Disclaimer: Butch Hartman and Nickelodeon own Danny Phantom. Some of the dialogue and scenes here are straight out of the episode Phantom Planet, while the rest are my own extrapolations based on that episode. The only thing I own in relation to this story is the computer I wrote it on.

Rating: K+

Warnings: Spoilers for pretty much the whole series, but especially for the series finale, Phantom Planet. Pairings: DxS.

The Timeline: Yeaaaaaaaaah. About that. For obsessive-compulsive continuity freaks like myself, the timeline is, in a word, hopeless. But we do know that Danny was fourteen and a freshman in high school when he got his powers, that he remained fourteen through at least most of the first two seasons, and that there are at least two separate summer breaks (Reality Trip and Claw of the Wild.) School has started again in Phantom Planet, so putting all that together, it must be his junior year, making him sixteen. Any time references I make are based on that: Danny recently turned sixteen, and he, Tucker, and Sam have just started their junior year at Casper High. Jazz has graduated and is about to start college. I'm not sure if that's what Butch intended when he wrote PP, but it's what makes the most sense to me.

Acknowledgements: As always, huge thanks to Dragondancer1014, not just for the awesome beta-testing, but for being willing to dive into a brand new fandom just so we can chat about it together. To quote Danny: "I could never have done any of this without you."

1. The Halfa's Tale

Long after she went back inside, he sat on her front steps, alone, trying to get the bad taste out of his mouth. Not from the tofu corndog—although that was bad enough—but from her words.

I'll always be your friend, Danny.

He knew that. If there was anything in life he was sure of, it was that he and Sam would always be friends. And Tucker, too. No matter how badly he screwed up, no matter how bad a fight they might have, their friendship would remain. And yet, her words had been like a brick to his stomach. Not a comfort, but an accusation. I'll always be your friend, Danny. In his head, he heard the continuation, the words she didn't say: And nothing more.

He wasn't sure exactly when he'd started wanting more. When he'd danced with her at that school dance freshman year? When she'd knocked him off his feet—literally and figuratively—with his first kiss, a "fake-out make-out" that had felt more real than he'd wanted to admit? When Ember had put that love spell on him, and even when it was broken, the memory of her kissing Dash still felt like it was ripping out his heart? When he'd watched her kiss Gregor—not a fake kiss, like the one with Dash, or the fake-out make-outs they'd shared, but a real kiss that she obviously wanted—and it had hurt more than the beating he'd just taken courtesy of the Guys in White?

It wasn't something he could actually pin down. His feelings had moved from friend to more so gradually, in such small increments, that he hadn't even seen it coming. Even when he'd had that dream where she was his girlfriend—even when he got to go inside her dream and saw she was having the same dream—he hadn't wanted to admit it. It was too huge, too terrifying, more than fighting ghosts had ever been.

It was such a cliché, he knew. Best friends fall for each other, but are afraid to admit it because they don't want to screw up their friendship. But if he was honest with himself, that wasn't what immobilized him when he thought about Sam. I'll always be your friend, Danny. He knew that. He could tell her he wanted more and she could recoil from him like he was her mother waving a frilly pink dress at her, and still their friendship would remain. It would be awkward for a little while, sure. But it would remain. Never once did it even cross his mind that he would risk that.

Rather, it was the hugeness of what it meant to have a crush on Sam. She wasn't Paulina, the safe-from-a-distance crush that was never gonna happen. She wasn't even Valerie, someone he'd actually had real feelings for based on her, not how she looked in a half-shirt—although that battle suit of hers was undeniably hot. She was Sam. One of the two most important people in his life outside of his family. He couldn't just crush on her. He couldn't just date her and see what happened the way sixteen-year-olds were supposed to. He couldn't just have fun and then move on. If he… if they… that would be it. Because when he looked at his future, not much was clear to him. He'd see himself as an astronaut, or as a ghost-fighting superhero, or… well, he didn't know what now that his powers were gone. But the one constant was Sam. She was as integral to his future as psychology was to Jazz's or technology was to Tucker's. And at barely sixteen, he just wasn't ready.

And now, he may have blown it. I'll always be your friend, Danny. And I'll always be there for you. But I can't live life just sitting on the sidelines. I'm surprised you think you can.

The irony was, he'd done it for her. He was tired of putting her in danger. And Tucker. And his family. So he'd stepped into the deactivated Ghost Portal, powering it up from the inside. Nearly two years ago, he'd done the same thing and had accidentally given himself ghost powers. Now he'd done it intentionally, giving up those same powers so that he could be normal once more.

But Sam hated normal. In the dream they both shared, she'd been Danny Fenton's girlfriend, but it was Danny Phantom who was the hero. And now? You're just an average, everyday, not-special human again. Translation: without his powers, he wasn't good enough for her anymore.

Except… that wasn't really fair. Sam was not the hero-worship type. She wasn't Paulina, who mocked Danny Fenton's unpopularity while fawning over the heroic "Ghost Boy." Nor was she Valerie, who liked normal Danny Fenton just fine but hated Danny Phantom with something bordering on obsessiveness. She was Sam. She'd been there from the beginning. Before the ghost powers. Before he'd ever been anything but an average, everyday, not-special human. Had he been good enough for her then? Had Danny Phantom raised the bar to a height Danny Fenton could never hope to reach?

You're not you anymore. You're just a normal kid. And a selfish one at that. Danny, don't you get it? Your powers gave you a chance to change things. A chance no one else had, and I was thrilled to be helping you. When you had your powers, I knew this town was protected from evil. But now? Who knows where we're headed. I'll always be your friend, Danny. And I'll always be there for you. But I can't live life just sitting on the sidelines. I'm surprised you think you can.

With his powers, he'd made a difference. Without them, he watched as others fought the battles he used to fight.

But that was a cop out. None of those other people had ghost powers. Masters' Blasters were just regular kids with a truckload of Vlad's money and technology behind them. The problem was, the money and technology were pretty much all that they cared about. Valerie was another human ghost fighter backed by Vlad's money and technology, but she fought as if destroying ghosts could somehow bring back the life she used to have. His parents fought ghosts for the sheer love of it, never once backing down from helping others even when their strange obsession and outrageous behavior made them the laughingstocks of the town. And Jazz, who had once wanted to be normal more than he did, but had somewhere along the way become a kick-ass ghost fighter in her own right. And Tucker. And Sam. They had been there from the beginning with nothing more than a Fenton Thermos, a Specter Deflector, and their unshakable faith in Danny Phantom.

And now, Danny Phantom was gone, and Danny Fenton had stopped caring about anything but protecting Sam, a girl who didn't want to be protected, but who wanted to fight for what was right. So she would always be his friend, but she would find someone else who actually cared. Not some lying phony like that Gregor jerk, but someone who really wanted to make a difference in the world. Someone who didn't eat meat and who took up causes with the same passion she did. Danny, the forever friend, would stand up at her wedding, be Uncle Danny to her kids… The thought made him more nauseous than any tofu corndog possibly could. He'd be living life on the sidelines, just like she said, always wanting what he couldn't have. He'd be—

He'd be Vlad.

Danny shuddered, forcibly pushing images of himself as a creepy old bachelor with a goth plushie and a cat named Sam out of his head as he rose to his feet. Brooding on her front steps wasn't exactly going to make him less Vlad-like. He had to get out of here, he had to do something, he had to fix this. Sam's right. Here I'm sitting, worried that by giving up my powers I lost her, when what I really lost is me

It was then that the weight of what he'd done hit him. The accident two years ago hadn't just changed his DNA, it had changed him. Somewhere along the way, Danny Phantom had become more than just a persona he put on to play the hero and fight ghosts. That was a lesson he should have learned back when he'd tried to split himself in two with the Ghost Catcher. Neither Danny Fenton nor Danny Phantom alone was who he was. Not anymore.

Some of the ghosts had once had a name for him: the "halfa." Half a ghost, half a human. Getting rid of the ghost half hadn't made him fully human. It had just made him… half.

He didn't have to be, though. The powers were gone, but the person who used them to help others was still there somewhere. The person who cared enough to put himself in the crosshairs again and again because it was the right thing to do.

The person Sam had always challenged him to be.

He's not gone, Sam. I'll find a way to get him back, powers or no powers. I promise.