A/N: Heavily AU. I don't know where this came from, or really where it's going, though the next chapter is in the works. I really like the way this chapter came together, though the format is pretty much just because I didn't want another chapter exactly like the beginning of The More Things Change where it was all background information. This is what came of it. We'll see where it goes.

Also, this is indeed DxV. Because I can. But if you're an adamant 'Danny loves Valerie, no one else' kind of shipper, then you might want to wander to other pastures. As I said, I have no idea where this is going. It could wind up with Danny declaring his undying love to Ember. Because my brain works that way. (And if you're worried now, no. That's not actually going to happen.)

Disclaimer: I don't own Danny Phantom. Though the universe is mine, and, as soon as I figure it out, the story will be too. Sorry, guys. I'm not actually Butch Hartman.


"So, where are we going tonight?"

Okay. So, yeah; it was a bit weird. But her dad had gone from designer of state-of-the-art security systems to ghost hunter. Her life was weird. And that was before she got into an up-close-and-personal encounter with a ghost in junior year and decided she wanted to follow in her father's footsteps. The weeks following her tenancy as a hostage had been a low point for her. Unlike some ghost hunters she knew, who seemed to take a strange sort of thrill in the hunt, she was always afraid of the ghosts. She wouldn't let it show, of course; she was too proud for that. Her popularity in high school had taught her that the way she handled herself when she was out of her element was of infinite importance.

"Barring the likelihood of an interruption?"

"Yeah."

"I was thinking the movies. I hear there's a good horror flick playing tonight."

Ghost hunting was, for her, a way of facing her fears. And, really, Danny was just an extension of that. For years, she'd been blowing down her fears; taking aggression out on them and not bothering to think about it. When she got behind the suit, she just let go. She almost became another person, one with no fears and no inhibitions. A weapon, focused on one purpose alone. Danny was making her face her fears in an entirely different way, though. He was finally forcing her to rationalize everything out; to not just grit her teeth through it but get over it. To allow a little of the light of day to touch her vigilante activities.

"Why are you always so interested in inviting the paranormal into the rest of our lives?"

It was almost a stranger story than the elements of supernatural would imply. Almost. They'd butted heads at first, peer-to-peer and... loathe though she was to admit it now, hunter-to-prey. Daniel Fenton, the shaggy-haired devil who looked like a bad boy but always made it to class, always held the door for her, and always had the strangest excuses when cornered, had never really been high on her 'people to make friends with' list. He was in about half of her classes by some strange coincidence, and she knew from the fact that she'd sat beside him before that he was some kind of pioneer in the field of note-taking. He would write half as much as she did, and yet it always seemed to be enough. Which was why, when she missed a few days of class doped up on painkillers and nursing the worst of a compound fracture in her right (and dominant) arm, she had to begrudgingly ask for his notes. Ghost fighting had its downfalls.

"Suppose I get it from my parents. They never really knew where to draw the line. I think my current... condition is evidence enough to that."

An outsider would probably think that she hated him for being some sort of poser bad boy. That wasn't really it, though. If it was, she would've been plotting to kill half the male population. He was cordial to her, but always cocky, like he knew something she didn't. It drove her crazy trying to figure it out, and whenever she tried to talk to him, she couldn't quite puzzle out where he fit into the neat spectrum of labels she'd committed to memory in high school and adjusted for college life. She liked things to be simple; to make sense. Them and us and those guys. The mystery he presented, the contradiction that seemed to ooze from his pores, only served to distract her. Little did she know just how deep it ran.

"...I still can't get over how readily you bring it up."

"It's not like it's a secret or anything."

"Yeah, but it's not exactly public knowledge, either."

Since she was borrowing his notes for the following weeks, being unable to write them herself, she was forced to talk to him. If the fear of his cutting her off wasn't enough of a drive, he started to write little notes to her in the margins. Things like 'a little less grumpy today?' and 'Yes, I'm aware you can't write back; I'm hoping this will get you to actually talk to me.' Once, even 'I could start calling you Vallie-kins.' Eventually, she had no choice but to give him a chance. They went out for lunch, and he told her about his family. He quickly labeled them as 'strange', and after a little pressing, Valerie found that they were professional ghost hunters, leaders in the field. She never would have guessed that the wiry, shaggy boy before her came from those Fentons. He wanted to major in some kind of science, following in his parents' footsteps, but he didn't know what yet. The date (as, though they never would have labeled it as such then, looking back on it, it was as good a day as any to call their first date) answered a lot of questions for her. Daniel Fenton was no longer such a mystery. He was Danny, the boy who was unendingly on her nerves and yet was possibly, even after only a few days of actually tolerating him, the best friend she'd ever had. Such were always the dangers of being popular and yet a little eccentric; a lack of real friends.

"Well, it's a part of me. You're my girlfriend; I'm supposed to be able to be myself with you."

By then, it was the enigmatic Phantom that was drawing most of her animosity anyways.

"..."

He was a constant source of irritation. The one ghost with no clear goal, as well as the one that refused to be caught. The cause of her late nights and, occasionally, missed lectures. With most ghosts, she only dared to do so in classes that Danny was there to catch her up in, but a chance to catch Phantom sometimes overrode her common sense. Phantom only ever showed up when there was another ghost around, and for whatever reason, he was also the only ghost that measured an instantly recognizable reading on her scanners. For whatever reason, he was around much more often than any other ghost. He rarely attacked her directly, usually just preferring to grin like an idiot and make sly remarks, but something about him rubbed her the wrong way. She knew he had to be up to something.

"Do you wish I'd never told you?"

Imagine the shock when, on the verge of going from a couple of friends to just a couple, Danny Fenton told her that he needed to be honest if there was going to be a relationship. She was expecting some kind of mental problem, an addiction, or maybe an STD. She was certainly not expecting him to launch into an explanation about the binding of a consciousness to ectoplasm, followed up by some kind of crackpot theory that it could be merged with the usual stuff that made up humans with interesting results. Before she got a chance to ask about the strange prelude, her worst enemy was standing where her almost-boyfriend had been seconds before. Her first instinct was to think it was a trick, until she realized just what he'd been leading up to with the scientific explanations. He was proof of the theory. Fenton and Phantom, one in the same.

"I fight with you now, don't I? Things are better off than they were, aren't they? We're both happier now, and neither of us can deny that."

After some interesting lead-up and a near miss of a nervous breakdown, the next week was a roller coaster. When it finally settled out, however, Valerie found that it didn't really change anything about Danny, just answered the questions that had been plaguing her before. They really weren't so different, when things got down to it; he hunted ghosts too. In fact, it wasn't remotely uncommon for the pair to do so together. In general, things were going surprisingly well.

"Valerie, do you wish I'd never told you?"

"...I don't know, Danny. My life is just too crazy right now. I honestly don't know."

Some days, however, facing her fears was easier than others.