Perfect, except not

DISCLAIMER: This was actually written a really long time ago, and forgotten. But then a friend of mine found Danny Phantom on Tumblr and pulled me back in without trying…! (Yeah, you know who you are...) And I realised how much I liked early, evil Vlad. So I decided to put this out here. Ta-dah.

The reason he hadn't believed, the first few times people tried to tell him the truth, was because they were all so happy.

Sitting on the blade of a helicopter in ghost form, high above but still able to see his parents talk in the front yard, Danny sighed and let his chin fall into his palm. Granted, now he could remember reality, he kinda had to believe it, but it still seemed strange.

If it was all fake—some fantasy world Vlad had made up in his mind—then surely someone should have been worse off. Someone should have gotten the short end of the stick. That was what happened when you altered reality – a perfect world for one person made a bad life for someone else. Those were the rules.

But… but, okay, the world wasn't perfect. Danny's parents didn't know what he was, and he wasn't about to tell them, because they were even more anti-ghost here than in real life. The Disasteroid hadn't come, for some reason, so the world didn't like Phantom. Tucker wasn't mayor of Amity; he and Sam had never gotten a chance to be more than friends; he never saw either of them, or Jazz, except for online; but aside from that… aside from all that, everything was fine. Good, even. He still fought ghosts, just not Vlad. His parents were still friends and worked together, just not in love. Vlad was Danny's mentor, showing him how to use his powers and listening when things got too hard. Maddie and Jack had fallen out of love, and divorced just after Danny's accident. The reunion had been a chance for Maddie to see all Vlad's good points, and when Vlad had found out about Danny's powers, he'd offered help, instead of a rivalry, and… and all too soon, he and Maddie were living with Vlad, and… that was that.

Everything was fine, and good. Nothing untoward, nothing dangerous.

But the ghosts knew, somehow. They kept dropping hints, until finally Clockwork showed up and told Danny he had to fix it.

It wasn't right, he said, and this reality couldn't sustain itself. Eventually, something was going to give, and Clockwork couldn't take the risk that the something might be Danny.

"Me?" he asked blankly. "What do I have to do with it? This is Vlad's world."

"He didn't think it through. You're still as powerful here as you are in the real world," he replied. "That doesn't make sense."

Which meant that reality was going to try to fix itself, which was why the ghosts knew. Which was why Danny remembered, now. Which was probably why Vlad was standing in the doorway behind him, watching him with wary eyes.

Clockwork said Vlad had always known. In a backwards, half-aware sort of way. Maybe not the specifics, but enough that he knew it wasn't real – that Maddie was supposed to love Jack, and Danny wasn't supposed to trust Vlad, let alone love him like an uncle. He knew he was the one who had changed things.

"You know, don't you, Daniel?"

He turned his head just enough to look from the corner of his eye, and Vlad smiled wryly. "Ahh… destiny calls."


"Clockwork's great champion," he said, and walked forward until he was standing beneath the rotor blade that was Danny's seat. "Danny Phantom: hero of time and space, as designed by Clockwork."

Danny blinked, then chuckled. Vlad said some really weird stuff sometimes. "Sure, whatever, Vlad."

"Regardless," he said, and looked up at him. "Clockwork has come to see you."

"Yeah. Says I've gotta fix things."

"Of course he did. That old fool always has to delegate everything," he snapped irritably. "The question, Daniel, is whether you will do as instructed."

"Well, I kinda have to, or else –"

"Or else what?" he demanded. "Or else we'll all be happy forever? We'll have everything we want? Your parents hunt ghosts, your sister studies psychology, we both get our obsessions and you never have to fear your mother again!"

Danny rubbed his knuckles into the palm of his other hand, eyes flicking down to his parents. "They were in love, Vlad."

"So?" he shouted. "They're still happy! They still work together on all their ridiculous inventions! They still even see each other, every day!"

"It's not the same."

"Who cares?!" he yelled, and transformed, leaping up into the air to glare at Danny on level. "So you fix things, then what? What do you get? Your parents living together, stupidly in love, still fighting over the typical marital problems, still doing everything they do here, just under the same roof! The only difference is me, Daniel! I will be miserable! Is that what you want?"

"No, I –"

"Then perhaps you want to be alone again?" he asked. "Blundering through your adolescence, discovering powers as they come, with only your little friends to help you? Friends that never truly understood. I do, Daniel! I understand the pain of our existence. That gap between life and death. The obsession, how it fills you with love and hate in equal measure. I understand, Daniel. They don't, and they never will!"

"I don't have an obsession," he muttered, but it was sulky, more denial than argument – Danny really did sort of know he was just as bad as Vlad, just about a different topic.

"Tell me, child, what is it that makes that world so much better than this one? Why would you want to go back?"

"I… don't," he said, then blinked as he heard himself. "I don't want to go back. Not really."

"Then why?"

"Because this world isn't right," he said. "It's not real. You can't force people into lives they aren't meant to lead!"

"Of course I can, look around you!"

"On the surface, sure, but it's falling apart!" he cried, and pushed himself up into the air, squaring his shoulders defiantly. "The ghosts know, I remember, it's all falling apart! Clockwork says I'm a lot more powerful than I should be, here, and that – that's the point! You've put me, the me from the real world, into this role I can't play! It doesn't work!"

"And so I should give up my perfect world just so you can be strong?" he shot back. "So you can live in constant turmoil, always fighting, always hurting?"

Danny opened his mouth to argue, but then stopped and pulled back, confused. It was a good point. Obsession aside, who cared if Danny wasn't as powerful? In the long run, of course. Even in the beginning, he'd been strong enough to beat back Skulker and Ember and the others… usually. He had Vlad to help him when he couldn't. And since Vlad was happy here, he wasn't going after the Fright Knight, or any of the big, nasty guys. The Disasteroid might never come, and even if it did, it wasn't like it had needed Danny to be strong to stop it – just smart enough and convincing enough for the ghosts to follow. So it wasn't like Danny needed to be that powerful, either.

Vlad smirked, pulling back and folding his arms over his chest. "You see, Daniel? This isn't about me, or you. It's about Clockwork. He wants his champion – he's using you, child. Whatever he has planned for you doesn't fit into this arrangement, but he can't change anything himself. He wants you to do it. And he's trying to make it your choice, so you won't resent him for it. Quite the strategy, if I might say so."

"That – that doesn't mean it isn't the right thing to do," he said awkwardly, and drifted over to stare down at his parents. They were lingering, avoiding saying goodbye. His eyes narrowed as he noticed Maddie's hand on Jack's arm. Soft… gentle… not the way two business partners touched. "And besides, Clockwork might be using me, but so are you. You've changed things so I'm loyal to you."

He moved to hover at Danny's shoulder, gazing at him quietly. "And is it so bad?"

"It's not that simple."

Suddenly, below, Maddie broke away from Jack and ran back into the castle. Danny tilted his head, confused, while Jack remained where he was, one arm extended out after her. But he eventually lowered it and turned away, heading back to his car.

Danny blinked, and thought about that.

His parents were—or at least, had been—madly in love – he'd always known that. It was kind of hard not to, given how gross they could be when they were excited. Maddie would kick ghost butt, Jack would claim her to be the hottest thing ever. Jack would create some new, kick-butt invention and Maddie would drape herself all over him like she couldn't get enough. He'd made the mistake of sitting in on their brainstorming sessions once or twice, and realised too late that it was an awful lot like mental foreplay.

Like he said: gross.

But when they weren't dealing with ghosts (as rare as it was), they were much more laid-back and casual. That was when Maddie got frustrated, and Jack got bored. When they dealt with real life, they barely seemed to like each other all that much.

It was their love of ghosts that brought them together as the perfect couple.

So… this world, where their marriage fell apart just as ghosts were proved to be real…

"It doesn't make any sense," he realised softly. And reality was trying to fix itself so it did.

It had two ways to go: either they were still in love, or their love wasn't wrapped up in ghosts. If their love wasn't wrapped up in ghosts, there wasn't a lot of reasons for them to like each other. They might not have even created the Ghost Portal.

Which meant Danny wouldn't be half-ghost.

Well, actually, it meant they might never have gotten married in the first place.

Which meant Danny probably wouldn't exist.

Which meant he couldn't be a part of Vlad's perfect world.

He slowly looked up at Vlad, who was staring down at Jack with wide, furious eyes. They quickly snapped back to Danny, who smiled wryly.

"It's all falling apart, Vlad. You didn't think it through."

"Damn you, Little Badger…" he murmured, and turned on his heel. "I'll find a way to make this work!"

Danny let him go, then turned back to the view. He'd figure out how to fix things, eventually, but right now… right now he was just going to let Vlad go.

He had time to think it all through.

And now back into my lurking hole...