Dr. Ambrian was a lean man in his mid-fifties with salt-and-pepper hair and a witty sense of humor. Danny realized early on that this guy could handle his self-deprecating jokes, so he didn't hold back. If Danny could make this miserable experience entertaining, he was taking that opportunity.
"Not gonna lie, accidentally breaking all of your equipment is pretty on-brand for me. According to Channel 7 News, I break everything in this town anyway. So I'm sorry if that happens."
"You're not going to break it, Danny." Dr. Ambrian rolled his eyes. "If you manage to break a blood pressure machine, I'll actually be impressed."
"We'll see." He narrowed his eyes. "I don't mean to flex, but I'm pretty talented."
"You better not flex while I put this on your arm. That'd probably hurt." He wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Danny's forearm and snapped a pulse oximeter on his index finger.
He started tightening the cuff around Danny's arm. The blood pressure cuff wasn't irritable as he remembered, but that was probably because of all he'd endured in the past two years. This discomfort was practically nothing in comparison.
"Anything weird yet?" he asked.
Dr. Ambrian furrowed his brow. "So far… your blood pressure is normal for your age. But your heart rate on the other hand..." He glanced at the pulse oximeter. "Your resting heart rate is thirty-three beats-per-minute. Anyone else would be half-dead."
"Well, you've caught me," Danny said gravely. "I am."
"Never would have guessed, ghost kid."
Suddenly, something occurred to him. "Do you need to measure my vitals as Phantom too?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm pretty sure my heart rate drops even lower when I'm in my ghost form. Do I need to, uh, change? So you can get both measurements?"
"I hadn't considered that," Dr. Ambrian admitted. "But that sounds like a good plan. Could you do that for all of the tests? Uh, change between your two... sides? If you can't一"
"No! No, it's no problem," Danny blurted. "As I said earlier, I can change whenever I want. It doesn't really make me tired or anything unless I do it super excessively."
He finished tightening the cuff and recorded the data on a nearby pad of paper. Then, he released the tension and Danny held his arm where the cuff had pinched it.
"Can you, uh, do it now?"
"Oh, yeah," Danny said. Before he could think about it, he pulled on his core and transformed. He tried to brush off his anxiety, but it was difficult to ignore. It'd only been a day; he still had to get used to changing in front of others. Surely, it'd get easier with time.
(It'll only get easier once you decide you're not going to be a coward, freak.)
Luckily, Dr. Ambrian didn't marvel at Danny's transformation. He carried on like his patient hadn't changed into an otherworldly creature and wrapped the cuff back around Danny's arm. He recorded the new data and moved onto the next test: temperature.
"Stick this under your tongue," he instructed.
Danny slid the thermometer under his tongue and waited for the device to beep. Although, after a minute or so nothing had happened. Dr. Ambrian bit his lip and carefully pulled the thermometer out of Danny's mouth.
"It says 'error.' Great."
Danny wasn't surprised. "Told you I'd break your equipment."
"Sure. These digital crapsticks are finicky with regular patients, so I doubt it's all your fault." He rolled his eyes. "At least now I have an excuse to break out the good ol' mercury thermometer."
"You need an excuse to do that?"
"You know what I mean."
He rummaged through a drawer and found what he was looking for. He handed Danny the new thermometer and withdrew it after a minute. "Oh wow. That's uh一low."
"What's the diagnosis?"
"Forty degrees." He gaped. "Did you know that hypothermia starts at temperatures below ninety-five? I've never seen… holy smokes."
He wasn't surprised. He did have a cold core, after all. He wondered if halfas with heat cores would still be colder than their human forms, or if they'd be hotter. He knew that Vlad had a heat core, but he'd never really touched Vlad (who'd want to?), so he couldn't say.
"I'm sure my human temperature is higher." Danny shrugged, shifting back into his other half.
After recording his baseline temperatures, Dr. Ambrian moved on to other standard tests. Height was the same, but neither of them was sure if the stress on Danny's spine would change in his ghost form, so they figured it was better to be safe than sorry. Weight was another story. He weighed 108 lbs in his human form and 72 lbs in his ghost form. He'd known that ectoplasm had less mass than organic matter, but he never really realized that it affected him. No wonder he made such an easy projectile in ghost fights.
"Were you anemic before you became, uh, like this?" Dr. Ambrian asked.
The word sounded familiar, but Danny wasn't well versed in medical lingo.
"I don't think so. What is it?"
"Anemia is low red blood cell or iron levels. Some of our patients have previously been diagnosed with anemia, so we need to check if they're at a healthy level. If you're comfortable, need just a prick of blood. No more than a prick."
Danny had hoped that they wouldn't cross the 'blood' line, but… it wasn't like they were hooking him up to tubes and shit, right? Just a little pinprick. He'd done those before, back when he got a physical in middle school. Dash had dared him to try out for the baseball team and so he'd coerced his family into getting him all the gear and the proper medical papers.
He never made it past tryouts.
Dr. Ambrian wasted no time sterilizing a needle much longer than Danny initially imagined. Maybe this was a bad idea, but he held his tongue. It's just a damn needle, you're not even afraid of those. You're just afraid he'll take to much, that he'll experiment on you.
"Is that, uh, a standard needle?" he blurted.
"This is what we use for complete blood count tests. It's really not much, even though it may look like a lot."
He forced himself to nod. "Fun."
Dr. Ambrian propped Danny's arm up on the counter and pressed his fingers into his elbow. He positioned the needle into place and met eye contact with Danny. "Ready?"
He made a noise that was supposed to be "yes," but sounded more like he'd swallowed his tongue.
"Three… two…" He pressed the needle into Danny's arm, forgoing 'one'. Danny almost ripped his arm back in alarm, but it was over before he could even process what had happened. His arm didn't even hurt, it just felt dull?
The needle drew murky, brown blood into the syringe, and Dr. Ambrian promptly pressed cotton balls onto Danny's elbow.
"See, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
His heart was erratically pounding against his skull, but he couldn't say he was mentally scarred. He was right; it hadn't been too bad.
Dr. Ambrian examined his blood for a moment before putting it aside. "It's sorta dark, isn't it?"
"It's the ectoplasm. Green and red don't mix well together on the color wheel, I guess. Doesn't explain Christmas, though."
He snorted. "I always figured that whatever commercialistic sockpuppet standardized red and green as holiday colors was a poor designer. I majored in medicine, and even I know that's a bad color palette."
"You. You get it."
Doctor Ambrian laughed. "I get a lot." He spun behind him and pulled out another needle. "Ready for round two?"
Right. Phantom's blood一ectoplasm一still had to be drawn. Damn it. He thought that they were finished.
He transformed and phased his left arm out of his jumpsuit. "As ready as I'll ever be."
What a lie.
Dr. Ambrian pulled the same 'trick' as before and inserted the needle on the count of 'two,' but Danny anticipated it this time. Radiant green liquid slurped into the syringe, and Dr. Amrbian nearly ripped the needle from Danny's arm to prevent it from overspilling. Ectoplasm was far thinner than blood, so it made sense that it would bleed fast.
He secured the syringe and some of the excess ectoplasm leaked onto Dr. Ambrian's latex gloves. For a moment, Dr. Amrbian only stared at the ectoplasm and Danny had the impression that he was deep in thought.
Danny's arm twinged and he was suddenly aware of his surroundings. "You good, man?"
Dr. Ambrian blinked and swiftly discarded his gloves in the trash bin. "Yeah. It's… how does it feel to be you? To switch between ectoplasm and blood, over and over?"
Danny's stomach dropped. What did it feel like to be him? To go between life and death and never be one or the other? To feel like a soul tethered to his own living flesh, to feel like a spirit chained by the weight of organs he shouldn't have? How could he describe that feeling or even find the courage to admit it?
He found a spot on the wall behind Dr. Ambrian and debated. How?
Dr. Ambrian must've picked up on his uneasiness because he spared no time backtracking. "You don't have to answer that."
His tongue felt like lead. He doubted he'd be able to respond if he wanted to, so he nodded.
Dr. Ambrian unconsciously "tsked" in response, and reached for a clipboard behind him. "That aside, I still have a few 'official' questions for the examination. Nothing too bad, trust me. It's just been a while since you've had your last check-up and we need a few refreshers."
"So just… regular doctor-patient questions?" he asked.
"Mm-hm. So… it has here that you took allergy medicine a few years ago. Do you still take that or any other medication?"
"Uh, nope. My allergies pretty much died." He paused. "Around the time I did, I guess."
Despite the lingering tension in the air, Danny could always find a way to fall back on humor.
"And no new allergies that you haven't been medicated for? Any sensitivities?"
Danny thought for a moment. "Well, anything that normally affects ghosts affects me. Blood blossoms are the big one, so are other anti-ghost chemicals. Most of them are man-made. Superstitions like salt and holy water are bogus. Though, I think rowan wood is real. I know that my friend Sam bought some and I felt really itchy when I touched it."
"It's just one of those tales. I think people used to make doors with it to ward off ghosts. Makes more sense than salt, I guess."
He snorted. "Who would've thought that they were right?"
"Right? My parents refuse to even look into it, which I guess is good for me, but there's got to be some more superstitions that haven't been debunked worth looking into."
Dr. Ambrian marked something off on his paper. "You seem kinda enthusiastic to learn about things that could hurt you."
"The more you know, the better prepared you are. I'd rather know my weaknesses than have them used against me unexpectedly in a fight."
"Good point. Speaking of weaknesses, have you sustained any injuries over the past few years that may have permanently affected your health?"
"Besides dying? Uh, well I heal fast. I've broken my arms a few times, had a few sprains, cut open my back twice. Three times? My cornea was scratched at one point, but that healed too. Concussions don't last long either, they usually go away with a dose of Advil. Broken ribs… there was that time one almost punctured a lung, but I pulled through. Hm, I can't think of anything permanent."
Dr. Ambrian was gawking and it showed. Danny waited a moment for him to get his jaw off the floor and tried not to waver under the man's gaze.
"Kid… you okay?"
"I fight ghosts, stuff's gonna happen." He shrugged. "I'm good most of the time. Think about it. How many times have you seen Phantom slammed into buildings and I just get back up? I'm pretty durable."
"I never thought of it like that. After all this time, it's hard to believe that Phantom's just some kid in a jumpsuit—like Spider-Man."
"I guess. I deliberately tried to be unassuming. I tried to stretch the connection between my ghost and human sides so thin that nobody would ever see it. In hindsight, maybe… maybe I shouldn't have tried so hard. Since it's making everything harder now. My parents, the public… nobody knows who I am anymore. I definitely don't."
Shit. Why did he say that out loud? He didn't mean to let that much slip, especially to some doctor he's known for less than a day. He's a medical doctor, not some therapist! Not that Danny needs therapy anyway, because he's fine, fine, fine.
"I'm sure you'll get through it, Danny. Like you said, you're 'durable.'"
(Maybe physically. You're just waiting to break.)
"We only have a few more to go," Dr. Ambrian said. "Have you gotten sick at all since you've changed? Oh, and is there such thing as ghostly illnesses?"
"I don't think I've gotten sick, but that could just be because I've still got my flu shots. I don't know if there's any ghost illnesses, but now that you've brought it up I'll probably get one in the next few weeks because that's just how my luck works."
"I think it's like that for everyone. I can't tell you how many times I've celebrated surviving flu season, which is kinda impossible in this environment, and then all of a sudden I get the flu in the middle of April. Happens every time."
Danny shook his head. "Ancients, that would drive me crazy."
"Keep getting those flu shots and you won't have to worry about it."
"Only if ghost illnesses don't exist. Then I'll have to worry about being sick and power malfunctions. Not to mention, the only thing worse than puke is glowing puke."
Dr. Ambrian blinked. "Your, uh, vomit glows?"
Danny's felt the telltale burn of a blush on his face. "I guess? Uh, all my bodily fluids glow. It's not something I really think about anymore."
"All of them?"
"Well, they only really glow in the dark. Figured that out day one, brushing my teeth with the lights off. After that, everything else just sorta clicked. There's not much that surprises me about myself anymore. Ghost powers, glowing saliva, fangs—why not?"
Dr. Ambrian tilted his head so that he could not-so-subtly glance at Danny's mouth. "You don't have fangs."
Danny groaned. "Not yet. I'm still young, so apparently I have to 'grow into them.' Sounds like a pain."
He still didn't forgive Clockwork for suggesting different teething remedies.
"Will that be an issue for any of the other patients?"
"Eventually, yeah. I doubt it'll happen immediately since their cores need to mature. It just depends on age and strength."
He made some more notes on his notepad before setting it aside.
"I think that's it."
It took Danny a moment to understand what he meant. "We're done?"
"Yep. You're free, ghost kid. It was good talking with you, even when we drifted off-topic. I hope that things go well for you once this is all figured out."
He was vaguely aware that Dr. Ambrian was holding his hand out to shake. Danny took it without hesitation. The man's smile crinkled with something new—sympathy, admiration? He couldn't place it exactly, but his core throbbed in response. He trusted Dr. Ambrian.
Danny left the man's office and started towards the elevator. He checked his phone, and Jazz had sent him a room number with a photo of Mom hunched over a tub of ectoplasm.
Going as well as you'd expect, get here soon pls
Can't function without me can you? omw
It occurred to him on his way to the elevator that Dr. Ambrian had been the first person to really listen to his experiences as a halfa without stepping over any boundaries or interjecting some piece of advice. His friends and family cared about Danny, but Dr. Ambrian… he'd understood him. It was liberating, knowing that there was someone out there that wasn't obligated to care about him (to love him) but understood him nonetheless.
And somehow, that was enough.