Danny wasn't sure what would run out first, the things he had to throw, or his ability to throw them. Ectoplasm had soaked through his makeshift bandages and sparkled and shimmered in the light cast by the ghost shield imprisoning him.
The worst part of this was, technically speaking, he could escape the ghost shield whenever he wanted. All he had to do was turn human and walk out. But he couldn't. His parents had installed new security cameras in the lab earlier this month. They would review the footage as soon as they found out he had escaped, and then they'd know. They'd know he was half-ghost.
Danny couldn't let them know. He had to admit, he was too scared to let them know. What did that say about him, that he would rather be cut up than reveal himself to his parents? What did it say about his parents, that that was even a risk?
Well, it said his parents were ghost hunters who thought ghosts were unfeeling evil monsters and wanted to dissect one for science. That wasn't exactly news to Danny, however, just like being half-ghost wasn't news to him.
In any case, Danny had been reduced to throwing random objects at the control panel for the shield in the hope that one of the objects would hit the lever that turned the shield off. He was lucky he could access things he had been carrying in human form without transforming completely, otherwise he wouldn't have those objects. Unluckily, his aim was steadily worsening as ectoplasm leaked from his side.
Thus far, Danny had thrown both of his sneakers, his math textbook, his lunchbox, and a rock at the panel, all without luck. He eased his English textbook out of his backpack, and hefted it with one hand, testing both the weight and the weakness in his muscles.
Silently, he promised Mr Lancer that, if this worked, he would never slack on English homework again. He threw the book. It sailed through the air, hit the panel, and-
Danny sighed, and looked into his backpack. He was running out of things to throw. Should he throw his history textbook next? See if time could fly?
Of course, he already knew that time did fly. He saw Clockwork do it all the time. He laughed, then hissed. Had he lost enough ectoplasm to start getting silly? Apparently.
He pulled out the history book, and threw it at the control panel. It tumbled sloppily end over end. His heart dropped as he watched it. That was a terrible throw. He hadn't even aimed properly.
But it hit the panel, and the lever snapped down.
Danny blinked in the sudden darkness, and struggled to his feet. He didn't try to pick up his backpack. His parents would just assume he had been careless, and that he'd left his backpack in the containment area for Phantom to find. Somehow. He'd probably get in trouble for it.
He stumbled to the portal, and jammed his thumb against the DNA reader. Somehow, he still had enough of his human DNA as a ghost to operate it. The doors slid open, agonizingly slow, bathing the lab in green light once again.
Behind him, the door at the top of the stair opened, casting the lab in warmer, more natural light. Oh, no. He pressed himself into the too-small gap, trying to get through, even as he heard feet- two pairs of them- thundering down the stairs.
His hip slid on his own ectoplasm, and he slipped through, into the Ghost Zone and relative safety. He tumbled head over heels, struggling to orient himself in the void and fly under his own power.
By the time he managed it, he was dizzy and retching. If he had managed to eat anything that day, he would have lost it. Globules of ectoplasm drifted away from his wound. His bandage job had come loose. He pushed down on it. It squished wetly.
He needed help, and fast.
Clockwork. Clockwork could help him. Clockwork would help him. Clockwork always helped him.
He shook his head to clear away the rapidly gathering cobwebs in his brain. Heh. Cobwebs. Like in a haunted house. A haunted head. His head was haunted. Better not tell Mom and Dad. They might blow it off.
Stop it. Don't think about that. (Don't lose your head.)
Which way was Long Now?
That way. He fell towards it, flickering into humanity, the better to avoid obstacles. Like that island he just phased through. Blood mixed with his shed ectoplasm, making a thick, sticky mixture.
Time stretched and compressed. He drifted, never quite losing consciousness, but not holding onto it as firmly as he ought to have. Brass gears flashed in his vision like stars. He was getting close. He was here. He was now. Long Now.
The ground in front of the big front doors of Clockwork's lair were hard stone, etched with strange hatch mark symbols. Like everything in Long Now, they were about time. About time Danny got here. He touched down, and nearly collapsed, his leg giving out underneath him. It was a good thing he could fly.
He drifted to the doors. They did not open. Why didn't they open? Had he done something wrong? Was Clockwork mad at him? He pressed one sticky hand to the door.
Something was wrong. Clockwork wouldn't abandon him, but he would protect him in a weird inconvenient way, like not opening the door. So Danny had better take this as a message. He had better hide.
How about that large gear that hadn't been there last time he had come around? The one stuck vertically into the ground and bigger around than he was tall. The one that looked like it could provide a lot of cover. He dropped behind it, sliding down to the ground, and making himself small.
The doors creaked open. Squealed, really. They only made that kind of noise when they were opening for someone Clockwork really didn't like.
Such as the Observants. Oh. That was a good idea, not letting him in while they were there. Meeting them like this could have been nasty. Normally, he would have peered out, around the gear, but he couldn't move anymore. He shuddered. Clockwork had better get here soon. He really needed help. He was going to bleed out.
Danny pried his eyes open. When had he shut them? Clockwork's face hung blurry in front of his. He tried to reach out, but found his arms too heavy to move. Clockwork gathered him up, into his arms. Danny moaned, and settled his head against Clockwork's neck.
Time blurred. They were inside. Clockwork was talking to Danny, but he didn't understand the words. He just wanted to lean up against Clockwork, he wanted hugs. Clockwork wouldn't give him hugs, though. He kept poking him in the stomach. It hurt.
He went to sleep.
His eyes snapped open. He saw green and felt something wrapped around him. Was he still in the lab? No, no, no. No! He clawed at whatever binding him, desperate to be free.
"Daniel," said Clockwork. "Daniel. Stop. Breathe. Breathe, Daniel."
Danny let out a high-pitched whine, but stopped moving, and followed the direction. He hurt everywhere, but especially in his side.
"You're safe, Daniel," said Clockwork. "You're alright."
Slowly, Danny's breathing began to even out. He leaned into Clockwork, curling up against him.
"They didn't do anything," said Danny, even though Clockwork must already know. "It wasn't them. It was Skulker and Technus. They're trying out a team-up. All they did, all they did was catch me, after. They didn't hurt me. They didn't do anything to me. They just caught me. I got away."
Clockwork held him, not commenting.
"They wouldn't have done anything, right?" asked Danny. He instantly regretted asking the question. He had prevented himself from doing it so far, not wanting to know the answer. "If they knew it was me? If I showed them?"
Every second it took Clockwork to answer settled in Danny's stomach like molten lead. "If," said Clockwork, "they knew it was you, they would not have hurt you, intentionally."
"Oh," said Danny. "Would they- If I had shown them, would they have known?"
Well. It wasn't the answer he wanted, but it was the one he had been expecting. He sniffed, and shifted to hold his side. It hurt. It hurt a lot.
His parents were supposed to protect him, to help him when he got hurt, not throw him in a cage. They were supposed to do what Clockwork was doing for him now, actually, if he thought about it.
"Daniel," said Clockwork. "You do not have to go back."
"You do not have to go back, if you do not want to," said Clockwork. "You can stay here."
He adjusted his grip on Danny subtly, so that Danny had a way out. Danny didn't want out. He wanted to stop hurting. But he shifted and looked up into Clockwork's eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if you want to, you can stay. You can live here, with me."
"But the Observants..."
"They cannot dictate who I have in my own lair. Besides, they gave me responsibility for you. They will complain, of course, but then, they always do." He brushed Danny's hair back, out of his face. "Long Now is large enough that you need never see them, in any case."
Danny looked away. "I can't," he said. "Thank you, but I can't. I'm sorry." Who would protect Amity Park, if he left? What would happen to his friends? What would it do to his parents?
He loved them. He just wished they didn't terrify him so much.
"That's alright," said Clockwork, aging into an old man. His beard tickled Danny's ear. "Are you hungry?"
"No," said Danny. "It hurts."
"It is a deep wound," said Clockwork. "You lost a lot of blood. But I have treated it as much as we can. Now, all we can do is wait." He sighed. "You will not have to wait long."
Danny nodded, and leaned against Clockwork's chest again, the glass door over Clockwork's clock was hard and flat against his shoulder. The ticking echoed through his body.
"Thank you," said Danny.
"I am only doing what anyone should," said Clockwork, "when a hurt child comes to them."
"They didn't know," insisted Danny.
"I know," said Clockwork.