“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 pader 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 you outside for a moment?” he asked the young cadet.
“Permission to decline, sir,” Private requested through his Winkie.
“Denied,” Skipper sinabi 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 sinabi without meeting his eye.
“I’m not going to make you 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 araw was . . . unthinkable. But you did everything you could. There’s nothing you 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 you feel. I’ve failed before. Lives have been Nawawala because I made the wrong decision. But I also knew that giving up on myself wouldn’t help anyone. You need to accept that too,” Skipper said.
“I don’t think you know how I feel at all, Skipper,” Private replied. “Just because you went through the same thing one─ten─a hundred times, even!─it doesn’t mean you know anything about what I’m going through. You don’t have my heart. You don’t have my mind. You don’t have my conscience!”
“Really?” Skipper snapped. “I don’t know how you 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 ilipat on! You think I wanted that hawk to swoop down and take that duckling? How heartless do you 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 madami 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 you want from me?” he growled.
“I want you to let it out!─this anger!─this guilt! If you 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 sinabi stepping toward him. “You’re getting nowhere! Come on!” He shoved him hard. “Do something!”
“No!” Private sinabi turning his back on him. “Leave me alone!”
“You’re angry!” Skipper sinabi turning him around sa pamamagitan ng his shoulder. “You’re frustrated! That hawk took him with no remorse! And you couldn’t do anything about it! How does that make you feel?!”
Private turned away from him again. “Shut up!”
“He’s never coming back!” Skipper pressed. “You can never change that!”
“I sinabi 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 sinabi in a muffled voice.
Skipper sighed. “I know. The world just isn’t fair sometimes. You can’t win them all. You just have to keep moving pasulong and . . . try to do better susunod time. sa pamamagitan ng 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 sinabi 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 you 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 Nawawala ducklings in the past. Honestly, I think she’s handling this better than you,” he told him.
Private looked back down. “Do you think she hates me?”
Skipper smiled. “Of course not. She saw what happened. She knows you did everything you could. She doesn’t blame you for anything, and you shouldn’t blame yourself.”
Private sighed. “I’ll try, I guess.”
“There you go,” Skipper sinabi 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.