Every single ounce of energy I have went into this chapter. I've only ever gotten one or two bad reviews, never any flames, but let me make something very clear right now: I will not tolerate flames on this chapter. Feel free to leave a flame on any of my other stories, even the first chapter of this story, but do not flame me on this chapter or I will go postal.

I don't expect any flames, but I wanted to put that out there to be sure. I'm not in a place where I can handle flames on this chapter right now.

I'm going to take a few days off to recover from this. I've gotten your reviews and your messages, and I'll get to replying to those when I can, but please be patient. The water's getting a little rough over here and for now I need to focus on keeping myself above water. I'll be back soon, though. This is definitely not goodbye.

I don't own Danny Phantom.


What A Thing To Choose

Chapter Two: Danny

April 19, 2013


Dear Sam,

You died sixty-seven years, four months, and eight days ago today. Not a single hour has passed in all that time in which your name did not cross my mind. Not a day went by that didn't leave me wondering how different everything would be if you hadn't missed your curfew, if your mother hadn't allowed you out that day, if those robbers came to the jewelery store ten minutes later, if the rifle had been set to safety instead of loaded and ready to shoot. So many different variables that played into the moment that destroyed my entire world.

I was only seventeen at the time. I was seventeen and I was in love with my best friend. Sam. Oh, God, Sam. We were so young, weren't we? You hadn't even lived yet, not really. You hadn't gotten to see the world the way I did. You didn't get to watch Tucker and I grow up. You didn't go to Tucker and Valerie's wedding, didn't see them have five kids together, didn't get to become their godmother the way I got to become their godfather. You didn't get to attend Jazz's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony (she cured breast cancer, the stupid genius).

You missed all of that because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I remember the last conversation we had. The last real one, at least. That five minute period in which you bitched about your parents in your room right before Ember spoiled it doesn't count. Do you remember the one I'm talking about? We were in the park and I looked at you and I asked you if you ever thought about dying. You said if you could choose, you would die in a riot resulting from a protest you would be participating in. I never told you this, but that's when I thought you were most beautiful. I thought you were completely gorgeous all the time, of course, but there was something about when you got all fired up about something that really got me. That's why I stared at you so much when you and Tucker fought. Something about that passion that shone in your eyes was sort of magical.

I didn't ask you those questions because I'd been thinking about it. I mean I had been thinking about it, but that's not why I asked you. A few days before that night, I started having these terrible nightmares about you dying. It was always you, never Tucker or Jazz or anyone else I cared about, and it happened every night. I learned later that it was because we had a psychic connection and some unknown force in the universe was trying to warn be about what was about to happen to you. I was having premonitions about it, about your death. Every night for nearly a month, I would wake up in a cold sweat, crying, begging for them not to hurt you and for you to not leave me. I shook it off and pretended like it was just a stress-induced thing that would pass.

It didn't pass and of course you know that. Or at least, I hope you know that. I haven't seen you in the Ghost Zone even though I searched for you there. In my heart I knew you wouldn't be there, but I had to try, didn't I? I couldn't chance it. I couldn't let the possibility of you being there, waiting for me to find you, go uninvestigated. You would have looked for me, too. At least, I hope you would have.

I stayed by your side for as long as I could after your last breath passed through your lips. I couldn't let go of you, I couldn't drop your hand, because that would make it real. It would mean that you really were gone forever. It would mean that I would have to stand up and clean your blood off my hands and try to figure out a way to live without you. My parents had to force me up by my arms and drag me out of the store so that the EMTs could move your body out of the store. I vomited in the street when they wheeled you out in a navy blue body bag.

I blamed myself for your death. I was the one that got you grounded. I was the reason you begged your mom to let you out. It was my fault that she sent you unwittingly into the jewelery store. It was my fault you died. It took a very long time for Tucker and Jazz to convince me otherwise, and even then a small part of me has always been convinced that it was my fault.

Your parents moved away just a few weeks later. They said they couldn't handle it, they couldn't stand living in a city that so loudly screamed of you. Everywhere they looked, they saw traces of you. Your mark on Amity Park is so deep, it's ridiculous. I still see some of it today, when I get the energy to shuffle out my front door to see if Earth is still spinning.

Tucker and I got into a lot of fights after that. I was angry, furious, that the men that did that to you got away. There were no leads. I guess they came in earlier and disconnected the surveillance cameras because when the police checked all they got were screens of static. Tucker said I was starting to get obsessive, and I told him he was a heartless bastard that just didn't understand. We didn't talk for a few months and I sort of fell apart. Amity Park nearly went to shit then, and even though Tucker practically hated me he kept fighting as part of Team Phantom while I laid in bed and alternated between staring at the wall and sobbing until my entire body hurt. I never slept, never ate. Hell, I never even showered. Not for what felt like a long, long time.

But eventually things started to change. Gradually, I started sitting up, standing up, walking around my room. I showered. I ate a bright red apple. I slept for an hour. I looked in the mirror and didn't recognize the face that looked back at me. It was while I was cautiously poking the bruised bags beneath my eyes that I realized why I was taking you dying so much harder than Tucker or Jazz or any of your other friends that started to surface from the Skulk and Lurk and the other places you used to haunt as the news of your death spread through our tiny town: I was in love with you. I mean head-over-heels, stupid, puppy love. The kind of love that probably would've made you sick had you been around to see it. As far as I was concerned you were my soul mate and that was that. I was standing at the bottom of a very large, very deep pit of despair. Even then I knew I would never fully emerge from that pit, but I could get closer to the surface. There wasn't anything wrong with that. Right?

So that's what I did. I let Jazz ease me into the life they created in the wake of your absence. It started getting a little better, a little easier. I could go for an hour or two without breaking down.

The day of your funeral was the hardest. I was numb the entire time. Jazz was very patient while I struggled to dress myself. She tied my tie while I stared blankly at her. She didn't try to carry on a conversation with me, because I was pretty much non-responsive, but she talked the entire time. Not about you, nobody really talked directly about you in those first few months. They referred to you as 'she' or 'her.' 'She mentioned something about lilies being her favorite flower once.' 'Some kid in Camden bought her scooter before her parents skipped town.'

I couldn't even do that much. Every time my sentence would start to drift to you, I would just stop talking. I would fall silent and turn away and try to imagine you smirking at me from the corner of the room.

I went the entire day before your funeral without crying. I made it through half the funeral without crying, too. Your casket was open but the angle I was sitting at made it impossible to see you while I was sitting. It wasn't until the end - when everyone was walking past you, saying their last goodbye - that I finally got a good look at you.

You didn't look like yourself. You were so small in death. You were far too still, far too pale. Your make up was too bright and your hair was all wrong. They dressed you in some horrible pink frilly thing you would have destroyed in seconds had you seen it before you died. You didn't smell like you, either. I didn't catch a whiff of that tangy, flowery scent you always seemed to exude naturally. You smelled like funeral homes and chemicals. I was one of the last people to walk by, everyone else had already vacated the room. I could hear them out in the foyer, their collective conversations about how wonderful the service was and how terrible the tragedy was a low buzz in my ears. Your hands were folded peacefully over your stomach and your eyes were closed and even though you looked like some exaggerated girly version of yourself I almost believed you were just asleep. Until I reached out and brushed my fingers along the back of your hand.

Even now, I remember exactly how cold you felt. I'm not sure why I was expecting you to feel any different, but I was shocked to my core at how frigid you were. "She's cold," I remember saying hoarsely. Jazz was behind me and I could feel her hands on my back, gently attempting to redirect me out of the way so that everyone else could say goodbye to you, too, but I couldn't move. My feet were firmly planted on the ground at your side. The same side I was crouching beside when you drew your final breath. "She's cold."

"Danny," Jazz said, her voice radiating that psychologist vibe she always gave off. "Let's get out of the way."

"No," I said, shaking my head. I could feel the tears coming, I could feel my already cracked composure crumbling, but I didn't care. "Jazz, she's cold,"

She tried to tell me something like 'of course she's cold, she's dead, you idiot' in a gentle and reassuring older sister way but I couldn't hear her. Before I knew what was happening I was practically crawling into the casket with you. I was beside myself, so stricken with grief that it was nearly maddening. Jazz was shrieking my name and I could hear in her voice that she was crying, too, but it didn't matter because you were cold and I needed to help you get warm. A pair of hands, much larger and stronger that Jazz's, seized my shoulders and yanked me backwards. Before I could see who it was I was enveloped in a bone-crushing hug. I registered that my nose was crushed against Tucker's shoulder before I completely fell apart. Blindly Tucker felt out a pew in the church behind us and we fell into it, sobbing into each other, clutching each other in anguished grief, the fact that we were royally pissed off at each other suddenly completely insignificant. You were gone, gone, gone, and it wasn't fair.

I regressed a little after that. Not so completely as I had before, but it took a few days for Tucker and Jazz and my parents to coax me out of my room and into the real world again. I guess Clockwork heard how horribly I was faring because he came to see me two weeks after your funeral.

"You're troubled." It wasn't a question, or a taunt. Just a statement of fact. I looked at him, my arms splayed limply at my sides. I was perched on the edge of my bed and he was floating in my doorway. It was nearly three in the morning and he'd woken me from a nightmare in which I actually saw you get shot.

"It's been nearly three weeks and I feel like I'm going to die," I said. He grimaced. "I miss her so much and I don't know what to do,"

"There is nothing to do," He said, and for whatever reason the statement made me feel even more helpless. "She is gone, and she will not be returning to this life."

I swallowed the lump in my throat. I already knew that, of course, but it didn't make it any easier to hear from someone else. "I just wish I could see her one more time. There's so much I never got to say to her, never got to do with her. It's not fair." I said, my eyes on my knees.

I peered up at him and for the first time ever I saw his eyes blazing in indecision. The Time Ghost, the Wise One, the one who supposedly knew everything and everyone, was struggling internally. He bit his lip and drummed his fingers against his cane. "What?" I asked, momentarily distracted from my crushing grief.

"She is waiting for you," He said finally, his voice ringing with a reproachfulness I assumed was directed at himself. My breath hitched in my throat and my heart stopped in my chest.

"What do you mean?" I asked slowly, pronouncing each word carefully. I had this terrible fear that if I asked the wrong question he would just disappear, and in that moment I needed him to explain himself more than I needed oxygen.

"After death, one reaches...a crossroads. A choice. She has chosen to wait for you at that crossroads." I could see quite clearly that he regretted giving me this information, but for the first time in three weeks I felt something like hope sparking in my chest. "Do not think that you can reach her faster by prematurely ending your life." He said, radiating seriousness. "Suicide leads one to a very different place. There are no choices in suicide. Die the way destiny chooses, not the way you choose, and you will see her again."

And that's just what I've done, Sam. I caught the men that murdered you two days later when they attempted an armed robbery at another location of that same jewelery store, and after that other customer that escaped that day positively identified them and I nearly beat them to death, I personally took them to federal prison for two counts of first degree murder. I've lived my whole life, I never once tried to kill myself or get myself killed by someone else. I fought to stay alive when I thought I could make it and here I am. I'll be eighty-five years old next week. I never married anyone. I know that sounds strange, and you probably think I'm obsessed with you, but I tried dating. Honest, I did. I just never found anyone else that understood me quite like you did. I was never content with them. Oh, sure, I was happy, but it was only a fleeting moment of happiness in the scheme of everything. I found myself comparing them to you constantly, even as I got older and my maturity level rose and I became a different person than I was at seventeen. Desiree told me that she sensed our connection. She said that if there were such a thing as soul mates, you were mine, and I was yours. And, okay, yeah, I'm a little obsessed with you.

I was yours, all along. I belonged to you, and you belonged to me. That's how it always was, wasn't it? Tucker always complained about being a third wheel around us. I guess it's fair that I became the third wheel to him and Valerie after they started dating. They named two of their children after you, did you know that? Both of their girls are named after you, Samantha and Elizabeth. They named their first son after me. James, my middle name. You would love them, all five of them.

I'm not really sure why I'm writing this letter. I just woke up this morning and felt like I needed to. I hope that somehow you can read this. I don't know if you can ever hear it, but I talk to you a lot. I visit your grave every week, and I always leave flowers. Lilies, your favorite.

I love you, and I hope I won't have to keep you waiting much longer.

Always yours,

Danny

Danny let the pen fall out of his fingers with a clatter. He released a wheezing sigh, lifting a shaking, gnarled hand to remove his reading glasses from the bridge of his nose. He ignored the way his salty tears dripped down his cheeks, gliding smoothly through the lines creasing his face. He could feel them gathering in the wrinkled edges of his eyes, making his well-worn laugh lines glisten beneath the humming flourescent light above him.

Slowly, ignoring the way his body creaked and groaned in protest, he pushed away from his desk and stood, leaving the papers on the wooden surface. Various joints ached, but that was not such a new thing. He developed arthritis early, along with several other bodily issues resulting from the physical strain of being Danny Phantom. He had the physicality of a fifty-year-old man by the time he was twenty-eight. He chuckled to himself, remembering those younger days he would wake up groaning and clutching his lower back after a particularly taxing fight.

He shuffled toward his bed, which was still unmade from earlier that morning. The sun was peeking merrily through his drawn curtains, whispering secrets about the warm April day in progress outside his two-bedroom house in Camden. But all he felt was a kind of cold that had nothing to do with his ice powers. It was the cold that spread through his body, down to his fingers and toes, the second he realized Sam would not be getting up on her own from that jewelery store floor.

He slid into his bed and drew his blankets up around himself, turning to his side and watching the sunlight dance across his opal walls. It was a clinical color, one that frustrated Tucker's youngest daughter to no end, but to him it was comforting. It reminded him that each day was a blank slate. He smiled a little, picturing Elizabeth's furrowed brow as he attempted to find the words to express that to her. "But it's boring," She said, glancing back at the doorway where Tucker was leaning. "Dad, convince him to let me paint it blue."

"No," Danny said quickly. Tucker shook his head, laughing a little at Elizabeth's exasperated glare. "If it's gonna be any color, it'll be purple."

This seemed to quell her desires and significantly brighten her mood. She painted his closet door purple. Her grin was blinding and quirky and so much like Tucker's it was shocking when she brought him into the room, proudly gesturing to the door. "I didn't want to do all the walls purple, since it's such a powerful color, but I figured at least an accent something would help."

He surprised her by hugging her hard. "I love it." He said honestly, pulling away to admire the door. She got the shade exactly right. It matched Sam's eyes perfectly. "Thank you, Lizzy."

She rolled her eyes at the nickname, but her grin widened. "Dad helped me out a bit on the shade, so you can thank him, too."

He rolled to his back and released a long, slow sigh. Somehow, when he was laying in bed, that flourescent light seemed a bit brighter. He glared at it, but his bed was far too warm to justify getting up and turning it off. So he just laid there and tried to ignore it. His eyes fluttered shut. His head lolled slowly from side to side. Everything was quiet, peaceful, serene.

And then his flourescent light suddenly flared and he was enveloped in it, part of it, and he could no longer feel his bed beneath him. His blankets were gone and he was hurtling forward, into the light. He tried to draw a breath but found that he could not. His lungs were in a compress, completely flattened.

Just when he thought he might suffocate, he broke the surface of the light and gasped for air. He blinked quickly, trying to adjust, trying to find some familiar surface of his room to ground himself again. It wasn't the first time he had a dream like that, but this was far more realistic than any of the others.

But still, no matter how hard or fast he blinked, he could not spot a familiar surface. It was white, all white, everywhere. He glanced down at his feet.

Just to find that he was not wearing his pleated pants or doctor-recommended orthopedic shoes. His shirt was no longer button down and plaid. He was no longer hunched over in age.

Instead, he was wearing the ratty old tennis shoes that kicked the bucket when he was twenty-three. He was wearing dusty blue jeans, worn with age and long ago thrown out. And his torso was adorned with an achingly familiar white t-shirt, red logo only just starting to fade. His hands were no longer gnarled and trembling, but as smooth and steady as they had been when he was a boy. He ran his hands up his chest, his neck, his face, and into his hair experimentally. As his fingers perused his suddenly silken hair, strands fell forward across his forehead and into his eyes. He was shocked to find not the stringy grey hair he just couldn't seem to shave when he was sixty (which was the last stage of hair he had before he went completely bald), but thick, shining black.

"Greetings, traveller," A familiar voice said behind him. He whirled around to find himself face-to-face with Clockwork. The wizened old ghost wore a knowing smile. "You've come a long way."

"I have," Danny said, delighted to find his voice was as strong and deep as it was when he was twenty-five. He glanced around again, trying to find an identifying landmark. There were none, just a long horizon stretching as far as he could see of nothing but white. "Where are we?"

"You tell me," Clockwork said, his gaze fast on Danny's wondering face.

"We're at the crossroads, aren't we?" Danny asked, his excitement suddenly palpable. He felt the energy boiling inside of him, swirling and rising up inside him, spurring him into action. He felt as if he could run for miles.

Clockwork merely nodded, his smile growing almost imperceptibly larger.

"She's here?" Danny asked, and suddenly his voice failed him and he was whispering. Again, Clockwork nodded. "Where?"

Clockwork dropped his gaze to the ground beneath him. Danny stared at him a moment longer, waiting for a hint, before a faint sound off to his right drew his attention away from the familiar old ghost. He turned and spotted a human figure far off in the distance, but it was rapidly moving closer. His feet moved toward her before he had a conscious thought about it, and for the first time in nearly thirty years Danny was sprinting. He raced toward that figure, not feeling the strain on his body because there was no strain anymore. It wasn't until she was about thirty feet away that he finally saw her face, clear and true, and heard her voice crying out his name.

His knees buckled and he fell to the ground. Within seconds she was in his arms, holding fast to him as he shook with sobs. She was even better than he remembered. Her hands were warm firm against his back, her fingers soothing as they braided through his hair, her lips soft as they pressed kisses repeatedly against the side of his face, his neck, and his shoulder. He pulled away from her and a fresh wave of tears came as he drank in her face. Her eyes were wide and shining and he wanted to drown in them. But then the realization that he would have eternity to lose himself in her eyes hit him and he fell into her again, letting his lips crash into hers and his hands to tighten into a vice-like grip on her body. She kissed him back with everything she had, a quiet and breathy moan escaping her throat as his tongue quickly delved between her lips.

A quiet cough interrupted them before they could get any further. Danny pulled away slowly, reluctantly, opening his eyes quickly so that he could watch the way her eyes fluttered open. Her smile was blinding and her eyes were sparkling, dancing with passion. "I've been waiting for you," She whispered.

"I know," He whispered back.

"I heard you,"

"I hoped you would,"

"I got your letter,"

He merely smiled and pressed his lips lightly against the tip of her nose.

"I missed you."

"There are no words in any language to express how much I missed you."

"What took you so long?" Her voice faintly echoed pain.

Again, he just smiled. He kissed her lips again, short and chaste, before Clockwork pointedly coughed for a second time.

They stood together. Danny could not draw his eyes away from her as she clutched at his arm. She was leaning into him heavily, smiling like a fool at nothing in particular. Eventually they sobered enough to tear their gazes away from each other and look to Clockwork, who was waiting patiently.

"I believe it is time for you to make a choice." The ghost said evenly. Danny glanced back down to Sam, who was gazing up at him.

"What do you want to do?" He asked her, running his thumb over her knuckles. She bit her lip.

"I don't care," She admitted. "I don't care where we are, as long as we're together. I don't think I can stand to be away from you for another second."

He smiled again, feelings of love and tenderness creating a warm glow in his body he had not felt in years. "I don't think we need to go back," He said slowly. "There's nothing left for us there. Everything I need is right here," He gripped her hand, still clinging to the bend of his elbow. Her eyes filled with tears and she pressed her lips to his shoulder.

"You've chosen Beyond, then?" Clockwork prompted, sensing another moment of passion.

Danny cleared his throat. Sam peered up and him and nodded. "Yeah, we have," Danny said confidently, squeezing Sam's hand as he turned back to the old ghost.

Clockwork smiled, and instantly everything was shrouded in grey smoke. Danny swallowed hard, ignoring the way his heart hammered in his chest in favor of focusing on Sam's grip on his right arm. "This is it," He heard her whisper.

He brushed his fingers along hers. She tightened her grip in response. "This is it." He echoed. The smoke was starting to clear, their surroundings were starting to sharpen, colors fading into view, but he turned to face her. He closed his eyes and kissed her, hard. "I love you," He growled into her mouth.

She tried to say it back, but it was muffled and impossible to understand against his demanding lips. He pulled away, keeping his eyes closed and forehead against hers, determined to make the first thing he saw in the afterlife the love of his life.

He did not open his eyes again until he heard Sam gasp.