"So…everything's normal again?" Danny asked hesitantly.
Everything seemed normal. The thermos was back on its pedestal behind them. The Heart of Thanatos was in one piece and busily fooling a scruffy beggar into becoming Pariah Dark. Somewhere, a coelurosaur escaped an early demise and fulfilled its destiny of becoming someone else's dinner. All of Dan's meddling seemed to have been erased, according to what Clockwork showed him in the viewing screen. Even the Master of Time seemed to be back to his old self.
Clockwork nodded, staring critically into the screen for anything he might have missed. Or perhaps he simply couldn't meet Danny's eyes. "A few alternate realities are created," he replied. "A few new versions of me to keep out of this universe." Danny felt like he should he apologize, so he did; Clockwork merely shook his head. "It happens more than you think, for considerably less glamorous reasons. I should be apologizing to you."
"You expected that." Somehow, Danny didn't feel as betrayed by that as he would have a few days earlier.
"I wish I could have warned you," the ghost said quietly, almost shamefully. For just a moment, Danny could see the human Clockwork had once been, and then the moment was gone. "You should leave now."
Danny started to comply, then turned back. "What about the future?" he demanded with an expression that brooked no argument. "They were in real trouble. Are they going to be okay?"
"I can't tell you that, Danny." He held up a hand to forestall the boy's argument. "Even I don't know what will happen that far ahead. You humans are far too unpredictable."
"There must something I can do now…"
"There's plenty you can do. I could even tell you. But anything you do now could be undone later." He pointed to the screen, where a woman was receiving the Nobel Prize for inventing the Brendinian Process. "The world will end when it ends. All you can really do is wait."
Danny looked like he might press the issue further, then turned and flew away. He would wait, he realized. He had to wait. He had to know, and if it did happen…
He already knew what to do, didn't he? Takamine was wrong; his extended life hadn't been a punishment. It had been that distant future Danny's only choice.
So wrapped up his thoughts was he that Danny didn't even notice the stillness until crossed the Ghost Portal and landed in the kitchen to see his mother frozen in the act of joining her husband at the front door. He landed and became human, and then time resumed.
Emily stood before a new grave. The stone wasn't placed yet; the mason had broken his arm escaping from the demons. No one had been at his funeral, really, except her and the pastor. Harrington had rushed through the service, but Emily couldn't tell if he felt put out at having to perform it or if he was just terrified that the demons would come back. She knew they never would, though she couldn't have said how she knew.
Somewhere behind her, a raven laughed raucously. She rubbed her arms against a sudden chill, but her mind was too numb. She wondered if she was a terrible person for missing Mallory more than her father.
Was it worth it? the wind seemed to ask.
Emily gasped suddenly as a chill ran down her cheek, as though an invisible finger of ice had brushed her there. And the wind whispered, Yes…
A/N: I apologize so hard for making you all wait. You know, it's been almost four years since my first fic? Somewhere along the way, I forgot to add my timestamp on the ends. I think this one needs it. Thanks for reading, all.