Yoto sucked in a deeeeeep breath as he looked up at the enormous volcano before him and Storkos, tightening his shaky grip on Avalon's shovel. Professor Pester had somehow managed to get his likeness carved into the mountain, and lava gushed out of the eyes and mouth. The imposing mountain-Pester had one fist clenched and looked more than ready to bring it down upon Yoto's head.

"Damn, I always forget how scary this guy's house is…" Yoto tugged on his collar with his free hand. Storkos punched Yoto in the arm playfully.

"The proper term is 'evil lair,' Yoto!" She waggled a finger at him in mock sternness. "If you're gonna be a hero, you gotta talk like a hero!" She winked at Yoto and Yoto felt his legs turn to jelly again.

"Yeh-yes! His evil lair is terrifying!" Yoto nodded, a dead serious look on his face. "But it's nothing I can't handle!" Yoto rested a fist on his hip and puffed out his chest like a confident Cluckles.

"Especially with me right by your side!" Storkos gave Yoto's arm an affectionate squeeze. "I'll make sure nothing happens to you."

"I feel like I should be telling you that!" Yoto dropped the shovel for a moment and turned towards Storkos, his arms folded. "I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you up there!"

"Oh, really?" Storkos' full lips curled into a smile that had just a hint of mischief behind it. "And why is that?"

"Well, uh, you're a…pillar in the community!" Yoto's face blazed and he began to fiddle with the straps of his messenger bag. "Lots of people rely on you…you have a family to watch over…all that good stuff…!"

"Hmph," Storkos pouted a bit. "I can tell you're not telling the full truth, Yoto. Come on, spit it ou-"

Storkos was interrupted by Yoto's Alert System playing a loud, cheery, and obnoxious little noise.

"Oh man, I have a text, hold on…" Yoto fumbled around in his pockets for his Alert System.

"Good thing that went off," Storkos' tone was a bit scolding and she gave Yoto a light slap on the shoulder. "You should have that on silent, Yoto! Imagine if that started to ring while we were sneaking around!"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm stupid, I know," Yoto beat himself up inside as he finally opened his Alert System.

Storkos' brow furrowed with guilt and she tugged at one of her gloves. "I wasn't saying that you were-"

The poor girl was interrupted again by Yoto exclaiming "Oh my God, it's from Avvie!"

"Really?" Storkos flew to Yoto's side and attempted to get a look at the screen. "What's it say?"

Yoto cleared his throat and launched into an Avalon impression. "Get 'ere as soon as possible. Pester said that 'e is going to take over torturing duties if no one comes with the ransom by the end of the day. Never thought I'd admit this, but I'm…afraid, Yoto…" Yoto's voice trailed off and he dropped the impression. He read the rest of the text in his normal voice; now wasn't the time for fooling around. "Do whatever it takes to get me home. I know you and Storkos can do it."

Yoto neglected to read the last line out loud. "And, for God's sake, try not to let your lovesickness distract you."

"Avalon's afraid…" Yoto shut his Alert System and dropped it back into his pocket unceremoniously. "She's afraid. I didn't think that was possible…"

"Hey, chin up, Yoto," Storkos raised Yoto's head with her hand and smiled into his eyes. "We have all day. And I've been to Pester's lair before! She said she believes in us; let's go exceed her expectations!" She started to fly upwards and paused in midair. "Wait…I forgot…you can't fly, can you?"

"I wish I could," Yoto slumped a bit and picked up the shovel from the ground. "I don't wanna hurt you with this shovel by accident…guess we'll have to walk up." Yoto looked more than a bit guilty.

"Oh well, nothing we can't handle!" Storkos grabbed Yoto by his free arm. "Let's get going!"

With that, the two of them ran to the side of the volcano and began their trek up.

VPVPVPVPVPVPVPVP

Storkos was panting and sweating profusely by the time they got to the top. In her excitement and haste to get to the lair before anything happened to Avalon, she decided that running up the entire way was a good idea. She collapsed to the ground to catch her breath, sitting up and fanning herself with her cape. She wasn't used to running; it certainly took a whole lot more out of her than flying did!

Yoto, on the other hand, was completely fine. He always had a ridiculous amount of stamina, so running up the side of a gigantic volcano was no big deal for him. Still, he sat down next to Storkos with his borrowed shovel behind him and waited for her to catch her breath.

"I'm…sorry, Yoto…" Storkos huffed, reaching up underneath her mask to wipe her sweaty forehead. "I didn't think…this would happen…I wanted to…get up here fast…so…"

"No problem, like you said, we've got all day," Yoto smiled at her and opened up his bag. After groping about in it for a few seconds, he produced a water bottle. "Good thing I brought this!"

"Oh my gosh, gimme," Storkos grabbed the bottle from Yoto a millisecond after he pulled it out, twisted the cap off, and gulped down the contents thirstily. In her haste, a good bit of water splashed out from the bottom of her mouth and spilled over her neck. Yoto felt his face erupt into flames again and he quickly looked away.

Yoto heard Storkos sigh in satisfaction and twist the cap of the bottle back on. "Thanks, Yoto, I feel better already!" She laughed and wrung out the front of her dress. "Even if that was a bit messy. At least it cooled me down!"

Yoto turned back towards Storkos and almost melted when he saw the smile on her face. That was a real, honest smile. Storkos wasn't nervous about facing the dangers ahead at all; she actually seemed happy to be here!

What a woman. Yoto couldn't say the same for himself. He was looking forward to showing off in front of Storkos, but when he thought about how his best friend's life could be on the line, his stomach twisted up in knots…

Storkos noticed Yoto's troubled expression. "Hey…is something wrong?" She scooched closer to Yoto and leaned in to study his expression. "You look like you got punched in the stomach."

"I can't keep anything from you," Yoto sighed and shook his head. "I'm worried about Avvie. She's like the big sister I never had…what if Pester threatens to hurt her if we come in swinging?"

"I'll kick his fat butt, that's what I'll do!" Storkos pounded her fist into her palm. "Pester's all bark and no bite most of the time! Keep in mind he constantly gets his butt kicked by a girl." Storkos gestured to herself with more than a bit of pride.

"Heh," Yoto chuckled. "I shouldn't doubt you. You always seem to be right!" He felt his cheeks turn piping hot again. Damn, if this kept up, his body heat would rival the volcano's.

"I'm a heroine, it's only natural!" Storkos stood up and brushed herself off. "Come on, Yoto, we have some bad guys to beat up!" She offered Yoto her gloved hand. He grinned up at Storkos, took her hand, and was promptly yanked to his feet.

After a moment, Storkos pulled Yoto into a warm hug. "I promise we'll get out of here safe. You, me, and Avalon. I'd never get over it if anything happened to either of you guys…" Her voice was soft for once, her words barely breaths next to Yoto's ear. "I know we just recently started talking to each other, but…I never felt so close to someone. Your honest love for your friend, you willing to risk yourself in order to get her back…" Storkos pulled back from Yoto and smiled right into his eyes. "Yoto, you're something else."

"Suh-so are you!" Yoto couldn't help stammering. Was this really happening? Was he dreaming? Did Storkos actually…?

"Willing to kick villainous butt in a suit, no less!" Storkos laughed, her arms still wrapped around Yoto. "You could have gone home and changed, you know."

"Hey, I like to look nice when I kick ass," Yoto shrugged with a grin. "You always look great, you should know the feeling!"

"Aw, you're too sweet…" Storkos trailed off and suddenly looked very thoughtful, pursing her full lips and knitting her brow. After a silence, she finally said: "Hey, Yoto?"

"Yeah?" Yoto cocked his head to the side. "Something bugging you?"

No amount of preparation could have made Yoto ready for Storkos' answer to his question. Storkos stood on her bare toes, wrapped her arms around Yoto's neck, closed her eyes, and pressed her lips against his.

Yoto almost gasped hard enough to inhale Storkos' whole head and his body went rigid. Storkos broke away from him right when he was ready to kiss her back, and slammed a palm into her forehead.

Storkos, not too experienced in the romance department, began to promptly vomit whatever words entered her head at a rapid pace. "I'm sorry, that was too forward, now isn't the time, we have a rescue mission to go on, neither of us can afford distractions, agh, you probably don't feel the same way, oh man, now you have lipstick smudged all over your mouth, I'm so sor-MMPH!"

Storkos' dithering was silenced by Yoto lunging forward, dipping her down, and kissing her with all of his might. Every last bottled up feeling of love he'd kept inside, every year of watching and admiring her from afar, every last romantic thought about Storkos manifested itself in Yoto's kiss.

Sure, he was more than a little overzealous and Storkos nearly choked on his tongue at one point, but she eventually let her eyes flutter closed and kissed him right back, holding onto his back in a tight embrace as their lips pressed into one another.

After what seemed simultaneously like a second and an eternity, Yoto finally straightened up and the two of them came apart.

"Wow…" Storkos touched her mouth with a tentative finger, as if she wasn't sure she had just been kissed with such a sheer amount of passion.

"Wow is right…" Yoto breathed. He didn't even bother to wipe the smeared lipstick or saliva off of his mouth, he was in such shock. HE. HAD. FINALLY. KISSED. STORKOS! In front of a villain's lair, no less! What a kiss it was; that exceeded all of his expectations! His chest felt like it was full of a swarm of Flutterscotches on speed. Great, he was going to die of a heart attack now. How would Storkos explain that one to Avalon?

Storkos' voice broke Yoto out of his lovestruck haze.

"Come on, Tigermisu," Storkos squeezed Yoto's hand. "Grab that shovel. We have some rescuing to do!"

"Oh, right, rescuing! Yup!" Yoto grinned like a fool and stumbled forward, picking up the shovel with excited, shaky hands.

In Yoto's mind, he couldn't help thanking God that Avalon got kidnapped. Sure, her life and sanity were at risk…but HE GOT TO KISS STORKOS!

"This is the best day ever," Yoto sighed under his breath as Storkos punched a button on the wall. The enormous metal door to Pester's lair slid open and revealed a long, dark hallway.

"Not yet, Yoto," Storkos playfully waggled a finger at him. "We still need to go and rescue Avalon, remember?"

"All right," Yoto sucked in a deep breath. "I'm not nervous anymore. We can do this!"

"Atta boy!" Storkos gave Yoto an enthusiastic slap on the butt before hooking her arm into his. "Let's kick some bad guy ass!"

I love you I love you I love you I love you… Yoto's lovesick mind babbled on and on as Storkos led him down the hallway.

VPVPVPVPVPVPVPVP

"Harrumph," Pesters stomped his foot impatiently as he scrolled and scrolled and scrolled through the camera footage he had set up around the town. As far as he could tell, no one was getting his ransom together! No one was doing anything even remotely entertaining, either.

Leena was in her mess of a garden fretting over a wilting bunch of tulips, Petula and Fannie were gossiping over cups of coffee, that gloomy nephew of Bart's was dead asleep with an enormous Crowla in his arms…

Langston was also napping, drool seeping out of the corner of his paper mouth and onto his computer's keyboard.

"Hmph, does he not care that his most prized gardener is locked tightly within my lair?" Professor Pester slammed a fist on his console. "He was practically hopping with nerves yesterday! Now he's asleep? He should be gathering up my ransom! He has access to more candy than anyone on this godforsaken Island does! Maybe that deplorable rich kid and his father are gathering up my money…"

A few quick clicks through the many cameras installed in the Lizard mansion revealed that certainly wasn't the case. Eddie's father hadn't even returned yet, and Eddie was sitting on his couch, a blanket wrapped around him, crying his eyes out into Sparcticus' shoulder. Sahari was there too, giving Eddie tentative pats on the back and Sparcticus nervous, fleeting glances. Judging by the borderline crazed expression on her mask, they had been there a long, long time.

"DAMN IT!" Professor Pester slammed both of his meaty fists into his desk, making hefty dents in the metal. He was too pissed off to care. Urgh, maybe he could find something that would cheer him up on one of the other cameras…

Gretchen zipping up her hunting gear (damn it, he was a few seconds too late), Bart animatedly discussing something with a very irritated-looking Jardiniero, and-

"EUGH!" Professor Pester exclaimed, turning off his computer monitor as quickly as he possibly could. Seeing Doc Patchingo slathering ointment on Seedos' bumpy, bright red, full-body rash was something he could have gone the rest of his life without seeing.

"RUFFIAN!" Pester swiveled his chair around and shouted. "ANY OF YOU! GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE AND BRING ME A DRINK! SOMETHING STRONG!"

A minute later the female Ruffian came toddling into the room, pigtails bouncing, with a tall glass of something bright red in her disproportionate hands. Professor Pester grabbed it from her, accidentally splashed a good amount of the drink onto her head, and gulped it down like someone was going to take it away from him.

"Ahhhh…" Professor Pester sighed as he dropped the now-empty glass back into his Ruffian's hands. "Keep them coming! I need to forget all of my troubles tonight!"

The Ruffian began to protest, but Pester held up a hand to silence her.

"Oh, hush, I never get hangovers, I'll still be in fine condition to torture our little captured princess tomorrow!" Professor Pester chortled but quickly turned mean. He gave his Ruffian a kick in the butt and added: "And bring me something sweet this time! That tasted like your body odor after you come back from vandalizing a garden!"

The female Ruffian skulked off with the glass under her muscular arm, squeezing a sopping pigtail with her free hand.

Professor Pester stumbled over to his more comfortable chair. He always seemed to come up with his best ideas when he drank…he couldn't help letting out a loud laugh when he realized that he would have something mighty evil in store for Avalon the next day!

VPVPVPVPVPVPVPVP

"I still can't believe yew encouraged 'im!" Avalon wrung and rattled the rusty bars of her cage roughly, obviously wishing that she could do the same to Dastardos' neck.

"I didn't 'encourage 'im'!" Dastardos crossed his eyes as he mocked Avalon's heavy British accent. "I just said 'okay!'"

"That still counts!" Avalon practically screeched. She slid down to the bottom of the cage and buried her mask in her hands. "To make things even worse, I never got a response from Yoto. My worst fears are coming true…"

"What fears are those, exactly?" Dastardos asked, cocking a brow and floating closer to the cage.

"Yoto's too wrapped up in Storkos to even focus on coming to get me out of this god-awful place!" Avalon slammed a fist into the stony floor and immediately regretted it, hissing in pain and shaking her hand out. "I thought I could trust 'im, but I guess I was wrong…" Avalon drew her knees up to her chest, looking absolutely crestfallen. Her lip was quivering and her eyebrows were drooping, but she never shed a single tear. Dastardos frowned a bit. He never pegged Avalon as the sort to get emotional…

"Yew've never seen anything more pathetic or nauseating than his love for 'er…" Avalon snorted, her voice heavy with her disappointment.

"I could name a few things…" Dastardos mused with a roll of his eyes and Avalon silenced him with a glare. She really wasn't in the mood for his flapyackshit snarky comments.

"'E probably got so wrapped up in impressing 'er that 'e's relishing the time that 'e has to talk to 'er, stalling as much as possible, claiming that 'e and Storkos are 'preparing for the rescue of their dear friend Avalon.'" Avalon chuckled ironically, her tone becoming crueler as she went on. "Yoto probably 'asn't even checked 'is Alert System at all, too distracted by Storkos and 'ow goddamned perfect he thinks she is."

"Are you…jealous?" That was the first word that popped into Dastardos' head. He found himself saying it without really thinking it through.

"Wot," Avalon gave Dastardos the harshest look of incredulity that he had ever seen.

"Well, you and that annoying ginger, since you're always together, I always thought you were, you know…" Dastardos crossed two of his bony fingers together tightly. "Like this."

"Don't be ridiculous," Avalon barked a laugh and shook her head, further messing up her long black hair. "We're friends…great friends…I always 'elp 'im and 'e always comes to me for advice…'e's a good kid…at least…I thought he was…" Avalon sighed morosely and looked down at the stony ground and began to absent-mindedly trace a long, winding crack in the concrete with a finger. "At least 'e will probably feel guilty when he 'eard about my brutal torture at the 'ands of Professor Pester…" Avalon gritted her teeth and slammed a hand into her cheek, as if to slap herself awake. "'Ow could I say that so casually? That filthy bastard is going to kill me if the Village refuses to get 'im wot 'e wants!" Avalon's voice cracked quite a bit when she said "kill" and Dastardos felt something knot in his chest.

"No, he won't," Dastardos found himself saying before he could stop his words.

"Wot," Avalon gave Dastardos that harsh look of disbelief again.

Dastardos took a deep breath, turned transparent, and went right through the bars of the cage. He turned solid again as he floated down to the stone floor and crossed his legs tailor style right next to Avalon. Avalon tried to edge away, but Dastardos grabbed Avalon by the chin before she could.

"Listen up," Dastardos turned Avalon's head to face him. "I don't do favors for people often, but I don't like people often. You're far more intriguing than any of those other empty-headed freaks who live on this Island."

"Um…" Avalon squinted at Dastardos. "…Thank yew? Where are yew getting with this?"

Dastardos took his hand away from Avalon's chin and looked at her seriously. "If Pester so much as lays a finger on you, I'm going to knock him out and let you escape. I'll be in deep shit if I do that, so I'll only do that as a last resort. If your ginger doesn't show up, though…" Dastardos held out a bony hand to Avalon. "…consider me your savior."

Avalon eyed Dastardos' hand warily, as if it was a particularly sharp-toothed Syrupent rearing to bite her. "Wot's the catch?"

"No catch," Dastardos clenched and unclenched his outstretched hand. "All I need to know is that Pester failed in yet another one of his schemes. That's reward enough." The corner of Dastardos' yellow mouth lifted into a smirk. "Not to mention you made this whole hostage-guarding thing quite a bit more bearable."

Avalon gave Dastardos a pale smile and finally shook his hand. Dastardos' hand was cold and skeletal and barely reassuring, but it was better to have one thread of hope to cling to than none at all.

"Also," Dastardos added as he let go of Avalon's hand. "If that stupid ginger doesn't show up, I'll personally kick his ass into next year for you."

"That won't be necessary," Avalon chuckled in spite of the situation.

Dastardos leaned in a bit too close to Avalon, a mischievous smirk adorning his mask. "You're no fun, Princess." His scarf hissed in agreement.

"Go back to your desk," Avalon gently pushed Dastardos' face away with an index finger. "And yew better make good on that promise of yours."

"Oh, come on," Dastardos drawled as he flew back over to his desk. "Do I look like the untrustworthy type to you?" He folded his hands under his chin and looked at Avalon innocently.

Avalon shook her head. It would be better for both of them if she didn't answer that question.

VPVPVPVPVPVPVPVP

Professor Pester's hallway was long and metallic, with small red lights on the wall every few pinometers. Storkos and Yoto were walking slowly, their heads flitting around the lair warily in case a Ruffian or a Sour Piñata decided to pop out from out of nowhere.

"It's crazy quiet…" Storkos lowered her usually brash voice to a whisper.

"Do you think he has a trap set up?" Yoto asked, also speaking under his breath. "It would totally suck if he saw us coming…"

"Oh, Yoto…" Storkos chuckled and shook her head. "It's Pester. If there's one thing I learned from tangling with him all these years, he almost never thinks things through. The first time I foiled one of his plans, I was only fourteen!"

"No way," Yoto's jaw practically dislocated.

"Yes way," Storkos' green eyes glimmered with pride. "Granted, all he did was kidnap a few piñatas, but I taught him a thing or two," Storkos cracked her knuckles and grinned. "He's hated me ever since. It's hard to get over having your ass kicked by a little girl. God only knows how old Pester is now, but it still can't be fun to get beaten up by me." Storkos laughed triumphantly and Yoto felt his heart wobble like jelly. He loved her laugh; sure, he had heard other people describe it as "obnoxious" and one time his uncle Bart had called Storkos' laugh "cacophonous" or something, but to Yoto, it made her all the more charming. Storkos never held back when she laughed and it just reminded Yoto about what a fun, perfect, genuine girl she was…

"Wake up, Yoto," Storkos snapped her fingers in front of Yoto's lovesick face. "We're here." Storkos looked up and narrowed her eyes, a serious look on her face.

"Here…?" Yoto shook his head around to regain his sanity and had his own question answered when he followed Storkos' gaze. An enormous set of bright red metal doors with green and black sour paint patterns snaking up to the ceiling was before them.

"Wow," Yoto almost laughed. "Pester really takes this whole 'evil' thing seriously, huh?"

"He even has a business card," Storkos said with a shake of her head, her tone dead serious. "Oh well, we'll take him down in no time!" She grabbed Yoto's hand that wasn't grasping the shovel and smiled at him. "Ready?"

"Born ready," Yoto burst into a toothy grin. Storkos stood on her toes and gave Yoto another quick kiss on the mouth. She wrapped an arm around the now-glowing Tinker in training and kicked the huge set of doors open.

"PESTER! We're here to-" Storkos stopped short when she noticed exactly what was in front of her.

"Wow," Yoto wasn't sure whether to laugh or weep over the fact that he was getting all worked up about this rescue, only to come mask to mask with this.

Professor Pester was slumped in an overstuffed armchair, his mask askew and a glazed look in his acid eyes. Several glasses were strewn across the floor, and a small gaggle of Ruffians were grumbling amongst themselves in the corner of the room.

Professor Pester failed to even notice the two trespassers despite Storkos' announcement, opening his mouth and letting out a room-shaking belch.

"That's not a very polite greeting," Yoto mock-pouted at the Professor and he suddenly sprang to wobbly life.

"Ruffies! Take care of these…things!" Pester slurred and flapped a hand in the general direction of Yoto and Storkos.

The four Ruffians broke out of their gibbering conversation and charged full speed at Yoto and Storkos.

"I don't think so…" Yoto sing-songed under his breath, digging in his bag and pulling out a fistful of candy. "GO LONG!" he shouted, hurling the bundle of sweets to a far corner of the enormous room.

The Ruffians promptly exclaimed with joy and proceeded to trample all over one another in an attempt to follow the brightly colored candy.

"NOOOOooooo…!" Pester's cry of distress trailed off and he rested a hand against one of his temples. "Urgh…"

The next thing he knew, Storkos had flown right in front of him and gotten right up into his face. The smell of alcohol on Pester's breath did nothing to faze Storkos from staring down the evil old man.

"I never imagined I'd find myself taking advantage of a drunk person," Storkos smirked as she cracked her knuckles. "But you just made this way too easy for me."

"Oh, shi-OOF!" Pester was silenced by a hard punch to his bloated stomach.

"Go get Avalon, Yoto!" Storkos shouted over her shoulder as she grabbed Pester by the neck. "She's bound to be behind one of the doors in here! And give Dastardos a good wallop for me!" Storkos gave Yoto a quick wink before she began repeatedly punching Pester in his masked face.

"Yes, ma'am!" Yoto saluted her, whipped around, and yanked open the first door he set his eyes on.

Eugh, nope. This was Pester's bedroom! He had an enormous double bed and an even larger chest of drawers that seemed to be overflowing with papers. There were statues of him all over the room and everything was patterned in that same sour way. Professor Pester really kept to form with his décor…

Yoto fought the overwhelming urge to go rooting around through Pester's stuff and made a buzzlegumline towards a metal door in the far corner of Professor Pester's control room.

He was greeted by an alarmed Dastardos kneeling in front of Avalon's cage and Avalon looking simultaneously baffled and delighted. Dastardos quickly flew to his feet and looked at the shovel in Yoto's hands like it was a rabid animal.

"AH-HAH!" Yoto pointed the shovel at Dastardos. "I found you, vile villain! You probably won't be willing to unhand the damsel, but I'm sure a smack in the head will change your mind!" Yoto charged forward with the shovel, lifted it over his head, and swung-

CLUUUUUUUUUUNG!

He hit concrete?

"Damn it, where did that bastard-" Yoto flipped his head around and his eyebrows nearly flew off his mask when he saw that Dastardos had retreated behind Avalon.

"Yoto," Avalon held up a hand and narrowed her eyes at her friend. "There's no need to 'it 'im."

"Buh-but he's-" Yoto spluttered in disbelief, twirling the shovel in his hands.

"-Gonna let Avalon out!" Dastardos finished Yoto's sentence for him. "Just don't you dare hit me with that damn thing, you stupid ginger!"

"YOU'RE a stupid ginger!" Yoto held up the shovel threateningly and Avalon rolled her eyes so hard that her head went with them. "You're plotting something! You're going to incap me or hurt Avalon!"

"No, I'm not!" Dastardos flew out of the cage with his hands in the air. "Calm down, spaz! I'll get the key, it's in the desk drawer! Don't even think about hitting me!"

"Hmph!" Yoto's grip tightened on the shovel and Avalon gave him a stern look.

"Yoto, 'e's not that bad. Don't 'it 'im," Avalon's tone was as firm as the expression on her face.

"Fffffine," Yoto lowered the shovel just as Dastardos produced the keys.

"Would have let you out sooner, but like I said, that filthy bastard I worked for would have had my head," Dastardos twirled the keys around a finger and smirked at Avalon. "Metaphorically speaking, of course."

"Just let me out," Avalon rubbed her temples. "I've 'ad more than enough of this place…"

"Fine-"

The door to the room slammed open and Storkos' voice rang out "Hey, Yoto, how are you doin'?"

Yoto gasped and hit Dastardos over the head as hard as he could. Dastardos crumpled to the ground with a loud moan of pain and Yoto pried the keys from his fingers.

"Nice work, Yoto!" Storkos shouted victoriously. "Glad to see Dastardos didn't stand a chance against you!"

Avalon slammed her face into her outstretched palms. "I can't believe yew did that."

"What?" Yoto and Storkos whirled to face her, Yoto dropping his shovel in surprise.

"…nothing. Just let me out, please," Avalon lifted her face from her hands. "I'm glad yew showed up when yew did."

"Oh, I can imagine!" Storkos nodded as Yoto unlocked the cage. "Who knows what Dastardos would have done to you!"

"It was Pester I was worried about," Avalon snorted as Yoto tugged the heavy cage door with all his might. "I take it you took care of 'im?"

"Oh man, Avalon, he was drunk off his ass!" Yoto laughed and slapped his knee after he finally let go of the door.

"Even if he wasn't, I would have had no trouble taking care of him!" Storkos planted her fists on her hips. "It was just extra easy this time. Avalon, you're so lucky!"

"I know," Avalon finally smiled as she stood up, brushed off her dirty dress, and finally exited the cage that had been confining her for far, far too long. She grabbed Yoto and pulled him into an affectionate hug. "I thought yew would never come."

"You kidding me?" Yoto hugged Avalon right back. "I'd never leave you hanging! You're my best friend!"

Avalon squeezed Yoto tighter and then let him go. "Thanks so much, yew two. Professor Pester is…not a fun bloke to 'ang around."

"You said it!" Storkos laughed. "Come on, let's get out of here before he wakes up! Not that he'd be much of a threat, I knocked his drunken ass into three years from now!" Storkos practically strutted out the door, glowing with joy from a mission well done.

"Isn't she great?" Yoto whispered to Avalon with a doofy grin on his face.

"She sure is…" Avalon half-smiled at Yoto. "Yew go on ahead. I need to make sure I didn't leave anything behind. Be out in one sec."

"If you say so!" Yoto shrugged and followed Storkos out the door.

Avalon bent down to pick up her shovel and cast a tentative glance over at the extremely unconscious Dastardos. She sighed, approached him, and crouched down next to him.

"'Ey, I'm sorry," she mumbled, even though she knew he couldn't hear her. "Yoto's…impulsive." Avalon reached out and gently smoothed Dastardos' messy hair a bit. "Thanks for making this not as terrible as it could 'ave been. Yew're all right, for an immature reaper." A smile crossed her lips and she straightened up.

"Avvie! Come on, what are you DOING in there?" Yoto's impatient voice called from outside. "Let's get going! I'm already sick of this place!"

"Fine, Yoto, fine!" Avalon huffed and headed out the door. She glanced briefly over her shoulder at Dastardos one last time before joining Yoto and Storkos in leaving the lair.

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Upon returning to town at sunset, Yoto, Storkos, and Avalon were greeted by the people in the village square erupting into cheers. Of course, this attracted more people out of their shops and homes, and the cheers swelled up into an enormous standing ovation once they all saw that Avalon was safe and sound.

"I KNEW you could do it, boy!" Bart smacked Yoto on the back a bit too hard. "I'm chuffed that we have one of our paramount gardeners back…not to mention one of the most frequent patrons of my unique services!" He gave Yoto a sideways hug and winked at Avalon.

"I missed yew too, Bart," Avalon gave him a good natured smile. She jumped a bit when she suddenly felt arms wrap around her. She looked down and saw a frizzy mess of brown hair.

"Leena!" Avalon exclaimed, gently embracing the smaller girl

"They got you back!" Leena was obviously weeping, her voice heavy with joyous sobs. "I can't believe it! I knew you were okay!"

Seedos popped up behind Leena, every exposed inch of his skin bright red and scratched up. "Yen kept saying you're probably going to give birth to a demon spawn. I take it that you aren't?" He asked, scratching a particularly raw spot on his elbow.

Avalon just looked at him flatly and continued to gently pet Leena's hair.

"Seedos, what happened to you?" Storkos, looking very concerned, flew to Seedos' side and attempted to touch his arm.

"NO!" Seedos yanked his arm away from her. He sighed and added: "Urgh, sorry. I was so worried about you when you went off to save Avalon and I wasn't looking where I was walking…" Seedos shuffled his feet. "I tripped and fell into more poison ivy than I've ever seen in my life."

"Aww, I'm glad you were worried about me," Storkos barely resisted the urge to ruffle her younger brother's hair. "But I'll have to give you an IOU for a great big hug! Don't want to catch that rash…" She looked up and down Seedos' unfortunate body, "no offense."

"None taken," Seedos' mask burst into a gigantic grin. "Just glad to see that you're safe." He turned his attention back to his elbow, which was reddening rapidly with every scratch.

"I'll buy you some aloe vera later, little guy," Storkos shook her head at her poor brother.

"Hey…" a low voice caught Avalon's attention. Leena finally broke apart from her good friend and smiled at the newcomer.

"Hi, Yen-oh my God, you found Cid!" Leena's soft cries of joy were replaced with a tone of sheer delight and she folded her hands under her chin.

"He did?" Yoto practically teleported to Avalon's side, gaping at his twin brother.

"Not just found," Yen half smiled, his eyes down on the ground. Cid was resting on his shoulder, looking like his usual majestic self. "I fixed him. He was in rough shape." Cid nodded and gave Yen a nudge on the cheek in gratitude. Yen chuckled and patted Cid on the head.

"Wow, 'e really took a shine to yew!" Avalon looked impressed. She stepped forward and held out her arm for her Crowla. Cid let out a caw of joy and leapt onto Avalon's arm and climbed up to her shoulder, obviously relieved to see his beloved owner again. "I owe yew one, Yen."

"No, you don't owe me anything…" Yen flicked his bangs to the side, but they quickly returned to their place over his eye. "I just…wanted to help, okay?"

"Well, I'm glad yew did," Avalon leaned down and gave Yen a small kiss on the forehead of his mask. "Thank you, Yen, yew're a good man."

The cheeks of Yen's mask darkened. He promptly flicked his hood up and jammed his hands into his hoodie pockets. "I-it was nothing. I'm gonna go…go home. Glad you're okay…Avalon…" With that, Yen took off briskly toward his family's tiny house. Yoto couldn't help noticing that Yen was walking a bit…perpendicularly.

"Heheheh!" Yoto snickered and elbowed Avalon in the ribs. "Hey Avvie, I think he likes you!"

"The boy has good taste!" Bart nodded in approval and Avalon tilted a brow at him. Bart held up his hands. "Just saying, I know a good woman when I see one!"

"Don't be silly," Avalon shook her head. "We barely know each other."

Cid let out a noise that sounded like a mix between a cough and a caw.

"Oh wow, how cute…" Leena turned pink. "I always thought no one could get through to Yen!"

"Oh man, I'm gonna badgesicle him until he spills the beans!" Yoto wriggled his fingers and laughed maniacally. "You'll know the truth soon enough, Avalon! Oh man, you'll be the BEST sister-in-law!"

"Don't get ahead of yourself," Avalon gave Yoto a very serious look. "And don't yew spread any rumors! I don't want my reputation tarnished!"

Yoto slumped and stuck out his lower lip. "You're no fun, Avvie."

Storkos had gone quiet once the talk about Yen's possible affections became the topic. She finally tugged on Yoto's sleeve.

"Hey, Yoto?" she asked, her voice low. "Can we talk?"

"Of course!" Yoto turned to face Storkos, an impish grin adorning his face. "What about?"

"I'd like to talk in private, if that's okay," Storkos hooked her arm through Yoto's. She was wearing a smile, but Yoto noticed that it looked a bit thin, not close to her usual full grin at all… "Sorry, gotta borrow Yoto for a minute!" Storkos called over her shoulder.

"Keep 'em!" Bart flicked his wrist at her.

Storkos couldn't help chuckling at that and Yoto joined her. She led him off into the jungle near the Village edge.

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They didn't have to venture too far into the mess of trees and vines before they found a nice clearing. It was filled with wild bluebells and the occasional snoozing Bispotti. Everything looked stunning in the low light of the setting sun.

"Oh, it's nice here…" Yoto's heart fluttered as Storkos smoothed her dress and sat down on the grass. She patted the ground next to her and Yoto instantly joined her on the ground.

"What did you want to talk about?" Yoto asked Storkos, wondering if he should put his hand over hers or not.

He didn't have to, because Storkos took both of his hands and looked straight into his eyes. "Yoto…about those kisses…" Storkos averted her eyes for a moment and bit her lip before she continued. "I…really do like you. I like you a lot. You're funny, you're cute, and you're brave…but…"

Yoto felt his heart flop into his stomach. "Buh-but what?" The look of devastation on Yoto's face broke Storkos' heart.

"My job…" Storkos squeezed Yoto's hands tighter, as if he would be taken away from her if she didn't keep him in a firm hold. "It's demanding, especially since I'll have a huge backup of egg deliveries once I start work again. I…I don't have time for a relationship that would keep you satisfied, that would keep me satisfied…I think I'm destined to be delivering eggs forever…" Storkos sounded like she wanted to cry, but she kept herself from doing it. Heroines never cried, even when they felt their chest twisting into a knot of horrible, new emotions.

"Don't say that!" Yoto sounded almost desperate. "Storkos…you have no idea how long I've liked you…sorry if this sounds creepy, but I've been admiring you for years! If I have to wait for you to get time off, or share your shift with someone else that can fly, or even have to waltz up to Piñata Central and threaten Langston with death, I'd be willing to do it!" Tears were falling from beneath Yoto's mask now, leaving behind wet streaks on his reddened face. "I've waited so long for you, Storkos. I'd be willing to wait longer."

Storkos was silent for a few moments before lifting up her mask and looking straight at Yoto. "You're too sweet," Her eyes crinkled in the corners when she smiled and Yoto was utterly dumbfounded by her face. She was even prettier than he had imagined; her face was round and youthful, her eyes were bright and filled with pride, and her nose was perky. "If you think you can do it, I'll gladly wait for you, too…" Storkos reached for the sides of Yoto's mask, hesitated, and parted her lips as if to say something. Yoto placed a finger over her mouth.

"Go ahead," Yoto mentally patted himself on the back for managing to keep his voice from quivering. Storkos lifted up Yoto's mask and, thankfully, lit up when she saw his fully revealed face.

Storkos removed one of her gloves and placed her uncovered hand on Yoto's cheek. "Most other guys would run screaming if the girl they liked had a demanding job like mine…"

"Yeah, well, those guys would be completely stupid to let a girl like you go," Yoto's freckled face burst into the reddest blush Storkos had ever seen.

Storkos let out a cry of joy and finally let two tears fall from her eyes. She threw herself into Yoto's arms and kissed him, her tears mingling with the ones on his face.

The two of them broke apart and held each other wordlessly in the jungle clearing until the sun was completely down. They weren't sure how long had passed. Minutes? Hours? Days?

Neither of them cared. The silence was broken when Storkos' Alert System started to ring with the croaking of a Lickatoad. She scowled and turned the system off.

"I'm not going to worry about Langston tonight," Storkos pressed her nose against Yoto's and closed her eyes. "If he's so worried, he can deliver the goddamned eggs."

Yoto burst into laughter, but was quickly silenced with a kiss from Storkos.

Yoto didn't care that he would barely see her. He would treasure every single millisecond the two of them had together, he loved her more than anything else in the world. That alone gave him confidence that their relationship would stay strong.

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Dastardos floated into his house, practically lopsided, and cradling an enormous bump on his head. Magnar scuttled out from under the couch and launched like a rocket into Dastardos' chest.

"You're home!" Magnar squeaked with joy as Dastardos fumbled to catch the tiny piñata. "I missed you soooo much!"

"Urgh, not so loud, Magnar," Dastardos placed the Macaraccoon on the couch and began to undo the strap of his mask. "I got a nasty bump from that stupid ginger kid." Dastardos threw his mask unceremoniously into the corner of the room.

"What an asshole," Magnar hissed, having picked up some of Dastardos' less than savory vocabulary throughout the years. "Want me to sneak into his house and bite his throat open?"

"Yes, but we both know that you can't do that…" Dastardos yawned and dropped onto the couch. "We'd get in trouble…"

"Hmph…" Magnar curled into a tiny ball in the corner of the couch.

Dastardos curled up on the couch himself and closed his eyes, wanting nothing more than a good rest after having to deal with Pester's three hour long drunken ramblings about his failed plan on top of a nasty hit in the head.

He felt sleep starting to pull him down when he was awakened by a beeping coming from his pocket.

"Damn it, Pester…" Dastardos grumbled as he dug for his Alert System. Once his eyes focused, he actually gasped when he saw what was on the screen.

"What? Stardos? What? Is something wrong?" Magnar leapt to his feet and tried to look at Dastardos' Alert System screen.

"No, it's…nothing…go back to sleep…" Dastardos rubbed the bump on his head and put his Alert System back into his pocket. "It was just…something I didn't expect to see."

It wasn't a message from Pester, nor a demand to euthanize a sick piñata. It was just a simple message in white text that popped up in a blue box.

Avalon Pendragonache is waiting for you to take your turn in Draw Something! Don't keep her waiting!