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"Dad... you're dead."

Jack laughed. He probably shouldn't have, Danny seemed to be very genuine in his assessment, and Jack recognised that he should probably take this more seriously. But still, dead?? It was laughable.

"Come on Danny be serious." Danny's face remained stoic, "I'm not dead I'm right here."

"You're a ghost, dad." Danny's lips were pressed tight, his entire body tense. "You died."

Jack was feeling a little ill at this point, was Danny okay? Was there a ghost messing with his head? He leaned toward Danny and grabbed his hand, it was cold, Danny's hands were always cold.

"Listen to me son, you're not talking sense, there's probably a ghost somewhere tha-"

Danny stood up fast, impossibly fast, his chair skidded behind him and toppled over.

"No! Dad can you just- how did you get to bed last night?" He asked.

Jack hadn't been expecting the question, he'd gone to bed... the usual way right? Like he always did, took a shower, brushed his teeth, got into his pyjamas, kissed his wife goodnight, although for some reason the details felt a little fuzzy.

But before he could answer Danny continued.

"What time did we leave the party?"

Party? Jack's brow furrowed, oh the party! It was his 50th, how could he forget his own party, had he had that much to drink?

Oh, oh of course. He'd gotten drunk and done something stupid, said something upsetting. That's why everyone was mad at him, that's why last night was foggy.

Danny kept going, he sounded frustrated, angry, but his voice cracked a little. He was upset, oh boy Jack must have done something truly awful.

"What happened after the toast?"

The toast... He had just blown out the candles on the enormous cake Vlad had bought for him, ah that's right, Vlad had been there! He'd hired the venue, planned the whole party, it had been a surprise.

He had handed him a drink...

Danny asked another question, Jack knew it was the last, it felt heavy and final, it didn't even sound like a question.

"What's the date today."

Jack knew the date, of course he knew the date, it was the day after his birthday why wouldn't he know? He'd never been particularly good with dates but not even he could forget his own birthdate.

He glanced over to the calendar on the wall, just in case, he had a sneaking suspicion this was some kind of a trick question.

Jazz was the one to mark off the days, she used it to keep track of her assignments and her tutoring sessions. Each day would be marked with a tidy little line, not an X because they had 'a negative association with failure' or... something. He didn't really understand a lot of Jazz's ideas.

The days were marked off up to June the 18th... the 18th, it should have been the 10th. His birthday was yesterday, on the 9th, today should be the 10th.

How could he have missed a whole week? Maybe this was a joke, a way to get back at him for getting drunk and embarrassing everyone.

But this... didn't feel like a joke.

Maddie's sobs hadn't felt like a joke, Jazz's silence hadn't felt like a joke.

Danny's eyes gouged into him. Danny had always been an awkward kid, he took after Jack in that way, he was shy when he was young, always had difficulty maintaining eye contact. He had no such difficulty right now. They were so bright, had they always been so bright?

It was unsettling.

Why couldn't Jack remember what happened after the toast...

The drink had tasted strange, bitter. He never particularly liked champagne, he assumed that it was normal. Vlad had been smiling, his teeth were sharp... his eyes...

Danny's hands were clasped together tightly, his knuckles bumping against his lower lip as they shook. His gaze had shifted from Jack's face to the gravy-stained tablecloth.

"You're dead. I'm sorry, I know this is hard, I know you still feel like everything is the same but it isn't. You... you're a ghost, dad. Not the kind you're used to, you're just a haunting spirit right now, nobody can see you, nobody can hear you. You can't interact with anything, not yet."

Danny dropped his hands away from his face and looked at him sadly. Jack felt as though there was more to his expression, but he'd never been particularly good at reading people. Vlad had always been better at that sort of thing, it often felt like Vlad could speak a whole other language Jack simply couldn't understand.

Vlad... something was tickling the back of his mind but he couldn't quite grasp it, like a word on the tip of his tongue.

Vlad had given him a drink. Vlad had smiled. It looked like a real smile, but Jack felt like... there had been something more to it, Jack had never been good at reading people... Vlad had smiled, his teeth were sharp, his eyes... red, they were red.

The champagne was bitter. He could almost still taste it.

Jack jumped to his feet, startling Danny as he balled his hands into fists.

"Vlad." he growled, Danny breathed a sad sigh.

"Yeah, it was Vlad, he-"

"He was overshadowed by a ghost!" Jack roared, "It's still got him doesn't it? Mads is out there looking for-"

"No! Fuck, dad! SIT. DOWN."

Jack sat. Without thought or question. Danny's command was loud, not deafening but loud in a different way, like he'd heard it through not just his ears but his entire body. It reminded him a little of the concerts he and Maddie used to frequent back in their college days, where the music was so loud it vibrated through them, head to toe.

It took him a moment to realise he was shaking, Jack always considered himself fearless, and that was generally true, so true that he almost didn't recognise the feeling as it swept coldly over him.

Danny closed his eyes and rubbed at them  in frustration, Jack was almost certain he caught a flash of vibrant green beneath his fingers.

"I'm sorry I... I didn't want to use that- I didn't mean," he sighed heavily. "You just never listen."

He was listening now, if not simply because he felt too shaken to do anything else. His thoughts rattled around trying to piece themselves together, something within him was screaming like he'd just touched a hot surface or a live wire. Danger danger danger danger.

"Vlad wasn't being overshadowed," said Danny, leaning against the kitchen bench, his body almost sagging with exhaustion. "It's... a lot more complicated than that."

"I can't be a ghost." Jack muttered, indignant, "They're monsters, they don't even look human. They don't wake up and hug their wives, they don't want to, to sit down and eat breakfast with their daughters."

"Not all ghosts are the same." Danny's voice was quiet, it had none of that fierce intensity like before. What was that? It wasn't normal, it definitely wasn't human. Jack glared up at him as a hot flush of rage washed over him.

"How do I know you aren't the ghost. That you haven't done... something to my family, to make them think I'm dead!" Jack growled.

He wanted to stand up, but under Danny's icy stare he felt locked into his seat. His expression was mostly blank, but Jack could see a twitch in his brow and tilt to his lips. He could see it, but he couldn't read it. Ghosts were easier to read than this, ghosts weren't usually very subtle.

"Not all ghosts are the same." Danny repeated, his voice was so quiet now, tentative and fragile.

He walked over to the sink, Jack wanted to get up, wanted to keep his eyes on Danny and the ghost that might be controlling him, but he couldn't seem to make his legs work. The command still rang in his ears. Sit. Down.

"We aren't going to get anywhere like this." Danny filled up a glass of water and placed it in front of Jack. "Pick it up."

It wasn't a command, Danny's expression had softened once more.

"Please."

Jack narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but he did as requested. He could feel the cold glass in his hand, the condensation on his fingers, but as he tried to lift it... the glass remained as it was. His hands simply slipping over it.

He tried again, and again, it wasn't as though it was slippery, or heavy, or even that he couldn't grip it. The glass felt normal, his hands felt normal, the glass just wouldn't... move.

Gritting his teeth in frustration he grabbed the glass and squeezed with all his strength, it didn't break. The water didn't even ripple.

"This is a trick..." said Jack. "It's just a trick..."

Red eyes and a bitter drink, people stood around him, faces blurred. He was falling, someone screamed.

Danny started rooting around in a nearby drawer, he pulled out a ragged newspaper cutout. The ink had run in some spots, he placed it down in front of Jack.

It was an obituary. It was his obituary. Tear stained and rough around the edges, torn from the rest of the paper instead of cut, he skimmed over it, almost unable to take it in.

Jack Jonathan Fenton... age 50... survived by his wife Maddie and two children Danny and Jazz...

There was a list of his degrees, complete and incomplete, engineering, physics, mathematics, it listed the name of his university, his reputation as a local ghost hunter, a blurb about his dedication to his work and his love for his family. Jazz had written it, he could tell. She was so good with words.

"Don't make this harder than it needs to be, please." Danny's voice cracked, his eyes were bright with tears as he righted the knocked over chair and sat back down across from Jack, gripping his hand tightly.

Vlad leaning over him, Vlad gripping his hand, he was smiling, his teeth were sharp. Glass smashed, he'd dropped the drink. It was bitter.

He could almost still taste it.

"No..."

Maddie running past him in the lab, like he wasn't even there, crying. Jazz at the breakfast table, not seeing not hearing, eyes red and puffy. They hadn't looked at him, not once had they looked at him. They couldn't see him, they really couldn't see him.

But Danny could.

"If... I'm a ghost," the words tasted foul and heavy on his tongue, "and you aren't... why can you see me?"

Danny sighed, still holding tight to Jack's hand.

"It's complicated." he said, staring down at the table.

"Vlad, he did this. I'm..." Jack whispered. "But his eyes were... he was overshadowed. It was a ghost that-."

"He wasn't overshadowed." Danny kept his gaze averted, his expression was hard and cold. "It was the accident with the proto-portal, it changed him. He-"

Danny choked up, tears were slipping from his eyes, he gasped a few unsteady breaths.

"He blamed you, he blamed you and wanted to kill you, he's been trying since the attack at the reunion. I tried to protect you dad I tried I tried I'm sorry, I didn't know about the poison until it was too late I'm sorry, I couldn't get there in time I couldn't-"

Danny's sobs shook his whole body, he buried his head in his arms, shaking hands still clasped around Jack's.

Red eyes, sharp teeth, the reunion...

"The Wisconsin Ghost," how had he not seen it? "He's the Wisconsin Ghost."

Then another thought struck him. He looked at his son like he'd never seen him before, sobbing loudly, painfully, his body wracked with spasms as he choked on every breath. He had been trying to protect him, all this time he had known and was protecting him, alone.

When Jack had been told to sit, compelled to sit, unable to move and paralysed with terror, had he imagined the glint of green in his son's eyes? He knew a ghost with green eyes, who could incapacitate someone with a single terrifying scream, who was mortal enemies with the Wisconsin Ghost, who claimed to be a protector, who looked just like a kid.

Danny had been in the lab that day, when the portal turned itself on.

Had the portal turned itself on?

Jack stood, his legs finally acting of his own accord once more, and he rounded the table to pull his son into a tight hug.

"Oh Danny, it was you, the ghost boy, it was you."

"I'm sorry dad, I'm so sorry." The words wouldn't stop pouring from his lips, tumbling over and over. Jack's chest grew tight from the pain in his voice.

He ran a hand over his son's hair and shushed him gently.

"It's okay Danny-boy, it's not your fault, you did your best. I'm so proud of you son, we should have realised, you did so much all on your own, I'm so proud of you." It was Jack's turn to start blubbering.

"I should have told you." said Danny, voice muffled against Jack's chest.

He and Maddie always talked about all of the things that they would do to Phantom if they had ever caught him, they'd talked about it during family dinners. Danny had sat there listening, the whole time he had been right there listening.

"I... understand why you didn't." said Jack.

Danny had stopped shaking, he pulled away from Jack and wiped his eyes.

"Vlad told mom that he'd been overshadowed, she's been out hunting for the Wisconsin Ghost all week." Danny sniffed, "I wanted to tell her the truth, I wanted to so badly but Vlad he... he said he'd go for Jazz next. Said if he got past me once he could do it again. I couldn't risk it."

Jack had never understood why a ghost would choose to remain tethered, why they couldn't just move on and leave the living to go about their business in peace. He always told himself that when he died he would never return, he would take what was to come with open arms.

But that wasn't what happened. He'd gotten up to start his day as usual, but he was already dead. There had been no choice, and were he given one now, he didn't think he could bring himself to take it.

His family still needed him, how could he leave them behind? It wasn't wrong if he stayed to protect his family, right?

Jack placed a heavy hand on Danny's shoulder, and gently knocked his chin with a large fist.

"Buck up kiddo, I might need to get a handle on this whole bein' a ghost thing but when I do," Jack's voice dropped into a low, dangerous growl and, for just a brief moment, his eyes flashed a vibrant orange, "I'm not gonna let him hurt anyone else."