Chapter 1: Entrapment
It is always a risk to fool with time, and Clockwork knows this. But he is confident, he will be confident, he was confident. Time is his playground.
And so it is, it was, it will be, nothing of great concern to him to interfere in Daniel Fenton's future.
He knows he can – has – will control the alternate timelines interference creates.
And so he does.
Observers, Clockwork thought disgustedly. "What do you want?" he demanded, his eyes not leaving the worlds he was observing.
"It has come to our attention that you interfered with Time not once, but twice," said one of the ghosts. "We have …"
"An alternate timeline," finished the other Observer. "True, you have eliminated the Future Daniel Phantom from Time, but there is now another—"
"I know," Clockwork shot back. "Do you think I do not know? I am the Master of Time, and I am aware of its fluctuations!" He waved a hand, and another portal appeared, to another world and time – where the remains of the Nasty Burger smoked dangerously, and Daniel Fenton was on his hands and knees, gaping in horror. "It is this timeline you are referring to?"
"Why did you interfere a second time?" hissed one Observer. "This alternate timeline—"
"Is an expected and calculated result of my meddling," Clockwork interrupted. "And I realize your worries that Phantom may come to exist again in this time, but I am confident." He smiled, looking back into the room where the Fenton Thermos containing the apparition stood. "As long as I can hear him screaming for release, there is nothing to be concerned about." He eyed the Observers. "Or would you have preferred that I not have interfered and your timeline, the True timeline, possibly become infested with what you demanded I eliminate?"
The Observers looked at each other, then back at Clockwork silently.
Clockwork smirked at them. "No human is so important that their lives can ruin Time forevermore," he informed the ghosts. "Not even Daniel. It may take a thousand years, but his influence will fade, and this timeline will merge with the True one. And I will watch over it – as I always have – and make sure it is so." He paused. "Do you doubt my abilities? After you charged me with this job?"
"You should have simply destroyed Daniel instead of creating this chronological mess," one Observer shot back.
"Ah, I see." Clockwork turned away. "You truly think the world would have been a better place if I had done that? You would be wrong." He raised his chin. "But I am not obligated to prove myself to you. Don't you have better things to watch, children? Such as your precious timeline?"
The Observers glared at Clockwork's back, but they slunk away.
Clockwork smiled thinly. "Daniel," he said softly. "I believe that it may very well be your own self that keeps you from the darker path."
When Clockwork steps in – stepped in – will step in and saves Daniel's friends and family, Time splits, as it always does/did/will do when Clockwork interferes.
And in another time, another place, Clockwork never saves Daniel's friends and family.
And Time marches on.
"Danny? Danny? Are you hurt? Are you okay?"
Dumb question, Daniel thought. What a dumb question. "'m fine," he heard himself say, but he didn't look up at Valerie. He just stared at the place where the Nasty Burger had once stood, speechless.
It's not fair. It's not fair! I didn't cheat, my future self cheated for me! I just … I …
I just wasn't fast enough.
Mom … Dad … Jazz … my best friends …
He could hear sirens pulling up, saw paramedics and fire fighters flooding the scene. Hands grabbed him, hauling him off the ground and towards an ambulance. "One teenage boy, superficial wounding, possible burns and internal injuries. Looks like he was thrown clear of the explosion," someone said over his head. "Kid, look at me. Kid, are you okay?"
"Dumb question," Danny mumbled, still staring at the wreckage.
"Doesn't look like we have any other survivors," one paramedic announced as he jogged up. "Just him." He looked down at Danny; Danny didn't look back. "Can you tell us what happened?" he asked softly.
"Explosion," Daniel croaked. "M-my family was …"
"Oh no. Poor kid," the paramedic sympathized. Danny had the urge to punch him in the face, but he didn't have the energy to do so. He felt like he could just melt into the ground and never come back. Felt like there was no reason at all to keep on existing.
This was what he'd been trying to stop, and he'd failed. What was the point of …?
"Daniel Fenton, age 14," someone said, and then he was being pushed down onto a stretcher. "Kid's the only survivor. Let's get him to the hospital and make sure he checks out."
The doors of the ambulance shut behind him, and Daniel debated the merits of just going intangible and flying away, running from everything. In the end, he didn't do anything except lay there. Useless … like he should have always known he was.
He never really missed the Fenton Thermos. In fact, the Thermos had disappeared from the timeline at the exact moment of the timeline split and into Clockwork's lair.
And the future Phantom fumed, but fumed with pride. He still existed.
Danny's future was sealed.
Danny drifted through the next week, feeling mostly just numb. The hospital determined the wounds were completely superficial (if the future!Phantom had done any damage worthy of note, it had healed long before Danny got through the tests at the hospital) and he was free to go. But go where?
No one was sure, for hours on end. Sam and Tucker's parents were, of course, devastated, Mr. and Mrs. Manson bawling when they arrived at the hospital and Mrs. Foley sniffling quietly, her eyes full of tears, while Mr. Foley held her and visibly tried not to cry too.
Daniel tried to tell them something – anything – but nothing would come.
He didn't even know if there was anything left of them to collect, and a cold pit of despair formed in his stomach and wouldn't go away.
He ended up at the Foley's house for the night and spent most of it sitting on Tucker's bed, silent.
What was the appropriate grieving time for a whole family and two best friends? But the worst part, Danny thought disgustedly, was that he couldn't even manage to cry. All he felt was sick. Utterly revolted by himself. And sometimes, he felt furious, wanting to do nothing more than destroy something. The fury scared him.
He didn't go ghost once the whole week. He also barely strung three words together, picked at his food (but no one in the Foley household had much of an appetite), and generally avoided everyone, hiding in the guest room.
It was his fault, after all. No one would ever know it had been his fault; no one knew his future self had come to the past, no one knew it was his future self that had ensured Danny's family and friends would be at the Nasty Burger and blown up, and no one knew that Danny had taken so long to fight his future Phantom that he hadn't been able to save them. But Danny knew, and it was killing him slowly.
And he worried.
The future Phantom had been certain the turning point of his life was Danny cheating on the C.A.T., but Danny knew the final event that had created him was still in the future – the combining of his ghost half with Vlad's ghost half. Vlad had told him about the despair that had driven him to want to separate himself from his ghost powers.
Danny was drowning in that despair, no matter how desperately he tried to claw his way out of it. He wanted to stop feeling – or not-feeling, cold and sick all the time. People talked about how they got past their grief, even if they never stopped feeling loss, but had any of them had their whole family and two best friends in the whole world killed in one fell swoop? How could he possibly get past this on his own?
He didn't know how, and it scared him to the core.
Relatives started showing up two days after everything, though, relatives Danny hadn't even known he'd had, second cousins and great aunts and uncles twice-removed. It was a little unnerving, and a lot weird. How did all these people, who his parents had known for 14 years of his life, suddenly show up when his parents were dead? But it was Aunt Dani who stepped up to the plate (half-bawling) and took care of the funeral arrangements. She also offered – well, more like demanded – that Danny stay with her in her hotel room.
It was a relief to get away from the Foley's house, Danny had to admit. He didn't think he could take Mrs. Foley bursting into tears at the sight of him any more.
The triple funeral for Danny's family was to take place one week after the incident.
The day before the funeral, Vladimir Masters actually had the guts to show up.
When Danny laid eyes on Vlad in the hotel lobby, the spike of fury was almost a relief. He balled his hands into fists. "Vlad!"
Vladimir looked at him, unsmiling, and he went completely still. "Why, Daniel. I'm surprised to see you here." His voice was flat, though, lacking the usual mocking tone he directed at Danny.
The fury Danny had felt seemed to drain out of his toes – at least a little. Suddenly the situation seemed awkward. "Not as surprised as I am to see you here," he shot back half-heartedly. "What do you want?"
"I'm here for Maddie's funeral, of course," Vlad answered, his voice cold.
Daniel's heart dropped somewhere in his shoes. Oh. Of course. Vlad may have been Daniel's arch-enemy, an evil, conniving half-ghost, and the biggest turncoat Jack Fenton had ever faced, but he did love Danny's mom. Even if Danny hated him for it.
"Oh," he managed, his voice sounding far away in his own ears.
"Yes, 'oh'," Vlad mocked. "You may not like me, young badger, but I did love your mother."
"I know," Danny said. That sense of despair and overwhelming self-hatred was coming over him again, and he could do nothing to fight it. "… I'm sorry," he added belatedly.
Vlad's smile was thin. "Of course you are." His smile faded. "It would seem that no one has told you, then?" he added.
Daniel stared at him. "Told me what?" he asked thickly, his blood rushing in his ears.
"Why, your father's will. It states that should anything happen to himself and Maddie, that you and your sister are to live with me. Since Jasmine has also passed away, however …" he trailed off.
Daniel stared at him.
"There's no way I'm living with you," he said flatly, but he barely heard himself. He was thinking about Phantom. Phantom's words.
I still exist! You still turn into me!
"My boy, you are only 14. You have no choice," Vlad answered. "But I would hardly have chosen this arrangement myself – your father always was a buffoon. Believe me, no matter how much I may want to mold you into the perfect minion, I—"
"No!" Danny shouted. "You don't get it at all! You don't know!" And he wasn't about to explain it, not to Vlad Plasmius. Vlad would think there was a way around it. He'd never believe that Danny's ghost self could separate Vlad's ghost half from himself. "I – am – not – living with you!"
Vladimir actually seemed surprised by Danny's vehemence. "Daniel, I—"
But Daniel spun around and stalked off down the hall to his hotel room, startled that for the first time since the accident, he wanted to cry.
Depressingly, Danny wasn't even invited to Sam's funeral. Mr. and Mrs. Manson had never really liked him or his parents, and Mrs. Manson was the only person to (rightly) blame Danny for Sam's death. At first he'd been sure he didn't want to attend any of the funerals, but now … he felt like he owed it to them.
So he came anyway, standing back from the proceedings until the empty casket (there really wasn't much left after the explosion) was lowered into the ground and everyone started to leave.
He stared at the gravestone, alone. Samantha Manson, Beloved Daughter. 1992-2006. It seemed completely insufficient to describe Sam.
"Sam … I'm sorry," he said, voice cracking, and finally, he cried.
He cried again at Tucker's funeral, which he was invited to, but by the time the condolences had all been offered again and again, the tears had dried and that pit of cold sickness was back. It rotted in his stomach through the entirety of his family's funeral, and burned when Vlad gave the eulogy for his mother. I can't let myself turn into that … that thing, he thought furiously. My parents were ghost hunters. How could I do that to their memory?
I can't let Vlad take me to his home. It's the only way to stop myself from turning into Phantom-Plasmius!
"And so we lay to rest the greatest ghost hunters of our time," Vlad said softly, "and their dear daughter."
I'm going to beat him. I won't turn into him. I promised!
"Mr. Fenton, I'm afraid you have no choice in the matter. Mr. Masters is, by your father's will, officially your legal guardian. You can challenge the guardianship when you turn 17."
Danny gaped at the lawyer. "Look, just because I'm 14 doesn't mean I don't know what's best for me!" he snapped, hands balled into fists at his sides.
"According to the law, you don't," the lawyer said. He gave Danny a sympathetic look (and Danny almost visibly steamed with fury). "I'm sorry; I know the last week's been rough for you. But it's not my decision. It was your parents' decision, and I have to honor that."
"That's ridiculous!" Danny threw his arms up into the air. "You can't make me go to Vlad's house. You can't." The lawyer opened his mouth to reply, but Danny steamrolled over him. "Something – really bad will happen if I go there, and trust me, you don't want to be responsible for it!"
The lawyer looked at him incredulously, and then actually had the gall to chuckle. "What are you telling me, that you know the future? Look, I promise it won't be that bad. Mr. Masters has lots of money and runs a huge corporation – I'm sure he won't be smothering you or trying to be a surrogate parent …"
"You don't know the half of it," Danny muttered under his breath.
"But in any case," the lawyer continued, standing up and coming around his desk, "you are under Mr. Masters' legal guardianship, and I can't change that. I'm sorry." He steered Danny towards the door. "Call me if there's any real trouble, Mr. Fenton." And the door slammed shut behind him.
Daniel stared at the shut door, both furious and frightened at the same time. Cold sweat broke out on his brow. "It's all happening exactly like Vlad said," he muttered. "I'm going to become …"
No. He was not going to become that monster. He just had to be strong. He had to overcome his grief and despair and guilt over getting his whole family and two best friends killed.
Yeah, right. Danny's chest was tightening at the very thought, the despair crashing down on him as he remembered again that he'd never walk to school with Sam and Tucker again, never kiss his mom on the cheek or hug his dad or fight with his sister. He couldn't fight it off. He wasn't strong enough to keep the emotions at bay.
Which was how he found himself staring at the Fenton Ghost Catcher.
It had been over a week since Danny had even been in his house, even though he had the keys – he had only walked by his house once and he could barely do it, gritting his teeth and glaring straight ahead without glancing at it. Now he had no choice. Vlad would be taking him to Wisconsin tomorrow; it was now or never, even though it nearly killed him just to stand here amongst all his parents' ghost-catching inventions.
The last time he'd tried to use the Ghost Catcher, he'd ended up with what amounted to a split personality – a part of him that wanted to be a flying superhero and another part that only wanted to kick back and relax. But the first time he'd only split into – well – himself and a ghost-self, with all his ghostly powers. He was taking a risk, trying this again, but … he had to do it. Then, he could chuck his ghostly self into the Ghost Zone, or maybe lock him in a Fenton Thermos and bury it. Or something.
If he didn't have a ghost half to remove, then he couldn't combine with Plasmius and create that … other Danny.
Danny grabbed a Fenton Thermos and set it on the ground next to the Catcher. Then he went ghost for the very last time, and dove through the Ghost Catcher.
The next thing Danny knew he was slamming into the ground. He rolled over, looking up, and there was his ghost, staring back at him.
"Hey!" the Phantom said.
"Hey, what?" Danny shot back, scrambling for the Thermos.
"No way-! Don't even think about it-!" Danny's Phantom dove for the Thermos as well, and at a top speed of 112 miles per hour, he was far faster than Danny. Coming back upright and tossing the Thermos casually in one hand, the apparition glared at his human self. "I know what you're thinking, and I – don't – want – to – go – in there! Again!" he added for good measure.
Danny remembered how cramped it had been the one time Tucker had accidentally sucked him into the Thermos (it really gave a new perspective on reality, and all he'd hoped was that he wouldn't have the urge to turn back into a human), and he suppressed the wave of emotion that accompanied the thought of Tucker. He chose to ignore the comment. "If you know what I'm thinking, then you know why I have to do this," he protested. "I – no, you – can't combine with Vlad Plasmius. You'll – we'll - … uh …"
"I become a monster." Phantom jutted out his jaw. "Well, maybe I don't have to become one. Look how much of history we've changed already," he pointed out. "I've already got the Ghostly Wail, which I'm not supposed to get for another ten years, and you just split off from me on your own instead of because of what Plasmius does. Who says we – I – uh …"
"Still combine with Vlad?" Danny snorted. "Well, that other Danny still exists, right? Besides … can we really risk even the chance?"
"Well, maybe changing me is the wrong thing to change!" Phantom shot back, shaking the Thermos.
"But-but if I go to Vlad's with you in me …" Danny took a deep, suck-it-up breath. "I don't know if I'll be strong enough to …"
"Hey!" Phantom chucked the Fenton Thermos at Danny's head, causing his human half to yelp. "Genius! We know what happens if you decide to let Vlad split us apart! So just – don't – let him!"
Danny stared up at him, rubbing his forehead. "But maybe I always knew and did it anyway," he pointed out, looking down with a dejected expression.
"You really believe that?" Phantom raised an eyebrow. "Come on. You're – we're – a 'C' student, not total idiots."
You know, Danny thought, I can't believe I'm having this argument with myself. Jazz would've loved this. But Jazz would never see it, and it was Danny's fault.
Wow … he had to stop thinking like that. "I guess," he allowed reluctantly.
Phantom didn't look impressed. "Look … do you really think I want to combine with Plasmius?"
Danny made a face. "No! Gross," he and his ghost said together. Danny couldn't help but crack a small smile at that.
"I'd take the Thermos over that!" Phantom continued. "So get your act together."
"Okay, okay, I'll try not to be totally depressed," Danny allowed. "But how come you're not totally depressed? Since we're the same person. I think."
"Hello? Ghost half? I don't do emotion. Not like that, anyway." Phantom glanced over at the Ghost Catcher. "That's probably why you wanted to pull me out. So I could …"
"Be the real me," Danny finished for him. "Great." The worst part was that it sounded rather appealing at the moment, to not have feelings …
"But we're both the real Danny," his apparition said firmly, cutting into Danny's thoughts. "So that's stupid." He jerked his thumb at the Catcher. "So … let's fix this? Or you still want to put me in that?" he pointed at the Fenton Thermos lying innocently on its side.
Danny glanced at the Thermos. It was within arm's reach; if he snatched it up, his Phantom couldn't beat him to it.
If I don't protect Amity Park, who will?
Wasn't that what he'd told Sam and Tucker when Walker made him Public Ghost Enemy Number One?
"Okay," he said. "Let's fix this. And when I turn seventeen, I'm moving back here and doing what I do best."
"Yeah? What's that?" smirked Phantom.
Danny smiled a thin smile. "My job."