Disclaimer: I still don't own Danny Phantom. Nickelodeon and Viacom do, and they are very big companies armed with lots of money and lawyers. Since I'm not making any money from this and I never will be, there is nothing for the law-ninjas to sue out of me.
Author's Note: As promised, the final chapter!
Epilogue: The Circle's End
"There's a moment
That we all come to
In our own time and our own space
Where all that we've done
We can undo
If our heart's in the right place."
-"When You Come Back to Me Again" - Garth Brooks
"Hey, Valerie, you remember what today is, right?"
The huntress rolled her eyes, wishing she could just blow Paulina's comment off. How could she forget, with reminders everywhere around her? Had it really been that long since everything happened?
"Like I could forget." She muttered with evident annoyance. "I'm not participating in any big city events about it. You know how much I hate the spotlight."
Paulina eyed her friend with concern. "It's been a year, and nobody's seen him since, have they?"
That got a derisive snort from the huntress. "It's like he's disappeared entirely. Tucker hasn't been able to find him either. And if Vlad's seen him, that old jerk hasn't deigned to share the news."
Paulina straightened the collar of her business suit; the Latina had left her duties with the Ghost Patrol behind, having been formally elected mayor of Amity Park. What was left of it, at any rate. Rebuilding had begun with almost startling quickness after the battle with Maghnus had ended, but the new city bore hardly any resemblance to the old Amity Park, or even New Amity. What was left of the old Underground had collapsed completely within days of the battle against Maghnus, marring the otherwise perfectly round crater. It hadn't taken long for the crater to flood, hiding what little was left of the New Amity ruins beneath a deep lake. The city was growing along one shore, new buildings steadily reclaiming the battlefield, and slowly moving out into the last remnants of the decade-old ruins of the original Amity Park.
"It's still bothering you, isn't it?" Paulina asked Valerie. "What he said before he disappeared?"
"I guess." Valerie shrugged.
"Don't let it get to you, Valerie." Paulina gave her friend a pat on the shoulder. "I bet he was just saying that stuff to save his own hide and tick you off."
"Maybe." She gave a noncommittal reply as she picked up her jet sled.
"Where are you going?" Paulina eyed the huntress. "It'd be nice if you could at least put in an appearance at the memorial today."
"That's about the last thing I want to do. I don't need to be reminded of how many people got killed!" She protested, putting several steps between herself and the Latina. "I'll be out on patrol."
Paulina frowned, watching Valerie hop onto the black and red jet sled and take off into the sky. The huntress had gotten increasingly restless and moody as days turned into weeks and then dragged on to months since the battle against the tyrant. The more the new city grew, the more restless Valerie got; Paulina was fairly certain that the huntress was spending more time outside the city than in it, often taking off for days at a time into the ruins.
She had been as surprised as anyone else when Valerie had let Dan escape a year ago. After working with the huntress for the past decade, Paulina knew the intensity with which Valerie hated the ghost; far above and beyond the mere call of duty to protect the city. It was an obsession, plain and simple, and Paulina was certain that the Ghost Zone would freeze over before anybody could talk Valerie into seeing a therapist or a grief counselor or anything to try and deal with it properly.
It was also clear that Dan's final words to Valerie had really struck a nerve; Paulina knew she would never forget the howl of rage the huntress let loose after the fire-headed ghost disappeared into the Ghost Zone. The Reality Gauntlet bounced back into the air from how hard Valerie had thrown the device before obliterating it with her portable beam cannon.
It's too bad she blew it up, something like that would have made rebuilding a lot easier. Paulina mused as she lost sight of Valerie in the distance. Or at least it would shut Mr. Masters up with his bad jokes about his making poor investments.
The Latina checked over her notes one final time before heading out herself. I just hope Valerie sorts out what's bothering her before she drives herself nuts.
The daylight flashed and sparkled on the surface of the lake, abruptly cut by the wake of Valerie's flight low over the water. She didn't want to be anywhere near the city, near the festive mood that marked the one-year anniversary of Maghnus' defeat. It was supposed to be a worldwide event; it had taken a lot of effort for world governments to respond to the widespread panic when the tyrant had essentially merged the real world and the Ghost Zone, and so everybody was celebrating the victory.
Except it wasn't just her victory. It was his victory as well. They beat Maghnus together.
They, they, they. Plural. She and her enemy.
So she ran from it. Only a handful of Patrol members who had survived the decade of rampages and Maghnus' fatal blow to the city really even knew who Dan was anymore; to the rest of the world, the ghost was little more than a footnote in the records of that titanic battle. She was the one that would go down in the history books, whether she liked it or not. Accolades that she felt were ill-deserved two years ago when Dan had apparently been defeated now felt even more inappropriate.
Valerie veered her sled around, disembarking atop a low hill on the lakeshore opposite the new city. Try as she might over the course of the past year, the huntress still couldn't call it 'home.' It wasn't familiar, neither the buildings nor the people. Most of the Patrol were fresh recruits who had moved to the new city; those who had participated in the final battle with Maghnus' army had largely fled to safer careers outside of the dual law enforcement and ghost protection purpose of the Patrol.
In all honesty, it was something she'd considered more than once in the past year herself. She could never quite bring herself to turn over her equipment and responsibilities as head of the Patrol however, even as the organization's duties turned more and more toward regular law enforcement and away from being an anti-ghost militia. What else could she do? Go back to working behind the counter of some fast-food place? Valerie had never finished high school, let alone college; her only marketable skill was ghost hunting, and with increased interaction and cooperation on both sides of the portal that skill was in decreased demand.
Then there were Dan's parting words that had haunted her the past year. That they were an awful lot alike, the ghost and the huntress. Valerie could deny it loudly and effectively to anyone and everyone that asked, but those parting words preyed mercilessly on her in the silence of the wastelands, the quiet times at night before sleep came and with it the usual horde of nightmares.
At least she could take some vicarious happiness from knowing her friends were all doing well. Tucker had positively flourished in the aftermath of the battle, he and Dora were now spear-heading Ghost Zone-human world relations on a global scale, up to and including full-blown diplomacy with various national governments. There were rumors that the two ghosts were considering having kids, a thought that Valerie would fake a polite smile at while keeping her EW! to herself. Danny and Sam seemed to be as content as ever in one another's company, and Danny had even recovered some of his old spunk over the intervening year. She couldn't say how well Vlad was doing, the old man kept mostly to himself, though once again he'd made a substantial investment in developing the new city.
Paulina had begun to truly thrive as an elected official, the Latina had a knack for convincing recalcitrant opposition into working with what she wanted. Valerie privately suspected it was only a matter of time before the ex-cheerleader pursued a full-blown career in politics.
Which left Valerie... with what?
A city to protect from a threat that she knew wouldn't return? Try as she might, Valerie had a hard time justifying her ongoing paranoia about Dan, even to herself. After all, the ghost had held the option in his hands to finish her and everyone else off; and he'd thrown it aside, leaving himself vulnerable and at her mercy.
For some reason, it kept reminding her of Danny's confession that day in the park twelve years ago. Her friend had left himself wide open and vulnerable to her uncertain temper, and in her own shock, Valerie had completely bungled it. Danny had fled to parts unknown, setting in motion events that ultimately led to her final confrontation with Dan just a year ago. Had she done the right thing this time in letting Dan go? She'd blown her best chance of avenging all of the ghost's victims, including her own father; but would destroying the ghost now have done anything other than create one final victim? The killing had stopped, the desperate struggle against a seemingly unbeatable opponent nothing more than a memory.
Valerie leaned her sled against a nearby boulder and strolled over to where the hill began to slope toward the lake.
She whirled at the voice, ecto-cannon aimed at the figure leaning against a stunted tree that had found purchase on the rock-strewn slope. "You?!"
Dan didn't seem overly perturbed by the weapon a foot from his head, red eyes instead fixed on some distant target, the ghost rubbing his chin in contemplation. "Isn't it funny?"
Valerie raised an eyebrow, slowly lowering her weapon. "What?"
"A year ago, just the sight of you was enough to nearly tempt me back to old habits." Dan smirked, gaze still fixed on the city visible on the far side of the lake.
"And now?" The huntress replied warily.
The ghost shrugged. "Sorry to disappoint, but I don't think I can drum up the enthusiasm."
"What about that entire destroy the past spiel?" Valerie retorted after an uncomfortable silence.
"What's left?" Dan countered, gesturing at the city in the distance. "That isn't Amity Park, not anymore. Even that stupid memorial statue is gone."
Valerie quirked her other eyebrow at the declaration, finally deciding to holster her gun. The silence stretched on while she took the two steps forward to put herself level with the ghost.
"Not everything is gone." Valerie thought the statement sounded flat even to herself. "Danny and Sam and Tucker are still around, and so's Paulina-"
"And you haven't had the good sense to keel over yet; is that what you're getting at?" Dan interrupted. "This city is different, they're different. I didn't need to destroy the past, it's already dead."
The ghost's statement gave Valerie momentary pause. She hadn't expected to have her own feelings of displacement put to words; least of all by her arch-nemesis. Was that what brought Dan out to that remote hilltop? To look at Amity Park from a distance as he no doubt had in years past, only to find himself staring at a unrecognizable place? She glanced at the distant, unfamiliar skyline.
"Isn't that what you wanted?" Valerie couldn't quite keep the venom out of her voice. "To 'get rid of all those painful memories?'"
"Funny enough, it didn't work." He shot back with equal irritation. "I'm still here, those bothersome memories are still here, and the city isn't."
"Like everything else changes and just leaves you behind, right?" The huntress snorted.
"Hardly." The fire-headed ghost sneered. "Even you changed a little, imagine my surprise."
Before Valerie could respond, Dan continued.
"If you hadn't, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You'd be trying to blow my head off-"
"And you'd be trying to return the favor." She interrupted.
"Mmhm. Twelve years is a long time to spend trying to kill one person." Dan finally glanced briefly in Valerie's direction. "Especially when it's not going to solve the problem."
"Right." Valerie frowned. It was a long time to spend trying to kill someone; and in trying the huntress had discovered that the rest of the world seemed to be adapting and just getting on with the day to day business of life. "It's pretty exhausting, especially when that one person is the last thing left that still even seems familiar."
Dan quirked an eyebrow at the huntress' remark. Since their showdown a year ago, he really couldn't drum up the rage anymore. A decade of enmity had apparently worn itself to ragged shreds between finally giving voice to the reasons for the anger and the desperate struggle against Maghnus. The dirty laundry was aired, the battle won.... leaving behind a vague sense of being totally and completely lost. He'd spent the better part of a year in hiding, and for no real reason; he had nothing to hide from. Nothing to hide from besides the question of "Now what?" He hadn't expected the huntress to apparently share that same sense of unease, of being left behind as everyone else moved on.
Dan pondered on it, glancing at Valerie. It would be so easy to raise his arm and blast her head off right then and there. Her guard was down, nobody was around to witness it; heck, he could even lie to anyone that asked and claim he hadn't been there. The ghost considered it for a moment before discarding the notion. It wouldn't change anything, aside from making enemies of people who were almost beginning to trust him. Finishing Valerie off now would just be an empty, useless gesture.
His guard's down. You could probably take him down right now. Valerie mused, stealing a glance at Dan, noticing the ghost's contemplative expression. She dropped the idea almost before it even came to her; assuming her weapons could finish the job, it wouldn't accomplish anything save for a momentary adrenaline high. She somehow suspected that if anything, it would only earn her the disapproval of her other friends, who seemed to have accepted Dan's existence, if little else. I guess it is possible to run out of hate or something.
"So now what?" Dan asked irritably. "I can't be bothered to kill you."
"What, I'm supposed to tell you what to do now?" The huntress shot back.
The two stood glaring at one another for a few minutes, ghost and huntress not quite certain what to do in the glaring absence of their usual activities. The city skyline several miles away eventually drew their stares and the awkward silence loomed heavy.
"So...." Valerie broke the silence in an attempt to make small talk. "What the heck did you mean with that lame line before you took off last year?"
"Do I really need to spell it out?" The ghost replied dryly. "Stubborn resistance to getting over it, making stupid mistakes, home's destroyed, no surviving family-"
"Yeah, well those last two wouldn't be my situation if not for somebody doing the destroying." Valerie interrupted crossly.
"I'm still not apologizing for that." Dan remarked.
"Yeah, well I'm not expecting you to anyway." The huntress groused. "And I'm not apologizing either. I already apologized to Danny for scaring him off."
"Good enough, I suppose." He shrugged mockingly. "That's another one; incapable of saying sorry."
"Will you shut up?"
"Am I bothering you?" Dan smirked.
"When aren't you bothering me?" Valerie grumbled.
"I could say the same about you."
"Just shut up!"
Dan finally obliged, leaving Valerie to her own thoughts. It was fun to needle the huntress, perhaps even more enjoyable than trying to kill her for a decade had been. Since their last showdown after Maghnus' defeat, the idea, even most of the desire to kill her had faded in the wake of their desperate alliance and haphazard teamwork against the tyrant.
Valerie tried to work up a good bout of anger, only succeeding in getting annoyed at herself because she couldn't. It didn't help that Dan was right; they had both lost everything, regardless of the specific reasons for those losses. In a world that seemed to have moved beyond the fear of ghostly terror from above, they were the last remnants of an existence that had rendered itself obsolete.
"Someone will have to take over his position, you realize."
"Yes, but the question is who? There is no one that survived that comes anywhere close to matching his powers."
Watching the victory celebrations taking place in Amity Park via a portable viewer from the safety of the Ghost Zone, the remaining Observants were holding an urgent meeting amid the ruins of Clockwork's tower.
"Well..... maybe those powers will develop given time? And there is his staff, perhaps that will have an effect?" One of the Observants brandished the Master of Time's discarded staff.
"We don't know that for certain!"
"Didn't I tell you I had set plans in motion to resolve the problem?"
The new voice startled the one-eyed ghosts out of their bickering, all turning around in surprise at the unexpected interruption. Sitting on a broken piece of the tower wall as though nothing was wrong, writing something down in an old book, staff laying across his lap...
... was Clockwork.
"You-!" Several of the Observants sputtered in shock. "What... but the staff-?"
"That?" Clockwork gestured at the duplicate staff one of the one-eyed ghosts was holding. "It's not the real one, it's just a novelty pen."
An embarrassed silence fell momentarily over the gathered ghosts. The item Danny and Sam had discovered, and everyone thought was Clockwork's staff was just a goofy oversized pen? And they'd all managed to miss that particular fact? The Observant holding the device clicked the stopwatch button at the top of the staff, briefly examining the bottom and quickly discovering the pen point.
"Besides that!" One of the others decided to get past the embarrassment of their collective error. "Where have you been all this time? What have you been doing while the rest of us were dealing with Maghnus?!"
"What I was doing?" Clockwork finished whatever he was jotting down in the book, closing the battered tome with familiar ease. "Nothing much, I was just watching."
Minutes of silence dragged on to hours, the sun creeping toward dusk and the distant city exploding with light as the evening festivities got underway. Somber silence was replaced with the distant thunder of fireworks, only the faintest traces of loud music carrying across the lake on the wind. A celebration Valerie wouldn't have felt comfortable attending; and Dan wouldn't have been welcome at anyway.
"I still hate you, by the way."
"Don't worry, I still hate you too."
Closing Note: Well I can't get too long-winded and pretentious this time around.... I have a 14 page long note about the entire saga in the 'bonus features' pack! So here, have some stats: Time to completion: 653 days. Final length: 201 pages. Average pages/chapter: 7.73. Average time per chapter: 25.12 days.
And a reminder for you guys: I'll be in the AIM chat room 'LJABIchatparty' most of the day today, so feel free to drop by and hang out :) The download link for the bonus pack will only be available in the chat for now; I'll add it to my profile page on FFN in a few days for those who couldn't make it to the party. For AIM newcomers, to invite yourself to a chatroom you didn't make, you select the AIM menu, go to Chat, then select Buddy Chat. In the window that comes up, enter YOUR screenname where it says "Screennames to invite", and then you just enter the chat room name in the bow below it. Hope to see you there!
Wow... final time in the saga I'm doing this for the saga. *ahem* As always, I want to extend my sincerest thanks to those of you who have taken the time to leave a review, whether wordy critiques or quick one-liners. Immediate reader feedback is one of the perks of the Internet as a publishing medium, and it's been fun getting to know people via their reviewing styles. :) So for the final time, virtual cake and ice cream to: Sukoru, zara2148, Angelic Kittens, Moony's Metamorphmagus, SkeiththeTerrorofDeath, Phantom-Akiko, Out-Of-Control-Authoress, Akino Ame, Anthiena, fentonfan, Anne Camp aka Obi-quiet, Luiz4200, DarkNekoGirl92, Gareth, i AM the Random Idiot, gadrak-the-forbidden-one, fizzingwhizbee... and everyone else that's added the saga to their author/story alerts, favorites, or just happened to swing by and start reading. It's been a pleasure!