A/N: Well. Welcome to the last chapter of Phantom's Sketchbook.
This has been an absolutely incredible ride. When I started this I had intended it to be a one shot. Now we're 18111 words later (according to my master WordPerfect file, so not including author's notes), and I still can't quite believe it. Before this fic I hadn't written anything of significance in two or three years, and I'm astounded by where this piece took my writing. I can say with confidence that this is the best thing I've written to date (though I'm fond of some of my one shots). It also makes me feel really good because I had thought that university had sapped the large chunk of my creativity out of me and I think this proves - rather definitively - that I was wrong.
The other thing that completely bowled me over is the response. Seriously guys, you are fabulous! Phantom's Sketchbook is on 15 C2's, 207 favorites lists and 220 story alerts. I've gained new readers every chapter, and there are a bunch of people who've reviewed each and every chapter. There are already over 425 reviews for the story (Chapter 7 alone has 91) and there is still this chapter to consider. And I'm fairly confident in saying that there are probably a bunch of people reading this who have never left a review.
This chapter is dedicated to every last one of you who has read this story. You have no idea how good you've made me feel about myself.
Thank you all.
Particular thanks to Shimegami-chan for all the support, the brain-storming sessions and for introducing me to Danny Phantom in the first place.
Apologies to Iyonjin who hasn't read this story and probably never will (unless Shi-chan kicks his butt for me, ne Shi-chan?), but who has put up with my ranting and raving, and my incessant checking of e-mail whenever I've posted a chapter (I love my reviews!).
Now, enough of my babbling. You guys are wanting to read the chapter!
(P.S.: I like this chapter, but I think chapter eight officially gets my vote for best chapter.)
EDIT: Fixed Paulina's last name. Hopefully.
Chapter Nine: Confrontation
Anyone who has ever had their world view utterly changed by an idea or a realization can tell you that it doesn't always come easily. Sometimes, in order for your world to change, it has to fall apart first, and then be re-stitched from the ground up.
Which probably explains why Lancer had a hard night.
People deal with things in different ways, and, as a matter of fact, people deal with different things in different ways. In this particular case Lancer spent the night indulging in two things.
Evidence for the first could be found in the large empty bottle of single-malt scotch that now sat on the teacher's living room table.
The second would have surprised those who thought they knew the man. It was, really, one of his best kept secrets.
Lancer was a gamer.
And, therefore, the second thing he'd indulged in was several hours of Duck Hunt, allowing the mindless repetitive action to put him in a better head space.
At some forsaken point in the morning Mr. Lancer's body gave out on him, so he'd gone to bed muttering about how he wished you could shoot the damn dog.
Which, all told, wasn't so bad. What was less good, in the humble opinion of the vice principal of Casper High, was the sound of the phone ringing right next to his ear the next morning.
Aguh. Whoever thought that having a phone on your bedside table was a good idea needs to be tarred and feathered.
Grabbing the receiver with the vague thought of throwing it against the wall, Lancer muttered a shaky hello.
And stared in horror at the clock when he heard the panicked voice of the school secretary on the other end.
He could, if he skipped breakfast, be at the school in thirty minutes. But as the previous day's realizations filtered through his brain, the educator decided to do something that went against his very moral fibre.
Mr. Lancer took a sick day.
Hanging up on the surprised secretary, Lancer guiltily reasoned with himself that taking a 'mental health day' just once wouldn't hurt anything.
For a few minutes the 'sick' teacher lay on his bed with his eyes closed in the vain hope of getting a little more sleep.
Which, of course, failed miserably.
With a moan and a little bit of grumbling, he rolled out of bed.
Two hours, a cup of coffee, a shower and a hangover cure later, Lancer was more or less ready to face the day.
Briefly he debated the merits of calling the school and telling them that he could come in for the afternoon - the largest merit being that it would ease his guilty conscience - before deciding that it was better not to. Like I'd be able to concentrate on class anyway.
With a resigned sigh, the teacher compromised and sat down to mark the creative writing assignments instead.
It was difficult to work while thoughts about Fenton/Phantom kept interrupting him.
What he's doing is dangerous, incredibly so.
But as thoughts of all the times that Phantom had saved peoples lives filled his head, Lancer wondered if perhaps it was necessary.
Necessary maybe. But it doesn't mean that I have to like it.
Not that I could do anything about it anyway. What I am going to do? Threaten to give him detention if he doesn't stop?
Should I tell his parents?
What about school? Talk about problems with inclusive education, how does one accommodate a super-hero?
Should I even tell him that I know at all?
That one was the million dollar question. Mr. Lancer laid down his pen and rubbed his temples.
"It's going to be a long day."
It was lunchtime the next Monday before Mr. Lancer managed to work up the courage to confront Danny.
"Mr. Fenton, would you come to my office for a few minutes? We need to have a chat."
Danny gulped slightly, before gathering his things and giving Sam and Tucker a look that clearly said 'I'm so dead.'
Lancer kept quiet until the two of them were in his office with the door safely shut. "Please take a seat, Mr. Fenton. And relax, you aren't in trouble."
The teenager relaxed marginally at the assurance, taking the proffered seat and giving Lancer an uncertain look.
Sometimes actions are stronger than words, so Lancer sat down behind his desk and grabbed a set of stapled papers from on top of his desk then handed them to Danny.
Blue eyes glanced from the paper, to Lancer, and then back to paper, growing wider in recognition, "But . . . how . . . where . . ."
"In the park, I'll explain momentarily," the bald teacher replied not bothering to hide his smile. "Open it."
Lancer hadn't realized that Danny's eyes were capable of going any wider.
"I got a ninety-five? "
"Indeed you did, Danny, though I need to explain slightly. You did an excellent job with the writing, but I'm not certain that it really addressed what it was supposed to," the teacher marveled that he was able to keep a straight face while saying that. The assignment, in fact, did exactly what it was supposed to. Lancer simply shouldn't have known it.
"I'm going to use the poem you wrote as the mark for the creative writing assignment, it is more along the lines of what I was looking for. You got an eighty on it, by the way."
Danny's eyebrows scrunched up slightly, "Then what is the mark on this one for?"
"Extra credit," Lancer responded simply, enjoying the look of disbelief followed quickly by a grin on his student's face.
Before Danny had a chance to say anything, Lancer reached into his briefcase and pulled out a second item. The grin on Danny's face grew wider as he reached out to take the object.
"Danny, I need to apologize to you."
The young man looked up from his sketchbook, "What? Why?"
Mr. Lancer took a deep breath, "For several reasons. The first one being for not returning this to you sooner, even though I didn't actually realize it was your's until quite recently. The second one being that when I realized it belonged to you, I looked through it. I shouldn't have. It's your private property. I gave in to curiosity and that was wrong of me."
And I need to apologize for not realizing that something was wrong earlier. For being so hard on you.
The silence stretched for a moment, as Danny simply sat there looking at his teacher. For his part, Lancer was extremely uncomfortable under the steady blue gaze of his most complicated student.
Then Danny laughed shakily, his face going a little red, "That's okay, I can understand that. Thanks for the apology though. "
The teen rubbed the back of his neck, looking extremely embarrassed, "So, um . . . who did you think it belonged to?"
Mr. Lancer forced himself to laugh self-derisively. "Would you believe Danny Phantom?"
Carefully watching for his reaction, Lancer noticed Danny stiffen ever-so-slightly.
"Really?" Danny asked, his tone expressing surprise.
"I was out for a late-night stroll when I came across Phantom in the park. I don't think he noticed me, but this other ghost attacked him and Phantom left the sketchbook behind. I picked it up, and have been trying to get it back to him ever since. Didn't have much luck, Phantom's hard to catch."
The barest hint of recognition flickered through Danny's face. "So how did you find out it was mine?"
"Your assignment fell out, so I took a look. I'd still be trying to track down Phantom if it hadn't. I should have known better, now that I think about it. A ghost drawing? Not very likely. Phantom probably just picked it up from wherever you dropped it in the park." Lancer desperately hoped he sounded like he was telling the absolute truth.
Some of Danny's tension seemed to seep out of him, "Yeah. Probably." He looked down at the floor for a moment. "Um . . . Mr. Lancer? Can I ask you something?"
"Of course, Mr. Fenton."
"Um... what did you think? Of my drawings I mean."
The question threw the teacher off guard. "What do I . . . Danny, you have an incredible talent. I was extremely impressed."
The teen blushed slightly, "Thanks."
"Now, one last thing before I let you go," Mr. Lancer said before reaching into his briefcase once more.
Danny went completely still.
"William Reilly, Mr. Fenton?"
William. Bill. Inviso-Bill. I still can't decide if that's utter brilliance or if it's horrible.
For a moment, Danny stared at the charcoal drawing. At his charcoal drawing. "You bought a piece of my work?" he asked unsteadily.
Mr. Lancer nodded, "At the museum the other day, it struck me for some reason. Why the pseudonym?"
"I didn't want attention." The reply was soft and muffled, as Danny's gaze was directed at his feet rather than at his teacher.
Abruptly Danny stiffened, a blue mist coming out of his mouth.
I've seen that before. Lancer realized in surprise. It happened to Phantom before Skulker showed up, and to Danny that day in the mall with the snake-ghost . . . The connection clicked.
"Anyway, Mr. Fenton," he said, hoping he sounded casual. "I'm sure you'd like to get back to your friends."
Relief showed in the teen's eyes. "Yeah, see you Mr. Lancer!"
And Danny Fenton ran out the door.
How many times? How many excuses made up for the sake of keeping people safe? Mr Lancer stared at the door, shaking his head in wonder.
"Good luck, Mr. Phantom."
It was with no small bit of relief that Mr. Lancer stepped into his English class first period in the afternoon. Good to have that taken care of.
Sam, Tucker and Danny were sitting in their customary corner, busily whispering over something. Given that they weren't sending him strange looks, Lancer assumed it was about the ghost that had attacked during lunch.
Phantom had taken care of it.
And now Danny was sitting in class, a little worse for the wear, but grinning triumphantly and enjoying the company of his friends.
He was still a teenager after all.
Mr. Lancer laid down the pile of papers he'd brought with him, and calmly erased the chalkboard while the last few stranglers made their way into the room.
When class started, Lancer handed back the now marked creative writing assignments, commenting that he'd been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work, and giving Danny an encouraging smile when he handed back the poem the boy had written about Sam.
He really ought to just tell her that he loves her.
"Well, now that we're finished with that, it's time to give you your next assignment."
The predictable groans and complaining came from the class, not phasing the experienced teacher in the least.
"We're doing something a little different this time. There is a local issues component to this course, and since this is Amity Park, I've decided that you guys get to write a research paper on either a specific ghost or a ghost related topic."
That gained some interest from the class.
"Ooh!" Paulina's hand shot up immediately, Mr. Lancer ignored her.
"You'll be doing this in groups of three or four that I will assign. I will also be assigning the topic, so you can put your hand down Ms. Sanchez."
Picking up his list, Mr. Lancer began to read off the groups and their topic.
Danny, he was happy to note, looked interested, if vaguely amused by the assignment. There was no worry in his expression, so he probably hadn't figured out that Lancer knew his biggest secret.
It had occurred to Lancer that perhaps he should have told Danny what he knew. It was certainly tempting since then he could ask all the questions that were burning in the back of his mind.
But he'd thought about it, and had come to the conclusion that he was, first and foremost, Danny's teacher. And he owed Danny, and Danny's classmates, an obligation that he knew himself incapable of completing if he was closer to the situation.
Maybe after Danny had graduated he could confront the young man and offer his help and his friendship. But right now, in this time and this place, he couldn't be Danny's friend.
Not that it meant he couldn't do small things.
"Samantha Manson, Tucker Foley and Danny Fenton. You'll be doing your report on Danny Phantom." Lancer barely managed to hold back a laugh at the look of glee and amusement shared by the three friends.
Besides, Mr. Lancer was a fan of irony.