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Chapter Summary: The Fifth Element Part 3. Dan struggles in his new life as a human under the watchful eye of Valerie Gray. Valerie is both endeared and frustrated by the results. Both of them know they're meant for more.

Chapter Warnings: No particular trigger warnings besides language and references to violence.


Shot 74: Fifth Element Part 3

One human Dan Phantom found himself sitting on the examination table in the infirmary, his dark brows angled together as he buttoned himself into a dark blue flannel shirt. The shirt had been in the resistance's donation pile, and Valerie had picked it up for him, along with some jeans that were a bit tight on him.

He did not know if she had done that on purpose, given that her technology had analyzed every dimension of him time and again during their battles.

He had suspicions. He knew Valerie liked a tight butt.

His long fingers fumbled with the shirt buttons, his body still exhausted from his weeks-long trek to Amity Park. "If you wish for me to avoid homicidal tendencies," he called out suddenly, his deep voice raising in a huff, "consider a shirt that does not include buttons." He looked down in irritation as the button caught on a frayed thread, resulting in a problem where he couldn't actually button it correctly. He huffed, and in doing so, the rivers of his inky hair puffed about him, only to straggle back against his cheek and tickle his skin.

He itched his face, groaning.

Valerie, meanwhile, stood off to the side, beholding him in a mild form of amusement. "No," she said. "Now that I know you hate buttons, that's all I'm gonna let you wear."

Dan flickered sharp, blue eyes at her, narrowing. "Do not play this game with me. You know I prefer zippers."

Her full lips stretched. "I'm sure we can find button-only jeans too. Button-only coats—"

He slammed his large hand down on the table. His black locks moved at the force. Then he raised a finger at her. "—Do not try my patience."

She quirked a brow. "Or you'll do what, exactly?"

His lip curled into a snarl, revealing perfectly white, square teeth, save for his canines, which were still a bit too sharp. "This body may be weak, but I am not without skills."

She rubbed her fingernails on the lapel of her military jacket, then twirled a finger into one of her ringlet curls, eyeing him. "I'm shaking," she retorted lightly. "You look like I could bench-press two of you."

That did it.

The human man stood up from the table, his shirt still halfway unbuttoned, his dark hair flickering about him as if it were still flames. His gaunt though handsome face twisted with a frown.

And for a time, they remained that way, with him staring down at her, and she up at him.

"I would like to see you try, Valerie dear," he murmured hotly. "Manhandle me right now to prove your point."

Her lips flat-lined, and she poked him hard in the chest. "Not without hog-tying you first." Then she smoothed the wrinkled flannel across his shoulder, humming as she tilted her head. She pulled away at that, adding, "You get frisky if I get too close. And I don't trust you to not slit my throat either."

His face split darkly, and he tilted his head, his dark hair slipping down his broad shoulder. "Oh, come now, Red Huntress. Are we not the best of enemies? You would catch me before I succeeded."

Valerie grumped. "Are you tryin' to insult or compliment me?"

"A little of both," he murmured to her, his blue eyes gleaming with a demonic joy. "If I were to compliment you without question, your head would swell." He dared to reach out and lightly twirled one of his long fingers around one of her stiff curls. It was an intimate action, as if he were caressing the curl like a curve of her body. "Your form would be distorted."

She pulled away, swallowing hard. "Don't touch me like that."

Those human eyes of his flickered with emotion. "You touch me without my approval."

She searched his eyes, then dared to say, "You told me once you wanted me to ravish you, so don't mind my disbelief here that you're offended."

His black hair hung in rivers down his cheek and shoulders, now shining bright from a bath. It gave him an odd aura of a different kind of supernatural being—something very mundane but untouchable. He smiled, and it stretched his lips handsomely. "Ah, yes. I do believe I said such after drinking a red wine I'd found in the wastelands. Pay it no mind."

"Oh, I'm gonna pay it some mind, buddy." She poked his chest. He was warm and sturdy, with a living rhythm in every cell. "You know what they say about alcohol and inhibitions."

And it was then that a fully sober Dan Phantom searched her eyes and murmured, his deep voice rising, "Very well, then. You've caught me."

His words inspired a pause in her. Her dark fingers slid away from his chest. Her face twisted, and she turned away, unable to handle him when he wasn't being violent or otherwise annoying.

There was a silence in the room for a time, and she looked down at her arm, which bore a simple watch from her father. It bothered her to realize that she could feel Dan's unspoken demand for a response to him—to continue the banter.

He was waiting.

On her.

Valerie turned around. "You've got work to do," she declared, voice hardening with a tone that suggested she meant business. "You're just flirting with me to waste time, and I know it."

Thin lips stretched. Dan had such a wide mouth, it was easy to get lost in the sight. "I'd rather work on you, Valerie dear."

She face-faulted. "That better not mean what I think it does."

Though he'd lost some muscle mass, the human version of Dan was terribly attractive when he was cleaned up. He said airily, "Perhaps I should ask you what you think it means."

Valerie scoffed. "Not on your life. Now, finish buttoning up your shirt, because the fields opened up two hours ago for work, and we gotta still find you a hoe."

Dark, black brows knitted together at that. "That better not mean," he said slowly, "what I think it does."

Her teal eyes began to glimmer with a darkness.

To Dan's horror, Valerie's statement meant everything he feared and worse.

He hissed, "No. I will not perform manual labor in this way."

She held out a gardening hoe, giving him a warning glare. "You don't have a choice. Because you're in my world now with no way out, and if you wanna stay here without getting shot, then so help me, you are gonna pull your weight."

The man huffed. "Absolutely not. I am not a farmer. I don't—I do not perform manual, and I certainly do not perform it for humans."

"Tough shit," she snapped back. "You are human now, whether you like it or not."

All of their previous flirtations fell right back into just as old a rhythm—argument.

Dan bared a lip, revealing square, white teeth. He snapped, "Not by my own choice. You cannot force me to work. I demand you handcuff me immediately and take me to one of your jails. I would much rather wear the orange jumpsuit and sleep in a cot than dirty my hands on behalf of Amity Park."

Before them spanned the underground fields of Amity Park—the farming land lit hot with UV lights hanging from the ceiling. The structure spanned for miles in each direction, with tall wheat and corn and various fruits and vegetables hidden within deep, green leaves. Hundreds were already working that day. Some people were cutting down wheat with scythes. Others held baskets, leaning down to pick berries and radishes.

A few small children ran by giggling, carrying empty baskets.

Valerie's jaw clenched. "Okay, I'll handcuff you. We'll put you in jail, and then you'll go to a factory to work as free labor. Sounds great to me. I'll even get to electrocute you without question if you get out of hand." Her voice lowered with a dangerous hiss. "I've put myself on the line for you. The least you could do is pay me back by staying under the radar."

Dan's face twisted even more. "You think you control me now," he warned. "You think I owe you anything."

She grabbed for his collar and forcibly dragged his neck down closer to her. His long hair spilled down his flannel-clad shoulders. "You owe the world. And you know it."

The man paused, searching her eyes. He huffed in some soft, silent amusement, his ire with her lessening the more he saw the righteous flare. "Do you honestly believe that me toiling in dirt would in any way save what soul I have?" He leaned forward, his voice softening. "You're such an optimist, Valerie. It shows."

Her face flushed at that, cheeks growing hot. "It's not about redemption," she retorted. "It's about paying your dues."

His head tilted. "You do not wish to deliver me from evil?"

Her voice strangled out. "You are evil. Can't really separate you out."

Something about that crinkled his brow. He fell silent for a time, and then he oddly grabbed for the hoe from her hands. His voice strained. "Why then do you trust me with this? It is a weapon, Valerie. I could kill you, or anyone here."

Her eyes remained steady. "I think you like having freedoms," she challenged softly. "All of that goes away the moment you step out of line. And then what would you be, except for a human criminal? You'd probably die by firing squad, buried in an unmarked grave like the rest of them. Forgotten."

His knuckles turned white against the handle of the hoe.

She pointed to a section of dirt and stuffed a bag in his hands. "Now go plant these seeds in that block over there. Don't make me have to watch over you for every little second."

His handsome expression was still puzzled in a strange way. "Would you not remember me?" he murmured, voice straining. "If I were to die and not return?"

Valerie swallowed down emotion. She said nothing, but instead turned away, grabbing for some gardening tools of her own, preparing to join her fellow humans in the task of planting and reaping food.

Dan watched her, his face tight.

And then he turned away, looking down at his hand. He silently turned the bag in his grasp, looking at the name of what he would be planting.


Something about the word inspired a wave of emotion through him, for he recalled several days in the past where Valerie would sit down in the Wastelands and open up a little lunch box, sighing tiredly as she munched on strawberries and peanut butter sandwiches and chips, still on high alert, watching for him.

He'd try to hide himself simply to watch her eat as humans did, to remind herself that she had vulnerabilities. Weaknesses.

But something about the way she held strawberries and picked at the leaves had always inspired him to stay his hand against her. To not strike at those times, for she was the only living soul for miles, bringing the sight of fresh fruits and homemade things.

Sacred items in an apocalypse.

More than once had he felt his mouth water in want for one of her strawberries. To taste fruit. Sweet things.

It was strange to him, to hold a burlap sack of seeds that could ultimately grow into strawberries. He opened the bag, curious peering into it, unable to see the image of a strawberry hidden within the form of the tiny seeds.

He turned back, his face hardening in irritation. "Valerie?" he called to her. "Valerie dear, you did not tell me how to even plant these correctly." He waved his hand in a huff. "How am I to make them grow? How many seeds in one place—how far apart?"

The woman who was grabbing for her own bag from the pile paused. Then she stood up straight, her full lips beginning to twitch. "You're a smart boy," she called to him, voice sweet and derisive. "You can figure it out."

The next few hours, Valerie worked on her own plot of land, using her hoe to draw lines in the soil. Sweat beaded upon her temples, glistening against the dark curls that straggled down her cheek. She occasionally looked over at Dan.

The man was mimicking her.

He'd pause, occasionally eyeing her, then tentatively copying her actions to draw lines at appropriate spaces apart. The infamous Dan Phantom was nothing if not a perfectionist, somehow spurned by a new idea to do things better than the other humans, if only for Valerie to see his superiority. To remember him as such.

His lines in the dirt were clinically perfect and well-spaced. As he kneeled, setting little seeds into their dirt bed, he carefully covered them with dirt once more, attempting to pat the soil evenly.

Valerie pressed her lips together to hide a snort as she watched his expression twist in horror at the sight of a worm slipping up from the dirt to slid along his hand. Dan flinched away from it, then grabbed for his hoe and rather precisely attempted to shovel the worm away from both his work station and the strawberries.

That did it. Valerie laughed. The sound burst from her as a huff of amusement, but it turned into a rough giggle as she looked back down. She called to him, "You know, worms are good for the soil."

He looked up, face tight. His own features were beginning to bead with sweat from the hot lights above them. He'd unbuttoned the first several buttons of his shirt, his long hair straggling down his cheeks. His face was flushed from the exertion of hard manual labor. His voice raised up. "How was I to know? I do not usually toil in dirt like a pig."

Her eyes narrowed to playful slits. "You callin' me fat?"

Dan made a noise in the back of his throat. "No, I did not."

"You're callin' me fat," she called out, voice raising in a warning. "I hear it in your tone."

His expression darkened with a righteous indignation. "I do not have a tone." He waved his hand incredulously. "I am attempting to plant strawberries in dirt."

The more upset he became, the more dark joy rose in Valerie's heart. She looked down, her full lips twitching. "Planting strawberries. Right."

Sharp, blue eyes landed on her.

She was messing with him.

And in that moment, he wanted so desperately to transform and barrel her over onto the ground. And wring her neck. His eyes narrowed hard.

Two could play this game.

He set down his bag of seeds and gingerly began to unbutton his shirt, revealing his broad shoulders to her and the lithe plane of his chest. His spine remained straight and proud as he tied his flannel shirt around his waist. And then he leaned back over, planting seeds with his full attention.

He could feel her eyes on him then.

Trailing over the slope of his shoulders and the veins down his hard-muscled forearm.

His dark hair slipped against the sharp of his cheek as he worked, his jaw in a clench—a mix of irritation against her and merriment that he could so easily distract herself. With himself.

Dan eventually flickered his blue eyes to her.

He was catching Valerie in the act of watching him, her own rhythm frozen at the sight of his body moving under the lights.

His wide lips stretched.

Valerie swallowed visibly. Her dark cheeks flared with a red tinge, and she suddenly looked a bit too-warm under those UV lights, her skin glimmering.

She looked away first.

His smirk split into a full smile. And his smile was so terribly genuine that others working in nearby plots of land looked at the strange man in sudden curiosity. They found his expression to be handsome, his form leaning toward Valerie in a way that suggested he was absolutely infatuated with her.

They watched him and Valerie closer, their curiosity increasing about this stranger.

There was something familiar about that smile.

And back in the control station, one Damien Gray narrowed his good eye at the camera, watching. He lowered the pen in his hand. "…I knew it."

At lunch break, one dirty and sweaty Dan sat in the soil, picking curiously through a lunch bag one of the employees had dropped at the corner of his plot. He was slightly breathless, having worked a bit harder with Valerie's watchful eye on him.

Forgotten, bullshit.

He was going to make sure she damn well remembered him. Especially late at night, laying in bed by herself—

His dirty fingers lifted up a peanut butter sandwich. His blue eyes beheld it for a time, and then his human stomach grumbled hard enough to inspire him to bite hard into it—taking a bite that was too large. His parched throat seized with the peanut butter, and next thing he knew, the great Dan Phantom was coughing over a sandwich, his eyes squeezing shut as he reached for his water bottle.

"…Having trouble being human over here?" came a familiar voice.

As he guzzled down water, a trail slipping freely down his chin, he dared to look up.

His eyes met those of Valerie Gray's.

In her hand was a similar lunch bag.

Dan pulled the water bottle away from his mouth, coughing slightly still, then wiping his lips on his arm in exhaustion. "Your food is trying to kill me," he said roughly.

Her pretty face stretched with a smile. "All part of the master plan."

"To kill me with lunch foods?"

"It's the best way to die, if you wanna know." She sat down beside him. Her spine was stiff from the hard, repetitive work of bending over. Her combat boots slid into the dirt. Her dark curls brushed against his wild hair.

He turned to her, his sharp cheeks still flushed from coughing. "But would you remember me?" he murmured, voice rough.

She paused at that. "Remember you?" She began to rummage about in her lunch bag, pulling out a strawberry. It was a deep red—round and plump between her dark fingers. She raised it to her lips, biting into its sweet flesh as she stared at him.

She munched thoughtfully, then said, voice muffled with food, "Yeah, I'd totally remember if you died from choking on a peanut butter sandwich."

The other humans of the resistance began to realize a strange, ongoing pattern between Valerie and this newcomer. His name of Dan inspired some trepidation, and several thought he looked quite familiar—although they did not know why. But the primary interest was how he acted around Valerie. The antisocial, disgruntled man seemed to light up into a completely different person around her. Smart and witty. Sarcastic and snarky. Rather obviously in love—rather obviously unable to admit it.

"He does seem to remind me of Phantom," one resistance member said with a twist in her face as she slurped on soup. It was now dinner time, with shifts over. "Does anyone else think that?"

"She doesn't act like he's Phantom," another man cut in gruffly. "Look at all the flirtin' they do."

A second man leaned forward. "You heard the story, right? This guy got possessed by Phantom out in the Wastelands. Still kinda thinks he's him. It's why she's keeping an eye on him."

The woman hummed. "Oh, she's doing more than that." Her voice turned with a curiosity as she narrowed her eyes. "Way more than that."

Across the room, one mysterious Dan was sitting in a chair, huffing over the mud and dirt on him, taking his long fingers and dragging them through his matted hair. His handsome face was twisted in dismay and irritation, as if he were unused to dirt or combing hair.

The indomitable Commander Valerie Gray was sitting back in her chair, munching on some chips. She'd kicked up her dirty shoes onto the table between them, watching with a laugh in her eyes.

Dan turned to her, his baritone voice a sharp murmur of unintelligible words.

She lowered her boots from the table to right onto his lap.

The human man made a strangled noise from her heel hitting a place a bit too sensitive for much damage, and Valerie's full lips broke out in a cackle. She lifted up a potato chip in a toast and then slouched a bit more in her chair, crossing her ankles on his lap. Clods of mud fell from the soles of her boots into his lap and onto the floor.

The members of the resistance narrowed their eyes curiously.

Commander Valerie Gray was rarely playful.

But this was her playing.

And for being the possessed puppet of Dan Phantom, this human "Dan" seemed all too willing to be Valerie's plaything. His pale face flushed as he snarled at her, but his actions lacked fire. His blush on those dirty cheeks suggested he didn't entirely mind being teased by her.

The resistance members slurped on their soup and silently began to make bets that Valerie Gray and Dan would hook up by the end of the week.

Someone even made a two-hundred dollar bet that the true Dan Phantom would get jealous and return.

That night, Dan stood beneath a showerhead in the washrooms, eyes closed in delight as hot water stormed over him. He hid his face in the stream. Mud and dirt slid from sharp cheeks and his broad shoulders.

He'd forgotten about this. The feeling of warmth and water.

He made a pleased noise in the back of his throat, slicking his dark hair back.

There was suddenly the voice of an unimpressed Valerie. "Please don't be doing what that sounds like," she snapped to him. She leaned against the other wall of the washroom stalls, arms crossed. "I know you love yourself, but that's just weird with me right here."

Dan's mouth split beneath the water. He pulled away, opening up brilliantly entertained eyes. "It is true, I love no one so much as I do myself. But perhaps you might wish to join me, to celebrate the obvious superiority of my form over that of other men."

Valerie's elegant brow raised up. She made a noise then, her eyes widening. "I'm not—I'm not getting in there with you!"

He turned around in the stall, leaning his head back to wash away the remains of the shampoo from his hair. It smelled like Valerie—a standard, crisp scent used by the whole of the resistance. He found he did not mind sharing a scent, so long as it was shared by her. "Why not?" he challenged her. "I know you're curious. And don't you want to check that I'm not…sneaking a weapon somehow?"

The washrooms were shared by men and women alike—clean and utilitarian. But this one was abandoned save for her and Dan, luckily.

Valerie was sputtering. "I'm not curious. Not a damn bit. How dare you even think that."

Soon enough, the towel hanging off the door to the shower stall disappeared, and the water shut off. The door opened, and a naked Dan sauntered out, water still slipping down his skin as he tightened the towel around his waist.

Valerie pressed her lips together.

Intelligent, blue eyes focused on her. "Have you not been listening to the rumors from your own people?" he demanded, his voice softening. "The way they whisper against you as you pass by them?"

"Get some clothes on," she snapped.

He leaned closer, water dripping from the sharp of his jaw. "They know you like me, Valerie," he whispered. "I hear there is even a bet going around, and you'd be rather fascinated to know what all it entails."

She looked up at him, her teal eyes hardening. Her jaw clenched, and she said nothing for a time.

He tried again. "Am I not being particularly…good?" he asked her. His voice strained. "For I have not slit their throats on your behalf or mine, though I could have easily done it during dinner. And I have slaved over a field of strawberry seeds without killing anyone there either." He tilted his head. "Unless you feel offended by these humans who bet about your sex life, and so I would kill them. For you."

"No one is dying over a stupid bet," she retorted dryly. "Also, you're getting me wet. Back off."

Dan's lips stretched. "Getting you wet? My, Valerie. And here I thought you didn't like getting off on violence."

Her face contorted hard. She put a hand on her hip and gave him a dark glare.

The man raised his chin and sniffed, turning around and running a hand through his dark hair. But there was a merriment in his eyes. "I'm beginning to like this arrangement," he murmured. "Not so much the dirt and farming parts, but this opportunity to see you in your natural habitat." He grabbed for his clothes, which were resting on a bench. "Are you going to watch me dress as well?"

Valerie turned around with a harsh huff, her face still contorted.

She heard the sound of the towel moving away, and him rustling clothes. In the silence as he put on a clean pair of sweatpants, something in her heart caught. "Do they really have a bet on me?" she called out. "And don't be lying. I just want to know."

Dan paused in his action of tying up his long hair into a bun. The action made his face twist, for his hair did not move so agilely as it once did. "Of course. Humans care only about food and sex, Valerie dear. It's rather unfortunate I find myself falling prey to such patterns."

She waited, tapping her foot.

He continued, voice a deadpan, "Apparently, Valerie dear, your comrades believe we shall fuck by the end of the week."

Her foot froze. "What?" And she turned around.

The human man wore his sweatpants low on his hips, revealing the "v" of his muscles. He was still awkwardly attempting to pull his wet hair up into something that would not drip water onto his back, and he appeared quite disgruntled. "What business of theirs is it, you're thinking, I know."

He lowered his arms, a few strands of dark hair straggling against his cheek. He searched her eyes and dared to say, his lips twitching up in a sardonic way, "Regardless, they don't know you as I do."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

Dan leaned down to grab his dirty clothes and his towel. His handsome face was in a twist. "Simply that…we've flirted for damn well near ten years, and it doesn't amount to anything." His fingers dug into the muddy material of his shirt. "Something always holds you back. And I suspect it will continue."

Valerie watched him. She raised her chin curiously. "You make that sound like a bad thing."

The human paused. "It's probably a good thing," he murmured. "For you." His handsome face turned with a pout. "Because how terrible it would be, for me to regain my power and remind you of all that I am."

Her voice downturned. "I haven't forgotten what you are."

Dan's lips stretched. "I think you have, Valerie. Once or twice." His eyes searched hers, and there was something genuine with him in that moment—hiding behind his flirtatious vibrato and his destructive instincts. "I may have forgotten as well."

And it fell silent between them at that.

Valerie swallowed hard. Dan was always terribly attractive when he was genuine.

And then he turned away, his back muscles still glimmering in the lights from his shower, his hair wild in his bun. "But you will find more difficult punishments for me," he muttered suddenly, his voice darkening. "Now that you know farming hasn't yet brought me to ears. And then I shall remember why I am here, and not in a jail."

She uncrossed her arms, watching his back. "What, you mean you're afraid to lose your new job, Farmer Dan?"

He made a strangled noise as he began to walk to the door. "Must you call me that."

Valerie began to trail after him, narrowing her eyes. "You know what I think? I think for all of your lousy whining and shit, you actually liked it. You liked playing in the dirt, didn't you." She raised her finger. "And you like strawberries too. You tried to steal mine all the time."

His hand paused on the door. His eyes flickered to her. He fell silent, and then he began to move once more. His fingers tightened into the ball of clothes in his arm. "Is that why you tossed me a bag of those seeds?"

Valerie followed after him, her eyes curious. "Yeah."

"…That seems oddly merciful for you," he murmured, his eyes contracting at the harsh fluorescent lights above as they walked out of the washroom. "Sympathy for the devil is a dangerous thing, Valerie."

"No." She walked beside him, her stride slightly quicker than his own to keep up with his long legs. "I just really like strawberries. And you owe me, like, twenty dozen from all the ones you've stolen in the past."

His sharp cheek stretched. He murmured. "Ah, I see now. You're buttering me up so I gladly work off my debts to you."

"If it keeps you from whining like a baby all the time," she confessed airily.

The human man stared out into the hallways that were his new home, and some part of him deflated. "You try going from being an all-powerful ghost," he muttered, "to a human who toils in dirt."

"You liked the dirt."

"I certainly did not," he snapped back. His eyes flickered to hers, flaming up with emotion. "You make it bearable, for you don't lower me beneath what you ask of yourself. But you know I'm meant for more. I'm designed for more."

Valerie's full lips pursed. She paused in her walk.

He stopped with her, eyes hesitant.

"You're not meant for more," she told him eventually, voice hardening with a strange pain. "No one is meant for more after you destroyed everything. This is life now, for every human being who's still alive and needs to eat." Her voice grew halted. "You think I wanted to—to get up every day to fight off a jackass, and then come back home and have to grow my own food? You tossed the whole human race back a thousand years into the past. Maybe more."

Dan ticked a brow at that. "Your technology would suggest otherwise."

Her face tightened. "And a lightbulb doesn't mean a damn thing when people are starving enough to riot. You better pray your strawberry field grows in right, because if it doesn't, people get mad. And I won't protect you from them."

And it was then that he saw it. There was a tiredness in her—a suspicion against even her own people. That the demons were not always ghostly in appearance, and that perhaps she'd seen more of her fair share of fighting within the walls of Amity Park.

"What would they do?" he asked. "If I fail as a farmer?"

Valerie turned away. "They'll take everything you have," she said eventually, voice tight. "And I'll turn you into a blood cow with that type Negative O blood of yours. So buckle up, Farmer Dan. This is what I mean by setting us back a thousand years. You think it's all fun and games right now, but your whole worth is tied to that field."

Dan trailed after her. "You make it sound as if you would not have simply jailed me and held me as a pet in a cage."

Her dark curls bounced as she walked, and they caught the light. "I can't jail you until you do something illegal. And criminals don't just sit on their asses either. At least this way, I can watch you easier and still get my own shit done."

He did not respond for a time, instead increasingly upset. "So this is all I am to ever be here. A farmer or your blood bank."

She turned her face to him, pained. "And I'm just your babysitter," she retorted, but her voice lacked fire. She raised her hands airily. "Welcome to hell."

Dan's dark brows knitted together. He rather disliked the implications of her words. That somehow, for all of his shortened lifespan as a human, the days of kneeling in dirt would be unending...

His face cracked with an unsteady expression. "Perhaps there is another relic, far away. I could find it. I could—restore myself. And you."

Her intelligent eyes snapped to him. "Keep talking."

He swallowed, then admitted, voice strangling, "I don't dare to…attempt using the relic I'd found. But there are many more, with great power. Allow me to research them, to find them. You let me transform back into my true self, and I swear to you now, I will…use that power to rebuild whatever of yours you want."

Those teal eyes of hers remained locked on him. "You're talking ghostly relics, then. Trips out into the Ghost Zone."

"Yes," he whispered. His voice strained, "If it would mean no longer being tied to this city as your pet farmer, I would share my information with you."

Valerie narrowed her eyes, leaning in close. "Oh, you're so gonna tell me everything you know." Her voice dropped. "And however far away these relics are—you're gonna be held to growing that field still. Tending to it every damn day. You understand me?"

The man stared at her. Then he nodded tightly.

"Good." She backed away, looking somewhat disconcerted and curious and suspicious as well. It was by far in Amity Park's interests to keep Phantom a human, toiling in the dirt until his hands gnarled from it. She certainly had the power to enforce that life for him. But if there were other things, that could reverse all the pain and suffering—

Dan moved forward. "We're meant for more, Valerie," he said, voice soft and dangerous. "We were designed for more."

She did not answer him in that moment. But deep in her heart, she knew he was right.

A/N: I'm so sorry this chapter is so very, very late. I ended up hosting the holidays for family, and then I got very sick, and then honestly distracted by a few other shows. All of those factors kept me from writing a true holiday fic this year. But my heart is always tied to Dark Gray, so I wanted to update this collection! Again, thank you all so much for your reviews and support over the years. It's very wild and beautiful to me that the dark gray community still exists out here in cyberspace, even into 2020. Thank you for being a part of this family!

Please review with your thoughts, questions, constructive criticisms, or ideas/requests!