Surprise! I bet you were all expecting an immediate follow up to last chapter. Nope! I'm a horrible person who hates continuity.
I don't have a lot to say that isn't in the bottom author's note. So I guess I'll just say
"You lived here?!" Trench asked incredulously, looking around me dumpy apartment with hoes in the walls. Courtney was looking on in fear, while Sam and Tucker alternated between glancing around and glaring at me. Dani was acting like it was perfectly normal, which was probably the thing that should have tipped me off the most.
"Well, I mean," I shrugged my shoulders at them, consciously having to stop my hand from going up to rub the back of my neck. I felt strangely defensive as they stepped further into the cramped, dirty, disgusting apartment. I could feel the judgement and pity radiating off of them, and pity was the last thing I wanted. Sure, I was only sixteen, but I was also half ghost. I could handle myself.
Danielle made a noise like stepped-on squeaky toy and we all turned to watch her scoop Nargle out of his box. He'd obviously been napping because his eyes opened in surprise as he surveyed the little girl cradling him in her arms with what I could swear was a confused expression. He burbled in complaint before shifting a little and basically melting into her arms. Danielle beamed at me like having a blob of what was essentially melted ectoplasmic ice cream in her arms was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
"What is that?" Courtney asked, eyes narrowing as she took a half step back.
"Nargle," I replied casually. "He's my little buddy."
Courtney turned and looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Sam, Tucker, and Trench did the same, though to a lesser extent. I shrugged at them defensively and ducked away from their gaze, walking over to one of the few NASA posters I had brought along. I turned my arm intangible up to my elbow and reached through the wall, groping around a little before my fingers settled on one of the three bottles of ectoplasm I had left.
"I am never going to get used to that," Trench declared, and I turned to smile at him.
"You'd be surprised," Sam muttered, leaning against one of the walls. "Eventually, Danny's freakiness just becomes your new normal."
"Hey!" I shot back at her, fake-pouting. She made a mock of my face and I grasped at my chest, feigning pain. She rolled her eyes as Tucker, Trench, and Courtney giggled.
"Seriously though, dude," Tucker began, gesturing to our surroundings as I gave Dani the half-filled bottle. "You could have done better than this. I thought you said you were legally emancipated."
"It's kinda hard to find a job when you're constantly catching thieves," I replied, shrugging. "I wasn't going to ask any of you guys for money, that wouldn't be fair, and I definitely wasn't going to steal it. How hypocritical would that be?"
They all gave half-hearted snorts at that, but I could tell their hearts weren't really in it. "Look," I said, giving them a serious face. "I can handle myself. I'm a legally emancipated sixteen year old who handles his own money, buys groceries, and happens to be half ghost just in case. If nothing else I could have survived off of ectoplasm, or the bad school lunches."
"Kinda looks like your ectoplasm supply is running low," Dani said, looking up at me with eyes the same hue as mine. I frowned at her as Sam crossed her arms, and Dani pressed her lips together to keep from giggling.
"If we are babying anybody, it should be you," I retorted, giving her a meaningful look. Dani rolled her eyes at me, but I was perceptive enough to notice the tug at the corner of her lips and the hope in the back of her eyes.
"Yeah," Trench agreed. "You never did tell us how a tiny female version of you came to be."
Dani flinched slightly in the corner of my eye, and a wave of sympathy and regret for ever letting her wander off on her own washed over me. I gritted my teeth and looked back at Trench. "It's a long story." I tried to keep my tone light, but evidently everybody got the message loud and clear, we weren't going to talk about that any more.
"I'm still getting my head around the whole half-ghost thing," Courtney said, looking at me. "And the fact that you've been Phantom this entire time. I mean, we never really talked about it. Like, at all. I still feel like I need a longer explanation."
I sighing, pushing a hand over my face and tangling my fingers in my bangs. My head tilted back and my eyes opened so all I saw was my out-of-focus arm, too close to my face, and the dank ceiling above me. My arm dropped back to my side. "I don't even know where to start. The portal incident, the ghost attacks, Veritonee-" my voice cracked on that last name.
I didn't know if he was alive or not, or what had happened to that crazed lunatic at all. The official government had only started to acknowledge my existence as Phantom when they verified that Amity Park was indeed infested with "ghosts", not just a tourist trap. I'd managed to make it off their radar in the same breath because I'd gotten Veritonee for them with minimal damage, but that didn't mean I was their friend or anything. They said they might need me as a witness, but I had a hard time believing any lawyer in their right mind would take that case, which meant that a lawyer would be state-issued. The case would probably be open and shut, if it hadn't been already. I would never know what would happen to him.
Then again, I might have to take a step in when the government was figuring out how exactly to address the whole ghost issue. I wouldn't really mind lurking in the background and the shadows as Phantom forever, unacknowledged, but if they tried to invade the ghost portal like the GiW did, I would have no choice. There were good ghosts and neutral ghosts in the zone, and even Skulker didn't deserve annihilation, though he did deserve a good kick in the ass. But what would happen if I was called to front...
"Danny!" I snapped out of it, and saw Sam's pretty violet eyes staring into mine. "Are you alright?"
"Sorry," I broke my gaze with hers and looked down at the ground. Even without looking I could feel her gaze narrowing. She suspected a lot of my plan that I hadn't shared, but I hoped she wouldn't try to stop me. I just wanted these people safe, and honestly, I didn't know if I was really ready to commit to a relationship, even with Sam, without figuring out who I was becoming, at least a little more. "Just a little distracted, I guess."
"Veritonee," she repeated, and we all pretended like we didn't hear her voice quiver, just a little, when she did. "It always comes back to him, doesn't it. And that's exactly what his goal was. Attention."
Tucker huffed. "Could you two take a few steps back so I don't feel like I need to leave the room?" The tension broke, which was probably his intention all along, and Sam shuffled back, sending a quick glare his way.
"I-" she started, biting her lip and determinedly staring me down. "I know what your plan is."
"What?" Courtney asked in a confused tone, glancing back and forth between Sam and I.
"I know what your plan is," Sam repeated, her gaze finally breaking as she glanced to the left. "And I know I can't stop you."
In all honestly, she probably could stop me. Sam was a powerful force, a hurricane, or a diamond. A diamond that was beautiful, but would never give, no matter what pushed against it. If she didn't want me to leave, I wouldn't be able to.
"But...?" I found myself saying, looking at her intensely. It hardly felt like there were other people in the room, but it would be inappropriate if all of them weren't.
"But I want you to think it through!" she snapped, turning her indigo glare back to me. "Look, Danny. Look around you! You've run out of ectoplasm, you've run out of money, and you've run out of food. This is where you lived for, what? Three months? Four? I'm not calling your plan stupid. I know you're responsible enough to handle yourself and wherever you go, whichever city you decide to fix up next, you'll be good for. But I'm asking you to consider if it will be good for you."
"I-" I began, trying to defend myself, but she was having none of it. "Look, Danny. Really look! If you were a normal person you would be starving! I know you always care about the good of the city, but I- but we care about the good of you, because somebody has to. But when you leave me- leave us, there's nobody there to make sure you're taking care of yourself, and that doesn't just mean eating habits, but also living quarters, sleeping hours, social time, and friends. Courtney and Trench, don't get me wrong, you guys are great, but you didn't know! Danny, I know you're responsible. You're the most responsible person I know. And you feel responsible for everything. Everything, except yourself."
I didn't know what to say. I would have defending myself if she was saying I didn't feel responsible for my actions, but that wasn't what she meant and we all knew it. I also knew they could see how thin I had gotten, how I didn't have any fat on my bones anymore, just muscle. I could see the fear in the back of Sam's eyes, and Tucker, and Courtney and Trench, too. Dani didn't understand, she'd been living like that for, well, almost her entire life. That was the most important part, and it struck me suddenly, uncontrollably. The way I worried about Dani, how I wondered about her, and was so anxious all the time when I thought about her. That's what I was doing to my friends, because that's how I'd been living.
"I'm sorry," I muttered, because a simple apology really wasn't going to do it. "I promise I'll do better, Sam. I really will."
"Wait, next city?" Trench jumped in, and I closed my eyes, waiting for it. "You're not staying here? I thought you would join the Titans."
"That's not exactly the plan..." I mumbled hesitantly, refusing to look his direction, instead choosing to examine my feet.
"Well then what is the plan," Courtney demanded, crossing her arms in a no-nonsense kinda way. I sighed again, heavily, and inhaled deeply before beginning.
"I'm still looking into cities, really," I began. "But honestly, Happy Harbor, Rhode Island is looking pretty promising, just for the sheer amount of super villains it gets attacking everything for no discernible reason."
"So you're not staying at all, then," Courtney clarified. I nodded reluctantly.
"I'm not ready to settle down, yet. I like what I was doing in Jump, I really do. I wish I could help in a more legal way, but teaming up with somebody isn't something I feel like I would welcome right now. The Titans gave me one of their little communicators. I'm an 'honorary Titan' now, which will probably do a lot for me legally, at least I hope. That, and my status earlier as Amity Park's superhero will probably get me pardon with the media. I just hope I'm not crowded everywhere I go with white hair.
"What I want to do is basically what I did before. I don't have much of a reason to stay here anymore, because although I love you guys as my friends, I don't know if Phantom would be so needed here anymore, if my plan goes as I want. I'd need to find a new city to fight for. And I will, and I'll do my best to handle not only super-villains, but thieves who have no reason to be stealing, and more criminal people, like murderers and such.
"As for Jump City, well, I'm pretty sure they'll still have one Phantom watching over them," I sent a quick glance to Danielle. "Dani and I seem to be switching positions. I'm going off on my own, doing my own thing." I also added "trying not to starve", but decided against it after a look at Sam's face. "Meanwhile Dani will stay here and be mentored by the Titans, both with fighting and with powers. I have a feeling she'll learn a lot, and she can help them with the city while learning.
"Sam and Tucker will go back with the rest of the Amity Park people, to their own homes and moderately new lives, and I doubt anybody here will really miss me, besides you two. You guys can go back to how your lives were before I came along, and I'll contact you all as frequently as possible with the Nokia Sam bought me," I help up the unbreakable phone as evidence. We'd already thrown it at a couple buildings and accidentally broken a window (oops), plus Sam had gotten me a couple, just in case.
"I'm pretty sure everybody leaves happy," I concluded. "Courtney, Trench, I'll visit a lot. Sam and Tucker can tell you my flying speeds and such. I guess maybe I'll drop by Dash's every once in a while when I visit you, too, as Fenton, naturally, because he seems like he's a lot nicer than before."
"What was he like before?" Trench asked curiously. Dani, Tucker, Sam, and I all glanced at each other before shutting up.
"Anyway," I continued after a small silence. "I brought you all here, really, to say goodbye."
"What?" Tucker asked quickly, giving me a hard look. I scratched my neck.
"I wanted to explain the plan to you, and then say bye. I already said it to all of the Amity people, and Jazz. The Titans too. I felt like I needed to be more personal with you guys, and I wanted to introduce Danielle to Nargle, 'cause she agreed to take care of him for me." Dani beamed and snuggled the little ghost monster closer to her. "This is it, for now. You all know what's going to happen. I'm leaving to find a new home, Dani's going to become a Titan, Sam and Tucker are going to go back to their families, and you two," I looked at Courtney and Trench. "Well, you're staying here with your families. This is the end, really, and the beginning. I'm off, I guess this is goodbye, for now."
"Really?" Courtney asked softly, her voice quavering, and I was surprised when she suddenly reached out and pulled me into a strong hug, which was quickly joined by Trench, Tucker, Sam, and Dani (plus Nargle) in that order. I couldn't say how long we stood there, it seem ed like a really long time, but when we parted I wasn't the only one with tears forming in my eyes.
"Goodbye," somebody whispered, I didn't know if it was one person, or all of us. I tearily saluted them, and then backed up, transformed, and well through the wall. I waved at them through the window, would the goodbyes ever really end, before propelling my body upward. I had a few things on my checklist. Visit my parents, who would be happy to see me and happy to produce ectoplasm and money, and I would probably spend a week or more with them, getting that family feeling back, having food forced upon me by my mom (ahh, the good old days) and telling them everything, as well as packing up some important stuff and finding a new city, if I wasn't totally sure about Happy Harbor. Then I would set off for said new city, and I would try to keep in touch with them like I had failed to do before. This was the end of this adventure, but the start of a new one.
With one last glance at the city below me, I heated my hands up with warm ectoplasm and tried a trick I had only learned recently. Zero-gravity ectoplasm. Since ectoplasm was what ghosts were made of, it should have the same qualities, especially when it came from a powerful ghost like me. Who said it couldn't?
Ten minutes later, I floated back and admired my handiwork, smirking genuinely. Then, I turned (ghost)tail and began my long flight to Arkansas, where I was to meet my parents with Aunt Alicia, leaving a giant "Later!'" floating over the city, written in signature green ectoplasm.
That's the end, that's all there is. No sequel in the foreseeable future, that might change. I feel the need to say no sequel because I couldn't resist making a few Young Justice notes in there. But maybe I'll make this clear, again, I have no sequel planned. I'd like to give big thanks to anybody and everybody who reviewed on this story, because, like many other writers, your thoughts and commentary kept me going AND kept me growing. In that large gap where I stopped updating, I feel the need to let you know I DID consider discontinue this story, but I didn't want to disappoint anybody. Let it be know that I started this story when I was really young and overly excited, and I never really intended for it to be as large and as popular as it got. I really love that everybody was so nice to me about it, and I hope you all enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Reading Veritonee over, I love seeing how I grew and changed and how my writing did the same. Each and every one of you meant something to me, even those that didn't follow, or favorite, or review. Thank you SO MUCH because you guys kept me going. And the completion of this story means a lot to me, not only because it showed me that I CAN finish things, which I've always had a problem with, but reading it over, it shows me that my writing won't ever stop growing and getting better, and that even if I hate my work, that doesn't mean others will. You guys rock, and I hope I can write something else that makes you all as happy as this did, someday.
Now, in less seriousness, I'd like to inform everybody that I do take one-shot requests, PM me (please don't do it through review) or if you see me on tumblr, so it there. I may or may not do it. Depends on my mood, motivation, and how much I connect with the idea (if I don't, it's not your fault, my writing muse is very touchy-feely).
I guess this is where I say "Until Next Time" but there is no next time, is there? Well, there is a next time for other fics, right?
UNTIL NEXT TIME!