"Have you heard of the Make a Wish foundation?"
Danny’s hand froze, just for a second, in it’s path from popcorn bowl to mouth, before continuing, his shoulders relaxing, and his voice calm with the ease of a practiced liar… although for the life of her, Jazz couldn’t figure out why. “Yeah, who hasn’t?”
She hesitated trying to read his face, but he’d gotten progressively better and better at hiding things since the accident and, while to her the mask was obviously a fake, it was still a mask nonetheless. “…Did you know they were trying to contact Danny Phantom?”
"Really?" His answer was just a bit too quick to be natural, a bit too casual for someone who just found out that it was a kids dream to come meet with him. Sure, he’d become a bit jaded and wary of public attention since the council had decided to put his face up on the "Welcome to Amity Park" sign, but these were kids, dying kids, who just wanted to meet their hero…
"…You know Make a Wish is the one that gives kids the chance to ask for, like, one last request, right?"
"Yeah, I’ll look into it."
"I have the contact info—"
"I can google it."
And that was the end of the conversation.
Danny didn’t google it. At least, as far as Jazz knew. There were still articles talking about contacting the Amity P.D. and rumors that Danny had flat out rejected the organization, although most people seemed to think it was just a problem with communicating with the “illusive Phantom.”
Jazz didn’t understand it. Danny loved kids, loved helping people. Sure, he got embarrassed at all the Danny Phantom paraphernalia they sold in the stores, and blushed fabulous colors when he bumped into the more enthusiastic fangirls, but when someone was genuinely complimenting him? When people praised his feats and called him a hero? You’d have to be blind to not see how proud he was, how good it made him feel… So why was he avoiding this?
The more Jazz thought about it, the more she convinced herself that he must be shy. He’d never said ‘yes’ to any interviews and rarely stuck around after making sure that everyone was okay. Maybe he was unsure how to do it, which phone or email or even voice, to use when trying to talk to these people. To make sure a closer look at Phantom didn’t make its way back to a closer look at Fenton…
The explanation didn’t really seem to fit, and Jazz didn’t want to be pushy… But it could really make all the difference. She’d done her research. She knew how much attitude and hope and confidence could affect a person’s health, their standard of life… And if these kids thought their hero didn’t care about them…
Because there were kids. Lots of them. Of all ages, from four to sixteen, dying of cancer or birth defects, or cystic fibrosis, who just wanted to meet with their hero. And not all of them were from Amity, either.
And the thing that really got to Jazz, after reading the testimonies of parents and friends, trying to get someone, anyone, to talk to Phantom, was that these weren’t just kids who wanted to meet Superman and would settle for an actor that vaguely resembled Clark Kent… These were kids who needed a hero and that hero was real…
He just, somehow, couldn’t work up the courage to pick up the phone…. Or, at least, that’s what Jazz kept telling herself.
"You know, if you’re worried about someone tracking the call back to you, they have payphones in the train station." She watched his back stiffen as the avatar he was supposed to be controlling fell to its death. "Or you could just fly in. There’s a chapter not too far from here, the address is on their website."
She felt kind of bad, bringing it up so abruptly, but… he responded the way he did when their mom scolded him for not doing his chores. “I know, I know, I’ve been meaning to. I’ve just been so busy…” He tried to shoot her a smile, looking up at her from his place on the floor, tried to brush it off, to shrug it away the way he did his grades and his injuries and the dishes piling up on the counter…
But as she stared at him from the couch, looking him down, confused and hurt, and, for just a second, furious, that he was not taking this seriously. “Danny, you are literally sitting around, playing video games. And you want me to believe you don’t have time to make a phone call to let dying kids know you care.”
He immediately got on the defensive. “Okay, fifteen minutes of video games does not mean—”
She was furious as she interrupted him, ”You want me to call those kids and tell them you don’t have time for them?”
"What do you want me to tell them!?”
"I don’t know, maybe that they’re important and valuable and worth your time?"
"They’re dying, Jazz, they’re not stupid.”
"You think it’s stupid to think your hero doesn’t care because he ignores your plea for help?"
"I’m not a hero!"
"You are to them!"
He looked away from her, staring, but not really looking at, the TV. “David McAvers, 9, lukemia, San Francisco, California. Billy Higgins, 4, Tay Sachs, Greenville Alabama. Spencer Avery, 7, lukemia, Charlotte, North Carolina . Erika Levey, 12, Ewing Sarcoma, Amity Park. Need I go on?” She stared at him, shocked.
"You… researched it…" She didn’t know what to say… How could he know that, know their names and their stories and their hopes and not want to help?
"Do you really think a kid from across the country cares about one small town in Illinois? You think they’re searching for approval? I’m not a hero to them, Jazz. I’m a ghost.” He looked away, this time across the room, so that she couldn’t even see his profile, just the back of his head.
"How does that—" She was going to say ‘matter,’ convinced that this was another self-confidence episode, but she realized the truth before the sentence found its way out. She stood there, stunned, for a couple seconds before managing to ask. "You don’t really think they’ll…" She drifted off, unable to figure out how to phrase it.
"If you knew you were dying, wouldn’t you?"
There was silence for a few minutes, the game long forgotten at the death screen, as Jazz tried to wrap her mind around what Danny had clearly been thinking out for months. “You don’t know that’s the only reason they want to talk to you. You don’t really think a four-year-old has figured that out?”
"No, but I guarantee you some of them will have. And pretty soon everyone will realize it…” He shook his head, turning back to look at her, conflict, and a bit of desperate begging in his eyes. “What am I supposed to tell them?”
"…That it’ll be alright?" She honestly didn’t know, but that was what you were supposed to say, wasn’t it? Or was that overused and cliche and no longer comforting?
Either way, it was definitely more comforting than the, sarcastic, cruel, condescending, yet heart-breakingly honest tone that came out of her brother’s mouth.
"You want me to lie?”
"…You haven’t died, Danny.” She suddenly felt the need to clarify that, even though, for some reason, the alternative had never occurred to her.
He looked away. “It felt like dying… And maybe I’m different, maybe everyone’s different, maybe it wasn’t dying and I don’t know what I’m talking about… I just know that my light at the end of the tunnel didn’t bring warmth or peace, or comfort. It brought cold and fear and pain… And yeah, it ended. It’s over and it’s done and that doesn’t change the fact that that is all I have to tell them…
"And, somehow, I don’t think that’s what they really need to hear."