Danny Fenton could not pinpoint the exact moment his life ended. It was lost in his mind, jumbled amongst the events of the days leading up to that moment. And he could not tell whether any of the shards of his past life could be fit back together, as his new guardian liked to believe and insisted endlessly.
He could not remember when the idea of cheating on the most important test of his high school career dawned on him, or how it seemed to be the answer to everything, his life. He didn't know if his life had ended then, or perhaps when he'd told Tucker and Sam, after they'd urged him to return the answer booklet, that he would cheat. Perhaps it had been as he'd opened the envelope, tearing the seal. He did not know.
He did not know when exactly his life, their lives, began to end slowly, when the destruction began to come. What had caused him to succumb to his own weakness and evil and let his family and friends fall with a bricked structure that had once served food. What had caused the death of his mother and father, his sister, Jazz, Tucker, Sam, Mr. Lancer, he did not know.
But he knew, more clearly than ever, that it was his fault.
He could blame it on Clockwork -he had tried- but in the end, the truth did not elude him. Clockwork had, perhaps, allowed him to attempt to save his family without any assistance, and had, perhaps, allowed them to die, but Danny knew that he could not hold him accountable. His family was tied to the Nasty Burger as it detonated because of his own actions. Clockwork had not made him do this thing he could not name, and, in reality, it was not his responsibility to look after him. Why should he have expected that of Clockwork?
Danny could try, but he knew. There was no escaping the blame, nor the guilt. It was dense, bottomless.
Danny didn't know how long he had been sitting in the darkness of his small bedroom at Fenton Works. When they'd found him lying on the ground near the flaming rubble of the Nasty Burger, the paramedics had examined him then brought him to his home. A social worker whose name he could not remember had told him to pack his belongings. His new guardian would come by in the morning to get him. He was sorry he couldn't get here earlier, but he'd had to take a plane, which of course had been delayed, she'd told him. After this, she reassured him in a monotone voice, which held no compassion –Danny assumed she hated her job as a social worker and only did it because she needed money-, that everything would be alright, and encouraged him to try and get some sleep.
But, of course, lying here in this dark bedroom, his mind reeling and his stomach churning, he could not.
Danny, after hearing who would be granted custody of him, had become sick with fear. Danny was so emotionally weak, so drained, and he knew good and well that his archenemy would be glad to see him in such a state. To him, there was no other explanation as to why his rival would have opted to take him in now that he had no one –he wanted to see him so broken. But that was Vlad Masters, of course; Danny knew how sick and malevolent he was, and he could only imagine what Vlad would do to him once he had him in his grasp. And Danny would have protested this decision, but he knew he had nowhere else to go. There were no relatives that he could remember, and even if there were, he doubted if they would want him if they knew it was his fault.
Danny had not yet heard from Vlad, for which he was glad, but he knew that it wouldn't be long. His cellphone had been ringing and vibrating continuously since news of the accident had begun airing on the local television station. Many of the numbers were the kids' he knew at school, but some he didn't even recognize. He felt the irony of this sting him –only now that he'd lost his family and his best friends did he become popular. That was what it took.
Paulina and Valerie had both called and sent several text messages, but he had not responded to either of them. He had had himself convinced that he loved them both, and normally, he would have been overjoyed to have received a text or phone call from either, but now it didn't matter to him in the least. Now, all he wanted was to see Sam's number appear on the screen as his phone rang. All he wanted was to hear her voice, have her make him laugh. He felt that he had not even begun to miss her, and the others.
The phone would not stop ringing, and Danny's head was pounding agonizingly. He reached over and clutched it tightly in his fist, almost crushing it. He meant to turn it off, but when he saw who was calling now, his fingers froze. Vlad's name and number appeared on the screen the moment he reached for it. He stared for a small moment, eyes wide.
Finally, he sighed and pushed the 'talk' button and pressed the phone to his ear.
"Daniel?" came Vlad's voice.
Danny was silent so long that Vlad spoke again. "Daniel, are you there?"
Danny closed his eyes in the darkness. "Yeah."
Vlad elapsed into a brief, awkward silence on the other end of the phone. Danny, wanting nothing more than to hang up and go to sleep, sighed loudly and irritably.
"What do you want, Vlad?" he snapped.
He heard Vlad sigh softly. "I just wanted to call to let you know I'll be by tomorrow morning to get you. Around ten or eleven."
"Where are you now?" Danny asked slowly.
"At the airport. I have to get on another flight," Vlad said, and Danny could hear the exhaustion in his voice.
"So, you probably won't be getting much sleep then?" Danny said, chuckling bitterly. "Hey, neither will I."
Vlad sighed again. "Danny, that social worker you talked to, she gave you some pills, correct?"
"Those will put you to sleep. I want you to take two of them."
"Look, Vlad. Just because you have custody of me or whatever doesn't mean you can order me around."
"Danny, I'm only trying to help you-"
"And that's another thing. You have no right to act like you know what's best for me."
"I hope you don't think you can replace my dad, or something. I'm sure you're overjoyed that he's gone and now you can have me all to yourself, but if you think I'm going to go with you and be your good little son, you've got another thing coming."
"Danny please, listen to me. You don't understand how sorry I am that they're gone. I know you may think I'm glad for his death, but, Danny, it's not true. You have to understand that. I wish I could have done something to prevent this from happening. I sincerely do."
"Sure," Danny said quietly.
Vlad sighed. "I really do. Please, Daniel, all I want is to help you. I'm not trying to replace Jack. I couldn't do that even if I tried."
"Oh, you've tried."
"Danny, please, trust me."
"Trust you! How could I trust you? After all you've done to my family-"
"Daniel, I know this won't be easy for you, but that's all I ask of you. I want you to give me a chance to help you. Please, trust me now, little badger," Vlad said softly.
"Daniel, things will be different, I promise. Please give me a chance. One chance."
Danny sighed into the phone, "Alright."
"Can you take those pills for me then, little badger?" Vlad asked. "You should be getting to sleep."
"Fine," Danny said. He found the small orange plastic bottle of pills and unscrewed the white cap. He took two pills dismally and swallowed them with a grimace. "There."
"Good. Now my plane is boarding, and I won't be able to use my cellphone. Will you be alright?"
"Yeah," Danny said, "sure."
"Alright. Just lie down and close your eyes. But if you need anything else, call the social worker. She gave you her number, correct?"
"Yeah," Danny mumbled sleepily. "Okay."
Vlad chuckled softly. "Well, I'll let you sleep now. I'll see you in the morning, alright?"
"Alright, goodnight, little badger," Vlad said, and hung up.
Danny pressed the 'disconnect' button on his phone, dropped it, and let himself fall onto the bed where he promptly fell asleep.