A/N: Hello! If you're reading this note, then you're either re-reading my story (WOW, thank you so much and I would love to hear from you) or just now reading it for the first time. Originally, I posted two separate endings, one of which was short and obfuscating but I was driven to post because I was concerned about what others would think based off of some critique I had already recieved, and the other which I almost didn't post but where the story had begun (It was literally the first thing I wrote, that ending, and I eventually decided that it made no sense to write the whole story towards it and then cut it short). I decided that was ridiculous and there was no reason to do it, especially when I hadn't wanted to in the first place. So now you have the real ending. The true and right and original ending. The canon ending, if you will. Thank you so much for coming along with me on this journey, and I hope you like my chosen ending just as much as you like the rest of the story.
It was the first time he'd slept since Tucker came with the bad news, and thankfully he didn't dream. Four days without sleep, despite not needing much and having spent them in the sort of timeless state that existed inside of Clockwork's castle, had taken their toll. He hadn't been able to rest easily, though. Not until he'd fully made his peace with the past. After watching the highlights of his idiocy in literally perfect hindsight, talking out his life—or half-life, as it very well may be—with the Master of Time, and then attending his best-friend-slash-romantic-interest-slash-ex's funeral, he had slipped into the eerily glowing psuedo-night that the ghost zone was eternally trapped in, seeking out sleep to go with his newfound peace of mind.
His lair was vaguely more comforting than Clockwork's castle, if only for the familiarity. Danny was discovering that, as he actually started to think of it as his place of living, it was developing a sort of mother hen complex. There were now a clock and calendar on the wall, side-by-side, that he hadn't really even thought of asking for. The calendar happened to mark its own days off, and he stared at the date currently marked off as he lay on the bed, eyes shifting from green to blue, and finally gave himself up to sleep. February seventeenth. The very sound of the syllables themselves seemed to carry no import, but he doubted he'd ever be able to forget that date, even once all others had long since faded from his mind.
The day where he had to start to face the world without even the possibility of Sam.
When he finally awoke, he knew that time had passed, as was inevitable. Still feeling incredibly removed from reality, which was partially a side-effect of lingering in Clockwork's castle but mostly the fog of Sam's death clinging to him still, that was all he knew. It didn't help that the ghost zone had no concept of night or day, eternally stuck in some sort of compromise with the light of day but the eerie glow of night.
He just laid there, unmoving, not even willing to look at the clock. Danny Fenton may have existed before Sam, but Danny Phantom could not have existed without her. And, if he was being honest with himself, Danny Fenton had been Sam's from the moment he met her.
The circumstances now left him stuck in a sort of limbo. Upon meeting Sam, Danny Fenton had become her friend. The friendship had continued to grow, almost past the point of best friends already when Danny Phantom entered the picture, inevitably confusing things and tying him to her further still. After the accident, he spent a good portion of his life, teenaged years up into their thirties, simultaneously protecting her and dating her. Fighting alongside her in nearly everything they did. The years that followed were a strange combination of continually protecting her but trying to give her space that left him balancing his life around her. Until, finally, he broke and his life became centered around avoiding her, around not thinking about her. And, in the very last stretch of time he had with her, it became about attempts to redeem himself with her. The past few days, he'd been running off of that leftover energy, promising to make amends; putting his past idiocy to rest along with the focus of his past.
He was going to miss her more than she could ever know, screw it if he hadn't seen her in years, and it wasn't helping that he was now lacking any overarching purpose. Sure, if there was a ghost attack, he'd go, but what was there to really do? Being a hero, thanks to the full-time heroing he'd been doing for two decades, was no longer truly a full-time job unless he wanted to make things worse. There is a point where one can take it too far. For instance, pretty much anything involving the Box Ghost is a waste of time, and if Technus attempts to show up Clockwork with time-related gadgetry, then it's really just better to let the omniscient ghost take care of himself.
Despite the promises he'd already made to himself that he would keep going, he didn't make any move to get up, just drowning in his own thoughts. Sam made appearances, briefly but frequently. The brooding wasn't good for him, he knew, and some part of him was still fighting it in vain, but the truth was that the rest of him just wasn't ready to go out into the world yet. Either world. He would've gone back to sleep if he hadn't just gotten a full day's worth. A long-belated glance at the clock told him that it had been more than just that, not that he hadn't been in need of it.
Finally, with a sigh, he reached for his inner ghost, shivering for a moment with the newfound cold before it spread throughout him and somehow managed to neutralize the lingering chill of the ghost zone. With the mask of Phantom firmly in place, he proceeded to look for a distraction. The little space he lived in didn't offer much in that department, but he attempted to 'tidy up' for a little while before he gave up on even that. Perhaps the sparse space was left a little better off for it, but it didn't do much in the way of keeping him occupied.
The ensuing pacing failed him rather quickly, at which point he resorted to the only apparent option remaining; plopping down on the couch. Keeping his thoughts in order was a lost cause. Sam was gone. The most caring, passionate person he had ever known was just gone, and somehow the universe had the nerve not to fall apart. If only he could know how it did it.
He kept trying to tell himself that it shouldn't matter, but the empty part of him—the part that had long since been missing contact, but was now just empty—wasn't listening to reason. He'd wasted the time he could have had with her, somehow telling himself that it would hurt less in the end. Why was it that he suddenly remembered spending his teen years making fun of the idiots in movies who'd done just that? Somehow, even after everything, he'd slipped back into a weird sort of routine so easily; despite all the incongruities, despite every long-ingrained instinct, he'd gotten just attached enough for it to hurt anew.
And yet, he didn't quite regret it. While he surely could've saved himself some heartache by just keeping his distance and leaving her as a woman in her fifties and younger in his memories; while he could've just imagined she'd died happy and surrounded by the cloud of admirers that she deserved instead of actually learning what had become of her, he was glad for the unlikely time he'd gotten to spend with her. It had jolted him awake again. And while maybe that meant pain, it also meant that he could get on with his life. Afterlife, half-life, whatever it was... eventually.
At the very least, she had deserved his apology. She'd deserved a lot more, actually. Even given all of his life, he probably never would've been able to make it up to her. It would seem that she was finally free of him, though. Just like she'd wanted. He couldn't help but think of how horrid he must have been in her eyes, after everything he put her through. Bad enough that Tucker had hesitated to even name him in her eulogy. The worst part was that it wasn't any less than what he really deserved.
With a sigh, attempting to stretch out the already fading, sure-to-be-momentary hopefulness, he stood. Time to go pay his penance to society. Saving the world because he had something to make up to an individual. The thought made him feel a bit like a comic book hero. One of the Bronze Aged ones, with tragic pasts and idiocy-induced depression.
Optimism fading with every step closer to the door, he eventually made it in fairly neutral spirits. Half-expecting the bleak sight of the oppressively green view to crush the rest of his spirits, he had to blink several times at the not-quite-green intrusion that he somehow hadn't noticed from inside over all of his moping. He continued to blink at the surprise guest, not nearly assured of its reality. It didn't make any sense, and despite the fact that the ghost zone rarely did, he was having a hard time reconciling the likely hallucination with anything but his depraved mind.
It would appear that a ghost of his past (forgive the unfortunate pun) was huddled on the glowing rock. Absolutely unmistakeable to his eyes despite the terrifying differences; too young and all wrong, she was just staring off into space as if he was the hallucination she was trying to avoid. The swirling green sky of the ghost zone captured her attention, and it glared back like even it knew that she didn't belong.
Hesitantly, he took a step closer, not willing to believe it was real. The universe couldn't be that cruel. Clockwork couldn't be that good at keeping secrets. A few more steps followed until he could see the pulsing energy of the far-off ghostly sky reflected in her eyes, blending into them. The empty sorrow there nearly broke his heart all over again.
Completely forgetting the open-ended task that had drawn him out of his hidey-hole, he settled down beside her, following her gaze out into the far beyond. Even though his higher thinking processes seemed to have failed him, he could still feel the instinctual dread that things were not nearly as over as they should be. After a few minutes of sitting side-by-side, in the conjunction of their separate worlds, one thought finally prevailed through the screaming silence that had overtaken his mind.
How twisted did fate have to be do give them an ending like this?
Joy and sorrow twisted into a lump in his throat as the one thought speared through the floodgates, and he was surprised that he could get any coherent words out around it. "Why'd you come back?" I thought you hated me.
Sam was silent for a moment, steadfastly refusing to look at him. When a chuckle reverberated from her throat, it sounded just as much like a sob. "You make it so hard, you know that? I really didn't want to. I was done with you, ready to wash my hands of all the muck and mess I'd gotten caught up in, and thoroughly satisfied with hating you." There was a short pause where she wiped dripping ectoplasm away from her eyes, not caring in the least if he saw. "At first, so very long ago, I thought that maybe you'd get over it and come back. I even went looking, once or twice. But then I thought about the whole 'if you love something, let it go' crap that I'd been spouting in the first place, and I realized something else. You weren't Danny Fenton any more. It didn't matter how you felt about me, because my Danny wasn't coming back. Just like Clockwork showed us, only without all the city-destroying rage."
She let her words settle for a moment, perfectly aware that they struck a nerve. Danny wanted to protest, but he couldn't find the strength. He might have had to fight not to run back to her every day, but that didn't mean he was still her Danny. He'd done far too much growing up, even for his age, and he didn't really know how to go back any more. For years, he hadn't thought he wanted to. Now, he didn't think he could.
"More than two decades later, you come back, and I thought that I'd be able to die with my hatred of you complete. I got to take it out on you… and you let me. If you were trying to torture me, then it worked." Taking a shaky breath, she had to pause to wipe away the tears this time, starting to get a little angry at them. "I know you didn't, before you protest… not that you're going to."
Her shoulders and neck twitched, and for a second Danny thought she was actually going to look at him, but then she sighed and turned the twitch into a slow, weary shake. "But, after the first day, when you didn't come back right away, it was what I told myself. What I had to so I could go on hating you, because it was too late to do anything else. Even once you came back, for a while it was just a series of increasingly convoluted lies that I told myself so I could cope. I did give up on it eventually, but even then-until the very day that I died-I kept on believing that it wasn't enough. That it couldn't make up for what you'd put me through, even if you hadn't dragged everyone else along for the ride. Actually, I'm pretty sure that I still don't forgive you."
Finally, several eternities too late, her puffy eyes, newly green, looked up to him. "And you know what?" She asked, biting her lip to keep a sob in.
Knowing that she was asking because she needed to hear his voice in the same way he'd needed to see her eyes, and not because she actually expected him to guess, he drew up the last of his strength from who-knows-where and forced his mouth to form words. Just two; all he could manage and all she really needed yet. "What, Sam?"
The next sob was slightly hysterical and just the tiniest, littlest bit satisfied, but she forced her eyes to stay steady on him as she spoke. "Even when I hated you, I still couldn't say no."
When the continuation was slow-coming, Danny tried to wrap his mouth around another question, but Sam eventually shook her head and looked away, dazed and far-off. "When the time came to choose… when I stood before the two doors, I looked between them and realized that I just couldn't pick the one I wanted to. I knew how; I'd been spending years of my life studying and interviewing and theorizing about the choices that lead to the creation of ghosts. I was conscious of the situation, which is better than the state most people are in, and they still manage to make it where they want to be. But I couldn't. As cliché as it sounds, in my last days, I only had the strength left to hate you because love and hate are two sides of the same coin."
Carefully, Danny reached for the hand that he hadn't held for so long. Trying not to jump at the thrill of having it in his again, no matter the differences, he brought it slowly up to his lips and placed a gentle kiss against her knuckles. "It's okay, Sam… I'm pretty sure I hate both of us right now."
Helpless and no longer able to speak, Sam just looked up at the halfa with pleading eyes.
Places swapped, Danny screwed his eyes shut and turned away, squeezing her hand just a little bit tighter. "This isn't what I wanted for you. It was just some selfish longing I never let myself think… and you went along with it."
Neither could say anything for a long time, attempting to fully wrap their minds around the strange, impossible situation. Only in their lives could something so convoluted ever happen. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No," Danny assured her immediately, rubbing his thumb across the back of her hand to remind her of the contact, "no, I don't want you to go... I still love you, Sam, after all this time. I know you find it hard to believe, but I never stopped. I just... My hero complex just got in the way."
The pleading, questioning eyes returned anew, and Danny sighed, running his free hand through his hair in the nervous gesture that had never quite faded. "You don't know how hard it was for me to cope with a threat that I couldn't fight. Old age was going to claim you... and I wanted to save you so bad, but there wasn't anything I could do. It would've been easier if I could relate to the slow, ongoing kind of mortality. I can't imagine what it must be like for your body to betray you like that... all I could save you from were the ghosts, so... I threw myself into that. It was partly a distraction, but with every ghost threat I headed off in the ghost zone, it was one more that wouldn't ever harm you."
"Danny," Sam said softly, infusing volumes into the one word. The way it dangled in the air, open-ended, drew his attention enough to turn his head. "You need to stop being so pathetic. You're making me want to punch you and kiss you at the same time." The pair shared something almost like a smile for a minute, before Sam asked the real question. "Why didn't you tell me that last time I asked?"
"I did," Danny replied firmly, if a bit offhandedly, "Just not in so many words."
"Don't be. I don't deserve your forgiveness, much less your apologies."
After a brief moment, Sam smiled a little and poked her head farther into Danny's line of vision. "Fine. Here's a deal for you; I'll take back my apology if you'll take the forgiveness. I don't have much use for it."
Against his own will, the ghost's eyes brightened a little. The smile was just barely kept off of his face. "You sure, Sam? I took your life away and, in the end, even your death. After all the fighting I had to do for you to accept that I wasn't going to leave, you're just going to forgive me now?"
Sam shifted back a little, leaning her weight on one arm that was angled behind her. "Not much else I can do about it, is there?" The statement, a fine example of the dichotomy of the mood, hung on the air for a while before she shook her head a little and continued. "Maybe it's for the best. We've finally got our second chance, it would seem."
Danny squeezed her hand again and leaned back himself. For a while, the pair just stared out into the swirling ghostly sky above, thinking. They should probably be worried about Sam developing a ghostly obsession, or about what would happen if there was ever a falling-out, or what kind of future they had in store, but both were a bit too busy savoring the moment. Moments were such a fleeting thing.
"I love you too, by the way. In case that wasn't clear."
33,099 words, 37 reviews; 3,741 hits, 19 favs, and 20 alerts. Thanks for making this such a great debut into the world of DP. Hopefully I'll see you again soon.