Her red hair flickered wildly in the autumn breeze while gloved hands automatically reached up to remove a stray strand from her face, though it was the kind of reflexive motion made by someone whose mind lay far away from such small irritations.
She walked without any real sense of direction or purpose, walking merely for the sake of having something to do with her body, while her thoughts bounced back and forth from one thing to another. And always, always coming back to rest on the same subject. The subject that had sent her out of the house, away from her loving husband and brilliant daughter during a time when they all needed each other most.
They had understood.
Later, later she would go back to them and both take and give comfort in the arms of her loved ones. Right now, however, she needed this time alone.
It was just another fall day, much like any other. Brightly colored leaves adorned trees which were almost ready to shed their load, as the wind attempted to coax the bits of color into abandoning their posts early.
The streets were restful, ignorant of the fact that in an hour or two they would be bustling with people who were free from work or school for the day. People whose lives moved on whatever hills and valleys came their way. It was, she considered, the nature of life to keep trudging on regardless of what happened.
Regardless of what might be missing.
Yes, it was just another autumn day.
And at the same time, it was not just another day. There was something to mark it as different, though only a select few realized it. It was the anniversary of an event that had happened a year ago. Most people wouldn't remember it, of course, it had come and gone, some tears had been shed, words had been shared, comfort and condolences had been offered, but the world moved on. People moved on.
She didn't blame them. It was the only way to live, really. The only way to keep from being bogged down in a sea of regrets and sadness.
And, for the most part, she was doing her best to keep moving through life, to regain some semblance of the joy that had been there before, and to help the others who still remembered do the same. Most days she accomplished that.
But today was a day for remembrance and the plethora of emotion that came with it.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew where she was heading. There was really only one place to go, though many would argue that there were a multitude of places she could go. She knew better.
As she neared the spot she could hear laughter. The sound was familiar, nostalgic, and for a moment an impossible hope filled her chest before reality re-inserted itself. She knew that it couldn't be true, but the laughter made her feel a bit better. There was still joy to be found.
The laugher had quieted into the murmur of voices, which in turn died away into silence as she came close enough to see and be seen.
There were three of them there. A young woman with raven hair, violet eyes and gothic style, though lacking something of the attitude. A young man, with dark skin and eyes, wearing a well-used red hat and sporting a personal digital assistant.
And, between them, the third sat on a thick stone tablet .
The woman with the red hair stared at the third member of the trio.
The other two exchanged glances with each other and with their companion before leaving. As they passed her, the woman noticed that both had tear-stained faces but seemed . . . comforted.
Confused, and wondering where her anger was, she drew up closer to where the . . . young man . . . with the glowing green eyes and the snow white hair sat.
She knew him, of course she knew him. What she wanted to know was why he was there, why he had been talking to the other two, why that seemed to have helped them, and most of all, she wanted to know why he was sitting on her son's grave marker.
But she didn't ask any of this. The look in his eyes, the seriousness, the sadness and a million other emotions she couldn't hope to name, stopped her. He had a right to be there, though she was clueless as to why.
So instead she nodded at him, forgoing her normal habit of pulling out any of the number of ghost hunting weapons that she kept on her person. "Phantom," she murmured by way of greeting, her voice lacking any malice, merely tinged with curiosity.
He looked at her for a moment before returning the greeting, "M . . . Maddie."
She had the impression that there was something else he wanted to say, but the words never came. Instead the two looked at each other for what seemed to be a motionless piece of time.
It was strange. He was her enemy, he was dangerous, and, apparently, he was disrespectful. But she could not find the anger that she was sure she would be justified in having.
It was not a day for enmity.
With a sigh she sat down close to the ghostly figure, though far enough away to not be on her son's grave. Her gaze drifted over the city she helped protect from those like him.
"I haven't seen you around in quite a while."
She was aware of his gaze on her, but did not turn her head to meet his eyes.
"I've been . . . elsewhere," he responded.
Silence reigned for a moment before she head him sigh, "I should go."
"Wait," she said to the now floating figure. "There's . . . there's something that I'd like to ask you."
"I might not have the answer," he replied, but he floated back down to his 'seat.'
For a moment she stared at her hands unseeingly, struggling to form the words. "Do you know . . .Is Danny . . . has my son . . . Is Danny like you?" Please, please, say no. Say that he's moved on, that he's at peace.
Looking up, she caught a glance of Phantom wearing a strange expression before it disappeared, leaving her to wonder if she had seen it at all.
Green eyes met purple, "Danny Fenton is at peace with himself and his place in existence."
Maddie breathed a sigh of relief, the wording was odd, but the response relieved her of her biggest worry. She didn't know what she would have done if Danny had become a ghost.
Tears brimming in her eyes, she started to talk, "We never did find out why he died. Or even how he died. The doctors . . . the doctors couldn't understand it. It was like his soul just up and left his body."
A small laugh escaped her, but it was a desperate, pathetic thing, "I think sometimes that Jazz might know. Not that . . . not that she didn't mourn, but she's . . . accepted it. Like she understands something myself and Jack don't. Sam and Tucker too, come to think of it. I wonder why they won't tell us."
"Maybe Danny didn't want you to know," Phantom responded quietly.
"Why? Why would my own son . . ." she trailed off, seeing pain and, impossibly, love, shining in the green eyes of her companion. If his eyes were blue, they would look like Danny's.
"What do you know?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
Phantom winced, "It's difficult to explain. Almost impossible really. But . . . I can tell you this much, I . . . Danny died doing something he felt was right. His death saved a lot of lives."
The red haired ghost hunter closed her eyes. "You can't tell me anything else?" Her voice was strained.
Taking a deep breath Maddie opened her eyes and picked herself up off the ground. Turning, she examined Phantom for a long time before finally giving him a small smile.
"Okay. It'll take a while, but knowing . . . knowing what you've told me will help."
Phantom gave her brilliant grin, "I'm glad."
- - - -
As he watched his mother walk away, Phantom found himself fighting the urge to call her back. To tell her everything, right from the start. But the same knowledge that kept him from telling her earlier prevented such an action now.
She needs to move on, and she wouldn't be able to do that if she knew.
The others would be okay, Sam, Tucker and Jazz all understood, while his Dad was simply too happy a person to let it keep him down forever. But his mom had needed something a little extra, without leaving her more to worry about.
But it was all okay now. And he'd see them again.
Danny Fenton allowed himself to begin to dissipate in a cloud of softly glowing white dust.
"See you later, Mom. I love you," he whispered softly before disappearing completely.