Everyone crashes. Some get back on. Some don't. Some can't.
- Author Unknown
He doesn't even look up when she comes in. But, to tell the truth, that doesn't really surprise her much.
After all, he's never had eyes for anything except chrome and rubber and engine oil when he was with his bike. Even before the… incident happened. He never hears a thing in that garage of his, except the little clinks of metal on metal, the growl of an engine, and occasionally, the thin sound of a forty year old guitar solo trying its best to be heard through a broken radio. So it only makes sense he doesn't hear the clicking of her new heels (bought specifically for him) upon the garage floor. It makes sense he doesn't hear the subtle want of attention with discreet coughs and "ahems."
But of course he doesn't hear. He's hardly heard her in almost a decade. Half the time, all she sees of him is the back of his head as he reassembles spokes and motors, and recalibrates the engine mechanisms, or whatever it's called.
Why should it be any different tonight? Why should she even bother to be disappointed anymore? Obviously it's because she's an idiot, because only idiots end up sticking with guys that don't even give them the time of day.
Kitty feels a little guilty thinking like this about him, especially when she brushes against the wheelchair, sitting empty while Johnny floats on his back so he can get a better view working on his bike. But she's been reasonable through this nasty situation. She's been patient. She's been understanding. She's been supportive. Really. She has.
She gets that he's been feeling sore, in more ways than one. Who wouldn't be feeling like that after the ghost kid did what he did to him? She's given him time to cope, she's given him time to be alone, she's given him his space, and she's given him lots of her time and effort to finding spare parts he wanted, even though she thought rebuilding was pointless.
It isn't too much to ask that he at least speaks to her every once in a while, is it? It isn't too horrible for her to be just a little angry at him for ignoring her, right?
Anyone would be a little bit frustrated if they'd done what she'd done for Johnny. Most ghosts in her situation would have taken off right at the sound of metal screaming, groaning under Dan Phantom's vice grip, then practically toss the bike over his shoulder like it was a scrap of paper.
They wouldn't have stuck around long enough to see him fly from the seat and hear the terrible crack as Johnny smashed against the wall. They wouldn't have stayed to see Johnny try to shakily stand, only to see his legs crumple against that awful, awful, awful, ghostly wailing wall of sound crashing bike, and the bike smashing into him.
Most ghosts actually would have just cut and run spotting Phantom in the distance, knowing the rumors about sudden and terrible change to the former halfa. They certainly would have run if they'd known the gossip wasn't even close to how awful it really was. Around the Zone, a lot of ghosts say that the wail's the worst of the worst, but ghosts who say this obviously never faced it themselves.
Not like Kitty has. Certainly not like Johnny has. If they had, they'd know that the wail is nothing compared to the low, sadistic laughter that came after it.
But instead of making a break for it, she stayed. She stayed through all of it. She stays now. Even when it's probably really, really, really, really stupid to do so when he barely even knows she's alive. (Well… not alive, but you know.)
It's probably rotten to actually go and bring all this up, like Johnny suddenly owes a whole bunch to her, using his crash against him in her favor. She is trying to not be so horrible about this. She's trying not to be mad at him, but it's not really working.
Kitty almost considers smacking him upside the head like she used to do. She considers saying something to him, shouting at him, screaming at him until she gets an apology or a look of regret or until Johnny starts to shout back. Some kind of reaction. Some way of acknowledging her existence.
Then she remembers what happened the last time she'd tried that. He only looked at her through the corner of his eye as she'd run him through the wringer, until she finally pointed out that it was stupid to try and fix up a bike that he couldn't even ride. Then he actually bothered to turn around and actually look at her, but in the most horrible way. She's not sure how to explain the slightly angry, but mostly hurt look in his eyes. She remembers how hollow his face looked, shadowed by what was left of the thinning greasy hair clinging pathetically on the sides of his head. Then he'd just turned around without a word, and went back to setting up the brakes. The Shadow had growled at her when she retreated out of the garage, but his Shadow growled at almost everything now anyway because it couldn't do much else.
So now she just decides not to say anything to him.
Instead, she just stands there with her heel in puddle of oil, looking down at Johnny work, stretched out hovering just above a tarp. She has to admit, as much as she resents that hunk of metal for stealing her love and for making her Johnny this way, it does look good, considering the shape it was in.
It should look good; he's done nothing else but take care of it for the past nine years. Now it almost looks exactly like it did before the accident. The frame's nice and smooth, the wires are rewired, the lights have been replaced, and the finished paint job shines in the garage light. There have been sounds of sputters, then coughs, then finally the even growls and purrs of an engine eager to rip asphalt.
Kitty wonders if it actually runs. If it does run, she wonders how Johnny can tell without actually riding it. Can he tell just be looking and listening to it? Can he read that hunk of metal better than he can read her?
She leans down a little to get a better look at what he's doing. Not that she really knows exactly what he's doing, but it kinda looks like he's fixing up the exhaust pipe. Figures. He's been focusing on that stupid pipe for the past few days, trying to work with different models until he could find just the right one. Really, it was just a pipe, how many could there be? It couldn't really matter what year it was from, right? A pipe's a pipe, but whatever. He must have found the right one if he was finally attaching it.
There still isn't a very good view of him, even when she crouches down to bike-level, all she can really see is his back as he shifts his weight to swivel around to his stomach and start shining up the exhaust pipe. She tries not to look past that, not to let her eyes wander down to his dangling and useless legs. She watches him finish the last spit-and-polish details, and then scramble his way back into his wheelchair. He's never liked it before when she's tried to help ease him in, so instead she reaches out to hold it steady, so it doesn't swerve out from under him (it's not supposed to do either of those things, but with Johnny's luck, you never know).
As he realigns, his Shadow slithers out from under the wheels and onto Johnny's lap, shifting and twisting so that it moves with him, positioned so that the black mass blocks the sight of how twisted and awkward his limbs look. Usually, you could almost think there was nothing wrong with his legs, except when he gets in and out, when you notice that they don't move along with his body, just flopping along uselessly. It's hard not to notice how the rest of him floats nice and smooth, and the bottom half drags along like an anchor.
And neither of them wants to see that.
When he finally manages to settle himself and the Shadow eases back into the form of an inky limp blanket, he wheels back to have a look at his handiwork. Johnny's mouth is still set in a tight straight line, but as Kitty rests a hand on his shoulder, she can feel the tension ease out of him. Not nearly so steely and taut anymore. When he reaches out to rev the engine, when his motorbike's purring fills the garage and the exhaust flows quiet and easy into the air, there's almost something like a smile on his face. He almost actually looks like his old self from the waist up (that is, if Kitty imagines he still has a heap of greasy hair). For a second, he looks normal - happily chilled out, but wildly revved under the skin.
Then the second passes. The calm she felt in him melts down to melancholy, the almost-smile sinks back down, down to a straight and unhappy line. Johnny stares at his bike for a few moment more, then swivels around to look Kitty straight in the face for the first time since the accident.
His voice sounds a little rough, and she isn't sure if that's just because he hasn't been talking much, or if it's something else. "So… now what?"
Kitty frowns. That's… actually a very good question. Yeah, it's supposed to be rhetorical, but still, it's a good question.
All he's really done in a decade is focus on repairing his motorcycle and not much else. She wonders if maybe that's actually why he took such a long time putting it back together, making sure he had the exact number of nuts and bolts and coils he started out with, making sure nothing was even an inch out of place. Perfection takes a long time to finally get down, and that, perhaps, was the entire point. Maybe, after it was mangled, fixing the bike was all he could do, because that was all he could fix.
With his bike all fixed up, he's finally directing his attention back to his girl, and his girl almost wishes that he'd go back to ignoring her. She's not really sure what to do with his attention now. It isn't like they could go out and make a fantastic scene like they did before, not without a ride, and anyway, the world wasn't really as much fun to be in after Dan Phantom. More importantly, watching him staring at her the way he is, sagging and listless, feels much worse than being ignored.
Once, a million and a half years ago, sitting on Johnny's ratty old sofa in his ratty old house, watching his ratty, fuzzy-screened TV, he'd told her that his motorcycle was the first and only thing he ever really owned. It was the only thing that was just his and nobody else's, and as he said it, his snaggly grin took over his face.
Now, looking at that same motorcycle, built back to its prime, never to ridden again, she feels kind of ridiculous for being so angry before. Getting mad at lifeless hunks of metal is something that fickle, unreasonably jealous teenage girls do. People like that might get mad because a motorbike got more attention than they did, but people like that also wouldn't stick around as long as she has. Certainly other ghostly teenagers wouldn't, not when they were still pent up with selfish rage and angst. Kitty isn't a teenager anymore, nor is she fickle or unreasonably jealous.
For some reason, this thought makes her suddenly feel very old. A little tired, too. She'd have thought just being pissed off would tire somebody out, but not being mad is actually much more exhausting. It's like a wave of something heavy and pungent has traveled up and out of her, and into the Ghost Zone. Maybe she ought to sit down or something. Even floating around is starting to feel exhausting. She can't imagine why, though.
It isn't as if all her anger has vanished, though. Sure, all the fierce and bitter rage that used to simmer inside her was no longer there (funny how she didn't notice any of that before it left her), but there was still a bit left, sitting hard and heavy at her core. But why is that still there? What's she got to still feel so mad about?
What a dumb question.
She thinks of Johnny's question of what to do, and then she remembers something. A certain suggestion from a certain someone with a fondness for boxes who had to be way more furious than she ever was.
"…I think I have an idea."
Johnny's miserable expression turns to a confused one. "What kind of an idea?"
She leans on the bike and points a painted nail. "Listen: none of this would have happened if it hadn't been for Dan. I don't just mean what happened to the bike, or what happened to your legs, either. I mean what he did to the Zone, what he's done to the living world, he's gone and torn the heart out of everything. It's all rotted now, both worlds, inside and out. And he did it all."
"Yeah. I already knew that. What about it?"
"So, why don't we try and do something about it?"
Johnny stares at her for a moment, to check for a sarcastic twitch on her face. When he can't find one, he starts to think about it. The more he thinks about it, the more a bright, malevolent light seems to fill his eyes. The almost-smile returns to his face, longer and darker than before.
The Shadow twists in and around itself in a convulsing, inky riot of joy.
That stupid Shadow was always better at expressing what was going inside of Johnny than Johnny could.