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No Choice At All

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The smell of blood was thick in the air—he was fairly sure that his lip was split enough to need stitches. They were rougher this time, angry because their attempts to bully him and Sam and Tucker during gym had been headed off by Coach Tetslaff. She’d been more on the ball today, if only because it was mandatory participation and the cruel bullying they liked to try and subject them to was harder to pull off without trouble under a teacher’s eye.

It was like the more they were denied the chance, the more vicious and cruel they become, and he was their favorite punching bag.

Gym was over, the locker room had emptied quickly as the bell rang. Sam and Tucker both were already in their next classes, no doubt believing his tardiness due to ghostly activity. Mr. Johnson was surely chalking it up to his habitual tardies and missed classes. None of them would ever know the truth.

“Umph!” Danny’s breath left his lungs in a whoosh as his back collided with the solid wall of the showers. Blood was already dripping down his chin as he turned to the side to try and avoid a blow.

“Thought you could get off with an easy round, didn’t you ya, loser?”

Danny didn’t answer, just huddled in on himself, letting his body be the target for their anger. His sense of self-preservation had never been very strong; he protected Amity Park to save Sam and Tucker, his family. Everyone who couldn’t protect themselves from the ghosts. He did it because it was right. He didn’t do it to save himself; just everyone around him.

A fist took him in the exposed cheek, and Danny’s face met the gleaming white tile in a crunching smash of bone. Blood smeared and Danny tried not to cry out, just to breathe through the sudden pain as rough hands grabbed him and forced him to turn around. His head was jerked back by his hair and Danny’s eyes rolled wildly in his head as another hand grabbed his face, making the split in his lip pull painfully.

 

The smell of blood was thick in the air—he was fairly sure that his lip was split enough to need stitches. They were rougher this time, angry because their attempts to bully him and Sam and Tucker during gym had been headed off by Coach Tetslaff. She’d been more on the ball today, if only because it was mandatory participation and the cruel bullying they liked to try and subject them to was harder to pull off without trouble under a teacher’s eye.

It was like the more they were denied the chance, the more vicious and cruel they become, and he was their favorite punching bag.

Gym was over; the locker room had emptied quickly as the bell rang. Sam and Tucker both were already in their next classes, no doubt believing his tardiness due to ghostly activity. Mr. Johnson was surely chalking it up to his habitual tardies and missed classes. None of them would ever know the truth.

“Umph!” Danny’s breath left his lungs in a whoosh as his back collided with the solid wall of the showers. Blood was already dripping down his chin as he turned to the side to try and avoid a blow.

“Thought you could get off with an easy round, didn’t you ya, loser?”

Danny didn’t answer, just stared back with fury in his eyes. He didn’t dare fight back, no matter how badly he wanted to. It was second nature now—his self-preservation instinct had been given a kick in the ass by his ghost fighting and his attempts to keep everyone else safe. In order to do that he had to stay in one piece long enough to fight.

A fist caught him on the jaw, forcing his head to the side with a cracking of bone. Danny let himself collapse back against the tiled wall without a sound, contenting himself with simply existing there until they had done what they wanted to accomplish and assuaged their egos.

 

“Fucking loser.” One of them spat the words into his face as another drove a knee into his gut. Danny dropped to the floor. Ghost fighting or not, breathing was still a requirement for him, and he had no air left.

A foot caught him in the hip and this time Danny did give voice to the pain as the sneakered foot pushed him to his back. He had blood in his eyes now, and he blinked dazedly trying to clear them. His ears were ringing but he could hear them clearly, Dash in particular.

“I don’t want any part of this. I’m out of here.”

Footsteps echoed and then faded, and then the hands hauled Danny back up to shove his face into the tile again. His face slid across it on a slick of blood, and his arms were wrenched painfully back behind him. He grunted with it, but his head was jammed into the wall making his legs go weak beneath him. Yet there were those helping hands, keeping him upright as his shirt was tugged up painfully.

His voice escaped as he felt knuckles driving into his ribs, maybe cracking them, but Danny didn’t offer to fight back. Fighting back would only be a mistake—it wasn’t like he could handle them like he did the ghosts. No, he would let them have their fun, beat on him a little. It was only pain; he could handle pain. It was only blood; he would heal quickly.

He had a fleeting thought of doing something. What—he didn’t know. But it wouldn’t be terribly hard to get out now. Stop this before they really hurt him.

“Bet your little geek friends would put up a better fight, Fenton.” Cold, hard, hateful words; Danny only let his head hang, knowing that if he fought back, escaped, they’d go after Sam and Tucker.

 

“Fucking loser.” One of them spat the words into his face as another aimed a knee at his gut. It was reflex that saved him a painful blow, Danny’s body twisting to the side, escaping the hands reaching for him so that he crouched against the tile a few feet away.

One of them dove at him, the shoulder that hit him knocking his breath out and making Danny gasp for a moment. A moment was all the time they needed to grab him by the shirt and force him against the wall, one gripping his hair painfully to beat his head twice against the tile. He was dazed as he gasped for breath, but the feeling of blood dropping down the back of his scalp to pool at the neck of his shirt told him more than anything that they meant business this time.

“I don’t want any part of this. I’m out of here.”

Danny’s eyes flickered to the voice, his vision clearing enough for him to see Dash turning, his footsteps echoing and fading as he removed himself from the showers, and then the locker room entirely. Danny chuckled faintly knowing that regardless, Dash wasn’t going to tell on his football buddies. Being quarterback only gave him some protection—not enough to stand on his own against the rest of the team.

“Shut up, Fenton.” Cold and commanding, but Danny didn’t flinch. He’d met far worse face on, and it wouldn’t be any different this time. If they were so intent on giving him a beating, they’d know who he was when it was done. He wouldn’t just sit back and let them.

So he jerked his body forward trying to escape their grasp, to at least try and get distance, maybe flee. He was hauled back violently by his shirt, turned and slammed face first into the tile. He bounced back and found himself hanging from hands again, only this time the spiking pain in his face keeping him immobile. His nose was broken, and his ruined lip was worse now where his teeth had torn it from the inside. He tasted blood and sucked at it, then spat it on the floor aiming for expensive shoes.

It earned him another blow, knuckles burying themselves in his side. Danny’s breath was gone again, making him limp and helpless to stop the second and third blow.

“Maybe when we’re done with you, we’ll see if your little geek friends have as much fight in them.” They were cruel words, and Danny’s head lifted at them.

 

He groaned as they shoved him into a wall, his forehead cracking against it making blood drip into his eyes as he was pressed into it painfully. The unmistakable sound of a belt being undone, and then a zipper filled the silence, loud of their breathing and his faint whimpers. When he felt hands fumbling at his own waist, the habitual belt since freshman year being tugged on as they tried to undo it, he tried to pull away. No matter that he was half ghost and the unsung hero, the sheer thought of what was happening terrified him in ways he couldn’t imagine.

The resistance was desperate, but it only lasted a few seconds before his face was driven straight into the wall. The way his nose smashed into his face made him scream as he fought off that newly encroaching darkness. The tiles were freezing were they pressed into his chest, even through his shirt it was like touching ice. Try as he might, Danny couldn’t stop it as the hands found his belt again, and made short work of it.

“Please…” The plea was a broken whisper as he clung to sanity by a thread. Ectoplasm simmered beneath his skin, and he was trying so hard to keep it in, to hide his ghost, that he couldn’t even yell out for help.

“Shut up, bitch. It’s time someone taught you a lesson.”

A blow to the back of the head silenced him into waves of dizzy nausea; Danny was forced to hang helpless, pressed against the wall. He tried to summon something up other than fear, but it was impossible—there was just so much. Fear at revealing his ghostly nature, fear that someone would find him like this, beaten and bloodied. Fear that someone wouldn’t.

Fear at what he was beginning to understand was about to happen to him.

He choked one more word out, cold and hard and as commanding as he could make it. “Stop.”

It wasn’t enough. The boy behind him drove his face into the tile, this time making it crack beneath his skin. More blood spilled, but the pain was like a thousand knives, stealing his breath away, his rational sense. And his ghost. The simmering beneath his skin lifted; Danny knew that they had hurt him badly enough that he would have to work to phase Phantom now.

The cold comfort of it only lasted until the first thrust. After that the only thing that Danny could do was scream in pain through the fingers clutched over his mouth.

 

“Stay away from them,” he said, the steel in his tone making several expressions flit across the running back’s face in rapid succession. Surprise, annoyance, mocking humor, and, at the last, fear.

Despite having an impossible time catching his breath, Danny was perfectly prepared to tell them to fuck themselves if they thought he’d let them anywhere near his best friends. Hands gripped him like iron bands; Danny imagined he could feel the bones in his arms bending as he tugged himself against their hold. It was imagination only, he knew, because he wasn’t going to break an arm that easily, even if his nose was already a ruined mess. The hands pulled back against him, and his sneaker lost its grip on the still wet tiled floor, sending him back into the wall with a hard thus and a faint cracking of tile.

The split skin beneath his hair split more, he could feel it this time as his head lolled to the side. He was dazed, probably concussed now—the odds were beginning to even into their favor. Danny tried to shake his head, lost in the dizziness.

The sound of a belt being undone and the hurried rustle of denim and a zipper made Danny blink his eyes open to stare up at the white ceiling. He chuckled darkly. “You really don’t want to do that,” he managed as he started righting himself to face his attackers.

An open hand across his face answered him as he was instructed, “Shut up, bitch. It’s time someone taught you a lesson.”

He felt his eyes light up at the blow and closed them. There were choices, and then there were choices . And not for the first time Danny didn’t know what to do. It came down to protecting himself, in both cases. His human half, or his ghost half.

He missed seeing the fists aimed at his stomach and doubled over, breathless and near to unconsciousness as he gasped for air. That was when he felt hands at his waist, frantically working his own belt, feeling for the button and zipper of his jeans. It didn’t even sink in what they were doing before ectoenergy burst into terrified flames along his arms and his shoulders, his eyes bleeding the ghost energy that had saved him so many times before.

There were shocked cries, and then another hand aimed for his face. It wasn’t even a conscious thought that had Danny blocking it with suddenly free arms. The flying tackle that slammed him into the wall and floor, the heavy weight on him struggled to gain the upper hand so that they could violate him. He never even realized it when the pale white tile gleamed with nothing but ghostly flames and echoing screams.

 

His first instinct was to hide. He was the hero; things like this weren’t supposed to happen to the hero. He hurt so badly—Danny was positive that he’d never hurt this bad from anything a ghost had ever done to him. Not ever: not Vlad or Fright Knight or Skulker or even himself had ever hurt him this badly. But it was different then, when he was Danny Phantom. He was strong and brave and he could do anything.

Now he was just Danny Fenton, the ghost safe beneath his skin, safe from exposure, leaving him a thin, spindly fifteen-year-old who was bleeding, bruised and broken.

It hurt simply to move, hurt simply to exist right now. He was still sprawled against a corner of the tile where they’d left him, clothes torn in places, jeans hanging off of one ankle. He bit back a startled cry, turning it into a semi-silent groan as the jeans were pulled up. He started to buckle the belt at his waist but his fingers shuddered away. He ended up ripping it from the loops with a furious cry. It clattered against the wall opposite him as huddled for a moment before giving in and letting himself go invisible and then intangible, not caring that the showers were flashing silver-white as he transformed and let himself lift through the ceiling.

Home. That was all he could think of. Home. A shower, clean the remnants of the—His mind stuttered to a halt before he thought it, turning him resolutely back to nothing but the safety and sanctuary of locking himself in his room and never coming out again.

 

His first instinct was to hide. He was the hero; things like this weren’t supposed to happen to the hero. Never once in his life had Danny ever considered that he, of all people, would be responsible for something like this. He’d considered what would happen if, one day, one of his ghostly opponents were. Maybe Vlad, or Fright Knight, possibly Skulker. But never himself—he’d worked so hard to stop it from happening the once that now it made him sick that it had come back around full circle.

The clean white tiles that had so recently been smeared with his own blood were now cracked from heat, charred black and split like they’d been roasted in a fire for far too long. His would be rapists were little more than burnt flesh and bone, curled fetally onto themselves, lips pulled back from teeth in garish grins. His own clothes were ragged and burnt, but Danny didn’t pay any attention to them as he stumbled back from the nearest body, hand over his mouth as he tried to curb need to retch.

Whatever Danny Fenton was when he went ghost—strong, confident, hero—for now he was nothing more than a thin, spindly fifteen-year-old faced with five corpses of his own making.

Five—Danny’s heart stuttered as he realized that there was one less than he’d thought he’d seen. There had been six attacking him. Not Dash, Dash had fled, saved Danny the anguish of having taken more lives than he already had. His eyes slipped past the bodies, searching for the missing boy, until he found him. Singed, burned on his extremities, but very much alive. He was huddled just outside the showers where the ghostly flames hadn’t reached, arms wrapped around himself, completely oblivious to the burns on them.

He was alive. And, Danny realized, very much aware that Danny was Phantom.

 

He’d refused to return to school for days, using Jazz as a shield from their parents and the world. He hadn’t spoken to Sam or tucker since it happened, hadn’t spoken to anyone barring a two-minute conversation with Jazz that took place through his door. The single time any of them had tried to break in to his room he’d merely hidden, invisible on the ceiling, until they were gone, as puzzled by his whereabouts as by his sudden reticence for human contact. That was when Jazz had started prying, trying to get him to talk to her at all hours, thinking that she knew why he wanted to forget that there was a world outside of his home.

Ghosts, a lost fight. A paltry little battle in the middle of war. That’s what she wanted to believe. Danny let her, more afraid to tell her the truth than to let her think him sudden coward in the face of adversity. How could he tell her? How could he say it? That they’d—he still couldn’t say it to himself much less to his sister—against a cold tiled wall in the boy’s showers at school, a place where he should have been safe.

He was never going back.

Danny thought about it once. Only once, and had been so violently sick at the thought of facing their sick, disgusting smiles, that he’d realized then and there that he would never set foot inside Casper High again. After seeing Sam and Tucker looking so hopefully for him outside of his house every day since he’d disappeared, Danny realized he could never face them again. He was too ashamed.

He imagined he could hear Sam lecturing him. “It’s not your fault Danny, you didn’t ask them to do these things to you.” Except that was the worst part about it. No, he hadn’t asked them. But he’d let them, because he was more than capable of stopping them.

That was when he decided to end it.

 

He’d hidden from the world for days using his ghost powers and his friends as a shield from the world. It had worked to a point, until the GiW had started targeting Sam and Tucker as his accomplices and his presence hurt them more than it helped him. And Danny needed all the help he could get. Even with near proof that the boys from gym had attacked him with the intent of doing him grievous bodily harm and scarring him emotionally for life, they were still dead, and it was still his fault. Oh god, it had hurt to admit that to his friends.

He’d seen Jazz exactly once, just after the news broadcast that revealed him to the world for what he was. An inhuman abomination. He told her what happened, and she hugged him, hard and fierce, and told him she was sorry. She was sorry and he couldn’t come home, because their parents thought he dead, and that all that was left was a ghost, and they were hunting him.

It made him sick to hear it. Made him think that maybe, just maybe, he should have let it happen. Then the fallout would only be on him, no need to drag anyone else into it, no need for his friends to suffer, his family to hate him. All because he’d defended himself. He hadn’t meant it. But he’d been so scared, so fucking scared of what they were trying to do to him.

Anything would be better than the result of his out of control powers. Five boy’s dead, one headed straight for a lengthy stay in a mental institution. The GiW tightening their noose around his neck. Friendly faces were few and far between, and his attempts to stop the ghosts were failing miserably with the GiW showing up whenever he showed his face.

Even worse—they blamed him for the ghosts. It was like his hard work at keeping the town ghost free never mattered.

That was when he decided he had to escape.

 

He died three days later.

It was considered from every possible angle before he decided what path he would take. There were so many different forms to choose from. So many different results to expect. So many that would do nothing more than fail. The traditional methods, he decided, were out. they failed often enough in the first place simply because of poor timing or luck, and Danny had no desire to spend the remainder of whatever his hybrid lifespan might be as a vegetable or an invalid depending on those he’d once protected.

Hanging was the first to be tossed out the window. It depended on asphyxiation, and Danny didn’t exactly have the same oxygen requirements as the average human. It took time for a human to hang, and for Danny he could expect to double or triple the time. Perhaps even more if luck was against him. There would be too many chances that he would be caught out, or that it simply wouldn’t work since his ghostly nature could and had kept him alive when he should have been dead simply based on the innate power he held.

Drowning was nixed for the same reason. That, and he really disliked the idea of his body being lost to the waters of Lake Michigan and his family never knowing for sure that he was dead. Anything less than that particular body of water was inviting interference, so Danny laid that option aside.

Death by natural disaster was out, as was electrocution (he’d already done that several times and survived; the odds weren’t favorable that it would be much more lethal in subsequent attempts.) Fire was considered for less than a second before Danny decided he wasn’t that much of a masochist, and he really didn’t want to suffer through it long enough to die.

He considered flying into the atmosphere and going human fall to his death. That was forbidden territory, he decided after much thought. He’d let what happened happen because he didn’t want anyone to know his secret. Despite killing himself in such spectacular fashion, it would still out his secret. So that too was forgotten.

He actually tried slitting his wrists, and barring the fact that it hurt like seven hells, his healing was just too fast for him to bleed out. Then again, he hadn’t had the guts to cut himself bone deep, or more than a half dozen times. For some reason he didn’t want to die in pain. He wanted it over with in one fell swoop.

He couldn’t settle on any one thing; the method was eluding him as he was walking the outskirts of town when he heard the train’s whistle from a few hundred yards away. The sound of it seemed to speak to him, and that was when Danny decided to step in front of the train.

For years his friends and family would ask what drove him to such desperate lengths—what could have been so horrible? His mother and father were at a loss for the answer, while his sister and best friends struggled to come to terms with the fact that, for once in his life, Danny had run instead of faced whatever demon in his life, that he had taken suicide as a way out of making a choice. They never knew that the choice had already been made.

Because sometimes a choice is really no choice at all.

 

He died three days later.

It was a spectacular way to die, not that anything about dying was spectacular. But everyone most important to him was there to witness it. Closure, of some sort, he morbidly supposed when he knew that the end was inevitable. He was broken and bleeding, the losing end of an aerial dogfight that pitted him against half a dozen agents on Fenton designed jetpacks, another full dozen teamed up on other aerial transports. Never mind how many were still on the ground waiting for him to fall.

It all started with a ghost, and it would end with his. Skulker, his usual nemesis, who’d once been privy to the scientific methods of the Guys in White, had come to terrorize him. Yet again. More to do with Danny’s pelt across his bed than actual terror, but Danny had tried to take the fight away from the safe haven he’d found at school.

He couldn’t have known that habit would lead him to the most watched place in Amity Park. Ironically enough it was the park itself in the center of town, the place where he preferred to take the majority of his fights within Amity itself. There was space, no buildings if one discounted the statuary, and fewer people. More open space to avoid being hit, plenty of line of sight for him and for people in the vicinity. But this time when he got there he was alone as quickly as the other ghost realized the GiW was present.

It wouldn’t have mattered—they only cared to capture or kill the only known halfa in existence.

He was surrounded before he could even think of the best possible escape rate, the GiW having apparently decided that throwing sheer numbers at him would compensate for their usual ineptitude. They were followed closely by the news, eager to report that the Danny Phantom menace was near capture. This was followed by the thing that caused him the worst injury of the battle, the reason why he was staring death in the face now.

His family and friends.

For a mercy his parents were screaming at the GiW to stop, he was still their son, half dead or not. Jazz was screaming at his parents that screaming never got anyone to listen. And Tucker and Sam were screaming at him to look out. He was so shocked that the very human bullets that ripped through the side of his abdomen were a very unwelcome reminder that he was in the middle of a fight for his life.

That was when the end was in sight. He didn’t realize it for more than a quarter of an hour, his blood dripping steadily down his side from the four holes through his body. And now he was floating a treetop level, watching, waiting, knowing that he was about to die. The end most definitely was in sight.

It came in a storm of red, lauded by more screams, one of them his own. Then it was over, the death of the Phantom delivered worldwide within moments of it happening.

For years his friends and family would ask why he was hunted like that—what had he done that was so horrible? When the full records of Danny Phantom’s activity, the research that he and his friends had done on ghosts and the Ghost Zone, were released, it was a rallying cry that turned him into a martyr. The GiW was disbanded, their methods decried by the federal government, and the forces behind it jailed.

But Danny Phantom—Danny Fenton—was still dead.

They always asked if things could have been different. If they had tried harder to find him after he disappeared, if his parents hadn’t rejected him out of hand in the first shock of learning. If anyone had found the words to speak to make the world listen instead of picking up the horde cry of ‘Stop the Phantom!’ They asked whether he had a choice in the events that led to his death. They would never know that the choice had already been made.

Because sometimes a choice is really no choice at all.