Webby had, apparently, gotten a head start on the pile of sugary sweets she had collected for this glorious night of normal childness. They had the room below the loft to themselves — the adults and ghosts of the house had agreed to leave them alone no matter how much screaming they heard.
“Is it really a sleepover if…” Huey took a minute to count. “Five out of six of us live here?”
“It’s the spirit of it,” Webby protested.
“Don’t say spirit too loud. It might summon something.”
“And you really don’t live in some secret lair under, say, an ampitheatre?” Louie asked, raising an eyebrow at Violet.
“I do not.”
“And you have parents who don’t literally live in your shadow?”
“I’m sitting right here,” Lena said, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands.
“I have a completely normal nuclear family,” Violet assured everyone.
“Nuclear like the bomb?”
“No, nuclear as in I have two parents and a little brother and I can call them if you really want.”
“Oooooooooooooookay!” Webby spoke up, laughing. “No more interrogating our new friend, she’s totally normal and nothing to worry about.”
“Should I go?” Lena asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No!” Webby launched herself at Lena, tackling her so hard she fell off her rolled up sleeping bag, and they landed on the ground in a tangle of limbs. “Nobody is going anywhere, it’s sleepover night!”
“Okay, okay,” Dewey said, moving to help Webby and Lena up. “No more talk about weird or supernatural or who has an aunt literally living in their shadow—”
“She’s not there anymore.”
“We’re just here to have a good night. Right?”
“Hey, no complaints from me,” Louie said, grabbing a piece of candy and popping it into his mouth. “So, what first?”
“Video game tournament!” Huey announced, running for the door. “To the rec room!”
“Last one to there has to brush their teeth twice!” Webby added as she ran after Huey. Violet and Louie followed, but Dewey stopped when he realized Lena wasn’t moving.
“Yeah, I’m great,” Lena muttered, standing. “I love being reminded that every bad thing that’s ever happened is my fault.”
“What?” Dewey frowned, bewildered. “That’s not true. You didn’t launch our mother into the moon.” Lena raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay, yeah, we’re all a little paranoid, but that’s not your fault either. It’s just kind of the way things are around here.”
“Yeah, because I brought magic into the house.”
“Technically Uncle Scrooge did,” Dewey pointed out. “Come on, nobody blames you for anything, and we’re all happy to have you back. And Webby deserves a normal sleepover, finally.”
“All right, all right.” Lena sighed, finally moving towards the door — although she stopped to ruffle Dewey’s feathers a bit. “Come on, dork.”
Dewey grinned as he followed, taking no offense. They’d all long since learned how to translate Lena’s odd way of showing affection.
The video game tournament was already in full swing when they got to the rec room. Violet, who had never touched a controller in her life, had opted to sit out while Huey, Webby, and Louie smashed away at the buttons.
“Nonononononono — oh come onLouie, that’s cheating!’
“This is war, there is no cheating!”
“Oh yeah? Fine. Webby, tagteam!”
Dewey flopped down on the couch next to Violet, while Lena sat on the arm of the couch, watching them. Everything always felt a little too bright and a little too loud after being trapped in the shadow realm for six months. She preferred to hide up in the loft and listen to music at a very low volume. But Dewey was right — Webby deserved her normal sleepover. Especially since Lena had been the one to ruin all of them.
“Cookies!” A sing-song voice announced, and everyone looked back at the door to see Della with a tray of still-warm cookies.
“Moooooooooooom!” The triplets complained. “No adults allowed!”
“Oh come on, I’m a mom. I reserve the right to crash a sleepover with fresh-baked cookies.”
The boys and Webby exchanged hesitant looks while Lena just stared at the tray. “I’ll try one,” Violet offered, reaching a hand out; Dewey quickly grabbed her hand, shaking his head. Della sighed.
“Fine. Mrs. Beakley made them and I tried to take credit.”
The mood immediately brightened, and everyone scrambled over the couch to get their hands on a cookie. “Yeesh, you make one bad cake,” Della grumbled, pouting. Her eyes wandered to Lena, who was still sitting on the edge of the couch. “Hey, I promise I didn’t make these. Really.”
“No, I believe you.” No one was exploding yet, after all. That had been horrifying to witness from the viewpoint of a shadow. “I’m just not hungry.”
“Come on, Lena!” Webby said through a mouthful of crumbs, grabbing a cookie for the older duckling. “Granny makes the best cookies!”
“Um… save me one,” Lena said, jumping off the couch. “I’ll be right back.”
She tried to look natural as she hurried into the hallway. The video games, the laughing and yelling, Della’s sudden entrance, all of it was putting her on edge. Her heart was pounding, the edges of her vision blurring, and she was starting to hyperventilate. It wasn’t the first time this had happened since her… return, but usually she was close enough to the loft that she could just disappear into the corner she had claimed for herself and shake it off.
Her goal had been the bathroom, but she barely made it around a corner before her her knees gave out, and she collapsed against a wall, sliding to the floor and curling in tight on herself. Too bright, too loud, too much, it was too much, it was all too much…
Shadows aren’t meant to feel anything. You’re not real. You can’t handle this world. You’re weak. You can’t—
“...breathe, sweetie, can you do that? Try and breathe with me.”
The voice was muffled in her ears, as if someone had filled them with cotton. But no, Lena had just pressed her hands to her ears and squeezed her eyes shut. “Look at me,” the voice prompted gently. “You’re okay. Look at me.”
Lena’s breath caught as she opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was that the hall lights were out, and that immediately put at her ease. The second thing she saw was Della Duck kneeling in front of her, very patiently trying to talk Lena through breathing.
“Try and breathe with me, okay? Deep breath in…” She demonstrated for Lena. “And out again. Try to relax your shoulders. Deep breath, come on…”
There were a few stalled starts, but finally Lena managed to fill her aching lungs. Her chest was hurting, and she coughed, hiccuping.
“There you go, you’re all right,” Della said gently, brushing a thumb up under Lena’s eyes. She didn’t feel all right — she was shaking, tears still burning in her eyes, heart still sputtering slightly. But the hall was quiet, other than Della’s murmurs, and it was dark. That helped. She pulled away slightly, dragging her arm across her eyes.
“I’m fine.” Her voice was trembling.
“It’s okay if you’re not,” Della assured her. “I’m not, sometimes.” Lena looked up, surprised. “I was on the moon for like… ever. It is really dark and really, really quiet on the moon. Going from that to absolute chaos is overwhelming. Sometimes you just need a quiet, dark corner to sit in and take a break from it all.” She paused, looking the teen up and down. “Uncle Scrooge told me what happened to you. I’m sure you can relate.”
Lena nodded slowly. “There isn’t really any… color in the shadow realm. I could see things and hear things, but it was… different. I couldn’t tell the triplets apart by their voices or clothes colors. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t hear anything at all. I was attached to Webby, so I was more attuned to her, but… sometimes I felt like I was losing my connection with her, too. Sometimes it felt like I disappeared for days. But there’s no way of telling how much time has passed when you… wake up, I guess?” She shook her head. “It was like watching everything through a window. I could see, and hear, but it wasn’t the same. Then someone broke the window and…”
Della brushed Lena’s hair back as she spoke. “Well if you ever need a break, I’ve got my room set up so there’s basically no light unless I turn on a lamp.” Della smiled. “And the door is always unlocked. Fifth one down this hall on the left. Wait.” She held up her hands for a moment, looking between them. “Yeah, left.”
Lena smiled wearily. “Thanks.”
“No problem. Us ducks who come back from the dead gotta stick together, right?”
It was almost funny when she put it like that. “Right.”
The boys had taken over the video game when Lena returned to the rec room. Webby was juggling a cookie between her hands, looking nervous; she perked up when Lena came back in. “Hey! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, of course.” Lena grabbed the cookie from Webby, taking a bite. “Oh yeah, no way Della made these.”
“Wait, so did you see the cake thing?” Louie asked without looking away from the screen. Lena shuddered.
“Ugh, can we not talk about that?” Dewey asked. “I still feel sick.”
“What happened?” Violet asked, looking between everyone. Dewey groaned.
“Fiiiiiiiiiine. So, Mom was trapped on the moon for like, our entire lives…”
“You thought you could be free of me so easily?”
Lena gasped, whirling to see a long shadow hovering over her, red-eyed and grinning. “You,” she hissed, backing up. Magica laughed, and shadows wound up Lena’s legs, tripping her. “Let me go. I’m not your puppet anymore!”
“Oh really?” The shadow raised a hand, and Lena was lifted off the ground. She wiggled uselessly, trying to escape the invisible grip.
“I’m not yours!”
“Yeah, you are.” The voice, surprisingly, wasn’t Magica. Lena turned against her will, surprised to see Dewey standing in front of her, arms crossed. “We trusted you.”
“We let you into our home,” Louie’s voice added from the left, and Lena whirled to look at him.
“You tried to kill our uncle!” Huey, from behind her.
“N-No, I — Magica made me!” Lena curled her fingers in her hair gripping it tight. “I didn’t want to do this, I never wanted to do any of this, I—”
“You lied to us.”
That small, sad voice broke Lena’s heart. She turned slowly to see Webby staring at her with wide, tear-filled eyes.
“You lied to me. I thought we were friends.”
“We were. We are!” Lena shook her head furiously. “I didn’t want to hurt you , Webby, I never wanted to hurt any of you, I just… I…”
“You cared more about your freedom than you did us. Than you did me.”
“No,” Lena whispered, holding a hand out. “I didn’t, Webby, I...I…”
But what could she say? It was all true. She had lied to them, she had tricked them, she had used them. She didn’t care what Magica did to them, or to the rest of the world. She just wanted to be free of the sorceress.
“Poooooooooooor Lena,” Magica said with a hum, lifting Lena into the air. “Alone again. Just like you when I made you. But don’t worry, dear. You’ll always have me.”
“No,” Lena choked out, squeezing her eyes shut. “No, no, no no no nonononononono—”
Lena shot up, wild-eyed and gasping. The sleeping bag wrapped around her body was too tight, and she struggled to fight it off, scrambling away. They were in the library under Webby’s loft, the moonlight shining through the window and casting odd shadows. She thought she heard Webby call her name, but the sound was lost to the sudden rushing in her ears when she saw the elongated shadow on the wall to her right.
And then, amidst a chorus of voices shouting her name, she fell.
“What in the blazes is going on out here?!” Scrooge demanded as he hobbled out of his room. It was after midnight, and he’d thought all the children would be asleep. “Honestly, it’s—”
He was cut off when a vase was hurled at him, and he barely ducked to avoid it. It looked as if a hurricane had kicked to life in the hallway — things were flying this way and that, portraits rattling on the wall, glass breaking…
And in the middle of it all was a shining ball of blue.
“What’s happening?” Mrs. Beakley called as she ducked a flying table and pulled Scrooge out of the way of another piece of debris. Della poked her head out of her room, wide-eyed, then jerked back in to avoid a flying plant.
“Lena!” They heard Webby shout through the chaos. The kids had come running downstairs; the pink-haired teen was noticeably absent from their numbers.
“Webby, what happened?” Beakley yelled as she tried to focus on the glowing figure in the eye of the storm. It was Lena-shaped…
“Sh-She had a nightmare, I think?” Webby sounded hopelessly confused. “I don’t know, she was screaming, and then she kind of turned all shadowy and just fell through the floor.”
The group ducked as a door was ripped off its hinges and thrown at them. “Is Lena doing this?” Violet asked, bewildered. Della stepped back into the hall, looking a little odd in her nightgown with her goggles down over her eyes.
“Della, what on earth are you doing?” Scrooge demanded, exasperated.
“Shut up and let me handle this,” Della snapped back, bracing herself before diving into the chaos. She dodged and rolled, and was only almost hit once by another potted plant (Scrooge really needed to redecorate. And take everything out of the hallway).
The glowing blue ball was trembling as Della approached, and she could hear quiet sobs.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
“Hey, hey, hey.” Della knelt down next to Lena, sliding her goggles up her head. Lena was curled up tight, her hands pressed to her ears, eyes clenched shut. “It’s okay, you’re okay. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Everything is my fault!” A spear from a suit of armor pierced the wall behind Della, and she quickly lowered herself before anything else could take a shot at her head.
“No, it isn’t!” Della grabbed Lena’s shoulder, shuddering at the shock of magic that ran through her. “You didn’t ask for this, Lena. You didn’t ask for any of this! Magica created you, and she used you, and you deserve so much better than what you were given. You deserve to have a normal life, with friends and people who love you. You’ve been hurt, and it isn’t fair that you’re taking the blame for it. Magica did this, not you. Don’t let her off the hook that easily. Don’t take the blame she deserves. You never asked for any of this! And I know you tried to fix it! It’s not your fault. This isn’t your fault.”
The flying debris began to slow, knick-knacks and other useless items fell to the ground, and the glow around Lena slowly faded. “There you go,” Della murmured, brushing a hand through Lena’s hair. “There you go, you’re okay. See? You’re all right. Come here.”
She gently scooped Lena’s trembling figure into her arms, hugging her tight. “I just wanted to get away from her,” Lena choked out, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. “I just wanted to be free.”
“I know,” Della murmured, tightening her grip. “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
Webby hesitated before hurrying forward, only to stop a couple steps away from the duo. Della looked up from Lena and nodded, and Webby gently wrapped her arms around her best friend, resting her chin on Lena’s shoulder.
“I don’t blame you, Lena,” she whispered, tears in her eyes. “You saved us. That told me everything I needed to know about you.”
Mrs. Beakley carefully picked through mess, approaching the triplets and Violet. “Are you all okay?” she asked briskly. They nodded wordlessly. “Back to bed, then, it’s late. Come on.”
“Wait, what about—”
“Shush, shush.” The maid shuffled the kids off, leaving Della, Lena, and Webby in the middle of the hall, with Scrooge watching on, his heart breaking for the sobbing teenager.
“Help me get my family back, and you'll have a place in it.”
He had done his best to make Lena feel welcome and at home — to deliver on the promise he had made before Magica had returned the girl to the Shadow Realm. She had helped save them, after all. And he knew Webby had been trying just as hard to help Lena. All of them had. But they had missed her suffering.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Webby asked after a long moment of silence, punctured only by Lena’s sobs. Lena shivered, trying to scrub her stinging eyes.
“What is there to say? Hey, I know I almost got you all killed and doomed the world because I’m selfish, but I feel really bad about it and my feelings are the important thing here?”
“Well, yeah,” Webby said slowly. “We’re not mad at you. We don’t blame you. But you blame yourself, and that’s important.”
“Webby…” There was a note of exhausted exacerbation in Lena’s tone.
“It’s true, you beautiful idiot!” Webby grabbed Lena’s cheeks, turning her head so they were face to face. “You sacrificed yourself to save me and Dewey! You didn’t have to come back or try to fight her, but you did it anyways! You saved me, and you saved Dewey, and what you did helped us save Uncle Scrooge! You’re like, the bravest person I know!”
“Aye now,” Scrooge grumbled, mostly jokingly. Lena’s eyes slowly lifted from the floor, meeting Webby’s gaze.
“Why don’t you hate me?” Her voice trembled. Webby shook her head.
“Because you’re my best friend, and that’s how this works. That’s how family works. And you’re part of that now.”
Lena dragged her arm across her eyes before seeming to crumple in on herself, half collapsing on Webby and hugging her tight. “You know, for someone who’s not a hug person, you sure give a lot of hugs,” Webby teased even as she returned the hug with all her strength.
“Don’t tell anyone.”
“I would never.”
Scrooge rested a hand on Della’s shoulder and she looked up, giving him a small smile. “Everything okay down here?” Mrs. Beakley asked as she rounded the corner.
“Yeah.” Lena scrubbed her eyes again, standing up. “I’m sorry about all this.”
“Ah, think nothing of it,” Scrooge said. “We all have our nightmares.”
Lena sighed, looking down at her hand. Blue energy swirled around her fingers for a moment, then abruptly dissipated as she collapsed back to her knees, groaning. “Lena?!” Webby grabbed her shoulders, wide-eyed.
“I’m fine, I’m fine…”
“Bed,” Mrs. Beakley said firmly, walking over and stooping down to gather Lena in her arms.
“Hey! What’re you—” Lena immediately fell silent when she saw the look the older duck gave her. She sullenly allowed Mrs. Beakley to carry her back to the library, Webby trailing behind.
Della and Scrooge silently retreated to his office. Mrs. Beakley joined them a few minutes later. “Is she okay?” Della asked.
“She was okay enough to argue about being put in an actual bed, so I’m sure she’ll make a full recovery.” Mrs. Beakley sat, frowning. “This is a new development, though.”
“Aye,” Scrooge said, sighing. “I thought her magic came from Magica. Either she has her own powers she’s not aware of, or she’s still connected to the witch in some way.”
“But that doesn’t matter, right?” Della prompted. “I mean, it’s not like you’re going to throw her out. Right?”
“Of course not,” Scrooge said. “I wouldn’t put a child out on the streets. But it’s something to be concerned about. Especially if she’s still connected to Magica.”
“She was created by Magica from a shadow,” Mrs. Beakley said. “But Magica’s powers are gone, and Lena appears to still have hers…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Della argued. “She’s a kid.”
“And no one is proposing we throw her out.” Scrooge raised an eyebrow. “What’s your sudden interest?”
“Nothing, I just…” Della sighed. “She didn’t have a choice in any of this, but she still hates herself so much. She doesn’t deserve that. I ran off and did something terrible that had a lasting effect on the lives of everyone I love — I deserve the hate a lot more than she does.”
Scrooge sighed. “No one deserves to be hated. You made a bad choice. Lena was given a bad hand in life. You’re both doing the best you can. And no one is being kicked out of the house.”
Della nodded slowly, crossing her arms. “Okay.” She slid down in her seat, staring at the wall for a long moment. “If Magica ever shows her face, again, I’m going to punch her.”
“You may have to get in line,” Scrooge said, looking out at the moon. “She really did a number on that girl.”
“Imagine fifteen years with that as your only company,” Mrs. Beakley said grimly. “No wonder she’s always miserable.”
“She’s rather good at hiding it, though,” Scrooge said. “And I don’t think there’s a therapist who specializes in being controlled by a witch for fifteen years then trapped in the shadow world for months.”
“With your money, I’m sure you could find one willing to try,” Della pointed out. Scrooge chuckled.
Della went upstairs to look in on the kids before returning to bed. The triplets and Violet were in their sleeping bags, already asleep. Webby and Lena were lying on top of their sleeping bags, Lena curled slightly into Webby, their fingers intertwined. Della smiled softly when she saw the look of utter peace on Lena’s face.
They were all doing the best they could.