Disclaimer: I still don't own Danny Phantom. Butch Hartman does, and I somehow doubt that will be changing any time soon. Since I'm not making any money from this, there is nothing for the law-ninjas to sue out of me.
Author's Note: Well, it's about bloody time I got this thing underway! Yes, the long-awaited conclusion to my series of The Ultimate Enemy epics is finally starting! To my regular readers, welcome back, good t'see you all again! To those of you just now tuning in, this fic may not entirely make sense. So new readers, I strongly recommend that you go back and read Jeremiad (http:// www. fanfiction. net/s/ 2834452/1/), Anathema (http:// www. fanfiction. net/s/ 2874003/1/), and Benediction (http:// www. fanfiction. net/s/ 3088970/1/) before you undertake reading this story. Y'know, since it's a sequel and all that. If nothing else, it'll give you something to read while waiting for updates here!
Anyway, introductory blather aside, I hope you enjoy the story. Comments and critiques are most welcome, flames will just get laughed at.
"Between hope and despair
The future doesn't pass
And the past won't overtake the present
All that remains is an obsolete illusion"
-"The Phantom Agony" - Epica
"What the-?" He stared at the scene spread out far below, at an absolute loss for words.
And while he would never admit it, a pastry-based exclamation had almost been his initial reaction.
The city below seemed to be writhing like some sort of giant, hideous alien life form, strange growths blanketing the snarled green mass. That wasn't far off the mark, though his sudden exhalation of red vapor made it clear that this invasion was ghostly rather than alien in nature. The sounds of a fight tugged his attention toward the source of the problem.
It was a ghost, though it was by far one of the biggest he'd ever seen. The green spook towered above everything, all vines and thorns like a monster from an old drive-in B movie. He mentally slapped himself for the comparison; he was too young to know about drive-ins! Still, such knowledge from the older half of his being did improve his witty banter.
A flare of green, coupled with a strange gleam of sunlight as if reflected on broken glass dragged his attention away from the grass monster. It wasn't surprising; he'd watched his alternate self from afar for most of the summer. There was no doubt that fourteen-year-old Danny Phantom would fight the intrusion, even if it was an oversized salad bar.
Still, something was simply wrong, even from his aerial vantage. For one, nothing that the half-ghost did seemed to be having any appreciable effect. Any damage Danny did seemed to mend itself well before he could capitalize on it. For another thing, it seemed quite strange the sheer volume of shattered glass that seemed to follow-... No, that wasn't glass. Perhaps something similar-?
That was badly out of character. Danny didn't run. Danny never ran. Not even from him, his own potential future! Frowning, he dared to fly lower for a better look, turning invisible as he descended.
That closer look didn't bode well. Danny's face was nearly a perfect match to his blue complexion, the young half-ghost quaking uncontrollably as if cold-
Are those icicles hanging off him?
Danny was nearly oblivious to everything; he certainly hadn't noticed the older ghost tailing him. A tentacle-like vine bristling with thorns shot toward the younger half-ghost, only to freeze midair encased in solid ice the moment it got near the shivering teen.
Where is he going?
The half-ghost was retreating toward FentonWorks... to the Ghost Zone? More vines shot forward, only to freeze or be clumsily dodged by the narrowest of margins. What on earth was wrong with the teen? The cold air coming off the boy was positively arctic!
"Danny, become part of the growth!"
He spun around, mouth hanging wide open in surprise at the low, even sultry female voice behind him; familiar and yet not. The figure was likewise familiar, though alien; clad in a jagged green dress, her oddly glowing green eyes outlined sharply by strange black markings. And she, she of all people was controlling the vines attacking his alternate self.
That can't be Sam! Unless... He looked in the direction of the plant ghost, red eyes narrowing to dangerous slits as if he could see the ghost through the intervening layers of concrete. Unless he is controlling her.
Danny was definitely in full retreat from the battleground. Perhaps he was running from the puppet-Sam; though it was more likely that he simply could no longer fight, nearly frozen solid himself. As he watched, the teen disappeared into FentonWorks with Sam hot on his heels. Meanwhile, the puppet master ghost himself loomed gargantuan above the city skyline, laughing his delight to the sky.
That left him in a bit of a quandary. If his past self could no longer fight and had run away from the battle, what was standing between that green spook and the destruction of Amity Park? It was evident that the Fentons had failed in fighting the ghost; he'd seen that particular debacle. Really, if he hadn't turned intangible as well as invisible when he did, he would have been splattered against the front of the Fenton RV.
He didn't want to particularly get involved. This wasn't his timeline, wasn't his city to defend. Heck, in an alternate timestream, it was the city he had destroyed. Razed to the ground, and he'd taken immeasurable delight in the destruction.
Still, that ghost was horning in on his turf, temporally displaced or not. Sam was some sort of meat puppet thanks to that spook; and that alone rankled enough to make up his mind.
"Hey, cabbage patch!" He called, flying up into the air and turning visible, blasting the ghost's head clean off with a brilliant green blast.
That approach seemed about as successful as when Danny had first tried it. In other words, not at all.
"Oh, another pest come to infest my garden?" The ghost sneered, sending several thorny vines lashing toward him.
He darted to the side and barely dodged them, growling when he felt his cape tug and rip from the near miss. He could repair the cloak easily enough, it was nothing more than vanity that irked him about the ripped fabric. A flurry of green blasts signaled his response, ripping gaping holes in the ghost.
"You can't destroy Undergrowth!" The ghost declared as the holes mended in the blink of an eye. "You fool, are you blind and stupid? I regenerate whatever damage you manage to do!"
"And I've turned bigger targets than you into vapor." He hissed in response, charging a large green energy blast in his hands. "You can't regenerate from nothing."
The blast would have been enough to vaporize the ghost in a single shot. He was proud of his capacity for destruction; there wasn't a single ghost in the Ghost Zone that could survive his wrath. This overgrown weed would fall like so many others had. He hefted the blast over his head, moments from launching it when he stopped almost as if he'd been hit. Sure, he could destroy the ghost in a single blow.
If he didn't mind flattening fully half of the city along with it.
It was a familiar urge, a desire to stomp out the reminders of his past. The green blast fizzed out in his hands as he fought down that entirely too seductive desire. Vaporizing Amity Park in this timeline would do nothing to resolve his problems. It wouldn't undo the ten years of slaughter in his timeline, and it wouldn't bring anyone back from the dead. If anything, it might have killed dozens, even hundreds of people; including Sam, Tucker, and Jazz. He owed his sanity to his red-headed older sister, and he would not harm her if it could be avoided.
"Realized how weak you are compared to me?" Undergrowth taunted.
"He'll make an excellent meal for the children." Sam floated up alongside the plant ghost, cradled by thorny vines.
"Get out of my way, Sam." He snarled at the girl.
"I won't let you hurt Father, Danny." She responded in an icy tone.
He recoiled slightly at that. That wasn't the name he went by, not anymore; but being called that would always sting. Especially coming from Sam, whether or not she was currently under the control of something else.
"You know you can't stop me from tearing him apart, limb from limb." He bit out, showing his fangs in a snarl. "You might have stopped Danny with that, but you can't stop me."
He turned intangible, scowling as Sam lunged at him in the midst of a flurry of spiked-lined vegetation. Sam wasn't his target, it was that leafy monstrosity pulling her strings that he wanted to tear apart.
Still, the hours passed and he wasn't making much progress against the leafy ghost. The vines were overwhelming the city, though he seemed to be effectively slowing the process by distracting the ghost and by torching the rampant vegetation. He'd lost track of Sam in the chaos; heck, he'd lost sight of any of the people since he was too preoccupied evading attacks and trying to do some lasting damage to the ghost. Undergrowth couldn't actually harm him, but he couldn't do any lasting damage to the spook unless he wanted to level buildings in the process.
Heck, the decrease in his already short temper was evident where he'd shot vines with a little too much enthusiasm, damaging the structures underneath the plant life.
His temper was near the breaking point by the following afternoon. He hadn't seen a sign of human life anywhere for hours. The idea of the collateral damage from taking Undergrowth out was diminishing in importance, and he was beginning to seriously consider half the city as acceptable damage if it meant taking the spook out. The timely sound of a new fight starting was probably the only thing that stopped him from doing it.
He dodged some vines that had suddenly become haphazard in their attack and went for height to better survey the area. Something else had Undergrowth's attention, and he wanted to know what. He had to get several hundred feet over the battlefield before he saw it; the same gleam of sunlight on glass... or rather, on ice that had alerted him to Danny's role in the fight before the teen had been forced to flee.
He couldn't hear the words being exchanged from that altitude, but whatever strange affliction had driven his past self to retreat was apparently cured. If anything, Danny seemed to be fighting better than ever. Deciding his part of the battle was over, he hovered far overhead and went invisible again, opting now to merely spectate.
How is he making all that ice? He pondered, watching as Danny effectively froze vast tracts of the ghostly vegetation solid. That was happening before, but it looks like he's doing it at will now.
He paused, a frown crossing his invisible visage. Another ghost power? Why can't I do something like that? He developed the Ghostly Wail a long time before I did as well. Is he somehow growing in strength faster than I am?
If that was true, the Danny Phantom of this timeline would likely be a far more dangerous opponent ten years down the line than he was, despite the initial boost in sheer power he developed after the freakish circumstances of his creation. Not just in terms of sheer power, but in range of abilities as well. If the boy already obtained the Wail and now this unknown ice power, there was no telling what abilities the teenager would develop in the coming years.
As he watched Danny lay the frosty smackdown on Undergrowth, he realized he did not want to witness that. A sort of morbid curiosity had started his months-long observation of the teen he had once considered as 'his weakness' with nothing but contempt. Now however, it was clear that Danny Fenton was far from being weak and ineffective; indeed, the teen was proving to be more effective than he could ever have been all those years ago, and he didn't like knowing that. It was an uncomfortable reminder of what he could have done, had things worked out differently. His power was destructive; strength for the sake of taking things apart, breaking them, dismembering them. His alternate self was clearly proving to be a more versatile, protective force, able to succeed where he had failed so spectacularly.
He didn't stick around to watch Danny finish the ghost off; once it was evident the teen would be able to save the day without any help, he flew across town to the Nasty Burger. Amusingly enough the fast-food place that had played such a significant role in his history had become his favorite haunt when he wasn't lurking in the Ghost Zone. It was familiar, but in a less personal way than FentonWorks, despite it being where he'd watched his friends and family die horribly over ten years ago. So he settled on the roof of the building, thinking.
Thought was still something of a new thing for him. Those ten years of madness were not devoid of thought, but he knew now that his actions had largely been to preoccupy himself so he wouldn't think. Frankly, being rational after all that, being sane left him at no small loss. Not too long ago, he would have avoided that strange feeling by blowing something up; now he had the rational self-restraint and even consideration for others to refrain from acting on that destructive urge. Or at least he knew that blowing stuff up would land him in an undesirable situation.
Clockwork had pointed out he could leave this alternate timeline and go back to the future he'd created. The problem arose in that he was pretty certain he didn't want to go face that. The other problem was that he wasn't doing anything worthwhile with himself in this timeline. He idly plucked the time medallion from where he'd hidden it in his jumpsuit, studying the gear-shaped trinket in the fading daylight. It was obvious he wasn't going to come to a decision on his own.
He contemplated tracking Jazz down and talking to her about it. Almost immediately he decided that wasn't a good idea. The redhead's psychologist-in-training mindset had helped him prior, but she would try too hard to analyze him; and the idea made him thoroughly uncomfortable. He could try talking to his alternate self; that idea was dismissed instantly. Danny would no doubt be suspicious and wary of him; the teen would suggest ditching the medallion and going back to the future automatically. That left him with precious few options as he stood up and lifted off from the rooftop.
Sam yawned, pulling the dark curtains closed over her window as she got ready for bed that night. Danny had summarized what she only remembered bits and pieces of from the past two days; being brainwashed by Undergrowth probably explained why the goth girl was so flat out tired. Tucker had been wiped out after that mess with Desiree months ago and after the Scarab Scepter incident, so it made perfect sense she'd be similarly exhausted after having been controlled by the leafy spook. She turned away from the covered window.
And ran smack into a tall, cold figure that was standing behind her that wasn't there a moment ago.
Now, being as Sam was far from a wilting flower, she did not shriek or scream at the presence of an intruder; though she jumped backward a good few feet with a gasp before she recognized the ghost. Which really wasn't reassuring, because it wasn't the ghost she usually expected to find sneaking up on her in the evening. It had been months since anybody had seen the intimidating fire-headed spook; no one in the real world or the Ghost Zone had seen the frightful form of Danny's alternate future self. Danny himself had begun to doubt anyone would see the ghost again after the mess with the Ghostcatcher and Jazz's successful use of psychology to tame the psychotic spook. So to find him standing not two feet away in her bedroom was surprising, to say the least.
"Pha-... Danny?" Sam found her voice, though the name came out a bit higher pitched than she would have liked.
The spook flinched slightly. "I prefer just being called Dan now."
"Ur... right." Sam inched over to her bed, not that the extra distance would matter much if the ghost was there to inflict violence. "Dan... so... why are you here?"
Dan frowned, biting his lip as he contemplated whatever thoughts had brought him there. He wasn't accustomed to talking about problems; in the past he'd merely blown them up. As he'd expected, Sam had been startled and visibly worried about his presence; though the goth did an admirable job of maintaining outward calm.
"I need..." He paused, running one hand through his flaming mane of hair. "... an outside opinion. I think."
Initial worry gave way to eyebrows-raised curiosity. Dan had seemed pretty confident with himself when Sam had last seen him. Then again, knowing what she did about both her Danny and about Vlad Masters, that arrogant confidence could very easily have been little more than a facade.
"Okay. Have a seat." Sam sat cross-legged on the end of her oversized bed and gestured to the computer chair nearby. She was concerned to be dealing with the ghost one-on-one, but clearly Dan wanted to talk to her alone and alerting Danny about the situation probably wouldn't go over too well. Besides, he didn't seem to be hostile; if anything Dan's attitude seemed more pensive than arrogant or angry.
"Thanks." The ghost slouched into the offered chair in a way that was eerily reminiscent of Danny's most listless pose; right elbow propped up on his leg and supporting his chin, the other arm draped carelessly across his lap.
"So then." Sam quirked an eyebrow at Dan's posture. "What do you think y'need an opinion on?"
"I'm not sure. I don't want to stay here." Dan began slowly, clearly contemplating how to give voice to his thoughts. "But I don't know where else to go."
"There's FentonWorks?" Sam prompted, the comment earning a momentary glare from the ghost.
"No!" Dan snapped, briefly shutting his eyes and forcing himself to cool back down. "I don't want to see him. Or them. It's... awkward."
"Even after everything Jazz did for you?" Sam raised an eyebrow, starting to get some idea of what seemed to be troubling Danny's alternate future self.
"I don't belong here." Dan finally retorted.
Sam thought about that for a moment. That much was true enough; the ghost belonged to a different timestream entirely, ten years from the present amid the apocalypse he'd caused. She noticed the familiar medallion hanging around Dan's neck, which implied to her that he could go back to that timeline if he tossed the trinket.
"So if you don't want to be here, where do you want to be?" She finally asked.
"That's a very good question." This time the tone and phrasing was a bit more reminiscent of Vlad, though the shrug that accompanied the statement still had 'Danny' written all over it.
"Okay... if you don't know that, how about why don't you want to stick around here?" Sam shifted her position slightly as she waited for the reply. The goth already had a likely idea as to why Dan was uncomfortable in the present.
"I just don't." Came the irate reply. "It's... awkward. There's nothing for me here."
"And you don't want to go face up to the mess you made of your timeline?" Sam guessed.
"There's nothing for me there either." Dan glowered at Sam. "And an awful lot of ticked off people. You and Tucker included."
"What?" Sam's eyebrows shot up at that in confusion. "But I thought we were-"
"Dead, yes." Dan's tone had taken on a harsh edge. "And in the Ghost Zone, doing everything you could to stop me. Or at least to minimize the damage."
That particular revelation rocked Sam back where she sat. It's not every day you get told that not only did you die horribly in an explosion, but that you ended up a ghost and active in some sort of undead resistance force. It was really rather creepy; and coming from her, that was saying something.
"Right. Don't hear something like that every day." Sam gathered her wits again. "But remember what Jazz said about change and all of that?"
"Hmph. Easier said than done." Dan retorted. "If I go back, I'll never have any peace thanks to Valerie. She'd be the last person willing to give a ghost half a chance."
"And you'd be tempted to slide back into... ur... old habits?" Sam guessed.
"To put it mildly, yes." Dan glared at nothing. "I may not want to destroy Amity Park any more, but I will never forgive her. She deserves to suffer for what she did to me."
Now that sounded more like the psychotic ghost that Danny had confronted in that deranged timeline. Apparently not even Jazz's best efforts could entirely purge the ghost of his destructive urges toward the red-clad ghost hunter. Sam wondered just what Valerie had done to make the usually forgiving Danny in that other timeline so angry at her.
"Not that it's any of my business, but what did she do to you?" Sam hazarded, recalling that particular bit of information hadn't been coaxed out of Phantom when Dan had been split in half by the Ghostcatcher. The goth was most curious to know, and the tall ghost seemed to be in a talkative mood.
"I trusted her." Dan spat, not clarifying.
Trusted her? Sam wondered to herself, deciding against asking for further information. I'm gonna guess he told her he was Danny Phantom. And that Valerie... well, was Valerie about it.
"Well, it's a big world out there." Sam pointed out. "You might never even see her, let alone have to deal with her."
"Fat lot of good that would do. No doubt she's in Amity Park wondering where I disappeared to." Dan looked away. "You saw it when you were there. The woman was off her nut and bent on revenge."
And that's unusual how? Sam noted sarcastically to herself. She didn't care for Valerie in this timeline; and from what she could gather from Dan's story, the huntress' alternate counterpart was no more forgiving.
"Either way, when you left a few months ago..." Sam furrowed her brows in thought, recalling that frantic day. "You said you were going to find your own future instead of live in the past. By sticking around, aren't you just wallowing in it? Nothing's gonna change unless you do something about it. And I don't think you want to hang around here being the odd ghost out."
Her words struck a nerve, given that Dan visibly reeled back in the chair almost as though the goth had slapped him. Bold statements has helped knock some sense into the Phantom half of Dan back when he was split; maybe the ghost needed a similar smack of hard reality now.
"What-" Dan started, sounding thoroughly indignant.
"I'm sure Jazz has some fancy unpronounceable psycho-jargon word for it, but isn't that what you're doing?" Sam interrupted. "Running away from your problems? Hiding in the past?"
Dan's protest died amid flabbergasted spluttering.
"And wouldn't it be a slap in Valerie's face if you showed up and did something productive?" Sam pressed the advantage. "You've had awhile since the stuff with the Ghostcatcher to get over all that, maybe it's about time to get over it and go forward?"
"Alright, I get it!" Dan finally got a word in edgewise. "Hmph. You're right, sticking around here won't do anything."
He stood up, fingering the medallion that he'd kept on him since he'd come back in time in that deranged attempt at ensuring that the timeline stayed as he remembered it. Going to Sam probably was the best choice after all. Sure, the goth was blunt, but she was honest and said what needed to be said. Jazz would have tried to play psychologist some more, when what he needed was a swift kick in the cape to do what he honestly ought to have done months ago. Just like he'd been doing for ten years prior, he'd been avoiding the problem.
Sam jumped to her feet the instant she realized Dan was up and moving. "Whoa, right this instant?"
Somehow she would have thought he'd have tried to put off departing for some reason.
"Pheh, no time like the present, is there?" Dan declared, oozing sarcasm as he yanked on the medallion, breaking the ribbon holding it around his throat. His expression softened just a bit as he took the two strides needed to cross the room to where Sam was standing.
"What are you-" Sam backed up a step as the tall ghost leaned over, grinning with something not quite malevolent, but not exactly friendly either.
"Thank you for your assistance." Dan declared in a low, almost ominous tone right by the goth's ear. "And since I doubt we'll meet again-"
Sam's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates when she felt cold lips brush ever-so-briefly against her cheek in the most fleeting of kisses. She felt her face turn red-hot with shocked embarrassment, and almost didn't hear the dull thunk of the medallion hitting the floor. By the time she had finished sputtering in shock, Dan was already gone.
She sat down heavily on the floor, one hand going to her cheek. If that was how Danny's alternate future self apparently felt, what the heck did that mean about her Danny?
"It was your responsibility, Clockwork!"
"Because of your negligence, the seal is broken!"
Clockwork brushed off the frantic concerns of the two Observants who had come to his lair to verbally lay into him.
"You know what will happen if he isn't stopped!"
"There isn't a force in the human world or the Ghost Zone that can stop his evil!"
The Master of Time did not turn to address the two ghosts, his gaze fixed on the time viewer that dominated his lair. Scenes flashed across its surface: a deranged ghost on a deadly rampage; smoldering craters marking the ruins of civilization; a most desperate of battles to fix a mistake made years ago.
"I know what I'm doing." Clockwork finally declared calmly, a stark contrast to the agitated Observants. "You know as well as I do that sealing him up like that wouldn't work in the long term."
"Then perhaps you could share what you have in mind?" One of the two spooks asked dryly.
"Or do you plan to go against our orders again?" The other demanded, irate.
The Master of Time waved their concerns off, gesturing at the viewer with his staff. "My plan is already in motion and there is little anyone can do to change the outcome now but the players themselves."
"What are you talking about?" The Observants demanded in stereo.
"What I mean is that perhaps you should simply," Clockwork turned to face them now, a mysterious smile on his normally impassive face. "-sit back and observe like you always do."
The Master of Time floated away from the time viewer, the upset Observants following with demands for further information.
Behind them, the viewer showed a single scene; its outcome heralding either the saving of the world, or the ending of it.
Author's Note: That last line just reeks of ominous Bad Stuff, doesn't it? By the way, long-time readers who have already read Jeremiad, I recommend you double check it if you haven't in awhile: I added three "After the End" chapters to it that also help set the stage for the rest of this fic. It's not vital that you read those chapters, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.
I can't promise yet that I'll keep to updating a chapter per week, or even per two weeks yet; school this semester has been leaving me with precious little time or motivation to write. I do hope to update in a timely manner however, since I have 25 more chapters of this thing to write! This is going to be far more epic in scope than the earlier fics, with some twists and surprises that I hope will entertain!
Anyhow, since this is the very first chapter, there aren't any reviewers to thank and lavish virtual candy on yet, so... virtual chocolates for everyone!