Wes wandered his way through the lunch line, not bothering to pay attention to whatever Chris was trying to tell him or what the lunch lady was piling on his plate. It wasn’t like he’d be able to tell what it was anyways.
He’d had all weekend to think about what Fenton had said, the house to himself to go back over research he’d done the past year and no one to interrupt him; he didn’t want to think about his Dad was doing over at Vlad’s mansion, so the conspiracy was really the only thing left to distract him. Although Fenton’s situation wasn’t much better.
He kept thinking about what he’d said about people wanting to hurt him, to kill him… Somehow Wes had just never made the connection that it was really that serious… Although when he went through the old news footage, videos of ghost attacks, even a few police reports, he couldn’t believe how he’d missed it. He wasn’t just looking for similarities between the two characters, further proof of his theory, like a game where you had to solve the mystery, pull together the facts, get people to believe you. This time he was just watching to watch, actually listening to what was happening, not just how it could further his own interests.
It had finally hit him that weekend: This was real. He was actually watching his classmate go out and fight for his life. The kid wasn’t pretending to be a superhero, or playing the good guy, he was actually living it. And Wes just sat there, watching reruns of the kid catching a truck that was about to fall on a crowd, about to kill people, mostly teenagers and fangirls who had run up to see the fight, oohing and ahhhing like they were watching a film…
But this wasn’t a film, wasn’t a game… It was a job. A very serious, very important job. One that no one in their right mind would entrust to a freshman but that was the thing; no had realized that it was a freshman… Except for Wes. And what had he done with that knowledge? Wined and blackmailed and acted entitled to the secret like the kid’s life was a prize to be won.
He felt sick, disgusted with himself because he’d somehow always thought of Fenton as a conspiracy and not a person… And now that he’d had the chance to think about it… He could finally see why no one made the connection between Fenton and Phantom. Phantom was strong, witty, confident, fast, and Fenton was weak, spindly, and it was frankly impressive that the kid could even lift a pencil… But more than that, the way he moved, the way he held himself… He just looked… Tired.
And not the “stayed up late playing video games tired.” More like “Stayed up playing into triple over-time with no subs and we’ve still got a four hour drive home” tired. He was actually watching as Fenton’s head drooped, falling asleep in the middle of the lunch room, shoulders slumped, looking too exhausted to even lift his fork… Before Wes would have held that up as evidence–
“What you gonna do?” Wes jumped when Chris bumped his shoulder and spoke. “Take pictures and say that Fenton kid is Phantom ‘cause he’s tired? Give it a break, man.” Wes hadn’t even realized he’d been staring.
“Ah, sorry. I was just thinking about stuff…” Wes looked back down at his plate, pushing the less-than-appetizing mush around with his fork. He was only vaguely aware that it was now his friend’s turn to stare. This time at him. “What?” He met their eyes.
It was Chris who spoke, “… You’re not going to go on rant about Fenton? About how it's so obvious? About how we’re all terrible friends for not believing you?”
“You're not terrible friends.”
“We don't believe you about Fenton, though” Louis said, jabbing his fork mockingly from across the table.
“Yeah, I know.” And for the first time Wes was glad about that. He made a decision. Fenton deserved his privacy. “It’s not him anyhow.”
Louis pretended to do a spit-take all over Emmett, which sparked an argument on that side of the table. Everyone else was staring at Wes, open-mouthed and seriously exaggerating their shock.
“Who are you and what have you done with my friend!” Sometimes he really hated how funny his friends found overreacting.
“I saw a clip of them both in the same place at the same time.” He lied, “I was wrong. My mistake. Sorry. Are we done?”
“You sure it wasn’t just a clone? Evil twin? Life-model robot?” Emily had always been on the forefront of the 'make fun of Wes’ brigade.
“Yes, okay. I. was. wrong.” Emily narrowed her eyes at him, pretending to be looking for a flaw in his facade, as if she was good enough at poker to tell when anyone was lying. He glared back.
“Wow, I do believe Wes has actually grown a brain. Congratulations.” Wes rolled his eyes at Louis and, after a few more terrible jokes and unwanted comments, the conversation changed… Except for Chris.
“You sure you’re alright, man? You seem kind of out of it.” He sounded concerned, even lowering his voice in the cafeteria to protect Wes’s privacy. He was nice like that.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” It wasn’t a lie, not exactly, but it still felt bad to tell… And Chris wasn’t buying it.
“Is it about your Dad? You know you can talk to me.”
Wes shook his head. “I just feel kind of bad, you know? I think I got Fenton in trouble with his parents.” It felt much better to tell the truth, even if it was only a small part of it.
“Are you going to apologize?”
“I… hadn’t thought of that…” Wes looked over at where Fenton was sitting, his head actually lying flat against the dirty cafeteria table, fast asleep. Maybe he should. After all, he’d assumed Fenton’s parents knew and if they they didn’t… it looked like he could really use some more help… If he was even willing to accept it…
Still, it didn’t hurt to try. Wes stood and made his way across the cafeteria. No one paid him much attention, but as he reached the table where Fenton was sitting it occurred to him that the boy was actually asleep… meaning he’d have to wake him… but it was a little late for that now…
His friend’s exchanged glances and looked curiously at Wes; apparently Fenton hadn’t told them about the kid who was slandering his reputation…
“Ghost.” Wes just had to speak the word and Fenton was up in truly comical fashion, looking around like a dog told to fetch.
The boy to his right burst into laughter. “Oh, man, dude! You are totally turning into your dad.”
Fenton actually whacked him in the head for that, before he noticed Wes standing there and groaned. “What do you want?” He did not sound happy to see Wes at all.
“I just… wanted to apologize.” It didn’t really sound like enough and he remembered what he’d said at the party about protecting people… “I guess I just never thought of how it might affect you. So… sorry, I guess. I’ll stop talking about you… Even tell people something else if you want…” He found himself looking down at his shoes, noticing for the first time that the laces were laced differently on the left and the right…
“Apology accepted." That he had not been expecting; his eyes flew up to Fenton’s face and he was smiling, actually smiling… Still ridiculously tired, though, which was probably what compelled him to actually reach out a hand and say "Welcome to Team Phantom.”
His handshake wasn’t as strong as Wes had expected; it was average at best, supported by spindly arms that held next to no muscle. His friends were looking slightly horrified, as if concerned that their friend had finally succumbed to stress and lost his mind.
But Wes smiled back. “You know, you might not get so tired if you exercised more. Built up some endurance.”
“You sound like Sam.” Fenton– Danny? Rolled his eyes.
“Well, Sam is right.” The girl had spoken, nudging her friend. “You’re thin as a rake."
"Clearly you didn’t see me lift a car the other day. That had to be at least a ton.”
“Pretty sure weight doesn’t count when you’re floating. Does gravity even affect ghosts?” Wes asked.
Danny looked shocked, mouth hanging open, like he’d finally understood Einstein’s theory. “I never thought of that…”