Duck Newton considered himself a reasonable man, and so far in his life he hadn’t run across anyone who disagreed with him (except maybe Minerva, but he wasn’t sure she counted). Which meant that when he got in his car to drive over to one Indrid Cold’s campsite to ask him if maybe he could unplug one or two of his space heaters, he wasn’t expecting to be damn near kicked out of the rundown vehicle and given the cold shoulder by the aforementioned man.
“Indrid, come on man.” he called through the door, standing on his tiptoes in an attempt to peek through the window. He caught sight of a couple (hopefully) empty cartons of eggnog lying on their sides, but no Indrid.
“Go away!” came a muffled response a few moments later. Duck sighed and removed his hat, running his hands through his mussed hair. He thought that Indrid would understand that his situation was a fire waiting to happen, and would want to prevent that. Apparently not.
“It’s a fire hazard! I’m just trying to help!”
“I don’t need help!” Indrid yelled back, and Duck groaned in frustration.
“Fine! But don’t come crying to me when you get burnt to a crispy cryptid!” Duck placed his hat back on his head and walked (stomped) back to his truck. He backed out of the camping area a little more recklessly than necessary, and drove even more careful than usual on his way to the Lodge to make up for it. Aubrey greets him as he drives up, a gesture that warms his heart and melts some of the anger away. He’s still scowling though when he gets out of the truck, and Aubrey definitely notices.
“What’s bothering you Duck?” she asks, linking her arm with his and leading him into the Lodge.
“Oh, nothing really. Indrid’s just being difficult.” he says, taking a seat on the couch as she plops down on the armchair across from him. The lobby seems void of much activity for the moment, populated by only a few others. Dani lounges beside one of the windows, looking not much different than a cat basking in the sun, Jake Coolice talks to Barclay, bouncing on his heels while Barclay hums noncommittally, clearly not listening very closely to what the boy is saying, and finally, Agent Stern is hunched over a seemingly disorganized mess of papers a few feet away from the two of them. He appears incredibly focused on his work, which is why Duck startles pretty badly when he hears the man speak.
“Indrid?” he asks curiously, sitting up much straighter in his chair than he had been a few moments ago. Aubrey raises an eyebrow at him, clearly confused and annoyed by his sudden interruption.
“Uh, yeah.” Duck says, the same confusion coating his words. Stern laughs a little and runs a hand through his hair, a nervous smile creeping onto his face.
“Sorry to intrude, it’s just-well, Indrid Cold is a cryptid known to show himself in the West Virginia area.” he says, as though this is common knowledge (which, Duck supposes, it is, but only because of their line of work, and this stupid fed shouldn’t just assume things).
“You don’t really believe in all that nonsense, do you Agent Stern?” Audrey asks, disbelief coloring her tone. Duck envies her ability to lie at the drop of a hat, and decides his best course of action for the moment is to keep his mouth shut. No need to draw unnecessary suspicion towards their friendly neighborhood mothman.
“It’s kind of in my job description, Aubrey.” he replies, exasperated. It sounds as though the two of them have this conversation often, a thought that greatly amuses Duck.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” she says, waving her hand as if to dismiss him. Unfortunately, Stern doesn’t seem to get the hint.
“So, who is this Indrid you two know? Not a very common name, that.” he says, narrowing his eyes at Duck. He worries the agent has singled him out as the bad liar in their group, and feels his cheeks heat up at the unwanted attention. His mind races as he tries to come up with something that will take any and all suspicion off of Indrid.
“Uh, he’s uh, um. He’s-uh, he’s my, um.” he stutters, then perks up as a lightbulb goes off in his head. “My husband!”
Aubrey’s eyes widen, but she quickly gets it under control, though with the sunglasses she’s taken to wearing Duck’s sure Stern wouldn’t have noticed anyway. Barclay nearly trips and very narrowly avoids sending all the plates he’s holding crashing to the floor, his face barely containing his amusement at Duck’s terrible, terrible, terrible ability to lie.
“Oh! I wasn’t aware you were married Duck.” Stern says, surprise clear in his expression. “You don’t wear a ring.”
“Um, yeah, uh. Well, working in the forest and all, I uh, I worry about it getting dirty or, or lost or something you know?” to be fair, this is the most successful Duck thinks he’s ever been in telling a lie. “And I don’t talk about it much because, uh, you know. West Virginia and all that, small town. People can be…well, people can be real assholes you know.”
“Of course, my apologies for intruding on your personal life.” the agent says, at least
having the decency to look a little sheepish.
“Uh, don’t worry about it partner.” Duck worries that his words are still too stiff and awkward, but he guesses he can pin that on, apparently, having outed himself to a government official and practical stranger. Aubrey’s lips are pinched, an expression that to someone who didn’t know her as well may look like discomfort, or irritation, but to Duck signalled that she was moments away from bursting into laughter. He got to his feet and reached out to grab her wrist, tugging her up as well.
“Come on, I haven’t seen Dr. Harris Bonkers in a little while. How’s he doing?” he asked, desperate for an escape from the situation. She nodded, and stayed blessedly silent as she led him back to her room further in the Lodge. As soon as the door shut behind the two of them she nearly doubled over laughing, her hand clutching her stomach as she tried to calm herself.
“All right, all right, get ahold of yourself.” Duck says, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the younger girl. He doesn’t appreciate being mocked so severely, even if he does deserve it. Aubrey wheezes and holds up a finger in the universal sign for ‘just a moment’, and Duck rolls his eyes, impatiently waiting for her to calm the hell down.
“Sor-Sorry, it’s just-” she breaks off in another peal of laughter. “It’s just that like. You’re so bad at lying. Can I please be there when you have to explain to Indrid that you two are pretend married? Please?”
“I’m not telling Indrid.” Duck says through gritted teeth, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“You’re…not?” Audrey asks, little giggles still escaping her lips every so often. “How’s that going to work?”
“I just-I’m not going to tell him unless it’s absolutely necessary. Which, it shouldn’t be, because why would I bring my husband to the Lodge?” Aubrey nods along, seeming to agree.
“And you aren’t going to tell him either.” Duck points at her, a pointed glare taking over his face. She huffs and rolls her eyes, but Duck sees the disappointment hidden in her expression.
“Fine.” she agrees, holding out her pinky. The two of them pinky swear, and Duck lets out a sigh of relief.
“There. Now everything should be fine.”
Everything was not fine. Duck managed to go barely a month before the thing became an issue again. After a few too many nights of staying up late with the Pineguard working on the newest abomination, or attempting to track where the next one might show up, Stern started taking more of an interest in Duck’s life.
“So, does your husband mind you staying out so late?” he asks one night when Duck is finishing up his evening and gathering his things.
“What?” Duck says, confused for a moment before he remembers his tremendous and terrible lie. “Oh. Uh, no, he uh, he knows I help out around here after work a lot. Mama and Barclay need as much help as they can get, especially with Aubrey running around here now.” he laughs nervously and rubs the back of his neck, avoiding Agent Stern’s eyes.
“Pretty understanding husband you got there.” Stern says, eyes narrowing at the clearly nervous Duck.
“Ah, haha, yeah, he’s uh. He’s pretty great.” Duck gives Stern a thumbs up, then winces and lowers it back down. “Anyways, better get, uh, better get home. See you around partner.” As Duck makes his escape, he hears Aubrey’s raucous laughter echo out of Mama’s office, and he just knows she’s laughing at him.