton,” she answers, a touch solemn. “I will do everything in my power to keep you healthy and alive and far away from dying. However… am I to understand that I may still perform the action when not in the presence of strangers? For example, in front of close friends or when we are alone.”
“I-- yeah. Yeah that would be..” Duck clears his throat, wishing he could keep his chill for even one measly second at this point. “That’s cool.”
“Noted, Wayne Newton.”
She pinches his ass again, and the yelp is outta him before he even knows he’s making it.
He likes it, but like hell he’d ever admit that to Aubrey. Duck shoots her a small smile from across the apartment, not that she’s looking, far too busy shoving half a waffle in Dani’s face.
Frankly, it’s a crime he’s even thinking about the Lady Flame at a time like this, a time where he could be kissing his amazing girlfriend.
So he does that instead, and she lifts him up as she tends to do when they kiss for more than five seconds and he’s not already straddling her lap. Duck mentally notes that he needs to introduce her to a couple other types of PDA. He could kill for some hands in each others back pocket action, or footsie at Pizza Hut. Hell, he’s sure it’ll cause a ruckus, but so long as he can keep his heartbeat to a low volume, he’d lounge in Minerva’s lap at every get together they’ve got planned for the rest of their lives, if that’s what she wanted.
But there will be time for that later.
They had plenty of time and no reason to rush. Not anymore.
“Oh God! My eyes!”
Minerva smiles into the kiss, and Duck chuckles and flips Aubrey off.
There was no reason to rush, but if it meant scarring Aubrey a little, there was certainly no time like the present to get started.