It has been several months since Danny Phantom went from mysterious threat to hero in the eyes of Amity Park, and in that time a lot has happened. Danielle remains stable but unchanged, deep in the Fentons' basement lab. Damon Gray is head of the grossly under funded new Antighost Security Division. And the mysterious Phantom and Huntress can be seen flying the city by night, searching for invading ghosts…together. But all is not well. After months imprisoned in time, Vlad Masters is free to roam the world again. In the limelight of heroism, local sleuths seek to understand more about the mysterious Phantom. And what is Clockwork so worried about? With Phantom's secret identity on the line, how can he fight the danger when it's from innocent humans?
Prolog – Author Stuff
Disclaimer – I own nothing but the plot. Danny Phantom and associated…uh…stuff, belong to Butch Hartman and/or Nick Studios. Anything else that's not mine belongs to who it belongs to. Ethren belongs to the brilliant Garth Nix, but its nature and use in this story is mine.
I have returned. With a very long summary. This is 'Hopes', sequel to 'Exceptions' and 'Complications' (More shameless plugs). It is the LAST one in a set of three. If you haven't read those, this might be a little weird for you. I based my stuff off of canon for the most part, but a lot has happened, so it would be VERY hard to understand if you just jumped in here. If you HAVE read the other two, welcome back:D Please kidnap your friends, tie them to chairs, and force them to read them as well. ;) Also, I am operating under the assumption that there was no 'Urban Jungle.' There wasn't one when I started this arc, and it would make no sense to shove it in now.
I'll quickly repeat my policy on reviews. I love them. Especially those with some constructive criticism or suggestions. Or if you think there was something in a chapter that was particularly good or bad, I'd like to know. I want to improve my writing, and while experience helps, reviews help more. (Trust me, I now spell Valerie and Desiree correctly thanks solely to reviews) I look forward to hearing from you. I give special, individual responses to every single review, so I definitely care. That's about it.
Thank you for your time and attention. We will now return to our regularly scheduled broadcast.
Chapter 1 – Improvements
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Danny mumbled to himself and pulled his pillow over his head, one leg hanging off the edge of his bed and his covers bunched up as he tried desperately to stay asleep.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Tossing the useless thing aside, the teenager propped himself on his elbow, wincing in the morning light. Grumbling to himself, he glared angrily at the annoying device.
The obnoxious alarm cut off suddenly as an accidental ectoblast shot from his eyes, reducing his clock to slag.
"Uugghhh." Groaning, Danny turned and buried his head back in his pillow. He hated Mondays. The half ghost hadn't been sleeping well lately, and was always groggy in the morning, which tended to make him irritable. His sister had been forbidden to wake him after he accidentally burnt a hole in the wall above her head last month. After all, they could always buy more clocks.
Stretching briefly to shake off any lingering fatigue, he stood up and walked towards the wall between his room and the upstairs bathroom, grabbing a change of clothes on the way.
"Ow!" Reeling back and rubbing his head, Danny raised an eyebrow and curiously tapped an intangible hand against a very solid wall. "What the heck?" Walking over to another wall, he once again tried passing an arm through. Again, nothing. Scratching his head, Danny walked out into the hallway, intent on asking his parents if they'd done…whatever it was they did. The ghost boy still had no idea how they came up with their ideas, especially for things like the 'anti-creep stick.' Halfway down the hall, he almost crashed into Jazz as she stepped out of the bathroom, hair tied up in a towel. With a curious one-eyed stare, he quickly stuck his arm through her head. The older girl's eyes came together on her face to watch, and then turned to her brother questioningly.
"Um, Danny? Not trying to sound weird or anything, but what are you doing? I think this could be considered a serious violation of personal boundaries." Danny just frowned in response.
"Just checking something. I can't phase through the walls for some reason." The ghost boy stomped his foot down. "Or the floor. Any ideas?" Jazz shrugged.
"Nope. You should check with mom and dad." The older girl sighed as she walked downstairs. "Only in our family would someone not being able to walk through stuff be a sign that something's wrong."
Rolling his eyes, Danny quickly showered, changed, and jogged into the kitchen. His parents were quietly nibbling on toast and sipping coffee, while Jazz shot him an occasional amused look then hastily returned her eyes to her morning tea, giggling slightly. "Mom, dad, did you two do something to the walls?"
Maddie flushed slightly. "Err, yes."
"Why?" Now his mother was blushing furiously.
"Well, um, that is to say, we, well…" Jazz burst into a laughing fit. Maddie shot her daughter an indignant look at the interruption. The older girl merely shrugged, and lightly tossed a folded up newspaper across the table, where Danny promptly picked it up and scanned the headlines.
"The Amity Park Sunday Spook?" The older Fentons nodded.
"It's a local tabloid. They started out around the first time we pulled up the city anti-ghost dome. Some ridiculous article about the mayor turning the city into a giant electrified prison. But the garbage sold out the first day and they've become more and more popular, especially the articles on the supposed, er, 'relationship', between you and the Red Huntress. We read it just in case they ever find out something right. This issue came out yesterday"
Danny rolled his eyes. "You've gotta be kidding me. It's bad enough I have to listen to those stupid rumors at school, these guys are printing it?" He shot his parents a glance. "But that doesn't answer my question." His father nodded, looking uncomfortable, if slightly amused.
"Er, second article on page three." Danny hastily flipped the page. His mouth fell open, cheeks lighting up.
'Super Spook or Peeping Phantom?
Local hero Danny Phantom. Whenever a ghost strikes, this valiant young spirit is never far, swooping in to save the day and the ordinary citizens of Amity Park. But where is he when he's not fighting ghosts? What is Phantom's dark secret? The Daily Spook has the answer! Our researchers have seen Phantom fly regularly to Casper High School and several different local homes after a battle, particularly those of Miss Samantha "Sam" Manson and Jasmine "Jazz" Fenton. Ecto-examination confirmed ectoplasmic residue on the bedroom windows of both young girls and the school's female locker room. Is our town hero a closet pervert? More on Page 8.'
Danny dropped the paper like a poisonous snake, completely red. Halfway through, Jazz had lost control and choked on some tea. The young ghost shot his parents a desperate glance. "You don't actually believe this right?"
"Of course not. You visit Sam and Tucker all the time, some traceable residue is understandable, not that the public knows that. And the school probably glows in the dark by now considering how much time you spend there, even with fewer detentions. And our house? We study ghosts! Of course our house has residue, I'd be worried if it didn't." Maddie rested a hand on her son's shoulder.
"We trust you Danny. You've never given us any reason not to. Although," his mother pursed her lips, "Sam's parents probably aren't too happy right now."
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"Grounded?" Danny asked incredulously at lunch. Sam just nodded irritably. She'd been the target of countless whispers and a particularly waspish set of jabs from Paulina all day. She put up a strong front, but Danny could see it was starting to hurt. He was glad he'd asked Tucker and Valerie to give them some space today. His girlfriend was definitely not up for jokes right now, and Tucker wasn't exactly the ideal in tact.
"Two weeks since there's no real proof I knew it was happening. It's so unfair! They wouldn't even care if Phantom and I were…doing whatever they thought we were doing. In my bedroom. At night. When they weren't around." She said, turning slightly red at the implications. "They're just mad that I was in a bad article! What's the point in punishing me if I'm not the reason they're mad?" The frustrated young activist dropped down onto her elbows, letting some of her frustration and hurt over the rumors leak out. "And what's even worse is I have a perfectly legitimate reason to visit with you since we're dating, but I can't tell anyone that. Do you know how many people have asked if you broke up with me over this?" Danny raised an eyebrow.
"What? Why would I do that? And why would anyone care?" Sam snorted and shot him a patronizing look.
"You really are clueless you know? You can't honestly think that without skintight spandex the effect of a year and a half of ghost fighting workouts won't show. Half the girls in our grade are probably waiting for you to break up with me. The less popular half, but still…" Danny turned very red at this, and just looked down at his plate, rubbing his neck. "And it doesn't hurt that you're actually taller than all the girls now, either." Danny had put on another 25 pounds and four inches since September, but that wasn't that big of a deal. Most people just looked at his dad and shrugged, figuring such things were inevitable. The ghost boy shifted uncomfortably. He was about to retort when he caught Valerie and Tucker walking over. Shooting Sam a quick warning glance against saying anything 'ghostly', he smiled over at the couple, who quickly took their usual seats across the table.
"Your mom just called me Danny. She said I had to provide eye-witness testimony that you took your medicine today." Valerie shot the groaning ghost boy an evil smirk. Sagging with defeat, he started rummaging through his backpack.
"Why'd she ask you, anyway?" He asked irritably.
"Because," she said, still grinning, "I won't lie to her about it." Tucker and Sam flushed guiltily as Danny pulled up a thermos, scowling. It wasn't a Fenton Ghost Catching Thermos, but it did look like it had some radiation shielding. The ghost boy unscrewed the lid with visible reluctance and shot Val a pleading look. The girl stood firm. Slumping in defeat, Danny pinched his nose and gagged down the strange green liquid, which would probably glow on its own if the sun weren't out. Valerie and any other student that actually cared had been told it was an herbal supplement to combat a vital nutrient deficiency, but that was of course not true. Still, since Danny had been taking the stuff weekly since October, a plausible story had been required.
About a month after the mess with Vlad and Danny's alternate future self, Danny had become strangely weak and malnourished. He'd been eating three, then four meals a day, but his condition continued to deteriorate. Eventually, Jack and Maddie had stumbled on the answer. Ghosts in their natural state gained sustenance directly from the energy-stuff of the ghost zone, subsisting only on the mental emanations of humans and ambient energy when outside their native plane. While that was enough to sustain many ghosts, most of the more powerful ones would have to occasionally return to their home plane to rest and regain their strength, or constantly create terror and panic to increase the level of mental energy around them. For the first year of his half-ghostly existence, Danny had gotten by on food and the occasional thought alone, even if he wasn't aware that his ghost side needed such things. But that had changed quickly after his power spurt. With his energy level so significantly increased and the hero never trying to cause agitation among the humans he protected, he had been burning much more energy than he could consume. Despite his full, complete diet, Danny had been starving to death.
The solution was simple if unappetizing. Once a week, or more when necessary, Danny would choke down a solution of concentrated, purified ectoplasm with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While his ghost side seemed completely satisfied with the new arrangement and his health took a turn for the better, his human tastes had a serious problem taking in anything radioactive on a weekly basis. So occasionally he would 'forget' to take his ghostly supplement. This was why Valerie had come over to watch on his mother's orders.
Danny sent Valerie another dark scowl as he desperately chugged a glass of water, trying to force the taste from his mouth. Laughing slightly, Val grabbed Tucker's arm and the two went off to enjoy the rest of their free time together. Sam watched them go with a strange look on her face.
"Danny, you know how I've always felt about telling Valerie you're part ghost. But she trusts Phantom now. Why not tell her? Even if there's a risk she'll resent being lied to, I can't figure out why you don't. I mean, it's only a matter of time before she figures it out on her own." Danny shrugged, looking a bit uncomfortable.
"It's complicated." He said eventually. "I know telling her would make things easier. I just…can't do it yet."
"Can we talk about something else?" He asked, a little irritably. Sam frowned at him.
"Like Phantom's secret peeping habits?" Danny glared over at her. She smirked slightly.
"How about you double timing with me and some ghost?" He teased back. His girlfriend sighed, and then looked back up.
"Poe debate?" He grinned.
Even if ghosts were still finding creative ways into his haunt, Danny had so much help now from Valerie and her father's new anti-ghost projects that he actually had time to study. While he hadn't improved by leaps and bounds in most classes, especially math, he'd been pleasantly surprised to learn that he really enjoyed English. Now that he had time to read the material and wasn't sleeping through class, he'd found he actually enjoyed most of what he read. Though he had made Sam and Tucker promise they would hit him very hard if he ever used a book title as an expletive. Since the semester started back in January, he and Sam had been playfully debating the works of different dark authors. Right now they were on Poe.
"Okay," she said, "today's debate will be on the meaning of 'Annabelle Lee.'"
Danny nodded brusquely and motioned for Sam to start. Nodding back, she took a deep breath.
"I think Annabelle was always dead, and the young lover fell in love with a corpse. The poem is about love transcending death and common opinion on right and wrong." Danny looked visibly sick, and not just from the ecto-junk.
"Ew. Come on Sam. Poe was crazy, but he wasn't sick. The poem was about the young man losing the woman he loved when evil spirits attacked her. It's about how hurt he was to lose a girl he cared so much about just because some evil creatures hated them. How he couldn't bare to live without her."
"Then why all those lines about how their love was unconventional and how she only 'lived to be loved' by him?"
Danny scowled. "It was an exaggeration. He meant they loved each other more than anything. Seriously Sam, you're twisting a wonderful tragedy into something really morbid and gross. Who'd be sick enough to love a dead person?" Sam quirked an eyebrow at him. Danny flushed.
"That's not fair." Sam's grin only grew. "Come on Sam," he pleaded, "Poe wouldn't have thought of that. My parents made a career out of ghosts and even they didn't think of it until I told them." She just sat there and looked at him smugly. Finally he sighed with defeat. "Fine. You win."
"Yes. I do." Smiling, she pulled his head down and kissed him. The bell rang, and countless students started off towards their next class.
Danny met up with Tucker in the locker room before gym. Changing into his spare clothes, Danny quirked an eyebrow at his friend.
"Have a nice lunch with Valerie?" Tucker smiled.
"Eat anything?" Tucker flushed a bit. Danny chuckled.
"Hey! Don't give me that. I saw you and Sam before the bell."
"We were just making up after our latest Poe battle." Tucker smirked.
"She win?" Danny shoved his regular clothes into his gym locker with slightly more than necessary force.
"She cheated." Tucker just chuckled, locking up his own clothes.
"Yeah, I guess you can't make a good argument when your mortal enemy sucks the air out of you." Danny opened his mouth to retort when a pair of hands shoved him towards the lockers.
"Watch it Fenton." Dash said sarcastically as he strutted out of the locker room, his friends chortling behind him. Danny scowled as he pushed himself up off of the floor.
"You should have punched him again, dude." Tucker was glaring at the swinging door with distaste.
A few days after Dan's attack, Dash had cornered Danny in the school hallway and challenged him to another fight. And Danny had taken a dive. Dash's punch probably would have knocked several people out, but Danny'd had way worse on a good day. With some ghost-energy carrying over to his human side, the thing barely raised a bruise, and that was gone by lunch. Still, his crime against Casper's social order had been punished, and things could return to normal. Surprisingly, Dash had toned down the bullying a lot after that, only giving him the occasional grief when he had several friends watching expectantly. Danny suspected that while Dash didn't know his secret, he did know Danny could tear him apart if he wanted, and was secretly grateful Danny had let him win that fight, even if he couldn't understand why.
Shrugging both to give Tucker a response and shake off pointless thoughts, Danny headed up to gym, and promptly went into his 'slightly sub-par' routine. Not that he was a hotshot as a human anyway, but the less he seemed like Phantom, the better. The only time he really paid attention was during weight lifting, where he carefully checked the numbers before trying any machine. Even as a human, his body didn't always feel like obeying the laws of physics, especially since his powers increased. Leaks causing phasing and vanishing were old hat and easily controlled, but lately almost any one of his powers might feel like popping up on his human side if he was in the wrong mood. Earlier in the year Dash had swapped out the weight pin on one of the machines as a prank on him, and he hadn't noticed until he started getting bug-eyed looks. Fortunately they'd just assumed a wire had slipped or something. Still, he'd been careful about the weight set ever since. That and the climbing rope. He still shuddered at how close that had been.
After gym ended, Danny Sam and Tucker headed towards the Fenton's together. They'd managed to score last period study hall all year, and were always leaving early. Laughing about a joke Tucker had just told involving an alien, a school bus, and a moose; two of the three friends vaulted Fenton Work's front steps and headed inside. Sam waved goodbye miserably, continuing on her way home. Ushering Tucker into the living room, Danny quickly ran upstairs and dropped off his books, then rushed back down. His friend shot him an odd look.
"Dude, since when did you start using the stairs again?" Danny shrugged awkwardly as he pushed in a video game, tossing him a spare controller.
"Since yesterday. Mom and dad were so upset about that 'Spook' article that they invented a whole new ghost-proofing material to prove I wasn't some invisible stalker. Then tested it on the house. Something about ecto-coating Iron in an activating ghost portal to phase-proof the material." His friend gaped at him slightly. "I don't know how it works! They said they got the idea from my accident. They can't do that sort of thing to living stuff because of radiation damage, but they can do it to other stuff. Apparently putting iron into the portal turns it all gold colored and makes it impossible for ghosts to phase through it. Mom and Dad call it Ethren." Tucker chuckled slightly, shaking his head.
"Weird. You'd think it would be called the 'Fenton Anit-Phasing Sheet Metal' or something." Danny grinned as he plopped down on the couch.
"I asked dad about that. He said something about ghosts expecting it to be called that. But I gave up trying to understand how he thinks a while ago. Anyway, they ground the stuff down and mixed it into a colorless spray, so you can put up a ghost-proof barrier on your walls and floor. It can't absorb ghost energy or stop them from touching or destroying stuff, but it's impossible to phase through. They'll be selling the stuff at local stores, so people can stop worrying about 'invisible peepers.'" At this Danny glowered slightly and turned the console on. Tucker chuckled.
"About that. How often do you visit Sam's as Phantom exactly?" Danny blushed.
"Uh…" Tucker quickly held up a hand.
"Never mind dude. Not my business. Besides, if you were doing anything serious, you'd have stopped blushing at my couple jokes by now. Although," he said gripping his chin in mock-thought, "these rumors are just going to start again once her first kid floats out of her." Danny abruptly flung away the controller and tackled Tucker, who was laughing furiously. A few minutes later the annoyed geek was hanging upside-down from the ceiling fan, glaring at his smug friend.
"Okay, okay. Sorry about the baby joke! Jeez!" Sighing, Danny floated up and let his friend down.
"It's not funny Tuck. I mean, that could actually happen someday." The half ghost shuddered, and then a pained look crossed his face. "And it's not like I haven't thought about that happening. Or what if it doesn't? I'm not technically human, Tuck, what if I can't have kids at all? I don't want to now, but what about in ten years?" Danny sat down heavily and stared moodily at the TV. "I don't really like to think about it." Frowning, Tucker mentally pulled his foot out of his mouth and sat down beside his friend.
"Hey. What's done is done. No point worrying now, right?" Danny just nodded silently. "Seriously dude, relax. Things have a way of working out. For you, anyway." Chuckling, Tucker picked up his controller and proceeded to thrash his friend at every game he owned. Half an hour later, Maddie and Jack came upstairs.
"Danny, did you take your medicine?" Danny scowled over at his mother and nodded.
"Yeah. Why'd you have to drag Valerie into it like that?"
"Because you wouldn't take it unless I did. I thought Jack would have to hold you down this morning when I brought out this week's thermoses. And you know you need to take it." Danny groaned.
"Easy for you to say, you don't have to try it." Maddie smiled softly.
"I would, sweetie, but ectoplasm can do strange things to humans." She gave him a pointed look. Tucker snorted.
"Did you want anything mom?" Danny asked curiously. Maddie nodded apologetically.
"Yes. It's one of the reasons I made sure you took the ectoplasm today. We need some more samples for a new experiment for Danielle. We think we might be on the verge of another breakthrough." The ghost boy shot up with a hopeful smile at that.
"The electric shock thing?" Jack nodded from the doorway.
"Your old samples seemed to respond. The ones we shocked lasted for different lengths of time depending on the frequency, but they all lasted at least twice as long as the one we didn't shock before they dissipated. It's the best results we've had yet. Also," he said, lifting a finger and grinning, "we think ultra-low frequency current might make ghosts ticklish or drunk. That doesn't really help, but it's definitely new!" With that, the older hunter happily jogged downstairs again. Tucker just shook his head.
"Dude, your family is seriously weird." Danny turned to his friend with a slightly bemused expression.
"I'm a ghost, my dad rigged our car to shoot death rays, my mom's hotdogs attack people, and my cousin is a puddle in the basement. What's weird?" With that, he followed his mother downstairs, Tucker close behind.
Smiling apologetically at her son, Maddie motioned Danny into a tray by the lab table as Jack set up five odd containers further down and pulled out a short metal wand. Once he was inside, the ghost boy sighed and signaled he was ready, quietly changing into his ghost form.
"Think fast." Maddie said in a forced cheerful tone and tossed a small coin like device at her son. A second later it made contact, and Danny just fell apart. Hurrying to get the samples before any lasting damage might be done; Mrs. Fenton pulled out a syringe and started extracting some of the glowing green slime that now filled the tray. Tucker watched from the side, a similar shade of green.
"Why can't you just take his blood again?" Maddie grunted as she sucked up another few tablespoons of her son.
"This is as close to Danielle's current condition as we can get. Even the genetic structure is similar, since she's a clone. Besides, Danny says it doesn't hurt."
"Yeah," Tucker mumbled to himself, "but he said Skulker didn't hurt either."
Finally, Maddie siphoned off the fifth sample and nodded abruptly at her husband. Stepping forward quickly but carefully, Jack reached down and touched the end of the metal device to the Fenton Ghost-Gooper and it immediately latched onto it instead. The hunter slowly withdrew the small round device as Danny's body reformed. The ghost boy shivered as he pulled himself together.
"Brr. I hate getting melted! You won't need more soon right?" He asked, slightly woozy. Maddie shook her head as Jack carried the vials over to the five boxes.
"Jack, make sure the electrodes are inside the samples before you set them." She called out to her husband. Then she turned back towards her son. "No Danny, we won't need more this week. We know electricity is effective. Now we're going to try using the most effective frequency we found before on samples at different temperatures. We know ectoplasm becomes more fluid as it heats, or I suppose as it absorbs heat from its environment. But we don't know how that changes conductivity or how it will respond to electrical impulses. We might be able to stimulate one of them to a greater degree. Samples at room temperature with the impulse actually started reacting like a spasming muscle. They twitched! If we can just jumpstart Dani's mind somehow, she might…wake up." The three looked over at a large covered beaker in the corner sadly.
While Danielle's 'body' didn't seem to be deteriorating, and it had been stabilized, it wasn't doing anything else. If Dani was still in there somewhere, she was either deeply unconscious or unable to change back. The Fentons had been trying to recreate her body from the outside since she melted, but so far they had not been successful.
Maddie smiled at the two friends. "Why don't you go have some fun now and recover? Jack and I will be fine down here on our own. We'll have to check the temperatures of the sample every few minutes for the next several hours before we can run the current."
Nodding, the friends headed back upstairs, saying hi to Jazz as she came inside. After another round of video games, Tucker took off to go see Valerie, leaving Danny alone to finish some math work. Pausing between problems to get rid of the numbers spinning around in his head, Danny suddenly sat bolt upright and grinned. Jogging up to his room, he threw open the hidden black door in his closet and headed off into the maze-like halls of his painstakingly reconstructed lair.
Clockwork had decided to pay a visit.