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One Step at a Time

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Darkness.

It was all he could see.

He couldn't remember how long he had been trapped in this prison.  

Time had no meaning to him anymore.

It felt like forever.

Forever he had been sitting in limbo.

There was no up, nor down.

There was no light, nor dark.

There was no time, nor space.

There was only him and his slow, muddled thoughts.

Suddenly, his solitude was interrupted when the walls of his prison warped, light and air assaulting his senses.  He could barely take the too bright light.  His lungs screamed in protest as they were filled with air for the first time in who knows how long.  He could feel the cold floor underneath his white gloves as he gasped, convulsing.  

He couldn't take it.  

His battered black suit faded to a pair of tattered blue jeans and a white and red t-shirt under the white rings of energy covering him.  His dead green eyes giving way to a dull blue, followed by the white bangs in his face darkening to a pitch black.  The young halfa managed to gasp again before blackness filled his vision, and his mind sank into sweet oblivion.  

Above the prone teenager, Flash, along with the other senior members of the Justice League, stared at what the speedster had done.  When the superhero felt The Batglare™, he glanced up at the Dark Knight.  

"Oops?"

His shrug and apology seemed to stir the other shell-shocked Leaguers.  

"What was that?" Superman asked.  No one could answer.  

Flash handed back the white and green thermos to the Bat.  "I guess that's what it does."

Batman took the device, inspecting it as Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter checked on the teenager.  With a nod from Batman, the two took the boy to the infirmary, Manhunter giving a promise to keep them updated on the boy's condition as they left.  

With the boy gone, the attention in the room shifted to the cylindrical device in Batman's hands.  Green Arrow raised an eyebrow.  "So, what does it do, exactly?  Spit out teenagers?  It's not going to start raining boys and girls, is it?" The archer asked, eyeing the thing warily.  

Superman gasped as only a superhero in a cape can.  "The energy is gone!"

His outburst earned him a few stares.  

"I mean," he elaborated, "the high concentration of energy is gone.  There may be a little residue, or that could just be the device's energy, but the massive energy that Batman was talking about is gone." His eyes met the Bat's.  "It must have been the boy."

After a millisecond of hesitation, Batman turned on his heel, his cape swishing behind him, to head to the Medbay, where he knew the strange child had been taken.

He glanced down at the device in his hands.  If he didn't know better, he might think it was a fancy, futuristic thermos.  

'There's no way it's a thermos.'

The device, labeled Unknown P, was found in the Watchtower itself, after Savage and his allies had been kicked out, and the League had the time to perform damage control.  It was heavily locked up, several security measures put in place so that no one could get to it, complete with electric currents and kryptonite to deter the more gifted Leaguers.  

Guess they weren't expecting Batman.  

He had cracked the protection after several days of hard work, and he finally got to see what was hidden in the most protected safe on the plane- . . . well, it was in orbit, but you get the idea.  To his surprise, it appeared to just be a high-tech food container.  

But, of course, Batman wouldn't be Batman if he didn't run tests before making decisions.  His stomach dropped a bit, however, when he discovered that the device, whatever it was, was leaking powerful energy.  Upon closer inspection, it seemed that the device was a container of some kind, and the energy it contained was escaping, leaking through minuscule cracks in the walls of the device.  

The real kicker came when the energy matched that 0.01% of unknown that he didn't tell anyone was in the chips Savage used.  Evidently, Savage had used a tiny portion of that energy to power his mind control chips.  

Batman left that part out of debriefing.  

When test after test came back with more questions than answers, Batman had finally been forced to come clean to the senior members of the League.  He explained the anomaly to the best of his ability, and asked for help.  

Yes, the Batman asked for help.  

Flash was nearly crying in joy, and Batman repressed a groan when he realized that Flash was going to lord it over him that he managed to figure out how to open the darn thing.  

" . . . Stupid speedster . . . " he grumbled as he walked.  He made it to Medbay exactly three seconds before the speedster in question zipped up next to him, Superman following close behind.

"So, whatdoyouthinkthiskidis?  Hecan'tbehuman.  Youthinkingmetahumanoralien?  Mybetisalien.  Thattechwastooweird.  Althoughthewierdtechcouldbewhatmadehimameta.  Iguesshecouldbeeither."

His speech took about two seconds total.  Batman took a moment to translate the fast speech into English before opening the door with a solemn, "Let's find out.”

 


 

Beep.

'What was that?'

The halfa took stock of his surroundings.  He couldn't feel restraints on his wrists, and he didn't hear the telltale hum of a ghost shield nearby.  That was promising.

Beep.

'What is that awful noise?'

"His heart rate is way too slow.  Whatever that thing did to him, he's barely alive.  His breathing is deep enough, but too slow to survive on for long.  Help me put in a breathing tube."

Danny's eyes snapped open at that.  No way was anyone sticking a tube down his throat, thank you.  He quickly had to shut his eyes against the bright lights of the room, his eyes not being used to light after his time in the dark.

" . . . Nnhg . . . " he groaned, hoping against hope that that would be enough to deter them.  He hadn't used his voice since that incident, and even that little amount of strain on his vocal cords was painful.

'No voice.  Great.'

Beep .

"He's waking up!"

Danny managed to peel his eyes open to see the face that went with the disembodied voice he was hearing, squinting against the light as he did so.

"Can you hear me, kid?" The red blur asked.  When Danny tried to clear his vision by blinking, nothing happened.

'No sight.  Fantastic.'

He tried nodding in response to the question, but the small act made stars dance in his eyes, and pain erupt in his skull.  He couldn't have stopped the whimper escaping his lips if he tried.

He knows because he tried.

"He can hear and understand us, but I do not believe he can see us properly." A slower, deeper voice said.

Danny tried opening his eyes again, and this time, a greenish blob had joined the red one.  He guessed the green one was the deeper voice.  He tried moving, hoping that it wouldn't be as problematic as his other attempts at functioning, but his muscles screamed in protest.  Another pained whimper escaped his lips as his eyes shut against the pain.   

The red and green blur looked at each other before moving to get the breathing tube and pain medication.  The poor boy clearly needed it.

When the higher, faster voice started explaining to the boy what they were going to do with the breathing tube, the mysterious child clamped his mouth shut, giving an imperceptible shake of his head.  Luckily for him, Batman was still in the room.  Imperceptible was a moot point where the Bat was concerned.

"Don't."

The red and green people looked to the black blob, and Danny felt equal parts relieved and terrified.  Whoever the black blob was, he seemed to understand what Danny needed, but he still wasn't sure what the red and green blobs were going to do to him.

"Why should they not aid his breathing?" A distinctly female voice asked.  Danny cringed at the volume.  Batman noticed.

"Keep it down, Diana.  I think the boy's normal breathing is this slow, same with his heart rate.  Am I right?"

The boy once again managed a nod, albeit a painful, grimacing one.

"Stop nodding if it hurts.  Blink twice for no and three times for yes." The black blob ordered, taking a step closer.  The boy blinked thrice.

"Why three times for yes?  Why not one?" The red blur asked.

"Because he would try not to blink so he didn't send the wrong message, and he would end up doing even more damage to his eyes." Came the cold reply.  Danny cracked a small smile at the quiet, "oh" that followed the retort.

Batman paused, considering.  "Would you like us to let you heal on your own?"

Three blinks.

"Would you like us to empty the room, or leave someone with you?"

Two blinks followed by three.

"I'll stay with you then.  Maybe you could answer some of my questions about this thing." Batman stated, holding up the round device he still had in his hands.

Danny's eyes went wide.  He couldn't see the green and white blur with anything resembling clarity, but he would recognize it anywhere.

The Fenton Thermos.

Batman and Manhunter both noted his distress at the object, so the black vigilante tucked it back in his cape, while the Martian stepped between the two to shield Danny's view.  He appreciated the gesture, but they interpreted his tensing incorrectly.  With difficulty, he managed to push his hand out, palm up, hoping they would hand it over.  Batman reluctantly handed over the device, eyebrow clearly raised through the cowl.

Under the watchful eye of the founding members of the Justice League, he took the device, dragging it up to eye level, inspecting it with his hands to make up for his lack of eyesight.  With a hoarse grunt of effort, the halfa pressed the release, a switch that converted the soup container into a belt.  Everyone in the room was tensed, waiting and watching.

The boy seemed better able to move at this point, and he managed to wrap the belt around himself.  The task was made easier when the colorful female blur helped him up.  Once the belt clicked around him, it hummed, signaling that it was doing something.  The superheroes gathered around got in battle positions, remembering that this boy was somehow connected to Savage.  They felt a little ridiculous when the boy merely sighed, relieved and laid back down.  The tense atmosphere in the room slowly dissipated.

"What's it doing?" The red one asked.

Danny sat up with the help of the woman again.  He could see now that she had long black hair and a very skimpy outfit.  He turned to the machine that had kept up a slow, steady beep during his short stay in this room, gesturing to it as the heart monitor showed his heart beat strengthening and increasing in pace ever so slightly.

"It's helping you heal?" Red asked.  Danny blinked three times.   "Why can't you speak?  Are you mute?" Danny blinked twice.  "Did you take a vow of silence?" Danny blinked twice.  "Is it that you just don't want to talk to us?" Danny gave two more irritated blinks.

This whole guessing game was getting old.

Batman handed Danny a pad of paper and a pen.

There was an incident, and I won't be able to speak again until I heal.

Red puzzled over the paper for a minute before turning to the boy.  "How do you know it will heal?  Has this incident happened before?"

Danny was healing much faster now that he had the thermos back, but when his head snapped up in alarm at the implications of it happening before, his neck cried in protest at the movement.  He grimaced, rubbing the back of his neck before shrugging in a "no clue, bro" manner.  He grabbed the pen and paper again.

Call it a hunch.

He could see well enough now to tell that Red had raised an eyebrow.  "A hunch?  You're as bad as Bats!"

Danny was so confused, and apparently it showed.

"He's talking about Batman." A new voice said.  This one was deeper than Red, but not as deep as Green.  He needed to get their names, he couldn't just call them colors.

But the new voice was definitely going to be blue.

'Okay, I've got Red, Black, Green, Rainbow Woman, and now Blue.  What's with the outfits?  Were they on their way to an anime convention?'

On the paper, he wrote:

Who's Batman?

Dead silence reigned.

The atmosphere in the room was supercharged.  It started getting a little bit uncomfortable.  When Danny thought that they maybe weren't going to answer, the mood in the room shifted, and someone finally spoke.

"Don't worry about that." That voice was Black, but there was something odd in the sound of his voice, like he was forcing out words he didn't want to say.  "First priority is you.  You need to rest and recover."

Danny nodded.  So far, the people that had rescued him were nothing like the GiW that captured him.  He could bide his time, waiting to escape.  It would be easiest to escape with Red, he was pretty sure, but Green gave him the willies, and something about Blue was off.  Black would be impossible to dupe, he knew that already.

Can Red stay with me?

He showed the paper to Black, correctly guessing that he was the one in charge.

"Red?  I suppose." He turned toward 'Red'.  "Red, will you stay with him?"

Some snickers were heard, but Black ignored them.  Danny couldn't help it.  He didn't know their names.

'But they probably know mine.'

If he was being honest with himself, he had hoped that calling one of them a color would prompt them to introduce themselves.

Evidently not.

"Yeah, I'll stay with him.  Just let Kid know where I am, I promised to help him train later."

Black nodded, and with a rustle and swish of his cape, ('The dude has a cape????') he was gone.  The rest filed out of the room, and awkward silence reigned.

They sat there, occasionally sneaking glances at each other, trying not to stare, but having nothing to do.

After about two minutes of this, Danny heard something vibrating.  He glanced over at Red and had to do a double take.  The guy was tapping his foot at unearthly speeds.  It was his foot that was vibrating.

Danny's jaw dropped, and Red seemed to realize his mistake.

"Oh, sorry.  Bats said not to use speed yet.  Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." His foot stilled, and he took a step back.

Danny closed his mouth, still staring at Red.  There it was again.  Was Bats a name?  Was that Batman?  Who was Batman?  And when had they spoken?  Were they speaking with their minds?  Just who was this Batman???

He grabbed the paper that had that question on it and shoved it in Red's face.  He paused, seeming to think it over, before sighing, walking to the other side of the room to grab a chair, and sat down next to Danny's bed.

"Do you know anything about the Justice League?"

Danny shook his head.

Red sighed.  "Okay, so Batman. . ."

 


 

 

Flash had explained everything, or at least, everything that the public knew, per the Bats' instructions.  After mulling it over, Danny admitted that he had heard of some of the members of the League, but only some, like Squirrel Girl, Mister Miracle, Ice, and Lightray.  He said that they were his friend's favorite superheroes growing up, but they were only in comics.  This only confused Flash more, though, because none of them were still with the League, if they ever were, and none of them had comics about themselves.

At least, he was pretty sure they didn't.

So now Flash had to tell Batman about the kid, or Danny, without Bats chewing his head off.

"I'm just telling you what he told me!"

It wasn't working.

"How can he know about Mister Miracle, but not Doctor Light?  How does he know of Ice, but not Fire?  How does he know who Lightray is, without having heard about Orion?  And who even is Squirrel Girl?!?!"

After Batman finished his tirade, Flash spoke up again.  "He said those were the superheroes in his friend's comics as a kid."

"What about now?  He's still a kid." Batman was still irritated and on edge.  Something about this kid wasn't right.

"Apparently, he now prefers an mmorpg called 'Doom'.  He says it's very popular, but he still keeps the comics for reference.  Apparently, our little Danny was a struggling metahuman superhero back in his hometown.  Guess he's been under the radar.  Did you know his name was Danny?"

"Doom?" Batman asked.  He chose to ignore the superhero comment, storing it for later deliberation because this really wasn't right.  Dick had played every rpg game ever made for strategy training.  He had never heard of 'Doom', and Batman himself had personally searched for every game.

Without another word, Batman strode through the halls, leaving Flash behind, intent on answers.  When he reached Medbay, he barged in, typical intimidation tactics being his fallback.

He needn't have bothered.  The room was empty.

"Computer, locate all unidentified persons aboard." He tried to remain calm, and he'd fool a lot of people, but not all.

"What's going on?"

Of course, the Boy Scout would get involved.  Maybe give the kid a lollipop for evading the gosh darn Batman.

"Unidentified persons in atrium."

Clark raised an eyebrow at Bruce, but he was already gone.  The Kryptonian just sighed, heading toward the atrium himself.

 


 

 

He was so far from home it was laughable.

So, he cried.

He could move around just fine now, and his ghost half's sight was just fine, but to his human half, the world was still blurry.  He had his Fenton ecto-filter belt to thank for that.  It uses the same tech as the containment field of the thermos, but in reverse.  Instead of sucking in ectoplasm, it filters it through, cleaning it, and sending it to the wearer to absorb.  It reminded him of home.

He wanted to cry.

He wasn't in the mood to make noise, and it hurt to anyway, so he cried silently.

He knew now what had happened.  He had to have ended up in another universe.  The confusion rolling off everyone in the room except Blue, er, Superman, had already set his mind spinning, but his "talk" with Flash had cemented it in his mind.

'I don’t think we’re in Amity Park anymore, Cujo.'

He had no idea how, but somehow, he had managed to make it to another dimension, or universe, or something.  He wasn't sure what the proper terminology was, but he didn't care.

Right now, he just wanted to cry alone, looking at the stars.

 


 

 

When Batman got to the atrium, he scanned the room for the boy, but came up empty handed.  He wasn't there.  Batman turned to his buddy in blue.  "Do you see him?"

Clark shook his head.  "I've x-rayed the whole tower and found nothing."

Batman's eyes widened.

"That's not possib- . . . Try infrared.  He may be invisible."

Superman complied, but still came up empty handed.  "It's no good, Bru-, er, Batman.  I can't see him anywhere." He paused, staring behind a potted plant near the window of the atrium.  "Hey, Bats, that plant is too cold."

Batman could not believe this guy, sometimes.  Total farming mama's boy, to care about the temperature of a potted-. . . Wait.  It couldn't be.  Could it?

"You're thinking what I am, aren't you?" He asked, but the Boy Scout didn't answer.  Instead, he turned to look at Bats, an unreadable expression on his face, and that's saying something because this is Batman we're talking about.

"He's crying."

Batman said nothing.  What can you say to that?  "Aw, poor kid?" "Tough luck, buddy?" "What is this crying of which you speak?" Yeah, he was going with 'none of the above'.

"I'll handle it." He said, voice clipped and leaving no room for argument.  Superman nodded, aware that Batman was way better with kids than he, and he took off, a metaphorical cloud of dust floating where he had been standing .034 seconds ago.  With a long-suffering sigh, Batman strode over to the potted plant that was thankfully void of any other Leaguers.

 


 

 

'How the Ghost Zone am I supposed to get home?!'

Danny was nearing the point of hyperventilating, and someone would hear him, and that would be bad, because he wanted to be alone, when Batman strode up.

"Missing home?" Was his only warning before the caped crusader was crouching down next to him.

To say he jumped would be an understatement.  A wet, garbled noise escaped his throat in shock, and he startled into visibility.  He had hoped that people would leave him alone if he was invisible, but clearly this was flawed logic where Bla-, er, Batman was involved.

Once he calmed down and wiped away the tears, he saw Batman sitting there, nonchalantly watching the stars in an awkward crouch behind a potted plant, talking to a half ghost.  He figured it should have been funny.  Batman turned towards him, seeking an answer now that Danny was calm(er), and Danny nodded.  The Dark Knight seemed to ponder his answer before turning back to the view.

"I'm not sure how much you've figured out about how you got here. . .."  He peeked at the teen out of the corner of his eye.  The boy shrugged, wiggling his fingers in a "so-so" motion.  He can work with this.  "But we're pretty sure you're not from around here." He finished, looking for a reaction without tipping the kid off.

Danny seemed to deflate, shaking his head.

"Do you know where you're from?  Or where you are?" Batman pressed.

Danny nodded, paused, then shrugged.

Batman noted that he shrugged, rather than shook his head.  He had some idea as to where he was, but he wanted confirmation.

'Smart kid.'

"I'm not sure how you managed to get here, but I think you might be from a whole different world." He ventured.  Danny nodded again.

There was a moment of silence before Danny pulled out the pad of paper and pen from before.

I'm from another dimension or something.

Batman nodded, confirming Danny's fears.  Furiously wiping away new tears, he started scribbling again.

Do you know how I can get home?

His eyes were pleading, and Batman didn't have the heart to tell the kid that he had no idea.  It was obvious that the kid wasn't evil, but he made Batman nervous.  The vigilante knew very little about the kid, but he was already trusting him and feeling all fatherly.

'Curse you, father complex!'

"I know a few people.  I'll see what I can dig up."

He watched as a little hopeful light returned to the kid's green eyes.

'Wait, green?'

It took a lot of effort, but he managed not to let it show when he finally noticed that the kid next to him once again had snow white hair and glowing green eyes like he had when he first escaped the container.

He was starting to piece together the story.  Since Danny had no memory of it, most likely he jumped dimensions while inside the thermos prison.  Savage then got his hands on it and used the kid's energy to aid the mind control chips.  He had been used, much like Speedy, or rather, Red Arrow, had been.  After all, Flash had said the kid was a metahuman superhero in his own world.

"In the meantime, I have a place where you can stay." Danny nodded his assent.  Not like he really had a choice.

Decision made, Batman stood, motioning for Danny to follow.  Batman led the way through hallway after hallway until Danny was thoroughly lost, finally coming to stop in a big room with a giant window, and weird round things in the wall.  Danny swallowed nervously.  They looked like inactive ghost portals.  Batman walked purposefully towards one, but didn't make it there before Red entered the scene.

Now, Danny had already realized why they called him the Flash.  The super speed was obvious when the guy was agitated or excited.  However, Danny was not expecting the whoosh and wind that accompanied the speedster zooming by, so he felt perfectly justified with his instinctual ghost shield that stopped the superhero in his tracks.

THUNK!  "AH!!"

For a guy with super speed, he was a little slow.

"What just happened?!" Danny dropped the shield like it burned him.  "What was that?!" Silence.  "BATS!"

Bruce, who was becoming more and more impressed with Danny and his abilities, merely raised an eyebrow at the boy, who promptly panicked.  He really did not want possibly the only person who could get him home to be mad at him.  Before he could grovel at his feet, another superhero interrupted.

"I'm impressed."

Danny stared up at the new guy, glowing green, five feet off the floor.

"Not many people can land Red on his butt without lifting a finger.  Not bad." He landed, the glow fading, turning to Batman, who had been watching Danny's reaction with amusement.  "This is the kid from the device, right?  What’s your name, kid?"

Danny shrank into himself, not sure how to handle the situation, especially without talking.  His voice was still MIA.

"This is Danny.  He's from another dimension.  He'll be staying at Mount Justice until we can find a way to get him home."

Green Lantern raised an eyebrow.  "You're not going to pick up another one, are you?  I know you've already got another bird in the nest."

Danny was beyond confused, and now Batman looked mad.

Er, madder than he usually looks.

"Why can't Dick understand the meaning of covert?" Danny heard Batman mumble, thanks to his advanced hearing as a ghost.  He chose not to comment.

"He has a home somewhere.  Until we can get him back, he'll be staying." Danny belatedly realized they were talking about him.  Before he could try asking, however, Batman turned to the computer on the wall near the big, round things, punching buttons like they had kicked his puppy.

'Maybe they had.  This is a pretty weird universe.'

With the coordinates set, Batman stepped into the Zeta tube, motioning for Danny to follow.

He didn't.

Excuse him for being mildly traumatized by the thing that half killed him.

"What's the matter, half-pint?  Follow the big, bad bat." Flash taunted, still sore over the ghost shield incident.  Batman didn't miss when Danny flinched when Flash said "half".  He filed it away for later examination.

With obvious reluctance, Danny stepped up to the platform with Batman.  A few disembodied computer voices and suddenly the whole world turned white.

Chapter Text

Bruce was trying to be better.  Alfred, Dick, and Clark had all told him he should start trusting more.  That led to him adopting Jason.  Apparently, it was now leading him to trust Danny.  He was taking an unknown into the cave, the kids' cave, not the Batcave, and leaving him there.  Granted Robin and Aqualad would be there, but it still made him uncomfortable.  He turned to Danny, maybe to give a warning, maybe to introduce him to the cave, he wasn't sure.

He never got the chance to say a thing.

Danny was on the floor, writhing, his hair black once again.  Batman assumed his eyes would be back to dull blue, but it was hard to tell with them squeezed closed.  He knelt down next to the boy, but when he tried to touch him, Danny flinched away, crying out, like his hand had burned him.

"Batman, what's going on?"

 


 

 

Zatanna was roaming the halls, totally bored.  Nothing, repeat, nothing, had happened since "the incident", as they were starting to refer to it as.  Barely even a jewelry store robbery since then.  It had been a month, and it was like the criminal world vanished.  She wasn't sure if it was a good thing or the calm before the storm.  Robin was certainly on edge, waiting and watching.

Either way, it was boring.

So here she was, wandering the halls, all by her lonesome.  M'gann and Conner were at school, Robin, Artemis, and Wally hadn't come in yet today.  She was pretty sure they were at school, but they would never tell her.  Even Red Tornado was busy with League stuff.

Man, the cave was quiet when no one was here.

Which made it even easier to hear the Zeta tube firing up.  With a smile, she headed towards the HQ room, wondering who had arrived.  She paused a moment when the computer said, "Batman 02 plus 1".  Wouldn't that just be 03?

'Guess not.  That would be Wonder Woman.'

When she rounded the corner, she saw Batman crouched on the floor, something writhing in front of him.  When she got closer, she realized it was a boy, roughly her age, who was shivering and convulsing, clearly in pain.  She ran the rest of the way, kneeling next to Batman.

"Batman, what's going on?"

"Not sure.  He came out of the Zeta tubes this way." Batman's voice was clipped and tight.  He was clearly worried and at a loss.

Not that anyone else would be able to tell, but even the "Little Leaguers" had learned to read the Bat.

Before Zatanna could ask anything else, the Watchtower radioed in, Green Lantern’s face popping up on the holoscreen.

"Bats, something went wrong with the Zeta tubes! The kid is still here, but something's wrong with him!" You could hear the thrashing behind him with a strained, hoarse moan.     

Batman turned to Zatanna, his look equal parts pleading and horrified.  "Can you tell what happened?"

She shook her head, starting to panic.  "I don't know! If his soul had been spilt in two before going through the Zeta tubes, it's possible that the machine only took half of him.  If that's the case, I can at least stabilize him, but I don't know if I can put him back together."

After .063 seconds of pondering, Batman decided.

"Do it."

Zatanna took a deep breath to calm herself, planning out the words in her head.

"Tel eht owt sevlah fo siht luos tsixe yltnednepedni!"

Danny's shivering form was covered in a blinding light before the boy stilled, settling to the floor.   

"No! Nononononono. . . Comeonkidbreathe! Batmanhesnotbreathing!"

Batman checked the black-haired boy in front of him.  Steady breaths were puffing through his lips tiredly.

"Take him to Medbay.  Don't lose him."

"Got it."

Batman bent down and picked up the boy, moving to take him to Medbay in the cave, when Flash came back on the holo screens.

"I can't touch him."

Batman raised an eyebrow.

"Why not?"

Flash grimaced at the tone.  "It's not that I didn't try! The kid is like J'onn.  He goes right through my hands."

Batman pondered for a moment before listening to the boy in his arms breathe again.  His suspicions were confirmed.  The boy in his arms was breathing much more now than he had before.

"He's fine.  I don't think that half of him breathes.  He probably doesn't have a heartbeat either.  His form is energy-based, like Captain Atom.  GL, can you move him with your ring?" He didn't like the fact that no one could touch him.  It could make things very difficult.

"No dice, Bats! Nothing can touch this kid, not even me!"

The boy in his arms stirred.  He shifted, setting the boy back on the ground, but holding him upright.

"Can you hear me, Danny?"

The boy's face scrunched up, and he nodded.  Batman resolved to be a little quieter.

"Do you know what happened, Danny?"

The boy shrugged.

There it was again.  He had an idea, but wanted confirmation.

'Who is this kid?'

"We think the Zeta tubes only transported your human half.  Your energy half was left behind."

Danny nodded, opening his eyes.

'Yup, they're blue.'

Over the comm, Batman heard movement.  A moment later and Flash was at the camera again.

"He's waking up!" Zip! He was gone again.

"Danny?  Danny can you hear me?"

". . . Yeah, I'd have to be deaf not to."

A boy could be seen standing up, his form only half on the screen.  The three in the cave watched as he dusted himself off.

Danny let out a breath he didn't know he was holding.  His ghost half was totally normal.  No red eyes, no green skin, no Dark Dan.  He had been internally panicking.

'Where's my human half?  If I can't use the transport things, I'll just fly there.'

Danny was bowled over by the force of the thoughts in his head that weren't his, and yet were.  He lay on the ground, gasping, Batman calling his name above him.

"Something's wrong with him, Bats! I don't know what happened, but he's clutching his head and screaming!" Flash yelled over the sound of Danny's scream.

'Don't scream! You might end up using your wail accidentally!' Human Danny thought frantically.  He hoped his ghost half would be able to hear his thoughts like he could hear his.

Evidently so, because the screaming turned into a pained whimper before petering out into heaving breathing.

Everyone collectively let out the breath they had been holding.  Human Danny managed to pull himself into a sitting position.

'Are you okay?'

After a moment, his ghost half responded.

'Yeah, I'm fine.  You?'

'Same.  Man, this is weird though.'

'Tell me about it.  I guess we're still connected even if we're apart.'

'Doesn't bother me any.  Just a Dark Dan deterrent.'

The was a beat of silence that made human Danny start sweating.  He needn't have worried.  The emotion behind the next words was enough to calm his fears.

'That will never happen, no matter what.'

"What happened?  What are you doing?" Batman cut into the conversation.  Human Danny opened his mouth to respond, but then discovered that his voice was still shot.

"We can communicate mentally.  I guess since we're part of the same soul?  Not really sure how that works."

Flash, GL, Zatanna, and Batman all stared at the two boys.  They were thousands of miles apart, and could still mentally communicate?  Was there no limit to the distance?

"I don't think my human half has his voice back yet, but I heal a lot faster.  Don't ask him questions unless I'm there to answer, it'll be easier." The boy glanced down at the computer in front of him.  "Give me a few minutes.  I've never done this over large distances."

The ghost screwed his eyes shut and vanished in a flash of green light.

'Beam me up, Scotty.'

Human Danny slumped to the floor in relief.  His ghost half was using his new ability: teleportation.  He had developed it when trying to escape the GiW, but they weren't so easy to escape.

Not since new management.

During his capture, they had forced him to train, tracking his progress, clearly hoping to use him as a weapon.  Because of this, Danny had gotten stronger, his reflexes much more honed, his speed twice as fast.

Sixteen-year-old Danny Phantom was much more formidable a beast than the fourteen-year-old klutz he started as.

A sudden flash of neon green light buzzed in the middle of the room, Batman and Zatanna jumping into battle positions while Danny pulled himself to his feet.  When the light dissipated, Danny Phantom was floating in the middle of the room.  Batman added teleportation to his mental list of the kid's abilities.

". . . Erm. . ." Both halves of him said at the same time.  They both chuckled and rubbed the back of their neck with their left hand.  It was like watching a mirror, but backwards.

". . . Um, I can try putting his soul back together, but I don't know if it will work, since his soul had been split before."

Danny hummed.  "I'm not sure that would be a great idea.  Try putting us together, and you'll probably kill us." His human half nodded in agreement.  "I'm the, what did you call it?  My energy half?  I guess you'd call me the energy half, and him the human half.  As I believe you noticed, since I didn't wake up with a breathing tube, I don't breathe, nor do I have a heartbeat.  Try melding that with the human half of me, and I probably won't survive." There was a slightly awkward pause.  "So please don't try.  I don't feel like dying, today." He finished with a smile, but Batman could tell there was more to the story.

"How do you propose putting yourself back together, then?" Batman questioned.  He was majorly regretting his eagerness to bring Danny to the cave.

Hindsight 20/20.

He knew now the main reason he wanted Danny to stay at the cave.  He was worried.  Dick had been off ever since the Savage incident.  He had noticed improvement when Jason had entered their lives.  He was hoping Danny could do the same in Dick's night life.

He didn't want to help his son at Danny's expense.  His gaze hardened when he realized Danny didn't actually disclose any information about himself when he explained why they shouldn't try merging his halves.

He really needed to be more careful.

In response to Batman's question, both Danny's glanced at each other, clearly having a conversation in their heads.  After a few moments of this, they nodded to each other before turning back to Batman.  He snapped out of his own reverie to hear Danny's response.

"For now, we will stay separate.  Once we are home, we can merge again." They both glanced at their feet sheepishly, in perfect synchronization.  That would get old fast.  "We kinda had a similar experience once before.  It wasn't quite the same, but we think we can still fix it the same way.  Until then, call him Danny, and call me Phantom.  You can just treat us as twins" The white-haired boy grinned impishly, while the black-haired boy raised an eyebrow.  Phantom's grin widened at the same time as Danny's eyes.  Without warning, they both fell to the floor, shaking.  Batman rushed to help before he stopped short, resisting the urge to facepalm.

They were shaking with giggles.

'Kids.'

 


 

 

"And this is the rec room."

After Batman left to calm down the two still at the tower with no clue what happened, Zatanna took it upon herself to show the "boys" ('It's so weird to think like that.  They're the same person! . . . Sorta.') around the base.  They had already covered the training room and the hanger.  Danny had seemed really excited about the hanger, which was saying a lot.  She knew they were supposed to be the same person, theoretically, but Danny hadn't said a word, not even using Phantom as a mouthpiece.  He was quiet and reserved.  A typical introvert.

Phantom was the opposite.  He was practically bouncing off the walls.  He couldn't wait to do everything.   

Her pondering was interrupted by the computer again, this time announcing the arrival of Artemis and Robin.  Zatanna was relieved.  She didn't know what to do with the two boys, but if anyone did, it would be those two.

“Come on!  You should meet Robin and Artemis.”

Phantom grinned, placing his hands on the other two’s shoulders, and suddenly, Zatanna was blinded by neon green light.

“What the-?!”

“Who are you?!  How did you get in here?!  Let her go!”

Zatanna’s eyes snapped open at her friend’s panicked voices.  “I’m fine, guys!”  She noticed that Phantom and Danny were both standing protectively in front of her.  “Danny and Phantom were brought here by Batman.”  Zatanna said pointedly.  Artemis put away her bow and the arrow she drew, and Robin hid his Birderangs in his cape.  Danny and Phantom both relaxed, but didn’t move from their spot shielding Zatanna.  She was touched, but the gesture was unnecessary.  She stepped between the two, facing Robin.

“Your dad said they were staying here while the League figured out a way to get them home.”

Robin spluttered a bit.  He didn’t realize his team knew Batman was his dad, but he rolled with it.

“My dad?”  he squeaked.  Zatanna nodded.

“I think she’s talking about the big, bad Bat.”  Artemis taunted.  She turned to the newcomers.  “What’s so hard about getting them home, though?”  she asked, head cocked to the side.

“Well, my twin and I,” Phantom shot Zatanna a panicked look.  She nodded slightly.  “We come from another universe.  We aren’t exactly sure how we got here, but-.”

He was cut off by the computer announcing the imminent arrival of Batman.

“I see you’ve met.” Batman said after emerging from the Zeta tube.  He turned to Robin.  “These two will be in your care.  Phantom is very skilled.  If you wish to take him with you on a mission, alert me first.  I leave training to you and Black Canary.  Please introduce them to the team.”  With that, Batman swooped through the cave, disappearing around a corner.

Robin sighed.  He wasn’t sure if he should be happy that Batman had finally trusted him with something, or nervous about their guests.  After the incident, he was hesitant to trust anyone.

“I’m Phantom.  This is Danny.  He can’t talk, but I can talk to him with our twin telepathy.  I talk for him.” Phantom proclaimed proudly.  Danny elbowed him, scowling.  Phantom just laughed.  “Okay, okay.  I’ll explain.”  He turned back to the group at large.  “Danny was in an accident, and that’s why he can’t talk.  No need to ask him about it.”  Phantom’s seemingly eternal cheerfulness melded into something that could only be described as menacing.  “So, don’t ask about it.  Leave my twin alone.”  His audience blinked, and the smile was back.  “How about we finish the tour?  Batman said training, right?  Where do we train?”

After taking a moment to collect her shock, Zatanna spoke up.  “Yeah, sure.”  She motioned them to follow as she continued the interrupted tour.  Robin and Artemis stayed behind.

“What was that?”  Artemis voiced Robin’s thoughts exactly.

 


 

 

Batman swept through the halls of the cave, speaking to the computer as he went.  “Alert 02 when Zeta tubes are used at the mountain.  Maintain and record all surveillance.”  He paused, unsure about the next order, but knowing it needed to be done.  “Contact Black Canary.”

With a final swish of his cape, he was gone.

 


 

 

“And these will be your rooms.”  They had made it to the bedrooms.  The two further down the line from Zatanna’s were the ones the twins would be occupying.

‘Can we not stay in the same room?  I don’t mind sharing with you.  I’d kinda prefer it actually.’

“Can we not stay in the same room?  I don’t mind sharing with you.  I’d kinda prefer it actually.”  An awkward pause followed that statement by Phantom.  He followed it up pretty quickly with, “That was Danny talking.”  He got a couple nods in return.  Robin and Artemis had opted to follow along on the tour.

“That’s fine.”  Robin answered.  “We can move the bed from the further one into this one.”

The twins stepped into the room, followed by the magician.  They were discussing room arrangements.

“So, what do you think?”  Artemis asked Robin.  The boy wonder stood, pondering for a moment before answering.

“You’re a more realistic judge of character than I am.  What do you think?”

“They’ve clearly got issues.”  Robin snorted at that.  “But they seem like good kids.  Everyone has something to hide, and they’ve clearly got a few skeletons in their closets.”  She paused, taking a deep breath before continuing.  “They look out for each other, clearly Phantom is doing more of the looking, but they’re just trying to survive.  They’re loyal to a fault and overprotective.”  Robin raised an eyebrow.

“What makes you say that, oh crystal ball of knowledge?”  His grin was positively devilish.  Artemis scoffed.

“You know perfectly well, Boy Blunder!  You saw them when we came in.  They were guarding Zatanna, a girl they’ve known for what, a couple hours?  That reeks of hero complex and paranoia.”  She sighed.  “They need a home and someone to look after them.”

Robin nodded.  “Batman was right.  You really are observant.  It’s a shame GA got to you before Bats did.”  His devilish grin was back.  “You would have made a great sparrow!

The occupants of the bedroom emerged at the commotion outside.  Robin was cackling, Artemis was snarling, and arrows and Birderangs were flying like there was no tomorrow.

“Stop!”  Phantom called, jumping into the air, throwing up ecto-shields around both young heroes, effectively ending the firefight.  “There’s no reason to fight!  You guys are teammates, aren’t you?  Please don’t fight.”  Phantom had gotten quieter as he spoke, until he finished practically whispering.  The ecto-shields faded away.  Danny sniffled, wiping his eyes.  Phantom shook his head, aggressively rubbing his hands over his face, shaking himself into a smile.  “No fighting outside Danny’s room!  I don’t want him getting hit with a stray . . . what even are those things?”  Robin glanced down at the Birderang in his hand.

“Uh, Birderang.  I call them Birderangs.”  Robin was reeling from the talking to he just got, but he was starting to recover.

Phantom glanced at Danny who had seemed to collect himself.  “Can Danny see one?”  The black-haired teenager in question had raised a hand, palm up, silently asking permission.  Robin reluctantly agreed.  He really didn’t like people playing with his equipment.

“Careful with it!”  He warned, gingerly laying it in Danny’s hand.  Danny ignored his warning completely after inspecting it.  He flipped it up in the air, twisting around, catching it at odd angles.  Everyone but Robin clapped at the show.

With a final flick of his wrist, Danny tossed it back at Robin, who deftly caught it between his index and middle fingers before it passed over his shoulder.

Phantom chuckled.  “He said you’d get better speed and accuracy if you narrowed the design.”  Danny nodded.  Robin slipped the Birderang back in his utility belt.

“I don’t have a problem with the accuracy.”  The Boy Wonder grumbled.

Phantom grinned, good-naturedly.  “But more speed is always an improvement.  I’d improve my speed if I could, but I dunno how.  I haven’t added a single mph in ages.”

“What’s your top speed?”  Artemis questioned, eyebrow raised.  Maybe Wally could help.

“254 mph.”

Numerous jaws hit the floor.

“You can run 254 miles per hour?!”

Before Phantom could clarify, the computer announced the arrival of Superboy and Miss Martian.  Danny turned to Phantom, a grin on his face.  “Oh, it’s on!”  Phantom cried, Danny’s smile clearly contagious.  “Of course not!  It wouldn’t be a race then.”  Phantom jumped into the air.

And hit the floor, spluttering.  “Bu-!  Wha-?  No fair!”  Danny grinned harder, then took off down the hall.  “You cheater!”  Phantom yelled, before righting himself and tearing off after his brother.  “I don’t even know which way!”  He complained as he ran, visibly slower than Danny.

Robin and Artemis shared a glance before they both turned to Zatanna.

“Don’t look at me!  I can’t understand them either!”

 


 

 

Phantom wasn't sure what to think of Superboy.  He didn't say much, just a “hey” before he disappeared down a hallway.

M’gann, on the other hand, was both noisy and overly nice.  She promised to make cookies.  Her personality seemed like the kind that would make Sam barf.

Danny laid a hand on his arm.  

Thank Heaven for an understanding, human soul.  Well, technically only half a soul, but he wasn't one to get caught on logistics.  

He really didn't want to think about what had happened to Sam.  Surely his human half didn't either.  He was human when it happened, after all.

He was human when he killed her.

Like being dunked in ice water, he was suddenly back there, unable to breathe, freezing, watching helplessly as GiW agents toss him in the training room, the shackles that prevented his ghost form from emerging strapped firmly on his wrists and ankles.  He vaguely heard the voice on the intercom, so intent was he on staring at the bomb shelter in the middle of the room.  He watched, helpless, as his lifeless, human half that had let hope die long ago, complied.  

He sucked in a deep breath and wailed.

He used his ghostly wail in human form.

Phantom watched as the bomb shelter was blown to smithereens, huge chunks of concrete flying every which way, the wail dying down to a pained whimper.

His memory fell to the ground, spent, coughing up blood, but the present Phantom could only stare at what he didn't notice until it was too late.

Sam had been inside that bomb shelter.

Sam, who was now lying dead on the floor had been inside the bomb shelter he destroyed.

He could only stare in horror at the tore skirt she always wore, lying limply against her broken skin, limbs twisted the wrong direction, face covered by the raven, bloody hair, the red liquid pooling beneath her.

The scene in front of him blurred, and Phantom belatedly realized it was because tears were clouding his vision.  He glanced down and realized that he had ended up sitting on his knees, where he had fallen in shock.

‘Huh.  When did that happen?’

Muddled noises filled his ears.  Slowly, he raised his head.  Instead of the bloody body of his best friend, Phantom saw horrified brown eyes staring back at him.  Before he could react, the Martian girl they belonged to flung herself at him, enveloping him in a hug.

Robin and Zatanna helped Danny to his feet, Artemis awkwardly patting Phantom’s back as he came back to reality.  

‘Wipe your face, Phantom.’

Phantom and Danny made eye contact.  Danny tried a small smile of encouragement, but it didn't really work with that dead, hopeless, haunted look in his eyes.  Phantom reached up, touching his cheek, feeling the wetness that was tear tracks running down his face.  He stubbornly wiped the tears away.  

He was a hero!  He could not afford to feel sorry for himself.  He wasn't allowed to forgive his guilt.

“You stop that right now!” M’gann yelled.  The twins both jumped.  “Stop beating yourselves up over something you didn't do.  It was those men in the white clothes!  They are to blame for your Sam’s death.  Not you.”  Her hug became painfully tight.  Good thing he didn't have to breathe.

“How . . . uh, how-how do y-you know h-her na-her name?”  Phantom managed to get out.

“You were screaming it, among other things, during your episode.” Artemis explained.

“Epi-episode?”

Robin spoke up this time.  “You had a flashback.  Many people in our line of work get them, as well as other symptoms of PTSD.”  Robin gave a friendly, comforting smile.  “We're here for you.  You're not alone anymore.”

Phantom let the tears fall, choosing to bury his face in M’gann’s shoulder instead.  A few minutes passed while the two of them attempted to get their emotions under control, Phantom clearly having a harder time.  His emotion-based energy was not conducive to rational thinking, even on a good day.  

Joys of being a ghost.

His pity party was interrupted by the computer.

‘That thing has fantastic timing.’

“Kid Flash: B03.”

The flash of light and whirring of the Zeta tubes got Danny to his feet, but Phantom stayed where he was.  He wasn't ready to meet more people at the moment.

“Um, who's the new guy, and why is M’gann hugging his buddy?”  Wally was so lost, and he just got here!  “Uh, Artie?  What did I miss?”

Chapter Text

“Woah.”

No one else could say anything.  When Phantom had started spazzing out, screaming and staring at nothing, Danny had fallen to the floor, clutching his head, shaking like a leaf, heart wrenching whimpers escaping his lips.  In a last-ditch effort to get them back, M’gann had tried entering Phantom’s mind, but she couldn't.  For some reason, she couldn't feel his mind, or read it, or hear it, much less enter it.  So, she tried Danny's mind, and, lo and behold, there was Phantom!  She tried waking him up, but only Danny could sense her.  Luckily, when she pulled him out of the flashback, Phantom came too.  M’gann had explained what she knew, mentally asking Danny first, asking if certain topics were okay to divulge.  In entering Danny’s mind, she had seen all of the events of the day, at least as they pertained to Danny, so she knew their entire situation now.  The two sat still on the couch in the common room, while the team discussed them.

“We should wait for Aqualad.  He should have a say in this.”

“We don't even have a say in this, Kid.  Batman's orders, remember?  We let them get him home.”

“He shouldn't go home, Robin!  You heard what happened to him!  People in his world are after him, and they forced him to kill his girlfriend.  I'm not sending him back to a hellhole like that.”

“I agree with Artemis!”

“M’gann, I know you don't like it, but it is his home.  Maybe he wants to go back.”

“Connor, let Danny decide that.  Besides, whether he wants to go back or not, the League is looking for a way to send him back.  Can we not stand with Danny, rather than hindering him?”

No one could come up with a good argument against Zatanna.

“Where even is Kaldur?”

Except apparently Wally wanted to try.

Kaldur’ahm sighed.  He knew he and Raquel weren't right for each other, but he tried anyway.  All he had done was hurt her.  He should have never gotten the poor girl’s hopes up.  After their date, he had tried letting her down gently, but she still didn't want to see him yet.

“I . . . I won't be back at the cave for a while.  I'm going to travel.  I'll stay in touch with the team, so call me if you need me.”

She had tried to smile, but Kaldur could see through fake smiles from a mile away.  He and his team were pros at fake smiles, after all.  

He swung his legs back and forth on the dock, dipping his toes into the water underneath.  

He felt torn.  

Torn between so many worlds: Atlantis and the surface world, duty and pleasure, danger and safety.

How did his king do it?

He turned, looking towards the mountain on the harbor.  If they needed him, they could call him.  Until then, he was going to sit here hovering between worlds, not belonging to any, yet a part of all.

“Go!  Go!  Yes!  Yes!”  Wally’s face was scrunched up in concentration, his hands gripping his controller like a lifeline.  His car was finally about to beat Danny's.

Danny had the smuggest of smug grins when his race car crossed the virtual finish line first.

“Nooooooooo!!!  I got beat by a NEWB?!?!”

While Wally had his mental breakdown, the rest of the team congratulated Danny.

Artemis glanced at Wally, who was now writhing on the floor in dramatic misery.  “Remember, Wally; no man is a failure who has friends.”

Wally moaned into the floor.

The new champion gestured to the T.V. with his controller, an eyebrow raised, grin challenging.  He used no words, but the meaning was clear:

“Who else wants to try?”

Phantom tried and surprisingly failed.  Phantom clearly got the short end of the stick where processing speed and reflexes were concerned.  They may have been the same person, but they were clearly not split evenly.

M’gann tried and failed even worse than Phantom.  Video games weren't really her thing.

Artemis tried, but gave up halfway through, complaining that, “it's nothing like reality, so there's no way you can properly drive a car, and it's stupid to anyway!”

She had driven off the side of the road four times.

Superboy declined trying, stating that he had broken a controller last time he actually tried while playing a video game.

Zatanna said she knew she would lose, so there was no point in damaging her ego.

Then Robin had a go.  

They were neck and neck for most of it, but Robin managed to pull ahead in the last lap.  Danny conceded defeat, bowing to the new king of racing video games.  Robin played along, ordering the rest about with a grin, while KF fell to the floor in mock horror.  Phantom joined in, a spatula from M’gann in hand, challenging Robin to a duel.  Robin accepted, cackling as he tore off down the hall.  Phantom and the team gave chase, coming to rest in the training room, computer set, Phantom somehow already in the system.  Robin explained how the training platform worked, but before Phantom could jump up and complete his challenge, the computer announced arrivals again.

“Batman: 02.  Black Canary: 13.  Aqualad: B02.”

Batman had radioed in Aqualad when the training platform had been activated.  He and Black Canary had been discussing Danny and Phantom.  Robin had already sent Batman the information about their flashback as well as the information they learned from it.  The Dark Knight added it to the kid's file.

Now he was here to watch him train.  He wanted to see what both halves of the boy could do.

“Continue.”

Robin and Phantom nodded, Phantom jumping up to join Robin.  They circled each other for a bit, when the computer started the match.  Both were waiting for the other to make the first move.

‘Batman had said Phantom was powerful.  I know some of his abilities, but certainly not all.  I know he can walk through walls, disappear, and fly, but I'm not sure what makes him more unique than the average meta.  He has his Ghostly Wail, but he wouldn't use that in hand-to-hand combat.  Besides, it drains him.’

‘Everyone here has a super power of some kind, but we don't know what his is.  Best to be careful, Phantom.’

Phantom glanced down where Danny was standing off to the side with the rest.  Danny gave him a thumbs-up of encouragement to follow the advice.  Phantom smirked.

‘Advice from your twin isn't against the rules if your twin is technically you, right?’

With that thought, Phantom vanished.  Their audience watched as Robin tensed, stance defensive.  Without a single person being aware, Phantom had gone invisible and intangible.  Robin thought Phantom would still make noise when invisible, but he didn't even breathe.  

No noise from the ghost boy.

He silently floated over to Robin, contemplating his options, before phasing through the boy, overshadowing him.  The need to breathe suddenly hit him, and he gulped in air through Robin’s mouth.

“Man, it's good to feel alive!”  Phantom shouted through Robin's mouth.

“Robin?” KF asked tentatively.

Phantom grinned in Robin's body.  “You're half right.”

Then he winked.

“Phantom?!” Nearly everyone in the room yelled.  Batman being the exception.

Phantom cackled, floating Robin's body a few inches off the floor.  “You should see the looks on your faces!”

“Isn't that dangerous?!” Black Canary asked, “You don't breathe, but he does.  And are you sure that your energy isn't hurting him?”

Robin/Phantom shrugged.  “It's never been an issue before, and I need to breathe when I'm overshadowing, since I feel everything they feel.”  A downright sinful look coated his face.  “Anyone else curious as to who is behind the tiny little domino mask?”  He taunted, wiggling his fingers in front of the mask in question.

Everyone in the room flipped out.

“Relax!” Robin/Phantom shouted over the sudden hubbub.  “I know the importance of secret identities.”  He hopped out of Robin, the Boy Wonder clutching his head dizzily.  He stood to the side, next the Danny.  “Clockwork, did they actually expect me to take off his mask?” He whispered to his human counterpart.  Danny shrugged.

‘They don't really know us yet.’

Neither one commented on the fact that they had both gotten comfortable calling themselves ‘us’ rather than ‘me’.

“What did you do to me?” Robin asked, eyes wide.  Phantom’s grin returned.

“It's called overshadowing.  It's like possession, but not near as deep.  Possession is when you take control of the soul, but overshadowing is only skin deep, literally.  Essentially, I just tap into your nervous system, so everything you feel, I feel.  Most gho-.”  

Phantom froze.  As far as he was aware, they didn't know what he was.  Batman had called him the ‘energy half’, so they didn't know that he was dead.  Would they judge him the same way the GiW did?  Would they hate him for what he was?  Would they fear him and his capabilities?

The looks on their faces said yes.

Danny nudged him, prompting Phantom to speak again.  He chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck.  “Er, most of my kind overshadow, but never possess.  It's easier to step out of someone's body than to step out of their soul, but most of my kind, er, want the feeling of flesh and blood.”  Phantom finished lamely.

Batman didn’t miss Phantom’s hesitation.  “What is your kind?”

Phantom’s eyes got wide, but Danny’s eyes narrowed.  While Phantom shrank back, Danny stepped forward, pulling out the same pen and paper he was given.

It doesn’t matter what he is.  Leave him alone.

Batman would have been proud of the glare Danny was fixing on him.

“Alright, I was merely curious.”  Batman decided not to push the boys.  He wasn’t sure what they were hiding, or whether it was a threat, but he left that for a later time in order to handle the current issue.  “I don’t think I need to tell you not to overshadow again.”  Phantom nodded.  The poor kid looked relieved enough to melt into a puddle.  “Now, let’s see some actual battle techniques.  Black Canary should see your fighting style.”  Phantom shifted from foot to foot, nervously opening his mouth, changing his mind, and closing it.  Batman sighed.  “What’s the problem, Phantom?”

“Yeah, you scared?” Robin asked.  He didn’t want Phantom to feel bad about the overshadowing issue.  Once the dizziness left, he was fine, and that was a very useful skill to have.  If used right, it could be their ace-in-the-hole.

He also didn’t want anyone else to see that Batman was hardcore fathering Phantom right then.

“I’m not scared!  I just . . . “ Phantom shuffled awkwardly a bit again.  He seemed to make a decision, taking a deep breath and speaking in a rush.  “I don’t want to hurt you, and I could tell when I overshadowed you that you’re a normal person without superpowers, and I could really hurt you, or take down the building or something.”  Phantom finished with a gulp.

“Gee, conceited much?” Kid Flash grumbled.  Danny rounded on him like a mother tiger.  He scribbled for a moment before shoving the page in KF’s face.

Why don’t you spar with him?  You heal as fast as you talk, right?

Danny’s glare could freeze a volcano, ghost powers or not.

KF spluttered, trying to backpedal faster than the Flash on his morning run.  “Uh, that’s not-, I wasn’t-, I didn’t mean-!”

Artemis nodded to Danny.  “I think it’s a great idea.”  She turned to the rapidly deflating speedster.  “If you’re going to complain, you should back it up.”  She gave him a peck on the nose.  “Go get’em, tiger.”  He somehow gained the confidence of the gods at her smirk.

Batman forcefully repressed the chuckle that threatened to make itself known when he remembered the look on Flash’s face when he ate dirt at Danny’s hand.  He was interested to see that ability again.

“We probably should go outside.”  KF smirked at Phantom.  “Wouldn’t want you leveling the mountain.”

Phantom nodded, completely serious.  “Yeah, I still don’t know how they explained the last one.”  He turned to Danny, who shrugged in a “What are you asking me for?  I’m you!” kinda way.

Everyone just stared.  He had actually leveled a mountain?!  Who was this kid?!

They moved to an area outside at the base of the mountain.  Phantom and KF faced each other, KF’s bravado replaced by determination.  This was his chance to prove himself to Batman as a capable team member.  He knew most of the League saw him as the screw-up, and he was determined to change that.

Across from him, Phantom hesitated.  He could feel the determination and mild desperation coming from KF.  What if his fear was more than just fear of him?  He glanced up to where Artemis was standing.  He wasn’t sure why she was so nervous.  Did she think Kid Flash wouldn’t make it?  He focused on the strongest emotions.  They were coming from Batman, and they seemed to be a mix of curiosity, trepidation, and the strongest, that he didn’t understand, hope.  What was Batman hopeful for?  

He shook it off, resolving to focus on the battle in front of him.  

Black Canary started the match, and the two circled each other.  Phantom waited for Kid Flash to make the first move, and he wasn’t disappointed.  Without warning, KF rushed him, turning to come up behind him.  Phantom noticed that Flash was actually a bit faster than his protégé, because he had more warning than when he had instinctively thrown up a ghost shield.  He turned intangible with a full second to spare before KF zoomed by.

The speedster tripped over his own feet, face planting, when he didn't connect.  He had seen his fist go straight through the back of Phantom’s head!  He decided to go hand-to-hand to attempt the tactic they used on Amazo: get him to go tangible to attack, then strike.  He ran back at Phantom, head first.  Before he could get to Phantom, a green wall popped up out of nowhere.  

Thump!

“AH!”

Phantom had to chuckle at the similarities.  They had to be related.

Wally got to his feet, glaring daggers at his opponent.  Before he could think of another tactic, the kid sank straight through the ground.

‘He's gonna grab my feet to keep me from running.  This'll show him!’

Kid Flash then ran the craziest crisscross over the whole battlefield, as fast as he could, stopping about 50 meters away from his starting point.  By running everywhere, he hoped to throw Phantom off if he was tracking him.

‘See him figure out where I am without looking now!’

Little did KF know, Phantom tracked using emotion.  Once he stopped, the teen was easy to find.  Anxiety was a potent emotion.  With a smirk, Phantom rose through the ground and used an ecto-blast, firing on KF’s back from point-blank range.  The speedster hit the ground, the blackened spot on the back of the suit smoking.

He groaned, rolling over.  Phantom moved to help him up, but Wally wasn't going down without a(nother) fight.  He rolled to the side, kicking dirt up as he went.  Phantom didn't cough like Wally was wanting, (‘Forgot the dude doesn't breathe!’) but he did scrunch his eyes up, blinded.

“Ah!”  Phantom backed up a few meters, rubbing dust from his eyes.  KF took the opportunity to kick his legs out from under him.  Rather than falling like Wally expected, Phantom flipped, pinwheeling through the air.  He righted himself, turning to see where KF was, but he came up empty.  

Only his ability to track by emotion saved his butt.

He threw up another ghost shield, but Wally was expecting it now.  He slid underneath the green shield, jumping up and almost landing a punch, but Phantom’s middle was gone.  His arms were perfectly solid as they grabbed his, even though they were glowing green.

“Wah!!”  Thump!

Without warning, the green glow on Phantom’s arms attacked him, shooting him backwards.  He slowly rose to his feet, coughing.  He wiped the blood from his chin.  He may have lost a tooth.

“Are we done yet?  Danny says he wants a turn, and I’m bored.” Phantom called up to the spectators.  KF took the opportunity to run at Phantom.

He didn't even flinch.

Once Wally was two feet away, he struck.

Phantom was not expecting it, nor was he able to counter.  He was flung much farther than KF expected.  Once Phantom hit the ground, skidding to a halt on his back, Black Canary ended the match.

Wally trudged back up to the spectators, Phantom close behind.  Apparently, his punches needed some work, because it didn't look like the kid had taken a hit at all, but Kid’s back still burned, and he noticed belatedly that his arms were burnt where Phantom had grabbed them.

Danny walked up to Phantom, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, eyes questioning.  Phantom nodded in response, shaking off the hand.

‘Maybe I got him more than I thought?’

“Well done, Kid Flash.  You did better than your uncle.”

Danny shook, garbled wheezing coming from his throat.  Phantom translated.

“He's laughing.  Flash barely lasted a full second.  He ate dust on the same shield you slid under.” Phantom explained with a grin.

“How did you make that shield?  Is it the same as Green Lantern’s ring?” M’gann asked.

Danny shrugged.  “I dunno, I just sorta do it.” Phantom answered.  He shuffled around awkwardly now that the conversation was back on him.

Danny stepped up to Black Canary and pointed to himself and Robin, then made some random hand motions in the air in front of him.  Black Canary seemed to understand though.

“Robin, Danny wants to challenge you to hand-to-hand, no weapons.”  Robin nodded, accepting the challenge.  Phantom watched as Danny hopped down the rocks, heading to the open area further down.  

‘This place really is like half a Roman Colosseum.  Complete with gladiator games!’ Phantom remarked.  Danny nodded, grinning up at him as he got into place.  Black Canary started the match, and the two humans began circling each other.

Robin struck first, mere seconds after the match started, throwing Danny off.  He had wanted to study the bird a bit more before engaging, but it seemed that Robin was treating Danny like he would Phantom.

Big mistake.

Before anyone watching knew what had happened, Danny had landed a blow, knocking Robin to his knees.  Danny had hit a pressure point with startling accuracy.

‘Training with mom really paid off.’

Phantom chuckled at Danny's comment.

“How did he do that?!” Wally yelped, flabbergasted.  The rest weren't too different.  Everyone wanted to know.

“We trained with my mom for a year.” Phantom explained.

Artemis deadpanned, “Robin was trained by the gosh darn Batman for five years.  How is Danny still beating Robin?”

Phantom glanced down in time to see Danny fling Robin into a boulder.  He cringed. That looked painful.

“Well, my mother was a ninth-degree black belt.” Phantom offered.

“I have reached sixth degree black belt in seven different styles of martial arts, and first degree in 120 others.  I have never seen that style before.”

Phantom cringed.  “Yeah, it's Fentitsu.  My mother designed it based on the strengths of twelve different styles, merging them together.  She couldn't physically make it to tenth degree.”  Phantom grinned wickedly.  “But I did.  I added my own twist, thanks to Sam.”  His smile turned fond.  “She had a special flare.”

Artemis wasn't buying it.  “That doesn't explain the time difference.  How did you manage a tenth degree in one year?”

Phantom grinned sheepishly.  “When I said a year, I meant a year straight.”  He rushed to explain at the dumbfounded looks.  “Okay, so he had already trained with her once a week since he was little, but when she found out about me, she trained us for a year straight.  A friend of mine can control time.  He just stopped time for a year for everyone but us.  Since time was stopped, we didn't actually get older, or even tired.”  He paused, thoughtful.  “I'm not really sure how it works, but it works.”

He finished his explanation as Danny got Robin in a headlock.  The Boy Wonder slowly turned purple, thrashing, trying desperately to escape.

“ . . . Un-huk! . g-gluhgl! . Uncl-clurlkl! . . .

Danny let go, stepping back.

“Uncle!  I g-give!” Robin cried before Danny could attack again.

Batman frowned.  He didn't like how easily the weaker half of the boy defeated his son.  His frown deepened when Robin didn't get up.

“Oh, looks like he used the Fenton paralyzer technique.” Phantom commented.  Batman raised an eyebrow in question.  “Oh, yeah, he uses precision pressure on certain points to cause temporary paralysis in certain areas.  Mom designed it for medical use, she was a doctor at heart, but it works in battle if you're fast enough.  Training outside of time for so long made us a little faster than the average Jack, so we repurposed the technique.”

Batman nodded at the explanation, Danny carrying Robin up to their spot.  He silently handed the boy to his father before walking up to Phantom, collapsing in his arms.  Phantom managed to catch him before he fell, his human half completely conked out.

“You two should rest.  There will be time for questions and answers tomorrow.” Aqualad, ever the team player, spoke up.

Batman nodded, so Phantom picked up Danny and phased through the ground, making a beeline for their room.

It was sparsely furnished, but all he cared about were the beds.  They should be home soon anyway, no need to worry about furnishings.

He laid Danny in his bed before heading to his own.

He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

When Phantom awoke, something wasn't right.  His head was spinning, he was exhausted, and his stomach cramped.  His miserable moan seemed to wake Danny, who was by his side immediately, worried.

Phantom drank up the worry like a dehydrated camel.

Apparently, sleep didn't do near as much as emotion where ghosts were concerned.  He told Danny what was wrong, and what he thought the problem was.  Danny nodded.

‘It makes sense.  Our strength did always come from emotion, and most other ghosts are the same way.  Do you have a preferred emotion?’

Danny wasn't really sure how the whole feeding on emotions thing worked.  When they were still attached, he survived off food and sleep.  Did emotions taste different when you “ate” them?

“I guess.  Happiness is addictive, but relief is really soothing.  Anger is meatier, but they don't really have flavors?  I'm not sure how to describe it.  Not really smell, either.  It's almost more of a sound.  Like, happiness is Dumpty Humpty, relief is a soft piano melody, and anger is heavy metal.  Fear is . . . “ Phantom paused, not sure how to continue.  It wasn't often you had to explain stuff like this to half of your soul.  “Fear is Ember.  It's a song that completely drowns out any other music.  It completely fills your mind.  There are a lot of variations, but those are the main ones, I guess.  Sadness is kinda like swing music, and anxiety makes me think of Flight of the Bumblebee.  It's less like eating, I think, and more like absorbing.  Think sunshine.  I'm full when I'm tan.”

Danny sat there, soaking it all in, pondering what that meant for Phantom now.  Would he need to feed on him?  Does absorbing emotions harm the person you take them from?  Is he just going to have to haunt people to get a reaction?  Will he become no better than the ghosts they catch?  What will happen when they become one again?

His worries were interrupted when M’gann knocked on the door.

“Danny?  Phantom?  Are you awake?”  Phantom grunted in acknowledgement, Danny dragging himself to the door to talk to M’gann without the barrier.  “Danny, how are you?”

Danny’s stomach decided to interject.  “He said, ‘Hungry.’” Phantom laughed.

M’gann grinned.  “Good!  There’s pancakes and bacon for breakfast.  Would you like to eat before school?”

‘SCHOOL?!?!’

Danny’s random hand signs meant nothing to her, but Phantom could understand at least.  “He’s wondering why?  And how?  Frankly, I am too.” Phantom explained, joining Danny in the doorway.

“Hello, Megan!  I forgot to tell you, Batman got you on a list of kids whose education is being funded by Wayne Industries, so you guys are going to Gotham Academy with Artemis.”

Phantom nodded along, humoring her.  “Okay, that’s great and all, but I can’t exactly go to school like this.”  He gestured to himself, trying to get it through her head that he wasn’t normal.

Like the white glow and green eyes weren’t enough.

M’gann blinked.  “Uh, can’t you dim the glow?  You did before.”

Phantom blinked.  Danny looked over at him questioningly.  When had he done that?

“Your glow was much dimmer when you were upset or scared, but when you were fighting or angry, it got brighter.  If you can’t control it, I can help you practice today while Danny goes to school.  Your eyes shouldn’t be a problem, some people have very striking eyes, so I wouldn’t worry.”

Danny tapped a finger on his throat, eyebrows raised.

“Don’t worry, Batman made sure you’d be in a room with a teacher that knew sign language.”

Danny pointed to his eyes.

“Batman noticed that your eyesight seemed off.  He got some reading glasses as well as a school uniform.”

The boys looked at each other.  Apparently, Batman had thought of everything.  Who knew?

“Well, I’m as hungry as a bear.  Let’s go join the ants.” Phantom exclaimed before marching off down the hall.

Danny nodded, following with M’gann, the Martian chattering all the while.

This was a horrible idea.

Yes, the teacher knew sign language, but the class didn’t.  Artemis helped him get to class, but he was put in eleventh grade with her.  Yes, he was sixteen, but he had already covered this material with his mother when he was ten.  His abysmal grades were such, because he could never get the homework done, or because it wasn’t math or science based.  He had completed the work necessary to graduate in both math and science when he was eleven, but no one ever believed him because of his poor grades.

Honestly, math and science were too boring for him now.

So, this class sucked.

They were in chemistry, mixing baking soda and vinegar, talking about bases and acids, but the teacher ignored him when he proved he already knew the lesson.  Artemis shot him a jealous look.  She clearly was not as advanced as he was.  He fired back a mixture of smug and pitying.  

Her scowl would melt steel.

After class, the teacher, Mr. Brunner, called him aside to talk.

“If you already took this class, why did you take it again?  You clearly know the material.”  Danny blinked at the man.  The only answer he could give was a shrug.  “Come now, Danny, surely there’s a reason, or you wouldn’t be here.”  Danny gave a few quick hand signs.  “If you did it at home, it wouldn’t be on your transcript, so you have to take it all over again.  I see the problem.”  Mr. Brunner moved over to his desk.  “Lucky for you, I have the authority to pass you and as I teach many of the advanced classes in this school, I can get you enrolled in classes that are more your speed.  Sound good?”  The man glanced at Danny through his bushy eyebrows.  The boy could only nod.  “Good.  Then you should get to your next class.”  Danny made another few hand signs.  “Then we can walk together.”

Danny froze, awkwardly staring at the wheelchair the man was sitting in.  He didn’t know how the man was going to walk if he couldn’t.

Mr. Brunner chuckled.  “Relax, son.  It’s just an expression.”  He grabbed his papers, then wheeled out of the room, heading down the hall to his next class, Danny meekly following behind.  He watched in amazement as Mr. Brunner easily navigated the busy halls, solving arguments between students and keeping order in the halls as they went, always with that knowing gleam in his eye.  After helping a particularly frazzled teacher gain control of an entire hall of rowdy students, the grateful woman turned to him, saying, “Anybody can be an engineer, but teaching this mob is... well, l wish l had your gift.”

Mr. Brunner merely laughed and moved on.

“I don’t know why you were so worried, you look completely human!” Megan cheered happily.  

Phantom was feeling better by the end of breakfast, what with the overabundance of happiness coming from M’gann and the suffocating frustration pooling under Superboy’s seat.  Apparently, the kid always sat there, because the taste of anger was deafening from that innocent looking chair.  If Superboy became a ghost, Phantom wondered if he would haunt that chair.

Now, M’gann had changed to Megan, “helping” Phantom learn to control his glow, then dragging him around town to shop, since he didn’t have normal clothes.

“Why am I even here?”

Of course, Megan dragged Connor along.

“I don’t know the first thing about boy’s fashion, so you’re going to help!” Megan declared.  Connor’s scowl deepened.  Phantom wondered what was eating the poor kid.  He kind of felt bad for dragging them out of school.

“You know, I could have just stayed at the base, and you could have gone to school.” Phantom offered, not for the first time.  Apparently, Superboy was tired of the offer.

“No, we couldn’t have.  School was cancelled for whatever reason, and Batman didn’t want you left alone, because the guy isn’t a total jerk, like some other members of the League!”  Phantom tried covering his ears at the anger thundering into him, but it didn’t stem the flow at all.  It just kept pouring into his chest.  

His reaction did spur Megan into action, though.  “Connor, calm down.  You know he’s trying.”  She laid a hand on his shoulder, as he took a deep breath, trying to calm down.

Phantom tried dissecting the emotions he was picking up.  After chewing on them a bit, adding in the hints from what they had said, he came up with a theory.  “Daddy issues?”

If he wasn’t made of tougher stuff, he’d crumble at the look Conner gave him.

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, ya know.” He offered, hoping the loud teen would get the hint.

“I can’t take quiet desperation!” he yelled, turning on his heel and heading inside the store they had inadvertently passed.

‘Right.  Shopping.’

‘Better than this.  I’m so bored.’

Phantom chuckled as he followed the two into the store.  He was going to cherish his time out of school for as long as he could.

When the bell rang for school to let out, Danny followed Artemis to their lockers.  He was simply getting his brand new, Wayne Foundation-purchased textbooks and other school supplies from his Gotham City Academy locker, when a little kid with bright blue eyes ran up to him.

“We'll laugh about this later.” The kid said with a smile, pressing up against his shoulder to take a selfie with him.  Danny froze, a look of shock and confusion on his face when the shutter clicked.

“Come on, Dick!  Alfred’s waiting!” A black-headed boy called from down the hall.  

“See ya!” The mysterious youth shouted as he tore down the hall, tugging the second boy into a headlock, brotherly nuggies ensuing.  Danny noted that the second one seemed to be a good couple inches taller than the first.  “Race ya, little bro!”  That's awkward.  The shorter one is the older one.

“Don't mind him.”  Artemis’ voice brought Danny back to reality.  He turned away from the running boys to see her scowling at them down the hall.  “Grayson did the same thing to me on my first day.  I think he just does it to everybody.  He's Bruce Wayne’s adopted son, so he's rich and bratty.  He probably keeps the pictures to pretend like he has friends his dad didn't buy out.”

Danny raised an eyebrow.

‘Gee, bitter much?’

They headed out towards the Zeta tubes, but parted ways before they got there.  Artemis needed to stop by home and change, also talk to her mother before heading back to the cave.  Danny had been at the Zeta tube entrance for a good ten minutes when Robin showed up, hopping down from a roof to land on a dumpster.  When he glanced down at Danny, he saw him holding out a piece of paper.  Robin reached down to steady the fluttering sheet, so he could read the writing.

Why did you take a selfie with me?

Robin fell off the dumpster.

“Wha-?  I don’t-?  How-?”  Robin flailed around for an excuse.  None came.  

“HOW?!?!”

Danny grinned sheepishly, miming taking a selfie.  When he did, he pointedly leaned up against Robin.  

“How did you figure me out with that?!  I’ve never even touched your shoulder . . . unless . . . when you grabbed me for that headlock, did you memorize my body?!”

Danny shrugged, nodding.

“Dude,” Robin deadpanned, “you figured out my secret identity by the feeling of my body pressed up against you?”

Danny shrugged again, then held up a hand, showing his index finger and thumb about a centimeter away from touching.

“Only a little bit?”  Danny nodded.  “What else gave me away?”  Danny pointed to his chest.  “I don’t understand.”  A slew of hand signs flittered about in front of Danny.  “Still don’t.”  Danny huffed, pulling out another piece of paper from the stack of books he had set to the side when he had arrived.

I can sense human souls

Robin stared at him with newfound respect.  “Like sensing emotion?  So, you’re an empath?”

Danny shook his head, scribbling some more.  After a few minutes of waiting for him to finish, Robin got to see his answer.

My ghos counterpart can sense emotion.  He’s the empath.  Think of me as more like able to see the aura around people.  I can’t see it as well through the glasses, but when you were next to me, I saw you in my peripheral vision where the lenses weren’t.  I won’t tell if you won’t.

Robin was still on the verge of a panic attack, but he nodded.  “Does your broth-, er, counterpart know?”  Danny smiled but shook his head.  Artemis chose that moment to jump down onto the same dumpster Robin did.  What was with these people and jumping off roofs?  

“Ready, boys?”  They nodded, Danny crumbling up the piece of paper in his hand.  No way was he letting his brother know of his new ability.  He was supposed to be human.  

So why could he see souls?

“What on earth are you wearing?”

Artemis could only stare, along with everyone but M’gann.  Phantom was wearing a red plaid button up flannel, with suspenders and jeans, a handkerchief tucked in the shirt pocket, and big, brown boots.  He looked like a farmer from the 70’s.

“M’gann picked it out.”  Phantom mumbled.  Danny was rolling on the floor, wheezing out laughter.  “Don't worry, she picked out something for you, too.”  Phantom smirked at the look of terror on Danny’s face.

“Is that all you got?  One outfit apiece?” Robin asked, eyebrow raised.  M’gann nodded sheepishly.

“The boys were bored, so we came home.”  She shot a sideways glance at Superboy.  He huffed, glaring at a piece of wall on the other side of the common room.

“Okay, we're going out.  Just the boys.  We're all getting clothes.  Danny and Phantom need more than just one outfit, and Superboy only ever wears one color.  Wally needs something that's not yellow or red, and don't give me that look, and I could always use more clothes.  I keep outgrowing my own.” Robin declared, secretly proud of his growth spurts.  Not only did he gain two inches in the past year, but his chest and arms were finally getting thicker.

“Maybe we could get you a haircut while we're out.  You're looking a little scruffy, shortstack.”  Wally ruffled his hair good-naturedly.  Robin swatted him away annoyed.

“Ha ha.  Real funny, speedbutt.”  Wally laughed harder.

Now that he knew who Robin was, it didn't take his genius to figure out who Batman was.  Danny stopped to read the cover of a magazine from a stand they passed.

Billionaire Bruce Wayne Adopts Another Boy!  Did Dick Grayson Need a Playmate, or is this a Business Ploy?

Danny decided against reading it.  He had already seen the new kid, and Batman's life was Batman's life.  He didn't want to get involved.  

‘If the guy wants to be a dad, let him.’

“What are you talking about?” Phantom asked.  Oops.  Danny forgot he could hear his thoughts.  He'll have to be careful.

Everyone else just gave Phantom weird looks.  Everyone knew Danny couldn't speak, so how could he be talking about anything?

“Hello, Robin!  I forgot you two could communicate telepathically.”  Now everyone stared at Robin.

“Um, Robs,” Wally tentatively asked, “is there a reason you just said, ‘Hello, Robin?’”  Robin paled under Superboy’s glare.  Everyone in the cave all knew Superboy was extra touchy right now.

“Okay, so remember when you two went to that stupid convention while I was working with Batman?”  Wally nodded.  He had dragged Superboy to a comic convention in the hopes of cheering him up.  Superboy didn't really appreciate it.  “Well, I got back when you were gone, and the girls were about to start watching Hello, Megan!, for bonding time, I guess, so I joined them.” Robin stared guiltily at his feet. “We watched a few episodes.”

“Dude,” Wally deadpanned, totally serious, “‘Hello’ is M’gann’s thing.” He pulled a face like he smelled a rotten egg, looking the teen up and down. “When you do it, it's just weird.”  Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Whatever, let’s just go find some clothes for you guys.” Robin pouted, turning to enter the store they were standing outside, and the others followed behind him, vowing to never speak of the incident again.

Robin strolled through the store, acting like he owned the place, his posse following faithfully.

“Anybody else feel a little out of place?”  Wally glanced up at the half-Kryptonian.  Wally had to admit, Superboy did look really uncomfortable.  The teenager had to hide a smile when he realized this was probably the first time the clone had been dragged to a clothing store.  Batman had been the one to bring him his trademark black t-shirt and jeans.  The poor boy was clearly out of his element.

“Don’t worry, Con, Rob’s got experience with this kind of thing.  You’ll be fine.”  Wally should know first-hand, because Dick Grayson had dragged Wally West through nearly every clothing store in Central City when they first met.  

The rich kid expertly navigated the racks, personnel, and clothing, choosing outfits for all of his friends and sending them to the dressing room with their arms loaded for an impromptu runway show.

By the end, Danny had a long sleeve, dark blue shirt with a black stripe down the side, with black jeans, a silver chain on the belt loops.  His new shoes were black combat boots, but he still managed to walk softly.  He had to talk Wally down from dragging him to a tattoo parlor to get a dragon or something else equally cheesy.  Everyone had to admit though, he looked badass.

Phantom finally settled on a forest green quarter sleeve, with dark blue jeans, and a brown pair of the same boots Danny got.  He showed the same talent in walking quietly in massive, heavy, clunky footwear that Danny did.

Wally got a red jogging suit, of all things.  He and Robin had quite the argument, but Robin gave in when Danny laid a hand on his shoulder.  Robin wasn’t going to get Wally to wear anything that wasn’t yellow or red, and it was majorly frustrating him, and Danny could feel it in his aura.

Superboy got a royal blue t-shirt, with baggy, distressed jeans, keeping his old boots.  He didn’t see the reason to get new shoes until they started to fall apart.

After their purchases (Robin neglected to get anything), the boys decided to go get pizza.  It wasn’t until Wally commented on the fact that Phantom was able to eat even though he was made of energy that they even noticed.

Phantom wasn’t entirely ghost.

He was solid, slept, ate, he breathed every once in a while, and his suit had come off when he changed into his street clothes.  When he had tried pulling it off before, it stuck to him like a second skin, but this time, it came off perfectly normally, then dissolved into a puddle of goo when Phantom chose his new outfit.

What did this mean?

Chapter Text

“So, you aren’t fully human, and you aren’t fully energy?” Robin asked.  It seemed to him they were mostly one or the other, with a few traits of the other.  The group had headed back and were sitting with the girls and Aqualad in the common room.

“I think so.” Phantom replied, looking at Danny.  “Typically, I can’t see auras in my human form, but now I can’t see them in my gh-energy form, and I shouldn’t be able to sleep or eat, but I did both of those.”

“What is your energy form called?  You’ve started to say something else, but every time you stop.”

Danny and Phantom both stared at Artemis in horror.  Why did she have to ask?!  Now everyone was curious!  What was he supposed to say?!  Would they hate him if they knew?  Would they accept him?  What should he do?!

“Danny?  Phantom?  Are you okay?” M’gann asked, worried.  Even outside their minds, she could feel their panic.  Danny’s breathing had become erratic and Phantom had completely frozen, turning just a little intangible.

“If you cannot tell us, that is fine, but if you are worried about our reactions, do not be.  We will not judge based on background alone.” Aqualad reassured them.  The team leader had been a little out of it when he first met the boys, so now he couldn’t explain why they felt off.  Did something change, or did he just not notice it before?  For some reason, they put him on edge, so he was only interacting with them from the other end of a ten-foot metaphorical pole.

Phantom glanced at Aqualad, his expression grateful but determined.  “Thanks, but you guys should know.  I shouldn’t . . . I shouldn’t hide it.”  Phantom took a deep breath, steeling his nerves.  “Do you guys believe in ghosts?”

The room was silent for a moment.

“I guess I do now.  That’s what you are, isn’t it?” Wally asked.

Danny looked to Phantom, who had frozen in fear again, and nodded.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Robin chided, “If you were a ghost, you’d be dead.”  He stared hard at Danny.  “But you’re not.  You’re alive.  How are you both alive and dead?”

Danny shrugged.  “Think Shrödinger’s cat.” Phantom offered.  “It’s something like that.  Danny and I are the same person, so we are only ever one or the other, never both like now.  I could access my abilities in human form, that’s why Danny can’t speak, but we’re still alive, technically?  I can live without my life, but apparently, I cannot die without my soul.  I still have my soul.  I’m not beyond the pale yet.  I’m one of the living dead, I guess.”

Wally quietly asked, “How did it happen?”  He, more than any of the others, knew what Danny had gone through.  It was obviously an accident, but Wally had reenacted his uncle’s experiment on purpose.  He couldn’t imagine the hardship Danny must have faced.

“Well, my parents were ghost hunters-”

“They hunted you?!” Artemis shouted, interrupting.

“Kinda, but that’s later.  Let me finish, then ask questions, okay?”  He took a deep breath before starting again.  “My parents were ghost hunters, and they came up with a way to enter the ghost zone.  The ghost zone is the flip side of our world, inhabited by ghosts and filled with ectoplasm.  Ectoplasm is the energy that ghosts are made of.”  Phantom grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment.  “It didn’t quite work, and my folks just quit, but I took a look inside of it.  There was a great big flash and everything just . . .  changed when I kinda accidently turned it on while I was inside it? . . “

Everyone stared dumbly at them.

“How did you accidently turn it on if you were inside it?” Robin asked.

Phantom laughed, and Danny smiled.  “My dad was a brilliant scientist, but like most of those, he was eccentric, maybe more so than most.  He put the on button on the inside.”

Danny swore he heard a pin fall somewhere two miles away.

“What kind of idiot puts the power switch for a portal on the inside of the portal?” Artemis deadpanned.

Phantom fell over laughing.  “MY DAD!” he yelled between laughter.

“So, you were inside it when it connected with the ghost zone?” M’gann asked quietly when his laughter had died down.

“Yeah.  My body was coated in ectoplasm on the genetic level.  When I first woke up, I realized I had snow white hair and glowing green eyes.  I could walk through walls, disappear, and fly.  I’m much more unique than the average guy, now.”  Danny smirked at Robin on that last sentence.  Robin rolled his eyes.  “It was then I knew what I had to do.” Phantom continued, “I had to stop all the ghosts that were coming through my parents’ portal.”

“They kept it up and running after what it did to you?” Aqualad asked, aghast.  He couldn’t imagine having parents that horrible.

“Well, it was their life’s work.  In their defense, I kinda started the whole thing.”  Danny shrugged when Robin raised an eyebrow at him.

“You started the ghost obsession?” Aqualad asked.

The ghost chuckled.  “No, that started back when they were still in college.  They made a mini portal that exploded in Vlad’s face, but he deserved it.” Danny shrugged, glancing at Phantom askance.  “He does too!  Dude’s a fruitloop!”  Danny made a few hand gestures, clearly conversing with Phantom, but the rest were left out of the loop.  “Okay, fair point, but that was an alternate timeline.  He's probably different now.”  Another silent moment.  “Are you forgetting the ‘Ve vere sent to peck him to death.’ and ‘Maddie, darling.’ and ‘Little Badger.’?”  With every quote, Phantom altered his voice, sounding exactly like the person he was imitating.  Danny promptly flipped out.  “I dunno, I just did it!”

“What are you guys talking about?!” Wally screeched, patience worn down to a threadbare rug.

“If you want, I can link Danny with everyone.  Then he can talk to us the same way he talks to Phantom.” M’gann offered timidly.

Danny nodded enthusiastically.  He was getting tired of needing a translator.  M’gann linked them up, but frowned when she ran into a little trouble.

“I can't reach Phantom.  It's like with Red Tornado.  I can't read his mind or sense him at all.”  She blinked up at her teammates.

Robin nodded.  “Figures.  He's not alive, after all.”

Aqualad nodded as well.  “I should apologize.  My initial hesitation toward you was merely due to the other worldly aura you possess, not any ill intent.  I should let my judgement be based on your actions, not my superstitions.”

‘It's fine.  I'm used to prejudice at this point.  At least you didn't try to shoot me.’

Everyone glanced at Danny.

‘Oh yeah.  Hi, I'm Danny.  Nice to meet you all.’

Phantom hid a chuckle behind his hand.  “I guess you all heard that?  If I need to use telepathy with you all, I'll just pass it on through Danny.”

“That may not work in the field, but we'll cross that bridge later.” Robin informed them.

“Okay, very nice, we can talk now.  What were you guys talking about earlier?” Wally questioned, eternally patient.

That reminded Danny of Phantom’s new ability.  ‘That's right!  Do it again!  Mr. Lancer this time.’

Phantom cleared his throat.  “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe!”

‘That is exactly Mr. Lancer’s voice!  How did you do that?’

“I don't know.” Batman’s voice said from Phantom's mouth.

“Well that's freaky.”  Robin nodded, agreeing with Wally.

“I’ve never done this before!” Phantom exclaimed, using Wally’s voice this time.

‘You’ve never tried before.’ Danny pointed out.

“That’s true.” M’gann’s voice.

“Okay, stop doing that.” Artemis ordered, “It’s freaking me out.”

Phantom shut his mouth so quickly, everyone could hear his teeth clack together.  Danny started laughing, or the wheezing that they all assumed was laughing, while Phantom got increasingly greener.

“What is so funny?” Wally demanded, not liking their reaction to his girlfriend one bit.

‘It’s nothing.  Just that Phantom is afraid of her.’

Silence reigned for only .25 seconds before the boys exploded.

“I AM NOT!”

“HE’S AFRAID OF HER BUT NOT BATMAN?!”

“WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN YOU TWO THAT I DON’T KNOW ABOUT?!”

Danny slid down in his seat, laughing his head off.

 

 

There were not many times that Batman was at a loss on what to do, but now was one of those times.

He had just spoken to Dr. Fate, and he wasn’t sure how to tell Danny and Phantom what he learned.

‘How do you tell teenagers that their entire universe no longer exists?’

He had already decided he was going to tell them, he just had to figure out how.

With a sigh, he decided the best way would be honesty.

‘Just get it out there.  Like ripping off a Band-aid.’

“Batman 02”

Everyone turned to the door as Batman strode in, the laughter fading.  Danny sat up straighter, seeing the churning unease in Batman’s aura.

‘Something’s up.’

Phantom glanced back at Danny before turning back to Batman.

With a should-have-been-calming breath, the Caped Crusader focused on Phantom and Danny.  He briefly debated pulling them aside to tell them, but decided against it.  The boys would need their new friends to understand what was going on.  They were going to need a support system.

“I spoke with Dr. Fate.”  

Zatanna visibly tensed, but Batman ignored it.  

“He said that there was a vibration in the fabric of reality about four months before we found you.”  Batman looked like he was regretting not punching the Lord of Order in the face when he finally deigned to let him know that something had put ripples in reality.  

It’s not like reality shaking was a big deal or anything.  

Nope.  

“So, I’m guessing that’s when you arrived.”  

His look lost all hints of anger.  He almost looked sad.  Danny realized he was holding his breath, but he didn’t let it out.

“He has already investigated the tear left behind.”  

Phantom and Danny were absolutely terrified to continue listening, but neither one could say why.  

“I’m so sorry.  Your universe no longer exists.”

Maybe that was why.

Danny registered in the back of his mind that he needed to breath, but right now he couldn’t.  People were talking around him, but he heard none of it.  Next to him, Phantom was slowly starting to glow brighter and brighter, his face completely blank.  The rest of the team fluttered around the both of them trying to keep them calm or trying to talk to them or Danny doesn’t know what but he can’t breathe and there’s a noise in his head like static and he’s pretty sure there are tears running in twin streams down his cheeks but he still isn’t breathing and the static is getting louder and they’re all gone.

He finally takes in a huge gulp of air as Phantom snaps, energy crackling out from under his skin, one hand gripping his own hair like a lifeline, the other leaving marks on the sofa.

Robin knew they were both having panic attacks, but neither were responding, and you can only stop a panic attack if you can reach the person, so Robin was at a loss.  He could see that Phantom’s glow was getting stronger, and he still couldn’t get Danny to breathe properly, but he didn’t know what to do.  M’gann had tried stepping into Danny’s mind to help him calm down, but to her surprise, she found that she couldn’t.  When she tried, all she could find was static.  Superboy just stayed in the background with Zatanna, both unsure on how to help, while Aqualad unsuccessfully coached Danny on how to breathe.  Artemis and KF were trying to get Phantom to respond with increasing difficulty, as the energy escaping him was quickly growing.

Meanwhile, Batman was panicking too.

He did not intend to shock them like this.  He really did not want to hurt the boy (Boys?) like this, but he had never been good at sugarcoating anything.  Once he realized they weren’t going to calm down, he called for the computer to put up shields in the common room, eyeing the energy crackling around Phantom.

Luckily, Batman was paranoid and had containment fields in place for every room in the base that only he could access, because not two seconds after he raised the barriers, Phantom exploded.  The energy that had been growing finally escaped, propelling everyone against the wall as the boy screamed, nails digging into his scalp, registering nothing around him.  After the blast, the ghost curled into a ball on the smoking remains of the couch, whimpering.

The blast at least woke up Danny, the boy shaking as he pulled himself off the floor, leaning against the wall he had been flung at for support.

“That can’t . . . that can’t be right. . .  I mean, universes can’t just up and stop existing, right?!”

The voice he had lost made a weak appearance in his distress, his eyes wide, staring off into nothing before snapping up to meet Batman’s impassive glare, the man having recovered from Phantom’s outburst first.

“That can’t happen, it’s impossible!” Danny yelled as loudly and angerly as his croaking whisper would allow.

Batman felt so much pity for the poor boy that was somehow glaring at him with a pleading look in his eye at the same time.

“Danny-“

“NO!”  His voice cracked so much at the volume, Batman was afraid he was doing permanent damage.  Danny shoved away the arm that M’gann had tried to wrap around him after she recovered from the shock of the blast.  “No!  I don’t believe you!  You’re lying!”  Danny slowly backed up until he hit the wall again, shaking his head, staring Batman in the eye, his voice getting quieter and quieter until Batman couldn’t hear him any longer.  “. . . You have to be. . . you’re lying, you have to be. . .”  When his back hit the wall, he broke eye contact, staring at the floor without seeing it, sliding down until he was sitting on the floor, curling up, hiding behind his knees, his arms wrapping around himself.

M’gann threw her arms around him, crying for the boy with silent tear stains down his cheeks.