Negaduck slipped out of the stairwell in the healthcare services headquarters, carefully closing the door behind him. When it emitted a soft snap, he winced.
He stood stock still, listening for any other noise or any slight disturbance.
There was no wind today.
Nothing to break up the unearthly silence this universe was choked with.
Negaduck’s soft gasps sounded like an intrusion, and he focused on taking deep calming breaths. Breathing too loudly would give away his position. Stellar could be down the hall, waiting to get the drop on his son. And an odd noise would lead Stellar directly to his prey.
Negaduck hated that he’d become something as simple as prey in this universe, but when there were only two occupants in a whole city -- a whole world -- one was the predator and one was the prey.
Stellar had been hunting his son from the moment they’d arrived. So, through process of elimination, that left Negaduck as the prey.
It was simple math, and Negaduck had always been good at math.
Negaduck fumbled through his cape until he found his pistol and yanked it out, gripping it in his sweaty palm.
Steeling himself, he took a step forward.
Waited. For something to happen.
He took another step.
Just like that all the way down the short corridor which diverted from the main hallway of the building.
Sliding his back against the wall and gritting his teeth when his costume rubbed against the drywall much too loudly,
Negaduck willed his heart to stop hammering. For his breathing to even out. He couldn't properly hear anything when his internal organs were practically screaming at him to run the other way.
After a moment of trying (and failing) to collect himself, Negaduck took a steadying breath and glanced around the edge of the corridor. Into the main hallway.
Didn’t mean Stellar wasn’t there.
Negaduck had learned his lesson with that.
Every time -- every damn time -- Negaduck assumed he was just being paranoid and there was no threat and he needed to calm the fuck down, Stellar appeared. All sneering beak and drawn brows, insisting Negaduck take him back to their universe.
Because Negaduck was his ticket home since he’d been the one who had stranded them here in the first place.
He’d constructed the button that had been their method of transportation. A clever little device that, once pushed, sent the victim to this godforsaken place. And, yes, Negaduck had pulled his father down right along with him.
To keep her safe.
And he would do it again if it meant keeping that psychopath here instead of in the same universe as her.
Glock ready at his side, Negaduck inched down the hallway, eyes roving over each possible hiding place where Stellar could be lurking.
He crept by each door, glancing through the windows into offices and meeting rooms, looking for anything out of place. Any indication that Stellar was about to get the drop on him.
Negaduck still had the bruises on his arms to remind himself of what happened when he got too comfortable and thought he was alone. His knee hadn’t been the same after that last encounter with Stellar; Negaduck knew he’d tweaked some muscle down there, but he didn’t have the luxury of time to work it out or let it rest. Stellar was always somewhere. Ready to grab his son, try to wrestle him to the ground, attempt to bind his hands or his feet or force some drugs into his system to knock him out.
Negaduck had managed to escape Stellar’s clutches so far, but each time had been a closer call than the last.
Stellar was learning.
Figuring out what Negaduck’s weaknesses were. Studying his fighting style. Identifying what moves could counteract those he’d used to break free.
It... this was worth it, right? This banishing himself and his father to a faraway universe where they were trapped in this eternal game of cat and mouse was something he was supposed to be proud of, yeah? Because, so far, it had only brought on misery and hopelessness.
Negaduck came to a halt as he rounded the corner at the end of the hallway.
There was a shadow. Through the frosted glass in the office door. He could make out the rounded shoulders, the head unmoving as it stared straight ahead.
Stellar was here.
Damn it all to hell, Negaduck had chosen this building on a whim.
How had Stellar known? How could the older mallard be so deeply in his son’s head he was predicting what Negaduck would do before he did it?
His heart hammering so hard Negaduck was sure it could be heard pounding against his ribs, he rearranged his grip on the
Glock and began to back away slowly. Once he’d cleared the corner, he ducked back into the main hallway and hurtled towards the nearest door.
He could hunker down in one of the conference rooms or an office.
Fold himself underneath a desk or in a dark corner behind a lectern until the sun set. When his shadow wasn’t another giveaway of his position.
He’d already changed his waking hours after he’d realized Stellar had become nocturnal.
When they’d first arrived, Negaduck had stuck to the night hours like glue. He’d always been more at home in the dark and found the night soothing. Until a few weeks ago when Negaduck had climbed through jungle gyms, ducked under swing sets, and vaulted over monkey bars, seesaw's, and merry-go-rounds in the moonlight.
After that, when he’d injured his knee, Negaduck had adapted. Kept the same schedule as the sun. Carefully picked a location with a blue sky overhead, then locked himself inside for the night.
Once the darkness fell, he would fall into a fitful sleep only to jerk awake a few moments later, sure he’d heard something or had felt someone in the room with him. After ensuring that he was still alone, he would take stock of everything in the room, see what he could possibly use as a potential weapon, and plan an escape route.
Rinse and repeat.
Sleep. (Though it was really more like passing out from exhaustion.)
Wake up in a panic.
Plan how to survive if he was attacked.
Figure out the best escape route.
Until the sun rose.
When he’d leave that building and use the day to find a new sanctuary for the night.
Negaduck curled his fingers around the cold metal of the nearest doorknob and twisted. He only just managed to not swear aloud when the door didn’t give way.
He slipped down to the next door. Same thing.
Stellar had locked the doors.
He’d anticipated Negaduck trying to hunker down and hide until the coast was clear.
Fuck it all, what was he supposed to do now?
Because Negaduck was sure, with everything in him, that Stellar had only left one door unlocked. The one he was sitting behind. Waiting for his son to come through.
Negaduck could always go back the way he’d come. Slip down the stairwell, run through the alley to the opposite end, and find another building.
Hear him out.
He could finish this.
Barge through that last office door, gun literally blazing, and put up a fight instead of running from it.
And, yeah, he wouldn’t win.
If Stellar had gone through the trouble of locking all the doors and waiting for his son to arrive, he probably had an arsenal of weapons with him.
But Negaduck was tired.
Maybe it was time to give up.
Give into the pain that had been lodged in his chest since leaving Gosalyn and just accept that this was how it all ended.
Sure, there was gonna be a whole lot more pain; Stellar had always been creative in finding new ways to kill people.
But if Negaduck went into this not fighting, but accepting. Letting it all just happen.
He took a deep breath.
Wished he had his fedora to straighten because damn that would have looked cool. Instead, he gripped his Glock with both hands.
He wasn’t going to walk away from this one.
Didn’t mean he couldn’t have a hell of an entrance first.
Flicking off the safety, Negaduck barreled down the hallway.
He turned the corner and kicked open the door. (Stellar hadn’t even tried to barricade it, knowing his son would be coming through.)
Negaduck aimed at the head he’d seen through the frosted window.
The head bent and the figure teetered but didn’t topple.
Negaduck took in the scene before him, trying to put together exactly what he was seeing.
It wasn't a person.
It was a fucking cardboard cutout. With a huge hole in its head from Negaduck’s bullet.
That had been behind the door.
God, even when Negaduck thought he could be in control of his demise, Stellar took that away from him, too.
Why go to all this trouble? There had to be something else. Something in this room that....
Negaduck saw it now.
The chord which had been tied around the doorknob. That was now slack since the door stood open.
There was a burning match at the end, lighting a line of gunpowder along the floor. Following the trail with his eyes, he saw it lead to a wall of dynamite on the far side of the office.
If you wanted to be clever about it.
The fighter that was buried deep in Negaduck’s DNA rose above the self-loathing and desire to just end it all.
He shot at the far window, the glass shattering, and leapt through the opening. Grabbing out a grappling hook, he twisted mid-air, and tossed it up towards the window he’d just jumped out of. It hooked onto the window sill and held, Negaduck gripping the rope and eyeing the street below him to prepare for his landing.
The building exploded, a wave of intense heat and flame shooting chunks of debris out.
His grappling hook was useless to him when he was being hurtled away via explosion.
Hitting the building across the street with enough force to make him see stars, Negaduck crumpled to the ground. He wasn’t able to ensure he landed on his good side and he groaned as his bad knee protested at being squashed under him at an odd angle. Tucking himself into a ball to cover his head, he could already feel the sting of burns along his arms.
As the street quieted, the chunks of stone and metal from the former corner office settling around him, Negaduck gradually unfolded himself, taking stock of his injuries.
Some of the debris had landed on top of him, his feathers staining red with blood from lacerations. He could already feel bruises tenderizing his ribs and he would bet money that they were already starting to darken. His head was spinning from the impact against the building, and his bad knee was throbbing underneath him.
He attributed not hearing the measured steps to his -- likely -- brain injury.
When he opened his eyes, he saw a pair of blurry black dress shoes standing on the pavement in front of him.
“Oh, Drakey,” Stellar lamented, his tone tinged in disappointment. Which Negaduck was used to, so it didn’t hit as hard as Stellar probably intended.
“You’re so predictable.” One of the shoes gave him a quick kick to the ribs, causing Negaduck to curl in on himself with a soft grunt, the bruises and cuts pulsing and stinging.
“I had hoped you would’ve been a little more resourceful,” Stellar continued, his voice getting closer. He grabbed Negaduck’s beak and yanked his head up. There was a sharp prick to Negaduck’s neck as a syringe was embedded into his vein. “That you would have seen the rather obvious trap laid for you.
“But,” Stellar sighed heavily. “Here we are.”
Negaduck’s world began to fade.
Which was okay.
The drugs coursing through his system were taking him away from the pain. The fire along his arms, the throbbing in his knee, the pounding in his head all started to dissolve.
“Maybe you’ll surpass my expectations one day,” Stellar said, his voice starting to grow dim with everything else. “But I won’t hold my breath.”
That was all Negaduck was aware of before he dropped off into the blackness.