“The ratings went down again this week!” Drake yelled, slamming his tablet down on the table. The screen cracked and if that wasn’t just another problem he’d have to deal with later. He shoved his hat on top of it, ripping off his mask after a rather laborious shoot. “That Gizmoduck is ruining everything!”
“Calm down,” Elmo said, sprawled out in a chair. He twirled his electrical cord tail as he flipped through a magazine. “Don’t get your feathers in a bunch. He’s a real hero; of course people are excited.”
“Sparky’s right,” Quackerjack (Darkwing inwardly rolled his eyes at the other Duck’s method acting; it knew no bounds) said, shaking out his jester hat. “The viewers’ll come back once his super suit varnishes up a little and he’s less shiny.”
“You better hope so, because if we get canceled mid-filming, not only will our careers be over but we’ll never get to the Negaduck arc!” Drake yelled, throwing up his hands. “Do you know how hard I had to fight for that?”
“Oh, boo hoo,” Quackerjack said. He faked tears with his hands. “What will the fans do without ever getting to see your vanity piece?”
“I still can’t believe you talked someone into letting you play a lead role and the lead villain in the same special,” Elmo said, huffing.
“How am I supposed to expand my acting range with only one role?” Drake said. He pointed his finger and straightened his back. “You’ll see. I’ll not only be everyone’s favorite hero, I’ll be their favorite villain, too! Drake Mallard will be the top!”
“And until then, Sparky over here can maintain his favorite character status,” Quackerjack said, snatching Drake’s tablet. He clicked it to a fanfiction page and giggled as he pointed at a character counts in the sidebar sorting. “He’s got at least forty percent more fics than either of us do.”
“Don’t remind me,” Drake said, grabbing his tablet back.
The only fanfiction featuring him as a main character seemed to all be coming from the same username, some “Crash-Landing-Duck” or another. He stopped browsing though the first one when he realized they were all self-insert fics that got creepy to read after four pages.
Even Drake’s ego wasn’t that big.
“Laugh it up,” Drake said. He sat on the edge of the table and crossed his arms. “Because if I don’t get my Negaduck arc, you two don’t get your team up special. The series will end on a Bushroot episode. Is that what you want?”
“We’re not getting canceled!” Elmo shouted, finally losing his temper. “You’re such a pessimist. You’ll see. The ratings will be back before you know it, so stop bringing us all down.”
“I still have a bad feeling about this,” Drake said. He wished he could believe what the others were saying, but he felt it in his gut: It was only a matter of time.
“Mail call,” one of the studio interns said, interrupting their conversation. He dug into his bag and handed Drake a small stack full of letters. “Here you go, Mr. Mallard.”
“Thanks,” Drake said, looking at the addresses. He sighed and shoved them in his pocket.
“Well that’s odd,” Quackerjack said. He shoved Drake and reached into his pocket to pull out the letter. “Normally you don’t ever miss an opportunity to gloat, brag, and preen over a fan—you have so few of them.”
“Give that back!” Drake shouted. He snatched the letter back and shoved it in his pocket. “I haven’t had a real fan letter in like two months and you both know it.”
Despite the popularity of his show, to his eternal regret the villains were the favorites and the ones people watched the show for (that would all change once Negaduck hit the scene, Drake knew it!).
“Then what’s that?” Elmo asked, drawing his attention back to the letter.
“Some ten year old kid named Launchpad’s been writing me at least two letters a week after every episode airs.” Drake blew a loose feather out of his face. He’d been shoving them all in a box next to his desk, too much of a narcissist to throw them out entirely. There was quite the impressive stack growing from this one adoring brat. “I stopped reading them after the first three, and frankly, if I wasn’t sure it was a kid, I’d be worried I had a stalker.”
“Flattered, you mean,” Quackerjack joked.
“Ha ha,” Drake said. He picked up his hat, mask and tablet and pointed at the other two. He shouted over his shoulder as he headed back to his trailer for lunch. “Mark my words though, this Gizmoduck is bad for us. Just you watch.”
“It came!” Launchpad burst into the room holding a package over his head. He spun and slammed the box down on the dining room table. “It finally got here!”
“What are you going on about now, lad?” Scrooge asked, looking over his morning paper.
“Yeah, Launchpad, what’cha got?” Huey asked, pulling himself up on the table.
“My copy of the first Darkwing Duck pilot TV script!” Launchpad said, opening up the top of the box. He pulled out thin, bound booklet with a large, scrawled “Drake Mallard” autograph on the top. “They printed five hundred copies for fans at the first convention Drake Mallard was a guest at. I didn’t get to go when it happened, but thanks to my new job, I could finally afford to bid on a copy!”
“Remind me to never take financial advice from Launchpad,” Scrooge said, rolling his eyes.
“Don’t you have that show memorized by now,” Louie asked, munching on his cereal. “You watch it enough in your free time.”
“I do, but the first episode was really important to me,” Launchpad said, holding the book close. He closed his eyes, replaying the opening scenes over and over and the first time Darkwing Duck said his catchphrase. “It was the first time I really believed in heroes!”
“No offense Launchpad,” Dewey said, “but you’re friends with Gizmoduck. Doesn’t the show sort of pale in comparison?”
“Not to mention that you go on adventures and do daredevil stunts all the time,” Louie said. He pointed his spoon at Uncle Donald (who was steadfastly ignoring them as he texted back and forth with someone) and Uncle Scrooge. “A TV show hardly compares to the real thing.”
“That’s not true,” Launchpad said. He brushed his thumb against the edge of the Autograph on the front cover and felt his chest swell. Drake Mallard’s autograph was one of the few things that had escaped his collection since the show started. Launchpad put the book back in the box and closed the lid as he picked it up. “Sure, he’s fictional, but Drake Mallard does all his own stunts, and his acting makes it seem like those stories are real while I’m watching. That has to count for something.”
“If you say so,” Dewey said. He hopped away from the table and wandered over to his uncle. “Speaking of adventure, got anything planned, Mr. Big Deal?”
Scrooge snorted and closed his paper with a flip of his wrist. “Oh, I think I can come up with something.”
Drake groaned as he sat up, shoving a piece of rubble off his side. He was never so happy in his life that he worked out on a regular basis. “What hit me?”
“That would have been a bus,” another voice said, climbing out of said wrecked automobile. The duck wore an aviator jacket and a ball cap covered his red hair. “Uh, wasn’t expecting it to go through a wall, though. Are you okay?”
“Why did you crash a bus though the wall?” Drake asked, glancing at the wreckage.
The top part of the building had crumbled around it, blocking their way to the outside. The bus itself lodged itself into the exit door, essentially trapping the two of them in the cinderblock room. Of all days for Drake to be alone in a waiting room, it was the day some lunatic crashed through the wall with a bus.
“And of course, I have no cell signal in here,” Drake said, sighing at his phone. “Great.”
“Don’t worry! I’m sure Mr. McDee will get us out of here in no time when he notices what—” The other duck cut himself off, his jaw dropping.
“What?” Drake asked, looking behind himself. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re Darkwing Duck! I mean, Drake Mallard!” the taller duck yelled, holding his hands in fists. He grinned so wide Drake thought his beak might split. “I’m you’re biggest fan!”
“You’re certainly tall enough that might be true,” Drake said, leaning his head back and shoving his phone back into his pocket. He swallowed and held up his hand. “Uh, no auto—”
“No Autographs except for at scheduled events! I know! That’s Drake Mallard’s rule number one,” the other guy said, interrupting and taking a step closer. The other duck gasped a second later and threw out his hand. “Oh! I need to introduce myself. I’m Launchpad McQuack and it’s so great to meet you!”
Everything in Drake Mallard’s head screeched to a halt.
Launchpad McQuack wasn’t a ten year old duckling with too much free time.
He was a grown adult who looked like he could bench press Drake four times over and snap him in half like a twig.
“Oh,” Drake said, swallowing. He took Launchpad’s hand with a trembling grip and shook it. He spoke half to himself as visions of unopened letters came to the forefront of his brain. “The k—guy who writes me letters every week.”
“You do get them!” Launchpad said, almost squeeing. “I always wondered since you never wrote back. Not that you needed to! A guy like you has to be busy.”
Drake needed to get out of his room and far, far away from what was now quite obviously a stalker before he started asking about specifics in those letters Drake didn’t read.
A stalker three times his size.
“As nice as it is to meet you, I’ve got places to go and things to do and we should work on getting out of here,” Drake said, power walking to the destroyed door. He looked through the bus’ windshield debating if there was a space small enough for him to crawl through. “Busy, very busy day planned.”
“I believe it!” Launchpad said. He hovered just behind Drake, bouncing ever so much from foot to foot with excess, delighted energy. “I bet your filming schedule is really strict.”
“Ha, filming,” Drake muttered under his breath. “I wish.”
“Did they already finish filming the season?” Launchpad asked, holding a hand up near his beak. “I would think they’d still be working on it since it hasn’t started airing yet.”
“There is no next season,” Drake snorted. Self preservation momentarily left the window in exchange for his need to make a scathing comment (curse his wit). “I’d think my biggest fan would have gotten the memo the show was canceled. They’re editing the three episodes we did manage to shoot into an hour long finale.”
“Canceled?” Launchpad asked. His shoulders dropped and his entire body stilled. Drake looked over his shoulder and swallowed. He shouldn’t have said that. He should have kept his mouth shut around the stalker and—Drake yelped when Launchpad grabbed him by the arms and lifted him as easily as a kid lifting a Quacky Patch doll. “Darkwing Duck can’t be canceled! It’s the best show on TV!”
Launchpad was every bit as strong as he looked and Drake was pretty sure his arms were going to bruise where the duck had a death grip on his arms. The goliath looked half-panicked and Drake had never hated being an actor so much in his life.
“Say it isn’t so,” Launchpad pleaded. The genuine distraught on his face carved its way into Drake’s chest, worming in a new feeling in place of the overwhelming fear for his safety. Launchpad shook his head, eyes wet. “You’re my hero!”
Drake’s heart skipped a beat. He’d heard kids say they liked him before, and plenty of adults who said his show was entertaining, but no one had ever, ever called him their “hero.”
The fear fell away like a loose sheet, replaced by something that felt like pity.
“I’m sorry, Launchpad,” Drake said, reaching up to pat Launchpad’s arm. “But the ratings kept dropping too much. Our time slot was replaced with some Gizmoduck documentary series.”
“Oh,” Launchpad said. He gently lowered Drake to the floor. He sat on the side of a broken cinderblock and crossed his arms over his knees. “I didn’t think it’d be over so soon.”
“You and me both,” Drake said. He rubbed his arms, tempted to check under his salmon shirt sleeve to see if there was a bruise, but knew better. He patted Launchpad on the back and rethought his initial impression. The guy was big and strong, but he seemed pretty harmless just sitting there. “But, at least there’ll be a complete series collector set, right?”
As Launchpad looked up, he didn’t get a chance to respond: the debris from the crash site gave way, revealing an old duck wearing a hardhat who peeked though the hole. “Launchpad? Are you in there?”
“Mr. McDee!” Launchpad said. “That was quick!”
“Yes, well next time you decide to hijack a bus to catch the escaping Beagle Boys, make sure you actually make the corner.” Drake blinked as he recognized the voice: It was Scrooge McDuck. His biggest fan personally worked for the richest duck in the world. “It took us a while to find some equipment to dig you out.”
“I told you he was fine,” a muffled voice said on the other side. “Don’t worry, boys.”
“I’m okay, kids!” Launchpad called out. “I was just—”
“Don’t mention me,” Drake hissed under his breath after removing his elbow from Launchpad’s side. He’d already had enough recognition today. His career was already dying without people realizing he was caught up in some mess with the owner of GIzmoduck. “Got it?”
“Right,” Launchpad wheezed. He squeaked out a louder answer, “I was just waiting.”
“Who’s that other duck with you?” Scrooge asked.
“Nobody,” Drake said, calling lightly. He put on his best fake-happy neighbor voice he used whenever Herb Muddlefoot came calling with his quackerware. “Just someone who was in the waiting room for the masseuse when your employee crashed through the wall.”
Scrooge studied him for a moment and “Are you hurt and or planning to sue?”
Drake was tempted, but also did not need that publicity. He widened his fake smile. “No, sir. I just want to go home now.”
“Fair enough,” Scrooge said.
Launchpad was quiet the rest of the time as they slowly removed rubble out of the way, creating a safe path. He glanced at Drake every so often, but kept his beak shut.
“It was nice meeting you,” Launchpad called out softly, holding his hand up.
Feeling another wave of pity, Drake held his own up and waved. “Nice meeting you too, Launchpad.”
If he went home and tugged out the box of fan letters and spent the rest of the night reading them, well, no one had to be the wiser.
A few days after meeting his hero, Launchpad’s worst nightmare was confirmed: The Darkwing Duck show had been officially canceled. Mr. Mallard had been telling the truth. It was with a heavy heart that he placed a pre-order for the series box set and set his cable box to record the final episode.
Canceled or not, nothing was going to stop Launchpad from being Darkwing Duck’s biggest fan.
“I’m sorry your show got canceled, Launchpad,” Webby said. She read the box of a DVD cover, sitting under his favorite poster of Darkwing Duck fighting Megavolt. “I know how much you liked it.”
“Thanks,” Launchpad said. He crossed his arms over his desk and stared at his laptop. He still had a few fanfics he needed to work on, but after meeting the real deal, his self-insert fics didn’t quite feel right any more.
Drake Mallard hadn’t been anything in person like Launchpad had thought he’d be.
For starters, he was a lot smaller than Launchpad realized. He seemed so much bigger in the show, Launchpad was almost struck by how tiny the guy was in person. At first, he’d been too excited it was Drake Mallard to notice, and later too distraught the show had been canceled to think about it. It wasn’t until after he’d gotten home and replayed the event in his mind that he remembered he had lifted Drake Mallard up as easy as if he’d picked up one of the kids.
(He blushed at the thought, groaning into his hands. Way to embarrass himself in front of his favorite actor!)
There were other things, too, though: The way Drake held himself, the bite in some of his sentences, the bitterness—they were all. Drake Mallard was a regular duck, just like Launchpad and everyone else.
Sure, he always had known that deep down; Drake Mallard was an actor, and Darkwing Duck was a role he played in a television show. But still, it had never felt that way when watching the show. Darkwing Duck was larger than life on TV, and seeing him as a regular guy in a sweater vest felt odd.
Like they were on the same plane of existence, instead of one on a pedestal and Launchpad admiring him.
“Hey, Launchpad!” Huey said. “You’ve got a letter.”
Huey and his brothers came into Launchpad’s room, holding a small envelope. He took it and noted there was no return address. “Who’s it from?”
“No idea,” Louie said. “Open it and find out.”
Launchpad tore open the top and tugged out a small stack of stationary. He read two lines before he swallowed. “Hey kids, would you mind leaving me alone for a bit?”
“Sure Launchpad,” Webby said. She ushered the boys out and closed the door behind her.
Alone, he gaped at the small paper, reading the first line, “Dear Launchpad, I know this is a bit late, but I figured better late than never, right? Anyway, let’s just get this over with: Starting with the first letter sent on May 6th, the answer to your first question is…”
Launchpad flipped through the stack. Pages, upon pages of answers to every question he’d ever written in his many letters after each show. Neat, tidy, and sprinkled with witty jokes here or there, Drake Mallard had practically written him a book of personalized insider information.
His fingers crinkled the edges of the pages, and he sniffed reading the earnest responses as they came, one after another.
The last page came too soon, and Launchpad nearly choked up on he last few lines Drake had written: “I think I got all of them. As much as I hate to admit it, I read all of your letters for the first time an hour ago. No one’s ever called me their hero before. Not once. And thinking about all the letters from you I had ignored, I didn’t feel like much of a hero. Even though you had no way of knowing that, I felt like I let you down.
“What was worse, is when I looked you up to find your address, I realized that not only do you work for the Scrooge McDuck, but you regularly run around with Gizmoduck among being a rather decorated pilot. How about that? A real hero thinks highly enough of me to be upset that something as simple as a television show was canceled. You’re something else.
“Thanks for being my fan, Launchpad. You make me sad the show’s ending for a reason other than my own ego, and that’s quite the feat (my coworkers will vouch). Be proud of that, biggest fan.
“Sincerely, Drake Mallard, aka Darkwing Duck.”
Launchpad wiped his eyes off before looking back at the letter to reread it a second time. When he composed himself, he caught the small P.S. under Drake’s signature: “By the way,I have one last interview on a talk show coming up next week. I’ve enclosed a few tickets if you want to come.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Launchpad said, folding the letter back up.
He ran out of his room, holding them up and hoping that Mr. McDee wouldn’t mind lending him the money to get enough seats for the rest of the kids since Drake had only sent three tickets.
“So that’s the ten year old stalker, huh?” Quackerjack said, grinning. Elmo snickered as he leaned on him, dressed in costume for the sake of the interview. “Looks big for a grade schooler.”
Drake rubbed between his eye as Launchpad waved excitedly from the third row during the commercial break, a group of kids sitting next to him. He slumped in his chair, hiding his face with his hat as everyone stared at the eager pelican making a fool of himself in the audience.
He was never writing letters to fans when he was emotional again. Mistakes had been made and he had just created a monster.
“DW! Over here! Over here!”
“Yes, Launchpad, I see you,” Drake said, waving.
Quackerjack and Elmo continued giggling at his expense, only catching themselves when the host brought the back on the air.
By the time the interview ended, Launchpad had introduced Drake to the kids he was watching (who looked vaguely bored to be there), and somehow invited Drake into going to Hamburger Hippo for dinner.
Drake had this sinking suspicion this was not the last time he was going to have Launchpad involved in his life, but as the other duck prattled on about planes and some fan designs for a jet, he found he didn’t mind as much as he thought.