AN: I guess this is symptomatic of how depressed I've been feeling lately. Blame someone over on TV Tropes for mentioning ectoplasmic radiation and unhappy endings. I have no other excuse for this. This is why I don't release any of my oneshots here and stick to the straight out romance. Also, before anyone asks: Danny's wife is not named here because I wanted this piece to focus on his family and not get into the ship war. Hence his kids have his and his mother's recessive hair colors respectively, so you can picture this as DxWhatever appeals to you.
Feedback is always appreciated. Thank you for reading.
It's somewhere around two or maybe three in the morning, and the snow is falling.
This late at night, no one ever takes walks. The one or two people she passes by nod or act like they don't see her, moving on, but she can go blocks and blocks without seeing anyone, without even a car coming through. Alone, she burns off excess energy by running, bolting through the slushy streets, skidding on ice and laughing as she slides on patches of it. Sometimes she trips, but she wipes the snow off and keeps going, keeps moving in her square path around the city. Aunt Jazz once told her she should run when she's angry or depressed, keep her serotonin levels up, burn off the bad feelings.
Running never really mends the pain, but it puts her far away from her house. There's too much going on at the big blue and white house her parents purchased six months ago, which is more landing pad than permanent residence, a place to sleep inbetween going other places, for all of them. She goes all the way down town until she goes past the park with the Christmas tree and the bar where music is still playing, up to the never-finished construction site. Then she takes the walking path from there to the smaller, more tiny-business streets of town, going through them and killing time looking into windows at all the beautiful displays of things she'll never own. Then she'll go as far as the red gas station, turn there, go down six blocks, cut across a parking lot and get to the park and playground.
There she rests her tired legs by perching on a swing and swinging until her hands are numb through their gloves and ache from gripping the chain. She pretends her father is pushing her. She pretends her mother is there off to side watching her children. She and her brother compete for who can go highest, and his extra determination versus her long legs make it a close call like it always used to be. They'd get off the swings and go for food with their parents while making unsubtle hints as to all the things they wanted. They'd meet up with their cousins Carston and Fiona and play at Aunt Jazz's house together. No one would mention ghosts for maybe half an entire day back then. Those were the glory days. Things were perfect, people were happy, and the sun itself seemed brighter. Back before, things made sense.
Before her brother Hayden had found out he had ghost powers. Before residual ectoplasmic radiation had been found to be dangerous to even Jazz's DNA from living so close to the Ghost Portal and Fiona had died, with Carston sick and always in the hospital for symptoms resembling radiation poisoning. His hair's fallen out, a cancerous tumor is on the base of his spine, and he grows thinner and thinner. Hayden tries to fight ghosts and fix the world while they await the inevitable. Their grandparents have been put in prison for releasing radioactive particles into the air in a major population center as well as concealing from the government the fact they possessed a radioactive device. They're gone. Everything is gone.
She's crying now, and when she falls off the swing, her backache has to be temporary. She pulls herself up to her feet. Turning, she sees at the top of the gentle hill above the playground the looming form of St. Patrick's hospital. She never knows how often Carston is looking, but she likes to come watch the window she knows is his and try to remember all the good times they had together. Whenever she slips up never the hospital she pretends she's fine in case he's looking. Tonight she decides she's going to build snowmen for him to look at when he wakes up, and she begins the process immediately. Her legs are numb from the long walk, her dark blue eyes are squinting in the dull light, and her red hair is soaked with falling snow. Her hair is like her Grandma Maddie's. Except lately Grandma Maddie's hair is going grayer and grayer in prison. She ignores the thought and keeps rolling snow together. Even as tears fall down her face, she refuses to acknowledge any thoughts besides snowmen building and maybe getting something from the 24 hour grocer by the construction site on her way home to eat, or should she take the shorter way home, complete a circle by going through those nice neighborhoods with all the great big ancient houses that are a hundred years old or more, with all their beautiful Christmas decorations?
Dad was never big on Christmas. This year he hasn't even thought about decorating. This year has been the end of everything good, he told Uncle Tucker, and only Tucker of all people thought to look to her, sitting on the couch, watching TV. Watching Ni Hao Kai-Lan like she was just a baby when she's actually ten, ten years old and way too old to care about shows like that. They used to have to get angry at her and Hayden for playing gory, scary games, jumping at everything after nights spent barely containing startled screams playing horror games that were never really all that scary the next morning. This year she's gotten a TV in her own room now that they're in their new house and Hayden is never around to play video games with. His powers are his obsession, and controlling them and testing them out is all he cares about getting done. Her game system is forgotten in her room, where she retreats to build a fort out of sheets, pillows, thumb tacks and blankets, where she sleeps curled up with plushies basking in the glow of Sprout, a network aimed at babies to three year olds. Nowadays she shuts out echoes of the things her father has said with a perfect made-for-kids world of TV and toys where nothing has ever been wrong for longer than a few minutes.
It's okay there's no Christmas as her house. She's making Christmas here, making big bases for six snowmen, running up the hill a little to make the center pieces, struggling to get the heads on. She puts rocks from the playground in their faces as eyes and smiles, gets twigs from nearby bushes to make arms waving cheerfully, and then, weighed down with snow and smiling, continues on her circle. She wants to go see the places with lots of Christmas, with lots of decorations and lights circling fences, roof edges, trees. Deer made of light and wreaths and fake candy canes are the standard on these streets, and as the houses get more opulent the decorations follow suit. There's lots of Christmas here.
Carston would love it. Fiona would think everything needed more decorations. What does all this look like from Hayden's view when he flies? She pushes the thoughts out of her mind, just looking at everything. It'd be great to live here, where the four of them could play hide and seek on three or four floors, decorate room after room, sit around a huge old fireplace while drinking cocoa and finally have room for the puppy they'd all been voting for since forever. She imagines them in each house as she walks by, pausing to peer into darkened rooms and make out the insides. Eventually her loop home takes her out of the wealthier neighborhoods, so she may go a little extra slow around them before she walks away.
A flash of pink catches her eye. It's a pink pony toy, the super soft kind, with the felt strips for hair and the big eyes. She saw them last time she went grocery shopping with her father and asked for one, but there's not money for it. They can't afford Christmas; they have to help pay for Carston's treatments and stuff. She looks around. No one is looking out at the street to catch any ten year olds wandering about. There is only silence and snowfall. The pony is abandoned on the other side of the fence. Dozens of other toys sit out, and a playset with swings, and those cars for kids with real motors in them, and an RC helicopter, and four dolls lay in the snow out of her reach, discarded. The pony is so close she could touch it.
Her hand goes intangible for a moment, its visibility diminished as she grabs the toy, pulling it out in an instant. And then it's in her arms, almost big enough it takes both hands to carry, and she starts running again, even when her lungs burn and she darts through cross walks devoid of people without checking for the thankfully non-existent traffic. No one sees her slip and trip, and immediately check to make sure her pony is okay. She's crying, but she's smiling an unnaturally big smile.
"It's okay, I won't let anything bad happen to you," she assures the plush toy. "I wish I remember how I got you out of there without messing up the snow. Must've been Christmas magic, 'cause I'm not a ghost." She struggles to her feet and trudges on at a reasonable pace, nodding to herself. "Magic is real. Fiona was gonna be a magician. She was even on the local news once. Maybe some of her magic rubbed off on me. I don't want to do magic, though. One day I'm going to be a piano player. Aunt Jazz signed me up for lessons. She says it's a good distraction or something psychological like that. I don't get it, but I love gifts."
She smiles softly, hugging her own magical gift to herself closely, running along home. Her father and brother are out fighting ghosts, she can tell, since their bedroom doors are open. Her mother is asleep on the couch. She comes in through the back, making a shushing gesture to her pony, and carefully goes to her room. It's sad Dad has to work so much. He's always had to work through holidays and college and work and Mom says he even had to work in high school. He's never around. Lately she runs into him usually once or twice a week. His eyes have rings under them constantly now. He's never got time to talk to her, always either talking to someone on the phone or trying to keep up with his job or training Hayden. He's turned into an old man early, ready to collapse at any second.
This is why she just sticks to hanging out in her room. This way she'll be one less thing to worry about. She hangs her wet clothes up so they'll dry in secret and she can sneak them in the laundry later. Her pajamas are a bit too big since lately she's been more concerned with practicing on her keyboard than eating, but she wants to be able to play Christmas songs for Carston. Dad said he'd be done by Christmas. That doesn't give her much time. She brushes off her pony and climbs into her fort of sheets and pillows. Other plushies sit down on floor beside the TV, all gotten from trash cans and street sides and unguarded yards. Even though Dad is busy, she can find her own toys and make her own fun. She's a big girl, right? Right.
"Look everybody, I got a new friend," she says softly, and makes introductions. "This is Mr. Fish, and Spot, and Dewey, and Crystal and Mooish and Red Dog. And everybody, this is Lady Rose Pink. Lady, for short. She needed a home, so she'll be staying with us." The ten year old reaches for the remote, turning on her TV to a low volume. Sprout was on. The show of the moment was Calliou. She smiles and settles in against a pillow with Lady in her arms to watch the show.
It takes a while to get warm enough to fall asleep, but she's content to sit there, fiddling with a plastic silver wand she found just after Carston was locked up in the hospital. It has a silver star on the end. She'd made a wish on it everything would be okay. And Hayden had yelled at her, her black haired twin using swearwords she would never say, telling her nothing would be okay ever again. He was swearing a lot lately. Maybe she should see if her magic worked on boy toys. Maybe there was something out there that would cheer him up, so he would know yes it was okay, they had toys and magic was real and nothing was wrong. One day she'd be a concert pianist like on TV and he'd sing beside her like before he found out he was a ghost.
She was glad that other than magical things happening around her sometimes, her life was just fine. She was human, she was a little girl with imagination and toys and she could take care of herself. She lived in a beautiful city with lots of Christmas magic. There were lots of wonderful places here, even if she had to see them by herself and at night, but that was when the world was lit up with a thousand lights and there was no one there to question her. People asked her why she was crying when she wasn't, people asked why she was talking to her toys when every little kid did that, people asked her where her parents were and got upset when she didn't know. People were silly worry worts. Night was her playground where she could have fun.
Hayley was glad she wasn't part ghost like her brother was. If that had happened, she'd have gone insane.