Even After a Year

Crunch.

Crunch.

The slow, heavy footsteps disturbed the silence of the night with their somber walk. Tucker trudged forlornly beside Sam, but his tread produced almost no sound. Cradled in Sam's hands was a lantern, one of the old build, which threw light across the forest path ahead of the pair. Their surrounds were quiet, only the slight noises of small creatures providing them with any connection to the rest of the world.

Crunch.

Every sound disappeared, muffled to extinction by the suffocating sorrow held within the small clearing before them. Tucker fell to the ground slowly, gravity gradually reclaiming him as his legs gave out. Sam just stared ahead, frozen as she gazed upon the figure just meters in front of her.

Crunch.

Both Sam and Tucker spun around at the new arrival, eyes widening in fear of whatever was disturbing their midnight vigil. Was it a ghost? The eerie glow coming from behind the large tree to their left almost proved that.

The lantern in Sam's hand tossed shaky light through the clearing, the illumination dancing through and between the trees, causing innocent shadows to look dangerous.

"W-who's there?" Sam whispered, unable to create a louder sound. There was no answer, but the glow disappeared. She and Tucker relaxed slightly, but remained alert in case the unknown entity reappeared. After a few tense moments, they went back to their mourning.

DPDPDPDP

I'm so sorry, dude, Tucker thought. I should have been more help.

Tears collected in the corners of his eyes, causing them to sting. Maybe the pain was a way of cleansing himself of the sight before him. He wished that was possible.

The figure in front of them, encased in ice, stared out at him accusingly.

This is your fault, it seemed to say, and it was right. This was their fault, and Tucker blamed himself the most.

If only…

Nothing good ever comes from thoughts like that. The ghosts in this forest, the ghosts of memories, caused more pain to Tucker than the spirits that he and Sam constantly fought. No, it was better not to continue with that train of thought.

Tucker sighed and wiped a hand over his face. If only…

DPDPDPDP

Sam flinched when Tucker moved. She was too caught up in her thoughts to even remember that he was there.

It hurt to blink. The figure in front of her couldn't blink either. It was frozen with it's eyes open, wide, staring out at the same tree every day, the same tree it would stare at for the rest of it's… life? Sam wasn't sure how this situation would be classified. The being before her wasn't truely human. Not anymore.

The truth brought a hollow feeling to Sam's heart, causing it to contract painfully. She would not cry, not here, anyway. There would be time for that later, when no one was there to witness her feelings. She had to remain tough for Tucker…

For Danny, too.

The world went dull, the light from her lantern not registering in her mind. Nothing much was registering, the world was unable to pierce the darkness in her head.

Crunch.

Sam turned as if in slow motion, her body moving slowly, even though her mind screamed in panic. Eventually, though, she was able to see what had startled her. From Tucker's gasp, he had spotted it too.

Tears filled Sam's eyes and the lantern slipped out of her grasp. The warm, comforting light was extinguished, replaced instead by the same pale glow as before, only this time, the ghostly blaze was bright enough to illuminate everything in the clearing. Nothing could hide from the searching beam of energy. There was no use trying.

Sam gasped and began to shake her head forcefully. She had no clue what Tucker was doing- probably the same thing.

"No..." She whispered, falling to her knees and hugging herself tightly. It was impossible, it couldn't be true.

Sam glanced back up into the being's eyes. They alone stood out against the backdrop of blinding light, two colored orbs, filled with accusation and rage.

Staring into those eyes, Sam unwillingly remembered.

DPDPDPDP

Sam and Tucker stumbled unsteadily through the trees, jumping over roots and ducking low branches in their desperate chase. Danny and Vlad were somewhere up ahead, the sounds of the fight disturbing the tranquility of the large forest.

Finally, the pair arrived at a small clearing. On the far side, away from them, were the bright orange sleeping bags they had been using on their camping trip. It was supposed to be relaxing.

Tucker panted to a stop next to Sam, bracing his hands on his knees and trying to take deep breaths to steady himself. When he looked up, annoyance flashed across his face.

"Are you saying," he said indignantly. "That we just did a full circle?"

Sam nodded, unfazed by his reaction. "Apparently."

The fight was louder now, getting closer and closer to the clearing, until a certain ghost boy flew back and slammed into a sturdy tree to Sam and Tucker's right. Vlad appeared on the opposite side of the clearing, glaring at Danny. He glanced over at Sam and Tucker, but ignored them.

"Danny!" They called. Sam was furious at Vlad for several reasons. Only one of which was his dismissal of them, despite how often they aided Danny in chasing off the older halfa. He was acting as if they weren't even a threat.

Phantom groaned and the tree creaked as he stood, brushing small pieces of bark off his jumpsuit. The temperature dropped as he prepared to use his ice powers.

"Oh, I wouldn't do that, Daniel," Vlad advised. "You don't know what I might have."

Danny snorted and launched himself forward. "A desperate need for a cat? I thought you already had one."

A blast of ice shot towards Vlad, almost faster than Sam was able to follow. Somehow, the ghost was faster.

He whipped a small disk out of nowhere. It seemed to appear out of thin air, glowing with a pale silver light.

The ice hit the disk straight on, being absorbed into the smooth, mirror-like surface, and disappearing. The glow increased and energy crackled through it like lightning.

Vlad smirked at Danny, who had stopped in confusion. Sam and Tucker rushed forward to help, only to be thrown back by a shimmering pink wall.

"No!" Sam raged, pounding her fists against the barrier. Tucker grabbed her wrist as she was getting ready for another attack.

"Stop it, Sam!" He yelled. "It's no use- just listen."

She fell to the ground and leant her back on the pink wall, shielding her face from Tucker with her hand and refusing to watch the fight anymore.

"What?" Danny asked, his voice only slightly muffled by the energy separating them. "What is that thing?"

"Do you like it?" Vlad taunted, and Sam didn't have to open her eyes to see the self-satisfying smirk he wore. "I made it myself. Since you obviously have no interest in becoming my apprentice, I have to eliminate the threat."

"You're crazy! A fruit-loop!"

"Maybe so," Vlad acknowledged in a tight voice. "But if so, I am still the 'fruit-loop' who beat you."

Danny laughed, the sound echoing disdainfully. "And how do you plan on doing that?"

"Little badger, it is already done."

Sam whirled around at Danny's agonized yell. Electricity crackled across his body, and when it left, two rings developed around his middle, traveling up and down.

"The Plasmius Maximus," Sam heard Tucker mutter fearfully. "That means-"

Light filled the clearing, blinding Sam and Tucker and leaving black scorch marks on the closest trees. The light faded, leaving everything how it was.

Almost.

"Danny!" Sam screamed.

She ran forward and, finding no resistance, flung herself at Vlad. He met the ground with a surprised yell, and lay there in a stunned daze. Sam hurriedly snatched the Plasmius Maximus from his grasp and used it to short out his powers. Tears poured down her face to leave damp spots on Vlad's expensive suit. He looked at that in distaste, but flinched when Tucker held an ecto-gun to the millionaire's head. Sam smiled up at her friend gratefully and stood up.

"What do you want to do with him?" Tucker asked her.

Sam looked behind her at Danny. His blue eyes stared at her unblinkingly.

"First," she said in a voice tight with anger. "We ask some questions. What is that?"

Vlad turned his face to see what she was pointing to. The silver disk lay on the forest floor a few meters away from him. It must have fallen. The man smiled.

"That," he spoke patronizingly. "Is an extremely complicated device. You children wouldn't understand."

Tucker pressed his weapon harder against Vlad's temple. "Try us."

Vlad sighed exasperatedly. "Very well. It traps a ghost's power for a certain amount of time, but that energy can be released whenever is most convenient. The device also enhances the power, making it stronger than it was originally. In this instance, I used Daniel and..."

He smirked at them again. "You can see the results yourself."

"Vlad," Sam said. He looked up at her smugly, assured in his victory. "You just made a big mistake."

If possible, his smile grew even larger. "And why is that, dear girl?"

Tucker decided to answer. "Because without Danny, there's nothing to hold us back."

Vlad frowned and opened his mouth to say something, but a green blast of energy exploded from the ecto-gun before he could form any words.

Sam had turned and fallen to her knees, much like she was doing as this flashback played through her mind, facing the boy in the centre of the clearing. His blue eyes stared blankly ahead, completely still.

"Danny," she whispered. And as Tucker's arm wrapped tightly around her shoulders, they had both allowed the tears to consume them.

DPDPDPDP

Shakily resurfacing from the forced memory, Sam found herself in a different position from when the memories had started. She and Tucker were both kneeling in the clearing, in the same way they had on that life-changing night. Tucker's arm was heavy on her shoulder, but Sam felt no need to remove it.

The figure they had come to see was perfectly preserved, nothing had changed in the past year. At least, nothing visible.

It was then that Sam noticed the light shining off of the ice, coming from somewhere behind her. Tucker lifted his arm off her and they craned their necks to stare at what had sent them back in their memories. The light hadn't changed, it was still a bright spot in the darkness, with a pair of poisonous green eyes watching them. There was nothing dangerous in the gaze, just curiosity and...

Sorrow, Sam thought, tears threatening to escape.

The glow dimmed drastically, revealing the ghost that it originated from. He was exactly how Sam had always remembered him, just maybe his aura glowed brighter than usual. It had been a year, after all.

"Dude," Tucker breathed. "What happened to you?"

Sam agreed. The feeling of change hung heavily in the cool air, overwhelming her, causing regret and misery to collect as a hard ball within her heart.

"Danny?" Sam whispered, unable to raise her voice. She pointed to the ice-encased form. "What exactly is that?"

The ghost's face betrayed no emotion as he spoke, but his eyes told another story. He was hurting.

Phantom's voice was dead and flat as he answered her question. "I think you already know."

She did. The figure behind her was Danny, the ghost before her was also Danny. Only one could be real, and she was almost certain as to which one it was.

Both Sam and Tucker flinched when Phantom continued to talk. "Did anyone miss me?"

Tears cascaded down the pair's face, tears that would never stop, never leave them alone to heal. There had been a funeral, Danny Phantom's absence was noted, but most of Amity Park had moved on. Only Danny's close friends and family still mourned his disappearance. But Sam knew they couldn't tell him that. It would break him even further.

Sam attempted a shaky smile, but it went immediately when she met her ghost's eyes. "Everyday."

Phantom's gaze moved above her head, and Sam knew that he was looking at the ice figure. His eyes didn't leave the statue's face as he spoke, slowly and deliberately.

"Why didn't you come earlier?"

Tucker stammered as he tried to find the right words. "Oh, uh... well, you see-"

"It's too painful," Sam whispered, staring at Danny's glowing boots. "I can't do this."

But she couldn't leave, either.

The glow dimmed at her reply, almost plunging them into darkness.

"I know," Danny muttered softly. "It's hard for me, too.

"But do you know how long I've waited?"

"Danny-" Tucker choked. "Please forgive us."

The light increased, illuminating every tear, causing more.

"It's been a year, Tuck. A year," Phantom's voice was suddenly devoid of emotion. "I have been here the whole time."

Danny's ghostly form didn't move at all. If it wasn't for when he spoke, he would be as still as his human body.

"It took me less than an hour to die," he said. "As soon as you left me here. Alone."

Sam sprung to her feet, a horrible thought forming in her panicked mind. She raced towards the statue, peering intently into its eyes, so life-like... But there was one key element missing. They were empty, all life gone.

Sam choked back a sob, her whole body shuddering as she made the crucial connection. Tucker began to gently pull on her shoulder, tugging her away from her dead friend.

"Sam," he tried to reason with her. "We already knew this."

No, Sam thought frantically. She didn't know this! She hadn't been prepared for Danny to be... to be...

Dead. He was a full ghost now, no longer human.

"But-" Sam stuttered, looking between the ghost and his dead counterpart. "But you're- you're here. You're n-not... You can't b-be-"

"She's right, dude," Tucker agreed, talking to Phantom. "You don't look... dead."

The ghost glanced at him, then looked back to... his face. "The ice. That thing Vlad had made it stronger. It didn't melt, there's not a single crack, and it's completely air-tight. I couldn't use my powers, so I ran out of air.

"And you left me here!" Anger was now colouring Phantom's face like a dark cloud. "I didn't get a proper burial! Do my parents even know I'm dead? Does anyone?"

Sam and Tucker were stunned into shocked silence, with unstoppable tears steadily leaking from their eyes.

It seemed to take an effort, but Danny managed to calm down. He smiled at them, but got no response. His expression dropped. "Don't leave me again. I can't bear it."

Sam's sobs dissolved into painful hiccups. "We p-pro-promise to visit m-more often, Danny. W-we won't do t-this again."

He turned desperate. "Please! Don't go! Stay!"

Sam started to walk away from the ghost, uneasy about how he was acting. Tucker was mirroring her. They had no lantern, but that was unimportant. It was too dangerous to be around Danny.

Sam gasped in shock as her back hit a tree. On the opposite side of the clearing, the ghost watched his old friends retreated. His energy increased and caused Sam to shiver, but not from cold, from fear.

After a few seconds staring, Sam and Tucker broke the trance and sprinted through the trees, fleeing from Danny. The light died completely, leaving them to stumble through the forest in total darkness.

Suddenly, their path was illuminated. Danny stood just a few meters in front of them, floating several inches off the ground and looking furious.

"You're not coming back!" He raged. Thin, white tendrils entwined themselves around Sam and Tucker's wrists, preventing their escape. "I have waited a whole year for you! I will not do that again.

"No," he floated down to their height, glaring at each of them in turn. "You're not going anywhere."

Slowly, Danny lifted his hand. He held Sam's lantern, letting it swing calmly for a while before ice began to creep down its handle, traveling through its frame until the lantern was covered in shimmering, silver ice.

"I've gotten stronger, too," Danny said, watching the lantern as if it were a living being. "A lot stronger."

Quicker than Sam could react, ice shot out of the ground at her feet. She let out a yell at the same time as Tucker, and would have fallen over if it weren't for the ice structure making her literally freeze. The suffocating force paused at her neck, Tucker's too.

Danny smirked at them.

"Take a deep breath," he chuckled. "You'll need it."

The ice rose above Tucker's face, with Sam unable to do anything to help.

"Danny!" She screamed. "Stop it! This isn't you!"

"And how would you know?" The ghost laughed bitterly. "We haven't met for a long time."

Sam tried desperately to move as Danny stepped closer to her, so that they were face-to-face, less than ten centimeters between them.

"But," he muttered before kissing her. Sam screamed against him, tears pouring as she tried to escape. After what seemed like forever, he pulled back. The ice crawled over her face, covering her mouth and nose. She could still see and hear, but Sam couldn't decide whether that was a blessing or a curse.

"I still wanted to do that..."

Now her whole head was covered, but Danny's words still reached her, no matter how hard she tried to block them out.

"Even after a year."

AN:

Hey! pale-blue11 here!

This should really be with the other creepy one-shots, but I like it so much that I made it it's own story :)

I hope everyone had a good Easter! I did :) My friends and I went shark cage diving. I drank lots of seawater :(

Happy Danny Phantom Day! It's been nine years since the show started. Sorta a bittersweet day... why aren't they making more?! D:

So, please review, favourite and/or follow this story! I would love to hear what you guys think. Is there anything I can do to improve my writing?

I will reply to all reviews for my one-shot stories! Yay!

... Deborah?

Read her stories, guys. deborahpflover. Thanks for the video!

*sigh* school :(

Have a good April 3rd :)

pale-blue11