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They choose Earth.

 Well. Duck chooses Earth.

 It's not a big decision for any of them-Aubrey follows Dani, Thacker follows his dreams. Mama and Vincent follow their occupations, settling back to defend their home planets from-well, nothing, anymore.

 Duck just wants to go home.

 He says his goodbyes to everyone, buoyed by the possibility of reuniting-but he's not holding his breath about it just yet. He thumps Vincent on the back, grinning at the goatman, this minister of defense who was too curious for his own good. He shakes hands with Thacker, thanking and congratulating one another for surviving the short while they fought together. "We'll be in touch, Duck," He says, tapping a thin finger to his temple. He doesn't doubt it.

 He hugs Aubrey tight, pretending not to notice the tears pricking at the sides of her eyes. "Take care, okay?" He says softly, and she nods at him, smiling. "Don't do anything too crazy." 

"Nothing is too crazy! I'm a literal goddess!" She jokes, waving her hands to produce sparkles that settle on both their noses before blinking out. He laughs, mostly to relieve the squeezing in his chest as she grins back at him. God, she's still just a kid, and she's been through so much. He hopes life treats her well.

His laughter dies down as she hugs him again, squeezing him hard and fast. "Take care of Ned's shit, okay?" She says softly. "He'll probably haunt us forever if the Cryptonomica gets shut down."

There's a lump in his throat, but he manages a nod and a squeeze of her hand. "I'll be seeing you soon, you arsonist."

"I was a camper! I was camping!"

"Eh, matter of scale."

Aubrey laughs, and he feels his chest relax.

 He turns around and sees Minerva. She's staring at the two portals, a perplexed and thoughtful look on her face. He goes up to her, reaching up and tapping her on the shoulder. "Minerva?" He says, and she turns to face him. "Yes, Wayne Newton?" She replies, her voice booming through the room. "Have you made your decision? Which world shall you choose?"

"Well, the Earth is a bit of a no brainer," He says, gesturing to the dilapidated room shimmering through the space-time-whatever rip. "I mean, I got a cat to feed, rent to pay, a job, you know?" He ticks them off with his hand, one by one. "So as cool as Sylvain is, I can stand being away from it for-uh, a while, as Billy fixes it."

(At the mention of his name Billy perks up, waving and typing out a "Tight, dude," into his voice generator.)

"Hmm! A wise and thoughtful choice, Wayne Newton!" Minerva grins, and Duck manages to smile back at her through the cringe of being called by his first name.

"And, uh, what about you, Minerva? Where you headed, hm?" He asks, and her face grows pensive again.

 "Well, I am drawn to Sylvain." She looks back at the portal leading to the city. "Its' architecture and magic system are quite similar to my own, you see, and is an interesting enough place for a warrior such as myself." She mirrors his previous gesture, ticking off her reasons with her six-fingered hand. All reasons to leave Earth. All reasons to leave him. 

 He is not surprised-Earth can be pretty boring by anyone's standards, especially an alien's. But it doesn't stop the pang of hurt and fear that flashes through his chest. 

 But then she looks at him, and her calculating expression softens, for just a moment. "However, I think I shall choose Earth, Duck Newton. I shall be coming with you." She puts a hand on his shoulder. "I think that I would much rather live in a world that has you in it." 

 He gapes at her for a second, and she hurriedly adds, "And I must taste those frozen waffles once more! They are a delight!"

 He chuckles softly at this. "Yeah, I'll make sure we stock up on 'em once we get home."

 They smile at each other.

And then they step through the rift.

 

Mama drives them home, pulling up to Duck's apartment complex after making a quick pit stop for one waffle box, paid for by the loose change that miraculously did not fall out of his pocket. She puts the car in idle as they step out, looking out at the two of them from the passenger side. "Minerva, you sure you dont want to stay at Amnesty for the time being?" She asks warmly. "I ain't got much, but I do have a bed and some hot springs that ya might find to yer likin'."

 "Many thanks, Madeline Cobb!" Minerva replies, and Duck sees Mama visibly wince at the use of her full name. At least she got it. "But I will be staying with Wayne Newton for tonight." 

 He is not sure why she chose to stay with him, only that she did and that he preferred it that way, anyway.

 Mama nods, and pulls out of the driveway.

 

-------

 

Duck takes a shower first, which leaves Minerva to toast the waffles. She's got the hang of it now-simply rip open the packaging and place the pastry into the double slotted box that Duck calls a "toaster". She pushes the little tab down-gently,gently-and waits. She can hear the pounding of water hitting the tiles from the bathroom. She focuses on it. She'd rather focus on it that on the nothing that clouds her mind, the void where there should be planning for the next battle.

 There are no battles to plan. They have won them all.

 The waffles pop up.

 She's spreading some Nutella on them (a heavenly condiment! what an ingenious use of modern technology!) when she hears Duck come out of the bathroom and head to his room. She looks at the waffles on her plate and, loathe to give them away, puts two new ones in the toaster.

 She spreads these ones with honey (Duck's usual choice, though she is not sure why anyone would pass up Nutella) and is just about to enter his room when she hears him saying something.

 She peeks in. He's lying on his bed, back towards her and phone in hand. The phone screen is lit up, dancing with colors for a moment before a face comes into focus. It's a familiar face, but not one she's seen in person. It's the face that's on the photos that litter Duck's living room, the one that's smiling with him on his phone screen. 

 It's the one that she saw encased in glass, eyes closed and mouth slack as they floated in the liquid that was the organic printer.

 "Hey, Janey." 

 Duck's voice is soft, tired. The phone crackles before the woman-Jane, answers.

 "Hey hey, Ducky." She sounds tired too. "What's up?" She yawns. "Why're you callin' at 12 AM, doofus?"

 "It's 2 AM here, goofus."

 "Ah, semantics." She sees Jane smile through the screen. It's very similar to Duck's, all soft with teeth just barely peeking out. "So, what's up? Wildfire or something? I heard about the blockades." Her voice shifts, sounding more awake. "Wait, is something wrong? Your signal is good, did the feds pop up a signal tower again? What's happening over there?"

 "It's all good, Jane. Nothing's wrong." Even with his sister's alarm, he's still calm-relieved, even. "Just...just wanted to see your face."

 A pause. Then, she hears Jane laugh nervously. "God, Duck, you give me a heart attack sometimes, checking up on me like this," she says. "I'm worried about you, you know? You never used to do this."

 Duck is silent for a while, contemplative. "Do you...can you get away for a while?" He asks her, and this time his voice is soft, timid in a way Minerva has never heard him be before. "A weekend. Come visit Kepler. I...I have some things to explain." 

 She agrees immediately, settling on a date two weeks from now. "I'll see you soon, Ducky," She says softly, and the screen cuts to black. 

 Minerva hears Duck sigh, and the rustling of a duvet. When she peeks back in again, he is laying on his side, away from the door.

 She decides to eat the waffles.

Chapter Text

The apartment is empty when Duck wakes up.

 

He feels like shit-his muscles are sore, screaming with every move, and his head pulsates with a raging headache he can only assume is from all the space-time bending shit. God, that was weird. 

 

Then again, everything has been weird.

 

He's able to drag himself to the bathroom and clean himself up a bit, scrubbing away the dirt his tired self missed last night. As he makes his way to the living room, the silence strikes him as odd-living with so many people for so long, he'd forgotten how his apartment looked when it was just him in it. 

 

He kinda misses it-the commotion, the hubbub. It gave him something to think about. Something else to think about.

 

He only remembers Minerva's presence when he picks up an Eggo box from the kitchen table. There's still 4 waffles inside, soggy from the thawed ice but still readily toastable.

 

He puts them in the toaster, two at a time, and waits. He hears Fig pad towards her food bowl in the distance, and is reminded that he’s nearly out of food. He should grab some soon-maybe even go on a Costco run to Harrison. Minerva needed stuff as well-clothes, at the very least. They’d have to go together. It would be her first time out of Kepler since coming here. Perhaps it would serve as a good introduction to Earth. Show her what was waiting outside, away from this quiet town. Away from him.

The waffles pop up.

 

He eats them all, drowning them in honey.

 

He's still chewing when Minerva bursts through the door.

"Wayne Newton, I have brought us provisions and news!" She proclaims, several bags swinging from her hands. Looking out into the front hallway, he notices the lack of branding on the bag, how bulky the bags seem to be, even in Minerva's grasp.

 

He doesn't need to ask where she got it from. He already knows, his mind flashing to the thin Forest Ranger handbook he had to read, the one page titled "Emergency Circumstances". He thought it would come to this months ago, when Janelle broke the fucking mountain-but apparently, it takes an alien invasion for the Feds to enact this protocol. Shit.

 

"The FBI have informed me that this town is under temporary lockdown, and provided me with provisions!" Minerva exclaims, right as Duck groans and puts his head in his hands.

 

"We're under fucking lockdown." 

-----

"So, Kepler's under lockdown," Joseph Stern says, sipping coco from a mug.

 

"You seem awful calm for a Fed who's supposed to be on high alert," Duck grouses, taking gulp of his own cup. After putting the free groceries away he had hightailed it with Minerva to Amnesty Lodge, using a Forest Ranger vehicle to make the trip quicker. (It was technically an infraction to use a vehicle for unrelated business during off hours, but he also technically didn't give a shit.)

 

"Well, I'm the only Fed who knows for sure that the danger is over right now, aren't I?" he replies with a small smile, leaning over to his right to tap his laptop. "I'm writing up a report right now to explain the whole thing, but I need to be...extremely careful with my wording." 

 

His smile disappears as he levels his gaze at Duck, sensing his tension. He must've know he's be coming here as soon as he heard the news, and had prepared for it.

 

 "I'm trying to protect you, Duck," Stern says, closing his laptop.  "And the Sylvain inhabitants that still live here. I want to contain the knowledge that I and a select few people are privy to, and I need time to do that. So please trust me when I say I'm working on it."

 

And the thing is is that he trusts Stern, he really does. Sure, he was a federal agent,but he also obviously cared for Kepler, and for Amnesty Lodge. He knew Stern wouldn’t pull one over them like that. 

 

But there’s a small part of Duck that wants to question him further, to remind him that he's pretty much the reason the FBI found them in the first place. He squashes those thoughts, trying not to listen to it hiss at the back of his mind. He's too drained for mistrust.



"Fine," He grunts, and Stern slumps in his chair, sighing. 

 

"Thank you, Duck." Stern says. "I'll make sure nothing happens to you or anyone else. Regarding the aliens you encountered-"

 

Duck stiffens. 

 

"How did you know about that."

 

Stern shrugs. "Barclay told me."

 

Barclay chooses this very moment to come in to the room, bearing a tray of sandwiches and small cookies. He sets them down in front of the two men, eyeing both of them nervously before patting Stern lightly on the shoulder and backing out of the room.

 

Stern continues. "I don't know the specifics, and honestly? I don't want to. I don't think our government could handle the idea of ripping a hole into one alien world, nevermind two."

 

"Well, you never know."

 

"I do. I've watched Stranger Things." Stern bites into a cookie. "Anyway, the lockdown will be in place for a customary two weeks, but it'll most likely be a month until the scientists give up on finding remnants of the Quell. So hold tight until then." 

 

Duck hums in response and stands up, grabbing a sandwich and cookie before rounding the table and heading to the door. He stops in front of the doorframe and looks back at the agent. "Actually, Joseph, mind doing me two favours?"

 

Agent Stern turns around in his chair to face him. "Depends on the favours, but considering you're the savior of the planet, sure."

 

"My sister is coming in two weeks, can she get through the lockdown?"

 

"Hm. Considering she's a natural resident of Kepler, I suppose we can make an exception. The other favour?"

 

"Minerva needs documentation."

 

Stern stares at him for a second before pressing a palm to his forehead. "I knew I was forgetting something," he mutters. "Right. Minerva. The alien. From a third alien planet." He sighs, and jots something down in a notebook. "That one will take some time, but I'll manage."

 

"Thanks, Joe."

 

"It's Joseph."

 

"Sure, Jojo."

 

He can hear Stern sigh as he leaves the room.

 

---------

 

"Your work is astounding, Madeline Cobb!"

 

Mama winces as Minerva throws her hands out and proclaims this. They're in her office slash gallery, leaving Duck downstairs to talk with Agent Stern about the lockdown business. She doesn't want to think about the lockdown right now, or how she'll need everyone to play the farce that is Amnesty Lodge for another few weeks. She doesn't even know how many people know their little secret at this point. She hopes they have enough common sense to know to keep their mouths shut. She hopes they've seen enough movies to know to keep their mouths shut. 

 

But for now, she's dealing with a seven foot tall woman applauding her work with enough enthusiasm to take down a horse. This, she could work with.

 

"Why, thank you, Minerva," She says, smiling and wiping her shaving-covered hands on her apron. "Rather nice to have other people see my work, apart from the collectors."

 

"Of course! It would be a waste to keep this from the general public, Madeline Cobb! You must put them on display!" Minerva stops to examine a piece resembling a flame. She'd made it out of redwood, then crystallized the peice soon after, using the refraction of the light to bring out the warmer, lighter hues of the wood. It resembles the Crystal in Sylvain, although she hadn't meant to recreate it at first. Minerva stares at it, entranced by the peice before Mama's response snaps her out of it.

 

"You know, I think I will do that. After the whole lockdown hullabaloo is done, I might do a little redecorating. If ya haven't noticed, the place hasn't had a facelift since the eighties."

 

"I hadn't noticed!"

 

"Yes, well, you weren't here for the eighties," She chuckles under her breath before sighing. "I'll have more time on my hands now, what with the monster hunting business being over. Might have time to take this up as a part time gig, rather than a hobby." She looks up at Minerva, who's still looking around excitedly at the wood sculptures. She’s still in the clothes she’d fought in, each tear revealing more of her muscled, scarred body. She hadn’t brought her sword-Duck’d probably stopped her-but she can see daggers strapped to her thighs and calves. A woman steeped in violence, staring at her art with the wonder of a child. It made her heart ache.

 

So she asks Minerva a question.

 

"How about you, Minerva? What are you gonna do after all of this?"

 

Minerva stills, the hyperactive energy fading.

 

 "Hm," she says. "I don't know." 

 

Her voice is soft, unsure and wavering. The tatoos on her forehead move ever so slightly as her eyebrows knit together, her eyes darkening. 

 

If Mama had known the woman better, she would have sworn she was afraid.

 

But she doesn't, so instead she claps her on the back, hard and strong enough to shake her.  "Aw, don't worry about it too much! It's a big world, you'll find your place. We'll all help ya." She grins, and Minerva smiles back a second later. "Yes, I suppose so! Thank you, Madeline Cobb, for your gracious words."

 

"No problem. And please, Minerva, call me Mama."

 

She gets no response to that, because soon the door is opening and Minerva is calling Duck's full name.

 

His own wince reminds her that they're both suffering.

 

--------

 

Later that evening, the two other Chosen Ones show up to Duck's apartment with pizza and booze. 

 

Leo and Sarah are vibrating with energy, talking animatedly with Minerva about their own battles. Duck is quieter, resigning to opening the pizzas and grabbing what's left of the ice cream in the freezer to share with them. 

 

What were they now, anyways? The Chosen Three? Not so chosen, sure, and the "big destiny" part of it was also out, but...they shared something. Common strength, he supposes, watching Sarah reenact a battle scene with a pizza slice as her weapon. 

 

They eat, and they drink. Leo bought the heavier stuff, and a lot of it, so they're all pretty buzzed by the time the pizza and ice cream are all gone. Sarah pops a movie into the CD player Duck still has-Aladdin, which he didn’t know he even owned-and Duck hunts for the last remnants of popcorn kernels he's sure Aubrey stashed somewhere.

 

When he gets back, bowl of popcorn in hand, Aladdin is maneuvering past guards with a song on his lips. Sarah and Minerva are cheering heartily in front of the screen. Leo, a bit more of a sleepy drunk, is leaning back on the sofa with a small smile. Duck places the bowl in front of the girls and sits beside him.

 

They're silent for a bit, right through until Jasmine and Aladdin are realizing they aren't as different as they seem. Leo speaks first, his words slurring only slightly. 

 

"What're you gonna do?"

 

Duck grunts, eyes still fixed on the screen. "'Dunno. Go back to Forest Ranger. You?" he asks, and Leo sighs, head tipping back.

 

"Never thought I'd end up playing grocery store guy to a podunk town."

 

"Yeah, well. Destiny can be a bitch, city slick."

 

Leo laughs at that, short and tight. "It's just...that's been most of my life, you know? Alien showed up, gave me purpose, kicked some ass, moved here, kicked more ass and now..." he trails off, looking for words and coming up empty.

 

"Didn't you ever think about what you'd do?” Duck presses him. “After your prophecy was over?"  Leo hums.

 

"Not really. Didn't think I'd survive it. Thought one of those things would just finish me off. Hell, I thought I was gonna die at Green Bank." There's no bitterness in his tone, as if he was just stating facts. As if everything that had happened to him wasn't by random chance.

 

They stop talking for a while, right through Aladdin's venture into the lion's cave and rubbing the lamp. The Genie is about to break into song when Leo speaks-quiet, tentative. As if he's afraid someone is going to shoot him down for it.

 

"I'm leaving Kepler."

 

This time Duck turns towards him. Leo's face is pensive, a slight downturn to his lips. "I'm gonna leave," he repeats, a bit more sure of himself. "But not forever. A roadtrip, I guess. Go back to New York for a bit, and then west, perhaps. Or maybe south. I don't know," He smiles at this. "I don't know." 

 

Duck nods, silently, and they settle in to watch the movie.

 

----------------

 

Ten minutes and thirty five seconds after he says this, during the ending notes of "Prince Ali", Leo Tarkesian will receive a text. He will not know the number, but the text will read: "Need a trailer?", with a photo of Indrid Cold's RV. 

 

Leo will smile, and reply.

 

"Need a job?"

Chapter Text

By tomorrow morning, there is a body count.

 

What you tend to forget, in the height of the drama, the battles, the heart-warming community-banding-together shit, is that people will still die. In fact, five of them did. 

 

Indrid Cold knew this. 

 

He puts on a black coat before leaving the trailer, trading his trademark red glasses for dark tinted ones instead. It was a sad day-he might as well show it.

 

Their funerals are all done together, bringing in the whole town once more into Kepler's church. Its massive enough to hold the 300 some folk that trail in, varying in degrees of sadness and injury from the last fight. The family of those departed were at the front, thanking people for coming and accepting the small gifts people had managed to scrounge up-food, mostly, but some brought money, others quilts.

 

Indrid sits at the back, perching at the edge of a pew next to the doors. He'd never done this before-social gatherings were never his scene, even on Sylvain. But here, now, in Kepler-he felt like he owed these people something. His life, obviously. His secret, most likely-in midst of battle, there had to have been those who had glimpsed his human form, and if they were sharp, guessed his skill.

 

So he sits there, leg tapping nervously as humans murmur and clutch each other around him. He catches eyes and returns small smiles, accepting the slight head nods and ducked faces as hellos and thank yous

 

And then Duck arrives. 

 

He doesn't stand out in the crowd, dressed in a black button up and dark jeans. His hair is parted in the middle, which is new; most likely going for a more serious look, given the circumstances. Not everyday you go to a mass funeral, full of those who fought when you failed and those who paid for it. 

 

Now, he doesn't think this is Duck's fault. But Duck does, and it's written all over his face when he walks into the room and moves towards Indrid. He moves over to accommodate him, patting the seat and smiling wanly at him. And then moves over some more, receiving a returning smile from Minerva, who has also appeared behind Duck.

 

Somehow, they've found the woman a black blouse that can fit her, barely stretching over her muscles that flex with every step. A black skirt sways over her sandaled feet as she sits, looking about the church in curiosity. Duck greets Indrid quietly, then turns his attention to the priest climbing the podium.

 

As the sermon starts, the moth man finds himself looking at Minerva. She's mimicking Duck's movements, confusion and interest flickering across her face. Indrid never really understood religion on Earth. He studied it, sure; he's pretty much memorized the written history of humans at this point. To see what must have been his initial reaction on another-well, that was refreshing.

 

(Duck is another matter. A matter that's not his to deal with, but a matter all the same.)

 

The sermon finishes, and the eulogies begin. They're all short, sweet, sorrowful and filled with vague descriptions of their deaths. He doesn't look at Duck through this, unwilling to see gritted teeth and haunted eyes. Minerva is holding his hand. 

 

The last of the bereaved steps down, and the procession begins, people filing out behind the caskets. Duck moves to follow, and Minerva does too, but she looks back at Indrid and pauses. She lets Duck go, sharing a look with him before sitting back down with the Sylvan. Duck leaves with the humans, and they're left alone in an empty church. 

 

Indrid goes first.

 

"I suppose you have some questions about human religion and rituals."

 

She doesn't look surprised at this, and nods.

 

"But that's not what you're going to ask me about, is it? You have a bigger question in mind."

 

She nods, unflinching. "If I may be so bold, Indrid Cold," she starts, and there's a ring of reverence in her tone. "I would like to inquire about my future."

 

Indrid smiles. 

 

"No."

 

Now she flinches, startled by the casual rejection before trudging on. "I implore you to rethink your decision. I am, as of now, unmoored from what I believed was my final destiny. I have no ward to protect nor prophesy to fulfill. I simply do not know what to do with the rest of my time."

 

"So you want me to tell you?"

 

"Exactly!"

 

"Hm. No." he says, and his tone is not unkind. "I don't think I will."

 

She goes still, silent as the echo of his voice disperses through the church. The humans are well on their way now; one of them will trip on a cemetary rock in about a minute. Minerva is unarmed. Indrid is thin, still weak from battle. There is exactly one future that doesn't end well for him.

 

He says, softly, "I know you are tired, Minerva." She does not lose her stillness, but her eyes flick towards him, blinking. He continues. "I know that prophecy is what led you here, and prophecy is what kept you going for this long. But not everything is prophesied. Not everything needs to be."

 

She is still staring at him. He knows the questions she wants to ask, knows that he cannot answer them; for her sake, mostly.

 

( He's also doing this for Duck, but no one needed to know that.)

 

"The gift of life is not knowing what comes next. Do you remember that feeling?" She moves this time, the tiniest shake of her head. He smiles, looking down at her fisted hands and putting one of his own on top. "I think it's time you did."

 

She leaves the church before him, whispering a thank you as she steps away from the pew. He waves her off, leaning back on the wooden pew as the door creaks slowly shut behind her.

 

He is left alone, sunlight turning kaleidoscopic through stained glass, stone angels smiling above him as dust mites catch the rainbow reflection.

 

Churches, he muses, could be quite peaceful.

 

-----

 

Minerva is standing in front of the apartment complex when Duck arrives. She greets him heartily, slapping him on the back when he gets near, but there's a look in her eyes that worries him. 

 

He's not one to talk, though. His reflection had caught his eye when he was walking past a window shop; bloodshot eyes and a downturned mouth that made him look as if he'd been awake for a week straight.

 

All because of...this.

 

He'd been stopped multiple times during the funeral procession. Most people had thanked him, others had inquired about his health. His old high school history teacher had seen him. He'd looked him up and down and said, with an air of pity he wasn’t sure he deserved, "Don't blame yourself for this."

 

There's a part of him that wants to follow his advice. He knows that the citizens of Kepler don't blame him for bringing the Quell to them, that they prepared to handle the onslaught as best as they could. 

 

But there's also a part of him that hisses this didn’t have to happen. That he could have been faster, smarter, crueler ; then no one would have had to suffer. 

 

That voice sounds suspiciously like Beacon.

 

Nevertheless, he pastes on a smile and opens the door to the apartment. Fig is waiting for them, swishing her tail and meowing loudly as they step through the threshold.

 

"Hungry, bud?" Duck leans down and scratches her ears, causing the cat to purr. "I'll get ya something to eat."

 

He heads to the kitchen, rooting around a cupboard until he finds a packet. "Dry food for today, Fig," He says, pouring a rather generous amount into her dish. Fig meows balefully, but eats anyway. He laughs softly, stroking her back for a moment as she eats.

 

He stands, and sees Minerva watching him. He tries to not feel too unnerved by this; she has a tendency to hyperfocus on things sometimes, though its usually during strategy meetings or battle. It's weird, having someone's full attention on you when you haven't done anything to deserve it.

 

But that was Minerva for you. He smiles at her—an attempt at lightness. "You must be hungry. Want some pasta? I can make a mean algo de olio ." He doesn't wait for a response, moving into the kitchen and fishing out ingredients. "Have you had pasta yet? I think we've only eaten party size food since you've been here, what with the crowd and all. I know you like pizza, so I think you might like pasta too. They're both Italian...I think."

 

"I think I'd like that, Duck Newton," Minerva says, softly. (Soft for her, anyway.)

 

"Great! Great, great..."

 

He grabs a pot and fills it with water. While its heating up, he decides to start sorting the bags of food the FBI had given them-mostly non perishables, but some fruits, veggies and herbs that go in the fridge. Its busywork, but it's something to keep him occupied all the same.

 

(His mind is still back at those five graves.)

 

He decides to start talking.

 

"So Stern said we're stuck in Kepler until the lockdown ends. The Forest Ranger Service is also suspended until then, so I've also got fuck all to do 'round here. I was thinkin', maybe we should help folks rebuild." He chops up some parsley as he says this, pushing it to the side. "The Quell took out a few buildings, and I'm pretty sure insurance doesn't cover extraterrestrial damage, so I think people are gonna need all the help they can get."

 

(He tries not to think about how the Quell arriving was technically his fault.)

 

"We're pretty strong, so I think we can do a fair bit of work. I have to say, I didn't think I'd be a construction worker after saving the world, hm?" He chuckles, salting the water. It's at this moment that he looks over at Minerva.

 

She's sitting on the couch, elbows on her thighs, eyes fixated on the floor in front of her. She's still, so impossibly still that he's immediately reminded of a corpse."Minerva?" Duck calls to her tentatively, waving his parsley knife in the air to grab her attention. "Minnie, you good?"

 

Minerva's eyes lock onto his. 

 

For a second, he sees it; the confusion, anxiety and guilt. 

 

It's like looking into a mirror.

 

Then, she blinks, and a smile (fake, fake like his own) crosses her face.

 

"Apologies, Duck Newton. I seem to have been preoccupied in my own thoughts," She says, her voice wavering at the beginning before solidifying into something remotely cheerful. "Tell me, what did you mean to say about buildings?"

 

"Um. Buildings? Building. Building! Yeah, uh, want to help rebuild some shit tomorrow? If you're free? I mean are you free? I'm free. Are you free?" 

 

He's babbling. He doesn't babble unless he's lying. He's not lying.

 

This is weird.

 

Minerva, to her credit, just nods. "I would enjoy that, Duck Newton!" she says, and begins to ask questions about building styles.

 

It's like someone flipped a switch; she's animated, gesturing wildly as she talks. He's quietly amused, answering her questions as in depth as he can and peppering in jokes to keep her entertained.

 

(He's still back at the church, staring down into caskets.)

 

The water begins to boil, and he dumps some linguini in. 

 

The pasta isn't bad. Minerva finds it delicious, finishing off two plates in ten minutes. They keep the conversation going for as long as they can, awkwardly avoiding today's events and everything that came with it. There is a tension here, one that causes them to tiptoe around each other, to put on faces of strength. They've won, after all. 

 

So why doesn't it feel like it?

 

Duck stands, collecting the dishes from the table. "I'm just gonna rinse these off and call it a night," he says, turning back towards his small kitchen. "We've got a long day ahead of us. Some volunteers are meeting up at eight to scope out the damage. I want to be there to see."

 

Minerva nods. "Of course, Wayne Newton. I shall see you in the morning." She waves at him as she disappears into the guest room.

 

(And he's alone again, with corpses preying on his mind. He wonders if it'll be like this when he's gone.)

 

He heads to bed as well, staring at Jane's number for a good five minutes before putting his phone away and going to bed.

------

He dreams that he's standing among tombstones.

She dreams that she's standing in an empty city.