Disclaimer: I still don't own Danny Phantom. Butch Hartman does, and I somehow doubt that will be changing any time soon. Since I'm not making any money from this, there is nothing for the law-ninjas to sue out of me.
Author's Note: Well, this is it! My apologies for the delay, and I thank you guys for not chasing after me with chainsaws after that last cliffhanger. As with Jeremiad and Anathema, long-winded and pretentious author's notes are at the end of the chapter!
Finale: Faith and Trust
"You show me how to see,
That nothing is whole
And nothing is broken"
-"Sanctuary" - Utada Hikaru
Danny swallowed hard, trying desperately to ignore the cold knot of fear that suddenly settled in his stomach. The Ghostcatcher had worked precisely as intended, but how could the half-ghost not be afraid; fearful that they had all taken a gamble and lost? The tension in the air was very nearly a physical force as he stood still, studying the immediate area and the group of teens in silence save for that first statement.
His stony gaze came first to Tucker, causing the teen to yelp and step back involuntarily. Traces of a smirk creeping into his expression, his glare turned to Sam. The goth didn't make a sound or edge away; however everything in her stance indicated tension, the Fenton Thermos held in a white-knuckle grip in her hands.
Not terribly surprising. He mused to himself, turning his attention finally to Jazz.
He was the one to take a step back, red glare meeting the redhead's calm blue-eyed gaze. If there was any fear in his sister, she did an excellent job of hiding it. Her expression was calm, unreadable. Just as there was no apparent fear, he couldn't find any trace of hopeful expectation. She wasn't afraid, but clearly she wasn't ready to simply assume anything one way or the other.
"Well?" Danny's voice cracked the silence.
The teen did not like the not knowing whether or not he was about to get into another difficult fight so soon after the three-way brawl with Vlad. If he was going to get into another fight, he wanted to get the jump on his alternate future self; perhaps take him out with the Ghostcatcher a second time. Despite what Plasmius had said about the halves and the whole, the tall ghost in front of him didn't look to be crippled, or even mildly weakened. Granted, it was hard to tell since the ghost was just standing still.
With a slight flourish of his cape, the tall spook turned at the sound of Danny's voice, glaring down at the teen.
"You!" The ghost hissed, lunging at Danny.
Danny yelped and tried to bring the Ghostcatcher to bear, but the older ghost was clearly expecting the maneuver and darted to one side. Danny felt rather than saw the Ghostcatcher being torn from his grasp and thrown aside.
"Danny!" Sam cried, aiming the Fenton Thermos and powering the device up.
"Sam, don't!" Tucker grabbed the device before Sam could fire.
The goth gave Tucker a stupefied look. "Are you nuts? Danny's in trouble!"
"Tucker has the right idea." The ghost declared smoothly, turning to face the teens, Danny held aloft by the front of his hazmat suit. "Use the Thermos on me, and... well, I suppose you can kiss him good-bye."
"Put me down!" Danny squirmed, trying to pry free of the ghost's grip.
Only Jazz seemed to still be calm, walking forward. "What are you going to do?"
The ghost's glare dropped just a notch, though fixed on Danny. "It would be so easy to destroy you now. Weak from that battle, caught off guard, so frail and so useless."
"Danny." Jazz's tone indicated she was addressing the older ghost, and not the squirming form of her present-timeline younger brother.
"It would be so easy. First you, then Valerie-" He ignored Jazz, his voice taking on a sinister purr at the huntress' name. "-then everything else. It would be so easy to destroy everything if I wanted to."
Something in his tone made Danny cease struggling momentarily. "If"? Did it... actually work?
The ghost lifted his gaze, not glaring now, but rather just looking. Almost as if he was seeing the teenagers staring back at him for the first time. "But I don't think I want that anymore."
With seemingly careless disregard, the ghost released his hold on Danny, the teen landing on his rump in surprise.
"It worked?" Sam gawked, voicing the same thought that Danny had been thinking just moments prior.
"Y'mean you aren't going to..." Tucker frowned, recalling what he'd seen of that messed up future. "Um... that?"
"No. I won't." The older ghost replied tartly. "Thanks to Jazz, mostly."
Jazz's calm stare cracked finally, a slight grin laced with relief creeping into the redhead's expression. "That's great! It worked! I was right!" She crowed.
"But-" He interrupted Jazz's glee. "-That hasn't changed everything."
"What are you getting at?" Danny demanded, back on his feet and putting himself protectively in between the ghost and his sister.
"What I am getting at is that I'm not like you." The ghost snapped in response. "You have friends and family to protect. I don't. I am only half of what you are, and you'll recall that the other half isn't a shining example of community service. So don't expect me to be the same sort of do-goodie you are."
With that statement, he waved one hand, a green portal forming with a little effort: he was weakened from the week-long separation and the battle.
"Wait, where are you going?" Sam interrupted, running over. "After all this, you're just leaving?"
For an instant, just barely a flicker of sadness flashed across that otherwise fearsome face as he looked at Sam. He looked away almost as quickly, expression setting back into the far more familiar scowl.
"I don't want to stay. I'll..." He paused, stepping partway into the portal. "... I'll find my own future. Instead of living in the past."
He ducked into the portal, the green vortex swirling shut and leaving four very confused teenagers in its wake.
"Well, he's not trying to kill everybody." Tucker stated lamely in the long awkward silence.
"Where do you think he went?" Sam frowned, still unsettled by the ghost's erratic behavior.
"The Ghost Zone, I guess." Danny forced himself to relax, retrieving the fallen Ghostcatcher. "Maybe to find Clockwork."
"Well, it's over with." Jazz noted with a sigh. "We beat the bad guy and successfully used psychology to turn the other bad guy around. Not bad for a day's work, Danny!"
Danny exchanged looks with Sam and Tucker at the statement. The half-ghost couldn't really complain about who had done more work though. Sure, he'd done the physically intense fighting; but it was his sister who had been quick enough mentally to come up with the idea of trying to treat the future-spook's psychotic disorder. She'd been the one to do it, though none of the younger teens knew how she'd managed to talk the traumatized Phantom into it. If she hadn't helped Phantom face his mental problems, Danny was certain that he would have either been smacked around worse by Vlad, or trying to fend off guilt about the split ghost halves' grisly demise.
Instead, Vlad was beaten, Danny had some interesting blackmail material, nobody was dead, and everything seemed to have ended as well as could be expected. He did wonder what his alternate future self was going to do in the Ghost Zone, but that was a worry perhaps for another day.
"Let's just get home." Danny stretched, doing his best to ignore his collection of bruises and sore muscles.
"I think not, Daniel."
Danny slapped his forehead, not bothering to look at the source of the irate voice. In dealing with his alternate future self being put back together, the teens had all moved out from under the cover of the tree branches. Vlad touched down a short distance away, the older half-ghost looking extremely imposing despite the ugly blackish bruise marring his face; the mark of Sam's earlier boot-to-the-head anesthetic.
"Look, Plasmius." Danny grumbled, glaring at the billionaire. "We've both had a really long day, can we take a rain check on another fight?"
"And why should I want to give you the opportunity to recover?" Vlad sneered. "After having my castle destroyed and then arriving to find not just one, but two unexplained duplicates involved?"
It was Danny's turn to smirk wickedly as he faced Vlad, arms crossed. "Let me rephrase it, Plasmius."
The other teens exchanged confused looks. What had future-Plasmius told Danny to use against the present day fruit loop, anyway? Apparently Vlad was wondering what his young rival was up to as well.
"How about you go back to your vacation house or whatever, and forget that this stuff went down? Or else." Danny's smirk went up a notch as Vlad gave him a disdainful look.
"Or else what?" The billionaire scoffed.
"Or else I'll tell Mom all about your Fantasy Football league." Danny retorted, taking no small amount of delight from the threat.
Vlad's expression changed almost instantly from sneer and scoff to utter shock, red eyes wide open in surprise. He sputtered angrily. "How do you- I mean, I haven't any idea what you're talking about!"
"Mm-hm." Danny chuckled, thoroughly enjoying this. "The Madison, Wisconsin Fantasy League, and your team is, of course, the Packers."
"What? How did you find out about-?" Vlad sputtered, completely thrown off his groove by the unexpected blackmail.
"And that you go down to the sports bar every time there's a game on, and you and your league pals spend hours bickering team strategies." Danny counted off. "And I'm sure Mom would be fascinated by the story of the bar fight that you accidentally started last year because your team lost the league."
"I was overshadowing the guy that started it!" Vlad protested.
"Still counts as starting it." Tucker smirked, having caught on to what Danny was up to.
"Yeah, Mom doesn't need to know that detail." Danny grinned. "So how 'bout it, Plasmius? We all forget this ever happened, and Mom never gets to hear all about Uncle Vlad's play-pretend football addiction."
Vlad fumed where he stood for several seconds, expression a mix between indignant, offended, and frustrated. Apparently the Fantasy Football thing was a sensitive subject for the billionaire, as was the knowledge that under his management the Packers had not done very well in said fictional league. Finally he glared at Danny.
"Very well, Daniel." Clearly the billionaire's tone indicated Vlad's dismay and displeasure. "But do not expect to hold that fact over me forever."
"Nah, just this once." Danny grinned, silently glad that the blackmail had worked.
Vlad disappeared, grumbling and apparently baffled at how Danny had learned the secret of his hobby, leaving four confused and now relieved teens behind.
"Okay, before anyone else decides to show up, let's get out of here." Sam declared, the sentiment unanimous.
It had been one thing to put on a bold face in front of the figures straight from his past, but now that he was alone in the Ghost Zone, there was no one to answer the question plaguing him. Now what do I do?
He would never admit it to anyone, but he was honestly just as surprised as his past self had been that it had worked. There was still a lot of hate, plenty of rage. He couldn't stand looking at his past self, that loathing still came readily. Seeing Sam had roused emotions he had for years claimed no longer existed; he suspected seeing Valerie again would have a similar impact. But it was also as if a ten-year haze had been lifted. He felt no more pride in the destruction he had caused, though he still felt justified in his actions at the time.
What was he going to do with himself now? He felt calmer than he had in years, to be sure; but therein was part of the problem. It had been so easy to simply work toward destroying everything, now he had to give thought to what to do. He could be a bit of a do-goodie if he wanted. Or a villain. He had ample choices before him, and he hadn't a clue what choice to make. Help his past self? Which one?
"Well, I was wondering when you would come back."
He spun and very nearly blasted the ghost behind him out of sheer reflex. He refrained however, once he realized it was Clockwork. With a displeased scowl he lowered his arm and settled instead for glaring at the Master of Time.
"You planned this." He snarled at the ghost.
"And what if I did?" Clockwork asked calmly. "Are you displeased with the results?"
He bit back a tart reply and the urge to try and blast the ghost. He knew from past experience that even in top condition he couldn't expect to fight the time-controlling ghost; weakened from the fusion and the fight that preceeded it, he knew he had no chance.
"What are you planning?" He growled.
"What are you going to do now?" Clockwork countered, easily avoiding the question.
"That's not your concern." He hissed in reply.
"Because you don't know." Clockwork responded. It wasn't a question.
He snorted and turned his back on the timemaster. Clockwork was exceedingly annoying with that habit of knowing everything. He wondered if it was at all possible to surprise the irritating ghost.
"I don't have time for your games, Clockwork." He snarled. "Get to the point."
Clockwork regarded him with an unreadable expression for a long moment, shifting to his older form. "You realize that this timeline isn't where you belong."
"Yes, but I seem to recall mine being terminated." He snapped.
Clockwork smirked slightly at the remark. "If that was the case, where would you be?"
"Trapped outside of time was what I overhead." He growled, limited patience rapidly running out.
"Outside of your time, yes. That timeline still exists, otherwise you would not." Clockwork pointed out in that same infuriatingly calm tone of voice. "Which is why I ask what you intend to do now that you can be trusted to run loose."
"I'm tired of your plots, Clockwork." He finally spat. "I'm tired of your manipulations, past and present... and no doubt future as well."
"You could return to your timeline, you realize." Clockwork stated before he could fly away.
That stopped him up short. He could, couldn't he? He still had that time medallion stashed in his jumpsuit. Leaving this peaceful timeline was as simple as throwing the little pendant away. He frowned, thinking about it. Did he really want to return to that future he had destroyed? There was certainly no one there who would be glad to see him. Valerie would still be out for blood, and he didn't doubt the ghosts of his past would still be lingering.
On the other hand, what did he have remaining in this timeline? His past selves would never completely trust him. Danny wouldn't be able to get past the fear of nearly losing Jazz, Sam, and the rest to him. Vlad certainly would never trust him, if the billionaire even believed the time travel story. Plus it was unlikely Vlad would get over that whole destroying-the-mansion incident. He couldn't stick around with Jazz and the others; they were friends and family of this timeline's Danny, his presence would not be welcome, just a wedge between Danny and Sam. The thought rankled, but he knew it was true. He had as much of a chance at Sam as he had at Maddie. In this timeline or his proper one, where would he be? Angry and alone, the only difference being the scenery.
"I'll determine my own future." He spat, moving off and ignoring the Master of Time. "Without your meddling."
Clockwork raised one eyebrow. "Then I have one more question."
He stopped, glaring at the ghost over one shoulder. "What is it? Make it quick, I have no patience for your riddles, Clockwork."
The ghost smirked slightly. "Seeing as you are in better balance with yourself, people can't just keep calling you Danny."
That stopped him up short again. That certainly was the truth. While he knew that side of him was the predominant one, despite what Sam had told him a week ago... he wasn't Danny. At least, not entirely. He'd gone for ten years without hardly any sort of personal identification. Unless one counted Valerie referring to him as Phantom for lack of any better moniker. If he was going to try and make a new life for himself, he would need some sort of identification.
"Then just call me Dan-" He paused, running a finger over the DP emblem still emblazoned on his suit, recalling a sarcastic thought he'd had when he was first imprisoned in that thermos six months ago. "...Dan Plasmius. That's accurate enough."
Clockwork didn't say anything, so Dan took that as a sign the conversation was over and flew off in a random direction. So long as it was away from Clockwork. The Master of Time allowed himself a small smile as the formerly genocidal ghost disappeared into the distance.
"Perhaps things have a chance of working out after all."
Dan didn't hear the time master's statement, soon well lost in the depths of the Ghost Zone and brooding over the question of what he would do with himself. Stay in this timeline, where he was out of place, an outcast in every sense of the word? Or take his chances back in his timeline, where he knew he could expect open hostility. Granted, he knew that such hostility would be a wasted effort; once he recovered from his lingering weakness, there was nothing in that timeline that could harm him.
Dan looked at the source of the noise with nothing short of a stupefied expression. In his timeline, that sound was associated regularly with irritation, but he had long since scared the mutt off. It had taken years and quite a bit of animal abuse before the dog reacted to him with anything but glee.
Cujo stood at his feet, little tail wagging furiously, tongue lolling out; the green beast radiating the sort of delight only a dog could manage. As Dan watched, the little dog sat up on his hindquarters, barking and begging for attention.
"You are a stupid mutt, you know that?" Dan looked down as he addressed the dog.
"Arf!" Cujo took the statement as attention, and ran a few circles around Dan's feet, barking happily.
He raised an eyebrow, not used to something not running in terror or attacking him. "What do you want?"
"Arf!" Cujo ceased his maniac running, sitting in front of Dan and staring up at him hopefully.
Lacking anything better to do, Dan took a seat on a nearby rock. Why was the Ghost Zone largely a void with the occasional island, anyway? He brushed the extraneous thought aside, watching the dog scamper over, barking. With a pleased yap, Cujo flopped to the ground at Dan's feet, flipping over to show his furry tummy to the older ghost.
Dan stared down at the dog, one eyebrow raised. Most creatures he'd encountered knew instinctively to fear him. Yet in his timeline and now this one, that dog didn't show that fear, only the loyal glee of a dog happy to see its master.
"You really are a stupid mutt, you know that?" He asked rhetorically.
Dan looked at the dog at his feet, pleading with wide eyes for attention.
"Stupid dog." He sighed.
Dan reached down and scratched the dog's belly.
Long-Winded Pretentious Author's Closing Notes: What? You expected him to just magically be all better? You expected a conclusive ending? Fat chance! He's still a bastard, his psychological issues aren't going to be resolved by a fight and some psycho-jargon from Jazz! No... that's what the sequel, Indemnification is for.
Anyway! Some story stats for your amusement! Time to completion: 155 days. Final page count: 81 pages. Average pages per chapter: 6.75. Average time between chapters: 12.9 days. Hrm... it seems as though my time between chapters has gotten longer and longer compared to Jeremiad's 3.6 days and Anathema's 10.73 days.
This fic has been a bit of an adventure, different from my previous two works in several ways. For one, I'm finally off of the TUE timeline. While the ten-year span from TUE is largely unexplained, a great deal of Jeremiad and Anathema was restricted by what information was available. For those who are counting, Benediction is set in between Reality Trip and Kindred Spirits, during the summer break that the show itself seems to gloss over. For another, Benediction isn't a first-person story. I felt that there was no single point of view I could tell this story from that would cover everything I wanted to express, and I didn't want to try telling it from multiple perspectives. So third-person it was. Also, this story is more of a psychology drama, for which I owe my sister One Amahira (a psychology major in college, imagine that!) a multitude of thanks for helping me with. She is quite literally the voice of Jazz of this story- she helped me plot out Dan's psychological issues, how his split halves might react to things, how to write Phantom's hysteria, and how Jazz might have gone about trying to reason with him.
The more I thought about it, and prompted by comments on my other fics that I could probably write a good/believable "redeeming Dan" story, the more I considered how to possibly go about doing so. Not just Dan as he's shown in TUE, but Dan as I portrayed him in Anathema. The plot bunny struck all the way back in May 2006 while I was just barely underway on Anathema, and the response to Anathema only helped fuel it. How could someone POSSIBLY go about redeeming a guy as vicious, psychotic, and downright evil as my portrayal of Dan? A discussion on DPO sparked the idea of using the Ghostcatcher as a plot device to enable it, since with One's help I determined that Dan as he is, the fusion of Danny and Vlad's ghost halves would not be able to come to terms with the underlying problems that motivate his behavior. So by using the Ghostcatcher to split them, it became possible to treat those underlying symptoms- the self-loathing and hate that in Dan manifested instead as destructive behavior, lashing out at everything that reminded him of that self-loathing. By throwing on the death clock and claiming that the halves could not survive separated gave the story its primary conflict- resolving Phantom and Plasmius' situation in a way that wouldn't leave Danny responsible for their demise and wouldn't result in a psychotic alternate future self again. Vlad's appearance in the story was entirely a catalyst, that entire fight tailored to help bring Phantom out of his hysteria and to wind down the clock faster.
I'm sure some of you guys aren't happy with the not-really-an-ending ending, but when you think about it, the story can't have a very conclusive ending. Redeeming Dan isn't that simple, the things he's done are so horrible that he probably never will be entirely redeemed and the best anyone can hope for is that he's not going to be all psychotic and trying to kill everyone. Plus there is the question of "What now? What do I do with myself now that I don't really want to kill everyone I know?" He certainly could never be comfortable in the present timeline, not with those reminders of his failure always right there. But he doesn't really want to go back to HIS timeline and face his past and his actions. He's done a lot of horrible things, and he will have to pay the price for them.
But I suppose that brings me to Indemnification. That story will wrap up the plot bunny that first started in March 2006 with a poem titled Lament. Unlike Benediction though, you will need to have read Jeremiad and Anathema (as well as Benediction) to fully understand what's going on in Indemnification. I'll be writing a few extra "After the End" chapters for Jeremiad before I start Indemnification, primarily to better link Jeremiad to the new story. I hope you've enjoyed my stories so far, and I hope you'll also enjoy Indemnification.
And for the final time in this fanfiction! Cookies, brownies, boxes of chocolate, lollipops, and various pastry items for my awesome reviewers! i AM the Random Idiot, Tornada Silverwind, CharmedNightSkye, Punker88, Sasia93, The Fluff Ghost, Tej, PotterPhan21, Arabic Blessing, tenamanda1988, WTFWonder, StarsofTwilight, Eleirah, and Anne Camp aka Obi-quiet!
And wow, that's my most long-winded pretentious author's note yet! Catch ya on the flip side!