Two Simple Words
Deep in the Ghost Zone, within the confines of a certain tower filled with clocks, gears, and pendulums, a lone purple-hooded ghost floated silently. As time passed, his age appeared to rapidly cycle between that of a child, a young adult, and an old man. This hooded, age-changing ghost was watching a sort of viewing screen. This particular window had the ability to show what was, what is, and what may or may not come to pass.
Currently, the screen showed another ghost. The ghost on the screen had pale blue skin and white hair that flickered like fire, and the irises of his eyes glowed a bloody crimson. The look was completed with a caped black and white suit, with a symbol on his chest consisting of a white D with a P carved out of the center. At the moment, the screen showed this ghost terrorizing a town called Amity Park.
"Yes, that's right! Run, you weaklings! I can't believe I spent all my time protecting you from other ghosts when I could have joined in the fun! I didn't get any thanks from anybody for keeping this town safe! No, all I got in return for making sure this town stayed in one piece was getting a face full of the inside of a locker, day in and day out! Well, now it's my turn to humiliate you!"
Back in the clock tower, the hooded ghost watched the screen with a neutral expression on his face, but if one were to look into the deep red void of his eyes, they showed a surprising amount of emotion as well as wisdom. Although they appeared a solid red, one could see a deep sorrow in them, as if he had seen too many horrible things with those eyes. But alongside that sorrow was hope. Hope for a brighter future.
The hooded ghost turned away from the screen and called out to the empty air.
"You know that I am forbidden to act directly in the course of events. However, I believe that you, with your unique abilities, may be able to help."
Another ghost seemed to materialize in front of the hooded ghost. The newcomer was a ghost with the appearance of an eighteen-year-old girl with blonde hair, a pink flower-shaped hair pin, a white T-shirt, and pink capri pants.
"Clockwork, you interfered just by bringing me back from that stupid timeline," she complained, as she pointed towards the time-window.
"Yes," the hooded ghost, now known as Clockwork, replied, "but due to the specific nature of the abilities you gained in death, you are undetectable to my... employers."
"Something tells me that you wanted to refer to the Observants as something a bit less flattering than 'employers'," the girl remarked. "How about Cyclops? One-Eye?"
"Perhaps, but that is irrelevant to the current conversation," Clockwork conceded with a rare smirk. However, his face quickly returned to its normal emotionless expression as he spoke again. "Now, to business. As you know, it is my job as the Master of Time to make sure that the timeline runs smoothly." Clockwork's expression grew vaguely annoyed with his next sentence. "Unfortunately, the Observants and I tend to have very different ideas on how to go about doing that. I am certain that past events must be changed in order to prevent the future that you see here on this screen. The future from which I pulled you. Even though I control time itself, the Observants do not permit me to change past events directly. That is where you come in."
The futuristic ghost girl silently gazed at the floor for a few moments, finally lifting her head to look straight at Clockwork with determination in her eyes.
"What do you need me to do?"
It was lunchtime at Casper High School. Practically unnoticed by those around them, three teens walked to their usual table in the corner. The boy on the left had dark skin, green eyes hidden behind glasses, a red beret, a yellow sweater, green cargo pants, brown hiking boots, and a PDA. The girl on the right had extremely pale skin, violet eyes, shoulder-length black hair that was tied in a half-ponytail on top of her head, a black and purple tank top, a black and green miniskirt, long purple stockings, and black combat boots. The boy in the middle had messy black hair, icy blue eyes, a white and red T-shirt, blue jeans, and red Converse shoes. All three sat down, virtually invisible to everyone else, as they whispered in a heated discussion.
"I'm just saying, Danny, you shouldn't let it get to you. Who cares what other people think?" the pale girl consoled the messy-haired boy, whose blue eyes had dark circles from lack of sleep.
"Yeah," the boy with the red beret agreed, "Sam is right. You've been really down lately. Just don't listen to all the naysayers. They'll warm up to you eventually."
"That's the problem, Tucker," the blue-eyed boy, Danny, argued. "It's not just what they say; it's what they do. What they might do in the future. With more and more ghosts showing up to wreak havoc here, people are starting to listen more and more to my parents, who think that all ghosts are evil, and want to rip Danny Phantom apart, 'molecule by molecule'. If this gets any worse, all that I've worked for will be for nothing, and I'll be Public Enemy Number One again. Or do you not remember how bad that was?" he finished with a pointed look.
Tucker's confident grin faltered. "Well, it wasn't that ba-"
"What he means to say," Sam interrupted with a glare at Tucker, "is that you got through it, and convinced people of the truth: that you're the good guy. And you can do it again! This is just a bad moment, and it will pass if you let it."
"So, what?" Danny fumed. "You're saying that I'm not trying hard enough? That I need to spend every waking hour playing a game of politics? Looking good doesn't save lives; being good does! It's just that people refuse to see that I'm just trying to help them! I'm trying as hard as I can! So don't tell me that I'm not doing my best! I have enough stress to deal with!"
"Don't put this on her!" Tucker shouted. "She was just saying that if you keep doing what you always do, people will eventually have to see the truth and admit that you're the only thing keeping this town from crumbling to the ground! She wasn't saying you're not good enough! She was just saying it would take time!"
In an instant, Danny's face lost all ferocity as he suddenly looked at the ground, tears forming in his eyes. "Y-you're right, Tucker. I'm sorry, Sam. I'm really sorry."
"It's okay, Danny," Sam replied. "I know that you're under a lot of pressure."
"I know, but that doesn't excuse my outburst," Danny sighed.
"Chill, man," Tucker whispered. "We've been through things like this before, and we've always come out better for it. I'm sorry I yelled too."
"Yeah, but I deserved that," Danny conceded.
"Well, now that the yelling is over, let's enjoy our lunch," Sam smiled.
"And by 'lunch', you mean your usual rabbit food?" Tucker asked with a mischievous smirk.
"Only if your lunch can be called animal-slaughter on a bun!" Sam faked a glare towards Tucker, but couldn't suppress a slight smile herself. Danny merely sighed in renewed contentment as the tense atmosphere dissolved with his two friends' usual banter.
As the three friends talked and laughed, a puff of mist seemed to escape from Danny's mouth, upon which event Danny sighed, and the smile slid off his face to reveal his tiredness once more. "Well," he muttered as he stood up and turned to leave, "time to go save the town yet again while they scream and run away from me."
Before he could leave the cafeteria, however, Danny felt a hand on his shoulder, making him turn back around to face its owner. Brilliant violet orbs framed by a curtain of black stared back into his icy blue eyes.
"It's gonna be okay," Sam whispered to him, putting a hand on his cheek.
Taking a deep breath, Danny nodded his head wordlessly, regaining a fraction of his earlier smile. They stared at each other for a few more moments, until they heard a small cough from Tucker that sounded suspiciously like "lovebirds". Sam finally released Danny, allowing him to leave the cafeteria and shout his signature battle cry, unheard by the other students.
"I'm going ghost!"
A glowing blue-white ring appeared around Danny's waist. The ring became two, one moving up while the other moved down, changing his appearance as they split. White hair replaced black, and his icy blue eyes began to glow a radioactive green as his normal attire was replaced with a black and white form-fitting suit with a white D on the chest. In the place of Danny Fenton stood the ghostly superhero, Danny Phantom.
Shifting into a state of intangibility, Danny passed harmlessly through the roof of the school, making his way to the front lot, where he found a large robotic ghost with a flaming green mohawk and a skull-like face. This metal ghost appeared to have chased some students out of the school, and they were now scattering about, looking for a way to escape. Danny raised an eyebrow at the ghost, unimpressed.
"What's the matter, Skulker? Has the 'Ghost Zone's Lamest Hunter' finally given up on having my pelt, and decided to pick easier targets?"
"Actually, whelp, I was simply using them to get your attention, and now that I have it, I will have your head on my wall!"
"That's still gross," Danny muttered as he flew towards Skulker with both fists in front of him. There was a loud CLANG! as Danny's fists impacted the ghost's metal faceplate. Disoriented from the punch, Skulker had no time to react as a blue light engulfed him, dragging him into Phantom's Thermos-shaped ghost-capturing device and quickly ending the fight.
Immediately after capping the top of the Thermos, Danny cringed as he heard the bell ring to signal the end of the lunch period. Quickly scanning for any stragglers that might have stayed to watch, he noticed a blonde girl of about fifteen years old hiding in the alleyway. As he got closer, he recognized her as Star Summers, one of the popular girls. She looked slightly dazed, as though unsure how she had gotten there. Danny attributed this to her being in shock due to the ghost attack. Moving slowly so as not to frighten her further, he floated to the ground, allowing gravity to take hold of him when his feet touched the pavement.
"Are you alright?" Danny whispered cautiously.
"Y-yeah," she replied shakily.
"What's your name?" Danny inquired, as if he didn't know.
"Oh, you hang out with Dash and Paulina's group, right?" Like he didn't know that either.
"And you're sure you're alright?"
"Yes. A little dizzy, but I'll be fine."
After a short but awkward silence, Danny turned to make his way back to class. Once inside, he used his intangibility to phase into the bathroom, where he was able to change back into his human form. Now Danny Fenton once again, he quickly made his way to class before the late bell rang.
As the future-dwelling ghost, out of range from the hero's ghost sense, watched the hero fly away, she smiled, though with a hint of sadness. She knew that her actions were leading to a better future, but at the cost of her own existence. Then again, she reflected, I am already dead, ironically because he went crazy and killed me and a bunch of other people. But is being nonexistent so much worse? She wasn't sure if she could answer herself truthfully.
The end of the school day found Danny, Sam, and Tucker chatting at their lockers as they packed up their belongings and got ready to go home. Suddenly, a shadow engulfed the three teens. This shadow belonged to the school football star and resident bully, Dash Baxter, who towered over the trio.
"Hey, Fenton, when's the last time I shoved you into your locker? I'm running a little behind schedule on that. Mind helping me catch up?" Dash cracked his knuckles threateningly.
"Oh, come on, Dash! I'm way too tired to put up with you right now. Can we do this tomorrow?" Danny complained.
"Yeah, dude," Tucker added, "Don't you get bored picking fights with the same person every day?"
"You know what? You're right," Dash agreed mockingly. "So, why not start with you instead, Foley?" Dash started moving toward Tucker. Suddenly, a new voice rang out.
"Hey! We don't have time for this, Dash! We have to get ready for that party at Paulina's house, remember? Get going!" It was Star, much to the surprise of Danny, Sam, and Tucker.
"Oh, man, Paulina's gonna kill me if I'm late to her party!" Dash smacked himself in the forehead before rushing out of the school. However, Star remained where she was with a small smile on her lips.
"Hey," Sam pointed a distrustful finger at Star, "aren't you Paulina's best friend? One of the popular crowd? You're not supposed to help losers like us, so what gives?"
Tucker was less accusing, but just as confused as he spoke, "Yeah, I don't get it. Why'd you save us?"
"Because I need to talk to Danny. Alone, please." Compared to her usual snobby drawl, the pure authority with which Star spoke compelled Sam and Tucker to leave, but not before staring confusedly between Danny and Star, as if they knew something significant was taking place, but also that they were not allowed to be part of it.
When the hallway was deserted, Danny spoke. "What's this about, Star? I mean, thanks for saving us back there, even if it was... unusual... for you to do that. It's just that we don't know each other very well, and popular kids generally either ignore us or bully us. So, I think you'll understand if I'm a little bit confused."
"I've just been thinking..." Star trailed off as she directed her gaze towards the ground.
"Yeah?" Danny raised an eyebrow as he urged her to continue.
Star continued staring downwards. "Well, I just wanted to say one thing. Something that needs to be said."
"And that would be...?" Danny was beginning to get nervous.
After a pause, Star looked him straight in the eyes with unnerving intensity as she said, "Thank you."
These two simple words sent Danny's mind reeling as he recalled the ghost fight earlier today. Is it possible that she could know who I am? His eyes widened as he attempted to compose himself. When he was finally able to speak, he choked out, "Why?"
Star's intense gaze fell away as her features took on a more serene expression. "Because it's something you deserve to hear, and because I get the feeling that it's not often that you do hear it. So thank you. For saving me today. For protecting the town, even when they don't see it from that point of view. Others will see your heroism eventually. They have to. You just have to give it time."
"Th-thank you, but... H-how did-" Danny stuttered.
"How did I figure out about you being Phantom? You know, it's really weird. There were three photographs and a note in my locker. One photo showed human-you, the second showed ghost-you, and the third was you in the middle of changing forms. The note said that Sam, Tucker, and your sister know about you, and it also told me not to tell anyone, so you don't have to worry about me saying anything. No clue how the note and photos got in my locker though."
"Wait, that means someone else knows, too!" Danny started to panic.
"Yeah, but if they told me not to tell anyone, they're not likely to tell anyone themselves, are they?" Star's voice began to take on its usual snarky tone.
"True," Danny conceded tiredly. As the shock left his system, he felt a sudden urge to lean back against the lockers and slide down to the ground slowly.
"Anyway," Star continued, "Paulina really is having a party tonight, and people are going to start wondering where I am if I don't skedaddle. But just remember that not everyone is against you. Some people really are grateful for your protection - or at least Phantom's, as far as most of them know." Looking at her watch, she blurted out, "Oh, I'm late! Gotta run! See you later!" Star then quickly ran out the exit at the end of the hallway.
As Danny stood alone in the hallway, he contemplated his day, staring with unfocused eyes at the door through which Star had left. Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can make people see that I'm the good guy. Maybe they'll realize that I'm trying to help them, not hurt them. But I can't expect them all to just suddenly like me. I'll have to convince them. One person at a time. Just keep going.
"Ah, I see you've returned, and with your task completed, too. Well done," came the voice of Clockwork from the back of his tower.
"You mean overshadowing my younger living self and making her run to the location of Skulker's attack before leaving her body so that she could see Phantom's heroics for herself? And then intangibly phasing those photos and that note into her locker?" The futuristic ghostly version of Star smirked.
"Yes. That." The Master of Time replied dryly with a smirk of his own. "Come here, Star. You should see what your efforts have brought to the world."
The older, ghostly form of Star approached Clockwork, who was watching the time window again. While viewing the screen, the ghostly girl had a bird's-eye view of a scene much different than the future she had left.
Three teenagers, two male and one female, were sitting in a park. The tops of their heads were instantly recognizable. Sam's midnight hair was drawn into her favored half-ponytail on top of her head, Tucker's head was covered by his usual red beret, and Danny's black hair was as messy as ever. They were laughing together at a joke or a story that one of them had just told.
The scene changed, and the trio now appeared to be eighteen years of age. They wore the traditional caps and gowns of high-school graduation, and, at a word from the vice principal, they, along with all the other students, threw their caps into the air and cheered. The trio could be seen in a group hug before the scene changed again.
Danny was at his house, talking to his parents, Maddie and Jack. Danny's sister Jazz - short for Jasmine - stood beside him with a concerned look on her face, as she looked ready to jump in between them. Danny's parents appeared confused at first, but as Danny talked, comprehension seemed to dawn on their faces. Upon finishing his story, Danny changed into Phantom. As tears fell from their eyes, Jack and Maddie moved toward Danny, causing Jazz to rapidly position herself in front of Danny with determination on her face. However, their father, Jack, said something which caused Jazz to relax, and once more, Danny became part of a group hug, this time with his parents and sister. All of them were smiling.
Once more, the scene shifted. Now, an adult Danny Phantom was flying through the air above Amity Park, searching for any ghostly adversaries. Instead of the fiery hair and red eyes of the adult Phantom that Star's future ghost knew, he more closely resembled his youthful appearance, with white messy hair and glowing green eyes. As he flew, people would point and whisper, but instead of being fearful, their faces held respect and even a certain reverence. He waved, grinning confidently as he flew past, and as he cleared the streets of any harmful ghosts, the people cheered.
Back in the Ghost Zone's clock tower, the alternate-future Star murmured quietly, "I'm glad that Amity Park is safe now, and that it's being protected by such a noble person. I wish that the Phantom that I had known had turned out that way."
Clockwork spoke. "The Phantom you knew believed himself to be hated, and as such, eventually saw no reason not to act in such a manner as to deserve that hatred. Time is a very fragile thing. Sometimes, destiny can be changed, and lives can be saved, with just two simple words."
"Two simple words..." Star's alternate-future ghost mused. "So, what happens to me now? Am I going to disappear? Now that Phantom's not evil, he won't kill me or anyone else, which means I should still be alive in my time period, right?"
"Remember that some ghosts have unique abilities, such as my mastery over Time. And you've forgotten the special abilities that you received when you became a ghost. The ones that prevent the Observants from being able to see your actions, which, by the way, is why I displaced you from your timeline in the first place. Yes, there will be a living version of you in Amity Park, but your abilities allow you to exist separately from her, outside of time, if you so wish."
"I..." Star became lost in her thoughts. Surely she wasn't needed now that the timeline had righted itself, and it would be so good to finally rest. But she also found herself fascinated by Time's flow. If she decided to continue her existence, she could spend all eternity learning about the workings of the Timestream. Even now, as she looked more closely at the time window, she realized that there were layers upon layers to the images, each image showing a slightly different set of events than the one under it. Entranced by the newfound beauty of it, she made her choice.
"Yes, I think I'll stay. Like you said, a human version of me will still keep living, right? But if I'm going to be staying here, I'll need something to occupy my time. Maybe a job or something?"
Clockwork gave her a rare smile. "I thought you'd never ask. First things first. Would you very kindly go into that room," he pointed to a nearby door, "and bring me the object that is currently resting on the table inside?"
Star entered said room, coming out again with a battered metal cylinder.
"What is this?" Star asked curiously.
"That," Clockwork replied, "is the final proof that our efforts were not in vain." Clockwork twisted the top of the cylinder until it came off, revealing nothing but pitch black emptiness inside. Clockwork's face took on a look of satisfaction and relief.
"I don't get it," Star complained. "Is it supposed to be empty? How is that proof of anything if there's nothing there?"
"This device is a Fenton Thermos," Clockwork explained. "The very same kind used by Danny Phantom to contain his ghostly enemies. This particular one used to hold a terror even worse than the one you had known. However, we have just ensured that it is impossible for him to come into existence in any way, shape, or form. This one could only exist as long as there was even the slightest possibility of his creation happening in another timeline."
"So, you're saying that it used to hold another evil Phantom?" Star paled at the thought. "And now that there's no chance of him turning evil, that one never existed, just like the one I knew?"
"Precisely," came the simple reply.
"Wow, time is confusing," Star huffed.
"Well, if you're going to work for me, you're going to have to learn how it works, then, aren't you?" Clockwork teased.
"You bet!" Star enthused.
"For now, however, I believe you've earned a break." Clockwork dismissed her warmly, upon which event the ghostly girl left the room. Now alone, the Master of Time stayed behind to watch the time window, as more happy events flickered rapidly across its surface. Clockwork muttered contently to himself.
"Truly, everything is the way it's supposed to be."