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Fly Me to the Moon

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Launchpad looked around in equal parts awe and confusion. "You want me, to crash, eh, I mean fly you to the moon?"  

“It would save a dime or two, seeing as how I’m already paying you and the rest of the crew consists of my family and a few lucky winners in the space exploration community-which is far larger than you’d imagine my lads.”

“Ah, I see it’s financial. Smart. Always thinking ahead Mr. McDee, I like it. But, uh, I’ve got to think about it. It’s a pretty big choice to make all of a sudden.”

“I’ll need to know one month before launch, the latest. We’ll need to calculate how much of the supplies we have to take.”

“Got it Mr. McDee” Launchpad said with an awkward salute.

Scrooge cringed. “Okay”, he said slowly and walked away.

Fenton tapped Launchpad on the shoulder. “What was that? I thought this is everything you wanted.” He was shocked.

Launchpad removed his Darkwing Duck hat. “It sort of is, but then I realized I would have to leave you here, alone. We need to talk about it first.”  

“LP, I just thought that after all the stress you’ve been through, me with the rocket, Scrooge and his adventures, that you would want something for you,” he said.

“What about you? You’ve been through a lot too.” Launchpad rebutted.

“Me? So what? You made me and the team that really good cake. Now it’s my turn to give back to you.” Fenton said as he swayed on the balls of his feet. “I finally have a chance to do this.”

Launchpad frowned. “Babe, I thought we talked about this. You’ve given so much to me and it wouldn’t matter anyway. Not everything that is equal appears equal at face value.”

“And we’ve also talked about Della, but how do I know that’s not an influence in your reluctance to fly the rocket.” Fenton’s mouth shut firmly the moment he finished his sentence. “I’m so sorry.” he hissed beneath his breath.

Launchpad’s facial expression was blank. “No, no, you’re right. I mean, while I didn’t want to leave you behind alone, I also was worried I would be rude if I met her. She’s so brilliant and incredible, she doesn’t deserve someone doing that to her when she’s reuniting with her family.”

“Maybe we should head off. It’s getting late anyway.”Fenton said quietly.

The couple walked out of the tent and towards the parking lot. Launchpad kissed the top of Fenton’s head lightly as they silently climbed into their seats. They both exhaled. Suddenly, someone tapped their knuckles against the driver window. They jumped. A stiff tuxedo with stars sparkling across the fabric covered the view. Launchpad rolled down the window. The figure knelt down. It was Falcon. He cleared his throat. “I was here to inquire as to whether or not you have seen Mark around. I’ve been looking around and I haven’t seen him anywhere.” He nervously tapped his fingers alongside the edge of the open window while he adjusted his sunglasses. “He’s not here. He never showed up.” His eyes darted around. “You two wouldn’t mind if I hopped in and joined you,”

“We’re kind of having a moment Falcon,” Launchpad said.

“Oh,” Falcon gasped. “My utmost apologies. I shall leave you two to your intimate moment,”

“No, no, no,” they both objected. “It’s fine, it’s not like that,”

“So, there’s no objections to me joining you? I’m sort of having a panic. I didn’t expect him to show up after what happened, but yet somehow I did.” Falcon’s words became more panicked. Launchpad unlocked the doors and with a click, Falcon stepped into the back seat. The car left the parking lot. “Thanks, you two.” Fenton kept his head down. “So what’s the plan? Heading out for some late night fun, an intimate dinner date, another party?” Fenton and Launchpad glanced at each other.

Fenton tried his hardest to put aside the quivering emotions that occupied his thoughts in order to help, of all people, Falcon Graves. “We were going home, but we can shift our plans to help an… acquaintance out. LP, how about we head on over to..”  Fenton struggled to think of something to do or somewhere to go.

“Waddle HQ, why don’t you head on over there and demand that you talk with Mark. He’s bound to be there.” Launchpad interjected.

“Oh, I can’t do that. Mark’s revoked my pass into the building.” Falcon stated matter of factly.

Fenton made a cutting motion across his neck. Launchpad smiled at Falcon who made a messy attempt to smile back. He rolled up the divider window in the limo. “It’ll be just a moment,” Fenton said politely. Once the divider finished its ascension he burst into motion. “Launchpad. We shouldn’t do this. We’re getting involved in something we shouldn’t. There are obviously issues they need to deal with and we can’t interfere with them,”

“Okay, then what do you suggest we do then? How are we supposed to cheer him up?” Launchpad asked.

“I don’t know I’m not the one who invited him in, not that I was against it. You just never asked me,” Fenton said.

“We were sort of having a moment, not the peak time for communication,” Launchpad said.

Fenton took a deep breath. “Here’s a plan. We just drive around town. It’s relaxing in general and I’m sure it’ll be distracting enough for him. Not to mention, we won’t have to talk.”

Launchpad rolled down the divider. “We’re going for a little casual drive. It should be pretty nice, especially on a night like this.”

Falcon nodded. “I really do appreciate you letting me, I guess, hijack your night. You’re probably tired from all the dancing, you did with each other, your partners, your romantic partners.” As Falcon drove himself into a pout, the car ride continued in silence. Their arrival in Downtown Duckburg marked a sudden shift in Falcon’s mood. He had spotted a glowing bus ad. It was for the upcoming model of the Waddle Phone. Fenton could feel Falcon’s posture stiff as he posed himself to break down.

“I should’ve told him how I felt. But I didn’t know he felt that way. That he would care so much about the struggles I faced during a mission. Fenton, you must be lucky, if you’re ever feeling down, Launchpad is the man to go to. I wish Mark was more susceptible to doing basic things. It’s always private jets this, war submarine that. It would be nice to do some normal things, like  driving around town in a limo, like everyone else.” Falcon noticed the puzzled looks of the two in the front seats. “By everyone else, I was referring to the community of highly trained bodyguards, such as yours truly.” Even in his lowest moments, Falcon still found time to show off his provocative occupation.

Launchpad looked over at Fenton, perhaps they should talk too. Their drive drew them closer to the Waddle HQ. A small buzz descended upon their ears. A drone landed on their windshield. Launchpad swerved the limo and pulled over. The three of them got out and examined the robotic messenger. Its ‘head’ popped open and a screen rose from its interior. The video feed showed Mark Beaks, with no evidence he had ever changed into something for the Lunar Ball, spoke. He had decided to wear the glasses. Falcon clutched his pair from his front pocket. He smoothed out his outfit and stood up straight as if preparing for a business interview.

“Hey, boo! You’ve kind of got to head back to the HQ. I just got the tea spilled about a sweet opportunity. Situation C-17. We’ve got to hurry if it’s going to work. I’ve returned access to your pass.” Mark finally noticed that Fenton and Launchpad were present. “Oh, it’s you two,” he added disgustedly. He turned his attention back to Falcon. “Anyways, hurry boo. And be sure to leave this two out of it.” The message ended with a click and the drone ascended into the midnight blue sky.

“He wants me back! He wants me back!” Falcon shouted. He jumped into the arms of Launchpad and Fenton. Fenton nearly toppled over from the force of his boyfriend and the ecstatic third party. “Thank you, your kind actions will not be forgotten,” Both were shocked at the affectionate action. They watched as he practically skipped down the sidewalk.

“Wait,” Launchpad shouted after him. Falcon turned his head slightly. “You didn’t even talk to each other, and you’re just going to go back?”

“He returned my access to Waddle HQ. We’re good now,” Falcon said with a nonchalant tone. He walked away.

Launchpad’s eyes widened as his mouth opened to say one more thing before it closed slowly. Fenton put his hand on Launchpad’s shoulder and exhaled. “Well, that was a lot,” He slouched against the car and sat on the ground. Launchpad joined him. “I think there are some things we need to talk about,”

“There’s a lot we need to talk about,” Launchpad said. “I don’t want to end up like them.”

“I guess I’ll go first. I feel that whatever I do, it’s not enough. I know I’ve done a lot for you, but you make me feel everything. How can I feel anything I’ve done stacks up to that.”  

“You can’t babe, love is infinite, but our actions aren’t. You can’t satisfy an unattainable goal. If you want me to, I can be extra sure to tell you how much the things you do mean to me, every time you do them.” Launchpad said.

“I don’t want you to have to spell it out for me, I should just be able to see it. The results should be clear as day.” Fenton countered.

Launchpad’s face scrunched in deep thought, an expression not often expressed. “You’re just going to have to trust me, and you already do that,”

Fenton looked around with his head cupped by his hand in confusion. “Trust you in what?”

“In how much your love means to me. Every time you feel like I give you the world I need you to know you give me a whole cluster of planets, whatever that’s called,” Launchpad clarified.

“A solar system,” Fenton answered.

“You’re already proving my point babe,” Launchpad smiled.

Fenton smiled too, although he wasn’t nearly as convinced. “I’ll trust you in this. I love you LP,”

“I love you too, Fenton. Now I think it’s time to talk about Della, and all that entails,” Launchpad said.

“Do you really think you would be rude to her if you actually met her? I don’t think I could imagine you doing that.” Fenton said.

“You were there when I fought with the B.U.D.D.Y system, I got so nasty.”

“But that’s a computer, it’s AI didn’t even function to the point of being able to formulate a personality. That’s no worse than growling at a lagged video online.” Fenton rebutted.

“Oh gosh, I do that too,” Launchpad moaned.

“That’s not the point LP. You were just worried about incredibly advanced technology making your job and livelihood irrelevant. A completely logical fear in this day and age.”

“But, that’s how I respond when I get, jealous. It’s gross, I feel disgusting. No one deserves to not have something they themselves truly deserve. I shouldn’t take away that from anyone,”  

“Well, let’s approach this systematically. Give me an example of when your jealousy got the upper hand and you didn’t let someone into your fascinatingly accepting heart.”

“It was Jason’s bar mitzvah and-” Launchpad said before Fenton interrupted.

“I’m being serious Launchpad,” Fenton chided.

“No, really, I’m giving you an example. So I sort of had a crush on Jason so at his bar mitzvah I-” Launchpad’s phone chirped. He paused and tried to continue only to have Fenton’s phone explode with sound. Text notifications rained down the lock screen, only to have a call break through the wall.

From what Fenton could see, the texts contained words such as “rocket”,” hurry”, and “urgent”. He answered the call. Panicked sounds were heard from this end. Fenton nodded as he listened. When it stopped, he quickly closed the phone. “Launchpad, I’ve got to go. They need me back at the lab. They’re going to launch the rocket.” Fenton said, his voice raspy.

Launchpad checked his text. “I’m going too, Scrooge needs me over there as well.” They clambered back into the car and turned it around towards the Money Bin. As Launchpad dodged cars as he jumped lanes, he asked for some more clarification about the situation. “So, what’s going on with you, Scrooge just told me he needs me, and that it's about the rocket?”

“Manny and Lil Bulb finished the rocket, how they completed it so soon, I have no idea. They demand it is flown immediately or they’ll riot. Scrooge is scrambling to pack things and needed the lab team there for mission control. Gyro and Chelsea are already there,” Fenton said all while he clutched his silver tuxedo in horror at the car’s speed.

“What about the contest winners, the ones who are supposed to fly in the ship with them?” Launchpad asked, keeping his eyes focused intently on the road ahead.

“Scrooge conveniently ‘lost’ the raffle tickets and as painful as it was for him, gave out refunds,” Fenton answered. The car pulled up and the two of them burst out and pushed through the doors. The lobby was darkened, the opening of the door had let in a small breeze which gently blew the leaves of the potted ferns in the corners. Otherwise, the room was still. When it opened, the elevator’s interior lights were the only thing to illuminate the room, until they too disappeared. Fenton wobbled on his heels again as he stood next to Launchpad in the elevator. “So, what are you going to choose?” For a moment, there was only the light hum of the elevator between them.

“What do you mean?” Launchpad asked.

“Please Launchpad. You know what I’m asking. Is this going to be goodbye for some time?”

He appeared to ignore Fenton. He stared down at his feet. “I had a crush on Jason. His eyes were the perfect shade, I can’t even begin to describe their hue. They enticed me with every glance. His face, the perfect shape, chiseled to perfection. He was so kind, and smart, not unlike you. His bar mitzvah was coming up and I decided then was the time to shoot my shot. I would tell him how I felt. My best friend, Katrina Hills, came with me. Little did I know, she felt the same way about Jason. She told me on the way there, we practically had the same plan. I gave her a cold shoulder the rest of the night, or at least I thought I did. She asked him out, he agreed, she looked happy, but whenever there were passing glances, the look she gave me so chilling. I realized then I wasn’t giving her the attitude, but Jason. I liked Katrina too. I was so stupid and jealous I hurt two people when I should’ve hurt none,”

“You were what, 13? You can’t really blame-” Fenton said

“It happened when I was 13, it happened with B.U.D.D.Y, how many times will I excuse myself for hurting others?” Launchpad said, his tone was harsh.

“Well, did you apologize after? Did you communicate to the people you hurt? I’m having a hard time believing your jealousy harmed anyone other than yourself in the long run,” Fenton snapped back. The elevator ride seemed uncharacteristically long.

“We talked after the next dance, I explained everything. They were cool with it, I still apologized for how I treated them. Then the incident happened, but that was less about us as a group and more about Jason as an individual,”  Launchpad explained.

“So you can see how you’re not bad you just made mistakes, mistakes you acknowledged and dealt with?” Fenton suggested.

Launchpad frowned. “I think there’s something wrong with me. I hate to say this, but Hank broke me. He took something that was already cracked and finished the job. I-I think I’m done talking for now,”

Fenton was speechless. He slipped his hand into Launchpad’s and held it tight. They stayed this way until they reached the lab floor when they finally had to release their grips.

*****

“Fenton, you’re here. Check the functions of the rocket from  that monitor over there.” Chelsea directed. Gyro was across the room, performing a similar action on another computer. Chelsea sat back down after directing Fenton and stared at the small tower of screens ahead of her.

“It’s all clear here, Chelsea,” Gyro said. “ Food and essentials are all accounted for.”

“Rocket fuel and engines are online,” Chelsea followed. “And all we’re waiting on for is the communication line to be connected and a confirmation of the crew. How’s that going for you, Fenton?”

Fenton’s eyes danced around the monitor. Communications were up and running, the line to the makeshift mission control finishing its upload, the only information he lacked was just who was leaving on the trip. “Communication is up, we can test it now.” Chelsea began to prepare the test while Fenton mustered up the courage to ask them, “Did any of you see Scrooge bring in someone who could fly the rocket, in case Launchpad couldn’t?”

Gyro sensed his incoming panic. “Scrooge has had an old friend on standby just in case. He’s here now. Jacques Duckteau is his name. Before Scrooge hired Launchpad, he was his pilot, nice guy but a little plain to be honest. No doubt, Launchpad was a step up from him, even with all the wrecks,”

The transmission from within the rocket crackled to life. “This is McBuck reporting from the inside of the ship alongside,” he took a moment to heavily sigh, “, Beastly Driver. We’re ready for the final pre-flight check of all resources and rocket functionality.”  

“This is Mother Hen, running a final examination through supplies and rocket devices,” answered Chelsea.

As they tapped away at the computers, Gyro swiveled his chair slightly to face Fenton more. “Looks like your man declined. Pretty odd, I wouldn’t give up a trip to space, if I didn’t have a stomach condition I would be preparing to fly high into the stars,”

Fenton drew some of his attention towards the elevator doors in the back of the room, without even his own notice. An idea began to brew within his mind.

“Mother Hen, are we prepared to launch the rocket?” Scrooge’s voice crackled through the radio.

“Launch sequence can now initiate, McBuck,” Chelsea replied. The Money Bin shook slightly. The lab team walked over to the glass wall facing the shoreline. A hill in the distance opened its top. Chelsea pulled her headpiece to her mouth, “Hatch doors have opened, it’s safe to leave, ”

A sleek pear-shaped projectile shot out of the hill, a glowing cloud trailed behind it. “It’s beautiful,” Fenton whispered, the light reflected in his wide eyes.

“Isn’t it?” Launchpad said from behind him. Fenton gasped and hugged Launchpad, who in turn bent down to kiss him.

“You’re here,” Fenton said having already stepped back. He scratched the back of his head. “I would have imagined you would have left, it’s space after all. The chance of a lifetime,”

“Babe, I wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye. I thought it would be best for me to stay here, with you,” Launchpad then pulled Fenton aside and whispered, “Not to mention, that Jacques guy sort of needed it more than I did. Hasn’t crashed once, not ever. Can you believe it? Dude’s got to have some fun in his life,”

Fenton snickered which melted into a warm smile. “You’re too perfect LP,”

Gyro and Chelsea walked past them, “Since you arrived late you’ve got to close up the lab for use, cool?”

Fenton agreed and began to send the computers into sleep mode. Once Gyro and Chelsea disappeared behind the elevator doors he asked Launchpad, “So, did you want to talk about earlier? I know you said you were done talking but I’m just checking. We were sort of interrupted by circumstance,”

“Nah, it’s alright. I’m a cool bean,” Launchpad said casually, his feet propped up on a desk.

“If that metaphor is what I read it as, you’re not doing so great. If you were okay, I would at least expect lukewarm beans, but cold ones? I’m not so sure,”

“I think you’re reading a bit too far into it. Yeah, it wasn’t great, but tonight was supposed to be our night, I don’t want to take that away from us. We talked earlier about a lot, but the conversations not over, literally. I did a whole pause on it and everything. We can always take the time later to sit down on a couch and press play,

“Well, if tonight’s still our night, I had a little idea. It’s a surprise. So I have to drive,” Fenton teased. He shut off the lights and descended to the lobby with Launchpad.

Outside they noticed a sonic buzz. They turned around and in the sky, a slim missile-like object swooped overhead. Clusters of items were tied to its sides. It was headed in the direction of the Spirit of Selene . Launchpad’s phone chirped. It was Falcon. Launchpad picked up the phone. “Hello, it is Falcon Graves. Have I reached Launchpad McQuack?”

“Uh, yes. I am Launchpad, Launchpad is me, the person currently answering the phone and speaking to you currently. Launchpad said, his face twisted into a cringe. Fenton could provide no assistance and only stared dumbfounded.

“As a thank you for your services to me tonight, I would like to inform you that the object that just flew by the Money Bin was not a rocket containing magical artifacts counteractive to those found in your employer’s rocket and should not be stopped this moment. It also cannot be stopped by dislodging the steering tip. That is all, good night,”

“Looks like we’re in the clear babe,” Launchpad shrugged.

“He was giving us hints! It really is a rocket sent to take down the Spirit of Selene! Let’s go! Where can we find a plane?”

“I keep my old biplane on-site here. It’s in the garage in the basement. There’s an exit out of a cave beneath this hill.

“Alright then, you’ll get that and I’ll go back to Mission Control to warn Scrooge.”  

Fenton hugged Launchpad and they briefly kissed before they went their separate ways. Launchpad ran down to basement access and Fenton returned to the inside of the building. Once back inside the control room, he shoved the headset over his head and clicked a switch of the computer. Its fan whirled as it tried to establish a connection. He called Launchpad on his phone. The ability to hold two conversations at once held far more weight for him than ever.

“I’m starting my plane now babe. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a ride in this old thing. Everything going okay for you up there?”

“I’m still waiting on Scrooge to pick up and receive my message. If he’s not able to answer in time then it really does fall all on us,” Fenton was interrupted by a static-riddled voice from his headset.

“What’s the problem lad, we’ve barely even left?” Scrooge asked.

“Mark sent a missile after yours, it has a lot of different artifacts attached to it, rather poorly in my opinion. That’s not the issue, they’re meant to counteract the abilities in your artifacts, he’s trying to take down your rocket, rather safely. At least he’s being considerate. I can always partially appreciate kindly sabotage-”

“Fenton! What’s being done to stop it? Jacques and I can try to outmaneuver it but it looks to be quite a challenge. It’s finally showing up on our radar and its movement is incredibly precise.”

“I’m directing you from Mission Control, as you can tell. Launchpad is on his way over in an old plane of his. We’ve been told the weak spot is the steering tip. If it is tilted or overall damaged in some capacity we can stop it.”

“Thank you, Fenton, be sure to spread the appreciation to Launchpad as well. We’ll stand by.”

Fenton switched over the line to Launchpad’s phone. “Okay, I’m back. You haven’t approached the missile or the rocket yet.”

“Uh, babe. I’m right on the tail of Mark’s missile. You might want to check again.”

Fenton’s eyes quickly scanned the radar, a third object was not present in its readings. “You’re not showing up, does your plane not have its signal on?”

“Not going to lie, there’s not much ‘on’ on this plane. Half the dials don’t light up and I think the only thing working is the engine, I think. But hey, I got this cool little Darkwing Duck bobblehead on the dashboard.” Fenton heard Launchpad stop talking to tap the bobblehead to get it to speak. Only a mumbled and demonic sounding crackle came from the figure. “It sounds like the batteries have gotten worn down, needs new batteries, probably like the plane itself,”

“Just be careful LP, I love you,”

“Love you too babe. I’m approaching the tip of the missile, it’s getting a little too close to the rocket. Yeah, it’s like right there I-”

A harsh buzz from the plane’s propeller cutting the air stung through Fenton’s headpiece. “Launchpad!” he screamed.

“It dipped, the whole Spirit of Selene just dipped in front of me. It’s being pulled down! It knocked me around a bit.”

“Try getting closer to the tip. I’ll try helping out with Scrooge.” Fenton switched back over to the rocket’s communication line. “Scrooge, how are the rocket’s functions up there?”

“Not great my boy. Jacques is doing his best but-” Deep rumbles interrupted Scrooge. “It’s not going so great,”

“Launchpad is up there right now. He’s approaching the missile’s steering tip.”

Fenton frantically returned to his call with Launchpad.

“I’m right at the tip. I think if I lean the plane in just right,” A horrible grinding sound overcame any other sound. There was a crack. “I got it, I knocked off the steering tip, but I think I busted the propeller, like really bad. Hey, babe? You wouldn’t mind clearing out the bridge to the Money Bin. I’m going to try to make a crash landing-McQuack style. Wish me, good luck babe,” The radio clicked off. Fenton’s hands cupped his face as his breath grew tight. He snapped himself out of the restraints when he realized he had to check in on Scrooge and clear the bridge.

“Scrooge, do we have clearance to fly? Launchpad knocked out the missile,”

“My boy, you’ve both done it! Scrooge McDuck and family are headed to the moon, thank you I can’t thank you two enough,”

“I really can’t talk right now Mr. McDuck. I’ve got to prepare an emergency landing for Launchpad. Love you bye.” He disconnected the communicator and rushed downstairs.

Only when he reached outside did he realize his mistake. He shook it out of his thoughts and began to fanatically shout at people to evacuate the bridge and move their cars. It only took the mention of an incoming plane to send them reeling. Fenton himself retreated to the safety of the Money Bin’s lobby. He directed his hearing towards any sound resembling the incoming plane. It didn’t take long for the distressing buzz to come near. Seconds after he heard it came a resounding crash and the Money Bin shook. Fenton stepped out and ran towards the sputtering plane in the middle of the bridge. A second crash came from behind, the golden dollar sign plaque had been knocked from its place and landed at the door front. Fenton ignored this and continued.

Launchpad stumbled out of the smoke-consumed vehicle. He clutched his chest. Fenton ran up to him. “Blathering Blatherskites! Launchpad, are you hurt?” Launchpad pulled his hand away to reveal the Darkwing Duck bobblehead in its grasp. Fenton exhaled in relief. “I was so worried about you” Launchpad tucked the figure away in a pocket and held Fenton close.

“Ah, but babe, you shouldn’t have. Crashing is my specialty,” Launchpad said with a chuckle. Fenton couldn’t help but join in. They kissed and drew their embrace out. “I don’t know how I would’ve survived if I had gone to the moon. You’re just too good,”

“I was planning to savor those radio transmissions, but now I realize it wouldn’t have been enough, at least, not relative to how I feel right now,” Fenton said as he gingerly slid his fingers through Launchpad’s head feathers and down his neck. Launchpad shivered both from the sensation of the touch as well as a sudden cool breeze. “It’s getting late, maybe we should cut tonight short, just head off.”

*****

The night had grown darker. Fenton was at the car’s wheel. He looked over to Launchpad, fast asleep in the seat next to him. The surprise would have to wait until later. He switched lanes to get back to the mansion. Launchpad jerked awake.

“Babe! What are you doing, you’re heading home?” Launchpad looked behind him down the street.

“Of course, seconds ago you were out cold and I’m feeling drained myself. We can just do the surprise another time.”

“Where’s the fun in that? Can’t we keep the night rolling on a just a bit longer? It’s been a while since you and I have had the time to hang out,”

“They’ll be plenty of time tomorrow and the day after that and so forth. We’ve got time to spare.

“Come on, babe,” Launchpad begged coyly.

“Oh alright then. But if you fall asleep again I’ll be more than glad to take a nap alongside you,”

“Sounds like a win-win situation to me.” Launchpad leaned back with his hands behind his head, contempt. His eyes were fervently held open.

The drive continued up a hill. Trees swayed lightly around them. The night was nearly over. Fenton stopped the car in the parking lot of Duckburg Planetarium.

“Wait here,” he told Launchpad. He walked out and took out a blanket and a basket from the car’s trunk. “You can come out now,” Launchpad stepped out slowly. Fenton motioned for him to follow him around back. He grabbed ahold of Launchpad’s hand and led him inside. The halls were dark aside from the display lights on the exhibits. Large doors on the opposite end were closed, surprised gasps erupted from the other end every few seconds.  

“I guess the show has already started,” Launchpad told Fenton.

“That’s not where we’re heading. I had something different planned.” Fenton lead Launchpad further down the hall and into a separate display hall. A pale aura floated above a large scale set of the moon’s surface. “This is it,” Fenton let go of Launchpad’s hand and lifted the velvet rope barrier over his head. He shook the blanket out and placed it on the display ground. Fenton padded the spot next to him.

Launchpad slowly approached the display. “Are you sure this is allowed? I never thought I would see you do a thing like that,” He hesitantly took a seat.

“I called in advance, a while back to see if it would be okay. It won’t damage the structure but they told me it was an odd request. Luckily I’m a frequent patron here,”

“Cool, so what’s the plan babe? Chilling on the moon?”

“I know it’s silly, but I thought we could have a mini picnic on the moon. I brought space stuff; astronaut ice cream despite its objectively untrue existence, freeze-dried fruits, and a few other items. It may not be entirely accurate but it’s enough to imagine,” Fenton’s feathers grew ruffled. He couldn’t keep his eyes on his boyfriend. Distress rummaged his mind.

Launchpad inched closer and planted a kiss atop of Fenton’s head. “It’s lovely, it’s not like we could’ve had a picnic on the moon for real. What if we landed on the dark side, we would have had one less hand to hold the food, gotta hold the flashlights,”

“It’s pretty difficult to land on the dark side of the moon, not to mention rockets and rovers tend to sputter out and become severely damaged in their approach,”

“So I guess we could’ve had this on the moon fine then. But it’s cool as long as I’m with you. Even then, I know how much you would’ve wanted to experience the real thing, even more than I do. You’re the sciencey type here,”

“The research would be fascinating, but there’s a lot to experience down here. I’m glad things are working out between us, but I want them to work better,” Fenton leaned back into Launchpad’s soft down.

A soft chuckle escaped Launchpad’s beak. “Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m with you, you’re really a smart guy. I’m not going to sell myself short, but it seems like an unlikely match,”

“I could say the same thing, you’re cool, very outwardly interesting. You get a lot of attention from other people, and they love you. We are how we are, we love each other,”

“Do you think there’s love on the moon?”

Fenton’s brows furrowed at the sudden and odd inquiry. “What do you mean exactly? Are you talking about the moon exuding a force, or ancient civilizations-”

“I mean, if there’s life on the moon, do you think they love the same way we do? If we were born on the moon in moon culture would we fall in love the same way?”

Fenton was taken aback. “That’s a weighted question.” He picked apart a block of astronaut ice cream. “I’m not sure. What we value in each other may not be valued in this theoretical lunar society. Wow,” Fenton fell fully into Launchpad. He glanced upwards to hear Launchpad’s response.

With complete ease and serenity, he replied: “I’m glad we’re on Earth then.” He took note of Fenton’s unnerved expression. “I was just curious. I hope Della’s not confused up there if she’s met, anyone,”

Fenton muttered something before he fell asleep. Launchpad realized his boyfriend had drifted off into rest. “Ha, how the tables have turned,” Right after he said this, he snapped into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

Sunlight tickled the beak of Della Duck. Her eyes crept open and she lifted her head from a downy pillow to look at the origin of the light. Glistening spires of gold lay across the horizon. Della turned back to laying flat on her back. The sheets were pulled back and she eyes drifted to her metallic leg. It let out of robotic wheeze with the flex of her knee. A minor panic coursed through her mind with yet another reminder she had been stuck for far too long, and that it had cost her.  Della approached the door only to have it slid open. 

"Hello, is anyone there? Lunaris? Penumbra?" she shouted down the hall in both directions. The sound echoed across the slick silver walls. In response, the sounds of boots answered. Penumbra stomped towards Della, in a sleek-fitting robe with jittering balls of fluff along the edges.  

"What are you doing up, Earther? It's deep within the resting period." A frown decorated her lips beneath exhausted eyes. 

Della stared back curiously. "It's morning to me. Here, take a look at this," She shoved her watch into the view of Penumbra. 

Penumbra avoided making direct eye contact. "Your archaic Earther technology has no meaning to me," she scowled with the roll of her eyes. Her hand pushed Della's away.

Della continued on unfazed. "Hey, that's a nice robe, do you know where I could get one? I really like the puffballs, they're so cute," Her tone bounced with excitement. 

Penumbra gave out a smug laugh. "You, get one of these robes? Please, these are reserved only for the most deserving of Moonlanders. An Earther like you couldn't possibly do anything worthy of gaining one of these. Those 'puffballs' you speak of are Lunarian roaches, who devour the collected dry skin from the robe. Another luxury of the Moonlander elite," 

"Well, I'll have to go out and do something worthy, won't I. It can't be harder than dealing with the Moon Mites. Come on, maybe you can gain the next level of awards. Is it a point system or something?" 

Della began a jog down the hallway before Penumbra's hand shot out and grabbed her shoulder. She shuddered at the sudden contact. Penumbra held a firm grip despite the softness of her lavender hands. "Please Earther, just return to your resting port," 

Della nodded, her thoughts were silenced and focused elsewhere. The door closed with a whir behind her. Penumbra exhaled deeply. "Lunaris does not know what he got us into with her" 

***** 

Della fished through her pockets, desperate for a distraction. If she couldn't focus on rebuilding the Sphere of Selene or go out exploring and didn't want to think about other developing feelings she needed an alternative. The picture of her alongside Scrooge and Donald came out next, which she promptly folded back up and tucked away. She fished deeper. A torn bottom half of a letter. She had forgotten she had brought it along.  Her fingers traced alongside the feathered torn edge. How ironic would it be now for her to remember him? Without another thought, her eyes scanned the letters. 

***** 

He had an aura, unlike anyone she had met before. Scrooge's boat had crashed into his in the harbor. Scrooge had been furious, but Della tuned all her attention towards him. His smoldering smile blazed in the afternoon sunlight. She tucked her hair back and leaped onto his deck. 

"So how did a talented sailor like you crash into my uncle's boat?" 

"Simply by not crashing into it. I believe it's your uncle's fault, or whoever was steering his vessel," 

Della giggled. "I think you mean my brother Donald." Her hands darted behind her back, hiding her pilot's gloves behind her.

"Oh, well I hope you don't think I would have considered you responsible," 

"Is that so? Well, what if it had been me?  What would you have done then?" An air of irritation flittered about her voice.

He seemed unfazed and squeezed his face into a false concentration. "I might not have asked her out to dinner, although there's a good chance I wouldn't have been able to resist regardless,"

Della felt a small tug from her heart only to have it followed by another tug in the opposite direction. Selene. Her mind began to spiral until Scrooge shouted at her. 

"Lassie, come and help your brother out with the ship. We won't be moving on anytime soon without your participation" 

"Alrighty Uncle Scrooge, she shouted back. She turned back towards him. "Listen, I've got to go help out with my goof of a brother. The name's Della by the way. Della Duck. It was, eh, nice to have met you," 

He scrambled to piece his sentence together, after all, his plans had been thwarted. "Della, what a pretty name, I can't say mine is quite as nice but it's-" 

***** 

"That's enough of that Della Duck," she thought to herself. She haphazardly folded the letter back into a pocket. She felt no need to relive the pain of the past again. Her sole distraction was gone. Subconsciously, a desire kicked in to feel where Penumbra had taken hold. Her hand arose and placed itself over the spot. Della's mind reeled over and over the moment it happened, the look in Penumbra's eyes. She found herself getting drowsy, a sudden realization, she had indeed awakened in the middle of the "resting period". Della fell asleep with her hand still over her shoulder. 

"Wake up Earther, cycles don't last forever," Penumbra announced loudly from the doorway. 

Della shot awake, "Yeah?" She looked around and noticed Penumbra. She jumped from the bed to the floor triumphantly. "Are we off to go fight some more lunar creatures, go on a treasure excursion, or solve a mystery?" she said with a playful karate kick and punch. 

Penumbra shook her head sideways. "I've submitted the documents for your removal from the city. If I'm lucky, the trial should be within this cycle," 

"Oh, I get it, maybe I can pick up some gold before then. Even with that in mind, we've still got time to do something fun," 

"You seem to misunderstand my hostility.

“No, I haven’t. I’m just ignoring it” Della said this with a spring in her step walking outside of the room. 

Cogwheels twisted in Penumbra’s head. She scurried to get ahead of Della. “Hey, do you have breakfast on the moon or some kind of morning meal? I’m pretty hungry” 

“Nutritional services will be provided Earther. We’re not artificial bodies. Moonlanders need food too.”  

The shortness of her answers struck Della's nerves “Hey hey, hey. I was just asking a question. No need to get so judgmental”  

Penumbra scowled. Much to the irritation of Della, the rest of their brisk walk was kept in silence. 

The hallway finished at an opening to a small dining hall. Several Moonlanders sat around a trapezoidal table. Some pairs or triads stood by the windowed wall overlooking the city. 

"Don't speak with any of them. You are to remain silent Earther. These are the Moonlander elites and one day I hope to join their ranks, so don’t blow it for me.” 

“You’re telling me you aren’t one of them. What about that robe you had on, and aren't you welcome up here too?”  

Della sensed a small cringe in Penumbra’s eyes. “My clearance in the dining hall is strictly linked to my partnership with Lunaris. As for the robe,” Penumbra took a pause to swallow. She adjusted her helmet. “it’s far more common then I made it out to be” 

Della’s first instinct was to ask for one but she refrained. “How long have you been partnered with Lunaris?” 

Penumbra didn't look back at Della. “Since my arrival at this sector, I’ve been assigned to him. I began 60 rotations ago. I was incredibly fortunate. He’s one of the most highly decorated of the elite." 

"What's giving me any clearance here then, if you are barely allowed in?" 

"Other than the elites themselves and their apprentices, romantic partners are allowed in," Della's body tensed slightly and her attention attuned more steadily to Penumbra's words. "Low-grade prisoners are also permitted when accompanied by their holder prior to a trial or even an execution," 

"You're labeling me a prisoner! What did I do? I saved the whole moon!" Della shouted. Nearly the entire room turned their heads

"Despite what Lunaris expects to happen, yes, I do consider you somewhat of a prisoner," she hissed through clenched teeth. "But go ahead, yell. You'll only make a more convincing case for your removal," 

A thought coursed through Della’s brain like an electric shock. She felt immediate action needed to be taken. Escape was necessary. She jumped up and she landed on the table nearby. Then she picked up what she imagined to be a full plate of breakfast, although equally fair guesses were an artwork or a floral centerpiece. She threw the plate into the crowd, they scattered across the room in chaos. Della continued her banquet assault with various drinks and utensils. Once the room was stirred up enough, Della squeezed through the crowd and made her way toward the door she and Penumbra had come through. Upon reaching the door, dark blue hand snatched her with a hard grasp around her wrist. It was Lunaris. Unlike Penumbra, his grip was cold and forceful yet masked by an acquired formality. Within seconds he had placed her into the position of a raging toddler. 

“Do not worry, the Earther simply misunderstood our morning customs," he stated calmly to the now relaxed crowd. "I can certainly imagine it's different for you on Earth. Nevertheless, disruption is disruption. Don't worry I'll assist our guest in her education in Lunar matters soon enough," He shifted his hold on her to look more natural, like a parent holding a child's hand across the street. 

He lead her off to a corner while the crowd reimbursed themselves back into their previous positions. Servants pick up after Della's mess. "I do hope you're aware that your desire to leave has been clearly heard. Your archaic technology does only require the usage of our gold. We should have all your rocket pieces transported into the city within a few cycles," 

"What about my trial?" Della said, defeated. 

He chuckled with the sting of hidden cruelty. "Did Penumbra tell you that? You mustn't believe a single word out of her mouth in regards to such things. Is she an excellent warrior? Of course. An impatient communicator? No doubt. Just give her and the rest of Lunarian society a chance and I'm sure you'll want to stay well, forever," He released her and she slinked off back into the crowd. When she turned back around Lunaris was gone. 

Penumbra stomped up to Della. "There you are prisoner, what were you thinking-" 

"Stop calling me that!" Della snapped. 

Penumbra backed up slightly. Her eyes shifted towards the floor. "I see. I'm sorry my plan failed Earther. It would've been lovely to see it happen." 

 "What plan?" Della said as she tucked some loose hairs behind her goggles. 

"Do you really think he intends to keep you free here? I've seen you as a worthy adversary since your defeat of the Moon Mite. I want you out of here as much as you want to get home. He wants a secret weapon," 

"A secret weapon, against who?" Della said in a near whisper. 

"The Earthers,"

Chapter Text

Clouds of dust trailed behind the car. Heat floated in waves down across the road, and the air stuck to the damp feathers of the driver. He slicked his hair back to stop the dripping curls from falling into his field of vision.  His precise concentration on the path ahead was futile, the last time they had seen another car or anything that could act vaguely as an obstacle had been a little over an hour ago. 

“Are you sure we’re not lost LP?”  Fenton said, who’s arms laid slack at his side, long exhausted from trying to use a hand-fan to cool things down. 

Launched responded intercut with gasps. “The GPS says we’re on route. 

“I usually don’t like to assume the worst in people but maybe this is a cruel joke-who am I kidding? They probably just made a mistake when they wrote down their address,”   

Riddled with more gasps Launchpad said; “Hey babe, look up ahead” He weakly pointed a finger ahead to a building. The exterior was pointed, a sharp, clean, cubist style. It was an industrial grey, which allowed the blooming cacti to show off their fresh additions. Pebbles with specks of pink were the lawn. There wasn’t a driveway or even a door. From this angle, the building appeared to not have an entrance. 

As much as it pained Launchpad to continue to drive after having felt like he has reached the destination, he drove on and circled the house. He had gone around twice when Fenton finally noticed a door. It was the same color as the rest of the building. They stretched their weary legs and made their way inside. 

A bored looking pig sat at the slab of stone standing in for a front desk. A suit of the same concrete color had wrapped itself in a tight fit around his body. Square glasses hung low across his nose. “Can I help you two?” The tone was consistent and unenthusiastic. His eyes slid upward at Launchpad. An exhausted towering figure. 

“We were invited here to... this place by Jane Rose. We apologize if we’re a little late. It’s a little hard to locate a place like this.” 

“There’s not a Jane Rose in this building. Did you mean-“ 

Launchpad snapped out of his sweaty daze. Words flew out of his mouth at a quick pace, "Yeah, yup, okay. We got it, sir. Totally, get it. Their apartment's this way, right?" 

"Yes, but I never finished saying their name." He responded. 

"Don't care," Launchpad shot out as he pushed Fenton down the hallway. 

"Launchpad, what are you doing?" 

"He was going to deadname them, babe. I was too afraid to say anything so I did what I did. I don't like those kinds of people, people who can't make an effort to do something good," 

Fenton nodded slowly. "I understand" 

They ended up at what they assumed was Jane Rose's door. It certainly checked their boxes. In the never-ending series of grey slabs, the door was a calming blip of mahogany wood with art deco designs carved into it. A strong enough deviation from the status quo of the building's design to fall into their aesthetic. 

Fenton knocked on the door. "Gosh, I hope we aren't too messy to spoil their willingness to invite us," The feathers slick from sweat and wet underarms said his hopes were far too optimistic.  

The door opened to a small lobby, a wood platform lead the way to another door. The floor beneath them had pebbles and plants. The walls were littered with button-sized spritzers. The two of them paused when they heard a faint click. The spritzers spun to life and sprayed a clear liquid as a fine mist into the air. Launchpad and Fenton felt a sharp cleanliness spread across their bodies. With another click, the mist stopped and the air blew out one side and was sucked through another. One last click opened the door at the opposite side of the room. 

Jane Rose stood in the doorway, a swan with a perfectly symmetrical bob haircut above octagonal glasses. They had on a single earring, which had the shape of a gold teardrop, although it lacked any printing. A turquoise tuxedo top tucked neatly into a matching pleated skirt adorned their body. "I hope you two don't plan on standing there. The cycle will repeat if the sensors scan anything after a two minute resting period, and I wouldn't want to waste the solution," 

Launchpad entered silently, still slightly in awe of the miraculously cleansing. Fenton expressed his amazement differently. "Mx. Rodwell, what kind of contraption did we just walk through? Some kind of cleaning device?" They sat down on some stools by the kitchen island. Launchpad immediately took to spinning on his seat.

Jane Rose chuckled softly. "Oh Mr. Crackshell-Cabrera, this is exactly why I wanted to meet up with you and your boyfriend. You both appear to have fascinating ways of thinking. Your outfits for the ball were my first indication. The sci-fi reimagining of a Grecian outfit and the nostalgic yet playfully new Darkwing Duck costume were such an interesting pair. I had an inkling it was something more complex beneath the surface. Anyways, to answer your question, it is a cleaning device. I mixed a little something together to clean dust and grime. I installed it in the walls in the lobby and the hallways. Frees up time for the maid and me to talk more. I'm helping design her house. She likes rock climbing but doesn't want a rock wall in her living room. How strange," 

"Maybe she wants to keep her hobby separate from her home life. Just wants to keep it casual, that sort of thing," Fenton said. 

"I suppose so. It's my job to give people what they want in their homes, but I can't seem to wrap my head around this favoring of homeliness over practicality."

 Launchpad took a pause from his spin. "Why don't you put the two of them together?" He resumed spinning. 

"I've got to be honest with the two of you. I also hoped you would help we try out something new I'm hoping to implement with my future designs. Something which would do just the combining you were talking about Launchpad. Back when I was consulted for a ski lodge in Switzerland I talked with an up and coming tech guru about a particular project she was working on. AI but on the nanometric level,"

"Nanotechnology, why that's brilliant. What was her approach? Simple AI for each of the microscopic components?" This was only one of many options floating through Fenton's mind.

"No, one AI mind reigning over the multitudes of nanobot bodies. Sort of a hive mind situation. She was going to collaborate with," Jane Rose rolled their eyes. ", Mark Beaks. It was going to be wasted in one of his phones. I told her I may not be able to supply her the same kind of financial bulk he would provide, but I would be able to give it the respect it deserves. She agreed and I've finally reached a testable model," Jane Rose unhooked their earring. Briefly, they held it in their hands, their thumb slid down the edge and slid a switch. An opening appeared in the body of the teardrop. Inside contained a pad for a fingerprint. Jane Rose placed their pointer finger on and an electronic jingle played from down the hall. "Come along you two," 

Launchpad and Fenton followed them. Fenton looked at his boyfriend to realize he was fiddling with his rust orange tie, twisting it between his thumb and index finger. "LP, what's wrong? Is everything alright?" 

“I’m still feeling a little, guilty about what happened at the front desk. I feel like I should tell them about it but also not. No need to bring in extra misfortune, right?” 

“You didn’t do anything wrong. There wasn’t much you could do LP.  Trust me, you did your best-it’s okay to have gotten nervous,” 

Launchpad drew himself closer to Fenton and leaned down for a small kiss.  He then paced himself forward to Jane Rose. “Mx. Rodwell, does the man at the front desk know you’re non-binary?” His hand had returned to his tie, twisting it back and forth. 

Upon hearing what Launchpad said, Jane Rose froze. “You didn’t say anything about it, did you?” 

 Launchpad shook his head quickly. 

Jane Rose emitted a sigh of relief. “He doesn’t know. No one here knows. They can’t know. Things aren’t like how they are in your state. Over here, I can get evicted for being non-binary. I’m glad you were concerned Launchpad, but we’ve got to be careful here,”  

“Gotcha Mx. Rodwell,” His tone was solemn.

“Let's stop worrying about that right now. That's the present, we're about to explore the future. Both of you are okay to stop with this ‘Mx. Rodwell’ thing. I’ve been casual with you and it’s okay if you do the same for me." Jane Rose opened the door. "This way gentlemen," They are waved inside. 

 The walls were cream colored and stark aside from the fine details of the wood grain texture. Alongside one wall, a painting of a cluster of un-bloomed flora in a patch of grass. Four pillows sat in a rectangular formation in the center of the room. The lights displayed the same feel of a coastal sunset. The blue light had been removed and replaced with a warming orange. 

Jane Rose began to speak as Launchpad and Fenton sat down. "They're called MELVIN. It stands for Mental Evaluating Linguistic Intelligent Nanodroid. The process is simple. One would take a seat on a connecting point, those are the pillows, and engage in meditation. That acts as a sort of loading stage. MELVIN is embedded in the walls and they'll emit a telepathic net over the users and initiate a short mental health session. MELVIN can conveniently be placed anywhere in the home, combined with the brevity of the sessions, it makes it incredibly easy to enjoy the benefits of a healthier mind. I've tested it on myself as well as several others before me. There are no known risks and the data of what happened during your session will not be kept, viewed, or examined in any way. I ask that you fill out surveys after the session is completed but that's the limit to what I want. If neither of you doesn't want to participate I'm ready to begin," 

Fenton squirmed seated on the pillow, "Launchpad isn't this exciting?" 

"Yeah, babe. I could go for a quick nap with some good vibes," 

Fenton struggled to his laughter and smile, "You always have something interesting to say, LP. I love you for that," 

"And I love you for being a cool science nerd. This'll be fun," 

"It seems like you're ready boys but I need clear, streamlined, consent to begin," 

"Yes, we're ready," Launchpad and Fenton said in unison. 

A gong sounded and chimes played, the sound originated somewhere in the walls. MELVIN began to speak. "Alright, begin to take several steady breaths in, and out. Focus on your body and mind as one cohesive and interconnected whole. Turn your attention to the painting on the wall. In your head, imagine them blooming fully into flowers. What kind of flowers are they? How many petals do you see? Are there leaves running along the side?" Fenton and Launchpad felt their eyelids grow heavy and they entered into a deep trance. 

***** 

 Colorful neon dots floated in and out of view within the expansive lavender void. Looking to his left, Launchpad could see Fenton floating in the same position he was seated in before. "Hello Launchpad McQuack, how are you feeling?" MELVIN asked. 

"Uh, pretty good you know. Just chilling with my boyfriend, Fenton. Also Jane Rose, you probably know them seeing as how you're being worked on by them. Fenton's a really smart guy, cute too. Like he's hot- "  

MELVIN chimed in. "Are you sure you are being completely honest? My system functions more efficiently when honesty is 100%," 

Launchpad looked around confused. "Not to be rude MELVIN but Fenton's a total babe, I was being not only honest but factual," 

"Indeed Mr. McQuack. However, I sense your current mood was not properly stated. Would you like to restate your answer?" 

"Well, I guess if I have to be completely honest. "I've been feeling sort of down lately. Like I'm leaning too far off the tracks to stay functional for too long. I have moments where I fall into a lull of feeling bad," 

"What are your thoughts when you feel bad?" 

"Gosh, I feel rotten, like I'm a bad person." 

"Why do you feel this to be true?"  

"I dated this guy once, Hank. He wasn't a good person, but the words he said felt right. When I connected them to my past, they worked even better"

"I have picked up on a particular weight to this topic. Would like the emotional aid of your romantic partner?" 

Launchpad looked over at the floating form of Fenton. "No," 

"Very well, let's continue," 

***** 

Fenton woke up, Launchpad was behind him. "Blathering blatherskites, this must be MELVIN's telepathic interface, fascinating," Fenton said this as he reached forward to touch one of the floating dots. The attempt was futile, it merely dissolved.

"You are correct. Hello Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera, how are you feeling?" 

 "I'm fine. It has been a wonderful experience getting to meet with Jane Rose and I'm excited to work with you MELVIN," 

"That's wonderful to hear Fenton. Is there anything else?" 

"Yes, I've been sort of worried about Launchpad. He hasn't been acting like himself lately," 

"Perfectly understandable Fenton. I can imagine he's discussing it thoroughly within his own session," 

Fenton tilted his head. " You can imagine he's discussing it? Wait, I'm confused MELVIN. Aren't you talking with him right now?"

 "Launchpad has made an explicit request to keep the contents of his sessions private. He has also opted out of a group approach at this time," 

Fenton shrank on his seat. "This is quite a predicament. I know being in a relationship so long means I should trust him, but it also means he should be able to trust me, right?" 

"While I cannot tell you to do anything, it is within my programming to suggest not jumping to the worst conclusion. Based off some light brain scans, your specific attraction to each other, as well as its longevity, reveals a connection not prone to such issues," 

Fenton rose up half-way. "You're right," He took a moment to run through his thoughts. "Can I bring up something else?" 

"Of course. It is my function to provide therapeutic assistance to you. Although not my Switzerland sector. They're learning how to cook local dishes with incredible accuracy," 

Fenton closed his eyes and took a heavy breath. "I'm not satisfied with my work. It's an absolute privilege to be part of the Spirit of Selene project but it's entered a dull stage. Not to mention, it's not even what I really want to do. I really want to be Gizmoduck again," 

"What's preventing you from achieving this goal Fenton?

"I had to give him up to Scrooge when the funding fell through. It would be incredible to help people again. Direct and personal, the world really needs that kind of hope right now. I get to use science to help people, it's perfect," 

"Have you considered maybe you could do Gizmoduck without the funding? You have a steady income now. It seems like a return to heroism is a real possibility,"  

"I guess I never thought of it that way. I didn't think I could do it alone," 

MELVIN interjected. "But Fenton, you won't do it alone. You've got Launchpad," 

"You're right thanks MELVIN!" Fenton grinned. 

"We've reached the end of this test session. It was nice getting to know you a little Fenton Crackshell Cabrera," 

"Likewise, it was nice meeting you MELVIN. I hope your learning goes well from here on out," 

The neon dots blinked in a way which expressed joy. A small rush whirled through Fenton from his chest to his head. It was as if a small pressure had been released.

*****

He opened his eyes and he was back in the meditation room.

Jane Rose approached him. They squatted next to him and held out a clipboard. "Feeling okay?" Fenton nodded, although his movements were slow with drowsiness. "Great. I know you're feeling a little sleepy but that should fade away in a few minutes. It's a minor potential side effect like having a headache after using a VR headset. I'll leave the survey here with you," 

Fenton began to fill out the survey while Jane Rose tapped away at their tablet. His became distracted and his eyes glided over to Launchpad, who was still in a meditative trance. 

Jane Rose picked up on Fenton's concern. "He's alright. I haven't woken him up yet. The session will end on its own soon anyway," With those words, Launchpad arose from his seat before lowering himself back down. His legs had wobbled under a light head. Fenton worked his way through his questions although part of his attention never left Launchpad. From the corner of his eye, he saw Jane Rose and Launchpad talking while Launchpad filled out his survey. Launchpad would say something and Jane Rose would follow it with a nod or a few words.

After Fenton circled his last response, Launchpad hugged Jane Rose. Fenton stood up and handed his clipboard back to Jane Rose. "Thanks for helping out Fenton. I've left out some refreshments in the kitchen. Launchpad's nearly done, he shouldn't take too much longer," 

Launchpad finished and the three of them spent another hour talking. Jane Rose insisted on designing their outfits for whatever happens to be their next special event. While their specialty was architecture, they found it satisfying to experiment in multiple varieties of design. Launchpad and Fenton agreed despite not knowing exactly when this would be happening. They said goodbye and left. 

***** 

Fenton climbed into his seat and Launchpad started the engine. He began the long trek through the desert. Beyond the faint whir of the air conditioning, it was silent. The temperature had cooled considerably since their arrival, but it still caused sweat to stick clothing to their bodies. “I bet you’re wondering what Jane Rose and I were talking about, aren’t you babe?” Launchpad said, breaking the silence. 

Fenton was taken aback. “Uh yes. I am. Although I really don’t need to know so if you don’t want to...” 

“I want to,” Launchpad’s smooth tone was relaxing. It assured Fenton everything would turn out okay. Launchpad kept his focus on the non-existent road. “ I asked Jane Rose if I could continue using MELVIN. I told them I would even keep on filling out surveys and everything. I don’t know babe but the way I felt talking in there, it was something else. It was like I could finally conquer some dark stuff. They said they would have to ask permission from the project chief but would be happy to do it if so,"

"I’m proud of you LP. It couldn't have been easy to talk about things, I'm glad it helped you,"  

"Thanks, babe. Even though I didn't have you in there with me, I still thought about having you near me. It was important to face it on my own, but I also needed the strength of you," 

"Wow, that's really touching. I never thought you would think of me in that kind of way," 

"Why not, you're Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera. Not to mention," Launchpad nudged Fenton and winked without any hint of subtlety ", you're Gizmoduck. I can't be the only one who looks to you for help sometimes,"  

"Yeah, I'm Gizmoduck," Fenton turned over each syllable in his head, contemplating exactly what they meant to him.

Chapter Text

The sun began its descent as the car passed through state limits, its light painted the lake in the marshes a watercolor display of reds and blues. Launchpad jumped in his seat which sent the car on a sharp swerve towards the lake. He twisted the car back on track. A few hate-fueled honks sounded from behind them. Launchpad opened his windows and shouted back his apologies. Once he was fully back inside he said with his trademark Launchpad enthusiasm, “Babe, there’s this sweet LGBTQ club right around here, an old friend of mine owns it. The Neon Narwhal, it’s pretty lit. I've wanted to bring you there since, gosh, the very beginning,” 

"We've passed by here before and you didn't bring it up," Fenton said, his eyebrows scrunched in puzzlement. 

"Sometimes things sort of just whoosh through my mind, you know that babe. To be fair though, it does offer itself to being a bit blurry in your memory, you'll see,"

“Uh, sounds like fun. Did you want to head over?” There was a slight hesitation to his voice, not for going, but still at what could be so confusing about the club.

“Yeah, we can wear what we’re wearing now, but I have some random party stuff in the trunk if you wanna jazz it up,”

"What’s the dress code? Or at least, what’s the general expectation? I don’t want to stand out in the crowd, not too much anyhow.”

“They’re pretty chill about that, people tend to wear whatever they want,"  

"Okay, I'm willing to check them out," 

Launchpad took an exit which leads to a side road alongside the forest trees. Passing up a small incline, they arrived at a luxurious log cabin, although " cabin" was likely an inappropriate way to refer to it. Such a label was more appropriate for the aesthetic rather than its size. The only thing tainting its facade were the towers of scaffolding it wore about its exterior. Despite it appearing to be in mid-construction, the booming sound of music and the flashing of multi-colored lights burst from inside and through the windows. They parked next to a cluster of other vehicles. Launchpad opened the trunk. "How about these?" 

Fenton peeked inside and pulled a bright pink, and clearly shedding pink boa. First, a small snicker trickled out, followed by a full-blown laugh. "I can't believe I'm going to wear this," 

"You don't have to, I'll even keep is casual to match you, babe." 

"No. This is what I want. If today started as a day of relaxation I'm keeping it that way. I'm going to become a master at relaxing," Fenton began to fish through the pile of clothes. "Now which of these are going to maximize how much fun we're going to have?" 

Launchpad got close to Fenton and reached over him, drawing him close into an embrace. He pointed to an item in the trunk. "How about this one?"

Fenton clenched his fist in satisfaction, "It's perfect," 

*****

The beat increased in ferocity building up to an intense electric scream. It dropped as Launchpad and Fenton stepped through the doors. Fenton stood proudly in front. A cow print hat with neon green spots adorned his head. Over his eyes, he had ladder glasses in the shape of "2002". The same pink boa was around his neck.  It was longer than expected having to be wrapped around several times while still dangling down to his torso. Every movement leads to a tiny shower of feathers. Launchpad's outfit was no less ridiculous. His hair was tied back into a ponytail by a glittery headband tied into a bow. The consistent olive green polo and rust tie combo experienced an exchange with a shirt tied back into a crop top. It had an image of thyme falling like confetti with balloons. The words "It's Party Thyme" were printed around the image in thick purple bubble letters.  

"Ready to get lit LP?" Fenton said as he sauntered further inside.  

"Heck yeah, I am! But you can see what I mean, about it being hard to be solidified in your mind?" He motioned towards the center of the room, as well as several walls. They, as well as most of the second-floor interior balcony, contained traces of construction. Just as outside, scaffolding was present. "They're always changing up the theme. Last time I was here it had been gothic themed. They're both incredibly dedicated, especially Clyde. She's the girl I dated," 

The lights shut off and the music was silenced. Gasps slipped through before they too faded away. A single spotlight showed itself over-looking the center platform. Two women stood side by side. One was a skua, her blonde hair tied up in a bun beneath a hot pink hard hat. Her outfit consisted of an equally glaring hot pink safety vest with a matching skirt. Her partner was a malkhoa. The outfit she wore was the same in all but color, which was a dark red-orange in complexion. 

"Hey, it's ya girls Clyde," she shouted.

"And Thelma." The malkhoa spoke softer than Clyde, although however paradoxically it seemed, with equal enthusiasm. 

'We know it seems like the party just started, but if you're a regular here, y'all already know what's going down tonight. Every year my girl Thelma and I invite anyone who’s shaken their tail feathers, or sometimes fur if you’re Beatrice, with the flying ball of kindness and excitement-Launchpad McQuack. It’s Ex-Jet Night 2019!” From across the room came bursts of applause and cheering.  

Fenton looked over at Launchpad, whose face could only be described as dumbfounded. “Wait here, I’ve got to go talk to her,” Launchpad said before he burst away towards Clyde and Thelma. Fenton stares as they descended the stairs and arrived at an eager and excited Launchpad. Clyde went in for a hug and Launchpad twirled her through the air. The scene was cut short for Fenton as he felt a tap on his shoulder. 

A whole biker gang stood behind him. A parrot with a scar over their eye was in the front, the apparent leader. Their leather jacket had a splattering of patches. One of them said, "To misgender is to get dismembered,"

“You new here?” They asked. 

Fenton swallowed. “Uh, yes. It’s my first time here. My name's Fenton. I'm a little nervous as one might expect in being in a new environment, but I’m ready to have some fun,” 

They chuckled. “I remember my first time here. I was still reeling from the moment I made that choice. I don’t regret it but it sure was difficult. The name’s Scarlet, pronouns are he and they, and I’m the head of the Quixotic Queers. We're always on the lookout for Ex-Jet Night, to welcome anyone new. There's always at least someone new. Look's like that someone is you,"  

Fenton blushed. "Oh, no. I'm not. I'm still dating Launchpad. He didn't even know this was happening, he brought me along, and here I am," Fenton pointed at himself with his hands and shrugged. 

"Why don't you come sit down? And hey, what are your pronouns?" They sat down along with some other Quixotic Queers at a table. 

"They're he and him," 

Scarlet's eyes widened when he noticed Fenton glancing about nervously. They had a sudden realization this event might be making Fenton feel a little insecure, to say the least. "Listen here, buddy. It may look like this is all a testament to the brevity of your relationship, but I've to quite a number of these and let me tell you something. Most nearly every person here has instigated the break-up with Launchpad themselves. We've all become better people because of him,"  

"Uh, thanks," Fenton managed to let some semblance of words escape his mouth. Fenton's eyes briefly trailed across the room and he noticed the fair number of people still here. "Is everyone here?" 

"No. Launchpad travels a lot, I'm sure you know this. Not everyone can travel all the way over here. Sometimes we set up a video chat, the connection's always shoddy though. Also, we don't invite someone. He's an absolute dick, hurt Launchpad real bad," 

"Hank" Fenton scowled. "Yeah, he's a piece of work. But hey, I keyed up his car once!" 

Scarlet's face lit up. "You did? Why I can hardly...How? Why-never mind I know why? But how?" They continued to wait for their answer in both delight and confusion. 

"Well, Launchpad was-" Fenton stopped himself. Perhaps he could show off a little. Have some fun. "Let's just say I was doing my civic duty," He winked. 

Scarlet was only partially less confused than before. "Hey man, if you ever want a space in the Quixotic Queers, then we'll have a bike waiting. The jacket has to be fitted so we can't have that waiting," 

"I'm flattered, Scarlet. Although I have never been too skilled with motorbikes. I might be a liability," 

Scarlet punched Fenton's arm playfully, although the force of it sent Fenton against the back of his seat. "If you can stand up to Hank without worrying about being sued to rags and dirt then you better bet you won't be a liability," 

Fenton could only smile. 

"It was nice meeting you Fenton, but we can't hang around here the whole night. I hope it won't be our last time talking," Scarlet gave a soft two-fingered salute. The Quixotic Queers all got up and dispersed throughout the room. 

Fenton waited an awkward second before getting up from his chair. He wandered around. Despite the small high from Scarlet's compliment, his solidarity gave way to feelings of self-conscious concern over his attire. Maybe it was too goofy to be seen as ironic. Maybe he looked like a fool.

He found himself closer to the DJ booth. Fenton started to dance. He swayed and shook his body to the deeply rooted beat. The negativity of his thoughts faded with each note of the song. From the corner of his eye, he saw a particular dancer moving with fervent vigor. The lapwing noticed Fenton's stare and effortlessly slid themselves across the dancefloor until they reached him.

"So I noticed you staring at me-Fenton! Is that you?" she said. Her body froze in the middle of a dance move. 

"Yeah, it's me. Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera," He rubbed his arm and avoided eye contact. 

"It's me, Beatrice. The barista from Starducks. You know, the one who knows your little secret," 

Fenton jumped back a few inches. "Your name is Beatrice! You're her! Gosh, I'm sorry I didn't remember your name. Guess I should've been better seeing as how I'm Duckburg's hero," 

Beatrice had since regained her composure. "Nah, it's okay. We only saw each other every couple of days," she mocked. "Other than that, how's the superhero biz going for you? With all the extra caffeine I've had to put in your coffee you must be pretty busy," 

"Well, actually I haven't been Gizmoduck for months now. You probably heard I was part of the McDuck rocket project, but that was the end of Gizmoduck for me,"

Beatrice's face twisted in disappointment. "What do you mean? You stopped being Gizmoduck because of a job. I thought Gizmoduck's whole spiel was valuing justice and protecting citizens," 

Fenton raised his hands up in defense. "It is, but I was forced to stop. Gizmoduck was being backed by Scrooge and he had to cut funds to get the budget for the rocket. I haven't been him since," 

 "I see. Do you want to get back into being him?" 

"Yes. Absolutely. But I can't it would be too expensive. The power source Gizmoduck runs on is the biggest expense," 

“But you’re a scientist. Why don’t you start looking into creating an alternative energy source,” 

Fenton’s eyes glowed. “You’re brilliant Beatrice. Thank you so much for thinking of that. What do you do beyond being a barista? Any hobbies? Do you dance?” 

“Are you talking about how I was dancing just now? Nah, my real interest is in photography. I even brought my camera with me. I was trying to burn off some energy. The full moon is coming up in a few days. I’m starting to get restless,” 

“I can’t say I’m following, Beatrice”

“This is a safe space, but even if it wasn’t I know your secret so I imagine I can trust you with mine. I’m afflicted with lycanthropy. I don’t fully lose it but I tend to let social norms fly through the wind when I’m turned,” 

“I’m sorry to hear that,”  

“No. Don’t be. It’s nothing more than, at worst, cringe-filled memories the next day. And that’s when I’m not being careful with preparation. Launchpad was always real sweet about it. He would,” laughter escaped her beak. “, he would sometimes do what I did so I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed on my own. Wait, when did you date Launchpad?” 

“Oh, we’re still dating.” 

“Nice. He’s good, isn’t he? At everything?” She nudged him slightly. 

Fenton blushed. “Yeah,” He squeaked out. A flash came from Beatrice’s direction. Once he could see clearly he saw her holding her camera. 

“I just had to. The moment was too raw not to capture. Don’t worry I’ll delete it if you don’t want me to have it.” She leaned the screen towards him. For something taken without notice, Fenton had a complimentary pose and overall appeared photogenic.  

"You should keep it, it looks great. Just don't have me look at it again," 

"Totally get it, maybe I'll slip it in with your next double espresso. You might change your mind, you never know," Fenton couldn't tell if she was joking or was being completely serious.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a business card for your photography or even something from Starducks?

Beatrice rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to be such a nerd about it. Just ask for my number,” 

Fenton swallowed, "I do want your number, but not in that way. Women aren't really my type, in that way. Gosh, I'm sorry Beatrice. I'm making this weird," He masked his eyes with his hands. 

"I wasn't into you that way, so cool. Here give me your phone and I'll put it in." Fenton only had it out for a few seconds, long enough to get to the contacts before she took it from his hands. In the same amount of time, she had it back in his hands. "There you go. It was cool talking to you, especially about the whole werewolf thing. Everyone here already knows about it so it's not that fun to bring it up," 

"It was cool. I guess I'll see you around. Maybe in Starducks?" 

"Oh, no. You definitely won't see me there again, at least as an employee. I got fired. Turns out it's against corporate regulations to create your own drink mixes," 

"Well, I've got your number so there's that." 

"I'm going to keep dancing cause my body is rushing with adrenaline. Also, it looks like your boyfriend wants to see you so I'll let you two talk," 

Fenton spun around to see Launchpad frantically waving from a distant table. Clyde and Thelma stood beside him. "Bye Beatrice," he said before he made his way toward Launchpad.

He made his way there at a decent pace but had been stopped partway by a multicolor cloud of energy. He walked straight into their vaporous form. "Excuse me," they said. "Please be more careful walking around," 

"I'm sorry," Fenton continued his walk with a quicker pace. 

"Babe, this is Clyde, and this is Thelma," Launchpad announced with pride. 

Clyde stepped forward and firmly shook Fenton's hand. "It's like really pleasant to get to meet you. Launchpad's told me all about you,"  Thelma also took the time to shake his hand although she said nothing and instead raised her hand in a peace sign. Fenton raised one in return. Sometimes it's okay to not speak. Clyde laughed. "Launchpad was totally right, you're like super smart," Her tongue tripped over every "like" which left her mouth in embarrassment. "Do you like it here?" 

"I love it here, it's been great meeting new people. Despite the construction, the atmosphere is great," 

Clyde nodded slowly throughout Fenton's opinion as if carefully engraining it into her mind. 

"Launchpad told me you two are always creating amazing themes for the club. I have to say I'm excited to see what you do next,"  

Instead of relief or joy at Fenton’s comment, Clyde devolved into a panic. “Oh God, Thelma. That’s like exactly 48% of surveyed patrons who aren’t falling for the pseudo construction theme. Hopefully, this won’t mean like a decrease in attendance.” Her breathing became more hectic and uneven.

Thelma ended her still silence and began to massage Clyde’s shoulders. “Shh. It’s alright. We’ve had construction for two weeks and people keep on coming back it’s okay. It’s okay,” Thelma whispered with soothing tones.

Clyde rubbed her temples. "Thank you, Thelma, love you, honey." She directed herself at Fenton. "It's been like intense having to keep things afloat while construction is happening. Things aren't like how they used to be, we have to be like careful. Thelma and I are totally hoping this new theme will be more like permanent, but until then we've got to sell this as its own theme," 

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend. Especially because you put so much effort into this, including your outfits," 

"It's fine Fenton. I like should've known. No matter how cute Thelma made these outfits, there's like no way this was going to work. Here, let me run by our new theme idea," Launchpad seemed especially excited at Fenton getting to hear it, he fidgeted with every single word of Clyde's. "So our new theme is... AquaRobotica. So it's like an aquarium concept but instead of using real creatures we use robotics and AI to replicate them. It's a way to achieve like our desired aesthetic while also not having to, and probably failing at, taking care of the creatures,"

As Launchpad had expected, Fenton lit up almost instantly. "A sustainable aquarium theme! Aquariums are one of my absolute favorite things. Yes, I love the idea. I definitely approve," He covered his beak with a balled up hand. "Okay, I've got to say even from a more unbiased stance, it's still solid. It's just original enough of a twist on a familiar idea it won't phase out so quickly," 

Clyde allowed herself to be more at ease. "It's like a relief to have our thoughts validated. I'm glad you're excited, I'm guessing I'll be seeing both of you back when we're finished?" 

Fenton nodded eagerly. "Certainly," 

Thelma scanned over Fenton before she whispered to Clyde. "Now that would be a funny story to tell, Thelma." Clyde straightened her posture and turned her attention back to the pair. "Thelma thinks it would be nice to have me tell Fenton of when I dated Launchpad. I  had to resort to like being seen as a cheerleader to gain respect at the community college. They had trouble like accepting me. I don't exactly have a, you know, professional way of speaking, but my grades should have been enough. Apparently, they weren't. Launchpad was the only one to see through all of that. He was so protective of me, like always there to hang out, I think he was a great kisser. I'm not sure, you'll have to confirm that. Turns out I was in like a denial. Launchpad was perfect in every way except for the fact he's a man. He helped me realize I like women. Even introduced me to like the perfect lady for me, Thelma," Clyde leaned in to cuddle Thelma. They kissed. 

"So Launchpad, you never told me you were a part of a biker gang," Fenton teased. 

"I may have dated Scarlet, but I never joined officially. He gave me a jacket and bike while we dated. Lost both in a crash while trying to drive through a ring of fire," 

Fenton shrugged, "Makes sense. Hey, we still should have some time left. And I'm sure you haven't danced yet. Want to?" 

"Oh, boy do I!" Launchpad said as he took Fenton by the hand and swung him over to the dance floor. Their dance lasted late into the night. 

Chapter Text

The stiff stalks of pasta slid and crackled as they fell into the boiling, steaming water. At a speed faster than usual, Launchpad stirred them with rhythmic flair. His feet tapped the garage floor in uneven beats. Fenton reclined on the couch, he scrolled through the channels until he arrived at Darkwing Duck. The iconic theme music got Launchpad's attention. "Is that Darkwing Duck?" he asked already having known the answer. 

"Yeah, but it's that one, from season 7b," Fenton's fingers still lightly hovered over the buttons. 

Launchpad clicked his tongue. "Oh, I guess we'll have to find something on Talonflix. Aren't they supposed to add the first four seasons on there?" He wiped his brow and adjusted his midnight purple scrunchie.

"That's not until October," Fenton sighed. He flicked the channels around again and settled on Ottoman Empire, he intended it to be nothing but background noise. "So, do you remember what we talked about on the way back from Jane Rose's place?" His fingers slid the remote's backing back and forth. 

Launchpad paused his stirring. "Uh, something about MELVIN. I didn't tell you what I talked about, but... I know. I told you-you were my inspiration during my session. There was something else, nope that was it," He continued his cooking as if nothing had happened. 

"You also mentioned Gizmoduck, and it kind of got me thinking. What if I were to try getting back into it. I loved being Gizmoduck and it’s one of the few ways I feel I can make a difference,” 

Fenton's announcement caused Launchpad to fly into a frenzy. "Oh, do you really mean it, babe? Gizmoduck is such a good role model for the citizens of Duckburg. And my second favorite superhero. And you're him! And-wait a minute. Doesn't Mr. McDee own the suit now or something?" 

"Do you really mean it LP?" Fenton shook himself from the joy. "The Money Bin as a collective owns the rights to the suit, not just Scrooge, and there are the expenses of the suit's upkeep," 

"So, are you going to be Gizmoduck again or not? I'm confused," 

"No, but the superhero I'll be will resemble Gizmoduck well enough they'll nearly be incomparable," 

"So, like a ripoff Gizmoduck?"

"But, imagine if the ripoff was better. He'll have a stronger engine capability, new gadgets and... gizmos-" Fenton found himself interrupted by a knock at the door. He opened to find Ms. Beakley. Her hands held a stack of mail. 

"I've got Launchpad's mail," Fenton gingerly took the mail from her hands. “Also Fenton, would you be so kind as to tell your mother the GSA meeting has been relocated to the gazebo in the southern gardens? I’ll be deep cleaning the original meeting room and I don’t want the children scampering about with the room all rearranged,” 

“I’ll text her about it right now, Ms. Beakley,” Fenton sent the text right in front of her for extra confirmation. 

“Thank you and goodbye,” After a quick wave to Launchpad she closed the door and went back inside the halls of McDuck Manor. Fenton places the pile on a side table by the kitchen corner. 

The oven clicked closed and Launchpad grabbed his mail before sitting down next to Fenton. He initially ignored everything but an orange bubble wrap package. “This must be it!” He nearly tore it directly into two with the excitement fueled strength in his hands. He reached in and extracted what resembled a portable CD player, although it had a wood grain design. A pair of headphones were attached. “It’s MELVIN! Jane Rose was finally able to send it. I better remind myself to write a thank you note to them.” 

“Can I see it?”  

“Yeah, totally, babe.” Fenton examined it closer as Launchpad continued. “It’s an alpha version of the portable product. I’m so excited. Imagine what good this could do. Think of the people who would benefit from having a MELVIN. Man, those kids in the GSA, I’m sure they would appreciate it. Maybe I can try incorporating it into the meetings,”  

“I’m happy for you. This will really be helpful, won’t it?” 

“You betcha.” He exhaled. “It’s going to turn things around, you know? On the inside. Whatever damage Hank did won’t be able to hurt me for much longer,” 

Fenton found himself at a loss for words. Although deep inside he knew words weren’t needed for this moment. He rubbed Launchpad’s arms and leaned into him. 

Launchpad reciprocated by leaning his head down to touch Fenton’s. He flipped through the other pieces of mail. Most were coupons, but a postcard found it’s way into the mix as well. The picture side had a city skyline, darkened completely except for neon lights. The central skyscraper had its individual windows lit up. "Come visit Macaw!" it said. He squinted and turned over the card. A gasp escaped his beak. His sudden movement sent Fenton aside against the couch cushion.  "Sorry babe!" he babbled in a way that was barely comprehensible.

“What?” Fenton asked, with concern deep in his tone. 

Launchpad only continued to make incomprehensible noises. He showed the address to Fenton. At the top row was the surname Kǒngquè. An advertising company's logo was in the corner. Launchpad flipped it back over and pointed to the central tower. 

“I still don’t understand Launchpad!” 

Finally, Launchpad was able to throw together some speech. “ Morse code....in danger, S.O.S... Ziyi!” 

“Wait, it’s from Ziyi. And she’s in danger. How do you know?” 

“The skyscraper, it’s lighting, they’re in the order of creating the code for S.O.S. My Dad taught me as a boy. We’ve got to get to Macaw, ASAP babe,”  

***** 

The Sunchaser didn’t feel as comfortable as it usually felt to Fenton. Something about the way the seats were as tense as Launchpad's unusual posture, or the air being thick with the same tension. Every so often he would take another glance up towards his boyfriend next to him. It was always the same sight. Launchpad would have his vision focused solely on the dials, screens and what lay onwards.   

Fenton made an attempt to break the silence. “At least you know she’s okay. She was able to send you the postcard. That has to account for something,” 

“What if it was her last chance, her last resort? She could be in more danger than ever before,” 

“We can’t assume the worst. It would be bad for everyone if we got into a panic. I know you’re scared for her, but I’m here. We have to both be alert,”  

Launchpad produced a sorrow drowned chuckle, “Scared, more like absolutely terrified. Having her be in danger, you understand that would be like if you were in danger. If I lost her I just don’t know what I would do,” His grip on the wheel tightened. 

All Fenton could muster up now in support was the warming comfort of bodily contact.  He outstretched an arm to reach out to Launchpad’s arm. Launchpad gave no indication to Fenton as to whether or not it changed anything. His face, however, which was out of Fenton's sight, gave off a slight warm glow.

 *****

Day turned to night and the restless skyline of Macaw appeared through darkened clouds. The neon signs cut through the darkness. Fenton was asleep although his body was blanketed in Launchpad’s jacket. Bags of desperation hung from beneath Launchpad’s eyes. The Sunchaser tilted back and forth precariously on it’s landing on the black water. Fenton was shaken awake by the movements. 

“We’re here," Launchpad said flatly. Fenton lifted the jacket, realizing what had been covering him through his dreamless sleep. He handed it back to Launchpad and didn't bother to make eye contact. He simply headed for the plane's exit. A hand grabbed his shoulder. "Thank you, babe,"  

"You're welcome," Fenton said. The two of them walked out onto the candy-colored street of the shopping district of Macaw. The neon's intensity had increased in the stormy weather. Launchpad took out the postcard and scanned the address. It was nearby. They continued their stroll, both kept a keen eye out for the address. Launchpad couldn't help but notice a decrepit and empty lot where The Prosperous Koi, and therefore The Ping Dragon, once stood.  Something had happened.

Fenton drew himself closer to Launchpad and offered as much comfort as he could. He had a feeling if they got too close things could get dangerous, and not in a fun way. "Why don't we ask for directions?" Without intention, it came out in a near whisper. 

"No!" Launchpad hissed. "We can't let anyone know where we're going directly. What if it's out of the way and we lead them straight to her? We just can't," 

"Well at least let me refamiliarize myself with the address again. I want to at least be helpful," Launchpad lowered the postcard to Fenton's eyes. He scanned it quickly and began a thorough search. As they got deeper into the region, the buildings grew taller and the crowds more suffocating.  

They held hands and hoped the thickness of the masses would be enough to avoid provoking unwanted attention. It was Launchpad who noticed the address. The building matched all the other's in its style, nondescript and industrial. They had left behind the more creative architecture behind them.  

They stepped into the lobby and scanned the directory for her name. The address had given no indication of a room number. They found nothing. "Do we ask the concierge?" Fenton asked.  

Launchpad looked slowly over his shoulder. A sheep brushed their pompadour while they scrolled on their phone. A complete look of disinterest was on their face. "I think it'll be safe. At least I hope it'll be," 

Fenton led their way to the front desk, Launchpad was in no condition to speak. "Uh, hello? We were just wondering if you could direct us to where we could find a Mr. Kǒngquè. We're new here in town and they asked us to meet them?" 

The sheep rolled their eyes, but hey never fully left the screen. "I'm going to need a form of valid ID before I tell you anything, it's the policy," 

Fenton reached into his wallet and slid it across to the sheep. They did nothing to scan it, but instead took it and checked it against a memo pad scribbled with names. "Alright, Mr. Kǒngquè can be found on the eighth business floor. I'll unlock the button on the elevator for you," 

With the elevator button unlocked they were on their way up. Launchpad had his hands around his tie. Picking at the end of it. Fenton put his hand over Launchpad's hand. "We're going to be in a public space. It'll be safer," 

"Maybe in Duckburg, but not in Macaw. Nowhere stays safe for long here," The elevator doors slid open. The floor was an office space. Outside they could see the rain had begun to fall. The skies were darker than when they had arrived.  Lightning flashed and illuminated someone's watch as they were at the water cooler. A peahen in a maroon suit. Her trail was gone. Fenton could do nothing to stop Launchpad as he ran across the office floor. 

Ziyi turned towards the sound. "Launchpad!" she shouted. A few heads popped out from over cubicle walls. Her eyes widened in terror. She quickly deepened her voice to a squeakier, but more traditionally masculine tone. "Hey, how are you doing there, eh, bro? Long time no see, amirite?" 

Fenton stared. There was no way anyone believed her. But, they did and returned to whatever they were doing. Launchpad squished Ziyi in a hug and added a few bro taps as a precautionary measure. 

Ziyi pulled back slightly. " I can't believe you're here. I mean I can, but I-" She gave up and retreated back into her hug. Her eyes welled with tears. A bright femininity shone through, no matter how hard she tried, when she was happiest, she was her truest. Ziyi left the hug. "Launchpad," She finally noticed Fenton, ", and you, why don't you both come with me to my office," 

Fenton scurried to catch up with the pair. She took them in, closed the door, and lowered the blinds. They were directed to sit by Ziyi as she took a seat at her desk. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you-" Ziyi raised a finger to her lips. She clicked on the radio and turned the dial-up in a near full circle. She motioned for Fenton to continue. "My name's Fenton Crackshell-Cabrera. I'm Launchpad's boyfriend. He's told me a little about you," 

"Oh, has he?" she laughed. 

"Your trail, it's gone, and your voice," Launchpad said. 

She twirled around. "I know. It's cool, right? A local celebrity removed his for a stunt and I decided the shame of following a trend was worth it. I also started HRT about a year ago. Had to disguise my voice and dye my feathers occasionally," 

"I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you for those things. I'm sure it was difficult," 

"Launchpad, don't feel sorry. You couldn't have been there, and a girl has got to be tough to survive Macaw," She reached out and held his hand across the desk. He grasped it in return. Ziyi snapped herself out of the moment. "I'm sure you and Fenton are wondering why I need help," 

"We've been worried about you Ziyi," Fenton said. 

"So you know what happened last time Launchpad was here?" 

"Yes, Launchpad told me," 

"Well, after that went down, as expected, the police raided the Ping Dragon. We thought we were going to have to disperse again. I refused to accept that, and so did a few others. We started P.O.L.A.R.I. People of Love Against Radical Ignorance. A connected network would keep our community strong, it gave us a way to fight back. But someone's infiltrated it. Our meeting places and safe spots are being exposed at faster and faster rates. There's a mole, and I felt like I couldn't do it alone. It was safe enough to contact you, but I also need you two to help me keep it that way,"

"What are we supposed to do?" Fenton asked. 

"Right now, I need the two of you to wait at Claire's. Launchpad, you know where that is. My shift is nearly over. I'll finalize some ads and be right out," 

Ziyi opened the door and Fenton stepped out. Launchpad nearly followed but he froze. "Ziyi, do we know what happened to him?

She rubbed her temple and delicately pointed at a cubicle across from her office. On its exterior wall was one of the preview ads the company had created.

In bold letters, it read: Drew Demoiselle for Chief Executive 2020.

Chapter Text

"Oh look, it's Launchpad. What a joy this is," Claire said with her voice ripe with sarcasm. Launchpad had his face pressed up against the counter glass as he stared at the sugared goods behind it. 

Fenton stood back, clearly embarrassed, although the time he had spent with his boyfriend had mostly numbed the pain of these kinds of moments. It was more playful and heartening than cringe-inducing. "Anything you want there, LP?" He made eye contact with Claire and could only shrug in response. "Actually, are you sure now's really the time for this? You seemed pretty worried about it a few minutes ago," 

"Which is why I need candy. Things are getting pretty serious, babe. Keeping myself on edge with sugar is the perfect solution." He rose up to Claire. "I'll have some of those choco nibs." He slapped some money on the counter with enthusiasm as Claire bagged the nibs with an equal amount of apathy. Fenton and Launchpad sat together at a table, with a seat left open for Ziyi. "She's cool, isn't she? It's been too long since I've seen her, babe. I wish it didn't have to be like this to see her though," He already had the bag open and a small handful in his mouth. 

"She's coming back with us to Duckburg, right? We haven't had much of a chance to talk. Gosh, I hope she likes me. What if she ends up hating me?" 

Launchpad stopped chewing on his anxiety-fueled snack. "Fenton, babe, she's not going to hate you. She doesn't know you yet. It'll happen. As for her coming back..." His voice trailed off. 

The door's bell jingled and Ziyi stepped inside. "Hey ruffles," she said as she leaned down to kiss Launchpad. "Hey Fenton," she added. Fenton gave a humble wave. "They weren't too much trouble for you Claire?" She teased.

"One of them wasn't." Claire was in the middle of wiping down the counter. 

"Are you two ready to go?" Fenton and Launchpad nodded, Launchpad's mouth was full of nibs. "Alright, good evening Claire," She then added with a more serious tone, "Be safe," 

***** 

The lights flickered on. The sound of the rain could be heard easily beyond the thin walls. "I know it's a little small, but it'll make do. The couch is a pullout and it wouldn't be the first time I've napped in the bathtub." There was no doubt Ziyi's apartment was well-kept, but the low-quality of the apartment also bared its face. "I have a roommate, he knows what's up so you don't have to hide anything. If he ever gets home from the bar." 

Launchpad hopped up onto the couch. "I guess I'll take the bathroom," Fenton said. 

Ziyi clicked her tongue disapprovingly, "Nonsense, you're a guest. I won't have it. You're going to have my bed," 

The TV buzzed on. "Hey, Darkwing Duck is on. They remade it in Macaw, cool," 

Fenton and Ziyi looked at each other and laughed. "That's Launchpad," they said to each other. 

Launchpad sat in the middle, with Fenton and Ziyi on either side. Coincidentally, this is also how they fell asleep. 

***** 

Fenton awoke to the sound of singing. The sun had yet to rise and he was still beside Launchpad in the darkness. It was Ziyi from behind the bathroom door. A sliver of light escaped from the bottom. Her voice traveled up and down in repeating scales. When she reached her deepest she loops back again although slightly lower from where she had been last. She was prepping her voice to fall into more masculine tones with ease. Fenton was still as he listened to the haunting, but beautiful sound of Ziyi attempting to survive within a bigoted world.

It was an experience he knew as well. The time spent as a child trying to adjust how he spoke, being told it was too “effeminate”, and that no one would take his science seriously if he didn’t stop with the “sassy girly tone.” The moments he spent crying in his mama’s lap, wishing he was different, only to get the one answer he valued most of all, he didn’t need to change a bit. The scenario for Ziyi was vastly different, death was an option, and Fenton knew this. The worst he had to face had a weak enough durability to dissolve as he hugged his mother.

In the morning they rushed out of the house without even eating breakfast, much to Launchpad's dismay. Ziyi told him there would be food at the P.O.L.A.R.I. meeting and this seemed to settle the issue. On the subway, the three of them sat in silence. Ziyi got a few nasty looks, but Launchpad acted as a buffer. In his contemplation, Fenton replayed what he had overheard in the morning. 

"Something on your mind Fenton?" Ziyi asked. 

Fenton looked over to Ziyi. "Oh, it's nothing, just drifting off," 

Ziyi's face gave off a slight contortion in doubt but said nothing. 

The ride continued and they arrived at Downtown Macaw. It was the area where the residential and commercial districts touched. From there they snuck down an alleyway between a row of houses and a wall separating them from some casinos. "Just push that dumpster over to the edge of the wall and then we can make it over," The three of them came to the door of a warehouse masked in the shadow of a giant lotus flower. Its petals were closed up and the led lights that dotted it were off. Ziyi knocked on the door. A slider opened up to darkness. "Pescetto" she announced. The slider closed and the door opened fully.  Before they entered, Ziyi took Fenton and Launchpad aside. "Pay attention, whoever's involved, I swear they're here,"

Inside housed a variety of out of commission casino games. Some had the paint worn down and others had their screens smashed in. A long foldable table had been set up in the center. Boxes of bagels were scattered about. At the head sat a Xiasi Quan dog. Her outfit was a pristine lavender dress. Directly to her left sat a flamingo in a tweed jacket. His hair had been slicked back heavily in gel, giving it a plastic presentation. "Welcome Ziyi, did you finish those ads?" 

"Yes, Lucy. I had them done before I left work yesterday," 

Lucy clasped her hands together. "Excellent," 

Ziyi turned to her two foreign guests as they sat down. "P.O.L.A.R.I uses the ads I make to send messages within our group. I input secret messages," 

"Like the postcard, you sent me," Launchpad said, already he had some bagels piled up in the crook of his arm. 

"Exactly," 

Fenton's head shot up. "Wait, maybe that's how the information is being leaked. Someone on the outside is decoding the messages." 

"Smart thinking Fenton, but that's exactly what we thought when this began. We changed tactics and got the same results," Ziyi switched to a whisper "It's someone higher up," 

"Let's begin today's meeting of P.O.L.A.R.I shall we. Húli Wei, you'll be keeping the minutes. Our first topic of discussion is the recent uptake in Demoiselle's popularity and its link to the uptick in hate crimes. 

The flamingo beside her cleared his throat. "I think there's only one solution my fine feathered and non-feathered friends. We plan a public demonstration. Something to show them we mean business," He straightened his bowtie with a quick smug movement.

“Francis, that’s insane. We would expose everything. Think of the lives we’d put in danger for such a stunt,” A rabbit shouted from across the table.

“We’re already exposed. There’s a mole that’s been exposing our locations. Trust me, it is worked for America. Ever hear of Stonewall-no one died there. It may have been a tumultuous process but they got somewhere better. Far better than where we are today,” 

A few at the table grumbled in agreement, which included the fox keeping the minutes.

Lucy rolled her eyes. "Enough. The entire notion is ridiculous and I refuse to present it as anything but. I push forward the idea that P.O.L.A.R.I continues as an organization which provides resources and safe housing for the LGBT+ community of Macaw and nothing more until we deal with the issue at hand," 

"Lucy's right, people may not have died at Stonewall but there were quite a few killed afterward. Increasing the exposure on the at-risk in our community would only lead to more violence,"

 "Fine, despite how I've acted in the past I'll show you I can compromise. We'll have a publicly sanctioned event and use subtle methods to show support. We'll provide subtext which will enlighten our people," More council members stirred in their seats, intrigued at the notion. 

"Oh, so like a play?" Launchpad burst out from his seat. 

Francis threw his hands up in the air with passion. "Exactly you stylish dressed gentleman. And, to really show it to him, we'll have it at the Demoiselle Theater. It'll be right underneath his nose, it's poetic justice if I've ever seen it," 

A smile slowly curved from Lucy's lips. "If we insist on positing this as something legitimate then let's hold a vote. All in favor of Rosewood's play or musical spectacular what-not, raise your hand," Over half the room raised their hands. Lucy's expression now lacked a smile. "All opposed, raise your hand," Lucy, Ziyi, the rabbit, and a few others raised their hands despite the result of the vote being obvious from the start. "It's settled then, P.O.L.A.R.I will mask itself as some other organization to enact this absurd event. This, however, does not and will not excuse anyone from reporting to their shifts at our various retreat houses. The danger doesn't stop because of some play," Lucy quickly excused everyone and ended the meeting. Before she left, she told Ziyi to keep a close eye on Francis. She took extra care to spit at the mention of his name.

The trio stayed behind as some of the other council members drizzled out. If everyone left at once, even if through different exits it would draw suspicion.  

"Lucy doesn't seem happy with the choice," Fenton said.

"To be honest, she's not too happy about being the council leader. She's only holding on to spite Francis," 

"Why is she the leader if she never wanted it in the first place?" 

"Lucy took it up to honor the choice of the previous leader, Cǎi Dēng,"

"Isn't that your mentor, Ziyi? Oh my gosh, Fenton, he's so cool. Cǎi Dēng is this incredible-"

"Launchpad! Let me talk about him," 

"Whoops, sorry Zee,"

"I didn't grow up with something like P.O.L.A.R.I, no retreat houses, no sense of community, nothing. When I needed help, Cǎi Dēng showed up. He taught me nearly everything I know. He's a drag queen. He saw me after one of his shows, and when he saw the state I was in, he couldn't help it. He raised me as if I was his child, and I was. It wasn't biological, it doesn't have to be, but he was the closest thing I had to a family. Now he's gone, I don't know where he went but-"  From across the room, Lucy coughed and pointed a finger at the level of her chest over at Francis who was approaching the door. "Francis is leaving, we better catch up," 

Francis spotted them from over his shoulder. "What are you all doing? Are you here to hinder my progress?"

“No, Lucy assigned us to your group. Even if she didn’t, I would still want this over with as quickly as possible,” Ziyi snapped.

Francis ignored her. “Well, I hope you know you’re on the right side at least. Lucy needs to stop being so salty and let me be the leader. She can’t seem to grasp the simple concept that sticking to the past is counter-productive. The future of Macaw's LGBT+ community can only be made successful through immediate and intense action,“ 

"Whatever just tell us what you need us to do and we'll do it," 

"There there Ziyi, there's no need to be so rude. You'll accompany me to the Demoiselle Theater, which is where I'll register us for the show. Then I'll have you set the stage or something while I make some calls for set pieces and decorations," 

On the train to the theater, an effort was made to sit as far away as possible from Francis. "I'm starting to feel a bit suspicious towards Francis, he's sort of...well... a jerk. He's got a point about moving forward, but I don't think I need to guess that things are different here from how America was," Fenton said.

"He's not exactly a charmer but he's been a part of P.O.L.A.R.I since the beginning. He's fake but cares about things he likes," Ziyi responded. 

"But, if someone's going to leak something, then we can at least anticipate they'll try getting involved at the theater, maybe sabotage it."  

"We need to find a way to infiltrate this show, but how?" 

"Oh, how about we have it be a talent show, then we can be directly part of the action. I can fly, sort of. Yeah, won't work. Most planes can't fit inside the average theater," Launchpad added.

"I have some knife-throwing skills, but I'm not sure I should be putting that in the spotlight," 

"What about your singing?" Fenton tossed in. 

Ziyi's eyes darted nervously over to Fenton for a brief moment. "I can't exactly do that, Wouldn't want to out myself as someone who can sing, saving it for Macaw's Got Talent," 

"Oof, my bad. Sorry," 

"Fenton, how about you? Any talents of your own you would mind sharing?" 

"I don't know. I'm into science. I didn't bring any of my gadgets with me. A demonstration could be an option, but where would I find the ingredients and supplies," He mumbled off some of his thoughts before he came to a conclusion. " I guess I don't have one other people would find interesting." 

Launchpad gasped. "Babe, what are you talking about? Ziyi, Fenton is Gizmoduck," He stared with a blank expression as he had expected some kind of reaction from Ziyi. 

"Gizmoduck?" 

"Zee, he's a superhero, fighting injustice and crime at every turn,"

 "A superhero huh, I think that might work especially well for what we're going for. What are your powers?" 

"Gosh, well this is embarrassing. I don't have 'powers', I just heavily modified a suit I helped someone else make. It's nothing much, really." 

"That's cause Gizmoduck's most important gizmo is his heart, and that's all Fenton. There can't really be a Gizmoduck without Fenton," Launchpad stated this all matter of factly. 

Before the conversation could continue, they arrived at the Demoiselle Theater. Seconds after they got off at the stop, Launchpad made his move. "Hey Francis, do I have a proposition for you, man. Let's take the show and turn it into a talent show. Then we can demonstrate the strength of the community. Now I can't personally show off my talent of piloting but, I know..."

Launchpad accompanied Francis to the front desk while Ziyi and Fenton lingered behind.  “How did you know I could sing? Did Launchpad tell you? “

“Technically yes, he told about the last time you two met, but that’s not what prompted me to ask. I overheard you this morning. I feel bad, it seems like kind of a personal thing but the idea popped into my head," 

Ziyi nodded and was silent for a moment. "I'm glad you enjoyed it," This was all she said on the subject. "So how does Gizmoduck fight crime, what kind of weapons or tech does he have?" 

"It's pretty typical, he can fly, shoot lasers, superspeed, a built in-super computer, and some other gizmos. It's a mix of various pieces of tech, hence the name," 

"So does it shrink down too? How do you carry it with you, you have it with you right?" 

Fenton shook his head in shame. "The cost of maintaining the suit was expensive and my sponsor dipped out, they took back the suit. I haven't been Gizmoduck in months," 

"They took it back! What are we going to do?" 

"It depends. Do you have access to some scrap metal, car paint, and compost?" 

"I'm sure I could get my hands on those things," Ziyi said with puzzled hesitation. 

Launchpad came running back. "It worked. He's totally down with doing the talent show idea. He was going to have us set up, but he's just calling in a crew instead. Oh, and one more thing, we've got to put on an act of our own since we're here," 

"Launchpad, how about aiding me and Ziyi in a little superhero work?" 

"This is my exact dream," he managed to sputter out before he fainted.

Chapter Text

Launchpad hopped down the sidewalk in gleeful bounces with little concern for other pedestrians. “I can’t believe this is happening,” he paused briefly at a sudden realization. “, I can’t believe I’ve never asked. I finally get to be a superhero’s sidekick and it’s my boyfriend, and my girlfriend is there too,”

“Have you chosen their name yet? What’s their central philosophy- what makes them tick as a just individual in an unjust world?” Fenton stared with an empty expression at Ziyi. “Sorry, advertising has gotten to me, but it's also growing on me a little.”

"I don’t have a name for him yet. Gizmoduck’s central philosophy was always my beliefs on helping others, can’t see why that would need to be different,"

Launchpad popped back in. "Oh-oh, what about his catchphrase? Are you going to stick with the totally classic 'Blathering Blatherskites' or go for something else?"

"I don't know, all I know is that we've got to hurry in getting these supplies. Launchpad, you told us Francis wants the show put on tomorrow, so that gives us less than a day. I still have to make the suit too," 

"It might be risky, but maybe we should split up. Launchpad and I have a good sense of where things are, one of us are going to have to go with you," 

"Cool, my first solo mission as a sidekick. I can get the compost from the community garden and pick up some car paint on my way back to the theater," 

"Wait we didn't decide anything. He's already gone, It's you and me, Ziyi. Where to first?" 

"I know somewhere safe where we can pick up some scrap metal. I'm thinking you've got something in mind for what you want it to look like," 

"The design is usually a later step for me, I'll know what I need for the interior pieces though. Where are we going?"

 "A little off the way down the street there are some scrap piles. A good friend of mine, Hû lives nearby. I need to check up with him when we're up there. If you think there's enough time." 

"Certainly, you should be able to. I'll have to gather the pieces and that'll take some time,"  

*****

Their walk took them to a small lot beneath an elevated highway. A worn single floored office building was surrounded by piles of metal and trash. There were a few cars dyed by time with rust but nothing more complex. It appeared that once the office was closed,  it became an unofficial dumping ground and later a hiding spot.

Ziyi looked over at Fenton. His face was studious in its examination of the lot. 

“Everything you imagined it to be?” She half-joked.  

"It's not exactly what I had in mind, but I'll make it work. I've got science on my side." She began to make her way to the office when Fenton stopped her. “Does Hû live here?” 

“Not officially, but in reality, yeah. It’s one of our retreat homes. Someone’s got to take care of the kids and it’s a job that requires a lot of attention.” 

“Thanks” Fenton responded. He found his way over to one of the piles and began fishing through some of the larger pieces. 

Ziyi rapped her hand on the door to the rhythm of an old sea shanty only remembered among sailors by the oldest of them. A stout tiger opened the door. An Electric Mayhem t-shirt hung over his frame neatly and his jeans were held up with a simple belt. His kempt appearance competed with an aura of exhaustion. “Ziyi it’s you! How are you doing girl?” They hugged each other with a familial strength. 

“Hû, it’s been a while. I haven’t seen you since, well, the Ping Dragon incident. I saw your name on the records and they showed you were here. I kind of had to stop by," 

"Well, I'm glad you got to me now. We're going to have to move locations any day now, possibly sooner than that. Hey, what's brought you over here?" 

"The council voted on some crack-pot scheme to put on some talent show over a protest. I think they're both crazy ideas," 

“No kidding. Who even thought of having a protest. I mean, I would be done to have one-I would fight tooth and claw, but right now? With this whole Demoiselle thing, it would make things even less safe for the kids. They’re already worried enough.” 

“That’s what Lucy said. Francis was adamant and got a fairly large amount of support. Lucy shot it down,” 

“And now we’re left with the talent show?” 

One of the younger children gasped. “ A talent show, you never told us about that Mr. Hû. Can we go, please?” Their beg alerted a few other children who joined in their protest to participate. Some teenagers gathered, intrigued at the idea of getting out.

“Maybe it would be okay to bring the kids over. They don’t get much time out beside school or work and some, not even that.” He held up one of them in his arms. 

"Hû, I’m not sure that’s the greatest idea,"

“And why not?” 

“Because. It doesn’t feel right. The mole definitely heard it. I know it’s to give us support but I also want as little of us there as possible. What if something goes down?”  

“Another raid,” Hû answered. He stared ahead with a flat expression. His vision was tuned to the past. 

The child in his arms finally registered what had happened. A frown fell upon her face. 

Ziyi sighed, “ I have to be there so if it’s safe I’ll let you know. Then next time you can bring the kids,” There was a knock at the door. Hû froze after he lowered the child to the floor with a nudge to scamper off. “It’s my guest, I should’ve taught him the knock,” Despite her cool attitude, Ziyi still was hesitant as she approached the door to check the peephole. To everyone’s relief, it was Fenton. 

“I’ve gathered up what I need for the suit.” He said with his arms full. His body teetered under the weight. “It won’t be my most graceful work but-“

Ziyi grabbed him by the collar, “Just get in,” 

“Oh, my bad,”

“Hû, this is Fenton. Fenton this is Hû.”

Fenton shook his hand warmly. They exchanged greetings."So you run this retreat house?" 

"Yup. Other than not needing these kinds of things at all, I wouldn't have it any other way. We've got to protect the youth. They're the real future. I gave up on having a fearless future a long time ago, but these kids. These kids should have it all,"

"I was I could help in some way," Fenton got a chance to take in the state of the building. Exposed insulation and a slight stickiness. The air conditioner was broken.  

Hû noticed Fenton's observations. "It's not much but it's what we're left with for now. Who knows how soon we'll have to move out so I haven't seen much use in fixing it." 

Fenton gave a weak nod and muttered something indiscernible in response. He walked into a nearby room where the air conditioning unit was and dropped his scraps. He began to pick them up at random and hold them up to the broken or missing parts. He put some aside in a pile and scurried back outside. Seconds later he would run back inside to the unit and clanks would emanate throughout the building. Suddenly, a small wave of air passed by Ziyi and Hû.  

Hû was dumbfounded. "I don't know what to say. Thanks. Thank you so much," 

"No problem, it's the least I can do, In fact, I wish I could do more, you have to live a nightmare.”

“It’s not all bad, we find those good moments. Hope’s healthy.” 

Fenton’s phone buzzed. Launchpad has finished getting his share of the supplies. “We should be heading out. It was nice meeting you. Stay strong,” 

“Be safe” he replied. He hugged Ziyi and said goodbye to her. 

After a block of walking, Fenton remarked. "He's a lot nicer than-" 

"-than the council. I get it but don't judge them too harshly. The council is made up of scared people. They're giving up their present to find some way to make a future." Ziyi paused. "I know I haven't talked to you much, and when I have, it's seemed a little eager, maybe even forced. I want to get to know you. Launchpad hasn't had the time to talk you up to me, but he doesn't need to. " Ziyi slowly leaned forward and hugged Fenton, “He’s so happy with you. You made him happier. I can tell.”

“You’re talking about Hank, aren’t you?” Fenton’s demeanor changed to a flat attentive tone. 

“You know him?” 

“Yeah. Tried getting back with Launchpad about a year ago. Total skeezeball, and that’s being considerate. He distracted me and went in for the kill on Launchpad. I couldn’t stop thinking if I had been less...careless, none of it would have happened. I keyed his limo but I don’t feel like it made up for much,” 

“I think Launchpad sees it differently, he loves you. I’m sure what you did, and what you’ve been doing the whole time, has been good,” 

“Thank you,” he said to Ziyi. He swallowed “From how Launchpad told the story to me, you’re just as much his hero as Darkwing Duck is,” 

“Or Gizmoduck,” Ziyi smiled 

Fenton flashed one back fraught with the embarrassment of acknowledgment. 

***** 

The welcoming mood of the lobby found from the glow of its golden lights and non-threatening foliage had itself detracted from by some sudden changes. Francis greeted them at the door. “Hey, what do you think? The several entrances into the theater were all blocked by walls of metal detectors. Ominous screens were attached. 

“It’s a little excessive, don’t you think,” Ziyi said as she eyed a large number of security cameras. Far more than needed. 

“No, not at all. Here let me lay it out for you. After I called for the crew to load-in the theater I made a few other calls," He clapped his hands with a child-like eagerness. "And let me tell you, the attendance for this show will be incredible. This will truly be a gift to our community," 

"That still doesn't explain all of this," She waved her hands at all of the devices. 

"It's simple really. We need protection. The cameras are mostly for intimidation, the metal detectors are self-explanatory, and these," He walked up to one of the screens and rested his arm along the top, ", are facial I.D scanners. Connected to the police database for extra-safety," 

Ziyi opened her mouth to speak but quickly closed it. "Everything's explained. I get it." 

Fenton looked over at Ziyi, he picked up on unspoken words. Launchpad wiped his brow, "Whew. Boy am I glad we're all on the same page." 

Backstage Fenton spread out his collected materials. Launchpad put down a tub of compost and a few spray cans. Fenton stepped back. "I have a basic skeletal design in mind, but I"m not sure that's going to cut it."

"So you need help designing your super suit?" Launchpad asked 

Launchpad raised a fist. "Yes," he whispered. He pulled out a leather notepad from his coat pocket. "I have some designs drawn out it’s just here, right past some of my Darkwing Duck fanfics," He flipped through it and opened it up to a two-page spread. 

Ziyi looked it over. "I'm liking these shoulder cannons Launchpad. Do you have any reference images of Gizmoduck?" Launchpad took out his phone and showed her a picture of Fenton in the suit. Her eyes scanned it." If you want to separate yourself from Gizmoduck, have that polished flair, then you’ve got to have a brand, a sleek design that’s distinct and recognizable." She swiped a pencil and lightly sketched over sections of the design. Launchpad and Fenton nodded in agreement. 

"Okay, let's get going," Fenton picked up a blowtorch. "LP, what colors did you pick out?" 

"I didn't know what kind of color scheme we were going for so I got all of them. But I was also thinking, it's got to be a rainbow because this is for the queer community." 

Ziyi separated the other pieces into piles relative to where they would go. So looked around her. "I'm not the only one suspicious of Francis, right? I know I said he's been with us for a long time, but this is too much."  

"I started getting uncomfortable when he brought up facial I.D. Not to mention, it's connected to the police database. Aren't we trying to stay undercover?" They continued to form the pieces together. The result was a robotic suit the size of Fenton. 

"At least it covers you, babe," Launchpad giggled.

Fenton stepped forward and levitated a foot off the ground. 'Flight isn't at full capacity, but I also don't have the compost-energy tank fully functioning yet." He removed the suit and Launchpad got to painting. "I'm going for the rainbow, babes" 

Ziyi wasn't too interested in the decorating despite her previous interest. Her thoughts repeatedly cycled through the situation. If Francis was the mole, what would the point of putting on this ridiculous show be? It all culminated into a singular thought. "Oh god, It's a trap. The whole thing is a giant trap," Fenton and Launchpad jumped. Launchpad ran towards the door with a metal pipe. "What are you doing?" 

"I'm going to go smash the scanners," Launchpad said as he got closer to the door. 

"Wait, you can't. The cameras will see you." Fenton yelled. 

Ziyi's eyes immediately darted around the corners of the room. With minimal beak movement, she said. "Launchpad put the pipe down and act normal. There are cameras in here too." Launchpad put it down and sat next to the others. 

"We're going to have to go along with it, aren't we? Until we figure out how to stop it at least." 

Ziyi took a moment to recollect herself. "We'll head back to my apartment and talk there. "

*****

Ziyi and Fenton paced back and forth in front of the couch Launchpad currently sat hunched over in. "There's got to be a way to stop this," Ziyi said.

"If I break the suit then maybe Francis will delay-no he's got too much invested in this," 

"What if you break the suit mid-show. Or rather, the suit breaks the show," Launchpad suggested. They looked at him in confusion. "Have it 'malfunction' in the show and cause damage, maybe a small controllable fire. The fire alarm goes off and everyone gets out safe," 

"I'm not sure LP, that sounds risky," 

"And it leaves us without a way to stop Francis for good. He needs to be brought to justice. How can he even do this? He's one of us." Ziyi covered her beak with her hand to stop her rant.

"Fenton will be on stage, but you and I will be off-stage. We'll take him down, just like old times."

Ziyi peered over to see Fenton looking at her. "We might not have any other options Ziyi," 

"You're right. Tonight, meet me at the theater. We've got to rest now and later I have to warn Hû and the kids,"

***** 

The sun faded from the Macaw skyline as the neon signs achieved their monopoly in light in the night's darkness.

Hû opened the door of the retreat house. "Ziyi, what are you doing here?" 

"Hû, I need you to turn off all your lights, the heat, any sign someone lives here. Hide the kids and yourself. Please just do it. And if you hear sirens, definitely don't do anything," She began to walk away before Hû stopped her. 

"What's the problem? Did something happen?" 

"Just do as I said, you should be okay,"

"Ziyi, come on, be real with me. Tell me what's going on." 

"Francis is the mole. The whole theater thing is a trap. I can't tell anyone higher up and it's going to be crazy. I don't think I'm going to be able to stop it," Ziyi ran off despite the shouts from Hû. She slowed down as she approached the theater, where she tried to wipe away the moisture from her eyes. Inside, Launchpad and Fenton were nowhere to be seen. 

"Ziyi, if you're looking for your friends, they're on the roof testing out that strange contraption you've made." 

"Uh, thanks Francis," On her way up the stairs she pretended to fish a loose rock from her shoe to mask the withdrawal of her tiny blade. She opened the door to find nothing but the night sky. The door slammed shut behind her and a lock clicked. Ziyi ran to it and tried to pry the lock open with her knife to no avail. Ziyi slouched against the door as she attempted to hold back tears. The theater's spotlights burst into the night sky with a clang. A jazzy fanfare sounded below her. The show was bound to start any second. She paused when she heard a rustle from across the roof. A pigeon stood wearing a black stealth suit. Around his waist, a belt of tools.

“Bà” Ziyi gasped. She ran to Cǎi Dēng and wrapped him in a hug. She refused to loosen her grasp as she wept. “Where have you been? How could you leave me without saying goodbye?” 

He held on to her and ran his hands down her back in a soothing motion. “I know, I know it hurts. I didn’t want to do it, darling, but I had to. It’s hard to explain but I know you’ll understand. Some things threaten us that are far bigger than spatters of hate crimes and-“ 

“Francis Rosewood is planning an attack tonight, here. I don’t know how to stop it. “

“Francis! I thought I put Lucy in charge. Why that piece of rotten toffee!”

“She is, but he pushed for a protest. The compromise was some talent show. But that doesn’t matter, he’s compiling some sort of police database. I just, never imagined it would get this bad again” She fingers instinctively went up to her neck where faded burn marks were hidden. “Progress was made and we’re already going back to where we started,” 

Cǎi Dēng shook his head. “The right to love whoever we want to love,“ he laid his hand on Ziyi’s shoulder with a delicate touch. “, the right to love ourselves for who we truly are. Those are rights we’ll always have. They can’t take them away from us unless we allow them to.” Something about him differed from Ziyi’s memories, he seemed to have aged greatly in a small amount of time.

“I feel like we could lose it all, even that if he wins the election. I don’t know what I’d do.” 

“You’d have to stop living, but you would survive. You’re my girl, and she would find a way to make it,” 

The cloud of their reunion dissolved. “Why are you up here?”

“He’s locked me on the roof and I don’t have a lock pick,” 

“I can get you off the roof but getting inside is going to be a whole other story.”

Cǎi Dēng hooked his harness to a pipe and had Ziyi hold on to him as they jumped into the alley. The theater’s back door was open to let out the heat from the stage lights. For a talent show, backstage was oddly barren. A few acts were practicing, but Fenton and Launchpad were nowhere to be found. The performers noticed them enter and now stood still, their mouths agape at having seen the shaken Ziyi and Cǎi enter. “Ziyi, what’s going on here?” One of them asked. 

“There’s no time to explain. You all need to get out of here and as far away as possible.” They scrambled out of the door past them. “We’ve got to find Launchpad and Fenton” 

“Fenton, who’s he?” 

“He’s Launchpad’s boyfriend.” 

This wasn’t shocking to Cǎi, Launchpad was in his favorites of Ziyi’s partners and he knew about his arrangements. “Francis has a flair for the dramatic, he’s had to have hidden them together” 

“The upper stage balcony,” They exclaim in a simultaneous moment. 

Cǎi let out a laugh riddled with a joyful madness. “Look at us darling, we’re already back at it,”

While searching for access up, Ziyi noticed a crack of light, the auditorium. Ziyi slowly approached the main stage She needed to monitor the situation if it would be possible for their original plan to be enacted. Ziyi peered carefully out. A group of about six was performing a gymnastics routine. Much to her fear, the audience was just as impressive in size as Francis had bragged. The man responsible had given himself a front-row seat. His glasses gave off a slight glare as he turned his head in her direction. She flew back off-stage as fast as she could. The reality was he had spotted her and she knew nothing of it.

“Over here,” Cǎi whispered. He stood by the stairwell, a leg already up on a step. As they ascended, they took a brief period to chat, not about the current situation, but how things had been for each of them. The conversation turned toward her transition. "I'm proud of you darling. Having to face all the pain and then having to hide everything you worked for, it's not something I could do easily. Unlike you, I'm only a part-time woman," 

Ziyi laughed weakly, something else occupied her mind too strongly for humor. "Thanks," She paused before she got to what she wanted to talk about. "Why did you leave?" 

"I told you, I've been dealing with larger-scale issues. I'm talking about government corruption," 

Ziyi shook her head. "I don't, no, I can't believe you would leave us for something like that. Do you want to know why Francis's idea was so popular? Because we're aimless, stuck in an endless cycle. You were our leader and you left us," 

"I left to protect you. I'm too loud and proud. My activism tended to put all of you in danger, especially the retreat houses. If I was to be dangerous, I would have to be alone. Lucy is my replacement because, quite simply darling, she would never do half the things I do." Cǎi snapped these words out with a controlled harshness. 

"That doesn't explain why you didn't say goodbye," Ziyi replied with equal intensity. 

There was silence for a few steps. "I couldn't handle saying goodbye to my daughter, in case it meant never seeing her again." Ziyi opened her beak to respond but couldn't. Nothing had formulated that was appropriate to how she felt. Cǎi also let out an "Shh" in a hiss. The unforgettable sound of a police boot echoed from below them. As silently as possible, they rushed to the top and bolted the door.

Ziyi rushed over to the opposite side to bolt the other entrance but stopped herself midway. Launchpad and Fenton were tied and gagged back to back to a chain. It hung over the stage below. As she reached out to untie them, a click came from the side of the unlocked door. Francis stood, a smug shape dressed his smile, with a remote in his hand.

“Tsk tsk. Shame on me for underestimating your ability to cause trouble. Drew did warn me it was a possibility.” Ziyi drew her knife out in plain sight. Beyond the remote, he appeared to have nothing. “You think that’s enough. I’ve already got the cops here. Wait until they see the load of crooks I’ve brought in for them tonight.” 

Ziyi raised the blade and held it in his direction. “How could you betray your community?” 

“I’m asking the same question,” Cǎi said as he walked out from the shadows.

Francis jumped back. His pink feathers visibly ruffled. He steadied himself with a cruel smile. Ignoring Ziyi, he addressed Cǎi. “ You know, I once had a lot of respect for you Dēng. You made me see the importance of publicity and the power of fight. Of course, that was before I realized you were part of the problem,” 

Cǎi pulled out a much larger knife, nearly a foot long, from his belt. 

“I won’t hesitate, Rosewood.” 

“Proving my point, are we? How is the community supposed to be taken seriously when there are crackpots like you and Ziyi. All this gender nonsense and gender-subversive art? Please, it’s plain ridiculous.” 

Cǎi pushes himself in front of Ziyi. In a coil of rope was a rainbow shield. Realizing what it was, she picked it up and tossed it over the edge. She tried to keep it as close to the chain as possible. The lack of a thud assured her.

“Trying to stop the show Ziyi? Too late, I’ll get what I want.” The door behind them burst open and the police on the stairs had their hands on them. 

“What about you? You’re still one of us, once Drew finds out it’ll be over for you," Ziyi said as the gloved hands struggled to cover her mouth. 

"It's not a perfect or even a fair plan, but once the public sees this mess under control, they'll be more susceptible to an explanation. I'll come out and my reputation as an incredible government official under Drew will allow them to see the true glory of the gay community." 

Cǎi twisted himself out from his gagged position. "You don't really think Drew is going to let that happen. Once he's gotten what he wants, he won't give it up," 

Francis shrugged. "If so, our little arrangement means Drew won't mind me kissing a few men behind closed doors. My future is set in stone," 

The chains jangled from over the railing. A small whirl of a fan grew louder. "Gadgetduck says justice is for all," Everyone turned to see a floating Launchpad. He slowly revolved to see Fenton dressed in the suit holding him up. He freed a hand and held it out in front of him toward Francis. Instead of the intended effect, his left boot flew off and rammed itself into the face of Francis. He toppled backward and the police officers ran toward him in aid. "Jump on!" Fenton shouted. Cǎi and Ziyi leaped onto Launchpad. Fenton began a decent behind the main stage's curtain.

"Weight capacity has been maxed. Please decrease load," a broken and robotic female voice announced from the suit. Seconds after, the suit sparked and spluttered. A few sparks escaped from the air and landed on the curtain, igniting it. It burst into flames. They could hear screams of alarm from the other side. 

"Put it out!" Launchpad screamed.

Fenton put out one of the arms. "It's the other arm that has the extinguisher. Okay, I'm going to shift you guys into the other arm." As Fenton attempted to transfer them, the suit gave out and they plummeted down. Out of his reach, the fire spread. "We've got to help the audience evacuate." Fenton staggered out. 

Launchpad lingered behind. "Ziyi, stay safe and kick butt, my love." He dropped a pipe segment into her hands as he kissed her. He joined Fenton in aiding the evacuation. 

As if on cue, Francis and his officers came through the door. They carried batons while Francis held a decorative cane. "It seems like I'm going to have to deal with things differently than I expected to." He made a brief motion with the cane and his officers flew forward in an attack. 

Ziyi swung the pipe and it came into contact with the baton, holding it in place. She kicked up and knocked the officer back. The other came for Cǎi who took out his hook and rope. He threw it and wrapped it around the baton. With a sudden pull, it was out of their hand. Cǎi picked up the baton and swung it at the helmet. The visor was smashed in. 

The officer's eyes widened in fear at the intensity in Cǎi's own eyes. He let out a yelp and ran in fear. Ziyi was still at odds with her opponent. Francis stepped forward. He twisted the head of the cane and pulled a sword from within. With a leap, Francis was face to face with Cǎi. 

Ziyi led her fight over to the curtain. She could see the theater was nearly empty, Launchpad and Fenton were at the end of the crowd. Calculated swings blocked the baton and made contact with the officer. He fell back into the flaming curtain. The whole sheet fell from its hooks and buried him under it. 

Francis's sword moved quickly against Cǎi's heavy baton. It made several small cuts on his skin. Ziyi came up and swung her pipe at the hand holding the sword. He dropped it and Cǎi kicked it away. He laughed and coughed from the increased smoke. "You've done it now. Now no one's coming out of this with a good reputation. We're a bunch of arsonists to them now." 

Cǎi grabbed his arms and twisted them behind his back. He and Ziyi began to lead him out of the building. Something snapped above them and a lighting fixture fell. They tried to pull Francis away but it was too late. With a sickening crack, it fell on Francis and crashed through the floor beneath the stage. Three gasps came from the occupants of the room, Ziyi, Cǎi, and the officer Ziyi had been fighting. He fled. They chased after him to no avail.  

*****

Outside the blazing theater, Ziyi sat on the curb with Cǎi's arm around her. Launchpad and Fenton joined them. They all held each other closely in silence as the blaze was extinguished by the recently arrived firemen. No one spoke a word as they trudged back to Ziyi's apartment. Speaking would mean having to face recent events. Exhausted, they found themselves around the television. Its white glare shined across their faces. Cǎi forced everyone else to watch the news, in case they had lost one of their own they hadn't already known about. The tension grew as the reporter grew closer to discussing the death of Francis. Even Cǎi had his finger held close over the button, ready to power it off at the exact moment. It never came.

The reporter had been handed a slip of paper, a memo. "It appears we have an important update. A police report from the accident, or rather the crime scene, indicates the main perpetrator is at large. They go by the name and of Ziyi Kǒngquè," A photo of Ziyi flashed onto the screen beside the talking head. "The police would appreciate if the public only called in any details about the whereabouts of this figure, as they can be considered dangerous and possibly armed." The TV screen flickered to black. 

Cǎi stood up. "We've got to get you out of here now," Launchpad took off his jacket and wrapped it around Ziyi. Cǎi took his beanie and slipped it over her head. The storm from the previous day had rolled back and the wind blew in distracting rushes. Raindrops fell in slanted paths across one's vision. The crowds kept their heads down. Passing by the warm pink glow of Claire's Candy, they were among the few who could see Claire's expression shift from a stern neutral to a jarring shock. She was watching the small screen in the corner of her store. With a matured ability, she changed it back at the arrival of a customer. She met eyes with Ziyi outside and in a rare event, smiled. Not a smile of joy, but one made to prevent crying. One of assurance. 

They arrived at the docks where the Sunchaser rested on the black waters. Launchpad boarded to start the engine. Fenton stood by the door as a lookout, a bag in hand with the rainbow chest plate. Cǎi stopped suddenly after Ziyi went inside. She turned around. "This is where we have to say goodbye darling. This time I'll look out for my community. They need help now more than ever." 

Ziyi wanted to object but couldn't find a logical enough reason to open her mouth and express it. She hugged him. Her grip was tighter than any other goodbye in her life. She didn't know how final this one would be. The door clicked closed behind her and the Sunchaser pattered to life. It slid across the water's surface before it lifted into the sky. Cǎi stared at its path until it disappeared into the clouds.