A/Note: This story started with the intention to go in one direction, then took off in a direction all it's own. I hope no one finds it offensive. Danny and Sam © Butch Hartman and Nickelodeon.

"It Always Returns" -------------------------------------------------------------------

It's another one of those days. You know, the days when nothing goes right, and there's nothing your favorite lucky t-shirt can do about it? A day when you have no time for breakfast, forget your lunch money, manage to scrounge up $.50 in pocket change for a soda to take the edge off your hunger, and then have the school jock grab you from behind and force the drink to upend all over you?

Danny's having one of those days. I can see it in the stain on his shirt and the dull look in his eyes as he sits down briefly at the table the three of us customarily share at lunch. And more importantly, I can *feel* it in here, in my head. I can always feel it when he's like this. I'm not sure when it started, fifth or sixth grade maybe? But what started out as just sympathy when I noticed turned to empathy that *made* me notice, which turned into... into... whatever this thing is that links us now.

He's my best friend. My best, truest, most trusted friend.
Clumsy Danny Fenton, barred for life from all breakables (especially the expensive ones) at school. Shy Danny Fenton, who can barely articulate words in the presence of "cute" members of the female species. Myself excluded, lucky me. You sure know how to reinforce a girl's inferiority complex, Danny.
Goofy, idiodic, innocent, child-like Danny Fenton, who wears his basic immaturity like a favorite t-shirt. Owner of the patented 'impossible to look at and not smile' doofus grin. Go on, try looking at that thing sometime and keeping control of your facial muscles.
And.. dare I call him *cute* Danny Fenton? With his midnight-dark hair, a few shades darker than even my own, that frames his sunshiney-day blue eyes that look out with typical optimism and hope on a world that's too damned ugly to appreciate him.
Half-dead, or maybe barely "alive" Danny Fenton, whose "life" is probably doomed to be forever plagued with abilities that he can hardly manage control over. He does try, though. He tries so hard that it looks like it could finish killing him sometimes. This is the Danny that scares me the most. It's the most mature and focused of the many sides of him, but it's also the part that feels like.. well... death. His personality is virtually unchanged, save for the die-hard determination and at times almost ridiculous courage.
It's just that I wonder, you know? I see his arm vanish when he didn't intend it to, and he hopes fervently that no one noticed. I watch him pull together desperate plans to capture rouge spirits and notice that while in true life he's awkward and clumsy, his spirit is absolutely perfectly graceful. Like he belongs more in that ghostly afterlife form than in his rightful corporeal one. When he's a teenager, I feel his.. lostness. His feelings of insecurity. Of outsiderdom. When he's gone into his spirit form, he's got a lot more confidence and it's impossible not to be blown away at the feelings of power he experiences, even with his uncertain control.

Maybe that's why it scares me a little bit to see him like that. I'm afraid of him deciding that once he can fully control his transformations, he'll decide that he likes being Danny Phantom more than he enjoys being Danny Fenton.
The thought makes me a little sick, to tell you the truth. I don't want to lose him. So far, he's been as powerful, if not more so, than just about every ghost he's come up against, even with his precarious management over his skills. What will he become when he truly has mastered them? An image of Danny Phantom, master of all spirits and the afterlife, comes to mind; at once comical and terrifying.

I shake myself out of my reverie and look around the cafeteria. When did he get up and leave? Tucker is useless for information on the subject, wondering if our friend has gone to rinse off his shirt. I get up and leave. I have this paranoia now of him leaving us in a fit of dispair, and nothing's going to alleviate it except finding him. I wander outside into the yard beyond the cafeteria doors, where we inmates of the public high school are allowed whatever 'recreational' time we can squeeze in before the end of the lunch period. No sign of Danny. I realise slowly that I haven't felt his presence for a while.
That makes me worry, too.
A quick check of the halls, a quick hazardous glance into the boys' bathroom, I even checked the inside of his locker. No Danny.
I sigh in frustration, leaning up against the wall of the building and glaring up into the slightly cloudy spring sky. Where IS he? I wish that it was like those sci-fi novels, and I could just reach out with my mind and grab his consciousness and shake it sternly until he tells me where he is!

And then, suddenly I know. I know exactly where he's disappeared to. I don't look back as the school bell rings behind me, signalling the end of the lunch period. The rest of the day is totally meaningless at the moment. Then again, most of high school ultimately is, isn't it?


Sure enough, I've finally found him, almost half an hour after leaving school. It's sort of unreal, seeing him crouching in the cemetary, apparently unaware of anything around him except whatever he's staring so fixedly at on the ground in front of him.


He turns at the sound of my voice, and manages to grin sheepishly. "So I guess it's your turn to hide now, huh?" he asks, making a pretty lame attempt at humor. I try and lean casually against a tall marker, remembering to be mindful of where I step.

"Cutting class? That's not like you."

He ducks his head slightly, either in acknowledgment or embarrassment. "I haven't really felt like myself, lately," he finally agrees, and turns back away from me again. "Sam, come and take a look at this. I felt this from school, and had to come check it out. It's just..." his voice breaks off, and I can't help but draw closer to see what it is that he's blown off half a school day for.

"Danny? What's the matter with her?" I stare in shock at the small furry form that lays curled in front of a black marker.

"She's dying, Sam." His voice breaks softly as he reaches to gently touch the ancient feline, who lifts her head wearily in response and lets out a soft, rusted-sounding purr. "She's dying right here, right now.. and I can feel it happening." His hand shakes a little, and the old cat leans forward to lick his fingers reassuringly.

I can't help but ask him. "What- what's it feel like? Is she... okay? Should we take her to a vet?"

He shakes his head and lifts his face so that our eyes meet. "She's okay.. she's just old, I think. I mean, look at her. That fur's so thin and grey now.. but once it was probably thick and jet black. I think- Sam, I think she *wants* to be here. She feels so... content." Tears have begun to fall from his eyes, and I reach to wipe them away as he stammers onward. "I can't feel anything except this.. peace and tranquility from her spirit. Not like the ghosts I've fought with.. they mostly feel like anger- blind anger and fear."

I watch the old cat as she lays down her head, with what I could swear was a little secretive cat smile on her furry face. She breathes in, breathes out, and then with a last slight sigh, she breathes no more. I can't help the small gasp that steals forth from my mouth, and I feel Danny's hand suddenly squeeze mine. The unfairness of it thunders in my head- that something so wonderful as an innocent creature should be given existance just to have it taken away again. Why?
I hear a sudden intake of breath from beside me, and steal a glance towards Danny. He's sitting up, watching something with rapt attention. A few tears still stain his cheeks, but a wondering smile is beginning to pull at his mouth. "Sam," he whispers reverently, "LOOK!"
I turn my head and am drawn, like my best friend beside me, into the spectacle taking place before us. A glimmer of light is rising forth from the remains of the feline, and as we watch, her spirit solidifies into a near-perfect replica of the original being. The ghostly cat licks and then chews absently at her shoulders, reaching awkwardly to crane her head into the proper position to reach.


The tremorous quality of the voice betrays the owner, and so it's no surprise that as we look on, a faint apparition has joined us, ghostly tears streaming down her own cheeks as she reaches her hands out to the cat, drawing her close. A supernatural purr reaches my ears and I can't keep the smile away that's begun pulling at my mouth. The ghost girl smiles broadly at us, even as she and her companion begin to fade away.
"Thank you, for helping Nightengale and I meet again!" she calls to Danny, her voice echoing softly as they vanish into thin air.

Danny is smiling as I look back towards him, eyes once again shining with all the hope and fulfillment that should be there. His gaze drops back to the body of the cat, and he brushes a hand softly over the age-thinned fur. "You're welcome," he whispers, almost too softly to hear. My own eyes lift to the black stone, engraved with a picture of a feline shape along with the prerequisite name and dates. Those dates...

"Danny.. look at these numbers! That girl.. she wasn't much older than us!" I gasp, unnerved by what my eyes have just confirmed. Sure, her ghost looked young.. but...
"Yeah," Danny agrees, "Kinda makes you think, huh?" He smiles at me. "About what's really important?"
I smile back. "Yeah.. and how it's never too late to be reunited with who or what you love most." Now I know for sure, and I can't help but grin. Danny's not leaving us for the ghostly lifestyle, not now, not ever. Even if something happens and he should get "stuck" in his other form, just like that loyal and beloved pet cat, he'll ride the wait out until he's able to rejoin us once again here in the world of the living, or at worst, until we can join him.

"I want to go ask the groundsman if he'd mind burying Nightengale right here, where she wanted to be," Danny ventured softly. "Want to come?" I smile again and stand to follow him, casting a last glance back at the peaceful scene at the gravestone and at the phrase engraved just above the dead cats' body.

'May what you love always return to you'