A/N: This started as a songfic to Evanescence's Lacrimosa, but then it just kind of snowballed and took on a life of its own...so yeah...Hope you like it.
Summary: A surprise encounter with Valerie drastically alters Danny's life. Long oneshot. Pre-PP.
Valerie Gray was a smart girl. Pretty, and strong. Independent, like Sam, but without the awkwardness of having been friends with Danny for years before they started dating. The downside to Danny's relationship with Val was that she was so stubborn; she refused to let go of her hatred for Phantom.
It was her stubbornness that led to them both flying at top speed through the cold night air on more than one occasion. Their fights were fast and brutal. She threw all of her hate into her fighting, while he suppressed the magnitude of his power in an effort to not kill her. His heart pounded in his ears whenever a blast from one of her weapons barreled toward him, and adrenaline rushed through his thin frame as he dodged and flew, weaving through the onslaught with desperate dexterity. Even through her helmet visor he could see her eyes burning with anger, while he practically begged her to leave him alone. She never listened.
Sometimes he didn't know why he took her beatings. He could have fought harder; it would be so easy for him to unleash his full power, to end her misguided quest for vengeance once and for all. So easy. He didn't have to take the blame she laid on his shoulders, didn't have to lay that burden on top of the others he was already carrying.
The day that she left him standing in the schoolyard, ring in hand and heart in pain, there had been relief swirling beneath the ache. He was, in some weird way, glad that the relationship was over. He would no longer have to shoot ectoblasts at the girl he was dating, wouldn't have to lie to her about that. It had been a dangerous enough situation in the first place, and dating her had only aggravated the problem, but he had been willing to deal with that.
It was a frigid December night when he snapped. She had charged at him out of nowhere, ectogun already flaring with deadly red light, and he just hadn't been in the mood for it. There had been too many ghosts that week, too much trouble at school and at home, and his anger and pain had been bubbling away inside him for far too long. He was already agitated from a fight against a scorpion ghost that he'd just sucked into the Thermos, and the monster's stinger had grazed his shoulder, leaving a semi-deep slash that leaked green.
He didn't even have the energy to correct her when she called him "ghost" instead of by his name. When a blood-red blast cut the air toward him, he just floated there listlessly, vaguely thinking I should move but not finding the energy to actually do so. The blast slammed him square in the chest, shoving him into a concrete building that cracked with the force of the impact. A strangled groan curled in his throat, his head throbbed dizzyingly, and his chest felt as if a piano had fallen on it.
"I've got you now, ghost!" There was savage glee in Valerie's voice, and she was already charging her gun for another shot. "You won't escape this time!"
The sad thing was, Danny was sure she was right. He was too tired and weak to fight tonight. He just wanted to go home and collapse onto his bed. Years of fighting malicious ghosts, of barely eking by in school, getting bullied by Dash, hunted by his parents, of suffering serious wounds on a daily basis had all started taking their toll on his frail teenage body. He was sick of lying to everyone he cared about. Lately, he'd been seriously considering giving up ghost hunting. He could destroy the portals, stop the ghosts coming through...that would be worth suffering through Vlad's wrath and his parents' disappointment.
Looking into Valerie's unforgiving eyes that night, something in his mind broke. Her ectogun whined, and she raised the weapon, her finger hooking over the button that would set free another red beam. He tensed, and when she pushed the button and an ectoblast roared out of the gun he suddenly dove downward. The blast exploded against the concrete building as his feet touched ground.
"Get back here, ghost! I'm not finished with you yet!"
She started to give chase, but the opportunity was cut short when she saw that he wasn't trying to fly away. Instead he stood there and held his hands up in the universal signal for surrender. She was confused, and the split-second hesitation was all that he needed to whisper "Valerie." She snapped back into soldier mode and snarled "Don't call me that!" As she trained her gun on him a third time, two white halos burst around his waist and traveled over him, leaving black-haired blue-eyed Danny Fenton in their wake.
There was silence. The gun did not whine, her hoverboard did not whir to life, and she said nothing. Just stared in shock. In that beat of silence, Danny had hope. She would stop shooting at him now, would let him talk and actually listen to what he said. He looked up at her, biting his lip and waiting for a response. His hand came up and rubbed the back of his neck in his usual nervous gesture.
It was this motion that seemed to break Valerie out of her trance. She started, then guided her hoverboard to the ground, her gun still trained on him. She was moving cautiously, as if any sudden movements would cause him to vanish like a wisp of smoke. At first he felt relief, then he realized something odd. She was still in warrior stance, her gun was still ready, and rage was coming off her in waves. He took a step back. "Valerie?" His voice sounded small.
"What. Did. You. Do?" Her voice was dripping venom, and Danny stared at her in confusion.
"Val, it's me--"
"What did you do to Danny, ghost?!" Danny's jaw dropped.
"No, Val, listen! I'm Danny! I--"
She lunged forward in a sudden fit of rage, her weight knocking him clean off his feet. She landed on top of him, and when his head stopped spinning and he opened his eyes he saw the barrel of an ectogun pointed straight at his face. Her armor dug into his ribs, and she ripped off her helmet and glared at him. Her expression was a mixture of pain, desperation, anger, and confusion. "If you hurt him, I swear to god I'll—I'll...turn you over to the Guys in White!"
A shiver ran through Danny. It wasn't because of the cold air that was brushing his bare arms, but because of the force of her threat. She was definitely serious; killing him wouldn't be enough for her. She wanted him to really suffer...because she thought Phantom had hurt Fenton. It would be laughable if the situation wasn't so dangerous.
"What are you smirking about, ghost?"
"N-Nothing! Val, listen to me, I can explain!"
The gun pressed to his cheek, forcing his head sideways against the pavement so that all he could see was the wall of an abandoned apartment across the street, but he continued speaking. "I'm Danny Fenton and Danny Phantom...there was an accident...I never meant to make your dad lose his job, I never kidnapped the mayor, I haven't been lying to you about protecting the town... I'm sorry about everything..."
The pressure of the gun did not lighten, and Danny stared ahead at the apartment wall, waiting. The wall was a dull ugly yellow in the streetlight, cracked around the foundation, weeds probing through the broken slabs of sidewalk. Danny's heart thudded. A whisper of a breeze brushed by, causing goosebumps to rise on his arms. The weeds on the sidewalk fluttered almost unnoticeably.
The gun moved away, and Valerie's weight lifted off him. He sat up, his shoulder and chest burning, and saw her backing away, her face blank and her gun hanging at her side. She leapt deftly onto her hoverboard and whooshed away. He did not stand until the whir of her hoverboard had long disappeared into the still, starred night.
The next day was a Wednesday, and Danny was late as usual. He had been so tired that morning, and it had only been because of his mother's constant hassling that he got up at all. He ran through the empty halls, stopping only to grab a couple of books from his locker before jetting off to Tetslaff's room. He skidded into class, slinking to his seat as inconspicuously as possible. Valerie was not there.
Tetslaff's class had passed smoothly, but he was only five minutes into English class when the door slid open and a sophomore girl poked her head in. She was visibly upset. "Will Danny Fenton please go to the Principal's office? It's urgent." Danny's mouth went dry and his hands clenched around the edge of the desk. Lancer looked displeased but resigned. Danny slowly gathered his things then shuffled out after the girl, the eyes of his classmates burning into his back as he left. The girl walked fast and didn't look at him.
When they reached the office, she led him inside. He followed, and she closed the door behind him. The Principal was sitting behind her desk, looking very serious, and Danny stared at her and began to open his mouth to ask what was going on. Before he could, there was a beeping sound behind him.
"This him?" A low, masculine voice asked, and the Principal nodded. The voice sounded horribly familiar...Danny whirled around, eyes wide and thoughts running rampant. It couldn't be...
But it was. Operatives K and O stood there in their pristine white suits. A ghost detector was beeping frantically in O's hand, and Danny knew. Valerie had made good on her promise. She thought Phantom had done something to Fenton, was overshadowing him or impersonating him or something, and she had called the Guys in White. K roughly grabbed Danny's arm while O prodded the ghost detector at him. The device beeped louder. "Yep, he's definitely a ghost," said O in a business-like tone. K took a syringe out from somewhere.
Danny's reflexes kicked in. "No, my parents are ghost hunters! I get ectoplasm on my clothes sometimes--"
The operatives ignored him, and he sent a pleading glance to the Principal. She sat at her desk, her face set in a stony expression and her hands folded. The needle of the syringe winked bright silver in the sunlight that was streaming through the window, and Danny tried to jerk away. "No!" Operative O latched onto his other arm. Going ghost, going ghost...but the needle was sliding under his skin even as the rings started to appear. They flickered for a brief second then disappeared as Danny's blue eyes rolled back into his head. His knees folded and he crumbled limply to the ground. The operatives bound the unconscious boy's arms and legs with ghost-proof shackles and carried him to their van, making sure to lock the boy securely inside.
It was hours later when Danny awoke. Not that he could tell the time, because everything around him was a stark, blinding white. He was in a small square room with bare walls and a bare floor. The only interesting thing was a two-way mirror through which he was no doubt being observed. He struggled to stand, but only reached the point where he could lean crookedly against the wall. His hands and ankles were still shackled tightly, and his brain felt like it had been repeatedly pounded with a hammer.
The white metal door clanged open and a man Danny didn't recognize strode in. He was dressed entirely in white, and he looked at Danny with a cold expression of disdain. He bent down, grabbed Danny's arm and jerked it so hard that there was a sick pop! and an intense flash of pain as the shoulder joint disconnected. Danny cried out, too surprised to hide his pain, but the operative ignored him as he shoved a needle into a vein. Within seconds Danny was again unconscious, and the man left him sprawled carelessly on the floor, his arm at a funny angle.
Half an hour later, while the boy was still unconscious, a white-clad nurse entered the room and took some of his blood. Before she left, she paused at the door, went back to the lifeless boy, and popped his shoulder back into place. Letting her hand rest over his heart, she thought for a moment about how young and harmless he looked, then gave a small shake of her head and left the room.
When the ectosignature of Danny's blood was identified, the researchers were stunned to find that the signature indeed matched that of the infamous ghost-boy Phantom. Later, as a drugged Danny was led from the bare room to a more permanent cell, he caught a glimpse of his family, Sam, and Tucker standing in a closed-off lobby area. He couldn't hear them-- the lobby was soundproofed-- , but Maddie was clearly yelling at an operative. They caught sight of him through the glass and stared; Sam started for him but was immediately pulled back by two operatives. She struggled, her mouth moving in a way that clearly suggested that she was screaming Danny! over and over again at the top of her lungs, and an unseen operative started to close the blinds between the lobby and the hallway. Behind the Fentons and the grappling Sam there was a flash of brown skin and an orange headband. Valerie looked up as he was hustled past.
I'm sorry, she mouthed as the blinds dropped down. Sam continued screaming silently, while tears ran openly down Jazz and Maddie's faces, and Tucker looked too thunderstruck to do anything. The blinds fell shut, blocking his family and friends from sight, and Danny continued to be passively led away to his new cell.
The door slammed shut behind him, and he found himself, once again, alone.