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The Roof is Haunted

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Danny covered his swelling eye with his hand and held onto the rail with the other. His depth perception was completely thrown, and he tripped once or twice on the steps leading up to the roof. No one saw. No one had followed him out of the cafeteria. Sam and Tucker would have, but they were scheduled on a different lunch this year. So, it was only Danny.

Danny, his anger, his humiliation, and the ache in his chest that made tears gather in his eyes and loneliness squeeze his chest. 

He paused in the stairwell a moment to suck in deep, ragged breaths. The door to the outside was only a few steps away, though. He wasn’t going to spend his lunch in the creepy stairwell when the outside world was so close. He just needed to get outside where none of the other kids would see him. He needed the sun on his face and the wind in his hair. Things wouldn’t seem so bad if he could just feel a little freedom.

He managed the last few steps and pushed open the door.

The fresh air gusted across his face—the half that wasn’t covered by his hand—and blew his hair back from his forehead. He breathed in deep and stepped outside. The wind was a little stronger than he had expected up on the roof, but it wasn’t so bad it would disturb his lunch. The sun felt wonderful on his skin. The scenery was pretty nice too. This was one of the lower roofs, and the trees by the picnic table stretched well above the parapet, their leafy branches swaying in the breeze—

Someone was already up on the roof.

Startled, Danny froze in place and clutched his lunch bag to his chest. Another boy was sitting on the parapet to Danny’s right, seemingly unaware of Danny’s arrival. That was…good. Danny wanted to be alone. Maybe he could eat in the stairwell after all and…

…feel worse as the small space and dim lighting made despair claw at his heart…

No. No, there was more than enough room on the roof for them both to be alone. Danny would just eat far away from the other boy. On the other end of the parapet, in fact. That was a whole classroom away. And the other boy didn’t seem at all interested in Danny, so that was…good. Yes.

Danny walked toward his chosen spot and sat on the roof—the roof and not the parapet because he wasn’t insane. He criss-crossed his legs under him, set his lunch bag in his lap, and tentatively explored the edges of his sore eye with his fingers. Dash Baxter had tripped him on his way to a table, and Danny had smacked his head against the edge of a bench seat. A tray had been overturned on him, and the cafeteria had roared with laughter. The teacher who had come to investigate had simply accepted the excuse Danny had tripped—see the spilled tray?—and never mind that Danny had a packed lunch clutched to his chest.

It wasn’t the most auspicious start to Danny’s Freshman year…

His cheekbone hurt . He winced as he probed the bruise. His eye was starting to swell too after having taken some of the blunt force. He was going to have a lovely black eye, and if middle school was any indication, the black eye was just going to keep his humiliation fresh in everyone’s mind. He could expect more mockery and more bullying in the coming days. Which was just great.

“So much for getting a fresh start,” he mumbled to himself.

He unrolled his lunch bag and glanced at the food Jazz had packed for him. A sandwich—a little squished at this point—an orange, and his favorite candy bar with a little smiley face drawn onto it with a sharpie.

A tiny smile pulled at his lips. A small sliver of warmth fought back his hurt feelings, if only for a moment.

He decided to eat the candy bar first—he needed the comfort—and glanced up at the other boy as he pulled open the wrapper.

The other boy still hadn’t noticed him. Or perhaps he was just ignoring Danny. Maybe he was trying to escape bullies too and didn’t want to risk drawing attention to himself. But there was something about his posture that…just didn’t seem to fit the “loser” stereotype. He looked as scrawny as Danny, but even sitting on the ledge, he held his back straight, his shoulders set with a confidence Danny envied. He wasn’t afraid. Not of bullies and definitely not of falling.

He sat crosswise on the parapet, one leg dangling over the edge, the other tucked under him. He was watching something on the ground. Just staring at him balanced on the edge of the roof like that made Danny’s stomach knot. He didn’t know if it was because the boy could fall or…for some other reason.

There was just something off about him. It might have been the white hair gently blowing in the wind, but Danny had met a few of Sam’s goth friends; he had seen stranger hair choices than someone deciding to dye their hair white. The boy’s black shirt and pants suggested he might even be goth himself. His eyes maybe? Danny shouldn’t have been able to see them from so far away, but the green of his irises were as bright and vibrant as his parents’ ghost portal.

Maybe that was it. Danny was associating the boy’s green-colored eyes with the creepy ectoplasm his parents were always playing with.

Mystery solved, Danny returned to his lunch. His feelings dragged him down again as he ate. Anger was harder to summon now that he was (more or less) alone, and without that distraction, the pain and loneliness set in. Everyone had laughed— everyone . Even the band kids. Even Mikey. Without Sam and Tucker, Danny was just…miserable. And he had a whole year of being alone.

Danny pressed the heel of his palm to his uninjured eye and angrily brushed a tear away before it could fall. He wasn’t going to cry over a little thing like public humiliation. He was stronger than that. He could handle the blows. He would be like the kid on the parapet who looked calm and confident.

Danny glanced up at him.

He sucked in a breath and froze as their eyes locked. The vibrancy of the boy’s green eyes held him captive now that they were focused on him. Unease crawled along Danny’s skin, making his hair stand on end. There really was something off about the other boy. It scared Danny. It must have scared him. Why else would his heart be racing? Why else would—

The boy smiled and lifted his hand in a tiny wave.

Before Danny could help himself, his hand did the same. He tried to smile, but his lips wobbled as something cracked open in his chest. Quickly, he looked down, biting down hard on his lip as that one little kindness broke the spell on his depression and set loose his tears. He pulled his knees up to his chest and hid his face behind them. He wouldn’t cry in front of this stranger.

If there were any kindness in the world, the boy would have ignored him, but apparently his response to seeing someone cry was to do something about it. Danny didn’t hear anything. One moment the boy was sitting on the parapet far away, and the next he was sitting on the roof beside Danny, their shoulders touching. He didn’t wrap his arm around Danny or anything, but the physical contact still struck Danny the same way the tiny handshake and smile had. A sob broke loose.

“Do you need some ice for that eye?” the boy asked. Like the rest of him, there was something off about his voice, something that caught in Danny’s ears and made the sound echo in his mind, but the tone was soft. Gentle.

The offer and obvious sympathy in his words were more arrows striking Danny’s heart. Ice would have been nice, but Danny realized he needed—wanted—the comfort more than the ice. He shook his head.

“Ah…” They sat together in silence for a while as Danny struggled to get his crying under control, but then the boy asked, “So, uh, do you come up here very often?”

Danny gave his head a tiny shake. “No, this is my first time. I just needed to be alone.”

Oh.” Hesitantly, the other boy asked, “You want to be alone?”

His shoulder had tensed against Danny’s; he was prepared to leave.

“I thought I did,” Danny said quickly. He wanted to add more—thought he probably should so that the boy would understand how his kindness had changed everything—but the words caught in his throat.

The boy must have understood anyway. He relaxed again and leaned into Danny’s side, the press of his body acting almost like a hug even though his arm hadn’t moved.

“My name is Danny Phantom,” the boy said.

A wobbly laugh fought its way past Danny’s throat. “Is that really your name?”

“Surprisingly, yes.”

“You’re not mocking me or anything?”

“Uh…”

Danny sniffed and wiped his face clear of tears. “My name is Danny Fenton . My parents hunt and study ghosts. Danny Phantom? Danny Fenton? It’s like a play on my last name.”

“… Oh .” The boy’s voice had gone a little high pitched.

“Funny coincidence, huh?”

“Funny…yeah…” the boy—Phantom, because thinking of him as Danny would have been weird—cleared his throat. “They hunt ghosts?”

Danny winced. That was the part that pushed everyone away. “Yeah. Lame right? Ghosts aren’t even real.”

I don’t believe in them, please don’t think I’m weird just because of my parents.

“…Really?” Phantom sounded amused, which wasn’t a good sign. Ridicule often followed. “You’ve never seen one?”

Danny scowled, but with his face pressed to his knees, Phantom wouldn’t see it. “How can I see one if they’re not real?”

Phantom shrugged, his shoulder moving up and down against Danny’s. “Maybe you have seen one and you just didn’t recognize them as a ghost. How would you know?”

“I’m pretty sure I would recognize a ghost if I saw one,” Danny grumbled.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, they got, like, sharp teeth, and, and…” Danny wobbled his hand. “Creepy eyes? At least, the food Mom and Dad are always, uh, contaminating look like that. I guess a normal ghost would be all transparent. They’re supposed to walk through walls and stuff, so they’re probably not even solid.”

“Okay, sure.”

Danny turned his head a little and glared at Phantom as best he could. “You’re laughing at me.”

Phantom laughed aloud instead of hiding it in his voice. Danny pushed himself up onto his feet, his face burning. Phantom’s laughter cut off and he grabbed Danny’s arm before he could go far. “No, wait, I’m sorry, it’s not what you think.”

“I’ve had enough of people laughing at me,” Danny growled, glaring at the green eyes below him.

Phantom lifted his eyebrows and twisted his lips, looking concerned. “Is that what happened to your eye?”

Danny covered his black eye and glanced away from him. Phantom’s expression made him unsure if he really was laughing at him, but why else would he find it funny? “I tripped.”

“Over what, exactly?”

Danny bit down on his lip. Phantom tugged on his arm, and slowly, hesitantly, Danny allowed himself to sit beside Phantom again. “It was just Dash being a jerk again,” Danny explained, his shoulders sagging. “You know what he’s like. I was an easier target than one of the others because my friends aren’t on my lunch break, and apparently, I’m his favorite victim. I’m entertaining, he says. The others don’t try to fight back or anything.”

Phantom gently pulled Danny’s hand away from his eye. Danny caught the hint and warily turned his face toward Phantom, squinting his eye against the bright sunlight.

“It’s not like I’m not used to it,” Danny continued. “Dash is always on my case about one thing or another. It doesn’t even hurt that bad.”

Phantom brushed his fingers under Danny’s eye, and Danny flinched. 

“Sure it doesn’t,” Phantom scoffed.

“Well, when you touch it, it does!”

“Are you sure you don’t want ice?”

Danny gave his head a tiny shake. “I’ll get some pain killers from the nurse’s office after lunch. If I start walking around with a bag of ice over my eye, that’s just going to start everyone off on me again.”

Phantom frowned. “Start everyone off?”

Danny shrugged. “You know, like…laughing and making fun of me.”

“Because you’re in pain? Because someone hurt you?” Anger stirred to life in Phantom’s tone, startling Danny a little. They had only just met, why was he acting upset on Danny’s behalf?

“Uh, yeah, I guess?” Danny leaned back a little from Phantom, and Phantom’s hand slipped away from his face. “That’s how these things work, right? They don’t know I’m hurt yet. If I make a big deal about it, they’ll laugh harder to put me in my place. They’ll convince themselves I’m faking it or something.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Yeah, but it’s high school.”

Phantom’s lips pressed into a tight, thin line.

“It won’t be that bad once Sam and Tucker find out,” Danny said, trying to reassure himself and a total stranger. “They’ll back me up.”

“Your friends?”

“Yup.”

“But they won’t be there tomorrow during lunch.”

Danny blew out a sigh. “No.”

Phantom stared at Danny’s black eye and then glanced around the roof. He looked unsure, a little conflicted. Danny thought he knew what Phantom was about to say, but it wasn’t until Phantom’s eyes met his again that he knew for sure. “You could spend your lunches up here with me, if you want.”

Danny quickly shook his head. “I don’t need your pity.”

“What makes you think it’s pity? Maybe I want company.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “The guy sitting alone up on the roof wants company? Yeah right.”

“I do.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“Well…” Phantom tilted his head to the side and brushed a hand up the back of his head. “That…that’s how you make friends, right?”

The uncertainty in his voice startled Danny into looking at the other boy more closely. Phantom had such a confident air about him Danny had just assumed he had no need for friends, either because he already had friends or because he was a loner, but now Danny had to wonder if Phantom was actually as lonely as Danny. Maybe Phantom had been separated from his friends during lunch period too.

If he had any.

“What if Dash follows me up here?” Danny grimaced at the thought. “I don’t want to lead him to you. You shouldn’t get hurt because of me.”

Phantom snorted. “I hope he does follow you up here. I have something to give him.” He lifted his fist to demonstrate.

Danny laughed. “Dude, he’s, like, twice your size. You’re no bigger than I am.”

Phantom laughed louder and pumped his fist. “I’ve been defending myself from things much larger than me since before I can remember.”

Danny thought it more arrogance than confidence that strengthened Phantom’s tone, but there was something…haunted? In his eyes that made Danny wary of asking just who the hell had attacked him when someone like Dash didn’t give him pause. Danny swept a glance over Phantom’s clothes again, noting for the first time how worn his jeans were over his knees and how his black shirt actually looked a little too small for him. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but it didn’t seem like a good thing.

“Are you a transfer student or something?” he asked.

“Or something,” Phantom agreed with a little grin, not elaborating.

“Where did you come from? How long have you been here? I don’t think I’ve seen you in any of my classes.”

“Elsewhere, a couple weeks, and…” Phantom shrugged. “I’m pretty good at not being noticed.” Another little smile touched his lips.

Phantom was setting himself up as a mystery, and Danny, despite his best efforts, couldn’t help feeling intrigued. Was Phantom doing it on purpose or were there actually secrets lurking behind those bright green eyes? The widening of Phantom’s smile as Danny stared into his eyes only dared Danny to find out for himself.

Danny looked down at his hands and allowed his own smile to spread across his lips. A small one, yes, but a real one. “Alright, fine. It’s not like I have anywhere better to go during lunch. I guess you’ll have to do.”

He hadn’t gone up to the roof expecting to befriend a strange kid, but when the school year began, he had been hoping for a change, something that would define his high school experience. He wasn’t sure if Phantom could do that all on his own, but the warmth spreading up Danny’s chest toward his cheeks as Phantom laughed might do the trick.

Because that  was definitely new.