Danielle: Part IX
December 22, 6:00 pm EST
By the time their cab pulled up to the Terminal C Departing Flights curb at Reagan National Airport, it had already been one of the longest days of Danielle's life. Valerie had stuck to her like Jack to a new ectoplasmic weapon the whole day, even insisting on coming with her in the cab. It was all Dani could do to keep on an even keel and let neither her anticipation over Danny's impending release nor her fear over what lay ahead for her leak out and give anything away. Fortunately, when she did get overemotional, Valerie just interpreted it as excitement and nervousness about going home again. It gave her a new appreciation for Danny, however, and what he'd gone through the night of his arrest. She had no idea how he'd managed to get through that night, going to each one of his family and friends to say good-bye, with all of them knowing exactly what awaited him. She was barely able to say good-bye just to Valerie, who had no idea they wouldn't see each other again for quite possibly a very long time.
Or never. But she pushed that thought away.
While the cab driver got Danielle's luggage out of the trunk, Valerie played mother hen. "Are you sure you don't want me to come in—?"
"Ugh, Val, no. I'm not ten, and I don't need a chaperone. Go home! Or go out patrolling for ghosts or something. You can't go past security anyway." Not that I'll be going past security…
"Okay, okay, I get it. I'm just… I'm so glad you're finally going to see your family again. Don't wait for me and Tucker, okay? Go see the Fentons first thing tomorrow morning. They really miss you. Maddie and Jack—"
Dani swallowed, trying not to lose it as she nodded numbly. "I know, Valerie."
"And Sam. You'll see Sam? She misses you, too, Dani. You know that, right?"
"Yeah. And… I get what she did and why she did it. I do."
"Then tell her, okay? These last five months have been so hard on her."
Dani was going to start crying again, she knew it. "I know. I want… I'll make it up to her, Val. And Jack and Maddie and Jazz and everyone. I promise." Then, she couldn't keep the emotions in check any longer, and she threw herself at Valerie, wrapping her arms around her in a tight embrace. "I love you so much, Valerie. Thank you for everything," she choked out before the tears started flowing, making it difficult to say anything more.
"Hey, it's just a plane ticket."
"Not the plane ticket. For… everything the past few months. You didn't have to put up with me and my moping."
Valerie pulled back to look at her, her hands on Dani's shoulders. "I don't 'put up with' you, Dani. You know better than that. You just have a good reunion with everyone, and Tuck and I will see you… hopefully tomorrow night. Christmas Eve for sure, okay?"
Dani bit the inside of her cheek as she nodded. "Yeah. Christmas Eve."
When Valerie got back into the cab and it pulled away, Dani took her luggage inside the terminal, but instead of going to the ticket counter, she found a café where she could get something light to eat. She wasn't hungry, but who knew what kind of horrible glop she'd be eating from now on? Trying not to think about it, she instead got herself a sandwich and a salad, then sat down at a semi-quiet table in the back corner of the little café and took out her tablet. She had one more thing she needed to do before meeting Miguel at his office at ten o'clock.
She had to say good-bye to everyone.
It felt like a cop-out, writing letters instead of doing it in person, like Danny had, but there was no other way. It wasn't ideal, but at least they would know that she loved them, and why she had stayed away so long.
Jazz was the easiest, so she started with her. The "big sister" who had taken Dani under her wing without question when she'd come to live with the Fentons, Jazz had helped guide her towards turning her curiosity about her own illness and strange physiology into a future career in medicine with a strong background in parabiology. It was hard, cutting her studies short only a year into med school, but she hoped that it wouldn't be too late for her to get back into it if… no. When she was eventually released.
Next, she wrote to Jack and Maddie. Although her biological grandparents, they were true parents in every way that mattered. She remembered when Danny had first rescued her from Vlad and his ectoranium "experiments," how he'd exploded when she'd called Vlad her "dad." She hadn't known then that he was her biological father, and Danny himself had just found out mere hours before. But when he'd wanted to show her what a real father was, Jack was the one to whom he'd pointed. And Jack had definitely been that to her—a real father, who had loved her and embarrassed her and everything real fathers did—for the last nine years. Maddie, too, had been a real mother to her, and it was so hard to say everything she needed to say to them in one stupid letter. There was so much to explain, so much hurt she knew she'd caused when she'd shut them out of her life for five months, first out of guilt at her responsibility for them losing their only son, and then out of fear that they would somehow find out and stop her from getting him back. A letter wasn't sufficient for her to express everything they meant to her, and she struggled for the better part of an hour trying to get it just right.
When she finally finished, she wasn't sure whether to do Valerie's or Sam's letter next. Both would be extremely difficult to write, but for very different reasons. She settled on Valerie's letter first, which ended up being three pages, single-spaced, as she explained everything she'd done and why she'd done it, hoping that the woman who was both her biological mother and one of her most cherished friends would understand and forgive her for keeping her in the dark for so long.
Sam's was shorter, but no less difficult to write. It wasn't so much an explanation as an apology for what she'd said the night of Danny's arrest, and how she'd shut Sam out since then. She understood now why Sam had done what she'd done, and how it was better this way, the legal way. The explanation would come in the form of the legal documents Miguel would be sending her.
It was a little past eight o'clock—her flight to Chicago had just left without her—when she'd finished Sam's letter. That meant it was seven o'clock in Amity Park, and Sam would have long since returned from her doctor's appointment and was probably working on Danny's case or eating dinner. It was almost overwhelming, the urge to know how that appointment had gone and how the baby was doing, but it was too late now for Dani to reach across the chasm she herself had created. She had to stay focused on what lay ahead. With a little more than an hour before she'd have to head off to Miguel's office, she had just enough time for the one letter that remained for her to write.
As hard as the others had been, this one was hardest of all. Danny, the person who was quite literally the reason she existed. The person who'd saved her from Vlad no less than three times, even after she'd helped kidnap him to try to steal yet more of his DNA. After all that, despite the fact that she was a living reminder of the way he'd been violated by his worst enemy, he'd accepted her as a part of him and loved her more than she could ever have imagined anyone could, at least not back then, when Vlad was her only model for what a family was. Everything Danny took on himself, willingly, from the Guys in White and other ghost haters, he did for her. To make the world better for her.
And now, he was going to be a real father. He was going to have a son who would need him just as much as she had. More. For him, for the little brother she might never meet, she had to do whatever she could to get Danny back home, safe.
It took her five or six tries and most of the remaining hour before she finally had a letter that was remotely close to what she wanted to say. It wasn't enough. No letter could be. But there was only time for one more read-through before she had to leave the airport to meet Miguel, so it would have to do. She would print off all of the letters at his office before their appointment with the Guys in White.
Cursoring back to the top of the page, she began reading one last time.
There are so many things I want to say to you, things that I could never get down into one letter. Things I could never even get out in words, even if I had the chance. But I'm going to try, because I owe you that much.
I know you're going to be angry at what I've done after all you went through to protect me. But you have bigger concerns now. You'll have a son soon—a newborn baby who is going to need you. And the world needs, you Danny. Not just as an icon who was willing to give himself up for the greater good, but as someone who is here, every day, to help people who need the kind of help only you can give. We both know that if it had been me instead of you there that night when that boy got stuck on the train tracks, he would have died. Not because I wouldn't have wanted to save him, but because I couldn't. I couldn't have gotten to him before the train did, and even if I could have, it's likely I wouldn't have been able to maintain intangibility long enough to get him safely away. That boy is alive today only because of your unique gifts, and because of your sense of obligation to use them to help others whenever you can, even if it's to your own detriment.
And that, Danny, is the lesson I've learned from you. Doing the right thing isn't just about protecting the people you love. It's about protecting people everywhere. It's about giving everyone a chance for a better life, or for life at all. The night you were arrested, you were right to do what you did. You and Sam both. And I was wrong. I wanted so much to save you because of how important you are to me, but I didn't stop to count the cost to others. To the world. To the unborn son you didn't even know existed. To run away like I wanted to do then would have caused irreparable damage to everything you and Sam and Tucker and our family have been fighting for for nearly a decade. I was so angry at Sam, angry at you for letting them take you, but I understand now that it was the right thing, the only thing to do.
So now it's your turn to understand. By the time you read this, I will have done what I needed to do—the right thing, the only thing I can do. The world needs you. Your family needs you. Your son needs you. If I can get you back the right way, the legal way, the way you would do it, then isn't it exactly what I have to do? You taught me that much.
Please don't blame my lawyer, Miguel, for the part he's played in this. He is a wonderful, dedicated man who is no happier about what is going to happen to me than you or Valerie or any of our family will be. He will work hard with Sam and her lawyers to fight to bring me home, so I'm asking you to let him do that. He only agreed to help me because he understands, like I do (and like you do, too, if you're honest with yourself) that there is something more important here than one person, no matter how much you love that one person. There's a world that needs changing… that needs saving. You've already done both, changed and saved the world, and I know you will continue to do both. This, then, is my role to play. The one thing, for which I am uniquely qualified, that I can do to change things for the better. Not just for the people we love, but for everyone who doesn't want to live in a world where being different can be a death sentence.
Tucker told me what you said to him the night you were arrested: "This is the fight that's in front of us, and this is my part in it." Well, this is still the fight that's in front of us, and this is my part in it. I'm asking you to support me now, just like you asked us to support you then.
But more than anything, Danny, I want you to go on living your life on your own terms. I want you to be the father your son needs and the hero the world needs. And keep fighting—the right way—so that one day they'll have to release me, too, and we can be together again.
Until then, know that I love you, and I am so thankful to have you in my life.
December 23, 4:15 am EST
Dani was dozing across three hard, plastic chairs pushed against the wall of the stark interrogation room when the door banged open, startling her awake. She jolted upright and jumped to her feet as O. and K. came into the room. A glance at the clock showed her that it was quarter after four, which meant she and Miguel had been waiting more than five hours, but she didn't care. Her stomach did a little flip as she realized… This is it.
O. strode to the table at the center of the room while K. went to the wall and held his hand to a metal plate there. A panel in the wall opened up, revealing a screen. K. punched a few buttons on the control board beside it, then joined O. at the table.
Dani and Miguel sat down with them as well, Dani perched at the end of her seat. O. motioned at the screen as a dark green-and-black image of what looked like the front of Danny and Sam's house appeared. "We've just received confirmation that Daniel Fenton has been released at his home in Amity Park. This was night vision video taken just eight minutes ago, at 3:07 am local time."
Dani gripped the edge of her seat until her knuckles turned white, and Miguel reached over and put a comforting hand on her arm. On the screen, she could see a white van pull up in front of the house. The door opened, and two men in white suits escorted a third man in dark clothes to the door. Dani had to lean even closer and squint, but she still couldn't make out any details. "Is that…?"
"Increase resolution," O. instructed K. The latter punched a few more buttons on the control board, and the image zoomed in and lightened.
Dani gasped. It was him. No doubt about it. He looked a little haggard, and she didn't recognize the coat or clothes he was wearing, but even in the weird green night vision image, she could tell by his eyes that it was him. His hands were bound behind his back by what looked like regular handcuffs. Odd that they'd use that instead of some sort of anti-ghost restraints, but she guessed that they might have put one of those Spectral Energy Neutralizer bands on him to dampen his powers.
One of his escorts fiddled with the handcuffs, and then he was free of them. Then they gave him a small shove toward the door before returning to the van, leaving Danny alone on the porch. He stood there a moment, as if trying to get his bearings before the video ended.
Dani blinked, looking from the screen to O. and K. "That's it? You just dumped him on his porch in the middle of the night and left him there? His wife did know he was being released tonight, right?"
K. smirked at her. "I don't believe the agreement you signed said anything about how the prisoner was to be released or whether anyone should be notified ahead of time."
She gaped at them. "You have got to be kidding me! You didn't even notify his wife?"
"We kept our part of the deal," O. said, a smug look on his face. "Now it's your turn. Tell us where we can find the child."
Dani glanced at Miguel, who gave her the barest of nods. Then, narrowing her eyes and shifting her jaw, she leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms. "There is no child."
The effect was like she'd set Skulker loose into the room. Both men jerked forward, their haughty expressions evaporating into alarm. "What?"
Now it was Dani's turn to smirk. "Did you morons really believe for one second that I would turn over an eleven-year-old child to you? How heartless do you think I am?"
O. slapped the communicator on his left wrist and brought it up to his mouth. "Situation alpha-seven-six-slash-omega! Operation White Flag is abort! I repeat; Operation White Flag is abort! Prisoner one-one-three-eight is to be taken back into custody—"
"Gentlemen!" Miguel silenced them with his commanding voice and an upraised hand. "I believe you misunderstood my client. She fully intends to fulfill her part of the bargain, so I suggest you call off the hounds if you want to know where to find Mr. Fenton's daughter."
The two agents glared at him, and even behind their matching dark glasses, Dani could see their confusion. It was hard not to laugh. K. motioned towards Dani. "She just said there was no daughter—"
"You really don't listen, do you?" She shook her head. "I said there was no child. I didn't say there was no daughter."
The Guys in White traded glances, then O. said into his communicator, "Operation White Flag is on hold. Do not apprehend the prisoner, but wait for further instructions." Slapping off the communicator, he scowled at Dani. "No more games, Ms. Fenton. At any point we can take Mr. Fenton back into custody if you fail to meet the terms of our agreement. Are you going to turn over the location of Mr. Fenton's daughter, or aren't you?"
"Of course I am, but first, I have to tell you a little story. About Vlad Masters."
K. shook his head. "We're not interested in Vlad Masters. Story time is over. Give us the girl, or your cousin is coming back into custody."
"You'll have her soon enough. She's closer than you think, in fact. But you'll never find her unless you know exactly what it is you're looking for. To do that, you have to understand a little bit more about exactly what kind of sick and twisted creep Vlad Masters really was."
O. frowned. "What do you mean?"
She looked from one to the other. "Vlad Masters wasn't just interested in Danny Fenton because of his powers. He was obsessed with him. Not only were they both ghost hybrids with similar origins, but Danny was Maddie Fenton's son, and Vlad had been obsessed with her for twenty years. It wasn't enough for him to defeat Danny, or to use his DNA for experiments he wasn't willing to conduct on himself. He wanted to possess him as the son he would never have, not with Maddie or anyone else. Not surprisingly, Danny wasn't exactly on board with this plan, and when Vlad began to realize he would never convince Danny to join him, he decided he would create his own perfect half-ghost son by cloning him."
K. raised an eyebrow. "Vlad Masters cloned Daniel Fenton? I thought you said he used his DNA in combination with someone else's to create a genetic offspring, not a clone."
"He did both, actually. But if you know anything about how cloning works, you'll understand that it's not quite like what you see in sci-fi movies or TV shows, where the clone pops out a fully-grown duplicate of the original. Cloning merely replicates the DNA of the host, which then must be grown from embryo stage through adulthood just like any other human being. Of course, Vlad wasn't interested in having a baby that would take fifteen years to grow into the teenager he already wanted as his son. He wanted a fifteen-year-old like Danny was, and he wanted it right away. That meant accelerated growth.
"The problem with accelerated growth, however, is that it is extremely unstable. Very few clones can survive maturing fifteen years within just a few months, and the few clones that did survive were mutated beyond recognition—very unstable. One blast of a ghost ray, or too much use of their own ghost powers, and they melted into ectoplasmic goo. Vlad knew even before he started that this would be a problem. That might be why he decided that, in addition to the clones, he would biogenetically engineer an offspring out of Danny's DNA. Or maybe he wanted to test the process in the hopes that he could someday create a child combining his own DNA with Maddie Fenton's. I don't really know why he did it. But what I do know is that the girl was little more than a half-human/half-ghost lab rat to him. He used her to test out the dangerous growth acceleration, maturing her twelve years in the space of several months."
"Twelve years?" O.'s eyebrows went up behind his dark glasses. "Are you saying…?"
"The girl you're looking for isn't an eleven-year-old child. She's a twenty-three year old adult. When Danny and his parents discovered her true identity, it was two years later, and she wasn't a baby, but a fourteen-year-old teenager. Jack and Maddie Fenton arranged for suitable foster parents for her—themselves. They created a false identity, claiming she was a distant cousin of Jack's who had lost her parents in an accident, and they took her into their home, raising her like their own daughter from the time she was fourteen."
She could see in their faces the moment the pieces came together for them. O.'s jaw dropped open, and K. jumped to his feet, pointing a black-gloved finger at her. "You! You're Danny Fenton's daughter?"
"You're a ghost?" O. added.
Dani grinned. "Surprise." And then she disappeared.