For Tania Walker
Where we used to belong
There ain't nobody home
You can knock all you want
But, ain't nobody home
Talk all you want
But there ain't nobody home
Knock all you want
But there ain't nobody home
~Nobody Home, Amy Grant
Mallory imagined the medals and promotions she'd receive. Grin was looking forward to using a meditation crystal from Puckworld (There's no peace to be had from those on Earth.'). Nosedive wanted to talk to his old friends. Duke wanted to be able to melt into the background again. Tanya thought of the technology she'd have at her disposal. All Wildwing wanted was normality.
Fate had other plans.
It had been a pointless argument, and, in a way, it was all Nosedive's fault.
Tempers had been thin after the Invasion. The Ducks wanted their old lives, and they wanted them fast. Too fast. The government had trouble keeping order where there used to be no need for laws to be enforced even occasionally. The gangs ruled the streets. Corruption was a way of life.
It was the middle of the end for Puckworld.
If there'd been history books written later, the destruction of Puckworld would have been traced back to a blond-headed teenager-turned-hero. It wouldn't have been fair. He really had nothing to do with it. But it would have still been said.
The problem was that half of Puckworld wanted to hang on to the decency they had once had, and they wanted to somehow rescue the Ducks. They used the fact that one wasn't even an adult as one of their main points, besides the fact that if it hadn't been for them, they'd have probably been dead. Free the Child' was their motto.
The other half disagreed, maintaining that the Ducks would have wanted them to use the little remaining income to rebuild Puckworld. There were a few more of the richer ducks in this group, including the President', though he was really more of a puppet.
That is where it started. Unfortunately, in a volatile community, things never stay so small. Powerful ducks were on opposite sides. Very powerful ducks.
It started with sniper attacks. A few dead gang leaders. It built to all out nuclear war. By then, who could remember why they were fighting? All they knew was that they were right, and the other side was wrong.
No one ever knew who destroyed DuCaine Metropolis. It was the first city hit. Neither side claimed responsibility, and it could have been a third party. We'll never know either.
A year and a half after the exit of Dragaunus, Puckworld lay smouldering and silent.
Nosedive cheered as the other end of the Gateway came into view. "Yes! We're the baddest flock of beaksters that ever quacked! Home home home home home home home home HOME! Ya dudes hearing me? WE'RE HOME!!!!!!"
The others had to grin. Wildwing patted Nosedive on the back, and smiled. "I was wondering whether we should come in looking dignified or ecstatic. I think you made the choices a little narrower."
Nosedive shrugged happily, and steered through the end of the Gateway. They all let out the breaths they'd been holding, and scrambled for window space.
Tanya frowned. "That's not right. We ought to be right over the Air Base." She started checking co-ordinates.
Mallory peered out at the rubble, and looked at her monitors. "I don't get it. This is the Air Base. I remember. But it wasn't destroyed before we left?"
"Maybe they decided to re-decorate?" Duke suggested, and shrugged with a sheepish look at the glares he got.
All their maps and instruments read the same thing: they were in the right place. Nosedive shrugged, and turned the Aerowing in the direction of the capital. "Ours not to wonder why!"
"This is not right." Grin said.
All they could see was destroyed buildings. Wreckage worse than before. They couldn't see any ducks. Weeds grew through the cracks, waving in the wind. Wildwing checked the place out with the Mask.
"Low levels of something called U-235. A little bit of U-238 and Pu-239. Ideas?"
Tanya paled. "Either the Mask is broken, or we've just walked in on the aftermath of a nuclear war."
Nosedive headed for the atmosphere so steeply that they were nearly vertical.
"I don't get it." Duke muttered, peering through the clouds for glimpses of the planet below. "There's nothin' left." He kept watching as they scoured Puckworld for any signs of other ducks.
"No, there's plants left." Tanya corrected. Duke looked annoyed.
"This is no time to get technical."
"They've gone and destroyed themselves." Nosedive threw his nearby helmet to the floor in disgust. "What's the use of two years work now?!"
"Guys." Mallory got their attention. "There were a few weapons the Resistance were working on that were going to be put into play if we failed our mission. Nuclear weapons."
Tanya didn't waste time. "What're the fallout levels like?"
She shook her head. "That was the theoretical beauty of it. The radiation was meant to disappear within a few months. One bomb would destroy anything for miles around, but it'd be safe to live there in around half a year, a year on the safe side. Plants would start regrowing from the roots even. Anything under the ground would be fairly safe."
"So why'd they send us?" Wildwing asked.
"They weren't sure if the levels would fall, and the Aerowing wasn't big enough."
Duke spun to look at her. "So what're our chances of survival down there?"
Mallory shrugged. "I'd say 50-50."
The Aerowing suddenly started losing altitude quickly.
"Nosedive, why are we nosediving?" Duke yelled.
Nosedive kept a steady hand on the joystick while he tapped the fuel indicator. "Emergency landing. While you were all talking about atomic bombs, I was watching the gauge."
They stepped out as a group. They'd landed in an area that had formerly been woodland, and it hadn't been as heavily bombed as the populated areas. There were even scattered trees in spots.
Wildwing found it hard to keep his feathers from prickling. My genes could be mutating as we speakWe could become human! No Wildwing, now you're being silly
Nosedive lent on the side of the Aerowing, and sighed. "Don't you just hate it when something you've been looking forward to isn't as good as you'd imagined?"
Wildwing took a semblance of command. "We've got to eat. Does anyone know anything about foraging for food?"
The Ducks looked at each other. Duke shrugged.
"I know how to get food outta a dumpster, but that's as far as my expertise goes."
"I went on this camp once," Mallory ventured. "And they taught us a bit, but the only thing I can remember is that yellow things are always bad."
"OK," Wildwing nodded as if that was a big help. "No yellow. Does anyone else have something to contribute?"
Grin stepped forward. "I often went camping. It is very good for the soul. I can find us some sustenance."
Wildwing looked at Tanya and Nosedive, and they both shrugged. "Dude, don't look at us!" Nosedive protested. "What would we know? We're blondes!" Tanya shot him a look, and he grinned. "Only kidding"
Mallory dropped her pile of wood with a clatter. She sat down, cross-legged, and started trying to light it with two sticks. She had little success, and muttered under her breath. "You were born for fire duty Mal," she mimicked Nosedive grumpily. "You got the hair for it, seeeeeeeeeeeeeee?" She threw the two sticks on the ground. "Why no one here has a flame gun, I'll never know"
"Here, let me." Duke grabbed the sticks and rubbed hard. She watched as a few sparks turned into a small fire. He noticed her look. "Takes practice sweetheart." She said nothing.
That night they sat silently around the fire, lost in thought. Nosedive made a sudden gasp, and they all turned to see what was the matter.
"We're the last ones." he said, wide-eyed. "It just hit me."
"We don't know that for sure yet" Tanya started.
"Yes we do. We musta flown over all of the major cities on the whole planet before we got back here! There's nothing left." Nosedive stared into the fire, unseeing.
"It's not over yet. We're still together." Wildwing tried to comfort his little brother.
Nosedive slumped deeper into despair. "Whoopee. I'm stuck with a neurotic brother, an old guy, a girl with constant PMS, someone who's so far off the planet he's in orbit, and a nerd forever!"
The others all looked hurt and indignant, but Wildwing refused to be angry. "Dive, we have to stick together. It's the only way we're going to survive."
"Things'll get better kid. Just give it a bit of time"
Nosedive stood up. "Quit calling me kid', would ya? I'm not one, and I haven't been for a long time!" He stormed to a spot a few metres away, and curled up under one of the blankets from the Aerowing. "Not for a long time." he repeated quietly.
The older ducks turned back to the fire.
A week later Mallory grinned as she got the fire going. The others clapped, and she laughingly took a bow. "All part of the service."
"Told ya it just took practice." Duke looked gratified. He and Grin had spent the best part of an hour each night trying to show the other four how it was done. Nosedive had caught on quickly, a testament to his resourcefulness. Tanya and Wildwing had it down a few days later, but Mallory's lack of patience with anything new made learning hard.
They'd gone far in a relatively small time. Grin had kept a study supply of flora up for meals, making it his duty and routine. Mallory had found a creek not too far away, so water was no problem. Duke had gone on a few scouting trips, reporting a few lizards and small furry underground creatures for the devouring, much to Mallory's distaste. (It's gambole stew Duke!' I know.' You're eating a gambole.' I know.' How can you eat that?' I'm hungry.' But it was so cute!' So am I.' Not.' You want me to turn cannibal? Shut up and eat.')The other three had used Nosedive's cubbyhouse-making skills for a few small shelters.
Days were short, productive, and full of routine. Get up, eat breakfast, work, eat lunch, work, eat dinner, store food for breakfast, sleep, get up, eat breakfast. Wildwing insisted on a guard, even though there was no real need, unless you listened to Mallory. (For example, a few creatures might try and get their own back!' Doubtful.' That's what they said about the Saurians' OK, OK, we'll have a watch. You're on first.')
Nosedive seemed to have come to terms with their new life, and no one ever mentioned the tension-filled first night. Things were going fine, circumstances excepted. At least, until around a month later.
Nosedive sat beside the fire, alone and lonely. He listlessly prodded the flames. His hair was long and grey, and his feathers were darker than before from over-exposure. "The last one," the old duck croaked hypnotically. "The last one, the last one, the last one"
Behind him stood five gravestones. Lightening crackled, thunder boomed, and the sudden rain put the fire out.
Wildwing sat up with a start as the dream ended, breathing heavily. He looked around with relief at the now-familiar surroundings. It was almost dawn, and he could see the others starting to stir. He got up, and started up the fire again, feeling the colder weather coming. By the time the others were up, he was spooning out a thick porridgey breakfast into the bowls they'd made.
Sitting in a circle, Wildwing wondered how to begin. He cleared his throat, and they stared curiously at him.
"What's on your mind?" Duke asked.
"We've been fighting for our kind, right?" They mooed agreement. "Well, we're the last ducks, right?" The agreed with even less enthusiasm. Wildwing took a deep breath. "And we all agree that that's not the way it should have worked out, right?"
"Bro, what's your point?" Nosedive butted in.
"I'm getting to it. The, er, point is that it doesn't have to be that way."
"Explain." Mallory suddenly looked guarded.
"Guys, think about it! We, well, have all theequipment to restart our species." Wildwing suddenly blushed. "If you get my meaning"
Duke looked thoughtful. "He *does* have a pointI mean, why not?"
"Why not?!" Mallory shrieked, jumping up. "It's OK for you to say that!"
"Whoa, whoa, calm down sweetheart." Duke motioned for her to sit.
"Don't you sweetheart' me! If ANY of you think I'm going through pregnancy, you've another thing coming!" She glared at all the present males, fists clenched.
"Sit down Mallory, we aren't going to force you into anything." Wildwing told her. She sat down warily, albeit reluctantly. "But you don't want to have duckkind stop with us, do you?"
"No." she muttered.
"Then just listen." She did so, and he suddenly found he didn't have anything else to say. He quickly tried to think. "Tanya, do you think we could do it?"
She looked at the ground. "Well, yeah, theoretically."
"I'm not sure if anyone's thought of this, but we're all going to die one day. And I know I'd hate to be the one left all alone." Wildwing gazed keenly at them, and they lowered their own gazes.
"But, I don'tI mean" Mallory trailed off. "I just can't imagine any of us"
Duke smirked. "You've even had any dreams, Mally? Admit it, we all have. Let's be grown up about this. We're all mature adults here." He remembered Nosedive. "Well, most of us, anyway"
"You might even enjoy it." Grin commented. They all gave him looks filled with shock. "What?"
Wildwing laced his fingers. "How about this? All males write there names on some paper, we put then in something, and Mallory and Tanya pick one at random. All down to luck."
"All what? Are we talking marriage here?" Tanya asked. Wildwing hesitated for a moment, then nodded.
"We haven't agreed yet." Mallory pointed out. "Shouldn't we vote?"
"Seems fair." Wildwing nodded.
"Good. Female votes are worth twice as much as male votes, since we're the ones who get the shallow end of the deal." Mallory said.
"No fair!" Nosedive protested. Mallory folded her arms.
"You want to carry an egg around for 9 months?"
"We'll try it that way first." Wildwing said to keep the peace. "But remember Mal, we're talking about something bigger than your waistline. This about the near extinction of an entire species. Our species. Let's just think about that for a moment before we vote."
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Grin finally ended the quietness. "I believe that was ample thinking time."
"Fine. Hands up all in favour of keeping their genus alive, raise your hands." Wildwing raised his, quickly followed by Nosedive and Duke. Tanya and Grin were next. Mallory put her hand half up, then down, then half up, and finally the whole way up.
Nosedive let out the breath he'd been unconsciously holding. "I'll go find some things to write on."
Mallory and Tanya looked with slight apprehension at the helmet that was offered their way. Grin gave it up readily, viewing the whole thing as juvenile and tasteless.
"This is so last century." Mallory whispered. Tanya shrugged.
"It worked then, maybe it'll work now."
Mallory gave Tanya a weird look. "You're all for this, aren't you?"
"What? It's been a long time. Who's choosing first?"
The red head took a deep breath. "Together." They both stuck their hands in, and fished around. They peeked at the bits of paper, and showed each other.
For the males, it was agony. Mal, Mal, Mal, Mal, Mal echoed through the minds of Duke and Nosedive.
"So tell us already!" Nosedive exploded.
"Wildwing." Tanya said, trying to keep her voice neutral.
"Duke." Mallory sighed, doing no such thing. Somehow she'd been wishing for a blank piece.
Duke looked satisfied, Wildwing looked like he was trying to keep expressionless. Grin *was* expressionless, and Nosedive was disappointed. "Oh man." he sighed, receiving a murderous look from Mallory for his trouble.
"So, Mallory McMallard, do you take Duke L'Orange as your husband?" Grin acted as priest and asked the vows they'd made up.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Try to be a little less enthusiastic, why don't you?" Duke hissed at her.
"You shut up."
"Duke L'Orange, do you take Mallory McMallard as your wife?"
"OK, you're now husband and wife. Kiss the bride."
Duke bent down and gave her a soft kiss. She bore it with dignity, but not pleasure, and Duke sighed, moving out of the way as Wildwing and Tanya moved up.
"Wildwing, do you take Tanya as your lawfully wedded wife, yada yada yada" Nosedive took his turn.
"Cool. Kay, Tanya, you take him as your husband?"
"Great! Kiss the bride already!" Wildwing did so, and Tanya looked a little more at ease with the action than Mallory.
"Woohoo!" Nosedive dug into the supply of bark he'd secretly gathered and threw it on top of the married' ducks. "Party!"
"Oh, great, two bowls of mush instead of one." Mallory sighed. Duke looked disappointed.
"Look, everyone else is making the best of things. Why can't you?" he asked as the others went over. She couldn't think of anything to say, and they silently followed the rest of the ducks.
"Well, Grinster, it looks like it's just you an' me for a few days." Nosedive said as he cooked a few roots on the fire.
Grin nodded. "I do believe Duke and Mallory may be back sooner."
Nosedive smiled. "Yeah, if the look on her face was any indication." He sat back, and sighed. "You know, you never think it's going to happen to your species. It's always something that happens to somebody else's"
Tanya shook her hair out as she removed the her headband. She carefully took off her glasses and put them on the ground.
Wildwing watched her silently, taking a deep breath when she turned around. The starlight behind her head glittered as she sat down next to him.
"You look beautiful with your hair down and without your glasses. Why don't you always dress like that?"
"Hair gets in the way, and I need the glasses to see things with clarity."
She shrugged. "Never got around to trying them. It's a little late now."
Her last sentence brought him back to where they were, and the task at hand. He drew her close to him, and she kissed him like she meant it. Wildwing's mind clouded, and instinct took over both of them.
"Beautiful, ain't it?" Duke smiled as Mallory stared around her. He quietly took her hand. She was too busy looking to notice. "You make it all the more wonderful, of course."
She looked down, and saw her hand in his. She took it from him, and walked to the edge of the pool. He sighed, certainly not for the first time that night, and followed.
It was a waterfall. There were walls of rock on three sides of the bottom pool. Somehow, it must have been sheltered from the bombs, because it was much more lush here than anywhere else they'd seen. There was moss on the rocks, and a few smallish ferns. The night light from the sky gave it a very peaceful glow.
"How'd you find this place?" Mallory asked, finding her voice.
He shrugged. "Just stumbled on it, I guess." He sat himself on a patch of grass, and watched her.
She squatted and dipped her hand in the cold water. She gave a small smile, and splashed a little at Duke.
He pretended to be upset. "Hey now, that stuff's freezing!" She didn't answer.
They stayed like that for nearly 10 minutes, before Duke picked a plan of attack'. "Mally, come over here." He patted a seat of grass next to him. She did so, and he put his arm around her shoulders. He could fell her heart beating swiftly, though whether that was good or bad, he didn't know. "Look, am I really that bad, that you don't want anything to do with me?"
She turned her head suddenly. "Oh, it's not you Duke." she said, surprised. "I just don't like being pushed so hard to do something I'm not comfortable with." He removed his arm, and she stared out across the water. "This isn't how I pictured my life."
He chuckled. "No one of us did." He smiled, and ran a hand through her hair. "You know, marriages like this used to be pretty common. Love wasn't there to begin with. But people can learn to love, sweetheart. If that's what you're worried about, then don't be. It'll come. We're a team now. I look out for you, and you look out for me. As for the baby part" He paused. "Well, think of it as a bonus."
She shook her head. "I never wanted kids."
"You might like them once you've got them."
"Can you honestly picture me as a parent? Can you picture yourself as one?"
He grinned. "Nope. That's what's gonna make this so interesting." He jumped a little. "That reminds me, I've got something for you." He dug into his pocket, and brought out a little diamond ring. He slipped it onto her finger. She stared at first it, then him.
"Where'd you get that?"
"Those Earth diamonds are way better than any on Puckworld. I brought it around a year ago, figuring I'd give it to whoever I ended up with." He smiled. "Suits you like it was made for ya."
"Why are you doing this?"
Duke was confused. "Doing what?"
"Talking me into this. Why are you even bothering?"
Duke stared up into the sky. "I never saw myself as a married man, Mallory. Just like you never saw the mother in you. But now that I *am*, I figure that making it work is important." He looked at her keenly. "I want us to work. I'm willing to change."
"I don't want you to change." she whispered. "I just want some respect."
He took her hands, and titled her face up to his. "I do respect you."
She suddenly drew herself up, and kissed him. "Then I want it to work too."
They studied each other for a long moment. Then Duke gently pushed her onto her back in the dewing grass. She stared up at him, wondering at her feelings. He smothered her face with his beak, and she closed her eyes. He fumbled with her belt, and she pushed off his shoes with her feet.
A minute later dark feathers met pale in the moonlight, and fused for a time.
Duke woke up slowly. The light filtered through the branches, landing across his face. His arm was around Mallory, and she was pressed tightly against his side. He stroked her cheek, and smiled. She was stripped down to her purple undersuit, and the rest of her gear and his utilities lay in a heap a few metres away.
The morning sun sparkled on the water, and he wondered how late it was. The water gave him an idea. No, she'd kill me. Ohh He grinned, and carefully picked her up.
Mallory gave a watery screech as she woke up. What the? Her befuddled brain realised that she was underwater, and she gasped for air as she reached the top.
Duke was doubled over laughing from the safety of the bank. "Oh, man" he sniggered, as she stormed out of the water. "You look beautiful when you're angry Mally. And the rest of ya looks better wet too." he grinned. Seeing the murderous look on her face made him think that perhaps running would be a good idea.
"Got you!" Mallory crowed as she tackled Duke to the ground. They'd gone a fair distance in the chase, and the creek was far behind.
"Hey, get offa me!" he laughed, trying to retrieve his legs.
"Not this time buddy." She shifted quickly so he was flat on his back, and she was holding him down at his shoulders. "Pinned you."
He pretended to be beaten, then he quickly rolled to the side. Unfortunately, there was a small hill. They rolled down regardless, each fighting for the top position. When they hit the bottom, and the dust settled, Duke found himself on his back again.
"Pinned you again." she said, satisfied. They stared at each other, both panting and grinning.
"This is really turning me on." Duke commented, tucking away a piece of her hair that had fallen into her face.
Mallory laughed. "Yeah, if this is marriage, count me in!"
"You *are* in." he reminded her.
She smiled, and stopped supporting herself. "No," she whispered a minute later. "Now *you're* in."
Wildwing stared down at the water, not moving his gaze as Tanya squatted beside him.
"What're you doing?" Tanya asked.
"Shh." he hushed her. "I'm looking to see if there're any fish."
She sat for awhile. "I don't think there are. Duke would have caught some."
He sighed. "Yeah. He would have." He looked at her. "Were you disappointed when you saw my name on the paper?"
She hugged his arm, and shook her head. "Nope. Were you disappointed to get the second place prize?"
"Oh, Tanya, you weren't the second place prize. Why would you think that?"
"Well, I mean, Mallory is definitely the looker"
"Hey." He stopped her short, and removed her glasses and pulled out her hair. "You're just as pretty. You've just been hiding it a little." He handed the glasses and band back, but she didn't put them back on. "It's sorta nice that only I've seen the real Tanya anyway." he smiled.
"You really weren't disappointed?" She still needed a little reassurance.
"You kidding?" he grinned. "I got the smart one. I bet Duke's having a puck of a time coping with Mallory anyway."
Nosedive wiped the sweat of his face, and stood back, satisfied. "Well, I think that's a pretty good job, personally."
Grin eyed the two finished huts. "It'll keep the rain out."
Nosedive went inside one of them, and sighed. "We really gotta start working on some beds. So much to make, so little time, eh Grinny?"
Grin was about to answer, when a call from outside brought them out. "We're back!"
"Wing and Tan! Have fun?" Nosedive grinned a little evilly.
"Yes." Wildwing said, totally sincere. Tanya smiled, and Nosedive laughed.
"Are Duke and Mallory back yet?" Tanya asked.
Grin shook his head. "Not yet."
"Wrong." came a voice from behind Wildwing and Tanya. Duke stood there, grinning. "Hey."
Mallory appeared from the line of trees. "Hi. How much got destroyed in our absence?"
Nosedive drew himself up to his full height. "Hey, we didn't break anything! Take a look around, we've been working hard, you slackers!"
The four ducks took a look at the new huts. "Well done!" Wildwing praised.
"That one's for you," Nosedive pointed to one. "And that one's for the L'Oranges."
Duke promptly picked up Mallory and carried her over to the door of their hut. She gave him a fake punch in the head. "What are you doing?!"
"Hey, sweetheart, it's tradition. You want good luck, don't you?" he beamed at her, kissing her before she could protest. He carried her in, and came out a moment later, Mallory hot on his heels.
Nosedive gave them a weird look. "Anyway, we were about to start on two single huts for me and Grin. But we built your houses, you can build ours!" He set off in the direction of the creek, grabbing a towel hanging from a tree on his way past. "I'm going for a swim. Have a nice day!"
The ducks looked at each other, then at the already-built huts. Mallory sighed. "I'll go get some wood."
Duke and Mallory simultaneously collapsed onto their mattress at the same time. Mallory peered around in the darkness at the simple shelter. "Our own place." she muttered.
Duke propped himself up on his elbow to see her better. "You bet, sweetheart. Shouldn't we christen it?" he asked with a mischievous gleam in his eye.
Mallory gave a half smile. "It's pretty easy to figure out what your favourite thing in this marriage is."
Duke looked serious for a moment. "Yeah, you." He ran a gentle hand down the side of her face, and smiled as he felt her shiver. "But the rest is a welcome extra." He put his arm behind her back, and lifted her up to him for a long kiss.
She sat up with her back to him, and lifted up her hair, showing him the zip along her back. "Feel free."
His heart pounded as always, and he reached a trembling hand for the zip. He felt the contours of her back as he slowly pulled it down. He knelt on the mattress, and she turned to face him.
The quiet night was broken by a soft moan, and then all was silent once more.
Mallory knocked on Tanya and Wildwing's door a month later. "Tanya? You there?"
"Uh huh. Come on in." Tanya called back. She did so, and Tanya watched her. "You look kinda nervous."
"Yeah. Say Tanya, do we have any of those pregnancy tester things?"
Tanya stood up and walked over to the pile of medical equipment she had in a corner. "I think so. Why, do you need it?"
Mallory smiled faintly. "Yeah. I need a second opinion."
Tanya found it, and passed it to her. "Good luck."
Mallory sighed. "I'm not sure if you just wished me children or not." She headed out the door before Tanya could reply.
Mallory sat on the ground next to Duke as he cooked his latest catch for them on the main fire. "Hey sweetheart." he grinned at her. "What's up?"
She ignored his question. "What are you cooking?"
He peered into the bowl. "I'm not sure you wanna know. It's a bit of a mixture." He stirred it for awhile, then sat back. "So, what's the matter?"
She shook her head. "Nothing's the matter."
He treated her to a slightly scornful glance. "Mal, I know that look. I've been on the receiving end of it too many times *not* to know it. Something somewhere's in trouble." When she still didn't reply, he watched her a bit more closely. "You can tell me anything, sweetheart. Come on, surprise me."
She stared into the fire, somewhere else. "I'm pregnant."
He jumped. "That's great!" He almost leapt from his seat on the log, and he pulled her off the ground into his seat.
"Well, yeah, sure! Ducklings! That's what we were aiming for!" He was honestly overjoyed, but forced himself to calm down. "You still don't want babies?" he asked carefully.
"I don't know." she whispered, still far away. "There's a lot that could go wrong."
He moved so he was squatting at her feet. "You found out just then?"
"Yeah, I got a tester off Tanya. Then I came straight from that to you."
He rubbed her arm. "Look, you're still a little shocked. Tanya's been able to handle everything to come our way so far, she'll help you through this too. Thing's look a little bad now, but you just wait till tomorrow. You'll be so excited, you wont be able to wait!"
She looked into his face, and saw only sincerity. She sighed. "Maybe you're right"
He smiled, and stood up. "Sweetheart, I'm always right. I'll let you think it through for awhile. I'm going to tell Wildwing!" He bent down and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead, and then walked off quickly into the darkening camp.
Mallory sat by the warmth of the flames, one hand on her flat stomach, hoping dearly she didn't disappoint.
The oldest duck on Puckworld blinked awake wearily. He heard moans coming from beside him, and he double-took. "Mallory, are you OK?"
"Do I sound OK?" she retorted grumpily, wincing as she spoke.
"Do you need help? Want me to go get Tanya?"
"I don't think Tanya can do anything."
"This is morning sickness, huh?"
"Gee, you're quick Sherlock. Give the duck a prize." Mallory lay slightly hunched with her eyes closed.
"No need to get snappy." Duke frowned. "I'm only trying to help."
"Then stop helping." she grunted. She suddenly jumped out from under the blanket as fast as she could. Duke wondered where she was going in such a hurry until he heard the sound of retching coming from outside. He swallowed his own nausea, and went out.
She was on her hands and knees with her face in a bush. He grabbed a bit of water, and walked over with it. She was crying a little, occasional tears dripping to the ground, and she took the water gratefully.
"Thank you." she whispered, missing her tough girl' image. He helped her to her feet, and gave her a quick hug. He released her, and she started trying to straighten herself as the other ducks appeared.
"Whaz all the fuss?" Nosedive asked sleepily.
"Just a little morning sickness." Duke answered.
Tanya looked sympathetic. "I'm afraid there's not much I can give you. We need to save the little medicine there is for emergencies."
"Don't worry about it, I'm fine." Mallory forced a smile. "Well, looks like we're all up, I'll get the fire going for breakfast." She walked away, trying desperately to regain a her pride, ashamed at herself for showing even a little weakness.
They dispersed into their jobs, and Duke was left standing. "It's gonna be a loooong 9 months."
"It's enough to make you sick." Nosedive muttered to himself. He was spying on Duke and Mallory over the fire, and he felt something inside twist. Why isn't that me? He couldn't seem to take his eyes off the two. They were happily unaware of his torment, talking and smiling softly to each other. Duke was trying to hear and feel whatever was going on inside Mallory's growing stomach, and Mallory looked like she was actually enjoying it!
"Can't you do that in private?!" Nosedive burst out grumpily before he could stop himself. They glanced over, startled.
"Do what?" Duke asked with raised eyebrows. He found himself staring into two sets of slightly bewildered eyes, and he looked down at his feet.
Duke held up the plate with two blackened pieces of cooked meat. "Who wants?"
"Here please!" Nosedive waved his hand.
"Yeah, I'm still a little hungry too." Mallory commented.
One of the two pieces was almost double the size of the other. Duke shrugged, and gave it to Mallory.
It was the last straw as far as Nosedive was concerned. "Why does she get the bigger piece?" he whined. Duke stared.
"Well, I just figured since she's eating for two"
"But I said I was still hungry first! And I worked a lot harder than she did all day! She wont even be able to eat it all!"
Mallory blinked, and moved to give him the piece. "Gee, have it if it means so much to you!"
"That's not the point!" Nosedive stood up, not taking the meat. "It's like Mallory's suddenly better than the rest of us! She gets all the easy work, all the best food, all the good anything and everything!"
"That's not true!" Mallory cried, standing up herself. Duke and Wildwing also stood.
"Dive, don't you think you're overreacting just a little" Wildwing started but he was cut off.
"No I don't! It's always Mal, are you feeling OK?' Here Mallory, let me do that for you!' Even when she does something utterly STUPID it's Don't worry, we'll fix it.'!" I'm sick of it! Just because she's pregnant doesn't mean we have to wait on her hand and foot! Definitely not at this stage!" He waved a hand at her still fairly flat stomach.
"That's NOT the way it is!" the duck in question screeched. "I help a lot!"
"That's right," Duke nodded. "She got this fire going."
Nosedive rolled his eyes. "Yeah, the fire. That's the one thing she does do! She gets a few pieces of wood and burns them! Does anyone know how much I did today? No! Because what I do and what I don't do isn't half so important as her!"
Mallory's face darkened. "You watch your beak." she growled.
"Why, you're all gonna get tough on me for stating my opinion?" he taunted the group at large. "You don't know what it's been like for me lately! Whenever there's a disagreement, Duke's got Mal, Tanya's got Wing, and Grin's got whatever it is that Grin has! Who do I have? No one!"
"Hey, we're all here for you." Wildwing placed a comforting hand on his brother's arm, still trying to soothe. Nosedive shook him off.
"Yeah? Where are you now? You're all on the red headed" Nosedive let loose with a string of insulting and unflattering words describing at Mallory.
Mallory started her own line of verbal abuse, and the two stood screaming and yelling at each other, beaks close and faces angry.
Nosedive saw red, and raised his fist. He was suddenly pushed back, and a punch to the side of his face sent him to the ground. He raised a hand to his face, and looked slowly up. Mallory was there, standing in a defensive position. But it was Duke who cast a shadow over him, fist clenched and breathing hard. "Don't you ever, EVER hit a pregnant lady."
Nosedive sneered. "She's no lady, she's a" He suddenly found himself with his back against a tree, a hand gripping the front of his shirt, 30 centimetres off the ground, and a very angry looking duck in his face.
"I'm not *finished*." Duke hissed. "Don't ever insult someone's wife when they're within hearing range either."
Nosedive's face was all-at-once closed. "She's the same person she always was, Duke. You wouldn't have done this before. You don't owe her anything. She doesn't love you."
"I don't care." Duke said, so quietly that only Nosedive could hear. "I love her."
"She'll never love you. She'll never say it. We both know she wont." Nosedive's eyes were cold.
Duke was about to argue some more, before he pulled up. He dropped Nosedive. "You know what your problem is? You're jealous."
The teen's temper flared. "I'm NOT!" He shoved Duke back roughly. Duke let that pass, but it didn't look like he'd let much more go.
Wildwing forced them apart further. "Now, guys" Immediately as the name passed his beak, he knew it was the wrong move. He winced. "Dive, I"
"That's IT! I'm out of here!" Nosedive stalked over to his hut, grabbed his blanket and his few belongings, a knife and some food, and started walking out of their clearing. The others stood or sat, paralysed. "Have a nice life. Oh, forgot, you guys don't *have* one." He didn't look back.
Wildwing shook himself back into action, and ran after the youngest duck. "Dive, wait!"
Nosedive stopped, and turned to face his older brother. "Wing, don't try and stop me. Please. I gotta try it on my own for awhile."
"But you aren't" Wildwing started to protest, but stopped when a gentle grey hand touched his shoulder.
"Let him go." Duke said quietly. Nosedive misread Duke's meaning in the tail end of his anger.
"Yeah, you'd love to be rid of the kid' wouldn't you Duke? Remind you of the good old days, don't I? The days when you might have had her for real?" Nosedive narrowed his eyes, and sprinted off before any more attempts of delay could be made.
"*Damn*." Duke cursed, collapsing to sit on a log with his head in his hands. "I let him go angry."
"We have to go get him back!" Tanya finally spoke up.
"You're right." Wildwing agreed.
"Wait. You'll only make him more resentful and jealous if you force him back." Grin pointed out. "He's old enough to choose his own path. And if it leads away from us"
"I won't let him become some sort of hermit!" Wildwing exclaimed. Duke shook his head.
"No, he'll be back. Give him a few weeks to himself."
"Has everyone really been giving me special treatment?" Mallory broke in.
Duke sighed. "I think we did. Maybe not totally consciously, but, let's face up to it, you're kinda the mother of all duckkind' now."
"Well, don't do it! I want to pull my own weight!" She looked around from face to face. "For as long as possible anyway." They nodded, and she went around collecting the plates. Duke resisted the strong urge he had to take over. "I'll go wash these." She walked off in the opposite direction to the path Nosedive had taken.
She smiled as she watched him. He was frowning. "I still can't hear anything. Do you suppose it's OK?"
"Duke, it's only 2 months old! Give it time!" Mallory pointed out, looking at the bulge she was developing.
It was almost a week since Nosedive had stormed out. Mallory privately suspected that at least Wildwing blamed her for his departure, but she chose not to bring it up.
The morning sun peeked through the small cracks in the rough wooden walls. Duke removed his head from Mallory's stomach and peered outside. "Sunny day today, Mally girl."
She nodded absently, concentrating on getting dressed. She stopped at her belt. "Duke, I've just discovered a snag."
He came over. "What? Oh"
"Yeah, oh." She threw the belt on the bed', and sat down next to it. "And the pants and body suit are getting tight too."
He started poking around in the pile of her normal clothes, and sighed. "I never thought I'd say this, but why do you gotta wear such tight clothes?"
"Tight clothes with not much give at that." she moaned. "Now what?"
He wasn't facing her, but Mallory could sense Duke's evil-ish smile. "Fig leaves?"
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
"That's probably better for me." Duke agreed. He stood up, and was about to say something more, when they heard a cry from outside.
"GUYS! GUYS, I'M BACK!"
The two met eyes. "Nosedive." they said at once, and Mallory headed straight for the door.
Duke called after her. "Mallory, catch." He tossed a pair of jeans at her, and she grabbed them from the air. "Trust me, you need to wear something over that bodysuit."
Nosedive grinned as they all asked him questions at once, not a trace of the anger he'd held before. "You guys'll never believe what I found!"
"Are you OK?" Wildwing asked, looking concerned. "We've got breakfast"
"I'm fine, food can wait. Do you guys know how close DuCaine Metro is?"
"You got all the way to Metro?" Duke asked.
"You bet! It's only two days fast walk away!" He pointed behind him with his thumb. "Thataway."
"You're kidding! Really? I thought we were out the back of beyond!" Mallory exclaimed.
"It's true!" Nosedive almost laughed. "It's all burnt rubble, but remember when Mal said that underground things ought to be OK?" They all nodded. "Well, guys, I think if we just got underneath that stuff there'd be some pretty handy stuff!"
Mallory looked a little uncomfortable. "We need maternity clothes."
Tanya sniffed. "That's not all we need. I don't know about anyone else, but there isn't a good natural substitute for toilet paper or soap."
Duke grinned. "An' I was sure you were going to say something a couple of nuts and bolts to make yourself a Drake Two."
Tanya stared. "You need electricity to run a computer Duke."
"Yeah, I know" He rolled his eyes. "Forget it."
Duke grunted as Mallory fidgeted next to him, trying to use his chest as a pillow. "It's not the most comfortable bed in the world, is it?"
She sighed. "We're too used to the mattress."
It was the first night of their journey to explore the remains of the old capital, and the Ducks had walked a long way, all day. Nosedive had decided that it would probably take them three days and two nights to reach the Metro, since as a group they were a little slower. On the whole, they were all tired.
"We're getting soft." Duke muttered. "After all, this is luxury compared to some of the places I've slept."
Mallory snorted. "We can't be getting soft. We're hunting for food." She shifted again. "Though, I used to be able to sleep on the ground with no problem at all."
Duke yawned. "Man, I think I'm overtired."
"Would you two shut up?!" Nosedive called. "Some of us are trying ta sleep!"
"Sorry!" Duke and Mallory chorused back. Duke sat up.
"There's no way I'm going to sleep now."
Mallory stayed down. "I wouldn't mind giving it a bit more of a chance"
Duke shrugged. "Suit yourself." He started walking off.
"Don't I always?" drifted back after him.
The next morning Duke was tired. Deathly so. He stumbled occasionally as they walked. What's wrong with me? I used to be able to go for days with no sleep. He gave another huge yawn. If anyone should be tired, it should be Mal. He stole a look at her. She was concentrating hard on walking, keeping a protective hand over her stomach. Now ain't that sweet? She's going all maternal. he sniggered to himself.
Nosedive took a deep breath, and smiled. Being in the lead is a nice change from bringing up the rear. He looked around himself. The scrub was growing back slowly but densely. Seeds, I guess. It'll probably be really nice around here in a few years.
Wildwing wasn't paying much attention to their surroundings. He put on foot in front of the other automatically, watching the ground and the heels in front of him. What are we going to do when we get there? he wondered. Deciding to try and salvage what was there was all very well and good, but actually carrying it out was another matter. Possible cave-ins. How are we meant to get things out without killing ourselves?
How is it possible that a place where such utter devastation has occurred can look so beautiful? Grin pondered. There is the wonder of nature. It is indestructible. He lumbered along. His frame was not built for walking, he was too top heavy, but he was used to the slight awkwardness.
Think Tanya, think! she told herself firmly. We're going to get there, and they're going to turn to you for ideas. She sighed. Just one more scientist, that's all I wanted. We had the fighters, we only needed one more thinker. She made a face, and mimicked voices only she remembered. What do you need another brain for? This is a strike force, not an experiment! You'll be in and out in a day She sniffed. It's too late for that. Now think! They're counting on you.
Mallory unconsciously bit her beak as the team walked through a more rocky and steep bit of land. Come on, where's your grace, girl? This should be simple. She frowned. It's this dumb lump, it's putting me off and ruining my balance. And it's only small now! What's it going to be like later? She kept walking and thinking. I should have just said no. I mean, they weren't exactly going to hold me down and A small smile crept across her face. Of course, I did enjoy itOh, that's a bit of information Wildwing would love. He's probably just waiting for me to admit that it was a good idea after all.
The word jumped from one mind to the other, leaping infinity each time. The knee high grass waved gently in the wind. The eerie silence was not deafening, it was just quiet.
The leader closed his eyes. The thief repented. The scientist lost her voice. The philosopher had no comfort in his detachment. The fire's spirit flickered out for a few split seconds of time.
The joker, the joker was just relieved he wasn't here alone anymore.
"And I say to you all,'" Nosedive suddenly quoted something he'd learnt long ago. "That as long as the wind blows and the water flows and a duck stares at the stars in the sky, you will not be destroyed. Till the last shall we fight.'" The others stared at him, and he forced a sick smile. "Drake DuCaine." he said simply.
"Well, Drake isn't here to see this." Mallory said gruffly. Nosedive didn't answer, but started picking his way down the last gentle slope to the ghost city.
They prodded listlessly in the rubble around the outskirts of the former city. Nosedive found a twisted metal sign on the ground. Welcome to DuCaine Metropolis - Please enjoy your stay'. He found a piece of metal, and scratched away the numbers on the population section. While the others sifted through the junk for anything vaguely salvageable, he erected the sign by propping it up against a few rocks.
"You won't find anything." he told them suddenly. "I've been through this section."
Wildwing looked up, squatting. "OK, where do you think we should be looking?" Nosedive shrugged.
Tanya pointed to the left horizon. "Things are, like, not so flat over there." She was right. A few free-standing walls stood against the sky.
Duke hefted his pack more firmly on his back. "So let's go."
"It's like one of those ruins." Tanya sighed.
They stood in what must have been a house on the opposite edge of the city. Damage was less here, and the framework still stood (shakily, but there).
"Tanya, it *is* a ruin." Wildwing pointed out. "OK, let's see what we've got."
The pile lay on the patchy grass. A few cans of food, some slightly ripped clothes, amazingly some non-shredded clothes, utensils, tools and a small doll. Who put the doll there, no one knew.
"Better than I expected." Duke commented. "Some real food at last!"
"We need to find a nursery or something, to get some seeds." Mallory sighed. "But this looks like a suburb."
"Does anyone know where we are?" Wildwing asked the air.
"Duckburb." Nosedive supplied.
The Mighty Ducks moved on.
It was one of Grin's group therapy things that Mallory in particular hated. He organised them into a circle on the ground, heads together, staring at the stars. Mallory closed her eyes. Give me strength
"Good. Now, we will go around the circle and everyone will tell me what they see. I'll start." Grin took a deep breath, and they all knew he was going to try and say something poetic. "I see infinity in the blackness and the future in the shine." He closed his eyes and let that hang while Nosedive and Mallory rolled their eyes at each other. Nosedive put a finger down his mouth and pretended to barf. Mallory bit back a chuckle. "Wildwing?"
"I, uh, see stars."
"Other than stars."
Wildwing considered. "Light?"
Grin nodded as if this were the meaning to life. "Yes, light. Tanya?"
"Big balls of gas burning millions of miles away."
Tanya, with you, everything's gas. Nosedive sniggered in his mind.
Aw, gee "Little flecks of hope in despair." There, that oughtta keep him off my back. He looked up to see everyone but Grin staring at him, and he smiled weakly. "Hi."
Mallory shook her head, and answered before she was called upon. "They're stars. They're pretty. That's all there is to say."
Duke had a proper look at the sky before he answered. "Guess I see what every other Duck has seen. Makes em sorta special."
The six stared upwards, trying to see what the others had seen, not admitting that that was what they were doing. Mallory and Tanya came close to each other's mind, but that was all.
Nosedive broke the ensuring silence. "Can we sleep now?"
Grin nodded, and immediately fell asleep. Duke sat up to grab his blanket. "I wish he'd tell us how he did that."
"It's probably some sort of instant mediation." Wildwing noted, getting comfortable.
Mallory snorted. "Yeah, just add exhaustion."
DuCaine Metropolis was a bearable place. The things they found made up for most of the pains. But some things are more important and beyond physical comfort.
The bodies were hard to deal with. No one ever talked about it. There were too many to bury, and most were burnt or rotted past recognition. Even Mallory had fought back nausea at the horror of it. Where there was obviously nothing salvageable, the Ducks lit careful fires to rid of the smell and the sight.
Next came the memories. These couldn't be gotten rid of. As the Ducks slowly worked their way across the city, silence reined for the most part. Tanya had burst into tears at one point in a residential area, without explanation and refusing comfort.
Their families were dead. They already knew that. But it was hard to burn what you knew could be your own.
Mallory gave a short and sudden squeal. "It kicked! It kicked!"
Duke was at her side in an instant. "I can't feel anythin'." he frowned.
"I'm telling you, it kicked!"
"Well, I guess you'd know" he grinned.
She stared down. "It's really alive."
Duke gave her a friendly punch. "Of course it is. You're only just figuring that out?"
Mallory scowled, and shook her head. "No," she said pointedly. "It's just a little weird."
"It's just a little big." Duke grinned, patting her stomach. "This is gonna be one heck of a baby. You sure you and Grin haven't been doing it behind my back?" He laughed at her look, and raised his hands in submission. "Only joking." Placing them back on her stomach, he stared intently, as if willing it to kick. His face lit up like a pinball machine when it did so. "Way to go, kid!"
"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" she smiled. He looked up.
"Every second." His mind suddenly reminded him of the times when Mallory was even harder than normal to get along with. "Well, nearly every second."
The months passed quickly. The Ducks established themselves more firmly closer to DuCaine Metropolis after finding another water supply. Mallory became rounder and rounder, and grumpy along with it. Tempers were strained, but any major arguments were avoided.
It was in the middle of the night when Mallory woke up. She wasn't sure why she had. Her eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness, and Duke muttered something in his sleep. A sudden pain lassoed her hips, and she gasped.
Mallory lay still, hoping she was wrong. When nothing more happened, she relaxed and closed her eyes, ready to forget about it. Then it happened again.
"Oh great" she mumbled, and shook Duke. He opened his good eye slowly.
"I think it's time."
"The baby, you idiot!"
Duke sat up. "Hey, no need to get personal. Do you want me to get Tanya?"
Mallory shook her head. "Not much is going to happen for a few hours."
He looked at her with exasperation. "Then why'd you wake me up?"
"I wanted you to know"
Duke tried to hold onto his temper. "Fine, fine." He looked at her with sudden curiosity as her face locked in a brief grimace. "What's it feel like?"
"Like I'm being torn apart." she answered shortly.
"Oh." Duke rolled over and closed his eyes. Mallory stared at his back. Suddenly, he turned back to her. "Waitasec. You're in labour?"
Mallory continued to stare. "Just a tad."
"Well, why didn't you *say*?!! Are you okay? You want anything?"
She seriously regretted waking him.
The sun was high in the sky. It was a clear day, blue and bright.
Mallory hadn't noticed.
The normally self-contained red head was looking anything but. Her hair stuck to her face and neck with sweat, and her eyes were pained. The contractions were starting to run very close together.
Duke started edging for the door. Tanya and Mallory looked at him.
"Uh, where are you going?" Tanya asked.
Duke shuffled. "I thought I might leave you ladies to it"
Mallory was furious. "If I have to go through this then you can jolly well stick around and" She broke off and yelled with hurt.
Duke sighed and came back in. "Dunno what I'm meant to do" he muttered.
"Duh, hold her hand or something" Tanya instructed, then turned back to Mallory. "Come on Mal, push"
"That's all you've been saying for the last three hours!" Mallory said crossly. "Don't you have anything else to say?!"
Nosedive looked slightly ill as he heard Mallory's cries. Wildwing, Grin and Nosedive were trying to go on like normal, but the noise was rather distracting.
"I'm sure she'll be fine." Wildwing said, thinking out loud.
"Of course!" Nosedive quickly agreed. Grin nodded. They looked uncomfortable.
"She's fully dilated!" Tanya said triumphantly. Duke looked at her blankly. Tanya sighed. "She's ready to have the baby."
"Hasn't she beensince last night?"
"I'll explain later." Tanya grumbled. Mallory was moaning softly.
"I'm too tired"
Duke took her hand. "Come on Mally, you can do it! You just gotta push for a little bit more."
Mallory started to shake her head feverishly, but then she changed her mind, and nodded. She closed her eyes tightly, gripping Duke's hand the same. He yelled as she suddenly started squeezing the life out of it.
"OW! MALLORY, LET GO!!!!" She didn't, and he was nearly dancing with pain when she finally did so. He yanked it far away from her, and scowled. She didn't notice, too busy gasping for breath.
"Here it comes!" Tanya yelled. She helped Mallory as much as she could, and sighed with relief as she held the baby in her arms. "Girl." Tanya handed the duckling to Duke, and he stared at it. Mallory was still groaning.
Duke held the baby up for her to see. "It's a girl, Mally!" She still had her eyes closed, and didn't answer.
"There'sanother one!" Tanya said, sounding very surprised. Duke nearly dropped his daughter.
"Twins!" Tanya caught the second baby. "Male." Mallory struggled to sit up.
"I want to see"
Duke helped her, and handed her the girl. Mallory cradled the crying child, and started to cry herself. Duke took his son from Tanya, and they both sat on the bed, holding screaming silvery-grey children. Duke then tucked both babies into Mallory's arms, and kissed her forehead.
"You did great." he told her.
"Sorry about your hand." she muttered.
He laughed. "Forget it. So, two! I always knew you were good luck, Mally"
"They're perfect." She glanced up at him, and smiled.
Tanya cleared her throat. "So, what are they called?"
Mallory looked from one to the other. "Hope and"
"Ash." Duke supplied. Tanya nodded.
"They need a wash." she hinted. "I'll go get some water."
Duke stood. "An' I'll go tell the guys." He gave the twins a last look, and followed Tanya out the door.
Mallory settled the babies so she could see both their faces. "Hi, I'm yourmummy. You're Hope," Mallory kissed the head of the girl. "And you're Ash." She kissed the boy, and smiled. "Satisfactory?"
The babies kept crying, and Mallory frowned. "They're not *that* bad"
Babies, babies, babies. Tania and Wildwing got their own. Nosedive turned out to be a very adept child-minder, and he was adored. He seemed completely over anything that had been troubling him before, and chirpily taught Hope, Ash and Samantha (otherwise known as Sammy) words like taco' slapshot' and Dragaunus is a purple meany'.
It was okay. It wasn't paradise, but it was life.
"Kodak moment!" Nosedive started miming taking photos of the twins. They had no idea what he was doing, but they knew they had his approval, and that was what mattered.
"I bet you could catch fifty millyun Uncy Dive!" Hope chirped happily. The blond grinned.
"Yeah, well, just maybe one day I'll go catch em all."
Ash looked wide eyed. "You could really do that?" He and Hope carefully arranged their lizards near the fire.
Nosedive nodded. Duke shook his head as he approached. "What nonsense are you teachin' my kids Dive? You couldn't catch a cold!"
"I beg to differ!" Nosedive proclaimed, and promptly sneezed. Sammy tugged on his shirt.
"DiveyUnca Divey" The tiny girl wanted attention, and she wanted it now. "I wanna go catch the lizards too"
Wildwing hurried over, and scooped his daughter up before she lost interest in Nosedive and started playing with the fire. "No, SammyYou know daddy's told you not to do that"
Hope looked important. "She can't understand. She's only three." She puffed out her chest. "Me and Ash are *four*. A whole hand!"
Wildwing, Nosedive, Tanya and Sammy waved goodbye to the others. It was Sammy's first trip into the former city. Tanya needed more medical supplies, Wildwing wasn't about to let her go alone, but he couldn't leave Sammy behind either. Nosedive volunteered to come along for the ride and to keep an eye on Sammy.
Sammy was a very active child. It was all Nosedive could do just to keep pace with her as she bounded over various rocks and side-stepped holes. "Sammy, wait up! You have to be careful, or you'll hurt yourself!" I sound and feel like WildwingHoboy, a fate worse than death, man He snapped back in time to see Sammy slip down deep gully. He raced over to the edge, and hurriedly stepped back when it started to creek. "Sammy! Are you okay?!"
She stood up. "Yes!" she called back. She tried to climb up the wall, but it was too steep. A few more rocks started to rattle down the sides. "Divey"
"Don't move! Stay RIGHT there! I'm coming down to get you." He turned around and jumped down the hole. He fell over when he landed, despite all his efforts to bend his knees. He picked up Sammy. Larger rocks started to fall. "We'd better call your mummy and daddy," he told her, careful to sound calm.
Sammy smiled happily. "Can I push the button?"
Nosedive offered it to her, after shielding her from another rock. "Go for it."
Wildwing reached down as far as he could in the hole, trying to reach his daughter's outstretched hand. Sammy was standing on Nosedive's hands, being held as high as he could manage. Nosedive himself stood on one of the larger fallen rocks. The whole place groaned uneasily.
"NearlyGot you!" Wildwing pulled the child out, giving her a quick hug. Tanya pulled her away from the edge, listening to no complaining. The two brothers looked up or down at each other.
"You'd better move back, Wing," Nosedive commented "This thing is gonna cave in."
"Worry about that after you're out. I'll think of something."
But for once, Nosedive was right and Wildwing was wrong.
Wildwing and Tanya stood frozen as the dust settled. Where Nosedive had last stood, a huge pile of rubble replaced him.
Sammy sat in Wildwing's arms, not knowing what had happened. "Where Unca Divey?" she asked. Wildwing didn't seem to hear.
"We have to get him out." he muttered. He gave Sammy to Tanya and wandered, half dreaming to where the pile stood.
Tanya grabbed him back. "No. He'she's gone."
"No, he's just under it all, waiting for us." Wildwing shook her off, and walked faster.
"Stay here." Tanya placed Sammy on the ground. The look in her eye told her not to disobey, and she sat on the ground, stuffing one of her fingers into her beak.
Wildwing was removing rocks from the pile, and Tanya hauled him away, fearing another collapse. "There's no need."
Wildwing looked at her. "He's not dead, if that's what you're thinking."
Tanya's eyes misted behind her glasses. "He was a hero"
"He *is* a hero. Come on, help me." Wildwing continued to shift rubble, and she shook her head, beginning to drag him away. "Tanya, stop! He's not dead! It's impossible! He's never died! Not once! He's always OK"
Tanya picked Sammy up, and sat the child on her hip with one arm, and kept pulling Wildwing with her other. "Let's go home." she whispered.
"No! I have to rescue him!"
"He's gone! He's dead Wildwing!" Tanya suddenly screamed.
He slumped. "I knowI know" He started to cry helplessly. "But I still want to rescue him"
"He doesn't need you to rescue him, and we need you here." Tanya whispered. She flipped open her com, and connected to Mallory. "Mal, we're coming back."
"Did you get everything?" Mallory asked. She paused, seeing Wildwing in the background. "Is everything OK?"
Tanya swallowed hard. "Wwe lost Dive."
Mallory scowled. "Well, find him! Comm him!"
Sammy suddenly spoke up. "Divey got me out of a hole." she chirped. "But then the hole went boom!" She demonstrated with her hands, beaming at Mallory.
The red head froze. She stared wild-eyed at Tanya, then at Wildwing, and then Sammy. "No" she choked.
"What's the prob?" Tanya heard Duke in the background. Mallory turned her head slightly.
"It'sNosedive. He's dead." Mallory said slowly. Tanya heard Duke curse, and move into the picture.
"Are you three OK?" Duke asked, obviously more together than anyone else bar Sammy.
Tanya nodded. "He was saving Sammy"
"Do you need us to come and get you?" Duke questioned slowly. Tanya shook her head. He nodded. "OK, we'll comm you in awhile." He closed the connection, and shut his eyes. After a minute, he became aware of a small choking noise behind him. He turned. "You can cry." he said softly to the female behind him.
Her face twisted, and crumpled. Duke pulled Mallory into a tight hug, and he rocked her back and forth. His own tears mixed with hers before they fell to the dirt.
Wildwing spent the next week in a dream. A slightly distorted reality where Nosedive was always at the back of his mind. When he ate, he didn't just eat, he ate without Nosedive. When he talked, he didn't talk to Nosedive. If he laughed, he laughed without Nosedive, at something Nosedive had once done.
Had he been slightly more conscious, he would have seen the pain on his team mates faces. They tip-toed around him, and not a word was mentioned about the missing member. They'd gotten the story from Tanya, and they mourned alone.
Sammy was confused, as were Hope and Ash. Their favourite person to play with was gone, and they didn't know where. Duke tried explaining it to them, but they didn't understand. Grin offered to try, but Mallory said shortly that it would do more harm then good.
He got over it, eventually. They all did. But it was another reminder that they weren't invincible.
"It's a matter of genetics." Tanya said firmly.
"I know! But Tanya, there's only going to be grey ducks!"
"We can't help it."
Duke piped up. "What's so bad about grey ducks anyway, that's what I'd like ta know"
Wildwing shook his head. "The point is, we're loosing a lot. It's not just feather colourOur ancestors are going to have to reinvent electricity!"
Ash broke in with his typical 6 year old impatience. "Look!" He pointed to the dirt, where he'd been drawing with a stick. "I can write my whole name so neat!"
Mallory dutifully looked. "Very nice, Ash."
Ash peered up at her. "Can you write your name, mummy?"
Mallory broke away from the circle, rather relieved. It had been getting too heavy. "Sure I can." She scribbled Mallory L'Orange' next to Ash L'Orange'.
Tanya sat up straighter. "I've got it!" Everyone turned to look at her, surprised by her outburst. "We write it all down! I mean, like, everything! Our lives, how things work, everything! So that way the information's always around!"
Wildwing nodded slowly. "That could workBut we don't have any paper, or pens." He gestured to Ash and Mallory. "Just sticks and dirt."
Duke leaned forward. "I'm always up for a scavenger hunt." he grinned.
Wildwing smiled with newly-reawakened optimism. "All those in favour of a trip into the Metro, say aye!"
"Aye!" they all chorused.
"Aye!" echoed Ash.
Family. They all got to know the meaning of the word a lot better over the years. Soon everyone was related to each other. Tanya thanked Drake that their genes were a lot more pure than those of the humans. Each duck continued to write down what life was and had been like. Wildwing tried to put down the things Nosedive had liked too.
Lots of children. Marriage had to be arranged to choose the person least related to you. It ended up with some funny couples, but the ducks born after the Invasion accepted it as normal and never complained.
Mallory awoke slowly, waiting a moment before moving. She was colder than usual. Where was Duke? She opened her eyes and looked around. Duke was there. He was still asleep. She patted his arm, and started to get up. Then she did it again. Patted his arm.
He was cold. Not like usual.
It took around 5 seconds for her mind to get around what that meant.
Then she started to scream.
"I never told him. I never told him that I loved him."
Mallory sobbed, and Duke disappeared from sight, under the dirt forever.
"He knew. Gramma, he knew." Tempo tugged on her sleeve. Mallory scooped Tempo into her arms and cried silently down the child's back. Amazingly, Tempo stayed still for once, cloudy cream feathers shining from the dew.
Four generations stood on guard to honour a warrior. Then one of the oldest sank to the ground unhappily and the others departed.
They all died, eventually. It was with dignity each time, old and happy. And there was always another duck to take the place of the one lost.
Times change, in this old land. Generations journeyed on as tomorrow came.
It was a long time later. Nearly three thousand years later, if you want to be precise.
Parro scratched the back of his neck. "Find anythin' yet? Y'know the boss'll be annoyed if ya haven't."
His partner down in the dirt shook his head. "Nah. I reckon these pipes is long gone'Ello. I found somethin'."
Parro moved to the edge of the whole. "What?"
"S'like a big box'Ere, elp me get it up."
After much pulling and grunting, they had the prize up on land.
"What ya reckon it is?"
"Dunno Jerat, but it looks mighty old."
"Lock's busted. I thinks I kin get it open." Jerat did so, and soon they were pulling out very old papers, mixed with a few items.
Parro whistled. "Look at this stuffI don't believe it! Maybe the legend was true after all?"
Jerat scoffed. "Six ducks restarting the whole race after fighting off some kind o' lizards? Don't be dense." Jerat plucked a gold mask from the box, looked at it, and sniffed. "Junk." He tossed it over his shoulder.
Parro made a flying dive, and caught it before it shattered on the ground. "I'm dense? I'm dense?! Yer the one throwing what looks like priceless artefacts over ya shoulder!"
"Don't pull m' tail feathers. This stuff is gaudier than the local second hand store guff."
"I'm telling ya, it looks like the real jig!" He looked at the fragile stacks of paper and books in awe. "These could tell us so much" He fished out some funny looking pieces of stiff coloured paper, that looked to him like some kind of primitive life-scan. "Pale feathers! See? It's the four ducks with the pale feathers! Look, this one's even got white!"
Jerat stared. "Get over it and help me dig. We gotta get this finished. Th' Holocaust never happened, and yer a fool if ya think it did. We gotta look to the future, not some six fake heroes! And no dead ducks could elp us if we don't get this job done in time!"
Parro made a face, and grabbed his shovel, pushing the box and it's contents to the side. "YeahYer right. Wait up, I'm comingHey, didya catch last nights game? That Flashblade kid's got one heck of a slapshot"
And the Mask of Drake DuCaine lay covered in the box, sad, lonely, forgotten.
But one billion grey ducks went about their happy lives, not afraid.
Story Copyright Rachel Baker 98' and '99. I mean it, this story took forever! No stealing! (I'm looking at the Brotherhood nowp ) All of the characters that are Copyright Disney are used without permission. The rest are Copyright Rachel Baker '99. Well.OK, Leila deSilver named Hope. And, come to think of it, she suggested that I kill off Nosedive too. There Leila, ya happy?! *mutters* Geeze, perfectionist down to the disclaimer