Based off of the drabble No Other Way to be found in Chaos Theories. For Lacey52.
There and Back Again
"Officially, I hate being a halfa," Danny muttered as he rotated his arm at the shoulder. It ached from where he'd hit a building not two minutes before. There was brick and dust scattered around him as he looked up from where he knelt. He frowned even harder as he realized that there was green blood dotting his white gloves, and scowled as he ran a hand down the back of his shoulder, over his arm, and found a jagged wound still decorated with the red-brown of the brick he'd hit.
Son of a…
The thought trailed off as Danny leapt back into the air to avoid yet another attack. It was a new ghost, but only in the reality that Danny hadn't fought this particular one before. An old ghost, because it was Vlad, yet again, who'd sent it to either test Danny or kill him. Danny was beginning to think it was to kill him, since he could feel more blood trickling down his side beneath the fitted hazmat he wore.
There wasn't any warning as he was slammed into the building again, this time through the wall with painful force. When Danny opened his eyes they were blurred, but he could still make out the family of four staring at him from where they sat around their dining room table eating their dinner. There was more blood now, he could feel it slippery on his skin, and Danny rolled to his feet with a pained groan.
He shot them all an apologetic look as he went invisible and then intangible, sinking through the floor with a faint, "Sorry," as he studiously avoided looking at the gaping hole in the wall he'd just gone through.
He only flinched as he slipped through another floor and then through an empty apartment and out an unblemished wall. He looked around warily and stayed invisible, but he couldn't find the ghost anywhere. "Target time," he murmured with a sigh. Danny slipped back into visibility and looked around again, this time with his lip between his teeth.
I have to finish this quickly, one way or another, he realized as he turned again, eyes always searching. The fight had raged for nearly an hour already, if a fight was what it could be called. Danny felt like he'd been playing at personal punching bag for the other ghost, who still refused to show himself. At the rate they were going, Danny knew it would only take one really good hit to take him down and out. He was that low on power.
Danny felt the hairs on the back of his neck stiffen and tensed his shoulders a moment before something him in the back. It was a hard blow, low and dead center, and he gasped as the pain radiated through his back and down his legs. Bile rose in his throat as he fought against gravity and righted himself in the air to face the ghost that had finally attacked him again.
It was thin and pale with skin shaded purple instead of the usual ghostly green and blue. The eyes were red, but not brightly so. No, they were darker red, the shade of blood, the color Danny half expected to see dripping from the wounds it had already inflicted on him. Dull, rusty red instead of the sparkling green ectoplasm infused blood that Danny himself bled. It was more reptilian than human, with patterns that ran across its skin in ways that only reinforced the thought in his mind. They looked almost like scales, but nothing at all like scales since it was only an impression instead of a reality.
And it was fast.
Too fast for Danny, and he knew it. The ghost knew it, too, and let a slippery smile rise on its face as it started for Danny again. He did the only thing he could think of; he ran. It was figure of speech, but the way he flew away did nothing to make him feel any better about the retreat. Not that Danny felt anything other than fear and worry, but he couldn't risk this monster going after anyone besides himself. If he was outmatched as Danny Phantom then no one else stood a chance.
He needed something to give him an edge, but nothing was coming to mind. Danny flung his thoughts out, groping at anything that might turn into a weapon, an advantage, a way to survive. There was nothing at hand, nothing that he could think of, and a glance back only made Danny push harder as he saw the ghost sliding closer in the air.
And it still it came, despite the speed that Danny poured on.
He ran a gloved hand across his face to wipe the sweat from his forehead and calm the stinging in his eyes from the wind, but only succeeded in smearing his own blood across his skin in a slick smudge of red and green. "I need a plan," he muttered into the wind as it ripped the pleading words away.
It wasn't fair that the best strategist they had was Sam. More unfair that she was waiting for him to return to the park. Even more unfair that Tucker was a better strategist than he was. He knew his tactics, he could use them—he had a brain. But he wasn't as good as his friends. They were always trying to save the day and keep him from being hurt. Danny had long since accepted that he was going to get hurt saving the day. It made his own strategies more to the point, more brutal, more… ruthless, he supposed.
It was that thought that made Danny whip around in the sky and shoot straight back at the ghost chasing him. The complete recklessness of the act gave him the advantage of surprise, and Danny took it with both hands as he swerved and dove into the outskirts of Amity Park. This was the only real advantage that he had, and he knew it: Amity Park was his, he knew it inside and out, above and below, from where the township began to where it ended, and some ways beyond.
And he raced away with that knowledge.
Raced away to the center of the town, to the park, where his Sam was waiting and, he hoped, was alert and ready with a Fenton thermos. It was his only hope, his only chance, and Danny's eyes burned and teared as he gritted his teeth and forced out an ounce more of speed, not daring to look back and see if the chase was on. He could only trust that it was, that the other ghost was following, that he had the chance to win.
The park was in sight when Danny's strength and speed began to falter, and then he was above it and bringing himself to an unsteady halt to hover and search for the ghost that was nowhere to be seen. He shook his head when he couldn't find it and dropped lower in the sky as he wondered if he'd managed to lose it after all. As appealing as the thought was Danny could only frown, his brow furrowing as he considered the possibility. If he had lost it, he'd have to go find it. A ghost that powerful, that cunning and vicious loose in Amity Park was something he didn't want to contemplate.
"Danny?" Sam's voice came from behind and beneath him, and Danny turned in the air to shoot a faint smile at Sam.
He shrugged. "I'll have to go find him. You'll be ready if I come back?"
Wide violet eyes met his and then dropped to see the green blood that soaked most of his right arm. Then they moved to the rest of his body taking in the ripped hazmat, more blood, and noticing the things that Danny had yet to realize. That his blood was still flowing freely in some places, that his right side had pieces of rust colored brick still sticking out of it. That red blood was beginning to mingle with his green ghost blood as he pushed himself harder and farther than ever before.
She bit her lip and Danny wondered if she was going to say no, demand to go with him. Then she smiled at him. It was strained, upset looking, but it was a smile. "I'll be ready. Tucker's gone for another thermos. He said he'd try and snag one of your mom's ectoguns."
Danny chuckled. "Just as long as it's not one of Dad's. His never work."
Sam laughed, and again it was anxious. It was the last thing that Danny heard as he was hit from above and driven down into the ground. He cursed himself even as he struggled against the grip the ghost had on him, but its long fingers dug into the flesh of his arms to make the already wounded one bleed worse that it already was. The other would be horribly bruised—if he lived through this. Danny knew that his chances were growing slimmer by the moment as the ghost leered into his face, eyes bone chillingly crimson as it drove its weight into him and tried pushing him further down into the ground.
Danny grunted as he tried pushing up against it. All he succeeded in doing was shifting the ghost so that instead of clenching its bone thin hands around his arms, it was crushing into his chest. The only thing he could hear was his own struggling breathing as the pressure on him grew heavier. He pushed again, wrapping his hands around its neck and only grimaced as he felt the first creak of bone. A creak, a moment of give, and then the actual snap as one of his ribs gave in beneath the pressure and fractured in two.
The pain was sudden and sharp, sharper than anything he was already feeling, but Danny couldn't do anything more than whimper as his eyes closed and he tried desperately wrenching the ghost's head around. Something, anything to stop it.
Then another creak, and another snap, and another, and another as the ghost pressed against his chest at the human frailty beneath. It was too much, and Danny screamed.
And when he screamed the earth moved.
There was no explanation.
In the three weeks that followed Danny's disappearance Sam had been questioned by his family, her family, the police, Jazz and Tucker. She'd told as much truth to his family and the police as she could, leaving out only the part in which Danny Fenton was Danny Phantom, and that he'd been hurt, possibly fatally wounded before the earthquake that had happened when Danny was attacked by the strange ghost. She'd lied outright to her own parents and told them that she'd only been in the park at the same time as Danny purely by coincidence.
To Jazz and Tucker she told the truth: that he'd been fighting a ghost and losing from what he looked like. It had taken him by surprised, and the next thing Sam knew was that Danny was screaming, and the scream became one of his dangerous and deadly Ghostly Wails. All that she had found before the police came was a puddle of ectoplasm that was rapidly cooling and evaporating inside the crater. The police had come because Sam had been screaming.
Her family didn't really care about Danny, except for her grandmother. There was no reason to expect them to cling to the thought of Danny alive and well and… just gone. His parents had already, if not come to terms with the idea, placed their faith in the thought that they were completely justified in the fact that ghosts were evil and dangerous.
And that a ghost had killed their only son to strike back at the Fenton's and their ghost hunting way of life. While the thought could have been true for Maddie, it was only laughable when applied to Jack Fenton.
Jazz was taking refuge in school. She'd taken a look at the facts as presented by Sam and spent three days locked inside her room, crying because she believed Danny was dead.
Tucker was the only one who had stayed by Sam's side, steadfast in his faith in Danny. They'd seen Danny pull off so many miracles, what was one more? And they waited. But three weeks passed, and there was no miracle. Instead there was only Tucker, and there was Sam. There was no Danny.
Tucker had struggled with it for more than a week. Almost two. Eleven days if he wanted to count them, not that he had. But there was no denying it, no getting around the fact that if Danny was still alive he'd at least have tried to contact them, sent a message. That if Danny was alive, he'd already be back. It was this sure knowledge that led Tucker to the heartbreaking realization that Danny couldn't be alive.
It was the surety in that realization that made Tucker take on the task of convincing Sam to let go. A task that he'd already known was going to be difficult because the three had been the best of friends since preschool. A task only made more difficult because Sam was in love with Danny. Three years had only made it that much stronger for her.
He chose to do it at her house, in the safety and sanctity of her own room. He hoped the familiar surroundings would at least soothe her as he hammered against her irrational hope. But it broke his heart to do it, worse to see her like this and know that he was the one who had broken her down and driven her to tears.
"If he were alive he'd have at least gotten a message to us by now, Sam. You know that," he said gently, knowing that no matter how softly he said it, how carefully he phrased it, it would only sound like an attack to her.
"He's not dead. I'd know if he was." Her voice was steady even through the tears, adamant that the connection she'd shared with Danny since childhood would never lie to her.
Tucker sighed and sat down on the bed next to her, bracing himself with his feet as the mattress slumped beneath his weight. "Sam, he's not coming back. You have to face it." He bit his lip and closed his eyes for a moment so he wouldn't have to see her shoulders shake with her silent tears. "You're just making harder on yourself, Sam. You're the only one who thinks he might still be alive."
"He'll be back! There was no body! There's no proof, and I would know!" Her voice broke as she nearly shrieked the last few words, her sobs uncontrollable and violent on her slim frame. She was hysterical, he realized, and he looped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to try and calm her some.
He pressed a kiss to her temple and rubbed her arms gently, soothingly. "You're right, Sam," he finally whispered as she calmed some, hating himself as he did but knowing that there really was no other way to deal with her right now. The pain of losing Danny was threatening to break her, and Tucker couldn't bear it if that happened.
He'd already lost one of his best friends; he couldn't lose the other.
"You're right, Sam," he whispered again, his eyes burning behind his glasses. Tears began to slide down his cheeks. "You would know."
His body ached in more places than he could count, but nothing hurt quite so badly as his heart as he watched the image as it flowed across the time portal inside Clockwork's lair. The sounds of Sam's hysterical sobbing echoed through it without relief, drowning out the sounds of everything inside the mechanical castle. Everything except maybe Danny's conscience, and the sounds that he was sure were his heart breaking.
He stood there, a boy, very nearly a man, pale and weary with more than just his injuries. His blue eyes were sad as he watched the portal, watched his two best friends trying to find solace in the wake of his disappearance. It tore at him, but there was nothing he could do about it. True, he could try and go back home. But he'd left for a reason, and it wasn't something he could turn his back on.
Think of the greater good, he told himself silently as he shifted where he stood, still watching.
He shifted again trying to ignore the urge to scratch. The arm bound to his chest was healing rapidly now that he was regaining his strength, much more rapidly than he'd have expected if he were to judge by the rate he'd been healing for weeks. But with the return of his voice and the healing of whatever damage his Wail had done to his throat, he'd improved in leaps and bounds.
The fact that he was still recovering spoke of how seriously he'd been injured.
But the arm itched terribly beneath the thick white bandage it was bound with. The ribs didn't exactly itch where they were healing, but the gashes that had been on his back and the places bone had pierced his skin drove him to madness. The only thing that kept him from itching was iron will. And the thick bandages that completely destroyed any attempts he might have already made.
At least the itching took up some part of his thoughts so that watching Sam cry didn't drive him insane. But the broken way she was speaking to Tucker… No amount of itching could keep him from breaking, one little piece at a time.
"I can't lose him, Tuck," she was whispering. It was so clear, like she was standing right next to him, close enough to touch. He could nearly feel the warmth of her breath on his ear. "I have to believe. I just have to."
It drove tears to his eyes, and he reached out to the image of her where it rippled inside the portal. "Oh, Sam," he murmured as his fingers slipped across the surface of the image, distorting it where he touched and breaking the picture. Even without it he could still hear her desperate sobs and words.
Danny closed his eyes and swallowed. "Tell me again, Clockwork. Tell me that there's no other way. Tell me why I have to do this, why I have to hurt them like this."
Why I have to hurt her like this.
He was silent as he listened, again.