EXTRA special thanks to Obi-Quiet, who beta-ed the chapter and kicked me into finishing this. Also, lots of thanks go out to everyone on DA who's been helping me with my various issues I've been having and to DannyPhantomFreeek, who has sent me more PMs, reviews, and emails to get this chapter up than anyone can guess.
And now, for the fourth and final chapter.
A Danny Phantom FanFiction by Cordria
The Way Out
They were, in the end, merely masks; they covered up the true being inside.
It hid a boy that had been tortured by one of the only people on the planet that
would have ever truly understood him. A boy that feared his own shadow and his
own future. A mere child whose free will had been ripped from him as he had
been forced to do things he hated. A young man that was hunted by those who
should have cared for him the most. A creature that wasn't really human… wasn't
really a ghost… and didn't quite understand everything that happened around him.
Edward Lancer chuckled softly to himself, shaking his head at the thought. Danny Phantom – the famous ghost of Amity Park – and Danny Fenton: what a strange combination. Aside from the rather obvious similarities in name and appearance, the two couldn't have been more different: one was brave and cocky, willing to do just about anything since his 'life' wasn't on the line and the other was shy, quiet, and ran away at the slightest hint of anything supernatural. The two of them having anything in common? He couldn't believe the thought had managed to germinate in his head. Lancer was usually more down-to-Earth than that.
Allowing himself a mental eye roll at the strange ideas he was having and chalking the whole thing up to a lack of sleep, Lancer clicked onto his wife's email. He skimmed through it for a moment, grinning slightly at her good morning wishes before a small flutter on his desk caught his eye – the pieces of paper Daniel had given him earlier shifting in a slight breeze.
Lancer blinked, having almost forgotten about them. They'd been Daniel's way of trying to get his attention, trying to tell him what was wrong. Lancer's eyes narrowed a little as he contemplated the crumpled bits of paper. Everyone in the world had different faces and different masks that they showed to the world. Daniel had just taken it to an extreme.
Why? That was the question circling around in Lancer's head. Daniel's sister, Jasmine, knew about this strange facet to the teenager's personality as well, apparently. Lancer sighed softly as that idea bloomed in his mind. She had to have known in order to get him to make these. But she either didn't think it was too big a concern or she didn't know the extent of it.
Daniel… Lancer reached over and picked them up, shuffling them around to read them. It was obvious to the overweight teacher that his student was terrified of him finding out the answers to his questions. Daniel didn't want anyone to know what was wrong… or at least that's what he continued to say. His actions said otherwise, Lancer figured. Daniel hadn't gotten up to leave, hadn't walked out, hadn't come up with a handful of lies like he usually did. It was just as obvious, at least to the teacher, that Daniel wanted him to figure it out. Too many clues had been dropped, too many half-spoken ideas, too many frustrated hours of silence.
For some reason, Daniel either didn't want or didn't know how to tell him. It was up to Lancer to set his mind to the task and figure it out.
A small grin flickered onto his face as he smoothed out one of the pieces of paper. He'd always been a bit of a fan of mysteries. What in A New Earth's name would get you this scared? It can't just be that ghost hunting thing – your parents do that and I'm sure you wouldn't hide it from them if it were simply that. This has definitely got something to do with ghosts and the supernatural though, that much I know for sure. What would cause you to want to hide something from your parents and then stick with your secret so strongly that you'd be willing to spend all weekend with me?
And it's not just that… Lancer sighed softly. Why would you create these different masks? What does that gain you?
The thrill of having a mystery to solve had faded almost as quickly as it had arrived. This wasn't some book, or some story, or some movie. This was a real teenager he was dealing with. Can I figure this out or should I just give this up and turn this whole thing over to a psychologist – a real one? Daniel's obviously got some serious problems and I'm not anywhere near qualified to deal with it. It's just… I wish he'd talk to me. I've gotten so much out of him already; he could tell me more. I know he can.
But why? Why make one 'mask' brave and cocky and one quiet and shy? Lancer froze as his own thoughts led him in a circle. Wait a minute…
…Aside from the rather obvious similarities in name and appearance, the two couldn't have been more different. Phantom was brave and cocky, willing to do just about anything since his 'life' wasn't on the line. Daniel was shy and quiet and ran away at the slightest hint of anything supernatural…
No way, that can't be. Can it? The coincidence…
"Danny…?" Looking up, Lancer stared straight at the chair that held his most confusing student, a question bubbling on his lips. Do you really have something to do with Phantom?
Or, at least the chair used to hold him. It was empty. In fact, there was no one else in the room besides himself. Daniel was gone.
Lancer was starting to get worried. It'd been nearly an hour since Daniel had disappeared mysteriously from his office and there was still no sign of the teenager. He'd been all over the school, checking in almost every room – again – but hadn't found a hint of life. Add that to the fact that Lancer was slowly becoming more convinced that Danny Fenton and Danny Phantom were somehow connected, and Lancer was getting very concerned about his student.
It made an insane sort of sense – something impossible and right out of a comic book, but it explained too much to be ignored. Phantom was a powerful ghost, hunted by most of the living world and the ghost world. He also vanished without a trace on a daily basis. Hiding inside of a human was a theory that had come up multiple times over the past few months to explain where Phantom vanished to. No one had ever been able to prove it, however. And even though search had ended up nowhere, the rather popular theory persisted.
Phantom… hiding in Daniel? If Daniel was trying to somehow protect Phantom, it would explain quite a bit. It'd explain the disappearance last night – Daniel was helping Phantom. It'd explain why he didn't want to tell his parents. It'd explain the fear of his parents knowing about his ghost hunting. It'd even explain the various masks. Daniel Fenton had garnered a reputation over the past year as being one of the clumsiest and least-like-Phantom people at school.
One mask that was Phantom, one mask that was Daniel trying to hide the fact that Phantom was inside of him, and one mask for when he was around his friends – they must have known about Phantom for a long time and he could be more like himself. And then there was the fourth personality… Daniel's real personality. Something hidden from everyone in the world.
But why? Why would Daniel hide his own personality from everyone?
Lancer stepped into the gymnasium, his eyes sweeping the morning shadows in search of a Daniel-shaped form. He gritted his teeth in frustration when he saw nothing. Adding to the complexity of this search was the fact that Phantom (if he really was inside of Daniel) might have turned both of them invisible. The boy could be following him around and Lancer would never know it.
He sighed loudly and turned to leave. There were thousands of questions flooding through Lancer's mind, but there was only one thing that needed to be answered. Was Daniel allowing Phantom to be part of him or was Phantom controlling him somehow? Was the whole situation a choice on Daniel's part or not?
The thought that Phantom could be forcing Daniel to help him left a sour taste in Lancer's mouth as he stalked across the gym towards the doors leading into the other half of the school. If Phantom were somehow controlling Daniel – had such a power over the boy that Daniel was afraid of everyone finding out – Lancer's off-the-cuff realization could have put the boy at risk. Phantom might have been keeping Daniel safe only as long as their partnership remained a secret. Daniel could be in very serious trouble.
Of course, Lancer didn't think that Phantom was really all that evil, not after all was said and done. But Phantom was a ghost, and ghosts were notorious for doing whatever benefited them at the moment – often at the expense of the human population around them. There was the very real possibility that Phantom could be hurting Daniel and either not know or not care.
His fingers closed around the door leading to the other hallway, but some instinct Lancer couldn't name tickled the back of his neck and he hesitated, turning around. It was almost like he was missing something. On not much more than a whim, he looked up into the shadowed rafters.
"Daniel," he whispered when he saw a slim figure lounging about half-way across the gym, sitting on a beam dozens of feet above the ground.
The figure moved, glancing down towards the teacher almost like he'd heard his name being called. For a long moment Lancer held still, staring up at his student, wondering what to do next. Was Daniel stuck up there? Could he get down? Lancer was trying to remember if he knew where the ladder was kept when Daniel abruptly vanished.
Taking a startled step forwards, Lancer opened his mouth to call out to his student, but Daniel simply materialized in front of him. One second there was nothing, the next second a pair of blue eyes were staring straight at him, annoyance apparent in his expression. "What?" the boy asked sourly.
"How did…" Lancer's eyes flickered from the rafters back to Daniel's face. Then he shook his head, tossing the question out of his mind. I was right… Phantom just made him vanish… and… fly? No. Don't think about it, Edward, or you'll drive yourself crazy. Get back to what you need to know. Think it through later. Come on, you can do it. "Are you okay?"
Daniel blinked, his forehead furrowing in confusion. "What?" he asked again, this time with less frustration in his voice.
"Are you okay?" Lancer repeated firmly, focusing fiercely on making sure his student wasn't in any danger from Phantom and not allowing himself to think about anything else. "You're not hurt?"
A small, hesitant smile flickered across Daniel's face. "No, I'm fine," he said after a moment. "Why?"
Lancer relaxed a little, even though a small part of his mind wondered if Daniel was telling him the truth. "I was worried," Lancer said. "You disappeared on me."
"Sorry." Daniel studied him for a moment. "Are you okay, Mr. Lancer? You look… pale."
With a nod, Lancer sighed. He was so confused by what was going on he felt pale. But Daniel was safe, at least. He's okay. But now what do I do? The teacher gazed at his student dazedly for a moment before coming to a decision. Buy yourself some time to get your mind around this and come up with a plan. "I'm going back to my office. May I remind you, Daniel, that you can't leave the school until you explain what in The Lord of the Ring's name is going on." Turning on his heal, Lancer started down the hallway.
"That's it?" Daniel's voice was incredulous.
Lancer didn't turn around; he just nodded. I hope I'm doing the right thing. "When you're ready to talk, I'm ready to listen. Until then, I'll wait."
When his feet hit the stairs leading him back up to his office, Lancer allowed himself to stop and close his eyes, the full enormity of that short conversation crashing down on him. I was right. I… was right. That's… Phantom and Fenton – in the same person. What do I do now?
Oh, God… What do I do now?
It had been nearly three hours since Edward Lancer had found his student hiding in the rafters of the gymnasium. Three hours of chewing his fingernails and staring at the computer screen, not reading a word. He was, if his mind would stop whirling around in circles long enough to realize it, driving himself crazy.
His fingers strayed over to the phone for the nineteenth time, tapping gently against the handset. I should call the Fentons. But what would I tell them? I don't know anything. His hand slowly retreated, confused energy making him pick up a pencil and twirl it back and forth. Daniel and Phantom – how did that ever happen, anyways? How come the Fentons never picked up on it? Don't they have all that ghost hunting stuff?
This is so unfair. Lancer struggled with that thought for a moment before letting it wash over his mind. Why did I have to be the one to figure this out? Why couldn't it have been someone else? What am I supposed to do about this?
With nothing but questions circling around in his mind, Lancer could do nothing but wait for Daniel to show up. He'd tried to come up with some sort of logical reason for Daniel and Phantom's partnership, but he really didn't have enough information. It hadn't taken more than a few minutes for him to realize that endless conjecturing and theorizing wasn't going to get him anywhere. Until he knew some basic information, all he could do was wonder and wait.
Danny Fenton and Danny Phantom. My student is collaborating with the town's hero-bent poltergeist. Never in a million years would I have guessed that.
The knock on the door startled him. For a brief instant, Lancer wondered who it could be, then mentally smacked his head. "Come in, Daniel." He quickly arranged his face into something other than the confused expression he'd been wearing for the past three hours and steepled his fingers, taking a deep breath. Be calm, be cool. Listen. Don't just… oh, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Phantom walked straight through the door and stood on the other side of the office, his effervescent emerald eyes glittering in the soft shadows. He wasn't really standing, since his feet weren't touching the ground, but it was probably as close to standing as the ghost could come.
Lancer pressed his fingers against his mouth and visibly swallowed down the questions that were about to jump out of him. He just quirked an eyebrow instead, inviting the ghost to talk. The world's most powerful ghost – who just happens to hide inside one of my students – is in my office. Phantom is in my office. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants… what have I gotten myself in to? Where's Daniel?
Taking a few 'steps' forwards, Phantom licked his lips. "See," he said quickly, "I've never had to explain this before, so I'm not sure what to say." He broke off, his eyes drifting around the room.
Lancer, still not trusting himself to speak, gestured with his hand towards the chair Daniel had vacated.
"I'm…" Phantom paused for a moment as a strange light appeared around his hand. It bubbled and fizzled, Phantom's skin seeming to evaporate away in the air. Lancer watched in confusion (and a little fear) as the light enveloped Phantom in a set of what looked like rings. When it died away, Daniel dropped to the ground, the supernatural light of Phantom's eyes still glittering in his blue gaze for a moment before it died away. "…Phantom," he concluded.
Lancer was glad his fingers were pressed against his lips – otherwise his mouth would have dropped open. What… the… Inwardly, his stomach was clenching and his mind was writhing in confusion. Outwardly, he just continued to gaze at his student. Daniel… Phantom… Danny… They're… How?
Daniel shifted his weight on his feet, sliding into the chair. "I got into an accident in my parents' lab when I was fourteen. Remember – I was out of school for a few days?" He smiled a little, his grin fading when Lancer didn't return it. His teacher was too confused to try for any facial expression other than his current blank one. "I got zapped by my parents' ghost portal; I was inside it when it turned on. Ectoplasm got superglued to my DNA… I'm kind of a half-ghost or something."
It took a moment of silence, but Lancer finally eased his fingers away from his lips. "So, you and Phantom are one person." It wasn't really a question, but Daniel nodded anyways. That doesn't make any sense, Lancer groused to himself. How can Daniel – my clumsy, peaceful, caring Daniel – be the fighter that saved all of Amity Park?
"See," Daniel pushed himself back out of the chair, nervously grabbing those small pieces of paper off of Lancer's desk. "These are me – well, parts of me. Fenton," he said, holding out the paper with an 'F', "Phantom," he added, digging out the one labeled 'P', "and Danny," he finished, the paper with a 'D' being set on top of them. He shuffled them between his fingers anxiously. "I don't want anyone to know. Please, Mr. Lancer, I don't know how you figured it out but you can't tell anybody. I'll be dissected or experimented on or something."
Lancer continued to stare at his student. He's Phantom. It still didn't make a whole lot of sense in his mind, but Lancer was willing to roll with it for the moment. Glancing down at the papers Daniel was fiddling with, Lancer gave a small start of realization. And he's trying to hide who he is – thus the personalities. One clumsy, shy one to cover up for the heroic one and one that's a complete opposite so that no one would be able to connect them together.
Finally he just shook his head, amazed, letting small pieces slide into place in his mind. Daniel was a ghost, no wonder he was afraid of people finding out. And the savior of Amity Park at that; from what Lancer could remember of the boy he'd taught in sixth grade, no doubt Daniel wasn't looking for the attention that would bring him. That's where Daniel ran off to all the time and that's why he seemed 'afraid' of the ghosts. Daniel… Phantom… had fought off the ghost the previous night – and had gotten hurt.
"Uh… Mr. Lancer?" Daniel asked softly, shifting uncomfortably in his chair under the teacher's gaze. "Can you say something?"
Lancer just sat back in his chair and blinked a few times, still letting everything sink in. Daniel Phantom. It fits. That is so…
"How… How'd you figure it out?" Daniel stuttered anxiously, obviously trying to get his teacher to break his silence.
Allowing a small smile to appear on his face, Lancer finally found his tongue. By staying this quiet, not saying anything, he was scaring his student and that wasn't what Lancer wanted. "Figure what out?" Lancer managed to say, his voice sounding a lot calmer than he had expected it to be. I'm having a conversation with Phantom… Daniel…
"That I'm Phantom."
What makes you think I figured it out? "I didn't," Lancer murmured. "I didn't know until you told me a minute ago."
Daniel stared at him in disbelief, his fingers slowly turning white as his hands clenched tighter and tighter around the arms of the chair. "B… b… b… but…"
Lancer turned his computer monitor around, showing the boy his email program. "Email from Paulina about her club. I just noticed the similarities in the name." He swiveled the monitor back around. "I didn't even figure it out when you disappeared on me – or when I found you in the gym. I thought that Phantom was hiding inside of you, controlling you, or something. I never would have thought…" He trailed off, shaking his head. "I'm still not sure what to think."
"I'm still me, I'm still Danny, I'm not different from who I was yesterday and last week," the teenager said quickly. "I'm not a monster or a ghost and I'm really not evil. And… and… please don't tell anyone. I don't want to be famous," Daniel answered, a little pale. "I don't like being followed around. And I really don't want to be thrown in a lab or something as a guinea pig."
Lancer's mouth twitched up into a smile. The only reason you told me is because you thought I'd figured it out already? How long would we have sat here if I hadn't said anything aloud? There's no way I ever would have figured it out on my own. It's just too bizarre to be real. "I'm not going to let you get thrown in a lab," Lancer said softly. "Why would you think that?"
Daniel's mouth moved silently a few times. "Uh… Because?" His eyes shifted, glancing up and away from his teacher.
Lancer let his mouth move with his thoughts, too dazed and amazed to really think through what he was saying. There was no way what he was thinking could be possible, but it slipped out anyways. "Because… someone else found out and threw you in a lab?" Daniel's flinch caught Lancer's attention. The teacher sat up straighter, stunned at this curve ball. "Someone experimented on you?"
"Only a little," Daniel whispered, shrinking back in his chair. "You know, a little bit of cloning and mind control and stuff like that. It's no big deal."
"Mind control?" Lancer breathed. No wonder you're scared of me figuring it out. "Daniel… I'm not going to turn you over to anyone. I'm not going to let anyone hurt you – I want to help you. You need to trust me."
The look on Daniel's face said, very clearly, been there, done that.
"These, I get," Lancer said, leaning towards his student to grab the three pieces of paper out of Daniel's hand. "Strangely, they make sense. These are creations, masks, personalities that you've created to hide who you are from the world. Phantom to be the hero and take on the world, Fenton to hide behind the rest of the time, Danny to your friends…" He picked up the forgotten fourth piece of paper, the simple 'Me' scrawled across the top. "But why are you hiding who you are? From everyone – even the few people who knew that you were Phantom?"
Daniel stared at the paper. "I…" he trailed off. He shook his head, fingers still clamped tightly onto the edge of the chair.
Lancer felt a stab of fear that the boy would shut back down and stop talking. He had to do something to get Daniel to say something. "Daniel." Lancer got out of his chair and walked around the desk, crouching down next to the chair Daniel had collapsed into. His knees ached, but the teacher ignored it. "I can't even begin to tell you that I understand everything you're saying. You've got a whole world locked up in your head – it's going to take a long time to figure it out." He looked into Daniel's eyes. "Ghosts… portals… half-ghost?"
The teenager nodded, then looked away.
"But I want to help you." Lancer dropped the pieces of paper into his student's lap. "I don't want to help some mask – Daniel or Fenton or Phantom or whoever – I want to help you. To do that, I need to know who you are." He was quiet for a moment, letting that sink in. "I need to know why you're hiding yourself from the world."
As he levered himself to his feet, Lancer silently congratulated himself on that tear-jerker of a speech he'd come up with on the fly. He didn't know if it would get anything accomplished, but it was a good attempt.
"The ghosts try to kill me," Daniel whispered just after Lancer dropped back into his seat. The teacher glanced up at him and waited. "Every day I wake up, knowing that the ghosts are going to attack me and anyone close to me, with the intent to murder people. Do you have any idea what that feels like? And my parents." Daniel broke off with a morose chuckle. "They don't really mean it, and they're not really dangerous, but they hunt me too! They won't give me the time of day, even though I'm their son. And the one person that could really understand what I'm going through locked me in a box the first time we met."
"You know what's worse?" Daniel looked up at his teacher, his eyes gleaming. "I cheat on a test – one stupid test – and I don't just get in trouble like anyone else would. No, my whole family ends up dead and I go crazy. I killed thousands of people, you know that? I had to watch as my family…" He stopped suddenly, changing directions. "I know what happened, I know what I could do if I wanted, and I have to live with that."
"It hurts, sometimes," Daniel breathed, finally getting his fingers free from his death-grip on the chair and wrapping them around himself, fixing his eyes out the window. "I'm… alone, you know? I've seen things and done things that nobody should have to do. And I have to show up at school the next day with a smile on my face. I… pretend, I guess, that it doesn't bother me. That I'm stronger then that."
Lancer nodded slowly, not even beginning to process what his student was saying. It was all too much to take in all at once. All he could do was go with the few facts he did understand. "But why do you hide that from people? From Sam and Tucker, and Jazz? They could help you."
Daniel's eyes dropped to the ground. "They're just teenagers," he whispered. "I can't take that from them."
"Innocence can't be reclaimed once it's lost," Lancer said softly.
With a slow nod, Daniel crossed his arms and sank into the chair a little deeper. "I killed people, Mr. Lancer, and I've watched my family die. Every other person I run into on a daily basis wants to kill me. I live with it – they don't have to."
Lancer sighed, leaning forwards on his desk and staring at his student. His somehow-half-ghost student, whose life was beginning to make a sort of sickening sense. The poor boy: burying his entire life in a cocoon of lies and half-truths, hiding the truth from the whole world, unwilling to burden the only people who knew his perilous secret. "You're scared."
"Not really," Daniel answered softly. "I got over being scared. You can't be scared every day and not learn to live with it."
"I'm sorry, Danny," Lancer said, "I should have locked you in here a year ago."
Daniel glanced up at him.
Lancer pressed on. "I don't understand a lot of things, but I do know that you can't keep doing this." When Daniel's eyes narrowed and his mouth opened to protest, Lancer held up a hand. "Wait, hear me out, please." In a fit of maturity that no sixteen-year-old should have possessed, Daniel shut his mouth and nodded. Lancer looked up at the ceiling, arranging his words in his mind. "We're all worried about you, Danny. We all noticed that there's something wrong, we just couldn't figure out what it was. Even your friends know you're hiding something from them."
"I'm fine," Daniel whispered.
With a sigh, Lancer shook his head. "You're not. You're about to fall apart, Daniel, even if you don't realize it. You can't keep three or four different personalities up in the air. You can't hide your real thoughts and fears like you've been doing. You can't live like that."
Daniel was silent, staring at the ground.
"You know it too, don't you," Lancer said. He scraped around in his head for things he had been taught decades earlier, symptoms of the stress he was sure his student was under. "I doubt you've been sleeping well. You haven't been eating much, I know that for a fact. You've gotten sick a lot recently." He bit his lip. "Daniel... Danny… you're just losing that spark you used to have."
"I remember," Lancer continued, "a sixth grader who I really enjoyed having in my class. You loved life, Danny. You wanted to be an astronaut, even back then. You pestered me with questions about astronomy every single day." A small smile flickered onto the teacher's face. "You weren't the best student, but you had something special about you. When you walked into my class in ninth grade it was still there. Then… it vanished."
"All of ninth grade I watched you, Danny. I knew something was wrong way back in the first quarter, but I didn't know what to do about it. You started to unravel right in front of my eyes. You'd vanish without any sort of explanation, your grades slipped..." I should have done something way back then. I failed you, Danny, and I'm sorry. "I could see your friends worry about you and I kept fielding phone calls from your parents, wondering what was going on with you." Lancer's voice dropped to soft tone. "I listened," all I did was listen, "as they told me about you disappearing at night, and skipping curfew, and always looking like you were about to fall asleep at the table."
Lancer shook his head slowly. "You're not fine. You can't keep hiding your entire life from the world."
Daniel crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes stubbornly, continuing to stare off into the distance.
"And that's why you haven't run away from me," Lancer finished quietly. "You want someone to talk to. You know you're grinding yourself into dust."
"I can't," Daniel whispered, so softly Lancer could barely hear him. "I can't explain everything, not now. It's easier…"
"We're not going to go away. You're going to wake up tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, and we're still going to be here." He was silent for a moment. "The sad truth is it's never going to be easy – and the longer you wait the harder it'll be."
"I don't want them to know everything."
Lancer nodded. "I know."
"How do you think they're going to take it, huh?" Danny looked at him, arching an eyebrow. "'Hey, Mom, you've been trying to kill me for a year.' Yeah, that's going to go over smooth. She's never going to get over that. Decades of therapy can't erase that. I can't…"
"What do Sam, Tucker, and Jazz think?" Lancer asked.
Daniel shrugged. "I haven't talked about it in awhile. They just… accept it, I guess. They used to want me to tell them."
Lancer took a deep breath. "Do you want to tell them?"
Silence was his answer. "I don't want to put them through-"
"That's not what I asked," Lancer interrupted. "Stop thinking about everyone else for a minute and think just about yourself. Do you want to tell them?"
"Some days." Daniel went back to staring at the wall. "Sometimes I wonder what it'd be like, if they knew."
Unable to think of anything more to say, Lancer stared at his student for a long, quiet moment. This is out of my league. Danny Phantom… what do I do with you? What happens next?
"Now what?" Daniel asked, copying Lancer's thoughts aloud.
"Honestly," Lancer said slowly, "I'm not sure. There is one thing I know for sure, though."
Daniel looked up, a question in his eyes, suspicion sparkling. No doubt he was thinking Lancer was about to pick up the phone and call his parents. Not in a million years, Lancer thought with a morose chuckle, would I touch that hornet's nest over the phone. Lancer took a deep breath. "You told me what was wrong. You're free to go home, if you want."
Edward Lancer pulled into the Nasty Burger, his silent student in the passenger seat. Only 21 hours. I'm impressed – I thought it'd take all weekend to get anything out of him. He stared at the boy for a long moment, still amazed at what he'd learned. Danny Phantom. My student's a hero… and a ghost. I'm not sure I'll ever get over that. "Lunch?" he asked quietly.
Daniel shrugged, but unbuckled his seat belt and got out of the car.
Lancer watched him slam the door shut and head towards the front doors of the small fast food restaurant with a sigh. Daniel hadn't said a word since the teacher had asked him if he wanted to go home. Faced with the prospect of uncountable hours more of silence waiting for an answer – followed by another night on those horrendous torture devices the school laughingly called 'cots' – Lancer had made the decision for him. The two of them would go out for lunch. It wasn't school, it wasn't home: neutral ground, maybe. The cots had been lugged back to the storeroom, their supplies had been packed up, and Daniel had silently gotten into the car.
The teacher wasn't going to press his student for an answer. Daniel was smart, Lancer knew that, and the boy understood exactly what his decision would mean. He could go home, but his parents would need an explanation. The 'intervention' was obviously over… so what had the problem been?
Going home meant facing the truth. Going home meant explaining. Going home meant...
"I don't know what to say to them," Daniel said abruptly, turning around, his hand on the door that would lead them into the Nasty Burger.
"The truth is a good place to start."
Daniel shook his head. "I mean…" he hesitated. "I don't know what I mean, I guess. I just… I don't know what to say."
Lancer pushed past his student, walking into the Nasty Burger. "Well, that's a good thing to talk about over lunch. Maybe I can help – I'm pretty good at talking."
"Yeah, you are," Daniel muttered softly. "You can just go on and on…"
With a raised eyebrow, Lancer chose to ignore the teenager's small attempt at humor. It was a good sign. "What do you want? My treat."
"A number three is fine."
As Lancer went up to order their food, Daniel found a booth in one of the far corners. Lancer watched him out of the corner of his eye as he paid and waited, biting his lip a little. That's going to be a hell of a conversation. How is he going to start that one?
When he finally placed the trays onto the table, Daniel was quietly staring out the window. "Question," Lancer said suddenly, making his student jump, "what were you staring at on my wall all that time?"
"What?" Daniel blinked at him in surprise.
"I'm just curious – you stared at the wall of my office for hours yesterday. What were you staring at? Was there a ghost there or something?"
"No." Daniel laughed a little, his eyes shifting down to the baskets of steaming fries. "It was just a wall."
Lancer shuffled into the booth. "Are you telling me the truth?"
Daniel glanced up, a ghost of a smile on his face, but didn't answer.
The teacher huffed. That is going to bug me for the rest of my life, Daniel. "So…"
"So… what?" Daniel repeated, coating a fry in an insane amount of ketchup and popping it into his mouth.
"I'm your guinea pig," Lancer said. "What are you going to tell your parents? Practice it on me – I'll tell you what doesn't make sense. And I'll learn a bit more about you on the way."
Daniel looked up, his normally blue eyes glittering with an internal, supernatural light. There was an aura around him, shimmering like a million rainbows and vanishing like the heat smears above a hot tar road. Pure potential stared into the teacher's eyes: power cascaded and glimmered, folded and rolled. Life and death hung on a precipice, teetering, impossibly balanced for an eternity on the razor's edge of the afterlife.
"I'm a human… and a ghost," Daniel Phantom said softly, his voice twisting into Lancer's mind and echoing quietly.
No more masks, Edward Lancer thought with an amazed smile. This is him. This is really him. There was no backing down, no turning away, no hiding behind his desk. He'd helped dig out the real Daniel hidden under the masks and, for better or for worse, he was now a part of Daniel's crazy half-ghost life. This is… A Series of Unfortunate Events… what have I gotten myself in to?
"And this is my story."
...at least, for now.
Thank you to:
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11 C2s! 119 favs! 152 alerts! 300+ reviews for 3 chapters! OMG!!
Every one of you rocks. Every hit made me smile.
And, as I kinda suggested up there, the sequel is planned. XD Stay tuned.