Hi there, guys! ((ducks to avoid things readers throw)) Sorry I've been MIA for so long, competition season has been crazy time consuming.
To make it up to you, I present a story that personally I think trumps all my past stories.
This was inspired by a review that I reread on one of my earlier fics by EndGame666, whose honest review really made me want to be a better writer. To see the review, check out the review section of "Alone"...honestly really helps me, and inspires me to keep going. So Endgame, if you're reading this: Thank you. A lot. Your review really inspired me to work harder and I really appreciate it!
Now, onto the story...i really hope you like it, because I tried to add more detail and emotion than is found in my other fics.
Maddie sat hunched over the computer screen, running tests over a sample of ectoplasm she had salvaged from the scene of a ghost fight. She had been at it for hours, running test after test on the sample. She didn't even remember what she was trying to figure out anymore. Her eyes hurt from focusing on the tiny screen.
With a sigh, she pushed her chair back, scraping the lab floor. Looking over at her husband, she realized he had fallen asleep at one of the work stations. Smiling softly, she pulled a blanket from one of the cabinets and draped it over Jack's shoulders. Then she quietly made her way up the stairs and out of the lab, trying not to disturb him.
She knew it was late. It would probably be smart to call it a night, go upstairs and go to bed... Maddie was restless, so she quickly wiped such thoughts from her mind. She needed to do something, she needed to go somewhere. A change of place was sure to clear her mind and help her relax. She opened the coat closet and selected a black jacket that would keep out the night's chill. Then, she grabbed a spare key and slipped out into the night.
Where to go? That was the question. As she stood on the front porch an idea struck her: She could ask Danny if he wanted to go stargazing with her. He loved space after all, and they hadn't spent much time together in months. Actually, it felt as though she hadn't seen him since around the time of the accident. Maybe freshman year was a busy time, or maybe he was dealing with post-tramatic stress. That idea made her freeze. Why had she never checked to see how the accident had effected him? He had become so distant...maybe she should have said something.
Maddie turned back to the door, ready to go up to his room and invite him along. Then she stopped. He always looked so tired lately, and she had heard from more than one teacher that he had fallen asleep in their classes. It was late, she wouldn't rob him of any more of the sleep he didnt seem to be getting. It wouldn't be right.
She turned back towards the street and began walking. At first she just kind of wandered, but eventually she decided that with or without Danny, she wanted to see the stars. Near her house, with the blazing 'Fenton Works' sign, that was not much of a possibility. She set off for the park, sure that the sky's lights would be clearly visible from there.
It was a warm night, but the chill that blew across the city was anything but warm. Maddie hugged her jacket closer to her chest, and walked determinedly through the night. The only sounds around her were the wind whispering past her ears, and her boots hitting rhythmically on the pavement. It was peaceful, she decided, not to have all the inventions beeping around her. Not to have questions asked of her, and not to be staring at a screen.
Reaching her destination, Maddie breezed through the entrance and wove through the trees. She knew where she would view the stars. At the top of the bridge, where she had brought her son for his first night of stargazing. It had been a connection between the two of them. Each month they had watched heaven's lights twinkle far above their heads, and each month they would feel the magic that the open sky seemed to promise. That very bridge was where a ten year old Danny had first declared that he would be an astronaut. Where he had told her how he longed to fly. It was where she had laughed and assured him that anything was possible. She missed those days.
When she was climbing the side of the bridge, she noticed a figure sitting on the side of it. His legs hung over the railing, and his white gloved arms rested on it. His face, cloaked in a black hoodie, was pointed up at the world above him. Maddie smiled. Maybe she wouldn't have to be alone tonight after all. Perhaps she and the stranger could enjoy the stars together.
"A beautiful night, isn't it?" She asked the figure, settling down beside the stranger. "Hardly a cloud in the sky..."
The stranger stilled, but then he relaxed. He didn't turn to face her, instead he nodded. "The stars seem brighter than usual."
"That's because-" Maddie knew the scientific explanation, but she decided against explaining it. For tonight, she wouldn't be Maddie Fenton the scientist. Tonight, she would just be Maddie. "I wonder what it's like, to be way out there...Away from Amity and all it's problems."
Her present company laughed. "No offense, but you don't exactly strike me as the kind of person who has a lot of problems." He pulled his legs back from the side of the bridge and hugged them to his chest.
"What do you mean?" Maddie inquired. "You don't even know me."
The stranger shook his head and chuckled, but he didn't say anything. He turned to look at her, and she was surprised by how young he was.
The teen could be no older than her own son, Danny. His hood was pulled over his forehead, obscuring his hair. His eyes were a bright, shocking green. His bone structure, she observed, was very similar to that of Danny. Was this boy in her son's classes? He would be interested to know that another kid his age was into stars and space.
He looked away sharply, focusing his eyes on the sky once more. "I have to agree though, getting away from the stress and the pain of it all would be a relief...," He sighed. "I cant imagine it. A life with no worries? Crazy."
Maddie's eyes widened in shock. Her mind came to the first conclusion such talk from a teenager would induce from an adult. This kid was talking about getting away from pain. Which he associated with life. Was he suicidal? She had read somewhere that the best way to help a depressed teenager was to talk to them. Treat them like an equal and assure them that there was hope. "Do you need to talk to someone? Because I'm here for you if you need to talk."
He laughed at that. "I'm sure." The sarcasm couldn't be clearer in his voice. "Of course you are there for me. Wow, great joke. Props for originality." He shook his head and gave her a bitter smile.
"Honestly. If something's wrong, something you don't feel comfortable talking to your friends or parents about, why not vent to a stranger?" She put a hand on his shoulder, and he flinched away from it. She gasped. "You're freezing, here." She shrugged off her jacked and draped it over the teen's shoulders. She was older, she could take the cold.
"My parents don't know who I am," The boy finally spoke. His tone was dark and humorless, "They don't understand me, and they never will."
Maddie bit her lip as she thought up a response. "Have you tried explaining things to them? Being honest with them?"
The teenager shook his head. "I cant. They'd kill me if they knew the truth."
Maddie's eyes widened. There was definitely something wrong with this kid. Maybe he wasn't suicidal, but perhaps he had an abusive home life. "Are your parents...harming you?"
The boy looked over at her, eyes sparkling with twisted humor. "Mentally? Yes, I'm probably close the the edge because I have to be someone else around them. I have to put on a mask and pretend to be the person I used to be. They cant know that I've changed, because they cant know how I've changed."
"Are you...into drugs or something of the kind?" She asked. "There are ways to get help for that, and I would be more than happy to give you some local numbers to seek help."
The teenager shook his head. "I would never do drugs. I'm not going to throw my life away."
Maddie searched her mind for another solution. She asked in a softer voice. "Did things with a girl go too far?"
The boy blushed scarlet and frantically shook his head. "No! Not at all! I'm only fifteen!"
Only fifteen? So he was Danny's age. Exactly. How could someone like Danny seem so shaken up, so...defeated. It hurt her heart to think about her own son going through the depression that seemed to be affecting this kid. "Then what, may I ask, is troubling you?"
The boy sighed, standing up and leaning against the bridge's railing. "My parents are I are at irreparable odds. There's no way I can ever be myself around them or ever tell them the truth." His voice rose in volume as he grew angry, "I can't take this life of secrecy! Not from them! It's taking too much out of me, this constant weight of stress slowly crushing me from every angle!" He turned and kicked the railing hard, his white boot scuffing a little on the steel bars.
"What could have possibly happened to you that makes you feel like you can't be honest with them?" Maddie asked. "I promise you that whatever it is, they will find a way to understand. You can work together to get past this." She stood up and walked over to him, gazing into his eerily bright eyes.
"Not this." The boy shook his head violently, angrily. "Theres no gentle way to break the news to your parents that you're DEAD!" He reached up and yanked the hood from his head, exposing a mess of shining ivory hair.
Danny Phantom. The troubled, angry boy was Danny Phantom. The ghost boy. Maddie's breath caught in her throat, leaving her unable to speak.
He pulled his mouth into a snarl as he looked at her. "See, once you see who I am, you realize that you cant understand." His eyes were going glassy, and Maddie expected the tears that began to fall moments later. "No one understands. Not you. Not my friends. NO ONE!" He punched the railing in frustration, denting it. To his credit, no ectoblast accompanied it, so the damage would be easy for the park's maintenance department to fix.
Maddie worked her jaw up and down a few times, at a loss at what to say. He had opened up to her, even when he knew who she was. He had a family, or parents at least. They were still living, and he pretended that he was too. What that must do to his mind, to his very soul...it was incredible. Jazz would have loved the opportunity to analyze such a mind.
"Phantom." She finally got a word out.
He looked over at her, raising an eyebrow. "Ok, I get it. I'll leave, stop 'polluting' the air around you with my pathetic existence. He made a sound that could only be classified as a growl and began to stomp his way down the bridge.
"Phantom." She said again, this time her voice came out stronger. "Wait."
He kept going, but he did slow down a bit.
At this he froze, turning to face her with and incredulous expression on his face. He jaw had dropped and his eyebrows were raised slightly. She suddenly saw a vulnerability she never would've associated with the ghost boy of Amity Park.
"Come here." She motioned for him to come closer, sitting down and tapping the space beside her. "Please." She repeated the word, hoping it would continue to have it's effect on the ghostly teen.
He walked over cautiously, hesitating slightly when he reached her. Then, obediently, he sat beside her.
"I used to come here all the time, with my son, Danny." She smiled at the memories. "We would sit and stare at the stars, and we were free to talk about anything. We had a rule: what is said on the bridge stays on the bridge." She laughed. "I always had to keep him away from the bridge when it got close to his birthday, because as he reminded me, I had to honestly answer every question. Even ones about his birthday presents."
The ghost boy was smiling lightly now, but it looked as though he were trying to hide it from her.
"He grew up and eventually he stopped coming with me to the bridge. We don't talk as often anymore, and he seems so distant." She shook her head. "The point that I'm trying to make is that he might not need me anymore, but I'm still here for him if he needs me. Just as your parents are surely there for you as well." Maddie smiled. "And, I'm here for you as well."
Phantom made a disbelieving sound, eyes widening until she worried they'd pop out of their sockets. "What?"
"Phantom, you opened yourself up to me tonight." She explained, "You revealed that you can feel, and very strong at that. You revealed that you have a living family, and that you died recently." At Phantom's questioning look, she clarified. "You look the age that you died, and since you're fooling your parents, it must not have been long ago at all."
Phantom nodded. "It was actually exactly a year ago today that I was killed."
Maddie frowned. "Killed?"
"In a lab accident." He shuddered. "I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."
"Well, happy death day? Is that what you say? I'm not well versed in ghost culture, seeing as I am a ghost hunter..." She trailed off, sounding almost embarressed.
Phantom smiled at that. "Thanks, I guess. And, honestly, I'm not really either."
Maddie didn't ask. She would respect his privacy on the details of his death and circumstances of his afterlife. What a weird thing to think about. "So, if you need to talk..."
The ghost boy seemed deep in thought, but then his expression grew determined. "Actually, I do need to talk. I need to do more than just talk. I have to tell you my secret...that is, if you promise to keep it secret." He seemed nervous, his hands shaking, eyes in the stream below.
Maddie supposed she could say no, let him keep his secret so that she wouldn't be tempted to used it against him in a fight. Yet...he seemed so fragile, so wounded. She wanted to help him, and she knew if it were her son in his place, she would want someone to help him. "I promise."
"He still needs you."
Mrs. Fenton looked at him quizzically. "Who still needs me?"
"Your son. You said he didn't need you anymore, but he does. He wants to be honest with you, but he's afraid. Afraid of how you'll react." Phantom rubbed the back of his neck. "But he's going to be honest anyways, because he knows that if he isn't he won't survive much longer."
"I dont understand," Maddie spoke, "I thought you said that YOU needed to talk?"
It was then that the silver rings appeared around his middle. They split and traveled over his body, transforming his suit to jeans and a t-shirt. His eyes turned ice blue, and his hair raven black. His skin paled a bit, and he lost the gloves and boots. Danny Fenton stood before her.
"Mom, I'm dead." He admitted, staring firmly at her face to gauge her reaction. "Well, half dead at least."
"Danny?" Her body froze up in shock. The tortured boy she'd spoken was also the town's alleged hero? Hero. Her son was a hero. Not a villain. If it were her son, he couldn't be the villain. Which meant Phantom was good. He had always been.
"Mom, I'm Danny Phantom." He stepped forward. "I just wanted you to understand."
She gazed at him in wonder, and then she threw her arms around her son. "I love you, Danny. No matter what."
"You too mom," A flash of light enveloped him, and it was Phantom who had his arms around her. "Remember though, what is said on the bridge stays on the bridge."
His mother laughed. "Of course, honey."
"Now, you said you wanted to see what it was like up there, right?" He asked, an excited smile forming on his face.
"Well yes, but I don't see how..." She trailed off, catching on.
Danny Phantom, her son, held out a hand for her. "Wanna fly, mom?"
So what do you think? Improvement? Should I go hide under a rock out a shame? Just be honest. Please?