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Waxwings

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During the final season of the Darkwing Duck show, Jim Starling vividly remembered one scene in episode 4, For Whom The Bombs Blow. After a particularly large explosion that devastates a block of St. Canard, Darkwing is wounded and the noises of the world around him fade into one single, monotonous ring. As he slowly sits up from the rubble, Darkwing can barely register the screams and cries of panic around him among the dust and ruin. Time slows almost to a stop. The heaviness of the scene was used to convey a heightened sense of tragedy, fear, and confusion.

Like right now, for example. Which was funny, because Jim could easily remember filming that scene, but not the circumstances to this very real calamity. He couldn't feel most of his body, but he did feel something warm and wet trickle down his face, turning half his vision red. Two ducks were bent over him, and they looked terrified and worried and...

Why was one of them dressed up as Darkwing Duck? Jim didn't know why, but it angered him a little.

Although Jim only heard that high pitched ringing in his ears, he could make out some of what the two were apparently yelling at him. He was going to be okay. An ambulance was on the way. Everything would be all right. Don't worry. They both seemed so damn concerned, they even had tears in their eyes, and Jim, once more, couldn't understand why.

For some reason, Jim thought, why would they care what happened to him? They should hate him. After all he'd done.

What... had he done?

Why should they be mad at him?

It was all a bit too much, frankly, and Jim just needed a moment to settle his thoughts. Just a second to close his eyes and recompose himself. He never intended on falling asleep, but he saw no reason to fight the exhaustion.

---

Jim had many vivid dreams. Mostly recollections twisted and morphed from his time on the Darkwing Duck show. Reality meeting fantasy, but most of the time they ended up becoming nightmares. Darkwing fought the Fearsome Four but never defeated them; every time he thought he had the upper hand, they were quick to overpower him. They'd grow in size, colossal giants, and squash him like a bug. They'd change shape and become monsters that devoured and swallowed him whole.

Sometimes they even transformed into Darkwing Duck, and those were the more horrifying nightmares, Jim--Darkwing--watching himself tear himself limb from limb while laughing maniacally.

Darkwing Duck was losing control, weakening with every new dream, and Jim couldn't fight it. Wasn't totally aware of his existence outside the role he played in his dreamscapes enough to try. Not that it mattered; even if he were to try and force himself to wake up, his brain wouldn't listen. The dream would continue or change. There was no ending to this tunnel, but he kept running, searching for that infamous light.

"... Darkwing Duck!"

Jim's bloodshot eyes snapped open. The light was blinding, but he refused to stop running. If he did, he would fall through the ground and be sucked back into the darkness. But a voice was calling him, calling Darkwing Duck, and Jim moved entirely by instinct and memory alone as he stood up from the puddle of dark water, fixed his tattered cape, and ripped off the rope binding down his arm. He picked up the spear beside him, blood on his hand. Darkwing slid a foot back, got into attack position as the flashing cube of light drew closer and--

"Jim!"

Jim blinked, and when he next opened his eyes, he knew he was no longer dreaming. This was real--he was awake. And he was standing on a hospital bed, his robe tied around his neck and fashioned into a cape. The spear in his hand was an IV stand, and the warm blood on his arm came from the needle he'd unceremoniously and thoughtlessly ripped out. That cube of light was a boxy TV playing commercials, propped up on the ceiling.

And he wasn't alone. Standing at the foot of his bed was a duck he knew. It took him a minute to recognize those frightened, concerned features, especially without the mask and suit on. Good Lord, was this mallard wearing a sweater vest?

"Jim!" the mallard exclaimed, hands raised and nervously bouncing from one foot to the other, unsure of what to do. "Jim, settle down! You're all right!"

Jim blinked one eye at a time. "Bwuh?" he croaked, voice dry. But hadn't he been summoned? The people were calling his name! Jim looked up at the TV again; a news anchor was discussing Darkwing Duck, how he'd thwarted yet another bank robbery. They showed a security cam photo of Darkwing as he helped a wounded hostage out of the bank.

First of all: this never happened on the show. This wasn't in any episode.

Second of all: that Darkwing Duck was not Darkwing Duck. At least, it wasn't Jim.

Third of all: ... Wait. Hold on.

Jim slowly looked down at the mallard. As it dawned on Jim, so did it dawn on Drake--that was his name, Jim remembered, Drake Mallard. That outfit perfectly matched the one he wore when he and Jim... when they were fighting on the studio set that day.

Drake smiled, embarrassed and red in the cheeks.

"I, uh. I can expla--"

"Mister Starling!"

Three doctors ran into the room, all shocked to see Jim on the bed, wielding an IV stand like a weapon and posed dramatically. "You're awake!" the blonde doctor said. "What happened to your--"

"You!" Jim shrieked, pointing a finger shaking with righteous fury at Drake.

Drake swallowed. "Jim, just calm d--"

With a battle cry, Jim pounced on the younger duck. He meant to pin him down, nice and agile and very Darkwing Duck-like, but as soon as Jim moved, his legs gave out and all he ended up doing was falling clumsily like a sack of bricks on top of Drake instead.

Then, once more, Jim was plunged into darkness.

---

Jim needed a few more minutes to process what he'd just been told. Fortunately, he hadn't been out for very long after trying to feed his fist to Drake Mallard. Unfortunately, he'd been in a coma for three months. Doctors diagnosed him with severe head trauma, which would explain the bandages around his head, with a few minor injuries. His wrist was in a splint and there was a burn scar on his top bill.

Just one last problem.

"What is the last thing you remember before blacking out?"

Jim sat in the hospital bed, back in his robe, IV in his arm. The doctors and his agent sat around him, laptops open in their laps. Drake had left the room.

"... I... remember the fight, but only bits and pieces," Jim explained. He recalled those shards of memories, giving as many details as possible.

"What's the last thing you vividly remember, Mister Starling?"

"Ah. I was on the phone with my agent. He was telling me about a gig I had at a store opening. I told him it sounded stupid, but he insisted I go since I need the money. I remember telling him to 'piss off' because I was trying to cook and dropped a boiling hot burger on my foot. Wait, is that how I got the burn on my bill? I don't remember eating the burger..."

The agent nodded. "That was three days before the signing," he explained. "And, no, Jim. You got the burn from the accident, remember? The doctors just read you the laundry list."

"You don't recall anything after that phone call up to your fight in the movie studio?"

Jim opened his mouth, but didn't speak. He narrowed his eyes, searching his mind. But nothing came up. He felt his chest constrict, his breathing picking up. "No, I... I r-remember some things, but I..." he swallowed, licking his bill. "But I... I just need a few more minutes to think! Ten minutes, fifteen, an hour--no! Four days, tops! Hold on! Wait... No! Okay!"

The blonde doctor stood up, closing her laptop. "That's enough for now," she said. "He's getting stressed out. You should rest, Mister Starling."

"I've been asleep for three whole freakin' months!" Jim snarled as his heart monitor spiked, beeping furiously. "I've done enough resting!"

The doctor placed a hand on his shoulder while another fiddled with his IV. "It's very frustrating, Mister Starling, I understand," she said, "but we need to take this nice and slow. You sustained some serious injuries."

"But I feel fine!" Jim insisted, carelessly tugging and wiggling the IV catheter. The doctor took it from his hand. "I'm fine! It's fine! I'm fine! It's fine, I'm fine."

"You're on some powerful painkillers, Jim," the agent said, standing and fixing his tie. "I'm surprised you're even lucid, what with all the morphine they're pumping into your system."

"Wait. Are we not on the moon? This isn't a moon hospital?"

The doctors looked to the agent. The agent pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. "Nope, that wasn't sarcasm this time," he said. "Trust me, I know the difference."

"I'm Jim Starling," Jim snapped, his head suddenly heavy, "I deserve the best treatment at the best facility. I want a room with a view of Earth. Tell them I can afford it. I'm Batman."

A doctor checked their watch. "He'll be out in three, two--"

Jim's head dropped back onto the pillow, snoring and drooling.

A vulture in a black suit stepped up to Jim's agent. "Maybe that's why he didn't say anything to me," she grumbled.

"No offense, but nobody really enjoys seeing their lawyer."

---

They told Jim everything again. Asked him more questions. This time he could remember more. And this time he was given a new diagnosis: short term memory loss. But his doctors believed he'd regain those lost memories slowly over time. And he remembered enough to know what a fool he had made himself, all the pain he caused. Especially to one person.

"Jim..."

Jim didn't look up from his plate of food, numbly stirring his chunky mashed potatoes. "Didn't think you'd be able to make it," he said. "Given your... busy schedule."

Drake swallowed pensively. He checked down the hall, slowly closing the door.

"There's no cameras in here, if you're worried."

"I'm not," Drake tittered, folding his coat over an arm, "I'm... surprised. That you wanted to see me."

"You should be the last person I want to see," Jim snorted, "I could say the same to you, and yet..." He bent back his spoon, released, catapulting a lump of potatoes at the TV. Drake jumped. "Here you are. And apparently, here you've been the past three months, visiting me a couple times a week. Now... why is that, Drake Mallard? Or should I say," and Jim finally looked up, meeting Drake's wide eyes, "Darkwing Duck?"

Drake swallowed again.

Jim narrowed his eyes. "... You wear sweater vests?"

"Uh, sometimes?"

"Answer my question."

"Well... It's hard to explain," Drake replied, rubbing the back of his neck. He slowly crossed the room, Jim's eyes following like a hawk watching its prey. "But, if you don't mind me changing the subject, I think you want to know more about the... other me."

Jim cocked a brow. "Yeah," he sighed, "that's fair." He flopped back against his mound of pillows. "Y'know, when I first saw that news clip, I thought maybe it was from the movie, but the movie was cancelled. And that's when the chatty nurses filled me in on Darkwing Duck's escapades throughout St. Canard. Stopping evil and serving justice."

Drake sat down in a chair. "Yes. I mean, it's a lot of, ah, stressful work, but... I'm doing my best. I'll only get better over time, I think."

"Who else knows?"

"Mm? Oh, about my secret identity?" Drake laughed, scratching his head feathers. "Er, well... Not many people, thankfully. Launchpad--you remember him, right? Alistair Boorswan, Scrooge McDuck, Ben Willards--Megavolt's actor--and a few other witnesses from that day."

"And no one's said anything, huh?"

"Well, I want to say it's because I asked very nicely," Drake chuckled, but then Jim gave him a deadpan glower and he coughed, "but, no. It's more along the lines of... me having saved their lives. Besides, I think they approve of my work."

Jim snorted. "'Your work...'"

Drake blinked, brows slowly furrowing. "Yes, Mister Starling, my work," he said firmly. That got a slightly surprised look from his bedridden semi-ex hero. "I know you don't want to accept that I'm Darkwing Duck, but I am. I'm actually out on the streets, fighting crime. And it's... It's a lot thanks to you, you know." His head bowed a little. "From what you taught me growing up. From your words of wisdom that helped shape me into who I am today."

Jim twitched, gripping his blanket. "Don't put that on me. I'm tired of being told I give people hope and make all their dreams come true," he scowled, angrily dropping his plate on the floor. "You know how much pressure that puts on me? And it's not even me you oh so love and adore and worship. It's Darkwing Duck. A fictional character. I'm Jim Starling, and I'm the one who tried to... to..."

"Kill me?"

Jim winced. "Well, I wouldn't go that far..."

"You did electrocute me, try to blow me up, dropped a piano on my head..."

"I also saved you from that explosion!"

"Doing so out of the good of your heart or your ego?"

"Maybe it's not as simple as that," Jim grumbled.

Drake looked sad by that remark. "I know," he said, "most things never are."

The room was quiet for a moment.

"I'm not going to tell anyone about your superhero business, so... don't worry."

"Thank you, Jim."

"But I still want to know--"

"--Why I kept visiting you all this time?" Drake interrupted. Jim scowled but nodded. "That is... also complicated. And I've never been particularly articulate when it comes to expressing my feelings, but..." He took a deep breath, sat up straight. "I... It's stupid, I know. And I know you think I'm dumb and naive. But... Well, Launchpad had faith in you. He was able to bring you down, break through to you. He still thought there was a hero inside of you, Jim, and..."

Drake looked down, pausing a moment; when he looked up again, his expression was serious, eyes locking with Jim's and sending a shiver down his spine. "And I do, too. What you did was terrible and you hurt a lot of people, and I'm still upset, but I don't... I don't hate you. I guess I can't. You saved me in the end, even if you did so for the wrong reasons or whatever, but I remember seeing clarity in your eyes. I saw the regret and disgust on your face, the same in the reflection you saw, I imagine. And it..."

Jim waited for him to finish. Drake inhaled. What he said next almost felt heartbreaking.

"You... were my hero. I want to believe you still are."

Jim remained silent. Drake didn't push him.

"Kid."

Drake raised his head, a hopeful gleam in his eyes.

"Never meet your heroes," Jim said, "they'll only disappoint and let you down in the end."

Drake smiled weakly. "Maybe. But, you know... I wanted to make sure you were okay. I didn't want... I really thought you could use..."

"No one else came to see me, I take it," Jim snorted. "The nurses and doctors said you and the fainter were the only ones."

"Launchpad. His name is Launchpad McQuack. And apparently, yes, we were the only ones who visited you."

"Bet I've lost all six of my remaining fans thanks to the incident," Jim grumbled, shrugging. "News must have had a field day with that."

"Er..." Drake scratched at his cheek. "Well... About that."

Jim widened his eyes. "What happened? What'd you say?" His feathers ruffled down his back, afraid, angry.

"We kind of... glossed over the entire thing. Omitted some pretty important details," Drake said, looking guilty, "we said there'd been an accident on set from a prop malfunctioning and exploding."

"That friggin' thing was fully operational! And they call me insane."

"Nobody but those present know you were even there. And we've decided to just keep the truth to ourselves."

"I know it wasn't to protect my pristine image," Jim chortled bitterly. "Possibly... Ah, yes. If the public knew what really happened, some might make connections between a certain actor and a certain crime fighter."

"Yes," Drake said bluntly. "That's why. And, of course, a number of personal reasons. Alistair’s pride, for example."

Jim shook his head. "I'd thank them, but I doubt they want to hear from or see me ever again. Either way, doesn't matter. Scrooge McMoneybags is still squeezing me for cash." He scowled, clawing at the front of his robe. "Ten thousand in property damage. That's nearly half my savings right there."

"So, they told you, huh?" Drake sighed. "I thought they'd wait a little longer, when you were feeling more... level headed."

"My agent told me the day after I woke from my long beauty sleep," Jim explained, giving a loud, dry laugh, "good thing he quit; means I got a little extra pocket change to throw Scrooge's way."

"I mean, you can't really blame him. You did hijack and nearly destroy one of his studios," Drake pressed. "And I suppose your agent neglected to mention that it was through Launchpad's pleading that Scrooge isn't bleeding you of every penny you've got. It's also why he wants to settle this outside of court, too."

Jim blinked. "Fain--Launchpad did that for me?" Drake nodded, and Jim's face twisted up as if he'd eaten something extremely sour. "Why?"

"I told you," Drake smirked, "he's your biggest fan. And you did save him. More or less."

Jim exhaled, staring up at the ceiling. "Knew the guy was a dimwit, but seriously..."

"He's a lot more forgiving than I am," Drake confessed. "But we both know that you... suffered. A lot. It doesn't excuse what you've done. At all. But the doctors said outside all the injuries to your head and body, you had a complete and total mental breakdown. I mean, that much was obvious, but."

"Oh," Jim giggled, "is that what it was? Just another mid-life crisis, you know how it goes. Sometimes we lose our minds and try to hijack a movie production, sometimes we drop our normal lives to dress up and become a crime fighter. Both very, very crazy if you ask me."

"Yeah, maybe," Drake said, still smiling, "but, you know, it's all about getting back up."

Jim winced. "You call this 'getting back up?" he snapped. "Aside from me losing my marbles, aside from the fact I'm only conscious and coherent right now is because they're feeding me a bag of horse tranqs, aside from the fact I'm going to be broke and on the street after I pay off Scrooge, as a bonus, I'm most likely going to see a month’s worth of mandatory time in a psychiatric hospital with maybe a side of community service. Oh, did I mention I lost my apartment and now all my stuff is rotting in a storage unit downtown?"

"Jim, I... Again, I'm not all that eloquent with words," Drake said uneasily, "but you... kind of, sort of, should’ve expected this. I mean, crime and punishment. Besides, they’re saying it’s unlikely you’ll do prison time. You'll get the help you need, and... and you won't be homeless. I won't let that happen."

Jim sneered. "Oh, yeah? Gonna let me rent your couch?"

"Yes."

Jim blinked. Drake blinked.

"... Uh. Well, I mean... It... It all depends on... How things go. And. How you... do. After everything is said and done."

"Now you're just patronizing me," Jim hissed. "But you don't need to worry anymore. I survived. I mean, I guess, depending on how you look at it. But now you don't need to pity-visit me. Move on with your life. Well, lives."

"I know."

"Good."

"... But... I'd still like to visit you while you're here, if that's all right?" Drake fidgeted in his chair. "They say you won't be discharged for another couple weeks."

Jim stared at Drake as if he were a living, talking banana. "Kid, are you out of your nutty nut-sized mind?" he spat. "If I were you, I'd cut me out of your life completely. Shit, I know you're all about mercy and forgiveness, but there's just..." Jim slowly looked away. He stared at his medical bracelet, his name written in chunky black letters. "... There's just no helping some people. Not everything can be forgiven."

"That's really up for me to decide, and Launchpad, too," Drake insisted. "And it's up to you to prove that you're worth being forgiven."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Why would I care? I don't care. Okay? I don't care. I don't care if you love me or hate me or want to keep me in a jar in your closet. You or Lunchbucket. Both of you can piss off forever, that's how little I care," he snapped, folding his arms.

Drake tilted his head, studying Jim.

Jim squirmed, uncomfortable. "What?" he spat, beak pursed.

"I think I'm starting to understand a few things."

"Oh, being cryptic now, are we?" Jim laughed angrily, teeth grinding. He flipped onto his side, turning his back to Drake, throwing the blanket over him. "Go to Hell, I don't care."

Drake stood from his chair, slipping on his coat. "I'll see you next Wednesday," he said, walking to the door. He stopped, looking back at the sulking lump in the bed. "Unless you don't want me to?"

The lump shifted but said nothing.

Drake smiled lopsidedly. "Take care, Jim."

---

Drake did return. And so did Launchpad. When they first met eyes, Launchpad looked like he was about to pass out. He swayed, but Drake held him firmly by the arm, supporting the large bird. Launchpad shook his head, nodded, and the two sat down.

"So, Mister Starling!" Launchpad exclaimed, voice painfully loud and high. "How's the food he--"

"Seriously, you two are crazier than an outhouse rat," Jim growled, though there was no real menace in his voice. Just exhaustion and mild irritation. "Crazier than me even, coming here like we're the best of chums."

Launchpad sat upright, eyes wide and sparkling. "Friends? We're friends?"

Jim glowered at Launchpad a moment, turned his half-lidded stare to Drake. "Really?" he grunted. "Is he on the same shit I'm on?" He pointed to the machine feeding him morphine.

"No, I... I know."

Jim looked back at Launchpad. The larger duck was staring at his feet, a distressed expression on his face. "I guess I just... don't wanna be angry," he continued, fingers digging into his knees, bundling up the fabric. Drake placed a hand on his shoulder. "I don't like being angry, yanno? It's super draining and not fun at all. But I know it's just something you gotta be sometimes. It's healthy that way."

Jim blinked, surprised. "I've got enough anger for all three of us combined," he said.

Drake cleared his throat. "Jim, do you remember what I told you?" he coughed. "About... Scrooge..." His gaze was intense, as if he were expecting Jim to say something.

It took Jim a moment. "Oh. Right," he grumbled, "so... I guess thanks to you, Scrooge is going easy on me. Only taking half my money instead of everything plus my soul."

Launchpad laughed. "Nah. I mean, unless your soul was bound to some magical item, then I think--"

"The trial is set for the fourth, right?" Drake asked.

Jim nodded. "Yeah. That's when I'll be discharged." He ran a hand down his face. "That's when I get put on medication for killer migraines I'm expected to experience most likely every day for the rest of my life."

Launchpad and Drake exchanged looks. "Do you... need a ride?" Launchpad asked, grinning weakly. "To the court?"

Jim squinted. "... Are you offering to chauffeur me to court for an incident where I nearly killed the both of you?"

"Yeah!"

Jim reeled back. "What is it with you?" he demanded. "Why are you--"

"Mister Starling, no offense an' all," Launchpad said, raising a hand, "but you're not the first person who's tried to maim or murder me. I've got enough enemies already. Most by association 'cause of Mr. McDee, but I don't mind."

Drake stood, hands clasped together. "Jim, if we're causing you any distress by being here, then we're both happy to..." Drake paused when he heard a small snicker from Jim, the older duck slumped forward, shoulders trembling.

Launchpad leaned over to Drake. "Should I call the nurse?" he whispered.

Jim threw his head back, cackling.

"... I should probably call the nurse."

"No! Don't call anyone!" Jim laughed, wiping the tears from his glazed eyes. "Just--just--my God, you two-- Are you really asking if you make me uncomfortable? Are you--are you apologizing? To me?" He threw his arms around his belly, guffawing. "Ho-ho-holy shit! Wow! Wow!"

Drake frowned, Launchpad nervously shifting in the chair.

"You two are a riot!" Jim laughed, slapping his knee. He started coughing, then hacking, and then Jim was snarling, grabbing at his head, face twisted up in pain. His heart monitor flashed, beeping rapidly.

"Jim!" Drake cried. He ran to the door, calling down the hall. "Help! My friend's having--"

"I said--don't. Call... anyone!" Jim snarled, tearing into his feathers. "I just-- too much-- Gotta--"

Launchpad stood beside Jim, placing hands on his shoulders. "Hey, hey," he said softly, "just breathe, okay? That helps. Big deep breath, like this." He breathed in, chest puffing up. "Exhale," he wheezed, loudly blowing out air.

Jim followed Launchpad's instructions, breathing alongside him. When Launchpad inhaled, he inhaled; when Launchpad exhaled, he exhaled. Little by little, Jim stopped panting, muscles relaxing. He slowly lowered his hands from his head, tears wetting his feathers.

"Feelin' better there, buddy?" Launchpad asked, carefully patting Jim on the back.

Jim rubbed his lidded eyes with the heel of his palm. "Nn. Yea." He sniffed.

A nurse entered the room, quickly looking over his vitals.

"Mm'fine," Jim grumbled. The nurse took Jim's wrist, checking his pulse. Jim grit his teeth, yanked his arm free. "I said I'm fine!" he barked. Instantly regretted it, a spike of pain lancing the back of his skull. He scowled and laid down, burying his head deep into the pillows.

"We think he just got a little too excited," Drake apologized to the nurse, "over-exerted himself."

The nurse wrinkled his nose. "Well, I'm not boosting his pain meds," he insisted, glaring back at Jim. "So try staying calm, okay? Can you do that for me, sir?" He stormed out.

"Bedside manners suck here," Jim growled, cracking open an eye, "I'm gonna give this shithole one star on Yap! when I get out."

"We really should go. You need to--"

"Don't tell me that. I'm so sick and fuckin' tired of people telling me to rest," Jim scowled, grabbing fistfuls of his blanket. "Like sleeping is gonna fuckin' fix everything wrong with me and undo all my fuck-ups."

Launchpad shrugged, his smile weird and confused. "You're tired of being told... you're tired... huh? Heh..."

Drake gave him a disconcerting look.

Jim sniffed. "Tell me," he said, staring at the ceiling, "are you helping your friend here with his crime fighting? Did he make you his sidekick?"

Launchpad's eyes widened. He knew Jim knew, and Drake explained a few things, but-- "Uh... Well, I do what I can, yeah. I'm still learnin' a lot, though. He does most of the fightin’."

"He's not my sidekick," Drake stated, "he's my partner."

The two smiled sweetly at one another. Jim would have vomited if he saw it.

"Same difference," Jim spat, waving a hand. "You pilot that knock off Thunderquack or does he?" He glanced back at Drake and Launchpad from the corners of his eyes. "Which one of you pilots and which one of you rides along?"

Drake blushed. "Er, he pilots. I don't have a license. I'm afraid I'd just crash the thing." More than usual, he wanted to add, but decided it was best not to.

"And did you build that Thunderquack?" Jim asked Launchpad. "I've heard even idiots can be really, really good at one thing and nothing else."

Launchpad chuckled. "Ah, gee, than-- Wait."

"It looks good."

Launchpad blinked. "Huh? The-- The Thunderquack?"

Jim rolled onto his side.

Drake beamed. "Yeah," he said, touching Launchpad's arm, "he thinks it looks good."

Launchpad's eyes slowly watered, a wide grin on his beak. "Wow... Thanks, Mister Starling," he sniffed. "That... really means a lot. Like, a lot a lot."

"If it wasn't for the dedication and the help of your fanbase, Launchpad wouldn't have found the blueprints," Drake explained. "You'd be surprised just how--"

"Can you two... just go."

"Huh?"

Jim was silent a moment. "I need to rest," he mumbled, pulling the blanket up to his beak. "I'm tired."

"But you--"

Drake shook his head. "We'll go, Jim," he said. "Get some sleep."

"Feel better soon, Mister Starling," Launchpad said, worried.

The two ducks left, quietly whispering to one another. Jim pretended he didn't hear them, face buried in his trembling hands; teeth clenched so hard he could feel that horrible pain budding in the back of his head again.

Jim didn't care.

---

Six days later, Jim was discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health, more or less. His lawyer, Marrow, brought him a change of clothes--the same purple jacket and teal turtleneck from the day of the incident.

Jim found a note from Drake with his and Launchpad's phone numbers; he considered calling them for a brief second before trashing the paper and following Marrow outside. Jim winced at the bright light, quickly shoving on his yellow tinted sunglasses. He kept his head ducked down, squinting against the sunny beams. Jim got into the back of the small car, hand reaching for one of the bottles in his jacket.

"You already took two," Marrow reminded him, fixing her rear view mirror, "you can't take anymore for another four hours, remember? They only gave you so little for now."

Jim glared, withdrew his hand and wiped the sweat from his face.

---

Jim and Marrow arrived at the courthouse twenty minutes later. Jim half-expected a horde of reporters hungrily swarming the court steps, but remembered what Drake said about the cover up. Apparently no one got news of his trial date, however; not even a moderator from one of his few fan forums still updating regularly. The sun was too bright, the skies too clear; Marrow offered him her umbrella for shade.

"Thanks," Jim grumbled, opening the large black umbrella above his head. He felt like he was going to a funeral. Which fit, really.

Marrow picked up her briefcase. "Ready?" she asked.

Jim pushed up his sunglasses. Inhaled, exhaled. "'Fraid I'll be goin' to Hell before you, Marrow," he said and took the lead.

---

The hearing didn't last long. Jim knew what the sentence was going to be anyway.

One month in a psychiatric hospital undergoing mandatory treatment and regular therapy sessions. Once discharged from the hospital, he would be placed on parole for a year where he would be required to call his parole officer once per day to keep them updated on his status. And that's when his business with Scrooge McDuck would begin. When court was adjourned, he was a few thousand short in savings after all the fees were totaled.

"All things considered," Marrow said, shutting her briefcase, "you got off pretty easily."

Jim slumped in his chair, half under the table.

Marrow stared at him vacantly. "No thanks required."

"Considering how much I pay you an hour, yeah, I wouldn't think a 'thank you' is necessary."

"True. But you're welcome, anyway."

---

With only the clothes on his back, Marrow drove Jim to the hospital. He waited in the lobby until the nurses called him. Paperwork to fill out, physical and full body examination including blood work. The staff were nice enough but also distant; helpful without getting too involved. They gave him a medical bracelet, showed him to his room, and left him to get comfortable.

Jim sat down on the edge of the second bed. The first belonged to another patient, who was apparently spending some "quiet time" by himself for a while. It meant the room would be his for at least a day or two. There were two small desks, each with a chair, and a bathroom with a door that didn't lock. The window was thick and barred, covered in a sterile white curtain. Drake peeked outside; the lawn was surrounded by tall wire fencing, patients sitting or walking the grounds, a group playing kick ball.

It was all so... banal. Harmless and dull but quiet. Jim needed the quiet, he supposed. He flopped back on his stiff bed, hands folded over his stomach and staring at the ceiling.

Jim sighed.

"Starling." An orderly knocked on his door--that, too, did not lock, and would remain open at all times. "Time for meds. Group therapy starts in fifteen minutes."

Jim waved him off. He rolled like a lump from the bed, dragging his feet down the hall. There were four other patients, all of them in line. They appeared normal enough, except the beagle with dark eyes and an almost visible rain cloud above his head. After they took their medication, they filed into the large activity room.

The nurse coldly gave him his plastic cup of pills and water. He stared at the three tablets--two white, one pink. The nurse cleared her throat. Jim glowered, staring her right in the eyes as he knocked the pills down dryly. She wagged a finger, and Jim snorted, bitterly leaning forward and opening his mouth. He raised his tongue, moved it around, proved he'd taken the pills. Satisfied, she sent him off.

Jim joined the others in the activity room, plopping down in a chair in the circle. Two patients whispered to one another while looking at him.

"I'm right here," Jim growled.

The blonde duck snarled, standing. "Oh, you wanna fight, asshole?" She raised her fists. "I'm fucking--"

"No fighting, Hennah," the doctor interjected, placing a hand on her shoulder. She reluctantly sat back down, her friend patting her arm. The doctor, a tall stork in a white coat with friendly blue eyes, smiled at Jim. "Welcome, Jim. I'm Mara Bou, the therapist running this group. Before we start today's session, would you like to introduce yourself to the others?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Jim Starling," he grunted. The beagle stared at him, foot twitching. "I'm... an actor. Was an actor." He bowed his head, felt his chest tighten. "I was..."

The raccoon dog beside Hennah bounced to her feet, raising a hand. "I'm Yuki! I used to do theatre in high school!" she exclaimed. "Hiya, Jim!"

Mara shook her head. "What did I tell you about interrupting, Yuki?"

Yuki frowned. “It’s rude.” She sat down slowly.

"Not her fault this guy's so boring," Hennah grumbled.

Jim sneered. "Hennah, huh?" he chortled. "I think we're gonna be the best of friends."

---

For a while, Jim went through the motions. He took his medicine, he attended therapy, he said just enough to satisfy the therapists, both in group and one-on-one. They gave him assignments to do, though they felt more like homework. Once he had to write a page's worth of the things he liked about himself. Jim thought it was stupid and juvenile, but he ended up filling both the front and back of the paper. His pride had suffered a huge blow, but it was always quick to re-inflate.

Although Hennah and Jim's relationship remained heated, to the point where sometimes orderlies and therapists had to intervene, their squawking and squabbling upsetting the other patients. Jim and Hennah both had hot tempers and were quick to offend. He told Mara Hennah's ego was too fragile, she was just too easy to set off. And when the therapist suggested Jim and her may be in the same boat, he went quiet and decided denial was the best approach in response.

It wasn't always boring and dull, however. The food here was actually really good. Jim hated wasting his time just wandering outside, but as the weeks passed, he found it somewhat relaxing, walking the compound. He still refused to interact with the others and take part in group events that weren't mandatory. Jim wasn't here to make friends, and aside from Yuki, who was too friendly and open for her own good, no one cared about him either.

Three times a week they had movie nights. Jim never missed those. Most of the time, they always had some show or movie playing in the background on their outdated TV; something harmless that wouldn't trigger the patients. Easy on the stomach, easy to digest, easy to hold their attention. Jim hadn't noticed that he often idly played with the yarn from the activity box. He thought it was ridiculous and demeaning to ask patients to do fucking arts and crafts, but... Well, it helped keep Jim's anxiety at bay, just mindlessly tying up yarn into a ball that grew day by day.

Jim wanted to request they put on Darkwing Duck, but it was, of course, denied. He knew better, but... Well, no harm in asking. Except there was. But whatever. And while Jim didn't think he was getting much out of this therapy shit aside from good medication, during one private session, everything abruptly changed.

"You know, Jim," Mara said, looking over her files, "I want to talk about you today, if that's all right?"

Jim snorted, melting in the chair adjacent of Mara. "Uh huh. Okay. Didn't realize I had multiple personalities, but hey, lemme just go wake up Jim for you."

"When we talk, a majority of the conversation is in regards to your work and time as Darkwing Duck," Mara explained.

Jim scowled. "One might say it's the only time in my life I ever felt well and truly alive. That dark and sad enough for you, doc?"

"Or, perhaps, you're having a hard time differentiating yourself from the character and who you really are, Jim."

Jim's eyes widened. He sat upright, gripping the armrests. "The Hell does that mean?" he snapped.

"I know more about Darkwing Duck than I know about Jim Starling," Mara said calmly. "And through our sessions, the lines have started to blur."

Jim guffawed. "Please! I know I'm not Darkwing Duck!" He bristled in the chair, grinding his teeth. "S'just... a show. It's not... I know who I am."

"I apologize for upsetting you, Jim."

"You damn well should," Jim growled. "Implying I'm so stupid that I forget my own--my own identity!" He laughed, but his head felt light. His stomach turned with nausea and his hands were shaking. He was just angry, that was all. "Darkwing Duck is-- There's more to me than Darkwing Duck! What happened at the studio was-- I mean, who wouldn't be upset?" Jim knew, however, he'd been more than upset. "I'm Jim! Jim Starling! An actor-- A, a, a-- I've done a lot of stuff outside Dark... Darkwing..."

Mara nodded. "Take your time, Jim. Collect your--"

"Why do you keep saying my name every other sentence?" Jim demanded. "'Do this, Jim.' 'I understand, Jim.' 'I'm gonna blow my brains out from everyone whining all the time, Jim.' Like you forget who... who I am." It dawned on him then, and he nearly tore the leather off the armrests. "No. Don't you fucking dare. Trying to worm your way into my head--" He jumped from the chair, angrily stomping his feet. "I know who I am! I'm Jim Starling! I was Darkwing Duck, yes, but that’s not all I am! I'm a lot more! So much more! More than anyone you or this loony bin could ever understand!"

"Help me to understand then," Mara replied, still so relaxed and demure it made Jim want to rip off her beak.

There was plenty he could talk about, plenty of things outside of Darkwing Duck. He could go into the typical basics: his family. His family was... Well, Jim didn't know his family very well. Shelley and Fischer Starling were both very busy people with very highly demanding jobs. They weren't around often, and when they were, they weren't open or interested in engaging with their son beyond the bar minimum. They didn't hate or dislike him, probably, they just didn't have time to be proper parents and raise a proper family. Sure, his mom was apathetic and domineering and his father was always annoyed with something or other and therefore on edge at almost all times, but they never raised their hands to him.

Jim tried to think of a fond memory with his parents. Maybe a birthday party or something. A time they went out as a family.

... Maybe later. He did have caretakers. Nana Adler, who was a complete door mat and let him do whatever the Hell he wanted. Back then, Jim believed she was simply spineless, but now that he really thought about it... Had she pitied him? Had Nana Adler felt bad that he was but an afterthought to his mother and father? Did she let him get away with everything just so he could feel loved or happy? That couldn't be it.

Strigina Darcy was the complete opposite; he hated her, but for very different reasons. She was over-protective, always lecturing him, especially about the rich Starling history and how all his ancestors were great and powerful people, and she never once let him out of her fucking shadow. Strigina might as well have just kept him in one of those kid leashes, that suffocating old buzzard. And Nana Adler might as well have just taken a nap and watched TV all day while Jim tore up the house.

So family wasn't that interesting. Or lack thereof. It was hard to be bothered by something one never had. It was hard to miss what was never yours.

Friends, then. Jim had many friends growing up. Many of them were children of his family's coworkers and colleagues and he didn't care much for them, but they were technically friends. He had friends in school--why, Jim could smile happily back on the old days when he and his school chums would get into all sorts of trouble. Many fun visits to the principal's office, but hey, that usually got his parents' attention.

Jim had many friends, he just couldn't think of one in specific he actually liked or cared for. A best friend, that was. He had to have one or two of those. When he was working on Darkwing--right, no, couldn't bring that up. Were all those people he rubbed elbows with friends? Sure, why not. Jim wouldn't say he was a selfish person, but he'd never been very interested in the lives of others. He had better investments to make; a friend in need is a friend indeed, and when Jim needed a friend, he used them. When he didn't need a friend, he didn't use them. Use might not be the most kind of words, but it felt the most fitting.

Jim had friends now. His agent was-- no, nevermind, his agent quit. His lawyer-- God no, never. His next door neighbor swung by every once in a while, usually to complain but sometimes he was chatty when he had a few beers in him. But real friends...

Maybe skip the friend thing too. Love--Jim had been in love many times. He even had girlfriends! His first was Kimmy Hoot in fifth grade, but he supposed she didn't count. They were just kids, and the bitch dumped him just because he liked burning bugs with a magnifying glass on clear sunny days.

Jim had a girlfriend in high school--the sex was fantastic. He just wished he could remember her name; he always called her "Oasis". One of those free-spirited types who didn't like to be tied down by relationships and monogamy, the rules and terms laid out by society. Jim could respect that, and often felt the same way. So while their... not-relationship wasn't a very serious one, unlike Kimmy, it had to count for something.

In college, Jim dated a girl he might have even considered proposing to, despite the fact that he never wanted to tie himself down with marriage. It lasted a year; even though they didn't see each other often, and when they did they tended to fight, but hey, opposites attract, they say, and Jessie was his complete opposite. She liked helping at charities, did a lot of volunteer work in her free time, always talked about adopting a kid and living in a nice cozy h-- Wait, did she consider Jim charity work? He was temperamental, self-absorbed, but he was also talented and charming when he wanted to be, what was there to fix?

Jim broke it off with her, not the other way around.

Jim liked to think he was an open minded guy. He experimented with men before, though they were just little flings. He did drugs, but never got addicted. He only drank once in a while. And yeah, maybe he did go through a spell after Da--after the show was cancelled where he just drank and did some drugs, but really, who could blame Jim? Nobody, Goddammit, and it wasn't his fault he'd wound up spending a few nights in jail on a couple occasions. He'd broken some laws, but they weren't that big of a deal. He hadn't killed anyone--a little grievous bodily injury, maybe, but one could recover from that.

If someone came up to you while you were wasting away at a bar and tried to pick a fight, you had every right to defend yourself. Maybe that guy had been the bar owner. Maybe he was trying to get Jim to leave because he was bothering the other customers with his bad attitude and angry lectures. Sue him--and maybe once that did happen, but they settled that little matter out of court.

Kind of like now, actually, with Scrooge McDuck.

Jim felt a headache coming on. It wasn't his fault the best years of his life happened during his time as Darkwing Duck. Everything else that came before and after that wasn't important anyway.

"Before we end today's session, Jim," Mara said, handing Jim a piece of paper, "for tonight's assignment, I want you to write out your future goals. What you hope to do with your life once you've left the hospital and finished your sentence."

Jim snatched up the paper. "I don't have to do these, you know," he snapped. "I just don't have anything better to do, that's all."

Later, after an hour of adding fifty more strands of yarn to his watermelon sized yarn ball, Jim finally sat down at his desk to do his homework.

Future goals, huh?

Most people considered building a family, marrying, settling down. Jim never cared for a family, never wanted kids, and hated settling for anything, let alone a dull life in the suburbs with irritating, nosy neighbors and Sunday BBQs with people you secretly hated but tolerated for your wife and kid's sake.

Jim needed a nagging wife like he needed a hole in the head, and kids were just messy and clingy. Jim didn't mind them as much; he didn't care for them, but he enjoyed the company of his younger fans. He didn't have to raise them, after all. No, a family would only make his problems worse, and increase the amount of migraines he experienced every day to skyrocketing levels.

Jim supposed he wanted to get back into acting. He'd done gigs outside of Darkwing Duck, after all. Few and far in between, but he wouldn't consider himself a wash-up. He'd just need to land a role as big as Darkwing Duck--or one that would at least keep him financially stable. Which he most definitely was not.

Nevermind that. Jim's breakdown would barely have any impact on his acting; Hell, only a handful of people even knew what happened that day. Jim met and knew actors who'd done terrible things, committed crimes worse than him, who still got jobs, who were still in the spotlight, who still had loyal fanbases that would defend their actions despite clearly being in the wrong. One simply needed charisma and good looks--Jim had both, even if he was starting to lose his touch on the former, and some would say balding and wrinkles weren't very attractive for the latter.

Number one: get back into showbiz. Make a big comeback.

And... Well, anything else that came after that would be a bonus. Jim would be happy just working again. To see his face on TV and in the news (for completely positive things). Jim would make the world forget what happened. He fared tougher weather just fine in the past.

That's all that mattered, in the end. Jim being loved and praised. Nothing, absolutely nothing else could give him that same satisfaction and fulfillment in life.

---

"Well, I'll be damned. You two really did come."

Jim watched Drake and Launchpad squirm in their chairs across the table.

"We said we would, if you allowed it," Drake explained. "You did sign off on our visits."

Jim sighed, sitting back. "Suppose I did. So what do you want?"

"Oh, nothin' really," Launchpad chuckled. "How're things? You having fun? It looks like you're having fun." He nodded at the gigantic rainbow yarn ball sitting on the table.

Jim glowered. "Stop staring at my ball."

Launchpad quickly averted his gaze, swallowing.

Jim tried not to smile. These two buffoons... Better than talking to his lawyer over the phone, however.

"Do you mind talking about your time here?" Drake asked, folding his hands on the table. "I mean, if you'd rather not, we understand. But we heard you're doing--"

"When did you two get married?"

Launchpad and Drake looked to one another, surprised.

"P-Pardon?"

Jim reached across the table slowly, tapping the ring on Drake's hand.

"Ah. We didn't think you'd notice," Drake chuckled. "It was last week. A private ceremony."

"But you shoulda seen the cake," Launchpad moaned, rubbing his belly. "I spent the entire night in the bathroom. It was awesome. No regrets."

"And you didn't think to bring me a slice?" Jim groused.

Launchpad bolted upright. "I can go get a cake right--"

Jim couldn't help it. He just had to laugh. It wasn't bitter, it wasn't mocking, it was... genuine. Kind of warm. Jim instantly went silent again, smile set into a deep frown. "And you thought it'd be wise to marry with such... busy and demanding jobs?" he sniffed, a snooty little look on his snooty little beak. "Sounds stupid to me." Also sounded a little familiar, too.

"There are certain benefits to marriage, you know," Drake said, undeterred. "And maybe you do have a point, but we don't regret it." He placed his hand over Launchpad's, and there was that nauseating shared look of love and adoration Jim so hated.

Jim stared at their matching rings, eyelid twitching. "Benefits. Yeah," he grumbled, drumming a finger on the table.

"We don't mean to rush," Drake said, "but have you given any consideration to our offer?"

Jim cocked a brow. "What offer?"

Launchpad grinned, eyes sparkling. "About movin' in with us!"

Jim did a double take. "Oh, you--you were serious? That was serious?" he spat. He laughed, and this time it was meant to be cruel.

"We figured until you get back on your feet and find your own place," Drake explained, nervous. "Unless you have someplace else you can stay?"

"No." The word came out before Jim could even catch it.

"Then... someone who can spare you room?"

Jim ran a hand down his beak, sighing. "Just worry about yourselves, all right? I'm fine. I don't need you, I don't need anyone. I've been alone a long time; I can take care of myself."

The newly weds nodded.

"The offer is still on the table."

"Yeah, well, you can de-table it. I won't need it," Jim grumbled. "So, we finished here?"

Launchpad and Drake exchanged looks again, and with a big smile on his face, Launchpad whipped out a piece of cake on a paper plate. "Surprise!" he exclaimed. Drake beamed, lightly waving his hands in the air. "We did save you a piece of cake!"

"Staff said it was all right, that you can you have it," Drake said, blushing, "you know... if you want it."

Jim stared, bug-eyed, at the piece of cake. It was... purple and black, and he knew why. His heart skipped a beat as he slowly looked up at Drake and Launchpad.

What absolute nerds. A Darkwing Duck themed wedding cake? Not only was it dorky, it was a bit self-indulgent and egotistical, considering Drake's occupation.

"Wow," was all Jim could say.

Launchpad leaned forward and whispered, "It's got blueberry cream in the middle." He winked.

"You probably shouldn't lean forward and whisper things, LP," Drake tittered, looking up at the camera and sitting his partner back. "We won't keep you, Jim, if you want to end this visit early."

Jim... thought about it, but didn't answer. Not right away. "I've got paperwork to do," he said, brushing off his shirt. Another assignment from Mara. "So I need to go anyway."

Drake smiled. "Of course. It was... nice. Seeing you again."

"Yeah!" Launchpad added.

Jim really did not understand these people.

"Would you like us to visit again? Same time next week?" Drake asked, in a way that reminded Jim of a little kid asking their parents if their friend could stay for dinner and maybe a sleepover.

Jim sighed. "I'll think about it."

Launchpad gave a thumbs up.

---

Tonight's assignment from Jim's therapist was to write about his life. Once more, outside of his time as Darkwing Duck.

Jim sat at his desk, tapping the pencil against his beak, sometimes chewing on the eraser. He'd been staring at the paper for ten minutes now. Not that he couldn't think of anything, there was just nothing of note worth writing about. Whatever, so long as Mara was satisfied, it didn't matter; she asked for Jim Starling's life story, so she'd get it, simple and boring as it was.

Jim wrote about his parents. It was two sentences. Always busy and at work. Serious type of people. He was almost compelled to add: Don't know why they got married and had a kid.

Maybe it had something to do with passing along the Starling name. Maybe it was a marriage of convenience. There were benefits to being married, after all. And with a kid, you could find so many reasons to call out of work or excuses for being late and whatnot. Striginia did say the Starling bloodline was important, after all.

Shelley and Fischer had done their part in ensuring the Starling name lived on. It was in Jim's hands now to see where it went next--and right now, he was dragging it through the mud.

Jim mentioned his two caretakers. Nana let me do whatever, Striginia wouldn't let me do anything at all.

Friends? I had friends. I still do. I'm just not big on socializing as I once was. Most of that was a lie, but it wouldn't be the first one he'd told Mara.

Lovers? Partners? Some of those as well. I didn't care for anything long term, so I was happy with what I had. I was seeing someone before I got thrown into this crummy joint. Now that wasn't exactly a lie. He and his dentist flirted like crazy. Did Marrow count? It was nothing romantic or sexual, but they knew each other intimately. Well, she knew him intimately, and only the parts pertaining to her job.

Work? I'm on sabbatical leave.

Goals? See previous assignment.

There. Finished. Jim sat back, reading his paper. It amounted to one whole paragraph. He quietly switched to his sheet of goals, holding them side by side.

Get back into acting, become world's beloved sweetheart once more.

Jim recalled something he said to Mara during their first therapy session. "I mean, I had it, baby, I was walking on the sun," he laughed, giving her the finger guns. His smile wilted. "But, you know. That's physically impossible. Some would say I burned up. Or out."

"Like Icarus, the wolf who flew too close to the sun, only for his wax wings to melt and plummet him back to Earth."

Jim shrugged. "Except I still have wings," he insisted.

"When you walk on the sun all those years, bathed in its light and warmth," Mara said carefully, "and then slowly, the sun begins to set and you find yourself in the dark of night... That can be really jarring, can't it?"

Jim frowned sadly, looking to the floor. "It's like... I'm reaching for it, but I can't grab it. The light's fading, y'know?" he mumbled, nervously bundling his hands together. "And it was right there--my golden opportunity. I could have had it all--back. I could have been walking on the sun and the moon and the stars. A fresh start."

Mara nodded. "Once you've touched the sun, what else is there? What else could possibly compare to that glory and euphoria? That sense of importance?" she asked. "And while it may seem impossible and implausible right now, you can still grab hold of the sun again. You'll find it in other places. Not only within yourself, but those around you. Family, friends; a support circle that you need to bring together instead of push away."

Family? Shelley and Fischer were never what he or anyone else would consider a family, especially a functioning one. Fischer was dead, and he hadn't spoken to his mom since he finished college.

Friends? Whatever "friends" he still had never showed up to check on him at the hospital, never made any phone calls or attempts to reach out. Jim didn't blame them--he wasn't very good at keeping friends. The closer someone is, the more likely you see their flaws, and Jim didn't know why he kept people at arm's length, considering Darkwing Duck had... no...

A support system? Aside from mandatory therapy and medication... Well, he'd have a parole officer who'd check up on him every day when he got out. Jim had enough money to rent a new place--for a few months. At least until he was off parole and people stopped breathing down his neck. Jim already planned on secretly living in the storage where he kept all his belongings if he could no longer hold down rent. He could make due with that until he found a new job as--as--as an actor who rose from the ashes and then--then--

Jim brushed the papers into the air with an angry sweep of his arm. He slammed his elbows into the desk, fingers threading through head feathers and digging into his scalp. He chewed his tongue until he tasted blood. Crying would hurt now, but it would help him sleep later. It always did.

---

Jim was tired, his eyes red and puffy, but he couldn't sleep. His roommate was snoring up a thunderstorm. And although he brushed his teeth, Jim couldn't get the taste of blood out of his mouth.

Jim spotted the slice of cake. He'd knocked it to the floor during his fit. Jim squatted, scooping icing back onto the plate. He intended to throw it away, but after instinctively sucking the frosting off his fingers, once that blueberry cream hit his tongue... Jim stared at the cake a moment before sitting on the floor, quietly eating it with his hand.

It tasted really, really good. Jim decided to eat the cake slow and savor it.

Chapter Text

To be loved was the ultimate dream.

To be hated was the ultimate disappointment.

To fade into mediocrity, to be nothing but a shadow, to never stand out among the crowd was Jim's ultimate nightmare.

---

Mara started today's session with Jim simple enough.

"How are you feeling today, Jim?"

Jim slumped in his chair, massaging his temples. "Tired."

"Tell me about it, please."

"I'm tired. And I don't want to talk about it," Jim confessed. He pulled his legs up to his chest, hugged them. "How many more days do I have left in here? Fifteen?"

"We mustn't stop now, Jim," Mara stated. "So I need you to try talking with me. Anything, really. Like, how did that cake taste? The one you received from the Mallard-McQuacks."

Jim narrowed his eyes. He finally looked up at Mara. "Like I could have my cake," he said, a wry grin on his bill, "and eat it, too."

---

"I'm sorry Launchpad couldn't make it," Drake apologized, carefully and slowly sitting at the table. He winced, minding his right arm in a sling.

"Get that falling down a flight of stairs?" Jim smirked, resting his chin on his hand.

Drake chuckled. "More like a four story rooftop," he said. "Fortunately it isn't broken. Just sprained."

Jim bobbed his head. "Where's your other half anyway?" he asked.

"Currently helping Mr. McDuck with a project," Drake answered, frowning. "I don't know why; they already have a pilot."

Jim grinned, showing his teeth. "Is someone perhaps jealous?" he sneered. "Feeling second best? Old windbag jeopardizing your time with the wife?"

Drake scowled. "That's not it," he insisted. "It's just... LP is my partner, as you know; we keep a hectic schedule. Our job is extremely hazardous. He's always busy these days. I worry he might get sick, run into the ground." He chewed his bottom bill. "While we decided he'd focus solely on our work, he always makes room to help out Mr. McDuck. And the sort of things Mr. McDuck get up to aren't exactly par for the course with an old duck. The extra stress and risks might be... a little too much for him to handle one day."

"Your boy seems attracted to danger and adventure," Jim said, "he might be something of a junkie." He snorted, staring at his fingers drumming on the table. "Suppose he'll say he got that trait from watching Darkwing Duck as a kid with plenty of space to fill between his ears."

Drake smiled crookedly. "I think your work factors into it, but not entirely," he replied. "He's very spirited. I think he was destined for his--our--sort of life." He blushed, a little ashamed. "It's why I have a hard time asking him to take it easy. I'm no better."

Jim sat back. "Starting can be difficult, but once you start running, it's almost impossible to stop. Because when you stop, when you stand still--that's the worst. That moment in between..." He trailed off, gaze drifting through Drake. "The worst."

"But sometimes we need to step back and take a breather," Drake pressed, "before we can get back up and start again. There's nothing wrong in taking baby steps. So long as you're moving forward, right?"

Jim frowned. He looked away. "Doesn't count as moving forward if all you're doing is stumbling," he grumbled, "and walking right toward a dead end."

"You know, you can always scale and climb those walls to get to the other side," Drake said, beaming. "You've done it a few times. Literally."

"What if there's nothing on the other side?"

Jim winced as Drake slowly reached a hand across the table. One finger was bound up in bandages, a pretty sparkly pink bandaide on his thumb.

"Or maybe you just need a helping hand to get you over that fence?" Drake offered, cheeks rosy red. He turned his hand over, inviting.

Jim looked between Drake and his hand. He was shaking, and he didn't know why. Like he'd just been electrocuted. His gaze continued alternating from hand to the younger mallard's face, confused, even a little frightened. Was this a test? What if he failed? Every time he messed up, it always ended very, very poorly for Jim and those around him.

Yet.

Jim raised a hand, fingers twitching. He stared at Drake's, waiting for it to strike like some five-headed cobra, but slowly lowered his hand. His trembling fingers were so close to Drake's, close enough to touch--

Jim withdrew his hand, firmly planted it in his lap. "Yeah, well," he snorted, glazed eyes blinking furiously, "my stunt days are over, remember?"

Drake still smiled, even after the rejection. He pulled back his hand. "Two weeks until you're discharged," he reminded. "I take it you've been making some big improvements?"

Jim scratched the burn scar on his bill. "Maybe they're just waiting to spring the bad news on me for the last day," he grunted, "'surprise, you're still as fucked up as the day you arrived, we're gonna need you to stay another month and wring you like a wet cloth for more money.''

"I dunno about that!" Drake laughed, but it wasn't demeaning. "Expect the worst--"

"--But hope for the best," Jim grumbled, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

---

"This is... quite impressive, Jim."

Mara looked over the yarn ball nearly the same size as the mallard. "Almost an entire month's work," she said. "And so many bright and beautiful colors."

"I'd run out of yarn if I only used one color," Jim snorted, leaning against his massive ball.

"What the Hell are you gonna do with it?" Hennah asked, stepping up beside Mara with Yuki.

"Oh! You could use it like one of those exercise balls!" Yuki giggled. "Or ride on it while rolling down a steep hill!"

"Yuki," Mara said, "that is very dangerous."

Hennah smirked. "Not for Mr. Dangerwing Duck here, right?" she taunted. "Bet the moment you get outta here, you and that ball will just unwind all over again."

Mara raised a hand to the blonde duck. "Hennah, stop antagonizing Jim," she said firmly. "You know you'll spend a day in the private room down the hall if you start another fight."

"No use locking her up in solitude," Jim snorted, grinning at Hennah, "nothing can help this crazy broad--"

Yuki screamed as Hennah shoved Mara aside, decking Jim across the face. Jim fell backward, knocked out of his chair. "I'm crazy?" Hennah screeched, red in the face. "What does that make you? You think you've got it so fuckin' bad--you're just some washed-up wannabe actor!"

"Hennah!" Mara snapped. "Stand down!" Three orderlies quickly ran into the activity room. The beagle curled up under his chair, shaking, Yuki watching on in horror.

"Boohoo! Poor wittle Wimp Stawwing! Nobody wuvs me anymow!" Hennah laughed bitterly, spittle flying from her beak. "Go beg those loser friends of yours to bring you more cake to cry into!"

Jim's eyes widened. He slowly sat up. "What'd you say?"

Orderlies took Hennah by the arms, pulling the cackling, squirming duck back. "Oh, come on! We all heard you moaning and blubbering that night! Pitiful, unloved, unwanted Jim, you're nothing! And you'll always be nothing!"

"That's enough, Hennah! Please take--"

Jim threw the chair out of his way, stormed up to Hennah. "Say that again!" he shrieked, eyes absolutely manic. "Say that again!" Another orderly stepped between the two, forcibly guiding Jim away.

"Poor little Jimmy! Nobody loves you, everybody hates you, best you go eat worms!" Hennah guffawed shrilly as she was dragged out of the room. "Hope your dumb yarn ball keeps you warm at night in the streets, grandpa! 'Cause no one gives a shit what happens to--" The door shut on Hennah before she could finish.

Yuki helped the beagle out from under the chair. "She didn't mean any of that, Jim," she reassured, voice shaky. "Well... Maybe not all of it."

"Yuki, everyone, please return to your rooms."

Jim panted and heaved, fists shaking at his sides, the orderly remaining firmly planted in front of him. The other patients filed out of the activity room. Mara looked back at Jim, frowning sadly. "What Hennah said was cruel and wrong--"

"If I'm suppose to be here for you to fix me, how can I do that when you have shrieking harpies like her constantly on my back?" Jim barked. "Why don't you move her to another ward?"

"It's a matter of space," Mara explained. "But Hennah has every right to be here just as much as you do."

Jim growled. "She's a liability! Dangerous to everyone around her, not just me!" He pointed at the door. "You're just gonna let that freak get away with everything? Think a time out will improve her shitty, disrespectful attitude? She doesn't deserve to be here; she's just some snot-nosed little punk who couldn't make it in the real world and--and..."

Jim's left eyelid twitched and fluttered. It was in that moment he realized what he'd just said.

"Jim? Are you all right, Jim?"

Jim rocked back and forth, eyes rolling in his head. Mara was speaking to him, but he couldn't understand what she was saying. Her face was a swirl of colors. The world was spinning, too. And then everything was ignited in flames, and Jim didn't have the time to scream from the sudden onslaught of pain as he fell to the ground, convulsing.

---

Darkwing Duck woke with a startle, sitting up from the dirty, rain-slicked street.

He panted, sweat wetting his eye mask and the collar of his turtleneck. Darkwing felt his face, pat down his jacket, touched the hat on his head. After a few more gulps of air, he cautiously pushed himself back onto his feet. The world tilted for a second, but with a shake of his head, everything realigned properly again.

"Kee-ripes," Darkwing moaned, "what a nightmare." He looked around the alley, finding his gas gun. Picked it up. "Never wanna go through--"

"Again with the costume?"

Darkwing spun around, raising his gun. His eyes widened at the shadowy figure approaching him. It was Megavolt, but... not. No longer a rat, but rather a tall, white-feathered lady duck.

"Seriously, child," Shelley said coldly, adjusting her coke-bottle goggles, "that is not armor, nor is it a shield. It will not protect you, just as your little fantasy world cannot keep you from facing reality."

Darkwing blinked, gaping. "Shelley? Mother? What--"

"Little Jimmy always with his head in the clouds!" Quackerjack giggled, the tiny bells on his costume jingling as he skipped up beside Shelley. No, this wasn't the real Quackerjack either. The outfit was the same, but his face was all Nana Adler's. "Just like a little balloon! Up, up, and away! But you know what happens to balloons, Jimmy!" Nana held out a doll of Striginia Darcy, a much more daunting replacement of Paddywhack. She thrust a needle into the doll's head. "Pop!"

The Striginia doll exploded, spitting up cotton. Darkwing gasped and recoiled.

The doll immediately collected her guts, grumbling as she sewed herself together again. "And you were always full of hot air, Jim," Striginia-Paddywhack snapped. "Always so full of yourself. You've put the Starling name to shame. Had you only listened to me, you wouldn't have turned out to be such a failure. So narcissistic and vain. You've no reason to be so proud when you've yet to earn anything meaningful in your wretched life!"

"Aww, don't be too hard, Miss Striginia," Nana Adler chided, bopping the doll's head. "Jim's doing his best! Even if his best is riding on his high horse all through town and trampling on everyone else!" She flicked her jester hat, transforming it into a cowboy's hat. "Yeehaw, ya varmint! Ain't you just the hero this li'l town so desperately needs! Or maybe you need it!"

"Nine out of ten ex-friends, ex-colleagues, and relatives agree," Liquidator guffawed, slithering out from a manhole in front of Jim. His watery face morphed into Fischer Starling's. "You're nothing but a big disappointment to everyone around you."

"This..." Darkwing Duck shook his head. "No, you're all--"

"Jim, you need to try a little harder, Jim. Jim, you're so stubborn, why won't you listen to anyone, Jim? Jim, we're only trying to help, Jim."

Darkwing hadn't noticed the vine reaching down and snaking around his throat until it tightened, choking him. Darkwing gagged and kicked, tearing into the floral noose as it slowly lifted him off the ground.

The flowers atop Bushroot's head blossomed into Mara Bou's. "Jim, do you even remember who you are, Jim? Who you really are, Jim?" she purred. "Because you are no hero, Jim. Heroes save people, Jim, but you can't even save yourself, Jim."

Jim gagged, his face turning blue, eyes watering. He reached blindly for his mother, father, his two caretakers watching him, hoping one of them would help. He couldn't breathe, couldn't speak, couldn't beg them to grab his hand.

"Jim, are you even trying to get better, Jim?" Mara tsked. "Jim, can you even change, Jim? You can't help but be who you are, Jim, and I know these things, Jim, I'm a therapist, Jim. I know better than you, Jim; everyone here knows better than you, Jim."

Nana Adler and Striginia cackled. Fischer chortled. Shelley simply grinned--a small one, but it was louder and more deafening than any of their laughter.

Jim seized up in pain, going entirely stiff as something tore from his chest, popping the buttons of his suit as it burst out and expanded. "And what you are is a selfish, egomaniacal, cruel, angry little boy," the growing black mass bubbled and chuckled, its top forming into a head. Crimson red eyes and a smile full of fangs. "But," it said, eyebrows quirking, "that's perfectly fine."

Darkwing gasped as the vine was cut from his neck; he fell to the ground, landing painfully on his rear. When he looked up, Mara had joined the rest of the Fearsome Four. They were cowering, terrified, backing away from Darkwing Duck.

No, not Darkwing...

Darkwing looked back to the shadow towering over him. "Who cares what these morons and hacks have to say? You're so much better than them! Since when did their opinions ever matter?" the shadow laughed darkly. "They gave you nothing, but expected everything from you. They told you to rise to the top, but never lent you a hand. Not like you ever needed one; relying on others is messy and weak. You're much stronger than them, much better without anyone."

The shadow dropped the gas gun in Darkwing's hands. "They wanna make you the bad guy," it snickered beside his head, "but nobody wants to be the villain of their own story, right?" One inky tendril guided Darkwing's finger around the trigger. "So, be the hero, baby! And take out those who would stand in your way. They're the monsters. Darkwing Duck always makes sure the criminals pay!"

The gun shook in Darkwing's hands. He swallowed the large lump in his throat, wide eyes glazed with tears. "I... I don't..." he choked. Their looks of fear tore at his heart. "No, I... I don't wanna hurt-- It wasn't supposed to end like--"

"You didn't care about hurting that little idiot who tried to take away your good name!" the shadow roared. "You didn't care if you maimed or even killed him! What's stopping you now, hero? Come on! Take 'em out!" It shoved Darkwing's head forward, keeping it in place, forcing him to look the frightened Fearsome Four in the eyes.

"N-No, no!" Darkwing cried, trying to shake his head loose. "No, it--it's different! Things aren't... things aren't so easy l-like that..."

The shadow glowered. "These nitwits really got to your head, didn't they? That's a big shame, kiddo," it snorted, "'cause you coulda been somethin' great. Coulda gone so damn far, if you only embraced who you really are." The figure sighed, releasing Darkwing and coiling up in front of him; it took on a new shape, one Darkwing immediately recognized.

The cape, the purple mask, the wide brim hat. It was him.

No. It was his evil clone. The maniac who tried blowing up St. Canard before Darkwing Duck apprehended him. But they never did get that far, and so the two would remain in purgatory, stories unresolved and incomplete.

"Fine then," the evil clone growled, easily plucking the gun from the mallard's hand. He turned it on the four sobbing, quivering villains. "I'll do everything myself."

"Don't!" Darkwing cried, tackling the clone around the waist. The evil twin snarled. "You can't kill them! I don't want to-- This isn't who--" He whimpered. "I was just a-afraid, I didn't-- I didn't want to lose my second chance! I just w-wanted to walk on the sun again, t-that's all!"

"Guess it's harder to deny your demons when you're looking them right in the eyes, 'ey, Jimmy boy?" the clone laughed. He took Darkwing by the cape, yanked him off and threw him into the garbage. "Now just sit back and watch; let me show you how it's done. Trust me, kid, you're gonna thank me later."

Darkwing scrambled and kicked in the pile of black, smelly garbage bags, but every little movement only pulled him under, deeper and deeper. "No! I don't want this!" he gasped, clawing into the air, struggling for purchase, head and body almost completely swallowed. "Stop it! That's not--"

"You're wrong, you foul fiend!"

The clone hissed, whipping back around.

Darkwing went still, and immediately stopped sinking, wide eyes looking down the alley.

"If you knew anything about Darkwing Duck," the emerging figure shouted, "you'd know his message was always about hope!" With a flap of his cape, another Darkwing Duck appeared--younger, his outfit modified, but Darkwing Duck nonetheless. "And although the sun has set, it does not erase all those previous good and glorious days!"

"Figured you'd show up, you annoying twerp," the evil clone spat. "You're always lurking here in our private little St. Canard. Always fighting with me, thinking your pathetic tiny spark is going to extinguish my flames." He cackled, growing to a colossal size. "You're old news, Deadmeat! Your days are over!"

The younger Darkwing Duck smiled sharply. "You're just like that big balloon of hot air," he jeered, cocking his gas gun. "Just one little poke and--"

The evil clone screamed, enveloped in acidic purple gas. "No!" he yelped, rapidly shrinking and melting down. "You can't kill me! I can't die!"

"True," the younger Darkwing said, approaching the writhing puddle, "but I can defeat you. And I'll do it as many times as it takes until you've finally accepted the truth." He kicked the hat off the blubbering blob's head. "I'm here to stay."

"Curse you! This isn't over!" the blob whimpered, swirling 'round and 'round down the sewer drain until he was gone.

The younger Darkwing Duck beamed, turning to his fellow masked mallard in the trash.

"Who... who are you?" Darkwing croaked, flabbergasted.

The younger hero held out a hand. "You know me," he said warmly, "we just haven't talked in ages. You gave me a bit of a make-over, but I've always been here. You know what they say, right?"

Darkwing slowly reached out. The younger duck grabbed his hand firmly, helped pull him from the trash. Darkwing blinked, and suddenly the hand he was holding was much smaller--the other Darkwing was now a little duckling boy with a big, hopeful smile, wearing an oversized wide brim hat, a blanket cape, and Darkwing Duck t-shirt.

"Darkwing Duck always gets back up!" the duckling cheered, pumping a fist.

Darkwing widened his eyes. "I--I do know you," he said. "I met you before. So long ago. You were... in the beginning, you here there. At one of my first signings." Back then, the duckling had been a sobbing mess, he was just so overwhelmed meeting his hero. He even made his mothers cry, and Darkwing couldn't deny that little tear of his own left unshed.

Darkwing knelt before the kid. "It really has been so long," he said, smiling wearily, "way too long."

"That big meanie was wrong, y'know," the duckling reassured. "You aren't all bad. You told me I could be a superhero one day. So you can be a superhero, too! You just gotta do it, right?"

Darkwing chuckled. "I'm not as strong and spirited as I once was. I'm tired, kid, but..." He patted the duckling on his head. "Guess I just gotta keep getting back up."

The duckling laughed joyfully. "Yeah!" He squeezed Darkwing's hand still holding his.

Darkwing squeezed back.

"... Ah, aa--ou, ou, J-Jim, you're--"

Jim sluggishly opened his eyes, momentarily blinded by the egg-shell white light above. He blinked a few times, vision adjusting.

"Jim?"

There he was again. That younger Darkwing Duck, but he wasn't wearing his fancy new costume. He looked surprised and worried, too.

"Jim?" the younger Darkwing asked. "Jim, can you hear me? Are you awake?"

Jim blinked again. He opened his mouth. "Yuh," he coughed, throat as dry as a desert.

The younger Darkwing grinned widely. "Jim! You're awake!" He turned away, shouting for someone, reappearing in Jim's vision a second later. "Thank goodness!"

"What'd I miss?" Another familiar voice, and then another familiar face. "Is he alive st--oh! Oh! He's awake! He's awake! Hey you guys, he's awake!"

Jim winced. This one was a bit too loud. "Where..." His hand twitched--he was holding something, and very tightly too. He looked down. It was the younger Darkwing's hand, which was turning blue and purple.

"S-Squeezing a bit hard, Jim," Drake tittered, eyes watering, "y-you don't gotta let go, j-just loosen up a--"

Jim took back his hand, tucking it under the blanket. "Where... am I?" he rasped.

"Audubon Bay Hospital."

"You had a seizure!" Launchpad shouted. "You almost died!" He wibbled, tears flooding his eyes.

"N-No, LP, he wasn't--you didn't, Jim. You did have a seizure, but no, you weren't going to die," Drake reassured. "Doctors said you might experience episodes like these from time to time. Something got you worked up and stressed out really bad, they said, and that's what triggered it."

Launchpad held his can of Pep! in Jim's face. "You want my soda? Wait, no, probably wouldn't be good to drink soda right now. ... But if you want it--"

A doctor and nurse entered the room. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Mister Starling," the doctor said, checking Jim's vitals. "You had a general seizure. Although it didn't last long, it took a rough toll on your body. You've been out for a little over a day now. Fortunately, you're going to be all right. We're going to keep you another night for observation, but you should be just fine."

"We hooked you up to the good stuff," the nurse giggled, winking. She propped up Jim's head, helping him to drink a cup of water.

"Glad to have you back, Jim," Drake said, and meant it.

Jim snorted, pushing aside the cup. "Shoulda kept me under. Two weeks. Finished hospital stay," he coughed.

"I don't think that'd count," Drake tittered.

The doctor and nurse finished briefing and looking over Jim before leaving. Launchpad sat at the foot of the bed, munching on chips, blissfully smiling and refusing to take his eyes off Jim.

"How long have you been here?" Jim asked.

Drake sat back in his chair. "Not long. Only an hour or so," he answered. "We were really worried. Launchpad almost crashed the car when we heard the news." Although that wasn't much of a shock.

Jim groaned, closing his eyes. "That dumb bitch..."

"Don't get worked up now," Drake said, patting his shoulder. "You just need to--"

"I've met you before, right? When you were just a kid."

Drake widened his eyes, sitting back.

"It was at the St. Canard mall," Jim mumbled, squinting, "in the food court. First season of the show, I did a signing there. And you came. You wore this stupid hat and a blanket as a cape. You just cried and cried like a big baby. Got snot all over my new jacket."

Drake laughed, wiping at his eye. "Y-Yeah! That was me. I sure was crying; I was just so happy to meet you. It was a dream come true," he said. Launchpad smiled at him fondly. "My moms lectured me on the car ride back home, saying I made them cry, too, and in front of Darkwing Duck, no less! Called me super silly, but said I left quite an impression."

Jim sighed. "I forgot for a while. I forgot... a lot of things." How good it felt hugging that little brat and telling him how proud he was of him. How good it made him feel knowing this boy cherished and loved his work and everything he'd done. It made him work harder, really push himself.

And maybe he'd pushed himself a little too far. All sweet fruit rots in the sun over time, he supposed, but it'd been his fault for leaving them out. Taking these things for granted and forgetting...

"LP, what are you doing?"

Jim turned his attention to the larger bird, standing on his chair and beating the ceiling mounted TV. Launchpad glanced between the two, like a child who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Oh, just turnin' on the boob tube," he explained, "they're playin' the Adventures of Prince Leonis: the Hunt for the Platinum Hound on channel 5. Figured we could watch it; you said visitin' hours are open for another two hours." He switched on the TV, punching the buttons. "You guys are gonna love it. It's got everything! Action, adventure, romance, comedy, zombies, singing nuns..."

Drake was going to show Launchpad the remote, but stopped. "I don't think Jim wants to watch movies right now," he said, looking expectantly at Jim. Almost... hopeful, too?

Jim furrowed his brows. He might have turned them down, but it was better than just going back to sleep or counting weird shapes in the ceiling to pass the time. "I'm hungry," Jim huffed, "I'll watch the movie, but one of you needs to go get me a big bowl of pistachio ice cream first."

"What if they don't have pistachio in the hospital kitchen?" Drake asked.

"When's the movie starting, big bird?"

"Uhh, fifteen minutes."

Jim snapped his head back to Drake. "Get in your car, drive to the nearest store, you'll get back probably with a minute to spare. Assuming you go," he paused to glance at his wrist, as if he were wearing a watch and checking the time, "right now."

Drake scrambled out of the chair, rushing out of the room.

"Got it!" Launchpad cheered. "Nice clear image, too!" He went to step down, only to trip over the armrest and land face first on the tiled floor.

Jim just watched Launchpad, sipping his water.

---

Fortunately, there was pistachio ice cream at the hospital kitchen. Drake returned ten minutes later with the ice cream, four drinks, and a freshly nuked, buttery bag of popcorn. Launchpad shut the door (with permission, of course) and switched off the light as Drake handed out everything: two waters for Jim, coffee for himself, and a mystery drink for Launchpad.

"Since you had your two sodas for the day," Drake said, "instead I got yoooou..." He held out the carton of chocolate milk to his partner.

Launchpad beamed. "Yes yes yes!" He took the milk and popcorn and smacked a kiss to the side of Drake's head.

"Please," Jim grumbled into a spoonful of ice cream, "I'm sick enough already."

"Sorry, sorry."

The three settled in to watch the movie. Jim thought the kids would be the type to chat through a film, but they were both very quiet, completely engaged. Launchpad so much so that half the time he missed putting popcorn in his mouth, letting it fall to the ground, totally oblivious.

During commercial breaks, Jim would share a few stories about the film's production. When he was Drake's age, he'd been on the set; at the time he was still a blossoming actor, yet to be discovered. His father's colleague's brother was a producer for the film and allowed him to visit the studio one day.

Jim said the lead actor was actually very quiet off camera and kept to himself. The actress playing his lover, on the other hand, was boisterous and a little over-the-top, but very friendly and warm. Jim passed by her as staff went to fixing her giant gold wig and make-up. The moment she spotted him, a grin split her muzzle, and she took his hand, gave it an enthusiastic shake. She asked who he was, if he was an extra, if he was interested in acting. Jim got to hold one of the prop Platinum Hound statuettes as a special effects artist complained about recent heavy reliance on CGI.

Drake and Launchpad were captivated by his stories, giving him their full attention. Dreamy looks on their faces, full of admiration and awe. Launchpad would ask follow-up questions, but always right before the commercials ended and the movie came back on, leaving them unanswered but quickly forgotten come next break.

Jim never did see the end of the film, however, as he fell asleep a half hour in. Drake and Launchpad didn't leave; they continued watching and munching on popcorn. Drake took Jim's water bottle and empty ice cream bowl off the bed, laying out one of Jim's arms slung over the pillow. Launchpad, sitting on the other side of Jim, pulled up his blanket, tucked it beneath his chin.

Drake and Launchpad resumed watching the movie as nuns sang Prince Leonis a sweet melody about his upcoming doom.

---

Jim woke the next morning. As expected, Drake and Launchpad were gone. After a few more tests and a physical examination, Jim was discharged and returned to the psychiatric hospital.

In less than a week, Jim would finish his time at the hospital. Mara assured him he'd been making great strides, but he was still nervous. After his fight with Hennah, he could be set back for another fifteen days.

Drake and Launchpad hadn't shown up in the couple days since his return. Not that he minded; they were busy, after all. He spoke to his lawyer over the phone about Scrooge's lawsuit and other such business, but that was it.

Six more days until Jim was to be discharged, but today it was Yuki's turn. Jim leaned against the activity room window nearby as Hennah, Mara, an orderly, and six patients wished the tanuki goodbye.

Hennah threw her arms around Yuki, hugging her tightly. Jim could see she was trembling. Yuki returned the embrace, nuzzling the top of the duck's head. "T-They say we c-can't write to each other when we're... That our time h-here shouldn't..." Hennah croaked, standing back. She wiped uselessly at her face, but the tears kept falling. "I don't want-- I don't want this to be the end, Yuki."

Yuki sniffled. "It isn't. I promised we'd remain friends, remember? We'll meet up again! Once you get released, we can throw a party and obaachan can make her famous lemon custard green tea cake I told you about!" she exclaimed.

Hennah laughed weakly. "It still sounds s-so gross."

The two friends hugged each other again, weeping--sad tears, happy tears. Mara placed a hand on Yuki's shoulder and the two let go, drying their eyes. "See you soon, Hen," Yuki said, holding out her pinkie. "I promise!"

Hennah hooked her pinkie around Yuki's, shaking it once.

"Yeah. Same. Now get outta here, doofus."

"Bye everyone!" Yuki said, waving to the other patients and orderlies, half who waved back. She spotted Jim. "Bye, Jim! Be nice to Hennah, okay?"

"Yuki," Hennah scowled.

Jim shrugged and gave her a limp wave. He smiled when she turned to leave.

The day resumed as normal, except Hennah was mostly quiet during group therapy. She barely touched her dinner and was absent for movie night. Jim hadn't really thought much about it. He smirked to himself; if only he had a piece of cake to smear in her hypocritical face right now.

That night, Jim laid in bed, half-asleep. He'd gotten used to his roommate's horrendous snoring. He'd also come to enjoy the nights where an orderly would sit in the hall and play their guitar, singing the patients to sleep. Tonight was an oldie but a goodie, Happy Trails, one Yuki liked and often requested. Jim remembered a night in the middle of his stay, the orderly had to stop playing to tell Yuki, who was singing along, to be quiet and not disturb the others.

Yet even with the buzzing in Jim's ears, his roommate's comically loud snoring, and the guitarist's playing and singing, Jim swore he could hear crying. Next door--where Hennah slept. Where Yuki used to sleep. They were muffled, tiny little whimpers, as Hennah struggled to stifle her sobs.

Jim frowned. He rolled on his side, knees tucked up to his chest, throwing the blanket over his head. Hennah eventually stopped crying, and the orderly was singing a new tune. Jim inhaled, exhaled.

"Happy traaails to you," Jim sung under his breath, closing his eyes, "some trails are happy ones, others are--" He yawned heavily, settled into the mattress, and fell asleep.

---

The weather was crisp and cool, autumn in full swing. Jim decided to go for a walk around the compound, taking in the piles of brown leaves, the gentle breeze. The rest of the ward were sitting bundled up and chatting. The beagle stretched out on the short dead grass, sleeves and pants rolled up, attempting to tan himself.

Jim stopped when he came across Hennah, sitting in her usual corner. Yuki wasn't there, which felt wrong; the two had practically been glued to the hip. Hennah glared up at Jim; he could see the bags under her bloodshot eyes. She nursed a cigarette between two fingers.

"Whatta want, Starling?"

Jim realized he'd been staring. He wanted to tell her to stop bawling so loudly when people were trying to sleep, but he just... didn't feel like it. "I didn't know you smoked," he said, hands tucked in his coat pockets. "You look and sound like a smoker, though."

"I didn't smoke 'cause Yuki didn't like it," Hennah grumbled. The mention of Yuki, however, and her brows twitched. She tried to keep a strong face, but her eyes misted over. "Go away, Starling, I ain't in the mood."

While Hennah was blunt and straightforward about how she ended up in the hospital, what she'd done, her own problems, there was still a lot about her that remained a mystery. It became clear over time that Hennah was either apathetic or aggressive towards others, even her own therapist. But with Yuki she felt comfortable and chatty, always smiling. Yuki was just a big beam of sunshine, and with Hennah's well known trust issues and fear of abandon--

"Sun's nice in this spot, so I'm sitting here," Jim grunted, plopping down a few feet away from Hennah. The blonde duck hissed, but didn't say anything. She wasn't nearly as hostile with Yuki gone; nobody to protect, nobody to show off to, nobody to appear as strong and independent. "If you don't like it, you can fuck off," Jim added.

Hennah still didn't say anything, didn't try to sock him in the face again. She took another drag of her cigarette, exhaling smoke and steam. Jim rested his head against the fence, the warm sunshine lulling him back to sleep.

"Hey."

Jim opened his eyes. Hennah took out the spare cigarette tucked in her hair, held it to Jim. "You need to get a light from one of the orderly's, but... take it. I don't want it."

Jim fidgeted. "I don't smoke. Bad for my body. I gotta keep in shape." He expected Hennah to mock him; why would some old man who wasn't even in showbiz anymore want to keep in shape? But she didn't, just as she didn't take any of the previous openings Jim left her.

Hennah shrugged and slid the cigarette back into her ponytail.

They didn't talk, but they didn't fight, sitting side by side, four feet apart. Jim bathing in the sunshine, Hennah smoking her cigarette.

Jim could bet she, too, was relaxed and yet feeling completely and totally alone.

---

Three more days. Jim woke earlier than usual, took a shower. He wiped the steam from the mirror, mumbling to himself. When he looked up, his eyes widened and he dropped his towel.

Jim leaned up to the mirror, carefully touching the little black feathers around his right eye. An orderly came in to deliver Jim news, shrieking when the duck promptly fainted afterward.

---

Striginia was always telling stories about the Starling family to Jim.

Jim's maternal grandfather, who died shortly before he was born, was a swan. It would explain why his mother looked a little different compared to grandma, who was 100% mallard. Shelley was taller than her husband, her legs a darker shade of orange; her beak was just a tad longer and sharper, and there were black feathers masking her eyes, really making the icy blue pop.

Give or take some wrinkles and a cane, Shelley Starling looked almost identical to the woman she was years ago. That serious, enigmatic frown, those half lidded eyes, that impeccable posture, her straight chin length hair always neatly combed. Some things never changed.

"Jim," Shelley said, hands folded over the diamond orb on her cane.

"Shelley," Jim replied from across the table, mirroring her expression almost perfectly.

"It has been a very long time. You contacted me, asking if I could see you. What is it that you wanted from me?"

"I put in that request the second day I was admitted," Jim said a little bitterly, "and I was still high on my morphine."

"I am here now, am I not? You know I keep a very busy schedule."

"Retirement never did suit you."

"What do you want, Jim? I have a meeting in an hour."

Jim shrugged. "I told you, I was loopy when I sent the request," he snorted. He knew Shelley wasn't impressed with his poor posture and crude talking, even if she didn't show it. "So, seems like you kinda wasted your time, huh?"

Shelley stood from the table. "It seems I have."

"Wait," Jim said suddenly, raising a hand. He winced; fucking stupid idiot. Shelley turned back to him, but didn't sit down. "... Since you're here, we might as well, I dunno... Do that thing parents do with their kids... Ah..." He couldn't think of the word, scratching his head.

"Bond?" Shelley helped.

"Mm, that's way too strong a word."

"We have never been an open, intimate family, Jim," Shelley stated, "you know that. You were comfortable never speaking to me again, and I was comfortable with your decision. Especially after all of this."

Jim's grin twitched. "Y'know, you're lookin' a lot more swan-like now," he said. He pointed at his own black feathers. "In case you haven't noticed. Great timing, by the way."

"The features become more apparent and develop predominantly with age," Shelley explained. "However, as your genetics are only 25% swan, the most that will change will be the plumage around your eyes. Do not expect anything else." She turned on her cane, a fierce tap resonating off the ground. "However, given your current interest in family genes, your questions will eventually pertain to why your father and I had you, and why we were mostly absent from your childhood."

Jim gagged. "God, please. Even I'm not that pathetic."

"Your... surroundings, as they are, have a tendency to heighten your emotions," Shelley said. "You are encouraged to explore yourself and all the complexities therein. It is only natural your upbringing come into question. I will tell you the truth, and it may not be what you want to hear."

"Benefits, convenience, accident," Jim sighed, rolling his eyes, "am I getting any warmer?"

"Progeny," Shelley answered. "To continue the bloodline. Nothing more, nothing less."

Jim laughed. "Oh, yes! Eesh, but I must be a great big failure on that front."

Shelley narrowed her eyes. "Do you wish for me to demean and belittle you? Talk down to you like you are still a child? Perhaps then you might not feel so bad, might get away with your mistakes, as children so often do." She managed to frown even deeper than Jim thought physically possible. "You are an adult, Jim. You are responsible for your own actions. My opinions have no bearing on them. I have done my part, now you shall do yours--whatever path you choose to take. If you believe yourself to be a disappointment, that is all on you. I am not going to hold your hand and reprimand or coddle you. I never have, and I never will."

"Maybe if you actually had any part in my upbringing," Jim snarled, "instead of saddling me with two old biddies--"

"I could have done many things, but I did not, and I cannot. That is the past. You cannot change the past."

Jim's fingers curled into fists. "Isn't--isn't there anything you ever regret about being such an awful mom?" he snapped bluntly.

Shelley tilted her head. "No. Because I do not have the time nor energy to waste on regret and other frivolous nonsense. Had I told you I was sorry, would you forgive me? Considering the mallard you are now, would your pride allow that?" She stepped towards Jim. "Would you feel relief, would you feel loved, would the chip you've carried and built into your own tomb on your shoulder fall apart? Would all your bitterness and resentment simply melt away?" Shelley poked him hard in the leg with her cane. "Or would you use it to lord over me? Would you take my attempt to reconcile with you as me baring my throat in submission to sink your teeth into? Would you find great power in holding me under and watching me flounder?"

Jim's beak worked open and closed. "It--That..."

"It is very intoxicating indeed," Shelley interjected, "having power over others. But you cannot beat love and affection into someone. You make the choice: torment them with fear, or embrace them with love. Or do neither, and let them wallow in your shadow."

Jim blinked his eyes rapidly, shaking. "Something... just something," he swallowed, grinding his teeth.

"Give an inch, take a mile," Shelley sniffed, looking down her narrow beak at her fuming son. "In the end, you are in here not because of me or your late father, but by the choices you made yourself. I will say, however, I wish things would have turned out different for you. You are no longer a young duck, Jim. Your sun is slowly setting. Start looking before you take anymore blind leaps in the future, I suggest."

Jim said nothing, staring at the table.

"I take it we are finished?" Shelley asked. Jim didn't reply, so she continued, "I am not opposed to talking with you again in the future, but if you decide to shut me out once more, I will not fight it." She knocked on the door. "Goodbye, Jim. Take care of yourself."

Shelley was seen out by a nurse. A minute later, an orderly stepped inside to collect Jim. "You okay there, Mister Starling?" she asked.

Jim pushed himself back from the table. "She said my 'sun is setting,'" he grumbled.

The orderly wasn't sure how to respond.

Jim snarled. "That hag doesn't know shit." He shoved past the orderly. "Never did, never will."

---

"Tomorrow I bust outta this joint," Jim said, sitting on the grass against the chain link fence.

Hennah snorted. "Not unless you've won Mara over," she said.

Jim narrowed his eyes. "I told you, I'm an actor," he grunted, "and a damn good one. She's eaten up everything I've fed her."

Hennah shrugged. "Whatever you say."

"You can have my yarn ball."

Hennah raised her head, brows perked. "Wha?" she replied. "That ginormous eye sore?"

Jim grabbed the cigarette from her mouth, took a drag. "Yup," he said, puffing out three perfect rings of smoke.

Hennah eyed the older duck. "Thanks," she mumbled, snatching back her cigarette. “I guess.”

---

That night, Mara had given Jim one last assignment: write down everything he learned during his stay at the hospital.

"I'm impressed with your response, to say the least," Mara said, tapping the paper in her lap with a pen. "Although I can see where you've chosen to gloss over and omit things. There's a little fibbing, too, but the court has cleared your release."

Jim hid his immense relief. "These things take time, don't they, doc?"

Mara nodded. "Of course. Your new therapist and psychiatrist will continue getting you the help you need," she replied. "Speaking of which, you've been doing well with the medicine we've prescribed you. I recommended you continue taking them with some adjustments to the dosage as needed. Your psychiatrist will see to helping you manage everything."

Jim had written just as much in his paper. The medication was great, it kept his headaches at bay, any serious migraines at a minimum, and definitely helped improve his more manic moods. The fatigue, however, he could live without, but he didn't want to deal with Mara and the doctors taking any sort of complaint as a reason he should stay or try different medication.

"Aside from my little tiffs with Hennah," Jim preened, "I've more than proven I'm no threat to myself or anyone else."

“You two do appear to be getting along lately.” Mara smiled kindly. "Continued therapy will do wonders for you in the future." She looked over Jim's file. "Before we get into your future goals and continued treatment, I'd like to ask you a question, as well as give my overall assessment."

Jim fired a pair of fingers guns, clicked tongue to the roof of his mouth.

"The doctor monitoring you at Audubon Bay Hospital sent us copies of your examination, including a page on irregular brain activity suggesting you had something close to a night terror your first day there," Mara explained. Jim's finger guns tipped down. "I would like to know the content of that nightmare, please."

Jim licked his bill. "I... don't remember most of it."

"Jim."

Jim scowled. "A bunch of old faces from the past were pissin' me off and bothering me, that's all," he grumbled, angrily folding his arms. "They said a bunch of garbage and then I woke up."

"I know we already discussed your mother's visit during our last session, but was she among the people heckling you in your dream?"

Jim hesitated to answer. "Shelley Starling doesn't heckle. Teasing and taunting aren't emotions that were uploaded into her robot computer brain."

"I see."

"But yeah. Maybe she... might've been there."

"What did they say to you?"

"I told you, it was just a load of bullshit."

"I think you're avoiding the question, Jim."

Jim sat forward, bristling. "Stop throwing my name around so casual--" He stopped; breathe in, breathe out, sit back. "Sometimes a dream's just a dream. Yeah, yeah, yeah, 'but Jim, it could be a projection of your subconscious attempting to tackle more serious--'" Jim stuck out his tongue, blowing a raspberry. "It wasn't, all right? My brain had just short-circuited, as you recall. That's it."

Mara eyed her patient. "All right. Now allow me to give you my assessment. Is that all right?"

"Shoot." Too frustrated for finger guns this time.

"Jim," Mara said, "I think you suffer from a severe lack of personal identity."

Jim cocked a brow.

"Growing up, you were raised in extremes. Nana gave you free range to do whatever you wanted, while Striginia strictly oppressed and controlled your behavior. Your parents and caretakers never taught you proper and balanced discipline," Mara continued. "You sought attention from the two people who denied you it. Nana would approve and Striginia would disapprove of anything and everything you did. As children are malleable at such a young age, much of their personality is built through interactions. We learn how to evolve and understand our surroundings and the world better--that there is no simple black and white, good or bad."

Jim dragged his fingers down the armrest. "Are you implying I didn't have any friends to help... 'shape' me? I told you I had friends. I had plenty of friends who liked and supported me."

"You were raised much in isolation from your environment and your own lack of social skills. You were never that close to these friends, and you admitted to having caused a lot of trouble--for the attention, mostly. You were simultaneously the center of the universe and yet nowhere in the world."

"If I was some sorta awkward loser as a kid," Jim laughed, spreading his arms, "tell me how I became such a successful actor, loved by millions? I wasn't acting like I was charismatic and naturally talented. I just am."

"Your relationships in the past were all one-sided in how you handled them. You kept everyone at a distance, stuck to those you knew would keep things superficial. And if you felt they weren't giving you exactly what you wanted, and started seeing your flaws, you immediately sabotaged and cut them off. You demand only love and respect, as Nana Adler would tell you, but you cannot and will not let anyone see you for anything but perfect, as Striginia Darcy expected. You need to be in total control."

"And what's wrong with that? With only wanting to be my best self? With only wanting to surround myself with people who appreciate me?" Jim argued.

"Because if you're not in total control," Mara pressed, "you feel completely and utterly powerless and weak. Hostility and intimidation are the only methods which you see fit to keep things in your order. After all, your parents were--are--very powerful people who expected only the best from you. Striginia was the same. Nana was just proof you could get away with how you treated everyone so poorly, but her lack of focus and intervention also failed to provide you with attention you needed."

Jim jumped from his chair. "So you're basically saying you just see me as some possessive, egotistical jackass?" he snarled.

"Please sit down, Jim," Mara said, "and let me finish."

Jim was too close to his discharge date to test Mara and backfire everything. He reluctantly fell back in the chair, tense and glowering.

"I don't think you're a bad person, Jim. I think you just work and only see things in extremes. Darkwing Duck was a power trip fantasy. As you once told me, you could have your cake and eat it, too," Mara resumed. "But I don't think it's just power you seek. It's still that approval; to be loved for who you are. In order for that to happen, you feel you need to be the best, or nothing at all. You want to be loved unconditionally, while placing severe and unreasonable conditions on everyone else. After the show was cancelled, your neurosis only got worse. There, you pushed people away; at your weakest point, your pride was badly wounded, so you went straight for aggression. You became afraid of being irrelevant; once more, you'd be in your parents' and the world's shadows. When you had that second chance at a comeback, being denied the opportunity devastated you to a breaking point."

Jim scratched at his arms under his sleeves. "Are you done yet?" he grumbled.

"Almost. Please bear with me. It is, after all, our last session together," Mara pleaded. Jim nodded once. "Thank you. Jim, I think what you need is to find that balance--a way to both love yourself as well as discipline yourself. A way that keeps things from reaching critical mass, so to speak, and inevitably imploding, even by the smallest of triggers. To avoid another episode like the one at the movie studio."

"Just like a little balloon! Up, up, and away! But you know what happens to balloons, Jimmy!"

"It's okay to reach out and ask for help. It's okay to let go of the past. Your family and Darkwing Duck are not the be-all, end-all of your life. I hope you find peace and solace one day, Jim. I hope you find stability and middle ground. You can still be in the sun without it burning you up. You can find the support and love you need without needing to be in total control and flawless. You can be imperfect." Mara smiled again. "You can still be a hero."

Jim cleared his throat. Sniffed. "Really, all you had to say is 'you were at the very top only to suddenly be thrown violently to the ground and the fallout was too much for you to handle.' That I just 'put up a front' to cover my 'insecurities.'" No finger guns, but plenty of finger quotations.

"Oh, yes. That sudden sharp turn threw your worldview and way of living completely off balance. There are many contributing factors. As you know, nothing is ever quite that simple, is it?"

Jim groaned.

"Thank you for allowing me to speak candidly, Jim. I must admit, I'm only working with what you've told and shown me in just one month's time, and you've much more work ahead of you. At least you have started your journey, and that's very important."

"That's me, always getting back up," Jim mumbled, sinking his chin in his hands, "just like Darkwing Duck."

"Oh, that reminds me," Mara said. "You know what I've said about the Mallard-McQuacks visiting and offering you a place to stay. I suggest you keep your distance. For the sake of your health, getting close to them could get very dangerous."

Jim laughed. "Please. I've no intention of wasting my time with those id--with those two. I know better," he gloated. "I told you, I already have my own place, and Marrow is helping me with the lawsuit." He looked up at Mara, eyes dark and lidded, smug and confident. "I don't need them at all."

---

As Jim expected, the other patients didn't bother personally wishing him goodbye. What he did not expect was Hennah doing just that.

"Don't fuck up again, Starling," Hennah chided, "or else you'll be thrown back into this lousy dump."

Jim smirked. "I never make the same mistakes twice."

"I named it Francis," Hennah murmured.

"What's that?" Jim craned his head back.

"The yarn ball," Hennah groused, blushing, "I named it Francis. It sounds pompous and conceited, just like you."

Jim snorted, peering down his beak at her like a king would a peasant. "I'll allow it."

---

Jim finished all the necessary paperwork. They returned his jacket, sunglasses, wallet, and the umbrella Marrow had lent him. He lingered at the door for a moment; a bit cloudy, but fairly sunny outside. He patted down his pockets--pill bottles still there. Jim looked back at the hospital lobby, the receptionists chatting among themselves.

Jim slid on his sunglasses and stepped outside. The doors thundered when they slid shut behind him, surprising the mallard. He opened the umbrella, ducking beneath its comforting shade. Breathe in, breathe out. A few short steps before Jim settled into a comfortable stride to the curb.

Jim had told Drake and Launchpad he'd be discharged later that afternoon. That'd been a lie; he didn't want them to show up, try to give him a lift home. However, when he called Marrow to pick him up, she told him there'd been a work emergency and she'd be sending a cab instead.

Jim turned, peering up at the third floor of the hospital over top his sunglasses. His former ward. Maybe it was just his imagination, but he thought he heard the muffled sounds of a guitar being played from inside. However, Hennah suddenly appearing at one of the thick, frosted windows and flipping him off was indeed very real.

Jim flipped her back off.

Ten minutes later, a yellow taxi pulled up.

"Jim Starlin, right?" the driver asked.

"Starling."

"Yeah. You?"

Jim squinted. "Yes." He expected the driver to get out, open the door for him; check if he had any luggage to put in the trunk. Instead the driver jerked a thumb over his shoulder and started the meter.

Jim shut the umbrella; a glimpse of sunlight bounced off his glasses, sending a quick, sharp pain through his right eye. He climbed into the back seat, hands atop his umbrella like a cane.

"Your friend gave me your address," the driver grunted, "but, uhh... I didn't catch the last part. Was it 124 or 128?"

Jim blinked. "The... street?"

The driver wrinkled his nose. "Nah, man, your apartment number. Do you not remember your address or somethin'?" He shook his head, looking dubiously at the hospital. "Places like these--probably lobotomized ya, or electro-shock therapy'd your brain."

"My brain was not scrambled, thank you very much," Jim growled, squeezing the umbrella handle, "and if you're insinuating I came here because I'm 'crazy,' you're dead wrong. Do you even know who I am?"

"I didn't say anything, and you already told me you're Jim Starling. Just so you know, the meter is running."

Jim sighed. "Just... drop me off at the front of the apartment complex. I'll figure the rest out on my own."

---

Jim arrived at his new apartment twenty minutes later.

It was... small, and the neighborhood wasn't the safest, but it would make do. Marrow had brought over some of his things out of storage--important paperwork, his bed, plates and cutlery, most of his clothes in bags by the closet, TV, and radio. Other such essential necessities. She left him a couple food items on the counter, and shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and cheap new toothbrush by the bathroom sink.

"There's also a box of miscellaneous items I thought you'd want by your bed," Marrow had told him during their call. "If there's anything else you need, let me know, but I won't be able to pick them up until Friday."

Jim sat at the foot of his bed, rifling through the box. Books, DVDs, a journal he kept securely locked, various chargers, address rolodex, wrist watch, laptop--

Jim stopped, hand lingering above the last object in the box. He was honestly amused; he didn't think Marrow had a sense of humor, but it was fitting it'd be morbid. Jim took out the Darkwing Duck bobble-head. He smacked it, his own voice sneering back at him: "Let's get dangerous!"

"Dangerous, huh?" Jim said blankly. His therapist did advise him to avoid anything triggering and dangerous. His fingers tightened around the toy's neck, ready to crush it.

Old habits die hard.

Jim placed the Darkwing Duck bobble-head on top of his TV, and stared at it in silence for a while.

---

And so Jim's life begun again. Third time's a charm.

Jim called his parole officer once a day at the assigned time; welcomed him when he came for house visits on Saturdays. Attended appointments with his psychiatrist, and resumed therapy. Received a new primary care physician, hand delivering his records and setting up an appointment for a general exam. Took his pills diligently by a very strict schedule. Looked for jobs--simple but paid well enough, nothing related to acting at the moment. Started up the process of his little money matter with Scrooge McDuck. Ate healthy, drank lots of water, bought and tended to a potted plant, went to bed at 9PM and woke up at 6AM.

Avoided neighbors, even when they spoke to or greeted him. Spent free time sitting on his bed, staring at the ceiling or the TV, half the time switched off. Trashed nearly half his contacts in his rolodex. Kept count of the days since he last spoke to and saw Drake and Launchpad. Tried desperately to forget their phone numbers. Accidentally zoned out frequently, once while cooking eggs and setting off the fire alarm. Unknowingly started shutting down in therapy. Frequently had nightmares where he woke up screaming and throwing fists. Noticed just how quiet his apartment was most of the time. Cried a lot. Yelled at himself for crying a lot. Got into heated one-sided arguments about not going to the liquor store and saving money. Neglected his plant until it was withered up, brown, and mushy. Ended up calling one of his old "friends," only to not respond to her three hellos before spending a minute listening to the dial tone. Missed an interview for a job in favor of falling asleep after eating ten cups of caramel flan in the bathtub while the shower ran.

And more recently, received weird and concerned looks from passersby as he sat on a swing in a nearby empty playground at 8:30 at night, drinking from a gallon jug of chocolate milk.

Jim took a shot of his milk. He exhaled, digging his feet into the sand, started swinging. Just barely, but enough to distract him as he watched the ground sway back and forth. Jim hummed along to the music in his head. Happy trails to you, da da da da.

"Hey, old man. You havin' an old man crisis?"

Jim looked across the playground. An orange and cream tabby boy, eleven or twelve, sat on top of the jungle gym, watching the duck curiously.

"I'm not old," Jim spat, "I'm... in my prime." He stopped swinging. "What are you doing out? It's past your curfew. Brush your teeth, go to bed, snuggle up to your doll, dream of cookies and..." He looked at his milk and sighed, ashamed.

"The authority and powers that be don't control me," the kid responded. He climbed down from the jungle gym gracefully. "Also, my mom's asleep and doesn't know I'm out." He walked over to Jim, so casual and unafraid.

"Didn't she teach you not to talk to strangers?"

"We get plenty of weirdos like you hanging around here. Also, you're like, a hundred years old. I could beat your ass with one hand behind my back."

Jim scowled. "Clearly, you don't know who you're talking to," he snapped. "Otherwise you would not challenge Darkwing Duck."

"Darkwing? Is that your name? What an edgelord."

"What does that even mean," Jim hissed.

"Man, you just crawled outta yer mummy's tomb, dude," the kid laughed. "Gotta say, though, never seen a bum drinking milk. There alcohol in it? Gimme a sip, I got like almost a whole dollar in my pocket I can give you."

Jim rolled his eyes. "It's not spiked," he said, taking a drink, "and you're either incredibly naive or incredibly stupid."

"Are you gonna fight me, gramps? Gonna try and kidnap me?" the kid taunted. "Come on. I'll give you a head start." Before Jim could say anything, the boy snickered and waved a hand playfully. "Nah, I'm just playin' with you. You said your name was Darkwing, right? I ain't seen your face anywhere."

"Funny," Jim blanched, "since my face used to be everywhere."

"You some sort of celebrity?"

"Yes." A drink. "No." Another drink. "Maybe." A third drink, and he wiped off his beak. "It's complicated."

The kid shrugged. "Okay, but if like, I got your autograph, how much would it sell for online?"

"Kid, can you just go home? Seriously, isn't your bedtime at 6?" Jim bolted upright, quickly checked his watch. "Dammit." His own curfew was in five minutes, and it'd take at least fifteen to walk home.

"I'm not tired," the kid replied. "Also, my name's Ben. So, you really are famous then?"

"I was under the impression everyone knew about Darkwing Duck. I mean, the other one."

"Yeah, I heard of 'im, but he's mostly St. Canard's guy. Here we got Gizmoduck."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Of course."

"And you can't be that Darkwing. How can you fight? Won't your bones turn to dust?"

"Show some respect, boy," Jim belched. "But no, I'm not that Darkwing Duck. I'm the original. I did a--did a show--you had to have heard about it, especially with the-- Anyway. My hero's name was Darkwing Duck. I fought crime, saved the day, got the hot girls, guns, and gadgets, once ate a bunch of live spiders for a scene where I'm forced to play the villain's game in order to save his hostage, the mayor's granddaughter."

Ben's eyes widened. "You ate live spiders? Really?"

"Oh, yes. But the scene went unaired. Animal rights' people were all up in arms about it."

"But they're spiders."

"I know, right? Who gives a shit about spiders."

"Spiders are dumb."

"Why do we even have spiders? Useless bottom feeders, all the other bugs hate them, say he's a delusional curmudgeon..." Jim trailed off, taking another long drink of his chocolate milk and spilling some on his coat.

Ben shrugged. "Actually, some spiders are pretty wicked lookin'. My friend's sister got bitten by a black widow and almost died. It was so cool," he said. "What kinda spiders did you eat? Were they tarantulas?"

Jim raised a finger, took a deep breath--released it with a spitting wiggle of his tongue. "Go home, kid."

"I wanna know what kind of spiders you ate!" Ben insisted. He sat down in front of Jim in the sand. "Also, did you rescue the lady? Was she hot? Did you guys bang?"

Jim shook his head, eyes squeezed shut. "One, one, one question at a time," he growled. "The spiders were daddy long-legs. There were at least a dozen of them. The director told me they'd show a shot of the spiders, then cut away, and I would be putting a bunch of fake spiders in my mouth. But I'm no coward; the scene needed to feel authentic, really make the audience worry about Darkwing. So I put my hand in the box, scooped some up-- You know what was really gross? Dan throwing up all over the table afterward."

"Who's Dan? The bad guy?"

"The actor. The bad guy's name was Megavolt."

"What'd he do?"

"A lot, but for this particular episode--" Jim paused. "You need the full story to better understand the scenario and plot. It was a three episode arch, after all."

"Is it awesome?"

"Incredibly awesome."

"Okay then, tell me!"

Jim was tempted to kick some sand in the kid's face and make a run for home. However, something about Ben, being so eager to listen, showing just a slight hint of intrigue in his eyes... Jim looked at his milk; his throat was suddenly very dry, tongue clicking against the roof of his mouth.

It couldn't... hurt. Right?

"It started as a normal, average day for Darkwing Duck," Jim started, "which meant he was fighting a gang of drug dealers in possession of experimental alien tech weaponry..."

Jim lost track of the time, retelling the episodes' plot to Ben. Even though both of them should have been at home in bed, neither cared. Jim's head felt light as he recalled certain scenes and poignant dialogue he wrote himself, riding an old high he long missed. The kid was fascinated, occasionally chiming in to ask questions. It reminded the duck of his talk with Drake and Launchpad--not right now at least, but later.

"... And that's how I fit my whole fist," Jim laughed, pulling his sleeve over his right hand, "down his throat."

"Cripes!" Ben gasped. "Is that even possible? Can you show me how?"

Jim narrowed his eyes then beckoned the kid over. "... Lemme see your hand," he ordered, "make a fist."

Ben ran up to Jim, holding out both hands curled up into tight fists. Jim looked and turned them over, humming thoughtfully. "Nn... Yes... Still small enough to fit. Probably could get into a guy's chest cavity, if he's big enough. You would still need to break his jaw first to ensure maximum--"

A motorbike pulled up to the park with a low snarl of its engine, shooting twin beams of light across the playground. "Aw, shit!" Ben gasped, covering his eyes. "It's the fuzz!" He took off in a sprint, almost tripping over a seesaw.

Jim immediately turned away from the lights, a pulse of pain hitting him in the temples. "Wha--huh? The Hell?" he sputtered.

A figure stepped in between the beams, casting an imposing shadow on the sand, hands on hips, cape fluttering--

"Wait. Is that..."

Jim flinched, recognizing the voice instantly. The lights dimmed, and Jim slowly looked back up.

Darkwing Duck stepped forward, blinking, dumbfounded. "Jim?"

Jim dropped his milk jug. "... No?"

Chapter Text

Before starting his patrol that night, Darkwing Duck drove his partner, Launchpad, to Scrooge McDuck's mansion for a very important two day mission.

On the way back to St. Canard, Darkwing intercepted a call about a strange man talking to a little boy on a playground near Audubon Bay. En route to the bridge and already nearby, Darkwing decided to check things out.

Fortunately, nothing sinister was taking place. Unfortunately, Jim Starling was involved. And although the ex-actor wasn't intoxicated or bothering the child, it was still very worrisome for Drake. With a little bit of convincing on his part and a demand on Jim's, Darkwing Duck drove the older mallard to the ocean bay on his Ratcatcher.

"So humiliating," Jim grumbled, yanking off his helmet. He jumped out of the side car as Darkwing dismounted from the bike. "Feel like a stupid--bah!" Jim dropped the helmet in the cab and marched out onto the sand. It was cold by the water, and the sand was stiff under his webbed toes, but he was warm enough and really didn't care.

The waves gently rocked against the shore and few boulders, winds sending ripples across the surface. They were right beside the Audubon Bay Bridge, with a perfect, clear view of St. Canard across the pond. Jim stopped right in front of the water, hands stuffed in his coat pockets, admiring the many city lights.

"She's quite beautiful, isn't she?" Darkwing asked, stepping up beside Jim. His cape flapped lightly in the night breeze.

Jim glanced up at the bridge. "Darkwing's headquarters were in those towers," he said, pointing to aforementioned towers. "Don't suppose yours is as well."

Darkwing shook his head. "No," he smirked, "although we did try, the rent was just way too high."

Jim chortled. He kicked a stone into the water, watched it plop loudly after one skip. He scowled--used to be a lot better than that, even when he wasn't trying.

"It's been a while, Jim," Darkwing said, "how've you been?"

"As well as I can be, given my circumstances," Jim snorted, shrugging.

"I take it you have a place?"

"A hole in the wall to crawl into? Yup."

"You know--"

"I didn't need to call you or Launchpad," Jim interjected, "I didn't need anything from you."

"I wasn't going to ask that," Darkwing replied. "I understand why you'd want to avoid us." He stared out at the water. "Probably for the best we stay our separate ways."

Jim laughed. "And you were so sure we'd be the best of friends once I got out."

"I'm not going to force you into anything, Jim. Especially if you still resent my partner and I."

Jim sighed. "Resentment's... a strong word." But he couldn't deny it, not completely. He was still bitter; who wouldn't be? And for so many more reasons than the obvious. All of which were entirely his own fault and nobody else's. "Besides, you live in St. Canard. I can't go anywhere until my parole's up. By then you'll have forgotten me." Just like the rest of the world had. Jim hated pitying himself, but sometimes his pride needed some sort of pat on the back.

"A little easier said than done, don't you think?" Darkwing replied, smiling weakly. Jim had been his hero for so many years. Jim had also nearly killed him. Hard to forget someone like that, especially when it was the same person who'd done both.

"Where's your other half anyway?"

"Oh! He's spending the weekend at Mr. McDuck's place," Darkwing answered.

"Important work stuff? Gotta fly Scroogey and his gang to a hidden cursed temple of tombs?"

"D&D tonight. Monster movie festival tomorrow."

Jim blanched. "You tellin' me your partner in 'crime' is forgoing his duties to play some stupid board game and watch stupid monster movies?"

Darkwing chuckled, shrugging one shoulder. "It's not stupid; at least not to me. He's been with Scrooge and his family for a long while now. They're important to him. Besides, I told Launchpad I'd be fine without him for a bit. He knows I can take care of myself, and if any emergencies should happen, he knows I'll call him and he'll come right away."

"Guess they had no reason to invite you then," Jim sneered.

"I wouldn't want to intrude anyway. They're fairly nice people. A bit... strange and overwhelming at times, but good people nonetheless."

"Says the duck wearing a cape."

Darkwing laughed. "See? I've got my hands full with my own adventures."

Jim snorted, scratching at the black feathers around his eyes. More had grown in the past few weeks, cupping the outer corner of his right eye, a few more along his left brow. "Best not to get involved. Stuff like that is messy. If you recall, Darkwing Duck avoided any meaningful, deep relationships because they could be used against him."

"I remember," Darkwing said, nodding. "One time he fell in love with a duchess he'd been personally requested to shadow during her visit to St. Canard. Before he could ask for her hand in marriage, she'd been kidnapped by the Fearsome Four to lure him into a trap. She nearly died when Darkwing used his grappling gun to stop her from falling to her doom off a skyscraper."

"Eh, some of the writers wanted her spine to snap," Jim said bluntly, "but that woulda been too dark."

Darkwing winced. "Yeah, I read about that in the first volume of Darkly Duck Tales: Behind the Scenes of the Hit Show, Darkwing Duck. Glad you went with the good end. Well, bittersweet, since the two had to call their relationship off."

"But who knows," Jim said, staring at Darkwing, "maybe one day you'll need to do the same to save your partner, but you'll get the rough draft bad end instead."

"Let's hope it never comes to that," Darkwing retorted, "and make sure I keep practicing and training."

Jim growled. "It doesn't matter how much-- One slip up, kid, and it's over." He roughly poked Darkwing in the shoulder. "It won't be like in the show. It won't just be acting, safety wires, and inflated padding waiting at the bottom."

Darkwing looked at Jim with a critical and determined expression. "I know, Jim," he said, and for some reason, it sent a chill down the older duck's spine. "I know the risks. And over the past four months since I've been active, I've had my fair share of failures. Nothing fatal, thank goodness, but enough to remind me of just how serious and dangerous my job is." He turned his gaze to the twinkling lights of St. Canard. "It keeps me humble and in my place. I can't lose sight of that."

Jim swallowed dryly. "... Pride is... a hero's greatest weakness." He suddenly felt both hot and cold at the same time, scratching at his sleeves. "You get in over your head, start thinking you're invincible, you unknowingly shed all your... armor..." He stared at the sand, didn't notice his watch falling at his feet. "Leaving you... totally vulnerable. Susceptible to..."

Darkwing sighed sadly. "It's scary; one misstep, and you--" He gasped as Jim's coat was suddenly thrown over his face. He pulled it off, wide eyes following Jim, now stripped of all clothing, darting into the dark water. "H-Hey! Jim, what are you doing?" he cried, running into the shallow water. He flinched; it was freezing.

Jim disappeared under the water, reappearing with a gasp. His teeth chattered, feathers all on end and quivering. "M-Maybe n-n-n-not a g-g-g-good idea," he stammered. "B-b-b-but felt r-r-r-right at the t-t-t-time."

"Get out of there, Jim!" Darkwing pleaded. He paced the shore, like a worried puppy.

"It's f-f-f-f-fine," Jim stuttered, slowly easing himself down into the water. "It's getting w-warmer n-n-n-now."

"You're in shock!"

Jim took a deep breath, closed his eyes. Mind over matter, mind over matter. He'd done crazier stunts on the show. He could handle this. And maybe it was shock, maybe it was his body going numb, but Jim no longer felt the biting cold. He stretched out, floating on his back; the stars above matched St. Canard's many lights.

"Ji--"

"The headshrinks say it's all sorts of trauma from my childhood and shit," Jim sighed, bobbing on the water's surface, "but I don't believe 'em. Yeah, yeah, my life wasn't the greatest, and I've always been kind of a jerk... Still, I don't think it goes much deeper than... Icarus."

"Icarus?"

"Ya screw up one time," Jim sniped, "and suddenly you're all messed up in the brain." He pursed his beak. "Admittedly, it was kind of a... big screw up, but I still don't think I have all this garbage they've diagnosed me with. And if you tell me I'm in denial, I'll make you drink salt water 'til you puke."

"I'm no doctor or therapist, but I trust the professionals know what they're talking about."

"If you trust the professionals so much, why would you become a superhero and not just leave the crime fighting to the police?"

"Well..."

"Exactly. Nothin' and no one is perfect. So why can't the professionals be wrong sometimes?" Jim huffed. "I messed up, and now I'm cleaning up after myself. Can't it just be as simple as that? Why does everything have to be so deep or have some bigger, significant explanation or reasoning? Why can't I just be the asshole who got fucked over a barrel and decided to screw the whole system right the shit back?"

"Jim, can you please come out of the water now?"

"So, yes, I did hurt a lot of people during my little accident! And, yes, I did lose my mind temporarily! But it's not because of my past or parents or childhood or-or whatever else they wanna throw at me and really, I think that's just what they're doin', yanno? Throwin' stuff and mental disorders and traumas at me and see which ones stick."

"It's very cold, and you're going to get sick."

"I mean! 'Oh, Jim, you need a support system'! 'Oh, Jim, you desperately crave attention and validation from your peers but you keep pushing them away for fear they'll see your flaws and weaknesses'! 'Oh, Jim, secretly you just want to be loved and praised even if you aren't a big deal like Darkwing Duck'!"

"I'm--Hold on, I'm coming i--"

"I don't need anybody!" Jim snapped before disappearing beneath the water.

Darkwing blinked, fingers at his jacket buttons. He waited a moment. Oxygen bubbles popped at the surface for a few seconds before gradually stopping. The water was still, silent. No movement. It was nearly a minute. Darkwing didn't bother finishing undressing; panicked, he ran into the water, ignoring the weight of his soaked clothes and cape dragging him down.

"Jim!" Darkwing cried. God, why didn't he pull Jim out earlier? He felt sorry for the poor guy, he supposed, but that was no excuse. "Jim!" Darkwing blindly groped under the water, searching for the older duck.

"Gotcha!" Jim guffawed, bursting out from the water like a torpedo. Darkwing's cry was cut off as Jim placed his hands on top of his head, shoved him under. He only intended to push him down and let go, but for a moment, Jim's hands lingered, holding Darkwing there as the younger duck flailed and grabbed at his feath--

Jim stepped back, hands up. He cackled as Darkwing stood, gasping and coughing up water.

"That wasn't funny, Jim!" Darkwing snarled, tugging off his drenched eye mask.

Jim smirked, grabbing Darkwing's hat floating by. "Congrats," he jeered, slapping the heavy wet thing on Darkwing's head, "you've been baptized. I've passed the mantle onto you. You are now officially Darkwing Duck."

Darkwing scowled, pushing back the hat. "Not funny..."

"Always did have a twisted sense of humor," Jim snickered darkly, wading back to dry land. Darkwing followed, bitterly muttering to himself.

Darkwing quickly undressed, wringing streams of water out of his cape and sleeves. "You're lucky I have a spare change of clothes on me," he grunted, but there was no real anger in his voice. He flipped open a compartment on the back of his bike, taking out a new uniform--cape, jacket, mask, and all.

"Colder out here than in the water," Jim grumbled, trembling. He frowned, picking his coat and shirt up--out of the shallow water where they fell. "Well, whatever. On the show, I got hypothermia doing a stunt where I spent almost an hour in below zero degree waters. I might have nearly lost my foot to frostbite, but I just walked it--"

Darkwing tossed his spare cape over Jim. "Here," he said, "dry yourself off with this." He pulled on an undershirt.

Jim took off the cape, held it out in front of him. His heart skipped a beat.

"I don't have anymore dry clothes, unfortunately," Darkwing explained, fixing his mask into place, "but you can wear my jacket."

Jim glanced back at Darkwing. "You don't need them?"

"I don't need the jacket or cape to be Darkwing Duck," Darkwing replied, stuffing both his and Jim's wet clothes in a grocery bag. "Besides, you need to warm up or you'll get sick."

Jim frowned. "Don't need your costume..." He looked at the cape again.

"Here's my ja--"

"Don't need it," Jim grumbled, wrapping the cape around him like a cloak. He tied it around his neck, kept it closed in the front. Still too cold and not completely dry, but it would do.

Darkwing was unconvinced. "Are you sure?"

Jim didn't say anything. He reluctantly climbed into the Ratcatcher's side car, water wetting the seat beneath him. Darkwing handed him his helmet, and for a moment, Jim wanted to refuse. His skull had taken a beating before and proved it was hard enough to survive another. But-- Jim grabbed the helmet and shoved it on.

"I need your address so I can drop you off."

"Yeah."

The Ratcatcher started with a low growl. "But first," Darkwing said, his tone suddenly serious and almost intimidating, "we have an important detour to make."

---

Jim sipped his hot coffee carefully through a straw as Darkwing pulled out of the drive-thru, his own espresso sitting in a cup holder. The coffee definitely helped warm Jim back up; his hands felt toasty through the cape holding his drink.

Jim enjoyed the ride, despite his attempts to remain sour. They drove by the ocean for a short while, Jim admiring the view, before pulling out onto the main road. Although they were both dry now, the coffee keeping them perfectly warm, it was still too chilly by the water to continue the nice scenic route.

There weren't many people out and about in this part of the city. It was too dangerous at night during these hours. The few people on the streets immediately slipped into the shadows and alleys when they saw Darkwing Duck drive by.

Darkwing parked the Ratcatcher in the back street behind Jim's apartment complex. Jim got out of the side car, leaving the cape and helmet as Darkwing fetched his wet clothes.

"You don't need to escort me," Jim said.

"No, but I'd like to."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay, mom." He went to leave, but Darkwing stopped him, insisting he at least put on his coat. Like the rest of this dump, no one would be outside, so no one would see him, but Darkwing Duck just had to lecture him about why public nudity was wrong and yadda yadda.

"It's only for a minute."

"If I catch anything, you're to blame."

Jim headed up to his apartment in his dripping coat, half-empty cup of coffee in hand, St. Canard's resident hero Darkwing Duck tailing him and sipping on his espresso. As expected, it was dead silent, not a soul around.

"You didn't bring your wallet?" Darkwing asked.

"I only went out to get some milk. Just brought some cash and my keys," Jim replied, fishing his wet keys from his pocket. "Good thing I left my phone behind, too. Don't have the money to buy a new one."

"You should keep your phone on you at all times," Darkwing pressed. "In case of emergencies. What if you got hurt? Or mugged?"

"Got change. There was a pay phone nearby. Case closed." Jim turned the corner, apartment up ahead. "Besides, if anyone tried robbing from me, I'd jujitsu their asses into--" He stopped just one door away, eyes wide.

Darkwing lowered his cup from his beak. "What is it?"

Jim slowly pointed at his door--unlocked and half-open. "Uhh."

Darkwing spit up coffee, dropping his drink. He whipped out his gas gun. "Stay here," he ordered, placing a hand on Jim's shoulder and walking ahead. "Let me check, see if it's clear."

Jim nodded numbly. He would have just told Darkwing to fuck off, he could handle this himself, but he couldn't think. Dread swelled in his chest, blood rushing from his face. Darkwing went ahead cautiously; he peered into the apartment from behind the door. Disappeared inside with a flip, gun cocked. It was quiet for a few minutes, but Jim couldn't hear anything but the low persistent ringing in his ears, the thundering thump-thump of his heart pounding in his head.

Jim's feet moved on their own. It wasn't until he was standing in his kitchenette by the door he realized he was even inside. It took another minute for him to process what he was looking at. All the cupboard doors and drawers were open or ripped out, broken plates, cutlery, and various food items scattered on the floor. The radio he kept by the fridge was missing.

"Jim," Darkwing scowled, "I told you to wait outside!" He ran up to Jim, taking his arm and tugging him back to the door. "Come on. You need to--"

"It's fine," Jim interrupted mechanically. As if he were on auto-pilot. Despite Darkwing's protests, he pulled his arm free and stumbled into his bedroom. It was an even bigger mess; the TV was gone, as well as his wallet and phone where he'd left them. The dresser drawer he kept his laptop and chargers inside was open and empty. Not a single pill bottle in sight.

The mattress had been flipped over and gutted, as if the robbers were searching for any hidden money. And they found it--only it was taped to the bottom of Jim's pillow beneath two cases.

What hadn't been stolen was left discarded on the floor, thrown and tossed around carelessly. Jim walked to the single window; his dead plant had been knocked over, pot shattered on a pile of dried dirt. Jim immediately felt the sting of something jabbing into his foot, followed by a crunch and slurred: "Let's get dangerrrrr..."

Jim blinked, lifting his foot. It was the Darkwing Duck bobble-head, its head snapped off and crushed from Jim stepping on it.

"Don't touch anything, Jim, please," Darkwing pleaded. "We don't want to contaminate the crime scene and spoil any evidence. I'm going to speak to your neighbor, ask if they heard or saw anything."

"Don't bother," Jim murmured. His neighbor wouldn't tell him anything; he wouldn't risk sticking his neck out, didn't want to get involved in other people's messes. Everyone was like that here; at first, Jim admired it. He was the same. Out of sight, out of mind, and so long as he wasn't the one in trouble, it didn't concern him.

Darkwing Duck went ahead anyway. Jim picked up the pieces of the old Darkwing bobble-head--probably no fingerprints, probably just thrown aside by accident. Probably wasn't even noticed.

Jim heard a thunk from outside the window. The feathers along his back spiked, head whipping up, eyes wide. He dropped the broken toy, peered out the window. Someone was watching from the dumpster three floors below; as soon as they were spotted, they quickly took off down the alley.

Jim didn't think. He hadn't really been thinking for the past ten minutes. He just opened the window, nearly shattering the glass, and stepped onto the edge. "Stop, you scum!" he bellowed, throwing his arms back as if he were holding up his cape--only this time just to throw off his coat.

Jim leaped from the window with a battle cry. He landed too short from the ground, smashing his hip against the corner of the dumpster and falling with a splat face first onto the cement instead.

Darkwing suddenly appeared at the window. "What are you doing?" he cried, grabbing at his hat in frustration.

"Guh," Jim grunted, wincing as he rolled onto his back. He held his aching hip. "Bad guy... away..."

Darkwing glanced down the street. The figure had stopped to look back at Jim before racing off. Darkwing cursed and jumped out the window. Gracefully on his feet with a mighty flap of his cape; he whipped out his gun, fired. The grappling hook shot out like a bullet, rope whipping in the air; it just barely managed to snag the fleeing shadow by the ankle, dropping them to the ground.

Darkwing knelt beside Jim, checking him for wounds. "Are you all right?" he asked, concerned. "Are you hurt anywhere?"

Jim ground his teeth. "No," he insisted, kneading his hip, "I'm perfectly fine."

---

"As you can see, his hip's almost completely shattered."

Drake winced, a grave look on his face as he studied the x-ray photos. "Will he be able to walk again?" he asked nervously.

"Although we cannot say right now, I do believe with proper rehab, he should be able to walk again without aid in the future," the doctor explained, tapping the photos on the screen. "We've got him in surgery right now. It'll take a few hours, I'm afraid, so it's best you leave and we'll call you when he's fit to see visitors."

Drake was wary. "And you've... told Jim the news already?"

"Just before we wheeled him into the OR, y--"

"Doctor!" A nurse came scrambling into the room, panting, hair falling out of her bun. "The patient suddenly jumped out of the bed before we could administer the anaesthetic and-and he's got one of the surgeons in a headlock!"

"What?" the doctor exclaimed. "How? He shouldn't even be able to move with those injuries!"

Drake moaned, dropping his face in his hands.

----

"I want a punch card," Jim groused, picking at a loose string on his blanket, "for every time I go to the hospital this year. Fifth--fourth? Shit, that should warrant a free coffee and doughnut." He looked up, baggy eyes narrowed. "I want a doughnut. Heckle, Jeckle, get me a doughnut."

Drake frowned. "You have lunch here, Jim," he said, pointing at the tray of jello, chicken, and peas on the table beside the hospital bed.

Jim sat back, surprised. Glowered. He reached over, slowly pushed then abruptly shoved the tray off the table. Drake squeaked, catching the tray before it could flip and spill on the floor. A few peas rolled across the tile, Launchpad stepping on one as he walked into the room. He shrieked at the wet sensation, recoiling and falling into the hall.

"You!" Jim shouted in a strained, high pitched voice over Drake's head, "get! Me! A! Doughnut!"

"You don't need a doughnut, Jim," Drake insisted. He took Jim's hands away from the stray string before he could put it in his mouth. "Please, at least have a bite of the chicken."

Jim looked at Drake, paling. "That's cannibalism."

Launchpad recomposed himself, walking inside. "I can go get him a doughnut, DW," he said quietly. "We're next to the mess hall."

"No, he needs to eat something with sustenance," Drake stated.

"Look at this!" Jim snarled, whipping back his blanket and showing his cast. It started at the middle of his torso, splitting off down his right leg, ending at his foot. "You see this?" He shook his head, eyes bulging. "Shit."

Whatever sedative they had Jim on made him incredibly loopy. Drake wondered if he and Launchpad should even be visiting while he was in such a heavily drugged state. It felt like the right thing to do, however; after all, the only other people to visit had been his lawyer, parole officer, and a couple cops. They never did find the people who had robbed Jim's apartment; unfortunately, the culprits had emptied his bank accounts before they could cancel his cards. And with Jim's pillow cash taken too, the mallard was completely, utterly broke.

"And that ain't the only thing that's broke," Jim had told his lawyer; he pointed at his cast, then gave her finger guns, grinning wide. "Eeeeyyyyy!"

The man Darkwing had caught running from the scene had been dumpster diving. He hadn't seen anything, but when Jim looked at him from the window, he got scared and fled. Darkwing Duck appearing frightened him even more. Darkwing knew the man wasn't in complete control of all his mental faculties, but he was telling the truth. Darkwing had him stay to talk to the police, however, but also gave him some money and snacks he kept on his bike.

It'd been three days since then. The surgery had gone well. The doctors were confident Jim would regain complete mobility with a few months of rehab. Until then, he'd need to use a wheelchair before graduating to a cane or crutches.

"Do you want my autograph?" Jim asked, twirling a marker between his fingers. "Sure thing, kid. New fan, are you? About thirteen, I'm guessing. Always like seeing fresh faces." He scribbled Stim Jarling in messy, disjointed letters down his leg. "There you go, kid. Bingo. Next!"

Launchpad sheepishly raised a hand. "Uh... Can I sign your cast, Mister Starling?"

"You sure can, sugar babe." Jim winked.

Launchpad blushed, taking the marker. His hand shook as he wrote both his name and initials. Since Jim wasn't complaining, he added a little, "Get better soon! Love you." And a messy doodle of an airplane.

"Are you an artist?" Jim gaped. "Hot damn! Can you draw me next?"

"Sure thing!"

"How about you eat while LP draws your portrait?" Drake suggested, holding out a spoonful of peas. Jim slapped it out of his hands, and Drake sighed. "Jim, please."

"I had a dream," Jim breathed, coughed, breathed again. "I had a dream, and you were in it." He pointed at Drake. "And you were in it." He pointed at Launchpad. "And you were in it." He pointed at himself. "And there was this--this other guy. He was an asshole. He kept yelling at me. He was super pissed off. But mostly at you two. He said I should punch you both. Or bury you alive. Not sure which."

Drake swallowed. "Sounds like an awful nightmare."

"I've had worse. When I was awake, even."

"There!" Launchpad sat back, holding up the marker. "Tada!" His drawing of Jim's head was crude, on the same level as a third grade child, but it was the effort and love put in it that really mattered. He even added a little hat and mask. "Whatta think?"

Jim sobbed. "It's so beautiful."

Launchpad teared up. "G-Gee, Jim, thanks..."

"Quick question," Jim grumbled, squinting, "are you guys my mom and dad or?"

---

Drake and Launchpad stayed with Jim for another hour. A nurse had brought them some markers and crayons so Launchpad could draw on Jim's cast, much to Jim's joy and excitement. Stars, the Thunderquack, Darkwing Duck shooting darts at Quackerjack, Launchpad and Drake cheering on Jim in the background with flags and firecrackers, a panda eating a burrito, some indecipherable scribbles. Soon the giant cast was covered in art.

Drake signed his name, as did a doctor and nurse when they came to check up on their stoned patient.

Drake did manage to get Jim to eat some food. He had to hand feed him, and sometimes Jim would just keep talking, chatting up a storm with Launchpad, letting the food spill from his mouth without noticing. But half a piece of chicken and most of the peas was good enough, Drake supposed. He almost got a spoonful of jello in Jim's mouth before he suddenly bit down on the utensil, turned his head, and spit both it and jello at the monitors, quickly going back to praising Launchpad's depiction of some frog looking deity.

Drake sighed for the umpteenth time, then jumped when the phone in his pocket rang. He checked the caller ID, instantly stiffening. He pardoned himself from the two, as if they even noticed he was there, and stepped into the bathroom, shutting the door.

"Thank you for calling me back on such short notice, Mr. J," Drake said, cupping his beak and bottom of the phone, "I'd like to discuss a few things in regards to Jim Starling."

---

Darkwing Duck snarled, approaching the mysterious villain. "Now," he said, "let's see who you really are!" He yanked off the criminal's mask--only to gasp dramatically, eyes wide.

Darkwing Duck grinned back at him.

"Me?"

The evil Darkwing Duck frowned. "You knob," he growled, slapping the real Darkwing Duck upside the head. "What did I tell you? You keep ignoring me, and you keep getting screwed over. Notice a pattern yet, moron?"

Darkwing 1 hissed, picking up his hat and putting it back on. "You don't know anything. You're not even real."

"Not yet," Darkwing 2 sneered, grinning. "That's your job. To see you make me real." His smile disappeared, stare intense. "You can't pretend I'm just some product of your fever dreams. I'm pure subconscious, baby, waiting for consciousness. So." He smacked Darkwing 1's bill twice. "Hurry. Up!"

Darkwing 1 grabbed his beak, stopped it from bouncing. "Listen here, you dastardly dick," he spat, jabbing the clone in the chest with a finger, "you're not the boss of me. No one's the boss of Darkwing Duck!"

Darkwing 2 cocked a visible brow beneath his mask. "Who? There's no Darkwing Duck here."

Darkwing 1 fumed. "You--"

"--Are not Darkwing anymore," Darkwing 2 hissed. "You've been replaced. And you like to think you've accepted that, but the truth is, you hate it. Look at me, you idiot! I'm proof of that hatred!"

Darkwing 1 grit his teeth. He looked away. "I'm... I may not be the happiest about this new development, but that--"

Darkwing 2 took the front of Darkwing 1's jacket, lifted him off the ground. "Shut up!" he barked, slamming his face against his baffled twin's. His eyes were wild, a spiraling red and blue. "And wake me up already!"

Jim woke with a startled gasp. He went to sit up, but weight pushed him down, something digging into his chest. He threw back his blanket, gasping at the giant cast covered completely in doodles.

Jim screamed.

---

"The doctors said you had a minor seizure last night."

Jim blew a raspberry.

Drake frowned. "At least it wasn't bad."

"Why is it no one's spilled the beans, by the way?" Jim asked, looking back at Drake. "I know only a handful of people know what I did, but at least one or two of 'em must've said something by now. Sold their secrets to some trashy newspaper or magazine. Got a nice, juicy bribe. I don't watch TV or check the news often enough to know, but no one's been pounding on my door, demanding an interview. What gives?"

Drake rubbed the back of his neck. "There's... I keep tabs on them, just to make sure." He yelped, throwing his hands up and frowning. "I mean! I don't threaten them or anything, I just--"

"I don't believe you," Jim snapped. "No way in Hell you can trust all those chucklefucks. One outta five people are gonna snitch. To who is the question."

"There hasn't been any stories released on the studio incident, if that helps," Drake reassured. There was still a nervous edge to his voice. "Your secret is safe."

Jim squinted. "That's great news. In fact, I received even more great news earlier, too," he said. "Scrooge dropped the lawsuit."

Drake looked shocked. "He did? Wow!"

"Maybe he knew I had no money and felt sorry for--" Jim laughed, snorted once. "No, not even I can sell that line. We know he's a greedy bastard. Nothin' Launchpad could say or do would change his mind."

"I really don't know, Jim," Drake confessed. "Launchpad would have told me if he said something. I guess he just--"

Jim grabbed Drake by the front of his shirt, yanked him half over the bed until they were beak to beak. "You're keepin' something from me, Mallard-McQuack," he growled, eyes narrowing to slits, "so start talkin'."

Drake cleared his throat. He gently pried Jim's fingers off, sat back down. "I don't know what to tell you, Jim. I don't have any answers. This is out of mine and Launchpad's hands," he explained firmly.

Jim grumbled, pouting. "Well, doesn't matter anyway," he said. "I've lost damn near everything. My case manager came yesterday, telling me all about financial aid and housing arrangements. I faked another seizure so he'd leave me the Hell alone. I even managed to foam at the mouth like a rabid mutt. Acting is still top notch."

Drake seemed to perk up, smiling. "You don't need to worry about housing arrangements," he reassured. "We've got that covered."

Jim slowly raised an eyebrow.

---

"So, your PCP will transfer your records to your new doctor. You'll still be seeing the same psychiatrist and therapist, but a nice gal named Tarry Archer will be taking over as your parole officer starting tomorrow."

Jim said nothing, beak hanging open, eyes bulging from his skull. Drake, Launchpad, his lawyer, doctor, and parole officer stood in his tiny hospital room. "Your circumstances swayed the court," the parole officer continued. "But you really should thank these two." He gestured back to Drake and Launchpad. "They immediately offered to house you for the rest of the year until your parole's up."

Jim... still gaped, still stared with bugged-out eyes.

"We moved all your stuff in, too!" Launchpad explained, sparkling. "No heavy lifting for you! Just relaxin' and healin'."

"I know it's been hard for you, Jim," the parole officer sighed, clapping Jim on the shoulder, "but you're going to get through this. Continue working as diligently as you have, and you'll be back on your feet in no time."

The doctor cleared his throat.

"... Er, you know what I mean. Speaking of which, can I sign your cast? ... Wow. Nevermind, there's no room. Did some of the kid patients come and do this? That's very kind of you, Jim."

"We want to keep you one more night," the doctor informed. "You'll be discharged tomorrow morning." He walked over, helping Jim's stiff body lay back down. "For now, just rest. We'll run the last few tests in an hour."

"One more thing," the parole officer said hesitantly, "but you will be required to wear an ankle bracelet while you're there."

Marrow sighed, counting down from five on her fingers. As soon as she got to one, Jim grabbed his pillow, held it against his face, and screamed.

---

"Well, this is a fine mess you've put us in."

"It's not that bad."

"No. It's worse."

"It's only for... ten months."

"Might as well be an eternity."

"Shut up."

"You shut up, idiot."

"Jerk."

"Asshole."

---

Drake decided he would drive today. With Jim still recuperating in the back seat, it was best to go... slow. Launchpad was vibrating, sitting with Jim in the back, rambling on and on. Jim, however, had yet to say anything, and they were nearly home.

Drake peered back at Jim through the rear view mirror. "I know this is going to be... a lot to handle," he swallowed, "but we're here to help you. You need anything, just ask, okay?"

"We got a spare bedroom for you," Launchpad explained, sparkling even brighter. "It's kinda small, but the bed's super comfy!" He squealed, shaking his fists. "This is sooooo cool! I can't believe Jim 'original Darkwing Duck' Starling is movin' in with us!" He carefully threw an arm over Jim's shoulders. "I know we got off on a bad foooo--start, but it's all water under the Audubon Bay Bridge, okay? Let's be friends, okay? If you want, we can be like, you can be like, my uncle and I'll be your nephew. Or brothers! Brothers aren't as awkward, yeah. Okay! Brothers!" Launchpad squealed, biting down on his bottom bill. "Heee, Jim Starling's my very older brother!"

Drake chuckled. "You don't have to--"

"Stop!" Jim shrieked, leaping forward and grabbing the passenger's seat.

Drake screamed, swerving into the nearest parking lot and stomping on the brakes. He panted, heart racing in his chest. "A-Are you okay? Is everyone okay?" he croaked.

Launchpad sat up from the floor, a large bump between his eyes. "We're good, DW!"

Jim grabbed Drake firmly by the beak, turning his head to the side. Drake blinked, glancing out the window at a super market. Jim's bloodshot eyes suddenly appeared in his vision. The mallard looked haunted and half-dead. "One. Hundred," he ordered ominously.

Drake gulped and nodded in Jim's grip.

Thirty minutes later, Drake pulled the car back on the road, Launchpad cradling ten gallon cartons of pistachio ice cream. The other ninety cartons were piled in the passenger's seat and on the floor.

---

Jim was surprised.

For a moment, he slipped out of his catatonic state to look up at the Mallard-McQuack house for the first time. It was in a fairly nice neighborhood on the outskirts of St. Canard. Not too many people; everyone had trim and neatly kept yards, kids played hop scotch and basketball without adult supervision. Like the rest of the houses on the street, Drake and Launchpad's was two stories, painted yellow with a red roof, chimney, and numerous windows with an open garage. The yard was surrounded by fencing, a giant tree stretching its branches and shadows across the grass.

It reeked of suburbia, settling, and a simple but boring lifestyle. Still, it was a pleasant little house; Jim expected something much smaller in a crappier neighborhood. Where'd they get the money to afford such a cozy place?

Tarry Archer and a police officer were waiting in the car port. Drake fetched the wheelchair from the trunk while Launchpad scooped Jim out from the back.

"Hellooooo, Drake! Launchpad!" a friendly lady in a quaint blue dress next door called out, waving at her neighbors. "I was just talking to your nice friends here. They told me someone very special was coming home with you!" She spotted Jim as he was placed in his wheelchair, and beamed. "Oh, my! You must be the fresh new face! Don't tell me... Drake's father? The resemblance is uncanny!"

"No, Binkie," Drake corrected, smiling weakly, "this is an old friend of mine, Jim."

"Hello, Jim!" Binkie giggled. "My name is Binkie Muddlefoot, but please do call me Binkie. Oh, Drake! You three simply must come over for dinner tonight. I'd love to introduce the rest of the family to Jim!"

"Ma!" A young boy poked his head out a bedroom window, an ugly glare on his face. "I'm hungry! Where's lunch? I want pizza rolls!" He slammed his fists repeatedly on the windowsill. "Pizza rolls, pizza rolls, piz hey who's the crippled wrinkly old bag?"

Jim's eyelid twitched.

"Perhaps another time, Binkie."

Tarry walked up to Drake, whispered, "Please for the love of God can we go inside, this woman is driving me insane."

Drake smiled and waved at Binkie, murmuring, "Tell me about it. Every day. Every day."

"Of course! Take care! Tank dear, please don't insult our neighbors, especially the elderly!"

"Goodbye, Binkie!" Drake said, hurriedly walking to the door.

Tarry forced a smile. "Lovely meeting you, Binkie," she said, waving. She elbowed the police officer in the side, knocking him out of his daze. He waved, too.

"Mind if you take the wheel?" Launchpad asked Tarry, patting Jim's wheelchair. "I gotta carry in a hundred cartons of ice cream."

Tarry and Jim's eyelids twitched.

---

Jim wasn't completely all there as Tarry and the officer went over the rules and paperwork. He looked as if he were listening, eyes constantly on the two, while he shoved almost his entire beak inside a carton of ice cream. Drake and Launchpad would chime in, too, but he hadn't really registered what they were saying either.

However, when the police officer took out the thick black ankle bracelet, Jim pulled his ice cream coated, dripping beak from the carton and put it aside.

"The bracelet will alert the police if you go over 100 feet from the house, who should arrive within five to fifteen minutes. Any attempts to remove the monitor will alert the police as well," the officer explained. He clasped the bracelet around Jim's left ankle; it felt as heavy as it looked. "I recommend not leaving the front yard if you need to go outside."

"It'll take time to adjust, Jim," Drake explained carefully, "I know it isn't ideal, but... please bear with us."

"We'll needa carry you upstairs to your room," Launchpad said, "hope ya don't mind."

"It's a lovely room, Jim," Tarry added. "I've inspected the house thoroughly. It's very clean and comfortable, you'll feel right at home soon enough."

Drake beamed. "Thank you, Mrs. Archer."

"So, do you have any questions, Jim? Do you understand the rules and conditions?"

Jim cleared his throat, raising a finger. "Launchpad," he said and pointed at a couch pillow. Launchpad happily gave it to him. "Just a moment, please," he chuckled, perfectly polite. He wiped his beak clean, pressed the small purple and blue striped pillow to his face, and screamed.

---

Launchpad carried Jim up the stairs, and he never felt more embarrassed. Drake followed, opening the door. The bedroom was small, but not cramped. There was a bed, all made up with a blue quilt and four plump pillows, a nightstand with a lamp beside it. A dresser with five drawers and open closet, all filled with his clothing. There were a couple boxes in one corner of the room, next to a freshly polished wooden desk, medicine arranged neatly on top. Two windows, both facing the front yard, the curtains drawn and tied back.

"The stuff we got from storage is in the garage," Drake explained. "We can go through them later."

Launchpad sat Jim on the bed. "We can decorate the room, too," he said, chipper.

Drake smiled sheepishly, heart beating fast. "So... What do you think?" he asked.

Jim wasn't sure what he thought. What he felt. "... Yeah," he said, "yeah." That was the best he could come up with.

Drake and Launchpad understood.

"We're going to make lunch. Are you okay with grilled cheese and tomato soup?"

"If you don't want soup, you can dip the sandwiches in ice cream instead. That's cool, right, DW?"

"I'm still working the drugs outta my system," Jim stated, "so I'm gonna nap. I'll eat later." He laid out on the bed.

Drake nodded. "All right." Launchpad stepped out first. "Get some rest, Jim." He left the door open. Launchpad waved, that big goofy grin still on his beak, then followed Drake back downstairs.

Jim stared up at the ceiling. There were probably cameras in here. Probably even a fucking baby monitor in the night stand drawer. He opened it, only to find his magazines and books that hadn't been stolen. He shut the drawer, turned his attention back to the ceiling.

Jim could hear rustling downstairs, the clanking and clanging of pots and pans. Drake and Launchpad were talking, but he couldn't understand what they were saying. Probably second guessing their little mistake.

Jim took a pillow out from under his head. He placed it to his face, inhaled deeply. He held that same breath for almost a minute before exhaling. Jim hugged the pillow to his chest and closed his eyes.

---

"This is sickening. What are you, some mangy puppy they took off the streets and adopted? Even got a collar to boot!"

"Maybe it won't be so bad."

"You can't--"

"Shut up, all right? Just for a little bit. I'm tired and my head hurts and you're making it worse."

No response.

"Good."

Chapter Text

Launchpad tapped his foot nervously, rocking on the sofa. Eyes glued on the phone ringing in his hand. It'd only been a few seconds since he hit the call button, but he was sweating and shaking a little.

Finally, the black screen switched to a video feed of Darkwing Duck, sitting in a large cockpit. Launchpad wheezed, heart finally settling back to normal. "Heya, LP," Darkwing said, beaming. His smile wilted a little as Launchpad swallowed and wiped at his brow. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," Launchpad tittered, "I was just... worried. That's all."

Darkwing smiled crookedly. "It's okay, LP. I'll be all right. I've got Miss Hackwrench helping me out, remember?" He flipped the camera to the pilot, a blonde mouse wearing a purple jumpsuit and goggles.

"Hiya, LP!" Gadget giggled, waving.

"Hiya, Gadget!" LP waved back.

The camera switched to Darkwing. "We're an hour from our destination. I'm feeling a bit jet lagged, but other than that, I'm pumped and raring to go!" he laughed, flexing an arm.

Launchpad nodded. "You're gonna do great, DW. I just... wish I was there." He looked away sadly.

Darkwing frowned. "I do too, babe," he said, holding the phone closer, "but I promise I'll come home just as soon as we wrap this case up. Maybe I'll have a few bumps and bruises, but I swear, that'll be all I'm bringing back." He laughed. "Oh, and a few souvenirs, of course."

Launchpad laughed too. "That's my DW!"

"How are things, by the way? Any calls from the shop?"

"Nope," Launchpad replied, shaking his head. "They said I'm clear for the weekend."

"And Mr. McDuck knows you'll be busy, right?"

"Yup!"

"Great. And... how is Jim?" Darkwing scratched under his bill. "I wanted to tell him goodbye, but he was sleeping so soundly, I didn't want to wake him." He looked concerned; the kind of look that reminded Launchpad of the one Donald frequently gave his rowdy and mischievous nephews. "Is he up yet? Has he been giving you any trouble?"

"He's still sawing logs," Launchpad reassured, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "Figured I'd let 'im sleep for as long as he wants."

"Make sure he keeps to his med schedule," Darkwing insisted. "And remember..." He showed a fist, flattened the hand out, then held up two scissoring fingers. "Okay?"

Launchpad repeated the gestures. "Got it!"

"Mon Dieu!" a shrill voice shouted from off camera, Darkwing nearly dropping the phone in surprise. "I only agreed to help SHUSH and come with you on this mission because I thought I'd get better accommodations. What is this death trap? The turbulence is terrible! I might as well just be riding on the wing itself!" A gray poodle in a tight fitting dress and a whole lot of make-up appeared behind Darkwing, hands on her hips. "Monsieur Duck, if this is the best transportation your organization has to off--oh!"

Darkwing squeaked as the poodle plucked the phone from his hands, her face taking up the entire screen. "And who is this fine, broad-shouldered, thick-chinned specimen?" she purred.

Launchpad gulped, blushing. "I-I'm Launchpad, ma'am."

"Enchantée, Monsieur Launchpad," the poodle cooed, fluttering her long, heavy eyelashes. "You may call me Georgette."

"Georgette, may I have my phone--"

"And you will address me as Madame Caniche!" Georgette snapped down at Darkwing. She smiled bashfully at Launchpad. "Pray-tell, why couldn't a handsome fellow like you escort me to the Canary Islands instead?"

"Ah, uh--"

"Oh, golly, you guys! We're about to hit some reeeal bumpy weather," Gadget informed. "Signal's gonna get glitchy. Might wanna wrap up that phone call!"

"Alas," Georgette sighed, "but we will definitely be resuming this little chat later. À bientôt!" She blew him a kiss, and then Darkwing took back the phone.

"Sorry about that," Darkwing mumbled, cheek feathers pink. "I'll call you once we land, okay?" He pressed a kiss to the phone. "I love you!"

"I love you more!" Launchpad replied, smooching the screen.

"Nope. I think I love you the most."

"Oh no! Not gonna win this time! I'm the one who loves you more than anythin' in the world, DW."

"Aha! That's where you're wrong, partner! I love you from the moon and--"

The call suddenly dropped, phone switching back to his lock screen: Drake and him in their wedding suits, holding up champagne glasses in a toast to the photographer. Which had been Dewey; Launchpad could recognize that little finger in the very bottom left corner from anywhere.

Launchpad slumped, that uneasiness creeping back in and twisting up his stomach. He wished he could have gone with Darkwing. This was a very dangerous mission, after all, even for the Duck Knight. But Launchpad had to stay at home for the very same reason Darkwing had to go.

"Vous deux sont trop mièvres."

"Helvete skit kuk fan!" Launchpad shrieked in surprise, pitching his phone across the room. He jumped from the sofa, whipped around and looked up, screaming again at what he saw.

Jim was sitting on the floor by the stairs, casted leg between bars, the other bent up to his chest. Clutching the wooden bars with his face so firmly pressed between them, his eyes bugged from his skull. It reminded Launchpad all too much of a scary ghost kid he saw in one of the films at the monster movie festival.

"Jim!" Launchpad wheezed, grabbing at his chest. "You--How did you--"

"I may be old, but I'm still wily and stealthy as a fox," Jim sneered. He tried pulling his bound leg out from between the bars, grunting. "I... I can't--It won't-- I'm stuck."

Launchpad hurriedly ran up the stairs. With a little tugging and wiggling, he pulled Jim loose, carrying him to the living room. "Sorry, did I wake you?" Launchpad asked, helping Jim into his wheelchair.

"What's Darkwing Duck doing with two babes in the Canary Islands?" Jim asked, eyebrow cocked and leering. "Didn't know you had that kind of relationship."

Launchpad laughed awkwardly. "Oh! No! It's not like that. He's just on a mission, s'all."

"For... SHUSH?"

Launchpad gulped. "W-Who?"

"And what was this all about?" Jim made a fist, then flattened his hand, and snipped two fingers. He put on his best puppy dog eyes. "Please, won’t you tell me, pretty please?"

Launchpad beamed. "Oh, gee! Rock means be firm, scissors mean cut out details, and paper means flat out deny any... thing..." he trailed off, only now realizing his mistake. "Hmm." He held out his flattened hand. "Dunno what you mean."

"Does this SHUSH have anything to do with your current financial situation?" Jim asked, moving his wheelchair predatorily around Launchpad. "Real nice house you got here. Can't imagine the two of you make much on your superhero salary. Is Scrooge footing the bills?" He grabbed Launchpad's jacket, yanked him down until they were eye to eye. Barely a centimeter between their eyes, in fact. "Or have you and DW been accepting bribes and rewards?"

"We'd never do that!" Launchpad gasped, standing back. "And n-no! Mr. McDee doesn't have anything to do with..." He put his hands behind him. "... We both got day jobs, y'see. Yeah, sometimes Mr. McDee has me run errands and stuff, but I mostly work as a mechanic at Lugnut's. And DW works at a call center selling vitality pills and all sorts of cool things. In fact!" He took Jim's wheelchair handles, pushing him into the kitchen. "Lemme pour you a glass of Vitaerect D! It improves your stamina, in and out of the bed--"

"And that's all?" Jim continued probing.

Launchpad shrugged. "Sometimes I take photos of DW and sell them for a couple bucks to the Daily Beagle through an anonymous account. Although they don't really like DW and say he's a 'menacing mallard of malevolence,' so I guess I should take my glamour shots to the St. Canardian instead..." he mumbled, lost in thought.

"Lemme guess," Jim snorted, sitting back in his chair, "half of St. Canard hates Darkwing Duck and think he's a nuisance with an inflated ego and sense of personal justice, the proud and arrogant judge, jury, and executioner?"

Launchpad snapped his fingers. "Bingo!" he said. "But sometimes they use more... colorful words."

"Yup, yup, yup," Jim sighed, folding his arms behind his head, "yer gonna get that. My Darkwing Duck did in the show all the time. He was misunderstood, you see, but it only added to his alluring mysteriousness."

"Well, Duckburg's warming up to Gizmoduck," Launchpad explained, "so surely St. Canard'll do the same for DW!"

Jim shrugged. "Doubt it. But who cares."

"I do!"

"What's in the Canary Islands?" Jim pressed. "I can't imagine he's going there on vacation. Especially without his love bug and put your hands where I can see 'em, I know you're doing that weird paper-rock-scissors crap."

"Just work stuff," Launchpad insisted. He wilted. "Really, I dunno much. Just that it's dangerous."

"Please."

"I know! But I can still be a little worried!" Launchpad whined. "This'll be his--Nope!" He pretended to zip up his beak, shook his head. "You should eat! You didn't eat anythin' but ice cream yesterday!" He opened the fridge and freezer, cartons of aforementioned ice cream falling out. "... You want more ice cream?"

"Feelin' somethin' warm," Jim crooned. "Say, sancocho with a glass of banana liqueur?"

"Uhh... I know bananas, but..."

"Oh, just some exotic dish and drink," Jim purred, leaning close to the larger bird, "like those made in the Canary Islan--!"

Launchpad screeched. "ItoldyouIdunnoit'sjustamissionforwork!" He wheezed, hand over his heart. "I can make you macaroni and cheese. And a banana smoothie. Is that okay?"

Jim glowered, deadpan. He sighed and swished a hand. "Fine, fine. Whatever," he grumbled, pushing himself over to the table. "When's he coming back?"

"Oh, I can answer that one! In a couple days."

"Is he coming back with those ladies?"

"No."

"Not even that saucy minx Georgette?"

"I, uh, I don't think so."

"Who said she's working for SHUSH?"

"One in the same."

"And who or what exactly is SHUSH?"

"They're a secret org--Paper paper!"

"I'm done, I'm done!" Jim growled. "I just think I should know what my roommates get up to if I'm gonna be living here for ten months."

Launchpad frowned. "It's not like we don't wanna tell you anythin'. I guess we just don't want it to upset you?" he reassured, placing a frozen TV dinner in the microwave.

"Upset me? It's a bit too late for that."

"Are you still upset?"

Jim opened his beak, closed it. "No," he murmured. "Not upset."

Launchpad sighed, relieved. "Great!" He took out the blender, dropping two bananas and a few cups of milk inside. "We're all in this together. Even if we're not sometimes." He looked at the one pound bag of sugar, shrugged, and dumped half of it in the blender. Switched it on and shouted over the snarling machine, "We gotta keep secrets from each other and lie sometimes! You know, like a family!"

Jim winced, massaging his head.

Launchpad placed a large mug of banana smoothie and TV dinner in front of Jim. He'd overheated the dish of macaroni, burning some of the noodles, skin over the cheese bubbling. Launchpad grabbed the rest of his half-eaten sub from the fridge and sat down at the table with the older duck.

"But I'll be here all weekend!" Launchpad said. "So we can hang out and talk and maybe do some arts and crafts..."

"No more arts and crafts," Jim growled. "I had enough of that kindergarten bullshit in the psych ward." He took a bite of his burnt macaroni, face twisting up in disgust. He chewed slowly, forcibly swallowed it down.

"I got the car," Launchpad said, picking at his sandwich, "in case you wanna go--" Jim held out his foot with the ankle monitor. "Oh. Right. Well, if there's anything you want me to go get, I'll get it! Snacks, movies, more ice cream, a journal to vent into--anythin'!"

"I take it you don't keep any alcohol in this place."

"Nope."

"You could buy me some."

"DW and the doctors said alcohol is bad for you, especially with your meds."

Jim groaned. "What are you, my nursemaid?" He took a swig of his smoothie and instantly spit it out with a scream. "How much sugar did you put in this oh God my teeth are melting!"

---

After eating one of the worst and blandest meals in his life, and brushing his teeth three times over, Jim went to take a bath. Given his cast, it'd just be washing his exposed parts with a wet cloth. Launchpad left him in the bathroom with a sink full of water and a couple rags. Jim stared at himself in the mirror, although he felt so very far away; mechanically patting and rubbing down his feathers with the warm cloth.

This was so humiliating.

"Hey!" Jim snapped, scrubbing down his good leg. "Launchpad! Get in--" Jim jolted in his chair as Launchpad immediately stuck his head inside, having been waiting at the door the entire time. Jim inhaled, pointing to one of the rags. "Do my back, would ya?" He hated asking for help, especially when it came to this, but his manly musk was starting to turn into an olid odor.

"Sure thing!" Launchpad soaked and wrung out the cloth. He smiled happily as he wiped down the plumage across Jim's shoulder blades, down his spine where it met the cast. "You feel a bit tense, Jim," he noted. "Here, lemme..." Launchpad bit his tongue, thrusting his elbow between Jim's scapulas and kneading.

Jim yelped, arms thrown in the air. He blinked, eyes falling lidded. "Actually... not that bad..." he mumbled, slumping forward.

"DW gets lots of knots, too," Launchpad explained, moving his elbow down Jim's spine. Jim curled up against him. "He's much better at massages, though." Launchpad stood back, started beating the sides of his hands against the older duck's shoulder blades like a drum. "Sheesh, you're really stiff!"

"Yu-u-u-u-u-h," Jim moaned, vibrating.

"You're loosening up, though," Launchpad reassured. He smiled at both himself and Jim in the mirror. He took Jim's head between his hands. "Just one minor..." Launchpad abruptly jerked and snapped the mallard's head to the side, joints cracking and popping loudly. "There! Done!"

Jim was terrified at first, eyes wide. Slowly, he turned his head, warmth blossoming along his neck and spine. "Shit," he breathed, astonished and a little dizzy.

Launchpad grinned, corners of his eyes wrinkling as he leaned down towards Jim and pinched his shoulders. "No prob, buddy."

---

After the quick but powerful massage, Jim fell asleep in his wheelchair. Launchpad pushed him into the living room, parking him in front of the sofa beside him and turned on cartoons. He glanced every few minutes at his phone; hopefully Drake and the others had made it to the Canary Islands and hadn't been hurled violently into the sea by the storm and left to wither and die from either dehydration, the elements, or curious sharks.

Sharks like the one in this cartoon, trying to talk a little fish into entering its mouth. Launchpad frowned and changed the channel. A soap opera--those were funny, and sometimes very emotionally engaging. Sophia was in the middle of begging her bed-ridden husband dying from six rare diseases not to leave her a widow, that she couldn't bear to run the family fortune all by herself, and marry that dastardly-- Launchpad changed the channel. An infomercial for a fancy new type of blanket.

"It's so warm," a peahen said, pulling the flannel blanket around her, "you won't even need your lover to hold you."

A strained, tiny whine trembled in Launchpad's throat. He went to call Drake, got three numbers in before stopping. He sighed; no, no. He had to have faith. After all, Drake always had faith in him when he went on dangerous adventures with Scrooge and his family.

"Penny for your thoughts."

Launchpad turned his head, flying back into the couch at Jim blandly staring at him.

"I'm just waitin' for DW's call," Launchpad said, flinching. "Juuuust waitin'."

"You're really that worried about him, huh?" Jim hummed. "Well," he said, drumming his fingers on an armrest, "why not call up SHUSH and ask if they know what's going on?"

Launchpad scratched his chin. "But they--" Rock. "No."

"Why would Darkwing be working for some secret organization!" Jim snapped, frustrated. "What sorta dirt do they got on him?" His eyes widened, and he slowly looked down at his lap. "... What do they have... on me...?"

"I can say SHUSH are the good guys," Launchpad replied, "and they helped you after the robbery."

Jim shot upright, shocked. "What?"

Launchpad hissed through clenched teeth. "Oh no..."

"What do you know?" Jim reached over, grabbing Launchpad by his coat lapels and shaking him weakly. "What do they know about me?"

"J-Jim, I really don't know! DW is the one who t-talks with them!" Launchpad exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "Honest!"

Jim snarled and let the larger bird go. "Damn you both," he growled. "If you involve me in something, I should know what." But... He believed Launchpad, to a degree. Out of the two merry knuckleheads, Drake was the smartest. He was Darkwing Duck. Launchpad was most likely recognized more as a sidekick than an equal. And given his... shortcomings, it was best for a top secret fancy organization to watch their words and leave him out of conversations.

"Can we just... talk about something else?" Launchpad asked. Not because he feared he'd let something slip, but he needed his mind off Drake. Off his anxiety. "We can watch a movie, or we can go outside, or we can play a board game--"

"Yanno, your 'DW' worries a lot about you when you do crazy stuff with Moneybags," Jim interrupted. Launchpad recoiled, surprised. "I guess you hadn't noticed. Maybe because you're so thick-headed, or maybe the kid's got some acting chops. But I've seen him fret and hem and haw whenever you go on your little adventures. But if he can keep a strong face for you, then you can at least do the courtesy of being strong for him."

Launchpad blinked. His eyes were misty, and he sniffed. "Y-You're right. I never thought he... I mean, I figured he'd be a little worried, but I..." He rubbed his face. "But y-you're right. I needa... I needa be strong." He sat up straight, frowned, furrowed his brows. "Strong for DW! Strong for Drake! 'Cause he's strong for me! And we're strong for each other!"

Jim's expression was neutral. "Must be nice," he mumbled, looking away, resting his head on his propped up hand.

"Huh?"

Jim's eyes were lidded, a blank frown on his beak. "Nothing."

---

Jim intended on going back to his room, taking his pills, and... Well, he didn't know what, exactly. Read the newspaper, try to find a job that would hire him in the classifieds. Take his mind off his situation. Maybe he'd reread his autobiography--I Am the Danger: the Rise of a Star(ling) in the Blanket of Night. Although, the idea made him a little... melancholic, he supposed.

Jim looked at the few boxes in the corner of the room. Probably more clothes. Still, might as well put things away--he was going to be here for a while. Jim pushed himself over to the pile, placing the closest box on his lap. He opened it--summer clothes, his spare toothbrush, shampoo and toothpaste bottles, the cheap cologne he stole from a nightclub bathroom. Jim held it to his nostrils, sniffed; sprayed a little, and gagged, tossing the bottle in the waste bin.

"Jim!"

Jim dropped the box, items spilling out on the floor. Launchpad ran into the room, a huge, glowing smile on his face. "DW made it to the Canary Islands!" he shouted, almost loud enough to shake the walls and windows. "He's okay! No one is hurt! The plane didn't crash! Sharks didn't eat his legs!"

"... Okay."

Launchpad sighed, slumping against the door frame. "Oh, I feel so much better," he moaned in relief, "I thought my insides were gonna blow."

"Bully for you."

Launchpad just now noticed the mess. "Oh, were you puttin' things away?" he asked, practically skipping inside. He picked up everything, placing them on Jim's bed. "Tell me where you need to put 'em, and I'll--"

"I can do it myself," Jim hissed, snatching his toothpaste from Launchpad's hands. "... But hang up those shirts."

"Right-o!" Launchpad went to work, humming, hips swaying, booty bouncing. Jim rolled his eyes, bitterly folding his ancient Darkwing Duck tank top.

"Whatta wanna do after we finish up here?"

Jim scratched at his black feathers. "You said the rest of my things were in the garage," he replied, "bring 'em up here so I can sort through the stuff."

"Great idea!"

At least it would pass the time. There hadn't been much in Jim's old apartment. He kept things pretty simple, albeit kind of messy. Most of the boxes contained Darkwing Duck memorabilia.

"Is this what I think it is!" Launchpad practically shrieked, pulling a neatly folded, plastic wrapped outfit from a box. Jim put aside a stack of old magazines, all with him on the cover. Launchpad showed the outfit to Jim--a copy of his Darkwing Duck costume, but the jacket was black with red buttons and hourglass at the center, black eye mask, red turtleneck, red hat with a black band, and a black cape with a red underside. Just a lot of black and red.

"I still have that, huh?" Jim mused. "The suit doesn't even fit me anymore."

"Darkwidow Duck!" Launchpad exclaimed, removing the plastic covering. "Season four, episodes one and two, where Darkwing infiltrated the Great League of Evil Entities as a supervillain who used poisonous gas and venom as weapons. You convinced them you had turned to the dark side, after you 'killed' a hostage you brought along, who just ended up in a drugged state that made it appear as if he were dead! And then you took GLEE down from the inside out!"

"Fans liked the character so much, we almost brought him back as a separate person," Jim explained. "Doctor Slug used DNA he gathered from Darkwing and gave the clone the same theme and personality as Darkwidow. But numbers were starting to decline, so it was shelved." He sneered. "It was kind of fun, playin' a bad guy..."

Launchpad beamed, carefully hanging the outfit up in the back of the closet. "Heh, kinda reminds me, and don't tell DW I told you..." He glanced around the room, as if he were expecting his husband to suddenly jump out from nowhere. "I accidentally washed one of his uniforms with bleach and the colors came out all yellow and red," Launchpad chuckled, a little embarrassed. "It's actually still behind the washer where I hid it, heh..."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Just tell 'im he never gave you the uniform. Deny everything, I say." He pointed to the other boxes. "Back to work. There's still a bunch of crap to go through."

Launchpad nodded, sitting in front of one of the larger boxes and opening it. "Oh, man," he laughed, holding a Darkwing Duck doll with a broken pull string, "I had one of these when I was a kid!" He picked up a stack of Read-Along Darkwing Duck books for children. "Oh man! I had these when I was a kid!" He dug out one of the first Darkwing Duck piggy banks. "Oh man! I had this when I was a--"

"Is it safe to say you had one of each item in that box as a kid?"

Launchpad didn't even need to look, just said, "Yup!"

Jim was mildly surprised. "Really?"

"Sure did," Launchpad chuckled. He placed the first issue of the short running Darkwing Duck comic book series on the floor. "I have two of these. One I read, the other I keep in a sleeve tucked under my sock drawer. It was signed by you, actually; I mean, my friend got you to sign it for me since I sorta passed out before I could get to you. I have every single issue, all 23, and I keep them in pristine condition. Most of 'em are ones I bought as a kid, while some I had to replace on account of them being in my suitcase when I accidentally drove my car into a lake."

Jim snorted.

Launchpad laid two Darkwing Duck action figures beside the comics--one was his regular suit with gas gun, another was special edition with alternate colors but same mold. "I have both of these, and they're still in their boxes! I got a couple off the internet to play wi--put up for decoration. They're missing parts, but that's okay. So long as I have the boxed ones!" He tapped the special toy. "I got the box signed, too! It was at your first convention appearance. I paid a guy to get me your autograph when I suddenly threw up just before I was next in line to see you." Launchpad laughed softly. "Nice guy. Still talk sometimes. Proofread my fanfiction."

"You wrote... fanfiction?" Jim tilted his head. He'd found out about fanfiction recently, after doing a number of ego searches for Darkwing Duck online. Just to see how active his fan base was. He'd never read any, however, but he'd seen some... unusual warnings. "Did you write the lemons?"

Launchpad blushed. "Uhhh...!" He whipped out a Darkwing Duck PEZ dispenser, nearly breaking it. "I have six of these! Two Darkwings and one of each Fearsome Four member!" He snapped back Darkwing Duck's head, grimace opening but no candy. "Only one still has candy in it. I actually ate all the candy from another a few months ag--" Launchpad's eyes widened and lit up, as if something suddenly dawned on him. "Oooh! Maybe that's why I got that nasty stomach bug!"

Jim pinched between his eyes and shook his head.

"The black Darkwing dispenser--same one as this one, blue instead of purple--you signed two years ago. But I fainted, and so my partner got you to autograph it for me."

"You know, I've seen you many times in the past, always fainting before you reach me," Jim snorted. "But I had no idea just how long you've been fainting at my events."

"I got my first autograph from you when I was eight!" Launchpad said. "My VHS copy of episodes one through four, season one. That was the first time I ever fainted in my life, too!"

Jim widened his eyes. "Wait. Ginger hair, wearing one of those cheap Darkwing Duck Halloween costumes. It was a meet and greet at a St. Canard comic book shop. A woman--your mother--asked me to sign your tape. Even though she was obviously distressed and wanted to get you to the hospital, she knew you wanted my autograph more than anything and risked letting her kid lie there unconscious among a crowd of hundreds."

Launchpad preened. "Yup! That was me! And you remembered, too!"

"I remember another time," Jim chortled, lounging back in his chair. "I agreed to sign some autographs after finishing a voice recording session for a radio commercial on foot hygiene. Not many people came, but you were there. Probably... late teens? Mid? You had braces, if I recall. When you smiled, sunlight bounced off your metal chompers and almost blinded me. Before you could even join the crowd, you keeled over, clutching your copy of the TV guide featuring my Darkwing Duck cover."

"Oh, gosh," Launchpad snickered, blushing, "I remember that. My face went right in the gutter. I drank sewer water. At the hospital, I met the person who brought me in--a nurse who worked there. We were pen pals for a while."

"Third convention, you were second in line to greet me, but you passed out on the twins in front of you. I remember you waking up as soon as they wriggled free and started beating the crap outta you. They even chased you out of the dealer's room, they were so pissed off."

"Casey and Cassie. We made up! Dated Casey for a few months, was Cassie's best man at her wedding four years ago."

"And my favorite!" Jim laughed. "I was at an outdoors festival by the Audubon Cliffs, and just before you went to shake my hand, you fainted and rolled nearly two hundred yards down a hill and into the ocean. I remember how you knocked over a seagull's nest and when you floated to the surface, the seagull attacked you and pecked at your face, waking you up!" He guffawed, throwing his arms around his belly. "God, you nearly lost an eye, it was so hilarious!"

"I made friends with that seagull afterward, you know!" Launchpad exclaimed. "The next day, I went back down the hill and repaired its nest. It thanked me by allowing me to pet its newborn chicks. I named myself after the one with a black spot on her beak. Years later, when I was engaged in battle with a tyrant merman bent on watery world domination, Seagullaunchpad saved me by darting down from the stormy heavens and hitting Leo Kampus in the face, letting me knock him out and free my imprisoned Oceanica from certain doom!"

Jim stared, eyes bulging, mouth a thin line.

"I'll never forget Seagullaunchpad..." Launchpad sighed, hand to his heart. "May she have a family of her own, and may they be just as heroic as their mother."

"... Yeah... Well... Anyway," Jim took a deep breath, "if we're done going through all the junk, let's start pricing 'em."

Launchpad broke out of his reminiscing daze, confused. "You... wanna sell these?" he asked dubiously.

"I need the money," Jim said, shrugging. "Besides, it's not like they're that important or anything..."

"But--"

"Whatta think on the candy dispenser?" Jim mused, stroking his chin. "I'm gonna say... $50?"

"No!" Launchpad gasped. "It's priceless!"

"Hey, unless you wanna buy it off me," Jim groused, "slap a price tag on the thing and get it ready for iBuy."

Launchpad looked sadly at the dispenser. "But... These are so... rare," he swallowed. "I remember when I got my first one. I was walking home from the store and I accidentally swallowed four of the candies at once and choked. A kid playing nearby ran over and kicked me in the chest, dislodging the candy. When she noticed the toy, she said she was a big Darkwing fan, too, and she was... she was..." Launchpad's eyes glazed over. "She was my first Darkwing Duck mutual fan girlfriend."

"You were kids. That hardly--"

"What I'm sayin' is," Launchpad interjected, "all these pieces have history. Surely they've got some history for you, too?" He placed the dispenser in Jim's lap.

Jim blinked, picking the dispenser up, looking it over. He couldn't remember when he bought this thing. When it was new, yes, when...

When he went into a rest stop to pay for gas and noticed the Darkwing Duck dispensers were on display by the register, almost entirely sold out. He remembered gasping, his sunglasses falling off his face. His agent hadn't told him about these new products--or maybe he had, but Jim wasn't listening at the time. Either way, it blew Jim's mind--these were one of the very first Darkwing Duck items released shortly after season one aired.

Jim took the last Darkwing Duck and showed it to the cashier giddily. "It's me!" he squealed, pointing between his face and the dispenser's. The cashier gave him a weird look, but then all Jim had to do was puff out his chest, put on his trademark smirk, and say, "Let's get dangerous!"

The way the cashier's face slowly lit up, and then suddenly they were both cheering and jumping up and down. "Can I get your autograph, Mister Starling!" the wolf cried, shoving a roll of blank receipt paper and pen over to Jim. "My son and I both love your show so much!"

Jim beamed, eyes misty. "What's your names?" he asked, picking up the pen.

"I'm Virgil, my son's Romulus!"

"To Romulus and Virgil," Jim read aloud as he wrote, "let's get dangerous! Jim Starling!"

"I can't believe it!" Virgil sobbed. "Jim Starling! In my store! You're so incredible, Mister Starling!"

Jim cried along, still bouncing and smiling until his face hurt. "I know! I'm here! Thank you! I'm pretty cool, aren't I?" he laughed breathlessly.

"Mama! It's... It's Darkwing Duck..."

Jim turned around; a duckling girl was pointing up at him, gaping and wide-eyed, dropping her teddy bear. Her mother was equally shocked and delighted.

"It's Jim Starling, all right!" the cashier said.

"Well, bless my stars!"

Jim knelt before the girl, pen still in hand. "You got that right. It's me, Darkwing Duck! What's your name?"

"Ag... Agn... Agnes..." the duckling stammered.

"Well, Agnes, pleasure to meet you," Jim said, taking her tiny hand and shaking it. She was still too starstruck to do anything but stare in bewilderment. "I'm in disguise, however; Jim Starling's just my codename when I'm not working. So don't go tellin' everyone you saw me here today, okay?" He winked, finger raised to his beak.

Agnes grinned at that. "I promise!"

The mother held a Megavolt candy dispenser to Jim. "Mist--Darkwing, please sign this for Agnes if ya don't mind?" she begged.

Jim grinned proudly, spinning the pen between his fingers.

"Jim?"

Jim blinked the blur of tears from his eyes, looking up at Launchpad. The larger bird was staring at him, concerned, holding two Darkwing Duck action figures.

"You okay, Jim?" Launchpad asked, frowning. "Do--do you need your pills?"

Jim sniffed. "No," he said, wiping his face, "no, I'm. I'm fine." Launchpad was convinced just enough to not pry any further. "Either way, these gotta go. I have no use for them, and they remind me of my..." he trailed off. It took a few swallows before he could finish, "My glory days, my decline, my... failure."

"Don't talk like that!" Launchpad insisted, wibbling. "Hey! You know what?" He held the toys up to Jim. "Remember episode five, season three, Faust Pas: Part One? Darkwing had to fight an insane modern day witch hunter, the Hex Hammer, and work alongside two actual witches, sisters Faustina and Felicity, who wanted to trap Hex Hammer in an alternate universe where he could do no harm. They weren't bad witches, so they didn't wanna kill him. Darkwing convinced them that Hex Hammer should go to prison, as it was the just and right thing to do."

"I remember. What's this got to do with anything?"

"Well!" Launchpad smiled. "At the end of part two, episode six, Felicity is severely injured by Hex Hammer. Out of rage, Faustina catches and ties him up. Just before she can lower him into a giant vat of flesh hungry electric eels, Darkwing appeared. He told Faustina she was a good person, that killing Hex Hammer wouldn't take away the pain or awful things he's done. Felicity was going to survive, he said, and if Faustina killed Hex Hammer, she'd have to live with that regret haunting her everyday. Faustina eventually gave up and let Darkwing take Hex Hammer to jail, wishing farewell to Faustina as she sat at her recuperating sister's bedside."

"... Again, what does any of this--"

"Remember what Darkwing Duck told Faustina when she finally surrendered? Darkwing knelt beside her and said something I'll never forget. Do ya remember what he--you--said?"

Jim thought for a moment. Launchpad waited patiently, although he was trembling with pent up excitement. Jim recalled how impressed he was with Faustina's actress, able to produce wells of tears at will. She'd been very convincing as the broken, misunderstood young woman in pain. He remembered it wasn't in the script for Darkwing to cup her cheek when he told her--

"'Part of getting back up,'" Launchpad started.

Jim's eyes widened, and they finished in perfect unison: "'Is accepting you fell down in the first place.'"

"That's it!" Launchpad cheered, clapping the toys together.

Jim gaped.

"So, yeah, you fell down, and sorta really hard," Launchpad explained, smiling crookedly, "but you can always get back up. That's the important part, the one that matters, yeah?"

Jim didn't know what to say. His heart was beating fast, and his stomach was in knots.

"I can't force you not to sell these guys," Launchpad said, looking over the Darkwing merchandise, "but maybe you could use 'em to get back up, and remind you of all the good stuff you did."

Jim took a deep breath. "It..." He licked his bill, ran a hand through his sparse head feathers. "I..." Suddenly, his sore belly rumbled, loud enough to catch Launchpad's attention.

"Sounds like someone's hungry," Launchpad chuckled, putting the toys down. "And ya know what? So am I!"

---

Jim hadn't really gotten a good look of the Mallard-McQuack house yet.

As Launchpad fixed up an early dinner, Jim went around the living room, taking everything in. There was an undeniable Darkwing Duck theme going on with all the blue and purple furniture and rug. Two blue recliners, a dark purple sofa with blue-violet throw pillows and quilt folded over the cushions, coffee table with a pile of books and magazines, big screen TV. Beyond the color scheme, nothing else Darkwing related. They were going with subtle without settling with typical cream and dull colors.

There was a fireplace--it'd been used recently, ash and chunks of wood left inside. Jim took out one of the pokers, idly flipping and twirling it in his hands like a baton. He tossed it into the air, caught it before the sharp end could impale his good knee. Tossed it into the air again, catching the blunt handle on one finger, balancing it for five seconds before letting it drop down and into his other hand.

"Still got it," Jim smirked, putting the poker back in the rack.

There were a number of framed photos along the mantelpiece. All the frame colors matched the rest of the decor, of course. One of Launchpad with Scrooge's nephews, niece?, and an intimidating woman in a purple blouse and apron. Another of Launchpad and Donald with Dewey photobombing and promptly angering his uncle. A photo of Launchpad and his family. The centerpiece was the largest--a professional photograph of Drake and Launchpad hand in hand at their private little wedding, standing at the altar. Jim was surprised they weren't ugly sobbing during the shoot, the saps that they were.

Another photo of the happy couple on their honeymoon. One of just Drake--probably from his teen years. A matching family photo with his two mothers. Jim vaguely remembered the one wearing an airy and earthy summer dress with a crown of flowers in her hair from the signing with Drake years ago. She still looked as much a hippie then as she did now, but damn if she wasn't hot.

At the very end was a large frame with a couple smaller, cut up photographs. Drake in his first Darkwing Duck costume, posing on top of a couch, pretending to kick some guy sitting in the face. Launchpad showing off his Darkwing Duck t-shirt. Launchpad taking a photo with Jim--from clear across the dealer's room, his hero barely visible behind the line of fans. Drake showing off the first poster for the Darkwing Duck film that never was.

Well, maybe they could let their nerd flag fly a little higher.

"Dinner's ready!" Launchpad declared. He bounced into the living room, steering Jim to the round dining table. "Vegetable soup! With fresh vegetables!" he said, placing a bowl and spoon in front of Jim.

Jim was hesitant at first, but... Soup was easy. How could this buffoon mess it up? Jim blew on a spoonful, took a bite--something hard crunched between his teeth and he winced. The flavor was... strange, a little unpleasant, and difficult to describe.

"What's in here again?" Jim asked, forcefully swallowing the food down.

"Fresh veggies. Broccoli, onions, carrots, cabbage, avocados, kale, something called galangal, okra, eggplant," Launchpad replied, listing each ingredient off on his fingers. "Oh! And there was suppose to be some nutmeg in the broth, but there wasn't any nutmeg so I crushed some walnuts and sprinkled them into the soup instead." He winked, making an "OK" sign. "Dig in!”

Jim opened his mouth slowly, tongue unfurling.

There was a knock at the door. Jim and Launchpad looked back. "Wonder who that is," Launchpad mumbled, going to answer.

Binkie greeted Launchpad with a cheerful, "Hello, dear Launchpad!" Jim hid his ankle bracelet under the table, immediately spotting the plastic wrapped dish in the neighbor's hands. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything! I so wanted to invite you, Drake, and Jim over for dinner tonight, but poor Herb's gout is acting up and so he's gone to bed extra early tonight." She sighed sadly, then immediately perking back up. "I baked some cookies and realized, oh dear! I've made way too many darn cookies! So I thought, why not give the rest to my good neighbors? Consider it a welcome gift for Jim, too! Ah, where is Jim, by the way? Did he leave with Drake to visit his family, too? My, you know, I want to invite my parents over for luncheon but those strange mini-earthquakes and tremors we get every other day--Heavens! They shake my poor mother and father up so badly! But it's been nice this week, don't you think? Oh, but all the leaves are quickly falling! My my, your yard is practically covered--"

"Pardon me, I don't mean to interrupt," Jim interrupted, pushing himself up beside Launchpad, quilt thrown over his lap and legs. He gave Binkie a charming smile. "But I heard you were asking for me? I don't think we've been properly introduced, Binkie." He plucked the plate of cookies from her hands, shoving it into Launchpad's; Binkie went to speak, but Jim took her by the hand and held it close to his beak. "I am Jim Waxwings, but please... call me Jim. It is a pleasure to meet you." He gently kissed her middle knuckle, and Binkie's cheeks turned bright pink.

"O-Oh, my!" Binkie tittered, dizzy. "Well, aren't you a gentleman!"

Jim smoldered and Binkie started sweating. "Ah, but I hope you don't mind me saying, you are... Well, there is really no proper English translation." Jim chortled, eyes husky. "Binkie, you are so... où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît."

Binkie gulped. "Is that French?"

"The language of romance, yes it is," Jim chuckled. "Your husband is a very lucky bird, Binkie. Why, I wish I had a wife as lovely and kind as you. You remind me of a model I dated during my year abroad in France."

"A model?" Binkie giggled obnoxiously. "Oh!"

"You went to France?" Launchpad asked.

"Oh, yes!" Jim laughed softly. "And the food was just divine. The pasta and the lasagna, oh, the lasagna," he swooned, eyes rolling back. "They were just--mm!" He blew a kiss to every French chef. "I daresay they became my favorite dish. Especially..." Jim leaned forward, paused. "Meatball lasagna."

Binkie gasped. "Oh my goodness! What a surprise! I actually made meatball lasagna for dinner tonight!" she exclaimed.

Jim and Launchpad gasped, too.

"I bet it's as fine and delicious as the ones I've had in France."

Binkie giggled, hand to her cheek. "W-Well, if you like... I do have some leftovers I can bring you? Of course, if you've already had--"

"Binkie," Jim interjected, placing his other hand over hers, "we would be honored to have your leftovers." He winked again, eyebrows wiggling.

Binkie's entire face was red now.

"Lasagna does sound really good," Launchpad added.

"Then it's settled! Before you dive into those gooey chocolate chip cookies, I'll go fetch you both a plate of lasagna!" Jim let her hand go and she tumbled back. "Just a moment!" She darted off, Jim watching her practically hop the fence and run into her house.

"This chick's food better be good. Although anything's good compared to your cooking."

"You never mentioned going to France in your books," Launchpad said. "And in your third biography, you listed your favorite food--"

"I knew she made lasagna tonight," Jim answered.

Launchpad looked baffled. "Wait... But how?"

"When I got close enough to Binkie, I could smell the telltale spices, marinara sauce, and cooked beef on her apron. She must work in the kitchen a lot. Given her chubby son, and the fact she said her husband has gout, there was a high chance she made a boatload of lasagna or pizza. I took a gamble and went with lasagna, but made sure to cement my love for pasta in general just in case it was pizza or something else. And with the husband's gout flare-up, it's possible there'd be leftovers, assuming his gout is more related to too much red meat rather than alcohol."

"Herb doesn't drink any alcohol," Launchpad informed. "And he does love to cook lotsa red meat. He's always barbecuing burgers and steak every Sunday in his backyard. Even during heavy rainstorms!"

"Well, then. All I had to do was hope there'd indeed be leftovers, put on the charm, and hook, line, and sinker. Gotcha."

Launchpad was awed. "That's amazing! You're like Basil of Baker Street!" he praised.

Jim smirked, admiring his fingertips. "Simple elementary, my dear Dawson."

And five minutes later, there was another knock at the door, quieter this time. Jim answered it, looking up with his disarming smile, but Binkie wasn't there.

"H-Hello, sirs."

Jim gasped, jolting in his wheelchair. It was a little goose boy, holding a plate of three tier lasagna. It was obviously too heavy for the frail looking kid, his knees rattling.

"Heya, Honkster!" Launchpad greeted, taking the plate off the boy's hands.

Honker wheezed, pushing up his glasses. "Hiya, Launchpad," he replied in his nasally voice, then looked to Jim, "an' you must be--"

"Yeah, yeah, thanks and salutations," Jim grunted, shutting the door on Honker's face. "Eesh."

"Aw, don't be like that," Launchpad chided, "Honker's a real good kid."

"I'm sure he is, but I'm too hungry to give a damn."

"Right! Let's eat!" Launchpad said, heading to the kitchen. Jim followed, tummy rumbling. "I knew you spoke French, and some German and Spanish--what was it you said to Binkie?"

"'You're as beautiful as a spring flower blooming in winter.'"

Launchpad swooned. "That's pretty! Hey, can you teach me how to say 'I missed you more than the world itself, and I love you the best, so take that' for Drake when he gets home?"

"Of course. That one's simple: Je crois que je vais vomir."

"Wow. French really is the language of lovers."

---

The lasagna was delicious, the cookies warm and rich. Jim felt a lot better. They ate everything, stomachs bloated. It was still early, close to 8; they were both tired from stuffing their faces, but not enough to go to bed.

"I feel... greasy," Jim grunted. The cast around his torso also felt a little tighter.

Launchpad pushed himself away from the table, standing. He belched, blushed. "You know what? It's Saturday," he stated, beaming. "It's pamper night!"

Jim cocked an eyebrow. "Pamp," he burped and gurgled, "pamper night?"

Launchpad snickered, taking Jim's wheelchair. "You'll see!" he said, quickly pushing the confused duck into the living room.

---

Jim had not expected... this. By pamper, he assumed eat some sweets, watch a nice movie, maybe give each other a back massage and turn the phones off for the night. Then Launchpad came dancing down the stairs with make-up kit and bag in his hands.

Although Jim was initially surprised, he didn't mind. Launchpad smeared their faces in avocado masks, put some cleansing rose water in their head feathers, and rejuvenating oils in between their chest plumage. Launchpad added an anti-wrinkle pad over Jim's forehead, rolled his remaining head feathers in curlers, sprayed them with product that helped root growth and fight premature balding.

It was a little unusual, but Jim loved being pampered. He was used to mud baths and acupuncture in his Darkwing Duck years, to keep himself looking young, flawless, and radiant.

There was dessert, however; more pistachio ice cream and a bag of popcorn. They found a movie on TV to watch (Sister Peacekeeper, a nun by day, vigilante hero by night), and Launchpad placed Jim on the sofa, back propped against the small pillows.

"I met the Sister Peacekeeper actress," Jim said around a mouthful of popcorn. "She was on the D-W-D set to see her boyfriend, one of our cameramen. She certainly did not dress like her character, let me tell you."

"That's awesome! I love Sister Peacekeeper's movies. They say she's gonna do a fourth film next year," Launchpad explained, wiping mush from his eyes. "Rumor has it her old nemesis, Mr. B. L. Zeebub, will return from the dead to seek revenge!"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Cheap, overused plot."

Sister Peacekeeper stepped onto the roof's ledge. "I won't stop fighting. I can't stop," she told her police officer buddy. "I have to keep doing Heaven's work, Sam. I have to make the evil of this world pay for their sins. And, as you know..." Sister Peacekeeper put on her sunglasses, smirked. "Show nun mercy."

"That's a stupid catchphrase!" Jim snapped, flicking avocado on the coffee table. "Nun is more like ‘none,’ not ‘no’!"

Launchpad's big eyes were glimmering. "But it's so cool," he whispered.

Sister Peacekeeper turned around, leaping off the rooftop; before she could plunge into the sea, she did a flip, landing gracefully on hand and knee on the deck of the boat driven by her sidekick, Father Tuffluv.

Jim sat forward, spilling popcorn on the floor. "Did you see it! Did you? There was a wire! I could see a wire!" he bellowed.

"I didn't see it!"

"I didn't use wires on my show," Jim spat. "It was free fall or nothing."

"Didn't you belly flop super hard and get knocked out for an hour doing a jump off a castle into a lake in one episode?"

Jim preened. "Yes, I did. And as soon as I snapped out of it, I went right back to work."

"Geez," Launchpad whispered, "you're so cool."

Jim's heart beat faster. "Hey! I noticed in your backyard you have a pool. It looks like it's covered in tarp and leaves," he said.

Launchpad nodded. "We're gonna fill it when it gets warmer."

"... Take me outside, Launchpad."

---

Launchpad finished checking the last corner of the tarp. "Yup!" he said, giving it a hard slap. "Nice and firm! You could drop a very small helicopter on it and it wouldn't break or snap."

Jim smirked. "And it's flexible, too, right?"

"Bouncy like a trampoline! Except more firm. So... not too trampoline."

"Wonderful." Jim pushed his wheelchair back, snickering. "Let's do this."

Launchpad nervously rubbed the back of his neck. "I--I dunno, Jim... Seems kinda--"

Jim winked, gave him the finger guns. Launchpad gasped, hands slapped to his cheeks.

"Exactly. Now let me show you how it's really done."

---

Binkie hummed as she finished washing the dishes. She dried her hands on her apron, went to turn away when she heard shouting from outside. Binkie looked out the window over her sink, squeaking. Launchpad was pushing Jim around and around the house, picking up speed; faster, faster, faster. She was both concerned and a little curious. Such strange fellows, her neighbors!

After what had to be twenty or thirty laps around the house, through the front and back yards, Launchpad abruptly stopped the wheelchair at the edge of the covered pool. Binkie squealed as Jim was launched out of the chair by the sudden force. Despite his cast, the old duck actually managed to do a relatively impressive spin, landing on his back on the tarp in the center of the pool, throwing leaves up in the air and on top of him.

"That was so awesome!" Launchpad cried, clapping and stomping his feet.

"Yes," Jim grunted, "it was. But I... can't feel my leg. My other leg."

"Oh, did--are you--"

"No. No, no. ... It's definitely a sprain, though."

Launchpad gasped, immediately running out on the tarp to fetch Jim. The tarp, however, was unable to handle all the weight, and immediately caved in, dropping the two in the empty pool.

"Well, now it's broken!"

"I'm--who--there's... What? Oh, God, I can smell pink."

"Oh, good! You're zonked the fuck out!"

"Xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ lǐ?"

"Sure."

Binkie chuckled, shaking her head lightly. Such silly, silly neighbors.

---

Launchpad came back to his senses quickly, and carried Jim out of the pool. They went back inside, checked themselves over for any injuries. While Jim's leg did hurt, it wasn't broken or sprained. Just pulled a muscle, fortunately. Aside from the fact Launchpad had a small watermelon sized bump on his head, he was good, too.

The two settled in for the night, Launchpad helping Jim into bed then retiring to his room. Jim took his pills and turned off his bedside lamp; he laid there for a while, moonlight washing the room in blue from the windows. Before he could finally drift off, he heard Launchpad speaking from down the hall. Not for long before he went quiet again.

Jim had gathered enough words to piece together the conversation. He was talking to Drake. He didn't seem as worried as before. He was telling his partner about today's adventures, and after a series of apologies, Jim knew he'd spilled the beans on their impromptu stunt show outside. Nonetheless, the call ended on a positive note, the two wishing each other goodbye. By the excited shift in tone toward the end, Jim gathered Drake would be home soon, maybe even a little earlier than expected.

After Jim was sure Launchpad was asleep, he pulled his wheelchair over. With a little wiggling and grunting, he slid onto his chair, pushing himself quietly and slowly into the hall and at Launchpad's open door. This was the first time he'd seen their bedroom--surprisingly simple, too, but there was a framed autographed poster of Darkwing Duck on the wall.

Not Drake, but Jim. That certainly was a shock.

Jim lingered in the doorway, looking around. There was a photo album on a desk nearby. He hesitated a moment; held a deep breath, took the album, and slowly returned to his room. Launchpad still sound asleep and snoring.

Jim shut the door. No lock--no surprise. He switched on the lights, getting comfortable as he opened the album in his lap. It was all the photos Jim expected to find around the house--Drake, Launchpad, and their Darkwing Duck obsession growing through the years. More of them in costumes, more of them showing off their Darkwing Duck gifts and merch, playing as their beloved hero at home, on the school yard, even on a stage.

It wasn't just Drake and Launchpad, however. There were photos of them with other fans. Everyone looking so ecstatic, showing off their love for the masked mallard, hugging or holding hands or playing with their toys. From little kids to teenagers to young adults; new people, and a few old people, also grown and still enchanted by the Darkwing Duck show. He recognized one or two faces from previous meet and greets, as well as his fellow co-stars who were more than delighted to take photos with their fans.

There was a page of Drake dressed as Darkwing Duck in his early twenties, visiting sick kids at a hospital to cheer them up. Although they were probably too young to even know who or what Darkwing Duck was, they were happy to see someone who appeared to be a superhero. Another set of photos of Jim in scrubs, volunteering at an animal shelter.

Launchpad did his fair share of charity, too; a lemonade stand to help raise funds for his friend’s surgery. Typically Darkwing Duck themed, including purple and blue dyed lemonade. It appeared he gave most drinks out for free, making very little profit. But he was proud nonetheless, showing the photographer his jar of coins and one dollar bill. Another photo was an older Launchpad; flashing a peace sign, showing a number of bags filled with food, water, and basic necessities put together by him and his friends. Maybe to give to the homeless? Donate to shelters? Each had the DWD symbol drawn crudely on the paper, with the quote "always get back up" scribbled beneath them.

There were photos of Jim; he'd taken up a few pages. But they were all shot from a distance; Jim talking at a panel, Jim from clear across a stadium, Jim... cutting the ribbon at the furniture store. They even printed out the photo of Jim reluctantly holding the unconscious Launchpad's autographed face.

Jim shut the album, frowning. He wasn't entirely sure what he felt right now. Nostalgia, sadness, but also... pride? All these photos involved Darkwing Duck some way or another. All these happy memories of the past--at least they had that in common with Jim.

But they weren't bitter like he was. ... Yet, had they not lost their hero, too? Still, it wasn't nearly the same.

Jim was overwhelmed, his hands shaking. He was feeling everything at once; anger, sadness, joy. He couldn't pin just one down. It wasn't so simple. He swallowed hard, as if he were attempting to swallow down his feelings too, back into the dark, back where he dared not tread, back where... where he lived.

Jim cursed, scrubbing his face. The medicine hadn't kicked in yet; he was tired, his head hurt. He needed to sleep; he needed to stop thinking and... and feeling. But these days, Jim rarely slept peacefully. The nightmares always waited for him to return. He waited for him, foreboding and imposing with his murderous red eyes and demanding voice that sounded like he was gargling gravel and smoke.

Today hadn't been so bad, but as always, he would tell Jim otherwise.

---

Fortunately, he was quiet tonight. Jim would finally have a good night's rest after weeks of fitful sleep and terrible nightmares.

---

The next day, the weather was a bit warmer. Enough for Jim to sit outside while Launchpad raked up leaves in the yard. He lounged in his wheelchair wearing full body silky pajamas, blanket, sunglasses, and a wine glass full of apple juice. The old boombox nearby played a soft tune that Launchpad whistled and danced to while he worked.

Jim heard the Muddlefoots’ front door open. He peered over his shades as Binkie came outside to get the mail. Quickly, he turned off the radio and shouted, "Oh, what a wonderful day for some hot cocoa! Hot cocoa and maybe some cookies! But we don't have hot cocoa, do we, Launchpad?"

Launchpad stopped raking, standing up. "We got--"

"And I tell you what!" Jim continued, noticing Binkie had stopped at the box, looking at them. "Hot cocoa would help my poor, aching, broken bones so much! Just a big mug of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows! Why, I would give anything in the world for a cup of hot chocolate! I don't care if it's sweet or dark, just hot cocoa in my hand right now or at least soon enough but taking one's time would make my entire week, Launchpad!"

Launchpad scratched his head. "Er, you want me to make--"

"Haddatissha!" Jim hissed, then resumed dramatically sighing and moaning nice and loud.

Binkie quickly went back inside. Once the door closed, Jim smirked and looked to Launchpad. "Start counting down from one hundred," he said. "I mean, can you even count to one hundred?"

"Yeah, last time I checked!"

Launchpad got to fifty-six when Binkie appeared with a large canister of hot cocoa. "Deary me, it must be so cold for you boys out here! I thought you could use some hot chocolate," she hummed. "I mean, hopefully you like hot chocolate? Sweet? With extra marshmallows?"

Jim gasped, letting his sunglasses drop from his face. "Oh, Binkie!" he cried, taking her hand and peppering it with kisses. "Such a lucky goose, your Herb, to marry a saint like you!"

Binkie blushed, giggling and snorting. "Oh, Jim!" She waved a hand coyly and bat her eyelashes.

Launchpad waved Binkie goodbye and walked up to Jim. "Gee, it's like she read your mind or something," he laughed.

"Mmhmm," Jim replied as he sipped on the canister. He'd share it with Launchpad... once he was done raking.

---

Launchpad didn't get any of the cocoa, but he didn't mind. He would make his own later, only to forget. However, Jim devised yet another plan: after Launchpad washed the plates and canister Binkie had loaned them, Jim added a note: "Thank you for the wonderful meal. I was beginning to think my favorite food was chimichangas--also very, very delicious, if you haven't tried them--but your lasagna knocked it out of the park! Love, Jim and Launchpad." Finished it with a heart drawn by their names.

It was around noon when Binkie returned. She just had this sudden hankering for chimichangas and, oh, what do you know, she just so happened to make two extras.

For the rest of the day, Launchpad tidied the house up. Drake liked keeping everything neat and organized. Jim sat on the sofa, reading a magazine. Launchpad lifted his legs for him when he vacuumed, but beyond that, he wasn't moving. Once the place was clean, Launchpad plopped down on a recliner, opened a soda, took a long drink, then promptly spit it out.

Jim almost fell from the sofa. "The Hell!"

Launchpad frowned, ashamed. "Dang... I forgot I had my two sodas for the day."

"Your lover boy make you go on a diet?" Jim snorted.

"Well, he says soda isn't good for you, and we need to stay in shape. So I can only have two sodas a day."

Jim sneered. He'd been just as dedicated to eating and living healthy when he was playing superhero. "Just drink it," he pressed, "you already opened the can."

Launchpad mumbled. "I... I dunno..."

"C'mon. Drake's not here. You can have a third soda."

Launchpad chewed on his tongue. "But..."

"But what?" Jim held the magazine up to his face. "I didn't see anything. As far as I know, that might as well be water."

"But you--"

Jim lowered the magazine, peering over the top at Launchpad with sinister, narrow eyes. "Do it," he whispered sharply. "Drink it."

Launchpad gulped. "... Just this once," he said uneasily. "Don't tell DW though, okay?"

"Like I said," Jim murmured, slowly raising the magazine back up, "I didn't see anything..."

---

Although Drake was suppose to be home by early evening, it was nearing ten at night. Launchpad couldn't get a hold of him, and was back to pacing the living room and chewing on his hat. Jim thought he was being way too over-dramatic, but then again, he knew nothing about this mission Drake had been sent on. Apparently it was super dangerous, more dangerous than his usual crime-fighting job.

"You're gonna wear a hole in the floor," Jim grumbled. "Just sit down. He's probably on the plane, or his phone died.”

"Died?" Launchpad yelped.

"Will you just relax!" Jim snapped. "You're making me fidgety with all your pacing."

Launchpad wilted. "I'm sorry, Jim," he moaned, dropping into a recliner. "I just... Last night he called me, and said things got a little hectic, but he was fine and so was Gadget and Georgette and they had completed their mission. But he still had things to tie up, too." He looked fearfully at Jim. "What if he got tied up?"

"Your SHUSH friends'll bail him out," Jim said, looking intensely at Launchpad, "right? I mean, that's what they do, right? They...?"

"Oooh, I wonder if DW felt like this when I went on that mission with Mr. McDee to the Cursed Temple of Insanity," Launchpad fretted. "Boy, I am not a fan of feeling like this, lemme tell you."

"You're crazy and sickeningly in love. You're gonna overthink everything but seriously, what does SHUSH do?"

"LP! Jim!"

Jim cursed. Damn that brat's timing!

Launchpad jumped to his feet. "He's here he's home he's back he's alive!" He scrambled and tripped over the couch, Jim taking his time and pushing himself to the door. Launchpad nearly tore the thing off its hinges opening it.

Drake was a little worse for wear. His right wrist bandaged, a few visible cuts and scrapes across his face, band-aid on his right foot. In one hand was a suitcase, a large gift bag in the other.

Drake beamed upon seeing the two. "I'm h--"

Launchpad swooped Drake up in his arms. They laughed as they spun in circles. "DW!" Launchpad cheered.

"LP!" Drake exclaimed.

Drake leaned down to kiss Launchpad, cupping his face. Launchpad returned the kiss with extra vigor.

Jim watched the two, but he wasn't nauseated as he thought he'd be. Rather, he felt just like last night. Some... strange potent mix of emotions. To think, it was Darkwing Duck that brought these two together. It was Darkwing Duck that inspired them to become real heroes. He'd been the hand of fate. And they were so happy, ridiculously happy, syrup with sugar on top happy.

In some weird way, he was responsible for--

"Sorry, Jim," Drake tittered, slipping out of Launchpad's arms. "We didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." He walked up to the older duck, reached out a hand. Jim didn't move away or say anything, so he patted him on the shoulder. "Thanks for keeping LP company. He said you've been doing good; I'm glad."

All of this. Drake, Launchpad, their relationship, their marriage, their house, their lives. All of this was his doing.

"It was Darkwing Duck's doing. Not yours. You're still just regular, boring, sad sack Jim Starling, after all."

Jim twitched, shaking his head.

"Something the matter, Jim?"

"No, no." Jim smiled sweetly. "Welcome home," he said, smile morphing into a menacing grin, "secret agent of SHUSH, Darkwing Duck."

Drake gasped.

"And Launchpad had three sodas today."

Launchpad gasped.

Chapter Text

"So... How much do you know?"

"SHUSH is a secret organization of 'good guys,' according to your dimmer half here," Jim answered. He sat across from Drake and Launchpad on the sofa, both looking a little uneasy and guilty. "And you apparently work for them."

"That's all true," Drake sighed. "SHUSH is an international secret organization for world peace that operates within a branch of every world government. SHUSH came to me early on after I became Darkwing Duck and offered to help finance my 'work' in return for running missions and testing weapons for them."

"That explains this house," Jim mumbled. "What else do they cover?"

"Well..." Drake looked to Launchpad. "You once asked me why no one's snitched in regards to what happened that day in the studio. What you really did," he continued, carefully, "and the reason... SHUSH also monitors any activity related to their agents, both official and unofficial, online and in the media. Thanks to them, nothing has been leaked and whatever might've been was quickly shut down and taken care of." He raised his hands. "Peacefully, of course."

Jim squinted. "So, they're basically Big Brother."

"I mean... Maybe more like... Big Brother-in-law?"

"Tell 'im about the lawsuit and stuff," Launchpad whispered to Drake.

Jim sat upright. "Yeah, tell me about that."

Drake nervously picked at his wrist bandage. "After the robbery, I spoke to SHUSH's head director about... helping you. This included persuading Scrooge to drop the lawsuit, and swaying the court to relocate you under my--our--care." He swallowed. "We said any nice place would do, maybe even just a loan until you found a stable job, but I mentioned we were willing to take you in--"

Jim sneered. "I get it. Let me guess: you're in debt to them now, and owe them a big favor."

"The favor I owed was my mission over the weekend," Drake replied. "I was sent with fellow agents to handle a huge illegal arms transaction between corrupt government officials and FOWL, or the Fiendish Organization for World Larceny. They deal in all sorts of world-wide criminal syndicates and terrorism, and are SHUSH's top priority in neutralizing."

"Huh. And what does SHUSH stand for?" Jim asked.

Drake opened his mouth, stopped. He turned to Launchpad, who just shrugged.

"... It's a secret?"

Jim chortled. "In my Darkwing Duck universe, we had GLEE--"

"--Great League of Evil Entities," Launchpad said.

"--and MAD."

"Ministry of Altruistic Defenders," Drake said.

"I know what they stand for!" Jim scowled. "But I guess fact continues to imitate fiction." He shook his head, a ghostly sarcastic smile on his beak.

Drake and Launchpad looked surprised. "Are... You're not mad?" Drake asked apprehensively. "About--"

"Oh, I'm plenty mad," Jim answered, beaming. "But I just took my medication, and I'm way too stoned to give a fuck right now. Try me tomorrow morning."

"Ah, o-okay."

"Before I ask the big one," Jim said, leaning against an armrest and shifting forward, "is there anything else you want to tell me?"

Launchpad and Drake glanced at one another.

"I... don't have a job as a telemarketer," Drake confessed. "In the beginning, yes; before the organization came along, it was how I made my money. Rather, I'm currently nearing the end of my training with SHUSH--mandatory, actually. That's a few hours a day, and then I spend a few hours napping, because!" he laughed, spreading his arms. "They haven't created any sort of medicine to cure pesky old sleep, know what I mean?"

Jim said nothing, eyes instead turning on Launchpad. "And you... Are you really a mechanic? Given with the equipment you're working with, I highly doubt it."

"Oh, no! I am a mechanic!" Launchpad insisted, nodding. "But the full title is 'mechanic's assistant.' I run errands, answer phone calls, file papers, talk with clients, wash and vacuum vehicles, but I'm not allowed to touch anything within the engine area." He chortled proudly, despite the disconcerting look he was getting. "But, make no mistake--I am working my way up. I don't mean to brag, but just yesterday? I did three oil changes. And two were successful."

"LP gets home around early evening," Drake added. "He doesn't always go on patrols with me, but most of the time he does."

"I'm used to getting very little sleep!" Launchpad gloated. "I just need one day out of the week to go in a catatonic state for twenty-three hours, and I'm good to go!"

"... I try to get him to take naps, too."

Jim understood. It made sense. His Darkwing Duck needed very little sleep, but his Darkwing Duck also traveled back in time once to stop a madman from stealing dinosaurs and selling them in modern times on the black market.

"All right," Jim said, "now for the most important question: where's your hideout?"

Drake and Launchpad fidgeted in their seats.

"Take me to your hideout," Jim pressed.

Drake chewed his bottom bill. "Well... It is sort of la--"

Jim rolled over Drake's foot, the mallard wincing and squeaking. Jim grabbed him by the front of his shirt, jerked him face to face. "Show me," he growled.

---

"We did intend on showing you our HQ when you were a little better," Drake reassured as he unlocked the basement door. He swung it open, switching on the light. "There's stairs, so I'll have to carry you down."

Jim held out his arms, frowning. Drake smiled apologetically and picked Jim up. He headed down the rickety old staircase, Launchpad following with wheelchair in tow. Jim glanced around the basement--fairly small, smelled musty and dank; boxes and junk lining one wall. Washer, dryer, and dusty bookshelf with detergents, cleaners, and rags along the other.

"Well," Jim snorted, wiggling out of Drake's arms and back into the wheelchair, "this is modest."

Drake chuckled. He walked to the back wall, pushing in a single brick. It slid aside, revealing a control panel. After punching in a passcode, the brick closed back into place, only for a door-sized chunk of wall to split apart. On the other side was an elevator, its doors also open and waiting.

"You first," Drake welcomed, stepping back.

"Wait... Won't it effect my bracelet?"

"It shouldn't, no," Drake replied. "I asked about that shortly before you moved in. For when this day inevitably came. They didn't really have to make many adjustments to the place when they found it anyway."

Jim was shocked. "This... came with the house?" he asked as Launchpad pushed him into the elevator. A little cramped, but they all fit; Drake pressed one of the four buttons on the panel, the doors closed, and with a shaky groan, the elevator started its descent. There was even music--Jim reeled back in his chair. Was that his smooth jazz cover of the Darkwing Duck theme song playing?

Drake elaborated: "It belonged to a doomsday cult in the mid-70s called the Notgunadiers. A labor of love and paranoia that took years in advance to build in secret, but fortunately their leader, Sheldon Haven, had plenty of followers who were higher-ups that helped him. It would serve as a giant underground bunker for the cult when the Martians attacked and turned us all into food."

Jim laughed dryly. "Aliens? Stupid."

"It's what they believed," Drake chuckled, "ultimately, I think it worked out for them in the end--no aliens, no getting diced and sliced into fast food. And we got this sweet bunker." The doors opened behind him, and he stepped aside again to allow Jim out first.

Jim was gobsmacked. This bunker was ginormous, divided into four sections.

Section one took up the corner left back of the wall. A surveillance center with numerous panels, keyboards, computers, built in blue and red phones; buttons, levers, radars, gauges, radios, gizmos, gadgets, bric-à-brac, disco ball. Along the wall were multiple screens of various shapes and sizes; feeds played from a variety of sources, even hacking into traffic and security cameras throughout St. Canard. All the tools one needed for secret peeping and eavesdropping on the city. Jim saw one feed trained on the entrance/exit of the bunker from... a dump? None around the house, but two in bedrooms he didn't recognize.

"We eat up a lot of power, so we keep most of the cameras and electronics off when we're not here," Drake explained. "Just the emergency back-up light for when we go in and out; switches off automatically after lack of activity and movement over twenty minutes."

Section two was a small recreation area. A folding table with two plastic chairs next to a counter and cupboards. There was a coffee machine, basket of snacks, packs of bottled water and juices, a stack of mugs, notepad and pens, phone book, Darkwing Duck bobble-head, and a framed photo of the Duck Knight and his partner. At one end of the counter was a mini-fridge, the other a half-full water cooler.

Drake pointed to the doors on the left and right walls. "These doors lead to the individual rooms where the cultists would reside," Drake explained, his voice echoing off the walls and high ceiling. "We have a couple beds and bathrooms set up in both areas, just in case we need to bring anyone in for interrogation or monitoring." He chortled, shrugging. "Or, you know, we want to take a cat nap or clean up. We designated one room as a medbay, but we're still gathering all the necessary equipment. We got almost a dozen first aid kits and a stretcher with a busted wheel, so it's a start!"

Then there was section three at the back by the steel wall: the Thunderquack, parked next to the Ratcatcher. A few feet away was a speed boat built to fit two, although it looked incomplete, tools left scattered around it.

Launchpad squeaked and ran over to the boat, hiding it poorly with his body. "Heh, I'm still workin' on the River-Ratcatcher," he said, blushing. "Almost done, though, then we can take it out and do our first test drive!"

Jim quietly pushed himself up to the Thunderquack. It was... incredible, absolutely breathtaking. "The one we used was just a hollow prop with a green screen," he murmured, shaky fingers running along the jet's pristine, glowing purple chassis. He'd seen the Thunderquack in newspapers and video clips, but in person, actually touching it, was almost too much for his heart to handle. "She's beautiful."

Drake smiled fondly at both the Thunderquack and Jim. "We're very proud of her, yes." He pat the ship's beak-esque hood. "You see, this wall," he continued, pointing to the steel cover, "opens up to a tunnel that leads to an exit hidden behind a dump on the outskirts of St. Canard. Sheldon and the cult believed they would be safe if they agreed to serve the aliens and allow them to fly and park their UFOs inside this hangar."

"Binkie mentioned something about tremors and earthquakes. Is that from the Thunderquack?"

"Unfortunately," Drake lamented. "We're working on fixing that... some way."

"Wait 'til ya see all the toys!" Launchpad walked over to the blank wall on the left, the final and fourth section, drawing back a sliding door of bricks to reveal cases of various weapons and gadgets, all neatly hanging on display. At the end was a wardrobe closet, containing extra Darkwing Duck costumes, disguises, and armor. Some of the weapons Jim instantly recognized, such as the gas and grappling gun and container of blue seismospheres, but others were new, nothing like he'd seen before. Then there were the typical, common tools, such as a taser, tubes of pepper spray, and butterfly knife.

"You got a whole arsenal here," Jim noted, his reflection light in the glass. He placed a hand over the gas gun and canisters shelved beneath it. "Not as much as my Darkwing did, but... Not too bad, I guess."

"SHUSH has us do trial runs with their new tech," Drake stated, tapping a knuckle on the glass. "Most of the time they work just fine. They come up with some really interesting stuff. But there are a couple duds." He glared hatefully at a bulletproof codpiece with a hole in it.

"Must be nice having a pimp backing you up," Jim snorted. "My Darkwing only had his massive intellect, scraps he found in a junkyard, and the thirty-three billion dollar fortune he inherited from his oil tycoons Aunt June and Uncle Wren before their untimely and unusual deaths."

"Well, it makes crime fighting a lot easier and more effective," Drake said.

"And that's the important part!" Launchpad added with a firm nod.

Jim grumbled to himself. "Yeah, yeah. How deep down is this place?"

"A little over a mile," Drake answered. "Or should I say... under?" He grinned, shooting finger guns at Jim.

Jim glowered.

After a second of processing the joke, Launchpad burst out laughing, slapping Drake on the back. "Good one, DW!"

"Well, that should wrap up the tour," Drake said, stretching. "I'm still a bit jet lagged, so I'd like to go to bed early, if you two don't mind?"

"Course not," Launchpad cooed, pecking the top of Drake's head.

Jim wanted to check out the rooms, but he'd seen enough, he supposed. With his medication fully kicking in, he also wanted to hit the hay. Jim stared out at the bunker, a knot in his chest; awe had turned into something a little more complicated. The elevator doors shut on his blank face.

---

Jim had a dream about the bunker. He was back in his old Darkwing Duck suit, getting ready to take the Thunderquack out for a spin. Everything was going pretty well, as far as Jim's dreams went.

Of course he had to jinx it.

Red gas erupted in the back of the cockpit; Jim stood from the pilot's seat, reaching for his gas gun. It wasn't there; he was unarmed.

"I am the creep that crawls in the night..."

Jim's eyes widened. He stepped back, hitting the console.

"I am the rattlesnake hiding in the sheriff's boot..."

"No. It can't--"

The gas swept through the cockpit, Jim covering his face with his cape.

"I am Darkwidow Duck!" the threatening figure cackled, eyes glowing blood red.

"You--but how--" Jim suddenly gagged, clutching at his throat. He couldn't breathe, eyes watering and blinding him. He dropped onto his knees beside the seat, sputtering and wheezing.

Darkwidow chortled, striding casually up to the masked hero. "Not bad, not bad," he said, looking over his jacket and fixing his hat. "I like this color scheme better than that boring purple and blue."

Jim lurched forward, vomiting bile and thick strands of saliva.

"Poisonous gas, remember?" Darkwidow chortled, patting the gas gun on his belt. "In a minute, your whole body will be paralyzed. In five minutes, you'll suffocate and die as blood fills your lungs. And this time it won't be any magical potion, Julie-baby."

As if on command, Jim collapsed on the floor, body completely rigid. He couldn't move; only his eyes, darting anxiously and fearfully in their sockets. Darkwidow stepped up beside him, grinning those familiar set of fanged teeth. "Think I'd just let you go that easily? I was only getting my new material together," he chuckled, removing a piece of paper from his suit. He gave it a reread then cleared his throat, bundling up the paper and pitching it over his shoulder. "Fuck it. Don't need a script for this."

Darkwidow knelt beside the paralyzed duck. "As you know, Jim Starling contributed nothing to the lives of these dimwits. Same goes with the rest of your brainwashed herd of fanatics. So don't go patting yourself on the back." He picked up one of Jim's arms. "Not like you could even if you tried." Darkwidow guffawed, letting the limb fall uselessly back at Jim's side.

"And you like to think what you're feeling is pride, honor, respect, adoration, checking out this hip new Darkwing Duck base," Darkwidow jeered, "but we both know it's only resentment, bitterness, and loss. Look what they have, look what they took from you. And using SHUDDUP or whatever to basically buy you? Wow, I can't even imagine what a blow that is to your wounded, festering pride."

Darkwidow cackled again. "No, wait! I totally can!" He slapped Jim's knee. "Yeeouch!"

After a moment, Darkwidow sighed, smile fading. "Jim, c'mon. This is just getting sad now." He reached down, kindly wiping the drool from the corners of Jim's beak. "You have what you need. Weapons, vehicles, equipment--everything! Now just take it. It's yours, after all."

Jim couldn't swallow. Couldn't even cough up the blood flooding his throat.

"Now, I know you're in no condition to talk, but that's fine. We can still do this. Blink twice if you're ready to let me take the helm." Darkwidow elbowed the pilot's seat. "Then I can give you the antidote. You're running out of time, Jim. Better hurry!"

The Thunderquack started shaking. Darkwidow snarled. The ceiling split apart, chunks falling on top of them. "No!" he screamed. His body started to dissipate into red gas, drifting out the holes in the Thunderquack's hull. "No! He was gonna--"

"Jim!"

Jim opened his eyes, finally letting out the air he'd been holding in. Drake and Launchpad stood at his bedside.

"Jim!" Drake cried, scared. "Relax, relax! Breathe!"

Jim coughed, taking huge gulps of air.

"You were havin' a really bad nightmare," Launchpad said nervously, wringing his hands. "And you weren't breathing!"

Jim blinked away the tears, panting. He went to speak, but only managed a dry croak.

"It's okay, don't talk. You're all right now."

Jim glared at Drake, startling him. Am I? he wanted to spit and growl.

Launchpad offered Jim a bottle of water. Jim inhaled, exhaled; he took the bottle in his trembling hand. Tried to drink, but only spilled water on his cast. Drake helped hold the bottle and hand in place, allowing Jim to swallow a few sips.

Jim slid up his pillow, kneading his forehead. "... M'fine now," he mumbled.

"Do you need any of your medications?" Drake asked.

"No."

"Maybe you should stay up for a little while. Not too long," Drake suggested. "Just let your body settle back down."

"I can stay up with you," Launchpad offered with a comforting smile.

Except Jim wasn't comforted at all. "I don't need... a babysitter..." he growled, fisting the blanket in his hands. "I said I'm fine."

Drake glanced back at Launchpad, neither convinced. "Would you like to watch TV?" Drake said.

"Old reruns of Jerry Spaniel-Springer are on!" Launchpad chipped in.

Jim took another drink of water. "Yeah. Fine. Just... go back to bed."

Drake reluctantly gave Jim the remote control as Launchpad turned the TV on.

"Call us if you need us," Drake said, "we're right down the hall."

Jim ignored him, flipping through channels of static and infomercials. Drake frowned but understood. He pat Launchpad on the arm and the two shuffled back to their bedroom, leaving the door open.

Jim flicked his glare at the empty doorway, back to the TV. He settled on an old black and white Western movie. He turned off the bedside lamp and slid back under his blanket. For an hour he watched the film, but processed nothing--even the world around him seemed far away, like white noise. When the credits started rolling, Jim made a mental note to throw out the Darkwidow outfit before falling asleep.

---

Jim was completely drained. Although he'd gone back to sleep, it'd been spasmodic; he kept waking up in ten minute intervals, frightened, as if he were expecting someone looming over his bed with a knife. By four in the morning, Jim's mind was racing too much for him to sleep. He nursed his bottle of water quietly, and waited until Drake came to his room to give him his medicine and take him downstairs for breakfast.

Jim stared at his plate of pancakes, dark rings around his eyes, mouth and throat dry. He was stuck in that purgatory between exhaustion, unable to keep his eyes open, and stress and anxiety stopping him from dozing off. Every time Jim thought he was going to collapse into his pile of pillowy looking pancakes, he immediately snapped his head back up, snorting or grunting, one eye remaining lidded.

"Just in case I needed to extend my 'vacation,' I took today off from 'work,'" Drake explained, placing orange juice beside Jim's plate. "So I can stay and... keep you company."

"Won't be ness," Jim slurred. He took a sip of his orange juice, spilling at least three swallows' worth on the napkin tucked in his shirt collar. Drake grimaced and promptly gave him a straw. "Take care self. Go work. No need."

"I'll be home around four," Launchpad said, "is there anything you'd like me to pick up for you, Jim?"

Drake quickly reached across the table, catching Jim's head in his hands before it could fall on the table.

---

Jim woke up to find Drake patting Jim's shoulders with a wet rag in the bathroom. Drake smiled, got half a "hello" out before Jim nodded back off, beak tucked against his chest. He remembered feeling himself being moved, lifted, and then placed in his bed a few minutes later. Jim opened his eyes just as Drake finished tucking him in.

Jim needed to tell Drake something. Something about last night. But he couldn't remember. He couldn't even put two words together. Sleep--he needed to sleep. Sleep was important.

Maybe Jim could sleep through the next ten months. He'd be okay with that, assuming uninvited guests didn't show up in his dreams.

---

Over the next few weeks, Jim got more comfortable in his new home.

The weather had been getting colder, with frequent snowfall. Jim held video conferences with his therapist once a week, once a month with his psychiatrist, and the occasional home visit from a doctor, and Tarry. Of course Jim had a lot to say about the big move and everything that had happened, but decided only to share the bare minimum with his therapist.

The cast came off toward the end of the month. He'd start rehab shortly after, but he still needed his wheelchair. Doctors said it'd be a while before he could move to using a cane, and even longer until he didn't need any sort of mobility support at all.

Just another log for the fire.

Drake and Launchpad were very supportive, helpful, patient. It made Jim sick sometimes, but then again, he felt sick most everyday for one reason or another. Drake went to his SHUSH classes and training from 8AM to 1PM, took a nap until 3 or 4PM, then went on patrol as Darkwing around 7PM to the early morning. Some days there were no classes; some days Drake was out working from early morning to late at night. Some days he'd get a good amount of sleep, others fair and just enough to keep him properly functioning and awake.

It was a chaotic, dangerous lifestyle, and very hard on the mind and body at times, but Drake had accepted his new strenuous life, even if it cost him a few important things. Jim wasn't entirely willing to admit it, but the kid handled it pretty well. One might say he was a "natural."

Launchpad had a more flexible schedule. He only worked four days a week, spending two days with Jim, and the third visiting his friends in Duckburg. Every night or every other night, crime fighting with his partner. No secret missions from SHUSH or requests from Scrooge McDuck recently.

Launchpad entertained Jim enough, or at least kept him busy. He had no desire to screw up and return to the hospital, or prison, and he certainly wasn't suicidal, so he proved he'd be fine alone at home, even if only for a few hours or so. Jim watched TV, read the newspaper and a couple books, played games on his phone and laptop, did crosswords and puzzles, learned how to cross-stitch and sew with a sewing machine, painted landscapes, ripped out his cheek feathers at how his life had become so much like an old man in a retirement home, sorted through his belongings. He didn't tell Launchpad he'd sold some of the Darkwing Duck merchandise online with the help of Tarry and Drake. Drake understood Jim needed to do what he needed to do, and didn't insist or try to convince him to keep his junk.

Sometimes Jim sat in front of the locked basement door for a few minutes. Almost longing. There were days where he wanted to ask if he could wait in the bunker while Darkwing Duck and his sidekick went out to fight crime, but either he choked on the words or was too late. Most nights Drake and Launchpad returned to find him sitting adjacent of the door, either drinking coffee or sleeping. At least they took him downstairs when they had work to do but were staying in.

Jim helped where he could, but mostly just observed and watched the two, giving tips here and there, reminiscing about the old show and comparing his equipment/weapons/base/costumes/acting to the inferior newfangled stuff.

Binkie liked to pop in at least once a day; either to socialize or bring goodies. If not her, one of her sons. Most of the time it was Honker, since the eldest, Tank, usually just ate the food behind the house. Jim always made sure his ankle bracelet was covered when Binkie or Honker showed up--he had a feeling they'd be quick to stop offering him gifts if they knew his dirty little secret. It made turning down dinner dates a tad difficult, but Jim was a professional actor--if he didn't charm his way out of declining the invites, he played a convincingly sick and sore man who just needed to rest.

"You always seem so chipper and eager to make friends with everyone," Jim grumbled, helping bandage Drake's sprained arm one night. "You'd think that ridiculously cheerful family would be right up your alley."

Drake smirked tiredly. "I don't dislike the Muddlefoots, but even I have my limits. And they do tend to be... judgmental at times."

Jim wanted to ask about what, but then remembered he didn't care.

"Honker's great," Drake added, holding an ice pack to his swollen cheek, "he's polite, a little shy, and actually very smart. Tank, on the other hand, is a disaster."

Jim stared at Drake's hand in his own. Drake's right hand. He stopped wrapping up the bandage, eyes narrowing.

"What is it?" Drake asked. "Don't tell me it's worse--"

"Pizza's on the way!" Launchpad shouted from the kitchen. He was more energetic than usual; the Mallard-McQuack family only allowed themselves pizza once a month. Even then Drake often ordered a salad or whatever lightest, low calorie dish they had.

Jim, on the other hand, was allowed to eat whatever he liked, within reason. He knew it was a dastardly thing to do, but Jim sometimes liked eating a big slice of cake or greasy burger in front of Launchpad while he tried and failed to appear unfazed. However, Drake was a fair, if not mediocre cook, and so long as he made the meals and not Launchpad, Jim would eat alongside them.

Eating at the table with these two was... interesting. Growing up, Jim was taught never to speak at the table during meals. Speak only when spoken to, and his parents absolutely despised small or personal talk. Striginia was the same. Nana let Jim eat alone, which he preferred. It hadn't bothered him, even as a kid, but Drake and Launchpad were very chatty and very animated as they ate, gesticulating non-stop. And they always encouraged Jim to join in on their conversations.

"No thank you," Jim would say every single time and resume eating in silence. The two would feel bad for a few minutes then go back to rambling and laughing and having a good time. They always left openings for Jim to jump in, addressed him constantly, even if it was just speaking at him and he never responded.

"You start rehab next week, right, Jim?" Drake asked, even if he knew already.

Jim nodded once. That was it.

"I wish I could take you," Drake lamented. "Or even Launchpad when he goes to visit Scrooge."

"I can't wait to introduce you to the kids!" Launchpad said, smiling widely. "You already met Dewey, but there's also Louie and Huey and Webby and Mortimer Haversham, the Victorian ghost boy who haunts the sixth room on the second floor--"

After dinner, Launchpad went to shower. Drake was changing into his pajamas when Jim appeared in his doorway, surprising him. "You ever notice most of the wounds you get are on the right side of your body?" Jim asked, waving at the recently bandaged right hand.

Drake raised his brows. "... Well, yes, it's--"

"I know you're left handed, and you like to think you compensate for your right, but you're still relying too heavily on your left. Enough to sustain more injuries than any other place on your body," Jim elaborated. "As you know, my Darkwing Duck was professionally trained by many prestigious gurus and martial artists. He was also ambidextrous."

"I do practice when I can," Drake replied. "SHUSH helps me with training, too."

"Well, you're obviously not getting it right," Jim scowled. "If I wasn't confined to this wheelchair, I'd teach you how to properly balance your body out."

Drake's eyes widened. "... Would you... still be able to teach me? I mean, maybe you can't do anything physically, but you can still point out mistakes and give me verbal lessons. I've been meaning to spar more with Launchpad." Those wide eyes lit up. "He'd love that! I'd love that! We'd both love that! You could be our mentor!"

Jim blinked, then snorted, shaking his head. "The most I can do in my state is teach you how to write with both hands."

"You're really ambidextrous?"

"Of course! I learned while working on Darkwing Duck. Although my right side is my dominant one." Jim took a notepad and pen off the desk. "Y'see, kid, even just writing with both hands can be extremely helpful. Penmanship is an art, and as such, can be decoded and studied." He wrote his name with his right hand, and then his left. "My right handed signature is more fluid and curvy. My left is in all capitals and bold from increased pressure."

Drake walked over, mesmerized.

"One of these signatures reads as confident, relaxed, easy-going. Another reads as impatient, domineering, and simplistic. If Darkwing Duck were to sign anything--say my Darkwing Duck--he'd do so with his left hand. As a civilian, he would use his right. It helps keep your identity safe, and throw people off. Of course you could just alter your style, but where's the fun in that?"

Drake took the notepad, gaping as he analyzed both signatures. "I never thought about--well--any of this!" he laughed. "This is amazing! I'd love for you to teach me how to write with both hands! And train me to better balance my fighting style, too!"

"By the time I'm out of rehab and back on my feet, you'll probably have figured everything out on your own," Jim said bitterly. "But..." He shifted in his chair, minding the dressing on his hip. "... I guess I could teach you ambidexterity..."

Drake took Jim by the shoulders, his smile so bright it was blinding. "Jim, you have no idea how much this means to me! I wish I could hug you until I snapped your spine! Oh, no, I--"

Jim grumbled, picking off Drake's hands. "Might as well," he said, gesturing to his hip, "not like I've got much to do anyway."

---

Regardless, Drake asked Jim to be present when he and Launchpad sparred.

Jim pretended not to be interested, but always pointed out an error or opening neither had noticed. He would push himself over, properly change their positions; left arm goes down here, right arm goes up here. Sometimes he got a bit too aggressive, insulting their mistakes rather than providing any helpful feedback. Launchpad and Drake never argued or got upset, however; they had faith in Jim (at least as a mentor) and immediately made up for their errors.

Jim refused to accept he enjoyed helping the two. It would only disappoint and depress him, reminding him of his shortcomings.

"Just because you're handicapped doesn't mean you're useless, you know," Drake said after one intense session. "You need to get out of that mindset, Jim. Once you do, you'll feel a great load come off your shoulders. You've got a lot to offer, and your physical limitations don't make you weak or any less helpful and talented."

"What do you know?" Jim mumbled, looking away.

Drake was, fortunately, quick to learn and pick things up fast. This included ambidexterity. While he practiced whenever and wherever he could, he'd spend a half hour writing at his desk with Jim watching and offering tips. Also occasionally being too much of a jackass and less of a teacher when it came to mistakes.

Jim attended his first rehab session. It went as well as he expected. These things would take time--it didn't mean he couldn't be upset or angry.

---

Winter had come, covering the house in snow. The cold made Jim's busted hip more sore than usual, even covered in multiple blankets and a heating pad. Some days he couldn't get out of bed, it hurt too much, he was too tired, the pain keeping him up at night. But when it came to sparring lessons, Jim absolutely refused to miss them.

Drake and Launchpad realized they needed to hold off practicing, or do them in secret, for Jim to not strain and force himself. And he knew they were deliberately pushing him away; Jim grew irritable and frustrated, and outright told Drake he wouldn't continue the writing lessons so long as Launchpad and Drake left him out.

It was one late night during the middle of a harsh snow storm that kept Darkwing Duck from work when someone knocked at the door. Jim was in Launchpad's arms, about to be carried up to bed, his hip aching extra bad tonight. Drake got up from the couch, all three staring at the door, baffled. It was almost eleven at night; it couldn't be the Muddlefoots, who always went to bed before nine.

"Yoohoo!" a cheerful voice called from outside. Another knock. "Helloooo, Mallard-McQuack family! I know you're in there."

Launchpad looked to Drake. "Is that...?"

Drake was surprised. Jim was just outright confused. "It sounds like her..." He ran to the door, opening it.

A tall bird immediately stepped inside, tracking snow on the carpet. She wore an oversized, heavily padded winter coat, mittens, and beanie, the glasses on her beak completely fogged over. There was a briefcase in her right hand. "Well, took you long enough!" she giggled, brushing snow off her shoulders, adding to the melting pile on the floor.

"Miss Bellum, why--"

"Tss tss!" the woman chided, poking Drake's cheek. "It's Doctor Bellum. Silly boy."

"Sorry, but what are you doing here? It's almost midnight, and there's an awful storm outside!"

Doctor Bellum chuckled. "Science waits for no one, dear boy," she said, peeling off her coat, revealing a white lab coat beneath. "And I just made the breakthrough I've been working on for months!"

"Who's this freak?" Jim whispered to Launchpad.

Doctor Bellum snapped her attention to Jim, sending a chill down his spine. "Jim, Jim, Jim, are you hard of hearing, too?" she laughed. Doctor Bellum plucked off her beanie, letting a ponytail of black hair unfurl. She tossed her hat, mittens, and coat carelessly on top of Drake. "I am Sara Bellum, but you can--and you will--call me Doctor Bellum. I work for SHUSH--oh, there's no use, I know you know. I'm one of their top and best scientists."

"Who we're not suppose to meet up with outside work hours?" Drake ground out, hanging up her things.

Doctor Bellum laughed, swishing a hand. "But this is work related! We're just... switching up locations!" She spun a finger around, then pointed it at Jim. "And you're the lucky ducky who gets to try my serum."

"Serum?"

"I had hoped to tie things up before you started rehab, but alas," Doctor Bellum sighed. She tapped her beak, looking around the room. "Hmm. Where should you go, where should you gooo... Ah, the sofa will do!" She slapped the couch. "Launchpad, if you will!"

"What's going on?" Jim snarled. "What--Don't put me down!"

"What exactly is going on, Doctor Bellum?" Drake demanded.

Doctor Bellum walked over to the coffee table, thoughtlessly knocked off magazines and mugs of cocoa to put her briefcase down. "Why, it's a modern day miracle! From yours truly--no God, no deity involved or necessary. You see, boys." Doctor Bellum carefully removed a large needle with a syringe full of glowing green liquid. "I'm here to cure Mister Starling with my new rapid healing serum, the Deus Ex Medicina!"

Jim's eyes bulged from his skull. "You're not sticking that fucking thing inside me!" he snapped, wriggling in Launchpad's arms.

"No one is sticking anyone with anything!" Drake shouted, standing between the three. "Listen, Doctor Bellum, I know all about the Deus Ex Medicina, but you said it's only been successful in small rodents."

"It was, and it still is, but now it's successful on everything!" Doctor Bellum declared proudly. Drake raised a finger, and she took an iPad from her coat, playing a video. "But fine, I suppose you nonbelievers and naysayers need further proof."

The video was Doctor Bellum administrating the serum into the broken arm of a mallard. "As you know, Agent 70 aka Goldeneye shattered his arm in four places on his last mission, and has been in the hospital for weeks," she said. "Now, watch closely." Doctor Bellum injected the entire syringe into Goldeneye's awkwardly bent limb. "After just one minute... five... four... three... two... tada!"

Goldeneye and the room gasped as the mallard stretched out his arm, everything set back into proper place. Doctor Bellum had him write with his former broken hand; flex his bicep, carry and hold a variety of things, starting with a tennis ball up to a five pound exercise dumbbell.

"Whoa," Launchpad whispered, stunned.

"It's--it's a trick," Jim stammered, blinking rapidly.

"Oh, that offends me, Jim, but I'll let that one slide no! This is not a trick!" Doctor Bellum put the 'pad down, needle still in hand. "You see, once the D-E-M hits the bloodstream, it causes a chain reaction that congeals and you know what? You're all lovely people, but you're not smart enough to understand a single thing I say, so in layman's terms: it just works!"

"Did J. Gander give you clearance to test the serum on Jim?"

Doctor Bellum smiled slowly. "... Of course he did."

Drake scowled. "Well, it doesn't matter. Jim won't consent, and you can't do any--"

"Lemme see that video again."

Drake gave Jim an incredulous look while Doctor Bellum happily handed him the 'pad. Jim replayed the video, watching closely.

"There's just one downside as of right now," Doctor Bellum explained, "the serum only works temporarily. The effects last twelve hours; after the drug wears off... Well, you may experience the pain of breaking your hip all over again, but is it not worth it? Do we not put blood alongside our sweat and tears in everything we do?"

"That's the only side effect?" Drake snorted, folding his arms.

"Aside from dry mouth, involuntary muscle spasms, temporary paralysis in the fingers, and increased heart rate--yup! That's all! And it won't interfere with any of his medications." Doctor Bellum giggled, pinching her fingers together and holding them up to her beak. "Unless our friend Jim here enjoys a good puff puff toke toke, then everything's fine!"

"If it really helps, and it'll let Jim walk and move around again," Launchpad mumbled, "then... maybe it won't be so bad? Just trying it once, I mean."

"I love your spirit, Lunchpail!"

"Again," Drake pressed, "you can't do anything without Jim's consent." He turned back to Jim re-watching the video for a fifth time. "It's risky, Jim. I'd wait until Doctor Bellum's run more tests in a controlled environment."

"Peeshaw!" Doctor Bellum chided. "This beautiful house will do just fine! You're not going out tonight, obviously, so you can watch over Jim. Although you won't need to, since I am 97.9% sure it's 100% effective."

"That--"

"Let's do it, doc." Jim ignored the worried and shocked looks from his roommates, eyes locked with Doctor Bellum's. He handed her back the 'pad. "Give it to me. I can handle whatever this serum dishes out.”

"Jim..." Drake murmured, nervous. "Are you--"

"I've broken every bone in my body at least once while working on Darkwing Duck," Jim scowled. "I'm fine. Stop mollycoddling me like a damn kid."

Drake stepped back. That actually managed to strike a nerve. Even Launchpad winced.

"Wonderful!" Doctor Bellum shouted, dropping a thick pile of bound papers and pen in Jim's lap. "Now, let's start the consent forms, and then we can get this party started!"

---

Doctor Bellum was spontaneous and a bit eccentric, but she was also diligent and serious about her work... for the most part. Jim had second thoughts while going through the contract. So many terms and conditions, it felt as if he were making a deal with the devil. Doctor Bellum staring at him with her manic eyes and impish grin certainly didn't help.

What else did Jim have to lose, anyway? If it would make him mobile again, even if only short periods of time, he was willing to give it a shot. Literally, too.

Speaking of--that needle was still too big, but absolutely necessary. Launchpad and Drake disagreed with Jim's decision for the most part, but they helped nonetheless. Drake laid a blanket out on the couch as Launchpad assisted undressing Jim. Doctor Bellum went through her briefcase, removing another needle containing clear fluid.

"What's that for?" Drake asked hesitantly.

"In case he goes into shock or cardiac arrest," Doctor Bellum chuckled. "This'll calm him right down in seconds."

Drake gulped.

Launchpad laid Jim down as straight as possible on his side along the couch. Doctor Bellum whistled, removing his hip wrappings; most of his feathers had grown back, hiding the scars, but she plucked a couple anyway. After sanitizing the injection spot with an alcohol pad, Doctor Bellum placed the tip of the needle to the skin below a jagged, puckered line. "This always helps my patients to relax," she snickered. "What did the chicken crossing the road say when she got run over by a car?"

Jim screamed as Doctor Bellum pushed the needle in deep. "Bingo!" she laughed.

Launchpad had fainted. Drake couldn't even look, nauseous and pale; he held Jim down as gently as possible. Doctor Bellum pinned his kicking leg into place, the needle sinking in to its final tenth inch. "From my heart and from my hand," she sang over Jim's wailing, "why don't people understand my intentions?" She pushed down on the plunger, injecting the serum slowly. "Ooo, weird!" Doctor Bellum banged her head, ponytail whipping around in a circle. "Weird science!"

"It burns!" Jim shrieked. "Is it suppose to burn it burns shit is it suppose to burn?"

"My creation yes it's suppose to burn is it real? My creation!"

"Can't you go faster, doctor?" Drake yelped.

"Not if you want him to experience extreme excruciating pain! Whoa, plastic tubes and pots and pans!"

"I'm going to kill you!" Jim barked, eyes bloodshot.

"Not what teacher said to and we're done!" Doctor Bellum pulled out the needle, the syringe completely empty. "Now, admittedly, I should have warned you there'd be a light pinch, but it's over!" She dug in her coat pocket, took out a NUMBER ONE PATIENT Mickey Mouse sticker, and slapped it on his shoulder.

Launchpad moaned, sitting up from behind the couch. "Did... Did you start?"

Doctor Bellum stood, placing both needles back into the briefcase. She rolled up her sleeve, looking over three wrist watches. "Give or take a minute, and soon you'll be up and running a marathon! Haha, but don't do that, you will die."

Jim took deep breaths, eyes squeezed shut. "Still... burns," he grunted, digging fingers into the cushions.

"That should stop in a few seconds."

"Dammit!" Jim yelled, spittle flying from his beak. "Felt like I fell on my keys! And my keys were fuckin' daggers!"

Drake looked pleadingly up at Doctor Bellum. "Just one minute?"

Doctor Bellum nodded. "Oh, nope, forty seconds, actually."

"LP," Drake said, reaching over to touch Launchpad's hand, "bring Jim a glass of water. And the whole bottle of Tylenol for me."

"Y-Yeah, sure."

"Oh!" Doctor Bellum called to Launchpad. "If you have any gum, I'd love some gum!"

Jim panted, blinking tears and sweat from his eyes. "... Stop... burning. Feels... kinda numb? Weird."

"That comes right before the serum kicks in." The three watches all beeped at once. "There! The serum should be in full effect now! You may try standing and walking!"

Jim could feel some sensation in his hip. Nothing bad, fortunately. He took a deep breath, reaching back for Drake with a shaky hand. Drake took it, helping roll him carefully onto his side, slowly up to a sit. They waited for the dizziness to subside, then Drake asked, "Are you sure you're good to move?"

Jim shoved Drake away. God, he was tired of being treated like-- It took him a second, and then all of Jim's anger disappeared when he realized he was standing. No help, no pain. Drake stared on, gaping. Launchpad returned, dropping the glass of water, pills, and strip of gum.

"Brilliant, as expected!" Doctor Bellum clapped, laughing gleefully. "Now! Try taking a couple steps!"

Drake lingered close to Jim's side. Jim licked his bill; another deep breath, and he raised his foot. His hip didn't react, didn't send a bolt of pain through his body. He took one step forward; his muscles trembled, and Drake quickly caught him.

"Your muscles need time to adjust to working again," Doctor Bellum explained. "The serum will help speed that up, too."

"M-Maybe you should keep a cane on you," Drake suggested, "just in case."

"I'll accept it," Doctor Bellum said. "And remember: the D-E-M only lasts up to twelve hours. After that, you can't take another dose for twelve hours. The serum will speed up the healing rate; you should make a full recovery within two months, according to my hypothesis. You will need to continue seeing a physical therapist, however."

"How are you feelin', Jim?" Launchpad asked, placing a cup of water in Jim's hand.

Jim had a tiny sip. "I... I'm not in any pain." He pushed Drake away, taking a third step on his own.

"I brought just enough to last a week," Doctor Bellum stated, removing a bottle of the glowing green substance. "Always make sure you inject directly into the hip. Once every twelve hours." She gave Launchpad the medicine and a package of seven syringes and needles. "Understand?" Doctor Bellum stood up on her tippy-toes, yelling directly into Launchpad's ear. "Once every twelve hours!"

Launchpad's face scrunched up, eyelid twitching. "G-Got it."

"Drake, you know my number. Call me if anything happens. I'll kill you if you don't." Doctor Bellum cackled, and Drake jumped. "No, but seriously, keep me updated. It's vital to follow the serum's progress. And if a medical emergency should happen, take Jimmy to the SHUSH branch in East St. Canard Hospital."

Drake scratched the back of his neck. "I... don't know what to say," he mumbled.

"Thanks, doc," Jim said, walking up to the scientist and patting her on the shoulder. "That should suffice, since I let you use me as a lab rat."

"I like this one," Doctor Bellum smirked, winking at Drake. "Oh, and psssh! Silly me!" She walked to the door, fetching her things. "I did say you'd need to continue rehab, but considering you're testing a prototype to a very top secret medication that people like FOWL would literally kill to get their hands on, you won't be seeing your current therapist. In fact, one of my assistants who helped work on the serum will be, well, assisting you!" She pulled on her coat, zipping it up. "He'll call you within 48 hours to set the first appointment up and get all the paperwork ready, so keep your phones on and close by!"

"Does your assistant have a medical license?"

Doctor Bellum bent over Drake. "My assistant comes with the package. You can't have one without the other," she said, giving his beak a soft slap with her mitten. "But you need not worry. Agent 666 is just like me! You'll have a blast! That, and he'll work very diligently with Jim and ensure he gets all the benefits the D-E-M has to offer. No more questions! Toodaloo!" Doctor Bellum slammed the door shut behind her.

"That was... really nice of her," Launchpad said, rubbing his sore head.

"It's less an act of charity, and her just treating Jim like a lab specimen," Drake grunted.

"Well, it's working so far," Jim said, pacing slowly around the living room. "And someone as hot as that mad scientist can stick me with her needles any time she--" Jim tripped on a foot stool and tumbled over.

---

Even though it was midnight, Jim refused to go to bed. He wanted to enjoy his returned mobility as much as possible, for as long as possible. It was fine at first, with him simply doing little jogs around the house, going up and down the stairs. But when he came back downstairs a sixth time, Jim was wearing a hoodie and snow boats. Drake tried to stop him but Jim slipped out the front door too quickly.

The storm had died down, but it was still snowing heavily, and the winds were bone chilling. Jim didn't feel a damn thing. He cheered and laughed as he ran about the yard, kicking and throwing up snow. He flopped onto his back, made a couple angels. Launchpad and Drake watched from the front door, and although they were concerned, they couldn't deny the relief and joy they felt seeing Jim so happy. Legitimately, genuinely happy.

Jim ran up to the very edge of the yard, close to breaching the ankle bracelet's limit. He giggled mischievously, sticking out his leg, foot just one single inch from setting the thing off. Drake pulled him back before he could do anything further stupid.

"I wasn't going to go over the line!" Jim scowled. He picked up a ball of snow and threw it in Drake's face.

And that was how a brief snowball fight ensued between the three. Launchpad threw a bit too hard, knocking both mallards onto the ground with pained gasps. The neighbors' lights from across the street switched on, so Drake hurriedly coaxed Jim and Launchpad back inside.

"I think you might be pushing it a little, Jim," Drake said over Jim's loud "weeee," the older duck somersaulting across the living room. "You really should go to bed, let the serum settle in."

"Is this not what the doctor intended?" Jim asked, hanging from the top of the staircase. He let go; Drake cried out, but Launchpad swiftly caught him.

---

After a little more nagging, Jim finally took his medication and got into bed. As soon as Drake left the room, he stuck his legs up and started cycling. When he finally did get to sleep, it was nice and dreamless.

Around eight in the morning, Drake and Launchpad were up and making breakfast. Jim hopped out of bed, doing squats and jumping jacks until Drake called up from downstairs, "I can hear you! Please don't push yourself, especially after just waking up."

Jim emerged a few minutes later, dressed in a nice festive sweater, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. "Think I might take a nice long walk around the yard today," he said, smiling and puffing out his chest. He swayed down the stairs. "But first, I need breakfast. Drake! I think I'll have--"

It felt like someone had stabbed four knives into Jim's hip at once. The pain was overwhelming, and Jim nearly vomited by the sudden onslaught. He immediately collapsed, diving off the stairs. Drake darted up, catching Jim in his arms and tipping over; before they could both hit the floor, Launchpad caught them.

Drake shook his head. "What w--"

"Shhhhit shit shit shit!" Jim screamed, squirming violently. Launchpad placed both of them on the couch; Drake helped lay Jim down, but the older duck angrily slapped him away. "Oh shit oh God oh shit oh God," he yelped and cried, face red and sweating bullets. He tore his fingers into his throbbing hip.

"The serum must have worn off!" Drake gasped. "Jim! Did you take your medication?"

"Yes fuck!" Jim screeched, biting and tearing open a throw pillow. "It hurts!"

"The painkiller must need a few minutes to kick in," Drake mumbled, chewing his thumb. "Okay, Jim, just... try to relax. Breathe deeply. I know it hurts--"

"You don't know!" Jim shrieked in a high pitched voice. He almost kicked Drake in the head. "I'm gonna--gonna vomit!"

"I'll go get a bucket!" Launchpad said, rushing to the bathroom.

"Doctor Bellum did say it'd feel like you were breaking your hip all over again when the serum wore off..."

"Understatement of the fuckin' year!" Jim snapped, slobber flying in gobs from his beak. "Like a, like a bulldozer running over me!"

"Just wait a little longer; your painkiller needs time to work," Drake insisted. Launchpad returned with a waste bin, placing it beside the sofa in Jim's reach.

"Fuck!" Jim snarled. He flipped onto his back. Without thinking, he reached out, grabbing Drake's hovering hand. He squeezed it tightly, but Drake swallowed down the pain, squeezing Jim's carefully. Jim's free hand clawed at the couch, the air, until Launchpad took it in both of his. Jim looked between the two, both sitting beside him, holding his hands; his vision started to blur, and just before he thought he'd pass out from the pain, his medication finally took over.

Little by little, Jim came down, wheezing and panting, grips on Drake and Launchpad's hands loosening. He didn't let go, and neither did they.

Jim closed his eyes, listened to his heart thump loudly in his ears. He might have heard distant laughter in the back of his head--mocking, taunting.

Back at the top, only to hit rock bottom once again.

---

Launchpad stayed home an extra hour just in case Jim had another episode. Drake called each hour to check up on them both. Jim was back to his usual self, slouching in his wheelchair by the TV, tired bags under his puffy red eyes. He finally ate something, but he still hadn't spoken since the breakdown.

Drake came home for lunch with some good news, at least. "I spoke to Agent 666--Otus--and he agreed to come by later today to check things out," he explained. He didn't tell Jim Doctor Bellum sounded absolutely ecstatic when he told her what happened, but she did warn them beforehand and beyond taking his pain medication, there was nothing else they could do.

Jim remained silent. He didn't eat lunch, just stayed glued to the TV the remainder of the day.

Drake returned home minutes before Otus arrived: a short, stout brown owl in a white coat with big, yellow eyes. "This is simply a consultation, no therapy today," he explained, "wouldn't want to break the other hip."

Jim was hesitant at first, but quickly went back to just being apathetic, allowing the agent to look over his hip, run a simple physical. "Has he eaten today?" Otus inquired, typing on his laptop.

"Only a snack bar," Launchpad answered. "He won't eat anythin'."

"Well, tsk, young man! Do you want to get better or not?" Otus lectured. "If you don't eat properly, the serum won't work properly. It's simple basic health. Stop being a little baby."

"I'm not a baby!" Jim barked.

"Finally!" Otus huffed. "And if you don't want me addressing you like a baby, stop acting like a baby! What doctor in their right mind prescribes wallowing in self-pity? Because you're overdosing on it!" He snorted. "Life's hardly fair, my boy, and don't expect it to stop and pick you up if you fall down. That's your responsibility!"

"Is this dick even a doctor?" Jim spat at Drake.

"I am the one helping you on your road to recovery," Otus said. "You could show a little gratitude."

"Gratit--"

Otus turned his head completely around, facing the worried couple. "Please make Jim something to eat. Something light and bland, easy on the stomach," he said. He twisted his head back to his patient. "Or baby food, if you prefer."

Jim leaned forward, shadow stretching over the short owl. "I could crush your head between my legs like a rotten melon," he whispered fiercely.

Otus's eyes widened, taking up most of his face. "I'd like to see you try with your shitty hip, big man."

Jim sat back, growling.

"Either way, you should consider taking the D-E-M in the morning," Otus continued. "I myself am nocturnal, but you all seem to be more active during the day--except for you, Darkwing Duck, you're a double-threat, aren't you, boy? A short nap in between is recommended as well. No unnecessary physical activity; the serum will need time to settle in and start the healing process. I'll set an appointment up for Friday evening. Six sound fair? Good. I've made the appointment!"

Drake blinked. "... O-Okay."

"Be up by seven tomorrow morning," Otus ordered. "Take the injection with food for best results. Make sure you have one of your painkillers a half hour before the serum wears off." He put his laptop away, picked up his briefcase. "I will be coming here directly from and after work, so I won't be able to eat dinner, and I'd rather not stop to pick up food. Therefore, I prescribe you two to make me a side dish--I'm allergic to peanuts, and I don't like bell peppers." Otus opened the front door, nodded at the three. "Good day, and good night."

The room was quiet, the confusion palpable.

Launchpad laughed suddenly, hands on his hips. "Well, that was certainly quirky! Right, gang?"

---

Otus had left a cane for Jim--simple, easy to use. Although still upset, Jim did eat dinner, only to immediately excuse himself to his room after he finished.

"It's a process," Drake sighed, rinsing the last dish.

"He'll be okay," Launchpad reassured, drying the plate and putting it away. "He's bounced back from worse, right?"

Drake smiled weakly. "Well," he said, untying and pulling off his apron. "It's time."

Launchpad squeaked. "To get dangerous?"

"You know it, babe."

Jim heard the basement door open and close. "Ugh," he grunted, throwing the blanket over his head. "Losers."

---

Jim followed the doctor's orders to the T. He got up at seven, took his medication, tried not to squeal like a dying pig as he injected the serum into his hip, then went downstairs for breakfast. Not long after, he was back on his feet, moving slowly, not over-exerting himself like last time.

Drake and Launchpad wanted to stay, but Jim reassured them he'd be fine on his own. He wasn't going to do anything stupid, especially if it meant getting the boot. Despite certain qualms, he had a nice thing going. He wasn't paying rent, he had three meals a day, and being buddies with Darkwing Duck had its obvious perks.

Although Jim did spend a short while staring at the basement door when his roommates left. Drake was the only one with a key. It was tempting, almost; he placed the edge of his steel cane against the door knob. Just bash this thing right off... No, probably had some alarm system set up in case there was a break in. Besides: nice thing. Don't break nice thing.

Otus was insufferable, but he was a good doctor. He allotted a permanent hour block for treatment every Friday, even if Drake and Launchpad disagreed.

By day six, Jim insisted on tagging along with Drake and Launchpad to the bunker. They weren't going out for a couple more hours, and he'd convinced them to do a little sparring under his watchful eye until then. Nothing too strenuous that would keep them from their work out on the streets. Besides, the DEM was due to wear off in an hour anyway.

Jim moved around the two, using his cane for support, one arm folded behind his back. They'd improved greatly since their last session with Jim. But Jim still found little errors here and there where he stepped in and took over. There was always room for improvement, after all.

Launchpad took Jim back upstairs before the two went out. Jim, tired, went to bed after the initial pain in his hip settled to something manageable. A tremor shook the house for a few seconds as the Thunderquack left the hangar. It knocked over one of the Darkwing Duck toys Launchpad had put on Jim's desk, holding a note reading: REMEMBER TO TAKE YOUR MEDS LOVE YOU.

Jim stared at the toy for a short while. It stared back with its narrow plastic eyes and permanent grin. Jim rolled on his side.

---

"Otus tells me you've been making incredible progress!" Doctor Bellum cheered, speaking to Drake, Jim, and Launchpad over video. "All the notes point to a swift recovery! Quicker than we initially believed! Why, within the next month, you'll regain 75.5% mobility; you'll still need to use a cane, of course, but isn't this such wonderful news? My serum is so incredible! I'm so incredible! I'm going to treat myself to a fancy dessert tonight to celebrate."

"It's been pretty nice, yes."

"Great! Now give me a high five!" Doctor Bellum held her hand to the screen.

The three looked among each other.

"... Why?"

"Just do it! Gimme a high five!"

"... No?"

"You want more Medicina, don't you?"

Jim sighed, rolling his eyes. He placed his hand over Doctor Bellum's on the screen--only to receive a small shock, recoiling. Doctor Bellum laughed, "Just a little teaser of a new project I'm working on. A type of digital hand buzzer!"

Jim picked up the laptop to throw it at the wall, but Drake wrestled it back.

It'd be nearly two months since Jim moved into the Mallard-McQuack home. He'd settled in, although still felt a bit awkward and out of place at times. That would never go away, he knew, considering the blunder at the studio. He wondered if Drake and Launchpad sometimes thought about that day; if they ever regretted bringing Jim back into their lives. He wouldn't blame them if they got tired of his ass, but he still didn't want to end up on the street.

Jim was making himself useful. He sometimes had meals prepared when the two came home from work. Nothing extravagant. He'd never been much of a cook himself, but it was good practice. And, again, at least his food tasted good and was digestible compared to Launchpad's. Drake and Launchpad praised his dishes, as simple and dull as they were, and Jim found himself getting less irritated and quick to assume they were mocking him, and more... proud. Lively. He missed compliments and praise, even if the two heroes were always sincere from the start.

Although, Jim did lie about half the food he made. Which he didn't. He and Binkie had become friends--at least, Binkie thought they were--and she took a great liking to Jim. As did Herb, although Jim tried to avoid him as much as possible. He was worse than Binkie; listening to him talk rot Jim's teeth and made him a little nauseous. As of yet, with the help of blankets, boots, bandages, and strategic locations, the Muddlefoots still didn't know about his ankle bracelet. Jim expected Honker had caught on, but the kid didn't say anything. Out of respect, out of fear, didn't matter, so long as he didn't jeopardize the thing Jim had going with his unsuspecting, ignorant neighbors.

Binkie started making extra food just for Jim. She felt so sorry for the poor handicapped mallard, left all alone at home. Jim had pride, but he was willing to play on her pity if it meant getting what he wanted. There were times where Drake would take a bite of "Jim"'s food and make a face, as if he knew the truth. But he didn't call Jim out. Launchpad remained blissfully oblivious.

Besides, it wasn't like Jim didn't help his roommates out. He paid them back in more training lessons. Drake had mastered ambidexterity and compensated for both his left and right sides when fighting, but there was still so much he wanted to learn. For example, neither duck were very experienced in the ancient art of Quack Fu--something Jim knew well.

Every Friday, Jim had physical therapy with Otus, the DEM refilled. Four days a week he trained Drake and Launchpad after they finished dinner or on their days off. And ever since Jim took on his strict new schedule, he stopped appearing in his dreams.

Perhaps it was a sign, Jim thought one day, in the middle of stretching with Drake and Launchpad in Darkwing Duck's HQ. Perhaps there was a morning after. Perhaps he could move on from his mistakes. Perhaps he could leave the past behind--take only the good, throw away the bad. Perhaps he could stop being so bitter. Perhaps he kind of, maybe liked having friends who cared about him.

Perhaps, but he wasn't getting his hopes up.

---

Jim didn't know what it was, but he woke from sleep suddenly, anxious. He looked at the clock--almost two in the morning. The house was dark.

Something was wrong.

Maybe it was intuition. Maybe it was indigestion. Either way, Jim slid out of bed and into his wheelchair. He had no reason to, but Jim tucked his last needle of DEM in his robe. On Otus's third visit, he had a ramp put in, making it easy for Jim to go up and down the stairs. It moved at a snail's pace, and Jim couldn't help but keep punching buttons, hoping it'd miraculously go faster.

Everything was quiet. Drake and Launchpad were still out on patrol. Wouldn't be home until early morning.

Jim checked the basement door. Locked. He glowered. This was a bad idea, but he didn't care. Jim went to the closet under the staircase, returning with a hammer. After a few hard bashes, the knob fell off; a couple kicks with his good leg, and the door flew open. Now he needed to get down the stairs.

A minute later, the wheelchair rolled and flipped down the staircase, landing wheels up. Jim grunted, slithering and scooting down each step carefully, using the railings for support. Once he reached the bottom, he turned his wheelchair back upright; it hurt like Hell lifting himself into the chair, but Jim managed, taking a minute to breathe and stop sweating, kneading his sore hip.

Jim pushed aside the brick on the far wall. Drake and Launchpad never did tell him the passcode--it was a good thing he saw them put it in a few occasions, and had excellent memory. The wall opened, elevator greeting him. He went inside, and for a second, considered turning back. His finger hovered over the panel of buttons. Before Jim could make his final decision, the elevator shut on its own, prompting him to push the DOWN button.

Jim fidgeted, tapping his fingers on his knees, looking around the elevator and its mirrors as if searching for something. Why was he so restless? Drake and Launchpad had left him a radio just in case he needed to contact them. Why didn't he call them first? Why didn't he actually think this entirely through?

It didn't matter. Jim was almost to the bunker now. Although it'd be a little worrisome, Jim hoped this was all in his head. Nothing was wrong. Everyone was okay. He could go back to bed, get ready for a new day.

The elevator doors opened. Jim rolled out slowly, checking the bunker for any signs of life. The lights and equipment were on--strange, since Drake switched everything but the motion sensor light off.

Wait.

The right door to the private rooming area was open, light shining out from the hall. Jim pushed himself closer; he could hear voices. Drake and Launchpad's. They sounded... concerned? Upset? Nervous?

Had something happened to one of them? Were they badly wounded? Jim clenched his teeth, pushing the door open a little wider. It creaked once and he stopped, but the two continued talking. Once there was enough room, Jim took a deep breath and went inside. The door to the first room (one of ten) was open, Launchpad's giant shadow crossing by every few seconds.

"... for a while. I don't... She said she's..."

"I'm... We need to..."

"... know? Are you sure?"

"I..."

Jim got close enough to peek inside, just the top of his head and eyes visible. Aforementioned eyes nearly fell out of his skull when he saw Darkwing and Launchpad weren't alone. Darkwing sat on the edge of the bed, Launchpad standing on the other side. Tucked under the covers was a child. Fast asleep, her red hair practically glowing against the white pillow cover.

"Poor kid."

"For now, she needs to rest."

"What the Hell is that?"

Launchpad tripped over, Darkwing quickly standing and cocking his gas gun at Jim. He lowered it, face paling. Jim pushed himself up to the foot of the bed, eyes never leaving the girl. The child yawned and turned on her side, hugging the pillow.

Jim looked between Launchpad and Darkwing Duck, flabbergasted.

"What did you two do?"

Chapter Text

"Are you two out of your corn shuckin' m--!"

Darkwing clamped his hands around Jim's beak as Launchpad quickly pushed him out of the room and back into the main bunker. Darkwing said in a harsh whisper, "Please keep it down, she just got to sleep!"

Jim growled and squirmed his face free. Darkwing shut the door as quietly as possible; released the large inhale he'd been keeping in, chest deflating. Launchpad wiped his brow.

"Your lullaby was really pretty, DW."

"Thank you, LP, although her version was more... creative."

"You brought a kid here?" Jim growled. "What are you thinking?"

"We had no other choice," Darkwing explained. "She was being attacked, and she..." He ran a hand down his bill, groaned.

"It's kinda-a long story," Launchpad mumbled to Jim, pushing his wheelchair over to the monitoring station.

"Yeah, and you better tell it!" Jim snapped.

Darkwing flopped into the desk chair, removing his hat and placing it on the control panels. "Almost a year ago, inventor and scientist, Professor Waddlemeyer, died of what appeared to be natural causes brought on by old age. He was the sole guardian of his granddaughter, Gosalyn Waddlemeyer, who was sent to an orphanage shortly thereafter."

"The girl in the room," Launchpad said.

"I got that much."

"Four days ago, according to one eye witness, six men broke into the professor's old lab," Darkwing continued, "where they found what appeared to be a hidden room full of various prototypes Waddlemeyer was working on in secret. However, the only thing that'd been taken was one very big piece of equipment. We didn't find anything to give us a clue on what it was, as the thieves stole any notes they could find. That is, until LP stepped on this framed photo."

Launchpad tittered. "Yeah, sorry about that..."

"I told you, it was thanks to you we have some clue on what we're looking for, so don't apologize," Darkwing replied, digging inside his jacket. He gave Launchpad a soft, comforting smile. "You did good."

Launchpad smiled back, blushing lightly.

Jim blew a raspberry. "So, where's the photo?"

"Right here," Darkwing said, removing aforementioned photo. He unfolded and handed it to Jim.

Jim looked the picture over, squinting. An elderly goose--the professor--was holding the little girl--Gosalyn--in his arms, the two smiling for the camera. Behind them was a large machine with a screen and colorful keyboard.

"That's the thing they took," Launchpad helped, pointing at the machine.

"I got it," Jim huffed.

"After speaking with Gosalyn, she said she didn't know what the machine was, or what it did; her grandpa kept his work and personal lives separate for the most part. But she thinks it might be called the Ram Rod," Darkwing said. "Earlier today, I intercepted a call to the police from the orphanage reporting Gosalyn had been taken by some men while playing outside. The caretaker said it was a red van, but only saw a zero in the license plate."

"Didn't take long to find 'em in the Thunderquack," Launchpad gloated.

"We managed to rescue Gosalyn; the men got away, but not before I put a tracker on their boss," Darkwing explained. "Although they'd injected her with a strong sedative, she overheard them talking to their leader--Taurus Bulba."

Jim's eyes widened. "Bulba... As in the Bulba family?"

Darkwing nodded. "Unfortunately. Taurus Bulba was a patron of St. Canard University where Professor Waddlemeyer worked, donating funds to the R&D department. He was apparently close to the professor, even assisting him at times. Bulba must have found out about Waddlemeyer's side projects, and wanted to steal this Ram Rod. Before he could, Bulba was arrested on counts of extortion and money laundering, and was given almost a full year in jail."

"First thing he does when he gets out is steal the Ram Rod," Jim said, stroking his chin, "and... What's he want with the kid? Does she know anything about this thingy?"

"Not that she's aware of, just that one of the thugs mentioned it by name while talking with Taurus. She thinks they were taking her to meet up at St. Canard Tower. That's most likely where Taurus is holding the Ram Rod--or is moving it." Darkwing stood up, walking over to the display case of weapons. "We came back to let Gosalyn rest somewhere safe, as well as stock up on more weapons. They don't know how to switch on or operate the Ram Rod as of yet, but that might change."

"If you're facing the mob, kid," Jim said darkly, "you're gonna need all the help you can get."

"I said I'd stay back and watch Gosalyn," Launchpad mumbled, nervous.

"It's okay, LP," Darkwing reassured, slinging a belt full of gas canisters over his shoulder. "If I need any help, I'll call for back-up. SHUSH says they'll have agents standing by whenever I may need them."

"But... What if they're too--"

"Let me watch the kid," Jim said. The two looked at him, alarmed. "What?" he snorted, folding his arms. "You may not trust me as much as you like to think you do, but I won't hurt a fuckin' kid." He gestured to the door. "If she's as zonked out as you say she is, she probably won't be up for a while. Just keep the door locked and I can watch from the monitors. Give her some snacks before you go, in case she wakes up and wants something to eat. There's a bathroom, too, right?" Jim furrowed his dark brows. "I can do this. Let me do this."

Launchpad and Darkwing exchanged looks. They were still a bit hesitant, but Darkwing said, "We can't waste anymore time. Jim, just... watch her from the monitor. LP, if you can go put a couple snacks and bottles of water in the room--lock it behind you."

Launchpad nodded, picking up the entire basket of treats and a twelve pack of bottled water.

"There," Jim grunted, "now she'll survive the apocalypse."

"Gosalyn... She..." Darkwing trailed off, bowing his head. Jim noticed the usual light in his eyes was gone. He wasn't so much scared as he was sad. "She's been through so much. She lost both her parents, then her grandfather. She says she'd been rejected from two foster homes, the orphanage labeling her as a 'problem child' and 'too aggressive.'"

"She give you any trouble?" Jim asked.

Darkwing shook his head. "On the contrary, she knew who we were, and didn't hesitate when we told her we'd take her to safety," he explained. He smiled, quirky, amused. "Heck, she did a number on a couple of the thugs before we got to her. I knew Gosalyn was tough the moment I saw her. I also saw someone who was... hurting. A lot."

Jim waved a hand. "Yeah, well... Once you take care of Taurus, she can go back to the orphanage," he reassured. He waited for Darkwing to respond, but the masked mallard remained quiet. "... Wait? You don't want her to go back?"

"No," Launchpad said, emerging from the room. "Gos deserves better than--"

"Ugh," Jim grunted, pinching between his eyes, "you gave her a nickname? That's how it starts. Getting..." He squirmed, face scrunching up. "Attached."

Launchpad was startled. "B-But I give everyone nicknames! Even people I don't know! And people who hate me! Okay, so, not all the time, but!" he insisted. He picked at his coat strings, mumbling, "S'just... she reminds me of the... the kids. And..."

"Us," Darkwing murmured. "Her spirit, her determination--she wanted to help us so badly. She just..."

Jim was uneasy, and didn't like where this was going. "Get going already," he growled. He looked over the photo one last time. "This thing looks simple enough. There's only five Goddamn buttons. Red, blue, yellow, purple, green." He scratched at his head feathers, murmuring under his breath. "Red for... off? Green is... go? On? Yellow to idle, may--"

"Yellow, blue, red, blue..." Darkwing whipped around, the spark returning to his wide eyes. He took the photo from Jim. "Yellow, blue, red, blue, purple t-- I got it!" he exclaimed. "Her lullaby! It wasn't nonsensical, it was--" Darkwing turned back to Jim, energy renewed. "Use one of the radios to contact me if anything happens. My frequency is written on the back."

Jim blinked, completely lost. "What? What about--what lulla--"

"C'mon, LP!" Darkwing shouted, hands on his hips in a dramatic pose. "Let's get dangerous!"

"Yeah!" Launchpad cheered, bouncing.

Jim grabbed Darkwing by the cape, stopping him. "Before you go get dangerous," he said, "one last thing."

---

It would screw up the schedule, but it was absolutely necessary.

Jim finished dressing first. Undershirt, jacket, cape, mask, hat. He was surprised--he and the kid weren't too far off in size, although the jacket was a little looser in the shoulders. But it would work. The snow boots were very out of place, but they succeeded in covering up his ankle monitor.

For a few seconds, Jim sat in his chair, staring at the needle of DEM in his hand. Maybe it wasn't absolutely necessary, but... Jim pulled his cape around, wadding it up in his mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut, jamming the needle into his hip. His cry was muffled, teeth grinding and digging into the durable fabric. Jim injected the serum as fast as possible, threw the empty syringe to the ground when he was done.

Now to wait. Jim wiped the tears prickling the corners of his eyes, panting, the pain subsiding slowly. After a little over a minute, Jim carefully pushed himself up onto his feet; one, two, three, four easy steps before he could move about casually.

Jim walked up to the display of weapons, looking at his reflection in the glass. He was... not sure how he felt about the Darkwing Duck suit redesign. It was more streamline and hugged his frame better, but he missed the character the turtleneck gave him, the snazzy black buttons. Jim brushed off the jacket, adjusted his hat and mask, smoothed out his ruffled cheek feathers.

Jim smiled. Not too shabby.

Jim's reflection broke through the glass, burying shards in his face and hands. The reflection grabbed his throat, red eyes burning as it screamed, "Let me out!"

Jim sat upright from the console, gasping and shivering. He glanced around the room--he was still inside the bunker. It was quiet. The glass wall was intact. Jim saw the jacket he was wearing, stood up and recoiled-- Right, no, that wasn't a dream. Changing into one of Drake's spare outfits, using his last vial of DEM-- If he had to confront the kid, he'd do so as Darkwing Duck. Or, at least, not give away his real identity.

Jim yawned. He turned back to the video feed of Gosalyn. She was still slumbering, curled up under the blankets. Jim checked the nearest clock--it'd been almost an hour since Darkwing and Launchpad left. Jim yawned again, stretching his arms; the one time he wished he had insomnia, and his damn body wanted to sleep.

Jim left the desk to pour himself a cup of coffee. Simple and black, just as he liked it. He blew into his warm cup, about to take a sip as he turned back around.

"You're not Darkwing."

Jim froze, cup to his beak, wide eyes staring down at Gosalyn Waddlemeyer standing five feet away from him. She, too, looked alarmed. Jim promptly dropped his cup, spilling coffee on the floor. Gosalyn jumped back, holding up her fists.

"How did--how did you--?" Jim glanced back at the console, to Gosalyn.

"I know my way around locks, grandpa," Gosalyn growled, "now where's the real Darkwing?"

Jim was taken aback. "Gran--?" His feathers bristled; he pointed at the door. "Go back to your room! You were told to stay put!"

"Where's Dark--"

"If you want something else to eat, I'll--"

"Tell me where Darkwing is!" Gosalyn demanded. "Darkwing and Launchpad--did they leave? Are they going after the guys who kidnapped me?"

"They told you they'd handle it, kid," Jim grumbled. "And they also told you not to--"

"I said I'd help!" Gosalyn pouted. "I want to help them! I told them I know where Taurus is! I don't wanna stay here and do nothin' and have some weird old geezer wearing Darkwing's clothes babysit me!"

"I am not an old geezer!" Jim barked. "I'm Ji--" He caught himself, stomping a foot. "What are you gonna do, kid? You're a baby. You can't hel---"

"My name's Gosalyn Waddlemeyer!" Gosalyn yelled. "And I'm almost ten years old!"

Jim blinked. "And?"

"And I can help! I know how to fight!"

"Yeah, right."

"I could kick your ass, grandpa."

"I'm not-- Kid, you've no idea who you're talking to," Jim hissed, eyes narrowing. "I may not be the Darkwing you know, but I am just as dangerous, just as deadly, if not more so." He grinned wickedly.

Gosalyn rolled her eyes. "You sound like an edgelord."

"What the Hell does that even mean!" Jim shrieked. He inhaled, forcing himself to calm down, heart racing. "Listen, Gooseberry--"

"Gosa--"

"--Grosslyn," Jim spat, "Darkwing and Launchpad asked you to stay here, and they asked me to make sure you didn't do anything stupid. Now, go to your room. If you want anymore food, I'll bring you something. You can either eat it or go back to sleep--that's all. Nothing else. Understood?"

Gosalyn glowered. "No!" She ran over to the Ratcatcher, jumping onto the seat.

Jim laughed, casually leaning against the desk. "Oho, good idea," he scoffed, "too bad you don't have the keys, brat."

Gosalyn grunted as she yanked a panel off the motorbike, digging through the wires.

Jim screamed. "Don't hotwire the Ratcatcher!" He rushed over, scooping Gosalyn up. She shrieked, kicking him right between the eyes. Jim dropped her and fell back, rubbing the foot-shaped red mark forming on his face.

"I'm gonna help Darkwing and Launchpad!" Gosalyn shouted, running to the elevator.

Jim gasped. "H-Hey! Hey! Don't you--"

Gosalyn turned back from the open doors, blowing a raspberry at Jim as she stepped inside the elevator.

"Stop!" Jim cried, darting across the bunker. He managed to thrust his arm between the closing doors. "Kiiiid!" he snarled, blinding reaching for Gosalyn while attempting to push the doors back open.

"Don't try and stop me, gramps!" Gosalyn snapped, repeatedly hitting the CLOSE DOOR button. She squeaked when Jim grabbed her by the beak. He wormed inside the elevator, the doors closing on his tail. Jim yelped, releasing Gosalyn and attempting to pull himself free. Gosalyn hit the UP button before stomping on his foot.

"You little shit!" Jim yelled. He dove for her, tail finally pulled loose--only to trip and smash against the back of the elevator. Gosalyn laughed; she went to punch Jim's back, only for the masked mallard to swoop around, take her by the sides, and hoist her up in the air.

Gosalyn screamed as she kicked her legs, hitting Jim in the face repeatedly. Jim screamed as he tried to hold her as far away as possible, head jerked and bent back painfully to avoid the blows. He stuck out his own leg, stomping on the buttons until the elevator came to a sudden stop, lurching violently enough to knock both Gosalyn and Jim over.

Gosalyn and Jim moaned, slowly sitting up.

A droning voice spoke over the soft jazz music: SYSTEM ERROR. RE-CALIBRATING. ETA 10 MINUTES.

"Wonderful," Jim grumbled.

"A-Are we stuck?" Gosalyn asked nervously. She went to push a button, any button, but Jim snatched her wrist and pulled her back down. "Lemme go!" she whined, tearing her little fingers into his hand.

"Will you just..." Jim's head was throbbing, a migraine setting in. "Stop!" he screeched, manic, bright eyes burning holes into Gosalyn's terrified face. She gasped and went stiff. Jim blinked, realizing he'd just scared the shit out of the little girl. He groaned and let her hand go, curling up into a corner adjacent of Gosalyn. "Ten minute time out, then we can get back to tearing each others feathers--ah!" Jim cursed, grabbing at his head.

Gosalyn swallowed. "Are... Are you okay, gramps?"

"I'm not--!" Jim hissed. Yelling only made the pain worse. He clenched his teeth, dragging his legs up against his chest. "No. I'm not. My head's about to explode. Happy?"

Gosalyn wrinkled up her beak. "I--I didn't wanna hurt you," she murmured, scooting back against the doors. "Just... you were trying to stop me." She hugged her legs, eyes dimming. "I have to help Darkwing and Launchpad. I... They need me."

"You're a nine year old girl," Jim grunted, "what could you possibly--"

"Grandpa!" Gosalyn snapped. Jim froze. He could see the anger in her misty eyes. "He... Taurus... He did it..." she hissed, voice cracking.

Jim slowly sat back, kneading his forehead. "... You want revenge," he mumbled. Gosalyn just glared at her knees, fingers wrapped into tiny fists. "You want to be the one who makes Bulba pay for what he did to your grandpa."

"I... I wanna help them--"

"Sure, yeah, maybe you do," Jim interjected, "but what would you do, if you could have your sweet revenge? Would you, a little girl with her whole life ahead of her, kill your grandpa's killer? Do you think you'd have the guts to do somethin' like that?"

Gosalyn bowed her head, face hidden. "I... I don't know..." Her entire body was trembling now. "But I... I want to... I want to s-so badly hurt..."

Jim sighed. "You don't wanna kill anyone, kid. You're just angry."

"What do you know, huh?" Gosalyn snarled, snapping her head back up. Although her eyes were glazed, she hadn't shed a tear. "Did Bulba kill your grandpa? Did Bulba take everything away from you? You don't know what it's like! You don't know what I--what I feel!" She punched the tiled floor. "I don't care if I kill him he's a bad guy he deserves to die no one would blame me because he--he killed people too he did so many awful things h-he's a bad man and he--he took my grandpa and--and I--I'll kill him if I have to! So he won't hurt anyone else ever again!"

Jim looked Gosalyn over. The pain in his head just a dull ache now. "You can come up with as many reasons as you'd like. You can use as many excuses to try and justify what you think is right. But in the end, it won't change anything. You won't be a hero, you'll just be..." He caught his reflection on the mirror along the wall--Darkwing Duck, with his mask torn, hat missing, face bruised and red. Jim swallowed and bowed his head.

"Just be... what?"

Jim's eyes went lidded; he could see the edge of one of his surgical scars peeking out from under the jacket. "... A mess," he finally answered. "Nothing but regrets and self-loathing."

Gosalyn looked over her knees at Jim, frowning. "... Grandpa always said to forgive people," she said. "And those we can't forgive, we... we have to leave behind. Because we're the bigger people." She sniffed. "But I won't forgive Bulba... I won't forget him, either. So what do I do?"

"You let the professionals handle the asshole," Jim grunted. "Darkwing Duck and Launchpad."

"They'll... catch him, right?"

"Yeah. One way or another, they will."

"And he'll go to prison, right?"

"Yeah."

Gosalyn scowled. "It's not enough."

"Even if he dies," Jim replied, "even if you or Darkwing were to kill him, you think that'll change anything? You think that'll--" He thought back on his fight in the studio, screaming at Drake as he threw punch after punch, violent and angry, determined to once again be the... hero? "... You think that'll make everything go away? Your anger and your sadness?"

"I dunno. I don't care," Gosalyn hissed, "I just want him to feel like I feel."

"Do you think that's what your grandpa wants, kid?" Jim asked.

Gosalyn widened her eyes, only to bury her face back against her bent knees.

"I didn't think so."

The elevator shifted, the two looking up. It continued its ascent, rumbling quietly. Jim braced a hand to the wall, carefully standing. He groaned, stumbled, the world shifting to a tilt.

"I'm gonna be stuck like this forever, aren't I?"

Jim glanced down at Gosalyn, standing with her back to him.

"Nothin' but anger?" Jim sighed, shrugging one shoulder. "You're just nine. It's not that serious."

"What if I never stop being angry?" Gosalyn whispered.

Jim stared at Gosalyn's trembling form, quiet.

"What if... I'm always angry? W-What if I don't feel happy anymore?" Gosalyn's fists shook at her sides. "Mama and papa are gone. Grandpa's gone. Everyone at the orphanage hates me. My foster parents sent me back because they said I was a troublemaker. So what if I did something bad? No one cares about me anyway. If I go to jail for... If I go to jail, it'd just be like another orphanage. So who cares?" She gulped audibly. "I said I wouldn't cry over grandpa, because it always made grandpa sad when I cried, and I don't--don't wanna cry. I cried when my parents died but it only made me sadder. I'm not gonna cry anymore, 'cause nobody cares." Gosalyn swiped an arm across her face.

"And you think being angry will change anything?" Jim asked, brows furrowed.

"No. Maybe." Gosalyn wilted. "But... I don't wanna cry, and I don't wanna smile. I don't wanna do anything but be mad. And maybe if I... If I make Taurus... I won't be so angry anymore..."

Jim stood up straight. "... In a minute, those doors are gonna open. You're going to have to make a choice," he said sternly. "You either leave, run away, try and take down Bulba with Darkwing's help or not. Or you stay inside, go back to the bunker, rest, and let Darkwing catch the man who did this to you and your grandpa."

Gosalyn didn't say anything.

"If you go out those doors, I will try and stop you. Maybe you'll get away. Maybe you'll find Darkwing. But no matter what, you're going to be disappointing... everyone. You'll regret it later on down the line--if you even survive. You're not gonna kill Bulba. You're not gonna do anything. But the fact that you tried and failed, and let him win by getting inside your head will always stick with you 'til the bitter end. Until it eats you up inside, and spits you out," Jim explained, hands shaking. "If you want that on your conscience forever, so be it. But I've got a job to do, and I'm gonna make sure you don't do anything stupid--that includes taking you back downstairs, and giving you a warm meal to eat."

The elevator dinged, coming to a halt. Gosalyn turned back to Jim, eyes wide and bright, obviously torn. Angry and frightened--a child with nothing to lose, who didn't want to lose anything.

"So," Jim said, taking one step closer, "let's see who wins."

The doors opened.

Gosalyn lingered. She looked Jim in the eyes, absolutely still.

"I'm just a kid," Gosalyn choked, sniffling, "I'm gonna do stupid stuff." She ducked out into the basement.

Jim snarled, heart dropping into his stomach. He immediately chased after her. Gosalyn darted up the stairs. Jim's fingers brushed her tail feathers, but couldn't get hold. His headache was quick to return, a fuzzy film over his eyes. Jim dragged himself up the stairs, one eyelid twitching involuntarily.

Gosalyn looked down at him from the door. "I'm sorry," she whispered. She slammed the door shut, and Jim could hear her footfalls fading.

"Dammit!" Jim barked. He threw himself against the door; already damaged from earlier, he fell face first into the carpet, legs folding back. The world was spinning, and the front door was open, fresh snow falling. Jim ran into the couch, hit his shoulder against the staircase railing before jumping outside. It was dark, freezing, his heavy breaths coming out in clouds of steam. Jim spotted Gosalyn, fleeing down the street, kicking and throwing aside snow.

Jim galloped across the yard, chasing after Gosalyn. He heard a faint beeping, but it was distant. Everything sounded far away, dampened. Jim could hardly see Gosalyn; he couldn't focus, couldn't think or move right, and he kept slipping on the ice. The radio--he forgot to bring the radio. No, didn't matter; he could do this. No matter how many times he tripped and fell, he refused to give in and got right back up.

Again and again.

His suit and boots were soaked, his limbs were numb, his body cold to the very bone. He fought through the mounds of snow on hands and knees, clawing and flailing for purchase. His eyes never leaving Gosalyn's disappearing form. Jim spotted blood--he'd torn his knee open, deep enough his entire leg and rim of his boot were stained red.

Gosalyn stopped abruptly, and Jim collapsed on his cut knee. He couldn't feel anything but panic gripping at his heart. Gosalyn looked scared, worried. And for a moment, she looked like she was going to come back and help him.

Jim saw only a fluttering blur of brown and black feathers before it was too late. Gosalyn shrieked as thick talons curled around her arms, the giant vulture picking her off the ground.

"Nn! Na..." Jim couldn't form any words. He reached for Gosalyn's outstretched hand. The vulture glanced back at him, and he could hear it laugh, and then she was gone, her cries muted beneath the roar of frigid winds.

Jim heard the wail of sirens steadily approaching. He couldn't move, paralyzed and rolling on his back in the snow. In his delirious state, dressed up in a Darkwing Duck costume--he bet he looked like a true wash-uped failure now.

The police arrived just as he started convulsing.

---

Jim went to his first carnival when he was six. It would be his last for a very long time.

Nana let him loose once they entered the park. She let him ride whatever he wanted, so long as he met the height and age standards. She bought him whatever food he wanted. She spent nearly $50 of the money Jim's parents gave her in case of emergencies on various games he could play. Jim won a few prizes, but pitched a fit when he couldn't get the real treasure he was after--a giant stuffed tiger.

Nana tried to comfort him, but he pushed her aside. He peeked through his hands over his eyes; Nana had pulled the game vendor close, whispering something. She slid him a few bills then returned with the tiger. "Here you go, hun," she cooed, "your well earned prize, little prince."

Jim scoffed. He took the tiger and hugged it, refusing to thank his nanny. She was getting paid to watch him anyway. But Jim was still upset--this prize didn't feel like a prize. He was angry with Nana, although he wasn't quite sure why. He turned his head, spotting the nearest attraction--the House of Mirrors.

"I'm goin' in there!" Jim snapped and rushed off, leaving Nana in the crowd.

Jim wasn't exactly sure what to expect. A house? Of mirrors? It sounded boring and stupid, but he just wanted to get away from Nana.

"Step right up, step right up!" a man in a sharp tuxedo and Venetian mask with red and yellow feathers bellowed. "Come and see a multitude of doorways to what could be and could have been. Windows to bizarre worlds where you're a twenty foot giant! A little mouse that can fit in your hand! Stretched and bent and pulled apart, with every view you're someone new!"

Jim wasn't impressed, cocking an eyebrow. "They're just mirrors," he snorted.

The man was quiet and still for a beat before bending over tiny Jim. Up this close, Jim could see his eyes behind the mask--strange, they were red. Probably contacts. "Is that so, is that so?" the man chortled, eyes narrowing. "Well, then, little Jim, why not see for yourself?"

Jim gaped. "How do you know--"

"Move along, move along," the man said, ushering Jim inside.

Jim pouted; he almost wanted to leave just to spite the jerk. But he was here, he was inside, might as well see what all the fuss was about. Jim walked down a short, dark corridor, black curtains hanging along the walls. Up ahead he could see an opening into another room; shards of light bounced off the floor, and he could hear people laughing and moving about.

Jim looked back. No one was behind him. Jim shrugged; whatever. It was closing time soon. Probably the last person permitted entrance. He walked out of the tunnel and into the giant "house" of mirrors. They were all sizes, shapes, and forms, propped up against and hanging on the walls over sparkly veils.

Jim admittedly jumped when he turned his head, seeing himself squashed and flattened in the first mirror. He didn't care for that one. He walked up to the second mirror--this one stretched him up to ten feet and broad-shouldered. That one was okay. Jim went to the third mirror; his reflection was wavy, all his limbs like heated up, curly noodles. That got a laugh out of him. Jim stuck out his tongue, and it, too, was wavy.

Still, not much to write home about. Jim looked in a couple more mirrors, but wasn't impressed. He yawned, dragging his tiger by a paw on the ground.

"My oh my! Are you bored, little Jim?"

Jim squeaked, twisting around. The masked man stood behind him.

"These are dumb," Jim spat. "Not funny or scary or anything."

The man chortled. "Then perhaps," he said, leaning over and placing a hand on Jim's shoulder, "you should look a little closer?" He turned Jim around--the mirrors in front of him had changed.

"In one life, you're a giant, big and powerful," the man said, pushing Jim along. He pointed to one mirror. Jim looked, gasping. That reflection... it couldn't be his. The mallard was much too old, and wore a strange purple and blue suit like some hero from a comic book. He posed like a hero, too, smug grin on his face as he stood above a group of people praising him.

"In another life, you're itty, bitty, and so very frail," the man sighed. In the next mirror Jim saw the same duck as before, only he was a little older, wearing a purple jacket and blue turtleneck. He looked sad, sitting on a couch, staring at the floor, a bottle in his hand.

"But perhaps you'd like to see a world through the eyes of another," the man said, raising a finger. "You'd need a skin you'd feel comfortable in. An easy transition for projection. Ah, yes!" He pointed to the mirror in front of Jim. "How about her?"

Jim had never seen this redheaded girl before. He suddenly felt very uncomfortable, claustrophobic; his tummy was cramping, sweat slicking his brow. "I... I wanna go back," Jim mumbled, cowering a little, "I don't wanna see any-anym--"

"But we're just about to unveil the greatest one of them all!" the man exclaimed. He reached out, grabbing a red cloth hiding a large mirror. "The pièce de résistance! Your future!" He yanked the sheet off, and Jim cried at the thing he saw. The red eyes, the familiar suit, but everything was twisted and wrong. It was reaching for him, the reflection coming closer. Jim turned to run, dropping the tiger plush, but the man sunk his claws into his shoulders and forced him back around.

"Don't be afraid!" the man laughed, his voice grave. He pushed the squirming duckling up to the mirror and the horrible creature inside. "It's only your reflection, Jimmy-boy!"

Jim screamed. He blindly reached out, grabbed his tiger. "No!" he cried, throwing the stuffed animal at the mirror and cackling monster.

Jim opened his eyes. His reflection was disjointed in the shattered mirror. He blinked twice--this... wasn't the House of Mirrors. And his hand was hurting. Jim looked at his torn, bleeding knuckles, matching the smear of blood on the busted mirror.

"Hmm," Jim mumbled, "that's not good."

"Jim!" Drake gasped, standing in the bathroom doorway. "What are you doing?"

Jim glanced around the... hospital bathroom? Handicapped--explained why the mirror was so low. "You tell me!" he barked, throwing up his hands. The needle in his arm wiggled, cutting into his skin. Needle, catheter, IV bag. This was definitely the hospital.

"You were sitting by the window when you said you had to go to the bathroom," Drake explained, running a hand through his head feathers. "And then you just--punched the mirror!"

Jim squinted. "... I don't remember doing it. Or saying anything. Or sitting by the window. Or... getting here, for that matter."

Drake was shocked. "Then... were you... sleep walking?"

"Well, I wouldn't say walking--" It struck Jim like a bat to the head, and he jolted in his wheelchair, nearly knocking the IV stand over. "Wait! Waitwait! I was--Gosalyn was--My monitor--!"

Drake raised a finger to his beak, shushing him. He went to close the door, returned and took Jim's wheelchair bars. "She told us everything," he said quietly.

Jim twisted in his chair. "She told...? But that--there was a huge bird, and it grabbed her and--You rescued her?"

Drake frowned. "Taurus's pet brought her to the lair not long after we arrived," he explained. He pushed Jim up to the bed, helping him out of the chair. "It was... a very close call. LP lost a lot of blood. Gosalyn was wounded. Fortunately, I managed to trap Taurus and most of his gang in a room, setting off a bomb of sleeping gas."

Jim placed his hands on Drake's shoulders as the younger duck took his hips, hoisting him up onto the bed. "What about the Ram Rod?" he asked. "Did they ever get it to work?"

Drake shook his head. "No, thankfully. But Gosalyn told me the activation code without her even realizing it. Apparently her grandpa worked it into a lullaby he would often sing to her."

"Why? What's the machine even do?"

"Manipulation of gravity and small portions of matter," Drake explained, sitting Jim up against the mound of pillows. "It's in SHUSH's hands now."

Jim scratched his head. "But how... how did that vulture find the kid? Unless it followed you!"

"Taurus had access to a number of experiments and gadgets at St. Canard University," Drake said. He took Jim's wounded hand, wincing. "The sedative they gave Gosalyn contained tracking nano-machines. After we brought her into the bunker, the signal was jammed, but the vulture remained in the area searching for her. When she got out..."

"Technology these days is absolutely fuckin' crazy," Jim spat.

"Well, Doctor Bellum flushed the remaining nanites out of her system. Speaking of, she--"

The door flew open, hitting the wall. "Oh, Drake!" Doctor Bellum giggled. "You know better than to close hospital doors! Naughty, naughty boy!"

"Not you..."

"Good to see you survived your seizure and overdose on the D-E-M, Jim," Doctor Bellum laughed, her smile a little disturbing. "How about we avoid making that tiny mistake again in the future?"

"I heard police sirens," Jim said, "was I arrested? How long have I been out?"

"Well, depends on which 'out' you mean," Doctor Bellum mused, adjusting her glasses. "You've been out-out for six days. You were out-clinically died-out twice. You were out-close to the brink but nooot quite there-out once."

Jim's eyes bulged from his skull, corner of his beak twitching. "I... died?"

"But we revived you!" Doctor Bellum reassured. "That makes me your re-maker. Your... re-animator, if you will."

"Y-Yes, well, you pulled through," Drake said warily, "and that's all that matters."

"So the police...?"

"That one was... a little hard to explain," Drake tittered. "I told them someone broke into the house, and while you were, ah, high on your sleep medication, you took out your old Darkwing Duck costume and... tried to apprehend them, but they got away. Good thing the basement wall was closed!"

"Lemme get this straight," Jim scowled, massaging his forehead, "you... told the police that while I was... stoned, robbers broke into the house, and I just so happened to get out of bed, dress up in a Darkwing costume, and chase after them... with a broken hip?"

"Like I said... little hard to explain."

"Otus took care of it, you're cleared of any charges, and you're free to return home after a couple more days monitoring your kooky wacky brain," Doctor Bellum explained, poking the side of Jim's head. "Ooh, you're a tough little walnut to crack, I'll give you that. He fought with me, tried so hard to let you die, but I won. I always win."

Jim inched away from the snickering scientist. "So, what about...?" he mumbled.

"Gosalyn?" Drake smiled. "She's just fine, settling into our home as we--" His bill slapped shut.

Jim glanced between the two, eyes narrowing to slits. "... What did you do?" he said lowly.

"It's... not important right now," Drake said quietly.

Doctor Bellum giggled into her hand. "But I knoooow!"

"What?"

"We need to clean up those cuts of yours."

Jim wasn't letting this little secret go. "Tell me what you--"

"She told me to give this to you. Gosalyn," Drake said softly, placing a tiny red paper crane in Jim's lap. "She made it herself."

Jim picked up the crane, frowning. "... That's nice, I guess--" He screamed as Doctor Bellum wiped his cut knuckles with an alcohol pad. "You... awful woman!"

"Whoops!" the doctor giggled, holding his hand still.

"I'll come by tomorrow to check up on you."

Jim grunted, waving them off.

Drake smiled tiredly; there were slight bags beneath his eyes. He hadn't slept much the past week. "See you later, Jim," he said, "and please, no more sleep walking."

Doctor Bellum's eyes lit up. "Sleep walking, you say?"

"You just had to snitch, didn't you?"

Drake and Doctor Bellum left a few minutes later. Jim stared at the TV, but didn't turn it on. He looked out the window--fairly sunny for a winter day.

Jim picked the crane back up. He turned it around, upside down, admiring the handiwork. That's when he spotted a black mark sticking out from beneath one of the wings. Jim hesitated a second, carefully unfolded the crane, spreading it open.

"'I'm sorry,'" Jim read aloud. "'You were right.'"

---

Drake came by the next day, still a bit ruffled and fatigued. He seemed happy enough, however, but also somewhat nervous.

"Jim, you might wanna put your jello down for this," Drake said, taking a deep breath.

Jim stopped eating his delicious lemon jello cup. "... Wha?" he asked, swallowing his mouthful. Nonetheless, he set the cup and spoon slowly down.

Drake sat on the edge of his bed, clutching and picking at the soft blanket. "... It's about Gosalyn," he said.

"What about the kid."

"In light of... everything, SHUSH felt that Gosalyn should be placed under witness protection for a short while," Drake explained steadily, cautiously. "Agents and police raided Taurus's house and safe havens, where they found a number of dangerous weapons and equipment he'd been hoarding. Still no word if he has any connection to FOWL, but all this evidence was more than enough to sentence Taurus to life in prison. This makes Gosalyn a possible target, given his family and criminal ties. As such, she's been taken out of the orphanage to be fostered by one of SHUSH's top agents, giving them temporary full custody."

Jim knew where this was going, and his racing heart did not like it. "Certainly someone who isn't leading such a busy, dangerous lifestyle, right?" he pressed. "... Or Sara Bellum."

Drake twiddled his thumbs together. "Well, we... You see... The three of us... Even..." he coughed, pausing to drink all of Jim's juice in one go. "... Sorry. Okay. No more beating around the bush." He took a deep breath, squared up his shoulders. "We're fostering Gosalyn Waddlemeyer."

Jim was slightly relieved. "Just fostering?" he groaned, his heart settling down. "I thought you were gonna say adopted."

Drake's firm posture went slack, drooping and wilted.

"... How long are you fostering her?"

"I..." Drake chewed his bottom bill. "Legally, three weeks, maybe a month. But..." He sat back, teeth grit, eyes narrow, as if waiting for a bomb to go off in his face. "Maybe we..."

Jim opened his beak, tongue falling from the roof of his mouth with a dry click. There was a lot he wanted to say. A lot. Mostly how stupid and reckless the entire idea was. How these two needed to stop taking in troubled... cases...

Right. Jim wasn't part of this crazy family. He only had to survive nine more months, and then he'd be back on his own two feet, doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted. So why did he care what these morons did? If they wanted to adopt and possibly endanger a child's life, that was their problem. Assuming they'd get custody over the kid after everything was said and done.

"I know it's a lot to take in," Drake said, sitting forward and boldly clutching one of Jim's hands between both of his. "I know you may not approve, and I understand completely why it's... a dubious idea at best. But Launchpad and I have been spending a lot of time with her this past week, and we can't... Jim, I know it sounds like we're going way too fast, but we don't want to let her go." He swallowed, eyes misting over. "We felt a connection the moment we met. I felt it, LP felt it, even she felt it. I mean, I was never against the idea of having kids one day, but it just--This had to be a sign. Becoming Darkwing Duck... living my dream... I followed it, and I've never been happier, even though it's absolutely terrifying at times, and I think if I just let Gosalyn go, I'd be doing something wrong. Her heart's been broken so many times, and I know in my heart, if we turned her away, we'd all be..."

"Who are you trying to convince here, Drake?" Jim asked. That surprised the younger duck; it was rare for Jim to address him by his name. "Kid" would usually suffice. But now there was a real kid thrown into the mix. "Anyway, you don't need my approval. I'm not your dad. I'm just... the ex-actor who tried to blow you up under house arrest at your place for nine or so months."

Drake smiled and sniffed. "You're not that guy anymore, Jim." He squeezed Jim's hand. "LP and I forgave you a long time ago. And after what you did to keep Gosalyn safe? We can't thank you enough."

The whole is more than the sum of its parts. That's what Mara used to tell Jim.

"She's been asking about you a lot, you know."

Jim looked up.

"Gosalyn wanted to visit, but I told her she needed to stick around the house as per the rules," Drake said.

"Suppose you haven't told her who I am?"

"I told her as much as you'd want me to tell her. The rest is up to you. You're a family friend going through some hard times; you'll be staying with us for a while, until you're cleared to go. When you're ready to go. And, yes, although it seems obvious, she knows who we are. Jim..." Drake sat up, laughing softly and wiping at his eyes. "When I visited her while LP was in the hospital, the way she looked at me--she knew. I went right up to her, introduced myself, held out my hand--and she just... hugged me."

Jim frowned, pulling his hand free. "Wasn't the cuddly type with me," he grunted. "Just one tiny redheaded ball of fury."

"Gosalyn's going through a lot. We know there's many things she doesn't want to share or talk about; she needs time, but Gosalyn also needs someone who can better help her cope and manage properly. And... you know..." Drake sheepishly scratched his cheek. "We... thought... maybe you might be able to help her out, too? Just a little."

"The angry leading the angry," Jim chortled, "it's just the blind leading the blind."

"You don't have to, of course. You're under no obliga--"

"So, where's the kid staying?"

Drake beamed. "LP and I have been cleaning up the garage. We're going to convert it into a bedroom. There's a lot to be done, like putting in better insulation. Especially with this extra cold bitter winter. But until then, she'll be sleeping on the hideaway bed in the living room." He was a little embarrassed, adding, "It's... not ideal, no, but she doesn't mind."

Jim didn't even really think it through, just said plainly and bluntly, "Move her into my room."

"Huh?"

"It'd be easier for me to get around on the bottom floor, and not have to use that humiliating grandpa roller coaster," Jim grumbled. "I'll sleep on the hideaway bed, and then move into the garage. And besides--before next year's up, I'll be out and that spare room will be hers permanently. At least until she's 18, I imagine." Maybe, although Drake seemed damned positive this adoption was a sure thing.

"It does sound better for you, physically. The hideaway bed is comfortable and low enough for you to easily get in and out of," Drake said, but was still reluctant. "Are you sure, though? I mean, I don't want to put you in any uncomfortable position."

"Given our past and current history," Jim said snidely, "there's always going to be a level of discomfort and awkwardness between us. Just face it; it's fine."

Drake's smile returned. "Thank you, Jim," he exhaled, tension leaving his voice. "I really mean it. And we'll still work on turning the garage into a nice room. It'll be bigger than the two bedrooms combined, actually. Easy for you to get around in your wheelchair, when you need it."

"Then it's settled." Jim picked up his jello cup and spoon. "Now let me eat the only tasty thing in this Godforsaken pla--" He squeaked and went tense as Drake embraced him, and just kept squeezing and squeezing. "Idi--can't... breathe!"

"Oh, sorry! Sorry!" Drake apologized, releasing Jim from his constricting arms.

Jim shoved his spoon against Drake's chest. "Let's never do that again, all right?"

Drake nodded.

---

Although it was none of her business, Sara Bellum decided to divulge more information about Gosalyn staying at the Mallard-McQuack family to Jim anyway. She'd need to be placed in "quarantine" for a couple weeks, as Doctor Bellum put it, until the whole Taurus thing wrapped up and Gosalyn was deemed safe enough for release. There was a SHUSH agent planted in every sort of government related job and branch, which included one of the social workers handling Gosalyn's case.

Drake would take time off from the "call center" to help Gosalyn, as well as start transitioning into working as Darkwing Duck full time. SHUSH would still help him financially if need be, so long as Darkwing remained useful to them. Secret organizations could hardly be trusted, even if they claimed to be the "good guys".

"The last of the D-E-M has been washed out of your system," Doctor Bellum explained, taking Jim to the lobby to meet up with Drake. "You'll start the medicine again this Friday during your rehab appointment. Otus says you've been skimping on his share of dinner, so do try and be a little more polite. Give him another scoop of potatoes or an extra spoon of ice cream, all right?"

If the rest of SHUSH consisted of Sara Bellums and Otuses, Jim wanted nothing to do with them the moment he was mobile on his own again.

The doors opened, and Jim saw Drake standing up, keys in hand. "Ready t--"

Although they agreed never to do it again, Jim immediately hugged Drake around the stomach when he was close enough. "Oh, thank God," he groaned, relieved. He glanced at Doctor Bellum from the corner of his eye, that almost... robotic smile on her face. "Get me out of here."

---

Launchpad was waiting outside when Drake and Jim returned home. Freezing his ass off for no reason, but the guy wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack. "Welcome home, Jim!" Launchpad said, opening the back door and helping Jim out. Drake pulled the wheelchair around, taking Jim inside while Launchpad fetched a few things.

"We're back!" Drake announced as he opened the door. Jim looked up, immediately meeting Gosalyn's eyes. The girl was finishing making up the hideaway bed.

"... Hey," Gosalyn said, lowering a pillow.

Jim blinked. "... Hey."

"Is dinner ready, Gos?" Drake asked, hanging up his coat.

"Actually," Gosalyn said, "I think it might be burning. But Launchpad said it's suppose to smell like that."

Drake gasped, quickly running to the kitchen.

Gosalyn turned back to Jim. "So..."

"So..."

"Uhh..."

"... Yooou... yeah," Jim sighed. "They filled me in."

Gosalyn nodded quickly. "Oh. Okay. Keen gear, cool beans. Um." She fluffed the pillow in her hands. "Thanks for... letting me stay in your room."

"It's your room now," Jim said. Maybe. "I'm only a guest here, after all." He pushed himself up to the bed, pat it down. "They told me this was more comfortable than that brick slab upstairs anyway."

Gosalyn wrinkled her beak. "It's not that hard!"

"So you've already moved in then," Jim replied, cocking a brow. Gosalyn wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Throw all my things out? Find anything... interesting?"

"You... got a lot of toys."

Jim's grin twitched. "... T-They're collector items. I'm--I'm selling them."

"Really?" Gosalyn smirked. "Launchpad said you're keeping them. He said they're 'precious' to you, 'cause you used to work on the Darkwing Duck TV show."

Jim's eyes widened. "Wait, you--"

"Launchpad told me about it."

"He would."

"I dunno much about it, though. I hear it's... good and really cool."

"You don't need to butter me up, kid; youths today just don't get the classics."

"What? No, I'm not lying!" Gosalyn nervously rubbed her arm. "Mm'not a liar, okay?"

"I didn't say you were."

"Everyone else does."

"But we're not like everyone else," Jim corrected. "You're now residing in a house with a terrible pilot who's best friends with the richest guy in the world, Scrooge McDuck, and his family, who he still goes on treasure hunting adventures with from time to time. Then there's Darkwing Duck. Then there's the new Darkwing Duck. These guys have one brain cell they share between each other." He pushed himself up to Gosalyn. "They're also complete door mats. Especially the big one. Use it to your advantage, but--" He snatched the pillow from her hands. "I'm different. I'm a realist, smart. I don't let people walk all over me. And I'm not afraid to shut any bullshit down, ya hear me?"

Gosalyn smirked. "'Kay, Jim."

"Since when are we on a first name basis?"

Gosalyn grimaced. "Well, I--I thought--"

"I'm pullin' your leg. Obviously, call me Jim. It's better than gramps or old man."

"Well, you can call me Gos," Gosalyn said brightly.

"I don't do nicknames, Gooselane."

"Gosalyn!"

"Gosalyn!" Drake called out. "Jim! Dinner's ready!"

---

Per usual, Drake and Launchpad were chatty during dinner. Per usual, they tried dragging Jim into their conversations. Tonight, most of the attention was on Gosalyn. While she did respond and occasionally pipe in, she mostly just stared and poked at her food. Gosalyn had cut up a slice of pizza (much to Drake's delighted surprise), but had yet to eat any of it. Drake and Launchpad knew it would take a while for the girl to feel comfortable in her new settings, especially after all the--

Jim reached across the table, took a piece of her pizza, and ate it. Gosalyn and Drake's jaws dropped. "Hey!" Gosalyn snapped as Drake chided, "Jim!"

"What?" Jim grumbled, shrugging. "She's not eating it."

Gosalyn pouted. "But it's still mine."

"You're ungrateful, kid," Jim said, "you know these guys only order pizza once a month?"

Gosalyn's eyes widened, and she slowly turned her horrified expression to Launchpad and Drake. "What?" she squeaked. "The orphanage has more pizza days than that!"

"We're trying to eat healthy and stay fit," Drake explained.

"But only one pizza a month?" Gosalyn whined. "That's crazy!"

Drake huffed. "All right," he said, putting down his napkin, "let's take a vote. All those who want to order pizza more than once a month raise your hands."

Gosalyn's hand shot up. Jim held up his, waving.

Drake nodded. "And those--"

"You didn't count Launchpad!" Gosalyn said, pointing at the larger bird. Drake looked to Launchpad, shocked. Launchpad grinned sheepishly, his hand just barely raised. "That's three against one! We win!"

"Fine," Drake said, folding his arms, "two pizzas a month, but no more soda." He gave Launchpad a conniving little smile.

"No more soda?" Launchpad gasped. "But I can have two of those everyday!"

"So, you're officially rescinding your vote, LP?" Drake cooed smoothly.

Launchpad threw both hands up. "No to two pizzas, yes to keeping soda! This is three hands! We win now!"

"That's not fair!" Gosalyn yelled.

Drake leaned over to Gosalyn, patting her shoulder. "You're going to love kale, Gos," he smirked.

Gosalyn shrieked. "That's a threat! No!" She stood on her chair, fist in the air. "I rebel! I want a re-vote!"

"Honey, please don't stand on--"

"A coin toss!" Gosalyn exclaimed. "Let's do a coin toss! Heads we get more pizza, tails we stick to one pizza!" She looked over the adults. "Who has a quarter!"

"Oh, I do!" Launchpad declared. He dug in his coat pocket, dropping the contents on the table: lint, gum wrapping, three gummy worms, a pretty rock, used band-aid, and two pennies. "Uh, will a penny do?"

"Yes!" Gosalyn said. "And since you're the deciding vote, I'll let you toss it." She pointed seriously at the penny in Launchpad's hand, growling. "Let's. Get. Dangerous."

Drake couldn't help but laugh. Launchpad gave her a thumbs up; he flicked the penny in the air, caught it in hand, slapped it on his arm. Gosalyn and Drake watched with bated breath, the girl's eyes as wide as saucers. Launchpad bit his tongue, slowly lifting his hand and-- "Heads! Double pizza!"

Drake groaned into his hands, hiding his wry smile.

"Yes!" Gosalyn shrieked, jumping up and down on the chair. "We win, we win!"

"We win!" Launchpad joined in, standing and dancing in a circle. "Two pizzas! Two pizzas! Two sodas! Two sodas still! Two--wooo-ooo!"

"Now we need to vote on having double chocolate cake with pizza, too! A favorite with a favorite--double favorites!"

"Oh, absolutely not."

"Fine! But, Jim!" Gosalyn laughed breathlessly, looking to the older duck. "We w--"

"I'm finished," Jim said, pushing his plate aside and leaving the table.

Gosalyn blinked, her smile falling. Drake took her arm and helped sit her back down. "He's just tired, Gos," Drake reassured, patting her back. "Don't take it to heart."

"He doesn't like talkin' at the table either," Launchpad added, shoving the pile of junk back in his pocket. "But that's just the way he is, and that's a-okay. Right, DW?"

"Definitely!" Drake nodded. Still, Gosalyn looked upset, staring forlornly at her pieces of pizza. Drake stood, rubbing his hands together. "All right! Who's for dessert?"

"Dessert!" Launchpad screamed, shocked. "We never have dessert when we have pizza!"

"Well, a lot of things are gonna change around here, including ordering pizza twice a month," Drake said, playfully elbowing Gosalyn's arm. "Right, Gos?"

Gosalyn perked up a little; not much, but it was something, and that was more than enough.

---

The hideaway bed wasn't nearly as comfortable as the old bed, but beggars couldn't be choosers. Jim could have been selfish and kept the room, but even he drew a line when it came to being that petty. It was a lot more convenient to move around here, too. There was a bathroom, the kitchen was nearby, no stairs or that annoying ramp.

Drake and Launchpad wished Jim goodnight as they took Gosalyn upstairs. She didn't say anything, however. Which was fine, because neither did Jim. Jim curled up under the blankets, sighing and closing his eyes.

Now if only those nerds turned off Gosalyn's bedroom light or shut the door, Jim could fall asleep more easily. And they were talking, too. Nothing he could understand, but probably about Gosalyn being welcomed here, that they cared about her, that she didn't need to worry about anything, that they'd bend backwards and roll over at her beck and call. Jim tried turning on his back to pin the pillow to his ears, but the bedroom light shone right on his face, and he bitterly rolled back onto his good side, grumbling into his blanket.

---

It's all yours. You simply have to take--

"Jim?"

Jim woke with a loud snort, blinking. He looked to his side, surprised to see a kid-- Oh, right. The kid. Gosalyn frowned, averting her uneasy gaze. "Hey," she said, running a hand through her loose red hair, "Drake asked me to wake you up for breakfast."

"I made eggs, oatmeal, and toast," Drake said, walking past the couch. He was wearing an old shirt covered in paint stains and tiny holes. "I'm gonna be working on the garage today, so I'll be moving things in and out," he explained. "You two can watch TV or play a game--whatever you want! Your breakfast is at the table." With a salute, he ducked into the garage.

Gosalyn continued fiddling with her hair, mumbling, "Do you... need help? Getting into your chair?"

Jim pushed off his blankets, wincing as he slowly sat up. Gosalyn saw his bandaged knee, fidgeting. "No," he replied, pulling over his wheelchair.

"Oh. Okay. Well." Gosalyn half-turned around, looking at Jim. "I'm gonna... go eat then."

"Have fun."

Gosalyn frowned and let him be.

---

Jim took the DEM and headed upstairs. He needed to move his things out, give Gosalyn space for her stuff. When he entered his old room, he was surprised to see everything remained untouched. Gosalyn's suitcase was left open in a corner, all her clothes and few belongings inside, despite the empty dresser and desk drawers. And Jim hadn't taken up more than half the closet space.

Gosalyn climbed off the bed, surprised. "Did you need something?" she asked.

"I came to get my things," Jim answered. "Movin' 'em into the supply closet until the garage is ready."

"Oh!" Gosalyn started forward then stopped. "No, you... you can leave your stuff there. It's fine."

"Where are you gonna put your things?"

Gosalyn bowed her head. "I... I'm just gonna keep them in my suitcase."

Jim understood immediately. He sighed, walking over to the closet and tugging out a small box. "Those two knobs are head over heels for you, kid. They said you made quite an impression on 'em. And you apparently like them, too," he said, squatting carefully.

Gosalyn blushed. "I think Drake and LP are really cool, yeah, and they did save my life twice, but..." She curled a lock of hair around her finger, feet shuffling. "They'll probably send me back. They're busy people, right? Probably won't have time for me. I'd probably just get in the--"

"Probably, probably, probably," Jim jeered, rolling his eyes. "Probably still indicates there's a chance they won't. And besides." He looked to Gosalyn. "You gotta make an effort, too. So, lemme ask you two things: do you like these guys?"

"Y-Yeah!" Gosalyn squeaked. "They're real superheroes, and they're--they're very nice and they don't treat me like I'm bad or wrong."

"And do you wanna stay here?"

Gosalyn bit her bottom bill. "I..." She sniffed. "I don't wanna... go back to the orphanage."

"Didn't ask that, kid," Jim said. "Do you want to stay here?"

Gosalyn swallowed loudly. "... Yes," she said in a tiny, unsure voice. "But! I... I dunno. I'm..." She looked at Jim, frightened. "Darkwing Duck is so cool! I loved seeing him on the news and in the magazines and stuff, but what if-- What if he and Launchpad... What if I'm not... good..."

Jim frowned. "I guarantee you, that's the last thing on their minds," he snorted. "But, you never know. You may not get adopted." Gosalyn grimaced. "Sorry to say, but it happens. So, probably you'll get sent back to the orphanage... but probably you'll stay and become part of this... weird little family."

Gosalyn wiped her eyes with a sleeve. "Probably...?"

Jim nodded. "Maybe."

---

It was only ten in the morning, and Jim knew this would be a hectic day. That called for a nice long soak in the bath. It was a bit uncomfortable, having to keep his one leg propped up so his ankle bracelet and knee bandages didn't get wet, but inside this bathroom, lounging in this lovely, bubbly hot water, he was far away in his own little world, reality's trappings and disappointments locked on the other side of the door. Jim wished he could have a glass of champagne right now, it'd be the perfect final t--

"Jim?" Gosalyn knocked softly. "Jim, are you, um, are you still in the bath?"

"What do you think?" Jim grunted. "Whatta want?"

"I... I need my toothbrush, but I'll get it late--!"

"No, it's fine," Jim grumbled, drawing the shower curtain closed. "Come in. It's decent."

The door cracked open a few inches, Gosalyn's fingers curling around the edge.

"Hurry up," Jim scowled. "You're letting the steam out!"

Gosalyn nearly threw the door into the wall as she darted inside, grabbed her toothbrush, and ran back out, slamming the door closed and knocking down nearby lotion bottles. Jim winced, pain sparking in his temples. Damn kid.

"... Jim."

Jim groaned, kneading his forehead. What now? "Yes?" he sighed. "What? Forget something--"

"Are you... are you... mad at me?"

Jim's eyes widened. He pushed back the curtain. "What?"

"Are you mad at me?" the small, muffled voice repeated. "I... It was my fault you got hurt. I overheard Doctor Bellum say you... you almost died."

I did die, Jim wanted to say, twice, in fact.

"If I listened to you, you wouldn't have... You wouldn't have that fit, or hurt your knee," Gosalyn murmured. "It's my f-fault you almost... that you..." He heard a quiet sniffle. "I was so angry, I was bein' stupid. I'm--I'm sorry. It's okay, you don't gotta like me, but... I'm sorry I did those awful things."

Jim's heart skipped a beat. Sorry for messing up your life, even if I should have known better; sorry for hurting you, putting your life in danger. Sorry I fucked up; sorry but I don't think you should accept my apologies. I wouldn't if I were you.

"... I accept..." Jim gulped, his throat dry. "... It's fine. I survived, so it's fine, Goob. Don't do it again."

Another sniffle. "... It's Gosalyn."

Jim smirked, closing the curtain.

---

Jim climbed out of the bath when the water started getting cold. He dried off, put on his robe. Before he could go downstairs and pick out something to wear, he passed Gosalyn's room, the door open and the little girl sitting on the floor, surrounded by various Darkwing Duck items. She was flipping through one of the comic books, her big eyes sparkling.

"Going through my things now?" Jim huffed, arms akimbo. "Finally decide to kick me out for good?"

Gosalyn peered up from the book, still awestruck. "... I only saw a couple episodes when I was super young. Drake and LP told me you're Jim Starling, the same actor who played the older Darkwing, but I..." She shook her head. "I didn't think..." Gosalyn turned the comic around; the alternate cover was a publicity photo of Darkwing Duck posing, holding up a magnifying glass. "This is you. This is really you." She gestured to the toys, the dolls, the fanny-packs. "All this keen gear is... you! You look just like you did that... the one... night."

"Yes, well, you're about the only person who still recognizes true talent," Jim said, sniffing pompously. "But, yes. That was me. I was Darkwing Duck. I was everyone's hero for years... Until they cancelled me and my show."

"I wish I remembered those episodes I watched," Gosalyn mumbled, rubbing her head.

Jim thought a moment. He looked down the stairs, Drake whistling away in the garage. "Under the bed," Jim replied. "There's a large shoe box. Take it out."

Gosalyn blinked, a little confused, but ducked under the bed, reappearing with box in hand.

"Open it."

Gosalyn did--she gasped. Stacks of Darkwing Duck DVDs. "Is this... is this the whole show?" she asked, holding up one of the DVDs, turning it over.

"Yup," Jim sighed. "Every single season. With bonuses and deleted scenes, too." He suddenly felt uncomfortable, even a little childish. "... But my show was for a different generation. You'd just be--"

"I wanna watch it."

Jim's eyebrows climbed. "... What?"

Gosalyn clutched the first volume to her chest, a serious look on her face. "I wanna watch the show," she said firmly, "right now."

Jim stepped back. "You--right--Huh?" he sputtered.

Drake came running up the stairs, panting, face smudged with dust. "W-Wait!" he croaked. "Did y-you say you w-wanna watch the D-Darkwing Duck shchu!" He sneezed with a violent snap of his head; he stood back up, eyes puffy red. "That sounds wonderful! Jim, w-we should watch it with her!"

"You can take a break, right?" Gosalyn asked Drake, picking up the box of DVDs. She turned to Jim, green eyes burning with that fierce determination and stubbornness. "Jim, you're not doin' anything."

Jim blinked, a little taken aback. "You! ... Don't know that..." He cleared his throat, avoiding getting sneezed on by Drake. "... Fine. I guess."

"L-Lemme wad up w-wee quick," Drake wheezed, sniffing and snorting. "Den we c-can--" He jumped, phone in his pocket ringing. He put it on speaker. "LP, wha--"

"I'm on my way home!" Launchpad shouted. Drake sneezed, dropping the cellphone. "My Darkwing senses were tingling, so I told my boss I came down with dysentery and needed to go to the hospital!"

"L-LP..."

Gosalyn picked up the phone, said, "We're gonna watch the Darkwing Duck show. I've never seen it!"

"Oh my Darkwing!" Launchpad gasped, followed by the sound of tires screeching. "Y-You nev-- We gotta! DW, Jim! We gotta!" Someone honked their horn. "I'll be home in five minutes, don't start without me!" He hung up just as another person cursed at him to slow the fuck d--

Jim was still processing everything. Drake ran to the bathroom, throwing off his dirty shirt and hopping into the shower. Gosalyn grabbed Jim by the hand. "C'mon, gramps," she sneered, "lemme see how good a hero you were."

Jim smirked. "Are."

---

Launchpad arrived home in three minutes, just as Drake finished heating up two bags of low calorie popcorn. Jim and Gosalyn tucked the bed back into the sofa, Jim putting in the first DVD. He turned, facing the three--Drake vibrating, Launchpad waiting impatiently and pounding down popcorn, Gosalyn grinning wide and squished between them.

"Kid... Kids," Jim snickered, holding up the remote. "Prepare... to be wowed." He hit the PLAY button. The theme song started, Drake and Launchpad clapped, and Gosalyn laughed, joining them. Jim sat down at the end of the sofa, arms folded behind his head, legs crossed. He grinned.

Even though Drake and Launchpad had seen this show well over a hundred or so times, they always acted like it was their first. So excited, completely engrossed; gasping at plot twists, shrieking at scary parts, yelling threats at villains harming Darkwing Duck or innocent people, cheering Darkwing on when he was in a jam, close to death by the hands of one of the Fearsome Four's nefarious traps. And they asked Jim questions, most they already knew the answers to, but they were asking Jim Starling, and somehow each response felt new and intense and shocking.

If Jim knew they would react like this, he would have marathoned the show with them months ago.

It was hard to tell what Gosalyn thought, however. While it appeared she was enjoying the show, she could have just as easily been swept up in the hype. Even Jim had to admit Drake and Launchpad's enthusiasm and pure love for the show was infectious. She laughed a lot, bounced on the sofa, threw popcorn in the air when Darkwing Duck was suddenly confronted by a ghost.

And that was only after three episodes.

"Wait!" Gosalyn gasped. She stood and ran up to the screen, pointing at Darkwing Duck finishing a triple flip off a building and onto a trampoline. "D-Did you really do that?" she asked.

Jim beamed. "Of course," he chuckled.

"Jim did all his stunts!" Launchpad declared.

"Never used a stuntman once!" Drake added.

Jim shrugged, like it really wasn't that big a deal.

Gosalyn practically climbed into Jim's lap, getting in his face. "Can you teach me how to do that?" she asked, hands clasped, puppy eyes activated.

"Uhh..."

"Maybe when you're older, Gos," Drake said. "I mean, I'm still learning a lot from Jim, too. I haven't been able to do three flips in mid-air, landing on my hands, twirling around on one finger, bouncing back upright, then flipping off the trampoline's edge, straddling a bad guy's shoulders and putting them in a sleeper hold."

Gosalyn's beak hung open. "Keen gear..."

"Did it all in one take, too," Jim lied. It'd taken a couple, actually; he'd sprained his wrist, dove prematurely off the trampoline at the end, landing right on his ass on the cement. "And unlike Drake here, I started my Darkwing Duck career when I was twenty." He was actually twenty-eight, and Launchpad went to correct him, but Jim kept smiling as he shoved a handful of popcorn down the larger bird's throat.

"The costume's not as sleek, though," Gosalyn noted. "Turtlenecks are sooo dorky." Jim bristled, and she grinned cockily at him.

Jim scoffed, rubbing his bill to hide his little smile.

When episode four finished, Drake stood, wiping away tears from the sad ending. Launchpad openly sobbed, and even Gosalyn was a little upset. "O-Okay, guys," he whimpered, "I think that's enough for today. I should get back to work. LP, you... should call your boss and tell him you actually don't have dysen--"

"No!" Gosalyn shouted, standing and knocking a bowl of kernels on the floor. "Let's watch more! That ending was a total bummer! We can't stop after that! Besides, didn't you say you'd be meeting the first member of the Fearsome Four in episode five?" she asked Jim, eyes bright. She held up the DVD box, pointing to the screencap of Megavolt on the back cover.

Jim was still playing catch up. "... True," he smirked, "next episode you meet..." He cocked a brow at Drake and Launchpad's bewildered faces.

"Megavolt!" the two adults squealed.

"I can call work later," Launchpad insisted, tugging on Drake's shirt sleeve. "Let's watch a couple more, please?"

"Yeah! Come on, come on!" Gosalyn pleaded. The puppy eyes absolutely annihilated the younger duck.

Drake wibbled, his own eyes glazed over. "How could I say no... to that face..." he choked, gnawing on his knuckle. He sighed and threw his hands up in defeat. Launchpad and Gosalyn cheered as Drake sat back down, throwing an arm over Launchpad's shoulders. The two looked at Gosalyn, smiled fondly at one another.

Jim went to hit play when he saw Gosalyn take out a notepad and pen. He raised a brow, but then Launchpad was whining and so he started episode five.

They only intended on watching two, three more episodes. It was a little over noon when they started. However, after episode five and six, Gosalyn was starting to ask questions, especially about Jim's fighting style and certain moves. Jim showed her a basic karate chop, using Launchpad as the dummy. Jim didn't even hit the larger bird that hard, but the fact he was getting struck by the original Darkwing Duck...

Drake went to get the smelling salt from a first aid kit to wake his unconscious husband back up. In the meantime, Gosalyn sat on Launchpad's back and practiced her chop on his neck. Jim gave her a "so-so" swish of his hand, and she pouted.

Jim, Drake, and Launchpad didn't even notice Gosalyn scribbling on a notepad every few minutes before and after action scenes.

Mid-episode ten, Drake requested a remake of a scene where Darkwing Duck took down a fan favorite villain atop a clock tower. Drake and Jim faced one another in front of the wide TV; Drake's face angry (but still ridiculously charming) like the villain's, Jim's smirk and posture perfectly mirroring his younger self on the screen. They played out the scene in perfect sync.

Drake threw the first punch like the villain; like Darkwing, Jim blocked it with his arm. His screen counterpart dropped back on one hand, thrusting the heel of his foot in the villain's--Drake's--chin. Jim wasn't sure if the blow would have landed or not, he hadn't thought that bit through, but Drake jerked back in time, obviously pretending he'd been struck. He collapsed off the coffee table, onto the sofa, as the villain fell from the clock tower and into the ocean below.

Launchpad and Gosalyn gave a standing ovation, Launchpad weeping with pride. "Wait, did that jerk die?" she asked as Launchpad helped Drake up, hugging him.

Jim grinned darkly. "Oh, maybe... Maybe not."

Gosalyn gasped.

Launchpad turned back to Jim and Gosalyn, Drake hanging in his arms like a limp but happy dog. "Huh?" he sniffed. "Darkwing doesn't k--" Jim casually threw a book on Launchpad's foot, shutting him up.

Starting at episode twelve, Jim started a live running commentary over the episode, pausing every other scene to give his opinions, his thoughts, some background info. Gosalyn never complained, although he was waiting for her to tell him to shut up and sit down, just let the show play. But Gosalyn listened closely; he could tell everything he said, especially about action and fighting sequences, soaked into that big little brain of hers, and then she'd start writing.

"I love this line!" Launchpad exclaimed. "Oo! Oo! Jim--Jim, can you can you can you maybe--"

Jim hit the mute button. Darkwing mouthed the words as Jim spoke them. "You wanna get funky?" he jeered. "How about we get dangerous?"

The three lost it, screaming. Jim smirked, switching the volume back on as Darkwing let out a battle cry and smashed a disco ball on the Disco Tyrant's head.

"One day," Drake whispered, hand clutched to his heart, "I'm gonna slam a large object on someone's head like that..."

Launchpad placed a hand on Drake's shoulder. "You will, babe," he reassured, squeezing, "you will."

It was almost eight when Drake paused the last episode of season one to go make dinner. Launchpad had turned on a remix of the Darkwing Duck theme song, jamming in the dining room. Jim stared at the still frame of Darkwing--him, over twenty years ago--staring into the camera, pencil raised, one word from finishing his iconic catchphrase.

"Hey, Jim," Gosalyn said, walking up beside the older duck. He didn't respond; Gosalyn blinked, then pinched his hand.

"Yow!" Jim snarled, leaping back. "What was that for, Gus?"

Gosalyn raised her fists. "Show me how you did that double head punch with the leg kicks," she said. "Jam."

Jim laughed. "The bolo punch and counterpunch."

"Bolo, yeah, yeah!" Gosalyn swiped her fists in the air. "But you did it so fast! How'd you do it so fast?"

"Be careful, guys," Drake said, wearing his Let's get cookin'! Darkwing Duck apron. "Dinner'll be ready in a few, then LP and I gotta go on patrol."

"Okay!" Gosalyn shouted. She looked back to Jim. "So, show me how t'do that bolo thing!"

"It's more than speed; it's timing, knowing your enemy, his weaknesses, his moves," Jim explained. He sighed, looking down his bill at her. "You just... wouldn't understand."

Gosalyn grinned crookedly. "Oh, yeah? Try me!"

Jim decided... the Hell. He'd humor the kid. "We need you at a higher position..." He picked Gosalyn up, placing her on the coffee table. "Still a little low, but close enough to my head. I'm gonna come at you first, same move." Yes, Jim would humor her--but he wouldn't go easy on her. Except, well, actually hitting her.

Fists raised, Jim charged. It happened in a blur, Jim thrown completely off guard with surprise. He was going at her full force, at the same speed as the scene, and yet Gosalyn not only managed to dodge what would be the first blow if it landed, she actually got the upper hand. Gosalyn's fist swung past the side of Jim's head; had it been real, he'd most likely have one very explosive headache. He blocked her second strike, retreated back a few feet, still in a daze.

"Almost knocked yer head off!" Gosalyn laughed, swiping a thumb down her beak. "Not bad for a first try, huh?"

Jim shook his head. "But how did-- You had to have known where I was--"

"I've been watchin' you fight for hours now," Gosalyn giggled, pointing at the TV. "And, no offense, gramps, but you're kinda old and slow."

Jim wasn't even offended, just... astonished. "You learn real fast, don't you, kid?"

"My grandpa said I pick up things quick," Gosalyn gloated, hands on her hips, "especially with sports. S'why I'm so good at--"

"... expect this!"

Gosalyn screamed and kicked as Drake snatched her off the table and held her above his head. "Can you counter this attack, superhero?" He gave a comically over-the-top villainous laugh. "LP! Come, it's time! Give her... the dreaded tickles!" Drake carefully tossed her in Launchpad's hands. He lowered her to the ground, viciously tickling her sides and underarms. Gosalyn cried and laughed, squirming.

"Resistance is futile," Drake cackled, holding a hand dramatically to his beak. "Hohohoho!"

"D-Darkwing!" Gosalyn gasped, tears running down her face. "G-Get them!"

Jim chuckled, walking up to Drake. Drake turned, taking a fighting stance, hands raised for attack. Jim froze, and an image flashed across his eyes. Drake in this same position, but he wasn't smiling; he wasn't wearing some stupid fuzzy violet cardigan, but a Darkwing Duck costume. They weren't in a cozy living room, messied by spilled popcorn and empty soda cans and water bottles, but a studio caught on fire in complete disarray. And Jim wasn't shocked--he was furious. Nothing but blinding rage, the need to hurt, break, destroy, the chainsaw revving in his ha--

Jim didn't even realize he screamed until he saw the horrified look on Gosalyn's face as she dropped her glass and stumbled back against the table. He'd forgotten to take his pain meds before the DEM wore off; sharp knives and spikes tore into his hip bones and muscles, and Jim collapsed on the floor. Drake was running up to him, holding out his hands, and then Jim heard the world again, Drake's worried cries.

"Don't!" Jim snarled, smacking Drake away. He cried, curling up into the fetal position. He scratched and tore away feathers, digging into his hip, as if he could somehow rip the pain out like a tangible bloody thing and throw it across the room. Jim opened his eyes, the world spun once then stopped on Gosalyn in Launchpad's arms, half her face buried into his chest, one single wide, frightened eye watching.

"LP! Take Gosalyn to her room!" Drake ordered, fetching Jim's painkillers from the kitchen. Jim watched Launchpad as he hurried by the writhing old duck; Jim didn't like the way Gosalyn stared at him, and he reached out a trembling hand, mindlessly spitting and hissing, only wanting her to just look away--

Drake returned with pills and water; it took a few tries, but Jim swallowed them down. Jim drooled and coughed into the carpet, rocking back and forth, pain pulsating from his hip down his spine, into his leg. His knuckles felt wet--he'd torn his wounds open, the bandage stained with four almost perfect bloody patches. Drake sat beside him, patting and rubbing his back; he couldn't move Jim without causing more pain, or possibly making his injuries worse.

After a few minutes, the painkillers started working. Jim stopped snarling and yelling, managing only tired moans and grunts. He felt numb, exhausted; twenty minutes later, Jim finally went still on the floor, resting his head on Drake's knees as the younger duck wiped the sweat and tears from the wet black feathers around his eyes.

"Feeling better?" Drake asked softly.

Jim grumbled. Complicated question.

"I'm going to put you in the recliner so I can make your bed, okay?"

Jim sniffed, and Drake cleaned his nostrils. He managed a nod. They embraced one another, Drake carefully lifting Jim and easing him down into the nearest recliner. Jim flopped back, panting, sweat staining the front of his long sleeved shirt. His bloodshot eyes drifted up the stairs, to his--her--bedroom door. Jim saw her, just a quick glance, and then the door shut.

Well... shit.

Drake finished folding out and making the bed. Jim threw an arm around his shoulders, hobbled up onto the mattress. Drake helped him take a few more sips of water before laying him down. "I'm sorry I forgot," the younger duck apologized. "I should have told you to take your medicine, not to over-exert--"

"Don't... 'pologize," Jim coughed, "not..." He rubbed his hip, wincing. "She... okay? Really musta scared her."

"Gos?" Drake tucked Jim in. "She'll be all right. Launchpad is talking with her."

"Dunno... if that's good."

"I'll talk to her, too."

"Hmm." Jim exhaled, closing his eyes. "Tired. No dinner."

"We'll have dinner in our rooms; keep it nice and dark down here for you," Drake reassured, patting Jim's twitching hand. "LP and I will try not to disturb you when we head out."

Jim bobbed his head. Right... out. Darkwing Duck stuff. Funny-- Hadn't he been Darkwing Duck all day? Hadn't he proven he still had the chops? But now he was here, drained and angry and sore and old. Had the entire evening just been some fever dream? This sort of ending didn't fit Darkwing Duck. But--ah. No. Drake Mallard was Darkwing Duck, and he was healthy and fit as a fiddle, so young and full of hopes and dreams and not enough tragedies and broken promises to balance out his naivety.

But Gosalyn-- He could see her face when he closed his eyes. Like she'd seen a ghost, or a monster. That Jim was some... feral, crazy thing that would attack and tear her to shreds if she got too close. He wasn't like that-- Not anymore. It was only one time; he had a mental breakdown, he was--was all sorts of messed up in the head, he didn't-- Jim wasn't like that. Not usually. But if they only knew how... how... isolating and lonely and quiet and disappointing life had been, maybe they'd understand? No, no they wouldn't; Drake and Launchpad Mallard-McQuack were good people who hadn't faced the helplessness of being stranded and stuck in time.

Gosalyn... Gosalyn, who lost her parents, her grandfather, who was angry and confused, unable to hold onto anything for too long before it was taken away. Before she was thrown away. Maybe that's why Jim couldn't get her pained face out of his head. Was she scared? Or was she sad? Did she see something awful, or did she see something she could understand, maybe even sympathize with?

Nonsense, all nonsense. She was a nine year old girl. Jim shouldn't expect such depth and maturity from a child, especially one with her whole life ahead of her.

Drake made plates for Gosalyn, Launchpad, and himself, taking them upstairs to eat in Gosalyn's room. Maybe she was crying, maybe she was back to being silent and guarded. Oh, it didn't matter. She wasn't his problem. He wasn't her problem. Drake and Launchpad would water everything down, make his fuck-ups and issues as digestible as possible for the kid. It felt a little wrong, Jim thought, because he'd been there when Gosalyn was screaming and crying about wanting to hurt, even kill the man who stole her grandfather and former life from her. Surely she could... understand more than "Jim's just sick and going through a few things."

Jim didn't want to think anymore. At least with a major shock to the system, it always made Jim tired and easier to fall asleep without the aid of medication. The only problem lied beyond the waking world, one Jim entered skeptically but unwillingly every time he went to sleep.

---

Something smelled absolutely divine. Even asleep, Jim's mouth was watering. He opened his eyes, expecting to be surrounded by an extravagant feast of toasted meat, steamed vegetables, cranberry jelly.

Gosalyn, Drake, and Launchpad sat around the table, knives and forks in hands, salivating as they licked their hungry bills. Why, they appeared absolutely ravenous. Very disturbing, considering, Jim now realized, he was the meal being served. This should have scared him, should have him fighting and screaming, but he just continued lying there, plucked and naked on a platter of fruits and vegetables.

"Thank you for your patience, everyone," the bloody eyed figure chuckled, walking up to the table. He sliced and scraped his kitchen knives together. "Now we can dig in!" Jim flinched as the figure placed the blades to his chest. "Drake, what piece would you like?"

"His brain, please," Drake said politely, tucking a napkin in his shirt collar. "I want to consume his thoughts, his memories, his knowledge."

"Very good, sir," the server chortled. Jim didn't feel any pain, and in less than a second, his brain was suddenly placed on Drake's plate, hitting the fine China with a wet slap. The server ground fresh pepper on top until Drake asked him to stop. "And you, Launchpad?"

"Well, Jim is my hero," Launchpad laughed, blushing, "and I love listenin' to him talk, but sometimes he sounds a bit... mean, and cruel. So, maybe I'll have his tongue?"

Jim felt a swift breeze as one of the knives slid inside his beak and back out, tongue impaled on the edge. Jim blinked his wide eyes. He didn't feel that, either. The server kindly placed the tongue in a cup of cranberry jam with a little decorative garnish and handed it to Launchpad.

"Now," the server said, smiling his widest, "little girl."

Jim turned his head. Gosalyn giggled. "I want his heart," she said, pointing her knife at Jim's chest.

"Oh, but of course, m'lady," the server cooed. Unlike his brain and his tongue, Jim felt the excruciating pain as the man stabbed and cut into his heart. "See, Jim?"

Jim wanted to scream, but nothing came. Wanted to move, but his limbs felt too heavy.

"They take what they want from you," the server said, carelessly dropping Jim's heart on Gosalyn's plate, blood splattering her wolfish grin. "And throw the rest away."

Drake, Gosalyn, and Launchpad disappeared in shadows, as did all the food, until it was just Jim lying out on a red table cloth, confused, bleeding, mutilated.

"But as I always have," the server's voice surrounded Jim, coming from every direction, "I will pick up the pieces, put you together, and create something new. Greater, stronger, invincible." Rows of teeth split in a smile above Jim's head, a forked tongue peeking out to lap their grin with slobber. "Just a little more time, I think. A little more time to marinate. And then you're all--"

Jim jerked away from the warm hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes, breathing sharply from his nostrils. Awake--he was awake.

"Jim?"

Jim winced. He turned to Gosalyn, the little girl sitting on the bed beside him in her long nightgown. She looked scared, but it wasn't the same fear from earlier. When she'd seen...

"Whatta want?" Jim grunted, searching for his bottled water. "It's late. What, midnight maybe?"

"I came down to get water, and... you were havin' a nightmare."

"Yeah, well--"

"I have nightmares like those sometimes. I wanna wake up when I have them. Thought you'd wanna wake up, too."

Jim went still. He took a deep breath, lying back. "If yer havin' a hard time sleeping," he grumbled, "go tuck in with the dolts in their room."

"They're not home yet," Gosalyn murmured, tugging on a lock of red hair.

Jim frowned tiredly. "Well... You woke me up. Thanks. Now I won't be able t'get back to sleep, so just... hand me the remote."

Gosalyn perked up. "You can't sleep?"

"Don't take all the credit. Just how it is."

Gosalyn furrowed her brows in thought. She climbed off the bed, heading to the kitchen. Jim scowled, throwing his hands up weakly. "You coulda--the remote, kid!" he whined. The remote was too far for him to reach, not without exerting himself; with a resigned groan, he laid back, waiting for Gosalyn to return.

A couple minutes passed. "What're you doin'?" Jim demanded. "No midnight snacks allowed in this household."

Gosalyn returned with a canister. "Here," she said, "it's hot tea." She placed a curly straw inside, handing it over to Jim. Jim reluctantly took it, sniffed the tea. Chamomile? "When I had nightmares or I couldn't sleep, grandpa would make me tea. It always made me super tired."

Well... made sense. Jim shrugged and blew into the canister. He took a slow, calculated sip from his straw; still a bit too warm, but he could drink it. "Not bad," he mumbled, continuing to blow into the warm canister.

Gosalyn smiled, watching him from her perch beside him. Jim took a few more drinks before he started feeling a little uncomfortable. "What?" he mumbled. "Didn't your grandpa teach you--" He stopped himself, but Gosalyn didn't seem bothered. "Go back to bed. I'm okay." He turned away, sipping the tea.

"There's one last thing my grandpa did when he tucked me into bed," Gosalyn stated. "He sang me a lullaby."

Jim choked. "I don't--"

"It's... two lullabies, actually, but..." Gosalyn said sheepishly. She cleared her throat, sat up straight, and started singing in a less than stellar voice. "Rest your head, little girl blue, come paint your dreams on your pillow."

Jim didn't bother to stop her, now that she started, listening curiously while nursing his tea.

"I'll be near to chase away fear," Gosalyn sang, swaying gently, "so sleep now, and dream 'til tomorrow."

Jim yawned. Tea must've worked. Gosalyn took the half-empty canister and put it down. She slid off the bed, rolling up and spreading the quilt over Jim. "So sleep now, and dream 'til tomorrow," she hummed, softly now; she pat his hand and smiled tenderly. "I'll be near to chase away fear, so sleep now, and dream 'til tomorrow."

Jim closed his eyes, gathering his thoughts. When he next opened them, it was two hours later. He'd... fallen asleep? And Gosalyn was still there, only curled up in a recliner and soundly snoozing. He remembered her lullaby, the tea, then a tremor-- Ah, that's what did it.

Darkwing and Launchpad emerged from the basement, tired but intact. Jim raised a finger to his beak, silencing them. The two followed the same finger when it pointed to Gosalyn. Drake smiled, hand over his heart. "Had a nightmare. Gave me tea. Sang song," Jim explained quietly.

Drake nodded, carefully scooping Gosalyn up in his arms, resting her head against his chest. He walked over to Launchpad, who fixed the blanket over her back. Drake mouthed a "thank you" to Jim, with Launchpad giving him a nod and salute. Jim watched them head upstairs into Gosalyn's room, shutting the door behind them.

Jim frowned. He wanted that door shut, but for some reason, it bothered him this time. Jim picked up the canister--lukewarm, almost cold, but he finished it with a few heavy swallows. He turned on his good side, staring at the recliner. It'd been forever since anyone sang him a lullaby; Nana did it all the time, but her voice was awful and only made sleepy Jim grumpier.

Gosalyn was no singing sensation, but he liked her voice. He thought about her song, and it helped him go back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Drake had explained his "work" to Gosalyn earlier that week.

First it was just lectures and classes. Gradually, work turned into mandatory field training for all SHUSH agents--even their unofficial, on-call operatives. When he wasn't fighting his way through obstacle courses like a recruit in boot camp, he was being taught proper SHUSH protocol, rules, and other such important need-to-know information by senior officers.

Although Drake liked everyone well enough, and made a few friends, he often butted heads with Chief Agent Gryzlikoff. He'd been hard on Darkwing and select other heroes of their own cities since day one. According to seasoned operatives, he disliked "freelance freeloaders"; thought their directors needed to "fatty trim" those who weren't strictly dedicated to SHUSH. Drake had done his best to ignore Gryzlikoff's insults and bad attitude, but he always found a way to shove it back in Gryzlikoff's face that was passive aggressive enough that couldn't be used against the duck as insubordination and show of disrespect.

Drake trained with a few specialists, and had learned a number of things, but Jim's style better suit his own. Naturally, since Drake's entire fighting style was built and molded after his hero's.

Before, Drake might have wanted to spend more time out, really living it up as Darkwing Duck, but his free time now was perfect for bonding with Gosalyn, getting to know her better. While always "on call" for anything at any time, Drake had planned a day around decorating the house in blue and white lights (both Drake and Launchpad approved of, for Christmas and Hanukkah), and gradually putting away Gosalyn's things, in the most subtle way as possible.

Of course, just as he finished making waffles for a big special breakfast, he received a call and was requested for immediate assistance in Duckburg. Hopefully Gizmoduck had nothing to do with it; he was already in a piss poor mood now, that cyborg asshole would only push him over the edge. So Drake kissed Launchpad, hugged Gosalyn, and waved Jim goodbye before sullenly stomping into the basement.

"Bet he's glad I didn't call my boss back," Launchpad smirked, piling four waffles onto Gosalyn's plate. "He still thinks I'm in the ER with dysentery."

"What's dysentery?" Gosalyn asked, emptying half the syrup bottle on her short stack.

Launchpad thought a moment, a mound of powdered sugar on top of his waffles. "Huh... I dunno! But I got it a lot when I played this old video game."

Jim rolled his eyes, quietly cutting up his much more bare and healthy waffles.

"Jim," Gosalyn said, and even though she hadn't taken a bite yet, there was syrup all over her hands and face already, "do you know what dysentery is?"

Jim eyeballed their plates. "You're gonna find out soon enough, anyway," he mumbled, neither catching what he said and diving into their piles of diabetic shock.

---

Gosalyn returned before Launchpad, groaning and holding her belly, antacid chalk on her beak. She sat down at the table, burped. "Feel a little okay..." she grumbled, rubbing her stomach.

Launchpad joined them ten minutes later, guzzling his second bottle of Pepto. "All right!" he belched. "Think I'm good now. So, whatta guys wanna do today?"

Gosalyn tilted her head. "Were we suppose to put up holiday stuff?" she asked. Her stomach rumbled and she shrank back into her chair. "No, don't wanna do that today."

Launchpad laughed weakly. "N-Nah, me neither..." He took a chug of the medicine. "Oh, yeah, yeah, tomorrow I offered t'help put up the lights around Mr. McDee's."

Gosalyn's eyes widened. "Can I come with you? I wanna see his mansion and all his cool treasure!"

"One day, definitely," Lauchpad chuckled. "In fact, I don't think I've shown you pictures yet..." He reached into his back pocket, removing his wallet.

Jim groaned into his hand. "Here we go..."

Launchpad opened his wallet, letting a string of photos pour out. Gosalyn leaned over the table to get a better look. "These three boys--the one in blue is my best friend, Dewey; the one in green is Louie and he's super cool and chill, and the one in red is Huey, who's mega-smart and knows all about scout stuff."

"I always wanted to be a scout," Gosalyn sulked.

"You still can!" But before Gosalyn could say anything, he pointed to a photo of Webby in her prison riot armor and gear. "This is Webby. She's Mrs. Beakley's granddaughter. They're both very tough and smart and scary and Mrs. B loves Darkwing Duck, too! Webby knows everything about Mr. McDee and his family and espionage, so if ya got any questions, she'll probably know the answer!"

"Who's that pale looking girl standing behind her? Is that a smudge?"

"Huh. Might be Mortimer! He's a ghost!"

"They have ghosts in their mansion?" Gosalyn gasped, eyes twinkling.

"They've probably got a breeding pair of thylacine in their basement," Jim scoffed, "and just told the world they went extinct."

"But why would they hide them?" Gosalyn asked, although she had no idea what a thylacine was.

"They gotta get their fur from somewhere, right? Clubbin' baby minks gets tires--"

"Oh! Look, look!" Launchpad held out a photo of himself and Donald on the beach, the latter red in the face and screaming at a crab pinching his foot. "That's Donald! He's Dewey, Huey, and Louie's uncle, and Mr. McDee's nephew. He's super hilarious, especially when he gets really mad. Oh, in the back there you can see Della! She's Donald's twin sister, Dewey, Huey, and Louie's mom, Mr. McDee's niece, and oh right, this was taken right before she buried me in the sand."

"Wow," Gosalyn said, sitting. Her smile waned. "Scrooge's family, Drake and Jim... You've got a really big family..."

Jim blinked. "I'm not a part of this nut house," he groused.

"Why don't you tell us about your family, Jim!" Launchpad suggested, rolling up his wallet. "You never talked or wrote about them in your interviews and biographies! What were the parents of the esteemed and critically acclaimed Darkwing Duck actor like?"

Jim frowned. He opened his mouth, closed again; looked to Gosalyn, solemnly curling a loose hair around her fingers. "Why don't you take her to game night, huh?" Jim suggested, pointing to Gosalyn. That got her attention, eyes alight again. "They play some sorta... roleplaying game there every other weekend or whatever."

"D&D! Yeah!"

"I know D&D!" Gosalyn said. "I've always wanted to play it. You fight dragons in dungeons, right?"

"Sometimes, but not all the time. Sometimes you are the dragons! Or the dungeons!"

"See?" Jim snorted. "Nerd stuff."

Gosalyn grinned slyly at Jim. "Isn't roleplaying basically just like acting?" she teased. Jim sat upright. "So you're kind of a champ at roleplaying, aren't you, Jim?"

Jim blanched. "It's not the same!"

"Hoho! You just reminded me of my sixty-eighth dream goal, Gos!" Launchpad declared, smacking fist in hand. "To play a D&D campaign with Darkwing Duck! And now I can play with two Darkwing Ducks!"

Gosalyn clapped. "Yeah, yeah! Wait, how... do you play D&D?"

Launchpad chortled. "Don't worry. I've been a DM... many two times."

"A wha?"

"Well, you guys have fun," Jim grumbled, pushing himself away from the table, "I'm going to be more proactive and pick my no--"

"Jim! You gotta play with us!" Gosalyn exclaimed, suddenly standing in front of the older duck.

"It's best to have at least three to four players!" Launchpad stated, suddenly standing behind the older duck.

"Ask Drake to be your third player!"

"But I'm the DM! I don't play! I mean, I can, but I'm super bad at the entire multitasking thing."

"It's like going on adventures, right, Launchpad?" Gosalyn asked. "We fight dragons and loot dungeons and cast magic spells and rescue royalty captured by evil tyrants and their undead armies!"

Launchpad nodded. "All of that exactly."

Jim snarled, pushing around the girl. "Acting and roleplaying are two very different things!" he snapped.

"How so?"

"One is a skilled, highly praised art form--the other is dorks screaming at each other."

"We don't gotta scream!" Launchpad screamed.

"Pleeeease?" Gosalyn took his hands, shook them.

Jim gagged, yanking hands free. "Absolutely not!"

---

"Oh my gosh, I haven't played D&D since I was a duckling!" Drake chuckled, looking over his character sheet.

"This is a new campaign they released, too," Launchpad said, tapping the thick book.

Gosalyn hummed, flipping through the instruction manual. "Hnn. I dunno what class I wanna be..." she mumbled. She looked to Jim. "What about you?"

Jim glowered at the blank sheet and pen in front of him.

"If I may recommend a class, DW," Launchpad said smoothly, clearing his throat. Drake nodded. "I think you'd be an awesome paladin. They're like fighters, but they can use magic!"

Drake beamed. "Oh, sounds fun!"

"Oh! I wanna be a barbarian!" Gosalyn exclaimed. "I'm super strong and can beat people to a pulp with my bare fis--Can I play an owlbear?"

"It's best we stick to the basic classes and races in the book, until we're more seasoned," Drake said. "So, I think I'll be a... birdkin paladin!"

"And I'll be a felinekin barbarian!" Gosalyn said, nodding firmly.

"Great!"

All eyes were on Jim now, who was still staring bitterly at his blank character sheet.

"Jim?"

Jim sighed loudly. "I don't care. You pick for me."

"Okay!" Gosalyn beamed. "You're a dragonborn wizard!"

Jim cocked a brow. "Dragonborn... wizard?"

"Half-dragon creatures," Gosalyn explained. "And wizard, because you're an old man."

Jim scowled. "I don't want to be a wizard!"

"But wizards are cool!" Launchpad reassured. "You get to do all sorts of magic!"

"I might change to a wizard if you don't want it," Drake said with a shit-eating grin. "More magic for me..."

Jim hissed. "No! I'm the wizard!" He slammed a fist on the table. "Now give me my dice! Let's do this shit."

The game proceeded as hectic and clumsy as expected for a first time. Although Launchpad was used to constantly messing up, so it all felt rather normal and easy for him. Fortunately, three out of the four players were excellent and fast learners. Drake and Gosalyn were immersed deep in their roles, coming up with character voices almost immediately. Jim was... not as invested.

Not at first.

"Gos!" Launchpad declared, pushing a dragon token forward. "You're first in the initiative! What do you do?"

Gosalyn cackled. "I'm going to go into full Rage!" she bellowed. "And run at the stupid drag--"

"Don't be a fool!" Jim snapped. "Your AC is one point off from mine, and you're still low on HP!" He glared at Drake. "Because our stupid paladin used up all his spell slots!"

"I did say we should have taken a rest," Drake said sheepishly.

"You got a bow and arrow!" Jim said, wagging a finger at Gosalyn's figurine. "Go into Rage, then shoot the dragon with an arrow until it's my turn and I can cast Mage Armor on you!"

"I'm a barbarian! I'm not suppose to be scared of anything, or smart!" Gosalyn hissed, rolling her eyes. "I got fifteen HP! I'm fine! Besides, I don't take as much damage when I go into Rage."

"She's right!" Launchpad laughed. "And Drake is next in the order after her."

"Who can't cast any healing spells because he burned up all his spell slots on saving the guys who tried to rob and kill us!"

"My paladin is lawful good! Wingdark Duckenku doesn't believe in killing people."

"The goblin you revived stabbed me in the butt and I lost five HP!"

Launchpad giggled. "Heh... in the butt."

Drake snapped his fingers. "Wait! I do have one of those healing potions we took off the kobold thief! I can give it to you on my turn, Gos; it's worth 2d10, that's... rolling the ten sided die twice and adding up the amount on both rolls for total HP regained, right?"

Launchpad nodded. "But since I'm such a nice DM," he smirked, winked, "Snarlfangs Archerbow the Archery Barbarian can have all the points. Which is, uh... Ten plus te--duh! Twenty! Wait... Yeah!"

"If I'm the only one who survives this battle," Jim spat, hands clenched in fists, "I'm leaving your bodies to rot in this sunken ancient kingdom of K'ar the exiled Yuan-ti prince."

"Just what you'd expect from a chaotic neutral."

"I just chose it on random, dammit!"

"Um..." Gosalyn shrank under the table, pointing at her d20. "... I rolled a nat 1."

Everyone around the table screamed.

---

It'd been a close call for the adventuring party. Jim was knocked down to 5 HP before finishing off the dragon, Gosalyn nearly failed her saving throws, and Drake was only revived because Launchpad felt bad and had a random dungeon rat appear who just so happened to know and use Spare the Dying on Wingdark Duckenku.

After finishing dinner, Drake and Launchpad got ready for tonight's patrol. "Bedtime's in a half hour," Drake said, hands on Gosalyn's shoulders. "I'll call to make sure you're in bed, got it?"

"Why can't I just wait for you guys in the bunker?" Gosalyn asked, beak pursed. "I won't touch anything, promise."

"We won't be home until late, and I just said you have bed in a half hour, little miss."

Gosalyn sighed, sulking. "Fiiiine."

Drake smiled and hugged Gosalyn. Launchpad joined them, picking the two off the ground in a bear hug. They wished her a good night, ruffled her hair. "Please make sure she goes to bed in a half hour, Jim," Drake said to the old duck crawling onto the hideaway bed. "I'll call in a little while. Take care."

Jim and Gosalyn watched them go. "You heard them," Jim grunted, pulling a heating pad from off his wheelchair. "Go to bed. But first, plug this in."

"Your hip hurtin' real bad again?" Gosalyn asked, frowning. She took the extension line, plugged it in the nearest socket. "Is it cause of the medicine?"

"It's the cold," Jim mumbled. He winced as he laid down, pressing the warm pad to his side.

Gosalyn stood up. "D'ya want some more tea?" she offered.

Jim hesitated. "... Yeah, sure."

Gosalyn smiled and bounced into the kitchen. Jim finally got comfortable when she returned with a canister of chamomile tea and straw. "Thanks," he said, taking the drink.

"So..." Gosalyn rocked back on her heels. "Dooo yooou wanna maybe watch some more Darkwing?"

Jim took a long sip. "You gotta go to bed."

"Not for another half hour!"

"Twenty minutes."

"We can skip the opening and I won't watch the credits!"

Jim hummed, glancing at the clock. He'd probably be asleep by then, too. "Fine," he said, firmly, holding up a finger, "but only one episode. Got it? I couldn't care less what time you go to bed, I just don't want an earful from those numskulls later."

Gos giggled. "Just one episode! Promise! Then I'll go straight to bed!" She crossed her heart. Jim nodded and Gosalyn went to put in the DVD. She fast forwarded the opening as she climbed onto the bed, sitting beside Jim. Maybe a little too close, but Jim brushed it off. Gosalyn hit play.

One of the show's more serious episodes involving underage smoking. The villain of the day had been a teenager possessed by an evil smoky nicotine demon, spreading fog and pollution and sickness throughout St. Canard. Darkwing managed to draw the demon out, trap it in a cigarette to bury, and save the teen. Important lessons were learned, and the episode ended with a PSA about children smoking and what to do if they came across cigarettes or were offered one.

Gosalyn didn't seem too impressed; she brought her notebook and pen, but hadn't written a single thing down during the episode. "That was... really super mega cheesy," she said, yawning. "But the fight between you and the smoke monster was kinda neat."

"Mandatory PSA episode," Jim grumbled. "We had to do at least one every season. I thought they were dumb, but... This one wasn't too bad." He smiled weakly. "That piledriver was pretty damn good."

"But how do you piledrive a cloud of smoke?"

"It was a magic cloud," Jim snorted, "don't look too deeply into it, kid."

"I can do piledrivers," Gosalyn preened. "I did one on this bully at the orphanage. He kept pulling the girls' hair." Her face darkened, grip on pencil tightening. "I told them he was being mean and hurting people, but they just said I was only causing more trouble and shouldn't be hitting people when I'm suppose to act like a proper lady."

Jim looked at the kid. "Do you wanna be a proper lady?"

Gosalyn gagged. "No!"

"Then don't be, and screw what others say," Jim said, idly scratching his chest. "Be the belching in public, spitting, foul-mouthed princess wearing muddy tennis shoes and sport jerseys you dream of."

Gosalyn smiled a little. After some hesitation, she asked, "So... maybe just... one more episode?"

Jim yawned. "I did tell you to go to bed, right?"

"Y-Yeah..."

"Well, if you go to bed, I'm gonna go to sleep. But if you were to come back downstairs and watch more, then I wouldn't know and just... assumed you were in bed like a good little girl."

Gosalyn widened her eyes. "But if Drake or Launchpad call--"

"I'm asleep. They knew that'd be a possibility."

Gosalyn giggled. "Okay, okay," she said, climbing off the bed. "I'm going to sleep now," she said loudly, winking. Jim waved her off and rolled onto his side.

"Um."

Jim grunted.

"Before you--we go to bed," Gosalyn said, biting her tongue, "I wanted to ask you... something."

Jim closed his eyes. "Mm?" he replied tiredly.

Gosalyn went to ask, but stopped. "Tomorrow," she said, running upstairs, "I'll ask tomorrow!"

"Whatever."

---

"Can't we wait until aaaaafter Christmas!"

"It'll help you get back into the swing of things, Gos."

"But it's winter break for all the schools right now!"

Drake looked back at Gosalyn. "How do you know that?" he asked.

Gosalyn sat sulking on her bed. "Honker told me," she grunted.

"Right, right," Drake smirked, "you two've hit it off well." He opened a desk drawer, removing two text books, notebook, and pencils. "But let me warn you: he's about the only good egg in that family. Keep away from his older brother, Tank."

"Tank's a jerk," Gosalyn hissed. "He reminds me of my first foster family's son. He always picked on me... until I slugged him good in the mouth." She simmered, although there was a twinge of sadness in her voice. "They took me back to the orphanage after that, even though I told them he started the fight..."

Drake frowned. "Well, Gos, there's no bullies here," he reassured, pulling her hair back into its usual ponytail. "Now, Jim... He can be kind of crass and blunt, but he's no bully."

"Does he even like any of us?" Gosalyn mumbled.

"In his own Jim Starling way," Drake replied, giving the ponytail a playful tug. Gosalyn laughed, swatting his hand away. "Now, after breakfast every morning, Monday through Wednesday, you'll have reading lessons." He placed a blue book in her lap, and she groaned. "And before dinner, you'll have math." Drake added a brown book, and Gosalyn moaned louder. "You'll have at least two small assignments for homework every night except Saturday and Sunday."

Gosalyn yelled, falling back onto the bed.

"It won't be too bad! After all!" Drake held a thumb to his chest, winking. "I'll be your teacher. And if anything should come up, I have someone on the line who'll talk and help you out in my absence."

"Who?"

"My mama," Drake said proudly. "She's a retired high school teacher. You'll love her!"

Gosalyn quietly sat back up, staring at her books. She couldn't even remember much about her own mother, what she looked like, if she was nice, if she was smart or plain. Having two just seemed a little... unfair.

Drake placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's only one hour per lesson everyday, Gos," he said softly. "I promise, I'm a pretty easy going teacher, too. I was a student assistant every year since seventh grade."

"That's something to brag about?" Gosalyn blanched.

"There's benefits to being a teacher's pet," Drake teased, "like, oh, maybe no homework on Fridays, too...?"

Gosalyn beamed. "You drive a hard bargain, but..." She held out her hand. Drake took it, and before he could shake it, she shouted, "But I start winter break next week like everyone else deal!"

"Deal!" Drake cheered, then caught the rest. "W-Wait! Hey!"

"We made the deal!" Gosalyn cackled.

Drake sneered, ruffling her hair in both hands. "Oh, you little...!" He picked the giggling girl up, plopped her on his shoulders. "Fine, fine. But after breakfast, you will start your first lesson, no ands, ifs, or buts!"

But.

Drake sighed, looking at his cellphone. "It's him," he grumbled. Gryzlikoff. "He needs me at work." Probably for more unnecessary training and paperwork filling, a pathetic attempt to break the freelancer from the herd. Drake wondered if he could go over Gryzlikoff's head and speak to J. Gander about this abuse of power.

Gosalyn looked up from her cereal with a big hopeful grin. "No reading lessons, then?"

"Oh no," Drake tsked, pocketing his phone. "Not that easy." He stood, put his dishes away, and washed his hands. "Jim, would you kindly make sure Gos here does her reading assignment for the next hour? You don't have to help if you don't want to, but she's not playing hooky on her first day."

Jim's loud sigh was much like a petulant teenager's forced to babysit their kid sibling. "I guess. I don't gotta help though, right? Just gotta watch?"

"Yup." Drake put on his jacket and boots, gathered his keys and wallet. "I shouldn't be more than a couple hours." He walked up behind Gosalyn, hugging the pouting girl around the chair. "It'll be fine, Gos. You'll have fun! The book you're reading is a very interesting one! Thanks again, Jim! Be back soon!"

Jim and Gosalyn waited until the front door shut.

"Can I just--"

"What'd I tell you?" Jim chided. "I don't care what you do, but I don't need the bigger kid back there breathing down my neck and nagging at me." He poked her with a spoon. "C'mon, just... do your work and then you got until evening to fart around the house."

Gosalyn dropped her face into her book.

---

"... D'ya think if I read a lot of books, I could get magic powers? Would... comic books count?"

Jim had retired to the living room to loaf on the sofa, watching the news. Gosalyn laid out backwards on the recliner reading her book, legs propped up against the seat. "Whatta mean?" Jim grumbled, scratching under his very baggy sweater--which was actually Launchpad's.

"The girl in this book has these powers where she can lift things with her mind and stuff," Gosalyn explained, fascinated, "and she reads a lot, like a lot-a lot. Do ya think if I read a lot-a lot, I'll get those powers, too?"

"Wha? You mean like, telekinesis?" Jim scoffed. "There's no such thing as magic." Gosalyn gave him a forlorn look. "... Except for the magic inside of," he yawned, "you, yeah."

"If I had powers like hers, I'd use 'em to fight crime like Darkwing," Gosalyn said firmly. "First, I'd punish Tank for being so mean to Honker. I'd make him float in the air and go round and round in circles and then drop him into a pool full of tapioca pudding."

"Dunno. Sounds tasty."

"Tapioca pudding's nasty!" Gosalyn gagged. She glanced at the clock, sighed. "Nnn... thirty more minutes? Can't I take a break yet?" She whined, tipping her head back and placing the book over her face.

Jim sat up, pawing his hip. "You said you had something to ask me last night," he reminded, "and apparently you stayed in bed and didn't come back down to watch another episode. Coward."

Gosalyn jerked forward, book falling onto the floor. "M'not a coward!" she squeaked, then remembered: "Yeah... It was about the last episode of Darkwing we watched. Not the stupid smoke one. The one where Darkwing was in an archery duel with a trickster god for the fate of St. Canard."

"Since you specifically mentioned the duel," Jim said, "I'm taking it your question has something to do with archery?"

Gosalyn's smile lit up. "Yeah!" She walked up to Jim. "You said you learned all sorts of stuff for the show, like boxing and wrestling and the saxophone--what about archery? How good are you at archery?"

Jim squinted, scratching his head feathers. "Mmm... Pretty damn good." He sneered. "Just like everything else."

Gosalyn gasped, clapping her hands together. "Can you teach me?" she asked, as if she were suddenly breathless. "Pleeeease!"

"Huh? Archery's a very--"

"I love archery!" Gosalyn squawked. "I took archery classes, and went to an archery camp, always won the top prizes at every fair and carnival game where you gotta use a bow and arrow, got a special blue ribbon in a clout archery contest, and then got into the Little Big Archery Championship Bowl for Talented Youthsters, where I won second place!" She snorted, pursing her beak. "Only because a bee landed on my hand when I fired on my last round and made me miss my target. I think it was a trained bee, unleashed by Gustav's nanny so they could distract me and let Gustav take the gold trophy..."

Jim decided to ignore the last part. "Really? But have you ever fired real, actual arrows with real, sturdy bows?"

Gosalyn nodded. "Always under adult supervision and sometimes without the instructors knowing, but yes! I'm great at archery!" She picked up the Darkwing Duck DVD with the titular hero stringing a bow on the back cover. "All those cool and neat tricks you did in the episode... I wanna learn those. I still gotta long way to go, but you know I'm a fast learner!"

"Do I look like I have any bows and arrows with me, kid?"

"No," Gosalyn said, then grinned, showing pearly teeth, "but Darkwing does..."

"Oh, please. You think he'd let you anywhere near his stash? Do you even know the password to access his stash?"

"I bet you do!" Gosalyn exclaimed. "And I know he has special bows and arrows that are non-lethal and beginner stuff. Blunt heads, foam heads, suction cups, paint balls, bolts, tiny but inconvenient nets! I've practiced with most of those!"

Jim stroked his chin, mumbling to himself. Those were all still dangerous and hazardous, but... He looked at the fallen book, slowly grinned. "All right, kid. I'll make you a deal," he said, "you get a B+ on your homework assignments, I'll tell you everything I know about archery. Anything below a B+, and you're shit outta luck."

Gosalyn squealed, bouncing. "It'sadeal!" She shot out her hand.

Jim happily took it, then her beak with his free hand as it started to open. "Nope," he smirked, "them's the rules, Gosagna."

Gosalyn wriggled her bill free. "It's Gosalyn!" she yapped.

---

Launchpad stopped by for lunch, carrying a big take-out bag of Chinese. "Guys! I got a gift today!" he declared, shutting the door with his foot. "There's like, ten people's worth of food in here!"

Gosalyn put down her comic book and hopped over the couch. "Keen gear!" she exclaimed. "I haven't had Chinese in sooo long!" She forcibly took the bag and ran to the kitchen, immediately sitting out boxes of lo mein, sweet and sour pork, rice, cheese rangoons, beef and broccoli, and a handful of individually wrapped fortune cookies. "We're rich! Rich!" she cackled, throwing the cookies up in the air.

"Not a bad Mr. McDee," Launchpad said.

Jim walked up to Launchpad, leaning against his cane. "Why did you buy so much? Isn't it against your diet?" he asked, eyebrow cocked.

"Oh, I didn't buy it," Launchpad chuckled. Gosalyn was in the kitchen, gathering plates. "One of our sponsors came up to me and gave it to me. She said it was a 'gift to you guys' then left 'cause she was in a hurry."

Jim slowly frowned. "... I think she meant it was lunch for you and your coworkers."

Launchpad smiled, blinking. "... Ooooh, yeeeeah."

"You can't take back! No take-backsies!" Gosalyn shouted, shoveling noodles onto her plate.

"And DW won't be too upset."

Jim watched the kid gleefully fill up her plate. Before Launchpad went to join her, Jim took him by the hand, stopping him. Launchpad looked back at him, curious. "The kid loves archery. You know, bow and arrows," Jim murmured, imitating firing an arrow.

Launchpad beamed. "That's so cool!" he cheered. "I'm pretty good at archery myself, but DW would love to learn! You can train all three of us!"

Jim scowled. "I never said I'd teach anybody," he said, lowering his voice, "but I do have a request to make..."

---

Drake wasn't too upset about the take-out, but he did make sure everyone had an extra helping of vegetables for dinner.

As far as the usual dinner conversations went, it focused on Gosalyn and what she learned, what she did when she wasn't studying; according to Jim she played video games, read comic books, watched a couple Darkwing Duck episodes, and talked with Honker when he returned from school. It was a stunted life for a young girl full of so much energy, but it was part of the deal Drake made with SHUSH, and it was still too cold and wet to do much outside.

"I'm sorry," Drake apologized, "being cooped up in the house isn't very much fun, but I promise, it'll get better." He reached over and pat Gosalyn on the shoulder.

"S'better than all the work they dump on you at the orphanage," Gosalyn grunted. "And Jim's nicer than most of the caretakers."

"I'm perfectly civil and kind to you, Gondola," Jim spat.

"It's Gosalyn!"

Drake suddenly put his silverware down, standing. "You know what?" He took Gosalyn by the hand and led her to the closet, taking out a large windbreaker. "Launchpad. Jim. We're going outside," Drake ordered. "We are going to build a snowball family, and we are going to have fun." His eyes narrowed, a chill running down Launchpad's spine.

Then Launchpad jumped up, flipping over his plate of veggies. "Heck yeah!"

Jim shook his head. "Too cold, and I'm not a ten year old."

Gosalyn waddled up to Jim, stiff in her three layers of sweaters, two beanies, oversized snow boots, and mittens. "C'mon," she grunted from inside the coat collars. "I don't gotta go to bed early if we do..."

"Right," Jim said, "you don't. Not me." He poked Gosalyn gently, but she toppled rigidly over, thoroughly cushioned.

Drake reappeared in his boots, sweater, and ear muffs. "You can join us when you're ready, if you'd like," he said to Jim.

Launchpad snapped his thick goggles on his face, leaving behind a nasty red mark. "Ready to rock," he said, tugging on his snow hat. "This is gonna be the best snowman family ever."

"Y-Yeah, but, um, can I maybe not wear all these coats? And my feet are itchy and hot in these six pairs of socks..."

"Well... I suppose."

As Gosalyn and Drake headed into the backyard, Jim held Launchpad back. "Did you get the goods?" he whispered.

Launchpad squinted behind his black goggles. "... What's good?"

"Her things!"

Three, two--"Oh, yeah! I got it!" he said. "It's under our bed."

"I didn't count a snowman family in my calculations," Jim grumbled, tapping his bottom bill. "Hmm. Either way, we can't put our plan into action until Drake makes the call."

Launchpad giggled into his gloves. "She's gonna be sooo stoked!"

Jim grabbed Launchpad's jacket lapel, yanked him down to eye level. "Don't you breathe a word about any of this to anyone," he snarled. "Or else." He struck the ground with his cane. "I'll tell on you to Drake, how the lunch was actually stolen."

Launchpad gasped. "No! It was just an accident!"

"Yet you still feasted off your coworkers hard-earned noodles like a gluttonous, selfish pig," Jim hissed through grit teeth. "You danced with the devil, son, now you have to pay the price."

"Oh no! My Darkwing Duck 2005 lapel pin worth $450?"

"Yeah. Sure. So keep that beak shut, big boy."

Launchpad nodded anxiously.

---

Jim watched the three play outside from his wheelchair, nursing a cup of eggnog. Launchpad had done him a few favors--after a little persuasion and repeating a couple of the pilot's favorite Darkwing lines, Jim now comfortably poured a tiny 50ml bottle of brandy in his nog when no one was looking. And they rarely ever did.

It started out as building snowmen. They managed to do a giant composed of fifteen snowballs, with Launchpad holding up Drake holding up Gosalyn to put on its head. They finished a third, but after some poking and teasing from Launchpad and Gosalyn, Drake took off one of the other snowman's heads, mouthed a dramatic line, and slammed it as heroically as possible on top of the third's head, both crumbling apart. His audience clapped.

A ginormous monstrosity, two missing heads, and a child sized snowman. The beheaded ones were Drake and Launchpad, the child Gosalyn, and the looming, super strong snowman was obviously Jim. Gosalyn took off her hat to put it on the snow-kid's. Drake waited exactly five seconds before taking it off and tucking it back on Gosalyn's head like a fretting mother hen. Suddenly, Launchpad came running and launched himself inside the huge snowman's twelve pack abs, destroying it and throwing snow all over the others.

Jim sighed, pouring the last drop of his brandy.

Gosalyn was laughing; she took the snow on her head, rolled it up, and pitched it in Launchpad's snow-bearded face. Naturally, a snowball fight broke out, with Drake trying not to play favorites. Failing, of course; he and Gosalyn mercilessly pelted Launchpad, a one man army, into the ground until he was hidden beneath the ice. Upon victory, Drake handed a small snow trophy to Gosalyn then lifted her on his shoulder, where they whooped and threw up their fists in triumph.

"Cute," Jim grumbled into his mug.

The three came back inside an hour later, teeth chattering, freezing and shivering. Jim had crawled into bed to watch TV.

"It wasn't fair! Two against one!" Launchpad whined, peeling off his soaked coat. He peered into the living room, Jim's neutral face masked in light from the TV. "Jim! Next time, you're on my team! One Darkwing per team, then it's fair!"

"Sure," Jim grunted, eyes glued to the TV as he threw back a corner of his quilt, showing the heating pad on his hip. "Suuuuuper fair."

Gosalyn frowned. "Does it hurt real bad? I'll make tea!"

"Oh, I heard you've made tea for Jim the past couple nights," Drake said, pleased. "It's really helped him sleep, right, Jim?"

Jim didn't know why he was so grumpy--aside from the usual. He didn't even offer a snide or dismissive one-worded comment. Just kept his attention solely on the TV.

Drake knew not to push. "Well, let's all have a little tea," he said, removing Gosalyn's coat. "It'll warm us up, and get us to sleep quicker. You were suppose to be in bed an hour ago, y'know."

Launchpad stood behind the couch, leaning down to Jim. "Hey," he whispered, "should I get--"

"No," Jim grumbled, "don't bother."

"But--"

"Another time," Jim interrupted, teeth grit. "O. Kay?"

Launchpad gulped. "Yeah... Yeah, okay." He was a little reluctant to leave Jim, but the air was just a bit too stuffy in here, so he rejoined the others.

---

Drake and Launchpad tucked Gosalyn to bed, wished Jim a good night's rest, then went to their room. Jim expected Gosalyn to come down any minute now, but an hour passed--she must have been worn out from playing.

Jim ground his teeth, nearly crushing the remote in his hand. Why was he so damn irritated? He threw the remote at the coffee table, knocking over Gosalyn's books. To his surprise, her notepad had been tucked under them. She seemed so guarded over the thing, never telling or showing anything she'd written to the others.

Jim glanced up at the room, frowning. He swallowed down the pain, bending over the bedside to pick up the notebook. Sitting up, he opened the book, and found... note after note on all of Jim's--Darkwing's moves from each episode. LEFT HOOK BETTER? and DUCK, FIST UP and BOLLO? BOLO? BOOLO?. There were even some fairly nice drawings of stick figures, each following a step of some sort when punching, tackling, leg locking...

Come to think of it, Jim did recall hearing Gosalyn stomping and charging around in her room while watching his stories that afternoon. He simply turned the volume up, drowning out the noise. Had she been... practicing all these moves and tricks?

Jim flipped through the book, abruptly landing on a page toward the end. Gosalyn may not have been a singer, but she was definitely an artist. It was a drawing of herself, but in a costume of her own design. According to a color key, the outfit was half green, half purple.

A snug head cap that left the bottom of her face visible (two bust sketches beside it, one with just an eye mask and hair tied up into a ponytail with a pink feather for flair, the other a button-up hunting hat--with the same pink feather), sleek sleeved top with a large Q stitched in the center, arm bracers with leather tabs that covered her drawing (?) fingers and thumbs, simple pants and zip up boots. STABILLISERS RE-LEASE AID???? SPARE RING NO CAPE :( listed under the color scheme key.

To complete the look, she wore a quiver of various arrows, bow in her gloved hands and arrow strung to fire. Gosalyn--no. According to the big bold writing that bore an imprint in the papers beneath it, this was QUIVERWING QUACK.

"I've seen better," Jim said, smiling crookedly.

---

"Well, Gos," Drake sighed, stacking his papers, "I've finished grading your homework."

Gosalyn chewed her bottom bill, fingers crossed. "A-And?"

"Before I tell you," Drake said, "why don't you tell me your favorite quote from the story so far?"

Gosalyn sat back, arms folded, and smugly quoted: “'Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable.'"

Launchpad smiled. "You memorized that? I completely forgot everything you just said!"

"It makes sense," Drake said, smiling, "she did get an A, after all." He handed the first paper to Gosalyn, a big red A circled with gold star sticker in the upper right corner.

Gosalyn squealed. She stood on her chair, leaning over the table, holding the paper practically against Jim's face. "An A! An A! A! A!" she cackled.

"Yes, well," Drake coughed, sitting Gosalyn back down, "it was indeed very impressive, and I'm so proud of you! You worked really hard; I could tell." He held up the second paper. "As for your math assignment, you got a B- but that's still really, really good!"

"B-!" Gosalyn screamed, throwing her papers in the air.

"That's what he said," Jim said, flashing her an impish grin, "B minus."

"No! C'mon! I got an A on the other thing!"

"A... B- is perfectly fine, Gos," Drake said, baffled and feeling a little left out. "Don't stress it! You're a smart girl!"

Gosalyn stretched across the table, clawing at the surface. "But an A-eeee..." she snarled, eyes bulging from her head.

"Gosalyn, what are you doing!" Drake chided, picking Gosalyn up. "What is with--Launchpad!" He squawked when he looked up to see Launchpad lying on the table, casually eating his toast.

"What?" Launchpad blinked, crumbs falling from his bill. "I thought... we were all gonna do it..."

Drake shook his head. "Keep up that enthusiasm," he said, putting Gosalyn back in her chair and holding up her untouched toast. "And your grades'll go up faster than you know it!"

Gosalyn grumbled, staring daggers at Jim as she reluctantly took a giant bite out of both slices.

---

Drake and Launchpad chatted as Jim walked upstairs for a bath. He smiled, knowing his second shadow was following close behind, fuming and red in the face. He took a sudden turn into the master bedroom, and Gosalyn nearly tripped. She stepped inside, Jim shutting the door.

"I got an A, Jim!" Gosalyn whined, stamping a foot. "Don't be a jerk!"

"Don't pitch a fit," Jim clucked his tongue, carefully kneeling, "you don't wanna upset those ninnies, you know."

"But you prom--please, Jim? Pleeeeease?"

"I'll think on it," Jim said, digging an arm under the bed. Gosalyn was so preoccupied and angry, she didn't even realize what he was doing. "But first, you gotta do your reading lesson, and then..." He took out a wrapped package, tossing it at Gosalyn's feet. "Break this in."

Gosalyn blinked, skeptical.

"Open it tonight, when they're out on patrol."

Gosalyn swallowed. "Does this mean...?"

"I said I'd think about it." Jim brushed past her, opening the door. "Better go hide that before you get caught snooping in the boys' room."

Gosalyn opened her mouth, shut it, opened it again, shut it with a snarl, stomped her feet, then furiously darted to her bedroom to do as told.

---

Drake helped Gosalyn with her reading lesson. They spent the afternoon talking, sitting outside while the sun was out, the weather just warm enough. Jim had been invited, but as usual, he declined. He decided to continue pricing his Darkwing Duck junk. Around three, Drake was tired and suggested a nap for all of them. Jim and Gosalyn agreed... and waited until Drake was sound asleep, bedroom door closed, before meeting on the porch in the backyard.

"Okay, Purple Duck 2 is out," Gosalyn whispered harshly. "Now, tell me--"

"I just started my tea," Jim sighed, "let me enjoy it and the nice weath--"

"Jiiiim!"

Jim didn't hide his snide grin as Gosalyn plopped down beside him, tired and annoyed.

"I learned a variety of archery forms and skills during my tenure on the show," Jim said suddenly, and just like a switch being turned on, Gosalyn was starry eyed and leaning close, "common stuff, including kyudo and shè dào; Japanese and Chinese archery, respectively. Though my kyudo is ehhh."

Gosalyn smiled wide, hands on her cheeks, listening intently.

Jim sipped his drink. Looked out at the drifting clouds. Didn't say anything else.

A corner of Gosalyn's grin twitched. "... And?"

"What?" Jim replied, blinking at her. "You told me to tell you all I knew. And I know common archery, shè dào, and some kyudo."

Gosalyn's look of awe turned into one of horror, hands falling limp at her sides. "T-That's not what I meant!" she screeched, pulling angrily on her bangs.

"Then you should've been clearer."

"You know what I meant, gramps!"

"Well, see, calling me names certainly doesn't help your case."

Gosalyn fell backwards on the patio with an over-exaggerated groan.

There was loud thud coming from upstairs in Drake and Launchpad's room. Jim and Gosalyn exchanged worried looks, running back inside. Drake was tripping down the stairs as he stripped out of his sweater and booties.

"What is it?" Gosalyn asked, heart racing.

"There's a situation," Drake huffed and puffed, "five injured, one dead, eight hostages." His hand scrambled clumsily as he unlocked the basement door. "Gotta go! Launchpad's meeting me there!" He slammed the door shut behind him. After a patter of footfalls, the door opened and Drake pulled Gosalyn into a bear hug. "It's okay, I'll be back, I promise, Gos."

Gosalyn sniffed, squeezing him back. He gave her one last smile, nodded at Jim, then shut and locked the door.

Gosalyn finally let her breath go. "That was..." She looked at the ground, squinting.

Jim placed a hand on her shoulder. "They've survived worse."

"I... know, I'm not--not scared. He's Dar-Darkwing Duck!" Gosalyn kept her back to Jim, wiping down her face. "He an' Launchpad are gonna beat up the bad guys and save those people!"

Jim was quiet, eyes lidded, neutral expression on his face. "Let's go upstairs," he said, poking her ankle with his cane, "you got a gift to open."

---

Gosalyn chewed on her thumb, staring out one of the bedroom windows. Then the package from earlier was in her face, forcing back her attention. She slowly took it.

Jim stepped back, hands folded on top his cane. "Go on," he said, "open it."

Gosalyn hesitated, her stomach in knots. She took a deep breath, ripped the paper in half, and gasped. "Oh my mallard!" she cried, holding up the package of bow and arrows. "Artemis Pro Young Archer set with twenty arrows, two bows, safety goggles, gloves, and two sheets of EXCELLENT ARCHER Artemis the Fawn gold stickers!"

"Very expensive, but the highest rated in quality," Jim coughed into his fist, "so I've heard."

"This is the best!" Gosalyn squealed. She put the package down, stood up on her bed, took a deep breath, jumped once, twice, then dove on Jim, hooking her legs around his chest and arms firmly around his head.

Jim yelped and stumbled back; he braked with his heels, tugged on her ponytail, easily pried her off when her limbs loosened. He flipped her up, catching her in one arm, putting her in a loose headlock with the other.

"Might have got me the first time," Jim laughed boisterously, wide grin on his beak, "but you're still a weak small fry."

Gosalyn giggled. "I coulda broke yer neck, gramps," she teased. "You got dust for bones!"

"So do you, brat," Jim snorted, tossing Gosalyn onto her bed. She flipped in the air, landed on her feet, and took a crouching boxer stance.

"Impressive," Jim hummed, stroking his bottom bill like a wise guru.

Gosalyn snickered, eyebrows furrowed. "Give up, old m--wah!" Jim used his cane to knock her feet out from under her.

"For now, keep the stuff in the package and hidden from the others. Consider it an early Christmas gift from..." Launchpad and him. It'd been Launchpad's money, but Jim's idea. "... Me."

----

Although Gosalyn was psyched about her gift, eventually worry had settled back in. She tried to focus on her math homework, but was too nervous and scatterbrained. The two checked the news for any sort of information--nothing, not even a peep. Neither hero reported in during their time out, and Gosalyn and Jim feared calling them might jeopardize their work, or get the couple caught one way or another.

It was simply a waiting game now.

Jim reheated some leftovers for dinner. "Hey," he said, dropping a plate in front of her. Gosalyn broke from her daze with a gasp. "Eat something. I can hear your stomach growling from the other room."

Gosalyn pushed the food aside. "M'not hungry."

Jim sat adjacent of her at the table. He ate in silence for a few minutes. "... Y'know," he said, Gosalyn raising her head, "it's gonna be like this a lot. Keep that in mind."

Gosalyn frowned. She understood what he meant, and she didn't like it. It was a hard truth to swallow. Maybe he upset her, maybe she just wanted to be alone, but Gosalyn left the table and her cold dinner without a word.

---

A little past midnight, and still no word from Darkwing or Launchpad. Gosalyn had stayed in her room for the duration of the night; around ten, her light switched off. Jim wanted to check on her, but the Medicina had worn off and he needed sleep. Another thing Jim loathed to admit: he was a little concerned, too. And not for entirely selfish reasons like before. He spent a half hour lying on his side and staring at the basement door before finally drifting off.

Jim heard a very light crunching noise, like someone was eating. It was right by his head. He reluctantly opened his eyes, blinked until his vision cleared. Jim gasped, recoiling at Gosalyn sitting beside him.

"I can't sleep," Gosalyn said, eating handfuls of cereal out of the box, "tummy hurts."

Jim yawned. "You're stressed out. Did you drink your tea?”

"Don't want any." Crunchcrunchcrunch.

Jim rubbed his hip; the heating pad had fallen off. "Well, whatta want me to do?" he grumbled, fixing the pad back into place.

Gosalyn ate another handful of cereal, spilling crumbs and bits on the floor. She put the box down, drained a glass of water in one go, then laid next to Jim. Jim stiffened, eyes wide. "I'm gonna lay here," she said, "until I fall asleep. You can go back to sleep, I don't mind."

"What if I mind?"

"Do ya?"

Jim... sighed. "No." He gave her one of the couch pillows, and she tucked it under her head. He was thinking of going back to sleep, yes, but Gosalyn lying in front of him, staring unblinking at the ceiling, was a little nerve-racking, especially when he couldn't turn around. Jim mumbled and rolled onto his back, joining Gosalyn's study of the ceiling for a short while.

"Do you like Drake and Launchpad?" Gosalyn asked.

Jim scratched his ruffled cheek feathers. "... They're... not exactly the brightest, and sometimes they're infuriating and nauseating with their--their... naivety. But..." Did he hate them? Did he dislike them? The answer wasn't nearly as clear anymore. Part of him wanted to say "no, absolutely not," but that part was bitter and cold and defensive. The rest was... complicated. "There's no simple answer."

"There is, though," Gosalyn argued. Jim couldn't blame her--she didn't know his history with the two. "I like them. They're funny and smart and kind and they don't judge me and they're real heroes. Except Launchpad can't cook and Drake only makes that healthy bland stuff. Why don't you ever try cooking? You do a lot of different things all the time."

"Never been much of the domestic type. Easy and quick meals for one are fine by me."

"You don't want a family?" Gosalyn asked quietly.

Jim looked away. "... Not really. Families are messy; kids are messy. You're messy." He hoped that would lighten Gosalyn up a little, but she remained quiet. "But if I did have one, or I... I dunno, got one, by some chance..." Now his stomach was hurting. "I don't think I'd... turn them away."

"I don't... wanna go back to the orphanage. Even though it's scary at times... I wanna stay here."

"I think they want you to stay, too."

"When you get the ankle thing off... Are you gonna leave?"

Jim stirred. "... Why wouldn't I?"

"Dunno. They're making the garage a room for you. You could always stay."

"Would you miss me that much?" Jim sneered.

"Maybe. But I might not get to stay, so..."

"You need to sleep," Jim said.

"Not sleepy."

Jim crossed his hands over his stomach, tapping his fingers together. "... Will a..." God, was he really offering-- "Will a... lullaby help?"

Gosalyn flipped back around, surprised. "Do you even know any?" she scoffed.

"Yes!" Jim growled. "Just... give me a minute to remember one." He'd never been one for lullabies. He could recall one Nana Adler sang a lot, although not all the words.

"You don't gotta sing me a lullaby."

"Not only am I a master of the saxophone and the cowbell," Jim huffed, "I have a damn good singing voice, too."

Gosalyn chortled. "Yeah, sure."

"I'll prove it, you brat," Jim scowled, reaching for his phone. Gosalyn watched, amused, for the time content. Jim tried to hide what he was doing, cupping the phone close to his face. Just a quick search--ah, yes. Title and lyrics and this was from that dumb elephant movie? Whatever. He mouthed it to himself, filling in the gaps he'd long forgotten.

"This is kinda weird," Gosalyn mumbled.

Another quick re-read and Jim put the phone aside. "Okay, I got it, so keep your keester parked," he ordered. "I don't care if you know this one or not, if you've heard it a million times, don't interrupt me. Just... close your eyes."

Gosalyn smiled weakly. "Let's hear it." She shut her eyes.

Jim cleared his throat, coughed; inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. "Ba..." Another throat clearing. "... Baby mine, don’t you cry; baby mine, dry your eyes. Rest your head close to my heart, never to part, baby of mine. Little one, when you play, pay no heed what they say. Let your eyes sparkle and shine; never a tear, baby of mine."

Gosalyn sighed, sinking into the mattress. So far, so good.

"If they knew all about you, they'd end up loving you, too," Jim sang, watching Gosalyn from the corners of his eyes, "all those same people who scold you, what'd they give... just for the chance to hold you..." Eyes still shut, breathing even, smile fading to sleep. "From your head... to your toes, you're not much, goodness knows..."

Jim ever so carefully pulled his quilt over her legs. "But you're... you're so precious. To... me. Sweet as can be..." He raised his head, paused. She looked like she was asleep, sounded like she was asleep. Jim didn't need to, but finished anyway: "... As can be, baby of mine."

Jim sighed. Good. Now he could get--

"Not bad," Gosalyn whispered. He cursed, but then Gosalyn was scooting closer, one arm slung across his chest. He went to push her off, but his hands lingered in the air. Jim stretched an arm out above her head, other hand very slowly and timidly resting on hers.

"Goodnight, Gouda."

"S'... Gosal..."

---

Jim woke to weight shifting beside him. He turned his head, immediately alert, ready to throw down a judo chop-- Darkwing Duck stopped, cradling the slumbering girl in his arms. His head was bandaged, fresh blood staining his jacket, cape absolutely shredded. Usually he always changed before and after in the bunker, but Jim could practically feel the anxiety and guilt pouring off him.

As if Darkwing knew what he was thinking, he whispered, "Couldn't wait."

"Don't wake her up," Jim murmured.

Launchpad hobbled into the living room, equally banged up. He lightly touched her hair, two fingers in a splint. "Aw, Gos..." he whispered, blinking away tears. "Did we... Was she worried?"

"What do you think?"

Darkwing winced. "... LP," he whispered, "can you put her to bed?"

Launchpad nodded gladly. Darkwing swathed her in a blanket; Gosalyn stirred as she was placed in Launchpad's arms. Jim and Darkwing watched them go; once her bedroom door closed, the smile left the masked mallard's bill.

"... It's," he swallowed, "it's the right thing to do... isn't it?"

Jim blinked. "... You mean keeping her?"

"Yes."

Jim averted his gaze. "I don't know. She's... You're the one who'll have to raise her, you and the big dork." Why did his chest hurt so much? Was he upset again? He just needed some good, restful sleep. "But she's prepared to be... sent away. I think she kind of expects it."

Darkwing's face paled; he looked absolutely shattered. "But, I...!" He closed his beak, exhaling. "No. I'd feel the same. But I don't want her thinking she's... unwanted. That we're--we're too busy for her. We'd make time. I swear, we'd make time."

Jim was amazed, but he actually believed Darkwing. "You're an optimistic fool; way too forgiving, way too open and personal," he grunted, "but... maybe she needs that." He ran a hand through his head feathers. "Maybe being in an environment that's not... lonely, or unforgiving, or angry... might do her good."

"Jim..."

Jim looked up, jumping. Drake had a ridiculously sappy, huge smile on his face. "Can I... Not to be weird, but can I... please hug you?" He pressed his hands together.

Jim blushed. "Fine," he said. Darkwing swept in, hugging him tight. Jim's heart fluttered and he lightly pat the younger mallard's back. "Don't you dare tell Launchpad about this."

---

Jim thought Gosalyn might be angry, or even in tears, when she woke to Drake and Launchpad sitting at her bed. But she was just... relieved, overjoyed. She hugged them together, and didn't let go for a whole minute. Jim sat on the couch, tapping his cane. The three emerged, Gosalyn riding Launchpad's shoulders, mock lecturing and grounding them both. On the way to the table, Gosalyn winked at Jim.

"You ready for breakfast, Jim?" Drake asked, rosy-cheeked and looking less beaten to a pulp.

Jim fidgeted. "Yeah." He stood up, limping into the dining room. He took his usual seat across from Gosalyn and Drake. Launchpad and her were playing a very tiny game of tic-tac-toe on his casted fingers.

Drake served breakfast--scrambled eggs, sausage, and blueberry muffins. Jim remembered searching the pantry for a snack yesterday, and those muffins definitely weren't there. Jim wasn't sure giving Gosalyn gifts every time they made her worry or upset was a good idea. But when Gosalyn picked up that muffin with unbridled glee... Jim was tempted to give her his muffin, too.

---

Christmas came a week early when Tarry and a police officer arrived at the house to deliver Jim the good news: he was no longer under house arrest. For his excellent behavior over the past few months, they also reduced his parole period from six months to four.

Jim felt like Cinderella, Gosalyn, Drake, Launchpad, and Tarry watching with bated breath as the police officer knelt down. Instead of putting a glass slipper on Jim's foot, the officer deactivated the ankle bracelet, removing it.

"Bet that's a nice weight off!"

"You lost a pound, Jim!"

"I wanted to bedazzle it, though..."

Tarry pat Jim on the back. "Congratulations, Jim," she said, smiling proudly.

And it would take a while for Jim to adjust without the mechanical albatross chained to his leg. He tripped and stumbled frequently, re-calibrating.

"It's a great week for you, Jim!" Drake said, folding laundry. "Not only are you off house arrest and your sentence reduced, Otus says you're close to a full recovery!"

Jim stared at his cane. He felt a little... sweaty? "Take half a dose of D-E-M everyday now..." he mumbled, squeezing the top of his cane. He'd need to start looking for a job, for an apartment; he'd need to leave soon, well enough to manage on his own two feet. He'd need to--to leave this... this...

"Launchpad is putting the final touches on the garage," Drake said. "So you should be able to move in later tonight! We got you a bed--it's... not much, but you know. More comfy than the hideaway bed."

Jim's beak trembled. "W-Wait..." Why?

"I'll just put your clothes in your room, okay?" Drake said, heading to the garage. He stopped at the stairs, shouted, "Gos, you better be reading and not playing on LP's phone! You've already charged us $30 in games!"

"I just started level thr--page three-teen--thirteen!"

Launchpad poked his head out from the garage, guilty smile on his bill. "... Actually, I bought all those games."

"Launchpad..."

Jim looked up the stairs. This Thursday, Drake and Launchpad's temporary custody would end, SHUSH clearing her from any danger, and come Friday morning, a social worker would help her pack her things up (probably not the bow and arrow set) and take her to a new orphanage in Duckburg, apparently for troubled and undisciplined young girls.

Maybe.

---

Although Drake was exhausted from a long patrol last night, he agreed to go with Launchpad and Gosalyn to a Christmas dinner with Scrooge's family. It'd be Gosalyn's first time meeting the kids, but Launchpad seemed far more excited. Jim hadn't been invited, of course, but there was no hard feelings for the others going.

Besides, Jim had plans.

It would snow heavy tonight, according to the peppy newscasters. Jim put on a sweater and boots; he walked to the edge of the front lawn. It felt... strange. He exhaled, steam trickling from his beak. With his head held high, Jim stepped out into the street.

Jim walked quietly, one hand tucked in his coat pocket, leaning heavily on his cane. The DEM kept the cold from creeping into his bones, hip comfortably numb. The snow crunched beneath his feet as he continued down the street. A few kids were out and playing, enjoying their school break to the fullest; building snowmen, throwing snowball fights, tempting their younger siblings into trying tasty yellow snow. Adults were out, too, clearing snow from their driveways, fetching the newspaper, playing with their children, last minute putting out holiday decorations and lights, screaming and picking up their youngest kid before he could put yellow snow in his mouth.

Jim had left the neighborhood, moving alongside a busy road. The cars drove a little slower than usual on the ice slicked streets. He passed another neighborhood, then another, not a thought in his head. He was cold, shaking a little, but he didn't turn around. He walked just to walk.

After a mile, Jim stopped into a gas station to buy coffee. He drank it as he continued his quest to nowhere in particular. The scent of pine was heavy in the air, every street corner and parking lot selling Christmas trees, wreaths, poinsettias. A duck walking his bundled up dog wearing a headband with antlers greeted him as they passed.

Jim stopped. Wait, no. He wasn't wandering aimlessly. He knew where he was going. If his memory served him right, up another mile was a flower shop. They used it frequently in the Darkwing Duck show. When Darkwing did have time off, he visited the owner of the shop, a little old lady with a hunchback--to chat, help her out, buy flowers. She reminded Darkwing of his late Aunt June; she filled that secret longing for companionship he kept locked away. Darkwing Duck couldn't afford to get close to people, lest they wind up hurt, or worse.

The shop had been an actual flower shop. It was called Petite Petal, but Granny Florella's in the show. Run by a happy couple and their teenage daughter instead of a wise, friendly crone. The actress had passed away shortly after the show was cancelled; Jim wanted to attend her funeral, but he'd been angrily arguing with producers and getting into fights with his co-stars who'd "given up."

Jim turned into the strip mall where the shop was located. Long abandoned and shut down. He knew he shouldn't be surprised, but he was, just a little. It'd been quite a blooming business during the show, and because of the show, it was very popular and always busy. Jim walked up to the store, wiped frost off the window, and peered inside. Empty, as expected, not even a single withered up rose petal.

The painted sign on the shop was worn down from the elements, hours scratched off on the window. Jim smirked weakly at a peeling sticker by the door. He flattened it out against the glass: an advertisement for a special, unique Darkwing Duck themed bouquet of blue starflowers and lavender peonies. According to the florist couple, in the language of flowers, borage stood for "courage" and peony for "bravery". All put together in an ombre blue-purple vase with yellow ribbon. The Darkwing on the sticker encouraged buying the product, exclaiming in a speech bubble, "Let's get decorative!"

Jim let the sticker fall back into place. He stepped away from the shop, felt something heavy hit the pit of his stomach. He turned, glancing around the vacant, snow-covered lot.

Time to go back, he supposed.

Jim went inside the gas station from earlier on the way back, picking up a few apartment guide books.

---

Jim returned to the Mallard-McQuack house at noon. He finished putting his things away in the garage. Spent a few minutes lounging on his new bed--it was more comfortable. Another minute staring at the unopened apartment guide in his hands. Eventually, he wandered into the kitchen, rummaging through the pantry, cupboards, and fridge.

Jim found a recipe book under the sink. Brand new, too. Drake sometimes cooked using instructions, but this one was all about desserts and sweet treats. Maybe Launchpad had smuggled it inside. Jim flipped through the book, landing on a dog-eared page for double chocolate cake with homemade buttercream frosting. Scratch that--buttercream had been crossed out, "sugar free whipped cream" written above it.

Jim snorted; really? Why bother? But Jim did remember Gosalyn mentioning a "double chocolate cake" once. He stuffed the book back under the sink and returned to his room.

Jim came back a minute later, taking out the book and opening it to the tagged page. As if on auto-pilot, Jim gathered all the pots and pans and ingredients needed for the cake. He read the instructions closely as he whipped up the batter. Too bad about the frosting; there was a tub of unopened whipped cream, though, hidden behind the vegetables where Launchpad and Gosalyn would dare not look.

Jim hadn't even finished pouring the batter, he was already covered in powder, baking soda, and raw egg. He cursed; why not just go out and buy one? All this work, and Drake could have just... driven to the store, picked out a pre-made one, and brought it home. If he was that picky, he could have shaved off the frosting and smack whipped cream on top instead. It'd definitely spare him an hour, he'd been baking this shit for an hour?

Jim laid down on the sofa, exhausted and sore, while the cake baked. When he finished, it was almost dusk. Jim wrapped the cake up in plastic, went to put it in the fridge but... No. Jim marched to his room, cleared out a few bottles of ginger ale in his mini-fridge to put the cake inside. He stood up, hands on his hips, accomplished grin on his face.

There. Perfect.

---

Jim hid his half-empty bottle of vodka down his sweater when the door opened, Gosalyn barreling inside, laughing, cheeks red, carrying two wrapped packages. Drake and Launchpad followed, balancing even more gifts.

"Good evening, Jim!" Drake said, beaming.

Launchpad sniffed the air, going absolutely still. "It smells... sweet in here. A little... too sweet."

"Did you make cake, Jim?" Gosalyn asked, starry-eyed.

Jim smirked. "I've been watching TV all day, enjoying the peace and quiet. I told you I didn't cook, remember?"

"Now I want cake," Gosalyn groaned, and so did Launchpad, nodding.

"You had cake at the party," Drake chided, "I'm surprised you two haven't burst."

"Oh, the hurricane's-a comin', DW."

Gosalyn took off her mittens, clapping her hands. "Get the tree, get the tree, get the tree!" she cried.

Jim cocked a brow. Oh. Right. Christmas. "Bit late, don't you think?"

"No," Gosalyn hissed lowly, getting right in Jim's face, "no."

Jim raised his hands, surrendering.

Launchpad went back outside, returning with the tree. It took a couple tries to get it inside before he turned the tree up vertically. Drake started a fire, poking at the logs. Gosalyn had fetched the Christmas ornaments from the closet, laying them out on the coffee table. Jim... sat and watched.

When was the last time Jim put up a Christmas tree? A real one, that was. For the past few years, if he didn't forget completely or was just too lazy, he set out a small fake tree with built in lights on the kitchen counter. He always had one present under his mini-tree--always from himself, but he deserved it.

"When I was at the orphanage, we got a big, big tree to decorate," Gosalyn explained, hanging up a purple and blue bulb. "But it got crowded pretty fast." She handed Launchpad a little wooden Darkwing Duck nutcracker to put up toward the top. "Then the caretakers would draw a name from a Santa hat, and that person got to put the star on top." Gosalyn frowned, hanging a tiny green and red Ratcatcher. "I didn't win."

"Well, you're in luck," Drake said, producing a Darkwing Duck tree topper holding up a giant yellow star.

Jim squinted. "I'm sensing a vague theme here."

Gosalyn smiled, taking the star. Both Drake and Launchpad held her up; she put the star in place (next to a Thunderquack tree topper), made sure it was straight. Satisfied, they put her back down, Drake leaving to gather the gifts.

"Most of 'em are for me," Gosalyn snickered. "But there's three for you, Jim! One from each of us!"

Jim had not expected that. He cleared his throat. "Well, I didn't get anyone anything. Money troubles, y'see."

"That's perfectly fine, Jim," Drake reassured.

"Darkwing Duck living in our house is one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive," Launchpad sniffled.

Gosalyn finished hanging the ornaments, admiring her set-up. "It feels like forever since I had a Christmas like this." Her smile was melancholic, however. "I'm just happy..." Gosalyn stopped herself.

Just happy she could have one little, personal Christmas before being sent away. Jim dug his fingers into the sofa.

"It's the Mallard family tradition to open one gift on Christmas Eve," Drake announced, picking a slim gift wrapped in sparkly gold paper and red bow. "So, Gos, how about it? Wanna open one?"

Gosalyn beamed. "Keen gear! Grandpa never let me do that!" She snatched up the gift, tearing off the ribbon.

"H-Hey," Drake tittered, "be careful."

Gosalyn rolled her eyes. "Ugh, this is the proper way to op--" She stopped, beak dropping open. If her feathers could change colors, they'd be shocked to the core white. Drake looked to Launchpad, both smiling wide, teary-eyed.

Jim sat forward anxiously. "Did you--"

"Yup. It's a official," Drake laughed softly. "I know LP and I have a pretty crazy life, but we... couldn't let you go, I'm afraid."

Gosalyn slowly raised her head.

"Welcome to the family, Gosalyn Mallard-McQuack!" Launchpad exclaimed, digging into his pockets and throwing confetti in the air.

"You're gonna vacuum that--"

Gosalyn dropped the adoption papers, bursting into a sob. She dove into Launchpad and Drake's open arms, crying in Drake's sweater. "Oh," Drake chuckled, wiping away tears, "welcome home, little girl blue."

"DW says you g-gotta do chores now," Launchpad blubbered, squeezing the two tightly.

Drake kissed Launchpad on the forehead. "I'm sorry it took us so long to say it," he said, holding Gosalyn's face in his hands, wiping the tears from her wet cheeks, "but we love you, Gosalyn."

"So muuuuch!" Launchpad wailed, tackling husband and daughter on the floor.

Jim had watched on in silence. His heart was still pounding. He felt a little... sick. At his feet, Drake and Launchpad peppered Gosalyn's face with kisses until she was squealing and begging them to stop.

Jim stood up abruptly, shouted, "I got Gooey a set of bow and arrows!" The bottle of vodka fell from his sweater, shattering and spilling on the carpet.

Drake reeled back. "What?" he shrieked as Gosalyn yelled, "It's Gosalyn!"

Chapter Text

Drake was understandably upset. The set hadn't exactly been cheap, harmless toys. Launchpad was under the impression Drake knew all along. Gosalyn finally got to open her gift, feeling the bow string carefully.

"I've been lax with your training lately," Jim snapped, "starting tomorrow before dinner, we begin your archery lessons."

Launchpad and Gosalyn screamed with joy.

"B-But! Wait!" Drake stammered, still a little angry.

"I know you have all sorts of bows and arrows down there," Jim said, poking Drake in the chest with his cane. "How about you learn how to use them?"

"C'mon, DW!" Launchpad wheezed, tugging on Drake's wool sweater. "It'll be so much fun!"

"Also," Jim smirked, turning to point his cane at Gosalyn, "I wanna see Goompah Loompah's chops."

"Keen g--it's Gosalyn!"

---

Drake had been aware of Gosalyn's interest in archery, the classes and championship. He had no doubt his daughter was an excellent archer. But perhaps it was what the social worker called "dad fear" that made him reluctant to let Gosalyn be around while he and Launchpad practiced, let alone hold an arrow.

"I was gonna wait and see if you guys kept her around," Jim stated.

"You could have asked me beforehand either way," Drake scolded.

Down in the bunker, Launchpad opened the tunnel door, setting out a target board within reasonable beginner's distance.

"You gotta hold it like this," Gosalyn explained, Drake squatting so she could move and adjust his hands and arms.

"Can I go first?" Launchpad asked, bouncing.

Jim sneered. "Remember: your target is the board, not us."

Launchpad winked. "Right!" He stepped forward, Drake instinctively pulling Gosalyn back and behind him. She peeked out between his legs, curious. Launchpad strung his first bow, fired--hit the outer ring around the bullseye.

"Lucky shot."

Launchpad shot another arrow, nicking the red bullseye's edge. His third arrow landing just an inch above it. His fourth and final hitting the red dot square in the center. "Hurrah!" he cheered. "Xiè xiè! Ziyi!"

Drake, Jim, and Gosalyn were completely speechless. Jim cleared his throat, pushing Drake forward. "Okay, it's--wow--it's your turn, kid."

Drake smiled crookedly. "Easy peasy," he said. He'd fired arrows before--when he was ten and at summer camp. Following both Gosalyn and Jim's instructions, Drake strung his bow, focused on the board. With a grunt, he released the bow, the arrow successfully missing the board by a foot.

Gosalyn laughed. "Did you mean to do that?" she gibed.

"M-Maybe I did," Drake huffed, stringing another arrow. Concentrate, and... release. Second arrow actually managed to just barely graze the board. "I-Is it just me, or is the board a little too far away?"

"This is exactly why you need my expertise," Jim groaned, "otherwise you'd be utterly hopeless."

"Give it another shot, DW," Launchpad encouraged, then giggle-snorted. "Shot! Ha!"

Drake nodded, eyebrows furrowed, shoulders straight. "Come on... You can do this..." he whispered, readying an arrow. Eye locked on the bullseye. "You're Darkwing Duck... You can do this!" The arrow hit the floor ten feet away, breaking its tip. "Oh," he murmured, embarrassed, "no, no, you can't do this..."

"It's okay!" Gosalyn comforted, patting Drake's side. "You'll get the hang of it after lotsa practice, dad!"

Drake dropped his bow. Launchpad dropped his soda. Jim fidgeted. All bug-eyed heads turned mechanically to her.

Gosalyn gasped, just now realizing what she said. "I... Is..."

"I love you!" Drake wailed, scooping Gosalyn up and spinning her around. "You called me dad! I'm dad!" He lowered her to smack a big kiss on her cheek. "I'm dad!"

"Eww!" Gosalyn giggled, pushing his beak away. "Don't get all mushy!" She looked to Launchpad, blushing. "Tell dad to put me down, pops, it's my turn to--"

Launchpad bowled into Drake and Gosalyn, holding each in an arm and crying. "Pops! I'm pops!" he sobbed. "I'm so happy, I'm gonna die, come back as a ghost, and die again, but it's a ghost-death this time!"

Jim walked up to the pile, frowning. "Are you quite done?" he sighed.

"Sure am," Gosalyn laughed, wriggling out of Launchpad's arm, "Uncle Jim!"

Jim dropped his cane. "Unc... w-what?" He was suddenly very dizzy, and oh God, was he having a heart attack? It just felt like he'd been sucker punched, all the air leaving his body.

"Lemme show you guys how it's done!" Gosalyn laughed as her family wheezed and shook and cried behind her. She drew three arrows, fired one after the other, each hitting the bullseye. She turned around, beaming with pride. "See! Toldja I was a pro! You may gimme compliments... now!"

"Uncle..." Jim whispered, leaning against the wall, clutching at his heart.

"Dad," Drake whimpered, smiling so wide it physically hurt.

"Pops!" Launchpad cried before blowing and loudly honking into a tissue.

Gosalyn blinked, taken aback. "You guuuuuys!" she whined, stamping a foot.

---

That night, Jim couldn't sleep. He was trembling, both hot and cold. He never did register the fact he was crying.

---

And so a new chapter began.

Everyone got plenty of nice gifts for Christmas. Gosalyn a bicycle, skateboard, phone, iPod, plenty of clothes, board games, sketchbooks with colored pencils, a couple toys, and a number of gift cards. Jim got cream that smelled like sea salt meant to heal eye bags (Launchpad), a fancy coat and slacks (Drake), and a hand bell to ring when he needed something from the others (Gosalyn).

In their spare time, Jim started training... mostly Drake basic archery. Gosalyn was a little rusty, but ready to move onto kyudo. Launchpad joined in every once in a while, but was content just to watch, stuff his face with mini-rice cakes, and cheer his family on. Once a week, Drake and Launchpad went back to sparring and boxing; Gosalyn was the spectator, but either she was standing, practicing and throwing the same moves, or she was scribbling furiously in her notebook.

Jim stared at Gosalyn as she wrote, most likely jogging down his advice.

Life resumed as usual; Gosalyn fit in so perfectly, it was like she'd been there since the start. Jim was surprised she was actually excited to start school in January. Her and Honker had become good friends, and they were in the same class. To avoid Tank, Drake insisted Honker hang out at the Mallard-McQuacks’ when they played. Not that he feared Gosalyn would be hurt or picked on by the older boy, rather, to keep her from beating his ass and causing trouble with his bothersome neighbors.

It'd been almost two weeks. Otus made his last appointment; the rest was in Jim's hands now. Jim spent every night looking at the apartment guide he picked up. He never went through it, however, always tucking it away where he couldn't see it.

Jim had almost forgotten about the cake. It was still good, if not a little stale. If anything, Launchpad would eat it. He meant to give it to Gosalyn on Christmas, but... Well, what was a cake to being adopted into a loving home? Tonight he'd give it to her, he said. When Jim came out of the room, cake behind his back, Gosalyn was sitting and drawing at the table, Launchpad and Drake flanking her sides. They went with coloring books instead, making suggestions, pointing out errors, comparing their masterpieces, laughing and teasing one another.

Jim opened the garage window, threw the cake on the ground for those pesky raccoons to eat.

Something had changed--not just to the family, but Jim. And he wasn't very sure he liked it. Drake and Launchpad were becoming less irritating, and more... even the world "tolerable" sounded harsh. Gosalyn served as a great buffer; her enthusiasm for everything, from school to training to the Darkwing Duck show was... overwhelming for Jim. She'd matured in such a short time; no longer terrified every time her parents went out to fight, and if she was worried, she had Jim to comfort her. She was just as proud of her fathers as they were of her.

Jim supposed he might like this family now. And he didn't like that. It was a good thing, he knew; he was moving on, he was accepting his new life. He wasn't angry anymore. He was Uncle Jim now.

At least for a few more months.

---

Darkwing had gone on a solo patrol that night. It was inevitable one of them would come down with the cold. Launchpad wanted to come along, but Darkwing wasn't willing to risk catching the bug. And, well, his partner passing out during a fight or flying the Thunderquack and crashing it (he'd been very good at not doing that for a while, although there were many, many close calls.)

Darkwing dismounted from the Ratcatcher, wiping soot from his jacket.

"Darkwing Duck."

Darkwing went for his gas gun, ducking behind the motorbike. His eyes widened. "Jim?" It was Jim, sitting at the table, enjoying a cup of tea. "What are you... When did you..."

"You left the door open," Jim lied, waving dismissively, "but that's not important." He fixed the masked mallard with a serious glower. "Do you have any fabric or old suits you're getting rid of?"

Darkwing blinked. He was very confused. "I... Uh, y-yes?" He took off his hat, scratching his feathers. "I... I keep a lot of fabric around, actually, in case I need to patch up my suits. And, yeah, there is one jacket I mean to give to SHUSH for proper disposal. Heh, can't exactly throw that out with Thursday's garbage, right?"

Jim wasn't laughing. Darkwing raised his hat, covering the bottom of his face. "So... what did you want them for?"

"I'm working on a project."

"No offense, but should I be worried?"

"You're always worried," Jim scoffed, "you're a dad now."

Darkwing smiled. "Yeah. That is true." He walked up to the table, unbuttoning his jacket and cape. "Give me a few minutes and I'll get you the stuff."

---

Although Gosalyn started school tomorrow, the family decided to play D&D a little earlier than usual.

They'd be ending the campaign soon. Tonight, the three would be fighting the final boss's loyal gang: four wraiths led by a night hag. They'd all leveled up over time, gaining new spells and abilities. A true force to be reckoned with. That and Launchpad was a complete pushover as a DM.

"Okay!" Gosalyn slammed her piece forward. "I take five feet and go into a Rage. I'm gonna shove one of my blessed arrows down this jerk's throat."

"G-Gos..."

Gosalyn rolled her die. "Yes!" she squealed. "Fifteen!"

"That'll hit, little lady!" Launchpad said, hiding behind his large book.

"I roar, grab the wraith by his ghost throat, stab him in the mouth-face-area with my arrow, doing..." Two more dice rolls. "Ten piercing damage!"

"Yowch! Talk about ghost blood gushing!"

Drake coughed. "M-Maybe we can be a little less descriptive. I mean, when it comes to... maiming things."

"Unfortunately, it's the night hag's turn," Launchpad said, "and she's gonna attack..." He rolled a die, frowned. "Ooo, Jim. Sorry 'bout that."

"I've stocked up on better armor and five more spells," Jim snorted, hardly afraid. "Let that crony bitch try."

"Well, the night hag raises her finger and points it at you, Jim, casting--wow, harsh, book--Fireball! Shoot, things are gonna get toasty!" Launchpad apologized. "Make your dex saves, guys!"

Gosalyn and Drake succeeded. "One wraith failed--lost all its HP, so you got that going for ya! Gos, you're gonna take twenty-four damage... buuut since you're in a Rage, you only take twelve," Launchpad said, shaking a die in his hands, "and, uh, DW, you take... thirty."

"How's it lookin' for you, Gos?" Drake asked, legitimately concerned. "I'm fine for now, I think, but I can heal us when it's my turn."

"Ha! Twelve damage?" Gosalyn puffed out her chest, snickering. "That barely grazed me!"

"Jim?" Launchpad looked over the book. "What about you?"

Jim grimaced. "... I rolled a two."

Everyone winced sympathetically.

"Eesh, that's gonna be full damage right there..." Launchpad reluctantly rolled the die. "Uh... calculator here... hmm... Oh." He gulped. "That's... f-fifty-two damage."

Jim's eyes widened. "Fif... Fifty-two?" he choked. "That's... the rest of my HP. I'm... I'm dead?" He paled, staring down at his piece.

"N-No! You're not dead!" Launchpad reassured. "Just knocked out!"

"Dad'll heal us, don't worry!" Gosalyn said, Drake nodding.

"No."

The room suddenly got very tense. "... No," Jim breathed. "I'm dead." He flicked his piece over.

"You s-still gotta do your saving throws," Launchpad said, "and I can reduce the damage to thirty! Let's just say--"

"What's the point then?" Jim snarled, throwing a fist on the table. The rest of the figurines toppled over. "It's not challenging! You've been going too easy on us this whole stupid game! I'm dead, I'm not doing those dumb ass saving throws! Even if I succeed, I'm still too vulnerable a target compared to the rest of you!"

Drake raised his hands. "Jim..."

"This whole campaign, I've been useless, the weakest, the lowest on health and armor. Always wasting your damn spell slots to heal me," Jim growled. "I'm just dead weight! This is the third time I've almost died! I'm bored!"

"It's just a game, Uncle Jim," Gosalyn whispered, sitting closer to Drake.

"What, are you saying I'm overreacting? I'm takin' this all too seriously?" Jim yelled. "I've had to put up with all your nerdy bullshit and make believe! I hate this game! I've hated it from the start!" He met Gosalyn's terrified gaze, his eyes burning. "Never once did I have fun! I was just putting up with it for you!"

"Jim!" Drake snapped, standing and holding Gosalyn to his side. "That's enough!"

"You're upsettin' Gos, Jim," Launchpad said, sounding uncharacteristically serious.

Jim's chest heaved. His head was hurting. "She can toughen up then!" he barked. "If she thinks I'm overreacting, then so is she!" He leaned over the table, slapping hands on the board. "It's just a game, right, Gosie? So why are you upset? Are you gonna cry? You look like you're gonna cry. I thought you were nine, not three!"

Launchpad grabbed Jim by the arm, pulling him back. "Okay," he said, "let's just... stop playin', all right, Jim?"

"No!" Jim snarled, yanking his arm free. "Go 'head, kid! Cry! Bawl your big green eyes out! Mourn my stupid fake game character!" He guffawed. "It'ssss jus a g... ga..."

Launchpad and Drake tensed.

"Jim, are you... okay?"

Jim grabbed the side of his head, blinking rapidly at the ground.

Gosalyn's misty eyes widened. "Uncle... Uncle Jim...?"

"No," Drake whispered. He let Gosalyn go, both he and Launchpad catching Jim before he could hit the ground. "LP, call Otus!" Drake ordered. "Gosalyn, go upstairs!"

Gosalyn whimpered. "W-What's wrong with Uncle Jim?"

"He's gonna be just fine, kiddo," Launchpad said, picking Gosalyn up, phone to his head. "He's gonna--oh, hey Otus, uhh, Jim's having a super bad seizure right now, can you please come save him from dying?"

---

Jim was suspicious. Something... just wasn't right. He looked around his team; the crow wearing purple armor covered in holy symbols, and their barbarian, proudly sporting scars and a tattered robe.

"Wait."

The paladin and barbarian stopped, looking back at the wizard.

"... How come you're not a cat?" Jim asked, pointing at Snarlfangs Archerbow the Archery Barbarian.

Snarlfangs blinked, looking herself over. "Uhh..."

Wingdark Duckenku whipped around, holding out his shield. "Everyone, get down!" he shouted. Jim and Snarlfangs dove to the ground, missing the fireball as it hit Wingdark's shield. "The dragon is here! Get ready!"

Jim helped Snarlfangs back up, readying his staff. The creature slowly moved through the trees toward them, making a terrible vibrating noise.

"No," Jim whispered, knees trembling, "it's... that laughing..."

"You guessed right," the dragon cackled, narrowing his red eyes and baring teeth. He was massive, black and yellow with twisted horns and mane of fire. "I'm first in initiative, suckers!" he guffawed. "And I just rolled a nat 20 on your pansy asses!" The dragon reached down, grabbing Jim in his massive claws. "That means double damage, right?" He opened his muzzle wide, closing fangs and powerful jaws down on--

Jim woke with a stabbing sensation in his bad hip and the back of his head. He scrambled to a sit, panting, sweat soaking his plumage.

Drake walked into the room. "Oh, you're up," he said calmly. "How do you feel?"

"Did I...?" Jim blinked, peeling off his drenched shirt.

"Yeah. Doctor said it was a mild seizure. They'll come and go, but you don't need to be hospitalized, fortunately," Drake explained. He sat on a chair at Jim's bedside. "You're probably hungry. I can make you soup, if you want."

Jim shook his head. "Why aren't you on patrol?" His eyes widened. "W-Where's Gosalyn?"

Drake's expression darkened. "She's asleep. Took a while, but... She's fine."

Jim grimaced. "I'm..." He licked his bill, nervously clutching the blanket. "... I didn't mean to scare her. I... I'm..."

"Sorry?" Drake finished for him, glowering. "Don't apologize to me. Apologize to Gosalyn. Preferably before school, so she's not feeling depressed and blaming herself for what happened during class."

Jim bowed his head. "Yeah... I will."

Drake nodded. "If you're not hungry, I'm going to bed," he stated. "You can get something if you want. Up to you. Goodnight, Jim."

It was strange, seeing Drake acting so... mature; firm, upset, angry. Jim was used to that peppy little nerd who just wanted to help everyone and forgive Jim for his heinous crimes. He swung his legs over the bed, sat there a few minutes kneading the heel of his palm above his right eye. The pain had settled; Jim got up and closed the door.

Jim took a bottle of water from his mini-fridge, guzzled it down. He opened the bottom drawer on his small dresser, taking out rolls of fabric, sewing kit, bag of accessories, scissors, and the cardboard patterns he'd cut out. He dumped everything on the floor, sat down and haunched over; it'd be easier to use the sewing machine, but he didn't want to risk waking Gosalyn, even by the machine's low humming.

Jim thread his needle, bit the string off the spool, and started sewing.

---

"Okay!" Drake said, handing a bagged lunch to Gosalyn. "PB&J, baby carrots, one cookie, and a juice box."

Gosalyn took the bag slowly. "The PB? The J?"

"Low fat, all natural. Sugar free."

"The... juice..."

"Also sugar free!"

Gosalyn wibbled. "T-The... cookie...?" She was afraid.

Drake grinned widely. "That'll be a surprise," he chuckled, winking.

"Thanks for this very bland lunch, dad," Gosalyn sulked, rolling her eyes.

"Oh, sweetie," Drake smirked, bending down to kiss the top of her head, "you're very welcome." He stepped back, raising a camera. "Now smile! Gos's first packed lunch!"

"Dad, you've taken like... fifty pics already..."

Launchpad called out from the living room. "Bus'll be here in five minutes! Let's go!"

Drake and Gosalyn met up with Launchpad. Launchpad sniffled as he helped put on Gosalyn's backpack. "You're gonna do great, Gos," he said, hugging her, "but don't eat or chew any gum you find under your desk. Just a word of advice."

Gosalyn smiled, nuzzling Launchpad.

"Oh, you two, huddle closer! Going to the bus with pops for first time!" Drake sniffled, holding up his camera.

Gosalyn forced a smile, hugging her teary-eyed pops around the neck as Drake snapped the photo.

"Get one with me and her, LP, please!"

"Sure!"

"Ah."

The room was suddenly stuffy again. Gosalyn turned around, face blank. Jim stood in front of her, bags under his eyes, half-asleep.

Jim looked between Launchpad and Drake waiting expectantly. He cleared his raspy throat. "... About the other--"

"You either got more black feathers overnight, or you have huge saggy eye bags," Gosalyn snorted.

Jim blinked, touching the bags under his eyes. "Yeah, well, I didn't sleep much last night."

Gosalyn tsked. "Old people need the most sleep, y'know," she lectured, then hugged Jim tight. Jim did not expect that, and wasn't sure how to react. "Before school with sick and half-dead lookin' Uncle Jim!"

Drake chuckled, taking a photo.

"Wh... what?"

Gosalyn let Jim go, stepping away, hands clutching the straps of her backpack. "See ya later, Uncle Jim."

Launchpad opened the door, saluting Jim. Drake followed the two outside. "We'll be back in a few minutes," he said, a very small smile on his bill. He shut the door, leaving Jim absolutely baffled.

---

Jim was at the door with Drake when Gosalyn came home. She hugged them both, then Launchpad for good measure. They sat down, Gosalyn animatedly talking about her first day at school, her teacher, the students, what she'd learned, homework, Honker, gym class and recess, hockey sign ups starting soon.

They had dinner and Drake helped out with her homework; the four watched an episode of Darkwing Duck, then Gosalyn was tucked into bed. Drake and Launchpad wished Jim goodnight and went on patrol.

Jim waited until the tremors faded before going upstairs. He opened Gosalyn's door a crack, peeped inside. Gosalyn was still up, headphones on, playing on her phone beneath the blanket.

"Hey."

No response.

"Hey. Goslinda."

Gosalyn threw back the blanket, glaring. "It's Gosalyn."

"Whatever," Jim replied, opening the door. "It's late, but how would you like to do a little practice shooting before your dads get home?"

Gosalyn dropped her phone, rolled out of the bed and into her shoes, hair pulled back in a ponytail. "You bet your butt."

---

"I wanna try something a little... different."

Gosalyn sat at the table, watching Jim punch the passcode to access the arsenal. Little something Darkwing and his buddy didn't need to know about. The transparent wall slid aside, and Jim opened one of the bottom shelves. He removed a fancy purple bow, and Gosalyn's jaw dropped.

Jim took out three separate arrows, each varying in length and weight. He placed them out on the table next to the bow, Gosalyn's tiny hands trembling, wanting so badly to touch.

"This," Jim said, tapping the black arrow with a blunt head, "is called the Microwaver. When it hits its target, it releases a small sonic pulse that disables any and all electronic devices within a five foot radius."

Gosalyn quickly fetched the pad of paper and pen from the counter, having forgot her notebook. She wrote everything down, drawing a crude rendition of the bow and arrow beside the description. Jim gave her a minute, then dragged his finger to the second, blue arrow. "This is the Doctor Shocker. As soon as the head embeds the target, it releases a set of prongs, shooting a current of electricity in the victim's body. This is the beta version, so it packs about fifty million volts."

"Ooo," Gosalyn whispered, writing, "like a taser, but on an arrow!"

"More or less," Jim said. He held up the third, a bright yellow with a colorful fletching. "Snoozer Loozer. Light weight, flexible; inside the shaft is an ounce of a powerful and experimental tranquilizer. There's a plunger at the base of the head; as the arrow penetrates, it pushes against the plunger, releasing the sedative. Designed to take down a two hundred pound person within five to ten minutes; people around one hundred pounds will go into shock and will need medical aid and a counteractive within ten minutes after the tranq was administrated. If you're under eighty, though?" He dragged a thumb across his throat, gagging. "Complete system shut down between one and two minutes."

Gosalyn shivered. "That sounds... really dangerous, even for dad..."

"He's never fired one of these, for obvious reasons," Jim reassured, "and it's fairly brand new to the collection." He put the Snoozer Loozer back down. "The amount can be adjusted for a lower quantity, making it... slightly more safer to use on medium sized specimens. Each Snoozer Loozer did come with an antidote in case of accidents, miscalculations, so on, so forth."

"Did dad and pops make these?" Gosalyn asked, swallowing. "Did... you make these?"

Jim chuckled, and it did not settle Gosalyn one bit. "No, and no," he said, ruffling her hair. "You'll find out later, when you're older."

"Oh, so SHUSH then."

"... Nevermind. Yes."

Gosalyn nodded. "That makes much more sense!" She resumed writing.

"Now, this bow is also in the experimental stage, but is designed to handle these three arrows as well as your regulars, calibrating to fit the archer," Jim continued. "With enough practice, even a tiny twerp like you could handle it."

"Haha," Gosalyn snorted, sticking out her tongue. "But... These are kinda scary, don't you think?"

"They are weapons," Jim said, brow raised. "If they get the job done, they get the job done. Besides, I don't intend for you to fire these... any time soon." He snatched the arrows back up in his hand. "Rather, you'll be using your usual, boring arrows... practicing with this fancy new bow."

Gosalyn grinned, carefully picking up the bow. "It looks so heavy, but it feels so light!"

"Like any good dessert should be."

"Did... dad and pops say it was okay to practice without them?" Gosalyn mumbled.

"Like I said, it's nothing we haven't done time and time again," Jim sighed. "We're going to finish up your current lessons, and when you're ready for the big boys... Your dads can be there to back you up, make sure everything's safe."

Gosalyn nodded, running her hand down the smooth, curved bow limbs. "So long as we don't get in trouble," she said, "then I'm in!"

Jim smiled. "Thatta girl." He raised a finger to his beak. "But remember--these private sessions will be our little secret."

---

Jim and Gosalyn finished firing lessons after exactly one half hour. Jim tucked Gosalyn in then went to his bedroom. While he'd sleep soundly tonight, there was something nagging at the back of his mind.

Something telling him things might get a little dangerous.

---

Regardless of that tiny little gut feeling, Jim continued training Gosalyn in secret whenever Darkwing and Launchpad were on patrol. Since Gosalyn's adoption, Drake and Launchpad installed a security camera at the front door, back door, one in the basement, and two in the bunker. They would continue recording no matter what, even when the base was in idle mode or shut down.

Jim, however, had gained access to the cameras with some patience, spying, and a little schmoozing. He always made sure to erase any recordings of the two going downstairs and practicing. He'd reboot the recordings on an automatic timer with a fifteen minute space in between, allowing them to leave and return upstairs before getting caught on camera.

Jim wasn't sure if Darkwing and Launchpad went over the footage around the house; if so, they glossed them, maybe fast forwarded until something or someone unusual popped into view. Nothing was missing, the base was in the same condition before they left, and Jim and Gosalyn would have said something if there'd been any issues top-side. Aside from minor blips between the footage cut then resuming, there was a tiny clock counting hours, minutes, and seconds in the upper right corner. If they bothered to check the time stamps, they'd quickly notice a forty-five minute jump in between frames.

It wasn't as if Jim had any reason to hide evidence of the sessions. Darkwing and Launchpad trusted Jim with their daughter--maybe, however, not with weapons. Just easier to erase everything to avoid these uncomfortable conversations, or so Jim told himself. If they were caught, Jim could explain it away as a bug--the cameras tripped and glitched always around the same time, for the same length of time, and only on rare occasions. Surely a system error, it was so precise.

Hell, why was Jim so damned paranoid? Yeah, it wasn't the safest thing to do, but he was a trained professional and Gosalyn might as well be one, too. Why go to such lengths to cover their sessions up?

And yet Jim did, every time.

Fortunately, Drake and Launchpad had yet to catch on. Launchpad probably wouldn't know the difference between a recording and a still photo of the bunker taped to the camera. Drake was quicker on the draw, but the love for his daughter and the admiration for his childhood hero gave him something of a rose-tinted vision. It'd be a glitch, but if it wasn't too troublesome, just let the computer reboot and sort itself out.

Jim and Gosalyn trained twice a week, always for a half hour; starting at the same time, ending at the same time. If Drake and Launchpad left too late, they would save it for another day, instead firing the toy arrows in Jim's wide enough garage room.

Gosalyn only got better with each and every lesson. Jim started moving the target board farther back, changing out arrows of different weight and length--nothing that would be too heavy for Gosalyn, but definitely made for those more experienced in archery.

Now they were factoring moves and maneuvers into her training. It started out slow, a little bit rocky; Gosalyn ran across the bunker, firing an arrow at the target as she went. Some landed, some didn't.

The amount of boards and arrows increased to three, requiring her to be both fast on her feet, and on the draw. Jim mostly coached from the sidelines when in action, but learned it helped Gosalyn if he ran beside her, telling her when to fire, helping to increase the amount of hits she made.

Weeks passed. Nothing from Drake or Launchpad.

Gosalyn went to school, came home, spent a few hours with her fathers. Drake insisted she not take naps during the day, to help her sleep better at night, but he soon gave up that fight; now Gosalyn napped with him, usually an hour or so, the two curled up together on the bed. Occasionally Launchpad would join, more often than not waking the two up by rolling on top of them.

Jim spent most of his free time in his room. He'd gotten a few papers with job offerings to look over from Tarry, but hadn't check them out yet. The apartment guide remained untouched in his drawer for almost a month now. Jim only worked on his side project, sewing diligently and patiently when Gosalyn was at school, or sleeping when they didn't have lessons.

Jim continued mentoring Drake and Launchpad. Gosalyn often had to feign mistakes on certain moves both she and Jim knew were too advanced--as far as Launchpad and Drake figured. Launchpad's skill level remained the same, but Drake was getting better--from actually hitting the boards to hitting the few inner circles closest to the bullseye. Once or twice he'd hit the red target square and center, and then Jim would wait five minutes for the family to stop cheering and celebrating and hugging.

Drake had been Darkwing for just a little over a year now, and trained with SHUSH on the side (although it'd been a while since he'd gone to "work"). Jim figured he would have gotten much better with all this without his help. But Jim never said anything--he didn't want to. It gave him something to do, a way to pass the time, Jim told himself, but it wasn't that... simple.

He needed to do this, especially when Gosalyn was watching and partaking.

Jim refused to fire any arrows himself, saying he'd "only embarrass the kids". Truthfully, he was also rusty, and much preferred practicing alongside Gosalyn. Bumbling in front of a kid didn't feel nearly as shameful as bumbling in front of two adults who were mediocre at best. And while Gosalyn would tease, she always encouraged Jim as much as Jim encouraged her.

February crept up on Jim way too quickly. He finished his project, but kept it secreted away. It wasn't time yet, he told himself, but he knew it was just his damn nerves.

Gosalyn had learned so much over a month and few weeks. Not that it surprised Jim. It was more than being a natural; she had the spirit and the energy. Threw herself into everything she did--rather it be archery or hand to hand combat or karate or forcing down Launchpad's awful cooking.

"Gosalyn is... beyond incredible at archery," Drake told Jim one day, "I just... It blows me away, every single time, seeing her fire that bow."

"She's a natural," Jim smirked, and although he wasn't quite sure why he said it: "Maybe one day she'll follow in her hero's footsteps."

Drake chuckled. "Maybe, but not for a long time."

In a lot of ways, Gosalyn reminded Jim of himself. Much younger, back when he was the only Darkwing Duck. The dedication, the zeal; the desire to be the top, the best. To be a hero to all one day. It gave Jim's worn spirit that kick it so desperately needed.

"If I gotta practice fighting and stuff," Gosalyn said after a session, the two returning upstairs, "then you gotta practice on socializing and opening up."

Jim laughed. "What? I'm sociable! I'm charming!"

Gosalyn snorted. "Yeah, when you gotta be. But dad and pops still think you don't like them. You don't talk much when they're around, or you always go to your room like a weirdo. And when we eat at the table, you don't join any conversations!"

Jim furrowed his brows, the feathers around his eyes almost completely black. "It's unnecessary," he insisted, "things are perfect as they are. Besides," he grumbled, walking away from Gosalyn, "I won't be here for much longer."

Gosalyn moaned, rolling her eyes practically into the back of her skull. "You say that, like, every day! That you're gonna leave or they're gonna kick you out. But they said you can stay. I never seen or heard dad or pops asking you to leave." She followed Jim into his room, yawning. "Stop feelin' sorry for yourself, geez."

Jim scowled. "I'm not feeling-- I'm being realistic," he grunted. "And maybe I want to leave one day, when I'm... more financially secure."

Gosalyn gave him a look, hands on her hips.

"What!"

"Have you looked at any of those jobs Tarry gave you?" Gosalyn asked, jumping on his bed. "I saw some! One was at a scrapyard! Darkwing made all his stuff from scraps!"

"I am an award winning actor, a true thespian," Jim bellowed, playing the drama queen card per usual, "I'm not going to waste my talents throwing old crap in a smelter day in and day out, wearing these skilled hands to the bone, always dirty with... dirt! And rust!"

"But maybe you could bring some of the scraps home," Gosalyn suggested, bouncing and landing on her rear. "And you already got bony grandpa hands anyway." She opened his nightstand drawer, removing the apartment guide book. "Uh, hey, this is for December listings, y'know."

Jim hissed, taking the guide from her. "I'm... aware!" He dropped it in the waste bin, and it felt... kinda good. "I just need to clean up a little, that's all. New year, new me."

"Same!" Gosalyn giggled.

Jim twitched. "... Not really."

"Huh?"

"You're suppose to be in bed, Gob," Jim reprimanded, picking Gosalyn off his bed by the back of her shirt. "Half hour training session, then bed. Them's the rules, kid."

"It's Gosalyn!"

"Get out of here, before I throw y--"

"Jim!"

Jim dropped Gosalyn on the bed. It was Launchpad, and he sounded panicked. Gosalyn went to get up, but Jim hissed and waved her back. He ran out of the garage, shutting the door behind him. Launchpad carried Darkwing over to the sofa, laying him down; he was unconscious, breathing labored and sweating profusely.

"What happened?" Jim demanded, checking Darkwing's temperature. Way too hot.

"I--I dunno!" Launchpad cried, shaking. "We--We were fightin' this crazy lady who was, like, a duck but also a lizard or snake and she got away and we were comin' home to stock up before chasin' her down 'cause DW thinks he knows where her hideout might be an' just as we pulled into the bunker, he collapsed an' said somethin' about 'venom'!"

Jim's head snapped up. "Venom? Did the bitch bite him?" He felt Darkwing's pulse--erratic, as expected.

"No! He thinks--we think when she shot DW in the foot with a dart, maybe... But we pulled it out real quick! Could the venom still have gotten inside?"

"Well, obviously!" Jim checked the wound; swollen, bruised, blood congealing at the surface. "H-How long ago was he shot?"

"Nn... N-Not more than a half hour? No! Maybe... twenty minutes? No, uhh... Fif--I called Doctor Bellum and she's sending paramedics over right now," Launchpad wheezed, threading a hand through his messied hair. "Oh man, oh man, oh man, DW!"

"Do you guys keep any antivenom on you in your emergency medical supplies?"

"N-No? Should we?"

"Yes, you should?" Jim yelped, hands in the air. "It's important we identify the type of snake. We can't do much besides wait for help to arrive." Jim pulled back one of Darkwing's eyelids; the sclera was red. He parted feathers down Darkwing's face and neck, looking for any spots or markings that could give the type away. "You said she was like a lizard or snake? What did she look like?"

"Uhh, she--she had... scales, and they were, uh, white? Like her feathers! And she--she had red eyes!"

"Albino?"

"Okay!"

"Any other markings or traits that stand out?"

Launchpad chewed his fingers. "N-No, she... she wore a sweater and skirt, uhh... Her tongue was like a snake, and she had a lisp, her hair was blue and all puffed up in this weird shape, I think she had a tail, t--"

"What weird shape?" Jim asked, grabbing Launchpad and pulling him down. "Was it like a hood?"

"I--I guess? It was in a ponytail, too!"

"You seen a cobra before?"

"Oh, yeah, I've been bitten by loads of--oh! Oh!" Launchpad gasped. "Cobra! Cobra venom!"

"Since she's a mutant freak, who knows if any antivenom will work," Jim growled, double checking Darkwing's pulse. A little sluggish now, and Jim noticed a paper sticking out of his jacket. He took it out and looked it over; a small, simple map of Audubon Bay--by the descriptions and notes, Southern Shore, the area having decayed and rotted away into abandoned buildings and warehouses. Perfect spot for a rat's nest. "Is this where he thinks the freak went?" he asked Launchpad, pointing at the paper, specifically the note reading OILY LOU'S REPAIR SHOP.

Launchpad nodded. He knelt beside Darkwing, holding his hand. "I-It'll be fine, DW; I've been bitten by many snakes, many times, sometimes all at once! I made it out all right! Sure, sometimes I temporarily lost sensation in my limbs for weeks, and once I was blinded for thirty-two hours, but who hasn't had a couple foaming-at-the-mouth seizures in the ER after you picked up a snake you thought looked really cool? I-I got pretty high tolerance, though, s-so--But help's on the way, s-so just hang in--"

Darkwing gasped, violently thrashing on the couch. Jim dropped the map and helped Launchpad hold him down. "Too much movement'll make the venom work faster!" Jim snapped. "Stop squirming, you knob!"

"Wh... Where is..." Darkwing croaked, his tongue and gums pallor. "Is..."

"Yer home, DW."

"H-Help?"

"It's coming!"

"She--is she...!" Darkwing widened his red, glazed eyes, jerking against Jim's and Launchpad's hands. "N-No, she can't-- can't see-- m-make sure in bed, go--"

"She's gonna wake up if you keep yelling and fussing," Jim snarled.

"D... Dad?"

Jim's heart dropped in his stomach, heavy and burning as a lump of glacial ice; Launchpad froze, color draining from his face. Darkwing went absolutely still, clenching his teeth. Launchpad and Jim turned their heads--Gosalyn stood at the end of the couch, fat tears rolling down her face. Jim had never seen her look so scared.

"Gos," Darkwing coughed, "l-leave. Room. Fine."

"B-But da--"

"Please!" Darkwing sobbed, muscles clenching and spasming.

Launchpad could hear the ambulance sirens. "Gos!" he said, picking his daughter up and pressing her face to his chest. "Room room room! Everything's fine, everything's fine! Doctors are here, gonna patch him right up!" He ran up the stairs, into Gosalyn's room. "W-Woo-ooo, let's play Grand Theft Vehicle 10 ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

The paramedics arrived a minute later, hurriedly moving Darkwing onto a stretcher.

"His partner mentioned something about venom?" a paramedic asked. "Was he bitten by a snake?"

"A cobra. Who was also a duck. Half duck, half cobra. Maybe... A cobra, I mean."

The paramedic didn't seem that surprised. "C'mon," she said, spinning a finger in the air. "Load 'im up, chop, chop, chop! We're wastin' this guy's daylight here!"

The EMTs covered Darkwing fully with a blanket, keeping him hidden as they rushed him to the van. The Muddlefoots and a few other neighbors were outside, watching and muttering nervously to one another.

"Where's Launchpad?" the paramedic asked. "We'll need him for questioning."

Jim nodded. "Lemme get 'im. He's with the kid."

---

Launchpad put Gosalyn in Jim's hands. After the paramedics left, and the neighbors went back inside, Jim checked on Gosalyn. He wasn't surprised to see her standing at the door, dressed in her usual hoodie, black pants, and muddied tennis shoes. The enraged look on Gosalyn's face was almost softened by the tears in her eyes. She didn't need to say anything. Jim nodded; he took a jacket, then the two headed out.

Jim missed driving a car. Didn't miss driving one when the streets were still a bit icy. Fortunately for everyone, the hospital was only a few blocks away. After checking in with Doctor Bellum, the two were permitted entrance. Launchpad sat outside the ER, nervously tapping his feet and staring at the floor.

"Pops," Gosalyn said solemnly. Launchpad fell from the bench, stood up. He didn't say anything, just picked her up and held her close. "How's dad?" she whispered, digging fingers into the back of Launchpad's coat.

"Good, good, great," Launchpad tittered. "Docs say he'll pull through. Just needa... do some more tests." He gave Jim a baffled look.

Jim shrugged passively. "You know how she is," he said, hobbling to the bench.

"I'm not goin' home," Gosalyn grumbled, "not until I know dad's... dad's okay."

Launchpad sighed. "'Kay. Sure he won't mind." He sat down, Gosalyn sliding between him and Jim. It was quiet after that, everyone's attention on the ER doors.

---

An hour had passed. Launchpad kept nodding off, bolting upright and making nonsensical noises, slapping his cheeks. Jim wasn't tired, and if Gosalyn was, she sure didn't look it. She remained vigilant and focused; Jim could see the fire burning in her green eyes, refusing to diminish. She wasn't sad or scared anymore--she was angry. Very, very angry.

Launchpad returned with two coffees and a hot chocolate when doctors stepped out of the ER. Launchpad dropped the drinks, stunned, bracing himself immediately for bad news. "He's going to pull through," one surgeon said, removing his mask. "We managed to find a right balance of antivenom, although... it was very unique. They told us it came from some... duck-cobra hybrid woman?"

"He knows the whole story," Jim said, tilting his head at Launchpad.

"I talked to a SHUSH agent and they drew a picture based on my testimony and is he conscious?"

"No. He'll be out a while longer. We've got some questions of our own." At that moment, Doctor Bellum and a couple stoic agents in black suits turned down the hall.

"You two are still here?" Doctor Bellum scolded casually. "Poor girl, you need to get some sleep. Worrying won't help your dad very much, I'm--" She stopped as one of the agents slipped on the spilled drinks, sliding down the hall. "--I'm afraid. Best to take her home, Jim."

Jim nudged Gosalyn in the arm. "Gonna fight me on this one?"

Gosalyn silently shook her head.

"Don't worry, sweetie," Doctor Bellum reassured, patting Gosalyn on the head. "Your dad's gonna be just fine." She smiled. "Assuming he survives the night, and doesn't have a fatal reaction to the antivenom and other medications."

Jim, Launchpad, and even the agents gave Doctor Bellum baffled, annoyed looks.

"... I'm no good with kids," Doctor Bellum confessed. She stood up. "All right, Launch, let's have a chat. Bye, Jim; sweet dreams, Gosalyn!"

Launchpad kissed and hugged Gosalyn, reassuring her he'd be home soon. Gosalyn just nodded, weakly hugging her father back. Jim waited until the group left, then turned for the exit, expecting Gosalyn to follow.

Gosalyn lingered a moment then ran up ahead of him.

---

The car ride home was silent. Jim didn't know what to say. He'd already tried on the ride to the hospital. Gosalyn still had that furious look on her face. Something dangerous, something that unsettled Jim a little. But he was tired, and she was too, he was sure. The two returned to the house around 3AM.

"You want some tea?" Jim offered. "An Ambien?"

Gosalyn shook her head, marching right upstairs to her bedroom.

Jim furrowed his brows. ... No, best to let her be. He wouldn't force her to go to school in the morning; nor would his parents. Jim yawned. He locked everything up, turned off the lights, and went to bed. As he laid there, he wondered if he did the right thing--giving Gosalyn her space. Maybe she needed company, but was too upset or ashamed to ask. Maybe he should have sat up with her, or at least watched over her as she slept.

Jim could relate to Doctor Bellum on one thing, shockingly enough: he'd never been very good with kids. Although Gosalyn hadn't just been some kid. He liked to think they were... close. That maybe... maybe he was less a burden or annoyance to her. That Gosalyn could open up to him, if she felt like it. She did chastise him for failing to be as open as her and the rest of the family were.

But... There was still the chance his coddling and refusal to leave would make her shut him out. Push him away. Even if only for a little while, even if she'd apologize later, Jim didn't like that idea. It might have frightened him a bit, if he weren't too stubborn to admit it.

No, if Gosalyn wanted, needed his comfort and company, she'd come back down and just... spill. She wouldn't ask; she didn't need to. She'd never felt embarrassed or hesitant to tell Jim when she was upset or scared or in need of someone; and although he tried to push her away at the time, Gosalyn was firm. Looking back at those times... in a way, it was what Jim needed.

For years, Jim prided himself as someone who didn't need anyone. He'd always been on his own, even as a child. He'd long accepted it, regardless of what the therapists said, but maybe after the breakdown, the floodgates opened, unleashing truths and shameful secrets Jim had locked deep, deep away inside. They all pointed to one undeniable fact: Jim desperately needed attention, loved attention, and being forgotten and left behind, to fade away after losing everything, had drove him to madness, temporary or not.

The question was: continue pushing people out to avoid another breakdown, or alienate himself so deep in his hole of misery, he'd reach another breaking point?

Jim didn't like thinking about any of this. Goddamn Drake, Goddamn Launchpad, Goddamn... them. They'd wormed their way into his psyche, right through the walls he'd built that only appeared impenetrable but were actually flimsy as tissue paper.

However, instead of keeping him awake, all these running thoughts had taken a toll on his already exhausted mind, and Jim fell asleep before making that final decision.

---

Jim heard a loud thunk from upstairs. He woke immediately, checking the clock: 4AM. He'd only been asleep for an hour. Jim sighed, scrubbing his face and head feathers. Was Gosalyn still awake? That wasn't good. Despite all his fretting earlier, Jim took his cane and limped upstairs.

Jim knocked on Gosalyn's door. "You still awake, Goose?" he asked. She didn't respond. He knocked again, waited a few seconds. He narrowed his eyes, pressing his head against the door. He could hear what sounded like... wind? Blowing the curtains? Jim opened the door, prepared to lecture the kid about catching a cold--except there was no kid.

One of the bedroom windows was open. Gosalyn's backpack, loaded with books, was on the ground--probably the source of the noise. There was a piece of paper on her pillow, held down by the Darkwing Duck plush Launchpad had gifted her.

Jim had that sinking, horrible, no good feeling again. He took the note, read it over.

I KNOW WHERE SHE IS. OILY LOU'S REPAIR SHOP. DON'T FOLLOW ME. SORRY. - GOS

"This whole family," Jim snarled, storming out of the room, "is full of morons!"

Jim had completely forgotten about the map. Launchpad might have said something during interrogation--hopefully police got to the mutant criminal before Gosalyn. Hopefully they'd still be at the site and catch the crazy kid before she did anything stupid. Gosalyn must have picked the map up when Jim dropped it to tend to Drake. He remembered enough to know the location--that, and Gosalyn left the name of the perp's possible hideout.

That was a bit curious, actually.

Jim debated calling Launchpad. Even Doctor Bellum. But by the time they got here, it'd be too late, he told himself. Jim took a shot of DEM, his limp turning to a regular gait as he picked the lock on the basement door. Once in the bunker, Jim opened the arsenal; he took a gas gun, two canisters (one sleeping gas, one tear gas), grappling gun, taser, a few knives, and although he hesitated, a clutch of arrows (including a couple of the prototypes) and specialized bow. Last but not least, an unopened first aid kit.

Jim stepped back into the basement when he remembered one last important piece. He could go back down, but... Jim glanced at the washing machine.

Jim made one last stop to his bedroom. He threw out his Darkwidow costume, stuffing a couple accessories in a backpack with the weapons and kit. He also packed his finished project, then headed out.

Gosalyn's bike was missing. Fresh tracks in a few piles of melting snow. Jim would surely catch up with her in the car--if the falling books had been any indication of time, she'd only left twenty minutes ago. The docks were at least a half hour drive by car, longer on bike.

Jim drove as fast as he could without speeding; not for the sake of traffic rules, but in hopes of finding Gosalyn much quicker and not getting arrested. As he reached a mile stretch on the main road, he expected to see the kid by now. There was absolutely no way she'd gotten to the docks in this short a time. So what the Hell gave?

No matter. If he couldn't pick Gosalyn up en route, he'd arrive at the location first and apprehend her then. He glanced at the bag in the passenger's seat, frowning. Apprehend her... it sounded like she was some sort of criminal. And Jim wasn't entirely sure--

Jim yelped, turning the car before the oncoming truck could crash into the grill. He pulled onto the sidewalk, hitting a CHILDREN AT PLAY sign instead. The engine gave a sickly groan. "Are you shitting me!" Jim barked, punching the dashboard, as if that would magically fix things. It always worked in the movies, even in his TV show--four times.

"Fuckin' Launchpad," Jim growled. That idiot had been driving this car for so long, gotten in so many crashes--this vehicle was cursed. It was on its last leg. Jim made it to a parking lot behind a grocery store. The engine was working--for now--but if he wanted it to stay working, he'd have to drive extra slow. The left headlight was out, too, and that would attract police officers, only making things worse for everyone.

On foot then. Gosalyn was on bike, but she still wouldn't be at the docks yet. Jim took his bag and the keys, left the car. He went down back alleys, stuck in the shadows and more vacant spots. Closer to the Southern Shore, the more the city receded into abandoned and worn down buildings and houses.

Jim was losing his patience. He stopped beside a gas station; he needed a break and a breather. The DEM was working, but his head was pounding. Jim stood up, groaning--his eyes widened. Across the street was a dirty looking hole in the wall bar, frequented primarily by bikers. In fact, two bikers were just leaving, laughing and finishing their bottles of beer.

Jim grinned wickedly. Drunk driving? Well now, as a dutiful and concerned citizen, he had to step in. But first Jim stepped back into the alley, opening his bag.

The bikers took their time, staggering to their bikes. They laughed and slapped each others backs, complaining about the cold weather as they pulled on their jackets. The older of the two put his key in the ignition, but before he could start the motorcycle, someone loudly and harshly cleared their throat behind them.

The bikers turned, drunkenly blinking. Their vision was slightly blurred; the approaching figure wore... yellow? A hat?

"Who-who this?" one biker asked, then snickered. "Tiiiny."

"I'm doing this for your own good," the figure said, then raised a strange looking gun. The bikers gasped, reaching for their knives. The figure fired, and the two were engulfed in purple gas. They coughed and flailed, but after a few seconds, they fell from their bikes, sound asleep.

The figure stepped forward. One of the bikers was struggling against the sleeping gas's effects. He got a short glimpse-- "Dar... wi?" he groaned.

White, narrow eyes glared down at him. The figure leaned forward, enough for the neon lights of the bar sign to show his beak, then his toothy grin, then a finger held to his beak as he whispered, "Shhh."

The biker blinked. "'Kay." He dropped his head in the dirt, snoring.

Jim climbed onto the bike, turning the key. The engine revved up and snarled, lights flickering on. Jim drove around the slumbering bikers and peeled out onto the street.

---

Jim parked the bike a good enough distance from the criminal's alleged hideout. He ran toward the warehouse, but it was dark inside, no sign of life or any sort of equipment. Jim felt something between relief and disappointment. He looked up behind him--a building, four stories, all its windows broken. A perfect view inside the warehouse without being spotted.

Jim cautiously entered the old office building. The door to the emergency stairs hung open, creaking lightly in the wind. Jim kept his gas gun in hand, making his way up each step carefully. Listening for any noises that might give away Gosalyn--or, possibly, the mutant woman. Jim checked the first floor--it was clogged up with piles of rubble, old desks and chairs. Made it easier to search, but the only windows visible were no good.

Jim continued to the second floor. The door was closed. Jim took a deep breath, gun cocked in one hand, the other slowly pushing the door open. Of course it had to groan and squeak. Jim peeked inside; mostly empty with scattered desks, walls coated in layers and layers of graffiti. There were a couple places that looked good for hiding, but from his spot at the door, he couldn't check out the windows.

Jim couldn't call out for Gosalyn, even if it was a whisper. There was still a chance other, less welcoming people were squatting here or using this as a base of operations. Jim moved as swiftly and quietly toward the windows, eyes and ears open. Just as he reached the nearest window, he heard a rock crunch--barely noticeable, but Jim always had pretty good hearing. He turned, gun raised.

Gosalyn had an arrow strung, ready to fire.

The two lowered their weapons, surprised.

"Da... Darkwing?" Gosalyn whispered. "But..."

Jim walked out of the shadows.

No, this wasn't Darkwing. He dressed in the same outfit, but the colors were different. The jacket was yellow and splotchy, the hat and cape black and red. Even the eye mask was a different color. Everything clicked quickly enough, and Gosalyn gasped, "Uncle J--"

Jim hissed, raising a finger to his bill. Gosalyn frowned. Jim checked the area, dropping on all fours to crawl beneath the windows and up to Gosalyn. He grabbed and pulled her behind a mound of desks.

"You dummy!" Jim scowled. "Just what the Hell do you think you're doing? H-How the Hell did you get here so fast?"

"I took an early bird bus."

"... Well, that leaves my first question."

Gosalyn's frown deepened, and despite the tears in her eyes, that fire burned ever bright behind her mask. "Dad... She--she almost killed dad..." she choked, bow trembling in her clenched fists. "She... I'm not gonna... Bad guys took grandpa. I couldn't help mama and papa. I-I tried not to be angry, but--but..." She sniffed, holding back her tears. "N-Not gonna let it happen; not t'me, not t'any other kids. I'm g-gonna be a hero, and put these evil people in jail, and protect everyone so... so they..."

Jim didn't even think, just wrapped his arms around Gosalyn and pulled her against him. Gosalyn held him, burying her face against his shoulder. She wasn't crying, however; she was beyond the point of tears, of being sad and helplessly angry. Jim came here to bring her back, kicking and screaming if he had to. He'd even use the sleeping ga--shit. He'd emptied that entire canister on the bikers, too caught up in the moment at the time.

Jim knew if Gosalyn went through with this, not only could she get hurt or killed, but if she did survive, she'd live with the regrets, the shame. Even if she was highly skilled, even if she was armed and knew exactly how to use her weapons... This was a breaking point, and nothing good ever happened from breaking down and giving into anger and rage. The evil woman almost took her dad, and her dad almost...

No. Not almost.

"M'not goin' back, Uncle Jim," Gosalyn insisted, "if--if I gotta fight you, I--I will. I don't w-wanna hurt you."

Jim sighed. "First of all," he said firmly, "don't call me Uncle Jim." He tugged on his collar. "I'm... Darkwarrior Duck."

Gosalyn blinked, tittered. "R-Really?"

"And your disguise is piss poor. If this weirdo woman gets away--if she's even here--she'll remember your face," Darkwarrior lectured, poking her between the eyes. "That mask won't do. And I intended to wait to give you this. As a... as a goodbye gift. When I... moved out."

Gosalyn sniffed. "Stop talkin' like that, Ji--Darkwarrior."

Jim took a bound pile of clothes out of the bag, held them to Gosalyn. "I saw it. Dunno if you meant for me to see it, but I saw your drawing." Gosalyn unfolded the clothes, gaping. A purple top with a lighter purple Q stitched into the front, leather gloves and boots falling to the ground. "Quiverwing Quack, was it?"

Gosalyn looked up, nodding. "I--I didn't think you'd..."

"You made sure to add Oily Lou in your note. A part of you wanted me--or someone else--to come after you. Maybe even to stop you."

Gosalyn bowed her head. "... I'm not leaving."

"I figured, but if we're gonna do this, we're gonna do it right," Darkwarrior growled. "I'm the teacher, you're the pupil. You follow my orders, got it?"

Gosalyn nodded, pulling the shirt over her top. Perfect fit.

"I didn't have enough time to put a hat together. Was just gonna order one online," Darkwarrior said. He stood up, walked behind Gosalyn; he re-did her ponytail into something tighter as she slipped on her gloves. "But," he said, showing her the pink feather before sliding it between the two hair bands. "This'll do for now." Darkwarrior gave her mask another quick adjustment then moved back in front of the girl. After putting on the boots, her (current) outfit was complete.

"Do I look good?" Quiverwing Quack whispered, turning in a circle.

Darkwarrior smirked. "It's my handiwork, so of course."

"Hey, where'd you get the yellow--"

"Ssstupid assss Darkwing Duck!"

Darkwarrior pushed Quiverwing's head down, looking outside and directly into the warehouse's window. Quiverwing cursed, shoving his hand off. She peeked, hand muffling her gasp.

A chunk of the warehouse floor shook as it was lifted and slid aside. A strange looking woman emerged, panting and kicking the slab, cursing at herself as she rubbed her stubbed toe. Like Launchpad had described, she had the bill and feathers of a duck, but visible white scales along her arms, face, legs... tail. Blue hair styled up like a cobra spreading its hood, her ponytail serving as the rest of its body. Darkwarrior and Quiverwing couldn't see her eyes, but they bet they were red.

Gosalyn dug her fingers in the windowsill, breathing picking up. "Her... It's her..." she whispered between clenched teeth, brows furrowed. "She's... She's the one who hurt dad."

The mutant complained and whined, pulling out a box, then what appeared to be a simple, primitive sunbed. Still talking to herself, the woman opened the box and put aside Tupperware with dead mice, a portable mini-chemistry set, and two silver plates. "Leasssst got thesssse babiessss," she purred, sticking out her forked tongue; she rubbed the plates to her scaly-feathered cheek. "Gonna make me sssso much money, yesss you are!"

"I can shoot her from here," Gosalyn insisted. "Let me--"

Darkwarrior went to speak, but then the woman picked up a rusty slab of metal, fixing it against the window. Not good, but he'd take care of that.

Quiverwing stepped back, picking up her bow. Darkwarrior raised a hand to her. "Sit tight. I'm going in first. When I need you, I'll call for you, got it?"

Quiverwing scowled. "But I wanna help--"

"You will," Darkwarrior growled, "when I tell you to."

Quiverwing sighed, frustrated and anxious.

Darkwarrior clutched her shoulders. "Remember," he said, taking a deep breath, "just for tonight, I'm Darkwarrior Duck, and you're Quiverwing Quack. Got it?"

Quiverwing swallowed. She nodded.

Darkwarrior grinned. "Now... wait here." He loaded his gun with the tear gas, pocketed away a couple knives, and taser. He took the rope from his grappling gun, hooks gripping the windowsill. Quiverwing helped hold them in place as Darkwarrior started his climb down.

"Be... be careful," Quiverwing whispered.

Darkwarrior jumped down the last five feet. He smiled up at Quiverwing Quack, tilting his hat back. He wrapped his cape around him, and darted down the alley.

Darkwarrior's heart was pounding. He wanted to think it was fear giving him this rush, but it was the exact opposite. For the first time in a long time, he felt alive. In his element. The moment he put on the suit, spare parts and all, everything fell back into place, as if he were young and Darkwing Duck again.

Only this time the stakes were real--and so were his weapons.

Darkwarrior lingered by the entrance; the chains were rusty, old, and completely useless, the doors open by a few inches. He peeked inside. The woman was pouring two vials of chemicals inside the money plates, giggling and tail wagging. He couldn't see any visible weapons, but her skirt and heavy sweater had pockets.

The gas gun had a reach of twenty feet. She was close enough. Darkwarrior placed the gun between the cracked doors; hat pulled down and cape across his face, he fired, gas filling the warehouse. He heard a furious scream, followed by coughing and weeping.

Darkwarrior knew better, but like most things in his life... fuck it.

"I am the guilt weighing heavy on your fractured conscience..."

"W-What?" the woman cried, wiping furiously at her burning eyes.

"I am the shadow of vengeance following close on your heels..."

The woman choked on her sob. "No," she croaked, "i-it can't b--"

"I am Darkwin... Darkwarrior Duck!"

When the gas parted, Camille Chameleon looked up, gasping. Darkwarrior pounced on her head, knocking her over. He rolled off the mutant, onto his feet, turning quickly. Camille jumped back up; her eyes were red (and not just from the tear gas), but the sclera were a sickly yellow. "Darkw-warrior?" she spat. "There'ssss two of you?"

"Three, actually," Darkwarrior smirked.

Camille whipped out a pistol from her skirt pocket, a dart visible in the barrel. "I'll take you out, jussst like I did Darkwad!" she hissed, firing.

Darkwarrior dodged the dart, throwing a knife at her feet. Camille stumbled back; enough of an opening for Darkwarrior to dash over, leap on top of her. He smacked the gun from her hand; as he went for his taser, Camille howled and threw him against the metal sheet over the window. Given her stringy, skinny figure, she was remarkably strong. Darkwarrior fell on his stomach, the metal sheet tipping over on his back. It cut into his cape and suit, narrowly slicing into flesh.

Not exactly the way Darkwarrior intended to open the window, but he didn't expect to spend his night fighting a mutated duck-reptile criminal either. He groaned, dragging himself out from the heavy sheet.

"Give up, Darkwannabe," Camille sniped, picking up her dart gun. She pointed it at Darkwarrior's face. "You're toasss--"

"Not so fast!"

An arrow flew through the window, grazing Camille's fingers. She screamed, dropping the pistol and recoiling. She held her hand, bleeding green. "What the Hell?" Camille spat.

Darkwarrior cursed. "I told y--"

Using the rope, Quiverwing Quack swung through the window, landing in front of Camille and stringing an arrow. "I am Quiverwing Quack, the hero who gives crooks the shaft!" She grinned, momentarily flicking her eyes at Darkwarrior. "Pretty cool slogan, huh?"

"I told you to wait for my orders!" Darkwarrior spat.

"Are you ssseriousss?" Camille roared, yanking out fistfuls of blue hair. "How many of you freakssss are there?"

"Need help?" Quiverwing asked, backing one step toward Darkwarrior.

"I'm fine," Darkwarrior grumbled, "but you shouldn't--"

"Shut up! Everyone jusssst shut up!" Camille screamed, stamping her feet. "I am sssso sssick and tired of you ssstupid ssssuperheroesss!" Suddenly, Camille started growing, eight feet, ten feet, fifteen feet. Quiverwing fired an arrow, but Camille's large hand grabbed and snapped it in half. "You ruin all my brilliant planssss, and the one time I manage to pull ssssomething off, you go and messss it up!"

Darkwarrior and Quiverwing were swallowed by Camille's massive shadow. She had transformed into something like a dragon--but with a duck bill. Her head was only a few feet from touching the ceiling. "Now you've pissssed me off!" she growled, pitchy, scratchy voice now a deep baritone.

"Quiverwing!" Darkwarrior shouted. "Move!"

Quiverwing was frozen as Camille raised her giant foot above her head, bringing it down. Quiverwing snapped out of her daze and rolled away, planting a knee into the ground. She drew and fired an arrow into the foot.

"You brat!" Camille roared, pulling the arrow out like a splinter. "I'll kill you firsssst!"

Darkwarrior crawled out from under the metal sheet, running and pouncing on the edge of the dragon's tail.

"Yow!" Camille yelped. She glared back at Darkwarrior; lifted her tail and tossed him aside. "Wait your tur--"

An arrow hit Camille in the cheek; little hooks held it in place, releasing a surge of electricity. While not enough to knock her out, it did sting and blur her vision. Camille wailed, stumbling back and clawing out the arrow, the muscles on the left side of her face twitching.

"You almost killed him!" Quiverwing screamed, dodging a smack of Camille's hand. "You almost took Darkwing from me!" She shot another Doctor Shocker into the dragon's finger; the electricity jolted up Camille's wrist, numbing three of her digits. Camille grumbled, trying to shake off the pain. "And you made Launchpad sad!"

"Launch--that dumb meatheaded jock?" Camille snapped. "Thanksss to him, my aim wasss thrown off; I could have hit Darkwing right in the--"

Darkwarrior straddled the top of her head, pulling back her eyelids. "Ou ou ou ou!" she shrieked.

"Snoozer Loozer!" Darkwarrior yelled. "Now!"

"Jussst like an annoying fly," Camille growled, plucking Darkwarrior off her head. She held him to her beak, chortling. "But... I do love me ssssome tasssty fliessss." She opened her bill, dropping Darkwarrior in her mouth.

Darkwarrior managed to land on the edges of her bill, holding them open with his hands and feet. "Arrow!" he yelped, arms straining against her weight. Camille reached up to pick him off--

Quiverwing fired one of the Snoozer Loozer arrows--Darkwarrior caught and stabbed it in Camille's hand before she could squish his head. Darkwarrior slipped off the end of her bottom bill, leg almost caught between her teeth. He held onto the arrow, dangling from the beak with the other. Darkwarrior broke the shaft, leaving the head in Camille's hand as it moved away. He threw the broken arrow like a javelin down her throat. Not much, but he'd been inspired.

Camille gagged. Darkwarrior let go of her beak, flipped, landing in a head stand. He swore he sprained something; maybe it was the DEM keeping him from feeling the pain.

Camille spit out the arrow. Darkwarrior picked up the dart gun, fired two of them in Camille's side. Gosalyn shot the final Snoozer Loozer in her shoulder.

"You can't kill me with my own venom, dumbassss!" Camille barked, removing the darts. She swung her tail, sweeping Quiverwing and Darkwarrior across the room and into the wall. They each dove aside as the tail then thumped down, breaking her chemistry set. "No! You idiotsss! Look what you've done!"

"It's your fault," Quiverwing snorted, "makin' yourself such a large, slow movin' target!"

"In some cases," Darkwarrior quipped, "size doesn't matter."

Camille gasped. "Y-You're jussst a couple runtssss, micccce I'm gonna ssswallow who... whole..."

Camille felt dizzy. She remembered the arrow in her shoulder, plucking it out. "You... N-No! I got away onccce! I can do it again!" She slammed down her fists, knocking Quiverwing over and catching Darkwarrior by the cape.

"That's why I didn't want a cape!" Quiverwing yelled. She fired the first arrow she grabbed--the Microwaver. It wouldn't do much, but the sonic pulse did surprise Camille long enough for Darkwarrior to break free, cape tearing.

"The only way you're gonna get out of this alive," Darkwarrior shouted, both masked heroes running around the dragon from different directions, "is by shrinking down to mouse size yourself! Too bad you can't do that!"

It didn't happen often, but Camille was sensitive, dizzy, and still a novice to the criminal world. The taunting worked: mostly to prove herself and her powers than to escape, Camille shrank down, ducking before Quiverwing Quack and Darkwarrior Duck could jump on her back, nearly colliding with each other. By the time they landed, Camille was the size of a fat rat, scampering for the hole in the ground.

Quiverwing fired an arrow, but in this form Camille was faster. Darkwarrior jumped in front of the hole; Camille squeaked, running around him. She dove for the pit, but crashed into the arrow landing in front of her. Camille squealed, falling onto her back. She felt sluggish and tired; her tiny legs shook as she struggled to get up. After one step, Camille gave a sigh and collapsed.

"Did we... did we kill her?" Quiverwing asked, walking up to Darkwarrior.

"Not if my hypothesis is correct," Darkwarrior said, squatting. He reached for Camille; she woke, just in time to snap her jaws at his fingers. Darkwarrior squeaked and dropped onto his butt. Camille laid back down, whiskers twitching. "Nope. Still alive. It would have taken a few more Snoozer Loozers to knock her giant form out--and I only brought a couple. But... by getting her to shrink down and decrease in mass and weight..."

"The tranq worked faster!" Quiverwing beamed. "But... does this mean she's trapped in this rat body?"

"Dunno. We'll wait and see, but not too long," Darkwarrior said. He took off his cape, went to throw it on Camille--

Darkwarrior jumped as Quiverwing strung a bow, its sharp head aimed at the slumbering Camille-rat. "What are you doing?" he snapped, reaching for her hands.

Quiverwing jerked away. "This is for dad," she hissed. "I said I would stop her, so she wouldn't hurt anyone else ever again."

"You do that, and you're just as bad as her."

"No, that's not true!"

"Darkwing Duck doesn't kill!" Darkwarrior exclaimed. "Not in the show, not your dad. Hell, he can't even kill fictional game characters. Do you think--do you think this is what he'd--"

"I'm tired of being told that!" Quiverwing yelled. "I could have taken out Taurus, but Darkwing--dad--told me to hide. And... And I did."

"And now Taurus is spending a lifetime in prison!"

"He could get out!" Quiverwing snapped. "He did it before! It's 'cause he's in the mob, and super rich and powerful."

"Doing something like--like this--killing a person, when you're too angry and bitter to think things through," Darkwarrior pleaded. He felt sick all the sudden, the memories of that night replaying in his mind. "I told you this before--you'll only end up regretting it; it'll destroy you! Your life, everything!"

"I don't care!" Quiverwing screamed, tears wetting her mask.

"You do care, or else you would have shot her by now!" Darkwarrior argued, then made sure he was in her line of fire. "I dunno how much your fathers told you about what happened to me, but... I was in a situation like this, too. Not nearly as painful or... or even valid like yours, I can admit that now, but... They talked me down too." He raised his hands weakly.

"She almost killed dad," Quiverwing said, fierce gaze meeting Darkwarrior's, "I can never forgive her."

Darkwarrior trembled, going cold. "... No, I know," he croaked, "but you can't kill her. Please." He slowly reached a hand out for the arrow. "I've lost... everything, y'know. But I... I don't know what I'd do if I lost you, too, Gosalyn." He took a gulp of air, swallowing down his dry throat. "I think I'd... lose my mind. Do something incredibly stupid. I might even kill people, too. I'd tell myself it's justified, I was only doin' good. Is that something you'd want? Would you tell me to go ahead, do all these awful things, just because I was hurting and angry?"

Gosalyn lowered her bow, arrow relaxing. "You..."

"You wouldn't," Darkwarrior sighed, "you'd tell me that was wrong. Your dad, your pops, they'd tell you the same. You don't wanna lose them; you will, if you do this, you'd just--"

"You called me Gosalyn."

Darkwarrior blinked his wide eyes. "I meant Quiv--"

"You never call me Gosalyn," Quiverwing mumbled.

Darkwarrior cursed. "That was-- crap, wait, lemme try again. Gooflin? No, uh-- Godzilla!" He snapped his fingers, big hopeful smile on his beak.

Quiverwing couldn't help it; she laughed. She dropped the bow and arrow and hugged Darkwarrior. "It's Gosalyn," she whimpered.

Darkwarrior sighed, relieved. "I was close," he said, holding her tight.

---

Five minutes later, Camille grew back to her regular size and form, but remained unconscious. Quiverwing and Darkwarrior used the grappling rope to securely tie her up. They picked and cleaned up any signs of their presence--arrows, familiar weapons, tattered pieces of Darkwarrior's cape.

Quiverwing found a burner phone among Camille's supplies. Darkwarrior covered the receiver with his cape, spoke in a deep voice, telling the police "good civilians" found the thief Camille Chameleon and the money plates she stole at the old Oily Lou's Repair Shop in Southern Shore. He hung up before they could ask questions.

Jim and Quiverwing hid out on the top floor in the building next door. They waited until the cops showed up, carrying a groggy Camille into a police car. Added cuffs for good measure. They taped up the warehouse, stationing three officers to guard the area until forensics arrived.

Quiverwing and Darkwarrior left without being spotted, making their way back to the motorcycle. "Keen gear!" Gosalyn gasped, running a hand down the bike. "Where'd you get this?"

Darkwarrior sniffed, helping Quiverwing on the seat. "I stole it," he said, and cut off her questions putting a helmet on her head.

---

Darkwarrior knew he should return the bike, but... It felt so nice, driving a motorcycle through St. Canard, under all her twinkling lights and neon signs. It felt so nice, wearing his semi-Darkwing Duck costume. It felt so nice, the way Quiverwing whooped and cheered, clinging to his back. Darkwarrior deliberately took a long route back home, soaking in the cool wind blowing in his face, cape whipping over Quiverwing's head like a blanket. She'd fallen asleep, still holding onto Darkwarrior.

It was morning when Darkwarrior arrived at an old sewage pipe, long dried up and out of use. It'd been cut off with metal fencing and a NO TRESPASSING sign. Darkwarrior yanked the fencing loose, peeled it back. He carefully sat Quiverwing on the ground; she was too exhausted, and curled up on the dirt. Darkwarrior pushed the motorcycle inside the pipe. The pipe went sixty feet, its other end sealed with fencing and debris from storms. This would work for now, although... Darkwarrior didn't know why he was keeping the bike.

Ah, well.

Darkwarrior parked the bike and walked back outside. They were down a dirt path, a large canal separating the abandoned sewage plant from the residential areas. Occasionally people would use the road, inaccessible to vehicles, for jogging or a casual stroll. Kids could probably be a problem, but Darkwarrior had very little options. He jammed the fencing back into place.

Jim undressed, back in his civilian clothes. He woke Gosalyn just long enough to help her out of Quiverwing costume. Everything packed up and with a mile from the house, Jim hoisted the slumbering kid on his back and headed home.

---

Twelve missed calls, all from Launchpad.

Nobody was home when Jim and Gosalyn returned. Jim listened to the messages--all updates on Drake's condition, every one positive and good, although he really wished Jim would "wake up" and answer the phone. The last came twenty minutes ago--Launchpad was heading home, taking the bus.

Jim tucked Gosalyn into bed first; he cleaned a few scratches on her arms and face, wiping away any dirt or dust. Gosalyn admitted to leaving her bike locked up behind some bushes at the nearest bus stop. If either of her parents asked where it was, Jim could always blame Tank before fetching it himself while on a walk.

He hid the bag of weapons and costumes in his closet. Ravenous, Jim raided the fridge, eating cold leftovers, a tub of Greek yogurt, a block of cheese, and three tall glasses of milk. The DEM wouldn't wear off for a few more hours, and while Launchpad was not the most keenest of people, Jim kept his cane nearby.

The front door creaked open. Jim wiped the milk mustache from his beak, leaning against his cane as he limped into the living room. Launchpad shyly poked his head inside. "Is she... asleep?" he whispered. "Did she go to school?"

"She's asleep," Jim whispered, "she needed a day off from all the stress."

Launchpad sighed, stepping inside. He held a gift basket of chocolate bars and candy. "That's good," he said, tiredly throwing the basket on the sofa. "You musta been sleepin', but did you get my calls?"

Jim nodded, the two moving into the dining room. "I took a little extra of my usual meds," he lied. "But I listened to the messages. Kid's awake, gonna pull through, staying over night for observation."

Launchpad nodded, relieved. "He wants to see Gos, but... He says it's best just to stick to phone calls until he comes home. DW thinks it'll just upset her more, seeing him like... that, at the hospital. And Doctor Bellum."

Jim smirked. "Well," he said, "I have a feeling she's gonna be out for a while."

"That's okay; let her stay in bed all day if she wants. But, um... Where's the car?"

"..."

---

Gosalyn woke later that afternoon. She dove in Launchpad's arms once she got downstairs. He'd failed to notice that she was in a much better mood than yesterday. Still a bit down, still upset, but her attitude had greatly approved. Maybe he did notice, and didn't want to question or possibly ruin it.

Gosalyn did speak with Drake for a while on the phone, putting her father at ease.

Herb gave Launchpad a ride to pick up both the car and Gosalyn's bike. "We were racing," Jim coughed, "she got a flat tire, I think, and the engine was... bad. And so we... just. Met up and... walked home."

Launchpad didn't question Jim; rather, he was amused. "Did she win, though?"

"... Yes."

"All that matters! But you're still a winner in my book, Jim."

"Okay."

The three went out for pizza (with Drake's permission) when Launchpad returned with the somehow-still-functioning-but-just-barely car, bike in the trunk. They came home an hour and a half later and watched more episodes of Darkwing Duck. Gosalyn stopped writing notes to look up at Jim and smile.

Jim smiled back.

Everyone went to bed early, sleeping soundly through the night. Even Gosalyn.

---

Launchpad called Gosalyn's teacher the next morning, saying she'd be absent due to dysen--Jim jabbed him in the hip--a stomach bug. Before he left to pick up Drake, he kissed Gosalyn, and without even realizing it, kissed Jim, too. Jim stood there for at least two minutes, petrified and attempting to process what just happened. Gosalyn carefully guided him to a recliner to sit.

Gosalyn sat anxiously at the table, eating a jumbo chocolate bar in one hand, and giant swirl lollipop in the other. Eyes never leaving the door. Jim was flipping through the list of jobs Tarry had given him. He had to re-read the first page five times, he couldn't focus.

"We're home!" Launchpad shouted from outside. The door flew open, and Launchpad cheerfully pushed Drake inside, sitting in a wheelchair and wearing his hospital robes and Launchpad's coat.

"Dad!" Gosalyn screamed, dropping her candy. Drake opened his arms and she jumped into his lap, hugging him around the neck.

Drake nuzzled against the top of her head. "Hey, you," he chuckled. He rubbed Gosalyn back, wiping the two tears from her eyes. "I'm so sorry for scaring you, Gos. But LP and Jim told me you were very brave." He smiled tiredly, brushing back her loose hair. "I'm proud of you."

Gosalyn tittered. "Y-Yeah. Brave." She looked at Jim, smiling.

Jim nodded and stood up; he walked over to the family, flicking Drake between the eyes. "Load up on antivenom next time, ya knob."

---

Gosalyn spent the day with Drake.

They laid in bed, talking about whatever. Gosalyn read the chapter from the book she'd been assigned aloud. Drake helped her with homework. They colored and drew. Drake put on a shadow puppet show for her. Then they napped for a few hours, until the sun set.

Gosalyn brought Drake a bowl of soup, bread, and glass of milk in bed. She ate her dinner with him, and talked about the play palace at the pizza place Launchpad, Jim, and her went to yesterday. Launchpad came to eat with them just as they finished up, but he quickly joined the conversation, the family happy and content again.

Jim stared up the stairs, frowning. He headed to his room and stayed there.

Chapter Text

Three weeks passed, and Gosalyn and Jim never spoke about their night out crime fighting. Drake, fit and healthy again, went right back to work with Launchpad. Same shit, different day.

"Here," Jim said, slapping a sandwich together. He dropped it in a ziplocked bag, handing it to Gosalyn.

Drake intercepted first, taking the sandwich. "What did you put in it?" he asked, eyes narrowed.

"It's your bland peanut butter and your tasteless jam on whole boring wheat bread," Jim spat, snatching the bag back. Drake nodded approvingly, collecting the rest of the dishes from breakfast. Jim leaned down to Gosalyn, whispered, "It's peanut butter from my stash with bananas and chocolate spread."

Gosalyn's eyes sparkled. She cleared her throat. "Oh boy, I sure will not like this very healthy sandwich!" she sighed dramatically, stuffing it in her lunch box. She hugged Jim then went to the door, Launchpad waiting.

Jim and Drake waved her goodbye. As Jim went back to his room, Drake said, "I got to speak with the woman who poisoned me. Her name is Camille Chameleon."

A shiver ran down Jim's spine. "... Wow, that sounds original."

"She told me she couldn't remember much of what happened, due to the strong drugs her attackers shot her up with, but she said there were two people. One short, and one who looked a bit like me," Drake explained.

Jim chuckled. "Sounds like you got some super dedicated followers."

"She also mentioned the smaller one using arrows."

Jim tensed up, ready for the killing blow.

"Which makes me think," Drake said, standing straight, "I should probably resume archery training."

Jim's heart almost stopped completely. "O-Oh? Well... Maybe another time. My hip's been k-kinda wonky lately, y'see. Haven't been able to move around normally or quickly or agile or fast or anything requiring exercise of... sorts."

"You should call Otus, maybe he can adjust the Medicina," Drake suggested, concerned.

"Maybe, y-yeah. Maybe."

"Is something wrong, Jim?" Drake pressed. "Are you really in that much pain? You're sweating a little."

"Nope!" Jim laughed, running to his room. He stopped, gave a loud "ou," then hobbled the rest of the way.

"You tell me if you need anything, okay?" Drake said. "I just want to help..."

---

It'd been a close one, but since the two new masked heroes or civilians hadn't shown up again after the fight with Camille, Drake let the whole thing go. Jim felt a weight lift off his shoulders. Ever since Drake brought up his and Gosalyn's crime fighting escapade, sleep had been fitful.

Tonight he'd be able to sleep just fine. With everything cleared up--

Jim felt the tremor of the Thunderquack leave the bunker. Not even a minute later, Gosalyn opened the door and stepped inside.

"I heard on dad's radio there's a purse snatcher on the loose downtown," Gosalyn said.

Jim sat up. "So? He can--"

"He said he's patrolling the west side tonight, because some lady named Splatter has been robbing museums."

Jim's eyes widened. "On the complete opposite end of St. Canard."

Gosalyn grinned. "Yup."

Jim twitched. "Look, that night... It was..." He averted his gaze.

"I proved I could fight! I was barely scratched! Not even dad or pops noticed the ones on my arms and face!" Gosalyn pleaded. "I wanna beat up bad guys. I wanna be like dad and pops, like a hero. I wanna be... Quiverwing Quack."

Jim scratched his head. He should say no. Should lock her up in the spare closet--no windows to escape out of in there. Should maybe even radio Darkwing and Launchpad about their daughter's intentions.

But.

Jim felt the spark from that night return. The following weeks he'd been dour, irritable. He didn't know why, but he felt good now, and Gosalyn was indeed pretty damn competent as a sidekick. Besides, they were just going after a purse snatcher.

"Whatta say, Uncle Jim?" Gosalyn asked, arms akimbo.

Jim slowly grinned, a manic glimmer in his eyes. He threw off his blanket, stood up. "Let's get dangerous."

"Awri--"

"But not too dangerous. You're not gonna try killing anyone, got it?"

"Okay!"

---

Avoiding the cameras in the front and back of the house, Gosalyn and Jim snuck out through the garage window, crossed into the Muddlefoots' yard and into the street.

As exhilarated as Jim was wearing the cape again, and even working alongside Gosalyn, there was that part of him--something, maybe logic--advising against taking Gosalyn. And going out himself.

But it was fine.

Numerous heroes in the past had kid sidekicks--even if 85% of them were fictional. Scrooge took his four ankle-biters with him everywhere, and he did way more dangerous things. Although Scrooge had told Donald and Della he was taking them beforehand... if Donald and Della didn't come along, too. Then there was the fact he had more equipment, more neat toys, more means of protect--

No, no, Jim was sure it would be fine.

It would be fine. It was fine.

However, they'd need to establish a few rules as they walked to the motorbike's hiding place.

"Rule number one: always listen to me and do as I say," Jim said firmly. "No acting out on your own. It was sheer dumb luck we got out of that scrape with Camille--she hadn't been in the business for long, and it was two against one."

"Yeah, but she also turned into a duck-dragon," Gosalyn scoffed.

"Well, I almost got eaten."

"I saved you, didn't I?"

"Okay! Rule number two: if anything happens to me, you bail, no, I'm not budging on this one. If I get caught for whatever reason, scram. Go alert your dads or the police, whatever. Don't stick around and try being a hero... some more."

Gosalyn frowned. "But it's okay, 'cause you won't get caught, right?"

Drake sighed. "Rule number three: no lethal shots. Rule number four: keep to the shadows, show yourself as little as possible, don't go throwing out your name. We need to keep a low profile, or those nitwits of yours will get suspicious. You can call me D, and I'll call you Q if need be, but to everyone else we're just 'concerned citizens' wanting to 'help St. Canard's heroes.' Avoid even using our other-other monikers if possible."

"But, I... No. You're right."

"Rule number five: if the cops are involved when we get there, we stay outta their business. Not many officers like Darkwing Duck as is; who knows if one of 'em might try and shoot at us."

"Eesh. Okay. Got it."

"The most important rule is rule number one. What is rule number one?"

Gosalyn moaned. "Listen to and do everything you say, I got it."

"Lastly, if you're ever questioned by your dads or anyone else, remember this system, and choose which fits best." Jim held up a fist. "Be firm. Don't crumble, don't give in, say as little as possible without being too vague." He held up two fingers. "Cut out any unnecessary details. If they ask what you were doing out at night, don't say, 'I went for a walk around the block with Honker.' They might question Honker. Just say 'I went for a walk around the block.' Add whatever you want, but nothing that will incriminate you." He spread out his hand. "Lastly, flat out deny everything. Play dumb. Use the waterworks if you gotta--oh boohoo, my daddies are accusing me of being bad, I thought you loved and trusted me, wah wah, and so on."

Gosalyn winced. "That's a bit mean, though..."

"You wanna do this, you gotta stay firm in your convictions. People... People could get hurt." Jim looked away.

"But," Gosalyn murmured, "what if the bad guys capture me?"

Jim walked ahead of her. "That won't happen."

"But you don't kn--"

Jim stopped. He glanced over his shoulder at the girl. His eyes were... strange, and frightened Gosalyn a little. They almost looked... evil. "I won't let it happen," he growled, then continued onward.

---

"You kept the motorcycle?"

"Of course. It's faster, easier to navigate and move through smaller, cramped spaces."

"But... You stole it. Won't police be looking for it?"

"I changed the license plate."

"W-What? When?"

"I go on walks, you know. I also... pick things up here and there."

Gosalyn sighed, defeated. "Okay, okay."

Jim tossed her her costume. "Now, suit up."

---

Jim had gotten to know St. Canard very well in his time as Darkwing Duck. They filmed at a lot of local spots and areas. Since Darkwing used shadows and alleys and back roads to keep from being seen, Jim had to learn all their locations, and drove through them repeatedly for numerous episodes.

Whether the new Darkwing Duck knew about these routes or even used them, Darkwarrior and Quiverwing would be fine. Darkwing was clear across town; he might not even bother with something as trivial as a purse snatcher. Then again, Drake Mallard had a strong sense of justice; help everyone, big and small. If he and Launchpad should show up, Darkwarrior and Quiverwing would know beforehand, the same way Gosalyn knew where her fathers were going--tapped into their radios and frequency feed.

"Dad and pops were practice wrestling, and you got down with them to yell in their faces," Gosalyn had explained. "You guys didn't even see me when I did it."

"How did you find out about the bug?"

"I asked pops if there were ways or gadgets to tap into the radios. He said yes and showed me."

Jim rolled his eyes. Well, sometimes Launchpad's ignorance came in handy.

The last known location of the purse snatcher was outside a jewelry store. An employee was leaving for the night and locking up, when the thief came out of nowhere, shoved her over, snatched her purse, and took off. Going by previous purse snatching locations, the thief kept a tight radius, sticking near the neighborhood and only branching out of the perimeter on two of the six robberies.

This section of the town was less populated, but not run down. There were a few abandoned malls, yet not many places a thief could hide, if he didn't have a home to return to. The thief ran away on foot after every attack, but he still could have used an escape vehicle parked nearby.

Darkwarrior and Quiverwing narrowed down three possible locations: the alleys behind a fish market closed for the night, a shop in the dead mall closest to the attack, and the empty houses in the process of being torn down and renovated as a new mall. They could all be duds; the two could leave empty-handed, but at least they had time on their side. It was 9PM, and Darkwing Duck and Launchpad returned to base around 3AM--longer if they had a difficult or multiple cases on their hands. If the perp stuck close by as his pattern suggested, maybe they'd strike luck immediately.

They arrived at the location where the recent purse snatching had taken place. Police had already come and taken the woman in for questioning. Traffic died down in this area at night, so the two felt a little more comfortable studying the area in the open. Quiverwing checked for any tracks while Darkwarrior looked for other possible clues.

"Darkwarrior!"

Darkwarrior turned back to Quiverwing. She was at the end of the sidewalk, pointing down the street. "Someone recently ran through the puddles here. I think it might be the snatcher!"

Jim went to check. While most of the prints had dried up, there was enough to suggest a stride of someone short but athletic; they were fast, leaving mostly partials. The two looked ahead--there was a fork at the end of the road. One led further into the shopping district; the second eventually ended in a half-mile from the old mall.

"Ya think he went to the mall?" Quiverwing asked.

Darkwarrior frowned, stroking his chin. Quiverwing also frowned, stroking her chin. "He seems cautious, so he might not want to risk getting caught doing another nabbing. Since he steals from old, defenseless women, he's a coward, too. Less eye witnesses as well, unless he brought a change of clothes or hid the purse on his person somewhere."

Gosalyn giggle-snorted. "Purse person."

"If we go right, we risk getting exposed, too; most of the stores in that part of the district don't close until 10 or 11. There's people probably still out shopping."

"But he could disappear in the crowds!"

"Yes. We'd have better luck if we went left, to the mall. But that could also be a dead end."

"If we don't catch him, we can always try again another time," Quiverwing reassured. "Or we can cruise around and stop any other crimes in progress! We got a few hours, right?"

Darkwarrior took a deep breath. "Let's check the mall," he said, walking back for the bike. "We're pretty useless if he's ducked into one of the stores or crowds," he explained.

Quiverwing followed. "If he's at the mall, we can bust his butt fast," she snorted, "what kinda jerk steals from old-timers?" She tugged on Darkwarrior's red and black cape. "Better be careful, Uncle Jim. He might pickpocket you, too."

"Funny," Darkwarrior said, giving her ponytail a tug.

---

The ride to the old mall took ten minutes. On foot, it'd take maybe twenty or so. Fortunately, they'd taken the correct route--more recent and identical prints from running in puddles pointed them in the right direction.

Darkwarrior pulled the motorcycle nearby a bike rack between stores. "Maybe you should keep that on," he said, knocking on her helmet.

Gosalyn stuck out her tongue, removing the helmet. "Could get in the way of my aim, stupid," she said. "That's why I'm not sure I should wear a hat or not..."

"We'll think about that later."

Darkwarrior kept Quiverwing close behind him; his gas gun cocked, an arrow strung on her bow. They listened for any activity nearby as they moved past empty shops. Darkwarrior stopped, grabbing Quiverwing by the arm; he heard someone sneeze. They looked at one another, nodding.

The sound came from down between stores, toward the center of the outdoor mall. Darkwarrior continued leading. He flattened himself against the wall--the perp was there, sitting on a large, dry fountain, purse in his lap. He was muttering, face hidden behind a ski mask.

Darkwarrior raised a finger to Quiverwing. She nodded. When he pointed back, then gave a beckoning curl of his finger, she frowned, annoyed. Shoulders hanging low, she walked back a few feet.

Darkwarrior aimed his gas gun--fired. The thief must have heard something; he saw the gun as it went off, running away from the explosion of gas. "Shit!" Darkwarrior snarled. "We got a runner!"

Darkwarrior pursued, Quiverwing following. "Wait!" she said, picking up the purse. "He must've dropped this by accident."

"Leave it!"

"D..."

Darkwarrior reluctantly turned around. Quiverwing pulled a very expensive diamond necklace from the purse. "Is this... maybe important?" she asked.

"Yer damn right, little girl."

Darkwarrior backed up, gun pointed ahead. Quiverwing tucked the necklace and purse in her quiver, strung an arrow. The purple gas finally faded; four men in black (a tall stork, muscular dog, and two ducks), all armed with bats or knives, approached them. They threw the snatcher on the ground.

"I--It wasn't my choice!" the snatcher sobbed. "They ma--" Big Dog kicked him in the head, shutting him up.

"Moron here finally got the right buzzard," the leader spat, his lackeys chuckling. He held out a gloved hand. "Give us that nice and extremely expensive necklace, and we'll let you go with minimal damage. Deal?"

Darkwarrior growled. "We don't give into orders from criminal scum like you!"

The leader sighed and shrugged. He pointed his bat at the two. "Get 'em."

The three thugs came running at the heroes, bats and knives raised. Darkwarrior side-stepped, giving Quiverwing a clear shot to fire a Doctor Shocker in Stork's leg. He spat and screamed, seizing; Stork dropped his bat, then fell over twitching.

Darkwarrior clashed with Big Dog, blocking the bat with arms crossed over his face. He bent forward, dove into Big Dog's belly. Big Dog hacked out air but didn't fall; he grabbed Darkwarrior by the arm. Darkwarrior took out a knife, slashed his hand. Big Dog let go, and Darkwarrior fired the rest of the half-empty canister in his face.

Big Dog wheezed and stumbled around, swinging his bat mindlessly and blindly. Darkwarrior took a hard hit to his side, but jumped onto Big Dog's back, driving his elbow into the crown of his head.

Big Dog snorted and fell over, unconscious.

Quiverwing Quack backed away, keeping her distance from Ducky. She fired another arrow, but the duck twisted aside, dodging. She strung another, but Ducky jumped forward, sealing the space between them, bashing the bow and arrow from her hands. Ducky grabbed a handful of her hair, swinging his knee back to bury in her face.

Quiverwing snarled, took his arm; she pulled herself up, missing the blow. She kicked Ducky in the chest twice; he let her go, staggering away. Quiverwing ran for the fountain nearby, Ducky following. She climbed to the top and leaped off, striking Ducky with a roundhouse kick to the head.

Ducky hit the ground. His hands scrambled to grab her legs as she ran by. Quiverwing picked up her bow and arrow, strung and fired it in Ducky's shoulder. He squealed and tripped back into the fountain, hitting his head hard.

Quiverwing strung her last Doctor Shocker; whipped around, shot the recovered Stork in the groin. He screamed, twirling and jumping backwards, jolts of electricity numbing his legs. Quiverwing ran at him, kicking Stork in the shin and knocking him back down.

The leader stood there, flabbergasted, staring at the two heroes in disbelief.

"How about you put down your knife," Darkwarrior ordered, "and we take you to the cops--with minimal damage."

"Hell no!" the leader cried, turning tail and running.

Quiverwing fired an arrow, hitting his left ass cheek. He fell over with a pained howl. "Geez," she sneered, "they voted for the worst boss."

Darkwarrior cried out, a knife slicing the back of his leg, just barely missing his Achilles's tendon. He dropped to one knee; Quiverwing and Darkwarrior looked back.

The purse snatcher smirked, thin blades between each of his fingers. "Actually," he said, "I was hoping you'd take care of that dick for me. Now I'm the captain!"

The snatcher threw a blade at Darkwarrior, grazing the side of his arm. Quiverwing almost finished stringing a bow, but the snatcher was faster. He threw two knives at the girl. One sped by her head, cutting away locks of red hair. The second embedded itself in Darkwarrior's shoulder as he leaned over Quiverwing, shielding her.

The snatcher laughed, then choked as tear gas hit him in the face. He gagged, scampering backwards. Through the tears and gas, he could see Darkwarrior rising. He glared back at the thief, but his eyes--feral, teetering on insanity... The snatcher almost pissed his pants.

Darkwarrior pounced on top of the thief. The snatcher swung a knife, cutting the brim of his hat. Darkwarrior pressed a knee down on one arm, took the second by the wrist; he twisted the hand around until it snapped with a loud crunch. The snatcher wailed, dropping all his knives.

Darkwarrior kept his arms pinned with his knees, straddling his chest as he threw fist after fist in the snatcher's face, until blood painted his knuckles, splashed across his bill, in his crazed eyes. "You tried to take her," he snarled, punching and punching, "you tried to take her from me!"

"Dar--D! Stop it!" Gosalyn clung to one of Darkwarrior's arms, pulling. "Please!" she cried. "You're gonna kill him! Rule number three! No killing, remember?"

Jim wasn't going to lose. Not again. Not another thing taken from--

"You're scaring me! Please!" Quiverwing yelled, digging her fingers into his arm.

Darkwarrior's fist stopped just short of the unconscious snatcher's mangled face. He looked at Quiverwing, that red madness still in his eyes. For one moment, he forgot who she was, and then he blinked, the fog parting. "Go--Quiver--" He reached out, hugging her. She sobbed into his jacket. "I--I'm sorry, I didn't--I just got--afraid, you... you were..."

"Stop it," Quiverwing sniffed, "I wanna... wanna go home."

Darkwarrior sat back. He'd also forgotten one very important thing: for all her skills and bravery, Gosalyn was still a nine year old child. "Oh, Gos..." he whispered, brushing away the loose, cut hair. No wound, no scratch. "I'm... Okay. Okay, let's go home."

Darkwarrior picked Quiverwing up, letting her cry in his shoulder. He looked over the unconscious men; he'd call the police when they were a safe distance away, hide purse and necklace in the trash for them to find. It didn't matter if the cops got to them before they woke up or not--Gosalyn needed to go home.

---

The two said nothing on the bike ride back. They walked in silence to the house, weapons and costumes in their bags.

Jim checked the clock on the wall when they climbed inside the garage window--nearly midnight. Darkwing and Launchpad wouldn't be home for a while yet. Gosalyn went to her room, shutting the door. As always, Jim wasn't sure if he should go talk to her, or give her space.

Jim sighed. He went to the bathroom; there was still blood on his face, more staining the bandage on his leg. Also, there was a knife in his back. He knew to leave it in, or else risk bleeding out. There wasn't any pain, however, and he didn't go into shock. Maybe he'd feel everything once the DEM wore off.

Jim made a phone call. "Otus," he said, and before the agent could reply, "I got a knife lodged in my back. Can you get here within, ah, twenty minutes at the latest? Thanks." He hung up.

Jim sat in his room, cleaning up his leg wound. Not deep enough for stitches, but he had to be careful walking with it. Again, very easy to pull off with his condition. He left Gosalyn alone; she didn't have any serious wounds, and he took care of them before they left the mall with the first aid kit.

Otus arrived eighteen minutes later, surgical kit in hand, angry wide eyes taking up his entire face. Jim turned around, showing him the knife.

"What did you do?"

"I was cooking, and I tripped and fell on a kitchen knife."

"They use switchblades for cooking now?"

"It's a weird household, as you know."

Otus sighed. "Deary me."

---

There was no need significant blood loss, at least. Otus disinfected and stitched up the wound, cleaned off the blood. "You'll want to take an extra painkiller until that heals up," the owl said, closing his kit.

"The DEM... does it dull all my pain receptors?"

"Of course. But your brain will play catch up once it wears off. Hence two painkillers, not one, an hour before you last took your dose."

Jim nodded. "All right."

"Should your roommates know about your little... accident?"

"I'd rather not upset them," Jim answered, grin twitching. "So I'm not gonna tell them. You shouldn't either."

Otus nodded. Not that he cared either way. Jim's shenanigans were not his problem. He left a half hour later.

---

Jim popped two painkillers, then went to wash his bloodied clothes in the shower. It didn't help much, leaving just an unnecessary mess. He threw them in the washer--plenty of time still. Jim ate another block of cheese, a cup of noodles, and salad from last night's dinner.

Jim stared at the half eaten banana in his hand.

---

Jim heard Gosalyn moving around earlier, taking a shower. That was an hour ago; it'd been quiet since. Jim knocked on her door, but it opened. She must have known he'd come up eventually. Jim walked inside; Gosalyn was lying in bed, facing the wall.

"Kid," Jim whispered, "you awake?"

Gosalyn rolled over, sighing. "I don't wanna have nightmares," she mumbled.

Jim winced. "Well... I did make you some tea." He would have drank it if she refused. "Oh, and." He held out a saucer with a single peanut butter, banana, and chocolate sandwich. "Midnight snack."

"We're not allowed midnight snacks here..."

"Yeah, well, we've broken bigger rules before."

Gosalyn frowned, hugging her Darkwing Duck plush. Jim waited just one more minute before turning to leave.

"I don't wanna be alone."

Jim relaxed. He moved back to the bed as Gosalyn sat up. She took the sandwich and tea as he sat beside her. Gosalyn took a tiny bite; her stomach rumbled, and she wolfed the rest down.

"Don't choke," Jim said.

Gosalyn chased the food down with a chug of the lukewarm tea. "Mm..." She licked her bill, disappointed. "I'm... still hungry..."

Jim nodded. "Figures."

---

The two sat the table with bowls of macaroni, assorted fruits, and pudding cups.

"... I'm sorry for... losing control back there," Jim said, picking idly at his grapes. "That was... I thought I was... better..."

Gosalyn nibbled on a strawberry. "You were... really scary."

"Yeah."

"You shouldn't do that when we go out again."

Jim thought he wouldn't, not after the first time screwed him over. Then he caught her last word-- "Again?"

Gosalyn nodded calmly, shoveling a spoonful of macaroni and pudding in her mouth.

"After all that, you..."

"'Part of getting back up,'" Gosalyn quoted, "'is accepting you fell down in the first place.'"

Jim swallowed audibly. "... Right."

"If you think you're gonna fall again, Uncle Jim," Gosalyn said, her face covered in cheese and chocolate, "just lean on me. I'm strong. I can hold you up, okay? You promise?"

Jim blinked. He laughed, light and airy. "Of course," he sniffed, "I promise."

---

By the end of February, Quiverwing Quack and Darkwarrior had gone out ten times.

There was no mention of them in the news. Drake and Launchpad never brought anything up. Since that disastrous night fighting the snatcher and his teammates, the two had yet to face anything near as frightening--or as bonkers as Camille.

On their third night out, Darkwarrior and Quiverwing went the opposite direction, with Darkwing Duck handling business in the nearby area. They took a long ride up to west St. Canard. It was a typical patrol; just looking for any crimes in progress, issues they could take care of. No set mission. There was a Valentine's Parade wrapping up when the two arrived, the last of the floats leaving the road, crowds thinning out. Darkwarrior drove down the same path as the parade, riding through piles of glitter and confetti, blowing them up in the air and around the two. Quiverwing laughed, hair and shoulders completely covered in flecks of shiny pink and red hearts.

"You match better with the red," Quiverwing said, taking off Darkwarrior's hat, shaking out the glitter.

"Never cared for this holiday," Darkwarrior said. He suddenly sped up, Gosalyn clinging to his cape. He reached up just in time to grab a large heart balloon from floating away. "You want this?" he asked, slowing back down.

Gosalyn laughed. "Nah... No, wait! I got an idea."

The two parked the bike on the side of the road, a mile from the ocean. Originally empty fields, houses for more upper-class folk were in the middle of construction. With no one around, and a chunk of an open (formerly potato) field left untouched, Darkwarrior ran a few yards out, tying the balloon to a rock. He rejoined Quiverwing by the roadside. They waited until the coast was clear, no cars coming or going, and Quiverwing fired an arrow at the balloon. The first two arrows missed, with the second just landing short of hitting the bottom. "To the greedy jerks bleeding society with their commercial consumerism!" she declared, firing. The fourth arrow landed, hitting the heart and popping it.

Quiverwing cheered, Darkwarrior clapping for her. They fetched the arrows and returned to the bike. "You think dad and pops'll like the flowers I got them?" she asked.

"I think they're gonna be shocked when they come home and find out you haven't devoured the chocolates they gave you, and all the candy from class," Darkwarrior snorted. "By the way... I took all the tootsie rolls."

"What!"

On the way home, Darkwarrior and Gosalyn thwarted a couple robbing a chocolate shop. It was after closing hours; no hostages to take, not many people around to watch. It turned out the couple, calling themselves the Bloody Valentines, had a habit of robbing chocolate or sweet shops every Valentine's Day in separate parts of St. Canard or Duckburg. They'd managed to pull off their sticky sweet heists for four years now.

Tonight would be their last.

However, they weren't to be underestimated--the wife used specialized, sharpened Valentine cards like throwing knives as her main weapon. The husband fought with a vine-like whip bound up in fake pink, red, and white roses.

Gosalyn was cut on her cheek, and lashed on her arm; Darkwarrior took a flogging to his chest, and lost a number of cheek feathers to the wife's weaponized cards. The store was completely trashed, but Darkwarrior and Quiverwing managed to finally disarm the villains. As a last ditch attempt to escape, they threw large candy hearts which exploded in colorful clouds of chalk.

Darkwarrior pinned the husband down just as he got to the doors. Quiverwing slid out from behind fallen shelves of chocolate heart boxes, firing a Doctor Shocker in the wife's leg.

Darkwarrior bound the couple in ropes, plastic ties, and even the husband's whip. They gathered their things (and some goodies) and left the beaten couple to the police. Like before, they stuck in the general area to make sure the two were apprehended.

Nearby was a billboard advertising the parade with a duckling cherub, aiming his bow and arrow at the massive heart with the parade's name and location printed in big, white letters. Quiverwing gave Darkwarrior a pleading look, and he nodded--concentrating, Quiverwing shot a regular arrow up at the billboard from thirty feet away, successfully impaling Cupid’s butt.

"Nice," Quiverwing snickered.

---

Their fourth night out happened on the same day as D&D.

The group had started a new campaign. Drake was surprised when Jim said he'd play, and promised he wouldn't lash out if his character died this time. Jim and Gosalyn always had... interesting strategies for battles in the game. Drake admitted to feeling a little left out.

Quiverwing Quack and Darkwarrior had used the same moves fighting orcs to take down a group of Beagle Boys holding up a family on their way home.

"If only you were a real wizard," Quiverwing said, enjoying a greasy burger. She and Darkwarrior sat on a bench in an empty park, right in front of the lake. Darkwarrior was tossing bits and scraps of food at the ducks and swans. "Fighting with magic sounds a lot more fun."

"Magic's too easy," Darkwarrior snorted. A swan nipped at a duck's throat for a bit of food. Darkwarrior picked up a pebble and tossed it at the larger bird, sending it squawking and flapping across the lake.

"I dunno," Quiverwing said, shrugging. "I would make my arrows catch fire. Or make them bendy, so they can follow my target anywh--look!" She dropped her burger, standing and pointing at a mother goose and her six goslings floating over to check things out.

Quiverwing took scraps from Darkwarrior, cautiously walking up to the water. The goslings came right out, honking and chirping; they were used to being hand fed by strangers. The mother remained fairly subdued and docile, sticking nearby. Quiverwing held out her hand, and two goslings waddled out of the water to excitedly peck the food from her palm.

Quiverwing looked back at Darkwarrior, mouthing an excited, "Keen gear!"

Darkwarrior and Quiverwing went back to the bike once the goslings left with their mother. "We gotta come back here with more food!" Quiverwing insisted.

---

On their ninth night, a flash rainstorm suddenly hit St. Canard while Darkwarrior and Quiverwing were patrolling around the coastline. They parked under a pier to wait the storm out. Not one to sit and idle about, Quiverwing took off her boots and gloves, playing in the low tide water. It was cold, but she didn't care. Darkwarrior walked just on the edge of the waves, holding up his cape. He darted over to Quiverwing every once in a while to pick up an interesting shell or rock.

With the rain still too heavy and dangerous to drive in, Darkwarrior dried Quiverwing with his coat, letting her sit in his lap using his cape as a blanket. They didn't talk much, just listened and watched the raindrops hit the ocean.

After thirty minutes, the storm had settled enough for them to leave. The two still got wet, but they could safely move to another, warmer location: inside a humid greenhouse on an apartment rooftop. Not the greatest, but Quiverwing enjoyed checking out all the neat plants and flowers, picking a couple to stuff away with the shells from the beach.

The storm ended by the time they returned home.

Gosalyn put her trinkets in a jewelry box, but gave Jim the white and lilac striped scallop shell. "Thanks," he said, dropping it in the trash.

Gosalyn, in turn, knocked a pile of clean clothes and medicine bottles off his dresser.

Jim apologized after shaking her upside down by her ankles; he picked out the shell and put it away with the rest of his more important belongings. It was starting to feel less like they were out fighting crime, and more just... going out, having a little fun, but also dressing up as superheroes.

Jim didn't mind, however. Gosalyn had yet to say anything, either.

---

Darkwarrior and Quiverwing left early for their tenth night out.

They faced a group of thieves who stole and ransomed rich people's pets. The fight started a little clumsy after weeks of uneventful nights, but the two got their groove back quickly enough. No major injuries to Quiverwing working at a longer range, but Darkwarrior did take a number of hits. They overpowered the thieves and locked them up in a small empty kennel. Before they went to cleaning and calling the police, Quiverwing hopped inside a pen where kittens and puppies were being held. She laid on the floor, playing and petting the babies, letting them crawl all over her and lick her face.

Darkwarrior was drawn to two Doberman Pinschers. He pet and gave them treats nearby.

Unfortunately, Darkwarrior and Quiverwing couldn't stay long. As soon as police cars came driving down the street, the two retreated, calling it an early night. Jim needed to take care of his new bruises while Quiverwing suffered an allergy attack from one of the animals in the pen. Neither had any regrets.

---

Jim and Gosalyn usually only went out once a week. It depended on Darkwing and Launchpad's locations, their schedules. On some occasions, nothing happened, came up, or they simply weren't needed. While those nights always ended uneventful, the drives were fun and relaxing, and helped Gosalyn get to sleep quicker.

It was hard, having to sit and listen to Drake and Launchpad tell their crime fighting stories and accomplishments. Jim and Gosalyn wanted to go out and fight, and it seemed like Gosalyn wanted to spill everything, just so she could share her heroic tales, too.

Jim reminded Gosalyn to keep quiet. He also reminded her that she was suppose to finish all her homework before her parents went out on patrol, unlike last time, where she didn't and lied to them, you little shit.

So far, their secret identities and activities remained a secret. Otus didn't know any details, but he hadn't said anything to Drake or Launchpad about the knife incident. When Drake and Launchpad weren't out, they went downstairs to train, keep their skills freshly honed. They never stayed out past 2AM if they could help it. With nothing crazy or serious happening on their radars, they usually came home at midnight.

Drake asked Jim on some occasions to pick his archery training back up. He feared long lulls in between would ruin his already weak skills. Jim wasn't interested, said there were "better, more useful" forms of combat he could learn, and weapons to master.

What surprised Drake was Gosalyn not arguing with Jim; never remotely upset, never suggesting lessons, either. Drake thought she of all people would want to practice archery more. However, Gosalyn never missed any of her fathers' sparring sessions, watching, learning, keeping notes for practice later.

Jim put the specialized arrows back--he managed to salvage all but two of them. If they were in poor or flawed condition, a little polish and TLC made them look brand new. If Drake ever were to take them out and try to use them, he could blame time or SHUSH's incompetence when they failed to work.

The bow, however, Jim kept in his room. He exchanged it with one of the two bows Gosalyn received in her gift set. It may not have looked or felt like the most interesting or unique bow a secret organization had to offer, but it would pass. Especially when Drake probably didn't even know better.

---

Sometimes Darkwarrior and Quiverwing would train out in the real world and in their costumes. A lot easier than having to meddle with the footage downstairs.

Darkwarrior taught Quiverwing how to tie better knots, how to swing safely from one place to another from higher ground. They no longer had any specialized arrows, but regular store bought ones worked just as fine. Whatever arrows they could salvage they re-used and repaired. Jim took spare cash from Launchpad's wallet, sometimes Drake's, when they were napping, to buy more if need be.

They ran and jumped along rooftops of buildings built side by side, with only a few feet in between each. The view of Audubon Bridge was beautiful from here; they admired their surroundings, Darkwarrior reaching back to hold Quiverwing's hand, just in case she tripped. She tagged along, never complaining.

The view was so lovely, Darkwarrior and Quiverwing had made the area something of a look-out point, a place to let off steam and relax. They sat on the edge of the rooftops, enjoying midnight snacks of peanut butter, banana, and chocolate sandwiches and juice boxes. Sometimes they stayed to just bask in St. Canard's beauty, looking out for any criminal activity with binoculars.

On the inactive days, Quiverwing would nod off, and Darkwarrior would let her sleep against him, draping his arm and cape around her for warmth. He'd leave after a while longer, Quiverwing riding piggy-back as he hopped and climbed down from the buildings.

Jim told Tarry he was looking into the jobs she'd given him, but his hip was still a bit too sore. A little more time. He did keep the list, but he hadn't read it in almost two months.

Things were going so well, Jim didn't want to think about work or moving out or...

So he didn't think about any of it.

Chapter Text

Something had changed.

Drake first felt it around the middle of February. He couldn't quite pin down what had changed, but he couldn't deny feeling something was off. It all seemed to circle back around... to Gosalyn.

The first sign was Drake offering to sign her up for hockey lessons after school. Gosalyn refused, and when he asked her why, she shrugged and told him "hockey's boring." Launchpad's bad timing made things even more awkward when he jumped through the front door with a brand new hockey stick, net, and practice pucks.

Two weeks after that, Drake received a phone call from Gosalyn's teacher. There were days where she'd have a hard time staying awake in class, but not too often that the teacher felt it warranted discussions with Gosalyn's fathers. However, the teacher was especially concerned after today, finding Gosalyn napping in the library during recess. Drake confronted her, but either Gosalyn got defensive and made him feel bad, or simply say she had difficulties sleeping at night sometimes and didn't want to worry her dads or Jim.

Drake tried to remedy that with tea and lullabies, and it seemed to work... for a while.

Come to think of it, Jim also napped more frequently, too. It made sense, what with his heavy medications and all. On the bright side, Jim and Gosalyn had become the best of pals, which included a lot of mostly harmless teasing.

It all came to a head when Drake caught Gosalyn fighting with Tank. He wasn't surprised, since Tank was a bully and probably hit her first, but it was the way she took the boy down. A wrestling move and special headlock--the type of maneuvers Drake and Launchpad learned from Jim. She had picked them up, then, but Drake wasn't sure if this was a good or bad thing. It showed she could defend herself, yes, but maybe it was time she took a break from watching the sparring lessons.

Gosalyn was banished from the Muddlefoots' house for a month, and Drake had no choice but to ground her for a week.

Work had changed, too.

There were whispers in the air of two new vigilantes running around St. Canard, but they left very little evidence behind, too infrequent in sightings. They'd taken down small time offenders, and their testimonies were all the same: there was a kid, and there was Darkwing wearing a new suit. They called themselves "D" and "Q", a pair of "upstanding citizens just wanting to help."

Was this D a fanatic of Darkwing Duck's work? Who was the kid--was it even a kid, or just someone of short stature? Drake knew copy cats sometimes came and went, wanting to emulate their idol and help him fight the good fight. These mysterious masked heroes, however, picked their battles wisely with few and far in between. Assuming they brought down Camille, that'd been their most dangerous confrontation yet.

Recently, Drake went through weapon inventory. According to his list, some arrows were left unaccounted for. Even the "special bow" SHUSH had given him looked... odd. Drake wanted to brush it off as a miscalculation on his part--or the fact the missing arrows must've been disposed of after breaking during archery sessions. But no matter how many times he tried to convince himself it was nothing to fret about, that niggling voice kept prying.

Didn't one of the criminals say the girl, Q, used arrows? Yet... what did that have to do with him?

Drake decided to go over footage of the archery sessions; maybe find the missing/broken arrows there. After an hour and a half re-watching and forwarding through videos of the last couple weeks, Drake was about to give up when he noticed something strange with a recording dating only a few days ago. Usually he deleted old footage for more memory space and room once every month, reviewing the recordings when necessary.

It was of the bunker--seemingly empty, but on one frame it was 8:02, only to jump to 8:40 in the next. That was a... fairly significant discrepancy. Maybe a glitch, but Drake managed to find two more examples before the cut off delete date.

Times matched up, give or take a few minutes. Maybe he just needed to put in new cameras. But if the footage had been tampered with... who or what was doing it? And were they behind the possible theft of arrows, even a few other supplies that he swore he had more stock of. Launchpad wouldn't do this--couldn't do this. That left Jim, because Gosalyn couldn't possibly pull off something so intricate and complicated.

By herself.

Jim surely knew the passcode to the bunker. He had been sitting in the bunker that one night, asking Drake for... fabric? Although he said it was due to the elevator being left open, Launchpad, for all his clumsiness and forgetfulness, had never made that mistake before, or after. Jim also got downstairs the night they brought Gosalyn to the base. Given Darkwing's state of mind and the chaos going on at the time, he hadn't really questioned it. Jim did stay with Gosalyn in the bunker afterward, but he didn't need a passcode to go back upstairs.

Jim had access to the surveillance equipment for at least two hours, however. Had he been fiddling around out of boredom? Curiosity? This was before Drake had installed the new cameras in the main room and outside the house. Could these glitches be something recent? Or had he simply not noticed them from earlier recordings?

Why manipulate the camera feeds? On that note, why steal equipment? Why arrows--

The pieces all came together. Drake had his suspicions, but he refused to acknowledge and accept them, even when they grew stronger the more time passed. It would force Drake to admit that his sweet, trustworthy daughter and Jim, who'd come so far in his recovery, might actually be going behind his and Launchpad's backs, and...

Jim's words echoed loud and deafening in his head.

"She's a natural... Maybe one day she'll follow in her hero's footsteps."

And didn't Jim ask if he had an old Darkwing suit he didn't want or use anymore Drake could give him?

Drake felt sick. No, he refused--Gosalyn was a good girl, and Jim wouldn't do something so incredibly outrageous.

... Again?

The following days, Drake watched Gosalyn and Jim closely. He still felt queasy and tired, but he couldn't sleep, and no medicine could settle his nerves.

"Hey, dad," Gosalyn said, stirring Drake from his daze at the table, "you okay?"

Drake chuckled, rubbing his bloodshot eyes. "Oh, I'm fine, Gos."

"You look super tired," Gosalyn said, frowning. "You got bags under your eyes. You almost look like Uncle Jim."

"I'll allow that as a compliment," Jim snorted.

Drake gave Jim a sharp look, enough to unsettle the older duck and make him look away.

"Is it 'cause you're sick?" Gosalyn asked. She placed her hands on Drake's arm and--wait, when did she get those band-aids on her two fingers? "Do you needa go to the doctor?"

"No," Drake said, pulling his arm away much too fast, startling his daughter. "I'm--I'm sorry. I think it's just a bug going around. I'll be over it soon."

"So long as it doesn't get in the way of work, you should be good," Jim said offhandedly.

Drake's eye twitched. "Are you worried I'll miss work? That I... I might skip patrols for a few nights?" he asked, mouth dry. "W-Why would that upset you?"

Jim cocked a brow. "It... doesn't? I'm just say--"

"What are you saying?" Drake interjected.

"Nothing now, if you're gonna be a little--"

"Don't fight!" Gosalyn said, standing on her chair and holding out her arms. "Please?"

Drake fidgeted in his seat. "Gosalyn," he said, then turned his head, fixing the girl with an intense stare. She was already unsettled by the fact he called her by her full name. "What happened to your fingers?" He nodded at her bandaged hand.

Gosalyn bit her tongue. "I cut them when I fell from the jungle gym at school," she mumbled.

"Really? May I see?"

"They're fine, kid--"

"Oh, you saw them, Jim?" Drake's grin twitched. "Did you happen to put the band-aids on her?"

Jim coughed. "No. She showed me the other day."

"Why couldn't you show me, Gosalyn?"

"It's... not a big deal, dad. I'm--"

"You know, I don't like getting mad," Drake inhaled, "but lately, Gosalyn... You've been very tired a lot, nodding off or napping in school. You say it's because you can't get to sleep at night, but you've been doing just fine most days, going to bed at 8 with no problem."

"W-Well, yeah," Gosalyn grumbled, "it's not every night. School's boring, too, s'not my fault."

"And don't think I haven't noticed those weird scratches or bruises."

Gosalyn swallowed. "I got them fighting Tank. And playing at school. I've been practicing hockey with--"

"I thought you said hockey was 'boring'?" Drake pressed.

"N... No, I'm... I started playing again, and I remembered I really like it." Gosalyn sat upright. "C-Can I still sign up for hockey practice? Are they still--"

"Why are you drilling the kid, huh?" Jim spat, annoyed. "You're acting like she's causing problems or getting into trouble. She kicked that little snot-nosed punk's ass, but he was askin' for it."

"H-He hit me first, remember?" Gosalyn said quickly.

Jim frowned. "Yeah, that too."

"Jim, have you been doubling up on your medication? Did you raise the dosage on your DEM?" Drake asked.

Jim blanched. "Now you're interrogatin' me?" he snarled. "In case you haven't noticed, we're not criminals, and you're not Darkwing Duck right now. How about you ease off?"

Drake stood, hands hitting the table. He looked like he was about to yell, but his expression just turned sad. "... Tell me the truth," he whispered, "just... please. Tell me the truth. I won't be angry."

Jim and Gosalyn glanced at one another. "What're you talking about?" Jim scoffed.

"It's not too late. Jim. Gos..." Drake looked down at his daughter. Gosalyn couldn't meet his eyes, as if she were ashamed. "Tell me, please."

Jim shoved his food away, standing. "Maybe work's got you stressed out," he said, walking up to Drake. Drake swallowed, stepping back. "But don't you know it's wrong to take your frustrations out on your family? Especially your kid?" He moved Drake up against the wall, bill to bill. "You can sling mud at me all you want, but don't you dare yell at or accuse Gosalyn again with your paranoid bullshit. Got it?"

Drake searched Jim's eyes; just a little, but it was there. That spark of madness he'd seen in the studio. "... I'm not yelling, Jim," he said calmly, placing his hands on Jim's shoulders. "She's my daughter, I'm just con--"

Jim snarled, instantly twisting Drake's arm behind his back. Gosalyn gasped. Before Jim could pin Drake down, he expertly slipped out of his grip, smacked the back of his head against Jim's beak. Jim cursed.

Drake turned to face Jim, but didn't attack. "That was completely inappropriate, Jim," Drake snapped.

"You talking down to your daughter isn't?" Jim barked.

"Stop! Stop!" Gosalyn yelled, running between them. "Stop it, stop it! Please!"

Drake looked horrified; he didn't mean to scare her. Jim, on the other hand, only looked more furious. "Gos, I'm... I'm sorry," Drake apologized. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad. I'm just worried about you." He bent forward to hug Gosalyn, then Jim took her arm and pulled her to his side.

Drake's eyes widened. "... Jim?"

Jim was breathing heavily, head throbbing.

"Uncle Jim," Gosalyn whispered, squeezing his hand, "dad wasn't gonna hurt me."

"I would never hurt my daughter!" Drake said, offended and disgusted.

Jim wanted to yell and scream, punch Drake in his face, but the beginning of a migraine made it hard for him to even stay upright. "Just... leave her alone, okay?" Jim spat, reluctantly letting Gosalyn go. He shoved past Drake into his room, throwing the door shut.

Drake was flabbergasted. "What... is... going on?" he whispered, running a hand through his head feathers. "Something--something isn't right." He looked to Gosalyn, hopeful, eyes glazed. "Please tell me what's happening, Gos. I know something's wrong; I won't yell at you, I swear. I just want to help."

Gosalyn teared up, teeth clenched. "Nothing!" she yelped. "Nothing's wrong!" She ran past Drake, fleeing to her bedroom.

Drake felt his heart thrash in his chest. It was so dizzying, he dropped to his knees.

"Hey, guys!" Launchpad exclaimed, opening the front door, bag in hand. "I totally did not accidentally bring home lunch meant for my coworkers only to realize my mistake half way home again! It's BB--DW?"

Drake sat back on the ground, lost. Launchpad dropped the bag, falling to his knee beside Drake. He took his shoulders, gave him a little shake. "DW?" he asked, nervous. "Drake? Are you--"

Drake clasped a hand over Launchpad's. He finally looked at him. "... I think... something terrible is going on," he swallowed. "And I think it might... involve Gosalyn... and Jim."

---

With their cover almost blown, Jim and Gosalyn stayed in for the rest of the week. Drake was still very apprehensive and unsettled, and even Launchpad was starting to get edgy, but they didn't say anything. Not after the incident at lunch.

In fact, Gosalyn had been avoiding her fathers and Jim. Drake tried to talk to her, but she ignored him, hiding away in her room, her music, video games, spending hours with Honker at the nearby playground, neutral territory for the two families.

Darkwing and Launchpad left early that night at 7PM. The tremor settled, and Jim gestured Gosalyn to follow him to his room. She obliged.

"Just in case your dads decided to tap the house," Jim grumbled, shutting and locking the door. "They haven't gotten to my room, though."

"How... how do you know?"

"I already tapped my room," Jim said, pointing at a poster of Darkwing Duck on the wall. She looked closer--one of Darkwing's eyes was a camera lens.

"Whoa..."

"Anyway, get anything on the radio?"

Gosalyn shook her head. "I haven't checked..."

"Right. They just left."

"... Should we, though?"

Jim arched a brow. "If we just stop going out," he said, "it'll only make us appear more suspicious. Your dad'll think he got to us--the absence of Quiverwing Quack and Darkwarrior Duck would only confirm it."

Gosalyn tugged on a lock of hair. "I... I don't think... It's..." she trailed off.

Jim frowned angrily. "Are you giving up? Is that it?" he spat. Gosalyn widened her eyes. "Your dad thinks you're not getting enough sleep some nights and you, what? Throw in the towel? I thought you wanted to be a hero for your dad?"

"I--I do, but--!"

"Stop it!" Jim snapped. "Stop... stop being a hero for someone else. You wanted to be a hero because you wanted to help people, to stop jerks like Taurus and Camille from breaking apart families. Why do you... why do you need to fight for your father?" He ground his teeth, kicking the bed. "Leave him out of it! We've been doing great without him! I keep you safe; I watch over you! I've taken so many blows for you, Gosalyn, just to keep you from getting hurt!"

Gosalyn's eyes watered, hands over her beak.

"Why can't... you just..." Jim sat on his bed, tired. "Fight for... for... us."

"Uncle..."

Jim blinked, slowly standing. "It's... fine. You can stop. We... can stop," he breathed, "but... just one more night out. That's all I ask." He knelt before Gosalyn, squeezing her shoulders. "One more night out fighting crime, as Darkwarrior Duck and his loyal, clever partner, Quiverwing Quack." He smiled crookedly, a little sadly. "Like always, I'll make sure nothing happens to you. Okay?"

Gosalyn sniffed, shaky hands gripping her pajamas. "... Just one more time?"

Jim grinned. "Just one, Gos! I swear on my life!"

Gosalyn hesitated. She wiped at her eyes, sighed. "It... It's not like I wanna stop," she murmured, "but maybe... after this... we can tell dad and pops? We could... team up. All four of us."

Jim's eyes darkened. He grit his teeth, shoulders tensing-- "Maybe," he grumbled, "but let's talk about that another time."

---

Jim and Gosalyn waited by the radio, listening in on Darkwing's calls. Finally, the perfect opportunity came up--police had lost pursuit of two drug dealers running from a house they raided. Darkwing responded: no can do, he was too far from the location, handling another supervillain wannabe.

Jim wrote down the directions the dealers had last been seen fleeing from. Gosalyn packed their things, including her hockey stick. "I'm... I'm low on arrows," she said.

"You shoulda told me!"

"S-Sorry!"

"How many you got?"

"Um... twelve?"

"That's good enough. I'll be doing most of the fighting anyway."

Gosalyn and Jim took the usual way out through the garage window and Muddlefoots' front yard. Although they'd been given an extra hour of time, Jim was in a rush.

"W-Wait, hold on!" Gosalyn tried to catch up, practically being dragged along by her hand. "Uncle Jim, I'm gonna drop the--"

Jim stopped, picked her up, and put her on his shoulders. "Good?" he asked, taking off again.

"Y-Yeah."

They arrived at the bike's hiding spot and changed into their costumes a half hour later. Eight minutes after, they were en route to the possible crime scene. Quiverwing clung for dear life to Darkwarrior; he was going faster than usual, over the speed limit. But any protests fell on deaf ears, the roaring wind muffling her tiny voice.

---

Darkwarrior and Quiverwing went up and down the streets and alleys for four blocks. Still no sign of the perps. There was a chance they were hiding in the buildings, but Darkwarrior was determined to catch their targets. He wouldn't end this... this night with nothing to show for.

They continued slowly down another alley, Quiverwing keeping her eyes on the windows above, Darkwarrior on the road ahead. A stray cat ran in front of them, and Darkwarrior heard the approaching screech of tires on gravel. Lights flooded the alley from behind them; Darkwarrior grabbed Quiverwing, rolling off the bike into the trash. A second later, a grenade hit the motorcycle, blowing it up.

Darkwarrior snarled, shielding Quiverwing from the shrapnel and debris with his body and cape.

"So! We heard the two new heroes on the block were lookin' for us!"

Darkwarrior stood, keeping Quiverwing behind him. Two men got out of the car blocking the alley's opening. They steadily approached the masked duo; one was armed with a rusty pipe and two more grenades. The second was a very large bear, dragging what looked like a jumbo kukri on the ground.

"We're kinda disappointed," Pipe sighed, "we were hopin' if any of you buzzkills came after us, it'd be Darkwing Duck himself." He pointed his pipe at Darkwarrior. "Not some freak dressed up like him--and his little baby sidekick, too."

"But, hey," Kukri chuckled, "we'll slice and dice ya right up, just like we would Dorkwing."

"Get to higher ground," Darkwarrior whispered back at Gosalyn, eyes remaining on the men.

"Ho ho, you swappin' secrets?" Pipe laughed. "Well, here's another one: this alley leads to a dead end. If you wanna get outta here, you gotta go through us."

Gosalyn gulped. "I saw fire escape stairs a few feet away," she whispered.

"Go then," Darkwarrior replied, "I'll watch your back, signal when ready." He cleared his throat. "You guys wanted Darkwing Duck, huh?" Darkwarrior smirked. "Well, how about this?" He spread his cape. "I am the terror that flaps in the night..."

"Ugh," Kukri groaned.

"No," Pipe chuckled, "let 'im finish. Least we could do. And it's kinda funny, in a really sad sorta way."

"I am the... nail hammered... into the rotten wood... of crime," Darkwarrior said slowly.

"Wow, that one's bad, even for us."

"I am... not Darkwing Duck!" He dropped his cape, reaching for his gas gun.

"Hey!" Pipe gasped, looking around the alley. "Where'd the kid go?"

Kukri ran at Darkwarrior, knife in the air. "Now!" Darkwarrior snarled, firing a cloud of gas. Kukri ran through it, seemingly unfazed; he brought his knife down, hitting the ground beside the masked mallard. Darkwarrior drove an elbow into his ribs, knocking him away.

As the gas cleared, Pipe looked up. Gosalyn stood on the third floor of the emergency staircase platform, arrow fired. Pipe screamed, leaping away before it could pierce his foot. Quiverwing cursed; too early, the gas should have cleared a little more.

Kukri tossed Darkwarrior down the alley at Pipe. As Darkwarrior got up on hands and knees, Pipe went to beat his head in. Quiverwing shot another arrow, tearing open Pipe's arm.

Pipe snarled. He grabbed a grenade, took off the pin, and threw it at Quiverwing. Quiverwing gasped; she dove into the empty window, the bomb destroying the stairs and platform.

Darkwarrior kicked Pipe in the groin; he flipped away from Kukri's blade, beside the smaller thug. Darkwarrior snatched the final grenade from his belt, jammed the heel of his foot into the back of Pipe's head.

"Aw, shit," Kukri growled, backing away.

Darkwarrior smirked.

Kukri screamed, an arrow piercing his hand. A second arrow grazed the top of his shoulder. Darkwarrior picked an arrow up. He thrust it into Pipe's ankle, running around and behind Kukri as the bear picked the arrows from his body.

"Shit, shit!" Pipe yelled. "I--I can't move! Think he got a tendon!" His eyes widened when he saw blood. "Is... is that blood? O-Oh, man, I c-can't look at... blood... Makes me..." He fainted with a swoon.

Quiverwing snorted. "Wow." She looked down at Darkwarrior from inside the building. "You okay, D?"

Darkwarrior gave her a thumbs up. "Catch!" He threw a spare arrow up; Quiverwing quacked, reaching out and just barely catching it.

"Your friend's crippled," Darkwarrior stated, "your hand's useless. You're outnumbered. Also, I got a grenade." He held it up, smirking. "Give up, ya oversized fur rug."

Kukri turned slowly, glowering. "... Then use it," he said.

Darkwarrior blinked.

"The grenade," Kukri hissed, "throw it at me. Blow me up." He smiled. "Unless yer like Dorkwad Duck and you don't kill people." He hefted up his blade. "Yer friend up there willin' to make the killing blow?" He glanced up at Quiverwing, tapping a finger between his eyes. "Go 'head. I'm wide open. I'll give you 'til the count of five. Do it. One..."

Quiverwing shot an arrow at his foot, missing by an inch.

Kukri cackled. "I knew it! You can't do it--neither of you can!" he ran at Darkwarrior. "If ya ain't willin' to go all in, you ain't gonna win!"

Darkwarrior ducked, blade swinging above his head. He rolled out between Kukri's legs, turned around and fired the gas gun. There wasn't enough; Kukri cut the gun cleanly in two, nearly taking Darkwarrior's fingers if he hadn't moved back a few steps in the nick of time.

"Darkwarrior!" Quiverwing cried. She shot another arrow, hitting Kukri in the back. He ignored it; too big, too high a pain tolerance? Quiverwing fired another, tearing open his pants leg.

Darkwarrior grabbed two knives from his jacket, threw them at the bear. Kukri used his sword to block them.

Darkwarrior did a back flip, the kukri tearing his cape off. An arrow whizzed past the bear, right next to the masked mallard. Darkwarrior grabbed it, rolled away; he took out the last gas canister, stabbed it with the chipped arrowhead. A big enough puncture to release the gas, and Darkwarrior pitched it at Kukri's face.

Kukri bat the canister away with his knife. Darkwarrior and Gosalyn gaped.

"That all you got?" Kukri chuckled. "Aside from yer grenade. Not like yer gonna use it..."

Darkwarrior stumbled onto his feet, backing away.

"Too bad, Fakewing Duck!" Kukri laughed, lifting the blade above his head.

Quiverwing shot him in the ear. Kukri shrieked, whipped around, and bashed the kukri into the wall. Quiverwing yelped, falling out the window and into a dumpster.

Kukri yanked his knife free. Quiverwing grabbed and shut the dumpster lid, the kukri stabbing and piercing it instead.

"Dumb little shit!"

"You... made a big mistake."

Kukri pulled out his blade. He turned to Darkwarrior, but he was gone. Kukri blinked, looking around the alley. He heard a swish of fabric to his left, turned and swung his knife. Still nothing. Something loud hit the wall to his right; he moved to check, throwing a fist in the air. A dented empty paint can rolled towards his feet.

"Huh?"

Kukri turned back around. He saw a blur of yellow and red and then Darkwarrior was jumping from the remaining stairs, breaking a hockey stick on Kukri's face. Wood splintered in the bear's right eye, and he recoiled, screaming in pain.

Darkwarrior landed. He turned, still holding half the hockey stick. Gosalyn peeked out from the dumpster--barely, just barely, but she could see that intense, terrifying look in Darkwarrior's raging eyes again.

"Tried to take..." Darkwarrior heaved, grinding his teeth. "... Take her..."

Kukri walked into the wall, falling onto his back. Darkwarrior dashed across the alley, on top of the bear; he held the sharp edges of the broken hockey stick to Kukri's throat, the criminal going still.

"Before, I would have just let you go, done a tactical retreat if need be," Darkwarrior hissed. He took the grenade from his jacket. He held up the loose pin, hand gripping down the safety. The bear gasped. "But you almost took her from me. So, so close. I honestly don't have much after tonight, actually." He leaned face to face with the half-blind, pallor bear. "I let the safety pin go, we've got about five to ten seconds before it explodes. I could shove this in your mouth, make a jump for it. Or I could let it go, and then we'd both go boom!"

"No!" Quiverwing gasped, climbing out of the dumpster. "D-Don't! You can't kill--not him, not you, please!"

Darkwarrior chuckled. "I think I figured it out," he sighed, grip on the safety loosening very lightly. "I think I have a hard time letting things go. I got commitment issues. Abandonment issues, too. If I ain't pushing away, I'm pulling in, and not letting go." He held the grenade against Kukri's chin. "When this baby goes off, there'll be a quick glimpse of light. It'll be like... like the sun. The closest you'll ever get to the real sun. Me? Been there, done that. But how about we go together, huh? Fly right into that short-living sun."

Kukri whimpered. "No... don't..."

"Uncle Jim!" Quiverwing screamed hoarsely. "Don't do it!"

Darkwarrior frowned sadly. "Nah. I made the same mistake again. She was the sun. I flew too close. But, hey--you can't blame the sun. Just your melting, cheap, pathetic, weak handiwork." He blew a raspberry. "Wow, that was super cheesy. Not the best words to go out by--"

"Darkwarrior! Stop right there!"

Jim didn't think the most frightening thing about tonight would be Darkwing Duck appearing, but life was full of surprises. A cloud of gas appeared beside Jim and Kukri. Darkwing stepped out as the Thunderquack landed on the rooftop behind him.

"Darkwing!" Gosalyn shouted.

"Are you all right?" Darkwing called back.

"Y-Yeah!"

"Kiddo!" Launchpad yelled. Gosalyn looked up; Launchpad threw the grappling hook and rope over the side. "Climb on, I'll pull you up!"

Gosalyn sniffled. "But... But, Uncle Jim..."

"It's fine," Darkwing reassured, very slowly approaching Darkwarrior and Kukri. "Just do as my partner says. No one is going to get hurt."

Quiverwing clutched her bow, torn.

"Do as you're told," Darkwarrior ordered.

Quiverwing shivered. "But..."

"Please," Darkwarrior and Darkwing said in unison.

Quiverwing whimpered. She stumbled, then ran to grab the rope, Launchpad pulling her up as quick as possible.

"... Darkwarrior, right?" Darkwing asked, raising a hand.

Darkwarrior snorted. "So nice of you to finally notice me."

"Darkwarrior, listen," Darkwing breathed, "carefully step off the man, walk over to me slowly. Keep your hand on the safety lever; whatever you do, don't let go. She--the child--could get hurt by the explosion, even from this distance."

Darkwarrior chortled. "Yeah, but y'see, this guy? He almost killed my partner." He shoved the grenade against Kukri's blind eye. "I can't let that go. I think, if you were in my cape, you'd feel the same."

Darkwing frowned. "I understand. You're upset, but this isn't going to solve anything. The girl is safe now."

"I'm a team; I don't work alone. So if she goes, so be it. I'll be out of the game, too."

"Please. She doesn't deserve this. Neither do you."

"But this guy?" Darkwarrior cackled. "Oh, Darkwing... y'know. It's taken me a while to decide whether I like you, or I hate you. In the end, I'm conflicted. You're not such a bad guy. Your optimism is kind of irritating, but also kind of nice. But... I also sorta hate you? Not because of... your whole thing here. But you... You have something I don't." He glimpsed back at Gosalyn, at Launchpad holding her in his arms. "In the end, things just aren't that simple, are they?"

Darkwing shook his head. "No," he sighed, "they--"

Darkwarrior let the safety lever go. "Boom!" he shrieked and spit in Kukri's face.

Kukri gasped and fainted.

Darkwing backed away, horrified. Darkwarrior held up the grenade. Five seconds. Ten seconds. Fifteen. He moved his hand, showing the hidden pin still locked in place inside his sleeve. The loose pin had belonged to one of the grenades thrown earlier. "Surprise," he smirked, putting the bomb down. "If I can't be a real hero, I've still got my excellent acting skills to fall back on, right?"

"Everything okay, DW?" Launchpad shouted. "Did he throw the grenade?"

Darkwing couldn't hear Launchpad over his pulse thundering in his ears. Darkwarrior didn't move, allowing Darkwing to push him off the bear, tackle him to the ground.

Darkwing stood, clutching the front of Darkwarrior--Jim's--suit, still kneeling on the ground. "You!" he screamed, tears wetting his mask. "My daughter!"

Jim smiled passively up at Darkwing, eyes lidded. Darkwing drew back his fist, chest heaving.

"Dad!" Gosalyn cried.

Darkwing flinched. Jim's tired little smile didn't waver. Darkwing lowered his fist, panting. He bitterly tore the mask off Jim's face and threw his hat aside.

"Well?" Jim rasped, giving a light sigh. "The audience is waiting."

Darkwing wound back his fist again-- and again lowered it. He trembled, fingers twisting, tearing into Jim's jacket. Darkwing stood up, cursing; he looked Jim in the eyes. Every single sinew of his body burned with righteous fury and betrayal. Fist raised, Darkwing finally brought it down--gently on Jim's shoulder, falling to his knees in front of him.

Jim stared at Darkwing.

Darkwing looked up, enraged and heartbroken. "Damn you," he hissed, voice cracking. "Damn you."

"Sorry I disappointed," Jim muttered.

Darkwing shook his head, then threw his arms around Jim. Jim sunk into his embrace, into the arm pressing around his throat, wrapping around his head, locking and holding firm. He coughed, fingers twitching, but he didn't fight. Jim shut his eyes, wheezed and wriggled a little--the world turned to black, Jim going limp and fast sleep in Darkwing's shaking arms.

---

And he was there, waiting.

"Where's that pompous ego of yours now?" he laughed.

Jim laid on the dark floor, weak, miserable. He didn't want to fight anymore. He'd lost.

"You thought I'd just disappear? You thought you finally got rid of me?" he cackled. "You dumb prick!" Hundreds of manic, red eyes, and grinning mouths full of fangs appeared and surrounded Jim. "I was only growing stronger! Your time's up, Jimmy boy!"

A hand swept down from above, slamming into Jim, driving him into the black tar until he drowned.

Jim opened his eyes, his chest sore, mouth tasting like Hell warmed over. He sat up, found an unopened water bottle at the foot of the bed. The white room and its lights were way too bright, hurting his eyes. He blinked a few times until his pupils adjusted. Jim's gaze turned to the camera staring down at him from the ceiling. He waved, taking a sip of water.

Jim finished the bottle as Darkwing Duck stepped inside, locking the door behind him. Jim looked back at him, eyes lidded and dark with fatigue. Darkwing glared at Jim, ramrod straight, arms folded. Jim could see a radio hanging on his belt.

"You? Me? Who starts--"

"Do I even need to tell you just how... incredibly stupid, reckless, selfish you are?"

Jim snorted. "Well. It felt right at the time."

"Gosalyn told me everything." Darkwing's frown twitched. "Jim... You could have killed her. You deliberately put her in danger." He pointed angrily at the camera. "My daughter is upstairs, heartbroken, sick with worry about you, trying to convince Launchpad and I it was her idea to go out 'crime fighting'!"

"Camille wasn't exactly my--"

"It doesn't matter if it was all her idea! If she forced you!" Darkwing spat, throwing up his arms. "She's a nine year old child! You're an adult! You could have called us, told us where she went! Instead you decided to take matters in your hands! And then you just kept... enabling her! And if you weren't giving into 'her' whims, you were manipulating and guilt-tripping her to go out!"

Jim scratched at his black eye feathers.

"Like... How can you explain any of this? How can you find any possible, reasonable excuse to justify your behavior?" Darkwing snarled. "I just-- Jim, I don't know what to do!" He started pacing, chewing his tongue. "Gosalyn loves you. She looks up to you as a hero."

"You did, too," Jim mumbled, "beginning to think that's a big mistake."

"I still did! But now?" Darkwing shook his head, pinching between his eyes. "After the explosion at the studio, when we were digging through rubble to find you, I wasn't even... angry? I was just sad and it-it felt like my heart had been shattered. How could Jim Starling, my one and only hero, become something so... so broken?"

Jim stared into his empty water bottle.

"But despite everything you'd done," Darkwing said firmly, "Launchpad encouraged me to take the mantle--your mantle--as a real crime fighting hero. And you know what he said to finally convince me? 'Do it for Jim.' Even Launchpad had basically forgiven you, not even a minute after you came at me with a chainsaw!"

Jim snorted. "It's not my fault if you're both so stupid and blinded by your naivety."

"I told Launchpad that no matter what, if we found you, if we didn't; if you were alive, if you were dead, I'd become Darkwing Duck to honor you. I remember coming to your hospital room, standing beside your bed while you were comatose, asking you to watch over me as I went on patrol for the first time that night."

"... Fighting for others."

Darkwing looked up.

Jim's brows furrowed. "I fight for Jim. I fight for dad. I fight for the poor innocent people. Why does no one just... fight for themselves?" He picked off a black feather. "Why put that weight on others shoulders? Why do you... need someone to give you that inspiration, that push?"

Darkwing sighed. "In our heart of hearts, it's always been there, the desire to fight and protect. People just tend to be the catalysts--"

"But they shouldn't!" Jim growled. "It's just so damn... messy and complicated and-- Getting attached to others, loving and falling in love with them. What's so great about needing others? I didn't need anyone! I didn't get to where I am--was--holding anyone's hands! No one was there to have my back! And it made me stronger!"

"And yet you and I both know you love Gosalyn. She's... family to you."

Jim winced, looked away.

"That's what it is, isn't it?" Darkwing asked quietly. "For the first time in... possibly forever, you got close to someone, you let them in, loved them. But you didn't know how to handle that, did you? You either push away, or pull them in, isn't that what you said?"

Jim sniffed. "That's me, Jim Starling. Just a big supernova that sucks everyone into my void."

"You can only think in extremes. Losing something was already hard enough, but after the show... You'd become lost in a new persona, and then you were... ripped in two. Separated."

"What are you, my therapist?" Jim spat.

"I'm trying to better understand you, Jim," Darkwing said, "I've been trying for months now. You said you hated me for having something you don't. Not including the Darkwing Duck cape, is it... family?"

Jim didn't respond.

"Is that it? You wanted to keep Gosalyn close, because you weren't... a part of my family. You've never been part of a family, have you? And, maybe I'm totally wrong here, but after the things you said to me yesterday-- You want to be a part of this family. You don't hate or loathe or despise me anymore--maybe not as much as before, but you've been... pushing me away, for the same reason you pull Gosalyn in. Push people away before they can hurt you, or tether them down before they can leave you."

"The kid just... reminded me of me," Jim grumbled.

"That's part of it. But, Jim... Gosalyn, Launchpad, and I never intended on abandoning you. We've been trying to make you comfortable, welcome to our family. I never wanted you to feel like a stranger or prisoner in my house. Circumstances notwithstanding, you saved me. I... wanted to save you. And that's probably where I messed up."

Jim laughed. "Probably, huh?"

Darkwing stepped back, removing his hat. "I dunno what I'm gonna do. I... I don't think you can stay here anymore. Even if I knew, was 100% positive you and Gosalyn would never put your lives in danger ever again, there'd still be that rift. I was willing to build a bridge over the last one, but this is beyond just you, LP, and I. You brought my daughter, a nine year old into it--you dangled her over the side of that rift, insisting you'd never let her go-- I... I can't..."

"I expected such," Jim said. "I knew if we'd get caught, you'd either give me the boot or beat me half to death. If not both." He shrugged. "It's fine. I'll move out, no problem."

"You say that so damn selfishly," Darkwing hissed. "Maybe think about how much this is going to hurt Gosalyn? She's going to be a wreck! Her birth parents, her grandfather, now you? Seriously, what were you--what were you thinking?"

Jim eyed Darkwing. "... Maybe you're right. Maybe I am a screw up." He stood, slowly approaching the masked mallard. "I won't ask for you to forg--!" Jim cried, dropping to his knees, clutching his hip.

Darkwing ran over, helping Jim back up. Jim swayed and rocked against Darkwing until he found his footing; he leaned heavily against the younger duck, panting. "Did you ever tell Gosalyn the truth?" he asked. "That I lost my mind and tried to kill her fathers? I tried blowing you up, electrocuting you; I even went to attack you with a chainsaw! And probably the only reason you found the room to forgive me is because I came back to my senses and saved you-- Which I just did to prove myself. Not because I cared."

Darkwing frowned. "No. She... doesn't know. I never wanted to tell her."

"She's kind of stupid and over-emotional like you and Launchpad," Jim chortled. "But you are wrong--it's not out of love that I 'enabled' her or whatever. Through her I was able to live vicariously. I just used her to feel alive again. Hell, putting her in danger meant I could save her. Kinda like the way I nearly got you and the big lug killed."

"That's--"

"I love that kid as much as I love this busted hip and my shitty migraines," Jim said, closing his arms tight around Darkwing. "But, hey, don't tell her I said any of this. I wouldn't want her to think I was anything but a loving uncle and devoted hero. Poor kid."

Darkwing narrowed his eyes, pushing Jim back. "Everything you're saying... is a load of shit," he spat. "You love Gosalyn. She's the most important person in the world to you. How could you tell such... terrible lies?"

Jim shrugged. He sat back on the bed. "Well, I think we've said all that needs to be said. We can argue til we're blue in the face, but let's just agree to disagree, okay?"

Darkwing wilted. "You don't... have to push people away. You don't have to be perfect. People will still love and care about you, flaws and all, so long as you learn to do the same. You might get hurt, yes, but if it's for a person you cherish, love, want nothing but the world for... The sacrifice is worth it, isn't it? Even if they leave in the end; even if things'll never be the same. Like the show--enjoy the time and happiness you had, and move on."

Jim said nothing. "Did you call Tarry?" he asked, lying back down.

Darkwing sighed heavily. He was too tired and stressed out for anymore of this. "I will tomorrow. See about finding you somewhere else to stay. I'll tell her you needed to leave the nest; things were getting cramped, and now you want to move on with your life."

"Sounds fair."

Darkwing looked Jim in the eyes. There simply wasn't any fight or energy left. It broke Darkwing's heart, but there was nothing he or his family could do.

Jim was the only one who could mend his wounds.

"I'll bring you something to eat."

"Not hungry."

"You can eat it later. I'll take you back upstairs when Gosalyn goes to my mothers' place for the afternoon."

"Yeah," Jim said, pulling the blanket over his head, "don't think she'd want to say goodbye to me anyway."

---

Gosalyn stopped crying hours ago. She sat in her room, legs folded to her chest. Launchpad tried comforting her, but this... would take time. They all knew it.

"You need to eat somethin', Gos," Launchpad said, stroking her hair. "Just somethin' small. I think we got one muffin left. Can ya manage that?"

Gosalyn shrugged. She didn't care, but she wasn't going to argue. Launchpad frowned; he kissed the top of her head and went downstairs.

Gosalyn heard a clicking noise, followed by a hiss of static. She raised her head, sniffing. Was that... The static cleared, and she could hear what sounded like Jim grunting in pain, her father helping him. It was coming from the radio in her bag--same frequency she tapped into.

"Did you ever tell Gosalyn the truth?"

Gosalyn widened her eyes. She took out the radio, turning down the volume and holding it to her head.

"That I lost my mind and tried to kill her fathers?"

Gosalyn nearly dropped the radio.

"Gos? You want milk, too?"

"I tried blowing you up, electrocuting you..."

"Gonna take a shower, pops!" Gosalyn yelled downstairs, taking the radio to the bathroom. She turned the shower on, sitting as far from the locked door as possible, keeping the radio pressed to her head.

"I even went to attack you with a chainsaw! And probably the only reason you found the room to forgive me is because I came back to my senses and saved you-- Which I just did to prove myself. Not because I cared."

"No. She... doesn't know. I never wanted to tell her."

"She's kind of stupid and over-emotional like you and Launchpad... But you are wrong--it's not out of love that I 'enabled' her or whatever. Through her I was able to live vicariously. I just used her to feel alive again. Hell, putting her in danger meant I could save her. Kinda like the way I nearly got you and the big lug killed."

Gosalyn trembled, chewing on a lock of hair, puffy eyes filling with tears again.

"I love that kid as much as I love this busted hip and my shitty migraines... But, hey, don't tell her I said any of this. I wouldn't want her to think I was anything but a loving uncle and devoted hero. Poor--"

The radio hissed static again. Died.

"Gos?" Launchpad called from outside the door. "You okay? You talkin' to someone?"

Gosalyn dropped the radio; she held her head in her hands, curling up, trying to stifle her sobbing beneath the running water.

----

Drake helped Jim back upstairs. Launchpad had packed Jim's few belongings in boxes, sat them by the door. He seemed more depressed than angry, but he wouldn't look or speak to Jim.

Jim took a shower, dressed in the slacks Drake got him for Christmas, red coat, and mustard yellow undershirt. Drake fed him toast and eggs. Jim watched a little TV, and then Tarry arrived with a truck.

Launchpad and Drake loaded it up as Jim watched, leaning on his cane. He peered up at Gosalyn's bedroom windows, the curtains closed. He sighed.

"Best of luck to your future, Jim," Drake said, holding out a hand.

Jim shook it. "Thanks." He turned his hand to Launchpad. Launchpad's eyes teared up; he turned his head away, eyes closed, and weakly shook Jim's hand. "You--your family--have been great. Now it's time for this duck to fly." He smiled, corners of his dull eyes wrinkling.

Jim got into the truck with Tarry. He watched Drake and Launchpad watch him go until he couldn't see them anymore.

"Such a wonderful family," Tarry sighed, smiling. "You got yourself some great friends there, Jim."

Jim smirked, sliding on his sunglasses. "Yeah. The best."

---

Tarry had found Jim a halfway house to reside in on the westside of St. Canard. It was temporary until he could make enough to move out, and maybe take a few classes on improving himself and finding work. The room was small and simple, but perfect for Jim. It had everything he needed, including the bed Drake and Launchpad had bought him. Tarry left after helping him move his things in; Jim laid down on the bed, wincing. He wondered if there'd be any episodes of intense pain, now that he no longer had access to the DEM. Then again, he was pretty much healed by now. He wouldn't need this cane soon either.

Jim sunk his hands inside his coat pockets; cursed as something sharp poked his finger. He removed the object, gulping loudly. It was a red paper crane. Jim couldn't afford to stew in stress; unfolded it. Just one word written this time: GOODBYE. He put the paper down, rolled onto his back.

Jim took a nap around noon. He woke up at 9PM. After getting a glass of water, he returned to bed, and slept through the night.

---

Jim was moving forward. It didn't feel like it, but aside from the occasional ache and pain from his hip, Jim felt barely anything. He supposed he was numb. He didn't really care about much. People would say it was depression, but Jim just felt like... the old Jim again.

Jim spent a day going through his contacts, making all the necessary changes with his doctors and lawyer. He didn't hesitate throwing away Drake and Launchpad's cellphone numbers. Didn't even feel bad or upset, either. Jim called a few numbers on the job list Tarry had given him, managing to score an interview tomorrow with the owner of the scrapyard--one of Tarry's former supervisees, too.

Jim had left his Darkwarrior costume with Drake to do whatever he wanted with it. Burn it, most likely. Whatever Darkwing Duck memorabilia he didn't sell online within a week, he left in a box by the dumpster. Maybe some kid might enjoy a nice surprise. Four days after that, he threw his cane in as well.

Jim landed the job at the scrapyard. It was decent pay, allowing him to live mostly comfortable. He found a rusty necklace chain and pocketed it. With a little cleaning, it looked good as new. Jim found the seashell Gosalyn had given him, carefully chipped a hole in it, and slid it on the necklace. He put the necklace in the closet, never to wear it.

As far as Jim's dreams went--par for the course, but not too intense anymore. Maybe he really had just accepted things and moved on; no repressive subconscious trying to bite him in the ass. But maybe his apathy--or, Hell, depression--was just too damn strong that it kept the nightmares away, especially him. The devil king among armies of demons.

Jim knew he was still in there somewhere. The fact he'd been so elusive frightened him a little, but Jim wasn't going to keep pushing his luck.

---

Of course he cried.

Of course he threw fits, getting so mad he broke things.

Of course he felt withdrawals, the loneliness suffocating him some days he could barely get out of bed; the blanket was the only source of warmth and comfort he could find in this dump.

Of course he still had migraines.

Of course he still argued with his doctors and therapists.

Of course he shut down from time to time.

Jim, however, did not expect to see Gosalyn outside the halfway house one day. She stood across the street on her bike, looking over the buildings. She wanted to get closer, but she was afraid. And Jim wanted to call down to her, but it wouldn't be wise. Jim watched in silence.

Gosalyn stared apprehensively, sadly at the place for almost sixteen minutes before she hung her head and rode away.

Jim told himself he was content with that being the last time he saw Gosalyn.

But we both know better than that.

Chapter Text

It was a little over a year since Jim Starling fell from grace, changing his life for both the best, and the worst.

Jim knew he shouldn't call in sick to work, especially since he'd just been made manager, but he had errands to run. Go to the bank downtown to make a few withdrawals and put some money away. It was stupid not to change banks; there was one a block away, but instead Jim kept one across town, a half hour to hour drive, depending on traffic.

Jim got his things, climbed into his car, and headed off. Maybe he'd pick up a few groceries on the way home. There were stores in East St. Canard that weren't in his area. The weather was pleasant and warm outside, the skies clear of clouds; traffic was light, and Jim felt... good. It'd been a month since his hip last gave him trouble. Almost two weeks since he had any sort of terrible migraine.

Forty-two minutes later, Jim pulled up into the bank's parking lot. A very busy day--it was one of St. Canard's biggest banks, after all. He might be in line for a while, but since he didn't have work, he wasn't in any hurry. Jim stepped inside the large and extravagant lobby of the bank; it reminded him of an opera house, or a fancy hotel. He changed from his sunglasses to his regular prescription glasses, joining one of the shorter lines toward the back of the bank. On his way in, the four drive-through lanes were choked and backed-up. The two ATM machines were currently getting restocked or busted.

It turned out the bank was much busier than Jim thought. Were there at least a hundred people in here? Not counting tellers and employees. He'd been standing in line for twenty minutes and only taken a few steps forward. Not like any of the other lines had better luck. Handfuls of people would come and go, frustrated, unable or unwilling to wait too long. But Jim was fine; he had his cellphone to watch news on.

Nothing very interesting. Darkwing Duck had a small article in regards to an event from a few days ago. Apparently he'd been spotted fighting some sort of monsters on the Audubon Bay Bridge. That'd been all over the news the first day, but gradually faded out.

Jim watched and read the reports. He didn't feel anything, seeing Darkwing Duck in all these photos and videos, people praising him--although some were quite cruel and openly hateful.

Let go, right? Right.

Are you sure?

"Gosalyn dear, please!"

Jim went tense; the world around him drained away, colors melting, sounds muted. The only thing he could see was Binkie, her son Honker, and Gosalyn two lines down. Gosalyn was laughing, picking gum off her face from the giant bubble she blew and popped. Honker looked amused, but Binkie did not.

"Honestly, Gosalyn," Binkie lectured, "you need to act more lady-like!"

Gosalyn rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, Mrs. Muddlefoot," she sighed. Binkie looked away, and Gosalyn stuck her tongue out at her. Honker giggled into his hands.

Jim's head felt light, as if all the blood had left his brain to pool into his feet. He was frozen to the ground, unable to take his eyes off Gosalyn, let alone blink. His heart fought in his chest, threatening to stop. Sweat beaded his brow, and Jim's beak felt nailed shut when he tried to open his mouth and--

Say something? That was stupid. Absolutely idiotic. It was best she didn't even know he was there.

God, you're so pathetic. Grow a damn spine!

Jim looked away, hiding behind his money bag and phone.

Go over there and say somethin'. What's the worst that could happen? Your heart'll just break all over again, and you'll go back to a sobbing, filthy mess on your bedroom floor. Honestly, it sounds fun, it's so fucking bor--

Two of the tall stained glass windows shattered, throwing glittering shards across the crowds of screaming onlookers. Jim stumbled, abruptly shoved aside as people herded away from the broken windows. Jim immediately looked for Gosalyn, but could no longer see her.

"Look!"

At the stranger's cry, Jim looked back up. His eyes widened, bill gaping. A woman was floating through the window on a cloud of smoke. She wore a ruby dress, low cut at the shoulders, the front of its tapering train hanging from loops around her fingers. Her feathers were black, matching her loose, dark hair. The strange woman wore a crimson Venetian mask with a fan-headdress of red, black, and white feathers.

"Citizens of St. Canard," the witch said softly, "I do not want to cause harm to anyone here. I wish to rob this bank as peacefully and quickly as possible. I will not ask you to surrender any personal belongings, but I do insist you move in a calmly manner toward the back of the room where I may see you. Again, I have no desire to hurt anyone, so please just do as I have asked and wait until I have left, then you are free to go."

Jim swallowed. He kept searching for Gosalyn, jumping up and down to look over the crowds. Most of the civilians did as they were told, nervously huddling toward the back of the bank. Jim was pushed forward; he swayed to his side, caught his balance. When he looked up, he saw Gosalyn only a few feet ahead. She was holding Honker and Binkie's hands, not a trace of fear on her face. Just anger.

Jim went with the others, elbowing, gently pushing around them, trying to get closer to Gosalyn. The witch raised a hand and the group settled, Jim forced back toward the wall. He couldn't see Gosalyn anymore, but he saw the back of Binkie's head ten feet over.

Jim cursed, wriggling.

The witch summoned two bats. They flew to the ground, transforming into slobbering, snarling dogs. One kept an eye on the hostages while the second joined its owner at the nearest bank teller. "I wish to speak to your manager, please and thank you," the witch said, checking the teller's name tag, "Keiran. Such a nice name!"

Jim got a few steps closer to Gosalyn before a man shoved him away. "Don't move," he snarled, "or that thing's gonna see us and bite our heads off!"

Jim glared, trying a new route. Two floating potato sacks opened beside the witch in red, manager and tellers uneasily dumping stacks of money inside them. At this point, Jim was on his hands and knees, wiggling between people's legs. Although he received a number of kicks and stomps, he was getting closer to Gosalyn.

"You're all cooperating so nicely," the witch said, "thank you. I won't be very much longer. I do not intend to take every--"

Clouds of purple gas filled the room from the broken windows. Both screams of fear and joy echoed off the walls. Jim wormed back to a stand, jumping.

"I am the terror that flaps in the night..."

The witch cursed. "Oh... Darnit!"

"I am the vault of justice, sealing away criminals and lawbreakers!"

"Hurry, please," the witch sighed, gesturing the tellers over, "before he fin--"

"I am... Darkwing Duck!"

Darkwing Duck stood on the windowsill, cape spread. The crowd shuffled; more various cries. An elbow struck Jim's side.

"I really do not wish to fight you, Mr. Duck," the woman said. She raised her hand, a swirling red ball of energy growing in her palm. "I will, however, hurt my hostages if need be. I will not kill them, no, but you wouldn't want to risk their lives either way, would you?" She turned the fireball on the crowd, and everyone shrieked, jostling and tossing Jim about. He couldn't see Gosalyn or Binkie now.

"You sound very polite, merciful even," Darkwing smirked. "But you're breaking the law: robbing a bank, endangering all these innocent people. No, madam, not only will I take you down, I will make sure you don't lay a finger--or spell--on these civilians!"

The woman huffed. "Eek! Squeak!" She pointed at Darkwing. "Keep him busy! I'm almost finished here!"

The two dogs howled, pouncing off the ground and growing bat-like wings. Darkwing nearly fell from the windowsill, shocked. He took out his gas gun, firing grappling hook over their heads and into the far wall. As the dogs flew closer, he grabbed the rope and swung down in between them, landing in front of the witch.

The dogs and witch gasped.

"Surrender peacefully, criminal!" Darkwing ordered.

"Oh no!" the witch fretted, tossing the fireball at Darkwing. He dodged, burning only the edges of his cape. "I really, really do not want to fight!"

The dogs barked, turning and flying back to their master. "Here puppy, puppy!" Launchpad called from outside, standing on the floating Thunderquack's bill. The dogs looked back. Launchpad fired what appeared to be a rocket launcher but instead of rockets, they shot... pies? Jim gaped, baffled. But once the pies hit the winged mutts, the dough expanded and wrapped around them, pinning down their wings. The beasts struggled in the sticky mess, hitting the ground and flopping uselessly.

"Eek! Squeak!" the witch cried. She glared at Launchpad. "You rude man!" She shot an energy-orb at him. To avoid getting hit, Launchpad dove away, falling from the window and into a banker's desk.

"I--I'm okay!" Launchpad said, sticking out and waving a hand.

Darkwing barreled into the witch, the two rolling across the floor. Launchpad got back to his feet, running to the crowd. "'Kay, everyone!" he panted, removing a remote and hitting a button. The Thunderquack's beak opened, unraveling a large net bound by climbing ropes through the window like a tongue. "Everyone, stay calm, one at--" He flinched, Darkwing thrown into a wall. "--One at a time, okay? There's a giant pie you can jump into below, just don't get stuck too bad!"

The crowd panicked, pushing and knocking each other down to climb up the ropes. Launchpad was shoved over, people trampling carelessly on top of him.

"Launchpad!"

That was Gosalyn's voice. Jim stopped abruptly, looking around-- An old woman smacked him aside with her cane, and he fell to his knees. Jim grunted, rubbing his back; he glanced up, Gosalyn huddled and forced against the wall by the crowds. Jim went to call her name, but someone stepped on his hand, breaking a finger. He yelped in pain--and successfully caught Gosalyn's attention.

The two met eyes. It felt like someone had just stepped on Jim's chest, knocking the air out of-- Oh, they did. "G-Gosalyn!" he wheezed, crawling limply on hands and knees.

"Jim!" Gosalyn cried. She tried to free herself from Binkie's grip. "Uncle Jim!"

Jim felt the tears fall before he even realized he was crying. Just hearing her voice, calling his name-- He smiled sharply, brows furrowed. He rolled away from another blind trampling, flipped onto hands and feet. "I'm comin', Gos!" he shouted, moving swiftly and gracefully through the crowd. It was starting to thin out, at least, but Launchpad was stuck between helping Darkwing and helping all the people trying to climb out and getting shoved down or off the ropes in all the mass hysteria and confusion.

Darkwing flipped onto a desk, avoiding a fireball. "Give up, you vile villain!" he snarled, taking bow and arrow from the quiver beneath his cape.

"No!" the witch shrieked. "I need the money! You don't understand!" She shot a misty green-orb, and Darkwing fired an arrow. The Microwaver pulsed, breaking apart the orb as it flew through it, grazing the woman's shoulder.

Binkie shrieked, knocked over by two men. Honker let go of Gosalyn, reaching for his mother. "Uncle Jim!" Gosalyn shouted, moving along the wall as close as possible, little by little.

"Gosalyn!" Jim yelled, leaping over a pile of glass.

One of the winged dogs managed to eat its way to freedom. It snarled, claws reaching out for Darkwing nearby. Launchpad gasped; the witch shot another fireball at the masked mallard at the same time.

"DW!" Launchpad screamed.

Darkwing blinked, looked back. He squeaked, diving to the ground as the paw slammed down behind him, tearing off his cape and scattering his arrows. The fireball went over Darkwing’s head, setting the beast's face ablaze.

The witch gasped, hands flying to her mask. "Oh no! Eek! Darling!"

Darkwing sat upright, picking up the nearest arrow; he fired, and the taser sunk into the woman's mask. She screamed as the mask broke apart, the electricity jolting through her face, up into her hair.

Gosalyn and Jim were almost in arms reach. After a hard blow to the head, a man climbing up the net flew back, landing in between the two and accidentally kicking Gosalyn over.

"No!" Jim gasped.

The witch swayed to a stand, twitching. Her long black hair now stood up and erect, locks of it turned pure white. She touched the blood running down her face, then looked over Darkwing's head at Eek, who'd collapsed, badly burned and returned to bat form. Saw more than half the hostages safely escaping.

"You..." the witch fumed, her blue eyes turning a frightful red. She held back her hands, summoning a ball of black and red and white energy between them, wildly flashing and releasing bolts of electricity. "You just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you, Darkwing?" she spat, trembling with rage.

Darkwing backed away, ready to dodge or fall back.

Gosalyn slowly sat up, dazed. Jim was running toward her, holding out his arms. "Uncle Jim!" she cried, pushing herself back onto her feet.

"For Eek!" the witch screeched, shattering the remaining windows and any other glass items in the room. "For my hair!" She wound back the giant energy ball, throwing it at Darkwing.

"DW!" Launchpad yelped. Darkwing wouldn't be able to move in time. Launchpad quickly shot a pie at Darkwing's head, knocking him across the floor and rolling him up into a bun. The energy ball razed across the room, now toward the hostages.

Jim went to take Gosalyn by her hands, but the blinding light-- He looked up, gasping. The massive ball was heading right toward them--toward Gosalyn, dead center. He could move fast enough to avoid most of the blow, but Gosalyn...

"You might get hurt, yes, but if it's for a person you cherish, love, want nothing but the world for... The sacrifice is worth it, isn't it?"

Jim snarled, roughly shoving Gosalyn away; just one heartbeat before it collided with his body in an explosion of energy that flooded the entire room in blinding white light.

"Uncle Jim!" Gosalyn screamed, covering her eyes. "Uncle Jim!"

Darkwing cut through the dough, stumbling back to his feet. He could see a glimpse of the witch nearby; her hands covered her beak as she fell to her knees, staring in horror.

"What have I done...?" she choked.

"Gos!" Launchpad flailed about, tripping over people. "Gos, I can hear you! Are you here, Gos?" Suddenly, a tiny hand reached out and gripped his. Launchpad could see Gosalyn now, pulling her into a hug. "Oh, Gos, how did you get in here? Are you all right?"

"Uncle Jim!" Gosalyn sobbed. "He... He's...!"

---

Alive.

Jim knew he was alive, because this pain was very, very real.

It felt as if his entire body had been set on fire, but it went deeper than his flesh, his muscles, all his organs. Right down to the molecular level. Tearing, ripping, cutting, shredding. As if he were being pulled apart, every atom of his matter rearranging, changing--splitting, dividing, right down the middle.

Jim felt like a hollow husk as he emerged from his back, pulled apart so the phantom could rise. Clawing and fighting, conjoined flesh and sinew snapping off, changing and transforming--healing.

It felt like everything inside of Jim's mind was being torn out with him. Everything the therapists, the people around him told him. From his neglectful, unloving parents, to the years of loneliness, guarding and preening himself into something untouchable and perfect, to the desire to be wanted, loved, treasured, to hating everyone and everything that dragged him under the currents, to the secret desires to make this whole shitty world pay, to want nothing but to want and want and take and take, to pride and vanity and inflated self worth brought on by extreme loss of self and identity, to the fire in the studio, the frightened looks on those two buffoons' faces, to the deafening but beautiful whine of that chainsaw--

Of course he would come out laughing.

Jim collapsed, empty, insides withered, but he was alive. He knew he was alive. The stinging, burning pain of his cackles and joyful screams were proof. Jim could see him, standing nearby; inky black, dripping oil and rage and fuel for millions and millions of destructive wildfires. And fire he turned, the black substance cracking and drying off, a diseased chrysalis, and underneath the worst of Jim, wearing red, black, yellow, dressed like the very thing that both created and destroyed him. Identical in every way, from height, weight, eye color, white feathers, but the teeth were all wrong--sharp like barbs and knives, like the metaphorical things Jim had used to cut those he deemed worthless and unimportant out from his life.

"Holy fuck!" he laughed, stretching, cracking all of his joints. "Who'da thought this is how it'd end? Much better than I ever hoped for!" The energy and air around him was heavy and suffocating, red and black and venomous.

"No..." Jim rasped, tasting blood in his mouth. "Not... real."

"Is this not real, you knob?" he yelled as he picked Jim up by his head, squeezing until the weak duck cried out. His wicked face softened, but was no less vicious. "Oh, Jimmy," he purred, cupping Jim's cheeks. "I'm sorry. I really should be more grateful. Without you, I never would have been born." He nuzzled his beak against Jim's forehead, humming. "Maybe that's why I don't wanna kill you. It wouldn't be merciful, but..." He snickered, dragging his tongue around Jim's eye, wiping up tears. "... God, it'll be so much fun."

He held Jim against his body, hot and burning, cradling his head, rubbing his back. "Oh, babe, I can't thank you enough," he purred, grooming Jim's head feathers with gentle nibbles, "I'm gonna paint this world red." He chuckled, voice just as grave and smoky when he was formless and a shadow. "Starting... with you."

He opened his mouth, fangs glinting, ready to close them down on Jim's beak-- "No!" Jim snarled, shoving him off. He cried out in pain, blinded by the white-hot light tearing into his face and limbs. He let Jim go and recoiled, shielding himself.

Jim blinked, looking at his hand. It was... glowing? The darkness around them was collapsing, peeling and chipping away to light.

"Just because I've become tangible and real," he growled, "doesn't mean I'm still not a part of you. And, maybe, just maybe, one day, you'll come back to me." A red eye peered between fingers, and he snickered. "It'll be such a party, Jimmy. I can't wait!"

---

The white light faded. Darkwing Duck could see again. He lowered his cape, squinting at the figure approaching him. A dark silhouette... it was his silhouette? The hat, the cape. It walked closer, and no, there was color--red, yellow, black-- Hands shot out, holding Darkwing's face, pulling him beak to beak.

"So good t'finally meet you, Dorkwing! Flesh to flesh!" Fangs spread into a smile. "Call me Negaduck, 'cause you and I...? Oh, we're gonna have a lot of fun together!"

Darkwing widened his eyes. "Nega... duck?"

Negaduck chuckled, smacked Darkwing’s cheek hard. "Got big plans," he said, sniffing, "be seein' you real soon."

Darkwing grunted, knocked onto his back. When he next opened his eyes, he saw the remaining hostages, gobsmacked and frozen, some hanging from the ropes. The witch was holding her two bats, gently healing Eek's burned face.

Launchpad was kneeling beside... Gosalyn? Surrounding someone?

"Jim?"

---

"... Jim! Uncle Jim!"

Jim yawned, smacking his beak tiredly. He looked up--Launchpad was staring down at him, tears in his eyes, resting Jim's head on his lap.

"Uncle Jim!"

Jim felt a flutter in his chest--not nervous, not sad, not even worried. He was happy. Gosalyn sat beside him, one of her eyes puffy and bruised. He gave her a comforting smile, and she beamed back, throwing her arms around Jim.

Jim sighed, hugging her.

"Aw, Jim!" Launchpad blubbered. "We thought we lost ya!"

"You're okay!" Gosalyn sobbed.

"I am now," Jim chuckled, giving her a squeeze. "But you..." He gently sat Gosalyn back, looking at her swollen eye. "What happened?" He carefully ran his fingers around the bruise.

"Got kicked in the face," Gosalyn tittered.

A voice called from the crowd: "My bad."

"Does it hurt?" Jim asked, lightly touching beneath her eye.

"No," Gosalyn giggled, clasping his hand, "it feels... a lot better..."

Jim smiled again. "Good," he said, patting her cheek.

"Holy Darkwing!" Launchpad gasped. "Gos! Your eye!"

Gosalyn turned to Launchpad, blinking. And it didn't hurt. "What about it?" she asked. "I don't feel any pain."

"'Cause it's gone!" Launchpad exclaimed. "Not--not your eye, but the bruise! It's completely gone!"

Gosalyn furrowed her brows, baffled. She looked down at a chunk of glass--although her reflection was barely visible in its colorful surface, she could see her once battered eye had healed. "Buh--huh?" She touched her eye, expecting pain, but nothing--not even a tiny bit swollen.

"This is a good thing," Jim mumbled, glancing between the two. "I should hope?"

"Jim," Launchpad said, breathless and awed, "I think... I think you healed her!"

Jim narrowed his eyes. "... No?"

"You did! You touched the bruise, and then it went away!" Gosalyn exclaimed. "Keen gear! Uncle Jim, you got healing powers!"

Jim opened his mouth-- Come to think of it, he didn't feel any pain himself. He'd just been hit with what appeared to be a gigantic, lethal ball of assorted magic, and he felt... fine? He looked at his hands, felt his face, checked his legs. Not even a scratch, and his finger was no longer broken. "W... Wait..."

"That would be my doing."

The three looked up, Darkwing escorting over the witch in handcuffs.

"What--what are you talking about?" Jim stammered, sitting up. He expected to feel dizzy, maybe nauseous, but if anything, he felt like he could run and jump and somersault around this whole bank.

The witch sighed sadly. "There is a lot to explain."

---

"Born of darkness, sorrow, betrayal, it was pure chaotic magic, a combination of various spells coming together out of a moment of thoughtless rage. When it hit you, it..."

"Literally tore you in half!" Doctor Bellum giggled. "Except only your psyche. Which emerged..." She gestured expectantly to Darkwing.

"As a clone," Darkwing answered. "More so... a manifestation of all your negative emotions. He told me his name was... Negaduck."

"Not very original, but very fitting!"

"Morgana--the witch--said it's possible she can merge the two of you back together, but there's a chance one or both of you will die. And if one of you survives, there's still a chance Negaduck could take over as the dominant personality."

Jim blinked. "... So I'm fucked?"

"W-Well..."

"This is fantastic! Your very own evil clone! You're so lucky!"

"He did tell me he'd still be 'a part of me,'" Jim mumbled, touching his chest.

"He's a physical product of your negative emotions, thoughts, and desires. While that may be all, it doesn't mean he removed them, so much as just... copied them. To the power of 100."

Jim frowned. "Why did he... look like Darkwarrior?"

"The time you felt most powerful, but were also most conflicted, I imagine."

"Morgana believes Negaduck has power over 'evil energy,'" Doctor Bellum explained. "Which means you may possibly have some control over 'good energy'--and by possibly I mean, totally and completely! But a side effect means you'll probably need a lot more sleep and rest, too."

"That's how you healed Gosalyn's eye," Darkwing said.

"It's why you weren't burned to a crisp or julienne sliced to ribbons!" Doctor Bellum added. "Well... Except for your back. You've got a nasty scar there."

"That's... He came out of my back," Jim said, wincing.

"Oh!" Doctor Bellum laughed. "So it's a cesarean scar!"

"Well... I still feel like crap," Jim grumbled. "But I'm not sore. Am I on the good shit again?"

"We didn't need to give you anything!" Doctor Bellum said. "In fact, we ran an x-ray on your hip, and it was completely repaired! The plates were gone, and so were the scars!" She lifted his hospital gown, and before Jim could shove it back down, he glanced at his hip. Although his plumage hid most of the scar, there were still visible spots--until now.

"And I'll bet you won't be experiencing any serious migraines or seizures any time soon."

Jim shook his head. "Okay, sure, but uh. I... This is a bit... much."

"You need to rest," Darkwing said. "I know you've heard that time and time again, but you've been in and out of consciousness for the last four hours."

"... Huh."

"I've got to get back to running your blood and bone marrow tests," Doctor Bellum said, winking. "You could come in quite handy in completing the Deus Ex Medicina!"

Jim watched her skip out of the room, humming. "When I saw her face," he mumbled, "I thought I did die. And I was in Hell."

Darkwing smirked. "Understandable."

Jim winced. "You... better get back to your family," he said, "I don't imagine you wanna spend any more time with me than absolutely ne--"

Darkwing clasped Jim's hand in both of his, smiling. "We do have a lot to talk about," he said, "but right now, you need to sleep."

"I... dunno if I can..."

"... Well, if that's the case..." Darkwing looked out the door, nodding.

Jim swallowed, feeling that strange flutter in his chest again as Gosalyn stepped into the doorway. He smiled widely. "Goomy," he chuckled.

"It's Gosalyn." Gosalyn walked over to his bedside. "Heya, Uncle Jim. It's been a while."

Jim nodded, only for his smile to fade. "... I'm sorry... I made you listen to that... When I said those awful things about you, I didn't mean it, but the rest was the... truth..."

Gosalyn shook her head. "Dad and pops forgave you," she said, sliding her hand over Jim's. "'Sides, not like bein' angry is gonna help me much."

Jim sniffed, tears in his eyes. "You don't ever have to forgive me."

"She's had time," Darkwing said. "We've had time." He squeezed Jim's hand.

Jim laughed. "This family... is fuckin' weird."

"You're part of it now, Uncle Jim," Gosalyn snorted. "You always were. I mean, duh."

Jim widened his eyes.

"Gos," Darkwing said, smiling fondly at his daughter, "Jim says he can't get to sleep. Maybe you could help out?"

Gosalyn nodded happily. "Wanna hear a lullaby?" she asked. "I learned some new ones!"

Jim sniffed. "I always prefer the old to the new," he said, "how 'bout Little Girl Blue?"

---

"Split up!"

The four thieves separated--the first turned down the right alley. The second thief darted down the road to his left. Three and four continued driving ahead on their bikes.

Darkwing and Launchpad pulled up, Ratcatcher idling with a growl. "Can you handle them?" he asked his partner, nodding to the right alley.

"Ya got it, DW!" Launchpad said, saluting and gathering his pie launcher. He ran after the second thief, shouting, "Be totally awful and rude if you were to slow down for me!"

Darkwing started up the Ratcatcher, pursuing the two on bikes. A plate on the back of the Ratcatcher detached, taking the form of a large arrowhead. It flew beside Darkwing. "All right, all right," he sneered, "think you can take care of lackey #4?"

Gosalyn laughed, reclining back in her chair, headphones on, and gripping the steering handles on the console. "C'mon, dad," she said to her father's wry smile in the screen, "I got this!"

"Good luck, Quiverwing Quack," Darkwing said, nodding.

Gosalyn beamed, steering the Waddlemeyer back and around after the remaining thief. "Can't get far on foot, ya knob," she snickered, camera scanning the road. The thief came into view, wheezing and stumbling along. "Gotcha!"

The thief looked up, gasping. He stomped his feet, shoes protracting wheels and heel rockets. He laughed, skating away fast. "Aw," Gosalyn chortled, "savin' the big guns for Quiverwing, are ya?" She turned her head, shouting, "Hey! Uncle Jim!"

Jim looked up from patching a hole in one of Darkwing's jackets. "What?" he snapped. "When I said I'd do the mending, I didn't mean this bull--"

"I need ya to steer!" Gosalyn said.

Jim threw aside the jacket and sewing kit. "About damn time."

Gosalyn hit a button, activating the Waddlemeyer's battle mode, target board with bullseye schematics taking up the screen. She handed Jim a pair of headphones, moving to stand on a platform a few feet away beside him; the wider screen in front of her turned on, playing a duplicate feed. Jim sat down, taking the wheel, keeping the Waddlemeyer on the thief.

Gosalyn stepped on the pedal on the side of the platform; it lit up, producing a field of bright blue light around her. "String an A05!" she said. As she moved into position, a holographic bow and arrow appeared in her hands. Jim steered the Waddlemeyer closer, the field narrowing down into a scope on the fleeing criminal.

Once a bullseye flashed on his back, Gosalyn shouted, "Fire!" She released the holographic arrow. The Waddlemeyer shot a Doctor Shocker arrow, hitting the thief between the shoulder blades. He screamed, seizing and falling to the ground.

Jim slowed the drone down to hover above the thief.

"Yer makin' this too easy, Uncle Jim!"

Jim growled, jerking and spinning the Waddlemeyer in wild circles.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding! Geez!" Gosalyn huffed. "String an A02!" She drew back another holographic arrow. "Fire!"

The Waddlemeyer fired a Snoozer Loozer in the thief's shoulder. After a few minutes of struggling, he fell fast asleep. "Aw right!" Gosalyn squealed, punching a fist in the air. "Okay, gonna fire a Netcatcher!"

Jim changed frequencies. "Your kid's killed another guy," he said into the mic on his headphones.

Darkwing snorted. "That joke's still not funny."

"Got the booby in a net! Counting sheep an' all!" Gosalyn shouted into her mic. "He'll be waitin' for you or pops to pick up."

"I've taken out one of the bikers," Darkwing explained, "still in pursuit of the second."

"My guy has some keen gear--rocket rollerblades!" Gosalyn said.

"Interesting tech from a group of tier C criminals," Jim said, eyes narrowing.

"They were FOWL's lackeys," Darkwing answered, frowning, "until Negaduck poached them."

"You think your perp has the data slug?" Jim asked. "Scans on our guy came up with nothing."

"I'm about... to find out!"

Darkwing was within range of the biker; he took a sharp turn until they were side by side, firing his gas gun in her face. She gagged and sputtered, bike zigzagging erratically. Darkwing closed up his helmet, reaching out and grabbing the half-conscious biker from the motorcycle, throwing her down into the side cab. Two seat belts ejected, restraining her as a protective dome sealed her in. Darkwing steered the Ratcatcher against the bike, driving it off the road, across grass and into a lake, startling a flock of ducks.

"Guys, guys!" Launchpad's voice boomed over the shared frequency. "I got her! She doesn't have the slug, though. But, uh, she kinda stabbed me in the arm... twice. I think I need you to pick me up, DW."

"Stab her back," Jim suggested.

"No!" Gosalyn gasped. "Pops doesn't know the non-lethal spots. He'd kill her!"

"H-Hey!"

"You two, I swear-- I'm on my way, LP! I got my targets--and the slug! Hang tight, keep pressure on the wounds!"

"Can do, DW!"

"Give her like, just one little cut on the arm. It'll be fine."

"Do not cut or stab the perp, LP! Jim, get the Waddlemeyer back to my coordinates! Gos, did you finish your history report?"

"... Yeah?"

"You have until we get home to finish that report and be in bed or you're grounded from patrol for the week!"

"Aw, dad!"

Jim snickered. "All's fair in love and crime fighting, Gumby."

"It's Gosalyn!"

---

Darkwing and Launchpad returned a half hour later. Launchpad was a little pale, the two having applied basic first aid to the wounds. Jim helped guide Launchpad to the table, the smaller ducks sitting him down.

"Drop the perps off?" Jim asked, removing the bandages.

"Police showed up just in time. The ones that don't want me dead. They dispatched officers to pick up Gos's guy."

Jim dumped the bloodied bandages. He placed his hand just above the cuts, feathers glowing a soft white. "I helped too, yanno," he grumbled.

"Oh, yes, sorry. Ah, did Gos finish her homework?"

"She says she did. I haven't checked."

Darkwing sighed, taking off his hat and shaking his head.

"Aw, don't be too hard on her, DW," Launchpad chuckled. "Not like her grades are bad."

"If you're all happy settling with straight Bs," Jim snorted. He lowered his hand, the wounds healed, blood cleaned from the feathers.

Launchpad touched his arm, rolled it. "Feels great!"

"As expected." Jim turned to Darkwing. "Also, without Gos's help, you wouldn't have gotten to the last guy in time."

"I know..."

"You're always about positive reinforcements and shit, right?" Jim asked, producing his radio. He switched it on. "Hey, kid, you in bed?"

"Not yet, just gettin' in my pajamas, sheesh."

"You do your homework?"

"Yes! Auugh!"

Jim turned off the radio. "Get undressed, drive to the 24 hour grocery store in the car like a regular Joe Shmoe," he ordered, pointing at the elevator, "and pick up a half-dozen doughnuts for a midnight snack. You still got an hour before they throw yesterday's half-priced batches into the trash."

"It--"

"Doughnuts!" Launchpad squealed. He hopped to his feet, running to the elevator. "I'll get the keys!"

Darkwing groaned. "You have got to stop enabling them."

Jim slapped Darkwing on the back, smirking. "Yeah, but what would ya do without me?"

Chapter Text

The new year brought new faces.

After the former tenants moved out from the nice house across the street earlier that year, it'd been vacant, until two moving vans appeared around early morning. Gosalyn was woken from sleep, looking out the window. She couldn't see anyone except the movers in their same blue uniforms and jackets.

When the vans were empty, a gorgeous black Rolls-Royce pulled into the garage. Gosalyn only got a glimpse of her new neighbors as they got out of the car, moments before the garage door shut. One was a man wearing a suit, the other a woman with gorgeous blonde hair.

"Finally here, huh?" Jim huffed, watching from Gosalyn's second window.

Gosalyn gasped, surprised. "Are they the guys dad was talkin' about?"

"The former FOWL agents who defected to SHUSH five years ago and have been working undercover for them for three years before retiring and given new names and a new life in a rural St. Canard neighborhood far from their home and base of operations in New Dehli?" A breath. "Yes."

Gosalyn gawped. "... Dad just told me they're ex-FOWL agents and are good guys now."

"They'll probably leave us alone," Jim snorted. "We already got the Muddlefoots to deal with. Don't need new neighbors bothering us."

---

"Ah! Drake Mallard-McQuack! It is so nice to meet you again!"

Drake smiled, shaking hands with the ex-spies across the street.

Jim and Gosalyn shut the garage door. "Cheesus!" Gosalyn gasped quietly. "That big guy! He looks just like pops!"

"The kids did warn me about that, but this is just freakishly uncanny."

"Do... do you think they might be related?"

"Either that, or some nefarious clo--"

Drake opened the door, smiling. "Gos, Jim, come meet our new neighbors," he said with the face of a father who would not be denied.

Gosalyn went ahead, but Jim stayed still. She sighed and shoved him out with her. Jim snapped and squirmed but went ramrod straight and into charm mode when he faced the couple. Gosalyn smiled weakly up at them, both their eyes stuck on the Launchpad-lookalike, except for the fact his auburn red hair was neatly combed back and clipped, wearing a handsome outfit. The woman was a tall, curvy crane with ashen gray feathers down her arms, back, and legs, and darker feathers along her chest, neck, and face, dolled up in a pretty dress, heels, and mink coat.

Jim could admire their tastes. Gosalyn was both uncomfortable and also curious, wanting to poke the dead mink skins hanging from the bottom.

"Jim, Gos, this is... ah..." Drake scratched his head feathers, blushing. "I... I got distracted from work, and I forgot--do you go by Feathers and Bruno, or...?"

The couple laughed mirthfully. "Oh, no," the woman said. "Feathers Galore was my codename. Please, you may call me Suvarna Demoiselle." She offered her hand.

Jim took it first, kissing her knuckle. "Charmed," he said.

Suvarna chuckled, wiggling her eyebrows.

"I am not Bruno Von Beak," the man said with a hint of a Russian accent, "I am Kingsley Shrike. It is pleasure to meet you all. Where is the one who is my twin?"

"Launchpad is currently running an errand. By the way, this is my daughter, Gosalyn," he said, gesturing to Gosalyn then Jim, "and this is my friend, Jim."

"Gosalyn," Suvarna cooed. "Such a lovely name for a lovely girl."

Gosalyn smiled crookedly. "Ah... thanks? Your name's pretty too."

"She looks tough," Kingsley noted, "soon girl, you will be big and strong enough for me to wrestle."

Gosalyn's eyes widened.

"And you... Jim?" Suvarna's smile widened as she eyed the mallard head to toe. "You seem so... familiar."

"Oh, yes, very familiar."

"I get that a lot."

"We do not wish to bother you," Kingsley stated.

"We come bearing gifts," Suvarna said. She produced a platter, removing the silk cover: on the right were four white, pink, and brown looking cream cakes, and on the left, a small loaf. "Chhena poda from myself, and zefir from my beloved."

Drake took the platter. "These look very delicious," he said, "but usually older, current neighbors give new neighbors welcoming gifts."

The couple chortled. "Think nothing of it," Suvarna reassured, waving a hand. "In return, perhaps you and your family would like to have dinner with us on Saturday? At our house, of course; we will do all the cooking!"

Drake looked to Jim and Gosalyn. Gosalyn was already digging into a zefir; she smiled and gave a thumbs up.

"I'd really love to see you there, Jim," Suvarna said, her husband nodding.

Jim blushed slightly. "Well, then, how could I possibly turn you two lovely people down?"

---

It would take some time for Launchpad and Kingsley to adjust seeing each other and not freak out or think the other was a weird mirror. They weren't related in the least. Doctor Bellum said things like this happened more frequently than one might believe, but also posed the possibility of a doppelgänger.

"Doppelgängers wish to kill the original and assume their lives," Doctor Bellum giggled, "so sleep with one eye open, L. Pad!"

Fortunately, Kingsley was no doppelgänger, had no intention of harming Launchpad or anyone else, and had left his life of crime at FOWL long behind them. They had hoped they paid for their crimes by serving as spies for SHUSH and helping the organization land numerous busts and capture handfuls of FOWL's top agents.

"Our sins are something of the past, but we know no matter what we do, we will always have to pay for them," Suvarna sighed.

Jim could relate, but he just nodded.

At dinner, the couple served a variety of mostly Indian dishes. Gosalyn was less than impressed, but enjoyed the sugary, syrupy gulab jamun with ice cream. Drake feared she'd be up for hours, running off her sugar high.

"Jim Starling!" Suvarna laughed. So did Kingsley, nodding. "Now I know where I've seen you! You were in Skylark! The movie about the spy who turns on his government to rescue his kidnapped mother-in-law and her poodle!"

"It is one of our favorite films!" Kingsley exclaimed.

Jim was surprised. "Didn't that thing flop? I thought everyone forgot about it." He did, too; he never liked the script, but at the time, his star was falling alongside Darkwing Duck, and he was desperately trying to stay in the spotlight.

"It was fairly popular in our countries," Suvarna explained. "Oh, this is wonderful! I have always admired your devil-may-care, take-no-shhh attitude as Kestrel Dyehard!"

Gosalyn giggled. "Uncle Jim! You did a movie?"

"Just one," Jim mumbled, "and like I said, no one saw it. 'Cept these guys."

"Jim," Kingsley said, placing his large hands on Jim's shoulders, "we are your most devoted fans. We were surprised to see you play Darkwing Duck as well."

"You've seen Darkwing Duck, too? It's the best show ever!" Launchpad exclaimed.

The group laughed, but Jim noticed Kingsley's head was moving closer to his face. "Perhaps you may show my beloved and I some of those classic Darkwing Duck moves," he said, "we have our own private gym with plenty of room, you know."

Jim swallowed, hot and blushing. "Oh... Yeah, I can. I can do that."

"Wonderful!" Kingsley laughed, slapping Jim's shoulders. "We will look forward to it!"

---

Jim (and sometimes Gosalyn) visited Kingsley and Suvarna every once in a while to do a little practicing. It didn't even seem necessary. These two were professionally trained to fight anything and anyone, not even Darkwing (real and fictional) could keep up with them. Besides, he thought they had retired?

Still, they were adamant about Jim coaching them. Even if there was nothing else he could teach. Basic self defense was covered long ago.

"Do y'ever think they ask you over for 'training' just to hang out with you?" Gosalyn asked, sitting with Honker in the living room. The young goose was fixing the Waddlemeyer--he had some idea of what was going on in the Mallard-McQuack family, and even helped Gosalyn maintain the device.

Jim scoffed, toweling off after today's hard session.

"I dunno, Mister Starling," Honker mumbled, "they do kinda give you these looks that are, um... well--"

"Honkster means 'lovey dovey,'" Gosalyn smirked.

Jim rolled his eyes. "They're just bored and lonely and miss their old lives."

"Talk about old. Aren't you like, the same age or close?"

"Do you want to help patrol tonight?"

"I'm just sayin'!" Gosalyn exclaimed, throwing up her arms. "I think they gotta crush on you. Both of them!"

"Both?"

Honker nodded. "I believe so, too."

---

The sessions continued, until one day Suvarna and Kingsley asked Jim to drive and show them around town. Suvarna's car was in the shop, and Kingsley was waiting for his new driver's license. With Drake and Launchpad napping, and Gosalyn still in school, Jim shrugged and agreed, taking the car.

Originally it'd be a quick tour, with Jim pointing out some of the best and popular shops and sights, but Suvarna or Kingsley or both of them wanted to get out and explore. They went to the SNOOT E. WAREHOUSE that sold the classiest and most expensive clothes in the whole St. Canard. They easily bought themselves at least three outfits each, and a surprise for one of their friends.

The three sat and ate in a mom and pop ice cream shop. It'd been some time since they had ice cream on a cone. Kingsley got neapolitan with pecans, chocolate savings, pistachios, and caramel syrup. Suvarna got chocolate and vanilla swirl with sprinkles, gummy bears, peanut butter and chocolate shavings with chocolate syrup. Jim sat at the end, nursing a scoop of plain vanilla. They bought Jim's ice cream for him.

Next stop was Central Canard Park--the biggest, most popular park in all of St. Canard. Kingsley visited the local men's cub, leaving with a couple memberships. Suvarna and Jim went through the famous St. Canard Central Gardens, known to house hundreds of plant species. She left with a flower clip in her hair, a red rose for Kingsley, and a white rose for Jim.

Last was St. Canard Cliffs overlooking the beautiful ocean crashing against the rocks a hundred feet below. Behind it was a small beach, shop and restaurant village, and an ancient brick church. They threw wishing coins over the cliffs, giving one to Jim. Then they went to the beach, enjoying quick walks in the warm sand, picking up shells; Jim smiled. It'd been a month since he and Gosalyn last went out to the beach--only next time it'd be without the annoying Muddlefoots tagging along. Kingsley found an intact sand dollar, and gave it to Jim.

Next was a pricy lunch. Jim agreed only because the couple demanded they pay. Fish, onion soup, bread, and salad, and while they did enjoy a good conversation over their glasses of white wine and vodka, they weren't nearly as talkative and outgoing as the Mallard-McQuack family. It was nice; it didn't make things awkward, and Jim felt he could both eat comfortably and talk whenever he felt like it.

They shopped, taking home many (kitschy) souvenirs and beach/summer clothes and jewelry. Spent quite a huge load, too. Kingsley wanted to pay a visit to the historical church while Jim stood outside with Suvarna. Suvarna snapped a hundred photos of the place from all sorts of angles.

It was evening when Jim brought Suvarna and Kingsley home. Before he could leave, they took him inside and gave him "thank you" presents: a very handsome black coat and matching dark purple scarf from SNOOT E. WAREHOUSE, a $100 gift card to the place they dined, and a few gifts from the various shops: a simple straw hat, swim wear top, red gloves (looking just like the ones he wore as Kestrel Dyehard), expensive suntan lotion, and pack of chalk candies in shapes of crabs, sharks, and dolphins.

"We had a delightful time out with you, Jim," Suvarna said, squeezing Jim's hands. She leaned down and kissed his temple.

Jim did not expect that.

"Goodnight, my friend," Kingsley said, slapping and squeezing Jim's arms. He smooched him on the forehead and let him go.

Nor that. Jim blinked. "... Good... night."

---

"Well, even if Jim liked them, they're married."

"So? If both of them like him, what's the problem?"

"Does he like them though?"

"I think he does. Whenever pops or dad or I bring them up, he starts blushing and gets all tongue-tied like a big dork."

"Or maybe they're just huge fans of his work?"

"This is why you're never gonna hook up with anyone, Honkster."

"I can hear everything you brats are saying, I literally have my door open!"

---

Gosalyn had two birthday parties.

The first would be at home, held in the backyard by her fathers and Jim. There'd be gifts, balloons, games, burgers, a big sheet cake, with Gosalyn, Honker, and few friends from school and around the neighborhood. She got a number of nice gifts; Jim bought her a new watch, matching one of her favorite color schemes, and she hugged him thankfully.

A few hours later, Drake and Launchpad took Gosalyn to Scrooge's. Apparently the triplets, Webby, Violet, and Lena had put together a big surprise party for her. Jim had been welcomed to visit some time last year, but still preferred keeping his distance, so he stayed behind while the three (and Honker, Gosalyn's plus one) went out.

Jim was going to clean up and go do a little fencing practice by himself, but then he noticed the cake. Half of it was eaten--the second half was too big to fit in the fridge, even in pieces, and Drake would want it gone. Jim did save a few slices for the family and two more put aside. The rest he left on the counter, in case Gosalyn or Launchpad wanted to stuff some more food in their bloated gullets when they got home.

Jim took two pieces of cake across the street, knocking on Suvarna and Kingsley's door. Kingsley answered, smiling suavely and giving Jim that weird flutter in his stomach. "Come in, my friend," he said, stepping aside.

Jim placed the cake on the table. "I just wanted to give you some leftover cake from Gos's party," he stated.

"We are sorry we could not make it," Suvarna apologized, "but we are happy you came by! For two important reasons!"

Jim cocked a brow. "What?"

"We bought Gosalyn gifts," Kingsley said. Suvarna placed two meticulously wrapped, neat packages on the table. "They are nothing special. A winter coat with faux fur, as we believe most kids do not like real fur. And a necklace with her birthstone."

"I'm sure she'll like them," Jim replied. Well, maybe not the coat so much. "Thanks."

"The second reason..."

Suvarna and Kingsley smiled at one another, hands in hands. "We would like to take you out on a romantic dinner date at Emberiza Tower."

Jim would do a spittake if he was drinking anything.

"W-What?"

---

"That's great!" Drake said, beaming. "You should totally go!"

Jim groaned, laying face down on the sofa. "Hnn."

"You don't like them?"

"Hnn... They're... all right? They're both very, very hot, too..."

"Emberiza Tower is St. Canard's most highly rated restaurant. It also happens to be its most high priced," Drake said, placing folded clothes on Jim's back, "and if they're paying, why not give it a shot?"

Jim grunted.

"I heard Uncle Jim's got a double date," Gosalyn giggled, returning home from hockey practice. She put her things away, dressed in her casual top and shorts, then came down and roughly poked Jim. "Free food! And they're totally hot!"

"Gosalyn, you're twelve, please."

Jim sat up with a moan, Gosalyn plopping beside him. She held out her arms, bruised in two places, a light cut on her thumb. "I haven't been on a date in literal years," he grumbled, placing his glowing hands over her wounds, "and I've never... stayed with anyone. Just a couple flings. I don't want it to be awkward with them living across the street... and also ex-assassins."

Gosalyn stroked her healed arms. "Oh, just go. We'll protect you if anything bad should happen!" She elbowed his side, knocking him back on Drake's laundry.

Drake sighed.

---

In the end, Jim did accept the invite. It felt odd. Drake had loaned him a tuxedo, but it was a little tight fitting. Everything felt tight and constricting. Suvarna and Kingsley were always dressed like the rich and famous, but tonight, they looked like royalty, and boy did a simple tuxedo feel a bit like a sore thumb at Emberiza's.

The dinner was divine, and they talked. Jim talked, too, and a lot more--just needed that good ole liquid courage. After a few glasses of champagne, he was buzzed but alert, still coherent but more comfortable and open. Every now and then, a leg or foot would brush up against his, or a hand would slide innocuously on a knee. Suvarna was more bold, outright just placed her hand on Jim's for a bit before dessert arrived.

And Jim... didn't seem to mind this at all.

They left three hours later to take a romantic gondola ride around Audubon Bay, with a musician playing sweet, soothing music. Jim sighed, relaxing between the ex-spies, staring at the many stars above. When it got too cold, they returned to shore, and decided to call it a night.

Originally, Jim believed he'd be walking them to their door, then walking across the street to his. But as soon as they arrived, the three looked among one another, and hurriedly ran inside.

---

"It'd been... a while, y'see."

"Oh, that's rough, buddy."

"Just the first time, though. The other ten times were great."

"Holy Darkwing."

---

So, yes. Gosalyn got teasing rights for a while, now that Jim, Kingsley, and Suvarna were a thing. Whatever. It wasn't like he was going to join their marriage officially.

---

Two months later, their joint marriage was complete. Jim remained pretty silent and wide eyed when the three left the building, friends and loved ones wishing them a wonderful honeymoon.

"I tooooold you!" Gosalyn cackled as the married trio’s carriage trotted off.

The honeymoon had been great. Jim was definitely awake and aware then.

---

"Are you gonna move in with them?" Gosalyn asked one random day.

"Should I?"

"If you want to."

"Do you want me to move out?'

"You'd be right across the street..."

"Well?"

"... I dunno. Maybe you could stay at their house Monday through Wednesday, and stay here Friday to Sunday. We can split Thursday."

"I--I am not a kid with divorced parents."

"Maybe stay a little longer. I mean, when stuff goes down, we need your help, Posiduck!"

"Call me that again, and I swear to God..."

"Can't hurt me, I'm still a child!"

"Ugh. Children. At least it's quiet over there."

---

Suvarna and Kingsley took Jim's hands. "And that is why," Kingsley sighed, "I am incapable of giving Suvarna child."

"We decided to give up long ago, but... I mean, I know we're not the youngest, yet... Jim..."

"Would you place your seed in our wife's womb and give us all a baby?"

Jim clinically died again.

---

Every time Gosalyn saw Suvarna taking a walk with the egg warm in its stroller, she gave Jim a wicked little grin. It just so happened they were outside doing chores when she made that face, and Jim turned the hose on her.

---

"Her name is Vermilyn. Like vermilion, but spelled differently."

Gosalyn looked at the baby bird cooing and clinging to her mother's chest, sitting between the two fathers. "How do you spell her name?" she asked.

Jim blushed, scratching his cheek. "V-E-R-M-I... L-Y-N."

Gosalyn was starry-eyed. "Oh my Quiverwing!"

"Oh, that's wonderful," Drake cooed.

"She looks so cute and tiny," Launchpad said, wiping away tears. "One day she'll be all grown up like our Gos and the kids..."

"So, wait," Gosalyn mumbled, stroking her chin, "is her full name... Vermilyn Demoiselle-Shrike-Starling."

"We've decided to use Shrike as her surname," Jim explained, "and Ibis will be her middle name, after Suvarna's mother."

"Vermilyn was the top choice," Suvarna said, "Jim liked it best, so he insisted we use it."

"She is good and beautiful no matter her name," Kingsley said.

"Most definitely."

----

When Vermilyn's mummy and papa were out or busy, her dad would watch over her. Even as Jim yelled and barked commands at Darkwing Duck, Launchpad, and even Quiverwing Quack, healing their wounds, some minor, some major, Vermilyn remained hanging from the sling on his chest, quietly sucking on her fingers and knocking back a lot of milk.

"Are you gonna grow up to be a hero, too?" Gosalyn giggled, sliding her pink feather in the baby bird's curly hair. "You can be my sidekick!"

"Absolutely not," Jim spat, "she's no one's sidekick."

---

Jim, Kingsley, and Suvarna were older now, but still looked and felt young. Perhaps it'd been their lifestyles always keeping them on their toes--usually that'd age them faster. Maybe Scrooge McDuck's luck had been transferred to them with Launchpad as a carrier. Maybe it was due to “Posiduck’s” powers.

"Your dad said you're not going on patrol tonight," Jim groused, holding Vermilyn's hand. Almost seven now, she wore a lovely, frilly pink dress, her feathers gray, and dark hair done up in intricate curls and bows. "You watch Vermilyn."

"Hooray!" Vermilyn giggled, skipping over to Gosalyn and hugging her leg. "Big sister Gosalyn's gonna watch me!"

Gosalyn glowered at Jim. Jim grinned back.

"Dangit," Gosalyn huffed, picking up Vermilyn. "You know I can't say no to this face."

Vermilyn giggled, batting her long eyelashes.

"When are you coming back?"

"I'm not leaving home."

"Suvarna and Kingsley are stay--oh God."

Jim gave Gosalyn the finger guns.

"No!" Gosalyn cried.

Vermilyn just squealed, waving her hands in the air.