Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
—Viktor E. Frank
Shannon woke at daybreak to the phone ringing. She groped for the receiver, putting it up to her ear and stifling a yawn. "Hello?"
"You wouldn't believe what I've been reading." Patrick's voice.
"You're up early." She glanced at the clock; it was a little past six.
"I never slept. I've been researching, making calls…" She heard papers rustling. "This GIW organization is the real deal. I can't find anything concrete on what they actually do, but the theories swirling around... There's Area 51 level stuff going on here. CPS and the police department both cut me off the minute I mentioned ectocontamination. It automatically puts the case in GIW jurisdiction, regardless of the situation— and that tends to lead to mysterious disappearances. It's scary."
Well. That explained Danny's reluctance to get involved with the police. Shannon sat up and put her feet on the cold floor, glancing out the window. A clear deep blue sky, softening to gold near the skyline. No rain today. No work either, thank goodness. "So what now?"
"I…" Patrick paused. He sighed. "What do you think of Dr. Fenton?
Shannon tapped the side of the reciever with her thumb. "To be honest? I'm beginning to like her." She thought of the careful, groping way Maddie had spoken at dinner, her almost painful attentiveness to Danny. "If she had any ill will, I think she'd project more confidence."
"Maybe she's a good actor."
"Maybe. But I don't think so." Shannon was good at reading people—and this woman didn't strike her as conniving. Frustrated and guilty, but not hostile. "She cares about Danny. I believe that's genuine." She paused, then added carefully. "Danny wants to go home with her, and I think we should let him." He'd have to find out sooner or later.
"What? That can't happen, are you crazy?"
"She's his mother. He has family there." A father, a sister. They must miss him terribly.
"Shannon." Patrick's voice hardened. "She abused him. She admitted that openly to both of us."
"You know there's more to it, Patrick." Calling it an accident was too strong a word, but… Shannon frowned. It was hard. It was complicated. "Ghosts, secret labs, double identities… obviously there are some unusual circumstances at play."
"Circumstances, huh." Patrick sighed. "I can't turn Dr. Fenton in without exposing Danny to this GIW organization, whatever it is, but if I do nothing he'll be right back in the hands of his mad scientist of a mother. What am I supposed to do?"
Shannon stood up, cradling the phone close to her cheek. "Trust that Danny has made the right choice in trusting her."
"You're talking about the kid who's spent the last month picking fights vigilante-style until his body literally shut down. Excuse me if I don't have faith in his danger sense."
Shannon grimaced; she couldn't argue with that one. "What do you want me to do, lock him in his room? He can walk through walls, remember."
"Vividly." Patrick sighed again, a long hiss over the receiver. "Just... tell him to be careful. I'm going to find some coffee, then give this Dr. Stein in Amity Park a call and see what he makes of it. Whether or not I can take legal action, I'm not letting this slide."
He'd calmed down now, that was good. Thinking with his head instead of his temper—which had turned out surprisingly hot. "That's why I like you, Patrick."
He laughed at that. "You like everyone, Shannon. But thanks."
Showered and dressed, it was still barely seven am when Shannon crept downstairs, skipping the creakiest steps to avoid waking Danny. A quick glance into the living room showed him still sleeping, head lolling at a cringe-worthy angle as he snored. Shannon smiled, though it had a bittersweet flavor to it. He'd fallen asleep just like that the first time she'd brought him in. He'd been so exhausted… enough to accept a stranger's invitation for a bed and a hot meal.
His odd mixture of fear and trust had touched her then… and worried her now. She only hoped he had made the right choice.
Sighing, she moved on to the kitchen. She found Maddie seated at the table, ramrod-straight, hands clasped in her lap. Her pale face and raccoon eyes betrayed an utter lack of sleep.
"Coffee?" Shannon offered. She'd kept a secret stash of full-caf in the back of the pantry for emergencies, and this certainly qualified.
The woman nodded once, tight-lipped. Shannon couldn't help but pity her— though not quite enough to tell her about Danny's decision. Let her sweat a little— she'd take the gravity of his choice more seriously.
"This is a nice house," Maddie said, in some vague attempt at small talk.
"Thank you," Shannon responded automatically as she rummaged through the pantry. No cereal left. Luckily she'd bought some eggs and bacon yesterday. "Did you sleep well?"
Maddie made a noncommittal noise, glancing back at the living room. Shannon let the silence linger, unsure of what to say. Talking about Danny's experiences here felt almost like a breach of trust, and she didn't exactly have a swinging personal life to turn into small talk. She wondered briefly what Maddie thought of cheesy old horror movies.
"Has Danny—" Maddie's voice interrupted Shannon's thoughts. She paused and tried again. "Has he been happy here?"
Shannon paused, hand on the tap. She couldn't help but think of the night he'd spent on the bathroom floor, lost in his own misery. Then she remembered last night on the couch, and smiled fondly. "For the most part, I think so." The coffee pot filled to the brim, and she shut the water off.
"Good—that's good." Maddie took a deep breath and tried to smile. "Thank you. For looking out for him."
"He's a good kid. He's more resilient than he realizes." She poured the water into the coffee maker, then turned to face her guest. The woman looked so forlorn, Shannon couldn't help offering her an encouraging smile. "Danny is kind, Maddie. If anyone can look past what you did, he will."
Maddie let her eyes drop to the table, moving her fingertip in a slow circle on the worn wooden surface. "I must seem selfish, doing this. I know I don't deserve another chance, but—" she shook her head helplessly. "He's my child."
Her child, whom she put through such suffering. Shannon knew the desperation of searching for family all too well— but Mrs. Fenton had caused Danny's disappearance in the first place.
"That makes it worse for him."
"I know." Maddie glanced back toward the hall and the room where Danny slept. "I'm not the same. Nothing is. Things have changed at home since we found out. What we do, how we work, how we think about ghosts. It may not be enough, but we're trying. I wish I could show Danny that."
'You'll get your chance soon," Shannon said as she turned on the coffee maker. "Nothing gets that boy up faster than the smell of coffee."
Sure enough, ten minutes later Danny wandered in and made a beeline for the coffee pot. Shannon stood at the stove, scrambling eggs as she watched the second batch of bacon. Maddie sat stiffly in her place, untouched eggs and coffee in front of her.
Danny slouched into his usual seat, mug cupped between his hands.
Maddie picked up her own coffee, then set it down without drinking it. "Danny—"
He interrupted her with an upraised finger. "Coffee first," he muttered, glowering. "If we've gotta be up at stupid o'clock I'm drinking caffeine for a change."
The doorbell rang. Shannon left the two in the kitchen and opened the door to find Dr. Wagner, his curly hair in disarray, still in the rumpled shirt and slacks he'd been wearing the day before. There were dark circles under his eyes and he had that manic, twitchy look of someone running purely off coffee.
"You really did stay up all night." She let him in.
He held up a paper bag. "You forgot Danny's prescription. You're welcome. Can I talk to Dr. Fenton? Thanks." He brushed past her and went to the kitchen. Shannon followed to find Maddie sitting alone, sipping her coffee.
"Where's Danny?" Shannon asked with a flash of irrational anxiety. He wouldn't have disappeared again, not so suddenly— at least not with coffee still in the pot.
Maddie pointed to the basement door, her eyes on Dr. Wagner. "He said he had to get something."
"Good," Patrick said, and slapped the paper bag down on the table, making the pills inside rattle. He stared at Maddie. "I'm here to talk to you."
"Talk away," Maddie said mildly, though Shannon noticed her fingers tighten around the coffee mug.
"I called up your Dr. Stein. He seems to think you're a good person. In fact he called me a lunatic for suggesting otherwise. I don't know how much we can trust that, because some people are very good at covering their tracks. But he's heard my diagnosis, and he won't forget, even if he doesn't want to believe it."
Maddie squeezed the mug and nodded. "That's fair."
"Now, listen." Dr. Wagner put both hands flat on the table and leaned forward. "I do not like you or trust you, and as Danny's physician I consider that an informed opinion. The only reason I haven't brought the cops with me is that there might be something to this GIW thing. I'm holding off on reporting you for Danny's sake, but if the next time I examine him I find any reason to doubt his well-being mentally or physically, I'll have you jailed so fast you'll get whiplash."
Shannon winced. Patrick hadn't cooled off as much as she'd thought.
Maddie only nodded, looking sober. "I appreciate your concern for my son, Dr. Wagner. It's good to know someone's been looking out for him."
"We all care about Danny very much," Shannon cut in before Patrick could say anything else.
"And I will be checking up on him," Patrick added forcefully.
Maddie pushed aside the coffee, looking up at them both. "I know I won't persuade you with words, but Danny is safe with us— with me. I take full responsibility for what I did, and how it must seem. I told you more than I had to, broke my confidentiality contract and risked Danny's freedom. I've been completely—painfully—honest. There's nothing to hide. You have a standing invitation to our home at any time. Both of you."
It was that frankness that had softened Shannon's opinion of Maddie. Patrick only scowled.
"Don't make offers if you can't follow through," he declared. "I may just invite myself over." Straightening, he snagged a piece of bacon. "I've got my shift at the hospital in an hour. Make sure Danny takes that." He strolled out, and a minute later the front door banged shut.
"He means well," Shannon said, after a pause. She approved of the compromise he'd come to— alerting Danny's primary care physician was probably the best move he could have made under the circumstances.
Shannon glanced at Maddie, expecting her to be tearful, or at least frightened. Instead the woman looked calm, staring after the doctor with a pensive expression. This, Shannon suspected, was the Maddie Fenton most people encountered— calm, in control, emotions shrouded under immaculate self-possession. It put last night's conversations in a new light. Shannon felt strangely invasive, remembering Maddie's tear-streaked face and trembling hands.
She was glad, though; without last night, Shannon would have thought of her as cold.
Feet stomping up the old basement stairs broke the silence. Danny opened the basement door, two chunky white cylinders tucked under one arm. He glanced at the two of them. "Did I miss something?"
"Just Dr. Wagner bringing your medication," Maddie said with a wan smile.
Danny scowled. "I hate that stuff." He moved over to the table and set the cylinders next to the plate of bacon. They looked a lot like old, insulated thermoses, thick and round with a lid that might serve as a cup— but these were plated in some kind of glossy white material, with several switches, lights and buttons built into the side.
"What are those?" Shannon asked, watching the little light on the side blink steadily. "And why were they in my basement?" She suddenly remembered Danny's bulging backpack, which had mysteriously lost its contents a few weeks ago. Another mystery solved, almost.
Maddie stared at them, going pale. "They came after you."
Danny shrugged. "Just a few." He glanced at Shannon, a look that was both wary and apologetic. "These have ghosts in them. I figured the basement was the safest place to keep them."
"Oh," Shannon said. As if it were a perfectly ordinary thing to keep ghosts in food containers in your basement. "Sounds sensible."
She touched the lid of the nearest one—then yanked her hand back at the tingling iciness. The hair on her neck prickled at the sensation; it was another not-quite-natural thing, like Danny's strange aura at the hospital. It made her shiver.
"Don't worry, these things are pretty secure." Danny rapped his knuckles on the nearest one, which rang with a hollow sound. "They won't be here much longer, anyway. I'll take them back and put them in the ghost zone where they belong."
"Then you…" Maddie hesitated. Shannon saw a tremor run through the hand wrapped around her mug, quickly suppressed. "You are coming back?"
Danny sat down. He folded his hands on the table and took a deep breath. Then he looked up at Maddie. "I want to talk to the police first. Will you go with me?"
Shannon nearly dropped her spatula—had Danny changed his mind? He'd been so obstinately against police involvement up until now.
Maddie showed remarkable shut her eyes for a moment, then opened them and nodded. "Of course."
Danny frowned and picked at a crack in the old wood. "I mean if you're with me, that'll make things easier. I just want to talk about Nicki, not the whole leaving home thing— if I have a parent there they won't ask as many questions."
The tension suddenly dropped out of Maddie's shoulders. "This is for the mugging?"
"Yeah." Danny stared at the table, preoccupied by his own thoughts. "I feel like I owe it to her, you know? I got a good look at those guys, and if that'll help catch them… that's what I want to do."
"I think Nicki would appreciate that," Shannon said warmly.
Maddie glanced between them and nodded. "Then that's what we'll do."
"After that," Danny said, and his expression softened. "I want to go home."
Home. The wistful way Danny said it banished any lingering thoughts Shannon had about making him stay. He deserved a chance at getting that back. She would have done anything to give her brother that chance. She certainly couldn't stand in Danny's way.
"Are you sure?" Maddie whispered.
He gave her a small smile. "Yeah. Let's go home."
The visit to the police station dragged on for hours. Danny gave a stumbling summary of how he'd ended up in Kreugerville, glossing over the more supernatural parts. Mom sat next to him, listening. He plowed into the night at the bus stop, trying not to fixate on how Mom's hands grew whiter and whiter around her purse. He described the blond's face in removed detail, the gun, the boys' words with Nicki.
"Then she got shot, and I didn't," he said simply. "I passed out for a while, and when I woke up—" he shrugged. "I panicked. I guess I thought I might get in trouble? I don't know, I just ran for it."
"You made a 911 call first," the officer said. He was an older, grandfatherly man, with a permanent squint and a bulging waistline. "That saved her life, son."
Danny flushed. That call—what he remembered of it— must have sounded pretty hysterical. "Gabe did it. He kept her from bleeding too much. I just made the call."
The man looked like he wanted to say more, but he just shrugged and made a note on his clipboard. "Alright, that's your statement. Anything you'd like to add?" Danny shook his head. "You're almost through, son. Mind if we photograph your injuries for evidence?"
Danny shot a nervous glance at Mom, but nodded.
Mom, thankfully, waited outside. He stripped to his boxers in the photographer's booth, revealing arms, legs and a back that had more bruises than untouched skin. The photographer, a soft-spoken man with cropped grey hair and deep crow's feet, kept a friendly patter of conversation as he worked, offsetting the harsh blasts of flash with banter. Danny tried not to grimace and endured it. He hoped this was worth it. He owed it to Nicki to try, at least.
When it was over, they checked out and walked across the parking lot. Mom fell into step with him, clutching her purse. She looked pale. "I didn't realize it was that bad."
"It's fine," Danny said, uncomfortable with the fear in her eyes. He kicked a chunk of loose asphalt, watching it skitter across the pavement. "I've had it worse back home, up against ghosts. These were just a bunch of jerks."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Mom fumbled with her keys—it took her four tries to open the car door. "How many times did you come home black and blue and we didn't notice?"
Danny shrugged. "You were busy." Busy hunting him, usually, but whatever.
Mom sighed and slipped behind the wheel. "I have a lot to make up for."
No arguments from him. Danny glanced out the window and spotted a tantalizing billboard. "Starting now?"
"Of course." She started the engine.
"Then how about coffee and doughnuts?" He wiggled his eyebrows hopefully.
Mom stopped and turned off the car, resting her head on the steering wheel. "Danny..."
SHoot. She looked like she might cry again. He shrugged, slipping into the old, familiar game of playing dumb. "What? It's been three whole hours since breakfast."
"You don't have to act like nothing happened. Remember? Joking around like I didn't—" she broke off and shook her head.
Danny's stomach plummeted to his toes. This wasn't what he wanted. He scuffed his sneakers on the floorboard, scowling. "What do you want me to do, glare at you the whole way home? I'm not magically over it or anything, it's just…" he shrugged. 'We have to start somewhere, right? Why not with doughnuts?"
Mom straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath, and restarted the engine. "Alright then. Chocolate or glazed?"
"As long as it's not lime-filled, I don't care. I'm done with green and oozy for life, thanks."
She turned and stared at him with undisguised horror.
Danny grinned back. "Better get used to the jokes, Jazz says it's my primary coping method." A thought struck him and he looked at Mom. "Does she know yet?"
"I haven't told anyone but your father." Mom pulled out of the parking lot, eyes on the road. Danny pointed to the billboard, and she turned down the adjoining street. "I had to be sure you wanted to be found first."
"I should call her," Danny said. He should have called her a while ago, but— yeah, now he definitely should.
Mom glanced at him. "Now?"
Danny tugged at the neck of his hoodie—a red one that had belonged to Shannon's brother. The orange one was pretty much ruined, and the police had kept it for evidence anyway. "I mean, I have to talk to everyone eventually, right?"
Rummaging in her purse one-handed, Mom passed him her cell phone. He stared at it, suddenly, irrationally nervous. There were so many people that he'd just… ignored for a couple of months. How would they take it?
"Jazz first," he decided aloud. "I'll call her, then Sam and Tucker." That was enough to start with, right? Those were the people who knew.
"Jazz is speed dial three."
"I remember." Danny pushed the button and held it to his ear, listening to the ringtone. He tapped his finger on the car's armrest, mind flicking from one thing to the next. What should he say? Would she be mad? Glad to hear from him? Or maybe annoyed—what if she found out he'd seen one of her posters and ignored it? What if—
Danny started as Jazz's voice came over the line. It felt eerie. He knew it so well, but after so long, little things stood out that he hadn't noticed before. Like how she over-articulated every word, or that her voice was slightly nasal.
"Mom? Did you pocket dial me again?"
Mom touched his shoulder, bringing him back to himself. Danny readjusted the phone, licked his lips, and answered. "Uh, hi."
The line went dead quiet. For a moment Danny thought the call had dropped, then he heard a sharp intake of breath. "Danny?"
"Hi," he repeated stupidly, embarrassed. He scrunched down in the seat, then straightened with a flinch as his ribs twinged. He leaned against the car door instead, tangling his free hand in the hoodie's ties.
"Hi," she said back, breathless. "How are you? Where are you? Are you with Mom? Is she with you now? Is—is that okay, are you okay? With her, I mean? Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, we… talked." He glanced at Mom, who kept her eyes fixed on the road. "She's driving me home."
"Oh— that's great, I— there's a class in five minutes, but— I'll skip. Skipping is—yes, I'm doing it. I'm coming. I'm walking to my car right now."
"Jazz, don't be dumb, go to your class. I'll still be there on the weekend."
The anxiety in her tone made Danny cringe. He really should have called. "Promise. We can video chat tonight, too."
"Okay. Alright." She half covered the phone and sighed. "I'm glad to hear your voice, little brother."
Danny smiled at the familiar term. "I'm glad to hear you too. How's Harvard?"
She gave a wobbly laugh. "Well, you know. Amazing. The teachers here are so knowledgeable, and I've been browsing their internships, the opportunities abroad—and the libraries. Did you know they have eighty individual libraries?"
He grinned. Of course she'd be all about the libraries. "I guess that's okay, if you're a nerd or something."
"They have an observatory dedicated to astronomy here, if that's not too nerdy for you," she added, teasing. "It's got one of the first major telescopes commissioned by a college."
"Wow. I haven't used a telescope in forever." He hadn't even looked up at the stars lately. Too busy finding people to save, then almost dying, then watching someone almost die… it had been a crazy couple of weeks.
"Yeah?" A wealth of questions brimmed up in that careful word. Where have you been? What were you doing? What happened to you? A bunch of things he did not want to describe over the phone.
"I'll tell you about it tonight," he promised. "You can psychoanalyze the crap out of me if you want."
She chuckled. "I just might. Have you called Tucker and Sam?"
"What are you doing on the phone with me? They're going crazy about you. Call them!"
"Love you, little bro."
"Love you too, sis." Danny stared at the phone for a minute, then slumped in his seat, sighing. "This is exhausting." He glanced around and realized they were now parked in front of the doughnut shop, a little place in a strip mall with a cheerful pastel sign.
"You don't have to do this all at once." Mom held out her hand for the phone.
Danny shook his head. "No, I've got this." He took a deep breath and dialed for Sam.
Pamela bustled up the stairs, humming to herself. Despite the circumstances, she was beginning to look forward to this little outing to France. They'd just bought their airline tickets, the hotel was booked, Samantha's place at the school secured. Everything was ready.
She and Jeremy had set aside two weeks to accompany Samantha, to assure themselves personally of the quality of the finishing school. It came highly recommended, of course, but if their Sammy was going to spend an entire year so far away from home, they had to be positive it was an appropriately nurturing environment.
Even Samantha had begun showing some interest. She'd mentioned the catacombs under Paris, which Pamela was not terribly eager to experience, but it was a start. They'd make a little vacation of it, just after Christmas—see the Louvre, visit the Eiffel tower, have a coffee and croissants on some quaint French boulevard. It would be lovely.
A crash came from Samantha's room, shattering Pam's pleasant thoughts. She hurried up the last few steps. Samantha's bodyguard threw open the door, looking more agitated than Pamela had ever seen him. "Mr. Krommer, whatever is the matter?"
He gestured into the room, where Sam stood with a shattered teacup at her feet. She had a cheap little flip phone clutched in her hands and was staring at it, her face as white as the broken porcelain.
Wherever had she gotten a phone? Pam said the first thing that came to her head. "Sammy! You know you're still grounded, young lady!"
"Damn it," Sam whispered. She closed the phone and it dangled from her fingers.
Pamela froze, too shocked to even reprimand her daughter's language. "Who was it? Who called?"
Sam drifted over to the bed, which was covered with flyers for Paris. "Danny. He's coming back."
"Oh." Pamela didn't know what to say. "That's… that's wonderful, sweetheart."
She swept up a fistful of brochures and stared at them. "Yeah. It's great."
Tucker's fingers went numb around the phone as he gripped it for dear life.
He'd been paging through a D&D rulebook, wishing it had a ctrl+F feature, when Mom had come up to his room and shut the book in his hands. "Danny's on the phone," she'd said simply. "Go talk to him."
Now here he was, with Danny's familiar voice in his ears. Danny was okay. He was coming home. He'd be home tomorrow. Tucker felt—complicated.
Complicated meant going on a long-winded rant that involved a bunch of words he probably shouldn't have used in front of his mother, pacing the short hallway of their house back and forth, stubbing his toes on the door frames that stuck up too high. Tucker ran out of breath and outrage at just about the same time and stood at the entrance to the kitchen, toes throbbing.
Danny listened in silence all the way to the end. "I'm sorry."
"Well," Tucker huffed out between breaths, "you should be." He paused. "You coming home, bro?"
"Yeah. Can I… do you want to see me?"
All that Remains :: tbc...
Time to go home.
Here we go, beginning the long denouement of this sprawling epic. I wish I could have made it shorter than five chapters, but when you have sixty chapters, three character groups, and who-knows-how-many interwoven storylines, it takes some doing to wrap things up. Since I am not writing any sort of continuation for this series, I'm determined to closure the crap out of this thing. Let's do this.
Meanwhile I'm unusually busy, helping a friend with her wedding, getting ready to fly across the country for another one next month, trying not to actually melt from the heat wave. There are fires here, but none too close to where we live, thankfully. Stay cool, everyone!
Many thanks to my amazing beta readers! MyAibou, Anneriawings, LunarMothim, Misfit-toy-haven, Pumpernickel Muffin, Attu, Chintastic, and Cordria! Couldn't have come this far without you.
And thank you, dear readers, for your reviews! They in all seriousness make my day. It's such a pleasure to be finally bringing this to a close and giving everyone (you, me, the characters) the closure they've been longing for.
Until next time,