Gladstone wondered idly if this’d be a good time to tell Donald.
“Are you mad?” he asked, more than a little bit of fear having crept its way into his voice.
“Not mad at all,” Donald said in a delicate way as he turned at the corner. It was dark out already, with soft rain falling and blurring Duckburg’s thousand lights.
Gladstone liked the rain. It made him feel seen, somehow, languishing under bright lights and splashing water, or perhaps walking through Duckburg as soft jazz played from a bar up ahead. He didn’t mind getting soaked; the sound of raindrops hitting pavement and the scent of petrichor more than made up for it. He leaned against the car-door.
“Look, I’m sorry, D-cube, I was- it slipped my mind.”
“It’s all right.”
“I would have caught the first flight out.”
“It’s okay.” Donald glanced at Gladstone before turning his gaze back on the road. He dismissed the fear that he could just look at him and know all of Gladstone's guilty thoughts, all of the dreams and fantasies he had spent seven years trying to throw away. “You know, it means a lot that you’d even fly out for today.”
“Happy birthday, still. You're 32 years old, congrats.”
"It's not like I had a choice in getting older."
"If you did, I'd really question your logic." Gladstone had gotten Donald a present. Granted, he had gotten the present years ago, and had been trying since then to work up the nerve to give the damn thing. “Do you want to go pick up some food or something? Ice cream? I’ll pay.”
“You mean, your luck will pay.”
“So? Look, nothing wrong with being a little lucky. You deserve to kick back a little. Living with Uncle Moneybags sure ain’t easy, you know, and you’re taking care of the kids."
Donald rolled his eyes, but he was smiling as he pulled into a McAlan’s. They ordered two ice creams, paid entirely in change that happened to be blown into the car when they rolled down the window to pay. After a few seconds of an intense, but very short, disagreement, they decided to park and relax a bit.
Gladstone opened his mouth, ready to say something akin to thanks for not being mad after Macaw, but something told him to not talk and to just shut up and eat his ice cream before it melted.
He knew that Donald really missed Della. He did, too. He wanted nothing more than to see her again, but even his luck didn't help. All it said was that she was heavenwards. He had made a little offering of a prayer and a candle earlier, but they couldn't shake off the fact that this was a sad birthday. It had been eleven years since she had died, and it never got much easier.
"If she was here right now," said Donald as he took a bite, "she'd thank you too."
"She'd also want you to take care of yourself."
Fuck, he knew where this was going. Enter guilt trip, probably. Not that he didn't understand why, though. Honestly, he didn't know how Donald and Uncle Scrooge managed when they saw what Gladstone had become, just an egotistical crying wreck that couldn't even adventure his way past a simple luck spirit. Best to probably just say "Oh, that sounds like her."
“In the time you've been here, I’ve noticed something.”
Shit. “You have?”
“The House of the Lucky Fortune took its toll on you, you know.”
Oh, thank Fortuna. “No, it really hasn’t.”
“You’ve lost weight. You’re not joking. Or buying lotto tickets, anyway.”
“Well, D-money, people change. Now I live on my luck and casino vouchers, not on lead cents.”
“You used to get happy whenever you found cash! Now you just sound tired. That’s not… That’s not normal for you.”
"I'm not always chipper, you realize."
"You're absolutely right, but now it's worse than it usually is." That wasn't encouraging. "Have you been using again?"
“I stopped years ago because you asked, why would I start again? I never got addicted anyways.”
“You need to take care of yourself.”
“What kind of-”
“Look, I care about you.”
That should not have hurt. Out of all the things that people could feel, that should not have been how he responded. Something in him broke. It was sheer luck that Donald didn’t notice as Gladstone took a second to pull himself together.
“...You do?” asked Gladstone, aware that the top of his bill was turning red.
“Don’t be daft. I always have. Look, I’m sorry, but… remember back when I came home from the ice-cream social and I found you on the floor with-” His voice caught.
Gladstone knew what he was talking about, but he didn’t remember it, honestly. He didn’t remember the pills, or the stomach pump, or the ambulance. The most he could remember was opening the cabinet, and then a nurse shaving off some of the down on his forearm to find a series of old scars. And he remembered someone asking him why’d you do it, laddie? And his only answer was I can’t stand this.
It wasn’t about Donald. It was never meant to be about Donald. Donald was never supposed to give a shit about any of this, but he did. One gift wouldn’t be enough to make it up to him. It was a debt he could never pay back.
"Why bring it up?"
"I'm worried that you'll try it again."
"Don't worry, Don. I promise, I won't try it again. Things are looking up for me."
“I do love you, you know," the person next to him murmured, breaking the silence of a half-minute. It felt so much longer.
He smiled, his heart racing as he straightened himself up. “I know. Thanks, Don.”
"Good on you to return the favor.”
“Fine. I love you, too." It should have been nice, saying that, but he knew what kind of love Donald thought he meant. Just his luck that it didn’t get across..
Maybe it’s not your luck, a part of his mind murmured. Maybe it’s the right time to tell him. Maybe you should just give up that luck bullshit.
Gladstone smiled and told himself this would be a good time to tell Donald. Better time than any. It had to be.
Donald smiled back at him. Rain seemed to hit the roof of the car a little harder. A car from a nearby street put on its high beams.
Gladstone took a deep breath.
Now was the time. He moved the cup containing the remainders of his ice cream to one side, and dug in his pocket.
“What are you looking for?”
“Your birthday present, silly.” He blinked. He couldn’t feel it. Grabbing onto the pocket’s base, he pulled, nothing coming from it. “Wait. I could have sworn… well…”
When he couldn’t find the ring in his pocket, he gazed down at his own empty palm and smiled. He laughed. He couldn’t stop laughing. Tears rolled steadily down his cheeks as he gripped onto the fabric of his green blazer, balling his hands into fists and feeling like his throat would tear from the sound beyond wailing.
Gladstone had told himself that this would be a good time to tell Donald. The truth was, of course, that it never would be. It never would be a good time. He’d just have to live with this, with the constant reassurance that this was for the better.
But the truth was also, of course, that he was fond of him.
You’re sick. He's your cousin.
I know. It's just so hard to care.
Gladstone managed to catch his breath and straighten himself up a little. “Just a bit torn up is all.”
“Something’s worse, isn’t it?”
“Not that I want to talk about.”
“You know, you can stay at my houseboat for the night.”
“...I couldn’t. I'm really sorry. I wanted to give you something you'd like-”
"And it's not here...."
"Gladstone, it's all right. I'm just glad you're safe." Donald sighed as he started the car back up. They drove to Duckburg Plaza Hotel, where out of sheer luck, Gladstone’s room had been paid off by a billionaire's secretary.
“If you want a better present, let me know. I’ll get you anything under the sun you want.”
“I want you to stop thinking so silly and to just calm down.”
“A real present! How about a new car? Uncle Scrooge probably-”
“He called it a rotting jalopy. Said it was good fiscal sense to keep it.”
“Agh, he’s so obsessed with money! As if it meant anything when you can just live!”
Donald laughed. “We’re not all as blessed as you, lucky-ducky.”
“Literally no-one has called me that since I was a gosling.”
“Now someone has. Sue me.”
Gladstone didn’t notice when the rain let up. His mind was somewhere else altogether, though somehow he still remained propped up in his seat, talking and laughing and swearing when really all he wanted to do was drive far, far away from Duckburg, catch a plane to Macaw, and hope that some luck spirit at the next casino wouldn’t let him return to this hell again.
"Call me tomorrow," he said sternly, in the way that Gladstone knew meant so that I can know you're still okay.
As they hit green light after green light, it became a bit easier to forget why he came.