A/n: For everyone who read this last week, it's the same chapter. I just never got an email alert so I assumed a lot of you guys didn't either, and reposted.
They somehow managed to finally convince the media to let them go. Robin was usually the one to deal with the cameras, but he was far from the mood this time. Beast Boy did attempt to tell the TV crew how awesome he was, but thankfully Raven dragged him off before he could really reveal anything about Danny.
All the media got before Robin dragged them all back to Titan Tower was that Danny was not a part of the Titans nor did he have superpowers.
"Though you totally could be," Beast Boy said to Danny on the way back, "part of the Titans I mean. You were wicked today. I mean, it had to have taken a lot of courage to do what you did, and I totally dig that. You could be like Robin. He doesn't have any superpowers either and he can kick anyone's ass 'cept mine."
"Beast Boy!" Robin snapped, "There's a big difference between someone who has a degree in karate and me. Don't fill Danny's head with nonsense like that. It'll get him killed!"
Beast Boy shut up immediately, but that didn't stop him from poking his tongue out at Robin when the green clad boy's back was turned. The green superhero gave Danny an apologetic shrug and winked, as if to tell Danny that he didn't agree with their leader on this one.
Danny smiled weakly back. On some level he resented being called pretty much useless, but a much larger, more predominant part of him understood what Robin was saying. Danny had been an avid reader of the Titan's exploits ever since they had formed, and the one he had admired most had always been Robin.
Superpowers were amazing, but how much more amazing was it for someone to stand equal to a group of metahumans without any enhancements? It was like seeing someone win a marathon against Olympic runners in a wheelchair. It was that kind of miracle.
Before that fateful accident with the Fenton Ghost Portal, Danny had always dreamed that he could be someone like Robin one day.
So he understood where their red and green clad leader was coming from. Robin was one of a kind. Without knowing about Danny's healing abilities, it only made sense that he'd be concerned.
The rest of the team seemed to understand that Danny and Robin needed some space after they arrived back at Titan Tower. They quickly made to vacate the living room, leaving the wide open space for Robin to do with as he pleased.
The only one who didn't pick up on the undercurrents of an unfinished conversation was Starfire. Thankfully (or maybe not so thankfully for Danny), Raven was quick to drag her off with murmurs of needing to be somewhere.
"Don't be too hard on him," Cyborg muttered to Robin as he brushed past. Danny thought he only heard it due to his enhanced senses. "He did save our asses today."
Robin nodded, but his expression did not change. It was completely unreadable.
"Good luck," Raven mouthed to him, before she too disappeared into the hallways.
Danny swallowed and nodded, before turning back to the leader of the Titans. He had an idea of what was to come.
"Danny," Robin began, "what you did today…"
"I know," Danny whispered. "I abused your trust. I mean you guys have been so nice to me letting me stay at your tower and I go and highjack your motorbike anyway. I really am sorry about that. Just give me some time to pack my things?"
Something akin to surprise flickered across Robin's face, "What? What are you talking about?"
Now it was Danny's time to be surprised, "Wait hang on, you mean you're not thinking of kicking me out of Titan Tower?"
"No!" Robin looked genuinely astounded, "What would make you—no, Danny I came to talk about the stupid and reckless action that you took today. You could have gotten seriously hurt, and who do you think that'd be on, huh?! I was the one who allowed you into the tower. I was the one who didn't lock up my communication system. Heck, I was the one who left extra motorcycles out for anyone to take!"
And quite suddenly, Danny understood.
He felt guilt flood him.
The thought actually hadn't occurred to him. He had a healing factor that was a lot faster than it was before and honestly he doubted anything short of the Fright Knight could actually hurt him permanently. But he couldn't tell Robin that.
"I—I didn't—" he began, only to stop and take a breath. He began again, "Look Robin, none of this was your fault. It was all my choice."
He knew he wasn't a hero, but he couldn't just stand by and do nothing either. It'd honestly been an instinctual reaction.
Robin's lips twisted, "I know that. But it's our job to protect people like you. It's not your job to watch out for us. You and I are similar that way. Raven has told me that I ignore my limits, and it's evident from today that you're the same. So I understand, I really do. But, us Titans are so much more better equipped to dealing with situations like these. You don't have the tools and you have a ridiculously high chance of ending up dead. We don't want to lose a friend. Do you understand that?"
Danny swallowed. What could he say to that? He couldn't even accuse Robin of the whole jumping in front of the boulder thing. Robin had just pretty much explained it.
He ran a hand through his hair, wishing that they were anywhere else. He knew that this conversation needed to be had and had expected it as soon as he had turned on the communicator, but that didn't make this any easier.
He'd never been much good with words. That was always Jazz's forte.
"I didn't want to lose anyone either," Danny said, closing his eyes. He saw his sister's face so clearly she might as well have been standing beside him. "Look I—I know you guys can handle yourselves, and that's why I didn't get involved in the fight see? But even though I don't have to 'tools' to fight the same enemies as you do, there was one thing I could have done back there to help. What kind of person would I be if I ignored it?"
"Probably not our friend," Robin sighed. "Just—don't do it again?"
Danny's lips twitched, "Can't promise that."
"Oh but I can," Robin smirked, the tension between them draining out entirely, "Cyborg is going to get the lecture of the century regarding the upkeep of his batteries."
They shared a grin.
Danny went to bed that night warm and content. He was tired, as were they all. The fight had taken more out of the Titans then they admitted to him, and all of them collapsed as soon as they were able. Although Danny hadn't really participated in the fight himself, there had been more than enough adrenaline rushing through his veins to send his body crashing when night came. He got one of the deepest sleeps he had in a long time.
So it was a surprise when he woke in the middle of the night shivering and feeling apprehensive.
"Why am I awake?" he groaned, still feeling dead tired even as his eyes fluttered open. He froze when he saw his breath. It was visible.
Titan Tower was still its nice room temperature.
Danny quickly threw himself off the couch, rolling to the floor with his blanket still wrapped around him. And just in time too, because a second later some sort of cage fell on top of the couch. The air above shimmered, and an all too familiar metal clad ghost appeared.
"Skulker," Danny hissed, moving to a standing position as he dislodged the blanket. He had a table to his back, preventing him from stepping away further. Habit guided him.
There was a look of annoyance on Skulker's face, "Irritatingly evasive as always I see." He raised his arm, something akin to a cannon rising from his armour.
Danny cursed as his hands found purchase on the table and he quickly flipped himself over it. Green ecto energy blasted forth from Skulker's cannon, incinerating the spot he'd been in just moments before.
"Whoops," Skulker grinned, showing all teeth, "that might have been a little over the top. Plasmius wouldn't be pleased if I brought you back in pieces."
"Plasmius?" Danny's mind was racing as he scanned the room for anything he could use against the hunter ghost. "What's Vlad got to do with this?"
"He is the one who commissioned me to bring you back," Skulker said, casually exchanging the cannon on his arm, "and he is the one who found out where you have been hiding. Something about a television and news? You must have really displeased him this time ghost child."
It was then that Danny's eyes alighted upon it. It was his bag, filled to the brim with ghost weapons. Fortunately it was zipped up so Skulker had no idea what was in it, and if Danny played it right, the hunter ghost wouldn't know until it was too late. Unfortunately it was on the other side of the room, and consequently he had to pass Skulker to get to it.
"I'm not going with you," Danny said, scooting back subtly. He wanted to lead Skulker away from that couch, and hopefully the hunter ghost would subconsciously follow him. "And why does Plasmius want me anyway? He has to know that I'm—that I no longer—"
He almost couldn't say it. Making the decision back at the hospital had made so much sense, but standing here, in front of Skulker, it'd turned into something difficult to admit. He felt almost ashamed of abandoning Danny Phantom even though he knew it was the only way.
"The reasons," Skulker said, raising his new cannon, "do not matter to me. Prepare yourself, ghost child!"
Energy built up and Danny barely had time to gasp before he had to fling himself to the side. This time Skulker's blast hit the TV, shattering the screen and making a large dent in the plastic.
"Okay I heard of mirrors breaking, but I've never seen that," Danny quipped before he could help himself. "Your ugly mug must be something else."
And then his eyes widened, because he hadn't really meant to say that and insult the hunter ghost, but the words had come automatically. Once again he cursed himself for his run away mouth. He didn't mind trading barbs, but even he knew it wasn't a smart thing to do when the one insulting had no weapons on him.
Skulker roared as his shoulder pads came up, revealing rows on rows of miniature torpedoes. Danny knew he didn't have much time.
He quickly kicked out the leg of the table he had been standing behind, causing one end to crash to the floor. Not wasting any time he dashed up the tilted surface, just in time to see Skulker's eyes widen in surprise before he leapt towards the hunter ghost.
The torpedoes went off, and Danny just barely managed to avoid them in his jump. He flipped over Skulker's head, landing on the other side of the couch. Not pausing for a moment Danny dashed towards his bag of ghost weapons.
He'd just reached them when Skulker's beam hit. The force was so powerful that it threw Danny halfway across the room, the bag flying the other way.
"No!" Danny shouted, reaching out a hand towards the direction of his weaponry. Grunting Danny struggled to get up, only to let out a sharp gasp of pain as his leg protested. He must have landed on it wrong.
"You don't think I'd let you take the chance of turning things around, did you ghost child?" Skulker sneered, his torpedoes reloading, "This is the end."
Danny knew he had to move, but the pain in his leg nearly paralyzed him. He'd never be able to move fast enough to avoid everything Skulker threw at him.
And then Skulker fired.
"AZARATH METRION ZINTHOS!"
The torpedoes stopped inches from Danny's face, held in place by writhing black energy.
It was then that Danny remembered that he didn't live alone here.
He and Skulker whirled at the same time to the direction the voice had come from. Raven emerged from the hallway, her arms stretched out in front of her as she slowly walked towards them.
"Who are you?" Skulker demanded.
"Raven," Danny sighed in relief.
"What is going on here?" The violet clad Titan asked in a low tone of voice, "I sensed something so I came to investigate, but I never expected this."
"Hmph," Skulker sneered, "your power is unique. Perhaps I will add your head to my collection."
Danny winced. He hadn't meant to bring any of his new friends to the attention of the ghosts.
A look of disgust spread across Raven's face as she lowered her arms, and the black mist surrounding the torpedoes disappeared. The torpedoes clattered to the ground, useless.
"I suppose that answers my question," she said, crossing her arms and looking at Skulker like an insect, "Azarath Metrion Zinthos."
Black energy hurled towards the hunter ghost. Skulker merely grinned as his form shimmered, and Danny knew that he had gone intangible. Danny opened his mouth to shout out a warning to Raven, but he was beat to it.
"That won't—" Skulker began to boast, but then the black energy actually hit him.
Skulker let out a pained grunt as he went flying back, hit hard with Raven's magic. The look of sheer surprise on his face might have been amusing if it weren't for the fact that Danny was feeling an equal amount of shock.
Intangibility should have worked in avoiding the attack.
Then again, intangibility never really worked against ghost rays either, and maybe that was the same concept here.
Skulker snarled and a moment later a variety of different bullets shot towards Raven. Raven lifted her hands up, blocking the attack. They continued along the same vein for a while, with Skulker using every weapon in his arsenal, and Raven sending any object she could get her magic into Skulker's way. It wasn't until Skulker readied one of his arm machine guns and found it to be out of bullets that the dynamic changed.
Really, the advantage should have gone to Raven, but Skulker was intelligent and while he could become caught up in the challenge, he also knew how to put objectives first.
"Looks like," Skulker said, lowering his arm with the empty gun, "the time for fun and games is over."
Raven narrowed her eyes, "What—"
The plates on Skulker's shoulders lifted, revealing two sets of torpedoes. One was fixated on Raven, but the other had rotated to the boy who had timed out near the beginning of the fight. Danny's eyes widened as he realized that the second set was aimed towards him, but before he had time to properly react, they were fired.
Raven however did react. Hurriedly she flung up her arm, stretching a hand towards Danny.
Instantly black magic covered his vision, and Danny felt more than saw the torpedoes burst against the wall Raven had constructed to protect him. Another instant later and it was gone, the missiles that had been centered on him falling harmlessly to the ground.
Raven wasn't so lucky. She'd concentrating on shielding Danny, whom she thought was defenseless, and that left her without protection. Raven let out a oomph as the torpedoes Skulker sent at her hit full force, sending her flying back and crashing into the kitchen counter. Dishes and silverware alike fell down onto her.
As Raven struggled to get up again, Skulker readied his heavier cannon. Danny realized with horror that it was the one that had disintegrated part of the floor. While Skulker might need Danny alive for Vlad, there was no such guarantee for Raven.
Danny started forward, but he was too late. Skulker's weapon fired, the deadly beam of plasma headed directly towards a downed Raven.
"No!" Danny cried.
It was just then that green energy bolts appeared out of seemingly nowhere, intercepting the energy blast and detonating the whole thing mid way. It set off a small explosion, covering the rooms in smoke. When the smoke cleared, Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy were suddenly there.
"How dare you hurt Friend Raven," Starfire growled, her voice guttural as she floated menacingly in the air, her hands alight with fresh starbolts.
"Titans," Robin said grimly, "GO!"
Skulker seemed to realize he couldn't take on a whole team. He floated backwards, retreating.
"So you've found yourself some allies, ghost child," Skulker sneered, gazing directly at Danny. "Well, you won't be so lucky next time!"
And then, before any of them could do anything, Skulker had faded through the window and shimmered into invisibility. Cyborg's mouth dropped open, and he quickly lifted his arm and began to punch in code to his sensors.
"Man," Beast Boy complained, "that's as cheesy of a bad guy line as you're going to get."
The power behind Starfire slowly dissipated as she floated back to the ground, a frown on her face, "Should we not be doing the chasing after?"
"Oh I want to," Robin scowled after the departed figure of Skulker. "Nobody invades our home and gets away with it." And then he shook his head, turning back to the kitchens, "But more importantly…"
Raven groaned as she struggled to get out of the mess of silverware, "I'm fine, really. You should go after him."
"It's no good anyway," Cyborg cut in, his eyes still fixed on the screen on his arm, "I've got nothing. He's long gone."
"Who was he?" Robin frowned. Now that he was assured his teammate was alright, it seemed as if he'd gone back to detective mode. The red and green clad leader turned to Danny, his eyes narrowing, "He seemed to know you."
Danny swallowed. He knew there was no getting out of this one. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to.
He'd caused the Titans to be in danger after all. Skulker had made it evident that he was only here for Danny, and if what the hunter ghost said was correct, then Plasmius would soon be sending others after him. He could always count on Vlad to be obsessive.
"Yea—yeah," Danny said shakily, pushing himself to his feet. His left leg wobbled, but it held. "That was Skulker. He's a ghost, but not the friendly Casper kind. He's more like… I guess as far as his powers are concerned, he's like a metahuman. He has invisibility, intangibility, and the ability to shoot off energy bolts not unlike Starfire, but I think it's less powerful."
"And he was after you?" There was a question in Robin's voice, and a suspicion that had never been there before. "What did he mean when he called you 'ghost child'?"
Danny closed his eyes. He wanted, more than anything, to answer truthfully. The Titans deserved that. But at the same time, how could he bring himself to do it? They'd ask too many questions that he wasn't prepared to answer.
His eyes opened but he couldn't look any of them in the face. "My parents… were ghost hunters. I thought that this might all be over but—it seems like the ghosts haven't finished their business with me."
The whole room tensed.
Guilt rolled off Danny in waves. He knew what he was implying and that wasn't really what happened, but it was the closest to the truth as he could go.
"I'll just—I'll just go," he stuttered, taking a staggering step towards his bag. Unfortunately his leg wasn't so happy about actually moving, and Danny found himself cartwheeling as his leg collapsed and sent his body forward.
Robin moved instantly. He jumped over the couch, just managing to catch Danny before he fell. He righted the other boy, frowning at him, "Where are you going?"
"Thanks," Danny muttered, before shaking his head and glancing up at the Titans leader with a look of confusion, "I don't know, anywhere? Somewhere where there isn't any people, probably. The ghosts aren't really so perceptive about their surroundings, so they might accidentally end up hurting someone if I'm around them." He winced as he remembered Desiree. "Or even deliberately."
"Wait, you're thinking of leaving?" Robin's voice was disbelieving, "After you just found out that you have some powerful metas after you?"
"Well I can't involve you guys can I?" Danny frowned. "Look, I never would have come if I knew that they were still interested in me. I didn't mean to get you guys involved. I'm sorry for getting Raven hurt and I—I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I'm just sorry."
"We've already had this discussion Danny," Robin said tersely, "it's our job to protect people like you. Not your job to protect us."
"But this one is my fault."
"No, no it's not," Robin said firmly, taking a step forward and fixing him with a steady stare. "It's nobody's fault but that Skulker's. Who knows why villains think the way that they do? Stay here. We enjoy your company, and as you can see, we can take care of ourselves. There's no need to worry about us."
Danny hesitated. He didn't want to take advantage of the Titans like this. Not when they didn't even know what they were getting into.
But... these were the Titans, who could overcome anything. And it was true. Danny would be hard pressed to resist the ghosts for long. He might be able to fend off one or two, but he'd never been a true ghost hunter, not like his parents and not even like Jazz. He couldn't beat the ghosts without relying on his powers, and he couldn't use his powers because that'd bring him one step closer to the future he promised he'd never see happen.
And Danny could go to Vlad. He couldn't.
So instead of arguing, he simply bowed his head, surrendering, "Thank you."
"What do you think?" Robin asked long after the disaster with the hunter ghost, walking into Raven's room completely unannounced. Then again, he didn't need to announce himself, because Raven was expecting him.
"I am unsure," Raven said, opening her eyes. She had been sitting in a meditative position at the center of her floor, thinking, as Robin no doubt had, about the events of today. Danny had explained everything about ghosts to them afterwards, and Raven was still trying to wrap her head around it all.
Personally from what Danny had said, Raven thought that this 'ghost zone' was simply a different dimension, and therefore the 'ghosts' were not really the correct term as far as the citizens of earth were concerned. Then again, perhaps it was that dimension in the first place which had given earth its mythology regarding departed spirits. It was a thought worth looking into, but she knew it wasn't what Robin had come in for.
The door to Raven's room swung shut, concealing the two of them. "Cyborg said that the cameras are completely useless. The energy that this Skulker character gave off distorted them. We can't make out anything that happened before we got there."
"Is Danny's word not enough?" Danny had told them that Skulker had just exchanged some banter with him and outlined his reasons for being there before attacking. And then Raven had showed up and they knew the rest.
"Is it?" Robin asked. His tone was mild, but Raven was not fooled. She knew he suspected.
"Something about his explanation felt off," Raven intoned. "His emotions matched with his words, so I don't think he was lying but… but I felt like there is more to it? I'm not sure how to explain."
"I had hoped that it wouldn't be the case," Robin sighed. He hesitated, "Do you think… Terra?"
Raven frowned, looking down. She knew why Robin was asking. The whole incident with Terra had been a disaster, and none of them were bereft of blame save perhaps Beast Boy. Raven still felt guilty over it. Guilty for not noticing that Terra was different after she had come back. Guilty for being so suspicious in the first place and possibly pushing the other girl into the path she had chosen.
And then there was Robin. Robin felt responsible as the team leader, and it was obvious to her that it would kill him if something like the Terra episode happened again.
"No," she finally responded, shaking her head, "I don't feel that level of unease with Danny. He's showing no hint of fear about us at any rate."
"And he's not a meta," Robin mused, "though, I suppose, I of all people should know that's not as much of a hindrance as some would believe. I just—I really want to trust him, but…"
But how could he, when Jump City depended on his decisions? If it were only Robin who had the potential of getting hurt, Raven had no doubt that their fearless leader would give Danny the benefit of the doubt. But it wasn't just Robin.
"We could let him go," Raven suggested, though that was the last thing she wanted to do. Danny was pleasant to be around, and he loosened Robin up in a way that Raven could not. Robin was most relaxed around Starfire, but it wasn't the same. She suspected it was because Danny was so normal, and Robin more than anyone needed some normality in his life. Robin was after all, still a human in the end. "If his purpose here is less than amiable, then at least he won't have the security clearance for the Tower."
Robin shook his head, "We can't. If the ghosts are really after him and we let him go now, we'd just be leaving him unprotected. Danny's a good kid, and even if he got himself into some trouble, we can't abandon him now."
"So then… it's just keeping an eye on him?"
"And find out what he's been keeping from us, yes. I didn't push it today but perhaps I should have. I was thinking, maybe we could devise a test of some sort that would—"
But before Robin could inform Raven of what kind of test he'd been considering, his communicator went off. And only his.
Brows furrowing, Robin dug out the communication device and flipped it open. No voice came crackling out, so Raven knew that whatever information had been sent out, it was in email form. That had to mean that the information was too extensive to send over airwaves.
Robin held a slight frown as he read through the information, and it only grew the more he read. Normally Raven would have left Robin to it, but then the punch of shock and tension hit her. Her head snapped up to meet Robin's, but he was still solely concentrated on whatever he was reading. Still, it was obvious from the emotions that Raven felt from him that he was not well.
And then Raven realized that she didn't even need to feel his emotions to see that something was straining him. His face held a pinched expression, and while his mask hid his eyes, there was no mistaking the twist of his lips. His whole body radiated tension.
She knew then that something was deeply wrong. Robin felt much more than the general public thought, and he was often conflicted about his decisions, but rarely did he allow them to take over his body like this.
"Robin," Raven said quietly, "what is it?"
"He's back," Robin said, his voice strangely blank as he snapped closed his communicator. "He's been spotted at Cyan Labs."
"Who?" Raven asked, although a wave of apprehension told her that she wouldn't like the answer.
The next words that came out of Robin's mouth had Raven wiping all thoughts of her suspicions regarding Danny from her mind. There was simply no more time for it.