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What Was Bound, What Was Loosed

Chapter Text

The young king slept for most of the first week of his reign. He did not seek his bedchambers, though they existed, and in a room not too far from the throne room. But he stayed in his throne, sleeping fitfully, and rising only to weep or shout or scream at nightmares.

It was a good omen. Pariah had not been so peaceful.

It would not have been terribly surprising if the king had slept for a month, for a year, for longer. Remaking, healing, the Infinite Realms was no easy task. The burdens of kingship that now sat upon his slender shoulders were not light. The injuries inflicted on him during his coronation were painful, and those of them that would heal would take time to do so. The coronation itself was an exhausting procedure as well.

But His Infinite Majesty, High King Daniel Janus James Fenton-Phantom, first of his name, known to most ghosts simply as 'Phantom,' was a surprising person. After a week curled, shuddering, between the arms of his throne, he dragged himself up. He made it off the dais steps before he collapsed.

Fright Knight, the sworn protector of the king, hovered, wary. It would not be unusual for a newly-crowned king to lash out at, well, anyone and everyone. Phantom likely did not even know Fright Knight was there, and Fright Knight had intended to keep it that way until the king was rational.

But crumpled on the ground was not a dignified position for the ruler of all ghosts.

The Master of Time did not share Fright Knight's fears. He settled at the side of the king, who was, even now, trying to push himself up.

"Daniel," he said, softly, "is there somewhere you want to go?"

"You're still here?" asked the king, voice rough with sleep. He managed to turn on his side.

"Yes. For as long as you want me to be."

"I thought you left." The king fell silent for several long moments. "I need to see," he said, finally. "Outside. And-" He touched his face, fingers creeping up to trace the petals of the flowers that had replaced his eye. "I need to see."

"I can carry you somewhere that you can look out, if you would like," said Clockwork. "May I pick you up?"

The question was cautious. Delicate.

The king curled in on himself. "You hurt me," he said, voice wavering. "Why?"

"It was necessary," said Clockwork. "The Realms need a king. For the good of both worlds." A hint of regret lurked behind the Ancient's words. "You were and are the best choice."

"I hate you," whispered the king, as vehemently as he had the first time he had awoken after the coronation. He repeated it a few more times, under his breath. "Take me there. I need to see."

Clockwork dipped his head, and carefully maneuvered the king into his arms, cradling him like a small child. The king rested his head on Clockwork's shoulder, on hand tangled in Clockwork's robe.

He tensed when he saw Fright Knight, his breathing speeding to an almost human rate.

"He is here to serve you," said Clockwork. "He is the protector and servant of the king."

The king relaxed, minutely.

.

In past ages, the king's quarters were vast and opulent, adorned with grisly trophies and the relics of conquest. They were no longer so. The changes now being wrought on the Realms at large had been completed in miniature here.

Phantom's chambers were built on cleaner, more elegant lines. They were still rich, of course, the Ghost Zone would stand for no less for its king. Jewels sparkled from murals on the walls and ceilings. The upholstery was dark and intricately embroidered. The carpets were thick. The bath, luxurious. The bed, nest-like. The pillows, numerous. But the extravagance tended overall to the exquisite rather than the overblown.

Clockwork carried Phantom through the sitting room and private dining room and into the solarium. This room lay along the outer wall of the palace's central tower, or it would have, had all the stones in it not been replaced with glass. There were dozens of plants held in delicately painted planters and pots. Some hanging from the ceiling, some resting on the ground in carefully arranged and visibly pleasing patterns.

The king stirred at the sight. "Sam?" he muttered. He blinked, slow and heavy. "No..." he whispered, eye moving blindly over the plants, which began to wilt. "She's not here." Then he noticed the window, the view outside. "Bring me closer," he said.

He saw the blues mixed in with the greens, a thousand shades coexisting. He saw the palace, restored, the black stones filled with sparkling white veins, the glow of the courtyard no longer sickly, but bursting with vitality. On the edge of the palace's island, small stones and bits of dirt were clumping together, extending the ground. Small ghosts flitted and flickered through the air. Flowers bloomed along the walks. A small fountain was building itself in the center of the courtyard.

Phantom reached out, towards the glass, his fingers just barely brushing the surface.

"This is me," he said. The plants in the solarium regained a bit of life.

"Yes," said Clockwork.

The king let his hand drop again. "All the portals are gone," he said. "I can feel it."

Clockwork did not answer. There was no need to confirm what the king already knew.

"New ones can't open, can they?"

"I am afraid not," said Clockwork. "With your ascension to the throne, the Zone has healed and restructured itself. It will be a long time before new portals to the material world can form, naturally or otherwise."

"How long?"

"Centuries."

The sound the king made was despairing. He turned his face into Clockwork's shoulder, the edges of the leaves and petals of his crown digging into the Ancient's ectoplasmic flesh. Something cold ran down his face. Clockwork didn't make a sound.

"Do you still want a mirror?" asked Clockwork.

The king nodded. Clockwork took him to the bedroom. Here, the murals on the ceiling and walls were modeled after the night sky. Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and other bright gems took the place of the stars. A pale disk of matte-finished silver replaced the moon. Phantom glared at them as if they had personally offended him.

On one side of the room was a large vanity. The mirror cabinet on top of it was closed. A carved chair sat in front of it. Clockwork carefully put the king in the chair, and went to open the cabinet.

Phantom's breath caught in his throat. "You're the one who brought me there, aren't you?" he asked. "You brought me there and put me on that throne."

Danger lay thick upon the air, the light growing dim. Behind the king, Fright Knight tensed.

"There were others," he said, his hand coming up to touch his chest, right where Fright Knight had plunged his sword through him. "I can feel them."

The king half turned in his chair, his single eye fixed on Fright Knight.

"You're afraid of me," he stated, simply.

And it was true. Fright Knight was afraid.

"My king," started Clockwork.

"Don't call me that," snapped the king, taking his eye off Fright Knight. "Just, don't. I want- Call me the way you usually do."

Clockwork nodded gravely. "Of course, Daniel," he said.

The king shuddered. "Show me," he said.

In the moment the king saw his reflection, the whole Zone stilled. The orbits of the islands and doors came to a halt. The ectoplasmic mists froze in place. Then, the moment passed, as if it had never happened.

The king raised his hand to his face, reassuring himself that it was real, that the mirror was true. He ran a hand through his two-colored hair. "Clockwork," he said, "what am I?"

"You are as you were," said Clockwork. "But, as with the Zone, you have been made whole. You are no longer divided."

"I want to go home," said the king, hunching his shoulders.

"I am sorry, Daniel."

"I never got to tell them," continued the king, as if he hadn't heard Clockwork. "I never got to show them. Would it even matter now? It's gone. My other- Both my faces. They're gone. I never got to tell them. Mom and Dad. I never- I should have told them. Why didn't I tell them?"

The king was weeping, sobbing. Soon he would exhaust himself again and fall back into his uneasy sleep.

"I should have told them about me. About Phantom. About me being Phantom. I should have told them." He took a deep shuddering breath. "And I should have told Jazz. I should have told her how much she meant to me. How much-" he gripped the arms of the chair. "How much it meant, that she accepted me, and everything she did... I should have told Sam and Tucker... they were my friends. I should have- There were things I should have said."

For a long minute, the only sound in the room was the ragged breathing of the king. Then the king turned his tear-filled eyes to Clockwork.

"You didn't even let me say goodbye," he said. "You could have let me say goodbye. Even a note. You could have taken me, anyway. I wouldn't have been able to fight you. Why didn't you let me say goodbye?"

Clockwork did not answer. He simply stood, head bowed, at his king's side, until the king had cried himself to sleep. Then he picked the king up, and carried him to the huge bed. He pulled the covers back with a touch of ghostly telekinesis and slid the king beneath them before tucking him in.

"Why didn't you let him say goodbye, before the coronation?" asked the Fright Knight after he was sure the king wouldn't wake. "It seems a simple enough thing."

The Master of Time favored Fright Knight with a bitter smile. "Because he is wrong," said Clockwork. "He could have fought me," he turned his red gaze back to the sleeping king, "and he would have won."