Author: Ellen Brand PM
Danny's beside himself... literally! And not all of what's come out of his head is friendly...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 19,491 - Reviews: 87 - Favs: 235 - Follows: 19 - Published: 07-31-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2512114
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer- Danny Phantom belongs to Butch Hartman, not me, yadda yadda, you know the rest. This Fanfic is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for being fairly dark in spots, and TV-Y7 for fantasy violence. My apologies to Butch Hartman, Obi-Quiet, Ghost Cougar, Amy Phantom, and anyone else whose brain I may have accidentally plagiarized in writing this story, which has a clichéd premise slightly older than dirt. And thanks to the Danny Phantom Online Forum... I couldn't do it without ya.
Danny Fenton had almost forgotten what it was to be a heavy sleeper. After fourteen years in the often chaotic Fenton household, he'd become able to sleep through his father's bellowing, his mother's occasional lab mishaps, or his sister's lectures, to say nothing of one of Lancer's less than thrilling science lessons. Once he'd had his "accident," however... well, what with nightmares, random ghost attacks, and having to make sure he didn't accidentally phase through the floor in his sleep, he now snapped awake at the slightest sound... or waft of sudden chill. And his parents wondered why he never seemed to look rested.
Take this particular Saturday. Saturday was a day off, a day of rest, a time for him not to have to worry about school, assignments, and getting shoved in his locker. So why was he awake at eight thirty in the morning, staring blankly at the ceiling? Faintly from below, he could hear his parents' excited voices, though the words were rendered indistinguishable by the intervening floor and shut doors. Then he heard the whining of a gearshift, and things dropped into place.
FedEx truck. At eight in the morning, which meant a package sent via next-day mail. Which almost certainly meant that a cardboard box was headed for the lab. And that meant...
"Aw no." Danny pulled a pillow over his head. Maybe, just this once, the universe would take pity on him. Maybe he could go back to sleep, and nothing would happen. Maybe...
Icy breath crystallized against the cotton pillow-case as the lab's spectral alarms began to wail.
And maybe Sam will develop a thing for hot pink, Danny sighed, throwing off his covers as he shifted into ghost mode. Grabbing the Fenton Thermos from the table beside his bed, he went intangible, dropping two stories to the lab. Sure enough...
"I am the BOX GHOST!" The intruder declared to the (apparently) empty room. "Master of all things rectangular and... uh oh." Obviously far too familiar with the silver-white glow enveloping him, the portly poltergeist let out one rather resigned-sounding "fear me!" before disappearing into the Fenton Thermos. Danny screwed the lid on the device with a sigh, returning to human form as he did so. And just in time too, as his parents came barreling down the stairs, both armed with their usual ghost-catching weapons.
Scanning the room, Jack frowned, lowering the barrel of his energy cannon. "Danny? Where's the ghost?"
Danny shrugged, hiding the thermos behind his back. "Didn't see a ghost, Dad, but it looked like the portal might have leaked a little. Maybe that set the alarms off?"
"That could be," Maddie agreed, pushing her hood and goggles back. "We really need to recalibrate the sensors, make them less sensitive. This is the third false alarm this week."
"Mmm," Jack's response was surprisingly distracted, as he gave his son a searching look. Then he seemed to shake the mood off. "Well hey! You're up now... want to see what we got in the mail? We haven't even had time to open it, but the return address says Chicago Paranormal Labs!"
Danny blinked, startled. "Dad? No offense, but... what the heck would Chicago Paranormal send to you? I mean, they easily have twice the equipment, and if they wanted your opinion, why not ask you in to consult?"
"Danny!" Madison Fenton gave her son a delighted smile. "Have you actually been studying?"
That got an awkward shrug and a blush. "Well... you know, with all this... Inviso-Bill stuff... I thought it might be a good idea."
Slinging his bazooka over his shoulder, Jack shook his head. "Inviso-Bill... that really is a stupid name... Danny, why don't you go get dressed? Your mother and I will put away the artillery, and then we can see what's in that box!"
Jack and Maddie were already headed up the stairs, so neither of them saw the Thermos in Danny's hands twitch violently at the mention of the box. Taking a more secure grip on his cargo, Danny sighed, heading over to the input port on the ghost portal.
"Well, so much for going back to bed."
"All right," Jack boomed happily, voice muffled by the clear Plexiglas. "Let's see what we've got here!" With surprising delicacy, the big man slit open the tape holding the box shut and folded back the flaps.
Maddie let out a low whistle of appreciation as her husband lifted the item inside free of the clinging Styrofoam peanuts. "Oh MY... how beautiful!"
The gargantuan quartz crystal spire in Jack's hands glimmered icily in the lab's fluorescent light. The stone was easily as big around as a salad plate, in cross-section perfectly hexagonal. One end tapered to a needle-point, the other was still embedded in the black rocky matrix it had been mined from. Basalt, Danny guessed, one of Lancer's geology lessons dimly flickering in the back of his brain.
Warning Sign one- It's a gemstone, Danny thought tiredly, leaning against the wall behind him. Despite the excuse he'd given his mother, he HAD been studying. So had Sam and Tucker. Frankly, he was sick and tired of being caught off-guard by his enemies, and while getting control of his powers remained haphazard at best, getting better informed wasn't. And after his little encounter with Freakshow, spells for ghost control had been research subject number one. Much to his chagrin, he'd learned that crystals of all types were often used as focusing devices, for everything from control spells to transformations to very big explosions. Some of the harder stones could even be used to trap ghosts in, if properly prepared.
Not that he thought this stone had a ghost in it. He reacted to ghosts even when in the Fenton Thermos... he should be able to feel one locked inside a crystal. This stone wasn't setting off his ghost sense... it was just making him very, very nervous.
Flipping up his face shield, Jack examined the rough basalt base more closely, eyes lighting up. "Hey, there's writing here!"
Warning Sign number two. This one wasn't learned from study so much as from years of horror movies with Sam and Tucker. Artifacts only had writing on them to indicate that they were magical and/or the key to releasing some horrific menace from its centuries-long sleep to plague an unsuspecting populace. ... And he really had to stop the internal narration or he was gonna wind up sounding like the Box Ghost.
Taking the gem from her husband, Maddie peered closely at the incised characters on the base. "Hmm. I think this is a variant of Sumerian..."
"Can you read it?" Jazz asked, interested despite herself.
"In my sleep, underwater, and with the lights off," Maddie assured her blithely. "Let's see... a rough translation would be... 'Gem of Souls, purifier of spirits. Stand before me to see between the darkness and the light... the sacred and unholy flames.' There's more, but it looks like it's been damaged."
Danny nearly groaned. Strike three. The thing's got an incomplete warning label. Might as well hang a sign on it saying "Plot Device."
Blue-green eyes alight with curiosity, Jazz abandoned her pose of unconcern, moving a little closer to the center of the action. "May I see?" she asked, already pulling on a pair of gloves.
"Certainly," her mother agreed, carefully passing the heavy stone to her daughter. That's when it happened.
The stone had started off with Jack, in the center of the lab, and by hanging back against the wall, Danny'd managed to stay a reasonable distance from it. Each subsequent holder had brought it closer, however, and when Jazz turned to ask her brother's opinion on the item she held, it was finally within range. Brilliant light exploded within the crystal, searing away the vision of all four occupants of the room. At the same time, Danny felt a vibrating twang, as if his entire body were a suddenly plucked guitar string. Then there was a moment of excruciating pain... and then hollow cold, as he felt himself crumple to the metal floor.
For a moment, there was nothing but white darkness, as Danny tried to remember how to breathe. Then he felt a pair of hands turning him gently, checking his head and limbs with a brisk but compassionate touch.
"Danny?" The voice was familiar, but he couldn't place it. He knew he'd heard it before, but it wasn't either of his parents, or his sister, or Sam or Tucker, for that matter. It was male, sounded young...
"Come on, Fenton, snap out of it," the voice continued, sounding a bit irritated now. "We kind of have a pressing situation here..."
Catching the note of well-hidden fear in the speaker's voice, Danny managed to force his eyes open, despite the pervading weakness he felt. A pair of green, almost luminous eyes gazed down into his, relief filling them as he watched. Green eyes which were very, very familiar.
"... Wh... But... how?" Had he been blown through the Fenton Ghost Catcher without realizing it?
"Later," his ghost self replied shortly, looking towards the center of the lab. "We've got bigger problems right now."
Fenton forced himself into a sitting position, aided by the hand against his back, and instantly saw what the white-haired boy meant. Jack and Maddie were sitting up as well, obviously recovering from the blast. Jazz still lay on the floor, but she was moving sluggishly, reassuring Fenton that she was probably all right. That wasn't the problem.
The problem floated in the middle of the lab, arms folded across his chest, regarding all of them with a contemptuous expression. The face was familiar, but the shaggy hair was ash-gray, and the eyes were blood-red, darker than the crimson stares that so many malevolent ghosts possessed. The suit, too, was a variation on a familiar theme, deep grey with scarlet boots, gloves, belt and collar.
Fenton swallowed hard. "Oh, NOT good," he murmured.
"Excellent deduction, Holmes," Phantom replied, helping him stand.
"You two make a cute couple," the third Danny replied, smirking cruelly.
Fenton rolled his eyes. "You sound like Dash," he shot back, and then had to duck as a sudden burst of ruby plasma nearly seared the top of his head off.
"Just a warning, Danny Fenton," the grey ghost said, tone frighteningly polite. "Stay out of my way, and life will be much less... stressful for you. Decide to get heroic..." Fingers aimed like a pistol, the red-eyed boy shot a sudden ball of energy at the box the crystal had been delivered in. The cardboard and papers immediately burst into flames.
"Just think of me as your friendly neighborhood... Shadow." Laughing cruelly, he ascended through the ceiling and was gone.
A moment of silence, then Phantom snorted. "Well... this is another fine mess Vlad's gotten us into."
Fenton blinked. "You think Plasmius is behind this?" he asked, acutely conscious of his groggy parents listening to every word.
"Well, let's see. A package with a strange artifact that practically screams 'Evil plot here,' sent from Chicago Paranormal so that there'd be no way my-- your parents could resist opening it, oh, and let's not forget it's sent to the only guy in the continental United States with a working ghost portal so there's no shortage of paranormal energy for it to do whatever it did... And of course, THAT," Phantom jerked his thumb towards the ceiling, "had red eyes and red energy. Just like Plasmius. No, I think it's Skulker."
Fenton rubbed his forehead. Geez, was he really this sarcastic in ghost mode? Surely Sam would have smacked him by this point if he was. "Look, throwing out theories on who to blame isn't going to do us any good right now, you know?"
"Yeah." Phantom deflated slightly. "Look, you take care of... your family. I'll go see if I can't track down our Shadow friend and get more information." Then, quieter, "I'll be back tonight. Call Sam and Tucker?"
Fenton nodded imperceptibly. "Thanks... Danny Phantom." Might as well take the opportunity to pound another nail in "Inviso-Bill's" coffin.
The white-haired boy smirked. "No problem, Danny Fenton." Then he took off, phasing through the ceiling. Taking a deep breath, Fenton turned around to check on his family... and to start the damage control.
Seeing Danny Fenton lying on his bed reading comics was nothing new. What had grabbed Sam's attention and obviously Tucker's as well, however, was his white-haired alter ego, sitting on the WALL as if adhered to it, a classic issue of Spider-Man in gloved hands. Simultaneously, both Dannys looked up from their reading and waved.
"Hey, guys," Fenton greeted them, putting his comic aside and sitting up. "Thanks for coming over on such short notice."
"You said it was an emergency," Sam replied, pulling Danny's desk chair out so she could drop into it. "I can see what you mean."
Finding his voice, Tucker focused on Phantom. "... Does the word 'gravity' mean anything to you?"
The half-ghost grinned. "What's the matter, Tuck, am I making you sea-sick?"
"Ignore him," Fenton instructed, blue eyes cast towards the ceiling. "I think he just likes messing with people's heads."
Sam blinked. "You THINK? Um, Danny, aren't you technically the same person?" The doppelgangers exchanged looks, then sighed in unison.
"Not entirely sure, Sam," Phantom replied, detaching from the wall to float in midair. "We started out that way this morning, but..." The white-haired boy quickly laid out the events of that morning, his twin occasionally throwing out corrections or opinions as he went. When they finished, Tucker whistled softly.
"Man, that's freaky. Where's the gem now?"
Fenton folded his arms, sighing. "In the lab, under about eight different security systems. Mom and Dad think it summoned Phantom and Shadow, or let them out of the ghost zone, or something. The fact that Shadow seems to have pyromaniac tendencies seriously freaked them out, though. Don't think anybody's gonna be getting near that jewel any time soon."
"So... this Gem of Souls," Sam mused. "It... what, copied you?"
Phantom shook his head. "Not copied. I can't go human and he can't go ghost. My powers don't seem to be much diminished, though, and Fenton's still got intangibility and invisibility, but that's about it. So..."
"We're split," Fenton finished. "Still half-ghosts, but... split somehow."
"Hmm. Danny, that inscription... was that an exact quote?" Tucker asked, fiddling with his glasses.
"As near as I can remember," the black-haired boy replied. "Why?"
Tucker shrugged. "Just a thought. You said the gem said it was a purifier... maybe it split you good from evil, like in that one episode of Star Trek."
One white eyebrow arched. "Shadow's obviously evil, but I don't exactly feel like a goody-two-shoes here, Tuck. Leaving aside the fact that there's two of us."
"Maybe it's because you're only half-ghost," Sam broke in. "I mean... it said something about sacred and unholy flames? A lot of old religions believed in incarnation, the power of a god being bestowed upon a worshipper. And demonic possession was also commonly accepted at that time, an evil presence taking you over. But your power came from an accident, morally neutral. So if that gem pulled out spirit influences... well, you've got the evil spirit and the good one... and the human left behind."
Realizing the three boys were staring at her, Sam blushed. "Hey, you guys spend your time researching all the tech stuff; I figured somebody ought to handle the historical angle. And it's not like anybody looks twice at a Goth taking out a bunch of books on magic, witchcraft, and demonology."
"Sounds like a good theory to me," Fenton agreed, then snickered. "Although I don't know if Snowy here really fits with the whole 'divine origin' part of it. Ow!" That last was in reaction to his doppelganger smacking him across the top of the head.
Sam rolled her eyes. "Don't you pay attention in English at all? Greek Myths painted the gods as just... larger than life humans, not like modern religion. Look at Zeus. He could be petty, jealous, easily distracted by pretty girls..." she trailed off pointedly, folding her arms across her chest to emphasize her point. Both Dannys blushed.
Phantom sighed. "Okay, so we've got a working theory. Not that it does us any good right now... our main goal being to get this UNDONE. And keep Shadow from barbecuing anything or anyone in the meantime."
"He said my life would be less stressful if I didn't interfere," Fenton said, troubled. "I don't think that was just supposed to be a threat, either."
"Well," Tucker answered, "We can't reverse this until we know what actually HAPPENED. And since running tests on that crystal is out, that means research."
"And hopefully hacking Mom and Dad's research notes once they've finished their testing," Phantom agreed. "That's gonna be your department, Tuck. Luckily, their computer security stinks."
Sam sighed. "And I guess YOU will have to spend your time doing damage control... you know how panicky this city gets when they see you," she told Phantom.
"Great. I'm fourteen and I have a full-time job," the white-haired boy complained. "Oh well, at least with Fenton concentrating on schoolwork for a while, we may get our grades to go up."
Fenton brightened. "Oh yeah, I may actually have time to STUDY now. Lancer'll freak."
"See," Tucker grinned. "Every cloud has a silver lining."
My dad is a really lousy liar, Danny thought wryly, as he loaded his books into his locker. Of course, the question was, what in the world would Jack be lying ABOUT? Danny honestly couldn't think of any reason for his father to take down the ghost alarms, especially given his near-paranoia on the subject... Shutting his locker door, he turned away, only to slam into something solid.
"HEY, Fenton, watch where you're going!" The screechy voice, higher than it should be in anyone already through puberty, could belong to only one person. Dash Baxter. Danny sighed.
"Dash, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there," he began, then stopped, startled to realize he WASN'T being held off the ground by his shirt collar. Instead, Dash was looking at him with a confused light in his blue eyes.
"You look awful," the quarterback commented, almost sounding human. "It's like you're not all there. You're not gonna get sick on me, are you?"
"As tempting as the thought is," Danny muttered, "no. I just... I haven't slept that well, okay? And I'm sorry for bumping into you."
Dash shrugged, then looked around quickly to see if anyone noticed he was talking civilly to one of the school's losers. "Yeah, well... just don't do it again, all right?"
"Don't worry," Danny replied, even as the blond teen disappeared back into the mass of humanity. From behind him, Sam's voice cut through the din.
"Excuse me... but did DASH BAXTER just express concern for you? I think the world is ending."
"Tell me about it," Danny sighed, shifting his backpack onto one shoulder. "He's right, though, I don't FEEL all here." He shrugged. "Well... I'm not really, am I?"
His friends exchanged glances, then Tucker shook his head. "Come on, let's just get to class before Lancer sees us out here and has a heart attack or something."
"Yeah," Danny rolled his eyes, "that'd be just what we need. A hall monitor ghost." With another sigh, he followed his friends to their first class.
If this mother-henning keeps up, though, I'm gonna go nuts. Sam's bad enough, but all of a sudden, Tucker's getting in on the act. Okay, so I feel kind of incomplete, and I'm cold all the time, but I'm not going to- Wait, did I just see a flash of red from the football field? Experimentation had shown that while Danny Fenton DID still possess his ghost sense, it didn't react to Danny Phantom, or, he guessed, Danny Shadow. It made sense... they were PART of him, not separate ghosts. Unfortunately, it made it that much easier for that pyromaniac to sneak up on him... which looked like it had just occurred. For a moment, Fenton considered just trying to sneak out of the area without being seen, but another volley of red flashes changed his mind, especially since these were accompanied by muffled explosions. It was fairly obvious that he wasn't Shadow's target this time... and there was no way he was leaving anybody else to that thing's "tender mercies."
Taking a deep breath, Fenton made his way to the football field, concealing himself behind the bleachers as best he could. When he arrived, the scene before him made his jaw drop. His shadow was floating above the goalposts at one end of the field, arms folded lazily over his chest. Below, Dash Baxter was half-kneeling on the torn-up turf, two of the craters near him still smoking slightly from impact.
"Talk about an extreme footwork drill," the blond grumbled to himself, breathing hard.
"I'm impressed, Baxter," Shadow sneered. "I wouldn't have thought you could move that fast with all those rocks between your ears."
Dash glared up at his tormentor, pushing himself up into a standing position. "I don't even KNOW you!"
"No, you don't, do you? Then again, I don't guess you keep a list of everybody whose LIVES you ruin, do you, Baxter?" Shadow extended a hand, palm up, and flames began to collect in his grasp. "Just say I'm a shadow of my former self... thanks to you."
"HEY!" Fenton yelled, stepping out from behind the bleachers. "You! The floating barbecue! Why don't you pick on somebody your own size?"
The quarterback blinked. "FENTON? Are you NUTS?"
"Probably!" The smaller boy shot back. "Just get out of here, Dash! I actually KNOW something about ghosts!"
For a second, the blond looked as though he was going to object, then he shook his head and took off running, quickly disappearing around the school.
From where he floated, Shadow regarded his double with disdain. "Why did you do that? We could have been rid of that muscle-headed idiot forever!"
"I don't WANT to be rid of him!" Fenton yelled back, fists clenching. "Not like that! Dash might be a jerk and a bully and a pain in the neck, but he's a human being... I think. No matter how miserable he made us, he doesn't deserve to die!"
"You're wrong, Fenton. He does. They all do. And I'm not letting you interfere!" A huge ball of fire came crashing down on the spot where Fenton had stood a second before.
At least the reflexes from ghost fighting carry over, the black-haired boy thought wryly, dodging a second blast. But I can't keep avoiding fireballs forever, and if he connects, I'm a French fry! I've got to come up with something... come on, Danny, time to prove you're Maddie Fenton's son too. THINK! Then he saw it, and his eyes lit up as he raced towards the tailgate area.
"Running? You ARE a coward," Shadow crowed, flying after his twin, still launching fireballs. Twice Fenton had to zigzag to avoid patches of asphalt suddenly turned molten by the heat. Finally, however, he reached his goal- an aluminum picnic table.
"You know," Fenton yelled, turning, "I've seen your fastball... but can you CATCH?" And slipping into intangibility, he grabbed the picnic table, phasing it out as well, just long enough to lob the suddenly weightless piece of furniture skyward. It returned to normal upon leaving his hands, allowing it to smack into its target with all the momentum its mass would imply. Even Shadow's flames weren't quite enough to deflect it entirely, and the grey-haired teen reeled backwards, even as the unrecognizable mass of melted aluminum crashed to the ground.
"Intangibility... I can keep this up all day, and all we'll accomplish is destruction of property," Fenton continued, arms folded defiantly. "Not to mention you'll run out of juice. So what's it going to be?"
Red eyes narrowed as Shadow regarded him with a growl. "This isn't over, Fenton. Certain people need to get what's coming to them. Don't interfere again." And in a ball of flame, the ghost-teen vanished, leaving only the odor of scorched turf in his wake.
And... I'd better get out of here before Lancer finds some way to blame this on me too, Fenton thought tiredly, retrieving his backpack. Sam and Tucker are never gonna BELIEVE this one...
Now... if I were an evil pyromaniac version of me, where would I be? He's obviously got an agenda and some self-control, otherwise the whole city would be in flames by now. The half-ghost shivered, images of possible destruction flashing before his eyes. You know, I would give SO much to be chasing Skulker right now... At least he keeps collateral damage to a minimum.
Wishing wasn't going to change the situation, though, and he'd spent most of the day searching Amity Park with no luck. Gas stations, the recycling center, the local power plant, any source of extreme heat and/or flammable materials, none of them had shown hide nor hair of the dark spirit so far. And that was just making Phantom more nervous.
He wouldn't try to burn down the school, would he? No, no way. Mom and Dad have that place packed with enough anti-ghost stuff that he wouldn't get ten feet without being sucked into a Fenton Thermos, or worse. Elmer's Ice Cream parlor? No, THAT is your stomach talking. Permanent ghost-form or not, he still needed to eat, and he'd only gotten a few hurried snacks over the last day or so.
Mind on the job, Danny, he scolded himself. Besides, it's not like you can carry a wallet in this suit anyway. But he was cruising over Elmer's, just in case. It WAS a common teen hangout, and if Shadow wanted to cause chaos and destruction, it might be a tempting target, even with the refrigerators. Hovering low, he was half-contemplating finding a way to snag a chocolate shake when a scream caught his attention from one of the nearby alleys.
Okay, that sounds like a good place to start looking. Hey, even if it's just a mugging, I can get SOMETHING done today! Zipping towards the source of the scream, he settled on a fire escape, still invisible, to try and size up the situation. And the situation, he saw, was going from bad to worse.
Paulina was backed up against a brick wall in the dead end alley, chest heaving with exertion, wide eyes locked on the figure in front of her. Smirking, Shadow watched her with cruel amusement, piles of burning trash at his feet effectively blocking the girl's escape route.
"Well, well... if it isn't Paulina, queen of the school," Shadow sneered, red eyes scanning her contemptuously. "You don't look so high and mighty now. In fact... I'd say you're just another loser. Wouldn't you?"
To her credit, Paulina had yet to fully burst into tears. "What... what do you WANT?" she asked tremulously, fists clenched tight.
"Lots of things. Things you can't even imagine, given the fact that you're about as smart as a block of Styrofoam. But if we're talking right now, with you? I want payback. I want to make your life as miserable as you've made mine. I want... to make you burn." A flame sprang to life in his outstretched hand, throwing the demonic smile on his face into high relief.
"And I want YOU to SHUT UP!" Phantom replied, plowing into his double in a full-speed power dive. Paulina, being a bit smarter than Shadow had given her credit for, immediately dove for cover behind some nearby trash cans, for once not caring about her appearance.
With a feral growl, Shadow managed to toss his assailant off, sending Phantom careening through some discarded boxes. "What IS it with you two? Do you WANT to go through the rest of our life stomped down by these idiots, treated as less than human on their whims, when we could have EVERYTHING? We could be POWERFUL, we could be on top of the heap, we could be--"
A jade energy blast slammed into his face, cutting him off. "We could be Vlad," Phantom spat, getting to his feet. "Is that what you want? Money, power, control... and totally ALONE. At least we have FRIENDS."
"Vlad's a moron," Shadow replied, red aura flaring as he picked himself up as well. "And as for our so-called FRIENDS..." He suddenly smirked, anger seeming to fall away like a discarded cloak. "Well. We'll just see about them, won't we?" Flaring red again, he sank through the ground, leaving Phantom alone.
Or not so alone, as Paulina promptly launched herself forward, wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug. He patted her back for a second or so, then gently detached himself from her grip.
"You saved me again," Paulina cried, blue-green eyes adoring. "If you hadn't shown up--"
"He would have lit you up like a Roman Candle," Phantom finished bluntly. "And you may be selfish, thoughtless, and shallow, but nobody deserves that."
The wind taken out of her sails, the girl could only stare at her savior mutely for a second. "You... you think I'm shallow?" she stammered, eyes widening.
"Like a puddle in the parking lot. You were willing to string a kid along-- a kid with a huge crush on you, I might add, -- just to get me to come to your birthday party. And then when you didn't need him anymore, you dropped him like an empty soda can! And you don't even know me! You and your friends dissect people's lives and friendships like it was a party game, and you never EVER pay attention to what it does to them! How many people have you humiliated in front of the entire school, just because they didn't fit into your cookie-cutter view of what's cool and what's not? Well, you should remember today... because that thing that came after you? That's what you made, Paulina. Every insult, every put down, every time you stomped on somebody on your climb to the top... it doesn't go away. And today, it came back to get you. I saved you because you don't deserve to die. Nobody does. But that's IT. So take those pictures of me out of your locker and get back to me when you're actually a human being."
A blaze of emerald light, and Phantom took off, leaving a speechless and shell-shocked Paulina standing in the alley, staring after him. He didn't know where his rant had come from, though parts of it had sounded like Sam, but... it had just poured out of him, from somewhere that he'd been keeping it deep inside. It seemed to have hit its mark, he thought, recalling Paulina's destroyed expression. He probably should have felt guilty for letting her have it so bluntly but he didn't. And THAT bothered him.
I'd better get home... he thought. Fenton, Sam, and Tucker ought to know about this...
Fenton shrugged. "He reads normal," the teen replied, scooting over slightly. "You're not the only one to wonder about it, though. Mom actually took his temperature earlier."
The white-haired hybrid settled gracefully onto the roof beside his double. "Not that I'm complaining-- I'd probably be trying to hole up in Tucker's attic or something otherwise, but... it's not LIKE Dad. You know?"
"Mmmhmm," the dark-haired twin replied. "Never thought I'd say this about Dad, but... you get the feeling he knows something we don't?"
"Yes," his double replied. "And it's freaking me out."
Sighing, Fenton hugged his knees, staring up at the stars shining above the house. "So, we both had encounters with Shadow today... what have we figured out?"
"Well, he's got a chip on his shoulder the size of New Jersey," Phantom retorted. "And he seems to be interested in taking it out on the people who've made our life miserable. Which reminds me... you know that crush we had on Paulina?"
"What were we THINKING?"
That got a snort in reply. "She's gorgeous. She's POPULAR. We've never BEEN popular. You do the math."
One dark eyebrow cocked at that. "Bitter much?"
"Actually... no. I'm not. I don't feel bad about it, honestly, just-- We were never interested in her for the right reasons. And... I dunno, I just don't feel that way about her any more." He sighed again, gaze once more straying to the bright stars above. "You think we'll ever get up there?"
Phantom blinked for a second, startled by the abrupt change in subject. "What, you mean space? If you mean as an astronaut... No."
"I call 'em like I see 'em. You know we're going to be doing this for the rest of our lives. The ghosts will keep coming, whether through the Fenton Portal or not. And we'll keep fighting them, because somebody has to and WE are the ones who can. Besides, with your math grades, you'd never make the cut."
"Hey, that's OUR math grades!"
His double shot him a grin. "Besides... We're half-ghost. We can fly in space without suits in ghost mode. Tell me that's not infinitely cooler than having to wear a Ziploc bag and do experiments for some pencil-pusher still on the ground."
Fenton shrugged. "Assuming we get back together, of course... What will you do if we don't?"
"Good question." Phantom rolled onto his stomach, propping his chin in his hands. "Guess I'll either hang around here and keep fighting ghosts... or heck, maybe go back into the Ghost Zone and make Walker and Skulker's afterlives miserable. That might be fun."
"Bitter much?" the dark-haired boy inquired, throwing the other's earlier words back at him."
"Vindictive. The word is vindictive," his double corrected him.
"Right. Lancer's vocabulary quizzes are paying off."
Phantom sighed. "But I wouldn't worry about it. We WILL get back together. Somehow."
"I really, really hope you're right." Then there was no more talking, as the two simply watched the stars.
"Dr. M? Can... I talk to you about something?" Danny asked cautiously, sticking his head around the door. The man at the desk looked up and smiled.
"Sure, Danny, come on in," he replied, sliding away the folder he was reading. "And shut the door. I work late, everybody knows it." Once Danny had done so and was settled in the chair before the desk, the psychiatrist gave him a keen look.
"So... what can I do for you today?"
Danny unconsciously raised a hand to rub the back of his neck, glancing away as he launched into his rehearsed story. "Well, I'm... kind of doing a report for one of my classes, and I was wondering... er, do you know anything about multiple personality disorder? I don't think my backlog of Spider-Man comics really counts as research material, even if it IS a running topic..."
Leaning back in his chair, Cade Maboroshi laced his fingers together, giving the boy in front of him a considering look. "Well, MPD is kind of a hot-button subject in psychology today anyway, since not everybody's convinced it exists. But you came to the right place... one of my old college friends is actually an expert in this stuff, so I can at least make do. I'm assuming you just want a general overview, give you an idea of where to start researching in-depth?"
"Uh... yeah, I guess that'd be good. Like I said, everything I know on the subject comes from comics written by Peter David."
"Well, he's actually a pretty good source, but you want something that hasn't been altered for entertainment value. Okay, let's see... well, MPD, these days, has basically been reclassified as an extreme form of Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID has its roots in compartmentalization, the way human beings display different traits depending on the situation. It has to do with adaptation... uh, let me see if I can put it more simply. You know how people can act one way at school and completely different at home, right? Or with any other two arenas in their life."
Danny winced. "Yeah, I'm... somewhat familiar with that."
"Okay. Well, over time, that separation of traits can become what we call an 'overlay,' which... it's not a separate personality, per se, since the chain of memory remains continuous, so it's one single experience. But the other persona colors your thoughts, feelings, actions, so you may ACT like a completely different person. Over time, given a significant enough stressor or a traumatic event, this overlay can fracture off, maintaining its own memory bank. Boom, second personality. Usually that's to keep the traumatic event from the personality that can't deal with it. Clear so far?"
"Yeah, actually... Um, I'm gonna start taking notes, okay?"
Dr. Maboroshi chuckled. "Feel free." He gave Danny a moment to get his notebook out and jot down the rudiments of the lesson so far, then continued.
"The other type of dissociation has more to do with repression. Your sister, Jazz... she's into psychology right?"
"Kind of the same way that fish are 'into' water, yeah," Danny replied dryly.
"Has she ever mentioned Carl Jung?"
"Oh man... I think so. He was the guy who came up with the 'collective unconscious,' right? She mentioned him on one of our car trips... scary how comics and psychology mix sometimes."
The older man laughed. "You're talking to a man who did a Master's Thesis on the subject, Danny. Anyway, Jung talked a lot about archetypes, categories that our mental constructions fall into, no matter where we're from or what tradition we're in. One of his most famous archetypes would be Shadow. This is... well, it starts out as our animal nature. The part that isn't concerned with rules, or morality, or anything except surviving. It wants to eat, sleep, and defend itself. But as we live, we learn to repress certain traits, traits that we don't want to admit we have. Anger, hatred, greed, the enjoyment of destruction... when we don't accept that we have negative impulses, they go to Shadow. It kind of becomes a garbage-can for all the thoughts and emotions we push away. Problem is, if you push too much down in there, it takes on a life of its own. And since it's everything we don't want to be... if it comes to life, it's basically our own personification of evil."
Well, THAT explains a lot. Danny bit his lip. "So... it might do things like seeking revenge, trying to barbecue people who made you mad, things like that?"
"I'd say that's a distinct possibility, especially if you're someone who's always thought that even THINKING about things like that makes you a bad person..."
Danny cocked an eyebrow at the tone of that last statement, giving the counselor a sidelong glance. "Doesn't it?"
"Ahh... now you're getting into philosophy, Danny. Not my field. I will tell you it makes you human. If you DIDN'T feel anger and the desire for retribution once in a while, you'd be the only member of the human race not to."
"Shrinks never give people a straight answer, do they?" The teen's tone was resigned, but carried some weary amusement.
Dr. Maboroshi shook his head. "Union rules, sorry. Hope I've managed to at least give you some direction for your report, though..."
"My what?" Danny blinked, startled. "Oh yeah, my report! Yeah, actually, you've given me a lot of things to check out... I'm headed to the library after this; I should be able to get a great start on all that." He got to his feet. "Um... I'll let you know how my grade turns out."
"Danny." The psychiatrist's voice caught him with his hand on the door. Turning back, Danny saw the man smiling slightly, shaking his head.
"You're a lousy liar," Dr. Maboroshi continued. Pulling a small paperback off of one of the shelves, he tossed it to the teen, who caught it instinctively.
"If anybody asks, tell them it's for an attempt at extra credit in English. In fact, run it by Lancer. It might even work."
Danny grinned sheepishly. "Uh... yeah, thanks." Just before ducking out the door, he took a look at the book. It was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
After Shadow's attacks on Dash and Paulina, Amity Park's premiere ghost hunting group had decided on a quick division of labor. Danny would pick the brains of the school shrink, since he was on best terms with the man as it was. Then he'd head to Amity Park Public Library to try and see what else he could dig up in the reference section. Sam, meanwhile, would be using her family's money and more important, connections to get into a few libraries the public didn't usually get to see, including one up at Chicago Paranormal. If any of the researchers at the institute thought there was anything strange about a fourteen-year-old girl wanting access to their archives, he really hoped none of them said so. Sam had been in a foul mood since Danny's split, and she was just looking for some idiot to take it out on.
As for him... well, the world of electronic research fell under his assignment, and he was determined to find SOMETHING that would help. Before one Danny faded out completely, and the other... well, Tucker had a feeling that Danny Phantom 24/7 would get on his nerves FAST.
But Tucker's computer was his pride and joy, capable of running several specific net searches at once, and if he couldn't find it, then it probably wasn't on the net. Satisfied that his web-crawlers were running down any mentions of ghosts, spirits, and multiple personality, he turned to his next source-- the bulletin boards and forums. He had several he'd been frequenting since Walker's assault on Amity Park, and he'd managed to build up a reputation as someone who was actually interested in and semi-knowledgeable about ghosts. Hopefully, that reputation would help him get some answers from the rest of the posters, rather than them dismissing him as a crank or a kook.
Quickly, he dashed off an explanation of the recent events, careful to avoid any mention of Danny Fenton, or of the human element in this at all. Let them think all three of those involved were full ghosts... he didn't think it would make too much difference, and it was better than potentially letting Danny's secret slip. He was also careful not to post on any board that had ever logged Vlad Masters' IP address... just in case. No sense letting that maniac have any clue that Danny wasn't at a hundred percent right now.
Once he'd fired off his message, he went back to the files his web-crawlers had been delivering to him. Some were obviously immediately useless, talking about television shows or novels or comic books. Others looked like psychology sites, and he flagged those with a green, low priority, for later perusal. One talked about multiple personality disorder as the actual cause of what people thought of as possession, and he flagged that one yellow, even though it looked like it might be a wrong track. One thing he'd learned recently was that even a blind alley might have a few gems in it.
One page on the Kabbalah caught his attention with a discussion of the belief that each person had three souls. The first, the Nephesh, was the basic animal consciousness, the animating principle. It was concerned primarily with the fulfillment of desire. Check, Tucker thought wryly. Like a five year old given power... who wouldn't strike back at the people who'd made them hurt? In Freudian terms, the site said, it corresponded to the Id, or the subconscious.
A second, higher soul was the Ruach, the native intelligence. It was the seat of rational thought and traditional morality, though not always the type of morality society lived by. This corresponded to the Ego, the basic self of psychology.
Last, higher than the other two, was the Neshamah, the "breath of life." It represented contact with a higher power, the divine, or in Freud's dictionary, the Superego, the part that was... above the everyday self.
Dude, that fits a little TOO well, he mused. Phantom wasn't exactly selfish, but he could be very thick-skinned and a bit self-absorbed. Fenton, on the other hand, was almost OVER-empathic, with little to no sense of self. Okay, he was marking that one with a red flag for later printing.
Checking back on his bulletin boards, Tucker found several responses to his post. Most just pointed him towards websites, many of which he'd already found. A few gave links to psychology pages or forums he hadn't found, and he added them to his list. And-- hello there. There was a private message waiting for him from NYCGuy.
Curious, Tucker clicked the link. The other wasn't a frequent poster, but his comments, when they came, were well-thought out and very appropriate. What little Tucker knew of the man suggested that whoever he was, he was someone with a lot of experience and knowledge of the paranormal.
Reading the message, Tucker frowned. NYCGuy's tone was worried, not something he'd ever seen from the other poster. A chat invitation was linked through the PM, and Tucker clicked on it, firing up his IM program as he did so.
The IM window sprang to life almost immediately, underscoring the PM's urgent note.
NYCGuy: You there?
Ghosttech: Yeah. You sound totally freaked. I'm guessing from what I posted this is a bad thing?
NYCGuy: Could say that. I'm gonna need a little more info, if you don't mind... I know you were tap-dancing around something on the board, but... I can't help if I don't know the whole story.
Ghosttech: ... Thing is, it's not my secret to tell.
NYCGuy: Understood, but... what CAN you tell me?
Ghosttech: Well... these two ghosts that are running around... they weren't actually split off from another ghost. They were pulled out of my best friend... he's human.
NYCGuy: Okay, hold on a sec...
NYCGuy: K, friend of mine says they're probably ecto-projections, type of thing that mediums sometimes do in a séance, or sorcerers do to create familiars. It's kind of like astral projection, only what happens is part of the personality goes out, not the entire spirit body.
Ghosttech: That's bad, right?
NYCGuy: From what you said about the one being a pyro? Yeah, it's bad. Instead of being three personalities in one body, he's three personalities in three bodies... two of which are being maintained by his subconscious. Eventually, he's gonna run down from the stress of maintaining them.
Ghosttech: Okay, Very Bad.
NYCGuy: ... You sound like a friend of mine.
Ghosttech: So... what do we do? How do we get him back together?
NYCGuy: Well, therapy for DID is usually aimed at integrating the personalities back together. If you can get your friend to the point where he's psychologically ready to take them back, he should be able to... reabsorb the projections.
Ghosttech: So, he's going to have to take them both back, Shadow and Phantom?
NYCGuy: Afraid so. Can't pick and choose which bits of us we'll accept and which we won't. That's what gets us into these messes in the first place.
Ghosttech: Great. Not like we have time for therapy here.
NYCGuy: Considered calling in a professional?
Ghosttech: Actually, yeah, but... frankly I think they'd do more harm than good at this point. We're gonna have to handle it ourselves... Oh well. At least we're used to it.
NYCGuy: Be careful. Just because it came out of your best friend's head doesn't mean it's not dangerous.
Ghosttech: No kidding... But Thanks.
NYCGuy: Give me your email address... I'll mail you everything we have on the subject, including the theories the two mad scientists behind me are kicking out right now.
Ghosttech: Sure thing. Uh... this isn't going to overload my mailbox, is it?
NYCGuy: ... Hope you've got a good unzipper.
Tucker dropped his head to his desk with a sigh. This... was going to be fun.
Silverware clinked against a bowl, the noise floating up as she snuck down the stairwell. Peeking into the kitchen, Jazz saw the source of the noise-- her little brother, still in ghost mode, wolfing down what remained of last night's dinner. The redhead frowned. She didn't know what exactly had happened in the lab the other night, aside from seeing her brother and his ghost identity standing side by side, but whatever it was, Danny didn't seem to be taking it well. The circles under his eyes had gotten darker, and he seemed more easily distracted.
Jazz sighed. She'd wanted to wait until Danny felt ready to trust her with his secret, but it was becoming obvious that she wouldn't have that luxury. Whatever was going on, she had a feeling waiting was only going to make it worse. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself and stepped into the kitchen.
"Danny... we need to talk."
Her little brother stopped in mid-chew, green eyes bugging out. If the situation hadn't been so dire, she would have laughed as she saw him carefully stamp down on his surprise long enough to finish chewing and swallow the mouthful of casserole. Setting his spoon down, he raised his hands.
"Jazz, I can explain... I hope. See, it's--"
"Can it, Danny," she cut him off, dropping into one of the other chairs at the kitchen table. "I know who you are and what you can do. I saw you transform while you were fighting that green... blob thing that hung out with Ms. Spectra, back during spirit week. What I want to know now is why you're home, eating Mom's spinach and feta cheese casserole, when you said you were going to the library. And why are you still... you know, like this?"
He sighed, one gloved hand pushing through snowy hair. "It's like this, Jazz... Danny FENTON is at the library, doing research. I'm Danny Phantom... the ghost half. That stone somebody sent Mom and Dad... it split us. Into three parts. And mom's casserole isn't that bad if you don't think about what you're eating."
"Three parts? You mean that guy in the grey and red suit that was in the lab with you... he's you too?"
Danny grimaced. "Much as we hate to claim him, yeah. I don't know all of it, but it looks like he's... I don't know, the result of bottling up all our frustration, our anger... he's tried to barbecue Dash and Paulina already."
Jazz gave him a hard look, troubled by the lack of concern in his tone. "Don't you care?"
"Frankly? No. I mean... they don't deserve that kind of thing, nobody does, but... I won't miss 'em if something happens, even if I won't LET it happen. It's not like you, or Mom and Dad, or Sam and Tuck... Losing you guys scares me. Dash and Paulina... I just don't care. Which... kind of bothers me, to be honest. But not that much."
"What about... Danny Fenton?" Jazz shook her head, thinking how odd it was to refer to her brother that way.
The white-haired boy snorted. "Oh, he definitely still cares. He risked getting barbecued by Shadow just to save Dash. Idiot doesn't have any powers besides intangibility, and he still makes himself a target."
"So... this probably has something to do with... you being a ghost," Jazz said slowly, working it out in her head."
"Probably," Phantom nodded. "You know, I remember something a ghost said to me... he said that not all ghosts were evil... some just wanted to be left alone. I didn't think anything about it but... Aside from one ghost, who I kind of made friends with, I've never met a ghost that was, you know, GOOD. Who tried to help people, rather than just protect itself."
Jazz's eyes widened. "Empathy... ghosts don't have empathy. That makes a lot of se-" She was cut off by the sudden wail of the town's air raid siren, recently pressed into service to warn of ghost attacks.
"Downtown," her brother growled, leaping to his feet. "It's gotta be Shadow!"
"Wait!" Jazz stood as well, pulling two walkie-talkies from where they hung on the kitchen wall. "Tune to the civil services band... that'll let you track him faster!"
He took one from her, doing as she instructed. "Thanks Jazz."
"All units, suspicious fire at Amity Park Library. Use Caution, ghost sighted in area."
"The library?" Jazz blurted, as she and Phantom traded horrified glances.
Then, in unison-- "DANNY!"
Slinging the walkie-talkie over one shoulder, the hybrid grabbed his sister around the waist, turning them both intangible as he did so. "Hold on, Jazz," he growled, even as he took off. "The Phantom Express is on its way!"
Fifteen minutes later, he returned, several thick, heavy books balanced in his arms. "Okay, for future reference, anything with a colon in the title is bad." The computer card catalogue had recommended several titles for people just starting to look into psychology, but even those had the type of pompous academic titles that made him acutely aware of his C student status.
"Of course, if failing a test meant people getting randomly set on fire around town, I might study a little harder," he admitted, dropping into one of the chairs. That was the main point, after all-- failure was simply not an option here. If he didn't find a way to get Shadow taken care of... people were going to die. It was as simple as that. And there was NO WAY he was going to let that happen.
He was actually beginning to find some promising theories, not to mention get into the swing of his note-taking, when he felt the unmistakable sensation of being watched. It didn't feel malevolent, though, which let out more than ninety percent of the candidates immediately. Steeling himself, he looked up, and was mildly surprised to come face to face with Mr. Lancer.
The teacher raised an eyebrow. "Fenton? At the library? I know there are no major papers due, so the end of the world must be at hand."
Danny winced slightly. GREAT choice of words there, he thought bitterly. Aloud, he replied, "Well... Dr. Maboroshi thought I should do a book report on this... thought it would be a "good experience." He suggested I ask you if I could submit it for extra credit, actually..." Danny handed over the book the shrink had given him, grateful for the other man's foresight.
"Well now... Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Not a bad choice of literature, and certainly not surprising from a psychologist... What type of report were you planning?"
Here, Danny was actually on firmer footing, being somewhat familiar with the basic story from hundreds of cartoons and parodies seen over the years. "Well, I was going to look at it as a case of multiple personality, with an emphasis on Jung's theories on the subject-- Jung's one of Jazz's favorites, so I actually KNOW something about him..."
To Danny's surprise, Lancer actually nodded approvingly. "I think that's an excellent angle, Mr. Fenton. I must admit, it's nice to see a student actually making an effort to succeed for once."
Irritation flared for a second, but fizzled just as quickly, as Danny had to admit to himself that Lancer had no clue just how hard it was for him to find time to study. Even so, he couldn't stop the retort that rose to his lips unbidden.
"We might try harder if it didn't seem like your mission in life was poking holes in everything we do and then making an "example" of us when we fail," he replied quietly, looking down at his book.
He expected a snappish retort, and possibly an order to report to detention, even though they weren't on school property. What he got was silence, and when he looked up again, a thoughtful expression on Lancer's face.
"Mmm. You might actually have a point there," the teacher replied. He opened his mouth to say more, but never got the chance, as the windows on the north side of the room suddenly imploded in a hail of glass and scarlet ectoplasm. Before he could react, Danny found himself shoved behind Lancer, as the teacher turned towards the intrusion.
"Awww," a familiar voice sneered, "Did I interrupt study time?"
Danny bonked himself lightly on the head. "Stupid, Fenton," he muttered. "Six months of semi-constant detention, and you DIDN'T think Lancer'd make his hit list?"
"Great Expectations, WHAT are you?" Lancer demanded, his bulk still between Danny and Shadow.
"No one you'd know," Shadow replied cruelly. Balls of flame began to whirl around him like some sort of nightmare Ferris Wheel. "You know, it's appropriate that I get to waste you two in a library... Not to mention convenient." The ghost pulled a book off a nearby shelf, igniting it. "A crematorium that supplies its own kindling."
Lancer's face went ghost-white. "GREAT GATSBY," the man bellowed, "Not the books!"
The two Dannys regarded him in dumbfounded silence for a second. Shadow blinked at his dark-haired counterpart. "Is he for real?" the ash-haired hybrid asked.
"You know as much as I do," Fenton shrugged.
"While I can't say I MIND torching all this paper," Shadow continued, raising his arms, "The real prize will be you two. Sorry for the collateral damage, Fenton, but if you won't stop getting in my way... then you go down with the rest."
Fenton rolled his eyes, slowly edging away from his double. "Didn't we do this before, with Dash? And as I recall... You ended up LOSING."
"Shut UP!" Shadow growled, launching a ball of flame at Fenton's head. The teen ducked, dropping into a graceful roll that took him to the wall nearest the door-- and the fire extinguisher mounted there.
"Why don't you chill out?" Aiming the nozzle, he caught his duplicate directly in the face with a jet of foam. Then grabbing the wrist of the still-stunned Lancer, he made a beeline for the door.
He never made it. Behind him, Shadow gave an animalistic howl, and the bookshelves around them all burst into sudden flame. Fenton winced, backing away from the sudden heat. "Okay, this is going from bad to worse..." The smoke was choking, now, and to his side, he saw his teacher collapse from the combination of heat and lack of oxygen.
A flash of green and grey, and Shadow's cry was cut off as he was sent hurtling into the nearest wall. Coughing, Fenton looked through watery eyes to see the black and white form of Danny Phantom, standing over his temporarily downed opponent.
"Don't just stand there, get OUT of here!" Phantom yelled, even as he turned his attention back to the rising Shadow. Kneeling by the unconscious Lancer, Fenton took a deep breath, ignoring the smoke searing at his lungs. It was a good thing the teacher WAS unconscious, he thought, or this would be a lot harder, if even possible. Hauling Lancer's arm around his neck, Fenton concentrated, becoming invisible and intangible at the same time. Slowly, he sank through the floor, drifting down to the ground level, which was already abandoned and just as smoky, though there was no fire. Returning to normal, he managed to move his teacher another few inches towards the door before the firemen burst in.
Outside, Danny was wrapped in a blanket and checked over by the paramedics, when they weren't watching the blasts of red and green ectoplasm spilling out of the wrecked windows. The red signature had just decided that discretion was the better part of valor when Danny found himself suddenly enveloped in a rib-crushing hug from, of all people, his big sister.
"Danny!" Jazz cried, squeezing him tighter. "Are you okay?"
"Ooof," Danny managed, gasping. "I'm fine, though I've had better days."
"Yeah, so I hear." Pulling back, she gave him a critical once over. "You look awful."
Danny rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Jazz..."
"Come on... we'd better get you home. Your... uh, phantom friend said he'd meet us back there."
"... Wait. My what?"
"Long story... I'll explain on the way."
"I figured it was Danny's secret... he'd tell me when he was ready for me to know. This way, he wouldn't worry about it."
Fenton sighed, sprawling on his bed. "Well... to be honest, you were probably right... although that explains a LOT."
Looking up from his PDA, Tucker nodded. "Yeah, totally. So... um, how is Lancer, anyway?"
"They admitted him for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion," Jazz replied. "He should be fine... back at school in a day or so, tops."
"Good," Phantom sighed. "I may not LIKE the guy, but he doesn't deserve Shadow's idea of payback."
Sighing, Fenton sat up, dropping his feet over the side of his bed. "Okay, so we all spent the day doing research... and in some cases, avoiding becoming flambé, so... time for an info dump. I went down to the lab and Xeroxed my notes while waiting for you guys so... if you'll all consult your handouts?"
Violet eyes rolled. "Danny, do not even TRY to sound like Lancer. It's scary," Sam told him.
"Seriously, this is everything I got from Dr. M, and what I got from the library before it went up. I'd say it gives a pretty good overview of the situation, you know, leaving aside the whole question of ghosts."
Putting his tech toy aside for a second, Tucker dug several folders out of his own backpack. "Yeah, it fits pretty well with all the stuff I pulled up. Not to mention the stuff NYCGuy sent me."
"You sure you can trust this guy, Tucker?" Phantom asked, flipping through the folder he was handed.
"To know what he's talking about? Absolutely. To not cause any trouble with the whole kids and ghosts situation? Well... I think I'm gonna scrap the Ghosttech nick for a while, lay low under an alias. Just to see how it pans out."
Jazz blinked as she paged through the copies before her. "Refractive indices... crystallographic matrixes... Tucker, this reads like some of my mother's experimental notes!"
Tucker grinned slightly. "Yeah, those are in here too... managed to hack their study notes on the Gem downstairs. Basic break down? It's a prism, totally flooded with Ghost energy. An ectoplasmic signal sent through it gets broken into its component parts. One ghost hybrid becomes three personalities, two in ectoplasmic bodies."
"That fits with what I could find out about the Gem in the history sections at Chicago Paranormal," Sam agreed. "Your mom was right, Danny, it IS Sumerian. It was created to 'help troubled spirits find their peace.' Most historical references indicate it was used to treat demonic possession, among other things. It was discovered on a dig in Iran in 1997, made the rounds of a few small exhibitions and then was sold to a private collector. Last record of it was... two months ago, a sale to another private collector... through a corporate intermediate. Three guesses on the company name."
"The Dalv Group," Fenton replied, looking like he'd bitten into a lemon.
That got an odd look from Jazz. "The company that sent you and Mom to that seminar?"
"It wasn't a seminar. It was a setup," Phantom spat. "Vlad Masters is obsessed with Mom... and he's also a ghost hybrid like me. He's tried three times now to kill Dad... that invite was to get us out of the house and up at his little retreat so he could try to buy us while his monsters took care of things here."
"Eww." Jazz made a face. "I knew he was slimy, but... ew."
Suddenly an evil smile spread across Phantom's face. "But I think this time he's bitten off a LITTLE more than he can chew..."
"What are you talking about?" Fenton asked.
"Think about it. Dash, Paulina, Lancer... who else do we hate? Actually, who's the ONLY person we really hate?"
Fenton's jaw dropped. "Oh Geez... he's gonna go after Vlad. Heck, the only reason he hasn't done it yet is probably because he wasn't STRONG enough yet!"
"Yep." The evil grin got wider. "Wonder if we'll see the fireworks from here?"
"Are you NUTS?" The dark-haired boy's pitch was rising fast. "We can't let him kill Vlad!"
"Sure we can. Heck, I'll bring popcorn."
Fenton leapt off the bed to stand facing his other half. "No! If we let that thing fry Vlad, we'll be as bad as he is! We didn't... this isn't just about saving people we LIKE. Yeah, Vlad's a monster, but the moment we start deciding who's WORTH helping, we start turning into him!"
For a long moment, blue eyes locked with green, a silent contest of wills being waged. Then Phantom sighed, gaze sliding away.
"All right, all right. But I don't have to like it."
Tucker frowned, looking at Jazz. "Why do you look like you just solved a riddle?"
The redhead smiled. "Because I think I have. Danny, -- er, Danny Phantom. You said earlier that you hadn't met more than one ghost who was GOOD, rather than just neutral and wanting to be left alone... right?"
"Yeah," the white-haired teen replied, arms folded over his chest. "So?"
"SO, this explains a lot about ghosts, not to mention your current state. Ghosts... Ghost lack empathy. They don't have a capacity to really identify with other people, to put themselves in other shoes. I mean... most ghosts are obsessive, right? Focused on one thing so strongly, it keeps their personalities together even when their bodies are gone. That's a state that naturally leads to empathy-blindness anyway. When your whole existence is centered on one desire... there's no room for anything else."
Both Dannys blinked at her.
"Okay, getting what you're talking about," Fenton commented. "Hey... Is that why Vlad--"
"No." Phantom interrupted harshly. "Don't go feeling sorry for Vlad because of his accident. It might have made him more prone to obsession, but he's the one who let himself stew for twenty years. And he's the one who decided it was worth killing someone who'd never threatened him, just to get what he wanted. The accident left him as much human as ghost; he's the one who chose to turn his back on that."
The dark-haired teen winced. "Okay, point taken. But Jazz, I still don't get why this is such a revelation about our current state..."
"Because, Danny, you're a Fenton, and-- including myself and Mom in this generalization-- Fentons are prone to obsession ANYWAY. I'm not always rational on the subject of psychology, I know. And I've seen how you've been since the accident... you can get so single-minded on catching ghosts, you forget everything else. Sometimes you even forget to eat! And I know it's messed with your school life... Admit it. On some level, sometimes... haven't you wanted this? To be able to just... throw off the whole Danny Phantom thing? To push away your dark side, and your ghost side, and just go back to being regular old Danny Fenton? Or to chuck the "regular" life and hunt full-time?"
The two hybrids exchanged glances. "Sometimes," Phantom said slowly. "Not often, but... when we're frustrated with one life or the other..."
With a bitter laugh, Fenton fell back onto his bed. "After all these run-ins with Desiree, you think I'd remember to be careful what I wished for..."
Sam and Tucker had been silent during this conversation, content to watch the back and forth like spectators at a tennis match. Finally, Sam broke the quiet.
"Okay, so... we've got a pretty good idea now what happened and why. Any ideas on fixing it? Tucker, you killed a forest for that e-mail your friend sent, so what does it say?"
"In layman's terms?" Tucker pushed his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose. "Basically, the working theory is that the Gem of Souls acted as a prism to split Danny's ecto-signature into three. To recombine them, we've got to reflect the three signatures back through. There's a lot of stuff on crystalline matrices in here, but I'll sum up... We're gonna need corundum. Three fairly big spires of it."
"Cor-What?" Fenton asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Corundum," responded Jazz. "Sapphire. Or ruby, if it's red. There's no WAY we can afford huge spires of that stuff!"
"I know. The synthetic stuff is slightly cheaper, and would actually be better for our purposes, since they can grow it big and free of flaws, but... still, way out of our price range."
Sam looked thoughtful. "Tucker? WHO can grow synthetic corundum?"
"Industrial people, usually... it's really good, hard stuff, useful in manufacturing, as well as jewelry. Why?
That got a groan from Fenton. "Industry? Oh, Sam, you're not thinking..."
"You have a better idea? I can't get us a huge ruby spire."
"We can't. I'm not willing to pay his price."
Phantom chuckled. "So, make him pay ours."
Blue eyes gave him a puzzled glance. "Excuse me?"
"Simple. He helps us stop Shadow... or Shadow fries him. It's in everybody's best interests."
Fenton frowned, but nodded. "Okay... so, how are we going to get to Wisconsin?"
"We're not. I'm gonna take a shortcut... You need to stay behind and guard the portal. I don't trust Shadow not to figure out the same things we have."
"The portal," Sam broke in. "You're going through the Ghost Zone?"
Phantom nodded. "Vlad said he had a portal... it blew up, but he had one. There's still got to be a thin spot where it was. Believe me, it'll be a LOT faster than going as the crow flies."
"You're sure you can find it?" Tucker asked, concerned.
"One minor upside to dumping a lot of my human qualities... I'm much more sensitive to ghost energy by now. And Vlad leaves a trail like a tanker truck. Yeah, I can find him. Though I may need a bath afterwards."
Tucker nodded. "Okay. You go recruit him... I'll start drawing up the plans for our trap. And Danny... You're going to have to bring him with you. I think we're going to need him."
Phantom made a face, but agreed.
"Okay, here's the weak spot..." he muttered, examining the air before him. Though invisible, the flaw in the dimensional fabric was obvious to anyone whose senses were attuned to the flow of energy. Closing his eyes, Danny reached out, emerald ectoplasm glowing around his hands. Slowly, carefully, he began to separate the threads before him until he'd opened a rift just big enough for him to pass through. Stepping into the real world, he hastily closed the hole behind him, not wanting anything ELSE to take advantage of it and try to break through.
A quick glance at his surroundings showed he was in some sort of lab. It bore a very superficial resemblance to the one his parents had created, though there was a sterile, unwelcoming feeling he never got at home.
"Huh... guess I should have figured he'd rebuild in the same place... maybe he knows about the weak spot too..."
Gingerly, Phantom made his way out of the lab and through the silent corridors of the mansion. Just because Vlad had never had guards before didn't mean he didn't have them now, and there was always the chance that Skulker had dropped in for one of their little tech-sharing sessions. Or those vultures... not that they were a real threat to him, since any more they just tended to scream and run when they saw him, leaving shed ectoplasmic feathers in their wake. But they WOULD raise the alarm, and he wanted, for once in his life, to catch Vlad by some semblance of surprise.
It wasn't hard to find Vlad's study, either. The nerve center of the house, it was where the older hybrid spent most of his time... which meant it practically glowed with Vlad's presence. Throwing open the door, Danny marched in, noting with a quickly suppressed flicker of satisfaction the startled look on Masters' face. To his credit, the businessman recovered quickly, though, folding hands on top of his ornate desk.
"Ahh, Daniel. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" the millionaire smirked.
"Cut the snow job, Plasmius," Danny snapped, leaning against the desk. "I know you too well to think you haven't been watching the results of your little 'gift' to us. Enjoying the show?"
Leaning back in his chair, Masters smiled nastily, fingers steepled in front of him. "It's been... enlightening, to say the least. Some of the consequences were quite surprising."
Phantom snorted. "I bet. Starting to realize you might have bitten off more than you can chew? Look, I'll make this quick-- We need to get back together. For that, we need you. And it's in YOUR best interests to get us that way. Because sooner or later, our Shadow's going to decide he's strong enough to come after you. If you don't help us put him away... he will kill you. And I won't lift a finger to stop him."
Black brows arched. "You assume I can't deal with him myself."
"You can't," the teen replied flatly. "You're a rational thinking being. There's only so far you can push yourself before you shut down. That thing you let out of our head? It's hate, Masters. Nothing but pure emotion and the desire to tear you into little pieces for all the pain you've caused. It will keep coming, no matter what you throw at it. And sooner or later, you WILL go down. So your choices are simple. You help us... or you die. What's it going to be?"
Masters' amused expression only deepened. "What do you need from me?"
"To start with, three shafts of synthetic corundum, prism cut... one each in red, green, and blue. Each three inches long, cross-section of an inch square."
"That's quite expensive, Daniel... not to mention difficult to get quickly."
Danny rolled his eyes. "You'll get 'em back when we're done... and oddly enough, I've got the feeling you've already got something along those lines just lying around."
"You may be correct, at that," the older man chuckled. "Very well... what else?"
"I'm going to need you to come back to Amity Park with me... You're part of the trap, unfortunately. But I swear, Plasmius, if you even TWITCH wrong, I will blast you into the afterlife and figure out how to replace you, clear?"
Another chuckle. "As crystal," he answered, picking up the phone. "Now, if you'll give me a moment... I must make a few calls and prepare the helicopter. Then we'll be on our way."
Tucker and Jazz were talking about something quietly, a notebook full of diagrams between them. Sam, meanwhile, was curled up in a chair, taking advantage of the lull to get deeper into the notes Tucker had put together. Danny was fully comfortable admitting that his two best friends were both smarter than he was, so if Sam could actually make headway on those notes without a tutor, that was great. He was just going smile, nod, and stand where Tucker told him to.
Footsteps on the stairway caused all four teens to look up, tensed for a confrontation. Almost instantly they relaxed again, the heaviness of the tread identifying the intruder immediately.
Entering the lab, Jack Fenton stopped dead for a second, blinking at the unaccustomed sight of both his children actually in there of their own volition. He quickly shrugged it off, however, turning to his son.
"Danny! I'm glad you're down here... there's something I wanted to give you." Not waiting for an answer, the large man strode over to one of the cabinets along the wall, throwing the doors open. He dug around for a few moments, then pulled out one of the ubiquitous hazmat jumpsuits that always seemed to be found around the family.
"Here," he instructed, tossing the suit to Danny. "Try this on, will you?"
"Oh man, this again?" Danny muttered under his breath. "Well, at least it's in my size..."
The suit went on easily enough, but even as he zipped it, Danny could feel that it wasn't like the suit he'd had on the day of the accident, or the ones his parents usually wore. It seemed... thicker, somehow, a bit less flexible. He was surprised to see that the accents, usually black on most of the family's outfits, were instead a crystal blue color. Flexing his fingers experimentally in the stiff gloves, he looked up at his Dad.
"Okay... Dad, what IS this?"
"Nomex," his father replied absently, still rummaging in the cabinet. "Flame retardant, rated up to a hundred degrees Celsius. Ah, here we go!" From the metal shelves, he pulled several pieces of blue plastic, followed by a tangle of blue straps and plastic tanks.
"Allow me to present-- the Fenton Fire-Fighting Suit!" The big man gestured expansively, causing Tucker to duck as the tanks sliced through the space his head had recently occupied. "For pesky lab fires and pyrokinetic ghosts! The helmet's got a respirator built in, and a Plexiglas face shield, the harness is Kevlar with two tanks loaded with fire suppressant foam, and the gauntlets link up to the tanks. The foam comes out of the nozzles on the back of the hand, see? Here, try the rest of it on."
Carefully, Danny donned the rest of the suit, marveling at how well the components fit. The tanks were a bit heavy, but the harness distributed the weight well enough that he didn't feel strained or off-balance. The hose from the tanks to his gauntlets strapped easily onto the arm, keeping it from interfering with ease of movement. Donning the helmet, he was pleased to see that it didn't interfere with his field of vision at all, even if the respirator did make his breathing echo harshly in the metal-walled lab.
"Luke, I am your father," he intoned, earning him a punch to the shoulder from Sam, and simultaneous eye-rolls from Jazz and Tucker. Pulling the helmet off, he looked up with a grin.
"Dad, this is great! But... why did you make it in MY size? I mean... not that it's not COOL, but..."
Jack's gaze slid towards the ground, as he raised one hand to massage the back of his neck. "Well, you've been spending a lot of time down here lately... And it's easy enough to make a set of tanks someone my size can carry, so I thought it would be better to work on miniaturizing the stuff, and... well... Hey! It's almost time for 'Ghost Hunters of America' to come on! Your mother will be waiting for me." And despite his size, Jack Fenton almost FLEW up the lab stairs, leaving four incredulous stares in his wake.
Tucker blinked. "WHAT was all THAT about?"
"Well, he and Mom were pretty freaked out when they heard Danny was at the library when the fire broke out," Jazz replied. "Maybe he wanted to make sure you could handle it if something happened again?"
"Then why wouldn't he just SAY that?" Sam asked.
Danny studied the helmet in his hands for a long moment. "He doesn't know what's going on," he said slowly. "I think he's figured out just enough to know something's wrong, and that we're all in it up to our eyeballs. But after that incident with Plasmius and the bounty on my head... he doesn't want to jump to any conclusions. So..."
"So he gives you a suit that'll help, and butts out, because he knows you won't give him a straight answer," Jazz finished. "Wow. Dad CAN be taught."
Her brother rolled his eyes. "Ja-azz. Lay off, will ya? He's not--" The rest of Danny's sentence was cut off by the sound of an explosion.
"What was THAT?" the redhead gasped, eyes wide.
"Car," Tucker replied.
"Engine block overheated," Sam added.
"And... we have been doing this too long if we can tell all that from the sound," Danny sighed, putting his helmet back on. "You guys STAY HERE. I'm going to go see what our friend wants."
Five seconds after he'd ascended the stairs, Sam, Jazz, and Tucker exchanged glances. "Yeah, RIGHT," they declared, in unison. Quickly, they headed up the stairs after him.
"I told you to stay inside," he said flatly, not even looking at her as she came up beside him.
"Yeah, and I ignored you. I hate to tell you this, Danny, but you're not in any condition to be pulling this self-sacrificing hero stuff right now. Besides... we're probably safer from it than YOU are, right now."
He shook his head slowly, still scanning the street. "No, Sam. You're not. This thing isn't just anger, although that's been the main thing it's been expressing. It's emotion, desire, wants... and I WANT my friends. It will, too."
"So... why's it basically been playing Firestarter up 'til now?"
"Anger's easy," he replied absently. "It's fast. Strong. It's probably taken longer for the other desires to settle out, like when you stir up the mud in a lake. Which means it's going to get more dangerous, Sam. Go back inside."
She rolled her eyes, moving to better cover his back. "Right."
An acidic, thick odor suddenly assaulted her nose, causing her to double over in the grip of a coughing fit. It was like the smell of the road on a hot day, only a hundred times stronger. There was a hissing zip, and a line of flame suddenly raced down the road, detonating beneath Danny's feet as if a fuse had reached the heart of a bomb. Chunks of asphalt sprayed everywhere, and Sam nearly choked on her scream as Danny flew through the air, crashing into one of the cars that lined the street. Bonelessly, he flopped to the ground and lay still.
Sam tried to call to him, but the smell was thicker now, the miasma making it difficult to even breathe. She wanted to run to him, but the lines of flame were spreading all over the road now, cutting her off from Danny, from Tucker, from Jazz, penning each of them into their own little islands in the maze of burning asphalt. Turning away from the thick, acrid smoke, she stopped dead in shock, as a section of the pavement began to shine with a malevolent red light. And slowly, like some twisted Venus emerging from the waves, Shadow rose through the pavement, solidifying to hover a few feet before the shocked girl.
Unconsciously, Sam took a step back, wincing slightly as the heat behind her reminded her of the flaming barriers hemming her in. There was nowhere to go, and Shadow was looking at her with the type of expression Danny usually reserved for an extra-large pizza with the works. The girl swallowed hard, straightening her spine and raising her chin.
"Get away from me." She was absurdly proud of the firmness in those words.
"Why? Don't be afraid of me, Sam... I won't hurt you. You or Tucker. Why would I? You're practically the only ones who care about me these days."
Sam folded her arms. "You're not Danny. You're not REAL. Danny, the whole person, wouldn't be doing this! He wouldn't be trying to hurt people because they hurt him once, or because they got in his way..." Shaking her head, the Goth let herself trail off. Trying to reason with Shadow was impossible. It was like trying to use logic on a toddler. All it understood was "want" and "take."
"Sam... Don't you understand? I want... I want to share this with you. I know how much you've dreamed of flying with me. You can have this too... both of you. I know HOW now..."
Looking away from her, the hybrid sought out Tucker with scarlet eyes. "Tuck... I KNOW you want this. We've been together forever... we've shared everything. I want to share this with you too."
The other boy had already removed his glasses, due to heat-induced fogging, but his green eyes were harder than Sam had ever seen.
"I've already BEEN you. It nearly destroyed me. If Danny hadn't pulled me through that Dreamcatcher, I would have been worse than dead. I wouldn't have been human. I'm not dumb enough to do that again, no matter how much I sometimes might wish I could. Besides... it keeps coming back to what Sam said. You're not Danny. You're not a whole person. And we're both going to keep trying until you, ALL of you, are back together, the way you belong."
With a feral snarl, Shadow began to glow again, raising red-gloved hands as flame began to play around them. "Fine then! If you're not with me... then you're going to have to DIE!"
Before he could launch the fireball he was summoning, however, Shadow caught a face-full of suppressant foam, knocking him out of the air and dissipating the flames harmlessly.
"I'd like to venture a second opinion on that," Danny Fenton declared, pushing himself to his feet. He seemed a bit weak, but his stance and his voice were firm.
"Danny!" Jazz cried, from where she'd taken shelter by the house stairs. "You're okay!"
"I have a killer headache, but I'll live," her brother replied wryly. "Remind me to thank Dad for this helmet."
Tucker shot an apprehensive glance at Shadow, who had cleared the foam from his face and was standing, expression darker than a thundercloud. "That's if we live that long, you mean," the tech replied nervously.
Fenton growled, scanning the street. "Too much property, too many people... I've gotta lead him somewhere there'll be less collateral damage. You guys WAIT HERE... when Phantom gets here, tell him to meet us in the park."
"The park?" Sam blinked. "Danny, pyro ghost plus trees? BAD combination."
"Trees grow back, Sam," he replied, his voice diamond hard. "People don't. Besides, we've had a lot of rain recently... the park should be too soggy for the flames to spread far. Now this time... STAY PUT!" And he ran off, his furious Shadow trailing behind him. The further they got, the lower fiery cracks in the pavement smoldered, until they went out all together.
She growled. "... He is SO going to pay for that when he gets his head together."
Sitting in the passenger seat of Vlad's helicopter, the young half-ghost frowned suddenly. It had never occurred to him before but... that was really weird, wasn't it? A forty-year-old man and a fourteen-year-old kid did not make a likely set of archenemies. Not that Danny'd really thought of himself as a kid until now, with the distance that the split caused. But dealing with Vlad... it wasn't like dealing with any other adult in his experience, and he didn't think it was entirely due to their shared abilities.
He treats you like an adult. The thought came out of the blue, against the throb of the rotors that echoed through the cabin. It was true. Oh, the older man was still arrogant and contemptuous of him, but he was that way of everyone, including Skulker, who was still on his payroll. But Vlad probably treated Danny more like an equal than anyone else he encountered, and oddly enough, with more respect than most people ever gave the teen.
You're dangerous. He knows it. Nobody else does, continued the little voice in his head. That was true. He COULD be very dangerous, if motivated. That wasn't something he really thought about when he was together, but with his emotions and "shoulds" separated out... Yes, he was dangerous. Sam and Tucker might know that as well, but other than the two of them... Vlad might be the only person who really saw Danny as he was. And THAT was a disturbing thought.
"We're less than ten minutes from Amity Park," Masters announced, breaking the silence. "You'd best start thinking about where you want me to set this thing down, Daniel."
Phantom grimaced. "Hold that thought." Pulling his cell phone out of a pocket, he flipped it open and hurriedly hit the speed dial.
"This better be important." Tucker's voice on the other end of the line sounded worried and frayed.
"Hello to you too. I've got Vlad and the gear, and we're about ... five minutes out of town. Where do you want us to set down?"
The camera on the phone showed Tucker pinching the bridge of his nose, obviously stressed. "You're in a helicopter, by the sound. Uh. There's a meadow in the park that SHOULD be big enough, assuming Vlad's a good pilot. Meet us there... Fenton and Shadow took the fight there about ten minutes ago, so that's probably the best place to set our trap anyway. And hurry... things are getting uglier by the minute." Unusually abrupt, Tucker cut the connection without another word.
"You got them?" Sam asked breathlessly, ignoring the millionaire in the pilot's seat.
"We got 'em," Phantom confirmed, holding up a metal briefcase. "Where's Tuck?"
Jazz fielded that one, still watching Vlad warily. "He's setting the trap. Come on... Danny Fenton's still distracting that thing, and I don't think we have much time."
The three teens hurried through the brush, Masters trailing slightly behind them, still wearing an expression of mild amusement. Jazz really didn't like turning her back on him, but she-- all of them-- had bigger things to worry about.
As they entered the second, smaller clearing, Tucker looked up from his work, green eyes lighting as he saw Phantom. "Hey," Tucker called, obvious relief in his voice.
"Hey," Phantom replied. "I see you've been putting my parents' stuff to good use. I recognize the extendable poles from the Fenton Collapsible Campsite, but... Dude, what IS that?"
"That" was a large three-sided pyramid made of extendable metal poles, standing at least seven feet high in the center. Two faces of the tetrahedron were covered with a fine metal mesh-- looking closer, Jazz realized it was chicken wire. The floor of the structure, under the dirt and leaves of the park floor, also was covered in chicken wire. At the apex of the assembly, held by a battery of clamps, was the quartz prism that had started the entire mess, hanging point down.
"This is our Danny trap," Tucker replied, with some pride. "Get those spires installed on the bottom corners, will you? There's clamps ready for them. I've just got a few more connections to make."
Opening the metal case, Phantom passed the green spire to Sam and the blue to Jazz, saving the red for himself. While the three teens quickly seated the gems in the waiting spaces, Vlad was examining the structure of the tetrahedron.
"A Faraday cage?" he asked, looking at Tucker with new respect. "Ingenious."
"Yeah, the design's from a friend of mine," Tucker replied carelessly, twisting two wires together. "
Vlad didn't answer, but from his expression, Jazz could tell that he was revising his opinion of the technician. Somehow, that wasn't a comforting thought. Absently, she slid a hand into her pocket, confirming that she still had her ace in the hole. She'd grabbed it before they'd left the basement to confront Shadow... just in case.
Phantom looked up from the crystal he was seating. "Okay, I'll bite. What's a Faraday cage?"
"A Faraday cage is a metallic enclosure that prevents the entry or escape of an electromagnetic field," Vlad replied, his tone lecturing. "It's been used by certain paranormal investigators to contain ghosts, since ghosts are basically electromagnetic fields as it is. I'd be interested to meet this... friend of yours, Tucker."
The teen snorted. "NO chance."
"Okay, we've got the gems settled," Sam reported, straightening. "What now?"
"Now, we charge them," Tucker replied. "Ectoplasmic charges, one of each color. See, from what research and experiments I've been able to do, the three basic ectoplasm colors relate to the body, mind, and soul divisions... at least in this case. Red is for the physical, material... obsessed with possessions, among other things."
Now VLAD snorted, but said nothing.
"Green's the mind, the ego... which is the reason most ghosts have that color. Blue's the soul, not a common thing for spirits to draw from, and the ones that DO are usually pretty weak. Anyway, we need to basically run ectoplasm of the right color through the crystal... it'll act as a storage battery for what we need."
Phantom shrugged, directing a beam of energy at the appropriate gem, Vlad following suit. That left only the blue crystal inert.
"Tucker?" Jazz asked. "How do you plan to charge that one? Danny-- Danny FENTON doesn't have any ectoplasmic abilities."
"Got it covered," the tech replied, brandishing his Fenton thermos. "Though you guys might want to stay back..." Twisting off the top, he pressed a button on the thermos' side, causing it to erupt in blue-silver light. Slowly, a black shape began to take form in the middle of the geyser of energy, coalescing into...
"I AM THE BOX GHOST! Master of all things Cardboard and Corrugated!"
Simultaneously, Jazz, Sam, and Vlad smacked their foreheads in disgust.
Tucker ignored them, concentrating on the spirit he had just released. "You remember what we talked about?"
"Yes! I, the Box Ghost, will keep my end of the bargain... but you had better keep yours or BEWARE!" Turning, the ghost directed a stream of blue ectoplasm at the sapphire, causing it to take on a glow similar to the other two.
"Great," Tucker replied. "There's a bunch of old packing crates on the other side of the lake. Knock yourself out."
"Yippee! Er... I mean, BEWARE!" With that, the ghost took off, quickly lost to sight among the trees.
Sam stared at her friend in obvious shock. "You BRIBED the BOX GHOST?"
"It worked, didn't it? Besides, my mom just told me to get rid of the crates, she never said HOW."
Phantom shook his head. "Okay, Tuck gets points for creativity. You guys wait here... I'd better go help Fenton."
"We told him we'd set off a flare when we were ready," Jazz responded, picking up the Fenton Flare Gun she'd brought from the lab. "You'll probably meet him on the way back."
The white-haired hybrid took a deep breath. "Okay... wish me luck."
It wasn't even ten minutes before the sound of crashing footsteps indicated that their quarry was headed back towards them. Fenton was in the lead, helmet gone, tanks discarded in his flight. Phantom followed directly on his heels. The two of them almost skidded into the cage, sliding to a stop beneath the Gem of Souls.
"Think... he'll realize this is a trap?" Fenton asked, panting.
"I don't think he's got enough brainpower right now to recognize a trap with a neon sign on it," Phantom replied. An animalistic howl cut off any further conversation, as a bolt of red plowed into Phantom, knocking them both to the ground.
"NOW!" Tucker yelled, hitting the button on his PDA. The last face of the tetrahedron sprang up from where it had been buried, slamming closed and completing the cage. The field hummed to life, as the three gems sent energy sluicing up into the prism hanging at the top of the cage. A brilliant white light filled the structure, three screams slowly fading and resolving into one voice. Then the scream cut off.
As the light faded, the four watchers saw only one form left in the cage, still except for his deep and ragged breathing. A slow, wicked smile crossed Vlad's face.
"Completely exhausted. Daniel, you really should learn to conserve your energy better." He took one step towards the cage... and stopped as Jazz spoke.
"Excuse me," she said, her voice level with a calm she didn't feel. "This is the Fenton Ghost Peeler. One of my dad's inventions that actually works. Really well, too. Now, I don't know what it'll do to a half-ghost... but I'd be more than happy to test it out on someone who isn't Danny."
The millionaire's gaze went from her, to the weapon in her hand, then back up. For a moment, he said nothing, then he laughed.
"Checkmate," he conceded, chuckling. "Very well... I'll just be going. Keep the gems... you might require them again. And... do let me know how Daniel's recovery goes?" With that parting shot, he turned and walked back through the trees, leaving the teens alone.
He wasn't three minds in three bodies anymore, but the question still remained, was Danny REALLY back together? She really hoped so. Ghost powers aside, none of Danny's three parts had been able to exist on their own. Phantom lacked empathy, Fenton lacked the necessary ruthless streak to be able to stop an enemy without worrying about causing pain. And neither of them had the sheer stubborn DRIVE that kept Danny from giving up, no matter how hard the going got. That, she had to admit, came from Shadow, the side of Danny who refused to ever accept losing as an option.
Absently, she reached out and brushed Danny's bangs back from his face, blushing suddenly as she realized what she was doing. Looking up, she caught Jazz studying her book intently, while Tucker flashed her a sly, "I saw nothing" smile before returning to his PDA. Well, fine. They both had their distractions... she could hover. After the mess they'd all just come through, she deserved it.
A soft groan and fluttering eyelids were the only warning Sam had, but they were enough to let her pull back to a slightly less maternal position before Danny woke. No sense embarrassing him further, after all.
The three teens gathered around the bed as Danny groaned again, then his eyes slid open, blue gaze drifting aimlessly across the three worried faces.
"Danny?" Jazz said anxiously. "Are you... okay?"
Danny's eyes focused, and a sudden spasm crossed his features. "BUCKET!" he demanded, sitting up with no real grace. Tucker quickly handed him his wastebasket, and Sam winced, trying not to listen as Danny lost what remained of his lunch.
"Take that as a 'no?'" Tucker asked hesitantly, once Danny's heaving had ceased.
Taking the paper towel Jazz offered him, Danny wiped his mouth, then gave the other boy a weary smile.
"Actually, it's a yes. Just... I've got three sets of memories from the past couple days. A lot of them have the same events seen through three sets of eyes. It's... kind of like vertigo. Don't worry, it's getting better... it's just going to take a couple days, probably."
Restraint, Sam decided, could just as well take a hike. She threw her arms around her oldest friend and hugged him for all he was worth. Danny didn't respond for a second, then his arms went around her and he hugged back just as tightly. No sooner had Sam released him than Jazz pounced, her embrace even tighter, if that were possible. Extricating himself from his sister's grasp, Danny cocked an eyebrow in Tucker's direction.
The other boy folded his arms across his chest. "Hey, I'm not THAT glad to see you, man!" But the smile on his face told a different story.
Danny laughed, and Sam drank in the sound, seeing him relaxed for the first time in days. Things were, if not totally back to normal, at least on their way, and she said as much.
"Mmm. Maybe not completely," Danny said, making a face. "Vlad knows Tucker's not just another pretty face now. Dash will, I hope, be a BIT more careful about who he picks on in the future, given some of the stuff Shadow said to him. And... Oh MAN, I forgot about Paulina." He buried his face in his hands.
Sam raised one eyebrow. This sounded promising. "What about Paulina, Danny?"
"Well... I kind of-- or rather, PHANTOM kind of chewed her up one side and down the other. Called her shallow, self-absorbed..." he shook his head. "Don't look so smug, Sam. I really hurt her."
Now THAT was the Danny she knew. "Danny, Paulina's self-esteem would take a grenade to permanently damage. If nothing else, her parents will shore her up, not to mention the rest of her little gang. Yeah, you hurt her, but she'll recover. She always does."
Danny smiled a little. "You think?"
"Well, look at the number of times she's stomped on YOUR ego, and you always go running back to her..."
"Okay, you're sounding more like Sam now," he replied wryly. "So... um, how long was I out? And Tucker, don't even THINK about trying to snow me this time..."
Jazz rolled her eyes, but fielded that question. "You've slept about five hours, Danny. More sleep than you've gotten in a few weeks, from the look of you. Don't worry about Mom and Dad... we gave them a very edited version of the truth."
The younger Fenton gave his sister a skeptical glance. "Do I even want to know what that would be?"
"Fire Ghost showed up, you took the Fenton Suit for a test drive, Inviso-Bill helped get the fire ghost put away for good," Sam replied. "Oh, and your mom wants to know how the suit performed, and your dad has said he thinks Inviso-Bill is a really dumb name. Again."
The black-haired boy yawned. "I have the initials DP splattered across my chest, stylized though they are... and people STILL think my name is Inviso-Bill? What is wrong with this town?"
"Come on, Danny, most people wouldn't figure out you were a ghost if the media didn't put it on a billboard for them," Tucker replied. "Thinking's too much work for them."
Sam had to stifle a giggle as Danny stared at Tucker, jaw hanging down. "Congratulations, Tucker, you sound like me. Sure you haven't changed your mind about going Goth?"
"Danny," Tucker said calmly, "I am going to hit Sam with your pillow. I hope you don't mind." And removing his beret and glasses, he did just that. Sam, of course, immediately grabbed the other pillow from the bed, and battle was joined. At some point, Jazz slipped out to her own room and retrieved weapons for herself and Danny, and soon the room was full of laughter, shrieks, and flying fuzz. Things might not be completely back to normal, Sam thought, but at least they were on their way.