Jack had slept something close to ten hours after exerting himself the day before, but it felt like no more than a second when he blinked awake again and found the early morning of a new day greeting him.
The sun had barely begun to rise, everyone was probably still asleep.
Jack felt as though he had a pretty decent grasp on the basics of his abilities, sure he'd only practiced invisibility once but he was pretty confident he had it down.
He did test it out first, watching his hands flicker in and out of view, just to make sure. He wondered if his reflection in a mirror would appear transparent as well, or if it would be as invisible to him as he was to others.
Once he was certain he had it down, he slipped through the floor into the upstairs hallway. Focusing carefully, he poked his head through Jazz's door to find her, as expected, in bed fast asleep.
He hoped she was dreaming peacefully, but her brow was still furrowed, it seemed as though her stress followed her everywhere, even in her sleep she couldn't escape it.
He checked Danny's room next, expecting the same, but found the bed empty. Huh, where could his son have gone so early in the morning? He normally liked sleeping in.
Jack wondered if Danny often took early morning trips out of the house, he was probably out hunting ghosts, maybe that was why he always slept in.
He could feel the sweet and sour taste of pride and shame flood through him, Jack had always wanted his son to take up the ghost hunting mantle, but he never noticed that his boy was sneaking out at all hours to do it. It was no wonder he was always getting calls from the school about Danny falling asleep in class.
He left the empty room and stood in front of his own bedroom door. He could hear Maddie's light snores, he thought about poking his head through, just to look, just to see her.
He placed a hand against the door, his pinky finger alone practically eclipsing the doorknob, his stomach was churning with a fear he'd never felt before. What if she woke up? What if he lost focus and became visible? What if she saw him like this?
He stepped away from the door. Later, he could see her later, Jazz and Danny would explain everything and he would hold her again and everything would be back to the way it was supposed to be. He just had to be patient.
He wasn't very good at being patient.
He stuck his head through the door. She was sleeping curled up on her side, facing him, his side of the bed stretched empty and barren behind her. Unlike Jazz, her face was relaxed, her breathing was slow and steady. She looked so peaceful.
It took every ounce of strength he had to stay in place, to keep himself from climbing into his side of the bed, where he had always slept, taking his usual place beside his wife and wrapping his arms around her. Warm and safe and content.
"Jack." Maddie breathed, quietly.
He stilled, holding his breath as his core thrummed anxiously, had he dropped his invisibility? Could she see him?
Nothing happened for a few moments, and Jack peered at her more closely. Her eyes weren't open, she hadn't seen him. She was just dreaming. He didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
He pulled back out of the room, wiping a tear from his cheek. At least he could be there for her somehow, even if it was just in a dream.
He continued down the stairs in the dark, each step illuminated by the soft orange glow of his eyes. He took them by foot rather than floating, it felt comforting, almost normal. Like one of those days when he'd wake up early with an invention idea that he just had to get started on immediately, before he forgot it.
He headed to the lab almost on autopilot, but paused before he could pull the door open. He probably shouldn't make too much noise, he walked through the door instead. It was already getting easier to do, he barely had to think about it.
As soon as he'd passed through the metal he could hear voices echoing up the stairwell, one was Danny's, the other was low and gravelly, they were speaking in hushed tones.
"-really can't deal with this right now." Danny hissed. "You need to leave."
"Not before we talk." the other voice insisted. "It's urgent."
"What could possibly be so important that you have to show up at ass-o'clock in the fucking morning?"
"I've been talking to Johnny."
There was a chilly silence, Jack was too afraid to even move lest he be heard. Johnny... who was Johnny... wasn't Jazz's ghost boyfriend named Johnny? He couldn't quite recall, Jack was always just terrible with names.
"It was an accident." Danny's voice finally cut through the almost palpable pressure in the room.
"Doesn't change that fact that you did it."
"What do you want me to say Skulker? 'I'm sorry'? My dad just fucking died, I did not have the patience for Johnny's bullshit."
Skulker... he knew that name too, wasn't that the hunter ghost? The one always chasing Phantom? No, he had to be mistaken, why would a ghost just be standing around having a conversation with his enemy?
"Phantom, I know where that power comes from, I know who had it before you. I know."
More silence, so oppressive it made Jack's ears ring. This Skulker guy had called him Phantom, he must be a ghost. Danny had said all the ghosts knew who he really was, and who else could possibly be in the lab at this hour?
"I don't want to talk about it." Danny's voice was calm, but there was a slight tremble to it. "Get out."
"Not until you tell me exactly what you plan to do about this." The other voice, Skulker, growled.
"Nothing! Absolutely nothing for as long as I can get away with it! I already have enough on my plate right now, I can't deal with this."
"Look whelp, consider this a friendly warning, if Johnny's talked to me, he'll talk to others, and if I figured it out, they'll figure it out." the ghost's voice softened slightly as it continued. "This is going to blow up in your face if you aren't careful. The last thing you want is Plasmius catching wind of this."
Plasmius, the Wisconsin Ghost, Vlad. Jack squeezed his eyes shut as he felt a hot surge thrum through him. He bit down on his lip and clutched his head tight as electricity crackled between his fingers. The memory of tainted champagne rolled over his tongue and spilled into his mouth.
Not now not now he couldn't lose his cool not now.
"You're not gonna tell him?" asked Danny, sounding almost surprised.
"Of course not! He's the type to shoot the messenger, I'd rather be swallowed by Behemoth than be the sorry sucker to give him that news."
What news? Jack dragged his thoughts back to himself and took a few cautious steps down the stairwell, not wanting to miss a word. He knew this was a complete break of trust, but Danny had been doing so little to sate Jack's curiosity, and he'd never heard him talk to another ghost like this before.
"Is Johnny afraid of me?" Danny asked, hesitantly.
There was a pause, before Skulker sighed and answered.
"No. I was at first, but then I thought about it. I thought about every other ghost I know, and what they'd do if they were in your place, and I sure as shit wouldn't trust even one of them with that kind of power."
A shadow cut through the green glow from the portal at the base of the stairs as somebody moved around, probably Danny judging by the sound of light footsteps.
"Why? What makes you think you can trust me? How do you know I won't abuse it just like Pariah did?"
Pariah, wasn't that the ghost who shifted Amity Park into the Ghost Zone? Or was it the one who put everyone to sleep? Or maybe it was the plant ghost... Amity Park suffered from far too many ghost attacks, they'd all started blurring together, and Maddie only ever categorised them by threat level rather than by name.
"You didn't even kill the man who murdered your father. What else could it possibly take to push you too far?"
"I almost killed him."
"But you didn't."
"I could have."
"But you didn't."
Danny's shadow shifted, but he didn't respond.
"Don't get me wrong whelp, I don't like you, you're a pain in my ass, but you put your life and death on the line to take on Pariah Dark. He used his voice to make us afraid, but you convinced us to fight. You earned that crown before you even knocked it from his head."
"...You know, I don't think I could ever have guessed where this conversation was going. Like ever, not in a million years."
"Just don't go around telling anyone I was being nice," huffed Skulker, "I have a reputation to keep."
"You keep my secret I'll keep yours." Danny laughed. "But thanks for the warning, I guess I'll have to figure something out."
"You better make it quick, the others have been getting restless, they might respect you enough to give you time to grieve, but it won't last."
"Duly noted, now get out before my mom wakes up."
"I told Johnny I'd grab him a pack of smokes."
"You mean you told Johnny you'd steal him a pack of smokes."
"Ugh, just... hold on a second."
The voices stopped, Jack could hear the scuffing of metal on metal as the ghost shifted around, maybe this was the mechanical hunter ghost after all.
Suddenly he could hear what sounded like loose change jingling.
"Just leave this on the counter, don't break anything, and you better be back here within ten minutes, otherwise I'm coming to kick your ass."
"Hm, I could always do with a good fight." Jack could almost hear the ghost grinning. "But I miss the days where I felt I had at least a chance of winning."
"I absolutely do not, get outta my house."
The whine of jets permeated the air and cut off abruptly as the ghost, presumably, flew up through the ceiling.
Danny's shadow was growing closer to the stairwell, and Jack had to quickly back out through the door. He hurried over to the living room and flicked on the tv, rapidly hitting the volume down button as it turned on, he didn't want to accidentally wake anyone. His large finger bumped the channel button as well, swapping over from the fishing channel to some early morning televangelist.
Danny came into the living room barely a moment later.
"Oh, you're up, how'd you sleep?"
"Like the dead." Jack grinned, it was only a little forced. "What are you doing up so early?"
"Just... dealing with a problem. It's fine now." he plopped himself down on the lounge next to Jack. "We need to talk about something though."
"Yeah?" Jack's core hummed with excitement. Were they going to talk about what just happened downstairs? Jack had so many questions.
"Yeah, look, the ghosts have been laying off me because of what happened to you," Danny took the remote from Jack's struggling hands and switched the tv back to his fishing show. "But they're probably gonna start acting up again soon. I need you to just... not attack them? Please?"
"Wha?" Jack felt as though he'd been slapped. He wasn't going to find out what that conversation was about, and he was being told not to hunt ghosts? "But what's the point in being a ghost if I can't hunt other ghosts?!"
"Just trust me dad, you're not strong enough to handle them yet, and if things get out of hand, or too... public, people will take photos. They'll talk, and there's no way it won't get back to mom if some new ghost shows up wearing a Fenton logo and looking just like you."
Damn, he had a point.
"But what kinda dad would I be if I just let you go out there and fight them all on your own?"
Danny gave him a flat look.
"The same dad you have been for the past two years."
Jack winced. Ouch.
"Okay you got me there, but now I know what's going on I don't think I can just stand by and watch as some ghost throws my boy through a wall. Not if I can do somethin' about it." said Jack, he knew Danny could handle himself, but that didn't mean he should have to do it alone.
"I get thrown through walls all the time," Danny waved him off. "It's not a big deal. I've been fighting these ghosts by myself long enough to know what I'm doing. They aren't a real threat, they're just annoying, sometimes fighting them can even be fun!"
Jack chuckled lightly.
"Heh, you really are a Fenton." he ruffled Danny's hair, laughing as his son grumbled and shoved him away.
Danny's head felt so small under his hand, Jack wondered if he'd ever get used to that.
The memory of Danny's fingers crunching in his grip leapt clearly through his mind, he drew his hands into his own lap, locking them together.
Jack's brain churned through the things he'd heard downstairs, he'd been so focused on listening that he'd had barely a chance to think about it. There were only a few details that truly stuck with him.
Some of the other ghosts were afraid of Danny. A conversation from yesterday leapt to the forefront of Jack's mind, that commanding ability he could do with his voice, Danny said it scared him, and it scared any ghost he used it on.
Jack was also starting to suspect that his first instinct had been right, that this Pariah Dark ghost they were talking about had to be the one who pulled Amity Park into the Ghost Zone, he had been wearing a crown, and he had been terrifying enough to have even the ghosts on the run.
Jack remembered Phantom taking the ecto-suit to fight that ghost, the suit that nearly killed Jack. At the time he was furious at the ghost boy for taking his pride and joy, he'd hoped the suit would destroy him.
He felt sick just thinking about it.
His son had taken the suit and risked himself so nobody else would have to, he was lucky he had more than enough energy to power the thing. Jack was certain that had anyone else used it, they would have died from the exertion, no question.
But Danny had taken it, he had taken it and had fought a ghost that terrified humans and ghosts alike, a ghost who was powerful enough to shift an entire town into the Ghost Zone, that must have made an impact. Maybe that was why the other ghosts were afraid of him.
He had beaten their king, knocked the crown from his head even. He wondered if Danny kept it as a trophy, the other ghost had mentioned something about Danny earning it.
There was another thing they'd talked about, Pariah Dark had used his 'voice' to make them afraid, and that Skulker ghost knew who Danny's power previously belonged to... had Danny stolen this ghost's power? Could that even be done?
"Hey Danny." he started slowly, choosing his words carefully. "How is it that... I mean your mother and I... we always realised that Phantom was different from other ghosts. Stronger, but we could never figure out why."
Danny stared at the tv, frowning.
"It's... being a halfa is like, it kind of gives me an edge, biologically." Danny answered, chewing the inside of his cheek in thought. "I have a solid body to fall back on when my ghost body is weak, so I can't destabilise, and when my human side is injured, my ghost half heals it. So you would have to try really really hard to actually destroy both parts of me at once, and most of the local ghosts just... aren't really that determined. They like causing trouble but that doesn't really make them murderers."
"So whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and since ectoplasm is highly adaptable and you're always pushed to the brink but can't destabilise, you just keep improving at an advanced rate every time you're attacked." Jack rubbed his chin in thought. "Huh, I never considered how the human element could play a role in your ghost side's durability."
So being a halfa made him fundamentally more powerful than other ghosts, that's how he'd beaten that Pariah Dark fellow without succumbing to the suit. Perhaps his adaptability also allowed him to mimic other abilities used against him. Interesting.
Jack couldn't help but swell with pride, his son wasn't just any old ghost, he was the best of all the ghosts.
"Yeah that's pretty much it." Danny didn't sound especially happy it about it.
Jack recalled the shakiness in his voice when he asked if the ghosts were scared of him. He obviously found it upsetting, but Jack wasn't sure why, wasn't it a good thing for your enemies to fear you? That had been what Jack always wanted, to have ghosts tremble at the sound of his name, to have them think twice about even daring to cross Jack Fenton and his family.
He couldn't quite understand Danny's distress on the matter, but he couldn't ask without revealing he had been eavesdropping.
There was a rustling upstairs, slight but enough for Jack to know that Maddie was awake. He was a little surprised he could hear it, they had often wondered if a ghost's senses were any different to a human's, apparently they were.
Danny looked over at Jack, lips drawn taught.
"We should go." he said.
Jack stared longingly up towards the landing, knowing that Maddie would be rounding the corner and coming down the stairs at any minute.
"Dad." Danny warned again.
"Yeah, yeah I'm goin', I'm goin'." Jack lifted himself nimbly onto his feet, then, facing the ceiling, he shot up into the ops centre. He went a little faster than he intended, almost going right through to the roof, but he caught himself. Seemed he needed a little more practice.
Danny followed him up, appearing by his side almost immediately in ghost form.
"Hey," he clapped Jack on the arm. "Wanna practice that lightning thing today?"
A wide grin crept across Jack's face.
"You bet your sweet bippy I do!"