::AN:: Check out my blurb at the end of the chapter, if you please.

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Disclaimer: I don't own Danny Phantom or Emily Dickinson's poem.

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Title: Spider's Web

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Chapter Thirteen

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I cannot live with you,

That would be life

And life is over there

Behind the shelf

-

The atmosphere of the room itself was warm and cheery; covered in reds and greens. Everything smelled of cinnamon and fudge. A tree set off to the side, near the fireplace, was neatly decorated in in a wide assortment of ornaments. Among the delicate, colorful orbs hung older, handmade treasures; things Jazz and Danny might have made when they were younger. One of which appeared to be a Popsicle stick painted in red and white that may or may not have been the artistic rendition of Santa Claus as seen by a five year old with a very restricted medium.

And it was in here they sat. Vlad in the leather easy chair in front of the snow-frosted window, Danny seated close by in another armchair, his parents on the love seat next to that, and Sam and Jazz sitting on the sofa separated from the others by a coffee table that bisected the room. And while two of the room's inhabitants were perfectly unaware of it, the tension over-compensated for the very comfortable surroundings.

"Oh my," Mrs. Fenton said. "That's incredible! We actually owe your father a lot, Sam. That is amazing, it really is such a small world. Isn't it honey?" She turned to her husband. "Just like you said, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess it is," he said with a big grin, rubbing the back of his neck.

Even in her distress, a thought occurred to Sam that Danny must have inherited that habit from his father. Then she turned to Vlad, her curiosity peaking. After all, she'd had absolutely no contact with her father in three years. "Did he, I mean... did my dad... did he mention me at all?"

That question struck a cord in all persons present.

In Danny, it was a melancholy curiosity. He'd never really had the chance to talk to her about her life before she ran away. He had been so consumed with everything going on in his life that he hadn't even bothered to wonder about it, not since his met Lydia. They never brought up the subject of their families... it always just seemed to crash into them out of nowhere.

Jazz clicked her tongue and sighed. She saw the hope and apprehension in Sam's wide eyes. It was a pity, it really was, that she had to ask that monster for a bit of information about her own father, that she was so desperate for it. Over taken with sympathy, she only barely restrained herself from placing a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Jazz didn't think she would take the attention well.

Jack and Maddie Fenton kept quiet. Suddenly it was a little clearer why Sam had never mentioned her parents, why she wasn't with them this time of year. Just the way she asked the question spoke volumes. How long had it been since she had last seen her father? Her mother? They looked at Vlad expectantly and wondered if the man had indeed mentioned his daughter.

Vlad's smile curled and his eyes lit with delight. "Why," he said smoothly, "He did, actually."

"Oh," Sam replied with a breathless quality. She then realized how she had responded, how she had been acting. Until this moment, she had never registered just how much she actually missed her parents. Being surrounded by this happy family had made her, on some level, long for her own. Vlad's mention of her father had not helped the situation at all. But... but this was nothing to get worked up about. It would only lead to a downpour of questions she did not feel like answering. So she composed herself and calmly asked, "What did he say?"

"Oh well," the devious man said off-handedly, "During the course of our many meetings you naturally came into the conversation I asked him if he was a family man and he said 'yes', he had a daughter living in the city and he hadn't had much contact with her the past few years." Vlad gaged her reaction and gave her a meaningful look. "He said he was very proud of you."

And Sam struggled to keep her composure.

Internally, Vlad was in raptures. How easy it would be to manipulate things into his favor! He had not accounted for the fact that Samantha Manson would have a sense of homesickness. This was almost too good to be true.

Danny was torn up inside. Vlad had already latched his teeth into Sam. There was no turning back now. The girl was in way too deep. At the moment, all eyes were turned to her and he could tell it was making her nervous, more nervous at any rate. She was fidgeting and couldn't decide where to direct her focus; her eyes darted all over the room before finally resting on him. She silently begged him for help, which he eagerly provided. "So," he began loudly, bringing all attention to him, "Uhhh.." But sadly, he had not thought his plan through at all... "How about those Packers?"

Sam snorted, but cleverly disguised it as a cough in response to Danny's lame attempt at a diversion. Oh well, at least no one was staring at her anymore. She smiled gratefully at him. He thanked her in turn with a wry smile of his own.

"The Packers are doing quite well, thank you," Vlad replied with an amused glint to his voice. And then he launched into another topic entirely. "So Daniel, I hear you have found yourself a job. Tell me, how do you like working for the Spiritual Weekly?" He folded his hands neatly in his lap and leaned in slightly to show interest.

"Work is... going well," he cleared his throat. Talking about his interaction with ghosts was generally something he avoided around his parents. As a rule.

"Yes, and we are all very proud of him," his mother smiled, happy to have a new bragging right.

"I've seen some of your pictures," Vlad continued, throwing Maddie Fenton a nod in agreement. "They are really quite good. I wonder, where do you come across such images?"

"Oh, you know..." his voice cracked under the pressure and he cleared his throat again. Immediately his hand went to the back of his neck. "H-here and there."

"Ghosts," Jazz began somewhat awkwardly, "You know... they probably are just attracted to Danny because of all the exposure he's had to ectoplasm from, you know, the lab and everything."

"Y-yeah," he eagerly seconded. "That's probably it. Pretty lucky, if you ask me." He forced a light chuckle.

"Well, Danny," his father said, "As long as you be careful. Ghosts are tricky things. Just when you think you've got them figured out, they do something completely unexpected, like... like that one time when... well... anyway, just be careful around 'em, got it?"

"Yeah, sure thing Dad," Danny replied. "I always keep a Fenton Thermos with me, just in case."

" 'Atta boy, Danny!" His father cheered. "Just a chip off the ol' block!"

"You know," his mother said with a knowing inclination to her voice, a tone only a mother could produce. "I think it's about time we opened some... Christmas presents!"

"Oh, yeah!" Jack agreed heartily. "Yes, lets do that!"

And with that, everyone's attention immediately turned towards the tree that Maddie Fenton had risen and walked to. She knelt down and produced the first present, "Sam," she said. "I know you don't celebrate, but we didn't want you to feel left out." She handed the gift to the girl. "Now, it's nothing special, I didn't really know what you'd like, but you might enjoy it anyway."

"Oh you really didn't have to," Sam replied as she tentatively took the gift. It was already so awkward. They had invited her to stay in their home without even knowing her before hand and now they were giving her a present when she had absolutely nothing for them!

"Oh, but we wanted to! Now, again, it's nothing special... I snuck out yesterday while you kids were hanging out up in Jazz's room. Unfortunately there weren't that many stores open..." she explained. "So I'm sorry if-"

"I'm sure I'll love it," Sam assured her, smiling. "I'm just sorry because I never brought you anything."

"That's not true," Maddie's eyes lit up as she smiled at her son, "Is it Danny?" She looked at Sam again, "Well, go on and open it! You've been given the honor of going first!"

Sam smiled gratefully at her friend's mother as she peeled the tape off the sides of the silver wrapping paper. Soon she found herself holding an older book, it's worn cover read 'Wessex Poems and Other Verses by Thomas Hardy'. "Oh wow," Sam murmured as she skimmed the cover with her fingertips. She opened the book to a random page and read a few lines before closing it and smiling at Mrs. Fenton, "This is really great, thank you so much!"

"Oh, I'm just glad you liked it!" She beamed.

Soon, everyone and gone through their gifts. Jazz received a few new sweaters, a movie, and a couple gift cards, Vlad received an assortment of Maddie Fenton's baked goods (as they had no idea what else the multimillionaire would not have), Jack and Maddie got just a few trinkets between themselves as they had strictly told Jazz (and would have told Danny) not to get them anything, Danny had gotten a new winter coat and his own assortment of gift cards.

Danny bashfully explained to those present that he hadn't had the opportunity to get them anything and, though he was assured that it was perfectly alright, he promised more than once that he would make it up to all of them.

As the present-opening wound down, Jack and Maddie got to their feet and smiled knowingly at each other. "There is actually just one more thing left," they informed the group. "If everyone will just follow us to the garage..."

When they reached their destination, Danny was asked to turn on the lights and he did so.

And there, sitting there untouched was probably just about the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen... on wheels.

"I realize that given the weather it's pretty impractical," his mother shrugged as she sidled up beside him and rested an arm around his shoulders. "But this is what happens when your father is sent out -unsupervised- to get you a car."

"But this is so much cooler!" His father argued pointing at it enthusiastically.

"That's mine?!" Danny exclaimed as he too pointed at the brand new blue and white Suzuki motorcycle.

His beaming parents nodded.

"Mine?!" he asked again. He stepped forward, hands fanned out, ready to touch it, but afraid doing so would wake him up from this wonderful dream. He looked back at them, "Really?"

They nodded again.

"But how, I mean, it's amazing, but how could you guys afford it? I mean..."

"Thats another thing we wanted to talk to you kids about," Jack Fenton cleared his throat. "Your mother and I have a new job, all thanks to Vladdy here. We are now doing research and development in the Axion Labs Spectral Defense Department! With the new salary and the great Christmas bonus -thanks again Vladdy- we wanted to do something nice for you, son."

"It was so hard for us to make you leave school," His mother continued, "and, we know this doesn't even begin to make up for it... but we thought you might be able to make use of it."

"I might," he squeaked, very ready to just jump on board and take off down the street.

"Now, you can't go riding it until after you get your motorcyclist license, but that shouldn't take too long," his mother said.

"O-oh, right," he said, his excitement starting to wane at the realization. He looked longingly at the bike. "I can wait." ...'Maybe.'

The rest of the day continued in good spirits, or as good as could be excepted when an arch enemy was sharing Christmas dinner with you. It became a sort of game between Vlad and Danny. Vlad would dangle Danny's secret in front of his parents via a clever assortment of questions and Danny would do his best to dodge the bullet by supplying the assortment of vague replies he'd collected over the years. The game only paused when Tucker Foley had called with an invitation to a New Years Eve party. It was a welcomed distraction and the invitation was eagerly accepted.

It eventually dawned on Danny that his parents now worked for Vlad. This, to put it simply, was bad news.

Even if it did yield the most awesome bike ever created… this was entirely aside from the point.

The important thing was that now not only was Sam pulled into the mess, but his parents had dug themselves further into an already fairly deep hole. As if Vlad's startling obsession with his mother and deep seeded hatred of his father wasn't enough, he was now employing them to make weapons.

Weapons that would ultimately be aimed at their son... possibly even them, if he tweaked them a bit.

Later that evening, Vlad finally made his much anticipated departure. He said he needed to be back in Wisconsin by ten the next morning for work. He claimed he had a private helicopter waiting for him at a private airport. He claimed he had a wonderful time and that they would "do this again sometime".

After he zoomed off in his limo and the elder Fentons retired, Danny, Jazz, and Sam congregated in Danny's bedroom. All three were completely wired with the shear joy that Vlad was no longer present in the house. They had barely spoken amongst each other all day, and now there was much to be said.

The only problem was that no one was saying anything.

"This is," Sam said at last, choosing her words carefully, "just… twisted."

"Putting it lightly," Jazz remarked. Her face was somewhat drawn and she was more pale than usual, almost near Sam's level of fairness.

Everyone looked drained. Everyone was lost in their own thoughts. Danny looked the worst, him having the hero complex and all. He ran a hand down his face and looked at his sister and Sam. This shouldn't be on their shoulders. This was his problem, his!

He looked at the clock, it was almost midnight.

He needed answers. He needed them now. He couldn't wait anymore.

"I think we should all go to bed," he sighed. "It's been a long day and we all have a lot on our minds. We can talk it out in the morning."

"Maybe you're right," Jazz relented. "After all, so much stress can't be good for us. A night's sleep would do us a lot of good."

Sam held her head in her hands. "I honestly don't think I could. This is just too much! I don't even know the full situation here! I can't… I just…" So much stress, too much stress. It embodied itself in tears. They welled in her eyes.

Danny was by her side in a second. He took her hand. "Sam, I promise I'll tell you everything tomorrow. You gotta try and sleep, okay?"

Sam took a deep breath and looked at him. "I can't, it just… there's too much…"

"Sleeping pills!" Jazz said suddenly. "I think we've got some Tylenol PM around her somewhere. That should give you a good night's sleep. What do you say?"

Sam brought a hand to her forehead, it was warm with a headache. Sleep sounded so good right now, and at the same time it was the last thing she wanted. She had hoped for answers, but then there was always tomorrow. At last, she nodded, "Okay, sure."

"Good," Jazz smiled kindly. "I think maybe we should all take some, you know? Sleep in a little tomorrow and then just figure everything out logically… it's a good idea."

Danny nodded, agreeing. The sooner those two got to bed, the better.

He had a lot of work to do tonight.

-

Valerie picked half-heartedly at her TV dinner. She was curled up on the couch, covered by a throw blanket watching It's A Wonderful Life. The room was dark, save for the television that flickered and glowed.

She sneered at the happy ending. "Yeah right," she muttered.

Who was watching out for her father in that explosion? Who was watching out for her every time she lost a job or fought that stupid ghost? Who was watching out for her mother when…?

God, it was just a Christmas movie. It didn't mean anything. She rolled her eyes at herself for getting so worked up and flipped on the light by the side of the couch.

The sight of the happy, singing group of people quickly left the screen, replaced with a heartless, dark grey.

She thrust the meal, if you could call the cold, hard chicken fried steak and powdery mashed potatoes a meal, aside and stretched.

Her cell phone, forgotten in her pocket, began to vibrate violently. She jumped in surprise, crying out. She clamped a hand over her mouth and looked swiftly to her father's bedroom door. He was sleeping, hopefully she hadn't woken him.

He wasn't feeling well, which was why he was in bed at seven pm on Christmas, and why Valerie had to watch Christmas movies and eat her TV dinner alone.

She looked at the screen, "Tucker F" it read. Tucker… Tucker… Where did she know him from, again? Right! The club! She flipped it open. "Hello?"

"Hey Valerie!" the enthusiastic voice replied. "I'm not sure if you remember me, but-"

"I remember you," she grinned. "Don't worry. You were the disgruntled dress guy."

He paused, digesting the nickname.

Valerie smirked.

"Well… at least you remember me." He cleared his throat.

"So what can I do for you, disgruntled dress guy? Or should I just call you DDG for short?"

"Has anyone ever commended you for your comedic genius?" he griped, voice tinged with humor.

"Oh, constantly," Valerie smiled.

"Anyway though, I, um," he cleared his throat again. "Well, my family is hosting this New Year's Eve thing and I, well, um… I think Sam is going to be there and… and Danny too! He was at the club when we… Uh, well… Anyway, I was wondering if you'd possibly like to go?"

"I…" Valerie did not know what to say. She did not have plans on New Year's Eve, because that generally required having friends, which she had very little time for. "Well… I mean, where is it?"

"Right! Oh, right! Amity Park, it's maybe twenty minutes out of-"

"I know where it is," Valerie cut him off. "I grew up near there."

"…So you'll come?"

Valerie plopped down on the couch, smiling brightly. She twisted the blanket through her fingers. "Yeah, I think I will."

When she finally hung up the phone, about an hour later, she wanted to smack herself for being so giddy. It was like high school or something. Completely ridiculous.

But no matter how much she berated herself, she just couldn't wipe that stupid grin off her face.

-

Danny stood, because he felt it made him look more imposing, impassable, solid, than hovering with that bob. His mouth was drawn into a calculated frown and his eyes were meticulously hard. He stared down Clockwork. He was a miserly looking, old and withered figure. He could be Death himself what with his hooded cloak and blood red eyes.

"Dan, or, excuse me, Danny," Clockwork said, "What you are asking is… complicated."

"I don't care if it's complicated," Danny argued. "I want to know what you are doing! Why, why did you give the time medallions to Kitty? Why did you send her to watch over Sam? What is going on here?"

"Danny," he said, "I know you are well aware that Vlad is planning something. And to answer your other question, yes, he is a big part of the equation. And, also, you need not feel guilty about putting Samantha in danger. She was apart of Vlad's plot long before she ever found you –by the way, you're welcome."

"But what-?"

"You know very well I cannot tell you what will happen," Clockwork relied solemnly. "However, I will tell you this: You, Danny Phantom are due to face some trials. They will test your will power, your heart, your strength, and your virtue. If you succeed you will save the world from a very, very dark future."

"Again?" Danny asked weakly. It was true; he'd faced "trials" before (that had, of course, been conveniently erased from the time stream). Last time it hadn't exactly been a cakewalk…

Clockwork nodded. "Only this time it will be more difficult."

"Great," he muttered.

"Remember, Danny, that the greatest things in life are achieved through the greatest trials. This will not be easy, but the ending should make it worth your while," the suddenly infantile Clockwork explained. "For now, all I can advise you to do is… relax. Take it easy and, though I do realize this is falling on deaf ears, try not to worry so much."

"What?" Danny cried. "But you just told me that I'm on the verge of face the most difficult trials of my life and you are telling me to relax and not worry? Are you crazy?"

"Nothing major is going to happen for some time yet," the floating infant shrugged. "For now, you should be a twenty-one year old boy. Get your motorcycle license, get your own apartment, tell Samantha… It really isn't fair that she should be so in the dark on a situation in which she is so deeply tied."

"Can I bring her to see you?"

Clockwork rubbed his chin in thought. "Perhaps that would be a good idea… except I think it would be wise for you to wait for me to make an appearance rather than to take her through the Ghost Zone. Vlad, as you know, has eyes and ears everywhere... except here, of course. We will keep in touch.

Oh, and Danny, I believe you are familiar with a ghost hunter… You refer to her as Red?"

"Yeah," he groused. "What about her?"

"She is a key component to your success. Be patient with her. Watch her."

"Are you telling me that-!"

"I'm not telling you anything." An adolescent version of Clockwork now stood before Danny. "Now go. A good night's sleep will do you good Danny. Tomorrow is a big day."

-

Danny found himself in a familiar situation. He and Sam were walking side by side down a freshly shoveled sidewalk toward the park. His jacket collar was turned up to keep out the cold… and to hide Sam from his peripheral vision. She was not happy. She was scared and she was pissed off, and rightly so. Her arms were crossed tightly, as a mechanism of warmth as well as a way to tell Danny to back off. She had barely spoken to him all day.

The situation was familiar, but oh so foreign.

When they reached the park and found a location where Danny was sure no one would over hear, he said to Sam, "This is it. No more secrets."

Sam hmm'ed half-heartedly. She studied the ground, thickly covered in snow. She noted that her feet were cold and damp feeling. Some snow must have fallen into her boots. She kicked at the fluffy, white flakes.

"Okay," he took a deep breath and ran a hand down his face. "Here goes. …Sam, I… The accident, remember? Lancer talked about it?"

"Yeah," she shrugged. She kind of remembered it. Truth be told there had been a number of distractions that day, but it sounded familiar.

"Well, the accident was more complicated than… see, it did more to me than just knock me out for a while," he explained, swallowing thickly. "I, well… it was a ghost portal… I was inside of it and turned it on and –bam-, you know? Well, something happened to me because of it. I can't even begin to tell you how, because frankly, I just don't know… but somehow ectoplasm was fused into my DNA, or something like that, in the blast… and well, ever since then I've…"

He paused, no amount of explanation could compare to actually seeing the real thing. "Sam, do you trust me?"

She looked at him, watery eyed, but not crying. "I… yes." She said it and she knew it was true, she did trust him. …She trusted him with things like her life, but her heart and her secret were entirely different stories. She rubbed her cold shoulders. A thicker sweater would have been nice.

"Okay, well… okay," he said. "Sam, I'm going to show you something and, just remember that no matter what, I'm still me. I'm still Danny, okay?"

"Okay Danny," Sam replied. She eyed him incredulously. He looked so shaken and nervous. "Danny, I don't know what you are about to do, but I promise I'm not going to… I don't know, freak out or anything. Honest."

He smiled weakly. "Here goes."

Sam, simply put, was surprised, aghast, shocked… Generally not expecting what Danny showed her. At all.

There, were the strange boy she somehow befriended once stood, was another figure. He was of the same height and build, but his hair was snowy white and his eyes were a glowing emerald green. He wore a black and silver suit, a "D" marked on his chest. His most intriguing feature was the fact that he floated inches of the ground.

His eyes studied her reaction.

She staggered forward, a hand covering her mouth. "D-danny?"

He grinned, that same grin. "Yeah."

"You're floating," she stated.

"Yes," he nodded, his grin growing steadily stronger.

"Oh my god!" she cried, arm flying up to point blatantly. "You're floating! Oh my god!" She began to pace back and forth, occasionally giving Danny a look mix with awe, disbelief, amazement, and, of course, jaw-dropping shock.

"I can do more than float, you know," he replied smugly, wriggling his eyebrows. There was just something about going ghost that just filled him with confidence. Of course, the fact that Sam wasn't running away screaming, or jumping on her cell phone to call a reporter helped a great deal, too.

"You… so this is how you get your pictures." She said after a moment of consideration, her back turned to him.

"Yeah, and it's also why I took off that day with Lancer," he explained with a light shrug. "I am kind of a vigilante of ghosts."

"I saw you," she said, turning around sharply to resume her blatant pointing. Her eyes widened, she jabbed her finger in the air. "You, you were in my room that night after Kitty- You scared the shit out of me, you jerk!" She smacked him, half surprised to find his arm solid and half surprised at its unnatural coldness.

"I'm sorry! I was worried!" he defended. "I sensed a ghost in your room and I had to find out what was going on! Would you rather I just sat back and didn't do anything?"

She stood there, smiling, arms crossed, shaking her head. "Oh my god!" she exclaimed, dropping her arms dramatically. "You, oh my god." She shook her head some more in that exasperated, disbelieving, but oddly accepting sort of way. "You really are…" She touched a hand to her temple and snorted. "My life has just gotten so much weirder."

"Welcome to my world," Danny smiled ruefully.

"So you can fly." Sam was grinning. This was so, so weird... And yet so very cool.

"I can," he nodded and started to count off on his fingers. "I can also turn invisible and intangible. I can shoot nifty lasers out of my hands and manipulate ectoplasm… lots of stuff."

"Danny, and don't you dare tell Lydia this," she warned, "But I believe you have officially become my favorite person."

At these words, all doubt was removed from his mind that this had been the right thing to do. He was truly, truly happy. Maybe he could take Clockwork's advice? You know, be an average twenty-one year old boy... er, that is to say as normal as a half-ghost can manage. "Would you like to go for a fly?"

Sam looked at him. Did he really have to ask?

-

::AN:: Okay, well a lot of stuff happened in this chapter and I made sure to make it nice and long for everyone. In my haste to get it out and about, no editing was done. That will come later courtesy of my amazing, awesome editor, Silente Faerie64.

Anyway, I wrote this instead of studying for an Astronomy exam I have tomorrow, so I expect major ass kissing.

As for the four month delay… It was a mixture of writer's block, sickness, and stress from being sick and playing catch up with all my classes. As of now I am barely passing everything. (Note: Don't get the flu on the day a big paper is due. It will screw you over.)

Tucker will be back in the next chapter and thoroughly pissed off that he missed out on so much, don't worry. He's not forgotten. And as for the "trials" Danny faced… well, they were erased from the time stream and have nothing to do with The Ultimate Enemy.

Till Next time!

-DRC-