Author's Note: This is an exercise I did in atmospheric writing. It might not be the best work I have, but it's something that I wanted to preserve; what with the original copy being on a forum, it will, no doubt, eventually be buried under other people's work and lost. This short story was inspired not by "The Ultimate Enemy", which I did not see when I first started work on it, but by "The Answer", the opening theme for Megaman X6, written and performed by Morikubo Shoutaro. Googling for "The Answer" +Morikubo Showtaro, should get you a link to the lyrics. I hope you enjoy this or at least learn from my writing exercise.

The lights flickered convulsively, as if they were on the verge of dying. Shadows shivered and shuddered in the wake of the violently strobing light, as if it had triggered some fatal, epileptic shock in them. They seemed to writh against the walls, sprawled out like murder victims, clawing desperately at anything with their last breath.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" called out the black-haired youth, as he stood there on the linoleum floor, streaked with black and white zig-zags. He looked around him.

No one seemed to be around, as the lights flickered frenziedly like some violent psychedelic episode, throwing shadows against velvet curtains and pulling them off just as savagely. He seemed to be all alone there in the strange labryinth of curtains that seemed to stretch upwards towards infinity.

"Hello?" he called out again.

A dull, throbbing headache made the black haired youth wince. It was a terrible pain that made him feel as if someone were pounding his head with stones. Again and again the pain came. He wanted to cry out in agony, sprawl against the floor and just die.

The light died and he was plunged into a darkness so thick and suffocating, it seemed that it would take his breath away.

"Danny, are you okay? Danny?"

That voice sounded so familiar to him. Where had he heard it before? Whose voice was that? Who was calling out to him from through the darkness that seemed as solid as stone itself?


Eyes flickered open and then shut again. They tried to open once more, but shut fast as if they were made out of cold, heavy stone. In that brief moment, he had seen some tall figure with white hair and... No, the memory of what he saw disappeared just as soon as it had entered his mind. As far as he knew, he didn't see anything.

Memories were fleeting. They were intangible, there, but not quite there, existing forever in his mind, lingering there like ghosts. If only he could touch them, feel them, know them and see them. He could just taste them, these vague memories that were like a shadowy presence, like a lingering flavour. It was to tantalising, so teasing...

"Daniel, wake up. You must wake up."

"Who? Who are you?" asked Danny curiously.

Something wet pressed against him. Water? No, it wasn't quite water. Perhaps a damp cloth? No, maybe it was water. Then again, maybe it was both.

Slowly, Danny opened his eyes again.

Thoughts became a whirlwind within him. Velvet curtains, linoleum floors with black and white zig-zags, flickering and strobing lights... Memories of something that might not have happened lignered behind his eyes and vanished.


"Nice to see you're awake, son," said Vlad with a smile spreading across his thin lips.

"Vlad?" exclaimed Danny in surprise, as he sat up. "W… What are you doing here?"

"Now, now, calm down, Daniel," said the white-haired man calmly, the smile having disappeared long since.

Calm down? Calm down? Why should he calm down? Danny had just awoken to find himself on a bed in one of Vlad Masters' many bedrooms, possibly having been knocked unconscious and he was supposed to calm down? But, it was strange when he thought about it; Danny did feel calm. He was unusually calm for a person who was in such close proximity to his arch-nemesis. Why was he so calm? He felt like a tranquil body of water, so wet and so strange. It was almost as if the fear, the rage, the distrust had all melted out of him.

Danny didn't understand. Why did he feel so calm? What could have been the reason for it? None of it made any sense to him.

"What am I doing here?" he asked Vlad sternly. "How'd I get here and what did you have to do with it?" Ah, yes, there was his distrust of Vlad. It welled back up within him, almost as if he were an actor that had lost his cue and forgotten to act his part at the right moment.

"Daniel, you must calm down," stated Vlad almost sorrowfully. "Please, you must calm down."

"Calm down?" cried out Danny angrily. "How can I?" He couldn't believe the nerve of this man, if he could be called one. "I…" he began, only to trail off. What had he been doing before he was knocked out, no doubt by Vlad? He tried thinking. Memory recall should have been easy, yet the memories of what he had been doing prior to his awakening were a blur.

They weren't even a blur. It was as if someone had excised them from his mind, as if someone had taken out a huge chunk of his brain. His head felt sticky, as if it had melted whilst he had been asleep. Danny clasped his head with his right hand and massaged his temples, as he thought silently and tried to recall his past.

"What have you done to me?" asked Danny hoarsely. "Why can't I remember?"

"Daniel, I didn't do anything," protested Vlad with a shake of his head. "Please, calm down. You mustn't strain yourself."

"Strain myself?" repeated Danny, as he looked up at Vlad slowly with hazy eyes. "Why not? Who says? You're not my keeper. You're not my father. You can't tell me what to do!" His voice rose to a shout, as he threw off the bed covers. "I can strain myself if I want to! I can go ghost if I want to!" he screamed, as a familiar light enveloped him and covered him. His entire body seemed to burn and he cried out.

A look of shock spread across Vlad's face.

"No! Don't!" he cried and he lunged at Danny. He didn't even go ghost. Vlad leapt at Danny and brought him tumbling back to the bed. "Don't you dare," he hissed through clenched teeth, as he pinned the black-haired youth to the bed. "Don't you even dare go ghost. You can't strain yourself. You mustn't. Not after the accident."

"Accident?" echoed Danny and his entire body went limp from confusion. "What...? What accident?"

Then it came back to him. How could he forget? The searing flames that flickered and danced mockingly in front of him and the choking, thick black smoke... He couldn't understand how he could forget it and tears ran down from his eyes.

Vlad let Danny sit back up. He didn't say a thing and his face remained set in a steeled expression.

Jack, Maddie, Jazz... all of them were gone. Sam too and maybe even Tucker. It didn't matter if it was the explosion, the smoke or the flames. They were gone and what was left of them was nothing more but ash.

"Daniel, I'm sorry," said Vlad quietly, as he placed an arm around his shoulders, almost comfortingly. "I'm so sorry."

Eternity seemed to stretch out forever in front of Danny. No parents, no family, no friends, he had an eternity and as far as his mind's eye could see, there was nothing to look forward to. There were no girlfriends. He could forget boyfriends too. There was nothing he could do and nothing he could ever want that would ever be fulfilled.

Was Vlad really sorry? He hated Jack, Danny knew that Vlad hated Jack. Maddie and Jasmine, not so much. Yet Vlad hated Jack and Danny couldn't believe that Vlad didn't hate him too.

"You love seeing me like this," murmured Danny quietly under his breath.

"What was that?" asked Vlad curiously.

"Let go of me," snarled Danny angrily. "Let go!" He became intangible and Vlad's arm went straight through him as if he wasn't there.

A part of his mouth curled up into a manic smile at the very thought of it. There were many times when he wish he wasn't there, when he wished that he never existed. Sometimes he couldn't help but wonder whether these ghost powers were an extension of his feelings of being ignored or a wish to not exist made real.

He heard Vlad call out to him.

"Go away!" he shouted back at Vlad and disappeared through the floor. Danny didn't need to weave in and out of the patients, nurses and doctors he came across. He went through them and lost himself through the maze of sterile corridors, linoleum floor, white walls and white lights.

A sterile heart in a sterile hospital.

How many ghosts wandered the corridors and rooms of a hospital? If ghosts were merely memories, kept alive by those that still live, then none. What hope was there of a ghost remaining behind in a hospital where none of the staff remember you and those that do go away?

Danny wondered whether he too would disappear and vanish in the hospital. As he traversed deeper, he couldn't help but wonder whether he too would be forgotten. Would he forget himself?

And there were wires in the air and lights started changing.

The image of their melted heads and their arms clawing out away from the fire seemed as if they were never leave his head. His pain, his head, who would want them?

Danny wished he had never survived. Why had he been cursed to survive? To not want to live, to not want to die, is that not Hell itself?

A stabbing headache made him lose his concentration. Danny became tangible without knowing it and crashed against a set of brooms that came tumbling on top of him. He felt as if stones were being pelted at his head. As if the mental pain was not enough.

Light flickered and strobed. Movement seemed jerky and unrefined. Then darkness.

A head shook in the darkness. It shook impossibly fast, from side to side, as if they were denying anything and everything with such violent ferocity it seemed to him that his head would come off the neck.

Lights start changing... There's wires in the air... Then darkness.

Danny looked down and his shoes seemed so far away from him, he couldn't quite believe it. He looked back up and frowned. The black-haired youth saw velvet curtains around him. They hung there and swayed like the condemned, their edges brushing against the zig-zag pattern of the linoleum floor.

Voices whispered in the breeze so quiet that they were unintelligble.

No matter how hard he strained to hear the voices, he couldn't quite make out what they were saying. He wished he could, but a part of him didn't. A part of him wanted nothing to do with the whispering voices that floated through the air like ghosts.

"Hello! Is anyone there?" called out Danny, as he rose up to his feet. "Hello?" he called out.

The swirling echo of voices reminded Danny so much of Casper High. He could remember walking through those corridors, alone amidst a crowd of lives, memories and thoughts. Just as he did then, he walked alone through a myriad of voices and sounds that would have nothing to do with him.

Soon, Danny emerged from the curtains and back out into the hospital. He stopped and stared out in front of him. Was this the same sterile hospital he had been in earlier? He couldn't quite believe it. The walls smeared with mud, light fixtures hanging from wires and doors barely hanging on to their broken hinges.

What had happened?

Was this Plasmius' doing? Danny couldn't help but wonder if it was. Surely, Plasmius was not so inhuman as to attack and completely destroy a hospital in search for him? No, it didn't make sense. Surely, Plasmius wouldn't need to do that.

Danny began to worry for the people that had been patients or hospital staff. Had they been hurt or worse? He ran through the corridor and peered into the empty rooms, at the mud-stained wheelchairs that lay on their sides and at the soiled beds that had been hung from the ceiling like bizarre ornaments.

Perhaps this was all the work of a mad man. Who else would hang beds from the ceiling like convicted criminals? He just hoped that what was stained on the walls and the floor really was mud.

He walked into one of the wrecked rooms and looked around him. There wasn't a single sign that anybody had been left behind. Whoever had attacked hadn't managed to kill or maim anyone in this room.

Out of the corner of Danny's eye, he caught a glimpse of someone. He turned round. It was just a mirror and he only saw his reflection staring back at him, wide-eyed in disbelief. The reflection scowled with anger and a split second later, Danny smashed the mirror.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" called out a feminine voice.

Danny turned round. That voice sounded so familiar, yet Danny couldn't quite figure out where he had heard it from before. His ears could taste the sweet scent of fear in her voice... No, the sweetness wasn't in that fear. There was something else behind it.

"Please, is anybody there?" the feminine voice called out again. "Somebody, help me, please."

That was a voice that Danny didn't quite expect to hear, as he walked out of the ruined room. He looked up and down the corridor, past a drinking fountain, which spewed out a thin muddy water that spilled out onto the linoleum floor. Danny crossed the corridor to the opposite side and peered in through the doorway into another wrecked room.

"Sam?" exclaimed Danny in surprise.

The black-haired girl turned round, tears streaking her cheeks. It was a sight that Danny never thought he would see. Even when she had been menaced on Freakshow's train, she had not cried.

"Danny?" she exclaimed in surprise, then her lips curled up into a smile. "Boy, am I glad to see you."

Perhaps it was the sight of Sam in a large cage, suspended over a pit that had been excavated in the middle of the room. Maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, Danny didn't even respond to her words. He merely looked on with a strange disinterested look on his face.

"How'd you get in there?" he finally managed to ask her curiously, as he looked down the pit to see curved talons protruding from the mud. "What happened here?" Danny asked her.

"I... I don't know," protested Sam with a shake of her head. "Does it matter?"

In response to the question, Danny looked up at her with forlorn eyes.

"I thought you were dead," he told her calmly.

"Dead?" exclaimed Sam in disbelief, a look of hurt on her face. "How...? Why...? I don't understand. Why would I be dead?"

"You tell me," retorted Danny sternly.

Sam remained speechless, the look of shock glued on to her face. She didn't say a thing in response to Danny's words. Perhaps it was the absurdity of the notion. Maybe she had realised something that wasn't right. Whatever it was, she didn't respond quickly. It was doubtful whether anyone could have responded quickly.

"I thought so," said Danny quietly, before he turned round.

"Wait! Where are you going?" called out Sam, as she rushed to the edge of the cage and stretched out with one arm as if she could grab him. "Danny!"

The black-haired youth stopped and turned back round to face her.

"You're not Sam," he told her calmly.

"What? Danny, are you nuts?" cried out Sam in disbelief. "Of course, I'm Sam!" She received no reply for that remark. "What?" she exclaimed, as he glared at her. "You don't believe me? Danny, you're better than that. We've known each other for ages... you, me and Tucker... We had such great times together, right?"

Danny didn't say a word. He just stared at her.

"Danny, we did so much together," said Sam in what sounded like a desperate attempt to convince him she was who she really said she was.

The tears in her eyes was what did it for Danny. He turned round before she could even continue and started to walk away.

"Danny!" called out Sam. "Danny!"

Vlad mopped his brow with the handkerchief, as he paced up and down the room. He felt uncomfortable. Perhaps, though, that was an understatement. There was a stabbing pain in his chest, as if he had just swum an infinite number of miles across some dark, unknown ocean.

The orderly had been a gone long time, as hard the nurse.

"Shouldn't have shouted at them so loudly," he muttered to himself, as he paced up and down the empty hospital room. Vlad wondered if he had frightened them off in his rage. "How can they not find him?" he wondered under his breath. "He's weak, weaker now than he ever was thanks to his injuries. Daniel couldn't have gotten far. He must still be in the hospital and yet these fools can't even find him."

Leaving the room was out of the question. He wanted to stay there in case the hospital staff brought Danny back. Yet a part of him wanted to leave and go out in search for Danny.

The white-haired middle-aged man stopped and looked out the window at the lifeless blue sky. It was a violent blue, a vivid blue, yet to him it seemed colorless. Even the sea of green in the neighbouring park seemed dead to him. Nothing was beautiful anymore.

Even before, very little had seemed beautiful to Vlad. The world was ugly and, to use a cliché he despised as equally as the late Jack Fenton, there seemed to be no rhyme and reason to his life.

Maddie was the only thing he sought. She was the star in his darkness. Hope took the form of a red-haired woman that he had loved since college. The future took the image of a humiliated broken Jack Fenton and a Maddie that loved him and a son that was his.

Only Danny now knew the pain that he felt. There was no one else in the world that knew what it was like to have no hope and no dreams. All he had were his memories of her, that haunted his ghost kept alive by his own miserable mind. Memories were intangible. Memories gave no comfort. They could do nothing to soothe the gaping wound in his heart.

Danny was all he had now to remind him of Maddie, his beloved, his rose, his star and his hope of true happiness. He wanted Danny, his mind and his pain. There was nothing more to it. Vlad would look after Danny as though he were his own son. He would honour the memory of the late Maddie Fenton by looking after her offspring, her creation.

Vlad broke down into tears. Salty drops welled from eyes that he had long thought to have dried up. Never again, he had thought. Now he cried as he had cried before in his deprived youth.

A half-closed almond-shaped eye had been drawn near the top of the circle with some strange squiggle above it that looked like two letter R's back to back, with the one on the left reversed. Underneath the eye was a set of lines curved through the remaining space in the circle and if one observed them carefully, they would just be able to figure out that the lines made up one capital O, one capital A, one capital U and two capital Ms, all overlaid on top another with their lines all curved in a different fashion so that none obscured the other, but all intersected.

It had been drawn on the floor in blood.

At least, that was what Danny assumed it was as he stood there, staring at the strange symbol traced out on the floor of the hospital foyer near the boarded up doors.

"I've been looking for a way out for a long time now," said a voice behind him.

Danny didn't even turn round to look at the person that had talked to him. He merely nodded in reply.

"Yeah," he said quietly and then remained silent for a while, staring at the strange symbol that stared back out at him from the floor. "How long have you been here, Jazz?" he asked his sister curiously.

"I... I don't know," was Jazz's reply, as she walked up to her brother. She looked at him wearing his white T-shirt, as she hugged herself. "Don't you feel cold?" she asked him curiously.

"No," was Danny's abrupt reply.

"I am," replied Jazz.

For a while, Danny didn't say a thing. He merely looked at the symbol on the floor unblinkingly, standing there in silence without a word passing his lips. Was there any need for him to say anything? Wasn't the silence enough?

After a while, Danny turned round to look at his sister.

"Where's Mom and Dad?" he asked her curiously. "Aren't they with you?"

Jazz shook her head, a worried expression pasted on her lips. The shaking her of head seemed strange to Danny and a second later, it seemed as if her head was quivering convulsively, shaking violently from left to right at an impossible speed.

Danny blinked. Maybe he was seeing things, because Jazz seemed perfectly normal standing there. He must have imagined the impossibly fast turning of her head. No real person could have done that.

"This isn't real, is it?" Danny asked her suddenly.

"What?" exclaimed Jazz in a bemused tone of voice. She got no reply. "Danny," she began, only to trail off as if words had escaped her. Jazz shook her head again, a silent expression that told Danny she didn't understand what he was trying to get at.

"Look around you," said Danny in explanation, as he gestured around the hospital at the overturned wheelchairs and the stretchers with ripped fabric. "Does this look real to you?" he asked her. "No way is this place real."

Jazz laughed, almost hysterically, at Danny's suggestion.

"How can it not be real?" she asked him curiously. "Danny, are you feeling okay?" she asked him, as she reached out with a hand towards his forehead.

The black-haired youth jerked away from her.

"I'm fine," he snapped. "No, really, I'm fine," he repeated again when Jazz asked. "Let's just go find Mom and Dad." He winced and then bit his lower lip in pain, as he put his right foot down.

The pain was almost unbearable. It felt as if he had hurt his knee in some kind of fall. But he continued walking anyway. Danny didn't want Jazz to know about the pain he was in. There was no way he was going to have Jazz fuss over him, and there was no way he was going to leave her alone.

Suddenly, the dead lights began to flicker. Having been in the prolonged darkness for so long, the white seemed so bright it was almost blue. It flickered and strobed; it made their movements seem jerky and unrefined.

There was a gasp from behind him.

"Danny!" screamed Jazz, as she was dragged backwards.

"Jazz?" exclaimed Danny, as he turned round.

Jazz was being dragged back by someone that he couldn't quite make out. She was crying out for him, as she was dragged towards the gaping mouth of the elevator car, the light within flickering like strobe lighting.

"Hey, you let go of her!" cried Danny, as he ran after his sister.

The fear of being alone struck up within him, as he ran across the mud-stained floor. He didn't want to be alone. Danny feared Jazz would be taken away from him forever. He feared that he'd never see his sister again.

The elevator doors, scratched and dull, started to close. They slid tantalisingly slow as Danny raced towards them, but then they jerked to a halt. It seemed as if they jammed, leaving a slight gap, then they shut, only to slide back open to reveal that tiny little gap through which he could only glimpse his sister, then closed again.

"Hey, open these doors!" cried Danny, as he banged on them. He couldn't put his fingers in between the malfunctioning doors for fear of them crushing them. There was only one other way to deal with it. "All right, you asked for it," he said, as he took a step back.

Danny concentrated. He tried to 'go ghost'. Seconds passed and they seemed to stretch out forever into minutes, becoming an endless infinity before his eyes.

"No," he whimpered pathetically, as he suddenly realised he couldn't turn into his ghostly persona. Why couldn't he 'go ghost'?

"Open the doors!" he yelled, as he rushed back at the elevator doors. "Open them up!" he yelled over Jazz's blood curdling screams. "Open them up!" he cried, as tears streamed down his cheeks.

Flames sparked. A taste of inferno licked out of the gap in the doors like a devilish tongue and Danny fell backwards.

A dull throbbing headache made the black haired youth wince. It was a terrible pain that made him feel as if someone were pounding his head with stones. Again and again, the pain came. He wanted to cry out in agony, sprawl against the floor and just die.

As the darkness took hold, Jazz's screams echoed in his ears.

Danny stood at the edge of the pit. He stared at the small, charred length of chain that still hung from the ceiling, snapped in the middle as if the weight of the cage had been too much for it. A part of him wanted to look down into the pit, to see the mangled metalwork and the mangled body that must have lain down there.

Why had he been so adamant that the Sam suspended over the pit was not real? It made no sense. Why didn't he save her? Was he that afraid of the consequences of him being wrong?

He held himself as he stood there at the edge of the pit, rubbing his right hand over his left arm up and down repeatedly. His gaze had drifted down to the hole, the sides with blood-stained claws protruding from them. That was no doubt her blood that stained the claws. There was no doubt about that.

Guilt seized his heart and he began to wonder whether anything he saw was real. Surely, they had all died in the explosion at the Nasty Burger, burnt to a crisp by the flames that engulfed the block?

Danny averted his gaze from what looked like a fire-blackened piece of flesh and turned away from the pit. He didn't want to see anymore, as he walked away from the gaping hole in the floor. There was no need to see anymore. Both Jazz and Sam were gone. No one could deny that.

As he stepped out into the corridor, an agonising stab of pain tore through his chest. It felt as if someone had dug all five of their sharp nails into his chest and twisted the hand, until skin had broke and flesh bled. Danny felt as if those fingers had contracted around what flesh they had managed to grab on to, as if they were trying to tear his chest right off him.

Tears streamed down his cheeks, as he staggered away from that hideous room. He collapsed in the middle of the corridor, clutching at his chest, an emotional pain made physical, real and tangible.

"Why?" he muttered under his breath. "Why?" he shouted angrily and slammed his fist into the mud-stained linoleum floor. "Why do these things have to happen to me?" he screamed tearfully.

"If it all gets better when you keep praying, then for today only you can be a god."

"Danny? Danny, is that you?"

That voice sounded so familiar and upon hearing it, a strange demented smile spread across Danny's lips.

"Mom? Dad?" he exclaimed, as he wiped the tears from his eyes and rose to his feet. He turned round, the small smile diminishing from his lips before he could face them.

"Danny, I'm so glad you're safe!" cried Maddie, as she rushed up to Danny and hugged him so tightly he thought he would die from suffocation.

"It's good to see you're all right, champ," said Jack, as he mimed a small friendly punch at Danny's arm.

To say that it hurt was an understatement. Danny wondered whether his father would ever realise his own strength. Still, it was good to see that they were still there.

Lights started flickering on and off. It seemed as if the light was fighting against the darkness, or maybe the other way round. Heads seemed to shake from side to side impossibly fast. Somewhere there was a burst of flames.

Danny winced in pain, as a headache overcame him. It felt as if stones were pelting against his head. Every blow seemed to make his vision blur. Fire seemed to burn in front of him, dancing and flickering in his vision and...

The fire burnt away as it always did in the fireplace within Vlad's study.

Danny sat on the edge of Vlad's desk, his legs dangling limply below him. The nightmares he'd been having had gotten worse ever since he had left the hospital. Every night, he would return to the abandoned nightmare hospital. Nothing he could do could save them.

Each one of them would burn in front of his very eyes, writhing and screaming. No matter how he changed the events, somehow they would always find the flames. The death they experienced was horrifying to no end, a twisted seething flower of fire that bloomed and blossomed in a Hellish manner that Danny never thought possible.

It haunted his dreams. The memories of these dreams and the memories of the reality haunted his every waking moments. Not a single hour, minute, nor even a single second passed without him dwelling on the agony his friends and family must have suffered.

The pain of sorrow in his chest felt so physical. Danny wished it would heal, that he would be rid of it forever. Emotional scars don't heal well, though. Vlad was testament to that and now Danny experienced an emotional scar, different to Vlad's but one that must have felt the same in every way.

"No one knows how I feel," murmured Danny under his breath, as he looked at the fires spitefully. "No one but me knows what true pain feels like."

A strange, twisted smile spread across Danny's face, as he thought of all those people outside that smiled. Their smiles sickened him. He chuckled at the very thought of it. Other people's happiness made him sick to the stomach. He was jealous of them. He despised them for being happier than him, for knowing that their future may contain happiness whereas his would not.

Danny often wondered how he had come to think like that. Before, it had never bothered him. Other people's happiness had often brought a smile to his own lips. Yet now, it felt like a cancer that devoured him from within.

The image of his parents burning in front of his very eyes haunted him. He had never seen them die in the original accident, yet in his nightmares they died so vividly in front of him. It drove him wild with rage.

"Danny, what are you doing here?" asked Vlad curiously from the door.

For a moment, Danny didn't even reply. He just there on Vlad's desk with his hands tucked underneath his legs, staring down at his feet.

"Nothing," was his reply, after what seemed like much deliberation. "Nothing. I should be going." He slid off the desk.

"Danny," said Vlad sternly with a heavy sigh. "Something is wrong," he said with an emphasis on the second word. "You can tell me about it."

"No, no I c..." began Danny, but then he realised that was the old him. He could trust Vlad now. Why couldn't he? His old arch-foe had nothing else to live for. "No, nothing's bothering me."

Vlad shook his head.

"Danny, you can't fool me," he told the black-haired youth. "Something's wrong. I can see it. You don't think I can't see it?" He laughed bitterly. "I see that exact same expression on your face every morning when I look in the mirror."

"I don't want to feel like this anymore," blurted out Danny suddenly. He looked up at Vlad with glistening eyes filled with a terrifying sadness that made Vlad look uneasy. "I can't forget about the accident. I dream about it every night and I remember it every day..." He held himself tightly, as he stood there in Vlad's cold study. "Sometimes, I just wish I hadn't survived either..."

"Don't think like that, Danny," protested Vlad, as he reached out to grip him firmly by the arms. "Never think like that," he said sternly. The stern expression on his face faded, to turn into one of concern. His grip weakened and he eventually let go of Danny, as he said, "We've got to carry on living, for Maddie's sake, for the memory of your friends and family."

He walked past Danny towards his desk.

"I'm sure Maddie didn't raise you up to be a quitter," said Vlad, as he pulled open a drawer on his desk. He looked back towards Danny, as he picked up a folder, his eyes seemingly accentuated in the glare of the flickering flames of the fireplace. "Am I right about that?"

Danny didn't say a word in reply.

That was to be expected. Vlad opened the folder in front of him. His eyes scanned the pale paper and its jet black ink. It seemed so harsh on his eyes, like everything had since Maddie's demise.

"I think I may be able to fix things," he told Danny. "If we separate your ghost half from you, perhaps, just perhaps, we might be able to separate the sorrow from your very being."

A look of pure horror spread momentarily across Danny's face, but it was so brief that in the blink of an eye, Vlad missed it completely.

"Separate me from my ghost half?" exclaimed Danny curiously. "You must be kidding me. How will...? How...?" He didn't even finish his sentence, as he stared down at the floor, a somewhat determined look on his face.

"Ghost Gauntlets, Danny," was Vlad's reply, as he put the folder back down. "I can use them to extract the ghost part of you out of your body."

Danny looked crestfallen, as he stood there. He didn't say a word to Vlad. There was silence and all that they could hear was the crackling of the fire that did little to keep Vlad's study warm. He looked up.

"Sure, why not?" he said with a strange smile twisted onto his lips.

An image of a twisted, cancerous monster burnt in the back of his mind with the faces of his friends and family placed randomly on its hideous, bloody, flaming bulk. He could still see this nightmarish illusion even in his waking moments. Danny wanted to be rid of it...

The memories of what had happened after that still haunted Vlad, as he sat there in his chair, his hair overgrown to a shaggy, untamed, dirty mess. He looked at the Danny Phantom that stood before him, a white-haired youth that was so much like the Danny he used to know.

Vlad could see the defiance in this Danny's eyes, a defiance that had long since been extinguished in the old Danny he once knew. That brought back memories of the time he had fought Danny, of the good times when Maddie was still alive.

What had happened? That was a good question that this Danny asked. It was quite a surprise to him that this Danny knew nothing about what had happened.

Danny took off the gas mask as Vlad put on his gloves. From the very suggestion that Vlad had made, he knew he could no longer trust this man. He couldn't trust anyone anymore. His eyes glowed an eerie green, as he glared at Vlad from the operating table.

Quietly, Danny became intangible. He floated through the restraints, invisible to the naked eye. Danny floated up quietly to Vlad, knowing that if he had walked, his footsteps would have been heard.

Vlad turned round, the gloves on his hands and sharp metallic claws protruding from the fingertips.

They would hurt. Danny knew they would hurt, yet he knew the suffering they would cause was only fleeting. He reached out and grabbed the gloves, pulling them off Vlad's hands. Danny became tangible, as he went ghost, letting the gloves slide on to his hands.

"Danny, what are you doing?" cried Vlad in disbelief.

"Doing what I should have done a long time ago," was Danny's reply, an insane smile twisted on to his lips as he raked at Vlad's chest with the claws on the metallic Ghost Gauntlets and tore Vlad's ghost half right out of him.

Vlad was thrown across the room to the other side. His ghost side hit the other wall and Danny became intangible again and flew straight into Vlad's ghost half.

There was a flash of light and Vlad had to shield his eyes.

"You never cared for me," growled Danny, as he emerged from the light, his skin a pale blue, his hair like a burning white flame. "From the moment you suggested taking away my ghost half, I knew you never cared. No one ever cared."

"Danny, that's not true!" protested Vlad.

Danny laughed.

"Of course, it is!" he protested. "No one out there knows the pain I feel, the pain to have lost everyone I held dear!" He flexed his hand, the claws shining in the laboratory light, as he stared Vlad down, closing in on his old enemy.

"Look at me!" shouted Danny angrily. "Not quite alive... not quite dead... I will suffer forever! Why should they be happy? Why should they look forward to their future, when I can't look forward to anything?"

He fired a blast of energy down at Vlad, whom retracted his leg just in time to avoid it being blown off his body.

"What ghosts do doesn't matter," he said bitterly. "The death of humanity is only fleeting. I will make them know what it's like to have no escape! I'll teach them what it means to not have anything to look forward to!"

An evil, disgusted sneer spread across Danny's face.

"Those disgusting pigs!" he screamed. "I will burn the smiles off their faces!"

"Danny, you mustn't!" protested Vlad. "You can't! What would your mother think? What you're thinking of doing is inhuman!"

"Human?" exclaimed Danny angrily. "This is what I think of humanity!" he sneered, as he grabbed himself with the Ghost Gauntlets and pulled something out. He threw the bloody remains of his humanity against the wall. "Human? What's a human?" he asked. "That useless pile of decaying flesh? Ha! Let it lie there and rot for all the good it ever did."

Vlad shivered. He had never seen such rage. He had never seen such hatred, not even that he felt himself could compare.

"Please... don't," he begged.

"Don't?" laughed Danny. "Why shouldn't I? Huh? No! Forget it. Nothing you say can change my mind. So be the first to burn in Hell!"

Vlad could still remember escaping his burning manor. He could still remember the flickering flames that danced like devils in front of him. The taste and smell of the smoke would remain with him forever.

And there Danny stood in front of him. That same look of innocence, of defiance, that heroic look that he had nearly forgotten...

This Danny seemed full of hope. He had come to confront him, to find out what was going on, as if he could somehow defeat his evil self. So much hope... Vlad had almost forgotten what it looked like and yet even there, seeing this boy, he somehow felt that hope seep into his own body.

Yet he could so easily extinguish that hope. Vlad could so easily crush this Danny's hope by telling him the truth, by telling him everything. Could he do that? Was he still possible of hurting Danny emotionally and in spirit.

Could he do that? Would he do that?

"If it's the road I chose, it's probably a lie."

Vlad didn't smile. He couldn't smile and had never been able to smile again since the incident approximately ten years ago. Yet he decided to choose the path that was best for this Danny, for the world...

The End.