A sad song I will sing to you.
A ghostly wail, a quartet.
It will both inspire and sway you,
And only then may I rest.
Danny hid behind one of the multitudes of floating doors in the Ghost Zone, the roar of Skulker’s jet packs fading away into the usual hum of the ghost dimension. The old him would have fought Skulker, would have put him in his place, but he doesn’t care about their rivalry over Amity Park right now.
He doesn't care about much anymore.
Amity Park isn’t his problem. He doesn’t have a home there to protect there … that house is empty now. Home is where his family is, and once he finds them (Mom, Dad, Jazz, Tucker, and Sam), that will be his new home.
They must be in the Ghost Zone. They have to be. They are dead after all.
Tears threaten to gather in the teenager’s eyes as he is reminded once more that this was all his fault. Clockwork had warned him. Clockwork had even given him a chance to save his family, and Danny had failed miserably. The only way to keep Dan Phantom in the future was for Clockwork to throw him back into the present to deal with the consequences … the hard way
‘May the knowledge of the future keep your heart strong, Danny. You must live this life with the knowledge that you have to save it from yourself,’ had echoed Clockwork’s voice as he had been flung back into the present. He had hardly gotten his feet under him when he had heard the explosion across town.
He didn’t even go to the Nasty Burger to find their bodies. He just sat down where he had been standing and wailed. He had cried until there was nothing left. Not one more tear. He had felt hollow and dead inside after that. A bottle of pills sounded like it would be kind to him or perhaps the sharp tip of a razor blade, but then a thought occurred to him.
Death was never really the end. His family and friends had to be ghosts now.
Thus, he had been in the Ghost Zone for nearly two weeks now, looking for them. He had barely slept and hadn’t eaten at all. He’d never pushed his ghost form like this before, and it was starting to show. He was getting slow. He could feel his stomach whining and his throat seemed to always ache with thirst, but he would have to go back to the real world to deal with those things. And he couldn’t go back to that empty house with its empty rooms.
Vlad was probably waiting for him there anyway, given that the man was apparently his godfather, but he just couldn’t deal with that right now. He could wait to sleep, eat and drink until after he found his family. If the Ghost Zone was to be his new home, that was fine, as long as he was with them.
Stalling in his flight, his head feeling dizzy and his limbs lethargic, Danny rubbed his eyes to try and rid himself of the feeling. He’d rest later. He just … he just … had to keep going.
“What are you doing way out here, punk?” came a sudden and painfully familiar voice.
Danny turned with a bark of surprise, his head spinning as he looked up at none other than the warden himself, Walker.
Floating back, instinctively knowing that he didn’t have the strength to take on a powerful foe like Walker right now, Danny’s voice creaked, “What do you want Walker? I haven’t broken any rules.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” groused Walker as he crossed his arms over his chest, looming over the boy like an unwanted shadow. “I heard you left an awful mess in your old territory, boy. Ghosts are fighting over Amity Park and its active ghost portal right now.”
Danny twitched at this and floated a little farther away though Walker immediately made up for that by floating closer, his gaze piercing like he was expecting an answer.
Licking his lips, refusing to meet Walker’s gaze in case the warden took that as a challenge, the halfa stated tiredly, “That’s not my problem. It’s not my home anymore. I didn’t know it was against the rules to leave.”
Walker’s gaze became harsh, his hat titling as he leaned down farther so he could get into the boy’s face, “I can always make it against the rules, Phantom.”
Licking his lips again, his throat way to dry for this conversation, Danny threw a quick look around to see what his escape options were. “Listen, Walker, I don’t want any trouble.”
“You should have thought of that before you ran away,” said the warden as he straightened up, folding his arms behind his back as he floated around the teenager, cutting off his escape route. “Juveniles can be taken into custody until a legal guardian can present themselves.”
Bristling, Danny snapped back, “Then why are the likes of Young Blood allowed to run around without child harnesses?”
Walker raised a brow at that like he wasn’t sure what a child harness was, but that didn’t stop his deep voice from replying, “Because, their ghost cores have stabilized, and they are considered self-sustaining. Yours hasn’t. So, is it going to be a fight or are you going to come quietly?”
Danny’s lip twitched, his hands becoming fists, “I’ll give you one guess.”
Yet, as soon as he turned to flee, Danny came face to face with Bullet. The warden’s second gave him a smirk before bringing down his baton. Danny was so exhausted … he barely felt the sting before the world went dark.
Already heartbroken, Danny welcomed the darkness gladly.
Danny tried not to pout but being treated like a ten-year-old by Walker of all people was just humiliating … but not as humiliating as the ducky blankie that Bullet wrapped him in before leaving the room.
There wasn't much to said room. It had a small table with four chairs, two bunk beds, a couch, and a bookshelf. It was compact and was also obviously decorated for children. The room screamed orphan and ward of the state.
Burrowing deeper into the blanket, Danny sniffled slightly at the thought. He was so tired and worn down. He just wanted to go home.
Despite himself, knowing that he should keep vigilant until he found out what Walker was up to, Danny's eyes started to flutter shut. He could hear his family’s voices in his head.
Seemingly seconds later, though it was probably an hour or so, Danny was ripped from his almost-sleep when a bowl of oatmeal with sliced fruit was placed before him along with a glass of milk. The milk was kind of blue and the strawberries looked purple, but when a spoon was presented to him, he took it from Walker instead of being continually glared at. He didn’t eat it though. He just stared at the food. It looked mostly normal. It wasn’t trying to eat his face or anything like mom’s cooking … He already missed that.
He just wanted to go home … not that he had one anymore.
Poking at his oatmeal, his stomach whining at him to just eat it already, Danny didn’t look up from his bowl as Walker sat down across from him at the table in the room. After a few minutes of him mauling the strawberries, the warden spoke, “Just eat it already, punk. I can hear your stomach from here.”
Abandoning the spoon in his bowl, Danny gave Walker a tired glare, “How are my personal problems any worry of yours, Walker? And why do you have a kids ward anyway? Isn’t this supposed to be a prison?”
Shifting in his seat, Walker took off his hat and placed it on the table before he bothered to speak, “The ghost orphanage kept catching on fire. Someone had to establish order … and child ghosts are more common than you would think.”
At that, Danny twitched and looked back down at his oatmeal. An awkward silence was allowed to reign for a few more seconds before Walker sighed and added grumpily, “As for why I brought you here, you are my problem now because you ran away into the Ghost Zone. Honestly, what did you hope to find here?”
Despite himself, a choking-sob noise filled his throat and Danny immediately took his palms to wipe his tears away. He felt like such an idiot crying in front of Walker, but part of him honestly didn’t care anymore.
Sighing again, the warden’s voice softened as if he now understood, “The reason as to why you left your territory has even reached my ears, Phantom … The dead don’t always come here if that was what you were thinking. Most souls pass on to the realm beyond this one. The Ghost Zone is just a stop for those that aren’t ready to go … A place for those with unfished business. Do you think their lives were so unfulfilling that they would decide to remain here?”
Shaking his head, Danny accepted that a part of him had always known that. Nonetheless, Danny covered his face with his hands as he started to sob, the truth biting into him. He just wanted Walker to throw him into solitary and leave him to rot already. He didn’t want to feel this pain anymore, this drowning weight in his chest. At least when he thought he’d find his family here, he had hope.
Now he just wished he’d been in the explosion with them.
With a grunt, Walker rose to his feet and put his hat back on. He then walked across the room, patting Danny on the shoulder before grumbling, “Eat something, you will feel better. Until then, I’ll see what’s to be done with you kid.”
And with that, Danny was left alone again. He balled up into his stupid ducky blanket and had a good cry. After that, he finally grew hungry enough to eat his food (it actually was great, surprisingly, but that might have been the starvation talking) and then he stared blankly out at the Ghost Zone through the barred window.
He didn’t know who he was anymore. Is this why he became Dan in the future … he had no one else to be?
Looking at his hands, the teenager wondered if he could ask Walker for a favor. The warden had mentioned before that he really did like being the executioner.
When Walker came back the next day with Danny's next meal (purple potatoes and peas), Danny had looked up at him and asked for his favor.
“Walker, if I told you one day I was probably going to turn evil, like destroy the world level, would you end me now if I asked you to?” asked Danny simply, his eyes dry and his face void of any emotion.
Walker had frowned at this and, dare Danny say it, looked disturbed. So, when the ghost stepped before him, the teenager wondered if he would get his wish. Instead, the ghost knelt before the halfa bundled on the couch with his duckie blankie. Calmly, the spirit brought both of his gloved hands forward so that he was cupping the teenager’s jaw and head in his hands, forcing him to meet his gaze.
Danny would have never thought someone like Walker could look sad with that skull-like face of his, but apparently, he could.
The warden’s voice still sounded like gravel, but it was soft. Softer than Danny had ever heard it before, “Kid, I only uphold the rules when they have been broken. I cannot judge something that hasn’t and may never be done. The law doesn’t work that way.”
Despite himself, Danny felt his eyes start to dampen. He didn’t know if it was because he was relieved that Walker hadn’t taken him up on the request or because he was upset about being rejected.
Walker said nothing of the tears and instead, he pulled the duckie blanket further up onto Danny’s shoulders and told him calmly to eat something. He would feel better.
And so, a strange dance started. Bullet or Walker would bring in his next meal and their voices would always be surprisingly comforting and soft despite generally having voices like gravel. Sometimes Bullet would prattle on about something inane and unimportant to cheer him up. Sometimes Walker would brush the hair out of his eyes and ask him to eat. Always, they'd tell him he would feel better.
They would also answer all his questions, even if it was just vague replies. Probably because Danny had started to get quieter and quieter. When he asked who he should be now, they told him he was still Danny Phantom the halfa. He could be who he pleased (as long as he was a rule-abiding citizen that is). When he asked where he should live now, they would tell him he was to stay here for now and they’d find a place for him. When he asked darker things, like if it hurt when they both died, they would tell him to eat or drink something, it would make him feel better.
He didn’t know how soups, meatloaves, or cookies were supposed to make it better (where they were getting real food from was a mystery that Danny had yet to ask, nor why it was usually odd colors). But the longer he was there, enjoying his stupid duckie blanket, the more he could breathe. It didn’t hurt as much today as it did yesterday when he thought of his family.
One day, Bullet prattling on about his little ghost daughter, Danny looked down at his mushroom stew and its odd yellow tinge. He couldn’t help but ask, “Are Walker and you poisoning me?”
Bullet stalled, raising a brow, “Why? You saying it tastes funny? I told Walker not to put tarragon in it, but does he listen to old Bullet? No. He says, ‘that’s how my momma made it’ and then becomes deaf to the world. The way he talks, he was a chef and not a warden in his living life.”
Danny looked down at the strange mushroom soup, stirring it slowly. He had been wondering who was cooking him human food, and now he had his answer. Who knew Walker could cook? That still didn’t answer why all the colors were weird, so he asked.
“Then why are all the colors off?”
Bullet shrugged, “Well, you are a halfa. So, we figured you needed some ectoplasm in your diet. It helps ghost with young cores or spirits that have lost their territories.”
“Territories?” asked Danny skeptically. “I don’t understand why that’s important or what that has to do with discoloring my soup?”
Bullet raised a brow, his one good eye widening. “You’re telling me that you’ve been guarding Amity Park this whole time and you don’t even know why?”
Walker’s Second in Command wiped a hand down his face and sighed. He looked particularly pained about it. So, before he could probably give the ghost version of birds and the bees or something equally awkward, Danny instead asked, “Then, if you are not poisoning it, why have I started to feel … numb?”
“Numb?” asked Bullet. “What do you mean?”
Danny shrugged, admitting, “It doesn’t hurt as much as it did when … they first died.”
Frowning, Bullet scratched the back of his head in thought, “Well, I would presume that’s the human part of you at work. The part that needs to eat and sleep. The living are allowed to change and can live with their emotional pain. They can accept it. Ghosts though, those emotions are why we remain. Those feelings are our unfinished business. That’s probably why their death hit you so hard, kid. You’d feel that pain worse than any human. You’d hold onto it like unfinished business. That’s one reason Walker suggested we get you to eat. The living get to eat, change … and move on.”
Stirring his soup once more, Danny decided he didn’t know how he felt about that. So, instead, he asked, “So … does Walker take requests? I’m dying for a burger.”
Danny had never heard Bullet laugh before until that day.
Curled into his blanket, half-asleep on the couch in the room, Danny heard a familiar voice outside of the door causing him to sit up and listen.
“You’ve been keeping him in a prison cell?! He’s just a child that’s been through a traumatic event,” came an angry voice … a familiar voice. “What is wrong with you, Walker. I know the boy’s stepped on your toes and territory, but really.”
He could practically hear Walker crossing his arms over his chest before said ghost spoke, “It’s not a cell. The door's not even locked. He’s just been left in there to help balance his core. Its normal after a ghost loses his territory to find a small or secluded location to hide out, to stabilize. You do know that, don’t you Plasmius? Or can I mark you off as incompetent and find someone else to take him in? I hear Clockwork’s been asking about the boy. Maybe he needs an apprentice after all this time.”
Danny felt his ghost side seize up, that cold feeling always right below his lungs, when he realized Plasmius was right outside. For a second, he felt like prey without shelter, that Plasmius was a hawk circling above. That feeling was quickly laid to rest though as Vlad spoke again.
“Of course I do. Walker, I wouldn’t have been ripping the living world apart for the past few weeks looking for him if I didn't want the boy. And I certainly wouldn’t have willingly came into your territory if I didn’t want to care for him. He’s all I have left of Maddie,” said Vlad calmly, a slight strain in his voice at the end.
Vlad had been looking for him? Well, that probably explained Skulker.
“Then stop back talking me and listen up. There are a set of rules for you, halfa, and I don’t want to hear about you trying to weasel out of any of them,” grumbled Walker. “His ghost half needs to be cared for as much as his human half. Who knows how badly his ghost core may have degraded if I hadn’t picked him up? He very well might have driven himself mad.”
The lecture continued for a few more minutes, Vlad surprisingly silent on the other side of the wall, except for when he agreed. Danny was sure that the older halfa had to be grinding his teeth giving into Walker’s demands like that, but at the same time, he couldn’t get over the fact that Vlad was putting up with it … for him.
“Now, just to warn you. The kid keeps talking about turning evil in the future or some other such nonsense. Also, he's had some self-destructive back talk. You best watch him at first. Give him a small, comfortable and dark area for his ghost half to settle in, but leave the door unlocked. When his core’s stabilized some, he’ll come out on his own,” finished Walker before he growled one more thing, the threat in his voice almost heart warming. “And If I hear you aren’t following those rules, that you aren't raising that punk right, I’ll come back and take him from you Plasmius. That kid wandered into my territory and is a ward of my care. Do you understand?”
Danny could practically hear Vlad rolling his eyes before he grumbled, “I understand Walker. May I now see Daniel?”
Walker grunted as if agreeing and then the door opened, Plasmius floating into the room behind the warden.
The teenager still wasn’t sure how he felt about the older halfa looking for him, but when the man sat on the couch beside him and pulled him into a tight hug, that was all it took for Danny's eyes to moisten and his breathing to hitch.
“Oh, little badger, I was so worried about you,” said Plasmius into Danny’s hair, the boy still grasped in a tight hug. “I had the authorities in the living world looking everywhere for you. I even had Skulker skulking around. Why did you come to the Ghost Zone, Daniel? You know I would have helped you … after what happened.”
Eyes stinging now, his hands slowly returning the hug he was pulled into, Danny buried his face into Plasmius’ shoulder, a small sniffle escaping him as he admitted, “I was trying to find my way home. Where ever my family is … is where my home is, even if it had to be the Ghost Zone.”
He could feel Vlad sagging slightly at the admittance, the man murmuring, “It … doesn’t always work that way, Daniel, but I’m here now. And I will take you home with me. I’ll help you get through this. I will take care of you and I’ll be your family now, little badger. That is if you’ll have me? I hear Clockwork is looking for an apprentice.”
Beside himself, Danny laugh-sobbed into the older halfa’s shoulder. Someone wanted him. Vlad wanted him and wanted to call him family ... and that was what he needed most right now. He was sure there would be bumps along the way, but he at least knew he had a place where someone still cared about him. He had somewhere that he could call home.
He had no reason to be scared for Dan anymore.
His voice breaking, Danny could only ask one thing, “Please take me home. I don’t care where it is. Home is where your family is.”