Dilemma

"Come on, Jazz! Snap out of it and act like the brain surgeon you keep telling us you're going to be!" –Danny Fenton in the episode '13' of Danny Phantom

Jasmine Fenton was the genius of the family. It was undisputed fact, backed up by her ability to accurately predict nearly everything. There had been that one time two years ago when her father had unexpectedly gone to great lengths to apologize to her mother for forgetting their anniversary, and the minor fact that ghosts did, indeed, exist, but otherwise, Jazz had yet to be proven wrong about anything.

Her genius was testified to by the twenty college acceptance letters on Jazz's desk.

Brown University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Stanford University, MIT – wait, had she even applied there? – the list went on. Jasmine had her pick of colleges across the nation, and she had only to accept at her leisure. If she waited another week, at least three more universities would probably offer her full ride scholarships to tantalize her into coming to their campus.

But one application sat, lonesome, amongst the acceptances: Amity Park Community College. Getting in was guaranteed, of course. All she had to do was hand the application in a week before classes started. It was just a community college, after all.

Yet somehow, it was the only college she could seriously consider.

Oh, she had dreamed of this day since the moment she entered middle school. Jazz had worked and prayed and done everything she could think of to guarantee she had her pick of universities, dreaming of the day she finished medical school and became a brain surgeon. It was her goal to perfectly unite the study of the human psyche with the science of the human brain. But everything had been changed one sunny afternoon two years ago, when she had run out the back door of a shopping mall and seen something that she shouldn't have.

She had seen her baby brother go through a transformation that wasn't technically possible, from human to ghost between two rings of light.

Suddenly, she was her baby brother's protector in a hundred different ways, and her responsibility only grew when Danny finally let her in on his secret.

Jazz had always felt protective of Danny, from the time he was five and crying because he couldn't have an ice cream cone. The need to watch over him increased proportionally to her family's obsession with all things ghostly. Danny teased her, calling her 'Mom', and eventually grew to rather resent the attention. Still, Jazz had known he would be okay when she left for college. He was sensible, if a bit too much like his father for comfort (thank goodness he had inherited Mom's body type), and naturally likeable. But now Danny came home tired, left in the middle of the night and came back scratched and dirty, and struggled to keep his secret identity secret.

How could Jazz abandon him to the mercies of the ghosts of Amity Park? How could she leave him to keep his secret from the world? How could she leave him to—

"Jazz?"

She was startled from her thoughts by the uncertain inquiry at her bedroom door. Jazz looked up to see her little brother poking his head in the door. "Come in," she said sweetly, turning her chair around to face the door.

Danny grinned, indicating nothing was wrong, and slipped in the door. "I just wanted to ask you to check over my math homework," he requested, the papers in question in his hand. "If you have time, I mean."

Jazz smiled, holding out her hand for the papers. "I always have time for that, Danny," she said encouragingly. Math was still Danny's weakest subject, his grades regularly wavering between a C-minus and a D most quarters. Fortunately, he'd matured enough that by the time he was going into junior year, he was willing to ask for help – when he actually did the homework. Which wasn't as often as it ought to have been.

Jazz understood.

She started checking the first problem while Danny came around her bed and sat heavily on it. He wasn't visibly marked up today, and he twiddled his thumbs while he waited for Jazz to point out a mistake to him. Jazz glanced at him from the corner of her eye and smiled slightly, turning her attention back to his homework: another thing she never wanted to abandon him over. Danny relies on me, she thought. It would be really cruel to—

"Wow," Danny said suddenly. He was leaning towards her desk, and suddenly he stood up, picking up the acceptance letter to Brown. "Jazz, this is awesome! A full ride scholarship to Brown University?"

"I'm amazed you know what Brown is," Jazz teased. Danny rolled his eyes at her.

"Mr. Lancer is giving us the same 'it's time to map out your future' speech he gave your class," Danny retorted. "It's only February! We don't even have to apply to college for another eight months!"

"It's never too early to start thinking about it," Jazz said primly. "If you really want to become an astronaut, Danny, you're going to have to work really hard at it, and you'll need to concentrate on the sciences more. That means more math," she chided.

Danny groaned aloud. "I know, I know." He sighed, looking momentarily dejected, and his eyes wandered over her desk. "Geez, Jazz, you've been accepted everywhere," he marveled. Then his eyes widened slightly, and he reached across her desk for the one thing Jazz hadn't intended for him to see. "… Why do you have an application to Amity Park Community College?"

Jazz sighed softly at the question. Well … it wasn't as if she could hide it forever. "I was thinking of applying there."

"Why? You could go anywhere you wanted, Jazz!" Danny waved an arm at all the letters. "Going to Amity Community would be … would … it'd be criminal," he decided.

Jazz made a dismissive sound. "No, it'd keep me at home," she answered. "Full-time."

Danny's gaze went to her, and she waited for the implications of that to sink in. He could be as thick as his father when he wanted to be, but most of the time …

She could see the light dawn on his face. "Jazz, no," he said firmly, crumpling the application into a ball. "Staying around here to help me with ghost-hunting? That's just stupid."

Jazz knew she shouldn't take it the way it sounded, but she was still hurt. "What, you don't want me around?" she said snappishly. "Give that back!"

"No, of course I want you around! I'll miss you when you go to college!" Danny protested, his eyes wide with guilt. He held the crumpled application away from Jazz's outstretched hand. "But – but I don't want you to throw away your future over my ghost-hunting!"

Jazz arched an eyebrow. "You can't tell me what I can and cannot do," she answered, "and I'll do what I want to. Give me the application, Danny."

Danny smirked thinly. "No." He tossed it up into the air, aimed a finger at it, and shot off an ecto-blast. The application was reduced to dust. "You'll have to go get yourself a new one, I guess."

Jazz let out a low screech of outrage. "Danny!"

"Jazz!" Danny perfectly imitated her tone. "Seriously! I'll be fine," he stressed. "I was doing fine before you started helping, and yeah, I'm doing better with your help, but … this sounds really mean." He fell silent.

Jazz decided to bite the bullet. "Spit it out, Danny."

"I don't need you," Danny blurted after a moment or two. "I want your help. You're still part of 'Team Phantom', but not at the expense of your career."

Jazz closed her eyes. No matter how Danny cased it, it did hurt to know Danny didn't feel like she was a necessary part of the team. "But I'm expendable," she posited.

Danny made a frustrated sound. "Why do you have to make this difficult?"

"Danny, if I want to stay here so I can help, won't you let me?" Jazz pleaded. "Won't you let me help you?"

Danny was quiet for a long moment. He slowly paced a step or two away and sat on Jazz's bed, resting his elbows on his knees and pressing his fingertips together. Finally, he drew a deep breath and let it out, glancing up at his older sister. "Look, I don't know as many big words as you and I don't know psychology like you do, but just listen, okay?

"I'm glad you're here, and I'm glad you've helped me out. If it hadn't been for you, I'd still be floating around in the Ghost Zone ten years from now getting the crap beaten out of me by ghosts. But … it's like you said: I should seriously start thinking about my future. I … I don't know what I'm going to do yet. Sometimes I think I should just stay here in Amity Park. I mean, Mom and Dad aren't going to shut down the Fenton Portal just because I leave, right? And someone's gotta protect this town. But what if I don't, Jazz? What if I go away to college? Then you'll have wasted full scholarships to Brown University to help me for an extra year.

"You'll never be more than a phone call away, right? I don't need you physically here to help me." Danny offered a slightly wan smile. "I'm stronger now, and better. I mean, come on! You saw me fighting Skulker the other day – it took me like five minutes! What I need is your brain. And your brain should … I dunno … be off doing whatever it is you want to do. Becoming a brain surgeon, right?"

Jazz smiled back, slightly sad. "Yeah." She looked back at the acceptance letters on her desk.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is …" Danny hesitated for a moment. "I'm trying to say that I'm sixteen now. I don't need a babysitter any more. I do need a consultant, though."

Jazz didn't move for a long moment. He's right, she told herself. He's growing up. He can take better care of himself, even if he does get knocked around sometimes. It's not like you can do anything about that anyway except offer sympathy.

Jazz sighed aloud at the thought. "I guess it's just hard to think that my baby brother doesn't need me to watch over him all the time any more. I've been taking care of you since you were like five years old."

Danny cocked an eyebrow at her. She hadn't used the endearment for over a year now, since Danny's growth spurt had put him two inches over her height-wise. "Uh-huh," he said slowly.

Jazz glanced sideways at him. "It's hard to give up! It's a way of life now, you know." She smiled slightly, though, to indicate she was joking.

Danny rolled his eyes, then gave a dramatic sigh. "All right, then," he said. "Plan B it is."

Jazz looked over. "What's Plan B?"

"Well, if the speech about how I can take care of myself now didn't convince you, I figured I'd just overshadow you and shoot off an acceptance to one of the universities," Danny grinned.

Jazz gaped at him. "You wouldn't dare!"

"I'm joking, I'm joking," Danny laughed, putting up his arms in mock self-defense. "I don't know where you want to go, anyway."

Jazz looked back over the letters. "I don't know either." She suppressed the sigh that wanted to escape her. "My options just opened up a lot." It was hard to say, but Danny wasn't wrong. In her interest in the psyche of others, she had failed to realize her own neuroses: her overprotective behavior regarding her little brother.

Maybe it really is time to let go.

The smile Danny gave her was brilliant. He was obviously pleased at the thought that he'd just convinced his reasonable older sister that his way of thinking was best. Then he gasped and a breath of mist came out of his mouth. He shivered slightly. "Oh, man …"

Jazz smiled. "I know, Danny." She reached out and patted his hand. "You can handle it."

Danny smiled fondly. "Thanks, Jazz. You have no idea how great it is to hear you say that." He stood up. "Going ghost!"

He transformed between two rings of light and shot out through her window.

Jazz eyed the acceptance letters again, silent and still.

fin