This is a sequel to the fanfic Phantom of Truth, which is a good story in its own right and you should totally read that first. Readers, please check the notes at the end for important info!
Shadow of a Doubt
Part One: Ties that Bind
The chains that bind us the most closely are the ones we have broken.
- Antonio Porchia
There should be some kind of decency law against having to answer interview questions in a hospital gown, Danny thought dully as he stared into the gleaming eyes of a dozen cameras. Microphones hovered around his face like large and annoying bumblebees.
Mom sat on the bed next to him, holding his hand. He didn't like it; it made him uncomfortable for more than one reason. What sixteen year old lets his mom hold his hand on live TV? The embarrassment factor alone would be enough reason to snatch it away from her.
And then there was the part of him, as irrational and cruel as it might be, that resisted the idea of his only remaining healthy hand being trapped between the fingers of the woman who had destroyed the other one. She had—she had—
Danny could feel each individual tendon as the unseen person pulled on it, yanking experimentally, forcing the fingers to twitch and move. They... she... kept doing it over and over. Aside from the pain, which after the first few hours he'd begun to develop a dull, desperate resistance to, they were starting to cramp from the repeated movement. Danny sagged in relief as the force eased, leaving his fingers twitching and the nerves raw—only to spike into knifelike agony as she tore the tendons off completely.
"We all found it strange that you made it all the way home by yourself," a woman was saying.
She was a reporter, Danny realized, taking in her neat tailored suit with the pretty pink blouse peeking out between demure gray lapels. Sam would scoff at such a frilly piece of clothing. Danny pictured Sam sitting in her kitchen, eating cereal and watching him sit like a mute idiot on TV. He wondered what she thought of it all.
What were they doing again?
The woman turned to him expectantly, her too-pleasant smile painted in gaudy coral lipstick. She must have introduced herself before, but Danny didn't remember.
"Why didn't you stop and ask for help? You must have passed dozens of places, gas stations, convenience stores, houses."
Danny shrugged, wishing his mom would let go of his hand so he could fidget with the sheets. It felt too weird doing nothing, like he was on display. "I dunno."
He'd spent the first week in the hospital—what he could remember of it—in a blissful haze, isolated from the world, sheltered by his own unconsciousness. Now he felt besieged by endless questions. First from the doctors, then by police; even his own family only showed up in a pack to stand around his bedside and gaze at him hungrily.
"I guess that was kinda stupid."
"Nobody's saying that," the woman said smoothly. "We just want to know what happened."
"After a while I just wasn't thinking that straight," Danny admitted, tapping his fingers on the inside of his mom's palm. She squeezed them reassuringly. He resisted the urge to yank them out of her grip. "I just... I knew I had to get home, you know?"
"And how did you get home?"
"I walked." It was just that simple. He'd been too weak to fly, so he'd picked a direction that "felt" right and walked. Danny had only patches of memory from that time, of rough, hot mountainside and deserted roads. He remembered hiding from threatening white sedans with tinted windows, dropping into the roadside ditch to avoid the searching glare of headlights. That was the last clear image Danny could pull from the cobwebs of his faulty memory.
Mostly it was just an endless impression of exhaustion and pain, and some inborn stubbornness driving him to put one foot in front of the other until he'd found himself at his own front door.
The woman leaned in conspiratorially. Her concern was as artificial and sickly-sweet as her perfume. "That's an awful long way, Danny."
"Yeah." Danny dropped his gaze to his lap where his mother's hand entangled his own, and wished it was over.
"You didn't tell Dad."
Jazz flinched, losing her place in the book. She looked up at her little brother; he was staring down at the puzzle Sam had brought him. As she watched, he scowled and dumped out the pieces, starting over.
Jazz studied Danny, trying to decide what had driven him to ask. Gratitude? Hurt? Mild curiosity?
He slouched quietly in the hospital bed, sitting up on his own now even though he was still surrounded by dozens of pillows. His right arm was completely encased in a thick white sling, only the barest tips of his fingers showing out of the heavy cast that rested inside.
The cast's bright blue casing peeked out, already grafittied with "Jack Fenton", "Tuck was here" and a smiling purple spider. Visiting Danny was supposed to be limited to family only, but his friends had somehow snuck in anyway. As far as Jazz was concerned, those two were as much family to Danny as she was.
Danny's expression was closed, his attention apparently absorbed in maneuvering the puzzle pieces. It was one of those colorful abstract things, like a Tetris game in plastic. When placed the right way, all geometric shapes would fit together in its little plastic tray, forming one perfect square.
"No, I didn't tell anyone," she said evenly. Then, with a little more uncertainty than she would have liked, "Was that... the right thing to do?"
He gave her an odd look. Jazz smiled self-consciously, pulling a strand of her long red hair over her shoulder and smoothing it between her fingertips. It wasn't like her to ask that kind of question; she was supposed to be the big sister after all. She'd spent so much time second-guessing herself; even now that it was all over, she wasn't sure she'd made the right decision.
Danny shrugged, eyes falling back to the puzzle. "Probably wouldn't have changed things. And now... I'd rather they not know. You know?"
Jazz sighed, feeling that burden lurch right back into place. Even if Danny wanted it, she wasn't so sure it was a good idea to keep it from their parents now that... now that Danny wasn't so capable of fighting off ghosts. If he was attacked, would she, Tucker and Sam be able to protect him alone? Would he still try to fight, even in his condition?
All she ended up saying was, "Yes, I know."
He was slow to respond, blinking, processing, visibly considering that simple statement before he nodded. At least in part it had to be the drugs. They were keeping him on two different kinds of sedatives, one for pain and another because he'd apparently been displaying "symptoms of anxiety." Jazz wasn't sure exactly what that entailed, but she didn't like the way the doctor had said it so carefully, as if glossing over something much more awful.
Visions of her little brother screaming and struggling as nurses shoved needles in his arm sprang up unasked for in her mind's eye. Jazz shuddered and hastily pushed such notions out of her head. If it been that bad, the doctors would have told them. Surely they would have told the family if it had gotten that bad…
"Why didn't you?" Again no inflection, no real indicator of what he was truly thinking. No eye contact either, although the puzzle let them both pretend he had a good reason.
It took her a moment to get back on track with the conversation. Mom. Dad. The secret.
"Why didn't I tell?" Jazz shrank back in the chair and wrapped her arms around herself, hugging the book. "I was sure you were dead."
"Sure?" he echoed, fingers stilling on the pieces.
She nodded tightly. "It was the BOOmerang." Stupid as the name was, it was one of the best inventions their parents had come up with, a tracking device that faithfully found Danny across countries, dimensions, even time. At least, it had before. "As soon as we realized you were gone, we... Sam, Tucker and I tried to use it."
They'd tried every detection tool in the Fenton arsenal. Jazz had even gone to Vlad in the end, hoping that his controlling tendencies would mean he'd somehow kept tabs on Danny. She'd even suspected that Vlad himself was the culprit and she'd find her little brother stashed away in some shielded corner of the millionaire's mansion.
That conversation had been… frustrating. Vlad was not cooperative. Beneath his sneers and the petty jabs at her father, the man had been genuinely worried—definitely annoyed—and just as lost as they were. It had been the nail in the coffin for Jazz, that not even Vlad had a clue.
"It kept blinking 'no matching ectosignature detected' and that's all it would do. We've used that thing for years, Danny. How could it not work? Unless you were... unless there was nothing to find."
Jazz gripped the edges of the heavy book, feeling irrationally, stupidly guilty. It was as if she hadn't had faith in him. That hadn't been it at all. She just... couldn't find him. "If it was true, if you really were, if you were gone, I couldn't just tell Dad. Not right away. Or Mom, either. They'd be... grieving, and they'd feel so guilty and confused about your ghost half with no way to resolve it. I just couldn't do it. Not yet."
"Oh," he said. The puzzle lay in the folds of the sheet gathered in his lap, unsolved, the pieces jumbled and crowding each other out of the frame.
Silence stretched between them, leaving her in the swirling darkness of her doubts. Jazz wished that Danny could banish all of them; tell her she'd done everything she should have. Except she hadn't. The heavy tome in her lap weighed her down, its sharp, new corners biting through her jeans. She hadn't found him. He'd been forced to find his way home alone.
"There was... this thing," Danny began slowly, startling her. "At the place they were keeping me. It worked as some kind of dampening field. Limited my powers. No intangibility, or ectoblasts. No shields. I bet that's why you couldn't track me."
"Oh," she breathed, hardly daring to speak. This was the first time he'd volunteered any real information on what had happened to him.
"It's nice to know," he added, speaking maybe half to himself, "why nobody came flying in on the Specter Speeder to break me out. You couldn't find me."
"We couldn't," Jazz agreed. She hoped he heard all the regret that was in those words. How ardently she wished they weren't true. "We tried, but you were just... gone."
The silence settled in again, heavy and bleak. The clock on the wall that ticked just a little bit off time filled the room with its soft, steady beat.
"You were captured by someone," she prompted gently.
Danny paused, then nodded slowly. He was moving the puzzle pieces again, meticulously turning them this way and that, trying to get them to line up. "Guys in White. They have this whole lab... facility... thing out in the mountains, just for ghost experiments."
"Experiments? You mean... you? You were... " Horror crawled to the forefront of her mind as the idea sank in. Jazz had scientists for parents. She knew very well what kinds of "studies" a ghost could undergo in the name of science. An even more horrible thought came in on the heels of the first. Maybe Danny hadn't gotten all of his injuries from escaping. Maybe that hand… why it was so bad… It was too terrible to think about, but the idea wouldn't leave her mind.
Danny seemed to be thinking along the same lines, because his hand strayed up to cradle the one in the sling and cast.
"Yeah." A little bitterness crept into his tone. "That was me. Test subject number 0013. Such 'fascinating' material."
"Oh Danny, I'm so sorry." What could she say? What could anybody possibly say? That was too… that was too much. She pressed her hands to her lips, tears welling in her eyes. "I'm so sorry."
He shrugged, frowning down at the last two pieces. The configuration was wrong, Jazz noticed absently. The last tile wouldn't fit. He'd have to start over. Somewhere he'd gone wrong.
"It's over. Forget it."
Jazz bit her lip, worry setting in. It wasn't something Danny could just forget, she knew. He would have to talk about it and deal with it, and soon; but she didn't have the heart to play psychologist tonight. Instead, she moved to the edge of the bed and wrapped her arms around his thin shoulders, holding him as tight as she dared.
Still slow, even a little tentative, Danny's arm came up to wrap around her. Fingers brushed against her face, and she felt him hesitate. Think. Sinking in past the sedatives.
"You're crying," he said, surprise in his voice. "Why?"
"Why?" Jazz half snorted, making a peculiar sound thanks to her already congested nose. "Because you're my little brother; and they—" They'd done horrible things to him. Almost killed him. "Of course I'm upset." She paused, wondering just how out of it he was if he had to ask that question. "I love you, Danny. Don't forget that."
His hand closed over her shoulder and he squeezed back tightly. "I won't, Jazz."
Danny relaxed into her embrace, nodding against her shoulder.
"You need to sleep," she told him.
"Not gonna," he mumbled.
"You already are." Jazz sniffed and swiped a hand across her eyes, then pushed him gently back into the nest of pillows. She moved quietly across the room and flicked off the light, found her way to the cot set up under the window by memory, and curled up under the blanket.
Plastic clacked against plastic; Jazz opened her eyes. Danny was sitting up again, silhouetted against the light spilling in from the hallway. His fingers shifted, and she caught a flash of color in his lap. He sat there in the dark, staring down unseeing at the unfinished puzzle.
Ties that Bind :: tbc...
Well, here goes nothing.
Welcome to the sequel of Phantom of Truth! It will be a somewhat different creature, but in a good way I hope. As always, concrit is greatly appreciated! All reviews will be loved. :)
The chapter and section names will probably shift around a bit at first, just fyi, since I'm still experimenting with them.
Oh gosh, I had a ton of help on this fic.
First, deepest thanks to MyAibou and Phantomrose96, my current betas. I'll be switching out secondary betas every month or so because I rather like them sane, but MyAibou's in it for the long haul. Send her cookies. She'll need them.
Also thank you to AnneriaWings for all of your support and advice, on top of being my first beta reader and soldiering through the cruddy first draft. Thanks to Phanowrimo friends who joined me in banging out 50,000 words this April, and Critic in Residence who humors me rolling on the floor and moaning about my fanfiction woes.
(and by the way those three are awesomely talented DP writers, go check out their fics!)
This timeline diverges from canon at the end of Season 2 right before Reality Trip, so Reality Trip and Season 3 are not canon for this fic. Most importantly, Vlad is not mayor, no ice powers, and D-Stabilized didn't happen. Oh, and no PP. That's pretty obvious though.
Changes from PoT
I realized after writing Phantom of Truth that Amity Park was in the Great Lakes part of the US, which is nowhere near any kind of desert. So the GIW facility has been moved to a particularly dry and unwelcoming corner of a secluded mountain range in NY state. The Author has spoken.
I think that's it, folks! Let's do this thing!