A/N: Happy Ninth Dannyversary! I know this is technically going up on the 4th but, well, I didn't finish it quite in time (story of my life). But how about a happy surprise present for you - an update!

Look...I know I've been a terrible person for taking this long to get this chapter up. I have reasons and I have excuses, but you don't deserve to hear them. It's just been too long that I won't insult you with them. I am truly, deeply, and unbelievably sorry. After all your loyalty, attention, and devotion to me and this story, you didn't deserve that wait, and I can never apologize enough. You all mean so much to me, and I'm so sorry to hurt you like I did.

To those that I lost forever with my long wait...I am incredibly sorry, and I understand. To those of you who are still with me...I don't know how you are and I can't thank you enough for sticking around and putting up with me over these long, tortuous years. To those of you who are new...feel lucky I didn't put you through what I put my other readers through.

But enough of me talking, because that's not what you care about. On to the chapter! I have to say it was quite intimidating writing something good enough to present to you after all this time: I can only hope I did it justice.


Chapter Twenty-Four
Penance

He had beaten him of his own merit, on his own terms. No one could call it a lucky break now. He had fought hard, suffered immense pains, and he had come out victorious. He had beaten him and no one could deny that. But if that was the case…why wasn't he happy or proud or relieved? The end of Dan should have been a triumph worthy of nights of celebration. It should have been a time to congratulate himself on an impossible enemy well beaten and a grueling battle won. So why didn't this feel like a victory? But one look around the street at all the stretchers and paramedics addressing his injured family and his sister's cold, still body lying on the pavement gave him the answer he needed.

It didn't feel like a victory because it wasn't.


"Jazz? Jazz? Jazz!" The heart wrenching cry of a brother's shock, fear, and pain reverberated down the street and through the hearts of all present. Time seemed to stop as the sore, bleeding hero ran over to his beloved sister's body. There was no dignity in his run, no sign of the proud victor that just saved the city and possibly the world from one of the true horrors of the Ghost Zone. In that moment, he was a meek, lost boy scrambling for the body of the one who helped him stand fast against everything in his life. He may have been the steadfast warrior wielding the mighty weapons, but she was his armor, the foundation on which his strength and power was built. And now…she was gone.

The beleaguered warrior ran for his armor, blind from the tears freely cascading down his face. He tripped and pitched down onto the ground in the middle of the road, but he continued to stumble and even crawl over to his sister until his hand touched her cold body.

And then, time seemed to return as he screamed. What he screamed was barely intelligible, but the feeling, the desolation, the horror, the hopelessness, was perfectly clear. It was a wail of utter anguish and despair, not so unlike the destructive ghostly wail he had used to destroy the monster responsible for her lifeless body. It was a sound none on the street had ever heard before, and one they never cared to hear again, for it just about shattered their aching hearts as Danny's feelings of misery and failure vocalized themselves in the light of his ruthlessly crushed hope.

"No…no Jazz…no!" the hero blubbered as he gathered her limp, bloody body into his arms. Bright rings of light engulfed his body, leaving a young teenage boy in the hero's wake to cradle and hold tightly onto his older sister in desperation, as if she could seep some life away from him and come back if he kept her close enough. His entire body racked with heaving sobs of utter devastation as tears soaked her auburn hair and black shirt. Underneath his quaking body, he felt nothing. No subtle rise and fall of her chest, no rhythmic beating of her heart. She was as still as a ghost…as still as death.

It couldn't be real. It just couldn't be. Jazz wasn't dead. Jazz was…it was just a trick. She was just having a heart murmur, or having a hard time catching her breath, but she'd come out of it. She knew how much he needed her. She knew that she couldn't leave him to face all this alone. She'd been with him every step of the way and she wasn't going to abandon him, not after they'd come so far. Any minute now he'd hear her gasp in a breath or feel a weak pulse beneath her chest.

Any minute now.

But as the minutes drew on…the gasp never came. The pulse never sounded. She…she was gone.

"No! You-you c-can't be gone!" he sputtered through his heaving wails. "You can't leave-leave me Jazz! You can't leave me!" he shrieked hysterically as more and more tears gushed down his face.

Didn't she understand? He needed her! She was his older sister! She had been there since the moment he was born, watching over him, looking out for him. She was unchanging, immortal even, always there to look out for him and make sure he was safe and sane and now she was gone. She was gone!

As he sobbed, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and he jumped, sparing a glare at the man who dared attempt to interrupt his grieving before turning his saddened eyes back onto his sister.

"I'm sorry Danny…but we need to take the body," the brave paramedic informed him.

The young boy's eyes blazed green as he clutched onto his sister tighter. "No!" he screamed. "No you can't take her!"

"I'm sorry, but we have to," the paramedic continued as he placed a hand on Jazz's body.

"No! Get away!" Danny cried as he yanked his sister away. "You can't—not yet! Not yet!"

"Danny, you have other family members that need you; ride with them to the hospital," another paramedic tried, but Danny wouldn't hear it. The rest of them were alive; they were going to be fine. He could see them some other time. But Jazz…if he let go of his sister, if he let them have her…he'd never get to hold her again. She'd be put in an uncaring black bag, sealed up in a frigid morgue, and then buried, and then he would never see her again. No, he wouldn't let them do it! Not yet! He needed more time with his sister! He wasn't ready for her to go!

The paramedics tried to approach him again but he held an arm out, his hand glowing bright green in warning. They weren't coming one step closer to separate them. It hadn't been long enough. It would never be long enough.

"Mr. Fenton, you have to let them take her," Lancer's surprisingly gentle voice said from beside him, ignoring the potential for injury.

"No!" he yelled, his voice full of betrayal that his teacher would be so quick to be rid of Jazz forever.

Lancer backed off for a moment, giving the paramedics a look that told them to give the grieving younger brother a few more minutes to come to terms with what had happened to his only sibling. "Okay Mr. Fenton, take a few more minutes to care for your sister," he allowed as he took a step back.

Immediately Danny's puffy eyes went back to his sister as he pulled her gently away from his tight hold to rest in his lap. With a surge of tears he saw her blank, lifeless stare and immediately used two shaky fingers to gently close the lids over her once vibrant teal eyes. In a show of brotherly care, he brushed her hair away from her face, only to feel it be matted by the sticky, congealing blood from her head injury. No…no that couldn't be there. He had to clean it up. This wasn't how his sister was supposed to look. He had to fix it.

He quickly tore a piece of his shirt off to start wiping the blood away from her head. He did it gently at first, not wanting to harm her, but it just wasn't coming off. It just smeared all over her pale face and stained her dull hair. No, he had to get rid of it! He started scrubbing harder and harder as tears continued to pour from his eyes. She needed to look the same. She needed to look like she was sleeping. What would his parents think when they saw her like this? No, the blood had to be gone! It was ruining her!

Lancer noticed the furious scrubbing and stepped in, staying Danny's shaking hand. "It's okay Mr. Fenton. They'll take care of that later."

"No I…I need to do it," he said seriously as he returned to single-mindedly wiping the blood from her hair. "It can't be here. It's not supposed to be here. I have to get rid of it."

"I know, and they'll take care of it," Lancer said firmly as he once again grabbed Danny's hand to pull it away from his sister. "There's nothing more you can do. They'll clean her up the rest of the way if you just let them take her."

Danny jerked back into reality hearing that the paramedics were going to take her away. He jerked away from Lancer's grip, but the teacher kept a firm hold. "I-I can't! I can't! Not…not to Jazz! She needs me!" Danny yelled as he still struggled against the old man's surprisingly strong grip.

"And you've helped her wonderfully," Lancer complimented slowly, "but right now she needs to go with them. You have to let her go."

"No! No!" he screamed incoherently as he writhed in Lancer's grip, clearly in a panic as his arms and legs flailed. "I won't! I won't!"

"You have to!" Lancer grunted as he tried to combat Danny's struggles. "You have to say goodbye," Lancer pleaded. "You have to say goodbye." And with that he managed to pull his student into an embrace and away from the body of his sister.

The young boy collapsed into the English teacher's hold as a chorus of sobs burst forth from Danny once more. Lancer tried his best to keep hold of the boy as he devolved into a bawling mess in his lap. Tears flowed freely down his face as he tried to whisper a comforting 'there, there', hoping to give the boy some strength to face his troubles. But other than that he was at a loss for how to comfort him, for he could see that the more time passed, the more real it became for Danny, and the more heart-wrenching it became to watch.

Because Danny was struggling to say goodbye. He couldn't; he just…couldn't. If he said goodbye…then it meant she was truly gone, gone from the world, gone from his family, gone from his life…and that scared him. He couldn't even fathom his life without her there. How often had he wished that her annoying, know-it-all comments would cease? And now…he couldn't imagine the Fenton home without them there. No one would be there to tell his parents they were taking things too far. No one would be there to worry obsessively over what ghost fighting was doing to his mental state. No one would be there to make sure that dinner wasn't going to eat them instead of the other way around. No one would be the lone member of the Fenton family to make a name for themselves without having the word ghost attached to it. Between all his secrets and his parents' obsession with ghost fighting, they would have torn the family apart without sensible Jazz to keep it together. With her gone…there was a huge gap left in the Fenton family, and there was no way that any of them could possibly fill it.

She had always done so much for him, for the whole family, and he never even realized it. He didn't think his parents even realized it. He always knew of course, somewhere, but whether it was due to his general cluelessness or by Jazz's own design, it was never outwardly acknowledged by anyone. And now all that stability and comfort was gone…along with her.

Fresh tears sprang to his eyes and more heaving sobs caught in his throat as his mind rapidly filled with how much she really had done for him, even just recently. Afterall, who had been there to help cover for him or comfort him even before he knew that she was aware of his secret? Jazz. Who had helped him through the press conference after his secret had been revealed? Jazz. Who had helped him through the student's reactions to him when he first came back? Jazz. Who had helped comfort him after he found out that Dan was behind everything and give him confidence that he could do it? Jazz. And now who would help him deal with the aftermath of the battle without her there? His family and friends would of course help as much as they could, and he would appreciate it greatly, but when Jazz spoke…it was just different.

She just knew him so well, and he hated to admit it, but she knew him almost better than he knew himself. She knew exactly what he was going to be thinking and was already three steps ahead of him in trying to combat his destructive, guilt-ridden thoughts. Of course she had used that to her advantage when he was younger to tease him and get him to admit to some of the pranks he would pull on her, but recently she had only used her powers for good, to help him deal with everything life would throw at him. No matter what was going on, no matter how much he beat himself up for the mistakes he made…she was always there to give a helpful remark, to remind him of how dumb he was being, to help him see that things were never as dark as he imagined. And they always worked. Always. And now…how was he supposed to do that without her? How was he ever supposed to see the light again without her?

Her last comforting words echoed in his mind, almost mockingly to him. Danny, I know there's a good chance that something'll happen, but we're willing to risk it, and you should be too. We let you have the chance to risk your life to save the town and us, why can't we return the favor? She couldn't have known what really would happen when she told him that. If she had known that this would be the result…she never would have agreed to fight…and he never should have let her.

Lancer watched the young boy closely as he kept a close hold on him, tears leaving his eyes as well from watching his student's grief. His heart broke for him, to lose a sister so young and at an age when they were just starting to get along and understand one another. He didn't have any siblings to compare the feeling, but he didn't need experience to appreciate how much Danny was struggling, and would forever struggle, with her death. But he seemed to be calming in his arms, and he felt brave enough to signal to the paramedics that they could take the body now. Something told him that Danny wouldn't fight them now.

They bravely approached Jazz and laid questioning, yet gentle, hands on her cold body. They kept their eyes on the boy as they lifted her onto the stretcher, fearing that he would lash out again, but he did nothing but continue to sob in the arms of his teacher. Convinced that it was safe, they began to wrap the black body bag around her.

The sound of the zipper shook Danny out of his thoughts and he turned his red and puffy eyes. "Wait," he choked out, and the paramedics shared a fearful look that he would try to stop them again. But he made no violent moves. He just swallowed hard as he tried to calm his heaving breaths. "I…I want to do it," he requested.

The paramedics' faces quickly turned from apprehensive to sympathetic. They nodded their permission and took a step back. Danny tried to stand on his shaky legs, and Lancer helped him to get his bearing as he stumbled over to the stretcher. He knew they would treat her well and take care of her body, but Jazz deserved someone she knew to seal her away. He knew this wasn't the last time he would see her face, nor would it be the last that anyone looked upon her since they would still have the funeral, but somehow that seemed different. After all, this was the last place that Jazz was alive. Once she went into that bag, she became officially dead. Once she went into that bag, she would be permanently separated from the world. Sure her face would be shown to the world one last time at her funeral, but that wasn't the same as now. By sealing her off now, this was the start of the end, and she deserved to have someone who loves her start that process.

He placed a shaking hand on the zipper that was now resting at her abdomen. He started slowly zipping it up her chest, his cries continuing to burst forth as he hid more and more of her away from the world. He hesitated as the zipper reached her head, his body quaking from the effort it took to not collapse. He bit his trembling lips against more tears as he looked up, as if he were trying to find the strength needed to erase her face from the world and pronounce her officially dead. He swallowed hard and breathed heavily through his mouth before resting his eyes on his sister once more.

"Jazz," he said in as steady a voice as he could manage as he rested a hand on her cheek. "I'm so…I'm so-so sorry," he apologized, feeling like some words needed to be said. "This…this never should have happened, but you…you need to know that I…I love you. I know I didn't always show-show it to you…but I love you," he promised as he blinked tears from his eyes. "And I'm going to miss you…so much," he shuddered as his voice broke. "So much. Goodbye Jazz."

He bent over her and laid a trembling, loving kiss on her forehead as he squeezed his eyes against the onslaught of tears. With a sniffle he pulled away and zipped the bag the rest of the way up with a strength that he didn't even know he possessed, watching her face the entire time until all that was left was the uncaring black bag. And then…she was gone.

He hesitated for a moment before he collapsed onto the bag, sobbing desperately into his arms, the last image of her face burned into his mind for eternity. Lancer rushed over, laying a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. He had given him his distance, knowing that Danny needed to find the strength to say goodbye on his own, but he needed someone now. Danny turned easily into the arms of his teacher and let out fresh bawls that never seemed to stop. He could hear the wheels of the stretcher take the bag with his sister away, and he tried to look, but Lancer stopped him. "You've tormented yourself enough for today," he said gently before holding the sobbing boy tighter.

He walked the boy over to a nearby bench, and there they sat. No one said anything, for there was nothing that could be said. Eventually he would urge Danny to follow his family to the hospital, knowing that seeing his family alive and well would do him good, and sharing the pain of their shared loss would help ease his suffering, but for now he was content to let the boy morn on his own.

How long it took before Danny's heaving cries dried up and turned into whimpers, neither of them could say, but eventually the beleaguered superhero had no tears left to shed. And yet he still made no motion to leave the comforting embrace of his teacher's hold. He knew he needed to see his family, he wanted to see his family, but he just couldn't find the strength to venture to the hospital just yet. The hospital only promised further pain as Danny would be forced to relay Jazz's passing to each family member and friend in turn, and it was just too soon to have to relive all that trauma and help his family through their pain while he was still trying to deal with his. He just couldn't do it…not yet.

Mr. Lancer seemed to sense his hesitation and he placed a caring hand on his student's shoulder. "I'm fine staying here with you as long as you need Mr. Fenton, but I think it would be good for you to see your family," he prodded.

He just shook his head. "N-not yet. I…I can't tell them yet. I can't say-say it."

"We can request that the doctors tell your family for you," Mr. Lancer suggested. "That way you don't have to do it."

"No…no I need to do it," he said stubbornly, with as more conviction than he'd used since he saw his sister's fate. "I have to tell them. I…I owe-owe it to her."

"The only thing you owe your sister is a promise to live a full and happy life, because that's what Jazz would want for you," Lancer emphasized strongly. She wouldn't want you to bring further pain to her passing than what you already feel."

"It's not what she wants. It's…it's what she deserves," he said solemnly.

Lancer sighed as he rubbed the boy's back in a comforting fashion. "She deserves to have her family be told, but it doesn't have to me by you. You already did so much for her here; you don't need to torment yourself further Mr. Fenton."

"Yes, I do," he replied resolutely, his unfocused eyes still staring at the street.

"No, you don't," Lancer responded back just as strongly. "And if you're doing this because you think you need to be punished for her death, then you are mistaken. What happened was not your fault."

Danny just shook his head, his face creased in agonizing guilt. "No, it is my fault. It's all my fault. She never should have been here, none of them should have been here, but I didn't stop them, and now she's dead because of me!" he cried out in a panicked rush. "That's why I should be the one to take care of everything, because none of this would have happened if it weren't for me!"

In a swift motion Lancer forced Danny to sit up and caught his dull blue eyes with his own. "You look at me, Mr. Fenton, and you listen. This was not your fault," he emphasized strongly. "There is no way you could have controlled what happened out there tonight, and there is certainly no way you would have been victorious if they hadn't helped. And blaming yourself and punishing yourself for what happened isn't going to make you feel any better or take back what happened. No matter what punishment you think you need to inflict upon yourself, Mr. Fenton, you can't take it back."

He had been prepared to argue, to continue to profess his guilt over Jazz's death and his need for penance for his actions that led to it, but Lancer's words stopped him dead. Take it back… No…he could take it back. And not just Jazz's death. He could take it all back. Jazz, his family's injuries, Massey's death, his secret…he knew exactly who could take it all back, and if he didn't agree to do it…then he would make him.

His eyes became remarkably clear as he sat up straight, ignoring Mr. Lancer's worried questions. Without a word he leapt from his teacher's arms, transformed, and took to the skies, his face determined.

"I'm going to fix this Jazz," he said solemnly as he flew single-mindedly through the air. "Don't you worry. I'll fix this."


A/N: Well, there it is. The chapter that you've been waiting almost 5 years for. I hope it at least approached your expectations! And if I got a tear out of at least one of you then I'll consider my goal of this chapter fulfilled. Any additional tear after that one is just bonus!

Next chapter will be the last chapter for this story. It's all going to be tied up and ended in the next chapter, which is absolutely weird to think about... But 25 is a nice round number to end it on so...yeah. Next one will be the end.