Disclaimer: Don't own DP.
Every time I start to write for this, it always expands in weird and unexpected ways. I was also a bit afraid to post this chapter, as it contains scenes that a lot of people were waiting to see. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you all for your reviews, criticism, praise, and support!
Summary of last chapter: After decimating the inter-dimensional realm by blowing up one of their own Convoy ships, the CGIA advance on the hospital. Maddie discovers that Vlad Plasmius is also Vlad Masters after he is electrocuted by the blast radius, and she gives him CPR upon realizing he isn't breathing. Numerous other ghosts are heavily wounded and fading away as they attempt to avoid GIWs and return to the hospital. Phantom wakes up from cyro-stasis and permanently stifles the remains of Danny's presence in his mind. He then discovers that Agent O, commander of the CGIA, has captured an injured, half-conscious Valerie and is prepared to execute her for treason. Phantom decides to violently intervene. He incapacitates Agent O and escapes away with Valerie.
In the haze of pain, Valerie had little idea how much time had passed. She curled in on herself, clutching her bleeding side. Her mind still reeled from the numerous abuses to her body. She heard distant noises and sounds. The rumble of a sharp, husky voice: Phantom. The smooth baritone of an emotionless government agent. Blasts, firing.
Then strong, cold hands turned her on the ground. She winced as she was moved, and she found herself looking into red eyes as the lines of the world blurred around them. She realized next that she was flying in his arms. Her heart stopped.
"Reckless," Phantom snarled, echoing with a strong power. His jumpsuit was clean and unmarred with tears or punctures in the fabric. "That was very reckless of you."
Valerie stared up, questioning her sanity. Maybe the punches had swollen her brain. "Danny?" she whispered, voice hoarse. It hurt to speak.
His red eyes darted with a malice that would not have fit Danny Fenton's features. Instead, he said, "I had to get you away from there."
His fingers tightened in the fabric of her suit, and he cradled her bleeding body against his with a gentleness she did not expect.
As they flew away, Valerie didn't have time to question why or how Phantom had saved her. Her mind still scrambled to catch up with itself. The slightest of pins and needles in her brain made her remember that a psychotic ghost out for revenge held her life in his hands.
But Phantom set her down on the ground near the pillars at the back of the hospital. He quickly pushed back her thick curls from her eyes and took inventory of her injuries.
Words and questions stood at the edge of Valerie's tongue and bleeding lips, but she had not the energy to voice them. Why was he helping her? Why was he so…gentle?
The ghost tilted his head and narrowed his eyes.
"That insect of a human hit you," Phantom said. His voice was rough. "He was going to kill you." His gloved fingers wavered over her injured side, and she winced in anticipation. "Like a dog, because of me."
For a second, their eyes locked, and Valerie's heart pounded faster—in fear or in something else, she didn't know.
He looked away, then his fingertips began to glow as he lightly placed them on her wound. Valerie felt something hum into her body. Fire. A loud gasp of pain tore from her throat, and he clapped his free hand over her mouth. "Shh! You'll give us away."
Always a fighter, she turned her head quickly, loosening his grasp. "Y-you trying to f-finish me off?" she hissed, feeling waves of pain darken her vision.
"I want you alive," he leaned beside her, his cold breath blowing into her ear. "I'm saving you."
For precious seconds, Valerie struggled to breathe against the pain of intense heat and green flame crackling against her bleeding side. She was too weak to fight him. Her teal eyes rolled in nearing unconsciousness as she gasped in pain under the hands of Danny Phantom.
"S-stop," she gasped. "Just stop."
The ghost smirked, even though his red eyes were still narrowed. "You mean you don't like my touch, sweetheart?"
"Bastard," she hissed out, squeezing her eyes shut. "This hurts!"
A cool, soothing sting replaced the fire surrounding her torso. "You're so passionate," Phantom complimented, "even injured." He leaned closer to her sweat-matted curls and whispered, "That's why I like you."
Then the blue glow of his hands faded, and he pulled away, his fingers lingering a little too long on the tear in her suit that revealed her bare, now-scarred, stomach.
Before she could call him out, he grabbed her hand and pulled her up into a sitting position. Valerie realized with a start that doing so didn't hurt.
"There." Phantom's red eyes gave her a once-over. "Should hold you for a while."
She gingerly touched her stomach, mind racing with a million thoughts. "What did you do to me?"
Phantom's gaze was unreadable. Was he actually concerned? "I cauterized your wound to make it stop bleeding, then used ice to numb it. Now stay out of my way. You're too weak to keep up." He turned his eyes to the roof, over the ridge where the CGIA was still barking orders and realigning itself for further combat. He turned back. His cold, gloved fingers suddenly ran down her bruised jaw as he said playfully, "And I'd hate for you to get hurt again."
She jerked away, and he dematerialized into the sky. Then Valerie sat there for a moment in disbelief, frozen with shock and a very uncomfortable realization.
Her skin still burned and tingled with his touch, and not all of it had to do with his powers. She swallowed hard.
She brushed her hair back with a shaky hand and forced her thoughts aside. "Come on, Gray," she told herself. She tried to stand. Her side caught in pain, and she winced. It was too soon to move that way.
"Still…gotta finish this…"
With painstaking determination, she managed to stand. She stood for a minute before her pain died down again into the cooling pulse left behind by Phantom. The nano-particles of her suit buzzed as they attempted to regenerate over her wounds, slowly rebuilding threads over her cracked and bloodied skin.
Then she gingerly walked back into the hospital, grabbing onto the pillars. She remembered that she hadn't been the only one affected by the blast, and images of her four commanders and assorted ghosts flitted through her mind.
Were any of them still okay?
"Oh man." Valerie swallowed hard. As the leader, she was supposed to know about every trick up the CGIA's sleeve. She should have known the power threshold they contained.
She'd failed her own resistance group. She'd failed everyone.
"Valerie?" an uncertain voice called out. She looked up and saw Sam running out from a side door with a blaster. "What are you doing back—God, what happened?"
"The CGIA happened to me," she said dryly as she limped along. "Is the hospital still on? Everyone okay?"
"Barely," Sam said. "They disrupted all the power generators, but Tucker's working on it. We haven't heard back from much of anyone. We know Plasmius is, uh, down for the count. Listen, have you seen Danny?" She bit her lip, tightened her grip on the blaster. "He's not in cyro anymore."
"No shit," Valerie grunted. She leaned against a pillar, and her hands moved towards her cauterized wound on her side. "He just left after saving my ass."
The gravity of her words dropped a deep silence between them.
Valerie nodded. She still felt the cold barrel of a gun on her forehead. What if Phantom hadn't been there? "Looks like the CGIA isn't above bullying humans either."
Sam paused, then ran a shaky hand through her hair. "Okay. Okay, maybe he's not totally gone yet, if he saved you." But then she looked Valerie over in concern. "We have to get you inside. He didn't hurt you, did he?"
Valerie looked away, her conflicting emotions rising. "No. He didn't." A hard edge echoed in her voice to draw attention away from the flush that heated her cheeks. "Why do you care?"
"We might not always get along, but I'm not heartless," Sam said. She stepped forward and holstered her blaster in the back of her pants. "Let me help you, okay?" She gently helped Valerie away from the pillars and grunted as she took on most of the hunter's weight. "I can't…even begin to pay you back for all you've done."
"Is that gratitude in your voice, Manson?" Valerie raised her brow.
Sam fell silent. The two women huffed as they hobbled their way back into the hospital. "I don't mean to be so abrasive to you all the time," Sam said. "I just…wanna protect Danny."
"Don't we all," Valerie said, voice dry.
By the time they made it inside, electricity and computer consoles had been reestablished. Tucker was viciously working on reconstructing a barrier to keep the hospital safe from any more heavy artillery, and this time without any secondary ghost barrier as backup.
A smirk-ridden Plasmius sat off to the side, propped up against a wall, unconscious but breathing. He was still a bit ruffled in appearance from being electrocuted. His breath was still ragged from the pain of the electrical burns on his hands and most likely up his arms. A red hand mark splattered across his face, but it was nearly hidden by the drooping straggles of his hair.
Maddie paced before the main computer console, desperately distracting herself in a frazzled manner. She occasionally glanced back at Plasmius with an unreadable gaze that made Valerie wonder what happened. "They've stopped advancing on the hospital," she told them the instant she heard footsteps.
Sam snorted. "That's because what they want is already out there."
Maddie turned around, but then her eyes caught the sight of Valerie and widened. "Oh my goodness!" She quickly ran over to help Sam half-carry the injured woman. "Valerie, what happened?"
The Red Hunter grimaced as she held her side. Blood had already begun to ooze from the cauterized wound. "You don't wanna know."
They managed to lay her down on the tile against one of the walls, and Sam ran to track down the doctor who was tending to patients in the next room over.
"You're going to be okay, Valerie," Maddie said, grabbing Valerie's free hand and squeezing it. She tried to smile. "We just need to patch you up."
Valerie schooled her breathing to hide the pain, but she struggled under the worried gaze of Maddie. "I'm fine," she said, voice hard. It still hurt to speak. The bruise on her jaw, she was sure, had spider-webbed out into an angry red and purple. Her teeth throbbed as her jaw swelled.
Damn that Agent O.
In short order, Sam returned with a doctor in tow, who only agreed to come along if Sam left to assist the nurses in his absence. The ghost doctor, frazzled and up to his elbows in ectoplasmic blood, took one look at Valerie and moaned. "Didn't I just patch you up?!"
Valerie returned the pleasantry. Her nose crunched up despite the pain, and she nearly snarled. "Yeah, yeah." She waved him off, but he simply pulled out gauze and disinfectant and began wrapping her wounds. He paused, eying the cauterized wound on her stomach and the dark, surrounding bruises. Feeling his silent questions remind her all too quickly of Phantom's strange rescue, Valerie asked Maddie, "Mrs. Fenton, we know the CGIA's stalling until Danny shows his face. What can we do to help him in the meantime?"
"You shouldn't do anything," the mother retorted, eying her wounds.
"You know what I mean," Valerie said. She gritted her teeth, only to hiss and realize the stupidity of that action as waves of pain tore through her. "Ah, geez."
"Hold still," the doctor demanded.
Maddie sighed and ran hands through her frazzled hair. "I don't know, Valerie. I just…" She trailed off. For a second, the mother did not continue.
But just as Valerie was about to open her mouth, Maddie continued. "Danny's my son, Valerie," she said, voice shaky. "My son." She turned to a small meter on the table. "I tracked the residues of his signature still inside the cyro-chamber. It was one-hundred percent ectoplasm, no…n-no signs of human DNA." She inhaled sharply to control her tears. "My boy is gone. He's dead." She looked to the computer console. "His ghost side has taken over, and all that's left of him is a corrupted shade."
Valerie swallowed hard as she leaned her head back against the wall. Her eyes darted about as her breath quickened. Danny was gone. The doctor's attempts to wrap her wounds and apply topical pain relievers fell into the background. Danny was gone.
The words settled sideways in her stomach.
"I refuse to believe that," she said, voice rough. Her teal gaze fixed upon the broken lines of the mother's face. "Maybe he's gone full ghost, but that doesn't mean we can't get him back."
Tears slipped from Maddie's eyes. "You don't know that, Valerie."
"Yes, I do," she said, voice rising. "I've seen it. Danny's still in there, somewhere." There was that damn blush again. "He saved me, okay? "
"But you may only represent a valuable asset to him. That's not proof that Phantom is good, and even worse, we can't stop him," Maddie admitted. "We can't keep him away from the CGIA, and…" Her breath hitched. "And we both know what he'll do." Her lips pulled back into a sob, and she turned away. "My son would never murder."
"Maybe, but none of us are innocent here," Valerie said, eyes hardening. "I just shot at a bunch of my own colleagues to protect Danny. We're in a war, Mrs. Fenton. The CGIA wants to annihilate ghosts. They want to hurt people we care about. In an ideal world, maybe no one would die, but we have to make decisions. So does Danny."
The ghost doctor finished tying a knot in the gauze around Valerie's hand. "There," he floated back, admiring his work. "Now just don't move again."
"Fat chance of that," Valerie said, but her voice was soft. She nodded at the doctor in thanks, and he quickly disappeared back to his other patients. Valerie then struggled to a stand, wincing at the catch in her side. "Mrs. Fenton," she asked, "Do you trust me?"
The mother blinked as she brushed away tears. "How could I not?"
"Then let me handle Phantom," she said. "You're right, we can't stop him now short of a miracle. But I don't think he's totally gone yet." She bit her lip. "We just have to make sure we all survive this to help him."
As the person who started it all, Valerie figured it was the least she could do.
Silence settled over them, with only flickering lights above them to illuminate the angles of their faces and buzz in the quiet. Then, slowly, Maddie nodded. "But…what's the plan?"
Valerie exhaled deeply, mind racing. "Well, no one's tried to contact me over the comm. We need to get everyone off that battlefield and back here where they can stay out of the way." She ran a hand through her messy, matted hair. Funny how nothing hurt. Maybe this was adrenaline. Or some very powerful painkillers. "But that doesn't guarantee us that the CGIA won't still try to attack or capture us."
Suddenly, all the lights in the hospital powered back up.
Tucker's voice echoed through the room. "Mrs. Fenton? Guys? Power's totally back up; we should be able to reestablish communications with everyone." He paused. "And I think I have an idea. I've got switches here that can totally reverse the function of the hospital's ghost barrier."
Valerie put a hand on her hip, mind racing, impatient. "What's that mean?"
"It means once I flip that switch, no one with human blood can get out, or in. We'd be safe from CGIA infiltrating to use the hospital as a base against Danny, and we could provide cover for any ghosts injured in that blast. So similar to what I did before, but this time, only ghosts can pass through."
Valerie moved. "Do it." She then pressed her ear piece, which had finally reconfigured from the blast. "This is Valerie. We're reversing the barrier on the hospital to allow only ghosts in. Anyone still out there?"
Deafening seconds passed. Then, a static-filled response. "I'm here." Skulker. "Heavily wounded. Trekking back now."
"Anyone with you?" Valerie demanded.
"Ember." His voice strained with exertion and fear. "She's fading. Have to take the long way around to avoid CGIA."
"Anyone else around you?"
"Not many. We were the closest to the convoys. Some are gone. They faded without…" Skulker's vocal processors glitched. "W-w-without en-n-nergy."
Another voice cut in. Walker. "A few of us were just grazed by the blast. We can send out a help team to recover Skulker and Ember, plus any others. I'm sending the rest of my team in and will follow soon."
Thank God. Some good news. She hadn't managed to get everyone killed yet. Valerie closed her eyes. "Alright. Fright Knight? Frostbite? You guys there?"
"Currently regenerating, my mistress!" whispered the Fright Knight. "We are hiding beneath the ground, away from CGIA. My team will try to reach the hospital soon."
A more gasping voice cut into the earpiece. "…C-commander."
Valerie gripped the edge of the table nearby. Her knuckles bled white. "Frostbite?"
"I'm…s-sorry." His normal jovial voice gurgled with ectoplasm "I could not…I…"
"Frostbite, stay with me. If you can get to the hospital, we can protect you. We can help you."
Breathless gasps filled the static of the comm. The yeti sounded tired, pained. "My team…maybe…"
Valerie began moving. "We'll come for you, okay? We'll get you out of there, just hold on."
"Wanted to see..." A rasp tore from Frostbite's throat. Then the comm went silent, and Valerie wasn't sure if that meant Frostbite was dead (faded or otherwise), or if he were simply unconscious.
"Walker," she demanded, "can you also send someone to get Frostbite and his team?"
"The CGIA's too close. We can't get there anytime soon." His southern drawl turned down in worry.
Valerie tried not to groan. "Well, don't put your life on the line if you can help it." The gears in her head turned. "Here's the plan: Danny's escaped from cyro-stasis and unless you wanna get caught in the crossfire, you need to rendezvous back at the hospital. A reversed barrier will let you guys in and keep humans out. I'll patrol and see if I can't help the stragglers." She cut off the link once she heard affirmations from the ghosts.
But Tucker spoke up. "Are you crazy, Val? You can't go out there."
She turned around, grabbing an ecto-blaster (most likely Sam's) from the table. "Of course I can go out there. Doc patched me up."
"Your injuries are pretty bad," Tucker warned her. "And you're human, remember? You'll get stuck outside the barrier once I fire it up."
Her eyes narrowed. "What, like you can't flip the switch off for a second?"
Tucker tried to laugh off a scoff. "Do you have any idea what kind of feat it is for me to reverse the honing signature on a barrier with a fried power source? Val, I've spent this whole time trying to hook up to the entire power grid of this place just to make it run. Shutting it down would mean having to manually restart every breaker in the hospital. Those are scattered everywhere. Ten-minute downtime."
"Convenient," she spat dryly.
He crossed his arms. "And let's not forget the CGIA wants you dead too."
Valerie frowned. "Well," she huffed, "this target's still got some backlash in her. I can handle some more GIWs if I have to."
"Val, you don't know that."
"This is my responsibility to make sure everyone stays alive, and I'm not going to leave anyone behind. I'm the person that's supposed to lead everyone. I've already failed Danny. I'm not gonna fail anyone else."
"But you might end up trying to protect someone and then you'll both get-"
Then Valerie froze.
"—Oh, God," she interrupted, her memories rushing back to her. She turned around, eyes wide with fear. "Danielle. I left her just before the blast. She's still out there! Can she get in through the barrier if she's half-ghost?"
Tucker paused, then shook his head. "Doubt it. If I do this, it blocks out anyone with human blood."
Maybe it was the girl's face and her association with Danny, or maybe it was simply the girl's shy and innocent nature: either way, Valerie couldn't stand the thought of leaving her behind. "Dammit, Tuck. We still haven't heard from her, which means she could be seriously injured. An open target." She moved, checking over her uniform and wincing at the slightest ooze of blood that darkened the pure white gauze and the newest layers of nano-particle infused cloth of her suit. "I have to go out there."
Tucker rubbed his temples. "You can't be serious. You'd be just as much of a target."
Too many bad scenarios ran through Valerie's mind. Danny Phantom taking down the CGIA, but the CGIA holding an injured Danielle as a captive to force Phantom down. CGIA taking Danielle as a replacement. CGIA killing every remnant of the strange Phantom bloodline that Valerie had sworn to protect.
"She could be dying," Valerie said. "So could others."
Tucker's eyes narrowed in worry. "I know that, but if you go out there once Danny engages the GIWs, I won't be able to power off the barrier without compromising everyone else. You'll be stuck out there. Don't do this."
"Don't tell me what to do," she huffed. She shot him an almost-apologetic look. "You know I can't leave her out there. And I don't have time to argue."
The man sighed and crossed his arms. "Then…please be careful, okay? I can't help you once the barrier's up."
Valerie nodded as she re-holstered her blaster onto her belt. "I know." A haughty, signature smirk lit her face, although it was only half-hearted. "As if I needed help. You just keep the barrier going, alright?"
Tucker gave a grudging nod.
And with her spine straight, Valerie walked out, forcing herself to work up into a steady run.
Across from Tucker, the hospital's trackers noted various ghost signatures making their way closer. The trackers on the CGIA remained stable, clustered about the Convoy ships.
No one noticed that the previously unconscious Vlad Plasmius had disappeared from the room, materializing out in a silent wisp of energy and a blink of the eye.
Tucker flipped the switches with a prayer heavenwards, and the reversed barrier blanketed the hospital with a reverberating hum. The air glowed green.
"I hope this works," he breathed, half-way convinced they were all going to die anyway.
Destroyed concrete crumbled everywhere in piles.
The force of the impact had been too strong for Danielle, who was stealthy but physically unable to hold up to a full-frontal assault. She lay on the broken ground in a crater, eyes wide, lungs screaming for air. Pleas danced across her ecto-blood-rimmed lips as she gasped out.
The closest people nearby were the panicking GIWs, who were desperately reloading their weapons and shouting at each other. They faded away in time, retreating back to the safe zone before their Convoy ships. They did not see her, and Danielle realized she'd been lucky that the concrete debris hid her from sight.
But someone did come to her rescue.
In the blur of time, she felt large, gloved hands tilt her head. "Come on, child." She caught the sight of electrical burned skin against a white suit. A sharp spike in power flowed into her through the hands, tinged with…worry? "You must awaken soon. Or you will die out here. "
Danielle groaned against the feeling, her own body struggling to both drink up the energy and repair itself. For a wild moment, she believed she was truly dying. The energy transfer pained her, and something of a whimper escaped her lips.
"I know, darling," the voice shushed her gently. "Power is a terrible burden."
She knew that voice. She knew it. She tried to focus her eyes, but all she saw were blurs against a green background. Some red.
"Ah ah, child." The gloved fingers gently pushed back her hair. "Save your strength. You still have a busy day before you."
Then, just as quickly as it arrived, the presence was gone, and Danielle believed she'd hallucinated it. She closed her eyes and worried no more, feeling her body now begin to repair itself normally.
She relaxed into the ground as her spine knitted itself back together, her sinew and muscles aligning in quick order. A part of her knew that she needed to hurry, to turn intangible. To do something. If any GIWs managed to see her regenerating…
Sliding gravel crunched above her. "Hey, kid!" she heard a rough whisper.
Wait. She knew that voice too.
"..Val?" she gasped out, opening her eyes. Green sky greeted her, along with blurry shapes moving closer to her left side.
Valerie dropped down into the small crater with a rough landing, hissing lightly in pain. She grabbed at her side, feeling something tear open. But she ignored it. "Kid, you alright?" she whispered as she knelt down beside Danielle. She gently helped the girl up into a sitting position. She glanced up at the crater's edge in a hurry, teal eyes trained on the sky. For now, the ripped up concrete had provided them some cover.
The younger girl grimaced and rubbed her temples, leaning heavily on Valerie for support. Val's hands didn't feel like the gloved ones that had given her energy. Tingles ran down her spine.
She knew exactly who had first saved her. But she didn't want to believe it.
"Where's…" She swallowed to soothe her pained throat. "Where's Plasmius?"
"He was back in the hospital. Don't worry, he shouldn't be coming after you," the woman said, distracted. The heavens above them swirled with darkening energy. Something prickled both of their backs as Val looked up with a grimace. "We better get out of here." She huffed as she took on most of Danielle's weight. "If only my jet sled wasn't wrecked."
"Where's Danny?" Danielle asked, her green eyes darting. "Is he still safe?"
"He's out," Valerie said shortly. "We have to get as far away from here as we can." She pushed the button on her ear piece. "Hey, Mrs. Fenton?"
"I'm here. How can I help?"
"Are you able to put a trace on Danny's signature?"
The line was silent for a second, then she heard a click. "Looks like I can."
"Trace it, and tell me what the power output is. I want to know just how powerful Danny is, and whether or not I need to worry about him out here." Valerie peeked her head over the edge of the concrete pile, her eyes narrowed at the distant sight of the GIW gearing up. "Looks like they've still got some serious tricks."
"Okay, I'm tracing it."
"…And?" Valerie snapped impatiently.
"Val, I don't…I'm not sure I'm reading this right."
"The power output is maxed out, and Danny's signature is…everywhere." Something in Maddie's voice sent foreboding chills down Valerie's spine. "And I'm not talking about the power the CGIA is using. It's a full ghost signature. Wherever Danny's at right now, he's projecting his power across the entire dimension."
For a second, nothing clicked. But when it did, she inhaled sharply, mind racing. "Holy shit," Valerie breathed.
Danielle tugged on her good arm. "Hey, what's wrong? What's happening?"
Valerie began to move. Fast. "Shit's going down. That's what." She grabbed Danielle, paying little mind to the girl's gasp of pain. "We gotta get out of here before we're caught in the crossfire."
She recalled the absolute hatred and revulsion that had shaken Phantom's frame at the sight of the CGIA. And she didn't want to be anywhere near ground zero when he unleashed that hatred.
"Valerie?" came Maddie's voice, now softer with emotion.
"What is it, Mrs. Fenton?"
She hesitated. "I know you want to save everyone, but you need to get out of there. As far away from mainlines as possible."
She grimaced as she helped Danielle hobble along. "Look, Mrs. Fenton. I know you're worried, but I've got time." Valerie glanced back at the CGIA, still organizing with heavy artillery. Most of it was trained straight at the hospital. "I've got Danielle now too; we'll put up our own barrier. We'll go behind the hospital."
Dani sent a strange look at the hospital. "C-can't we just…" she breathed hard as her body fought to repair itself, "go inside?"
Valerie shook her head. "Nope. Tucker engineered it to protect ghosts in case Danny can't keep the CGIA occupied."
"So we just need to get inside, and we'll be okay," Danielle breathed. "I can do that."
She rolled her eyes. This girl was as oblivious as Danny sometimes. "It's a reverse barrier. It doesn't let in humans."
"Nope." Valerie kept trudging them forward.
"Because life's a bitch sometimes."
The younger girl pulled back, standing strong on her legs, her body nearly fully healed. "Can't they power down the barrier?"
Valerie shook her head. "If they do, it'll take too long to get it back up. I've got Tuck under orders to keep it on."
Tears bubbled in Danielle's face. "But that means…I mean, you could die out here!"
"Yeah, and you could too," Valerie scoffed, pulling her along. "Why do you think I came back for you?"
The rough honesty in Valerie's voice made Danielle's breath hitch. "B-but…But I'm not…I'm just a clone." More tears bubbled down her bruised face. "Valerie, you shouldn't be risking yourself for me. Again."
Valerie felt irritation spark within her. "Girl, we gotta work on your self-esteem one of these days. You know you're worth more than that." The shadow of the hospital, and the bright glow of the barrier, loomed before them. "Now you stay back here, got it? I need to go back. I'm still missing Frostbite and a dozen others."
Danielle quickly grabbed Valerie's hand. "But you lied to Mrs. Fenton," she said, voice breaking. "You said you'd stick back here with me."
Valerie's eyebrows furrowed. "So? You stay here. Stay safe. I gotta find the others."
Danielle swallowed hard, ideas forming in her mind at lightning pace. She licked her lips in fear. She did not want to be left behind again. "Look, I'm not useless. I'm the only one who can protect you if you get caught."
The older woman's face hardened. "Girl, I can't risk the CGIA capturing you."
The girl nodded. "Yeah, and I can't risk them capturing you, either." She levitated off the ground and held her hand out to the ghost hunter. Her low confidence steeled into courage. "Now, come on. We got work to do. Together."
Valerie saw a facet of the famous Fenton stubbornness and groaned. It was hard for her to say no, and she struggled with herself for a minute before saying, "I'm going to regret this, aren't I?"
"Sir, it appears the ghosts have constructed another protective barrier around their fortress." The agent stood tensely before Agent M, the next highest ranking commander after Agent O.
Agent M was quite a bit older, but his voice echoed as strong as thunder. "I'm aware, thank you."
"Sir, shouldn't we be concerned?"
"Of course we should, agent. But the fortress is not our primary objective, nor are the lower-level ghosts that are regenerating as we speak." Agent M recalibrated a wicked-looking rifle that glowed green. "Our first target is apprehending Danny Phantom, who we believe is no longer within that building. We're swimming in his signature with no ability to pinpoint exact locations. We have to wait for him to strike first." Agent M's clouded eyes hardened. "And then we'll capture him and put an end to this entire dimension."
"Yes, sir. And what about Valerie Gray, sir? Agent O gave us orders to kill. Shall we continue with this order?"
Agent M closed his eyes. "She was a good asset," he said, aged voice somewhat mournful. "And she still is. I want an individual squadron, one of our best, to track her down and bring her back in for questioning." With more force than seemed possible from his fragile frame, he cocked the rifle, hand on the trigger. "Phantom seems…fond of her, and one should never overlook a valuable resource. Imagine what we'll do with her as leverage."
Phantom materialized just behind a fixture on the hospital roof. The protective barrier warped about his body in humming winds, calling forth all the weak and weary ghosts from the battlefield.
A permanent snarl had curled his lips at the CGIA. "Those bastards," he whispered.
He'd scoped out the entire dimension's terrain, taking count of the CGIA's various weaponry, their defensive stances, the angle of their blasters. His red eyes locked on their squadrons and the skewed forms of the ghosts who had once stood in their way. Some of the ghosts looked to still be unconscious, while others were gaining consciousness and quietly crawling to the sidelines far away from the CGIA's convoys. Many were heavily wounded, unable to fully regenerate or heal without a viable source.
Righteous anger tore through him.
Had they all fought for him? And this was what he had allowed?
His gloved fingertips dug into his palms. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that death wasn't fitting for the CGIA. He wanted it to suffer. He wanted it to cry out to him for mercy. He wanted it to bleed twice as many drops as they stole from his own body. From his people.
But since the opportunity arose, he figured a solid and painful defeat would have to do. He would make sure they could never again come between him and Sam. He would ensure they would never hurt another person.
Phantom went intangible and dove into the ground, flying beneath the CGIA's feet to surface far behind them, nearly beside the Convoy ships. His red eyes narrowed at the soldiers, a coldness overwhelming him. Every cell, every fiber of his being, heightened in adrenaline. The thrill of the chase. He wanted them to pay. He wanted them dead.
"Not so powerful anymore, huh, Phantom?"
He tilted his head as he watched the GIWs swiftly set up portable, heavier artillery. All the agents had their backs turned.
Now, he figured, was as good of a time as any.
He slipped back down into the ground.
Once he reached them and their alarms screeched out his presence, he made his arms tangible and slit the back of their knees with extended, glowing claws of light from his fingers.
The startled GIWs fell with a cry, pulling the triggers of their blasters. Shots fired every which way and hit many of their unsuspecting comrades. Those hit then fell, accidentally pulling their triggers. Uninjured GIWs dropped to the ground in confusion and fear.
Agent M, the new commander of the CGIA's forces, ordered his men to stand down and cease fire, but many operatives failed to hear him or follow orders.
The instant Phantom spiraled up into the air, they saw him and began firing rapidly in surprise and fear.
Phantom laughed as he twisted around their futile attacks. He uncurled his fingers. Bright, green light shot forward again from his fingertips. With devastating precision, he swooped down and impaled the nearest enemy, nearly slicing the gasping man in two.
One down, one hundred to go.
"Evasive maneuvers!" cried out one of GIWs. "Go, go, go! Get those blasters up!"
Phantom flickered up a barrier as a barrage of blasts pounded against him. He laughed, and its maniacal, echoing sound struck fear into even his allies within the hospital.
The impaled GIW gasped on the concrete below.
In his mind's eye, Phantom remembered him as the man who'd beaten him several times, and he triumphed in the feel of the man's blood staining his lengthened claws.
A slash for the one who placed the permanent scars hidden beneath his suit.
"Not so powerful now, are you, Phantom?" the man taunted, pulling a slick wire already coated in ectoplasmic blood around Danny's neck.
Danny tried to breathe, but found that he couldn't.
"Not so powerful?"
"Not so powerful?"
"I'll show you powerful," Phantom said, voice lowering into a snarl. Warping energy surrounded him in waves.
In that instant, several Guys in White realized that the monster they created was going to kill them. They paused, half in awe of the static blur and lightning that swirled around their enemy.
Phantom's mouth opened into a Ghostly Wail that carried with it the agony of two years of torture and experimentation.
Danielle banked hard behind a concrete pile, releasing Valerie in a swift movement. The young commander landed on her feet, twisting to the cover of the concrete. Danielle quickly took her place at Valerie's side. The two breathed hard in fear.
"That was close," Valerie closed her eyes. She craned her neck and slowly moved to peek at the CGIA from behind the concrete. Her muscles burned with pain and exertion. "But they're not looking this way now. We can keep moving."
Danielle mourned, "Why did they have to have tech that can see us in intangible mode?"
"Because they like being difficult assholes," Valerie retorted, only to stop for a split second and realize that she had been one of them not too long ago. She quickly waved away the thought and grabbed Danielle's arm. "Now, come on! We're almost there."
Danny Phantom had yet to show his face, but Valerie feared that he would soon.
The two raced forward on foot, ducking behind fixtures and piles. "You sure," Danielle huffed a bit breathlessly, "you saw something over here?"
Valerie grimaced to hide her uncertainty. "Yeah. We can't miss it."
But as they approached the crater that Valerie had spotted while flying, they stopped short in surprise. They realized that the black mass before them was not one, but two ghosts.
Within the debris, Skulker's body covered Ember's as a protective barrier. Heavy dents and slashes marred the armored plates of his exoskeleton. His head rested against Ember's bare stomach. His cybernetic eyes sparked off and on. Neither ghost glowed.
Danielle's eyes widened. "Oh man, these guys are fading fast." She place her hands on their shoulders and closed her eyes, trying to impart some of her energy into them.
Valerie stared at Ember McClain, who lay like a broken doll. Her right leg was gone, leather pants torn at the knee and stained with ectoplasmic blood. Her teal hair tangled close to her head in straggles. "Jesus," Valerie breathed. "She's not regenerating. At all."
The ghosts were too human, sometimes. Too injured. She swallowed back waves of sudden fear, of guilt.
"These guys aren't like me or Danny," Danielle explained, breathing harder with the exertion of transferring energy. "They don't have a human half to draw energy from, and they're not a high-level warrior-class either."
"Yeah, it's the ghost…hierarchy…thing here in the Zone," Danielle waved it off in a hurry. "I'll explain it later when—"
A barrage of sound exploded behind them.
Valerie flinched, and she looked up with wide eyes. A strange, maniacal laugh echoed in the air alongside the CGIA's shouts and commands. Her fingers shook as she grabbed a hold of Skulker.
"Time's up," she called to Danielle. "We gotta go!"
"I know, but it's gonna be hard to—"
The entire trans-dimensional rift shook as the distant figure of Danny Phantom spiraled up into the sky in a sonic boom. He opened his mouth, and waves of power screeched at ear-piercing decibels.
Valerie nearly fell to her knees and took Skulker with her, eyes wide with pain. Her eardrums burned. "Holy—!" she cried out. "What the hell is—?"
The power stormed at them.
"Oh, man!" Danielle raised her fingers from Ember's shoulder, and a barrier sparked about them as heavy winds rushed through, creaking the hospital's roof, pounding against the barrier, and tearing through the decimated ground. She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that her own barrier would hold out against the effects of Phantom's Ghostly Wail.
It did. Fear strengthened her. "Doesn't Danny know we're still out here?" Danielle panted.
A high-pitched noise rang in Valerie's now-bleeding ears and dampened all other sounds. Tears had blinded her. She struggled to keep both herself and the heavily injured Skulker upright. "What?" she cried out to Danielle, blinking hard.
The half-ghost looked helplessly at her. "He's gonna hurt us too if we don't get out of here!" Danielle called back, eyes wide.
Valerie's gaze flickered to the darting black figure that raked through line after line of the CGIA. The perfect and precise movements of Phantom's streamlined body appeared inhuman and graceful against those of the Guys in White. Flailing and jagged, their movements were not fast enough to keep up.
This was not Daniel Fenton, nor was it Danny Phantom. Valerie refused to believe this monster was all that was left of her friend.
Even Danielle had paled at the sight.
Valerie tried to ignore the gut-wrenching terror and guilt that wracked through her. "Just help me get these guys out of here," she said, voice hard.
With a few tries, they grabbed hold of the two injured ghosts, and Danielle lifted up in the air. She quickly flew them back by the barrier of the hospital, where a ghost doctor tentatively rushed in and out of the barrier to bring in new patients.
"More?" the doctor cried out as his team worked to transfer Skulker and Ember through the barrier on stretchers. All of them shook in fear at the danger of being outside the barrier.
"Get used to it. Gonna have more coming," Valerie said quickly, wiping the trail of blood from her ears. She grimaced, desperately trying not to think about what health issues she'd have when this was all over. "Maybe me too."
The medical team disappeared beyond the barrier with the two ghosts. Valerie turned to Danielle with a grimace. The reverb from that Ghostly Wail had really done a number on her. "We still gotta find Frostbite. You up for another round?"
The girl nodded, hardening her green eyes. Both of them had begun to feel the strain of their mission, but neither would admit it. "We can do this."
The CGIA sustained significant losses in quick order. Every time they unleashed heavy artillery, Phantom simply dove out of the way with incredible speed and avoided their blasts. Then he opened his palms and killed a dozen more men with one strike, soaking in the smell of fear that rose off the CGIA's small army.
Every so often, he quickly glanced back at the hospital, searched for Sam's unique human signature, then affirmed that she was still perfectly safe. And a wicked little smile would light his face as he licked the blood of his victims off his fingertips, if only to mock the remaining survivors.
"Let's step this up, shall we?" he called to them.
Phantom quickly split off into several clones to divide and distract the CGIA, and he saw through his clones' eyes that several GIWs had broken rank, retreating or running away in terror. They ducked behind and under concrete craters. They straight-lined for the hospital, away from the battle by the Convoy ships.
He snorted at the pathetic display of heroism. "Oh. This'll be fun."
The clones darted in different directions to seek and destroy the separated GIWs. As Phantom flew, he spotted one man who jumped into a ditch and was attempting to pile debris over himself. Phantom stared the man down. He knew that face anywhere. A Cheshire grin curled his lips. "And what do we have here?" he mocked as he flew into the crater and dragged the man out by his collar. "A deserter? Ooh, or better yet: Agent Y."
He flew up high, so that all of the CGIA could see. He would make this one an example.
"P-please," cried the man, eyes wide with fear that shook his whole frame. He knew exactly why Phantom had singled him out. "I…I was just following orders!"
A dark sneer curled Phantom's lips. "Is that why you came back after hours to torture me?" He squeezed the man's neck tighter, delighting in the way his eyes bulged behind his visor. "Is that why you cut me open?" He leaned down to whisper to him. "Is that why you had fun with me?"
"P-please," the agent gasped. His hands grabbed onto Phantom's arm.
"I begged," Phantom seethed, eyes narrowing. "I cried out for mercy of any kind. And you showed me no mercy. Why should I show you any?"
The man's eyes squeezed shut. "I have a family!"
Rage overwhelmed Phantom. In a blur, glowing blades of light shot out from his fingers, and he slashed deep into the man's stomach. The agent's vocal chords twisted into a retching gasp. His life's blood leaked from his body.
Phantom whispered, "I had a family too."
Then he released his hold on the man, and the body limply fell to the concrete, where it crunched into inhuman angles. A few nearby GIWs scrambled in soundless cries of terror. They shot their blasters towards Phantom, but the ghost regenerated too quickly for the small weapons to affect him.
Tears streamed from Phantom's red eyes as he laughed. "So much mercy now! Where was it when I needed it?"
He opened his palm. The land lit up with fire.
Sam never made her way back to the main room after seeing the piles of injured ghosts crawl through the barrier. She had joined ranks with Jazz to assist the various medical teams, who were beginning to fall behind. Her simple human presence provided a small energy source from which both doctors and patients could draw.
But as she made her way to the edge of the barrier, her eyes caught sight of the battle waging beyond. Her fingers lightly pressed against the humming power of the barrier. "Oh my God," she whispered, violet eyes widening.
She back stepped in disbelief. This was not happening.
Tears did not fall from her eyes, for she was too shocked to cry out. All of those years helping Danny to fight ghosts, all the war movies she'd ever seen—none of it prepared her for the sight before her. In the distance, she saw scattered bodies, the flicker of Danny Phantom's body as he swept over the Convoys.
Fire rose in the distance, and with it the smell of burning mechanics. Human flesh. It permeated the barrier.
Then she saw the strangest thing. A few GIWs were running straight for the barrier, throwing away their weapons to the ground. Their movements were jerky and fearful.
"We surrender!" they cried out. The ghosts quickly backed away the barrier as the GIWs neared. "We surrender!"
In the space of seconds or hours, they stumbled to the barrier, and they banged on the barrier with bare and bloody hands for all they were worth, eyes wide. They looked young behind their visors. None carried symbols of rank. "Please!" they screamed. "Let us in!"
Sam stared at them from only a few feet away, frozen in terror. A part of her almost moved to help.
"Let us in! Let us—!"
Then a powerful blast shook the dimension again, and their bodies crunched strangely against the barrier and dropped lifeless.
Sam gasped, then desperately back pedaled away from the barrier's edge. "Oh my God."
This was all Phantom's doing. He wasn't only seeking out the people who had hurt him; he was murdering innocent people with no power to defy military order. "Oh my God."
She suddenly felt light-headed, unable to look away from their lifeless faces, frozen in masks of terror.
For the first time, she wondered if the Danny she knew was truly dead. He would have drawn lines. He would have never murdered despite having the best reasons of them all.
But she also knew that she could not stop this new Danny Phantom, no matter how much she wanted to.
Valerie pointed at a white dot strewn about concrete blocks near the CGIA convoys. There were flying a few feet over the ground, still several yards away. "I think that's Frostbite!"
Danielle slumped in relief. "Oh, good." They were too close to the battle now, having crossed into territory where bodies of GIWs were strewn in strange angles. She wanted nothing more than to get out of there. One of Phantom's clones had even stormed by with a quirk of his brow and a smirk.
So far, he'd managed to lead the GIWs off of their track, but Danielle did not want to test their good luck by relying on Phantom, who had his own agenda.
"We're almost there," Valerie told her encouragingly. It sounded rough coming from her, but it was enough. "We can do this. Now drop me down."
Danielle released her, and Valerie landed with greater ease, having fallen into a rhythm with Danielle's powers and actions. But the minute her foot touched the ground, something happened.
Bang. Valerie's body suddenly snapped sideways, and she cried out and hit the ground hard in a mass of limbs.
Danielle immediately raised her barrier around them, and bullets pounded off of it. "What the—?"
She spun around, green eyes scanning the horizon. A detail of five GIWs quickly raced from behind the concrete debris nearby, only to drop back down out of line of sight. "Oh, geez," she breathed. "We're being tracked." She looked down at her feet, only to flinch in sympathy. "Valerie, you okay?"
On the ground, Valerie groaned, her teal eyes barely even open slits. Her bare hands were soaked with blood, which was quickly spreading out onto the ground. "Sh-shit," she gasped. Her entire arm throbbed up to the shoulder.
She'd been shot in the elbow. "Bullets," she breathed in response to Danielle. "Real ones." She squeezed her eyes shut, clenching her teeth hard to stop herself from crying out. In the fall, her numerous injuries tore open, jostling the tears inside of her body.
She had not been expecting that.
"Come on, Val, stay with me." Danielle swallowed hard, staring at the small pool of red beneath Valerie. "Please don't die."
Valerie swallowed back blood and tried to scoff. "I'm fine. We have to…g-get to Frostbite."
"Uh, not gonna happen now," Danielle said, voice worried. "We're being shot at. And you are totally not okay."
Valerie pressed the button on her ear piece with bloody, shaking fingers. "Mrs. Fenton? Did everyone aside from Frostbite make it?"
"You sound awful, Valerie." Maddie's worried voice was rushed, and the sound of a thousand other voices murmured beneath hers, mixed in with cries. "Yes, we have most of the ghosts here. Are you off the grid yet?"
"N-no." She groaned as a particular wave of pain poured through her nerves. Was she going into shock? "We're being…attacked…"
"We could have Tucker let the barrier down for a second. Just enough to get you in."
"Won't work," Valerie growled, then coughed. A part of her panicked at the feeling of hot blood trailing down her chin. "Don't c-comprise everyone…for me." She let her hand fall back to the ground in an unguided, haphazard heap. Then she closed her eyes. "Shit," she breathed.
"Oh my God, please don't die," Danielle said, voice raising. Her hands shook as she struggled to keep up her barrier. "Stay with me, okay?"
Tears of pain streaked down Valerie's dark cheeks as she struggled to breathe. She'd failed. She'd failed on so many levels. "Just get out of here," she told Danielle, swallowing back blood, coughing up the remains. Her lips reddened. "Now."
The half-ghost gave her a helpless look. "No! I can't leave you here. I won't!"
"They don't want you," the ghost hunter tried to argue as she tried to staunch the wound in her arm with shaking fingers. Lights flickered behind her eyes at the pain. "They want me. Let me go."
"Valerie, they just shot at you," Danielle stressed. "They'll kill you!"
"I'm," she gasped, "dead weight now. Go save F-Frostbite."
Valerie would have rolled her eyes if she had the energy. She turned a dead tired gaze to Danielle. "I'm not," she said, trying to control the waver in her voice with force, "worth your life."
"And I'm not worth yours!" Danielle argued.
Outside the barrier, the GIWs paced, weapons raised. "Valerie Gray located with hostile. Requesting backup!"
Heavy artillery began to pound the barrier again, and Danielle whimpered. "No, no, no." Sweat dripped from her temples. "No, we have to make this. I can do this, Valerie. I can save us both."
But Valerie did not answer. Her eyes were wide as she struggled to inhale. All of her old wounds, including her internal ones, had re-opened. The blood loss and trauma had begun to take its toll.
Instead, another voice spoke up, one that sent chills down Danielle's spine. "Looks like play time is over, dear." Vlad Plasmius appeared from the emptiness above in a swift spin of flight. With an extra burst of energy, his hand reached through Danielle's barrier as it sparked and burned him. He grabbed her arm and jerked her back with a grimace of pain. "Time to go!"
As she gasped, falling into his grasp, her barrier flickered and died. The heavy artillery from the GIWs stopped, and they surged forward as Vlad flew up in a tight spiral to avoid their blasts. He struggled against Danielle's wild movements. "Ungrateful child," he complained. "I'm saving you!"
"No!" Danielle cried out, reaching out for Valerie. Tears streamed down her face. "We can't leave her behind!"
"Casualties, dear. Pawns always fall first," he said mournfully, eying Valerie's broken body on the concrete.
"They'll hurt her!" Danielle cried out. Valerie had gone back at the cost of her own life to save her. She was not going to just leave Valerie behind. "They'll kill her!"
Vlad groaned. "That's war, dear." He procured his own barrier as he flew away, Danielle in tow. "And I will not allow you to sacrifice yourself for a pawn!" He forced her to fly alongside him. "Now, come. I need your help to protect a more valuable asset."
For a second, Valerie felt nothing as she bled out on the ground in peace. The blood loss had left her feeling sedated and disconnected. It was almost nice. She could die like this. Go out on a solid, self-sacrificial note. There were worse ways to die.
Then shadows surrounded her.
"Valerie Gray," one of the GIW agents said. His voice blurred and glitched in her ears. "You are under arrest for treason."
She felt hands push under her and lift her up none too gently. Pain tore through her arm and stomach, sparking all the way to her brain. "N-no," she gasped out. Her eyesight dimmed.
Voices swam about her. "Gotta get a tourniquet on this, fast! She's bleeding out!"
"She's no good to us dead!"
As they moved forward, she felt a few wrap her arm with a heavy cloth that emitted some sort of energy deep into the destroyed tissue. Another one tightened around her stomach. Something pricked her neck, and her eyes widened. Pure adrenaline rushed from the needle into her body. Her heart began to pound. She gasped, her entire body shaking.
She realized suddenly that she was standing up and moving on her feet.
"Keep an eye on vitals, stat. Agent Q needs her on Convoy 3 in eight minutes!"
She grimaced at the feeling of another prick in her neck. A fast-acting pain reliever eased her breathing, coating her body with a strange numbness.
They began to half-carry, half-push her forward. But she did not rejoice once she realized they weren't going to kill her. "Ngh," her tongue stumbled. "N-no!"
She realized they were going to do something far worse.
"Commander," Agent T huffed breathlessly as he ran onto the bridge of Convoy 3, "we're losing men too fast. We need to retreat."
M turned around from his observation deck. "Have we retrieved Agent O?"
"Yes. He's heavily wounded, but stable," Agent T affirmed. "Sir, we need to begin considering massive output increases, or a full retreat. Phantom's too strong. We're at a fifty-percent casualty rate."
Agent M's eyes narrowed and nodded. "He's much more powerful than we gave him credit for. His obsession must be strong."
"One of the base elements that establishes a ghost's existence. Some ghosts obsess over objects, ideas…" Agent M scratched his chin. "Phantom must obsess over a living thing. Something from which he can draw transferable energy."
"Will our generators still kill him?" Agent T asked hopefully. He wiped sweat from the back of his neck. "Once and for all?"
"Doubt it. Phantom's too strong to fade out. He'll only regenerate, unless we get his obsession in our hands. If we find his obsession and kill it, we'll kill him." He turned away. "Have we retrieved Valerie Gray yet?"
"We have her in custody now, sir."
He smiled. "Good. With some…persuasion, she may be able to guide us to Phantom's obsession. In the meantime, we'll drain him so he cannot fight." He turned to several other agents monitoring the Phantom Generator outputs and Convoy weapons systems. "Let's employ our final defense protocol, 6790."
"Yes, sir! Engaging final defense protocol." As the agents pushed buttons, the generators began to whine up at a higher decibel. "Sir, please acknowledge that this action will drain our final reserves."
"I acknowledge. Continue in charge sequence."
"Charge sequence complete, sir."
"Raise port to thirty-seven degrees and hold on my command."
From beyond the observation window, he saw the numerous clones of Phantom dart within his ranks, raising fire, slashing at available targets. What was about to happen depended on precise action.
"Come on," Agent M whispered. He could not afford to miss. "Just a little higher."
Tense seconds passed between them.
Then Phantom swooped up.
Agent M's eyes narrowed. "Fire!"
Before Phantom could move, his own Ghostly Wail surrounded him in painful reverbs. He raised his hands in defense, but another Wail pounded against him.
The sound and pure power scrambled his thoughts, tore deep into every fiber of his being with an electric scream.
Phantom fell to the ground hard, red eyes wide. Suddenly, his mind flashed back to heavy metal covering his face. A generator. The pain it took for him to subconsciously unleash that Wail.
His concentration broke. All of his clones disappeared. The walls of fire behind him simmered down.
"You like that?!" called out one of the distant GIWs, rejoicing that Phantom was now on the defensive.
Phantom squeezed his eyes tight and forced himself to make a barrier. It held strong enough. He forced himself to stand back up, refusing to show weakness before the CGIA. His jumpsuit smoked from the fraying burns that now scattered his skin.
Another Wail stormed at him.
His feet slid against the ground as the generators from the two remaining convoys pounded him with his own energy. It brought him to his knees.
"No," he whispered, his fingers clawing into the dirt as he tried to stand again. No, he couldn't let the CGIA gain the upper hand. No, they wouldn't win.
But he struggled to maintain his barrier under the attack. His eyes slid to the hospital, where Sam and his mother and countless others were practically defenseless. If the CGIA turned its attention back to them, it would be over. That barrier would hold only slightly better against a pre-packaged Ghostly Wail than the first one had.
Phantom gritted his teeth. The CGIA had to die before it killed any more of his people. Before it captured him.
But the CGIA quickly reacted to Phantom's momentary weakness. Blasters charged at the highest level possible, and intangibility trackers flickered to life on each GIW's visor.
Another Ghostly Wail ravaged his barrier, alongside several smaller blasts. In one split second, the barrier flickered.
"No!" he gasped.
Something whistled through the air, and the next Phantom knew, his body jerked back. His red eyes widened in pain as he stumbled to the concrete, feeling as though he'd been punched in the gut.
But when he touched his side, he realized it was not a simple blast. A thick, roped wire had latched onto him.
He gasped when he felt sharp needles tear through his jumpsuit and settle past his scar tissue, into his muscles. His red eyes widened in pain. The wire he was attached to was glowing. It trailed along the ground up to Convoy 3.
Then his own power reversed, and it began to repower the CGIA's weaponry, storming up the lines back into the generators. His back arched up in pain. Every muscle tightened and screamed as he felt a similar drain to his body as he had those years back in a cage at CGIA headquarters. Ectoplasmic blood trailed from the entrance wounds.
For one second in the midst of the pain, unfathomable fear gripped him.
Then he laughed.
He laughed so hard, he became hysterical, eyes brightening with tears. Squadrons of GIWs descended upon him in quick order, shooting him with blast after blast. Some had human bullets. His jumpsuit and skin began to peel and burn and bleed.
He relaxed into the concrete in weakness, his limbs too numb to hold him up. He was too tired to stand up or get off the ground. He could not regenerate if the CGIA was stealing it from him.
"S-Sam," he rasped shakily, tears streaming down his face from his hysterical laughs. Some part of him searched for her, but he knew her presence to be behind the strong barrier of the hospital.
He suddenly longed to feel his mind connected back with hers. His fingers dug into the concrete, which felt nothing like Sam's skin or soft hair.
Images of his dream, his future with Sam as his queen and their children as his heirs, flickered in the back of his mind with the very real fear that it could never happen.
But he'd done this all for them, so that the CGIA could never haunt them again.
His body forced itself to regenerate quicker, to push out the wires, but he struggled to maintain such concentration with the drain. At this rate, he worried, they'd have enough to blast him again with a Ghostly Wail. With a strangled cry, he turned over and forced himself forward under the brunt of blasts that would have crumbled cities. His hands and knees scraped the concrete in disjointed movements.
"We won't get captured again," he breathed, red eyes narrowing, making a promise to himself and that frozen image of a blue-eyed Danny. "No, we won't."
Within the hospital, Sam suddenly felt waves of pain hit her. She stumbled as her hands haphazardly shot out for stability, knocking into Jazz.
"Sam?" Jazz's surprised voice echoed in her ears. The older girl tried to stabilize her, but Sam collapsed in her arms in a heap of limbs.
"D-Danny?" she gasped, her violet eyes wide and unfocused. She felt a similar drain to her body as she had when he'd invaded her mind and had tried to transform her into a ghost.
Give me energy. It was Danny Phantom. His voice was strained and uneven. I need it.
She felt horribly disconnected from her own body, suddenly unable to separate herself from him. "What?" Her voice shook.
You strengthen me. I need your presence. Your memories. Anything.
"Sam, I'm a little freaked out right now," Jazz said fearfully. She helped Sam lay down as she motioned for a nearby nurse. "What's happening? What's wrong?"
I need you, Sam. Don't deny me.
Through the connection, Sam could feel his pain again. Her back arched as agony stormed through her. She tried to focus on her own body, her own real location within the hospital.
"I'm here," she whispered out loud. Her violet eyes were sightless as she stared up, shaking in pain. Fear sprinkled through her at the oppressive feeling of Phantom's mind sweeping through hers. "I'm h-here."
He locked in on her elevated heartbeat with a vicious thirst, drinking in the sound of her lifeblood surging through her body. Then he accessed her memories, specifically the ones in which Sam had watched over him that fateful morning he'd escaped the CGIA.
"It's gonna be okay," she whispered hoarsely. "Just…just stay with me."
"I love you, Danny. You. Scarred or not."
"Come on, take some of my energy. Anything. I know you can."
In that second, she felt Phantom's presence hesitate, as if he noticed the strain it had placed on her.
Then he was gone, leaving Sam a scattered, breathless mess.
She came to, with Jazz patting her face. "Sam? Sam! Come on, stay with me!"
She could not remember where she was at or separate reality from her memories. But she slowly came out of it. Her eyes were wide. "He's in trouble," she realized. Words stumbled off her tongue. "The CGIA. They have him."
Fear overwhelmed her, for more than one reason. Whatever was left of Danny was about to be recaptured.
"Sam, what was that?" Jazz eyed her with serious concern. "You just…I dunno, had a seizure or something. Are you alright?"
Her own health was the last thing on her mind. "I'm fine. It's Danny. They're hurting him," she turned to Jazz, using her as a pillar of support as she struggled back to her feet. "We have to…to stop them!"
"Danny's in trouble!" she held her head as it pulsed with a headache. "He just tried to contact me. New power."
Jazz's eyes burned with tears as she struggled to understand Sam's words. She had heard of stranger things than telepathy. She'd worry about it later. "Is he hurt? Bad?"
"I…I don't know," Sam winced, holding her head. "But we have to do something."
"We can't go outside the barrier, remember?"
"What can we do?"
"I don't know," Jazz said. Her voice frayed with pain and stress. "We don't have any resources left, and we'll get killed if we go out there. I don't know."
"So we're just gonna let them capture him again?" Sam's voice raised in chaos, torn with fear. "Jazz, they'll never let him go! Whatever's left of Danny—" she cut off, then restarted, breath hitching. "They'll make him pay. For everything. There won't be anything left."
Within Convoy 3 was a small, centralized room that functioned as a storage vault and doubled as a secluded interrogation room.
Agent Q pushed a glass of water across the lone black table. On the other side was the wheezing Valerie Gray, who sat handcuffed to her chair. She could not reach for the water even if she wanted to.
"There, now." Agent Q smiled. His mouth was too big for his face. "We can be civil here. We don't want you in pain."
Valerie remained silent.
"Have your wounds closed over yet? We used some of our experimental technology on you. It looks like it's working."
When Valerie again did not respond, Agent Q sighed. "Miss Gray, I understand that you've been under a significant amount of stress. You are suffering symptoms of shock."
Her teal eyes flickered up, and she sneered through her tears. "Like you care," she spat out, voice rough.
"Oh, but I do. You see, you are far more valuable to us alive than Agent O gave you credit for. Despite your war crimes, we are willing to cut a deal with you in exchange for information."
"I don't," she struggled to say forcefully, "compromise."
Agent Q smiled, and it was not kind. "Of course not. But you understand our predicament, one that you are in as well." He continued. "We must stop Phantom from continuing his rampage. We understand that he will no longer be as…docile if we manage to subdue him. Phantom must be made incapacitated for the safety of the CGIA, and for the citizens of Amity Park who surround our facilities. We also understand that obtaining his obsession will provide us the upper hand. What is his obsession? What can we use to guarantee his cooperation?"
Every part of Valerie hurt. Her mind had fragmented. She stared at the agent almost in disbelief that she was here in the Convoy, handcuffed to a chair.
Sam's name echoed in her brain, but she did not dare speak it aloud.
She finally said with an imperceptible shake in her voice, "I don't know his obsession. Now let me go."
"You've been a good agent, Miss Gray," Agent Q pressed. "You successfully captured over half of the ghosts we detained. And it was because you understood how ghosts worked. You understood their weakness, what made them tick." He tilted his head and smiled. "You know Phantom's weakness. You know what obsession he harbors."
Uncertainty filled her. "No, I don't."
She had never been a very good liar.
"Whatever reason you chose to side against us cannot be valid anymore," the agent said smoothly. "Danny Phantom is massacring us." The agent tilted his head. "It's only a matter of time before he destroys this ship and everyone on it, including you. And if he ever escaped us, imagine what other horrors he would bring. He's a monster. He needs to be stopped."
Valerie looked down. She couldn't argue with the reality that Phantom had crossed several lines—he needed to be stopped, especially for his own good.
The agent leaned forward. "Help us stop this, and we can help you. We will wipe the slate clean. We won't press charges against you."
When Valerie again refused to speak, Agent Q added, "Come on, Valerie. Listen to reason here. I don't want anyone else to die. Do you?"
The back of her mind sparked with images of the battlefield that she and Danielle had witnessed. Broken forms of people, gasping out dying breaths. "No," she said, and she meant it.
"Then help us."
She swallowed hard. Sweat beaded down her temples. "Agent…O. He wanted to kill me."
The agent shrugged. "And Agent M rescinded that order. That's why you're here now. He believes you are worth more to us alive. You know Phantom's obsession. You can make the slaughter stop."
"I don't know his obsession," she repeated, teal eyes hardening.
"And I know you never cared for us Guys in White, but all these good men had families, children, wives. They had homes. Think of the funerals they will have now. All the orphans. The economic downturn that will further hurt the good people of Amity Park if we let Phantom win."
"Don't you dare," she said, "try to pin this on me."
"Shouldn't I, though?" Agent Q's voice raised. "You sided with him. You know his obsession. Only you can stop this."
Valerie inhaled shakily. "And if I tell you anything, you'll kill me. You'll kill everyone else here. You'll go back to torturing Phantom. You'll destroy whatever's left of him."
"What about the people of Amity Park?" he said in disbelief. "The human race? Will you betray them to save ghosts?"
"I'm not betraying them. I'm trying to stop them from making the decision to trust you," she said. She was loyal to a fault to her friends and family. The CGIA had never been her family. "You lied to them just as much about your operations as you did to me. You told them that Phantom was cooperating? That you were humane?"
His fists clenched. "With every second we waste, another good man dies," Agent Q said. His too-big mouth twisted into anger. "Dammit, Valerie. This isn't a game! We need to stop Phantom, now!"
Force strained her voice. "No. I can't let you hurt my friend."
"Your friend," Agent Q's voice dropped all semblance of friendliness now, "is slaughtering our organization."
"You did this to him," she said, voice tearing unnaturally as it raised. "You turned him into this! What did you expect, a thank you?!" Her eyes brightened with tears. "You tortured him! I saw what you did!"
The agent opened his mouth, a blue vein beginning to raise on his forehead. But then he clicked his mouth shut and grabbed the glass of water he'd placed before her. "It looks like we're just wasting time, Miss Gray. Obviously you'd rather throw human beings to their death instead of saving them. We'll…talk later."
He sniffed at her with barely concealed distain. Then he left her tied up on the chair in the middle of the room and flipped off the lights.
The silence in the room clashed with the muffled sounds of battle beyond the Convoy.
For a second, Valerie marveled at the realization that Agent Q had not shot at her, or injured her in some way. She'd half come to expect it by now.
But then she closed her eyes and tried to inhale, only for her breath to hitch. She exhaled shakily. "It's okay," she whispered to herself. "It's gonna be okay."
Her voice sounded small and weak, even to her own ears. "It's okay." A sob worked up from her beaten body. It ached in her collarbones and drew forth pain from every bruise and laceration.
She leaned back in the chair, voice cracking, "Oh, who am I kidding?" She looked up at the ceiling. It was blurry. "How did I ever think…this would actually work?" Burning tears streamed from her eyes. "Was I crazy?"
She'd failed to protect her friends. Several ghosts who had fought to protect their world were dead, burned out from existence. Danny was gone, and in his place a monster. The CGIA now had a reason to imprison him and burn whatever was left of Danny Fenton inside that ghost form.
Her own prospects were not much better, providing that Phantom did not blow up the ship. At best, she'd be a prisoner for life. At worst, she'd be tortured for information too, then executed for treason after her worth wore out.
She could probably hold out for a little while, but she knew that everyone had breaking points.
"I'm sorry," she whispered in the darkness, hearing the distant sound of shouts and booms. The words hurt, bleeding raw in her throat. She pictured a smiling image of a blue-eyed Danny Fenton alongside her memory of the playful glint of his ghost form's green eyes. "I'm so sorry. This is all my…m-my f-fault."
If only she'd never hunted Danny in the first place. If only she'd never joined the CGIA. If only.
And Valerie Gray, the Red Hunter, the commander of the resistance, hung her head and slumped in her bonds. Tears slipped from her face down as pain, both physical and emotional, overwhelmed her.
She gave up.
Phantom squeezed his eyes shut as his body shuddered against the blasts. His power levels were dangerously low, and though he was strong enough to fade out only by the end of his obsession, he feared that the CGIA would truly recapture him.
He raised his hands, and a sickly-looking barrier sparked about him. "Come on," he gritted his teeth, red eyes narrowed in concentration. "Come on!" The barrier wavered, then began to glow.
Convoy 3 hummed again and unleashed another Ghostly Wail.
All of his power backlashed against him, blasting his weak barrier to wisps. He convulsed on the ground as the Wail sunk deep into his nerves and tore his jumpsuit. Guys in White yelled in triumph and relief from the sidelines.
By the time the power subsided, Phantom barely remembered his own name. He wheezed in the silence of a concrete gravel pile, unable to think but for violet eyes. A face.
He latched onto his memory of that face. Sam.
Phantom knew he needed to get up, but his body wouldn't work.
Sam. Sam. Sam. Sam.
A port from the Convoy opened up, and from it descended a stoic but satisfied Agent M. The older man crossed the short distance to the fallen Phantom, who turned his head at the agent's shadow, rasping for air that he did not need.
"Danny Phantom," Agent M greeted genially. He leaned down on one acetic knee, eyeing him. "Even when we turn your own power against you, you manage to exist. You must be very powerful." He tilted his head and hummed. "I understand that the type and depth of obsession a ghost has is the ultimate determiner of its power level. What is this obsession that has given you such resilience? Surely, it must be a living thing itself. Something beyond you."
Phantom remained silent as he shivered on the ground and glared. He felt as though he could vomit. He desperately tried to hide his weakness before the agent.
Agent M shrugged. "Very well. We will have time later to extract such information. But know that I will take away what feeds your existence," he promised. "And unlike Agent O, I will watch you fade away without a second thought. We don't need you to achieve our goals. You're no more than an expensive toy, one that I never wanted to begin with."
Agent M stiffly stood back up and walked away. He waved a careless hand to the nearest team. "Raise the extraction levels to the highest point, and lock him down."
Phantom closed his eyes to gather up the last of his energy. "N-no," he rasped out in fear and anger. Then he cried out a strangled note as he felt himself pull out of himself in a way that only the life-sucking generators could do. He arched up. The green sky above him warped and blurred. He felt as if he were drowning.
It was too much.
Eventually, he stopped struggling.
A/N: July 5 marked my 10 year anniversary with fan fiction. Can you believe that? And in further good news! I'm officially a college graduate with a job in my field. Yay!
To celebrate, I have completely revamped all previous 27 chapters. I read this story over a couple weeks ago and winced at the poor level of writing it exhibited, so I revised pretty heavily. I didn't change the basic plot at all (so if you don't want to reread, you don't have to at all), but I cleaned up the bare-bones quality of the writing (by deleting some scenes and completely rewriting the icky dialogue) and included extra scenes to help clarify some of the later plot events and the weird psychological stuff between Sam and Danny. And to maybe whump on Danny even more, lol. Heaviest revisions between chapters 2-12.
1. Do you prefer shorter chapters with quicker updates, or longer chapters with slower updates?
2. Characters? Who do you want to die the most? The least?
3. Any predictions/thoughts/comments/concerns?
4. Anyone interested in making fanart for the cover? I can't draw, lol.
Thank you guys so much for your continued support with this story. Now that I've graduated, I can hopefully update more often than I have these past four years. You know, if you're interested. :)
Thanks for reading,