A short story in four parts, examining Danny's relationship to the human race.
Part one revised 2/14/08
Masks: The Punishment
A Danny Phantom Fanfiction by Cordria
One of the masks was the human face that he showed to the world. Clumsy and
average, this mask was nothing special. He was the kid that sat in the back of
the room, got bullied by those who were above him, and dreamed of nothing more
than being 'popular' and scraping through school. He messed up his hair
and stared at his shoes. If anything important came along, he made sure to be as
far from it as possible. Nobody paid much attention him. This mask worked very
hard to con people into believing he wasn't worth paying any attention to.
Edward Lancer sank into his chair, staring at the boy who was, by far, his most frustrating student. Most of the student body – and most of the faculty – thought that he despised young Daniel Fenton. He knew that he came across as being rather harsh on Daniel when it came to punishments and consequences… but hated him? That was about as far from the truth as anyone could get.
He could still remember the Daniel that had walked into sixth grade. Lancer had been doing a stint as a long-term substitute and the scruffy eleven-year-old had quickly become one of his favorite students. While the young boy hadn't been extremely talented when it came to school work, he had been smart and eager to learn. Lancer had immediately seen something of himself in Daniel's sparkling eyes and had never forgotten him.
When Daniel had finally appeared at his door for his ninth grade year, he had seen a very similar student – all the way down to the messy hair, untied tennis shoes, and the genuine desire to learn. For the first few weeks of school, Daniel Fenton had been the sixth grader that Lancer remembered so fondly. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, Daniel changed. He became a behavior problem; skipping school, refusing to do his homework, and getting caught in the middle almost every mess.
Lancer had responded exactly how experience told him to respond. Set limits, set consequences, stick with them; the more freedom he gets, the more defiant and wayward he will become. Edward Lancer worked hard to find time in his busy schedule to keep tabs on his remembered student, watching Daniel very carefully and doling out consequences as needed. Every time he handed out another detention, he hoped it would be the last. He wished that Daniel would get it through his head to just behave and do what he was asked.
But it never was the last detention. Each time he held out that pink slip of paper or the latest bad grade, he watched the sad frustration grow in his pupil's eyes and Lancer felt a small part of him crumble. He knew within months that Daniel's problem was not a normal teenage problem. He could see it in the set of Daniel's shoulders as he quietly accepted the consequences like it was something beyond his control. He could see it in the sympathy of his friends when they found out. Lancer's solution of limits and consequences wasn't going to work.
Without any other ideas, Lancer kept up with it, crossing his fingers that Daniel would snap out of it and be back to his happy-go-lucky former self. For a year, Daniel quietly accepted whatever was given to him. For a year, Lancer quietly struggled with the fact that his student would be in detention nearly every day… and he hadn't done a thing about it but watch.
Today, about a month into Daniel's sophomore year of high school, that was all going to change. No more sitting quietly and watching. This was why Edward Lancer was sitting in his favorite chair, staring at his most frustrating student and waiting for an answer to his question.
"I'm fine, Mr. Lancer."
That was the same answer he'd gotten the previous seven tries at asking what was wrong. At least the boy was consistent. "If you were fine, Mr. Fenton, you wouldn't have skipped my class today. If you were fine, I would have let you go home already."
"Come on." Daniel's blue eyes flicked up to the clock impatiently. "School got out almost fifteen minutes ago. Can I leave?"
"No." Lancer folded his arms and settled back into his ancient chair, wincing when it groaned. "You can leave when you tell me the truth."
Daniel's incredulous expression almost made the teacher burst out laughing. "You can't keep me here forever!"
Lancer let a tired grin cross his face. He had the distinct feeling that this was going to be a long night. But, hopefully, it would be well worth it in the end. "I've already called your parents. They're okay with you having pizza for supper, should this last that long, and the phone number for Pizza 'Spress is on a sticky note by the phone." He grinned, an almost menacing tone entering his voice. "My wife will drop off sleeping bags and breakfast, need be."
With a shudder – most likely at the thought of having to suffer through a sleepover with a teacher, Lancer figured – Daniel pleaded, "But it's Friday."
"And tomorrow's Saturday, and, if I'm not mistaken, the day after that is Sunday. Believe me, I have lots better things to do than sit here. So just answer my question and we can all get back to whatever we wanted to do."
Daniel sank back into his chair. "This can't possibly be legal. You can't keep me here."
"Oh, it is and I can. This definitely isn't something I do for all my students, but your parents and I need to understand what's wrong. Desperate times call for desperate measures." Lancer raised one eyebrow. "So… what's wrong?"
Edward Lancer ignored the emphatic answer and turned his chair towards his computer to open up his email, biting back a groan when there were no new messages to waste time reading. "When you're ready to talk, give me a holler."
"There's nothing to tell!" Daniel glared daggers at his teacher in a fashion on teenagers could pull off. "This is pointless."
Lancer got out of his chair and walked around his desk. "When was the last time you told me the truth, Mr. Fenton?" There was no rancor in his voice, no blaming. It was just a simple question, asking for a simple answer. "When was the last time you vanished from my classroom and didn't come back with a lie and an excuse?"
Daniel crossed his arms and turned his head away. "I'm fine."
"It's been a long time," the teacher said. "I almost got used to the idea of you lying to me all the time. I almost got used to the fact that you vanish without warning and come back looking like you just tried out for the Olympic wrestling team. That's why you're here." Lancer walked over to the bookcase and pulled a small book off the shelf before returning to his desk. "You're here because I almost stopped caring."
For a second, Daniel looked off balance, but then he rolled his eyes and settled deeper into the chair. "I don't have to talk to you."
"No," Lancer let out a slow breath as he opened his book, "you don't. But I don't have to let you leave, so we're even."
Lancer had his feet propped up on his desk as he stared down at the page of his book, completely captivated by the story of a young man struggling to learn to do what he did every day. How this man captured his students' attention and got them to do some real writing was fascinating. Lancer had to literally pull teeth to get even a random string of sentences out of his apathetic students.
I studied my students' faces. If anyone was having an epiphany, it wasn't obvious. There was no swelling music, as there would be in a movie, no close-up zooms of faces filled with awe. The most I could see was that I had their full attention – or, more accurately, that islands did. I seized the moment. In a quiet voice, so as not to break the spell, I said, "Take out a sheet of paper, please. I'd like you each to write a poem. Make your first line 'If I were an island…' Then go on to describe an island you might be. Would you be deserted? Would there be animals? Magic? Strange, sweet music? Would it have—"
CLANG CLANG CLANG.
Damn damn damn: a fire drill.
Lancer grinned at the unfortunate timing, glancing up to make sure Daniel was still in the room. It'd been so quiet the past forty-five minutes, he had to keep glancing up to make sure the boy hadn't snuck out of the room. But Daniel was just continuing to stare quietly at the wall, his eyes unfocused and his mind obviously a million miles away.
In his own mind, Edward Lancer chalked up another item on the list of 'strange' about the fifteen-year-old. It was completely… wrong… for a teenager to sit so silently and so perfectly still for this long. A normal student would be fidgeting and bored, wanting to talk and complain, looking for something to do to stay busy.
Daniel was just sitting. Staring.
Shaking his head very slightly, Lancer ripped his eyes away from his very odd student. After a year of incorrect guesses, assumptions gone wrong, and dead-end circles with his thoughts, he wasn't even going to take a guess as to what was wrong with the boy anymore. He would just wait. And wait, and wait, and wait if he needed to.
Biting back a sigh, he rolled his stiffening neck and buried himself back in his book. Daniel Fenton couldn't stay quiet forever.
CLANG CLANG CLANG.
In frustration, I gently banged my forehead on the blackboard, Charlie Brown style…
Sticking a bookmark into the page, Lancer quietly set his book down and stretched with a soft groan. He was getting too old to stay sitting in the ancient chair in his office for this length of time. He glanced up at his young charge and wrinkled his forehead in confusion. Daniel was still lost in how own little world – to all extents and purposes the boy hadn't moved a muscle in a little over two hours.
"What do you want on your half of the pizza?" he asked, blinking in surprise when Daniel flinched at the sudden noise, his head whipping around and his whole body tensing. For just a split second, his eyes… flashed?
"What?" The boy shook his head slightly before relaxing and focusing on his teacher.
Lancer studied his student for a moment. That reaction was… His thoughts trailed off and he just let it drop with a small sigh and repeated himself. "What do you want on the pizza?"
Daniel raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You're actually going to follow through with it? You're going to keep me here until I tell you this big 'secret'?" He brought his hands up for a set of those infamous air quotes. "Even though I've said a few times now that there isn't one?"
Lancer shook his head, unwilling to get dragged into an argument. "Pizza?"
"Pepperoni and pineapple, please."
As he reached over to grab the phone, Lancer felt a small smile stretch his lips. "Excellent alliteration."
"Do I want to know what that is?" Daniel grumbled sourly as he recrossed his arms and slumped lower in his chair.
"All the 'P's." Lancer glanced at him as he dialed for the number for Pizza 'Spress, blinking in surprise when the smallest of smiles flickered across Danny's face.
"Yup, I didn't want to know," he mumbled.
Lancer watched his student return to blankly staring at the wall while he ordered the pizza – half pepperoni and pineapple and half sausage. Quietly hanging up the phone, he decided it was time to make a move. Two hours of silence was testing his patience. He needed to get Daniel to admit to something.
After a few minutes of contemplating, Edward Lancer picked his plan of attack. For a brief moment, he wondered if he'd actually be able to pull it off. In the world of misdirection and the theater he wasn't considered anywhere near 'good'. But he jumped into his idea feet first and ran with it. "You're a very good actor," Lancer said softly.
Daniel blinked and shot him a surprised look. "I'm not an actor."
"Yes, you are." Lancer picked up his book and propped his feet up. He bit his lip to prevent himself from looking up or giving Daniel any sort of idea that he was paying extremely close attention to the boy's reaction to his next words. "You act very hyper and defiant, but you're really not. You act stupid and clumsy, when I know you're not." Hiding his smile behind his book, Lancer added one last sentence very softly, "You act very normal…"
"What's that supposed to mean!" Daniel jumped out of his chair, his face a strange combination of pale white and angry red. "I'm normal."
"That's the problem, Mr. Fenton. You go out of your way to be normal. You're the most 'normal' kid in school, with the exception of skipping class all the time. You're so normal that it's got to be an act." Lancer continued to stare down at the page he wasn't really reading, ignoring the fuming teenager.
Daniel mumbled darkly to himself for a few minutes as Lancer absently turned the page and continued to stare at the flowing words. "So what?" the boy finally said. "Everybody wants to be normal. So what if I'm trying and succeeding? What's the big deal?"
With a shrug, Lancer said, "You're just incredibly good at it. So good, that you can completely hide whatever it is that wrong with you."
"Not good enough, apparently."
"No, not quite." Lancer glanced up from his book to study his student for a moment, internally cheering at the fact that Daniel had finally revealed that there at least was something he was hiding. Daniel looked a little lost, struggling to figure out what to do next. "All I want, Mr. Fenton, is the truth."
Daniel silently shook his head.
"Then I'll wait. I have plenty of books to read."
"What do you want from me?" Daniel Fenton asked softly. He reached down and grabbed a slice of his half of the pizza, carefully picking off all the pineapple pieces and eating them first.
Lancer raised an eyebrow at the odd behavior, but shrugged it off. "I want the truth. I've already said that."
"But what if I can't tell you anything?" Daniel didn't look up from his slice of pizza. "Are you seriously going to keep me here forever?" His eyes flickered up for a second. "It'll be torture, but I'm sure I can last out a simple weekend."
"Would it help if I promised that nothing you told me would leave this room?" Lancer took a big bite of his own pizza slice.
Daniel looked at his teacher through his unruly hair. "Nothing? Even if, say, my life was in danger?"
Edward Lancer froze for a half-second before returning to slowly chewing. His mind was reeling with the implications of that simple question. Was Daniel implying that his life was at risk? What could this young boy have gotten into that would come to that? What in the world was he going to do if Daniel's life really was in danger? Was Daniel telling him this as a plea for help? "Is it?"
To Lancer, the silence coming out of Daniel was telling. The teacher was scrambling backwards with his thoughts. He had gone into this figuring it was just some kind of simple teenage thing… but perhaps he needed to call a professional. A therapist, or a councilor, or, at the very least, the police.
Daniel shook his head after a very long moment, but Lancer wasn't completely convinced. Daniel had hesitated for too long. Something was wrong with the boy, something that was very important. Watching Daniel quietly continue to eat his half of the pizza with his eyes fixed firmly anywhere but on his teacher, Lancer strengthened his resolve.
Daniel Fenton was not going to leave this office until Lancer knew exactly what was going on.
To be continued…
Disclaimer: I do not own the show 'Danny Phantom' and I am making no profit off of this story other than my own self-gratification.
Quotes in the story are excerpted from 'I am a Pencil', written by Sam Shore. It is a story about a teacher, his kids, and their world of stories. I don't own that either, but I do own a copy of the book and helped myself to one of the better sections. Lancer needed something to read and I figured a book about teaching kids to write would be… appropriate.
Thanks for all the reviews! I love you guys.