Disclaimer: I do not own anything Nickelodeon owns.
Claimer: This story is mine, though. I'm the one thinking it up and writing it down.
Ghost King's Bruises
Blue eyes squint against the summer sun, annoyed, like his tone: "You know, one of the things I like most about summer is not having to see Casper kids…"
"You're refusing an amusement park?" Tucker adjusts his glasses. "Inauguration day of one of the few interesting things little towns like Amity can offer?"
"Sounds more like a complaint. Refusing is too strong a word for such a whiner." A blue-eyed glare barely disturbs her. "Cheer up! Tucker and I know you need a break, and lazing around won't distract you the way adrenaline will. Positive, vomit-inducing, nerve-wracking, wind-stinging-your-eyes adrenaline."
She has a point but he won't admit it aloud. He wants to laze around, knows he deserves it, but that won't shove the stress out of his system the way a rollercoaster will. The past week has him exhausted, and he doesn't even have to worry about schoolwork these days. He's tired and weaker than he should be, there are bags under his eyes and his fingers are twitchy. He feels fourteen again, as if the accident was three weeks ago rather than years, confused and a little numb in the knees all the time. He phased through his bed when the blaring alarm shocked him awake a week ago, and he's recurred to belts again. He won't take any chances with his pants this time around.
It's all Vlad's fault, he knows it. And, going further back, it's probably his own fault, too. He has made enemies—he's been doing this for three years, it was bound to happen. He just never thought they'd team up and take turns to make his life hell.
"Isn't adrenaline supposed to be bad for you? If it's chronic or something?" He heard something like that in science a few weeks before classes ended; it's the one class he actually enjoys, so he usually manages to catch some things while struggling to stay awake.
Sam bites her lip. She does that a lot lately, he thinks. He finds it uncharacteristic and a tad distracting. "Yeah, but I'm not sure if it's any worse than all that stress gathered in front of a TV. And the end result here is better than the end result there."
The line in front of them is long—as long as it can get, considering it's a small town with a small population of young people interested in (or forced into) an adrenaline rush and junk food. The sun is burning down on them and his eyes just won't adjust. Sam doesn't look particularly comfortable in it either, but she's braving it to cheer him up.
He looks back to all the times she and Tucker have been brave for him; all the times they've stepped out of their comfort zones to face things at his side. They shouldn't have to…
There are fingers snapping before his eyes and the sound is as obnoxious as his alarm. "Snap out of it," she says. Her voice sounds better than the alarm.
"Dude," that's Tucker. He feels so unfocused. "Danny, look at me. You're blanking out on us again."
He inhales a little too sharply and turns his gaze to Tucker. "Sorry." He has said that word so many times lately that it's starting to sound like background music.
"Repeat after me," Tucker says. "I am Danny Fenton, a seventeen-year-old halfway through summer vacation."
He repeats. He knows exactly whom Tucker gets these tricks from, and he thinks maybe he should be upset, but he's not, because they work.
"I am at an amusement park with my best friends, and I will have fun."
Sam cuts in when he's about to repeat after Tucker—"Or else. I will have fun, or else."
She looks serious, but there's a smile in her eyes, a worried one.
He finishes repeating. Repeating after Tucker gives him something to think about—the concept of fun, the concept of best friends—and it pulls him out of his musings and dumps him in the sweaty, crowded, noisy reality he currently calls amusement park entrance line.
They're waiting for him to say something. He notices they look tired too, and he realizes that even if he keeps them off the battlefield as much as possible, they still stay up late and worry and panic the way he does. They worry more than he does.
He should make an effort to cheer them up, too. "Do you guys think it's a little creepy that Dash uses that letterman jacket out in the heat?"
Tucker laughs, perhaps too hard. There's relief in that laugh, and knowing it's for him makes his stomach clench.
Sam rolls her eyes. The change in topic is drastic but she's used to that. "Please. He has worn one every day since he received it in freshman year. Do you think his ghost, sometime in the far future, will wear it as well?"
"It'll probably be his obsession," Tucker says. "Jazz would love to study that. Recurring patterns of behavior equal either habit or obsession."
He mentions his sister so casually he almost doesn't notice it, but he does. It doesn't really bother him, but it's weird. It's so incredibly weird that he hasn't really formulated a real opinion on it.
"Speaking of Casper kids," Sam says, wary of where the conversation could go, "look over there: three o'clock."
The boys turn, and Tucker cracks up. "Wes Weston. I hadn't thought about that in a while."
Danny laughs too. He's surprised Sam brought it up, considering she's the most sore about that topic, but he doesn't want to question it because it's just so funny. "Danny," he mocks Sam's voice. "Is there anything you've been meaning to tell us?"
Tucker plays along. He pinches two fingers, as if he were holding the ring between them. "Did you give this to me as a clue? You can just say it, there's no need to prepare us beforehand."
The boys crack up. Then, unisonous: "Flip it over, Sam! I'm not gay!"
Sam huffs. "It was a perfectly logical theory."
"You sound like my sister," Danny says. Mentioning Jazz in this context is safe. "Perfectly logical. Tell me something: If I'd had that ring engraved, do you think I'd pick curvy lettering like that? Especially considering it was your name there? Gosh, Sam, I'm hurt. It's like you don't know me at all."
"Certainly felt that way at the time," Sam retorted. "I thought you were gay!"
Tucker snorted. "Which was, of course, the logical theory."
Sam says something else, but Danny tunes out their bickering. He's lost in that memory, when things were difficult but at the same time kind of simple; times when his secret was a few months old and hardly as heavy as it is now, when the definition of danger was still in development, when feelings were still new, raw, and a tad foreign to him. It's a happy place inside of his mind, and he lets himself enjoy it the way Jazz tells him to.
Then he's back in the real world, and his best friends are back at the same, jaded arguments they've thrown around for years: if Sam had talked to Tucker about it before confronting Danny, if Tucker would just listen and see the logic behind her plan of action, Sam could you please stop talking about logic…
The line advances and he leaves his mental happy place in a safe corner, because this happy place is worth recording, too.
The line took ages and the sun is high in the sky, but they're in now and he has a pretzel in his hand. These are good moments because there's laughter all around him and people in bright colors; he won't tell Jazz that he knows and understands how all this can help improve his mood. He just sucks it in and laughs with his friends.
Then they turn a corner and he stops laughing. "Hey, Tucker."
"Yesh?" Tucker has food in his mouth, but that stopped being funny and started being normal when they were eight, so he doesn't really pay attention.
"What was that mystery ride thing about? When you first pitched the idea of coming to the grand opening?"
"Just some surprise; a publicity trick to gather a crowd. The guy on the news said it was really "fitting" for Amity, whatever that meant. What about it?"
"You tell me. Look up from the food."
Sam's gasp is kind of incredulous—not quite a shock, or a scoff, or a snort. She's expressive like that, he thinks, and he's not fazed by how well he can recognize it. He actually agrees with the sentiment: this is not entirely unexpected but he doesn't find it as funny as he should.
Tucker does find it funny, though. He spits pretzel everywhere but isn't ashamed in the slightest. He's laughing and wide-eyed. "The Phantom? You've got your own ride?"
"Phantom has his own ride." He marks the difference though he knows there's none.
Well, on bad days—on okay days and all the way down the scale, really—he just sort of hopes there's no difference. That would be bad.
"Should I jot that down? It could be a sign of a personality disorder."
These things are part of why he finds it so strange to know that Tucker and Jazz talk.
"Think it's any good?" Sam asks. "It's really tall… and those turns seem pretty sharp. We should ride it. You could write a review or something, Danny."
"The color scheme looks cool," Tucker says. "And they used hanging chairs instead of carts, which I bet adds to that "flying" feeling. We should give it a shot!"
"No way," Danny says. "Look at that line! The ride isn't even running yet, the people there are just waiting."
"You could just phase us to the front of the"—a glare from Sam cut him short—"or, you know what? The billion-person line in the scorching sun could totally be worth it in the end. I've heard stuff like that builds character."
"Maybe some other time," Danny says, distracted. That's his name—kind of—up there, in big letters. That's his—sort of unintentional—color scheme, too. Something "fitting" for Amity, the promo said. Is that what he is? He certainly doesn't feel like he fits in.
"Let's just go," he says. "I bet there's something else we can"—his breath goes cold and cuts him off, and it sucks, because it's horribly inappropriate in all this sun, and he doesn't even enjoy the brief respite from the thick air because all that dormant stress settles back in—"I'll just…"
Sam gives him a tight smile that's probably meant to be encouraging. She looks around and points to a spot to his left. "Behind that stand. Everyone's gawking at the ride, so no one will look the other way. My backpack is still in the lockers—I'll go get a thermos."
Tucker nods and runs off with Sam in the other direction. No time to lose, that's the motto, but he just stands there, alone, until he hears a crash behind him and people start screaming. He starts to run.
He's so tired.
The stand is abandoned now so he just ducks beneath it and shuts his eyes to keep the glare of the twin rings from blinding him. He feels the shift—it's always cold, but a strange, good sort of cold—and when he's good to go, he takes a deep breath and then goes invisible and intangible.
No one can see him and he takes advantage of the fact to scout the area. People are running around, Sam and Tucker are nowhere to be seen, and the crash he heard earlier is none other than the ride (not his ride, that sounds too odd), dripping ectoplasm in some spots and smoking in others.
He is extremely thankful that no one had been riding yet. He'd been slow and he hadn't checked if someone had been near it… oh, gosh, if someone had been on it… the thought wakes him up.
There's a familiar chuckle behind him. He clenches one fist but doesn't turn around just yet. "What are you doing here, Skulker?"
There's that chuckle again. "Felt bored. I heard along the rumor mill that the humans built something for you. Decided I'd come and see for myself."
"Seems to me like you did a lot more than sightseeing," he says. He's a little glad the ride is gone but he's not sure why. The thought distracts him briefly, but then he replays Skulker's words in his head, and notices that they sound… strange.
Skulker's tone is too leisurely, like he's genuinely bored, yet excited at the prospect of finding something to do. It's overdone. It sounds strange because it's overdone. He turns to face Skulker—he seems to be alone. Good. "So you're just here to pick a fight? I haven't seen you in a while, and you're not the type to listen in on the rumor mill anyway. What do you want?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he looks for Sam and Tucker, but can't see them.
"You'd be surprised," he says, "at the things ghosts are murmuring. There's unease in the Ghost Zone, and most fingers point at you."
Skulker is too talkative, too. He wouldn't usually let information out as easily. Battle makes him speak up, not banter. "I haven't done anything, if that's what you're implying. I've been busy."
"I know. Everyone knows. That's the problem."
Cryptic isn't Skulker's style, either. He's not being sarcastic either. Danny takes the safe route through this conversation: "I'm not one to refuse some help when offered, but I don't think that's what you're implying. And what do you mean, everyone knows?"
Ask questions. If he's feeling talkative, let him talk.
Still no Sam. No Tucker.
"You'll see. You've got some things coming, ghost child, but I'd really like to know why it's turning into everyone's problem. Keep your business personal, yes? Don't answer. That's not really a question."
They're floating in mid-air; some people stayed behind to watch, some are even recording the whole exchange, but the park looks a lot more empty now than it did a few minutes ago. The ride is still smoking, but at least nothing is on fire.
Danny's curiosity is piqued. Skulker is acting oddly and talking too much and too cryptically. But there's a flash of purple in the corner of his eye and he remembers he has always hated cryptic, anyway, so he just rolls his eyes and says: "If you know I've been busy, you can tell my patience is thin. So, let's just get this over with, yes?"
In the next second, ice shoots out of his eyes, freezing Skulker's torso—including his jet pack. Skulker plummets to the ground. There's a small glow of self-satisfaction in Danny's chest, but it's brief, because that was too easy. Still, he quips: "Don't answer. That's not really a question."
The ice cracks on impact and Skulker rises quickly. People start running again, knowing that this is about to turn into a whole other level of dangerous. He and Skulker are everywhere: shooting, dodging and grunting. There's a kick to his stomach and a blasted ectogun. Singed white hair. The metal suit clanging and banging against the railing of a roller coaster, a side-to-side fall that doesn't look pretty.
There isn't much to say, really, and Danny's not up for witty banter and lousy puns. In fact, he's barely up for a fight—his legs still feel weak and he's so drained from the past few days, and that fudging sun is in his face and blinding him when he flies in the wrong direction.
That's the case when the ectobeam hits him—he's blinded by the sun and his reflexes are just off today; he's crash landing from who-knows-how-high in the air, and he's trying to fly but gravity's too strong and he's just not. He keeps falling and then he crashes, and something sharp and wide plunges into his arm and damn that hurts.
They're down by the stands again, him amidst the scattered remains of one and Skulker proudly towering over him. "Wow. This is pathetic."
Danny grunts. There's that purple flash in the corner of his eye. He just has to keep him distracted… "Complaints can be filed to the I-don't-really-care address. Please don't expect a response."
"Even your wit fails you."
"Thank-you, Spectra. So encouraging."
Skulker scoffs. "Resorting to name-calling? I was better off on my island, and that's saying a lot when the whole thing is falling to pieces thanks to"—a loud sucking sound cuts him off, and Danny finds his expression hilarious but can't laugh—"curses! No…!"
His voice fades and then it's gone, trapped in the best contraption his parents ever created. "What took so long?" he asks his friends, trying to sound light, knowing they'll panic in a few moments.
They pay no mind to his question, and the expected "You're bleeding!" arrives quickly. Can one call it bleeding when it's not blood? Ink can bleed through paper, right? But bleeding sounds like blood so it's probably specific to that word; someone probably just tried to be fancy and literary, said that ink can bleed too.
Lancer would be proud at his attempts at being poetic: here's to bleeding ectoplasm!
"Danny, focus on my voice." Sam's voice is so much nicer than that alarm clock. Or Lancer. "Danny, come on, there's no one here, we need to go now before they return. Damage control, remember? Your arm, oh gosh, your arm… damage control. C'mon, repeat after me: damage control.
He repeats, but it comes out weak and he can see her brow crease. No. He can do better than that. "Damage control," he says, purposefully loud. "Yeah. Got it. Let's go."
Sam's house isn't quite so far away from the park, so the three of them walk back, slowly, through the small and out-of-the-way roads no one takes that often to make sure no one sees the bleeding dude.
Sam pulled the sharp thing out—nothing less than a knife, though a small one, because of course he crashed against some sort of meat stand. He smells like meat and he has to hand it to Sam: she has guts for walking so close to his newly acquired scent without wavering in her grip on his good arm.
Once they arrive at Sam's house, Tucker goes straight home because his parents will probably be watching the news and having panic attacks right about now; Danny's are off on some science trip so they probably won't call to ask about it until that night. Sam's parents are out somewhere, as they always are, and her grandma won't ask questions about the bleeding arm if they insist that she doesn't ask.
But they don't see grandma Manson on the way up the stairs, so Sam just tells Danny to sit at his chair at the edge of her room while she pulls out a med kit.
"Does it hurt any less? Does it feel stiff or swollen?" are her first questions, all business and no nonsense. She's gotten good at this, he thinks.
She turns on the light but doesn't open her curtains, just in case. Her room is kind of gloomy and dark but at the same time it's not, because the chandelier hanging over her bed is just huge.
Danny tries to shrug but decides that he'd better not halfway through. He says: "Doesn't hurt as much. It's throbbing, but that's it. It's not that bad."
"I'll be the judge of that." She takes those smelly antiseptic wipes he hates and dabs at his arm. "Are you hurt anywhere else? I focused so much on all that blood that I didn't really check."
Everything hurts, but that's because his body is overworked and the human side of him can barely take it anymore. His mouth tastes like blood though, and that's not normal. "Mouth tastes like blood. Might be nothing. Check the arm first."
She nods and never looks away from the now pink mess that is his arm. "Nothing important was punctured—the cut wasn't as deep as I thought—but I'm still going to wrap it tight. You have to promise me you'll change the bandages because my nerves aren't up for treating gangrene. Got that?"
He nods. He knows she's not squeamish—he's seen enough horror movies with her to know so—but something about seeing so much blood and gore on him so often probably isn't as entertaining. And he knows she's done research—she knows too much about first aid to really call it first aid anymore—and that can't be any fun, either. She did stitches once. It sucked.
Man, that sucked.
He won't go to hospitals, though, and she doesn't really want him in one either. But sometimes she still suggests it, because any doctor knows so much more than her, and what if there's internal damage, what if she missed something, what if she mistreats something…
She's the bravest person he knows, but when it's down to blood and bandages, she gets scared. He does that: scare her. He hates that.
She finishes tying the bandage, so tight it makes the throbbing go stronger, but he doesn't say a word. She runs a quick inspection on his other arm, both legs (cleans a small cut that's half-closed already), turns him over to see if there are any blood stains on his back (none). Checks his neck, feels around his head (he'd call it a massage if he couldn't feel her fingers twitch and tremble). Analyzes his face for a long time.
They're silent the whole time, him staring at her eyes or her fingers. She's diligent and concentrated, and she shouldn't have to be so. She's his best friend, not his doctor. She shouldn't have to look up gangrene on weekends. Damn it, she shouldn't know how to do stitches.
"Seems like you're okay. This is the sort of thing you sleep off. As for the blood on your mouth—split lip. You don't feel the blood running down your throat or anything like that, right? And nothing feels out of sorts on the inside, right? Just sore muscles?"
He hesitates because he's not really conscious of feeling; everything has gone into a steady state of "ow" that makes nothing and everything stand out. He focuses and checks because if he gives her a quick answer she'll just get mad and force him to make sure. "Just the split lip. I'm okay."
She nods, biting her lip again while she dabs some blood off the corner of his lip. She's always biting her lip these days. He's seen the cylindrical outline of chapstick in her pocket. It's a habit now, one that requires chapstick—maybe a vice?
She finishes and for a while they're quiet, unmoving. "Thanks," he says.
She nods. "Welcome. Get up. I want to see you walk."
He does so, just fine, so her shoulders finally relax and she sits on her bed while he returns to his chair. Then she speaks up: "So, talk." She clears her throat, and the word "please" slips out, and it's not as nonchalant.
She's his best friend, so he talks. He starts with the stress and the anxiety of the week, which she's seen from a front row seat. That's the easy part.
Then he says: "It's summer. It's summer before senior year, we're seventeen years old. We should be on road trips or at parties. You shouldn't have to take some sort of online med school, Tucker shouldn't have to keep lying to his parents about his whereabouts all the time. We should be eating junk food."
The rant goes on and she listens. She's good at that. When he starts reusing old arguments she raises a hand, because he's about to get to the "stitches!" thing and they both know she hates to think about that day.
"I have the time and money to study medicine and get equipment. And it's interesting enough, Danny, I'm not making the big sacrifice you make it out to be. Tucker knows how to measure these things and he knows when enough is enough. Lying to his parents is an unfortunate side effect that he agreed to. He's a big boy and he can take his own decisions.
"As for being regular teenagers; I can't believe you haven't let that go! We've had this conversation, and I won't have it again, so just get this into your head: I understand you didn't choose this lifestyle, and I'm sorry because I kind of pushed you into it. Tucker and I wouldn't trade any of this for the world because you're our best friend. Remember? I'm not some comic book sidekick; I'm your best friend, and that means I'm under no obligation to do any of this. I choose to, every day, the same way Tucker and Jazz do."
He keeps quiet. She's right but he hates it. He won't say it aloud because she'll get frustrated, but he's just so tired right now.
She stands up and pulls on his good arm so he does the same. She hugs him, the way she does about once a year, when she just lets him hold her and say nothing, stay still, breathe in and out, until he wants to let go. She doesn't like physical affection too much—she's a words and actions sort of person—but he's a hugger (it's a Fenton thing) and she gets that.
She gets everything. She's patient and understanding and damn it she deserves better.
He doesn't know how long they're there, but the moment he lets go he doesn't really want to; he does, anyway, because he's starting again, thinking about her the way he shouldn't. It's easy, sometimes, to just think about her as his best friend because it's something that's been permanent in his life for a really long time. It's normal, comfortable and easy to say that she's his best friend. It's reality.
But then it's the little things, like her biting her lips or dabbing chapstick onto them, or letting him hug her like this, breathing in her scent (he has no idea what it is and it drives him nuts because—really—how does one inquire about that sort of thing?). Little things that make him think differently, dangerously. That's uncharted territory and he's decided that it's staying like that for a variety of reasons that include (but are not limited to) her safety.
"I know you're tired," she says. "I know things are bad. I'll be honest—I think they'll get worse before they get better. But," she pauses for emphasis, and to make sure he's listening, "you're doing something good. People built a ride about you because they admire and appreciate you. You know that, don't you? They don't know a thing about you, other than the fact that you keep the city safe, and that fact alone makes you special in their eyes. You are special. It's very unfortunate that they don't know how much—but I do. Tucker and Jazz know, as do your parents, even Mr. Lancer. We know you and you mean something to all of us. Think about that, okay?"
He nods and tries to smile. Yes, she's a words sort of person.
"Good." She breathes in and out slowly. Then: "It's still sunny outside, and I'd rather you don't go flying in broad daylight like this—and don't tell me you can go invisible because that's not going to happen. You need to rest. I'll get one of the drivers to give you a ride home, and then you're going straight to bed, mister."
A/N: So? Yay or nay? I'm really nervous about this one because I'm fairly new to the phandom and I haven't written a fic in years. How's that for nostalgia?
This is the first chapter of a long fic that'll probably add up to 15-20 chapters. I'll post again next weekend. Happy Phanniemay!
(If you want to see the blog dedicated to this story on tumblr, look for it as dpkingofclubs.)
P.S. I used the prompt "Ghost King" in this chapter in the sense that this whole story is about that prompt, and the whole story begins here. That plotline is being set up here, but it is not yet mentioned (that's for next chapter). Sorry for any confusion!