Author's note:

Sorry this took so long to get out. It is kind of a dead spot. Not much happens and it's mostly dialogue. But it's got platonic Clockwork and Danny fluff. Yay!

Chapter 4

The trip from the Fenton Portal to the Clock Citadel took normally around an hour, but to Danny's surprise he hadn't been flying for much longer than twenty five minutes before he saw it in the hazy green distance. The sight of it dulled Danny's excitement over the fact that he had increased flight speed in his third form. He was going to learn more about himself here, be it good or bad. Danny dreaded the possibility of it being bad news.

As he slowly approached the huge wooden doors of the castle-like structure, the icy pit of dread in Danny's stomach grew, until he felt cold all over. He floated in front of the doors for several minutes, just staring up at them. Finally, the boy steeled himself and raised a hand to knock. Almost immediately, the doors swung open to reveal the lord of time himself.

Clockwork gave Danny an easy smile. "Hello, Daniel. I've been waiting for you. Come in and make yourself at home." The ghost opened the door wider and stepped aside so his guest could enter.

Danny did so hesitantly, but felt a little better at seeing Clockwork so welcoming. The guy could see the future, so if he was happy all is well, right? But on another note, Clockwork usually didn't show much emotion, at least he didn't when Danny first met him. The poor boy didn't know how to feel about that.

Clockwork seemed to sense his guest's unease. He set a hand on the boy's shoulder and gave him a sympathetic smile when he looked up. Danny shakily smiled back, but it looked more forced than anything. With a sigh, Clockwork gave the young ghost's shoulder a squeeze before floating away, leading them both deeper into the dark castle.

The walk was nerve-wracking. For Danny, at least. Again, Clockwork sensed the young ghost's nervousness and finally spoke as they came to a stop beside one of the many doors lining the corridor.

"I understand you'd like to acquaint yourself with your new form." The ancient ghost said, giving Danny an easy smile. "You'll find a mirror in this room. Take your time. And remember-" he placed a hand on the boy's shoulder as Danny opened the door. "No matter what you see in that mirror, you're still you."

Danny smiled shakily up at the time lord and nodded, a little light of determination sparkling in his eyes. As he entered the room and closed the door, Clockwork nodded to himself and lifted his staff, tinkering with the clock at the top. The face lit up like a screen and at first showed only static, but then it began to rapidly flash images that the time master processed easily with his glowing red eyes. He seemed to be satisfied with what he saw, as he smiled and nodded again.

"All is as it should be."

Inside the well lit room, Danny was staring around in confusion. It wasn't a very big room, only about the size of a large closet. The walls were a dark grey-green stone, like the rest of the citadel. What caught Danny's attention was the tall mirror on a stand in the center of the room. It was the only thing in there with him. It was huge and rectangular, with a frame that looked like it wouldn't be out of place in Vlad Master's hoity-toity mansion. The ghost boy wondered why Clockwork would have such a room. Unless he could manipulate the castle to whatever he needed? Danny shook off that useless, albeit interesting, train of thought and focused on the task at hand.

Slowly, the boy approached the mirror, coming up to the side of it and slowly leaning over. He caught a glimpse of flickering white hair and quickly pulled away. Thoughts of Dark Phantom assaulted the boy, and he had to forcefully push them from his mind, reminding himself that he wasn't Dan, and that he didn't even look much like him besides the hair. Despite his self assurances, Danny dreaded looking into that mirror, because he knew that even though he wouldn't see Dan in the reflection, what he would see was something potentially ten times worse than his future self.

Steeling himself and taking a deep breath into nonexistent lungs, Danny closed his eyes and stepped forward, standing in front of the mirror. The boy forced his tense muscles to relax, and slowly opened his eyes. Danny couldn't stop himself from gasping and startling a bit, however. He immediately tensed up again and couldn't force himself to look away at the figure staring back at him.

Soon, though, the shock wore off and Danny took a step closer to the mirror, studying his new features curiously. It was the same thing he saw in the bathroom the day before. Danny reached up and gently touched his cheek, careful with his claws. His skin was a light blue, unlike the green-blue of Dan Phantom's, and he stuck by his first comparison: glacier ice, in color and temperature.

His hair was made of fire, but it wasn't just a plume flowing upwards from his head. It was oddly shaped like his normal hair, though it still behaved like fire, flickering and swaying as it burned atop his head. Danny breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Yes, his hair was flaming and white, like his evil future self, but it didn't look too much like Dan's, that much the boy was thankful for.

Danny's attention quickly turned to something else; his eyes. They were large, almost abnormally so, and the sclera was pitch black, with a tiny, slightly oblong orb of electric green that served as both pupil and iris. Though the sight of them was unsettling at first, Danny soon warmed up to it. It wasn't so bad, he told himself. At least they weren't solid green.

Feeling a little better, Danny quickly moved on to his next feature; his ears. They were pointed and the structure was slightly bat-like. Wondering if they were more than just animal-looking, Danny tried to move them, but they refused to budge. That was a small mercy, he supposed. At least his ears behaved like normal ones.

After glancing at his nose and deeming it normal, Danny reluctantly moved on to his last changed feature. His mouth. He'd been avoiding this one. Mostly because it freaked him out the most when he had looked at himself in the bathroom the day before. Even now, with his mouth closed, it was beyond how wide it should be, the edge of his lips ending near the middle of what should normally be his cheeks.

Hesitantly, Danny parted his lips in a smile, and grimaced at how it looked. The smile stretched his mouth even wider, almost literally ear-to-ear, and the sight of his many long, thin, needle-sharp teeth glinting in the light only made it worse. Danny absently wondered what his skull must look like with such a grossly malformed jaw, but then remembered that ghosts technically didn't have bones. Even so, the disturbing sight of his disproportionally wide smile and horrible teeth forced the boy to look away from his reflection.

Danny huffed out a frustrated sigh as he stared down at the cold grey floor. The other things he could learn to live with. The skin, the ears, the eyes, and even the hair, but his new mouth was what really unnerved him. It made him look like something from a horror movie, or those dumb videos with jump scare screamers at the end. No wonder Skulker was terrified of him.

Danny sighed and shook his head. He knew that his horrible appearance was mostly due to the overload of energy, and after he released some of that, it would change. Clockwork said that would happen, and he hoped with his whole being that it would.

Feeling no better about himself than he did when he arrived, Danny sadly trudged to the exit and left the room and the tall mirror behind, shutting the old wooden door a bit harder than necessary behind him.

Clockwork was still floating in the hallway beside the door, and gave Danny a reassuring look. It did nothing to improve the boy's mood, so the ancient ghost dropped the look and sighed sadly.

"Come along, Daniel. I know you have many questions for me, and it's best if we go into the time portal room for this." Clockwork said, motioning down the hall with one arm and resting the other on Danny's back to gently nudge the despondent ghost forward. The two floated silently for the last stretch of their journey, and the only break in the silence was the creaking of the two huge wooden doors they came across at the end of the hall as Clockwork pushed them open.

On the other side was a huge, familiar room. The architecture of the room itself was strange and completely ignorant of the laws of physics. Floating, screen-like portals covered the wall across from the doors, while clocks of all sorts and floating gears and cogs decorated the rest of the room.

As Danny looked around, Clockwork floated forward and stopped in front of one of the time mirrors. He called his guest over to his side, observing the hesitance of the boy as he did so. Once he knew he had Danny's attention, the Master of Time waved his hand over the mirror.

The still image that wavered into view was of a ghost. A ghost with blue skin and white hair that flickered only barely; whose face was split in a smile that was full of slightly sharp teeth, but was no wider than it should be; whose green eyes sparkled with happiness; whose only slightly sharp fingers clutched the fabric of his suit at his stomach, frozen in a hearty laugh. A ghost that walked- with legs, not a wispy tail- next to two familiar figures. One was laughing, her pale face full of joy, black hair flying around her head. The other was showing the girl and the ghost something on a small device that was clutched in a dark hand, his grin was wide and mischievous. The image exuded pure joy. It was an image of a family.

Danny stared at the time mirror for several minutes, his mouth agape, at a loss for words. Finally, he slowly reached out a hand and placed it on the screen-like surface, right over the image of the ghost. The mirror was warm, and it hummed with energy under his palm, but Danny's attention was solely on the picture it showed.

"Is... is this me?" The boy whispered, sliding his hand down the mirror so he could see the smiling face of the ghost. "I-Is this what I should look like?"

Clockwork came up behind Danny and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Yes, Daniel." The ancient ghost rumbled. "This is what your body will look like once it's energy levels are stable. This is the real you." He gave the young boy's bony shoulder a squeeze. "You aren't a monster, Danny. You have just as much of a choice as anyone in the living world and this one does. Your decisions define yourself, not the views of others or your silly worries. Even if you look the part, you won't suddenly become evil. I've looked at the timelines, and in the direction you're going, most of them come out like this." He gestured to the shining time mirror. "A happy ending. But-"

The Ancient being turned Danny away from the mirror to face him. "The other possibilities end with you overloading and destroying countless lives in the ensuing meltdown. None of these timelines end in you turning evil. It isn't an option anymore. You are so set on not becoming evil, that you've succeeded in wiping out any chances of that happening, so stop worrying about that, and worry about fixing what is happening right here, right now." Clockwork pressed an index finger to the center of the young ghost's chest, right over his trusty logo. "We need to focus on stabilizing your core. I will help you every step of the way, so don't worry too much. But first, you must let go of your silly fears. I believe in you, Daniel. why don't you?" Clockwork finished strongly, crimson eyes boring into the boy's green ones.

Danny stared up at the ancient ghost with wide eyes, trying and failing to speak while Clockwork waited patiently for the child to respond. After making a few aborted sounds, Danny blinked rapidly as tears welled in his eyes. Clockwork sighed sadly and reached up a hand to lay on the boy's flaming head to offer as much comfort as he could.

Danny swiped the back of his trembling hand at his watering eyes to try and stop the flow of tears, failing miserably. Finally, the boy spoke in a quiet, broken voice. "I... I'm just so scared, Clockwork. I feel so helpless and alone. I don't want to die again and I don't want anyone else to die, either. I want everything to work out, but... I don't know what to do. Where should I go from here?"

Clockwork sighed again, the sound full of sadness and frustration. Then, much to Danny's shock, the ghost pulled the boy closer and wrapped him in his arms. Danny tensed up, surprised and confused by the time master's sudden move. The ticking of the grandfather clock in Clockwork's chest was loud and oddly comforting against Danny's ear, and the glass was pleasantly cool, both sensations eventually helped the boy relax into the embrace.

"I can't tell you exactly what to do, Daniel." Clockwork's said. "I'm not allowed to divulge that information. But what I can tell you, is that you most certainly are not alone. I'm here. And although I can't do much, I will always be ready to listen and help you in any way that I can. And, Daniel-" Clockwork pulled away just enough to look down into the boy's eyes. "I think you're forgetting three very important people."

Danny flinched at his mentor's words and turned his gaze away. "I'm not forgetting them... I'm just... I'm just not sure if I should tell them at all." The boy's expression was pained and sad. "Sam, Tucker, even Jazz- They've always been with me through everything, but... maybe they shouldn't this time. I can't make them deal with this on top of everything else, and..." Danny took a shuddering breath, misty green eyes connecting with Clockwork's red ones again. "I'm scared of what they'll do. It's not like I think that they'll hate me-" at the time guardian's raised eyebrow, Danny winced and tried again. "Okay, maybe I am worried about that. I can't expect them to just continue acting how they've always been after dropping a bombshell like this. And that's what I'm worried about most. What if they treat me different? What if we drift apart because of this? What if they hate me?" At that point the boy was trembling and his eyes were filling with tears again, and before he could continue his hysterical rant, Clockwork interrupted him.

"Daniel, I know you're scared. I know you're worried about how your friends will feel, but I think you are greatly underestimating their love for you." Clockwork ran a gentle hand through the young ghost's flickering hair. The soothing motion helped the boy's tremors only slightly, but the ancient spirit knew he had his attention. "I can't tell you much, but I can promise that you will be okay. Your friends will help you greatly. You just need to trust in them, let them bear some of your burdens. Promise me, Daniel. Promise that you will at least try to let them in. Open up to them and they will not let you down." Clockwork sounded almost desperate near the end of his words, and Danny felt guilty at causing it.

With a deep, shuddering breath, Danny nodded. "I'll try, Clockwork. I'll try." He whispered.

The master of time watched as his charge left his domain, leaving a slowly vanishing trail of black smoke from his spectral tail. Clockwork floated silently for a few moments, staring at the doors that has just shut behind Danny. Then, with an annoyed sigh, Clockwork turned around, glaring into the shadows.

"Why are you loitering in the dark? You know I already know you're there, so just come out and spout your nonsense already and get it over with."

Floating into the light from a dark corner of the room were three Observants, each looking as frustrated as the other. The one in front of the others spoke, their voice tinged with anger.

"You know that the future is not set in stone, Clockwork. How could you promise the ghost child a picture perfect outcome when there are still many possibilities of him making the wrong choice? Why lie to him?" The green one-eyed ghost questioned.

Clockwork gave the Observant a bored look. "Because I have faith in Daniel. You've always underestimated him. I think it is time you all stop obsessing over the bad possibilities, and start looking for the good." He said.

The Observants exchanged uneasy glances, but didn't push the matter further. Instead, the lead Observant spoke up again. "Are you positive he will be successful in diverting the disaster?"

Clockwork smirked and turned his gaze back to the pair of massive doors in front of him. "Absolutely."

Author's note:

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