Author's Note: Four chapters. Over three thousand hits. Sixty-four reviews; seventy-two alerts; s-seventy-four favorites... just... oh my god, I never expected this short story to get the kind of response that it did. All of you guys are freaking AWESOME, and I cyber-glomp each and every one of you for giving me the inspiration to write and continue this. THANK YOU!
As always, a HUGE thanks specifically goes to dragondancer123, my beta-reader, for helping and pushing me all the way to the finish line for this. Even if it's only four chapters, this thing was freaking hard to write, and it never would have gotten done without her help. She's offering beta services to whoever's interested. She's awesome, guys, seriously. Go give her a treat.
Anyway, I'm going to shut up and just post the dang thing... epilogues can be long, right? Right? Right.
Enjoy the conclusion of Lab Rat! I hope to see you around for some of my other writings (Lost is next!)
That's about how long had passed since it had happened. Nineteen hours. Nearly an entire day.
But that was just it, though. It didn't really feel like a day had passed – it was way too long. Or too short. I don't know. Whichever it was, it didn't matter anymore. My sense of time was long gone… I knew what time it was, thanks to the alarm clock on the little table next to the couch, but I was running entirely on autopilot. My mind was still numb; any distinction between actual minutes and hours meant little to me.
I was barely able to process even the little things, like sitting up straighter so Jazz could change my bandages, or responding when asked if I was comfortable on the couch – which I wasn't, but at least nodding my head and forcing a small smile on my face was enough to get my sister off of my back… even if the casual emotion was obviously fake.
Somewhere, deep inside, I was insanely grateful for everything my sister had done for me. Never in my life did I think I'd have to rely on her as much as I did now. I would have given her thousands of 'thank-you's and appreciative smiles, but I just didn't have the energy or will to show that kind of emotion anymore. Everything around me, myself included, seemed to be completely dead. It was all distant and blurred – when I exchanged a few rare words with Jazz, I wasn't really quite there. It was like something had pulled me out of the world and I was only experiencing it from very far away.
Most of the time I slept. Jazz kept insisting my body needed the rest, and I wasn't really in any position to disagree. Though I couldn't stay asleep for more than a few hours at a time – the nightmares were always there, waiting to jump out behind my eyes and get me in my dreams. They were exact replicas of the night before, the same memories that continued to haunt me regardless of how hard I tried to repress them. Each time I closed my eyes, and every time I woke up, my parents were still there. They would hover over the operating table, razor-sharp tools in hand, excited smiles on their faces as they started to cut me apart. But behind their curiosity, a deeper kind of hatred burned in their eyes. Who cared if I screamed? I was a ghost. I disgusted them.
And the worst part of it all? I had no idea if their opinions of me had changed at all within those last nineteen hours.
When I wasn't asleep, I simply shut down my mind and tried not to think about anything at all. It was surprisingly easy. In a weird kind of way, I actually felt a little proud of myself for being able to handle all of this. Whether I intended it to or not – did it really matter? – my mind was like a blank slate, or a freshly rebooted computer. Free of memories. Free of reality.
And in other cases – whenever everything threatened to crash down and overwhelm my brain again, I would simply stop what I was doing (which was really nothing), squeeze my eyes shut, dig my fingers into my scalp, then simply stop. I'd have no desire to move, no desire to think, no desire to do anything at all. I totally and utterly was calm. Just burying the world away helped lessen the sting of betrayal and guilt and pain that I knew were waiting to slam their way back at any time.
But something else had nagged at the back of my head, despite how badly I didn't want to think about it – would I ever be completely, physically recovered? Early in the morning, when Jazz had changed the bandages wrapped around my body, I'd been too tired and emotionally lifeless to pay attention. Later that afternoon, as she changed and cleaned the wound a second time, I'd watched. I wish I hadn't.
The damage really wasn't anything more than a large gash resembling an angry, bloody 'Y' that ran across my chest and ended just a few inches above my navel. My sister had been right – several of my ribs had been broken; I could tell by the horrible bruising and the pain still deep inside my bones. The wound was deep, raw, and smelled a little – and I'd nearly passed out from just the burning agony alone when she'd cleansed it with the antiseptics from hell. Ironically, my mind had flitted back to recall numerous tirades from Sam about the gruesome horrors of laboratory animal vivisection. Only now did I realize she had a point. I was a living cadaver.
I could only count my blessings that my ghost half had managed to heal itself this far on its own. I didn't even want to think about how wrong everything would end up if I'd had to be rushed into an emergency room. But driven by a sick, morbid curiosity that just wouldn't go away, I'd actually considered switching to my spectral form, wanting to see what kind of damage my parents' experiments had done. A firm warning from Jazz had ended the argument before it could even begin. I'd be pushing my luck with the healing process, she'd said.
My blue eyes drifted across the living room, into the kitchen, and stared at the door that led down into the lab. It was closed. It had been ever since about four in the morning.
I was still sitting on the couch, absentmindedly swirling on my spoon a little bit of what used to be hot chicken noodle soup, a warm fleece blanket curled around my body. Jazz was off in the shower. The TV flickered and showed some National Geographic documentary on the stars, but I wasn't paying any attention. My mind was still unwillingly locked on my parents. With a resigned sigh, I ignored the bowl of cold soup in favor of propping my feet up on the coffee table and settling back into the cushions, my appetite non-existent.
Still gazing at the door, my brain ran through the mental list of potential reasons why they were still down there. They could be working on some new invention to experiment on me with. They could be fighting. They could be discussing some way to kill me to put me out of my misery. I couldn't help imagining them just barging through the basement door, rushing over to get me with knives and scalpels again, murder in their eyes.
As ridiculous as it seemed, it did make me wonder. Did they see their son who just happened to be a ghost? Or a ghost that just happened to be their son?
The weight of emotion I tried to hold back and bury produced an almost physical ache in my chest. Why hadn't they listened to me? I'd tried so hard to tell them before it was too late – oh, how I'd tried. Did it even cross their minds that I could feel pain? Sorrow? If they had known, would it have even made a difference? They were my parents, for God's sake. They were supposed to be the two people in the world who cared about me regardless of anything. Didn't they care? Didn't they love me?
And now, as I sat there on the couch, I felt my relatively blank state of mind completely vaporize, the black memories, fears and nightmares slamming back into me without warning. A soft, quiet scream worked its way from my throat as I buried my head in my hands, wincing at the pain in my chest, feeling my vision burn. I didn't want to try to hold them back anymore. I simply couldn't fight as they twisted and coursed through my heart, allowing them to swallow me under and rip me apart, piece by agonizing piece.
I tried to find a reason to be angry at my parents, tried to find any way to convince myself that all of this was their fault and their fault alone. But there just wasn't any anger to direct to anyone other than myself – it was as simple as that. Blaming Mom and Dad for this mess sounded reasonable, but it wasn't right. I was being selfish. And, with a sick feeling in my stomach, I hated myself for it.
I shifted under the blanket a little, bringing the soft fabric over my arms and feeling my heart clench painfully as I looked back at the blinking television. I glared as I rubbed the fresh tears out of my eyes before they could fall and tried to focus all of my attention on the colorful NatGeo CGI images of red and white dwarves, but I was still miles away. There was one other potential scenario that ran through my mind… and it made more sense than any of the others.
They were staying in the lab because they were angry. Angry with me, maybe – angry with themselves, definitely. I felt a cold, heavy weight crush my heart harder than I'd ever felt before. Whoever they were upset with, they weren't going to want to see me anytime soon.
Somehow, this train of thought seemed to spark something within me. It was a small, little nudge in the corner of my mind.
At first it was bizarre, making no sense whatsoever, and then the thought that maybe it wasn't so impractical turned it into something terrifying. It grew into an idea, then a possibility, then finally a hypothetical plan. But my brain refused to accept it, reeling back in horror, trying to shut it out like I'd done so well with everything else. No. I couldn't…
I had to face my parents.
In a sick, twisted kind of way, it made sense. I couldn't just sit there forever and wallow in the mess that was my current state. I had to face them. Eventually, one way or another, they'd have to talk to me and there was nothing I could do to stop them. They couldn't stay down in the lab forever, and I couldn't avoid them forever – it was inevitable.
I don't know how long I sat there on the couch, worrying over that simple fact. Curling myself under the blanket, I shut my eyes tightly. The monotonous voice of the documentary narrator was little more than an echo drifting through deaf ears, the show meaning nothing to me. I still struggled to – once again – grasp at what was going on. Thought after horrible thought assaulted my mind… how they'd take it all, what they'd do to me, whether or not I was still their son.
They know I'm really Phantom, my mind supplied unhelpfully, and even though it was about the hundredth time I'd repeated the thought, it still felt so unreal. All of the hypothetical scenarios and 'what-if's I'd been asking myself ever since the accident… all of them didn't matter anymore. This wasn't just another 'what-if.' This was the real thing.
I anxiously twisted the soft fabric underneath my fingers, my throat feeling unbelievably tight and dread coiling into my stomach. This is really happening, I thought. And there was nothing I could do to stop it, no rewind button to erase this nightmare – everything was totally beyond my control… I had absolutely no idea of what was going to happen, how they would react once I faced them. It was terrifying.
You have to face them eventually, a little voice in the back of my head told me, yet I actually shook my head in response. "I can't…"
You have to.
I wasn't going to argue with a voice in my head. I closed my eyes with a sigh, resting my head back against a couch pillow, just wishing I could curl into a ball and shut out the world until it went away. Until time stopped. Maybe Clockwork, the wizened spirit of time itself, could just rewind the last day so none of this had ever happened. I could go back – we could all go back – to the usual routine of lies and secrecy.
In my mind I snorted. As if. I was completely on my own.
"You haven't finished your soup."
Hours later found me still in the living room. I glanced up to see my sister making her way from the stairs, hair wet from a recent shower, a disapproving scowl on her face.
Absently, I nodded. "Not hungry."
She walked over to the coffee table and took the bowl of cold soup into the kitchen. "You haven't even touched it?" She frowned, standing in the doorway and looking back at me. "Danny, you've got to get something into your stomach."
Hell knows my stomach would've probably been in several different pieces if it hadn't been for you. "I'm not hungry, Jazz," I stressed, looking back to the television.
Once again, I tried to shut everything out and just do nothing for awhile. But my mind flitted back to my sister – she was still standing there, leaning against the wall, looking down at her feet.
She glanced up at me and smiled a little. "Nothing."
I narrowed my eyes. "It's not 'nothing'… You want something from me, don't you?"
Shifting a little under her gaze, I struggled a little with my train of thought. "You want to talk, or something," I muttered, then paused. "No, wait… you want me to talk."
She remained quiet.
I sighed, exasperated. "I'm fine, Jazz."
Skeptical, Jazz made a quiet noise of her own before drifting over to the coffee table, taking a seat on the edge of the couch a few feet away from me. She played with her fingers for a moment, as if searching for the right thing to say before she replied. "I don't want to badger you into anything you're not ready to talk about," she said carefully, hesitantly. "But this…"
My eyes darkened. "Forget it," I said, turning away to the T.V., already planning on tuning out the rest of the conversation. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Talking to me probably wouldn't be the best," she agreed. There was a pause. "You've got to go see Mom and Dad."
My head snapped up almost instinctively at the mere mention of our parents, body tense, and my eyes a little wide. "You're…" I struggled to find my voice. "You're joking, right?"
Face morose, my sister shook her head. "I honestly wish I was," she said quietly. "But seriously, just hear me out for a moment. They've been downstairs for nearly twenty-four hours. They haven't barged through the door to try and shoot you or anything; they haven't bombarded you with any death threats, and you—"
"Fine," I insisted. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not 'fine.' You don't look fine, you don't sound fine, and taking into consideration what happened last night, you aren't fine." Her voice came out soft, but unyielding. She ran a hand through her red hair and sighed. "This, to me, is beginning to sound like Post-Traumatic Str—"
"I don't have PTSD," I whispered, avoiding her gaze. "I don't need therapy. I just… Jazz, I don't want to talk about it, okay?"
She remained gentle, but persistent. "Perhaps not," she said, "but you need to. Mom and Dad aren't going to live through this, Danny. Neither will you. Physically, yes… but not emotionally. Ignoring this would only end up shattering you in the long run—"
I snorted. "You're talking like I'm a piece of glass or something," I muttered.
"In a way, your psyche is. If you don't go down to that lab and talk to them as soon as possible… the emotional consequences would only end up devastating you on a long-term basis. You wouldn't be able to go near them for a very long time."
I opened my mouth to protest, but – strangely – my brain refused to cooperate. Normally I would have provided a rebuttal, or some sarcastic quip about my sister's psycho-babbling, but I wasn't in the mood. My mind was forcibly taken back to just a couple of hours ago where it'd been following a similar train of thought. But I couldn't admit it – not like this. But, then again… didn't she have a point?
"Danny, I'm sure this is already tearing them up from the inside out, and unless you face them, it'll only get worse. Something like this just doesn't heal overnight. They're our parents. You're their son."
I remained quiet, staring down at the floor. The notion from earlier still rang clearly in my head. You have to. My stomach clenched painfully. A good minute passed between the two of us in silence before I finally looked at my sister with a thousand different emotions burning in my eyes.
"I tried to tell them that while strapped down to an operating table, and that still didn't stop them from wanting to kill me."
My voice had been cold, hollow. Even Jazz seemed stymied for a moment, trying to find the right words, before speaking softly. "But they hadn't known. They hadn't known that it was really you under there – and if you both want to get over this, it's your duty to let them know that, little brother."
Duty. Responsibility. In the end, was that what it all came down to?
"You need to let them know that it wasn't their fault, Danny, and that it wasn't your fault." She tried to smile slightly, reaching over to touch my hand. "We'll get through this."
I'd still just be lying.
"But first –" Jazz stood up and headed into the kitchen, leaving me to stew in my own thoughts – "you're going to eat something."
"Can't you just call them up here or something?" I asked softly for about the umpteenth time since Jazz and I had gone over what I was to say. She just looked at me and chuckled a little, shaking her head.
"No. I know this sounds hard, and believe me – I wish there was another way… But you've gotta go down there yourself." She hesitated. "Do you want to stay afraid of them forever?"
It was supposed to be fairly easy. I'd go down to the lab, talk to Mom and Dad, and just try to work something out with them despite every part of me that protested and tried to come up with yet another excuse, another reason to delay the inevitable. However, I knew I was just being ridiculous. I knew that I had to do this. I was supposed to be the hero, right?
Only… the hardest thing about it was that no matter what I would try to do, how hard I would try to apologize and forgive them (if that was even possible), it wouldn't be the same. I was still their son, I guess… but they wouldn't look at me and see Danny Fenton anymore. Half of me was a ghost that they hated. They were my parents… but I was about to lose them for good.
Haven't you already lost them?
I took one last glance at my sister before turning to the basement door, letting out a slightly shuddering breath.
"Okay," I whispered to reassure myself, hands trembling as I hesitantly grasped the doorknob. "Okay. Okay…" I continued to repeat the word in my head, desperately trying to relax. I could do this… I could talk to my own mother and father; I had definitely been faced with worse. I was fine.
"I'll be up here if you need me," Jazz murmured from behind me, but I didn't respond. Instead, gritting my teeth, I pulled the door open and slowly began to descend down the stairs.
"You're fine," I breathed, closing my eyes tightly and using the railing to steady myself. I had to move carefully – my chest still hurt like hell and I couldn't over-exert myself. My bare feet echoed in the small stairwell, the confined space pressing down on every nerve. "You're fine. You're okay."
I was a few steps from the bottom when I slowed to a stop, listening carefully. The lab was dead silent, the faint whirring of machines and computers in back the only audible sounds. I could both hear and feel my heart thumping frantically despite the mantra I repeated in my head: I'm okay I'm okay I'm okay…
I quietly stepped onto the cold linoleum floor – and froze completely. The blood drained from my face, I couldn't breathe, and my heart nearly stopped in my chest.
A little ways in the back of the lab, off to the side of the closed ghost portal, was a set up of bright lights, shelves and counters, metal trays, and…
My knees suddenly felt weak. The examination table I'd been strapped to was still there, ominous in the intense light. The metal restraints near the corners of the table were swung open and several sharp tools were scattered haphazardly around the floor. But what had captured my attention was the giant spot of red in my vision. Blood – dark red, wet, and glistening – was pooled all across the steel surface. I could see swirls of bright, slightly glowing green mixed in with the crimson… my own blood and ectoplasm. Smeared across the table, the floor – even smearing towards my direction where I knew my sister had dragged me away to save my life. Some of it had dried in the middle of oozing lazily to the floor, the sticky fluid quietly suspended off the edge and creating an entirely new level of horror.
I hadn't noticed my parents sitting off on the opposite corner of the lab – until right then. The Day-Glow orange of Dad sat silently in a computer chair. Mom was collapsed against the wall next to him. Both were staring off to the side, lost in their own thoughts. Neither had noticed me.
For a few more seconds, nothing moved. My mouth opened and closed slightly, but no sound could come out. The world had completely stopped, all carefully thought-out plans of what I would say having been swept from my mind before I could process them.
My eyes were torn back to the operating table, to the various abandoned scalpels and needles, to the blood. The swirls of green and red mixed together like oil and water. I could smell it. It was like some dramatic scene one would expect from a grisly horror movie… but this was… real.
The memories came back again. They were more clear and vivid than ever, cascading through me from all sides, while all I could do was just stand there and watch. I could see myself strapped down. Screaming and begging. Trying to move away from the scalpels and needles digging into my skin. My parents ignoring my desperate cries, continuing their gruesome work; completely oblivious they were slowly killing their own son. I felt physically sick with fear as phantom pains twisted through my stomach as sharp as knives, reality slamming into me like a bus.
The instant my brain kicked back into gear and screamed DANGER, I stumbled back with a quiet gasp and staggered onto the bottom of the stairs. Dad's head snapped up at the sudden sound and he blinked, completely surprised I was down here. "Danny…?"
I couldn't do this. "I-I…" Panic seizing my heart, I turned without another word and bolted back upstairs, slamming the door closed behind me.
I don't know how long I just stood there, leaning against the kitchen counter, eyes shut tightly as I just concentrated on breathing. In, out. It could have been hours; it could have been minutes. Jazz was busy rambling on and on, furiously berating herself on even letting me go down there in the first place after I'd numbly glossed over what had happened. Meanwhile, my thoughts had successfully grinded to a halt while I tried to block out the memories of what'd just happened – the lab, my parents, the table… the blood—
No, I hissed, firmly shoving the flashbacks to the back of my mind. My sister continued her self- reproaching tirade. In, out. In… out.
"…can't believe I was so stupid to let him go down there right now," she growled to herself. "God! Of course Mom and Dad weren't going to be rational enough to clean anything up after last night… damned PTSD triggers; now they're all gonna—"
"Jazz," I muttered, my knuckles going white as I gripped the edge of the counter, "just… stop. It's fine." In, out.
"But I…" She sighed, leaning against the kitchen table and looking at me with heavy regret. "I shouldn't have… Christ, I'm such an idiot."
I opened my mouth to respond, but whatever I was going to say died in my throat as I heard the soft clunking of several feet coming up the stairs. Jazz heard the noise as well – her eyes widened a little and she tensed, staring over at the door. "They're actually…"
Mom and Dad quietly stepped into the kitchen. Unconsciously I'd taken a few steps back, pressing into the counter top. For a moment, neither of us moved. Leaning into my father's arm, Mom's gaze was everywhere but me, but even from over here I could see the pain in her face and the small glimmers of fresh tears in nearly bloodshot eyes. My father glanced at Jazz and wore a strained half-smile.
"Could we… could we sit down and talk, please?"
His voice was soft – and surprisingly brittle. Yet noting how he hadn't actually asked me to 'sit down and talk,' I flicked my gaze over to my sister. She nodded faintly, looking back to the living room. "Why don't we… go sit down over there?" She said carefully, meeting my eyes. After telling herself she'd screwed up so much earlier, it was obvious in her face that she wanted to make sure I was okay with this.
My shoulders shrugged a little as I headed into the living room first. I felt eyes boring deep into my back as I slowly took a seat on the edge of the couch, too aware of the sharp pain in my torso. Jazz sat down next to me and, oddly, I felt less exposed and a little more relaxed. My parents hovered by the doorway for a moment before hesitantly following suit – they seemed to act as if they weren't in their own home anymore. Dad grabbed a chair a reasonable distance away from my sister and me, while Mom simply remained standing. She stared off into the distance, an unreadable expression on her face.
For a few precious moments, no one said a thing. The silence was broken only by the sharp ticking of the wall clock and I couldn't help but shift uncomfortably, looking around everywhere but at my parents. None of us were willing to break the silence and speak first – but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. With a nauseating familiarity, I found myself having absolutely no idea what to do or how to say anything. The tension in the air could have been cut with a knife.
Finally – finally – it seemed to be too much for my father to handle. He cleared his throat and seemed to quietly struggle with something to say. Almost expectantly, I glanced up at both of my parents, and – for one horrible, fleeting moment – our eyes met.
Different. That was the only word my mind could supply at the moment, but it was enough to strike deep into my heart, shattering something inside me. The way they looked at me – it was just… different. Their gazes lacked those familiar sparks of warmth and love that were supposed to be there. They weren't looking at me as their son… but as someone entirely different. Almost as if I was a stranger. Just a ghost.
Mouth dry and shoulders tense, I tore my eyes away in favor of staring down at the floor. The image from several seconds ago was still fresh in my mind, having burnt through me like a brand – and it crushed me to realize my own mother and father were still staring at me with something I'd never wanted to see: wary distrust.
This is all your goddamn fault, you know.
That single black thought curled around my heart like a venomous snake, refusing to let go. I was disgusted with myself. If only I'd told them beforehand; if only they'd known. For a moment I just sat there, focusing on the unbearable amount of self-hatred, pain and guilt that twisted through me all at once, the way I managed to swallow it down with difficulty. Taking in an uneasy, shuddering breath, I looked at my parents and finally choked out, "I'm sorry."
Dad shifted a little, looking down at his feet, his voice coming out quiet and almost broken. "It's… it's not your fault."
"Yes, it is…" I muttered, staring off to the side. Jazz tensed next to me, but I ignored her. "It's my fault. If it weren't for this stupid, disgusting secret—"
"You should have told us."
The accusation in my mother's voice slammed into my stomach like a dagger. For a moment I was taken aback, not knowing how to respond. "I… I know…"
"You lied to us…"
…This is not happening, my mind whispered. This was it. Everything I'd tried to deny in the past was suddenly happening. Swallowing hard, I gazed down at my feet and flinched, waiting for the rejection and the anger from my parents that was sure to come. I couldn't stop the fresh wave of painful, raw guilt from welling up, almost threatening to pull me apart again. "I-I just—"
"Damn it, Danny, why?" Mom's eyes flashed with an unbelievable amount of guilt and hurt and anger. I found myself unable to speak at the first true glare I'd ever seen her give to me, but she beat me to any kind of response I could have given. "Why didn't you tell us? We… Why didn't… why…" Crossing her arms closer to her chest, she closed her mouth and tried to hold in a small, choked sob, unable to finish. My father didn't appear to be anywhere near as anguished as Mom was – but his face still held a strange mixture of weary sorrow.
My mind was just as messed up, panicked thoughts running everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I could literally feel a wide chasm opening up between us. The entire living room seemed to radiate with some sort of impenetrable tension that – I knew with bleak certainty – would completely change everything forever.
As I desperately struggled to come up with something to say, my family on the verge of completely breaking in half, that same kind of guilt and self-hatred from earlier began to well up inside me and burn like an open sore. I swore quietly, shutting my eyes with a grimace and digging my fingers into the couch cushions. This was wrong, all wrong. I should have told them the second after that stupid accident. Why did all of this have to happen and completely destroy the remains of anything I could call 'normal' in my life? Why couldn't I have stopped it?
Stupid... In the end, I couldn't do anything except remain quiet – but inside I was kicking myself with every insult I could find. Stupid, sick, filthy idiot. Everything's ruined and it's all my fault.
"Son," I heard my father finally murmur. "We… If you hadn't kept this… a secret, then… we wouldn't have—"
"Would it have mattered?" I asked softly, opening my eyes to gaze blankly at the little knots of wood on the coffee table. "Would have even mattered at all?
"Of – of course. But… you should have told us, because we—"
"Well, forgive me if I was unable to talk while I was drugged," I said, my voice kind of bitter. "I… I tried. You wouldn't have believed me even if I'd tried."
"No," my mother whispered, hugging her arms close and refusing to look at me. "No, before, in the past… before we…" She bit her lower lip. "Why? Why didn't you trust us? We… we love you!"
Almost out of the blue, there was a strong flash of loathing and terror that went off in my head like a bomb. "Right," I said. "Right. You and Dad sure showed a lot of that love and compassion while you tried to dissect me alive last night," I spat, feeling my eyes burn. "Why the hell do you think I kept lying?"
"But what? You guys said so yourself that I was just this disgusting, evil monster, remember?"
"But… but… N-no, you aren't—… But we could have… could have helped you, fixed y…" Trailing off, Mom's eyes widened. She hadn't meant to say that.
It'd been false hope to think my parents really would accept me for who I was, hadn't it? They still hated Phantom. Months and months of secrets and lies and betrayal had inflicted irreparable damage to our relationship. Their son was now some sort of worthless, wretched, half-ghost eyesore that wasn't really their son anymore… right? In their eyes, was I just some sort of mistake? Some freak of nature that needed to be fixed?
My eyes narrowed despite the crushing blow of unbelievable hurt and guilt that slammed into my chest. I could feel my heart pounding, my breathing steady but shallow. "So, I should have been fixed."
"Danny." Jazz spoke up at last, putting a tentative hand on my shoulder. I gently shrugged it off, daring yet another glimpse back at my parents.
But my last words seemed to snap something within my mother, at first, and pain beyond anything I'd ever seen before glistened in her eyes. "No… no, no… I-I didn't mean that…" she murmured, almost to herself. Eyes distant, she swayed a little, her previous anger crumbling away into what I could only recognize as complete anguish and regret as the truth of last night finally seemed to slam into her. "I… didn't mean… God, I… I-I tortured my own child…"
Aren't you blowing this a little out of proportion? I couldn't help but ask myself as Mom suddenly collapsed to the floor, sobbing. Dad leapt out of his chair to kneel by her, murmuring what I assumed to be words of reassurance. Maddie Fenton was reduced to a complete mess. I'd never seen her act anything remotely close to this.
I was suddenly unsure of myself. I glanced at Jazz; my sister had been silent all this time, but now she looked at me, soberly nodding once. Go, her eyes said.
I hesitated, but not because my instincts were yelling at me to just get up and run out of the house. As much as I wanted to talk to them, how was I supposed to do it? There was no way I could try to fix this mess on my own; Jazz was right – if it hadn't already, a torrent of guilt was eating my parents up from the inside.
But before I'd realized it, my mind was made up. I stood from the couch and (painfully) walked over to where my parents were on the floor, arms wrapped around myself, wary uncertainty all but obvious on my face. "I'm sorry…"
Dad looked up at me as Mom continued to cry softly into his arms and wore a solemn look on his face, a complete, eerie contrast to his usual cheery enthusiasm. He offered me a small smile. I let my gaze shift over to my mother. Nothing happened for a long moment, while I studied the strange look on her face as she noticed my presence – her wide eyes, the way she stiffened slightly and pressed back into my father. My dad's own strange expression. And then – with a quiet stab of despair – it dawned on me.
They were afraid…
My own parents were… afraid of me.
Though I had to wonder, with sick curiosity – was it really me, or did they really fear themselves? Either one would make sense, given the circumstances. I tossed the thought aside for now as I cautiously sank into a crouch in front of my mother, trying not to visibly wince at the sharp pain from my stomach. I briefly wondered if I should reach out and touch one of their arms to comfort them, or talk, or something. But in the end I just stared at the carpet, remaining where I was. "I'm sorry," I whispered again, evading their eyes.
"Son," my father spoke after another painfully long moment of silence, hesitating, "don't… If anyone – anyone – should be sorry, it's us."
"It's… it's not…" I took a deep breath, my mind racing with so many different emotions at once. 'It's not your fault'? Wasn't it their fault? Wasn't it my fault? How the hell was I supposed to comfort them?
Oddly, Dad didn't need to hear the completed sentence to know what I was going to say. "But it is our fault. We should have known…"
"I… I kind of did everything in my power to keep you from knowing," I said softly.
"No," my mother whispered, shutting her eyes tight. "No, no, no… it's all our fault." Her voice quavered for a moment, and Dad gently squeezed her arm. "We… hunted you and shot at you and… the experiments last night…"
Bright lights. Agony. Screaming. There was an imminent threat of the relentless flashbacks again – but, gritting my teeth, I managed to shove them to the back of my mind.
"You still should have told us before all of this," my father mumbled, almost to himself. "We love you."
I looked up at him, my face dismal. "You said you hated me."
…and right then, something seemed to snap within my mother. She choked out another soft sob, suddenly pulling away from my dad's arms to grab me in her own embrace, holding me close – ouch – and burying her head into my shoulder. Eyes wide with shock, I stiffened, trying to ignore the instinctive impulse to wrench myself away. I didn't know what to do, how to respond. No words could come.
"No," she whispered, "I love you. My baby… I love you, Danny; I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I-I'm sorry…"
I wanted to forgive both them and myself. I wanted to – so, so much. I wanted to return the embrace, apologize and say that it was alright, and just leave all of this behind and move onward. But despite her gentle maternal reassurances, Mom's haunting words from just last night echoed through my ears, their meanings forever branded into my brain.
You're a ghost. A lying, disgusting monster. And you are most certainly not our son.
"Oh, Danny, Danny, I'm so sorry…"
They would never accept this.
"It'll be okay, son." Wrapping his large arms around the both of us, Dad's attempt at a genuine smile seemed a little strained, hidden under a facade of imaginary, tentative reassurance that I was sure would also be on my mother's face in due time. Whatever was going on behind that mask refused to show, and as the final pieces of my broken world settled into place, I decided the only real option was to just let everything go and just… play along for now, I guess. "We'll… we'll fix this. It'll be okay…"
I looked up at my father and tried to smile back. "I know," I lied softly.
My smile was forced.
Author's Note: Again, thank you all so much for the incredible response and support! Feedback after this last chapter would really be appreciated. On another note, I've been getting a lot of requests and messages for a sequel to this story, and since I'm too lazy to reply to them all, I'll just post my answer here: I don't know. I wanted Lab Rat to end on a note that would sort of leave it up to the readers to imagine what would happen afterwards, and anything can happen after this point, really.
Perhaps, in the future, I'll make some sort of one-shot or mini-sequel or maybe something that'd focus on what his parents were thinking. It's not really a 'yes,' and it's not really a 'no.' For now, I just don't know. XD