A/N: My first Danny Phantom fanfic. Not the first I've written, but the first I've posted. Depressing; you have been warned.

This is just the first chapter; I've written the next one as well, and the last. They won't be posted today, and how quickly I'll fill in the rest (my life is poised to eat me alive) is heavily dependant on the interest level. This is just a warning, though; it doesn't get much happier. If you're looking for some fluff, let me know, because I've got some of that in the backlog, too. I have a ton of stuff written, you guys just have to let me know what you want to see so I can get it up.

Disclaimer: Danny Phantom is not mine. It was written and (I think) drawn by the lovely Butch Hartman, and he's copyrighted by Nickelodean. I simply own the plot and these particular inflections of the characters.

It didn't work out quite like they had imagined. For most couples, it was "'til death do us part." They had never quite managed to put into words exactly what they had. First of all, the livelihood of one party member was in question, and there were a thousand more oddities on top of that. Once they finally managed to admit it openly, the life-or-death didn't stop. If anything, it got worse. They could never really promise anything because they never had any definites.

It was as good as a miracle when they both managed to make it through college-bodies and relationship in-tact. But, soon after, it became obvious that their luck was running low. Once up on a time, Danny had entertained (dreamed about) notions of growing old with her, settling down and raising quarter-ghost kids… or something like that. But time, in its usual manner, dashed the dreams to dust. Sam grew older. Danny hit twenty… and stopped. While he was still battling ghosts toe-to-toe practically as a part-time job, Sam eventually grew tired of the hoopla. It took her a while, spirited as she was, but with age, even she admitted to being "too old for this."

What had grown into a beautiful partnership devolved first back to a superhero and his sidekick. Once it hit that mark, they were doomed. Sam would never take anything less than equality, and there came a time when Danny couldn't give it. It was the world or Sam, and, as he always did in the end, he took up the mantle of the hero.

He tried to be around for her as a friend, unable to bear breaking that last promise he'd made, until his parents died. They were both in their seventies, a perfectly reasonable age to die, but of course they couldn't manage to die in peace. His dad wasn't in the best of health, but his mom was the picture of fitness. Of course it had to be ghost-related. And of course he had to have been there, unable to stop it. If it had been just one, or if they'd both been taken by something slightly more natural-a human with a gun, even, over a raging suddenly-single Skulker with his buddy Technus-then maybe he could've dealt with it. But, of course, he was not just Danny Phantom, but Danny Fenton. His luck was worse than Johnny 13's. So Skulker and Technus had slipped through the portal on one of his trips home, and it had gotten a bit out-of-hand.

Unable to cope with their loss and suddenly all too aware of the mortality of humans on top of their tendency to live, he ran. Danny Fenton was not eradicated-he knew the danger of that and feared the consequences more than he feared the loss of any one thing-but shoved to the side. To the world, Danny Fenton ceased to exist and Danny Phantom became less of a public hero and more of a legendary specter. Glimpses of him were rare-rarer still by those who had once known him-as he preferred if he could head things off in the Ghost Zone before they got out of hand.

On the plus side, Danny Phantom managed to hold onto his sanity better than the first possibility of his future had. His hero complex remained, and he managed to whip the Ghost Zone into much better shape than Walker had ever been able to. In fact, eventually, he got the obnoxious, rule-obsessed ghost off his back for good. The fact that the warden couldn't actually imprison him for long helped.

On the down side, there were a good dozen not-so-great aspects, and that was only counting the obvious. Danny, as much as he had been the outcast for his high school years, was not a hermit. And, due to the obsessive tendencies of his ghost half, he had a hard time staying away from Sam. In the meantime, he threw all of his obsessive energy into being a hero-not just to the humans this time, but ghosts as well-and hated himself for thinking that it would be easier when Sam was no longer in the picture. After the worst of his temptations was gone, perhaps he could haunt her grave in peace. He only let himself think about that half of the equation when he withdrew to his lair, seeking out sleep and unable to find it for a long while. Sometimes it helped to return to his more-easily-exhausted human form, but most nights nothing would help. Nothing short of going back would help, and that was just a different form of torture.

Stuck in an eternal limbo, all he could do was seek out distractions while he waited. The former he did with gusto, unwilling to stay still for longer than sleep required. While he did know, on some level, that he was waiting, it wasn't until he saw a familiar flash of red, at once too bright and too dull, that he realized just what he was waiting for.