Well, here we are, with the last "technically a chapter and not an epilogue" chapter. Some of you have already told me that you would like to see epilogues, and thank you to those people for letting me know! If you have an opinion about whether or not you'd like to see an epilogue or two, feel free to put it in your review or a PM.
A short announcement: I've put up some important stuff concerning which story I'm going to write next on my profile. I'm actually going to let you guys vote between a few different story choices, and whichever one gets the most votes is the one I'll write next. So check it out! You just have to click on my name to see my profile, where you'll be able to read story descriptions and vote in the poll. The poll will be up for a while, but I haven't set a date for taking it down, so the sooner you get your votes in, the better!
Thank you to everyone who read through all that, and to everyone who didn't, please do.
Welcome to the fourteenth and last chapter of In Which a Highly Unusual Ghost is Discovered! I hope you enjoy it.
I do not own Danny Phantom or Hanna is Not a Boy's Name.
Chapter Fourteen - One More
There is blackness.
And he has no idea how long it has been like that.
But then - there is a whisper. A voice he recognizes, speaking words he can't quite make out. The blackness slowly fades to a muted red, and he can feel the pain in his back.
Danny lies on the ground, waiting to remember.
He was sitting in class. His ghost sense went off. He excused himself, and Mr. Lancer scolded him but let him leave. He transformed into Phantom and flew out of the school. He searched for the ghost. He flew over the park, where Desiree was terrifying the paranormal investigators. He flew in to help, and then - a blur of fighting and witty remarks. Impact, his back against a tree. And then nothing.
He brings his fingers against his palm and feels skin against skin, instead of the glove of his Phantom jumpsuit rubbing against itself. He's human, but he's not sure if that's good or bad.
There is more whispering, and more voices. The first voice shushes the others, and then speaks the first words Danny can make out.
"Are you okay? Can you hear me?"
It is a voice he knows, but it doesn't belong to Sam, or Tucker, or Jazz, or either of his parents, or even Vlad.
Danny forces his eyelids open.
A foot or so from his eyes is the face of a familiar over-excitable redhead, who's looking concerned and, for some reason, holding a - is it a marker?
"Guys, he's awake!" Hanna says.
Danny drags his aching body into consciousness, wincing as the pain in his back spikes. This is no time to lie on the ground and tune out the world. There are some things he needs to know. Did Hanna and his friends see him crash into the tree? Did they see him go human? Do they already know the secret he's spent months hiding from everyone but his closest friends?
If they do, they aren't showing it. Hanna and the tallest guy - still wearing his scarf and sunglasses - take hold of Danny's shoulders and help him into a sitting position, propped against the tree. The rough bark against his back sends searing pain through his body, but he tries not to let it show. If these people don't already know that it was him that was thrown into the tree, he sure isn't going to give them any clues. And the pain is dimming - his back must have already started healing.
"You okay, kid?" Hanna asks him.
Danny forces a smile that looks more like a grimace.
"I'll be fine. I must have fallen asleep or something," he says, instantly cursing himself for the stupid excuse.
Couldn't you think of anything better, Fenton? They'll see through that in a second.
And sure enough, the next person to speak points out the obvious flaw in his alibi.
"I don't know how you could, with all the noise those ghosts were making," the pale guy with dark hair says.
"Conrad!" Hanna hisses.
"There were ghosts?" Danny asks, feigning confusion. He may have the lamest alibi ever, but he's prepared to stick with it.
"Yeah," the youngest of the group says, giving Danny a look at his impossibly pointy teeth. "Two of them."
"Huh," Danny says, acting like this is news to him. Unfortunately, he's a terrible actor, and all he can do is hope Hanna and his friends don't see through the act.
"So," Hanna says, his voice casual. "You're Danny Phantom, right?"
Danny sits up straight instantly, without a thought, his adrenaline levels drowning out the pain in his back. Was he doing that bad a job hiding it? Or had they seen him transform?
"What? No. Of course not! Where'd you get that idea? It's impossible. Impossible! How could I be Phantom?" he says before he manages to end his rambling.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. I gave myself away. If they weren't sure, that rambling has definitely made up their minds for them.
"Hey, calm down," Hanna says, putting a hand on Danny's shoulder. But he can't calm down. These people - they're working for Paulina. What if they've told her already? If she knew, then it wouldn't be long before all of Amity Park knew. Everyone who hunted him, everyone he'd struggled to appear normal in front of, they would all know. All the effort put into keeping his secret would be down the drain.
"Geez, dude, relax," Hanna says. "We haven't told anyone."
"And we won't unless you approve of it," the tall guy said.
Are these people offering to keep his secret?
"Really?" he asks. He sounds like a child, pathetic, but he doesn't care. Why would people who were being paid to figure out his secret turn around and promise not to reveal it?
"Really," Hanna says.
"But - but why? Aren't you guys getting paid to tell my secrets?" he can't help asking.
"That's right," Conrad says, glaring at Hanna.
"Well, I'm not exactly a local," Hanna laughs. "But it seems like Amity Park needs your protection, and it seems like you need to be able to do whatever you did when Desiree threw you into a tree to protect yourself, and keep the ghost hunters off your tail. If everybody knew, well . . ."
Hanna's voice trailed off.
"It's not like we're not keeping secrets of our own," Hanna starts over, turning his head to look at the three investigators still standing. The pale guy angrily looks away, and the kid with gray hair scowls at him. He turns back to face Danny.
"What's one more?" he asks.
Somehow Hanna manages to get Danny talking, and once he's started, he finds himself relaying his whole experience, from the incident with the Fenton Portal to ghost battles to sneaking out of class today.
"Wow," Hanna says once Danny has finished. "That almost makes what we've had to do sound like a picnic."
"I am curious, though - you didn't seem too surprised to find out that I was Phantom. Why?" Danny asks, his voice sheepish.
Their story is a lot more disjointed than Danny's, because they have five different people trying to tell it five different ways, but in the end Danny gets the idea - at least, he hopes he does.
"Man, I've got to be more careful," he mutters.
"Don't be too hard on yourself," Hanna says. "After all, it did take a crack team of paranormal investigators several days to discover your secret."
At the words "crack team", the youngest - Veser - starts laughing so hard he begins to have trouble breathing and walks away from the others.
"You're not going to tell anyone, right?" Danny asks for the seventy-second time, as soon as Veser's laughing quiets.
"Of course not," Hanna says.
"And anyway, we aren't sticking around much longer to tell anyone," the girl - Toni - says.
"So you guys are leaving?" Danny asks.
"Yeah," Hanna says. "The case is over, even if we won't be telling anyone what we know. Plus, we've got some work to do back home."
Hanna pulls a crumpled business card from his pocket and hands it to Danny. It's got his name and some other information on it. Danny looks between the card and Hanna himself, wondering why he's been given this.
"Just in case," Hanna says. "Maybe someday we'll need to get in touch again."
Danny nods, then scrambles for a piece of paper, finally finding a Nasty Burger receipt in his pocket, and uses a pencil stub to scrawl his cell phone number on the back. He hands it to Hanna, who looks confused.
"Just in case," Danny repeats. "You never know when a half-ghost might be helpful."
"Thanks," Hanna says, handing the receipt to the tall man, who pockets it.
A couple minutes later, Sam and Tucker come running into the park. Tucker's out of breath, so Sam sprints ahead.
"Danny! You forgot the Thermos!" she yells, holding the silver cylinder above her head. Then she sees that Danny is human, and the ghost is nowhere to be seen. She slows he pace and lowers the Thermos, walking over to where Danny stands. Tucker catches up a minute later.
"Where's the ghost?" Tucker asks as soon as he can breathe again.
"Gone," Danny answers. He doesn't elaborate, which both of his friends think is odd.
Tucker catches sight of Hanna and his friends, walking down the street before turning a corner and heading out of view.
"Hey, are they - leaving?" he asks.
"Yeah," Danny answers.
"So they just gave up on the case? Why would they do that?" Tucker asks.
"Because they kind of know about Phantom," Danny says, wincing as the inevitable backlash comes.
"You told them? Danny, why?" Sam demands.
"It wasn't entirely my choice. They kind of figured it out on their own," Danny admits.
His friends open their mouths, no doubt to ask about a million questions each, but Danny hold up his hands to silence them.
"It's a long story," he says. "Can I tell you somewhere else? And maybe after the school day is technically over? I really can't take another failing grade."
"Fine," Sam says as the three friends start walking back to the school. "But don't think you'll be able to get away with leaving us out of the loop forever."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Danny says, smiling.
Weird ending? Maybe. Ending? Yes! Finally! This story could be considered "over", though you should watch for epilogues.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read, review, follow, and favorite this story! Your support has meant the difference between having this story finished and having it be one of the stories that got left behind, only half-done, and it's meant a lot to me. I find it incredible that a story like this has been read by dozens of people, has thousands of views, and has readers from around the globe! Thank you all!