In the reflection on the High school cafeteria floor, Danny doesn’t look right.
With gasping breaths and his chest feeling tight, even though he was on his hands and knees a numbing calm swarm his brain aside from the frantic pulsing of his too fragile heart. He studies his reflection. Mostly because right now, that’s the most he can do.
In the reflection, Danny stared right back at himself. His skin was dull and a pale gray. Dark bags hung under his eyes and they had no gleam or shine to them. Between each gasp, there was the choking of an inhuman whine, stutter, and hiss. Despite this, each line in his face was hardened and focused. The tension of his jaw and the grating of his teeth showed a cold fury. The kind of righteous anger that was highlighted even in the stiffness of his spine and the rigidity of his shoulders.
In the corner of his eye, he can see the other students backing up and his parents, the film of their red goggles masking their expression. Though Danny would bet that it was calculated as well as cautious. Afraid to hit their son and afraid to see what this ghost would do to their son’s body.
The ghost shifts uneasily and churns under his skin.
Danny’s mouth thins as his eyes went aflame because no. No, he was not going to be possessed here in all places with the unswept floor and the milky white tiles. His parents hunt him, an insane millionaire wants his dad dead and his mom as a trophy wife, and the kids at school treat him like dirt.
Possession, simply, is asking for too much.
Forcing himself off the floor yet still unable to stand and back curled backward, Danny claws into his chest as his twitching fingers dig under the skin and he pushes.
Using the ghost’s own intangibility against it, Danny twists his fingers around the very molecules of the ghost, and it squirms like ribbons of eels, sticking to Danny’s body like vile strings. It makes a terrible sound while the ghost struggles. He can hear the wet noise of it trying to take his muscles hostage, gripping and sticking to the nerves and bone marrow and veins and it hurts and Danny’s bloodcurdling, animalistic scream is just as reckoning and final as the one made in the portal but even with white dots dancing across Danny’s vision there’s a final sharp yank.
All that’s left of the ghost is a ball of ectoplasm in his fist that tries to escape or worm back into his body. It knocks him back on the ground through the sheer velocity and will, but Danny still holds it tight. Finally, it goes still.
Wordlessly, Sam takes out a thermos and in a bright blue flash, it’s gone. The only sound in the room being her clipping the top back on and the scrambling of Tuckers steps to help him up. The yellow of Tucker’s vest stings his eyes but he clings on all the same while he took deep breaths that rattled his ribs and almost bursts his lungs. All he can hear really is the hammering of his heart.
All of this silence, only to allow Dash’s words to echo all the louder.
“Fenton what the fuck?!”
Danny pressed his eyes closed. If he had to pick the moment where everything started to unravel, this was it.
Tucker leaned against his hand and twirled the forkful of spaghetti that was splattered on his lunch tray. “They’re going to have to forget about it sometime, this is Amity after all. We’ve all seen stranger,”
Danny lowered his voice as his eyes flickered and scanned around the room. “That doesn’t change the fact that they’ve been just staring at me for the past three days.” Not just the other students, either. It was also the Teachers, his parents, and even people who weren’t there seemed to just look at him and it was raising his hackles while making Danny’s skin turn to static.
“Obviously, they’ve never seen someone fight back from being possessed and win before.” Sam stared past Danny and Tucker; eyes unfocused. “And Danny? It was- I dunno, it was terrifying to watch. Your skin rippled and you were twitching, and I thought that this was it. This was how you die for real this time.”
Danny flinched while Tucker froze.
“But,” Sam blinked, and she was looking at Danny again. Her voice back to her wryly, barbed, drawl that they all knew she practiced and perfected with the mirror. “It wasn’t like you used any of your ghost powers. People might have their eye on you, but it didn’t reveal anything if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“It didn’t reveal anything directly,” Danny said, “But it still showed more than what I’d like.”
Sam and Tucker shared a glance but before one of them could say more Danny already changed the subject.
“Sam, you still have it?”
She raises a brow, “Naturally.”
Out of the three of them, she can perform the most convincing sleight of hand without the help of ghost powers. Exhibit A: Giving Danny’s parents an empty thermos while keeping the one with the ghost.
“Man,” Sam crosses her arms, “Thank god we always carry spares. Not that I like this ghost. At all. But…”
“Yeah.” Danny said, “No, I get what you mean.” Danny leans back and points at Sam’s purple spider-themed bag-pack that was hanging off her chair, the only place where the thermos could be. “This guy in particular probably just wanted to use me as a shield so it can buy some time before my parents went scalpel crazy.”
Tucker squints and looks at him with the kind of face a person would have after looking at the sun for too long. “Danny, you’re acting awfully nonchalant for a guy that’s in absolute agony every time he gets possessed.”
Danny shrugs, “I’m just saying, desperate times call for desperate measures. And it was one of Vlad’s escaped experiments, no wonder it flipped it’s shit when dad was babbling about having a new, fresh sample. If nothing else, I can understand being screwed over by a literal supervillain.”
“Besides,” Says Sam, “Aside from letting it back into the ghost zone, what else are we going to do with it? Imprison it? Give it a stern talking to? Allow Danny’s parents, the GIW, Vlad, or even Walker to put it through unimaginable torture?”
“Well, no.” Tucker frowns, “But I hate the idea that this ghost, not knowing what to do, just wanders back and for the same thing to happen, except it’s to someone else that can’t fight off possession. Between this ghost accidentally or purposely killing someone or it being right back in a lab, we’re not going to be so lucky next time. If we can call what happened to Danny ‘luck’.”
The three of them were quiet for a bit. Until finally, Danny said, “As soon as my parents leave the house and lab alone, we can put it back in the Ghost Zone then.”
The bell rings. It’s a shrill sound and it has the three of them quickly gather their things and leave.
Dash stares at the table across the lunchroom where Danny, Sam, and Tucker sat. It was mostly isolated and at that table, there were only the three of them. Unlike this one that still had people fighting and scrambling for seats but that was only background noise at this point.
“I didn’t think Fenton could do that.” The words come absentmindedly and they’re already out before Dash could think better of it. “Fight off a thing like that.”
“Well,” Kwan said. “It wasn’t, ya know, an actual fight. But yeah.”
“It didn’t look good either,” Paulina added. “He didn’t even, like, sound like a person anymore. It was just-” She shifts in her seat. “- ugly. It was an ugly thing to see.”
Ugly was one word for it, the way Fenton’s body wormed underneath the skin, the way he twitched and squirmed. The way he twisted into himself and exploded outwards and screamed as if it ripped apart his insides to do it. Or the angry, bitter, and determined expression that Danny wore the whole time rather than succumb to the pain. It was only three days ago but the memory was still so clear and kept playing in his head. It was one of those types of events that you knew was going to follow you until you’re six feet under.
“He still looks kinda off.” Star’s voice felt distant, there was a shift of tone and a shift in the air that somehow told Dash that they were all looking at the same mostly empty and distant table. That they all saw the three of them talking in hushed tones and close together, moving animatedly yet betraying no hints on what the conversation could be about except for that Fenton was currently pointing at the goth’s bag.
“I think…” Paulina’s voice was unusually blank, “I think this is how he usually is?”
Danny looked wrong. Always. In his mannerisms, movements and just some other way that couldn’t be pinned down. Least not by someone like Dash. His skin had a greenish pale shade that made Fenton look sick. The few times he saw Fenton smile his teeth looked like piano keys that were somehow more disturbing that any set of fangs. His eyes were too big and bright and his voice had a sharp echo to it that gave Dash goosebumps. Danny Fenton was always too sickly, too angular, too pale, blinked and breathed too unoften and sounded too harsh.
Usually, all that meant for Dash was that Fenton would be easy bait, but lately, all Dash wants to do when he sees him is either look for more differences in a twisted fascination or turn away like he’s seen nothing.
For most of the lunch hour, they stared until the bell finally rang and they were gone.
Mr. Lancer usually sat by himself at his desk in his empty classroom when the lunch bell rang. It makes a wonderful excuse today in particular to avoid the topic of Daniel Fenton that was circling with the other teachers and the principal as well as the vice-principal were making in hushed tones just behind the doors of the break room.
Most days, it’s easy to ignore Fenton’s irregularities. It’s easy when he nervously explains that no, he doesn’t have his homework with him or when he can’t answer a question if he calls on him. When he asks for extra help or scowls at a simple sheet of paper or the way he lights up when he finally gets something. In these moments Mr. Lancer can block out everything else about Danny.
Mr. Lancer looks down at his Earl Gray tea and frowns.
He should be more worried about this student. He should’ve been more relieved when Fenton pulled the impossible rather than being apathetically not surprised. He should be doing more of something. Anything.
He takes a sip and while the warm steam climbs and curls in the air his frown deepens.
Instead, he notices that the classroom tastes of copper and reeks ozone long after Fenton leaves the room and he knows that it’s Fenton that makes the difference because it isn’t like that when the boy somehow disappears before a ghost attack. That sometimes he doesn’t blink in his class or takes such shallow breaths it looks like Fenton isn’t breathing. He shouldn’t be thinking about how he wished that Fenton didn’t have a tension to him that matched the countdown to an atomic bomb or the stillness before the supernova of an exploding star.
Long ago, Mr. Lancer wondered if possession was the case for almost as long as ghosts were a certainty among the residence of Amity, but disregarded it long before what happened three days ago,
Ghosts were animalistic. They growled and howled; they were the ones that lost. The dead cornered animals in a loop of their final moments as things that know nothing else but to fight. Then the humanistic ones were just thick with grief and anger and bitterness. They were something wild and unguarded that humanity tried to bury only for it to claw out of the soil.
Fenton was not like that. He was something completely different and it’s something Mr. Lance doesn’t think he ever wants the answer to.
The bell rings and he pinched the bridge of his nose before rubbing his eyes.
It doesn’t matter what he thinks of his students. Especially when one of them was going to walk in any moment now.
Danny pokes at his food. Every once and a while he chances a look, flickering his eyes to where his parents sat at the dinner table only to find that they would still not stop staring.
Jazz would look too, but in a completely different way of worry. She would look at him then her gaze would gravitate back to their parents and turn something cold and sharp that was in complete contrast to the expression drenched in concern that she gave to him. She would block questions, turn the subject, lash out every time their parents tried to bring up the subject of what happened three days ago. Sometimes she would even physically block them off by standing in front of Danny, eyes daring as if Danny didn’t have enough power to flatten cities with a single scream.
It cut off the subject completely and his parents have been unable to ask their questions, but it left an uncomfortable stalemate of his parents curious and calculating stares and a balance of Jazz’s dark and seething glares.
Regardless, there was something buzzing underneath Danny’s skin. A momentum in his chest like the circling of coins going down a spiral. A feeling terrifying as falling without control. It had him wish for more time yet ask for it to happen now just to get it out of the way. Like the calm before the storm. It was draining and it made Danny feel exhaustion like no other. So he walks away when no one is looking and goes to bed.
All of it must’ve led Danny to a dream like this. Him as a small child again in the old round and worn table in the kitchen they all ate at. The table he knew for as long as he could remember had a leg that was a bit too short and wobbled along with bits and pieces of chipped wood and stains of markers from past essays, blueprints, and art assignments. Across the table sat lone figure.
“Clockwork,” Danny said, “You don’t usually show up in dreams.”
“Usually, I have no need to.”
“Why’s this time different?”
The corner of Clockwork’s lips twist into a smirk and Danny knew instantly that like all else, Clockwork wasn’t going to explain any further. But then his face turns to stone and somehow, it’s an answer to a question he didn’t even ask yet.
“They’re going to know soon, aren’t they?” Danny felt the static calm surge into his head while panic swallows his chest. “This is just the start. Somehow, this is going to end with my parents knowing everything and I’ll be out of time.”
“And I can’t go back. I can’t undo it. It’ll just lead to something worse.”
“… Yes.” There was something in Clockwork’s face as well as a strange tightness in his voice, but it was gone before Danny could read more into it. “I’m sorry.”
“No- don’t be,” Danny forced a smile that didn’t reach his eyes but was soft all the same. “I had more chances than I ever thought I would. A reality goblet to make them forget for one. Then you gave me another one when Dan tried to blow them up. Hell, I even got a second chance in life rather than dying in the portal.” The smile saddens, “Something would have to give eventually.”
Danny hesitates and just like when he was eight years old, he fiddles with the bottom of his shirt with small hands and small shoulders hunched over. “Can you at least tell me how it ends?”
“No,” Clockwork says softly. “I can not.”
“However, I have a gift for you.”
Danny’s back straightens and he finally forces his hands to his side, “I don’t have any gifts for you.”
Finally, like flint to rock, there’s a mischievous spark in Clockwork’s eye. “And what of it? It’s a gift, not a trade.” Pulled from nowhere and placed gently on the table was a red Rocketship. A stuffed toy with a little spaceman sown in the window and waving to the very cosmos itself. A worn, old toy with faded and frayed fabric and the little man, the one his parents made themselves, looked almost just like Danny, even if it was nothing more than a stick figure.
“Do you recognize it?” Somehow, Clockwork’s expression his both soft yet a smirk.
“… I got this when I was eight years old for Christmas. My parents, despite all the arguing, made this together.” Danny’s chest stutters as he reaches out and pulls the rocket to him while holding it tight to his chest, “It… has been missing for a very long time.” Suddenly, Danny’s head shoots up to look back at Clockwork. “Is this a clue? On how everything will end?”
“Only time will tell.” There was a long pause before he looks at him and says, “Goodbye.”
There was no poof, no shift in the air, no noise or shuffle. Clockwork was there, then he wasn’t. It felt too final and Danny couldn’t place why until he realized that Clockwork never said goodbye before.
When Danny wakes up, he’s fourteen again and in his hand was the Rocketship. Just like in the dream, just how he remembered it.
He looks at it for a long time and rubs his eyes whenever they start to burn.
Danny called Sam and Tucker not so long ago and now they were all here. All at the same kitchen table yet only standing around it.
“So,” Sam said, “Are we here to return the ghost now? Are your parents out of the basement?”
“No,” Even to Danny’s own ears, his voice sounded off. “They’re still there.” He swallows, “Clockwork came. They’re going to know soon. About everything. And…” Danny hesitates, “And I’m going to tell them while it can still be at my own terms. I’m going to tell them now before I lose my nerve. I’m going down in the basement and if it all goes-” Danny takes a deep breath. “-If it all goes wrong, then I’ll go through the portal, and I’ll take the ghost in the thermos with me.”
Tucker and Sam shared a look, one that showed that they talked about this before, rehearsed it and one that was also bittersweet.
“Ah,” Tucker said with a note of finality, “If it all goes wrong, then we’ll come with you.”
“I’m not-” Danny sputtered, “-I’m not going to ask you guys to risk the chance of throwing away your lives and run away with me in a godforsaken graveyard-“
“You didn’t ask. And we won’t ask you either.” Sam crossed her arms. “We’re coming with you.”
Something raw that tasted of fear bubbled up Danny’s throat before he could stop it. “I’m- you’re both going to regret it! You’re going to regret having to live in the odd corners of the world and ghost zone, only to be always running! You’ll both miss your parents and your homes and everything that you’ll have to miss in life!”
The room rang with silence.
Tucker shifts at where he stands. “We talked about it Danny. We thought about this for a long, long time. Right after the portal, right at the beginning. And honestly? I’ll regret never knowing where you are and what happened to you, abandoning you, more then I’ll ever regret coming with you.”
Sam straightens her posture and stared Danny down. “We. Are going. With you.”
And that was that. They prepared, quickly their backpacks, placed their goodbyes and in hushed tones planed and made room for the worse.
The Door, the stairway that leads down to the lab where it all started was dimly lighted except for the glowing green that radiated from something out of sight. It made Danny’s entire body feel tight as if he was being shoved down the esophagus of a great monster. Making way into the belly of the beast. Above all else, he was absolutely terrified, but Sam reached for his hand and Tucker reached for the other and it didn’t necessarily calm him. But it reminded him that he wasn’t alone, would never be, and that was more than enough.
Still holding hands, down they went into the dark basement.