A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed. I got some really interesting thoughts from everyone about the last chapter. I can't even describe how much that meant to me. I'm glad that I can bring a little enjoyment into someone's day.
You know the drill...I own nothing that you recognize.
"Is there any possible medical basis for these sightings Doctor?" Picard asked the blue dressed woman down the table from him. It galled him to have to call a senior staff meeting over something as trivial as a practical joker who had gone too far, however, on the Enterprise trivial odd occurrences tended to become major incidents with alarming frequency. In the Captain's considerable experience, it was better to nip such things at the bud. The earlier they were resolved, the less damage was done trying to repair them. Therefore, when crewmembers start seeing a dead crewmate 'haunting' the halls, it was better to be safe than sorry.
"Not that I can think of," Doctor Crusher replied. "I've preformed every neurological and medical scan I can think of, but they've yielded no answers. In all the subjects, endocrine and synaptic response levels are normal. There is no abnormal brain activity to suggest that they are hallucinating, and all their optical nerves seem fine. As far as I can tell medically, they are actually seeing what they are seeing."
"What about psychological factors?" Commander Riker asked, looking to Deanna. "Losing a crewmate so suddenly like that..." He trailed off hopefully.
Deanna shook her head. "If it is a reaction to psychological stress, than it is the most random occurrence of such a phenomena that I have ever seen. Few of the people who have seen the ensign were close to her. Several didn't even know her."
The captain placed a thoughtful hand over his mouth. "Mr. Laforge," He said at length. "Is it possible that there is some environmental cause for these sightings?"
"Not any that I can find sir," The engineer replied. "Everything looks normal. I've even had teams manually checking environmental systems across the ship, just in case some of the internal sensors are off, but there are no signs of malfunctions. I wish I could be more help Captain...but honestly? I'm stumped."
The captain let out an explosive breath, this was getting ridiculous.
"Maybe we're looking at this the wrong way." Dr. Crusher said slowly.
All eyes turned to her. "Explain." Worf demanded.
"Well," The Doctor continued slowly, "We've been operating under the assumption that it's either someone running around with a holoprojector, in which case we haven't been able to find the person, or that there's something wrong with the people suffering from these visions."
"You think there's actually a ghost on board?" Commander Riker asked incredulously.
"I didn't say that," Beverly replied levelly, "but it's not like we haven't picked up unintentional hitchhikers before. Some of which, if you'll remember, were able to mimic the forms of people."
The Doctor had a point, stranger things had happened.
"It is possible." Data agreed. "However, that scenario begs several questions. Of all crewmembers on the Enterprise to imitate, why select Ensign Whipstaff?"
"Maybe because she was the first to encounter it." Riker suggested. "Geordi, what was the cause of the energy spike that killed the Ensign?"
"Freak accident and faulty manufacturing." Geordi replied. "One of the grids we took on during our last resupply had a flaw in the wiring. No one noticed. Eventually it caused a random energy arc between two secondary systems and the entire thing went up. Unfortunate and tragic, but as far as I can tell, very explainable."
"There's no way it could've been caused by a similar energy life form as we've seen in the past?" The Captain asked.
"That would be impossible to say for certain Captain," Data corrected. "As we do not know the exact nature of the hypothetical life form. It is possible that the faulty grid reacted badly to the presence of such an entity. It is also possible that the accident was, as Geordi has reported, a simple malfunction."
"I other words, we're still at square one." Riker muttered in exasperation. "Lots of possible ideas, but no answers."
"At this point Number 1, I don't want any idea discredited." Picard interjected. "Mr. Worf, you will continue your investigation into the matter, if it is a practical joker, I want the individual found. In the meantime Mr. Laforge, continue your manual scans, report any anomalies to me immediately, no matter how small. Councillor, I would like you to speak again to all those who have seen these visions. Look for any consistencies, any attempt that the vision made to communicate with those it was showing itself too. If we have a hitchhiker, the only reason I can think of for it to take human form is communication. Perhaps we can find a way to make contact with it, see what it wants." He looked around the table. "I want this matter cleaned up as soon as possible. Dismissed."
As his senior staff filed out of the room he indulged himself in a heavy sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. This whole ghost business was becoming entirely tiresome.
It was dark, so incredibly dark that Danny couldn't see his hand when he put it in front of his face. Normally of course, the darkness didn't bother him, but there was something different about this darkness, something malevolent and evil. He could feel the cold creeping around him like the tentacles of some great monster. In the back of his mind, he knew none of this was real, but he couldn't help the fear that coursed down his back. Disoriented and frightened he tried to fly, tried to will himself away from the darkness, but he couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't tell which way was up or down or gain any reference from the pervasive, never ending black . Where was Tucker? Where was Sam? They were here a second ago, he knew it. The eerie silence was broken by a chilling laugh. "I have your friends little boy, come find them." The voice was horribly familiar. "Danny, Danny, can little Danny come out to play?"
The darkness was banished, replaced instead by a burning, blinding light. Danny blinked hard to adjust his eyes, only to wish that he had remained blind. He saw his best friends, saw Sam and Tucker, Jazz and Andrea lying motionless on the ground. He didn't stop to wonder how Andrea was there, even though she wasn't even born when the others had died, all he could think about was the horrible figure standing over their bodies, their blood dripping from its claws.
Danny screamed and launched himself at the figure. "Who are you?" He screamed. "Who are you?"
Suddenly, everything changed. Suddenly he was the one standing over his friends and lovers, covered in their blood. Sam's glazed eye's glared at him in accusation. "No matter how far you run, how long you hide, eventually you will turn into me." The voice whispered poisonously in his ear.
Danny turned around to see the one person he hoped he never would again, the evil version of himself. Dark Dan laughed, singing in a sick childish voice. "I am you, you are me. We killed our whole family...Face it, I'm inevitable."
"NO!" Danny screamed, bolting upright in bed. Still lost in his own nightmare, it took him a moment to realize that he was not, in fact, witnessing the deaths of all those he had loved, but was lying safe in his quarters on the Enterprise. After realizing what had happened and checking to make sure he had not inadvertently destroyed something in his subconscious terror, the halfa laid down again, willing his body to stop shaking and his breathing to slow.
Where had that come from? He hadn't had that nightmare in years. Carefully going over the last few days, Danny tried to think of anything that would bring that particular horror back after years of being free of it, but nothing came to mind. Perhaps it was his increasingly detached attitude towards the world outside the Ghost Zone. Maybe, subconsciously, he had equated humanity with life outside the Zone. With his increasing desire to leave that life, perhaps he was subconsciously worried about losing the humanity that kept him in check? It was possible, he thought.
Although, such a conclusion brought with it several very disturbing questions. Danny had always maintained to everyone (including himself) that he lived outside the Zone in order to help people. But if that wasn't true, if he simply remained out here out of some subconscious attempt to maintain his humanity, then he had to ask himself if his heroic efforts were truly altruistic. He had become comfortable over the years with being called a hero, had even begun to think of himself in those terms, but if his efforts weren't truly selfless...if he was actually doing it for his own benefit... The central point of heroics after all was to put the needs of others in front of oneself. If he was staying out of the Zone out of an attempt to help himself more than any need to help others...
It was a disturbing thought, and not one that he particularly wanted to explore. Having finally slowed the shaking of his body, Danny rolled over to check the time and groaned loudly. Halfway through the night, and he knew from experience that there was no way he would be able to get back to sleep. He could go into the Zone, but Dani and Adrian would still be in bed. He didn't have the heart to wake them. However, he also had no desire to stay in his quarters. Like so many other occasions, the nightmare had left him with a feeling of restlessness. Giving up sleep as a bad job, Danny got dressed, intending to wander the corridors for a while. Maybe a walk would calm him down enough that he could get some rest.
As he often did when simply walking, Danny began to lose himself in memories. He thought of Tucker and Sam and Jazz, remembering all of the ridiculous situations the four had found themselves in. He thought of those first, terrifying, exhilarating days when his powers were more out of control than in, when they had all been young and inexperienced, figuring things out as they went and flying by the seat of their pants. Danny vividly remembered his first flight, his first ectoblast, his first battle. The adrenaline flowing and the wind in his hair, smart remarks flying past his lips. It was a freedom and confidence he had never known before.
He remembered the excitement of his secret, back when it was exciting instead of just a burden. He remembered how it felt to have something between him and his friends that was just for them. Something that set them apart from everyone else. Secret ghost hunters. He laughed sadly at the memory. Those bonds, that camaraderie...it could only be forged by going through the things that they had gone through together. It was a once in a lifetime thing...and Danny had never found its like again.
He remembered kissing Andrea for the first time beneath a giant oak on a high hill. If you turned your head you could just see the ruins of the city they had both lived in, utterly destroyed by the fury of the third world war. He remembered the light she had brought him in that, his darkest hour. How she had challenged him by her example, given him the strength to get up and move forward when all he had wanted to do was find a dark hole and pull the entrance in after him. He recalled the bittersweet satisfaction of rebuilding, creating a new future with Andrea at his side. He remembered the pain he had felt when he had decided to take Phantom out of the public eye, a sense of loss that he couldn't articulate even to this day.
Danny stopped short. He hadn't really been paying attention to where he was going. He had just let his feet wander, paying only the barest attention to his surroundings. Coming back to himself, he was surprised to find himself at the entrance to Ten Forward, a place that he usually avoided like the plague. Now however, the normally loud and boisterous area was empty and silent. Considering his options for a moment, Danny went in. Just like the first time he had been there, the whole place exuded a feeling of calm and peace. Without the usual crowds, Danny was free to enjoy the serene atmosphere, letting the soft light and curving lines of the architecture ease the tension from his muscles. Relaxing despite himself, he slid into a chair. Perhaps he should come here after hours more often.
"Do you want to talk about it?" The voice came out of nowhere. To a person who was used to defending himself at the slightest notice, the fact that someone was able to sneak up on him was both disconcerting and startling.
Whipping around, Danny found himself looking at an attractive dark skinned woman leaning on a bulkhead across the room. He recognized her as the woman who ran Ten-Forward, Guinan he thought her name was. Seeing that he avoided this place usually, he had never talked to her, but she had the reputation of intelligence and wisdom. Honestly, she was the type of person that he could've become close friends with if circumstances were different. "Excuse me?" He asked a little sharply. "What makes you think there's anything wrong."
She just smiled a knowing smile and approached him. "Of course there's something wrong," She said, sliding into a chair facing him. "You're in here well after hours, glaring at the bulkhead. In my experience, the only reason someone comes in here this late is that they have something bothering them."
"So..." She repeated. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Danny shook his head, caught off balance by Guinan's disarming nature and ancient eyes (like my eyes, he thought to himself). "It's nothing," He muttered. "Just a bad dream."
"Ah," She said compassionately. "Well, if anyone has the right to have a few bad dreams, it's you. I can't imagine how you get any sleep at all."
Danny looked at the dark skinned woman curiously. "What's that supposed to mean? I'm pretty fresh off the academy; I haven't had the chance to see things that would give me nightmares."
"No?" Guinan challenged. "Your eyes say differently. They say you've seen more horror than anyone on this ship."
Danny's eyes narrowed as they considered the woman sitting opposite him, her relaxed face and smiling (almost smug) expression.
She knew, he realized in a flash of inspiration. He had no idea how she knew, but she did. His entire body went rigid. Who had she told? Had she told the Captain? He had heard they were friends. He should go. He should pack his stuff and run to the Ghost Zone right now, before the news had time to spread.
Much as his logic was telling to get out of there and never look back however, he was held in place by Guinan's compassionate and non-threatening demeanour.
"How did you find out?" He whispered. "How long have you known?"
"Since the moment you walked in the door all those months ago." Danny gave her a sharp look. "Don't worry, I haven't told anyone. I don't intend to tell anyone either. As far as I'm concerned, it's your secret and it should be your choice for anyone to find out."
She shifted a little closer and gave him a conspiratorial smile. "As for how I knew...well, I don't know what you've heard, but I'm not so young myself." She went on, seeing Danny's uncomprehending look. "I remember hearing about you. Back when you were a household name. Back when the Disasteriod nearly destroyed the whole Earth and you helped save it. An entire world turning intangible? You were big news back then, big enough to reach beyond your own planet, and I always did enjoy listening to a good story."
Guinan smiled at his dumbfounded expression. "In any case, the point is that I know. There's no reason to be worried about secrets here." She sat back in her chair. "So, back to my original question, do you want to talk about it?"
Danny regarded Guinan in silence for a long time before letting his muscles relax. If she had wanted, she could've given him up a long time ago. Besides, there was something about her that made her seem trustworthy. Actually, now that he thought about it, she reminded him a great deal of Clockwork, albeit a less cryptic, female version of the time master. "It's nothing I can't handle." He finally relented. "Just old fears and old faces."
"Tell me about it." Guinan sounded genuinely interested.
Danny suddenly found the far wall very interesting. "If you remember back then, you may remember what kind of power I had, what kind of power I still have, because it hasn't degraded with age."
"No," Guinan agreed. "From what I understand, ghosts only get stronger as time goes on, although I suppose it was possible that your human half would negate that a little."
"It didn't." Danny assured her. "My power's increased the longer I exist. And that's the point. My greatest fear is that it's too much for one person to hold. I'm terrified that one day all that power will turn me into something just as bad as the things I've fought for centuries. That was my nightmare, that I had turned on everyone I cared about, that I had become a monster." The last sentence came out in little more than a whisper.
Guinan nodded her understanding. "I don't think it's an unusual fear, given your situation. Some would say that it's even healthy, making sure that you'll keep yourself in check."
Danny caught her eyes with his own. "And what would you say?"
Guinan paused consideringly. "You've held this power for centuries, and as far as I know, you haven't abused it. You've managed yourself. You've been a hero. Should you really torture yourself over something that history says you won't let happen?"
Danny chuckled without humour. "Tell that to my subconscious, it's the one making the dreams."
"True." Guinan allowed.
The two sat in silence for a long while. For Danny it was refreshing change. For the first time in a long time, he found himself truly enjoying the company of another person who was not dead. Danny relished the companionable silence so much, that he was almost sorry when Guinan broke it. "By the way, you wouldn't happen to know anything about these 'ghost' sightings that have been going around, would you?"
Danny glanced over. "It's not me, if that's what you're thinking."
"And that wasn't an answer." Guinan shot back with a smile.
Danny shrugged. "It's second nature for me to be cryptic. It comes from keeping secrets for so long." He paused. "It's her, the ensign who died. I was helping her test her powers and we wanted to see if she was old enough to be seen by non-ghosts."
"It's catching people's interest." Guinan cautioned. "The Captain has a lot of senior staff working on finding out the cause. He's worried that it might be the precursor to some major incident. It's not like it hasn't happened before."
Danny nodded. "I thought about that, but Adrian was curious and I was reluctant to deny her something that might make her happy so soon after the funeral. I figured that as long as we kept our heads down from here on in, the 'ghost' would eventually be forgotten."
"You're probably right." Guinan agreed. "Still, be careful... or at least, be more careful than usual."
Danny smiled, "I will." He glanced at the clock. "I should go; I still want to get some sleep tonight."
He got up as if to leave, but turned around before he reached the door. "I really enjoyed this." He said. "It's been a while since I could actually talk to someone out here, someone who understands."
Guinan smiled. "I know. If you ever want to talk again, you know where to find me."
Danny smiled as well, but it faded from his face and he looked at Guinan hard for a moment. "It's my secret right?" He asked.
"I won't tell a soul." Guinan assured.
"Not even the Captain?"
"Especially Jean-Luc. But for what it's worth, I think he'd take it very well. It's not like it was those centuries ago."
Danny smiled without humour. "I'm not so sure. Nothing ever really changes, little lone human nature."
"That's an awfully cynical way of seeing the universe." Guinan mused.
"You wouldn't be the first to tell me so." Danny said with a shrug. "And who knows, maybe this time I'll actually be proven wrong."
Guinan gave a little, helpless laugh. Turning around, Danny made his way back to his quarters, feeling better than he had in a very long time.
A/N: So? What did you think? I would really appreciate any comments on how I handled Guinan. I'm aware that I might be twisting canon here a little. I know that during Danny's time, Guinan was not on Earth, but I know she spent some time there previously and I kind of think that she'd take an interest in any news. I also think that an entire planet becoming intangible might be the sort of thing that gets out into the wider universe, if only because of the scientific oddness of it. Plus, you know, she's Guinan...she knows all sorts of mysterious and inexplicable things.
Let me know!