Danielle: Part II
Two and a half years after the accident
Jazz took a breath as she stood on the roof of her parents' house, just outside the door to the Op-Center. The bizarre, metal addition tacked onto the roof was such a familiar part of her mental landscape, she rarely noticed it anymore, yet now she couldn't tear her eyes away. She found herself examining, as if for the first time, every pipe, gauge, and gizmo that stuck out at odd angles from the mammoth, blimp-shaped thing that more than doubled the height of their home. How her father had gotten around local zoning codes, she'd never know.
Grimacing, she chided herself for stalling. What was she afraid of? With all she'd seen over her eighteen years living in this house—with Jack and Maddie Fenton for parents—what was so daunting about going in and meeting one teenage girl?
A half-ghost girl that Vlad Masters had created. Out of her little brother's DNA.
Taking another fortifying breath, she reached for the door handle and let herself in. The interior of the Op-Center wasn't nearly as outlandish as the exterior. Basically a large, circular room rimmed with computers, scopes, and scientific gadgets of every kind, it served as a sort of nerve center for FentonWorks. In the far corner, there was an area set off by plastic curtains, beside which her parents were standing with their heads bent over some paperwork.
They looked up when she entered, her mother's lips curving into a smile. "Hi, sweetie. Thanks for coming so quickly. I know you're getting ready for exams."
Jazz only nodded in response as she approached the makeshift infirmary. Through a gap in the translucent plastic curtains, she could see Danny sitting in a chair beside a hospital bed. He was talking to its occupant, a young teenage girl with long, black hair pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of her neck, and shaggy bangs swept to the side to frame round, blue eyes. Danny must have told her one of his lame jokes, because she was rolling those eyes at him in a way that couldn't quite cover the fact that she was trying not to laugh.
She looked so much like Danny it was scary.
Jazz twisted a strand of her own long, red hair nervously around her finger as she turned to her parents. "That's her?"
Her father jerked his head in confirmation, his eyes guarded. "That's her."
"And she's really Danny's…?" Jazz couldn't say the word—couldn't even wrap her mind around the concept.
The smile on her mother's face faded into a more sober expression, her indigo eyes darkening. "Yes. We weren't sure until we did the DNA test, but it was conclusive."
Jazz swallowed. "Wow. And Vlad did this?"
She saw her father clench his fist, and it looked like a vein in his neck was going to pop. Her mother put her hand on his shoulder, nodding.
"And you're going to adopt her?" Jazz knew it was a foregone conclusion, but everything was so surreal, she had to ask logistical questions just to keep herself grounded.
Her mom sighed. "I don't know about adopt. There are… legal issues. She has no birth certificate, no social security number… In the eyes of the law, she doesn't exist. But she's going to live with us, and we're going to be her guardians. We'll tell everyone the same story she came up with in the first place: she's a distant cousin, and her parents died, leaving us the only relatives to care for her. We'll cross the I.D. bridge when we come to it. Like when it's time to register for school. She'll have to be homeschooled over the summer to make sure she's caught up to other kids her age—her physical age, not her actual chronological age. Based on what we can extrapolate from what she and Danny know about her origins, we're saying she just turned fourteen this month, which means she'd be finishing up eighth grade. I'd like to enroll her in Casper High in the fall, if she's ready."
Jazz nodded, feeling numb. Their "cousin." Danny's—
"Are you guys just gonna stand out there gawking like this is some zoo exhibit, or is Jazz gonna come in and meet her cousin?"
Jazz was startled to see Danny and the girl—her name was Danielle—looking at them with matching arched eyebrows and crossed arms. Once again, Jazz was struck by the eerie resemblance. Giving them a sheepish smile, she parted the plastic curtain and approached the bedside, her parents behind her.
"Dani, this is my big sister, Jazz." Danny flashed a mischievous grin. "She's a huge pain in the butt, as you'll soon find out. Lucky for us, she's a freshman at Crane College, which is in Canterville, and she lives on campus, so she's only around on weekends. That's, like, more than seventy-five percent less annoyance per week."
His wisecracking helped cut through the tension Jazz was feeling, reminding her that he was still the same person, still her little brother, and that this new addition to their lives couldn't change that, no matter how bizarre her origins. Which, Jazz realized, was probably his intention in the first place.
She shot him a look. "You figure out that percentage all by yourself? You must be doing better in math. Joke's on you, though. School's almost out, and I'll be home all summer." While Danny gave an exaggerated groan, Jazz reached her hand out to Danielle. "Ignore him. I'm sure we'll get along just fine. It'll be nice to have another girl in the house. It'll raise the average household IQ."
Danielle snickered as she took Jazz's hand. "I like you already." Then, she looked up at Jazz's mom. "So, Maddie. You're the doctor around here, right?"
Maddie crossed her arms, looking uncomfortable. "Well, I'm not a medical doctor, no. But I have a doctorate in parabiology and chemistry, and I'm probably the closest thing to a doctor for half-ghosts."
"Good enough for me. What I wanna know is, when will I be strong enough to help fight Vlad?"
Danny looked down, and their parents exchanged uneasy glances. Maddie took a breath. "I don't know, sweetie. The ectoranium screwed up your system pretty badly. There's… there's a really good chance you're never going to have full use of your ghost powers."
Jazz watched as Danielle absorbed this news, her face going slack. "Oh."
Danny took her hand. "It doesn't matter. You're gonna live here now, with us, in the Human World. You're gonna go to school with me next year, and you can hang out with me and my friends—even though normally seniors wouldn't be caught dead with freshmen. We'll make an exception for you."
She looked around at the eyes that were all on her, and Jazz felt extremely awkward, like she was a voyeur to someone else's private moment. At last, Danielle's eyes fell on Danny. "All I've ever been is a ghost, really. How can I not be anymore?"
"You're still a halfa, Dani. You'll still have some powers. You just… you probably won't be able to go ghost. But I swear, I'll make it up to you." He gripped her hand until Jazz thought he might break it. "I am so sorry. I promise I'll make it okay. Vlad's not gonna win this war, and he's gonna pay for everyone he hurt, one way or another. I promise."
She gave him a weak smile. "I wish I could help. There're a few things I'd like to say to 'dear old dad.'"
Danny dropped her hand and stood up so fast he knocked his chair over. "Don't call him that. Ever. He is not your dad, and he never was."
It felt like the air was sucked out of the room. Dani blinked up at her "cousin." "I—"
"You wanna know what a dad is?" Danny pointed an outstretched arm at their father. "That's a dad. Someone who loves you and looks out for you. Who has your best interest at heart. Plasmius is incapable of ever being a real dad. He's just… he's nothing more than a nut job with a science degree and a chemistry set. Don't ever, ever give him credit for anything more."
Danielle looked down, twisting the bed sheet in her hands. "But he… he made me."
"Yeah. Out of me. That makes you a Fenton. You always have been, and you always will be."
Before she could say anything more, Danny turned and walked out of the infirmary, then left the Op-Center beyond, slamming the door behind him.
The rest of them looked at each other uncomfortably, and then Jazz's mom sighed. "I should—"
But her dad put a hand on her arm to stop her. "No, let me. You girls stay here with Danielle." And he went out after his son.
Dani was blinking fast, as if trying to hold back tears. "Did I… did I say something wrong? Is he mad at me?"
"No, sweetie." Maddie righted the chair Danny had overturned and sat down next to the bed. "He's not mad at you. He's mad at Vlad. He's really, really angry at what Vlad did to you."
"He's mad at himself." Jazz didn't even realize she'd spoken aloud until her mother shot her a stern look.
Danielle just looked quizzical. "Why would he be mad at himself?"
Her mom gave her another warning look, but Jazz had already opened the can of worms, so she had to answer. "For letting you get hurt. He really cares about you, Dani." It felt weird saying that. A couple of hours ago, she hadn't even known this girl existed. But in the few short minutes she saw of her brother interacting with her, Jazz knew it was absolutely true. He loved her, and he was beating himself up for not protecting her.
This only served to upset Dani further. "But it's not his fault! Why would he blame himself? All he's ever done is help me. Even when I… even when I didn't deserve it."
Jazz shrugged, then came to stand by the bedside, putting one hand on her mother's shoulder and reaching for Danielle's hand with the other. Whatever discomfort she'd been feeling over Danielle evaporated as the three women—the three Fenton women—came together, united. "That's the way it is with families. They feel responsible for each other. And you're family, Dani."