It was when they were half-way home, high on the thrill of victory and the anticipation of shoving it in Glomgold's face, that Scrooge finally registered the faint smell.
Acrid, pungent, it was something he hadn't smelled in a long time.
Scrooge frowned and looked around, sniffing delicately and trying to pinpoint the source. His gaze roved over the children as they talked excitedly to each other, brimming with the exhilaration of a successful adventure. He glanced over at Launchpad, who cheerily piloted the submarine through the waters. No signs of burns, and it appeared that the swelling from the snake bites was finally going down. It certainly wasn't coming from himself.
That only left…
Scrooge's eyes narrowed as they fell upon Donald.
Donald, who stood near the children with the look of an attentive parent, smiling fondly at them but also a bit sadly. Donald, who had been strangely quiet ever since they'd left the temple. Donald, who Glomgold had in his grasp for quite a bit of time even if it was under the guise of being hired.
Donald, who was suspiciously keeping his hands tucked behind his back.
Scrooge was blasted with a sudden series of memories. A little duckling hiding his hands behind his back so Scrooge wouldn't see the paint on them from trying to prank his cousin. A tween hiding the magic artifact that Scrooge had explicitly told him and his sister not to touch behind his back. A teenager hiding bruised and bloodied knuckles after getting into yet another fight. A young adult hiding his broken fingers from when he jammed his hand into a trapdoor to stop it from separating the adventuring party. Other instances joined these, but it all lead to the same conclusion.
Yes, Scrooge was way too familiar with the stance Donald had taken.
Slowly, Scrooge inched his way over towards Donald. He made no sudden movements, revealed no hint of his intentions, almost making it seem like he was trying to keep a better eye on Glomgold's hench-people. Still, it wasn't long before Scrooge stood almost by Donald's side with his nephew none the wiser as he continued to watch the kids.
That's when Scrooge struck, his hand lashing out to grab Donald's.
Despite the years that had passed, it seemed Donald's reflexes were as sharp as ever, maybe even faster than Scrooge remembered. As quick as a snake, Donald caught Scrooge's hand as it closed in. Scrooge still achieved his goal as Donald let out a small hiss of pain at the movement and turned to glare at him.
Scrooge narrowed his eyes. "Donald…" He started, but he stopped as Donald's eyes widened and he just barely shook his head.
Scrooge frowned, but Donald quickly glanced at the kids and back.
Scrooge tugged on Donald's hand and the two of them made their way to the bathroom, luckily free now of its previous merman occupant. They did it slowly enough that the kids, still enraptured by the treasure, didn't notice.
As Scrooge softly shut the door behind them, he abruptly turned around and renewed his glare on Donald. "Let me see the damage, lad." He gestured for his hands.
Donald frowned, but he slowly placed his hands in Scrooge's.
Scrooge flipped them over so he could see his palms and he took a sharp breath at the sight.
Donald's palms and fingers were badly burned. Scrooge was shocked that Donald was moving them so easily and with barely any outward signs of the pain he must be in. Then again, Donald had always had a relatively high level of pain tolerance.
"Oh, Donald, what did you get yourself into?" Scrooge turned and grabbed the First Aid kit. He shifted through it to get what he needed.
"You're the one who let Dewey walk right through a trap and hit every single trigger." Donald muttered, glaring to the side.
Scrooge paused while grabbing the burn cream.
He had thought that it was odd there had been no spouts of flame despite Dewey hitting the triggers. At least right up until the end after he got off the bridge, and that flame had been so huge as if someone or something had been holding it back -
"If you were there, you'd know that I told him not to do it."
Donald snorted and rolled his eyes. "I know it's been a while, but even you should know that the easiest way to get a kid to do something, especially one like Dewey, is to tell them not to do it."
"How was I supposed to know that?" Scrooge finally found the bandages and turned back to him.
"You raised the two of us." Donald snapped back. "And you - you remember how she was."
Scrooge paled at the allusion to Della, but suddenly it all clicked. Because he did sort of remember how Della would run head first into danger with nary a thought of what the consequences could be.
And he also remembered how Donald would be right beside her, sometimes purposefully but usually accidentally getting into the worst of it in order to protect her.
Some things didn't seem to change, except now it was three ducklings that were under his protection.
"Well, let's take care of this before the kids notice." Scrooge said quietly, avoiding looking Donald in the eyes as he got to work and unsure of what else to say.
Donald hissed again as Scrooge slathered on the burn cream and then tied the bandages tight. Otherwise, neither of them spoke. Donald studied the wrappings as Scrooge put away the kit.
Scrooge knew he should say something. There were so many things between them: old hurts and pains from even before the Spear, the ten years of silence, and of course, the Spear of Selene and Della. Both of them had a share of the blame for where they were now, but Scrooge had kicked the whole thing off when he had gone behind Donald's back and built the rocket for Della.
How many times had Scrooge wished for Donald to appear at his door? How many times had he wished for a chance to make amends? How long had he waited for Donald to come back?
And what did he do the moment Donald finally returned to the mansion? He insulted him, lied to him, and took his beloved children on a dangerous adventure that nearly got them killed.
"I'm supposed to, what, let go? Trust you?"
Hmm, maybe Donald had a reason to not trust him.
"Donald, I - " Donald looked up at him, still frowning. "Back then, I never meant for - I didn't intend for - "
Donald just looked at him, and it was seeing him now that Scrooge saw how tired he was. The kind of tired that grew over a long time. Part of Scrooge was surprised that he hadn't yet burst into one of his usual angry outbursts, especially given that he'd taken his kids and caused him to be injured. But he didn't like this tiredness that made his tongue still.
Scrooge turned to leave. Maybe he could say at least one thing. "I can understand why you don't trust me, Donald, but - " his hand tightened on the doorknob, "I won't let anything happen to the kids. You can trust me at least with that."
Donald's silence was as telling as it had been for the past ten years. When Donald, who always had a comeback or snarky comment, had nothing to say…
Scrooge began to open the door and -
He froze. The title still surprised him considering how little he'd heard Donald call him that in the past ten years.
Scrooge glanced back. Donald wasn't looking at him, instead gazing out into the middle distance with that same tired expression on his face.
Donald sighed and closed his eyes. "You weren't the only person who broke my trust that day."
That hadn't quite occurred to Scrooge.
He remembered their arguments that he had overheard even as he had made arrangements for the Spear. How she had wanted to go. How Donald had told her to think of her kids. How he said that she should stay and at least wait until they were hatched before going off on another adventure. How he reminded her that even if they had some repeats everything would be new to the three little ducklings.
How she had promised that she wouldn't do anything rash.
Scrooge wasn't the only person who went behind Donald's back that day.
Donald's hands curled into fists and Scrooge couldn't take his eyes off him. After all, the cream would help, but it still had to be painful.
"I won't let anything happen to the kids." Scrooge promised again and it prompted Donald to look him in the eyes. He seemed to be searching for something in Scrooge's face.
Scrooge wondered what exactly he found as he glanced away and gave a non-committal "Hmph."
Scrooge finally left. "At the very least, it was… wonderful to adventure with you all again." He didn't look back as he shut the bathroom door behind him, leaving Donald to his thoughts.
Even if Donald whisked the boys away once more, Scrooge would at least have these past few days, these adventures to hold onto and treasure.
But maybe… just maybe…
Donald was known for his temper and holding a grudge, but with family it always passed eventually. He'd held onto this anger for the longest Scrooge had ever known him to, ten years, but once the first steps were made, he always moved forward.
And a little balm could go a long way to soothing a wound and helping it begin to heal.
And if the break in their family could heal…
Scrooge smiled as his gaze fell upon the kids once more and he heard Donald exit the bathroom to stand beside him.
Then maybe all of this pain will have been worth it.
AN: Never would've thought that I would write fan fiction about Donald Duck. Still, this idea has been knocking around my brain since I saw the premiere 2ish years ago, so I'm glad that I'm finally getting it all out.
My original idea was just about Scrooge noticing Donald was hurt and treating it and maybe doing something to get the ball rolling to fix the rift between them. Now, after meeting Della, I added some more mentions of her since she was at the center of their conflict. And Donald's whole thing in the treasure chamber about trust really got me thinking too.
This is meant to be canon compliantish. I like to think that maybe Scrooge said some things on the way home that helped Donald with his decisions to originally let the boys see Scrooge sometimes.