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Childhood's End

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The first fourteen years of Lena’s life, or what she remembered of them, were a melange of images and sounds only vaguely flavored with a sense of self. If she left it alone, and didn’t question her memories’ authenticity, they made perfect sense: she was born here, raised by her, went to this or that school, and so on. But, if Lena began to doubt her memories, even a little, it all fell out of sequence -- events and her perceptions of them in time quickly deteriorated, becoming nebulous and nonsensical.

This hadn’t become a problem, and Lena didn’t have cause to question her memories, until recently, when ‘Aunt’ Magica made one final revelation to her niece. Whether it was some posthypnotic suggestion or simply an unsavory truth, Lena came to understand something about her nature and self. It made no difference if Lena really was just a fragment of her aunt’s subconscious, or something else entirely; Magica had complete control over her memories, and her entire ability to remember.

The last thought Magica beamed into Lena’s mind, before her defeat, was that all of her niece’s memories and ideas of selfhood were false, formed and implanted by Magica’s own psyche to instill an untrue sense of identity in her shadow spawn.

While Lena didn’t understand the full extent of it until the so-called ‘shadow war,’ she had long been aware that Magica’s sorcery was powerful enough to alter her memories, and remembered shreds of these ‘mind-control’ experiences that her aunt couldn’t wash away. However, Lena was never able to make sense of it while she was under Magica’s control; her thoughts would become clouded and the entire process would fall apart before any conclusions could be reached. Once she had broken free from Magica, though, Lena finally had the unclouded faculty to remember, and began to piece her ‘life’ back together -- then realized very little of it made any chronological sense.

For once, Aunt Magica might have been telling the truth.

Did she really see that concert in Paris? Did she really dye her hair, or was it always like this? Did she even exist before she met Webby on Ma Beagle’s birthday? Or were all these ‘memories’ just the confabulations of a false mind? A fake person?

Lena buried her face in her pillow, having already tangled herself in a wad of sheets and blankets in an attempt to feel safe. She knew these questions were made of quicksand, but couldn’t stop herself from getting sucked in whenever they appeared. Dwelling on her ‘aunt’ wouldn’t bring any kind of clarity or catharsis; only pain. But she did it anyway.

Magica might have been gone, but was certainly not forgotten. Even if Lena wasn’t just a part of her aunt, anymore, Magica would always be a part of Lena. Her memories might have not been real, but the pain was, definitely. She could tell because it still hurt; all of the abuse and mistreatment echoed through her mind at the slightest provocation. Lena could hear a few stanzas from the wrong poem and be nine years old again, getting assailed with magic for failing to memorize the incantation to a spell. She might see a twig on the side of the road, or even a pencil, and feel the weight of a dozen different wands getting snapped over her head because she didn’t flick them just right.

Maybe Aunt Magica wasn’t gone after all. If Lena could still feel her looking over her shoulder, and still hear all of the belittling insults, and still taste the blood in her mouth, then Magica might as well have never left. If her aunt’s memory lived, didn't she live with it?

Lena threw off the covers and untangled herself from the bedding, scrambling onto her feet. Her room in Scrooge’s Mansion was nice, but she couldn’t be alone in it. She had to go somewhere, and never get there -- just keep moving long enough for these thoughts to lose track of her.

Lena straightened her nightshirt and peeped into the hallway. It was empty. She stepped out of her room, then started walking. No destination, and no plan beyond ‘avoid everyone’. She took corners slowly, checking for signs of life before continuing, and kept her footsteps confined to rugs and carpeting, if she could help it.

With every step, the echoes of her past seemed to quiet, but were never truly silenced.

Trying to focus on anything but her memories of Magica, Lena started to fully appreciate the decor of Manor McDuck. Paintings, all in the same realist style and usually depicting scenes from Scotland’s history, were hung in profusion behind display cases and suits of armor. Lena had decided, though, that after the third hallway nearly identical to the first, her appreciation for the decorations had reached fullest capacity. She needed some fresh air.

A few minutes later, Lena had crept through the winding halls and reached one of the back doors that opened into the gardens. Gingerly wrapping her fingers around the cold brass, she cautiously turned the handle, hoping there wasn’t an alarm system that would start blaring once she opened the door. There wasn’t, and as soon as she felt the chilly blast of night air from outside, she stepped through and closed the door behind her, wincing at how loudly she accidentally did so.

The gardens, glistening with frost and starlight, were beautiful. Even if the interior design was lacking, whoever took the time cultivate the laburnum and weigelia out back was a true artist. Luxuriant vines of violet and golden chains adorned marble statuary that, considering Scrooge’s wealth, may have been originals. But Lena’s ability to appreciate pretty plants diminished along with her body heat, and soon she was huddled against herself, knees turned in and arms folded. Hopefully, the door didn’t lock behind-

“Lena?” Huey was standing just a few feet away on the stone porch, dressed in pajamas and draped in a quilt while he stood at an easel, paintbrush in one hand and palette in the other.

“Here, take my-” he couldn’t finish offering before Lena snatched the quilt off of his shoulders and wrapped herself in it. “You’re welcome.”

It looked as though Huey were painting an impressionist landscape of the garden at night, though with only a rough composition on the canvas. He had stacked a few art manuals on a stone railing and propped one open, to reference for technique.

“What are you doing?” Lena asked, trying to question him before he could question her.

Huey just smirked at her incredulously, instead of giving the obvious answer.

“Okay, smartass, you’re painting,” Lena smirked back. “Tell me why.”

“‘To be awarded the first-class merit badge in painting,’ with gold trim, ‘a junior woodchuck must paint three different landscapes or portraits,’” answered Huey, quoting some regulation as he turned back to the canvas. “I’m hoping they’ll count the gardens at night as a different landscape from the gardens during the day.”

“Why don’t you just paint it from memory?” Lena asked, still trying to control the conversation.

“Because I’m not a serial killer?” he answered, jokingly. Lena distinctly remembered multiple times Scrooge had made Huey use his eidetic memory to impress or entertain someone.

She thought about pressing the issue, but decided to keep it casual in case he pushed back and asked why she was there in the first place.

“You never really struck me as the ‘artsy’ type,” Lena teased, wrapping the quilt a little closer.

“Oh, I didn’t?” Huey began, his tone dripping with playful sarcasm. “After this, I’ll read you some of my poetry. Unless, of course, you aren’t ready to fall in love?”

Lena had to smile. Huey was her favorite out of the triplets, because he was the only one who teased her back. Louie could snark, and Dewey could crack a joke, but only Huey had the wits to banter.

Lena just wished she were in more of a joking mood. A minute or so of silence passed between them, the only sounds being the squealing wind and Huey’s brush slithering across canvas. If he was getting cold, he didn’t mention it. Huey could be stoic, that way.

There were a few cushioned lounge chairs on the opulent patio overlooking the gardens, and Lena curled up onto one close to Huey, to get her feet off the cold stone underfoot.

“Seriously, though, I thought you had a photographic memory,” she piped up, now genuinely curious. “Wouldn’t it be better just to paint inside, instead of out here in the freezing cold?”

“Well, yeah, I could just paint from memory. But even if I’m certain I remember something perfectly, I can’t be certain of my certainty. You know?” Huey switched to a finer brush and flipped to a different page of his open art manual, then started touching up some frost-covered leaves in his painting.

“Memories are just… the echoes of experience,” he continued, “and it’s hard enough to be sure of an experience even while you’re still experiencing it -- so what’s in a memory? It’s better just to stay out here, where I can see it.”

Something clicked for Lena, in her heart, when Huey said that. She wasn’t sure what, exactly, but it made the icy clutch of anxiety melt away from her chest and head. She smiled again, for what felt like the first time.

With a handful of words, mumbled off the top of his head, Huey had pulled Lena out of despondency.

“Besides, the beauty isn’t in the object, but in the artist’s interpretation of it. And it is a choice you make, how to interpret something. No matter what anyone says.” Huey finished, like a magician performing a miracle by accident.

And he didn’t even realize it.

A few more minutes of silence followed, Huey painting and an enamored Lena watching him, his ivory feathers aglow in the serious moonlight.

In this small, quiet moment, Lena finally appreciated something about Huey. He really was different, not just from his brothers, but from everyone. There was something enchanting about him, shown up in every facet of his being; a furtive masculinity, a patrician dignity, and that dreamy, hypnotic look in his eyes. Huey possessed that magical, indescribable quality. She had seen it before, when he gave his little lectures about the history of this, or the science behind that, but she didn’t really grasp the beauty of it until now.

It was something in his soul, a healing radiance that gave and gave and gave but never took back. If Huey lived in the middle ages, they would have sent him into exile for it. Lena had become fascinated by it, and him.

“So, what brought you out here, anyway?” Huey asked, nonchalantly. “Not that I’m complaining about your company, or anything. I enjoy having you here,” he clarified, his tone becoming much softer, almost guilty as he looked back at her.

“It’s cool,” Lena reassured, smiling. Huey was a sweetheart, just like Webby. “I had some trouble falling asleep, so I went for a walk,’ she answered, only realizing she had told him the truth after the fact. She didn’t mind, though. Huey could know.

“Oh, well,” Huey glanced down, then looked back at his painting. “If you ever want to talk about it,” he began, but the same old spiel Lena had heard a hundred times sounded so much more genuine coming from him.

Before he could finish, Lena stood up and stepped over to him. She rewrapped the quilt around her body, then wrapped her body around Huey. She couldn’t stand seeing the cold sap that loving warmth from him, anymore. Huey couldn’t keep it to himself, and if anyone was going to take it from him, it was going to be her.

“Uh, I, um…” Huey stammered, trembling either from the cold or from Lena’s body heat.

“I know,” Lena whispered, low and breathy. “Your feathers are so cold,” she hugged him tighter, pressing her bill down against his cheek, so her hot breath flowed across his neck.

Lena wasn’t sure how long it lasted, standing there, embracing Huey. They were both perfectly still, with only her throbbing heart, his trembling body, and the warm breathing between them betraying any motion at all.

Eventually, Huey picked up one of his brushes and started detailing the statues in his painting, trying to focus on the task at hand rather than acknowledge what was happening. Lena felt herself softly giggle at the idea of it.

“When will you be finished painting?” she asked, hearing a rare sweetness in her own voice.

“I, um, I just have to finish the lighting on the statues, then I can finish the rest tomorrow, I think,” Huey answered, sounding nervous but not displeased.

“Okay,” Lena replied, barely audible, and rested her head against his own. Smiling, she closed her eyes and thoughtlessly savored the sensation of her body melting onto his. It rarely felt right, to her, to so much as touch someone else, let alone hug them; but this felt more than right. This felt good.

A few short, indulgent minutes passed.

“A-alright, I’m finished,” Huey quietly washed and dried his brush, then set it down.

“Mhm,” Lena smiled, not really listening.

“It’s oil, so the paint should be fine to dry out here,” he said.

“Mhm,” Lena didn’t get the hint. It wasn’t until Huey started moving around in her arms that she realized it was time to go inside.

They clumsily waltzed back indoors, Lena unwilling to end the embrace until she was sure it was warm enough for the object of her affection.

Huey turned, and Lena noticed how hard he was blushing once they faced each other. She stifled another giggle, not wanting Huey to think she was laughing at him.

She wondered how easy it would be to make him blush even harder.

“I guess I’ll, uh…” Huey muttered, awkwardly. “Goodni-”

Lena pulled him in by his shoulder and kissed Huey on the cheek.

“Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

“That’s my patrol leader badge. If you’ll notice, the third bar designates me as a senior patrol leader, the highest rank attainable,” Huey explained, cocking his head smugly.

“Woah,” Lena mockingly exclaimed. “That’s really cool, and not sad at all.”

“Thanks. It is cool,” was his reply, deadpan and self-aware.

Lena couldn’t help but smile. She unfolded her arms and stepped over to the bed, where Huey was packing for his Junior Woodchucks camping trip. Glancing over the myriad awards and decorations adorning his uniform, her eyes caught at a merit badge depicting an eye with six rays shining therefrom.

“What’s this one for?” Lena pointed to it.

“I know this trick,” Huey smirked at her, knowingly, “I’ll look down and you’ll flick my bill. Well, not today-”

Lena swatted the coonskin cap off his head, “Seriously, tell me.”

Huey, unsurprised and with little left to lose, looked down to peep the badge she meant, “Oh, that one’s for hypnosis.” He paused, seeming to forget himself, then turned to see where his cap had fallen, “Now, please don’t pinch me when I bend over to pick my hat up.”

“Are you serious?” Lena thought the Woodchucks were just about looking at trees and rocks every other weekend.

“I am. It freaks me out when you do that,” Huey quickly plucked his hat off the floor, one hand guarding his tail.

“I was talking about the badge,” Lena chuckled, lightly. “You dork.”

“Oh, yeah. It’s the third rarest badge awarded, and the gold trim denotes that...” Huey turned up his bill, jokingly smug, “it was awarded with extreme distinction.”

Lena smiled, shaking her head. She sat on the bed and leaned against the massive backpack he was packing, then said, “Okay, L. Ron Hubert. Why don’t you try to hypnotize me?”

“What makes you think I haven’t already?” Huey was in rare form. He put his hat on and waddled over.

“Oh, shut up,” Lena giggled, pushing his shoulder.

“I knew you’d say that,” flirted Huey, putting a folded tarp in his backpack. “Your mind is like putty in my hands.”

Lena laughed again, but a little more softly. The room fell into a beautiful silence, both ducklings smirking coquettishly and stealing glances from each other.

She tried to look in Huey’s eyes, but they darted away like they always do. Lena knew he had trouble with eye contact -- with everyone, not just with her -- but it was different when she looked. He didn’t blush when other people stared.

It could have been worse; for a week after their night in the garden, Huey would turn red whenever Lena so much as entered the room.

“Hey,” Lena said softly, almost whispering, and set a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He cast his gaze to the floor, and she thought she felt him shaking.

“I, uh-... R-really, though, the history of hypnosis is fascinating, and m-mysterious. Most people think Franz Anton Mesmer was the, uh,” Huey rambled, like he always did when Lena tried to make a move. She tried not to be annoyed with him; he was nervous. She was nervous, too, of course, but she had the tools to process it -- and Huey obviously didn’t.

Again, Lena sympathised with him, but it felt good to have this kind of effect on Huey. She didn’t know why. She thought it could have been the feeling of power over someone, but that would be a disgusting way to describe it.

Lena made Huey nervous. It felt good. It meant that he… felt the same way about her that she felt about him. But is nervousness really an indicator of someone’s affection? Huey got nervous about a lot of things, usually because he didn’t like them. And she made him nervous, too?

But he had to be nervous in a good way, about her, didn’t he? If Huey didn’t like this, he would say something, or just tell her to stop. Wouldn’t he?

Slowly, torturously, a tumorous pit of doubt formed in Lena’s stomach as she sat there, watching her trembling little boyfriend mumble and stutter through a lecture. Magica was the farthest thing from her mind, in this moment, and still it happened.

Lena couldn’t ask herself these questions -- she couldn’t even think about them -- and she refused to sit here and let them torment her.

“Which Paracelsus had learned from Heinrich Cornelius Agr-” Huey’s impromptu dissertation ended when Lena put a hand over his bill.

“I know you get off on explaining things, Huey, and I know how you hate getting interrupted,” interrupted Lena, letting go of his bill and taking his sweaty hands in her own. “But…” she struggled to continue. She didn’t know why.

There was a long pause.

“What is it, Lena?” Huey asked, tenderly, and squeezed her hands. He had to have still been anxious, but his concern for her must have overcome it.

Lena looked at Huey, locking eyes with him. He didn’t look away.

Not for a few seconds, anyway. He tried, though, to stare back in her eyes and show that he cared. Whatever was inside him, that urged him to look away and cast down his gaze, he struggled and fought against it, for her. It was a short gesture, and small, and would have been insignificant to anyone watching, but it meant the world to Lena.

“Huey, I…” Lena gently muttered, not even realizing she had done so until afterward. “It’s just that, you’re going to be gone all weekend, and, um... I’m going to miss you,” she explained earnestly, pulling Huey into a hug. He wasn’t shaking, anymore, though.

They lingered in one another’s arms for awhile.

Lena continued, more casually, “And I would like to spend some time with you, before you go, that doesn’t include getting lectured on the history of hypnosis.” She guided Huey onto the bed to sit beside her, still sharing the embrace.

“I understand,” Huey answered, unsure but with a furtive smile on his lips. “I’m going to miss you, too.”

Lena nuzzled her cheek against Huey’s head, ruffling his feathers and skewing his cap. He nuzzled back and, just as she pressed the first kiss onto his cheek, two knocks rapped against the door to his room.

“Huey, sweetie, are you almost finished packing-” Della peeked into the room and, with a look between shock and confusion, tried to ascertain what was being done to her baby boy.

Everyone froze in place, and a few very tense seconds passed.

Lena was the first to see humor in the situation. She felt Huey start to tremble again so, trying not to laugh, hugged him tighter and rubbed his back reassuringly. She stopped when she realized it would only look worse.

“Y-yeah, mom! I’m almost finished,” Huey answered, unable to even look in his mother’s direction.

“Packing?” Della asked without thinking.

“Yeah,” Huey answered.

“O-okay, honey. Well, I’ll be waiting downstairs,” Della sounded just as nervous as her son. “I, uh, I’m just gonna leave this door open.”

“Okay,” Huey still wouldn’t look, and didn’t even move until he was sure his mother had turned down the hallway.

Another pause followed, long enough for Huey to breathe and come down from his anxiety trip, then Lena started laughing.