William Lancer was finally settling into a routine. He’d been teaching English at Casper High for nearly five years, and while the job was far from intellectually stimulating, the pay was decent and his colleagues—the few that knew about his “situation”—were accepting. Really, it was as much as he could ask for.
That being said, grading eighty sophomore term papers was starting to grate on his nerves. For every intelligent, well thought-out, compelling paper, there were four that barely seemed like they were in English. To preserve his sanity, he was taking a well-deserved break and treating himself to a midnight stroll. Walking in the cool night air of Amity Park always helped to clear his mind. Besides, it was only Saturday; he had all of tomorrow to finish grading.
He’d walked uninterrupted for nearly twenty minutes when a scuffling from the alley ahead of him caught his attention. Quickly, Lancer glanced around, noting the state of the street he was on. Cracks in the buildings around him, combined with piles of rubble and noxious-looking green goo, told him that there had been a recent ghost attack. I should turn around, he thought. I really should. Whatever was making the noises in the alley cursed sharply.
…but ghosts didn’t curse, did they? Most, surprisingly enough, kept their vocabulary PG. So, Will reasoned, whatever was in that alley couldn’t be a ghost. Right?
He wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and crept forward, skirting around a pile of smashed bricks and shattered glass. Damn my curiosity. Heart hammering in his chest, he peered around the corner into the alleyway.
His breath caught in his throat. A faint glow immediately told him that it was none other than Amity Park’s resident ghost hero who was crouched in the alley. Phantom most likely wouldn’t attack him—the ghost generally left humans alone, even going so far as to protect them on occasion—but that didn’t stop sweat from beading on Will’s forehead as he took another step forward.
The ghost was kneeling on the ground in the shadow of a rusty dumpster. His usually spotless jumpsuit was dirty and torn in several places. Thick, oozing green blood leaked through scratches on his legs and arms, and his face and neck were cluttered with bruises. The most shocking part of his appearance, however, was the huge gash stretching across his abdomen. Ectoplasm dripped steadily out of it as Phantom took a deep breath, leaned against the brick wall of the alleyway, and unraveled something in his hand.
…It’s gauze, Will realized. He’s trying to bandage himself. But I thought that ghosts didn’t need human medical supplies to heal?
He was shaken out of his thoughts by a pained hiss from Phantom. With a jolt, Will noticed that he was pulling the torn fabric of his jumpsuit aside in order to get better access to the injury, in the process revealing a—was that a binder?
Danny Phantom was trans?
“Oh, no,” Phantom muttered, peering down at his chest. “This stuff is never going to come out, it’s going to stain all my other clothes, oh no….” He hesitantly started wiping the blood off his binder, his words fading off into incoherency as he did so.
Cautiously, Will took a step forward. I should go back now. Finish that grading. Walk more. I really, really should. “Phantom?” he asked quietly.
Phantom’s eyes shot open, their piercing green darting to where he stood. “Mr. Lan—” he started, then broke off. He quickly covered his chest and ectoplasm-stained binder with his hands and rose, shaking, to his feet. “Why are you here? What do you want?” he demanded, voice rising in pitch.
Will held his hands up in a gesture of peace. “My name is Will Lancer,” he said. “I’m not here to hurt you; I was just passing by and I heard noises. It looks like you could use some help bandaging that.” He gestured to the gash on Phantom’s stomach.
Phantom glanced down to his chest again. He tugged down the spandex of his jumpsuit, attempting to cover his binder, and shifted uncomfortably.
“I won’t tell anyone about the binder,” Will added gently. “Please, let me help you. You’ve done so much for Amity Park; it’s the least I can do for you.”
Slowly, Phantom nodded. He sank back to his knees with a groan as Will approached.
He crouched down, emitting a sympathetic hiss when he saw the extent of the wound. It was nearly half an inch deep and almost a foot long, extending from Phantom’s hipbone across his stomach, finally ending at the bottom of his ribs. “This needs stitches,” he said.
In response, Phantom waved the gauze he’d already started unrolling. “This’ll do,” he said. “I heal fast.”
Suppressing a frown, Will took the roll. “Did you already clean the wound?” he asked.
Phantom grimaced. “Um, no,” he said. “That part kind of hurts.”
“It’ll hurt more if it gets infected,” Will chided.
“I don’t exactly have anything to clean it with,” Phantom replied tersely. “This jumpsuit has shitty tiny pockets.”
Exhaling, Will sat back on his haunches. He could bandage the wound without cleaning it, but it was a nasty cut, and even with Phantom’s supposed accelerated healing he didn’t want to risk it. “Can you walk for a bit?”
Phantom raised an eyebrow. “Probably,” he said. “Why?”
“You’re coming back to my house,” Will said. “I’m going to clean that wound out properly and stitch it up.”
“What? That’s completely unnecessary!” Phantom exclaimed. “No way!”
“Yes way,” Will shot back. “That’s a nasty cut that’s definitely going to scar if you don’t get it taken care of. And something that size is especially prone to infection.” Working quickly, he wrapped the gauze around the ghost’s abdomen a few times to staunch the bleeding. When he stood up, he held out a hand.
Reluctantly, Phantom took his hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. “At least take me on a date before you take me home,” he grumbled, following Will as he left the alley.
The walk back to Will’s house was silent. Will walked slowly, stealing occasional glances at Phantom, who alternated between walking with a bit of a limp and floating, pressing an arm to his injury.
When they were about five minutes away from his house, he couldn’t take the silence anymore. “So who was it?”
Phantom looked at him, blinking out of a daze. “Huh?”
“Which ghost were you fighting?” Will clarified.
“Oh.” Phantom’s brow furrowed. “Just Skulker. You know, the ah, hunter ghost?” He waved a hand loosely. “Wants my pelt on his wall and all that. Normally he’s not too much of a problem, but tonight he caught me by surprise.”
Will nodded, pretending he knew what the teenager was talking about. Outside of the ghosts that interrupted his classes and the occasional news snippet he saw when flipping through channels, he didn’t pay attention to Amity Park’s numerous hauntings.
“We’re here,” he said as they approached his house. He jogged up the steps to his front porch and opened the door. “Do you have to be invited in?”
Phantom snorted. “I’m pretty sure that’s just vampires.”
“Ah,” Will said. “Head into the bathroom. It’s the second door on the left.”
Phantom was clearly tiring. His feet were barely a centimeter above the wood floor as he floated through the door. Will stood and watched him enter the bathroom before he hurried into the kitchen, quickly filling his teakettle with water and putting it on the stove. He had no idea whether or not ghosts could drink, but then again, Phantom didn’t seem to be a regular ghost.
When he entered the bathroom, Phantom was sitting on the closed toilet, resting his head in his hands. Will opened the cabinet where he kept the first aid supplies and brought out a container of hydrogen peroxide, some cotton swabs, thread, and a sterile needle. Carefully, he unwrapped the gauze around Phantom’s stomach, nodding to himself when he saw that the wound had mostly stopped bleeding. After cleaning the dried ectoplasm off with an old washcloth, he began dabbing it with hydrogen peroxide, prompting a pained hiss from Phantom. “That stings more than getting the cut itself,” Phantom grumbled.
Will looked up at him. “I’ve had infected cuts before, and they’re not fun, let me tell you.”
Phantom pursed his lips, looking every bit the sulky teenager. “I’m pretty sure I don’t get infections. Since I’m, you know, a ghost and all?”
“Well, what about ghost infections?” Will asked. “Aren’t there ghost bacteria?”
“Uh…that’s…that’s actually a pretty good point. Ow!” Phantom shifted a bit to give Will better access to the upper corner of the gash.
Will chuckled. He tossed the cotton swab in the trashcan and reached for the needle and thread. As he began sewing, Phantom bit his lip, evidently trying to keep quiet.
After a few minutes, the ghost let out a long, slow breath. “How come you know so much about medical stuff? Aren’t you an English teacher?”
Wait—how did he know that? Did I say that? Will tugged the thread tight, debating his answer. “I…used to be interested in becoming a doctor,” he finally replied. It was true, after all, and Phantom really didn’t need to know about the scars that still littered his thighs and arms, the times he’d gotten carried away and had to stitch himself up….
“So why’d you switch to teaching high school?” Phantom asked.
Will tugged the end of the needle through the last stitch and began tying the thread off. “Literature has always helped me through some of my tougher times,” he said carefully. “In my teenage years, I found inspiration, beauty, and in some cases, the motivation to keep living in the things I read. I want to share that.
“Now it’s my turn to ask a question,” Will said as he snipped the thread. “You let me bring you here and give you stitches. Why? Ghosts don’t need stitches. They heal in other ways.”
Phantom laughed sharply. “Bet you also didn’t know there were ghosts who bind their chests. I’m a bit of a special case.” His voice was hard, and sent an unspoken message to Will: Drop it.
“Speaking of binding,” Will said, nodding towards the gritty edge of the binder, “you need to take that off as soon as you can. Your ribs seem pretty bruised.”
Phantom grimaced. “I don’t take it off much.”
That made Will pause. “You know you’re only supposed to wear a binder for eight hours a day.”
“What? Shit!” Will flinched at the outburst as Phantom ran a hand through his hair in aggravation. “I can’t do that! Ghosts come all the time, they never leave me alone, and there’s always cameras so I can’t risk it—and I don’t even want to think about what the people at school would do if they knew—” Phantom broke off, breathing quickly and shooting a worried glance at Will.
Carefully, Will stood up, replacing his medical supplies. “You…go to school?” he asked.
Phantom’s eyes widened, his eyebrows disappearing beneath his bushy hair. “Uh, no, I—I mean—I—”
Will decided to drop the subject. He headed towards the kitchen, motioning for Phantom to follow. “Tea?” The kettle he’d put on earlier was just about to boil.
Hesitantly, Phantom nodded. Will poured them both mugs of boiling water then gestured to the boxes of teabags sitting on the counter. “Help yourself. I’ve got green, chamomile, rooibus chai, lemon zinger…”
Phantom grabbed a bag of chai and dunked it in the mug. He swirled the water around, watching the steam as it rose off the surface of the liquid. In the dim light of the kitchen, Will thought that his eyes looked much, much older than the rest of him, surveying his surroundings with a maturity he rarely found in his students.
“How old are you, Phantom?” he asked suddenly.
Phantom glanced up at him. “Fifteen,” he replied.
Will sat down at the small dining room table. Phantom mirrored his movements. “When did you die?”
“Last year,” Phantom muttered, so quietly Will could barely hear him. He stared into his mug, hands clenched around it.
“How?” Will asked.
“It’s considered rude, you know,” Phantom snapped, green eyes burning. “To ask about a ghost’s death.” He slumped forward in his seat, leaning his elbows on the table, and took a slurp of his tea.
“I’m sorry,” Will replied honestly. “I didn’t know. If it makes up for it…I can tell you about my transition? It’s probably not the same as going from alive to dead, but I suppose they’re both pretty big changes.” He couldn’t believe what he was doing. Not only had he invited a highly dangerous ghost into his house, stitched up his stomach, and offered him tea, now he was going to tell him some of his most private experiences? You really are a piece of work, Will, he told himself.
Phantom set his mug of tea bag on the table with a heavy thump. “Your transition?” he asked incredulously. “You’re trans? But—that’s not—you always seemed so—”
Will chuckled, glancing at the way the ghost’s fingers curled tightly around his mug. “I didn’t always pass so easily, trust me. Most of my colleagues don’t know, and none of my students do.”
He looked back up. Phantom’s eyes bored into him. “What was it like? When you came out?”
“It stunk, at first,” Will admitted. “I got bullied a lot. People were even less accepting then than they are now. I didn’t come out to my parents until I was in college, and it was years before they accepted me for who I was. I had a couple close friends in high school, though, who always supported me. I don’t think I would have made it through without them.” He smiled sadly.
To his surprise, Phantom smiled, too. “I know what you mean,” he said. “About your friends.” He took a mouthful of tea.
Will took a sip of his own. “It was tough, a lot of it. But I made it through, and now here I am, finally being who I want to be.” He paused. “I’ve always found that the best way to get through something is simply to talk about it. know we aren’t all that similar, for obvious reasons, and we’ve never held a conversation before, but if you ever need someone to talk to, about being transgender, or…whatever else it is you go through, I’m here.”
Phantom was silent for a minute—so long, in fact, that Will wondered if he’d said something wrong. When the ghost finally looked up, however, there were tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “Thanks, Mr. Lancer,” he said warmly. “That means a lot to me. And thanks for the tea, and the stitches. You really didn’t have to do all this.”
“Like I said,” Will replied. “You’ve been protecting Amity Park for almost a year. I owe it to you.”
A sad laugh forced its way out of Phantom’s lips. “No, Mr. Lancer, you don’t owe me anything.” And he was gone.