While the pedestrians hurried with groceries or fashion labels plastered all over the brightly coloured shopping bags, Ace meandered between them with his hands burrowed in the pockets of his navy pea coat. The grey and white, anthromorphic hare bumped into many people and mumbled apologies but never took his blue eyes off the concrete pavement. He didn't believe he had enough pride to look up after he heard Duck say such sad things in anger.
None of the Loonatics had any idea of what the mallard went through before he received his powers and joined the team. It was enough of a shock when they found out he lived in an orphanage before a married couple finally adopted him. Ace wondered what could be the three worse dark secrets than Duck's two-headed coin that got him adopted before his ex-friend, Pinkster. Whatever they were, he figured it would destroy the mallard if someone other than himself knew any of them. Everyone was used to the prideful, egotistical Duck that for him to have a terminal illness was like a sudden explosion in the middle of the city no one could predict. It was one of those things no one expected to happen.
Ace shut out most of the chatter from those around him to dwell on his own thoughts of the dilemma his team faced until a quiet melodic tune pricked his ears. He stopped in his footsteps and realised he stood in front of the musical instrument shop and through the shop window, his eyebrows rose to the one person he never expected to be sat on a stool playing a shining, black grand piano.
The mallard diagnosed with cancer looked out of place in his denim blue jeans and denim brown waist jacket over his white T-shirt. However, least all five customers in the shop watched his hands glide over the ebony and ivory keys in awe. Despite the window muffled the sound from the outside; Ace recognised the song the pianist performed.
Will you still love me
When I'm no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
It was Lana Del Rey's song, 'Young and Beautiful', from Baz Lurhmann's adaption film of 'The Great Gatsby'. He read the book before he saw the film and it had since become a favourite of both forms though if asked why he'd say it had a certain charm he liked that he couldn't place. The song for the film was one he liked and sympathised himself with when things didn't go his way when he worked as a stunt double.
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I'm no longer beautiful?
Ace remembered some of the words and was surprised the mallard had knowledge of the song's existence but given the despondent circumstances life threw at him, the leader knew why he played that song. Duck wanted attention. He craved it and must be frightened of not having any eyes on him for some strange reason. It was as if he demanded everyone to acknowledge him through the lyrics, even when the only sound that filled the shop was the piano keys that Duck's fingers skillfully danced across. Ace mentally sang the lyrics to the music up until the mallard finished quietly. The customers who watched his performance clapped for him and waited in case Duck decided to play another song. However, the waterfowl stood from the stool and gave the shop owner a nod of thanks before he marched to the door.
Ace had to blink himself back into reality after the song charmed him and only managed to notice his teammate had already opened to door to leave into the street. Duck stepped outside with his hands in his waist jacket and let out a small sigh. He turned his back on Ace as if he didn't notice his presence. The leader thought maybe he knew he watched him and pretended he wasn't there but then he called to him when the mallard was a couple of steps away.
"That's some skilful hands you've got there. I didn't know you could play the piano," Duck stopped suddenly and turned to Ace with a startled expression.
"Y-You've been watching me this whole time?"
"Only on the last number. Lana Del Rey's 'Young and Beautiful' right? You did that song justice." Ace raised a genuine soft smile to which Duck gawked at in disbelief.
"Um… gee… this is a turn up for the books…" The mallard searched for words that fleeted from his tongue until Ace decided to relieve him of his stammers.
"This is going to be a bad attempt at bribery but how about we get some coffee somewhere? Don't worry, I'll pay for yours too as an apology of sorts," The smile changed into an awkward grin. Duck frowned a little at the bid for forgiveness.
"Really? The great leader Ace Bunny is bribing me with a caffeinated beverage?" He folded his arms and shot a look at the hare who still maintained his grin. It was a battle of who would fold first until Duck let out a growling exhale. "Fine. But I'm paying for myself. I'm not so weak that I can't pay for myself yet."
Ace laughed at his response. "All right. Lets hit the Koffee Bean!"
The Koffee Bean café wasn't too far from the music shop and once they purchased their beverages, the two anthromorphs settled on the leathery, burgundy chairs in a secluded part of the café. Neither one of the two added to the conversations that already filled the place by other customers. Duck gazed into the liquid blackness inside the white cup as Ace finally instigated the discussion.
"So when did you learn how to play like you did in that music shop?" The hare poured a small milk pot into his cup as his blue eyes flicked up like he asked the same question through them. Duck's hands cradled his own cup and never took his watch off the contents inside.
"My adopted mother was a piano teacher and had a piano in what we called 'the music room'. Whenever she had students round I wasn't allowed to enter but I always listened on the other side of the closed door. I don't know why but I just loved the sound it made no matter how good those students played. Then on one of her days off or something I tinkered on the ivories and the next thing I know, she gave me piano lessons for free. I must have been… five or six when I first started learning."
Ace poured a teaspoon of sugar from the white sachet into the cup before he stirred the entire contents. "That's pretty impressive considering we never heard you play since we've known you."
"Well having a piano in HQ would have helped me prove that point," Duck finally took a sip from his mug and placed it on the wooden table before he added with a sigh, "Man, I've been acting like an ass lately."
Ace almost sprayed his coffee out in disbelief upon Duck's confession. As far as anyone knew the mallard, he never believed he was in the wrong. The hare could only stare at his teammate in shock. "Did I hear you correctly or did you just say you've been acting like a jerk?" he exclaimed.
"You don't have to be so dramatic about it!" The waterfowl scowled before he relaxed back into the chair and folded his arms before he said in an agitated way, "Yes, I've been a jerk to everyone. Happy?"
"No," Ace shook his head and bought the cup to his lips. "I'm just shocked that the great Danger Duck actually admitted to his wrong doing. Shame I couldn't record the moment." He took a sip of his drink even with Duck's glare that made Lexi's brain blast feel like a mosquito bite.
"I should have known you'd do that but I suppose I deserve it," Duck said in an agitated tone before he stared into the cup full of the bitter abyss. Ace replaced his triumphant smirk with an expression of concern. The team mate sat across him was not the boastful, egotistical Duck he knew.
"Seriously, why are you beating yourself up? Everyone has flaws and things they hate about themselves. Nobody's perfect Duck."
"Says you; the guy critics say isn't a screw-up and has people kissing their fluffy white tail," Duck scoffed. Ace frowned a little at this.
"I've been in the acting business for many years. I've learnt how to hide how I really felt." The hare drank again while Duck stared in astonishment. He thought he hit a nerve with his rant and felt disadvantaged when he attempted to discern the leader's face for genuine messages.
"I've said something stupid didn't I?" He finally uttered and hung his head in shame. Ace placed his mug on the table and focused his eyes on the centre of the wooden table surface.
"Well of all the people who thought that, you're the first to vocalise it," the hare met Duck's eyes with his.
The mallard frowned and really worked his brain to decipher Ace's feelings just by his facial expression. "Look, I'm sorry if I hit a nerve. I had no idea."
The hare suddenly bowed his head and this worried his teammate. Had he hurt his feelings that bad? Ace's hands reached his own face as his shoulders shuddered. Was he crying? Duck panicked a little. "Ace, are you all right? I'm sorry for upsetting you! I never meant to-"
"Heh heh heh heh heh…" The mallard blinked in confusion as the leader raised his head to reveal his grin before he let out a laugh. Duck didn't know if he should ask or wait for the laughter to calm down but thankfully Ace did it for him, as he tamed the laughs to a snigger. "I'm sorry Duck… I wasn't laughing at you…"
Duck raised an eyebrow and thought otherwise. "Then why did you laugh?"
Ace wiped a tear from his eye after he finally calmed down. "It's just… you act like you don't care what anyone else thinks and yet…" He stifled some snickers that dared to escape. "And yet, you worry so much about how people see you. You constantly reinvent yourself and try to fit in with all kinds of costumes, superhero names and…" The giggles the hare tried to hold back tittered from his throat. "Don't take this the wrong way but I've got to ask why? Why do you have these conflicting things going on with you?"
Duck opened his mouth to answer but then he closed it and realised there was a deeper meaning behind his actions. He swallowed a sore lump in his throat as Ace grasped from the others pensive expression.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to impose on you-"
"It's funny," Duck cut in with a coy smile and hugged his mug. "My strategy all this time from the moment I had some sense of self was to do things to please people. I suppose when I was a kid, I must have found out I didn't have a mom and dad like a lot of other kids and had it not been for Turboman, I-"
"Turboman?" Ace cocked an eyebrow up. "You mean that old superhero who had a TV show and dolls sold world-wide?"
Duck nodded. "One day when we had the chance to watch TV, that show came on and needless to say I still know every ally who helped Turboman defeat every villain there was. I can even recite the Heroes Code he says at the end of every episode off by heart." There was a pause even though the mallard's eyes focused on the dark beverage.
"Young and old, big and small
A hero's there at any call.
No matter what the trouble is
We'll be there in a flash and a whiz.
We stand for those who cannot fight
Stop the evil with our might.
Anyone can help so many it's true
A hero can be me or you.
So put on your cape, the world will see
You're as heroic as you can be."
Ace could tell from Duck's nostalgic smile that he appreciated every word from the code. He imagined how the other transported himself back to a time where he felt genuinely happy despite his unfortunate circumstances. Suddenly after he snapped himself out of some melancholic state, Ace stood from the table. "Let's go home Duck. We need some fresh air."
The mallard blinked and took a brief sip from his coffee only to place the cup on the table and stand from his seat. "Yeah. My coffee's gone cold anyway."
They stepped into the street and joined the city bustle where they meandered between pedestrians.
For a while, the pair said nothing to each other until they travelled a less crowded route through the park. Duck glanced at a group of children who looked liked they played a chasing game until Ace's voice grabbed his attention.
"Hey, Christmas is coming up. I'm just wondering what you'd like this year."
"Huh…" Duck completely forgot it was coming to the beginning of December. He almost forgot it was autumn and took a second glance around to find the brown leaves had either fallen to the ground or still clung onto the branches. The cold also made itself known when he shuddered from a gentle breeze. He was so tempted to reveal his wish for cancer to go away for good but decided against that since Ace tried hard to stay optimistic for him. It would be a shame to ruin that with the depressing subject. "You know? I have no idea," Duck said in a surprised tone.
"Well…" Ace placed a finger on his own chin before his expression beamed with an idea. "How about that grand piano you were playing in the music shop? You looked like you really enjoyed tinkering the ivories."
Duck gave the hare a frown. "First of all, where are we going to put a grand piano? They're huge for a start! Heck, how would we get a grand piano up the tower?"
"I'm sure we can find a way," Ace grinned awkwardly.
"Oh yes, I can see it now; the piano falls gracefully on top of the genius that is, Tech E. Coyote." The mallard said with a hint of sarcasm.
Ace chuckled before he asked, "Why Tech?"
"Ace, if there's anything we've learned about that coyote, is that he is an expert at finding the one spot that holds the most deadly consequences for himself. Finding the place where a piano crashes to the ground would be child's play for him even when he doesn't mean to!"
The hare let out a laugh he tried and failed to stifle, which Duck joined in seconds later. This was one conversation they silently agreed not to mention to the scientist and blabbermouth Rev. Once they controlled their giggles, Ace took a breath to compose himself. "I think I know what to get Tech for Christmas: a crash helmet."
This set off another burst of laughter from Duck and that's when Ace realised it was the first genuine laugh the mallard had in a long time.
A/N: Hey guys! Long time no speak, write, whatever.
I apologise profusely for the tardiness of this chapter. I will be giving myself detention after Christmas. Anyways, I've been incredibly busy with my new job as well as other things I've got myself doing and it's unlikely that another chapter would come any quicker than this one did.
The reason why I imagined Duck to play the piano more than anything was based on that one scene in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' where Daffy and Donald Duck duel against each other on pianos, and that Looney Tunes 'Carrotblanca' episode where Daffy plays Sam who plays the piano as well. Maybe it's something in Duck's blood, I don't know.
The song, 'Young and Beautiful' by Lana Del Rey, suited this chapter and maybe it suits the whole story. In the show, Duck is an attention seeker and shows off in an attempt to get praise. Starting off life in a children's home isn't exactly the happiest of things and it's never revealed whether his parents were still alive, or if they intended to abandon him in the first place. With all that going on for him, it would make him say to everyone, "Look at me! Look at how special I am", to hide any flaws he has. What he wants is something everyone wants; to be loved and accepted as they are.
Anyways, hope you've enjoyed this chapter and leave reviews and favourites! They're much appreciated!