Part One: Fester
I've been staring at this stupid thing for the last hour with nothing else to do.
It's, like, one o'clock in the morning, and everyone else has long gone to bed. The windows are pitch-black and the entire house is filled with this really uncomfortable silence. Even though I can feel exhaustion weighing down in every bone in my body, I can't seem to fall asleep. Haven't been able to for the last few days. (Note to self: ask Jazz if insomnia is some kind of psychology thing, too.) The desk lamp shining in my face probably doesn't help either, but I really don't care.
My sister'd bought this journal for me the day before yesterday, but I hadn't touched it until only about an hour ago. She'd blabbered on about how getting everything out on paper would help, that my mind needed some sort of outlet since I wouldn't talk to anyone else... something like that. It seemed kind of stupid at first – after all, who the hell writes voluntarily outside of English class? But eventually I'd just shrugged and tried to start writing. It wasn't like I had anything to lose... and it wasn't like I had anyone to talk to who'd actually understand.
That's right. After that confrontation with Mom and Dad the day after the… vivisection, I'd begun to grow a lot more distant from practically everyone around me.
Jazz was the first to notice – or, at least, she'd been the first to actually say something about it. At first I'd just been less talkative around her, my friends and of course, my parents. The house still seemed to hold an awkward silence no one was willing to break. Gradually I'd just stopped talking to people in general. Save for a few conversations with my sister, every day for those two weeks I'd hang out in the living room or lock myself upstairs, sleep a lot, stare at the wall, refuse to be part of the family…
My parents didn't really say anything about it. They still haven't.
My friends, on the other hand… It's just… Sam and Tuck – God, they're the best friends anyone could ever ask for. But... actually understanding everything that'd happened... that was completely different. I know they were – and still are – trying their absolute hardest to understand and find the right words to say and I'll always be so grateful for their efforts, but I just...
I think Sam's initial reaction had been the worst. A day, maybe two – I don't know – after that first real confrontation with Mom and Dad, Jazz had finally answered their frantic messages on my cell phone's answering machine. Where the hell had I been, why hadn't I shown up for school, was it a ghost, yadda yadda. She'd only glossed over the details, obviously, because not five minutes later, they both had been pounding on the front door.
It was... difficult, y'know, having to tell them. Sometimes my mouth just ran on and on before my brain could catch up, and other times I had to concentrate on forcing out every word, while I tried so hard to keep myself somewhat composed and push away those stupid memories. I didn't spare them the details of that night down in the lab, but Jazz helpfully chimed in whenever I couldn't go on. As Sam and Tuck spent the next several hours expressing their outrage and fear and sympathy, in a twisted sort of way, I was glad my parents had locked themselves upstairs and refused to speak to anyone.
…Huh. I'm kind of tired, now. Perhaps Jazz is on to something with this journal thing. In any case, I really don't feel like writing the rest of what'd happened over the following next few days – not much had.
"…I… your father and I love you; you know that, right? Don't ever forget that…"
"…Yeah, I know. Love you too."
"Is… is there anything—"
"Look, I can't be late again – I gotta get to school."
That was from this morning.
Truthfully, it was a blatant lie… and judging by that pained look on my mother's face, she knew it. I didn't have to leave for school for several more minutes, and I'd willingly hurried through the uncomfortable atmosphere at the breakfast table with every intention to avoid conversation.
…So I'd lied. Who was around to care?
"Danny, sit up," Jazz's voice chided me out of my thoughts. "If we get in an accident with you slouched against the door like that…"
I sighed, straightening a little and shifting my backpack from the floor of the car to my lap. "Overprotective, much?" I half-smiled. "Sorry." I hesitated, staring at her for a moment. "Thanks for driving me to school, Jazz."
"It's the least I could do," she said, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. "You remembered to… bring the note, right?"
Ah. The note. I made a noncommittal sound in response, feeling the folded square of paper in my pocket. The corners poked against my jeans like a constant mockery to my situation, why I even needed an excuse to go back in the first place. It wasn't even the truth, not too surprisingly. Just another lie.
Deep within, I really was grateful my sister was driving me to school. It was my first day back ever since – you know. Tucker and Sam had offered to walk with me the night before, but I'd declined. I was still in pain, and even though I was firmly human, I could still feel that my ghost half was desperately weak and still injured. Walking, standing, stretching, any kind of physical movement… it still hurt.
"…were you even listening?"
"Huh?" I blinked, jerked out of my thoughts once more. "Oh, sorry… not really."
"I said I'd pick you up at three thirty." Jazz took her eyes off the road for a moment to look at me briefly, a little concerned. "Are you, like…" She glanced back. "Are you really sure you're ready to go back?"
I shrugged and let my eyes trail back to the houses and trees rushing by. "It's been two weeks," I said softly. My fingers rubbed nervously against my jeans as I stared out the window. "'m not really bleeding anymore, and s'not like there's anything else to do at home."
She was silent for a moment. "Alright, if… you say so."
She slowed at a stoplight, and we waited in silence for the other line of traffic to pass. She hesitated, taking the opportunity to look at me for a good moment, then tried again. "Danny, I'm worried about you," she said, laying a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Really worried."
I breathed a quiet sigh and looked down at my lap, crestfallen. It was time to force out those two words again. "I'm fine."
"No." Even with my eyes closed, I could sense the slight hardening in hers. "You're not. We both know it." A pause. "You've been withdrawing from us and everything else an awful lot lately… are you sure you don't want to talk—"
"How many times do I have to answer that question?" I whispered, gazing out the window again at nothing in particular. "The last thing I want is for you or some shrink to stick your noses in my life—"
"Danny, I just want to help." The light turned green, but she kept her foot firmly on the brake. "You can't keep pushing yourself away like everything doesn't exist. Just – please, listen…"
"I don't want to listen," I muttered. "Just… stop it, please." It was ridiculous. My voice was just on the edge of cracking. Now wasn't the time – I didn't want to deal with this at all. Gripping my knee, I fought with myself to bury the overwhelming blackness curling around my heart.
"I'm your sister, and I'm worried about you," she said, dropping a hand on mine. I shut my eyes and yanked it away.
"Jazz, just drop it."
Somewhere behind us, a car honked impatiently. Jazz's gaze, lost and sympathetic, was locked on me for a good moment longer before she turned back to the steering wheel with a sigh, driving forward again.
The rest of the ride to school was completely silent.
I stood on the curb even after my sister drove away, having been dropped off about a block from the school. Just standing there for a long moment, I rubbed my arms and fought with what to do next. A part of my mind wondered if I should even bother going today and just walk back home or something – but I ground down the thought and started a slow trek toward Casper High. I focused on the small cracks and bumps in the sidewalk, shivering in the chill morning air.
A sliver of a thought – a memory, actually – trickled into being, and I tried to push it away… tried to forget that conversation my mother and I had had earlier this morning. Technically, it hadn't even been a conversation – but it was close enough. It was the first time in a while that any of my parents and I had spoken aside from a few words at a time.
Two weeks… Today marks just two weeks since it had happened. I'm still not sure if it seemed too long or too short – it didn't mean anything to me.
On the outside, everything had slowly and carefully faded back into some sort of normalcy. Most words had been spoken when needed, leaving nothing behind. All of the 'I'm sorry's and questions and explanations, few as they were, had stopped long ago. All of the tears and worried looks had stopped. Everything at FentonWorks was almost like it'd been before. If I hadn't known, it looked like nothing had changed at all. Our family was acting perfectly normal.
But that was just it.
It was just an act. Nothing had changed, but… at the same time everything had changed. Every little smile or gesture by my parents hid something much more pained underneath. All of the lies and betrayal and guilt had already done their damage onto our relationship – something nobody was willing to admit even existed anymore. And now each of us kept up this façade of awkward normalcy and routine, despite the fact that we all knew it wasn't going to fool anyone… but there just wasn't anything else left to do.
Underneath, a vast gulf had opened up between us. I know as well as my parents that this… this performance was destroying our family from the inside out, slowly tearing its way even deeper between us, driving us further and further apart.
The warning bell suddenly rang out into the air and I glanced up, blinking. Shoving my hands into my jacket pockets, the small scowl on my face faded to weary resignation, and I pushed through the front doors with a heavy heart. Teenagers laughed and joked around me as lockers slammed and textbooks were gathered for class, happy to be in the loose atmosphere of their peers. The irony was almost unfair, in a way, and kind of disgusting.
Blankly, I followed the hallway to the administrative office. There were no lines to wait in so I headed straight to the counter. A woman with graying hair glanced up from behind a counter and greeted me with a smile. "Danny Fenton – it's been awhile! We were just beginning to wonder if you'd ever come back," she said, her eyes lightening in a tease, but I wordlessly handed her the note in my pocket.
The secretary opened the slightly-crinkled piece of paper and read, her eyes widening in quiet understanding. I was quiet for a long few seconds. My mother's handwriting had been scrawled onto the page just this morning. I'd only glanced at the note once on my way out, but the words had still burned their way through my mind. I didn't need to read it again.
Please excuse Daniel's absence from school for the past two weeks. There was a family emergency.
If you have any questions, please call.
Like she didn't even want to acknowledge to a stranger what'd happened…
Why not me? Why not her own son?
I was the one who'd tried to get over the guilt for something they had done. It'd been me who'd been strapped down to that fucking table and—
I glanced up, startled from my momentary surge of emotions. The secretary was looking at me with this concerned expression on her face, the wrinkled note lying back on the counter – stamped and signed with a pass back to class.
"That's all you need; just show it to each of you teachers." She paused, seeming to search my face and sensing the quiet despondency lurking just underneath the mask. "My condolences," she said. "There is a school psychologist in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if you need someone to talk t—"
"Thanks, but I'm fine," I forced out a little too roughly – my voice was oddly hoarse for some reason. I took a shaky breath to compose myself and offered her a small smile, taking the papers and shoving them back into my pocket. "Thanks for the pass, too."
"Anytime." She gave me a sad smile before I turned and pushed my way out of the office and into the crowded hallways.
There were only a few minutes until the warning bell, but I didn't try to actively seek out my friends, like I normally would. I was one of the first to take a seat in English, moving solely on autopilot, wordlessly handing the slip to Mr. Lancer, ignoring his bewildered looks and curious questions. I couldn't keep lying…
"Daniel, are you alright?"
"The note's there. I don't really want to talk about it." I said softly before moving away from his desk, my hollow eyes fixing themselves on the floor. Somewhere within my mind, I pushed down a rising feeling of despondency. No more lies…
He didn't push the matter further.
I somehow made it through first period, ignoring the stares and questions I'd received from everyone else on where I'd mysteriously disappeared to over the last two weeks, keeping to myself in the back of the class. Tucker and Sam didn't try to pass any notes and gave up after a few attempts at making eye contact. Even through the monotony of the classroom, things were unusually quiet between us.
And I didn't care. It was beginning to grow more and more difficult to keep my mind off of my parents as I anxiously waited for class to end, asking myself questions I wasn't sure I wanted to be answered. Deep down, I knew Mom and Dad loved me. I knew that they'd accepted everything they'd learned about me as both ghost and human… but…
No, I didn't know. There just wasn't any way for me to prove it. I couldn't read the masks they constantly held, couldn't see what really hid behind the strained smiles and deceptive normalcy. Even the way they looked at me had changed. It was hard to meet their eyes. It was ridiculous, frankly. I didn't know what their judgment of me had turned into. I didn't know how this was really affecting them. I didn't know anything. All I'd been doing for the last two weeks was just assuming…
I really wished I could read their minds. I know they'd been a little angry after all of the explanations, and I'm still guilty for keeping all of the secrets from them for so long. But I still wanted to know... were they upset with themselves, or the way things had turned out in general? Did they hate me? Was I still the same son they'd known all my life? Or the freak child, the pariah, the one who ruined everything because he was different?
Even now, two weeks later, I still didn't know.
The day was slow.
Third period passed without anything interesting happening. The entire eight hours we were trapped at Casper High seemed to go by at a deliberately sluggish rate, but I had long-since disconnected myself from the rest of the world, allowing it all to fade away into a blur.
Our lunch break slid by after third, and the three of us spent it in near-silence. I wasn't really hungry.
Fifth period… fifth period was another story.
In a nutshell, we had Biology. By some sheer coincidence or higher power, Falucca had trays of fetal pigs for the class to cut open and fill out worksheets on. I think karma or the universe seriously hates me, because when had I asked for this?
At the groans from the class, the pudgy teacher cleared his throat sternly and adjusted his glasses. "Stop your whining. This is school district policy, so it's not my fault." He tipped his head to the side and studied us. "Class, you've done this before. Dissections are nothing to get whiny about."
Shut up, Falucca…
"…and you're all required to wear the pairs of gloves and goggles I've set on each table for both you and your partner. Refusing to do so is flunking the lab."
Snap! The sharp sound of latex all around me lashed at my mind, echoing into too-vivid memories that made me clench my teeth and struggle to breathe normally. I averted my eyes from the tray between Sam and me, the glint of tools skirting the edges of my vision. Snap! A strange stench attacked my senses, making me crinkle my nose in anxiety and disgust. Snap! Snap! It was seriously taking all of my self-control to not throw my hands over my ears and hunker into a little ball on the floor as each student pulled their gloves on. God, please, just stop it…
"Danny?" Sam asked softly. "You don't have to do the lab, I'll do it." Her jaw was set, struggling with internal moral values as she dropped a hand onto my shoulder. I flinched. "Just... go to the nurse or something..."
Her words were an echo drifting through my ears, indecipherable and meaningless. I can handle this… All of a sudden, I didn't really know what was going on. For what seemed like an eternity, I couldn't breathe, couldn't move, do or say anything as my blank gaze remained locked on the tray in front of us.
Come on, snap out of it...
"What are you doing?"
"Shut him up and tie him down, Jack."
No... no... I shook my head and tried to stagger back out of reach of someone's groping hands reaching for me – but they grabbed my arm, holding me in a painful, vice-like grip. "NO!" Wincing as the hands slammed me back onto a metal slab, white panic instantly took over. There was a vague crashing sound in the background, pain lancing up my chest and back. I screamed and struggled, bucked and writhed out of sheer, blind terror against those heavy hands pressing down onto my sore chest – but froze when brightness suddenly exploded across my vision.
"Can you hear me, Danny?"
I squinted against the painfully bright lights, and my mouth was dry as I frantically glanced around. Their foreboding silhouettes stood over me, someone's (Dad's?) darting out of view for a moment to grab something as I looked at my mother.
"You think you ever have a chance of getting things back to the way they were?" she said softly, leaning in closer. "You're a ghost. You're nothing but a disgrace to this family... This is for your own good."
"M-Mom," I whispered, fighting to scramble back and wincing as my head collided back with the hard surface. Horror beyond anything I'd ever felt before – so much that it completely froze me in place – raced through my veins, clawed at my heart, making me dizzy with fear. I was vaguely aware of something wet sliding down my cheek, my breathing fast and heavy. "Mom? What're you—"
"Easy, easy, Danny."
"Easy. Relax," Dad sneered in a mocking sort of way. "This'll only hurt just a little."
"Mister Fenton! What in the name of..."
I blinked, and suddenly I was back in the classroom.
"Wha... Sam?" I mumbled, starting in confusion. I anxiously glanced around. Somehow I'd ended up on the floor and in-between the two tables – ours and the other one behind us – and my chair had fallen down beside me. My chest was incredibly sore… that, and I was hyperventilating uncontrollably. I flicked my eyes down and realized that my arms were shaking. Small scratch marks and redness wrapped around them where I'd clutched them for dear life. Huh. Unintentional self-injury.
"Dude, what's wrong with him?"
"Oh my God, is he having a panic attack?"
"Eh, it's probably from the smell..."
"I know, Starr! That pig juice-stuff is so gross!"
"It's formaldehyde, retard. Not 'pig-juice st—'"
"Shut the hell up, idiots!" I blinked again, vaguely aware of Sam standing up and moving somewhere out of my vision. "Mister Falucca, I think he needs to go to the nurse or go home."
…lying, disgusting monster. And you are most certainly not our son.
P-please, Mom, I…
"...going to pass out or something, sir. He needs to go home."
"H-home," I whispered, and for a reason my mind couldn't fully process yet, the word brought a sense of unbridled fear crashing through me. Brightness, pain, disappointed faces gazing down on me...
"You okay, Fen-turd?" Someone asked. My head shot up... almost every student in the classroom was huddled over our table, gawking down at me. Some curious, a few concerned, others shocked and a little afraid.
"Daniel, come on – what's wrong?" The nasally voice of Falucca spoke from beside me, a hand gently shaking my shoulder.
"Yeah, son, what's wrong with you?" My mother sneered. On the side of my vision, I saw her raise something in her hand and approach me, knowing I was cornered and helpless. "I can fix that, for you…"
Jack, help me hold him down!
In a more logical state of mind, I would have berated myself for completely losing it like this, but now I only managed to do what sounded most reasonable after the flashback: I screamed and panicked. I scrambled to my feet in an instant, ignoring my headache, and blindly shoved my way past Falucca and my classmates. Rounding the lab table, my arm accidentally knocked over a tray and a few glass beakers. They crashed loudly behind me, and I think someone was calling my name, but I was already out the door.