From the kitchen, Launchpad hears the soft open and shut of the front door, an out of place sound in a house full of unintentional door slammers.
“Gos, is that you?” he calls from the stove, where he’s already preparing dinner.
It’s a little early for Gosalyn to be back from school, as much time as she spent chattering to the other kids or hanging out with Honker. But it can’t be anyone else. Drake was caught up in a S.H.U.S.H. briefing he couldn’t get out of, and for the past hour had been sending Launchpad various candid photos of Agent Gryzlikoff taken at unflattering angles.
“Um...yeah,” Gosalyn replies, but she sounds strange, and maybe even a little nasal.
Launchpad sets the pot of stew he has on the stove to simmer, before heading out of the kitchen.
“Everything okay, kiddo?” he asks as he pushes the door open, only to catch the tail end of Gosalyn as she runs up the stairs.
“Yup!” she says, saccharine sweet, “I’m fine!”
This time she does slam her bedroom door behind her, but that does nothing to set Launchpad at ease. He takes the stairs two at a time, and knocks on Gosalyn’s door.
“Gosalyn?” he says, “Gosaroo? Can I come in?”
He hears a snort of muffled laughter through the door, and then a quiet, “okay.”
Launchpad opens the door to see Gosalyn curled up on the bed with her back to the door, hugging her knees to her chest. Her backpack’s been thrown into a corner, just another addition to the miscellania scattered throughout Gosalyn’s room. He has to pick his way around a hockey stick, an open bag of pucks, and an empty chip bag before he can sit beside Gosalyn on the bed.
“‘Gosaroo’?” is the first thing she says, amused and wry, but Launchpad is focusing on how scratchy her voice sounds, how she’s sniffling.
He realizes with a lurch that Gosalyn’s crying .
Gosalyn’s never been much of a cryer - anger and fear make her sharp, like Drake, and she’s always been more prone to yelling than tears. Launchpad can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen her crying (aside from all the romance movies she watches with Launchpad and pretends to hate but secretly loves), and it’s mostly only ever been when she, Drake, or Launchpad himself have been badly injured.
“What’s wrong with Gosaroo?” Launchpad asks once he’s regained control of his beak after what feels like hours, as he frantically scans Gosalyn for injuries.
“It makes me sound like a two-year-old,” Gosalyn sniffs.
Once Launchpad determines that Gosalyn hasn’t been physically harmed in any way, he wraps an arm around her shoulders. She stiffens for the barest of moments, before allowing herself to be tugged close to Launchpad’s side.
“What’s the matter, kiddo?” He says.
Gosalyn shrugs, like her eyes aren’t still red and glassy with tears. “Nothing,” she replies.
“Come on, Gos,” Launchpad cajoles gently, rubbing her arm. “You don’t get upset over ‘nothing’. Did something happen at school?”
Gosalyn’s breath hitches, and Launchpad feels a sense of grim satisfaction knowing he’s hit the nail on the head.
She begins picking at a loose string on her comforter, wrapping it around her finger.
“Launchpad,” Gosalyn says, not looking up from her finger and the string. “Do you...do you think I should like more girl stuff?”
Launchpad blinks, slightly thrown by the non sequitur. “What, like, dresses? No, wait, boys can wear dresses too…”
Gosalyn shakes her head agitatedly, brow knitted in frustration. “I mean dresses and pink stuff and going shopping and-and I don’t know! Not playing football, not wearing jerseys. Y’know, girl stuff.”
“But, Gos, you have plenty of pink stuff!” Launchpad tries, “and you love football! You don’t have to like one or the other. Where’s this even coming from?”
Gosalyn yanks the string free from her comforter.
“There’s this girl at school,” she says, speaking more quietly than Launchpad’s every heard her. With every word she seems to curl back in on herself. “Her name’s Raven.”
“I think you’ve mentioned her before,” Launchpad realizes, even as he wracks his brain for details of a dinner conversation three weeks back. “She’s in your class, right?”
Gosalyn nods miserably. “She’s really cool and pretty, and smart too, she always gets a hundred on our history tests.”
Under different circumstances, Launchpad would be overjoyed to hear about (what he assume was) Gosalyn’s first crush. If she weren’t a shadow of her vivacious self, he would’ve texted Drake the news and Drake would’ve rushed out of his S.H.U.S.H. briefing without a second thought. If she wasn’t morose and curled up against him they could’ve been listening to Drake bemoaning how his little girl was growing up, and then try and fail to give her a quasi pep talk and lecture on dating.
But instead Gosalyn sniffs loudly, and she rubs her beak with the back of her hand. There are tears beading in the corners of her eyes.
“I asked if she wanted to hang out,” Gosalyn says, “just hang out! I thought we could go get ice cream or something. But Raven said that she doesn’t hang out with boys .”
It feels as though Launchpad’s heart’s fallen to the soles of his feet as Gosalyn stubbornly fights the urge to cry. But he steels his expression, and gently grips Gosalyn’s shoulders so she turns to face him.
“Kiddo, no one has the right to tell you who you are. If you feel like you’re a girl, then that’s what you are! No ifs, ands, or buts about it!”
Gosalyn rubs her eyes with the heel of her palm. “Just like that?” she asks, dubious.
Launchpad nods, smiling broadly. “Just like that.” He opens his arms, inviting a hug if that’s what she wants.
Gosalyn doesn’t hesitate to wrap her arms around him as far as they’ll go, burying her tearstained face against his chest. His embrace helps ground her, and her breathing begins to even out.
“You’re the coolest girl I know, Gos,” Launchpad assures her, “don’t ever forget it.”
Gosalyn sniffs. “Does the coolest girl you know get ice cream for dinner?” she asks, her voice a little muffled.
Launchpad laughs. “She gets ice cream before dinner. I think your dad’s gone some mint chocolate chip hidden in the back of the freezer.”