A/N: After watching Phantom Planet a few times, it occurred to me that I could write a short story that could show how the events of Danny Phantom's series finale impacted Caleb, who bonded to Danny in a pact of friendship. The events that took place, the choices Danny made, all of it had consequences that the ghost boy hadn't foreseen... including the perception from Caleb's end that he had been betrayed.
Phantom Planet's Consequences
When A Hero Falls From Grace~
The phone rang while Jazz watched the news reports on television. Absently, she reached over and picked it up, annoyed by the surge of popularity for Masters' Blasters becoming such a blow to her own brother's sense of self-worth and value. It leeched into her voice when she answered.
"Fenton Works, Jazz Fenton speaking. Who's calling?" she bit out. The taste of humiliation was bitter in her mouth, and she couldn't imagine it being any better for Danny.
"May I have a chat?" came a smooth and calming voice, one that Jazz knew very well. Her attention snapped away from the television to the phone in her hand and she straightened up on the sofa. The code; 'Is this line secure?' She knew for certain now who it was that called.
"H-Hounder!" she managed to say the proper name and reached out to grab her purse, "Um, let me give you my number. It's better not to tie up the phone lines since Masters' Blasters might need to talk to us at any moment." It was code for 'This phone's not safe; Vlad could listen in.' She gave her cell phone number and hung up, waiting for a new ring as she gripped her phone in hand.
Why now? Could Caleb have heard the news of Vlad's new plan to oust Danny Phantom as the town Hero? Jazz hoped that was the case. The Guardian Angel of Heroes would sweep in at the first sign of such a thing and give the town a good shake-up to reinstall Danny. She knew he was attached to her brother, had a strangely powerful bond and affection for him that had gone past the memory of his first and only best friend until even she couldn't come up with a name for it.
The phone rang and she quickly saved the number that came in before answering it.
"Caleb! Oh, you've got to talk some sense into these people; they're not listening to me or Sam or Tucker and Danny's just spiraling out of control and I'm afraid if we don't do something...!" she sobbed, rambling on now that she had an ear to listen to her words, someone who would understand her.
"Jazz, slow down. Take a deep breath. I can't help if you pass out on the phone before I get all the info." Caleb soothed and she sniffled, rubbing at her eye before grabbing the television remote and clicking the button for muting sound. "I've heard only a few things from the Phantom android stationed as the museum statue there. He came back with surface damages... something about being thrown out like garbage? All I got was him fuming about some new team taking over and forcing Raven out of his duties as a Hero."
"That's what's happening, Caleb." Jazz sighed, slumping back into the softness of the couch, "They're capturing ghosts far more quickly than Danny and the rest of us can, and they're demanding huge fees for it too. We're losing money to them, and Danny's losing his sense of self. Can you help?"
"I'll be in town by nightfall. Teleporting while there's so much going on would attract too much attention." the android told her softly, "Don't worry, Jazz. Your brother's strong. We'll figure something out, just hang on until I get there." The carrot-top managed a small smile as she thanked him and hung up. Finally, some hope! Vlad might have his money and his lackeys to knock Danny down, but Team Phantom had the blessings of the ancient android called Caleb, the Guardian Angel of Heroes. Caleb would take care of things, would pull the strings his own vast wealth afforded him, and Danny would be back on top, a little wiser than before.
She sighed in relief, then got up to head downstairs and help with the breakdown of the Fenton Portal. Jack Fenton wanted to upgrade its software and needed it down to phase one to minimize programming conflicts. She had hopes that things would work out. Jazz couldn't wait to tell Danny that Caleb would be coming to help him show the town that he was their rightful Hero.
Those hopes would be dashed before dinnertime.
Caleb arrived on their doorstep by nightfall, as promised, and Jazz showed him in to the living room where Danny and his friends were already set up to have their talk. They were quiet, as was the whole house, and the android looked around at them with confusion and concern, setting his travel bag and the Wonder Fork aside to sit on the sofa and face them.
"I don't like the vital sign readings I'm getting..." he began and stopped, staring at Danny for all of three seconds before standing up again, shooting up so quickly it startled the teens. Danny tilted his head, puzzled at the strange expression on the redhead's face as Caleb stepped towards him and placed his hands on his shoulders.
"Why are you scanning Danny again?" Tucker asked in confusion, recognizing the motions the android made, "I thought you kept your records of our mana signatures."
"I do." Caleb replied grimly, "Raven's has changed. I didn't pick him up when I came in, so I thought he wasn't here, but I see him, and I'm still not registering him." Jazz clasped her hands together, a downcast look on her face as she took her own seat. "Scanning..." Caleb murmured, then shook his head slightly, "I don't understand. His ectomana isn't properly displaying; it's giving me readings that lack the ectoplasmic range."
"Because it's not there." Danny finally grumbled, pushing Caleb's hands away, "I'm human. Pure human. No ectomana, just mana." The android stared down at him, stunned, then slowly stepped back to sit on the couch.
"Tell me everything that's happened." he murmured. And they did. Sam, Tucker, Danny, and Jazz all explained what transpired in the time after his phone call, and what the events were that led up to them. The new team moving in, Danny Phantom being made a laughingstock and an unneeded, unwanted Hero, the arrest of the Fentons and finally, Danny's choice to re-enter the Portal and strip away the powers that had made him Danny Phantom.
Through it all, Caleb listened, silent and stoic, hands woven together to provide a place for his chin to rest on as he maintained a gaze on the Fenton boy, the former Phantom. Danny ran his fingers through his hair, the pure black broken by a single streak of white that was all that remained of his Hero self, cast back into oblivion. The talk lasted for an hour and Jazz pointed out that she would be going to bail out their parents in the morning.
"And that's the whole story." Danny summed up dryly, "So, can we get to dinner already? I'm hungry, and sick and tired of having to go through this again."
"I'll make the dinner." Caleb finally spoke, a quiet and flat tone that had the rising teens freeze in place. His gaze remained on Danny, who returned it with a now uncertain look. "Thank you for alerting me to the changes, all of you. And thank you, Jazz, for providing me a room for the night. I'll post the bail on your parents in the morning, so all you have to do is head to the station and pick them up. Once I'm finished making that call, I'll be going back to New York." he finished and stood up to collect his things. There was disbelief on Sam and Tucker's faces, mirrored on Danny's and Jazz knew for certain that she was just as stunned, if not more so.
"Wh-what? That's it? What about Masters' Blasters? And everything they're doing?" Sam exclaimed, jumping up and throwing out her arms, "What about Danny Phantom?" Caleb only raised an eyebrow at her, hands resting on his hips.
"Danny Phantom doesn't exist anymore, if what you tell me is true. There's no Hero for this town, so I don't need to be here." he replied simply, "This is a mess that the people of Amity Park are just going to have to sort out on their own. It was the call they made; they must cope with it." He shrugged. "I'll give each of you a stipend for college funding, but that's all. I have nothing more to do with you."
"You're just gonna dump us?" Danny blurted out in hurt and anger, "What about our friendship? Didn't that mean anything? I want to just be a normal, average teen enjoying his life! Why can't you stand by me on that? Don't you want your friend's happiness to come first?" Jazz looked to him in shock, then quickly turned her gaze to the android. And it was then that she felt it, the rippling in the air that was Caleb's personal shields raising, every wall against emotion and thought and everything clicking into place, one after another. Perfect neutrality. And it was solid, very solid, if the shocked look on Danny's face was any indication. Perfect neutrality had broken against Danny's determination to make Caleb a friend; if he couldn't breach it now, what did that mean of the bond that had been there?
"I did that once. My friend died for it. So I reorganized my priorities to protect Heroes whether they like it or not." Caleb returned with an unimpressed tone and a shrug, "Anyway, don't you remember what I said about Heroes needing to face the test of their heart to see if they were truly meant to be so?"
"They were going to put my parents in prison! I had to act in that moment to save them! I made my choice!" Danny yelled back angrily, jumping to his feet and holding his fists at his sides. Caleb only gazed at him, suddenly smiling a cold little smile as he folded his arms over his chest.
"Yes, you did. And you failed. What a shame. But I guess I should have expected it; after all, you're just a teenager. It's not like you had some angsty past that threw you into Herodom in the blink of an eye. You just want to play video games and slack off. I see it now, Danny." the android mused and Danny flinched as though he'd been slapped. The android chuckled, an almost cruel tone to it. "No wonder Vlad was able to beat you so easily; such a whiny pushover. You had a little accident, played Hero for a while, didn't like it when you weren't winning and being popular, and quit to be just another face in the crowd. I'm not wasting more time and resources on a quitter, Danny. I guard Heroes, not lame little boys." Jazz winced, seeing the younger teens all cringe at those words. Caleb had always called Danny by his nickname, a name given to him as proof of their friendship, Raven. To have him call Danny by his real name, it was as if he'd broken that bond.
"Caleb..." Danny whispered, teary-eyed and looking very much like a small and lost little boy.
"I'll be in the kitchen. Jazz, keep an eye on the news for me. I don't want this new team jeopardizing my flight back to New York." the android remarked, brushing Danny off as he headed for the next room. Jazz nodded numbly, watching Sam and Tucker both get up and leave the house, hurt and angry looks on their faces. Danny took up a spot on the couch, burying his face in his arms as he lay sprawled on the cushions.
Seeing this replaced the shock and hurt with a fury, and Jazz got up, storming over to the kitchen to give the android a piece of her mind. She pulled up short at the entrance, spotting Caleb sitting at the kitchen table in a mirror image of Danny's own pose, face buried and hands clutching at sleeves for dear life. He'd put up a front, acted cold and uncaring, and once safe in the holy grounds of the kitchen, he let himself break. Jazz gripped the door frame, a sad look on her face. The angelic android was mourning the loss of a Hero and friend, and his first protective measure had been to push away the source of that sorrow.
In the morning, Caleb headed down the steps from Fenton Works, walking by Jazz as she prepared to pick up the Fentons. She remained silent of what she had seen the previous night, and assumed that Caleb knew she'd been there, but chose to say nothing about it as well. It was an awkward moment when they reached the bottom step and the limousine meant to pick up Caleb was being blocked by the Fenton RV.
It might have been a lucky thing that it happened that way, as Danny appeared at the door and hurried down to face the android one last time, a frustrated but determined look on his face.
"So that's it then?" he demanded of the redhead, "Just because I decided not to be something that's only gotten my family and friends in danger, you're just giving up on me? What about everything you taught me? Does it all just go away 'cuz I'm not that person anymore?"
Caleb only looked at him, and Jazz wondered what he might be thinking.
"I'm leaving now, and I'm going to wait." the android said slowly, carefully, as though trying to imprint his words into the boy's head, "There's nothing I can do for Amity Park, not until the Hero I know belongs to this town returns." Danny looked up at him, surprised by those words. The android paused, glancing away sadly, then shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and leveled a glare at Danny until the halfa stepped back self-consciously.
"You also broke your promise to me, Danny Fenton, when you swore to be a friend to me for as long as you existed. You said this as Danny Phantom, and then you killed him by stepping back into that machine, leaving only this fragment of Fenton behind to choose submission." Caleb went on in that soft, cold voice, "Perhaps you've forgotten, but I have a strong dislike for the loss of my friends through murder. My existence is only for Heroes and archival; I already have your data archived, and you've shown me that you're no Hero." Danny flinched, looking away as he rubbed at an arm with a guilty look on his face. The redhead watched him, then sighed, shaking his head.
"There's nothing more I can do for you now, and for what you did, I can't bring myself to want to try. You got yourself into this; get yourself out and learn not to make promises you can't keep." Caleb whispered, "Goodbye, Little Bird. I pray you find your true wings one day... because mine are no longer yours." With that, he turned and stepped into the limo, facing forward as the chauffeur closed the door and headed over to his own place at the driver's seat.
Nothing else was said, nothing more. Jazz watched her brother make an attempt to peek into the tinted windows for one last glimpse of the android before sighing and trudging over to the RV, climbing into the passenger seat to wait for her to drive them to the police station. And in her mind, seeing his shoulders slump like that, it was as if they had fallen from grace, their angel turning away from them in this hour of need.
The Doom Bell Rings for All~
The first few days after the end of Danny Phantom were, in Danny's opinion, pretty cool. If he focused enough on just enjoying not being a part of the pain of battling and doing the things he'd always wanted to do -along with the stuff he'd been neglecting-, then he'd be able to forget that Caleb wasn't speaking to him anymore.
Ghosts would sweep through the school in their usual rampages to scare the daylights out of people, and he'd just whistle to himself as he dug around in his locker for the books to his afternoon classes. It was more to break his concentration on the ghosts than for amusement; part of him would still hear their movements and be plotting what angle they were coming from, calculating the best counter-attack position to take and identifying the ghost so he'd have the right tactics ready to deal with them. Ignoring that was harder than he thought, too much of it hard-wired in his brain as instinct, so whistling and purposely digging around aimlessly kept him occupied enough that those instincts finally gave up.
Danny pulled his book out at last, smiling at it not just for getting the thing but also for his success in squashing battle instinct. That is, until he heard the clink of metal on metal and his head jerked up, eyes going straight to the source. His heart pounded, and for the briefest of moments he hoped it was the sound of Caleb's wings unfolding or refolding, a sign that he was in the hallway with him.
But no, it was the sound of the Topaz Crest falling out of its hiding place in his locker and onto the metal bottom. Danny stared at it, a tightness in his chest that he really didn't like rising. After that ordeal in the library so long ago, he'd take the crest and armlets off and stashed them in his room for safekeeping. They weren't needed against the modern ghosts of Amity Park, so what was the point of wearing them? And when he stripped away his ghost powers, there was another reason to hide them further; they reminded him too much of Caleb.
Gifts crafted and given to him to protect him, to show affection and share a piece of himself and his past, the Topaz Crest and the White Armlets were too valuable to simply throw away or sell as jewelry, the crest especially. It was too much a part of Caleb, that thing, with the gem a memento of his adopted daughter and the setting forged from his own lost wing, so Danny stuffed both items into his locker, behind numerous books and papers and bits of trash.
He picked it up, rubbing his thumb gently over the runes etched into the silver-blue metal around the yellow gem. Its fire had weakened, dying down to barely a glow, a far cry from the brilliant gleam and sparkle it had when he first received it. At first he didn't know why it was dying -he didn't notice until he saw it while cleaning his room-, and then he recalled how the gem got its fire back to begin with.
"Ugh, that's right, that other pact I made." Danny sighed harshly, gripping the crest in his hand. That promise he made to Luna, the Summon Spirit of Light, vowing to lead Caleb out of darkness and back to the one he cared most about. Apparently, getting rid of his ghost powers seemed to count as just shoving the android deeper into that darkness, which meant he was nullifying the pact, which meant he was losing the blessing of Light Element.
"I just want to be me, okay? I don't have to take this from some stupid rock!" he snapped at the Topaz and promptly shoved it back behind the trash to get it out of his sight. But as he left his locker, passing by Sam and Tucker who both gave him either a dejected look or an angry scowl, he couldn't help but feel like a little part of himself died along with the gem's fire. Did he even know what he meant by 'me' anymore?
He had a fight with Sam yesterday.
Well, not so much a 'fight' as she told him off about giving up his ghost powers and letting Vlad win. Danny honestly couldn't see why she was so worked up over it. He wasn't a target anymore! The ghosts didn't care a damn about him now, which meant she and Tucker and his family were safe! That's what he wanted all along, for them to be safe!
"We were safer when you had your ghost powers!" Sam had shot back at him, "Now look at where Amity Park is going with everyone depending on Masters' Blasters!" She shook her head, eyes flashing and moist with tears she refused to let fall in front of him. "I had faith in you too, Danny, that no matter what happened, you'd find your way back to me. But this, what you did, not only was it selfish, it was cruel too!"
He had flinched at her words, twirling his tofu corn dog between his fingers.
"I'll always be your friend, Danny, and I'll always have your back. We've been friends long enough that we can still do that." Sam sighed, coming down from her heated fury after a few deep breaths, "But after all that we've been through and learned and seen, do you really think it would be so easy to just give it all up? I'm surprised you can do it." She turned to go back inside the mansion, climbing up the steps, but paused just before she went through the door, tossing back one last thing at him.
"Maybe Caleb made the right choice in ditching you. You're not the Danny he thought he knew." the Goth murmured.
Which was why Danny was now here in the school hallway, taking out his frustration on a poster of Masters' Blasters. Couldn't they see that he was also suffering in his own way? When homework was getting to him, he yearned for the ability to just go flying and clear his head. When he needed advice, he had to stop himself from just grabbing his phone and calling Caleb up to ask for his thoughts on stuff, and with the Fenton Portal destroyed from the overload it took to strip away his powers, there was no way to visit Clockwork or Frostbite.
He felt like he'd just trapped himself instead of gaining freedom. Danny felt too weighed down, too confined, and it was starting to suffocate him.
When the Lunch Lady attacked, he didn't ignore instinct this time. He yearned for it, embraced it, and determinedly joined in to prove to himself and the people it mattered to that he was still Danny Phantom deep down inside. He was still a Hero! He could be!
Danny epically failed in that attempt, letting instinct dictate his movements meant his first move was to get airborne, which of course he couldn't, so he ended up kissing the floor and the Lunch Lady had him as helpless as Dash. After the battle, after receiving his just rewards of contempt and a Masters' Blasters ghost-busting bill, Danny just trudged away from the scene feeling more lost and confused.
He knew who he was, didn't he? He was Danny Fenton, just a normal average kid. So why did his his heart keep telling him otherwise when his body just couldn't do that anymore? He placed a hand underneath his heart, seeking comfort from the sleeping soul there. Wren radiated a soft wave of warmth and it felt kind of like a hug, something he sorely needed after the emotional beat-down.
"I wonder. Are you disappointed in me too?" Danny asked his kindred soul. Of course he didn't get an answer he could understand, just more radiating warmth. And that just seemed to make it all the more depressing for him.
Danny went down to the lab that night, standing in front of the wrecked Fenton Portal. He was tired of feeling confused and lost and frustrated. Reaching out, he pressed the power button beside the tunnel entrance and watched sparks of voltage jump about before fading away. The hope he'd had at seeing them began to fade and he jumped into device, thrusting out arms and yelling his transformation catch-phrase in vain. Maybe he'd been hoping there was enough juice left to...
He let his arms drop, closing his eyes as he sniffled miserably. Oh, who was he kidding? He missed being Phantom, missed doing something with himself that made a difference for his hometown. He missed the closeness of his friends and sister, the camaraderie with Frostbite and Clockwork.
He missed warm bowls of soup and sandwiches from Caleb, the bright smiles on his face as he shared stories of his past, even the occasional lectures that ended with a mischievous grin. He missed heartfelt hugs from arms that couldn't actually feel, trust so deep that Danny held the Eternal Sword Pin in his hands at Caleb's request, and the knowledge that out of all the Heroes in the world, only he was the one that Caleb would shut up and listen to when the android started getting out of hand with whatever issue was on his plate. He missed being able to call him up at any random time and hear Caleb's voice perk up happily just from talking with him.
He missed having Caleb as a close friend, an honorary member of Team Phantom.
"God, I messed up hardcore." Danny sighed, sadly jumping down from the burnt-out portal, "I wish I could take it back now." But the only two people he knew who could turn back time were far beyond his reach now, one in his lair in the Ghost Zone and the other wrapped up in perfect neutrality in New York, shielding himself with fury to hide the hurt. What more could happen now to make his life hell?
Then Danny went upstairs and the news on television showed him that, yes, life, the universe, and everything was conspiring to punish him for doing the ultimate stupid thing. And they were doing it with the help of a giant asteroid.
When Evil Shows Its Face~
He couldn't believe it; Vlad had screwed up their only shot at stopping that asteroid from hitting the planet just to make his dad look like an idiot. Danny wanted to rip the man's head off and replace his brains with cotton. The man just was that aggravating. Even worse, it was Vlad who had paid for everything to be built and launched the Fenton Rocket for that doomed attempt. Jazz had tried calling Caleb from her cell phone to see if he would fund them instead, but her number had been blocked, startling them both and forcing them to accept the elder halfa's deal. Then there was that whole spat he had with Vlad in the basement after everyone had left.
It hit so many nerves, Danny was seeing red before he blindly lunged for the billionaire and wound up getting beat back easily. But despite his hatred for the man and the outrage at his gloating that he'd won and shamed him into squashing Danny Phantom for good, the boy couldn't help but be more infuriated with himself. This would never have happened if he hadn't take the bait and stripped away his powers! If he'd been more patient, more cool-headed, Caleb would have fixed everything and put him back as Amity Park's Hero without any fuss.
But would that have really been better, too? To cry to the android that he wasn't winning and let him make it all better? How would that have been any better than acting the way he did that day? At least when he stepped into the portal, it was his own choice, his own mistake, and he could own up to it. Never mind that it was pretty much the only path he could take with how Master's Blasters were tipped off that Danny Phantom hung around there, there could have been other ways to deal with it but he went the easy way and lost everything that mattered in the process.
Danny stomped around in the living room, fuming and wanting to punch something, vent or something. He had his cell phone in hand and speed-dial running before he knew it, instinct driving Danny to call the one person he knew could handle his ranting and raving before calming him with a story or anecdote or offering of soup and sandwiches.
"This is the Archive of the Twin Blades, New York City branch, Caleb Altessa speaking. How may I help you?" Caleb responded cheerfully, distractedly, and Danny could hear the rapid typing of keys in the background. He'd half-expected his number to be blocked as well, so actually hearing the android's voice answer him stunned him into silence for a few moments.
"It's... it's me." Danny finally gathered the courage to say and the typing fell out of rhythm for a split second before resuming at their normal clip.
"Danny, now is not a good time to be calling." Caleb's voice returned, a curt tone to it, "I know all about that asteroid and it's very trying to have all my androids and human staff evacuated to Derris-Kharlan before the end of the week. There's still a lot more to be done and I can't afford to get distracted."
Danny gripped the phone, heart racing. Caleb was evacuating? Leaving the planet and just hauling everything up to that other moon? What about Earth? What about everyone? What about his sister, Martel, who was tied to the tree that held the world together?
"What about us? You're evacuating, but you're just gonna leave the rest of us here?" he cried out. Vlad peeked out the kitchen door with an interested gleam in his eye and Danny promptly turned his back on him, hurrying to find a more secluded spot to talk.
"There's nothing I can do about it." Caleb sighed in annoyance, "I've already sent the best Heroes after it that I could find on short notice and they couldn't make a dent in it. The elites of the JL are off on some mission in a remote galaxy and by the time they even hear word of what's happening, it'll be far too late to do anything but find a new world to inhabit."
"What about you? What about the Eternal Sword Pin?" Danny demanded.
"Danny, the asteroid is made up of some ectoplasmic compound. Remember the opposition? Magic can't touch ectoplasm. I've already tested the samples brought back by my team and there's nothing I can do to it." the android repeated firmly, "I'm already evacuating the androids and my human staff, and sending notices to the Heroes under my protection and their immediate families. Once Derris-Kharlan is prepared for their arrival, I'll be transporting those people up there for safe-keeping. On that note, I want you and your family and friends packed and ready to leave as well. I'll send someone to collect you by the end of the week."
"You want me to ditch Amity Park too?" Danny all but screamed in outrage.
"Well, there's nothing you can do, remember? Danny Phantom doesn't exist, thanks to you, and the only plan your father and Vlad had has failed miserably. At the very least, I can pull you and everyone tied to you out of there and place you in safe housing on Derris-Kharlan." Caleb told him in that tone that was familiar, shielded in perfect neutrality and revealing nothing of his true emotions or thoughts.
"Then you're gonna have to transport all of Amity Park, 'cuz I'm not abandoning them! I'll find a way to save them, to save the whole world!" Danny snapped back.
"I can't take a whole town. There's no reason for it; in the terms of protecting Heroes and the world's knowledge, they're useless to me." Caleb returned in that dry, uncaring tone, "I don't like it myself, but there's nothing that can be done. And you can't do anything, so just pack up and be ready to go. Despite what you've done to me, Danny Phantom was precious to me and you were once him, so lucky you, you get to live to see the end of the world. Front row. Enjoy."
"No! You just watch me." Danny hissed into the phone, "I might not be Danny Phantom anymore, but I'm still a Hero. Wren said to love and protect all life, right?" He heard Caleb's sharp gasp and knew he'd struck a nerve; Danny could practically feel the android's burning glare all the way from New York. "You might have let that promise slide, but I'll keep it." 'Like I'm keeping him here. Safe. Like Martel said to.' he added in his thoughts, hand reaching up to lay flat against a spot just below his heart, where the ancient soul lay in a dormant curl near his heart, the place where Martel sealed the Wonder Chef to protect him from Caleb's attempts to resurrect him. "I'm going to protect this world and all the lives in it. I'll find a way to save this world!"
"Not unless I do it first, little badger. I told you to wait for Act 2 of my plan." Vlad's voice crooned behind Danny and he jumped, startled. The phone was out of his hands before he knew what was happening and the smarmy businessman had it to his own ear. "Why, hello! May I ask who this is?" he questioned brightly. Danny strained his own hearing to catch the words from Caleb's end of the line.
"This is Mr. Altessa of the Archives of the Twin Blades, New York City branch! I'm sorry but you've interrupted a report being made on the projected course of the asteroid as compared to the course of the Doomsday Asteroid that scientists believed was responsible for the deaths of the dinosaurs." Caleb remarked cheerfully, hiding his fury so easily and quickly it kind of scared Danny, "Though I thank you for taking such an interest in our scientific and historical collections of knowledge, it would be of great benefit for you to schedule your own appointment with one of our many receptionists for additional information. Until then, please return the call to Mr. Daniel Fenton for the remainder of his session. Thank you, and have a pleasant day!" Vlad scowled, a suspicious glare on his face aimed at the phone, then at Danny, who only returned it with a smug look.
"Why would the New York branch be talking to Daniel when Amity Park has its own branch of that museum?" he demanded.
"Oh, the Amity Park Branch of the Archives was recently vandalized by a group declaring themselves to be Masters' Blasters, and our attorneys are currently assembling a breach of contract case with the city with full intent to bring the matter to court. All calls to that branch are being re-routed to New York until further notice." Caleb replied in that same syrupy sweet voice. Danny held one hand over his mouth to hold back his laughter at Vlad's outraged expression.
"You're suing me over what happened to that dinky little museum?" he yelled, "I'll have you fired!"
"Oh, you're Mayor Masters? In that case, the Hounder Organization officially extends notice to you of court date attendance to be held by the end of the week, barring collision with the asteroid." Caleb chirped gleefully, "And no amount of blackmailing me can get you out of it. My job's secured by Mr. Hounder, so that makes me and every employee on his payroll immune to your usual tactics. And I do mean your usual tactics. Thank you, and have a nice day!" There was a dial tone after that -Caleb had hung up- and Danny finally laughed at the red-faced Vlad throwing the phone back at him, stomping off. He'd lost that round to Caleb, but it was to be expected. The android had billions of years to practice how to annoy and irritate people.
Still, Danny had to think over his own words to the android. Caleb was preparing for the worst, moving resources and people off-world -and how was he going to move Martel?- and leaving the rest to their fates. Danny had vowed to save the whole world. He just had to figure out how to do it before the doom bell's last toll. His hand went to the spot where Wren slept and Danny tightened his mouth. What would he do? What would Danny Phantom do?
The Fenton Lab was currently streaming video of Jack Fenton and Vlad Plasmius' mission to the asteroid. Sam, Jazz and Tucker watched that feed while Danny stared up at another screen full of data streaming in about the incoming Disasteroid. After a few minutes he sighed in irritation. "This would be so much easier if Caleb were here to read this stuff and tell me what it meant in easy-to-understand teenage language." he grumbled, arms folding over his chest.
"Yes, well, who's the one responsible for him ditching us like a badly-dumped first girlfriend?" Sam griped back at him, "Let's just see how much time we've got left before we have to pack up and go." She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "My parents are starting to ask questions on why I keep telling them to get ready to evacuate and I'm running out of ways to explain how I'm connected to Hounder."
"You're already assuming Vlad's gonna fail at turning the asteroid intangible?" Tucker asked her in surprise and she rolled her eyes.
"Whether he does or doesn't, I don't care. I'm not living on the same planet as some nut who thinks he can rule the world." Sam returned bitingly, "Caleb practically does that already and he does it a helluva lot better than Vlad could." She rolled her eyes up thoughtfully, changing the subject. "I wonder if he'll let me have a room in Welgaia; those towers were pretty cool, when they weren't full of angels trying to kill us."
"You think he'll let me check out his android factory while we're there? Caleb always said I'd make a good magitechnician." Tucker added in with a grin. Danny ground his teeth as the chatter went on and finally threw up in his hands in frustration.
"Agh! Quiet! I'm trying to think!" he shouted, "Vlad's about to do that whole turning the asteriod intangible thing for his stupid 'I save the world and you all serve me' plan and I have to come up with something to get us out of this mess!" And it was hard enough doing that without his two best friends gabbing on about Caleb like he wasn't going to ignore them like he would ignore Danny.
"Riiight, like so many of your most recent plans have worked out really well." Sam remarked scathingly. Jazz shushed them, pointing at the video feed in alarm as Vlad laid hands on the asteroid and was immediately repelled. All eyes went to it as he tried several more times and failed on every one.
"Huh? Why isn't it working?" Tucker asked in confusion. Danny blinked and went back to the stream of data, reading it more carefully. What was it that Caleb called it when he checked to see what a thing was made of? Composite materials? Did this have a scan of composite materials?
There! Ectoranium was the first thing in a line of data about composites. Danny knew about that stuff; his parents used a nice chunk of it in making the bulk of their ghost-fighting gear. Caleb was the one who adjusted them to ignore his ectomana signature, so ectoranium stopped affecting him. Ghost powers would never work on a massive amount of the stuff like that.
He turned back to the video in time to see Vlad fly off into space, the Fenton Rocket nowhere in sight. "Dad's coming back home." Jazz told him quietly, "He left Vlad behind after he failed to keep his end of the deal. It's not like him though; I wonder what made Dad decide to leave his 'best buddy' behind?"
Knowing Vlad, he probably gloated to his dad just before he went out to try and turn the asteroid intangible. And gloating meant mentioning that he would take Maddie as his wife, which would be all it would take for Jack's faith in his friend to be destroyed.
For the first time in his life, Danny could understand what kind of pain Vlad must be feeling at that moment, to see in the eyes of a friend a total loss of faith in them. But just like Danny, he chose the path that required sacrificing a friend's trust for his own gain. No more. He clenched his fists tightly as a sudden rush of determination filled him, along with the warmth from the soul within him. Take the situation and think of it like a battle. What would be the next step to take if destroying the asteroid failed and making it intangible to pass through the Earth failed?
"Well, that clinches it." Sam sighed and turned her gaze towards Jazz, "Want to come help me pack some of my greenhouse plants for moving to Derris-Kharlan?"
"Sure. Caleb said he had some really big gardens around Vinhelm we could use." the carrot-top returned with a strained smile, "Think he might let me keep studying in the main Archives up there?"
"No." Danny growled, "We're not running away." He was getting sick of hearing them talk like Derris-Kharlan was already their new home, sick of hearing them talk like the android was their friend and conveniently ignoring how Danny no longer was, sick of just sitting by while everything he knew and loved fell to ruins around him. No more! "What if we didn't make the asteroid intangible?" he asked them.
"Then it would obliterate the Earth." Tucker pointed out, "Which it's gonna do in less than a week so shouldn't we be making sure we have enough underwear to last us on Derris-Kharlan?"
"What if we made the Earth intangible instead?" Danny posed the idea, ignoring Tucker's words. It made sense to him; if you couldn't attack a target to get rid of it, change the perspective of it so it wouldn't be able to attack you! It worked when he forced Jazz to act childish enough to be able to see Youngblood after a night of failing to convince her through words, and it worked to help Caleb get over his fear of being Mithos by changing his understanding of who Mithos was.
"The whole Earth? Intangible? Are you kidding?" Sam shot back incredulously.
"Yeah, you'd need like a bazillion ghosts to do that, and your portal's totally fried, man!" Tucker agreed, eyes full of alarm and concern, probably imagining that Danny had finally completely lost his mind. The former halfa grinned, reaching into his pocket to pull out the rolled up Infi-Map that he'd never gotten around to returning.
"Behold, the addresses of a bazillion ghosts." he joked, tapping it against his palm, "It all works out! Simple battle tactics; reverse the target if a direct attack isn't going to work." And as his friends' expressions changed from veiled contempt and despair to hope and elation at his return to heroism, Danny finally felt more like how he should be.
This was who he was, the 'me' he was trying to identify for so long. A Hero, for his friends and family, the people who really mattered.
Let the Angel Take His Rightful Place~
The sun set over New York, a brilliant red-gold view from the roof of the Archives that was beginning to pale against the ominous green glow in the sky that was the Disasteroid in its hell-bent path for the planet. Danny stepped out onto the aerie after riding the elevator up to the roof. He'd seen the sparseness of the building, most of its staff away to be with their families for a few more days and the rest preparing teleporters to undertake the exodus of that staff, the Heroes and their families to Derris-Kharlan.
Danny had just returned from his first attempt to get the Ghost Zone's population to help them out with his idea for saving the planet, an attempt that had gotten several thousand jolts of ectoplasm pummeled into him for the trouble. It had awakened the ghostly part of him that he thought had been stripped away, discovering that it had only been weakened to the point of dormancy and that surge brought it back, more stable and more powerful than before. With it and his sense of self and confidence fully restored, Danny laid out his plan in more detail with his friends. Then, he left for New York. There was one more person who needed to know that Danny Phantom was back. He had tried calling, but his number had been blocked. Looks like he finally got around to doing that.
He found Caleb sitting on a bench on the roof, gazing up at the green point with an odd expression of resignation and acceptance, a sad look.
"Caleb? Everything okay?" Danny asked before he could think of anything else. Ugh, always with the dumbest of questions. Caleb blinked, startled out of his thoughts as he turned to watch the boy take a seat by him.
"I didn't sense you coming." the android murmured in confusion, "Am I that out of tune with my own sensors?" He sighed and shrugged, turning back to watch the green point again. "Ah, well. No point in it now. Are you ready to go?"
"No." Danny returned and closed his eyes at Caleb's harsh sigh.
"Danny Fenton, I told you over the course of that last failed attempt to get your family and friends packed. Vlad Masters made his move and completely ruined this world's view of half-ghosts." the android growled, "Discrimination will rule until this planet is wiped out. You have to leave, before anyone starts pointing fingers and crying foul in their panic. Without ghost powers, you won't survive a lynching."
"What about Martel?" Danny pointed out, ignoring how bringing up the subject of Vlad's attempt to dominate the world by saving them made him twitch. It ended with Vlad's exile from the planet, but he felt only a cold and hollow victory at that end.
"Martel said to leave her escape to her. I expect she'll have the Tree bear a Seed, transfer herself to that Seed and then have me take her and the new Great Seed to Derris-Kharlan." Caleb muttered and leaned back to better see the Disasteroid, "I'll leave her transport in the hands of the other androids. I'm not leaving Earth."
That was new. Danny's head whipped around quickly to stare at him in shock. Not leaving? But if his plan went into effect... if the world was made intangible and Caleb was still here...
"You can't! The asteroid'll destroy you! You'll die if you stay!" he cried and Caleb rubbed at his head, one eye closed as he seemed to consider that.
"Would it help if I told you I really don't care?" he returned, still rubbing his head, "I've lived through several rebirths of this world, each one made by my wishes on the Eternal Sword Pin. This will be the last incarnation of Symphonia, and that asteroid is going to obliterate it." The boy only stared, stunned by his words. "Everything I knew, everything I loved, belonged to this world. Even through all the changes, the friends I had in the past still cling to this place, through their mana surrounding the world, if nothing else." Caleb went on, finally setting his hand down to consider the sunset.
"It's all going to vanish, and I want to be here when it does, so that I can finally vanish with it. I'm tired of living, of getting my hopes up and then having them dashed, but I lived to keep my promises as best I could. Now it's come to this, and I can't keep them anymore." he added darkly, glaring askance to avoid looking at the halfa, "At this point, I don't see why I should. So rather than risk me ruining the world out of apathy, I'm just going to sit here and wait to be destroyed with everything else. It's not like I'll ever be reunited with the ones I love anyway, so what do I care?"
Danny frowned, listening and looking up at the android. Caleb finally glanced at him, noticed the scowl and grinned in retaliation, a sad and resigned smirk.
"Oh, don't worry, Little Bird. Everyone going to Derris-Kharlan will be safe and under the care of my androids. Once all of you are there, the comet will move away from this place and take up a position near Mars. The planet will act as your shield in case Earth's debris comes your way." he remarked, "It'll only be until the dust settles, so to speak. Then you're free to begin recolonizing on Mars itself; the androids are preparing materials on Derris-Kharlan for terraforming the planet and creating dome cities in the meantime. So try not to screw that one up because I'm not going to be there to hit the Reset Button for you."
"You've got it all planned out, don't you?" Danny growled, "Just got them all carrying out your final wishes while you sit here and wait for the end with the rest of humanity?" Caleb gave him a lidded glare, nodding very slightly. "Well, I'm not letting you!"
"You have no right to decide anything in regards to me. Not after you betrayed my faith, Danny Fenton!" the angel growled and Danny shook his head furiously.
"Stop calling me that! Call me by my name! The one that you gave me, the name you chose when I made the pact with you, the name of Raven!" the boy demanded, standing up to face the seething android, "And if you can't call me that, won't call me that, then...!" And he shocked Caleb with the appearance of the bright white ring that bloomed around his waist, splitting in two and passing over him in opposite directions to transform him into his alter ego. "Call me Danny Phantom!" the half-ghost demanded.
He supposed he was being kind of arrogant to have expected a happy cry and maybe a hug. Caleb just glared harder at him, hands gripping the bench so tightly the stone began cracking.
"How dare you?" he hissed, "How dare you take my heart and play with it like that? You promised lifelong friendship to me, then you murder the one who made the vow and broke my heart, and now you come sauntering back in that form and expect me to jump hoops for you like I once did?" He jerked away from the startled half-ghost, hugging himself tightly, protectively, and focusing his eyes on the bench itself. "Get out. Just leave me alone. I don't care if I have to look after you because of the Lock and Key, I'm going to be here when the world ends and you can find some other bleeding heart to cover your ass for you." Caleb muttered and shut his eyes tightly, a few tears managing to escape him, "Just stay away from me. I never want to see you again."
"No. I'm not leaving you." Danny returned hotly, "I'm not abandoning you and I wasn't playing with your feelings like that! You have to believe me!" He floated closer, tried to reach out and lay a hand on the android's shoulder, but Caleb jerked aside to avoid the contact, shying away like a wounded animal. It hurt to see that, and Danny could feel that pain both from himself and that sleeping soul curled underneath his heart. It wasn't right to see Caleb like this; he should never have to be like this. "I know it's not right for me to ask for your forgiveness right away." Danny sighed harshly, pulling his hand back and clenching it into a fist, "I never meant to break my promise to you, because I didn't think you tied that promise to me being Danny Phantom. Fenton and Phantom are one and the same, so why did me losing Phantom for a while make our pact void?"
"They are both aspects of your personality. Phantom voided the pact by dying; Fenton voided the pact by killing Phantom." Caleb murmured icily, looking over his shoulder at him, "Ending your existence as Danny Phantom without any consideration of others..."
"I did it to protect the people I cared about!" Danny yelled back angrily, "I did it for my parents, for my sister, for my friends...!"
"No, you didn't! You did it for yourself!" Caleb lashed out, openly sobbing and raging, "You didn't even stop to think about what it would do to me! I lost Wren while we were separated and he'd left me believing he would be okay! Jazz warned me you were losing control and I was trying to get to you as fast as I could because I was scared! I was scared you would be like Wren and I'd lose you if we were apart any longer, but you didn't even wait for me! You just went and gave up before I could even arrive to help you!" Danny floated back in shock, alarm on his face at the outpouring of emotion from the android. This was the first time he'd seen Caleb completely lose control of his emotions like this.
"How do you think that made me feel? Am I that useless to you? After everything I've done, everything I've gone through for you, with you, you couldn't have faith in me enough to let me help you? For something as simple, as pathetic, as hiding from a gang of posers, you did this to me?" the redhead cried, "You broke my heart, Danny, just like Wren did when he died! You broke me and ruined me and I hate you for it!" He covered his face with his hands, shuddering in place as he cried. Danny swallowed hard at the sight, regretting that decision to step into the Fenton Ghost Portal and strip away his powers. He shook his head, berating himself for that as well. Even though it had wounded Caleb like this, it was still the best thing he could have done at the time to save his parents from prison. Ultimately, it was them who created the Fenton Rocket, which Vlad used to issue his ultimatum, which then triggered Danny's own idea of how to save the world and thus get zapped with enough ectoplasm to not only bring back his ghost self but finally stabilize and seal it within his DNA so that not even Ghostly Wail could force him back to human.
"I can't say I'm sorry for the choice I made that day, but I am sorry that I hurt you with my decision." Danny sighed, hovering in the air as he thought his words over carefully, "You're not useless, Caleb; I never said you were or thought that. And while I do have faith in you, I also know that I can't spend my whole life using you as a scapegoat or a crutch." He rubbed at the back of his neck, trying to plan out what he said so he didn't end up making things worse.
"You've always told me and every Hero you know that we have to fight our battles our way and learn from the mistakes and choices we make. It's the only way we'll grow as Heroes and as people." the halfa said cautiously, "So my choice to give up Danny Phantom was something I did thinking it would be best for everyone, and I've learned it wasn't. There were things I missed doing, like flying, and people I missed seeing, like Frostbite, Clockwork, and you. And when this whole Disasteroid thing started happening, and Vlad messed up on saving the Earth, I started thinking 'How can I save this world?' and that's when I learned something about myself."
"I could take away the face and form of Danny Phantom, but not the Hero I learned to become while being Danny Phantom." he finished, waiting for Caleb to look up at him hesitantly, "Maybe that's why the blasts of ectoplasm didn't actually kill me; deep down, I knew all along I was meant to be like this, the Hero of two worlds, but I needed to get back the part of me I threw away like a stupid kid." He lifted his hands, gazing at the white gloves and glowing aura, the empty armlets and slowly strengthening Topaz Crest he dug out and put on to start rebuilding his bond to their creator. "I missed being Danny Phantom and I wanted to be him again; I just didn't realize that until I made that mistake."
He reached out a hand to the android, hoping he'd take the offering. "I miss you, Caleb." Danny murmured, "Please. Come back to me and help me save this world the Wonder Chef loved, for him if not for me. I'm not asking you to forgive me right away, that's gonna take time. I know that. Help me give you and the Earth that time."
Caleb just stared tiredly at his hand, blinking slowly as the tears dried on his face. Finally, he sighed and turned his face away, ignoring the outstretched hand. "All right, Danny, I'll help you. But I can't forgive you for what you did. Not yet, maybe not ever. I don't know." he whispered, "That's something I'll decide in the future. For now, I accept your reasons for why you chose to come back as Danny Phantom. Do you have a plan on what to do about the asteroid?" Danny let his hand drop, a small weak smile on his face. It wasn't the response he'd been hoping for, but Caleb was willing to work with him and that would be enough for the moment. He'd just have to accept that he was going to have to work hard for possibly the rest of his life to earn back Caleb's trust.
"I do. But I'm going to need your backing." Danny told him, "I plan to make the world intangible so the asteroid passes through us, but we need materials, tools, supplies, transportation, to get a transfer station and cables built to cover the world and transfer ghost powers to the entire planet temporarily." Caleb nodded and stood up, running a hand through his hair and taking a deep breath to steady himself.
"That's fine. Just leave that to me. The Hounder Organization will fund everything you ask for; mail me the things you need as you come across them." he agreed as he began walking briskly towards the elevator, Danny flying after him until he was side by side with the android, "Anything else?"
"Yeah, find a way to get Martel out of here before we hit the power. I don't think we'll be able to turn her intangible, too." Danny planned out, one hand over his mouth as he considered things more carefully, "We'll also need people to help move the cables, protect them from damage, that kind of thing."
"I'll have the Heroes on sentry duty. Once the world hears of this, every member of the JL on active duty will want to help. I'll have assignments ready for them." Caleb remarked, waving one hand dismissively, "As for Martel..."
A burst of light went off before them and both teen and android halted in place, eyes wide at the graceful figure of a green-clad woman appearing in its place, her long green hair flowing around her as she held a tall staff in hand. She smiled at them, and Caleb smiled back, looking faintly sheepish.
"I can handle myself, Little Brother." Martel murmured, and Danny had the oddest feeling of amusement at hearing Caleb being called that. She knelt to face Danny, and he blushed at her being so close. She was very... womanly. "You plan to use your power on this world, a power that cannot touch me or my Tree due to the concentration of mana within us." she told him and Danny nodded, "Then I shall weaken the amount of mana around the world and sleep within my Tree. This will reduce our resistance to ectoplasm and allow us to become intangible."
"Sweet! Then I'll be able to save you too!" the half-ghost exclaimed. Martel chuckled, nodding before turning a serious expression on her brother, straightening as she did so.
"However, in doing so, I'll be putting Caleb in great danger. Before I sleep, he must leave the Earth and stay on Derris-Kharlan until I awaken. If he remains on this planet during that time, he may not have enough mana to sustain himself, assuming he survives the asteroid passing through." the Spirit of Mana revealed, "Little Brother, I know you're tired, but there is still so much more that must be done, that must be preserved, and you have yet to prove yourself as well. The test of your heart is a long one, and you have yet to reach the end and claim your reward. You must live until that day." She looked a bit saddened, glancing towards Danny briefly before focusing on the redhead again. "You've been wounded, Little Brother, and I know your soul is crying out in pain." Caleb stiffened, hugging himself tightly and scowling at his sister. "Please, don't give up. There are good things awaiting you if you just persevere."
"Don't promise what you can't deliver. I've had enough of it, Martel." Caleb growled in complaint, turning his face away almost arrogantly, "I will be the figure of perfect neutrality to one and all, until the day my life ends. A superior being of metal and magic, a living android, one of a kind for all time." Martel just sighed, sharing a commiserating look with Danny as the silent message passed between them.
'At this rate, it'll take ages before we can revive the True-Blood Wonder Chef.'
"Anyway, if you need me off the planet for this plan to work, then fine." Caleb went on, looking over at Danny, "Just let me know when you need me to leave and I'll head up to Derris-Kharlan with the rest of my androids."
"All right. Now that we're together on this, I'm ready to announce my plan." the halfa told him, "I wanted to be sure that you were behind me on this before I tried anything massive. I want my friends to trust me on this, and I mean all my friends." Caleb blinked at him, then gave him a weak smile.
"While I may not trust you right away, I do support you in this, Danny." he murmured, "I'll stand by you, but please know this. I won't be able to let you get as close to me as you once were, and that's for my own protection." Danny felt a little sting from that rejection, but he nodded, accepting that as a consequence of what he'd done. It'll take time to rebuild their relationship, and he was determined to get that time by saving the world.
"I understand. There's not much I can do about that right now, but I'd like to one day be able to hear you say my other name." he replied, "And for that, I'll wait for as long as it takes for you to forgive me." He reached out a hand again. "Even if we can't be as close as we were before, can we still be friends?"
"We can be allies." Caleb returned flatly, eyeing his hand distrustfully, "Let's leave it at that for now and see where we go from here." And Danny had to accept that as a consequence as well.
And Prove One Hero Will Stand Forever Tall~
The days after the asteroid passed had been a flurry of celebration, relief and activity. The world heralded Danny Phantom as a global hero and the teen found himself at the center of a whirlwind of press conferences, television interviews and social events. There were speeches and talks and Danny found it impossible to get away for any amount of time. His parents helped where they could, coming up with ways to stall the media while Danny spent some time out of ghost form to recover and gain back some energy.
He still couldn't believe his good luck there, having his parents know his secret and still love and accept him. But Danny had sort of always known that they would accept him as a half-ghost. It was his faith in them and himself, in them being family first, that held strong through this test. And in a small way, Caleb had helped too, by explaining things like that to him and reminding him that they had strong hearts that would stand fast with him.
He just wished that Caleb had not lost faith in him.
Speaking of the android, that was the new problem plaguing him. The day before Team Phantom was to collect the ghosts and get the planet intangible, Martel put herself to sleep within the World Tree and Caleb headed off to Derris-Kharlan with all his androids for safety. He said he wouldn't return until Danny signaled that the world was safe, that Martel was awake and there was enough mana in it to keep him powered.
But with everything going on, Danny didn't have a chance to give a signal of any kind, and since all of Caleb's androids were also gone, there was no one to do it for him. The longer Caleb was gone from the world, the greater the chance of something going wrong with another Hero, some valuable knowledge or piece of history could be lost, anything.
"When's this going to be over?" Danny finally sighed in complaint, curling against the wall of his bedroom as he waited for his parents to shoo away more of the local media in their search for his phantom self. Sitting in various beanbag chairs around his room were his friends and sister, and surprisingly enough Danni Phantom and Valerie were among those that sat there with him.
Valerie had been shocked by the revelation that Danny Phantom really had been Danny Fenton all along, but she recovered quickly and spent several hours talking with the teen to lay everything out and to rest. Her time in a previous adventure with Danny Phantom had helped immensely in her decision to let bygones be bygones and start over as a new member of Team Phantom.
Danni Phantom had stuck around after the disaster was averted, and her status as a clone was soon uncovered by the Fentons after Danny explained how she came to be. It was even more of a surprise when Jack and Maddie glanced at one another with odd expressions and then carefully explained to Danny what it meant for his DNA to be the source of Danielle's birth. Danny had fainted at the idea of being a teen father, but once he was awake again and the whole family got together to hash things out, he was able to sort of get used to the idea of having a daughter. It helped that everyone agreed to think of Danni as his cousin first, until Danny himself was old enough and responsible enough to take on his proper 'title'.
"It's gonna take a while for everything to cool down." Sam agreed ruefully, "Though it would be a lot easier if Caleb were here. He'd send out Phantom and get everyone off your tail."
"When's he coming back anyway?" Valerie asked in confusion as she brushed Danni's hair out to braid, the little ghost girl kneeling in front of her as she watched her 'cousin' stretch out one leg and gaze at his boot. The boy was in Phantom form as well, to have an extra boost in speed for going invisible just in case. "I thought he'd be here to help out too. I mean, isn't saving the world kind of Caleb's job too?" the huntress pointed out.
"He wouldn't have been able to survive here once Martel went to sleep." Jazz pointed out from her seat on Danny's bed. She straightened a clipping in her scrapbook, another to add to the collection of clippings she compiled about her brother's heroic exploits. "The world needed to lose a lot of mana in order to be made intangible, and Martel's Tree needed to lose enough to let her and the Tree be intangible too." she explained, "There wasn't enough after she went to sleep to keep Caleb running, not when he doesn't have a lot of those crystals to use and he uses the fork to pull mana into the ones he already has installed."
"Yeah. Caleb can't be made intangible, ever. Not with ghost powers." Tucker agreed from his own beanbag. He had his PDA in one hand, an earbud trailing from it to one ear. He had it tuned to the newsfeed, just to keep part of his attention on anything involving Danny Phantom. "He's dependent on having a lot of mana in his body; if the amount drops past a certain level, he dies."
The room was silent, and Danni looked up at her 'cousin' with wide and lost eyes, confused by everything that was being discussed. Unlike the rest of Team Phantom, she had no idea who Caleb was, or why he was important to the team.
"Danny?" she whimpered in a tiny voice, glowing white hair tumbling around her shoulders. The phantom gave her a comforting smile, a white ring blooming around his waist and splitting to transform him into his Fenton self again. Valerie shook the hairbrush at him.
"I am not getting used to that until I've seen it half a dozen times at least. And not all in a row!" she pointed out dryly and went back to brushing Danni's hair, "There, there, sweet thing. Everything's gonna be okay."
"To get Caleb back, we're gonna have to actually go to Derris-Kharlan and tell him that things are okay now." Sam sighed, "Only, we can't be sure that things are okay until we know if Martel's awake." She watched Valerie braid Danielle's hair and give the little girl a hug before holding up a mirror so she could see herself. "So our real problem is, how do we get in contact with Martel to wake her up? All we know about her is that she's the Spirit of Mana in the World Tree, but we don't even know where the Tree is. Caleb keeps that a secret from even us." the Goth remarked before her eyes widened and she whipped her head around to look at Danny. "Or... did he tell you? You were his best friend and he liked telling you more stuff than he told the rest of us." she realized suddenly.
"Second best, before I screwed it up and he bumped me down to 'ally he won't touch with a ten-foot-pole'." Danny corrected dryly, then placed a hand just under his heart, "His best is here. And no, he didn't tell me either, even when I was his friend." He sighed ruefully. "That's a secret that Caleb's keeping to himself to protect his sister; you can understand that, right, Sam? She lives in a giant tree of ever-flowing life. How much money would she be worth to some mindless government research lab? And think of the damage some lumber company could do if they knew a tree as big as hers existed."
"Danny, what's going on? Who's this Caleb guy? Who's Martel?" Danni asked in confusion, scampering over to crawl into the teenager's lap. She snuggled against him as he wrapped his arms around her and planted a small kiss on her forehead. Sam smiled at the sight, a faint blush painting her cheeks. The two of them were officially a couple now, and seeing him act like that made her heart even more fluttery than usual.
"Caleb's a guardian angel for Heroes, Danni." the halfa explained with a chuckle, "An android with a soul who promised some very old friends from long, long ago that he would protect Heroes and save the world's knowledge. Martel is his big sister, and she is kind of a ghost herself. She lives in the World Tree that holds the world together." He nuzzled her, rubbing their noses together and making her giggle. "He can't go intangible, so he had to leave Earth for a while when we made the world intangible. His sister can't move, so she went to sleep so that our ghost powers would work on her. Only, now we have to go and find out if Martel's awake, because her power is what keeps Caleb alive."
There was a knock at the door, and the teens looked up warily towards it, relaxing once it opened and Maddie stuck her head in to greet them.
"Danny, there's someone here to see you. She says it's urgent, but I've never seen this woman before." she told him with a concerned look on her face, "I don't remember her being involved with the school, but she said she knew one of your teachers." She blinked at him, noticing the little phantom he was hugging, and gave them a warm smile. "Danielle, would you like some cookies and milk?" she asked the girl.
"Can I, Danny?" the girl asked of her cousin with an eager expression.
"Sure. And it's okay, Mom. I'll see who it is." Danny agreed, getting up from the bed as his friends began to gather up to go with him. Danni cheered and flew over to join Maddie, touching down and returning to her human self as she did so. The woman took her by the hand and headed for the stairs, the teens following after her.
"She's in the living room, kids." Maddie added as she began walking towards the kitchen, "I'll bring out some tea. Be careful, Danny; I'm not entirely sure what that staff of hers is capable of. She didn't register on our ghost radar."
"A staff?" Danny echoed in confusion. His mind raced; there was only one woman he knew who carried a staff and would know one of his 'teachers'. Martel... could it really be Martel?
He raced for the living room, his friends scrambling after him in confusion and alarm, and stopped just a few steps inside to stare in surprise. The woman he'd met on the Archives building roof now sat daintily on the sofa, ankles crossed and staff resting against the furniture as she smiled up at him, her green hair flowing over the fabric. She was dressed in her usual green and white garments, patterned similarly to what Caleb wore.
"Hello again, Danny Fenton. On behalf of everyone protected by the Yggdrasill Tree, thank you for saving this world." Martel told him in her soft and wise voice. The other teens caught up to Danny, and now the group stood there, awed by the figure sitting in the living room. "As you can see, I am awake, and the world is regaining the balance of mana necessary to support the lives and magic of those who require it." she went on and stood gracefully, her staff coming into her hand, "The time has come to restore Caleb and bring him home to continue his work. I trust you will be able to do this."
"Well, it's nice to have somebody's trust after all the dumb moves I've made." Danny sighed.
"How are we going to get to Derris-Kharlan, though?" Sam asked the Spirit of Mana, "We don't have teleporters here that connect to it, just the one in the local Archives that takes us to the New York branch, and if there's only human staff there, they're not gonna let us into the upper floors to get to the ones that do connect. They don't know us as well as Caleb does!"
"That I can help with. My power can send you to Derris-Kharlan directly. But returning here will require Caleb's power." Martel told them and looked faintly worried, "Though, I fear my little brother may not be willing to return so easily. When I awoke from my slumber, I could not feel my connection to him."
"That's not good. According to his confession during his Trial, Caleb disconnected himself from you just before he massacred a whole town." Jazz muttered in concern, rubbing her chin thoughtfully, "But nothing like that's happened down here; if it did, all this press coverage everywhere would have picked up on it."
"We'd better check on him and bring him back." Danny decided firmly, "Martel, please send us to Derris-Kharlan." Martel nodded and lifted her staff, its head taking on a brilliant shine as light filled the vision of the teens, swallowing up all in sight.
When the light finally faded, they found themselves standing in the midst of the silvery city of Welgaia. Unlike the one they'd known previously, this city was bustling with life, both natural and artificial. Families and Archives staff were packing and moving again with the aide of numerous Heroes both real and android. Lines and gates were set up for a row of teleporters, each one with a giant sign labeling their destination, various places around the world, and a duplicate of past Heroes calling out those destinations in their languages.
"It's kind of like an airport right now." Jazz observed as the group began walking, looking around in awe. An elderly woman watched Archives staff load the last of her possessions, a rocking chair, into a moving truck while another pointed towards a massive teleporter that they would be using to return it to Earth. A young couple with their children sat at a table, eating their meals with chopsticks, while a group of androids served out still more meals to other evacuees from a set up that looked like a fancy version of their school cafeteria.
"Let's go there." Danny pointed out the buffet, an idea coming to mind.
"Yeah! I could definitely use a snack, and that looks like Mongolian chicken!" Tucker exclaimed eagerly.
"We're here to find Caleb, not stuff our faces with takeout!" Sam griped in exasperation, but followed anyway when Danny transformed and flew towards it.
"It's not that! Wherever there's a kitchen, there's a Wonder Chef android running it!" Danny called back over his shoulder, "And Caleb has the closest ties to Wonder Chef androids! They'll know where he is!"
He was right. There were two Wonder Chef androids there, one with blue hair and a slightly crazed smile, wielding a giant golden frying pan and cheering each time someone came up to them for a meal, waving a golden ladle around as he did so; the other was more familiar, smaller, with blond hair and shooting the blue-haired one dirty looks every time he waved the ladle around.
"Adam! Hey!" Valerie called out, waving a hand to catch his attention. The blonde turned his gaze towards them in surprise... and the blue-haired chef whapped him in the back of the head with the ladle.
"That's the fifth time!" Adam snapped, whirling around and snatching the utensil away, "I know you're doing that on purpose, you hare-brained poser!" The other chef just grinned wider, almost mockingly so. "Get back to work on the risotto!" the blonde chef ordered with a frighteningly ferocious look on his face, lashing the ladle towards the stoves like a general would use a sword to direct his troops, "And I'd better not catch you trying to put American cheese in it again, or I'll be justified in ripping your Dual Crystal System out and using it to boost the oven's output!"
"This is the real Hell's Kitchen, isn't it?" Tucker whimpered. The blonde before them sighed harshly, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose as though trying to ward off a headache, before turning to greet them, cheerful smile looking a little strained.
"Hello! You would be... Danny Phantom, correct? And these are your allies?" he remarked brightly, "How can I help you today?"
"We're here to bring Caleb back to Earth." Danny told him, "Do you know where he is?"
The change was sudden; cheerful smile dropped into a thin line as even Adam's normally sunny expression became neutral and guarded. Danny flinched and the soul sleeping under his heart sent out another wave of warmth to soothe him.
'It's not really me.' it seemed to try to say, 'It has my face, but it's not me.'
"Oh, yes, that's right. You were supposed to send a signal to him to call him back. In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea to give you something to signal him with." Adam remarked bitterly, "But then, you being here physically is for the best. Let me ask you something, before I reveal his location; did you know that Caleb can tie himself into any network he wants at any time? That's how he destroys digital evidence of his interviews and other activities."
"Huh, I always wondered about that." Tucker murmured before being shushed by Sam. Danny tilted his head, brows furrowing at that information.
"That's cool, I guess. But what does it have to do with me?" he returned.
"He was watching via satellite when you went into the Ghost Zone over the South Pole. We all were, the evacuees, the staff, the androids, all of us." Adam told him, "We Adam models are all connected in some way, but I'm the master model; I control the others when needed and I'm connected to Caleb via wireless link. I'm also the one who comes the closest to Caleb in terms of magical strength and physical durability. He built me to be his partner in anything requiring dual guidance. That's why I stay here on Derris-Kharlan; I manage this world while Caleb is on Earth performing his duties."
"Okay." Danny murmured, drawing out the word to hint that he wasn't getting what the guy was trying to say.
"Ah, I digressed. Sorry." Adam muttered and raised his voice, "Point is, we were watching, all of us, when you went into the portal by flying that jet. And we were watching, all of us, when that same jet flew out and smashed into a mountain."
Danny winced; he'd been told about that from his friends and family. Their hopes sank at the sight of the smoldering remains of the Fenton Jet in the mountain peak, weeping over what they had believed was his death...
He froze, eyes wide and fists clenched at his sides, before looking up at the android before him. Adam just gave him that same flat look.
"I see you get it now. Caleb saw what he believed to be your death, and shut down the satellite feed so we lost visuals on Earth. We were still able to watch the planet be made intangible, so that got a lot of cheering, more so when the asteroid passed through harmlessly." the Wonder Chef duplicate told the group quietly, "But I was already given the command to implement Operation: Yggdrasill's Gambit, the same as all the other androids here on Derris-Kharlan, and we're in the process of doing that now."
"Forgive us for being out of the loop, but what's Operation: Yggdrasill's Gambit?" Jazz asked, hand raised as if she were in a classroom.
"It's a safety measure that Caleb created about three centuries after the events that happened during the Phantasia Age." Adam explained, shooting a dark glare at the other Wonder Chef in warning. The blue-haired young man had been inching his hand towards a package of sliced cheese but quickly retreated it. "He didn't believe that anyone would ever breach perfect neutrality, but Caleb's never been one to leave things to chance. Not since the death of Adam Voraci, the Wonder Chef I was modeled after." he went on, turning back to face the teens, "So in the slim chance that someone did get past his shields and then managed to break him to the degree that he could possibly follow Yggdrasill's path, Caleb created the Gambit protocols."
"In the roughest terms, Caleb retreats to Derris-Kharlan while he's still mostly sane, dumps everyone who is living here-in the sense that they are not android and of his creation- back onto Earth by any means possible, and then sets Derris-Kharlan into launch sequence to get it away from Earth as fast as planetarily possible."
The teens stared at the blonde in shock, jaws dropped at the description. Adam shrugged. "It's the best solution all around. If Earth isn't nearby, Caleb won't be tempted to go rampaging on it. Billions of lives will be preserved and he won't be breaking any promises to either Martel or Adam." He looked out at the numerous people still bustling about the city. "If you want him to come back to Earth, you made it just in time. We're still in the process of evacuating Derris-Kharlan of all human and non-human life. Derris-Kharlan won't launch into space while we still have Heroes and their families here, so you can still convince him to retract the command."
"So where is he?" Danny demanded and Adam looked back at him with a flat glare.
"Where do you think? Vinhelm's throne room; it's Mission Control for Derris-Kharlan." the android replied, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a pathetic, inferior excuse of a Wonder Chef to dismantle." With that he turned and grabbed a nearby iron skillet, yelling in Italian as he leaped at the startled blue-haired chef who stared up at him in horror and clutched a few slices of American cheese in his fingers.
"Come on! We gotta hurry and show him I'm alive!" Danny cried, turning to fly off towards the teleporter he knew would take him straight to Vinhelm, "I'll meet you guys there! Just run for it!"
He left them behind, streaking through the air over Welgaia as he sought out the massive teleporter that connected to Mithos' castle. Things had gotten worse; how did things get worse? First Caleb called off their friendship because he'd given up being Danny Phantom, now he was abandoning Earth altogether because he thought he'd died in that jet crash?
"Deny it all you want, you stupid angel, but you still have a bond to me whether you like it or not!" Danny growled as he shot down towards the violet disk, "If you really didn't care anymore, why would you go through the trouble of escaping Earth to keep from going on another killing spree?"
He touched down on the teleporter, waiting as the light surrounded him and the familiar haze of teleportation enveloped him. When the world was reoriented, Danny found himself standing in the main foyer of Vinhelm, gazing around at the dark castle in awe. It was just like the images in the Symphonian Culture textbook he had stashed away; the stone that made up the castle was dark marble, the ceiling stretched so high overhead it made his neck hurt trying to see what was on it, the steps leading up to the massive iron double doors that separated the foyer from the throne room.
The room was also full of androids, every single one of them either a duplicate of the blonde Wonder Chef... or a copy of himself as Fenton and Phantom. Danny floated there, looking around in silence at the numerous figures halting their work to stand there and look back at him. They seemed like they were waiting for him to do something, dozens of blue and green eyes all focused on him. Watching. Waiting.
That was seriously creepy.
There was the sudden creak of doors opening, and Danny looked towards the throne room entrance to see one of the Adam models and one of his own Phantom copies each gripping one of the iron doors, pushing them open for him. When they were completely opened, the duplicates paused and glanced at him before tilting their heads towards the throne room. He blinked at them before it dawned on him what was going on.
They knew why he was here so they were halting what they were doing to help give him a chance to stop Caleb's command. The androids wanted him to get through to him!
"Thank you." Danny whispered and shot forward, flying through the opened doors into Mithos' throne room.
It was different. From what Danny remembered of the throne room in that hellish Book, it was just a vast empty space with a floating island suspended before a storm of mana, the very heart of Derris-Kharlan.
This was a cold, clinical room of science and technology. Walls and most of the floor space was packed with computers and servers, humming softly as they worked to carry out Caleb's commands. A path of red tile cut through the sea of white and metal, leading up to a dais where the familiar throne of Mithos was placed.
Sitting daintily on that throne was Caleb, arms flat on the armrests and hands lightly gripping the curves at the ends, touching on panels built into the throne that glowed softly. His eyes were closed, his posture stiff and almost regal, an android king ruling over his ancient domain. Danny gave him a wary look, glancing at the overall scene; maybe more like an android princess, the way he kept his feet together like that. Even pissed off, Caleb could be just so weird.
"Caleb?" he called out and flinched, hunching his shoulders as his voice echoed around the room, repeating the android's name in that same hesitant tone. As the echoes finally faded, Caleb's eyes slowly opened, glittering brilliant green as he continued processing data.
"You are... not one of my copies." he intoned flatly. He blinked again, and the glow was gone, his expression switching from neutral to surprise. "You... you're not dead?" Caleb questioned in genuine shock.
"No, I'm not." Danny affirmed with a short nod of his head, "I've come to take you home, Caleb. Call off the operation."
"You're alive." the android repeated in wonder, eyes wide and staring at him, "I thought you were killed... but you're alive." Danny raised an eyebrow, puzzled.
"Um, yeah. I already said I was." he agreed. What was going on? A wide smile broke out over Caleb's face and the halfa blinked in surprise even as his hopes rose. If he was smiling at him, then did that mean Caleb forgave him?
"You're alive!" Caleb exclaimed joyfully, wings unfolding as he shot across the room from the dais, arms open as if eager to hug him. Danny braced himself for the collision, feeling a smile of his own come up. Was everything really going to be okay now? Was he forgiven? Oh, this was the best day ever-!
A shadow passed over Caleb's face halfway to him and the joyful expression dropped back to neutral, the android halting in midair so suddenly, it looked like he'd been yanked back by an invisible leash, arms dropping to his sides limply. He hovered there, wings flapping, as he gazed down at the boy. Danny felt his smile grow strained, confusion and disappointment filling him in place of the joy and hope. What was happening now?
Caleb slowly floated down to land on the tile and folded his wings away, one arm lightly gripping the other as he tilted his head, looking at Danny as though the halfa were an interesting stray puppy someone left on his doorstep. "Well, you survived, so that's good. Congratulations." he remarked and lifted his hand, gesturing airily without caring what direction he motioned to, "Cease operations and resume normal duties. The Earth will be needing us a little longer, after all." The androids peeking in from the foyer all nodded and filed out, stepping onto the teleporter pad and heading off to Welgaia.
Danny's jaw dropped. That was it?
"What the hell was that?" he demanded angrily, fed up with being confused by him, "You were happy to see me just a second ago, and now you're gonna act like you don't care?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. While it is good to see you again, I'm not about to jump about like a giddy schoolgirl over you." Caleb returned, flicking a stray strand of hair back over his shoulder as he walked forward, "You're here, which means Martel's awake, which means I can go back to New York and resume working once I get all these people off my base." Danny threw up his hands, tensing them into claw-like shape as his eyes burned a vivid yellow-green.
"Nnnyargh!" he snarled in frustration, "What the hell? Don't feed me that line of crap! You came flying at me like it was friggin' Christmas and I was the puppy you always wanted under the damn tree!" Caleb paused, glancing back over his shoulder at him.
For a second, Danny thought he saw something of the Caleb he knew, a glimpse of sorrow and hurt alongside relief and hope. And then that shadow passed over and there was only perfect neutrality again, cold and distant.
"Pics, or it didn't happen." the android retorted and headed for the teleporter himself, pausing when the rest of Danny's friends materialized in place. He greeted them, raising a hand to wave, and then stepped onto the pad himself.
The halfa didn't respond to questions from the group for a few moments, frowning thoughtfully as he considered what he'd just seen.
Something had happened to the android, something that Martel hadn't warned him about. Was that because he needed to see it for himself, or because she honestly had no clue that something had happened in the first place? Was this before or after Caleb cut his connection to her? Had that connection come back yet?
Too many questions and no answers to be found just standing here. Danny sighed, giving a tired smile to his friends when they asked if things were all right now.
The world was safe, he was recognized by Amity Park as their Hero, and the Guardian Angel of Heroes would be returning to take up his duties in protecting, guiding and archiving. He still had a burden on his shoulders that was his alone to bear, the consequences of his choices still affected Caleb, and it would take time to fully grasp what all had taken place. This was something Danny knew and had to accept. He didn't like it, but that was life. One day, he would be able to reach out to the android again and Caleb would reach back and take his hand in friendship.
Then and only then, would he worry about that shadow...
This Is Only The Beginning...