Danny had never before or since in his four years experienced the depth of flesh-searing agony that was inflicted on him that day.
It could have gone on for hours.
Perhaps days. It was over in seconds, but time had lost all meaning.
His throat grew hoarse from screaming, and when the pain did not stop, even after the poor child had crumbled to the ground with horribly blank eyes, he was petrified.
The floor had come up rushing behind him, as if the boy had simply stepped back into a wall, and pain, pain everywhere kept radiating his aching, glowing body-
Why wouldn't it stop?
Oh, God, why wouldn't it stop?
Make it stop.
MAKE IT STOP!
He hadn't been able to move for hours. Ectoplasmic sparks still occasionally flickered over his body, and while he sometimes slept on the cold tiled floor, other times, he just lay there, shivering, hurting so badly that he wished ardently to die.
His insides felt as though they'd been microwaved, and he threw up once or twice. His hands were glowing a brilliant silver, which made no sense, and his little T-shirt was black instead of white, which also made no sense, and he felt tingly and burny and so very coldcoldcoldcold and his head hurt terribly and his vision swam over his eyes, but was also clearer than it had ever been before, as if the world had been magnified, somehow….
After a while, he'd heard a sharp intake of breath above him, and he felt the cold slightly edge away a little as a flash of light momentarily dazzled him. He still hurt, still burned, still shivered, but his hands were normal now, and no longer gloved. He still felt too heavy to move, but the tips of his messy hair in his eyes were at least dark again. The crisp clarity the world had once had suddenly wavered, and Danny felt his senses dim just a little. He could only just barely feel as a pair of arms wrapped around his chest, turned him over, and pulled him close.
It was so warm. Danny's eyes saw a blur of red before his eyes before he passed out.
He was grateful Plasmius carried him to bed. He did not at all think that he could manage to stand, let alone walk. It was difficult to breathe, and his body kept spasming in cold shivers. Vlad would not let him wrap up in a blanket, much to his chagrin-said that he was burning up-but Danny held as tight as he could to the specter, coughing lightly, stars still flashing before his eyes, body aching.
If he let go of his anchor, he would drift away and be lost forever. He believed enough of what the ghost had told him to know.
Vlad attempted to tip the contents of a sippy cup of water down the boy's throat, but it was cold, and Danny wrapped his arms around the man's neck and howled in misery. Casting an anxious glance at the door, the ghost protectively enclosed Danny in a tighter embrace, kissing his forehead, and wiping at the boy's eyes, which flashed from blue to peridot faster than a traffic light.
The child looked up at the ghost with confused, feverish eyes, and the ghost's heart just about broke-from excitement or empathy or love, he didn't know which. Perhaps a combination of the above.
The sound of the boy's suffering moved him deeply, and he wished more than anything else he could just sweep his hand and make everything right, but selfish and guilty joy was blossoming inside of him as he held Danny tighter, wanting nothing more than to simply put the boy asleep again, and carry him to his castle. Only a few lingering threads of common sense kept him from just teleporting away with this prize-another hybrid. Another human-ghost hybrid.
The wonderful child Vlad had intended to use only as a weapon against Jack-gently push the child to hurt Jack in ways that the ghost could not….was so very, very much like himself, now. The billionaire was no longer all alone in the world. It had doubled in just seconds, and now this lonely, pained little child was cemented to the same fate he endured: Belonging neither with the living, nor the dead.
This child was the very LEAST of Jack's due towards his former best friend. Daniel was rightfully HIS now-no one could refute it. The boy was HIS son, his child, his heir, his companion. Jack wouldn't understand nor appreciate the beauty of having a child quite so precious and special as a hybrid.
He didn't even understand when he thought the boy was NORMAL. No one did.
Pity expounded, and Vlad wiped away the tears beginning to reform in Danny's eyes.
"Oh, my little dearest. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
"They'll get rid of me," Danny choked out at last, tears running liberally down his face, and horror bloomed in his heart as the true impact of his words sank into him. They WOULD get rid of him, if he was very lucky and they didn't try to cut him open!
Plasmius' dark glove smoothed Danny's messy raved-colored spikes.
"You'll have a place to go," he said softly, attempting to bring Danny into another embrace.
The boy only wildly shook his head and pushed himself away from the man, heartbeat picking up again.
"You don't geddit," he whimpered. "I won't have any friends. Ever."
"You will have me. You will have friends."
"But-but they'll get people angry with torches n'stuff! That's what always happens in the movies, and Daddy HATES ghosts! HE HATES THEM!" Danny's trembling voice rose to another scream, and Vlad crushed the child against him, his hands flying to stroke the boy's back.
"Shhh. Shhhhh. Please, don't cry, dearest. No one will hurt you. Ever again."
His voice was firm with resolve, and Danny, still white-faced, slowly turned fearful eyes to the man staring soberly down at him.
So Jack had left the ON button inside. Well….it was a major hazard, but it was one the GIW would have to deal with, now. The project was completed, and now, Maddie could look forward to having her afternoons open again. Today, she'd meant to stay home and look after Danny, (Whom appeared to have a bad bug of some sort) but her voicemail had been littered with no less than twelve messages from Danny's teacher requesting that the two meet immediately. Nonplussed, Maddie had penned her husband a note, and took off for the school. To her surprise (And slight concern), the woman was waiting for her in the parking lot, arms crossed in the chilly Autumn breeze.
As Maddie uncertainly stepped out of the car, Mrs. B immediately shook her hand, and bluntly invited her inside for a cup of coffee and a quick discussion.
"So, is everything alright? I'm terribly sorry about the parent-teacher meet," said Maddie apologetically as she gratefully accepted her cup of coffee from Mrs. B as she hurried to sit down at her desk. "Jack and I felt so foolish, we were so SURE we'd marked it on the cale-"
"Mrs. Fenton," Mrs. Baxter interrupted, not unkindly.
"There's something very wrong with your little boy's head."
Silence. Deathly silence. Maddie had just taken a sip of coffee, but choked, and only her great dignity kept her from spewing it all over the place.
Or preferably in the vicinity of Mrs. B's direction.
"I…beg your pardon?" asked Maddie coldly, her muscles immediately tensing up, as gearing for a fight. "What did you-"
"Please," interrupted Mrs. B apologetically, wringing her hands together. "I'm sorry to come out so matter-of-fact, Mrs. Fenton, but I've wanted to talk with you face-to-face for a few weeks now, and you've been unavailable-"
"As well I should be for people that try to tell me there's something wrong with my children," said Maddie, a dangerous edge creeping into her voice. The teacher sighed.
"Would you feel the same way if your doctor told you that your child was sick or your dentist told you that your child needed a filling? I'm trying to help you and your family, Mrs. F-as soon as possible. Danny's behavior has been troubling me lately, and I wanted to affirm that all is well with your home situation.
Aghast, Maddie looked at her, anger draining, and being replaced with confusion.
"But….I…..why would…what do you….I don't understand. Everything's been fine at home. Danny's been quiet-hasn't gotten in trouble for weeks, now! Perfect little angel."
"We'd all like to think that, Mrs. F," said Mrs. B kindly. "But that's not always the case. And please don't fly off the handle; I'm not accusing Danny of anything. His case is more bewildering than anything else."
The woman sighed, and picked up a fat file that was on her desk.
"The boy won't play with anyone at recess, Mrs. Fenton. No matter how I or the other attendants try to engage him to be social, but now we can't get him to come out of his shell. At all."
"So he's shy! He's only a-"
"My little boy was TRYING to talk to him the other day," snapped Mrs. B. "And he brought the rest of his little classmates to try and convince Danny to play-"
"Dash bullies him," said Maddie curtly. "If Dash brought over everyone to circle around Danny, it couldn't have been good. Why didn't you tell me about this earlier?"
Mrs. Baxter gave the woman a nasty look.
"Well, regardless of what you might believe have happened, I get word from fifteen screaming children that chalk-PLAYGROUND CHALK-started to float out of its box and start HAILING itself down on them."
"That's absurd. You're going to blame Danny for a lie preschoolers made up?"
"They all were insisting the same story, Mrs. F. And their heads were covered with dust. Most of them were crying. And, I do believe I DID try to contact you numerous times, but both you and your husband were preoccupied."
Maddie bit her lip, but then went on:
"So they got into a chalk fight! What has this anything to do with my son?"
Mrs. B turned a page in the file marked FENTON, DANNY, frowning.
"One of the preschool attendants….Melissa…..well, she gave the children an assignment: To write the word of what they wanted to be when they grew up. A cop, a cook, a teacher-easy things like that. Danny wrote the word 'Happy.'" Mrs. Baxter rolled her eyes, though the corners of her mouth twitched. "Melissa wasn't pleased at the cheek, and she sent Danny into Frowny Town-"
Maddie cast the woman a strange look. The teacher remedied:
"Time-out corner. And when Melissa had turned her back, and had gone downstairs to the storage cupboard for the next art project." She cast Maddie a troubled look. "The stairs were clutter-free, because the children aren't allowed down there, but nonetheless, she had a spectacular fall down the stairs, chipped a tooth, and needed three stitches for her lip."
"Well, what has THAT have anything to do with MY son?" Maddie protested. "Maybe…I don't know…she was wearing heels, or wasn't looking where she was going, or just lost her footing."
Mrs. Baxter turned a page, peering at it thoughtfully.
"Well, we all thought it was strange, because in her nine years of working here, Melissa's never had an accident. And she'd been wearing flats that day."
"But I still don't see-"
"I'm getting to that, Mrs. Fenton. Danny was recently evaluated by our school psychologist, and we suggest that you might have a word with him, because he advises that Danny be taken in for special observation-"
"'Observation?'" repeated Maddie, as if Mrs. Baxter were mad. "What on EARTH do you-"
"When the children were asked to draw their families," interrupted Mrs. Baxter. "Danny drew….well…hang on…."
She reached into a paper portfolio that had been sitting by her feet, and drew out a sheet of construction paper, handing it to Maddie with a raised eyebrow. Bemused, Maddie took it, and glanced down. Her eyes widened.
"What IS that?"
Mrs. B shrugged helplessly.
"I was hoping you could tell me that. You don't let Danny watch scary movies, do you?"
The painful answer was yes, so long as the movie reflected ghosts in a negative fashion, but Maddie bit her lip, and squinted at the drawing, looking at the stars Danny had scribbled in the sky.
"My boy has quite an imagination…." She mused, touching the little birds flying around the blue-skinned, red-eyed monster holding the scribble Danny's paw-like little hand. "It looks like they're flying. Over the sea. That's amazing."
Mrs. Baxter cast the woman a troubled look.
"Yes, well, I came over, and asked Danny to try and draw his FAMILY members. Mother, father-outside of his home, or something, with a nice sun or some flowers. He didn't really want to do it, but I kept coaxing, so he finally drew….this."
She drew out another sheet of paper, and this time, Maddie flinched, her lipsticked mouth dropping in disbelief. Blinking, she grabbed the paper, and held it to her eyes more closely, as if she hoped closer observation would mean that she would no longer be seeing the monstrosity she was seeing now.
Danny was again in the picture, but instead of the wide smile he'd had with the ghost in the other picture, he looked miserable, and his frown was so large that it could scarcely fit on his face. His father had a big nose and a large arrow through his head, and his orange jumpsuit was decorated with large, vomit-colored polka-dots. Her own self looked extraordinarily stupid, with bleeding red lips and an evil smile on her face, and Jazz had lots of sharp teeth, a demonic tail, and, for some reason, a large circle over her head. Maddie pointed to it.
"I asked. Danny said that it was a large rock hurtling down on his sister from the sky."
Dismayed, Maddie's confidence wavered, and she cast a confused look at the teacher, who stared soberly back.
"At circle time, we asked the children to share stories. Danny gave us one where his sister locked him in a closet, forgot about him, and left him in there for two hours. I'd advise getting her evaluated, too."
"But-Jazz would NEVER-"
"When the children started talking about their heroes," interrupted Mrs. B. "Danny brought up his 'imaginary friend' again, and said he wished he was his father."
That one struck home. Maddie started to tremble, all of the color draining out of her face.
"What sort of 'imaginary friend' does he have?" she asked quickly.
"You mean you don't know?"
Shamed, Maddie dipped her head, and clenched her fists, but Mrs. B only sighed, and said:
"He calls him Vladdy, although sometimes its Plasmius. Perhaps he has two friends…whoever they are, they supposedly plays games with Danny and take him out for ice cream and look over his phonics sheets-"
"But I asked JASMINE to do that-"
"-and he's protected from being 'bullied.' I won't deny that many children, including my son, have treated Daniel a little unfairly, Mrs. Fenton-"
The woman inwardly snorted. From the little she'd heard, that was the understatement of the year.
"But strange incidents have happened, and now parents are becoming concerned. When a little girl named Star tripped Danny because he accidentally stepped on her chalk drawing, all of a sudden, we heard her start crying and saying that something was pulling her hair. A little boy who took Danny's rocket without asking nearly got run over by a car. And a little girl who said that Danny lived in a dark basement and had cooties all over him had all of Danny's classmates avoiding him for over five days. No one would willingly sit with him at lunch or color with him or offer him a place to sit at circle time…..well….her father's a lawyer, and he's actually trying to sue the school over her broken arm. She didn't fall. Didn't trip. Danny was inside, she was out-and all of a sudden, while she was jumping rope…."
Mrs. B trailed off, and bit her lip at the horrified expression on Madeline's face. Expression becoming somewhat more sympathetic, she patted the woman's shoulder.
"I thought you should know because parents have signed a petition," she said quietly. "They want Danny out of here and with a specialist, or else they threaten to have their children sent away from different schools. This is becoming quite serious, Mrs. F, and I think your child-both of your children-need help. Danny especially, from what I can see."
She pulled out a small, crumpled sheet of paper, and unfolded it on her lap.
"Sometimes, the children have little notes from parents in their lunches, and the little ones ask me to read them aloud. Only once has Danny asked me to read one aloud, and the handwriting didn't match either yours nor your husband's on Danny's paperwork."
She handed over the note, and, in unfamiliar, loopy script, Madeline read,
Will be there if you need me, little badger. Try to keep your chin up today-we'll play when we get home.
Mrs. B sighed.
"If you or your husband didn't write it, who did? It's extremely disconcerting, ma'am…like a ghost has been following hi-Mrs. Fenton?"
But Madeline was already out the door.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!
Maddie ran two red lights, and passerby dove for cover as her car roared down the street. Only the need to keep staring at the road kept her from smashing her face into the steering wheel over and over again.
She was a horrific excuse for a mother. Her children had ignored her warnings to the extreme that they'd broken a cardinal rule; they were hanging out with ectoplasmic slime.
Or maybe they hadn't. Maybe the ghosts forced her baby into it. When was the last time she'd tucked him in, and asked him about his day?
She narrowly avoided running down a cat.
When had she spoken to him last?
When had she asked if he needed anything?
Her face went white again as she tried desperately to remember the last time they'd eaten a meal together. Danny hadn't tried reaching out to her.
What if he'd been…overshadowed? What if a ghost was hurting him? Sneaking into his room? Threatening terrible things?
With a yelp of horror, Maddie slammed on the breaks, narrowly avoiding slamming into the Fenton RV in front of her. Jack glanced behind the wheel, started in surprise, and gave his flushed wife a large smile before rolling down the window
"Mads, ya didn't tell me that you were going out!"
The stoplight they'd been sitting at by this point had turned green, and the car behind Maddie honked impatiently. Maddie gestured at a nearby parking lot, but said nothing. With a shrug, Jack stuck in his head back in, and turned the oversized assault vehicle into the vacant lot.
When both cars had pulled in, Jack stepped out with a grin while Maddie slammed her car door, still breathing deeply.
"Y'know, I suppose this makes us even more set for life, babycakes…us meetin' in the street the way we…..Maddie….what's….what's wrong?"
He'd taken a glance at her face. Torn between the urge to laugh and faint, Maddie buried her face in her hands.
"We need to talk," she said softly. "We're in trouble?"
"Why? The GIW said that the on-switch thing sucked, but they can always rewire it themselves. Just so long as the thing wor-"
"Ghost," she said weakly, capturing Jack's attention immediately. "There's a ghost after our baby."
Before Jack could say anything, Maddie's breath stopped short, and she seized her husband by the front of his jumpsuit.
"Where are the kids?"
Jack had been staring his wife, aghast, but he uncertainly pointed towards their street.
"Oh, at home, with y..."
The man stopped short, and his insides turned to ice with dread.
"I didn't know you'd left. I ran out to the pharmacy to grab a few things."
"They didn't know that we..."
"You should have come to tell me you were leaving!" Jack bellowed outside of his window, zipping down the street.
"I LEFT A NOTE!" Maddie shouted, forcing her foot off the accelerator so that she didn't bash the family RV. "How long has it been?"
"Half hour. Maybe forty-five minutes. With any luck, Jazzy is playing in her room, and Danny decided to take a na…ack!"
Jack slammed on the brakes, and Maddie's car nearly slammed into his. Muttering under her breath, she stuck her head out the window to see what her husband was staring at-
And her breath caught.
There was a plume of black smoke rising into the air, towering like a mushroom.
And it was coming from the inside of FentonWorks.
Set a man to watch all night,
Watch all night, watch all night,
Set a man to watch all night,
My fair lady.
Danny happily squeezed his teddy's hand again, quite pleased that it sang again normally. Humming, he turned to a new page in his sketchbook, and merrily started doodling, pausing to take a swig from the apple juice sitting near his bed.
Although being part ghost was still very scary, and sometimes, he still phased out of bed and fell onto the floor, he couldn't deny that there were benefits when you had a fussy half-dead guy looking over you. While Jack had brought Danny a cup of very badly-burned canned chicken soup, Vlad had thrown the putrid plate away and brought him a yummy sandwich and ice cream for lunch. It was certainly the most agreeable time he'd ever been "sick," better than when he'd had his tonsils taken out and had been given all the popsicles he could eat by the nurses.
With a small sigh, Danny leaned back against his pillows, at peace with himself, and the world. He'd waited for this day for a while now, and while the specifics still made him awfully nervous, he was glad that he'd done what he'd did. He couldn't even remember being held before Vlad came along. Surely this was the right choice.
Or if it wasn't, well, too bad. He pushed his tray away, winced as he stretched his aching limbs, and cuddled his singing bear close, staring thoughtfully at the dark clouds massing about outside. It looked like it was going to rain, soon….
With a little pop, Danny heard an all too familiar voice in his ear.
Danny didn't look up, so intent was he on getting the daisies to look right.
"Are you frightened?"
"Nah. Not really."
"For future reference, I'd rather you not play with matches. Half ghost or not, it's extremely dangerous," the ghost lectured sternly as he moved to sit beside the boy, picking up a small picture book.
"Kay," murmured Danny, picking up a picture, examining it critically. "How long d'we have?"
"Before the fire reaches the basement? I'd say eleven minutes."
Danny glanced up, and gave the ghost a large smile.
"Cool. Do you think that's enough time to play a quick game of hide and go seek?"
The flames were hungrily devouring as much of Fenton Works as they could find, and a fourth of the buildings supports were already beginning to weaken considerably. Before the fire trucks could come wailing up, Maddie had kicked down the front door, and sped through the flames coughing, calling out frantically for Jasmine. The terrified little redhead was trapped on a chair, holding her arms out entreatingly for her Mommy as the woman sped towards her in tears. Jack, in the meantime, sped up the stairs, avoiding the flame that was already licking at the walls...
Suppose the man should fall asleep,
Fall asleep, fall asleep,
Suppose the man should fall asleep?
My fair lady.
It was the little toy singing from Danny's room, and the fire had already engulfed most of the roof in that part of the house! With a wild squawk of fear, Jack sped into the hallway, huffing and puffing as he attempted to avoid the embers crashing about him...
Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
Smoke all night, smoke all night,
Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
My fair lady.
Not bothering to try and open the door, Jack instead started ramming it with all of his might, crying all the while, the bear's singing and the fire roaring and everything turning into a confusing dirge...
But at last, he ripped the door off its hinges, and walked into a nightmare.
His son was in the arms of the blue-skinned, red-eyed ghost that the child had drawn too many times-pictures Jack had only ever glanced at. Half of the room was already a golden, burning inferno, and the deathly-looking revenant was murmuring something to Jack Fenton's son, who had his hands over his mouth:
"Be sure not to inhale….carbon monoxide….dangerous…."
"DANNY!" Roared Jack, kicking through the flames and burning timber, and aiming a gleaming emerald thermos at the ghost, grey eyes sparkling with fear and hatred. "LEGGO OF MY SON, YA FILTHY SPOOK!"
A burning beam from the ceiling suddenly collapsed between the three, and while Jack winced as the heat seared at his face, he tried to march through the flames, only managing to burn himself harder in the process. Yelping with pain, Jack staggered back as more of the roof gave way, letting in a light evening drizzle that seemed only to help accelerate the wild flames licking and destroying around him.
All the while, Vlad only gazed at him appraisingly, as if he were some filthy dog on the premises.
Sweat beading his filthy brow, Jack stretched out his arms through the burning wreckage, gloved hands entreatingly open for the little boy with his face pressed against the ghost's chest in a way that seemed horribly familiar.
Or not familiar. Maybe that was the problem. Jack gagged, becoming lightheaded, his back stinging horribly as he narrowly avoided having a pile of falling, burning timber collapse on him.
"Son! COME ON! JUMP! KICK HIM! I'LL SAVE YOU! Danny! DANNY!"
The boy at last looked out from his small sanctuary, the heat of the braziers making his dark hair flutter slightly. He looked slightly nervous, a little scared, and a little…..
"No, thanks." Danny said simply, pressing his face against the intruder's shoulder again.
"DANNY! NO! WHAT D'YEH-STOP! FIGHT! SON, DON'T LET HIM GET TO YOU! YOU GOTTA GET BACK, BEFORE-"
"Daniel, would like to go home?" asked Vlad quietly, stroking the child's head languidly, as though he had all the time in the world, a small, sadistic smile growing on his face as the ghost considered Jack Fenton.
Danny withdrew again, casting the ghost a confused look.
Silence. Danny fidgeted. Then, with a small smile, he broke Jack Fenton's heart, and squeezed his little bear, smiling faintly as he regarded the ghost. It was the way a child might look to a parent they know is being a little silly on purpose.
"I'd like that."
Vlad exhaled, shoulders relaxing, and the furrowed brow disappearing. He kissed the crown of Danny's head, now hardly noticing the stricken man standing in a world that was literally collapsing all around him into pieces. Vlad turned around, and checked a pocketwatch.
He turned around once more, and Jack was to remember this moment for the rest of his life: The sirens outside wailing, his back burning, his wife screaming from the sidewalk, the specter's satisfied smirk, Danny's almost wistful little smile…..
"Good day to you." Said Vlad Plasmius politely, and with that, he turned around, and glided away from the ashen ruins, Danny still clutched safely in his arms, teddy bear all the while singing,
Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
Smoke all night, smoke all night,
Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
My fair lady.
It was the last time he would see either of them ever again.
Jack woke up in the ER two days later, with some third-degree burns and blisters, and he'd been hooked up to an oxygen machine. The machine had been blown sky-high, and the GIW had by this time found another group willing to create a spectral portal. Maddie and Jack had lost all of their equipment, so there was no chance to try again.
It didn't really matter that much, anyway. Neither Jack or Maddie wanted to see or have anything to do with ghosts ever again. Jasmine's state was mostly wild tears and violent regret, and it was enough that they could manage to send her to a grief counselor, let alone get through the next month.
Officially in the papers, Danny Fenton has died. Jack usually doesn't doubt it, although sometimes he wonders, and it torments him more than usual. He's tried to track down information on this ghost to no end, but he scarcely has time, and anyways, it makes Mads cry when he does.
Would revenge bring Danny back to them? If only. What-ifs aren't going to help anymore. Maddie manages her at-home secretary work as best as she can, and Jack's hoping to get a promotion soon to earn them a nicer apartment.
The only thing they really have left is each other, and while it feels like London Bridge has only ever been patched up, always damaged, gaping, and broken, it can't ever break again. That would truly make the bridge fall to pieces.
On some nights, Jack has the strangest, idiotic fancy that his son is still alive somewhere, and somehow, happy. While this thought only saddens him further in its improbability, it also makes the man smile just a little as he moves to go back into his apartment, and seek a few hours' solace.
If that hypothetically WERE true, Jack hopes the new bridge Danny builds is with better foundation than his father's. And though his own bridge certainly isn't great, it'd be nice if they could come to meet again someday.
London Bridge is broken down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My dear darling.