This isn't possible.
Fenton? Danny Fenton? Is…? No. No way.
No way I get to find out something this big right when I'm about to die.
It hurts to swallow. I have a choice: do I wanna see when I get blasted to smithereens, or better not to look? I shoot a glance up. Nope. Bad choice. Bad, bad, bad choice. I forgot how creepy those yellow eyes are, and they're right there, right in my face. Weren't they red? Oh god, that ghost is waaaay too close, why is it bending over, why isn't it blasting anything yet, shut up Dash you're babbling in your head don't care I don't wanna die!
"Child. Human child. Can you hear me?"
C'mon, Dash, it's just a broken leg! You can still get up, get away! Gotta save Phantom—Fenton—Phantom?—too! Do something, you moron! Anything!
"Child, I know that you are frightened, but it is important that you listen to me. I need you to remove this collar immediately. It is the device by which I am being forced to fight the Great One."
"Don't kill me." My voice comes out in a croak.
"I have no wish to, child, but you must remove the collar."
Collar…why does the killer ghost keep going on about a collar? It wants me to take it off? I tear my eyes away from the awful yellow eyes, try not to stare at the teeth instead, and look at the ghost's neck. Oh, hey, a collar. It's sort of like an ugly dog collar, old black leather with these weird glowy red crystal spikes. A couple of them are broken and dull, though, and the fur on the ghost's neck is smoking a bit. Did Phantom do that?
"Hurry, child!" the ghost growls. "Its power does not permit me to remove it myself, and the Great One's shot disrupted it only momentarily. I cannot resist its control much longer!" Its eyes are starting to go red again. That can't be good. I don't really want to touch the ghost, but I don't want to get blasted with red light, either, so I reach up and fumble for the buckle of the collar. My hands are slippery with Phantom's—Fenton's—blood, but it falls off pretty easy. The big ghost relaxes, and its eyes turn yellow again.
"I owe you my thanks." It bares its teeth at me, and I automatically lean away. "I am Frostbite. Who are you, child? What is your relation to the Great One?" Frostbite? Child? Great One? I'm totally lost here, but…maybe…it's trying to be friendly? I think I better say something. Except my tongue's all garbled in my mouth. All I get out is a squeak. The ghost sighs. "I suppose it is not important for the present. We must tend to the Great One."
My head's finally beginning to tick again."Th-the Great One? You m-mean…Fe—Phantom?" I glance at Fenton, whose head's drooping backwards on my shoulder. Fenton. He's so…so pale. And I've beaten him up pretty bad before, but I've never seen him like, like this, you know, all bloody and unconscious. Suddenly, that image I had back on the roof when I thought Fenton was trying to off himself pops back into my head. He's looking almost as bad as I pictured back then right now, and I remember what it felt like, wanting to save someone you don't even like, because, well, you just do.
I whip my head around almost as fast as the ice ghost does. The doors of the school are hanging open, and flying down the steps is that Goth girl, with the techno geek right on her heels. Great. I have a feeling that this isn't going to turn out too good.
"Danny!" Manson shouts. Her eyes turn to me. Oh god, she's gonna murder me. "You!" she hisses. "What did you do?"
"Me?" I look from Manson's death glare to Foley's suspicious expression and feel anger sear through my gut. It's not like I did something wrong! "This isn't my fault! Furry Ice Monster over here's the one who blasted him!"
"It is true," the snow ghost cuts in.
"It doesn't matter!" Manson snaps. "What's Dash even doing out here in the first place?"
"Well, if you'd told me that Fenton is Phantom, maybe I wouldn't have come running out here in the first place!" I snarl. Geez, it's not like just being here is a crime!
Manson and Foley both freeze up. "You saw?" demands Manson. She's totally white—she could be a ghost herself.
"This is bad," mutters Foley.
The ice ghost looks at the pair of them, confused. "This child is not an ally of the Great One?"
Ignoring the question, Manson drops to one knee and grabs a fistful of my shirt. "You can't tell anyone. Ever! Understand?" she growls right in my face.
"Definitely not one of Danny's friends," Foley explains to the ice ghost. "More like his eternal tormentor."
"If you tell one soul, it will ruin everything!"
"This boy has brought harm to the Great One? Why does the Great One allow it?"
"It's not that he wants to! But he can't let anyone find out about his powers."
"Danny has enough on his plate without you interfering!"
"Are you threatening me?"
"Perhaps I should set a guard on this one, to intervene if he should threaten the Great One."
"I will if I have to, Dash! I'll never forgive you if you hurt Danny!"
"I'm not sure that haunting him is such a good idea—"
I try to push Manson aside. "Hey! What's that about haunting me?"
"Listen to me, Dash!"
"Will everyone please shut up?" interrupts a hoarse voice. We all freeze. Fenton stirs and slowly lifts his head off my shoulder, his face screwed up with pain. He takes one glance around the crowd surrounding him, then focuses on the ice ghost. "You're you again?" he croaks.
"Yes, Great One, I have returned to myself," the ice ghost replies. Fenton nods and looks at his friends.
"How bad is it?"
Foley kneels down next to Manson. "Dash knows about you being Phantom." Fenton glances at me and nods. Not the reaction I was expecting, after Manson and Foley. Maybe he's too hurt to care? But…he's talking pretty normally... Foley continues, "The school called your parents ten minutes ago to report the ghost attack, which means they'll be here in six minutes or less. You've got that to deal with"—he's pointing at Fenton's gash—"and apparently Frostbite's the one who did it to you?"
"Frostbite was being controlled by some weird collar thing," Fenton explains tiredly. "The ghost that was controlling him was talking to me through Frostbite. Breaking the collar probably wasn't enough—I'll have to deal with him later."
"Was that the only collar?" asks Manson. "Or are there more?"
"I am not certain." The ice ghost speaks up. "My comrades and I discovered the device in a little-traveled area of the Far Frozen. I fear for the state of my homeland, if more have been uncovered."
"Dude, this could be a huge problem!" chimes in Foley. "What if collars weren't planted just in the Far Frozen, but all over the Ghost Zone? We could have all sorts of our allies coming after us!"
I'm in way over my head. Far Frozen, Ghost Zone? They have more ghost friends? And now they're talking about taking the "Specter Speeder" through the "Portal" and...something. Geez, I can't follow this at all. It's like they're talking in a different language entirely, like they come from a different world. How did all this happen? Why Fenton—and Manson and Foley, for that matter? If Fenton's Phantom, and Phantom's a ghost, is Fenton even alive? Is Phantom even dead? My head's spinning enough to make me feel sick to my stomach. I wish I hadn't gone fishing around for answers. I wish I was back in the real world, where beating up Fenton's just beating up Fenton, and the only things that really matter are being the best at football and making out with Paulina, and there isn't blood all over me, and a great furry ghost monster crouching two feet away having a serious conversation, and people I always thought were losers ignoring me like I'm some fly on the wall.
"Guys!" Foley cuts in. I start and stare. The others go quiet, too. "Danny's parents will be here any minute. We need to get out of here, and we still haven't dealt with the most important thing." He points at the deep gash on Fenton's stomach. Fenton quickly covers it with his hand.
"It's fine," he says, trying to scramble to his feet. He nearly face-plants into the asphalt, but the ice ghost quickly catches him. "I'm fine," Fenton repeats shakily. "The bleeding's not that bad. After I patch it up, I can make it through the last couple of classes."
Manson bites her lip. "You," she says suddenly, pointing at me. "You followed Danny out here, right? You can help him back in. Get him to his next class, tell the teacher that he had a stomach ache and you had to take him to the nurse. Then Tucker and I can do cover up out here, if we need to."
"Yeahhh, just one little problem." I point at my leg. "My leg's shot. Broken." Manson looks at my leg—what, don't believe me?—and winces. Good, let her feel guilty for all the yelling she's been doing! I'm not exactly coming out of this clean and easy. I'm sick and tired of being scared, blamed, and confused. And not to mention, hurt. I may've forgot about my leg for awhile, what with being worried about my life and all, but now it's starting to really throb.
"I might be able to help with that." The ice ghost, Frostbait, leans over me. Holy crap, no way, I don't care if it's supposed to be friendly, keep that thing away from me! He reaches for my leg and I yelp, expecting major hurt, but his hands go right through my skin. Oh god, that is so gross! I can feel, like, ghost fingers on my bone! Except now I can't even feel my leg and—AGH!
"What was that? What did you do?" I snap. "That hurt!" Except…well, now it's not hurting so much anymore. Actually, it doesn't even feel broken, just…weird.
"I have fused the broken ends of your bone together, child. I made them intangible, then overlapped them slightly and let them solidify again." Ergh…that sounds…ugh.
"Whoa, that could be useful," Fenton says as he holds his arm up, out of Manson's way. Goth Girl's already pulled some gauze out from somewhere and started to wrap him up.
"I would not recommend that you attempt this, Great One. It requires a certain delicacy, and you tend to, ah, need a bit of time and room for error when learning new skills." Fenton winces. "Furthermore, it is not true healing and best used as a last resort."
"Point taken," Fenton says. "Guess that means you'll need to get that looked at later, Dash. For now though, can you stand?"
I'm actually kinda afraid to try, but Manson's finished dealing with Danny's gash and is starting to look impatient again, so I guess I'd better risk it. All right, Dash, one step at a time. Get your legs under you, hands on the ground, push up into a crouch…and…straighten. Okay...leg's holding up…okay.
"Here." Fenton grabs my shoulder. My body goes all funny then turns kind of invisible. Fenton's blood, which was all over my hands and shirt, slides right off, and then I go back to normal. Gross…
"Stop wasting time, you two!" Manson says, shoving both of us in the back. "Go back to class! And you," she says straight at me. "Not. One. Soul."
Fenton starts walking, and my feet carry me after him, feeling strangely distant from the rest of me. I've got this ringing in my ears, and my head feels like it's not connected to my body. I sort of float up the stairs. A glance over my shoulder shows me Manson and Foley pointing some sort of thermos thingy at the collar lying on the ground and Frostbite clearing up some of the ice from his battle with Fenton. And then Fenton closes the school doors, cutting off my view.
Fenton meets my eyes. "We've got history next."
"History…yeah." It doesn't seem real, somehow.
"So, let's go?"
This silence between us is really awkward. Our footsteps echo all over the empty hallways. Fenton's breath is annoyingly loud. Geez, shut up already—wait. His face is really pale, and he's walking kinda slow. Oh man, I already forgot, he's hurt. I'm supposed to be helping him, right? I grab his arm and drape it over my shoulder. God, he's so short, he's practically hanging off me. Hard to believe he was fighting that giant frost monster.
"Hey! What're you doing?" Fenton tries to pull his arm away.
"I'm helping you."
But he's not fine…and it's partly my fault. I can't look him in the eyes. "Look, it's okay. I'll help you."
Fenton goes all stiff, but he stops struggling. "Um. Okay. Thanks."
Right outside the classroom door, Fenton holds me back for a second. "Dash." What now? Why do you have that intense look on your face right now, the one that makes me feel like crumbling? I can't handle any more than this!
"If anyone finds out about me, I'm done for," Fenton says quietly. "I'll be hunted down by someone—the government, maybe even my own parents. This," he waves his hand all around him, at the hallways and classrooms, at the lockers and bathrooms, even at me, "is my only hiding place. I'll protect it any way I can, but in the end, I can't save it from someone who already knows about it." He stares at me for a long moment. Doesn't ask me to promise anything, doesn't beg, doesn't threaten. Just stares. Then he opens the door and walks into class.
And for a second, I can't move. That was Phantom. Phantom, who I've gone to school with since second grade. Phantom, who I used to beat up for getting better grades than me, then kept beating up when he suddenly stopped being smart just because it was habit. Phantom, who can't even run two laps around the gym; Phantom, who's too much of a loser to invite to parties; Phantom, Phanturd, Phantonia, Phanton.
Phantom, who's seen the worst side of me, and relies on it because it's part of being "normal." Part of the hiding place.
Somehow, I make myself stumble after him and close the classroom door behind me.
We're seriously late for class, but the teacher buys our excuses. Not surprising, really. Fenton still looks like he's sick to his stomach, even though he cleaned the blood up off his shirt and you can't see the bandages. But he sits down like everything's normal and pretends—at least, I think he's pretending, I mean, how could he not be after all of that?—to pay attention to whatever boring lecture the teacher's giving. Geez, what is this kid?
It's really hitting me now. This guy isn't human. He can't be. It's not just that normal people don't change from tough-looking ghosts into wimpy-looking humans. It's not just that normal people don't pick themselves up off the ground after being knocked unconscious and bleeding everywhere and just walk back to class. It's not even that normal people don't talk about saving the world from a ghost invasion, or whatever it was that Fenton and the others were talking about with the ghost that just tried to kill them. Normal people…normal people don't take hits for the guy who shoves their head down the toilet on Tuesday mornings just for kicks. Normal people don't pretend to be weaklings when they could actually grind the ones bullying them to a pulp.
This guy…he really isn't possible.
Fenton's head suddenly whips around to the window. His hand starts to go up, then he pauses.
I thought he was my personal punching bag; I thought he was my idol and hero.
Fenton's eyes lock onto mine. There's a question there.
Now, I…no, I really don't know what to make of him. Do I respect Fenton, now? Do I think less of Phantom?
What will you do? he's asking me silently.
No. This isn't about Fenton, or Phantom. This person sitting in front of me, this is someone I don't know. Both the hero and the loser have become a stranger to me.
So I shrug at Fenton. What can I do? I don't know anything. I'm no angel, but I'm nobody that could stand in his way, either. This guy, he's not in my league.
Fenton seems to see something in my shrug. He nods at me, just a bit. Then he turns away, raises his hand, and asks to be excused. I snort and look away. That's right, just leave me out of it. I don't want anything to do with this crazy stuff.
Still, it doesn't hurt to glance out the window and hope for a glimpse of that black and white suit, or a flash of green light.
Note: The end. I give all of my thanks to the world's awesomest beta, who turned this from something wimpy into something passable.