Final Exam
A Danny Phantom FanFiction by Cordria

Dear Journal –

It was the day I had been waiting for: final exam day. My stomach twisted slightly and a grin split my face this morning as I thought about how close summer was, and how easy grading final exams this year would be. I'm rather intelligent, if I do say so myself. I came up with a killer plan to keep me from having to read, and then grade, each of them. Most would probably be abysmal, as per usual, full of simple grammar errors and a lack of personality.

My plan? Reading them aloud. Students would come up to the front of the room and read their papers to their peers. This not only kept me from stumbling through a maze of "there, their, and they're"s, but it gave the students work at those annoying public speaking standards the state was constantly shoving down my throat. Of course, all the students knew that they were going to be reading them aloud. They had planned accordingly, or so I hoped.

Life was wonderful for most of the day. We managed to get through nearly half of the papers in each class. I had, without spending any of my time on it, graded each of the papers as they were being read. The topic left something to be desired… but that was something I couldn't help. It was a district exam, with a district-appointed topic, and needed to be graded via district-approved guidelines.

The topic this year was traumatic events. It was depressing at times. I began to wonder, some time around fourth period, if the students were vying for having the most sappy, angst-filled, tear-jerker of a story. Most of it, I'm sure, was made up. Some of it I know was made up. One guy in my fifth period managed to blow up his family twice in his paper – after he had already drowned them.

But then seventh period came. I had been hoping this one student of mine would pull his normal disappearing act and not show up today. I had, actually, been praying for it. The student's name was Daniel Fenton. He had the title of being my most confusing, frustrating, and hopeful student.

There was very little I knew about Danny. His family was supportive and pro-school, but yet he seemed to get no sleep at night. Danny seemed to like school and tried hard, but he skipped out so often. He was also very smart; always ready with a sarcastic quip or pun. I wasn't supposed to know that – he tried really hard to look like a normal, average student – but I eavesdropped on his conversations with his friends. I felt no moral compunction about it. He was usually sitting in my class while he was doing it… while I was trying to teach him something.

However, about three months ago, Danny was kidnapped. His family and friends were frantic, and there was no sign of him anywhere. Everybody had finally given him up for dead when he showed back up. Where he was, nobody really knew and nobody would say. Then again, nobody but Danny knows what he went through. He won't talk to me or the councilor at all. His family and his friends know very little about what happened. His older sister, Jazz, has come to talk to me a few times over the past few weeks about how scared she is. She thinks Danny is bottling things up inside, refusing to talk about it. He refuses to cry, she says, he refuses to feel anything.

Two weeks after he somehow found his way back into our lives, Danny came back to school. It was more for socialization than for schoolwork. All of the teachers knew that. There was only a few weeks of school left anyway. He needed to relearn how to deal with people. But the more people were around him, asking him what was wrong, the more Danny seemed to pull in to himself, trying to lose himself.

I could see signs in Danny every time I looked at him. He was slowly unraveling, his eyes had lost their brilliant shine and he rarely smiled. His ready quips and sarcastic eye-rolls were absent. He seemed to stop caring about everything. He would just sit in that desk, staring straight ahead, not even noticing when Sam or Tucker would drop a note onto his desk. He just stared.

When I had finally found out about this year's topic for final exams, my heart had all but stopped at the thought of Danny Fenton. He was suffering so much still… I'm not completely heartless, no matter what my students may think, so I cheated. Ever so slightly. I gave Danny a different topic to write about. I had hoped he wouldn't notice. Or, if he did, that he either wouldn't care or would be happy about writing something different.

As I started the exams that fateful seventh period, I kept a close eye on Danny. He had his paper, neatly typed, upside down on his desk. He stared out the window then entire time, not seeming to notice the emotionally-charged stories being read aloud. I relaxed, listening more carefully to each of the exams as they were being read.

This class surprised me. They weren't being overly dramatic and weren't focusing on rather petty topics. Well… on the whole. Ms. Sanchez did write a rather eloquent, seven-page tirade about the one day that she and some "loser-Goth" had shown up wearing the same shirt, managing to detail no less than nine reasons why that was one of the most traumatic moments of her life. Mr. Baxter managed to squeak through his exam with a simple description of losing a football game. Even Ms. Manson pulled a decent grade after writing a short story about how her parents were ruining her life.

When it was Danny's turn, he walked up to the front of the room rather slowly. I didn't know what to expect from him. He hadn't spoken up in my class since his return to school. His friends were sharing nervous looks and whispering to each other. From what I could overhear, neither of them knew what Danny's exam was about. That made my heart skip a beat. What could he have written about that he hadn't told those two about?

When he reached the front of the class, Danny turned to look at us. The entire class was dead silent. Nobody knew what Danny was about to say, but most of them were hoping it was about those missing two months. He glanced up at me, smiled ever-so-slightly, and then held up his paper and began to read.

Within seconds, it was completely evident that he had disregarded my changed topic. He was reading his story… a story about what had happened to him during his capture. I should have stopped him the minute I figured it out. But I couldn't. I was transfixed.

I will never forget watching him stand up in front of class and read that paper aloud. His voice was soft, almost raspy with disuse, and he spoke unhurriedly and methodically. His hands never trembled, his feet never shifted uneasily, and his eyes never stopped their deliberate tracking from left to right as he read. He just stood there, reading his paper, seemingly as relaxed and sure of himself as if he was reading a story about dragons and wizards. Nobody in class moved from the moment that Danny started to read. Nobody even breathed, or so it felt.

I listened, captured by the words and the images, as Danny told of a short segment of his ordeal. One fight… described brilliantly through words and emotions. At one point, I'm not sure when, Danny's head came up, his cool, blue eyes gazing out at the class as he recited his paper from memory. I know he was looking at his two friends, who were sitting in the back of the room, hands over their mouths, faces pale. He was confessing a small portion of what he had gone through. Not to the class. Not to me. To them. This was the only way he could come up with the courage to do it.

As he was finishing up his fight, I tore my eyes off of him to scan the class. Sam and Tucker looked like they were either going to pass out or leap out of their seats, their eyes wide as they digested the information. Some of the students in the classroom, including Valerie, were wiping tears from their eyes. The football stars had their gazes locked on Danny, shaking their heads slightly, uncomprehending. Even Paulina was staring up at him, her hand over her mouth, listening carefully.

A shiver passed through the room as he wrapped up his paper. He told about all the lives that had been forfeited at his hands, a short overview of everything that he had done to survive. I could feel the pain, the torture, and the anguish that made his voice crack for the first time since he started to read. Finally, he dropped his hands to his sides, his blue eyes tearing up as he was unable to look at the class anymore. His voice dropped from his soft speaking tone to a hoarse whisper as he finished his paper, staring at the floor.

The ending of his paper will haunt my nightmares. Danny, standing utterly defeated in the front of the room, tears dripping down his cheeks, his voice harsh with remembered pain. The awful silence of the room. Danny, speaking that last sentence, barely getting it out. "And those eyes will be with me for the rest of my life." I will never forget that line.

His paper dropped out of his hands, Sam and Tucker flying out of their seats to catch him as he collapsed, sobbing, to the floor. Unable to move, the rest of the class and I watched in disbelief as the two of them led the poor teenager out of the room. For nearly a minute, we were all perfectly still, staring dazedly at the spot where Danny had been standing.

I should have done something. I should have been teacher-ish for Danny and his friends. I know that. But at the time, my brain wasn't working. All I could do was stand there, trying to process what I had just found out. When my mind finally clicked back into gear, the only thing I could think of was the fact that final exams were done for the day. I couldn't focus and nobody else would be able to either. The students were assigned to read for the remainder of the period – I don't even care that few of them did.

I walked to the front of the room, stopped for a second in the place where he had been standing, gazing at the small wet spots on the floor where his tears had fallen. I bent down and picked up his paper. Then, I walked over to my desk and sat down, placing the neatly typed paper in front of me, my mind blank.

I never noticed when the bell rang. I didn't know my students were gone. The next time I looked up, it was well over an hour since the end of school. But I made no move to get up, I did not leave. I just sat there – staring at my most confusing student's paper.

Now what? Danny will probably not be in school tomorrow. He had found a way to open up and share the emotions that were tearing him apart on the inside. He had found a way to get the help he needed. For that, I am glad. But it left me with a million questions.

How do you deal with a student that has been forced to kill? A child that had been beaten, tortured, locked up, and forced to commit atrocities that ran against his very being? What kind of torment had Danny been going through this past month… keeping all of those emotions locked inside of him? Perhaps they had been too much to bear. They were too painful and too overwhelming, so he didn't even want to try.

Unable to answer my questions, sending a silent prayer that Danny wouldn't try and attend school tomorrow, I finally packed up my bag and stood up to leave. As I was pushing my chair in, my clipboard was jostled off of its pile of papers and clattered to the floor. I picked it up, a new question picking at my mind as I stared down at the half-finished final evaluation clipped to it.

How was I going to grade this particular student's work? Hesitating, I picked up Danny's paper, staring down at the title page. I shook my head, laughing slightly. Of all the problems in the world, this was rather trivial. That's my lot in life, I suppose. Danny would need to deal with his problems on his own. Of course, I would be there for him no matter what – and I would make sure he knew that. But I needed to deal with my problems… and this was one of them.

I bit my lip. This paper didn't deserve a grade. Not one that I could give. You cannot give a paper that he had obviously poured his heart and soul in to something as simple as a grade. For Danny, it had been his release, his plea for help, and his first step towards controlling his future and making a better life for himself. It was more than a paper; it was more than simple words on a page.

I very carefully set my student's work down on my desk. I would send it home with Jazz next time I saw her. I wasn't supposed to return these exams – but this was not something I could keep.

Then, without a second thought, I pulled Danny's half-finished evaluation off of the clipboard, crinkled it up into a tiny ball, and tossed it into the trash.

I still do not own Danny Phantom.

I managed to write an entire Lancer-based chapter without using one book-related comment. Interesting.

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