Author's Notes: This story refers to events that happened in one of my other stories, "Thankless Season", although you don't really need to read that to read this one.
As the final rays of the day's autumn sunlight faded over the city skyline, the last thing Bushroot expected was a knock on his greenhouse door. St. Canard's resident criminal mutant plant-duck was not used to getting social visits, and he looked over at the door, startled. Who'd be coming to visit me? Bushroot wondered, feeling a surge of emotion given what day it was. Although no one except for his plant friends like Spike had been around to celebrate it with him, it was his birthday. Earlier in the day he had even made himself a little fertilizer cake and split it with his loyal fly trap, although Bushroot doubted that Spike really understood what a birthday was. It had left him in a cynical mood, for it was the first birthday he had ever spent completely alone with no well wishes at all. Even the previous year, which had been his first as the plant-duck outlaw he was now, he had at least had a phone conversation with his estranged mother. Given what had happened the last time he saw his family, though, this year Bushroot had not made any move to contact them. He still felt a sting as he remembered his father's last words to him, almost a year ago now, when he had visited them on Thanksgiving. Things had not gone well, and when Bushroot had said on his way out that maybe they could try again on Christmas, his father had said, "I'm sorry, but I don't think that's a good idea. Maybe your next birthday."
Considering that his birthday was in October and practically a year away from then, Bushroot had taken the hint and bid them a bitter farewell. He had not spoken to or seen any of them since, and although he could not help but remember what had been said, when the day eventually came he was not willing to go there again. His parents and his sister knew where his greenhouse was, and if they wanted to, they could find him, he figured. He did not really expect that they would—their feelings about him and what he had become had been made crystal clear that miserable November evening last year. Yet still, when Bushroot heard that knock at his door, he could not help but wonder just for a moment if maybe…
"No. It's probably just some new-to-town door-to-door Quackerware salesman who doesn't know who owns this place," Bushroot muttered under his breath as he heard a second knock. Then again, he thought as he glanced at the darkened sky outside, it was a little late for that. Didn't those types only work in the daylight for the most part? His curiosity heightened, Bushroot pulled open his greenhouse's door.
It was not anyone selling Quackerware or an unexpected visit from a family member. It was Liquidator.
"Since when do you knock?" Bushroot greeted his watery partner-in-crime with a surprised look.
Grinning back at him, Liquidator replied with one of his dramatic sales pitches. "Are you feeling older? Are the years catching up with you? If so, then you might be having a birthday!" The water dog flowed in and put his arm around Bushroot's slender green shoulders, revealing a large red wrapped box with a giant bow on top of it behind him. "And no birthday is complete without a present from your friendly neighborhood Liquidator!"
Bushroot stared at the big box in shock. "Wow, that's huge! It's got to be taller than I am," he said, walking over to it and placing his leafy palm on its side. He noticed as he did that the box was wrapped in red cling wrap as opposed to wrapping paper—to make it waterproof, Bushroot realized, and smiled at both Liquidator's cleverness and thoughtfulness. "You brought this all the way here for me? How did you get it here?"
Liquidator flexed his watery biceps. "The strong and effective Liquidator can use the amazing power of hydraulics to lift even the heaviest loads and carry them to all sorts of destinations." He then added with a wry look, "But now you can see why I knocked. There was no way to sneak this inside without you noticing."
Bushroot grinned with excitement, wondering what could be inside of the huge box. "Well, let's get it inside now and open it up! I want to see what's in it." He curled his vine-like arms around the side of it and gave it a shove toward the door.
"No need for the birthday sprout to strain his sap," Liquidator said, swishing to the opposite side of the box. He formed his body into a giant hand that clasped its fingers around the present, picked it up, and then flowed inside with it in a watery rush. Bushroot leapt to the side as Liquidator and the box came in, and after he shut the door behind them, he grew his midsection so that he was tall enough to reach the bow on the top of the box.
"I can't even imagine what this might be," he said excitedly, and smiled down at Liquidator, who had resumed his normal shape. "I didn't know you even knew it was my birthday."
"You didn't think I'd remember?" A slight frown formed on the water dog's fluid features.
"Oh, no, I didn't mean that," Bushroot replied, somewhat taken aback by the look Liquidator gave him. "It's just… well, I didn't think I made that big a deal of it, that's all."
"Because research shows that you didn't. I remember it from when it came up in conversation before."
"Oh." Bushroot smiled. "Thank you. I didn't expect… I mean, I didn't realize that you'd—"
"Do you remember when my birthday is?" Liquidator asked, cutting him off.
Nodding, Bushroot said, "July sixteenth."
Liquidator glided over and stretched out his watery form to match Bushroot's alongside the large gift box, meeting his gaze as he did so. "Then why do you think I wouldn't remember yours?"
"I just—I just didn't think it'd be something another super-villain would really think about, that's all. It caught me by surprise," admitted Bushroot. He then added hastily, "But it was a nice surprise."
Leaning a little closer to Bushroot, Liquidator said, "You ought to know by now that I don't treat those on my VIP list like just anyone, Reggie."
A bittersweet smile crept across Bushroot's face as he met Liquidator's eyes, thinking of everyone else who either did not remember or did not think that he was worth the time to wish well to if they did. "You're the only one who…"
"Hey! No sad-faced bills allowed for the birthday sprout!" Liquidator placed a finger on the underside of Bushroot's bill and turned his face up toward his. "This is a limited time offer, valid only today, so act now and open that big red box right away!"
"Okay." Bushroot smiled back at Liquidator and then tugged on the bow until it came loose. The plastic wrap around the box fell slack once the ribbon did, and Bushroot gathered it all back to expose the giant cardboard box beneath. Curious as to what the contents could be, Bushroot broke the tape holding the box together and pulled it across the top and then down the side until he was back on the floor at his normal height once more. Wasting no time, he then pried the cardboard flaps open to peer inside, and as soon as he realized what was in the box, he did a double-take and looked over at Liquidator. "A tanning bed?"
"What better way to get my favorite sun-loving plant through the short, cold days of the upcoming winter," Liquidator made a shivering motion as he spoke, "than a portable UV-generator to rest in while thinking of the tropics?"
Bushroot beamed. His first winter as a plant-duck had not been a pleasant one. His mood at the previous winter solstice and Christmas holiday had reached an all-time level of low and foul, and while that had been rooted in more than the seasonal lack of sunlight, it certainly had not helped matters. The icy cold days of January and February had not been much better, and had it not been for his well-heated greenhouse, Bushroot might well have shriveled up like all of the other summer-loving perennials he considered kindred plant spirits in that sense. "Where did you get this? I mean, I didn't think you could just find tanning beds to buy and…"
"Buy?" Liquidator cut him off with a bubbly chuckle. "My dear Reggie, I am a super-villain. I just happened to take note of when the Sun 'N Surf tanning salon was getting in some new equipment and intercepted one of their new high end models en route to delivery." He grinned at him, and Bushroot chortled along with the water dog.
"Oh, well, that's okay. What's one more hot item in my greenhouse, anyway? Besides, I'll need all the heat I can get in a month or so."
"But wait, there's more," Liquidator said as he helped Bushroot remove the tanning bed from its box. After they cast aside the remaining cardboard and packing material, Liquidator pointed to a cluster of metal poles, lamp shades, and specially-tinted bulbs packed and tied with glittery ribbons inside of the tanning bed.
Bushroot let out a happy exclamation as he picked one up. "Plant lights! Oh, thank you! This'll save me a hit on the home and garden center that I was putting off because I didn't feel like dealing with the Ego that Yaps in the Night." After a quick look at it, Bushroot carefully set the bulb back down and threw his vine arms around Liquidator in an exuberant hug. The water dog smiled back at Bushroot and put his arms around him in return, drawing him into a warm and wet embrace.
"Ah, nothing like the endorsement of a satisfied customer."
Bushroot looked up at Liquidator's fluid face, but made no move to leave the comfort of his arms. "It really means a lot to me, Buddy. Thank you."
Giving the tip of Bushroot's bill a gentle nuzzle, Liquidator replied, "You're welcome."
"I guess I'll have to think of something really nice to get you for Christmas now," Bushroot murmured thoughtfully. "Though it'll be a challenge to shop for the water villain who probably already stole everything he wants or needs."
With a sly smile on his face, Liquidator drew one of his wet hands up along Bushroot's back until his fingers just touched the edges of his petal-hair. Brushing his fingertips against the fine purple strands, he said, "If you come up empty, remember that I always enjoy some one hundred percent all-natural Bushroot brand love and affection."
Bushroot could not help but smile at that, and he flexed his leafy fingers against the water-barrier of Liquidator's back. "You don't need to wait for a holiday or a special occasion for that."
"Even better," Liquidator replied, just before closing his watery lips around the end of Bushroot's bill in a wet kiss. When they broke apart and met one another's eyes, Liquidator added, "Happy birthday, Reggie."
Closing his eyes and resting his head against Liquidator's shoulder, Bushroot said with a contented smile, "It is now."