Claire was staring at the television in a state of shock. A mug of coffee was gripped tightly in both hands, and she continued to watch the screen, feeling a sick sensation spread throughout her.
There was a man hunt alert issued throughout the city, announcing that there had been an escaped high risk convict from the St. Canard Penitentiary, and she knew, she just knew before the mug shot was put on the screen, who it was.
Do Not Approach
These words flashed across the bottom of the screen in red letters, and Claire set her mug down on the side table and dropped herself into her armchair, a hand to her mouth in shock.
They had it all wrong. Jacky wasn't dangerous, at least not when he was at ease. He'd never shown any real violent tendencies around her, in fact, she could not recall if he'd ever actually raised a hand at her. Yes, he had difficulty handling frustration, but more often than not, he'd take it out in himself, which was something of a habit that Claire had tried to help him break.
She didn't understand. How could Jacky have managed to just walk out of the building? If there had been such a concern, then how was it that no one had even noticed that he had escaped until just now?
She wondered if there was a possibility that he'd come to her house. Not that she was afraid or anything, but she was concerned as to how she was supposed to handle the situation. Would she have to call the authorities to come pick him up? Would he understand why she had to, or would he feel betrayed and never trust her again?
What would she do?
What would she need to do?
She continued to watch the report closely, learning the details how he likely managed to escape. Apparently, he had managed to gather enough materials in his time there, to make a replica doll that he left in his place on his cot and simply slipped out without drawing attention to himself. It was astounding how stupidly simple that was.
No doubt that he was scared, alone, confused and maybe even hurting.
Claire hoped that he'd be alright out there.
"... My head hurts, Mr. Banana Brain..."
QuackerJack was sitting on the edge of a rooftop, watching the headlights and taillights streak through the streets in trails of yellows and reds. Everything seemed to be moving so slow to him, and he marveled at the sights below. There was something going on downtown, and he could swear that he saw so many Darkwings running amok.
He'd learned to not to really investigate these sorts of things by now, for both the reason that he was aware of how vivid his imagination could be, and because he was trying not to be found right now. Going to a location packed to the brim with Darkwings was just asking for trouble.
It was a warm summer evening, and the chirp of crickets sang through the air as the sun disappeared behind the unnaturally tall skyline of downtown St. Canard's skyscrapers in the distance. He kicked his feet idly, and eyed the new doll in his hands with anxious curiosity.
Mr. Banana Brain was back again, but he just looked so mean now. He still had his fruit shaped head, and his green shirt and blue shorts, but the smile on his face was almost malicious. He was no longer rounded and soft, but rather jagged and sharp, with claw-like fingers and a none-too-friendly look in his eyes.
He couldn't exactly remember how he found him again, but QuackerJack just knew that Mr. Banana Brain came back. He always did, it seemed.
"You got too many ideas in that brain of yours, it's too full. When's the last time you built something? All that backlog ain't good for your head."
QuackerJack flinched internally. He wasn't sure if he liked this new gravelly tone of voice for his little friend. The last time Mr. Banana Brain dropped his falsetto pitch, it wasn't really Mr. Banana Brain, but a fanged monster clown thing that possessed him, then used QuackerJack as an unwitting pawn to spread misery to feed from before QuackerJack finally got wise on it all being suspicious.
QuackerJack still had the occasional nightmare about being pulled into a twisted pocket dimension of "fun", and would occasionally feel his heart jump if he caught a glimmer of two red glowing things out of the corner of his eye if he didn't recognize what it was from.
He yawned as he rubbed the heel of his palm on one side of his forehead, trying to figure out if the headache was indeed from having too many ideas in his brain, or if it was from exhaustion. Maybe both..?
Why did everything get so complicated? He thought he'd been doing so well, at least until he wasn't able to think anymore.
He wanted to be with Claire again, but he knew that he couldn't; that would be the first place they'd probably look for him.
"She'd probably rat you out anyway."
"... She wouldn't..."
"Why not? She can't help you anymore; you're back on your old ways, and besides, you're a wanted criminal right now. You broke out of prison, remember?"
"... You never met her, you don't know her." QuackerJack shook his head, eyes downcast. "... She's really understanding, and patient, and... she likes fun things and my smile and... and..."
"You love her, don't you?"
QuackerJack bit his lip and nodded slowly.
"Well, don't worry your crowded little head anymore, you got me now, and we'll manage, just like the good old days."
"... Yes, Mr. Banana Brain..." QuackerJack said in a dejected voice, not at all enthusiastic. "... Except you're meaner now..."
"Negaduck wanted meaner, we got meaner."
QuackerJack shot a glare at this new Mr. Banana Brain, not sure if he really liked this new demeanor of his long time pal. But, he supposed that's what happened after you've been broken apart a few times. You get meaner.
QuackerJack then gave a small grin.
"That we did, yes."
He continued to watch the chaos unfolding in the downtown district of St. Canard. It was somewhat amusing, he had to admit. So many Darkwings... He had to wonder where they all came from. He didn't even care what was happening exactly, but it was still just so mesmerizing.
Suddenly, a shockwave tore through the city and almost toppled him backwards, as he wasn't expecting it. Sitting back up in mild panic, he squinted to try and see what had happened, and a gasp got caught in his throat as he realized there was a mega sized Negaduck with Paddywhack teeth rising up through the wreckage, at the epicenter of all this.
He gripped Mr. Banana Brain tightly, jumped up from where he was sitting, spun around and took off, jumping his way between buildings to reach the ground.
"No more for me, I'm fine, thanks!"
Another week passed, and still no one had heard much from or about QuackerJack aside from a few sightings that couldn't explicitly be confirmed.
This made him feel almost untouchable, as if he was simply too clever for them all to catch him. If Darkwing wasn't able to pinpoint him, then most certainly the police couldn't either.
"Think we're mean enough for Negaduck now, Mr. Banana Brain?"
"Oh, most certainly, QuackerJack! If you've been able to be out here without getting caught for this long, we must be good at it!"
QuackerJack laughed before he bit into the hotdog he'd swiped from a local vendor without someone so much as looking his way. He had even been able to dress it up with relish and mustard and grabbed a second one, not just because he felt bold about doing so in broad daylight, but because he felt unstoppable at this point.
What was the vendor going to do if he'd caught QuackerJack swiping food, anyway? It wasn't like he'd be able to apprehend him, after all.
He wiped the mustard off his beak with the back off his hand and grinned as he watched the vendor down below pause and count the hotdogs on the rack, then scratch his head.
You won't find them, keep counting, they're gone...
QuackerJack was about to eat the second hotdog before he was startled by a sudden plume of blue smoke, and he lost his hold on the paper dish that was holding the food, and it fell to the ground far below.
He leaned over the edge and stared down at the fallen hotdog almost sadly, not exactly paying any mind to what was going on until his brain jarred a bit and he recognized that particular style of blue smoke.
It was Darkwing Duck, and he was finishing up his entrance speech, then pointed his gas gun at QuackerJack with his accompanying catchphrase to the action ("Suck gas, evildoer!").
QuackerJack lifted his head and said: "Aw, you made me lose my lunch."
Darkwing faltered and lowered the gas gun in a state of confusion, clearly not having expected that response at all.
"That's okay, though." QuackerJack smiled again and stood up. His voice was unusually calm and distant. "I can just get another one. It's really easy."
Darkwing shook his head quickly to knock the confusion out of it, and raised the gas gun again.
"The only place you're going is back to the St. Canard Penitentiary, you kooky clown convict!"
"Hmm..." QuackerJack put a hand to his face in thought as he seemed to be considering it, but he just shrugged. "Nah, I don't so, it's way nicer out here. See ya, Darkwing!"
"I said you're not going anywhere!"
"Not really, you told me where I was going, and it certainly wasn't an 'anywhere'." QuackerJack walked past him without a single care, and did so with a bit of a skip in his step, hands behind his back.
"Stand down, QuackerJack!"
"Now, isn't that a silly phrase? You can stand up, and you can sit down, but how does one 'stand down'?" The clown was laughing, and Darkwing could tell that something was fundamentally off with him right now. "'Sit up' is possible, but you can't stand and be down and the same time."
Darkwing realized that QuackerJack was edging closer to the other end of the rooftop, and narrowed his eyes.
"QuackerJack, just come quietly, I'm only taking you back to finish your time there." He pocketed the gas gun, and held his hands in the air in a non-threatening gesture. "Which has probably been extended, since you've already been on the run for a few weeks now. I'm sure if you just cooperate, it'll be much easier on you." He added as an afterthought.
QuackerJack stopped at the edge of the roof, and rocked back and forth on his heels with a leasurely air to his posture, still grinning. He acted like this was just a fun little game to him.
"I think I like it out here better. I know how things work, really. In fact..." He put a hand up to his ear and leaned to the right. "It's about time for it to be here..."
"Time for-?" Darkwing started before QuackerJack moved his foot backwards and leaned all his weight behind him, and disappeared over the edge of the roof. "Hey! You lunatic!" He shouted in shock before running to the edge to peer over cautiously, worried what he might see.
Instead of what he'd expected, QuackerJack was sitting cross-legged on the roof of a bus, leaning back into one arm that was bracing him, beaming up at Darkwing and waving, as if what he just did was as simple and benign as crossing the road on foot.
"Twelve-forty-five bus! Can practically set your watch by it!" He shouted just as the bus started to move, emitting a squeak from the releasing of the brakes. "See ya, Darkwing! Don't be a stranger!"
Darkwing was left sputtering in a mix of confusion, anger and annoyance, and threw his arms above him as QuackerJack's laughter filled the air over the roar of a city bus.
"What just happened here!"
Claire was getting a bit desperate. Every possible clue of Jacky's whereabouts seemed to point to him having something of a joy ride through town, which made her worried that he was most certainly going to do something that led to something so reckless, that he'd never be able to come back from it.
If only there was a way to reach out to him, to get through the muddled mind and remind him that things aren't as bad as he thought they could be...
She poked around idly online with her phone, finding articles, both old and new, that featured Jacky. Some about the old toy company, many about his time as a villian, and his recent aimless roaming of the city. Some of the articles had pictures, some did not.
She squinted and put two fingers to the screen and pulled them apart to zoom in on one image.
An old photo for a newspaper, announcing that he'd been apprehended alongside other members of a team of criminals he'd been a part of. He seemed the least concerned in the picture, and was giving all his attention to a banana headed doll, which he seemed to be waving around in front of him and possibly talking to (given the nature of the image).
Mr. Banana Brain.
If anything could get to him, if not her, could be Mr. Banana Brain.
Unfortunately, Mr. Banana Brain had been destroyed by his prior "boss", and as far as she knew, there had only been one original Mr. Banana Brain.
... What if she tried to craft her own? She wasn't very good with sewing, unfortunately, but maybe it was the thought that counted? She'd need some reference pictures, which there was a few in Jacky's scrapbooks, but not enough from all angles. What if there was more articles online with pictures that may have a sighting or two of the doll?
She continued to search the internet for more articles, going as far as to typing in names directly. Imagine her surprise when she finally came across a peculiar auction listing about an hour into her search.
ORIGINAL MR. BANANA BRAIN (FULLY RESTORED)
She raised her eyebrows. This surely was too good to be true. The original Mr. Banana Brain had been shredded, she was sure, Jacky had told her so. Yet here he was. A little patchy, yes, according to the listing's photos, and he'd clearly seen better days, but there was that goofy little smile she'd seen in the mock catalog picture. A friendly face, one that Jacky would surely recognize and come down from whatever trip he was on right now.
Luck have it, the auction ended tonight, and promised speedy delivery to any winner who resided in St. Canard. She had to give it a shot, it was probably her best chance to reach Jacky, to get him to think straight and do the right thing.
She put in her bid.
The number went up; someone else was bidding as well.
Her heart skipped a beat. No, this was the best chance to help Jacky, she couldn't let this slip through her fingers. She needed Mr. Banana Brain.
She put in another bid.
The number went up.
She put in another bid...
QuackerJack was grinning again, widely. He had it all planned out, what he was about to do. He was going to do it. He was going to finally mobilize against the plague that was rotting everyone's brains. He was going to attack Whiffle Boy Entertainment, that dreaded, accursed company that ruined him and was actively destroying young minds full of potential with its mind numbing effects and slowly poisoning their sense of reality...
He really wasn't a bad guy, he really did care about the people, but it just made him so angry that they'd prefer to escape into a fake world of pixels than to enjoy the stunning wonders of the real world. Why couldn't they just see that? He wanted to be a good guy, really, but people were just afraid of him and what he could create.
With a little direction from the new Mr. Banana Brain, he'd been able to procure the old Molecular Digitizer, the very same machine that beamed him inside a video game once (a Whiffle Boy one, no less!), and he was excited about the changes that had been made to it, as he recalled the memos about these changes while he had been working at QuackWerks. Instead of beaming the target into a game as digital data, it was now able to transform the target into unique wonderful whimsical dolls, which he thought was way better.
He knew this because he had tested it on Mr. Mandelbaum, the creator of the original Whiffle Boy game series, the one who caused QuackerJack Toys to fall apart and be forgotten. He made a such lovely little doll, but QuackerJack had to leave it behind at the old coot's apartment.
The crate he'd been hiding in broke open as he fired up the machine, watching in euphoric awe as more of those little dolls were made, deaf to the screams of fright as he pushed the Molecular Digitizer to the center of the room and climbed on top of it, holding his arms out in a wild gesture of theatrics, announcing to his now captive audience.
"Attention creators of World of Whifflecraft!" He shouted, balancing on the machine with careful feet. "No longer will you rot the brains of the public with your pixelated poppycock! I do believe..." He smirked and failed to stifle another laugh as the other people screamed and shoved and tried to get away. "IT'S PLAYTIME!"
He surveyed the crowd before him, watching with such a giddy feeling as he saw them scrambling under thier desks to escape the beam of the Molecular Digitizer, watching him with fearful eyes as they huddled together. He grinned even wider, perhaps more maliciously, as he slid off the machine and touched his feet to the floor.
"That's right... Cower before me, code monkeys!" He pointed to each and every one of them under the desks, watching them flinch in fear. "And get ready to play a new game... One that puts your monument to mind-rot to good use!"
He began to tell them about his little plan, a very simple one, where he was going to use the networking connections of the game, the twelve million plus subscribers to this horrid fake world, and liberate them from the digital prison by putting them to good use as the latest line of QuackerJack Brand Toys, quite literally millions of unique dolls to collect worldwide!
"... You should all be proud..." He told them, pacing between the desks of the office, hearing them all squeak and murmur in fear as he paused at a desk every so often. "For the first time ever, your insipid little game won't just offer escape from the real world... It will improve it! Twelve million toys, all around the world, ready to rise up and do my bidding!"
He narrowed his eyes as he continued, glaring in the general direction of the cowering employees.
"And should any one of you thing about resisting..." He dropped his tone to a growl, frowning now. "I'll turn you first, and then make your loved ones part of a matching set." He chuckled at the thought, and continued: "So, now that we all understand each other... Bring me the servers!"
Claire couldn't believe it. She'd actually won the auction. Sure, it put her almost a hundred dollars in the hole, but she was honestly willing to pay more if she had to.
If this really was the original Mr. Banana Brain, then it was well worth the money spent if it was going to help Jacky.
The listing promised a speedy delivery, but she wasn't sure what qualified as "speedy". She put in her info and resigned to just waiting.
The afternoon went by, she continually refreshed the shipping information page, waiting for it to tell her it was on it way. She wasn't sure how long had passed, but she could definitely see that the sun was setting, so she got up to turn on the lights.
She was suddenly aware of the sound of an idling vehicle outside and the noise of someone speaking to someone else, so she cautiously peered out the window from behind the curtain and was very surprised to find none other than Darkwing Duck himself on her doorstep, motioning to his sidekick, who was sitting in the sidecar of that famous motorcycle, parked in front of her house.
Claire decided that it was probably a good idea to open the door and see what was going on. Perhaps he'd simply gotten the wrong address? She couldn't see any possible reason why he'd be here, at her house.
Then again... Perhaps, if anyone had any access to clues as to where Jacky was, it was certainly going to be Darkwing...
She opened the door carefully and greeted him with a smile, noting to herself how surprised he was to see that she probably wasn't what he'd expected on the other side of the door.
"Darkwing Duck? Oh my goodness, what a pleasant surprise! Honestly, we never get celebrities out here in the suburbs!" She said as Darkwing looked up at her. She noticed he was short in stature, she honestly would have never guessed based on all the media documents on him." I'm Claire! Would you like to come in for some cake?"
Darkwing's eyes lit up, and it was obvious that yes, indeed, he would like some cake.
"Come on, Launchpad!" He shouted to his companion excitedly. "They have cake!"
She led them inside and once they sat down and had their cake (which was complimented tremendously), Darkwing began to explain the reason why he'd been at her door.
"Claire, we've learned you bought an item online that may factor into an ongoing investigation." He said through a mouthful of cake.
"You mean Mr. Banana Brain?" Claire said incredulously, and Darkwing nodded enthusiastically. No way. "Gee, I'd love to help you, but I'm afraid it's a gift for my boyfriend."
He raised an eyebrow.
"Boyfriend?" He repeated.
Claire nodded and reached for framed picture on the table beside her chair.
"Yes, my boyfriend, Jacky!" She held it out as Darkwing exclaimed in surprise, nearly dropping his plate of cake. "Well... ex-boyfriend..." She added with an air of sadness. "... It's complicated."
"Wait a minute... back up..." Darkwing stood up and gestured around wildly, clearly having trouble taking this all in. "QuackerJack was your boyfriend? How does that happen!"
"Well, we met when we both worked at QuackWerks..." She said sheepishly and she placed the photo back in the table. Claire then stood up and put her hands on Darkwing's shoulders in a desperate, pleading gesture. "Look, I know you and Jacky have history, but you have to believe me when I say he can really quite sweet when he wants to be..."
Darkwing stared at her attentively as she explained why she'd purchased the repaired doll, and what she believed had been the chain of events that had led to Jacky ultimately losing his mind again. She emphasized that the blame was not entirely on the fault of one such factor, and that she was well aware of the toy maker's history, and that she knew that he really did have the capacity to be genuinely good if he had just been given the opportunity to do so. She told the Masked Mallard about the devious going-ons behind the scenes at QuackWerks and how she really believed that someone, perhaps more, had been purposely impeding Jacky's honest attempts to turn things around, and how Jacky's fragile grip on stability just couldn't handle it.
The doorbell cut through the explanation and she answered the door, surprised to find that a cardboard box was left on her doorstep. Surely it couldn't be the auction prize, this soon?
She brought it in and opened it, finding it filled to the brim with packing peanuts, and a little cloth arm sticking out from inside. She reached in to pull out the doll, and it was indeed her prize. There was the fruit headed doll, with his goofy little smile.
"So, this is Mr. Banana Brain!" She said as Darkwing and Launchpad leaned forward curiously to look at it as well. "I've never seen it up close... Just pictures in Jacky's scrapbooks."
Darkwing stared blankly as Claire mused about the likelihood that perhaps some of Jacky's internal turmoil might have been alleviated if this all hadn't happened hot on the heels of being ripped from his dear little plush friend.
"Claire, it's clear to me that you want to help QuackerJack..." Darkwing said as he tugged the doll from her hands. "But even before QuackWerks, he was hardly a stable individual, and he's only gotten worse. I have to stop him."
Claire frowned and swiped Mr. Banana Brain back from him, holding the doll above her head.
"Superheroes solve everything with fighting!" She berated him. "Have you ever even tried to help one of your so-called villains?"
Darkwing looked back at her helplessly, it was clear her words cut through him, and he had never even considered that before.
Suddenly, Launchpad interrupted with urgent news he'd received over the phone, and that someone was attacking the Whiffle Boy offices. It was clear that it was a very, very high chance that QuackerJack was the one behind it, and Claire realized that the situation was now more dire than it had been, even more so when she heard that the administrators sent out a message of "OMG BE AFK! AFK!" to players worldwide.
She knew what this meant; she herself was a player of Whifflecraft, and she'd been very careful not to tell Jacky about it, as she knew the anger he harbored for this particular company.
She felt sick.
"The game administrators are warning everyone to get away from thier keyboards!" She grabbed Darkwing's cape as she explained desperately, as Darkwing did not appear familiar with the leet speak lingo. "Whatever Jacky's planning, he must intend to affect everyone playing Whifflecraft!"
"Wait, how do you know what that means?"
Claire explained that she was an avid player of the game, and that Jacky was not aware of this.
Darkwing sighed as she let go of the cape and cradled Mr. Banana Brain carefully in her arms.
"Claire... You know QuackerJack has to be stopped." He held his hand out for the doll as he tried to appeal to her. "Not just this scheme, but this dark and bitter path that he's on. I promise you, I'll do everything in my power to try and reach the man you knew." Claire looked up from the doll at him. "I'll remind him there are people who care."
Claire looked back at Mr. Banana Brain, then to Darkwing before she finally gave in and handed the doll back to him.
"Save those people, Darkwing." She said in a small voice.
"I'll save them all..." He put his wide brimmed hat on and headed out the door. "QuackerJack included."
It was exhilarating. He did it, he finally had those Whiffle fools cowering at his feet, begging him for forgiveness for the injustices this whole accursed company had laid upon him in its existence.
The new Mr. Banana Brain was such a good cheerleader, a motivational speaker if you will, and his suggestions were so brilliant. QuackerJack particularly enjoyed the idea of running some of the new toys through quality control, but he'd have to improvise with the paper shredder for faulty merchandise. Only the best, after all.
The window behind him exploded and he spun around to find that Darkwing Duck had crashed through it (wasn't this the second story floor?), and plucked shards of glass from his coat before he launched into his trademark entrance speech. QuackerJack folded his arms and waited patiently, knowing that this was going to play out as it always-
Darkwing held up Mr. Banana Brain.
QuackerJack felt weak.
No... He already had Mr. Banana Brain in his hands, there was no way that Darkwing could have Mr. Banana Brain if he already had Mr. Banana Brain.
He stammered weakly as Mr. Banana Brain, the old one, spoke to him.
"QuackerJack, old pal, remember me?"
Of course, of course he did, how could he forget? His eyes burned and were watery, but there he was, there was his old friend, his dear old friend. He looked like he'd seen better days, but honestly, so had QuackerJack.
"Mr. Banana Brain! You're all better!" He squealed in feverish excitement.
"Yes! And I want you to be better too!" Old Mr. Banana Brain said as Darkwing held him up to be level with QuackerJack's line of sight. "Why are you so much meaner these days? Don't you miss the good, clean fun we used to have?"
QuackerJack hesitated, looking at the Mr. Banana Brain he held in his hands, then to the old Mr. Banana Brain, a puzzled looked crossing his face as he tried to sort this out in his mind. He raised his eyebrows, then looked at the cloth doll sadly.
Any progress Darkwing could have made with him was suddenly halted as soon as a server was rolled into the center of the room, prompting QuackerJack to throw his arms in the air excitedly and drop the new Mr. Banana Brain as he ran to it. When he passed by Darkwing, QuackerJack slapped the old Mr. Banana Brain out of his hands.
"Your way of thinking doesn't work in today's time, Grandpa Banana Brain!" He snarled, prompting Darkwing to shrink back in surprise. "You've got to have a killer instinct if you want to franchise!" His eyes fell on Darkwing and he grinned. "As for you, Dimbulb Dork, let me show you what QuackerJack Toys do that other toys just don't!"
He brought his fingers to his mouth and whistled, causing two of the transformed employees to spring to life and tackle Darkwing. QuackerJack picked up the extention cables for the Molecular Digitizer and plugged them into the first server bank.
"Now, let's World of Whifflecraft's latest merchandising venture... It's players!"
He barely noticed what was going on behind him, until he realized there was two very large, looming shadows casting the wall in front of him. He spun around and stared up in abject horror at the two gigantic Mr. Banana Brains standing over him, bickering about whom he really belonged to.
He could feel whatever shred of clarity that lingered in his mind just crumble like a stale cookie. There was two massive Mr. Banana Brains, they were talking, and doing so without him holding either of them. They continued to squabble over him, and he backed away awkwardly. Suddenly, the New Mr. Banana Brain grabbed him and held him up like a doll.
"Isn't that right, QuackerJack? That's right! These days, you've got to play rough with your toys!"
"What... What is happening?" QuackerJack mumbled helplessly, eyes wide.
Old Mr. Banana Brain grabbed QuackerJack's arm and pulled roughly, trying to take him away from his updated counterpart.
"He was my playmate long before he was yours, pal!"
New Mr. Banana Brain pulled back, and QuackerJack was still struggling to process what was going on. He screamed for help as he got pulled back and forth between the two fruit headed creatures like taffy, and he barely heard Darkwing announce that he was going to save him.
A beam of light and he felt the grip on either arm disappear as the force of the sudden snap back flung him out the window with a scream and a crash of glass. He hit the pavement two stories below, landing roughly on his shoulder, and he laid still for a minute before his eyes snapped open and he staggered to his feet with a harsh gasp.
There were glass shards all over the ground around him, but amazingly, he hadn't had a single bit of it cut into him. He winced and clutched his shoulder, and considered the possibility that he might have tweaked it in the crash landing with the ground, if it hadn't been already when he was yanked back and forth.
He didn't understand, he didn't want to understand, all he wanted right now was to get away, get away from everything. He wanted Claire, but he knew she couldn't help him now.
He ran as far and as fast as he could manage in his battered state, he didn't know where he was heading, nor did he hear Darkwing call out to him from the Whiffle Boy building.
It was night, and the crickets were chirping. He could hardly hear them over his gasps for air and his feet hitting the ground as he thought of one thing.
... What would Claire think..?
Tears burned in his eyes. He knew exactly what she'd think.
His feet slowed thier steps, and he realized that he'd run back to her house without thinnking, clear across town. Her lovely little house, with the manicured lawn, the hedges under the windows, and the quaint little curtains.
He looked down at his shoes and realized how scuffed and dirty he was from head to toe, sweaty from running, and his reflection in the window showed him to be the most forlorn little thing he'd ever recalled seeing. He was a mess, all sense of the term.
He laughed sadly, and reached his hand into his pocket to find the miniature Molecular Digitizer he'd crafted from the blueprints as back up should he have needed it, but he never thought it would be needed this way. But, he really couldn't see any other choice.
He exhaled wearily, the white noise in his head getting unbearable. Everything just... hurt? He always had such a hard time trying to find the words that accurately described the exact emotions that he had.
He hit the switch, and slowly, the pain in his shoulder went away, as did the ache in his chest and head. The static in his brain was left, and then... nothing.
Claire was sitting on the front steps of her porch, clutching the sad little doll in her arms, a crumpled note laid at her feet.
This is the best I'll ever be -Jacky
Her face was tear streaked and she felt like everything was collapsing around her.
"... I'm so sorry, Jacky..." She whispered, she hadn't looked at his face since she picked him up and cradled him carefully. His head was on her shoulder and she rested her head on his. "... I wanted to help you... I really did... I miss you..."
She heard the familiar motorcycle of Darkwing sound off and get closer, and it came to a screeching halt in front of her yard. Darkwing jumped off the motorcycle and hurried up the walkway, carrying the cloth Mr. Banana Brain in his hands.
"Claire! QuackerJack disappeared after some snags happened in the whole confrontation and I was hoping to see if-!" He froze when he realized what she was holding, and what her despondent expression meant. "... Oh... No..."
"... You said you were going to help him..."
"... Claire, I tried, believe me." Darkwing shook his head. It was clear that this failure hit him hard. "I can't even begin to explain what happened back there, but it was clear that QuackerJack-"
"Jacky." She said, not even looking up. "His name is Jacky."
"... Jacky." Darkwing corrected himself before he continued, heaving a heavy sigh. "Jacky didn't want to listen. I know that sounds like I didn't try, but I really did."
He walked to stand beside her.
"... May I sit down here?" He asked cautiously.
She hesitated, then nodded awkwardly. She looked like she didn't really care if he did or didn't. He sat down.
"Look, you know that Jacky and I have been going at it for a long time..." Darkwing started, staring at the Mr. Banana Brain he had in his hands. "I remember how he was when he first made himself known as... Well, as QuackerJack. Honestly, he was unhinged from the beginning, and as time went on, he just got worse and worse, as you probably know already..."
"... But, he was so sweet around me." Claire looked up finally.
"It's clear that he cared about you, I can see that, but..." He sighed again and pinched the bridge of his beak near the nostrils. "Look, I'm not very good at this kind of stuff; my kid tells me I'm very blunt when I try to comfort anyone, but what I'm trying to say is... You did all you could for him, don't take it out on yourself."
"... What do I do now..?" She pulled the Jacky doll away from her shoulder and looked at him again, studying the sad little face he had left on it.
"I don't know, Claire..." Darkwing shook his head. "But, I'm going to have to take him for now."
"... No." Claire clutched the doll to her chest defensively. "... I... I'm not ready to let him go."
"If there's a way to bring him back, I promise, I'll find it." Darkwing said sincerely, reaching a hand out. "He deserves better than this. He deserves a chance, if you really believe he can make it with the right support system."
"... Can I sit with him a bit longer?"
"Take as long as you need."
"... Thank you." She smiled weakly. She looked at Mr. Banana Brain in Darkwing's hands. "... At least they're finally together again..."
Darkwing looked at the doll in his hands as well.
Months passed, and there seemed to have been no progress in figuring out how to reverse what happened with Jacky. The original Molecular Digitizer machine had shorted out after being used to restore the first victims, and the replica Jacky had used on himself had laid on pieces on the ground beside him, seamingly busted once it hit the pavement.
Darkwing had continued to update her with regular check ins, lamenting his lack of progress with the utmost sincerest apologies.
Then came the day he ruefully informed her that someone had pilfered the plush doll and his banana pal, and he expressed his deepest regrets for letting that happen.
It was over, surely, she thought. Jacky was gone, and he was never coming back...
Weeks continued to pass, and St. Canard continued on, none the wiser. A couple of weird things happened around town, but that was the norm, no matter if it was some eldritch abomination or some strange substance that altered what it was in contact with.
Life continued on without much acknowledgement of Jack's absence, and it seemed the only ones who cared about this were Claire and Darkwing.
She continued to hope for a resolution; at the very least some solace that what was left of Jacky hadn't fallen into the wrong hands.
She pushed her door open to walk outside to her mailbox. Continuing her routines was the only way she could keep her mind off of worrying about where Jacky had been taken. She knew that the more time passed, the more unlikely it was that she'd ever see him again, doll or otherwise.
She reached into the mailbox, but instead of the mail, she found a balloon animal.
It was a little red poodle.
It had been weeks, and it seemed that any leads on where QuackerJack was had gone cold.
Claire had scoured every newspaper, every online article, every newcast that aired, trying to find something, a clue maybe, anything that could have sounded like something he'd have done.
She continued to call up the crime department regularly, inquiring about any progress on locating QuackerJack. And every time, she was met with the same answer of how there had been very little headway. She was beginning to wonder if they were even trying.
She was now in an elevator at the QuackWerks conglomerate building, heading for the earnings department, where she had hope for someone who might have an idea as to how to find her boyfriend.
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open as a short, tired looking duck in a sweater vest shuffled past her, and nodded at her in acknowledgement as he stepped in while she stepped out.
This department was packed with cubicles as well, but it seemed that there was two workers in each one, so the department was way too overstaffed. After being pointed in the right direction, she walked to one particular cubicle where frazzled looking rat was working, batteries strewn haphazardly along his somewhat organized desk.
"Excuse me, are you Elmo Sputterspark?"
"Hah?" The rat looked up from the computer and spun around. He had the most disgruntled look on his face, as if he most certainly would have rather been working elsewhere. "Do I know you?"
"No, you wouldn't, but you knew my boyfriend, Jacky."
"I don't know any 'Jackys', but yeah, I'm Elmo." He leaned in his chair with an arm on the backrest. "What do you want, lady?"
"Maybe you knew him as something else." Claire bit her lip and held out a photograph, one of her favorites, with her and her boyfriend smiling as they held hands while she sat in her armchair. "He's gone missing, and I thought maybe-!"
"Quacky's your boyfriend?" Elmo said loudly, snatching the photo to get a better look. "Yep, that's definitely Quacky, he looks good in this picture, like he's happy. I wondered what happened to him."
"No, he's missing right now." Claire reiterated, taking the picture back after Elmo held it out. "He worked in the toy department, and there was... There was an incident, and he hasn't been seen in weeks. I thought maybe he reached out to you."
"What, he's gone?" Elmo frowned. "Why would you think I know about that? I haven't seen him in a year or so, I think."
Claire had heard that Elmo had such a bad short term memory, but the fact that he instantly recognized QuackerJack in the photograph was a good sign that the duck hadn't completely left his memory in such a long absence.
"Because you know him very well. You used to work together."
"Lady, that was a long time ago, we haven't been around each other since... Well, since things went south one day." Elmo shook his head. "He pushed our boss one day after a heist. I don't know how, I didn't see it when it happened, but me and the others found him outside the warehouse we'd group up at, with his banana doll in shreds. That doll meant everything to him, so you can guess that it was traumatic."
Elmo turned back to the computer.
"I don't usually remember a lot of things, bad memory you know, but I won't forget seeing QuackerJack sitting in a pile of shreds and fluff, looking about as dead as a live person can look." He said, typing away. "I knew that fruit doll pretty well too, Quacky could barely go ten minutes without shaking him in my face with that squeaky voice he'd put on for it."
"Is there was any place he'd probably go to if he wanted to disappear? Please, any ideas would help."
"Have you tried his old factory?" Elmo looked up. "It's under St. Canard, and he used to hang out there between capers if we weren't pulling a double scheme, sometimes he'd use old supplies to make new gadgets. I'd look there." He turned back to the computer. "I have a lot of work to do, my co-worker just left me with all this, so I hope you find something useful in looking for him. Good luck, lady."
Of course, Claire was somewhat familiar with the old toy factory. On thier fourth date, QuackerJack had felt confident enough to take a chance and lead her there as a sort of surprise, excited about showing her his old profession, and the entire night had been spent with him showing some of his old toy lines and him demonstrating how some of them worked.
He had taken care to not display the more dangerous ones, and quickly ushered her away from a stack of questionable creations, insisting that they weren't tested and she'd likely be more interested in the more classic choices.
She had found his enthusiasm endearing, a far cry from the lifeless crowd that filled QuackWerks to the brim, and she could see how passionate he was about the art of toy crafting.
He even went as far as to demonstrate a little bit of a show, juggling and balancing on a large ball and showing off his superb acrobatic skills and his ability to do so with such positive presentation.
It was clear that there had been a time long ago where, in addition to being a toy maker, he'd also had a sort of persona he had crafted to be the face of his company, a role that he played effortlessly because it allowed him to truly shine as himself.
"QuackerJack" wasn't just a mascot character he'd conceived as a face for the company; it was a stage name for a talented performer.
Finding the factory now proved to be a bit of a challenge. Claire had only been there, at best, three times, and she wasn't very familiar with how the catacombs worked. It impressed her somewhat as to how QuackerJack had been able to navigate the tunnels with ease, but she supposed that was the point.
Being underground, there had to have been a sort of marker for access to the entrance, and Claire pored over old maps of St. Canard that she'd found at the library, trying to find a marked location for "QuackerJack Toys". It took about eight old maps, but she finally found it, located in the business district. She snapped a picture of the section on map with her phone, and left after she returned them to the reference section.
With some difficulty, she found the location, which didn't bare any signs that a toy factory belonged there, other than a fence lining the property and a rusted old metal sign that hung by one bolt, too degraded to read. She looked at the image on her phone, then cross referenced it with her map app. It was as if all traces had been removed in the amended maps.
The fence did nothing to keep her out, the gate's hinges were practically dust now. She looked around, no one seemed to be enforcing any kind of front against trespassing, it was as if this place didn't exist to anyone else. She frowned, and looked back at the empty lot, noticing telltale signs of foundation in the cement, as if something large had been bulldozed long ago.
She stepped around, and almost tripped when her foot hit something, which appeared to be recessed metal doors, not unlike those that were on a storm shelter, with metal bars as handles. There was a chain loosely wrapped around the handles, but the discarded padlock was feet away.
This had to be an entrance.
She looked around again, and saw that no one so much had even bothered to spot her. This was way too easy, way too wrong, why did no one care?
She pulled the doors open with a loud squeak of the rusted hinges, and dropped them, letting them crash on the ground in the open position. There was a set of metal stairs that led into a dark hallway, so she quickly turned on the flashlight function of her phone, and held it out in front of her as she stepped down.
It was musty, and moisture dripped from above, either from condensation or leaky pipes, though she doubted the latter, as it wouldn't make sense to run plumbing through an abandoned location.
She stepped off the stairs into the hallway and shone the light down the way, taking it all in, trying to decide what to do now.
"Jacky? Are you here?" She called, watching her step as she maneuvered around a slippery puddle on the floor that was orange with rust. This didn't at all appear to be like the factory he had brought her to before, but she assumed it was because she was in a more decayed wing. Maybe she was in the utility corridors...
Claire paused and listened for a sound, any sound, but just the occasional drip of moisture off of an overhead pipe greeted her.
This place was unnerving, but she forced herself to go further. If Jacky was here, then it would be worth the trip down the dark hall if she found him.
But, then what? What was she planning to do if she did find him here? Would she even be able to approach him if he was in such a delusional state? Would he even respond positively to her? She had been warned about how volatile QuackerJack was in one of his infamous "moods", but she insisted that people just didn't know how to respond to him properly. Maybe she was just in denial...
The air had a sort of smell to it that was familiar but she couldn't place it exactly. Sharp? Acidic?
After what felt like almost too long, she found her way to a large pair of sliding metal doors and grabbed on handle roughly and pulled with all her weight. It was still dark, and the lightswitch control panel on the adjacent wall didn't work.
She shone the cellphone light along the floor and at things in the room. This was definitely the factory floor, but there was something off. The scent was a bit more overwhelming, and made her nostrils itch.
She stepped around with caution and shone the light in front of her, inspecting what was laid out. She finally realized there was a layer of soot on the floor that stuck to her moist shoes, and she had left a trail of footprints in her path. There was also another set of footprints, this particular set was of much larger feet than hers, and she instantly recognized that they belonged to QuackerJack.
The large steps had no particular order to where they had been, and some of them were nothing more than drag marks. Whatever gait he had had, it wasn't steady.
Claire narrowed her eyes and looked upward, shining the phone's light, and immediately realized why the lighting system wasn't working: it had been gutted for wires, as had the conveyor system, and even the fuse box.
She moved the light of her phone along the floor and walls, finding more and more evidence that something terrible had happened in here. There was piles of charred wood and ash, with flame damaged metal pieces twisted up and sticking out of the mess. The cement appeared to have been struck repeatedly with something heavy until it chipped off chunks, revealing foundation rebarb. Pieces of melted plastic were laying in tiny crators that had scorches along the edges.
It had been burned. Everything was either burned, smashed, or, as much as she didn't want to think about it, it seemed that explosives were detonated. What she was smelling was charred wood, burned plastic and likely the smell of gunpowder.
She continued to step around, wondering if she should just run back outside and call up the police to share her findings. No, this would be something that the Crimebots would act upon and they'd find QuackerJack and incarcerate him without so much as looking into the source of the problem...
She raised her phone upward to the large wide wall and jumped in suprise.
All Werks and no play makes QuackerJack a dull boy
This was written on the wall in black paint, seemingly by having had fingers dipped in the bucket.
Part of Claire wondered if watching that one horror movie with him was a good idea, and the rest of her half expected him to be right behind her, standing at the top of the scaffolding, waiting to announce his presence to theatrical effect like a madman.
She spun around, but he wasn't there.
Of course... that would have been too easy.
She frowned at the seeming misspelling in the epigraph. It seemed so deliberate, as he had taken the time to capitalize it.
She opened the camera app on her phone and snapped a picture of it with a flash of light. Then she ran out of the old factory.
QuackerJack was not entirely sure how much time had passed since he started all this, nor did he particularly care.
He pulled the wide brimmed hat down a bit to hide his recognizable jester hat, which had the dingle dangles stuffed into the collar of the trenchcoat he had on to hide his clownish costume and ruffled frill collar.
He still couldn't believe that this outfit was as inconspicuous as ever. No one in St. Canard ever paid him any mind when he wore it, it was as if he was invisible. He felt a twinge of anger at how ignorant they all were.
He gripped the plant cutting in his hand as he slipped into an alley, flashing a look of disgust as the city dwellers didn't so much as look in his direction, despite him having been right in front of them.
The poor, benighted fools.
He looked at the plant cutting, which was now starting to wiggle and sprout roots at an incredible speed. He grinned widely and tossed it in front of him, watching in amusement as the cutting grew and formed the familiar shape of his old teammate within minutes.
"Hey, what's the big idea!" The plant duck shouted, looking around before his eyes fell on QuackerJack. He seemed to not recognize him under the disguise, before the unmistakable wide toothed grin tipped him off. "Qu-QuackerJack?"
"Great to see you again, Bushy buddy, Bush Boy, Bushroot, it's been so long!" QuackerJack swept the wide brimmed hat off his head and gave a bow with great flourish, laughing under his breath. "Sorry, I had to do that, but it was the only way to smuggle you out of that dreaded QuackWerks!"
"... You mulched me!" Bushroot snapped, the petals on his head curling a bit. "Of all the ways to do it, you had to pick the most unnecessarily violent-!"
"It got you out, didn't it?" QuackerJack stepped forward, leaning very close with his grin not faltering. It was making Bushroot uncomfortable. "You see, Beetbrain, I had to get you out of there, that nasty little company is draining the life out of everyone, and I want to get all my little friends back together so we can do everyone a favor and stop those horrible people in charge."
"... I'm not your buddy."
"Oh, you're as wry as ever, old pal." QuackerJack smirked, putting a hand on Bushroot's shoulder. He didn't seem to read the plant duck's body language, and of he was, he just didn't care. "I love it, it's just like the good old times."
"... What happened to you?" Bushroot eyed him carefully, knowing this guy was a far cry from the goofy bouncy clown he used to work with. "I don't want to be rude, but you seem less... silly than last time I'd seen you."
"Life, Bushy, life happened." The grin fell from QuackerJack's face, and for the first time in this meeting, Bushroot could see that QuackerJack's eyes had more prominent bags under them than his usual well known insomnia. There was a wild look in his eyes, and it was clear that something had changed him in thier absence in each other's company. "I was employed by QuackWerks, got to work in the toy department..."
"Well, isn't that something you'd want? You love toys."
"I was a squeaky wheel. A very noisy one, and they tried to silence me." A low snarl was present in QuackerJack's voice. "They thought they could make me adhere to thier bland little way things work, suck the color and life out of my ideas, and twist them up for thier own purposes." He grinned again, far too much, far too wide. "But, I was smart, too smart for them. They couldn't keep me chained down, I just... broke free."
"Lovely. And you want me here because..?"
"I thought I could round up the guys again, and we'd all have a little fun and paint the town red!" QuackerJack was now jumping up and down in place excitedly, fingers gripping his beak, which made Bushroot flinch and take a step back. "Megsy is trapped in an ugly little cubicle, so we need to save him, but I was hoping you'd be able to tell me where to find our old wet dog pally is!"
"Why would I know where Liquidator is?"
"Come now, Bushroot, you're a plant, he's literally water, you two are like yin and yang, you'd know where to find any kind of water." QuackerJack shook his head and snickered.
"... Fair assumption, but wouldn't it be easier to find Negaduck first?"
Bushroot was suddenly aware that QuackerJack wasn't laughing anymore. The clownish duck had a white knuckled grip on the wide brimmed hat in both shaking hands, creasing the material far too easily. The grin was now a sour grimace, and there was such a fire lit behind his wide eyes, that Bushroot felt himself literally wilt under the stare.
Before he could say anything, QuackerJack had thrown the wide brimmed hat behind him and lunged at Bushroot with a scream of fury. Bushroot screamed as well, in fear, and threw his hands in the air, sprouting vines defensively, stopping the insane duck just inches from grabbing him by his neck.
"QuackerJack! What is wrong with you!" Bushroot shouted as QuackerJack struggled and pulled at the vines, clawing a restrained hand at him to no effect. His momentum may have been stopped, but his energy had not. "Stop!"
"How dare you! How dare you!" QuackerJack was screeching, not looking like he was going to calm down anytime soon. "I don't ever want to hear that name ever again! I'll rip every little petal off your stupid flower head! Don't ever say it again, I'll do it!"
Bushroot blinked and decided to wait for QuackerJack to burn out, as he was unfamiliar with how to deal with a furious QuackerJack. Heck, he hardly knew how to deal with him during a bout of mania, but at least then, he wasn't actively trying to throttle Bushroot like he was now.
He waited, and QuackerJack continued to struggle and scream, even going as far as to bite down on the vines in a desperate attempt to get loose. This continued on for ten minutes (Impressive... Bushroot thought), and finally, QuackerJack took a deep breath, sighed heavily and slumped against the restraints, now appearing to be listless.
"I'm going to put you down now, if you promise not to rip me apart again."
QuackerJack lifted his head and another grin spread on his face.
"Of course, Bushy, of course, I really didn't mean it, it was all in good fun, after all."
"Now, see, that's the sort of thing you do that makes me not want to let you get unleashed, don't do that."
"Anything you say, just let me go."
"... If you come at me again, we'll have to do that all over again, you understand?"
"Only if you never say that name again." QuackerJack had a sing-songish tone now. It was certainly creepy to Bushroot. "Don't say the name, Bushy, and we won't have problems."
Bushroot begrudgingly let him go, and QuackerJack stood up, dusted himself off and calmly picked up the wide brimmed hat, giving it a few shakes before he frowned.
"Aw, it's all wrinkled..." He whined, as if the outburst hadn't even happened.
Bushroot tried to step past him, but QuackerJack's arm shot out and braced a hand against the brick wall, blocking Bushroot from leaving.
"Where do you think you're going? You owe me, I rescued you from that conglomerate prison."
Bushroot had his leafy hands up in surprise at the sudden movement, and barely registered what QuackerJack had said. He blinked.
"Look, not that I'm not grateful or anything, but-" He realized that the hard stare QuackerJack was giving him was making him forget what he intended to say.
"... That's very rude of you, Bushroot." QuackerJack said quietly, and for the life of him, Bushroot could not remember a time where QuackerJack's voice had been lower than emphatic, much less so dry and pragmatic.
"... What exactly did you have in mind..?"
QuackerJack's face lit up, wide grin appearing once more.
"I'm very glad you asked that!" He giggled, lifting his hand from the wall. "It's really simple, really, what I have thought out. Those mean old higher-ups at QuackWerks need to be taken down a peg. Their egos are too big to really get how things should work. They don't understand people like you or me. I think we scare them with our methods."
"... They let the plants in the offices wither." Bushroot added, starting to feel the mood that QuackerJack was trying to build. He had to admit, he also harbored some resentment for the bosses of QuackWerks.
"Oh, oh, my, that's terrible, the nerve!" QuackerJack gasped and threw an arm around Bushroot's shoulder. "I know how important your little leafy buddies are, why that's just insensitive!"
"... I can't tell if you're mocking me." Bushroot shrugged his shoulders to try and wiggle loose. QuackerJack's grip tightened.
"When have I ever?"
"Got a pen and paper? I could make a list."
"You're a riot, Bushy, I like that about you."
Before Bushroot could respond, another voice cut through the air.
Bushroot could literally feel QuackerJack's energy get tense and he glanced at the disguised clown and saw him freeze with a look of horror on his face that Bushroot had never seen.
QuackerJack shoved Bushroot away roughly and step backwards in shock.
There was a lady duck standing, and she was staring at QuackerJack with wide eyes. It was clear to Bushroot that she knew him.
"... Cl-Claire..." QuackerJack was twitching, and he looked back and forth between her and Bushroot. He shook his head, and grabbed at his colorful hat. "... No... No... No... No... This can't be happening... This can't be happening..."
"Jacky, I've been looking everywhere for you!" Claire shouted, rushing forward, but QuackerJack stepped back again, this time several steps quickly. He looked terrified. "Jacky, it's me! Don't run away!"
Bushroot had already climbed his way up the building with his vines, and was now watching the scene below unfold with great curiosity.
"No!" QuackerJack shrieked and darted to a low hanging ladder for a fire escape, panicking as he jumped and tried to climb it, but his weight jarred it loose and dropped him a few feet lower before the ladder stopped with a bang of metal against the top of a dumpster. "No! You can't see me! You weren't supposed to know I'm here!"
"Jacky! Ms. Mustela confirmed those were sugar pills!" Claire reached for him, and he shrank back and climbed several rungs on the ladder to stay just out of reach. "I know you're very confused and scared right now, maybe even angry, but just stop running."
He looked down at her, and for a brief moment, she could see that she was managing to get to him. He certainly looked like an overgrown terrified child now, clinging to the ladder like a lifeline. He lifted his foot up another rung.
"... I'm not going back..." He said in a low voice, leaning into the ladder with a dejected expression crossing his face. He sniffled, and looked down without tilting his head. "... I can't go back... I messed up and they'll put me away..."
"You haven't hurt anyone, they can't do that..." Claire was carefully climbing onto the lid of the dumpster that the ladder hung over, not taking her eyes off him once. "We could go back, get everything sorted out, and everything can go back to the way it was before this happened."
"Claire, you don't get it. I messed up! They'll never take me back, and if they did, they'll just find another way to subdue me!" QuackerJack had a hand to his face and was peering through his fingers with a shaky grin, clearly under some internal distress. "I don't belong in a cubicle, where they'll just take and take and take from me, impeding all my honest attempts to give them brilliant ideas! If I can't do it my way, the QuackerJack way, then they don't deserve my brain, and I certainly don't need them!"
"... We could get you a transfer..?"
A noise escaped QuackerJack, like a harsh cough crossed with a snerk. It echoed through the alley, startled a stray cat nearby, who fled from an overturned trashcan.
"You think I hadn't tried that?" He shouted as he gestured his free hand to himself awkwardly. "Every single request, every single application I put in, would mysteriously get lost! Someone was intercepting them! Someone didn't want me to succeed! Someone was playing me like... like a..."
He trailed off and lowered his arm, then let it hang limply before he brought it to the ladder again. He broke eye contact and looked away.
"Jacky..." Claire said, reaching for him. He flinched at the name. "Just come back. We'll get through this, and everything will be alright... You're ill, just let me help you..."
QuackerJack stared ahead for a good while before he looked at her again, this time with an unreadable expression. He looked at her hand, squeezed his fingers on the bars of the ladder, fidgeting and twitching as he clenched his teeth, and heaved a heavy sigh.
He reached for her hesitantly, but before thier fingers touched... vines wrapped around his arm and body and pulled him back, forcing a squeak of shock out of him as he disappeared over the top of the building.
Claire stared in confusion, hand still in the air, wondering what the heck just happened.
"So... 'Jacky', huh?"
"... Shut up..."
Bushroot couldn't help but be curious about this whole thing. He never pegged QuackerJack for someone to ever be infatuated with anything other than his own craft and toys. It was very clear that there was something between the clown and the lady duck. Bushroot might have found that endearing if not for the fact that QuackerJack had been so homicidal towards him just minutes before she showed up.
QuackerJack was sitting on the ground, knees drawn to his chest and arms wrapped around them, head buried. He seemed so listless right now, even his hat was drooping, which was a rare sight.
The last time Bushroot could recall seeing QuackerJack so depressed was after he, Liquidator and Megavolt had found the clown duck outside thier warehouse hideout, holding the shreds of his beloved doll in a catatonic state.
"Never pinned you for one to get a girlfriend." Bushroot was wringing his hands. "... I guess if you can, then there's still hope for me."
"... I said 'shut up'..."
"... She's cute."
QuackerJack sprang to his feet furiously, and spun around to be just inches from Bushroot's face.
"... Are... Are you crying?"
"No!" QuackerJack shouted emphatically, stomping a foot down and clenching his hands into fists. "It's just-! Allergies! There's all this pollen in the air!"
"Uh-huh..." Bushroot raised his eyebrows and stepped backwards enough to be more than an arm's reach from QuackerJack. "As long as I've known you, you've never complained about the pollen before."
"You've never paid much attention to me anyway, so what do you care!"
"... Fair enough." Bushroot shrugged. "Well, I guess I'm stuck with you, so what the plan?"
QuackerJack blinked, a little surprised by the backpedaling, and had quite honestly been prepared to throw down if Bushroot had prodded at him more. He huffed through his nostrils and smirked.
"Like I said: round up the rest of the guys and have a night on the town." The smirk became a toothy grin, and he rocked from side to side with his hands up in a shrug, as if he didn't have a care in the world. "I've got the supplies, and some choice places picked out, you could say that we'll all have quite a blast."
"... Alright..." Bushroot was wondering if maybe he'd gotten in too deep now, but honestly, the idea of venting frustration out on QuackWerks for all the injustices sounded like an enticing idea the more QuackerJack sold it to him. He had to admit, the clown was a very pursuasive salesman, almost as much the Liquidator. "I guess that means you're in charge, then."
"Oh, don't think of me as your boss, Bushy." QuackerJack snickered, holding out his right hand as an invitation to shake on it. "We're all going to do this as buddies, just like the good days."
Bushroot knew better than to immediately accept a handshake from QuackerJack, who'd been known to slip a joy buzzer on his hand before offering it, and quickly glanced at it before his held his own, leafy hand out as well.
"Why not? This could be fun." He said, and QuackerJack shook his hand enthusiastically, failing miserably at stifling another laugh.
It honestly hadn't taken long to round up the rest of the crew. It only took Bushroot a week to locate Liquidator, who was forced to reside in the QuackWerks' water systems. When asked as to how he managed to free him, Bushroot insistent response was simple "... Don't worry about it..."
QuackerJack was a clever one himself, and was able to track down Megavolt within the company, right down to exact cubicle. Being that he wasn't a living plant duck or a water dog, QuackerJack was able to slip past security under an inconspicuous disguise that he was surprised that not a single person even noticed him. Fake mustache and glasses will take you far in St. Canard, apparently.
He slipped a little memo on Megavolt's desk and was out of there and in the elevator within in minutes. No one so much as looked his way.
Slaves to the machines, all of them... He frowned, regarding the packed cubicles that filled every square inch of the floor before the elevator doors slid shut. Like rats in a maze...
QuackerJack stepped out of the building once he reached the ground floor, and onto a city bus without earning much attention except a brief glance from the driver as he dropped a handful of coins in the payment deposit receptacle. He had about four hours now to regroup with Bushroot and Liquidator, obtain a van, then they'd come to collect Megavolt after the last bus of the evening.
He held up a newspaper, mostly to draw as little attention to himself, but to hide that grin of his that he knew someone was bound to recognize.
"For goodness sake, QuackerJack! Slow down!" Bushroot shouted, bracing himself in the back area of the van by a network of vines. "You're going to get us killed!"
"Oh, come on, you guys are practically immortal!"
"And you aren't!" Bushroot reminded him, incredulous that he was even having this conversation. "Do I have to remind you that you're the only one without powers on this team!"
"Nuh-uh, I have my wackiness!" QuackerJack was missing the point entirely. "Besides, I'm really good at driving like this!"
"Whoever gave you a license is crazier than you!" Bushroot shouted over the rattling noises of the van, wondering if QuackerJack was hitting every pothole on purpose.
"Yeah, but I'm the one who's got the license to drive right now!"
"That's because Liquidator can't drive without flooding the car, and because I don't have mine with me right now!"
"Trust me, I know every street in this district like the back of my hand! I've been studying the times and order that all the lights and traffic works!" The cheery dissonance QuackerJack had despite driving like a madman, was almost as eery on its own as this whole situation. He looked at the two unnerved passengers and grinned widely. "It's so predictable, there's no variety, everyone is so boring, I can practically set my watch by it!"
"EYES ON THE ROAD!" Bushroot and Liquidator both screamed, but QuackerJack had already hit the brakes without so much as looking where he was going, screeching to a stop just at the intersection.
Liquidator, being water, was flung forward and splashed against the windshield, and reformed with a very annoyed expression once the large puddle slid off the dash.
"I told you, I got it down to a science." QuackerJack beamed back, apparently oblivious to the dog's ire. "I could probably do it with my eyes closed-"
"NO." Bushroot and Liquidator shouted back.
"Do you know how many accidents on the road happen due to inattentiveness?" Liquidator growled.
"No, but I'm sure you got some snappy road safety slogan to toss at me." QuackerJack looked at him innocently. "But really, we don't have time to fool around right now. I have this whole bit planned down to the seconds."
"And the reason we couldn't have started this any earlier was because..?"
"Oh, seriously, you can't tell me this isn't more thrilling this way."
"There's a lot other words I could have chosen."
"Where's your sense of adventure, Buddy Boy?" QuackerJack looked back at the road and revved the van as the light turned green. "Carpe diem. Seize the day."
The van took off again, and once more, Bushroot and Liquidator were shouting at QuackerJack, but he didn't seemed fazed. True to his word, he was able to maneuver the streets with such skill, it might been impressive if it wasn't such a terrifying ride.
"Okay! There he is, just like we practiced!"
"We didn't practice anything! You literally just shoved us in a hijacked van and sped off without any explanation!"
"Just get the door open and grab him, geeze!"
Within seconds, Megavolt, in civilian clothes, was pulled into the stopped van by Bushroot, with a cry of "Edison's sake!" from the rat as a blindfold was promptly pulled over his eyes. Megavolt shouted expletives and kicked and fought, but he was simply overpowered.
The van sped off.
Megavolt was dragged from the van and into a building, where he was tied to a chair. He thumped the chair back and forth as he tried to get loose.
"What's going on!" He shouted, blindfold still over his eyes. He was going to sound as intimidating as possible. "What moron thinks they can kidnap one of St. Canard's greatest villains!"
A giggle sounded off behind him, and he whipped his head around in response.
"That's just it, Sparky." He felt a hand grab the knot of the blindfold and tug it off as an unmistakably familiar voice spoke in his ear. "You're only one of St. Canard's greatest villains."
Megavolt squinted against the sudden light change in his vision, and was met with three figures.
"Liquidator? Bushroot?" He looked to his left, then his right, then tilted his head back and nearly toppled the chair over. "QuackerJack?"
The aforementioned duck was standing behind him, arms held out in presentation, wearing a very wide, very intimidating smile.
"That's right! It's time to put the band back together!" QuackerJack put his hands on Megavolt's shoulders and undid the ropes that bound him to the chair.
Megavolt was then led to another part of the building, and it didn't take him long to figure out where he was once he laid eyes on the shelves and shelves of toys.
"Wait a minute, I know this place. This is QuackWerks' toy warehouse!"
"Got it in one, Sparky!" QuackerJack held his hands to his chest in mock pride, chuckling to himself. "QuackWerks, in thier great wisdom, placed me here when the Crimebots ruined all our fun!"
Megavolt squinted and studied his former teamate's face. He was unable to place it, but something seemed... off about the clown, more so than he could ever recall.
He also couldn't help but feel like he might be forgetting something important that he was supposed to do pertaining to QuackerJack.
Curse this bad memory...
He listened as QuackerJack waved a doll identically to himself, talking about how bitter he was about the choice of management, and that he'd lined the entire warehouse with other dolls just like the one he held in his hands.
"You nudnik..." He shook his head and pointed at QuackerJack as he leaned forward, frowning. "Who's going to buy an action figure with your mug on it?"
The clown grinned smugly, absolutely reveling in the idea that he had just been sharing.
"Oh, these toys aren't meant to be played with..." He chimed before he dropped his tone a few pitches, honestly startling Megavolt for a second. "They blow up buildings."
Before he knew it, Megavolt was ushered out of the building, and the dolls were detonated behind them.
He took a moment to glance at QuackerJack as they walked away from the decimated, smoldering building, and couldn't help but notice the serene look that was crossing the duck's face as the flaming remains cast a harsh glow of orange along thier backs.
Megavolt frowned, not sure how to feel about this new side of the crazed toy maker.
They continued thier state of anarchy throughout the city, hitting the targets that QuackerJack had specially laid out.
Thier next stop was a toy store, specifically one where some of QuackerJack's finished projects ended up after a long, arduous fight with the management to keep them as intact as possible.
QuackerJack began to explain to them about his employment under QuackWerks' toy department, reaching for the toys on the shelves and throwing them to the ground as his soliloquy devolved into a full blown rant.
"I was meant to be another cog in the machine, chewed up and spit out so everyone above me could reap the glory and line thier pockets on my genius!" He was standing on a pile of toys, looming over his cohorts as he held his hands in the air theatrically. "They wanted my talents..." He pulled out another bomb doll, and shook it slightly, smirking and cackling. "Well, now... They can have them."
Megavolt, now in his villain garb, leaned over to Bushroot and said: "Why, exactly, are we helping Sir-Laughs-a-Lot with his vendetta?"
"Easy. This is only QuackerJack's turn to get revenge on his bosses. We all get our chance after this." Bushroot said, he and Megavolt both lining the now empty shelves with the little QuackerJack effigies.
"... Perfect." Megavolt felt a smirk spread on his face as well as he rubbed his hands and caused some sparks to discharge.
They blew that building up as well, and as they watched the remains burn to the ground, they were approached by Crimebots. Megavolt was not familiar with them, but he couldn't help but feel his atrocious memory was to blame for that.
"Well, this is new. Did you work on these, QuackerJack?"
"Not my department." The clown said, grinning smugly with his hands behind his back. The Crimebots formed a circle around them. "These were top secret."
QuackerJack folded his arms and regarded the Crimebots in amusement, as the rest of his team stepped behind him cautiously.
"Identified: The Fearsome Five." One of the Crimebots droned. "Absent: Thier Leader, Negaduck."
QuackerJack went tense, his eyes went wide, and he started to shake with anger.
"What did you just say?" He snarled. Without warning, he lunged at the Crimebot who had spoken, tackling it to the pavement. "Never!" He shrieked and swung a fist at it, however many times, he wasn't sure, but he was vaguely aware of the bolts and components that had been broken off. "Ever!" He was only distantly aware that the bot was spouting out damage reports, but he frankly didn't care. He put his entire weight on the Crimebot, straddling it, grabbed where the neck would probably be, and slammed it again and again into the pavement over and over until it was scrap metal. "Say! That! Name!"
He was gasping heavily, staggering to his feet as he stood among the wreckage, his back turned to his team. Everything was tilting, as if his equilibrium was out of whack. He didn't care, in fact, he felt liberated, as if a weight was taken off his back. He continued to wheeze from the post-adrenaline rush, and was suddenly aware of something he had gripped in his right hand.
"Um... QuackerJack..." He heard Bushroot say hesitantly from behind him. "... Are you alright..?"
He looked down at his right hand and a grin spread on his face again, getting wider and wider. He spun around to face the trio, beaming as if this was the happiest day of his life.
"Of course I'm alright!" He squealed excitedly, holding up what he had in his hand with great euphoria. "I've just been reunited with an old friend! QuackWerks took him away but now he's back and better than ever!"
Megavolt eyed the item in QuackerJack's hand and said hesitantly: "... I thought it was Neg-"
Bushroot clapped his hands over Megavolt's mouth with an uneasy shake of the head as Liquidator shushed him.
QuackerJack didn't even notice.
"Say hello to the new and improved Mr. Banana Brain!" He announced, and he held the metal amalgamation, a perfectly crafted recreation of his old pal, using scrapped parts from the decimated Crimebot. QuackerJack smirked and gave it a little shake, just like old times. He added, in that characteristically squeaky voice he used for his fruit head companion: "Hello folks! I'm made of hate and wires!"
The rest of the night was oh so fun. He couldn't remember the last time he and his old crime buddies had been able to get together like this, and now that thier quartet had finally become a quintet with the return of his beloved Mr. Banana Brain, who was sporting a new sleek look.
QuackerJack couldn't exactly hear what was being said around him, he was having such a good time catching up with Mr. Banana Brain, telling him everything that had gone on in the past year or so, and how glad he was to have finally found him again.
"You were just hiding in those nasty little Crimebots this whole time, that's all..." He cooed, not noticing the concerned look Megavolt flashed at him. "I would have found you sooner, but QuackWerks kept working me to the bone and I just didn't have the drive at the end of the day... I knew we'd be together again..."
Soggy robotic parts, wound up with vines, scorched by electricity littered the ground around them all.
"Whatta ya say we do next, Mecha Mr. Banana Brain?"
"Hows'about we find a worthy opponent? These Crimebots are chumps!"
"I wish you'd been around for the good old days. Back when we used to face off with-!"
There was a noise like that of a jet streaking across the sky. QuackerJack craned his head upward and gawked in awe as he made out the unmistakable shape of the Thunderquack darting across the night skyline, leaving a jetsteam as the proof it had been there.
"He's back!" Bushroot said excitedly, mirroring the energy that was building in the group. "He's back! He's back!"
"Released from the vaults for a limited time!" Liquidator declared.
"Now it's really playtime!" QuackerJack was ecstatic. He knew it, he just knew it, that all he had to do was make enough noise, and Darkwing Duck would have to come back.
Megavolt muttered something about wondering if Darkwing had been at a crummy desk job as well all this time.
The following events were almost a blur of exhilaration as they gave chase after the Thunderquack, in his own specially modified vehicle, one function of which transformed it into a an aircraft.
He could hear Megavolt shouting, but he didn't care. Mr. Banana Brain was by his side as he should be, and Darkwing Duck was back in town, as it always should have been.
Before long, however, he made a miscalculation in his maneuvering, and had gotten him and his crew ensnared in some sort of electrified trap alongside Darkwing and his sidekicks.
The shock to his system from the electricity momentarily rendered his senses useless and his mind wandered as he fought to regain consciousness. The memory of that day, the day Mr. Banana Brain was ripped from him, sprung to mind, and he found himself infuriated this time around, instead of feeling guilt and sadness.
Yes, yes, of course... It was Negaduck who had done it. He was the one who made Mr. Banana Brain go away. He knew Darkwing's secret identity and overreacted when QuackerJack begged him to share the details. He took Mr. Banana Brain away, and told QuackerJack he wasn't "mean enough" to be able to use that information, of where and how to find Darkwing off the clock.
He took Mr. Banana Brain away.
But Mr. Banana Brain was back, now.
And Mr. Banana Brain will never leave him again.
He came to, and found himself muttering under his breath.
"... Mean enough? I'll show Negaduck... I'll show the whole world mean enough!"
He was hardly aware that he was strapped to a chair, much less that everyone else who had been trapped had been as well, and he was far less aware of the large, cyborg bull in front of them, and he couldn't very well care what was being said at the moment; he was still stewing over his hatred for Negaduck.
Eventually he cooled down and he looked around in mild confusion. He was indeed strapped to a chair, as was Mr. Banana Brain in his own tiny sized one. To his right was Darkwing, who was staring at the bull in front of them in shock. To his left was Megavolt, who seemed to have shorted out from being used as a power source for QuackerJack's vehicle.
As the bull continued to talk, QuackerJack became aware of a sparking noise and a glimmer of blue light to his left and he turned his head to look at Megavolt, who had finally come to and was charging up something fierce.
"Sparky? What are you-?" QuackerJack started to say, before a bolt of electricity sprung forth from the rat, and hit the bull, and triggered the restraints to disengage.
QuackerJack and Darkwing locked eyes, and they both acted immediately.
"Let's get dangerous!" Darkwing shouted, and that was the cure for everyone to attack. QuackerJack had a wooden mallet, one that had been confiscated when he was captured, and he immediately went for the lovely carved wooden desk, a boss's desk, and began to reduce it to splinters, Mr. Banana Brain in tow.
"My talents were wasted on morons who were confused by the yo-yo!" He screamed as everyone else also shouted the injustices they'd suffered.
The bull regained his bearings and lashed out, it was very clear to QuackerJack now how intimidating and large the bull was compared to him, and he found himself cowering as the attention was drawn to him. Shaking in fear, he instinctively grabbed Megavolt as Bushroot wrapped his vines around them and Liquidator.
"You four! I have never seen such an example of employee misconduct! Fortunately, I have someone more than happy to discuss this with you!"
It was now that QuackerJack realized this was Taurus Bulba.
The floor dropped out from under them and QuackerJack felt himself land in a chair alongside his team. He looked up at the most intimidating robot he'd see thus far. An HR-Bot apparently, ready to give an employee evaluation...
He was sketchy on the details, but apparently order had been brought back to St. Canard. QuackWerks had been put under new management, the Crimebots were decommissioned and the police force was returned to order.
With Darkwing Duck being back, it seemed that St. Canard was slowly returning to normal.
QuackerJack preferred it this way.
He didn't even mind that he was now in prison, having to serve his time for his little spree. He got to share a cell with his two bestest friends; Megavolt and Mr. Banana Brain.
"Don't worry, Mecha Mr. Banana Brain... we won't be here long." He reassured his little fruit headed buddy. "I got plans. Big plans!"
"Yeah!" Mr. Banana Brain squeaked back. "And now that Bulba's had his toys taken away, we can-"
"Keep it down, clown!" A guard barked before yanking the doll from QuackerJack's hands.
The duck watched helpless as once more, Mr. Banana Brain was taken from him, and left in pieces on the ground before him.
Only this time, he didn't feel despair. He only felt seething rage.
"QuackerJack! You've got a visitor!"
He really couldn't care much, he'd rather bide his time, but all the same, he should continue to keep up appearances. The sooner he got out on good behavior, the better.
He was led to a visiting booth, and he quickly pulled his arm from the guard once he sat down.
"I don't like being touched." He said with a hint of a whine, which he had learned that that sort of tone and demeanor would often make the guards be more lenient with his behavior, as he came off as a large child. He knew playing them like that was wrong, but honestly, what were they going to do to him? Put him in jail?
He almost fell out of his chair before he even had a chance to see who was visiting. He spun around and was now facing Claire on the other side of the glass.
"... Oh... Oh, no..." QuackerJack felt himself deflate, and any front he had put up prior to being led here had vanished entirely. He brought a hand up hesitantly, and gave a tiny wave. "... H-Hi, Claire."
"That's all you have to say?" She was shaking her head in disbelief. "Jacky, what did you do?"
"It was just a little fun, is all." QuackerJack shrugged sheepishly. "I got the guys back together, and we went out and had a great time, and we even found Darkwing and brought him back to town!"
He was grinning, as if this was something to be proud of.
"Then what's all this I've been hearing about toy stores and warehouses being blown up? Tell me that wasn't you."
"Oh, it was." He nodded, oblivious to the look of horror on her face. "I had to stop those mean old bosses at QuackWerks from ruining the fun for everyone, so we made all that junky stuff they approved just go away."
"Jacky, that's terrorism." Claire finally managed, clearly in a state of disbelief. "When you blow something up, like a building, that's not good."
"But, you didn't hear the best part, Claire!" He smiled, eyes closed. "I did it. I brought Darkwing Duck back to St. Canard, and he started fixing everything! Everything can go back to the way it was, now!"
"... While that is a bit of a coincidence, you still can't just be doing that. You're lucky you didn't actually hurt someone, thank goodness it was just toys you blew up."
"And you won't believe what else happened, Claire."
"... I'm honestly afraid to ask at this point."
"I found Mr. Banana Brain again!" QuackerJack was bouncing excitedly in his seat. If not for the prison scrubs, he would have seemed like his normal self, the one Claire was familiar with. "He was just hiding in a Crimebot this whole time, and we had such fun, but then he went away again when one of the mean guards here took him and broke him into so many pieces on the floor."
"Wait, you did what now?"
"Found Mr. Banana Brain. He was all metally this time, but I guess that was to be sure he wouldn't break so easy. Shame that idea didn't work."
"... Jacky, do you understand why you're here?"
"Because I played a little too rough?"
"Because you did something bad, and you have to stay here until they say you can leave." She said gently. "And when you can leave, we'll get everything taken care of and you can come back with me."
"... Hey, Claire." A curious, almost borderline thoughtful look crossed QuackerJack's face, which was a bit jarring as Claire hadn't seen him look this serious since before everything fell apart. "I got a question."
"Why would you still want me back after all this?" He folded his arms on the table of the booth and leaned into them, scooting his chair back with a noise of metal chair legs on tile. He rested his head on them. "I'm a criminal, and honestly, you could do way better. Why do you want to work so hard on trying to fix me? Most people just gave up after trying."
This was said with such clarity, it seemed that at that exact moment, QuackerJack did actually grasp the severity of the situation.
"Because I've seen what you're like when you open up, when you let yourself be vulnerable." She said, and QuackerJack lifted his head curiously. "You're funny, and you're talented, and you're so passionate about what you do, and it's just so terrible that you have all this... pent up rage and pain in you. I'm not trying to fix you, I want to help you."
QuackerJack sat up more alertly, and Claire could see that "wacky" facade fade. It was her Jacky looking back at her now.
He looked tired, and his eyes were sad. The smile was feeble now, and he reached a hand for the glass, and held it there.
"I'm sorry I don't make it any easier..." He forced a weak laugh. "It's just that... everything is just so complicated. I tried, really. But, I just don't function in this society. Maybe, I'm too eccentric, or maybe it's because I'm just a bad apple. But, I just don't belong out there, in the real world, where the people are."
He looked absolutely miserable now, as if he felt like he'd disappointed her. He dropped his gaze to the table top sadly.
"You don't have to 'belong' with them, Jacky." Claire said quietly. "You can just be yourself, that's who I want back. I want 'Jacky', not this... this persona you made to rebel. You are good, you can be. Why can't you see that?"
Before QuackerJack could respond, it was announced that visiting time was over, and he was quickly escorted away. He fought and kicked and screamed out for her, causing an uproar, and finally broke down into desperate sobs as he begged to be given just a little more time with her.
He was not given that.
Claire watched through the glass helplessly as he disappeared through the door and out of sight. She then put her face in her hands and cried to herself quietly.
Everything is just so complicated...
QuackerJack honestly had more fun with it than he originally thought it was going to be. Cutting and trimming papers of so many different colors and patterns, arranging them in lovely little collages on the pages, decorating with stickers and sparkly strips of special tape.
It was very much like arts and crafts when he was a child. And oh so cathartic.
"I feel like I'm almost cheating here..." He snorted. "They told me not to do anything work related, but this is almost as nice as working on toy designs."
Claire was leaning over his shoulder with her arms draped around his neck, watching him trim small pieces of paper and use a glue stick to paste them onto larger pieces to create a cut out papercraft of a fuzzy bear.
"You're really good at this, I could never get pieces that small without scrunching them or getting them bunched up with glue." She said, nudging her head into his.
"I've got a lot of experience working with really tiny doodads and whatsits, I just have nimble fingers from toy making." He turned his head to look at her.
"And you have a good eye for color theory, these are some nice aesthetics you have picked out."
"It's no fun if it's not visually appealing." He stuck his tongue out playfully. "It's gotta look nice on the eyes, or no one's gin a want to look at it."
"Who are you going to let look at these?"
There was a collective giggle between the two of them. It was a nice sound.
Claire leaned forward more and reached for a scrap of paper on the table that looked to be taken from a catalog.
"... Oh, is this your little banana friend?"
"..." QuackerJack went quiet for few seconds before nodding. "Yes, that's from a mock catalog I did years ago before things went under. He was actually a prototype in a whole line I had planned, but it never came to fruition."
He tugged the paper from her hands.
"See, he was supposed to be sort of like a cross between a doll and a handpuppet, so kids could hug 'em and put on little play shows. He was probably one of the last good ideas I had before I got desperate and started making dangerous toys to get an edge on the competition."
He smoothed the paper out and tested a spot in the book for placement.
"I had a lot of concepts made, most of them ended up being turned into bombs during my early days as a villain, so most of them are gone now... All of them are gone now..." He corrected himself, and a bitter look crossed his face before he shook his head to get rid of it. "The Mr. Banana Brain, however, he was special. He was the last of the concepts, but I never modified anything about him like the rest. He was probably the last QuackerJack Toy that still resembled the old company style, right down to function."
"I like his goofy little smile, he looks like he's shaped like a friend." Claire pointed at the picture.
"Yeah, but he's so mischievous sometimes. He threw Megs and I under the bus one time when I got pinned with a parking violation on a time machine in some dystopian future."
"I don't think you've told me about that adventure."
"I haven't?" QuackerJack looked up from his project and looked at Claire. "No? The Time Top and Darkwarrior?"
"You've told me about the time you went back to medieval times to erase yo-yos from existence, but not about going to the future."
"Now, see, most people would have responded to that story like I'm crazy or something, and just dismiss it." QuackerJack snorted. "I like that it doesn't wierd you out."
"Maybe, but I mean, you built a working time machine. That's pretty interesting."
"I didn't exactly use it for good purposes, I tried to mess with Time because I was being selfish." He shrugged. "I scrapped the whole thing after the future incident. That was just too much."
"Really? Tell me about it."
"Okay, then. Imagine St. Canard without crime, but only because it's hero has gone completely bonkers and wiped every hint of bad behavior out of it in the most extremely unnecessarily forceful way possible." He gestured appropriately for the story. "Jaywalking gets you thrown in prison. You can't be outside after nine at night, or you get thrown in prison. We accidentally stopped stopped the Time Top in a no parking zone and got hauled off before we could get back in it."
"Megs tried to pin it on me, and I panicked and said I couldn't even drive, but Mr. Banana Brain claimed we were holding him hostage. I mean, yeah, he was along for the ride, but that was a bit harsh."
He continued to explain the whole event from his perspective, pausing the story every now and then to add personal commentary, and concluded with how he swore off messing with the timestream for good, and had promptly smashed the Time Top with many, many furious strikes of a large crowbar as soon as they were in the clear. He admitted that he might have been screaming a little as he did it.
He glued the scrap of catalog listing to the page and found that he was trying to stifle a yawn of fatigue.
"Jacky, sweetie, are you alright? You've been yawning all afternoon."
"... I hate this new dosage, it's really wearing me out..." He muttered, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. "I think I'll stop with the paper stuff for now, and probably lay down, it's been a long day."
"Just let me know if you need anything." Claire nudged him affectionately, and he giggled without hesitation.
"... Stop, I'm ticklish." He squeaked giddishly and waved his hands between them.
Claire was awoken by a noise coming from the living room. She was very much aware that QuackerJack slept in the living room (mostly due to the fact that he preferred to keep to himself at night), so logic dictated that he was likely the source of the sound.
The noise happened again, sounding not unlike a cry of fright. It was followed by a series of frantic footsteps, then her doorknob was jiggled desperately before the door flung open, revealing a very visibly hysterical QuackerJack in the doorway.
Without his usual clownish daytime attire, such as the puffy sleeves and ruffled frill around his neck, QuackerJack had such a noticeably lanky body frame, accentuated by the striped shirt and spotted shorts of his loose fitting sleepwear. He simply looked as though he never grew out of the awkward teenager look other than the fact that he was taller and was in fact an adult.
"Jacky? What's wrong?" Claire was wide awake and slid off the bed to approach him carefully, not wanting to startle him further.
QuackerJack was shaking, bells on his hat jingling faintly, wide eyed, and pointing helplessly in the direction of the dark living room. He stammered and stuttered before he swallowed and finally managed some clear words.
It wasn't an exact explanation, but it was important enough. Claire grabbed his hands and gave them a reassuring squeeze, which jarred his attention away from the dark hallway.
"Would you like stay in here with me tonight?"
QuackerJack glanced back into the hall with a low whimper and didn't seem to hear the question.
"Jacky, it's safe in here, you can stay in here with me tonight." Claire said as more of a suggestion than a question. She reached a hand to his face and he flinched with a deep gasp, as if he'd forgotten she was there for a moment.
"... Cl-Claire..?" He whispered, eyes welling up as he shook again. He took a deep breath and collapsed in her arms, momentarily throwing her off balance. "... Claire... Claire... Claire... I'm losing my mind again, I just know it..." He moaned as he shook his head and buried it in her shoulder.
Claire paused, then patted his back gently.
"... Do you want just want to talk right now? I'll listen."
"... I don't want to go back, I don't want to be crazy, I just want to be happy..." QuackerJack mumbled, shakily bringing his hands up to wrap his arms around her like he was afraid and holding on for dear life. "... It's not fair... It's not fair... It's just not fair..."
She carefully led him to the large bed in the room, and helped him sit down. He was still clinging to her, so it was something difficult for her to sit down with him, but she managed. She put a hand on his head, and stroked it gently to try and calm him down.
"What's got you all worked up, Jacky?"
QuackerJack muttered something unintelligibly, but she could made out something about "glowing red eyes" staring at him.
She considered the possibility that he probably saw the clock radio on the table, which had glowing red digits, and probably panicked because he'd been half asleep. She didn't want to dismiss it to him, knowing he would have been mortified to learn that he'd been terrified by nothing more than a clock radio. What he'd seen was a real enough scare for him, and just about the worst thing to do would be to tell him it was all uncalled for.
"... There's nothing in here, you can stay here tonight."
"... Never sleeping in the living room ever again, never again, never, never, never, ever..."
"It's alright, Jacky, I understand... I'm right here..."
"... Never again, never again, no more, never, never, never, no, no, no, please no..."
It occurred to Claire that perhaps QuackerJack wasn't even completely awake at the moment. Maybe he had been when he wrenched the door open and maybe he had been when he was telling her why he'd been so upset, but right now, his eyes were glassy and he did not keep eye contact. His body slumped and the hold he had with his arms loosened, it was clear that he was exhausted.
Claire was able to slip free and carefully step to the door to close it, taking care not to let the latch click too loudly. She slid the closet door open and shuffled through the items on the top shelf until she found a fluffy blanket, which she pulled down and gave it a quick shake to unfurl.
She draped the blanket over him, and he shrank under it almost immediately, desperately seeking solace.
He'd likely not remember most of this in the morning, but Claire knew she'd have to explain to him how he ended up in the bedroom instead of the couch.
A plastic cooler the size of two car batteries was dropped on the table in front of him, QuackerJack flinching with such force that part of his coffee vibrated out of his mug and splattered on the placemat.
"... Um... What's all this?" QuackerJack blinked as he quickly ripped a paper towel off the roll to wipe up the mess.
"I thought we could take a little day trip today, it's nice out." Claire sat down opposite of him, and smiled. "There's a real nice park outside of Spoonerville, and the azaleas are blooming."
"Spoonerville? Why can't we just go to one of the parks in town? Or just go to Duckburg?"
"Because it wouldn't be an adventure if we just stayed close to home."
"Yeah, but Spoonerville is like... I don't know, two, three hours away. I hate long car rides, Claire." He set his mug down and leaned forward with an arm on the table. "The longer I'm in a car, the more it feels like a box, and I just want out. And besides, I barely know much about what's in Spoonerville anyway. It's so unfamiliar."
"All the more reason to go; barely anyone knows you there, it'll be like you're incognito."
"Ooh, like I'm undercover..." A thoughtful look crossed QuackerJack's face. "Okay, I can see some appeal now. That could be fun." He grinned. "It'd be nice to go somewhere without hearing someone whisper about me behind my back."
"That was part of the idea, yes." Claire nodded, and opened the cooler. "I packed us something to eat when we're there, so that's what all this is for."
"I guess I can't say 'no' now, you're already prepared." QuackerJack snorted and leaned over more to peer inside. "Peanut butter and grape jelly. And it looks like you remembered to put peanut butter on both pieces so the jelly doesn't soak through the bread. Sweet tea, and cheese puffs. Nice."
"I just figured you could probably due with a day out of town. It's almost toxic here lately."
"Yeah, since Darkwing Duck bailed on St. Canard, those Crimebots have just been ruthless." QuackerJack had his mouth open and his tongue out in disgust. "I honestly would rather deal with him than a bunch of metal machines. At least Darkwing plays the games fairly..."
"That's in the past now, Jacky..."
"I know, but... At least Darkwing was fun. And wasn't unnecessarily rough."
"But, did he ever actually help you?"
"Well, there was that time Megs and I got stuck in the water treatment plant's drainage area, and he pulled us out. Then there was the time Mr. Ba-!" He stopped suddenly, but took a deep breath and continued. "Um, that time I got sucked in a monster clown's jack-in-the-box, and Darkwing and I had to turn my tricks against Paddywhack so we could get out. I mean, scary misery eating monster aside, it was actually fun to play with Darkwing like that..."
"But, did he ever try to help you?"
"... No." QuackerJack deflated a little and slid back in his chair. "... I think his ego was just too big to see it all as anything less than a chance for his heroics to be on display. I think he liked the limelight way more than me, which is saying something." He puffed his cheeks and exhaled through his nose. "But he was fair, at least. He would have let me keep my toys, just as long as they weren't actively damaging anything..."
"... Are you sure about that, or is that just what you want to think..?" Claire said sincerely, putting an hand on his.
"... Darkwing is a guy who plays dress up and has his own toys he's made, why wouldn't I think somewhat fondly of him?" QuackerJack shrugged, pulling at the collar of his striped shirt. He was still in his pajamas. "We were a lot alike in a way. I wonder whatever happened to him?"
"It's probably for the best that you don't see him again; you're supposed to be de- stressing right now."
"Right, the road trip." QuackerJack nodded, then finished off his coffee. "I'll go get ready, maybe something less like a clown..."
"Wear whatever you want, this is supposed to be a 'you' day."
"... Something more like a clown."
"Jacky, please get back inside."
"I hate long car rides, I want to at least make it enjoyable." QuackerJack had his head out the car window and had his eyes closed as the wind whipped the dingle dangles of his hat around. "We're the only ones on this backroad anyway, and you're barely going over twenty miles per hour, I could pojo faster than that and a pojo stick doesn't even have seat belts!"
"There's bugs everywhere, one's going to hit you in eye."
"My eyes are closed, I know what I'm-!" He suddenly started coughing and sank back into the car, hands to his throat and eyes wide as he hacked three times and coughed a wriggling brown beetle up on the dashboard in a wet mess. "Oh, gross!"
"Oh my gosh, that's a big one, too."
"Yeah, Claire, I know, I just coughed it up, I was there."
"Are you going to sit down now?"
"... Maybe. Yes." QuackerJack pouted, and clicked the seatbelt back on, and slid in his seat. "... Ew, that was really terrible, I don't want to do that again..."
"Then don't stick your head out the window on rural roads. There's bugs everywhere, you're lucky that wasn't a dung beetle."
"... A what now?"
"I thought that's what you said." QuackerJack scrunched his face is disgust. "That one beetle was gross enough... Bleh..." He shuddered, then sat up straighter. "Are we there yet?"
"We've got at least another forty five minutes, so no, not yet."
"Oh." He kicked his feet a few times. "... How about now?"
"... Are we really doing this? Really?" Claire glanced at him before putting her eyes back on the road.
"Seems mandatory for long car rides." QuackerJack grinned. "... Now?"
"We're not much closer than we were a minute ago, it's still forty five minutes away."
"If it's been a minute, then it should be forty four. Ergo, we are closer than we were."
"Oh, so then you do know how far away we are."
"What kind of noise is that?"
"Nyeah." QuackerJack reiterated, followed by a snicker. "You weren't kidding, it's definitely nice out."
"Seemed so much better than just hiding in the house all day."
"Yeah, you don't get many clear skies like this in St. Canard, with all the buildings downtown blocking the view." QuackerJack leaned just enough out the window to be out of the way of bugs and looked up with a smile.
"So all we do here is just look at the flowers?"
"Yes, that's kind of the general idea."
"Who plants this many bushes? I think the air is mostly flower smell..." QuackerJack said, before a thought crossed his mind. "... Bushroot would have loved this, he loves plants, because he's a plant."
"Jacky, we're taking a break from everything today, just forget about St. Canard right now."
So many flowers, so many colors, the more he looked at them as the two of them walked along the path, the more he could start to see the appeal. Some places, the azaleas blanketed like a thick carpet of petals in pinks, reds, and purples. Some were yellow, some white with specking like freckles.
There was such a calm energy about the place and QuackerJack didn't feel so on edge at the moment. This was nice, all was nice, this was a good day.
There was a wood bench under a tree, and QuackerJack was smiling as he looked up and down the path at the flowers as they sat down.
"I don't usually like things that take forever to do, but I have to admit, this was a great idea." He said, kicking his feet as he balanced on his hands, sneaking a bit of gymnastics before he plopped down. "I wish St. Canard did something like this; maybe there wouldn't be so many gamers."
"Now, come on, video games can't be all bad."
"They make people rot thier poor brains, and turn them into angry, violent people."
"Where do you hear that?" Claire raised her eyebrows and paused with pulling a sandwich out of the small cooler.
"Darkwing plays video games, he's really crazy about Whiffle Boy." QuackerJack rolled his eyes as if this was clear factual proof. "You've seen what he does; the video games probably did that."
"... What would you say if... say... I played video games?"
"Oh, Claire, you're too smart and nice to be caught up in those, that's silly." He grinned obliviously as he took the sandwich from her hands. "I would have been able to tell."
"... Right." Claire forced a laugh, and got herself a sandwich as she leaned backwards on him. She glanced at him and saw that he had already finished eating his sandwich and was now trying to stifle a yawn.
"... Bleh, I sit still too long and I get all sleepy, figures..." He grunted and lowered his hand, then leaned into her as well with a heavy sigh. "... This is why I have to keep busy..."
"You're on break, so it's fine, remember?"
"... Uh-huh..." He nodded and gave a tired smile. "I'm glad we did this, though. It was nice."
It was now a week into his mandatory vacation. He'd already filled two scrapbooks with ideas and decor and pictures and stickers, and was currently waiting around for Claire to come home with more supplies for the craft.
He'd stayed behind because he was nursing a headache that had sprung up suddenly that seemed to be agitated by sunlight, which the thing itself was confusing, as he could not recall ever being plagued by migraines.
The shades were drawn, the lights were dim, and he had the television set to a low volume. He was stretched out on the couch and had his head on a pillow, with a chilled gel pack wrapped in a towel resting on his forehead in a desperate attempt to ward off the ouchie feeling in his head. He wondered what could have possibly triggered it.
If it wasn't for the constant dull ache in his skull, he would have probably slept it off, but he had such a sensitive tolerance for pain. It was making spots dance in front of his eyes, and he felt disoriented.
Deciding that he shouldn't spend the entire time laying on the couch, he carefully sat up and tilted his head back and stretched his arms and legs, then slouched. His eyes fell on the cell phone sitting on the coffee table. It was his, and while it as one of those high end fancy ones, he really only used it for calling and texting, and rarely used the other functions, except maybe the occasional photo, if at all, and most certainly never played any of the games it was capable of.
It was rare for him to use the browser, as he preferred the archaic laptop and it's satisfying clicking keys if he ever had to do research, but he didn't feel like getting up to drag that into the living room. After all, he had access to the web right now.
He squinted at the screen, trying to remember how one was able to dim the backlight, and spent a good minute or so swiping at the screen until he finally pulled a menu down from the top and found the brightness slider, and pulled the digital control to the left, until he could see without having to squint against the light.
He tapped the browser and was immediately on a search engine, his default homepage. He typed in some of his symptoms, curious for any suggestions for relief, even if it was as simple as a glass of juice.
He poked the screen, really not as nimble with it as he was with a physical keyboard, but nonetheless, progress was made.
He narrowed his eyes, and typed some more.
He typed again.
He lowered the screen and frowned, then glanced at it again.
He threw the phone to the coffee table and stood up, almost too fast, and had to take a moment to stand still, gripping the arm of the couch for his vision to clear.
He wrenched open the cabinet that he stored the amber bottle of pills, and held the label up to his eyes, carefully reading the name, starting to breathe quickly and his hands started shaking again.
He quickly made his way to the coffee table, dumped the pills on the surface in front of him, and grabbed one of the caplets between two fingers, and pulled open the other end, dumping the contents on the table.
A glimmering white substance, very familiar, very obvious what it was now. He dabbed the little pile and touched his tongue to his finger cautiously.
It was sweet.
It shouldn't be sweet, it should be bitter.
A pseudonym for "placebo".
They had been giving him sugar pills.
He wasn't adjusting to the dosage; he had been suffering from withdrawals.
It all made sense now. The nightmares, the fatigue, the panic episodes, the strange things he thought he'd seen, the headache... everything. Symptoms. It was all symptoms.
Who? Who would do this? Who would be so cruel?
He felt sick again, and he wondered if that was from the withdrawals or if he was genuinely reacting physically to this news.
He was dizzy, and the room was spinning. He scrabbled his hand along the table to find the phone and hit the hot key to dial up Claire.
"... Pick up... Pick up..." He muttered, shrinking against the couch helplessly. "... Pick up... Pick up... Please..."
He heard the other end click and Claire's voice sounded on the other side.
"C-Claire... Come home, I..." He tried to find the words to explain himself, and he was having such a hard time doing so. "... They're sh-sugar pills..."
"Jacky, what-? What's going on?"
"They've been giving me placebos!" He screamed into the phone, then he was gasping. He swallowed and whimpered: "... P-Please come home, I don't feel too good..."
"Jacky, just stay calm and lay down, I'll be there as soon as I can."
He wasn't sure how he was able to follow those directions, but he eventually found himself laying in the couch, curled in a ball, and clutched the phone in his hands, not caring that she'd already hung up.
He wasn't sure how long it was until he heard the front door open and shut, then Claire rushed in, but he lifted his head and stared at her with a bleary expression.
"... Jacky, please tell me that you didn't do what I think you did."
"... I only broke one of them open, the rest are all there..."
"Are you sure?"
QuackerJack planted a hand on the couch and pushed himself up more, appearing somewhat offended.
"Yes, count them. I only pulled one apart, the rest are intact. What, you don't trust me?"
There was a certain edge to his voice that took her aback a bit.
"It's not that, it's... Nevermind, you and I are thinking of two different scenarios, obviously." Claire said, before sitting on the edge of the couch. "It's just that when you called me up like that, and I didn't know what to expect."
"How do you think I feel? These aren't even real pills." He huffed. "What could I have possibly done?"
She blinked. She wanted to give him the benefit of a doubt, but it seemed a bit outlandish that someone would prescribe placebos to him when it was clear that he needed something else.
Perhaps leaving him alone like she did hadn't been the smartest idea, but she honestly hadn't considered that QuackerJack would have had a meltdown like this after having been so subdued earlier in the day. Maybe she was the one to blame this time; she'd gotten a bit careless and had forgotten how unnerved he got when left alone.
She quickly scooped the rest of the pills off the coffee table and into the bottle, mentally counting them, and yes, counting the dismantled one, it was the proper number. She dropped the bottle in the side table drawer beside the couch, just to keep it out of sight for now.
QuackerJack was watching her body language carefully.
"... You don't believe me, do you?"
Claire flinched in the most subtle of ways, but QuackerJack did not miss it.
"... Jacky, it's just that... Who would want to do that to you?"
"I don't know, Claire! I don't know! But, believe me, I'm not cra-!" He cut himself off, a horrified look crossing his face when he realized he could never use that as a defense. Even if he was genuinely correct at the moment, he would be lying about his sanity. It was a Catch-22.
His eyes went wide and he looked at her helplessly with a low moan.
"... Jacky." Claire said carefully, reaching for him, but he shoved her away.
"Go away." He squeaked, tired eyes welling up quickly.
He got up and walked down the hall, into Claire's bedroom, trying not to look at her. She followed and watched him crawl under the bed, which honestly was a very good attempt, given how tall he was, so his feet were very much visible.
A noise of acknowledgement sounded off, but it wasn't a proper answer.
"Jacky, please." She lifted the edge of the blanket that hung over the edge and peered underneath it. QuackerJack had his face in his hands and was shaking terribly. "... I don't know what's going on, but I really do care about you, and you're scaring me right now."
"... You don't believe me... You don't believe me..." He moaned miserably, shaking his head and not once looking up. He gasped and shook some more.
"Even if I didn't, I still believe you believe what you think..."
"That doesn't make any sense!" He shouted, slamming his fists on the floor like a child having a tantrum. He clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut tightly, and pounded at the floor again. "Nothing makes sense right now! I don't understand! I! Dont! Understand! I'm really freaking out! What is this! What is happening!"
It had been a while since the last time QuackerJack had had a full blown fit, perhaps weeks. Claire was very much aware that every so often, QuackerJack's ability to process anything just... shuts off. Almost as if it was a coping mechanism, his ability for cognition would just shut off when greatly distressed, and he'd regress to the emotional state of a confused child for an unknown amount of time.
Claire reached under the bed with both hands and touched his face. His eyes shot open, wide, his pupils constricted to little pinpricks, and his line of sight darting back and forth. A wheeze was escaping him with every breath.
"... I don't know, but I know I can stay with you until you get your bearings." She said, knowing it was more important to be supportive than to dismiss his suspicions. "What would you like to do right now?"
"... I dunno..."
"I could call for take out. You want a pizza?"
"... I dunno..."
"I can order one, and we could watch a movie. Does that sound nice?"
"... I dunno..."
"Jacky, please, I want to help." Claire was getting desperate. "I know you can't understand that right now, and I'm not in charge of everything, but I'm trying my best."
"... I wanna... I want the one with the cheese in the crust..."
"... I could get that."
"... With the cheese..."
"... In the crust..."
"Alright, I get that one." She smiled and gave his hand a quick squeeze.
"... The crust... With the cheese in it..." He gestured the action of stuffing something.
"Yes, yes, I'll call them right now."
"... The cheese, Claire, the cheese..." He was nodding.
It was a start. When he came down from such an extreme fit, he was usually disoriented, but if was a good sign when he started speaking more coherently, even if he was being repeative. It was all part of a process, and he needed to get himself through it on his own. Forcing it would just put you back to square one with him, seemingly from spite.
"Tell them I want the one with the cheese in the crust, Claire!" He shouted down the hall. "I like the one with the cheese in the crust!"
The remaining time for the mandatory vacation seemed to pass by without much incident, but Claire couldn't help but notice the agitated air that QuackerJack seemed to radiate occasionally throughout the days.
Getting him to remember to take his pills was a bit of a struggle, as he'd still insist that they would do nothing, but with enough coaxing, he'd begrudgingly comply, but not without commenting on its futility under his breath.
Despite the aura he gave off, there was a sort of dissonance between the empty expressions he had when not engaged, as if his mind was elsewhere.
It was honestly a bit terrifying. Like a calm before the storm.
"... Jacky, just look at me."
"Hi, Claire!" He beamed, but it all seemed so very off in a way she could not put her finger on. "I guess I have to go back to work tomorrow, I can't wait to get back on those projects."
"... We could ask if they can extend your leave." Claire said, eying his body language with utmost scrutiny. "I mean... St. Canard has this fun sounding toy exhibition opening next week and we could get tickets. The only problem is that it clashes with your work schedule."
"I'd love to, but I've already missed two weeks." He shook his head, still grinning.
It was wrong. His smile was all wrong. Too wide, too fake.
"I really don't know if you're... prepared to go back to work yet. Maybe just another week, fourteen days went by too fast."
"Is this about the thing about the pills? I overreacted, that's all." He blinked and shook his head.
His tone sounded deliberate, like he had to work at it to keep it calm.
Claire felt sick.
"Jacky, if there's something bothering you, please, just tell me."
"Nothing, nothing is wrong, I'm fine, I'm going back to work tomorrow, and I'll be back in the swing of things where I should be." He rolled his eyes as if she was amusing him with a slight bit of embarrassment, and he giggled. "You're funny, Claire."
"Jacky, listen to me. I really think we should just have a little more time. It's been really... Y-You still have another scrapbook to finish."
"Yeah, but that's supposed to be for fun, I have to get back to work, or I won't be able to get my ideas out there." He tossed his hands up in a shrug. "Ah-haha!"
Jacky, stop it.
"... Jacky, just look at me!"
"No, look at me!" Claire snapped, grabbing his shoulders and pulling him forward roughly so she could stare him in the eyes. "Jacky, something isn't right, you can't tell me that you are perfectly fine right now!"
"... Claire, you're huuuuurting me..." He whined, fidgeting his shoulders, as if he hadn't heard what she had just said. "... You're grabbing too haaaaaaaaard..."
"... I'm calling your supervisor and asking if we can have another week."
"No! No! I wanna go back! I wanna make toys!" QuackerJack burst into tears suddenly, which caught Claire by surprise and she let go. "I-I wanna make toys!, I need to make toys! You can't take this from me! You can't!"
He was wobbling in place, so unsteady on his feet. Claire instinctively reached for him again, this time, more gently. She led him to the couch with difficulty, and he continued to wail uncontrollably as he clawed at his hat with frantic hands, yanking the ends roughly, bells jingling in stark contrast.
This wasn't right. He was too emotionally unstable right now.
Something was wrong.
She reached for her phone and cautiously stepped around the corner of the wall, into the kitchen. Halfway through typing in a number, QuackerJack's psychologist, she realized the air was unusually quiet.
She looked around the corner and saw that the couch was empty. She blinked and frowned to herself before she turned back and found QuackerJack staring at her curiously, a bit too close.
She made a noise of surprise and dropped her phone, and immediately regretted it, on account of now being unable to use it descretly. It was now at her feet.
"... You scared me for a second."
"Oops. Sorry." Any trace of dispair on his face was almost non-existent, save for the wet trails on his cheeks, which he didn't seem to notice or acknowledge. "Oh, you dropped your phone."
"I'll get it. Hmm, it almost dialed someone, let me fix that for you." He cleared the screen innocently, and handed the phone back. "Watch out, those screens are fragile, you know?"
"Of course..." Claire forced a smile and took the phone back. "Jacky? Are you alright?"
"Why do you keep asking? Of course I am."
"Because if you aren't, I'll try to let them give you another week off..."
"I'm fine, I'll be much better when I get back to work." He tilted his head with a questioning look. It was as if the last ten minutes hadn't even happened. "I'm going back to work tomorrow, isn't that exciting?"
"I'd rather you take just a little more time, to be honest..."
"... Hmmm..." QuackerJack scratched the top of his head before he inhaled sharply. "Oh, I see what you're trying to do!"
"... You do..?"
"Yes, oh, very sneaky, Claire... sneaky sneaky..." QuackerJack gave that wide grin again and stuck his tongue between his teeth, and he waggled a finger playfully before poking her beak. "You're going to miss me during the daytime, we've had the last two weeks all to ourselves! You don't want me to go so you won't be lonely!"
Claire would have dropped the phone again, she'd honestly expected a different response.
She nodded carefully, deciding it was better to just play along for now.
"I just don't... want something to happen to you..." She said truthfully, picking her words carefully.
"Why would something happen to me? Why would you think that? Everything's fine." He raised his eyebrows in surprised confusion. He was completely oblivious. "I think you've just been stuck in the house too long. It's not healthy to be indoors all the time, Claire."
"I'm fine Claire, you worry too much." He grinned.
He grinned that fake grin.
That wide, empty grin.
The grin that didn't belong to her Jacky...
"Miss... Claire, was it? I'm sorry, but... there was another incident in the office."
That was probably an understatement. QuackerJack's cubicle looked like a car had crashed through it, or maybe a tornado.
She stood behind the yellow tape and took in all the damage as she clutched her phone.
His computer monitor had been pulled from the wall at the cord, and the stick horse he kept on the top shelf had been driven through the screen.
The red wagon he stored below the shelves was dented and the front wheel axel was bent at an odd angle, and had been apparently smashed with his chair.
The slinky dog was twisted and the metal spring was wrapped tightly around the neck of the fuzzy bear he kept within reach, appearing to be deliberately strangled.
The Magic-8-Ball had been smashed into the keyboard and was leaking blue fluid that was pooling at the floor.
Every page of his joke books were ripped out and strewn along the floor, save for a few that were stuffed into the jack-in-the-box, which appeared to have a fist sized dent in the side, and the arm ripped partway off the little clown inside.
A handful of jacks was driven through the toy drum, and the toy log cabin was dismantled and some pieces were splintered from being snapped in half.
The rest of his knickknacks were thrown to the floor, and hardly anything remained on the desk and shelves, except an uncapped black permanent marker that he had taken and scrawled squiggles and spiraling balls of lines resembling a tangled mess of yarn.
Claire felt like everything was a million miles away right now. She looked down at her phone again, at the text message he'd sent, time stamped just before the rampage had started.
It was the exact same thing as was currently blinking in his own phone, which was the only thing intact, and laid undisturbed on the corner of the desk, just in sight. He must have disabled the screen dimming settings, just to be sure it would be read, and was the only thing plugged into the powerstrip, serving as a jarring contrast to the disaster before her.
She looked up.
"Where is he? When can I see him?"
"Miss Claire, I don't think you understand." A tall rooster said as carefully as he could, as if this wasn't the first time he had explained this to her. "No one knows, we haven't found him."
"Jack is missing."
"Then go find him."
"It's not that easy, we wouldn't know where to start, and even then, if he doesn't want to be found, we can't do much about it because it's not against the law for an adult to run away if they want to."
"Law? Are you say-! I'm reporting him missing right now, so go look for him!" Claire shouted, not believing what she was hearing. "Tell those Crimebots or whatever they are to go out there and find him!"
"I'm sorry, but aside from destroying his own property, Jack hasn't done anything that would even trigger them to find him. They enforce rules, they don't find people."
"Then who does!" She clenched her fists and looked upward at the taller bird. "You can't tell me this is ideal! The police do more than just stop crime, they're supposed to help people! Why aren't they programmed to do that! "
"... Miss Claire, you are getting a little out of line. I don't have a say in any of this, my job is to maintain the Crimebots, not program them. I'm very sorry, but I promise we'll keep an eye out for Jack, and keep you informed if we find a lead."
Suddenly, a ringtone went off. A very basic ringtone. The default.
It was Jacky's phone.
The screen lit up with the number and the name "Ms. Mustela".
Claire pushed past the yellow tape and grabbed the phone.
"Miss! You can't touch that, it's evidence right now!"
The glare she gave the rooster must have been effective, because he backed off with his hands in the air.
She slid the answering slider to the side to unlock it and take the call. She held the phone up to her ear.
"Hello, is this Jacky?"
"... No." Claire said, feeling her senses lock up briefly upon hearing the familiar voice of the psychologist.
"Oh, have I gotten the wrong number?"
"... No." Claire shook her head, knowing full well that the caller couldn't see. "This is Jacky's phone."
"Who is this then?"
"It's Claire, Ms. Mustela." Claire wondered what she was even doing right now when she should be trying to find her boyfriend. "... Ms. Mustela, Jacky's gone missing."
"What?" The voice of the weasel sounded off from the other end, immediately sounding very concerned. "What's happened?"
"I really don't know, but he trashed his workplace and disappeared..."
"No, no, no..." There was muttering, as if the receiver had been pulled away before the weasel's voice came in more clearly. "Claire, I've been trying to get a call through all week, but something has been intercepting my office calls. I've finally been able to use my own number. Claire, we have a severe problem right now, I need you to listen to me."
Claire made a noise of acknowledgement.
"Claire, I don't know how or why, but the results came back from my inquiry about Jacky's recent prescription." Ms. Mustela said urgently. "I don't know if there had been a mistake in judgment or a typo along the chain, but the recent prescription was a placebo."
Claire almost dropped the phone.
"Sugar pills, Claire. He's been untreated all month." Ms. Mustela said, the sound of papers shuffling drifted through the receiver. "If everything was how it should have been, he would have been able to calm himself down, but without it, he'd just escalate more and more because he does not know how to sort things out. He runs on emotions, not logic."
"... Oh, no..." Claire said in a small voice. "... He told me last week that he thought he'd been given sugar pills..." Her eyes fell on the fuzzy bear, which was smiling despite having a slinky spring coiled around its neck. "... I thought he was just panicking..."
"It's very important that we find him before he does something rash."
"Something more so than destroying his cubicle?"
"Claire, are you aware of his... history?"
"Yes. But, Jacky would never-"
"I know you want to believe that, I want to believe it, but we have a situation here. I'm sorry, Claire, but something has gone horribly wrong."
A light turned on with a loud sound not unlike sheet metal being hit with a stick.
It was a factory.
An abandoned factory, underground, with dusty assembly lines, and rust where moisture had leaked in. The entrance was located in the St. Canard catacombs beneath the streets, and was a perfect little place to disappear into. Gigantic wooden blocks, with colorful chipping paint, and old wooden crates filled to the brim lined the walls.
This was once a beautiful toy kingdom, but that was long gone, not since it had been toppled by a carelessly assembled load baring block that simply hadn't been properly secured.
"Honey, I'm home!" A voice chimed brightly as large metal doors slid shut on a track. "Oh, I forgot, I'm not married..."
Raucous laughter erupted and echoed through the abandoned factory, as if amused by a joke only the voice understood.
"Daddy's home, did you miss me?" Bells jingled with heavy steps, gasps punctuated each cackle. "... Teddy? Mr. Banana Brain? Oh, that's right, they're dead. They're all dead!"
A figure stumbled to the middle of the factory floor, rocking back and forth unsteadily, looking around with a unstable rhythm, illuminated by the bright light above, like a spotlight.
Of course, this was QuackerJack, still in his work suit, which was now disheveled. His tie hung loosely around his neck, as if he tried to pull it off, but gave up halfway.
"Yes, yes, that's right, everything's gone, it's all gone..." Fists clenched tightly, making his hands shake. He staggered back into the dark, then into another spot of light about ten feet away. "... Everything is gone, everyone is gone, I'm gone, they're gone, I've lost it all..."
He walked back in the dark, then another bit of light.
"... I've lost Claire, she'll never want to see me again, I blew it, I ruined everything, she knows I'm a monster..." He muttered, feeling hot, angry tears well up thickly in his eyes. "... I can't go back, I can't let her see me like this, she'll hate me, she hates me, she's afraid of me, I'm horrible, I ruin everything..."
He stopped in front of a large wooden crate. It was labled "St. Canard Legends: QuackerJack".
It was a set of toys for an entire wave of special collectibles based on Darkwing and his rogues gallery. QuackerJack had been so excited to work on this particular line of toys, especially those of himself and his former team, because he had such intimate knowledge on details about gadgets and costumes. He had been so certain that he'd be able to make them so accurate, so top notch, that they would have practically been muesem quality with how true to life they would have been.
The line had been canceled, and he managed to salvage as much of his own effigies as he could before the rest had been thrown in the furnace by the company as part of clean up protocol.
He climbed the side of crate and stuck a crowbar under the lid to pry it open with a grunt. Countless little dolls with his grinning face stared back at him. It made his mouth taste sour.
He grabbed one of the dolls and threw it down behind him. Then another. Then another. He wasn't sure how many or how long he did this, but stopped when the fill line of the crate was low enough to put him in danger of tipping over the edge and right in if he reached far enough.
His feet touched the cold cement floor when he slid down from the crate, and looked distantly at all the dolls strewn about, grinning at him with smiles he did not recognize. There was a buzzing noise in the back of his head, like white noise on an old tube television, and the air felt thick and hot when he tried to breathe.
He looked at his hand and there was one of the dolls clenched in a vice-like grip.
The smiles were fake.
The dolls weren't good enough.
They were rejects.
They couldn't make it in the market.
They didn't have a chance.
They didn't get a chance.
They never had a chance.
No one gave them a chance.
He held the doll up with both hands and stared at it, tilting it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth...
An idea sparked.
And spread through his mind like wildfire.
He grinned widely, and convulsed as he let another laugh escape him.
He dropped the doll, picked up the crowbar, and dragged it along the floor as he walked to an old dust covered conveyer system that once bussed toys along once upon a time ago.
He lifted the crowbar above his head with both hands, and smashed the heavy end into the control box, denting the thin metal cover. He brought the crowbar down again, and again, until a tangled bundle of wires were visible. He reached in and pulled them out roughly, holding a copper wire up to inspect it. Yes, this will do nicely. He could use it.
He went to every row of track, and smashed open every hidden mechanism, raiding them for parts. He had an idea, and he just knew he had the supplies hidden in all these tired machines.
St. Canard had been so dark lately, he was going to light it up for all the pretty people who were enslaved by that horrible, horrible company that shot down all his lovely ideas.
Maybe if he made enough noise, threw a big enough homecoming, Darkwing would come back and everything would be how it should be.
How it had always been before QuackWerks.
His name was QuackerJack, and it was playtime again.
QuackerJack jolted awake with a startled gasp, feeling as though something had a vice-like grip on his racing heart as he coughed and clawed at his chest in a desperate attempt to catch his breath. He felt a pair of hands grab his shoulders and shake him with a frantic rhythm, and he was so very confused and panicked, his mind was reeling with an intense feeling that he didn't understand where it had come from.
He shouted and kicked his right leg, then heard a sharp cry of pain when his foot connected with something. This noise dragged some of his sense back to him, and he blinked rapidly as he tried to sort out what was going on.
His head was tilted back and he was staring straight up at a ceiling, and a fan that hung from it was on and spinning. Tearing his mesmerized attention from the fan, he clenched his teeth and rolled his head forward and was met with the sight of his girlfriend, Claire, hopping on one foot with a hand on the shin of the raised leg. It did not take him very long to realize that he'd kicked her in his panicked state, and the thought of it made him feel so miserable and bad, and made his eyes burn and watery.
"... I'm sorry..."
Claire looked up and quickly put her foot back on the floor, then rushed to the couch to sit beside him. QuackerJack couldn't read if her expression was concern for him or something else, but she was sitting beside him now, and she carefully slip her arms around him, holding him with such a careful embrace that he felt that clouded feeling in his head dissipate a little.
He rubbed the heel of his palm against his forehead, and groaned wearily, then became aware of the fact that he was shaking all over, and that his legs felt like jelly.
"... What happened..?" He mumbled, feeling his fight-or-flight instinct fade away and leave him feeling like he'd been run through the wringer. "... I... I don't remember what we were doing before this..."
"Well, you fell asleep about an hour or so ago while we were watching TV." Claire tilted her head upwards to look at him, which was enough to jog his memory of the aforementioned event.
Yes, that's right, they'd been watching the television after a long day, and he must have dozed off after he'd gotten comfortable enough. He vaguely remembered his eyelids feeling heavy at some point, so yes, it was very likely that he had fallen asleep.
"... Okay, but why did you have to shake me like that?"
"You were having a nightmare." Claire said, feeling his breath hitch when she put her head on his chest, and she took note that his heart was still beating rather rapidly. "It must have been a really bad one, because you were screaming about sharp toothed ducks and drooling monsters and your little banana friend..."
QuackerJack felt the color drain from his face as he knew exactly what it was she was talking about. A chill spread through him and he started shuddering before he could counter it, sliding down into a slumped position on the couch. A weak noise escaped him, and he felt like whatever had been squeezing his heart earlier had managed to do it again with more enthusiasm, feeling his breath knock itself out of his lungs.
"Jacky?" Claire's voice helped drag him back to reality and he was able to get a somewhat stable pattern on his breathing with a little bit difficulty. "You're wheezing, are you alright?"
Of course, she'd choose to address the most benign issue he was having right now, it was a tactic of hers to carefully ease him into talking to her when he was distressed. QuackerJack was aware of this method, but he much appreciated that she'd take the time to coax him rather than just pry away at him and his more severe issues like the others did.
"... Just... Oh, that caught me by surprise, is all..." He said quietly, squinting at the dim light of the TV, trying to figure out what had triggered that episode. He was disappointed that as the minutes passed, any lingering memory of the nightmare slipped further from his grasp, and he considered another possibility. "... I don't remember any of it, really... Could have been a night terror..."
"... Want to talk about it?"
"... If I can't remember a thing, I don't think I can talk much about it if I wanted to." QuackerJack shrugged, bringing the arm on the side that Claire was sitting on, up and rested it on her.
"What do you want to talk about, then?"
He thought about it for a second, then shook his head.
"Nah, I'm shot for ideas right now."
"Just talk about anything, I like hearing what you think about."
QuackerJack's face felt hot suddenly, like he was blushing. He snorted a short laugh, then grinned.
"... Balloons." He said. Claire gave him a quizzical look, and he added: "Balloons are nice and simple. Colorful. Classic. Makes people smile. They're all nice, but I think I like the mylar ones the best; they shine and glimmer."
"I like the balloon animal ones, the little poodle ones are cute."
QuackerJack's eyes lit up with enthusiasm and the grin widened as he sat up straighter.
"Oh, of course, I almost forgot about those!" He kicked his feet in childish excitement, practically squealing. "They've gotten so much fancier now, but it's always fun to see them get made!"
They chatted back and forth about all sorts of balloons until they petered out, QuackerJack being the first to have done so, on account of having been more worn. Before he nodded off again, he could not help but notice the fact that this was the third night this week he'd been awakened by some sort of sleep disturbance.
He wondered if this was because his med dosage was changed the week before on account of an odd rare reaction that had made some of the feathers on the back of his head molt prematurely (which he was glad he always wore his hat anyway, and no one could see the thin layer of down as the feathers grew back), and it was simply his system trying to adjust to the change...
"Wow, Jack, that's a pretty big cup of coffee you have there."
QuackerJack sipped at his extra large Starducks at his desk, and looked up from the computer screen at the dog that was peering over the top of the cubicle at him. He knew that his coworker had to have been standing on the desk in his own cubicle to be able to look at him like that. QuackerJack flashed a nervous smile.
"Just a rough night, is all, Rick." QuackerJack sipped the coffee again, which was probably comprised of more than half sugary syrup. He liked it this way. "Can't let myself fall asleep during work hours, the boss will be all over me on that."
"Yeah, just don't make it a habit, too much caffeine is addicting, y'know?"
Rick was one of those friendly sort of people who voiced concern over these kinds of things, and when he was transfered to QuackerJack's department the month before, he immediately seemed to gravitate to the buck toothed duck, and they'd become work buddies almost overnight. Whether Rick was aware of QuackerJack's prior "occupation" before being employed at QuackWerks or not, it wasn't too clear, but he seemed the kind of guy who was more concerned with the "now" instead of "back then".
QuackerJack appreciated that, even if he didn't voice it. He had been feeling isolated lately due to his department shuffling around workers and many of his acquaintances had been moved to where he hardly saw them outside of business meetings, and even more rarely in the break room.
He liked Rick.
"I don't usually get this much..." QuackerJack shrugged and sipped the coffee again. "I'll try not to make it a regular thing."
He typed away at the keyboard throughout the day, a little disappointed that his most recent toy suggestion for the company had been shot down. He was told that it simply wouldn't perform well with today's youth, but he was encouraged to give it another go if he either adjusted it or if he went back to the drawing board. The glimmer of hope that gave him made him more enthusiastic than it should have, he'd have to admit, but he was determined to make a name for himself in this department and live up to his self proclaimed title of "The World's Greatest Toy Maker" he'd given himself in the heydays of his original company, before it went under and he'd been forced into the life of crime as a desperate means to escape destitute.
"Mr. QuackerJack!" A loud voice cut through his thoughts and jolted him back to the real world. He jerked his head back and forth wildly in confusion as he wracked his brain frantically for what he could have possibly done to warrant that tone of voice.
"I-I-I'm sorry! I was j-just-!" He was quick to explain himself, but in his panic, he had no concrete explanation to give. He wasn't even aware what he could have even done. His mind was reeling.
A hand set on his shoulder, and he gasped sharply, then brought his hands up to his head defensively, shouting apology after apology.
"Mr. QuackerJack, please calm down." It was his supervisor, and QuackerJack felt himself involuntarily sink into his chair in embarrassment when he recognized the tone had been that of concern. "I was just telling you that you can take your lunch break now; you were just a little too absorbed in your work, I guess."
QuackerJack frowned to himself and looked around the room, and realized that yes, he must have, as everyone seemed to have already left for break, save for himself and Rick, who was peering nervously around the corner of the cubicle.
"I tried to get your attention myself, but you didn't seem like you heard me." Rick rubbed the back of his head and flashed a sheepish grin. "I got a bit worried after five minutes, you didn't even look up."
QuackerJack blinked and realized he was shaking again. He unconsciously brought his hands up and gripped his upper arms, trying to calm himself down. He had no idea why he'd been so unnerved, but he knew that he didn't like this feeling.
His supervisor was concerned, and grabbed another swivel chair as QuackerJack rocked back and forth with a low whimper, chair squeaking rhythmically. He put both hands on the distraught duck's shoulders, and QuackerJack looked up at him helplessly.
"Would you like to take the rest of the day off, Mr. QuackerJack?"
QuackerJack couldn't believe this. Was... Was he being talked to like some scared child? How absolutely humiliating! He...
He was nodding anyway, almost against his will, but he swallowed a lump in his throat and reached for the keyboard with trembling hands.
"... I... I still have so much to do, if I fall behind..." He trailed off, and realized his heart was pounding hard and fast and each shudder in his arm synced to each beat.
He felt sick. Really sick. And dizzy. Everything felt so far away, even though he was right here with it all. Was he having a panic attack? A heart attack..?
"You can't work at your best if you're not feeling your best, Mr. QuackerJack." His supervisor's voice sounded behind him, and the duck turned his head to stare at him with wide eyes. "You already put your two hundred percent into this, if you don't take care of yourself, you'll burn yourself out."
"But it's not my two hundred percent, I can do better, really!" QuackerJack shook his head, panicked, and pulled at the dingle dangles of his hat with such force, it was a wonder why he hadn't pulled the hat off entirety. "I-! I don't-!" He gasped then clutched the edge of his desk, realizing he was losing his grip on stability at the moment, in both senses of the term. "... C-Call Claire... I-I-I want-tuh Cah-Clah-Claire..." He stuttered weakly, clenching his teeth as his heart was now pounding in his ears. What was happening, what was happening? He gulped, and screamed more clearly with a desperate edge, tears welling up in his eyes. "I want Claire! I want Claire!"
It was decided that QuackerJack would be given a mandatory paid two weeks leave of absence, with the expressed insistence that he'd refrain from doing anything that was considered work assignments, and just relax. It was assumed that he'd been working himself ragged in his attempt to show how enthusiastic he was about his job, and that he'd simply bent under the strain.
QuackerJack was sitting, slumped to the side, in the passenger seat of the car, head resting on the window as he regarded the road with a sort of detached emotion, like he didn't really care what had just happened within the last hour.
Claire was driving the car for him, as it had been advised to do so as QuackerJack didn't seem to be in the right state to properly handle the vehicle as he normally would have. She looked at him once they paused at a stop light, and couldn't help but notice how dejected he looked. His arms were folded, and his knees were up to his chest as his feet were resting on the dashboard. She tapped the spot next to his foot, and managed to get his attention for a moment.
"Jacky, that's not safe, if we get in an accident, that air bag is going to break your legs."
"... We won't get in an accident, you're too careful of a driver..." He mumbled, but nevertheless, put his feet back on the floor space in front of him.
"I might be, but there's other drivers too, and not everyone is as careful."
"... Is that all you have to say to me?" QuackerJack huffed, which caught Claire off guard. "I have a total meltdown at work, and all you say is how bad it is to have my feet up on the dash?"
"I figured you'd talk when you're ready, it was already obvious that you were upset, I wasn't going to shake a stick at a beehive." Claire said sincerely.
"... A beehive? I'm a beehive?" QuackerJack snorted, finding that analogy somewhat amusing. "Go on, explain that one."
"Easy. Your ideas are like the queen and honey, and your tangle of emotions are the little workers and drones, and you've got them all riled up trying to defend the queen." Claire didn't look away from the road as she put the car back in motion. "Prodding at you right now when you're upset is like waving a stick at a hive full of confused bees. It's unnecessary, and just leads to escalation, so it's best to let it cool down so you can think more clearly later."
"... You're funny."
"There's a Hamburger Hippo's just off the off ramp, you want to get a milkshake?"
QuackerJack's eyes lit up and he nodded, looking more energetic than he had been barely five minutes ago. He sat up in his seat more alertly, and grinned.
The table top was sticky from spilled soda, as was expected of most fast food establishments that was popular with children. QuackerJack waited for the guy behind the counter finished wiping it up, and spun in his stool chair to pass the time as he and Claire waited for thier orders to be finished.
The bulldog behind the counter eyed QuackerJack with a look that clearly said he was wondering why this adult duck was fidgeting like an antsy child, and QuackerJack felt himself wilt a little inside, so he stopped spinning the stool with a pout. Claire looked back and forth between the two, and figured out the problem without having to ask.
"You're not bothering anyone, Jacky, you don't have to stop if that's what you wanted to do."
The larger duck perked up and smiled, then went back to his stool spinning, giggling without much thought on how that might have appeared.
The bulldog gave the table top one more wipe with the towel before he was satisfied with the cleanliness, and said to Claire: "Ey, is he alright?"
"... What exactly do you mean by that?" Claire said coolly, knowing full well what he was asking about, but was willing to challenge the dog about it.
"Y'know... Alright. Like..." He guestured to his head with twirl of the fingers. "Is he?"
"I can hear you, I'm not deaf." QuackerJack chimed while still spinning the stool. "You can just ask me, I'm right here."
The bulldog blinked then had his eyes open a bit wider as if he hadn't exactly expected that reaction, and now he looked like he wished that he could have worded that better.
"Okay, I'm just curious." He said, leaning on the counter in an attempt at a friendly gesture of interest. "Why you so twitchy? Can't sit still, can you?"
QuackerJack paused on spinning just as he spun around to face the bulldog.
"... Not too sure, I think the reason is because I'm just hyper." He said carefully, not really wanting to get into full detail about what sort of layers factored into that.
"Ah." The bulldog nodded. "My cousin's got one of those kinds of kids. Real handful, but he's got a lot of energy and real popular when they do the sports. Doesn't tire out as fast as the other kids, and he just loves soccer."
QuackerJack felt a spark of joy at hearing about a child that prefered playing outside instead of languishing away in front of the TV and playing those accursed video games.
"Really? That's good to hear."
Thier orders finally arrived, and before they could start nibbling away, QuackerJack grabbed the tray.
"Wait, wait! I wanna try something!" He said excitedly, before he set the tray back. "I wanna see if fries taste better if it's someone else's. Let's have each other's fries."
There it was. One of his silly little quirks. It was such a shame that no one really bothered to look at those, he really was endearing when he dared to open up like this.
"Wouldn't they taste the same, though? They came from the same fryer."
"Well, if you look at it like that, of course, but that's not the point." QuackerJack propped his head up with a hand by putting one arm on the counter, and reached for the pile of fries closest to Claire. "Suspension of disbelief can be powerful if you ignore the rules. I know the fries come from the same place, but I want to believe that your fries will taste better than mine because they aren't mine." He waved three fries pinched between his fingers for emphasis before shoving them in his mouth. "Therefore, I can trick myself into thinking your fries are better than mine, because they aren't my fries."
The bulldog behind the counter rolled his eyes and muttered something about "crazy kids", and went off to tend to the other customers. QuackerJack shot a brief glare his way, but let it slide, but not without sticking his tongue out first.
"Well, you definitely seem better than when we left QuackWerks." Claire's voice pulled his attention back, and he looked at her. "I won't lie, you gave me a bit of a fright when I picked you up."
"... I did..?" His voice was small, and the straw for the milkshake fell from his open mouth. He hadn't really considered the what it must have looked like from the other side of things.
"Yes." Claire reached for fries on QuackerJack's side of the tray, and dipped them in ketchup. "You were just so listless when I got there, but they told me that you'd had a panic attack when they called. In fact, I could hear you still yelling on the other end of the phone in the background."
"... I don't know what happened, honestly." His face turned red and he looked at the ground. "... I was just working, and... I zoned out, and the next thing I knew, I just felt... horrible?" QuackerJack always had such a hard time trying to find the words that accurately described the exact emotions that he had. He frowned, then added: "Alone? Like..." He held his hands up and scrunched the air between them, making a crunchy-like noise with his mouth, trying to pinpoint the description he was looking for. "I want to say: 'Fuzzy', like static, but that doesn't quite seem right."
He blinked, then looked to his left, seeing the bulldog behind the counter watching him with great interest, with his arms on the table top.
"... C-Can I help you, sir?" QuackerJack raised an eyebrow at him cautiously.
"Sounds like what you need is some self care. Get yourself some of those fancy fragrant candles, or a nice walk in the woods, I got a-"
"Let me guess, you've got a cousin who-?" QuackerJack deadpanned.
"Right. Look, I don't want to be rude, but this isn't your business. I mean, thanks for doing our food, but I don't even know your name."
"Jacky, it's not that bad of an idea." Claire touched his hand and he looked back at her. "You've got the next two weeks off, remember?"
"Because I made a huge scene at work. It's like being grounded, except I'm getting paid."
"And you've got two weeks to take it easy, so you might as well take advantage of the free time. Like a vacation."
"My idea of being on vacation is being able to make my toys in my free time without restraint, but remember, they advised me not to do work things for the next two weeks, so I honestly don't know what to do with myself." QuackerJack said in one breath, raising his pitch near the end to a squeaky voice before he inhaled deeply.
"... You could do scrapbooking."
"Yeah, why not? It's a creative thing." Claire shrugged. "You love creative stuff."
"Its just cutting up colorful paper, with stickers and framing pictures with little fancy matting with poster board cut up with pinking shears and... Oh, I see the appeal now." He changed his opinion seemingly in mid sentence. "... Actually, that doesn't sound all bad, it's like playing with paper..."
"We could stop by the craft store on the way home and pick up some supplies if you really want to do it."
"Alright, why not?" QuackerJack said, grinning widely. He stood up and pointed in no particular direction. "Claire Bear, get the keys to the car, we're going on a shopping spree!"
Claire barely looked up at him as he darted off. She simply grabbed another fry from the tray.
"... Claaaaaaaaiiiiiire!" QuackerJack's voice whined from across the parking lot.
"It's six dollars worth of fries, I'm not just leaving them here, sit back down and drink your milkshake, we've got all day."
"But... The mood. It's... A big creative mood."
"You missed lunch break, you're eating more than just a handful of fries."
QuackerJack was idly rattling the amber bottle of pills as he waited for his name to be called, ignoring the stares he was getting from people who recognized his preferred attire.
In addition to being forced to take a mandatory vacation, he had been quickly scheduled for an impromptu appointment with his psychologist that weekend, and while he really didn't care much for it; it was always such a boring session in a boring room and forced him to be away from anything that he could scribble on and write down ideas himself... He basically felt it was shoehorned into his bi-weekly schedule just to inconvenience him. It always seemed that his drive to create something kicked into overdrive when he was ushered into that dimly lit, bland office that was kept so neat, so orderly, without so much as a fuzzy bear on a shelf.
The room always seemed off to him, but those who he expressed the concern to merely insisted that the decor was meant to be non-threatening to all clients, and there seemed to be many of them who were obsessive compulsive about how immaculate the room they would spend an hour in was.
QuackerJack was not one of them, and it always felt like he'd stepped into another plane of existence when he pushed the finely carved and lacquered door open to shuffle in. The room absorbed outside noises and he could never hear the distant chattering of the people in the waiting room once he shut the door behind him. It probably didn't help that he'd have to be ushered down a long, brightly lit hallway, a gauntlet lined with framed photographs of fields filled to the brim with flowers against a backdrop of a clear blue sky.
It seemed so artificial, so saccharin, and he often wondered as he cautiously stepped down the hall, that this was purposely designed that way to make him feel like a bundle of nerves when he got to the end of the walkway.
"Ah, Mr. QuackerJack, come in."
"... You can just call me 'Jacky', I think I like that better, I've said that before..."
"Of course, Mr. QuackerJack."
QuackerJack narrowed his eyes, but quickly dropped the look and sat down in the large cushy chair opposite of the psychiatrist, who was a lady weasel. He gripped the bottle in both his hands tightly, and shook his foot on the floor in an unconscious fidget.
"Now, your regularly scheduled appointment was for next week, but it seems like there was an incident and your boss insisted that we'd schedule an emergency check in, would you like to tell me about that?"
QuackerJack felt his face gain a burning sensation as embarrassment made a sort of blush spread across the bridge of his beak. "Emergency" was such a strong word; and it made it all sound worse than it already was.
"... I... I had a..." He mumbled, before he cleared his throat and looked up from the pill bottle. "There was a bit of a problem at work yesterday. I'm not sure what happened... but something triggered such a big fright, and I kinda... I guess I had a panic attack, that's what they keep calling it..."
There was a noise, like pen scratching on paper.
"Have you ever had those before now?"
The duck blinked, and furrowed his brow in deep thought. Not that he could recall in recent times, but there was...
"Years ago, when my old company was starting to go bankrupt."
"Ah, yes, that's right, you used to run a toy company some time ago." There was a rustling of papers in a manilla folder, and the weasel extracted what seemed like a newspaper clipping. "QuackerJack Toys. You used to be quite successful."
"Yeah, until that-that Whiffle Boy came on scene and ruined everything." His voice gained a bitter edge and his fingers tightened around the pill bottle, before he caught himself and took a deep breath. "But, that was a long time ago, I lost and it took a great deal, but I'd like to think I pushed past it."
"But, only after your stint as a nemesis to Darkwing Duck, and your actions as one of St. Canard's most notorious-"
"That was a long time ago!" QuackerJack snapped, throwing the pill bottle to the floor at his feet in an outburst, before his face turned red again and he quickly picked it up and mumbled an apology as he spun it around in his fingers nervously. "... I'm sorry... It's just that... I want to get better, but people keep reminding me of what I've done, not what I can do now..."
"It's alright, Mr. Quack-"
"Jacky. This is a safe place." The weasel said calmly as QuackerJack sank in his chair with a severely distressed expression, the pill bottle rattling and the bells of his hat jingling as he trembled again. "You don't have to be ashamed of how you feel, or how you respond. Otherwise, we'd likely make no progress in helping you."
"... I guess that makes s-s-s-sense..." QuackerJack managed in a tiny voice, darting his eyes around the room for anything that could remotely be more calming than clutching a bottle of pills and shaking them like an infant's rattle.
Oh, how he missed Mr. Banana Brain dearly.
"My job is to help you, Jacky. I can't do that if you keep trying to bottle up everything out of fear of judgment." The weasel smiled warmly and reached out into the gap between them and touched his arm in a friendly gesture, but he flinched involuntarily. "But, I'll say this; you've certainly made progress than when you were first brought in to me. Do you remember our first session?"
"... Honestly, no. No, I do not." He said truthfully, knowing full well that he'd been in such a jumbled state of mind after his beloved Mr. Banana Brain had been shredded before his very eyes, that he could only recall the following weeks after that as nothing more than a fever dream.
"I would have probably made more progress with a brick wall than I did with our first session." She made a cute small laugh, which eased QuackerJack down a little. "You could say that you were catatonic, and the only way to get a reaction out of you was when your hat was touched. You just screamed bloody murder; it scared the other clients in the waiting room, even."
"... Should you even be telling me about the other clients, I thought that was supposed to be confidential?"
"What I'm trying to say is that you should be proud of how far you've come in the past year alone. Not just in our sessions, but out there in the world, too. You're working, you can support yourself, and you've even built relationships." The weasel continued to smile. "It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that you're probably my best success; they'd insisted that I couldn't so much as get a word out of you, but here we are. I'm happy for you, Jacky."
It had been so long since he'd heard an authority figure of sorts express such pride in him. He was so used to being bossed around by such, being apprehended by the likes of Darkwing, being intimidated by his old "boss" Negaduck (the fiend), overhearing how he was such a lost cause and a dangerous inventor of toys and was only allowed on the streets of St. Canard at this point so long as he didn't cause significant trouble that endangered anyone... That the idea that he was being congratulated for his tiny accomplishments was almost foreign to him.
"Now, Jacky, I see that you've brought a pill bottle along, is that your prescription?"
He opened his cupped hands to stare at the bottle.
"... Yes." He nodded distantly. "... I don't know if this is working right. They switched the dosage last week, and I've just been feeling really wierd since then."
"It sometimes takes a bit of time to adjust to a new dosage, but I'd be more than happy to takes some notes for you and check with your physician."
QuackerJack explained the odd occurrences he had had in the past few days, making absolute certain to bring attention to the night terror he'd experienced the other night.
"I mean, I'd be lying if I'd said I've never had a nightmare before, but this is the first time I can remember ever having a night terror." He said, twirling one dingle dangle of his hat between his fingers of the appropriate hand. "If Claire hadn't been there to snap me out of it, I don't know how long it could have gone on, or how it could have-"
"Night terrors themselves aren't inherently dangerous, if you were worried about some long term physical effects." The weasel reassured. "And while they can be a symptom themselves, they don't always mean that something is very wrong. When you're asleep, your brain works on a different kind of level, and-"
"I know how the brain works, I've studied it before, it was... Kind of part of a few of my old schemes." QuackerJack shifted his eyes to the right and narrowed them awkwardly. "... You've probably heard about that one incident where one of my... acquaintances and I had a bit of spree where I built a mind numbing machine disguised as a toy ray gun, and we kinda just... made everyone let us rob them blind without consequence."
"Ah, yes, that was one of your most memorable. You set the city on fire."
"Accidentally!" QuackerJack sat up straight and shouted defensively. "I didn't know that district was such a fire hazard! It was dark, and I couldn't see a thing. It was Mr. Banana Brain's idea anyway!"
"... You are aware that this Mr. Banana Brain was still an extension of you?"
"Of course, but he-!" QuackerJack suddenly huffed and clenched his teeth, then sank back in the chair. "... Well, anyway, thanks to the fact that we had ended up clearing out that district with the whole apathy thing not making anyone care to be there, there wasn't really any casualties. In fact, Megs and I helped put out the fire. Well, he actually flooded the place when he broke a fire hydrant, but the point is, we did a thing, the thing went sour, and we learned our lesson." He snorted and shook his head. "The most astounding thing is that we only got community service as punishment, so I guess they let us off easy."
"And, to be clear, this 'Megs' is..?"
"Megavolt. He's my-! Was. Was my best friend. I haven't seen him since starting at QuackerWerks, but I've heard that he works in one of the other departments." QuackerJack had a fond smile on his face now. "He's got such a bad memory, though. He's always forgetting everything, because something fried his brain when he was younger. But, we'd always have such a good time when we had to work together, so much so that we'd done a few team ups on our own. He was probably the only one who could keep up with my energy."
"You seem to think highly of him, then." The weasel thumbed through the manilla folder and pulled out yet another newspaper clipping. "Yes, I see, you're talking about Elmo Sputterspark."
"Oh, you know him, then? Can I see that?" QuackerJack reached for the newspaper clipping before he'd gotten an answer.
"It's just an article documenting your brief... employment under Negaduck."
Immediately, QuackerJack shrunk back with a harsh gasp as if she'd been holding out a scorpion at him. It was very clear that the mention of his old boss had triggered a sort of reaction in him.
"Mr. Qua-? Jacky?" The weasel said with concern as QuackerJack began shuddering. "Are you alright?"
"... Don't s-say that name, Ms. Mustela..." He squeaked, drawing his knees to his chest, appearing to be very distraught now. "... He's the one who k-killed Mr. Banana Brain..."
The weasel, Ms. Mustela, quickly stuffed the newspaper clipping into the folder, and pulled her armchair over to sit beside him as he slowly curled into a trembling ball.
"... He k-ki-! He killed him! He killed Mr. Banana Brain!" QuackerJack wheezed, burying his face in his hands. He gasped like a fish out of water and wailed inconsolably. "Mr. Banana Brain didn't do anything wrong! He took Mr. Banana Brain away from me! He took him away from me! It's my fault, it's all my fault, I made him mad! Mr. Banana Brain is dead!"
This might have been a very concerning set of words if he'd been talking about a person, but QuackerJack was talking about his favorite toy; a banana faced doll he'd crafted with his own hands and had once carried around everywhere like his very own little friend after he'd lost everything and gone bankrupt. Given that Mr. Banana Brain had been such an important factor in his prior chapters of life, this doll had come to be a comfort item for him, something to bounce ideas off of, something that he could just talk to without fear of being betrayer and something he could project upon in his own little fantasy world. And now, in his absence, QuackerJack had lost that little element, and left the duck on rather unsteady ground every time he thought about his fallen fruit faced friend.
"... Jacky, it's certainly sad what happened to you, and I'm sorry if I've upset you, but you shouldn't blame yourself." Ms. Mustela said carefully, putting a hand on his shuddering back and giving him a few reassuring pats. "You weren't the one who tore him up, you didn't do anything wrong right there."
QuackerJack lifted his head out of his hands, his face a flushed hot, wet mess of tears, drool and snot from wailing so much.
"I just left him there! He needed me, and I left him there!" He squinted through reddened eyes and snuffled, then wiped at his face roughly with his spotted sleeve. He was hyperventilating. "I-I panicked, I didn't know what to do! I c-could have fixed him, but I was scared!"
"Jacky, here, don't wipe your face on your sleeves..." Ms. Mustela handed him a box of soft tissues, from which he grabbed a handful. "Now that you've let that all out, don't you feel better?"
"... No." QuackerJack mumbled, before he put a finger to his lip in thought. "... Okay, alright, maybe a little..." He blew his nose loudly, then sniffed. "... A lot."
"Now, normally, I'd save these for my younger clients..." Ms. Mustela said as she walked to her desk and opened a drawer, QuackerJack leaning over a little to watch her curiously. She pulled out a handful of colorful suckers. "But, I think you're never too old to like lollipops."
QuackerJack grinned and nodded enthusiastically, agreeing very much so.
"... Is there a blue raspberry one?"
"Yes, I think so."
Within seconds, he happily unwrapped the candy and was licking away at it, not caring that it was going to dye his tongue blue for a while. He was content for now.
"We'll still keep your regularly scheduled appointment up for next week, but remember, you can come and see me anytime if you feel like you need to." Ms. Mustela said as QuackerJack beamed at her, kicking his feet idly like a fidgety kid.
In the past year alone, she felt like, with all the progress, no matter how small, she'd made with him, had come to bring him like somewhat of a surrogate son in her eyes (albeit, awkwardly tall and probably closer to her own to her age than an adolescent), and she did genuinely worry about his stability, much like a parent would.
He was that special case.
QuackerJack popped the sucker in the side of his mouth to free up his hands and he hopped off the chair with a much more lifted spirits.
"Thanks, Ms. Mustela!" He chimed, and threw his arms in the air before he caught her up in a big hug, which pulled her feet off the ground due to her smaller stature.
"Jacky, I think this is the first time you've initiated contact yourself during a session."
"Is it? That's nice!"
"Yes. Now, when you leave, I'll be sure to run your concerns about your new dosage with the other health departments, and we'll see what we can do about that." Ms. Mustela said as QuackerJack set her back down. She looked up at him; he very much looked like an overgrown child right now as he held onto the rolled paper stick of the candy, which itself was still in his mouth. "Take care of yourself, you've got the next two weeks off, so just take it easy and don't stress yourself out."
"Claire's gonna help me start scrapbooking tonight!"
"Have fun with that, Jacky."