A/N: Another month gone by. I think it's safe to assume that this is going to be my regular schedule. Expect updates at the end of each month. Hopefully I can keep up that much predictability.
"…twelve, thirteen, fourteen…," Valerie counted, pulling herself up on the bar in front of her Wanted poster…minus one ghost-boy. She couldn't bring herself to hate him anymore. There was far too much she didn't know. Maybe she could corner him sometime? She smirked. Just because she didn't hate him didn't mean that she had to like him. That, and it was fun to make him sweat.
Tap, tap, tap.
Hopping down from her bar, Valerie narrowed her eyes at the window. There were only so many things that could have tapped on it and none of them were good in her opinion.
Activating her suit, the Huntress edged around her bed to look out the window. She scanned the littered street, trying to find the source of the disturbance. Seeing nothing but snow, she started to relax. It was probably nothing.
"Please don't shoot!"
This, of course, made the Huntress raise her ecto-gun in readiness.
"Give me one good reason not to!" she threatened, glaring out the window. Old habits die hard and there was only one ghost that was brazen enough to knock on her window.
Valerie shifted from her defensive stance, though she kept her gun out. What?
"What about her?" she spat, resuming her stance. He knew she had a soft-spot for his cousin.
"I'm worried about her."
Valerie stilled, surrendering her aggression in the face of Phantom's sincerity. It was like hearing him defending Danielle all those months ago, when he'd begged and bargained for a chance to save her from Vlad. There was no deception in that tone or those words.
With Valerie's consent given, Phantom became visible and phased into the room. To her surprise, he set his feet firmly on the ground. They eyed each other warily. Neither was sure how to proceed since they'd never just talked. Yet, in some strange way it felt right.
"Why are you worried?" Valerie finally broke the stillness.
"I never should have let her go. I-I just," he closed his eyes, working his jaw as he dropped his head, "I didn't want her to see me surrender."
Valerie watched the ghost-boy in front of her, trying to figure out why he was confiding in her.
"No, no, that's not," he trailed off looking at the ceiling. He brought his head back down to look at her properly. "He knows where I live."
Valerie opened her mouth to ask who he meant but shut it as she realized that there really was only one person that he could be talking about.
"You were trying to protect her," she stated. It felt so strange defending Danny Phantom from himself, but it was the truth and it needed to be said.
Phantom looked at her startled, but Valerie continued with conviction as she came to the realization that it was the only thing about Phantom that she was sure about.
"Everything you did that night was to protect her. There's no fault in that."
"And yet," Phantom told her, his brows furrowing, "I may have put her in even worse danger. She's so much like me, Valerie. There's no telling what kind of trouble she could've gotten into.
And then there's the ice powers. When mine developed, they nearly destroyed me even with help. She has nowhere to go for help."
Valerie finally deactivated her weapon, eyeing Phantom with curiosity.
"Why are you here?" she asked, shaking her head slowly.
"You found her once."
Maddie smiled as she greeted Lord Adam Darrow, happier than she could ever say that this was the last political engagement that she and Jack would be required to attend before they went home.
"You're looking lovely this evening, Your Highness," Lord Darrow smiled pleasantly, lightly kissing her knuckles before straightening and releasing her hand.
"Thank you, Lord Darrow. You're looking well yourself," Maddie responded politely.
"Life has been good to me. And, please, call me Adam," the man insisted. Maddie's smile tightened as she wished that Jack was closer to her. She had known Adam Darrow when they were young. He had been handsome then with his dark hair and light green-gray eyes, and he had aged well. They had dated for a time while in school, but Maddie had broken it off after no more than a month. Most people, even Alicia who was already a cynic at that point, hadn't understood her decision, but she stood by it. There had always been something just…off about him.
"I'm glad things have worked out for you, Lord Darrow," Maddie told him. Her smile became much more genuine when she saw her husband coming closer. "Have you met my husband? Jack, this is Lord Darrow, Lord Darrow, Prince Jack."
"Nice to meet ya, Lord Darrow!" Jack boomed, grinning. Maddie smiled adoringly at her husband, pointedly ignoring Lord Darrow's narrowed eyes and reddening face.
"A pleasure, Your Highness," Darrow said through gritted teeth.
"So, why'd you want me to come alone?" Tucker asked as he stepped over the threshold.
"He's keeping something from us," Sam stated as she closed the door behind him and led him down to the home theater. Her parents might eavesdrop if they went to her room, but after overhearing one-too-many horror films they tended to avoid the theater if she and her friends went down there.
Tucker furrowed his eyebrows at her. It really wasn't as unusual as most people assumed for Danny to keep secrets from his friends.
"No, Tucker. This is different," Sam interrupted, her eyes blazing. "You know it is."
Tucker looked at his friend in concern.
"I'm not so sure it is, Sam," he told her, trying to figure out what was going through the Goth's head. She glared at him, her eyes just daring him to prove it.
Tucker crossed his arms and shifted his stance to match hers.
"He's stressed out, Sam. This thing with his family is way out there from what we normally deal with. Ghost invasion? No problem. New power? Cool! Even the Fruitloop's schemes are just another day on the job. But this is grief and politics and a whole other country!" He uncrossed his arms and scratched under the edge of his hat. He sighed and shrugged, "Maybe you're right about it being different, but…I don't know that it's something we need to worry about. He just seemed to be thinking hard about something."
"That's exactly the point! Since when does Danny just think hard about something?" Sam countered, not willing to give up without a fight. "When was the last time you saw Danny do that?"
Tucker thought about it. She had a good point. Danny tended to be more foolhardy and rash whenever he had to make a choice. Most of the time, of course, Danny only had maybe a split-second to make his decisions, but even when he has more time he still usually acts without thinking too much about it. Finally though, the techno-geek remembered one time when Danny did think hard about something.
"After he first had the accident," Tucker started, choosing his words carefully, "he thought about telling his parents for over a month."
"That was two years, ago Tucker. You know why he decided not to," Sam answered his statement warily. She could see where he was going with this, and she wasn't sure that she liked it.
"Yeah, but now he has that journal. What if his uncle was right?" Tucker pointed out. It made him nervous, too, but maybe it was time. Danny always did hate keeping secrets, despite now having so many.
Sam bit her lip. "Still, what about Vlad? If Danny's right, without the secret to hold him back, Vlad might make a direct attempt on Mr. Fenton's life. Do you think Danny's ready to face him head on?"
Tucker looked at Sam worriedly.
A/N: What did you think of Phantom's alliance with Valerie? And Lord Darrow? Tell me in a review, and as alwaysALOHA!