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Season of Light

Chapter Text

Prime Universe, Many Years Ago

The front door opened with an ear-splitting slam!, the tell-tale sign that his father was home after a night of drinking.

Drake jumped, crushing the bristles of his toothbrush between his teeth. He must have gasped, too, because the next thing he knew, he was choking on toothpaste that had slid down his throat. Yanking the brush out of his bill, Drake coughed and spit into the sink, eyes watering and throat burning. He shakily turned the faucet on, cupping the running water and scooping it desperately into his mouth. Hopefully the raw burning sensation would fade quickly so he could catch his breath.

The bathroom door burst open, Drake all but leaping away to avoid getting hit.

"What's all that racket?" Stellar slurred, his suit jacket rumpled and tie askew. The feathers on the top of his head, which were usually pristinely combed back, were sticking up at odd angles. He had probably fallen asleep on the ride home.

"I—" Drake dissolved into another bout of coughs, his hand coming up to his chest as if that would somehow improve his air intake.

"Can't even brush your teeth. God, you're a disappointment."

Ana floated into view, still looking elegant in her long coat. "Do you want some water, Drakey?" she asked, plucking a small paper cup from the medicine cabinet. She filled it before turning off the faucet — something Drake had forgotten to do in his panic — and smiled at him warmly as she handed over the water.

"That sitter gone?" Stellar asked, swaying slightly but managing to catch himself on the door jamb.

"Her name is Kathleen, and she's waiting for me in the kitchen. I'm going to drive her home." Ana's eyes were still fixed on Drake, her smile unwavering. "Did you want to come with me, baby?"

Stellar swore and shook his head. "He's not gonna be able to do anything on his own if you keep smothering him like that."

Ana turned to him, her curls swaying around her shoulders. "Stellar Mallard, go sleep this off."

He scoffed, but pushed himself into the hallway. "The word mother is smother without the 's' y'know."

"Thank you, Socrates." She took his elbow and led him down the hallway.

"Y'should come with me," he said, a soft tone in his voice. Drake turned on the water to drown out the sound, rinsing off his toothbrush.

He hated the annual policeman's ball. His father didn't need an excuse to drink, and he always overdid it when he was with his precinct buddies. Not like Stellar was nice to begin with, but add alcohol and he was downright cruel.

Drake had put away his toothbrush and thrown the cup away when Ana returned. "Did you want to come with me or stay here?"

"Go with you," he said, fetching his coat and slippers. He didn't want to be alone with Stellar if he could help it. When he rejoined Ana in the hallway, she brushed her fingers through Drake's feathers like she knew what he was thinking before leading him out to the kitchen to collect Kathleen.

Ana navigated the streets more carefully than she usually did with yesterday's snow still sticking to the roads. She asked Kathleen all the typical grown-up questions Drake was used to hearing from his relatives this time of year: "How is school going? What's your favorite subject? Do you do anything outside of school? How's that going?"

He slouched down into his seat, wrapping his arms around his middle and watched the blur of Christmas lights pass by his window. The radio was on, but the volume low, so the carols were muffled though still recognizable. With the snow, the lights, and the music it should be easy to get excited for the upcoming holiday.

But all Drake could think about, all he kept hearing in his head over and over and over again was, "Can't even brush your teeth. God, you're a disappointment."

Drake knew he was a disappointment, though. It wasn't a secret. When he brought home a test with a large "A" written at the top, Stellar would ask, "Why isn't it an A+?" If Drake played well at his baseball game, Stellar would mention another player who had performed better. Everything turned into a competition that Drake was determined to win, even though it seemed rigged from the beginning.

Still.

It never made hearing the disparaging remarks any easier. And after hearing them so many times in varied ways, it made Drake wonder. Was he hopeless? Maybe he really couldn't do anything right, and Stellar was tired of having such a worthless kid.

"What do you say to Kathleen, Drakey?"

Drake sat up straighter, realizing they had come to a stop outside his sitter's house. Dutifully, he said, "Thank you for a fun night."

Kathleen smiled at him over her shoulder. "Maybe next time I'll win at UNO."

If she didn't rig the game so Drake would win every time, then yes, she might.

Drake smiled at her and said, "Maybe."

Kathleen climbed out of the car and they waited in the driveway until she was inside her house before turning back for home.

"Stop sulking," said Ana, her blue eyes meeting his in the rear view mirror.

"I'm not—"

"You are. It's nearly Christmas, Drakey. Aren't you excited?"

"I suppose." Drake watched more lights whiz past, his fingers playing with the hem of his jacket. "Do you think Santa will visit me?"

"Why wouldn't he?" Ana brought the car to a stop at a red light.

"Dad said—"

Ana turned in her seat, a fierce look glistening in her eye. "I'm going to stop you right there."

"But, Dad—"

"I don't care what he said. It's not true. Of course Santa is going to visit you." Ana turned back around, easing off the brake when the light turned green. "Unless you haven't been good this year."

"I was! Mostly."

Ana's chuckle was warm. "Then it sounds like you have nothing to worry about."

Silence dropped between them, broken by the soft crooning of the old timey singers. When they were parked in the driveway of the house, Ana turned to face Drake again, a serious look on her face.

"I know your father says things that aren't kind. One day, you'll be able to tell if what he says is actually true or not. But know this," she reached back, caressing his cheek, "you are a good boy. And no matter the time of year, or if presents are on the line, I want you to always try to be good. Can you do that for me?"

Drake thought about it, but was soon lost in the endless blue of her eyes, in how the Christmas lights around them caused her hair to practically glow on its own.

"I think so," he finally said.

Ana smiled. "Then nothing anyone says about you matters, because you know deep down that you're good."

They climbed out of the car and Drake slid his hand into hers as they walked up to the front door.

"Besides," Ana said, squeezing his hand, "someone, somewhere, is having an even worse holiday than you. So no more frowns, mister. It's almost Christmas!"

He tried his best, he really did, lying in bed that night, to think of someone having a worse Christmas. But it was hard to concentrate when he could hear his father's snores echoing down the hall.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

Negaverse, Many Years Ago

"Don't frown, boy! It's nearly Christmas!" Leon gestured to the city square surrounding them, which was decorated within an inch of its life. Miles of garland, wreaths the size of hubcaps, big red bows secured to lampposts, string lights criss crossing between buildings and creating a lattice of glowing bulbs that stretched over the street.

The four main city avenues that led to Town Square were each decorated differently for the holidays. The one where he stood was swimming in golden light offset by the greenery of the plant life.

The next one over boasted red lights on one side of the street and green on the other.

Complicated metal structures hung down in between the buildings over on the opposite street, large spindley things lined with brilliant white lights that reached out in delicate branches like cracks in a frozen lake.

The final street had large illuminated snowflakes hanging from above, suspended next to colossal ornaments, their gleaming multicolored surfaces reflecting the lights around them.

And at the end of each street, in the center of all the downtown hubbub, stood the city's Christmas tree. Half as tall as the skyscrapers around it, branches heavy with ornaments and lanterns and lights of its own. Poinsettias were gathered around the base with grandiose wrapped presents stuck in between.

Everyone planned a trip to downtown St. Canard at least once during the Christmas season, whether they were citizens, visitors from neighboring cities, or tourists from faraway. It truly was a sight to behold.

But Drakey had never been impressed.

It was Mama who loved this time of year. She enjoyed the spirit of the holidays, the decorations, the smells, the chill in the air.

Leon glanced down at Drakey, the fur collar on his coat obscuring the bottom of his face. "You should be excited!"

"I am, Grandfather," Drakey lied easily. He'd gotten to be very good at lying. "Do you know when Mama will come?"

"I'm sure she and your father are on their way," Leon said reassuringly, glancing back up at the decorations. "You want some hot chocolate or something while we wait?"

"No, thank you." Drakey stuffed his gloved hands into his pockets, eyes raking the street for the familiar car.

On the one hand, he was desperate to see his mother again; the two days he'd spent away from her had seemed an eternity.

On the other, he was wary of seeing his father after only two short days apart. He wished his mother could pick him up by herself, but her doctors said she shouldn't drive with the medicine she was taking. Drakey wasn't sure what sort of illness Mama had — no one would tell him no matter how many times he asked — but it was bad enough to take away her colors; her cheeks had turned gray instead of pink, her eyes dulled to a pale blue, and her hair thinning yellow instead of flowing gold. She'd lost a lot of weight when she had been small to begin with, and she tired faster than she used to.

Even with all the changes, she was still the most beautiful thing Drakey had ever seen.

The sound of crunching snow caused Drakey to turn and his beak split into a grin as he saw the Benz pull up to the curb, the black paint a blight on the otherwise bright world. The veneer didn't reflect the lights around it so much as it sucked it all away like a black hole.

No sooner had the vehicle come to a stop that Mama was out of the car, smiling at him.

Drakey couldn't help himself. He sprinted over with a cry of, "Mama!" and leapt towards her, throwing his arms wide.

But something sharp snagged the back of his coat, yanking him backwards and practically choking him with the force of it. Drakey was on the verge of protesting, craning his neck up to demand to be released, when he saw the sneering face of his father peering down at him. He wilted, hanging like a ragged doll from Stellar's clutches.

"Your mother is in no condition to be catching wayward limpets, boy," he snapped, eyes gleaming dangerously.

"Oh, Stellar, it's all right," soothed Mama, walking closer and smiling down at Drakey. "I can still catch my son."

"Not after your treatment today," said Stellar, his voice softer as he looked at her. "I don't want you to hurt yourself."

When Mama opened her beak to protest further, Leon lumbered over, saying, "Your husband knows what's best for you, dear heart. Why don't you wait in the car where it's warm?"

Mama glanced down at Drakey. "But—"

"I really think that's best," said Stellar, something like sincerity tinging his tone. "Please? We'll join you in just a moment."

Mama looked between the two men before she emitted a heavy sigh and headed to the car, climbing into the back seat. Drakey suppressed his whimper at seeing his mother disappear.

Leon turned to look at Stellar. "How was your dinner?"

"Productive," said Stellar, his grip not loosening on the collar of Drakey's coat. Drakey didn't dare squirm or try to kick his legs so he might free himself. Stellar would only get angry.

"Will we get funding for the new community center?"

Stellar grinned, a predatory look crossing his features. "I think so. Mr. Lee was much more cooperative tonight."

Leon nodded. "I am sure the man is eager to finish up his business transactions so he can return home to await news." He tugged at the sleeves of his coat. "Terrible thing, his children going missing."

"Indeed." Stellar raised his arm, bringing Drakey up to his eye level. "Children go missing all the time, Christmas holiday or no. Learn to behave yourself in a dignified manner so you, too, won't be snatched off the streets." Stellar reached out and placed a finger under Drakey's chin, saying, "I am only doing what's best for you."

In the next moment, Drakey was all but dropped onto the ground. The impact was so sudden, and the ground still slippery from the recent snowfall, that Drakey ended up falling down with a dull thud.

Stellar rolled his eyes and sneered, "Go to the car."

Not needing to be told twice, Drakey scampered away and thrust himself inside. Where his mother was waiting.

She enfolded him in a warm hug, Drakey burrowing into her embrace and clinging to her.

Her fingers stroked his feathers as she pressed a kiss to the top of his head. "Did you have fun with your grandfather?"

Drakey nodded even though he really hadn't had a fun time. "We looked at Christmas decorations today."

"Aren't they beautiful?" Mama asked, squeezing him tighter. "Christmas is such a magical time of year."

A chilled breeze blustered in as one of the car doors opened. "Damnit, boy," sneered Stellar and Drakey clung to Mama's warmth all the tighter. "You tracked snow all over the backseat."

"It's not his fault," said Mama.

"Clumsy thing." Stellar closed the driver's door with a loud snap. "When we get home, you're cleaning out all the gunk you dragged in here."

"It's nearly his bedtime."

Stellar looked around, disdain evident in the frown his beak was pulled into. "Then he'll need to be quick about it."

Drakey eyed Stellar warily, fisting the slippery material of Mama's gown.

She rubbed his back. "I'll help you, Baby Boy."

"No, you won't," Stellar bit back. "The child needs to learn to clean up his own messes. And you should rest once we get home."

"Oh, Stellar—"

"Ana," Stellar said, his face morphing into something close to concern as he looked at her. "You heard what Dr. Bronwen said today. You need to work on getting your strength back."

"Cleaning a car won't kill me."

"This isn't about a car. I want you to get better. And if that means you do less housework for a little while, then that's what we'll do." Stellar's eyes softened. "Don't you want to watch Drake grow up?"

Mama's arms tightened around Drakey. "Of course I do."

"Then you should rest once we get home and let him clean the car." Stellar looked to Drakey, a sinister grin replacing the soft expression on his face. "If it makes you feel better, I'll help him."

Drakey shuddered.

Mama drew him closer, rubbing his arms as if he was cold. "That would make me feel better."

Stellar nodded and turned around, putting the car in gear and easing out into the streets.

Drakey clung onto Mama the whole trip home, his eyes squeezed shut so he wouldn't see the Christmas decorations his mother loved so much. He didn't want to think of the softly glowing lights every time he remembered this night. Didn't want to equate the warmth of Christmas with Stellar's cold cruelty.

He hoped it would work. That the holiday season wouldn't be tainted with the dark memories Stellar plagued him with. That it could stay merry and bright his whole life long.

Chapter Text

“And you, Drake?” 

He glanced up from his desk with a dark scowl. 

“Me what?” he snapped. 

Mrs. O’Toole pursed her lips and said, “What are you going to do over your Christmas break?” 

Try and forget it. 

He shrugged and returned his attention to the brown crayon in his lap, nails digging in to shave more of the soft edges away. “Dunno.” 

“Surely you have some traditions you and your family do every year.” 

He snapped the crayon in half and glanced back up at her. Tossing the broken pieces onto the ground, he wiped his hands on his sweatshirt and shrugged again. “We looked at lights when I was a kid, but we don’t do much now. My dad’s pretty busy.” 

Mrs. O’Toole nodded. “I’m sure Mayor Mallard has a lot do do over the holidays.” 

Drakey slumped back in his chair with a noncommittal nod. When her attention was directed at another student, Drakey dug out a new crayon from the box stashed in his desk and peeled away the paper before digging his nails into the soft wax once more. 

When the bell rang only a few minutes later, Drakey stuffed his remaining crayons into his sweatshirt pocket and tossed his backpack over his shoulder, stomping the brown crayon to dust as he left the room. 

He’d be able to melt the rest of them down tonight. Watching the sharp points he’d carved melt to nothing would be satisfying. Maybe he could mold the melted wax into something else. 

“Merry Christmas, Drake,” said Mrs. O’Toole as he walked by. 

“Yeah, whatever,” he muttered, heading out into the hall. 

The halls were in pandemonium, happy cheers drowned out by the banging of lockers as everyone dropped off their books and headed out the doors. Drakey was shoved against the wall a few times, his bullies sneering at him as they lumbered past, but he didn’t bother with retribution. Not today. Let them have their pathetic Christmas holiday. He’d get them back once they returned to school. There was nothing to look forward to but the relief of spring, and Drakey would use the long bleak winter months to his full advantage.

Stopping by his locker, he dumped all his books inside and grabbed his stash of lighters, cramming them into his backpack. Slamming the door shut, he headed down to the art room where he snatched a bigger box of crayons before using the side door to exit the building. 

He cut across the empty playground, ignoring the happy cries of kids as they saw their parents. Everyone was congregated around the front of the school for one last gift exchange or a teary goodbye as they wished one another a merry Christmas before being bundled into their parents’ cars and heading home. Or out of town. Or wherever they were going for this godforsaken holiday season. 

Drakey pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head and stuffed his hands into the front pocket, trudging towards downtown. 

Stellar wasn’t waiting to pick him up. He hadn’t picked Drakey up from school since Ana had died years ago. Sure, sometimes there was a car waiting for him, driven by some poor city employee who’d screwed up enough to be made a kid’s chauffeur. But there was only ever a car if there was an important event Drakey needed to attend after school. Or if his grandfather was picking him up for the weekend. 

Today didn’t fall into any of those categories, so Drakey had to rely on himself to get home. Which he preferred. 

The streets were swarming with people, children squealing at store windows, women shopping and marveling at the deals they were getting, men in suits pushing past everyone else, eyes staring straight ahead in determination. With the sun starting to set, the city lights had already started to flicker on for the night, citizens and visitors alike marveling at the decorations as they sparked to life. Each of the four streets that led to Town Square were decorated the same as they always were, all leading to the massive tree sitting in the middle of the city.

A group of kids skipped out of a candy store, hands filled with sweets and giggling incessantly. A couple, clearly tourists, had a map of the city open and were peering up and down the street, pointing in different directions and arguing. A mother bundled her children more securely against the biting wind, saying they’d get hot chocolate before looking at the lights. Drakey sneered at each group in turn, maneuvering around them all with increasing annoyance. 

It was too much. The bright lights. The rich colors. The smothering smells. The incessant caroling. The forced cheer. The false promises. 

Drakey hated it. All it was was a distraction from life. And not even a good one. Because time still soldiered on with the same disappointments and broken expectations, never mind that it was Christmas and everything was supposed to be magical. 

Glancing up at all the decorations illuminating the night, Drakey had an overwhelming desire to tear it all down. Considering his collection of lighters in his backpack, he wondered how fast everything would catch fire. The pine garland, wreaths, and trees had to be dried out by now, having been on display for so long. They’d not only quickly go up in a blaze of glory, but would carry the flames all the way through the city. Now that would be an impressive Christmas. 

Ducking down a side street, Drakey breathed easier as the decorations decreased. They weren’t gone. There were still sprigs of holly and nests of lights — the amount of lights this holiday brought on was just obnoxious — but it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming. 

He used the less crowded side streets and abandoned alleyways to navigate the rest of his way home, able to avoid the relentless decorations. 

Walking up to his house, Drakey smiled. There was no car parked in the driveway and there were no lights on inside. Stellar was probably out at a dinner or some holiday function, schmoozing the wealthy or more money and swindling everyone present into giving up something far more precious: their trust. Drakey could have a quiet night alone, which was the greatest gift of all. 

He swung off his backpack and quickly located his keys, unlocking the front door and stepping in out of the frigid winter air and into the pungent stench of alcohol. Dropping his backpack onto the ground, he flicked the hall light on. 

And ducked down when a bottle of half-filled whiskey came careening at his head. His reflexes managed to save him and it shattered harmlessly against the doorframe, the liquid spilling down and staining the baseboards. 

Drakey glanced towards the living room and saw, to his dismay, the swaying silhouette of Stellar unfolding itself from the couch. “Why’re you making so much damn noise?” Stellar demanded.

Was it too late for Drakey to leave? Disappear into the night and pretend he’d never even come home? Claim that Stellar had imagined the whole thing when he was confronted later? He grabbed his backpack and reached behind to grasp the door handle, slowly twisting it. 

Stellar stumbled out into the front hall, squinting in the light and dashing Drakey’s hopes of a quick getaway. “You have a death wish, boy? Shut off the light.” 

Drakey wisely kept his beak shut and stared up at his father with a carefully blank expression. But he kept the light on. Stellar was a bad enough enemy to face off in the light of day; the darkness only increased his hostility since he was no longer afraid of being seen. 

Stellar raised his arm up, another whiskey bottle in hand, and smashed it against the wall next to Drakey’s head. 

The boy didn’t flinch. Not even when Stellar shoved him against the door and pressed a shard of glass to his throat. 

“Turn off the light,” Stellar purred, a shiver racing down Drakey’s spine at the soft tone. He reached back and floundered for the light switch. Feeling the bite of glass press against the soft flesh of his throat, he tried to swallow his fear and finally managed to locate the switch, flipping it off. 

Stellar didn’t let up, but instead pressed his advantage, gripping Drakey’s shoulder hard and shoving him down. Drakey winced as he was forced to sit on the broken bottle shards, but didn’t say anything as Stellar crouched down in front of him, the piece of glass once again pressed against Drakey’s throat. 

“You disobey me again,” Stellar breathed, the stink of whiskey on his breath, “and you’ll get more than a few scrapes. I have business deals during this holiday break of yours and if you so much as breathe in my direction, I swear to God I’ll throw something heftier than a bottle at your head, and next time, I won’t miss.” Stellar glared at Drakey, his grey eyes glittering in the filtered beam of light from the streetlamp outside. “You understand me?”

Drakey nodded and winced when the shard of glass pressed into his neck, the sting telling him it had broken skin. 

Stellar stared at Drakey for a few silent moments, pushing the glass farther into Drakey’s neck before finally relenting and yanking it out. “Maybe you have some brains after all, Drakey,” he sneered at the nickname and Drakey flinched. 

That was what his mother had called him. Stellar liked to use it to remind Drakey of what he’d lost. To mock Drakey’s memory of her. To take away the one thing that had been exclusively hers and twist it, make it something that triggered fear rather than security in his mind. 

He wished there was a different name he could go by. Something completely separate from Ana or Stellar that wouldn’t evoke these painful memories every time someone called for him. 

“Stay out of my sight,” Stellar said, shoving Drakey into the wall before standing. He shuffled down the hall to his bedroom, tossing the shard of glass to the floor on his way. 

Drakey remained where he was for a few more moments, waiting for some indication that Stellar wasn’t coming back before moving. He was rewarded a few moments later by soft snores coming from the master bedroom. 

As quietly as he could, Drakey hoisted himself up onto his feet, biting back a whimper as glass shards buried themselves further into his skin. Hoisting his backpack up, he went straight to the bathroom where he turned on the shower and locked the door. 

Using tweezers and the mirror, Drakey dug out all the pieces of glass that had cut into his skin. A warm shower followed before he bandaged up the worst of the cuts then slunk down to his room. 

With his bedroom door closed, he shoved his desk in front of it. There was no way it would stop Stellar if he really wanted to get in, but it might slow him down enough for Drakey to escape through the window. 

Changing into clean clothes, Drakey eased himself onto his bed, slowly maneuvering into the most comfortable position he could find that aggravated his injuries the least. Sprawled on his stomach, Drakey fisted a pillow and shoved it under his head, staring off at a far wall. 

Mrs. O’Toole’s question surfaced from earlier that day. “What are you going to do over your Christmas break?” 

This. 

This was what he was going to do for Christmas break. Barricade himself in his room and hope to God his father never found him when he was in one of his moods. 

That wasn’t an answer your teacher wanted to hear, though. They wanted to know about presents and decorations and excursions to see the downtown area all lit up for the holidays. 

But Drakey had done all of that before. 

And look where loving Christmas had gotten Mama. 

Chapter Text

Prowling down the street, he scattered kerosene along the stoops and shopfronts. This block had been an epicenter of activity back in the glory days of the Di Lengo/Mallard mafia's reign. If any of the faithful followers still remained, they would congregate here with the hopes of restoring their kingdom to its former glory. Which made Negaduck cackle whenever he thought of that. Bringing back the glory days. Those were long dead.

Just like his grandfather.

And most of the mafia.

He hesitated in thinking that his father might also be dead. It was something he desperately wished for, being free from that bastard's clutches and no longer constantly afraid that he would pop up anywhere at any time. But since Negaduck had not done the deed himself, there was no way of knowing if Stellar was truly gone or not.

At least there was the reward money. If anyone found him, the price was too great to not turn in the former mayor of St. Canard to the new overlord of St. Canard.

Emptying his can of kerosene in front of the final shop on the block, Negaduck grabbed his matches and lost no time in setting the street ablaze.

This wasn't the first part of town to be gutted by Negaduck's cleansing fire. Most of the warehouses down by the docks and the food markets in that area were already burned to the ground. It had been underneath those structures that the most sinister parts of the mafia's organization had been housed, and Negaduck wanted not even memories to remain. The Black Room had gone first in a very satisfying explosion wrought by the several tons of dynamite he'd lugged down there. Followed closely by other torture chambers, secret prisons, meeting rooms, and offices. He slaughtered everyone he came across while creating his path of destruction; prisoners didn't interest him. He he didn't want to treat the symptoms, he needed to cure the disease.

Satisfaction purred in his chest as he watched the block slowly catch fire, the brilliant light of the inferno offsetting the darkness of the night. The pops of the ornaments and string lights exploding were like music to his ears. Decorations really were great kindling; he'd have to go destroy more after this just for the fun of it. Because some genius had decided that it didn't matter if there was a violent uprising within St. Canard, Christmas was Christmas and they were going to decorate like everything was the same.

But it very much was not.

A door from one of the shops banged opened, someone stumbling out into the street coughing and hacking.

Finally.

Negaduck didn't bother sneaking up. Didn't worry about lightening his footsteps. This fool was clearly too distracted with trying to breathe to worry about an approaching predator.

Which was a shame. Negaduck did love a good chase. Maybe he could go out and hunt later.

The man continued to cough, falling to his knees in the snow, his whole body heaving with the desperate attempts to suck clean air into his lungs.

Even face down gasping in the snowdrift, Negaduck recognized him. Mr. Cole, his grandfather's press secretary. Though, that was a bit unfair. Mr. Cole had served both Leon and Stellar equally, closely connected to all of Stellar's campaigns as well as Leon's events. "Press secretary" might have been his official title, but he had been so much more; someone who gained the trust of others only to betray them to Stellar and Leon later.

Mr. Cole's body count was quite high, even if he had never physically killed anyone himself.

Losing no time, Negaduck kicked Mr. Cole, the goose collapsing onto the ground and gasping around another bout of coughs.

Mr. Cole glanced up, eyes wide with tears streaming down his cheeks. "P-please," he choked out, holding up his hands. He dissolved into another coughing fit and Negaduck smirked.

"Please what, Cole?" he pressed, crouching down and grasping the lapels of the perfectly tailored suit.

Mr. Cole finally stopped hacking enough to blink up at him blearily, exhaustion written in the lines on his face. Suddenly, his eyes narrowed and he leaned up slightly. "Drake? Is that you? Hardly recognized you in that ridiculous outfit."

Negaduck snarled and slammed Mr. Cole into the ground, aggravating his abused lungs enough to send him into another coughing fit.

Eventually, Mr. Cole groaned and relaxed into the snow and Negaduck tugged him up until their beaks were nearly touching. "I wanna hear you beg for your miserable life."

Mr. Cole chuckled, the sound raw from all the coughing. "Oh, little Drake. What would your father say?"

Negaduck wrapped his hands around Mr. Cole's neck and squeezed, pleased when the goose began to writhe underneath him. "Drake is dead."

"B-but not your f-father," choked out Mr. Cole, his fingers scrabbling at Neaduck's feebly.

Negaduck released Mr. Cole immediately, cold shock spilling over him. "What?" he asked, his tone soft.

Mr. Cole took a few moments to gasp in a few lungfuls of air, coughing when he expanded his lungs out too far. "From what I hear," said Mr. Cole, glaring up at Negaduck, "Stellar's still out there. Just waiting to take you down. And what will he do when he sees you've destroyed his entire kingdom?"

Negaduck staggered back onto his feet.

It was stupid, to be so afraid of mere rumors of his father. But he was. God, the idea of Stellar getting his hands on him again, of the amount of pain he would put Negaduck through for destroying everything he'd built over his long career. Negaduck shuddered, and not from the chill that had spread across the city like a sheet.

Gritting his teeth, Negaduck pulled out a rifle and aimed it at Mr. Cole's head. Mr. Cole had the gall to roll his eyes before Negaduck emptied all five rounds into his skull.

He stood there for a few moments, breathing deeply, the pops and hisses of the flames soothing the panic that had risen within.

Stellar wasn't here.

Stellar was long gone.

It was Negaduck's time now.

He'd invented a new name for himself. A new wardrobe. And he was reinventing the city around him to match.

It was his turn.

When his hands stopped shaking and more thoughts than just "Stellar" were able to roll through his head, Negaduck tossed the rifle aside and studied his carnage.

Snow absorbed color so well. The stark white made it an ideal canvas, the scarlet blood even more vibrant than normal.

Negaduck had never noticed that before. But there had been a lot about Christmas he had missed out on. The wonder of snowfall had obviously been one of them.

Pulling out another can of kerosene and his matchbook, Negaduck marched towards City Hall. If the older Mallard really was out there, City Hall would be one of the first places he would return to. And Negaduck wanted to send a very clear message: this town didn't belong to him anymore.

Chapter Text

Prime Universe

The alarms wailed and Drake groaned, rolling over onto his stomach and stuffing his head underneath his pillow. It helped to muffle the blaring sirens, but did nothing for his headache, which was still pounding relentlessly just behind his eye sockets.

When silence didn't come a few moments later, the alarm now pulsing in sync with his headache, Drake rolled out of bed and stomped down the stairs.

"Gosalyn Mallard!" Drake yelled to be heard over the alarms and glared down into the living room where his daughter stood next to the tree, a present in hand.

Drake ground his teeth as he marched over and disabled the alarm. He reveled in the blessed silence, his headache momentarily soothed, before whirling to face the small girl, hands on his hips and a scowl on his face. "If you take another step towards this tree today, I will personally donate all of your presents to the Muddlefoots! Is that clear, young lady?"

Gosalyn winced slightly at the young lady jab. Good. Maybe that would get her to actually listen. Nothing else had been effective enough to keep her prying eyes and itchy fingers away from the piles of gifts under the tree.

Drake suppressed a groan as his headache resumed pounding against his skull.

"I wasn't gonna look at any of my presents. I was putting your present under the tree," said Gosalyn, her eyebrows furrowing in frustration. She held up the messily wrapped package in her hands.

The irritation immediately drained out of Drake and he was warmed by the idea of Gosalyn wrapping a present for him. The paper was torn in a few places, the tape curling in on itself, but it wasn't half bad, really. She'd even used the new wrapping paper he'd gotten this year to keep with the theming.

Maybe he had overreacted.

A little.

He blamed the headache.

"Sorry, sweetie," he said, smiling at her. "Guess I should try to sleep off his headache, huh?"

"Or you could take medicine," Gosalyn said, tucking the package under an arm as she observed him.

"Mind over matter, Gosalyn. If I believe this isn't the worst headache I've ever had, then it won't be." He winced as his head throbbed with a new level of intensity. Massaging his temples, he admitted, "Though, maybe this time I can throw some ibuprofen in the mix."

Gosalyn shook her head before glancing back at the tree. "So, can I put my present under the tree now?"

Drake checked that the alarm was truly off before smiling. "Of course."

She bounded over to the tree and placed the package underneath another, carefully arranging them. Studying the pile, her eyes gleamed. "Can't wait 'till I get to open all of these."

"When we get to open them. Not all of the presents are for you," Drake gently corrected, walking over to stand behind her and admire the tree. Gosalyn was still young enough to be caught up in what her Christmas gift haul would look like rather than appreciating what the holiday stood for. "And you'll have to wait until Christmas morning. Not a moment sooner."

"Yeah, yeah," Gosalyn said, waving him away. She eyed the gifts one more time before sighing. "Can I go play outside?"

"As long as you wear your heavy coat, a hat, and mittens."

Gosalyn rolled her eyes but left the room in a sprint, barreling up the stairs.

Drake winced at the noise and headed to the kitchen, where a supply of ibuprofen was kept, and quickly downed as many pills as he could safely take in one dosage. Heading back into the living room, he stretched out on the couch, hoping the pills were fast acting.

Gosalyn pounded down the stairs, her winter boots louder than her usual shoes, and flung herself outside, practically slamming the door in her excitement.

Drake rolled over onto his side, fingers massaging his temples once more.

There were times, such as these, when he longed for the silence Darkwing Tower used to provide. Back when he was alone.

He'd adapted to bachelorhood beautifully. Keeping the Tower in orderly chaos, coming and going as he pleased, eating whatever he wanted, and sleeping as long as he needed. No one was there to judge him, or ask what he'd done with his time. It didn't matter if he watched TV all day and ate nothing but cheesy puffs and Coo-Coo Cola.

It was what he'd always dreamed for his future; living alone by his own rules. Not giving a fig about whatever holidays were approaching because he didn't have to worry about impending family dinners where everyone asked what his marital status was or how work was going.

He never had to explain why he kept odd hours, or why he came home with injuries all the time, or worry about being disturbed when his brain mercilessly tried to kill him.

The medicine did, eventually, help. His pain was reduced to lighter and lighter aches until it was gone completely. Drake breathed in relief and uncurled himself from the couch, stretching before glancing at the tree.

Christmas had been easier back then, too. In that he hadn't celebrated it, so he didn't worry about buying presents, or decorating a tree, or making holiday foods.

But Christmas wasn't meant to be spent alone, and he was understanding that more and more every Christmas that passed with Gosalyn.

Seeing her face light up on Christmas Day as she opened all her gifts was enough proof. Watching her play with her new sports gear or on the latest gaming console. He was proud of that present in particular. The console had been sold out for weeks, but he'd managed to acquire one before the mad dash of holiday shoppers.

Searching for the box, he grinned as his eyes came across it.

But it was replaced with a frown a moment later when he noticed the wrapping job. The curling tape, the small tears.

Her placement of the gift had been weird; he should never go against his gut.

It wasn't a present for him.

She'd just re-wrapped the gift he'd gotten for her after peeking at what was inside.

He was halfway to the door, intent on dragging her inside and demanding an explanation before grounding her until Christmas when he stopped.

Let her think she was in the clear. They could always talk later tonight after she'd had her outdoor fun. He needed to catch her unawares.

Drake went back and grabbed the package before turning the tree alarm on again. He headed into the kitchen and placed the ill-wrapped present on the table where Gosalyn would be sure to see it once she came back inside. They would have a little discussion and then he would ground her until Christmas.

Pulling out a pot, Drake dumped the leftover stew into it and turned on the stove.

Darkwing Tower had been an easier way of life. He hadn't needed to work so much. Over everything. All the time.

But it had been lonely. Especially at this time of the year, when family and togetherness was emphasized so much.

Even with all the headaches — literal and Gosalyn-induced — he was glad to not be spending this holiday by himself anymore.

No, it went beyond the holidays.

He was glad not to be alone anymore.

Even if that girl was aging him prematurely.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

The Negaverse

Slinking around the corner of a blown-out shopfront, Negaduck stilled. Listening.

There it was.

Floating on the currents of the wind.

Christmas music.

Coming from the old apartment building down the street.

What an obvious place to hide. Where was the ingenuity? The turning something innocuous into a home? He'd be disappointed if he wasn't so eager to catch them.

No.

He took that back.

He was still disappointed.

They were making this too easy.

Edging down the street, Negaduck pulled out his chainsaw. He kept it in hand as he entered the building. Climbed up the creaking stairs, half of it sinking into itself.

The music echoed around the building, songs from a lifetime ago floating through the musty air and filling the cracks and crevices of the long-destroyed building.

There were Christmas decorations on the door. Blue sparkling lights and silver tinsel. Whoever had invented blue Christmas lights needed to die a thousand deaths. It was unnatural, to see those hanging next to more traditional decorations.

He crept down the hallway, grinning as he came up to the door.

Gripping his weapon, Negaduck kicked the door in and revved the chainsaw to life.

Screams joined in with the roar of the chainsaw and the crooning of the songs.

But it wasn't who he'd been expecting.

There wasn't a small girl with red curls. No foursome imbeciles as her body guards.

Just a young couple, cowering behind a Christmas tree in the corner of the room.

Infuriated that he'd wasted all this time, Negaduck prowled forward, snarling, "I don't know what part of 'no Christmas decorations' you didn't understand, but I'm gonna make sure you're never gonna forget it."

Swinging his chainsaw, he cut the tree to ribbons, the lights sparking as their electricity was cut off and ornaments popping when they came in contact with the blades.

When he glanced up from the splinters of the tree, the shattered remains of the decorations, the couple was gone.

Which was fine. He hadn't been after them anyway.

Negaduck hadn't really been after her, either.

He'd just been on patrol when the music had assaulted his ears. And he'd, incorrectly, assumed that she'd be here. Hiding from him, but still eager to celebrate. She'd loved the holiday so much and was the only one who'd have the gall to put up the stupid decorations.

But it seemed there were others in the Negaverse who were willing to go against his rules in solidarity for the holiday.

Idiots.

It wasn't worth it.

The holiday that was all about giving gave nothing back.

Whipping out his matches, he lost no time in setting the place on fire before leaving it.

Negaduck stood on the street opposite the apartment building, watching as it was consumed by the flames.

He'd been stupid to think the girl would stick around. She was long gone. Her and those no good Dipwing knock-offs.

Negaduck was better off without them.

Without her.

She'd weighed him down. He hadn't even wanted her in the first place; just hadn't been able to drive her away. The obnoxious kid had all but clung to him after the murder of her grandfather.

Which was dumb. He was a stranger. Who in their right mind would look at him and think "guardian"?

Shaking off his thoughts before they became too dangerous, Negaduck glanced down the street, wondering if there were more bold citizens who had decorated for the holiday. He hadn't been searching for decorations when he'd set out that night, but he wouldn't mind a hunt.

Revving his chainsaw, he took off, keeping a weather eye for anything remotely Christmasy.

Chapter Text

 

Gosalyn stretched up, placing the large black bow on top of the tree. "There," she said, stepping back and putting her hands on her hips. "Does it look okay?"

"It doesn't matter," Negaduck ground out, a part of him needing to be upset about this even though he did like the look of the fully decorated tree in his living room. She always had a good eye and the decorations were still tailored to him with the black bows and ribbons, scarlet and gold ornaments, and orange lights. "It's all going to come down in a few weeks anyway."

"I can't have a house I stay in not decorated for Christmas. That's just embarrassing."

Negaduck sent her a glare and she smirked at him before bounding over to the couch.

Gosalyn sighed as she settled beside him, looking around the room. "I think that's everything."

"Thank God," Negaduck said, sinking down into the fluffy cushions.

She scoffed but made herself comfortable, settling into the couch and pillowing her head on his shoulder.

Negaduck glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, trying to remain as still as possible. Moving might give her the wrong impression. Like he didn't want her affection.

He hadn't wanted it for most their relationship. He'd lived so much of his life without it, he'd just grown accustomed to the absence.

Until this girl.

She wasn't even overly affectionate, just liked the occasional hug. Would sometimes cuddle up to him, like she was now. She also wasn't averse to a kiss on the cheek every now and then, but he would only indulge her in that in the most extreme circumstances. Like when they survived a particularly dangerous mission. And maybe not even then.

A voice in his head warned him to not get used to this. To not ever admit that it was something he wanted. Because then it might be taken away from him. Like it had been before.

But he would give Gosalyn absolutely anything she wanted. And that part of him was so much more persuasive than the little voice in his head.

He tentatively rested his head atop hers, her hair tickling his face. She didn't move. Instead, she sighed and leaned into him more. Really throwing caution to the wind, he closed his eyes.

It was nice. Sitting here with her. The smell of pine in the air. Heat curling around them from the operational furnace and intact vents. The softness of the couch beneath them.

"You can't fool me," she said eventually, her voice soft. "I know you like Christmas now."

Negaduck smiled. "It's all right."

Gosalyn chuckled and shifted. Negaduck leaned away from her, schooling his features into what he hoped was a neutral expression. Acting like separating wasn't the last thing he wanted to do.

She rose, picking up all the boxes and containers she'd used to store the decorations in and hauled them out of the room. Probably back down to the basement. Negaduck stretched and glanced around at his decorated room. At the rich colors and soft lights.

Fine. He admitted it.

Seeing Christmas decorations go up was pretty magical.

Especially when it was in a house that wasn't falling apart.

His new home had been Gosalyn's present to him last year. After setting the thing on fire in a moment of panic, she'd swooped in and had the whole place rebuilt. Identical to how it had been, but stronger, with better materials and new furniture. And, of course, the full gambit of Christmas decorations.

Like it was something he deserved.

Wondering at the time, Negaduck got up and headed to the window, peeking out from around the curtains. Endless darkness yawned at him. No wonder he'd been so fidgety as Gosalyn had decorated the tree; it was the time he usually reserved for his hunts. And she was probably eager to get home. She'd been here all day and Christmas was about being with family, after all.

He went up to his room, throwing on his yellow jacket, clipping on his cape, and stuffing his hat atop his head. Negaduck eyed his parka as he tied his mask in place, wondering if it was cold enough for it. Ultimately, he decided to leave it behind; it didn't quite cut the same imposing figure that his regular suit did.

As he descended the stairs, he saw Gosalyn pulling her own coat on. She zipped it up and stuffed her hands into her pockets, a smile spreading on her beak and she looked up at him.

"I almost forgot." She pulled out a small package and handed it over.

"Thought we were doing our exchange after Christmas," said Negaduck, coming to a stop before her and cautiously taking the package. Her grin was too full of mischief for this gift to be innocent.

One of her eyebrows quirked upwards. "It's not from me."

Negaduck glanced down at the present warily. There was a tag stuck to one side and he read the label, sneering when he saw the name. "Dipwing Dork?" He looked at Gosalyn in frustration.

She was grinning fully now, pulling a beanie onto her head. "He told me to give it to you. Said he wasn't sure how else to get it here."

He rolled his eyes, ready to set it aside and completely forgot it existed.

Except Gosalyn asked, "Aren't you gonna open it? I've been curious about what's inside."

"You didn't peek?"

"Haven't since I was a kid. Makes Dad real upset."

He crossed his arms over his chest. "Shouldn't I wait until Christmas morning to open this?"

"That's not fair!" Gosalyn exclaimed, her brow furrowing in distress. "I want to know what he gave you!"

Negaduck grinned. "Rules are rules, Gosalyn."

She rolled her eyes. "Like rules matter to you. Come on, Papa Wolf, bust it open!"

That was wildly unfair. Using her name for him.

Scowling, he ripped off the paper and tossed it to the floor before tearing into the cylinder-shaped box. He pulled out a miniaturized version of Duncewing's plane.

He groaned but Gosalyn's eyes had gone wide, her beak dropping open in surprise.

Holding up the plane, Negaduck said, "I'm guessing this is more than an action figure?"

"It's a Flashquack. Dad uses it to send messages. Or to have messages sent to him." She held out her hand and Negaduck handed it over. Pressing a button opened the hatch, a small scroll of paper tucked away inside. Gosalyn plucked it free and handed it to Negaduck.

Unrolling it revealed the message, "A way to get ahold of me. Or to ask for help. If your ego doesn't get in the way first. Team Darkwing will answer the call, whatever it may be."

Not knowing what to think or how to properly absorb the information, Negaduck allowed Gosalyn to read it.

Her eyes sparkled as she read the words. "Do you know what this means?"

"It's an olive branch." Negaduck looked at the plane dubiously.

"I mean, yeah." She gripped Negaduck's sleeve. "But it means Dad's accepted you as one of us!"

Negaduck's brows furrowed. "I am not apart of Team Darkwing," he sneered, holding up the message and pointing at the name.

Gosalyn grinned. "You totally are." She nodded to the Flashquack. "You have Darkwing tech. That proves it."

"I have it, doesn't mean I'll use it."

"Grinch." She smacked his arm playfully. Handing the small scroll of paper back, she said, "It's a nice gesture."

"Yeah." He held up the Flashquack to study it. "Now I have Duncewing's face in my home. It's a Christmas miracle."

Gosalyn shook her head. "You're impossible." With that, she opened the front door and headed outside.

Negaduck gave one more cursory look at the Flashquack before setting it down on the stairs. There had to be some drawer where he could stuff it away later. When Gosalyn wasn't there to judge him for piling as much junk on top of it as he could.

He followed her outside, closing the front door behind him. Catching up to her, he asked, "Does this mean I have to give him a gift in return?"

"If you want." Her grin was still firmly in place, which made him very uncomfortable. "Of equal or greater value."

Damn Dorkwing. Damn him to hell.

Chapter Text

Negaduck blinked when the front door opened. Dopewing stood there dressed in his civilian clothes. Looking so normal and suburban.

It never failed to shake Negaduck to his core that Doltwing was so comfortable being Drake Mallard regularly.

Dipwing rolled his eyes. "Gosalyn isn't here."

Negaduck grinned — really, he couldn't help himself — and said, "I'm not here for her."

Doltwing crossed his arms and leaned against the door jamb. "We cannot have an epic 'till the death' fight when you're dressed as me. It's unfair."

"Since when have you cared about fair?" Negaduck sneered.

Dorkwing opened his beak to reply, but another voice cried, "Oh, boy howdy! Darkwing Duck! Here in the suburbs!"

Before he turned to investigate what imbecile was approaching, Negaduck caught a look of fear mixed with annoyance flash across Dumbwing's face. Intrigued, Negaduck glanced over his purple-clad shoulder.

A hulking rotund duck was walking towards them, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, sandals, and shorts even though there was a fresh layer of snow blanketing the streets. Which solidified Negaduck's assumption that he was an absolute idiot.

But.

This Hawaiian shirt duck looked familiar.

"Sure is nice ta meet ya, Mr. Darkwing, sir." He held out a hand, which Negaduck reluctantly took and immediately regretted when he was rattled around like a maraca. "I follow yer escapades when yer on the news." The duck's face screwed up in concentration and he blessedly released Negaduck from his grip. "Which isn't very much, come to think of it."

Negaduck heard Dipwing groan, and it reminded him that he was dressed up as his sappy do-gooder double. And had to act the part.

He pitched his voice higher and tried to wipe off the permanent scowl as he asked, "And you are?" He swept his cape behind him in what he hoped was a dramatic gesture.

"Name's Herb Muddlefoot. I live next ta Drakester."

Drakester? It truly was Christmas after all.

Wait.

Muddlefoot.

Wasn't that the name of the family who used to live next to him in the Negaverse? It was. If Negaduck squinted his eyes and turned his head to the side, he could picture this idiot decked out in black leather and chains. Muddlefoot had had a wife and a kid. A rambunctious tyke who was very into torture. No, wait. There had been two kids. One of them Christine had taken a liking to; the one with glasses and the infernal turtleneck.

As the years had passed and Negaduck's need for privacy had increased, he'd driven everyone from the block, including the Muddlefoots. He hadn't thought about them in years; he wondered where they'd ended up.

"Darkwing was just, um," stuttered Dopewing, his tongue tripping over the lie.

Best to leave these things to the professionals.

"I stopped by to see Gosalyn. She's my apprentice, you know." Negaduck puffed out his chest in pride which, really, didn't take much acting on his part.

"I heard 'bout that! She revealed her secret identity on The Kelly Starling Show." Herb leaned into Negaduck, smiling. "Miss. Starling's Binkie's favorite TV host, she never misses an episode." He stood straight with a sigh. "To think our little Gos-a-roonie's a superhero! Aren't ya proud of her, Drake?"

"Very." The warmth there was unmistakeable.

"So you've been the one trainin' her?" Herb asked, grinning down at Negaduck.

"Sure have."

"Are ya gonna let her have some time off? The Christmas holidays are comin' and I'm sure Drakester wants ta spend time with her."

Well, Drakester was gonna have to get in line.

Negaduck took a breath, biting down the snarl and possessiveness that surged through him. Gosalyn wasn't his alone. He had to share.

"Well, citizen, you know villainy doesn't rest!" Negaduck tossed his head back and placed his fists on his hips in what he hoped was a heroic pose.

"Not even for Christmas?" Herb looked distressed.

"Especially not for Christmas," Dopewing said. Negaduck sent him a glare to which Doltwing rolled his eyes.

"That's a real shame. That why ya haven't decorated the house, Drake?" Herb asked. "Cause Gosie's workin' so much?"

"I did decorate," Dipwing ground out.

He had. There were lights strung along the sides of the house and a wreath on the front door. It was more than Negaduck did.

"Didn't think you were done. Christmas is the time ta really go all out, ya know?" He elbowed Negaduck and the mallard gripped his cape to keep his fingers from digging out the Glock strapped to his side.

Herb glanced back at his house. "Well, best get goin'. Binkie's makin' beef stew fer the game tonight." He smiled down at Negaduck. "Who you rootin' for?"

"I don't have time to watch sports!" Negaduck said, really going for the grandiose melodrama that his double was known for. "There's evil afoot in this fair city of ours and I must be ever vigilant so the daring devils don't desecrate downtown!"

Herb blinked a few times before shrugging. "Guess football's not for everyone. Ya wanna come over to watch the game, Drake-a-roonie? With Gos out helpin' out Mr. Darkwing all night, figure your house will be mighty lonely."

"Thanks, Herb, but I just have so much going on."

"If ya change yer mind, you're always welcome! Nice ta meet ya, Mr. Darkwing! Keep an eye on Gos fer us, will ya?"

Of course he would. Imbecile.

Herb trundled down the driveway in his ridiculous sandals that Negaduck hoped were getting soaked in the snow.

"I do not sound like that," said Dipwing. When Negaduck turned to face him, his arms were crossed over his chest and a scowl darkened his expression.

Negaduck grinned. "Then you've never listened to yourself."

Dorkwing rolled his eyes. "You might as well come in. Don't want all my neighbors to come over here asking Darkwing Duck for advice."

"I don't think anyone would, but whatever makes you feel better." Negaduck walked into the foyer.

Duncewing closed the front door then faced Negaduck. The sweater vest looked even more pathetic in such a domestic setting. "What did you come here for if it wasn't to see Gosalyn?"

"It's for her," Negaduck explained, removing the violet fedora and scratching at his feathers. He was probably allergic to this color scheme. "I need you to keep her away from the Negaverse for a few days."

Dopewing raised an eyebrow. "Why are you suddenly territorial?"

Negaduck bared his teeth. "I've always been territorial."

"Not with Gosalyn." Doltwing furrowed his brow. "Okay, yes you are. I take that back. But why do you want to keep her away?"

Negaduck glanced around the room, comparing the house to his own. He couldn't help it; Dorkwing was a version of him from another universe. It was bizarre to see what his life could have been like if circumstances had been different.

It was tidy but not clean, this house. There were shoes by the front door. The cushions on the couch were askew, a blanket strewn across them proof of a nap that someone had taken earlier that day. It was comfortable, loathe as he was to admit it. The house was lived in, the occupants not only at ease within the confines of the home, but with one another.

Negaduck's house was in better shape now that it had been rebuilt by Gosalyn. It felt more like a home than it ever had. But it wasn't near the levels of comfort that this one was. The benefit of living together for several decades, he supposed.

Duncewing's expression was still skeptical, his eyes studying Negaduck's face.

Negaduck sighed. "It's… it's for Christmas," he spat out, hating that he had to explain himself to the likes of Dipwing Dork.

Understanding dawned on Dopewing's face. "You're setting something up for her."

"Sort of."

"Do you even know how hard that's gonna be, keeping her here?" Dunewing said around a sigh. "She's always thought of rules as suggestions."

"Are you that useless? It's just for a few days. You can't handle this?"

A heavy silence passed between them before Dorkwing said, "I'll need to recruit if you want this to be successful."

"Recruit?" Negaduck bristled. Was Dipwing going to take out an ad? Broadcast it to the whole world? 'Negaduck is celebrating Christmas and is putting together a surprise for some girl who managed to wrap him around her little finger'?

"I am only one man," Dopewing said, already looking exhausted at the prospect of keeping Gosalyn in one universe for the next few days. "I'll need Launchpad. And probably Max. Between the three of us, I think we can manage it. If things get desperate, though, I'll have to tell Scrooge so he can pull her to some fake mission."

Negaduck considered the compromise. The idiot pilot and Gosalyn's boyfriend being in on it did make sense. He wouldn't say he trusted any of them, not even Dorkwing. But they were loyal to Gosalyn. And, in the end, that's all that mattered.

Even Scrooge he couldn't argue. The billionaire had the most pull of all of them, being her employer, and could very easily request her for something she couldn't refuse.

"Fine," he spat.

Duncewing held out a hand, which Negaduck eyed warily. It was one thing to agree on one common goal; they'd done that before to keep Gosalyn safe. But this felt a little too… friendly.

Still.

He'd agreed to help Negaduck. Maybe he owed him this.

Gripping the purple hat, Negaduck flexed the feathers of one hand.

As the doorbell sounded throughout the house.

Negaduck whirled around, mashing the hat onto his head, and snarled, "I swear to God, if that's Muddlefoot, he's gonna die tonight."

Dopewing grinned. "Please don't. I'd hate to be indebted to you for the rest of my life."

Negaduck blinked in surprise as Dorkwing opened the door.

It wasn't Muddlefoot, just Launchbay, arms heavy with shopping bags and oddly shaped packages.

"Thanks, DW!" he said, ducking inside. He paused when he caught sight of Negaduck, but then grinned. "Hey ya, Negaduck!"

Negaduck merely sneered in greeting, which Lilypad took in stride.

"I'm gonna get dinner started. You want anything?"

"I'll eat whatever you're cooking, LP," said Dipwing. "You need any help with those?" He nodded to the packages in Limppad's arms.

"Nah. Some of em are for you. Can't let ya guess what you're gettin' for Christmas!" Lamppod grinned at Negaduck again. "You stayin' for dinner?"

"No," Duncewing and Negaduck said simultaneously.

Lunchpail shrugged his shoulders. "Suit yourself. Nice seein' ya, Negaduck!" With that, he took his leave, awkwardly maneuvering into the kitchen with the packages under his arms.

"Speaking of gifts." Negaduck reached into the purple abomination that was his current cape and handed over a messily wrapped package to Dorkwing.

"No, no, no." Dipwing raised his hands and shook his head. "This can't happen."

"What's the matter, Dorkwing?" Negaduck raised an eyebrow. "Afraid I'll beat you at this gift giving game?"

"Afraid? Ha! Of you? Double ha!" He placed his hands on his hips, puffing out his chest. "No one can beat me; I am the master gift giver." He sneered at Negaduck. "So ha! some more!"

Negaduck grinned slowly. "You were the master gift giver."

"We'll just see about that!" Dopewing snatched the present out of Negaduck's hands and tore into it. His face screwed up in confusion as he studied the small screen.

"I've managed to put microchips into all the villains." Negaduck nodded to the device. "This is a GPS."

Dorkwing's beak dropped open in shock. "What's the rate of accuracy?"

"100%." Negaduck shook his head. "What do you take me for?"

Dipwing turned on the device, his eyes gleaming as he saw small dots appear on the screen. After a few moments, he glanced up. "You're not on here."

"Like I'd tell you where I was all the time, Doltwing. Don't forget to keep Gosalyn here." He grabbed the door handle and twisted it.

Dipwing pushed the front door closed. "What are you doing for her Christmas?"

"Have Gosalyn to tell you about it." He tugged at the door, but it remained shut. Dumbwing was stronger than he looked.

Duncewing frowned. "She doesn't tell me about you."

Negaduck paused, studying his enemy for the lie. Because there was no way Gosalyn kept anything from her father. They were so close and relied on each other for advice and guidance. Dipwing must know everything that had happened to Negaduck and Gosalyn on their adventures.

Some of Negaduck's confusion must have shown on his face because Dopewing shrugged. "I know she's safe with you, but that's about it. She never goes into details about anything else."

Negaduck straightened. "Well, she doesn't tell me any of your secrets either."

His brows knit together, lines appearing on his forehead. "Okay." He looked nonchalant. Almost like it didn't matter.

How could it not matter? How could he be okay with Negaduck potentially knowing all of his secrets, about his most intimate moments with Gosalyn? This was Negaduck, his most hated enemy. He was acting like Negaduck knowing this information wasn't the end of the world.

But it wasn't.

Somehow.

It simply didn't matter to him.

Because he trusted Gosalyn. He knew any information she shared was important.

Negaduck stared at him for a few moments longer before shaking his head and yanking open the door, the chilled night air rushing into the heated house.

"Will you have some kind of signal or something? When it's safe to let Gosalyn go back to the Negaverse?"

Negaduck paused. "I'll ask her to visit. That's how you'll know."

Darkwing nodded, holding the door open. "I can't promise anything. It's Gosalyn, after all. But I'll do my best."

Negaduck nodded once, sharply, and stepped outside.

"Thanks, by the way," said Darkwing, causing Negaduck to pause on the stoop. "For the gift. I'm still the master gift giver. My gift can be used for all types of communication, and yours is just a locator. But it's… it's still pretty good."

Negaduck turned and studied the silhouette of Darkwing. His locator had been a good gift, borne out of spite that it was.

But not only had Darkwing given him the Flashquack. He'd given him Gosalyn. Which Negaduck was just now realizing as he stood on the porch in the Prime suburbs on an evening in December.

Shrugging, Negaduck said, "There's always next year," before disappearing into the night.

Chapter Text

Scrooge ensured all the guests were gone, the doors to the lobby shut tight, before instructing the banquet captain to begin clean up. He then turned and made his way over to the fireplace lounge. Though his cane softly clacked on the polished floor to signal his arrival, not a single person stirred as he approached. His eyes swept across the group to make sure everyone was present.

Donald and Daisy were talking softly, squished into an armchair that was entirely too small to fit both of them comfortably. Daisy's smile was easy, relaxed and Donald regarded her with a soft expression whenever she looked away. Scrooge was pleased to see that they had stopped fighting; they'd argued the whole party long.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie had rounded up cushions and pillows from the sofas and chairs around the ballroom and created a nest beside the hearth. They were on their phones, showing one another posts, videos, and whatever else was on the internet, laughing and giving their own commentary. It warmed Scrooge to see them all together; their childhood had been wrought with the need for independence and individualization. But they had long ago abandoned the desire for separation, instead growing closer over the years.

Launchpad had acquired an armchair and ottoman, atop of which a large platter of food sat. Goofy was stationed opposite him in a matching armchair and they worked their way through the impressive pile of food. They conversed between mouthfuls with Drake occasionally giving his commentary. The mallard sat in between them, curled into his own armchair with a steaming mug cradled against his chest.

Gosalyn was sitting on a couch with Max lying across her lap. His head pillowed on the armrest, his torso sprawled over her lap, and his lanky legs stretching to the other end of the sofa. The lad appeared to be asleep and no wonder; he'd been working overtime the past few weeks, desperate to get as much work done before his vacation over the Christmas holiday. Gosalyn, too, seemed to have dozed off, slumped forward with her head resting on Max's shoulder and one arm draped over his waist. Their hands were lightly clasped over her knees, both of them holding onto one another even in sleep.

With the fire crackling happily, the monumental wreath mounted above the fireplace, and the garland expertly draped along the perimeter, the room might have been an advertisement for the esteemed party.

Truth be told, most of the night had been photograph worthy and advertisement ready. What with the towering tree that had stretched up to the second level of the ballroom that was adorned in every Christmas finery his staff could find. The live carolers who'd serenaded the gathered guests throughout the night. The sprawling gingerbread city — this year having depicted Spoonerville's homey charm — that had filled the grand ballroom with its spicy scent. Hotel McDuck was nothing less than a wintry wonderland.

Scrooge stood straight, clearing his throat to get the group's attention.

The boys put their phones away and looked up expectantly. Donald and Daisy shifted to face him, Daisy leaning back into Donald's chest, his arms wrapping around her. Launchpad, Goofy, and Drake were all able to look over at Scrooge without having to change their positions. Gosalyn and Max didn't seem to move at all, but Scrooge caught their fingers tightening around the others's. The lad shifted, blinking awake, but Gosalyn remained resolutely "asleep."

Confident that all ears were tuned to him, Scrooge started with, "I wanted to thank all of ya for your help puttin' this party together. The McDuck Christmas Party has always been somethin' the people of Duckburg have looked forward to, and over the past few years, its popularity has spread to our neighboring cities, making this one of the most anticipated and exclusive events of the year. That's due in part to all your hard work, and I appreciate it.

"So," he paused, glancing around to ensure he still had everyone's attention, "I would like to invite all of you to spend your Christmas with me. I've booked a cottage near a ski resort that should easily accommodate all of us."

The group eyed him in surprise before grins broke out.

"Really?"

"Are you serious?"

"Best Christmas ever, I'm calling it right now."

Donald met his uncle's eyes. "I don't know if I can stay the whole time. I invited José and Panchito to the States for Christmas."

"I already factored them into the numbers, lad," Scrooge assured him. "They'll just need to take another flight up to meet us, which I've also arranged."

Donald grinned and Goofy perked up. "So, me and Maxie are invited along, too?"

"Of course yeh are. I would not have asked ye to stay after the party if I didn't intend to invite ya."

"That's very generous of you," said Drake matter of factly. But his eyebrows were knit together, suspicion lurking there. Which was warranted, what with Scrooge's penny pinching reputation.

He shrugged. "It's very generous of Duckburg. I'm using the proceeds we earned from last year's party. Rightly, a portion of the money belongs to all of you since you helped make it such a success, and I just invested it into a vacation rather than cutting everyone a check. Although, after our excursion to Hawai'i, I probably I owe Gosalyn a few all expenses paid vacations."

Gosalyn opened one eye, the brilliant green alight with understanding. She seemed to bear him no ill will, which was far more than he deserved.

"What do you mean?" Donald demanded, glancing at the boys for an explanation. "What happened in Hawai'i?"

"Nothing," said Huey.

"Normal island stuff," said Dewey.

"I learned how to surf," said Louie.

Drake sat up to peer at his daughter, but she had closed her eye again in feigned sleep.

Turning to Launchpad, Scrooge asked, "Would you mind flying everyone up to the cabin?"

"Sure thing, Mr. McD!" he said enthusiastically, flashing him a thumbs up.

"We leave in two days," Scrooge said, pleased that everyone seemed on board. "I'll see you all at the Duckburg airport at 9:00am sharp on Sunday morning."

"Thanks, Mr. McDuck," said Max, sending him a smile.

Everyone also sent their thanks to Scrooge, who only smiled in return.

"No, seriously," Drake said, leveling Scrooge with a fixed stare. "What happened in Hawai'i?"

Chapter Text

 

It had never been a toy shop in the Negaverse; it looked like it had been a bookstore instead. Quackerjack didn't know why he had wanted to visit except that the idea had consumed him to the point where no other thoughts had been circling in his head the past few days.

So he'd come.

And now that he was here.

He didn't like it.

It had looked better in the Prime Universe. When it had been his.

Sitting in the middle of the abandoned shop, with the roof half caved in and plant life crawling up what remained of the walls, Quackerjack cast his mind back. Visualized his toy store. As it had once been in another universe a lifetime ago.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

The most wonderful time of year was reserved specifically for those who didn't work in retail. Long hours, unreasonable requests, a staggering amount of product being shoved onto the floor only to fly off the shelves moments later. Constant turn around, money flying everywhere, and emotions running high.

It was enough to cause many an employee to swear off the Christmas season. Or to quit retail all together.

But to Jack, it was a magical time of year.

Colors were brighter. Displays were alive with their moving trains and flying reindeer. And the children. Eyes wide with wonder, hopes so very high for what was to come on the 25th day of December.

He enjoyed this time of year so much that he'd even gone so far as to design his shop around a Christmas song. The licensing had gone through so he'd been able to name if after the song in question. Toyland.

From the outside, it didn't look any different from the other stores lined up along the block. A rather ordinary shopfront, the name carved into a wooden sign that hung above the doorway, a jester hat — his logo — painted across the bottom, complete with golden jingle bells on the ends. Large bay windows bracketed the door, giving a clear view to his displays and window dressings. The purple door was the only sign that something was different about this particular store, and often brought in customers to investigate.

The interior of the shop was lovingly crafted from the crown molding to the hardwood floors, dark and light woods playing off of one another across the shop. There were areas with rugs laid out surrounded by plush chairs and small tables where the children were encouraged to unleash their imaginations and test out which toy would be so lucky as to go home with them. The shelves lining all the walls were a smooth varnished wood, always stocked full of the latest and greatest toys. "Toyland"'s lyrics were painted in loopy gold script along the crown molding, a constant reminder to Jack about the sanctity of his vocation.

A large pine tree stood proudly in the center of the shop, children scurrying around and playing with the toy soldiers, nutcrackers, stuffed mice, rocking horses, and dolls that had been set up in an elaborate battle scene around the base. The Nutcracker was extremely popular this year. Which Jack had (correctly) predicted. Not that he was saying his predictions always came true. They just usually did. What could he say? He knew the toy game and how to use it to his advantage.

"Hullo, Mr. Jack!" came a small voice.

Jack leaned over the counter to spy a small girl, hair in messy curls around her face. "Hello, Alex!" he cried, smiling down at her. He spread out atop the counter so as to maintain eye contact with her and kicked his legs up merrily behind him. "Why weren't you at playtime today?"

Playtime was a daily occurrence at Toyland. Jack gathered all the children in the largest section of the shop and debuted his newest creations, allowing the kids to test them out before the products hit the shelves. Some of his regulars, like Alex, prided themselves on attending playtime religiously, and weren't afraid to speak their minds about what worked and what didn't.

Alex's brow furrowed and she drew her beak into a frown. Her mother placed a hand on her shoulder and said, "Mr. Jack asked you a question."

Squaring her shoulders and looking up to Jack with no apology in her big eyes, Alex said, "I was in detention, Mr. Jack."

"So close to Christmas?" Jack lamented, placing his beak in the palm of his hand. "What happened?"

"Mrs. Kapla said I was fighting, but I wasn't. Honest! There were bullies pushing Emily around at recess, and she's too small to push back, so I did it for her." Alex crossed her arms. "And I'd do it again."

"Alex!" reprimanded her mother.

"I would!" the girl insisted.

Jack smiled down at her. "I'm proud of you for standing up to the bullies, little playmate. But maybe next time you could get a grown up to help you?"

"There wasn't time!" Alex said, throwing her hands up in desperation. "The bell was about to ring and we were all gonna go back inside and no one saw it happening except me so I had to do something!"

Alex's mother — he never bothered with the names of the grownups; they were all boring people who had forgotten how to use their imaginations — looked at Jack, her eyes half-lidded. "Do you see what I have to deal with?"

Jack resisted the urge to roll his eyes and returned his attention to Alex. "You were very brave."

Alex looked at him, hope in her eyes. "Really?"

"Oh, yes. How about this: when you see the bullies pick on someone again, you can help out your friend and then tell a teacher later?"

Alex cocked her head to one side. "I guess that could work."

"Of course it will work! I'm a genius after all."

"A genius toy maker," Alex corrected, already sarcastic at the age of nine. He loved it. "It's not the same. What did you and the other kids play with today?"

"Oh! Let me show you!" Jack careened over the counter to join Alex, hurriedly digging through his pockets and kneeling down to her level. "You've heard of wind-up toy soldiers. How about a wind-up ballerina who can dance on her own?"

"Outside of a music box?" She sounded skeptical. "How does she balance?"

"Magic," Jack said with a grin, pulling out the ballerina and setting it on the counter. He wound the key in the doll's back and it began to dance, arms and legs gracefully moving to a song played by a phantom orchestra. Alex was transfixed, her little hands gripping the edge of the counter as she watched the toy dance.

Her mother mouthed, "Thank you," to Jack but he waved it away, focusing on Alex. Her reaction was what he really needed. He was proud of this particular toy, but the opinions of his playmates were essential to his creative process.

"Does she have to be in pink?" Alex asked eventually, glancing at Jack.

"Well, ballerinas usually wear pink, don't they? What other color would she wear?"

"Whatever color I want. There could be different tutus. Besides, she'd have to have different clothes for all the ballets she dances in."

Jack's eyes grew wide. "A whole wardrobe of costumes." He jumped up, a grin on his face as he turned to his cashier. "A whole wardrobe!" Leaping up onto the counter, he exclaimed, "A WHOLE WARDROBE!"

The adults in the store looked horrified by his actions, hurriedly looking away from him or whispering to one another. Some of the children looked curious while those who'd participated in playtime earlier today looked disappointed that they hadn't thought of the idea first.

Scooping up the ballerina and sitting atop the counter, Jack grinned down at Alex. "You can't get anymore detentions. I need you at playtime."

Alex smiled. "You do?"

"Yes! No one else came up with that idea. It's genius! Isn't it genius, Claire?" He turned to his cashier.

The young woman smiled back, making Jack's stomach do several loopty-loops, before leaning over the counter to cast her sunshine on Alex. "Absolutely. Mr. Jack knows a genius when he sees one."

A customer approached the counter, toys in hand, and Claire invited them forward while Jack jumped down to join Alex again.

"Tell you what, little playmate, why don't you take this ballerina with you?"

"Don't you wanna keep her?" Alex asked, staring at the doll with wonder on her face. "So you can make more?"

"I have more that aren't finished yet in the back. You take this one and in a few months, bring it back and we can set you up with a whole closet full of tutus and costumes."

Alex glanced up at Jack before grinning and taking the doll gently from his grasp.

"What do you say to Mr. Jack, Alex?" her mother promoted.

Cradling the doll close, Alex said, "Thank you, Mr. Jack."

"No, no. Thank you. You always make my toys better." He winked at her before waving goodbye as her mother ushered her out of the store.

A customizable ballerina. Why hadn't he thought of that?

The rest of the day flew by in a whirlwind of ribbons, scotch tape, and colorful paper as he rang up customers and boxed his latest and greatest creations. As the hustle and bustle wound down, Jack worked on putting the store back in order while Claire closed out the registers.

Or, he was supposed to tidy up. He kept getting distracted watching Claire count the bills with her long graceful fingers. Seeing her tuck a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. Observing how a faint line appeared between her brows as she totaled everything up. She'd worked at Toyland for a few months now and had become one of his favorite employees. Not just because she was pretty and did funny things to his insides, but because she was kind and patient and saw the same wonder in the children that he did. Because she sometimes took part in playtime with them and gave good constructive feedback.

Because, to her, these weren't just toys. They were a realm of possibility. A chance to help mold young children's imaginations and explore a better tomorrow.

"I know you're watching me."

Jack tripped on the edge of a display case and nearly took out his teddy bear brigade. Righting himself, and hoping he at least looked suave doing it, he glanced over at the counter. To where Claire was watching him with a knowing smile on her beak.

"N-no," he said weakly, leaning up against the dollhouse display and crossing one foot over the other. Like the cool kids in movies. "I was just…." Unable to find a decent excuse, he loped over to the counter, nearly tripping over his own feet along the way, and gesticulated madly to distract her. "Do you think we need some decorations across the front here?"

"The children would pull them down. You know how excited they get." Claire leaned over and studied the bare wanes coating of the cashier's desk. "Though, it could benefit from something."

"See? Just what I had been thinking. We are on the same wavelength."

Claire glanced up with a smirk.

Jack felt his cheeks heat. He cleared his throat and crouched down, trying to visualize something in the blank space. "A mural, perhaps?"

"Or more song lyrics?" Claire stacked the money together before slipping it into a bag and zipping it closed.

"That's an idea! There's gotta be more songs about toys out there." Jack cocked his head to one side, as if the angle would help lyrics fall into his head.

"I've always liked 'Pure Imagination' myself." Claire said. "Reminds me of you."

"Am I as mad as Willy Wonka?"

"Madder."

Jack glanced up, mock offense on his face.

Claire grinned and rested her forearms on the counter, her elegant hands entwining with one another. "You have to be mad to make all the amazing toys that you do."

Jack straightened up, an eyebrow raised. "I'm not sure if I should be offended."

Claire's smile grew soft as she leaned down. "You can be whatever you want to be."

Jack was about to give his retort, but it died on his tongue when he realized how close they were. Only the smallest of inches separating them. Her pale green eyes suddenly the center of his world. The smile slowly slipping off her face as she studied him, her beak opening as if to say something.

She seemed to be getting even closer. Maybe because he was stretching up towards her. Or was she dipping down to him? Both, he realized, as the distance between them grew smaller.

Her eyelids fluttered, long eyelashes sweeping over her cheeks. His heart was racing, the pulse pounding in his ears.

A sharp rap on the front door had Claire jerking backwards, her cheeks coloring as she glanced towards the noise.

She pulled her beak up into a polite smile and scurried over to open the front door. "I'm sorry, ma'am, we're closed for the evening."

"Oh, can't I come in for a moment? I promise I'll be quick. Its just, my son hasn't stopped talking about this Wiffle Boy, and all the other stores I've been to are sold out."

"What's a wiffle?" Jack asked, crossing the shop to stand behind Claire.

"Wiffle Boy. He's a character I think," said the woman, pushing her hair out of her face and shrugging. "I don't really know much beyond it's all these kids are talking about. Do you have anything that's Wiffle Boy?"

"I haven't heard of any board games about a Wiffle kid," said Jack, glancing over at his inventory. Was there a new release? No, he would have heard about it. Maybe if he knew what a wiffle was, knew what shape or color he was looking for….

"Oh, not a board game!" said the woman. "A video game."

Jack turned back, a sneer on his beak. "We don't sell video games here. We sell real toys. Toys that inspire children to create and become well adjusted adults, not something that will desensitize them to violence and turn them into criminals."

The woman's eyebrows rose.

Claire motioned over the woman's shoulder, saying, "There's a video game store down the street. You might have better luck with them."

"I'll try there, then. Thanks, and sorry to trouble you." With that, she bundled down the street to the video game shop that had opened up just after Halloween. Blinding lights flashed through the windows, sure to induce a migraine with their colorful and constant strobing.

There was no finesse to the display. No class. No sense at all. It was all just thrown together, the electric components whirring and blinking in a desperate attempt to pull in wayward shoppers.

The worst part was that it worked on some of them. Children would bounce when they saw the store, distracted by the shiny things inside. Jack didn't like those children; they were the ones who looked at his toys and asked, "But what does it do?"

Claire closed the door with a snap, and ensured their printed sign was turned so the "Closed" side faced the street. "I should probably get going," she said, sending a smile up to Jack as she walked back to the counter and scooped up her money bag. "I have shopping to do myself before I go home."

"Sure, sure," said Jack, giving one last cursory glare to the gaming store. "Thank you for all your help today."

"Of course," she said before disappearing into the stockroom.

Jack turned off the lights in his display windows and was straightening up the train village when Claire returned, buttoning her coat with her purse hanging off one shoulder.

"Don't stay up too late. Even mad geniuses need their sleep."

Jack grinned. "I'll do what I can."

"That means you'll be in that workshop of yours all through the night trying to get your ballerina's wardrobe sketched out."

He shrugged. "These toys won't invent themselves."

"I suppose not. But rest is important, too." Stuffing a hat on her head, Claire nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

Jack tucked his hands into his pockets, suddenly unsure what to do with them. "See you tomorrow."

Claire gave him one last smile before exiting the shop, Jack locking the door behind her. He glanced up at the words painted above the frame. The letters were in need of a fresh coat of paint. He would have to book his artist after the madness of the holidays.

He turned off the lights and headed to the stockroom where a staircase curled up to his apartment. Before closing the door and retiring for the night, he paused at the foot of the staircase, hand on the railing, and looked out over his shop. As was his custom.

With the Christmas lights the only beacon shining through the darkness, the words over his doorway practically gleamed. "Once you pass its borders, you can never return again."

Jack flicked off the Christmas lights and climbed upstairs to his apartment where his workshop lie in wait, ready for an evening of experimentation and innovation.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

Quackerjack was startled out of his memories when he heard an insistent banging on the door. Who even knew he was here? He stomped over and flung it open with a ferocious scowl on his beak.

Which he immediately wiped away when he saw who was standing on the stoop.

"Get your stuff," snapped Negaduck, his expression dark. "We're leaving."

"Where are we going?" Quackerjack asked.

Negaduck glared. "I said get your stuff." He spun and marched away.

Quackerjack bounced after him, his pockets already stuffed with toys.

They joined Megavolt, who had been standing a few feet away, and the three of them trudged through the Negaverse with Negaduck in the lead.

Chapter Text

"Holy cats," DW breathed, sitting forward and straining his seatbelt to get a better view.

Nestled in the trees sat a three story cabin. The front yard was bracketed by a modern garage on one side and a classic carriage house on the other, making the area a "U" shape. With the gently falling snow and the picturesque mountains as the background, the cabin looked like something out of a fairy tale.

"Not too shabby for a Christmas getaway." Launchpad glanced in the rear view mirror and caught sight of his passenger's gobsmacked expressions.

"Sure, but I don't know if I'd call this place a cabin," Max said.

"Well, it needs more decorations at any rate," Goofy said. "C'mon, Maxie. Help me unload the boxes." He loped out of the car and headed to the trunk, only slipping on the quickly accumulating snow twice.

DW twisted around in his seat and caught Max's eye. "Please tell me he didn't bring his own decorations."

"Only a few boxes worth." When DW shot him an appalled look, Max held up his hands in surrender. "I made him leave some stuff behind. If he'd brought everything, we would've needed another car."

"It looks fine as is!" DW said, gesturing to the cabin where the trees surrounding the property were strung with strands of twinkling white lights. A wreath was mounted on the front door and the third level balcony had garland hanging from its railing. It was simple, but still felt Christmasy. Goofy liked to have a yard covered in decorations, though, all the lights color coordinated and a Santa incorporated somewhere.

Max shrugged and got out of the car to help his father.

DW glanced to Gos in desperation.

"I'm just glad we're staying in someplace civilized and not a rickety backwoods cabin with an outhouse. This," she gestured to the area, "is camping I can get behind." With that, Gos climbed out of the car and started carrying their luggage inside.

As his last port in the storm, DW looked to Launchpad, who smiled. "Looks like you're gonna have to accept it, DW. Easier than puttin' up a fight."

"On that, LP, we disagree." He glanced out at everyone walking up to the cabin with bags thrown over their shoulders and boxes tucked under their arms. "But I suppose if I go along with it, I might be able to contain some of the chaos."

"That's the spirit!" Launchpad said, clapping DW on the shoulder, turning the car off, and stepping out into the snow.

The cabin was massive, golden light spilling out of the windows and illuminating the front yard and was painted white. It would've been a striking contrast to the green of the woods around it, but it was right at home amongst the dark skies and snowfall. The carriage house to left looked to have been converted into more living space connected to the main house, while the garage to the right seemed to be separate from the rest of the property. Launchpad could park the their rental cars in there once everything was unloaded and everyone inside.

The main pathway to the house curled up to the front door and wooden staircases stretched up from the ground to the second and third floor balconies. The roof came to a point in the middle like houses did in children's drawings.

Excited chatter filled the frigid air as the group entered their temporary holiday home. If everyone had been impressed with the exterior, it was nothing compared to what the inside held.

The front door opened to reveal an open concept living space, a huge stone fireplace the focal point with large comfortable looking sofas and chairs grouped around the room. Two doors were on the right, nestled underneath the free-standing staircase. To the left was the ideal space for a Christmas tree; DW would surely lead the charge on cutting one down. Past the would-be-Christmas-tree space lie a dining room with a giant wooden table spanning the length of the room with enough chairs for the whole group gathered along the sides. Launchpad suspected the kitchen was around the corner, which would also connect the main house to the carriage house.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie were busy running around and exploring. They called out their discoveries as they found them while the rest of the party finished bringing in their luggage and boxes of presents and decorations.

"There are two bedrooms in that small separate house," Huey said. "We call dibs on one of them." He pointed to his brothers.

"It's a carriage house, lad," said Mr. McD. "When this cabin was first constructed, it was where the carriages were stored. I suspect the garage was the stable for the horses."

"Well, there's a lounge on the upper level of the carriage house, so super dibs," said Dewey, grabbing his belongings with the other two and darting back through the kitchen towards their room.

Mr. McD chuckled. "I've a mind to take that other room to keep an eye on them."

"We can take it, Uncle Scrooge," said Donald, Daisy nodding her agreement.

"Nonsense!" said Mr. McD. "Yeh take one of the master bedrooms. S'better suited to a couple."

Donald shifted their bags, uncertain, and Daisy asked, "Are you sure?"

"Aye, lass. With all the activities we have planned, I'll gladly take a room with less stairs." He winked at her.

Daisy smiled and followed Donald upstairs.

Mr. McD turned to Gos and Max. "The second master bedroom is on the third floor, which would suit the two of you."

"Gosalyn will be bunking with me," DW said.

"No, Gosalyn will not," Gos said, turning to face him. "Our last romantic getaway was crashed by Darkwing Duck. I'd like to spend this one with my boyfriend."

DW scowled at her. "I— heard F.O.W.L. crashed your weekend, not Darkwing Duck. He saved you! … Based on what I heard."

Gos picked up her bags. "Max and I are sharing a room. You can have your own, if my math is right." She glanced at Mr. McD.

"'Tis, lass."

"There you go." She grabbed Max's hand and led him upstairs, Max lugging his suitcase behind him.

Mr. McD smiled at DW. "They deserve it," he said. "They both work hard."

DW scowled at Mr. McD. "It's not about how hard they work. Speaking of how hard Gosalyn works, don't think I've forgotten about Hawai'i in all this chaos. I will find out what happened."

"I'm sure ya will, lad. When Gosalyn decides to tell ya. Now, I'm going to settle in. There are more rooms on the second floor, feel free to take your pick." With that, Mr. McD took up his bags and went to find his room.

DW turned to Launchpad, ready to keep arguing, but Launchpad shook his head. "Max and Gos already live together, DW. It makes sense they'd share a room."

DW pointed a finger at Launchpad's chest. "Don't you bring your logic into his."

Goofy, who had piled the last of the boxes in a corner of the room, grinned. "I sure was relieved when they finally moved in together. Maxie's been meanin' to ask Gosie to move in with him since they met." He elbowed DW lightly. "Seems he likes her a lot. Still gets himself all worked up and nervous over the small stuff." Shouldering his bag, Goofy glanced up the staircase. "Yeh have any preference on yer room?"

DW, grabbing his luggage and shaking his head, trudged up the stairs. "I'm never going to win an argument ever again."

Goofy glanced back at Launchpad, an expectant look on his face.

"I'll find a room later," Launchpad said. "I wanna park the cars in the garage before the snow starts coming down too hard."

"Need any help?"

"Nah. It won't take long."

Goofy nodded and headed up behind DW.

Launchpad zipped up his coat and yanked on a pair of gloves before heading outside once more.

Parking the cars turned out to be a stroke of genius as the evening wore on. Not just because the snow started to come down in droves, but Launchpad had found the woodshed on his way back inside, and had brought in a basket full of logs to start a fire. Everyone reconvened in the great room as Goofy and Daisy cooked dinner. The roaring fire gave off enough heat to keep everyone warm as they unpacked their Christmas decorations and the boys hung sprigs of mistletoe around the house.

When Donald and Daisy were caught under the mistletoe, the boys whistled and cheered when they exchanged a quick kiss. DW was careful to avoid the plant, looking up dubiously before settling anywhere.

At one point, Huey tried to hang a sprig above Max and Gos, but she glared at him until he moved away, the plant still in hand.

Getting the whole group together for Christmas — spanning over at least three families — was bound to lead to some interesting stories. And Launchpad was looking forward to all of them, excited that both of his families and his new friends were together in a grand cabin for the holidays.

Chapter Text

He really needed to look into a winter costume.

It was the selfsame debate he had with himself every year; once the cool weather gave way to downright cold, Quackerjack would start designing a coat. And once he got it where he liked it and could start shopping for fabrics, spring had sprung, so he didn't have a need for it. He'd given last years design a cursory glance only a few days ago and he'd hated it. Last year he'd been into ribbons and fringe. This year was all about round things. He wouldn't be caught dead in last year's design.

Quackerjack had a Look™. No ordinary coat would do. It wasn't just about the warmth it would bring, but the statement it would make. This coat would be an extension of him, like his everyday costume was. He needed time to carefully control the chaos. Which he'd had none of before Negaduck practically wrangled him out here.

And that was why Quakerjack found himself shivering in the snow-filled streets of St. Canard Prime.

Megavolt was sporting a parka, Bushroot had dug up a beanie and scarf from somewhere, and how Liquidator wasn't a frozen statue of ice was anyone's guess. It always was a bit of a mystery, how he lived life.

"Oh, great," Quackerjack lamented, crossing his arms all the tighter across his chest and glaring up at the sky. "It's starting to snow."

"Now only for a limited time," Liquidator said comfortingly. At least, Quackerjack took it as comfort. It was sometimes challenging to understand Liquidator with all his slogans.

And people said Quackerjack was unstable.

"I might have another scarf," Bushroot offered.

Quackerjack scoffed. "Unless it coordinates with my color scheme and has round things on it, I'm not interested." It was the year of round things; did no one else understand that?

Bushroot sighed.

"I could always warm you up," said Megavolt, electricity surging between his fingers.

"And get my feathers fried in the process? No thanks, Sparky."

"Don't call me Sparky!" Megavolt balled his hands into fists, flashes of his voltage dancing between the prongs of his hat.

"Shut," snapped Negaduck, emerging from the Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice Bakery. "Up."

Quackerjack leveled the mallard a glare, which was countered with a dark sneer. The clown didn't press his luck any further, just hunched against the wind as the five started trudging down the street.

"Quackerjack doesn't have anything to keep him warm," Bushroot said.

"Not my problem," Negaduck growled.

"But he's gonna whine about it the whole time," Megavolt said. "I hate it when he whines."

Quackerjack did pride himself on that. He'd been working on a good whine for awhile.

"Then don't listen to him," Negaduck offered, not bothering to look both ways before crossing the street. Not that it particularly mattered; the city was deserted. Everyone was inside, sheltered from the cold. If it hadn't been for all the bright Christmas decorations and the order of the streets, Quackerjack would have sworn that they were in the Negaverse rather than the Prime Universe with how empty the streets were.

"Oh, I make it very hard to ignore me," Quackerjack said with a grin.

Negaduck whirled around, causing the four to halt in their tracks, all of them ducking down on instinct, both to avoid getting hit and to drop out of Negaduck's line of vision.

His cold eyes were fixed on Quackerjack, the dark stare giving him the uneasy feeling in his gut that came whenever the Masked Menace focused exclusively on him.

"It'll be easy if I tie you up and leave you to freeze to death," Negaduck's snarl set all of Quackerjack's feathers on edge.

"You wouldn't do that," Quackerjack heard himself say in a shaky voice. Which was so stupid. Why was he questioning Negaduck at all? But his beak wasn't done flapping because he also said, "You need me for whatever job you're dragging us to."

Negaduck's gaze went from icy and unfeeling to heated and outraged in the span of a few seconds and Quackerjack cowered in spite of himself. His heart hammered in his chest and his mouth ran dry as Negaduck marched over to him, maintaining their eye contact.

Looming over him, Negaduck softly asked, "You wanna test that theory?"

Still unable to properly swallow and having lost his voice besides, Quackerjack shook his head, grabbing onto the ends of his hat to silence the jingling bells.

Negaduck glared at him a few moments more before spinning on his heel and stalking down the street. Megavolt, Bushroot, and Liquidator all scrambled after him, but Quackerjack took his time, fully collecting himself before following. Not like Negaduck would be hard to find, his black cape standing out against the stark white snow like a smear of paint on an clean canvas.

It was then that Quackerjack realized Negaduck wasn't wearing any sort of winter wear either.

But, he supposed as he ran after the group, when you were a soulless monster, there wasn't much you needed to keep warm.

Chapter Text

"Goal!" cried Launchpad. "Point for Two Mallards and One Duck."

Scrooge glanced up from his score card and declared, "That's the end of the game. Team Two Mallards and One Duck wins!"

Gosalyn all but barreled into Drake, wrapping her arms around him as Goofy, Max, and Daisy cheered. He hugged her back fiercely as Donald also collided with them for a celebratory group hug on the ice.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie skated over to the winning group to shake hands. Drake almost didn't relinquish his hold on Gosalyn, but managed to release her before he became too clingy.

"Good game," said the boys as they shook the hands of the opposing teammates. No sooner had Donald shaken each of his nephew's hands that he was whisked away by Daisy. The two skated around the lake with their arms wrapped around each other.

Huey observed Gosalyn. "You should be Strike Team Omega for these competitive sports."

"What, sit on the sidelines until called?" she asked.

"It makes sense," said Dewey. "You're hard to beat with your long history of playing sports and your crime fighting expertise is a huge asset."

Louie shrugged. "If you're always on my team, I don't care if you play or not."

His brothers looked over to him and Louie threw up his hands in surrender, but Gosalyn laughed.

"Fine. Maybe now you boys will actually win."

Huey turned to Drake saying, "No hard feelings, Mr. Mallard, but you should be on Strike Team Omega, too. Between the hockey game and the snowball fight earlier, you and Gos shouldn't be allowed to team up anymore. For the sake of everyone's sanity."

"The snowball fight was brutal," agreed Gosalyn.

It had been. Drake and Gosalyn had been building a snowman in the front yard earlier that morning when the triplets had all but attacked them with snowballs. Naturally, Drake and Gos has retaliated, annihilating the boys but losing their snowman in the heat of battle. The good always did die young.

Drake puffed out his chest. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Can't take down team Dar— Team Mallard without a fight."

"A long intensive fight," said Dewey.

"You two make a good team," said Louie.

Gosalyn elbowed Drake playfully and he grinned at her. They did. They really did.

The boys skated off to join Donald and Daisy as Max glided up, kissing Gosalyn on the cheek. "Good game!" He nodded to Drake. "And to you, sir." Max Goof was nothing if not polite.

Drake nodded in response as Max wrapped an arm around Gosalyn. "Mind if I borrow Gos, Mr. Mallard?"

He wanted to say no. To tell Max to return to sledding with Goofy and to leave Drake alone with her.

But father and daughter had been spending a lot of time together during this trip. Being up here, away from St. Canard and all the villains that plagued the city, had been difficult for Drake to adapt to initially. Part of the excitement of Christmas was apprehending the criminals that came out in droves this time of year. But there weren't criminals around the cabin.

And Drake had looked. Even used the fancy GPS Negaduck had gifted him. He even checked in with S.H.U.S.H.. A few times.

His investigations of the surrounding mountains were how he'd found the valley the group was currently in. The whole area was picturesque with frozen lake and several large hills that were decent enough for sledding. So his reconnaissance hadn't been a complete wash.

He'd come to learn that his break from crime fighting — while somewhat infuriating — also meant that Gosalyn had one, too. They'd baked and decorated his famous sugar cookies, adding them to the pile of Daisy's gingerbread, Scrooge's shortbread, and Goofy's… everything else. Seriously, the man could cook. Max, Launchpad, and Donald had become his happy kitchen attendants in the past few days, which had also helped to free up Gosalyn's time since her boyfriend was occupied.

Drake had even managed to convince Gosalyn to go on a hike yesterday, during which she had complained and dragged her feet. But she'd claimed that it was Christmas and she wanted to spend time with him, even if he was gonna go trudge through the dumb wilderness.

Her words.

He would never disrespect Mother Nature like that.

Looking at the young couple, Drake didn't have it in him to deny the request for some time spent together. "Go ahead. But we need to go cut down our tree tonight," Drake said, pointing at Gosalyn, "so don't stay out too late."

She nodded and Max flashed him a grin before they shot off across the ice.

He'd have to get used to this, wouldn't he? Max and Gosalyn going to do their own thing. They were already living together; it was probably just a matter of time until they were engaged. Gosalyn didn't just belong to Drake anymore.

Max was nice enough, and seemed to keep Gosalyn on her toes in addition to, you know, making her happy or whatever. So Drake begrudgingly liked the kid. And watching him skate around the lake with Gos, seeing how they glided around everyone, and managed to always stay together while turning or sliding backwards in complicated twists, proved he was a good match for her. That they were good for one another.

It was a complicated thing, this father business. On the one hand, he wanted his daughter to be happy and successful and to have everything she wanted. And on the other, he wanted to hold onto her all the tighter and keep her all to himself.

Gosalyn caught his eye and sent him a smile. Max glanced up and nodded at him with a smile of his own. Drake nodded in return.

Launchpad skated up to him and asked, "Think I'm gonna head back to the cabin for some hot chocolate. You wanna come, DW?"

Drake allowed his gaze to follow Gosalyn a bit longer, the internal war still raging. But after a moment he sighed and glanced up at his friend. "Sure, LP." He followed Launchpad off the ice and back to their home away from home, only glancing back at Gosalyn once. Maybe twice.

But he followed Launchpad all the way back. Made hot chocolate and warmed his frozen feathers.

He'd had a tumultuous relationship with this holiday from a young age, but Gosalyn had made it special, with how much she loved it. And if this was their last Christmas as just the two of them, then he was determined to make it the best one he could.

Chapter Text

"Maybe we should go," Gosalyn said as they finished a backwards circuit.

"Why?" Max tightened his arms around her, not wanting to leave. Not yet. Dark clouds hung in the sky and the temperature had dropped the longer the day had progressed. Max was hoping that they could stay outside long enough for the first snowflakes to fall and get caught in Gosalyn's fiery locks, glistening as they slowly melted. He had never witnessed snow melting in Gosalyn's hair before this trip, but it was something he enjoyed watching and if the opportunity was going to present itself again, he wanted to take it.

"Because I have to find our Christmas tree," she said, keeping up with Max as he changed directions and steered them across the length of the lake.

"What's five more minutes going to do?" Max asked. "Realistically? Make the tree less Christmasy?"

"You joke," Gosalyn skated out of the circle of his arms and glided in front of him, holding onto his hands. "Dad would have some True Outdoorsman explanation about how the right time is the secret to finding a Christmas tree."

"But five minutes?"

"Come on," Gosalyn said, laughing lightly. She turned and skated towards the banks of the lake, keeping hold of his hands. "Let's go back."

Tightening his grip, Max pulled her into his embrace once more and coasted backwards to the middle of the lake. "Let's stay out a little longer."

Gosalyn glanced up at him, playful indignation on her face. "We've been out all day. We've been out so long, everyone else left."

It was true, he realized as he glanced over to the frozen banks and only saw footprints where their friends and family had been. He'd noticed the lake had become less and less crowded as their group returned to solid ground, but he hadn't seen any of them leave leave.

However, the beautiful girl in his arms could account for him being unobservant to everything around them. It had been nice to have this Christmas getaway with her.

Even though they lived together it didn't mean they saw much of each other. She kept late vigilante hours and Max tended to stick to the standard business hours. On a good day, they'd have an hour or two for dinner and then a few hours after Gosalyn's night of crime fighting to catch up on sleep before Max got up for work. He was grateful that Drake hadn't fought too fiercely to have the couple room separately. Call him sentimental, but Max liked the feeling of Gosalyn in his arms as he fell asleep and waking up with her still there beside him in the morning.

Gosalyn pushed herself away, easily freeing herself from his grip and skimmed across the ice, leaving him behind. He loved seeing her combat maneuvers and could have easily gotten lost in watching her movements. But he had a mission: to get her to stay with him outside a little longer.

Just until the snow started to fall.

Then they could go join the others.

Max stopped on a dime and skated after her. He circled around Gosalyn in a wide arc and grabbed her in a hug. She laughed, easily gliding backwards to keep up with Max, who was directing them to the center of the lake again.

"Let's stay out just a little longer," he said. "It's gonna snow soon."

"All the more reason to pick out our tree quickly," she pointed out, ducking out from under his arms and skating away. Max quickly followed and grabbed her hands, spinning them in wide circles.

"I like it when it snows," he said.

"You can like the snow from the comfort of the cabin. As we decorate our tree."

Max tugged her into his side, wrapping one arm around her shoulders and keeping ahold of one of her hands. He continued to skate in circles, reveling in the feeling of her near. "I like when the snow catches in your hair," he confessed.

She smiled at him shyly, a blush rising in her cheeks.

"You," she said with no heat behind her words, "are the biggest sap I've ever met."

Max grinned. "And I'm all yours."

They made a full lap around the lake before Gosalyn sighed. "Fine. We can wait for the snow to start falling."

Max grinned as they made another loop around the lake.

This definitely needed to be a tradition. This ice skating together.

He'd had some ideas for yearly Christmas traditions for the two of them.

Like going to look at Christmas lights together.

And baking Christmas cookies.

Building ginger bread houses.

Watching Christmas movies.

Wearing Christmas themed pajamas.

Going to a party in ugly Christmas sweaters.

Decorating their tree.

Going to food festivals and Christmas tree farms.

He hadn't put ice skating on the initial list, but he penciled it in now. Because he'd forgotten how much fun this was, skating effortlessly around a rink with his arms around his partner who was just as good — if not better — on the ice as he was.

As the snow started floating down in big flakes, Gosalyn removed her beanie and shook her hair free. Max brought them to a stop in the ice, turning so they were facing each other.

She glanced at the sky before meeting his eyes. "You ready to head back?"

"Just about." Raising a hand, he gently pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, his thumb skimming over her cheek. He leaned own, catching her in a gentle kiss before resting his forehead against hers.

"Sap," she chided playfully.

"Absolutely." He skated backwards, pulling Gosalyn with him. "Let's go back before it starts snowing so badly you can't find our tree."

Her eye roll held only mild animosity, which Max thought was very big of her.

Chapter Text

—…—…—…— Scrooge McDuck —…—…—…—

Drake, claiming to have skills of a True Outdoorsman — the capital letters very strongly implied — had disappeared into the forest for about an hour with only Launchpad and Gosalyn for company. Scrooge was fairly certain that these "True Outdoorsman" skills were invented rules of survival from the mallard himself, but the group had managed to bring home a healthy sizable tree, so he didn't press the issue. He had certainly seen stranger things; who was he to judge Drake's Wilderness Knowhow?

(The mallard had a way of speaking that allowed you to hear the grammar and punctuation in his sentences; it was impressive, really. Scrooge had never met anyone who was so verbally precise.)

Everyone crowded around the tree as Launchpad righted it in its proper place, some remarking on its high quality — which caused Drake to preen — and others unpacking the decorations from their boxes.

The owners of the cabin had offered to provide a fully decorated tree with all the other included amenities, but Scrooge had declined. And he was grateful for that decision now. Decorating the tree had been a long standing tradition in the McDuck household.

He glanced over to Donald, who was untangling the string lights, muttering under his breath when he encountered a particularly difficult knot in the cable.

Scrooge was not an overly affectionate man. But Christmas seemed to bring out his sentimentality in full force. As he observed his nephew, he had little trouble in imagining Donald as a younger — and much smaller — duckling, decorating a tree with his twin sister.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

"Uncle Scrooge!" came the small distressed voice of Donald from the sitting room where Scrooge had left the children not five minutes ago. He removed his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his bill before loosing a long sigh.

"I'll call you back, Carl."

"We are closing soon, Mr. McDuck."

"Ten minutes."

He threw the receiver down and scooted back from his desk which was covered in official papers dotted with red pen marks.

How difficult was it to decorate a tree? It was fairly straightforward; why was he being called away from his work again to tend to these children? He hoped Hortence and Quackmore would return from their shopping excursion soon. He'd already wasted far too much time on the Duck family last night when he'd welcomed them to the mansion and they'd all gone to dinner to start their Christmas holiday. Scrooge had important — time sensitive — work to complete. If he couldn't get all his paperwork filed properly by today, he couldn't take out the loan, and he'd have to completely scrap his trip to the Maldives.

'This,' Scrooge thought as he replaced his glasses and stomped down the hallway, 'is why I'm not going to have children.'

"What now, lad?" he snapped as he entered the sitting room. "Time is money, which I do not have enough of."

Donald and Della stood frozen, looking up at their uncle in trepidation. Della was half wrapped in string lights while Donald sat amongst boxes of carefully wrapped ornaments, a pout on his small face.

Della suddenly grinned and continued to untangle the lights. "Of course you have enough money, Uncle Scrooge! You live in this big fancy house. And you have servants!"

"Aye," Scrooge acknowledged, glancing between the twins to ascertain why his presence had been requested. "But money is not just about living costs, lass, it's about investments. I hardly expect a child to understand." He waved away whatever Della was going to say and focused on Donald. "What did you need?"

The boy sniffed and pointed at Della. "She's not letting me help! She says—"

"That is what you called me for?" Scrooge thundered. "I have paperwork that needs filing in," he checked his pocket watch, "thirty minutes and you pull me away because you can't get along with your sister?"

Donald shrank under the force of his uncle's ire, but Della dropped the string lights and put her hands on her hips. "Don't talk to Donald like that!"

"Then let him decorate somethin' on this blasted tree!" With that, Scrooge turned on his heel and returned to his study, slamming the door shut behind him.

After convincing the bank manager to stay for an extra half an hour, Scrooge managed to get all his paperwork approved. Feeling lighter, he emerged from his study to search for Duckworth. He had to be around somewhere; Scrooge needed the car at 8:00am sharp tomorrow morning.

While hunting for his butler, Scrooge passed the sitting room where he'd left the kids. He should probably check on them, make sure they hadn't killed one another or set the place on fire, or whatever other mischief children got themselves into.

The room was intact and the tree fully — though sloppily — decorated. The lights weren't evenly dispersed, the ornaments weren't spaced very well, and the whole top half of the tree was bare. As if that was as high as they could reach. Why didn't they use a ladder or step stool? After a quick glance around the room, he realized there wasn't one.

Something like guilt clawed at him. They had probably been too afraid to ask for anything after he'd yelled. He deserved this sad little tree with it's cluttered decorations; it would serve as a reminder to keep his temper in check.

He turned, desperate to make his escape before anyone wandered back into the room, but was stopped by Donald, who was standing in the doorway. His eyes were wide, hands fiddling with the star that was supposed to sit at the top of the tree.

Scrooge took a shaky breath before smiling sheepishly. He didn't know why he was so nervous. "Seems yeh figured out who would decorate the tree."

Donald nodded, eyes dropping to the star in hand. "Just need to put the star on top. But I'm not tall enough. Della went to find Mrs. Beakley cause I couldn't find Duckworth."

"I could help ye, lad," Scrooge heard himself say. Donald's eyes snapped up to his face, hesitation written in their depths. It wasn't until then, when the possibility of rejection was before him, that Scrooge desperately hoped for forgiveness. He didn't deserve it, but he wanted it. If only because it would wipe the fear from Donald's face.

"I-I don't wanna bother you," Donald said haltingly, as if choosing his words carefully.

Scrooge kneeled down so the boy wouldn't have to crane his neck back to look at him. Donald clutched the star to his chest as if afraid it would be torn away. Scrooge schooled his expression into what he hoped was a soft one.

"'Tis not a bother. And — I'm sorry fer yelling at you. Sometimes my temper gets the better o' me."

Donald's eyes brightened in understanding. "Mine, too! Mom says I gotta learn to control it, but sometimes I just can't."

Scrooge chuckled. "Yeh come by it honestly, lad. The McDuck temper is legendary."

"Really?"

"Oh, aye. Yer ancestor for whom your named, Donald McDuck, would grow so angry when playing golf that James II outlawed the sport."

Donald's eyes were round, this time in amazement, and he took a step closer to Scrooge. "The whole sport?"

Scrooge nodded. "The whole sport. Yer mother, too, has quite a temper on her."

"Mom?" Donald asked.

"'Tis probably why she wants you to try and control it. But don't let her fool you; she's a spitfire."

Donald smiled and the guilt unclenched around Scrooge's heart, replaced with a warmth.

Glancing down at the star in his hands, Donald sighed then straightened his shoulders, looking up at Scrooge. "Will you help me put the star on the tree, Uncle Scrooge?"

He grinned. "O' course, lad." Scrooge hoisted his nephew up onto his shoulders and walked over to the tree, leaning in close so Donald had less space to stretch across.

Securing the star, Donald watched to make sure it would stay in place as he asked, "What's Mom done when she's angry?"

Scrooge chuckled again. "There was an incident at Killmotor Hill where she chased away the United States Army with just a broom."

Donald leaned forward to look at his uncle in upside down shock, causing Scrooge to burst out laughing.

"I couldn't find Mrs. Beakley— hey!" Della ran into the room. "You got the star on!"

"Uncle Scrooge helped," Donald said, looking back up at the tree.

Studying it again, Scrooge found he didn't mind the haphazard decorating at all. "Yeh did a good job, kids." When he glanced down, he found Della studying him, but after a moment, she smiled and leaned against his side. Wrapping an arm around her shoulders and keeping his other hand on Donald's knee, Scrooge admired the tree.

Until Donald looked down at his sister and said, "Uncle Scrooge was telling me stories about Mom's temper."

Della's eyes glittered mischievously as she led Scrooge to a nearby armchair. With a child on each armrest, Scrooge regaled them with his memories until his sister and her husband returned.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

It hadn't been the last time Scrooge had put business before his family, he was ashamed to admit. But he eventually saw the error of his ways and asked for forgiveness, which he'd always been granted. More times than he rightfully deserved.

Setting his cane aside, Scrooge reached for the string lights, saying, "Let me help you, lad."

Donald glanced up, the darkness on his face clearing as Scrooge took up the fight against the decorations. "Thanks," he said.

"Happy to help," Scrooge said with a smile. Donald easily returned it.

'There are worse things than being accused of than sentimentality,' Scrooge thought as he untangled the string lights with his nephew.

—…—…—…— Donald Duck —…—…—…—

Once the string lights had been detangled, Donald had taken one end while Dewey had taken the other, carefully weaving the small colored bulbs through the branches. It was an impressive tree, just the right fullness with no bare spots and standing at the perfect height in their living room. Donald was highly suspect of Drake's methods, but you couldn't argue with his results.

He gave instructions to Dewey as he wrapped the lights around the tree, showing his nephew how best to wind the string within the bowels of the boughs and how to highlight different branches. Donald had become rather protective of his tree decorating process over the years, especially the lights; that had been his job since he'd been young.

But he had to pass his knowledge down, and Dewey was the most receptive, having the same high standards and careful eye for detail as his uncle. Huey was too excitable, too impulsive, and Louie had never been one to take charge. So Huey laid out the ornaments while Louie and Scrooge untangled more lights that they then handed to Dewey and Donald.

Dewey took Donald's instruction well to the point where Donald was able to allow him to complete the top of the tree himself. The other two gave their opinions, which Dewey would accept if they were right, or disregard if it went against his instinct.

Sitting next to Daisy on a nearby loveseat, Donald put an arm around her and she immediately curled into his side. He watched his nephews with pride swelling in his chest, more grateful than he had words for that they were getting to spend another Christmas together.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

Donald stepped out of the cab, the knot in his gut loosening when he saw the mansion standing in front of him, stately with white drifts of snow piled along the facade. Shouldering his bag, Donald bid his driver a merry Christmas before approaching the house. Once he set foot inside, where the warmth enveloped him like a blanket, the smell of gingerbread so strong he could taste the bite of spice on his tongue, Donald released a sigh as his lingering anxiety melted away.

He was home.

Just in time for Christmas.

He'd been told that he would have to spend the holidays at the Duckburg naval base to help with their influx of charity events, but the toy drive had finished early and Donald had been able to convince his superior officer to give him the night and the next day off so he could see his family. He had to report back at 0600 the day after Christmas, but it was worth it to be able to spend the holiday with his boys.

Stashing his coat in the closet, Donald left his bag by the front door and wandered down to the sitting room that had been used for family Christmas festivities for as long as he could remember. The mansion was adorned in its customary garlands, holly berries, wreaths, and numerous Christmas trees.

Donald had probably missed decorating the family's tree, arriving so late on Christmas Eve, but that didn't matter. His boys did.

Having reached the sitting room, Donald poked his head in.

Uncle Scrooge was handing the boys presents, wrapped in gilded papers and ornate bows, the kids eagerly piling them under the tree.

"This weird shaped one's for you, Dewey," Louie said, holding it out for his brother's inspection. Dewey took the long package, studying it before placing it alongside the others.

"Aren't you gonna shake it or anything?" Huey asked, setting down a rectangular present to he could face his brother.

"Ye aren't supposed to shake or peek at your gifts before opening them, lad," Uncle Scrooge berated.

"But that's the fun part!" Huey lamented.

Uncle Scrooge scowled. "I'll station Duckworth at this door all night if I hear any more talk of peeking at the presents. It's tradition to open all the gifts on Christmas morning with the family."

"It's not gonna feel much like Christmas without Uncle Donald," said Dewey, pushing a pile of presents farther under the tree.

"Aye, I know, lad. But he's doing important work that he can't be pulled away from."

"At least his presents for us came!" said Louie, nudging Dewey. "That way he'll still kinda be here with us."

Dewey sighed. "But it's not the same."

Thoroughly warmed by his family's affection, Donald stepped into the doorway. "Good thing I got the day off, then."

The boys whirled around, identical grins on their faces as they cried, "Uncle Donald!" in unison. They scrambled over to the door, all three leaping into his arms. Donald caught them with practiced ease and nuzzled each of them individually.

"Welcome home, lad," Uncle Scrooge said, a smile on his beak. He walked over, patting Donald on the shoulder. "How long will ye be stayin' for?"

"Just for tomorrow," Donald said, grinning down at his boys. "I gotta be back at the base on the 26th."

"But you'll be here for Christmas!" exclaimed Louie.

Donald nodded and the boys cheered, squirming out of his embrace to drag him over to the tree.

"We had to decorate without you, but whaddya think?"

"We got your presents! See? And we have some for you!"

"Wanna help us put out the milk and cookies, Uncle Donald?"

Even as the chaos of three excited boys on Christmas Eve descended around him, Donald couldn't wipe the smile from his beak. It had been months since they'd been together, and he'd missed them all desperately. Even though he knew that they were well looked after by Uncle Scrooge, Donald still felt guilty that he missed so much of their lives. But hearing snippets of it now in between their high emotions of the holiday soothed the ache of separation.

It was sensible Uncle Scrooge that reminded the boys that they needed to be asleep for Santa to come. Donald took them up to their room and tucked each of them in.

Huey and Louie fell asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows, but Dewey stayed awake, his large eyes reflecting the light filtering in from the hallway.

Smoothing a hand through his feathers, Donald smiled softly. "Go to sleep," he said gently. "I'll see you in the morning."

Dewey smiled and curled onto his side, closing his eyes.

Donald stayed for a few more moments, carding his fingers through Dewey's downy feathers.

He was sure Dewey was asleep when the young duck suddenly whispered, "I love you, Dad."

That happened sometimes. When the boys were sleep deprived, nervous, or sick, they'd slip and call him "dad". He never corrected them, even though it was probably disrespectful to Della. The happiness that surged through him when he was given the honorary title always held his tongue.

Leaning down, Donald pressed a kiss to Dewey's forehead and whispered, "I love you, Dewey." That seemed to be what he needed, because in the next moment, Dewey was fast asleep.

His smile still plastered on his beak, Donald crept out of their room.

When he went down to the kitchen to grab something to eat, Uncle Scrooge was there with a plate already prepared.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

"What do ya think, Uncle D?" Dewey asked, leaning against the back of the loveseat, eyes fixed on the tree. "I do okay?"

Donald studied Dewey's handiwork as Huey and Louie separated the ornaments by color, arguing over whether they should color block the tree or mix them.

The lights were on, the tree glistening against the evening light. They were evenly spaced and wove in and out of the branches expertly, the innermost illuminating the tree from within and the outermost sitting delicately on the branches.

Donald glanced up with a smile. "Looks good."

"Eh," Dewey said with a shrug. "Needs some improvement, but that's what next year's for."

"Next year I'll let you do the whole thing on your own."

"Yeah?" Dewey asked, his eyes wide in excitement.

"Yeah." Donald tousled Dewey's feathers. Dewey half heartedly batted his uncle's hand away, but was grinning as he rejoined his brothers.

Daisy snuggled more securely into Donald's side as the two settled into watching the kids decorate the tree.

Donald may have missed some of his boys' childhood while with the Navy, but he was glad to have spent the majority of their lives with them. He wouldn't have traded it for anything.

—…—…—…— Goofy Goof —…—…—…—

Christmas had always been Goofy's favorite holiday. It was a day instilled with generations of family traditions that his father had passed down to him, and which he, in turn, had passed down to his son.

Max had not been as passionate about tradition when he was younger. Truth be told, it was where many of their arguments had come from. Goofy wanting instill a lesson, and Max wanting nothing to do with it, more concerned with seeing his friends or going to parties or just too afraid of what the Goof name, and all of its history, would do to his image.

Thankfully, Max had outgrown that resistance. For the most part. There were still a few lingering Goof family idiosyncrasies that made him hesitate.

But Christmas wasn't one of them.

Oh, he never matched Goofy's exuberance for the holiday, and he had never been thrilled about all the yard decorations. For the most part, though, Max was on board for all things merry and bright.

Taking stock of the ornaments the Duck triplets were categorizing, Goofy and Max glanced back to the tree every few minutes to gauge how many of them would fit onto the branches. Luckily, it was a large tree, so Goofy didn't anticipate too much trouble.

But he let Maxie take the lead.

He wanted to see what his son had learned over the years, and dealing with foreign ornaments that didn't have any significance to the Goof family was the perfect test.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

Setting down the box of garland, Goofy turned to observe Max's progress with the tree. But he tripped on something mid-turn and tumbled to the ground, coming to rest underneath the pine's low-hanging branches.

As he shook his head to clear it, he felt a small hand curl around his shoulder.

"You okay, Dad?" Max asked.

"Sure am!" Peering up at the tree, Goofy's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why're all the ornaments on the bottom?"

"Do you like it?" Max studied it himself, smiling. "I put the ornaments on in groups. See? All the reindeer are together. And the snowflakes. And all the snowmen."

Goofy righted himself and looked closer. There was logic to it, even if it was overly crowded. But it wasn't, technically, correct.

Tree decorating was one of the Goofy family traditions that had been handed down through the generations. There were measurements for how close ornaments could be in relation to one another, color schemes to follow for the lights and ornaments, and contingencies if tinsel was added. None of which Max had adhered to.

But Goofy didn't want Maxie's enthusiasm crushed for decorating "wrong" when he'd been so careful about how he had wanted the tree to look.

He could live with Max's haphazard methods.

As long as they made it less congested at the bottom. Waffles, their family cat, would destroy all of the low-hanging ornaments if they were in reach.

Grinning, Goofy tousled Max's hair. "Looks mighty fine, son! Yeh even got the flyin' reindeer above the others who ain't flyin'."

Max nodded. "They should be flying higher, but I can't reach."

Goofy climbed to his feet and held up his arms to showcase his height. "I can help with that!"

"Okay!" He plucked the reindeer from its branch and Goofy scooped him up, holding him steady. Max leaned forward, his deft fingers choosing a new branch and hung the ornament carefully.

Goofy took a step back to admire their handiwork, cradling Max to his chest. "Whaddya think?"

"More of the reindeer need to fly higher. And the snowflakes can fall from the top of the tree to the bottom!"

Goofy grinned and squeezed Max briefly. His boy was a natural. "Sounds like we got us some work to do."

Over the next half an hour, Goofy and Max repositioned all of the ornaments, Max deciding where they should go and Goofy holding him up to the height he needed. He'd gently point out the best places for a few of them, eventually getting his son to see the empty patches of green as invitations for more ornaments. Ultimately, Max's decisions were the final ones, and if a few ornaments were a little too close to one another, or if the colors weren't diverse enough, well, new Christmas traditions could be put in place.

"What about them presents at the bottom?" Goofy asked, eyeing the last small clump of ornaments.

"Presents go under the tree, Dad," Max said resolutely.

"O'course." They were still too close to one another. Would Max see that himself? Or would Goofy have to coax him?

"But," Max wriggled out of Goofy's grip, walking up to the tree, "they're more spread out."

Goofy beamed and allowed Max to rearrange them himself. Every now and then, Max would take a step back to decide where to hang the ornaments, just as Goofy had done with him.

When he was satisfied, Max stood next to his father. After a final sweep, he nodded and glanced up, waiting for Goofy's approval.

"Sure is a pretty tree," said Goofy with a smile. Max grinned, his eyes shining.

"Let's make some lunch then we can decorate the mantle."

"Can I hang my own stocking?" Max asked, already halfway to the kitchen.

"Don't see why not."

Max practically bounced the rest of the way to the kitchen, Goofy right behind.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

"No, Gos, the reindeer go near the top," Max said, gently grabbing Gosalyn's hand and guiding it upward. "They fly, after all."

"Okay. And snow falls so that makes sense," she said, tapping the snowflakes Max had already hung around the tree. She picked up another ornament and held it up. "Where does Santa go?"

"Oh, anywhere," Max said, noncommittal. He stepped back to eye the tree then held out his hand to Louie, who supplied him with a glistening red bulb. "It's Santa. He can do whatever he wants."

"Of course," Gosalyn said, smiling at Max fondly. He rearranged two snowflake ornaments before hanging the red one in between them.

Part of Goofy wanted Max to still be small enough that he needed help reaching the top of the tree. For Christmas to be just the two of them, Goofy instilling traditions into his son. To perpetually be living his childhood years over and over so they would always be together.

But another part — which was getting bigger with each passing year — was happy to have this now. To have friends and family they were close enough to to spend their Christmas together. To see Max grown and making his own way through the world. To be excited for new traditions.

"And the presents," said Goofy, stepping forward and handing Gosalyn an ornate group of wrapped packages piled on top of one another, "go along the bottom."

"Because presents go under the tree?" she ventured, smiling at Goofy.

"A-hyuck! They sure do!"

"You're a natural, Gos." Max winked down at her.

"Not to brag, but I have decorated a tree before." She hung the presents on a low branch.

"Well, sure ya have," Goofy said. "But not the Goof way."

"Less a science and more an art form." Max held out his hand and Louie gave him a golden bell.

"Between the Goof ways and lessons in True Outdoorsmanship, I think I'm gonna have my hands full." Gosalyn sat back on her heels.

Then.

Her eyebrows drew together. Her head cocked to one side. Eyes zeroing in on a spot. She extended her hand and Huey gave her another ornament of stacked presents. She weighed it, fingers taking in its shape, then leaned forward, placing the ornament very near the spot Goofy had been eyeing himself.

He grinned down at her when she glanced up for approval. "I ain't too worried."

—…—…—…— Drake Mallard —…—…—…—

Finding and cutting down their Christmas tree had not been the Ordeal™ of years past. Drake might have dragged out the selection process a little, citing bad bark or not enough nettles or too few branches or the shade of green being unsatisfactory ("It needs to be Christmas Tree green, not pale spring frost green. That tree will be an embarrassment if we drag that back to the cabin.").

Selecting the right tree had never been for the feint of heart.

And if he got to spend more time with Gosalyn, well. That was purely coincidental.

Besides, you couldn't argue with their tree of choice. The already majestic pine was glowing from the inside out with the lights woven through the branches. The ornaments broke up the mono hue of the perfect green shade, complimenting it with brilliant crimsons, dazzling golds, and oceanic blues. And this masterpiece of Christmas tree decorating had all been assembled on Drake's flawless canvas.

It looked very good, sitting nestled in its nook in the cabin. Drake couldn't deny that, even though decorating the tree had never been his particular area of expertise. That had fallen more under Launchpad's purview. And Gosalyn's. As she'd gotten older. As a kid, she had been a walking hurricane and much more invested in the gifts.

But as the years had passed, she'd gotten better. Had found ways to direct her chaos and made it into something beautiful. It had been a chaotic ride, and there were years Drake was grateful just to have survived the holiday season. But Gosalyn's passion for it had never wavered, and she'd taken on more and more responsibility as she'd gotten older.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

"Lookin' good, Gos!" said Launchpad before the sound of the front door closed with a reassuring thud. Drake glanced at the roast in the oven before heading out to the hallway.

Where Launchpad was not standing.

Drake eyed the shopping bags abandoned in the hall with a frown then glanced toward the living room.

Launchpad was removing his winter coat and gloves as Gosalyn zoomed around the room at 100mph, grabbing an ornament, running up the ladder, placing it on the tree only to leap down, move the ladder, and do it all over again. How she had so much energy, Drake would never know. She'd been decorating for hours and showed no signs of stopping.

"Uh, LP?" Drake said, putting his hands on his hips. "Did you plan on giving me the groceries before everything defrosted and we all died from food poisoning?"

"Sorry, DW," Launchpad said, having the decency to look ashamed. "I wanted to offer Gos some help in case she needed a boost."

Drake braced for impact.

"I resent that!" snapped Gosalyn as she jumped down from the ladder and wrestled it to a different location. "Just cause I'm short doesn't mean I can't decorate a tree."

Launchpad gripped his gloves. "I just thought—"

"Give it up, LP," Drake said. "She's on an independence kick." Drake didn't bring up that he had also offered to help her and had gotten a very similar response. "You can put the groceries away, though. Before they hit their expiration dates."

"No problemo." Launchpad draped his winter wear over the back of the couch and followed Drake to the kitchen, scooping up the bags as they went.

"Boy, Gos really isn't a little kid anymore," Launchpad said as he handed Drake the refrigerated items.

"Of course she is!" Drake opened the fridge and started making room on the shelves. He was tempted to tell Launchpad that he'd bought too much food — again — but the pilot's appetite was so great that most of it would be gone by the end of the week.

"I mean, sure, she's still a kid," said Launchpad, "but she's growin' up. Won't be too long before she doesn't need to use the ladder to reach the top of the tree at all."

She had gone through a growth spurt lately. In fact, she was quickly approaching Drake's height, which wasn't fair. Was he destined to be the shortest member of the Darkwing team? He never could catch a break.

"Yeah," Drake conceded, "but not for a long time."

Launchpad smiled knowingly. "Not that long. She's gettin' more independent, insisting she can do things on her own. Like decorate the tree."

"That's just because she's too stubborn to ask for help."

"Or she wants to see if she can do it without help."

Having finished putting the food away, Drake snapped the refrigerator door closed and whirled to face Launchpad. "What are you getting at?"

Launchpad shrugged, opening a cabinet door to shelve the cereal. "Nothin' really. Ya always hear that watching a kid grow up goes by fast, but it's even faster than they say." Launchpad gathered the empty grocery bags with a grin. "Guess we should enjoy the moment while it's here." With that, he left the kitchen, heading down to the basement.

Drake remained where he was, trying to piece together the conversation they'd just had.

Sure, Gosalyn was getting older, but she wasn't an adult. She wasn't even a teenager, but the jump to that stage of her life was closer than Drake liked to think about. Yes, she was taller, she was starting to look at high schools to attend within the next year, and recruiters were trying to get her to try out for higher level sports teams. She didn't ask for help with homework as much anymore (when she could be bothered to do it), and had started to adopt better budgeting skills, saving her allowance for larger purchases.

But her room was still a disaster. And she couldn't be bothered with the kitchen at all. Heck, Drake still had to tell her when to go to bed (her time management needed some work. Because it was nonexistent).

Older, yes.

Not grown.

She still needed Drake to guid her into adulthood. And, yeah, it was probably gonna go fast, like Launchpad said.

But at least they had this. Here. Now.

Any time he got with Gosalyn was more than he'd ever expected and far more than he deserved.

Returning to the oven, Drake checked on their dinner as Gosalyn poked her head into the kitchen.

"We got anymore ladders?" she asked.

"What did you do to the one I gave you?" Drake leveled her with a glare.

"Nothing! It's not tall enough to get the stupid star on top."

Drake went to the nearby cupboard and pulled out three plates. "Sounds like you could use the height of a certain pilot."

"But I wanna do it!"

"Gosalyn, it's not a sign of weakness to ask for help."

"That's rich coming from someone who never asks for help."

He spun around, his beak open. "I'm getting better!"

"Yeah, right." Gosalyn shook her head. "You're the most 'I work alone' person I've ever met."

Drake paused, observing his daughter. Hearing the very words he'd professed years ago repeated by her in regard to him….

Yeah, okay, he wasn't getting better. He was obsessive and had a hard time letting things go. Old habits were hard to break. So, sue him.

Didn't mean he should pass that along to the next generation.

"Look," he said. "It's not a question if you can do it on your own. I know you can. Launchpad knows you can. But there's someone willing to help you and it'll make your life a little easier. So, why not take them up on it? Sometimes it's nice to know you're needed, especially when the requester can do something by themselves."

Gosalyn studied him for a moment before saying, "So that's a no on the ladder?"

"Go get Launchpad!" Drake snapped, turning to gather utensils as the timer on the oven went off.

After setting the table, Drake wandered to the living room to gather the others and found them by the tree, Gosalyn perched on one of Launchpad's shoulders and carefully affixing the star to the top.

"Nice job, Gos!" Launchpad said.

"Yeah, well done," Drake said, winking at his daughter when she glanced down at him. "Dinner's on the table."

Launchpad set Gosalyn back on the ground and shot Drake a smile on his way to the kitchen. Drake smoothed Gosalyn's wayward bangs as she passed and she batted his hand away.

Before entering the kitchen, Gosalyn faced Drake, straightening and looking him in the eye. "I still need you, you know. I just… like to know I can do stuff by myself."

Drake smiled. "I know, sweetie. Still nice to hear, though." He tweaked her beak and she rolled her eyes even though she was smiling.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

"Can you help me, Launchpad?" Gosalyn asked. He grinned and walked over to her.

"You could probably reach the top on your own," Huey observed, gauging Gosalyn's height to that of the tree.

"Maybe," Gosalyn conceded, allowing Launchpad to lift her onto one of his shoulders. "But Launchpad's always willing to help."

"Sure am." He stepped close to the tree and Gosalyn easily put the star on top, not even needing to stretch to reach it.

Launchpad had been right, as he usually was. Her childhood had gone by far too fast. At least they would always have Christmas. Their holiday traditions would always be theirs.

When Launchpad set her back on the floor, Gosalyn wrapped one arm around Launchpad's shoulders and the other around Drake's. "I love you guys," she said.

Launchpad squeezed her shoulder before Drake wrapped her in a hug, kissing her cheek.

Yes, he did need to stretch up to reach her cheek. She had outgrown him, but being the shortest on on Team Darkwing had its perks. And he wouldn't change Gosalyn for the world besides.

The tree now complete, a hush fell over the room as everyone admired it.

Donald and Daisy held hands.

Scrooge stood beside Donald, a hand on his nephew's shoulder.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie sat in front of their uncles, leaning back against their legs.

Goofy had an arm around Max's shoulders.

Drake, still holding onto his daughter, glanced at her and she met his eyes.

"I'll always need you, Daddy," she said softly.

Swallowing around the sudden lump in his throat, Drake nodded and ran a hand through her hair. Something within him settled into contentment as he turned to look at the soft glow of the tree.

Chapter Text

 Louie glanced back into the living room where most of the group was still convened. "I just," he sighed. "I think we should tell everyone about Hawai'i."

Gosalyn glared. "You shut your mouth."

"Would it be so bad?" Louie asked. Uncle Donald's fixation on their island excursion during this holiday getaway had been slowly eating away at him. He hadn't kept a secret from his uncle for long; he wasn't physically capable of it.

"Yes," she said. "It would. Dad and Donald would kill Scrooge dead."

Louie groaned. "I wish that was an exaggeration."

"See? Then it's better kept a secret. Just play it cool, Lou." Gosalyn turned and went back into the great room.

Was she right?

Hawai'i had pretty much been a disaster, but it had ended okay. Everyone was safe.

Now.

They were safe now.

Weighing his options, Louie went over the trip in his mind for what seemed like the thousandth time, really considering how Uncle Donald and Drake might react to some of the details.

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

"Come along, lads!" Uncle Scrooge exclaimed. "I'm not getting any richer standing here!" He ran ahead through the lush plant life towards the rocky alcoves with the energy of a duck half his age.

But they lingered behind.

"Did you see his eyes?" asked Huey.

"Kinda glazed over," confirmed Dewey. "Has he started itching?"

"Not that I've seen."

"I called Gosalyn last night," Louie said. "She should be here soon."

"You told her this was an emergency, yeah?" Huey said.

"No, we just had a nice chat before gossiping about Project Runway." Louie rolled his eyes.

"Gold fever is nothing to joke about!" Huey snapped, rounding on him.

"I remember how serious it is!" Louie retorted. "I was there, too!"

"Guys, we can't fight," said Dewey, stepping between them. "It's gonna take all three of us to make sure Uncle Scrooge doesn't get any worse. Can you please save this for later?"

Huey and Louie eyed one another before Huey sighed. "Sorry. I just… I haven't seen Uncle Scrooge this bad since we were kids."

"It's going to be okay as long as we stick together," said Dewey.

"C'mon slowpokes!" Uncle Scrooge called, waving back at them. "That tomb's not gonna explore itself!" He rearranged the backpack strap on his shoulder before turning and running off.

"Was that an itch?" Huey demanded.

"I don't know. Louie, stay here and check on Gosalyn's ETA. Huey, let's follow Uncle Scrooge before he gets himself into trouble."

Huey's jaw ticked but he set off after Uncle Scrooge with Dewey at his side, trekking towards the soothing crash of the nearby waves.

Louie grabbed his phone and called Gosalyn, shifting his weight as the dial tone buzzed in his ear.

He counted three rings before Gosalyn answered. "What's up?"

"Where are you?" Louie all but blurted.

"Should be there in a few minutes. You guys able to hold out that long?"

"Yeah," said Louie, glancing towards the grottos where his family had gone to. "We're headed to some cave. I'm waiting outside for you."

"Just you?" Louie heard something snap on Gosalyn's end of the phone. "Where are the others?"

"Heading toward the cave. Uncle Scrooge's fever is getting worse."

"Wouldn't be an adventure without complications, would it? We're almost over you. See you soon."

Hearing the hum of an approaching plane, Louie glanced up. The sleek black jet soared towards him, a stark contrast to the deep blue skies, lush green mountains, and feathered palm trees. The precision of the long curved wings reminded Louie that he wasn't on vacation on this scenic island. He was treasure hunting and his uncle was in danger of falling under gold fever, a disease that caused it's victims to itch for gold so much they forgot about the existence of anything else.

They weren't even looking for gold, which was why it was such a shock to see Uncle Scrooge afflicted by it now. They were after jewels, diamonds, and even feathers from extinct birds.

And, yeah, Uncle Scrooge sometimes became so enamored with a treasure that he would stop at nothing to find it, and was willing to sacrifice most anything, including his own safety.

But he would never sacrifice them. Not his nephews.

Gold fever shifted your priorities, though. Made you value the treasure above anything else. And if Uncle Scrooge couldn't shake it, Gosalyn was here with only one objective: get them all home.

The plane glided overhead, a small dot jumping from it before the aircraft rocketed away. The dot grew in size, becoming more discernible as Gosalyn as she got closer. Once she was at the right distance, she deployed her parachute and sailed towards Louie.

Upon hitting the ground, Gosalyn unhooked the harness from around her and jogged over. "Where's this cave?" she asked, grabbing her bow and stringing it.

"This way," Louie said, leading her towards the sound of the waves. He pulled up Huey's contact information on his phone and hit the location button, making sure he was headed for the small picture of his brother on the map of the island. "Uncle Scrooge just started itching, probably because we're so close to the tomb."

"Who's tomb are you excavating and for what?"

"Kameha-someone, I think."

Gosalyn stopped in her tracks, Louie skittering to a halt to face her.

"You think?"

"I'm pretty sure."

"Pretty sure is not knowing."

"Okay, then I know."

"Oh my God, Louie! Is it King Kamehameha? As in Kamehameha the Great who's tomb should under no circumstances be disturbed?"

The dread that had been clawing at him since Uncle Scrooge had started showing symptoms spiked to fear. "How do you know so much about Hawai'ian history?"

"What else was I supposed to do on an eight hour flight? Listen to 'Cups' the whole time?"

"Why would you listen to 'Cups' more than, like, twice in a row?"

"We're getting off subject," Gosalyn said, walking onward.

"You're the one who brought up 'Cups.'" Louie took the lead, glancing between the landscape and his phone and guiding Gosalyn through the lush island vegetation towards the shoreline. The mountains and ocean met in several miles of sheer cliff face. There were, supposedly, coves and caves carved into these cliffs, one of which was the rumored resting place of Kamehameha the Great.

"Fever or not, we're getting out of here," said Gosalyn as she easily scaled over the sharp rocks towards the dark opening yawning before them. "His tomb is sacred, no one's supposed to know where it is."

"Is it cursed? We get a lot of curses on adventures." Louie had to put his phone away so he could use his hands to steady himself as he climbed over the rocks.

"How any of you made it to adulthood is beyond me."

Gosalyn drew an arrow as they entered the cave, Louie turning on a flashlight and directing it in front of them. The light revealed a fairly typical cave, small streams of water flowing out from the recesses of the cave towards the ocean.

Gosalyn continued, "His bones are infused with divine power granted to him by the gods. It's what gave him the right to rule and why he was so successful. There's no telling what will happen if that power is disturbed."

"Sounds pretty curse-y to me."

"It's not a curse."

"Thought you two would never show up!" snapped Huey, his own flashlight beam bouncing along the walls as he scurried up to them. "He's getting worse."

"We really need to leave," Dewey said, right on Hueys' heels.

"Where's Uncle Scrooge?" asked Louie.

"Back there," said Dewey, pointing over his shoulder. "He started rubbing up against the walls like he was a cat."

"It didn't happen this fast before," Huey said.

"You think it's the curse?" Louie turned to Gosalyn.

"It's not a curse," she said, walking into the cove.

The cavern around them shuddered. The streams of water and other small pools that had been collected during high tide rippling as pebbles rained down from above. Huey, Dewey, and Louie gripped onto the wall nearest them as Gosalyn dropped to one knee, nocking her arrow.

She glanced back. "Grab your uncle. We're leaving."

Huey sprang up, running up an incline, calling, "Uncle Scrooge?" His voice echoed around the cavern. "We gotta go!"

"Go?" came Scrooge's voice from just beyond the small hill of rock. "Nonsense, lad! We've come too far to give up now!"

"Huey's right," Dewey said, following after his brother. Louie darted behind him as Gosalyn drew her arrow, her eyes scanning their surroundings in the bobbing flashlight beams.

When Louie reached the peak of the hill, he cast his light down and saw Huey wrestling with Uncle Scrooge on the ground, who was trying to scramble father into the grotto. Huey had tossed his flashlight aside, its beam of light illuminating the cavern from the ground, casting long shadows.

"Unhand me!" Uncle Scrooge cried, kicking in an attempt to free himself. Huey ducked but managed to hang on, tugging him towards the entrance. "I don't know what's gotten into you, lad."

"Huey's fine," Dewey said, approaching and grabbing Uncle Scrooge's arm. "You have gold fever."

"I do — hic! — not!" Uncle Scrooge continued to flail as Huey and Dewey pulled him back. "There isn't even gold to be had. Just jewels — hic! — and feathers of — hic! — extinct birds. Just think how grand we'll look — hic! — wearing those — hic! — warrior's robes! Hic! Let me go!"

Louie ran down, tucking his flashlight under his arm, and took ahold of Uncle Scrooge's shoulder. "There will be other treasures. We should leave this one alone; the tomb is sacred."

"You three probably want — hic! — the treasure for yourselves!" Uncle Scrooge kicked out again and Huey lost his grip. Managing to get his feet under him, Uncle Scrooge shoved himself up, pushing Dewey and Louie back.

The grotto shuddered around them again, the boys stumbling backwards as Uncle Scrooge steadied himself with both hands.

"Let's go!" called Gosalyn, coming over the ridge with her arrow still drawn.

"Gosalyn?" Uncle Scrooge said, surprised enough to momentarily forget about the treasure. He grabbed Huey's discarded flashlight and pointed it at her. "What are ye doing here?"

"Strike Team Omega was called in, sir," she said, glancing around the area before making her way over to them.

Uncle Scrooge glowered at the triplets, the beam of the flashlight almost burning in accusation. "Did you call her in?"

"You have gold fever, Uncle Scrooge!" Huey said, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice. "We had to do something!"

"I've had enough of this gold fever nonsense," Uncle Scrooge said, glaring at each of them in turn. "Gosalyn, go home. I will call you if you're needed. Boys — hic! — let's go."

Another tremor wracked through the cavern.

"That can't be an earthquake," Dewey rationed, catching Huey and righting him on his feet. "The tremors are too random."

"And they're getting more intense," Louie said, pointing his flashlight down the dark mouth of the grotto. As if watching the stones shake loose would give them insight as to why these tremors were happening.

"Mr. McDuck," called Gosalyn. "We're going."

"I'm not leaving without — hic! — my treasure!"

The next tremor brought a chunk of stone careening towards the ground.

Straight at them.

Gosalyn shoved Louie out of the way as Huey, Dewey, and Uncle Scrooge dodged it.

"Come on!" Gosalyn ran around the boulder now lodged in the floor and helped Huey and Dewey up.

"I'm not — hic! — going anywhere!" Uncle Scrooge said, his flashlight beam bounding around the cavern erratically.

Her expression determined, Gosalyn approached Uncle Scrooge, hands on her hips. "I'm not asking."

The grotto quaked, stones raining down on them. Huey, Dewey, and Louie threw their hands up to cover their heads, but Gosalyn didn't move, still glaring down at Uncle Scrooge.

"I am your employer!" Uncle Scrooge got to his feet and stared her down, which was impressive since Gosalyn had a few inches on him. "I call you in and tell you what to do, not my nephews." He reached out and grabbed ahold of her bow with one hand, tugging it out of her grip. "And I am saying to let me go after — hic! — the treasure." Another quaking shudder ricocheted through the cavern, Gosalyn and Uncle Scrooge swaying, but not losing their footing.

"And I am saying, sir," Gosalyn ground out, yanking her bow free from Uncle Scrooge's grasp, "that we're leaving. My job is to make sure you all get home safely."

"Then consider yourself fired." Uncle Scrooge turned to Huey, Dewey, and Louie. "Come on — hic! — boys."

He started to walk away when Gosalyn shot her arrow at him, a bola chord snaking around his ankles and wrapping all the way up to his shoulders. He toppled over with a cry. The flashlight bounced on the ground, rolling away and casting its light toward the mouth of the grotto. As if pointing them towards their escape.

"Grab him," she instructed as she pulled out another arrow, the grotto vibrating again. Once the ground was sturdy, Huey and Dewey darted forward and grabbed Uncle Scrooge, who protested amongst his hiccups, Louie using his flashlight to make sure his brothers could properly see.

The cave was shaking consistently now, tremors growing more intense and wracking up and down the grotto. Rocks rained from above in a downpour. Gosalyn led Louie to an outcropping under which where they took shelter. Dewey and Huey half-carried, half-dragged Uncle Scrooge to the wall where they hunkered down in a small hollowed out section.

"Is this the curse?" Louie yelled to be heard over the crashing rocks and glanced at Gosalyn.

Before she could answer, a monstrous reptilian foot thudded down in front of them, ebony talons curving down and digging into the rock as though it was nothing more than mud.

Louie and Gosalyn leaned forward, looking up to see a lizard of prehistoric proportions. The long flat head extended from a stout neck that stretched out from the long scaled body. It's lips were curled in a growl, gleaming pointed fangs a contrast to the soft pink gums and whip-like tongue that snaked out between the teeth.

The thing straightened up, blue green scales rippling in the faint light cast by the discarded flashlight, scarlet spikes rising along its spine.

When it took a step forwards, the grotto shook violently and Louie understood. The tremors had been this prehistoric lizard walking towards them. It had probably been deep in the cavern, and if they'd gone in search of this tomb, they likely would have been ripped limb from limb. Or eaten whole.

"Told you it wasn't a curse," Gosalyn said softly, looking over to Huey, Dewey, and Uncle Scrooge. The boys were pressed up flat against the rock, eyeing the lizard in awe. Uncle Scrooge, on the other hand, was wriggling against his restraints. He'd managed to get a hand free. It wouldn't be long before—

"Oh, hell," said Gosalyn, nocking her arrow as Uncle Scrooge sprang to his feet, darting farther into the grotto.

"No!"

"Uncle Scrooge!"

The lizard roared and followed Uncle Scrooge, the cavern shaking around them so violently that Louie couldn't keep his feet under him and he fell over, his flashlight's beam whipping from rock wall to rock wall.

"We don't want to find the tomb!" Gosalyn called, running out and grabbing the discarded flashlight. The lizard whipped around to face Gosalyn, its tail lashing out behind it and slamming down into the grotto's wall. It missed Uncle Scrooge by mere inches, but he still fell over from the ricochets.

"Maybe you don't," Uncle Scrooge grunted as he climbed to his feet. "But I — hic! — do!"

The lizard roared, whipping it's tail around furiously and Uncle Scrooge dodged and ducked to avoid getting hit.

"She can understand you!" said Gosalyn,

"You know it's a she?" Huey called.

"She can what?" Dewey cried.

"Kihawahine!" Gosalyn said, raising up her hands in surrender, the flashlight pointing up to the curved ceiling of the grotto. "We will leave the tomb in peace."

The lizard regarded Gosalyn for a moment, golden eyes gleaming in the low light. But suddenly the lizard roared, lunging backwards with its teeth bared.

Towards Uncle Scrooge who was attempting to slip back in the cavern, hiccuping wildly.

Gosalyn swore, shoved the flashlight in her teeth, nocked, drew, and fired her arrow.

The net arrow deployed and wrapped around Uncle Scrooge, the ends tying together and effectively trapping him within its confines.

Gosalyn reached up and grabbed the flashlight from her mouth. "Get him out of here!" she called, tossing the flashlight to Huey, who caught it easily.

Dewey and Louie ran over towards Uncle Scrooge, who was attempting to free himself from the net. But it held fast; the ends appeared to be welded together to dissuade any escape. They dragged Uncle Scrooge towards the grotto's opening.

The lizard roared again, snapping her jaws in frustration. Gosalyn stationed herself between the boys and the lizard.

Reaching into one of her pouches, she dug out a knife and pressed it into Dewey's hand. "You can free him when you're sure he doesn't have the gold fever anymore. Or when you've reached Duckburg. Whatever happens first."

"But," said Louie, glancing back at Gosalyn as Huey also grabbed some of the net and helped drag Uncle Scrooge out of the grotto, "you're coming with us."

"I'm making sure you get home," Gosalyn said, looking up at the lizard. Slowly, she kneeled down, placing her bow on the ground before unbuckling her quiver and placing it alongside her bow.

"What are you—"

"Kihawahine is a goddess, Lou. This isn't needless violence, she's protecting something."

"Yeah, the tomb. But we're not gonna find it, so can't we leave? Together?"

Kihawahine stomped forward, a huge taloned foot thudding in between them. The impact send Louie stumbling backwards and he landed on his backside, jarred but not injured.

"Get out of here!" Gosalyn cried before Kihawahine roared again, her massive head and sharp teeth coming straight for Louie.

Not needing to be told twice, Louie scrambled up the hill and out of the grotto, heart pounding furiously somewhere in the region of his throat.

He jogged away, finding Huey and Louie barely past the rocks of the grotto. They were wrestling Uncle Scrooge who was, once again, putting up a fight.

"You boys will — hic! — regret this! Think of the treasure — hic! — you're abandoning! I can't believe members of my own — hic! — family are betraying me like this!"

Louie jumped on top of Uncle Scrooge and managed to get him on his back so he was sitting on his chest. "Uncle Scrooge!" he cried. "This has to stop! Now is not the time for treasure!"

"It's always — hic! — time for treasure," Uncle Scrooge argued.

Louie grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. "You awakened a goddess and Gosalyn is sacrificing herself to get us home safely. If she hadn't been here, Kihawahine would have killed us. Come on, Uncle Scrooge, snap out of it!" Louie shook him slightly, hoping his words would sink in.

And something he said must have gotten through, because Uncle Scrooge shook himself and his eyes lost their glossy look. "Louie?"

"Please, Uncle Scrooge. We have to get out of here. Treasure doesn't matter!"

His beak twisting in guilt, Uncle Scrooge said, "Yer right, lad."

Huey and Dewey approached cautiously, glancing at one another, not trusting that Uncle Scrooge had shaken off the gold fever.

Uncle Scrooge glanced between the three. "I couldna see past my own greed and put you three in danger. Can ya ever forgive me?"

"Of course we can, Uncle Scrooge," breathed Huey, relief flooding his features.

"We know treasure is important to you," said Dewey, helping Uncle Scrooge sit up as Louie slid off to sit beside him.

"But is should not be something I put before any of you." Uncle Scrooge grabbed onto the netting. "Where's Gosalyn?"

"Still in the grotto," said Louie. "Made me leave without her."

"We have to help!" Huey said.

"Aye. Any of ye have a knife?"

Dewey pulled out the knife Gosalyn had given him and started sawing away at the netting until Uncle Scrooge was freed. Tossing the net away, Uncle Scrooge looked at the boys, a serious expression on his face. "I'm sorry fer making ye think yer less important to me than some blasted treasure."

None of them responded, but they smiled in understanding. It wasn't the first time Uncle Scrooge became enamored with a treasure and thought of nothing else.

"Now let's go see if we can help Gosalyn," said Uncle Scrooge, getting to his feet.

But they weren't needed after all.

Gosalyn emerged from the grotto just as they were approaching it again, her quiver strapped in place and her bow in hand.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, reaching back for an arrow. "How did he get free?"

"He doesn't have gold fever anymore," explained Dewey.

Gosalyn sent them all a skeptical look. "So you're returning to the cave for a good time?"

"For you," Louie said.

Gosalyn shook her head. "Kihawahine is going to let us leave provided we never return to this island again." She studied Uncle Scrooge. "You okay with leaving, sir?"

"I think it best, lass. And if yeh'll take it, ye still have a position as Strike Team Omega."

"I'll need to think about it," she said, unstringing her bow and putting it away. "Shall we, gentlemen? Before Kihawahine changes her mind?"

"To the canoe!" said Huey, in high spirits once more with everything back in order.

"Canoe?" Gosalyn asked.

"Only way on and off," said Dewey.

She looked to Uncle Scrooge. "This is a point against rejoining Strike Team Omega."

Uncle Scrooge smiled. "Understood."

—…—…—…—…—…—…—…—

"You okay, Louie?" Uncle Donald asked, an overcoat and scarf in hand.

Louie blinked, returning to their Christmas cabin from his Hawai'ian memories. "Yeah," he said.

Uncle Donald's eyebrows drew together.

"Really, Uncle Donald. I'm okay."

Still looking skeptical, Uncle Donald zipped up his coat and wrapped the scarf around his neck. "I'm going to get José and Panchito from the airport. We can talk tonight."

Louie considered the offer.

Sure, Uncle Donald wanted to hear about Hawai'i.

But then Uncle Donald and Uncle Scrooge would fight. Mr. Mallard would also probably join in the argument and their Christmas retreat would be tainted with the memory of something that was long past.

Smiling, Louie said, "Thanks. I'll take you up on that if I need to. You want company getting Panchito and José?"

Donald returned the smile. "Get your coat."

'Someday,' thought Louie as he grabbed his winter wear and hurried after Uncle Donald. 'I'll tell him about Hawai'i.'

But not today.

Not during this trip.

The cabin retreat was about togetherness and Louie wanted to keep it that way.

Chapter Text

As soon as Dewey saw Louie leaving with Uncle Donald, he ran after them to join in their excursion and Huey, never one to be left out, was quick to follow, so José and Panchito had a decent sized welcome party when they wandered into the baggage claim. Uncle Donald got the biggest reception, swallowed up in a group hug, but the triplets still received a warm, "Saludos amigos!" and handshakes from Panchito, while José tipped his hat and winked at each of them in turn.

During the car ride back to the cabin, they marveled at all the snow, neither of them having experienced it before. When Dewey suggested a trip to the nearby ski slopes, Panchito slapped him on the back in his excitement and José glanced back from the passenger seat to send him an approving smile.

Dewey had always liked José and Panchito. Not just because they were close to Uncle Donald, but also because they were both so cool. José was suave, always knowing how to approach any situation with class and was a smooth talker with the ladies. Dewey had been asking him for pointers and was getting more confident with each tip. On the other hand, Panchito's exuberance put even the most hesitant of people at ease. He was able to make everyone feel like they had been old friends for decades.

Reaching the cabin, everyone lingered out in the front yard to allow their guests the chance to interact with snow for the first time. Huey demonstrated how to make snowballs and the innocent exploration dissolved into a full-blown battle. Uncle Donald and Dewey built a fort and took out targets with precision. José and Louie ducked behind trees for cover as they evaluated their next move; neither had strong snowball building skills, but they were fast-moving. Huey and Panchito were less about strategy, rather focusing on surprise attacks; they'd run out and fire off their ammunition before retreating behind snowdrifts.

"What in the blue blazes is happening out here?" cut across the front yard, bringing the game to a halt. Uncle Scrooge stood in the doorway, looking more curious than angry and it was then that the group realized they'd been outside for quite some time, tied up in their battle as they had been.

José and Panchito quickly crossed to Uncle Scrooge, the former thanking him for the invitation and the latter shaking his hand furiously. Dewey and his brothers unloaded the car before following the adults inside.

"It was a mighty battle!" Panchito was telling the room. "Ultimately, our opponents got the better of Huey and myself."

"If you guys wanna win next time, let me know," said Gosalyn.

Huey pointed at her. "No. You are on Strike Team Omega until someone calls you in."

Gosalyn sent him a withering look as José glanced between them. "What is this Strike Team Omega?" he asked.

"Kind of like an elite team," explained Dewey. "She's too good to go up against as a normal opponent, so the losing team can call her in for help if they want."

"She's also crazy competitive, which makes her hard to beat," said Louie.

"If anyone deserves an advantage, it would be people who have probably never seen snow before." Gosalyn looked at Panchito and José. "If you need the help, come get me."

"Gracias." Panchito removed his sombrero and hung it to dry.

"Is this your first time seein' snow?" Goofy asked, an excited gleam in his eye.

"It is," José said.

"We're gonna hit the slopes tomorrow if you guys wanna come," said Dewey.

"Are you banned from that too, amorzinha?" José asked Gosalyn with a sly grin.

She smiled in return. "Not yet. But Max should be your teacher. He's better at skiing than I am."

"Truth," said Huey. "The man knows his way around a pair of skis."

"And a snowboard," added Louie.

"Hi, I'm Max," Max said, shaking José and Panchito's hands. "Don't believe anything you've heard about me."

José and Panchito laughed as everyone made their way to the dining table where dinner was waiting.

Despite his modesty, Max was the one who taught José and Panchito how to ski the next day. They were whizzing down the slopes by the afternoon, past Uncle Donald, much to his frustration. But he refused help, insisting he could to it on his own, which led to multiple crashes Launchpad was proud of.

When they returned to the cabin later that night, Gosalyn showed José and Panchito how to make snowmen while Goofy recruited Max to help put up decorations in the yard.

As the sun began its descent, everyone was split between decorating the yard, building snowmen, or cooking dinner which, Dewey thought, wasn't too bad a day spent.

Chapter Text

When Negaduck had collected the Fearsome Four in the dead of night and dragged them to the Prime Universe, the Liquidator could honestly say this was the surprise twist ending he hadn't seen coming. They'd arrived in this mountain range, had been strategically placed in a small clearing amongst some trees, then had been told, "Stay put. Don't let anyone get past you." Negaduck had then left them.

Alone.

Since early that morning.

And the Four were still here.

Waiting, the Liquidator guessed, for something to happen.

But nothing had.

For the first few hours, Quackerjack had bemoaned his lack of winter wear, and Megavolt had repeatedly countered that he didn't want to hear about it. Eventually, they'd grown bored with bickering and the silence of the forest had taken over.

Bushroot had more or less kept to himself, which was one reason why the Liquidator liked him so much; no fuss, no muss. Oh, occasionally Bushroot would get up and walk around, would reach out and gently touch the nearby plant life, but then he'd settle back down again.

The Liquidator, in an effort to both conserve energy and stay warm, had absorbed into a patch of snow with only his head visible atop the white snowdrift. Being made of water himself, he was able to regulate his body temperature to that of the water surrounding him. He might not be fast-moving, half frozen as he was, but the chill of the snow didn't bother him when he was practically made of snow himself.

He had become the unofficial lookout since he didn't need to eat. The others had gone to find food in shifts, but they always wandered back; none of them would dare abandon the small clearing Negaduck had so carefully placed them in.

It had a perfect view of the peaks and foothills jutting up around them. Their perch was situated halfway up a mountainside with a forest huddled up behind and enviable slopes blanketed in snow before them.

The sun had set an hour or so ago, and Megavolt had started a fire, the Four curled close to the flames.

"So," Megavolt said, glancing around the group. "Anyone got any guesses what we're doing here?"

"Freezing," lamented Quackerjack.

Megavolt glared. "If you mention your lack of coat again—"

"Negaduck was equally vague with all of us," Bushroot interrupted, a weariness in his voice.

"It's not just vague," said Quackerjack. "He hasn't said anything."

"Not even telling us what we're waiting for. Or what's in it for us if we manage to follow his weird orders." Megavolt tossed another log on the fire.

"So, which one of you is going to track him down to ask?" demanded Bushroot.

The Liquidator smirked as Megavolt and Quackerjack exchanged glances before looking back at the fire forlornly.

Bushroot: 1

Quackerjack and Megavolt: 0

Quackerjack hugged his knees and hunched closer to the fire. "Whatever this is better be worth it." He winced, reaching into his pocket and pulled out a toy soldier. Nestling it into the branches of a nearby tree, he turned back towards the fire to sulk.

Intrigued, the Liquidator gathered some moisture and rose out of his snowdrift. Sloshing over to the tree, he circled it before glancing over at the others. None of them were paying any attention to him.

Rising up to his full height, the Liquidator said, "Turn those frowns upside down. 'Tis the season." He slid over to Megavolt and tugged at the string lights he'd gathered from St. Canard on their way here.

"Hey!" Megavolt jerked away, wary eyes on him. "Haven't they been through enough?"

"Light up the night, we'll do the rest." The Liquidator pointed to the tree where Quackerjack's toy was nestled amongst the boughs.

"I never understand what he's saying," muttered Megavolt to Quackerjack.

Bushroot studied the tree before glancing at the Liquidator. "Do you want to decorate the tree?" he asked.

Another reason why Bushroot was his favorite.

Nodding, the Liquidator said, "Christmas gifts, Christmas trees, Christmas is the time to please."

"You want me to hang my freed children on the tree?" Megavolt asked. "I just rescued them from their life of servitude—"

"Oh, pipe down," snapped Quackerjack. "What's the point of Christmas lights if they aren't decorating something?" He leapt to his feet, bells on the ends of his hat jingling. "I'm game." He began emptying his pockets, toys of all shapes and sizes piling atop the snow.

Bushroot, too, stood and walked over to the tree. Pressing a hand to its trunk, he said a few whispered words to it. The tree stretched up, branches extending towards the sky.

Smiling, Bushroot turned to Megavolt. "She's always wanted to be decorated."

Megavolt studied each of them in turn before sighing and grabbing his lasso of lights from where they'd been secured to his belt. "They're still coming home with me." He began untangling them as Bushroot donated some of his vines to Quackerjack who secured them around the toys as makeshift string.

Megavolt twisted the string lights around the branches while Bushroot and Quakerjack followed him, hanging the toys from the branches. When they had reached as high as their arms would stretch, Bushroot extended his arms, growing them to just the right length to continue winding the lights around the tree. Quackerjack bounced to reach the top most boughs.

With a forlorn look, Megavolt produced a light-up star from his pocket which Quackerjack secured to the top of the tree with a gleeful cackle.

Their tree nearing completion, the Liquidator drew moisture out of the surrounding snow, leaving a fine powder rather than a heavy snow on the ground. Gathering the snow in large piles, he swept it up and over their tree, the flakes settling onto the branches and sparkling in the moonlight.

As the finishing touch, Megavolt grabbed the end of the string lights and sent an electric current through it, the bulbs illuminating instantly.

The Fearsome Four took a step back to admire their work.

"For a makeshift tree, it's not that bad," said Bushroot.

"I still think this is enslavement," muttered Megavolt.

"If you don't believe, you won't receive," said the Liquidator.

"I don't know what that means," said Megavolt as Quackerjack dissolved into crazed giggles.

"Be jolly and make good cheer for Christmas comes but once a year." The Liquidator gazed at their tree with pride. He couldn't remember the last time he'd taken part in a Christmas tradition instead of taking advantage of them to commit a crime. He was willing to bet that it was the same for the other three around him.

"Merry Christmas to you, too, Liquidator," said Bushroot with a grin.

Maybe being left to their own devices in on a mountainside wasn't the worst of circumstances that Negaduck had inflicted on them.

Chapter Text

Bushroot stood admiring their impromptu Christmas tree — really, the Four of them were well equipped to decorate for the holidays; maybe they could start a business if this whole villain thing went south — when he felt it. Faint but there.

Someone was coming right towards the Fearsome Four's little clearing.

Before disappearing to who knew where, Negaduck had warned them to stop anyone who tried to pass by. But what business did anyone have here? It was a dense forest half way up a mountain. Other than a few wayward cabins and a nearby ski resort, there was nothing resembling civilization for miles.

Which was how Bushroot was able to tell that someone was approaching; whoever it was was disrupting the plant life. The multitude of marching feet sending warnings like shockwaves deep into the earth. Hide away. Protect yourself.

Glancing around, Bushroot searched for any visual disturbances. Kept his ears open for strange noises. But the evening was still.

Grounding himself, Bushroot stretched out his roots and really listened.

Down the mountain. A very large group. Heading up towards them.

"We have incoming," he told the others. They all looked around, confused, but Bushroot was already calling nearby plants to battle. The trees around the Fearsome Four grew taller, sprouting more branches, giving them effective cover.

"It's a big group, they'll be here soon." Bushroot pointed down the mountain. "They're coming from that direction."

"Uh huh," said Quackerjack, crossing his arms. "You know this because…?"

"I can feel vibrations in the earth. Well, it's more like the plant's reactions to what's happening around them. It's hard to explain."

Megavolt, Quackerjack, and Liquidator glanced between one another.

"Have you always had this ability?" Quackerjack demanded.

Bushroot shrugged. "I guess."

"So you can always feel where everyone is? Through their vibrations in the earth?" Megavolt asked.

"Only if there's plants around. And if I focus."

"Oh, of course," sneered Quackerjack. "Plants. How silly of me to assume otherwise."

Bushroot sighed. "Okay, no, I didn't tell you about this and maybe you should have known before now, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a huge group coming this way."

"Well then," said Quackerjack, pulling out a small water gun and a set of wind-up teeth. "Let's give them an evening they'll never forget."

Megavolt grinned and balled his hands into fists, a surge of electricity dancing up his arms.

"The latest and greatest," agreed Liquidator, swelling up to a tidal wave. "Only for a limited time."

Bushroot hunkered down, spreading his roots to keep tabs on the approaching group.

Through the tremors in the ground and the disturbances to the plant life, Bushroot kept track of the thundering of boots. Upwards of fifty, all trampling unconcerned and unafraid across the landscape.

They drew closer, the dull roar turning thunderous. He squared his shoulders and followed the leaders' progress, trying to decide which areas of the forest to defend. To their immediate left seemed a popular choice, so Bushroot relocated a few firs.

When the world went silent.

Bushroot opened his eyes in surprise, reaching his roots out as far as he dared, listening intently.

There was nothing.

"They're gone," he said.

"If they were even there to begin with," scoffed Quackerjack.

"Where'd they go?" Bushroot asked, turning to the others. Quackerjack was lounging on a nearby outcropping of small rocks, tossing a bouncy ball up and down. Liquidator had shrunk down into a small pile of snow again, only his head and shoulders visible.

"There's been no one," said Megavolt, who was sitting on a nest of fallen nettles.

"Of course there was someone! There were a lot of someone's." And a group that size didn't just disappear. So Bushroot's question was still valid: where were they?

"You said there was incoming," said Quackerjack. "But that was, like, ten minutes ago. There's been no weird noises or lights or even so much as a slight breeze."

"No, they were right there," Bushroot pointed to where he'd sent some of his trees.

"Studies show that 75% of false convictions are from inaccurate eyewitness accounts," said Liquidator.

"I didn't make them up," said Bushroot, scowling at him.

"It's okay," soothed Megavolt. "Happens to everybody."

"I am familiar with delusions," Bushroot snarled. "I've been misleading myself for years. This wasn't my mind playing tricks on me."

"No one's saying it was you." Quackerjack glanced over with an eyebrow raised as he caught his ball out of midair. "Maybe it was your trees."

"Watch it." Bushroot scowled at the clown.

But Quackerjack shrugged and continued, "It's not like it's shocking to have someone hear voices in their head in this group. Sparky here talks to his lights all the time."

"You leave them out of this!" snapped Megavolt.

"At least my plants are alive and might actually have something to say, unlike inanimate lightbulbs!" Bushroot shot back.

"Hey," Megavolt whined.

"Enemy spotted at the gates," said Liquidator, sitting up straight and cocking his head to one side.

"That's a bit dramatic." Quackerjack rolled his eyes and threw his ball in the air. "We're just arguing, we're not enemies."

Liquidator rose to his full height. "Incoming."

Quackerjack snatched his ball out of the air and sneered at Bushroot. "One of your trees?"

Bushroot opened his beak to respond, but swallowed his retort when he saw a silhouette approaching, its hands waving wildly. He set his trees on alert and faced the stranger. The other three fell in line beside him, all wielding their weapons.

"They're comin'!" said the stranger. The accent was familiar…. "Get outta here if youse wanna be able ta walk dis holiday season!"

"Steelbeak?" asked Megavolt, a spark of electricity sparking at his fingers, lighting up the area.

It was Steelbeak with his suit askew, feathers disheveled, and panting heavily. He glanced up then straightened fully, glancing around. "Oh. Where's Negsy?"

"Who's coming?" Bushroot pressed.

Steelbeak turned to look at them. "F.O.W.L.. They're comin' for da girl. Seriously, I thought Negs would be here."

"F.O.W.L.'s here!" said Bushroot, relieved to know he hadn't made up a group of people trampling through the snow. "Where'd they go?"

"How should I know?" said Steelbeak. "Dey went inta stealth mode once we saw da tree line. They're probably crawlin' around in the snow behind yous. But where's Negsy? I wanna pledge my undying loyalty ta him so I don't gotta crawl around in the muck and mire."

"Just us," said Megavolt.

How could Bushroot have been so stupid? F.O.W.L. had split up for a surprise attack instead of the brute force from before. He'd been so distracted by the big congregation he hadn't thought of them splitting up.

Reaching his roots out again, he searched for smaller slower-moving groups.

Which he easily located.

All around them.

"They're everywhere!" Bushroot turned as one of his trees tossed a few Eggmen back down the mountain. "Split up!"

The Fearsome Four divided, each heading in a different direction. The thought of Negaduck's potential anger made failure a non-option.

"So, youse don't know where Negsy might be?" asked Steelbeak.

Bushroot used one of the nearby pines to flick the rooster away.

Chapter Text

It was absolute pandemonium. Steelbeak only just managed to tuck himself away from the chaos before he got any stains on his suit.

For being so fearsome, the four didn't have much finesse.

Bushroot had the entire forest at his command, hoards of trees stomping on Eggmen or hurtling them away. Bushes tripped groups of agents or wrapped them up in their leafy tendrils.

Megavolt's raw energy and electrical currents illuminated the area with flickers of light as he electrocuted dozens of Eggmen in one swoop. Or overcharged their electronics, rendering some weapons useless. Every now and then, he shot over a blast of electricity to Quackerjack's toys, the charged tanks and toy soldiers shooting down Eggmen left and right.

Quackerjack bounced around the chaos, cackling and loosing more toys to take down unsuspecting agents. Of all the ways to go, by toy was definitely the most embarrassing.

Liquidator, though, was easily the most impressive of the group, swelling up to the size of a monsoon and utilizing the snow to wipe out whole sections of agents. He shifted the ice so the Eggmen had no traction as they ran by or buried them in several tons of snow. Steelbeak had never been sure if Liquidator was apart of the water himself, or if he was able to control it from afar. Regardless, he was working wonders against F.O.W.L..

Steelbeak hadn't really been prepared to actually fight, but he did trip an occasional Eggman when they ran by. And he gave bad directions to one squadron so they ran headlong into Liquidator's avalanche.

So, see?

He was helping.

And it was important he be seen helping out the Four when Negs arrived; he wanted to make his loyalty clear.

F.O.W.L. was out.

Negaduck was in.

Sure, when they realized his betrayal, F.O.W.L. would put him on their hit list. Send agents to kill him. But most of the agents now were dunderheads. The whole place had really gone to hell since the organization had fallen and relocated to the Negaverse. Their best agents had either gone underground, moved away and were never heard from again, or had joined Negaduck's ranks. So it was safe to say that the remaining agents weren't of a very high caliber. Steelbeak was confident that he could handle F.O.W.L. if and when they came after him.

But Negaduck.

The mallard wouldn't hesitate if he crossed him. Steelbeak would be dead, there was no question.

So here he was, very clearly in Negaduck's camp as a veritable war waged around him.

He felt good about his decision, though.

Even if their victory looked grim. The Four weren't cohesive, nor did they seem to know what they were doing. They just focused on taking out any Eggmen they saw.

The Eggmen, on the other hand, were executing strikes and deploying teams with precision. They were fixated on their mission: to capture Gosalyn.

She'd been F.O.W.L.'s main target for a while. Even before revealing her secret identity, when they had only known her as Quiverwing Quack. It, truthfully, went as far back as when F.O.W.L. had lost everything in the Prime Universe. When S.H.U.S.H. — one agent in particular named Stellar — had dismantled their organization.

So F.O.W.L. had relocated to the Negaverse and had set their sights on taking over that universe. But the only way F.O.W.L. would be able to take control was if they removed Negaduck from power.

Negaduck had fought back (and won) every time they tried to dethrone him.

So, they'd moved on to another tactic. Bargaining. (Or blackmail, which was really very similar.)

Gosalyn was the only thing Negaduck cared about.

Therefore, the only way to control Negaduck — or to destroy him — and, thus, gain control of the Negaverse rested with the girl.

This surprise attack in some wayward forest seemed to have all the indications that the odds would finally fall in F.O.W.L.'s favor.

And the longer the battle waged, the more apparent it seemed the organization was going to overpower the Fearsome Four.

Bushroot's trees were toppled and chopped up or set ablaze. And Bushroot himself was soon running away from agents wielding hedge clippers.

Quackerjack's toys were disintegrated underfoot or by a wayward grenade as the toy maker was restrained with ropes.

Some genius remembered that all Megavolt needed was water to incapacitate him, so they threw a bucket of water over his head, shorting out the villain.

Liquidator seemed unstoppable until Isis Vanderchill arrived on the scene. With one touch, she froze Liquidator solid.

Maybe Steelbeak had played his hand too hastily. Negaduck was the biggest — and scariest — bully on the playground, sure, but he wasn't even here. And all his cronies were reduced to nothing. Steelbeak couldn't prove himself if there was no one around to impress.

He wasn't gonna flip loyalties.

He just wasn't gonna get captured.

In the long run, that was more useful to Negaduck anyway. Steelbeak was an eyewitness to the Four's capture and had insider information for F.O.W.L..

"Well, hello there, handsome," said Isis, suddenly standing in front of Steelbeak's hiding place and grabbing ahold of his suit, icicles forming along the fabric instantly. She tossed him to the ground. "What're you doin' here?"

Feeling as though he'd been frozen from the inside out, Steelbeak curled into a ball, hoping he'd generate some heat if he was scrunched up tight enough. "N-nothin'," he said through his chattering beak.

Isis raised a delicate frozen eyebrow. "Seems like you were avoiding the fight. Like you were trying to decide which side to join?"

Steelbeak shuddered. He'd never be rid of this cold; it was down in his very bones.

Leaning down, Isis smiled at him sweetly and reached for his cheek.

Steelbeak braced himself for death by hypothermia.

But Isis never reached him.

Before her hand made contact, she screamed and stumbled backwards. Tumbling to the ground, she disintegrated into icy dust that scattered across the snow.

Steelbeak sat up, still shivering. But the temperature was not as frigid without that harpy looming over him.

Something — or someone — landed in front of him, black and fluttering in the wind, a stain on the otherwise pristine white landscape.

The movement was a cape.

The figure straightened and Steelbeak caught sight of a red fedora.

Negaduck.

Flames blasted out of a device in his hands, effectively sending the Eggmen running while also thawing out Liquidator. He lost no time in tossing the flamethrower to the side in favor of a shotgun and fired off a few rounds, hitting the agents who had been chasing Bushroot with the hedge clippers.

See? Biggest bully on the playground.

But Steelbeak didn't get a chance to think beyond that before Negaduck had rounded on him, murder on his face and the barrel of the gun fixed between Steelbeak's eyes.

Throwing up his hands, Steelbeak cried, "No! I'm on your side!"

"Conveniently," Negaduck sneered. "Now that you're cornered."

"I swore loyalty when I came here! Ask any o' dem," he gestured to the Fearsome Four, who were recuperating after the help that had arrived. "I warned 'em of F.O.W.L.'s arrival."

Negaduck narrowed his eyes, the barrel of the gun unwavering.

A pine tree stomped by, scooping up Eggmen before they could attack Negaduck. The mallard glanced over his shoulder at the battle still being waged. He swapped his rifle for a chainsaw.

"I see you waver for even a second, and the only way you'll leave here is in a body bag." Negaduck waited just long enough to see Steelbeak nod shakily before he leapt into the fray. Using his chainsaw to cut Quackerjack loose, he gave chase to a group of Eggmen who immediately turned tail and ran.

Steelbeak took a moment to gather his thoughts before standing. Spying Negaduck's abandoned flamethrower in the snow, he scooped it up and studied the controls.

He'd officially chosen a side. Time to prove himself to his new group.

Firing off a blast of flames, he ran down the mountain, searching for the obnoxious yellow of the Eggmen suits.

If it was just for the fashion alone, Steelbeak would never go back to F.O.W.L. again.

Chapter Text

Goofy grinned at everyone gathered in the yard. Brandishing an extension chord, he declared, "Let the joy of Christmas shine!" He plugged it in and the cabin was burst into blinding light.

Gosalyn squinted and raised a hand against the sudden dazzling decorations.

"Hoo, boy," Drake muttered next to her. Gosalyn sent him a glare before looking back at the cabin, blinking furiously at the contrast between the inky night and the stunning decorations.

It wasn't really that bright once your eyes adjusted.

Okay, yes is was.

But Goofy had clearly gone to a lot of trouble to hang color coordinated lights along the rooftops. He'd even alternated between red and white rope lights that twisted around the porch railings. Large light-up snowflakes dangled from the pine trees in the front yard and plastic candy canes stood at attention along the winding pathway to the front door. A plastic Santa, complete with sleigh and eight tiny reindeer sat atop the roof because no Christmas decorating was complete without a Santa Claus.

Was it a little overboard (maybe even a lot overboard)?

Sure.

But it was also sweet. There was something wholesome about Goofy's love of Christmas and it was so clearly reflected in his decorating.

"It looks great!" she said, grinning up at Goofy. He returned her smile and everyone else gathered around him, remarking on his job well done. Satisfied, Gosalyn glanced back at the cabin.

Over the tops of the trees behind the cabin, flames licked up towards the sky. She blinked in surprise, wondering if the different colored Christmas lights were making her see weird reflections.

Nope.

A plume of dark smoke followed in the wake of the flames, curling up and dissipating.

She glanced around, hoping someone else had seen what she'd seen, just to verify she wasn't making it up.

But everyone was distracted — and maybe blinded — by the decorations. They were still talking with Goofy or shielding their eyes against the conglomeration of lights.

Maybe it was better if she was the only one who'd seen the flames. Cause then she could investigate this on her own. If the forest was on fire, there was plenty of time to evacuate. If it was wayward campers, she could lecture them about the importance of fire safety.

If it was a villain — which all her instincts were screaming at her that it was — then she could neutralize the threat and be back before anyone realized she was gone.

There was no need to have everyone fear for their safety on Christmas Eve.

She slunk towards the cabin, glancing over her shoulder occasionally to ensure her short disappearance would go unnoticed.

No one paid her any mind.

So she was able to slip inside undetected.

Bolting up to her and Max's bedroom on the third floor, she grabbed her small suitcase and yanked it open. Inside was her Quiverwing costume. (No, her hero costume; she didn't go by Quiverwing anymore.) She lost little time in pulling it on and taking up her quiver, which was already stocked with arrows and had her bow attached. As she buckled it on, she walked to the window that faced the forest, peering out into the night.

There they were again. Huge explosions of flames. Flashes of brilliant gold and orange amongst the shadows of the trees.

Gosalyn shouldered the window open and glanced down. Too far to jump. Grappling hook it was. She took out an extra she'd packed in her suitcase and hooked it to the window sill. Tossing the rope toward the ground, she quickly scaled down the cabin, stringing her bow as she jogged through the forest to the area where she'd last seen the flames.

She grabbed a net arrow and nocked it, slowing down to a prowl as she crept through the underbrush.

This was about the place where the flames had been.

Give or take.

But there was nothing.

A twig snapped behind her and Gosalyn spun around, drawing the arrow back and aiming into the darkness. She crept backwards, one cautious step at a time, looking around at all the trees — and the spaces between them — surrounding her. Nothing stirred in the shadows.

The trees stood still.

The shadows didn't stir.

There wasn't even any noise other than her boots crunching in the snow.

Something jostled Gosalyn from behind.

She whirled around, her arrow drawn, searching for her target.

It was easy to spot.

"Negaduck?"

He lowered his chainsaw, which had been aimed at her neck, a look of irritation crossing his face. "Why'd you leave the cabin?"

Gosalyn relaxed, arrow in one hand and bow in the other. "Of all the cabins in all the world, you just happen to be at this one?"

He scowled. "I asked my question first."

"I think mine is more pressing."

"This," he gestured to himself then the forest, "is exactly what it looks like."

"It looks like you followed me here and are patrolling the woods."

"Then I don't know why you're so confused."

Gosalyn smirked. She'd missed him. "I saw flames, so I came to investigate."

"I'm hunting F.O.W.L.."

A wave of chilled panic cascaded through her, but she didn't have time to properly process the information.

F.O.W.L. Eggmen burst through the trees behind Negaduck, various weapons in hand.

Gosalyn easily stepped around Negaduck, taking aim and firing her net arrow. As she moved, Negaduck ducked down and slid around her, his arm winding up as if to throw something.

The net deployed, capturing all the Eggmen and securing them to the forest floor. They wriggled around helplessly, attempting to get their bearings and free themselves.

She stood straight, looking for more F.O.W.L. agents amidst the foliage. Negaduck bumped into her from behind and she glanced back at him. He, too, was looking over his shoulder at her as they stood back to back.

"We'll argue later?" Gosalyn asked.

"I guess," Negaduck sighed before throwing a knife and hitting an Eggmen in the throat. The agent collapsed on the forest floor, falling beside another Eggman with a knife sticking out of his helmet. "I'd rather not argue at all, but you can never let things go."

"I'm stubborn." Gosalyn grabbed another arrow.

"Spirited." Negaduck stepped away, holding his chainsaw up.

"Which you hate."

He shrugged. "There are worse things. Listen, I brought the Fearsome Four and they're somewhere in the forest fighting off Eggmen. Try not to hit them. But Steelbeak you can hit." With that, he revved his chainsaw and took off into the trees where the shadows had started to shift.

Gosalyn chuckled before another explosion of flames caught her attention. She ran towards them, taking out Eggmen as she came across them.

When she reached a clearing, she realized this was the epicenter of the fight.

Pine trees were stomping around under the close eye of Bushroot. Steelbeak was the one wielding the flame thrower as he pursued Eggmen. Quackerjack had an army of toys at his bidding. And Liquidator was creating avalanches left and right, burying F.O.W.L. under several feet of snow.

There was only one missing….

Gosalyn found Megavolt once she actually looked or him, huddled against an outcropping of rock with sparks flickering from his hat every few seconds.

Realizing he'd probably short circuited, Gosalyn reached for a new arrow, nocked it, and aiming for his chest. Her aim was true, the taser arrow lodging in the plug and recharging Megavolt to full power. When he glanced up to see where the arrow had come from, Gosalyn saluted.

Then she swept the feet out from under an Eggman with her bow while she reached back for another arrow.

The Eggmen kept coming, their numbers not dwindling no matter how many she, the Fearsome Five, or Steelbeak managed to take out. F.O.W.L. must have been recruiting if their numbers were up this much.

After sending a sonic arrow into a large group of Eggmen, which distracted them long enough for Liquidator to bury the group in snow, Gosalyn was startled to see a cloud of blue smoke fill the clearing. Her surprise changed to excitement as she heard the familiar intro.

"I am the Terror that Flaps in the Night! I am the seventh green bean casserole at the office Christmas potluck. I am Darkwing Duck!" Darkwing brandished his cape as the smoke dissipated, his smug expression melting into one of shock as he studied the scene around him.

At Darkwing's entrance, the Fearsome Four shrank down and started to retreat, but Negaduck managed to head them off, revving his chainsaw. "You knobs! He's on our side!" He grabbed Steelbeak by the throat as the rooster attempted to sneak past him. "Get back in there!" He tossed Steelbeak backwards, who stumbled and fell into a snowdrift.

Bushroot recovered first, sending a few pines down the mountain to confront the advancing Eggman army.

As a tree passed by, Gosalyn grabbed onto a low-hanging branch, hearing, "Get down here, young lady!" and, "Damn it, Gosalyn!" said simultaneously behind her.

But she worked better from a high vantage point.

Climbing up to a secure perch, she quickly and expertly fired off arrows. They had more wide-reaching effects on the Eggmen up here, and she was able to keep F.O.W.L. from getting too close to the Fearsome Four, her father, or Negaduck. As the tree stomped on agents or swept them away, Gosalyn acted as sniper for the group.

The pine suddenly shuddered, and she jerked forward, just managing to catch herself on a branch before toppling headlong to the ground.

But the tree was falling, the snow-covered ground quickly approaching.

Shouldering her bow, Gosalyn waited until they'd nearly made contact before leaping away.

She hit the ground on her side and tumbled down the mountainside.

Gosalyn lost her bow somewhere along the way, and might have kept rolling all the way down the mountain if it wasn't for F.O.W.L. High Command.

She came to a stop in front of them, all three obscured by the shadows.

Whipping out her pistol, she pointed it at the middle High Command official.

"Gosalyn Mallard," said one of them, his voice tight. "You are coming with us."

"Over my dead body," came Darkwing's voice before he stepped in between Gosalyn and High Command.

"You'll be dead before you so much as touch her," growled Negaduck, coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with Darkwing, the two of them shielding Gosalyn from view.

Negaduck revved his chainsaw.

Darkwing aimed his gas gun.

And High Command took flight, the two mallards giving chase.

Gosalyn rolled up to a sitting position, calling out, "I had them right where I wanted them!"

"Curse me kilts, I haven't had this much fun since we explored Mara's Temple!"

Knowing that voice, Gosalyn glanced around and easily found Scrooge running headlong into the fray, brandishing his cane. Huey had managed to get his hands on the flamethrower and he followed his uncle, shooting off his weapon occasionally.

Dewey, who'd been with them, stopped next to Gosalyn, holding out a hand. "You okay?"

She nodded and allowed Dewey to help her to standing. "Is anyone still at the cabin?" As she asked her question, Launchpad and Louie sped by on snowmobiles.

"Uncle Donald, Aunt Daisy, Jose, Panchito, and the Goofs. They're guarding it pretty well. We're trying to gather all of these weird men into one area so the plant and water dudes can take them all out at once."

Gosalyn nodded and holstered her pistol. "I think I'll circle back to the cabin, then. Make sure they're all okay." She glanced around the powdery snow for her bow. "I'll send any stray Eggmen your way."

"Eggmen, huh? I thought they'd have a cooler name." Dewey held out her bow to her.

She took it with a grateful smile. "F.O.W.L.'s not inventive."

"At least F.O.W.L. is a cool name. Eggmen. Ugh." He shuddered in revulsion then glanced over his shoulder. "I'm gonna catch up to Huey. Did you see he has a flamethrower?"

"Yeah, how'd he get that?"

"He practically wrestled it away from a rooster in a suit."

Smiling at the thought, Gosalyn said, "He deserved it. Be careful."

"You, too." Dewey took off, Gosalyn watching him until he had reunited with his family before heading back to the cabin.

She chased the few Eggmen back towards the clearing to get rounded up with the others, but had to take out a few with he bola chords and nets.

There were fewer and fewer Eggmen the closer she got to the cabin, which was a relief; not all in their company was equipped to fight against an organization bent on world domination.

Seeing no threats lurking behind the cabin, Gosalyn crept around to the front. Where Goofy stood, altering a few light strand placements. Gosalyn smiled, happy to see F.O.W.L. hadn't gotten this far and began walking towards him.

But her relief was short lived as an Eggman bolted from the garage towards the house.

Towards Goofy.

Gosalyn aimed and fired her arrow at the Eggman, pleased when he went down immediately with a taser to the leg.

Goofy glanced around and studied the fallen Eggman before looking at Gosalyn. "'S that where y'all got off to?"

Gosalyn advanced, uncoiling some rope and restraining the Eggman. "My work has a nasty habit of coming home with me."

"A-hyuck! Ya finish fightin' all of 'em off?"

She stood and glanced around the yard. She wanted to do a full sweep before she felt comfortable, but she still answered, "I think so."

"Then d'ya think you can work yer magic and get these to stay in place?" He held up a wayward strand of icicle lights.

Gosalyn grinned, setting down her bow. It wouldn't take her long to secure the lights. Then she could do her sweep.

Grabbing the string, she said, "I'll see what I can do."

Chapter Text

"I still don't know why he put us in charge," muttered Megavolt as he stood at the doorway of the Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice Bakery, watching the Eggmen and F.O.W.L. High Command file back to the Negaverse. The agents who could still walk anyway. "It's not like I'm any less of a villain than these guys are, but I'm still responsible for them. It doesn't make sense."

Liquidator, his size just big enough to be menacing but not so big as to be threatening (which could change depending on how F.O.W.L. behaved), said, "Maybe you're born with it."

Born with what? He hated how confusing Liquidator's speech was. Conversations were complicated enough already; why did Liquidator need to make things worse by using slogans all the time?

Also, Megavolt had heard that particular slogan before and felt, on some level, that he ought to be offended.

"We just chose the winning side," Bushroot said. "We're still villains, just… on a different level."

"Powered up," Liquidator said, nodding. Which probably meant he agreed. Bushroot and Liquidator has always gotten along well; water and plants, you know. It made sense.

But it didn't make Liquidator any easier to understand.

Megavolt glanced down the street, wondering how many F.O.W.L. agents were left. He was getting tired from standing here.

They looked pretty impressive, though, the Eggmen. Marching down the snowy street single file with the Christmas lights gleaming off their helmets. St. Canard citizens were filming the march on their phones, probably thinking this was some form of holiday entertainment.

The line of Eggmen was thinning, nearing the end. And once F.O.W.L. was gone, the crowd should disperse.

So his window of opportunity would open.

Leaning forward, Megavolt asked, "Can you create a distraction once the Eggmen have all gone?"

Quackerjack looked around, suspicious.

Megavolt nodded to the decorations lining the street. "I'm gonna free—"

"Oh, give it a rest!" Quackerjack snapped. "They're Christmas lights. They're fulfilling their purpose hanging on all the buildings. What are they gonna do in their weird lighthouse? Collect dust? Sit with the rest of the electronics that you've liberated? Let them go. At least here, they're making people happy."

Bushroot glanced over at them as Liquidator grew a few inches, looming over some Eggmen who were whispering to one another. The agents abruptly stopped talking, ducking their heads and scurrying into the bakery.

"Didn't peg you as a 'give the people what they want' sort of duck," Bushroot said, eyeing Quackerjack, who shrugged and dug his hands into his pockets.

"Yeah, well." Quackerjack, too, studied the line of Eggmen.

But the last few were trudging through the sludge left by the melted snow. They even picked up the pace when Quackerjack sneered at them.

And just like that, all of F.O.W.L. was on their way back to the Negaverse, where Steelbeak was waiting to receive them.

Quackerjack stepped forward, yanking his hands from his pockets. "Catch you later."

"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" Bushroot asked.

Quackerjack fiddled with something in his hand and glanced back with a bored expression. "Does it matter? The Eggmen went back to the Negaverse, our job is done."

"But Negaduck said—"

"Negaduck isn't here," Quackerjack ground out. "And I have better places to be." With that, he stomped off, not looking back.

Bushroot sighed. "Shall we? I want to make sure Steelbeak actually kept an eye on F.O.W.L. and didn't decide to join their ranks again."

"Which side will he choose? Tune in to find out!" Liquidator slid into the bakery.

Bushroot looked at Megavolt. "You coming?"

Megavolt paused, eyes once more drawn to the Christmas decorations.

Bushroot loosed another heavy sigh. "I'll just see you back in the Negaverse, yeah?" The door to the bakery closed, Megavolt standing alone on the stoop.

Having seen no major crimes committed, the citizens had fully dispersed, just as Megavolt had predicted they would. Not even one last curious party lingered. So he was alone to freely study all the lights, weighing Quackerjack's words.

They were beautiful.

All lights were beautiful as far as he was concerned, but these were in a league of their own. Different shapes, sizes, colors. Most of them were connected in long strands so they were never alone. They could flash or strobe or blink. The sheer variety available for Christmas lights was enough to excite Megavolt; more traditional lights weren't this varied or versatile.

There were even whole events were planned around Christmas lights, people venturing out to view them. Zoo's and rec centers and business squares put up elaborate displays. Cities competed with one another for the most impressive set up. Even homeowners decked out their yards and houses for the season.

Light bulbs never received this much attention the rest of the year. Which was a shame. Standard Edison lightbulbs were also beautiful; people had quickly forgotten how convenient it was to have light whenever you wanted it. For much of history, sunlight and fire had been the only source of light. And they weren't even grateful.

This time of year was the closest anyone came to matching Megavolt's love and enthusiasm for lights.

So, should he take that away?

As much as these lights called out to him, taking them away would deprive everyone else of the very joy Megavolt experienced with them every day.

Maybe Quackerjack was right. Maybe these lights were fulfilling their destiny. They were created to be beautiful rather than practical. And Megavolt found something of worth in that.

No one would ever deserve lightbulbs and electricity.

But for the holiday season. For Christmas lights.

People didn't deserve these lights any better, but these were, at least, appreciated.

Besides, Megavolt decided, as he pulled the door to the bakery open, they did look pretty. And he was warmed by something unnameable when he saw so many lights decorating such a vast array of locations in such a variety of style and color.

With one last glance down the street, Megavolt disappeared inside the bakery, heading back home to his own collection of beautiful lights and gadgets and appliances.

Chapter Text

Seeing it.

God, it gutted him.

His hard work. His dreams. His future.

Locked up.

Rotting from the inside out.

And wasn't that just the perfect metaphor for his life?

Some part of Quackerjack was surprised that his shop was still here. Sure, he'd kept it maintained through the years in some deluded fantasy that he'd return to the toy-making game, but this place was prime real estate. He'd half expected someone to have come along, realize it wasn't in use — even though it was still owned and paid for — and convert it into some candle store or one of those fancy shops with all the expensive hand-made soaps that supposedly did wonders.

But his name — his real name — was still on the lease in some stuffy downtown building. And he'd continued to pay rent on the place every month, even hiring a landscaping company to maintain the outside. So, Toyland was still technically taken care of, and he was able to put some distance between himself and his failed dreams.

He palmed the key which Negaduck had produced before dismissing him from the clearing in the mountains.

"I don't wanna hear that I dragged you out here for nothing," the Masked Menace had snarled. He'd then produced the key from some recess of his dark cape and slapped it into Quackerjack's palm. "Stop being so pathetic with the damn thing and figure out what you want to do with it." He'd turned on his heel and disappeared into the forest.

Negaduck had paid all of the Fearsome Four in one way or another for their work on defeating F.O.W.L.. He'd even paid Steelbeak by allowing him to walk away with his life.

Now, Quackerjack didn't know what the others had gotten; Negaduck had pulled them aside individually to pay them, claiming he didn't want the others to know and get jealous of the others form of mayment. But Quackerjack's was so personal. How had Negaduck even known about Toyland?

Quackerjack wasn't sure if his payment was the key he'd long since lost, or the swift kick in the pants to do something about it. After all, what good was an empty storefront on a busy street if there was nothing inside?

There he went again, being all poetic and drawing parallels between the store and his own life. Or whatever.

Negaduck's words swirling through his head, Quackerjack straightened and walked up to the door. Turned the key in the lock. And pushed inside.

The little bell still tinkled as the door swung open, hinges squeaking in protest of being used for the first time in years. Decades, even.

Quackerjack sneezed as the dust was kicked up, a cloud materializing in front of him. The shop was musty. His wooden shelves didn't gleam anymore. Long-forgotten toys stood atop old displays covered in a blanket of dust. The counter with the old fashioned cash registers where he'd almost shared a kiss with Claire about twenty years ago was still intact, but sat as an imposing oblong shadow. Menacing rather than welcoming.

Inhaling, sure dust particles were lining his lungs as he did so, Quackerjack stepped fully inside and shut the door behind him, his feet kicking up more dust clouds as he went.

If not for the obvious signs of neglect, the store would still look to be in use. He wondered how many youngsters over the years had wandered by and wanted to come in. To explore the wonders of real physical toys and test the limits of their imaginations. And how many had been disappointed to read the ominous "CLOSED" sign on the door.

How many minds had he not been able to mold? How many thousands of toys had he not been able to share?

Head spinning furiously with all the missed opportunities, he turned around, unable to face his wasted potential. Turned his back on the shop — these metaphors were really hitting close to home today — and faced the street.

The video game store across the way was still there, still garish and tacky, now with the words "GameStop" alight in neon white and red atop the doors.

Quackerjack had never used neon. He thought it was too gimmicky. He preferred hand-painted signs and good old fashioned Edison lightbulbs. Maybe he'd never been as current or up to date as his competitors when it came to advertising, but he had delivered quality, something his customers had known. Hell, it was something you could feel when you stepped across the threshold of this shop. A mausoleum to days gone by. To artisans and quality craftsmanship. To having pride in what you produced because it wasn't just about making a living, it was about the history of your trade.

Should Toyland stay there? In the past?

Or should he press on into the future?

Try again?

Even with GameStop across the way? Still making all that money. Still influencing the young minds of today, encouraging them not to think for themselves or invent worlds of their own, but explore preexisting programmed ideas.

"Stop being so pathetic with the damn thing and figure out what you want to do with it."

Loathe as Quackerjack was to admit it, Negaduck was right. He needed to make a decision. Either let this shop — and everything he used to have and be — go, or use it to jump start a new phase of his life.

Quackerjack stood looking out the window of Toyland, the ominous lyrics still painted above the doorway, and watched the bustle of the street well into the night.

Chapter Text

Standing on the roof of the cabin — though how anyone could call this place a cabin was beyond him; damn McDuck and his inflated sense of normalcy — Negaduck surveyed the surrounding tree line. There was no sign of F.O.W.L. anywhere. There hadn't been since he'd sent the survivors back to the Negaverse with his Foursome losers and Steelbeak. Negaduck still wasn't sure to make of Steelbeak; he'd always played the field, but now it seemed that he'd found a side where he was gonna set up camp. Negaduck just had to make sure his loyalties were in the right place once he got back home.

For now, Negaduck walked past the plastic reindeer and Santa in his sleigh to the roof of the carriage house, eyes sweeping the area for any other disturbances.

He was fairly confident that the night would be quiet, that the threats were gone, but he wasn't going to take any chances. If he hadn't taken the chance and come here when he'd overheard some wayward Eggmen talking about a cabin retreat while out in patrol in the Negaverse, he wouldn't have known about the F.O.W.L. attack. Gosalyn, Darkwing, McDuck, Launchpad would've have had to fight F.O.W.L. on their own. And Negaduck wasn't confident that they would've been able to keep the agency at bay. He shuddered to think of what might have happened if he hadn't been there. Gosalyn called him over-protective, and it was a relief that he was. No one was gonna touch his girl. Or ruin her Christmas.

Hopefully this hadn't. His being here. This whole F.O.W.L. battle. He'd wanted to keep the fight small, to allow Gosalyn and her family time to enjoy their day without interruption.

But since when had things gone his way?

At least now he could ensure nothing else would disturb them tonight. F.O.W.L. was gone — at least, they looked to be — and Negaduck would stay on patrol the rest of the night. Just in case.

"I can hear you brooding from here," came Gosalyn's voice. Negaduck turned to see her standing on the roof of the main house, bundled in a coat, hat, and mittens. She smiled when he looked over.

"Get back inside," he said, walking over to her so he wouldn't have to raise his voice. There were others in the cabin and he didn't want to call attention to himself.

"I wanted to thank you," she said. "For keeping us safe."

"You're welcome," he said, crossing from the carriage house to the main house to stand beside her. "Now, go inside."

Gosalyn studied him. "They're gone, you know. F.O.W.L.. They won't be coming back here tonight."

"Yes, we're a great team and you're a strong fighter and I'm proud of you." He gently took hold of her elbow and guided her back to the window that served as the entry point to the roof from the main house. "Go inside—"

"We're safe, though. Why are you sending me away?"

He gripped her elbow and faced her. "I'm not— I wouldn't send you away."

"You would if I was in danger."

"There's nothing," he soothed, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. "No threats, no danger."

"Then sit with me," she said, grabbing his arm and tugging him to the edge of the roof.

"No, Gos—"

"You just said there was no danger." She brushed some snow away before sitting down, her legs dangling off the edge.

"And I need to make sure it stays that way."

"Come on, sit next to me."

"It's Christmas Eve," he said around a sigh. "You should be with your family."

Gosalyn smiled up at him. "I am."

The very breath was stolen straight out of Negaduck's lungs.

He was family?

He was family?

Holding out a mittened hand, Gosalyn asked, "Please sit with me."

He'd always been powerless to resist her.

Gripping her hand in his, he settled on the roof, his feet hanging over the side. Gosalyn scooted closer so they were pressed together shoulder to shoulder. They were facing the front yard, alight in all variations of Christmas decorations.

All was still. And Gosalyn helped to warm him, sitting as close as she was.

"You were saying something about being proud of me?" she asked, glancing at him with a mischievous smile on her beak.

Negaduck rolled his eyes and she laughed.

"Kidding aside, we've beaten F.O.W.L. how many times now? And they still can't beat us." She nudged him lightly. "We do make a good team."

"Cant argue that," Negaduck said. He looked at her. "You really are a strong fighter."

Gosalyn ducked her head, smiling shyly.

He reached out a hand, slipping his fingers under her chin to turn her face towards his. "And I am proud of you. Not just of your heroism, but of you as a person. You're very impressive, Baby Girl, and I wouldn't change a thing about you."

Gosalyn smiled and leaned into his chest, arms circling around his waist. Negaduck wrapped an arm around her, head resting atop hers.

The comfortable silence was broken a few minutes later when a voice asked, "Can I join you two?"

Negaduck sent a scowl over his shoulder at Max, whose head was poking out of the window.

Gosalyn looked at Negaduck, studying his expression. "Only if you want him to, Papa Wolf," she said quietly. And he knew she meant it. She'd give Max some excuse if he gave her the word.

Oh, what the hell?

It was Christmas.

He sent Max a sharp nod and the young man climbed through the window. Gosalyn sent Negaduck a smile before Max sat on her other side, handing her one of the steaming mugs he'd carried out with him.

"Didn't you bring enough for the whole class?" Negaduck sneered.

Max cradled his mug in both hands. "Mr. Mallard has yours."

"He what?" Negaduck turned to see Darkwing sitting beside him before holding out a mug. "Max and Gos like peppermint schnapps in theirs, so I made yours myself," he murmured. Just loud enough for them to hear. "There's no alcohol in yours."

Stunned into silence, Negaduck took the drink, which turned out to be hot chocolate.

"Merry Christmas to ya!" Goofy said with a huge grin as he sat next to Max.

"Nice to see you again, Negaduck." Launchpad sat beside Darkwing.

Still unable to think of any words, Negaduck glanced at Gosalyn, who just smiled and shrugged before drinking her hot chocolate. Not knowing what else to do, he took a sip, the rich taste and smooth texture rolling over his tongue pleasantly before he swallowed, the drink warming him all the way down.

There were worse ways to spend Christmas Eve.

Definitely less awkward ways.

But the silence was, amazingly, comfortable.

Everyone seemed content to sit and watch the lights in the yard below or gaze at the stars twinkling above. Gosalyn was leaning against Max, which Negaduck understood. He did. They were in love or whatever. He was fine.

Glancing over at Darkwing at on point made him nearly smile because his counterpart was glaring at the young couple with as much resentment as Negaduck was sure was reflected in his own expression.

The silence was peaceful and Negaduck was really starting to sink into it when the front door opened and out spilled the rest of the household. The triplets, Scrooge McDuck, Scrooge's nephew and his girlfriend, and two colorful strangers. They all delved into the snow, piling the powder on top of itself and shaping it into snowmen.

Negaduck was a heartbeat away from tossing his mug at Darkwing and taking off into the forest — he wasn't sure how Scrooge would take a super villain sitting with his house guests on the roof of his cabin drinking hot chocolate — when Scrooge McDuck himself looked up and locked gazes with him.

Negaduck stilled.

Like a damn deer in the headlights.

Just letting the tycoon take what he wanted.

After a few heart-pounding moments, Scrooge smiled and tipped his hat before turning to help Louie with his snowman.

Negaduck released his breath in a sigh, feeling like he'd just passed some kind of test, and downed the rest of his hot chocolate in one swallow, the burning awakening his senses.

"Is this right, mija?" One of the tropical birds asked, looking up to the roof.

Gosalyn smiled. "Pack it more tightly together and it'll stay better." She leaned out of the circle of Max's arms to explain to Negaduck, "That's Panchito. He and José," she pointed to the other stranger, "are friends of Donald's."

"I am surprised you are not also banned from building snowmen," said the one who went by José, grinning up at Gosalyn as he smoothed the edges of his snowman.

"There's not gonna be a snowman fight," the red triplet said, piling more snow onto his and Panchito's snowman while Panchito took Gosalyn's advice and packed it in tightly. "She can build as many snowmen as she wants."

"Why'd you ban her?" asked Negaduck, his protectiveness rearing up. "She too good or something?"

"She's much too good," said the blue triplet. "And Huey's a sore loser."

"Am not!"

"You totally are!" said the green triplet as he carved a design into the snowman's face.

"Listen, you want to go up against an opponent who is your equal, right?" the red triplet argued. "That way you're evenly matched and the competition becomes more fun. Cause it's up in the air and is anybody's game. That's interesting."

"We get it," called Max. "You aren't Gos's equal. I'm sure I can find someone more on your level, like an elementary school kid."

Everyone laughed as the red triplet scowled. Negaduck glanced at Max, hating the kid a little less.

The group in the yard continued to build their snowmen, chatting amicably with one another. The rooftop occupants sat in comfortable silence, finishing their mugs of hot chocolate.

Darkwing shifted beside him, pulling out something from his pocket. He handed Negaduck the Flashquack. "It has a homing device," he said. "Put in the coordinates here," he pointed to a small panel underneath the device, "and it'll return to you."

Negaduck took it and nodded his understanding before pocketing it himself.

"Thanks for calling me in," Darkwing said.

"I didn't want to," sneered Negaduck. "I know Christmas is for family. But F.O.W.L. had pulled out all the stops, so. The Flashquack it was."

"You don't need to put that Gos is in danger for me to answer the call."

Negaduck glanced at Darkwing, who met his gaze before continuing, "I meant it when I said I'd help you. Gosalyn or not, I'll answer."

Negaduck swallowed and glanced down at his mug which he was gripping hard in his fingers. He gave a sharp nod before allowing his gaze to wander down to the village of snowmen being constructed in the yard down below.

The cold eventually sent everyone inside, Goofy, Darkwing, and Launchpad wishing Negaduck a merry Christmas before heading back. Max took Negduck's mug and sent him a grin. "Have a good night. Thanks for keeping us safe from F.O.W.L.."

Negaduck nodded and the boy disappeared through the window, leaving Gosalyn and Negduck alone.

Unwinding the scarf from around her neck, Gosalyn reached out to secure it around Negaduck's throat. "Don't stay out here too much longer."

"Just gonna make sure the woods are clear."

"Then you'll go home?"

Negaduck hesitated and Gosalyn sighed. "Well, at least find someplace warm to stay tonight." She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Merry Christmas, Papa Wolf."

Negaduck caressed her cheek and pressed his forehead to hers. "Merry Christmas, Baby Girl."

She stood and gave him a stern look. "Remember. Not too long."

He saluted and she went inside.

Sitting on the roof of for only a moment longer, to savor the quiet and decorations and warmth that was curling pleasantly within, Negaduck got to his feet and repelled down the back of the house, starting his last patrol for the evening.

Negaduck was thorough, going through the trees on all sides of the cabin and checking behind every rock, bush, and snowdrift.

And if he happened to end his reconnaissance in the front yard where he was able to see all the decorations adorning the cabin, well. That was okay.

"You fight well," came a voice to his left. He turned, Glock halfway out when he saw Scrooge McDuck standing beside him also admiring the decorations.

Negaduck faced the cabin, pushing his weapon back into his pocket. But he kept his fingers curled around the handle. Just in case.

Clearing his throat, Negaduck said, "You're not so bad yourself. For an old man."

Scrooge chuckled. "Old perhaps, but thoroughly experienced."

A breeze swirled through the yard, its harsh chill cutting Negaduck to his core.

Scrooge pulled his coat more securely around himself. "Ye should not be out here in this cold."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm going."

"Ye misunderstand me, lad," said Scrooge, turning to face him.

Lad? Was that payback for the "old man" jab from earlier?

"There's a vacant room on the ground floor, which is ideal for a quick getaway if one is needed." Scrooge glanced back at the cabin. "There's a bathroom next to it as well. Both are under the staircase so they're isolated. Something to consider."

"Why? Because it's Christmas?" Negaduck sneered. He hated charity for the sake of the holiday. People needed help all the days of the year, not just the 31 in December.

"Because ye kept us safe," Scrooge said, eyeing Negaduck over his spectacles. "And I hear ye keep Gosalyn out o' trouble to the best of your abilities no matter the time o' year. That alone earns ya a stay. The girl's a bit o' a whirlwind."

Negaduck bit back a chuckle and uncurled his fingers from his pistol. "Wouldn't want her any other way."

"Nor I." Scrooge tapped his cane on the ground. "I'll wish ye a good night, lad. The room's open if ye want it."

Negaduck wasn't sure what possessed him to do it, but before he could stop himself, he'd blurted out, "Merry Christmas, sir."

Scrooge smiled. "The same to ye." He went back into the carriage house and closed the door with a soft snap.

Negaduck stood there until another gust of wind spurred him into movement.

The front door was unlocked.

He made sure to turn the deadbolt behind him before walking past the Christmas tree to find the open room.

Chapter Text

Huey leapt behind a snowman just in time to avoid being hit by a barrage of snowballs. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he glanced from one side of the snowman to the other to gauge where the attack was coming from.

These team ups were much more interesting than their last ones had been.

He was on the same team as Uncle Donald this time, Louie was with Panchito, and Dewey with José. Goofy, Launchpad, and Aunt Daisy were running around the yard, trying to keep score amidst the chaos. On the sidelines sat Gosalyn, Uncle Scrooge. Mr. Mallard, and Max ready to be tagged in if they were called.

The snowballs lessened to nothing and Huey scooped up snow, packing it together and running through his options.

Uncle Donald was likely still behind their fort, keeping the others at bay. Being teamed up with Uncle Donald was cool; the older duck was more strategic than Huey, but also had an impulsive streak when he became angry. Dewey was methodical and strategic enough for both him and José, but the parrot adapted to Dewey's more structured play well. Louie and Panchito were just in it for the fun, more focused on throwing the most snowballs at their enemies rather than coming up with some sort of plan of attack. It was that last group which was keeping everyone on their toes; it was hard to strategize when you were constantly being pelted with snowballs.

"Hold!" came Dewey's voice. "José needs a new coat."

Huey glanced around his snowman and saw José duck back inside the cabin. Launchpad walked into the yard, hands held out to ensure nothing happened until all members were back in play.

Sure, they were paused, but Huey took the time to build up his arsenal, packing as many snowballs together as he could. And he was confident the others were doing the same. The only rules during a pause were you couldn't move from your current position or throw any snowballs. If he'd been paying more attention and considered that José's light jacket wouldn't sustain him for long, he would have stayed with Uncle Donald at their fort so they could come up with a game plan during this pause instead of going out on a scouting mission to get a lay of the land mere seconds before.

Should've, would've, could've.

Huey heard the front door open, saw the flash of yellow from José's winter coat, and grinned.

Jumping up to his feet, Huey fired his snowball straight for the parrot. It hit him right in the beak.

The triumph coursing through Huey quickly died when he realized he hadn't his José.

He'd hit Negaduck.

Why was Negaduck in the cabin? Why had he decided to leave via front door? And why, oh, why, had Huey not seen the red and black in the mallard's uniform along with the yellow?

The yard had fallen silent, all eyes fixed on Negaduck.

He wiped off the snow from his beak and sent a deadly glare to Huey.

Oh, God.

He'd heard about Negaduck and knew he was one of the most dangerous villains in existence. But seeing him in person…. It was very much like staring down a barrel of a gun. But more dangerous.

Negaduck sneered and that was so much worse than just a glare.

Throwing his hands up in surrender, Huey stepped out fully into view. "I thought you were José," he explained in a rush. "I didn't— you were— Since when were you in the cabin?"

Maintaining eye contact, Negaduck reached backwards and oh, man. This was the end, wasn't it? Huey was gong to die right here in this yard on Christmas morning. What a way to go. He was still so young. Had to many more things he'd wanted to do. This couldn't be it.

In a flash, Negaduck drew back and fired.

His aim was true, a decent sized snowball pelting Huey directly in the chest.

The silence in the yard was broken when Gosalyn burst out laughing.

But Huey couldn't focus on that. Because Negaduck was coming right at him, scooping up more snow along the way with a determined look on his face.

"Strike Team Omega!" Huey cried, scrambling backwards.

"We get Negaduck!" cried Dewey.

Ugh, why hadn't Huey thought of that? Put himself on the same team as Negaduck? Cause, sure, he'd get his retribution but then they could cream the other teams.

Negaduck, though, seemed to care not at all for the teams, still advancing on Huey. He tripped over something and fell into a snowbank.

"We get Mr. Mallard!" said Louie.

"Uncle Scrooge!" Huey called, unable to think of much else with a super villain bearing down on him other than to ask for help.

Negaduck loomed over Huey, a frown on his beak, and drew his arm back, snowball in hand.

Huey covered his head and closed his eyes, praying for a swift end.

But the snowball never made contact.

"All right, laddie," came Uncle Scrooge's voice. Based on his tone, he was smiling. Huey snapped his eyes open.

Uncle Scrooge was standing between him and Negaduck, brandishing his cane. "Let's see what you're made of."

Negaduck growled, but his eyes sparked as he aimed and threw his snowball at Uncle Scrooge. Uncle Scrooge dodged it easily and kicked up some snow, grabbing a handful midair and tossing it at Negaduck, the villain batting the powder away.

Sitting up, Huey breathed a sigh of relief before he saw Uncle Donald motion him over. He scrambled back to their fort and once he was safely behind their walls of snow and ice, Huey glanced back out over the battlefield.

Uncle Scrooge and Negaduck were engaged in an intense duel, snow flying around them in flurries and their movements blurred. Mr. Mallard was crouched beside Louie and Panchito, speaking hurriedly, the three of them making as many snowballs as they could.

José stepped out of the house, took in the scene before him, and ducked next to Dewey, asking, "What did I miss?"

Launchpad had quickly vacated the combat zone and was standing beside Goofy and Daisy, the three of them trying to gauge who was in the lead.

On the porch, curled into a wicker loveseat, sat Max and Gosalyn, watching the fight.

"We have to help Uncle Scrooge," said Donald, bringing Huey's attention back to the battle at hand.

"Do we?" asked Huey. "He seems to be holding his own out there."

"Huey Duck," Uncle Donald reprimanded, "we are a team. And," he leveled Huey with a glare, "you started it."

Well, he could hardly argue with that.

Working with Uncle Donald, Huey helped build up their arsenal while Mr. Mallard leapt into the fray, Negaduck and Uncle Scrooge easily adjusting to another opponent.

This wasn't like any other Christmas Huey had had before, which was saying something considering the family he had. But it wasn't the worst Christmas, either.

In fact, this one ranked one pretty high.

Uncle Donald clapped him on the shoulder before they ran out to battle, Dewey, José, Louie, and Panchito not far behind.

Merry Christmas indeed.

Chapter Text

Goofy unloaded a few boxes from the trunk, slipping and sliding his way up the drive to the front door. Gosalyn and Max climbed out of the car, intent on helping when two familiar figures caught Max's eye.

"Hey, Peej! Bobby." He closed the car door and went to greet his friends.

"Merry Christmas, man!" PJ said, the two performing the handshake they'd invented back in high school.

"Christmas was yesterday," said Bobby, lumbering up and resolutely keeping his hands in his pockets. "Isn't that, like, against the rules to wish a Merry Christmas when it isn't Christmas?"

"Well, then Happy belated Christmas," said Max, grinning.

"Nah," said Bobby, waving it away. "That sounds fake."

PJ glanced at Max, a confused look on his face. "I think it's Boxing Day in England."

Bobby considered for a moment. "I will accept Boxing Day."

"Happy Boxing Day, Bobby," said Max.

"Same to you, man."

"Hiya boys." Gosalyn took up her position beside Max, resting one arm on his shoulder and propping her other hand on her hip. "Season's Greetings and all that."

Max wrapped an arm around her waist and sent her a smile.

"Hi, Gosalyn," greeted PJ with a smile.

Bobby gestured at the two. "You two spent Christmas together." It wasn't a question.

Gosalyn nodded, likely hearing the missing question mark; she was very good at reading someone's intent. "Sure did. Had the whole family in a mountain cabin and everything."

"Sounds like an awesome Christmas," said PJ.

Max's smile grew when Gosalyn glanced up at him. "It was. We got to ski, ice skate, build snowmen, had a few snowball fights, the works."

He turned back to his friends, ready to ask how they'd spent their holiday, when Bobby looked at him over his glasses. "When are we gonna have Christmas together?"

"I have your gifts," Max said, gesturing back to his house. "I'm free the next few days, so I'm game for anything."

"Same," said PJ.

"Nah, I meant, like, in the future, man. We've already established that late Christmas isn't really Christmas. We can celebrate Boxing Day this year, but what about next year?"

Max's brow furrowed. "Bobby, we've never spent Christmas Day together."

"But we've always gone and, like, done something Christmasy before the actual day."

"What did you guys do?" Gosalyn asked.

Bobby grinned. "It was rad. We three would practice skating in the ice rink then hit up the diner after. Then, we'd end the day wandering through the city looking at all the decorations." Bobby glanced in between PJ and Max. "What happened to that?"

"We grew up," suggested PJ with a shrug.

"Growing up's a weak excuse." Bobby sighed.

"I mean, sure, but it's the truth," Max said. "It's hard to do all of that now that we're adults."

"We should still try to do stuff, though. Just us three," said Bobby.

Max eyed him. It wasn't like Bobby to be so passive aggressive. Okay, passive, yes. Aggressive? Never. "What's this about, Bob?"

Bobby sighed again, his shoulders heaving up and down dramatically. "PJ is engaged. And you two are practically engaged," he pointed to Max and Gosalyn while shaking his head. "Things are just changing so fast!"

Max's stomach dropped at the mention of engagement. That was… that was out of the blue. Wasn't it? Yeah, he and Gosalyn were in a good place and had been dating for a few years. Maybe Max had decided that he didn't want to date anyone else and, after living with her for a few months, was pretty interested in settling down with Gosalyn more permanently.

One day.

Not tomorrow.

He ignored his nerves and flashed PJ a grin, stepping forward to hug him. "Congrats, man! When did you do it?"

"Christmas Eve. We spent it just the two of us and it seemed like the right time."

Gosalyn hugged PJ as well. "Congratulations! When do I meet her?"

"New Year's Day?" PJ suggested. "We're gonna go see all the food stalls downtown before they leave for the year."

Gosalyn glanced at Max, who grinned and nodded. "Sounds good."

"We'll meet you there."

"This is what I mean!" Bobby lamented, tossing his hands up. "You guys are gonna do couple things together."

Oh.

That's why Bobby was being so weird.

He was afraid of being left out.

"You can come, too, dude," said PJ.

"The more the merrier," agreed Max.

"But that's, like, weird, right? To keep inviting your one sad single friend along?"

"It's only weird if you make it weird," said Gosalyn.

Bobby shrugged. "I guess. Just… I like things when it's us three. Now there are five."

"Look," said Max. "It's gonna be that way from now on. The five of us. And sometimes Gos and I will go do stuff alone and other timed Peej and his fiancé will go do stuff alone. Things are changing, sure, but we'll still be friends. And the three of us will still go hang out, just the guys."

Bobby studied Max and PJ for a few moments. "You promise?"

"Of course, dude," said PJ, slapping Bobby on the back.

Gosalyn's phone rang and she dug it out, stepping away to answer it, as Goofy loped back down the driveway.

"Merry day-after-Christmas, boys!" said Goofy, grinning.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. G," said PJ.

"Happy Boxing Day, Mr. Goof," said Bobby.

"Maxie, help me take in the rest of these decorations then ya can do whatever ya want with your friends."

"Sure, Dad."

"Sorry, Mr. Goof, I have to go," said Gosalyn, hanging up. "Needed elsewhere."

"You need me to drive you?" Max asked.

"Nah, I already called a cab." She waved her phone.

Goofy scooped her up into a hug before she bid PJ and Bobby farewell. She briefly kissed Max and he whispered, "What's happening?"

"Papa Wolf wants me to visit. I think this is our gift exchange? I never know. I just have to be ready."

Max smiled. This was their gift exchange. When Negaduck unveiled his gift for Gosalyn that was so big he needed her to stay away from the Negaverse until it was ready.

Max had hoped bringing her to Spoonerville would help in keeping her distracted, and it seemed to have worked. And just long enough.

"Text me later." He wanted to hear what Negaduck had been keeping under lock and key.

Her car pulled up to the curb and she smiled. "Sure thing. Congratulations again, PJ. Bobby, don't make it weird."

They laughed and waved her off.

It had been awkward, mentioning that Gosalyn and Max were so close to getting engaged. But would it hurt anyone if Max casually walked into a jewelry store? Just to look? Get an idea?

Probably not.  

Chapter Text

Gosalyn pulled on a pair of gloves as she stepped fully into the Negaverse. It was always colder here. She pushed her beanie farther down on her head and started for downtown.

Negaduck had called her, saying he wanted to meet up with no other cursory details, which put her on edge. When he didn't get specific, he was either in a position where he couldn't reveal sensitive details, or he was afraid of how she'd react. Which likely meant he'd done something stupid, like when he'd gone up against Nega-S.H.U.S.H. all on his own and had nearly died. If this was another confession of him going rogue, she would not be responsible for her actions.

She had a few small weapons tucked into pockets and strapped to her ankles, so she wouldn't be totally useless in a fight. But if they were going up against some big bad, she hoped there'd be time to stop by Avian Way; she'd need her bow and arrows for that.

Gosalyn navigated the street expertly even with all the snow piled in large mounds in front of the ramshackle shops, all the while keeping her eyes and ears open for Negaduck.

Ultimately, Negaduck's secrecy stemmed from his distrust. She wanted to blame Oblivion for that — for planting this deep rooted fear — but she wasn't sure, anymore, if the alternate dimension was entirely to blame. It had exacerbated Negaduck's fears, sure, but even without the three year stint in another universe where he'd only had his father for company, Negaduck had been very secretive. Distrusting. He protected his privacy with everything he had.

So, really, it made sense that he would be remiss bringing her into cases and calling her in for missions. He was so used to being solitary and looking out for himself; transitioning into a team had been a challenge for him. It sometimes still was.

Did it suck that after a decade of knowing one another he still had trust issues? Of course it did. Gosalyn hated that there was something lingering in the shadows of their relationship which clung to Negaduck in a vice-like grip. Something that held him back and kept him resolutely in his past.

He rarely talked about his childhood. His high school days. Anything that happened in his life before Gosalyn had bulldozed her way into it. She sensed a lot of his past was heavy with pain and loneliness. It was no wonder he was the way he was now.

It still hurt, to think of him wandering off on his own to take on the world when she was here — right here beside him — raring to go and so willing to keep him safe.

So, yeah.

If today was another one of those days.

They'd deal with it.

They'd work through it.

But another part of her heart would break; a part she wasn't sure would ever come back again.

Gosalyn's steps slowed as she neared the middle of the city, eyes raking upwards to study the Christmas decorations she found there.

Light-up snowflakes hung suspended in midair at varying heights in between the decimated buildings. They flashed on and off periodically, but systematically. In patterns. Probably something that had been hastily programmed. Bulbous ornaments hung in between the snowflakes, each one a different reflective color that mirrored the flashing light.

It was beautiful. Something that brought a smile to Gosalyn's face. The juxtaposition between the crumpled buildings around the intact decorations was jarring, haunting, and stunning in its own way.

She hoped Negaduck hadn't seen it yet.

He'd gotten better about Christmas, allowing small decorations here and there around his city. He even scheduled an annual bonfire where everyone dragged their dried up Christmas trees to the middle of town and Negaduck set them on fire in a blaze of glory.

But this. Was too far.

What if this was why Negaduck had called her? To take down these decorations?

She had been much more lenient of Christmas celebrations while she had been in charge of the Negaverse during his absence. He probably wanted her to see how daring the citizens had gotten before making her take them all down.

She slowed her pace, even going so far as to turn around and walk backwards to really absorb how charming the decorations were before she would see them taken down.

Gosalyn faced forward again and continued towards the town square.

And her excitement and trepidation mounted.

A massive Christmas tree — easily sixty feet high, if not larger — stretched up towards the starry sky, covered in golden lights, lanterns, and multicolored ornaments. It's star on top shining out into the night.

That had to have been a beacon to Negaduck if nothing else had been. Because maybe — maybe — the street decorations behind her had been shielded from him, suspended in between buildings as they were. But the tree couldn't hide if it had wanted to.

The closer she got, the more she saw of this elaborate set up. Poinsettias and large presents gathered around the base of the tree.

Honestly, the citizens knew about Negaduck's policy. Yeah, he'd relaxed some of his standards a little bit, but to think he'd allow something as showy as this was very bold of them.

Their daring continued.

Down the other three streets that led to this epicenter of Christmas cheer.

One street boasted intricate lit structures that looked like elongated spirals branching out in between the buildings. Like swirls of magic frozen and alight against the night.

The street opposite had green lights along one side, red lining the other. It was somewhat shocking to see the two colors separated so completely, but they ultimately complimented one another.

The last street followed the theming of the Christmas tree more, golden string lights latticed in between the buildings and stretching the length of the street. Huge wreaths were hung in barren doorways and on lampposts, long yards of garland stretched across the cracked and decaying buildings.

And down that street, with all the garland and wreaths and latticed lights, stood Negaduck. Arms crossed and looking at her with an unreadable expression on his face.

This was it.

The moment he would ask her to take all of these gorgeous decorations down.

He would use it as a lesson. About how far people went when leadership was relaxed. Tell her that she needed to be more forceful, set parameters instead of just letting people do what they wanted.

But it was Christmas.

And she really wasn't in the mood for a lecture.

Although, she was never in the mood for a lecture.

She made her way over to him.

The city really was gorgeous alight with full Christmas decorations. The damaged beyond repair town paired with the bright colors and shining lights kind of worked. It wasn't cohesive, but the differences made it beautiful.

"Please don't make me take these down," Gosalyn blurted when she was close enough for Negaduck to hear her.

His brows furrowed as he frowned. "Why would I have you take these down when I worked for weeks to put them up?"

Gosalyn stopped mid-step in the street, her beak dropping open as she stared at him. "You." She blinked and swallowed. "You put these up?"

He shrugged. "Merry Christmas."

She whirled around, looking at all of the decorations again, this time without reticence or sorrow at the idea of them going away. Glancing back at him, she couldn't hold back her grin. "Really?"

"I mean," Negaduck uncrossed his arms, "you rebuilt my house as my gift last year. And furnished it. I had to do something of equal or greater value." He came to stand beside her, smirking. "Right?"

If they weren't in public, with the possibility of being seen, Gosalyn would have hugged him until he couldn't breathe anymore.

Instead she nodded, blinking away the tears that ghosted on the edges of her vision. "Right."

Negaduck must have realized she wanted to be in physical contact, because he offered his arm. She eagerly wrapped hers around it and stood with him, side by side, as she looked up at the decorations again.

"It's beautiful," she said. For someone who hadn't participated in Christmas for several decades, he had done an amazing job.

"It's more or less what I remember it looking like."

Gosalyn glanced at him.

He was gazing up at the decorations, the bright colors of his costume softened in the lights. "It's how the city always looked when I was a kid. Honestly, I'm surprised all these decorations lasted. They aren't the originals, I burned those. These were the backups, I guess. I found 'em a few years ago in an old warehouse downtown all boxed up. The big tree was stored in pieces. Took a crane to get that beast down here and put together." He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "I'd never driven a crane that big before. It's parked outside my house now."

Gosalyn looked at the tree, at all of it.

"You did this for me?" Gosalyn asked, still trying to process everything.

He hadn't just decorated.

He'd decorated the city how he remembered it from his childhood. Relived old childhood memories — more like traumas — just to decorate a few streets downtown.

"Well, it's not for me," he said. "I even had to ask Darkwing to keep you away from the Negaverse so I could get it all done."

"You did not."

"I had to give him his gift anyway, so it was like one stop shopping." He turned to face Gosalyn, annoyance painted on his face. "Do I have to get him something every year?"

Gosalyn grinned. "Only if you want to."

"Or if he gives me a gift first. Damn him." Negaduck turned back towards the tree, and Gosalyn chuckled as she, too, continued to admire Negaduck's handiwork.

After a few moments of comfortable silence, Negaduck cleared his throat. "You… you should tell Darkwing. About us."

"What about us?" she asked.

"Whatever you want. This. Our cases together. How I taught you to use a gun."

Unbidden, images of Negaduck pinning her to the concrete of a parking garage, fingers wrapped around her throat floated into her mind's eye. "I won't fall for it again," he'd snarled at her. Then he'd disappeared for weeks. Months. Because she had told her father about them. About their partnership.

So, she'd been very careful to keep the two separate from then on out. Leave Negaduck in the Negaverse, and keep Darkwing in her universe. They didn't overlap. Ever. Which had been easy because Negaduck was so territorial.

"I can still keep you two separate," she said. "I don't mind."

He locked gazes with her. "He and I have you in common, kid. We're stuck with each other now." He sighed and looked away. "Whether we like it or not."

She cocked her head to the side. "You sure?"

"I appreciate you keeping my secrets and protecting my privacy, but." Negaduck swallowed. "He should know." He nodded, once, as if it was his final decision.

"I won't fall for it again."

He had.

In a way.

Not "fallen for" anything, but had decided to try again.

To open himself up to her.

He had trusted her.

And always had, she now realized.

He still had to work on trusting her in certain situations — like protecting herself or including her in dangerous missions — but his trust was something he'd given her years ago.

Gosalyn shouldered him lightly. "Dad's not going to believe you decorated the Negaverse for me, that's for sure."

"Take pictures as proof." Negaduck glanced at her with a mischievous grin on his beak. "Then take pictures of his reaction so I'll feel vindicated. Master gift giver my ass."

She scoffed and shook her head before blinking and looking up towards the sky.

It hadn't been her imagination. Snow really was falling. Like she was in some after school Christmas special.

She grinned and detangled herself from Negaduck. Running out to the middle of the street, where she was under the latticed lights, she threw her arms out and spun around with her face turned up to the heavens.

When she came to a stand still and looked at Negaduck, he was once more offering up his elbow. "Can I interest you in the ten cent tour of Town Square?"

Taking it, Gosalyn grinned. "Definitely."

Negaduck led her around the city streets, describing how different everything looked now and reminiscing about how it used to be when he was a boy as the decorations glittered and the snow fell in gentle swirls around them.