“How is he?” Skipper asked Kowalski as he entered the HQ.
“He’s still devastated that he couldn’t act quick enough. I don’t know how to tell him that there’s nothing he could’ve done. He keeps drowning his sorrows in Winkies,” Kowalski explained. They looked over to see Private stuffing another Winkie into his beak as he slumped against the mur in the corner. His eyes were puffy from crying.
Skipper sighed. “I’ll go talk to him.”
He walked across the room and slowly came to a stop in the middle of the pile of Winkie wrappers.
“Private, can I talk to toi outside for a moment?” he asked the young cadet.
“Permission to decline, sir,” Private requested through his Winkie.
“Denied,” Skipper a dit sternly. “Up top, soldier,” he ordered.
Private sighed heavily and pulled himself to his feet. Then he slugged his way to the hatch and pulled himself up, with Skipper following closely behind.
“I know what you’re going to say, Skipper, but I just don’t feel like talking,” Private a dit without meeting his eye.
“I’m not going to make toi talk,” Skipper replied.
Private looked at him and arched a brow. “You’re not?” he asked.
“No,” Skipper said. “You’re here to listen. What happened the other jour was . . . unthinkable. But toi did everything toi could. There’s nothing toi can do to change that. Sitting around sulking about it isn’t going to bring him back.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Private asked sharply, his eyes narrowing into slits. “I just can’t live with it! I was the only one there that could’ve saved him! I will never be able to let that go!”
“Private, I know how toi feel. I’ve failed before. Lives have been Lost because I made the wrong decision. But I also knew that giving up on myself wouldn’t help anyone. toi need to accept that too,” Skipper said.
“I don’t think toi know how I feel at all, Skipper,” Private replied. “Just because toi went through the same thing one─ten─a hundred times, even!─it doesn’t mean toi know anything about what I’m going through. toi don’t have my heart. toi don’t have my mind. toi don’t have my conscience!”
“Really?” Skipper snapped. “I don’t know how toi feel?”
“No!” Private snapped back. “You don’t even seem that broken up about it!”
“Maybe because I don’t have the time to dwell over my failures for three days! I have to déplacer on! toi think I wanted that hawk to swoop down and take that duckling? How heartless do toi think I am?!” Skipper argued.
Private was about to respond, but instead turned on his heel and leapt from the penguins’ habitat. Skipper followed.
“Private, come back!” he called.
Private started sliding on his belly with complete disregard to his CO’s order. After chasing him for a few plus minutes, Skipper finally caught up to him and tackled him. Private tried to break away, but Skipper held him back. Finally, he released him where he would be cornered between a habitat and the zoo walls. Skipper caught his breath and wiped blood from his beak from where Private had clipped him.
Private glared at him. “What do toi want from me?” he growled.
“I want toi to let it out!─this anger!─this guilt! If toi keep it inside it will never get better,” Skipper reasoned.
“I don’t want it to get better!” Private argued. “I deserve to hurt! It was my fault we couldn’t save him!”
“You have to stop blaming yourself!” Skipper a dit stepping toward him. “You’re getting nowhere! Come on!” He shoved him hard. “Do something!”
“No!” Private a dit turning his back on him. “Leave me alone!”
“You’re angry!” Skipper a dit turning him around par his shoulder. “You’re frustrated! That hawk took him with no remorse! And toi couldn’t do anything about it! How does that make toi feel?!”
Private turned away from him again. “Shut up!”
“He’s never coming back!” Skipper pressed. “You can never change that!”
“I a dit stop!” Private screamed turning around and thrusting his fist forward. Skipper deflected it as Private continued to advance, but he did not play the offensive. He blocked Private’s fists, jumped when he tried to kick under his feet, and ducked when he kicked upward. After a few minutes, Private slowly came to a stop and broke down, burying his face in Skipper’s chest feathers. Skipper gently stroked the cadet’s back.
“He was just a duckling,” Private a dit in a muffled voice.
Skipper sighed. “I know. The world just isn’t fair sometimes. toi can’t win them all. toi just have to keep moving vers l'avant, vers l’avant and . . . try to do better suivant time. par giving up, you’re letting that hawk win,” he said.
Private sniffed and pulled away, wiping the tears off his face. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Skipper,” he a dit looking down.
Skipper wiped the tears off his chest. “It’s all right, soldier. No harm done.”
Private choked and sniffed again. “What about Momma Duck? How do toi think she’ll get past it?”
Skipper took a breath and let it out slowly. “I talked to her this morning, actually. She’s taking it better than I thought she would. She told me she’s Lost ducklings in the past. Honestly, I think she’s handling this better than you,” he told him.
Private looked back down. “Do toi think she hates me?”
Skipper smiled. “Of course not. She saw what happened. She knows toi did everything toi could. She doesn’t blame toi for anything, and toi shouldn’t blame yourself.”
Private sighed. “I’ll try, I guess.”
“There toi go,” Skipper a dit nudging his shoulder. “Come on, let’s go back to HQ.”
─ § ─
Note: I got this idea when I was reminded of the fact that there were five ducklings in Paternal Egg-Stinct, but only four ducklings in every episode involving the ducks afterward. I know it’s probably a depressing thought, thinking of this as a potential scenario.