Reality often had a kind of symmetry about it. What happened once could happen again, and the things that happened could be undone, for the most part, time's arrow excepted. Mostly excepted. Clockwork existed.
Point was, Danny should have seen this coming. It was just that, even when one of Danny's parents' inventions worked on him, he usually didn't think about them being used on Vlad. Not unless Vlad was there, like with the Specter Deflector. There were lines and limits and things. Not that Vlad seemed to know that
So, he didn't see this coming.
Didn't see himself happening on Vlad stealing some blueprints when he went down to empty the thermos. Didn't see a fight starting that rolled into the storage area. Didn't see his parents fixing the Ghost Catcher after he'd broken it the last time. Didn't see them ramming into one of the shelves and Vlad grabbing Danny in a death grip. Didn't see the stupid thing falling out and–
Danny had experienced this before. This unbecoming. This split. This unweaving of warp and weft. But in a future that hadn't happened, he'd also heard about another split. One that had left him… wrong. Broken. Evil. Especially with the addition of Plasmius.
He clung with all his might. But clinging couldn't change how things worked, and the next thing he knew, he was lying on the tile floor, staring at himself. He looked shocked. He felt shocked.
Danny rolled over and scrambled out of the way. Vlad would be split, too, and he–
Danny didn't know what he was seeing.
No, he did know what he was seeing. He was seeing Vlad. He was seeing two of Vlad. Fighting with each other.
No, that was a too generous description of what was going on. One Vlad was getting the absolute crap kicked out of him by the other Vlad. But not the Vlad he would have expected. Human Vlad was kicking the crap out of ghost Vlad. He– This was going to get complicated. Masters was beating up Plasmius.
What? Why? Should he help? He wanted to help, but Vlad had been beating him up moments before, and he had no idea which side to help on.
Danny didn't always get along with his- With his-
Danny looked back at himself. The other himself. Fenton.
Danny, this Danny, was Phantom right now. Phantom was the one who had gone crazy and killed everyone in the other timeline, but he didn't feel crazy right now. But what if it happened slow? What if–
Human Danny - Fenton - tugged the Ghost Catcher out from beneath the Vlads with an exclamation of triumph. He swept the 'merge' side down towards Masters and Plasmius, but Masters caught it. The force of the strike pushed him backwards into the shelves, and he reached behind him to grab a random weapon. He fired twice, the first shot going wide in one direction and the second curving the other way sharply, hitting the Ghost Catcher halfway down its shaft.
The Ghost Catcher shattered, the frame snapping and the tensioned string doing the rest of the work, pulling itself to pieces.
Masters took aim at Plasmius, and Phantom finally drove himself to action, leaping at Masters and phasing them both through the corner of the wall, back out into the main lab.
"Get him out of here!" shouted Fenton, who was also grabbing weaponry from the walls.
"R-right!" said Phantom, phasing the weapon out of Plasmius's grip and then going up, all the way through the house and out into the street.
Masters, of course, struggled. Phantom dropped him at the first opportunity.
"Blasted ghost!" He started for the door, and Phantom, naturally, blocked him. "Get out of my way!"
"I'm trying to help you!" said Phantom. "You're going to get hurt if you keep doing that." Well, from a certain perspective he was already hurt. That was him down there. But from a more… from a… Phantom didn't know what perspective he was looking at currently, but… "You're going to get hurt, fighting a ghost like that. Ghosts can– They can–"
Ghosts could kill people.
Vlad sneered. "And you left your counterpart down there all alone with that ghost? Not very heroic of you, is it?"
He had, but Fenton had told him to go. He didn't want Phantom in the same room as Plasmius, either. He didn't trust him.
"Stop standing between me and the thing that ruined my life, and I'll show you just what I can do!"
Phantom was glad it was so late. No one was out to see this, and no one was likely to come out. Everyone on this street was used to weird noises at Fentonworks at all hours. And his parents wore earplugs to bed.
"You're just going to get out of my way, or you'll see what I can really do to you without that pathetic thing holding me back!"
Phantom had dropped almost to the ground, the better to intercept Masters if he made another try for the door. Now, his toes scraped along the ground.
"Thing?" he repeated. "But… that's you. Vlad, you love your powers."
"It's not me! And those powers were hardly compensation for what I've had to go through. I could have had everything sooner, I could have had everything, if it weren't for all those years it cost me! It's not me," said Vlad, a horrible smile pulling across his face, "not any more than you're Danny Fenton."
Phantom's head whipped around, checking for anyone who might be listening, a reflex he couldn't suppress. "You can't say stuff like that in public, there could be people listening!"
"You're a parasite, and if we're both lucky, he's down there looking for a way to get rid of both of you before you destroy our lives any more than you already have!"
No, Fenton wouldn't do that. They knew they needed each other, and Danny wanted to help people. But… was that Danny or was that Phantom?
Usually there wasn't any difference. Usually Phantom wasn't floating in the street while Fenton was in the basement below, doing who knew what.
Fenton pulled an ectogun from the shelf and had it trained on Plasmius before Phantom had even phased completely through the ceiling. Plasmius, however, didn't move. He stayed on the ground, his hands over his head, his cape bunched up weirdly over his body.
The thought crossed Fenton's mind that he could solve a lot of problems right now. He didn't even have to do anything bad. He just had to suck Plasmius into the nearest Fenton Thermos and dump him somewhere that Masters wouldn't be able to get to. Simple. Easy. Especially if Phantom helped.
He allowed himself the fantasy for a split second. No more superpowered billionaire trying to murder his father and force him into being his evil apprentice. No more looking over his shoulder for the other half ghost. No more having to listen to him being a creep around Mom, because he could just kick him out.
His hands shook. He knew what it felt like without Phantom. That fraction of a second where he thought that Phantom might not listen to him…
What must it feel like to have your literal other half attack you? Even thinking back to future Vlad's vague description of what had happened in that timeline had made Danny nauseous. Although, the copious amounts of murder and destruction might have had a role in that as well.
"Plasmius?" he said, cautiously. "You okay?"
Plasmius made a sort of sobbing sound. "No," he said.
His voice was… different than Danny was used to. He lowered the gun. "Do you need help or something?"
Very slowly, Plasmius sat up. He was a lot different than Danny was used to. For one, he was younger. Age-wise, he looked almost like he had when Danny had gone to the past. His 'cape' was actually a blanket. The rest of his clothes had been replaced by medical scrubs. He was thinner. A lot thinner. Almost emaciated. His face and neck were covered in oozing ecto-acne pustules.
Danny, startled, flinched back.
Plasmius's face crumpled and he started to cry. "E-everyone hates me!" he wailed.
"That's not true," lied Fenton. He was pretty sure it was true. "You've got–" What did Vlad have, actually? "You have fans or something, right?"
"No one came to see me in the hos– in the hospital. And you're pointing a gun at me, and I don't–!" Plasmius continued wailing.
This was actually pretty pathetic.
"Hey," said Fenton, "quit it. You're supposed to be an adult, aren't you?"
"Everyone knows college students aren't real adults!"
Well, someone had better tell Jazz that. "Yes, they are," said Danny, incredulous. "Look, I know you just got kicked a bunch, but that was by human Vlad, wasn't it? You're a ghost."
Vlad wailed harder.
"Oh my gosh! It isn't like this is a new development!" Danny wondered if he should soup Plasmius anyway. "Just– Pull yourself together until we can figure out how to pull ourselves together."
Plasmius stilled. "No," he said.
"What do you mean 'no?'" asked Danny. "You're a wreck."
"No, I'm not going back to him. He's awful."
"He's not. I would never try to do the things he's done! I–" Plasmius rubbed his eyes. "I miss my friends! He wants us to be so lonely."
Fenton might not even be half ghost at the moment, but even so he could identify the resonance of a ghost talking about part of their Obsession.
"I won't do it again. I won't. I won't." His hands moved over his face, nails scraping. "I want my friends– I want my– Don't want– No."
"Uh, Vlad?" said Danny, backing away. "Why don't you calm down for a bit?"
Things started to lift from the table. The lights flickered. Fenton lunged for the thermos just in time for the lights to go out completely.
Phantom looked back as the door opened, and had to get between it and Vlad again.
"Oi!" shouted Fenton, jumping down the steps. "Fruitloop!"
Vlad's whole face twitched into something like rage. "Daniel."
Phantom saw Fenton pause, clearly taken aback. He held the thermos closer to his chest. "Listen," said Fenton, "we've got to come up with a way to fix this."
"Yes," said Masters, folding his hands behind his back as if he hadn't just been ready to tear Danny's eyes out. "Your parents have, however, furnished us with the equipment to do it. I believe I saw plans for a ghost incinerator–"
"Okay, first off, those don't work, and secondly, what is wrong with you?" He shook the thermos at Vlad. "This is you."
"It is not. It's a piece of ectoplasmic residue that has made my life a hell of indecision and paranoia since your imbecile of a father disfigured me. Something he did to you as well."
"Vlad," said Fenton, "what are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about ghosts and their Obsessions. That pest has had me thinking in circles since it first infested me, and if you have even an eighth of Maddie's intelligence, you'll realize that this thing is doing the same to you. It's only because of my superior willpower that I've been able to resist it."
"W-wait," said Phantom, drifting sideways to float by Fenton. "Are you- You're saying that you've been suppressing your Obsession?"
"'Suppressing my Obsession,'" mocked Masters. "Do you even hear yourselves? It isn't real, even for full ghosts. It's nothing. An illusion."
"Wow," said Fenton. "You're even more fruitloopy than usual. You do know that if you stay this way for too long, you start dying, right? You are literally only half a person right now."
"You have no way to know that."
"I mean, I– we kind of felt it, when we did this before. It sucked. Tell him it sucked, Phantom."
"It sucked," confirmed Phantom. "W-we should work together, because this affects both of– All of us, and, um…"
Masters clenched his fists, then smirked. "You want to work together because you have no way to fix it." He turned his gaze to Fenton. "You'll come to me begging me to fix your real problem soon enough." He started to walk away. "You know where to find me when you finally see sense!"
"I am trying to solve the real problem!" shouted Fenton after him. "You jerk!"
Vlad didn't respond, turning the corner to go down the other street.
"Uh- uhm," said Phantom. "You don't– You don't think–"
"We need to find a way to get Mom and Dad to fix the Ghost Catcher. Pronto."
Phantom's shoulders slumped. "Oh. Yeah. Yes, that's good."