Disclaimer-- Butch Hartman, not me... You all know where this is going, right? This short is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America, and TV-Y. This short is set after "Danny Shadow," (by me) "Reign Storm," (By Butch,) and "Outside Looking In." (Me again.) Not that you really need to have seen/read any of these to make sense of it, but it would help. Cade Maboroshi, of course, IS mine. Feel free to borrow him, just ask first.

Wrestling with Dragons

Three AM, and he was awake, if he'd ever been to sleep in the first place. Blearily, Jazzmine Fenton squinted at the baleful red numbers on her alarm clock, the ones that proclaimed it to be FAR too late/early for her brother to be thumping around in the next room, even if it was the weekend. This had been going on since the accident, but after Danny's recent case of multiple personality, it had only gotten worse.

Pulling herself out of her warm, soft bed, Jazz pulled on a robe, yawning as she smoothed back her hair. She was awake now... she might as well check in on Danny, before either of her parents woke with the idea to do the same.

She contemplated knocking, as she stood outside Danny's room, then shook her head. If she was going to get a straight answer out of her little brother, it'd be best to catch him by surprise. Otherwise he was likely to try and "protect" her by giving her some soothing and totally false excuse. Okay, so, unannounced it was.

"Danny, are you okay? I heard something... crash?" Maybe she should have knocked. In the middle of the room, Danny looked like a deer caught in the headlights, broom in one hand, trash bag in the other. The knuckles on Danny's right hand were covered with gauze and tape, spots of fresh blood peeking through in places. On the wall behind him, she could see the oaken frame of a decorative mirror, now only holding a few shards of glass. As a Fenton, it didn't take Jazz too long to figure out what happened.

"You punched the mirror?" she asked, incredulous. Danny blushed.

"No, I... uh... Oh man." He sighed, noting her skeptical expression.

"Okay, yes. I punched the mirror. I... I had a nightmare, and ... Well, I thought my reflection... I thought it had red eyes, okay?" His spine straightened, and he almost glared at her, as if daring her to laugh.

Laughter was far from Jazz's first impulse, though. She didn't know what the nightmare was about, but she could make a pretty good guess. And having seen those insane red eyes on Danny's shadow-self, she wasn't about to blame him for freaking out.

Jazz sighed. "How badly did you cut your hand?"

"This? Oh, it'll be gone by morning. One GOOD side effect to the whole ghost thing."

Nodding, she scanned the floor. "You get all the glass?"

"I think so... I'll have to run the vacuum to make sure, but I don't want to do that while Mom and Dad are asleep."

"Tell me about it. So..." Snagging his desk chair, she dropped into it. "Tell me about your dream."

It wasn't a request, and he obviously knew it. Leaning the broom against one wall, he sank down to sit on his bed.

"Just... Shadow and Phantom both, ganging up on me. I didn't have any of my powers, and they were both WAY too strong... And then there was a bright light, and they were both pulled back into me... but something was wrong, I didn't feel right. And then there was a mirror... but it wasn't me there. It was Vlad."

She winced. "Danny..." Then she trailed off, unsure what to say.

"I'm just... He's right, Jazz... I am like him. Shadow, I could accept, that wasn't surprising... he was my dark side, just a normal expression of being human. But... Phantom would have let Vlad die in a heartbeat... or killed him, I remember threatening him with that, and Vlad just found it funny... guess I know why, now. He's been playing me like a fiddle, and... Everything I do seems to play into his hands, but I don't know what he wants!"

"Maybe THIS is what he wants, Danny," she replied, gesturing towards his hand. "You're so confused and terrified, you don't know which way to jump! I bet he'd love that, it'll keep you from interfering in whatever he's planning. As for Phantom... Danny, Phantom was pure ghost, mentally. No empathy, prone to obsession, overprotective... no, wait, that's a Fenton trait anyway. He's pragmatic, concerned more with results than morals or reasons. But Danny, you're not LIKE that when you're you. You're balanced. What Vlad did upset that, ripped you apart. It's not who you are naturally."

"Not yet, anyway... I don't know, Jazz... I could fall that far. I almost did, before the ghost siege..."

She sighed. "Danny, everyone's tempted on occasion. One slip doesn't mean you're going to fall." Looking him over, she made a decision. "Go flying. I'll finish cleaning up here."

Blue eyes looked at her in confusion. "What?"

"I said, go flying. It always clears your head, right? Like the way most people take walks. I know you did it after Spectra. I know Phantom did it a lot to blow off steam when you were apart. You need to cool off right now, and stop worrying yourself sick over might-bes."

"... I hate to say it, but I think you may be on to something," he muttered. Standing, he clenched his fists and was enveloped in a flash of silver-white light. When it cleared, Danny Phantom hovered a few inches above the floor.

"Thanks, Jazz... I'll be back before sunrise." Then he flew through the ceiling and was gone.

Whoever fights monsters should take care not to become a monster. Nietzsche's famous words whispered coldly in his head as he soared under the full moon. Dr. M had quoted that during their first session, putting Danny's dilemma into words. The psychiatrist was probably the most perceptive person Danny'd met. He was, after all, the only person who'd deduced the connection between Danny Fenton and Danny Phantom, even if he hadn't quite figured out the truth. But since nobody knew ghost hybrids were even possible, he wasn't entirely surprised.

He'd thought about telling the man everything. About his abilities, his fears-- and about Vlad. He was sure-- well, ninety-nine percent sure-- that Dr. Maboroshi would keep his secret. It wasn't that he didn't trust the counselor to keep the secret, it was just... he didn't want him to know. No matter how much he told himself it wouldn't matter... he just didn't want to be a freak.

Freak or monster... great choice, he thought bitterly. Then he shook his head. This flight was supposed to be helping him CLEAR his thoughts, not get further stuck in them. But he didn't seem to be able to shake it.

A single light from the mostly dark building below caught his attention, and he was surprised to see that he was over Casper High. He hadn't been paying too much attention to his direction, just following the wind through the starry sky. And... now this was a coincidence. He knew that lighted window-- it looked in on the office of the school psychiatrist. He knew that Dr. M kept odd hours, but three AM on Saturday was weird even for him. Still, if the man was awake... He did have a standing invitation to drop into the office at any time. Decision made, Danny swooped down towards the school, phasing into the locked building with ease.

Knocking on the door, Danny waited for the startled acknowledgement, then entered. Lit only by the golden glow on the desk lamp, the room looked different than it did during the day, or even with the overhead on. The man behind the desk looked different as well, dress shirt and khakis replaced with blue jeans and a black t-shirt bearing the legend "One by one, the Penguins steal my sanity."

"You look lousy," Cade Maboroshi greeted him. "Do ghosts sleep?"

"Some of us, sometimes," Danny replied, sinking into the familiar guest chair.

"I'm guessing you haven't been in that category for a couple days?"

One eyebrow arched beneath white bangs. "Hey, I'm not the only one in this office at three on a weekend."

"Touché," the older man chuckled. "Me, I kind of sleep at random. Three hours here, twelve hours there... Some nights I don't sleep at all. I've been that way since college. YOU, on the other hand, look like you've been missing sleep. Sleep you NEED."

Danny sighed, green eyes downcast. "Yeah, well..." He squinted at the t-shirt. "You shop at Hot Topic?"

"It was on the front rack, caught my attention. Stop changing the subject."

"Right, sorry. I just... It's Plasmius, again. Or still. He... when Fenton came in to talk to you about MPD? It wasn't just because of him and me... Plasmius... he SPLIT me. Let loose my Shadow. And also another side of me... not dark, but... ruthless. Two parts of me, exactly like him... It's like he knows what buttons to push every time... like I'm just a video game or a remote-controlled car. Everything I do plays into what he wants, no matter how hard I try to stop him! And I know I'm working myself into a frenzy trying to outthink him, but... I honestly don't know what else to do!"

Dr. Maboroshi regarded him calmly for a minute. "First, take a deep breath. You're human enough that you're starting to hyperventilate, if that reassures you any. Now... Plasmius. Does he play chess?"

Danny blinked at the unforeseen question, but nodded. "Yeah, he does. Likes to refer to me as a 'pawn,' too."

"Figures. Guys like him are usually drawn to the strategy of the chessboard. Lucky for you, I actually had this subject come up a year or so ago in consultation with an old college buddy-- no, not the one I asked permission to consult on your case with, by the way. How do you beat a Grand Master at chess?"


The psychiatrist's grin was just slightly feral. "Make him play Calvinball."

For a second, Danny just stared, trying to make sense of that. Then, slowly, he smiled as well. "You mean... make him play by MY rules."

"Which are NO rules. Chess is a great metaphor for strategy, but when you apply it to the real world, there's one major flaw. Chess pieces act the same way, every time, under all conditions. So far, you've been a chess piece. Plasmius applies the stimulus, you react accordingly. What you need to do is start THINKING. Divorce your response from the stimulus. Not easy, but... figure out what you'd normally do. Then don't do it. That oughta throw a wrench in his gears."

"Yeah... I like that."

"Figured you would." Shifting, the man put his feet up on the desk, something that would have given the janitor a heart attack had it been during school hours. "Now, as to your second problem... That's a little more complicated." Leaning backwards, he pulled a sheaf off papers off where they rested on one of the bookshelves. "Been meaning to give this to Fenton for you, but this'll work as well. Here. Lita, the colleague I've been consulting about your case? Sent this along. Read it when you get the chance."

"'Dragon in the Mirror: Shadow-Self Dichotomy in High-Stakes Situations?' That's a heck of a mouthful for a title." Phantom raised an eyebrow, looking up from the papers he held.

"Promise, that's the most formal thing about it. You really should read it yourself, but let me give you a basic overview. First off, like I said to Fenton, everybody's got a dark side. Repressed emotions, desires... everybody WANTS to be destructive sometimes, even if they don't act on it. Agreed?"

"With you so far."

"And when you're in a situation where it's life and death, or worse, sometimes for a lot of people... sometimes you're down to a field of choices, all bad. You get to pick the one that's does the least damage. Do it often enough, especially in a situation that lends itself to compartmentalization ANYWAY, and you get a... well, Lita calls it a Dragon. Pretty good choice for a name, since it's a very reptilian mindset, based on least-loss scenarios. Pragmatic. Dispassionate. Little to no moral consideration, only analysis on how to survive and get the job done. Problem is, most people who get into situations like that do it because they have a higher moral sense... a desire to do what's RIGHT, not just what's expedient. She calls that one the Paladin. And unless you work out an accommodation between the two sides, you're going to have the whole Saint George myth playing out inside your head, over and over."

Danny rolled his eyes. "Fun..."

"Plasmius, so near as I can tell, either never HAD a Paladin construct in the first place, or sacrificed it to his Dragon pretty early on. Morality took a back seat to survival, and then to fulfilling the pleasure principle. What's RIGHT didn't matter... what he WANTED did. You're not that likely to fall that far, though it is possible. Anything's possible. It would take something pretty major to make you ditch the Paladin side, no matter how strong the Dragon gets. We're talking a major psychological shock... a major tragedy. You'd have to lose your entire support network, for one thing, and let me state for the record, I'm not going anywhere, and as a few people have found out, I'm VERY hard to kill. So... I won't say it CAN'T happen, but the odds are pretty low, and we're going to keep it that way."

"I sense a but, here," Phantom said dryly, temporarily ignoring the warm feeling the other's words evoked."
"Yeah, a but. Your Dragon IS going to get stronger as the stakes go up. That's unavoidable. And unless you can come to terms with it, you'll tear yourself apart. The essay's got some practical suggestions for that, but the main thing is to remember that there's nothing wrong with being human. With wanting to SURVIVE, no matter what. That desire's always going to be there, in anything that's aware of its own existence. And pragmatism isn't a bad thing, because if you don't survive, you're not going to be able to protect anybody else. Self-sacrifice can be a noble thing... but sometimes it's just a way to avoid making choices you don't want to live with."

"I... Thanks. A lot." Danny tucked the papers into his pocket. "I'll read this as soon as I get the chance."

Dr. Maboroshi grinned. "Good. So... since you're here, and neither of us is sleepy yet... how about a game of chess?"

Danny grinned back. "You are ON."