As always, major props to my major editor, Lies. For those of you who read my Disney Storybits, you'll recognize a scene here, and there will probably be more like it in the future.
Despite how much his arm was hurting, Mickey was reluctant to leave the glass elevator that would lead him to Ludwig and Gyro. He had been warned against fighting the Duke, and had nearly gotten himself captured as a result. He wasn't afraid of punishments or repercussions, since the birds were too kind to do such a thing. It was the looks of disappointment that he dreaded, and it made his stomach churn to imagine them. These men had gone above and beyond for him, and he couldn't obey a simple order. Eventually he forced himself to move forward, looking similar to a troubled child seeing their parents.
Gyro was still rapidly typing away at the console to ensure there weren't any loose ends left by that night's work. Ludwig faced Mickey directly, arms crossed with a finger tapping his elbow, wearing the exact look Mickey was afraid of, so the mouse shot his eyes down to the floor. "I said I was sorry!" He immediately tried to defend himself, though he felt himself shrinking with each defense. "And I am! I didn't think it would turn out like that!" Nothing was said from the birds, which somehow made Mickey feel worse. "… It won't happen again, okay? I promise." Still unable to face them, he began to take off his uniform – removing the chips from his ears and mouth, loosening up the cape, delicately removing Minnie's ribbon but stuffing it in his pocket right after – but when he began to take off his top, Ludwig reached out and touched his shoulder.
"Do you remember what we told you when we first told you about this whole crazy scheme?" Ludwig tugged Mickey along and made him sit in an empty chair. "The Scarlet is not one man, but an idea. Men can be killed. Ideas are immortal." He carefully began to remove Mickey's top for him, making sure to be extra slow when it came to Mickey's injured arm. "If you die, we will start over with someone new, because no one will miss one poor paperboy. But if you get hurt like this, it affects your regular life, and that gets noticed." He grabbed a roll of gauze off of a nearby table, and began to roll it around the bleeding arm. "If you want to help ensure France's future, you have to think about your own future."
Mickey was quiet for a few moments, thinking Ludwig's words over. He had wanted to show off to France's elite that he was a charismatic and supreme fighter, but that wasn't what France needed. They needed a protector, not a show off. "… I am sorry. I mean it." By now his voice was back to its regular poor pitch, and he felt his apology was more sincere now that he was using his real voice. "I do want to help people. This shouldn't be about me and my dumb pride." That was the correct response, judging by Ludwig's smile.
This also appeased Gyro, who now stood up from his console and joined his friend. "As long as you understand it, that's okay." It looked like he had been trying to avoid being the one to lecture Mickey, not too comfortable with confrontation. "Ludwig is right, we can find someone else to carry on the Scarlet name if you… um…" He fumbled with the words, not wanting to give life to such a terrible possibility. "… Aren't able to. I've even found a few good back-up candidates. But that doesn't mean we don't care about what happens to you. You just need to think about the bigger picture, that's all." He gestured to Mickey's arm. "You might be wincing for a bit with that wound… doesn't the Duchess speak to you every morning? She might notice it, and put two and two together. Even that kind of thinking could put her in danger with our enemies."
Mickey's eyes widened at the tangent of thought he had never tried. Minnie could be terribly clever when the occasion called for it, and there was no way she wouldn't try to fit these pieces together. Ludwig and Gyro were starting to talk back and forth about various lies they could feed the Duchess, but Mickey was doing what they wanted, thinking about the future. There was no way he could live with himself if she was put in danger. He suddenly yanked his sword out of his scabbard, startling both birds. Then, without a drip of hesitation, Mickey jabbed the sword against his other arm, cutting as deeply as the other wound was. Mickey ground his teeth together through the pain as his elders yelled his name, and once he was sure the cut was a good copy, he dropped the blade, feeling hot blood dribble down his arm.
"His marbles are lost!" Ludwig quickly brought the gauze to the fresh wound, wrapping it rapidly. "Mickey, what are you thinking?"
Mickey winced as he was tended to, his eyes closed. "The Scarlet wasn't hurt there… it might not be much, but it'll be a good distraction fer anyone wonderin' about the first cut." He swallowed hard, opening his eyes to intensify a look at Gyro. "I will do anythin' ta protect the people of France, no matter what! I can handle it, ya can trust me! I will keep my promises, I will listen ta whatever ya say, and I absolutely won't give up! Ya know ya can count on me!"
The birds exchanged a worrisome look, but they relented with a sighing smile. Ludwig chuckled, shaking his head. "You are one crazy kid, Mickey. No wonder I see so much of myself in you!" Mickey raised an eyebrow, wondering if that was a compliment or an insult, but he cracked a grin anyway.
"We definitely made the right choice with you." Gyro friendly ruffled the fur between Mickey's ears, getting a light laugh in response. "Don't worry, we're not getting rid of you. Not after everything we've been through so far." Once Mickey's arms were wrapped up, the trio began discussing adequate lies to give to Minnie and future plans the Scarlet would endure. Eventually they had to lecture Mickey again just to make him leave and get some sleep, despite how wired he was to do more crime fighting. When the boy was gone, Gyro plopped himself down in his seat, running a hand down his face. "Cutting himself up like that… it's like he doesn't even remember how we found him."
"If I was him, I'd want to forget too." Ludwig began to clean off Mickey's blade, unsatisfied until every drop of blood was gone. "Of course… we still have a few problems there too. We're still not sure just how much he remembers about the second Bloody Sunday. If he remembers exactly everything…" he trailed off, knowing he didn't need to finish for the message to be clear.
Gyro's eyes stayed on the screens but he knew just what kind of worrisome expression Ludwig was wearing. "These things… take time, Ludwig. He's supposed to cut off everyone in his life, so no one will miss him if he's… gone. And she's the last connection he has. Slowly but surely, we can help him sever the connection, as long as he doesn't remember that part." Not wanting to discuss the troublesome matter any further, Gyro began using the console to check over the city once more. Ludwig got the message, and they spoke no more of it. But just because they didn't speak of it didn't mean the issue wasn't heavy on their minds.
Minnie wasn't having the best morning. She hadn't gotten too much sleep that night due to the insanity that had happened at the Duke's party. The Scarlet's heartfelt declaration, the intense battle between the two swordsmen, and then there had been that absolutely odd and absolutely heart-pounding pledge he had made towards her. How could anyone devote themselves to her when they didn't know her? To simply state it, it would make the Scarlet sound like a creepy stalker. But to be looked at by those eyes… those eyes that were familiar and new, possessive and submissive, what was she supposed to do about that? Even thinking about it now was enough to make her cheeks hot. An extra feeling came with those emotions – a large sense of guilt. But that was whole other set of problems.
These weren't the only issues plaguing an otherwise pleasant morning. Once again, she glared at the extra passenger in her carriage. Squished uncomfortably next to her was Mortimer Rodawn, who had been waiting outside her front gates for her and insisted on riding with her as she went to visit Mickey. She was too polite to outright deny him, and he was too dense to pick up the hint that he was unwanted. Even now, in reply to her glare, he flashed her a cheesy grin, rubbing the frock on his chest between his slick fingers. He was making the entire carriage reek with cologne, and Minnie quietly lamented on how many scrubbings it would take to get rid of the smell when he was gone. She had many suitors in her lifetime, and yet in the course of less than a day, he was already proving to be the most annoying.
Relief flooded her when the carriage began to slow to a stop. "I won't be long!"She fibbed to Mortimer, all but sprinting out of the carriage to get away from unpleasant company so she could embrace the company she enjoyed most of all. Mickey was at the fountain as always, selling his papers, and she welcomed the smile he gave her as she skidded to a halt. "Did you save one for me?"
"Don't I always?" He slid a paper into her hands, and pocketed the money she gave him. "Word has it that the Scarlet fella made another appearance, huh? What a show off." He huffed, trying to make it clear he didn't care for this other guy.
"Oh, you wouldn't believe it!" Minnie grabbed his arm, planning to make them sit so they could swap stories as always, but when she touched him, he visibly flinched. Surprised, she let him go. "Is something wrong…?"
"Aw, it's nothin'." Mickey rubbed his arm, slowly sitting down on the fountain's edge. "I just… well, I shouldn't tell ya, ya'll just get all worried."
"I'm already worried!" Minnie rolled up her paper and shook the cylinder at her friend, demanding to know what had happened. "Now are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?" She lightly hit his nose with the paper, clearly kidding and clearly adorable.
Mickey faked a sigh, shrugging his arms to show he was giving up. "Well, okay, it wasn't anythin' big, but… See, there was this mugger, and - "
"A mugger?" Minnie dropped her paper and grabbed Mickey by the shirt, seized with terror. "You were mugged? What happened? Did he hurt you? Oh, Mickey, you poor thing!" She began looking him all over as if there was a gigantic gaping wound she had somehow not seen when she first arrived. "Did you tell the police? What did he look like?"
"Knock it off, motor-mouth!" Mickey gently took her by the wrists, pulling her off of him. "He just got me on the arms, that's all. And what good would tellin' the police do? They don't care about lil' guys like me. But see? I'm all in one piece." He let her go and then pumped his arms to prove his health, though it pained him to do so.
Minnie's face scrunched up, but she couldn't argue too much with him. It was an unfortunate but true fact that most police wouldn't have bothered looking into the assault of someone as low on the social ladder as Mickey. "It's not fair." She relented, ducking her head. "Everyone should be protected equally. If that mugger doesn't get punished for what he did to you, he could try to hurt you again. One of these days, you should just…" She stopped herself suddenly, lightly pulling at the lacy gloves on her hands.
Mickey watched her, curious. "I should just what?" Never in a million years would he have accurately guessed the end of that sentence.
Minnie didn't reply, for the thought was too scandalous for her to say. Despite whatever feelings there may have been, a girl couldn't just invite a boy to live with her, even if it would be for his own protection. She mumbled incoherently, then dared to meet his face again. However, he was no longer looking at her, and instead his suddenly annoyed eyes were far off. She followed his gaze, and saw Mortimer getting out of her carriage. A twist of mortified horror hit her, and she flailed her arms in a strange attempt to block Mortimer from Mickey's eye-sight. "No, no! He, uh, he just followed me! He made me bring him along!" She would just die if Mickey thought that she and Mortimer… ick! It was too gross to think of.
Mickey didn't place any blame on her, saving all of his aggravation towards the snooty rat heading towards them. He was supposed to play a naïve introduction to Mortimer, no doubt, but he couldn't let go of what the Scarlet remembered. This guy had his hands all over Minnie, dancing with her, flirting with her, as if Minnie was his! The nerve of him! Minnie would never belong to Mortimer! She would… well, realistically, she would never be with Mickey, but love and logic don't always go hand in hand. So he continued to hate Mortimer silently as the rich man approached, still rubbing his frock.
"What's taking so long, my dear?" Mortimer held out his hand for Minnie to take, but she didn't. "Is this low brow giving you a difficult time?"
"His name is Mickey." Minnie unfolded her newspaper, trying to control her temper for the sake of both men. "And he happens to be my best friend. I've known him since I was a child." Mickey stuck his tongue out at Mortimer when the fact was given, but quickly withdrew it when Minnie looked at him.
"Hmmm." Mortimer looked Mickey up and down, clicking his tongue in disapproval. "Well, that does explain a lot." Without giving a further explanation to his insult, he bent over and grabbed a paper from Mickey's pile of unsold papers. He thumbed through the articles, briefly noticing Mickey holding out his hand, awaiting payment. Mortimer ignored him and continued to read, despite Mickey clearing his throat twice and impatiently tapping his foot.
"It ain't free, ya know." Mickey snapped, refusing to be ignored for too long.
"I'm gifting you with my presence." Mortimer closed the paper, wondering why this mere insect was daring to raise his voice to someone of obvious superiority. "Isn't that enough?"
"Listen, pal, I need ta make a livin'. I can't just sit 'round and watch ma and pa do all the work fer me, like some people." Mickey stood up, thrusting his hand out further for the demanded payment. "So either cough up some cash or let me sell it ta someone!"
Mortimer looked down at the shorter man, and knew right away such insolence had to be punished. "And if I don't? Let me save us both the trouble." He began to tear the paper apart and let it snow over Mickey's head, enjoying the flashes of rage coming onto Mickey's face. Minnie was shouting Mortimer's name in similar anger, but she was just being an overly emotional woman and she'd get over it.
"Why, you!" Mickey wasn't just going to let this upper class humiliate him this way. He roughly grabbed onto Mortimer's arm, yanking him down so they were eye to eye.
"How dare you touch me!"Mortimer grabbed Mickey by the front of his shirt, hoisting him up a few inches. "Do you have any idea who I am?"
"A guy who's in fer a world of hurt!" Mickey latched both hands on Mortimer's arms, getting a good grip on him. The plan was to effortlessly toss him over his shoulder, make the rat splash into the fountain, say something clever – 'Looks like yer all washed up!' – and bask in Minnie's swooning admiration. With all the fighting techniques he had learned from Ludwig and Gyro, this would be child's play, even with his injured arms. And just think how good he'd look in front of Minnie! It'd definitely make up for the fault by the Duke.
But with that memory came others, and he stopped his grip. If he showed off this display of strength and ability, it would have to clue in both Mortimer and Minnie that Mickey was no ordinary paperboy. They'd wonder where he learned such a trick, where he got the strength, and worse came to worse, make the conclusion of his other identity. Hadn't Gyro told him that this would put Minnie in danger? She was more important than his pride. That was why, after taking a huge swallow of dignity, he let Mortimer go, and dangled helplessly in Mortimer's grasp.
"That's what I thought." Mortimer sneered, and dropped Mickey into the freezing water of the fountain. He smoothed down his clothes, and headed back to the carriage, again ignoring Minnie rant his name in fury. It was just as Fantome said, she needed some education about the way the world worked. She could take this as lesson one.
Mickey spat out some of the cold water, shivering as he sat up. Minnie fretted, beginning to take off her purple winter coat. "The absolute nerve of him! Mickey, here, take this…"
Mickey wouldn't look at her. Though he knew the defeat was for the best, he couldn't stand seeing pity in those pretty eyes of her. It was too much of a blow. "I'm fine, I don't need it."
"Don't be silly, you're soaked." Minnie reached out to him. "Here, let me just-"
"I said I'm fine, so I'm fine!" Mickey smacked her hand away, storming out of the fountain all on his own. "Just go, will ya? Ya got the paper already." He would absolutely not be pitied, not by Minnie! There was only so much his ego could take. He twisted his tail in his hands to squeeze the water off of it, doing his best to pretend Minnie wasn't heartbroken by his harsh tone. Since he still wouldn't look at her, she began to back off, saying a hushed goodbye and retreating to her carriage. Despite the wounds to the man's pride and the woman's heart, they both moved on, hoping this was just a bump on the road of friendship.
Mickey wasn't the only one in an irritable mood that same day. Max couldn't understand why his father found so much joy in their crummy lives. They were washing windows and cleaning up garbage outside of an aging library, yet Goofy acted like he was having the time of his life. He hummed as he moved the old wet rag up and down the grimy windows, not having a care in the world. It irritated Max for many reasons. Just because they were lower class, they couldn't find better jobs than cleaning up what someone else had ruined, and yet Goofy didn't treat this as an act of degradation. There was also the fact that the pay for this job would be very minimal. It could have also just been that Max was a growing teenager, and like many teenagers, was looking for the excuse to be the opposite of his parent. Finally, there was the fact that Max had lost his precious invention thanks to his old man, and had to go to the meeting with the revolutionaries empty-handed.
Ever since he could first touch a gear, it was obvious that Max was gifted with brilliance. His mind was ahead of his age, able to come up with devices and ideas that could revolutionize the world, but due to lack of funds, all they could ever be were blueprints. He was forced to stick with unintelligent people while his dreams went unrealized, and even though Goofy encouraged the boy's smarts, he never understood them. This wasn't the first time a blunder of Goofy's had cost Max an opportunity, and a particular moment from years ago also stuck in his mind…
But pouting faces and grumbling about mismatched fathers wasn't going to make the job go any faster. Pushing a long broom against the ground, Max tried to preoccupy himself with thoughts of future inventions, but that just led him back to thinking about the one that had gotten away. It had been almost perfect – a mechanical bug that could serve as a hidden recorder! But thanks to his father, the device had flown out the window to who knows where. Max supposed he could just try to make another one, but it still annoyed him all the same. He could see the final result so clearly in his mind…
… Then he realized he wasn't seeing it in his mind, but the bug had in fact just flown past him. Shaking his head to make sure the image was real, he stared as the mechanical bug kept going. He threw away the broom, ignoring the startled questioning of his father, and began to run after the device. Judging from the bug's zigzagging and shaking, it was running out of steam, and would soon be unable to fly. This would be the perfect opportunity to catch it! He was so invested in going after his creation that he didn't notice someone else was going after it.
"Got you!" he shouted triumphantly as his hand clasped around the object, but at the same time, someone had also made a grab for it, and Max wound up having their hand in his hand. "Hey, let go!" He violently shoved the opposing person towards him to try and make them let go. "Do you have any idea how hard I worked to make-"
He was cut off by a pair of gorgeous wide eyes. Any further attempts at speech were lodged away because it turned out this girl had latched onto was gorgeous from head to toe. Those grass green eyes were a perfect counterpart to her orange hair that comfortably laid itself on her shoulders. She was around his age, if he had to make a guess, and from the state of her attire, with trimmed lace and not a speck of dirt on them, she was a higher class of girl. She was impossibly pretty, Max thought, as he could not find a flaw on her. She even had a delicate beauty mark on her cheek, as if her creator was desperately trying to make a flaw on her, and instead made her look even better.
Now Max had nothing against pretty girls. He liked to look at them as they crossed different paths on the street. However, he had never been this close to one, and in fact these two were so close, a good breeze could have sent her head against his and made them kiss. He wouldn't have minded that, but such things were probably not a good start when he didn't even know her name. As it was, they stared at each other stupidly for some seconds.
"Um." She finally spoke up, and her voice was just as pretty as the rest of her, to no surprise of Max's. "My hand hurts."
"Oh!" Max fumbled, trying to release her hand without damaging or releasing the butterfly, which now somehow required using both of his hands and continuously touching hers accidentally. "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! Let me just…" It took several more embarrassing seconds, but eventually she was freed and he was holding his now slightly mangled device.
The girl leaned over to inspect the damage. "Is it broken?" She sounded concerned, perhaps apologetic if Max was hearing right.
"It's not too bad." He flipped the bug over, and found to his relief that most of the damage was just in the looks and not in important sections. "I can have this up and moving in minutes… but it does need more water. It converts the water into steam, so it can fly by the…" He stopped himself, wondering why he thought that babbling about technology would interest any female, especially one above his class. Yet when he looked at her face, she was looking back with expectancy, waiting for him to go on.
When he didn't, she spoke again. "That's really amazing! Did you make this all by yourself?" She lightly poked one of its wings, and he saw her hands were encased in black lacy gloves. "I found it on my windowsill the other day, but it got out of my room this morning. I was looking everywhere for it."
Max felt a swell of pride brewing in his chest. "Ah, this is nothing. I could make a million in my sleep. In fact, why don't I fix it up, then you can keep it?" He was surprised at the words flying out of his mouth. Hadn't he just been stewing over it being lost? Why was he handing it over so easily? It couldn't just be because of this girl's emerald eyes or her lovely flowing locks. There had to be some logical reasoning behind his brain malfunctioning.
She appeared to be just as confused as she pulled her hand back. "Oh, I couldn't, it belongs to you. But that's really nice of you anyway." She smiled up at him, and somehow, for some undetermined reason, that just made her all the prettier. Why did an act of moving muscle make this girl so much more beautiful, when in all reality nothing had changed? Max couldn't understand it but found himself smiling back. She then stepped back, took her dress into her hands, and curtseyed. "My name is Roxanne."
Why was a girl like that being so polite to a boy like him? The more time he spent with her, the more illogical she became. This was normally why he didn't like interacting with people, and preferred to work on his inventions. Gears and steam worked according to plan, while people were unpredictable. For her, he didn't mind as much. He scratched the back of his head, not knowing what physical gesture to give in return. "Uh… I'm Max." Come to think of it, why was she being so nice to him? The more money people had, the ruder they were. She was almost treating him like an equal, but the idea was laughable.
"It's nice to meet you, Max." She stood up straight, hands in front of her. "Have you made anything else like that? I'd love to see them."
"Why?" Max regretted it the moment the words left his mouth, and visibly winced from the awkwardness of the question. For a boy whose intelligence towered many his age, she had the ability to turn him into a fool quite easily. "I… I mean…"
She still didn't mind, and shrugged one shoulder. "I just think it's pretty cool. I was up almost all night looking this thing over!" Again, she delicately poked the bug's wings, gently tracing the faint design. "I've never seen anything like it in my entire life. It made me wonder if you've done anything else like this, because they have to be pretty cool too." Her fingers didn't leave his hands and he felt no inclination to move them.
"Well." He clicked his tongue to his cheek, his ego taking in all it could from these compliments. "I guess… maybe, sometime, I could show you some of my stuff. It'd… be nice to get a second opinion on it, from someone who appreciates this kind of thing." He didn't realize his fingers had begun to curl around hers, and frankly didn't care.
"That'd be fun." With her free hand, she brushed some of her hair off her face, and they happily gazed into each other's eyes for an unusual amount of time. Max suddenly found himself caring less and less about the illogical fallacies about the situation, and more and more about her shimmering green eyes. He could have been content to stay all day like this.
"There ya are, Maxy!"
It figured the most embarrassing aspect of his life would come to ruin this moment. Max jerked his head behind him, and saw his father running in their direction. In that instant Max suddenly remembered how big and silly his teeth looked, how filthy he was, how tattered his clothes were, and floods of humiliation threatened to drown him. Roxanne drew her hand back just in time for Goofy slap down on Max's shoulder. "I was wonderin' where ya went off ta! Had me scared silly!"
"Oh, I'm sorry." Roxanne apologetically stepped back. "I didn't know I was keeping you from something."
"Aw, it's okay!" Goofy laughed with that traditional 'a-hyuck' that Max dreaded. "It's always good for Maxy ta be out makin' friends!" he stuck his thumb to his chest by way of introduction. "Everyone calls me Goofy, and this here's my son!"
Roxanne repeated her curtseying motion, naming herself again, making Max worryingly wonder if she did that to everyone and making him feel less special about their meeting. "I'm Roxanne. I was just admiring Max's handiwork. It's wonderful!"
Goofy leaned over his son's shoulder to get a look at the device."Say, ain't that your butter-ma-thing-a-ma-bob that I let out? Ya got it back! Aw, that's just great!" He pat Max's hat, as the son continued to plead silently for lightening to strike. "But we still got a job ta do! Ya can talk ta yer friends all ya want after we get paid! Gives ya a reason ta work even harder!" He forcibly turned Max back around, but tipped his hat to Roxanne. "Thanks fer helpin' him out, Miss!"
"You're welcome." She held up a hand and waved cheerily to both dogs as they started to walk off. "It was nice meeting the both of you! Show me the rest when you can, Max!"
Max took a quick glance at her, and then, with pinking cheeks, kept his eyes straight forward. Something wonderfully momentous had just happened, but for the life of him he didn't know what. He stuffed the bug into his pocket, trying to blink out the memory of her eyes, but it didn't work.
Once they were out of her sight and hearing, Goofy let go of his son, and whistled once. "She was awful purdy, wasn't she?"
Back to his normal routine, Max felt an urge to disobey his father, even if it meant outright lying. "Really? I hadn't noticed."
"Makes me remember when I met yer ma." Goofy began to weave the story that Max had heard a million and one times, so it was easy to drown out. His mother had died ten years ago, so memories of her were few and far between. He had to wonder why any woman would find his father appealing, given his hick appearance, his low status, and his even lower intelligence. Though if Goofy find could a woman, maybe then it wasn't so impossible for Max.
Max slapped a hand to his face, groaning. What was wrong with him? He had just met this woman and he was already losing his brilliant mind to hormones. He had more important things to concentrate on! "Look, can you do the rest of the job?" He cut off his father's story, not that Goofy minded. "Now that I've got the device back, I need to fix it. Something like this could help put us in a higher place."
Goofy tilted his head, trying to imagine what Max meant in literal terms. "Well, gee, sure…" He then winked, poking Max in the ribs with a shoulder. "But are ya sure it doesn't have anythin' ta do with the lil' missy? Cause I saw how ya were lookin' at her, and-"
"She has nothing to do with it!" Max pushed Goofy's arm aside, his buttons pushed. "And stop assuming things you don't know! Don't act like you know anything about me! I'm trying to better our lives, but all you can do is sit back and take whatever job comes! At least have some dignity if you can't have any smarts!" He stormed away from Goofy, leaving the saddened father behind to wonder once more he had done wrong.
Goofy watched him walk away, but then returned to the job. Someone had to do it, and he was used to Max's tantrums. He couldn't blame the boy too much for being mad. How he helped create someone so smart was a miracle… he had definitely gotten all of that from his mother's side. But where Max used the past to fuel his anger and lament his present, Goofy took joy in what he could remember and hoped to recreate such happy times in the future, whistling merrily as he cleaned up.
A bad mood was spreading all around France this day, and it reached up into the highest offices of the Tache Bank. Horace was walking the stairs of the bank, and as bank employees passed him by, many noted that he always seemed to be in a bad mood. This wasn't that much of a misconception, as Horace had one major thing that angered him, and that one thing just so happened to be a huge part of his life now. So it was with much emotional restraint that Horace opened the door to Duke Tache's door, and announced his presence to the thing he hated most. "You called for me, Duke Tache?"
If the sight of the Duke sitting in his chair and sipping his tea wasn't enough to annoy him, then the sight of Clarabelle happily cleaning his desk and pouring his tea was enough to do it. Fantome calmly sipped from his cup, fully aware of the love and anger from his employees in the room. "I'd like the both of you to take a seat. We have a little bit to discuss."
There were two seats in front of Fantome's desk, and while Clarabelle sat without question, Horace had to speak his mind as he went down. "How important is this?" Normally Horace got his orders from the chief of police, Pete, who in turn got his orders from the duke. Why skip the middleman?
"He wouldn't call us here if it wasn't important." Clarabelle chided him, and then gleefully returned her attention to the Duke. "Whatever it is, we're willing and waiting, sir! You can count on us!" She'd do anything the Duke asked of her, from licking his shoes clean to standing in front of an oncoming train. The men in the room knew this for a fact, which was the main reason why Horace hated the Duke so deeply. Even now, his fingers dug into the armrests, feeling sickened by the admiration brimming from Clarabelle headed towards the wrong person.
"Of course I know can count on you, my dear." Fantome smiled, taking sadistic pleasure in the love and hate that one sentence produced. "This is a special assignment that only two of your rank can do for me. The Scarlet has only just arrived, but he's already worn out his welcome." Though the horse and cow never would have known it, the vigilante had severely unnerved Fantome. How could he have possibly known about the real carriage rider? Only a handful of people knew that secret, and he had personally ensured none of them would tell. No one would be foolish enough to spill. Yet what other explanation could there be? "I'm going to observe him for a little while, as I've got a few theories about him… and if I'm right, then you two will be very handy."
Horace didn't enjoy the vague interpretations of this demand. If he was going to deal with some nutjob with a hero streak, he wanted full details. "Doing what, exactly? He seemed to take you down pretty easily." That remark would cost him, but it was worth it to see the Fantome's lip twitch in displeasure. Clarabelle was also giving him a glare, but she was easily forgiven for it.
Fantome pretended he hadn't given anything away by that expression slip. "The Scarlet is expecting me. He's essentially declared me as his enemy to all of France. But he won't be expecting to the two of you. If my observations work out, then you two will be in a little… production. A one act play with some audience participation." He then paused, noticing something off to a side. "Ah, pardon. It seems one of my windows has gotten a smudge. How rude of me, when I have company."
"I'll get it!" Clarabelle sprang out of her seat, and found the window with the offending smudge. She yanked out a small rag from her apron pocket, and began rubbing it away. As she cleaned up, Fantome stood up, and walked up behind her, though she took no notice. Fantome and Horace exchanged looks, though Horace puzzled to what Fantome was doing. Slowly, the Duke lifted his arms, and positioned himself without touching her, looking ready to shove Clarabelle out of the window – out of the incredibly high window.
Horace's breath froze in his throat as he understood the deeper implications of the gesture. If Fantome wanted to, he could easily kill Clarabelle right there and then, and never suffer for it. He could easily claim she fell, and who would dare question him? Horace nodded rapidly, desperate to show he understood the threat. He wouldn't bring up any defeat of Fantome's, he swore, just as long as he didn't hurt her! After all, that had been part of the deal when Horace became a part of this villainous team-up.
Content with the terror in Horace's face, the Fantome relaxed into a more natural position, and lightly patted Clarabelle's shoulder. "Nicely done. I know I can rely on the both of you." Clarabelle, clueless to what had just been exchanged, smiled brightly at the compliment, delighted just to be touched. She was oblivious to the fear Horace was emitting and the self-loathing he was enduring due to his own cowardice, as he now wouldn't look at either of them. Fantome returned to his desk, the matter easily settled. "Now, back to the play. The lines will be easy to memorize, and I'm sure you two don't need any acting lessons. I'm not much for titles, but I'd like to call it… The Heroic Fool."
End Of Chapter Four.