Author's Introduction:

Finally, I'm getting this first chapter out. Some days you feel like you just can't get anything done, you know?

Same drill as always—I don't own Danny Phantom, but it will always have a special place in my heart!

(fires starter's pistol.) And we're off!...

Eye of the Beholder

A Danny Phantom fanfiction

Chapter One: Strange and Beautiful

I've been watching your world from afar

I've been trying to be where you are

I've been secretly falling apart unseen

To me, you're strange and you're beautiful

You'd be so perfect with me but you just can't see

You turn every head but you don't see me

(Strange and Beautiful, Aqualung)

Danny Fenton had never been cool—at least not in his own opinion. He was the kind of guy who tripped on things, got stuffed in his own locker, and became tongue-tied when talking to cute girls. When he'd first started his freshman year at Casper High, his only aspirations had been a) to become popular and therefore gain access to the best tables in the lunchroom and the popular parties, and b) to go out with Paulina, the goddess of Casper High. And all of those things had depended, in large part, on being cool.

Since then, he sometimes looked back on those days and laughed at what he had thought was really important. Ever since an accident in his parents' lab had changed his DNA irreversibly, making him half human, half ghost, his life hadn't been that of your average high-school student. On the other hand, almost dying a few times had made him appreciate the true worth of things like the crazy family dinners in his house, with his father blathering on about his latest invention while Jazz battled him for the rest of the mashed potatoes. Or a Saturday night in on the sofa watching bad horror movies with his two best friends—Tucker in the wing chair hogging the remote while he and Sam shared the sofa, Sam's leg hooked around his because there simply wasn't enough room for them both to sprawl out comfortably.

Well, there was enough room, but Danny wasn't going to tell Sam that.


At any rate, his life, ghosts and all, had settled down into a comfortable shape lately. There was only one thing missing, and the more it preyed on his mind, the more he wanted it—and the more afraid he got of screwing it up and shattering aforementioned comfortable life completely to hell.

Sam had never cared whether or not Danny was cool. She'd always stuck by him, even when he'd done lousy things like ditch her and Tucker for other things, like popular parties, saving the world, or other girls. Well, she really hadn't liked some of it, but she hadn't unfriended him yet.

But things were different now. He couldn't stop his gaze from resting admiringly on the bare skin of her midriff when she reached for something above her head; he couldn't help inching closer to her on those Saturday nights they shared the sofa. Linked arms, clasped hands—he looked forward to any excuse he'd have to touch her. He didn't care so much if he got embarrassed at school; it was worth it to hear her laugh, worth it for the we're-in-this-together smile that she saved only for him.

And finally, on some not so very special day, he'd woken up and realized that all the rumors and jokes of years past had been absolutely true—he felt something deeper than friendship for the gothic princess he'd known since they were five.

He wanted…more.

And it scared him. Not just the feelings themselves, but the risk involved in expressing them. If he brought up the idea of dating to Sam, there was a real possibility that she'd just laugh, give him a hug and tell him he was crazy. That he wouldn't be…cool enough for her.

So he contented himself instead with the warmth of the line of her body against him as they watched movies. He waited hungrily for the more difficult ghost fights, when she would throw herself into his arms and hug him hard with relief that he was safe. He waited, and he wanted, and he took what he could get.

In the back of his head, he knew he couldn't go on like this forever. Something had to give.

But what?

On the blackboard, Lancer wrote, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Turning back to the class, he folded his arms and said, "How many of you have heard this statement before?"

Everyone raised their hands.

"Who'd like to explain it to the class? Mr. Foley?"

Snapping into Cramtastic mode, Tucker sat up a little straighter in his chair. "It means that beauty is relative. It doesn't matter what something looks like on the outside. If the person looking at it thinks it's beautiful, then it is."

"So one man's trash is another man's treasure?" Valerie asked. The class chuckled.

"Very good, Mr. Foley," Lancer said. "And yes, Ms. Gray, while your quote is slightly more glib, it does apply." Lancer started pacing slowly at the front of the room. "I suppose you're wondering what this has to do with your video essays. Your first assignment, ladies and gentlemen, is to take your cameras and capture beauty. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anyway you find it. You are the beholder, so anything goes, making this an almost impossible assignment—" Here he slanted a glance at Danny Fenton. "—to fail." He waited for Danny to sink guiltily down in his seat before continuing. "As I teach more than one video essay class, I must insist that you not reveal the subject of your project until all assignments have been handed in. All cheaters will be caught and receive a failure for the course. Clear?"

The class moaned an affirmative.

"Remind me why we signed up for this instead of shop class?" Tucker groaned over the shrill cry of the final bell.

"Because you're not allowed to go near the belt sander, remember?" Danny answered as they filtered into the hallway.

"Oh, yeah."

Despite Tucker's complaints, Danny was in a good mood. The first day of his junior year at Casper High had gone by without mishap. Detentions so far: zero.

Of course, some things didn't change. "Want to go collect Sam and hit up the Nasty Burger?" Tucker asked.

"Cool," Danny said. "I'm ready for anything. I can't believe that nothing bad happened today!"

"Does that count?" Tucker asked, pointing to a plume of dark smoke coming from the home-ec kitchen.

"Okay, so nothing bad happened to me," Danny amended as they got closer to the source of the smoke.

"I'm sorry," someone lamented. "I am so sorry."

"Sam?" both boys asked incredulously when they saw who it was.

Their gothic beauty was wringing her hands desperately beneath a halo of smoke; she blushed bright as blood when she saw them standing outside the door. "H-hey, guys."

Ms. Tetschlav seemed an unlikely candidate to teach home economics, given her insane bodybuilder's physique and her distinct lack of femininity, but it was she who was glaring almost wearily at Sam from beneath her mullet. "That's okay, Sam. You can try it again tomorrow." Turning back to the rest of the class, she announced, "Class dismissed. If it didn't come out exactly right today, don't worry. We have the whole semester to work on it."

"Don't remind me," Sam groaned, slinging her faithful spider backpack over her shoulder. Some things definitely didn't change.

"Sam, why are you burning down the home-ec room?" Tucker asked as she joined them in the hallway. "I thought you signed up for shop."

"I did," Sam growled, eyelid twitching. "They didn't have any room for me in there. They told me this was the only class open."

"That's weird," Danny said, falling into step on Sam's other side.

"It's ridiculous is what it is," Sam said. "If I was a boy, they'd have found room for me in that class."

Tucker slung an arm over Sam's shoulder. "Cheer up, emo kid. Let's go to the Nasty Burger. You can eat without having to cook."

Danny also slung an arm around Sam, making the hug complete. "We looooove you."

"Shut up, Fenton," Sam said, but she cuddled into the circle of their arms.

No matter how old they got, Danny had to admit that he'd always have a soft spot for their old comfortable booth at the Nasty Burger. He ran his fingers affectionately over the carvings they'd made in the table years ago with Sam's keys. The biggest one said Tucker Rulez, and over by the salt shakers the initials D.F. were still visible, close to a much neater S.M.

Sam sighed, leaning back against the torn vinyl after they'd placated her with a vanilla milkshake. "So how was video workshop?" she asked. Danny pressed his toes down hard in his Converse All-Stars as her lips closed over her straw.

"You know Lancer," Danny said, shrugging and hoping it looked nonchalant. "We've got our first assignment already."

"Oh really? What?" Sam raised her eyebrows.

"We're not allowed to discuss it outside of class," Tucker said, swirling a French fry in some ketchup. "Last year some of the classes swapped tapes, so now Lancer's made it impossible to cheat."

"It looks like Nathan's getting an early start," Sam quipped, looking across the restaurant.

"Get away from me!" Valerie Gray shrieked, hopping away from her stalker. "I can't be your assignment, I'm in the class, Nathan!"

"Valerie!" the frizzy-haired geek wailed, waving a video camera as he lumbered after the object of his affections. "I'd risk a failing grade for you!"

The three friends chuckled. "You have to give Nathan points for persistence," Tucker said.

"I don't think Valerie wants to give Nathan anything," Danny laughed.

"I guess it's safe to say your video project is not a ghost-hunting documentary," Sam said.

Tucker laughed. "Don't even try to guess, Sam. You'll never get it."

Meanwhile, over on the "popular" side of the Nasty Burger, a crowd was slowly amassing around Paulina, some armed with video cameras. "Wait!" the Queen of Casper High cried, posing and pouting at her admirers. "If you're going to film me, I need to fix my hair!"

Sam tried again. "Horror movie?"

Even Danny had to laugh at that.

Late afternoon was shading into evening when the three friends decided to call it a day. "See you guys tomorrow," Tucker said, turning towards home. "I've got to go buy a video camera for this project."

"Tucker, don't you have a video camera?" Sam asked, folding her arms. "You brought it when we went out for my birthday."

Tucker gave her a look that clearly said she was behind the times. "Sam, your birthday was weeks ago—months, if memory serves. I can't use an obsolete camera for this! I need something state-of-the-art to get a better grade!"

Danny snickered as Sam rolled her eyes. "Of course. Silly me," the goth said.

"See ya, Tuck," Danny laughed. He and Sam turned in the opposite direction.

They'd been walking in companionable silence for a block when she slanted a curious glance at him. He answered with a smile, unsure of what she was thinking. They crossed the street, and she finally broke the silence.

"I live this way," she said, pointing in the direction they were going.

Danny nodded.

She chuckled. "You don't."

He laughed, too, but couldn't stop a blush from creeping onto his face. "Can't a guy walk a girl home?" he asked lightly, shrugging.

She smiled a little, but played it off with a joke and a snooty accent. "Why thank you, Mr. Fenton. That is oh so kind of you."

Playing along, he bowed slightly. "It would be my pleasure, Ms. Manson. Shall we?"

"We shall." She gathered up what little there was of her short plaid skirt to curtsy, and then they continued down the block.

"So come on!" Sam said when they'd gone a little further. She jabbed a gentle elbow into his side. "Tell me what your video projects are about."

Danny sighed. "Sam, I can't, remember? Lancer said if we discuss it with anyone outside of class, we fail."

Sam stamped her foot. "Danny, I won't tell! How would he even find out?"

Danny allowed himself to pale remembering some of his past run-ins with Lancer. The haunted house incident had been particularly upsetting. "He has ears everywhere. He's like the Casper High gestapo."

Sam chuckled. "Who says you don't pay attention in history?"

"Lancer," Danny emphasized. It only made her laugh harder.

"Well, if you can't tell me what the video is about, can I at least watch it when you're done?" Sam asked as they got to her doorstep.

He nodded. "If I ever decide what I'm going to do. I'm not sure where to begin."

Sam dug in her backpack for her keys. "Well, call me if there's anything I can do to help."

Danny arched his eyebrows at her. "Don't say that unless you mean it. I might take you up on it."

But Sam didn't see it as the threat he thought it was. She only smiled. "Danny, given what I usually help you with, a video essay ought to be a piece of cake." And then the door closed and she was gone.

All the lonely walk home, Danny tried to come up with an idea for his video essay, but he was distracted by thoughts of her, by the more he felt was always out of his reach.

After dinner, Danny knocked on the doorframe of the lab. Poking his head in, he noticed his father hunched over one of the workstations. "Dad? I need to borrow some electronic equipment."

"That's my boy!" Jack Fenton raised his head from the motherboard and tangle of wires that he was working on, eyes gleaming with excitement. "I've dreamt of this day ever since you took your first toddling steps down here."

Leaping out of his chair, Jack clapped his heavy hands excitedly down on his son's shoulders, which nearly stuffed Danny down into his shoes. Suppressing a sniffle, the elder Fenton composed himself and started displaying strange objects to Danny. "What do you need, Danny? Fenton Ghost Peeler? Fenton Boo-Merang?" He reached for a slim silver staff with a large green switch. "May I recommend the Jack O'Nine Tails?"

Danny flinched, his hands flying up to cover his face. "No! …I mean, ah, no thanks, Dad. Actually, what I need to borrow is your video camera."

If Danny had said, "I've decided to run away and join the Circus Gothica," his father couldn't have looked more disappointed.

"Video…camera?" Jack asked slowly.

"Yeah. I'm taking a video essay class in school, and we've got our first assignment already. I want to get started on my project right away, so can I borrow it?" Danny rushed the words—the more time his father had to think about it, the bigger the chance he'd say no.

The proud look had disappeared completely. Wordlessly, Jack pointed to the wastebasket, which was overflowing with shattered glass.

Danny frowned. "That was an accident."

The pointing finger slid to a shattered computer monitor.

"Accident," Danny emphasized.

Jack indicated the remains of the Ghost Weasel.

Danny crossed his arms and lifted his chin defiantly. "You broke that."

Jack blinked, then frowned back. "Not the point, Danny. The point is that your track record with delicate equipment is…dodgy."

"You broke the Ghost Weasel," Danny shot back. "Remember?" Seeing the look on his father's face, he decided to take a different tack. "Anyway, you're always saying I need to care more about my grades. I really want to do a good job on this project, Dad, and I need your camera to do that."

It was a good argument. Danny could practically see the gears in his father's head turning, trying to figure out a way around it.

"Look, if I break the camera, I'll pay for it," Danny threw out as a last desperate measure.

It took Jack another minute to mull that over, but then he smiled. "You know what, Danny? You're right. You're growing up, you're learning to be responsible, and you should be treated like it."

Relieved, Danny smiled. "Thanks, Dad. I promise to be really, really careful."

Together, the two Fenton men retrieved the video camera from the hall closet. Once the camera was in his hands, Danny held it up to examine it, peering through the viewfinder and swinging the digital screen open. "Now, this hasn't been...tinkered with, right Dad? I mean, you and Mom haven't tried to turn it into ghost equipment?"

"No, I haven't gotten a chance to improve this yet." Then Jack's eyes lit up. "I was thinking of fixing it so it can track ecto-signatures and display them on the digital screen! What do you think?"

Danny closed the screen. "I'm thinking that we should let me finish my project first."

Jack clapped his son on the shoulder. "That's my boy, always thinking ahead. What are you going to film for your project?"

Danny frowned, and not just because of the stinging in his shoulder. "Haven't decided yet," he mumbled. "I keep getting…distracted."

Jack laughed. "I know what you mean. Sometimes I'll be trying to focus on dinner, but all I'll be able to think of is the invention I've left half-finished in the lab! Or I'll be down in the lab, and suddenly I can't get my mind off of bacon—"

"This isn't like that," Danny interrupted, wrinkling his nose. "Thanks for the camera, Dad," he added, gesturing with the instrument.

"Any time, son. And let me know if you film any ghosts!" Jack called as Danny headed for his room.

"Dude, I just chopped off your arm and hit you with it!" Tucker cheered, his grin filling the tiny square of the webcam window. The rest of Danny's computer screen was playing Bloodspurt Arena. Well, actually, it was a bootlegged version that Tucker had pirated off the internet. "Where's your focus, Danny?"

Sometimes Danny felt like keeping his feelings for Sam a secret was harder than keeping his ghost powers a secret. "Lancer's video essay," he said, which wasn't entirely a lie—he was thinking about that, too. "I seriously have no idea what I'm going to film. I'm a teenaged boy. I don't appreciate beauty!" he laughed.

"I appreciate beauty," Tucker said. "I can't wait to try my new camera in the girls' gym class!"

"You appreciate booty," Danny corrected, rolling his eyes.

Tucker laughed. Sarcasm traveled well over the webcam. "Maybe, but at least I have an idea for my essay. That's more than you've got, ghost boy!"

Danny frowned, his frustration affecting the part of his brain that censored what he said. "I can't concentrate! All I can think of is—"

Some good ideas are the product of extensive planning, hard work, and much research. This wasn't like that at all—it came to Danny fully formed, with the kind of clarity you usually needed to meditate to have. But if he could pull it off, he could pass Lancer's assignment…

and, if he was lucky, maybe it might be the right way to say something he didn't quite have the words for yet.

"Hello! Ground Control to Major Danny!" Tucker said on his end of the webcam. "All you can think of is what?"

"I know I always say this, but if I weren't a C student, I'd have thought of this sooner," Danny chuckled. "I've got to go, Tuck. See you tomorrow, okay?"

"Wait a minute, Danny. Thought of what sooner?" Tucker was thoroughly confused. "Do you know what you're going to do for your project?"

"I think so. I'll fill you in later, promise. Wish me luck!"

"Wish you luck for what?" Tucker screeched as Danny closed the webcam window.

Turning away from the computer, Danny dialed a number he'd known by heart since the first day he'd had a cell phone.

"Danny?" Sam sounded sleepy. "It's 2 in the morning. What's wrong?" Suddenly she shot awake. "Ghost trouble?"

"No, not tonight," Danny said. "I just have a favor to ask you."

Now that she knew their lives were not in immediate danger, she let out an audible yawn. "You know you can ask me for anything, Danny, but could this have waited till morning?"

Danny felt guilty for waking her up. "I'm sorry. It just hit me all of a sudden." That was only partially true. The idea had hit him all of a sudden, but his feelings for Sam in themselves were much more of a gradual thing, something he hadn't noticed sneak up on him until she was always the last thing he thought about before dropping off to sleep. "Do you still want to help me with my video essay?"

Sam was still fighting fatigue; he could picture her sitting up in bed, the phone cradled between one pale shoulder and her puzzled face as she tried to force herself to full alert. "Video…? Oh, sure…sure, Danny. What do you want me to do?"

"Star in it."

"What?" That gave her a kick-start, all right. "Danny, have you lost it? I was thinking something more along the lines of holding a cue card or bringing you coffee or something."

"Come on, Sammy. You said you wanted to help me," Danny cajoled. "It'll be fun."

"No it won't," Sam said. "I hate the way I sound on camera, and I'm a terrible actress!"

"No, you're not!" Danny said. "You were great when we did The Miracle Worker in eighth grade."

"I played Helen Keller, moron," Sam shot back. "I didn't have any lines."

Trying not to laugh, he kept pressing. "Sam, you wouldn't even have to act in my video. All you have to do is be yourself. It'll be a piece of cake. A big piece of raspberry velvet cake, with those little bat sprinkles you like. Please? Pretty please?"

Sam sighed reluctantly on the other end of the line, letting him know this was an effort. "All right! All right. Stop begging, it's totally pathetic."

Yes! Phase one complete. "You won't regret this, Sam."

"I already regret this," was the good-natured retort. "So what's the video about?"

Danny froze. If he hadn't been a C student, he might have remembered that Sam was an A student and therefore too smart to fall for the old be-in-my-video-essay trick without asking at least one question. "What's the video about?" was a good one, too. But he couldn't tell her what the assignment was about for two reasons—one, Lancer had told them not to tell anyone outside of the class what the assignments were about under risk of a failing grade; and two, if Sam knew what the assignment was about she'd wonder why he'd asked her to be his subject, and he'd die of embarrassment. Both seemed equally unappealing.

"All you have to do is be yourself," he finally repeated. "I mean, just do what you always do. Pretend I don't have the camera—pretend I'm not even there."

Sam chuckled. "That might be hard."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you stand out." Her voice was warm. "You're unique."

"Well…unique is good, right?" he asked, remembering how his best friend had comforted him on the scariest days of his life—when he'd first gotten his ghost powers.

"It's very good." She sighed. "So do I have to get all pretty tomorrow in case you're filming?"

"Aww, Sam, you're always pretty," he said, making his tone lighthearted enough that she'd think he was teasing instead of telling the truth.

"Oh, shut up. I'm hanging up on you now." Sam laughed. "Night, Danny."

"Goodnight, Sam."

But Danny couldn't sleep. As soon as he hung up the phone, he imagined Sam sliding beneath her dark sheets, long lashes fluttering down to her pale cheeks, her bosom rising and falling with her breathing beneath the black chemise he'd once glimpsed thrown over her chair. He wished he were there to see it—with or without his camera.

Author's Notes:

"Strange and Beautiful" by Aqualung is Danny and Sam all over in my opinion. It can be found on the album of the same name.

Back when I was in college, my best friend Shazzer asked me to star in her video workshop project. It involved ten boxes of Yodels, a straitjacket, and eight hours of filming on our college campus. It was one of the best times I've ever had, and it's probably where the idea for this story came from.

I need to have a small rant. Don't worry, no one will get hurt. (sighs, lights up a cigarette.) Firestar9mm is getting a little tired of reading fics where the authors blatantly go against canon for no reason. For instance, I've noticed that a lot of authors describe Danny as suddenly having developed huge muscles. Part of the reason we love Danny is because he's not always so "super", you know? Please don't put him on steroids! He's a halfa, not a juicehead. And poor Sam—a lot of authors write her as having "grown her hair longer" (do they have long hair, too? Is long plain hair "in" or something?) or even worse, they describe her as having "grown out of her goth style a little" or worse, "toned her goth thing down". This usually involves a few paragraphs describing Sam wearing outfits that stray away from goth and are a little more mainstream (I'll skip the speculation that these outfits probably reside in the writer's closet, or a local American Eagle Outfitters. Okay, I guess I didn't skip it...) Now, I'm probably biased because I'm goth and I live in New York, but even if I was a poster girl for Abercrombie & Fitch this would still offend me, because I like the character of Sam and I think it's disrespectful to her to change her style. I feel that she's strong in her convictions and she does what she does and wears what she wears because she likes it, not just because it makes a statement. I don't think she's the type who'd mellow out over the years and acquiesce to the societal norm of tank tops with girly designs and capri pants. Are all these authors allergic to canon or something? Come on, guys—pastels? I think not. So I just want to clarify: Dash and Kwan are still bigger than Danny in this fic. There will be no pastel colors, and any capri pants will be worn only by Paulina. (stubs out cigarette.) Okay, rant over. Thanks XD Moving on…

Tucker says "Ground Control to Major Danny!" at one point; this is a reference to one of my favorite David Bowie songs, "Space Oddity". I had the biggest crush on him when I was a little girl.

There is no such game as Bloodspurt Arena, but I've played plenty of games with the same premise. I think Tucker and I would be very good friends. XD

I had to be in William Gibson's The Miracle Worker once in grade school. I can't remember who I played—I think I played Helen's mom or something. (shudder) Not my favorite acting experience—I was much better years later as Dracula. :F

There are a few references to past episodes in this story, such as the Cramtastic intensive test-prep from "Fanning the Flames", the Circus Gothica from "Control Freaks", and the Fenton Ghost Weasel from "Attack of the Killer Garage Sale".

Thanks to anyone who's reading as always! Chapter Two is next—Danny and Tucker begin filming in earnest. Be afraid. Be very afraid.