Danny gasped, shooting into a sitting position as he awoke in a panic. Before blacking out, the last thing Danny could recall was the swirling mist of Daeva's spirit as it dissipated into nothingness. The shrieking still echoed in his head, and Danny knew it would haunt his dreams for months like it had after destroying Walker in the war in the Ghost Zone.
"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" The shout snapped Danny out of his thoughts. He looked around his surroundings, and it took him a moment to recognize where he was: Technus's laboratory.
"Nicolai, please don't start with this," Vlad begged as he released a tired sigh.
"If you brought him to me sooner, I could have flushed that serum out of his system!" Technus continued his ranting as though Vlad hadn't spoken. "Then he never would have been caught in the Soul Stripping Sphere, and he wouldn't have used his powers so recklessly."
Danny frowned as he climbed off the examining table, pulling off the wires attached to his body. He stomped over to the door and threw it open, its loud banging startling Technus. "Why do you always say I use my powers recklessly?" Danny demanded as he glared at Technus. "You said that after I defeated Walker too."
"I'm afraid, Daniel, that I have to agree with Nicolai on this point," Vlad said calmly, completely ignoring Danny's glare. "Instead of being so angry, you should be thanking Nicolai for saving your life." To that, Danny turned to Technus as a questioning look crossed his face.
Technus saw this as a chance to go into explanation mode. "The sphere that Daeva trapped you in was called a Soul Stripping Sphere. It's a ghost made device that slowly strips the soul from a human and feeds it to the ghost; thus, increasing the ghost's power." He paused when Vlad coughed and he glared at the older half ghost. "Daeva is the first ghost to use one in centuries. There's supposedly an easy way to escape from inside the Sphere, but it's been so long that the knowledge has been lost. However, there was no need to use that much power to break free since you would have been freed from the Sphere as soon as Daeva was defeated. I had to work day and night for a week to stabilize you."
"Ah, um, thank you, Technus," Danny stuttered awkwardly before he blinked then looked to Vlad. "I was out for a week?"
"You nearly killed yourself by using that much power!" Technus shouted. "And I don't mean just your physical self dying. Your spectral being would be completely destroyed as well. It's a miracle you're still alive." He gave Danny a stern look as he pointed at the younger half ghost. "As a protector of the Ghost Zone, you have to be more responsible with your powers."
"Okay. I get it," Danny grumbled as he frowned. He turned his attention to Vlad while Technus fumed about his words being taken so lightly. "So Daeva… I know that name." His brow furrowed as he thought. "Wasn't she Walker's wife?"
Vlad shook his head. "No, that was just an act they had going. Daeva was using Walker, controlling him to do her bidding. She wanted to rule over the Ghost Zone, to have the human world as her feeding ground for power." He frowned, his mind battling with his thoughts. "As much as I hate to admit it, using that raw power blast may have been the fastest way to destroy her." He looked up to Danny, his expression stern and leaving no room for arguments. "But it was still reckless. Daniel, you must promise me that you'll never use your powers like that again. Next time, you may not be so lucky."
"I know. I'm sorry." Danny sighed, his shoulders sagging in a show of depression. Then a thought came to him, and he looked back up to Vlad. "What happened after I blacked out?"
Vlad stroked his chin in thought before he replied. "Well, after you passed out, word arrived that your parents were on their way over since it had gotten out that a ghost attacked the school's gym. Ember and I took you away right after the fight and left your parents to your friends. I assume they managed to stall your parents or, at least, keep them from tracking us as we made our escape."
"And," Danny said, hesitating as he dropped his gaze, "and what about Dash? Is – Is he okay?"
"I can't say for sure." Vlad shrugged. "I didn't see him before we left." He stood, smoothing out any wrinkles in his clothes. "And now, I think it is time that you return to your parents. They are most likely worried about you." Danny nodded sadly, more worried about Dash than his parents.
Lancer reviewed the paper in his hand once more before he lifted his gaze to the man sitting in the chair on the other side of his desk. "I know you were giving this choice at the beginning of the year, but I was under the impression that you wanted to complete your final year here at Casper High."
"And I changed my mind," Dash stated through clenched teeth as his hands flexed around the arms of the chair.
"Ah, and this wouldn't have anything to do with the incident with Daniel Fenton, would it?" Lancer set the paper down on his desk.
Dash glared at the vice-principal before he turned his gaze away. "This town just loves to gossip, doesn't it?" He snorted, sliding down a little in his chair. "If you know already, then you shouldn't be that shocked by my decision."
"I understand what you're feeling. But is it that difficult for you to talk to Fenton about what happened?"
"You understand what I'm feeling?" Dash snapped his head around to glare at the vice-principal. "You can't possibly understand what I'm feeling!" he shouted, forcing himself to remain seated despite his urge to stand, to scream his rage for all to hear. "He fucked around with my feelings! I thought I had finally met the girl of my dreams, the girl I wanted to marry, and it was all a lie! This is the second time he's done something like this to me. I can't forgive him for this. It would be best if I just graduate now so that I don't have to see that little shit head again."
Lancer released a tired sigh. "I suppose there's no way I can change your mind about this." He frowned at Dash, who merely nodded. "Without you to tutor him, Fenton will most certainly fail his French class."
"I really couldn't care less if he fails," Dash said in a bored manner. "I just want to graduate and sign up for my class at college for the summer quarter."
"Well, it is your decision so I can't really do anything to stop you." Lancer frowned, wishing he could stop Dash, get him to talk to Danny, but he could see that the jock's mind was made up. Dash was far too stubborn to listen to Lancer's words. "I'll take care of everything regarding your early graduation. You are free to go now." Dash stood up and left the office. Lancer sat back in seat, sighing as he turned his gaze to the ceiling.
Danny hesitated before walking through the doors of Casper High for the first since his fight with Daeva. Nervousness filled him as he wondered what people would think, whether they remembered seeing Danny in his ghost form. So many questions ran through his mind, many scenarios of what would happen. But what he wondered about the most was how Dash would react to seeing him again.
"Danny!" Paulina jogged over to him when she spotted the man walking slowly down the school's main hall. Danny glanced around before turning back to the woman and pointing at himself in confusion. "Come on!" Paulina grabbed his arm and started leading him toward the seniors' lounge, where only the popular kids hung out before school and during lunch and free periods.
"Um, what's going on?" Though confused, Danny felt a surge of hopefulness rise inside him. If Paulina was still talking to him, then maybe there was a chance that Dash would forgive him. But he knew that was simply wishful thinking.
They reached the lounge, and Paulina opened the door. When he peeked inside, Danny found the only occupants of the lounge to be Kwan and Abner sitting on one couch, Sam and Tucker sitting across from them, and Devon sitting on a table along the back wall. Danny's brow furrowed at them as Paulina locked the door behind them before she guided him over to another couch.
"So, um, what's up?" Danny forced a smile as everyone turned their gazes to him.
"So what exactly are you?" Kwan asked the question that was on everyone's mind with the exception of Sam and Tucker, who knew since freshmen year, and Devon, who knew because of Daeva.
Danny glanced at the three who knew nothing of what he was before he dropped his gaze to his hands in his lap. He was disappointed that Dash wasn't present at this little meeting. "Well, I guess to keep this short, I'm half ghost," he said, scratching the back of his neck. He really didn't feel like going into all the details about how he came to be a half ghost. The following silence only increased his nervousness, and he gripped his knees tightly to keep his hands from shaking.
"Right," Abner said with a small nod of his head. "That explained, well, a few things." He smiled weakly when everyone looked at him.
"I guess you're wondering about whether or not we'll keep your secret," Paulina said, voicing exactly one of the worries on Danny's mind. She wrapped an arm around Danny's shoulders and gave him a bright smile. "Don't worry. We won't say a word about what we saw to anyone. Right, guys?" She turned to the other two, who quickly agreed with keeping Danny's secret.
"Thanks." Danny smiled a little before he frowned. "Um, so… Where's Dash?"
At that question, Paulina and Kwan frowned, exchanging looks with each other.
"Um, Danny, while you were gone," Paulina said, taking his hand in hers, "Dash made a decision."
"He graduated early," Kwan stated simply, and Paulina glared at him for cutting off what she would have eventually gotten around to saying. "At the beginning of the year, he was given the option to graduate early and go to college. He's probably already driving to the college of his choice right now. Or, he could actually already be there by now."
"I see," Danny said slowly as he forced a smile onto his face. "Well, that's great for him. I never would have thought that Dash would be able to graduate early." He fought to keep the tears back, inside his heart breaking at the news. Dash left? he thought, his smile faltering a little. He must really hate me to suddenly choose to graduate early. He probably doesn't ever want to see me again.
The bell rang at that point, and Danny stood up slowly. He walked to the door and left the lounge without even so much as a goodbye to his friends. The others glanced at each other, all of them worrying about their friend. As he watched the man leave, Devon only hated himself more. He wished he could take everything back, to let Danny's life return to the way it was before, but he knew that was impossible.
Hopping off the table, Devon left the lounge in much the same way that Danny had, though no one paid much attention to him. It didn't surprise him at all by how much they all hated him since he hated himself too. He soon caught up with the half ghost and, snatching him by the arm, dragged Danny toward one of the side exits.
"Okay. I'm getting sick of everyone dragging me off," Danny grumbled, not really in the mood to try and fight off Devon. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I know you probably won't ever forgive me for what happened," Devon said once they were alone.
"Damn right I won't!" Danny glared at the other man as he leaned against the side of the school building. "If you hadn't – Gah! Do you know how much you've screwed up my life?"
"I know, and I'm really sorry." Devon sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I wish I could just-"
Danny leaped into action and slapped a hand over Devon's mouth before he could finish his thought. "Don't," he growled, his eyes darting around to see if Desiree was lurking around or not. He knew the wish granting ghost was supposed to be back in the Ghost Zone, but he didn't want to risk it. Desiree still loved to sneak out and grant wishes even after the whole war ended. After some time passed, Danny removed his hand from the man's mouth.
"Okay," Devon said slowly, his brow rising in confusion. "If I could take everything back, I would. I feel horrible about what I've done. I hate myself for having done all this to you. I just - I just wanted Dedrick back so badly that I was willing to risk someone else's life in exchange for his life. I'm a selfish, selfish bastard. You should have just let me die in that stupid sphere."
"I do hate you," Danny muttered as he folded his arms over his chest and looked away. "You know, you could have saved us both a lot of trouble if you had just come to me and told me what was happening."
"Yeah, probably. It would have been the smart thing to do." Devon sighed, moving to lean against the wall beside Danny. "It's just - I was so confused and scared. Before she came, I thought ghosts were a myth. I didn't think they actually existed. And then, there she was, and I couldn't do anything to stop her, to get Dedrick back."
"But why you?" Danny wondered out loud. "I mean, what's so special about you? Why would she go through all the trouble to find someone all the way in New York?"
"You mean you haven't heard about my father before?" Devon gaped at the man when Danny shook his head. "My father was a famous hypnotist. Well, before his death that is. He only taught me a few of his tricks, but most of his secrets were lost when he died. I guess that's why. She wanted someone who would be able to inject you with that serum without you knowing. Hypnotizing you must have been the easiest way in her mind."
"I guess so." Danny frowned then he turned his gaze to Devon. "Your father must have been a good man with no regrets. Otherwise, she could have gotten his ghost to do the hypnotizing."
"He was a great father." Devon smiled fondly before it turned back into a frown. "He's probably disappointed in me for what I've done. I've disappointed the two most important people in my life."
Danny stared sadly at Devon for a moment before he tore his gaze away. "So what are you going to do now?"
"I'm going back to New York tomorrow. I'm going to live with my grandparents."
Danny blinked at the man. "What about your mother?"
"She died giving birth to me." Devon shook his head. "I only stayed here because I wanted to be able to tell you that I was sorry. I know that doesn't even begin to make up for the sins I've committed, but I had to say it, that I'm sorry." He looked at Danny again. "What about you? Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, I guess I always knew Dash would never love me as me," Danny replied, his body sagging at that announcement. "I just didn't expect him to go and graduate early because of this."
When school ended for the day, Danny sighed in relief. He still felt drained after everything that happened, and Vlad wanted him to rest and not use his ghost powers for a while. He would be happy to comply with that order as long as no other ghosts tried to attack him again. Before Danny could exit the school, Kwan caught up to him. Danny sighed, remembering that he still had a lot of studying to do to get his grades up before the end of the year. They settled into seats at the back table in the library. Kwan pulled out the history books as Danny slumped in his seat.
How am I ever going to pass French with Dash gone? he wondered miserably.
"Danny," Kwan said, drawing the other man from his thoughts. He sighed as he pulled something out of his pocket. "I should probably return this." He slid the picture over to Danny.
For a moment, Danny merely stared at the picture before him. Then a real smile broke onto his face as he laughed. "I remember this!" He picked the picture up, shaking his head. "My mom was working on this dress to give Sam as a birthday present." He stared at the image of him when he was eight, forced unwillingly into the black dress. "Since I was apparently the same size as Sam back then, she decided to use me for the fitting."
Kwan leaned on his hand as he listened to the story, finally.
Danny's gaze fell on the image of a young Dash. His thumb ran over the picture, and his gaze was fond but pained. "Dash had just moved to our neighborhood, so we'd be attending the same school now. I don't even remember why he came over. His parents wanted to meet our family, or my parents invited them." He shrugged. "Dash just kept staring at me, and I was so embarrassed. Then suddenly," Danny halted, blushing madly. "He just came over and kissed me on the cheek. Jazz snapped the picture before either of us realized she was there."
Kwan would have laughed at the man's embarrassment, but nothing about it seemed all that funny. "When did he realize the truth?"
"The next day at school when I said hi to him." Danny buried his face in his arms. "His face got all red, and he pushed me down."
Kwan frowned, and his shoulders slumped. He doubted there was any hope in getting through to his friend.
Somewhere far away from Casper High, Dash stared at the hand outstretched in front of him then lifted his gaze to the woman's face.
"I can help you get revenge on the one who wronged you." A smirk spread across her face.
Dash weighed his choices carefully before he finally accepted the woman's offer and placed his hand in hers.