Ten Minutes to the End
Disclaimer: Two guesses what I'm going to say here, but as my Nampi would say, you smart cookies probably only need one. Just in case, though: I don't own Danny Phantom.
For the first time in ages, Jazz feels little hope as she sits in the Casper High Gym beside Sam and Tucker and Danny, her fingers desperately clenching the device that is her brother's—or perhaps everyone else's—lifeline. Everyone who's still alive is crammed inside the high school, their sleeping bags and old blankets set up in classrooms where the desks have been pushed to the sides, and what little supplies they have are stored behind guards and locked doors in the basements and closets. The only other guarded door is the one to the teacher's lounge, which is now a headquarters for Amity Park's last ghost hunters as well as the generator powering the ghost shield surrounding the school. Although no one except the elder Fentons, several agents from the Guys in White, and the red huntress are permitted behind those walls, Jazz has overheard her parent's talking a couple of times, so she's aware of how awful her parents and all of the other experts think the situation truly is.
Of course, not one of the ghost hunters actually knows that it's even worse than they think, that within the midst of all of these humans is one of their enemies.
"I shouldn't be in here," says Danny, breaking the silence between the trio, and it's not the first time he's said as much.
Instead of bothering with a retort since they've argued this point with him a thousand times, Sam looks over at Tucker and sighs. "How much longer?"
"Ten minutes," he replies, glancing down at his watch where a timer is ticking down, and he shoots Danny a nervous glance out of the corner of his eye.
"Seriously, guys, it's not worth it. All it'll take is one little slip up, and then everyone in here will be dead," he repeats, determined not to be ignored, and Jazz smiles at him.
"It's worth it, Danny," she disagrees. "It's not your fault, and besides, we've got it under control," she adds, waving the device in her hand for emphasis.
"For now. What'll we do when it runs out of power?" he asks her, his fists clenching tightly at his side. "I don't—I don't want to end up hurting anyone, especially not you guys."
"Even if we let you out of here, you can always get back in," grumbles Sam, clearly not in the mood to have this argument for what is likely the hundredth time. Every three hours they went through this again. Every three hours Danny would tell them to stop, that he wasn't worth it, and every three hours they would tell him that he was and that letting him out would only make things worse. "Your wail would shatter the ghost shield and everyone in here would end up dead if we let you loose."
"Besides, your parents will think of something," adds Tucker with a grin, but his smile fades when he checks the time again. "Eight minutes, guys."
"—it's no use arguing with us, little brother," says Jazz as she throws an arm around his shoulders. "We've made up our minds, and don't think that we're going to let you out of our sight for a second."
"In any other circumstances I'd say that was kind of creepy, Jazz, but this time . . ." Sam lets it hang, shaking her head as she gets to her feet. "Come on. We should do this somewhere else."
"Fine," sighs Danny as they clamber off the bleachers, but then he stops, shaking his head. "No."
"We can't do this," he repeats, and Jazz sighs, wanting to shake her little brother until he snaps out of it because they literally just went through this ten seconds ago.
"Danny, we're doing it, and that's—"
"—it shouldn't just be up to us alone," he says, interrupting her. "This isn't something that'll affect just us, you guys, if we screw up. It's something that can affect every person here, and that means that they should have the right to know what they're risking by keeping me here."
"Danny, that's crazy!" snaps Sam. "You know what'll happen if we just start telling people the truth! They're not going to think about this rationally, okay? They'll just destroy you!"
"Uh, less than seven minutes, guys," emphasizes Tucker nervously, glancing furtively at the doors. "Can't we do this later instead?"
"Maybe he's right, Sam," says Jazz quietly, starting down at her feet, but then she looks up, her eyes shining brightly as she takes her brother's hand. "But Tucker's right, too. We can't do this right now. We need to get out of the gym and take care of this so nobody thinks that we're tasing you for no reason and tries to stop us. If you want to tell everyone after, Danny, then so be it, but we don't have the time for this right now."
Although he looks like he still wants to argue, Danny finally complies and lets his sister lead him to the door, his friends trailing closely behind him. Honestly, Jazz isn't that concerned about Danny telling people the truth about his secret since his parents and everyone else will probably just assume that he's going crazy rather than believe it without any real proof, but the slim possibility that they might actually be convinced somehow makes her just nervous enough to agree with Sam. Unlike Sam and Tucker, however, she's never thought of Danny's secret as being anything but his and his alone. If their advice not to tell anyone isn't enough to dissuade him, then she wouldn't stop him from telling them, no matter the consequences.
When they're about two feet away from the gym door it suddenly bursts open, and in strides their parents and the other ghost hunters. Although they don't ask for it, the room rapidly falls silent, the optimistic looks on the ghost hunters' faces suggesting that perhaps they've finally found a way out of this mess as they head toward the stage. As much as Jazz and the others want to listen, however, it's more important that they take care of Danny's problem, yet as she tries to push past them her dad stops them.
"Hang on just a minute, Jazzy-pants," her father says, completely oblivious to his children's nervous, urgent looks. "You and Danny will want to be here for this one, trust me!"
"Um, Danny's feeling kind of sick again, Dad, and we—"
"—Nonsense, princess, he looks fine!" her father interrupts, grinning broadly, and Jazz can feel herself beginning to panic. "He can hang on for just a few minutes, right?" Glancing back at Tucker, Jazz sees him mouth the words five minutes, and Jazz just hopes that will be enough to let their parents and everyone else get distracted enough for them to slip away.
"I'll try," lies Danny, making a point to look as if he's about two seconds away from vomiting all over his dad's bright orange jumpsuit.
"Don't push yourself too hard, sweetie," his mother tells him as she grabs Jack's arm and leads him onward to the stage, and although it only lasted a little over a minute, it has now gotten that much harder to get away. The rumors about a positive announcement have caused the survivors to gather in the gym, and more and more are coming through and clogging the doors and the hallways.
"Four and a half minutes, guys!" hisses Tucker as soon as the elder Fentons are out of earshot, and the panic on all of their faces is obvious. "We're just going to have to push our way through!"
Desperately, the four teens begin to force their way through the onslaught, mumbling apologies with every other breath as they try to fight their way to the closest exit and their mother begins to speak. "Attention, everyone! I know that these past few weeks have been tough. I know that all of us want to go to our homes—or to rebuild them—and to bury our friends and neighbors that were destroyed by those malicious, horrible ghosts, and to get back at them for what they've done to our beloved community and home. At first we believed that what was happening was another invasion, similar to the Pariah Dark incident, but from our brief forays beyond the ghost shield we've learned that what's happening is by far worse . . . and although we've been reluctant to admit it before now, Jack and I feel like we ought to tell you that what's happening now is our fault."
"I wouldn't do that," mumbles Danny as a few angry whispers begin to run through the crowd since he can't help but listen, yet his friends largely ignore his parents and the tension as they desperately shove their way through. They're getting closer to the door, so close . . . It's going to be a near-thing this time, but they should make it, and Jazz begins to feel her panic die down a bit.
"A couple of months before this started, we captured a ghost called Ember," she continues, ignoring the shift in the crowd's mood. "We realized that this ghost had the ability to use her music to affect humans through a combination of ecto-energy and sonic variations, that she was capable of influencing human emotions through her music, and after studying that power, we believed we could replicate it in one of our own devices to create a device that would let out a sound that would soothe the ghosts and make them nonviolent so that we could more easily keep this town safe. At first it seemed to work, but somehow, someone—or some ghost—managed to sabotage our device."
"Down to a little under three minutes!" Tucker whispers, but it's not a problem. They are so close to freedom that Jazz is barely concerned, and everyone's attention is so focused on his mother's words that they're barely acknowledging the teenagers rudely pushing and shoving their way through, even if two of those kids are the children of the people responsible for what's been happening now.
"And whatever that person or ghost did altered the sound that the device was emitting," his mother continued. "Instead of giving out a signal that helped put the ghosts at ease and made them docile, the signal enraged them, making them going into a blind, homicidal bloodlust that wiped out nearly half of our friends, families, and neighbors before we managed to create this safe haven. Originally we tried to deactivate the device, but getting back into our home after the chaos began, getting back to that device to shut it down, has proven to be impossible for us. And so we went with a different plan, and although it's taken us longer than we ever would have dreamed of, we have finally managed to create a device that should cancel out the frequency that's driving the ghosts mad. Although the ghosts will remain dangerous, they should be able to gain some self-control and become fixated on their own personal obsessions again rather than simply attacking anything and anyone in sight. Their destructive rampage should come to an end, and hopefully we will be able to capture them and make it safe for everyone here to walk the streets of their home once again."
"Two—" begins Tucker, but the words freeze in his mouth when one of the people Danny shoves past grabs the scrawny teenager by the back of the shirt, because unfortunately not everybody has been as oblivious to the fact that two of those fleeing kids are the Fenton's children.
"Hey, Fenton, where the hell do you think you're going?" the nasally voice snaps, and the three teens stand in horror as their friend is snagged by Dash and slammed hard against the ground. Letting out a scream of pain as his shoulder slams against the gym floor with a crack, Danny can't even think about trying to do anything as the football player crouches over him and begins to punch him uncontrollably. Instantly Maddie stops her speech as the crowd looks over and takes a few steps away from the spectacle, not one of them even considering that maybe they should step in and put a stop to it as their own thoughts echo the words that Dash practically screams as he continues to punch Danny. "You really think that I'm just going to let you walk out of here when it's your goddamn parents' fault that my family is dead?"
"Dash, let him go!" snaps Sam, running up to the football player, but she barely makes it a few steps before one of the jock's friends, Kwan, grabs her and holds her back. "LET ME GO!" she shrieks.
"I'm sorry, Sam," says Kwan softly, and although Sam seems ready to give the player a bloody nose or worse, Jazz actually believes that Kwan feels bad about what he's doing. Of course, Jazz also knows that he'll feel a lot worse if this doesn't end soon, because neither of the jocks actually knows what they're doing.
"My brother has nothing to do with what my parents' stupid invention did!" snaps Jazz desperately, although if anyone knew what the device in her hand is and what she and Sam and Tucker have been doing for these past few weeks, then they would never believe her. Rushing forward, she tries to go and help her brother—or at the very least, to get close enough with the device that she'll be able to use it on him when it's time—but is easily restrained by the overweight teacher who now stands behind her.
"Lord of the Flies, people!" snaps Mr. Lancer, who is only trying to help but is making things infinitely worse as he restrains Jazz from interfering, and he gives a nod to Coach Tetslaff who moves forward to tear the enraged Dash off of Danny. The instant he yells Maddie and Jack come tearing through the crowd to get to their son, the large man easily plowing a pathway through the survivors in a way that makes the three teens jealous. The only one who hasn't jumped into the fray is Tucker, but then again, he's never been particularly brave and it's clear to him that at this point it'd be useless. "Now is not the time to be fighting amongst ourselves! Please, Mr. Baxter, let Mr. Fenton go! I know that what you've heard is hard to accept—is hard, indeed, for all of us to accept—but taking it out on Daniel is not going to make any of this better!"
"Seriously, dude, you don't know what you're doing!" adds Tucker, glancing at his watch and mouthing the word one minute! with such desperation that Jazz begins to think that they're doomed. There's no way that this stupid little fight can be solved in a minute or that Lancer will let her go soon enough for Jazz to get to her brother in time, yet somehow Tetslaff manages to wrangle the football player off of Danny just as Maddie and Jack arrive.
"Danny!" exclaims Maddie as she falls to her knees and touches his severely bruised body, for the football player did a lot of damage in just a few minutes. Danny's nose and face are smashed and bruised as blood trickles down his face, and his left shoulder is jutting out strangely. "Oh, my poor boy, my poor sweet boy!"
"Danny-boy, it'll be okay, don't worry," promises Jack as he kneels down beside his broken, beaten son, and there are tears streaming down the big man's face as he leans over the boy. "I'm so sorry, son. I didn't mean for this to happen. It's not your fault."
"You're . . . wrong . . ." wheezes Danny, struggling to breathe as his mother helps him sit up, and Jazz stares at him in horror. As much as she wants to be kind to her brother, as much as she wants to help him, she knows that she can't do that for everyone else's sake. Biting her lower lip, she clutches the device and puts her finger on the trigger just as Tucker's eyes look over at her in horror. He thinks they're doomed, and if she doesn't act now, then he's right.
"I don't understand, sweetie," whispers Maddie. "How could it be your fault?"
"I'm the one tha—" he begins, but Tucker cuts him off, no longer interested in secrecy.
"DAMN IT, JAZZ, TEN SECONDS! DO SOMETHING!"
Instantly all eyes look to her, for no one knows what he's talking about, but Jazz isn't going to explain. Stomping hard on Lancer's foot, the older man lets out a non-book related curse as he releases her and she charges forward with the device in hand. She doesn't need to ask Tucker how much time is left, for as smashed up as her brother's face is, it's still obvious that it's happening. His eyes and face go slack for a moment as his power is unlocked once more, as his ghost half reemerges, and then an unsettling red glow comes over them as he smashes his mother to the side with an unearthly, inhuman strength. Shrieks erupt in the gymnasium, for even those who didn't know Danny's secret recognize those horrible, red, pupil-less eyes as those belonging to a ghost who's gone mad, and in a fit of panic they try to flee to the other side of the gym, trying to get anywhere that isn't near the monstrosity emerging in their midst. Even Kwan roughly tosses Sam aside to get away, but most of the people in the gym can't get out because Danny is right in front of the entrance, and so instead they retreat to the bleachers as the Guys in White pull out their weapons, prepared to neutralize the threat at any cost.
"But . . . I don't—I don't understand. He can't be—he's not—Danny's not a ghost," stutters Jack as he backs away from his son, terrified, and even though she thinks it's useless at this point, even though her brother's inhuman, red eyes are now turning to lock on her and she can see him preparing to swat her away the instant she gets within an inch of him, Jazz doesn't care. If Danny were in her position, then he'd try to save everyone no matter the cost, and Jazz is going to do her best to do the same.
Of course, Jazz isn't like Danny at all, and instead of choosing to believe in herself and hope for the best, the only thing she can think as she closes the distance and raises the Plasmius Maximus is a single, pessimistic thought:
I'm too late.
A/N: Originally posted late on a Saturday night while writing in a fit of madness. Since many people wanted me to continue it, I'm totally going to do it . . . just give me a bit of time, okay? ;)
Edited on January 29, 2012 for some minor stupidity and to reflect the fact that I'm now continuing this fic.