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Rule Number 87

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Tina first starts to take notice on the day that Della arrives home.

All of the children - and Tina includes Della in that statement - are having trouble adjusting. It’s to be expected, of course, but it’s still painful to watch.

It’s Louie, though, who really captures Tina’s attention. “It’s probably my fault,” he sighs, body turned away from his brothers in a position that’s fiercely defensive, his voice faltering and utterly miserable.

Tina decides in that moment to take a special interest in Louie.


She sits the children down - yes, including Della - the very next day.

“New house members, new rules!” Tina announces, whacking the blackboard so that the cover rolls up with a startling snap. The boys are vaguely interested. Webby is watching with wide-eyed curiosity. Della just seems apprehensive.

Satisfied, Tina continues on. “Rule number 87.” She slaps her pointer on the blackboard with a resounding crack, then slides it beneath the heavy-handed script that is written there. “There is to be no more negative self-talk. There is only love and pride in my house.”

Della raises her hand almost immediately. When Tina nods her direction, Della stands, grinning the same innocent grin that her youngest wears when he’s discovered a particularly evasive loophole, and points out, and points out, “Well, technically, the mansion belongs to-”

“Scrooge McDuck may own this mansion,” Tina starts. At a swift look, the boys and Webby dutifully chime in with, “But it’s Mrs. Beakley’s house.”

“And Mrs. Beakley’s house rules,” Tina finishes smugly. She fixes them all with a pointed stare.

Della and Webby smile back.

“Okay!” Dewey answers Tina’s look aloud, then launches himself toward the door, grabbing Della’s hand and shouting something about practicing gainers from the balcony.

The sound of their stomping footsteps on the stairwell is beginning to give Tina a headache. She sighs, then turns to Huey, who nods seriously and exits the room at a much more composed pace, reaching beneath his hat to consult that dingy book of his.

When Tina turns to Louie, he’s already facing her, as if he’d known she’d save him for last. He offers her a very casual shrug and a subtly raised eyebrow.

They stare at one another for a long moment, and Tina finds herself wondering if Louie is reading as much about her as she is discovering about him.


Things don’t get better.

While Dewey and Huey thrive, Louie comes home from each adventure battered and bruised and weary. He slinks up the stairs to the boys’ shared bedroom, saying nothing, locking the door behind him.

Tina notices Louie seems to conveniently disappear whenever Della and Dewey are in the room together. Since the return of their mum, Huey’s had a lot of questions and Dewey’s got lots to say, but Louie seems to have fallen silent. On rare nights when the family is all in one room, Louie hangs at the edge, pretending to play on his phone, or he’ll sigh a put-upon yawn and stretch widely as he announces, “I’m going to bed, guys.”

It’s gnaws at Tina, and she finds it hard to watch. It’s clear that Louie is suffering. He’s withdrawing from his family, locking himself away, but for what? Does he not like Della? Is it jealousy between brothers? Simply a matter of an adjustment in routine?

Tina isn’t sure, but she’s going to find out.


 

She corners Louie a week later on his way to the bin. “Stay behind with me,” she asks, catching his jacket gently by the wrist. Tina is startled when Louie hisses and pulls back from her touch.

Tina backs away, ignoring, but not forgetting the incident. “I’d like to speak with you, Louie,” she says. “Let your brothers have their day. I’ll have Launchpad drive you to the bin when we’re finished.”

She notices Louie’s wide-eyed expression of panic, then nearly breaks into giggles. Of all McDuck’s kids, Louie is the only one to have any sense of self preservation. Tina appreciates that. She kneels to Louie’s level, careful not to touch him, but she wants to look him in the eyes. “On second thought,” she starts, shooting Louie a conspiratorial smirk, “How about we talk, and then I drive you to the bin?”

Louie raises an eyebrow and quirks a grin that is not unlike the expression his mother makes when she knows she’s won an argument. “You’ve got yourself a deal, Mrs. B!”


Tina leads them up several flights of stairs, to a small but well-furnished sitting room at the back of the west wing of the mansion. It’s a bit musty, but comfortable once a fire is lit, an area that neither of them frequent enough to feel very familiar here.

It is a good, neutral ground for a conversation.

Tina lights the fire. “I thought you might like to lose that jacket, Louie,” she offers. “I’ll warm it up a bit in here.”

She notices that Louie tenses immediately upon her mentioning removing the hoodie. Tina takes note and stokes the fire again. That done, she settles in the fluffy brown tufted chair to the left of the fire, leaving Louie the right-side chair, facing the door, which she’d left open.

She’s sending lots of messages here. If Louie is as perceptive as he seems, then he will understand them.

“What’d you want to talk about, Mrs. B?” Louie asks after a long silence.

Tina raises an eyebrow. She would have thought he’d sit in silence, force her to open the conversation. Apparently, she’d been wrong.

Tina decides to try honesty. That usually works for most kids. “I’m concerned for you, Louie.”

His brows furrow, and he leans back into the seat, tucking one leg beneath him. “Concerned how?”

Tina sighs, suddenly wondering if this was a good idea after all. Well, in for a penny, she supposes. “You’ve been a bit distant lately,” Tina starts, leaning forward on her elbows in an effort to look Louie in the eye. “I rarely see you at meals. You hardly talk to Webby and your brothers. You aren’t going on many adventures anymore, are you, Louie?”

Louie drops his face to stare into the crackling light of the fire. He doesn’t speak for a long, long time.

Just when Tina is getting ready to write this off as a lost cause, Louie looks up at her, eyes swimming with tears. “Why do you care?” he asks tonelessly.

Tina sits down a little closer. “Because you’re hurting,” she says, something about the apathetic, hopeless tone of Louie’s words tearing at places in her heart that she’d long thought dead. She’d been a mother, once.

A long time ago.

Louie shudders, keeps his face turned into the flames. “So?” he whispers.

Tina kneels in front of him, knee to knee, offering him a hand. “So,” she echoes, doing her best to catch Louie’s eye. “I want to help, Louie.”

He laughs, a croaking, bitter laugh. “How can you help me, Mrs. B?” he asks, and when he looks up at her, it’s an honest question.

Tina sighs and shifts away so that they are side by side, staring into the fire. She wonders if maybe Louie will find talking less intimidating this way, if he can look at the flames instead of into the eyes of an adult. They sit like that for a moment, neither speaking, until finally Tina offers gently, “I could listen.”

Louie shakes his head. “You really don’t want to.”

Tina quirks a grin. “Try me sometime.”

Louie glances up at her, as if to assess her sincerity. There’s a question in his eyes, and something buried deeper, something that looks an awful lot like hope.


 

The next time they meet, Louie’s adamant he keep his hoodie on.

“What don’t you want me to see, Louie?” Tina asks during a lull in the conversation.

Louie shrugs, then winces. “It’s not you,” he says bitterly, again turning his face into the flames.

“Who, then?” Tina prompts.

Louie sinks his face into his knees and doesn’t answer. Hesitantly, Tina reaches over to rest a gentle hand on Louie’s back. He flinches.

This has got to stop. “Louie, if you’re injured, you need to tell somebody,” Tina says, voice a bit more forceful than she intends.

Honestly, these kids!

To her utter horror, Louie sinks his face into his knees and begins crying. “It’s not you, Mrs. B, if that’s what you’re worried about. You know how I am!” He sobs into the pocket of his hoodie, taking deep, gasping breaths. Tina lets him cry it out for a while. He’ll spill the rest when he’s ready.

“It’s Mom,” he breathes, wiping tears from his eyes with the backs of his sleeves. He turns his red-rimmed gaze up to Tina, wide-eyed and pleading. “She can’t know, Mrs. B. Please promise me.”

Tina sits down in front of Louie with her feet crossed. “Louie,” she says softly. “I’m not sure I understand why you want to keep things like this from your Mum. She loves you very much.” Tina leans forward, cupping Louie’s chin to level his gaze. She notes that he doesn’t flinch away this time. “And I’m very concerned about these injuries myself.”

Louie’s eyes harden. He stands, and in a rage, yanks his hoodie over his head. Through his sleeveless green t-shirt, Tina can see lumps of poorly applied gauze taped to the backs of Louie’s shoulders, and more dressings running down his arms. Some have begun to weep with blood.

Tina rears back. “Did this happen today?”

Louie shakes his head. “Most of it was last week, when Mom and Dewey wanted to find the fairy circles in Dismal Downs.” He shrugs his good shoulder. “Turns out they’re more like wraiths than actual fairies. Wraiths with claws.” He rolls his eyes, and his expression contorts into a wry grin. “Wraiths with claws who are obsessed with capturing and kidnapping avian children who go blundering into their realm.” He shakes his head, still wearing that grim smile. “And that’s exactly what we did.”

Tina frowns. “They didn’t see?”

“We split up,” Louie replies tonelessly. “I actually managed to hold one off with my khopesh, but it was a trap, I guess. I was sprung on from behind, too.” He winces at the memory. “I stole Huey’s guidebook and tried to bind the scratches up tight, but I guess I didn’t do it right, because some of them reopened today when Mom picked me up for a hug.”

“Oh, Louie,” Tina sighs. What is she going to do with that kid? “Injuries caused by cryptids are unpredictable at best. These really needed to be seen to a week ago!”

Louie sighs. “They hurt pretty bad,” he admits. He turns his back to Tina, bending to expose his wrapped shoulder. “Go ahead, I guess.”

The wounds aren’t as wide or long as Tina had feared, but they are very deep. More worrying, they haven’t yet begun to close, and a few seem to be red at the edges and warm to the touch. So Tina patches Louie up as best she can, using a paste from Webby’s Supernatural First Aid Kit to slow the infection and blunt the pain. “I’ll have to look again tomorrow, Louie,” she warns. “It may take more than one treatment to clear the infection, and some of those will likely be scars.”

Louie shudders at this, but doesn’t reply.


Thankfully, Louie’s injuries improve rapidly over the next few days. Most have settled into thin white ridges that are only apparent if Tina rubs her fingers beneath the thick feathers that coat Louie’s shoulders. The scratches on his arms have healed completely, leaving only small traces that they were ever there at all.

There’s one gash, though, that Tina hasn’t been able to heal.

“You need to see your Uncle about this,” Tina tells him. “There’s nothing else I can do for it.”

Louie whirls on Tina, eyes wide with panic. “I can’t!”

“Why-ever not?” Crazy child, she doesn’t tack on.

Louie slumps to the floor, head again buried in his knees. “He’ll tell Mom.”

“Okay,” Tina says, rising to her feet. She crosses the room with intent this time, settles beside Louie with her elbows on knees.

Louie doesn’t move from the ball he’s curled into.

“Louie,” Tina says softly. She rubs the back of his neck, gently brushing the downy feathers that hadn’t been disturbed by the demon-wraiths of Dismal Downs. “Stop putting your head down in my house.”

Louie sniffs. “’S not your house,” he mumbles into his hoodie.

“You know better,” Tina sighs. To her surprise, Louie shudders a tiny giggle, but does not move or pull his face away where Tina can see him. “I know, I know,” he groans. “I know the rules.”

Tina smiles a fond smile. “Louie, please. Tell me what’s going on with your mum.”

Louie takes a long shuddering breath and raises his head. There are tears rolling down his cheeks. “She can’t love me,” he croaks.

What?

Tina struggles to find the appropriate words for this situation, but before she can grasp them, Louie continues, almost as if the once he’d spoken, the words are being pulled from him without his consent. “She does great with Dewey because he’s an adventurer. They’re exactly alike and they’re so good at it! And Huey knows all this nerd stuff just like she does, and he’s always good to have in a pinch, but me?” He turns to Tina, eyes swimming and full of self-loathing. “I suck at this. I suck at adventuring. I'm not brave. I can’t fly a plane or pilot a sub. I think puns are dumb. I don’t have “morals” or “work ethic” or whatever it is Uncle Scrooge is always preaching about. I just… I suck, okay? I suck at being part of this family.”

There’s so much wrong with Louie’s statements that Tina hardly knows where to begin. She starts with the most obvious. “But your Mum does love you!”

Louie huffs a grim laugh. “She loves the son she should have had. Rebel.” He spits the name, then slumps back into that pitiful ball, picking at the carpet beneath his feet. “And she’s right to. Mom’s great. She should have the son she wanted.” He shudders, then says in a small voice. “I’m sorry that she got me, instead.”

Tina sighs. She’s got a lot of work to do, but first… “Louie. You know my rule.”

“Stop putting my head down,” he repeats tonelessly. Tina does notice, though, that he raises his face from his knees to say it.

“Good,” Tina smiles at him. “But I meant the rest of it.”

Louie furrows his brow and stares into the fire for a moment. “Oh,” he says softly. “It’s all love and pride in this house?”

“That’s the one, child.” Tina rests a wing on his good shoulder. “Your mother loves you, Llwellyn Lamont Duck -”

“-UGH,” Louie shakes his head and clamps his hands over his ears. “Gross, Mrs. B!”

“- And I am proud of you,” Tina finishes, not to be deterred by silly 12-year-old boys and their nomenclature hangups. “I’m proud of how you’re able to see both sides of an argument. I’m I’m proud of how brave you are.”

Louie snorts.

“It was a brave thing, Louie, to allow me to help you.”

Louie shrugs. “I guess so,” he admits gruffly.

Tina kneels down in front of the fire, facing Louie. She offers her hand, and though he won’t look her in the eye, he allows her to take his hand. “Your mum would be proud of Louie, too, if you’d give her the chance to know him.”

Louie shrugs away. “But what if she isn’t?” he asks in a small voice.

Tina takes his hand and pulls Louie to his feet. “I'd just bet that she’ll surprise you. After all, she’s Della Duck!" She just barely suppresses a shudder as she looks pointedly down at Louie. "I hear she’s full of surprises.”

Louie raises an eyebrow. “I’ll take that bet, Mrs. B,” he offers slyly.

Tina grins a wolfish grin. Victory. “I thought you might.”

She leads him from their study toward Mr. McDuck’s office, Louie trotting contentedly beside her, negotiating, raising, and re-raising the terms of their bet.