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The Scarlet

Chapter Text

The newspapers were incredibly depressing as of late. Every headline, every article, and every printed word seemed to only be about sad matters. Even just a glance at today's papers was enough to sink one's heart.

'Search For Missing Geniuses Officially Called Off!'
'Tax Hikes Expected To Rise By End Of Spring!'
'Second Riot In Downtown : Unrest In Poverty!'

Yet on this chilly February morning, the one selling the papers wasn't sad at all. The twenty-year old young man sitting on the edge of a marble fountain was all smiles as he exchanged papers for coins. He had read the news and understood the gravity of each situation but still continued to cheerily thank each customer he had. He was an unusual sight, a small mouse dressed in ratty and ragged brown clothes, smiling brightly as he sold news that could bring strong men to tears. The clothes weren't enough to keep him warm since he shivered every so often, but even that was not enough to dampen his spirits.

The reason for his attitude was approaching from the end of the street, inside a carriage painted gold and blue. The carriage had only a single chilly rider and a single chilly horse but the carriage's size and decorations were enough to tell anyone by a single passing glance that the person inside was of great social status. Even though this area of the city was inhabited by the poor and common folk, those living here were used to seeing this carriage at this place and at this time. The carriage stopped beside the fountain, and the well dressed rider climbed down from his place and onto the ground. He gently opened the carriage door, and the reason for the paper boy's happiness stepped out into the cold.

Though the woman that emerged was around his age and was also a mouse, to call them 'alike' would be cause for ridicule. As far as the seller of words was concerned, the girl was nothing like him and she was all the better for it. Her clothes weren't ragged and tattered but stitched together with the finest of cloth and without a speck of dirt on them. Her dress today was deep purple, and was highlighted by a flimsy purple ribbon tying up her growing locks of black hair. To prepare for today's weather, she was also wearing a white fluffy coat, a white fluffy scarf, and the whitest and fluffiest of all muffs for her hands. She was petite, and when their eyes met, she also began to smile with warmth and tenderness.

"Good morning, Mickey." Even her voice contained warmth and all at once Mickey wasn't freezing anymore. "I hope you saved one for me." She walked towards the fountain, and sat by his side, not caring if her coat or dress was stained.

"Ha! Don't I always?" It was a familiar routine. He handed her a paper from on top of his stack, and she'd reach within her coat pocket to hand him far more coins than the paper cost. He tucked them away in his pants pocket as she carefully read the front page once her muff was off. "How ya been, Minnie?"

"Oh, just fine." She shrugged one dismissive shoulder. "It's really the same thing every day, there's nothing new going on…" She then paused as something was remembered. "Well, except one thing. You know Scrooge McDuck?"

"Find me a guy who doesn't!" He smirked a little at the question, leaning over her shoulder to read the words he'd already read more than a dozen times.

She allowed the closeness, eyes still down on the paper. "I got an invitation from him to attend a party he's holding tonight. He's officially announcing the heir to his business and his fortune… his nephew, Donald Duck. No one's heard anything about this Donald, so everyone who's anyone is attending to see who will take over that empire someday." She ended the announcement with a dull sigh. "And it's going to be dreadfully boring. I wish I didn't have to go these parties, they're full of nothing but snobs."

Mickey chuckled as he shook his head. "Aw, c'mon, it's gotta be a little fun! All of that food, and the… food…"

It was Minnie's turn to cast him a smirk. "You would find that the most exciting thing. But it's still going to be very boring." She looked back down towards the paper. "Honestly, I wish you could go. You'd find some way to make it fun." Due to her reading, she didn't notice the red hue on Mickey's cheeks, nor the lump in his throat. She didn't even seem to notice his sudden fidgeting and inability to speak as she began to discuss the headlines, which was another routine for them. "They've called off the search?"

Mickey managed to force his voice box to resume working to answer her. "H-Huh? … Oh, right!" He leaned back as he thought about it. "It has been some time since that explosion… those guys probably died in it anyway."

"Maybe…" Minnie's voice took a sad turn as she recalled those events. "But they never did find the bodies, and those men were so very kind. I met them once to donate some money to the school they were going to make." Though she knew exactly what the event and explosion was, she read the article anyway, seeing everything happen again in her mind. Exactly half a year ago, Professor Ludwig Von Drake and Professor Gyro Gearloose were planning to open a school for the super smart, but the building they were living in exploded due to a gas leak. No one had been hurt, but the professors were never found, and no one could find out who leaked the gas or set the fire to cause the explosion. The money that had been donated to build the school had also vanished which lead some to whisper conspiracy and murder, but nothing conclusive was ever found. "I'd like to think they're still alive somewhere."

Mickey tried not to smile since the discussion was of a grim topic, but he couldn't help himself. Her compassion for men she only met once was endearing. "Well… well, maybe they are." He looked away, his tone going uneasy for reasons Minnie couldn't pinpoint. "M-Maybe one day, they'll just… walk down the street! Maybe they're on vacation!" She couldn't tell if he was joking, because he sounded so nervous when he had no reason to be. "Maybe… maybe."

Since she found his reaction so odd, she moved onto the next article. She frowned deeply as her sadness turned anger. "More taxes, more riots… why are people surprised when it happens? The lower class can barely afford to pay now and they want to increase the taxes? Of course people will protest!"

Mickey calmed down and rested his hands at his sides. "Scrooge might've had a hand in it. How much do ya think his party cost?"

"I hate it!" Minnie yanked the paper open so forcefully that she almost tore it. "These people… just because they have money, they think they live in a different world! They don't even see the lower class as people! One of these days, I swear, I'm going right up to the Queen and kicking open her front door and - "

"And gettin' yer head cut off." Mickey cut in, trying to soften her well intentioned anger. "I know it ain't fair, Minnie, but what can we do? When the people start these big, dangerous riots, just makes them rich folk think we're nuts. And those riots sometimes end up hurtin' the same people they're tryin' ta help…" He shrugged helplessly. "It's like neither side will listen."

"It's just awful." Minnie leaned her head onto Mickey's shoulder, looking for comfort, and again not noticing the flare it caused in the boy's cheeks. "I wish I could do more to help. I try to donate as much as I can, but then Mother and Father freeze my accounts… if only they knew what kind of wonderful people live here."

Mickey could not be reached for comment right away as such close personal contact with his best friend was making his mind halt. Lately it had been getting harder and harder to hide his feelings when she was so affectionate with him. It was even harder to form sentences when he could smell her hair and feel her face on his chest. "Won… wonder…" He took a gulp of good air to try and jolt his senses. "H-Haha… ha… w-well, if there were… more rich folk who thought like you do… maybe it wouldn't be so bad." It wasn't just his bubbling emotions that made him speak this. The young woman had been kind and generous since birth and was loved by everyone who knew her. Her thoughts about the common folk were strange for her title and she always tried to make others share these ideas. There was little doubt in anyone's mind that if it were possible, she'd donate every single coin she had to help those less fortunate.

It was just one of the many reasons Mickey was so devastatingly in love with her. It was agonizing that while he could speak easily with her if he treated her as a friend, the moment he tried to talk to her with love in his mind his body wouldn't cooperate and he would look foolish. This was one of those times. He intended to say that he thought she was wonderful too. What came out was "Y-Y-You… um… I… I think… thinking… thought… what ya s-s-said… only…" There were perhaps a million reasons for these sudden attacks of anxiety but she never picked up on them.

Minnie then lifted her head as something caught in her eye in the page she turned. "What's this?" After Mickey exhaled deeply from his rush of embarrassment, he leaned to see what she was looking at. An entire page was devoid of stories and articles and instead appeared to be written like a mailed letter. The writing was written in fancy cursive and centered right in the middle of the page.

Today, I make a declaration to all of France!

Too long have the poor and the rich been deaf to one another, and too long have crimes been committed in the name of their own brand of justice. It has been forgotten that beyond coins and mansions, we are all people, and we are all France! We all need one another! It is my intention to shatter the lines that divide us, and bring forth a France where equality is the norm!

From this day onward, those who seek to harm others for their own greed will meet the kiss of my blade. The revolution begins today!

The Scarlet.

Minnie blinked a few times to make sure she was reading this correctly. Before she could read it a fourth time, Mickey suddenly yanked the paper out of her hands. "Hey, what is this?" He looked it over up and down, looking just as confused as she was. "This wasn't in here when it was bein' printed! Is this some kinda joke?"

"Maybe it's an ad for a play." Minnie tried to reason, though even that didn't make much sense. "Or maybe it's a prank."

"Whoever it is, they aint funny." Mickey grumbled as he closed the paper. "I could lose my job over a slip like that! And what kinda stupid name is 'The Scarlet'?" He folded it up and returned it to Minnie's hands. "Some people just don't take the paper seriously."

"Well, I do." Minnie patted his hand in an effort to comfort him. "And I'm sure you won't lose your job over a silly little prank." Her hand rested on top of his, and she became quiet. They slowly looked at each other right in the eyes. The prank was forgotten as they gazed at each other. Anyone looking in on this scene could have assumed they were having an awkward staring contest.

He swallowed hard as he looked down at her, for he was slightly taller than her. Perhaps another opportunity to say that 'wonderful' line was his to take. "Um… what… what you said… before, with the… y'know…" She was being very patient with him, not interrupting and continuing to gaze up at him with those big beautiful eyes. He felt staring too long at such beauty would be as hazardous to his health as when one stares at the sun. He was certainly feeling that same heat radiating off of her. "With the, the, um… too, also…" Gosh, why did she have to be so pretty? And kind? And wonderful? And-

"Duchess Minerva!"

Mickey almost fell into the fountain waters when he heard the carriage rider formally address his crush. He flailed for a moment before catching his balance, and Minnie pouted with crossed arms at the interruption, glaring right at her rider who stood by the carriage. He was tapping a pocket watch in his hand, and clicking his tongue. "You're running late."

Minnie rolled her eyes but came off of the fountain and stood on the ground. "Oh, fine, I'm coming…" She looked Mickey over for a quick moment, and then began to unfurl the scarf around her neck. "Here, you must be freezing."

"Aw, Minnie!" He knew protesting would do no good but it wouldn't be right to just up and accept it. "I'm fine!" He did stay still as she carefully wrapped it around his neck. "And I'll get it all dirty… I promise, I'll give it back to ya tomorrow, first thing!"

"Keep it." Minnie said firmly when she was finished, stepping back and admiring her work. "It looks nice on you." She cast him a smile, and then put her muff back on as she heard him mumble a shy thank you. "I'll see you tomorrow! Make sure there's one waiting for me!"

"Don't I always?" He called after her as she entered her carriage and was rewarded with her melodious giggling before the door closed. He ignored the haughty look the rider gave him, and soon the carriage was riding off, leaving little trace it had ever been there in the first place. When it was long gone, Mickey fingered the scarf around his neck, still able to smell a faint trace of her. It would take him years of saving up to buy just the material it was made out of. She was a duchess, a woman of high rank and beauty, who could get everything she wanted with a bat of her eyelash and yet chose to help those beneath her at every chance. He was a boy with no parents, no real home to speak of, and only owned the clothes on his back.

The idea of him ever having her love was a real matter of ridicule. They were barely alike, though they had shared a childhood together. But if he spent all day mourning over the impossibilities of his romance, he'd never get any papers sold. So he drew himself up, gave the scarf a quick kiss for luck, and picked up his papers. "Papers, get yer papers here! Hot off the press!"

~*~

Donald Duck had very little interest in attending the party in his honor that night. It was in full swing while he was in his room, still trying to adjust to the idea of living there. It was a lot bigger than the one back home in the countryside, and all of the metal material made him uncomfortable. Even his fancy new clothes made him twist and turn, and he felt he had to keep smoothing them down. He would have been comfortable sitting on his new bed and looking at the photographs he had been allowed to bring, but his presence was demanded. His door was opened by a butler, a tall dog who, if Donald was remembering correctly, was named Ducksworth. "Mister McDuck would like to see you downstairs."

Donald sighed heavily, putting his photos aside and sliding off the bed. "I'm comin', I'm comin'…"

"You are coming." Ducksworth corrected by stressing heavily on the g. "Mister McDuck would prefer you try and speak like a man of his class."

Donald cast him a glare as he headed for the door. "Does what I want count for anythin'?" He paused. "Anything."

"Not tonight, sir." Ducksworth stepped aside to let Donald out, and then followed him down the hallway. "I understand that this is a very big change for you, but you should try and make the best of it. Mister McDuck's trust is a very hard thing to gain, and he is bestowing his entire fortune and business on you when he eventually passes on."

Donald snorted as the stairs came closer. "Don't gimmie – give me – any of that. We both know I'm only getting this because I'm his only male blood relative alive, who also isn't eight years old." Donald stopped at the top of the stairs, looking down at the party. Though Scrooge was rich, he was also annoyingly cheap. Instead of renting out a ballroom, the old man had used his own house to host the party. The living room was now full of elite people chowing down on expensive food, and Donald felt fright come over him. He was in a house full of strangers that he was supposed to impress. The temptation to turn tail and run was defeated when he remembered Ducksworth was right behind him. Stifling a groan, he continued walking downward and tried to find his uncle.

At the bottom of the stairs, Donald's gaze slowly went over every single person there, looking for any sign of his miser of a relative. He turned his head from left to right, but then abruptly stopped. Something had caught his eyes, and he went back to his left. By the fireplace, there was a young lady curtsying as she held up a plate of appetizers. She was a duck with loose hair falling into delicate ringlets around her shoulders. Her dress was clearly stitched together from old dresses, yet it still hugged her body perfectly tightly. Long eyelashes, dark eyes, a winning smile… she was the most beautiful woman Donald had ever seen in his short life.

His entire body became seized with desire as there was nothing he wanted more to do than to run to her side and take her delicate hands. Consumed with sudden and desperate love, he began making a beeline right for the maiden, when his shoulder was yanked roughly to a side. "Donald, there you are!" It was Scrooge McDuck, whose grip on Donald was tighter than iron. "Where have you been? You should have been downstairs when the party started!"

"Ah-huh, yeah, sure!" Donald tried to lean away as best he could make it, eyes locked on the girl who was now leaving the fireplace. "Um, Uncle, I need to - "

"You need to meet the Duchess and get in her good graces!" Scrooge snapped, dragging Donald away from his quest. "And many of my business partners are here too, you need to introduce yourselves to each and every single one of them."

"But – But – Awww, Uncle Scrooge!" Donald's cries fell on deaf ears as he helplessly watched the love of his life vanish in the crowd. This couldn't be the end of the affair! He'd find her again, he had to! Everything in his life was meant to lead up to this moment of finding such an angel!

The angel would have disagreed had she known his intentions. Her 'winning' smile was fake and her curtsies were forced. Since her plate was empty, she headed back into the kitchen, and when the door behind her was closed, she stomped her feet and hollered at the top of her lungs. "I HATE THESE PEOPLE! Oooh, the nerve!" She banged her plate against a stove in her anger. "I just want to strangle each and every single one of them!"

One of the skinnier chefs lifted his head from his work. "I don't think you'd get paid if you did that, Daisy."

"Oh, shut up, Linguini." Daisy hissed even though her anger wasn't directed towards him. "This guy actually asked if I touched the food… as if I was poisonous!" In defiance, she scurried to a close table and picked up each appetizer with her fingers. "I hope he chokes on it. I hope they all choke! They're wasting all this money just to announce some guy is taking over this old man's fortune, when the old man isn't even dead yet!"

Linguini hesitated to ask his next question, fully aware of the power of her temper. He kept his eyes down on the food in an effort to pitifully shield himself. "If you feel that way… why did you take the job?"

Daisy finished filling the plate, grinding her beak in her frustration. "…Because I need the money, and it's only for one night. I need every single coin I can get." There were also other reasons, but she couldn't share them with the chef. "I'll see you later." Without another word, she headed back into the crowds with the fake smile plastered on. She knew she had to keep her anger in check no matter how badly she was treated. The best thing to do was to keep quiet and endure. She weaved in and out of the crowd as the food was picked, but one word made her freeze in place. She stopped, and looked to a large red couch where several women were fanning themselves, and Daisy recognized one of them as Duchess Minerva. Everyone knew who she was, and she had said the word that made Daisy stop in her tracks - revolution.

"The revolution begins today." Minnie had said, carefully holding a small glass of wine in one hand. "And then it just ended with 'The Scarlet'. Wasn't it the strangest thing?"

"I read that too!" One of the women replied, a duck with blonde hair pushed up. "Truly bizarre… And what a strange way to end it. I think someone's just trying to get a scare out of us."

Minnie took a thoughtful sip before continuing. "I don't know, Brigitta. It sounded weird, but I liked some of the stuff in there… like everyone being equal." She smiled brightly at the notion. "And I think we all do need each other. If that's what this Scarlet person means by a revolution, then I'm all for it!" She tried to smile at the other ladies, but their expressions ranged from deadpan to incredulous. "…What?"

Brigitta laughed weakly, slowing down her fan. "Oh, youth… just wait until you're a little older, dear, and then you'll understand. Everything's perfectly fine the way it is now, and nothing is ever going to change. Anyone who wants a revolution is just asking for a headache."

Daisy's hands trembled with fury as she stood there listening. She couldn't care less about the Scarlet or whatever he was supposed to be. Her fury lay with the notion of a revolution merely being a 'headache'. There would be a revolution, but it wouldn't just be a headache for these wretches. This is what she was saving her money for, what she was planning for, a real revolution that wouldn't be announced in some shoddy newspaper, it would be –

The tapping of a fork to glass jostled her out of her anger. In the middle of the room, Scrooge was doing this tapping to get everyone's attention, and it worked as all heads towards him and the nervous nephew by his side. When Scrooge was certain he had everyone's eyes, he stopped the tapping and put the fork on another servant's plate. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is good to see you all here tonight at McDuck Manor. It is with great joy that I announce my nephew, Donald Duck, as heir to my fortune." He roughly grabbed Donald by the shoulder, and the younger duck meekly waved to the applauding crowd. "I have complete faith leaving my empire in his hands, once I'm gone. A toast!" He held up his glass, and those who also had glasses did the same. "To the future!"

"To the future!" The crowd cheered back, and glasses were clinked together, with echoes of laughter bouncing off every wall. Scrooge continued introducing Donald to other strangers, Donald continued trying to search for his mystery maiden, Daisy continued to hold in her wrath, and Minnie continued to lament her boredom and long for the company of the boy who had her scarf. Everything looked ready to continue on as it always did.

The doors from the kitchen were then kicked open! Ten men in torn apart police uniforms stumbled in, each one carrying a loaded shotgun and each one shot into the air. The laughter was replaced with screams, and those who didn't duck for cover scrambled for the doors, only to find to their horror that they were locked from the outside. When the shots ended, Daisy could see that one of the intruders was holding the terrified Linguini by the arm, and pointing a shotgun at his head. The leader of the attackers, a grizzly looking canine, shot into the air once more, and then barked at the crowd. "Silence! And be quiet, too! I, the intelligent and handsome Don Karnage, and my men, who are almost as intelligent and handsome as Don Karnage, are taking this party hostage!" He pointed the weapon to Linguini who grew deathly pale. "Anyone makes a funny movement, the skinny boy gets it! And so will the rest of you!"

Scrooge McDuck growled deep in his throat, taking his cane off of his arm and heading right for the intruders. "How dare you come into my manor! I'll see to it that each and every one of you is hung! Just who do you think you are!" Donald and Ducksworth had to grab each of his arms to try and prevent him from going any further, as Karnage easily pointed his gun right back at him.

"We are the revolutionaries!" Karnage twirled his shotgun in a fancy flair. "We will be bringing the change France needs! And you know the saying… you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Now we just have to decide which egg goes first!"

Daisy dropped her plate in shock. "You're not part of the revolution!" She spoke without thinking, and quickly covered her beak with her hands. Even if it was the truth, that these men were not in her secret army, saying that out loud was enough to sign her death certificate. Even so, what was going on? Who were these men, and why were they saying they were the revolutionaries? Could they be from another group?

Karnage laughed, showing off all of his sharpened teeth. "We are getting some volunteered eggs! This is marvelous! Soon we will have eggs all over the streets of France! And the rich people will see our eggs! And then with our eggs, we will… um… make… scrambled… hold on, I can do this metaphor…" he struggled to think of how to keep making sense, although all it was really doing was making him hungry. Eventually he gave up and held up his gun. "Oh, let's just kill them all and then get ourselves some egg sandwiches, I'm starving. Fire at will!" One of the intruders shrieked in fear. "No, not at Will! I mean kill the rich eggs!"

Gasps and screams were the first things fired, as the victims held onto each other, hid behind each other, and the shotguns took aim. Minnie couldn't move, her limbs turning to statue in her fear. No, please, she couldn't go like this! Not when she still hadn't told him!

Just then, a single glass shard fell from the ceiling. It was enough to give everyone pause, and slowly tilt their heads upward, at the enormous glass chandelier that hung above them. Another glass shard fell from it… and then another… and then, the entire thing trembled… and in a sudden rush, it hurtled downwards to the floor. There was enough time so that the already frightened party guests could run out of the way as it smashed directly in the center of the living room. Even the so-called revolutionaries were stunned, eyes glued to the sudden destruction. It wasn't just the apparent random falling of the chandelier that was surprising everyone, but also now they saw someone was standing on top of the wreckage. Judging by the way he was touching the top of the chandelier, he had been on it on during the ride down. It wasn't a far cry to say he had caused the fall too.

The red cape he wore was almost twice as long as he was, and it was attached to his jacket, covering the top half of his body. Two belts held his brown pants along with a long scabbard, and a silver handle stuck out of the scabbard. As he let go of the chandelier, he tugged at his white gloves and white cuffs, before smoothing down the frock on his chest. Above his frock was a single red jewel, shining beautifully. Also red was his hat with a black trim and a single white feather sticking out of it. The final piece of red were his visor-like goggles, a mask that lay comfortably on his nose but made it easy to see his piercing green eyes. He finally addressed the crowd of onlookers. "… Well, I had to get your attention somehow."

Will lightly nudged Karnage, trying to whisper to him. "Hey, boss, I thought the job was just for us ten. Who's this guy?"

Karnage roughly shoved his elbow into Will's ribs. "Shush! And say nothing, too!" He then cleared his throat, aiming his shotgun at the newest party guest. "You're invading my invasion! That's very rude, I'll have you know. How are we supposed to have a revolution with all of this interruption?"

The man hopped off the wreckage, and walked through the crowd until he was in front of rich victims. When he spoke his voice was deep and smooth, and yet there was something off about it. No one in the room could determine just how or why, but for some reason his voice didn't sound natural. It was pleasing to listen to, but… not real. "Indeed, how are you supposed to have a revolution… when all you plan on doing is spilling innocent blood?"

"Innocent!" The dog laughed and pointed his weapon at the crowd. "There's not an innocent person in here, save for me, Don Karnage! They're all guilty of abusing their power!"

The red dressed man stood in place, looking up at Karnage. "In our system of laws, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In this crowd there are those who want to spend their coins on those who have none. There are those who want to bring equality. If you lump them in with those who live in another world of haughtiness, then you are doing no better than those who accuse you of being barbarians." He carefully placed a hand on the hilt of his sword, but did not draw it. "But then… I don't think you are the real revolutionaries."

Karnage hesitated for a second. How could this soliloquy speaking stranger possibly know who these men really were? That information was tightly hidden! "You're speaking nonsense now! I don't have time for this, and I'm still hungry!" He took aim at Minnie and Daisy – who, in their terror, had wound up clinging to each other in front of the couch. The girls screamed as the shot was fired yet neither of them was harmed. In the time it took the bullet to fly, the man in red had moved in front of them, holding his cape out to block the bullets. The cape seemed to suddenly solidify before their very eyes, and the bullets bounced off it before lifelessly falling on the floor. The cape then returned to its natural cloth form, and the man let it drop.

He wagged a finger at Don Karnage. "I wasn't finished. And how can you fire at women?" He turned around to look at them, a charming smile on his lips. "And on such beautiful women. Are you ladies all right?" Minnie and Daisy could only nod their heads in sync, still not letting good of each other. "Good. Not to worry, I'll get rid of this mess, and there won't be a single wrinkle on your nice dresses." He winked, and was a blur again, suddenly running towards Karnage and kicking him in the stomach. The canine had no time to recover before his snout was grabbed and he was flipped over the red man's shoulder. Flurry of movements followed, as the men struggled to shoot him, but he'd be already out of their range. There was a slash of gray in their eyesight, and the ends of many guns were sliced off. The man in red twirled his now drawn sword, as the attackers stared at their destroyed weapons, dumbfounded. How could a sword cut through a gun?

The one holding Linguini fumbled with his still undamaged gun, trying to fire at his hostage, but the man in red yanked Linguini's free arm, and then shoved it forward, making Linguini forcibly punch his attacker right in the nose. The man in red continued to do this to Linguine's other limbs, using the cook like a puppet to beat up the hostage taker until he was a pained mess on the floor. Once Linguini was free, he stood in place and stared at his hands, unable to believe what just happened. "Huh… didn't know I had it in me." He smiled weakly at his hero, before wisely darting to the safety of the crowd. The red man politely tipped his hat to the cook before returning to the fight.

Karnage managed to gather his senses, and sat dizzily up with one hand to his head. When his vision cleared he couldn't believe what he was seeing. His nine armed, tough, and tall men were getting the snot beaten out of them by a small man in red frilly clothes. Their shotguns were sliced up by his sword, he was faster than they could catch, and his punches and kicks were as strong as a man three times his size. In under a minute, the men had all been knocked out, slumped over furniture or flopping onto the floor. None of them had been killed, and though some were bleeding by sword cuts, none of it was fatal. Karnage rubbed his eyes to make sure this was accurate, but the scene didn't change.

Karnage tried to get to his feet, his own shotgun still in one hand. "Who… who in the world are you?!"

The man in red wiped the blood on his sword off with his cape. "Before I tell you who I am… how about I tell everyone who you are?"

"I am Don Karnage!" He snarled, unable to get straight aim due to how badly his arms were shaking. "What have I been saying this entire time with my ridiculous accent? I am Don Karnage!"

The man in red wagged his finger again. "You're also a hired group of smalltime assassins called the Sky Pirates. You were paid to pretend to be revolutionaries so you could enforce the idea that the poor are nothing more than savages, and try to destroy the real revolution itself."

"How did you know that?!" Karnage said all too quickly, and then bit his tongue in regret. "… That is, if it was correct, how could you have known it?"

"My eyes and ears are everywhere in France… for I am the justice that France has been seeking." Now this man seemed to be addressing everyone in the manor. "Perhaps some of you have read my declaration in today's paper? I meant every word. I will help the rich and the poor, for I help all people who wish to help others. In the eyes of good and evil, we are all equal, including myself. I am... The Scarlet."

Gasps again were collected in the crowd, and Karnage's shoulders hitched in worry. "You want to be the Scarlet? Fine! I'll make you scarlet all against the wall!" He touched the trigger, but sound of sirens stopped him from pressing down.

The windows began to flash tints of red and blue, and the Scarlet nodded in approval. "That would be the police. No doubt whoever hired you also made sure they wouldn't arrive until you made a good impression on the crowd." He smirked as he saw the color drain out of Karnage's face. "And judging by your look, I guess you weren't informed about that part of the plan. Your boss probably wanted to make sure all loose ends were cut off."

Karnage was practically foaming at the mouth as both fury and fright collided in his mind. Nothing was going according to plan, and it was all this stupid little man's fault! Nuts to the man who paid Karnage, the canine was going to take everyone out! With a hungry roar, he lifted his gun to shoot, but the Scarlet already moved, slicing his blade across Karnage's knees and causing the sky pirate to fall backwards in howling pain. In that very same instant, men burst forth from the kitchen once more, but this time they were actual police in actual police uniforms. They only got one word out – "Freeze!" – before actually looking at the scene.

The Scarlet smiled brightly at the officers. "Thanks for picking up my tab, gentlemen. Though I'd like a little more compensation than just cleaning up. Justice can be an expensive quest." He looked over the quiet crowd, before settling his eyes back on Minnie and Daisy. He walked up to them, and then knelt down, softly taking Minnie's hand. "If I may, would you care to depart with this ring?" On her finger was a decorative purple ring, and Minnie felt no sentimental attachment to it. It's what made her slowly nod, along with the intense gaze the masked hero was giving her. "My thanks… my wonderful duchess." He lifted her hand, but instead of simply pulling the ring off, he bit it gently, sliding it off her finger, and grinned at her winningly when it was off.

Alas, Don Karnage was not out of the game yet, as he painfully sat up once more and pointed right at the Scarlet. "Arrest him! He's the revolutionary, and he tried to kill these nice people! Not Don Karange!"

The Scarlet spat out the ring immediately, and stood up straight, fumbling with the jewelry as his voice took on a flustered manner. "Are ya nuts?! Whaddya tryin' ta - " He then stopped himself, and cleared his throat, shoving the ring down his sleeve. "I do believe that's my cue to go."

"Hold on just a minute!" One of the officers pointed a pistol at him. "We'd like to bring you in for questioning!"

"I don't have the answers you want!" The Scarlet was again running in a blur, and yanked the shotgun out of Karnage's hands, along with giving him a kick to the nose for ruining his moment with the duchess. The Scarlet fired once at a nearby window, shattering it to pieces. He then tossed the gun aside and jumped out of the window. The police scrambled to follow him, running back to the kitchen and exiting the building.

From within the manor, they could hear the shouts of the officers, though some did try to poke their heads out of the broken window to see for themselves. To their shock, the Scarlet was actually running up the building, defying gravity by running straight up the wall! In seconds he was on the rooftop, and jumped off onto the adjacent building's roof. He vanished into the night, leaving confused officers, a howling canine, and chattering party guests. Though there were important matters to discuss, such as who hired the fake revolutionaries, all Minnie could think about was the man who held her ring.

Chapter Text

The Scarlet ran through the night, jumping from rooftop to rooftop and becoming a blur in the shadows. His travel did not stop until he managed to land on top of The Arc de Triomphe. The famous entrance to Champs Elysees was deserted this night, so no one was there to see the masked hero press against three bricks in a certain sequence. Nor did anyone see a small section of the monument open up by his side, and when he jumped down it, the section move back into place as if it had never been disturbed. Who would have guessed that within the landmark there was a long elevator that would slide the man in red down underground? He exhaled deeply as he traveled downwards, still feeling a rush of excitement over his début.

When the glass doors opened, he stepped into a wide room covered entirely in metal and mechanics. Though they were only four walls, this single room was bigger than most houses. Tables and desks were scattered with experiments and papers, and one wall was covered in clear screens showing different areas of France. Two men were at these screens, typing away rapidly at several different consoles. When they heard the doors open, they quickly turned around to greet the Scarlet, both of them smiling with pride. The hero smiled back, and took off his mask. "So… how did I do?"

"Fantastic! Bravo, bravo!" The first man clapped wildly, walking straight up to the hero and shaking his hand. This was Professor Ludwig Von Drake, an aging duck with graying hair sticking out the sides of his head. Though he was never seen without a lab coat, underneath it he always dressed trimly. "Had me a little worried with the chandelier and the glass and the breaking, but, hoo, boy, did you ever make an impression!"

"I'd say our experiment was a complete success." The second man agreed, adjusting his glasses. This was Professor Gyro Gearloose, a bird that was younger than Ludwig but by no means any less intelligent. His clothing was less flashy and more humble, and his bright hair emphasized his youth. "Too bad the police weren't up for making friends…"

"Aw, I'm sure they'll open up ta me once they see what I'm tryin' ta do." Now that the Scarlet was among friends, he relaxed into his natural dialect. "What about you guys? Did ya find anythin' about who hired those fake revolutionaries?"

Gyro shook his head, grabbing a chair and sitting in front of the elaborate computer screens. "Nothing solid just yet. Whoever paid the Sky Pirates was paid to pay that person, and so was that person, and so was that person… it's a long chain of bribery and we're nowhere near finding the head of it. There are a lot of people who would benefit from the talk of revolution dying down, so there's a long list of suspects to go through."

"You just leave the detective work to Gyro and me." Ludwig shoved Mickey towards a row of slender tubes up against another wall. Inside each tube was variations of the Scarlet outfit save for two, one that was empty and the other which just held the brown, tattered clothes of a newspaper boy. "You've had a big night, and you need your rest."

"Rest!" The hero laughed at the notion, but he obeyed the action and walked towards the empty tube. "How can I sleep after all a' that? It was one of the best nights I ever had!" He put the mask inside, and then rubbed his eyes to remove green colored contacts. "I tell ya, this whole idea was enough to keep me awake fer weeks!" He carefully picked out a small chip from his ear, and then another from under his tongue. "Makin' my voice diff'rent, listening devices…" Without the chip in his tongue, his voice now sounded squeaky and younger, which was his natural tone. "You guys thought a' everythin'!"

Ludwig tugged on his coat as he prepared to brag. "We weren't called geniuses for nothing! A bulletproof vest, a cape made out of solidifying material, magnets in your boots to run up walls, not to mention the little stilts in there to make you taller… my personal favorite is the sword. One push of that handle, and it heats up hot enough to slice through metal!"

Gyro raised an eyebrow at the explanations. "…Ludwig, why are you telling us things we already know about?"

"I was also called Mister Exposition." Ludwig dismissed the matter with a wave of his hand. "Now Mickey, I know we helped you train before this night, making all those exercise routines so you'd be ready, but a growing boy still needs his sleep."

By this time, the Scarlet had turned back into Mickey and was dressed to fit the part. "Fine, fine… but I can't wait until the next job!" He pumped a fist in expectation, but then felt something rustling in his sleeve. He fished around in his sleeve until he pulled out Minnie's purple ring. "Oh! Almost forgot 'bout this. It'll sell for a lot, right?"

Ludwig calmly took it out of Mickey's hand while wearing a devious smirk. "You do remember we saw everything that happened in there? Our little Casanova couldn't just ask her to take it off?"

Mickey's cheeks flushed darkly and his eyes darted away nervously. "W-well… ya told me ta make a big impression! She's never gunna forget that." He tried to laugh it off, backing away slowly. "C'mon, I promised ya guys that I wouldn't let my feelin's for her get in the way of the job! You trust me, don't ya?"

"We trust you plenty." Ludwig jabbed a thumb at the standing tube now holding the Scarlet's previously worn outfit. "It's him that's making us worried." Gyro was wisely staying out of the debate, though he did seem to be trying to holding back laughter. Ludwig yanked off Mickey's cap and playfully ruffled the top of his head. "Go and get some sleep, boy! And have sweet dreams of your little duchess!"

"Awww, knock it off!" Mickey snatched back his hat, and speedily ran towards the elevator, eager to get away from the teasing. He could still hear their combined laughter when the glass doors closed and he was sent up and away.

When Mickey was gone, Gyro took off his glasses and carefully rubbed them clean with a thumb. "Maybe we should get some sleep too. It's been a long night, and we're going to have plenty of work ahead in the future." Yet he paused as he looked down at his glasses, and slowly lifted his head to look at Ludwig. "…Do you… regret what we've done? Any of it?"

Ludwig still smiled, though now it was more comforting and a little sad. "… We made our decision a long time ago, Gyro. We had to convince everyone we were dead, and cut off all ties. We don't live for ourselves anymore. We live for the future of France."

Gyro leaned back into his seat as he put his glasses back on. "You didn't really answer my question."

"Ask me another time." Ludwig turned his back to his friend, and Gyro had a feeling another time was very far away.

~*~

That morning's newspapers were covered from front to back about the hijacked hi-jinks from the night before. Just about everyone in the city was telling their own version of the story, and the paper boy experienced record sales as everyone was hungry for information about the startling encounter. Everyone who had the paper was reading it intensely, except for Donald. He was in his room, and was supposed to be reading long, boring books about taxes and business trade. Instead, he was making paper airplanes with the newspaper and lamenting his cowardice. That night he had seen the girl of his dreams, but when she had been in the line of danger, Donald had been frozen in place.

Sighing, he tossed the plane into the air, trying to comfort himself with the sadder fact that he would probably never see her again anyway. That was one of those once-in-a-lifetime chances, and he was a duck without luck. Sighing heavily, he looked out the window, thinking about the country life he had left behind. His sight lazily drifted over the people below…

Then he experienced a twice-in-a-lifetime chance. Though he blinked and rubbed his eyes hard to make sure, there was no doubt it was she down below, the impossibly beautiful girl who was now having an argument with an older woman holding a basket of bread. This time, Donald wouldn't lose the opportunity! He fled the empty room and nearly mowed down every servant in his path to get to the front doors, and slammed them open in his excitement. To his good fortune, the girl was still there, and still arguing.

"You've got to be kidding me!" Daisy snapped, her ladylike fingers balled up into fists of trembling anger. "That's twice as much as I paid last week! How do you expect anyone to eat?"

The older woman shrugged apologetically, wringing her hands together. "I'm sorry mademoiselle, but I can't go any lower. You have to think about where I'm coming from… the supplies to make the bread have increased in price as well! We have to raise the prices just to make more!"

"Another tax hike!" Daisy ground her foot into the dirt, not wanting to direct her anger at the bread maker but needing a place to vent her rage on. "It's like they're making sure we starve to death!"

As Donald watched the exchange, he thought he saw a fantastic way for him to land the girl whose name he didn't even have a faint grasp at. Clearing his throat far louder than necessary, he dug into his pocket, and pulled out a small satchel of money, waving it back and forth in his hand. "Excuse me… but I believe this should more than cover the cost of that entire basket." He even made sure to make his tone as impressive as possible, trying to imitate the way all rich people supposedly talked. He tossed the satchel at the confused baker, and lightly took the basket from her arm, grinning at Daisy.

Daisy was surprised initially, but when she recognized the buyer, her glare could have easily curdled milk. "… You're the McDuck's nephew, the new heir."

He was so bent on impressing her that he didn't hear the dripping acid in her voice. "That's me! Donald Duck, one of the richest guys in all of France! Why, I bet I could buy and sell a million coliseums in one night and still have enough to get you three thousand new dresses by tomorrow night. You want it, I can get it a million times over." He leaned in with a wiggle of his brows, ready for her to swoon. "How about I treat you to the best meal you've ever had with the best guy you've ever met, toots?"

Maybe if Donald knew how hard Daisy had to work just to make the dress she was wearing, he would have kept his beak shut. Maybe if he knew how deeply she loathed the waste and exaggeration of money, he would have kept his beak shut. Maybe if he knew just how deeply she hated every man with more than his fair share in their pockets, he would have kept his beak shut. But Donald didn't know any of these things, so it was up to Daisy to shut his beak for him. "… And you know what I bet, monsieur?" She spoke carefully, touching the basket with one hand. "I bet that…" She took one extremely long loaf of baguette bread out. "… If you ever come near me again, I will make you regret the day you ever thought of hatching out of your marble and porcelain egg, you disgusting waste of feathers!" She then forcefully shoved the baguette right into Donald's mouth and partially pushed it down his throat. "You make me sick! I hope you rot!"

She then stormed off, huffing and puffing harder than any wolf, and was soon gone around a street corner. Donald stared at the empty space where she just was, the baguette still sticking out of his mouth. What just happened there? Heartbroken, he desperately tried to ask the baker what he did, but having food stuck in his beak made him rather unintelligible. The baker merely shrugged and soon left him as well so she could count her coins. Donald finally swallowed the bread that had been shoved in him, and contemplated as he chewed. This was a loss, but on the plus side, it did mean she had to live here. There had to be another chance to see her again, and surely that time, his riches would win her over. What more could a woman want?

Daisy wanted to never see him again, that was for sure. She marched down the street, her stomps and growls ensuring no one stayed on her path for long. Those of the lower class were familiar with Daisy and her tantrums, and knew that she was never to be trifled with when she was in such a mood. However, those close to her could find ways to weave conversations with her without losing a finger. One such close friend calmly started to walk with her, hands in his pockets. "I take it breakfast is off."

"You would not believe what just happened, Max." She cut a look upwards at her much taller companion. Maximilian Geef was actually younger than Daisy, but given the tall heights that dogs like him possessed, it was easy to make a mistake otherwise. His ragged attire and dirty black fur echoed the same poverty she experienced, but he also had stains of oil splattered here and there, hinting at a hidden hobby. "That nephew of McDuck just tried to hit on me!"

Max shrugged his shoulders idly. "You get hit on all the time."

"Of course I do, I'm gorgeous! That's not the point!" She crossed her arms, still indignant and sure she had done the right thing. "He was waving his money in my face! Like he thought he could just buy me! He should be grateful I didn't slap his beak off, especially after what happened last night. He and all his rich friends just stood there like cowards! I bet they would have used me like a shield if they needed to."

"Speaking of last night…" Max grabbed onto the new topic as quickly as he could, and began to lower his voice. "Those fake revolutionaries, and then that Scarlet guy…is it possible that someone within our group was sharing information about what we've planning?"

The seriousness of the subject was enough to quell Daisy's anger, and she hesitated before answering. "… I don't want think so, but… we've got to be careful. It set us back a few steps, and we need to rethink a few things. We'll discuss it all on Thursday." She made certain to keep her words vague enough so that anyone passing by wouldn't have the faintest idea of what they could be chatting about. "What about you? How's the project coming along?"

Max gave a small smirk of pride at this exchange, giving thumbs up to her inquiry. "I should be finished by tomorrow night, and she'll be ready to go."

Daisy snorted, trying not to sound derisive. "She? Really, Max, we need to get you a girlfriend…"

"So I get attached to my projects, is that a crime? And besides, the last thing I need is someone else getting in the way of my work." He stuffed his hands in his pockets, frustrated at the reminder. "It's bad enough when dad tries to help. Of all the fathers in the world, I get stuck with the dumbest one in all of France."

"You know he means well, don't talk about him that way." Daisy lectured him, but she knew it would do little good, as this was a familiar dialogue they had gone through countless times. "Look, it's almost noon. We should get to our jobs, but keep at the project. Don't waste that big brain of yours by sweating the small stuff."

"Yes, 'mother'." He rolled his eyes with all the sarcasm he could muster. Daisy stuck out her tongue at him, but these childish antics were also common between them. They split apart at the next block, and as Daisy wondered what to do about the Scarlet, she had no idea she walked right by him as she tried to ignore the shouting of the local paper boy.

Mickey was well rested and already acting his way through the day. He had to play the part of just another surprised citizen who was clueless about the Scarlet. Though he was trying to play it cool, he was actually eager to see what Minnie's reaction was. The genius birds were right, and Mickey had gone off script with the ring removal. It still made him blush to think of how he had gotten away with that. Maybe next time he'd get luckier and she would have an earring for him to nip at.

He managed to calm his overactive imagination by the time her familiar carriage began to approach. A new act had to be played, and he set himself up for the role of the worried friend. When she walked out and into the cold air, Mickey dashed up to her, almost spilling his papers in his mad run. "Minnie! Are you okay?" He grabbed her hand, looking her over for any injuries he knew didn't exist. "I read all about what happened, are ya hurt?"

"I'm okay, I'm okay…" She gently took his arm, trying to lead him to their usual seating place at the fountain. "But, oh, Mickey, it was amazing! They just can't put it into words!... You did save me a paper, didn't you?"

"Don't I always?" He folded a newspaper onto her lap as she sat, and then she began to elaborate on everything that had happened that night with exaggerated motions and gasps of air between long descriptions. Mickey nodded accordingly, remembering to be shocked at the right times. She only stopped when she reached the part where the Scarlet had gotten 'compensation' from her hand, and she paused, looking at her hand where the ring once was. Mickey waited, trying to understand her expression. "… Well? And then what?"

Minnie continued to pause, focused on that memory. Just why had the Scarlet done that, instead of simply taking it off with his fingers? No man had ever been so bold with her before, though she had been flirted with plenty due to her beauty and status. Yet this was definitely above a simple flirt. There was something about the way he spoke and the way he gazed at her that spoke volumes of a language she didn't understand. They were complete strangers, but the way his green eyes had locked into her was as if he was wholly obsessed with her, and even stranger, that it carried a trace of familiarity with it, despite such impossibility. She then shook her head, returning to the present. "… And then he took my ring, and left the building before the police could catch him."

Mickey tapped his fingers along his knees, knowing she had left out certain details. "… That's all?"

"That's all." Minnie held up the paper and flipped through the pages. "Honestly, I'm so glad you weren't there."

He was certain she didn't mean that as an insult, but he had to make sure. "Uh… thanks?"

"If you had gotten in danger like that, I wouldn't have known what to do." Minnie pressed a hand to her heart, despondent at the sheer thought of it.

"Aw, I would've…" Mickey had been about to assure her with a line about being able to beat the brows off such bad guys, but now that he a secret identity to maintain, he reluctantly realized he would have to downplay himself more often in order to separate himself from such a great man. "… W-well! It'll never happen ta me anyways, I don't even got anythin' for them ta steal. So… whaddya think about this Scarlet fella?"

"I'm not sure what to think about him, honestly." The duchess reached into her coat and began to take out more coins than were necessary to pay him. "But I am grateful for his help. I suppose if he meant what he said about a revolution of equality, then I'm glad he'll be around. We could use more people like that, defending those who can't defend themselves."

"I dunno, the guy sounds a lil' loony ta me." Mickey began picking up the coins one by one out of her hand, hiding the cheering in his head over her approval. "But if you trust him, suppose I should too."

When he tried to take the last coin, Minnie suddenly grasped his hand, and looked into his eyes. He found himself frozen by her touch and her look, and so as it always went, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and words left him. She had no such problems with speech. "… I think things are going to get more dangerous, if such people as those fake revolutionaries are around… Who knows what they're capable of? So, please… be careful, okay? You know how much you mean to me."

Speak, speak darn you, his head yelled! He wanted to tell her that she was most perfect and heavenly being that existed and he was blessed to be in her most concerned worries, but all he could manage was a stammered "Y… Y… You… um. O-Okay."

She smiled, giving his hand a comforting squeeze. "After all… you're my best friend."

How could such a nice word carry so much annoyance and devastation? To be a 'friend' was, in this mouse's head, a dull victory. He swallowed his disappointment, and nodded in agreement. "And… you're my best friend too. Don't ya already know that?"

Satisfied, she released his hand, and resumed reading. It was easy enough to wade into their usual idle chatter, her with how her servants were doing and he with a guess of the week's weather. This was how it had been for years, and as far as they could tell, how it would remain to be for many years to come. Mickey knew he had no right to be bitter, since he also knew had no right to be anything more than a best friend. So he relished her presence, grateful just to talk with her, and they spoke of the Scarlet no more.

~*~

In the business district, there was one building that dominated all others because of its height. It appeared to reach into the clouds and give the gods a poke in the ribs. The building was covered in glass windows, so that when the sun shone on it, anyone who looked on the building was temporarily and painfully blinded. To the lower class, it was a constant symbol of the rich grinding their heel into the faces of the poor. To the higher class, they all knew it as the Tache Bank, where the wealthy stored their wealth when not lavishly spending it on themselves.

The owner of the bank was sitting in his office and enjoying a refreshing cup of tea. He took his time to take in the taste and aroma, despite the expectant stares from everyone in the room. Tea was never to be rushed, in his opinion. No one dared to speak until he placed his cup back on its saucer, and he drew his fingers across the newspaper that lay flat on his desk. "So, if I understand this correctly… the Sky Pirates were completely found out and exposed, but you have absolutely no idea how that could have leaked out. Am I wrong, monsieur?"

Though he didn't say a name, everyone knew who he was speaking to, and so all eyes went to the fat cat sweating profusely in the corner. He smoothed down his uniform, and tugged limply on his tiny mustache. "N-Not to worry! I'll make sure they keep their mouths shut! If they know what's good for them, they'll never say another word as long as they live!"

"The fact that they do still live is what's bothering me." The man at the desk stood up from his chair, sounding disappointed. "I was hoping enough confusion would erupt that some bodies would pile up. But that's what happens when you don't plan it out to the last detail. Perhaps that was my fault. We should learn from our mistakes." He gazed out the giant windows, and looked at the bustling movements below. "So I propose we learn as much as we can about our new little friend before we spring into the next movement. I'll hold a little get together on Thursday… a sort of welcome for Donald Duck. A fine boy, from what I've heard." He turned to look at his companions, smiling warmly. "And of course you're all invited." He first gestured to the sweating cat as if he was his best friend. "After all, what's a safe party without the Chief of Police?"

The Chief, Pete Felin, exhaled deeply, relieved that he hadn't incurred his boss's wrath. "That's mighty generous of you, sir!"

"Yes, I know." He walked out from behind his desk and then addressed the member next to Pete, still with a warm familiarity. "And every party with the Chief requires some of the lower management to keep him in line, does it not, Horsecollar?"

"Yes, sir." Horace Horsecollar was a low rank police officer, but even he knew the smile plastered on his employer's face was nothing like friendliness. He distrusted the man for many reasons, and made it constantly known. However, he wasn't brave enough to actually stand up to the bank owner, and so for now he kept the other thoughts to himself.

The bank owner chuckled dismissively, able to feel the seething loathing coming from the horse, and felt a cruel desire to inflame it further. "You'll keep an eye on him, won't you, my dear Clarabelle?" He lifted the cow's gloved hand to give a kiss, even able to guess the exact timing of her flustered giggling as Horace's eyes jealously bore into his back.

"You know you can always count on me!" Clarabelle Cow squealed, thrown into an excited tizzy over receiving his affections. She cast a hand over one of her red cheeks, as even ladies who worked in dangerous steel factories had a sense of modesty. She was the lowest in class among the group, but always felt extra high around the presence of the bank owner.

He tossed her hand away once he was done with it, addressing the final member of their small group. "I'll leave you to handle the rest of the affairs, Shyster."

"Consider them already done." Sylvester Shyster fixed his tie, swallowing up every last drip of responsibility given to him. More responsibilities meant more money, and as an employee of the bank he always had an insatiable craving for money. "And should we invite this little… Scarlet hero?"

"Naturally." He picked up his saucer and cup of tea again, finishing the last drops. "Let's make sure he also feels welcome. What kind of duke would I be if I didn't extend my hand to newcomers?" He looked back into the windows, and though his expression was still friendly and though his voice still warm, an unsettling darkness came about his manner. "What kind of duke would I be if I didn't extend my hand to all of France? It's difficult being related to the bloodline of royalty, and those duties can feel like a burden. But I have never backed down from them. It's my responsibility to ensure France's future, and keep everyone where they rightly belong."

To be a duke and duchess meant that no matter how faint it was, they had a relation to royalty, and would live in the lap of luxury for it. Over the years, the bloodline had thinned, and there were only five remaining lines that tied back to the Queen of France.

There was the Mouse line, where Duchess Minerva was the outcast for sharing her wealth instead of spending it.

There was the Gander line, where Duke Gladstone was looking for a bride to match his fine quality.

There was the Medecin line, where Duke Fou was said to be the very last due to his reluctance to settle down.

There was the Rabbit line, where Duke Roger was commonly called dumb behind his back and when they got away with it, to his face, which was far too often.

Finally, there was the Tache line, who had created the Tache bank, and as the remaining Tache, the one who stood in front of the windows felt a sense of nobility and superiority running in his veins. "Tell the papers that Duke Fantome Tache formally invites the Scarlet to his party Thursday night." He thought the 'scarlet' was a fine color, and as he continued to watch the poor walk on the streets, enjoyed imagining them in scarlet hellfire, where they rightly belonged.

Chapter Text

Since the ballroom of Duke Fantome's manor was the biggest and fanciest part of his entire estate, it only made sense for him to hold his party there. Everybody who was anybody was there, and there were gossiping rumors that the Scarlet may show up. Duke Fantom had all but personally invited the man himself, as even the papers had him declare that he was sparing no expense in making Donald feel welcome. As the soiree started, though, Donald wasn't feeling particularly welcome. As he awkwardly moved throughout the crowds, he noticed people were more interested in talking to each other about the Fantom's ballroom and the Scarlet than greeting him. After three failed handshakes, he resigned himself to the buffet table, hoping he could drown his depression and boredom in sugary sweets.

Daisy's rejection still had him rattled and he still didn't know what he had done wrong. What girl wouldn't want to have a wealthy boyfriend on their arm, especially given her condition? He had thought the lower class would claw for any chance to enrich their lives. He paused in his eating as he recalled his life before Scrooge had dragged him to the city. He had lived in the countryside before, and longed for days when his pockets would be stuffed with money. Yet the rest of his family had never felt the same. Sadness began to weigh on his shoulders as troubling memories emerged.

"Oh, my!" A perky young female voice interrupted his trip down memory lane. "Aren't these just the prettiest daisies you've ever seen? Thank you so much for delivering them!" Donald leaned back, and saw a young mouse maiden at the end of the table holding a bouquet of freshly plucked daises. "This will make a lovely centerpiece for the main course."

"And that's all?" Donald could not believe his luck – the mouse was talking to the gorgeous woman who he still adored, despite the heart break. She looked upset even now, crossing her arms and displaying disbelief. "You're not contributing anything else to this party?"

The mouse – Duchess Minerva, if Donald was remembering correctly – fingered one of the flowers in her tiny gloved hands. "We're all obligated to give the master of the house something when they throw a party like this… but it's all a waste of money, just trying to stay in his good graces. This is the cheapest thing I could do. My money is better spent helping those less fortunate."

"I just bet." Daisy grumbled, turning away. She too had heard of Minnie's extreme generosity, yet she refused to believe it was all fact. Too much money twisted people, and there had to be a darker side to this cheerful face. With her delivery done, she was ready to leave the scene, but unfortunately managed to meet eyes with Donald. "Oh, no, not him again!"

"Wait, wait, wait!" Donald scurried over to the girls before Daisy had any further chance to escape. "I know we got off on the wrong foot last time, but-"

"Consider yourself wrong on the entire limb!" Daisy growled, crossing her arms. "Stay away from me!"

"Come on!" Donald groaned, and looked to Minnie for assistance. She merely shrugged, clueless to what the situation was. "… Can I at least know your name?" Donald pleaded, hoping he could be satisfied with just that grain of knowledge. "Just your name, that's all!"

Clearly Daisy wasn't going to leave this party happy. She sighed, "Daisy", making an airy gesture to the flowers Minnie held.

Donald glanced to the bouquet. "… Why, yes those are daises." Misinterpreting, he plucked out one flower, and waved it towards Daisy's face. "Want one?"

"That's my name, stupide!" Daisy slapped the flower out of his hand, insulted that he couldn't put it together on his own. "My name is Daisy! Now leave me alone, you money grubber!"

As entertaining as this little show was, Minnie felt a need to help out, and raised her hand to interrupt the spat. "Pardon, but just what is going on between you two? All he wanted was a name…"

And a name he got, as an older voice called out "Donald!" The small group expanded with the arrival of Scrooge McDuck, who had speedily gotten behind his nephew. Grabbing Donald's shoulders, Scrooge spun him around so they were facing each other. "Talk to me! Make it look like I'm busy and absolutely can't be pulled away!"

"Uncle Scrooge, I'm busy and absolutely can't be pulled away!" Donald tried to look back at Daisy, but she was refusing to meet his line of sight, haughtily keeping her beak up in the air. "… It's the women again, isn't it?"

Scrooge nodded, running a hand down his withered face. "Just once, I'd like to go to one of these things without one of them around. It's so terrible being so desired."

"Oui oui, I just bet." Donald replied dryly, giving his uncle a light shove to the chest. "You dragged me here so I could mingle up with the higher up. I'm mingling. Now go have fun with your lady fiends."

"You mean friends."

"I know what I said." For a split second, Donald though he heard Daisy snickering, and whipped his head around to get a glimpse of her smile, but she quickly pretended she hadn't done a thing. As if she would ever find him funny! Donald wondered if it was his imagination after all, and Scrooge had not taken three steps away from the group before he was surrounded by the very women he had been trying to escape. Here, Donald thought, was a chance to show off his smarts, and to prove he did belong to a kind of society Daisy surely wanted to be in. "I've only been in the city a little while, but I already know all about these kooks. They're after my uncle's hand in marriage, and they'll stop at nothing to get it." Minnie already looked curious, and Daisy seemed to be reluctantly drawn in to the explanation.

He pointed to the three women around his exasperated relative. "First off, there's Brigitta McBridge." She was the youngest of the trio, but still clearly an adult with a relatively tacky blonde hairstyle. "She only came to the city a few years ago, but apparently fell for my uncle at first sight. She thinks true love will get the ring on her finger."

"I've been looking for you all night, Scrooge!" Brigitta clasped her hands together, her eyes full of starry hope. "Didn't you promise me the first dance? There's no one in the whole entire world I'd rather dance with!"

"Save the sap for pancakes, will you?" The second woman elbowed her way in, daring to get much closer to Scrooge physically and earning a glare from her female opponents.

"That's Magica DeSpell." Donald now spoke of the second woman, who was a sleek, black haired beauty wearing a dress that greatly emphasized her luscious curves more than a woman her age would normally try. "There are some rumors she's got her hands in illegal work, but nothing's ever been proven. She's been trying to win him over by appealing to his… masculine instincts." It made him wince to say it, but at least now he had the full attention of his companions.

"Now then, Scroogie darling…" Magica ran a slim finger up and down Scrooge's buttoned vest, daring to undo one if the right opportunity sprung. "What's say we skip the party and have a business meeting at my place, just you and me?"

"I'd hate to see you trying to be unsubtle, DeSpell." The third woman flicked a finger at Magica's hair, causing more irritation than harm.

"And lastly, we've got Goldie O'Glit." The woman Donald now spoke of was definitely the oldest, judging by her gray hair curls and wrinkles of experience. She chose to dress smartly over sexily, and with the way she was shaking her cane at the younger women, she wasn't burdened by the many years she had seen. "She's actually known him since they were teenagers. She does business trade with America, but lately it's been suffering. If I had to place my bets, though, I'd say she'd definitely get the ring."

"McDuck, If you've got time to attend these parties," Goldie wagged a finger at Scrooge, paying no heed to the venomous glares her enemies were giving her. "Then you've got time to sign the contract I gave you three weeks ago! I haven't even seen you so much as lift a pen towards it!"

"How can you talk about business when there's a party to enjoy?" Brigitta leaned in, trying to earn back her favor. "He owes me a dance!"

"You owe us for wasting his time!" Magica kept her elbows up in an attempt to drive the others away. "The man has better, and more fun, things to do."

"Do shut the fun up, DeSpell." Goldie picked up her cane, ready to use it if necessary. "Don't you have a 'working lady' to return that dress to?"

The three ladies bickered wildly, and Scrooge never got a word in, but judging from his tired face, this was also typical. Donald could see he had Daisy's full attention now, and didn't want to risk losing it. He began to point out other people in the ballroom, now grateful for all those boring introductions his uncle had made him go through earlier. He turned out to be very good at weaving history together, as even Minnie found herself listening intently, despite knowing several of the guests personally. As the group learned more about the partygoers, they would soon find themselves also the topic of explanation.

Duke Fantom was personally being attended to by Clarabelle, as she carefully refilled his cup every time he took a single sip, and she tripped over herself to obey his smallest order. Despite her rapt dedication to him, he was far more interested in the men heading towards him. "Shyster, thank you for coming." Fantom held out his cup, and Clarabelle carefully removed it from his hand. "And who is this bright young man with you?"

The young man actually didn't look terribly bright, but by now the Duke knew that Shyster only introduced Fantom to overly wealthy citizens who could pump his bank with their unearned cash. Judging by how new and outlandish this man's clothes were, they had hit the jackpot. "Mortimer Rodawn." He introduced himself, cutting off Shyster as he had just started the say the same name. "No doubt you've heard of my family's long standing support of the arts!"

"Of course, the Rodawn family, this is indeed an honor." Fantom had heard bits and pieces of the pathetic family who originally earned their living by manufacturing boats but now showed off new theaters whenever an empty space popped up. Mortimer appeared to surpass everything needed about him, from his tall height, to his large teeth, and his clothes looked better suited on a smaller person. Fantom shook hands with him, acting as if Mortimer was a prince. "I can't tell you how happy I am that you have decided to grace this event with your presence."

Mortimer's chest swelled with pride, and his eyes gazed over the array of guests. "I figured now would be the perfect time to formally introduce myself to the good people of France. From now on, you'll see me at all of your functions, now that I'm investing in the Tache Bank." He would have gone on and on about how much better the parties would be now that they had his glorious presence, but he caught sight of Duchess Minerva, and like most men, was suddenly swept away by her beauty. Even when wearing such a simple purple dress with a stringy bow in her hair, she was impossible to ignore. "Ha-cha-cha!" He yanked his hand back, instantly distracted. "Who's that pretty thing with the flowers?"

Fantom looked to where Mortimer's eyes were fixated, and gears began to grind in his mind. "That would be none other than Duchess Minerva Mouse, good sir. No doubt you know of the most beautiful girl in all of France?"

"Heard, yes, seen, never!" Mortimer rubbed his hands together greedily, his eyes sizing her up in ways a gentleman shouldn't. "Those stories don't do her justice… if it wasn't for that whole charity thing, she'd be a good catch."

"She's a woman, and they easily get caught up in such silly things." Fantom lightly patted Mortimer's shoulder, trying to urge him forward. "What she needs is a good man to set her straight. Why not start off your introduction into fine society by asking her for a dance?"

Mortimer grinned, smoothing down his many coifs and tipping his hat to Fantom in thanks. "Smart in cash and smart in sense! I'll catch you later after I've caught her." Confident in his capture, he began strutting toward the group.

Fantom grimaced down at his fingers, and cleared his throat to Clarabelle, who quickly gave him a fresh napkin to wipe his fingers with. Touching someone who wasn't of superior bloodline like himself tended to make Fantom think he was filthy. Now cleansed, he stood beside Shyster, having a good guess at the second reason why he came over. Shyster didn't meet his eyes for the sake of hiding their intent, and whispered darkly. "There's been a breach in security from the kitchen. It happened five minutes ago, and the guards are already searching for the intruder."

Fantom smiled and nodded, straightening himself up. "So the last guest has arrived. Clarabelle, go get the preparations. Shyster, make sure Rodawn doesn't get involved yet. He might make a good game piece." His followers made quick nods, and left him to do their duties. Fantom stayed in place to survey the crowd, waiting for the right time.

By now, Minnie had decided to also share her own tales of the guests, keeping Daisy's interest and hopefully smoothing things over between the ducks. She couldn't say for sure, but she had a feeling that with the way Donald kept shyly sneaking looks at Daisy there was a flicker of love beating in his heart. Though she didn't know either duck well, she wanted to encourage the flicker, and decided that perhaps they could make a good couple. It would be unusual if it happened, however, since they were on such far opposite sides of social class. But if they did, if they could prove that such a combination could work, maybe she too could –

"Duchess Minerva!" A bothersome voice interrupted her hopeful thoughts, and all three looked up at Mortimer, startled by the appearance of such a tall socialite. "Would you do me the fabulous honor of dancing with me?"

Minnie uneasily looked to her new friends, seeing the spell on Daisy now weakening as she started to look displeased again. "Uh… I was actually in the middle of something, monsieur…?"

"Mortimer Rodawn!" He patted his chest three times, and then whisked the flowers away from her. "No doubt you've heard of me." She hadn't but he didn't give her time to admit it. "And I simply won't take no for an answer." He made that very clear as he shoved the daises into Daisy's arms, grabbed Minnie by the hand, and began to forcefully lead her away. Once on the dance floor, his other hand found her hip as he led her into a waltz. "And you're welcome."

"For what?" Minnie tried to look around him to see how the ducks were progressing without her.

"For getting you away from the peasant, of course." Mortimer chuckled, finding her naiveté adorable. "Honestly, the Duke needs to get better security if riffraff like that can so easily get in."

He was a better dancer than a conversationalist. Minnie tried to weave their dancing around so she could see her new friends, and judging from the cup of punch bowl Donald was now wearing as a hat, things were going sour without her presence. "Must you use such language? She's a perfectly lovely girl." She just seemed to have a temper, from what Minnie could see.

Mortimer tried to humor what he thought were dismissive ideas, and for all intents and purposes, the party appeared as normal as any other. The trio of women continued to fight over Scrooge, Daisy continued to reprimand Donald for even breathing the same air as her, Mortimer and Minnie continued to move across the dance floor, and even the gossip about the Scarlet began to die down. Everyone was so swept up in their own business that it was impossible to notice a new figure casually striding into the ballroom. No one paid him any mind, which was his intent, until he came to Minnie and Mortimer, and spoke up. "May I have this dance, my lady?"

Minnie was grateful for the question, but startled to see from whom it had come. She spoke without thinking, and her voice and words caught the attention of everyone close. "The Scarlet?!" Other dancers stopped to stare, and now that attention had been drawn to him, there was no mistaking the masked man that now stood there, donned in red and smiling with all the charm a vigilante could muster.

"That's the Scarlet?" Mortimer asked in disbelief, having expected someone not so short to be the man the papers spoke of.

"Well, I didn't hear a no." The Scarlet gracefully took Minnie's hands, drawing her away from the stupefied socialite. Mortimer tried to object, but Shyster pulled him away before he could protest. The crowds began to part as word spread about who had arrived, giving the Scarlet and Minnie plenty of room to dance. All arguments from the feathered friends had halted, and everyone was watching the pair under the glowing lights. His touch on her hand and waist was far gentler than Rodawn's, as if he was afraid to break her into pieces if grasped too firmly. Yet his smile displayed utmost confidence as his feet began to move in tune to the live music played at the head of the room.

~*~

Ludwig and Gyro were more than ready to back Mickey up. The screens were alive, showing every possible angle of the ballroom, and Ludwig was speaking articulately into the microphone they shared. "And… step, one, two three, good! Side step, right foot back, left foot back… just keep up that pattern. Step, one, two, three." He waved his hand around, pretending to conduct the band personally.

"All weapons stabilized." Gyro reported, pulling back levers and scanning the readings that were being printed out to a side. "We're good to go for any sudden attacks, and I've got a secure hold on the electricity in the room if we need it. Remember, don't make this any longer than fifteen minutes!"

~*~

Mickey could hear his friends loud and clearly in his ear, but that didn't mean he was listening to them. He had practiced these dancing steps so much that his body was automatically moving to the music, letting his mind focus on his dancing partner. It seemed unmanly to admit it, but he had often dreamed of a chance to dance with Minnie. Now he had gotten it, and he couldn't be happier. They were in their own world, swaying back and forth in timed movements, with those breathtaking eyes on him and him alone. Had this been the paperboy Mickey, he would have tripped over his big feet and clumsily stuttered apologies. But this was the Scarlet, and he wasn't afraid of anything, including rejection. "Shall I apologize for interrupting?"

Minnie shook her head, numb for words. There were a million things she wanted to ask him, but that intense gaze of his captured her voice each time. It was just like when they first met – he looked at her as if he had known her his entire life, and contained a passion she couldn't fathom. The first time he had come to her, she could pass off for coincidence. Now, he had definitely singled her out. "You're… very familiar with me, monsieur."

"Forgive me if I have been too forward, Duchess. But I assure you my intentions are nothing but sincere." He was going to get an earful from his benefactors from going off script with this next bit, but it would be worth it. "Unless you plan to stop your generosity or kindness, you will continue to ensnare my heart. It's quite a predicament."

Minnie had been lavishly complimented nearly her entire life, but it had always been about her beauty. Since her charity work was usually mocked, to hear someone comment so positively about it was new. She swallowed, and managed to arrange her questions in her flustered mind. "Do you mean it… when you say you want to help all of France? That means those less privileged?"

"I meant every word." He nodded once, and began to slow down his dance. "I want to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and I shall devote myself to restoring the gap between our people. But…" This 'but' was going to give him all kind of lectures, especially as he slowed to a halt, and smoothly held her lacy gloved hand in both of his. "… I can admit to a bias. For you… I would do anything."

This was insanity, Minnie thought even as her heartbeat tripled in speed. They had met only twice, yet he was already pledging obedience? She wasn't so great or wonderful to deserve such a pledge, yet there was honesty in his bright green eyes. She had no idea what to do with such a level of devotion, yet couldn't tear herself away from his gaze either. "Why me?"

A snap of fingers signaled the music to stop. The crowd parted once more as the signaler, Duke Fantom, began to walk towards the couple. The Scarlet clicked his tongue to his cheek in annoyance, but he let Minnie go, and faced the Duke who greeted him with a warm smile. "The Scarlet… or, may I be so formal as to call you Monsieur Scarlet?"

The Scarlet respectfully bowed, but he made it quick. "Whichever suits you best, I would think. You know I couldn't resist such a soiree… so, what is it you wanted from me?"

"I would like answers, as would all of France, I would wager." Fantom held out his hands, and murmurs of agreement rippled throughout the room. "While we're grateful for the disposal of those revolutionaries, it's still unsettling to know a man of mystery is in our midst."

"Fake revolutionaries." The Scarlet corrected, holding up a finger. "Those men were hired to weaken the influence the real revolutionaries long for. There are many people, in this very room, who would pay to see such influence stamped out right away. Talk of revolution brings change, and with change comes fear." The murmurs began to die down, and uneasy eyes shifted around.

The edge of Fantom's smile twitched, but it was difficult to notice from far away. "I have yet to hear any proof that they were paid to do anything. I suspect if you had any, you'd hand it over to the police. All you're doing now is sloppily protecting the common folk."

"Common? You mean poor. They're hardly common." He was being baited, and gentle wording from the men in his ears guided him where to lead the talk to. "You want specifics to my cause? Very well." Here his charm ended, and his face took on a serious grimace. "With the way things are heading now, France is about to enter a third Bloody Sunday. I am doing everything in my power to prevent it."

Small gasps hiccuped here and there as the words 'third Bloody Sunday' seized the fear of many nobles. The only one lost to the words was Donald, and he looked around for any help. The Scarlet caught his confusion, and bowed politely in his direction. "My apologies, Donald Duck. You've only been here for a little while, and such history hasn't reached you yet. The Bloody Sundays were two of the deadliest days our country has ever seen." He closed his eyes, and though Ludwig and Gyro were feeding him the information, he personally knew of these dark times. "… Ten years ago, on a Sunday, a fight broke out in the local hospital between a man of lower class and the attending doctors. It escalated into violence as they refused to treat him because of his status. Word spread like wildfire, and soon others like the fighter barged into the hospital, taking out their frustration on anyone they could harm. The poor had reached a breaking point, and with this assault, madness took over… on that day, hundreds of lower class citizens picked up weapons and assaulted the homes of the upper class. Riots were uncontrollable, and many innocent people died before the Queen could send out help to subdue the crowds. We all prayed that such a terrible event would never happen again."

Now he spoke even angrier and one of his hands balled up into a fist. He knew he was supposed to be calm and collected in this persona, but the next chapter of this story was one he had personally experienced. "But those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Five years ago, again on a Sunday, a carriage belonging to the Tache Family ran over a poor child in the streets. They claimed it was an accident, but outrage was made all the same. Once more, the breaking point had been reached, and the streets were lit with fire and blood again." Finished, he opened his eyes, and burned his eyes onto Fantome.

The Duke didn't appear to be bothered with his family's history. In fact, he looked bored, and spoke drolly. "We made reparations with the family, and I sincerely doubt my riders will make that kind of mistake ever again. You think we'll so easily hit a third Bloody Sunday?"

"It is with that exact attitude that you shall!" The Scarlet shouted, feeling right in his rising rage. "I am willing to say that what happened with the child was an accident, but both Sundays happened because of how you and men like yourself are so dismissive of those who have less than you. The Tache Bank has a great influence on what drives the prices in stores, on what the taxes are waged upon, and if nothing changes, then a third Bloody Sunday will happen and innocent people will die. Little by little, the anger in the people is building, and I will do what I can to douse the flames of violence. But ultimately, it is you, it is all of you, that must step back and see what you are doing to our beloved France! Is one more party in the year worth more than the life of the man who helped cook the food for it?"

A hush came over the guests, taken aback from his powerful words. While there were plenty who didn't agree with him, it had given the people enough pause and thought to be taken seriously. Minnie was floored, having longed to say such things to her fellow elite but never having such terrifying words to compare with. Daisy was feeling the same rush of understanding, though her face was reddening for different reasons. Fantom let the words hang in the air for an unsettling moment, and then smiled once more. "I think I can see where you are coming from now. I do think you're too paranoid for your own good, but no one can accuse you of having ill intentions. Why, I'll even make a sign of good faith… if you can earn it." He clapped once, and Clarabelle was quickly at his side with the assigned preparations. She held up a soft satin pillow, and on top of it laid a yellow marigold next to a sharpened blade. "This is a party, after all, and I have a duty to entertain my guests. I propose a friendly duel." He picked up the sword, sizing it up in his hands. "I see you brought your blade with you. We'll each tie a corsage to our chest. If you knock mine off, I'll donate a hefty sum to those less fortunate. If I knock yours off, then you surrender yourself to the police." Clarabelle giddily tied the flower onto his chest, happy to be of service.

The Scarlet glanced at a wall clock, and decided he had enough time for this display. "I can see I'd already lose dignity if I didn't. Very well, allow me to prepare." He took Minnie's hand, and walked her back to Donald and Daisy, ensuring she was out of harm's way. He saw the daises, and smiled kindly. "I think these will do nicely… I have always been fond of daises." Missing Daisy's blushing entirely, he laid all his attention to Minnie. "Would you mind…?" Minnie nodded quietly, plucking out one flower from the bouquet, and tying it neatly around one of the Scarlet's buttons. He flashed her a winning grin when she was finished. "Now how can I possibly lose?" That earned him a smile, and that was all he needed to ensure victory as he headed back to the dance floor. Everyone else had left the dance floor, leaving only the Duke and the Scarlet to battle. Since it was just a question of knocking off a flower, many assumed it would be an airy, friendly battle.

The men bowed to each other respectfully, but in the next second all hopes of friendliness were dashed. They seized into each other as their blades moved back and forth against one another, making violent noises that echoed back and forth across the expansive ballroom. They used up the entire dancing floor in their harsh movements, giving the impression they would only stop when blood was drawn. Yet their faces still kept up facades of friends, smiling brightly as heads were ducked and thrusts were parried. They appeared to be equally matched as no flesh was cut, nor was even a single thread lifted from their clothing. Everyone was entranced by the fight, save for the band, who decided to ramp up the atmosphere by playing fitting action background music.

"You are one man." The Fantom spoke quietly, his words for his enemy only. "And I have power over hundreds. For all your talk of Bloody Sunday, the rich get richer, and the poor stay where they belong. What can one man do?"

"All it takes is one to start things. You can't fool everyone… I know where you really want to be." Their blades pushed hard, trying to force the other back. "You want the power of the Queen. She's never chosen a favorite among the dukes and the duchess, but a third Bloody Sunday would get her attention."

Fantom smiled with frighteningly sharp teeth. "You overestimate just how much the dead are worth. You sing a pretty tune, but no one will listen to the lyrics."

The Scarlet only needed one more movement, and laced it with the right words, thanks to Ludwig. "I know you drove the carriage."

That sentence was enough to make Fantom stop, and with one swift graze, the marigold was on the floor. A sweeping gasp escaped the crowd, and the Scarlet stepped away from his opponent, carefully putting his sword back in its scabbard. "You're right, that was fun." He now spoke loud enough for all to hear, walking away from the Duke. "Though with your vague wording of your end of the deal, I doubt those who need your money will ever see a glimpse of it. It's a bad sign when men don't keep their promises." His fifteen minutes were up, and it was time for him to leave. He drank in all the attention the crowd gave him, pompous as he thought of an exit, but the night wasn't over.

He was so caught up in his own hype he nearly missed Gyro yelling into his ear. "Watch out, he's coming after you!" The Scarlet turned, but not fast enough, and Fantom's sword swiped a deep cut into the Scarlet's left arm. He ground his teeth in pain, clutching his wound and backing up, knowing he had suddenly been tossed into trouble.

"It occurs to me," Fantom held aloft his blade that was now stained ironically scarlet. "That technically, you are a trespasser, which is enough to warrant your arrest." Taking that as their cue, Pete and Horace walked out of the crowd, taking out their guns. The panic on the Scarlet's face was enough to prove this wasn't part of the plan.

~*~

"I warned him not to take the bait!" Gyro groaned, trying to adjust the cameras so he could find the right spot for Mickey to leave. "He has to come back immediately!"

"It's time to say hello to the dark ages!" Ludwig cracked his knuckles, and then rapidly typed on the keys in front of him. "Gyro, kill the electricity!"

~*~

Pete and Horace had no time to get out their handcuffs before the entire ballroom – the entire mansion – was encased in darkness. All the lights were dead, and terrified shrieks rang about. The Scarlet didn't waste the chance his friends gave him, and fled away from the scene, following the directions being laid into his ears. He didn't notice three other bodies also taking leave, since the pain in his arm was holding a lot of his attention. He only stopped once he had gotten outside and stumbled into the private gardens. Breathing heavily, he shook his head hard, the stupidity of his actions adding extra pain. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…" he repeated it over and over for his hidden helpers to hear, switching briefly back to the paperboy personality. "It won't happen again, I swear! I… I thought he'd play fair! Aw, geez…"

He thought his bad luck doubled when he heard the grass being crunched under footsteps nearby. He fumbled for his sword until he realized that the one who had caught up to him wasn't an enemy, but Minnie, of all people. He gaped foolishly for a moment, and then shook his head again to get back into the right persona. "I'm… afraid you haven't caught me at my best moment."

She looked directly at his arm with a frown. "… You can't run around in that condition. Really, what is with men and competition?" She made some 'tsk'ing sounds as she undid the bow from her hair. "If you want to protect the people of France, you should start with yourself." She carefully took his arm, and wrapped her ribbon around the cut. "… It's not much, but I guess you won't be seeing a real doctor."

He didn't know much about medicine, but wondered if love really could be a cure, considering how easily forgotten his pain was now that something that belonged to her was now attached to him. His expression softened even more as he looked down at her, she who was still so beautiful even in the dark of the night. "… Careful, my lady. Didn't I tell you that your kindness would continue to ensnare me?"

"If that's the price I must pay for you to take better care of yourself… then I am willing to pay it." The movement of her lips suggested she was trying not to smile and that it wasn't easy. "If you will do anything for me… then keep your word. Don't let a third Bloody Sunday happen."

"I will keep my word to you." For all the reasons he needed to leave, he could not will himself to follow any of them. He was already in enough trouble, why not take it another step further? Why not do everything the paperboy couldn't? He placed his hand on her shoulder, and with a tilt of his head, leaned in closer, enough to feel her breath on his lips. "For you… I would…"

"Oooh mooonsiiieurrr!" There were only so many things Ludwig and Gyro could prepare Mickey for, and a blonde haired duck tackling him down in a loving and hysterical embrace wasn't one of them. Mickey staggered as he tried to sit up, staring down at Daisy who now had a vice grip on his good arm. "Thank goodness you're all right! I was so worried!"

She nuzzled into his shoulder even as speedy Donald joined the group, trying to tug her off. "Daisy, get off of him! He's a criminal, he's probably covered in germs! And you!" He pointed accusingly at Mickey who had no idea what was transpiring. "Get your mitts off my girl!"

"I'm not your girl!" Daisy allowed the Scarlet to stand, but still refused to let him go. "I'm the Scarlet's girl!"

A very loud "Que?!" escaped those around her, the loudest being the Scarlet himself.

Daisy snuggled up to the hero who was trying his best to remove his arm from her. "I thought I felt something special when we first met, but now I know for sure! Telling me you were always fond of daises… I understood you perfectly clear! And I want you know, I love you too!"

Ludwig and Gyro's bursts of laughter weren't helping Mickey's mood any. "I… believe there has been a terrible misunderstanding…" He worriedly looked to Minnie, hoping she wasn't part of the misunderstanding. She merely stood there, taking in the situation with silent questioning.

"This is ridiculous!" Donald finally managed to pry Daisy off of the mouse. "You can't love him! I'm willing to give you everything you could possibly want!"

"And what I want is him!" Daisy put her hands on her hips, ready to argue again. "A man like you could never understand the bond we have! We want to change the world, but you don't want to share the change in your pocket!"

"If he can't handle a little cut, how's he supposed to bring about a revolution? He's just a hopeless wanna-be, but I'm the real deal! What you see is what you get!"

"What I see is a pompous, boorish, foolish-"

"Pardon." Minnie found herself stopping the argument again. "But… the man you're fighting over is long gone." The ducks looked to where the Scarlet had once stood, and now saw no trace of him, since he had started running the millisecond his arm was free. Donald called him a coward, Daisy kicked Donald in the shin, and Minnie decided to give up playing cupid for the night. Whatever else happened that night, with the Scarlet or the ducks, she'd had just about enough.

~*~

The meeting of the real revolutionaries was that same night at midnight. There was half an hour left to go until the clock struck twelve, but Max was still working on the project he had bragged to Daisy about. He just couldn't leave it alone until every last detail met his high qualifications. Whenever he was in such deep work, he had demanded to be left alone, and usually his father obeyed. But today, Max had been cooped up in his workshop for hours and hours, and it caused his father, comically nicknamed Goofy, great worry. Growing boys needed air and sunshine, even if it was night.

So he quietly snuck into the room, tip toeing so he wouldn't disturb Max's process. His stealth was working, as Max didn't show any sign of noticing his father's presence. Goofy made it to the window and began to swing it open, hoping the fresh air would do his son some good. As for Max, he had finished his job at last with the last screw tucked in, and decided to give it a test drive. In his hands was a mechanical bug, as big as a locust, and when Max pressed a button on its underside, its wings began to flutter. It hovered upward, and then gained speed as it began to dive around the room – and then, to Max's horror and Goofy's surprise, it sped right out of the open window.

"No!" Max shouted in vain, trying to grab his project but it was already out and gone. "No, no, no!" His disappointment didn't last, and he angrily growled at his father who sheepishly closed the window. "Look at what you've done! I've been working on that forever, and now I have to start all over again!"

Goofy shrunk back, fidgeting his hands together. "Aw, I'm real sorry, Max… I just thought you could use some air…"

"I've told you to never come in here!" Max slammed a hand on his desk, sending spare gears falling onto the floor. "Can't you do anything right?" Goofy tried to offer more apologies, but Max wouldn't hear of them. It was time for the meet up, and he shoved his father aside to leave. Goofy stood there for a long time, not sure if he should help by cleaning out or if he would make things worse by trying. Things hadn't been easy between father and son for many years, and at this rate, it wouldn't get easier soon.

~*~

While those of the revolution were wide awake in discussion, those of the rich were fast asleep. But one of them woke up when they heard a strange noise batting at her window. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she brushed her orange hair out of her eyes, so she could better see the odd little bug at her windowsill.

Chapter Text

Despite how much his arm was hurting, Mickey was reluctant to leave the glass elevator that would lead him to Ludwig and Gyro. He had been warned against fighting the Duke, and had nearly gotten himself captured as a result. He wasn't afraid of punishments or repercussions, since the birds were too kind to do such a thing. It was the looks of disappointment that he dreaded, and it made his stomach churn to imagine them. These men had gone above and beyond for him, and he couldn't obey a simple order. Eventually he forced himself to move forward, looking similar to a troubled child seeing their parents.

Gyro was still rapidly typing away at the console to ensure there weren't any loose ends left by that night's work. Ludwig faced Mickey directly, arms crossed with a finger tapping his elbow, wearing the exact look Mickey was afraid of, so the mouse shot his eyes down to the floor. "I said I was sorry!" He immediately tried to defend himself, though he felt himself shrinking with each defense. "And I am! I didn't think it would turn out like that!" Nothing was said from the birds, which somehow made Mickey feel worse. "… It won't happen again, okay? I promise." Still unable to face them, he began to take off his uniform – removing the chips from his ears and mouth, loosening up the cape, delicately removing Minnie's ribbon but stuffing it in his pocket right after – but when he began to take off his top, Ludwig reached out and touched his shoulder.

"Do you remember what we told you when we first told you about this whole crazy scheme?" Ludwig tugged Mickey along and made him sit in an empty chair. "The Scarlet is not one man, but an idea. Men can be killed. Ideas are immortal." He carefully began to remove Mickey's top for him, making sure to be extra slow when it came to Mickey's injured arm. "If you die, we will start over with someone new, because no one will miss one poor paperboy. But if you get hurt like this, it affects your regular life, and that gets noticed." He grabbed a roll of gauze off of a nearby table, and began to roll it around the bleeding arm. "If you want to help ensure France's future, you have to think about your own future."

Mickey was quiet for a few moments, thinking Ludwig's words over. He had wanted to show off to France's elite that he was a charismatic and supreme fighter, but that wasn't what France needed. They needed a protector, not a show off. "… I am sorry. I mean it." By now his voice was back to its regular poor pitch, and he felt his apology was more sincere now that he was using his real voice. "I do want to help people. This shouldn't be about me and my silly pride." That was the correct response, judging by Ludwig's smile.

This also appeased Gyro, who now stood up from his console and joined his friend. "As long as you understand it, that's okay." It looked like he had been trying to avoid being the one to lecture Mickey, not too comfortable with confrontation. "Ludwig is right, we can find someone else to carry on the Scarlet name if you… um…" He fumbled with the words, not wanting to give life to such a terrible possibility. "… Aren't able to. I've even found a few good back-up candidates. But that doesn't mean we don't care about what happens to you. You just need to think about the bigger picture, that's all." He gestured to Mickey's arm. "You might be wincing for a bit with that wound… doesn't the Duchess speak to you every morning? She might notice it, and put two and two together. Even that kind of thinking could put her in danger with our enemies."

Mickey's eyes widened at the tangent of thought he had never tried. Minnie could be terribly clever when the occasion called for it, and there was no way she wouldn't try to fit these pieces together. Ludwig and Gyro were starting to talk back and forth about various lies they could feed the Duchess, but Mickey was doing what they wanted, thinking about the future. There was no way he could live with himself if she was put in danger. He suddenly yanked his sword out of his scabbard, startling both birds. Then, without a drip of hesitation, Mickey jabbed the sword against his other arm, cutting as deeply as the other wound was. Mickey ground his teeth together through the pain as his elders yelled his name, and once he was sure the cut was a good copy, he dropped the blade, feeling hot blood dribble down his arm.

"His marbles are lost!" Ludwig quickly brought the gauze to the fresh wound, wrapping it rapidly. "Mickey, what are you thinking?!"

Mickey winced as he was tended to, his eyes closed. "The Scarlet wasn't hurt there… it might not be much, but it'll be a good distraction for anyone wonderin' about the first cut." He swallowed hard, opening his eyes to intensify a look at Gyro. "I will do anythin' to protect the people of France, no matter what! I can handle it, you can trust me! I will keep my promises, I will listen to whatever ya say, and I absolutely won't give up! Ya know you can count on me!"

The birds exchanged a worrisome look, but they relented with a sighing smile. Ludwig chuckled, shaking his head. "You are one loony kid, Mickey. No wonder I see so much of myself in you!" Mickey raised an eyebrow, wondering if that was a compliment or an insult, but he cracked a grin anyway.

"We definitely made the right choice with you." Gyro friendly ruffled the fur between Mickey's ears, getting a light laugh in response. "Don't worry, we're not getting rid of you. Not after everything we've been through so far." Once Mickey's arms were wrapped up, the trio began discussing adequate lies to give to Minnie and future plans the Scarlet would endure. Eventually they had to lecture Mickey again just to make him leave and get some sleep, despite how wired he was to do more crime fighting. When the boy was gone, Gyro plopped himself down in his seat, running a hand down his face. "Cutting himself up like that… it's like he doesn't even remember how we found him."

"If I was him, I'd want to forget too." Ludwig began to clean off Mickey's blade, unsatisfied until every drop of blood was gone. "Of course… we still have a few problems there too. We're still not sure just how much he remembers about the second Bloody Sunday. If he remembers exactly everything…" He trailed off, knowing he didn't need to finish for the message to be clear.

Gyro's eyes stayed on the screens but he knew just what kind of distressing expression Ludwig was wearing. "These things… take time, Ludwig. He's supposed to cut off everyone in his life, so no one will miss him if he's… gone. And she's the last connection he has. Slowly but surely, we can help him sever the connection, as long as he doesn't remember that part." Not wanting to discuss the troublesome matter any further, Gyro began using the console to check over the city once more. Ludwig got the message, and they spoke no more of it. But just because they didn't speak of it didn't mean the issue wasn't heavy on their minds.

~*~

Minnie wasn't having the best morning. She hadn't gotten too much sleep that night due to the strange things that had happened at the Duke's party. The Scarlet's heartfelt declaration, the intense battle between the two swordsmen, and then there had been that absolutely odd and absolutely heart-pounding pledge he had made towards her. How could anyone devote themselves to her when they didn't know her? To simply state it, it would make the Scarlet sound like a creepy stalker. But to be looked at by those eyes… those eyes that were familiar and new, possessive and submissive, what was she supposed to do about that? Even thinking about it now was enough to make her cheeks hot. An extra feeling came with those emotions – a large sense of guilt. But that was whole other set of problems.

These weren't the only issues plaguing an otherwise pleasant morning. Once again, she glared at the extra passenger in her carriage. Squished uncomfortably next to her was Mortimer Rodawn, who had been waiting outside her front gates for her and insisted on riding with her as she went to visit Mickey. She was too polite to outright deny him, and he was too dense to pick up the hint that he was unwanted. Even now, in reply to her glare, he flashed her a cheesy grin, rubbing the frock on his chest between his slick fingers. He was making the entire carriage reek with cologne, and Minnie quietly lamented on how many scrubbings it would take to get rid of the smell when he was gone. She had many suitors in her lifetime, and yet in the course of less than a day, he was already proving to be the most annoying.

Relief flooded her when the carriage began to slow to a stop. "I won't be long!" She fibbed to Mortimer, all but sprinting out of the carriage to get away from unpleasant company so she could embrace the company she enjoyed most of all. Mickey was at the fountain as always, selling his papers, and she welcomed the smile he gave her as she skidded to a halt. "Did you save one for me?"

"Don't I always?" He slid a paper into her hands, and pocketed the money she gave him. "Word has it that the Scarlet fella made another appearance, huh? What a show off." He huffed, trying to make it clear he didn't care for this other guy.

"Oh, you wouldn't believe it!" Minnie grabbed his arm, planning to make them sit so they could swap stories as always, but when she touched him, he visibly flinched. Surprised, she let him go. "Is something wrong…?"

"Aw, it's nothin'." Mickey rubbed his arm, slowly sitting down on the fountain's edge. "I just… well, I shouldn't tell ya, you'll just get all worried."

"I'm already worried!" Minnie rolled up her paper and shook the cylinder at her friend, demanding to know what had happened. "Now are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?" She lightly hit his nose with the paper, clearly kidding and clearly adorable.

Mickey faked a sigh, shrugging his arms to show he was giving up. "Well, okay, it wasn't anythin' big, but… See, there was this mugger, and - "

"A mugger?!" Minnie dropped her paper and grabbed Mickey by the shirt, seized with terror. "You were mugged?! What happened? Did he hurt you? Oh, Mickey, you poor thing!" She began looking him all over as if there was a gigantic gaping wound she had somehow not seen when she first arrived. "Did you tell the police? What did he look like?"

"Knock it off, motor-mouth!" Mickey gently took her by the wrists, pulling her off of him. "He just got me on the arms, that's all. And what good would tellin' the police do? They don't care about little guys like me. But see? I'm all in one piece." He let her go and then pumped his arms to prove his health, though it pained him to do so.

Minnie's face scrunched up, but she couldn't argue too much with him. It was an unfortunate but true fact that most police wouldn't have bothered looking into the assault of someone as low on the social ladder as Mickey. "It's not fair." She relented, ducking her head. "Everyone should be protected equally. If that mugger doesn't get punished for what he did to you, he could try to hurt you again. One of these days, you should just…" She stopped herself suddenly, lightly pulling at the lacy gloves on her hands.

Mickey watched her, curious. "I should just what?" Never in a million years would he have accurately guessed the end of that sentence.

Minnie didn't reply, for the thought was too scandalous for her to say. Despite whatever feelings there may have been, a girl couldn't just invite a boy to live with her, even if it would be for his own protection. She mumbled incoherently, then dared to meet his face again. However, he was no longer looking at her, and instead his suddenly annoyed eyes were far off. She followed his gaze, and saw Mortimer getting out of her carriage. A twist of mortified horror hit her, and she flailed her arms in a strange attempt to block Mortimer from Mickey's eye-sight. "No, no! He, uh, he just followed me! He made me bring him along!" She would just die if Mickey thought that she and Mortimer… ick! It was too gross to think of.

Mickey didn't place any blame on her, saving all of his aggravation towards the snooty rat heading towards them. He was supposed to play a naïve introduction to Mortimer, no doubt, but he couldn't let go of what the Scarlet remembered. This guy had his hands all over Minnie, dancing with her, flirting with her, as if Minnie was his! The nerve of him! Minnie would never belong to Mortimer! She would… well, realistically, she would never be with Mickey, but love and logic don't always go hand in hand. So he continued to hate Mortimer silently as the rich man approached, still rubbing his frock.

"What's taking so long, my dear?" Mortimer held out his hand for Minnie to take, but she didn't. "Is this low brow giving you a difficult time?"

"His name is Mickey." Minnie unfolded her newspaper, trying to control her temper for the sake of both men. "And he happens to be my best friend. I've known him since I was a child." Mickey stuck his tongue out at Mortimer when the fact was given, but quickly withdrew it when Minnie looked at him.

"Hmmm." Mortimer looked Mickey up and down, clicking his tongue in disapproval. "Well, that does explain a lot." Without giving a further explanation to his insult, he bent over and grabbed a paper from Mickey's pile of unsold papers. He thumbed through the articles, briefly noticing Mickey holding out his hand, awaiting payment. Mortimer ignored him and continued to read, despite Mickey clearing his throat twice and impatiently tapping his foot.

"It ain't free, y'know." Mickey snapped, refusing to be ignored for too long.

"I'm gifting you with my presence." Mortimer closed the paper, wondering why this mere insect was daring to raise his voice to someone of obvious superiority. "Isn't that enough?"

"Listen, pal, I need to make a livin'. I can't just sit around and watch ma and pa do all the work for me, like some people." Mickey stood up, thrusting his hand out further for the demanded payment. "So either cough up some cash or let me sell it ta someone!"

Mortimer looked down at the shorter man, and knew right away such insolence had to be punished. "And if I don't? Let me save us both the trouble." He began to tear the paper apart and let it snow over Mickey's head, enjoying the flashes of rage coming onto Mickey's face. Minnie was shouting Mortimer's name in similar anger, but she was just being an overly emotional woman and she'd get over it.

"Why, you!" Mickey wasn't just going to let this upper class humiliate him this way. He roughly grabbed onto Mortimer's arm, yanking him down so they were eye to eye.

"How dare you touch me!" Mortimer grabbed Mickey by the front of his shirt, hoisting him up a few inches. "Do you have any idea who I am?"

"A guy who's in fpr a world of hurt!" Mickey latched both hands on Mortimer's arms, getting a good grip on him. The plan was to effortlessly toss him over his shoulder, make the rat splash into the fountain, say something clever – 'Looks like yer all washed up!' – and bask in Minnie's swooning admiration. With all the fighting techniques he had learned from Ludwig and Gyro, this would be child's play, even with his injured arms. And just think how good he'd look in front of Minnie! It'd definitely make up for the fault by the Duke.

But with that memory came others, and he stopped his grip. If he showed off this display of strength and ability, it would have to clue in both Mortimer and Minnie that Mickey was no ordinary paperboy. They'd wonder where he learned such a trick, where he got the strength, and if worse came to worse, make the conclusion of his other identity. Hadn't Gyro told him that this would put Minnie in danger? She was more important than his pride. That was why, after taking a huge swallow of dignity, he let Mortimer go, and dangled helplessly in Mortimer's grasp.

"That's what I thought." Mortimer sneered, and dropped Mickey into the freezing water of the fountain. He smoothed down his clothes, and headed back to the carriage, again ignoring Minnie rant his name in fury. It was just as Fantome said, she needed some education about the way the world worked. She could take this as lesson one.

Mickey spat out some of the cold water, shivering as he sat up. Minnie fretted, beginning to take off her purple winter coat. "The absolute nerve of him! Mickey, here, take this…"

Mickey wouldn't look at her. Though he knew the defeat was for the best, he couldn't stand seeing pity in those pretty eyes of her. It was too much of a blow. "I'm fine, I don't need it."

"Don't be silly, you're soaked." Minnie reached out to him. "Here, let me just-"

"I said I'm fine, so I'm fine!" Mickey smacked her hand away, storming out of the fountain all on his own. "Just go, will ya? You got the paper already." He would absolutely not be pitied, not by Minnie! There was only so much his ego could take. He twisted his tail in his hands to squeeze the water off of it, doing his best to pretend Minnie wasn't heartbroken by his harsh tone. Since he still wouldn't look at her, she began to back off, saying a hushed goodbye and retreating to her carriage. Despite the wounds to the man's pride and the woman's heart, they both moved on, hoping this was just a bump on the road of friendship.

~*~

Mickey wasn't the only one in an irritable mood that same day. Max couldn't understand why his father found so much joy in their crummy lives. They were washing windows and cleaning up garbage outside of an aging library, yet Goofy acted like he was having the time of his life. He hummed as he moved the old wet rag up and down the grimy windows, not having a care in the world. It irritated Max for many reasons. Because they were lower class, they couldn't find better jobs than cleaning up what someone else had ruined, and yet Goofy didn't treat this as an act of degradation. There was also the fact that the pay for this job would be very minimal. It could have also just been that Max was a growing teenager, and like many teenagers, he was looking for the excuse to be the opposite of his parent. Finally, there was the fact that Max had lost his precious invention thanks to his old man, and had to go to the meeting with the revolutionaries empty-handed.

Ever since he could first touch a gear, it was obvious that Max was gifted with brilliance. His mind was ahead of his age, able to come up with devices and ideas that could revolutionize the world, but due to lack of funds, all they could ever be were blueprints. He was forced to stick with unintelligent people while his dreams went unrealized, and even though Goofy encouraged the boy's smarts, he never understood them. This wasn't the first time a blunder of Goofy's had cost Max an opportunity, and a particular moment from years ago also stuck in his mind…

But pouting faces and grumbling about mismatched fathers wasn't going to make the job go any faster. Pushing a long broom against the ground, Max tried to preoccupy himself with thoughts of future inventions, but that just led him back to thinking about the one that had gotten away. It had been almost perfect – a mechanical bug that could serve as a hidden recorder! But thanks to his father, the device had flown out the window to who knows where. Max supposed he could just try to make another one, but it still annoyed him all the same. He could see the final result so clearly in his mind…

… Then he realized he wasn't seeing it in his mind, but the bug had in fact just flown past him. Shaking his head to make sure the image was real, he stared as the mechanical bug kept going. He threw away the broom, ignoring the startled questioning of his father, and began to run after the device. Judging from the bug's zigzagging and shaking, it was running out of steam, and would soon be unable to fly. This would be the perfect opportunity to catch it! He was so invested in going after his creation that he didn't notice someone else was going after it.

 

"Got you!" He shouted triumphantly as his hand clasped around the object, but at the same time, someone had also made a grab for it, and Max wound up having their hand in his hand. "Hey, let go!" He violently shoved the opposing person towards him to try and make them let go. "Do you have any idea how hard I worked to make-"

 

He was cut off by a pair of gorgeous wide eyes. Any further attempts at speech were lodged away because it turned out this girl had latched onto was gorgeous from head to toe. Those grass green eyes were a perfect counterpart to her orange hair that comfortably laid itself on her shoulders. She was around his age, if he had to make a guess, and from the state of her attire, with trimmed lace and not a speck of dirt on her, she was a higher class of girl. She was impossibly pretty, Max thought, as he could not find a flaw on her. She even had a delicate beauty mark on her cheek, as if her creator was desperately trying to make a flaw on her, and instead made her look even better.

 

Now Max had nothing against pretty girls. He liked to look at them as they crossed different paths on the street. However, he had never been this close to one, and in fact these two were so close, a good breeze could have sent her head against his and made them kiss. He wouldn't have minded that, but such things were probably not a good start when he didn't even know her name. As it was, they stared at each other awkwardly for some seconds.

 

"Um." She finally spoke up, and her voice was just as pretty as the rest of her, to no surprise of Max's. "My hand hurts."

 

"Oh!" Max fumbled, trying to release her hand without damaging or releasing the butterfly, which now somehow required using both of his hands and continuously touching hers accidentally. "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! Let me just…" It took several more embarrassing seconds, but eventually she was freed and he was holding his now slightly mangled device.

 

The girl leaned over to inspect the damage. "Is it broken?" She sounded concerned, perhaps apologetic if Max was hearing right.

 

"It's not too bad." He flipped the bug over, and found to his relief that most of the damage was just in the looks and not in important sections. "I can have this up and moving in minutes… but it does need more water. It converts the water into steam, so it can fly by the…" He stopped himself, wondering why he thought that babbling about technology would interest any female, especially one above his class. Yet when he looked at her face, she was looking back with expectancy, waiting for him to go on.

 

When he didn't, she spoke again. "That's really amazing! Did you make this all by yourself?" She lightly poked one of its wings, and he saw her hands were encased in black lacy gloves. "I found it on my windowsill the other day, but it got out of my room this morning. I was looking everywhere for it."

 

Max felt a swell of pride brewing in his chest. "Ah, this is nothing. I could make a million in my sleep. In fact, why don't I fix it up, then you can keep it?" He was surprised at the words flying out of his mouth. Hadn't he just been stewing over it being lost? Why was he handing it over so easily? It couldn't just be because of this girl's emerald eyes or her lovely flowing locks. There had to be some logical reasoning behind his brain malfunctioning.

 

She appeared to be just as confused as she pulled her hand back. "Oh, I couldn't, it belongs to you. But that's really nice of you anyway." She smiled up at him, and somehow, for some undetermined reason, that just made her all the prettier. Why did an act of moving muscle make this girl so much more beautiful, when in all reality nothing had changed? Max couldn't understand it but found himself smiling back. She then stepped back, took her dress into her hands, and curtsied. "My name is Roxanne."

 

Why was a girl like that being so polite to a boy like him? The more time he spent with her, the more illogical she became. This was normally why he didn't like interacting with people, and preferred to work on his inventions. Gears and steam worked according to plan, while people were unpredictable. For her, he didn't mind as much. He scratched the back of his head, not knowing what physical gesture to give in return. "Uh… I'm Max." Come to think of it, why was she being so nice to him? The more money people had, the ruder they were. She was almost treating him like an equal, but the idea was laughable.

 

"It's nice to meet you, Max." She stood up straight, hands in front of her. "Have you made anything else like that? I'd love to see them."

 

"Why?" Max regretted it the moment the words left his mouth, and visibly winced from the clumsiness of the question. For a boy whose intelligence towered many his age, she had the ability to turn him into a fool quite easily. "I… I mean…"

 

She still didn't mind, and shrugged one shoulder. "I just think it's pretty cool. I was up almost all night looking this thing over!" Again, she delicately poked the bug's wings, gently tracing the faint design. "I've never seen anything like it in my entire life. It made me wonder if you've done anything else like this, because they have to be pretty cool too." Her fingers didn't leave his hands and he felt no inclination to move them.

 

"Well." He clicked his tongue to his cheek, his ego taking in all it could from these compliments. "I guess… maybe, sometime, I could show you some of my stuff. It'd… be nice to get a second opinion on it, from someone who appreciates this kind of thing." He didn't realize his fingers had begun to curl around hers, and frankly didn't care.

 

"That'd be fun." With her free hand, she brushed some of her hair off her face, and they happily gazed into each other's eyes for an unusual amount of time. Max suddenly found himself caring less and less about the illogical fallacies about the situation, and more and more about her shimmering green eyes. He could have been content to stay all day like this.

 

"There ya are, Maxy!"

 

It figured the most embarrassing aspect of his life would come to ruin this moment. Max jerked his head behind him, and saw his father running in their direction. In that instant Max suddenly remembered how big and silly his teeth looked, how filthy he was, how tattered his clothes were, and floods of humiliation threatened to drown him. Roxanne drew her hand back just in time for Goofy slap down on Max's shoulder. "I was wonderin' where ya went off ta! Had me scared silly!"

 

"Oh, I'm sorry." Roxanne apologetically stepped back. "I didn't know I was keeping you from something."

 

"Aw, it's okay!" Goofy laughed with that traditional 'a-hyuck' that Max dreaded. "It's always good for Maxy ta be out makin' friends!" He stuck his thumb to his chest by way of introduction. "Everyone calls me Goofy, and this here's my son!"

 

Roxanne repeated her curtsying motion, naming herself again, making Max worryingly wonder if she did that to everyone. It made him feel less special about their meeting. "I'm Roxanne. I was just admiring Max's handiwork. It's wonderful!"

 

Goofy leaned over his son's shoulder to get a look at the device."Say, ain't that your butter-ma-thing-a-ma-bob that I let out? Ya got it back! Aw, that's just great!" He pat Max's hat, as the son continued to plead silently for lightening to strike. "But we still got a job ta do! Ya can talk ta yer friends all ya want after we get paid! Gives ya a reason ta work even harder!" He forcibly turned Max back around, but tipped his hat to Roxanne. "Thanks fer helpin' him out, Miss!"

 

"You're welcome." She held up a hand and waved cheerily to both dogs as they started to walk off. "It was nice meeting the both of you! Show me the rest when you can, Max!"

 

Max took a quick glance at her, and then, with pinking cheeks, kept his eyes straight forward. Something wonderfully momentous had just happened, but for the life of him he didn't know what. He stuffed the bug into his pocket, trying to blink out the memory of her eyes, but it didn't work.

 

Once they were out of her sight and hearing, Goofy let go of his son, and whistled once. "She was awful purdy, wasn't she?"

 

Back to his normal routine, Max felt an urge to disobey his father, even if it meant outright lying. "Really? I hadn't noticed."

"Makes me remember when I met yer ma." Goofy began to weave the story that Max had heard a million and one times, so it was easy to drown out. His mother had died ten years ago, so memories of her were few and far between. He had to wonder why any woman would find his father appealing, given his hick appearance, his low status, and his even lower intelligence. Though if Goofy find could a woman, maybe then it wasn't so impossible for Max.

Max slapped a hand to his face, groaning. What was wrong with him? He had just met this woman and he was already losing his brilliant mind to hormones. He had more important things to concentrate on! "Look, can you do the rest of the job?" He cut off his father's story, not that Goofy minded. "Now that I've got the device back, I need to fix it. Something like this could help put us in a higher place."

Goofy tilted his head, trying to imagine what Max meant in literal terms. "Well, gee, sure…" He then winked, poking Max in the ribs with a shoulder. "But are ya sure it doesn't have anythin' ta do with the lil' missy? Cause I saw how ya were lookin' at her, and-"

"She has nothing to do with it!" Max shoved Goofy's arm aside, his buttons pushed. "And stop assuming things you don't know! Don't act like you know anything about me! I'm trying to better our lives, but all you can do is sit back and take whatever job comes! At least have some dignity if you can't have any smarts!" He stormed away from Goofy, leaving the saddened father behind to wonder once more he had done wrong.

Goofy watched him walk away, but then returned to the job. Someone had to do it, and he was used to Max's tantrums. He couldn't blame the boy too much for being mad. How he helped create someone so smart was a miracle… he had definitely gotten all of that from his mother's side. But where Max used the past to fuel his anger and lament his present, Goofy took joy in what he could remember and hoped to recreate such happy times in the future, whistling merrily as he cleaned up.

~*~

A bad mood was spreading all around France this day, and it reached up into the highest offices of the Tache Bank. Horace was walking the stairs of the bank, and as bank employees passed him by, many noted that he always seemed to be in a bad mood. This wasn't that much of a misconception, as Horace had one major thing that angered him, and that one thing just so happened to be a huge part of his life now. So it was with much emotional restraint that Horace opened the door to Duke Tache's door, and announced his presence to the thing he hated most. "You called for me, Duke Tache?"

If the sight of the Duke sitting in his chair and sipping his tea wasn't enough to annoy him, then the sight of Clarabelle happily cleaning his desk and pouring his tea was enough to do it. Fantome calmly sipped from his cup, fully aware of the love and anger from his employees in the room. "I'd like the both of you to take a seat. We have a little bit to discuss."

There were two seats in front of Fantome's desk, and while Clarabelle sat without question, Horace had to speak his mind as he went down. "How important is this?" Normally Horace got his orders from the chief of police, Pete, who in turn got his orders from the duke. Why skip the middleman?

"He wouldn't call us here if it wasn't important." Clarabelle chided him, and then gleefully returned her attention to the Duke. "Whatever it is, we're willing and waiting, sir! You can count on us!" She'd do anything the Duke asked of her, from licking his shoes clean to standing in front of an oncoming train. The men in the room knew this for a fact, which was the main reason why Horace hated the Duke so deeply. Even now, his fingers dug into the armrests, feeling sickened by the admiration brimming from Clarabelle headed towards the wrong person.

"Of course I know can count on you, my dear." Fantome smiled, taking sadistic pleasure in the love and hate that one sentence produced. "This is a special assignment that only two of your rank can do for me. The Scarlet has only just arrived, but he's already worn out his welcome." Though the horse and cow never would have known it, the vigilante had severely unnerved Fantome. How could he have possibly known about the real carriage rider? Only a handful of people knew that secret, and he had personally ensured none of them would tell. No one would be foolish enough to spill. Yet what other explanation could there be? "I'm going to observe him for a little while, as I've got a few theories about him… and if I'm right, then you two will be very handy."

Horace didn't enjoy the vague interpretations of this demand. If he was going to deal with some nutjob with a hero streak, he wanted full details. "Doing what, exactly? He seemed to take you down pretty easily." That remark would cost him, but it was worth it to see the Fantome's lip twitch in displeasure. Clarabelle was also giving him a glare, but she was easily forgiven for it.

Fantome pretended he hadn't given anything away by that expression slip. "The Scarlet is expecting me. He's essentially declared me as his enemy to all of France. But he won't be expecting to the two of you. If my observations work out, then you two will be in a little… production. A one act play with some audience participation." He then paused, noticing something off to a side. "Ah, pardon. It seems one of my windows has gotten a smudge. How rude of me, when I have company."

"I'll get it!" Clarabelle sprang out of her seat, and found the window with the offending smudge. She yanked out a small rag from her apron pocket, and began rubbing it away. As she cleaned up, Fantome stood up, and walked up behind her, though she took no notice. Fantome and Horace exchanged looks, though Horace was puzzled to what Fantome was doing. Slowly, the Duke lifted his arms, and positioned himself without touching her, looking ready to shove Clarabelle out of the window – out of the incredibly high window.

Horace's breath froze in his throat as he understood the deeper implications of the gesture. If Fantome wanted to, he could easily kill Clarabelle right there and then, and never suffer for it. He could easily claim she fell, and who would dare question him? Horace nodded rapidly, desperate to show he understood the threat. He wouldn't bring up any defeat of Fantome's, he swore, just as long as he didn't hurt her! After all, that had been part of the deal when Horace became a part of this villainous team-up.

Content with the terror in Horace's face, the Fantome relaxed into a more natural position, and lightly patted Clarabelle's shoulder. "Nicely done. I know I can rely on the both of you." Clarabelle, clueless to what had just been exchanged, smiled brightly at the compliment, delighted just to be touched. She was oblivious to the fear Horace was emitting and the self-loathing he was enduring due to his own cowardice, as he now wouldn't look at either of them. Fantome returned to his desk, the matter easily settled. "Now, back to the play. The lines will be easy to memorize, and I'm sure you two don't need any acting lessons. I'm not much for titles, but I'd like to call it… The Heroic Fool."

Chapter Text

It had not even been twenty-four hours before Fantome's plans were set into action. That same night, the baker who had told Daisy about the rising price of loaves was assaulted by muggers. However, the villains had not gotten a cent or a crumb, as the red-themed vigilante had come across this scene, beaten the crooks senseless, and then was gone before he could be thanked. The baker told her husband, who told his friends, and a ripple of gossip affected society high and low. Then the next night, a new victim and more thieves were intervened by the Scarlet, and again the next night, and again the next.

The gossip became wildly exaggerated as the crimes weren't reported to the police, but to anyone who had a listening ear. Some went out of their way to describe the Scarlet as a kind of terrifying rouge who grabbed blood more than justice, while others painted him as a handsome hero who wanted nothing more than to clean the streets with his blade. Regardless of whom you believed, it was common knowledge in less than a week that the Scarlet was somehow always right at the scene of the crime before things got too dangerous. It had become such an entertaining piece of talk that even the revolutionaries found themselves talking more about him than their goals, which at their next Thursday meeting was severely irritating Max Geef.

The meetings always took place at the same location. In a rather clean part of the city was an aging winery that was running slow on business, especially since the once large family that owned it was now down to a single daughter. She answered only to Peg, and to call her 'miss' or 'lady' earned you a kick out of her house. Otherwise, she stayed at the door, keeping an eye out and only letting the right people in when it was time for the meetings. It was deep down in her dank cellar that the revolutionaries gathered around a long worn out table, where they were supposed to be exchanging ideas about the future, but tonight could only discuss the present with the Scarlet. Daisy was the most annoying of them all, swooning with over the top admiration for the man she considered her one true love, and thought to be his in turn.

"Isn't he just magnifique?" Daisy cooed when the latest story had been wrapped up, resting her head on her hands as she re-imagined their first meeting. "With him at our side, we'll knock down those upper class jerks. What a brave man! To risk his life every night, just to make the city safer for the likes of me! I just wish there was something I could do to thank him." She sighed, and then noticed Max raising his hand. "Oh, do you have an idea?"

"No." Max replied bitterly, and his angered voice managed to snap other members of the table from their daydreams as well. "I was just wondering when we stopped trying to have a revolution and started being The Scarlet fan club!" He slammed down a rolled up blueprint, standing up and almost knocking his chair over. "I've been trying to talk about my plans for hours, but all you guys can think about is some nut in a mask!"

The others went quiet, embarrassed at how they had let gossip control their minds, but Daisy was not so easily deterred. "First off, he's not a nut." She raised a wagging finger at him, though that only served to irritate him further. "Second off, you have no need to be jealous. He's one of us! He wants the same things we want, and he's helping us prove we're a force to be reckoned with. He's not only our aide, but our protector."

"Some protector!" Max snorted, beginning to roll out his blueprint across the table. A few members 'oooh'ed and 'ahhh'ed over plans they couldn't even begin to understand. "Where was he when we really needed him? Why did he only show up now? What about that gas leak that blew up that school those professors were building? I didn't see him saving anyone there!"

"So you're going to blame him for every crime he wasn't there for?" Daisy huffed, crossing her arms. Though she cared for Max like a brother, no one had the right to attack her future husband. "Look, I know you're still mad that your dad sent all of your saved blueprints and plans to that school, but he was just trying to help you get in. You need to let this go someday."

"Those were my blueprints!" People were beginning to sit back down, used to this tirade by the young pup. "I spent years working on them, I didn't have any back-ups, and he sent them all without even asking me! Do you have any idea how long it took just to do this?" He banged his fist on the table, but unlike others, including his own father, Daisy didn't back down from the tantrum. The fact that she was the only one who could stand his rants was what made them work so oddly well together.

"Well if they're so important…" Daisy ran her finger along the print on the table. "Then why don't you tell us all about it, Maximilian?"

"I've been trying to do that, but it's been Scarlet this, Scarlet that, we've been talking more about your imaginary boyfriend than how to pull the power from the rich!"

"He's not imaginary! He told me he loved me and everything! If Donald hadn't chased him off, he would have proposed to me right then and there!"

It was quite obvious that nothing was going to get done at this rate. While other members at the table were willing to accept this, one of them grew impatient, and climbed on top of the table, stomping hard as she did so. It managed to grab Daisy and Max's attention, and they looked at the black furred cat that was now hovering over them. Most revolutionaries only knew each other by a first name basis, and Katarina was no exception. Her maid uniform had seen at least ten lifetimes before her, judging by all the old patches and tears. She was probably a good few years older than both of the quarrelers, and a pretty sight as well, but she hadn't made this display to be admired. "If you two aren't actually going to discuss something, then I'll talk about the elephant in the room. And I don't mean Steve's cousin the elephant."

Max began trying to tug the blueprint out from under Katarina's feet, but Daisy had her full attention. "What are you talking about?"

"The traitor." Silence overtook the room, and no one dared to look at each other, as the weight of those two words was enough to keep everyone frozen in place. "Ever since those fake revolutionaries crashed McDuck's welcoming party, no one's wanted to talk about how they knew about us." She walked up and down the table, giving everyone a piercing glare, as if personally accusing each and every one of them. "Someone has been selling us out. If we don't weed out who it is, we may as well throw ourselves in jail now. We can't waste time with idolizing the new hero or trying to explain plans we can't understand."

Daisy was reluctant to admit Katarina had a point. There had always been something Daisy just didn't like about her. She could never pinpoint what it was exactly, but Katarina's presence rubbed her the wrong way, and she looked forward to days when the cat couldn't attend the meetings. "So what do we suggest we do? We can't just interrogate everyone here, we have no way of finding out who it is… if there even is a traitor."

"And there's your problem exactly!" Katarina whirled around and pointed an accusatory finger at Daisy, one of her claw-like nails sticking out. "You treat this group like a family, and give everyone way too much trust! You can't just let anyone join us. What we need are stricter protocols! We need to do a full and thorough check of everyone who wants to join. You can't just accept them at face value." She then slowly withdrew her hand and looked around at the worried members. "If you can't even learn the last names of the people who work for you… then maybe you shouldn't be the leader."

And there was an excellent reason not to like Katarina. Daisy balled up her hands, determined to win the group back over to her side. "How dare you! I was the one who started this group, and I'm not giving up just because you don't like how it's run! This group relies on trusting each other… if we can't trust each other, who can we trust? What you're talking about will just separate us! That's exactly what the upper class wants us to do! I bet you don't even have a plan to actually help us get revenge on the elite!"

"As a matter of fact…" Katarina sat down at the edge of the table, allowing her legs to dangle over. "I was thinking we take the traitor role into our own hands. If they're sending someone to infiltrate us, we should do the same. We need to get someone in with the higher crowd and find out their secrets."

"Ha!" Daisy lifted her head high in contempt, feeling she had already won. "I knew you didn't have a real plan. It's impossible for us to infiltrate that kind of society. They can't even stand the sight of us. Isn't that right, Max?"

But when she smirked at him for confirmation, Max was thoughtfully rubbing his chin as he recalled something important in past conversation. "Didn't you just say Donald had interrupted your time with the Scarlet?"

"Oh, yes, that!" Daisy waved a hand dismissively in the air, not realizing the trouble she was about to land herself in. "What an ego on that guy! He thought he could buy my love! I've had to get rid of that loser twice, but he keeps at it. Honestly, I've never met a more stubborn snob so out of touch with…" She then began to notice all the eyes on her, and she didn't need Max's smarts to see what everyone in the room was thinking. "… Oooh no. No, no, no." She began to back up, holding her hands in front of her defensively until her back hit a wine barrel. "You can't be serious! What will happen if my beloved Scarlet finds out?"

"I'm sure he'll cry long into the night about it." Katarina's smile became another reason for Daisy to dislike her all the more.

Daisy looked from face to face, trying to find anyone who was objecting to the plan, but the agreement was unanimous. Defeated, she pulled the white ribbon out of her hair, and waved it in the air for her loss. "For the record, none of you are invited to our wedding."

~*~

Bright and early the next morning, Donald was in his uncle's vast library, waiting for his coffee to kick in. He was supposed to be meeting his uncle for breakfast for business lessons and finances and other stuff Donald couldn't even begin to wrap his head around, but the relative was running late for some reason. For now it was only Donald and Ducksworth, the latter quietly setting up a small table with fresh fruit and toast. Donald was passing the time by walking along the many book aisles, trying to learn a little more about his uncle. Before moving to the city to be with him, he had only heard about Scrooge from his parents, and whenever the rare occasion came that they did speak of him, it wasn't exactly filled with kind words.

There were books about markets and banking, which came as no surprise, along with some withered history books which still didn't come as any shock. Donald was interested to see that there were some adventure books and a few books of art, but the real astonishment came in a book that was so clearly wrapped up like a birthday present. It had been opened partially, revealing this as a romance novel. The duck paused, and after a few silly guesses, came to the conclusion that love-driven Brigitta was behind the gift. Ah, love, that ever troublesome blessing and curse that plagued Donald even when he was trying to avoid thinking about it.

"Ducksworth?" Donald called for him when he returned the gift back in place. "What do you know about girls?"

"Most likely more than you do." Ducksworth was peeling an apple as he replied, droll as ever. "But I suspect that's not exactly what you're asking."

Donald kept looking at books, deciding not to rise to his temper. "… Say there's a girl you like. Well, not that I like one. See, I have this friend, and-"

"Before you continue, sir, may I remind you that in that my long and active life, I have never once met anyone who actually believed the 'I have this friend' routine."

Donald closed his book. Keeping his temper in this place was not going to be an easy feat. "Remind me why my uncle keeps you around."

"Because I make a good cup of coffee." Ducksworth finally turned around to look at him, finished with his current chores. "So you fancy a young lady but aren't quite sure how to win her affections, is that it?"

"Exactly!" Donald was easily excitable when it came to discussing his lady love. "Oh, you wouldn't believe her! Her name is Daisy… She's the most beautiful woman I've ever met, but I can't get her to like me. I've tried everything!" He walked around the room, pouring his heart out as he tried to explain just how deeply the pain of not having her at his side affected him. "I showed her who I was and who I'm related to her, I've tried to buy her things, I've told her about-"

"And what is Daisy's last name?" Ducksworth gently interrupted, and Donald stopped, his mouth open. The butler allowed the uncomfortable quiet to answer plenty of Donald's questions before he returned to the table. "As much as the idea may disturb you, the best person to ask for advice about courting a young woman is your uncle. The reason he's running late is no doubt because his three most successful captures are trying to capture him."

Speaking of the unlikely Casanova, the elder duck suddenly raced into the room, slamming the doors behind him, locking them, using his cane to bar the doors, and then shoving a chair in front of the doors for extra measures. "Madwomen!" Scrooge shouted to the pounding on the other side. "I'd marry any of the dukes before I ever put a ring on those fingers! Get out of my house!" After a few more moments huffing and puffing, he faced his nephew and butler, his clothes disheveled and his feathers ruffled out of place. "Please tell me that coffee is fresh."

"Of course, sir. That's why you keep me around."

Donald sighed heavily, hating to admit it but Ducksworth was right. In the short amount of time Donald had stayed there, one of the things he had learned about his uncle was that he was adored by more women than what should be reasonable for a man his age. He was about to close the last book in his hands when he saw that it was a photobook, and he was just about to pass by a picture of people with his mother. "Hey, who's this with mom?"

"Don't waste your time with that, we have work to discuss." Yet Scrooge still came over to Donald's side, looking over his shoulder to see the picture exactly. Donald's mother was standing side by side with a duck woman who looked fairly similar to her, but where his mother had short curly brown hair, the other woman had locks of yellow for hair, and was noticeably younger. The other woman was wearing a wedding gown, leaving Donald to guess his mother was playing the maid of honor or a bridesmaid. "… That would be your aunt Matilda. No wonder you don't remember her, she died when you and Della were just hatchlings."

"Mom had a sister?" Donald was so thrown back that he nearly knocked his head into his uncle's. Why in the world had she never been mentioned? "Hold on, she's getting married in this picture. Where's my other uncle?" He flipped the page over, and saw Matilda kissing the cheek of an embarrassed man with tufts of thinning hair around his head. She had sneakily taken away his spectacles, and a much taller but younger man was laughing in the background.

"That would be Ludwig Von Drake, her husband, also dead." The way Scrooge talked about it was oddly apathetic, like he was talking about complete strangers. "And that is Gyro Gearloose, his best man, also dead. Now put that book away and have some breakfast, we have much to talk about." Scrooge headed to the table, and while Donald slowly did put the book away, he was determined not to make this the last time they talked about this. He could have been more upset, but in all fairness, he hadn't even known he had Uncle Scrooge until just a few years ago. His family had a habit of keeping secrets.

Both ducks sat down at the table, and as Ducksworth poured them cups of coffee, he eyed Donald and the nephew understood, though he still wasn't ready to ask the most uncomfortable of questions to the most uncomfortable of people. "Um… Uncle Scrooge? How do you… get girls to like you?" Ugh, it even felt gross coming out of his throat.

Scrooge didn't appear to catch onto the nausea, raising an eyebrow as he thoughtfully sipped. "Thinking about girls already? I'd rather you see more attached to my money than any woman… but it would help you integrate into society better. I can't imagine you've spent too much time with the other sex."

"Mom and Della count, don't they?" Donald shrugged as he began to add copious amounts of sugar to his coffee. "I thought after spending my life with them that I'd have women down like my ABCs. All those times I had to play dress up and house with Della, and Mom always thought it was funny whenever Della was trying to make me wear a dress. And then there was the time we got into her make-up, I thought she was going to murder us in our sleep! Dad was always trying to toughen up Della a little, but if you ask me, she got into more fights than I ever did. Like this one time, there was a bully from the next farm over…"

Donald was more than happy to relay more stories of his childhood until he heard Scrooge tapping his spoon against his cup. When the uncle had the nephew's attention, Scrooge was looking decidedly unhappy, his eyes far away. "… The first lesson I can give to you is not to tell the young women about your history on the farm. Such ties are… uninteresting. Don't speak about it anymore." There was something distant about the way Scrooge had said 'uninteresting', perhaps not using the right word but not wanting to admit how he felt about the stories and the past. Donald tried to see Ducksworth and copy what the right response was, but the butler's calm expression had never changed. Donald added a few more lumps quietly, wondering if he really wanted to bring Daisy into this secretive and unhappy life.

~*~

Six in-depth scrubbings later and Minnie's carriage still bore a faint trace of Mortimer's wretched cologne. Still, she had no other way of travel, and so Minnie was returning home in the same carriage that made her stomach turn. She was leaving from another encounter with Mortimer, who had once again refused to take no for an answer or accept that no was even a position for her to take, who had dragged her to see a play that was so dull she fell asleep halfway. Thankfully she had managed to convince him that she could go home alone, with the only company being the horses, the carriage rider, and her conflicting thoughts.

Though she and Mickey had talked several times since his humiliation at Mortimer's hands, there was still awkwardness between them that they didn't dare speak of. His pride had been tarnished, and any help she had offered only seemed to offend him more. She was at a complete loss in knowing how to make her dearest friend feel better about himself. If only he could see himself the way she saw him, then he would never be upset again. But to make things worse, she was seeing another man the same way. She too had read the heroic deeds of the Scarlet, and he had proven as good as his word for the few times she had met him. He was handsome, he was brave, and he was protecting those who needed help. If only he could stop being too overly confident…

Therein lay the ultimate problem! If all of Mickey's faults were given to the Scarlet, he'd be perfect. If all of the Scarlet's faults were given to Mickey, he'd be perfect. But perfection was not attainable, and she would have to settle with two men who would never change, and her own fluttering feelings towards them. Such a cruel fate, she thought to herself, torn between two, and unable to have them both –

… Oh. Oh dear. Now that was a most unladylike thought, and she was suddenly very anxious to be rid of such thoughts, and to be rid of a face that was no doubt redder than the fake blood used in the play. She wished more than anything for a good distraction!

What she would give to take that wish back, as the carriage came to a sudden and violent halt, causing her to tumble out of her seat. "Ow… I've got to learn to be more specific with my wishes." She stood up, smoothing down her violet dress, and opened the door. "Rider, what's the matter?" No sooner had the question left her mouth than she was yanked out of the carriage by a burly man in black clothing, joined in turn by two others of similar build. She screamed in fright, and as the beagle-faced men began to run away with her, she could see the rider jumping away from the carriage and fleeing in fright. Minnie kicked and punched and bit, but all she got in return was an ugly choke hold as she was dragged into a decrepit alleyway.

The biggest of the men slapped a hand over her mouth in order to stifle her, though she still continued to yell as best she could. "Geez, this one's got a set of lungs on her. She's almost not worth the payment."

"Forget the payment!" One of the shorter ones grinned maliciously, leering at Minnie unhealthily. "Don't you morons see? This is the Duchess! We can earn twice… no, four times as much if we hold her hostage! Think about it!"

The third one didn't think about it, he had no time to. A red blur had already knocked him down flat on his face, and lo and behold, one of Minnie's troubles stood on the cold ground, his blade out and ready to fight. "Put. Her. Down. Now." What charm The Scarlet had was replaced was fierce anger, and it was clear that the only reason that he had not personally smashed the other's heads in was because Minnie was still in their grasp.

Since they were not the smartest of criminals, they dropped Minnie in a heap onto the ground, figuring that for all the rumors of the Scarlet, many against one was still a way to win a fight. As for Minnie, it took her a moment to catch her breath and recover her senses, and while she did, she heard shouts of pain, terror, bodies being thrown, punches being met, and by the time she was able to look up, all three of the criminals were suffering from twisted limbs and wounds deeper than their cut pride. While she had been screaming seconds before, now there was no sound, but for the frightened men's footsteps as they fled. Then she could hear her own deep breathing combined with the beating of her heart, loud and hard in her ears. She slowly moved her eyes from where the men once were, to the only man that stood now, his back to her, silent. What was she supposed to do now? Once more she found herself at his mercy, saved by his good timing and amazing fighting ability. How was he always there when she needed him most? Who was the Scarlet... and why wasn't he saying anything?

The thieves were gone, but a fight was still raging - it was just inside Mickey's head. Battling evil doers was easy, confronting your desired crush was an entirely different matter. He struggled to steady his breath and settle his nerves. Once more he had surely impressed her with his moves, and perhaps moved closer to her heart. Still, there were mistakes he had learned from last time, and he needed to ensure they didn't happen again. Satisfied, he smoothed down his wrinkled clothes, returned his blade to his scabbard, and turned around to face her.

Eyes met. Hers were of deep confusion, perhaps a dash of fear. His were of warmth, tenderness, and his own sense of fear. He cleared his throat, and began to stride up to her, gloved hand outstretched. "I trust you are all right?" Even with the microchip in his mouth, designed to alter his voice deeper, he found himself heavily stressing on his tone, not wanting her to recognize the squeak that was typically in his throat.

After a flicker of hesitation, she delicately took his hand, using it to steady herself up as she rose to her feet. "Yes, I..." She swallowed, unsure of how to speak, of what to say. Brushing away the previous tears on her face, she stood up straight, knowing she still had her family's image to maintain. "I'm fine, thanks to you. You saved my..." 'life' was omitted, now that she was getting a better look at him. Taking a cautious step forward, with eyes squinted just a smidgen, she dared to ask, based solely upon what she could see behind the mask, his eyes. "... Have we met before?" It was a ridiculous question, she knew, but her own curiosity couldn't be quieted.

For this mistake he had only himself to blame. He had been so eager to get out on patrol and help people that he had forgotten a crucial detail. The one time, the ONE time, he hadn't put in those color contacts per Gyro's instructions... Hoping the blood wasn't draining from his face, he managed to emit a laugh of nervousness. "Why... of course we have."

A slight frown, unsure. "Where?"

Time to put Ludwig's cheesy narrative quotes to the test. He placed his hand over his heart, taking a deep breath. "For every time you have witnessed justice done, for every time the rich and poor have worked together, for every time that evil has been vanquished, I am there... I am the spirit of France, I am her people's will. I am the terror that flaps in the night!" He cast a quick glance at her, but her expression wasn't quite favorable. His overconfidence was once again not earning him any favors. "...A bit much?"

"I'd lose the last bit."

"Yeah, it is pretty ridiculous."

At least that managed to get a smile out of her, most likely fighting a giggle. After composing herself, she grabbed her dress, and formerly curtsied. "As I was saying... you saved my life, and I am deeply grateful. I would... reward, you, but..." The frown returned with memories. "... My carriage has been ransacked, my horses gone." And that coward of a coachman, Lawrence she knew, had fled for his life when she was in danger. He was definitely getting a paycut.

"So, you have no way of getting home." A thoughtful tap of his finger to his chin.

A small shrug. "I could... walk." Even saying it, she didn't quite believe it. All by herself? At this hour? With those men still on the loose?

"If I may." He offered his hand once more. "It would be my honor to escort you home, Duchess Minerva."

Ignoring the faint tint to her cheeks, she merely nodded. "... I accept your offer, with more of my gratitude."

His hand clasped around hers gently. "Before we go, I have but one question... are you afraid of heights?"

What an odd thing to ask, so clearly said the puzzlement on Minnie's face. "I... no?"

"Very good." Without any warning, she was suddenly scooped up into his arms, despite her yelp of surprise. He clicked the back of his feet together, and then ran to the back of the alley - and then, to Minnie's shock, they were going UP the alley wall, defying gravity, him zig-zagging in an unseen marathon, then leaping off, and landing on the roof of the left building. Not sparing time, he ran the second his feet touched the roof, now even faster than before - he jumped from the roof, to the next one ahead, and continued on this pattern, as if had entirely memorized this route already. The duchess threw her arms around the Scarlet's neck, shutting her eyes tightly. But his arms were safely around her, cradling her close, not allowing for any risk of losing her.

"Did I scare you, Minerva?" He asked, ever so calm, sliding with ease on tiles below. "My deepest apologies... this just happens to be the fastest way to get there."

"I-I-I-I'm fine!"Her face said into his shoulder. "Just... don't let me go!"

It was out before he planned it. "Not for anything in the world!"

As quickly as the journey had begun, it was over. He had landed on her iron black gates, and then hopped off close to her marble statue garden. With reluctance, he began to loosen his hold on her, setting her down. "Home at last." It took a few moments longer to get her to release his neck, but he wasn't complaining. Allowing herself to relax, she opened her eyes, and slid her hands down his chest, pulling back to look at him square in the face.

"How did you do that?" She exhaled all at once, still in disbelief it had even happened, despite being along for the ride.

A tip of his hat with a coy smile. "Trade secret, Minerva."

Biting on her lower lip, she realized where her hands were, and began to withdraw them. "That, you... Minnie, please. I'd much prefer Minnie."

"Minnie." He repeated, and then reached to push aside a stray bang from her brilliant eyes. "Or, perhaps, 'most precious'? I'm fond of that one." He had rehearsed that line and movement more times than he could count in his head, without ever actually thinking he'd have a chance to do it. Yet here the time was, and as his reward, her face became a red that could have rivaled his cape. He could have died happy right then and there, but, alas, there was plenty of more living to do, and he needed to report back to Ludwig and Gyro. He tipped his hat once more. "Adieu, most precious."

He had planned a good exit, too, on the way over. He would airily let go of his cape, letting it flap in the wind, while walking through the flowers, adding the falling petals to display, and never look back. Oh yes, it would be a great image to leave in her mind, full of mystery and intrigue, and he set forth to do it with one twist of his foot.

Minnie, however, had other ideas, yanking on his hand. "Wait a minute!"

He almost spun in response, losing his balance for a few ungraceful seconds. He managing to plant both feet firmly on the ground, and stared at her. "What?"

Her grip became less tight, but she did not let go. "I still haven't thanked you... not properly. There has to be some way to reward you."

There was a light attempt to free his arm. "There... there is no need, most precious. Your safety is what is most-"

"I can't just let this be, it isn't right!"

Ah, how he loved her for her honesty and kindness, and now it was to be a hindrance. "I really don't mind-"

"I have money-"

"Unnecessary-"

"I have jewelry-"

"Really, no-"

"Then as a woman!"

"As a..." He stopped resisting, not understanding the offer. "Pardonne et moi?" Excuse me?

Her hands were not longer on him, and were now clasped together, over her heart. "If you won't accept a reward of money, then let me thank you as a woman." With that, her eyes closed, her head tilted up slightly, and she waited. She was known for two things in the city – her aide to the less fortunate, and her stunning beauty. Since he wasn't accepting any charity, this would just have to be the next best thing to offer. Besides, it wasn't a 'real' kiss, so she convinced herself. Just a thank you kiss.

He still didn't understand, until he noticed her lips were pressed together. She couldn't… She wouldn't possibly… but, what other reason could there be? Ludwig and Gyro were speaking to him but they may as well have been chirping crickets because Mickey had gone completely deaf to his surroundings. A kiss from Minnie. A KISS from MINNIE. Inside, he was doing cartwheels, holding a party, celebrating all the years he had pined and dreamed of this moment, now to be served to him on a silver platter. "You... You mean a...a kiss?"

Surprised at his surprise, one of her eyes opened. "Yes? Is that a problem?"

"NO!" He said far too loudly - his real personality and the Scarlet persona were flip flopped, his mind far too excited to control which was really dominant. "I, uh, that is, of course a kiss!"

The eye closed. "You just seem a little nerv-"

"Nervous, nooo, no no, I'm not nervous! It's just a kiss! ... No, not... not JUST a kiss, a kiss is great! Kissing is great! I've kissed tons of times! ... No, no, not TONS of times... Not that I've never had one... No, not - " Why was he still talking?! He slapped himself hard on the cheeks, and then cleared his throat once again. He was cool. He was calm. He wasn't Mickey Mouse, the shy paperboy who didn't stand a chance with the Duchess. He was The Scarlet, seductive rogue of the night, stealing the heart of practically perfect in every way Minnie. "A kiss, from my most precious?" All but purring, he let a finger draw down her cheek, and then cupped her chin, leaning in forward, turning his voice to a whisper. "That is worth more than all the jewels of France..."

His own eyes were closed, and he readied his mind to save every single aspect of this event... His nose brushed against hers, she was delicately quivering under his touch… and then, of all the damned times, his conscience had to whisper a single solitary question that ruined the entire romantic atmosphere.

Wasn't this like lying to her?

"Monsieur Scarlet?"

"Just, uh, savoring the moment, most precious!"

But the damage had been done. In a sense, he was lying to her, and what would happen when she found out? Even if he didn't win her love, he could lose her friendship, which would be worst of all. If she couldn't love him for him, as the real him, the paperboy who could give her nothing but his own love in return, then what was the point? He didn't want a love based on lies, based on something he really wasn't. Hoping to conceal the hurt in his heart, he moved his hand away from her face...

Back at the gates, Lawrence the coachman had finally stopped running, glad to be home, nearly tripping over a child's ball, left behind by street urchins. He gripped the iron bars in relief, only to then gasp in horror, seeing up ahead, his mistress! How had she managed to get back before him? He was going to be in such big trouble! Moaning in despair, he let his rage fuel by kicking the ball. Off it bounced - far, into the gardens, smacking back and forth between statues and walls, picking up speed...

Strangely disappointed, Minnie opened her eyes. "Still savoring?" But she was taken aback at the sorrow she could see, almost heart-breaking in its depth.

He touched her hair for the briefest of moments. "Forgive me... I..."

BONK!

Somehow, for all the reflexes that Gyro and Ludwig had enhanced on Mickey's being, the boy had not noticed the rapid ball soaring his way until it smacked right into the back of his head, pushing him forward until his mouth was squarely on top of Minnie's. The ball rolled off, now innocent of any crime, while the mice were locked in the forced embrace. The Duchess decided that the Scarlet was just playing more of his games, and, accepting this as an actual kiss, returned it with initial timidness. It wasn't a bad kiss, no, it was warm, tasteful, and soft. Yet, for the man who had won nearly all the women's hearts of France, there was innocence about it. As if he were afraid to move, or just couldn't.

But if she was going to properly thank him, then she would have to make this more than just an ordinary kiss, wouldn't she? She managed to grab hold of his shoulders, and pressed back as deeply as she could make it, no expert in kissing but assuming that the more power given, the more meaning it had. Nor did she know how long a kiss was supposed to be, so she counted the seconds away in the back of her head, completely unaware of the effect she was having on him. Wasn't the guy supposed to do something? Anything? Was she really going to do all the work? Maybe she wasn't as good as she thought.

She was the one to break it off, going backwards, her breath light, eyelashes waving. She wet her lips before speaking again, a murmur. "Thank you." High heels clicked as she continued walking backwards and then, all at once, she spun around, and made a desperate run for the front door of her mansion.

It was probably a good thing she never turned around or even opened her eyes during the kiss. It might have damaged his reputation just a bit if she had seen his wide open eyes and his slumped composure. It was possible to say his brain had shut down when their lips first met, but then she had not only reacted, but reciprocated, and then his mind shut down further and further, if such a thing was possible. It had become such a complete climax of bliss and shock that he did not know what to do. He didn't even question when or how she learned to kiss like that. Even though Minnie was now long gone, he could still feel those working lips on him, and… and boy, did they work…

When he finally regained the feeling in his legs, which was a miracle in and of itself, he only managed three steps before flopping face first in a daze of completely happy stupor.

~*~

Gyro was torn between laughing or groaning at what had just happened. "I think separating them has just gotten a lot harder."

Ludwig had chosen the laughing route. "Leave it to me, Gyro! The professor will fix this!"

Chapter Text

"Anyone home?" Mickey snapped his fingers, trying to and successfully awakening his friend out of her daydream. It was the very next day after the robbery, and as per the norm, Minnie had come to see her friend and discuss the news by the old fountain. The Scarlet had again gotten hold of everyone's attention, and as Mickey had handed Minnie her paper which lauded the hero, she had gone into quiet thought. Mickey had allowed the pause for many long seconds, since he had also been relishing in that night's encounter. He hadn't been able to hear Ludwig and Gyro no matter what they said for the rest of the night, and his dreams were filled with reenactments of the kiss, though those times he wasn't a frozen fool but instead more than happily reciprocating.

When she heard his fingers, the duchess immediately sat up straighter, almost falling backwards on the marble fountain the two mice were sitting on. Her face turned red with embarrassment, smoothing out her dress, and tried to keep the newspaper on her lap steady. "Y-Yes… I'm sorry. Last night was very… tiring." Where Mickey had slept peacefully in dreams of love, she had been kept awake by confusing emotions. She hadn't exactly regretted the kiss she had given the hero, as that had apparently been the only way to thank him, but her heart had been tossing and turning over the entire affair. It was something marvelous that made her feel awful. It was something terrible that made her feel exhilarated.

"Didn't get much sleep?" He hoped he wasn't smiling as much as he thought he was. No matter what answer Minnie gave, he already knew the truth. She had been nearly robbed by some gruesome thugs, but the Scarlet had saved her, taken her home, and they had even kissed! Granted the last bit was by accident, but that was an unimportant detail. What was important was the impression that was left, and so far, it looked like a good one, if Minnie's sudden shyness was any indication. Even now, she was fidgeting, looking around, and then leaned in close to her childhood friend.

 

"I know you'll always keep secrets between us." She whispered, perhaps oblivious to his heart stopping as they got close enough for noses to nearly touch, another odd routine the two had of crushing naivety. Since she was still in conflict over what she had done that night, she had faith that her friend would be able to advise her. "And this is a big one. Promise not to tell."

 

"You betcha. I'm the best secret keeper around." After all, he was keeping the biggest one.

 

She looked left, right, and then cupped a hand to the side of her mouth, letting it out in a hushed whisper. "Last night… I met the Scarlet again."

 

Mickey nodded calmly, and then realized this was supposed to be shocking. "Oh!" He quickly faked a gasp, slapping a hand down on the bundle of unsold newspapers at his side. "No foolin'?"

 

Her shoulders folded slightly into herself, suddenly diminutive. "He saved my life… and you wouldn't believe it! He can run on rooftops, and jump up buildings!" Her voice was having trouble keeping quiet in the face of such exciting details. Her hands went everywhere as she attempted to mimic his sword-play. "He was outnumbered, but he took them down like they were nothing! And he didn't want any payment or anything… he's a real hero!"

 

"Gee, what a guy." He probably should have sounded more enthusiastic than that, but he was wholly distracted by the sheer delight in his crush's expression. This was absolute gushing, and over him! Well, sort of him. Close enough. His ego began to play with dangerous lines. "Is he really as… charmin'… as they say?"

 

Minnie hesitated, unsure of just how much she really should say, considering who she was talking to. "… Kind of. I mean, he had some really corny speeches, and I think he's a bit too dramatic." She rolled her eyes upward, trying to think of better descriptions, ignoring Mickey's pride being shredded to ribbons. "… But he really did seem sweet." Her eyes came back down, and Mickey quickly resumed false curiosity. "He really does care about the people. I just wish I could help him somehow." This came with a wistful sigh, and she sat back up. The newspaper's front page was an artist's blurred guess of the Scarlet, and she idly traced what she could make of his face. "I wonder what he's doing right now..."

 

What he was doing right now was resisting the urge to yell that he was the Scarlet at the top of his lungs and kiss her to high heaven. Instead, he gave an uneasy little laugh, scooting in closer to her. "Aw, I'm sure just knowin' yer okay helps him out plenty… I mean, who knows…" He swallowed, pushing aside common sense and letting foolish courage rise instead. "Maybe he's… closer… than… you think…" Ludwig and Gyro were probably having complete conniptions if they saw him now. The warnings of putting his loved ones in danger and other important discussions continued to be shoved aside by the still burning memories of soft lips on top of his own. In one night, he had found hundreds of new adjectives to describe his lady love with. Sweet, warm, tender, passionate...

 

Slowly, she met his gaze, curious, quiet. For a split-second, she could have sworn she had seen his eyes somewhere else, especially the white-hot blaze that was burning through them. As for Mickey, forget Gyro and Ludwig's warnings about revealing his identity – this was an exception! Surely if they were in his shoes, they'd understand! Delicately, he took one of her lacy gloved hands, and drew a breath. "Minnie… or should I say…. My most pre-"

 

"IT'S THE SCARLET!"

 

SPLASH!

 

The sudden shout startled Mickey so much that he fell backwards right into the cold fountain water. Sputtering, he sat on his knees, looking wildly about. Who discovered his identity?! How?! When?! As Minnie tried to question if he was all right, Mickey found the screamer – screamers, apparently, as several young ladies from the lower class were now snatching up his papers and squealing in high pitches. The one who had made the accusatory yell was Daisy, if Mickey was remembering her name right.

 

"Look, look!" Daisy continued to giggle, having already opened the paper and pointing to a particular page. "I knew it, the Scarlet does love me!"

 

"You lie!" Another woman snapped, and the other females chatted on top of each other. "The Scarlet obviously meant this for me!"
"Dream on! You never looked him in the eyes like I did!"
"He was looking at everybody! He's romantic like that!"

 

Mickey took off his drenched hat, and climbed out of the fountain. "What are ya talking about now?" Irritability was clear in his tone, since the mood completely disrupted. But the women ignored him, making their own claims about who the hero truly loved. Minnie sat in her same place, clueless, but trying to find the page they were clamoring about in her own paper.

 

Daisy gave a snobbish snap of her beak. "Don't you read your own paper, kid? Here." With that, she pushed the page into his hands. Before he read it, Mickey did begin to recall that, early that morning, Ludwig said there would be an extra page he personally put in, to boost the Scarlet's popularity. The paperboy ruse was more than just an easy alibi. Slowly but surely in the course of a few years time, Ludwig and Gyro had created their own newspaper before the school explosion that helped them to vanish, and no one had yet noticed the difference, since it told the same stories as all the other papers. When Ludwig had announced the extra page before today's delivery, Mickey had barely paid attention, as he was still in a dreamy state of happiness over having kissed Minnie. What did Ludwig do that was causing these girls to clamor so?

 

There, taking up the entire page, was a declaration in red lettering, decorated lavishly with symbols of roses. In elegant cursive writing was a message, which Mickey unwisely chose to read out loud.

 

"To all my fair ladies of France,
Let it be known that my love for you knows no bounds, and that I fight for each one of you. I swear upon my blade that I shall never let any harm befall you, for you are my spirit, my life, my will. The color I wear is the symbol of my unending love for you, my most precious.
Signed, The Scarlet."

 

With that, all of the females screamed eagerly again, save for Minnie, whose once affectionate expression was now covered in disdain. Thanks to one little paragraph, she was looking over all her interactions with the Scarlet in a new light. "Most precious?" She repeated slowly, crossing her arms. "I see… so he treats all women of France this way." And here, she had fallen for it! And she'd even given him her sacred first kiss! She had been so caught up in his seductive heroics that she had never thought he could just be another man trying to earn her hand for her connection to royalty.

 

"No!" Mickey tried to interject, ripping the page in his hands to pieces. "No he doesn't! Really!" How had such a beautiful morning dissolved into the worst day of his life? "This, this is a… it's a…" He looked back and forth between the women, at a loss. How was he supposed to justify his words without proof, and thereby revealing who he was? "H-How do we even know it's the same guy?"

 

"It must be!" Daisy pressed the remaining pages to her chest, one hand to her forehead. Who needed proof, when you had true love to rely on? "What a wonderful man! I bet if I was alone with him, I could make him all mine!" This caused the other women around her to clamor in the same girly squeals, making petty arguments between them.

"Why should you get him?"
"It says he loves us all!"
"That's only because he hasn't met me yet!"
"I wanna be his Most Precious!"

 

"Will ya knock it off?!" But Mickey's burst of rage was doing nothing to turn off the torrent of fangirling, especially as they went into exact details of they would do to him if they were alone with him. His entire face was turning, of course, scarlet, thanks to the sheer embarrassment of hearing what all of these women wished to do to him. It was also due to him wanting to get his hands on Von Drake and throttle him until his fingers ached.

 

The duchess slid off the fountain, tossing her own edition of the paper aside. "I think I'll go home… I don't feel too well, all of a sudden." Nose up to the air, she began to walk away. She had a lot of thinking to do, and didn't give another thought to why Mickey was so upset. All she could think about was how easily she had given herself away to a man whose real name she didn't know, and she began to loathe herself for such rashness.

 

Mickey tried to reach out to her, but she was rather speedy in high heels when she was upset. "Minnie! Most Precious! I, wait! Awww, nuts!" With that last howl of frustration, he kicked the stack of remaining newspapers hard, sending them scattering all over the fountain, and stormed off, determined to find a certain duck and turn him into duck soup.

 

The remaining girls were befuddled by such a display, but easily enough lapsed back into their gossiping and giggling. Daisy gave a toss of her hair. "Jealousy is so unbecoming."

"So is blatant obsession." A female who was not a giggling mess stepped into the miniature crowd, her long black tail flicking back and forth in annoyance. "Did you already forget your assignment, Daisy?"

"… Katarina." Daisy rolled up her paper, wishing she could smack it over the cat's nose and tell her she was a bad kitty. "I haven't forgotten anything. Can't I do anything without you breathing down my neck every five minutes?" The tension between the two of them was thick enough to cut, and the formerly ecstatic fangirls decided to leave the scene before it got worse, grabbing their papers and backing off. "I'll head to McDuck's place right now. Did you want to babysit me through the entire walk?"

"I'm keeping my eye on you, that's all." Katarina walked up to Daisy, and poked a deadly clawed finger right to Daisy's chest. "Until I see proof otherwise, I'm suspecting anyone of being the traitor… and that includes you."

Daisy smacked the finger away, and turned away, ready to walk off. "What's with everyone needing proof today? Why can't you people just have some trust? You just wait and see." She began to walk, hands on her hips to accentuate her curves as she moved. "I'll have that rich boy around my finger, and we'll have everything you need. Then I don't want to hear another word out of you."

Katarina huffed, but didn't add on. She momentarily glanced down at the fallen papers, and it was almost as if the Scarlet was staring straight at her. She stepped on his face as she left, but the unnerving feeling of being watched wouldn't leave her for a long time.

~*~

Max was fairly sure he was losing his mind. Ever since he had first met Roxanne, he would go out of his way to walk down the same street where he had seen her, in case she just so happened to come that way again. However, he couldn't find a reason why he was doing this. What was he supposed to say or do if he did see her again? Why did he even want to see her again? After each unsuccessful walk, he'd tell himself nothing good would come of their meeting again, and would resolve not to do it again the next day. The next day, he'd walk down the same path all over again. Teenage hormones, he began to learn, were much stronger than rationality and logic.

This day decided to show mercy, as when he walked down the familiar path, he easily spotted the same fiery nest of hair walking up his way. He stopped in place, at a loss for what to do. Blueprints of conversation appeared in his mind, but his mouth found no way to use them. Utterly helpless, he stood there as Roxanne made her way closer until those deep eyes of hers happened to spot him. Impossibly, she smiled, as if she was happy to see him. She suffered none of his problems, proving not only to be mobile as she headed right towards him, but also capable of speech, as she cheerily greeted him. "Max! It's so good to see you again. I've been wondering where you were."

"Hey." Max could only mumble that one word, trying to find a good place for his eyes to rest that wouldn't make her uncomfortable. Even that was proving to be a problem, as every part of her caused him to fidget in place. As he looked her over, he did notice a difference since last they met. "Hey, um… your ears." Though they were almost neatly hidden by her flowing locks, he could still make out round black spots on both of them, dangling on the bottom.

"Oh, you noticed!" She raised a hand up to pull back more of her hair, revealing the entirety of her ears. "I got them pierced the other day… I finally convinced my dad to let me do it. Now I can get earrings for my birthday next month! They just need to heal, first."

"Looks… looks nice." Max nodded numbly, unsure of the proper way to address such a change. He'd always been so flippant of women and their odd gouges to their own bodies, so now he wasn't sure what the right compliment was for this. He knew everything about gears and mechanics, but women were the only thing he could get an F in. But, again – why did he care so much?

Whatever his reasons for his utter nervousness, Roxanne was picking up on them, letting her hair drop. "… Do I make you uncomfortable, Max?"

How could he say yes without it being insulting? His tongue flip-flopped in his mouth as he struggled with an adequate answer. "Well… I, uh… See, I don't really… talk to girls…" That was a flat-out lie and he knew it, considering Daisy and the others in the revolutionaries. "N-No, it's… I don't talk to pretty girls…" That answer just came out of nowhere entirely. What was wrong with him?

His flub may have improved the situation, judging by Roxanne's widening smile. "You think I'm pretty?"

Here was a topic Max was sure he could conquer – stating the obvious! "Well, yeah. That's what I said." His lack of proper etiquette when it came to females was turning things in his favor, oddly enough.

"No one but my dad has ever called me pretty before." She was positively beaming, and seeing her so happy managed to put Max at better ease. It caused him to smile in turn, and it lasted a glorious five seconds, until she followed up. "By the way, where's your dad?"

The mention of his father was enough to cloud his spirits, and he bitterly looked away, amazed that his father could intrude even when he wasn't around. "Working, probably… tripping over something, definitely."

Confusing an insult for a joke, Roxanne chuckled softly. "He seemed really sweet. I kind of wish I had someone like that as my dad. Mine's a little…" Her eyes went past Max, seeing someone come up on the sidewalk. She sighed, and crossed her arms. "You're about to see what I mean."

Max was turning to look, but the father figure helped him the rest of the way by shoving him hard against the nearest building. "Just what do you think you're doing to my daughter!" growled the much older dog, his long nose keeping up a pair of thin glasses. "I'll report you to the police, if you don't want me to handle you personally!" He shook his cane at Max, who felt less threatened and more bewildered at the old dog causing such a ruckus.

"Daddy, please…" Roxanne put a hand on her father's shoulder, trying to pull him away. "We were only talking." Judging by the half-bored inflection in her voice, him threatening her companions was a sadly common occurrence.

"Oooh, it starts with talking!" He now threatened her with the cane, waving it back and forth in the air so much that Max wondered if he really needed it at all, or just liked having a handy weapon. "That's the problem with boys! Especially street trash like this! I know exactly what he's thinking!" Now back to Max, who was dusting himself off and looking nonplussed at the verbal assault. "Listen here, boy. She is a Shyster! She's meant for much bigger things! And if I ever catch you 'just talking' with her again, I'll have you arrested!" Satisfied with his defense, he grabbed Roxanne by the arm, and began to lead her away. "We're going home, Roxanne!"

"Yes, daddy." She was also used to obeying his orders even if she clearly disagreed with them. She managed to wave goodbye to Max before being forcibly yanked along, and Max could hear Sylvester Shyster continuing to lecture his daughter about talking with trash. Max stuffed his hands in his pockets, and began to go back the way he came. Shyster was acting the way Max had believed all rich people acted, whereas his daughter was the complete opposite. She had turned out entirely different from her parentage, just as Max had with his father. It almost made him smile again.

Her birthday was in a month, and now he knew her last name. As always, when he wanted to learn something, no one could beat how much information he could gain. His fingers rubbed together in his pockets, as an idea began to form.

~*~

Some things are easier said than done. This was the lesson Daisy was currently learning as she stood in front of the luxurious mansion of Scrooge McDuck. It was very impressive, and she felt she would have to bend over backwards just to see how tall it was. The security during the day was very lax, so all she had to do was knock on the door. Then what, exactly?

She had never seduced anyone in her life and didn't know where to start. She stood before the intimidating building at a loss, feeling smaller and smaller by the second. Was she just supposed to bat her eyelashes and ask for the combination to Scrooge's vault? Then there was Scrooge himself – he'd probably kick her out the second he saw her. But Daisy couldn't go back to her friends and tell them she didn't even try. Katarina would never let it end, and Max would be severely disappointed. Daisy mulled over her problems, undoing and redoing the ribbons in her hair in an attempt to find what look would make men more willing to talk about their secrets.

The day decided to show mercy on her as well, as a blue-rimmed carriage rolled up the street and stopped in front of the mansion. It turned out she would have been making an embarrassment of herself by knocking on the door and expecting to find Donald, as it was Donald who walked out of the carriage and stopped when he saw her. He blinked once, to make sure he was seeing correctly, and then joy flooded his body, speaking in delighted disbelief. "Daisy! Oh, wow! What are you doing here?" Since they were screaming at each other when they last saw each other, this was so far a vast improvement.

"I'm… here to… here to…" Daisy envied Max's intelligence in that moment, as surely he would have been able to think up something, where she was grasping at straws for any hint of normality. "I'm here to… be your friend!" It was the first thing that came to mind, and she stuck out a hand, regretting it all afterwards. She was here to seduce him, not be his friend! A woman telling a man they were friends was the ultimate form of heartbreak!

Yet Donald couldn't be happier at those words as he grabbed Daisy's hand and shook it wildly with both of his own. "My friend! You mean it? You really want to be my friend? Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! My first friend here!" He almost looked ready to burst into tears, and began to pull her toward the door, dancing on webbed feet. "Come on in! We'll have lunch! My first friend!"

Daisy followed him, staring at him as she managed to wring her hand free. "If this is your idea of flirting…" She cut herself off before she could insult him any further, and fortunately the interior of the house was fancy enough to awe her into momentarily silence. Even though she had been there once before as a servant during Donald's party, the massive scale of show-off riches still managed to throw her off. She couldn't believe that any one man in all of France could afford this much.

"I haven't made any real friends since I came here." Donald continued to walk her around, past large paintings, fancy furniture, and the repaired chandelier from the Scarlet's first night out. "There are all these business guys my uncle wants me to get chummy with, but no one's actually come out and said they wanted to be my friend." But even in his unbridled happiness, he had to pick at the loose thread. "What changed your mind?" He was grateful that she no longer wanted to shove bread down his beak, but wanted to know why, so he could keep it up.

"… A girl's allowed to change her mind." It was the only answer she could form that wasn't another insult. "Don't pick at it. The important thing is that I want to be your friend. So, I'll be over… doing… friendly things." The plan was sounding much sillier now that she had to explain it. If Katarina was so confident in this idea, why couldn't she do it? This was all her fault.

Donald decided to leave the matter as it was, and the two entered the dining room where lunch was already being served, thanks to Ducksworth. He didn't even show a blink of surprise to see Daisy there, and stood up straight. "My apologies, sir. I didn't know we were having guests. I'll go fetch more silverware." He cleared his throat, but didn't add on.

Donald caught the meaning of butler's cough, and laughed awkwardly as he turned to Daisy, who was holding up one of the decorative plates. "S-so, uh! Can I… know your last name?"

"Canard." She replied instead of 'none of your business' as she desired to. She turned the plate over in her hands, unable to contain her disgust as she inspected it. "How much did this cost you?"

Donald shrugged, reaching over to grab an apple off of the table. "I'm not sure."

"That's what I can't stand!" Alas, Daisy's hair-trigger temper couldn't be suppressed for too long, and she slammed the plate down on the table. "You people waste all of this money, and you don't even know! You just throw it around for any pretty looking thing you want! Money's not even real to you! There are people out starving in the streets, but you just throw some bills around for matching plates!"

Donald looked to Ducksworth for support, but he was minding his own business as he set up more forks and spoons. Donald swallowed hard, tossing the apple back and forth between his hands. "I… I meant I really didn't know. My uncle bought it." That seemed to thankfully put Daisy in her place as she didn't retaliate right away, and Donald seized up the silence. "I haven't bought anything since I've arrived. Uncle Scrooge bought everything here. I don't think he trusts me with money yet."

Awkward silence hung between them as the ducks were absolutely unsure what to do with one another. Daisy was deeply uncomfortable with the fact that someone was trying to move outside of what she considered normal rich behavior, and in haste, she snatched the apple out of his hands. "Yes, well, I simply must be going." She quickly moved past Donald, who was now juggling air without the fruit in his hands.

"But… you just got here!" What had he done wrong now? He'd been completely honest, and after the hissy fit she had thrown when he had shown off his uncle's money, he thought this attitude was much preferred. She was a puzzle and as his eyes followed her, he began to wonder if she was worth solving at all.

Daisy stopped momentarily at the doorway, running her fingers over her apple. "… I'll come see you tomorrow. And the day after that. And so forth. Just a little bit each day." She took a hefty bite out of the apple, using chewing and swallowing to prevent frustration from appearing on her face. "That's what friends do, right?"

Donald was tempted to question if she had any friends, given that odd line of scheduling, but who was he to ask? "Uh… sure. So I guess I'll see you tomorrow?" He offered her a kindly smile, and decided that while Daisy was certainly strange in her likes and dislikes, she was still an enjoyable person to be around. She was certainly entertaining at least.

Daisy gave a curt nod, a quick "Tomorrow", and then she was gone, hastily chewing her apple all the while. She was suddenly very angry all again, as she was disturbed by how friendly that smile towards her had been. It looked so true and believable that she was almost fooled into thinking someone like him could be sincere. But he couldn't be, no sir! Anyone who had access to that much wealth had to carry just as much darkness within them. She plowed out the front door, nearly knocking over a visiting duck but paid him absolutely no mind. The visitor didn't appear to care, picking up his fallen four-leaf-clover and putting it back on his vest, and glancing at her in unhealthy yet appreciative way, before heading back to the McDuck mansion.

Daisy continued to storm through the streets, and eventually tossed her apple core up in the air, declaring boldly "I don't care how cute his smile is! My heart forever belongs to the Scarlet!" Naturally she paid no attention when the core bonked a passing paperboy mouse on the head.

Donald exchanged a thumbs-up with his butler. "I learned her last name!"

"Huzzah, sir."

~*~

That night, the Scarlet took to the streets once more to protect as many as he could, but when there was a moment's peace, he sat on the roof of the local church, his grim expression matching that of the nearby gargoyles. He hugged his knees, pouting as he observed the city, and grumbled to his mentors when they talked to him again. "Of course I'm still upset!"

Back at their headquarters, Ludwig was manning the many screens for any signs of trouble, while Gyro was trying to calm down their troubled hero. "We told you that you shouldn't be getting so close to the Duchess… don't you remember what we said about those close to you getting hurt? Ludwig was just trying to help."

"If this is how he helps, I'd hate to see how he hinders." His electronically enhanced voice nearly sparked as he continued to lament his troubles. "Thanks to that stupid sap in the paper, all the women I've saved tonight have tried to paw off my sleeves! I'm the most wanted man in France!" He shuddered to remember the five robberies, three muggings and seven assaults he had stopped – each one had resulted in either the women making a grab for him to become his most precious, or the men making a grab for him as payback for stealing their women. "I didn't get into this job just to have some fangirls assault me after I stopped their assault!"

"I'm sure it'll calm down after a few days," Gyro said gently, but he was ready to admonish his friend. As much as he wanted Mickey to be happy, he wanted to keep Mickey alive even more. "But you gave us little choice in the matter. Why, you nearly spilled the secret to the duchess today, just because of one kiss!"

"… It was a good kiss." A slick smile spread on Mickey's face as he once again remembered the best night of his life. How had she learned to kiss like that? She was so small, but the force of her lips had been full of power and strength. She hadn't missed an inch of his mouth, and even though that night had a brisk chill to it, she was radiating warmth, pressing into him with her –

"Oh no you don't! You get back from la-la land!" Gyro snapped his fingers near the microphone, managing to yank Mickey back to reality. By now he and Ludwig had spent so much time with Mickey that they easily recognized the expression Mickey would make when his mind would drift to the duchess. Ludwig had even named it the "Adieu, Mickey" face, because it really felt like he had gone and said goodbye to the outside world. "This is serious! You need to be more in control of your feelings! I know you're made of stronger stuff than this!"

Mickey didn't enjoy fighting with his companions, but his stubborn feelings caused him to stand up, glaring at those who were not with him. "It's not that easy! Neither of you have ever been in love before!"

"That's not true, Mickey. Ludwig was once married!" It was out before he had control of it, and Gyro slapped a hand over his beak, mortified. Ludwig stayed at the screens, his back to his ally. Though the two birds were the closest of comrades, they had certain subjects that were not to be spoken of, and Gyro had just hit one of the big ones. Ludwig was quiet for the moment, unreadable.

Mickey was oblivious to the tension he had helped cause, and in fact was very curious to the fact that had stumbled out. "Huh? Ludwig's married?" He thought he knew everything about his benefactors, but this was completely out of left, right, and middle field! What kind of woman would put up with that level of kookiness? He tried to imagine what kind of woman that would be, and could only conjure up a female Ludwig. The image was hideous enough that Mickey couldn't help but burst into laughter, and he expected Ludwig to join him in hearty chuckles.

Instead, Ludwig used a voice that Mickey had never heard before. "I was married." There was no joy in his inflection, no haphazard use of his accent, no jumble of words in the wrong places. Mickey's laughter died at once as he released the real meaning of the past tense words, and instead heard Gyro softly mumbling attempted apologies. There were a million questions Mickey wanted to ask, but knew he could never even try. Guilt weighed heavily on his heart, as this had done more to teach him than Gyro's lectures and the mishap in the papers. Mickey had nearly ruined Ludwig's hard work and sacrifices, just for the slim chance of being with someone who he was also putting in danger. He faced the direction of the duchess's house, and found more reasons to apologize to her.

"I'm sorry." He uttered softly, casting his eyes downward. He was sorry to Ludwig, to Gyro, to Minnie, and to everyone he could have put in danger for the sake of a sweet kiss. But as he looked down, he became attuned to cries from below, and he furrowed his brows as he concentrated. "Wait… guys, can you look at the bottom of the church? I think something's going down."

The men back at the hideout were more than relieved to get back to work, and Ludwig flew in a flurry of typing to get to the location Mickey was trying to see. "We've got visual!" He was full of life and jest once more, whistling as the crime on screen became clear. "Looks like a mugging! Move your boots, boy!"

"On it!" Mickey jumped off the roof, putting his utmost trust in his helpers as always. His feet touched the outer walls of the church, and the magnets in his boots reacted to the steel, allowing Mickey to run down the wall to get to the streets as soon as possible. Midway there, he could see the trouble. Even in the dark night, what little moonlight there was allowed him to see the figure of a tall horse threatening a maiden cow with a handgun, and he could hear snippets of his angered tone threatening bodily harm if she didn't comply. It was a simple enough crime, and Mickey at this point had faced far worse and far better.

He leaped off from the church wall when he was close enough, turned in the air, and delivered a forceful kick to the horse's chest. The attacker fell on the ground with his weapon tossed to the left, both males grunting as they went down. Mickey stood up on the man's chest, hoping that the woman he had saved this time wouldn't try to reward him with tongue as several others had. "And near a church!" Mickey wagged a disapproving finger at the fallen criminal, who glowered at him in turn. "Certainly your mother raised you better than that. Now, why don't you start on a new lease on life by handing over any other weapons you've got stashed?" He held out a hand towards the horse, confident that he had set a new record in stopping crime.

His victory was short lived, as Gyro was suddenly screaming in his ear. "Scarlet, move!"

Mickey was quick to obey, but not quick enough, as a heavy metal pipe was slammed into the back of his head. He almost went blind with pain, crying out as he fell off of the horse's body. His eyes swam, but despite the horrific echoing hurt all around his skull, he could still hear Ludwig and Gyro giving him orders in high panic. Mickey stumbled as he barely managed to dodge another pipe blow, and when his vision cleared for a few seconds, he saw that the cow he had been trying to save was the one wielding the weapon. He lost his footing just as the horse stood up, picking up the fallen gun and aiming it at the red themed hero.

"Scarlet, or whatever your name is." The horse stood beside the cow, both of them ready to finish the job together. "You're under arrest for assault." He pulled out a small object from his sleeve, and then held out in the moon's lightning, showing off a shiny police badge. "We are prepared to use deadly force if you don't come along quietly."

Chapter Text

Clarabelle was only fifteen when her parents died, and only sixteen when all the money they had saved was gone. Horace repeatedly offered his home as a place for her to stay, and she would repeatedly deny the offer, citing different reasons for every approach, be it pride or not wanting to use him. She knew what she was – an ugly girl of the lower class that nobody wanted around, and such girls could only hope to have some line of demeaning work in order to pay taxes. Instead of begging on the streets for a coin or a job, Clarabelle had marched right up to the local steel factory and demanded a job, knowing it would pay well. She was kicked out five minutes later.

After all, she was a woman, and delicate little creatures such as the class of 'female' didn't belong in jobs involving muscle and mechanics. Yet she continued to come in every day, trying to prove her worth not only to the men in the factory, but herself. She faced ridicule from her neighbors, and harassment from the steel workers. When it became obvious she wasn't going without a fight, the workers decided to give her one, and when Horace saw her black eye the following day, she had to physically restrain him from going to the factory and using his new police gun to return the favor. Even then, she wouldn't hear of his offer to live with him. It was becoming more important to prove her worth than to ensure she had a roof over her head.

So she continued to come in every day, even as the men threw their lunches at her face, as they called her the worst names a woman can hear, and as they grabbed her wrists and let her cry against the wall. Surely, someday, someone would find worth in her, if she kept trying. Surely someone in this world had use for an ugly girl of the lower class. She was eighteen when she was on her hands and knees in the factory, begging for the job that would be refused again. She wasn't halfway through her plea when the nearby workers began to shout at her, using those vile names, describing what they'd do to her if they got the chance, but then, to her surprise, silence swept the factory, save for the machines' continuous courses.

She dared to lift her hand, and saw an elegant looking dog with a thin mustache looking down at her. He was dressed entirely in black, with fabric and jewels highlighting just how above her he really was. It was as if she had been swallowed up his shadow as he observed her thoughtfully, rubbing the end of his mustache. "Well now… and here I thought visiting one of my investments was going to be a complete bore." He smiled, the muscles in his face moving slowly as ideas were connecting. "What are you doing, miss?"

Shaking, she began to sit on her knees, still in awe that someone – especially someone clearly so better than her – had finally taken notice of her. "I… I want a job here. I know I can do it, If they give me a chance!"

"I don't think there's any job that requires you to sit on the floor." He offered his gloved hand down to her, and after a second of disbelief, she grasped it, staggering as she went to her feet. "Much better. I prefer my employees to have some sense of decorum."

"Y… Your employees?" She repeated slowly, still holding onto his hand until he pulled back and wiped it with a handkerchief.

"I get my fair share of say when it comes to working here." Finished, he stuffed the handkerchief back in his pocket. "Everyone is meant to do something. You have your uses, and if no one else is smart enough to think of a way, then I will. You can start here tomorrow." He then turned away, looking at the employees who had been watching this exchange. "Do try to act like gentlemen. I have an image to maintain." He nodded once to them, once to Clarabelle, and then began to walk away, having other parts of the factory to inspect.

Clarabelle kept her eyes on him until he completely disappeared from her vision. She wouldn't know who he was until she described to Horace, and when she learned that Duke Fantome had given her the validation she had clawed for after all those years of resistance, she hugged her dear friend and sobbed gratefully into his chest. From that moment on, she swore she would follow Fantome to the ends of the earth. A man like that, an angel in black, he had come to save her and give her what she deserved. Never did she notice Horace's scowl as he calmly returned her embrace, and was still unaware that Horace would follow her in the very same way.

It was with this devotion that when she and Horace had cornered the Scarlet, the man who Fantome wanted out of the way, she raised her pipe high again. "I'm not done with him, Horace! We gotta make sure he can't escape!"

"I know what I'm doing!" Horace kept his gun steadily aimed at the injured mouse, keeping his eyes locked on the heroic crusader. "If I arrest him, he becomes a common criminal and no one will listen to him anymore!"

"Then we really need to make him look bad, and make sure he never bothers the Duke again!" Clarabelle tried to make another swing at the Scarlet, but Horace shoved her with his shoulder, and the argument escalated in yells.

Though the Scarlet was still suffering from his injuries, he managed to hear the helpers in his ear. "Open the first bag on your belt!" This was Gyro, trying and failing not to sound as panicked as he was. "There should be at least three smokebombs in there! Just press your thumb down and let it roll!"

He carefully began to reach down, and felt three small balls in the bag, no bigger than marbles. He knew very little about the smokebombs, but he needed an escape before he lost consciousness. He held his arm still, as Horace was still watching him, but as the argument got worse, the horse finally looked away to snap at the cow – perfect. Mickey grabbed onto one of the balls, yanked it out, pressed down, and threw it. It bounced once on the stone road before an absolute fog erupted from the marble, immediately clouding the area. Clarabelle and Horace stopped shouting at each other and began shouting at their predicament, trying to find the Scarlet among the mist. Horace fired his weapon, but only managed to nick the feather on Mickey's hat. Clarabelle had better luck, hitting Mickey roughly in his side, but when she swung again, she only hit the air.

"He must have gone this way!" Clarabelle coughed through the mess, trying to grab Horace's wrist to put him in the right direction. "I know I hit him! Come on!" She never would have guessed that Mickey allowed her to hit him, in order to fool them about which way he went. As the opposing forces went their separate ways, it only took a few steps for Mickey to realize that he wasn't going to make it back to the headquarters. Not when blood was beginning to roll down the side of his head, and it hurt every muscle as he fell to the ground. He still crawled forward, grunting as his body screamed in pain.

He closed his eyes as he tried to breathe, laying in the street as the black of night cast him the same as every other useless shadow. The world was quiet, though even in quiet, there can still be sounds. The occasional footstep of the bystander ignoring everything around them, the cries of hungry children in cold homes, and the clip-clop of hooves as a carriage made its way across the cobblestones.

"Driver, pull over! Pull over, now!"

~*~

Good luck can only take a man so far. Duke Gladstone Gander had been followed by good luck all of his life, no matter what problem he had landed in. If his carriage broke down, it would be in front of wealthy family who was more than happy to give him lodging for the night. If he accidentally dropped a priceless heirloom, he'd find an even more valuable treasure inside of it. If he blinked during a photograph, he looked ten times more handsome for his 'mysterious appeal'. Gladstone's life was almost annoyingly lucky for outsiders, but the one place where his luck never seemed to catch on was in the presence of Duke Fantome.

"It's always tea with you, Fantome." Gladstone frowned at the cup in his hands, unwilling to taste the brown concoction inside. "Don't you have a winery or even a bottle of champagne?" Gladstone and the other Dukes were gathered in Fantome's dining room, and so far the only complaint about the late night meeting was the tea.

"You clearly haven't had a good cup yet, if you can even compare it to wine." Fantome waved his hand around his cup, taking in the deep scent. "You need to take the time to appreciate the aroma and the texture. The perfect additions, the right temperature… it must make every drop count."

Gladstone snorted, and though he knew the effort was fruitless, he looked to the other Dukes for agreement. Duke Roger Rabbit was nervously tugging one of his long white ears, a habit he had developed ever since he had inherited his title and made it clear he was in no way ready to handle such a position. "… C-Could use some more sugar?" He added just for the sake of not having silence, and even his smile was an awkward mess. Duke Fou Medecin was no better, hunched over in his wheelchair where old age was keeping him in a thin line between sleep and obliviousness.

"Speaking of sweet things," Fantome glanced over at the one empty chair at his table. "It's a shame that Duchess Minerva is running so late. I can't fathom what's keeping her."

"I don't think she'd appreciate the conversation." Gladstone gave up on his cup, carefully setting it back down on the table on its doily. "She's always been such a bleeding heart for the lesser folk. I thought that Mortimer fellow was finally going to make her shut up."

"Patience, my friend." Fantome replied after a deliberately long sip. "Taming wild animals is never done in a night. He'll wear her out soon enough. In fact…" His smile curled in a wicked direction, and Gladstone could almost feel his good luck draining. "If you'd like to show Mortimer how it's done, I have a similar assignment, if you're interested."

Whenever Gladstone was with Fantome, his good luck vanished without a trace. Fantome was always a dominating presence even when he was being civil, so it was as if he had taken control of Gladstone's luck, choking it until he was ready to let it go for his own uses. Gladstone felt that choke now, and consciously rubbed his neck. "I'm not really into mice. Those giant ears are hideous."

Roger stopped tugging on his ears, and instead sunk into his seat. Fantome chuckled, partially amused, but shook his head. "I can't fault a man who is true to his tastes. But, no, I trust Mortimer can handle the duchess. The woman I want you to take is the leader of the revolutionaries. My eyes and ears in the group have told me enough about her, and I think you're the perfect choice."

"A commoner." Gladstone's tone couldn't be more displeased. He felt he should take another drink of tea just to get the taste of the word out of his mouth. "Are you sure? There must be an easier way of getting rid of her."

"You mean kill her." Fantome placed his hands together on the table. Gladstone stopped talking for the moment, startled. He hadn't meant something so drastic, but at the same time, didn't oppose it. It more surprised him that Fantome could speak of such a morbid way of handling deals so casually. Roger was sinking so low in his seat at the darkness of the subject that he was almost under the table. Fou merely continued to stare on, not here or there. "Easy, yes, but would make her a martyr figure in the eyes of her group. They'd fight even harder for the sake of their fallen idol. If we simply court her off, we reveal she's just another leech, and the group will lose faith and dissolve on its own. You will single-handedly prevent the revolution, and another Bloody Sunday."

Fantome knew how to work Gladstone's pride, as the duck eased back into his chair with those temptations. "… I suppose it couldn't hurt to try. A girl like that probably won't take too much effort."

"I knew I could count on you. And with the revolutionaries gone, and no Bloody Sunday to occur, we'll never have to trouble the Queen." As a sign of a respect when her name was mentioned, the men bowed their heads for a second, save for Fou, who in his senility probably hadn't heard. "Bless her for putting up with all of this nonsense so far." The Dukes and Duchess were all related in a very thin bloodline to the Queen of France, Noelle Odette Isabella Xyrisse. No one dared to make fun of such a ridiculous name, but for everyone's sake to take her seriously, she was usually called only Queen Noelle. She rarely left her home and usually sent out diplomats to do her speaking for her. Most of France hadn't seen her face in years, but her power and influence still reigned. Even Fantome didn't dare go against any orders of hers. But there could be ways of going about those orders.

With his cup empty, Fantome began to rise from his seat. "I hate to cut this meeting short, but there is a play I wanted to catch, and I'd absolutely hate to miss the final act."

"Th-thanks for having us." Roger mumbled as he pushed his chair out, wanting to get out of this disturbing gathering as fast as his big feet could take him. "I-I'll just help Fou get home, and-"

"Nonsense, you're always helping him." Fantome walked up behind Fou's wheelchair, and began to wheel him out. "Allow me. I'm sure I can make my show in time, but helping the elderly always comes first." Gladstone thought he saw Fou's eyes flicker with movement, but it must have been a trick of the lights above. "Goodnight, gentleman." Fantome and Fou left on squeaky wheels, and like a breath of fresh air, Gladstone's luck returned to him.

"Gee," Roger spoke out loud, also feeling looser without Fantome around. "I didn't know he could be such a nice guy."

"Roger, I didn't know you could be that dumb."

~*~

Minnie never looked forward to meeting with Fantome Tache, and always looked for any excuse not to attend. She saw him as a puppeteer with the other Dukes, always finding a way to make them do as he pleased, and she was terrified of the day he planned to wrap one of those strings around her. She didn't understand why so many people blindly followed him, and the constricting crush his bank had on the poor made her distrust him all the more. That night as she pulled back the curtain on the carriage window, she hoped that maybe her carriage could have a wheel break down to avoid meeting such an awful man. She got her wish, of sorts, but nowhere near the way she wanted it.

"Driver, pull over!" She shouted the moment she saw the stumbling body collapse into the street. She had no way of knowing who it was, but they needed her help, and that was more important than anything else. "Pull over, now!" The driver reluctantly obeyed, and when it came to stop, Minnie slammed the door open, picking up her dress in her hands to rush over to the wounded citizen. "You poor thing! Here, let me…" She knelt down to lift his head, and almost dropped it in shock. "The Scarlet!" She whipped her head around, expecting to see robbers or other criminals around, but for now, he was alone. "… Lawrence, help me get him inside! We're going home!"

"N-No!" The Scarlet breathed out as the driver grabbed one of his arms, helping drag the red mess to the carriage. "N-not your home, please…"

"You're hardly in any position to argue about it!" Minnie grabbed his other arm to help lift him, and they gently sat him down on the floor of the carriage. Once he was inside, Minnie climbed in after and closed the door behind her. As the driver took back his spot and urged the horses on, Minnie sat on the hero's legs, brushing off dirt and debris from his body. "Getting back into danger, are you?" She took off his hat, and winced to see the line of blood going down his head.

"Still mad… at me?" He took his time breathing, now that he felt marginally safer.

Minnie blinked. "How did you know- " That wasn't the important part! She cleared her throat, and began using the sleeve of her dress to wipe his blood away. "… What you do with your women is your business." She avoided eye contact with him, but she knew he was smirking sloppily, taking pleasure in her jealousy. "Maybe one of them can help you, if my home isn't good enough."

"I just don't want you… in harm's way." Now that he was feeling strong enough to say more words in one breath, maybe he could clear a few things up. "The life of the Duchess has a much higher value than mine."

"Now that's what I'm really mad about!" She poked his nose before he could say anything more romantic or ridiculous. "My life is not worth more than yours! Nobody can place and value lives like that! That is what I strive for, and I won't have you say otherwise. Now lift your head." She didn't give him the chance to do so, and grabbed his chin, lifting his head up to clean his neck. "You're coming home with me whether you like it or not."

"Stubborn." He said under his breath, and she dropped his chin.

"I heard that! And so are you, monsieur!" She crossed her arms, glaring at him, though she did feel a bit of guilt for starting a fight with an injured man. "This is the second time I've seen you hurt! You need to start taking better care of yourself! Your life has just as much meaning and worth as my own, so start acting like it!"

"If my life has meaning… then certainly, I get a choice in it?" He sat up straighter, and managed to take his hat back. "This is how I choose to live it."

"That's still a very stubborn and selfish way to think about things!" She tried to snatch his hat back, but he wouldn't let it go. "If something worse should ever happen to you… Don't you ever think about those you'll leave behind?"

"Constantly." He had that look in his eyes again – the burning blaze of passion that always swept Minnie over in familiar ways. She released the hat to him, and after he placed it where it belonged, he urged her to sit on the carriage seat. "And now… I ask forgiveness." She expected an explanation for the newspaper announcement, but instead she got a lapful of hero, as the Scarlet rested his head on top of her legs. "Please… let me just… stay like this. For a little while."

She decided not to object. He had become so small now, so vulnerable, a little boy needing love and care. She stroked his cheek, and his mouth curled up, almost nestled into her dress. She leaned over to get a better look at him, and they watched each other, faces close… very close. He smirked. "Don't tempt me."

"I-I don't know what you're talking about." Minnie sat with her back straight at once, embarrassed. "You're about to pass out, and you say such things…"

"I owe you my life, most precious." He kissed her dress instead, enjoying that lovely hue radiating off from Minnie's cheeks. "I will do my best to thank you properly next time."

"Next time?" Minnie looked down – suddenly the Scarlet kicked the door open, and rolled out. She yelled his name, and a second smokebomb erupted under the carriage. The driver pulled to a stop as the horses whinnied in confusion, and neither the horses, Lawrence the driver, nor the duchess saw the Scarlet escape to the monument entrance to Champs Elysees, the headquarters where his birds were ready to tend to him. The route home for the Duchess had proved profitable in more ways than one.

When the smoke settled, the driver gave up and resumed the way home. When the Duchess arrived, her servants happily greeted her, but she rushed by every single one of them in order to get to her room, slamming the door behind her. Many fancy gifts from her parents covered the dainty place, but she headed for the cheap and partially broken toy that was on top of her desk drawer next to her bed. She snatched it, pressed it to her heart, and then fell on her bed. "I wasn't going to do anything." She said out loud in a desperate hope to believe it. "I wasn't. I wasn't. I wasn't." Once more, she had come away from the Scarlet with a feeling she had done an unforgivable betrayal. When she felt tears come, she held the toy up to her eye, wanting to escape to sweet memories.

The kaleidoscope moved under her fingers, mixing faded colors in her dark room.

~*~

The servants at the Medecin home were surprised to see Duke Fantome Tache, but they didn't dare bother him as he wheeled Fou Medecin to his bedroom. Fantome looked delightfully cheery as he strolled throughout the mansion, occasionally speaking to the old man who wouldn't speak back. "It's always a pleasure to see you, Fou. I really wish you'd show up more often. You really have such a calming presence around Roger… but then, rabbits have always been your specialty. Let's get you some peace and quiet, I imagine your schedule is full."

He entered the bedroom, and locked the door behind him. "This mansion is a really lovely place. I shudder to think of what will become of it when you're gone… it's a shame you never settled down." His fingers touched Fou's shoulder, and then began to dig their way into him. "Yes… there are so many things you really ought to be ashamed of." His other hand met the other shoulder with the same force. "There's only a select number of people who knew about my carriage ride before the second Bloody Sunday. You're the only one left… that's alive." He lowered his head, hissing directly into Fou's ear. "So I suggest you drop the senility act and tell me what you know."

Fou took his time to move his head back, breathing heavily and far more awake now than most knew him to be. "How did you find out?"

"Because unlike the rest of our royal family, I'm not so easily fooled." He had caught onto the same flickers that Gladstone had, but didn't take the route of 'just my imagination'. "You thought that if you played dumb, I'd let you out of my sight? Everyone in France has a role to play under my hands, and those who don't…" He speedily grabbed a hold of the wheelchair, and shoved it with such strength that Fou fell onto the floor with the chair on top of him.

Fou groaned, trying to lean on his arms, genuinely terrified of the man who he was trapped with. "Listen! The only ones I told are dead! There's no way the Scarlet could have known!"

"But you still let your mouth run." Fantome placed a foot on the wheelchair, keeping Fou pinned down underneath it. "I think your family line has run on long enough. You're of no use to me, and if you're of no use to me, you're of no use to yourself." He reached over to grab a pillow from the old man's bed, pleased he had found a way around this situation without getting his clothes dirty. "Like I told Roger… helping the elderly always comes first."

~*~

Max decided to work at home that night since it was so late, instead of going to his usual place for his inventions. Otherwise his father would worry, and then he'd barge in, and make a mess, and then make the mess worse by trying to clean it up… it was less stressful this way. Their shaky wooden home had only three rooms – Max's, Goofy's, and the pitiful excuse for a bathroom. The house was small and thin enough that standing in the 'hallway' allowed you to see two rooms at once. Max sat in his excuse of a room, twisting small gears under a screwdriver to make it fit correctly.

"Whatcha doin' this time, Max?" Goofy looked into the room, trying to respect Max's privacy by not entering but having enough curiosity to peek in anyway.

"Nothing you'd get, Dad." Max shifted his shoulders in an attempt to block Goofy's view, but his father's height allowed him to sneak a glance. Max sighed, deciding to relent for now. "… Earrings. They're earrings."

"Yer makin' yerself a pair of earrings?" Goofy tilted his head, confused as to why Max was tinkering with jewelry of all things. "Yer ears ain't even pierced."

"They're not for my ears." Max snapped, not even bothering to look at his father. The frustration flowing through him made him chip the paint on the gear, and he swore in a mumble.

"But if they ain't fer yer ears…" Even if Goofy wasn't the brightest bulbs, he still shone, and his buck teeth especially stuck out as he caught on. "Aw, it's fer the little missy, huh! I thought ya were pretty sweet on her!"

"You don't know what you're talking about. You never do." Why only now did his father show a trace of intelligence? Of course it would have to be at Max's expense. "I'm trying to work, so if you don't mind…"

"I bet she's gunna love 'em!" Goofy didn't pick up the hint as he was too excited for the possible happiness his son had found. "And it's a real sweet thing of ya ta do, too! Girls love gestures like that! Yer mom always did! Why, I remember the one time yer mom said she wanted a garden, 'course we couldn't afford ta get nothin' fancy like that, so-"

"So you worked your butt off to buy a bouquet and lined her window with them so she could see them every day, like an itty bitty garden all for herself." Max finished, lacking Goofy's enthusiasm for the story.

"… Shucks, did I tell ya that one before?"

"Seven hundred and twenty-two times, to be exact."

"Huh! Well!" He jumped back into the good mood, determined to bond with Max over something at last. "If ya need any help with the little lady, ya can always come ta me! I know one or two things about gettin' the girl!" He proudly stuck a thumb to his chest. "Won yer mom over! Course, she won me over too! Pretty as a picture, she was… prettier! Why, I remember the first day we met, it was rainin', and-"

"Do you have any idea how hard you make it to concentrate!" Max finally faced his father, but it was with fury, almost crushing the earrings in his hand. "I'm trying to do precise work here, but you keep prattling on with stories I've heard my entire life! Yes, I know, you and mom loved each other, you were perfect for each other, she'd be so proud of me if she was around now, but she's not around, so can you stop talking about her?!"

Almost exactly after the words left his mouth, Max bit the inside of his cheek. Even with his dad's annoyances, that was over the line. Goofy's entire body appeared to sag with sadness, and his hand slid off of the doorway. "… Sorry, Max." Even his voice seemed to sag, and he walked back into his room, closing the door behind him.

Max stared at the empty doorway, and ached to apologize, despite his pride telling him he had done nothing wrong. It was Goofy's own fault for bringing up such a painful subject. Everything was always Goofy's fault because he never thought before he said anything. Max tried to return to his work, turning the gear earrings in his hand. Though he knew he was in the right, he believed if Roxanne had heard this exchange, she'd definitely see him in a dark way. It settled sourly in his stomach, and he placed the projects down for now.

He remembered very little of his mother, as he had been a young pup when she had passed away. What he could remember was filled with warmth and happiness, of being held in fragile arms as a cough-filled lullaby tried to ease him to sleep. He didn't know her real personality or thoughts, and had only Goofy to rely on. Considering how wrong Goofy was on… well, everything, Max felt he didn't really know his mother. She was a warm feeling and nothing more. So what were these guilty feelings over?

They couldn't afford bedposts, but they could afford mattresses, so Max laid down on his and placed an arm over his eyes. Would his mother have been proud of him? Would she approve of his plans and aide with the revolutionaries? Would she want Max to try and win a smile off a socialite like Roxanne? Oh, what was the point – she wasn't there, and these what ifs wouldn't help him. He turned over in bed, the feeling in his stomach welling up and clawing at his throat. She had died because they couldn't afford to get her the medicine she needed, and couldn't get her to a place that would treat her. It was all because of the wealthy and their continuous boot pressing down on the backs of the poor. Yes, they were all to blame, they all… No, not all. There was Roxanne, again, who would surely help the sick if she knew of them.

That gave him pause, and he lifted his arm. Did she know? She had to at least see the wide array of differences whenever she so much as looked out the window. But that didn't mean she really understood how much the lesser man was suffering. The gears in Max's head turned, going faster and faster as he connected causes to heart. If he told her of their plights, if he showed her the work they planned to do, could she lend a hand – and more importantly, lend the influence and lend the money? She liked him, at the very least as a companion, and seemed eager to speak with him more. This wasn't too far from what Katarina was making Daisy do! Yes, he could land them potential allies! Learn the insides of the wealthy! Make the revolutionaries even stronger in their fight against the unfair!

"Yes, that's it!" Max sprang as he sat back up, forgetting the fact that his father could probably hear him perfectly. "I'll do just what Daisy's doing! I'll seduce a member of the wealthy elite!" It took him about three seconds to realize exactly what he said, and his brain promptly fizzled out.

Goofy just as promptly stuck his head in the doorway again, rather surprised. "Yer gunna do what now?"

"N-Nothing! Get out of my room!"

~*~

Donald Duck was also burning the midnight oil, and also a candle, since his cheap Uncle had demanded a certain time limit for using electricity. He was writing in his room, trying not to waste any of the ink that he knew Scrooge wouldn't replace, so every word had to be precise. Donald had gotten little sleep, still unused to his bed. He thumbed the feathered quill pen in his hands, and then mused to himself that perhaps Scrooge was so finicky that perhaps this feather belonged to the old miser. He wouldn't put it past his relative.

Speaking of his benefactor, Donald heard the sound of Scrooge's cane lightly thumping against the floor in the hallway, and when Donald looked over, he saw his uncle looking at him in contempt. "What are you doing up so late?"

"I'm just writin' a letter." Since he was in the company of family, Donald hoped he was allowed to slip back into his home dialect. Judging by the glare Scrooge was giving him, that was a no. "For Mom and Dad and Della…"

"You promised me limited contact with them when you joined me." Scrooge now cast his glare toward the paper, and Donald defensively tried to cover it with his hands.

"Limited, sure, but I didn't day I'd cut them out completely." Donald rolled the paper up, knowing he wouldn't get anything done with Scrooge's brooding presence around. "I just want to let them know what's going on. I want to tell them all about…" He trailed off, originally intending to end the sentence with 'about Daisy', but he hadn't really told Scrooge about her either. Scrooge had brought Donald to the city to make him a gentleman worthy of his inheritance, and befriending a commoner probably didn't fit under that criteria. Ducksworth thankfully hadn't said a word about her yet, but just how far did his loyalty extend? "… Everything." Donald decided to finish, making it seem like his hesitance had just been a lack of finding the right vocabulary. "I mean, I've only been here a little while, and there have been parties, and meeting with the dukes and the duchess, and then the whole Scarlet deal…"

"Bah!" Scrooge slammed his cane down, ready to force his opinions where they weren't wanted. "The Scarlet! What a load of nonsense! A crazy man goes flying around in a cape trying to do police work, and we're supposed to applaud him? Just you wait and see, all these fancy heroics will just land him a stronger jail sentence."

"And he's a womanizer." Donald had also seen the declaration in the paper, and it had made him fume. How dare the Scarlet toy with Daisy's feelings like that? If the hero wanted to ruin his own life, then so be it, but he had no business dragging Daisy along for the ride. "If you're not careful, you could lose your girlfriends to him."

"If he wants them, I'll gift-wrap them for him." Scrooge sneered, and it earned a little laugh out of his nephew. Even when the laughter had stopped, Donald remained oddly cheerful, and Scrooge defensively leaned away from the pleasant demeanor. "… What are you so happy about?"

"We've finally got something we agree on." Donald beamed, delighted at the small footstep they had made toward each other. "And it's that we both hate the same guy." He continued to smile, expecting to be returned.

Instead, Scrooge unsteadily tapped his fingers on his cane, and pulled away from the room. "… Don't stay up too late. You're wasting my candles." Then he was gone, his cane thump-thump-thumping down the hallway, and an exasperated Donald blew out the candle.

Scrooge was known for being a cranky old man, but this was ridiculous. It was almost as if he was running away from the slightest hint of affection from his family. Why was Scrooge so afraid of having emotional connections to anyone, especially one who shared his blood? Donald twirled the feathered quill in his hand, recalling the mystery of his aunt Matilda. Did her death have anything to do with the separation of their families? He contemplated writing home about it, since he knew Scrooge wasn't going to say a word about it. Ducksworth was still troublesome when it came to trust.

He got out of his chair and decided to open the window, resting his arms on the sill and gazed out into the remains of the black night. The sun was beginning to peak out, and the paper boys were bright and early in getting their materials ready. Donald had seen these boys before, but now he was getting an actual look at them. He frowned as he saw how unhealthily thin many were, and how desperately they called out for any chance for a coin. One in particular, a little mouse, even seemed like he had trouble walking. Yet there he was, hollering and waving his papers about, despite wincing here and there. Donald admired his spirit. Maybe he'd buy a paper from the little guy later.

Perhaps the paper would have something about the Scarlet inside, and he and Scrooge could have a family rant together. Even if the attempt before had failed, Donald felt he should still keep trying to bring them together. As Donald thought about it, he noticed that suddenly one of the paperboys was scrambling to grab the attention of the others. The mouse had winced when his arm was tugged, but soon became rapt in the attention of the others. Donald couldn't hear what was being said, but the boys were gasping and talking wildly in shock. Curious, Donald leaned outward, and yelled with a hand to his beak. "Hey! What's all the ruckus?"

The boys continued to talk to themselves, except for the mouse, who heard the call. "It's Duke Fou Medecin!" He shouted right back, unsure of how to handle the information personally. "One of his butlers just ran outta the mansion … the duke is dead!"

Chapter Text

The passing of Duke Fou Medecin was felt by the city as more troublesome than tragic. The old man hadn't made a pleasant impact during his time. Being a well known bigot against animal species made for an awful train of thought when the fur and feathers outnumbered humans ten to one. He had only begun to treat them with more tolerance when his age was beginning to catch up with him, and he needed help getting around. The report of his death came as a surprise first, and then to many, relief. He had died of a heart attack, which wasn't too surprising given his age. He had no family, and not even a will to leave behind, so it was the begrudging duty of his servants to lay him to rest.

So what was to become of his mansion and all the treasures he had acquired over his long lifetime? With no heir or close family members to claim it, the police took hold of his assets and held an auction a week after his death. The wealthy arrived in their carriages, dressed more like they were attending a party instead of a somber occasion. Some of the lesser folk had gathered around the mansion to take their guesses at what was happening inside. Daisy and Max were among them, sharing their distaste over the events.

"Even when they're dead, the rich aren't useful." Daisy lamented as she tugged down on her sleeves, the winter chill picking up. "I heard that the money in the auction goes to the other Dukes and the Duchess. Like they need more of it!"

Max kept his hands in his pockets, fingering his birthday present to a special lady. "What a waste. It's just a contest to see who has the biggest wallet. But…" The pause was enough for Daisy to glance over at him, interested. "… I heard the old man had plenty of scientific books and papers collected in his library. I'd give anything to even get a glimpse of those notes." In his youth, Medecin had extended his hand into the scientific community, and even the renowned geniuses Ludwig Von Drake and Gyro Gearloose had asked for his help occasionally. But the older he became, the bitterer he became, and eventually shoved away the only people who shared like minds. "I can't believe this… in one year, we've lost so many brilliant people."

"At least we've got one on our side." Daisy lightly pat Max's arm, trying to earn a smile out of him. "That's why you've got to keep up your work. I know that egghead of yours is going to help us change things. That's the one thing that the wealthy can't control... rich or poor, brilliance can come from anywhere."

Max shifted his arms around, embarrassed that lately he had used his genius to make jewelry instead of anything beneficial to the revolution. In an effort to get the topic off of him, he spoke very quickly, trying to gesture to the mansion without removing his hands from his pocket. "Speaking of what the wealthy can and can't control… any control over Donald?"

The embarrassment bounced back onto Daisy, and she idly picked at a loose thread on her sleeve. "I'm… getting there. He's just really strange. But in enough time, I'll get what I need from him." True to her word, Daisy had visited Donald every day. It had started out for only a few minutes per day, but lately it had begun stretching into hours at a time. Aside from arguing over The Scarlet every once in a while – Donald claiming that the Scarlet was doing more harm than good and Daisy protecting what she saw as the love of her life-, Donald was surprisingly good and humble company. It absolutely irritated Daisy how nice he could be, yet she was still sure underneath it all, Donald was as cruel as any other moneygrubber, and soon he'd show it to the entire city. "And at the next meeting… I know exactly how to gain back everyone's trust."

Before Max could ask how, someone else called Daisy's name instead. "Hey, Daisy! What're you doing here?" The latest carriage to arrive on the scene had been Donald Duck's, and he walked over with cheer to see his good friend. "I thought this was going to be a really boring day, but I didn't think you'd show up."

Daisy ripped out the thread, trying to be indifferent to his happiness. "Did your Uncle send you over here to collect some worthless piece of furniture?"

"Sorta." He managed a dry laugh at his own expense. "He said he wanted me out of his feathers for a few hours, so he gave me a small allowance and told me to only buy one thing. I'm only allowed to spend one thousand." Donald couldn't imagine wanting anything out of Medecin's collections, but figured he should jump on the one drop of kindness that Scrooge was giving. Then his eyes brightened as an idea came to him. "Say, Daisy, why don't you come in with me? Maybe you can help me pick out something neat!"

"Oh, gee, I'd just love to…" Daisy lied drolly, and laid out a hand to her dog companion. "But my friend and I were just about to…" Not do anything, apparently, as Max was long gone – he had probably made a split for it when Daisy was distracted by Donald. Daisy noted she'd have to give him a good kick to the shin at the next meeting. "… Nevermind."

"Great, come this way!" Donald was so relieved to have some friendly company that he failed to notice Daisy's utter reluctance towards coming inside, as he took her hand and began to lead her in. At the door, he received a white fan to hold up for when he decided to bid, imprinted with a black 88. The living room had been moved around to accommodate for the crowds, seats, and miniature podium that the chief of police, Pete Felin, stood behind. Though some servants of the elite were mixed in with their masters, Daisy managed to stick out and received many disgusted glares of those better than her. She returned the hateful looks, but at the same time felt herself shrinking down from their distaste. When Donald found a few empty seats, he showed them to Daisy so she could sit, but noticed her look of discomfort. "… What's the matter?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Daisy muttered, smoothing down her dress as she sat. "I don't belong here." Though her confidence told her she was better than everyone else in the room, it was still easy to feel ugly in an old, tattered dress among rows of elegant women with clothes that had never seen a stain.

"Says who?" Donald sat beside her, easily able to ignore everyone in the room, even someone who was heading right towards their row of seats. "I brought you here. So… I say you belong." He patted her hand once, and then looked toward the auctioneer, missing the chance to see a faint of a smile on Daisy's beak.

"All right, what's up next…" Pete waved his officers around, making them drag the items back and forth in front of the public. Horace was among them, and he was trying to hold up a heavy stack of thick books, and judging by his shaking knees he was in no physical condition to be carrying such a load. Pete took one book off of the top of the pile, though it didn't ease Horace's problem any. "Let's see, uh… Okay, folks, we've got some books here from the Medecin's collection. The, uh…" he squinted to try and make sense of the title. "… Dynamics of… the electric current in order to… Aw, some fancy smarty-pants stuff." He tossed the book back to Horace, who in seconds was now under a pile of dusty old pages.

Daisy's head tilted up as she understood what the title really meant. It must have been the collection Max was talking about only moments before. Donald caught sight of Daisy's interest, and when Pete made the opening bid of one hundred, Donald raised his number. Daisy expected it to be another way to impress her, and so was disturbed at how genuine Donald's bright expression was. He was honestly happy to do this for her, and she ducked her head down, feeling a stirring sensation in her chest. What was with this guy?

"One hundred from Mister Duck!" Pete waved his hammer about, and did a sweep of the room, trying to see if there were any other interested buyers. On the contrary, people were yawning at the idea of such a purchase. "One hundred, do I hear one-fifty? Going once… going twice…"

"One-fifty."

The ducks who had been lost in their romantic display snapped their heads to their direct right, as that's where the bidding voice had come from. Sitting on Daisy's other side was another duck, dressed in a green darker than the dirtiest grass, and although he could have easily been Donald's age, he was a bit more handsome, a bit better dressed, and even his number was higher – 89. "I thought I'd spare you the wrath of your penny-pinching uncle. And if it makes this lovely lady happy, that's quite the bonus." He took Daisy's hand without her permission, giving it a light kiss. "Duke Gladstone Gander. The pleasure is all mine."

"It certainly is." Daisy tugged her hand back, wiping it on her dress.

Donald frowned, and raised his number up again. "Two hundred! And for your information, Duke Gander, my uncle is letting me spend this money, so why don't you sit back and relax?"

Gladstone also raised his number. "Three hundred. And this is quite relaxing, I'll have you know. And even better, the money eventually comes back to me! It's a highlight of being related to royalty." He kept his winning smirk on Daisy, letting an arm rest on the back of her chair. "Almost makes me a prince."

"I know what I'm doing!" Try as Scrooge and Ducksworth had, Donald's temper from the countryside hadn't been tamed, and it took over as Donald waved his number around erratically. "Four hundred!"

"Five hundred." Gladstone chirped in his charming chipper way.

"Six hundred!"
"Seven hundred."
"Eight hundred!"
"Nine hundred."

Pete was having trouble keeping track of the strange battle, and many others in their seat had turned around just to watch the spectacle. Had Daisy not been in this center of this bizarre war, she would have found it hilarious. But she was, and so she didn't, trying to sink lower and lower into her seat. She knew they were in extra trouble when Donald began to jump outside Scrooge's allowed limit.

"Three thousand!"
"Four thousand."
"Five thousand!"
"Six thousand."

Donald's rage reached its breaking point, and he stood on top of his seat, pointing his number at Gladstone and yelling at the top of his lungs. "Nine thousand, nine hundred and… and… and twelve!" If Gladstone dared to top that, very little was going to stop Donald from leaping over and throttling the cocky jerk.

Gladstone rubbed his wrist, sighing quietly. "My wrist is getting sore." Donald's rage was barely a blip on his radar.

Pete quickly seized the movement, slamming his hammer in rapid succession to get the darn deal over with. "Going once and twice and the duck has the books! Just send 'em to McDuck's place already."

Donald pumped his fists up in victory, and then sat down, thumbing his vest in pride. "Why don't we head home, Daisy? I can give you the books there as soon as possible!"

"And then you can tell your uncle how you went over your limit by eight thousand and twelve." Daisy reminded him as she rose from her seat, and to her surprise she found she didn't enjoy the devastated state Donald sank into upon the horrid realization. "But getting out of here does sound like a good idea." Though she had to drag Donald by his arm to get anywhere, as in his horror he had lost the ability to feel his legs.

Gladstone waved her and winked. "I'll see you around, ma cherie."

Daisy found herself holding Donald's arm a little tighter as they left together.

~*~

Max didn't mean to abandon Daisy like that, but he figured it was better that than explaining what he had been planning to do that day. He was once again on that familiar path where he had met Roxanne, hoping he could run into her again. As he stressed that hope, he thought back to when he had last seen her, which had been when he met her father and learned about her birthday. Come to think of it, she hadn't said for what reason she was there, or even where she was going. In fact, her father had made her turn right back around from whence she came, and she hadn't protested about having to go somewhere else. So why was she there that day?

And why was she there this day? He stumbled to a halt as he saw her familiar lovely locks resting neatly on her shoulders, and when their eyes locked, any passerby would have noticed that she had started walking much quicker. She was almost out of breath when she reached him, holding the black lace cowl around her neck. "Max! It's so good to see you again!"

"Hey, uh…" His pockets felt ten times heavier now, and his eyes bounced all over to try and find a place that didn't land on her. "I, uh… I actually was hoping to… see you, um…"

"Oh? Really?" She tilted to a side, trying to catch up with his eyes.

"Well… you said your birthday was coming up." He inhaled as deeply as his lungs would allow, wanting to get his embarrassment over with as soon as possible. "So, well, I had some spare stuff back home, so, you see, I got bored, and, well, I figured, maybe…" He clenched the earrings in his pockets, and then pushed his hands out, opening them and refusing to make eye contact with her. "So! So. Sooo."

Roxanne blinked once in confusion, but it wasn't too difficult to make out what was glinting in his dirty gloves. "… Are those… oh! Earrings! And… they're gears! Little gears!" She squealed as she drew her fingers over them, feeling delicate grooves on the brown jewelry. "They're so cute! Did you really make these? For me?"

"If you want them." Max hoped he wasn't smiling as stupidly as he felt he was. Hearing that exuberance in her voice was possibly the greatest sound he had ever heard in young life.

"Max, this is so sweet! Thank you so much!" She held onto his fingers, squeezing them in appreciation, and Max found he could no longer play keep away with his eyes. There was a huge boost in his pride to know something he had made would go on this beauty. "I'd go home and put them on right now… but my dad is home, and if he saw us, he'd throw a fit." She paused, and then scooped the earrings into her hands. "Mind if we go to your place?"

Max's logical side welcomed this idea, as this would be a good way to talk about the revolutionaries in private, and to show her his extensive work in their fight for freedom and equality. Much of that was drowned out by his hormones going WHOO HOO repeatedly."Uh… s-sure. I guess. Follow me." He turned around and managed to strike a victory grin before looking cool and normal again as she came up to his side. "By the way… where were you going?"

Roxanne, bizarrely, was now the one to cast her eyes away, rolling the earrings back and forth in her hands. "Oh… just… out for a walk. I hear cold air can be good for you." Max thought that was the silliest thing he had ever heard, but then, he never would have guessed that perhaps she and he were more alike than he knew – that, perhaps, she had taken the same path to see him as well. This same path passed by a troubled paperboy with a lot on his mind.

~*~

Mickey's thoughts were so troubled that he didn't mind the cold. While many of the city weren't bothered by Medecin's passing, Gyro and Ludwig discussed the matter at length with the hero, and found out many suspicious circumstances regarding the man's death. The last one to see Medecin alive was Duke Fantome, as the servants had said that during his visit, he had suddenly rushed out of the room in a panic, declaring something terrible was happening to Medecin. When one butler came into the room to see what the matter was, the old man was already dead. Aside from the servants and Fantome, no one had been allowed to see the body, not even a doctor. Ludwig had argued that a heart attack wasn't something one could automatically know from looking, and you'd only know by a proper autopsy.

Ludwig and Gyro's hidden cameras weren't able to reach inside Medecin's mansion, but they were able to watch Fantome leave, and he appeared fairly stoic about seeing a man die in front of his eyes mere minutes ago. It had also been him who said it was a heart attack, and those around with him had seen little reason to argue about it. Then there was the fact that Ludwig and Gyro had learned about the driver of the carriage that started the Second Bloody Sunday from Medecine's mouth. It had been a fact that Medecine found morbidly amusing sharing with his companions, figuring they'd be too cowardly to ever tell another soul.

But these were all points that a court would dismiss and with nothing to hold together, it only gave the trio a few hunches, bad feelings, and little more to work with. Maybe when he went on patrol tonight, Mickey could try to do some investigation, but for now he had few leads. Had Mickey not seen Minnie's carriage begin to trot up his way, he would have stayed in this troubled mood. She always had a way of flipping his mood around with just her presence, and when her door opened, he picked up the top paper off of this stack, ready to hand it over. But as he saw a second body coming out of the carriage, the paper began to crumple in his hands. What was Mortimer Rodawn doing in her carriage?!

"What an auction!" Mortimer guffawed, slapping a hand to the wind as they made their way over. "That old geezer may not have been good for much, but his mansion is going to make a great party room for me and my friends!"

Minnie stepped in front of Mortimer, hoping to avoid another confrontation between Mickey and the rat. "Did you save one for me, Mickey?"

"Don't I always?" Mickey handed it to her, but didn't take his eyes off his rival. "Don't ya have better things ta do, like… anythin' at all?" After his humiliation in front of Minnie the last time they were together, Mickey was dreading every second Mortimer stayed there in their presence. Since he couldn't have either of them guessing his other job, he couldn't show any signs of real strength or intelligence, and would have to let Mortimer win any games they would encounter. Mickey knew it was for the best, but he also felt like he'd rather die than go through Mortimer's victory sneer again.

Mortimer took his own paper off of the stack, drifting through the pages. "The Duchess insisted on coming here after our date."

"It was so very much not a date!" Minnie interjected with lightning speed lips, but it still wasn't fast enough to stop Mickey's jaw from dropping. "He just insisted on coming with me to the auction! He's quite insistent on a lot of things." Minnie had only gone to see if there was anything she could buy and donate to the poor, but aside from the books that were lost in the battle of the ducks, there was nothing useful left. As for Mortimer, he seemed to think that barging in on Minnie's carriage and waiting for her outside of her gate constituted as courting, and she was considering getting a lock, maybe even a guard dog, just to keep him away from her morning routine to the newspaper boy.

Mortimer chuckled in the face of blinding indignation from the pair of smaller mice as he tried to find words worthy of his notice. "I don't know how you can stand to be so adorable, Duchess. I'd better act fast before some other man finds you and snatches you up." It was then he remembered the party at Fantome's place, and how a certain vigilante had stolen Mortimer's dance partner, and his face soured. "Like that… no-good Scarlet chump."

Mickey should have left it alone, but manly pride is a very loud thing. "Think ya got some competition from the guy? Maybe he could snatch her away from you… wouldn't be too hard."

"He isn't snatching me away! No one is snatching me away!" Minnie's panic was lost on the men as they entered a fight of sheer confidence.

"That guy is a common thief!" Mortimer rolled up his paper and shook it at Mickey as if he was a disobedient dog. "For every robbery he stops, he takes a piece for himself! Why, if I ever saw the guy again, I'd take him to the police! It's up to men like me to protect the Duchess from such scoundrels!"

"Maybe she doesn't wanna be protected! Maybe she likes the guy!" Mickey really should have stopped, he could almost hear Ludwig and Gyro face-palming at this fight, but manly pride is a very, very, very loud thing. "They've already kissed! Her first one, too!"

"She would never do such a thing! He probably forced himself on her and she couldn't defend herself!"

"Oh, she wanted it! Practically tackled the guy down! And it was a real good one! A real sweet one! She's crazy about him, and there's nothin' you can do about it!"

Minnie didn't know if she wanted to die or kill the men in front of her. She had tried so hard to make sure no one important thought there was any romantic feelings between her and the Scarlet, but from the sound of it, she hadn't done a very good job. Let Mortimer think what he wanted, he was an annoyance in every sense of the word. She needed to fix things, and as the argument choked her, she clutched her hair as her thoughts scrambled. How would she reestablish the dearest and deepest friendship she had? "I… oh… M… M-M-Mickey Mouse, I demand you sleep with me!"

It wasn't until she saw how wide both men's eyes had gotten that she realized she left out some crucial words. "… Over! Sleep over! At my house!" She used the awkward silence to her advantage in order to calm herself, smoothing down her dress and fur before speaking again. She was a proper lady, after all, and there had to be images to be maintained about such kinds of people. "We've been friends ever since we were children, but lately we haven't been able to see too much of each other. And lately you've been looking so exhausted, so we should use tonight to get you some proper rest, and to renew our friendship."

"Tonight?" Mickey repeated, uneasily tugging at his shirt collar. "Aw, gee, um… that's real nice of ya, Minnie, but…" But he had a nightly duty to scour the streets in pursuit of criminals, except of course he couldn't say that.

"No buts!" Minnie side-stepped to make sure she stayed in his line of vision. "I won't hear any excuses. I want you promptly at my house at eight-o-clock, and not a minute later."

"M-Minnie, I, uh…" How was he supposed to deny her without hurting her feelings? "See, I already got… p-plans! Yeah, plans. I'm planning to do plans…"

"Isn't that a shame." Mortimer wedged himself back into the conversation, using Mickey's head as a hand rest as he leaned over. Mickey clenched his fists over and over, trying to hold back his Scarlet strength to flip Mortimer over and splash him in the fountain's freezing water. "But I'm as free as a bird! How about I take up this guy's space and we start our own friendship? Since he clearly doesn't care about you anymore…"

"I didn't say that!" Mickey tried to move his head away from Mortimer's hand without hurting the taller rat, despite how much he wanted to. "I said I got plans, is all! Planning plans! All… planned out and everythin'!"

"Fine with me." Mortimer straightened up, proud to have, in his own mind, won the argument. "Nothing could be more important than spending time with the duchess, but I guess that's just me. It was eight-o-clock, right my dear?"

Mickey snorted, and waited for Minnie to reject the invitation that wasn't cast. Yet Minnie didn't, and was looking dejected at losing the one she did want to invite. She had lowered her head, hands held together against her violet dress. "… I see." She swallowed hard, and the lump going down in her throat matched the dagger sticking into Mickey's heart. "… I certainly wouldn't want to be a bother to you… so… if you've really got something more important… then I'm sorry." Oh no, she wasn't going to… to cry, was she?! She turned her head away, covering her mouth with one lacy gloved hand, and Mickey could spot tiny trembles near her face.

"I'll go I'll go I'll go I'll go I'll go I'll gooo!" Mickey ran out from under Mortimer's hand, causing the taller socialite to fall forward and smack his face into the pavement below. "I'll go, I will, I promise!" He prayed he had prevented her crying, because that was worse than any Bloody Sunday, worse than any robbery, it was the worst thing that could ever possibly happen!

Fortunately it didn't happen, for when Minnie looked back at him and removed her hand from her mouth, she was grinning from ear to ear. "Good! I'll make sure the guest room is extra cleaned up for your arrival." She burst into laughter as Mickey's face went from relief to irritation. "Oh, Mickey, you've always done everything possible to make sure I stopped crying. That's how I always got you to play house with me when we were children. You just never learn."

Mickey crossed his arms, his cheeks puffing into a pout as he remembered past times in his childhood where she had tricked him similarly. All she had to do was give off that little tremble with her mouth covered, and Mickey had come under her command completely, which helped when Minnie wanted to play particularly girly games like house, or make sure he played with her more than the other children on the street. "… Y'know, one of these days, yer gunna cry fer real… and I ain't gunna do a thing about it! No sir."

"Yes you will." Minnie patted his cheek, taking joy in finding the deep colors coming off of it

"… Yes I will." Though Mickey smiled, he was still worried about the trouble he was in concerning his nightly duties. At least Minnie had given him a schedule, so he could try to sneak back to Ludwig and Gyro before then and figure something out. They wouldn't be pleased at all, but Mickey wasn't going to break his word to the duchess.

"Then I'll go get everything ready for tonight. We're going to have such fun!" Feeling a rush of confidence after the small ordeal, she swiftly kissed his cheek fast enough that anyone who blinked would have missed it. Convincing that same person that it happened would also be difficult, as she then almost ran for her carriage, bewildered that she had gotten away with such a rash act of affection. As for Mickey, the seconds of a smooch had broken down any leftover misgivings about what he had planned to do.

Minnie managed to make it to her carriage before Mortimer could get up, and happily rode off without him in pursuit of the night's plans. Mortimer, alas, could not take the hint, even when it had been flirting right in front of him. "So… I'll be there at eight, duchess!" He pathetically yelled after her long gone carriage.

Mickey did a quick check around the scene – no one was paying them any particular attention. So with a whistle, he picked up any papers that had fallen during the confrontation, and in doing so, swept a leg under Mortimer's ankle, causing him to fall backwards into the fountain water. Hearing him splash and sputter was music to Mickey's big ears.

~*~

Ludwig and Gyro weren't pleased at all. They had witnessed the invitation on screen, and were mutually shaking their heads in disapproval. "You know," Gyro sighed, "it's as if the more we try to keep them apart, the closer they wind up becoming. Either he can't get it through his head he's not supposed to have emotional connections anymore…"

"Or the duchess has a tighter leash on him than we first thought." Ludwig got out of his chair, walking up and down the singular room in an effort to get blooding flowing through his body, as sitting for so long tended to create aches. "The boy has got a noble heart… he can't bear to hurt her. His kindness is one of the reasons why we picked him." He stopped in front of a line of long tubes, each one holding old versions of the Scarlet outfit, each one fitted for a different body type, lest they lose their current hero. "And we knew that the duchess was very attached to him… you remember what happened on the Second Bloody Sunday."

"But Mickey doesn't." Gyro stayed in his seat, beginning to click on the computer keys underneath him to get different camera angles. "And if he found out the truth about what happened that day, then he'd never let her go. If she ever decides to tell him…"

"Now that, the professor knows, will never happen!" Ludwig nodded twice, feeling power over this matter. "Stubborn people like those kids guess everything about each other. She assumes he knows, but doesn't want to risk anything by outright asking him. That's the trouble with people today! Everyone assumes everything, so no one says anything! Silence isn't golden, it's lead! Heavy lead!"

Gyro didn't bother trying to decipher the metaphor. "But what are we going to do about tonight? If something does happen and the Scarlet isn't there to help people, it's going to really set us back. We need a plan."

Ludwig stroked his lower bill as his mind rattled, but it didn't take long for him to snap his fingers. "I've got it! Gyro, get the chemicals!"

"Ludwig, for the last time, I refuse to help you dye your hair."

"Not those chemicals, the other ones! And I'll have you know that blonde hair is all the range these days."

~*~

At seven-o-clock that night, Max unsteadily sat on his dirty old mattress besides Roxanne, awaiting her answer. He had only meant to tell her miniature details about the revolution, and if she was on board, he'd mention his part in it. But as the day went on, he found he couldn't stop talking about the entire matter of the revolution, feeling very strongly about it and wishing to convey every ounce of his emotions to her. Roxanne had been silent the entire time, her expression unreadable as he went in depth about the other members of the group. Now that he was finished, he was on edge as he waited to hear her opinion on it.

Eventually, she inhaled deeply, tucking some hair behind her ears that now held his gears. "… That's… a lot to take in."

It wasn't a rejection, but it wasn't acceptance either. Max was grateful that his father was off doing one of his many odd jobs, yet at the same time he felt he'd praise something to break the constant pauses. "Yeah… but… you understand, right? I… I know we haven't really known each other that long, but I wanted to tell you, and… I trust you. We really need all the help we can get." He took off his cap, sighing as he ran a hand over his head. "But I also understand if you don't want in. It'd be dangerous, and I'm not even sure what Daisy is planning for tonight's meeting. So… whatever you want to do… it's okay. Really."

There was another pause that made Max's insides twist and churn with uncertainty. Then his body went into absolute knots as she stood up, but she wasn't making a move to leave. Instead, she offered her hand down towards him, gracefully smiling. "Well then. We should get going… I don't want to be late for the first time."

For one of the very rare times in his life, Max was as clueless as his father. He blinked at the lovely hand that was dangling over his face.

"Max… I want in."

Chapter Text

7: 58 p.m.

"Come in!" Minnie chirped as she finished brushing her hair for the millionth time. Her bedroom had been cleaned about six times since Minnie had made the impromptu sleepover announcement, and she still wondered if it was enough. She did her best to remain positive, and smiled to see a particularly favorite maid of hers enter the room. "Good evening, Mrs. Potts."

"Good evening, my lady." The older woman curtsied, and though she had been there the longest out of all the servants, she still felt it was the right thing to address Minnie by a title than by name. "Your guest has arrived at the front door."

"Perfect! I'm nearly done." Minnie then picked up a small bottle of perfume, and began puffing it around her neck, tossing her hair back and forth. "I'm so glad mother and father aren't around. They'd never approve… but now, really, as long as they keep taking those silly trips to business and parties, I can have…" She stopped when she saw her plump servant giving off a knowing look. "What? What is it?"

"I couldn't help but notice, my lady, but that's the same perfume you put on every time you go out to get the paper." She leaned over, picking up the bottle and shaking the contents inside. "And as long as I've known you, that's the only reason I've ever seen you put on perfume."

Minnie's large, golden framed mirror reflected her rush of nervousness. "… I am having people over, after all. I should… smell my best!"

"I also couldn't help notice that this is a new dress." Mrs. Potts tugged gently on Minnie's sleeve, reaffirming the new fabric and the freshly cut price tag. "And as long as I've known you, you've loathed to waste money on new clothes when you have an entire closet full of nice dresses."

"I should look nice when I'm having guests over." Minnie snatched the perfume bottle, knowing exactly what was being insinuated but far too prideful to admit it, as easy as that would have made things. She pouted, putting the bottle down and picking up lipstick. "Honestly," She sighed as she rolled the tube to get the red peaked out. "Are you going to pick on everything I'm doing?"

"… I can't help but notice that's also a brand new tube of lipstick."

Lips stuck in mid-pucker, Minnie very quickly put the lipstick tube back on her drawer. "Don't you have a door to answer?" She hopped off of her chair and headed out of the room before she could hear more of her maid's well meaning teasing. So what if she was getting fancied up? Should she just dress in rags to see her good friend of over ten years? This is what friends did! Friends cleaned their houses for the arrival of other friends, and got new things to surprise the friends with, and maybe practiced for a few hours in the mirror how to flutter their eyelashes to make those friends notice how much effort they put into looking pretty. Her high heels clicked on the marble floor of her partially empty home, having sent most of her servants off early for the evening so she and Mickey could have their privacy.

She stopped at the front door to take a breath in order to calm herself. One more toss of her hair, one more chance to smooth down her dress, and then she put on her best smile. She grabbed the door handle, opened it, "I'm so glad you could… Oh, non non non!"

The shouted negative wasn't directed towards Mickey, who stood on the stone steps holding a small tin blue box in his hands. It was directed towards Mortimer Rodawn, standing right next to Mickey and holding up a bouquet of fake flowers. Judging by Mickey's deep set glowering, the rat had been there for some time, barging in where he wasn't wanted. "Of course I could make it, my fair duchess!" Mortimer tipped his hat. "I tried to get the urchin here to bug off, but some people really can't read the atmosphere." Mortimer was clearly illiterate as he couldn't read the absolute loathing coming at from the duchess. "Now, how's about we take a gander inside? I've always wanted to see the inside of your mansion!"

Mickey and Minnie exchanged a tired look. Mickey knew that there was little that could be done about this matter. Minnie was a proper lady of society, and they were supposed to accept these hardships and never raise their voice, never complain, and never tell a man that she'd rather throw herself into a woodchipper than ever date him. If Minnie dared to speak out against this, the entire elite community would know about this, think ill of her, and –

"Frankly, Lord Mortimer Rodawn, I could not care less about what you want." Minnie snapped, startling Mickey, Mortimer, and even herself. "I invited Mickey to my home, and not you. I have known Mickey since I was a child, he is my closest and dearest friend, and do you know what you are to me?" She yanked out one of the fake flowers from Mortimer's bouquet just to point at him with it, and ensure that this time he would know who she was talking to. "Nothing more than a pain in my neck! I have no interest in being courted by you, and I never shall! And if I ever see you on my property again, I shall personally call up the Chief of Police and ask him lock you up until you learn some manners, no matter how many centuries that takes! Now, goodnight, monsieur!" She slammed the door, breathing heavily now that all her anger had been spent. Then, after realizing a minor detail, she quickly opened the door again, pulled Mickey inside, and then slammed the door again.

"Wow." Mickey raised his eyebrows, amazed by that display. If he hadn't seen it in person he wouldn't have believed it happened.

"I'm sorry you had to see that." Minnie smoothed down her dress again, embarrassed but not exactly regretting what she had done.

"I'm not." Mickey was fairly certain he could fall for her all over again with that proud rant. It may have cost her social points, but it was starting to seem like she didn't care about that anymore. "But, c'mon, let's forget about him."

"A lovely idea." As Minnie turned to face him, she could now get a better look at the box in his hands. "Oh… what do you have? Mickey, you didn't have to bring me anything!"

Nor did he want to, but Ludwig and Gyro had demanded it. "Uh… oh, this thing?" Mickey swallowed as he held it up. "I, uh, I had some money left over… so… I gotcha some tea." Laced with a sleeping drug that was sure to knock her out for a few hours. When she was fast asleep, Mickey would sneak out, and do his nightly patrol for the Scarlet, and then before sunrise he would return to the mansion and the duchess would be none the wiser.

"Mickey, you're so sweet! I simply must pay you back!" She lifted the tin box out of his hands, missing the guilt written all over his face. "We'll have some right away." She linked her arm around Mickey's and led him down the hallway. "And we'll have all night to talk and catch up. There's only so much we can get done for a few minutes at a fountain every day."

Mickey nodded, but didn't add on. As she continued to lead him on, he mostly nodded or agreed with whatever she had to say, as he was still weighed down from the sin he was going to have to commit. He knew it was for the good of all, but it still felt like a very terrible thing to do to his dearest friend. She'd never forgive him if she found out. As they came back to Minnie's room, Mrs. Potts was patiently waiting at the door, and Minnie gently placed the tea tin in the maid's hands. "Could you please make some tea for us, Mrs. Potts? We'll be in here, catching up."

"Of course, it should only take a few minutes, my lady." Mrs. Potts stepped aside to let the two in, but once again couldn't resist a gentle ribbing. "Should I knock before entering? I would hate to interrupt anything important."

Mickey was oblivious to the implication, so he blinked in confusion at the beet shade of red Minnie began to turn. "Y-You should knock no matter what! It's only polite!" She all but shoved Mickey into the room, hurriedly closing the door behind them and then laughing nervously to try and get rid of the odd tension. "… She's, ah, getting to that age… that very silly age…"

Mickey shrugged it off, removing himself from Minnie's grasp to take a good look at the room. He whistled at the size of it, hands in his pockets as he walked around. "Gee, you could fit a dozen carriages in this place! Yer not just livin' in the lap a'luxury… ya got the whole darn body of luxury!"

Minnie clicked her tongue at the poor joke, but still smiled, since even when Mickey was being tacky, it was always done in that same fun fashion. "Make yourself comfortable."

"Done and done." Mickey walked along a wall, seeing old gifts from Minnie's parents that she had rarely touched. He wondered which business venture they were hunting down now, or which exotic vacation they were wasting time on. The folks were rarely home, and each time they left they stayed away even longer than last time. He ran his fingers along one of her drawers, amazed that even wood could be polished and decorated to look implacably fancy for the wealthy. "Where are yer folks now?"

"I'm not really sure." Minnie sat down on a long red couch, watching Mickey explore. "To be honest, I haven't seen them in a year. They send a letter once a month along with some gifts." She made an airy gesture to the long shelves with jeweled baubles that held no meaning for her. "They're always telling me how to behave and who to be friends with, but, well, if they're not here, why should they have a say?"

"You seem ta be doin' pretty swell on yer own anyways." He stopped as he saw a familiar object on the desk drawer besides Minnie's large bed. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he was seeing straight, and it was still there. "Say, ain't this…" He picked up a toy kaleidoscope, rusted by age and the gold paint peeling off at the edges. "No way! This old thing is still around?" He looked towards Minnie as he asked this, and she was once again that embarrassed yet still very pretty shade of red.

Of all the things to forget! She knew she should have hidden that thing, but it had become such a staple of her room that she completely overlooked it when it came to the clean-up. "… I… Well, it's… it's an important memento! It's… only natural I would still have it, isn't it?"

Mickey held up the kaleidoscope to his eye, and twisted it around, still able to see the faded colors blend together. "Still works, too! Ha ha, would ya look at that!" He was easily able to step back into his youth, moving all around to try and get different colors and textures to mix-up. "Aw, I can't believe you held onto it!"

"Of course I did. Don't you remember how I got it?"

"Like it was yesterday!" He lowered the toy down, more than ready to relapse into childhood memories. Yet when he faced her, seeing her lay her arms on the armrest and watching him with those heavenly eyes of hers, he promptly forgot how to speak. She had this power to stop him with one movement of those curly eyelashes, and the longer they stared at each other, the more Mickey forgot. Moments like this were when he could make up the Scarlet's romantic lines in his head, but lost the ability to give them life. If he'd been wearing his mask and feathered hat and speaking in an altered voice, he could easily get down on one knee, take her arm, and proclaim his everlasting love for her before kissing her deeply as he pressed her into the couch cushions. But he was Mickey, the paperboy, and he was forgetting how to breathe.

Three knocks touched the door. "Your tea is ready, my lady." Mickey nearly dropped the kaleidoscope as his desires screeched to a halt, and he flimsily returned the toy to its home.

Minnie suddenly sat up straight, unaware of how much time had been lost in the staring contest. "Come in!" Mrs. Potts winked knowingly as she entered, carrying a silver tray filled with tea supplies. She laid it out on a small table in front of the couch, and as Mickey walked over, he noted that like most of Minnie's dresses, the tea set was violet and it made him smile before seeing the tin box on the tray, which brought back his guilt with resounding force. Mrs. Potts partially curtsied when she left, closing the door behind her. The tea had already been poured into two small cups, and Mickey uncomfortably sat down besides Minnie as she took one cup. "It smells so nice… like… blueberries!" She closed her eyes as she took her first big sip, which was fortunate because Mickey couldn't bear to look at her as she did it. "Mmm… and such a good taste. I must say, I never knew you had such a good eye for tea."

"Ha… ha, w-well… I kinda picked one out at r-random, that's all…" Mickey took his own cup to avoid suspicion, and began adding spoonful after spoonful of sugar. "It's not that big of a d-deal, really…"

"Don't be silly. It's from you, of course it's a big deal." She took another long drink, and then leaned back, relaxed. "In fact… it really makes me happy. After seeing you fight with Mortimer earlier, I thought maybe you were mad at me."

His tea was becoming more sugar than liquid. "Mad? Whaddya mean? I ain't mad at you. Never could be."

"You were just arguing so vehemently about the Scarlet." Minnie blinked slowly, her relaxation beginning to spread throughout her body. "Like when you said how I kissed Scarlet as my first kiss, and…" She lowered her cup as a dim light flickered in her mind. "… And… how could you have known that? The Scarlet and I were all alone when that happened…"

Mickey had nearly been killed several times during his times as the Scarlet, but this was when he had been the most terrified. "Uh… w-w-what? I, uh… y-y-ya told me! Yeah, ya told me all about it!" He began to mix his spoon in the tea, but in his panic he was spilling it all over the floor.

"No I didn't…" Minnie yawned quietly, trying to put her cup back on the tray. "I didn't tell you anything about… oh, goodness…" Another yawn escaped her, and she lightly slapped her cheeks, trying to focus. "I must have stayed up too late… last night…"

"M-M-Maybe ya should just get ta bed!" Mickey pushed the little table away with his feet, and wound up spilling the milk and cream on the floor as well. "Early ta bed and early ta rise makes… makes… early risers?"

"No, no, I'm all right… And… I shouldn't be mad, too…" Minnie pushed down on the cushions in an effort to keep her body straight, but she was beginning to bob back and forth in her exhaustion. "There are... some things I haven't… told you… as well… like… the second… the second bloody…"

Mickey's head whipped around as he caught those words. "The… the second bloody… y-you mean the Second Bloody Sunday?" She had a secret about that horrible day that she was hiding from him? But she never hid anything from him! "W-whatcha mean?"

"… They told me… not to…" Minnie's body began to flop forward, but Mickey caught her by the arms, trying to shake her awake.

"C-C'mon, Minnie, stay with me!" He knelt down on the floor, keeping eye contact. This had to be karma for trying to drug her in the first place. Why would Minnie know something about that day that Mickey didn't? He didn't remember all of it, but Ludwig and Gyro had given him all the details. "What about the Second Bloody Sunday? What did ya hide from me? Who said ya couldn't do somethin'?"

"Mmm… They… were supposed to… to… Oh, Mickey…" She wasn't going to be giving him anymore answers, and her entire body heaved forward, landing on top of Mickey as he wound up on his back on the floor. He waited a moment, and then heard her soft breathing. She was out, and he was out of answers.

"… There's a 'fallin' for me' joke in here somewhere." Mickey shook his head, and began to get up, carrying Minnie in his arms. Though she couldn't hear him, he still felt a need to apologize as he took her to bed. "Maybe I can explain someday, Minnie… but… I never wanted ta hurtcha. Never." He laid her down on her soft pillow, and pulled the silk sheets over her small frame. "I'll… try to make up for it. But I'd never be mad at you. Never ever. But… you got every reason to be mad at me." Was it his imagination, or was she smiling? Or maybe those pert, lovely lips always fell into a happy form? The way they formed begged for a kiss. "… Don't tempt me." He brushed some of her hair off of her cheek, and then walked towards her door.

Mrs. Potts was cleaning up the hallway, and Mickey nodded to her as he passed. "She got a little tired… hit the hay early. Mind showin' me the guest room?"

"Right next door to hers, sir."

"Thanks!" He flashed her an innocent smile, and entered the guest room. Once the door was closed, he fled for the window for his escape. It was time for the night to really begin.

~*~

9: 15 p.m.

"It's finally happened." Katarina was the first to speak after the long silence. "You've lost your mind. Are you even listening to yourself?" Since someone had spoken, the other revolutionaries in the winery began to mumble back and forth to each other, unsure if they agreed or not. "What happened to seducing Donald?"

"I guess your little mind can't connect the dots." Daisy stood up at the head of the long table, fully confident in the plan she had just announced. "I am getting closer to Donald, and soon I'll have access to the entire mansion. When I do, I can get information about Scrooge McDuck's vault… everyone knows that whatever Scrooge hasn't invested in the Tache bank is kept locked up in the vault. If I can find the code to break open the vault, we can steal the money. With that much loot, we'll not only get the supplies we need, but it'll send a huge message that the wealthy aren't as invincible as they think they are!" She slammed her hands on the table, silencing the mumblers once more. "Isn't that what you wanted from me, Katarina? To get close to Donald so we could have an advantage? Well now I've got one, so either come up with your own plan or follow me!"

Katarina growled, tapping her long nails on the table. Beside her, Max took the chance to speak up. "It does sound dangerous… but I could try and get started on something to help open the vault, if Daisy gets me the info." The body next to him leaned in closer, worried about the idea. Max had yet to tell his companions about the extra help, and for now Roxanne was disguised under the wrappings of his old bedsheets. She was a bit of an odd sight, but upon bringing her in, Max had said that his 'friend' could only afford thin clothing, and since this winter was becoming particularly harsh, no one had thought to question it too much. The revolutionaries were close enough to trust Max and any friend of his.

"See, even the smartest kid in France wants in." Daisy waved to Max, and the expressions of the others began to change in agreement. "We can't fail! They'll never know what hit them!"

"If you want to put us all in jail, have fun." Katarina got out of her seat. "… I need some time to think about this. I'm… starting to wonder if I'm really cut out for this."

Daisy's hands clenched, but the owner of the winery held up a hand to try and stop any fighting. "If she wants to go, let her." Peg was much more at ease than the people she was hiding, but that could have been because she was the oldest among them. She often saw them as her own kids, and as Katarina neared the door, Peg gave her an affectionate stroke between her ears. "It's a scary business, but we've all got to trust each other. Saying you want to change the world is one thing… but when it becomes real, you might not know what to do. So… take your time, kiddo." Katarina hesitated, rubbing her arm before getting out of the winery. Peg walked to the other end of the table, trying to put things back on track. "I'm not letting you guys use my place for free. If you've got an idea, you have to go for it."

Daisy slowly sat back down, doing her best to put her frustrations about Katarina's flip-flopping aside. "All right, we lost one coward… but we gained more help." She folded her arms as she tried to get a better look at the newcomer next to Max. "So, Max, who is this new friend?"

Max felt all the eyes in the room on his and his friend, and for a moment wished like Katarina he could run away. But Roxanne squeezed his hand, and a flood of strength kept him still. "… She's… you have to promise to keep calm about this, all right? Calm and rational? And since you trust me, you know I can explain logically about her presence."

"… Oh, this isn't going to end well." Daisy pressed a few fingers to her temple.

Ignoring Daisy's well earned reaction, Max nodded to Roxanne, and she began to tug down on the sheets around her. She only exposed her head, and as her hair flowed down, flickers of recognition began to arise in the eyes of the other men and women at the table. Max kept Roxanne's hand tightly close to him. "Her name is Roxanne Shyster, and she- "

"Shyster?!" Daisy knocked over her seat as she got up, having memorized many names of the elite. "As in the family that works for the Tache bank?"

Roxanne timidly held up a finger. "Um… technically, my dad works there, I don't…"

"I feel so much better now." Daisy grumbled sarcastically, clutching her arms in anger. "Max, I know I told you to get a girlfriend, but if you've just endangered us all for a few kisses…"

"She's on our side!" Max rushed into the accusations before any further embarrassment could be said. "I told you to trust me! She really wants to help us! She's not going to tell a soul about what happens here tonight, and we can use her influence and money to our advantage… just like you're doing with Donald! … Minus, uh, the… seducing and tricking thing."

Roxanne picked up the rally, though she would definitely savor the adorable look Max went through as he said 'seduced'. "I've seen what goes on in the bank. My father and others treat the poor terribly, and never lift a finger to help others. They don't care what happens to you, but I do. I can try and get information from my father and the bank, as long as it helps the rest of you. If you just give me a chance… I will do my best to help improve your lives." She then held up Max's hand, raising it high above her. "You said it yourself, Daisy, that Max is the smartest kid in all of France. So if you can trust him, you can trust me."

Daisy buried her face in her hands, and she could hear whispers of disapproval among the others. Even Peg looked skeptical, biting down on her lip as she studied Roxanne. Yet when Daisy found speech again, she sounded defeated. "… The first thing I'm going to buy with Scrooge's millions is some aspirin." She faced Roxanne and Max, and while she wouldn't admit it right away, the conviction they held together was both admirable and adorable. "I do trust Max… I trust everyone in this room. I even trust Katarina, as much as I'd like to throttle her. We're a family. And if you want to become a part of this family, you're going to have to put everything on the line for us. If we want your help, you can't refuse. You might wind up as poor as us, or even in jail. Once you cross this line, you can't come back. So I don't want you doing this for a cute boy, or because you're a teenager and want to get your dad mad."

Roxanne put her hands in her lap, conveniently forgetting to let go of Max's hand. "Those are just bonuses, miss." Max made a startled noise in his throat, and Peg let out a loud laugh, slapping the table at his befuddled choke.

Daisy fought off a smile made from Roxanne's charm. "The name's Daisy, not miss, and if you're in for this job… We've got a long night ahead of us."

~*~

11: 00 p.m.

It had been a fairly calm night for the Scarlet and his hidden helpers. Aside from a few petty muggings and one or two fights he helped break up, the city was quiet this night. Ludwig and Gyro expected Mickey to ask to go back to Minnie's home early since there was little activity, yet Mickey never once voiced this wish. He was even wearing his commoner clothing underneath his costume, just to make the switch back easier when the sun came up, yet he never once said he wanted to go back as soon as possible. They believed he had been maturing, and while that was partially true, he also wanted some time to think things over. What was he supposed to tell Minnie if she asked again how he knew about the kiss? What did she know about the Bloody Sunday that he didn't already know? What was Duke Fantome's next plan to try and bring life to a Third Bloody Sunday? Did Fou Medecine die of natural causes or was there something sinister behind his passing? Who had devised the trap with the horse and cow?

All of these questions and many more passed through his mind as he balanced walking on rooftops, seeing over the city. He had a million of them, but no answers to any, even from his genius friends. Yet the night wouldn't give him peace from too long as he heard a feminine scream from an alley below the building he was passing. "We've got some trouble!" He pulled out his small pistol, giving a twirl as he started to run. "Get me ready, guys!" With a flick of a few switches back at headquarters, his boots became magnetized, and with ease he was running straight down the wall. Down in the alley there was an overweight cat in blue – Pete, the Chief of Police, laughing maliciously – trying to hang onto the wrist of a much smaller female feline – Katarina – and from the way Pete was laughing and leering at her, there was no way he was longing for simple conversation.

The Scarlet jumped off the wall and landed on top of a trash can, making enough noise to grab the attention of both cats. He grabbed the trash can lid and threw it at Pete's face, making the officer howl in pain as he released Katarina. "Why… you runt! Wait'll I get my hands on youuu!" He lunged for the mouse, but Mickey jumped again, this time on top of Pete's head, giving him a kick to the neck, and he leapt off in time for Pete to fall and get his big head stuck in the trash can.

The Scarlet kept his back to Katarina, ready to defend her further. "Are you hurt, my lady?"

Katarina rubbed her sore wrist, getting an eyeful of her sudden hero. "I… I'm all right… but who are you?"

"I'd love to give a proper introduction, but I don't think now's the time for pleasantries." He stood in place as Pete freed himself from the trash can, smelling as fiercely as he snarled. "Now, how about instead of harming nice ladies, you go home and take a shower?"

"You're the one who's about to get their clock cleaned!" Pete lumbered towards the vigilante, swinging his fists around. "Don't you know who I am!"

"Pete Felin, a pleasure." He replied calmly as he merely stepped from side to side to avoid the punches. "The Chief of Police. I had a run in with one of your boys not too long ago. He wasn't terribly polite either."

"Stay still!" Pete roared as he tried to slam his fists together from each side, but all the Scarlet had to do was duck and Pete wound up hitting himself. The hero grabbed Pete by the sleeve, yanked him in close, and smacked him in the face with the blunt end of his pistol. Pete stumbled backwards, and the Scarlet fired directly at Pete's shin. Katarina gasped, but no blood came from the shot, as rubber bullets weren't made for that purpose. Pete fell over backwards, landing in a pile of trash cans, and he moaned in pain, giving up for now.

"This is the second time I've seen a corrupt policeman, and I must say, I'm very disappointed." The Scarlet returned the pistol to its holster, wagging a finger as Ludwig fed him warning lines. "A third strike will cause me to take action. Your duty is protect the people, no matter the gender, no matter the standing. I strive for equality… and I will treat you and your men as equally as any other criminal if you push me." With this flowery speech finished, he returned to his attentions to Katarina. "I don't think he'll be bothering you for a while, my lady. Head for home and get some rest."

"… You're him." Katarina whispered once she understood. "… The one everyone's been talking about. You're… the Scarlet. You saved my life… H-How can I ever repay you?"

"Just knowing you're all right is all the payment I could ever need." He bowed formally, but as he straightened up, Katarina quickly leaned in and kissed his cheek – the same cheek Minnie had kissed hours before. Katarina then ran away into the night, leaving Mickey to rub at his cheek, annoyed, but not entirely at her. "… Thanks for that warning, guys."

"Oh, no!" Gyro shouted accidentally directly into the microphone, causing Mickey to wince.

"A little late to warn me about her trying to kiss me now…"

"Not that!" Gyro tugged at Ludwig to make him point at the same screen so he could see the trouble. "The Duchess is waking up!"

Mickey changed his mind – this was the most horrified he had ever been. "What?!"

"The dosage in the tea mustn't have been too small!" Ludwig groaned, hitting the keys as he tried to find the fastest route for Mickey to take back to headquarters. "I only put in a little because she's such a small lady… you've got to get back here so you can drop off the outfit!"

"I don't have time for that!" Mickey took to wall running again, hastily grabbing the edge of the roof so he could get on top of the building. "When she's awake, she'll start looking for me, I know it! I've got to get back there!" No matter how many times the birds were telling him this was a bad idea, he continued to head back to the mansion. He'd think up a plan later – he needed to get there before Minnie realized she was alone!

~*~

11: 05 p.m.

The first thing that Minnie noticed when she fully regained consciousness was that she was alone. The lights were still on, and there was no sign of Mickey anywhere in the room. She slid out from under the sheets, trying to figure out what had happened. The last thing she remembered was having Mickey in her room, talking about the kaleidoscope, and then… things were a blur. She looked at her bed, and tapped her cheek in thought. She must have fallen asleep, even if it was rather sudden. Then… oh, Mickey, that sweetheart! He must have tucked her in!

She cupped her cheeks as she imagined how that must have happened, and fluttery giggles escaped her. She must thank him at once! She stepped away from the bed –

And the Scarlet slammed open her windows, standing on her balcony. "Yes! Made it! Now I just need to- " Alas, in his frantic panic to get back, he had mixed up which room was the guest room. Now he stood in Minnie's room, exchanging a wide eyed stare of utter shock with the duchess. Nope, THIS had to be the most terrifying experience of his life. "… Good evening."

"Monsieur Scarlet?!" Minnie stepped backwards until she hit the bed, a hand to her heart. "W-what are you doing here?"

"… Excellent question." He racked his brain for any excuse, favoring quick answers over smart ones in an attempt to keep up his cool and calm persona. "I… heard… about the young man in the next room over. Michael, or Ricky, or something." He rubbed his fingers on his chest, as if he hardly cared. "I wanted to check the boy out. I wouldn't want someone unscrupulous person staying with my most precious."

Minnie jumped to a conclusion, but not the one Mickey wanted. "Wait… I get it now!" She pointed an accusatory finger toward the Scarlet, pushing herself away from the bed. "You're the one who told Mickey I kissed you! That's how he found out!"

"I did-"He stopped himself from adding 'not', and even the brilliant birds had to admit Minnie could be creatively clever when she wanted. "I… did! Oui oui, I did. That is exactly what happened."

"You had no right!" Minnie put her hands on her hips, angry for reasons that refused to share. "It was none of his business! And I'll have you know that Mickey is completely scrupulous! He's super scrupulous, and I can have whatever company I please!" She then picked up her dress to make it easier to walk faster. "I'm going to get his side of the story right this instant!"

Mickey gave up on listing the most terrifying moments of his life, since Minnie insisted on topping them. "No, no, no, that's completely unnecessary! I believe you!" But Minnie, in her petty anger, wouldn't hear of it, and was opening the door. In the time-frame of fifteen seconds, he ran back out onto the balcony, jumped to the next window, forced it open, ran to the door and grabbed a hold of the inside lock, snapping it shut. He could hear bits of applause from the birds for that feat.

"Mickey?" Minnie knocked on the door, trying to get his attention. "Mickey, get up! The Scarlet's here!"

"H-Hold on, Minnie, I'll… oooh!" Drat, he'd spoken while still using the microchip, and while still sounding like the Scarlet!

Minnie began to knock even harder, twisting the locked doorknob in her hand. "Monsieur Scarlet, what are you doing in there? Mickey, what's going on?" She pounded on the door, thinking the worst was happening to the two men that were close to her.

The one man kept his body against the door, and with his mind cornered, he could only think of one silly solution. "S-So! You're called Mickey, are you? Have… you been treating my most precious well?" He then stuck out his tongue, taking off the microchip and slipping into his poor boy dialect. "Y-yer what?! Whaddya goin' around callin' Minnie that? I oughta box yer ears, sneakin' around in a girl's room!" he then put the chip back on, and continued the single conversation while Minnie was worriedly waiting outside.

"You think you can take me on? It's very unbecoming to fight in the house of a lady."
"I-I'll do it, I will! I'm gunna make sure ya leave Minnie alone! T-take this! And that!"
"Perhaps you're the one who needs a few lessons! Have at you!"
"Y-You better leave Minnie alone! She's my best friend in the whole world, and if you think you can get away with hurtin' her…"
"I believe you're the one who's been snapping at her lately, you even tried to deny this lovely invitation!"
"I'm gunna cut ya down ta half my size!"
"I'd like to see you try!"

 

To make it realistic, Mickey began to trash the room, throwing chairs and tossing items off the shelves. He figured this was either an act of brilliance or madness, but as his ego played into it.

"I must say, for a lowly paperboy, you have quite the fight in you! And you're dashingly handsome as well! No wonder you're such good friends with the duchess! I may not be a match for someone so dashing and noble!"
"Yer not gunna get away with any of this, no matter how smart and talented ya are! Get back here! Oh, no, he's goin' out the window!" With the room sufficiently in shambles, Mickey opened the window, a little proud of how well he had pulled this off. "Don'tcha worry, Minnie, I'll go after him!"
"Oh, no, I truly may be in trouble now! I should make a run for it!"

Minnie continued to call out Mickey's name – only Mickey's, and not the Scarlet's – but from the sound of it, they were already gone. With a soft whine, she pressed her forehead to the door, lamenting over what she thought was partially her fault. She held onto a hope that it was mostly men being silly and prideful, and it was some small comfort that the fight sounded more ridiculous than threatening in any way. As for the secrets she wanted to tell Mickey, it seemed like they would have to wait for another night. Or at least until she got this Scarlet matter settled.

~*~

11: 15 p.m.

Gyro turned off the microphone to keep the conversation between himself and Ludwig private. "Ludwig… I have to ask. Did you purposely put a low dosage in the tea tin?"

Ludwig took off his glasses to rub some dust off with his thumbs. "I was thinking if Mickey couldn't return, the duchess would get angry with him, and we'd have the separation we wanted. But the boy has more wits than I thought."

"You have to admit, he's got a good head." Gyro pushed his own glasses further up his beak, knowing he should be frustrated with the romance but finding amusement and relief with what had happened instead. "That's one of the reasons we picked him. I think we might have to face facts… if they're going to be apart, it won't be by our hands."

"I doubt it'll be by that Rodawn's hands either! That guy was so thick, a milkshake would be jealous!" They both had a good chuckle at the bizarre metaphor, and decided for once not to lecture Mickey about his ill-be-gotten romance. The night was still young.

~*~

12: 00 a.m.

Only special members of the Tache Bank could enter so late at night, and Pete was one such member, along with the special guest behind him. He was still sore from the beating he had endured, but he had also faked how much the fight had really hurt him. He and his guest headed up the stairs to Fantome's office, but a loud scream stopped him from knocking on the door. Pete stared at the closed door, recognizing the voice as Clarabelle's. The scream faded, replaced with horrific sobbing and whimpering of pained apologies. Reluctantly, Pete managed to open the door to witness the horror in person.

The Duke was sitting behind his desk, holding a fresh batch of tea, Earl Grey for tonight, in his hands.. On the floor laid the remains of a tea set, including a tea kettle that was out of hot water. Also on the floor was Clarabelle, holding her face that was covered in scalding hot water, and as Pete heard her crying out how sorry she was, he almost stepped back.

"Good evening, Chief." Fantome caught him, placing the cup down on his desk on top of a lacy doily. "Don't mind her. She and Horace did the play as I instructed, but apparently they couldn't even keep the annoyance out of commission for one night. He was still seen the next night, fighting and doing whatever it is heroes do. You just can't get good help these days."

Pete tore his eyes off the injured woman in an effort to pretend she wasn't there. "Th-That's not true, sir! You know I'm really great help! Me and my mole set up the Scarlet, and we managed to get one of his bullets!" He pulled out one of the rubber bullets from his pocket, having provoked the shot on purpose. "We should be able to learn something from this, right?"

"Perhaps." Fantome glanced over at the woman who was walking out from Pete's shadow. "Is that all you did?"

Katarina smirked, caring less about the state of the cow and more about the news she was ready to share. "Uncle Pete is right. After what I've learned, we're going to be of great help."

Chapter Text

Several days after Daisy's declaration of her idea, she was knocking on Donald's door again. By now, a routine had developed for these daily visits. After her knock, Ducksworth would let her in, Donald would eagerly rush down the stairs and trip on the tenth step, and then the two ducks would walk here and there around the mansion talking about anything from the Scarlet's latest news to the parties Donald was forced to attend. Today they were walking down one of the many illuminated hallways of the giant mansion, with Daisy holding one of the books Donald had won at the auction. In an effort to practice Donald's memorization, he was pointing out various rooms they were passing, and often led her inside to take a look.

"… And this is my uncle's office." Donald tapped lightly on a locked door that had Scrooge's name in fancy gold lettering. "It's where he does his paperwork, and he goes in that giant vault of his at least once a day to count everything inside."

Daisy looked the door up and down carefully, doing a different memorization than Donald. "Is he in there?"

"Nah – ah, I mean, no." Donald cleared his throat, hoping Daisy hadn't heard the slip of his country tongue. "He's out with his… girlfriends." He wished that was the verbal slip-up. "He probably won't be back until late tonight, if they go easy on him."

Daisy crushed the book against her chest, amazed that such an opportunity had come so quickly. "Really… so… maybe… we could look inside? I'm curious."

Donald pulled his hand away from the door, shifting his eyes around. "I… I don't know… He's still pretty mad at me for all the money I spent on the auction… I'm only just now getting my hearing back." The long and loud lecture Scrooge had given him was awful, yet Donald still hadn't regretted it. The joy on Daisy's face when he had given her the first book was worth every coin. Perhaps she would never return his feelings, but at the very least he had made her happy, and that was a wondrous thing all on its own.

"Oh, he'll never find out. I just want a quick look." Daisy remembered those feelings Donald kept for her, as he wasn't able to keep them a secret, given how he seemed so happy with Daisy at his side. Keeping note of that, she reached out and lightly brushed her fingers on his sleeve, giving it a small tug. "Pretty please?" Oddly, the book felt heavier after she used his feelings to her advantage. She figured her arms were getting tired, that was all.

Donald stared intensely at those fingers, and any more objections over the suggestion shattered in an instant. "… I… I guess a few minutes wouldn't hurt, and I don't see Ducksworth around." He dug into one of his pockets, and pulled out a small silver ring of keys. "These should open every door in the mansion… it's supposed to be for emergencies. But I'll just relock it when we leave." After a few hardy tries, he found the right key, and the two stepped into a room so cold, Daisy thought they had perhaps unlocked a giant refrigerator instead. After she got over the initial chill, she stepped into the business room that was completely devoid of any personal affects. No portraits or photographs, no plants or fancy furniture, and even the walls looked like they hadn't been painted in years. It only contained things absolutely necessary for monetary growth, such as desks, typewriters, and stacks of papers that were taller than both ducks combined.

"He doesn't turn on the heat in his room." Donald explained as he saw Daisy shiver. "He's always doing something crazy to save himself money."

"Where is the money?" Daisy asked as she walked in circles. "I don't see a vault anywhere."

"You're not supposed to." Donald knocked on one of the vaults, making metal clangs echo back and forth in the small quarters. "It was painted over to look like a normal wall. See that clock?" There was a hanging clock squarely in the center of the wall, ticking softly as black arrows depicted the time in a wooden frame. "You move the arrows at a certain time, and the vault opens."

"Interesting." Daisy could have followed up with what time that was, but that would have been too risky. She casually made her way to the biggest desk in the room, trying to find any important documents among the confusing typed pages. "One day this will be your office. Are you going to change anything?"

"Everything, if I get any say in it!" Donald followed her to the desk, and spotted a familiar paper among the business works. "Oh, come on… he still hasn't sent this?" He picked it up, reviewing it in his hands. "I was writing a letter and he wanted to 'inspect' it, make sure I did it 'right', and he still hasn't sent it out! That doggone stubborn…" He muttered various insults about the old miser, unaware that Daisy was flexing her hand across the desk, drifting around for anything with a time frame on it. It was difficult to decipher most of the office mumbo-jumble at first hand, and she was close to giving up on this first try. But then her eyes came upon a yellow paper with three names – Magica DeSpell, Brigitta McBridge, and Goldie O'Glit, the names of his girlfriends. Each one had a different time written next to their names. Anyone who didn't know about the vault and the clock would have thought it was only a schedule of the dates.

"Maybe I should send it out myself." Donald rolled up the paper, oblivious that one other paper was now missing from the desk. "At this rate, my nephews are going to think I abandoned them."

"Nephews?" Daisy repeated automatically to keep Donald's attention away from anything that appeared different in the room, such as a yellow corner sticking out of her book. "You have nephews?"

Donald held up three fingers, his beak brightening as he began to talk about his family. "Triplets! Huey, Dewey, and Louie! They're growing like weeds, I tell you! And they're always up to trouble! It was never a dull moment on the farm, let me tell you!" Yet he spoke of his bratty nephews with obvious love, laughing as he remembered various pranks he had endured. "And they're smart kids, too! I'm afraid for whatever school takes them in, but they could rule the world if they wanted! But if I had to pick the smartest, that'd definitely be Dewey… but Huey has the creativity! And Louie's got the stamina! They definitely got it from my side of the family."

As endearing as hearing Donald's family history was, little pricks of detail stood out to Daisy. "Are you telling me there's an entire family out in the country, but Scrooge only took you here? Why didn't he bring anyone else?"

Donald's enthusiasm began to fade, and he brought down his hand. "… Something happened between my Uncle and his sisters, but I don't know what. They can't stand each other. I didn't even know I had an Uncle or even a dead Aunt until this year. Apparently one of those geniuses that were killed in the school explosion was my in-law, and I never would have known if I didn't look into it by accident." Sighing, he walked to the window, looking down at the busy people in the street. "Uncle Scrooge said if I came with him to be his heir, he'd start sending money to my nephews for their future… until that happened, he never sent my mother or aunt a single coin. My family in the country scrapes by… so even though I knew I was going to miss everyone, I knew I had to take this chance. And… who knows." He shrugged one shoulder, grabbing onto a faint hope. "Maybe it can be a step forward to bringing the family back together."

The book was now ten times heavier. Daisy had to bend over to keep it in her arms, filled with confused anger. Where did Donald get off being so… so… so thoughtful? He was rich, so he was supposed to be cruel! He was supposed to be exactly like Scrooge, not giving a care about anyone! He had privilege, he had advantages, but he only wanted them in order to help his family? This was horrible, he was so nice! Why was he such a good guy? He was actually kind of wonderful! He was actually kind of sweet! He was actually kind of the person she wanted when she recruited for the revolutionaries! And this was the guy she wanted to bring to ruin by robbing him. "… Oh, no."

"Oh, no!" Donald inadvertently echoed her negativity as he caught sight of a disgusting image down below. "I'd recognize that gross green guy anywhere… what is Duke Gladstone Gander doing here?" He turned tail and marched out of the room, forgetting to lock the door behind him. Daisy went after him, only glad for the Duke's presence if it meant she no longer had to think about Donald's good qualities. They managed to make it to the front door, and Donald swung it open before Gladstone had a chance to knock. "Gander! What do you want?"

"Lucky me." Gladstone had his annoying smile, his hand still in the knock-ready position. "You opened it before I had to dirty my hand." He tipped his hat to Daisy, and offered his hand, which she didn't take. "Ma cherie, a pleasure as always. You're quite difficult to find… so I figured maybe you'd be wasting your time with Donald again and came calling."

"Why don't you back off, you royal pain?" Donald stepped in front of Daisy defensively, refusing to be ignored. "Whatever you're doing, you can knock it off right now! She's already got her heart set on someone!" Daisy readied an eyeroll, expecting Donald to proclaim that he was her true or some rubbish, but to her continuing shock Donald went a different way. "She's with that Scarlet fellow, so neither of us has a chance with her. So leave her alone!"

"I can understand why you'd give up so easily." Gladstone chuckled, once more taking no threat from Donald's anger. "That display at the auction really proved how difficult a time you're having blending into our society. It's the talk of the town. I feel rather sorry for your Uncle, having to teach you how to behave like a civilized person." It landed a powerful blow to Donald's ego, and the delicate grasp he wanted to keep on his family bonds.

Seeing Donald so wounded made Daisy's book turn to lead, and she pushed her way out of the mansion. "A-actually, I need to get home!" She tried to run past both boys, the book's emotional weight slowed her down.

Gladstone calmly grabbed the door and slammed it in Donald's face, taking his time to walk and catch up to Daisy. "Allow me to escort you. These streets can be dangerous, especially with masked loons running around… A girl as lovely as you needn't lower herself to the likes of the Scarlet or Donald Duck. Why don't we have lunch at my place?"

The book was heavier with each step away from Donald and Scrooge's mansion. "I'm not very hungry. I would really like to go home by myself."

Gladstone raised an eyebrow at what he considered strange behavior. "… Perhaps I didn't make myself clear last time. I am Duke Gladstone Gander, one of the richest and most powerful men in all of France. Any woman would be blessed to have my good luck shine on them."

"Then why don't you find one of those other women?" All the anger that she normally suppressed in Donald's presence was very eager to find a chance to release itself.

Gladstone walked in front of Daisy, demanding her utmost attention. "Maybe I'm the one who's misunderstanding things, because it almost sounds like you're telling me you don't want me around."

"That's exactly what I'm saying, stupiede!" Now this was the attitude that was expected of the wealthy! This was how Donald was supposed to be acting! "I'm Donald's friend and not yours! And I'm not looking to change it! I'm not your cherie, I don't care how much money or power you have, or why you think you're better than Donald! Frankly, I think Donald Duck is ten times the man you are!" She pushed him hard on the chest, stuck her beak in the air, and continued on her way. Strange how the book felt lighter now.

Gladstone looked down at his chest in shock. Where did his good luck go? How could a woman that bad off even think of telling him no, let alone touching him? He was still flabbergasted even when she was out of sight. "She… she… she told me no?" He told no one in particular, feeling a rush of fury he had never experienced before. "SHE told ME no?" It came in hand with the first time he had ever been rejected for anything in his life, the first time someone told him he couldn't have what he wanted. He wasn't handling it well, given the ugly way his handsome face was beginning to transform. "Who… who does that gueux think she is?!"

~*~

"SHE told ME no! Who… who does that salop think she is?!" Gladstone wasn't the only one who had been thrown off his egotistical pedestal. Mortimer Rodawn was almost spitting as he seethed in Duke Fantome's office at the Tache Bank, who was enjoying a delicate chamomile tea today. Fantome savored the smell as the rat raved and wore out his welcome on the carpet. "My family has helped bring culture and art to this pigsty of a city! I took down those useless canals in order to bring these theaters to life! And what does she do? She kisses criminals and lets street urchins in her home, but slams the door in my face!" He grabbed his cheeks as if no one would know what he was talking about otherwise. "Myyy face!"

"Shocking." Fantome did a quick look at the wall clock to make sure he had time to deal with this pest. "Women can be foolish and fickle creatures, as I've told you before."

"You've told me lots of things, but none of them have helped me get her!" Mortimer slammed his hands down on the desk, causing the tea set nearby to rattle. "You said you would help me! What is it going to take for her to shut up and be mine?"

Fantome put his tea cup down on his desk. "You really want her. And you would do anything to have her."

"Yes, exactly!" Mortimer clenched his fists, desperate to make the more powerful man before him understand. "That beauty, those riches, they should be mine, after all the hard work I've done for her and this city! I'll do whatever it takes to make her my bride!"

When Mortimer saw Fantome smile, he took it as a good sign. Yet as the duke rose out of his seat, blocking the sunlight and nearly swallowing Mortimer whole in his shadow, there was absolutely nothing pleasant to be gained from Fantome's expression. Though the men were of equal height, Fantome appeared to tower over Mortimer, and the room almost became shrouded in the same shade as Fantome's black clothes. A shiver of terror went through the rat, feeling that he had shrunk down, and that he was facing someone – something - terribly inhuman. "Speaking hypothetically, of course…" Even his voice was now dripping with shadows, an alluring darkness that Mortimer found no way to escape from. "… Would you even go past the law… go past blood… to make her wear your ring?"

Mortimer couldn't find the ability to blink, lest he vanish and never see light again. He wanted to say that this was only a joke but there was not one ounce of humor to found in any of this. The same feelings of terror hid behind Mortimer, telling him to drop the matter and get out. Yet as afraid of he had become for the duke, the feelings of pride – trampled pride, battered pride, the thought that a beautiful and royal woman would take a filthy commoner into her home, but not he! – took control of his throat, after a hard swallow. "… Y-Yes. Yes, I would. Anything to make her mine!"

"That's just what I like to hear." The duke walked around his desk, and the room filled with sunlight again, and Mortimer felt able to breathe normally. "Come with me. I'd like you to do some favors for me, and in turn, I'll help you get the Duchess as a wife." He took his cloak off the coat rack, and was followed by Mortimer as they left the room.

"What kind of favors?" Mortimer stayed behind the Duke, having an idea that trying to walk by his side would set a bad precedent.

"Think of them as little chores." They began to descend a long flight of circular stairs, passing by rooms of people tirelessly typing away reports and counting money. "I had promised Duke Roger Rabbit a visit tonight, but some important matters have come up that I simply can't get away from. So I want you to escort some representatives in my honor to his place. Be there at ten o'clock, sharp."

"You just want me to be a chauffeur?" Wouldn't a Duke have hundreds of servants to do that for him? There were so many questions to be asked about one simple request, but as the two left the stairs, they were nearly bumped into by a redheaded dog, who quickly realized the error of her path and took three steps backwards.

"I'm so sorry, my lords." She said very quickly, doing an impromptu curtsy while trying to balance the wooden weaved box in her hands.

Mortimer snorted dismissively at her, but Fantome bowed politely, taking her hand for a moment. "Lady Roxanne Shyster, this is a lovely surprise." He glanced to Mortimer, who quickly bowed as well now that he was under someone else's control. "Lord Mortimer Rodawn, I believe you've become quite close to Sylvester Shyster due to your investments… this is his daughter, Roxanne. An upcoming lady of good society."

"I'm just here to see my father." She pulled her hand away when she got the chance, hugging the box close to her chest. "He's been working so many hours lately, that I'm worried he's not eating right. So I came here to bring him lunch." She lightly opened the top, revealing a few sandwiches inside. "Could you tell me where his office is?"

"On the third floor, third door down from the right." Fantome nodded at her, and then resumed his walk. "If you'll excuse us, Lord Mortimer and I have some business to attend to." Mortimer and Roxanne exchanged a formal nod as well, and the higher-ups left one another without another thought. Roxanne exhaled deeply as she took to the stairs, relieved that her lunch had perfectly hidden Max's invention. Unlike Mortimer, who had submitted to his fear under the cowl of dark shadows, Roxanne embraced her fear with every ascension of each stair step, keeping her head high for the mission.

~*~

Normally Mickey didn't like to talk when he was putting in his contacts, as it was a difficult and annoying job. Yet even as he changed from dark blue to bright green, he found himself immersed in conversation. "An open letter system? What does that even mean?"

Ludwig dramatically shoved everything off one of the tables, causing Gyro to panic and try to catch everything that was fragile. "Since no one's caught onto the fact that our newspaper is a false-paper, I came up with a new way to use it!" He began laying down empty pages of future newspapers, entire articles and headlines clear. "If there's anything we can learn from our mess-up with the Duchess, it's that we can't always be there when we need to be. Some problems take time to develop. But we'll cut them off at the pass!"

"What he means is…" Gyro carefully began putting the saved beakers and bottles back on the table. "Problems such as corruption and black-mail aren't things we can catch people directly in the act of. In the paper, the Scarlet will announce that he's willing to take on problems people can't solve or directly prove themselves. We'll give them several locations to drop letters off detailing what they need help with, and to make sure we don't get captured, we'll pick them up at random times."

"Sounds kinda risky." Mickey blinked several times to make sure his contacts were in place. To be fair, he often liked the risk that came with the job. "Might even give some people confidence to start talkin' about their problems in public."

"We'll announce the system in a day or two." Ludwig took the voice changing microchip out of his pocket, and tossed it towards Mickey, who playfully caught it on his tongue. "Just leave the writing up to the geniuses. You've already got a job tonight!"

"To check up on Duke Roger Rabbit," The Scarlet spoke in his altered voice, practicing the proper inflection. "And see what, if any, connections he has to Duke Medecin's death or Duke Tache's schemes. Piece of cake." He adjusted his hat and gloves, the last bits of his uniform in place.

"You're in a good mood." Gyro tried to keep the beakers on the table, as Ludwig was continuing to push them away as he started writing drafts on the papers. "I take it that means things with the Duchess are going smoothly?"

"She still doesn't suspect a thing." So Mickey believed, as the first morning after the disastrous night, Minnie had flooded Mickey with concerns about how the Scarlet had treated him. Mickey fibbed that the hero had gotten away, though as he described the battle in the bedroom, he kept flip-flopping over who was truly stronger. Despite initial confusion, Minnie had stuck with the story given to her, and thankfully never brought up the subject of her sudden sleep. "We're in the clear."

"At least until she decides to kiss you again." Gyro was all but juggling the beakers now in an effort to protect them, which made him miss Mickey's embarrassed flush.

"Unless Duke Rabbit is friendlier than what people say, I think I'll be free of kisses tonight." Mickey headed for the exit before any further teasing could be lodged his way, though he felt a small victory as he heard Gyro yelp, followed by the sounds of shattered glass.

~*~

It was still difficult to see out of her right eye, but Clarabelle never voiced her complaint. Horace had done that plenty on the carriage over that night, with Lord Mortimer driving the horses. Every time Horace brought up the scalding that was still clear on his friend's face, she interrupted and said it was her fault. She had deserved the painful attack since she had failed her beloved duke so disgracefully. Tonight would be different. She'd get the job done right, and the duke would reward her for her efforts.

Roger Rabbit's mansion was nothing to brag about, but it still showed he had come from a well standing family. Though he was known as being dull in mind, he was warm in heart, and when his servants spoke merrily of him, it was easy to tell they meant every word. Duchess Minnie had tried to convince him to donate to those less fortunate like she did, but every time the other Dukes would bully him into keeping his wealth. He was easily cowed and cornered, doing whatever he was told in order to keep the peace. At this time of night, he sent most of his servants home, only keeping a handful in case of an emergency. He was most likely getting ready to sleep after the meeting tonight, which is exactly what the trio was counting on.

Mortimer climbed down off of the carriage once they stopped, his face becoming paler and paler with every second as he finally understood what they were really here for. Horace and Clarabelle climbed out of the carriage, and Horace grumbled to see Mortimer's fear so easy on his face. "Don't suppose you could try ta look any less guilty."

"Shut up, it's my first time." Mortimer rubbed his neck, trying to see if it was possibly to physically push down the lump in his throat. He knocked three times on the door, and when a maid opened the door, he tried speaking louder as a way to sound less conscious. "We're here to see Lord Roger Rabbit! We were invited! We're representatives of Duke Fantome Tache!" The maid took a moment to let her ears recover, and then curtsied, stepping aside to let them in. She stayed with the carriage to watch over it, and Horace took the lead.

"Fantome told me where Roger sleeps. Let's just get this over with quickly." He walked ahead of Clarabelle, hoping to keep her out of the ensuing struggle as much as possible so nothing could be used against her in the future. He'd have liked to keep her out entirely, but her blind love, now almost literal, gave her strong footsteps as they headed toward the bedroom. Stopping at the large wooden doors, Mortimer looked around to make sure any other servants weren't in sight. Horace began to pull out his gun from its holster, and slowly swung the door open.

"Good evening, officer!"

Roger Rabbit hadn't been the one to greet them, though he was in the room, standing next to his bed in his bright red pajamas. Judging by the small half-eaten cake on the nearby desk, he'd been having a late night snack with the other person in the room. Lazily slumped in a wooden chair, the Scarlet waved jovially at the intruders, bits of cake sprinkled around his mouth. "I don't suppose you brought any milk with you. The Duke has good taste in sweets, but they can be a tad dry."

"Vous!" All three villains shouted in shocked unison, but only Horace was able to gather his wits enough to do something about it. He raised his gun, shooting to get the mission done, and while Roger yelled in horror and tried to duck under the bed, the Scarlet stood up on his chair, moving his cape in front of the range of shots – the cape impossibly solidified for a few brief seconds, and the useless bullets bounced off and rolled on the floor.

"I warned the Chief what would happen if I found the police were being bad boys again." He jumped off the chair, grabbing it by its legs. "Can't blame me for trying." In one swift move he threw the chair into Horace's chest, and given the small doorway they were trying to enter, all three bodies were knocked over. He left the room, locking the door behind him, though he could still Roger wailing pitifully under the bed, moaning "I don't want any trouble!" over and over again.

Clarabelle was the first to get up, the angry red on her face beginning to match her burnt wound. "Someone just grab him!" She made her best attempt to do so, swinging her hands at him, but he dodged with ease, bobbing back and forth.

"What happened to your face?" The Scarlet questioned as he ducked under her tight fingers. "Are you all right?" Clarabelle didn't know what was more annoying, that he was avoiding capture without a sweat or that he actually sounded concerned about her. "I think you need to see a doctor. We could cut this early and get you to a good one…"

"I got him, I got him!" Mortimer was the next to get up and foolishly get into the fight. He ran into the scene, swooping down to try and pick up the short hero, but all the Scarlet had to do was tilt to a side, and Clarabelle's kick aimed for him took Mortimer down in the stomach.

"Nice shot, my lady." The Scarlet tipped his hat in gratitude, and then picked up the pace as the two began to chase after him. He led them back to Horace, and as the horse was beginning to sit up, he found his shoulders being used for as balance for the Scarlet to somersault over. He had no time to react before Mortimer and Clarabelle's bodies slammed into him, creating a dizzy pile of miscreants on the floor again. The Scarlet hummed as he walked to the recovering baddies, and dipped in his hand to retrieve Horace's gun. "If you're not going to play nice with this, then I can't let you have it. Now let's see here." He flipped the gun over, and lightly bonked Horace on the forehead with it. "Given Roger's cowardice, I doubt he'll tell anyone about this, so I suggest you leave and never bother him again." Then he bonked Mortimer with more force. "Leave the Duchess be, or else I'll get rid of those pesky teeth of yours." He held the butt of the gun over Clarabelle's face, but didn't touch her. "As for you… I suspect whoever is behind all this is also behind your wound. You'd best leave him for your good."

None of them were enjoying the lecture, but as they all made a grab for him, the Scarlet jumped back, sticking the new gun in his waist belt. Mortimer got on his hands and knees, snarling at whom he considered his worst enemy. "You really think you can keep up with this game of cat and mouse all night? It's three against one, we have to win!" He began to rise with the others, trying to regain his confidence. "Got anything to say to that?"

"Two things, actually." The Scarlet held up two fingers, waited, and then smiled as he heard the sound of police sirens outside. "First, while Roger may be a coward, his servants love him enough to at least try to help, and I sincerely doubt the entire police force would help you commit murder. Second…" he grinned with a pearly white flash of teeth. "… The Duchess is an excellent kisser, so neener neener neener."

The Scarlet probably enjoyed watching the bloodcurdling rage flowing through Mortimer too much, even as the rat made a throttling move towards the hero's neck. Again, it was far too simple to dodge, and as the police began to bang on the front doors, The Scarlet passed the time by effortlessly weaving in and out of the many limbs wanting to assault him. The police forced the door open by the time the Scarlet made it to an adjacent window, kicking it open. "Lord Mortimer, always a displeasure. My lady, I do hope you seek help. And officer…" He tsked, shaking his head. "… it is the duty of a gentleman to aid his lady. I hope you remember that." With one last jump, he was in the night, gone.

The police officers that entered searched the palace, trying to discover what had happened and questioned the trio watching the window. For now, they were unable to hear anyone. Mortimer ground his teeth, seething as any last doubts about his new debt to Fantome were erased. He would have Minnie, and the Scarlet would pay for trying to take what had always been his. Clarabelle's eyes watered, knowing she had failed her love again, and that this punishment would definitely be more severe, no matter how much she deserved it.

"… Remember to aid my lady…?" Horace hissed, his fingers digging so deeply in his fists that he was certain he had started to bleed. "What… What… What do ya think I've been tryin' ta do all along, salaud?!" He screamed at the top of his lungs, not giving a damn that everyone could hear him, needing to voice his outrage. With the Scarlet's continued interference, Clarabelle would be the ultimate victim, and there was nothing Horace could conceivably do about it. Duke Fantome had money, had power, had Clarabelle's love, and all Horace had was a badge and gun. No one man could take on Fantome. How dare the Scarlet try to claim that was a possible feat? The wind echoed his howl, creating a stronger enemy in a pathetic man.

~*~

Things were much quieter at Duke Fantome's mansion. The Duke was leading Pete to a place that few people knew of and even fewer got access to, with lights dimming down as they went further and further down into the basement. Fantome was collected and calm as per the norm, but Pete was disgruntled on this dark night. "I don't get it, sir!" He huffed, trying to cross his arms over his large stomach. "We've got almost all the names of the revolutionaries, thanks to Katarina! Why don't you want my guys to arrest them all?"

"Patience, Pete. All good things come to those who wait." They stopped at an ordinary looking wall that only held a painting of the Duke when he was a young boy. "I want every individual looked into… I don't want a miss a chance to grab a perfectly good pawn. They all have histories that are worth sharing." He reached up and pressed the golden frame around the portrait, clicking into something behind the wall.

"But if we arrest them now," Pete argued, used to the sight of the wall sliding open to the left, now that it had been unlocked by the hidden device. "Then we can stop the revolution!"

Fantome chuckled low as he entered the disguised room, new lights flickering on inside. "Who said I wanted to stop the revolution?" That was enough to stop Pete in his tracks, utterly befuddled by what that question could mean. In this new room, Fantome became a silhouette against the dozens of glowing screens that stuck on the walls. It was an almost exact replica of the headquarters where Ludwig and Gyro resided, without the tubes filled with vigilante outfits. There was also a genius typing away at a keyboard, who didn't bother to lift his head as the company came in.

"I want the revolution more than anything in the world." Fantome's voice became lower as he turned from screen to screen, which did not capture the wide range of the city as Ludwig and Gyro's, but still showed the inside of several prominent homes, including Roger's as he still refused to get out from under the bed. "But it must be disorganized… it must not have a true leader. What I want, Chief, is… chaos. Complete and utter chaos, as these fools try to achieve equality and revenge… they'll eventually reach the tipping point, the one thing that will put them over the edge and create blood everywhere!" He swept his arms up high, as if trying to conduct an orchestra of terror in the very room, his voice swelling as he explained his plan. "The First Bloody Sunday, a man couldn't get his wife the treatment she needed, and with one punch, the streets ran red! And when I ran over that damn brat on the Second Bloody Sunday, I saw with my own eyes the beautiful blood running again! And if it happens one more time, it will prove to the Queen that the streets must be cleansed once and for all!" He could see it happening before his very eyes – gunfire and screams as the plague that touched his city was exterminated in glorious hellfire. It was enough to give him joyous maniacal laughter, fully aware of the discomposure he was causing his guests. Pete pressed his back to a wall, feeling cold sweat drip between his eyes, and the typist had stopped touching the keys.

The minutes that took Fantome to calm down felt like an eternity, as he ran a hand down his face as looked like he had never broken out of his charming smile. He touched the chair the typist was on, tugging on the chains that kept his busy worker in place. "Do forgive me… I came here to see you, and here I am, making it all about me. I promise it won't happen again." He patted the back of the chair, feigning friendliness. "As for that… what did you learn about the bullet our good chief got for us?"

"… It's very similar to something I once saw two men work on." The other replied, his throat dry and weary, head hung in pain and submission.

"Is that so?" Fantome swiveled the chair around to have a proper face to face conversation. "Tell me more… Fou Medecin."

Chapter Text

The open letter system went into effect a few days after the assault on the Rabbit household. Horace had told the other officers that the Scarlet had been trying to rob Duke Roger, but the frightened noble hadn't been able to give a clear answer anyway. This had little effect on the public, who, upon finding the newest declaration from the Scarlet in the papers about the letter system, were eager to write in. Some wrote about crimes that happened before the Scarlet's arrival, others about the unfair taxation that the Tache bank was enforcing, and there were also some that merely wanted a private way to voice their opinion on one matter or another. It was a system that found no judgment towards the writer, and there was a sense of calm that came over the city, with burdens lifted off their shoulders…

Not to say the system didn't have its problems.

"Fangirl, fangirl, murder this guy, fangirl, invitation to a birthday party…" The Scarlet speedily read through the unimportant ones, tossing them over his shoulder. It was fairly late at night as he rested against a chimney to the steel factory, the garbage disposal of said factory being one of the letter hiding spots. "So part of the city thinks I'm a hired assassin, and another part thinks I'm a mascot. I can't decide which is worse."

"Don't just skim them!" Gyro lectured, keeping an eye on the cameras around the city but still able to listen in on his friend. "We can't risk missing anything important. We've gotten some great information before, there could be a hidden gem in any one of these."

"Oh, relax." The Scarlet huffed as he opened a pink envelope with little precision. "I know what I'm doing… and I don't think we'll find a gem in this one, it's practically a marriage proposal!" He cleared his throat, wanting to share a laugh with his friends as he imitated a prissy female voice. "'My most precious Monsieur Scarlet, I simply can't stop thinking about you. Night and day, no matter what I do, you're always on my mind. Ever since that one magical night, I've known I can't stand the thought of waiting to touch you again…'" He paused in thought. Was it his imagination, or was there something vaguely familiar about this letter? "'Since the night of my rescue, I know my lips must never touch another man's. They, and the rest of my body, belong to you and you alone.'"

"The professor is starting to think about this." Ludwig tapped on one key repeatedly, using the clicking to concentrate. "Have we gone through this before?"

"'My social standing means nothing,'" The Scarlet continued, getting on the same track as Ludwig. "'So long as we can be together. For you, I will make this vow… every midnight, at the Rodawn Theatre, in the dressing rooms, I shall wait for you to have me.'"

Gyro and Ludwig tilted their heads in opposite directions, cupping their chins as they gave this longer thought. "Now," Gyro said first, "What lady have you saved before… there was a kiss… and has a social standing that's of importance…"

The three 'hmm'ed loudly, but it was the mouse who came to the abrupt conclusion first, whipping his head to read the letter again. "Oh my gosh, it's Minnie! I-It has to be Minnie!" He had saved her life more than once, they had kissed, and she was one of the highest when it came to social standing! "And she's saying that she… that she…" He couldn't say it, but he didn't need to, as he was reading it over and over again. His sweet Minnie was making such an offer? His delicate, absolutely beautiful, diminutive Minnie was saying… was wanting… it couldn't be, but there it was, in flowery print. "What time is it?!"

"Eleven thir-Oooh no!" Gyro grabbed the microphone in both hands while Ludwig used his hands to bury his face. "Scarlet, we don't know that's actually the Duchess! Don't you dare head to the theater! You can't risk anything like this! You could get your identity exposed! It could be a trap! You can't let all our hard work go down for a chance to be with… he's stopped listening to me, hasn't he."

"Ever since he first said her name." Ludwig groaned, unable to look, but knowing full well that the boy was running off the roof and heading to the theater as fast as his little legs could take him.

Ludwig slumped back in his seat, feeling defeated. "Do you realize what this means, Ludwig?"

"We're going to lose our PG-13 rating." Ignoring Gyro's absolutely befuddled expression at such a remark, Ludwig reached over to the small pile of letters that they had kept from previous nights. "But if he's not going to listen to us, then we should use our time to see the truth in these." He flipped open a tinted blue letter, and adjusted his spectacles to reread it clearly. "I'm very interested in this one. If it's true, then we need to keep an even closer eye on the revolutionaries. They could be in danger and not even know about it."

Gyro frowned, uncomfortable about 'leaving' Mickey on his own – but if they weren't able to control the boy's feelings before, how could they start now? "I'll keep the microphone on… but I'll start looking into this too. I almost want that letter to be true… for the both of us." He nodded solemnly, and didn't add on to what he knew of why it was so important to Ludwig. He used the typing of keys to adjust the cameras littered throughout the city.

"Let's see if we can find this man." Ludwig held the letter up to the bright computer screens that gave off a soothing light. If it was true, then there was a part of him that would at last know peace. "The man who claims to have accidentally started the First Bloody Sunday."

~*~

At the same time in the dead of night, Goofy was heading home from his latest job. He was splattered with fresh white paint and only a few coins jingled in his pocket, but he still hummed in his content way as he went up and down the streets. He was predictably fired from this last opportunity, his clumsiness causing another disaster, but he didn't let it get him down. Someone always needed working hands, and as long as he tried his best, he had nothing to be ashamed of. Every coin counted towards a better life for his son.

When he had arrived at their humble home, he had noticed at once that Max wasn't there. He was worried, given how late it was, and thus headed towards Max's invention shack. Goofy knew he wasn't wanted there, and that he might get an earful from his son about it, but again, he didn't mind. As long as he knew Max was safe, then it was okay for Max to call him a moron and to launch similar hurtful words at him. Goofy knew he wasn't bright. It was what he deserved.

When he arrived at the shack, he wondered whether he should knock or just holler his son's name, but hearing voices inside made him change his mind. He cautiously opened the front door, doing his best not to make a sound, and looked at the two teenagers hunched over Max's small desk. There was a glow coming from a device in Max's hands, though Goofy was too far away to see what it was. Whatever was going on, Roxanne was entranced by the device and Max was enthralled as he spoke, sitting in his chair while she stood behind him. "Roxanne, you're unbelievable! I still can't believe you actually got the bug in there!"

"Did it do any good?" She placed her hand on Max's shoulder to try and see closer. Goofy noted that a female's touch would have normally either displeased Max or made him fumble with speech, but Max continued speaking like the touch was natural. The boy and girl must have gotten very close while the father was away working, and he couldn't be happier for them.

"I've got hours of great footage on this!" Max held up his hands – it looked like a small screen, like a tiny window, but instead of being made of sheer glass, there was an image of a dark office inside. "Your dad's been purposely looking for loopholes in mortgages so the lower class can't pay off their dues in time. He shreds papers whenever they can pay… he gets to pick and choose who he wants to have a home! This entire bank is full of corruption!" For someone talking about nefarious deeds, he sounded over the moon about it. "I don't know how we can use this information yet, but when we can, maybe we bring down that whole bank!" He clenched a fist in victory, but when he glanced beside him to share more joyous news with Roxanne, an uncomfortable side note occurred to him. "… Which… would mean… bringing down your dad."

"… I know." Roxanne smiled sadly, pulling away to wring her hands. "And… I'm a little worried about what will happen to me if that does happen, but… I knew what I was getting into when I joined the group. I know what my dad is. I've always known." She slid her eyes to the screen, watching it replay her father committing crimes against the poor. "He's always wanted the best for me, but because I'm a Shyster, not because he loves me. He cares so much about money and reputation, but not about the people behind them. He hasn't even noticed all these nights I'm gotten out of the house to see you… oh, and, well, the group." She shyly tucked hair behind her ear, her gear earrings glinting in what little light the room contained.

Max's cheeks tinted in a way both teenagers were used to. "… Whatever happens, I'll… um… you know. Take… take care of you... or something." He quickly looked down, embarrassed that his smarts were failing him when it came to speaking of something deeper. "I got you into this mess, anyway."

"Who says a girl can't like messes?" Now both of her hands were on his shoulders, and her eyes contained a gaze that Goofy was familiar with – very similar to the way his late wife would look at him. "… Max… I know we haven't known each other very long, but… I think…"

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Goofy could not last five minutes without his clumsiness making itself known. He had leaned too far in on the rusty old doorknob, and with one last push, it had snapped off in his hand. Without something to balance on, Goofy fell flat forward into the room, and managed to take the entire door down with him, flattening him down even further. The teenagers jumped apart in their shock, and as Goofy tried to stand up, his sheepish grin was met with a harsh glare from his son. "Dad! What have I told you about coming here?"

"Aw, I'm sorry, Max…" Goofy picked up the door, and tried to set it back up against the damaged hinges. "Here, I'll put it back!"

"You're covered in paint!" Max grabbed the door out of Goofy's hands, and set it against a wall. "And you're getting it everywhere!"

"I am?" Goofy turned around sharply to see, which made droplets of paint fly off him in different directions. He instantly realized what he'd done, and backed up, guilt pressing harder and harder into him. "Oops… I was just comin' back from a paintin' job! And I went home, but ya weren't there, so I thought I'd check in on ya, that's all!"

"I don't need to be checked in on! I'm not a child!" Max's rage continued to spiral, forgetting Roxanne was there, and not hearing her try to call his name in an effort to dissuade his anger. "I've told you not to come in here! You always ruin my things, break my inventions, and now I need to clean up and get a new door! Get out before you wreck something else!" Once again, Goofy had ruined something Max was working on, this time being a sweet moment with Roxanne. It was like his father couldn't resist pouncing on the urge to keep Max unhappy! How could such a bright boy come from some an idiotic man!

Goofy gave one last try to be heard, peacefully keeping still to avoid bringing any more destruction to his son's precious place. "Can I at least know what time yer gunna be home? Ya need ta get some sleep, all these long hours can't be good fer ya…"

"It's none of your business how long I'm here! Get out already!" The way Max was standing was almost enough to indicate he was prepared to strike his father, if given enough incentive. A choking silence was felt in the shack, and Goofy took his time as he dragged one foot behind the other, letting himself out. When Max was sure that his father was no longer close enough to be a nuisance, he returned his attention to Roxanne, but to his surprise, she looked distraught. "What?"

"… Was that really necessary?" She stepped out from the corner she'd stuck to during the 'talk' between family members. "He looked like he was just trying to help…"

"Roxanne, don't even try to take his side!" Max grabbed the back of his seat and sat back down, crossing his arms. "Every time he's ever tried to help me, he's always made things worse! I'd be much better off if he never cared! It's because of him that I'm behind on all of my work!"

Roxanne pushed her lips together, not liking this tone in him. "I think you're being kind of harsh."

"It's true!" Max put the device back on the table, and began to pull blueprints out from under the desk. "I had hundreds of these, I had so many ground-breaking ideas… cloth that could take bullets, high powered magnets, small chips that allowed for long distance communication, all of them could have changed France as we know it. But then my dad got in here, he took every single one of my blueprints, and he sent them to the school that Gyro Gearloose and Ludwig Von Drake were making. He never even asked if he could look at them! When that building exploded, all of my stuff was gone, and I had to start from scratch!" He pounded the desk with a fist, grinding his teeth as he remembered his father's pathetic apology after the fact. "And he doesn't even have any pride or self-respect! He never tries to better himself or go for better jobs… he just takes whatever is tossed his way! He doesn't want our lives to change, he'd rather we be poor forever! I don't care if he wants to ruin his own life, but I want him to stay out of mine!"

If he expected Roxanne to agree with him, he was to be sorely disappointed. Her nose was scrunched up in disgust, not welcoming this ugly side of her friend. What right did he have to complain about a loving father, when hers was so terrible? "… I think I'll go home now, Max. I'll see you later." Max turned around, and made a feeble attempt to make her stay, but she was walking away without a look behind her. Max moaned, and planted his forehead on his desk. Yet another thing his father had ruined. This was surely Goofy's fault, and Goofy's fault alone.

But now that he had no one to yell at or impress, he felt vastly uncomfortable with how the night had progressed. If it wasn't Max's fault, then why did he feel so bad? With a grunt, he turned the device off, and was left to his own aggravation.

~*~

Now no one was saying that when a young man is presented with a chance to enjoy pleasures of the flesh with the one he loves, he loses all sense of reasoning and common sense. Mickey knew there were complications and implications that a night like this would entail, and the results could land both he and the duchess in danger. Then there was the emotional impact, that perhaps she really did love the Scarlet and not the paperboy. If anyone found out about this night or her letter, they'd know his weakness and surely put Minnie in danger. There was the chance she'd guess his identity and therefore destroy their trust and friendship forever. There were a million and one reasons not to go to the theater.

The problem was that the one good reason to go -'I get to kiss Minnie again!' – was being voiced much, much, MUCH louder in his head. He'd think of all those terrible dangers later, so he told himself as he hopped through the open window of the empty theater. The place was abandoned for the night, and he easily enough found the hallway where the dressing rooms were. Ludwig and Gyro needed to have more faith in him, he thought as he applied stolen cologne. He'd simply tell her that as much as he'd really, really, REALLY want to help her, he had a duty to uphold, and for her own safety, he would have to decline her very generous offer. If it took several kisses to get this point across, then he would just have to man up and accept the responsibility.

He found the one dressing room with light shining out from under the closed doorway. He'd show his smart friends – he could turn her down, sure he could! The fact that he was grinning like a maniac and there was a bit of drool hanging off his lip, that was just… there was a logical… oh, what was he waiting for?! He swung the door open, and saw that the dressing room contained a small decorated screen for actors to change behind. He could only make out a bare silhouette that had begun to sit up when he entered. He inhaled and exhaled deeply, letting his Scarlet persona fully take over. The Scarlet was a suave charmer under the moon's glow, and if that's what Minnie wanted, then he'd give her that wish. He walked carefully to the screen, unable to think of what to say, but was sure words would come to him when he witnessed her beauty once more. He walked to the other side of the screen, where he saw a small, lovely, black furred…

… cat.

Katarina sat up on a stitched leather couch, letting her new red dress show off her legs as she ran her hands down her arms, every inch the perfect alluring goddess. "I knew you would come for me, my love, even knowing how poor I am." What a fool this man was! This job her uncle assigned her had to be the easiest one yet. A noted womanizer like The Scarlet would be helpless against her. She closed her eyes, cooing softly, slowly reaching behind her to feel the knife she was hiding in the couch. Once he had given in to his basic instincts, he'd be dead before dawn. "Please, be gentle, Scarlet…" She waited, but didn't feel a thing. "… You don't have to be that gentle." She opened one eye, but the Scarlet wasn't at the screen anymore. "Darling?"

"Good night." That came from the doorway, sounding completely and utterly disappointed. He dug a finger in one ear, muttering "Stop laughing!" to no one she could see.

"Hey!" Katarina jumped off the couch, and knocked the screen over, insulted at once. "Do you even remember what I invited you up here for?"

"No thanks." He even sounded – dare she think it – bored! Had he not batted an eye at her luscious figure? The man who had declared his love for all the women in France was turning her down?

"I'm the most beautiful woman in this entire wretched city, you ingrate!" She shouted, beginning to storm after him. "You get over here and make yourself a man! Do you want me to tell everyone that you're a coward?"

The Scarlet began to pick up the pace in his walking. "I'm actually very okay with that." He was never going to hear the end of this from Ludwig, Gyro, and his own conscience.

"How dare you insult me like this!" Katarina had been promised by Pete that the Scarlet wouldn't be able to resist her! She began to run, furious that a man who had to hide his own face wouldn't look at her gorgeous features. "I didn't waste all my money on this dress for a cold shoulder! Make me your most precious!"

The Scarlet broke into a sprint, not wanting to hurt Katarina with his array of weapons, but she wasn't giving up so easily. The mad duo began to run all over the theater, Katarina's actual mission forgotten under her indignation. Disgusted at the thought of kissing or touching anyone than his beloved duchess, The Scarlet spoke rapidly into his chest, hoping that his microphone would still pick up sound despite how fast he was going. "I would really love an escape route, you two!"

"And you know what we would love, Scarlet?" Ludwig's smarmy smirk could practically be heard through every word.

"Not to be ignored whenever we tell you not do something." Gyro finished, the two of them having come to a decision that their friend could use a lesson in controlling his baser instincts.

"Is now really the best time to hold a grudge?!" But he had no time to get back a sarcastic answer, as Katarina was hot on his tail – quite literally, as she'd tried to snatch his thin tail in her grubby fingers. The Scarlet yelped in a probably less than heroic manner, finding the same open window he came from, and taking a leap. As he landed, he looked behind him, and hoped that the legend of cats always landing on their feet wasn't true.

It was. "I'm not leaving without at least a kiss!"

He was off like a bullet.

~*~

The party that the Scarlet had declined his invitation to come finally ended, and Minnie yawned in her carriage as she left it. Why was she always invited to these things, when no one wanted to hear what she had to say? She had tried to speak up about the plights of the poor and how every donation couldn't hurt, but people preferred to talk about her rejection of Mortimer. It was difficult for the wealthy citizens to grasp why she wouldn't want to marry into fellow wealth. The only one who had agreed was Donald Duck, and they were left alone to talk about their mutual friendships with other lower class people.

Maybe she should introduce Donald and Mickey, she thought as the carriage rode on. Donald was friendly, and when he talked about his family and friends, he almost became a different duck entirely. It was also fairly obvious what his feelings for Daisy were whenever he spoke of her. If he, the heir to one of the wealthiest men in France, could be romantically involved with a commoner, then maybe, just maybe…

The carriage began to slow down, whisking Minnie away from her 'ifs'. She sat up straighter, and tapped on the door. "Driver? Is there a problem?" Instead of hearing from him, she heard two different voices.

"You will make me your most precious and you will like it!"

"I most sincerely doubt it, madam!"

Against her butter judgment, Minnie began to open the door to see the commotion as the carriage stopped. She stuck her head out in time to see Katarina tackle the Scarlet down onto his back, grabbing him by his head to keep him in place. "I've never had a man reject me in my entire life, and no fluffy little mouse is going to be the first! So pucker up, honey!"

Moments like this were when the Scarlet was supposed to show what a gentleman he was, as opposed to the lack of manners the urchin Mickey had. But in that moment of sheer panic, in that idea that he would actually be kissing someone other than Minnie, his personas went through a spontaneous switch. Katarina planted her face down, but only kissed his palm, as Mickey had stuck his hand directly up in a desperate attempt to avoid the smooch. "I don't wanna! I don't wanna!" For that one drastic and crucial moment, he wasn't the Scarlet! "I… I… I don't wanna kiss anyone but Minnie!"

"What?!" shouted the driver.

"What?!" shouted Minnie.

"What?!" shouted Ludwig and Gyro together.

"Mmmf?!" shouted Katarina.

Blood drained from Mickey's face as he understood in that moment what came from his mouth. Panic taking hold of every nerve, he grabbed Katarina by her arms and flipped her over his head, breaking into a run once he stood up. This time, Katarina was far too stunned to continue the literal game of cat and mouse. 'Wanna'? The sophisticated vigilante had said 'wanna'?

Minnie slammed her door shut, and the driver, getting the signal, snapped the reigns to resume the horses' movement. Unlike everyone else who had heard it, she had focused more on the 'kiss Minnie' part than the 'wanna' part, with good reason. Yet she understood perfectly well the same thing as everyone else who heard it – that for one brief moment, the Scarlet wasn't the Scarlet, and whoever was under the hat and masked eyes had partially given himself away. Which led to the obvious question…

If the Scarlet wasn't the Scarlet… then who was he?

~*~

Daisy had woken up extra early that morning to look over the stolen paper again. Her tiny spout of hair was twirled up to get it out of the way, more practical for the poor in fashion and literal sense. She hadn't shown the other revolutionaries this paper or the information surrounding it yet as she wanted to come to them with real answers. Yet day after day she had looked at the three names and the three numbers and couldn't decipher which was the one that would open the vault. Brigitta, Magica, and Goldie had their own close connections to Scrooge, and it was difficult to tell who was the most important out of the trio. Brigitta was lovingly devoted, Magica was the most beautiful, but Goldie had known him the longest. Which among these was the crucial one?

She almost welcomed the knock that came to the door. She was renting the tiny house with falling apart furniture, and if this robbery wasn't successful, she'd be kicked out within the month. Figuring maybe it was her landlord, that miserable Shyster, coming to hound her for early rent, she stuffed the paper down her dress to hide it and went for the door. It wasn't a greedy older dog that had come to her door, but Donald in his usual attire of smiles and sunshine. She hadn't noticed that she smiled to see it was him. "What're you doing here?"

"Sorry to barge in on you like this, but… well, I can't have you over for a few days." He awkwardly shrugged his shoulders, not noticing the strange wrinkle in her stitched dress. "My uncle says he's lost a paper in his office, and he's not letting any strangers in the house until he finds it. Honestly, one piece of paper, and he flips out!" He would have started laughing if Daisy didn't look so terrified. "I'm sure he'll find it or give up… he's getting old. I bet it's stuffed away in the first place he looked."

"I-I'm sure that's it." Daisy smoothed down her dress, wincing as she heard the paper crinkle, but Donald didn't take notice. "Is… um, is that all?"

"… As long as I have you here… I…" His hands moved about, unsure what to do with them or where to place them as he did his best to articulate. "… I wanted to… apologize. For how we started off."

Daisy stared- no, no, no, stop right there, stop being nice!

"I know I came on … pretty strongly." He paused, and each sentence was another delightful dagger into Daisy's heart. "… Really strongly. I think I was kind of a jerk. I thought as long as I had money and my Uncle, I could have whoever I wanted, but that's not how you should treat anyone, rich or poor. Now that we've been friends for so long… you've really taught me how to treat people. So, huh! I guess what I'm saying is, I'm sorry, and thanks." He stuck out his hand to shake, and she took it with hesitation, finding it difficult to meet his eyes. Much like the book before, her dress was feeling as heavy as lead. "I'll get out of your feathers, then." He tipped his hat to her, and turned to go as he released her hand.

She should have left it at that, she knew it, and yet her mouth took over her head. "… Donald?" He glanced back at her, and she held herself tightly, slowly lifting her eyes. "… Does this mean… you don't… want me as your girlfriend… anymore?"

The dark red his cheeks became was more than enough to answer her, but the nervous cough and his stuttering also helped. "Uh! W-well… it d-doesn't matter that much, right? You love the Scarlet."

"I do?" When was the last time she actually gave thought to the Scarlet as a lover, and not as an aid to her plans? She had spoken of him in a less and less enthusiastic matter every time he was brought up. Had she fallen out of love with him so quickly? Or… had that ever been love at all? "… You know… I've never been in love before." She didn't know why she said it out loud, but it was oddly comforting. "What do you suppose it was?"

"… Maybe it was just a crush." He shrugged one shoulder, and then resumed his walk away from her. He couldn't blame her for being confused or feeling different. He'd initially gone after her in a similar manner as she had for the Scarlet – the both of them pursuing what they assumed to be their one true love, expecting fairy dust and miracles to line at their feet to bring them together. But when did love ever work that way? They had jumped into it headfirst without looking, desperate to have a trophy at their side, to say 'look at me, look what I was able to make love me!' But where Donald had set aside that goal to pursue something more worthwhile, Daisy clung onto it until she forgot why she had tried in the first place.

Daisy watched him leave, thinking about all that had transpired since she first 'met' the Scarlet. Back then, she assumed anyone with more coins than they needed were evil creatures, and that she was the most righteous woman to ever walk the city's streets. She had taken everyone around for her granted, even her dearest friends, in her attempt to make a man whose name she didn't even know her beau. Hadn't the Scarlet said messages, in his heroics and declarations, that he wanted to help everyone – that included the rich. He knew, before Daisy had known, that the poor weren't all angels, and that the rich weren't all devils. She took out the stolen paper and held it firmly in her hands. Donald hadn't been the terrible one. She was, all along.

She held the top of the paper, and began to rip it down the middle, when a cold hand grabbed her shoulder. She shrieked, and looked to her left to see Duke Gladstone Gander towering over her. "Ma cherie. May we have a word?"

"I thought I made myself perfectly clear last time!" She crumpled the paper up, and wrangled herself out of his grip, going to her door. "Have all the words you want, I don't want any!" She opened the door, but when she went to close it, Gladstone's hand lashed out, digging into her wrist.

"I think you'll want to hear me on this." He made his way inside, closing the door behind him but never letting go of her. "Duke Fantome gave me one job to do, and I'm not foolish enough to fail him. But now he's given me some extra help. You see, ma cherie, I'm very accustomed to getting what I want. Luck has always played in my favor." Daisy tried to pull her arm away, but Gladstone was frighteningly strong, and her legs shook as he held her even fiercer. "I always win. I always succeed. And now it's time for you to learn that. If you don't what I want… if you don't give me what I want… I will expose you and all of your friends in the revolution."

Daisy sank to her knees, fear taking away her ability to stand. "W-what… what are you talking about?" He was bluffing. He had to be bluffing, but how would he have even guessed what she was a part of?

"Max Geef." Seeing the horror dawn in her eyes was exquisite. What better revenge for the woman who had dared to try and change his luck? "Roxanne Shyster. Peg, Katarina, shall I go on, or do you understand now?"

Daisy's beak hung open, wanting to ask how he found out, but also knew the danger of admitting anything. If there was a devil to be found anywhere in France, it was holding her now, overpowering her now.

"Duke Fantome, Roger, and I will expose them to the Queen and label all of them as traitors!" He shook her arm, tempted to twist the bones under his grasp. "They'll be under the guillotine before sundown for crimes against the crown!"

"Stop, stop, stop!" Daisy grabbed at his green cloak, hot tears rolling down her feathered cheeks. "What is it you want?! I'll do anything, just don't expose them! Please!"

Now this was where the commoners belonged. On their knees, begging pitifully, the ultimate proof of their dirty existence. He threw her arm away, watching her collapse to the ground in sadistic enjoyment. "I'm going to stop the revolution by taking away its leader. Fantome will praise me, the Queen will praise me, all of France will praise me! You will be my bride!"

Daisy gasped, and wanted to object, wanted to scream, wanted to run into the street to get Donald's help, but instead she sat on the floor, continuing to cry, and then she hung her head, tearfully agreeing to the sinful contract. What more could she do? She had wanted to get close to what she thought was the greediest and evilest heart in all of France, and now she had.

Something flickered in Gladstone's green pocket.

~*~

The same flicker occurred on the screens in Fantome's basement, where Fou Medecin groaned as he leaned against the chains keeping him there. He couldn't care less about what was happening before them, with the hidden camera capturing Daisy's sobs. He thought he was the one who deserved tears, bound as he was to this place for the rest of his short life.

The other man in the room disagreed, finding brilliance in what he was allowed to see. Mortimer was still suffering from a cracked rib due to his failure at the Roger assassination, and the Fantome had made it obvious how displeased he was by making only internal injuries. Mortimer was able to ignore the pain for now, as his giant teeth grinned in inspiration. "You know… that's not a bad idea."

Chapter Text

Mickey had messed up! He had messed up worse than before! Was there a way to run away from the problems he had created? He tried with all of his might, running further and further from Katarina – from the theater – from – from - where? He didn't even know where he had come from or where he was going. Was this the theater? Was it Ludwig and Gyro's headquarters? Was it Minnie's mansion? He was going through an endless hallway, hearing footsteps echo back and forth. But they sounded like more than one person was running. Wasn't he alone?

He needed to get out, he needed to get away, and so he grabbed the first doors he could find and flung them open. Inside were mirrors, vanity mirrors, hand mirrors, wall mirrors, different shapes and sizes, all of them reflecting the hero of France, the Scarlet. Catching his breath, he approached the tallest mirror, watching his own reflection. The Scarlet, the hero, the lover, the spirit of France's change…

"So who are you?"

Mickey didn't say anything – that had been the reflection. All the reflections were turning towards him now, angry, and Mickey began to stumble backwards. "I'm… I'm the Scarlet!" Yet when he spoke, his voice was that of the paperboy – his clothes were that of the paperboy. He touched his throat, but couldn't speak again.

"No, you're a worthless paperboy." The Scarlet walked out from the mirror, addressing his counterpart with disdain. "That's why you were chosen, wasn't it? Because no one would care if you were missing or you died. You agreed with that, that's why you joined in. You would give up yourself to let me live. But you had to mess that up, and for what? A kiss?"

Mickey tripped as he walked backwards, and fell on his tail. "N-No, I didn't mean to! I… I thought she…"

The Scarlet began walking towards him, altered voice growing darker in angered growls. "That she would love you? You didn't listen to Gyro and Ludwig because you didn't want to hear the truth! If she does love anyone, it's me! And I love all the women of France. I don't give my heart to any one person, or they'll be in danger! But you can't seem to grasp that. Not a pathetic commoner who foolishly fell in love with his best friend… you should have been grateful to have her friendship, but then you got selfish, and began to dream!" He pulled out his sword, and the other reflections in the other mirrors started to fade. "A dream you refused to let go of! Why do you think I was born? I'm here to help people! I'm here to stop the next Bloody Sunday from coming! You keep getting in the way! You're the one putting everyone in danger!"

"I didn't mean it!" Mickey continued to try and back off, but the room had gotten smaller and smaller, and the air in the room grew thin. "I… I thought I could control my feelings! I really do wanna help everyone! I wanna stop Duke Tache, I wanna keep everyone safe! P-Please, give me another chance! I can do this! I need this!" His back hit a wall, and he could not find the strength to stand.

"France needs me. Gyro and Ludwig need me. The Duchess needs me. But you?" The Scarlet raised his sword high, a beacon in the terrifying darkness. "They don't need you. And I don't need you!" He brought down the blade into Mickey's chest –

And Mickey sat up with a gasp, clutching his intact chest with one hand. After several blinks, he remembered where he was, and exchanged a startled look with Gyro. "Oh… well, good morning. I was just about to wake you up anyway." It had been a week since the Katarina catastrophe, and the geniuses had felt no need to lecture Mickey about his odd slip-up, given how much he had been beating himself up about it. Gyro gently handed Mickey a cup of coffee, the small makeshift bed in the corner having been Mickey's only solace until the nightmares started. "I'm afraid we can't wait too long for breakfast… today's the day the Scarlet makes a rare daytime appearance."

"Bad guys lurk in the sunshine too!" Ludwig dramatically waved a finger to the screens that showed the church where Mickey had once been attacked by Horace and Clarabelle. "Today is the day of Duke Gladstone Gander's wedding to Miss Daisy. With the head of the revolutionaries gone, the rest of the group will either split up or dissolve into an outraged panic, leading to another Bloody Sunday. As much as the professor enjoys a good love story, I doubt Gladstone and Daisy were meant to be."

"The problem is how we're going to get in." Gyro left Mickey's bedside, cupping his chin in contemplation. "They're expecting the hero to have some say in this, so the place is packed with police. We need to find a clear entrance, because even with our help, even you can't take on that many people by yourself."

Mickey slid off the bed, but then paused as a memory returned to him. "… I… I might have an idea. Someone who doesn't want this for Daisy." He placed the half empty cup on the table, and began to put on the necessary costume. "Yer both gunna have ta trust me on this one."

The birds looked at him for a moment, but then smiled brightly, nodding in agreement. "Of course we trust you, Mickey." Ludwig stuck both thumbs up, but even with positive reinforcement, Mickey had yet to sound or look as cheerful as he normally did.

Mickey picked up the red hat he was supposed to don, and his thumbs pressed deeply into the fabrics. "… Say, fellas…" He lifted his head, not knowing why he was bothering to ask yet felt it flow out none the less. "… Who am I?" As expected, his friends were quiet, confused by such an inquiry. To them, the answer was obvious, and they didn't need their big brains to know it. Befuddlement turned to worry, and so Mickey quickly let out a laugh, popping in each contact. "Aw, I'm just foolin'! Let's get this show on the road!" They weren't entirely reassured, but hopefully they would forget he ever asked. As for his own worries, he would have to find the time to deal with them later. Today, he picked up the sword, and blinked at his reflection. "… I know who I am for today… and who they need."

~*~

Daisy had no family in the terms of blood, so she would walk alone down the aisle. That was the only problem she didn't have with the wedding. She didn't recognize the person she saw in the mirror as Gladstone's servants tightened her corset and adjusted her veil, but it wasn't because of the way she was primped up. There was no more fight in Daisy's eyes, no more confidence in the way she held herself, and the woman who stood in the bright white wedding dress was a defeated stranger. The wedding would be in a few hours, and the bride's room in the church was stuffed with chatty people. In an effort to get closer to future nobility, three elite ladies had also joined in to help Daisy look her very best.

"It's like something out of a fairy tale!" Brigitta giggled as she made sure not a single petal from the bouquet was out of place. "A duke marrying a commoner… why, I could almost swear you're wearing glass slippers!"

"Duke Gladstone never does anything that won't wind up benefiting him…" Magica tapped Daisy's back to make her stand up straighter. "So I'd say you're probably lucky where it counts, if you get me." She chuckled, but was readily elbowed by Goldie.

"Luck! You hang onto luck because actual hard work is too tough for you." Goldie spat at Magica before helping Daisy with that last touch of blush to her cheeks. "But you are a fortunate one, dear. All that wealth and prosperity… you'll be living high the rest of your life. Half of France must be stewing in jealousy."

Daisy didn't reject any aid given to her, letting them touch and judge her in whatever way they wanted. She would be one of them very soon, so she may as well try to get along. These women weren't so bad, now that she spent some actual time with them. She shut her eyes hard, and then opened them to look at the trio of gossipers. She could not see any malice or dominance in their faces, and the pain she had been carrying around for days intensified. They had come in with less than noble intentions, but they were willing to treat her as one of their own, despite where she had come from. Perhaps she could tell them what no one else was going to care about. "… You know…" She pulled her veil down over her face. "We don't actually love each other."

"Oh, no, say that isn't so!" Brigitta grabbed Daisy by the arm, sympathetically squeezing. "I know you came from less than humble housing, but surely Gladstone loves you! He wouldn't wanted to have married you so quickly otherwise! And in time, you'll learn to love him too! And then you'll be like me and Scrooge!" She gave Daisy a quick twirl, more than eager to spread word of her one true love. "You'll look forward to talking to him about even the little things, because every conversation helps you learn more and more about him!"

Daisy dizzily stopped the twirl, trying to catch her balance. "I don't think that's love… that's what I have with my friend, Donald."

"Don't listen to her, she hasn't stopped dreaming of prince charming since she was six." Magica chuckled, earning her a glare from the insulted party. "Trust me, the love between Scrooge and I, that's the real thing. You'll have it when you find enjoyment in staring into those colorful eyes, and when you can read his intentions like a good, steamy book."

The bride shook her head, some sparks of her old self beginning to return with each disagreement. "That can't be love either… that's what I have with Donald too."

"It's not your fault you don't know, you're young." Goldie shoved aside her younger rivals, knowing that her age made her the wisest woman in the room. "Love takes time to develop. It's really more of a matter of comfort… that you still want to see him, even after you've argued. That you still want to see him even after you feel terrible. I'll have you know I hated McDuck's guts the first time we met, but mark my words, we'll be married yet."

"All right, now I know that can't be love." This was getting ridiculous, and Daisy had to put a stop to it. "Because that is exactly how I feel about…" That's when it hit her with the mighty force, the river of denial soaking her and sweeping away any lingering doubt in her moment. "… Merde." Her hands fell at her sides, the bouquet dropping at her feet. Maybe she could have screamed that it wasn't true, told herself that it was a final resistance to Gladstone, but after Gladstone had taken everything else away from her, she had nothing left but her honest emotions.

Donald had done more than change her views on the upper class. Take away titles, and he was still a kind and caring man who held onto friendships like they were the real wealth. He had learned from his past mistakes and strove to become a better person, acknowledging his own faults and even allowing Daisy to love another, if that was her wish. He longed for love in the purest ways, from friends and family, and asked so little in return. He was sweet, he was generous, and Daisy was awfully, wonderfully in love with him.

Her make-up ran as tears blinked past her curly eyelashes, and she fell forward, the last of her will gone. Goldie caught her, stunned as Daisy began to sob into her chest. The servants continued going about their business, but the trio of women came around Daisy to touch her, unsure of how to handle this onslaught of sadness. "Merde! Merde!" Daisy wailed, clinging onto her elders desperately. "I love him, I do!" Wasn't her punishment for planning the robbery done? Why did she have to love him and be given to someone else? "Merde, merde, merde!" She yelled it over and over again, damning the world, damning herself, and damning the rest of her life.

The light lover, the beautiful lover, and the oldest lover could not find words to comfort her. They looked at one another, and for once, there was a mutual stirring within their bickering hearts.

~*~

Daisy would be married within one hour, during the afternoon in which spring had started to blossom. The last remains of winter were melting away, and the chilly winds were becoming faint memories. But even the arrival of warm weather wasn't enough to lift Donald's spirits. He was perhaps the only elite member of society who wasn't attending the wedding. He sat in his room, at his desk, trying to pen another letter to his country relatives but unable to formulate a single word. His hand shook, and then, in sudden anger, he tossed the pen across the room, before laying his arms on the desk and slamming his forehead down.

Duke Gladstone had personally come to the mansion six days earlier to invite Donald and Scrooge to the wedding. Donald had tried to ask about Daisy many times, but was continuously shot down, and eventually he gave up. He knew that as a good friend, he should support her and wish for her happiness. He wanted to be a good friend, but not that good. He still loved her dearly, loved her more with each passing day, and to see her wear the ring of another man was too much. He thought he had been okay when he had spoken of her feelings for the Scarlet out loud, but to have reality show him that he'd never been an option for her all along was fatal.

"If you want to use that anger better, then it's a good thing I came along."

Donald jerked up in his seat, almost falling backwards at the arrival of that voice. "What the…" His window was now open, with the Scarlet standing on the sill. "You?! What're you doing here?"

"I'll cut to the chase." He stepped down and into the room. "I need your help to stop Duke Gladstone's wedding."

Donald didn't know what the most ludicrous thing in that statement was, since there were so many to choose from. "Stop… stop the wedding?! Have you lost your mind?"

"All of France is about to lose their minds if it goes through." The Scarlet grabbed the back of Donald's seat, setting it back up. "She's more than a pretty face. If she marries him, the other members of the revolution will see this as a betrayal, and it may be the tipping point that sets off the next Bloody Sunday."

The Scarlet hadn't just lost his mind, he'd thrown it into the ocean and let it drown! "What are you even talking about? Daisy's got nothing to do with the revolution, and I've got nothing to do with any of this!" Donald got out of his chair, the anger that he'd been suppressing ever since he first stepped into the city starting to rise again. "If they want to be together, we've got no right to interfere!"

"Listen, I can't go into every detail now, but I need your help!" He'd have thought Donald would leap at the chance to help, so now the Scarlet's own anger was being tested. "I need you go into the church and help me sneak in. No one will suspect you, and since you'll have arrived late, there will be-"

"No, no, no, I'm not gunna – goin'- going – no!" He clenched his beak as his hick dialect threatened to surface. No, he couldn't get into this madness! He was supposed to prove to his uncle he was a worthy heir, that he belonged in the company of the rich, that he was better than plain old Donald Duck. "I can't help you! I won't! What makes you think I'd even try?"

"Because you're in love with Daisy!" He remembered well how angry Donald had gotten when Daisy had thrown herself at him, literally, during Fantome's party. He recognized such jealousy in his own heart, and though time had passed since then, Donald was making it clear how he felt about her within this argument. "You need to help me save her, and save France! You have to believe me, she's more important to the revolution than you know!"

"And just how do you know, anyway?" Donald jabbed a finger into the Scarlet's chest, and the hero sucked in a breath, blinking back into the nightmare for a moment. "You always know everything about anyone, but how did you learn all about this? No one knows anything about you. How can I even begin to trust you? If I wanted to help Daisy, I wouldn't go with a man who is a complete stranger! How do I know I can trust you?"

The Scarlet had no time for this, nor did Mickey, and in his fit of frustration, one persona stood in front of the other with mighty conviction. "Then… then…" He swiftly removed his red goggles and his hat, and then spat the chip from his tongue into his glove. He could hear Ludwig and Gyro trying to stop him, but he stuck a thumb into his eye, painfully and quickly taking out one contact, his green to blue eye becoming pained. "If ya can't trust him, then at least give me a shot!"

Donald's eyes widened, and he began to travel back in time. Days ago – weeks ago – in this same room, as morning approached – when young boys were discussing the death of a duke . "… You're… you're that paperboy!" He blinked once – twice – it was still him. "… Wow. I can't believe I didn't remember those ears."

"Help me stop this weddin', and I'll tell ya what I know… and why I know it." He stuck out one hand, not in a gentlemanly and graceful fashion, but in the way that Mickey would do it. Donald didn't need the Scarlet. "Will ya help me?"

Had a different voice come out of Mickey's throat, Donald might have said no. To hear a familiar dialect, to hear someone else who had probably skipped letters and smashed others together, a man of the poor who was standing up to become someone else... This was what Donald had tried to be. But even the Scarlet couldn't be this way all the time. There were times the real self must emerge. The real Donald grasped his hand firmly.

~*~

There were many entrances to the church, and since Horace had failed his bosses and bosses' bosses so often, he was stuck guarding the entrance to the kitchen. These days, the church was more for ceremony than prayer, which meant it had to have the most luxurious of items for all occasions. It was probably for the best that he was left by himself, fuming about the last thing he had heard from the Scarlet. His duty to aid his woman… he had started working for Pete and Fantome to aid his woman! When Clarabelle had first told him that she was working under Fantome, Horace had begged Pete for a similar chance. He couldn't let her do these dangerous things on her own, but for all his effort, her heart still belonged to Fantome. No matter how terribly he treated her, she still came crawling back to him. Why was she so desperate for love when Horace was right there?

But he couldn't do anything about it. Fantome was handsome, powerful, and rich. Horace was a lowly police officer, always following orders. What was the point of standing up and saying anything? He'd be ignored, or tossed aside, or… there were hundreds of reasons not to fight back. He was nobody. He was nothing. One man couldn't do anything.

His self-loathing was interrupted by the mutterings of a fowl dressed in blue, and he recalled the face of Donald Duck. What was he doing all the way over here? He stood up straight, saluting. "Good afternoon, sir. Can I help ya out?"

"Sure can." Donald tugged nervously at his collar. "I'm late for the wedding, but if I walk in the front entrance, Uncle Scrooge will see me, and… it wouldn't end well for anyone. It turns out I'm also inheriting his temper."

"I hear ya, sir." Horace partially smiled, and turned around to open the door. "Follow me. Nobody's in the kitchen, and the weddin's about ta start. No one should see us come in, and I'm sure ya can blend right in." Horace kept his back to Donald as he walked inside the porcelain kitchen, and didn't hear the sound of a third pair of footsteps. He unlocked the door to the hallway, and stepped out in front to point ahead. "To the left is the stairway that'll take that you to the bell of the church. To the right is the way to the weddin'." He began to head down the right, but this time he did notice no footsteps following him. "Didn'tcha hear me? I said it's this way." He turned around in time to see Donald and a red dressed vigilante running up the stairway. "What?! Aw, no, not again!" He flimsily made a grab for his gun, but he couldn't guess why they were going in that direction.

Nor could Donald. "Hey, what's the big idea? The wedding is the other way!"

"This is your first lesson as a hero, Donald!" The Scarlet grinned, never looking back from his destination. "A big entrance can make all the difference!"

~*~

Given Daisy's expression, the wedding march that began to play sounded more like a funeral knell. All the members of nobility and wealth that had turned to see her grimaced as they saw despair under the thin veil, though there were exceptions. Fantome smiled pleasantly as she passed his pew, relaxed that a plan of his had finally started working again. Mortimer wore a similar gross expression, imagining his own bride taking Daisy's place. Gladstone, waiting at the altar, was relishing in her misery. She deserved to feel that way, after daring to reject him. He always got what he wanted, and her unhappiness was what he wanted most in this moment.

Everyone could see Daisy was miserable but no one was going to do anything about it. It wasn't their place. No one had the right to intervene on a Duke's wedding. Everyone imagined that must have been what the person who sat beside them was thinking, which is why everyone was astonished to hear a voice cry out. "Wait!" The Duchess rose in her pew, having seen Daisy's expression and not able to take another second of it. "Something's not right!" Even the musicians had halted, but in the space of their silence, a new noise rang out. A loud banging, a loud ringing, the bell at the tower of the church had begun to ring early, playing back and forth. Everyone looked up, and the amazement continued to build, as the ringing joined in with shakes coming from the roof.

The shakes escalated, and sprinkles of dust and debris began to fall from the roof. In fright, the first two pews were emptied by fleeing citizens. Right above that spot, the shaking came even harder, and then the cause came crashing down – the gigantic brass bell from the church tower slammed through the roof and onto the floor, not harming a soul but dropping the jaws of everyone present. As the dust settled and the noise stilled, two bodies leaped from the top of the bell, landing on the floor in unison. Donald and the Scarlet stood side by side, and the duck had to admit, it was more exciting than saying 'I object'.

"Forgive me, my ladies, but you won't be catching a bouquet today." The Scarlet drew out his blade, walking around the destroyed pews. "This wedding is false in every sense of the word, and my good friend and I cannot allow it to proceed."

"How dare you!" The red fury that came over Gladstone's face stood out ugly against his green tuxedo. "Someone arrest these fools!"

The police standing in the corners began to run in, and the Scarlet nudged Donald, giving him the right encouragement. "I've told you what to say. I'll take down these guys, they won't use guns in a place filled with the people who pay their salary." That left the wealthy to become an audience as the Scarlet began taking down men left and right, allowing Donald to grab Gladstone and confront him head on.

"I know exactly why you're marrying Daisy, and you can tell Fantome it won't work!" Donald growled, shoving Gladstone back. "I'm not going to let you use her in as a pawn for your twisted games!"

"Don't touch me, you… you country boy!" Gladstone backed up into the altar, scaring the priest off while he grabbed a lit candlestick off of it. "Everyone knows you don't belong here! You'll never be like us!" Gladstone took a swing at Donald with the candlestick, but Donald smacked it out of his hand.

"And I'm darn proud of it, too!" Donald rolled up his sleeves, letting his temper flow as it used to back in his days on the farm. "Why should I be ashamed of my roots? If I can't adjust to this city, then the city will have to adjust to me! I'm proud of who I am, and no one is ever going – goin' – gunna make me feel bad about myself again!" Then he did what no country boy – or even any member of Gladstone's family – had ever done, and punched Gladstone hard across the face, ending his luck once and for all.

The Scarlet wrestled the last of the police officers down, his blade wet with blood but only having caused minimal damage to his enemies. "And why should they expect you to change, Donald? It's the city that needs to change!" He pointed his sword at the pews, making sure he was heard. "Here, you all saw the look of anguish on that fair maiden's face, but only one of you spoke for her! Women are not trophies! They are not bargaining chips to be used in political struggles! They are more than beauty, more than kisses! Poor or rich, no woman deserves to walk down the path she does not wish to tread! If we want to find a better tomorrow, free of bloodshed and inequality, then it's one you must walk on willingly! Rise for your sisters!"

Gladstone fumbled as he tried to stand back up, a bruise blossoming on his handsome cheek. "I always get what I want! Always, always, always! I won't let some hick and his madman stop me!" In a sprint of insanity, he headed straight for Daisy, but a black high heel stepped out and tripped him flat on his face.

"Don't you dare take another step near her." Magica rose from her seat, now looming Gladstone after her small assault. "That man may not have the best taste in fashion, but he's said what I've wanted to say for a long time. Why should I use my beauty instead of my brains to get someone to listen to me? My words have more value than any dress I've ever bought!"

More police from outside of the church began to spill in, but other women had begun to stand up, standing in their way. "I've been chasing after that miserable miser for so long," Goldie declared as she bore a fist to two startled officers. "That I've never tried to aim for big business with my own merits! I'll get women with me to work for what I want!"

"And everyone should be free to marry who they love!" Brigitta clapped her hands as she too stood up, cheering Daisy on. "Oh, honey, if you love him, then go get him!"

Was Daisy dreaming? Was an entire church filled with women higher up on the social ladder than she standing up for her? She took a long look around the room, as women in expensive dresses dared the disoriented police officers to lay a hand on them, and soon men began to swell up in their defense as well. She yanked off her veil, and tossed her bouquet, and in the flurry of petals, she saw them who they truly were. Not nobility, not rich, not a different class of creature, but they were all people, the same as her. They all beat with the same blood in their hearts, and love and care were forces that rich or poor could all touch. The revolution should not have tried to dominate one class over the other, but unite them to find the shining future.

Grabbing her dress in her hands, she ran up the aisle, and threw herself in Donald's arms. He caught her tightly, refusing to let her go, and this time she repeated different words over and over. "Je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime!" I love you, I love you, I love you, and the bride kissed him deeply.

The Scarlet put his blade back in its scabbard, but his work wasn't done yet. Gladstone was gone, as was Fantome.

~*~

Gladstone wanted to make a getaway in his carriage, but the earlier panic from the falling bell had now flooded the street with frightened people in their own carriages, riding in the street. He stood on the sidewalk, clutching his head. Where had his luck gone? Things always went his way, when did it change? He was better than everyone else, so he deserved his luck. That country boy, that commoner girl, that masked man, they stole his luck! He had to get his luck back! He was nothing without his luck!

"What a shame." A black gloved hand graced Gladstone's shoulder. "I was so sure you'd make a good groom. But it does save me from buying you a wedding gift." Fantome waved a dismissive hand, keeping an eye on the streets. "You're no longer of use to me, Gander."

"No, no, I can do it!" Gladstone heaved, touching his injured cheek. "I'll… I'll get my luck back! I have to!"

"No, Gander… your luck's run out." Then Fantome gave Gladstone a light push, which was all that was needed to put the duck in the line of one of the speeding carriages. The driver yelled, pulling on his reigns to try and stop his horses, but it was too late. Red splattered against Fantome's dark clothes, and he calmly turned around and headed back inside. With this plan down the drain, he'd had to get a head start on the next one. He could no longer afford to wait. He had only taken three steps back in when he saw the Scarlet running for him, and heading back outside now might further expose what he had done.

"Duke, this way!" Clarabelle shouted off in the hallway, Horace next to her. Fantome had no choice but to run with his henchmen, the Scarlet following on his tail. Clarabelle took the same direction the Scarlet had earlier, heading higher and higher up the church tower.

"You will answer for your crimes this time, Fantome!" The Scarlet shouted after him, and the Fantome knew at this rate, he would be given little choice.

Fantome reached out to grab Clarabelle by her wrist, stopping on the stairs. The walls were illuminated by stained glass windows, and the fade of the setting set cast its colors on the four players. The streets now far down below screamed at the blood spilled, and Fantome stared at it through the window's storybook image. He looked behind him as he saw the Scarlet advance, a plan formulating. "… You seem to know so much about me, Scarlet. But it works both ways. I know how you think, and what you value." He pulled Clarabelle close to his chest, and murmured tenderly in her ear. "Are you ready to be of use to me?"

Clarabelle thought it apt she heard that in the church, the voice of her savior telling her the words she always wanted to hear. Her beloved Duke had found a good use for her? She would be able to help him? "Yes… yes, of course!"

"That's a good girl." His hands slid down her arms, his cool fingers held her softly…

… and then he pushed her too, smashing her through the window.

Time stopped for her as gravity took force. Her only use for him was her death. Her heart left her as colored glass entered her, and in the bits of their reflections she saw how ugly and stupid she had been all along. In trying to prove to the world how worthy she was to live in it, she had only served to make an even bigger fool out of herself. He didn't love her – he had never loved her. Why did she think he could?

She was a hideous steel mill girl. No one cared about her. Her only use was death. Then let death take her, if that was the only one who would have her. She closed her eyes, welcoming her end, for her life had been a waste. She had failed the man she loved, she had failed her friend, and she had failed her fellow women, and become the very thing they were now rallying against. Take her, take her now, take away this useless creature who no one wanted!

"No!"

Hands grabbed her by her bleeding arm, her body swinging as a pendulum in the air. With blurry eyes, she saw four arms that were being cut by the jagged glass as they held her, trying to keep her from meeting her fate. Horace and the Scarlet suffered as they held her, but they showed no sign that they would relent. They clenched their teeth as they pulled upward, but why? Why were they doing this? After how she had treated them both, they were cutting themselves wide open to keep her from her destiny.

"On three…" The Scarlet breathed, sweat trickling down his masked face. "We make one big pull." Horace nodded, and the count began. "One… two… three!" Both men used every ounce of power in their bodies to yank Clarabelle upwards, and she fell back into the hallway, collapsing on top of Horace. Fantome was long gone, having known that the Scarlet would save a citizen before giving chase to him. The hero let go of Clarabelle, letting her rest in Horace's arms. She trembled, unable to explain or believe what had happened, and Horace pressed her body forcefully to his. No words were exchanged within the trio.

The Scarlet quietly began to descend the stairs, leaving the two friends alone. Clarabelle could not cry, and Horace cried for her. Who was the pathetic one? Which one had no use in this world? There were yells in and out of the church, but on that stairway, it was so very quiet.

~*~

Early the following morning, Max was finished getting dressed. As much as he loathed following in his father's footsteps and taking any odd job that came his way, he needed money for his inventions. Things in the group had been tense since Daisy's sudden engagement, but now that it had been revealed as a hoax, along with the hospitalization of Gladstone Gander, trust had been ingrained back in, though there was still the issue of the mole. No one had figured who had been spilling their secrets, but Max would have to use his brains for that later. He left his room at the same time his father left his.

Goofy smiled sheepishly, as while the tension had left the revolutionaries, it was still thick between the Geefs. Max snobbishly turned his nose away, and opened their front door. He could not walk out, though, as a very fat police chief stood in front of their doorway, chewing on a lit cigar. Max reeled back from the stench, and Goofy peeked in from around the doorway. Pete spoke as he chewed, and now Max could see other officers waiting behind their Chief. "G'morning, fellas… ever wonder what the inside of a prison cell looks like?"

Chapter Text

Donald's confidence had bloomed alongside the spring flowers that were popping up in the parks. This stirring of self-reliance was contagious, as since the day after the 'wedding', it was becoming common place for women to start speaking up at the frivolous parties the rich were still holding. The Duchess was thrilled to discover like minds, now that women were finding bravery to speak about issues they were passionate about. Scrooge's trio of girlfriends had turned on him, deciding that if he wasn't going to choose then they would find other endeavors worth pursuing. Scrooge, so stunned that he was being left alone by his stalkers, began incessantly calling them up and trying to re-earn their affections. This was one such night in which Scrooge was invested in his women, allowing Donald to slip out of the mansion without his uncle's notice.

He didn't take a carriage to the Arc de Triomphe as per his given instructions, and walked with exhaustion to the monument. As he approached the stone landmark, he paused in puzzlement. How was anyone supposed to be in there? He pressed his hands against the flat wall, and felt nothing to indicate there had ever been any disturbance. He continued feeling around, until a fluttery red cape flopped onto his head. Startled, he pushed it off, and quacked in a cry as he saw The Scarlet standing on the wall a few inches above him, defying gravity with an amused smirk. "Right on time."

"H… How do you even do that?!" Donald tried to touch the Scarlet's boots, but his hand was yanked up, and the vigilante began to effortlessly drag him upwards, heading for the very top of the monument.

"Magnets in the boots." He replied as Donald dangled below him, trying not to laugh at Donald's incredulous fright. "The first layer of the Arc is still stone, but the inside has been replaced with metal… along with a lot of other things." At the top, he pressed his hand to the flat surface, inexplicably finding soft spots to touch on. Donald cried out again as he saw a circular section of stone begin shifting over, revealing a gaping hole that led downward. "Alley-oop." That was the only warning the Scarlet gave before pushing Donald down into the elevator, and hopped along inside him, with the stone circle fitting itself back in place like nothing had happened.

Donald was angry once he found solid ground to put his footing on, and when the Scarlet landed gracefully beside him. Only the shock of seeing glowing electric lights around them prevented Donald from giving his new friend a punch to the jaw. "Are we really inside the Arc? What is all this? How does no one know about this?"

"All of your questions will get answers. I promised you, didn't I?" The Scarlet began to remove the chip from his tongue, seeing little use in being his other self in this safe place. "I know it's gunna be a lot ta take in, but ya gotta remain calm no matter what, ya hear?"

"Sure thing!" Donald proudly pounded a fist to his chest. "I can be the coolest cucumber in the cooler! Just watch me." The glass doors almost seemed to have heard him as they then opened up, revealing the gigantic interior of the laboratory where the Scarlet and his friends protected their fair city. He sucked in a gasp as he slowly walked out, unable to believe the numerous tables with various experiments, the long tubes filled prototypes of Scarlet outfits, the dozens of lit up screens showing different parts of the city, and then there came the case of the two men getting out of their seats. He instantly recognized them as Ludwig Von Drake and Gyro Gearloose, the men from Scrooge's old photo album, and more importantly, being told they were dead. "GHOSTS!" He screamed, ducking behind Mickey to hide from their spooky wrath. "You didn't tell me you were working with ghosts!"

"I only asked ya ta do one thing…" Mickey grumbled, taking off his red goggles and stepping out of the duty as guard. "They ain't ghosts!"

"The boy is correct! The professor is no ghost!" Ludwig stretched out his fingers, curling them up like claws to have some fun poking at his nephew's fears. "We are… zombies! Vampire zombies! We drink the blood, we eat the brains, and use the leftovers to make nifty handbags!" His attempt at an evil laugh was met with deadpan expressions.

"What he means is…" Gyro cleared his throat, ready to put things in the right direction. "We're not dead, Donald. We never were. We faked our deaths in order to help put our plans forward without anyone suspecting us… but that's kind of getting ahead of ourselves. If you want to know the whole truth, this all really started ten years ago, at the First Bloody Sunday."

While Mickey went to change outfits, Donald scratched his head as he remembered more of his uncle's lessons. "That was when the poor went nuts and attacked everyone in sight… right? It was a huge riot, and… you were both still alive." It wasn't that easy to accept two dead men as never having been dead, and Gyro eased Donald into one of their seats to cope with the endless shocks.

Ludwig took over for the next part of the story. "Before it happened, Gyro and I were the highest in our fields of chemistry, mechanics, technology, you name it, we mastered it. With help from Duke Fou Medecin, we were able to bring advancements that no one could have ever dreamed. But we were focused so much on helping our class, and never thought about those who would be producing our products in the mill, those who would clean up after our messes… then came that terrible Sunday." His enthusiasm notably dropped, but when Gyro stepped over, offering to take over, Ludwig held up a hand, silencing him, and continued on. "… Scrooge never did approve of my marriage to Matilda, but he didn't stop it, either. He was just playing the role of a good brother, wanting to look after his remaining sister, since Hortense wouldn't leave the countryside in order to take care of you and your sister. The years I had with Matilda were my happiest… and I definitely took them for granted, what with how much time I spent in the labs with the other men."

Even Mickey had started paying attention at this point, midway through his transformation. "Things between the classes were tough, and hatred was spewing from both sides. Then one day, that Sunday, a man of the lower class burst into a hospital, wanting a doctor to come see his wife who was ill and on her deathbed. But he couldn't afford any of them, and none of them would listen to him. He caused a fight in the hospital, and like that…" Ludwig snapped his fingers, creating a chill for his small audience. "The dam burst. The tension shook the entire city, and the other penniless citizens began to fight, to pillage, and to attack anyone they saw as a member of the higher class. Even innocents who had nothing to do with class war were attacked. That included my dear Matilda." He closed his eyes momentarily, reliving the horrific day. "She and I were trying to get to Scrooge's place in order to get away from the madness, but a group stopped our carriage and turned it over. When we climbed out, we were shot at like wild animals, and Matilda…"

Donald reeled in silence, and then took a quick look around in case Matilda decided to reveal she too had only been faking it. The seconds ticking by proved him wrong, as did the inherent sadness of the older men. Ludwig put on a brave smile, willing to accept the sympathetic stares. "… Scrooge never forgave me for what happened. That's when he started cutting off all ties to any family, and his heart closed up." Even now, he could still hear Scrooge screaming at her funeral, saying it should have been Ludwig who was killed, before collapsing into despairing sobs besides his butler. "I don't blame him for how he reacted… he was probably happy to hear about my 'death'."

"Th-that's not true!" Donald interrupted, worriedly trying to take Ludwig's hand. "When I tried to learn about you, he was still upset! I know it!" Ludwig sighed wistfully, not sure if he believed it but appreciating the thought nonetheless.

Gyro came up from behind Ludwig, willing to take the next step whether it was wanted or not. "It opened our eyes to the real problems of the city. We knew things had to change, or history would repeat itself. Over the years, we began placing cameras in different parts of the city under the guise of promoting our future school. While the school was being built, we were secretly creating new devices and technology but not sharing it with the public, and we devised an underground tunnel from the school's foundation site to under this very arc." He tapped on the steel floor below with both feet. "We dug deep under the Arc and then went inside from the ground up, carving it out to build our headquarters. Our idea was that if France wouldn't change on its own, then it needed a leader to inspire that change."

Mickey leaned on Donald's chair, joining in the story as the paperboy. "A detective, a crime fighter, and someone to give people ideas. Sometimes all it takes is one person to speak up, and then everyone else can get the right idea. My job's to stop the tension between the classes by any means."

Donald sat up in his seat, impressed but still having doubts. "Now how do you figure into this? And for that matter, how does Duke Tache factor in? You told me he was the reason Gladstone was marrying Daisy."

Ludwig smoothed down his coat, ready to become the eager and energetic professor once more. "It's all connected, Donald. Five years ago, we had the ideas and concepts for The Scarlet, but we were still having trouble picking someone to play the part. Someone no one would suspect, someone who nobody would miss if he vanished. Then the Second Bloody Sunday happened… this time, it was caused by Duke Tache Fantome himself, when his carriage ran over a homeless child."

"Now that can't be true!" Donald pulled himself out of the seat, latching onto this section before the story could finish. "Even if he is a Duke, and even if it was an accident, that guy killing a kid would have made the news! It would have made history, and he'd be spending his last years in jail!"

"We wouldn't have believed it either," Gyro headed towards the tables, gathering long rolled up papers that would be necessary for later parts of the tale. "But we heard it straight from Duke Fou's mouth a few weeks after the riots settled down. Fantome had switched clothes with his driver's, and so nobody paid him a second look. Fou only found out because he happened to find the driver's clothes in Fantome's closet… he had probably kept them as a memento of the event." His tone was bitter as the subject was breached, hinting to darker implications.

"Let me ask you, Donald…" Ludwig pressed his fingers together, keeping his own emotions in check. "Why would a rich and powerful man like Fantome want to be a driver for a day? Given his mistreatment and utter lack of care for the lower class, he wasn't doing it for fun."

Donald carefully gauged the looks of each companion in the room, and his stomach dropped as he saw the same conclusion from each one. "… No, you're… you're not saying… it wasn't an accident?"

Gyro headed back to the group, his arms fumbling with various documents and papers. "Fou only told us because he hates all animals, and thought he could one day expect us to use it against Fantome. Ludwig and I realized that Fantome had most likely gone out as his driver to find incentive to get another riot going… we can't say for sure if he meant to kill anyone, but he's never expressed any remorse. We're not even entirely sure why he wanted the riot to happen, or why he wants to happen again, but we knew we had to stop him at any cost."

"My turn!" Mickey piped out, and turned Donald's chair to so he could be the center of attention. "They found me on the Second Bloody Sunday. See, I was out deliverin' papers, I didn't even know about that poor kid. Then, all at once, I heard people screamin'!" He moved his arms about, trying to recapture the violent chaos of that day. "People were goin' up and down the streets, throwin' rocks at windows, stealin' from stores, startin' fires, and they went on and on about everyone rich should be…" He drew a finger across his neck, getting the point across. "I got outta there real fast, but everywhere I went, people were losin' their minds. Then I got real worried about my friend, Duchess Minnie -" It was here that Donald's skepticism was obvious, and Mickey huffed in return. "She is my friend! We've been friends since we were kids! Best friends! I mean it! A-Anyway!" He kept a pout away as he tried again. "I was worried about her, cause I was wonderin' if those loons were gunna go after her next… but before I could get to the gates, I fell into a whole mob of people. People were hittin' each other, and when I tried ta get people away from the gates, they turned on me, and…" He shrugged one shoulder. "… Don't remember much after that. Beat me so bad I got knocked out."

Donald paid attention to Mickey's version of events, but he couldn't help but notice Ludwig and Gyro's discomfort at the corner of his eyes. Mickey was oblivious, as he was wrapped up in insisting that Minnie was his friend and 'had been for decades and was the best kind of friend a guy could ask for and he was not blushing because shut up that's why'. Donald couldn't pinpoint the reason toward the elders shifting of shoulders or eye dodging, but something was definitely up. "When I woke up, " Mickey went on, "I was in Ludwig's house. He and Gyro had found me, and fixed me up. That's when they offered me the chance ta be a big hero! A little guy like me, a poor paperboy, ya see plenty of us every day, and nobody would blink if one of us was gone!" He grinned in victory, pumping one of his arms to be impressive. "They taught me how ta fight, how ta use a sword and gun, how ta speak fancy, and even how ta sleep for only a few hours a day!"

"And even better," Ludwig joined in rather hastily, grabbing a newspaper from Gyro's pile and causing the taller bird to spill everything onto the floor. "A newspaper is the perfect way to spread information. So little by little, we began creating our own newspaper, blending it in with the rest. Then, when we found the time was right, we set the school to go kaboom! While everyone thought we were dead, we were using our tunnels to head for our new life in the Arc."

"The school idea was supposed to only be a ruse, but we really lucked out." Gyro gave up on picking up the papers, and instead spread out one of the various blueprints on the floor. "A man named George Geef sent us his son's ideas, and they were perfect to use for the Scarlet. We didn't like that we had to steal them when we 'died', but we had to grab any chance we could."

They allowed Donald a moment to breathe and let everything sink in. Donald felt his head might pop from the vast amounts of information, but there were still parts to pick at. "You guys really thought of everything, but… it's all so big! How did no one notice all of that construction work, or the newspaper change? Surely someone must have noticed… something!"

"We'd be surprised if no one did." Mickey admitted, shrugging again offhandedly. "But, well… it's what the Scarlet is supposed ta be. Everyone in this city is too afraid ta speak up about what they see. No one wants ta be the one ta get in front and point out somethin's fishy, in case they're wrong. If no one speaks up, nothin' changes. People need ta get over their fears if they want ta be heard. Ain't easy, but that's what I'm here for."

"And you've also got another assignment." Gyro picked up a blue tinted letter from the pile of papers on the floor, and stuck it in Mickey's hands. "Given that the Duke and his cronies already went after Daisy, they might hit the other members of the revolution. That includes George's son, Max. See if you can find out where this letter originated from and learn what you can about what happened to both of them. It seems they went missing this morning. Then get some rest."

"On it." Mickey gave a salute after he stuffed the letter into his raggedy overalls. "C'mon, Donald, let's get ya home before yer old man loses more feathers." He bounded for the elevator, expecting the duck to be right behind him. But when the glass doors closed, he found himself alone as he forcibly left.

Donald slowly gout of his seat and crossed his arms. "What is it that you two are hiding from Mickey?" The elder birds froze, but Donald didn't show them any mercy. "That kid's saved Daisy and who knows how many others, and he risks his life every single night to prevent this city from turning into a bloodbath. You've got some nerve keeping a secret from him!"

Gyro couldn't swallow the lump in his throat, but Ludwig also left his seat, partially amused but also wearing the same sad look from earlier. "You really are my nephew… very well. What we're about to tell you, you can't tell Mickey. Our mission depends on this." Donald 'hmph'ed, not agreeing to anything, and Ludwig couldn't fault him for it. "… As we said, we needed someone no one would miss if they vanished. But it also needs to work the other way around. Mickey can't have any attachments, or they'll be used as a weakness."

Gyro sat on the floor, not wanting to face Donald after having been caught. "Mickey was beaten badly enough on the Second Bloody Sunday that he doesn't remember what really happened. What he told you is what we told him. We did find him… but we weren't the first to find him. That was the Duchess."

"Tragic little dear." Ludwig took off his spectacles, and instead of seeing himself reflected in the glass, it was if he went back in time once more to the streets filled with sobs and panic. "Gyro and I had gone out to tend to the wounded. We came upon her gates, and saw her standing over Mickey, beaten to a pulp. She thought he was dead, and she had found a knife from the scuffle. Had we not stopped her and found Mickey's pulse, she would have ended her life right there. When we told her he was still alive, she threw herself at our feet." He felt it was best to leave out the worst details, such as how she had clung to their clothing, begging erratically, almost unintelligible in her wails.

Please, save him! I'll give you whatever you want, just please, save him! I need him more than anything else in this world! Save him!

Donald still didn't like that such a heavy secret was being held back, but he rubbed his arms in the coldness of the sad situation. "… No wonder you didn't tell him. He'd never agree to try and detach from her if he found out."

"Seems almost pointless now." Ludwig twirled his spectacles around his fingers, genuinely speaking fondly. "We've been trying everything to separate them, but they keep coming back together. It'll take something bigger than us to keep them apart. But as long as we have you… Gyro?"

"Right." Gyro stood back up, digging out something from his pocket. "We figured as long as you knew about us, you may as well be of help. Here." He dropped a small black and blue pin into Donald's hands, baring the insignia of the McDuck family. "It's our latest hidden microphone. We'll be able to talk back and forth with you, but only you should be able to hear us."

Donald held it up to the lights to get a better look. "Not bad." He then fixed it onto his chest, his temper easing at the thought of being some use to his friends – oh, wow, that was true, wasn't it? By becoming a part of this mission, he had a new array of friends! And family! It felt improper to smile, given all he had learned, but a crack of one appeared in his beak. "I'll tell Mickey I wanted to look around more, he's probably wondering what's taking me so long." He headed for the elevator, but there was one last interruption for the night.

"Nephew." Ludwig caught Donald's attention, putting his spectacles back on to capture the full image of his relative. "You've grown into a fine man."

Donald lost the battle to keep his smile hidden.

~*~

It was going to be a long night for the entire city. Minnie was getting ready for bed, but she didn't feel tired at all. While it was a relief to have women of the city standing up for themselves, the Scarlet's declaration during the wedding had given her a lot to think about. He had said women weren't trophies, and that they should be valued for more than their beauty and a kiss. She remembered how, when the Scarlet had saved her from those petty robbers, all she could think of as a way to reward him was a kiss. It had been her duty as a woman.

It had also been wrong. She walked down her hallway towards her bedroom, firmly set in her belief. A person's body was not something to give away as a prize. He had told her a reward was unnecessary but she had persisted, because for a woman not to thank a man was unthinkable. Aside from having given away her first kiss to him, she was upset that for all her protests about change in France, she had been firmly set in society's ways. No wonder she been so bothered about it! She hadn't been able to put it in words before, but now she had a novel's length of reasons why no one should feel an obligation to give their body for gratitude. It was only right that the one who had given her this stress had explained why it was so stressful. He was annoying and kind of terrific that way, that rascally Scarlet. But it would be a thing of the past now. She wouldn't give into womanly obligations anymore, no matter what anyone did for her. Being born a woman did not mean she was born a commodity.

"My lady?" Minnie slowed down as she was called, and Mrs. Potts joined her out in the hallway. "I've gotten word from the Lord and Lady…" Minnie's parents, as their titles were deemed. She could already guess where this conversation was going but allowed it anyway. "The Lord and Lady send their deepest apologies for not being able to attend to you on your birthday." The maid bowed humbly, trying to make up for the absence of her employers. "They had urgent business to attend to, and they have sworn to send the best - "

 

"I know, I know." Minnie cut in, more amused than angry, as they approached her bedroom door. "They have sworn to send the best gift money can buy, and absolutely promise next year they will be home to celebrate it properly." She had many of their excuses memorized, and what once used to send her to tears was now just a blip on the radar. "I was thinking of going to bed early anyway."

 

The maid followed her loyally, now up straight. "You've grown into a very mature young woman, my lady, and so fast..."

 

"Mummy and Daddy helped." It was difficult to tell whether she was being sarcastic or sincere. Reaching her bed, she took a pause to survey the area, and made a decision. She went to her desk drawer, and delicately picked up the small golden kaleidoscope, though the color had faded throughout the years. "Actually, before I sleep, could you clean this up for me? It needs a good shine."

 

Mrs. Potts took the toy, though a frown crossed her face. "Still here, I see. You know, if this means so much to you, why don't we put it in a glass case? Or at least somewhere where it won't catch dust. Why must you always have it there near your bed?"

 

"It's special." Minnie said, and left it at that, laying down on her bed. The maid shrugged to herself, and left to obey the order. As for the duchess, thinking of birthdays, toys, kisses, heroes and where the differences between men and women began, she closed her eyes, not trying to sleep, but traveling back in time, when such issues where few and far away...

 

... to when she was but a small child, standing in her room, glaring hard at the same maid who had yet to grow those gray hairs.

 

"The Lord and Lady send their deepest apologies for not being able to attend to you on your birthday." Mrs. Potts bowed humbly, trying to make up for the absence of her employers. "They had urgent business to attend to, and they have sworn to send the best - "

 

"No!" Young Minerva had screamed, stomping her feet. "Not again! It's not fair! It's my BIRTHDAY! Why aren't they home?!"

 

"My lady, please..." The servant reached forward to console her, but the girl would have none of that. She scampered away, throwing around everything she could get her hands on.

 

"I hate them!" Hot tears ran down her face as she smashed dolls and frames to pieces, ignoring her maid's pleas. "I hate them, I hate them, I hate them! They're never home! They PROMISED me they'd be home for my birthday!"

 

The older woman struggled to pick up the shattered pieces. "Please, my lady-"

 

"Go away!" Another shriek followed, as the girl threw one of her plush toys at the servant. "I hate you too! You're all liars!"

 

Pained, but knowing she had to obey orders, Mrs. Potts silently bowed again, and retreated to the doors, closing them behind her. Minerva continued to make a mess of things, before bursting into loud, hiccuping sobs, clinging to her fancy bed sheets. What was the point of her parents making promises when they never kept them? All of these gifts meant nothing to her... they were just tacked-on apologizes wrapped in silk and bows. The servants would help the lies, saying the parents did love her, there was just 'business' to attend to. But what business could be more important than their child, she could never fathom. She was, at this point, convinced she herself was nothing but a gift, something her parents could glimpse at, be proud of their own achievements, and then leave it alone until they got bored again.

 

As her vision cleared, her eyes fell on the window just above her dresser drawer. From there, she could see the city, the very tops of buildings she had dreamed about visiting with her parents. All at once, the idea came to her. She'd run away! Oh yes, she'd find a much better family, one that would keep their promises, who would be there for her birthday, who would only care about her. Then her parents would be sorry, oh yes they would, they'd cry and beg and gnash their teeth, begging to all high heaven to get their daughter back, but it'd be too late, they had their chance.

 

Not wanting to face the journey alone, her eyes darted about the room quickly for an adequate companion, before settling on a small cat plush, which she had affectionately named Figaro. Her parents had never allowed for a real pet, allergies being the excuse, and so to Minerva, it was as good as she was going to get. Scooping him into her arms, she whispered to him delicately. "Let's go, Figaro." She made him nod, and then climbed up the drawer, unlocked the window, pushed it open, and looked out. Long vines were ensnaring her side of the mansion, and she tugged one to see if it could hold. Theory proven correct, she clasped onto it, and dragged herself down onto the ground, where the grass was still wet with the morning dew.

 

They were off! Past the elaborate gardens, past the endless hedge maze, past the marble statues of wars long forgotten, for there were no guards or servants around at this hour. She easily squeezed through the black gates that made up the entrance, and from then on, slowed her walk, into the gigantic city. As the morning faded, people were starting to go about their day, opening their shops, talking to neighbors, and before she knew it, she was surrounded by people, though they failed to notice her. Several times she was shoved aside, and it wasn't long before the bottom of her dress was caked with dirt. At first, she marveled at all she could see, often stopping in one place just to watch people talk or to gaze upon a device she had never encountered before.

 

But as she strayed further and further away from home, the rush of excitement began to be replaced with a trembling fear. This little girl, who had grown up with only a small portion of familiar faces, was now in a sea of surprises, and she didn't know how to handle it. How was she supposed to find a new family in this? Terror seized her, and she longed for nothing more to than to be back in her room, where she knew where everything went and what her schedule would be. When she heard the yapping of sudden, and to her vision savage, dogs, she let out a tiny yelp, and fled into the nearest alleyway. It was dark and cold, with the only company being the piled up garbage that attacked her nose at once.

 

Pressing Figaro close to her heart, she realized the audacity of her actions, but did not know how to return home. And what if she did return home? Mummy and Daddy were sure to be furious, maybe cast her out for daring to leave! And the servants... oh, she hadn't meant to tell Mrs. Potts she hated her! The servants were the only friends she had! Horror and sadness merged, and she fell to her knees, crying into her cat. So absorbed was she in her own troubles that she didn't hear the red rubber ball rolling near her direction, nor the first call of the child that was soon to change her life.

 

She heard him the second time. "Hey! Can ya kick it back?"

 

That was aimed at her? Shoulders hitched in caution, she lifted her head, daring to look at the caller. Standing in the direct entrance of the alley was a mouse boy, no doubt around her age, with tattered clothes and a soft but unruly clump of hair atop his head. His outfit seemed to have been patched several times over, and dirt was nearly a second outfit on top of him. Just behind him, there were a few other children dressed similarly, girls and boys, faces ranging from curious to impatient. It had been so long since Minerva had seen other children that she simply didn't know what to do with herself.

 

"What is she, deaf?" One girl called out, with short brown hair and an agitated expression. "Just grab it, Mickey!"

 

While a few children echoed the sentiment, the boy - Mickey - was busy inspecting the newcomer's face, and he walked closer to her, ignoring the ball entirely. "She's cryin'." He explained to the others, showing where his concern was. "Whatsa matter?" Now back to her.

 

Feeling fresh tears brew up, she choked before managing to get the words out. "I-I'm lost! And I... and I... I don't know how to go hooome!" She put her face back to the cat, as saying the problem out loud had actually confirmed it, made it wholly real.

 

Mickey waited a moment, and then patted Minerva on the head three times, imitating a move he had seen his friend's parents perform to console their own crying children. It caused her to look back up at him, and he smiled warmly. "I'll help ya out... shoot, Riku gets lost all the time, I take him home three times a week."

 

"I do not!" No doubt that embarrassed high pitched voice was Riku. Laughter erupted among the group.

 

Mickey offered a hand in a worn out glove. "What's yer name?"

 

She looked to his hand, then back to his face, back and forth, but then took it, carefully getting back to her feet. "M-Minerva." Oh, mustn't forget - a proper lady always curtsies, as her lessons dictated, and so she did, releasing his hand and tugging at one end of her destroyed dress.

An eyebrow was quirked at that. "… Yer weird." He took her hand. "I like it! My name's Mickey. Come on." He tugged at her hand, kicked the ball back to the group, and dragged the semi-frightened child to the other children. He then pointed them out one by one. "That's Riku, n' Kairi, n' Sora... Ven, n' Namine, n' Xion... Hayner, Pence, n' Olette." Now that Minerva could get a better look at them, the children were all as filthy as Mickey, with pants and dresses that said they could afford nothing like Minnie's adorable ribbons. Only Xion's attire came close, and this was difficult to tell by the equal amounts of dirt she shared with the others.

 

Minerva curtsied again to them, but the one called Hayner yawned dramatically. "Yeah sure, whatever. Can we play something else now?"

 

"Let's play Team Tag!" The girl dubbed Kairi chirped, with her hands up in the air.

 

Hayner heartily agreed to it. "Team Tag, yeah! I'm it, everyone pick your teams!"

 

Catching the extremely confused look on Minerva's face, Mickey pulled her a little closer. "You can be on my team."

 

"Hey, you're on my team!" Selphie, the brown-haired one, ran over, grabbing Mickey's free arm. "We're always on the same team!" Minerva was now brave enough to return the heated glare, and tugged right back on Mickey's offered arm.

 

Hoping to stop this tug-of-war, Mickey wrestled his arm free from Selphie's tight embrace. "Aw, come on, Selphie, she's new! Why don't ya team up with Ven?"

 

Selphie pouted, but accepted her defeat with a huffed 'fine'. Hayner closed his eyes, shouting loudly. "You got 'till the count of ten! One..."

 

The children scattered into their teams, and fled into the city. Grinning, Mickey began to run, making sure Minerva could catch up. "I know a great hiding spot, Minnie!"

 

She stared at him, startled by the sudden nickname. Then, shocking herself, she burst into laughter.

 

The hours passed in new games she had never heard of, exploring every nook and cranny of the city. All the children warmed up to her, even Selphie, though she still clamored that next time, she and Mickey would be a team. Mickey never left her side, taking special care to explain rules of the games, where one did and did not hide, and the best pranks to pull on the shop keepers. He never let go of her hand, ensuring that she would not be lost again under his watch. He was not the leader of the children, but instead seemed to be more of a mediator, settling disputes and coming up with conclusions that would satisfy them all. He was her sacred guardian, and she wondered if she had ever felt so happy and secure than before this day.

As the sun left the sky and stars began to appear, each child was forced to go to their own homes. By the time the moon was visible, the only ones left were the two mice. Knowing she would have to go home, Minerva - though she had by now fully welcomed being called Minnie - tried to explain what her home looked like in order for Mickey to guide her back. It wasn't until she mentioned the large black gates that his eyes lit up, and he knew the way at once. He explained on the way back that when the other children weren't available for play, he would often go to the gates, climb to the very top, and try to see what was beyond. He had been shooed away many times by the servants, but that hardly stopped him.

 

It wasn't until they were past the gates, past the statues, and long into the hedge-maze that Mickey asked why she had left home in the first place.

 

Exhausted from walking, she sat on the grass, and he sat by her side. "I got mad at mummy and daddy. They promised they'd be home for my birthday, but today is my birthday, and they couldn't come home."

 

His eyes widened, and, after a bit of thought, he dug within the pocket of his coat, and pulled out a small golden cylinder. He rubbed it with his sleeve to clean it, and then held it out towards her. "Happy Birthday!"

 

She blinked. "What?"

 

"Happy Birthday!" He repeated, and pushed it into her hand."Everyone should get a gift on their birthday... this is my treasure, it's called a kal..." He pressed his lips, trying to sound it out right. "Kal...eye...doh...sc...ope."

 

Looking down at the 'scope', she recalled seeing something similar in her father's office, though it was far longer, and, the one time she was able to sneak a look at it, she was able to see the stars as if they were in front of her face. However, when she closed one eye and pressed the toy to her other eye, she did not see stars - she saw distorted colors and sparkles, and although it was a pretty sight, it was met with worry. "It's broken." She lamented in disappointment. "I can't see the stars or anything."

 

"It's not supposed to." He reached over, "Here, lemme just - " and twisted the end - and the colors blended together, the sparkles moved, and everything was a movement of stained glass, with each new action causing a new reaction, a world devoted to nothing but patterns and brightness.

Her gasp was soft and mystified, even when his hand was drawn back. "I-It's... it's so beautiful! I-It's like a rainbow, but, crooked, and …windows, and the red and the blue, and the points, and the..." Coherence was lost in her fascination, and Mickey couldn't help but laugh at her wonderment. Yet as delightful as the show was, she recalled his words, and pulled it away. "Wait... you said this was your treasure."

 

He nodded in affirmation. "A-huh. See, this one time, there was this big carriage fulla' toys, but the wheel broke, and the carriage fell over, and the toys went everywhere! So me and the others tried ta grab as much as we could... I could only get that." It wouldn't be until later in her life that Minnie would realize it was the only toy he had ever gotten, could ever 'afford' to get - he was an orphan, and such privileges as this were rare to him.

 

Despite not being aware of those facts just yet, guilt weighed heavily on her. "But if it's your treasure, I can't take it..."

 

"Don't worry about it." He gave her the three head pats again. "You can bring it out the next time you play with us."

 

"Next time?" It hadn't occurred to her that there would be one.

 

His smile began to falter. "...You are gunna come and play with us again, aren't you?"

 

She looked down at the toys in her hands. In one, Figaro, the cat given as yet another excuse to what she couldn't have, a fabrication of her parents' denial. In the other, the 'scope', worn out and slightly cracked, filled to the brim with memories of childhood innocence and love. She looked up again, her face bright. "A-huh. I definitely am."

 

"Great!" He stood up, and made a fist with one hand, save for one pinky extended out. In address to her blank look, he wiggled the pinky. "It's a pinky promise. You link pinkies, and that means ya can't ever break it."

 

She stood up, but there was a small dilemma, as her hands were full, so there could be no pinkies exchanged. Mulling it over, she decided to turn around, and, with some effort, looped her small tail around his finger.

 

"... Yer weird." He said once more. "I like you."

 

The children giggled, and there came suddenly a warbled cry, as off, in the distance, Mrs. Potts was running towards her mistress, having been hysterical all day over the loss. Taking his cue to leave, Mickey turned tail and fled, while Minnie was scooped up into the servant's arms, drowning in apologies and warnings.

 

Her parents' make-up gift this round would be a tall doll house, but Minnie - she told the servants they could call her as such - barely touched it, preferring to spend her time gazing into the kaleidoscope. Once the servants let their guard down and were assured the run-away was a onetime thing... she left the home again, and joined the street children. As years passed, each child had to stop playing for their own reasons, be it school for Riku, moving away for Hayner, jobs for Sora, no one was sure what exactly became of Xion, and so on and so forth. Eventually, as teenage years were reached, Minnie would only find Mickey when she came to the city. He took up a job as a paper boy, and she didn't have to hide her visits to him, choosing to ride in her own carriage to see him. Their games of Team Tag and exploration were now shortened to chats over the news he was handing out, and he'd always save a paper just for her.

 

"My lady?"

 

Minnie opened her eyes, and saw that the maid had already returned, looking distraught.

 

"I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

"No, no, I wasn't asleep..." She murmured dreamily, sitting up on her purple themed bed. "...I was just remembering… nevermind. Are you done already?"

Mrs. Potts shook her head, dreading the bad news she was being forced to give. "… Mister Rodawn is here again. He is waiting for you at the gates."

"Merde!" Minnie was fully awake again, leaping to her feet in a burst of frustration. "Didn't he learn anything when I gave him a piece of my mind?" She stormed out of the room, not caring that she was only in her nightgown and her hair was not fit for public viewing. "Then I'll give him more pieces until he chokes on them! Wait for me in my room, Mrs. Potts!" She ignored her maid calling after her, not wanting to trouble her or the other few servants left in for the night. She would deal with this matter herself! Her anger grew in leaps and bounds as she walked outside, seeing Mortimer stand on the gates, sharp teeth in a wicked smirk. "Perhaps I've failed to make myself clear, Rodawn." He didn't deserve a first name, she decided as she unlocked and opened the gates. "I never, and will never, have any interest in-"

Even for all her hatred of Mortimer, she never would have guessed he'd shove a disgusting rag onto her mouth and nose. A muffled scream was drowned in chemicals, and for the second time in her life she found herself forced into sleep.

~*~

Max and Goofy could only guess night had approached, as their cell lacked any windows to give them any indication otherwise. They had been kept there since the morning without a proper explanation, with Goofy trying to assure his son it was only a mistake that would be cleared up, and Max pacing the room in fury. Both came to attention as footsteps sounded nearby, and Pete's looming shadow covered them once more. "Have a nice day, boys?"

"What are we even doing here?!" Max grabbed the bars, unafraid of the larger man of authority. "We didn't do anything wrong! Let us out!"

Pete lit a fresh cigar, and took his time to blow the smoke into Max's face. "Can't do that, kiddo. See, my cute niece shared the best story with me. Hey, Goof!" Goofy didn't want to stand, but did so upon being called. "Did your boy ever share the fact that he's a member of that revolution that's been going around?"

Goofy tried to question Pete about what he meant, but Max kept taking charge. "You can't lock me up and accuse me with lies!"

Pete rolled the cigar in his mouth, taking in the taste. "I got an eye witness says otherwise. But you're the type of kid who'd deny everything to his dying day, I bet. It'd be nice for everyone if you confessed and took the blame, so I thought of arrangement that'd be real dandy." He took out his cigar, using it as a pointer, and dropped ashes as he aimed at Goofy. "Either admit you're one of the revolutionaries, and a traitor to the crown… or your old man takes your place on the guillotine for the crime of inciting a riot, assault, robbery-"

"You're insane!" Max tried to reach out to smack the cigar out of Pete's hand, but the distance between them was too great. "You can't pin anything on me, so you'll make up stuff about him? No one would ever believe this!"

Pete pretended to tsk in disappointment. "Aw, now that's a shame… the two of you really don't share anything at all, do you? Think of me as a family counselor." He took another inhale of smog before pressing on, as Max didn't notice his father quietly approaching. "I was on my usual beat ten years ago, when I saw a guy flee the local hospital after attacking almost every doctor in the place. I kept the memory of his face locked up in my head… I couldn't arrest him with the riot going on, but I knew that he'd come in handy someday. Happy someday, Geefs!" He clapped in celebration, but Max still didn't understand.

"You're insulting my intelligence with this nonsense!" Max growled, still taking hopeless swings against his captor. "Stop making up stories, or-" Goofy's hand met his shoulder, and Max aimed his disgruntled attitude at his father momentarily. "Dad, I can handle this!"

Goofy's voice was unusually delicate, speaking as if every word was fragile, eyes on Pete. "… If I confessed ta what I did, will ya let Max go home?"

"Dad?" Max had never seen his father look so… so… even his vastly superior mind couldn't find the word for it. A different man was standing there beside him, water filling up his droopy eyes.

Pete, meanwhile, found the whole matter utterly hilarious, his round belly laughing at the sight. "You still don't get it, boy? Ten years ago, your dad was the one who caused the First Bloody Sunday!"

The son waited for his father to assure him it was a lie, but nothing of the sort came. Goofy, the always happy and spirited Goofy, was falling apart at the seams, his body shuddering with fresh cries he had been holding back for over a decade. "… Yer… yer ma was so sick… I didn't know what ta do… n-no one would help her, and I didn't have the money… I… I just wanted someone ta listen! Ta help! I didn't mean fer anythin' like that ta happen… I didn't… I swear I didn't…"

That couldn't be true. Max wanted his smarts to be of some use, to find the logical explanation for why these lies were being told, but as his brain kicked into high gear, dreadful pieces were falling into place. As the instigator of so many innocent deaths, Goofy was probably a wanted man, even if only Pete knew his identity. That was why Goofy had never tried to better himself or get more important jobs, as that would only draw attention to himself. He never stood up for himself, he allowed himself to be degraded and fired and insulted by everyone and anyone because to fight back might give people the right idea. "No, no, no…" Max's breath was coming in quick. "You… you sent in those blueprints! That would have gotten attention if I'd gotten in!"

"I know." Goofy nodded numbly, not fighting it even now. "I figured… People might find me out, and all that, but… at least you'd have a better life. Ya didn't need me 'round… I'd just hold ya down. You'd get a fresh new start without me."

A life's worth of horror and guilt seized Max by the heart, almost killing him at once. Goofy had risked his identity being found out, risked being arrested and killed, all for the sake of his son who had never shown any appreciation towards him. Everything Goofy had done was to protect Max, and he had been willing to give it all away for Max too. "D… Dad… N-no, Dad… I-I'm… so sorry…" How could he have treated his father that way? Yet how could he have known? There was so much to apologize for, so much to make up for, and only one way to amend everything. With what breath he could grasp, he whipped around back to Pete, his sloppy tears matching his fathers'. "I admit it! I'm in the revolution! Leave my dad alone and I'll tell you everything!"

Goofy screamed, grabbing his son, and Pete pulled out a tiny whistle from his shirt pocket. "That's a good boy." He blew once, and upon hearing the signal, Horace and other officers entered the jail arena. "Fellas, take this good man home. Only the boy's a troublemaker." He unlocked the cell door, and the officers began to fight with Goofy, whacking him with nightsticks in order to pull him away from Max, and even then, Goofy screamed and screamed his child's name. "Maximilian Geef." Pete formally announced, chewing away the last of his cigar, the officers dragging Goofy away through tears and terror. "You are under arrest for treason against the crown. Such crimes are warranted to a swift and immediate execution… but why beat around the bush?" He slammed the prison cell shut once only Max remained inside, lifeless to his punishment's description. "Tomorrow, you get to meet my sweet lady friend, Madame guillotine!"

Chapter Text

"Your highness… he says it's urgent, and you must be there at once. What will you have us do?"

"Prepare for travel. We should be able to arrive by nightfall."

~*~

When handsome people commit atrocious acts, they gain an inherent ugliness about them, even if they never gain a wrinkle or nothing on their face is out of order. It was the same with the following morning, as the sun cast kind and warm glows upon a beautiful day that was rife was ugliness. More than half of the city's populace was gathered at the police quarters, standing before the wooden stage that held the foreboding guillotine. Only the harshest of crimes warranted a beheading, and the highest of them all was treason to the crown. Uniformed officers stood in front of the stage, preventing the crowd from coming any closer.

The final arrivals to the show came by carriage, and Duke Fantome couldn't have looked any happier as he stepped out into the light. The crowd, composed of poor and rich alike, murmured uneasily as Duke Rabbit followed suit, joined by Shyster, Roxanne, and Katarina who was dressed as elegantly as any noblewoman. Daisy shrieked among the masses, trying to claw her way at the cat, only stopped by Donald holding her arms back. "You!" Daisy continued to fight in Donald's grasp, hissing and spitting as Katarina calmly walked around the line of officers. "You were the traitor?! How could you!"

Katarina giggled, stopping for a moment to indulge Daisy's anger. "Careful what you say, or you might join your friend. But, let's say, hypothetically, I was a part of something…" She leaned in, sneering so devilishly that Donald was sorely tempted to let Daisy go to have her way with the feline. "It still would have been your entire fault. You and your silly ideas of family… you were all too trusting. The only one you can ever depend on is yourself. Let this be a lesson to all of you." She walked away to join her higher-ups, feeling the hot glares of many within in the crowd.

"You horrid witch!" Daisy continued to yell, even when it looked like Katarina was no longer paying attention. "After all we did for you! After all the risk Peg took for us, and for you! Go to her and look her in the eye, you traitor!" Only at the mention at the owner of the winery did Katarina stop walking again. Peg's eyes were downcast, and while she wanted to join in the insults, she knew they would do no good. Katarina had made her choice about where she belonged.

Roxanne had clearly been crying nonstop, much to her father's sadistic enjoyment, and when she managed to spot Goofy in the audience, she fled from her father's side. "Mister Geef!" Her father was shouting her name, demanding for her not to shame him, but she paid him no heed as she took Goofy's arms. "Isn't there anything we can do?"

Goofy said nothing, his equally red and wet eyes speaking of the hopelessness they had all entered into. He quietly drew the younger girl into a tragic hug, and she sobbed into his chest, and soon tears were dotting the eyes of many in the public. Roger twisted his ears into knots, frightened of what he was bound to see, while Shyster took solace in the fact that once the boy was dead, his daughter would have to obey him again. Donald could find no way to bring Daisy comfort, and though he had touched his pin over and over, there had been no word from Gyro and Ludwig. Was there nothing the geniuses could think of?

The front doors to the police quarters opened, and all eyes were on Pete as he pushed the handcuffed Max towards the stage. Upon seeing his child again, Goofy plunged forward in the crowd, hollering Max's name. "Lemme go! Lemme go! Max, I'll say it! I'll say I did it! Don't take my boy away! Please! Max!" It became Horace's reluctant duty to force him back, though at least he only used brute force and not any of his weapons, as Pete had nonchalantly told the officers they were allowed to use if the public got 'upset'.

It was going to get a lot more than upset, Donald judged, surveying the faces of the crowd. The lower class were grinding their teeth and clenching their fists, on the tipping point of complete fury and outrage. He held Daisy closer to him, fearing for her safety and understanding what was about to come. Even those who weren't members of the revolution were disgusted by this act, and many were seeing it as the final straw. The death of a commoner child would ignite their passionate anger, and cause them to react violently at once. No doubt that's why the officers were around, so the important people, such as Fantome, would get away unscathed. Just like for the Second Bloody Sunday, the death of a clearly innocent youth would be the beginning of a bloodbath. The pent up frustrations were made clear in the eyes of many, and each step Max took towards the guillotine echoed a death knell.

Max was forced to kneel before the guillotine, and he laid his head in the wooden plank. He kept his eyes closed, unable to bear the anguish spilling from his father and lover. It was probably better this way. Goofy could live his own life, without an arrogant son to protect. Roxanne would find a boyfriend who could keep her safe and was worthy of her status. He had done nothing but bring them both trouble, and he never showed any gratitude for the sacrifices they went through. He hadn't deserved them, hadn't deserved the friends he made in the revolution, hadn't deserved his brilliant mind – they were all precious gifts and he had squandered them, figuring that his mere existence had made them worthy of his company.

Pete lit a fresh cigar in his mouth, unafraid of all the hate that was leered towards him. "Maximilian Geef. You have been charged with the crime of treason against the crown. You were the one behind the planned revolution, and the plot to rob Scrooge McDuck's vault! How do you plead?"

"Guilty." Max mumbled, barely audible, barely caring. Maybe now he would see his mother again. She would be disappointed in him, but he would have eternity to apologize to her for all he had done. Even the smartest person in France could be so very, very stupid.

"Then by the power invested in me…" Pete blew out of a hefty cloud of smoke, and placed his hands on the rope pulley, ready to give it the final yank to end the judgment. "I hereby sentence you to death." He pulled –

Daisy buried herself into Donald's body so she wouldn't have to look – a new body ran throughout the crowd - Roger was too fixated in fright to move – a figure in red shoved others aside - Peg lost all strength in her legs – static entered Donald's microphone pin- Roxanne howled – Goofy made one last attempt to reach out – Horace lost his hold on Goofy – Shyster watched the blade – someone jumped on stage - Fantom watched the crowd – Max shouted his chosen final words, "Dad, I'm sorry!"

The blade came to a sudden and complete halt upon meeting a sword. When Daisy didn't hear the sickening combination of metal meeting flesh, she lifted her head to see what had happened, and she joined the united shock of seeing The Scarlet standing on the wooden stage, holding out his sword to prevent the blade from coming any closer. His arms were shaking, unable to keep this up for much longer.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, nephew!" Donald's pin crackled to life, as Ludwig grabbed a hold of small lever back in the lab. "But our officers here have been letting criminals go all night, no doubt to keep our boy here distracted… but this is where the real show starts!" He yanked the lever forward, amplifying the sword's strength in his owner's hands. With one grunt, Mickey heaved upwards, smacking the blade up and out of the guillotine, spinning in the air for a few faint seconds, and then it plummeted back down to earth, nicking the end of Pete's cigar as it crashed mere inches in front of his feet. Only a miracle kept the Chief of Police from fainting.

The Scarlet pulled Max back, and sliced through his handcuffs, and had Max not been rightfully stunned by this chain of events, he would recognized such feats of technology as ones he had designed. The hero then pointed his sword out to the crowd, commanding their attention. "Why in the name of Queen Nobella was this boy apologizing? It's all of you who should give your apologies to him! You are all outraged by what was to happen to him, but I see only his father going forward to save him! Would you all wait for his life to end before speaking up?" As Max staggered and stood, the Scarlet took his hand, and raised it as high as he could. "What will it take for you to step up and say what's wrong? There is no use in waiting! If you want to prevent this from happening again, then open your mouth!" Max felt himself being gently pushed, and taking the cue, awkwardly stepped off the stage, the sea of people parting as before him.

"Max!" Now nothing could stop the father from reaching his child, and only frozen hearts could not be warmed by the sight of their entwining arms, Max apologizing over and over while Goofy's tears continued on in his son's salvation. Roxanne joined in, and nothing less than the pull of a deity could separate the new family.

Pete had begun to recover his wits, and now the only glare left at him was the one he never wanted – Fantome's. He knew the punishment that would follow if the execution wasn't carrying out, and he spit out his destroyed cigar. "H-Hold on a minute! He admitted he was guilty! He's a member of the revolution!"

"Then you will have to arrest everyone here, sir." The Scarlet jumped down from the stage, returning his blade to its scabbard. "A revolution occurs when change is wanted. I know that is what this entire city is coming to see. For every worried and frightened face you saw as you tried to kill this boy, you saw someone wanting change. I stand in front of an entire population desiring change! We are all the revolution!"

What was once guilt became inspiration, and Peg sprang up from behind her friends, throwing a fist into the air. "Revolution! Revolution! Revolution!" Daisy dried her eyes, and held up her fist as well, as well as Donald, and it contagiously spread, more poor and rich arms coming together, yelling together, "Revolution! Revolution! Revolution!" It was a unanimous cry for justice, a bellowing apology to those they had almost helped kill, a unification of classes that wholly identified one another as living people. "Revolution!"

Fantome bit his lip hard enough to taste blood, and he stepped back, ready to return to his carriage with the other elite. Yet Roger went the opposite way, and he knew Fantome was staring at him in disbelief. Roger stood by the crowd, glancing back at the man he was still frightened of. "… I'm still afraid of you, Fantome." He answered the question hanging in the air. "… But I'm more afraid of what I'd b-be if I didn't stand up for what's right." His fist joined all the others, and the cry was that much louder with one more voice.

Pete was losing control of the situation quickly, and Fantome was heading for his carriage, Katarina and Shyster following. He stumbled on the stage, trying to get off. "H-Horace, arrest that kid! He's guilty, get him!"

Horace had a pistol and a nightstick, but as he watched and heard the crowd, he didn't touch either weapon. It would have been easy to obey those orders, and he was no doubt in deep trouble if he didn't. He rolled up his sleeves, the scars from Clarabelle's near death experience still healing. She was at his home, unable to leave his bed as she cried for hours. It was this system that had put her there, and if nothing changed, then she might still go running back to Fantome. Goofy had tried to make a difference, tried to save his son's life, and in the end he hadn't been able to do it. Yet he had still tried, knowing the possibility of failure.

Horace turned around, looking his superior directly in his stubble dotted face. "No."

This was not happening. Pete was choking harder than anytime he had ever smoked. "What?! Didn't you hear me?! I said arrest-"

"I heard ya loud and clear!" Horace grabbed Pete's police badge and ripped it off. "I've been hearin' the worst orders from you and that lousy Duke, and I ain't ever said a word about it! But now I've got somethin' to say!" He held the badge aloft in the air, and echoed the sentiments for himself. "Revolution!" There would be no Bloody Sunday here, not with this tight knot of togetherness, not when so many wanted the same thing, and to Pete's growing fear, the officers that weren't simply standing by uneasily were joining Horace's side, repeating the cry.

"Revolution!" They would be silent no more! "Revolution!" They would speak up for the change they wanted! "Revolution!" This was truer and purer than Daisy's flimsy ideas of revenge, and she and Donald held hands, chanting with the others, as the Scarlet kept his eyes on Pete, daring him to try and stop anyone. Pete was drowned out in their cries, and with no one to obey him, his fear escalated, and he scrambled to get into Fantome's carriage. The door slammed shut, taking away the host of villains whose plans had been changed once more.

But the celebration was not meant to last. The Scarlet and Donald were instantly alerted to Gyro's voice, invested in panic. "Guys, we've got more problems! The Rodawn Theater's been set on fire… and he's got the Duchess inside!" He knew he didn't have to give Mickey any instructions, as the mere mention of her title had already sent him running. "Donald, you've got to get the fire fighters, alert everyone! If it's not stopped soon, it's going to spiral out of control!"

Donald didn't need to be told twice, and he too began to run, dragging a startled Daisy off with him. "D-Donald, what are you doing?!"

"If we're all ready to work together, there's stuff we need to work on right now!"

~*~

What a dismal day. Fantome smoothed out his thin mustache, still able to taste blood on his lip. He didn't like it when he lost his composure. It wasn't the act of a gentleman. Every plan he had come up with was falling apart, but it couldn't be because the Scarlet was smarter than him. He only had a few more cards left to play in his deck, but they would be the ones to bring the Third Bloody Sunday. He would not accept anything else.

"I'm very disappointed, Pete." He spoke with calm disdain, altering the other worried patrons of the carriage. Katarina was unable to get rid of the memory of Peg starting the crowd's unification, the same kind woman who had often pet Katarina between the ears and lovingly accepted the unknown cat as one of her own. Shyster was silently hoping there was still a chance for the Third Bloody Sunday to happen, and get lucky enough to have Roxanne killed during the riot so her stain on his family's name would lift. Pete felt a dangerous fateful dagger approaching the place where his badge used to be, knowing that whatever Fantome had in store was going to hurt. "I had already called up the Queen's men before I came out today. You couldn't even shoot the boy."

The carriage slowed down at its destination. The Rodawn Theater's windows were billowing black clouds of death, but the driver wasn't stupid enough to question why his master wanted to stop here. The four stepped out, already feeling the heat from the inferno within. "Shyster." Fantome commanded without looking at his banker. "Go set the preparations. I'll join you momentarily." Shyster gulped as he faced the theater, and then reluctantly went past the front doors to fulfill his orders. "As for you two…" The driver had taken off, which meant the cats were stranded with their superior. "Katarina has already served her purpose, and with the Scarlet's continued interference, I need less people tied to me. So, Pete, I'll give you a choice. I can kill you, or... " He reached over, taking out Pete's gun, and placing it in the police chief's hand. "You can kill Katarina."

The uncle and niece wore matching expressions of horror. Though they carried black hearts, they were still hearts beating the same blood as each other. "W-wait a minute!" Katarina stepped forward, hands out, pleading her case. "Uncle Pete called me out here to help you! Y-You can't toss me aside like this! I'll still work for you, give me another chance!"

Fantome wouldn't even look at her, waiting on Pete. "Your hesitation is telling, Pete. You kill her, or I'll have you killed."

There was not a doubt in Pete's mind that Fantome meant every word. He wondered why he was surprised by this command, though. Ever since he had first met Fantome, he knew the dog cared for no one and was willing to get rid of anyone without a second thought. Pete had always known this, and he'd brought his niece into the scheme anyway. She was beautiful and smart, of course she'd be a great asset. He'd taught her how to act when blending in with the common crowd, and he'd been so proud of her. The two of them, Pete and Katarina, they'd never fail Fantome. They were invincible, they were immortal. Now he was holding his silver gun, fingers trembling as they touched the trigger.

"Un… Uncle!" Katarina began to back away, remembering what she had told Daisy. The only family you could count on were the ones you were born from. Now her family was aiming at her. "Uncle, please! I-I'll do better! I'll really get the Scarlet next time!" Why wasn't he lowering his arm? No, no, if she had to die, then not like this! "Uncle Pete! Please, don't!"

Pete didn't want to do it, didn't want to see it, he was so sorry – and a shot did fire, but not from him. He yelped in pain, dropping the gun as he clutched his wounded hand. A rubber bullet rolled on the stone ground, and the trio of darkness gained a fourth player as the Scarlet walked into the scene, gray wisps leaving his pistol. "That's enough. No one is dying today." He shoved his pistol back into its holster, taking careful steps forward. "The power this man has over the both of you is astounding. You would sacrifice anyone close to you to see that he isn't angered. You can't think of doing something other than his commands. I wonder how you even remember to eat breakfast in the morning if he's not there to tell you. And yet, while you were hesitating to hurt your niece, it never once occurred to you…" He kicked the dropped gun away, disappointment in his inflection. "… That you could shoot Fantome?"

Pete was shocked by the gross realization of his own incompetence. Why hadn't he thought of that? Why had he automatically assumed he had no choice but to do as the Duke said? When had he lost all functions, and the ability to think for himself? He thought that by working for Fantome, he could become more powerful, but it was the exact opposite – he had become the weakest man in France. He wasn't even worthy of the Scarlet's eyes, and Katarina was equally swallowed up by the disgusting force she had become. "You haven't had an original thought for a long time," The Scarlet finished as he approached the doors. "Except when it came to your niece. She was the first time you thought outside of Fantome's orders, and you were about to get rid of your last chance to be your own man again."

The Scarlet and Fantome looked at one another, and the Duke smirked, gesturing to the doors. "Your lady love awaits inside."

"And when she is safe," The Scarlet pulled on the door, welcoming the waves of heat upon him. "I'll be coming for you."

"I wouldn't expect any less." The two parted ways, leaving the cats to stare at one another, lost in what could have been.

The fire had started from the curtains, if the hero had to guess. It was spreading throughout the theater, devouring seats and causing old wooden stairways to fall apart. The stage was intact for now, and carrying the most important players. Mortimer rose to attention, grasping a fanciful sword and climbing down to meet his opponent. The Duchess, in the same nightgown s the night before, was still on the stage, ropes binding her ankles and wrists, and there was a swell of pride in Mickey's chest as he saw she had not been crying. She was relieved to see him, and he met her smile with one of his own. "I'm here to escort you home, most precious."

"You'll have to get through me first!" Mortimer charged forward, sword out. "The insurance for this theater will make me richer, and I'll have a gorgeous bride to boot! Say your prayers, Scarlet!"
Mortimer lacked the skills and strength to make this an equal fight by any means, but he had an ounce of cleverness to him by setting the theater on fire. In addition to dodging Mortimer's strikes, the Scarlet would have to dodge flames, smoke, and keep an eye on Minnie as she was in plenty of danger with the fire escalating. Planks from above tumbled down, and with these cheating advantages, Mortimer was able to get a slice or two in. Ludwig and Gyro were speedily telling Mickey fighting tips, where to duck and where to blow, but during the fight, Gyro let out a surprised gasp.

"Gyro, what's… what in the world?!" Ludwig blabbered into the microphone, and to add onto the problems, his voice was fading in and out. "Our cameras are being attacked! How is this even possible?! No one even knows… We might lose communication with you, just hang -" The sentence was cut off by a harsh sounding buzz, making the Scarlet visibly wince. Shaking his head, he managed to successfully block Mortimer's blows as they came. Though the rat was taller and had slightly more muscle to him, the vigilante had considerably more skill and determination. It was only a matter of time before the obvious victory, but with the fire continuing to build, time was something he couldn't afford.

"You just don't know when to give up, do you!" The classic cheesy line was growled by the taller one, gripping both hands on his sword, as both blades were now locked together, both men pressing hard against each other. "If you give up now, I won't even tell that you ran away with your tail between your legs!"

"You're not even worth my time!" The Scarlet shot out his leg, kicking Mortimer hard in the stomach, and sending the gangly rat flat on his back. "I'll only leave you be when you swear to leave the Duchess alone!" It was difficult not to fall into his usual dialect with the heat and exhaustion growing around him, but this would be an awfully bad time for his identity to be revealed. If Mortimer just gave up now, everything could go a lot smoother. A promise, a swear, that was all Mickey needed, and he would be satisfied with that alone.

So he thought, until a piercing scream hit the both of them.

Both male heads turned toward the stage, where the fire had now completely engulfed the acting arena. The floor beneath Minnie's feet could no longer support her, and in a devastating crash, it collapsed beneath her, and she fell downward, vanishing before their eyes. Before the horror of that could even begin to sink, more planks of the ceiling tumbled down, falling into the hole, possibly crushing whatever lay beneath there. Not even her screams could be heard anymore, over the roar of the flames and the continued collapse of the building.

Not even Mickey's scream could be heard, as he scrambled towards the destroyed stage, ignoring whatever fell onto his path and ignoring the burns that would appear on his body. He managed to climb onto the ruins of the stage and look down the hole… but there was only sheer darkness. No basement, no lower portion of a hidden stage, no trap doors… just a bottomless hole that could go on forever. That was where his Minnie had fallen.

Mortimer, however, had no such fears or concerns, beginning to get back on his feet. Only now had he realized the danger he had put himself in since he had set this blaze, and he looked around for an escape. To his fortune, he could see past the burning chairs that the doors were still intact. With relief, he began to run up the aisle, glad he would soon be able to put this whole day of humiliation behind him.

~*~

"Ludwig, what's going on?" Gyro couldn't look for himself, his fingers flying over dozens of keyboards, doing his best to get the cameras alive. Something had attacked one of their cameras, and when it had infected one, it had infected them all. Only one screen was working, and it was on the scene in the theater. Yet he had heard the Duchess screaming as well, for although they could not communicate with Mickey, with electronic waves blocking the microphones, they could still hear and see everything that was going on within the theater. Gyro couldn't afford to look up for even a second for sake of missing a keystroke.

With some foreign swearing under Ludwig's beak, the duck was beating on another keyboard, while also pulling and pushing on a joystick, and then slamming the button for the microphone over and over again. The dozens of screens above their heads flashed different angles of the burning theater one at a time, unable to properly focus, and Ludwig rapidly looked from each one to the next, his arms blurring over all the different tasks he was trying to do. "That was the Duchess! The theater's collapsing, and it took the girl with it!"

"Is she all right?" Any other time, Gyro would have realized this was a stupid question, but his mind was barely in the conversation.

"I can't tell! I can't find her!" Not for lack of trying, as Ludwig tried to move the cameras with the joystick as best he could. "And I still can't talk to the boy! He's…" It was then that his attention was back to the boy in question, and although Gyro couldn't see it, Ludwig's already white feathered face began to pale further. "Oh… no."

Gyro nearly threw a keyboard in his agitation, snapping harsher than he meant to. "What in the world is going on, Von Drake?!"

Getting out of his momentary stupor, Ludwig shook his head, and nearly yanked the microphone out of its place. "Mickey! Mickey, stop!" Gyro immediately knew the seriousness of the situation, using the Scarlet's real name over the communication lines, despite the risks involved. The inventor looked up at the screens for the slightest of moments to see what the terror was, as Ludwig continued to uselessly yell at the top of his lungs. "Mickey, you'll kill him!"

~*~

In the few minutes that the birds had been talking to each other, Mortimer had been heading for the doors, when a sudden hot pain struck at the back of his left leg. It wasn't the touch of fire, but the slicing open of a sword wound. Mortimer had fallen, yelling as he clutched his leg, but the attacker didn't wait for him to recover before creating another slice along his back. The rat quickly rolled to a side before being struck for a third time, and as he now laid on his back, he used his blade to block a fourth blow. Standing over him was the Scarlet, his clothes burnt, his body covered in sweat and soot…

And his eyes without a single shred of mercy.

The mouse struck again, and again, and again, not giving Mortimer even a fighting chance to stand back. Mortimer could tell now that this fight was rapidly different from the one sheer moment before. Then, the Scarlet was trying to inflict the least amount of wounds, was playing fair, and was even allowing Mortimer to run away unscathed. Now?

Now, Mortimer realized in the pit of his stomach, the Scarlet was trying to kill him. The rat forced himself to speak, begging to high heaven that reason would save his life. "H-Hold on! You've never killed anyone before! You're not supposed to!" It wasn't working, because the blades still danced, with the Scarlet not even flinching as he got cut as well. Once more, their blades were locked, but this time, much to Mortimer's dread, the Scarlet's 'push back' was far, far stronger. The hero wasn't holding anything back this time, and hadn't said a single word. His mouth had been closed since this revenge had begun, with not even a bite of the lip or grinding of the teeth.

"I'll turn myself in!" Mortimer tried to get his voice as loud as possible, as if volume was the problem. He cried out when his sword was forcibly yanked out of his hand, and tossed aside along with the Scarlet's. "I swear, I'll even tell them to give me a huge sentence! A hundred years! It was all Fantome's idea! I'll tell you everything you want to know about him! I'll do anything you want!" The pleas went unheard, as the hero's gloved hands now clung to Mortimer's neck, pinning him down, getting tighter and tighter with each beating second. Mortimer struggled to claw at his attacker, but it didn't stop the fingers pressing into his throat.

Tighter and tighter and tighter… As she had fallen further and further… His hopes, his dreams, the reason why he had donned the mask, why he had fought to live… Maybe, if one rotten life was taken, a pure one could return… Tighter… tighter…

That harsh buzzing sound came again, followed by " – alive! She could still be alive! The girl could still be alive!"

The fuse of the Scarlet's rage was doused, as he suddenly sat up, eyes wide, loosening his hands. "Huh?"

Ludwig's voice was back, and speaking as rapidly as he could make it. "Mortimer built his theaters over old canals! There should be miles of running water underneath there! If she landed in the water, she might be okay!

Mortimer was instantly forgotten, and the boy broke into a sprint, racing back towards the gaping hole in the stage. Without a second thought, he jumped right into the hole, paying no attention to Mortimer, who had begun dragging himself out of the theater now that he could breathe again.

~*~

Mortimer's life was spared, but that didn't mean they were out of the woods yet. The microphone was still going in and out, and now many of the cameras had been shut out completely. "Someone is shutting down all of our electric signals!" Gyro was out of his seat, slamming his hands futilely down on the keys. "We can't help Mickey out if this doesn't stop! Who could be doing this?"

"There's only one man I can think of who would be capable," Ludwig continued trying to maneuver any controls he could touch for any response. "But he's dead!"

Gyro's stomach plummeted as dots connected, each one worse than the last. "… So are 'we'."

~*~

The landing in the water was rough, but Mickey had far gone past caring about pain. The canal was long, dark, and deep, with the only light coming from the planks in the water, some of which still burned brightly. It was thanks to this light that Mickey, when he had swum to the top of the water and stuck his head out to breathe, could see a stone floor to climb on top of. It appeared that this used to be a casual canal in which people would stop by to get a wooden boat ride, but the theater had been built over it when better boats had come along. There on the stone floor lay Minnie, lying on her belly, breathing quietly in her fatigue, worn out from the day's events.

Flooded with joy, Mickey swam to the stone surface, climbing out of the water and kneeling beside the small maiden. "Minnie." He breathed, scooping her up into his arms, and pressing his face into her hair. She was okay, and all was right with the world. For the life of him, he couldn't remember what happened in the last five minutes before this moment, but it was probably unimportant. All that mattered now was hearing her breathe, hearing her heart beat, feeling her move in his embrace.

As for the duchess, she weakly opened her eyes, vision blurry from her weariness. In that blurriness, she couldn't entirely make out who she was being held by. Yet she could faintly make out his eyes, tearing up in pure love, solaced in the knowledge she was all right. The eyes seemed familiar to her, even if she couldn't make out color or shape… just the very feel of their gaze on her was recognizable, somehow. Mustering up what little strength she had left, she put her hand to his cheek, for if those eyes belonged to who she thought they did, she wanted to comfort him. It pulled him in, and both pairs of eyes closed for the kiss that was to come.

It wasn't a strong kiss, or even a very passionate one, due to both ends being in deep fatigue. However, it conveyed exactly what it needed to, that each party was okay, and that was all that mattered. Minnie couldn't even last for too long of a kiss, and sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. Almost passing out, she heard the one carrying her say a few words, and she smiled in imagining who they could have come from.

"Je t'aime, ma petite duchesse." I love you, my little duchess.

There was a glow about her, almost heavenly, and Mickey ran his fingers down her cheek, only to stop when he realized the light wasn't coming from her, nor from the burning planks out on the water. They weren't alone in the canals. Mickey lifted his head, seeing Fantome holding up a lit lantern, joined by Shyster, Don Karnage, and other beagle faced goons and thugs he had defeated before. "So, she's alive?" Fantome held up the lantern to see Minnie clearer. "Maybe I did steal Gladstone's luck. This is going to make everything so much easier."

Fantome's shadow swallowed up the mice as he held the lantern up to his face, feigning calmness as beads of sweat rolled down his face. "Rodawn almost lost my last playing card… and I've still got one last move to make."

Chapter Text

The fire from the Rodawn theater didn't take long to touch upon adjacent buildings, sending the city into fear. The wealthy were forced to pick what possessions they valued most before fleeing their homes, while those without possessions to pick were able to help others evacuate friends faster. Water tanks on wheels and firefighters on crotchety small engines arrived as fast as they could, shouting for volunteers to aid them, unable to catch up with the speed of the flames on their own. There was no time to cry over lost valuables when every hand was needed.

One of the few places the fire had yet to reach was the remains of the school where Ludwig and Gyro had faked their deaths. The final players of Fantome's play had been gathered here, even though the injured Mortimer Rodawn and chained Fou Medecin were not there willingly. The group was gathered in the destroyed ruins of a classroom, with Fantome keeping his black blade to Minnie's neck in order to secure the Scarlet's obedience. The Scarlet had lost communication with his friends again, and now there wasn't even static buzzing in his ears. It would have to be a problem saved for later, as he kept his eyes entirely on Minnie, who was doing her best to keep still lest she be nicked by the blade.

No actions were taken until the arrival of the last villain, Shyster, hobbling through rocks and ruined bricks. He tried not to touch any of the remaining walls, knowing that the wrong move would send them into deadly collapse. "I, uh, brought what you asked for, sir…" He couldn't believe what he had been asked to do given how ridiculous it was, but after seeing Fantome's calm expression showing signs of cracking, he wasn't about to ask. To the incredulity of the others, Shyster was holding a tea kettle and tea cup in his hands, and he steadily poured a fresh batch for his ruler.

"Thank goodness." Fantome sighed, taking the cup. "This is exactly what I needed. Chamomile." He took his time to swallow the cup's contents, exhaled wistfully, and then threw the cup to the ground, shattering it. "I needed that to calm my nerves… they've been rather… rattled lately." The muscles in his face twitched, proving that he wasn't as calm as he claimed the tea made him. "I've been doing everything in my power to bring about the next Bloody Sunday, but, somehow, you've always been one step ahead, Scarlet. I've had to make sloppy moves, and I detest being sloppy."

"If it's revenge you want," Only now did the Scarlet move his eyes away from his beloved. "Then you can have me, but release the Duchess!"

"As if you have any idea what I want." Fantome sneered, the twitching muscles beginning to spread throughout his body. "What I want is the third Bloody Sunday, and I will have it! I will not let everything I've worked on, all the money I've spent, all the time I've wasted with absolute fools, all of it be for nothing!" With his free hand, he gestured wildly to those around him, almost hitting Shyster in the face. "Creating the Tache Bank, and then letting this incompetent fool and his disgusting daughter lose all effect it had on the city! Getting that lard of a Chief to release these petty criminals who couldn't do their job the first time! Imprisoning this old cretin who should have met the reaper ages ago, and while he can find those damn cameras, he can't tell me where you've been getting help! I did so much, I deserve to get what I want! I deserve it!" He breathed hard, and pulled a pained hand down his face, failing to fully collect his composure. "… Oh, did I get carried away again…"

If the Scarlet wasn't going to reason his way out of this, he'd need to stall. Unable to fight, given the goons surrounding him, he addressed Fou, who still had chains on his wrists and ankles. "So, you were alive this entire time. You're the one who found my cameras?"

"It was that, or I'd be next to Gladstone in the hospital, if not in the morgue below him." Fou tugged on his chains, highlighting his imprisonment. "I don't know how you got the technology from my pupils, but I've always been smarter than those animals. I used my own cameras to find yours, and manipulated the electronic signals they've been getting. Maybe I could have done more, if I wasn't dragged out here like a dog on a leash!" He snarled at his captor, but Fantome paid him no heed.

"If the chit-chat is finished, I'd like us to get down to business. First… I want you to realize you're not winning this time." Fantome moved his sword back, getting it closer to Minnie's shivering neck. "I have no qualms with ending her life. She has her uses dead or alive. You're the one who gets to decide that."

"You wouldn't dare!" The Scarlet moved forward, but several of Karnage's men grabbed his arms, holding him back.

Fantome smoothed out his mustache, though it still limped from his frustration. "You invest too much good faith in me, Scarlet." To prove his point, he whirled around in place, stabbing Fou in his side. The human cried out, and fell forward, trying to hold his stomach as red spilled onto the dirt. He wasn't dead, but if he wasn't tended to, it wouldn't be long until he was gone. "Never did care for humans…" Fantome turned his wet blade back to Minnie's presence, who had been unable to look at the bloody attack through shut eyes. "Now, are you going to take me seriously, or will the Duchess stain her pretty nightgown?"

The hero lowered his fists, for once unable to think of how to turn the situation around without causing more bloodshed. Fantome clapped by slapping one hand to the one clenched around his sword, now that things were properly going his way again. "Of course, of course. But, some of us still have some things we need to vent about so… why don't you boys have some fun, while the Duchess and I reach a deal?"

"Don Karnage calls the face!" Karnage got the first punch in, decking the Scarlet in his cheek and forcing him down to the ground. His subordinates eagerly joined in, kicking and punching at the submitting hero. Mortimer and Shyster got in their own vengeance, though it soon became a contest between all the various thugs. "Hey, hey, Don Karnage already called the face, Mortimer! Go pick another body part!" They stripped him of his weapons, throwing them away and went in on him again without mercy. They picked him up only to send him down again, and not once did he make any attempt to defend himself. If this was what it took to save Minnie's life, then every bruise would be worth it.

"Stop it!" Minnie screamed, futilely reaching out towards the massacre, but Fantome stuck a hand into her long locks and yanked her back. She pulled her head, but could not get away from his fingers. "Please, stop it! You're going to kill him!"

"That's very possible." Fantome nodded casually, yet was still unable to stop the nervous twitches now pulsing in each arm. "But now it's your turn to get to decide who lives and dies. Swear your loyalty to me, marry Mortimer, and from now on, you never speak another word about helping the street urchins. Your life is mine and mine alone from this day forward."

"You're sick!" Minnie was stating the obvious, but why lie to a madman?

"I have no time for your smart mouth, Duchess!" Fantome wrestled his hand free from her hair, almost smacking her in the process. "I summoned Queen Noelle hours ago, and she will see this city lost! Now swear to me, or I will kill him! I know your weakness, you will not let the man you love die!"

The Duchess was so caught up in fear and anguish that she couldn't decide which was the right thing to say, and so continued to stick only with honesty. "You're wrong, I don't love him!"

"Don't play dumb with me!" Fantome's calm smile was evaporating second by second, revealing his true nature as his patience dwindled. "Mortimer told me all about it! The Scarlet is in love with you!"

"But he's not the one I'm in love with!" She pushed Fantome back, foolish as it was, and though this was hardly the time and place for it, she found she couldn't stop talking. "I don't know about his feelings for me, or his weakness, or anything about him! But I already have someone I love! I've already given my heart away to another long ago, since I first met him!"

The Scarlet was hoping that the next kick to his skull would dull his hearing. Bad enough to meet his end this way, but he'd die knowing the Duchess didn't love him at all? He closed his eyes, the last ounce of fight in him gone. Karnage and Mortimer had settled their differences, raising their feet to stomp upon his head –

"The one I love is Mickey Mouse!"

- Until they found their feet suddenly stopped in place by a very wide awake and very interested Mickey, staring at the scene before him with open eyes as his raised arms kept both men from moving their legs. The bullying gang froze upon seeing this new development. "… Don Karnage has a bad feeling about this."

Minnie had yet to notice what had happened, unable to stop now that she had at last spoken her heart's true desires. "I loved that boy since I first met him! He's been my friend and never minded what differences we had!" Why did it take this life threatening situation for her to finally say it? It felt so good, and tears that had been held back for over a decade rained down on her face. "He's always been there for me! He's been the family I've wanted since I was born! He makes me laugh, he makes me feel good about myself, and he's absolutely perfect in every single way! His is the life that means more to me than my own, so don't you dare tell me who you think I love! I know who it's been this entire time!" She pressed her hands to her chest, feeling as if her entire soul could pour out from this confession, for every part of her was in it. Even if the Scarlet had made her heart flutter, it had only been because he had contained those few things Mickey lacked – confidence in himself. She had kept herself back, worried about what their friendship could dissolve into, worried that he would reject her or assume she was merely taking pity on him. Now it all seemed so pointless, and even if the one she cherished wasn't there to hear it, the world must know it. "I love Mickey Mouse!"

Fantome's patience was reaching its breaking point, and he spoke through clenched teeth. "Enough of your flowery speeches, and swear to me your-" The Duke had rarely been interrupted in his life, and even rarer had been interrupted by having a whole person thrown at him, knocking him flat on his back.

The thrown one groaned. "Don Karnage was right."

Indeed he was, as now the Scarlet was on his feet, looking deliriously happy at this turn of events. No one had the right mind to stop him as he sped to the Duchess, grabbed her by the arms and asked a very odd but important question. "Excusez-moi, most precious, but could you say that last thing again?"

Minnie was equally confused as everyone else in the not-quite-room. "… I…" She cleared her mind for the moment, lowering her head so she wouldn't have to look at her hero as she disappointed him. "I'm very sorry, Scarlet. I do appreciate everything you've done for me, but my heart has always belonged to my Mickey. Please, try to understand that-" But when she lifted her head in an effort to be brave, he wasn't standing in front of her anymore.

Now he was dancing and jumping all over the place, even twirling around some of the men who had been beating him previously. "Did you hear that? She doesn't love the Scarlet! She loves Mickey! She loves Mickey Mouse!" He was hooting and hollering, doing cartwheels and somersaults, having gone from being on the brink of death to being the happiest and healthiest he had felt in years. "Who does she love? It's not me! It's M-I-C! K-E-Y! M-O-U-S-E!"

While Minnie was wondering if she should feel insulted, Fantome had reached his last straw. With a beastly roar, he threw Karnage off of him, face pumped full of rage, and any traces of the calm persona he was always seen with was now gone forever. "KILL HIM! KILL HIM! SOMEONE KILL HIM ALREADY!"

None of them were sure they even wanted to touch the dancing loon, but Shyster was the first to see an opportunity. He came up behind the Scarlet, and using the tea kettle has a weapon, smacked the hero hard enough to send him flying into one of the decaying brick walls. The bricks fell instantly at his touch, covering the young man in a pile of stained red and brown. Minnie gasped in dread, but there was no need – he was already pushing the rubble off, standing wobbly on his legs in his destroyed uniform. "Nope, not me! She doesn't love the Scarlet at all, not one bit!" He laughed merrily, not realizing that this latest blow had done the worst damage to his disguise. The beating had already removed his hat and goggles, but when the body throw occurred, he had lost one contact, and the chip in his mouth had cracked, no longer giving him a false voice. "It ain't me at all, ha ha! It's- "

"Mickey?!" Minnie finished for him, knowing those dark blue eyes and that hick voice from anywhere. That's abruptly when Mickey stopped laughing. "Y-You… you're…"

"The paperboy?!" Mortimer threw his hands up at the sheer ridiculousness of a revelation. "You've got to be kidding me!" He pointed at the shell-shocked hero, explaining it quickly to the mooks around him. "He's just a street urchin! He sells papers! All this time we've gotten beat by a kid who can't even afford to sow his overalls!"

As humiliating as Mortimer found this, his embarrassment was a drop in the ocean compared to what Fantome was going through. "A… paper… boy…" He breath had gone from labored to wheezy, his body lumbering as he gained his footing. "A… paper… boy…" His pose and posture was broken, his shoulders hitched, and his handsome features became gruesomely twisted. "A… paper… boy…?" The once grand and elegant Duke was now a gargoyle, spittle dripping from his lips as his mind comprehended what the reveal meant. "All of my plans… all of my work… they were stopped… by… a… paper… boy?" No one answered him, and he threw out his back as he let out a ferocious roar, becoming more beast than man as his outrage overcame him. He then began swinging his sword around, frothing at the mouth, stabbing at anything or anyone nearby, and he even smacked his blade on the ground, using everything around him as a target for his maddened loss.

The unanimous thought for everyone else was to get out of there as swiftly as possible. Mickey scampered to Minnie, scooping her up in his arms and not looking back as he fled. The petty thieves took the same idea, going in different directions to get away from Fantome's insanity. Shyster managed to reluctantly drag the bleeding Fou onto his back, trying to get away with him. "It occurs to me," The banker grumbled as they made their escape. "That we're the only ones with any brains in this place. I hear America is lovely this time of year."

Fantome's deranged assault never stopped, not when he had been completely abandoned, until his sword came across a hollow sound as it hit the right spot in the ground. For the time being, it stopped him, and he stabbed the place again, hearing the same hollow noise. He knelt down into the dirt and began brushing it away. After several moments of digging, he came across a strange door lodged firmly in the ground. There was only one black handle, and when Fantome pulled it open, he peered into an empty, open tunnel underground.

~*~

Mickey didn't know if they were being chased, but he didn't want to risk being caught by slowing down to check. The school had been on the outskirts of the city, as Ludwig and Gyro didn't want anyone hurt by the explosion. Mickey found the beginnings of previous abandonment and worry, as buildings had been vacated by people to help with the fire. He spotted one carriage that had been completely flipped upside down in a crowd's rush. Figuring it would be a good hiding place, Mickey wretched the door open, climbed inside with his mistress, and closed it shut once they were in. They sat apart, and at last were able to catch their breath.

With danger far away, they could now look at each other and understand exactly what had been revealed to both of them. She was in love with him, and he was a vigilante who had been risking his life and essentially lied to her every time they met. Suffice to say, it was awkward. Seeing as he had kept the worst out of the two secrets, Mickey felt it was fair he should speak first, since he had plenty to apologize for. "I-I wanted ta tell ya! B-But, they, Gyro and Ludwig, they wouldn't let me! They're alive and they wanted me ta be a hero so I said yes but then it all got outta hand! And it was Ludwig's idea ta tell all them ladies I wanted 'em, but I never did!" He articulated every hysterical point with his limbs, unaware of the curling smile Minnie's lips were forming. "I didn't wanna lie ta ya, but I had ta keep ya outta harm's way, it's what they said! I wasn't even gunna kiss ya, but then ya went and did it, and.. n-not that I didn't wanna, but then I got all worried who ya liked, and then I got jealous of myself, which I know doesn't make sense, but, well, I, i-it got all mixed up, and I didn't know who I was, b-but I still wanted ta help ya, so-"

"Mickey." Minnie placed one finger on his mouth, effectively silencing him. "Stop talking." More than enough had been said between them. Society dictated that a lady should allow the man to take the lead when it came to courting, and frankly, society needed to change along with everything else in the city. She grabbed Mickey by his vest, and jerked him closer so she could give him the biggest and most passionate kiss she could muster. It was very different from the kiss she had given the Scarlet, as then she had focused on what she should do, what was proper, what was enough, and what showed her thankfulness. This instead was an outlet of years of wanting, and hoping, and refusing to wait any longer to have him. This was showing how much she adored him and only him, and that if he wasn't going to make the first move then that was dandy, because from now on she wasn't going to hold back.

It was a force more powerful than Minnie had known herself to be capable of. She managed to topple Mickey on his back, and never stopped for a moment, popping one of her feet up as she took complete and total control of his mouth. She had only started to gain affection for the Scarlet as he lacked the confidence Mickey didn't seem to have, but now Minnie was ready to give him all the confidence he needed. If one kiss wasn't enough to do it, then she'd give him another, and another, and a million more, a lifetime more, if that's what it took to make him love himself as much as she did. She would never allow him to doubt himself again, and never allow herself to hesitate in showing him how much he meant to her.

As for Mickey, once he'd managed to stop his brain from shutting down at the sheer shock of what was being done to him and by whom, he was quite pleased at this turn of events. He too knew that society dictated a man should take charge when it came to courting, but why on earth should he try to change what was already so wonderful? Real femininity wasn't being weak, nor was real masculinity weakened by allowing women to change their places. With no more obstacles in his path, no more secrets to hide and no more doubts laid before him, he returned her kisses. They communicated only through touch, finding power in being heard, in saying what they felt, and never held back again.

Do you believe me? Yes. Will you always believe me? Always.

Je t'aime. I love you. Je vous adore. I adore you. Nous serons toujours ensemble. We will always be together.

~*~

The day was ending, but the passage of time was lost on the citizens of the city. Though the firemen and those aiding the brave men were working wonders by calming the flames, there was still much work to be done. Katarina and Pete could not revel in their pathetic misery if they wanted to survive, and so were fleeing down the streets, unsure of their destination but knowing for now they couldn't go back. Since Katarina was younger, thinner, and faster, she was running ahead of her uncle, and found that she was unconsciously heading back to the winery. Katarina skidded to a halt as she saw that the building was being devoured by fire, and for the first time in her life her dark heart beat in concern for the sake of someone else.

These beats came quicker as the front door was kicked down from the inside, revealing a sooty Peg wiping her face. She had gone back for only one thing – a photograph of her late father, held together in a shoddy frame that had seen better years. She walked out slowly, coughing a few times before noticing she was being watched. She stared at Katarina, and Katarina stared back – whereas Pete was startled to see that this young lady was quite appealing, even in old rags and ashes. Then Peg burst into a sprint, heading straight for the smaller feline, yelling "Move, stupide!" Neither of the villains had noticed that the adjacent building's roof had started to fall apart at the edges, and Katarina would have ended her life as a splatter on the street had not Peg scooped her up into her arms and gotten her out of the way.

The debris took its place on the street, and Peg exhaled deeply in relief that no one had gotten hurt. Katarina stared even harder now, amazed that she had been so close to death and even more amazed that she had been saved by it. "Y… You…" Katarina fumbled, not even sure if she was allowed to speak after witnessing such a heroic act. "W-why?! Don't you know I'm the mole? The traitor? I'm the one who ratted out Daisy and Max to Duke Fantome!"

"I know. And believe me, I plan to spit in anything you drink from now on." Peg eased Katarina back on the ground, and then broke the frame of the photograph in order to take the image out. "But that doesn't change all the good times we had between us. If I let you die, I'm no better than Fantome." She shoved the photo down her dress in order to free her hands. "Now, come with me!" She grabbed Katarina by her wrist, and after a quick afterthought, did the same to Pete. "You too, big boy."

Pete found he didn't mind being ordered around so much in this case. "W-what for? We're we going?"

"To help everyone else out!" Peg began to drag the cats with her, not letting them escape any further. "My winery's gone, but buildings can always be rebuilt. People can't. Every life has value, even if you two aren't worth more than my old shoes. But even old shoes have uses! So, march! You're going to do exactly what I say, or so help me...!" She left the threat dangling in the air, and her companions decided it was best not to hear what she would have done to them. They were left in her hands now, and as far as she was concerned, they were finally going to be put to good use.

As they ran from one street corner to the next, they passed by Horace who was making his way to the hospital. It too was suffering from the flames, and Horace was terrified of the fate of Clarabelle, who was still recovering from Fantome's assault. Her mind was probably as scarred as her body, and she wouldn't be able to remove herself from her bed. All of her fright and self doubt would keep her trapped, and it was up to Horace to save her, if fate would give him the chance. As he came closer to the hospital, however, the first person he saw at the scene was Clarabelle. She had broken down the doors and was now helping the injured and unhealthy patrons leave in safe numbers, and was even allowing Gladstone to lean on her, as his heavily bandaged state didn't allow for much movement. She was leading the movement, shouting orders, and though the red stains on her gauze-wrapped arms showed her stitches had reopened, she wasn't slowing down in the slightest.

Horace stood before her, mystified at her transformation, and when she caught sight of him, she smiled sincerely. "I knew you would get here, Horace." With her pride recollected and no longer under the shadow of false love, she was now ten times prettier than Horace had ever seen her. As ugliness could be apparent from those with evil intentions, she had become beautiful when she made her own decisions and lived for herself, not for the expectations of anyone else. "You've always been there for me." Fantome had not been there to save her when the flames started, and her dependence on him had vanished when she understood how close she was to death again. She had been forced into self-reliance, but now would not run away from it.

Horace took her hand, and basked in the light of the new woman at his side. "Don't suppose I can be of any help?"

"Just keep me steady." Clarabelle held up one arm, the pain in her wounded arms throbbing. "We've still got more work to do." He held onto her firmly, and together they helped more patients escape the hospital. For every moment she felt weakness, he was there to keep her upright, for that is the true meaning of support. Not force or commanded as what is best for you, but wading through the darkness together and keeping a unified balance.

While they and so many others had found their source of peace and balance through the oncoming night's flames, there were others entering fear for different reasons entirely. Donald hadn't released Daisy's hand for a second, and at the rate things were spiraling, he thought may never let her out of his sight again. He too had encountered the microphone troubles that Mickey had heard, and had assumed the worst when he could no longer hear his uncle. "We have to get to the Arche!" Donald shouted as he kept Daisy with him, running as fast as he could.

"What for, Donald?!" Daisy was struggling to keep up with him, and struggling harder to understand what he was trying to do. "It's just a monument, real people are in danger!"

"Real people might be in danger at the monument too! I can't explain everything right now, but we have to get there as soon as possible!" Only when he said it out loud did he suddenly come upon another horrific revelation. While he knew where the hideout was, only Mickey knew the way to actually get in. "… No! Oh, come on!" He finally stopped running, standing hopelessly beside a carriage that had been turned upside down. "… Even if we got there, we can't get in… we need the Scarlet, but with all the trouble going on, he could be anywhere!" How could they be expected to search the entire city for one mouse, especially in such an emergency? His hand balled up into a fist, and he slammed it into the carriage. "Merde!" Was he going to be useless again? He had found the family he was searching for, only to lose it –

Except when he had hit the carriage, the door had snapped open, and two interrupted mice flopped onto the ground. Mickey, underneath Minnie, blinked up at his friends, and waved a shy hello. "… Don't suppose ya guys could come back in a few minutes?"

"… I'm sorry, was I interrupting something?" Donald growled, hating that this was not the right time to give Mickey a sound kick to the head. Daisy politely looked away as Minnie hurriedly adjusted the neckline of her dress, but Donald wasn't as patient, reaching down to grab Mickey by the collar and give him a shake. "While you've been going through the tunnel of love, I haven't heard a word from Ludwig or Gyro! What happened to them?"

The names returned Mickey to the seriousness of the situation, and he pushed Donald off to turn around. "Gosh, that's right! Fou said he jammed their signals, and Fantome was left at the school ruins! We've got to get to the Arche! Follow me, everyone!" While the girls hadn't a clue as to what was happening, they followed their boys without question. The four raced to the Arche, but once the monument was in their sights, they were the witnesses to an explosion that took out a bottom corner of the Arche. Through the smoke, a figure jumped out, and continued to jump, taking leaps and bounds over fallen carriages and streetlamps. It almost seemed to fly within those bounds, and as it touched the first building it came across, they could see the figure easily sticking to a wall with familiar boots –

"Fantome!" Mickey was the first to declare it, and all four saw with growing horror that not only was it Fantome, but he was dressed in a fashion similar to the Scarlet! It had been ripped and mangled, as if grabbed out of tight hands, but it still allowed him the same powers as the original, allowing him to scale the walls while his maniacal laughter sounded a haunted requiem for his lost mind. Mickey took the lead as he headed for the Arche, and when the others came with, they climbed into the makeshift exit Fantome had created.

The headquarters had been thrashed irrationally, with all of the screens cracked, all of the tables flipped, and with every tilt of their heads they could see signs that a monster had invaded the home of the heroes. Mickey had never thought hearing a moan of pain would be a thankful noise, but it told him where his friends were, and that they were still alive. Gyro was laying in heaps of glass next to the tubes where the extra Scarlet outfits had once been, while Ludwig was on top of the remains of their massive computer board. While Donald eased his uncle onto the floor, Mickey knelt by Gyro's side and began to help him sit up. "I-I'm so sorry, Gyro! What happened?"

Thankfully, neither genius had been knocked out, and Gyro was able to put on a brave face through his suffering, though he now had to squint given that his glasses were broken. "Fantome found the underground tunnels and forced himself in. He caught us completely off guard… and he grabbed some of our costume prototypes." With Minnie's assistance, he managed to stand up, and sadly looked at the broken tubes. "He was going on about becoming the Scarlet, and about cleansing the city… I'm afraid that he's not going to stop until he actually becomes the Third Bloody Sunday."

Mickey steadily looked from person to person, surveying the intense damage as the friends tried to look at the wounds of the injured. Fantome hadn't killed them but only because he was in a rush to seize power. He wasn't going to have that kind of resistance out in the open, now that his plans had been ruined and there was no hope of the city succumbing to the chaos he desired. Wordlessly, Mickey stuck his hand in the tubes' remains, grabbing the last sword available, and headed back to the point of entry. Minnie instantly understood his idea, and made a grab for his arm. "Mickey, you can't go after him! You're injured, and now he's got more power than ever!"

"I have to try!" Mickey took her hand, taking it off him but keeping a light hold on her delicate fingers. "Everyone else needs to get the fires out and help the injured. He needs to be stopped, and I'm the only one who can do it."

"You've done enough!" Tears began to build, and she pressed her face to his arm, hoping that that this upsetting image would be enough to change his mind. "He almost had you killed before… please don't…" He could make all the sound arguments he wanted and he knew none of them would satisfy her. Part of him wanted to agree to with her, to stay behind and ensure her safety personally. But he would not be the man Minnie loved if he didn't care about the safety of others. He kissed her forehead, and she knew she would not win today. She choked back further tears, trying to speak clearly. "… J-Just… promise… to come back to me."

"Don't I always?" Tearing himself apart from her was as painful as tearing off his own arm, yet he still managed to step away, and face the destruction ahead. He broke into a run, one hand placed on his new sword's handle, and joined the night as one of the shadows. The remaining allies helped each other out of the Arche, knowing the last secrets would be exposed, and that with Fantome's reign coming to an end, the Scarlet's time may have come to a close as well.

~*~

The Tache bank was one of the last buildings that had been caught up in the flames. All the employees had wisely fled, and now only one man stood in the center, as the stairs dropped around him one by one. Fantome looked up, watching his work die in red, orange, and yellow, the smog creeping downward in what he saw as enriching black. Though the roar of the flames was defiant, he could hear the footsteps carefully coming up behind him. "I knew you would come and find me, Scarlet… or should I say…" He turned on one heel, showing he had sloppily put on similar goggles and a hat matching how his opponent once looked. "Mickey Mouse? Isn't this a fitting place for your funeral?"

Mickey kept his sword at the ready, eyes blinking green and blue. "It doesn't have to get any bigger than this. Turn yourself over to the police, and we can end this before anyone else has to get hurt."

"Are you still playing the role of the hero?!" Fantome cackled his own stolen blade swinging in an arm with torn sleeves. "You're not the Scarlet anymore! Now, I'll take over! I'll stab the heart of this city, and when everyone sees their beloved Scarlet betraying them, I will have my Bloody Sunday! Then Queen Noelle will see the bugs of this place must be exterminated! But first, you have to go!" He charged forward with his sword out, and as Mickey blocked it with his own blade, he saw there was no reasoning with Fantome. The plan itself was insanity – even if the rest of the city didn't know Mickey's real identity, Fantome was twice his size and had a different voice.

"That's why ya've been doin' all this?!" Already this battle was proving to be wholly different than the first time the two had exchanged blades, when the problems had seemed so much easier to conquer in his ballroom. Fantome had lost his calculated and calm edge, and was swinging wildly with the ferocity of a wild animal. It was taking Mickey's every last nerve to defend himself. "To get rid of the poor? No one would ever let that happen!"

"It will happen!" Fantome swung hard downward, nearly nicking Mickey's ear. "I will have my city cleansed! I will get rid of those urchins! I built my bank to do it piece by piece, but it wasn't enough! They kept staying here, they kept fighting back, they kept seeking help! They don't deserve to be here! Plaguing my streets, sharing their disgusting presence, none of them understand my great will!" When he couldn't touch Mickey with his sword, he kicked at the back of Mickey's shin, sending him down temporarily. "Where you are born determines your life! Everyone should stay in their proper place! And their proper place is gone, there is no more need for them!"

Mickey rolled out of the way before he could be split in half, and wobbly returned to his footing. "Lemme see if I got this straight…" He planted his feet firmly in place as Fantome came for him, arms in a fevered dance. "Ya wanna get rid of everyone ya don't like, everyone beneath ya, everyone who doesn't fit into yer perfect life… then in that case…" Their swords locked as the two bodies pushed against each other, and Mickey leaned his head in, wanting to make his point clear. "Who's gunna be left?"

Only then did Fantome stop, his eyes widening beneath the goggles that had begun to fall off his ears. Mickey took his chance and delivered a swift kick to Fantome's stomach, sending him back in stumbles. "If ya get rid of everyone ya don't think is worthy, then there ain't gunna be anyone in this city! You don't even care about the people who work for ya! That means no servants, no workers, no one ta follow yer orders, no one ta drive yer carriage, and no one ta pour your crummy tea! Everyone has a role! No one can live alone! That's why you won't win!" Mickey held his blade high, and in a blink, it wasn't only Mickey standing there, but the Duchess, Donald, Daisy, others, hundreds of others, everyone who had found unity in France was with him and opposing Fantome. "We will stand for each other, we will fight for each other, and we will keep livin' for each other!"

Fantome could feel all their eyes on him now, every member of France in the building was watching him, those he abused, those who he had tried to kill, those he had gotten rid of, they all watched him, they were all together, and it was he who for once was being looked down upon. "Stop it! Stop it! Stop looking at me like that!" He jabbed the air to get rid of the illusions, but they remained, expressing their superiority in their unification, and Fantome screamed as his mind further unraveled. "I don't need any of you! I'll make this my own city! I'll kill you all! I'll kill the damn Queen! I am better than all of you! All of you! Do you hear me?!" He managed to pick Mickey out of the ghostly crowd, and he bolted for the boy, the fight far from over. "I will cleanse my city!"

Mickey met him head on, as the roof began to collapse, as the smoke came down further, as the flames ate at their clothes, they went back and forth for survival of body and mind. They could not back down for their causes, even if it meant their lives. Both were injured, both were tired, and both were scarlet colored with blood and fire.

~*~

The Tache Bank was now the only building still on fire, and as Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Ludwig and Gyro had traveled to offer their aide, they saw a crowd of spectators gazing upon the last remnants of the once intimidating bank. Daisy spotted Peg in the crowd, and tugged her dress to get information. "What's going on? What's everyone doing here?"

Peg didn't cast her eyes away from the billowing sight. "Some guys saw the Scarlet go into the bank. Something really bad is going on inside."

As if to prove that wasn't mere hyperbole, windows shattered with two falling bodies from a lower floor. In the seconds of their fall, all could see Fantome had tackled Mickey out and left behind any rational consequences of his actions. As they both landed, Mickey's sword left his hand, and he gasped for precious air. Fantome threw away his own blade, and picked up Mickey's, savoring the sweet injustice this would bring. "And now, YOU WILL LEAVE MY CITY!"

The shrieks, clamors, and pleas of mercy were not enough to prevent him from holding aloft what he saw as a sacred weapon – so sacred that lights from heaven were blessing him, encompassing him – but in as he looked up, it was not the grace of any deity approving his actions. Her majesty had arrived.

It should come as no surprise that the richest and most powerful people have access to the best technology. Naturally, Queen Noelle would have the best of them all, her gold and silver carriage not equipped with horses or wheels, but with harsh streams of steam allowing it to fly great distances. Nightlights affixed to the sides now shone down on Fantome, keeping his eyes as the carriage began to float downward, and the crowd parted to make way for her drop. When the steam hissed to a halt, the door slid open, and two guards dressed in blues and silver marched out. Both men took out rapiers, a yellow haired man to the left and a silver haired man to the right, and they saluted as they announced the same statement. "Announcing her royal highness, Queen Noelle Odette Isabella Xyrisse!" They raised their rapiers, and she exited the carriage.

Was it her beauty that was blinding, or the jewels adorned to her pure white dress? The size of the dress appeared to make up for her small size, given that she was only a young woman, perhaps no older than the Duchess. The remaining flames highlighted her pale skin, but made no reflection on her hair as dark as the night she entered. The folds of her dress flapped akin to angel's wings, walking with quiet steps towards Fantome and Mickey. Many in the crowd bowed, save for those too injured to do so, and save for Minnie who still had to be held back lest she flee to Mickey's side.

The Queen folded her hands as she looked down at the men, and she said nothing, her expression giving nothing away. Fantome licked his lips, giggling erratically as he stood, keeping a boot on Mickey's chest. "My Queen! You have arrived just in time! I told you there was an emergency concerning our beloved city, and here it is!" He used his sword to point at Mickey, who stuck his tongue out in return. "I have captured the infamous Scarlet! He's the notorious thief that has been tearing our city apart! He mocks your authority, and has attacked myself and so many others! This urchin got it into his head to commit crimes but never endure punishment! I know you will do the right thing, and execute him with all due process!"

The queen still did not speak, nor did she emote, which gave Donald the time to break from the crowd, yelling "Wait! No, it's not true! The truth is… is… is that I'm the Scarlet!" Anyone still bowing nearly snapped their necks to stare at Donald after such a declaration. "I can prove it, too! I can lead you to my headquarters! I… I used my uncle's money to build it! This kid was taking my place so I could run away, but I'm the one you should throw in jail! Take me instead!"

Fantome howled with laughter, slapping a hand to his face. "Oh, the futility of friendship! Do you really think you can make such claims now? The game's over! I have the real Scarlet!"

"Yes, and it's me!" Minnie took her place beside Donald, hands pressed to her heart. "I'm the Scarlet! I used my powers as the Duchess to infiltrate and fool others! It's me you should take!"

The Duke's laughter began to die down, and his hand twitched as it ran down his sweating face. "That's quite enough. There's nothing more you fools can do to-"

"The Professor was the Scarlet the whole time!" Ludwig waved his broken glasses in the air, as he and Gyro used each other for support. "I faked my death so you'd never suspect it! Don't you love a good plot twist?"

Fantome's multi-muscle twitch was starting up again. "I said that's enough, all of you-"

"I'm the real Scarlet!" Gyro took his turn, and each declaration was more powerful than the last. "I designed the costumes!"

"Stop it!" Fantome waved his sword at the crowd, thinking he could somehow scare them off all at once. "Shut up! It's over!" Even with his foot pressing hard into Mickey, the mouse was smiling from ear to ear, hoping no one was watching the water building up in his eyes. He knew he had helped the city, but to hear that they were so grateful…

"I'm the Scarlet!" Daisy joined in, and then Peg, "No, it's me!" Horace and Clarabelle called out together "We're the Scarlet!" More voices joined in, raising their fists, coughing their ashen lungs and injured bodies. "I'm the Scarlet!" proclaimed Duke Rabbit, Magica, Brigitta, Goldie, "Lock me up!" came Gladstone, Katarina, Pete, Shyster, Fou, "It was me!" Scrooge, Ducksworth, Max, Roxanne, Goofy, everyone the Scarlet had saved, everyone he had fought, they had all been touched in their own way, and now they were exactly what Ludwig and Gyro had imagined the Scarlet to be – a force, a will, a way to bring people together.

"SHUT UP!" Fantome used every ounce of air in his body to silence them, and yet they continued to each take up the hero's name. "Shut up! Shut up! The Scarlet is dead! The Scarlet is DEEEAAAD!" He held his sword with both hands, plunged downward –

And had his mustache yanked by the Queen. The one move created the silence Fantome wanted, and when Noelle spoke, it was of true calmness he could never master. "Duke Fantome Tache. I see a man in costume about to kill a young boy. I see a man who is assaulting and threatening others. I see a man whose wealth and power could have allowed him to get away with a number of awful matters. I believe I have the real Scarlet right here." She raised her other hand, signaling to her guards. "Ventus. Riku. Arrest him."

"Non!" Fantome bellowed, and he changed the direction of his blade, trying to impale the queen, but the guards were quicker than his exhausted body. Dual punches to his face and stomach made him trip backwards over Mickey's body, and he had no time to get up before the guards were grabbing his arms, handcuffing him and dragging him back to the carriage. "Non! Non non non! This isn't supposed to happen to me! I'm the superior one! Me! Me!" The silver haired guard – Riku, and Mickey gawked as the name echoed in familiar memories – stuffed a glove into Fantome's mouth to shut him up.

With no reason to keep her back anymore, Minnie was freed, and she flew into Mickey's arms as he sat up. She smothered his face in kisses, calling him a fool and declaring her love for him with every breath. He held her gently, and once Minnie was entirely sure her precious lover was alive, they both looked up to Noelle, whose face had not changed yet whose eyes were caught in wistful fondness. "Thank you, your highness." Minnie bowed her head.

"There is no need." Noelle waved her hand airily before extending it to Mickey, aiding him to stand. "Had I known that our dear Mickey was in danger, I would have come much sooner."

Mickey let go of her highness's hand when he heard his name, tired brows pushed together. "You… you know my name?"

"Why, of course." Noelle smiled timidly, at last showing emotion as she touched her cheek, her white skin making her blush come in harder than it would for most people. "You don't remember me? … Well, I can't blame you. I have not been on these streets in a long time… and this city has paid for it." She faced the flickers of flames that destroyed the bank floor by floor, eradicating Fantome's power for good. "I abandoned my friends to take a hold of my royal duties, but I was only a child… so much was expected of me, and I did not know how to use the power I was born into. Playing with you, and the other children, that was my escape. But once I left you, I was afraid to come back, afraid to expose the lies I led you all to believe… and because I was not looking after my city, it has endured so much suffering. I cannot apologize enough for all I've neglected to do."

Minnie and Mickey exchanged shrugs, and the Duchess tried her hand at questioning. "Forgive me, your highness, but… what do you mean, playing with him?"

"I played with you too, Minerva… No, Minnie." Now her smile became teasing, tilting her head as some of her hair fell forward. "You weren't the only spoiled girl who ran to the streets and played with the lower class. I even mixed up my name to keep up the charade. Do you not remember little Xion?"

"X… Xion?!" Mickey's jaw dropped so far that he thought he'd hit the ground. He did remember little Xion, but who would have guessed the shyest and quietest girl out of their group was the most important person in all of France?

Xion – Noelle – bent over to touch Mickey's chin and return his jaw up. "As I said, the errors that this city has gone through are my own. Perhaps it is fortunate that Duke Tache called me, so I could return to where I belong, and where my help is needed. I must no longer hide away. All I ask in return is for you two to invite me to the wedding."

"W-W-Weddin'?!" Mickey's jaw was promptly down again, and Minnie flushed darkly, needing Mickey's arm to keep from falling over in shock.

"Of course." She repeated, turning her back to the embarrassed mice. "Everyone in our group could see you two were meant for one another. It broke all the hearts of the girls… Selphie, Kairi, even I held a torch for you. But we understood very early that you only had eyes for each other. Now, if you'll excuse me… I must tend to my people." She approached the masses, and knelt down before them, taking a young child's hand, and asking what she needed. She did this for all around her, asking what they needed, and what had gone wrong.

The wind was picking up, and Minnie felt she was becoming curled up in the remnants of Mickey's cape. She could see their friends approaching, and she looked to him, fingers pressed up on his heart. "… What do we do now?"

Mickey didn't know. But as long as he had a moment to breathe clearly and think clearly, he took it to kiss her cheek. He felt her smile as they pressed their cheeks together, the future far away and unimportant. They had each other now.

~*~

One Year Later.

Her high heels almost boomed in the quiet of the night. It had rained earlier, but she kept her umbrella up, in case of any leftover surprise showers. She supposed it wasn't the smartest ideas to take this journey at night, but anticipation hadn't allowed her wait any longer. Exchanging letters with Duke Roger had been fun, but soon it wasn't enough for her, and she wanted to meet the man in person. She had booked the boat from America at once, though she was now having trouble remembering his directions. She stopped on the sidewalk, and set aside her umbrella to pull out the letter from her purse. After brushing some stray red hair from her eyes, she reread his words, smiling as she tried to imagine his voice reading it out loud.

After calling her his loveliest Jessica, he had praised the new school that was finally finished near the restored Arche. Ludwig Von Drake and Gyro Gearloose had successfully returned to society, and their smartest student, Max Geef, was helping them come up with a way to transmit moving images using televised views, whatever that meant. Until their project was complete, they, Roxanne and Goofy used the school as a home and as a way to stay with their new family. Jessica was to take a left at the school, and go across from the police station that had taken down its guillotine by orders of Chief of Police Horace Horsecollar. Deputy Clarabelle Cow might be patrolling the street nearby, but as Jessica looked around, the cow was nowhere in sight. Perhaps she was keeping guard of the jailed Mortimer Rodawn, Sylvester Shyster, Gladstone Gander, and Fou Medecin, but speculation was not for now.

Then Jessica was to make a right at the church that was still going through construction, with the project being looked over by Donald Duck and his fiancé Daisy Canard. Scrooge McDuck was reluctantly helping to finance the project, with support from his trio of girlfriends who had yet to nail a ring on him. Jessica was more than welcome to attend the party for when it was finished, and there had been rumors that Donald's country family were allowed to come for the celebration. Then Jessica was to round the corner near the winery that had been built over the remains of the former bank, headed by Peg, her apprentice Katarina, and the awkward boyfriend Pete. Roger planned to invite her to have a drink there once Jessica arrived.

Jessica had found the winery, but she had also found trouble. Her letter was snatched out of her hands, and brute, dirty claws grabbed her throat, slamming her into a nearby wall. "Hold it right there, madam!" A snarling dog held her in place, with three other beagle faced goons at his back. "Don Karnage hasn't had a robbery gone right since… ever! But this time, there's no disguised dummy to stop me! So hand over all of your money, or we will hand over your life!" He paused, realizing the threat was mixed up. "… No, Don Karnage means… we will… hand over… oh, I can't even think of anymore ridiculous metaphors! Someone help me!"

"That's my job, sir."

Karnage looked up in time to have a red boot kick him in the face from above. As Karnage reeled and tried to collect any loose teeth, the other dogs advanced on the one who had interrupted their crime. Jessica rubbed her eyes to make sure this was real, and indeed, there stood a mouse dressed in a red costume, with propped up goggles and a feathered hat, having stepped out from a romance novel. "Going after a newcomer to our fair city? Shame on you boys. That's not how you greet a lady." He pulled out his sword, and easily sidestepped the thugs who came after him. He drew little blood, and only sought to stop them, not kill them. "If you've got an apology ready, I'd be happy to hear it." Even his voice carried secrets, clearly altered but she did not know how.

Karnage could see his men being beaten without much effort, and knew in little time he'd be next. Maybe this time, the dog could catch the mouse off guard! Grinning wickedly, he pulled out a stolen dagger from his belt, and advanced behind the hero. He aimed to stab through that red cape –

Until he felt someone else tapping his shoulder. Again, he looked up, and he saw a young lady standing sideways on the wall, magnet boots keeping her in place. "Couldn't wait your turn?" She too had an altered voice; she too wore boots, a cape, goggles, and weaponry around her waist. But unlike the red vigilante, her theme was purple, including purple hairclips to keep her ponytail in place. Karnage gaped, so she gave him another kick to the face, this time costing him both front teeth. She daintily landed on the ground, smoothing down her clothes. "I hope I'm not late?"

"Not at all, most precious." The red one casually flipped one goon over his shoulder, leading the girl to punch the same villain away. "An entrance is everything, after all." In under a minute, all four vagabonds had been beaten into humiliation until they had the sense to run away with literal tails between their legs. "Looks as if I took most of the fun. My apologies."

Jessica had not blinked once during the entire affair, thinking if she had she would have missed more incredulous moments. When speech returned to her, the possibility of this all being a dream became less likely. "Who… who are you?"

The one in red tipped his hat as he returned his sword to its scabbard. "Who we are is an excellent question… but during your stay here, you will find that what we are has more value. I am the Scarlet."

"And I am his wife, the Violet." The girl finished, offering a curtsy. "We help the rich and the poor, for we help all people who wish to help others. We shatter the lines that divide us, and seek to keep the France that has equality as the norm. Those who seek to harm others for their own greed shall meet the kisses of our blades. We are the unity that France shall always keep."

Jessica wasn't sure if she understood, but perhaps Roger would be able to explain it better. She reached for her purchase, wanting to find a suitable reward. "Thank you… let me-"

"No need, my lady." The Scarlet waved the matter off. "As long as you spend another night safe, then we are satisfied. But the night is young, and no matter whom reigns, dark hearts still abound. Adieu." Another tip of his hat, and then he ran up against the wall, the Violet joining him in defying gravity soon after. Soon Jessica could only see their silhouettes against the full moon.

Fantome would never see life outside a jail cell again, but those with cruel intentions would always seek ways to further their dark ambitions. Perhaps there would be some day when heroes weren't needed, but it wasn't tonight. The mice chuckled as they heard Gyro's praise on a job well done, and Ludwig give off commentary about how their next prose-filled speech should go. The Scarlet rolled his eyes, but then kept them firmly on the Violet, who was prancing from tile to tile in glee. "I think I'm getting better at this!" She chirped, twirling for her next leap.

"I know you are. But maybe tonight, you could work a little less." He caught up to her, and then picked her up before she had time to reason what happened. Then she was in his arms, being carried as he zig-zagged around chimneys like he had over a year ago when the Scarlet had whisked the Duchess away from danger. "There, much better!"

"Says you!" She pretended to punch his chest, kicking her feet about as she snickered and wrapped her arms around his neck. Until they found the next fight, she would enjoy the best way to travel. She kissed his jaw line, and softly whispered to him. "You'll love me, no matter how late I am, or what trouble I'll get into?"

"Don't I always?"