AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello, dear readers! Well, here we are again. Hopefully, for those of you who are longtime readers of my work, I haven't kept you waiting for TOO long. The truth is, this story ended up taking a little longer than I'd originally anticipated, due to various setbacks, which I won't burden you with here. In any event, the latest story in my Danny Phantom series is here now and I hope it meets with the usual standards you've come to expect from me.
For those of you to whom this is the first time reading one of my stories, you might find yourselves occasionally venturing into unfamiliar territory. If you find you have any questions, my previous stories should do quite well in providing you with the answers. The list is as follows...
"Facing the Future"
"Strength in Numbers"
"Trial by Fire"
"Hearts and Minds"
Hope you enjoy those stories as much as this one. But enough talk. It's time to start the show.
Danny Phantom: A Family Thing
"You remember those ghost mosquitoes that Penelope Spectra infected all the kids at school with last year?"
"Oh…more than a little vaguely."
Danny had every right to be feeling nostalgic at that moment. Floating in the skies above Amity Park in their transformed states, both he and Sam had their vision trained upward toward a massive ghost bee hovering menacingly over the city. Easily the size of a city bus, its wings beat furiously, sounding like the roar of a dragster engine.
"Boy, I sure do miss 'em right now," Danny groaned, not looking forward to the battle ahead.
"Ah, the good ol' days," Sam remarked dryly.
Dismissing Danny and Sam as hardly much of a threat, the ghost bee turned its attention downward and dove towards the earth below. A split second later, its proboscis shot forth like a spear, heading straight towards a large bed of flowers in a nearby park.
Despite its massive size, the bee's proboscis touched down in a surprisingly subtle fashion, piercing one single flower as delicately as the prick of a dropped pin. However, there was nothing delicate about what happened next. In one motion, the bee drained not only the nectar of the one flower, but all the nutrients of EVERY flower, reducing the entire bed to a withered husk in a matter of seconds.
"Okay, now I'm usually not opposed to outsourcing. However, in this case, I think I'm going to have to get a little territorial," Sam commented after gasping in shock at the destruction the bee had just wrought. "I'm all about bees being essential to the environment and all, but only when they're from, oh you know…OUR OWN PLANE OF EXISTENCE!"
Acting fast, Danny unleashed a barrage of Ghost Ray blasts in the bee's direction. But again, the bee proved that it was not to be judged by its size as it dodged Danny's attack with lightning speed. Flying back upwards towards this pair of newfound pests, the bee's offensive tip finally came into play as its massive stinger streaked forward, heading straight towards Danny and Sam.
Danny and Sam were forced to split up, just narrowly avoiding the stinger's deadly tip. However, that just made it easier for the bee to focus its attack as there was only one left in its line of sight…
Bobbing and weaving, Danny was just barely able to avoid repeated strikes from the bee's stinger before using his freezing ecto-energy to shield himself behind a thick wall of ice. Again, the bee's stinger lashed out and plunged into the ice. But even though it was stuck inside the frozen barrier, it still just missed piercing Danny's heart by mere millimeters.
"Um, excuse me," Sam's voice sounded from behind just as the bee felt a firm tap on the back of its thorax.
Turning its head, the bee looked over to see Sam floating just a few feet away, her Ghost Ray energy molded into a giant replica of her own hand. With the bee unable to escape in time, Sam seized the opportunity as her Ghost Ray hand simply flicked the bee with its finger. And Danny's ice shield was shattered as the bee was flung head over tarsus through the air before slamming into a brick wall several blocks away.
"Al-right Sam!" Danny exclaimed, clearly impressed with her feat.
"Uh, Danny…?" Sam responded nervously. "HONEY!"
"What?" Danny called over with a shrug, only to finally turn his head as Sam pointed behind him. And he could only gasp in surprise as the bee had already recovered with alarming speed, charging back towards them with its proboscis blowing a massive stream of honey in their direction.
"Well, what did you THINK I meant when I was yelling at you?" Sam complained as she and Danny walked down to the Fenton Works lab, both still transformed and covered head to toe in the bee's honey.
"Well, I…thought you were just calling to me," Danny answered with a shrug, holding the Fenton Thermos with the bee trapped inside. "You know…'Honey'…"
"Danny…we're not 30," Sam remarked with a hollow sigh, rolling her eyes briefly. "I'm still working on a pet name for you yet. I just need a little more time."
"Oh, goodie, I can't WAIT to hear this one," Danny joked.
"Thank you, your confidence overwhelms me," Sam shot back sarcastically before flashing Danny a warm smile, showing that she was taking his comment with general good humor. "Don't worry, I promise it'll be something you'll like."
"Danny? Sam?" Maddie called out, peeking out from behind the Specter Speeder with Jack, only to gasp in shock and come running over at the sight of them. "What on earth happened to you two?"
"Well, let's just say that if beekeepers ever get the choice between looking after one bee or thousands, they might want to take a look at what we just went through before they actually decide," Danny answered as Maddie pulled with everything she had, finally managing to wrench the Fenton Thermos out of his honey-coated hand.
"Well…at least you're both okay," Maddie noted, partially distracted from her motherly worry as she fought to keep the Fenton Thermos from sticking to her own hands now. "But Sam obviously can't go home looking like that."
"No sweat, Baby-cakes," Jack chimed in enthusiastically as he burst into view, holding an all-too familiar device in hand. "There's no ecto-mess that the Fenton Ghost Weasel can't take care of. If it's ghostly and it's gross, this bad boy will suck it right up."
"Well, points for the new catchy slogan, at least," Sam pointed out under her breath as Jack turned the Fenton Weasel on.
"Uh, Dad…?" Danny tried to interrupt, both he and Sam looking noticeably nervous.
"Jack, I know you want to help, but don't you think you ought to…?" Maddie started to say.
But her warning came too late as Jack was already activating the Fenton Weasel at its highest setting. With his eyes shut tight in anticipation, he couldn't even hear Danny and Sam's panicked yelps over the growl of the motor. And by the time Jack was paying attention again, Danny and Sam had disappeared from the room. Of course, even without the Fenton Weasel speakers turned on, it wasn't hard to figure out where the two had ended up.
"…wait…for them…to change…back," Maddie finished her thought with an exasperated sigh while Jack could only let out a pair of perplexed, wide-eyed blinks.
"Huh," Sam noted to Danny from inside the Fenton Weasel with a slightly interested tone. "You know, this is actually slightly roomier than making out in your closet."
Elsewhere, in a room that would otherwise be pitch-black, a series of bright monitors were showcasing recent footage of Danny and Sam's most recent battles. As the scenes played out onscreen, a pair of blood red eyes gazed intently through the shadows, paying particularly close attention to two screens. One screen showing Danny and Sam's fight against Vortex and another screen showing the fight, later on, against Nocturne.
"Vortex and Nocturne. This wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I helped to set them free. Although, in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have been too surprised that either one would attempt something like this," the voice behind the eyes declared through the blackness as the stranger watched both ghosts' complete and utter defeat before focusing attention specifically on Danny. "I suppose it's fortunate that neither of them was able to get the job done. After all, HE will soon be one of the pieces to my ultimate victory."
"The girl, unfortunately, remains an unexpected development. But she's little more than a nuisance at this point. If all goes according to plan, she'll be no real threat," the voice went on, regarding Sam onscreen for only the briefest moment. Just then, the screen footage blinked away and was replaced by still pictures of four individuals, one for each screen…Danny, Jack, Maddie and Jazz.
"THESE are going to be your real targets, my dear," the voice concluded. "When the time comes…DON'T MISS."
Just then, a pair of glowing green eyes opened up from the far corner of the room, piercing the darkness. Looking up towards the monitors, they formed into a hard frown. Or at least, it appeared hard at first glance. But even though the eyes' expression looked stern, there was something missing behind their gaze. Sullen and glazed over, it seemed as if they had absolutely no life of their own…like they were completely dead inside.
The next day pretty much came and went without incident as Danny and Sam walked home from school, hand-in-hand, with Tucker only a couple steps ahead. Of course, when most of the trip was spent listening to Tucker's laughter, they were beginning to regret having told him about their little mishap with the Fenton Weasel the day before.
"Okay, Tucker, we got it," Danny remarked, sharing Sam's indignant frown as Tucker continued snickering. "It wasn't THAT funny."
"Yeah it is!" Tucker blurted out with another burst of laughter as Danny and Sam rolled their eyes. "I mean, come on, think about it. How inevitable was that, really? I'm just sorry I missed it when it finally happened."
"I'm crying for you, Tucker. I really am," Sam replied dryly as they reached the steps of Fenton Works, only to be taken out of the moment as they noticed a rather paunchy, middle-aged stranger sitting with Jack and Maddie in the living room.
"Who's the dude?" Tucker whispered, slightly caught off guard by the stranger's appearance.
"You got me," Sam answered under her breath, "Looks kinda familiar, though."
"Oh, kids, you're just in time," Maddie announced in her usual cheerful demeanor, "Come on in. I want you guys to meet Bradley Milton."
"Bradley Milton? You mean, Bradley Milton, the board game king?" Tucker exclaimed.
"That's right, I remember him now," Sam added with a snap of her fingers and a hollow chuckle. "My parents tried to drag me to one of his ultra-swanky 'Rich Guy' parties last year."
"How'd that go?" Danny replied, his tone of voice indicating that he didn't really need to ask the question.
"Oh, I…MIGHT have made a harmless suggestion or two about how my not attending might possibly be in the best interest of his property values," Sam answered, rolling her eyes innocently while Danny simply followed up with an amused smirk.
"Actually, we were just sitting down to talk. It seems that Mr. Milton has a rather unusual problem that he would like our help with," Maddie explained, the tone of her voice suddenly becoming more serious. "Danny…maybe this is something you might want to listen to as well."
"Uh…sure…okay…," Danny replied uneasily, picking up on his mother's hint and walking into the living room.
"Well, as I was saying," Milton explained, "I…think my house may be haunted. For the last few months, all manner of strange things have been happening. Loud noises, cold chills, things being knocked over or moved. I don't think I've had a full night's sleep in weeks. And then, just a few days ago, my security system caught this silhouette on camera."
Curiously, Danny walked up behind Jack and Maddie as Milton handed them a blown up photo image, and peered over their shoulders. Jack and Maddie could only stare at the image with interest, unsure what to make of it. But as Danny looked at the silhouette in the photo, his eyes instantly went wide.
"The truth is I'm at my wits end. I have absolutely no idea how to deal with…whatever this is. The only option I had left was to come here. After all, it's a well-known fact that you ARE considered to be the best ghost hunters around."
"You had us at 'best'," Jack replied, both he and Maddie flashing an enthusiastic grin. "Fear not. You have the undying word of Jack Fenton that by the time this weekend is out, this felonious phantasm shall trouble you no more."
"Uh, Mom? Dad?" Danny chimed in, snapping the photo into his hands. "Maybe…I don't know…I could…come along? You know, maybe…help you catch this…whatever it is?"
"Great idea, Danny," Jack answered, lightly elbowing Danny in the ribs and flashing a knowing wink, even as Sam dropped her jaw in disbelief. "After all, your mother and I can use all the help we can get."
"Um, sorry to interrupt, but, uh…if you don't mind, Danny and I have something we need to talk about," Sam interrupted, giggling nervously as she dragged Danny out of the living room before pinning him against the hallway wall.
"Danny, what are you doing? This was supposed to be OUR weekend. We went out of our way to make sure we didn't have any studying or projects or anything so we could have it all to ourselves," Sam whispered innocently enough. But her voice quickly turned acid as she grabbed Danny's shirt and pulled him close, glaring into his eyes and hissing through clenched teeth.
"Sam, I know, believe me," Danny answered under his breath before flashing the photo in front of Sam's face. "But…LOOK at it."
Tossing Danny a cynical look, Sam snatched the photo away. But as she looked down at the image before her, her eyes went wide and her gaze instantly went back to Danny, who only looked back at her with concern.
"I don't know," Danny answered worriedly. "But if it is, I've gotta be the one to find out what's going on…before Mom and Dad start shooting first and asking questions later. You know what I mean?"
Sam could only respond with an understanding nod before taking Danny's hand and walking back into the living room. Once inside, they could see that Jack had already been to the lab and back with an armload of equipment that he couldn't wait to demonstrate.
"Not to worry; what you're seeing right now is the absolute top-of-the-line in ghost-hunting technology," he announced, slinging the Fenton Weasel over his shoulder. "There hasn't been a spook or specter yet that's been able to escape once this sucker gets fired up…!"
"Uh, Jack?" Maddie interrupted, sounding a little pensive as the incident from the night before remained quite fresh in her mind, "Maybe it would be better if I handled the Fenton Weasel for this particular job."
"Ooooohhh, but it's still my turn," Jack whined.
"Ja-ack," Maddie called over temptingly, dangling another object in front of his eyes. "I'll let you use the Fen-ton Foam-er."
"Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo…Deal!" Jack excitedly agreed, immediately dropping the Fenton Weasel before snapping the Fenton Foamer out of Maddie's hands and aiming it about the room like a trained sniper. "Just you wait, Milty ol' boy. The instant that filthy ghost enters this baby's line of sight…SPLAT!"
Unfortunately, Jack's enthusiasm once again got the better of him. For no sooner did he cry out then his finger tensed on the trigger of the Fenton Foamer, unleashing a high-powered blast of its ecto-cleaning fluid. A blast which hit Tucker square in the face, knocking him back and sending him flying across the room to land in a bubbly mess at Danny and Sam's feet.
"Okay, now see? THAT'S funny," Danny remarked with an amused lilt, while Sam could only cover her mouth to keep from giggling and Tucker merely responded with a dull frown.
"So, exactly how did I get dragged into this?" Jazz complained as Maddie loaded the equipment she was carrying into the Fenton RV. "I mean, I understand why you guys would want Danny to come along, but why do I have to go?"
"Oh come on, Jazz, it'll be fun," Maddie coaxed, almost on the verge of squealing with excitement. "Besides, isn't it nice to be able to do something together as a family?"
"What, going on a picnic or taking a nice quiet walk is too much to ask?" Jazz muttered in protest.
"Oh, we can do that later if there's time, Sweetie," Maddie answered, drawing only a heavy sigh out of her daughter.
"Well, shouldn't Danny at least be helping with this?" Jazz went on as she walked around the RV, "Danny, where are…!"
Of course, Jazz was instantly stopped in her tracks as she turned the corner to see Sam pinning Danny against the side of the RV by his wrists, her lips pressed to his in a long, passionate kiss. And Jazz was quick to suck the words back into her mouth, turning back the way she came to let them have their moment.
"Okay," was all Danny could get out at first, after Sam's lips slowly parted from his, although the tone of his voice indicated that he was hardly complaining, "So…what was THAT for?"
"Oh, just giving you some incentive to make sure there's at least a little bit of weekend left when you get back," Sam answered suggestively, to which Danny could only let out a loud sigh.
"You're REALLY not making this easy for me, are you?" he groaned as he hung his head in guilt.
"Hey, I'm the girlfriend. Not in my job description," Sam replied with a lighthearted shrug before holding Danny's hands warmly and pressing her forehead to his. "Seriously, though, hurry back. You know how crazy I get when you're not around."
"Trust me, the feeling's mutual," Danny answered softly, looking deeply into her eyes.
For a few seconds, it looked as though another tender moment was in the making as Danny and Sam shared another soft peck on the lips and began to snuggle in close, their fingers slowly locking together. But such hopes were quickly dashed as Danny suddenly found himself buried under an avalanche of Fenton gear, with Jack enthusiastically standing over him.
"Chop-chop, boy, we've got a long weekend ahead!" Jack announced excitedly, "And we've still got a lot of packing to do!"
"And I guess that's my cue to exit," Sam added jokingly. "I'll leave the heavy lifting to you."
"You're a credit to your gender, you know that?" a dazed Danny remarked sarcastically from under the pile of equipment.
"I'm gonna do you a favor and pretend I wasn't listening," Sam called over her shoulder with a smirk as she walked off.
"Thank you," Danny responded in a dry groan.
When the Fentons arrived at the Milton residence, they discovered a palatial mansion standing like an impenetrable castle fortress, as high and as wide as the eye could see. Also, it was surprisingly dark and foreboding for a man like Milton, who had made his fortune designing games for families and children. Indeed, it was a very imposing sight to behold, almost as if whoever lived there was going out of their way to immediately intimidate anyone who approached it.
"Uh, guys? Am I the only one who thinks there's something REALLY not right about this place?" Jazz felt the need to ask as a strange uncomfortable feeling began to wash over her.
"Well Jazz, of course, there's something not right. There's supposed to be a ghost here, isn't there?" Maddie answered, rather amused at her daughter's question. "That's why we came, Silly."
"I'm not talking about that. It's just…something about the way this building looks." Jazz observed as she scanned over the building, her sense of dread now mixed with curiosity. "I can't put my finger on it. There's something about this whole setup that just feels…very familiar…and not in a good way."
"Aw, pay no attention, Jazzy-pants," Jack responded dismissively. "You know how weird some of these rich folks can get. After all, we got a little carried away ourselves when we got all that government cash, remember?"
"I guess," Jazz replied with a shrug, still looking back at the house with an uncertain look. "I don't know…I hope it's just my imagination."
"Oh, thank goodness you've arrived!" Milton exclaimed, as he came down the steps to meet them, giving Jazz no more time to dwell on her thought. "I don't think I could endure this torture for one more day!"
"Well, you have nothing to worry about anymore, Mr. Milton," Maddie reassured straightforwardly. "You're under Fenton Works' protection now. Okay, we'll make this spot around the RV our base of operations. Let's start getting unpacked."
For a while, Jazz had no time to reflect on her earlier worries. But everything soon came rushing back in a flood as she was carrying some equipment into the house and happened to peer down one of the long hallways leading up to the outside door. Down at the far end was a floating figure which appeared to Jazz to be very familiar.
"Danny?" she blurted out, her gaze quickly darting back and forth to make sure no non-Fentons were able to hear her before turning her attention back down the hall. "What are you doing all the way over there? And why are you going ghost already? If Mr. Milton sees you, he'll have us trying to hunt YOU down."
The spectral image spoke not a word in reply, but simply turned its attention to Jazz. Then, just as curiously, it turned and flew off behind the corner of an adjoining hallway.
"Danny, where are you going?" Jazz called over, completely perplexed.
"What are you talking about?" Danny's voice sounded as he came up behind her with his own load, giving Jazz a jolt as she whirled around in surprise.
"Danny…? But…how did you…? You were just…I could have sworn I just saw…!" Jazz rambled, with absolutely no clue what was going on. But as Jazz was carrying on, a sudden look of panic came across Danny's face.
"Excuse me, I'll be right back," he uttered straightforwardly, though he was still clearly concerned as he dropped the gear he was carrying and rushed off down the hall as fast as he could go.
"What…? Danny wait!" Jazz shouted after him, wanting an explanation. Unfortunately, before she could get one, a sudden blast of fluid from the Fenton Foamer hit her square in the face from outside, covering her from head to toe.
"Sorry, Honey, just cleaning out the old flow tubes!" Jack yelled, leaving Jazz with no choice but to go back to the RV and get cleaned up.
Danny, meanwhile, had just reached the end of the hallway, peering down the way in the direction Jazz's mysterious entity had flown. But as he looked, all he found was a darkened corridor, with no sign that anyone was ever there at all. Though that was hardly a surprise to Danny, he couldn't help feel disappointed as he let out a heavy sigh.
"Is that really you?" he thought out loud, shaking his head in confusion as he looked back into the emptiness, as if the shadows could somehow provide him with the answers he was seeking. "What are you doing here?"
The setting sun and the coming night only made the Milton Mansion all the more ominous as the Fentons had finished setting up their equipment and were spreading out to begin their search. While Jack paired off with Maddie, exploring one side of the mansion, Danny, under the cover story that he would be with Jazz in the Fenton RV, was floating around the other side of the mansion in his ghost form. Meanwhile, Milton, insisting that he not be left alone, was nervously wading through the darkened hallways as well, mostly keeping himself hidden behind Maddie and occasionally, behind Jack.
"Anything on the scans, Jazz?" Maddie whispered into her earpiece as they slowly made their way through the halls.
"Nothing yet," Jazz, replied, her eyes shifting back and forth between a series of screens inside the RV.
"Oh, this is unbearable. It's like waiting for a snake to spring out and bite you," Milton shuddered, his face a pale mask of fear before he pulled himself up against Maddie's back, firmly grasping her shoulders. "You won't let it get me, will you?"
"I assure you, you're perfectly safe," Maddie answered with a groan of effort as she heaved Milton off her. "Now Mr. Milton, if you don't mind. You're almost as bad as Jack whenever I'm baking snicker doodles."
"Didsomeonesaysnickerdoodles?" Jack blurted out in anticipation as he rushed forward, looming over Maddie's shoulder and sandwiching Milton between them.
"Jack, would-you-STOP?" Maddie complained, shoving them both back and continuing on ahead.
"Danny, have you found anything?" Jazz asked.
"Nothing yet," Danny replied simply as he looked around. Although his answer didn't seem to satisfy Jazz as she braced herself to ask what she knew would be a very uncomfortable question.
Before Jazz could complete her sentence, however, something instantly appeared on the RV's scans. Shaking off her surprise at all the blipping and beeping that was going on around her, Jazz quickly scanned the monitors, only to find nothing. But as she looked at one monitor displaying a map of the mansion's floors, she caught sight of an ectoplasmic reading besides Danny's. And as soon as she noticed where exactly it was, her eyes widened in dread.
"Mom! Dad! I just got a hit! Something's there behind you! Coming up fast!" she shouted, hoping to get Jack and Maddie's attention. But to her added shock, she received no response from either one of them, as they continued their slow descent down the hallway.
"Jazz, what's going on?" Danny called into his earpiece, able to hear his sister's cries.
"I don't know! They're…not responding!" Jazz answered in a panic. "Something must be wrong with their comm. systems! They can't hear me!"
"Quick, tell me where they are!" Danny hollered.
"Main Floor, Hallway 2-B!" Jazz reported.
Without another word, Danny took off like a shot, phasing through the walls with all the speed he could muster as Maddie and Jack remained oblivious as to what was going on. Meanwhile, on the other side, a pair of glowing green eyes suddenly pierced through the darkness, slowly making their way towards Jack, who was taking up the rear of the convoy with Maddie and Milton. But Jack remained completely oblivious, his focus straight ahead, even as a tiny gloved hand gradually reached out towards him.
"OOLPH!" a high-pitched voice cried out as Danny coasted through one wall and slammed into the shadowy figure, phasing the both of them through the wall opposite just as Jack and Maddie whirled around. Still at top speed, Danny phased the mysterious ghost through four more rooms before finally stopping himself, leaving the ghost to bounce along the floor to an eventual stop.
"Danny! Danny, did you stop it?" Jazz exclaimed into the comm. system as Danny looked on at what he was facing. "What is it? Can you get a good look…?"
Just then, Jazz's words were cut off as Danny' purposely shut off his earpiece, just as the strange ghost was rising to its feet. Finally seeing what he was up against for the first time and confirming the fears he'd been feeling ever since he saw the photo at Fenton Works, he could only stand and stare, his jaw left hanging open.
"It IS you…I didn't want to believe it," he uttered under his breath, shaking his head in complete disbelief as the ghost stared back at him. "But I knew…I knew it was you…"
"…What are you DOING here, Danielle?"
Standing on the other side of the room, without a word and with only a stern frown on her face stood none other than the ghost form of Danielle, Danny's younger female clone. But even though her fists were clenched tightly as if preparing to leap forward and attack with everything she had, there was something missing behind the gaze of her glowing eyes. Sullen and glazed over, it seemed as if they had absolutely no life of their own…like they were completely dead inside.
"Danielle? Are you okay?" Danny asked, pensively stepping towards her.
But all Danny got for an answer was Danielle bursting towards him, her fists blazing with ecto-energy. And Danny was lucky enough to react when he did, just barely avoiding a crushing blow. But Danielle wasn't thrown off in the least, skidding to a stop and following up with a barrage of Ghost Ray blasts. Acting fast, Danny threw out his hand, unleashing a wave of Ghost Ray energy to cancel out Danielle's attack. But the resulting explosion shook the house, getting Jack and Maddie's attention as they ran down the hall with Milton to find the shortest route to where the blasts were coming from.
"Danielle, stop it! What's gotten into you?" Danny exclaimed, more confused than ever.
But once again, Danielle's only reply came in the form of an attack, flying towards Danny and letting loose a hail of punches. Even though not a single one of her punches made contact, she was still managing to force back Danny, who remained reluctant to attack her. But eventually, he was backed up against the far side of the room. And with nowhere to go, Danielle seized the opportunity to strike. But this time, her attack was thwarted as Danny reached out and caught her fist with little effort. Instinctively, Danielle lashed out again, only to have her other fast end up clamped tightly in Danny's free hand.
"KNOCK IT OFF!" Danny shouted as he whirled around, slamming Danielle into the wall and keeping her pinned down, no matter how hard she struggled and thrashed. "Enough is enough! You can't beat me, Danielle. Now what's going on here?"
"DANIELLE, TALK TO ME!"
But again, Danielle offered no reply. All she did was let out a yell as a surge of ecto-energy ripped from her body, threatening to blow Danny to atoms. Fortunately, Danny was able to throw up a cocoon of ecto-energy to protect himself, but the force of the wave still drove him back almost the entire length of the room. By the time Danny was able to get his bearings and looked back over, Danielle had disappeared.
"What is the deal?" Danny thought out loud, lost in a haze of confusion. "It was like…she couldn't even hear me."
"Freeze!" Jack and Maddie's voices could be heard from the next room as the doors could be heard bashing open.
Apparently, without their earpieces working, Jack and Maddie were forced to go room by room, knocking down every door until they found the one they were looking for. But their shouting was more than enough to give Danny his cue as he turned invisible and phased through the floor.
"FREEZE!" Jack and Maddie shouted again as they kicked open the door to the room Danny was just in, leaping inside with Milton in tow.
Aside from the obvious damage left behind by Danny's fight with Danielle, the room remained just as empty as all the others. But before anyone could try and figure out what was going on, Danny had phased up through the floor in the outside hallway, changing back and running into the room.
"Mom! Dad! Are you guys alright?" Danny called. "Jazz said there was something near you guys but she couldn't get through on the comm. system, so she sent me in to find you. I…guess I got a little lost."
"Oh. Well…we're fine Sweetie," Maddie replied, taking care to keep Danny's cover even as the devastation in the room clearly indicated that he'd been fighting something. "Uh…you…didn't happen to see anything while you were running around, did you?"
"Well, I…thought I saw SOMETHING," Danny answered reluctantly, still none too eager to reveal or explain Danielle's existence. "But I…didn't get such a good look."
"O-kaaaayyyyy," Maddie concluded, even as she exchanged an uncertain look with Jack. "Well, we'd better start running some scans of the area. See if we can pick up any traces that might give us a clue where it went."
Somehow, Maddie got the sense that Danny knew more than he was telling, but she wasn't about to press the issue with Milton still hanging about. Her silence, however, instantly put Danny more at ease as he breathed a sigh of relief. It didn't alter his worry, though, as he continued staring into space, wondering what was happening to Danielle.
In light of what had almost happened before, Jack and Maddie decided that scanning the house from afar rather than going room by room was a more efficient approach to the situation. Unfortunately, what that meant was more hours of equipment setup, and it was well into the dead of night before everything was ready to go.
Danny, at the time, was all too happy to help, if for no other reason than it gave him a chance to keep searching the house for any signs of Danielle, who still had yet to make an appearance since her original effort to attack Maddie and Jack. And Danny still had no idea why Danielle would do such a thing. Of course, Danny had yet to make heads or tails of anything that had happened since this situation began.
"Come on Danielle, where ARE you?" Danny whispered with a frustrated sigh, looking around the main study as he was finishing up his work. "I don't know how much longer I can keep my parents from…"
"Danny?" Jazz's voice cut him off from behind as he turned to see her standing in the doorway. "Can I talk to you for a second?"
"Uh…sure. What do you need?" Danny replied, pretending to busy himself behind a control panel. But it was still several moments before he heard Jazz let out a sigh.
"Look…there's no easy way for me to do this, so I'm just going to come right out and say it," Jazz started. "It's just, well…Mom said you didn't get a good look at…whatever it is that's in here, but I think you did. Do you know who this ghost is that we're looking for?"
"Wh-at?" Danny exclaimed, the nervousness in his voice multiplying tens of times over as he kept his face hidden from Jazz so she couldn't see his eyes darting back and forth. "What…what would make you say something like that?"
"Danny, I know you," Jazz continued, becoming more assertive in her position. "You've been on pins and needles ever since this whole thing started. I haven't seen you this nervous and jittery since back when you were still hiding your powers from Mom and Dad. And I think that whoever this ghost is, they're the cause of it."
"Look, I know I'm not all that great when it comes to respecting your privacy sometimes, but this is kind of important," Jazz went on to say. "Something is going on here, Danny, and somehow, you're right in the middle of it."
"Danny, please, I'm just worried about you. What haven't you told us about this ghost? What is it that you don't want anyone to know?"
At that moment, Danny stopped his pretend fidgeting and could only hang his head and sigh. Only Jazz could hand him a guilt trip like that by playing the "Loving Big Sister" card. Of course, she only ever did it to show how much she cared. But still, how could he possibly explain to his family who this ghost was and expect them to understand that there's a Fenton child they didn't even know existed?
"Jazz…" he groaned slightly as he turned and forced himself to face her, "…I…NO!"
Danny's solemn face suddenly turned into a white mask of terror as he spied Danielle floating just inches away from Jazz. But before Jazz had time to turn around in response to Danny's reaction, Danielle reached behind her right ear. Danny couldn't tell what exactly Danielle did, but whatever it was, Jazz's eyes rolled back and she instantly lost consciousness, falling back into Danielle's arms.
"Let her go!" Danny shouted, not even thinking to transform as he ran towards them. "What did you do?"
But again, Danielle made no reply. She simply turned invisible and phased through the floor with Jazz before Danny could reach them. Finally piecing together enough presence of mind to remember his ghost powers, Danny phased his head through the floor and looked downward, only to find an empty basement room. Hardly a surprise, since Danielle had turned invisible.
But that logic hardly brought Danny any comfort as he popped his head back up and ran outside, where Jack and Maddie were just putting the final stages of activation for their scan of the house. Danny still had no idea what was going on, but at that moment, he was long past caring…about that OR about keeping secrets. Keeping his mouth shut this long had now only put Jazz in danger. And whatever Danielle was doing no longer mattered. Clone or not, the minute she took an aggressive action against a member of his own family, she brought this on herself.
"And…DONE!" Maddie announced as she powered up the enormous scanning system. "Now we have a clear scan of every room in the house. If there's anything ecto in there, we'll know it."
"Shhhhhh…be very, very quiet. We're hunting ghosts," Jack stated silently, looking over the scanning monitors with Milton sitting nervously beside him. "Once this system gets a lead on that bad boy, we'll be able to rush in and…BAM!"
At that moment, Jack's heavy fist came down hard on the control panel, where the launcher for the Fenton Foamer was leaning against. And that vibration was heavy enough to set off the Foamer's hair trigger, blasting a full stream of fluid straight into Milton's face.
"Oh, uh…sorry there Milty ol' boy," Jack apologized as Maddie gave him a disapproving look.
"OH, YOU LOUSY, STUPID CLUMSY…!" Milton started shouting at the top of his lungs, only to finally clear his vision and see Jack and Maddie giving him surprised looks. "…and…that…was very…inappropriate…of me. I apologize. All this business has just been devastated my sleep, you see."
"Mom! Dad! Jazz is gone!" Danny shouted, running into the RV before Jack and Maddie had time to respond to this latest issue. "The ghost grabbed her and just…flew her away."
"WHAT?" Jack and Maddie shouted in unison.
"Jack, forget waiting for the scan! I'm going in!" Maddie exclaimed, grabbing a bazooka and dashing for the door. "Danny, stay here with your father and Mr. Milton. You'll be safer out here."
Maddie had good reason to not want Danny in the house as she began her frantic search. In the current mode she was in, she knew she was going to be shooting at anything that floated. And the last thing Maddie wanted was Danny ending up in her line of fire as she scanned every nook and cranny for the creature that abducted her daughter. But she wasn't just out ghost shooting, either. She was also looking for Jazz. After all, wherever the ghost took her, logically, it had to be somewhere in the house. And whichever one she found first, she was going to be perfectly happy.
"Maddie, I just got a blip on the scan," Jack called through the comm. system. "It's on the second floor, in the trophy room."
"On my way!" Maddie responded as she bounded up the stairs, two at a time, reaching the trophy room in a matter of seconds and kicking the door open. "Alright, you putrid, rancid ball of…! Jazz?"
Sure enough, laid out on one of the plush seats in front of the fireplace, was Jazz, still unconscious. The very sight of her instantly triggered Maddie's maternal instincts, overriding her defenses as she peeled off her Haz-Mat hood and dropped the bazooka.
"Jazz? Jazz, it's Mommy, sweetheart," she called out, running across the room towards her. "Are you okay?"
"Mom, wait! DON'T!" Danny shouted into the comm. system, trying desperately to get her attention.
But his warning came too late. Before Maddie could react, Danielle, who had been invisibly hiding in the room, appeared behind her, reaching behind her ear as she had done with Jazz only minutes before. The only sound that came through the comm. system next was Maddie letting out a slight groan as she collapsed to the floor in a heap.
"NO!" Danny exclaimed, panic taking hold as he turned to Jack. "Dad, we've got to get in there and…!"
But Danny's confusion only intensified as he looked with horror to see Jack slumped over the control panel, completely unconscious, just like Maddie and Jazz. And standing over Jack's prone form was none other than Bradley Milton himself, a twisted grin stretched across his pudgy face.
"Finally," he stated, with a tone of immense satisfaction in his voice. "I've been wanting to do that all day."
"Mr. Milton?" Danny blurted out, but quickly regaining his focus when he realized he had no time to be confused. "What have you done to him?"
"Oh, have no fear. I assure you, your father is perfectly safe…," Milton stated, his eyes glowing red. But just then, something floated out of Milton's glowing body…the true owner of those piercing red eyes…and appeared in front of Danny, much to his shock.
"…After all, I would HATE for him to miss what's coming next."
"Vlad Plasmius?" Danny blurted out, wondering what other twists could possibly pop up at this point to confuse him even more.
"Oh, come now, Daniel. You mean to tell me, you never even once suspected?" Vlad taunted, reaching behind the ear of a dazed Milton before he could gain his bearing and rendering him as unconscious as the Fentons. "Still needing to be led by your nose from A to B to C before you can actually figure anything out. Who else do you think could have had the knowledge or ability to bring your dear, sweet 'cousin' into this whole affair?"
"Danielle?" Danny responded, his anger finally overpowering his confusion as he transformed. "How did you even find her?"
"Oh, you CAN'T be serious. In the middle of all this, you have to ask the most completely irrelevant question first," Vlad complained, looking more than a little disappointed. "Did you actually think that I'd ever truly LOST her?"
"But…why?" Danny had to ask, even as he readied himself for the inevitable battle to come. "What's this all about, Plasmius?"
"Oh, there, you see? NOW we're getting somewhere." Vlad replied, sounding so delighted. "But I'm afraid the answers are going to have to wait."
Just then, Danielle appeared right behind Danny, getting his attention. But before he could figure out what to do next, Danielle tossed a familiar looking black cube in front of his feet. The cube instantly grew and enveloped Danny, boxing him in. And an instant later, a surge of electricity ripped through Danny's body, undoing his transformation. The last thing Danny remembered seeing before passing out was Vlad standing over him, with Danielle floating close behind.
"Oh, don't worry my boy," Vlad added, just as Danny's vision began to blacken. "I promise that you're going to get all the answers you can handle soon enough."
"Unnh…uh, Dan…Danny? DANNY!"
Sam shot up from her head with a shout. Luckily, even though she'd been screaming at the top of her lungs, she hadn't woken up her parents. After all, she would have hated to try and explain what she was feeling at that moment. Flooded with sweat and panting like she'd just run 20 miles, she tried desperately to calm her frazzled nerves by convincing herself that it she had just been dreaming. But as she clutched her chest and felt her heart rumbling inside her like a Formula-1 engine, she knew…deep down inside her, she knew…
…it was no dream.
… … … …
"So…what's the deal with this that it can't wait until a civilized waking hour?" a dazed and annoyed Tucker had to ask, sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes as Sam, in her ghost form, stood inside his bedroom.
"You're…not going to believe me," Sam could only nervously state in reply, unsure of what Tucker would make of any explanation she might have to give.
"Sam, you're waking me up at three in the morning and telling me that we have to rush off and find Danny because you had a bad dream," Tucker muttered with a yawn, his head already heading back down toward his pillow. "I ALREADY don't believe you."
"It wasn't a dream…!" Sam shouted before remembering where she was and pulling back her voice and letting out a heavy sigh. "Look…have you…ever…noticed…that Danny and I, we kinda…'sync up' and do this…'mirror' thing…when we're together?"
"Oh, just about every day of every week of every month of every year since I've met you," Tucker answered sarcastically.
"Subtle," Sam responded dryly before moving on. "Anyway, it…always just seemed like coincidence, right? But…after a while…I don't know, whenever it would happen, I got this…feeling…in the back of my mind. Almost like…kind of a 'deja-vu' thing, you know? I actually got used to it after a while…"
"…But the weird thing is…ever since I got my ghost powers…it's been getting stronger."
"Stronger? What do you mean?" Tucker asked. "Stronger like how?"
"Well…," Sam started, having to take a deep breath before continuing. "It's gotten to a point where, sometimes…if we're close or even in the same room…I can sometimes know what he's feeling. You know, whether he's happy about something or nervous about a test? And lately…there have been times, when we're not together…and I still know exactly where he is…WHEREVER he is. It's…like, I can just FEEL him, you know?"
"I've been too nervous to talk to him about it," Sam went on. "But…there have been times when he looks at me…and I know…I just know…he can feel the same things, too."
"Really," Tucker replied simply, flashing Sam a tired, cynical look.
"Tucker look, I know it sounds crazy! But it's what I feel, okay?" Sam exclaimed, with desperation clearly hanging in her voice. "And I'm feeling it right now, like you wouldn't believe! Every molecule in my body is screaming at me that Danny is in trouble and he needs our help! Now are you going to come with me or not?"
For a moment, Tucker offered no reply. And Sam had no idea what kind of answer she was going to ultimately get. But just then, after Tucker stared deeply into her eyes, he found himself letting out a heavy sigh of concession.
"Well…if you can't trust your own molecules, who CAN you trust?" he remarked with a shrug before trudging to the closet to find his clothes. "Okay, I'm in."
"You are?" Sam responded with a sigh of intense relief. "Oh, thank you, Tucker. I really owe you for this."
"Yeah, and believe me, I'm REALLY going to add it to the list." Tucker muttered.
"Oh, you've gotta be kidding me. This place has been picked clean," Tucker complained as he and Sam stared around the empty lab at Fenton Works. "All they left behind was the Specter Speeder. Well, that's just great. If we don't have any tracking devices and neither of us knows where this Milton guy lives, how are we supposed to find Danny?"
"Well…just give me a minute," Sam replied, closing her eyes and concentrating hard, trying to focus her thoughts and feelings on Danny as much as she possibly could.
"Sam, come on…," Tucker started to say, still not entirely convinced of Sam's earlier claims.
"Shut up!" Sam shot back, feeling herself zeroing in on something. Suddenly, a few seconds later, her hand shot out, pointing straight to the northwest.
"There! He's that way!" she announced, turning to Tucker, who only stood there looking at her. "Tucker, just trust me okay? Now let's go!"
With nothing else to go on, Tucker could only shrug his shoulders and follow Sam inside the Specter Speeder with a tired sigh. Within moments, the two of them were rocketing into the lab's underground tunnel and heading for the surface.
"Uuuunnnhhhhh…" Danny groaned, slowly opening his head to get his bearings. He was still trapped in the cube Danielle had sealed him in, but it was when he turned his gaze outward that the shock truly set in.
Around him on all sides were cold, metal walls, chemicals and beeping machines. Just by that alone, Danny was able to figure out where they were, at least. He'd always wondered what happened to Vlad after he fought Danny and Sam during Dark Danny's return, only to be defeated and escape. Obviously, Vlad must have found Bradley Milton not long after and began overshadowing him, not only using Milton's body to hide from the public, but using Milton's wealth to build a new lab right under his own mansion. But that still didn't give Danny the answers to all of his questions. And those questions quickly sprang back into his head when he finally looked straight ahead. Just a few feet away, hanging from glowing metal cables along the far wall, was not only Danielle, now mysteriously unconscious, but also...
"Mom, Dad, Jazz!" Danny exclaimed, getting their attention.
"Danny?" Jazz responded, just as relieved as Jack and Maddie that he had finally come to. "Are you okay?"
"About as well as can be expected," Danny answered, testing his confinement to see that he was well and truly unable to move or transform. "But…what's going on here?"
"Oh goodie, you're finally awake," Vlad declared, floating into the room to a none-too happy Fenton family looking back at him. "And here I was worried that you were going to sleep the whole night away."
"Vlad!" Jack growled angrily, trying to break free. "I swear, if you don't get us out of these things right now, I'm gonna…I'll…"
"Oh, Jack…even your idiotic ramblings couldn't turn my smile upside down right now," Vlad responded, happily patting Jack on the cheek. "To think that after months of planning and effort, that this night has finally come to fruition…it's like a dream come true."
"What are you talking about?" Danny asked, becoming more frustrated by the second. "Just what is this all about, Plasmius?"
"Why Danny, you mean you still haven't guessed yet? Because really, all of this has been simplicity, itself," Vlad answered, looming into Danny's face with a twisted grin. "It's about me FINALLY getting what is DUE me…!"
"…Our story begins, but a few short months ago, after I was unceremoniously abandoned to drift in space by a certain Jack Fenton…"
"Oh, HERE we go," Jazz cut Vlad off sarcastically, rolling her eyes, "Now we get to listen to how all of this is somehow supposed to be Dad's fault. Haven't we heard this whining before?"
"Oh, and now we get to hear color commentary from young Jasmine, the smartest 16-year-old on the planet, if she does say so herself…as if that's actually an accomplishment," Vlad fired back, getting in Jazz's face. "And just what exactly do you know about ANYTHING, little girl?"
"I know I didn't end up turning myself into a global pariah and losing everything I had because I couldn't see past my own nose," Jazz answered simply, following up with a smug grin.
"Ooooooo, good one, Princess!" Jack chimed in. "She got you there, V-Man!"
"MOVING-RIGHT-ALONG…," Vlad interrupted, sliding his hand down his face and hiding his frustration at having absolutely no comeback to Jazz's statement, "After hitching a ride on a wayward asteroid, which took me past Earth yet again, I was actually considering ACCEPTING my fate as an interstellar vagabond…that is until the Ectoranium asteroid actually passed THROUGH the Earth and hit ME instead!"
"Oh…really? Wow…I mean, that's…that's terrible," Maddie replied, she and the rest of the family all fighting the urge to laugh.
"Yes, well…nothing like getting hit in the face with a few hundred tons of anti-ghost, radioactive element to give one a little perspective on things," Vlad continued. "I vowed at that moment that I could not possibly accept the lot life had given me and set out to return to Earth to reclaim my glory."
"Since the asteroid had carried me for quite some distance before I was able to free myself, the journey took weeks, nearly months, of non-stop flight. There were times when the entire effort seemed futile and I was almost sure I would go mad," Vlad went on. "But eventually, I managed to reach Earth's atmosphere once again. I was so overjoyed at first, but nothing could have prepared me for what I discovered once I arrived. Not only had the planet been spared from the asteroid's threat, but it was now hailing Danny Phantom as a global hero."
"You could not IMAGINE my frustration. ME, scrounging for scraps, while HE, Danny Phantom, YOUR SON, was receiving the statues, the cheers and the praises that SHOULD have been rightfully MINE!" Vlad ranted, letting off a brief surge of temper before centering himself. "So…with what parts of my lab I was able to salvage, I set about the task of righting this egregious wrong. My first attempts, admittedly, were rather clumsy and ham-fisted in its execution…much like things YOU would have done, Jack. I first attempted to wrest power from Clockwork, the Ghost of Time. Later, I tried used modified versions of one of your inventions to acquire the ghost energy from future ghosts and use it for myself."
"Let's just say that plans always look easier on paper, when certain variables aren't properly accounted for," Vlad added, recalling all-too well, the savage beatings he received at the hands of both Clockwork and Dark Danny. "When I was handed yet another defeat at the hands of young Daniel here…and his little girlfriend, who apparently had acquired her own ghost powers…I fled to regroup."
"It was then, when I was going over what little equipment I had left, that I discovered THIS little item," Vlad announced, popping it up from behind a table for all to see. "I trust you recognize it."
"One of Nocturne's Dream Helmets…," Danny breathed, recognizing the helmet immediately.
"Yes, this was the one he subjected me to during his initial invasion of Amity Park last year," Vlad explained. "A crude piece of technology, to be sure, but I found it rather interesting in its applications, so I decided to hang onto it. In truth, I had almost completely forgotten its existence until I dug it out of my salvage. It was then that I chose to make this helmet the key to my goal."
"Of course, I could hardly accomplish this from a broken-down, reserve-powered, barely-functioning, non-lab. That's where my dear friend, Mr. Milton, came in." Vlad went on, turning his attention briefly over to Milton, who was slumped, unconscious, in a nearby chair. "His body was the perfect disguise to hide my presence from the world. And his wealth was the perfect tool with which to create this new laboratory."
"Of course, that merely provided me with the tools. Next, I required the knowledge," Vlad continued. "Knowledge that only Nocturne himself was able to provide. After all, I couldn't risk modifying this technology without knowing precisely how it worked. Of course, by that time, Nocturne had been captured and imprisoned by the Observants. So the only way I could acquire HIS help was to offer MY services in aiding his escape."
"Wait a minute…YOU busted out Nocturne?" Danny exclaimed in surprise. "And Vortex…?"
"Collateral damage," Vlad replied dismissively. "I needed the devastation Vortex would wreak to hide my involvement in Nocturne's escape. The less of my presence the Observants were aware of, the better. Let's just say they don't exactly have a warm place in their hearts for me."
"Gee, I wonder why," Jazz noted sarcastically.
"Granted, I should have seen it coming when they both decided to return to Earth and cause trouble," Vlad continued on simply. "But the knowledge Nocturne provided me on his Dream Helmets more than made up for that minor oversight…especially since Danny and his little love interest were able to handle them both quite adequately. But I do go on…From there, it was a simple enough matter to forge the keys to my ultimate victory, by removing this bulky, obsolete piece of the past…"
"…and creating its future."
Tossing the helmet over his shoulder, Vlad flashed out his hand producing a small, metallic, ring-shaped device between his thumb and forefinger. Danny couldn't possibly understand what such a tiny thing could do, but as he saw the wicked smile on Vlad's face, he was pretty sure that he was going to learn soon enough.
"You like?" Vlad stated, "Lightweight, compact, fits perfectly behind any ear. Not only can it induce the same sleep state as the original helmet, it can even be used to induce absolutely PERFECT hypnotic suggestions, overriding even a wearer's survival instinct and inhibitions. The wearer literally has no idea what's happening."
"Mr. Milton over there…?" Maddie had to ask.
"Oh, he's fine. I only take him out when I need to wear him," Vlad noted. "Besides, isn't this so much more humane than having to constantly restrain him like I had to do at first?"
"That's how you knocked everyone out," Danny finally began to deduce before turning to Danielle. "That's how you were able to control…!"
Instantly, Danny pulled himself back, not allowing himself to finish his thought. Now that he knew this was no fault of Danielle's, he felt a renewed sense to keep her secret intact. Unfortunately, the damage was already done as the rest of the Fentons turned their attention towards the small girl ghost, who was still in a sleeping state.
"Yeah, how does SHE fit into all this?" Jazz had to ask. "Is she the ghost you were using to haunt this place? What did you need her for? And why does she look like Danny?"
"Ah yes, the bait he couldn't resist," Vlad remarked, tossing a smirk in Danny's direction before walking over to Danielle. "Well, I suppose this is all going to be completely irrelevant in a matter of minutes, so…"
With that, Vlad reached behind Danielle's ear, plucking off the metal band. And within moments, Danielle gently moaned and slowly woke up. But she definitely didn't like what she was waking up TO.
"Wh…what the…? Where am I?" she blurted out as she felt the onset of panic, especially when she turned to see Danny trapped in the cube. "Danny?"
"I caught up with her floating around Detroit for a while," Vlad explained, alerting Danielle to his presence. "Initially she was an experiment more than anything. It was a simple enough matter for one of my little spy drones to place this band on her. Of course, once I realized it worked, I knew that having her under control would have other uses…particularly luring you all out here, so the endgame could begin."
"Vlad?" Danielle exclaimed, feeling even more unnerved. "Danny, what's going on? How did I get here?"
"Look, just…just calm down, alright? It's going to be okay." Danny spoke calmly, trying to ease Danielle's fears, even as he motioned to his family beside her, indicating that he still didn't want to give away too much.
"Danny, what's this all about?" Maddie asked. "Do you really know this girl?"
"Uh, yeah, and…seriously…why does she look like you?" Jazz chimed in.
"Actually, that's…kind of starting to freak me out a little bit, too," Jack added, which only made Danny and Danielle all the more nervous.
"Isn't he just the sweetest?" Vlad interrupted, patting Danny's head. "Even after you learned the truth, he still never bothered to tell you much about what we've been through together, did he? He thought he was doing right by not burdening you with the knowledge. Of course, his silence only served to make this ruse all the more successful, but how could he have known?"
"Danny, what is he talking about?" Maddie had to ask again. "Is there something we need to know?"
"Danielle…?" Danny uttered as he turned to her, feeling very uncertain of what to do.
"Wait a minute. Her name is DANIELLE?" Jazz exclaimed. "Okay Danny, seriously, what is going ON here?"
"Danny, what did he do?" Maddie pressed, feeling a sense of motherly panic set in.
"Well…," Danny muttered under his breath, still struggling to get the words to come, "…last year…he…kind of…tried…to…clone me."
"You…did…WHAT?" Jack bellowed in anger, while Jazz's eyes snapped back with a gasp of shock towards Danielle, who could only hang her head.
"You…I can't believe…," Maddie blurted out, too overcome with disbelief to form a coherent sentence. "You…you VIOLATED my son's DNA…to MAKE some…to…how could…?"
"Oh, please, 'violated'? You make it sound so invasive," Vlad protested. "Do you have any idea how little effort it took to obtain HIS DNA?"
"WHAT KIND OF A MONSTER ARE YOU?" Maddie screamed at the top of her lungs, all of her rage exploding at once.
"Oh, Maddie, please don't say that," Vlad begged, going to Maddie and sliding his hand down her cheek. "After all, you and Danny…the perfect family I could never have…Would you really condemn a man the foolish things he does…for love?"
"Oh, why don't you just stop already? You don't 'love', Vlad! You've NEVER 'loved'! All you've ever done your entire life is WANT things!" Maddie scolded, pulling herself away with a hollow laugh. "You know something Vlad, you can't look me in the eye and honestly tell me that your life has been all that terrible! It just wasn't ENOUGH for you! You could take away everything that ever meant anything to anyone, and the rest of the world besides, and it STILL wouldn't be enough for you! Never enough MONEY! Never enough ATTENTION! Never enough…EVERYTHING!"
"I fell in love with a man who has always been able to think about MORE than just himself," Maddie continued, the tone of her voice softening as she looked at Jack with a warm smile before turning back to Vlad with an acid scowl. "And I don't care how powerful or how smart or how perfect you THINK you are…That man is never…ever…EVER…going to be you."
For a moment, Vlad appeared to be truly shaken to the core by Maddie's words. Stepping back with a broken look across his face, all he seemed able to do was hang his head and turn away.
"Touché Maddie…you got me," he finally said, a note of true sorrow lingering in his voice. "You finally got the chance to say all those things to me that you ever wanted to…and you were right. I am who I am…and I can't change that…"
"However, there is one more…tiny point…to consider…," he added, drawing a curious look from everyone else in the room. But their wonder was soon answered as Vlad turned back with a twisted grin, his voice lowering to an evil hiss…
"Which now brings us to our endgame," Vlad added enthusiastically as Maddie and the others could only react with dread. "You see, of these miraculous little bands, I really only required two…one for YOU…and one for young Danny here. Just imagine…the perfect woman…and the global phenomenon known as Danny Phantom both standing by my side…blindly obedient…blindly loyal…"
"And of course, once THAT happens, you'll have no need of any…'unpleasant reminders' of your 'former' lives," Vlad concluded, looking towards Jack, Jazz and finally, Danielle, all the while with wicked intentions in his eyes. "And I'LL have no need for failed experiments."
"Maddie, NO!" Jack shouted as Vlad reached out towards her, the tiny band glistening in the light.
"Mom!" Jazz cried out while Maddie could only scream helplessly in panic.
For Danny, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. It was like he was outside his own body, seeing everything happen, but helpless to prevent it. Like he could feel everything he'd ever known just slipping away.
Just then, he felt something snap in side of him. Something that just exploded into a fireball of life. It was at that moment he knew…no matter what…no matter how helpless it seemed…no matter if there was absolutely no hope at all…there was no way he could possibly allow this tragedy to happen.
…Come on…change…you've got to…
You have to fight…you have to protect them…if you don't, who will…?
Just…change…Change, darn you…!
Suddenly, just as Vlad was about to place the band on Maddie's ear, and explosion ripped through the air behind him, driving him, face-first, into the wall beside her. Nursing his battered face from the floor, he managed to look around behind him, seeing only a thick billow of smoke where Danny's cube prison was just a second ago.
"No…no, that can't happen…it's impossible!" Vlad breathed, frozen in a state of complete disbelief. But the voice that came from the haze only confirmed his panic.
"DANNY!" the Fentons and Danielle could only exclaim with a mixture of happiness and relief, finally seeing a ray of hope emerging. Their joy, however, was not shared by Vlad, who began to gnash his teeth in rage.
"No…not THIS time…," he hissed, his voice rising to a yell as he snapped to his feet and charged towards a figure that gradually began to appear from behind the smoke. "You're going to learn your place once and for all, boy!"
"Danny, look out!" Jazz yelled as Vlad flashed forward with a crushing fist.
But her warning was apparently unnecessary as Danny's gloved hand flashed through the smoke, catching Vlad's fist with no more effort than catching a tennis ball. Vlad couldn't believe that Danny had blocked his strike so easily. After all, Vlad KNEW the limits of Danny Phantom's strength. It should be nothing compared to his own far superior powers. There was simply no way that what had just happened could have happened. But he had no time for surprise as Danny flexed his hand and a muffled crackle could be heard coming from Vlad's fist, causing him to drop to one knee with a cry of agony.
If Vlad was surprised before, he was absolutely stunned now. Not only had Danny effortlessly matched his strength, but now managed to injure him with such ease. But nothing could have prepared Vlad for what came next as the smoke cleared and the sight behind it greeted his eyes.
There, standing in the wreckage of the cube, was Danny. But it was Danny like Vlad had never seen before. Gone was Danny's usual white aura, replaced with a glowing green. His eyes were flashing brighter than Vlad had ever seen before. But his hair…his hair was the most frightening part. His hair had changed into white flames…like his Dark Danny future self. Even the sound he made as he glared down into Vlad's face with white hot fury didn't even sound human. It sounded more like the low, throaty growl of some bloodthirsty animal.
Danielle had never seen Danny do this before, so she could only look on in disbelief, like Vlad. But for Jack, Maddie and Jazz, the expressions on their faces were not those of shock, but of deep-seeded fear. After all, they HAD seen this form before. And they KNEW what it meant.
"Ooooo…that's bad," Jazz stated simply, wincing in dread.
Admittedly, Tucker was completely surprised that they were able to find Milton's mansion simply through Sam's directions as they showed up in the Specter Speeder. But he would have time to be amazed later. The grounds were completely empty, so their first instinct was immediately to check the house. But they only made it a few steps out of the Specter Speeder, when Sam suddenly froze in her tracks.
"…oh no…," Sam shuddered through a mask of terror as she stood rooted to the ground, trembling like a kitten.
"Sam? What is it?" Tucker asked, not liking her reaction one bit. "What's going on?"
"No time!" Sam shouted, grabbing Tucker and phasing down into the ground.
The underground lab was little more than a crumbling ruin by the time Sam and Tucker reached it, with dented panels and smashed equipment everywhere. Even the sound of loud, muffled thuds could be heard echoing throughout the facility. But Tucker was more caught off guard by the phasing moment than the surroundings as he and Sam dropped through the ceiling after what felt like falling through miles underground.
"Okay, you've REALLY got to remind me the next time you're going to do that," Tucker breathed with a hint of panic.
"Sam? Tucker?" Maddie called out, getting their attention.
"Hey, it's them!" Tucker exclaimed. "Are you guys alright? Where's Danny?"
"Pleaseletmebewrong, pleaseletmebewrong, pleaseletmebewrong…" Sam droned on under her breath with closed eyes and clenched fists, hoping against hope…until Vlad suddenly came crashing through a nearby wall and flew right past her.
"VLAD!" Danny bellowed in rage, flying just a second behind him in his altered state.
"…aw nuts…," Sam groaned as she rolled her eyes in disappointment.
"Sam!" Danielle shouted, getting her attention.
"Danielle? So it was you in that picture," Sam noted before running over to join Tucker alongside the Fentons. "What happened here? Why is Danny…?"
"There's no time!" Jazz shouted as Sam used a set of Ghost Ray blades to cut Danielle down from the wall. "We'll be fine! Just go stop Danny! You're the only one who can!"
"You got it," Sam responded. "Tucker, try to get them down from here. Danielle and I are going on ahead."
"No problem," Tucker answered before he tried pulling on one of Jack's restraints. "Slight problem."
Sam had to roll her eyes at Tucker's display, but she had no time to be annoyed as she and Danielle burst forward to the last hole in the wall Vlad and Danny had gone through. But just before they went on, Danielle had to stop and turn back towards the Fentons as Tucker tried to free them. And as Jack, Maddie and Jazz looked back at her, their expressions seemed almost…confused. There didn't seem to be anything Danielle could do or say to ease the tension she was feeling, so she could only hang her head and follow Sam after Danny and Vlad.
Danny and Vlad's fight, meanwhile, had taken them upstairs into the mansion. Vlad had been sent up flying through the floor by the force of one of Danny's punches, bouncing across the room before rolling to a stop. But getting a moment to gather himself for those few precious half-seconds, he found his footing and powered up his hands, firing a searing Ghost Ray which struck Danny as he shot up through the floor, sending him flying into the far wall.
For a moment, Vlad appeared to have gained the upper hand. But it was an all-too fleeting hope as Danny stood up, dusting off his chest with a single swipe before rearing back and screaming to the heavens, a wave of ecto-energy ripping from his body. The wave tore through the room like a storm, blowing away everything in its path. Even Vlad, who tried with everything he had to keep his footing, was swept away and slammed into the wall on the other side of the room. Desperately, Vlad tried to get to his feet, only to look up and see that Danny was already on the move, flying across the room in a high arc and driving Vlad back through the floor just as Sam and Danielle reached it.
"Uuu-hhh…you know, I really wish they'd make up their minds," Sam complained as she looked to see another hole leading back down on the other side of the room.
"So…tell me again why we're trying to stop him?" Danielle asked as she and Sam looked down into the new hole for any signs of Danny and Vlad. "I say let him go! Sure that new ghost mode of his is a little freaky, but he's kickin' butt!"
"You haven't seen what that transformation does to him," Sam replied simply before they began their descent back down into the lab. "Trust me…it's not worth it."
Having smashed down into a new part of the lab, the battle between Danny and Vlad continued to rage. Vlad had lashed out, catching Danny in the stomach with a vicious punch that actually drove him to his knees. Pressing the advantage, Vlad aimed another crippling blow straight towards Danny's head. But Danny shot up faster, smashing Vlad in the jaw with an uppercut that sent him flying along the ceiling, his head shearing through the steel paneling, before his momentum was lost and he fell against the far wall on the other side of the room, coughing and sputtering.
"How…how are you doing this…?" Vlad breathed as he struggled to his feet, his hands blazing with ecto-energy and his voice rising to a roar. "WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THIS POWER FROM?"
But Danny seemed far too far gone to answer, merely growling in response as Vlad prepared to fire another Ghost Ray. Streaking across the room, Danny slammed his fists into Vlad's stomach before he could fire. As a result, Vlad's Ghost Ray went wild, hitting the ceiling above and blanketing the room in a hail of dust and rubble.
Eventually, the haze settled to reveal Vlad pinned to the wall with Danny hammering punches into his face at will. Within moments, Vlad completely lost the strength to stand and crumbled to his knees, falling on his face at Danny's feet. But still Danny wasn't done. Picking Vlad back up by his cape, Danny's free had pulsed with ecto-energy, crackling into a tight fist which he slowly began to pull back.
Vlad was too dazed and exhausted to offer up any kind of resistance. All he seemed able to do was ponder his situation and wonder how this was happening. Just then, his eyes happened to catch sight of something…tiny wisps of steam emanating from Danny's shoulders. It was as if his entire body was starting to evaporate. A weakness of this form, perhaps? If it was, it was information that was far too little, too late as Vlad couldn't even muster up enough strength to block the ecto-powered punch which Danny sent streaking towards his head…
"Danny!" Sam's voice cut through the air, instantly halting Danny's attack as he dropped Vlad and whirled around to see her standing across the room with Danielle.
As he looked across the room, it didn't seem as though Danny recognized either of them at all, responding only with a venomous snarl. The look on his face definitely had an impact on Danielle who found herself hiding behind Sam's leg for safety. But it had no such effect on Sam, who determinedly, but cautiously, made her way towards him.
"Danny, listen to me. I know you know me. I know you recognize my voice. I know because I felt how your mood changed as soon as you heard me," Sam stated, slowly and calmly, hoping to calm Danny as well. "I know we never talked about this. Maybe we should have. But that doesn't matter right now. Because what matters is I can still feel you…and I know you can feel me…and I know whatever monsters are in you right now…you're still in there, too. And I'm here to pull you out."
For a moment…a brief moment…it looked as though Danny actually did recognize Sam's face. But even if he didn't, he was beginning to grow much calmer than before, which made Sam even bolder as she reached out for Danny to take her hand. That is, until Vlad, still struggling to stay conscious, happened to let out a weary groan, causing Danny to whirl around back to him with an angry growl.
"Danny. Look at me," Sam responded, this time in a much more assertive tone.
Slowly, Danny struggled to turn back to Sam. But before, where there was only a look of rage, this time, there seemed to be…confusion. Almost as if he was fighting against himself. An advantage Sam had every intention of pressing as she continued to move in.
"Danny, listen to me. I know you're angry…and you're hurt. But it's going to be okay, believe me," Sam coaxed, speaking in delicate, hushed tones as she reached out to him once again. "Just take my hand…and I promise…"
"…I'll make everything all better."
Gradually, Danny reached forward, his fingers inching ever so slowly towards Sam's. But the way his hand almost seemed to be resisting, it seemed as though he wasn't in complete control. A few moments later, his gaze went back up to meet Sam's and his eyes had almost a look of pleading behind them. As if he needed just that extra push of encouragement to see him the rest of the way. And Sam was all-too happy to provide it as she looked straight into Danny's eyes with a warm smile and a soft voice.
"I love you, Danny."
At that moment, Danny grabbed Sam's hand, pulling himself in close and hugging her tightly. Shuddering against her as his breathing became ragged, his fingers grabbed onto her coat as he clung to her desperately, as if he were afraid to let go, even for a second.
"It's okay," Sam went on, gently patting him on the back, even as she winced and tried to ignore the fact that he was hugging her WAY too tight. "It's okay…everything's alright now."
After a few moments, Sam could feel the pressure of Danny's arms begin to loosen. And as she looked over, she smiled with relief to see that Danny had regained his original ghost form. Of course, it was only for a second or two before he slipped back into his human form, losing consciousness and slumping over Sam's shoulder. And Sam, recognizing the situation, slowly eased him down and knelt to rest his head in her lap, practically beaming down at him with a loving smile.
"Huh…it's almost a shame really." Vlad groaned, still trying with all his might to reach his feet. "All that effort trying to teach him to become like me…and for a moment there…a brief moment…he actually showed some potential all on his own. Imagine what he could have been like if he'd ACTUALLY gone and…"
But Vlad wouldn't get the chance to finish his thought as he was bashed into the wall by a giant Ghost Ray fist wearing brass knuckles, courtesy of Sam's ecto-energy. A quick salvo of Ghost Ray blasts from Danielle quickly added to silencing Vlad's tongue as he crumpled to a heap and out of his ghost form.
"Shut up, Vlad," Sam responded simply, before she and Danielle turned their attention back to Danny.
It was several minutes before Tucker, Jack and Jazz managed to find their way into the room. And the scene was pretty much as it had been before they'd arrived, with Danielle and Sam watching over Danny, who was still laying still and quiet in Sam's lap.
"Danny!" Jazz exclaimed as she and the others ran over. "Is he…?"
"It's okay," Sam answered, gently stroking Danny's cheek as her gaze never strayed from him for even a second. "He's going to be fine."
Jack and Jazz, along with Tucker, could only breathe a sigh of relief along now that another near disaster had been averted. But then, Jack and Jazz happened to look over to see Danielle standing with them. And as Danielle noticed them looking at her, a worried expression crossed her face. For an almost unbearably long moment, all Jack and Jazz seemed able to do was stare at her before looking at each other, neither one of them appearing to know exactly what to think. And that only made Danielle feel all the more uncomfortable. But before anyone had a chance to dwell on it further…
"Unhh…Sam…," Danny murmured as he began to stir, getting everyone's attention as he instinctively reached up and took Sam's hand. A moment later, his eyes slowly opened and he gently smiled as Sam met his gaze.
"Hey, you," Sam replied softly, smiling back down at him as Danny squeezed her hand a little tighter and let out a weary sigh.
"I knew you were there…even before I woke up," he uttered, almost under his breath.
"I know," Sam replied with an assuring nod, even as Danny's smile gave way to a slight look of confusion.
"…How are we doing that?" he asked, sounding even a little concerned.
Sam could only shrug her shoulders and shake her head, knowing she had no answer to provide, herself. But a moment later, she simply smiled again as she gave the only response she felt was appropriate.
"Does it really matter?" she asked back, causing Danny to actually think for a moment before looking back up at her.
"Not so much," he replied as Sam leaned down and softly kissed his forehead.
"Hey, there, kiddo. You doin' okay?" Jack chimed in, inserting himself into the moment.
"Yeah, don't scare us like that. You really had us worried there," Jazz added.
"Oh…well you KNOW I can't promise THAT," Danny replied with a lazy chuckle, trying to inject a little humor into the situation.
Jack and Jazz were too relived that everything worked out to complain, with Jack reaching down and putting his hand on Danny's arm. Even Tucker had to breathe another sigh of relief alongside them…until he chanced to look up towards the other side of the room.
"WHOAH!" he cried out, getting everyone's attention to look up and see Vlad, back on his feet and preparing to fire a full-powered barrage of Ghost Rays in the group's direction.
Suddenly, a pair of hands wearing Fenton Ghost Gauntlets, snapped in out of nowhere, grabbing Vlad by his collar, whirling him around and slamming him back against the wall before he could get a shot off. Quickly getting his bearings, Vlad glared up to see who could possibly dare to commit such an insult. But he was completely unprepared for who he saw staring back at him.
"Do you have ANY idea how long I've been waiting for this?" Maddie hissed with a sinister grin, pulling back an eagerly waiting fist…
"There…now, you see kids?" Jack pointed out as the others could only stare, wide-eyed, at the beating in progress. "This is why (Ooo…right in the…ooh!), even though I may occasionally forget our anniversary (Ahh…that doesn't bend that way…always a classic), I ALWAYS make sure you guys remind me (Oh! Even I felt that one) when her birthday is."
"Oh, by the way, that's next week," Jazz pointed out, quickly drawing a smile and a pat on the head from Jack as the beat-down continued.
"Alright…I'm only going to tell you this ONE TIME," Maddie stated threateningly as she braced Vlad, nearly beaten beyond recognition, against the wall, glaring into his eyes. "STAY…AWAY…FROM MY…FAMILY!"
"Alright…yes…well done, Maddie," Vlad replied as he coughed and sputtered. "I must admit, you've won THIS battle. But there WILL be others…You won't know where…you won't know when…"
"…and you won't know WHO."
Before Maddie could make any kind of response, Vlad's body morphed into light and disappeared into a tunnel concealed behind one of the panels along the wall. Maddie and Jack were naturally confused, but Danny and the others weren't as surprised.
"It was one of his copies that he left here to keep us distracted," Danielle pointed out with a sigh. "The real Vlad's long gone."
"Yeah, he kind of likes to do that. I probably should have mentioned it. Sorry," Danny added, still quite groggy.
Dawn was breaking as Jack and Maddie were clearing things up with Bradley Milton and the local authorities. Danielle, meanwhile, had managed to separate herself from the group, getting ready to head off again. Still, she couldn't resist pausing to take one last invisible look to see how everyone was doing.
"Well, if you think about it, this experience wasn't all bad," Jazz remarked, going over some equipment in the Fenton RV with Tucker. "After all, Mr. Milton DID actually agree to pay Mom and Dad for getting rid of Vlad. AND he let them take whatever they wanted from his lab. You can't really argue with that, all things considered."
"I guess," Tucker replied. "I'm a little worried about Danny, though. I mean, this is the second time he's, well…Okay, you know, ONCE, you can write it off as an isolated thing, right? But any more than that and…"
"I have to admit, I'm worried about that, too. We should probably think about looking into what triggers that transformation so we can watch out for it," Jazz started to say before looking out of the RV toward a large tree in the middle of a downward wooded slope on the grounds. "But…for right now…I think we can wait a little bit."
It was fairly obvious why Jazz was willing to wait, as Danny and Sam were sitting on the slope behind the very tree she had been looking at. Holding each other close, their lips met with a series of warm, tender kisses. After a few moments, they finally pulled away and looked deeply into each others' eyes before moving back in and cuddling cheek to cheek.
"Oh, yeah," Sam sighed, smiling from ear to ear as she snuggled in closer. "This is MUCH better."
"Yeah. And according to my calendar, we've still got two-thirds of weekend left," Danny pointed out, shifting his head and tossing Sam a suggestive grin. "I don't know if I can pull off the 'lip-bruising' in that time, but would you settle for 'severely chapped'?"
"Hmm," Sam replied, looking into Danny's eyes with a loving smile. "Well, I might have a couple of thoughts on that…Think you can guess what they are?"
"Uh-oh," Danny responded jokingly as he pressed his forehead to hers.
"Now, don't worry," Sam added quietly, moving in and softly nuzzling Danny's nose. "I promise, I won't bite…hard."
The next thing Danny knew, Sam was flopping backward, pulling him afterward as another round of kisses began to commence. And even though invisible, Danielle felt the need to respect a little privacy. Giving one last look over at Jack and Maddie, who were just finishing up their interview with the police, and Tucker and Jazz, who were still in the RV, Danielle then gave one quick gaze around the grounds from the concealment of a nearby cobbled wall and was about to head off on her own once more…
"And just where do you think YOU'RE going, young lady?" Jazz's voice sounded off behind her, interrupting Danielle's takeoff as she whirled around to see Jazz, Tucker, Danny and Sam all arrayed behind her.
"Huh?" was all Danielle could utter in reply, feeling very confused.
"What do you mean, 'huh'?" Jazz responded. "Did you ACTUALLY think after all this, we were just going to forget about you and let you fly off all by yourself?"
"But…I'm not…I mean, I…" Danielle stammered, now feeling very nervous.
"Look kid, you may not have asked to be a part of this family, but you're STILL a Fenton." Jazz continued. "And I can tell you one thing. If there's one thing we Fentons have going for us, it's that we're all about family."
"But I…I don't…," Danielle started to say as she turned around, only to see Jack and Maddie standing on the other side, having come from around the other corner of the wall.
Danielle didn't know what to think as Jack and Maddie stared back down at her. At the moment, all she could hear in the back of her mind was Maddie's outrage when she'd found out about Vlad's cloning experiments. After all, if Vlad was a monster in her eyes for doing that, then just how could she possibly feel about the things that monster made? But as Maddie knelt in front of Danielle and peeled back her Haz-Mat hood, the expression on her face was nothing like Danielle thought she would see. In fact, the emotion in her eyes almost looked to be one of…sadness.
"Oh…come here, Sweetie," Maddie's voice cracked slightly as she reached over, pulling Danielle towards her and holding her close, much to Danielle's shock. But that was nothing compared to what she heard Danny say next.
"So, what do you say, Tuck?" Danny asked, "Got any connections in the Mayor's Office that might be able to fast-track a set of adoption papers?"
"Hey, why not?" Tucker replied with a shrug, reaching into his backpack and replacing his traditional beret with his mayoral top hat. "I mean, come on. If I can't abuse my municipal authority to give a little girl a place to live, what am I even DOING in this job?"
Danielle couldn't believe what she was hearing. It all felt like she was in some kind of dream. Just then, she felt Jack's hand gently pat her on the head and she looked up to see him return a reassuring smile. But…this couldn't possibly work, could it? She wasn't even a real part of their family. So how could they open up their hearts to her so easily? Anyway, she'd been on her own for a while now. She knew how to take care of herself. And yet, as Maddie continued to hold her in her arms, why did Danielle feel something in her throat? Why was it getting harder for her to breathe? Why could she feel her eyes welling up to overflowing?
"I…am so…sorry," Maddie whispered tenderly into Danielle's ear.
That was it. In that instant, Danielle completely lost all control, grabbing onto Maddie's suit and clinging to it for all she was worth as she choked and sobbed. Even Sam couldn't help but hold Danny's hand a little tighter and rest her head on his shoulder as Danielle buried her face into the crook of Maddie's neck and began bawling uncontrollably, all of her pent up emotions and loneliness pouring out of her like a flood.
"Ssssshhhhhhh…it's okay, Honey." Maddie cooed softly in Danielle's ear, softly stroking her hair as she wept on and on. "It's okay…You don't have to worry anymore…I promise…"
"…You're home now."
Danielle snapped up in bed with a smile at the sound of Jazz's voice coming downstairs from the kitchen. Throwing off the covers, she leaped off the bed in her pajamas, phasing into her nearby dresser drawer and walking back out completely dressed for the day before passing through the floor. Walking into the kitchen, she could already see all the fixings for breakfast already laid out for anyone to take what they wanted. Definitely not the daily routine Danielle had been accustomed to for most of her life, but she was hardly complaining. Although one thing she found that she could stand to do without was Jazz's almost obsessive interest in watching her eat in the morning…or just about anything else she did in a day, for that matter. Something Danny had grown to notice as well.
"Come on, Jazz, Danielle's been living here for a week now already," Danny complained. "Do you have to keep staring at her like she's some kind of imported zoo animal?"
"Sorry," Jazz replied before turning her attention back to Daniel with an odd fascination. "I just think it's neat. I mean…she's so CUTE. Just think how you might have turned out if you'd been a girl."
"Thanks Jazz, I'm really looking forward to seeing how long it's going to take for me to live THAT one down," Danny responded sarcastically while Danielle couldn't help but giggle.
"Sorry, I…didn't mean it to sound like that," Jazz apologized before quickly changing the subject. "Anyway, how are YOU doing now, after a week? I mean, after Mom and Dad moved you up into the spare bedroom in the Ops Center…"
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't have it any other way," Danny declared with much satisfaction. "I just got the most highly secured bedroom in the entire town. Trust me, I've got NO complaints."
"Well, we'd better get moving," Jazz noted as she took a look at the clock. "After all, this is Danielle's first day of school today."
"Ah, yes…school. Danny, did I properly thank you for providing me with this great opportunity?" Danielle remarked cynically, walking around the table to get her backpack before zapping Danny in the rear with a Ghost Ray from her pinky finger.
"Ow! Once or twice now," Danny answered with an annoyed frown.
"Danielle, would you please stop that?" Jazz interrupted with a sigh. "Honestly, I've got so much work to do on you. Now, do you need me to give you a lift?"
"Nah, I'm good," Danielle answered, changing into her ghost form.
"You're sure you've got enough stuff, right? Pencils, papers, lunch?" Jazz went on. "And you've got all our contact numbers in case of an emergency, right?"
"Okay, does she always hover like this?" Danielle had to ask, turning to Danny.
"I'm afraid so," Danny answered simply.
"Gee, thanks," Jazz responded, feeling slightly dejected.
"But…trust me," Danny added, looking over at Jazz with a warm smile, "it's something you're going to learn to appreciate."
"Head's up!" Jack's voice could be heard from the doorway to the lab, just as Jazz popped open an umbrella to keep Danielle from getting drenched with a blast from the Fenton Foamer. "My bad!"
"See what I mean?" Danny went on.
"Okay, I'm heading out now!" Danielle shouted, making sure that Jack and Maddie could hear her.
"Have a good day, Sweetie!" Maddie called back, "Make sure you come straight home after, okay?"
With that, Danielle was walking out the front door of Fenton Works, taking off into the sky for her first day of school. She was about to head straight there, but for some reason, she felt compelled to pause as she looked back at had just one week ago, become her new home. Looking around the neighborhood in general and looking back, the whole last week just felt like an absolute blur. But it was definitely a good blur, as far as Danielle was concerned. And looking back at what her life had been like before this last week, there was only one thing that came to her mind as a smile crossed her lips…
…A girl could get used to this.
"Hey cool!" Danielle exclaimed, checking her lunch as she flew off towards the school. "Grape jelly. My favorite."