I hadn't expected to find him.
Though I had left my home with the intent of hunting him down, I had never really given any thought to what I would do if I actually found him.
My hunt this evening had been prompted by my need to get out and do, to release my pent up emotions from the last few days. I wanted the sense of freedom given to me by flying, the sense of self-assuredness I get when I defeat a ghost. But for once, despite what I told myself, I didn't really want a fight with him.
My flight had taken me close to the one place I hadn't wanted to go. In a moment of insanity - or maybe simply one of fate - I turned my jet-sled towards it, deciding that maybe it was a sign that it was time for me to deal with it.
And I found him there before me, kneeling where he had no right to be. I reacted immediately, without thinking.
Now I am standing behind him, an ecto-gun leveled less than an inch from the back of his head. Yet my gaze lingers on the words etched into the stone tablet that I found him kneeling in front of.
He must know that I am there, though he has done nothing to acknowledge my presence. But, like me, his gaze is glued to the name. Her name.
His shoulders are shaking. There is a muffled sound that I could swear is the sound of someone trying to cover up a sob, if it were anyone else. Because this is him it must be something else.
The words are so soft, the submissive voice so unlike his, that I'm uncertain that I even heard him properly. He couldn't possibly have said those words.
Ever so slowly he stands up. Keeping the ecto-gun level with his head, I let him do so, though I don't know why. I should shoot him while I have the opportunity. Stop him from getting the chance to do more damage to this town and its people.
He turns around, and I see that there are tears trailing down his face.
"Valerie," he says, his voice firmer but still somehow unlike him. "Shoot."
I tighten my grip on the trigger, but I can't shoot him. Not like this. Not here. Not now.
Not when he is standing in front of me, broken.
Because there is no doubt in my mind that he is broken somehow. Despite the fact that he is a ghost, he has always been so very alive. And the shadow that is in front of me is dead in a way I don't understand.
It's in his eyes. The green eyes that are normally bright and pulsing with energy are a dull washed out shade, with only flickers of pain and despair to indicate that there is anything more to him than an echo of his former self.
Those eyes stare into my own, begging me to end it.
Standing there, looking at me with that destroyed expression, he looks so much like Danny did this morning when I saw him.
I have the most absurd urge to pull him into a hug.
Which is beyond stupid, because this is Phantom and all of this has to be some huge plot to get me to let my guard down. But I can't make myself believe that.
Maybe it's the way he's holding himself, like it's an effort to even stand up. Maybe it's the tears that are causing his eyes to become blurry. Maybe it's his expression, the way his face says that the world has fallen down around him.
Whatever it is, it's real.
And I don't understand it.
He takes a shuddering breath. "Why? Why won't you shoot?"
It's a good question, but I don't know the answer. Shaking my head slightly, I holster my firearm and give him the kind of answer I would normally give instead, "You aren't worth it like this, ghost."
His expression melts into something that I can't read. "Fine," he growls. "Then I'll make it worth your while."
He comes at me so fast that I barely have time to register it before I find myself blocking his fists.
There is something wrong about this whole thing. He's attacking me with a viciousness I've never seen from him before, pushing me harder than he has ever done. And it's so strange because suddenly it occurs to me that he's never actually attacked me before. A few shots, a punch or kick here or there, yeah. But nothing like this.
He's not making any of the saucy quips that I find so irritating.
And that bothers me for some reason. What is going on with him? What caused this?
To make it all worse, he's crying. Probably explains why I can't seem to make myself attack him back. Instead I go completely on the defensive, redirecting his attacks where I can, blocking them where I can't. I'm not a ninth-degree black belt for nothing.
I send him reeling away for the fourth or fifth time. But this time, instead of launching at me again he regains his balance and glares at me, hatred lighting his eyes. It hits me like a ton of bricks: he's never looked at me like that before. Is it possible, is it at all possible that he never hated me before? Despite everything?
"Damn you!" He snarls, swiping at the tears that refuse to stop. "Fight back! End this!"
I shake my head slightly, and reach up to remove my helmet. "No," I respond simply, cradling my helmet in the crook of my arm. I meet his glare, "Not like this."
He lets loose a cry of frustration, turning on his heel with what I can only assume is the intention of leaving.
He is facing her gravestone. His shoulders start to shake again, and he crumples to the ground.
Hesitantly, I move forward and lay a hand on his shoulder. This whole thing, I realize, has something to do with her.
"It's all my fault," he mutters in a voice so quiet I can barely make out the words. "She's dead and it's all my fault."
I frown at that, confused by the statement. Normally, you see, I'd have no problem thinking of Phantom as a murderer. But I was there when it happened. She was killed by that freaky vampire-like Wisconsin ghost. He'd sent an ecto-blast in her direction, and I hadn't been able to get to her fast enough.
I'm still in the process of trying to convince myself that there was nothing more I could have done. That it wasn't my fault.
In a burst of understanding, I realize that Phantom feels the same way.
"It . . . it wasn't your fault," I tell him, saying the words my father had said to me. "You did your best, there was nothing more you could have done."
The memory playing through my head, I couldn't help the vicious grin that twitched at the corners of my mouth, "And you got that bastard back really good." It was absolutely true. I'd been in shock, but Phantom... Phantom snapped. The Wisconsin ghost isn't going to be giving anyone problems for quite a while.
"You don't . . . you don't understand," he mutters. "She wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for me, and he wouldn't have targeted her if . . ." Phantom trails off, choking back his tears. "He killed her, but it's my fault."
I don't know what to say to that, so instead I drop my helmet with a thud, sink down into the grass and give into my ridiculous urge to hug him.
I guess it's kind of ironic that I'm sitting here, hugging my worst enemy in an attempt to give him some sort of comfort. I don't even know why I'm doing it, but it feels like the right thing to do.
We sit there like that, my arms around him, rocking slightly as he cries, for what seems like an eternity. I didn't know that ghosts could . Cry, I mean.
Eventually his tears dry up; I guess a person only has so many tears.
He meets my eyes, and the emptiness in his makes me want to do something, anything to bring back their normal light.
"I never got the chance to tell her," he whispers.
"Tell her what?" I ask automatically.
"That I love her," he responds, and I jerk back, releasing him and rising to my feet, as a ring of light travels up his body.
My ecto-gun is out and pointing at him before I know what I'm doing. I stare at him, a million emotions flickering through me, the most prominent of which is confusion, because I'm pointing a gun at Danny.
My Danny. Black-haired, blue-eyed Danny Fenton.
He hasn't moved. He looks at me sadly for a moment before something frighteningly like acceptance flits through his expression. "Shoot," he says, closing his eyes.
And God help me, but I want to. I want so badly to pull the trigger and end all of this, because this is Phantom and it can't possibly be Danny, and it all has to be some kind of trick. It couldn't have been Danny all along.
My hand is shaking. I notice it with a detached sense of confusion. Why would my hand be shaking?
"I don't . . . what . . . Explain." I demand in a voice I swear isn't my own.
And he does. It takes a long time, with me standing there, an ecto-gun in my hand, ready to shoot if anything he says strikes me as wrong.
By the end of it my hand isn't the only thing that's shaking. This is Danny in front of me. Danny who is looking at me with eyes that are dead. Danny who is asking me to shoot him.
I don't know what to think or do.
Except maybe my body or my heart does, because somehow I've dropped my gun and have scooped him up in another hug.
I hold on tight, because whatever stupefying mix of emotions I'm feeling, I know one thing. If I let go of him, Sam won't be the only person I've lost.
And I don't know what I'd do if that happened.