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Condemned

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Jack ran down the hall. Oh, when he caught up to that boy, he was going to really let him have it this time.

He threw the front door open, the door knob breaking through the wall's plaster with a loud bang! He looked outside up one street, down the other, harsh air flaring through his nose.

No sign of Danny. How had he disappeared so quickly?

Jack moved close to the street and again looked in each direction. Gone. Danny was just gone somehow.

Shit, shit, shit. Where did he go? What if he wasn't back by the time Maddie came home? She'd blow every gasket, she'd chew him out, she'd never let him hear the end of this—

She had been berating him for being unkind to Danny and if she found out he ran off because Jack yelled at him—

But he didn't mean to yell at Danny, Danny was just being so difficult—

Jack had to find him. Somehow. He had to find Danny and drag him home no matter how much he insisted he just wanted to be alone and away from Jack.

Jack grabbed the keys for the RV from inside the house and dashed back outside. Surely Danny couldn't have gotten far. Jack would find him and then maybe just forget having a relationship with him anymore because what was the use? Jack had tried so hard this time to bond with Danny but if Danny wasn't going to meet him halfway, then maybe it was just a waste of time.

The RV's huge engine roared to life. Jack quickly pulled out onto the street and sped through the neighborhood, keeping an eye on the police radar tracker he had installed because he was definitely not in the mood for another traffic violation today. And he didn't have time either; he had to locate Danny before Maddie came home.

But Danny was nowhere. Nowhere in the neighborhood, at least. But he was on foot; he couldn't have possibly gotten far, right? And he didn't have a phone to call for someone to pick him up.

After a third trip around the neighborhood, Jack pulled off to the side of the road and slammed the RV into park. He looked through his phone, hoping he still had Sam's and Tucker's phone numbers saved somewhere.

He called Sam first; she didn't answer. So typical, kids these days never answered their phones. He sent her a text: Is Danny with you?

Tucker also didn't answer. Jack sent the same text and took in some deep breaths as he waited for responses. His blood rippled under his skin. This could not be happening, Danny could not be doing this to him. And Maddie would take Danny's side if she found out and—

Jack wasn't going to let her find out.

Sam and Tucker at last responded that no, Danny wasn't with them, but what was wrong? Did something happen? Was Danny not where he was supposed to be?

Jack threw his phone into the passenger seat without sending them replies. They were of no use to him now, no help at all. No need to waste any more energy to explain the situation.

He drove around the neighborhood a fourth time, his grip on the steering wheel getting tighter, the gear shift almost cracking in his hand. His suit started to feel uncomfortably hot as the back of his neck burned. Where was Danny where was he where was he—

A few muscles in Jack's face unclenched as he desperately scanned the neighborhood. Between houses, behind cars, against fences.

He was still angry, so angry.

But he was also starting to worry.

Danny didn't have his phone. Danny was rather small and timid. He knew how to fight a little after Maddie had enrolled him in martial arts classes for many years, but Jack didn't really think Danny could hold his own for long if he were actually in trouble.

No, Jack was overthinking. It was broad daylight. Danny was fine. He just didn't want to be found at the moment.

Jack glanced around one final time.

He was not going to find Danny right now. This was pointless. But he was sure Danny would come home when he was ready.

Hopefully soon. Hopefully before Maddie returned.

And maybe Sam and Tucker were lying. Maybe they both knew exactly where Danny was but were hiding him.

He almost wished that could be true. Just so he could believe Danny was definitely okay.

Jack drove back to Fenton Works and headed into the house. He groaned at the sight of the hole the door knob had punched into the wall when he had thrown the door open. But no matter. He could patch that up now. He already had everything he needed.

And then Danny would come home soon. Surely. And Maddie would never know anything had happened.

He just had to trust his son.

If only Danny would trust him, too.

Repairing the wall was almost therapeutic. He loved science, of course. He loved working on all of his complicated inventions. But construction and building were also enjoyable pastimes. So many holes had been blown in the walls of their home from ecto-guns or experiments gone wrong that it was barely even an inconvenience for him at this point. He actually welcomed any opportunity to make repairs.

He made careful measurements, cut out an appropriate piece of drywall, trimmed the edges, secured the new section in place, covered it with joint compound. He'd have to let it dry overnight, but as long as Maddie didn't study the wall, he was in the clear.

But Danny still wasn't home.

Jack sat on the sofa in the living room, popping squares of fudge in his mouth while trying to distract himself with the supernatural phenomena show he usually enjoyed even if it was only to criticize it.

He glanced toward the front door. Once. Twice. Again. Surely Danny would walk through any minute. He wouldn't want to get in any more trouble than he already was in. Surely.

Jack leaned over and massaged the back of his neck. He looked toward the door again.

Still no Danny.

Jack stood. He needed some new form of therapy, maybe another wall to fix or—

Or an invention to work on.

Jack headed to the lab without another thought. A perfect distraction, a perfect way to calm his nerves and stop thinking about Danny for a while. He had so many inventions to work on, so many that caused him frustration because they still didn't work but he loved the process anyway. He loved the failures because they meant he could try again and again and again, and that made the successes all the more elating.

When he reached the lab, he looked up the stairs a final time, hoping to hear the sound of Danny walking through the front door.

He really wanted to be there the moment Danny returned. But he also really hated being idle. He couldn't just do nothing while he waited for Danny to come back.

And Danny had better come back soon before Maddie found anything out. Jack swore if that boy got him in trouble with his wife again—

Jack stormed over to his work station and picked up the latest device he had been working on, one designed to emit a pulse to immobilize ghosts. Complicated and difficult, but if he could just get it to work then maybe the day wouldn't be a total loss.

He reached for his pen to jot down some calculations but God damn it where was his pen? He searched his entire station, stepped back and scanned the floor. There it was. Jack huffed and bent to pick it up, straining just a little with the effort but it was fine now, he had his pen, now he could—

Where was his screwdriver! His calculator! He had left them right here, hadn't he?

He was sure he had, or maybe Maddie put them away. Or maybe he had misplaced them again—

The whole lab was a mess, actually. He hadn't noticed before. When was the last time he and Maddie had gone through everything in the lab and made sure it was all in order? Lately, they had been somewhat haphazard in their cleanups.

Maybe that would be a better use of his time for now, reorganizing the lab, putting things away. He couldn't find his damn screwdriver anyway, so maybe he'd find it if he just cleaned up a little first.

He sifted through drawers, not sure why there were scissors in this one when they were supposed to be in this other one, no idea why the batteries were scattered throughout a bunch of the drawers when there was one clearly marked for them. He and Maddie really needed to be more careful.

Except it was just so much easier to throw something into the nearest drawer rather than walk a little farther to put it in its correct drawer. That was his excuse, anyway.

As for Maddie, Jack couldn't help but think her mind was just elsewhere these days, a little too preoccupied with a particular white-haired ghost boy.

Jack studied the test tubes of the Fenton Solidifier held in a rack on one of the counters, wondering if he should "reorganize" them by smashing them on the floor.

No, his goal right now was to keep Maddie from getting angry with him; he definitely couldn't destroy one of her greatest achievements. The Fenton Solidifier allowed them to control ghosts while cutting down on their power bill, a way to prevent ghosts from changing their molecules in any spectral way.

But Jack knew Maddie had designed it specifically for Phantom even if she'd never admit it. He knew all too well that Phantom was the ghost she desired to render powerless most of all so she could do everything she wanted to him no matter how inappropriate.

He hated Phantom. Absolutely and completely hated everything about that punk who had somehow bewitched his family. Didn't they realize this was exactly what Phantom wanted? Didn't they understand they were falling for his ploy to control them in order to fulfill his ghostly obsession of being some adored hero?

One day, Jack would rip that ghost to shreds. One day soon. He would see to it.

He shoved the tube rack farther back on the counter and stomped to the cabinet containing the Fenton Thermoses. He had made so many of them over the past year and a half since he and Maddie actually started needing them to capture ghosts, enough to fill an entire cabinet.

And somehow, the Thermoses kept disappearing. Jack had no idea where he was misplacing them, but rather than trying to find them, he usually just created more. That was easier.

He opened the cabinet and huffed at the sight. The Thermoses were all just carelessly shoved inside on the shelves, many toppled over or piled together.

And what was this! The Thermoses with red lights indicating ghosts were contained inside them were supposed to be on one shelf while the empty Thermoses with green lights were supposed to be on a separate shelf. They were all just thrown together.

Was this somehow Danny's fault? Hadn't he told Danny and his friends to stop playing around in their lab? Hadn't he taught Danny how to organize things in the lab when he did chores down here?

Jack grumbled and scooped a large number of Thermoses in his arms. He was going to have to take all of them out and then place them back in one at a time while checking their lights.

He held as many Thermoses as he could in his arms because he was not about to make a ton of trips just to get them all to the nearest counter. His boots thumped heavily as he walked—

And one Thermos with a red light slipped out of his grasp—

And clattered to the floor—

A hulking mass of a ghost was unleashed amidst a concentrated beam of light. Jack froze as he watched it, the rest of the Thermoses still clutched in his arms, hoping that the anesthetic effects of the Thermos would be enough to keep it sedated.

The ghost was a monstrous one that had no clear resemblance to any terrestrial animal, simply a volume of ectoplasm with a torso, limbs, and a head. It blinked its glowing eyes in a daze before locking onto Jack.

This ghost was definitely in no way sedated, apparently too large for the anesthetic to take effect. He and Maddie really needed to recalibrate the dose some time.

But not now because he had a ghost to recapture.

The ghost roared and lunged for him, flinging itself past Jack as he dodged. Jack ran to the nearest counter and thrust the Thermoses in his arms onto it before picking up an empty one and pointing it at the ghost. The ghost swung at him, knocking the Thermos to the far side of the lab and sending Jack straight into a wall.

Jack groaned and picked himself up just in time to see the ghost coming for him again. He shouted and cursed as he ran out of the way. A gun, a gun, he needed a gun—

The ghost pitched toward him while Jack jumped as far forward as he could. He grabbed the nearest ecto-gun from one of the counters—definitely not where it was supposed to be but for once the disarray was to his benefit—and switched it on to high power.

The ghost came for him again. Jack circled and aimed ecto-blasts. The ghost ducked and wove, the blasts soaring past it and blowing holes in the walls and ceiling and floor instead. More for him to patch up, great. And there was no way he could fix all of this before Maddie came back. What excuse could he give her this time?

The ghost continued to chase him around the lab while Jack maintained his fire. Damn it, why couldn't he just land one shot, that was all he needed—

The ghost slammed into him, knocking him into a wall again. Jack cried out as the pain radiated through his shoulder blades and spine. He clenched his jaw so tight he could almost feel his teeth crack.

He trained his gun on the ghost as it raced toward him. He didn't need to recapture this damn thing. He could just kill it. He and Maddie had so many other ghosts to experiment on, what was one less

The ghost swiped at Jack's face with its huge hand. Jack held up his gun to parry the blow. With a low but shrill cry, the ghost grabbed the gun and wrenched it out of Jack's hands. Jack's jaw slacked as the ghost triumphantly hollered while holding the gun.

Jack scanned the lab. Another gun, another gun, yes, there was yet another ecto-gun on a counter where it wasn't supposed to be, perfect. Jack dashed toward it, just had to grab it—

The ghost stretched out an arm and wrapped it several times around his leg, forcing Jack to the ground with a hard thud. The ghost cackled and flipped Jack over onto his back. It aimed the stolen ecto-gun at Jack's face and charged it up to full power.

This was not good. That power could kill him immediately. He had to break out of this hold somehow, some way—

A concentrated ecto-ray knocked the gun out of the ghost's grip and against the floor where it skidded into a wall. Jack turned his head in the direction from which the ray had come.

Another ghost with white hair and green eyes, floating at the base of the lab stairs.

"You," Jack snarled.

Phantom gave him a quick glance before launching himself forward and plunging into the ghost, ramming a glowing elbow into its middle. The ghost slammed into a lab containment device, shattering glass and denting metal.

"Hey, that's expensive," yelled Jack as he pulled himself into a sitting position, not even believing that Phantom was already destroying his property.

Phantom rolled his eyes. Actually rolled his eyes. Jack was absolutely going to gouge out those eyes one of these days—

The ghost sent a hard focused punch right at Phantom. Phantom flipped backward, but the ghost came at him again with breakneck speed. Phantom continued moving backward while blocking or avoiding each blow. Well, of course he'd be evading instead of actually fighting, the coward.

Jack took the opportunity to get off the floor while both ghosts were completely distracted, groaning with the effort as he stood. He walked with purpose but also leisurely, picking up his ecto-gun that Phantom had earlier blasted out of the ghost's grip. Jack knew he didn't need to hurry, after all. Phantom wouldn't be going anywhere until he defeated this ghost because that was what his obsession was apparently prompting him to do.

Jack headed toward the large ghost shield button on a wall not too far from the scuffle. If Phantom wanted to "rescue" Jack, fine. But Jack would make him regret it.

Jack watched Phantom grab a Thermos from the cabinet. How did he even know the Thermoses were there? Had Phantom been in this lab before, secretly spying on them? Jack's blood heated as his hand hovered over the ghost shield button.

The ghost threw another punch that Phantom dodged. It hit the counter instead, causing a section of it to crack. Jack continued to seethe. So much damage, all Phantom's fault.

Phantom pulled the lid off the Thermos and aimed it squarely at the ghost. The ghost shrieked and attempted to get out of the way, but there was no escaping the beam of light once Phantom pressed the button.

Jack ground his teeth. This proved it; Phantom had definitely been spying on them. How else would he know how to use a Fenton Thermos?

The ghost's body elongated and then shrank into the confines of the Thermos. Phantom replaced the cap and exhaled audibly. Jack watched him hold the Thermos to his chest for a few moments.

Relieved, was he? Not for long.

Phantom set the Thermos on the counter behind him, and Jack took a couple steps back and then forward to get his attention. With his hand still hovering over the ghost shield button, Jack waited until Phantom looked over at him.

Phantom's eyes widened. Jack's narrowed.

This punk wasn't going anywhere.

Jack slammed the button hard. The lab filled with green light as the ghost shield activated and permeated the walls, ceiling and floor. Phantom's gaze darted everywhere, including at the blocked stairs leading out of the lab.

Jack walked toward him but kept his gun down by his side. "You think you can just barge into my lab uninvited, Phantom?"

Phantom leaned back against the counter as Jack came closer. "I—uh—"

"What are you doing here?" Jack stopped a short distance away from Phantom, still not aiming his gun. "What do you think gives you the right to be here?"

"I just—I saw you were in trouble, so I—"

"Really? And how did you just happen to see that? Were you somehow already in my house? Were you spying on me?"

"What? No! Of course not—"

"Have you been spying on my family?"

"No, never—"

"Then how did you even know there was a ghost here at all?"

Phantom let go of the counter and straightened. "Look, I just saved your life."

"I don't need you to save me, Phantom," spat Jack. "I don't need you to be a hero for me. I don't want you to be a hero for me. I could've handled that myself. I don't need you. I don't ever want you around."

Phantom lowered his head, then clenched his fists. "I didn't mean—I only wanted to—"

"I'm never going to change my mind about you. Don't bother trying."

Phantom kept his head down. Jack wasn't sure what he was trying to do. Make him feel sympathy? This timid behavior only made Jack hate him more.

Jack lifted his gun and held it in both hands, aiming it right at Phantom.

"But now that you're here," said Jack, "I'm not letting you go."

They stood apart from each other in silence for some time, staring each other down.

Man and ghost coming to their high noon.

Jack charged the gun, which emitted a high-pitched whir. He pulled the trigger just as Phantom sprang into the air. The blast destroyed the counter instead. But at this point, the damage didn't matter to Jack. As long as this ended with Phantom dead, he didn't care if the whole lab was destroyed.

Jack aimed his gun up at Phantom and fired more concentrated beams that blew holes in the ceiling as Phantom snaked his way around all of him. Jack grunted and paused to up the charge on his gun. Not yet full power; he wanted to save that for when he was sure he had a clear shot.

But Phantom was keeping too close to the ceiling, avoiding him because he was too afraid to actually fight. Jack had to force him down.

"That's how you want to do this, huh?" Jack moved to a control panel wired into the wall and keyed in a code to decrease the area of the ghost shield. The shield shrank in response, forcing Phantom to fly lower.

Jack threw several more blasts at Phantom, smirking as Phantom's dodges became less accurate. Some of the shots only narrowly missed him, others singed his suit, a few even charred sections of his skin.

And Jack could see the panic building all over Phantom's face.

Phantom's final moments being terrifying for him was just perfect.

One of Jack's shots grazed Phantom's arm, another drilled into his shoulder. Phantom cried out and fell to the floor. He held a hand to his wounded shoulder, ectoplasm oozing through his fingers.

Jack walked up to him and pointed the gun to his head where he knelt. "I have no interest in keeping you alive, Phantom. My wife does, sure, but she's not here."

He imagined Maddie's response to Jack killing Phantom, her anger, her frustration. But at that point, Jack really wouldn't care. It would be in the past and nothing would ever change it.

"She might yell at me for being so careless with you," Jack continued, almost to himself, "but I'll just tell her it was an accident."

Jack charged the gun to its fullest capacity. Phantom stared right into the barrel, his frozen expression illuminated by its vibrant magenta light.

Such a perfect ending.

Jack's finger tightened on the trigger. The gun sputtered, crackled, sparked. The magenta light blinked out into darkness.

No, no, no, come on this could not be happening he was so close

Jack snarled and pulled the gun toward his chest, hitting it a few times in an attempt to reignite it. "Damn it, I thought this was fully charged."

Phantom rose to his feet and began staggering away. Jack hit the gun harder. One shot, just one shot, that was all he needed out of it! Turn on just for a moment, just one, come on—

Phantom dizzily stumbled across the lab with one arm outstretched. Jack tossed his gun aside and stomped up to him. He didn't need a gun to kill him.

Jack grabbed Phantom's outstretched arm, intending to yank and turn him around. Phantom turned himself intangible, the arm slipping out of Jack's hold.

"You're really gonna be a coward now, Phantom?" demanded Jack.

Phantom still seemed dazed as his body spasmed, ectoplasm dripping from the shoulder Jack had shot. Jack grabbed Phantom's arm again and managed to pull him a couple feet across the lab before Phantom returned to intangibility and escaped his grip.

"Why won't you fight me?" asked Jack.

Phantom shook his head. "I—I don't want—"

"Why are you so pathetic? I wasn't expecting this from you."

He had at least expected Phantom to try to fight him. Was his desire to impress humans and obsession to be their hero really that strong? Was he literally incapable of fighting Jack even if his life depended on it?

Only one way to find out. Jack had to leave him with nothing but his natural strength and abilities, no ghost powers.

He looked across the room at the counters, knowing exactly what he had to do. Maddie had created the Fenton Solidifier just for Phantom, after all. Might as well use it for its intended purpose.

Phantom was again staggering forward. Jack kept an eye on him as he moved to the counter where the tubes of the Fenton Solidifier were kept. He loaded up a syringe with a full dose of the solution, tapped it a few times and aspirated it to get rid of bubbles. Not that it mattered if there were any air bubbles, though. If he ended up giving Phantom an embolism, he honestly wouldn't care.

Jack ran back to Phantom and clamped a hand onto his wounded shoulder, causing him to cry out. Jack could feel the tremors radiating through Phantom's body as he squeezed tighter, not allowing him any focus to turn intangible this time.

Phantom's body seized and then laxed before falling forward. Jack wrapped an arm around Phantom before he could reach the floor, pinning his arms to his sides. Jack poised the needled syringe containing the Fenton Solidifier over his neck.

Phantom's body regained some of its tension as he shook out his head. Jack gave him no time to become intangible and stabbed the needle through his jumpsuit right above his collarbone. Phantom yelped and twisted, but Jack only tightened his hold as he pushed the liquid into Phantom's neck. Once the syringe was empty, he pulled it out and threw Phantom into an observation table. Phantom hit the table hard before collapsing to the floor on his knees.

Phantom gasped a couple times before pressing a hand to his neck. He raised his head and looked up at Jack.

Jack smirked and held up the empty syringe. He could see realization dawn in Phantom's expression.

"Fenton Solidifier," said Jack. "I told you my wife invented this specifically for you, didn't I?"

During those countless hours she spent on this one concoction, he was sure she was fantasizing about what she could do to Phantom once he no longer had any power to escape her, to fight her off. He remembered the way her body hunched over her work space as she scribbled out chemical reactions and possible solutions, how he sometimes swore he could hear her muttering "Phantom" as she talked herself through her notes.

"All so she can keep you powerless without the use of expensive machinery or devices," murmured Jack more to himself than to Phantom. "All so she can freely do anything and everything she wants to any and every part of you."

Jack tightened his grip on the syringe. It cracked and shattered in his glove.

"Now you can't evade me anymore, Phantom." Jack tossed the shards aside. They clinked against the floor. "No more turning intangible or using any of your powers. Now you have to fight me."

Phantom groaned and shakily rose to his feet using the observation table as support. "I don't want to fight you," he gasped.

"Oh, I'm sure you don't." Jack held back a laugh. "You're nothing without your powers. You know you stand no chance against me now."

No invisibility to hide from him. No intangibility to escape him. No ecto-rays to keep him back. No supernatural strength to overpower him. Phantom had only the abilities of a man now, a man so much smaller than Jack was.

"And I won't go easy on you," said Jack. "This ends tonight, Phantom. My wife is obsessed with you, my daughter has a crush on you, my son keeps defending you. No more. You won't corrupt my family anymore after tonight."

Jack glared at Phantom with the most combative intensity he could muster, challenging him, daring him. Phantom's own gaze was sad, weak.

Don't even try your tricks. You will get no pity from me. No mercy.

Jack curled his fist and sent a hard punch straight toward Phantom. Phantom ducked and stumbled a couple steps away. Jack attempted to punch him again, this time managing to graze the side of Phantom's head. His third punch popped the side of Phantom's face. Jack could actually feel Phantom's cheekbone against his knuckles, could actually see the stunned daze in Phantom's eyes.

Jack wanted to feel it again, wanted to feel Phantom's bones crack, wanted to see ectoplasm streaming down his smashed face.

He put even more strength into his next punch, aimed it right at the center of Phantom's face. Phantom moved out of the way and directed his own fist into Jack's chin in an uppercut. Pain jolted through Jack's lower jaw as his head was thrown back with the force, causing him to take a step back.

Did that just happen?

Jack rubbed his chin, massaged out the sharp pain into a throbbing ache.

Phantom actually fought back. Phantom actually punched him.

And if that really was all he had, then Jack had absolutely nothing to worry about.

Jack smiled, enjoying the surprise crossing Phantom's face.

"So you can fight without your powers," remarked Jack. "That was a pretty solid punch, Phantom."

Jack gripped his sore chin and moved his jaw side to side, enjoying the pleasant clicks in his jaw joints. There, that should do it. He was ready to continue this fight. Not that Jack could really call this a "fight" considering Phantom's weak attempt, more like a beating at this point.

Jack launched at Phantom with another punch. Phantom jumped out of the way. No matter; Jack simply went in from another angle. And another. And another. Phantom raised his arms to block his face. Jack could practically feel the ecto-vessels in his arms breaking and popping as his fists smashed into them over and over.

Phantom was no longer trying to hit him now. He was only stepping backward as Jack continued his assault, backing toward the portal.

Jack watched Phantom's path more closely. Yes, his steps didn't seem random at all. He definitely seemed to be headed for the portal.

So he was going to try to run away?

Pathetic. Disgraceful.

Jack was not going to let Phantom get away from him this time. Never again. This was the last encounter they would ever have, and Jack intended to personally make certain of that.

Jack lurched forward and grabbed at the hair on the back of Phantom's head, whipping and snapping him to a halt. Phantom struggled, but Jack only tangled in his hair further, twisting the locks as hard as he could. He kept a firm hold on the back of Phantom's head and whirled him around, smashed his face into the nearest table once, twice, again, again, again—

It wasn't enough. It could never be enough. Even if he managed to burst Phantom's skull open, it just wouldn't be enough.

Ectoplasm sprayed and gushed all over the table. Jack slammed Phantom's face a final time before tossing him aside against the activated ghost shield. Phantom's body spasmed before he fell to the floor with twitching limbs.

Still conscious. Still suffering.

Good.

Jack walked to where Phantom lay. Phantom propped himself up on his forearm. The left side of his face was swollen with a deep green color and covered with ectoplasm that dripped down his jaw and off his chin. His left eye was screwed shut, the other teary.

He looked terrible.

But it still wasn't enough.

"You're so weak without your powers," said Jack. "I don't even need a gun to kill you like this. I could easily snap you in half right now. Crush your neck. Pop off your arms."

He could imagine exactly how each act would feel, could see in his head exactly how Phantom would look.

I won't even have use for your miserable corpse.

Jack pushed on Phantom's chest with his boot and forced him to lie on his back.

"Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you."

Jack pressed onto Phantom's chest harder. Phantom's breathing sounded shallow, labored. His face displayed only a trace of his usual determination.

But then something changed.

Phantom's expression softened into something far sadder, something Jack had seen so many times but never on him. Jack sharply focused and tried to make sense of it.

"I can't," said Phantom. Ectoplasm trickled from his mouth. "I can't give you a reason why you shouldn't kill me. You probably should just kill me. I don't think I should be here anymore."

Jack eased his weight on Phantom's chest. Phantom's tone was tapping some part of his soul he couldn't even identify, begging it to bend in the most peculiar way. But also in a way he was certain he had felt before. But when? The recollection wasn't forming.

No, this was the sort of thing Phantom did. The sort of thing ghosts did. Phantom was trying to imitate something familiar to trick him. Jack couldn't let himself be tricked.

"I've been nothing but a disappointment to you," Phantom rasped out with whispery cadence. "I always have been. I tried but I was never what you wanted."

Phantom's words were hardly intelligible, suffocated by constricting torment, asphyxiated by shivering defeat. I'm useless, I'm no good, I do nothing right. I have no reason, no purpose, no excuse. You don't need me. None of you need me. You shouldn't be forced to deal with me. You shouldn't have to worry about your wife obsessing over me. You shouldn't have to think your daughter has any interest in me.

"And your son—"

Phantom paused, more ectoplasm oozing over his gums and teeth.

"Your son would definitely be better off without me around," sighed Phantom. "I've only made his life hell."

Phantom's train of thought was so strange, his utterances seemingly unrelated to each other. Jack pulled back his boot entirely from Phantom's chest, his forehead pinched with this perplexing wave of familiarity.

Phantom stayed on his back but turned his head toward his shoulder wounded by the shot from Jack's ecto-gun. "I thought I could help him."

Better, not so useless, not so disappointing. A reason to be here. Not a waste of space, a waste of time. Someone that mattered.

I just want to leave for a moment. Let me just—

"I don't want to wait anymore." Phantom continued with a gasp for air, his words still so low and strangled and indiscernible.

Find me, yell at me, hurt me. Trying to please you but only angering you. Keeping you out, drowning you out. But this is it. I can't run from you anymore.

Let go. Let me go.

"So just kill me already," Phantom pleaded in a tortured voice. "Because I don't want to keep living like this."

Jack had seen this before. He had heard this before. This was more than imitation. This was not even an exact replica. This was the original. Somehow. Impossible and yet he was sure because he had seen it before so many times across so many years and could never mistake it for anything else. Phantom's expression of remorse, so contrite, so repentant. His cocky valor replaced by something so timid and void of self-esteem. Giving up and giving in, submitting to Jack's authority, it reminded him of—

"But can you answer me one question before you kill me?" asked Phantom.

Jack heard but could not respond, couldn't even nod.

"Do you love your son?" whispered Phantom. "If he were to...somehow be gone forever, would you miss him?"

His son—

Why was Phantom asking about—

Danny

Danny! Danny was still gone! Wasn't he?

He wasn't here, right?

Phantom stared up at Jack, such a pitiable gaze, one eye swollen shut, the other glistening.

And then he swiftly turned his face away, as if he were too ashamed, too afraid to look Jack in the eyes anymore.

Just like Danny so often did.

Why was Phantom reminding him of Danny?

Over the past week, the way Danny didn't want to be alone with Jack, the way Danny acted afraid around Jack, the way he seized up when Jack approached.

That night Danny snuck out, that night Jack terrorized Phantom.

Terrorized Danny—?

Danny had slipped out of his grasp somehow before he ran out of the house. Jack had been holding him so tightly; how did he get away? It couldn't have been—

—intangibility—

NO it couldn't have been that was a ghost power impossible—

There is something that's been going on since the start of high school. But I haven't told you yet because I'm not sure what you'll think of me.

What did Jack think of him? Of Danny or Phantom?

I know more about Phantom than you do, Danny.

Did he?

You really think all ghosts are a threat to humanity?

A threat to his humanity.

How do you know there isn't one ghost that's different from the others?

A ghost that wasn't all ghost?

I don't think Danny Phantom is a bad ghost.

Jack stared at Phantom. Phantom refused to look at him.

I don't think I am a bad ghost.

It couldn't be true. He didn't want it to be true. It didn't make sense for it to be true and it certainly wasn't fair for it to be true.

He was just a researcher. He was just a scientist. He was just a parent.

He was only human—

Was he?

are you?

Jack lowered himself to his knees beside Phantom, connected the dots of his silhouette lying on the floor, lined them up with someone Jack knew too well, hoped that they somehow wouldn't align at all so he could be spared from this horror.

But as he stared at Phantom's broken face, it was only all too clear where Jack had seen this exact expression of sorrow and insecurity and regret before. His son had been wearing it all week.

"Of course I would miss you," Jack murmured. "Of course I would."

Jack placed a hand under Phantom's head. Phantom flinched.

No, not Phantom—

"Danny."

Danny blinked but did not move.

"Danny," Jack tried again.

Danny met Jack's gaze. Even though he was keeping only one eye open, the glow of his stare was intense.

"Danny." Jack took Danny's hand and gripped it hard. "Danny. Why did you let me do this to you, Danny?"

Danny's good eye closed halfway. Jack studied his face intently, resisting the urge to shake him and demand why, why, why he let things get to this point, why he didn't say anything earlier, why he just let Jack do this to him.

"I thought it was what you wanted," said Danny in a voice so tremulous it almost sounded like the words were causing him pain.

What he wanted.

Oh, God.

He did want it.

He had wanted so much to hurt Phantom. To beat him. Kill him.

And that meant he also wanted to destroy his own son.

Now he understood why Danny thought he didn't like him. He was absolutely right. Danny had been afraid of him, had been scared of his father hurting him, and he had every reason to be.

And Jack had wanted him to be afraid of him. As a ghost.

But as his child?

Nothing could be more horrific than his own child being afraid of him.

Jack shut his eyes and pulled Danny's hand up to his forehead to cover his face, his other hand still holding the back of Danny's head. His lungs collapsed. Everything collapsed.

As Jack held him, Danny stayed still.

But then Danny moved, sat up a short distance before yelping and falling back to the floor. Jack uncovered his face, his heart racing as he looked Danny over and realized the extent of what he had done. Half of his face was flooded with ectoplasm, his eye was turning dark shades of sickly green and blue, and his shoulder had an oozing hole blown right through it.

He had done this, he had done this, he had done this—

"I'm sorry." Danny's voice was struggling; his sound whistled. "I'm so sorry, Dad."

Jack moved his hand to Danny's back and helped him into a sitting position. "Sorry for what?"

"For—for—" Danny moaned and clutched at his shoulder.

Jack's chest jolted at the sight. He had done this, he had done this.

"Here. Let me—" Jack scooped Danny into his arms, one arm supporting his back and the other his knees. So easy, so effortless. Danny seemed to barely weigh anything. He seemed so small.

Jack couldn't believe he had been capable of doing this to someone who now seemed so small.

Danny's head lay against Jack's chest. Jack stared down at him, remembering that the last time he had held him like this had been so very long ago.

He couldn't believe he had been capable of doing this to his child.

Jack set Danny in a chair as delicately as he could before shutting off the ghost shield and retrieving the cancelling agent for the Fenton Solidifier. He returned to Danny's side and held up a syringe filled with liquid. "It's the cancelling agent. Could you—?"

Danny nodded and unzipped his suit, lowering a sleeve to bare his upper arm. Jack tried not to think about how he had to hurt his son yet again as he sterilized the area with alcohol and inserted the needle.

One more time. This was the last time he'd hurt him. Just this once and then never again.

He pushed the liquid into Danny's arm, then pulled the needle out and stepped back. He didn't have to wait long for Danny's molecules to glimmer and then darken, revealing his usual jeans and normal dark hair. Red splotches decorated his arms, blood covered his face and seeped through his shirt from his shoulder.

Too familiar. Under all the blood, he was far too familiar.

"Oh, God, it really is you," said Jack. "Oh, God, Maddie's gonna kill me. Oh, God—"

A sudden burst of adrenaline forced Jack to step away, move, shake out the spike of panic. Maddie would never understand, Maddie would never forgive him, Maddie would scream at him for hours and hours for so brutally beating their son—

He didn't know who he was!

It didn't matter. She would accept no excuses. She would hate him and curse him and cry and cry and cry—

Jack hastily searched for a first aid kit, muttering to himself about how this was yet another thing he had misplaced. Where was it! He had to clean Danny up. Maybe Maddie wouldn't be as mad if he made Danny look more presentable.

He located the first aid kit at last and breathed in deeply, steadied his shaking chest. One step at a time. Maddie wasn't even home yet. He'd patch Danny up first, treat his wounds, and then go from there.

He returned to Danny with the first aid kit and knelt beside him. He ripped Danny's sleeve while leaving his collar intact so that he could clean and bandage his wounded shoulder. He took a wet towel and rubbed it over Danny's neck and face, wiping away the dried blood. The battered side of his face felt hot even through Jack's glove.

He hated looking at it but had to. Because he had to clean it up before Maddie saw.

After removing the dried blood, Jack placed his hands on the sides of Danny's head. Danny's swollen left eyelid fluttered but did not open. The left side of his face was a deep crimson, parts of it already purpling, a web of broken veins and tiny capillaries extending to his forehead and split upper lip.

Damn it. He didn't look any better.

But his son had ghost powers. Jack hated that, absolutely hated that his son was a ghost, least of all Phantom, but maybe, just maybe, it was what Jack needed right now.

"How quickly do you think all this could heal if you switched back to ghost form?" asked Jack.

Danny creased his brow. "I—I don't know."

"You have supernatural healing abilities like other ghosts, right?"

"Yes, but—"

"So how long do you think it would take? Before your mom gets home? Can you make it go faster? Do you have control over it?"

"I—uh, I've never tried. How bad is it?"

Jack grabbed a mirror from one of the lab's drawers and handed it to Danny. Danny held it up to his face and stared at himself for some time.

Jack waited, hoped, prayed his son wouldn't let him down, please, he really needed this, if his son could do just one thing, please let it be this.

Danny lowered the mirror. "I can't heal this. Even in my ghost form, this would take days to heal."

Jack groaned. "You've got to be kidding me. I can't let Maddie see you like this."

He snatched the mirror from Danny's hand. Danny mumbled some pitiful apology but Jack didn't acknowledge it. What good was an apology to him now? He needed a plan, he needed to figure something out, maybe some sort of invention, some sort of serum to enhance ghost healing abilities, maybe—

Jack paced the floor, tried to think of something, anything to solve this problem before Maddie came back and discovered the most terrible, unforgivable thing Jack had ever done.

Danny was speaking again. Jack wasn't exactly sure why because if Danny couldn't heal himself immediately, then he was currently useless.

"I mean, maybe it'd be quicker if I was transformed twenty-four-seven for a while, but I've never had to heal anything quite this bad. At least, not on my face. Usually I can just cover up anything on my face with Jazz's make-up—"

Jack turned to Danny sharply. "Jazz's make-up? Does Jazz know about this, too?"

Danny hesitated. "Uh—well—"

"Are you telling me Jazz knew about this and didn't tell us?" Jack's voice rose. "That both of you kept this a secret from us together?"

"We didn't mean—I mean—"

"I don't believe this. I just can't believe—"

Jack cursed in a distressed, throaty growl. Danny lying to him all this time, okay, that was frustrating but not completely surprising. But his daughter? How could Jazz have kept something like this from him? He had always known her to be completely truthful about everything. Had he just been wrong? Could he just not trust either of his kids?

How had he been so completely blind this entire time about what was going on in his own house? About who both of his children really were? About what his son really was?

His energy surge from before was retreating, dizzying him. His suddenly exhausted body ached with the need to lie down and recover.

"How did this happen?" Jack leaned against a counter and took in the state of the ravaged lab, the destruction, the splatters of ectoplasm, ectoplasm that belonged to his son. "Why did this happen? This is impossible."

It made no logical sense, had no scientific explanation he could imagine.

But it was a truth he could never escape.

A horror he could never hide from.

Beyond the lab, upstairs, the sound of the front door opening and shutting. Jack and Danny froze.

"Danny? Jack?" Maddie called. "Where are you two?"

Neither answered.

"Boys? Are you home?"

"Maybe they went out?" offered Jazz's voice. "Maybe Dad wanted more fudge?"

"But the Fenton RV is still parked outside. Danny, Jack? Are you here?"

Jack dropped his head to his chest. Time was up.

"I could phase through the ceiling," said Danny. "I could go up to my room. I could go into ghost form, try to heal as much as I can for a couple hours. You could just say I'm taking a nap or something—"

"No, Danny. You're not supposed to be taking naps or even in your room alone at all, remember? You're grounded. And besides, I was supposed to be helping you with physics."

"Then we—we could—"

"No." Jack sighed. "We can't hide this from your mom."

No hiding what he had done, no denying it. Everything he had been doing to Danny all week, everything he had been doing to Danny since the first time Jack saw his ghost form. All of the pain and fear he had inflicted on his son, Jack had to face it at last. He had to admit it, confess it, accept it.

He placed a hand on Danny's back and guided him to stand. "We have to tell her."

He breathed in these last few seconds, these final moments before Maddie would find out and nothing would ever be the same between them again.

"Jack? Danny?" called Maddie's voice from the top of the stairs as she opened the lab door. "Are you two down there?"

"Yes," answered Jack. "Yes, we're both here. We're coming up."

"What are you doing down there?"

"Ah—just hang on, we'll be up."

Jack led the way out of the lab, took each stair slowly, listened to the sound of Danny's steps. When they reached the living room, he could feel Danny standing right behind him, hiding. Jack wished he could keep Danny hidden.

"Finally." Maddie held up her phone. "I have a list of cars here for us to go over. Quite a few good deals, but we're not sure—"

Jack stepped to the side, allowing Danny to be seen fully. Danny raised his head, pressed his folded arms to his body.

Maddie did not move or speak for a moment. Jazz gasped and covered her mouth.

"Danny!" Maddie rushed up to Danny and placed her hands on his arms. "What happened to your face? And your shoulder? And your arms, they're all red." She shook him. "How did this happen?"

Danny shivered as he spoke in a whispery stutter. "Um—well, we—I mean, I, um—I was—"

He glanced at Jack. Jack said nothing at first, hoping that somehow, some way, Danny could come up with some sort of answer, something to explain this all away to Maddie.

"It's—what happened was—" Danny drew a harsh breath. "I—"

But Jack knew there was nothing Danny could do to save the situation, and he couldn't let Danny keep struggling like this. This wasn't Danny's responsibility. Jack had to take it all on himself.

He had to be a good father. For once.

"Danny."

Danny looked at Jack again.

"I'll take care of this, Danny," said Jack quietly.

Maddie's mouth curved in a stern frown. "Jack? Who did this to Danny?"

Jack could tell by her dark tone that she already knew. "Maddie, just let me finish speaking before you say anything—"

"Jack. Answer me."

Jack blew out a long breath through his nose. "I… It was me. I did it."

Maddie's hold on Danny's arms tightened. "What?"

"Maddie—" Jack tried to begin.

"You—it was you—you beat up our son?"

"Listen—"

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"I didn't know it was him!"

Maddie scoffed. "What do you mean you didn't know it was him? What the fuck does that mean, Jack?"

"He was—he didn't look like himself!" Jack knew exactly how crazy that sounded but how else could he say it? "He was in—in—ghost form!"

"Ghost form? What are you talking about?" yelled Maddie. "Are you seriously trying to justify beating up our son?"

Oh, God, was he?

"He's telling the truth, Mom," said Danny weakly.

"Danny, please, just let me handle this," said Jack, already feeling tired, like he had been trying to explain himself for a very long time now.

Danny looked at the floor. Maddie's red lips curled into a snarl while Jazz stood behind her with an open mouth.

"Maddie, I...really don't know how to say this." Jack clenched his facial muscles, bracing himself for whatever would follow. "Danny, our son...is a ghost. Not just any ghost either, but…" He exhaled sharply. "He's Danny Phantom."

There was a hard silence.

"What?" Maddie stared at Jack, glanced at Danny briefly. "That's impossible. What do you mean?"

"I mean—" Jack tried to think of a new way to explain it but no, there really wasn't any other way to say it. "Look, I know. It is impossible, but it's true."

"No." Maddie shook her head many times. "No. You're not getting away with what you've done here, Jack."

"Maddie, I saw him. He even changed back right in front of me."

"No. No. No!"

"Yes!" shouted Jack. "Even Jazz knew. Right, Jazz?" Jack held his hand out to Jazz, hardening his expression so that she could know exactly how disappointed he was in her for not telling him sooner. Maybe all of this could have been avoided if at least one of his kids had been honest. "You knew and didn't tell us for some reason, right? Even though you should've. Even though both of you should've!"

Jazz shrank back and only sputtered in reply.

"No, Jack." Maddie's voice was loud but weak. "No. I don't know what you think you're doing, but this isn't going to work." She studied Danny. "I'm not going to believe this. Our son is not Danny Phan—" She panted and clutched at her chest. "I mean, he's not… He's not… He can't be…"

Her eyes unfocused, her face whitened. But Jack had nothing else to tell her, no explanation to give. None of this made sense to him either.

"It's true, Mom," said Danny quietly. "Remember the accident I had in the ghost portal? The beginning of freshman year?"

Maddie's eyes widened. And in that moment, Jack also remembered exactly what he was talking about, the day Danny shocked himself in their ghost portal he and Maddie were convinced was broken.

But Danny had been fine! Or at least Danny had said he was fine, that nothing happened, that the portal didn't hurt him.

Just how many lies had Danny told them?

"I'm sorry, Mom." Danny's words sounded strained. "I'm so sorry. I should've told you and Dad right when it happened, but—I—I don't know why I didn't. I guess I was just—I was afraid you'd be mad and then it all got so complicated and—"

"No," said Maddie hoarsely. "You wouldn't do that to me, Danny. You would've told me. You can't be—you can't be—it's not true—"

Jack knew exactly where she was coming from. Indeed, Danny surely wouldn't do something like this to them, would he? Why wouldn't their own son just come to them from the beginning with the truth? Why would he allow his own parents to hunt him and never say anything, never even try to stop them from doing something they would so deeply regret?

Danny took Maddie's hand in his. He held her hand up between the two of them as they looked each other in the eyes. He then pulled his hand straight through hers, their cells mingling and overlapping before separating again. Intangibility. As Maddie stared at her hand, Jack was reminded of how Danny had slipped out of his hold earlier while they were arguing, before Danny ran out of the house.

Maddie gaped and stepped back, raising her hand to cover her mouth, looking as if Danny had just betrayed her. And as much as it relieved Jack that Maddie was currently upset with Danny and not him, he knew he had an obligation to tell the whole story of what happened.

"I was cleaning up in the lab, organizing some things," said Jack. Maddie's eyes so swiftly returned to him that he almost flinched. "I dropped a Fenton Thermos and accidentally released the ghost inside. And of course it started attacking me. And then Danny showed up in his ghost form to—to help me, I guess." Jack shut his eyes and huffed. "I didn't recognize him at all. I… I just saw him as Phantom. And…"

He looked at Danny, recalling just how sincerely he wanted to kill him less than half an hour ago.

"I wasn't going to let him escape," murmured Jack.

Maddie sniffled. "What were you even doing in the lab? You were supposed to be helping Danny with physics."

"I know—"

"That was the whole point of me and Jazz going out to look for a car together, so you could concentrate on helping Danny."

"Maddie, yes, I know, but—"

"You were supposed to help him, not beat him!"

Jack kept his face turned from Danny as much as possible, not wanting to see again what exactly he had done to his son. "I don't expect you to forgive me for this. But I really didn't know—"

"This can't—I can't. This is too much." Maddie threaded her fingers through her hair and paced the floor. "First Jazz tells me Danny's been taking opioids, and now I'm finding out he's—he's—"

"What?" Jack's voice became harsh, rage replacing his guilt, almost a relief to again bring the focus off of what he had done. Just when he thought Danny couldn't possibly find any new ways to surprise him, deceive him. "Opioids? What are you talking about?"

"I was going to talk to you about it privately," said Maddie. "And then we were going to have a talk with Danny about it after dinner."

"But where has he even been getting them?" asked Jack.

Danny glared at Jazz. "You told her?"

All eyes turned to Jazz. She took a small step back before strengthening her stance.

"Of course I told her," said Jazz, rubbing her arm.

"Why? Why would you tell her?" yelled Danny.

"Why? You know why!" snapped Jazz. "Because I knew you were going to hide your pills from me while we were gone!"

"Hide them?" Jack rounded on Danny, so many connections clicking in his mind. "Is that why you were trying to go upstairs by yourself? Because you wanted to hide drugs?"

Danny lowered his head. "I—well—"

"Okay, shut up," cried Maddie. "Everyone just—shut up."

Maddie collapsed onto the sofa. She propped her elbows on her thighs and pressed her palms to her forehead. Her breaths varied, some quiet and small, others loud and shaky.

Jack hated seeing her this way. And he knew there was nothing he could do to console her.

But this could have all been avoided.

Jack stared at Danny, who was fingering the frayed edges of his ripped sleeve. Why didn't Danny say something sooner? Why didn't Danny stop him from going too far? Why didn't he tell them right away that the ghost portal incident had had a far more devastating effect on his body? Why did he lie and insist he was okay?

Why did he always do that?

Danny met Jack's eyes briefly before turning away.

"Danny."

Jack turned his focus back to Maddie. She was holding her arms out toward Danny.

"Danny. Come here. Please."

Jack could see Danny stiffen and tremble before slowly walking toward Maddie and sitting beside her on the sofa. Maddie wrapped her arms around him and pressed her forehead against the side of his face.

She was always so affectionate with him. Jack wasn't sure he had ever been that affectionate with Danny.

But he could certainly be violent with him.

Jack ran a hand down his face, his glove sticking and tugging at his skin.

Maddie whispered something to Danny. Jack tried to figure out what she might've said by studying Danny's expression, but he did not react.

"Okay." Maddie placed gentle fingers against Danny's chin and guided him to look at her. "We have a lot to talk about this week." She looked at Jack and Jazz. "All of us together. I'm going to call the school tomorrow and tell them Danny's sick." She paused, shook her head. "No, I'll tell them we're all going on a trip. A family emergency." She pulled out her phone. "I'm going to look at some hotels, see what I can get for tomorrow night and the rest of the week."

"Wait." Jazz quirked a brow. "You're pulling us out of school?"

"Yes." Maddie scrolled through her phone. "Like I said, we all need to talk."

"But why do we need to miss school?"

"Because we can't let anyone see Danny like this, Jazz."

Jazz blinked a few times rapidly. "What, so you're just going to cover it up?"

"Do you want Dad to go to prison, Jazz?"

Maddie's words echoed around the living room. Jazz's fierce glare softened into uncertainty. Danny stiffened. Jack stared at the floor, his eyes widening as he realized dear God she was right he would be arrested if this got out.

"Do you want Danny to be taken away?" Maddie held a hand out toward Jazz. "Do you want to be taken away? Because that's what will happen if anyone sees Danny like this."

Jack swallowed his hitching breaths. She was right, she was right, but would covering it up make it worse? What if someone later found out what Jack had done and discovered they lied about it? What if at some point Danny's secret was revealed to everyone and they went digging to figure out exactly who owned the ghost portal that shocked and mutated his body in the first place? What if they then discovered all of the terrible things Jack and even Maddie had unknowingly been doing to Danny? All of which would look like child abuse no matter how they tried to explain it?

Jack groaned. "Maddie, maybe we should talk about this more—"

"No," shouted Maddie. "No, I'm not letting our family break apart over this. You didn't know it was him. We didn't know it was him. I didn't know it was him. That's—that's not our fault." Tears began streaming down her face. "How were we supposed to know? This is supposed to be impossible. All these months, I had no idea the ghost I was chasing and shooting at was—I mean, it's not my—I wouldn't have if I had known—"

Maddie sobbed and buried her face in her hands. Jack placed an arm against the nearest wall, allowing his head to fall to his chest.

"But we can't—" Jazz wildly shook her head, her long hair splaying all across her shoulders. "We can't just hide this. We can't just pretend—"

"Jazz," said Danny quietly but with a surprising boldness. "We can hide this. We can pretend."

Maddie continued crying. Jazz's lips parted. Jack's forehead creased.

"We've been covering up my ghost powers for a year and a half," said Danny. "What's another cover-up at this point? What's one more lie? What's another fake phone call to the school telling them we won't be attending for a few days?"

Jack glanced at Maddie's face to see if she understood what Danny was referring to in the last sentence, but she appeared as confused as he was. But then why should they be confused? Of course Danny and Jazz had told other lies and made fake phone calls he and Maddie didn't know about.

"That—what I did was different," said Jazz. "It was only a couple classes, and we weren't covering anything like this up."

Danny shrugged. "At this point, the lies are all the same to me."

Jazz's bottom lip trembled but her eyes were hard. "You're so bad at doing what's best for you."

"It's not just me now," said Danny. "It's all of us."

Jack's eyelids fluttered as he realized just how true that was. Now this was a lie they all had to keep telling. Danny was fine, their family was fine, everything was fine.

Jazz threw her hands in the air and stomped up the stairs. Maddie stood from the couch while dialing a number on her phone. She walked to the kitchen and began speaking to someone about their hotel's immediate availability.

And Jack and Danny were alone again.

Danny fell back against the sofa. Jack looked at him from across the room. Danny made eye contact, did not look away this time. Jack almost wanted him to.

Danny's face was so shattered, but Jack could still recognize him.

So why hadn't he been able to recognize him as Phantom?

Maybe Danny was right. Maybe it was what he wanted.

Maybe he just didn't want to see Danny.