CHAPTER 5

"Quackerjack? Quacky? QJ? Hey, can you hear me? Are you okay?"

The jester opened his eyes slowly and stared at the four Luminases leaning over him. They were giving him concerned looks. "How many fingers am I holding up?" they asked him.

He squinted. "Sixteen or so..."

The Luminases slowly coalesced into one Luminas as she helped him to sit up. "What happened?"

Rubbing his head, Quackerjack replied, "I think someone hit me on the head..."

"Makes sense. C'mon." She pulled him to his feet and let him across the street.

"Where are we going? Why are you here, anyway?"

"I just wanted to come back to my house to pick up a couple things. I don't really think I should be here now." Luminas unlocked the front door of her home. "Sit down, QJ. You must have really gotten a hard knock on that thick skull of yours. Just let me grab my stuff."

Quackerjack plopped down on the couch and waited for his head to clear to its normal muddled state. When this happened, he called, "If you're not going to be here, then where are you going to be?"

She came back downstairs with a duffel bag. "The lighthouse."

"Ooooh." He gave her a sly look. "You realize there's only one place to sleep, right? But I guess sharing doesn't bother you."

Luminas gave him a withering look. "Shutup."

With a titter, the duck asked, "Don't want to talk about it? Is Megavolt not too impressive in that area? And are we talking size or performance?"

"Quackerjack, be quiet!" Luminas shouted. "You aren't even remotely funny."

He made a face at her. "So can we go now? This is boring."

"After you, QJ," she sighed.

The jester spent the entire walk to the lighthouse attempting to convince Luminas to play tag with him. He was only deterred when she threw a chunk of concrete that narrowly missed his head. After that, he trotted a couple steps behind her, watching her warily.

When the two of them reached the lighthouse, Megavolt, Bushroot, and the Liquidator were sitting around a table eating. Megavolt was taunting the plant-duck with a piece of veggie pizza while the Liquidator quietly formed a large puddle of water beneath the rat's chair. Bushroot turned to them when they walked in, and with practically tear-filled eyes and a quivering voice, pleaded, "Luminas, make him stop!"

Luminas flicked her eyes to Megavolt in time to see him chomp down on a piece of cheese-smothered broccoli. "Mm," he said as he chewed loudly. "Was that a cousin, weed?" The cat rolled her eyes in supplication and took a piece of pizza.

"I don't suppose any of you thought to give Gosalyn some dinner?"

The three of them looked at each other guiltily before Megavolt sighed and volunteered, "I'll do it." He got to his feet, stepping in the puddle of water as he did so, and spasmed violently as electricity coursed through him. The Liquidator, Quackerjack, and Bushroot laughed wildly as Luminas rolled her eyes.

"Sometimes," she mumbled, "I want to die." Leaving them to what looked to be escalating into a gory fight, she went to the bathroom door and knocked. "Hey, I have your dinner."

"Finally."

Luminas opened the door and beheld Gosalyn, who looked enormously pleased with herself, though the cat couldn't imagine why. "Here," she said, handing her the food.

"Thank you," Gosalyn replied with a polite smile as Luminas closed the door. She chuckled deviously. "You are so gonna get it, Miss Litress."

In the time that Megavolt, Luminas, and Quackerjack were gone, Gosalyn's scheme had panned out beautifully and a masked mallard had dropped by. Pertinent information had been passed on, and the final plan was formed. Gosalyn had selflessly volunteered to remain at the lighthouse so as not to arouse any suspicion.

The Sinister Six would hardly know what hit them. Gosalyn couldn't wait.

~

"Ready to go, Cinder?" Megavolt knocked on the door. "Hey, Luminas, we should go...party starts at eight."

"Just a second...okay, I'm coming out." The door of the control room swung open and Luminas presented herself to Megavolt. He appraised her objectively. Her simple black dress was overlaid with a fabric that somehow caught the light in the room and threw it off in an array of shifting colors. As usual, she wore black, elbow length gloves, and finally, a thin silver band with an orange gem set in is center encircled her neck.

"You look okay," he stated simply. "Let's go."

Luminas stared after him as he went downstairs. "'I look okay'?!" she yelled.

"Yep. Coming?"

Grumbling, she followed him outside, and the two of them got into the car. As Megavolt started the ignition and began driving, Luminas said, "You know...this is going to sound weird...but I have this feeling that something's going to happen tonight."

Megavolt looked at her. "A feeling? Good or bad?"

"I'm not really sure. It's just that fluttery "oh crap" kind of sensation."

"You're crazy."

"You're the crazy one."

He smirked at her as they pulled up in front of a dark, run-down old party hall.

"This is it?" the cat questioned dubiously.

"This is it."

The minute they entered the hall, the very picture of high society greeted their eyes. At least a hundred people were gathered in the hall, which on the inside looked as if its upkeep had never been abandoned. A string quartet was playing off to the side, and many guests were dancing. The bar was busy, and penguins were running around bringing drinks to those who had ordered already. A crystal chandelier was hung from the center of the domed ceiling, and lanterns were strung from every wall. And the people--every single one of them was a villain, and all were dressed to kill in evening wear.

"This is weird," Megavolt said nervously out of the corner of his mouth.

"It's okay," Luminas reassured him, though she had to admit to herself that she was a bit creeped out by the spectacle. "Just stick with me. Let's try to find the guys."

Megavolt nodded quickly and the two of them made their ways into the party. Or, rather, they made their ways to the main floor. Neither particularly wanted to leave the safety of the wall (at least not right away). Someone tapped the rat's shoulder suddenly and he turned to face Bushroot.

"You're dressed up," the plant-duck said with some surprise.

Scowling, he replied, "Luminas made me."

Bushroot waved shyly at the cat. "You look really nice, Luminas," he told her sincerely.

She grinned at him. "Thanks, Reggie. You look good, too. You should find more opportunities to wear a tux. Where are Licky and QJ?"

Rolling his eyes, Bushroot said, "Licky's flirting with all the girls at the bar. Quackerjack is creating a major disturbance on the dance floor even though he claims to be dancing." The duck seemed to remember something. "Oh, I met his girlfriend."

"She's here?"

"Yeah. She's okay. Even though she really wouldn't say much to me."

"Probably feels bad about putting you in jail."

Megavolt glanced past Luminas and Bushroot and snorted. "Hey, guys, look." The Liquidator was sloshing past, deep in discussion with Splatter Phoenix.

With a grin, Luminas said, "That should be interesting. As I remember it, Splatter was never very fond of commercialism."

"You know her?" Megavolt asked with some surprise.

"I wouldn't say that. She went to the same high school and college as me. I never talked to her beyond saying 'hi'. She was four years ahead of me."

"Weird," Megavolt commented, shaking his head. "See, you've got connections."

"Oh, right."

Suddenly, Quackerjack sauntered up to the three of them, leading Avia by the hand. "In case you don't already know," he announced, "this is--"

"We know," the three of them interrupted.

Megavolt gave the girl a pitying look. "I don't understand what ever possessed you to go anywhere with him."

She blushed and mumbled, "Me either."

Quackerjack glared at his cohort and snapped, "Shutup, battery breath, at least I'm dating my date." Brightly, he added, "Hey Luminas, lookin' good. Not as good as Avia, but still."

"Yeah, thanks, QJ. That means a lot."

"No problem."

The couple wandered off and the three villains fell to talking until a tall, spotlessly dressed rooster approached them. The light glinted off his metallic beak as he grinned and greeted, "Yo, Megs, Doc. What's shakin'?" Without waiting for them to answer, he turned his suave smile on the only female among them. "He-llo, beautiful," he said. "You must be Luminas. Da reports don't do ya justice, babe."

She smiled delightedly at the flattery. "Why, thank you. I don't believe we've met...but judging by the get-up, I'm guessing you're Steelbeak."

The rooster brushed his beak lightly against her hand in an outrageous display of chivalry. "Da one and only. I guess my reputation precedes me."

"Apparently mine does too," Luminas remarked. "FOWL has reports on me?"

"FOWL's got reports on anybody who's anybody. Dey're keepin' tabs on half da villains in St. Canard alone." Steelbeak leaned in closer and added, "But y'know, we've got da finest spy network in the woild."

"A-hem." They turned to see Megavolt glowering at them. "We were in the middle of a conversation," he said pointedly.

"Aw, hey, I'm real sorry about dat, Sparky. Dat was beyond rude of me." He looked at Luminas and asked, "Whaddaya say, babe, wanna dance?"

Her smile grew wider. "Sure."

Megavolt's smug look turned to one of incredulity as Steelbeak walked away with Luminas on his arm. "What?!" he sputtered. ""But--she--how could--what--argh!"

He stood there seething for a moment before Bushroot asked, "What's the big deal?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Bushroot held up his hands defensively. "Nothing. Well, just what I said. Why should you care if Luminas dances with somebody?"

After a minute, the anger in Megavolt's eyes dimmed somewhat. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right, why should I care? It's not like I would ever dance with her, anyway."

"Really? So can I?"

"No!" The rat caught a glimpse of Steelbeak and Luminas through the other dancing couples. Who did that jerk think he was, anyway? And why was he so close to Luminas? And where did he think he was putting his hand?! Why was Luminas tolerating it? Why was she smiling? And laughing?

Taking note of the direction of his cohort's gaze, Bushroot said carefully, "She's just having fun."

"Fun?!" Megavolt exclaimed. "Look at that sick display he's putting on!"

Bushroot raised his eyebrows. "They're waltzing."

"I know!"

Rolling his eyes, the plant-duck asked, "Look, why don't you just try it?"

The song ended, and Megavolt snorted. "Yeah right."

"Go dance with her, please. I'd rather stand here alone than listen to you ranting and raving."

"You'll pay for that, petalhead," Megavolt threatened. He glanced at Luminas. He had to admit, she did look very pretty. He almost wanted to dance with her... "Okay, fine, I'll do it. But only because I'm tired of your company, weed. You don't have anything good to say." With that, he strode out to where Luminas and Steelbeak were standing, chatting amiably. Planting himself in front of them, he took a deep breath and asked quickly, "Luminas, do you want to dance with me?"

At that moment, the lights dimmed and the string quartet started what was obviously meant to be a slower dance. Steelbeak clapped Megavolt on the back. "She's all yours, Sparky. I'll talk to you later, Luminas."

The cat waved to him and then smiled at Megavolt. "Of course I'll dance with you. Um...I don't know any of those fancy dances...is it okay if I just do this?" She slid her arms around his neck, and Megavolt abruptly realized that he had no idea what he was doing. At the expression on his face, Luminas laughed and said, "I figured. Just follow me."

"If you say so." He hesitantly put his arms around her waist and pulled her closer, and she nestled her head against his. Megavolt gulped. This didn't feel nearly as wrong as he'd assumed it would. In fact...

"This feels right, somehow," Luminas murmured. He felt her relax and ventured to hold her a little tighter. "I'd forgotten what it's like to be close to someone you trust..."

Megavolt wasn't entirely sure how to respond to this, so he just said carefully, "I'm glad you trust me."

He knew she smiled at that, even though he couldn't see her. "You wouldn't hurt me."

He mulled that over for a second. "Someone did." When he felt her nod, he said, "I won't."

For a second, neither of them said anything, but then Luminas asked, "Megavolt?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm going to tell you something. Because...because I know so much more about you than you know about me...and...I want you to...I don't know, understand..."

"Okay."

She was silent for a moment, but then said hesitantly, "My father abandoned me one day at school and never came back. He was the first person to betray me...man, that sounds melodramatic..."

"You can be cheesy."

She gave a little breath of laughter. "I'm glad. But I wanted to ask...I mean, I want to make sure... Promise me you'll never do that, okay?"

A little surprised at her sudden openness, Megavolt replied, "Abandon you? Never. You know that."

She sighed. "Thank you." The music came to an end and the lights brightened, and the two of them separated just a little reluctantly. Luminas's eyes were lit with a tinge of astonishment, and she said in a tone filled with wonderment, "You're the best friend I've ever had." At that, she laughed. "A crazy, electrified felon is my best friend." On an impulse, she pulled him into a hug and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Don't think that means anything," she warned.

Megavolt gave her a somewhat shy grin. "Whatever you say."

The two of them ambled back to where Bushroot, and now the Liquidator, were standing, but on the way they came across Quackerjack and Avia. The paradoxical couple was in the midst of a heated discussion, and the first sentence either Megavolt or Luminas was able to catch was Quackerjack's incredulous, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I've been trying to tell you, "Avia replied in a quiet tone. "I just can't, in good conscience, go on with this relationship."

"But--"

She grabbed his hands to silence him. "I mean, I really like you, Quackerjack. So I don't want this to continue because I'll just end up hurting you."

"That's a horrible cliche!" the duck shouted.

Quickly shushing him, Avia said, "I know. But it's true. We just won't work. A villain and a hero? This is hard enough as it is. Please don't make it harder. Oh, that was a cliche too..."

He stared at her for a moment, then, abruptly, burst into tears. Sobbing loudly, he ran into the men's restroom and slammed the door behind him.

Megavolt rolled his eyes and continued to where Bushroot and the Liquidator were waiting. "Pathetic," the rat muttered. "Something happened to Quacky."

"It's called love," Luminas snorted. "Or whatever similar phenomenon it is that QJ experiences."

They reached Bushroot and the Liquidator. "Did you see that?" Megavolt demanded.

"See what?" the Liquidator questioned. "Quackerjack blundering by, blinded by the tears streaming down his face?"

"Yeah, that."

"No."

Megavolt looked confused and the Liquidator just laughed, so Bushroot said, "We saw. I figured we should go find him..."

"And make sure he doesn't kill himself," the watery canine added helpfully.

"That..." Megavolt thought of an appropriate epithet, grimaced, and finished, "...knob. I guess we should see what he's doing, though."

The four of them wandered off towards the restroom, leaving Luminas alone. Across the room, Steelbeak waved to her, and she waved back. As she did so, however, she noticed something coming through the doorway. Something yellow and red and black. Something that wasn't supposed to be there. Something she most definitely did not want to see.

There was a sudden dead silence in the hall as the newcomer walked slowly down the stairs towards Luminas, who replaced her agape expression with a venomous glare. "Negaduck," she said in a low voice when he stopped in front of her. "I thought you were gone for good."

Negaduck grinned at her. "Think again." At these words, a multitude of canisters dropped from the ceiling. As they hit the floor, a green gas began leaking out of them, quickly filling the room. One by one, the guests were overcome by fits of coughing until they succumbed and dropped to the ground.

~

Megavolt wasn't entirely comfortable with the situation at hand. It was faintly feminine, for one thing. For another, moisture tended to have unwanted repercussions. "Uh, Quackerjack?" he began. "I feel your pain and everything, but do you think you could stop sobbing into my shoulder?"

The duck looked up at him, teary-eyed, and burst into even louder wails. A little known criminal came out of a stall, gave the group of supervillains a strange look, and edged past them out of the bathroom. Megavolt took no notice, as the villain was about the fourth to have done that. Instead, he said unfeeling, "Quackerjack, c'mon, I'm going to short out pretty soon!"

Since the rat's words were obviously having an adverse effect on the duck, Bushroot attempted to put a hand on his shoulder. "Quackerjack, whatever she said, I'm sure she didn't really mean it. I'm the one that no one loves, remember?"

"Isn't that me?" Megavolt questioned.

"Welcome to Self-Pity Fest '01," the Liquidator said with a roll of his eyes. "Get a grip, all of you. Quackerjack, you just shutup. Stop acting like a moody teenager." The duck sniffled a bit but did as he was told, and the Liquidator continued, "So you had a disagreement. Buy her flowers or something. Just don't make me witness this again."

Suddenly, the four of them heard crashes from the hall.

"What's that?" Bushroot asked as though he didn't really want to know the answer.

"Sounds like Luminas," Megavolt replied. Then, with a grimace, he added, "In a fight."

~

Luminas was in a fight--sort of. At the moment she'd only managed to clumsily light the buffet table on fire. She'd missed her target.

Negaduck emerged from behind the inferno with a gun leveled at her. "It's interesting that the gas didn't affect you," he said nonchalantly.

"Yeah, it's an overused plot device. Now put the gun down or I'll roast you."

"My bullets are faster than your campfire."

"And so," shouted a triumphant female voice, "are my arrows."

"That was cheesy," Luminas muttered without thinking.

Negaduck glanced upwards, a distraught look on his face. "Gosalyn, get down! You'll break your neck!"

Luminas's eyes widened. She barely heard the rest of the exchange (which included the words "Quiverwing Quack" and "I told you to wait in the Ratcatcher, young lady") before raising her arm and slinging a fireball at the enemy before her. "Negaduck, huh?!" she yelled. "I thought that looked like a gas gun! That was a dirty trick, Darkwing! Now come out! I know I didn't hit you!"

An arrow thudded into the floor at her feet, and she wheeled around to see a petite, costumed duck with a bow and arrow, ready to fire. "Surrender to the justice of Quiverwing Quack!" the girl crowed.

Luminas glared and flexed her fingers as sparks began to crackle on her hand. Before she was able to throw it, though, a cry of, "Shmuya hnng!" rang out as Darkwing (still dressed as Negaduck) crashed into her back with a perfectly executed Quack Fu move. She tumbled to the floor and Darkwing pulled out his gas gun. "Ha!" he said triumphantly. "The Masked Mallard mangles the malignant members of the minions of...er..."

"Yeah, very nice," Luminas growled, throwing all her weight into an upward spring. Before she could move, however, several arrows rained down, pinning her dress to the floor.

Darkwing looked up appreciatively. "Nice shot, Gos--er--Quiverwing. But stay up there!"

"Hmph," Quiverwing responded. "I save your butt and you still won't let me have any fun."

Ignoring her, the duck looked down at Luminas and said, "The jig's up, Luminas--"

"Oh, shutup," she spat. "I thought we had a deal, Dorkwing."

He grinned crookedly at her. "We did. You broke it. Kidnapping counts in my book at bodily harm. Now, you have--yowch!"

There was a tense silence as Luminas strained to see what was going on before she caught sight of Megavolt. He blew a wisp of smoke from his fingertip and said calmly, "You're toast, duck."

Quiverwing was struggling to free herself from Bushroot's leafy grasp and Quackerjack and the Liquidator had arrayed themselves around Darkwing.

At that moment, there were groans and stirrings from the unconscious criminals nearby. As they sat up, bewildered, Quackerjack informed them, "That's Darkwing." The party guests stared at the hero apparent, trying to decided if Quackerjack was lying and this was really Negaduck and there had been some sinister plan concocted to...to...no, that was Darkwing. The duck gulped and whimpered before just about everyone who could move leapt at him, ready for a fight.

Luminas hurriedly yanked at her dress, tearing it, but freeing herself. She spotted Darkwing attempting to crawl out of the fray and grabbed his hand, pulling him behind her as she bolted from the hall. Bushroot followed her after she yelled his name, and they stopped outside at the Ratcatcher. Dropping Darkwing's hand and pushing him at his bike, she said, "Get out of here, Dorkwing."

"What do you think you're doing? I'm arresting you!"

"You're not arresting me. I just saved you. They would have killed you and they still can." She gave him a nasty stare as she took Quiverwing from Bushroot and shaved her into Darkwing's arms. "Accept the unacceptable, okay? Live to fight another day."

Darkwing eyed her warily. "This seems pretty out of character for you."

"You hardly know me," she reminded him loftily. "Anyway," she added, nodding towards Quiverwing, "does she need to see you mauled? I've got a soft spot for single parents...don't ask me to explain. You're not exactly someone I'd confide in. But I couldn't kill you before, and I can't now. Just get out of here, okay?"

Darkwing narrowed his eyes appraisingly, then nodded as something akin to respect entered them. "I'm looking forward to showing you the meaning of justice, Luminas."

"Yeah, and I'm looking forward to singing your hand tailored outfit. Just leave, will you?"

With a nod, he put on his helmet, jumped onto the Ratcatcher, and drove off.

Bushroot shook his head at Luminas and commented, "I really wonder about you. You make yourself out to be all evil, but really...you're as big of a wimp as I am."

"I wouldn't say that, petalhead," she said with a grin. "But I have my moments. C'mon, let's go back inside."

The hall was a mess--injured villains were laying all over the place. Quackerjack and Avia were in one corner talking quietly--oh, no, geez, they were kissing. Luminas rolled her eyes and searched the room for Megavolt or the Liquidator. There was a puddle of water slowly rippling across the floor--that was one accounted for. The rat was nowhere to be seen, which Luminas found worrisome. It wasn't as if he could really hold his own in a brawl...

Before she could search for him, though, a hand came down on her shoulder. "There you are, babe," Steelbeak said. "That was something, huh? Dipwing disappears all summer and suddenly he's back dressed like Negaduck! And man, that was some fight! I really knocked him a good one--you shoulda seen it..."

Luminas tuned him out as her eyes roved around the room. Her apprehension grew until she spotted a yellow tuxedo--and only one villain would dare wear that.

"Megavolt!" she yelled, shoving past Steelbeak and running over to the rat. When she reached him, she jerked her arms out in an involuntary attempt to hug him. She realized what she was doing, however, and drew back hesitantly.

"Um..." The rodent gave her an unsure look and questioned, "Are you okay?"

Her face broke into a grin and she threw her arms around him in a tight hug. Megavolt's eyes widened in surprise, but after a moment, he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back. "Did I say thank you for bailing me out?" Luminas said into his shoulder.

"Don't worry about it. I wasn't going to watch Dorkwing cart you. Friends don't, you know."

Bushroot and the Liquidator convened near the wall and were soon joined by Quackerjack, who had his arm around Avia's waist. The three supervillains stared at Megavolt and Luminas in surprise, exasperation, and smugness (respectively). "They're in--" Quackerjack began.

"We know," the Liquidator cut him off.

"They don't," Bushroot added.

As they separated, Megavolt muttered, "They think we...like each other."

Luminas gave him a small smile. "Who cares what they think? As long as you can handle the incessant teasing... Anyway, we know what's really going on."

She slung an arm around his shoulders and he did the same. Then, the two of them ambled out of the hall to their car. Megavolt started the ignition, and with a squeal of the tires, they sped away towards the lighthouse.