Chapter 3: Hereafter
"Wow." was all Jack Fenton could say after Tucker, Sam and Jazz finished their tale, and Maddie was just sitting in her seat, stunned into silence.
"My goodness, this is so much to absorb." She gasped, putting a gloved hand to her temple, feeling a headache coming on.
"Tell me about it." The three young adults agreed together, then giggled at the timing.
"There's still a few blank spots, though." Tucker admitted. "I have no idea when Danny changed, how he got some of his newer abilities, or what 'Ghost Puberty' is." He looked to Sam, but she shook her head. She didn't know either.
Suddenly a boy's head poked out of the Fenton Portal, a disarming smile on his face. "Maybe I can be of some help." He offered as he looked at the gathered humans.
"Ghost!" Jack and Maddie hollered at the same time, reaching for the closest ecto-weapons. Storm [for it was he] put his hands up in surrender.
"Hey, whoa-whoa! I come in peace!" He cried, looking honestly scared. This startled the adults, giving Storm time to explain himself. "I won't hurt you. I wanna help. Believe it or not, there are such things as 'good' ghosts in the Zone."
The Fentons slowly lowered their weapons, warily watching the boy as he floated out of the Portal completely and stood a few feet away from the group. He smiled shyly, waiting patiently for the oncoming deluge of questions.
Sam spoke up first. "Where is Danny? Is he safe? Is he all right?"
Storm smiled. "He's fine. Physically at least. He's been in the Zone for the last few days, sorting out some- um, personal issues." He elaborated. "I didn't ask, but he looked like he was really torn-up emotionally. I got the gist of it from Clockwork, though."
Tucker was next. "Who exactly are you?"
Storm smiled kindly again, though this time it was tinged with sadness. "My name is Storm, an' I have the ability to control electricity." He stated simply, refusing further explanation than that, even when prodded.
Maddie asked her question next. "How and when did Danny get all these new powers, and the new- look?" She asked, watching the spectral teenager carefully.
"I'm afraid I can only answer half that question, ma'am." Storm replied, looking sheepish. "How- I'm guessing- came from puberty. As for when, you'll hafta ask him when you see him again." He shrugged, indicating that he didn't know.
"He said when, not if-! That means Danny will come home!" Sam whispered, hope shining in her lavender eyes.
"Well, of course he'll come home! He lives here!" Storm laughed. "Humans don't belong in the Zone, just like ghosts don't belong here." He said this with a teasing smile, but everyone could see the sadness just under the surface. Storm was hurting too. Just like Danny.
"I guess it's up ta me ta ask the question on everyone's minds." Jack sighed after a minute. "What in the world is 'Ghost Puberty'?"
Storm smiled again, his eyes once again bright and cheerful. "Basically, it's just like puberty for humans, only it doesn't start at a certain age." He explained, pausing when he noticed Jazz writing it in her notebook. "Since ghosts don't age, it activates when they- we- reach a certain power level. Some don't change at all, an' some can change multiple times. Two examples would be Skulker an' Technus." He winced at the mention of the second name, but then continued.
"Skulker has reached the power levels many times in his long afterlife, but he never changes. He only upgrades that suit of armor. Technus- on the other hand- has changed his appearance several times as his levels increase." He provided, politely pausing to give Jasmine a chance to catch up.
"And then there are ghosts like Youngblood, Danielle and myself who haven't yet reached the necessary energy level." He finished. "Hence what I was doing in the park when Danny and I met." He glanced over at Tucker and Sam, and they realized that Storm was the one who'd set off Danny's 'Ghost Sense' during lunch a few days back.
"What were you doing?" Jazz asked out of curiosity, and Storm shrugged nonchalantly. "Crunches hanging from the monkey bars. Just working out." He answered, cool and calm as if he were commenting on the weather.
"Why were you in the park?" Maddie asked. "Why not the Ghost Zone?"
Storm rolled his eyes. "Because Ember was driving me crazy. I think she does it on purpose."
Jazz snickered. That sounded like Ember, all right. Something about this ghost seemed familiar, though. Like she'd seen him somewhere before. [He was actually one of her classmates at Casper High when he was alive.] He didn't give her a chance to figure it out, however, as he put one foot back into the portal. "If you ever have any more questions, feel free to ask me. I'll be around." And with that, he vanished back into the Ghost Zone.
Oh, Danny. Jazz thought to herself. I miss you. Please come home soon.
Said Halfa was currently flying over Amity Park- invisible- looking for any signs of trouble. He saw a robber being pushed into the back of a prison truck by two policemen and passed them by. No trouble there. He thought to himself as he flew on.
A few miles later, he saw a girl crying and pointing at a tree, where a small kitten was stuck on a high branch. He smiled softly and floated to the branch, grabbing the kitten gently and plucking it from the tree. He landed next to the girl and handed the pet to her, saying in his now-deep voice, "Here you go, kid." He smiled softly.
"Thank you, Mister Invisible-Man!" The girl giggled- looking in completely the wrong direction- her tears forgotten. Danny chuckled silently to himself and flew off, looking for more wrongs he could make right.
After a while of flying and performing various invisible acts of heroism, Danny heard a scream from the cliffs just outside of town. He gasped and shot off toward the noise, for he instinctively knew that someone there needed help.
Upon arrival, he immediately spotted the danger. A young boy- perhaps four or five years old- was clinging onto the side of the cliff over a 900 ft. [≈274.3 m] drop to the rapids below. Looking to the top of the cliff, he saw who had screamed. It was his fellow classmate, Star. The boy must be her brother, cousin or nephew. Danny guessed.
Flying below the edge of the cliff, Danny grabbed the child under the arms and turned visible so the boy wouldn't be frightened too much more than he already was. "It's okay." He reassured the boy. "I gotcha. Let go and I'll get you back to safety." The boy latched onto Phantom without hesitation seconds before the cliff-side gave way and crumbled, falling into the river. Star wailed, "No, Timmy!" but that was cut short when she spotted her brother and his rescuer. [Did you spot the reference? I'm not very subtle, am I? XD]
"He's okay." Danny answered, handing the boy back to his big sister. She gasped in disbelief. "Phantom?! Danny Phantom?!"
Danny smiled shyly. "Yeah. It's me." He blushed, ashamed. "Sorry about the- 'disappearing act' for the past few weeks." He apologized, turning to fly off.
"Wait!" Star shouted, and Danny froze. "Aren't you gonna let me- like- thank you?" She asked, and the Halfa smiled sheepishly, floating to the ground a few feet from her. She walked up to him slowly, then caught him off-guard by throwing her arms around him in a big hug.
"You- like- saved my brother's life." She cried, so happy that she was tearing up. "Thank you. Thank you!"
Danny chuckled once, embarrassed. Then he turned intangible and flew away from the girl, not used to such affection from someone other than Sam or his family. He smiled back at her, and just before he left she called, "Hey Phantom, I- like- love the new look! You- like- look more like a hero than ever now!"
Danny's eyes widened in surprise as Star and her kid brother left, not expecting anyone to say that ever again. The only time he could remember someone calling him a hero- well, someone he didn't know- was when he'd saved a school-bus full of kindergartners and the driver.
"Uh-" was all the teen ghost could say. He didn't feel very heroic, looking like this. But then he smiled at the compliment. "Thanks." Obviously some people didn't agree with his view of his new form.
"Let's see." Another teenage ghost mused as she flew over Elmerton, the town right next to Amity Park. "Yep. There it is. Fenton Works, straight ahead." She smiled as she prepared to blast off.
"Hold it right there, ghost-punk!" A familiar voice snarled, followed by the familiar whine of an ecto-weapon powering up. "Your vacation visa to the human world just expired!"
"Valerie?" The ghost-girl asked, turning around in midair.
The Red Huntress nearly fell off her board in surprise. "Danielle? Boy, did you grow up fast!" The young woman laughed, removing her helmet.
Dani giggled. "Yeah, I guess I did." She answered, rubbing the back of her neck sheepishly. "Can't believe three years could go by so quickly. Guess I've been busy." She laughed nervously.
She looks a lot like her cousin when she does that. Valerie smiled, glad to see the girl-Halfa again.
"What brings you to town, Danielle?" Valerie asked, finally stowing her ecto-gun. She had nothing to fear from this Phantom. [She has nothing to fear from the other Phantom either, but she doesn't know that.]
"I was just in the neighborhood and I decided to pop in on my favorite cousin Danny." The girl smirked, a glint of mischief in her green eyes.
"Well, who am I to stand in the way of a 'Phantom family reunion'?" Valerie grinned, winking conspiratorially at Dani. "Lead the way, kiddo!"
"Okay, Fenton Finder, time to check up on some other old 'friends'," Danny spoke, half to himself and half to his newest gadget on his wrist. "Search: Vlad Plasmius. Or Vlad Masters, whichever name you want since they're the same guy."
"Searching: Vlad Plasmius." The computer voice stated coolly, following its statement with a beep. "Search completed. Subject currently located in Ultra-Posh Poulter Heights, Wisconsin, USA."
"What?!" Danny cried. "But- b-but he's supposed to be stranded in space!" Suddenly his eyes flashed green. "This time I'll make sure he stays there!" He muttered to himself as he shot off toward the cheese capitol of the Midwest.
-Ultra-Posh Poulter Heights, WI-
"Alright, Froot-Loop. Show yourself!" Danny growled as he phased through the ceiling of the living room. A crackling fire was burning in the hearth and Vlad's custom-made swivel-armchair sat in front of it, its back to him.
"Come to kick a defeated, tired man when he's feeling down?" A sad voice sighed from the other side of the chair.
"Save your act, Vlad." Danny growled. "Everyone knows you're too far gone to change your spots now."
A weak, emotionless chortle. "Very aptly put, little badger. Once again, your witty remarks never cease to amuse me." Vlad applauded, but it was lifeless and sluggish. The man stood up and slowly turned around. "But as usual, you're sorely mistaken."
Danny gasped. "What happened to you?"
Vlad Masters looked a shell of his former self. His silvery-white hair was matted and unkempt, his beard was scraggly, and his eyes were dull and sunken. However, his robe looked fine.
"Let's just say I've had a long time to think about my life and reassess my priorities, Daniel. While you've clearly been very busy." His resigned sigh turned into a surprised statement- complete with raised eyebrow.
"Ghost Puberty." Danny shrugged. "I'm sure you've heard of it." He muttered, looking down in shame.
Vlad actually smiled. "My 'little badger' isn't so little anymore." He sniffed, feigning tears. "They grow up so fast." He sighed, pretending to wipe a droplet from his lower eyelid.
Danny rolled his eyes. "Cut the theatrics. You're only wasting both our time."
Vlad sighed once more, turning serious again. "You're right, Daniel. This isn't the moment for levity. Although, I will say that I approve of your new look. It suits you quite well."
Danny just scowled, waiting for Vlad to explain himself: Why he was back on Earth. The older Halfa sighed.
"Three years alone in space has a funny way of reshuffling one's priorities, Daniel." He sighed, sitting back down in his chair next to his fat cat. "In that time, I got a good look at my life, and all the mistakes I've made. I always focused on the bad when all I really had to do was let go of the past and keep moving forward. I lost my only love, my best friend and eventually everything else because of my bitterness." He looked down at his feet.
Danny shifted uncomfortably where he stood. He had been expecting a rousing and challenging fight with his archenemy, but now the fight in him had completely vanished. For once in his life, Vlad Masters looked truly defeated and contrite. He couldn't fight him now, even after all he'd done. It just wouldn't be right.
"I know I can never begin to atone for everything I did to you and your family, Daniel. Danielle included." He continued, eyes still downcast. "But I want you to know that I'm truly sorry, my boy. Truly, deeply sorry. I hope that someday, you'll find it in your heart to forgive a monster like me." He sighed, resting a hand on his cat's back and swiveling back to face the fire once more.
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't hold your breath." Danny growled, floating off the floor and going intangible, preparing to leave the same way he came.
"Life would've been so different for me if only I'd been more careful with that stupid Ghost Portal prototype in college." Vlad muttered, unaware that Danny was still there, listening. "I should've known Jack's overzealous eagerness and his appalling lack of attention to detail would mess something up, but the accident was as much my fault as it was his. If only I could somehow get rid of my ghost half like my clever little badger did-"
"Quit callin' me that." Danny grumbled, startling the former mayor. "I might know a way you can atone. Then- and only then- I might think about forgiving you."
"Just name it, Daniel." Vlad pleaded. "I would do anything to redeem myself in your eyes. And the others, of course."
Danny raised an eyebrow, but voiced his idea anyway. "Use your ghost form to undo all the terrible things you've done over the years. It'll take a long time, but it's the least you could do. After that, a sincere, in-person apology and confession to Danielle, my parents and Jazz is in order. If they're still willing to forgive and forget after all that, then I guess I will too."
"Thank you, Daniel, my brilliant boy." Vlad answered, teary-eyed.
Just before the ghost-hero left, he turned and added, "And get some sleep and some food in you. You look half-dead on your feet like that." Then he flew off. The man smirked. Ah, a witty little badger to the very end. That boy will never cease to amuse- or amaze me.
Danielle was in the middle of a little race with Valerie- just a fun, friendly competition between the two allies. Dani was grinning from ear-to-ear as she flew faster and faster, smirking tauntingly back at the Red Huntress. As she did that, she wasn't looking where she was going and collided head-on with another ghost.
"That all you got- OOF!" She started to tease, but broke off as the wind was knocked out of her. "Jeez pal! Watch it!" She huffed, rubbing her head, and a few feet away the other ghost was unconsciously mirroring her.
"Jeez kid! Watch it!" He growled, but then looked up when he heard a gasp. "Dani?!" He breathed incredulously, a slow smile forming on his face.
Danielle, however, was backing away slowly. "Who- who're you?" She stuttered, frightened of the unfamiliar ghost. "And h-how do you know my n-name?"
Phantom looked hurt. "It's me, coz. Danny." He smiled sheepishly, looking apologetic. "I look a lot different, I know. But so do you, kiddo."
"D-Danny?!" Dani breathed- not believing it for a moment- but then she recognized her 'cousin' in his green eyes and goofy-but-sweet smile. "Danny!" She cried, tackling his chest in a hug.
Valerie- meanwhile- was still dumbfounded. "Phantom?"
Danny- still in a bear-hug- flushed and looked down. "Hey, Valerie. It's- ah- been a while."
The ghost hunter laughed. "Guess I can't call you 'punk' anymore." She chuckled, putting her hands on her hips instead of going straight for her gun. "You've sure bulked up. Been hittin' the ghost gym?" She teased.
"Nah." Danny chuckled back. "Puberty. But nice try."
Valerie's eyebrows shot up. "Whoa." She breathed, while her inner-self drooled. "Hel-loh, Muscles!"
"I looked for you at Fenton Works, Danny, but I couldn't find you. I asked your friends and sister, and they said you'd left. They all looked really sad. Why?" Danielle asked, but quietly so Valerie couldn't hear.
"Really? All of them?" Danny asked, getting a little teary.
"Yeah. Your mom was even crying. They love you, Danny. Whether you're a ghost, man or something in-between." She went on, and Danny looked down.
"They said almost the same thing after that fiasco with Freakshow an' the Reality Gauntlet. Before I changed everything back and erased everyone's memories." Danny muttered as the memory resurfaced.
"And you can't forget Sam. You guys were made for each other. Even Clockwork admitted it." Dani grinned, and Daniel looked up. "I weaseled it out of him." She smirked impishly, and Danny smiled.
"Somehow I can totally see that happening." He teased, messing up his cousin's hair.
-After a few minutes-
Danielle looked down. "In all seriousness, Danny, you should go home. Your family's lost without you." She said sadly, and Danny closed his eyes.
"You're right, coz. Home is where I belong." He turned to Valerie. "But first, there's something I hafta set right." Danny flew over to the huntress, who took a step back on her hover-board. She would never admit it aloud, but Phantom was really intimidating now. Especially with all those muscles.
"Val?" Danny blushed, embarrassed. "I shoulda done this right after it happened, but things just kept on coming. "I'm- I'm really sorry for everything that happened with your dad an' Axion Labs. It's true that Cujo's not my dog- well, he wasn't then- but it was still my fault. Can you ever forgive me?"
Valerie looked surprised, but then smiled, deactivating her helmet. "There's nothing to forgive, Phantom. I put that disaster behind me a long time ago, and honestly? I think I'm stronger for it. I used to be a typical, shallow, spoiled A-lister who wouldn't look twice at a nerd like Danny Fenton. But after that doozy of a wake-up call, I realized just how great a guy Danny could be. Even though he belongs with Sam, I still like to think he sees me as a friend. You allowed that to happen, and I'm grateful." She smiled.
"Really?" Danny smiled, not expecting that. "Wow." He looked down at his boots. "So, does that mean we're- friends now?"
"I don't really know about that." Valerie said, and Danny looked crestfallen. "I don't know you that well yet. Let's just start with 'friendly acquaintances' and go from there." She offered her hand, a gesture of peace.
Danny smiled. "Works for me." Shaking her offered hand.
Danny hovered in the skies above Fenton Works, his emotions fighting World War III in his mind. Dani put a hand on his shoulder in comfort, silently promising that she would be there for him no matter what happened. He smiled gratefully at her, then breathed in deeply and let it out in a huff. "Here goes nothing." He sighed, then phased through the Op center on the roof.
Maddie was making some of her famous homemade fudge at the kitchen sink, Jack was watching her hungrily from the table- drooling- and Jazz was reading a book as usual. Tucker and Sam were there too, the former working his way through a meat-lover's pizza and Sam working on a tofu hot dog. Clearly, it was lunchtime.
Danny poked his invisible head through the kitchen ceiling, watching his family going about their daily business with a sad smile. Dani poked her head through next to him and cleared her throat, and Danny was snapped back to reality and what he knew he had to do. He just didn't know how to do it.
He pulled out of the ceiling and flew outside again, losing his courage. Dani flew out beside him, looking sympathetic. "You gotta go in there eventually." She commented. "Just grit your teeth and do it."
Danny nodded, but then pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed his home phone number.
RING! RING! RING! The wall phone jangled, and Maddie answered it. "Hello, Fenton Works."
"..." She could hear nothing but breathing on the other end and the slight sound of the wind howling.
"Danny?" She breathed, hardly believing it. "Is that you?" Jack and the others crowded around the phone, trying to hear the other end of the conversation.
"Please come home." Maddie begged, but she received no reply. She only heard heavy breathing for a few more minutes before a click. Danny had hung up. Mrs. Fenton put the phone back in its cradle, fresh tears running down her face.
"He'll come home when he's ready, Mads." Jack comforted. "He knows that we love him. It'll just be a matter of time before he remembers that an' comes right through that front door."
DING DONG! The doorbell rang, and everyone ran to the family room as Jack yanked open the door- nearly pulling it off its hinges in his haste. A girl version of Danny Phantom floated there on the doorstep, holding something invisible in her right hand.
"Dani?" Sam and Tucker asked, surprised to see their friend's clone instead of their friend himself. Dani floated in with a sheepish smile- still holding that invisible something- and muttered, "You big chicken. Just show yourself already. What're they gonna do? Shoot you?"
Everyone heard a disembodied sigh, and then everyone's favorite Phantom-hero shimmered into the visible spectrum, looking very guilty.
"DANNY!" A chorus of five voices cried, tackling the teenager in a group bear-hug. The Halfa looked around at his loved ones in shock- but also relief- at their reaction to his return.
"You're okay. You're really okay!" Sam breathed, kissing him full on the mouth. If Danny was confused now, he didn't show it, returning the kiss with enthusiasm. Tucker chuckled and Jazz giggled, shaking her head. "Don't ever leave us like that again, little brother!" She scolded, but she wasn't really angry at him. She'd just missed him terribly.
"You have some explaining to do, young man." Maddie smiled fondly, looking at Danielle. "Starting with this little mystery." She added, pulling Dani into the hug with her 'cousin'.
Danny laughed. "Okay, but it's gonna be a long one."
"I think we're all ready to listen. It's about time we did." Jack put in, rubbing his neck sheepishly. Then the family and friends sat down on the couch, listening intently as Danny began his tale.
-Seven years later-
Amity Park had never been more peaceful thanks to its duly-appointed 'protectors': Valerie, her father, the Fentons, Dani Phantom, and the savior of the Ghost Zone- who now went by Daniel 'Dan' Phantom. He'd decided years ago that that future would never exist, and no longer felt bad when people called him 'Dan'.
Futuristic cars zoomed by in the sky, looking very much like vehicles in the old TV series, 'The Jetson's'. The citizens of Amity Park still saw ghosts from time to time, but knew that their fair city was in good hands with Team Phantom.
Many of our old friends ended up together. Paulina Sanchez and Dash Baxter, Star and Kwan, Valerie and Tucker [don't ask], and of course, Sam and Daniel. Jazz had become a Psychology professor at Yale, happily married with two children and a third on the way. Daniel had fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut, and was the first ghost to- officially- take a first step on the moon.
In the Ghost Zone, more familiar faces had tied the knot. PJ and Siobhan- Box Lunch coming along nearly four years after the Disasteroid incident- and Johnny and Kitty got hitched- now with a blonde-haired, red-eyed bundle of joy to brighten their days.
But there were a few surprises as well. Skulker and Ember- for instance- had made it official, and Desiree and Storm would make frequent visits to the Human World- Desiree giggling like a schoolgirl and Storm blushing like a beet. [Which is odd, considering that ectoplasm is usually green. Maybe I should say blushing like a cabbage instead?- That sounds really weird.]
New lairs had popped up in the downtown Ghost Zone, but the most famous was the one that the Phantom cousins sometimes used whenever they stayed in the Zone for extended periods. It was huge, all black and white with some green gems tastefully thrown in. Unlike most lairs, though, their door was always open to anyone.
Their closest neighbor was always friendly too, and the Phantom cousins never got tired of looking at his lightning-themed lair. "Lightning never strikes in the same place twice." He would say, thus his lair was constantly changing.
Ten years had passed since the Disasteroid had nearly obliterated the Earth, and- for Daniel Phantom, his friends and his family- the future had never looked brighter.