Chapter One: The First Day

Disclaimer: You all know how this goes. I don't own Danny Phantom.

The first day is always the worst, always the hardest, always the most confusing, and as Danny walks up towards the steps of his high school, he wonders if he's really ready for this. It's been a week, though, so why shouldn't he be ready?

Because I still don't know what happened, he thinks, answering his own thoughts, but he says nothing to his friends as they continue to argue about something. Is it video games? Danny thinks it is, but he's been having trouble keeping focused this morning. On the surface there's nothing wrong with him. His dark hair shines in the sunlight, the raven locks as messy as they were a month ago before it happened, and the dark circles surrounding his eyes are still as pronounced as they were when he spent every night battling evil specters. He hasn't been fighting ghosts since he returned—his friends are the ones handling it, as are his parents and a couple of other local ghost hunters who began picking up the slack when he originally vanished—but he hasn't been sleeping well, just the same, and his pale complexion and bloodshot eyes show it by far more clearly than he could ever say. It's one of the few signs that there's something clearly wrong, one of the signals that even brainless jocks like Dash will pick up on the instant he walks through those doors, but Danny knows that his family is right. As messed up as his life has become, Danny knows that he has to do this, that he must return to his life, to normalcy, to school.

Shifting the purple backpack on his shoulder ever so slightly, an action performed more out of habit than actual discomfort, Danny continues to ignore his friends' conversation. Danny is sure that they asked him a question or two at some point, but neither one pressed him when he didn't respond. They know that there's something wrong, and even though they don't know what, they understand that what he needs is a break. Just a bit of time to get his mind back together, to get his head back in the game and to get back to being his old self. Just a little bit more time is all that Danny needs, and then everything will be the way it is supposed to be.

Subconsciously, he finds himself humming a song again as he arrives at his locker, spinning the combination around to the right numbers even though it's been weeks since he entered the code. "How is it that I can't remember anything that happened during those three weeks but I can still remember my stupid locker combination?" he grumbles, the first thing he's said to Sam and Tucker all morning since a mumbled greeting on the front porch, and the two of them instantly stop the conversation they were having. He's pretty sure he interrupted one of them—Tucker, he thinks—but neither one seems upset about it. They just look relieved that he's said something at last.

"I didn't even think you knew your locker combination," chuckles Tucker, trying to keep the conversation going, but there's no happiness behind the sound. It's more like he's also trying to force himself into a routine that all three feel they've lost permanently along the way somewhere. "Usually you just wait until the hallway is empty and then you phase your hand through it."

"I do not," Danny grumbles, but he knows that Tucker's right. Normally Danny does just grab his books using his ghost powers since he's usually running so late to class that the hallways are already empty and a blatant display of his abilities doesn't matter. He would do it today, too, but what Danny won't tell his friends is that he's scared to use his powers. Even though his ghost form and powers seem okay, they're not. There's something painful now about going ghost, something about it that simply hurts even though there's nothing obviously wrong. Even using his powers while he's human leaves him feeling a kind of horrible ache in his chest. He feels like he wants to cry every time he touches his ghostly core, but that's not the kind of thing he's ready to share yet. His friends are worried enough about him already, and besides, he's not sure he could tell them without breaking down completely.

"Besides, this whole day is supposed to be about getting back to normal, right?" he adds, but he knows he hesitated a little too long. His friends eye him suspiciously, but once again, they don't press it. There's nothing normal about today—on a "normal" day, Sam would force him to tell them what was wrong no matter how hard he tried to avoid it. "And normal teenagers don't have ghost powers."

"But using your powers is normal for you, Danny," says Sam softly, nervously, as if she has no right to badger him. Her violet eyes are filled with concern, with worry and with a touch of a fear for her best friend who seems so far gone now. Danny had been a half-ghost before he'd vanished, but it wasn't until he'd returned that Sam ever would have thought to describe him as ghostly.

For the first time since he's returned Danny looks carefully at his friends, really carefully. He didn't notice it before, but Sam's wearing very little makeup today, and instead of her usual stylish skirt and tank, she's wearing dark jeans and a tight black t-shirt that looks as if it was thrown on simply because those were the first clothes that her hands found upon waking. Even the laces and buckles on her boots aren't completely done up, and as he looks at her he can see that she has dark circles to match his own around her eyes. Her hair, normally at least partially up, is worn down, the locks sweeping about her face in a way that is very elegant yet also very un-Sam like.

Tucker hardly looks better. His shirt and pants are wrinkled and his beret looks like it was thrown on as an afterthought, and the same tell tale signs of exhaustion mar Tucker's face as clearly as they do Sam's. Although he never put as much effort into his personal style as Sam, Danny can't help but notice that Tucker's pockets seem to lack their characteristic bulges from his PDA and various other technological devices, and for Tucker, the self-proclaimed techno geek, to not have the very staples of his identity on his person . . . Silently Danny curses, berating himself for not paying enough attention to how much his confusion, his memory loss, and his strange disappearance is still affecting his friends. He needs to be normal for them, needs to try for their sake, because even if nothing feels right to him, even if he can't get that damn song out of his head, the one part of Danny that is still there is the hero-complex. Even if it hurts him to pretend to be normal, he thinks, Danny decides that he's going to act like the Danny they know and remember so they can stop suffering. So they can return to what, for them, is normal and happy, even as Danny doubts that he'll ever be able to get back to that state again.

"You're right, Sam," he says, smiling at her, and even though he knows that it's not quite reaching his eyes, it's a start. Danny's a master of acting, a master of switching masks mid-stride, and even though he's not quite back to himself yet, he knows that it won't be long before he can at least fool everyone into believing that he is. It hurts to lie to his friends this way, but it's not the first time he's pretended to be feeling better than he is for their sake. "Maybe . . . maybe tonight I'll go on patrol again, too."

"Seriously?" the pair gasps in unison, and he can see a faint light in their eyes: it's hope. Now he knows that must do it, must take up the hero's mantle even though the only thing he truly wants to do is go home and sleep tonight.

He grins. The glimmer of hope in their eyes has given him something, a small spark that maybe he can build upon to bring himself back to something at least a step above the bare half-existence he's living now. "Yeah. That's part of the routine, too, right? School, ghost hunting, more school, ghost hunting, lectures from the parents about responsibility, maybe a detention or two and a side of lack of sleep to go with it . . ."

"Not to mention there's that little added bonus of Paulina finally putting an end to her little drama queen act," grumbles Sam, nodding towards the A-list cheerleader who is currently dressing in all black rather than her signature pink. "She's been mourning Danny Phantom ever since you disappeared a month ago, and now half the school's dressed in black because of it! I'm barely recognizable as a goth anymore."

"And it's really stupid for them to be mourning him, since, y'know, everybody assumed that because he's a ghost Danny Phantom is already dead," adds Tucker, and then he winces, slightly. "I mean, we know you're not dead, dude, but—"

"—it's okay, Tuck," chuckles Danny, and this time he makes the smile appear to reach his baby blues even though inside he doesn't feel much like smiling at all. It's the masks, again, coming as naturally to him as breathing.

Or perhaps that's not an apt comparison, given that as a half-ghost, the breathing doesn't always come all that naturally to Danny.

"Um . . . nobody put it together, did they?" asks Danny nervously, rubbing the back of his neck, and his friends frown at him, not quite following the sudden change in the subject. "The whole Fenton and Phantom disappearing at the same time thing, I mean?"

"You mean did anybody figure out your secret?" clarifies Sam, and Danny nods, fidgeting slightly as he uneasily considers the possible consequences of what would happen if someone had managed to add up the clues. "No. I mean, that first week you were gone we covered it up for a few days so the timing between the two vanishing was a little different, and even though you've been back for a week now, it's not like anyone's seen Danny Phantom. Valerie's the only one that might be a little suspicious, but I don't think it's because she thinks you're the same person. I think she just believes that Phantom captured you or something."

For a moment Danny feels a kind of pain, as if Sam's words have brought some truth closer to the surface, but no matter how hard he tries to pull the memories out, nothing comes. Nothing but the damn song that he's sure he never heard before his disappearance and yet can't get out of his head, and for a brief instant, he finds himself beginning to hum it before he manages to stop himself. Even though the tune sounds cheerful enough, there's just something about it that hurts, that makes Danny want to cry every time he hums it aloud or hears it in his head, and he hopes that it'll leave him alone before it drives him mad.

"And your parents know the truth now," adds Tucker, "but that's just because we told them. Even they admitted that they never would've guessed the truth and your mom's smarter than just about anyone else in town."

"But totally blind when it comes to some obvious stuff, Tuck, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten away with the lie for so long," says Danny, for he can't shake the feeling that someone must have figured out his secret at last. It's just paranoia, of course, and he knows that, but knowing the truth about the foolishness of what one's feeling doesn't mean one can always stop feeling it.

"How are they handling it?" Sam asks gently, one of the more personal questions that she's been willing to put forth since Danny's return.

"They seem to be taking it pretty well," Danny answers, "but I think that's just because they're mostly happy that I'm still at least half-alive."

At least they're acting like they're taking it well, he thinks, but he doesn't say it to his friends. They don't need to know that his parents always eye him strangely now, or that they second guess everything they say around him, especially when they start talking about ghosts. They don't need to know about the little words and phrases that his parents use to talk about his powers and his ghost half as if it's a disease, phrases like "tainted with ectoplasm" or "curing Danny's ghost-half." They don't need to know, either, about how his parents flinch every time he goes ghost or uses one of his powers, even though he rarely does either anymore.

They don't need to know about how Danny is pretending like he never notices how hard his parents are taking the news about their son being a ghost, either, or how much it hurts Danny to play the role of the oblivious teenager. "That's good," says Sam, smiling at him. "I was worried that your dad would still want to rip you apart molecule by molecule."

"Nope. He says that he wants me to be his sidekick," Danny says, grinning, and it's true. His father did say that when Danny returned and he first learned the truth, but his mother and sister both insisted that Danny stop ghost hunting for a while. They worry about his safety since something obviously went horribly wrong once, and Danny understands. With how becoming a ghost feels lately, he even welcomes the excuse to shirk his responsibility.

"At least you have the matching jumpsuits," quips Sam, who's enjoying the turn in the conversation as much as the fact that Danny's participating in it.

"And I'm sure that your dad won't trap you in the thermos as many times as Jazz," adds Tucker cheerfully, and Danny shudders as he remembers his sister's lamentable ghost hunting abilities. "Dude, I can't believe how awful she is at it."

"She has gotten a little better," says Danny, defending his sister although he feels like he shouldn't since she really is a terrible ghost hunter. "At least I think she has. I still won't let her come near me with a thermos."

"Some people are just better suited to support roles," states Sam as they walk into their first period class together, and a chill runs through Danny as he sees his fellow classmates staring at him, whispering softly. The once invisible boy who used to sit near the back of the class and who was only notable for the number of times he went to the bathroom in a single day has become an instant celebrity with his three-week vanishing act, and although the teachers have all spoken to their students about behaving normally around Danny, his peers can't help themselves. The gossip spreading through the school and the whispers in the classroom as he moves towards his seat sounds like a dozen hissing snakes, and he desperately wants to run away before one decides to bite.

Of course, running away will only make it worse in the long run. As long as Danny acts normal, he knows that things will return to normal eventually. The stranger he behaves, the more fuel he adds to the gossip and rumors.

Sam touches his shoulder gently, offering him her support as she moves to take her seat behind him. Her touch causes a ripple of anxiety to run through Danny that he can't explain, but Danny appreciates the thought behind the gesture nevertheless. Tucker likewise smiles and gives him a slight nod, letting him know that he's there for his friend as well, and for a moment Danny feels as if he might be okay.

"So, Fenturd," comes a nasally voice off to his side as one of the snakes bites at last, and inwardly Danny cringes. He's forgotten that Dash is in his first period class, that the obnoxious football player and bully is in all of his classes, and taking a deep breath Danny focuses on the chalkboard, determined not to look at him. "Where've you been? Running across the country so you could get married to your boyfriend or something?"

The jock chuckles then, as if he's said something terribly clever, and his friends join in as well, their laughter sounding incredibly fake to the ears of a liar as skilled as Danny. "Just ignore him," urges Sam in his ear, as if he needs to be told, and Danny continues to stare at the chalkboard, gripping his pencil in his hand more tightly as Dash continues to speak.

"Come on, Fentonia," he presses, and everyone is watching now. No one will stop him. They're too afraid of Dash and too curious about what happened to Danny. "Seriously. What happened? Did some loser ghost kidnap you? Or were you just in the hospital finally getting that bladder problem of yours taken care of?"

"Shut it, Dash," growls Sam, making Danny smile genuinely for what might be one of the first times that day, for despite her warning to Danny for him to keep calm, she's snapped first.

"Or what, you stupid freak? You think you can take me, Manson?"

"Yeah, actually," she replies, jumping out of her seat with her fists clenched tightly by her sides, and there's a fire in those violet eyes that Danny has rarely seen outside a ghost fight or an animal rights protest, a fire that's so intense and pure that there's no way that someone as pathetic as Dash could stand to look at her without flinching. "I'm pretty sure I can handle an asshole like you."

As stupid as Dash is, Danny knows that he's absolutely certain of that simple fact, too: Sam stands a good chance of winning in a fight between them, and even if she isn't the victor, Dash will still look like a jerk if he fights her and wins because Sam is a girl. So instead of pushing it, he changes tactics and focuses back on Danny. It's the easy—and maybe the only—way out if the jock wants to save face. "I'm not gonna fight you, Manson. Besides, what kind of loser needs a girl to fight his battles for him? Are you that pathetic now, Fentina?"

"Danny's not pathetic!" shouts Sam at the same instant that Danny sighs heavily and says, "Yeah, actually. I guess I am."

"Danny, you shouldn't let that jerk call you pathetic just because he's a stupid muscle head that happens to be good at catching a stupid ball and running really fast," snaps Sam, not willing to let Danny sell himself short.

"Seriously, dude," agrees Tucker, but Danny ignores them, instead looking Dash straight in the eyes.

"But I am pathetic," Danny repeats in an eerily flat tone, much to his friend's dismay, and he's still staring straight at Dash in a way that he can tell makes the jock feel horribly uncomfortable, "and if you need to shove me into a locker or tease me to prove that, then go ahead. I just don't care anymore."

The whole class is silent, now, staring at him in shock, and Danny ignores them as he turns back to face the blackboard. He can feel their stares on him and sense that Dash and his friends want to say something but just don't know what that something is. After all, it's not normal for someone to think they're pathetic, but Danny does. He failed to do his duty, failed to protect the town, and failed to even keep a single memory of whatever it was that messed up his life and the lives of his family and friends for three weeks. In the end, however, they're saved having to come up with a response since Mr. Falluca walks into the classroom then and places his things on his desk. The teacher is about to tell them to be quiet, but then frowns when he realizes that he doesn't have to since the whole room is eerily silent.

Something is clearly wrong, but the teacher assumes correctly that it must have something to do with Danny and so pretends as if everything is normal, as if everything is fine, and hopes that it's the best way to cope with his class's odd behavior. "Good morning, students, and welcome back Mr. Fenton."

"Thanks, sir," Danny mumbles, the spell on the classroom broken, and he's sure that the welcome is more formality than truth. Most of his teachers dislike him—he was a troublemaker and a constant disruption to their classes thanks to the ghost fighting—and the only one who seems genuinely excited that he's back is Mr. Lancer. The old teacher actually stopped by the Fenton's house a few days after he heard that Danny had returned, and he's offered to help Danny in any way he can. It was an action that Danny found touching, if a bit strange since he assumed that Lancer despised him.

The moment that the teacher begins his lecture is the moment that Danny finds himself drifting again. Now that he does not need to wear a mask for his friends he finds he can stop trying to stay in touch, that he can stop trying to force himself to pretend as if everything is just fine or will be within a few days. Mr. Falluca may not like Danny much, but he leaves the boy alone when he calls on students to answer questions. He knows that Danny's reasons for attending school at the moment have more to do with socialization than with academics and that the boy is probably struggling to focus as is. From the far off expression in the boy's eyes and the stillness of the pencil in his hand, the teacher is certain he's right. He won't allow Danny to neglect his work forever, but for this week, at least, he knows that the best thing he can do is to leave the child be as he tries to recover some semblance of normalcy.

The lesson passes in a blink, and each class fades into the next. Danny is barely aware of the day passing by, and at lunch he forces himself to participate in the conversation even though he hasn't been paying enough attention in his classes to talk about school and isn't in the mood to talk about video games. By seventh period he feels completely exhausted, even though Danny knows he's done nothing and should feel fine, and he's counting down the minutes until the day finally ends. Surprisingly, his ghost sense hasn't gone off all day, but he assumes that it's because of the new defenses that his parents installed at the school after his disappearance, defenses that include a state of the art ghost shield that surrounds the school at all times. Such upgrades were expensive, but the parents of Amity Park were willing to pay for them if it meant keeping their kids safe, alive, and happy.

If it meant that their kids, in other words, would never vanish like Danny Fenton did.

Seventh period is English, and unlike his other teachers, Lancer doesn't give him a break. The middle aged man calls on Danny for answers, forces him to read one short passage from As You Like It, and assigns him a short essay to make up for the handful of assignments he's missed in the past month. When the class is over, Lancer insists that Danny stay for a moment so he can speak with him, and Danny flashes his friends a small smile to let them know that it's alright and that he'll be along shortly.

"Are you doing okay, Daniel?" asks Lancer gently when the last student departs.

"Until your class I was," admits Danny, but he smiles slightly as he speaks to let the teacher know he's mostly being sarcastic. "You went pretty hard on me today."

"You won't be able to get your life back to normal if I treat you as if you're made of glass and will break if I ask you a simple question or make you read from the text," Lancer replies calmly, but he can tell that the boy knows this, that Danny knew precisely what Lancer was doing and that Danny is well aware that Lancer has his best interests at heart. "Of course, if you think I'm being a little too hard on you already, then I can go a little easier on you tomorrow . . . "

Danny shakes his head quickly. "No, sir. It's okay. I get it, and . . . and I need it, I think. It kept me focused."

"Are you having trouble paying attention in your other classes?" asks the teacher, although he already knows the answer. He ate lunch in the teacher's lounge today, after all, and all the others could talk about was poor Daniel Fenton and how he seems so withdrawn and exhausted and how he should stay home another week if he needs a little more time to pull himself together.

"Yeah," says Danny, rubbing the back of his neck, and glancing at a chair in the front of the room and then at the clock he seems to be internally fighting with a decision. A moment later Lancer catches on, realizing what the boy wants.

"Do you want to talk?" Lancer asks, a bit surprised that the boy would wish to speak with him about anything, yet the light that appears in the boy's gaze confirms his suspicions: he does want to talk, to discuss something, and Mr. Lancer is touched that the boy would want to speak to him about something that likely has nothing to do with English or his other classes.

"Can we? I don't, um, want to keep you or anything," he stutters.

"Why don't you shut the door?" suggests Lancer, and Danny quickly hurries over and closes it before taking a seat at the front of the room. Grabbing his chair from behind his desk, Lancer moves it around to the front and flips it around so that he can rest his arms casually on the back of the chair as he talks to the boy. Danny quirks an eyebrow, surprised by the way his stiff teacher casually slouches in the chair, but says nothing for he assumes that the teacher must have read about "groovy" postures in a book somewhere. "So. How did today go, Mr. Fenton?"

The touch of formality in what is such an informal situation makes Danny smile. No matter how the man sits, he still speaks like an authority figure, like a teacher, but that's okay. It's what Danny needs right now: someone wise, someone confident, and someone knowledgeable. Someone who can give him advice without coddling him like his sister and parents and friends have been doing.

"Not great," Danny admits, sighing heavily, and he pauses before it all spills out, the words coming so rapidly that he barely has time to breathe as he speaks. "All day long I've been out of touch with everything and everyone. I've been trying to focus, but it's just so hard and the classes just don't seem to matter anymore. I can tell that the way I'm acting is upsetting Sam and Tucker and my family, though, so I keep trying to pretend like I'm okay and like everything's fine so they'll stop worrying and get back to normal, but that's just making it worse for me because it's so hard to act like everything's fine when it's just not. And I can't stop thinking about it, either. I mean, maybe it'd be easier if I knew what happened, but there's a three week long hole in my brain and the only reason I know I missed those weeks at all is because of the stuff that's changed like my family and friends and the dates on everything from the milk to my cell phone that insist I missed a whole bunch days or else that Technus is messing with satellites again and that the milk I the fridge went bad ages ago. And even though I can't actually remember anything, there are these moments when I feel like I can or when something stupid will make me feel upset or scared and I know that it's gotta have something to do with all the time I'm missing."

"It might not be for the best for you to pretend to be okay, Daniel, but if you feel that you must . . ." He eyes his student and Lancer can tell that they're no arguing with Daniel on this particular point. The boy will insist on wearing a mask of normalcy for his friends even as the weight of it crushes him, so Lancer changes tactics and focuses on something that perhaps the boy will be willing to do. "Have your parents talked about therapy or hypnosis to recover the memories?"

"Yeah," the boy says, his eyes darting away uncomfortably as he shifts behind the desk, "but, um, after that whole thing with Spectra, I don't really want to go see a therapist. She kind of just made me feel a lot worse about myself instead of better."

"I agree that Ms. Spectra was not exactly what we hoped she would be," says Lancer, refusing to completely admit that he made a mistake when he hired the woman, "but sometimes even a good therapist will force you to feel something bad before you can get better. And it sounds like what you really want—what you really need, perhaps—is to remember what happened to you in order to get back to normal. If you can't remember on your own or haven't yet, then a therapist may be the only person who can help you do so since the experience was likely extremely traumatic."

"Maybe," he mutters, unconvinced. There are others, the boy knows, that may be able to help him remember. He just assumes that those others will not be willing. "But I'm kinda worried about remembering."

"Oh?"

"I . . . I can't remember where I was or what happened," Danny explains, softly, "but I when I try to remember what actually happened, I realize that I still remember how whatever happened to me felt."

Lancer waits a moment, expecting the boy to continue, but Danny's blue eyes seem to become as empty as the sky as he stares down at the floor. Just as Lancer is about to ask, though, the life comes back to those eyes like stars appearing in the night, although the expression that Danny wears is still dark and haunted. "There's this feeling, like this cold feeling that's like . . ." Like going ghost, Danny wants to say, but he doesn't. His secret is too precious to tell everyone, even if he feels at the moment that he can trust the old teacher with anything. "Like I'm being dipped head to toe in a frozen lake. And there's this fear, too, and a kind of pain when I try to remember . . ." He places a hand on his chest, his eyes closing slightly as he thinks about it and winces, his fingers clutching his shirt for a brief second before the boy forces them to relax. "And other feelings, too, but none that are good. There's this fear, and then sadness and anger and pain and frustration. Mostly there's just the pain, though. Some of it feels like it's just physical, but some of it . . . it's like the worst thing that could have happened did happen and I just can't remember it, but I know that's not what happened."

"Oh?" Mr. Lancer frowns at him, wondering how he can be so certain. "And what do you believe to be the worst thing that could ever happen to you is?"

There are two things, actually, that Danny thinks of then, and one is a future that he's already seen before, or a past that never was depending on how one prefers to look at it. A future in which his whole family is killed in an awful accident, and the pain is too much for him to bear and so consumes him and turns him into a monster.

Yet his family is still alive, as Danny will see the moment he goes home, so he knows that isn't it.

The other is that his parents reject him upon learning the truth of who and what he is, or even worse, that they dissect him and rip him apart, but this one is not true, either. His parents know the truth, and though they seem uneasy there is nothing to suggest in their actions or Jazz's that they have ever hurt him or ripped him apart on a laboratory table. They learned his secret from his friends, and there is nothing in the lab that suggests that anything awful happened there, either, for Danny has checked, and his friends had already told him that they checked his parent's basement when he vanished to make sure that he was not trapped there by them. This isn't, however, a fear that he can tell Lancer, so instead he returns to the first.

"My family dying is the worst thing I can think of ever happening," says Danny, knowing that he can't say any more. "But obviously that's not it."

"No, it's not," agrees Lancer, who's a bit surprised by the boy's response. It's not merely that the boy's worst fear is the loss of his family—even amongst teenagers, the potential loss of their family is a powerful and frightening concept—so much as the expression Danny wears as he says it, as if he actually knows just how terrible such a loss would be.

Yet the way the boy describes what he's feeling sounds like something else to Lancer, something that in its own way may be just as terrible. "I wonder, Mr. Fenton, if someone hurt you," says Lancer softly, and Danny's eyes snap up, going wide for a moment before the shock seems to vanish.

"I can't—I mean—who would—why?" he stutters uselessly, fearing that maybe he's so messed up that he actually spoke his former thoughts aloud.

"Your parents are the town's—if not the country's—foremost ghost experts. They may not be the best hunters, but they're brilliant and have made more than a few inventions that have made the lives of many ghosts rather miserable," Mr. Lancer tells him slowly, and there's something about this theory that sounds right to him, that sounds plausible. "Perhaps, Mr. Fenton, one captured you and tortured you in the hopes of gaining some information about them, or to make your parents suffer. Such an experience would undoubtedly be traumatic, and it would explain why you've become so jumpy and withdrawn."

He can see the boy considering this, but what Lancer doesn't know is that Danny is also aware that a ghost may have done just that because of his alter ego as well. Most of the humans might be oblivious that Danny Fenton and Danny Phantom are one and the same, but most of the ghosts are not. It would not be impossible for one of them to capture him and torture him for pleasure . . . To make his life a living hell. Perhaps it wasn't a ghost, either. Maybe it was the Guys in White or some other ghost hunting human who finally learned his secret and decided to figure out what made him tick by ripping him apart, molecule by molecule. "Maybe," says Danny slowly, for something about the idea sounds right and resonates within him, yet at the same time he knows instinctively that it's not quite right.

"Whatever the case might be, though," says Lancer, who notices the two students anxiously glancing into his door for what is probably not the first time, "I think that you need to do whatever you can to try and recover those memories since I doubt you'll be able to move on until you do. Therapy is probably the best strategy, Daniel. A good therapist would be able to guide you slowly through it and help you recover the memories in stages so it wouldn't be too traumatic. Our guidance office has the names of a few excellent specialists."

Danny nods, considering Lancer's words. He knows that the teacher is probably right, but he's not sure he's willing to do this slowly, to wait until it happens piece by piece, and fortunately for Danny, he may not have to do so. After all, at home waits his own personal therapist, one whom he knows can do a little hypnosis and might be able to help him recover his lost memories quickly . . .

"I'll think about it," he says to Lancer, though, as noncommittal as ever, and Lancer smiles since he's fairly certain that he knows exactly what Daniel's planning to do. At least he's going to talk to someone, he thinks, and although he feels that it would be better if Danny talked to someone that was not his sister, he knows that beggars can't be choosers. He wants his student to recover and to regain some semblance of normalcy from this broken life he's now living.

"Very well, Mr. Fenton," he sighs, slowly getting up to his feet, and he feels a dull ache in his lower back as he rises, a sure sign he's getting old. "Your friends seem to be a bit concerned about you, so perhaps it's best you got going for today," he tells him, jerking a thumb at the door, and Danny looks just in time to see a distinctive red beret vanish out of sight. He smiles slightly, picturing the nervous look on Tucker's face at the thought of being spotted by Lancer while spying on the pair of them. "If you need any help, though, please let me know."

"Okay," he agrees, grabbing his things, and heading out the door of the classroom he finds that he feels a little better even though he's hardly said anything at all and knows nothing more of what happened to him than he did before.

Yet at least now he has a plan to figure it out, and some hope, and it's enough to make the smile he gives his friends the brightest it's been all day. If only that song would just go away, too.

A/N: So this story probably won't be extremely long—just a handful of chapters unless I realize I want to do something else in the middle, but that seems unlikely. I'm ninety-nine percent certain that I know exactly where I want this to go. A couple of things about it, though. First, it's pretty serious and pretty dark. It might not seem that way at first, but the ending is . . . yeah. Rated 'T' for a reason, people.

Second, it's written in present tense. I normally don't write that way—up until now I've preferred to use the past tense—but I wanted to experiment with it after reading the Hunger Games, so there might be a couple of unintentional tense shifts in there as well as some seriously awkward phrasing. If I happen to miss it when I edit, then I apologize. I'm going to try really hard not to do so.

Third, I do admit that I feel as if this first chapter dragged a bit and ended a smidge awkwardly. It should pick up in the next chapter, though, and I honestly just ended it there because, well, I needed to end it. A terrible reason, but there you have it.

Fourth . . . eh, maybe there isn't a fourth. Oh, wait, I lied. Review, please! Reviews will make me a better writer (or so I hope), so for your sake and for mine, please click on that button and drop me a line. Even a short, nice review is good because it's nice to get some positive feedback, but I definitely welcome serious/negative critiques as well.