Danielle: Part IV
Two and a half years after the accident
Danny sat completely still, fighting the urge to bang his sneakers against the Op-Center counter he and Sam were sitting on as he watched her digest the news. His stomach felt like it had packed its bags and taken up residence in his throat while he waited to see how she'd respond.
Mostly, she just looked shell-shocked, her eyes wide and her face ashen. Her lips moved as if trying to form words that wouldn't come, and it felt like hours or maybe days before she finally got them out. "Dani's your…? Oh… wow. That's… wow."
Sam blinked. "Why does that seem so much huger than her being a clone?"
He shrugged, swallowing over his rebellious stomach. "Because a clone is like a twin. Like a sister. An equal, not a… responsibility. And it's so… sci-fi. A daughter is so… real. Even if I didn't… even if it's not my fault, she's here and she's my daughter." After a few days of knowing, he was stumbling over the word less. My daughter. "And my responsibility. She… this… it changes everything."
"Yeah, it really does, doesn't it?" Sam nodded in agreement. Then, apparently noticing his anxiety, she switched to shaking her head. "Oh... but not between us, Danny." She took his hand in hers. "Whatever this means for you, I'm with you, one hundred percent."
Danny released a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, surprised by how much he'd needed to hear her say it out loud. Even if she couldn't really help shoulder the responsibilities that were his alone, just knowing she was there—that she would still be there despite all the weirdness that was his life—helped drain off a little of the tension. Not that he really expected anything else, not from her. "I… Thanks, Sam."
Still holding his hand, she looked over to where Dani was sleeping, watching her for a moment. "You said she doesn't know?"
"Not yet. I… haven't figured out how to tell her."
Sam turned to him. "You're not really gonna try and be… you're not gonna try and take care of her yourself, are you? Your parents…"
"They're going to be her guardians, yeah. I mean, this isn't exactly a normal teen dad scenario, is it?" He made a sound at the back of his throat, choking on the irony. "How fair is it that I've never even… and yet… here I am, with a kid. Only, she's not a baby. I'm not even seventeen yet, and she's physically only three years younger than me, which makes the whole thing even more impossible. So, yeah. My parents are stepping in. But even so, it doesn't change what I feel. What I owe her."
"I know." Sam nodded, then frowned as if another thought had just occurred to her. "Wait. If you're actually her…?" She, too, had difficulty getting out the word. "If you're her father, then doesn't that imply there's… a mother?"
He winced. "Pretty much."
"Who…?" She had trouble getting that out, too.
"That's the million-dollar question, isn't it?" Looking down, he watched his red sneakers as they dangled above the floor. "We don't know. It could be anyone. All Vlad needed was a DNA sample. A hair. A used tissue. A drop of saliva. He could've stolen anyone's DNA, and there's no way of narrowing down who it might be. Although… we do know who it's not." He looked up at her, unsure whether he felt more relief or disappointment. "It's not you."
Her eyes widened. "Me? H-how do you know?"
"When you had the ecto-acne. My mom had to run a lot of genetic tests on you guys, and she still has everything on a database. She… checked against anyone's DNA she actually had a record of, just to be sure, and she didn't find any matches."
He watched her process this. "I… I'm not sure how to feel about that."
Offering her a small smile, he nodded in understanding. "I know. Me, neither."
They were silent a moment, watching Dani sleep, then Sam said, "I just don't get it. Why would Vlad do something like this?"
"Why does Vlad do any of the things he does?" He felt like gagging on the bile that just saying Vlad's name produced. "He's a sick, twisted, pathetic, evil, fruit loop."
"Well, yeah, but why like this? I get why he'd want a clone of you, as sick as that is, but why go to the trouble of making a whole new child out of your DNA?"
Danny shrugged. "Because he could and he likes to have that kind of power over other people? That, and he probably wanted to test out the growth formula and stuff on someone else before he tried it with the clones. He's always treated Dani like she's nothing more than a guinea pig for his more 'important'… experiments. And…" He hesitated, not really wanting to think about the possibility, although it had occurred to him more than once, and he knew even without discussing it with his parents that it had occurred to both of them, too. "I think there's a good chance she was more than just a test subject for the clones. I think she may also have been a test run for making a kid for himself with his own DNA… and my mom's."
Sam closed her eyes, shaking her head in disgust. "Knowing him, you're probably right." Then, her eyes flying open, she turned to give him a horrified look. "You don't think he already—?"
"I doubt it. We would've found out about it by now if he had a kid. He'd want to wave it under my dad's nose, for one thing."
She nodded slowly. "So, what now? For Dani, I mean."
He looked at Danielle as she slept. "I don't know. We help her get better, I guess. My mom thinks her human side will recover pretty quickly, and that we should probably train her to fight ghosts with weapons instead of her powers so she can defend herself without making herself sick or weak. With Vlad still out there…"
"Probably a good idea. She seems like a fighter."
"She is. And then… I guess my parents try and figure out how to become her legal guardians. We're gonna stick with the story she told to begin with, that she's some distant cousin. Only now, we'll say she lost her parents. But she has no birth certificate, no social security number, and her mythical dead parents never existed, all of which could create huge custody issues."
"That won't be a problem."
He frowned. "How do you figure?"
"You'd be surprised what money can buy, Danny. Birth records, death records, social security numbers. With enough money, you can create a person from air."
"And you would know this because…?"
She shrugged, evasive. "I've looked into it."
Sighing, she chewed her lip a moment. "Because it occurred to me that if the Guys in White ever find out who you are, it would be a useful thing to know."
He let go of her hand, his eyes widening "You… Are you kidding me?"
"What do you think?" Her face was devoid of any humor, or even her usual snark. "The point is, we can establish Dani's identity. Parents' births and deaths, her birth certificate, social security, even a will naming your parents as guardians. I can take care of it."
He blinked, trying to wrap his head around what she was saying. "You can…? How? That doesn't sound like the kind of thing the profits from FentonWorks could pay for."
She gave him a look. "Do you even have to ask? I have money."
"No, your parents have money, and I doubt they'd just hand it over to you for something like this."
"I have money, Danny." When he kept looking at her, waiting for more, she sighed again. "My grandmother's the one who controlled my trust fund, not my parents. And she turned it over to me when you told her and my parents who you are. Just in case. And she and my granddad were radicals in the fifties and sixties. She knew some people who knew some people…"
He gaped at her. "I… Geez, Sam. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you would freak, kinda like you're doing right now."
"Well, yeah. It's kind of a shock to hear you've been basically planning your own version of the Witness Protection Program without even telling me!"
"It's just a safety net, that's all. But that's a whole different conversation for another time. Right now, you need to focus on her." She nodded towards where Dani was sleeping. "And I want to help. I want to make sure she gets whatever she needs to stay here with you and your parents. Let me do that much, okay?"
"I… I don't know what to say, Sam. I…" He hesitated. "This really does change everything. The whole world looks different now, and I have to do whatever I can for her, but I can't ask you—"
"Oh, Danny." She put a hand on his cheek, stroking it with her thumb. "You don't have to ask."
Danielle did recover fairly quickly—at least her human half. Within a week, she was able to get up and move around and, so long as she didn't use her ghost powers, begin an exercise regime to gradually rebuild her strength.
Danny still couldn't figure out how to tell her the truth about who she was, nor was he quite ready to share everything with Tucker and Valerie, but they were more than willing to pitch in and help train his "cousin." Valerie, a ninth-degree black belt in several different forms of martial arts, took a particular interest in teaching Dani that girls didn't need special powers or weapons to defend themselves. It was more than a little ironic, since Valerie's ecto-powered battle suit and jet sled did give her special powers and weapons. Still, she knew her stuff, even without the suit and sled, and as soon as Dani was well enough to begin a light workout regime, Valerie started coming over daily to teach her some basic stretches and stances in order to gradually build up her strength.
One day after school, Danny, Sam, Valerie, and Danielle were all in the Fentons' backyard, where Valerie was running them all through a somewhat rigorous warm-up. Tucker had begged off to do some mayoral work at City Hall, although Danny strongly suspected it was mostly just an excuse to get out of exercising. Not that he could blame him. Valerie was about as laid back as the average drill sergeant when it came to physical fitness, and even with the little boost in strength Danny's ghost powers granted him while in human form, he had trouble keeping up with her. He worried a little that it was too much for Dani, but his mother had assured him that regular human physical activity wouldn't hurt her, so he clamped down on his over-protectiveness and let Valerie push her. After about half an hour, however, he'd had enough and went to sit on the porch steps to watch the three girls.
It was an impressive sight, the three of them working out together. Valerie's skills, even without her weapons, were extraordinary. Sam was very athletic and fit and, although she wasn't a martial arts expert like Valerie, she kept up fairly well. Dani was a quick study and enthusiastic to learn anything that would allow her to help fight Vlad.
After a few basic drills, Valerie wanted to work with Danielle one-on-one to fine-tune her roundhouse kick, so Sam joined Danny on the steps to watch. She grunted as she landed heavily beside him. "Man, Valerie is good. I could barely keep up. You know, you and me and Tuck should think about joining her dojo. It wouldn't hurt for all of us to know martial arts. You especially."
"Yeah, I know. Valerie's been bugging me about it. Maybe after Vlad is no longer an issue."
She nodded. "Dani's really a natural, too. Wonder where she gets it from? Definitely not you, Mr. I-don't-need-to-be-fit-'cause-I-have-ghost-powers." She nudged him with her elbow.
"Hey, that was, like, two years ago. I work out now." He showed her his arm. "Check out these biceps."
Sam arched an eyebrow at him. "Okay, you're not the skinny runt you once were, I'll give you that. But I'll bet you can't do that without your ghost powers." She nodded towards Valerie, who was demonstrating a perfect roundhouse kick. Sam sighed, suddenly wistful. "I have to admit, I'm a little envious of Val. I thought I was in good shape, but she blows me away."
"She's been doing it a long time." He watched them as Valerie showed Dani how to position herself, where her center of gravity should be, and how to angle her foot. After only a few tries, Dani was able to do a fairly good imitation of Valerie, and the two of them stood side-by-side, kicking out in unison. Danny raised his eyebrows. "Man, you're right. Dani is a natural. She picked that up fast."
They ran through it a few more times until Dani had the move down with almost as much fluid grace as Valerie. When they stopped, Valerie looked over at them on the steps. She arched her eyebrow at Danny, then leaned over and said something to Danielle, and both girls threw their head backs and laughed. Despite the fact that it was obviously at his expense, it warmed his heart to see Danielle laughing and looking so happy. She was getting along great with all his friends, too, but especially Valerie, whom she seemed to admire a lot. Now, laughing together, they almost looked like sisters, except for skin color. But the way Dani's eyes would crinkle in the same way as Valerie's, or how they both had the same sort of guttural belly laugh…
Danny frowned, tilting his head as he watched them.
Sam noticed. "Danny? What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. It's just… do they seem alike to you?"
Sam wrinkled her nose as she followed his gaze. "Alike? I dunno, they—" She stopped short, her eyes widening. "You don't think…?"
He looked at Sam, his mouth suddenly dry. "I don't know. It's… possible. Isn't it?"
"Why not Valerie?" He turned back to watch them as they started heading towards him and Sam, and he lowered his voice. "Vlad sure liked to mess with her. Almost as much as he messed with me."
The two girls reached the steps and Valerie stopped, folding her arms. "What's with you two? You look like you've seen—"
"A ghost?" Danielle finished, and she and Valerie smirked at each other with identical expressions.
Sam, who was always a more accomplished liar than the rest of them, smoothly intercepted. "No. He's just a little jealous. He couldn't do a kick like that in human form if he worked at it for a year."
"I'm telling you, you all should join my dojo and learn some real moves. You'd be a lot better ghost fighters."
"I'd like to join," Danielle said quickly.
Valerie looked at Danny. "Do you think your mom would let her?"
"I… yeah." He swallowed. "Probably. She said anything that didn't use her ghost powers was good."
Frowning, Valerie nudged Danny's foot with her toe. "What is with you, Fenton? You're acting kinda… freaked out."
He glanced at Sam, who did a better job of keeping her expression neutral, before he answered Valerie. "No. I'm just, you know… impressed with how quickly Dani is learning."
"Yeah, she's a real natural, aren't you, kid?" Valerie put her arm around Danielle's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "So, you ready for a new move?"
"You bet I am!"
"Good. Just let me take this shirt off first. It's getting hot out here." Valerie pulled her long-sleeved, white t-shirt over her head, revealing a red tank top underneath. In the process, her headband came off with it. "Hang on," she said, thrusting the shirt and headband at Danny to hold for her. Leaning forward, she shook out her long, curly hair over her head.
Danny looked at the clothing in his hands. Her headband, red to match her tank top, was caught in the collar of the shirt, with a few strands of black hair clinging to it. He looked from Valerie, who was still shaking out her hair, to the headband, picking the latter up between his fingers. Valerie righted herself. "Thank you," she said, taking the headband out of his hands and putting it back over her head to hold her hair away from her face. "Come on, Dani. Let's try a high kick next." She looked at Sam and Danny. "How 'bout you guys? Wanna give it a try?"
Sam and Danny glanced at each other as Danny closed his fist around the strands of hair he'd managed to pluck off the headband before Valerie took it back. "Actually… I have some homework I need to do. You guys keep working, though."
"Yeah. I have some homework, too," Sam added, giving Danny a significant look.
Valerie shrugged. "Suit yourself. But don't come crying to me the next time a ghost kicks your butt because you get winded." Then, she and Dani trotted back out across the yard to continue their workout.