By Kim McFarland

"Why the devil would SHUSH be holding a meeting out in the middle of nowhere?!" Darkwing grumbled as he drove The Ratcatcher through the streets of St. Canard.

"Maybe it's some really cool top secret mission!" Gosalyn chirped from the sidecar.

"Hardly. If it was they wouldn't have told me to bring Launchpad, let alone you. More likely it's because SHUSH headquarters finally collapsed under the weight of all its paperwork."

Launchpad said nothing. He had an uneasy suspicion, but he did not want to alarm Darkwing and Gosalyn.

The door burst open and a puff of blue smoke appeared. Darkwing shouted, "I am the terror that flaps in the night! I am..."

"Making the same corny entrance as ever." finished a familiar voice.

Darkwing stared into the room. It was dominated by a long conference table, and almost every seat was occupied. Every villain of any consequence that he had ever fought was here. This did not look like the usual SHUSH yawnfest! "Get Gosalyn to safety, Launchpad! I'll take care of these criminal scum!" he cried, brandishing his gas gun.

"Ain't dat just like him? Always wit' de theatrics." Steelbeak rolled his eyes in annoyance.

"Darkwing! Put your gun away. This is a peaceful meeting, on neutral ground." J. Gander Hooter said.

"Said the spider to the fly." Darkwing retorted.

"Calm down, Wingey." Gizmoduck wheeled over. "It's true, this once." He leaned close and whispered conspiratorially, "Although I, too, am alert for any sign of treachery."

"Oh, great. We've even got comedy relief. Okay, J. Gan, what's up already? Everyone and his brother is here." He glanced around, and saw that it was true. Even the Muddlefoots, of all people! "Is this one of those 'This is Your Life' things?"

J. Gander Hooter looked at Gryzlikoff. "Has everyone arrived?"

Gryzlikoff consulted a list on his clipboard. "All but one Mister Drake Mallard."

"Oh, him, he, uh-"

"-he's at a PTA meeting." Launchpad finished for Darkwing.

"On a Saturday afternoon?" Hooter asked.

Darkwing shot Launchpad a harsh glance. That was the standard EVENING excuse, not a weekend one! "Wherever he is, I'm sure he's not vital."

"Launchpad can inform him." Hooter said. "Gentlemen, please be seated." Morgana had saved seats for them. Unfortunately, they happened to be right across from The Fearsome Five. Darkwing would have preferred to position himself at one end of the table so he could watch everyone else. Oh well, at least he could keep an eye on the worst of the lot. Negaduck looked up from filing his nails and leered at Morgana just long enough to infuriate Darkwing.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sure you have some suspicions as to the purpose of this meeting, as you were all reminded to bring a copy of your contract." He paused and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry to inform you that clause 23 has been invoked."

"Which clause?" Megavolt asked, puzzled.

"In your case, the sanity clause." Darkwing retorted.

Megavolt glanced at the contract, then shot Darkwing a dirty look. "Hey! Everyone knows there's no sanity clause!"

Launchpad only had to glance at his contract to see that his fears had been right on target. Moliarity squinted at his contract. "That's in the fine print."

"It's all fine print!" Darkwing said.

Negaduck propped his feet on the table. "So what, pray tell, is this Clause 23?"

Gryzlikoff recited it from memory. After he had finished they were no more enlightened than before. "So what's all that mean ta us?" Steelbeak asked.

"No clause for alarm." Quackerjack giggled.

"Unfortunately, that is not the case-"

"They're laying us off, aren't they?" Launchpad asked quietly.

"I'm afraid so. That's the non-renewal option."

There was a moment of quiet. Then everyone spoke at once, each disputing the action in his or her own way. Gryzlikoff silenced the group by pounding on the table with one fist and growling loudly. "Is legal, is valid, is already in effect!"

"'Fraid if Gryz says it's so, it is. The one thing that bear knows is paperwork." That earned Darkwing a scowl from Gryzlikoff. "And those contracts are so tight Houndini couldn't escape."

Bushroot nodded; he had also had found out about the contracts first-hand. "They've got us by the tail feathers."

"This is dandy. Now I'm stuck with a bunch of gaudy-looking vehicles and a costume that went out of style in 1940." Darkwing grumbled.

"Say, maybe they're going to start a new show. They could keep some of us! They've done that before, right, Gizmoduck?" Gosalyn asked.

Gizmoduck nodded. "They can make a lot of changes, though."

"Tell me about it." Launchpad said.

"Maybe they're ready for a fresh new hero. Like the Quiverwing Quack!"

"You are too young for that, Miss Pinfeathers!" Darkwing sputtered.

"Well, they changed Launchpad. They could make me older too!"

Darkwing covered his eyes and shook his head. "Just so long as they skip the teen years."

An Eggman spoke. "We could go on strike!"

Steelbeak pounded on his helmet. "Is dat all you union dopes think of?! Ya wanna strike? Whatcha gonna strike from!"

"So, the show's over. That means that all bets are off, right? No more show, no more scripts, et cetera?" Negaduck asked.

"That's correct."

"No more Standards and Practices." he grinned darkly.

Darkwing could see what was on his mind. "Now wait a minute-"

"What's YOUR problem? You don't have to do anything about it. You can just retire that silly shtick now." Negaduck hissed. "They might give you your old job as stunt double for Roger Rabbit back."

Before Darkwing could muster a reply Negaduck stood, his hands on the table, looked at the assembly and smiled. "Isn't there anything you wanted to do, but you couldn't? Because of that little scrap of paper. Well, now that it's birdcage liner, I plan to have a little fun. And you, D.M., don't have to do a d*** thing about it."

The others looked at him in surprise. "That's right, he doesn't have to do a D*** thing about it. No Standards and Practices, remember? We can do and say whatever the h*** we want! For example-" He recited seven words in rapid succession, and noted with gratification the shocked expressions that caused. "And, kids, when we get a little better I'll teach you how to spell them without the asterisks." He glanced at Steelbeak. "Some of us won't need so much practice, eh, 'Fowlmouth'?"

Darkwing rolled his eyes. "Negs, babe, you really need to seek professional help." he said in a patronizing tone of voice.

"Oh, I do, do I?" He faced the other villains and pointed at Darkwing. "Now that Mister Do-Gooder has nobody to play hero for, he'll just fade into the mist."

Darkwing leapt to his feet. "Now you just hold it! As long there's a breath in my body and a square yard of purple fabric in St. Canard, I'll be here to fight you!"

"Oh, get off it, will you! You're out of the superhero biz. Turn in your cape!"

Darkwing struck a pose and declared, "I will - on the day I see all of you behind bars!" He glanced around, then added, "Well, some of you. You know who I mean."

"This is intriguing. One rarely sees a plot twist this late in the final reel." Tuskernini remarked.

"Well, now that S and P is off our backs, I'm gonna have some REAL fun. So the rest of you better choose up sides quick - his side -" he jerked a thumb at Darkwing, "or the winning side."

He turned to leave, then froze in place.

Morgana lowered her hands. "That statue spell should hold him for a few hours."

Darkwing was amazed. "Why didn't you ever do that before?"

She replied, "You're the only one that could defeat him. It's in here somewhere..." She started looking through her contract.

"Oh, never mind."

"Um, it's right here, under where it says that the studio isn't responsible for any errors in continuity." Honker pointed to a paragraph in the margin.

"That would explain certain production values." Tuskernini said.

Launchpad folded his contract and sighed. "Guess that's it. It's been good." He patted Gosalyn's shoulder affectionately.

"EXCUSE me? What the devil are you talking about?"

Launchpad looked at him in surprise. "This is the final iris-out, isn't it?"

"Have you been out for popcorn? A studio contract isn't what makes a hero! Or a sidekick." Darkwing addressed the group. "If any of you thinks this is the end of Darkwing Duck, you need to caulk those holes in your heads. I don't know about you, but I got more than a piece of paper that says I exist!" He tore his contract in half, wadded it up, and threw it over his shoulder. An annoyed Ammonia Pine scooped it up in a dustpan. "I'm still here! And I'll be around as long as there's a St. Canard to defend! Contract or no, I say we keep going!"

"De duck's got a point." Steelbeak admitted.

"It worked for The Velveteen Rabbit." Quackerjack said through Mr. Banana Brain.

"Whatever. If that contract was all that kept us going we'd already be gone, the moment the studio cut us off, and we'd never even have known it. Well, here we are, without the studio, still having our adventures! We started out under the contract, but we won't end under it. When I go out that door, I'm going to go on with my life." He grinned. "And I'll mop up the streets with all of you."

"Over my dead battery!" Megavolt snapped his fingers. A spark jumped.

"It's a date, Sparky. So! Anything else, J. Gan?" he said coolly.

"No, Darkwing, I think that resolves the matter satisfactorily." He sounded as relieved as any of the rest.

"Then let's get out of here. Truce ends one hour from now!" he sauntered to the door.

Launchpad started to follow him. Then he paused and looked back at the statue of Negaduck. "Do we gotta release him?"

Morgana said, "The spell will wear off..."

Darkwing sighed. "Much as I'd like to dump him in the bay, we can't." They were still under truce, and he was helpless. They couldn't do that, even to Negaduck. It would be murder. "Just leave him."

"Can't we put him in jail at least?" Launchpad asked.

Darkwing shook his head. "No. We're still under truce, remember?" He looked at the rest of the assembled villains. "For another fifty-eight minutes, anyway. To The Ratcatcher!"

All characters copyright Disney. Story copyright Kim McFarland. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only, provided no changes are made to the story or the credits.

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