"And here comes the pitch…SLAM…ladies and gentlemen she has done it again! Gosalyn Mallard has hit her third home run of the inning!" Gosalyn shouted at the top of her lungs as she raced around the home-made bases in the backyard. Honker set off to chase the ball again, and Gosalyn felt a moment's pity for him. He wasn't such a bad pitcher, not if you didn't mind everybody getting a hit on every throw, anyway.
"Gos! Time to come in!" Drake shouted from the doorway, Launchpad at his side.
"Aw, Dad! Just one more? Please?" Gosalyn begged, turning her green eyes on him imploringly. Drake melted at that look, as always, and nodded, smiling. The duckling squealed and returned to home plate, waiting for Honker to recover the ball from somewhere in his own backyard. Before he got the next and last pitch off, she tried to correct his technique.
Watching his daughter, Drake felt his heart thump. Running, smiling, happy Gosalyn was there before his eyes, and yet not quite the same child she had been before. He shifted his weight awkwardly, trying to get comfortable on the crutches that had kept him homebound since their return from SHUSH.
"She's not really well yet, is she, DW?" Launchpad asked quietly. His voice was hopeful, but Drake knew he was not expecting an affirmative answer.
"No, not really. J. Gander said that her body will take a long, long time to get back to what it was," Drake sighed. It hurt to see her play, even though it was a marked improvement in her health.
"But she…she will be okay, won't she?" Launchpad asked anxiously.
"I think so, LP," Drake answered uncertainly. It was a question he asked himself every day.
In the month since father and daughter had gotten out of the SHUSH hospital, though she was certainly not back to herself yet, Gosalyn had showed remarkable progress in regaining strength and health. But there was a change in her, too, invisible wounds that would probably leave lasting scars. Some of it was obvious: her thinness, the way she wheezed when she ran, how easily she tired, the less than lightning-quick reflexes. But some of the change was more subtle, and all of it was based on fear. Gosalyn was subdued most of the time, not her usual rambunctious self. She stayed close to home, even when she was feeling alright, trusting herself only to the company of Honker or her family, instead of hanging with the rest of her friends. And most notably, the once fearless duckling refused to walk to or from school without her father or Launchpad at her side, and even then, she preferred being safe in the car instead of on the street. Nobody could blame her for being afraid. Looking at it all together, Drake could only ache as she attempted to overcome her fears, one by one.
Gosalyn finished coaching Honker and, to their combined credit, she only hit the ball into the tree instead of over the fence. When she moved to climb up and get it, before either Drake or Launchpad could get a webbed foot out the door, Honker was already there, pulling her back and ascending the trunk himself.
"That's another change," Drake thought to himself, "Honker treats her differently. I guess he never thought he could lose her, and he doesn't want to risk it again." The parent in him smiled. "I suppose there are worse boys that could have fallen for my girl, but I don't think Gosalyn's noticed yet. Well, I think I'll let them figure this one out on their own."
It wasn't just Honker who treated Gosalyn as though she were made of glass. Launchpad had become gentleness itself around the red-headed duckling, and even Morgana went out of her way on the child's behalf. Drake, overprotective as always, was the best sick-nurse Gosalyn could ever want, comforting her when she was afraid or hurting, cheering her when she was despondent, and of course, granting her every desire as best he could with a broken leg.
But on the other hand, he also challenged her as never before. Something about the way Darkwing had said goodbye to Gosalyn in the police station, something about understanding that they were both heroes, had given Drake a newfound respect for his spunky daughter. He was tender and attentive, but he tempered his coddling with a new kind of encouragement, not just for her to get well, but for her to reach her true potential. When Gosalyn had been bedridden, Drake had brought her his past cases and sat with her for hours, teaching her how to solve them as he had. As she regained her strength, he began encouraging her to improve on her bow and arrow, and to tinker with other useful gadgets, lending help or an extra hand to hold a part as she explored the world of mechanics. And as soon as Gosalyn showed just a bit more returning endurance, he intended to enroll her in a Quack Fu course.
"Why are you doing all this, Dad?" Gosalyn had asked when he had told her about the martial-arts class the night before as he tucked her in bed. "I mean, I love all the crime stuff, and my bow and arrows are way better, but I thought you didn't want me to…"
"No, Gos, I didn't. You're right. I didn't want you to get hurt. I thought that if I kept you out of crime-fighting that I could protect you. But I was wrong," and he turned away, tears threatening his eyes. "You were still in danger because of me."
"Dad…" Gosalyn reached a hand and touched her father's arm. A moment of silence passed, and a world of guilt and pain and forgiveness hung silently in the room. Drake fiddled with the crutches leaning on the bed beside him, then swallowed a lump in his throat. He turned back to his daughter's lovingly concerned face, dismissing his own demons from his eyes.
"So I want you to be able to protect yourself. I want you to know what you need to know in case anything ever…happens to you again. And besides," and his smile was all pride and love, "you really do have the heart of a hero in you, Gosalyn Mallard. You're still too young to save the city all by yourself, but there's no reason you can't start learning the trade now. You're going to be an amazing hero, my girl, and I want to see that happen."
Drake's reminiscing was suddenly cut short by a child snuggling carefully into his arms. Behind Gosalyn, Honker stood, shyly holding the baseball he had painstakingly retrieved from the tree.
"Hey, Dad, I was thinking, since I hit three home-runs today, do you think we could go to Hamburger Hippo for dinner? Please?" Gosalyn begged, turning her green eyes to her father once more. She had learned how to hug Drake without either tipping him over or bumping his cast, and as she had gotten stronger, had taken every opportunity to hug and be held by him. There was nowhere else in the world like being inside her father's embrace.
"Oh, sure, why not?" Drake said, smiling down at her, holding her tightly. "Right after you take your meds, honey." He waved inside at a pre-arranged pile of pills and fluids that were the daily regimen prescribed by SHUSH to eradicate the poison from her system and repair its effects.
"Aw, Dad!" Gosalyn muttered, smiling anyway and cuddling close. While she hated the mountain of medication that seemed to follow her morning, noon, and night, her father's tacit understanding of her returning strength was building her confidence. It was true that her body wasn't quite reacting as it should, but the duckling trusted that with her father to take care of her, she would get well again. Steadily, under his love and watchful care, Gosalyn was starting to feel like herself again, not just physically, but emotionally as well. He had never let her down, not even this last time, and Gosalyn's faith in him was absolute. He had promised she would be okay and he had been right. She had promised to be brave for his sake, and she had succeeded. No weakness of her body, and no fears that chilled her heart, could defeat the comforting knowledge that both she and her father had survived their ordeal for each other.
As everyone piled into the family car for Hamburger Hippo, the un-masked mallard turned to look at Gosalyn in the back seat. Thin, tired, and strained from the recent slew of medication she had choked down, Drake knew that his daughter was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. No rescued jewel, valuable painting, or damsel in distress could ever come close to the abject beauty he saw in Gosalyn. She noticed him looking at her and gazed back. Gosalyn smiled her whole heart at her father, and he returned the expression, no words needed between them. They both knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were safe in each other. That together, they could conquer anything. That the love of a father to his daughter, and her love in return, was what life is all about.
Negaduck stomped into the familiarly dirty house on Avian Way. He banged the door shut with his one good arm and cursed the fall that had broken the other. At least he had evaded the cops who had swarmed the area right after the fight. It was really only by accident that he had discovered another portal to the Negaverse. He had thrown himself into it without a second thought, but standing at the bottom of the stairs of a hated house in the suburbs, his husk of a heart gave a lurch.
"Welcome home, Negaduck, sir," said a politely gentle voice from the top of the stairs. Looking down at him with a cautiously cheerful expression was a vision in pink ruffles and curls. She skipped down the steps and curtsied before him. "I made sure the house was extra dirty for you this time. I hope you like it, sir." Suddenly she noticed the bandaged arm and the bruises visible even through the mask and costume. "Oh, my, you're hurt! Here, let me help you, if you like, that is, sir."
Negaduck reached his good arm out tentatively, unsure why he was even bothering. He could still walk out right now and never look back.
He could go back to the Normalverse and forget it had ever happened.
He could blow this house, and its occupant, into next week with a stash of dynamite and pretend it had never existed.
He laid his hand on her head.
"Sir?" she asked, turning brilliant green eyes up to his face. Her gaze was guileless and innocent, and she seemed possessed of an eternal optimism and gentleness that was nearly overwhelming. The child stood still under his touch, confused, but respectfully and politely quiet.
Negaduck closed his eyes. Instead of the healthy child before him, he remembered a dying one, thin and wasted, yet defiant to the last and filled with a strength of spirit and will that he had seen in few others. But even as that image danced in his mind, he somehow knew beyond knowing that she was not dead. Something told him that she had survived even his worst, that she would not be wasted for long. Opening his eyes again, he saw not the girl beneath his hand, but another, the stronger, more vibrant version from the Normalverse, well again and infinitely compelling. Somehow, he knew he could never see anyone else again, not the same way he had seen her. He opened his bloody beak and spoke, more to himself than to the girl before him, his voice rough with pain and exhaustion, but markedly hungry with unsuppressed desire for that which floated in his mind.
"It's not over. You'll be mine. Mine."
"What do you mean, Negaduck, sir?"
"Mine," he said again, taking his hand from her head. He waved her away and the delicate child ran to the kitchen, chattering about bandages and disinfectant. Negaduck wasn't listening; there was only one Gosalyn worth paying any attention to now, one who was alive and would stay alive, he just knew it. As he settled in the worn couch, he looked at the little girl who came rushing back, her arms filled with medical supplies. If he squinted, he saw a different child, and that obsessive need returned, ravenous and insistent.
"Gosalyn, you will be mine."
The End (Of Part 1)