This is a commission I did for sharpie91 over on deviantART. It was supposed to be done several months ago...-facepalm-
It was hard to write, but I do love this pairing.
Hope you guys enjoy this!
"Ghosts are sociopathic, narcissistic creatures that only care to further their unrealistic, self-centered goals at all costs, no matter how much effort it requires or how long it would take …"
-The Scientist's Guide to Supernatural Phenomena and the Paranormal
"Where's the asteroid?"
The Disasteriod barreled out into the open air, and for just a split second, a roar drowned out everything: the frantic voices of the operatives, the screams of terror from the ones who had not been shocked into silence, Phantom's shouts over his intercom as he struggled to remain intangible. Even the sky itself was swallowed by the behemoth's raw power, dyed a thick, bloody red. The grotesque, glaring face of the earth's doom gave one last vengeful stare—and then, as quickly as it came, it was gone, moving too fast to be recaptured into the planet's orbit. The ghosts lost their grip on the earth and it regained tangibility in one even wave of bright, angelic light.
Valerie found that she was stuck staring at the spot where the moon-sized asteroid had turned into a dot smaller than a Ping-Pong ball. It was almost like she was in a dream. She could hardly believe that Phantom's plan had actually worked.
Her dumbfounded reverie was shattered to bits as the world realized that they had survived.
They had survived!
Before she could even stand out of her chair, she was grabbed roughly from behind and swept into a bone-crushing hug from no one else but her father. Valerie heaved a sob, holding onto him as tightly as she could. She wanted to say so many things, but all she could get out was a few chocked squeaks that caught in her throat. The cries and cheers of celebration drifted off like morning fog, and it seemed that the only thing in the universe left was the remains of their family.
"Your mother," her Dad whispered, "would be so proud."
They held locked in that position, almost as if afraid of losing each other. It was not until someone announced that Phantom had not left with the other ghosts, but instead was waiting outside the control tower, that they finally separated.
The following five minutes were less than organized; between the paparazzi, leaders of the many countries present, engineers, and the families of all of them, it was nearly impossible to slip out into the frigid air. By the time Valerie and her father had hustled into proper coats and sprinted to meet the ghost, he was surrounded by a group of teenagers with the biggest, goofiest grin plastered onto his face. It looked so familiar, as if she'd seen it hundreds of times before.
Valerie squinted. Is that Sam and Tucker? Her eyes widened when she got a closer look. It is Sam and Tucker. What are they doing here? Where's Danny? Jazz is there!
But Danny had disappeared. Everywhere she looked, she couldn't find him. Had he wandered off? She wouldn't be surprised—he could be so adorably clueless sometimes. Or was he stuck inside the control tower because of the mob? It wasn't like Sam or Tucker to just up and leave him—usually, the three were inseparable. Especially him and Sam.
Valerie cringed slightly. Breaking things up with Danny seemed so silly now, when they'd all nearly died. She wanted to make things right with him. She wanted to apologize to him and tell him the real reason that she had left him brokenhearted in the outdoor lunchroom, not something as horrible as "I'm busy". She wanted to…
Eventually, her eyes settled on Phantom. The way he was standing, leaning slightly on one foot towards Sam, rubbing the back of his neck at something witty Tucker said—it was so recognizable. The three humans surrounding him weren't treating him like a ghost, hero, or anything between; they were treating him like a friend.
Almost immediately, Valerie wanted to chalk it off as Phantom tricking his way into their trust. He was a ghost, after all. That was the way they worked: they only helped themselves. The reason Phantom had come up with his ingenious plan was to protect the Ghost Zone, not the Earth. If anything, Valerie should have whipped out her ecto-gun and shot the ghost to kingdom-come right then and there.
But hadn't he proved himself to be something more? He'd kept his word to hand himself back over during his whole cousin fiasco, something that ghosts never did. He had been about to let himself be taken prisoner by the ghost hunter that had been torturing him not even an hour earlier. And when 'Danni Phantom' had melted into a pile of goo, after the enormous lengths he'd gone to save her, his sorrowful reaction had been so human. Valerie shuddered at the memory.
There was no more time to think on the ghost's intentions. They had caught up to Phantom and the teens. By the time Valerie and her father had come within earshot, he was talking to Maddie Fenton (of all people!), using that God-awful "hero voice" that he thought made him sound more intimidating or…something. He even added in a sassy hand wave, which Valerie couldn't help but to roll her eyes at. Sometimes, that guy thought he was such an amazing actor when he just wasn't.
"Isn't there something you want to tell us?" Mrs. Fenton asked Phantom softly, gently holding his arm.
The teenager's face went blank in confusion. So did Valerie's.
Since when were they so chummy? Last time I checked she hated his guts. She blinked several times when the boy looked to Jazz for guidance, and all she gave was an annoyingly-cryptic, "It's okay, Danny. They know."
Wait. Did she just call him "Danny"?
Something was wrong with this picture, Valerie realized. The way Mr. and Mrs. Fenton were gazing so proudly, so lovingly at the ghost that had been supposedly destroying their city. The way he was so casual with Sam and Tucker. The way Danny was missing and how nobody had said a single word.
Phantom's electric green eyes swept over the crowd. His gaze landed on her for a brief second, not quite registering that she was there. He gave a barely audible, nearly resigned sigh and lowered his head, closing his eyes lightly. For just a second he stood as still as a statue, and the ambient noise hovering in the air faded away like smoke from a chimney.
A halo, the same color as the light that had turned the planet intangible, shimmered to life at his midsection. It split apart, and in its wake were a T-shirt, jeans, and two unsettlingly human-looking forearms.
Something is wrong with this, Valerie thought numbly.
The twin rings moved up Phantom's body mercilessly, erasing his presence and replacing it with something new and terrifying. Valerie's mind sluggishly put two and two together as they reached his torso and revealed that familiar red oval on that familiar white shirt on that familiar boy, and suddenly he wasn't missing anymore.
Something is very wrong.
The upward-moving beam of light wisped over Phantom's face. His hair, which had blended in comically well with the pole's snow, shifted to pitch black in mere seconds. When he opened his eyes, they were the baby blue that was so unique to him.
Danny nearly flinched, as if expecting a blow. He looked uncertainly around him, appearing more and more crestfallen as the suffocating silence collapsed inwards.
So stupid. She had been so stupid.
Valerie's panicked thoughts bounced back and forth, always ending in this same conclusion. Even as the people around her thundered in wild applause, she found herself feeling so much more upset than she could have thought possible. Danny, her Danny, was the very thing that she had tried to destroy. He had known that she wanted nothing more to kill him—or a part of him—and he still tried to work out a relationship with her. He had still scrambled for truces whenever he could, even though she had gone back on them almost every time.
But what about the times when he did act like a full, evil ghost? How could he possibly explain kidnapping the mayor? Or stealing all of that gold and jewelry? Or attacking a town parade?
Valerie thought that she knew her friend—possibly one of her best friends—very well. It was the main reason she'd decided to back off of him, to keep him safe from ghosts! But he was the ghost that had been causing all of the problems in the first place! Now she didn't know what to think!
Danny finally realized that she was among the crowd, and those blue eyes of his focused on her completely. It felt like he was piercing her with his gaze, ripping her apart. They made direct eye contact for a full five seconds before she responded.
Valerie smiled, if only to get him to stop looking at her.
"…and later on there'll be some light showers. Nothing much to worry about, but if you're going anywhere in the early morning, make sure you bring a jacket! Back to you, Tiffany."
"Thank you, Lance. Now, as you all know, today is the two-month anniversary of the Disasteroid's near-collision with our planet…"
Valerie quietly got up and shut the television off. She couldn't sleep, which was why she was listening to the eleven o'clock news in the first place. The entire city had decided to throw a celebration in Danny's honor, much to his chagrin. He must have been thanking his lucky stars when that creepy hunter-ghost intruded and forced him to leave.
She gritted her teeth at the thought of him. She'd avoided him nonstop, recalibrating her ghost trackers to detect him in both of his forms. Valerie knew Danny wanted to talk to her—the anxious look he would send her during the tougher ghost battles said it all—but she just couldn't. She hated how he'd betrayed her trust, but she was also furious with herself for never figuring it out. Seriously—Danny Fenton, Danny Phantom? How in the world had he managed to keep that secret for so long?
She sighed and collapsed onto her bed, staring up at the ceiling. "Why can't everything just be normal again?" She grumbled, closing her eyes.
It wasn't until her ghost alarm began to shriek that Valerie realized she'd finally fallen asleep. Of course some ghost had to come along and ruin it.
The huntress yelped, jumping off of her bed and fluidly holding a defensive karate form. When it became apparent that the danger was outside, she blushed and quickly activated her suit, consuming her body in venomous pink fire that left behind Valerie Gray and brought forth the Red Huntress. Willing her jet sled to life, the ghost hunter rocketed out of her window vengefully, fists clenching with electrical energy.
She briefly passed one of the many clock towers in Amity Park, and it dutifully stated that it was about three in the morning. Valerie's eyes narrowed. "This better be freaking good," she growled.
The visor covering her eyes pinpointed the ghost's location and helpfully informed her that Ghost Signature #001—Danny—was located with it as well. The other specter was an unknown, causing the automatic recording system to kick in once she closed in.
She saw the battle raging over the (closed) circus far before she was even remotely close to it. Angry red flames met brilliant emerald, exploding midair in a myriad of colors. A gray streak briefly zipped around a cloud of smoke and fire before nosediving, a single white-green beam of pure ectoplasm shooting down at a glowing red mass.
Valerie stopped briefly to get a good look at the ghost. It appeared to be a bald, slimy quadruped the size of a bear covered in wrinkles and spines. It didn't seem to have a head—or bones, for that matter; with a disgusting squish, the crimson ghost leaned down on all four of its legs and pushed off the ground, literally sucking them into its body to avoid being hit by Danny's ectobeam. They then reappeared on the opposite end and grabbed at the flagpole on top of the merry-go-round, halting its descent.
"Hey, ugly!" Valerie shouted, gaining both ghosts' attention. "See if you can stick to this!" She raised her arm-cannon and smirked, letting loose a massive grenade accompanied by two smaller ones. The largest sped right into the ghoul while the other two circled around and hit it in the back. With a drawn-out sluuuurp, the ghost fell off its perch and splattered onto the ground. For some reason her tired mind couldn't comprehend, it literally flattened.
Valerie inched forward to get a closer look at the ghost. Well, that was easy, she thought in disbelief.
"Ew," Danny commented, unclipping his Fenton Thermos from his belt and briefly glancing at it to turn it on. "You look like Mom's pancakes."
It took a few seconds for Valerie to process this and grimace accordingly. In those precious moments, the ghost had already recovered and responded with a blood-red ectobeam aimed at the two of them, ripping the air apart and raising the temperature tenfold. Danny easily turned intangible to avoid being burned, but Valerie wasn't so lucky; she'd only managed a bewildered dive, and a good portion of her forearm had been caught in the blast.
Valerie screamed at the sudden, unbearable pain, so much stronger than she'd felt before. The night vividly came to life as adrenaline raced through her blood.
(Her visor helpfully told her that she'd been injured with second-degree burns and that this ghost was, in fact, quite powerful; it had blasted right through her protective armor.
There were alerts for that, too.)
Danny's casual, quirky smile vanished in an instant. Face contorted in rage and eyes screaming murder, he became so unrecognizable in such a short amount of time that Valerie froze on the spot. She could only watch, gingerly holding her wound, as the ghost boy of Amity Park lunged down on the ghost and, in one fell swoop of his arm, sliced it cleanly along its midline with a concentrated ectodisk. The ghost's skin and spines sloshed inwards for a second, its form wavered out of reality once, twice…and it disintegrated into a bright green puddle.
"…Okay," Valerie managed to get out, still staring at the ghost's remains. Danny was as well, looking more than a little guilty. "You know, I wasn't hurt that bad. I can take care of myself," she said pointedly as he sucked the remains into the Fenton Thermos. She leaned backwards on her board and steadied herself, gaining a comfortable distance between the two and fully intending on turning around and flying back home. It took everything she had to hold in a shriek when she accidentally bumped her injured arm into her hip. Spots flashed in her vision, dotting the night with surreal stars.
The half-ghost frowned at her. "Val…" he reached out, as if wanting to touch her, even though the two were nearly ten feet away from each other.
"Save it, Danny!" Valerie snapped. Guilt immediately took her over at his hurt expression, but she forced herself to brush it aside. She was hurt and exhausted at some ungodly hour on a Sunday night and she just knew that she wouldn't be able to get back to sleep again when she got home. She didn't want to sit here and chitchat with the local superhero that had lied to her for months on end.
"Val," Danny repeated seriously, covering the distance between the two at a startling speed. Or maybe not; the adrenaline had worn off, making her feel like she was experiencing a bad coffee crash. "Let me see your arm."
She recoiled from his slender, gloved fingers. "What? No! I'm fine. I'm going home right now." As she said this she flipped her hovecraft around and began to do just that.
Danny wasn't too pleased with her answer. He easily flew in front of her and held his hands out, almost as if he were trying to show her that he was unarmed. "Okay," he said submissively, "but I still…Valerie, I think we need to talk. You looked happy two months ago. Why have you been avoiding me…?" He gave her a look resembling a lost, brokenhearted child—the same one Danny Fenton had worn when she'd broken up with him. "Did I do something wrong?"
This was too soon, too fast. Because, yes, Danny had done something wrong. He had lied to her. He'd tried to date her and keep his ghost half a secret from her the entire time! Valerie grudgingly had to admit that he had probably done so with good reason, though, considering her rather…verbal way of showing her hatred of Danny Phantom.
They were both at fault, in a way. But how could she possibly trust him now that he had shown that he was part ghost? Weren't all ghosts evil? Didn't they only care for themselves? Even if Danny's human half balanced his ghost half out, to what extent? He wasn't a saint—he'd done some pretty bad things, in Valerie's opinion.
"Huh?" She blinked, finally realizing that Danny had been speaking to her. She couldn't fight back a blush, which just made her even more embarrassed.
Danny raised an eyebrow. "I think you need to sit down. Come—"
"I'm fine," Valerie interrupted him. "Seriously. I just need more time to think. Just…leave me alone." She nudged her jet around him. In response, the halfa frowned sternly and carefully grabbed one of the sled's horns in an attempt to stop her. He must have spoken, but she didn't hear him; the world around her jolted at the sudden halt and agony hungrily clawed its way in and around her wound, leeching her body of any strength.
Gasping, Valerie flung her arm up to grab the injury, which only made it worse. "Damnit, Danny, I said I was fine!" Even though his expression clearly showed that he had not meant to hurt her, she sent him a look resembling a severely outraged tiger. "Leave me alone!"
His neon green eyes were glued to her arm. With great effort, Danny ripped his eyes off of the black-and-red wound to meet her own. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…" he trailed off, shaking his head. With much more determination, he pleaded, "Val, I seriously doubt you have stuff at home to fix that. And what will your dad say?" At her silence, he extended both of his hands out, palms facing up. "I'm sorry," the half-ghost repeated sincerely. "Please, just let me help you."
She scrutinized him through narrowed eyes. "What can you do about it?" Valerie asked. Her tone came out much more distrustful than she intended. Danny winced for just a second before composing himself.
"Well," he drew the word out, eyes turning skyward and face scrunching up in a definitely-not-cute way as he struggled to find a way to explain himself. "Here, let me just show you." With his signature goofy grin, he flipped over and began to weave midair towards the circus' Ferris wheel. The same exact one they had sat in on their first date.
Part of Valerie shouted that now was the chance for her to leave, so she could just get home and go back to bed and worry about second-degree burns and her dad and absolutely not cute ex-boyfriends later. Maybe it was her fear of imminent grounding, or maybe it was the half of her that actually did want to be friends with Danny again and reasoned that she had to start somewhere—but something had Valerie drifting after the ghost boy. Before she ever realized it, she was hovering right in front of the highest cart with Danny floating not three feet away from her.
He smiled in relief and dropped down on the seat. The ride moaned and creaked, swaying in rhythm with the cold wind. Danny didn't say anything, merely holding his hand out to her and holding her uninjured arm as she carefully stepped onto the ride as well. "See? That wasn't so bad."
"Shut up before I shoot you," Valerie said. She was only half-joking.
Danny blinked once and grinned in amusement. God, did he look so similar to his human half. How had she not managed to figure it out? To distract herself from the frustrating thoughts, she asked, "So, how do you plan on fixing me up in a Ferris wheel? Last time I checked, they don't have First-Aid kits."
Danny laughed. "Nope," he said, holding up a finger. "Lucky for you, I have this nifty little thing called 'ice powers'." His eyes abruptly turned bright blue—but not the same as his human half. This color was colder and more calculating, not the carefree, happy shade that was completely unique to Danny Fenton. Valerie frowned, her face scrunching up.
No way am I letting him use his ghost powers on me. "Wait. Have you even done this before?" Valerie leaned away from his hand, which had gained a slightly blueish-white glow. At Danny's exuberant nodding, she amended, "on anyone but yourself?" He abruptly stopped. "That's what I thought," she sighed.
He frowned, glancing down at his hand. "Ever since the incident with Undergrowth, I haven't really wanted Tucker and Sam close to my fights," he admitted. "I hated being helpless to protect them. So I usually tried to finish the ghost off ASAP, lure it away, or defend them at all costs." The teenager shrugged sheepishly. "So they haven't really been burned this bad ever since. But they were before," he continued gravely, "and they both told me that just having me near their burns made them feel better. So why can't my ice powers help?" He met her gaze evenly. "I know you don't trust me right now, and you have every right not to, because I never told you. But why would I lie about something like this?"
Because you're half-ghost, Valerie almost said. She just barely held it back, but guilt must have shown up on her face; almost instantaneously, Danny looked absolutely crushed, crumpled over and completely unable to look her in the eye.
In the tense silence that proceeded, Valerie couldn't help but stare at her burn. It was covered in fluid-filled blisters that pulsed and hurt. Fabulous. Not only was she wounded in a very noticeable way, but now she had to be careful to not injure herself even more by accidentally popping them.
"Would it…would it make you feel better if I changed back?" Danny spoke up unexpectedly. He wrung his fingers together in discomfort, hiding his expression behind his shaggy white hair.
Valerie tried to imagine Danny Fenton with dead eyes and blinding, neon-bathed hands. She vigorously shook her head. "No. I…" She grimaced. "Danny. You're half-ghost."
"Yeah, I kinda figured that one out on my own," he ground out sarcastically. "But I'm also half-human, just like Dani. And you learned to trust her." Despite the anger in his voice, he looked up at her wistfully, mirroring the same expression that nearly every citizen had worn when they'd first learned of the Disasteriod's existence. Hopeful but jaded, knowing deep within that it would take a miracle to change things for the better.
It was Valerie's turn to look away, desperately avoiding the worn expression of the scarred teenager sitting besides her. "I know," she said quietly. "But every time I see you as Phantom, all I can see is the ghost who wrecked my dad's job and kidnapped the mayor. It just—it clashes with what I thought Danny Fenton was." She shifted slightly, her heart skipping a beat, when he leaned in closer.
Danny's voice grew rough and aggravated. "That dog wasn't mine—I was just trying to control him and I couldn't. And I didn't kidnap the mayor! Seriously, why didn't anyone notice that he was holding me down and that I was trying to get away from him?" He held his forehand with his hand, eyes narrowed. "The mayor was overshadowed by Walker. He was trying to frame me. If you take a look at the photos the press got, you'll notice that his eyes were red instead of brown. Hell, they're even glowing!"
This struck Valerie. Not because of surprise, but because she had noticed that. Hours were wasted studying those precious few photos of that event because they were the only pictures anyone had of the infamous Danny Phantom at that point. She'd just assumed that it was Phantom's influence over the mayor reaching previously unheard-of proportions, changing the very appearance of Mayor Montez. She had never, not once in a million years, assumed that there was another ghost behind it all, even when Phantom's eyes had never been red—
"What about all of the jewelry that you stole?" She pressed. Realizing that her constant, interrogative tone was causing Danny to shy away and become more withdrawn within himself, Valerie gave him the benefit of the doubt. In a rare act of condolence, she elaborated, "That was when that creepy Freakshow guy popped up, and I heard he was in jail for something ghost-related, but…"
Danny nodded and rubbed the back of his neck, attempting to smile but ending up with something more of a silent, open-mouthed scream. "He had this staff that could control ghosts." An unsettled, deeply disturbed expression emerged firmly on his face, and he said nothing more. In an instant, the huntress knew not to push it. Even if she wanted to fire off a million questions at this new information, including 'where can I find one?'
After briefly thinking about it, she realized that that would have probably sent the whole night tumbling downhill and hurt Danny on a far more personal level.
The wind rocked the Ferris wheel, forcing both teens to reach out instinctively to steady themselves. Valerie hissed when pain blew up, clear as a bell, in her arm again. "Augh!" She growled, just barely keeping herself from slapping her hand over it again. She'd learned not to do that twice.
The pain was so sudden and intense that it made her stomach churn. It took less than a second for Valerie to decide to take off her helmet so she could breathe in some fresh air before she emptied her dinner over the side of the carnival ride.
Danny was concerned in a heartbeat, all previous emotions vanishing from his demeanor like dirt washed from skin. He reached out once more, his hand just barely above her arm. "Valerie, please," he begged, "I'm just trying to help. Let me show you that you can trust me." At her hesitation, he opened his mouth to say something, but then stopped himself and settled with locking his gaze onto her own. There was a frustrated undertone in his voice, in his eyes, in the way his jaw clenched ever-so-slightly. "Look, there's nothing else I can do. This is a two-way street, you know," he said pointedly, nearly forcefully, as if the words weighed his voice down in their importance.
Valerie looked down at his outstretched hand. Reluctantly—very reluctantly—she offered her injury to him. Danny let a relieved breath of air loose and delicately held her with his left hand, hovering the remaining one over the burn. He scooted close—so close, that when he bent his head to concentrate, their noses were inches apart.
A slow, steady breeze wafted around his fingers as he began to concentrate. The ever-present glow around Danny's body shifted into a calm blue and the temperature plummeted, sending goosebumps crawling up Valerie's skin. Her back tensed and she shivered, causing her entire body to go into a rather unpleasant spasm. The ghost boy smiled gently and murmured, "Don't worry, this is normal…"
For some reason, Valerie expected to see a concentrated ball of energy take shape just below his palm, as he usually did when he fought ghosts. Instead, though, his hand just became brighter and brighter, the icy glow overtaking it and all of its details. By the time she'd finally realized that this was not a battle, so there would be no need for such a measure, he'd placed his palm directly on the burn and wrapped his fingers around it.
What the hell is he doing? Doesn't he know that touching it will only—
Once again, her expectations were wrong. She had been fully prepared for stinging pain that washed away her mind of all thoughts, a bitter cold that froze her forearm solid, or maybe even an electrical shock as pure, raw ectoplasm shot directly into her bloodstream. To her immense surprise, the effect of Danny's ghost powers was neither. His hand was freezing, but not in an uncomfortable way—it was comparable to an instance last summer, when Valerie was standing out in the cold rain after getting sunburnt the previous day. It was soothing and completely extraordinary, something completely unreal to her. She'd only thought that ghost powers could hurt people, and yet, here she was…
"I learned this from a ghost, you know," Danny mumbled, just loud enough to be heard. "During the Undergrowth thing. He, and his entire tribe, helped me master my ghost powers, just so I could defeat him." Confused, Valerie gave him a questioning look, to which he elaborated, "I…just wanted you to know that not all ghosts are bad people, I guess."
"Heh," Valerie snorted. "Well, I've never seen a good ghost before."
The glow intensified for a second, lighting his face and the cushion like a flickering candle struggling to stay alit. "What about me?"
This made her really take her mind off her injury, for the first time, to look at him. He was too busy concentrating on healing her to notice; the burn was being stubborn, apparently, because it had seemingly reached a stopping point and was becoming neither better nor worse. His hand briefly lost its brilliance and he squeezed his eyes shut, forcing it to return to its former power and then beyond. If Valerie concentrated just enough, she could feel him shaking.
Reality stalked in, steady and slow, and expeditiously burst into the front of her mind.
Valerie's eyes widened when she finally realized that this person, this ghost she had threatened to mutilate and tear and destroy on a near-daily basis, this boy who had fiercely wanted to make amends while she was too busy running away to consider, was sitting there healing her hand, knowing that she didn't trust him and not giving a second thought to it anyways. For the first time, she saw past the deathly-pale skin, the luminescent, acid-green eyes, and the ghostly glow around his entire body to see Danny, the boy who would drop everything to help anyone for nothing in return. Not Danny Phantom, not Danny Fenton, just Danny.
She nearly lost her dinner right then and there.
He became edgy at her lack of response and shifted, eyes flitting up at hers before deadlocking onto the task he'd set upon himself. He didn't notice the deep breaths she was raking into her lungs, the way she had to take several seconds to recompose herself and quit acting like a hormonal middle-schooler.
To cover her extensive delay, Valerie joked, "I guess you're alright." She snickered when he once again looked up at her, disbelief etched across his face. "But…seriously. When I was talking about you being half-ghost, I didn't mean to get sidetracked with all of those…incidents," she spoke the word hesitantly, not knowing any other way to describe the events that had painted Phantom as evil to her. "I was trying to get at what it means. For you, I mean."
Danny's face went blank. After a moment's consideration, he concluded what must have been one hell of a thought train with a sophisticated, "Huh?"
Valerie used her free hand to rub her temples, forcing herself to remember that it was pretty early. "Danny, you're half-ghost. I know, you're half-human, too, but almost every single one anyone has ever seen has had no trouble attacking people. What makes you so different? What stops you from being just like them?"
The halfa winced and was silent for a considerable amount of time.
When she had given up on expecting a response, Danny finally responded, tone heavily stressed. "I think it depends on the ghost. The good ones don't have any reason to be here, or they're afraid that people like you will come and capture them. It's the ones that can't accept that the world went on without them that become malevolent. I...," he swallowed, and said very quietly, "I promised that I would never become that."
"Promised who? Why?" Valerie asked, brows knitting together. Her stomach dropped. Was he saying that he'd almost succumbed to his ghostly side? That he'd nearly become no better than the ones that tormented Amity Park?
Danny's emotional state took a sudden 180: he went from depressed to defensive faster than Valerie could pull a trigger. "Everyone, I guess. I don't really want to talk about it." He brought his glowing eyes to hers and said firmly, "It shouldn't matter how much of a ghost I am. I'm still me. And if you can't look past what I am to see that, then, well…" he trailed off, a shadow casting over his face. "…I guess you'd just get back to hunting me, then, because obviously even having an ounce of ghost in me makes me evil."
Valerie's eyes narrowed. What was his problem? "I never said any of that!"
Danny grunted. "Well, it sounded like you were implying it!"
Ignoring the annoying little fact that he was right, she said, "Well, I wasn't, so why don't you—ugh, forget it." She shook her head as Danny steamed, glaring at her wound like it was the source of all of his troubles. His eyes were eerily stark against the black mask across his face, accentuating heavy bags under his eyes and wrinkles borne from exhaustion. He looked so much older than a seventeen-year-old teenager who'd gained ghost powers merely three years before.
With a final, soundless flash, Danny's healing powers worked their magic and ceased to exist, leaving behind smooth almond skin in their wake. He slumped against the seat, completely drained of energy. Despite his previous bad mood, Danny smiled, even if it didn't quite reach his eyes. "There, done," he said, while Valerie stared in shock at what used to be her hospital-worthy injury.
Running a finger over it, she slowly looked up at him, her heart beginning to hammer. He'd done it. He'd healed her. It had taken so much exertion that he was just lying there, breathless and shaky. He didn't care in the least bit that she'd been aggressively questioning him the entire time, or that she was coming off as severely distrustful. Not at all.
And she'd repaid him by calling him inhuman, treating him like something not worth trusting, poking into parts of his personal life that he was obviously still trying to come to terms with. Guilt was the first word that came to mind when she attempted to place a name to the emotion that rammed her down like a charging bull.
Somehow, even though she kept on reminding herself that Danny was part-ghost, she always forgot that he was part-human, too.
All she could think was how much of a fool she'd been.
"Thank you," Valerie said softly, and she meant it. Then, painfully swallowing her hunter's pride, she ground out, "And…sorry about that. I didn't mean to sound so…"
"Unforgiving?" Danny interrupted tiredly. His tone was light, though, as if he thought he was making a funny joke. "How about unbudging. Or rude. Or untrusting. Or mean."
She raised an eyebrow, not quite sure if she should be offended or not. "You just said that."
"Huh? Oh…um, no, they're different." Unable to fully explain himself (or just too dang overworked to attempt it), he poked a finger at her face to accentuate how 'different' they were.
"Shut up, you dork," Valerie laughed, leaning over and playfully pushing him in the face. He merely did the same thing in response, but much more feebly.
Danny smirked, and then his face fell. "Um, your arm is alright, right? I didn't, like, miss a spot?" When she checked it over and nodded (after raising an eyebrow at him for a good two seconds), he smiled. It was real this time, resulting in Valerie to do the same. "Oh, good. Because I know this one time, I somehow missed this spot and I didn't even realize it until I hit it just right at school and it sucked." He chuckled at her 'are you serious?' expression. "I guess I squeaked or something, because Sam and Tucker both looked at me like I'd lost my marbles."
(In the back of her mind, Valerie wondered why he had started rambling like that. The last time he did that was before they'd agreed to go out.)
"I'm sure you had, if you missed a spot," Valerie said mostly to herself, easing her head on the seat. Wow, she'd never known that these cushions could be so comfy…
If he'd heard her comment, then he pretended not to. Instead, the duo allowed themselves to fade into a slightly uncomfortable, weary silence that strained to ease away the remaining tension between them. For the first time, Valerie began to consider that maybe she had been wrong. This was a two-way street, as Danny had said.
A two-way street, huh, she mused. And, as her thoughts began to meander and dissipate, the Red Huntress finally put her hatred behind her to look to the future.
Time lumbered on and the city continued to sleep, and all the while they rested in the Ferris wheel, unable to come up with anything else to say. Valerie couldn't; she found herself speechless, her introversion leaving her without a voice. It wasn't until the promised rain daintily came down with tiny pit pats that Danny finally spoke.
"I really am sorry about lying to you all that time," he said dully, eyes half-lidded. "I was going to tell you. I had it all worked out in my head. My plan was to try and get a truce up with you so that you would get to know Phantom as a good guy before I revealed myself." He grinned sheepishly.
Valerie cringed. "I wouldn't have been very cooperative." She stared at the tear in her suit, frowning. "I should have been. You tried explaining everything to me. I had trouble listening, even now, because I was so biased. I was—am—so stuck on what I think of ghosts that I just…refuse contradictive information, I guess." She clenched her hands together. "God, I'm such an idiot."
"No, no!" Danny's eyes widened. "You're a ghost hunter. You're supposed to think that way. And, honestly, I'd probably be just as reluctant as you if I were in your position. It's a lot to take in." He wrapped his arms around her in a loose hug. "I totally get it."
Valerie hesitated before returning the hug, leaning her head on his shoulder. "You know, you're way too nice for your own good. I know some people who would tell me to go straight to hell for all of the things I've done."
"I'm kind of different from most people, if you haven't noticed." Danny's voice was barely audible, even if he was trying to make her laugh. It didn't work; she was far too fatigued. Nonplussed, he continued, "And I've learned that nothing good comes from holding a grudge." Both of them quieted in discomfort at this.
The rain continued its pitter-patter, edging the city into a muffled hush. Very few lights were on at this point and cars were practically nonexistent. The one streetlight that was visible had switched into 'yield' mode, flashing golden every other beat. The glimpse of bright color heavily contrasted with the deep blue that had blanketed the city. Valerie watched it numbly, the battle and long conversations from earlier finally taking their toll. She was so tired.
"You know," she mumbled, "you're right."
"Mhm," Danny hummed. Sometime in the last couple minutes, he'd rested his cheek on top of her head.
An indefinite amount of time passed. At some point, a brilliant flash pulled Valerie out of her haze. Her eyes fluttered open just long enough to see a whitish-blue ring pass right past her face, but she was already asleep before she could think about what it meant.
Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz.
Valerie groaned, burying her face into her pillow. Whoever was calling her was in for some disappointment. Oh well. She ignored her phone, letting it vibrate in her pocket and fall still.
With a contented sigh, she finally began to get back to sleep…
Bzzzz. Bzzzz. Bzzzz.
Oh, for the love of…
Valerie's eyes snapped open in irritation. Whoever this person was, they were very rude for calling her earlier than her alarm clock—
With a gasp, the huntress sat upright, looking wildly taking in her surroundings. She was still in the Ferris wheel cart, in her battle suit, with Danny. The boy's left arm was wrapped limply around her side and he was still leaning his head on her. For a second she stopped and truly considered trying to fall asleep again, blearily hoping that she could actually ignore everything around her to do so.
That is, until she groggily fished her phone out of her suit's pocket and took a look at it.
Fourty missed calls. Thirty text messages. It was 8:56 in the morning, well into second period at school. Oh, look, fourty-one missed calls.
Suddenly, she wasn't so tired anymore.
Valerie jolted up, causing Danny to lose balance and fall halfway off the cushion and onto the cart's dirty, wet floor. He let out several confused, garbled noises before poking his head up, rubbing his eyes and slowly sitting back down in the seat.
"Ow. What was that for—" Danny's faced paled considerably when Valerie wordlessly showed him her phone. His hands moved in a blur, grabbing his own device and quickly unlocking it to see what he'd missed.
"One hundred missed calls?" He shrieked in horror. He gave Valerie a wide-eyed look. "I am so dead."
Despite herself, Valerie laughed at the irony of his statement. It wasn't happy laughter—more like 'shit, I'm doomed' hysterical laughter that was impossible to control. But she couldn't help herself, and soon both she and Danny were practically rolling on their backs, gasping for air and wailing obscenities at their misfortune.
"Oh, I'm grounded for life," Valerie giggled, holding her side and struggling to get the proper amount of oxygen in her lungs.
Danny's eyes were as wide as dinner plates. "You've got it easy! My mom's probably going to ground me for life and afterlife and she'll put me in here with this—this—this pancake!" He held up his Thermos, which had previously spent the morning rolling around in the bottom of the cart. Valerie began to make a sympathetic 'awww' noise, but it quickly melted into laughter when she processed a mental picture of him and that slimy red thing stuck together. Danny pouted.
Unfortunately, their good mood was forced to fade when one of the nearby clock towers proudly boomed nine times. Both teens shot up to their feet in surprise, and in Valerie's case, fear. Danny had the misfortune of hitting his head on the top of the cart.
"Ow! Ugh, I need to get going," he moaned. Blue-white rings sprung to life and zipped up his body, changing him into a ghost once more. "Good luck with your dad!" The blood drained from her face once again, and he must have noticed because he smiled. Just as the ghost boy was turning around, though, he stopped. "Oh, and Val?" He paused, reconsidered, and gave her a quick, tight hug. "Thanks so much for understanding. It…it really means a lot to me."
Valerie froze for a heartbeat, her cheeks warming, and then wrapped her arms around him. "O-of course. Thanks for giving me a second chance."
Danny withdrew and stared deeply into her eyes. Then, blushing fiercely, he bounced midair, his legs merging into a wispy, translucent tail. He beamed at her for a second, traces of pink still lingering on his face, before taking off straight up, circling once, and then heading east towards Fentonworks.
Leaning on the railing, Valerie shouted out, "I hope you don't turn into a pancake!" Danny, now barely visible, turned around for just a second. She could just barely hear a laugh come from his direction.
With a small sigh, the girl put her helmet back on and jumped, willing her jet sled into being. Butterflies began to bolt in her stomach as she began the longest route possible home. For some reason, though, she couldn't stop smiling.
The four-month's grounding was definitely worth it.